“Now, men, follow till I drop; and then keep ahead! Come on!”
There is a furious sputter of hoofs, a rush of excited steeds up the gentle slope, a glad outburst of cheers as they sweep across the ridge and out of sight, then the clamor and yell of frantic battle; and when at last it dies away, the Riflers are panting over the hard-won position and shaking hands with some few silent cavalrymen. They have carried the ridge, captured the migrating village, squaws, ponies, travois, and pappooses; their “long Toms” have sent many a stalwart warrior to the mythical hunting-grounds, and the peppery colonel’s triumph is complete.
But Lawrence Hayne, with all the light gone from his brave young face, stands mutely looking down, upon the stiffening frame of his father’s old friend, and his, who lies shot through the heart.
In the Pullman car of the westward-bound express, half-way across the continent, two passengers were gazing listlessly out over the wintry landscape. It was a bitter morning in February. North and south the treeless prairie rolled away in successive ridge and depression. The snow lay deep in the dry ravines and streaked the sea-like surface with jagged lines of foam between which lay broad spaces clean-swept by the gale. Heavy masses of cloud, dark and forbidding, draped the sky from zenith to horizon, and the air was thick with spiteful gusts and spits of snow, crackling against the window-panes, making fierce dashes every time a car door was hurriedly opened, and driving about the platforms like a myriad swarm of fleecy and aggressive gnats raging for battle. Every now and then, responsive to some wilder blast, a blinding white cloud came whirling from the depths of the nearest gully and breaking like spray over the snow fence along the line. Not a sign of life was visible. The tiny mounds in the villages of the prairie-dogs seemed blocked and frozen; even the trusty sentinel had “deserted post” and huddled with his fellows for warmth and shelter in the bowels of the earth. Fluttering owl and skulking coyote, too, had vanished from the face of nature. Timid antelope—fleetest coursers of the prairie—and stolid horned cattle had gone, none knew whither, nor cared to know until the “blizzard” had subsided. Two heavy engines fought their way, panting, into the very teeth of the gale and slowly wound the long train after them up-grade among the foot-hills of the great plateau of the Rockies. Once in a while, when stopping for a moment at some group of brown-painted sheds and earth-battened shanties, the wind moaned and howled among the iron braces and brake-chains beneath the car and made such mournful noise that it was a relief to start once more and lose sound of its wailing in the general rumble. As for the scenery, only as a picture of shiver-provoking monotony and desolation would one care to take a second look.