Capt. Charles King, U.S.A.,
Author of “The colonel’s daughter,” “MARION’S faith,” “KITTY’S Conquest,” Etc., Etc.
Transcribers note This e-book of The Deserter is based upon the edition found in The Deserter, and From the Ranks. Two Novels, by Capt. Charles King. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1890. From the Ranks is also available as a Project Gutenberg e-book.
Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott company.
Copyright, 1887, by J.B. Lippincott company.
Far up in the Northwest, along the banks of the broad, winding stream the Sioux call the Elk, a train of white-topped army-wagons is slowly crawling eastward. The October sun is hot at noon-day, and the dust from the loose soil rises like heavy smoke and powders every face and form in the guarding battalion so that features are wellnigh indistinguishable. Four companies of stalwart, sinewy infantry, with their brown rifles slung over the shoulder, are striding along in dispersed order, covering the exposed southern flank from sudden attack, while farther out along the ridge-line, and far to the front and rear, cavalry skirmishers and scouts are riding to and fro, searching every hollow and ravine, peering cautiously over every “divide,” and signalling “halt” or “forward” as the indications warrant.
And yet not a hostile Indian has been seen; not one, even as distant vedette, has appeared in range of the binoculars, since the scouts rode in at daybreak to say that big bands were in the immediate neighborhood. It has been a long, hard summer’s work for the troops, and the Indians have been, to all commands that boasted strength or swiftness, elusive as the Irishman’s flea of tradition. Only to those whose numbers were weak or whose movements were hampered have they appeared in fighting-trim. But combinations have been too much for them, and at last they have been “herded” down to the Elk, have crossed, and are now seeking to make their way, with women, children, tepees, dogs, “travois,” and the great pony herds, to the fastnesses of the Big Horn; and now comes the opportunity for which an old Indian-fighter has been anxiously waiting. In a big cantonment he has held the main body under his command, while keeping out constant scouting-parties to the east and north. He knows well that, true to their policy, the Indians will have scattered into small bands capable of reassembling anywhere that signal smokes may call them, and his orders are to watch all the crossings of the Elk and nab them as they come into his district. He watches, despite the fact that it is his profound conviction that the Indians will be no such idiots as to come just where they