No one can explain later how such deeds are ever accomplished; how the tortured soul controls physical weakness, and compels strained sinews to perform the miracle of action when all ambition has died. Hampton surely must have both seen and known, for he kept his direction, yet never afterwards did he regain any clear memory of it. Twice she fell heavily, and the last time she lay motionless, her face pressed against the short grass blades. He stood looking down upon her, his head reeling beneath the hot rays of the sun, barely conscious of what had occurred, yet never becoming totally dead to his duty. Painfully he stooped, lifted the limp, slender figure against his shoulder, and went straggling forward, as uncertain in steps as a blind man, all about him stretching the dull, dead desolation of the plain. Again and again he sank down, pillowing his eyes from the pitiless sun glare; only to stagger upright once more, ever bending lower and lower beneath his unconscious burden.
ON THE NAKED PLAIN
It was two hundred and eighteen miles, as the crow flies, between old Fort Bethune and the rock ford crossing the Bear Water, every foot of that dreary, treeless distance Indian-haunted, the favorite skulking-place and hunting-ground of the restless Sioux. Winter and summer this wide expanse had to be suspiciously patrolled by numerous military scouting parties, anxious to learn more regarding the uncertain whereabouts of wandering bands and the purposes of malecontents, or else drawn hither and thither by continually shifting rumors of hostile raids upon the camps of cattlemen. All this involved rough, difficult service, with small meed of honor attached, while never had soldiers before found trickier foemen to contend against, or fighters more worthy of their steel.
One such company, composed of a dozen mounted infantrymen, accompanied by three Cree trailers, rode slowly and wearily across the brown exposed uplands down into the longer, greener grass of the wide valley bottom, until they emerged upon a barely perceptible trail which wound away in snake-like twistings, toward those high, barren hills whose blue masses were darkly silhouetted against the western sky. Upon every side of them extended the treeless wilderness, the desolate loneliness of bare, brown prairie, undulating just enough to be baffling to the eyes, yet so dull, barren, grim, silent, and colorless as to drive men mad. The shimmering heat rose and fell in great pulsating waves, although no slightest breeze came to stir the stagnant air, while thick clouds of white dust, impregnated with poisonous alkali, rose from out the grass roots, stirred by the horses’ feet, to powder the passers-by from head to foot. The animals moved steadily forward, reluctant and weary, their heads drooping dejectedly, their distended nostrils red and quivering, the oily perspiration streaking their dusted sides. The tired men, half blinded by the glare, lolled heavily in their deep cavalry saddles, with encrusted eyes staring moodily ahead.