It is frequently a misfortune to have very brilliant men in charge of affairs. They expect too much of ordinary men. — Thucydides

With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin




Visitors from the South

"Not wild Indians; Spanish, rather," mused the lieutenant, as, standing motionless, he and Stub gazed. "Hah! They may be videttes (scouts) from a large party, or they may be hunters like ourselves. We'll turn back, my boy; not from fear but to avoid trouble if possible."

So they turned back, in the direction of the stockade. Glancing behind, Stub saw the t o horsemen descending the hill at a gallop.

"They're coming, lieutenant. They've seen us."

"The sound of our gun no doubt attracted them first. They seem to be alone. Very well. They must not be permitted to think that we're afraid of them. Should they persist in coining on, we'll face them."

The two horsemen did come on, flourishing their lances as if in a charge. They were closing the gap rapidly—were within gunshot, when the lieutenant barked the brisk order:

"Now! Face about! We'll show them the muzzles of our guns."

They turned, and leveled musket and pistol. The two horsemen instantly pulled their mounts short, whirled, and bending low scudded away. In a short distance they halted, and sat waiting.

"We'll advance on them," quoth the lieutenant. But the first few steps sent the pair scurrying in retreat again.

"All right," said the lieutenant. "They respect our weapons and see we do not fear theirs. Maybe they'll let us take our way."

However, when he and Stub proceeded on the trail for the stockade, on came the two horsemen in another charge. The lieutenant ordered a face-about—and away the two scampered, as before. This game was repeated several times. The stockade was not in sight, and the lieutenant was growing angry.

"We'll make an end to this, Stub." His face had flushed. "1 do not propose to be badgered. It is beneath the dignity of an American officer and soldier to be toyed with in such child's play. Pay no further attention to them until we round that shoulder yonder. Then we'll slip into a ravine there and see if we can't lure them to close quarters that will bring them to account."

It was back-tickling work, to trudge on, never turning, with those lances threatening, closer and closer, behind. But the lieutenant gave no sign—until, when around the shoulder and for a moment out of sight by the pursuit, he sprang aside.

"Quick, now!"

They dived for cover and found it in a heap of large, brush-screened rocks. They waited, peering and listening. Pretty soon they might hear the hoofs of the horses. The two riders cantered into sight. They were quite near. One was black-bearded—wore a large ribboned hat and blue and red coat and leathern leggins, the same as Lieutenant Melgares' soldiers had worn. He was a Spanish dragoon. He carried a lance, a shield and short muskatoon or escopeta hung at his saddle.

The other was dark, without whiskers: an Indian. He wore a blue cotton shirt and leggins wrapped in white from moccasins to knees. His hair fell in two braids. He, also, carried a lance and shield.

They saw nobody ahead of them, and began to move cautiously, craning, and checking their horses. Little by little they came on. Now they were within forty paces.

"This will do," the lieutenant whispered. "We have them. Lay down your pistol and stand up so they can see you're unarmed. Then walk out. I'll follow and cover them. If they show sign of harm, I'll fire upon them instantly."

Stub bravely stood into full view and spread his empty hands. He was not afraid; not while Lieutenant Pike was backing him.

The two horsemen were completely surprised. They reined in and sat poised and gawking, on the verge of flight. But the lieutenant's gun muzzle held them fast, while Stub walked toward them, his hand up in the peace sign. The lieutenant called:

"Amigos (Friends)! Americanos (Americans)!" And he must have beckoned, for the two timidly edged forward, ready to run or to fight. Evidently they would rather run.

The lieutenant advanced also, and joined Stub.

"Take your pistol. Here it is. We'll talk with them. Do you know Spanish?"

"I've forgotten," Stub stammered.

"We'll manage with signs and the few words we do know. At the same time we must stand prepared to fire."

"Where are you from?" he queried sharply, in French.

The dragoon seemed to understand.

"From Santa Fe, senor."

"How far is Santa Fe?"

"Three days as we come, senor."

"What are you doing here?"

"We hunt."

They got off their horses, and led them in nearer; then they smiled friendly, and sat down and rolled themselves smokes. The lieutenant and Stub warily sat down, opposite. It was a little council. Stub eyed the Indian. He was a tame Indian—one of the house-building Indians from the south: a Pueblo.

"What do you hunt?" asked Lieutenant Pike.

"Game, senor. Do you hunt, also?"

"We travel down the Red River, to the American fort of Natchitoches."

"Another stranger has arrived, in Santa Fe. His name is Robinson. He is an American. The governor received him well. He comes from your party?"

"There is no such man in my party," the lieutenant answered; which was true, now.

Presently he arose. It was difficult talking by signs and short words.

"A Dios, senores. A pleasant journey to you."

"One moment, senor," begged the dragoon. "Where is your camp?"

"It is far; we have several camps. So good-by."

He and Stub started on. But the dragoon and the Indian mounted their horses and followed. They were determined to find the camp.

"They are spies," said the lieutenant. "We cannot get rid of them without trouble, and I have orders to avoid trouble. We shall have to take them in."

So he and Stub waited, and it was just as well, for soon the regular trail up river to the stockade was reached; the two horsemen struck into it, and forged ahead, peering eagerly. The trail crossed the fork above the stockade—and the first thing the two horsemen knew they were stopped in short order by Alex Roy who was posted as sentinel.

That astonished them again. They could just glimpse the stockade, they heard Alex challenge them, and saw his gun—and ducking and dodging they raced back, to the lieutenant.

"Do not fear. Come," he spoke.

He led them on; they left their horses outside, and, still frightened, followed him and Stub through an opening in the stockade, which was being used until the ditch and the hole were ready.

They stayed all that day. The men had orders to watch them, but not to talk with them. They stared about as much as they could. They asked several times where the Americans' horses were, and how many men the lieutenant had. Lieutenant Pike said that these were only a part of his men, and that he had marched without horses, through the snow. He was going down the Red River, holding councils with the Indians on the borders of the United States. If the governor at Santa Fe would send somebody who spoke good French or English, he would explain everything.

The dragoon and the Pueblo did not believe; and when they rode away in the morning they were as suspicious as ever. They said they would be in Santa Fe in two days with the lieutenant's message to the governor, whose name was Don Joaquin del Real Alencaster. The lieutenant had given them a few presents, which appeared to please them. The Pueblo gave the lieutenant some deer meat, part of a goose, a sack of meal and pieces of flat, hard baked bread.

Everybody was glad to see them go, but—

"It's an ill wind that brought 'em," Sergeant Meek remarked. "Not blaming him or the cap'n, the doctor did it. To be sure the Spanish would set out to search the country. Unless I'm mistaken, we'll see more of 'em."

The lieutenant thought the same. He ordered that the work of finishing the stockade be rushed, and even lent a hand himself. He had no idea of leaving until Hugh, and John Sparks and Tom, across the mountains, and Baroney and Pat Smith, on the Arkansaw with the horses, had been brought in.

It was high time that Corporal Jerry and party turned up. They had been gone a long while, and were needed. Five men and a boy were a small garrison. This evening Corporal Jerry, with John Brown, William Gordon and John Mountjoy, did arrive. After he had reported to the lieutenant, he told his story to the rest of them.

"Yes, we found Hugh, but we had to cross in snow middle deep, to do it. He's comin' on with Freegift. They'll be down to-morrow. We went back to Sparks an' Dougherty, too."

"How are they?"

"Bad off. Ah, boys, 'twould melt your hearts to see 'em. They sheer wept when we hailed 'em. They've got food enough yet, even after the near two months; but they can scarce walk a step. Their feet are gone, an' they've hardly a finger between 'em. So we couldn't move 'em; not through the snow of the passes. We did what we could to cheer 'em up, but when we left they acted like they never expected to see us again. Yes; an' they sent over bones from their feet, for the cap'n, an' made me promise to give 'em to him as a token an' to beg him, by all that's sacred, not to let the two of 'em die like beasts, alone in the wilds. When I gave him the bones an' told him, he turned white an' his eyes filled up. 'They should know me better than that,' said he. 'Never would I abandon them. To restore them to their homes and their country again I'd carry the end of a litter, myself, through snow and mountains for months.' "

"He'd do it," asserted Sergeant Meek. "And so would any of us. Bones from their feet, is it? Who but a soldier would lose the smallest joint for such a pittance of pay, even to serve his country? Surely the Government won't lose sight o' men like poor John and Tom."

The lieutenant took prompt measures. The news from the back trail had affected him sorely. This same evening he approached the men who were sitting around the fire. They sprang up, to attention.

"You have heard of the condition of Sparks and Dougherty," he addressed. "They must be brought in at once, with all possible speed." He paused, as if planning.

Sergeant Meek saluted.

"One man and myself will take the trip, sir, with your permission. Jest give us the word, sir."

"I'm with you, sergeant," blurted Terry Miller.

"None better," accepted the sergeant. "We'll go on back to the Arkansaw, cap'n, for the hosses. not to run, however, nor permit them to approach you with the idea o f disarming you or taking you prisoner. Should you be unable to evade them, you are to guard your liberty and bring them to the fort, where I will attend t them."

A sentry was posted all day on the top of a hill at the edge of the stockade prairie, from where he had a fine view up and down the fork and along the main river also. During the nights another sentry kept watch from one of the bastions or little block-houses on the land-side corners of the stockade.

The stockade had been enclosed by the log walls, the pickets had been planted, and within a day or two the outside ditch would be ready for the water.

On February 24 the lieutenant took Stub again upon another scout and hunt. The two spies had been gone seven days and nothing had been heard from them. He was getting nervous while waiting for the sergeant and "ferry to return with the horses, Baroney, Pat, and John and Tom. Meat was low; the men themselves had been too busy to hunt—but the water was in the ditch and everything was snug and shipshape.

He and Stub were out two days, scouting eastward, to examine the traveled road along which the Spanish might come. They made a circle and arrived "home," lugging the meat of three deer, about nine o'clock at night.

Corporal Jerry greeted them, after the challenge of Freegift Stout, who was the guard in the bastion.

"We were beginnin' to be scared for you, sir," he said. "We didn't know but what the Injuns or the Spanish had taken you."

"All quiet here, corporal?"

"Yes, sir; all quiet."

"That's good. We'd have been back sooner, only we hunted farther than we intended, and had heavy loads to pack in. Now if the other men with the horses return in safety, we may all march on unmolested, through American territory."

But in the morning, while they were at breakfast, the musket of John Brown, on the hill, sounded—" Boom!" It was a signal: "Strangers in sight." Corporal Jerry dropped his knife and bolted into a bastion, to look. Everybody paused, to learn the news.

Back ran Corporal Jerry, to the lieutenant, who was standing at the entrance to his brush lean-to, buckling on his sword.

"Two men are crossin' the prairie for the fort, sir. Menaugh (Hugh was the sentinel pacing outside) is about to stop 'em." not to run, however, nor permit them to approach you with the idea of disarming you or taking you prisoner. Should you be unable to evade them, you are to guard your liberty and bring them to the fort, where I will attend to them."

A sentry was posted all day on the top of a hill at the edge of the stockade prairie, from where he had a fine view up and down the fork and along the main river also. During the nights another sentry kept watch from one of the bastions or little block-houses on the land-side corners of the stockade.

The stockade had been enclosed by the log walls, the pickets had been planted, and within a day or two the outside ditch would be ready for the water.

On February 24 the lieutenant took Stub again upon another scout and hunt. The two spies had been gone seven days, and nothing had been heard from them. He was getting nervous while waiting for the sergeant and Terry to return with the horses, Baroney, Pat, and John and Tom. Meat was low; the men themselves had been too busy to hunt—but the water was in the ditch and everything was snug and shipshape.

He and Stub were out two days, scouting eastward, to examine the traveled road along which the Spanish might come. They made a circle and arrived "home," lugging the meat of three deer, about nine o'clock at night.

Corporal Jerry greeted them, after the challenge of Freegift stout, who was the guard in the bastion.

"We were beginnin' to be scared for you, sir," he said. "We didn't know but what the Injuns or the Spanish had taken you."

"All quiet here, corporal?"

"Yes, sir; all quiet."

"That's good. We'd have been back sooner, only we hunted farther than we intended, and had heavy loads to pack in. Now if the other men with the horses return in safety, we may all march on unmolested, through American territory."

But in the morning, while they were at breakfast, the musket of John Brown, on the hill, sounded—"Boom!'' It was a signal: "Strangers in sight." Corporal Jerry dropped his knife and bolted into a bastion, to look. Everybody paused, to learn the news.

Back rail Corporal Jerry, to the lieutenant, who was standing at the entrance to his brush lean-to, buckling on his sword.

"Two men are crossin' the prairie for the fort, sir. Menaugh (Hugh was the sentinel pacing outside) is about to stop 'em."

"See what they have to say. And if there are no more, admit them," ordered the lieutenant.

Away ran Corporal Jerry, for already Hugh was calling for the corporal of the guard, while holding off the two strangers.