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A Kinsman of Red Cloud by Owen Wister


It was thirty minutes before a June sundown at the post, and the first call had sounded for parade. Over in the barracks the two companies and the single troop lounged a moment longer, then laid their police litera- ture down, and lifted their stocking feet from the beds to get ready. In the officers' quarters the captain rose regretfully from after-dinner digestion, and the three lieutenants sought their helmets with a sigh. Lieutenant Balwin had been dining an unconventional and impressive guest at the mess, and he now interrupted the anecdote which the guest was achieving with frontier deliberation.

"Make yourself comfortable," he said. "I'll have to hear the rest about the half-breed when I get back."

"There ain't no more--yet. He got my cash with his private poker deck that onced, and I'm fixing for to get his'n."

Second call sounded; the lines filed out and formed, the sergeant of the guard and two privates took their station by the flag, and when battalion was formed the commanding officer, towering steeple-stiff beneath his plumes, received the adjutant's salute, ordered him to his post, and began drill. At all this the unconventional guest looked on comfortably from Lieutenant Balwin's porch.

"I doubt if I could put up with that there discipline all the week," he mused. "Carry--arms! Present--Arms! I guess that's all I know of it." The winking white line of gloves stirred his approval. "Pretty good that. Gosh, see the sun on them bayonets!"

The last note of retreat merged in the sonorous gun, and the flag shining in the light of evening slid down and rested upon the earth. The blue ranks marched to a single bugle--the post was short of men and officers--and the captain, with the released lieutenants, again sought digestion and cigars. Balwin returned to his guest, and together they watched the day forsake the plain. Presently the guest rose to take his leave. He looked old enough to be the father of the young officer, but he was a civilian, and the military man proceeded to give him excellent advice.

"Now don't get into trouble, Cutler."

The slouch-shouldered scout rolled his quid gently, and smiled at his superior with indulgent regard.

"See here, Cutler, you have a highly unoccupied look about you this evening. I've been studying the customs of this population, and I've noted a fact or two."

"Let 'em loose on me, sir."

"Fact one: When any male inhabitant of Fort Laramie has a few spare moments, he hunts up a game of cards."

"Well, sir, you've called the turn on me."

"Fact two: At Fort Laramie a game of cards frequently ends in discussion."

"Fact three: Mr. Calvin, in them discussions Jarvis Cutler has the last word. You put that in your census report alongside the other two."

"Well, Cutler, if somebody's gun should happen to beat yours in an argument, I should have to hunt another wagon-master."

"I'll not forget that. When was you expecting to pull out north?"

"Whenever the other companies get here. May be three days--may be three weeks."

"Then I will have plenty time for a game to-night."

With this slight dig of his civilian independence into the lieutenant's military ribs, the scout walked away, his long, lugubrious frockcoat (worn in honor of the mess) occasionally flapping open in the breeze, and giving a view of a belt richly fluted with cartridges, and the ivory handle of a pistol looking out of its holster. He got on his horse, crossed the flat, and struck out for the cabin of his sociable friends, Loomis and Kelley, on the hill. The open door and a light inside showed the company, and Cutler gave a grunt, for sitting on the table was the half-breed, the winner of his unavenged dollars. He rode slower, in order to think, and arriving at the corral below the cabin, tied his horse to the stump of a cottonwood. A few steps towards the door, and he wheeled on a sudden thought, and under cover of the night did a crafty something which to the pony was altogether unaccountable. He unloosed both front and rear cinch of his saddle, so they hung entirely free in wide bands beneath the pony's belly. He tested their slackness with his hand several times, stopping instantly when the more and more surprised pony turned his head to see what new thing in his experience might be going on, and, seeing, gave a delicate bounce with his hind-quarters.

"Never you mind, Duster," muttered the scout. "Did you ever see a skunk-trap? Oughts is for mush-rats, and number ones is mostly used for 'coons and 'possums, and I guess they'd do for a skunk. But you and we'll call this here trap a number two, Duster, for the skunk I'm after is a big one. All you've to do is to act natural."

Cutler took the rope off the stump by which Duster had been tied securely, wound and strapped it to the tilted saddle, and instead of this former tether, made a weak knot in the reins, and tossed them over the stump. He entered the cabin with a countenance sweeter than honey.

"Good-evening, boys," he said. "Why, Toussaint, how do you do?"

The hand of Toussaint had made a slight, a very slight, movement towards his hip, but at sight of Cutler's mellow smile resumed its clasp upon his knee.

"Golly, but you're gay-like this evening," said Kelley.

"Blamed if I knowed he could look so frisky," added Loomis.

"Sporting his onced-a-year coat," Kelley pursued. "That ain't for our benefit, Joole."

"No, we're not that high in society." Both these cheerful waifs had drifted from the Atlantic coast westward.

Cutler looked from them to his costume, and then amiably surveyed the half-breed.

"Well, boys, I'm in big luck, I am. How's yourn nowadays, Toussaint?"

"Pretty good sometime. Sometime heap hell." The voice of the half-breed came as near heartiness as its singularly false quality would allow, and as he smiled he watched Cutler with the inside of his eyes.

The scout watched nobody and nothing with great care, looked about him pleasantly, inquired for the whiskey, threw aside hat and gloves, sat down, leaning the chair back against the wall, and talked with artful candor. "Them sprigs of lieutenants down there," said he, "they're a surprising lot for learning virtue to a man. You take Balwin. Why, he ain't been out of the Academy only two years, and he's been telling me how card-playing ain't good for you. And what do you suppose he's been and offered Jarvis Cutler for a job? I'm to be wagon-master." He paused, and the half-breed's attention to his next words increased. "Wagon-master, and good pay, too. Clean up to the Black Hills; and the troops'll move soon as ever them reinforcements come. Drinks on it, boys! Set 'em up, Joole Loomis. My contract's sealed with some of Uncle Sam's cash, and I'm going to play it right here. Hello! Somebody coming to join us? He's in a hurry."

There was a sound of lashing straps and hoofs beating the ground, and Cutler looked out of the door. As he had calculated, the saddle had gradually turned with Duster's movements and set the pony bucking.

"Stampeded!" said the scout, and swore the proper amount called for by such circumstances. "Some o' you boys help me stop the durned fool."

Loomis and Kelley ran. Duster had jerked the prepared reins from the cottonwood, and was lurching down a small dry gulch, with the saddle bouncing between his belly and the stones.

Cutler cast a backward eye at the cabin where Toussaint had stayed behind alone. "Head him off below, boys, and I'll head him off above," the scout sang out. He left his companions, and quickly circled round behind the cabin, stumbling once heavily, and hurrying on, anxious lest the noise had reached the lurking half-breed. But the ivory-handled pistol, jostled from its holster, lay unheeded among the stones where he had stumbled. He advanced over the rough ground, came close to the logs, and craftily peered in at the small window in the back of the cabin. It was evident that he had not been heard. The sinister figure within still sat on the table, but was crouched, listening like an animal to the shouts that were coming from a safe distance down in the gulch. Cutler, outside of the window, could not see the face of Toussaint, but he saw one long brown hand sliding up and down the man's leg, and its movement put him in mind of the tail of a cat. The hand stopped to pull out a pistol, into which fresh cartridges were slipped. Cutler had already done this same thing after dismounting, and he now felt confident that his weapon needed no further examination. He did not put his hand to his holster. The figure rose from the table, and crossed the room to a set of shelves in front of which hung a little yellow curtain. Behind it were cups, cans, bottles, a pistol, counters, red, white, and blue, and two fresh packs of cards, blue and pink, side by side. Seeing these, Toussaint drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and unwrapped two further packs, both blue; and at this Cutler's intent face grew into plain shape close to the window, but receded again into uncertain dimness. From down in the gulch came shouts that the runaway horse was captured. Toussaint listened, ran to the door, and quickly returning, put the blue pack from the shelf into his pocket, leaving in exchange one of his own. He hesitated about altering the position of the cards on the shelf, but Kelley and Loomis were unobservant young men, and the half-breed placed the pink cards on top of his blue ones. The little yellow curtain again hung innocently over the shelves, and Toussaint, pouring himself a drink of whiskey, faced round, and for the first time saw the window that had been behind his back. He was at it in an instant, wrenching its rusty pin, that did not give, but stuck motionless in the wood. Cursing, he turned and hurried out of the door and round the cabin. No one was there. Some hundred yards away the noiseless Cutler crawled farther among the thickets that filled the head of the gulch. Toussaint whipped out a match, and had it against his trousers to strike and look if there were footprints, when second thoughts warned him this might be seen, and was not worth risking suspicion over, since so many feet came and went by this cabin. He told himself no one could have been there to see him, and slowly returned inside, with a mind that fell a hair's breadth short of conviction.

The boys, coming up with the horse, met Cutler, who listened to how Duster had stood still as soon as he had kicked free of his saddle, making no objection to being caught. They suggested that he would not have broken loose had he been tied with a rope; and hearing this, Cutler bit off a piece of tobacco, and told them they were quite right: a horse should never be tied by his bridle. For a savory moment the scout cuddled his secret, and turned it over like the tobacco lump under his tongue. Then he explained, and received serenely the amazement of Loomis and Kelley.

"When you kids have travelled this Western country awhile you'll keep your cards locked," said he." He's going to let us win first. You'll see, he'll play a poor game with the pink deck. Then, if we don't call for fresh cards, why, he'll call for 'em himself. But, just for the fun of the thing, if any of us loses steady, why, we'll call. Then, when he gets hold of his strippers, watch out. When he makes his big play, and is stretchin' for to rake the counters in, you grab 'em, Joole; for by then I'll have my gun on him, and if he makes any trouble we'll feed him to the coyotes. I expect that must have been it, boys," he continued, in a new tone, as they came within possible ear-shot of the half-breed in the cabin. "A coyote come around him where he was tied. The fool horse has seen enough of 'em to git used to 'em, you'd think, but he don't. There; that'll hold him. I guess he'll have to pull the world along with him if he starts to run again."

The lamp was placed on the window-shelf, and the four took seats, Cutler to the left of Toussaint, with Kelley opposite. The pink cards fell harmless, and for a while the game was a dull one to see. Holding a pair of kings, Cutler won a little from Toussaint, who remarked that luck must go with the money of Uncle Sam. After a few hands, the half-breed began to bet with ostentatious folly, and, losing to one man and another, was joked upon the falling off of his game. In an hour's time his blue chips had been twice reinforced, and twice melted from the neat often-counted pile in which he arranged them; moreover, he had lost a horse from his string down on Chug Water.

"Lend me ten dollar," he said to Cutler. "You rich man now."

In the next few deals Kelley became poor. "I'm sick of this luck," said he.

"Then change it, why don't you? Let's have a new deck." And Loomis rose.

"Joole, you always are for something new," said Cutler. "Now I'm doing pretty well with these pink cards. But I'm no hog. Fetch on your fresh ones."

The eyes of the half-breed swerved to the yellow curtain. He was by a French trapper from Canada out of a Sioux squaw, one of Red Cloud's sisters, and his heart beat hot with the evil of two races, and none of their good. He was at this moment irrationally angry with the men who had won from him through his own devices, and malice undisguised shone in his lean flat face. At sight of the blue cards falling in the first deal, silence came over the company, and from the distant parade-ground the bugle sounded the melancholy strain of taps. Faint, far, solemn, melodious, the music travelled unhindered across the empty night.

"Them men are being checked off in their bunks now," said Cutler.

"What you bet this game?" demanded Toussaint.

"I've heard 'em play that same music over a soldier's grave," said Kelley.

"You goin' to bet?" Toussaint repeated.

Cutler pushed forward the two necessary white chips. No one's hand was high, and Loomis made a slight winning. The deal went its round several times, and once, when it was Toussaint's, Cutler suspected that special cards had been thrown to him by the half-breed as an experiment. He therefore played the gull to a nicety, betting gently upon his three kings; but when he stepped out boldly and bet the limit, it was not Toussaint but Kelley who held the higher hand, winning with three aces. Why the coup should be held off longer puzzled the scout, unless it was that Toussaint was carefully testing the edges of his marked cards to see if he controlled them to a certainty. So Cutler played on calmly. Presently two aces came to him in Toussaint's deal, and he wondered how many more would be in his three-card draw. Very pretty! One only, and he lost to Loomis, who had drawn three, and held four kings. The hands were getting higher, they said. The game had "something to it now." But Toussaint grumbled, for his luck was bad all this year, he said. Cutler had now made sure that the aces and kings went where the half-breed wished, and could be slid undetected from the top or the middle or the bottom of the pack; but he had no test yet how far down the scale the marking went. At Toussaint's next deal Cutler judged the time had come, and at the second round of betting he knew it. The three white men played their parts, raising each other without pause, and again there was total silence in the cabin. Every face bent to the table, watching the turn repeat its circle with obstinate increase, until new chips and more new chips had been brought to keep on with, and the heap in the middle had mounted high in the hundreds, while in front of Toussaint lay his knife and a match-box--pledges of two more horses which he had staked. He had drawn three cards, while the others took two, except Cutler, who had a pair of kings again, and drawing three, picked up two more. Kelley dropped out, remarking he had bet more than his hand was worth, which was true, and Loomis followed him. Their persistence had surprised Toussaint a little. He had not given every one suspicious hands: Cutler's four kings were enough. He bet once more, was raised by the scout, called, and threw down his four aces.

"That beats me," said Cutler, quietly, and his hand moved under his frock-coat, as the half-breed, eyeing the central pile of counters in triumph, closed his fingers over it. They were dashed off by Kelley, who looked expectantly across at Cutler, and seeing the scout's face wither into sudden old age, cried out, "For God's sake, Jarvis, where's your gun?" Kelley sprang for the yellow curtain, and reeled backward at the shot of Toussaint. His arm thrashed along the window-sill as he fell, sweeping over the lamp, and flaring channels of oil ran over his body and spread on the ground. But these could no longer hurt him. The half-breed had leaped outside the cabin, enraged that Cutler should have got out during the moment he had been dealing with Kelley. The scout was groping for his ivory-handled pistol off in the darkness. He found it, and hurried to the little window at a second shot he heard inside. Loomis, beating the rising flame away, had seized the pistol from the shelf, and aimlessly fired into the night at Toussaint. He fired again, running to the door from the scorching heat. Cutler got round the house to save him if he could, and saw the half-breed's weapon flash, and the body pitch out across the threshold. Toussaint, gaining his horse, shot three times and missed Cutler, whom he could not clearly see; and he heard the scout's bullets sing past him as his horse bore him rushing away.


Jarvis Cutler lifted the dead Loomis out of the cabin. He made a try for Kelley's body, but the room had become a cave of flame, and he was driven from the door. He wrung his hands, giving himself bitter blame aloud, as he covered Loomis with his saddle-blanket, and jumped bareback upon Duster to go to the post. He had not been riding a minute when several men met him. They had seen the fire from below, and on their way up the half-breed had passed them at a run.

"Here's our point," said Cutler. "Will he hide with the Sioux, or will he take to the railroad? Well, that's my business more than being wagon-master. I'll get a warrant. You tell Lieutenant Balwin--and somebody give me a fresh horse."

A short while later, as Cutler, with the warrant in his pocket, rode out of Fort Laramie, the call of the sentinels came across the night: "Number One. Twelve o'clock, and all's well." A moment, and the refrain sounded more distant, given by Number Two. When the fourth took it up, far away along the line, the words were lost, leaving something like the faint echo of a song. The half-breed had crossed the Platte, as if he were making for his kindred tribe, but the scout did not believe in this too plain trail.

"There's Chug Water lying right the other way from where he went, and I guess it's there Mr. Toussaint is aiming for." With this idea Cutler swung from north to southwest along the Laramie. He went slowly over his shortcut, not to leave the widely circling Toussaint too much in his rear. The fugitive would keep himself carefully far on the other side of the Laramie, and very likely not cross it until the forks of Chug Water. Dawn had ceased to be gray, and the doves were cooing incessantly among the river thickets, when Cutler, reaching the forks, found a bottom where the sage-brush grew seven and eight feet high, and buried himself and his horse in its cover. Here was comfort; here both rivers could be safely watched. It seemed a good leisure-time for a little fire and some breakfast. He eased his horse of the saddle, sliced some bacon, and put a match to his pile of small sticks. As the flame caught, he stood up to enjoy the cool of a breeze that was passing through the stillness, and he suddenly stamped his fire out. The smell of another fire had come across Chug Water on the wind. It was incredible that Toussaint should be there already. There was no seeing from this bottom, and if Cutler walked up out of it the other man would see too. If it were Toussaint, he would not stay long in the vast exposed plain across Chug Water, but would go on after his meal. In twenty minutes it would be the thing to swim or wade the stream, and crawl up the mud bank to take a look. Meanwhile, Cutler dipped in water some old bread that he had and sucked it down, while the little breeze from opposite hook the cottonwood leaves and brought over the smell of cooking meat. The sun grew warmer, and the doves ceased. Cutler opened his big watch, and clapped it shut as the sound of mud heavily slopping into the other river reached him. He crawled to where he could look at the Laramie from among his sagebrush, and there was Toussaint leading his horse down to the water. The half-breed gave a shrill call, and waved his hat. His call was answered, and as he crossed the Laramie, three Sioux appeared, riding to the bank. They waited till he gained their level, when all four rode up the Chug Water, and went out of sight opposite the watching Cutler. The scout threw off some of his clothes, for the water was still high, and when he had crossed, and drawn himself to a level with the plain, there were the four squatted among the sage-brush beside a fire. They sat talking and eating for some time. One of them rose at last, pointed south, and mounting his horse, dwindled to a dot, blurred, and evaporated in the heated, trembling distance. Cutler at the edge of the bank still watched the other three, who sat on the ground. A faint shot came, and they rose at once, mounted, and vanished southward. There was no following them now in this exposed country, and Cutler, feeling sure that the signal had meant something about Toussaint's horses, made his fire, watered his own horse, and letting him drag a rope where the feed was green, ate his breakfast in ease. Toussaint would get a fresh mount, and proceed to the railroad. With the comfort of certainty and tobacco, the scout lolled by the river under the cottonwood, and even slept. In the cool of the afternoon he reached the cabin of an acquaintance twenty miles south, and changed his horse. A man had passed by, he was told. Looked as if bound for Cheyenne. "No," Cutler said, "he's known there"; and he went on, watching Toussaint's tracks. Within ten miles they veered away from Cheyenne to the southeast, and Cutler struck out on a trail of his own more freely. By midnight he was on Lodge-Pole Creek, sleeping sound among the last trees that he would pass. He slept twelve hours, having gone to bed knowing he must not come into town by daylight. About nine o'clock he arrived, and went to the railroad station; there the operator knew him. The lowest haunt in the town had a tent south of the Union Pacific tracks; and Cutler, getting his irons, and a man from the saloon, went there, and stepped in, covering the room with his pistol. The fiddle stopped, the shrieking women scattered, and Toussaint, who had a glass in his hand, let it fly at Cutler's head, for he was drunk. There were two customers besides himself.

"Nobody shall get hurt here," said Cutler, above the bedlam that was now set up. "Only that man's wanted. The quieter I get him, the quieter it'll be for others."

Toussaint had dived for his pistol, but the proprietor of the dance-hall, scenting law, struck the half-breed with the butt of another, and he rolled over, and was harmless for some minutes. Then he got on his legs, and was led out of the entertainment, which resumed more gayly than ever. Feet shuffled, the fiddle whined, and truculent treble laughter sounded through the canvas walls as Toussaint walked between Cutler and the saloon-man to jail. He was duly indicted, and upon the scout's deposition committed to trial for the murder of Loomis and Kelley. Cutler, hoping still to be wagon-master, wrote to Lieutenant Balwin, hearing in reply that the reinforcements would not arrive for two months. The session of the court came in one, and Cutler was the Territory's only witness. He gave his name and age, and hesitated over his occupation.

"Call it poker-dealer," sneered Toussaint's attorney.

"I would, but I'm such a fool one," observed the witness. "Put me down as wagon-master to the military outfit that's going to White River."

"What is your residence?"

"Well, I reside in the section that lies between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean."

"A pleasant neighborhood," said the judge, who knew Cutler perfectly, and precisely how well he could deal poker hands.

"It's not a pleasant neighborhood for some." And Cutler looked at Toussaint

"You think you done with me?" Toussaint inquired, upon which silence was ordered in the court.

Upon Cutler's testimony the half-breed was found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged in six weeks from that day. Hearing this, he looked at the witness. "I see you one day agin," he said.

The scout returned to Fort Laramie, and soon the expected troops arrived, and the expedition started for White River to join Captain Brent. The captain was stationed there to impress Red Cloud, and had written to headquarters that this chief did not seem impressed very deeply, and that the lives of the settlers were insecure. Reinforcements were accordingly sent to him. On the evening before these soldiers left Laramie, news came from the south. Toussaint had escaped from jail. The country was full of roving, dubious Indians, and with the authentic news went a rumor that the jailer had received various messages. These were to the effect that the Sioux nation did not desire Toussaint to be killed by the white man, that Toussaint's mother was the sister of Red Cloud, and that many friends of Toussaint often passed the jailer's house. Perhaps he did get such messages. They are not a nice sort to receive. However all this may have been, the prisoner was gone.


Fort Robinson, on the White River, is backed by yellow bluffs that break out of the foot-hills in turret and toadstool shapes, with stunt pines starving between their torrid bastions. In front of the fort the land slants away into the flat unfeatured desert, and in summer the sky is a blue-steel covet that each day shuts the sun and the earth and mankind into one box together, while it lifts at night to let in the cool of the stars. The White River, which is not wide, runs in a curve, and around this curve below the fort some distance was the agency, and beyond it a stockade, inside which in those days dwelt the settlers. All this was strung out on one side of the White River, outside of the curve; and at a point near the agency a foot-bridge of two cottonwood trunks crossed to the concave of the river's bend--a bottom of some extent, filled with growing cottonwoods, and the tepees of many Sioux families. Along the river and on the plain other tepees stood.

One morning, after Lieutenant Balwin had become established at Fort Robinson, he was talking with his friend Lieutenant Powell, when Cutler knocked at the wire door. The wagon-master was a privileged character, and he sat down and commented irrelevantly upon the lieutenant's pictures, Indian curiosities, and other well-meant attempts to conceal the walk:

"What's the trouble, Cutler?"

"Don't know as there's any trouble."

"Come to your point, man; you're not a scout now."

"Toussaint's here."

"What! in camp?"

"Hiding with the Sioux. Two Knives heard about it." (Two Knives was a friendly Indian.) "He's laying for me," Cutler added.

"You've seen him?"

"No. I want to quit my job and go after him."

"Nonsense!" said Powell.

"You can't, Cutler," said Balwin. "I can't spare you."

"You'll be having to fill my place, then, I guess."

"You mean to go without permission?" said Powell, sternly.

"Lord, no! He'll shoot me. That's all."

The two lieutenants pondered.

"And it's to-day," continued Cutler, plaintively, "that he should be gettin' hanged in Cheyenne."

Still the lieutenants pondered, while the wagon-master inspected a photograph of Marie Rose as Marguerite.

"I have it!" exclaimed Powell. "Let's kill him."

"How about the commanding officer?"

"He'd back us--but we'll tell him afterwards. Cutler, can you find Toussaint?"

"If I get the time."

"Very well, you're off duty till you do. Then report to me at once."

Just after guard-mounting two days later, Cutler came in without knocking. Toussaint was found. He was down on the river now, beyond the stockade. In ten minutes the wagon-master and the two lieutenants were rattling down to the agency in an ambulance, behind four tall blue government mules. These were handily driven by a seventeen-year-old boy whom Balwin had picked. up, liking his sterling American ways. He had come West to be a cow-boy, but a chance of helping to impress Red Cloud had seemed still dearer to his heart. They drew up at the agency store, and all went in, leaving the boy nearly out of his mind with curiosity, and pretending to be absorbed with the reins. Presently they came out, Balwin with field-glasses.

"Now," said he, "where?"

"You see the stockade, sir?"

"Well?" said Powell, sticking his chin on Cutler's shoulder to look along his arm as he pouted. But the scout proposed to be deliberate.

"Now the gate of the stockade is this way, ain't it?"

"Well, well?"

"You start there and follow the fence to the corner--the left corner, towards the river. Then you follow the side that's nearest the river down to the other corner. Now that corner is about a hundred yards from the bank. You take a bee-line to the bank and go down stream, maybe thirty yards. No; it'll be forty yards, I guess. There's a lone pine-tree right agin the edge." The wagon-master stopped.

"I see all that," said Lieutenant Balwin, screwing the field-glasses. "There's a buck and a squaw lying under the tree."

"Naw, sir," drawled Cutler, "that ain't no buck. That's him lying in his Injun blanket and chinnin' a squaw."

"Why, that man's an Indian, Cutler. I tell you I can see his braids."

"Oh, he's rigged up Injun fashion, fust rate, sir. But them braids of his ain't his'n. False hair."

The lieutenants passed each other the fieldglasses three times, and glared at the lone pine and the two figures in blankets. The boy on the ambulance was unable to pretend any longer, and leaned off his seat till he nearly fell.

"Well," said Balwin, "I never saw anything look more like a buck Sioux. Look at his paint. Take the glasses yourself, Cutler."

But Cutler refused. "He's like an Injun," he said. "But that's just what he wants to be." The scout's conviction bore down their doubt.

They were persuaded. "You can't come with us, Cutler," said Powell. "You must wait for us here."

"I know, sir; he'd spot us, sure. But it ain't right. I started this whole business with my poker scheme at that cabin, and I ought to stay with it clear through."

The officers went into the agency store and took down two rifles hanging at the entrance, always ready for use. "We're going to kill a man," they explained, and the owner was entirely satisfied. They left the rueful Cutler inside, and proceeded to the gate of the stockade, turning there to the right, away from the river, and following the paling round the corner down to the farther right-hand corner. Looking from behind it, the lone pine-tree stood near, and plain against the sky. The striped figures lay still in their blankets, talking, with their faces to the river. Here and there across the stream the smoke-stained peak of a tepee showed among the green leaves.

"Did you ever see a more genuine Indian?" inquired Baldwin.

"We must let her rip now, anyhow," said Powell, and they stepped out into the open. They walked towards the pine till it was a hundred yards from them, and the two beneath it lay talking all the while. Balwin covered the man with his rifle and called. The man turned his head, and seeing the rifle, sat up in his blanket. The squaw sat up also. Again the officer called, keeping his rifle steadily pointed, and the man dived like a frog over the bank. Like magic his blanket had left his limbs and painted body naked, except for the breech-clout. Balwin's tardy bullet threw earth over the squaw, who went flapping and screeching down the river. Balwin and Powell ran to the edge, which dropped six abrupt feet of clay to a trail, then shelved into the swift little stream. The red figure was making up the trail to the foot-bridge that led to the Indian houses, and both officers fired. The man continued his limber flight, and they jumped down and followed, firing. They heard a yell on the plain above, and an answer to it, and then confused yells above and below, gathering all the while. The figure ran on above the river trail below the bank, and their bullets whizzed after it.

"Indian!" asserted Balwin, panting.

"Ran away, though," said Powell.

"So'd you run. Think any Sioux'd stay when an army officer comes gunning for him?"

"Shoot!" said Powell. "'S getting near bridge," and they went on, running and firing. The yells all over the plain were thickening. The air seemed like a substance of solid flashing sound. The naked runner came round the river curve into view of the people at the agency store.

"Where's a rifle?" said Cutler to the agent.

"Officers got 'em," the agent explained.

"Well, I can't stand this," said the scout, and away he went.

"That man's crazy," said the agent.

"You bet he ain't!" remarked the ambulance boy.

Cutler was much nearer to the bridge than was the man in the breech-clout, and reaching the bank, he took half a minute's keen pleasure in watching the race come up the trail. When the figure was within ten yards Cutler slowly drew an ivory-handled pistol. The lieutenants below saw the man leap to the middle of the bridge, sway suddenly with arms thrown up, and topple into White River. The current swept the body down, and as it came it alternately lifted and turned and sank as the stream played with it. Sometimes it struck submerged stumps or shallows, and bounded half out of water, then drew under with nothing but the back of the head in sight, turning round and round. The din of Indians increased, and from the tepees in the cottonwoods the red Sioux began to boil, swarming on the opposite bank, but uncertain what had happened. The man rolling in the water was close to the officers.

"It's not our man," said Balwin. "Did you or I hit him?"

"We're gone, anyhow," said Powell, quietly. "Look!"

A dozen rifles were pointing at their heads on the bank above. The Indians still hesitated, for there was Two Knives telling them these officers were not enemies, and had hurt no Sioux. Suddenly Cutler pushed among the rifles, dashing up the nearest two with his arm, and their explosion rang in the ears of the lieutenants. Powell stood grinning at the general complication of matters that had passed beyond his control, and Balwin made a grab as the head of the man in the river washed by. The false braid came off in his hand!

"Quick!" shouted Cutler from the bank. "Shove him up here!"

Two Knives redoubled his harangue, and the Indians stood puzzled, while the lieutenants pulled Toussaint out, not dead, but shot through the hip. They dragged him over the clay and hoisted him, till Cutler caught hold and jerked him to the level, as a new noise of rattling descended on the crowd, and the four blue mules wheeled up and halted. The boy had done it himself. Massing the officers' need, he had pelted down among the Sioux, heedless of their yells, and keeping his gray eyes on his team. In got the three, pushing Toussaint in front, and scoured away for the post as the squaw arrived to shriek the truth to her tribe--what Red Cloud's relation had been the victim.

Cutler sat smiling as the ambulance swung along. "I told you I belonged in this here affair," he said. And when they reached the fort he was saying it still, occasionally.

Captain Brent considered it neatly done. "But that boy put the finishing touches," he said. "Let's have him in."

The boy was had in, and ate a dinner with the officers in glum embarrassment, smoking a cigar after it without joy. Toussaint was given into the doctor's hands, and his wounds carefully dressed.

"This will probably cost an Indian outbreak," said Captain Brent, looking down at the plain. Blanketed riders galloped over it, and yelling filled the air. But Toussaint was not destined to cause this further harm. An unexpected influence intervened.

All afternoon the cries and galloping went on, and next morning (worse sign) there seemed to be no Indians in the world. The horizon was empty, the air was silent, the smoking tepees were vanished from the cottonwoods, and where those in the plain had been lay the lodge-poles, and the fires were circles of white, cold ashes. By noon an interpreter came from Red Cloud. Red Cloud would like to have Toussaint. If the white man was not willing, it should be war.

Captain Brent told the story of Loomis and Kelley. "Say to Red Cloud," he ended, "that when a white man does such things among us, he is killed. Ask Red Cloud if Toussaint should live. If he thinks yes, let him come and take Toussaint."

The next day with ceremony and feathers of state, Red Cloud came, bringing his interpreter, and after listening until every word had been told him again, requested to see the half-breed. He was taken to the hospital. A sentry stood on post outside the tent, and inside lay Toussaint, with whom Cutler and the ambulance-boy were playing whiskey-poker. While the patient was waiting to be hanged, he might as well enjoy himself within reason. Such was Cutler's frontier philosophy. We should always do what we can for the sick. At sight of Red Cloud looming in the doorway, gorgeous and grim as Fate, the game was suspended. The Indian took no notice of the white men, and walked to the bed. Toussaint clutched at his relation's fringe, but Red Cloud looked at him. Then the mongrel strain of blood told, and the half-breed poured out a chattering appeal, while Red Cloud by the bedside waited till it had spent itself. Then he grunted, and left the room. He had not spoken, and his crest of long feathers as it turned the corner was the last vision of him that the card-players had.

Red Cloud came back to the officers, and in their presence formally spoke to his interpreter, who delivered the message: "Red Cloud says Toussaint heap no good. No Injun, anyhow. He not want him. White man hunt pretty hard for him. Can keep him."

Thus was Toussaint twice sentenced. He improved under treatment, played many games of whiskey-poker, and was conveyed to Cheyenne and hanged.

These things happened in the early seventies; but there are Sioux still living who remember the two lieutenants, and how they pulled the half-breed out of White River by his false hair. It makes them laugh to this day. Almost any Indian is full of talk when he chooses, and when he gets hold of a joke he never lets go.


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