“No!” shouted Colonel Patten. “He went toward Kiowa.”
Crosby replied in the same dead voice: “He doubled after he left you, colonel. He has gone to the post.”
Colonel Patten struggled from the supporting arms that held him and leaned eagerly forward. “You know him, then?” he demanded.
“Yes,” cried Crosby, “God help him! Spread out there, you, in open order—and ride like hell!”
Just before the officers’ club closed for the night Lieutenant Ranson came in and, seating himself at the piano, picked out “The Queen of the Philippine Islands” with one finger. Major Stickney and others who were playing bridge were considerably annoyed. Ranson then demanded that everyone present should drink his health in champagne for the reason that it was his birthday and that he was glad he was alive, and wished everyone else to feel the same way about it. “Or, for any other reason why,” he added generously. This frontal attack upon the whist-players upset the game entirely, and Ranson, enthroned upon the piano-stool, addressed the room. He held up a buckskin tobacco-bag decorated with beads.
“I got this down at the Indian village to-night,” he said. “That old squaw, Red Wing, makes ’em for two dollars. Crosby paid five dollars for his in New Mexico, and it isn’t half as good. What do you think? I got lost coming back, and went all the way round by the buttes before I found the trail, and I’ve only been here six months. They certainly ought to make me chief of scouts.”
There was the polite laugh which is granted to any remark made by the one who is paying for the champagne.
“Oh, that’s where you were, was it?” said the post-adjutant, genially. “The colonel sent Clancey after you and Crosby. Clancey reported that he couldn’t find you. So we sent Curtis. They went to act as escort for Colonel Patten and the pay. He’s coming up to-night in the stage.” Ranson was gazing down into his glass. Before he raised his head he picked several pieces of ice out of it and then drained it.
“The paymaster, hey?” he said. “He’s in the stage to-night, is he?”
“Yes,” said the adjutant; and then as the bugle and stamp of hoofs sounded from the parade outside, “and that’s him now, I guess,” he added.
Ranson refilled his glass with infinite care, and then, in spite of a smile that twitched at the corners of his mouth, emptied it slowly.
There was the jingle of spurs and a measured tramp on the veranda of the club-house, and for the first time in its history four enlisted men, carrying their Krags, invaded its portals. They were led by Lieutenant Crosby; his face was white under the tan, and full of suffering. The officers in the room received the intrusion in amazed silence. Crosby strode among them, looking neither to the left nor right, and touched Lieutenant Ranson upon the shoulder.
“The colonel’s orders, Lieutenant Ranson,” he said. “You are under arrest.”