“You! Have those awful creatures gone?”
“Yes, yes; be calm, I beg you. There is no longer the slightest danger. I am here to protect you with my life if need be.”
“Oh, Howard—Mr. Wynkoop—it is all so strange, so bewildering; my nerves are so shattered! But it has taught me a great, great lesson. How could I have ever been so blind? I thought Mr. Moffat and Mr. McNeil were such heroes, and yet now in this hour of desperate peril it was you who flew gallantly to my rescue! It is you who are the true Western knight!”
And Mr. Wynkoop gazed down into those grateful eyes, and modestly confessed it true.
THE PARTING HOUR
To Lieutenant Brant these proved days of bitterness. His sole comfort was the feeling that he had performed his duty; his sustaining hope, that the increasing rumors of Indian atrocity might soon lead to his despatch upon active service. He had called twice upon Hampton, both times finding the wounded man propped up in bed, very affable, properly grateful for services rendered, yet avoiding all reference to the one disturbing element between them.
Once he had accidentally met Naida, but their brief conversation left him more deeply mystified then ever, and later she seemed to avoid him altogether. The barrier between them no longer appeared as a figment of her misguided imagination, but rather as a real thing neither patience nor courage might hope to surmount. If he could have flattered himself that Naida was depressed also in spirit, the fact might have proved both comfort and inspiration, but to his view her attitude was one of almost total indifference. One day he deemed her but an idle coquette; the next, a warm-hearted woman, doing her duty bravely. Yet through it all her power over him never slackened. Twice he walked with Miss Spencer as far as the Herndon house, hopeful that that vivacious young lady might chance to let fall some unguarded hint of guidance. But Miss Spencer was then too deeply immersed in her own affairs of the heart to waste either time or thought upon others.
The end to this nervous strain came in the form of an urgent despatch recalling N Troop to Fort Abraham Lincoln by forced marches. The commander felt no doubt as to the full meaning of this message, and the soldier in him made prompt and joyful response. Little Glencaid was almost out of the world so far as recent news was concerned. The military telegraph, however, formed a connecting link with the War Department, so that Brant knew something of the terrible condition of the Northwest. He had thus learned of the consolidation of the hostile savages, incited by Sitting Bull, into the fastness of the Big Horn Range; he was aware that General Crook was already advancing northward from the Nebraska line; and he knew it was part of the plan of operation for Custer and the Seventh Cavalry to strike directly westward across the Dakota hills. Now he realized that he was to be a part of this chosen fighting force, and his heart responded to the summons as to a bugle-call in battle.