Lanier of the Cavalry - novelonlinefree.info
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"I knew he was of my college fraternity before I entered college, and I showed him my pin and certificate."
"That insured a welcome, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir. He--he made me at home in his quarters--and tent."
"Shared the best he had with you--home, food, drink, even clothes and money, I'm told."
The flush deepened in the dejected face.
"It is all true, sir."
"Yet you quarrelled with him during the campaign."
"I lost money gambling, and he wouldn't lend me any more."
"Did you ever pay what he had lent you?"
"Even after your quarrel did he not aid you?"
"Yes, at Laramie. I didn't seem to have any friend left by that time, and had to go to him for help when they wired me to come home."
"In point of fact, he enabled you to get one hundred dollars at Laramie?"
"Yes. I gave my note and he gave his word."
"What did you do with the money?"
"Tried to win back some that I had lost, at poker, and lost most of what I had raised. I suppose I'd have lost all of it if Rawdon hadn't caught me playing and pulled me out."
"You owed him still more?"
"Nearly two hundred dollars, sir."
"Did you go home?"
"I couldn't; I had only enough to bring me to Cushing, and they wouldn't send me any more. I had to go to the ranch and stay."
"Did you try to earn any money?"
"Yes, sir, writing about the campaign. Rawdon lost his position because he didn't send what they wanted, so I thought I might. The editor didn't know me, and asked for references, so I sent my stories to--to Mr.
Arnold and my aunt. She often wrote for the papers."
"Is that the way the Boston and other papers came to publish those scandals at the expense of Colonel Button?"
"She dressed them up a good deal and made it worse than I described,"
"Er--let me explain, gentlemen," interposed Mr. Arnold, who had been twitching in uneasiness. "My sister is of a very sympathetic nature, and her heart has long been wrung by the injustice meted out to the Indian.
When this unhappy boy wrote those--er--descriptive letters she had no reason to doubt their entire truth. Indeed, her conviction was that he was concealing, or glossing over, worse things."
"He seems to have later supplied you with worse things, Mr. Arnold. For instance, I will ask you what was his final explanation of his need for money?"
"He begged me to send him two hundred dollars at once, saying he would be disgraced if he could not pay Lieutenant Lanier, who had won it from him at cards."
"Mr. Lowndes," said Riggs, "did Lieutenant Lanier ever win a dollar from you?"
"Never, sir." And now the miserable head went down into the hot and feverish hands, and the silence in the room became something oppressive.
Riggs let him rest a minute, then went on. "Now, then, in your own way, tell us what happened that night of the 16th."
For a few seconds there was silence. Then, suddenly uplifting his head and looking at no one, Lowndes desperately plunged into his narrative.
"I--I--was mad, I suppose, with debt and misery, and I began to drink.
Rawdon told me he _must_ have the money. My uncle had flatly refused to send me more. I got desperate. There was left me only one way, and that was through my cousin Miriam. I knew she was out here, and she--she had always been my best friend in my troubles at home. We'd almost been brought up together until they sent me out here. She didn't know where I was. They didn't wish her to know. But I knew if I could see her she would help me.
"Rawdon had changed into citizen's clothes in town, and I had pawned my overcoat, so he lent me his cavalry overcoat and a fur cap, drove me and Cary out to the fort, and left us at the store, promising to join him at Doctor Mayhew's in an hour. We were chilled from the ride, and drank more. Rafferty told me Mr. Lanier was officer-of-the-guard, and everybody else was at the dance. We filled Rafferty up, for Cary'd made up his mind he was going to Rawdon's wedding in 'cits' instead of soldier clothes, and he was bent on borrowing a suit of Lieutenant Lanier's, even though they would hardly fit him. He swore he'd return them the next day, and Rafferty let him have them, and he put them on in the lieutenant's back room. Then he and I went up the rear fence and caught sight of Number Five--Trooper Kelly. Cary knew him and went ahead to 'fix things' with him, as he said. Kelly had seen us come out of Lieutenant Lanier's back gate, and was suspicious. Cary, to quiet him, told him he was with Lieutenant Lanier--that we were helping Rawdon get ready for his wedding. He made Kelly drink to Rawdon's happiness, and drink three or four times, and finally left him with a half full flask up the row toward Major Stannard's. Then we went to Captain Sumter's.
Kelly told Cary the servants were in at Captain Snaffle's. The door was open. Cary watched below, while I hunted for my cousin's room. I found it easily. I knew they had sent her money, and orders to come home--uncle had written me as much. I found her desk. I knew it well of old, and then, to my horror, I heard her voice, and in a second she was in the room. She gave one awful scream, though I tore off my cap and begged her to know me, but she fell in a faint. Others were coming. I broke out of the back window, slid and scrambled down the roof to the shed and so to the ground. I heard men come running, so I dove into the coal-shed, where the sergeant grabbed me in the dark and I--had to make him let go, and--said I was Lieutenant Lanier. Later I crawled through a hole in the fence and started for the store, scared out of my wits.
Right at the next gate I crashed into two men, grappled and fighting.
We all three fell in a heap. I picked myself and cap up and ran again; caught Cary at the store just jumping into a sleigh, and we lashed those horses every inch of the way, left them at a ranch gate, and ran to the station. The train was a few minutes late. Rawdon presently came, and he took me to Omaha, as I begged him, for I didn't know what could or would be done to me if I was caught. He, too, had to get away or be thrown into the guard-house, and that--that's about all."
"You have that overcoat with you yet, I believe--that cavalry coat."
"It's all I have had to wear, sir," was the rueful answer, as, rising, he took the garment from the arm of his chair and laid it upon the table, with the yellow lining of the cape thrown back, exposing a rent or gash, whereupon Captain Sumter arose, took from an envelope a sliver of yellow cloth, and fitted it into the gap. "This," said he, "I found on the hook of the storm-sash, and this," he continued, laying beside it a rusty sheath knife, "was later found under the snow, close under the dormer window." Then turning the overcoat inside out, he displayed on the back lining in stencil the name "Rawdon."
"And now," said Riggs, "we will hear the accused."
"It isn't necessary," began Button, turning in his chair. "I have heard more than enough----"
"It _is_ necessary, Colonel Button, if you please, for my satisfaction as investigator. Of course Mr. Lanier is not obliged to speak, but a few matters remain to be cleared up. There is yet the time-honored problem of 'who struck Billy Patterson,'" and Button subsided.
"The matter is quite simple," said Lanier. "I went direct from the dancing room to my quarters, not even stopping for my overcoat. I was chilled when I got there. The fire was low, and I went back to call Rafferty. He didn't answer, so I had to lug in some fuel. His overcoat hung in the kitchen and I put that on, and just as I opened the back door there came the scream from up the row. Fire was the only thing I thought of, and I saw others running toward Captain Sumter's as I started from the back gate. Then a man rushed past me, going the other way, and then the next thing somebody sprang out from Captain Snaffle's back yard, tripped me, and I went headlong. I was on my feet in a second, but he had me round the neck, ordering me to surrender. I wrenched loose and let him have two hard ones, right and left, before he clinched again. Somebody else collided with us. We all went down. The last man was up first and ran away, with the first cap he could reach, and I followed in an effort to overtake him, knowing by that time it wasn't fire, but robbery. Then when I realized no life was in danger, I remembered I was in arrest, dropped the chase, and went straight to my quarters the way I came. Both hands were bruised and left badly cut. I am sorry, of course, to have struck Sergeant Fitzroy, but the language he used was vile, and it seemed to me the only way to convince him I was _not_ Trooper Rawdon."
"Colonel Button, have you any questions to ask?" demanded Riggs, as Lanier concluded.
"Why didn't you tell _me_ this?" demanded Button.
"I should have been glad to, colonel. Indeed, I tried to the last time I was in the office," was the deferential reply.
"Well, gentlemen," said the colonel, as a parting shot, "between us we seem to have stirred up a pretty kettle of fish." Yet in that culinary maelstrom even Snaffle disowned either responsibility or complicity. He always _had_ said Lanier was a perfect gentleman.
And so ended Bob's arrest and most of our story. Riggs went back with his report that very afternoon. Rawdon lingered for a word with Cassidy, Quinlan, and poor remorseful Rafferty; then followed, unhampered even by his arch enemy Fitzroy, who slipped away to the stables three minutes after the close of the conference. But he was not even there when, along in the spring, Mr. and Mrs. Rawdon came out for a visit to Doctor Mayhew. Like Rawdon, he had received his discharge. Unlike Rawdon, there was serious objection to his reenlistment. Even Snaffle dare not "take him on" again.
The snows lay long and deep in the ravines and hollows. It was not until mid-May that the poor victims of the blast and blinding storm were uncovered, and the bodies of the missing were found, save that of Cary--Cary, who, having been given up for lost, turned up most unexpectedly the very day that Fitzroy, applicant for reenlistment, was summarily turned down. But Cary came not of his own volition. He marched with a file of the guard. Cary's story was simple enough. Rawdon and Lowndes had hardly got away on the train when Sergeant Stowell and his party came searching. Cary hid. He was still half drunk. Some one told him of Kelly's arrest, and charged him with that and with running off the Fosters' sleigh. He dared not face the music. He forgot his precious missive to Dora Mayhew until next day. Then the storm held him. Not until the fire night did he summon up courage to sneak home. He had no money left and could buy no more liquor. He stole into Lanier's back door to return the civilian suit and recover the cavalry blouse and trousers left hanging in Rafferty's room. He could hear the lieutenant moving about overhead. He had to strike a light; he struck several matches; found the clothes, slipped out of the "cits" and into his own.
He was cold and numb. He knew there was liquor on the sideboard in the middle room. The craze was on him, and he risked it. He struck more matches and threw the burning stumps to the floor, drank his fill, then stumbled away, intending to give himself up to his first sergeant for absence without leave. Back round by way of the store and the east front he went, but before he could reach the barracks came the appalling cry of fire--Lanier's quarters! His doing beyond doubt, and now, in dismay and terror, he fled from the post. Some ranch folk took him in next day, and cared for him awhile, then sent word to the fort. Poor Cary had Lanier to plead for him before his trial, but three months' hard labor was the least the law would allow. He was still "doing time" when his happier friend of college days came back with his sweet young wife.