Harper's Round Table, July 14, 1896
Copyright, 1896, by Harper & Brothers. All Rights Reserved.
|published weekly.||NEW YORK, TUESDAY, JULY 14, 1896.||five cents a copy.|
|vol. xvii.—no. 872.||two dollars a year.|
CROSSING THE XUACAX…LLA.
BY CAPTAIN CHARLES A. CURTIS, U. S. A.
"Here, Frank, come and help push this gate. I can't start it alone."
"Wait a moment, Henry. Don't be in such a rush. I think I hear a horsecoming down the Prescott road. I want to see if it's the express from LaPaz."
The younger boy ceased his efforts to close the gates, and advancing afew steps before the entrance of the fort, looked up the valley to wherethe road from Prescott appeared from behind a spur of the foot-hills.The two boys, aged respectively fourteen and sixteen, were dressed inthe army uniform, and wore gold-lace sergeant's chevrons upon theirsleeves. Their white stripes were piped with red, and their cap cordsand regimental badges were of the officers' pattern and quality.
A beautiful white setter, with liver-colored spots and ears, and mottlednose and paws, followed the boys and stood between them, nestling herdelicate muzzle against the younger boy's hip, and responding to hiscaresses with waves of a plumy tail.
"Do you think we shall hear from father, Frank?"
"We ought to. He said, in his last letter, he was getting settled at thePresidio, and would soon send for us."
"Takes twelve days to bring a letter from San Francisco. I suppose itwould take us longer to go there. Seems to me he might get ready for uswhile we are on the road," said Henry, lugubriously. "I'm getting mightytired of opening and shutting these gates."
"You forget father has to visit all the posts where companies[Pg 894] of hisregiment are stationed. That will probably take him a month longer."
"And we must go on opening and closing gates and running errands inArizona. Santa Fe was a good place for boys. But this is the pokiestplace we've struck yet. But come; let's shut the gates, and watch forthe expressman afterwards. We haven't much time before retreat."
The gates closed a stockaded post near Prescott, Arizona. Pine logs tenfeet long had been set up vertically in the ground, two feet of thembelow the surface and eight above, enclosing an area of a thousandsquare feet, in which were store-rooms, offices, and quarters for twocompanies of soldiers and their officers. At corners diagonally oppositeeach other were two large block-house bastions commanding the flanks ofthe fort. The logs of the walls were faced on two sides, set closetogether, and were slotted every four feet for rifles. At one of thebastionless corners were double gates, also made of logs, bound by crossand diagonal bars, dove-tailed and pinned firmly to them. Each hung onhuge triple hinges of iron.
The two boys went back to the gates, and setting their backs against oneof them and digging their heels in the earth, swung it ponderously andslowly until its outer edge caught on a shelving log set in the middleof the entrance to support it and its fellow. Then, as the field musicbegan to play, and the men to assemble in line for retreat roll-call,they swung the second gate in the same way, and braced the two withheavy timbers.
As the companies broke ranks, the boys went to the fifth log on the leftof the gates and swung it back on its hinges. This was one of two secretposterns. On the inside of the wall, when closed, its location waseasily noticeable on account of the hinges, latches, and braces; on theoutside it looked like any other log. It had been sawed off close to theground, and being over three feet in diameter, afforded a convenientnight entrance to the fort. Their work being completed, the boys went tothe Adjutant's office to report.
"Very well, sergeants," said the commanding officer; "no further dutywill be required of you to-day."
Frank and Henry ran through the postern, and arrived on the crest of thebluff overlooking the Prescott road just as a horseman turned up theheight. The news that the La Paz courier had arrived spread quicklythrough the quarters, and every man not on duty appeared outside thewalls.
Joining the boy sergeants, I said,
"Boys, if you want to drop the job of opening and closing the gates, itcan hereafter be done by the guard."
"Thank you, sir. We took the job, and we will stick to it," repliedSergeant Frank.
"I wonder if Samson could pack those gates off as easily as he did thegates of Gaza?" said Henry, seating himself on a log which had beenrejected in the building, and taking Vic's head in his hip and fondlingher silken ears.
"They are the heaviest gates I ever saw," said Frank.
"Then stop straining at them. Captain Bayard has several times suggestedthat you be relieved of the duty."
"We have swung them since they were hung, and we want to do it until weleave," continued Frank. "We can't remain here much longer. I thinkthis express will bring an order for us to go to San Francisco."
"Very likely. It will be an agreeable change for you. Life here is notvery enjoyable for boys."
"I should say not," said Henry. "At Santa Fe there was plenty of fun. Ofcourse we had to study there; but that made play all the more pleasant.Then we could go hunting now and then, or gathering piŮons; but here wecan't look outside of the fort unless a dozen soldiers are along, forfear the Apaches will get us."
"But you can go to Prescott."
"Prescott!" in a tone of great contempt. "Twenty-one log cabins andstores, and not a boy in the place—only a dozen Pike County, Missouri,girls."
"And we can't go there with any comfort since Texas Dick and JumpingJack stole Sancho and Chiquita," added Frank.
Further conversation was temporarily interrupted by the arrival of theexpressman. A roan bronco galloped up the slope bearing a youthful riderwearing a light buckskin suit and a soft felt hat with a narrow brim. Hewas armed with a breech-loading carbine and two revolvers, and carried,attached to his saddle, a roll of blankets and a mail-pouch.
Dismounting, he detached the pouch, at the same time answering questionsand giving us items of news later than any contained in his despatches.
After handing his pouch to the quartermaster-sergeant, his eyes fellupon the boy sergeants.
"I saw Texas Dick and Juan Brincos at Cisternas Negras," he said,addressing them.
"My! Did you, Mr. Baldwin?" exclaimed Henry, springing to his feet andapproaching the courier. "Did they have our ponies?"
"You know I never saw your ponies; but Dick was mounted on a black, andJuan on a cream-color."
"Sancho!" said Frank.
"Chiquita!" said Henry.
"Do you know where they were bound?" asked Captain Bayard.
"I did not speak to them, nor did they see me. I dared not holdcommunication in a lonely place with such desperate characters. Ilearned from a friend of theirs at Date Creek that they were going toopen a monte bank at La Paz."
"Then they are likely to stay there some time."
"Can't something be done, sir, to get the ponies back?" asked Frank.
"Perhaps so. I will consider the matter."
The mail was taken to the office of the Quartermaster, and soondistributed through the command. Among my letters was one from ColonelBurton, the father of the boy sergeants. He said he had expected to sendfor his sons by this mail, but additional detached service had beenrequired of him which might delay their departure from Whipple foranother month, if not longer. He informed me that a detail which I hadreceived to duty as professor of military science and tactics in a boys'military school had been withheld by the Department Commander until myservices could be spared at Fort Whipple, and that he thought the nextmail or the one following it would bring an order relieving me andordering me East. This would enable me to leave for the coast the firstweek in November.
Frank and Henry occupied quarters with me. Seated before our open fire Iread their father's letter, and remarked that perhaps I should be ableto accompany them to San Francisco, and if the Colonel consented totheir request to go to the military school with me, we might take thesame steamer for Panama and New York.
"Oh, won't that be too fine for anything!" exclaimed Henry. "Then I'llnot have to leave Vicky here, after all."
Vic, upon hearing her name called, left her rug on the hearth and placedher nose on Henry's knee, and the boy stroked and patted her in hisusual affectionate manner.
"Then you have been dreading to leave the doggie?" I asked.
"Yes; I dream all sorts of uncomfortable things about her. She is introuble or I am, and I cannot rescue her and she cannot help me. Usuallywe are parting, and I see her far off, looking sadly back at me."
"Henry is not alone in dreading to part with Vic," said Frank. "We boyscan never forget the scenes at Laguna and the Rio Carizo. She assistedin the recovery of Chiquita, and she helped rescue Manuel, Sapoya, andHenry from the Navajos."
"Nice little doggie. Nice little Vicky. Are you really going to SanFrancisco and the East with us!" said Henry, assuming at once that hewas to accompany me to the military school. "I believe if I only hadChiquita back, and Frank had Sancho, I should be perfectly happy."
After a slight pause, during which the boy seemed to have relapsed intohis former depression, Henry asked,
"Do they have cavalry drill at the school you're going to?"
"Yes; the superintendent keeps twenty light horses, and allows some ofthe cadets to keep animals. All are used in drill."
"And if we get our ponies back, I suppose we shall have to leave themhere. Do you think, sir, there is any chance of our seeing them again?"asked Frank.
"Not unless some one can go to La Paz for them. Captain Bayard is goingto see me after supper about a plan of his."
"I wonder what officer he will send?"
"I think, because he spoke to me, I am likely to go."
"Father would never stand the expense of sending them to the States, Isuppose," said Henry, sadly.
"They could be got as far as the Missouri River without cost," Iobserved.
"There is a Quartermaster's train due here in a few weeks—one startedbefore the order transferring us to the Department of the Pacific wasissued. It would cost nothing to send the ponies by the wagon-master toFort Union, and there they could be transferred to another train to FortLeavenworth."
"Frank, I've a scheme!" exclaimed the younger boy.
"What is it?"
"If the Lieutenant finds the ponies, let's send them to Manuel Perea andSapoya on the Rio Grande. When they go to the military school they cantake our horses and theirs, and we'll join the cavalry."
"That's so," said Frank. "Manuel wrote that if he went to school heshould cross the plains with his uncle Miguel Otero, who is a freighter.He could take the whole outfit East for nothing. 'Twouldn't cost muchfrom Kansas City to the school."
"But before you cook a hare you must catch him," said I.
"Yes, and I suppose there is small chance that we shall catch ours,"said Frank, despondently.
The two boy sergeants had found life in Arizona scarcely monotonous, forthe hostile Apaches made it lively enough, compelling us to build adefensible post, and look well to the protection of our stock. A fewyears later a large force, occupying many posts, found it difficult tomaintain themselves against the Indians, so it cannot seem strange tothe reader that our little garrison of a hundred soldiers should find itdifficult to do much more than