Dick Boyle's Business Card by Bret Harte
The Sage Wood and Dead Flat stage coach was waiting before the station.
The Pine Barrens mail wagon that connected with it was long overdue, with
its transfer passengers, and the station had relapsed into listless
expectation. Even the humors of Dick Boyle, the Chicago "drummer,"—and,
so far, the solitary passenger—which had diverted the waiting
loungers, began to fail in effect, though the cheerfulness of the humorist
was unabated. The ostlers had slunk back into the stables, the station
keeper and stage driver had reduced their conversation to impatient
monosyllables, as if each thought the other responsible for the delay. A
solitary Indian, wrapped in a commissary blanket and covered by a cast-off
tall hat, crouched against the wall of the station looking stolidly at
nothing. The station itself, a long, rambling building containing its
entire accommodation for man and beast under one monotonous, shed-like
roof, offered nothing to attract the eye. Still less the prospect, on the
one side two miles of arid waste to the stunted, far-spaced pines in the
distance, known as the "Barrens;" on the other an apparently limitless
level with darker patches of sage brush, like the scars of burnt-out
Dick Boyle approached the motionless Indian as a possible relief. "YOU
don't seem to care much if school keeps or not, do you, Lo?"
The Indian, who had been half crouching on his upturned soles, here
straightened himself with a lithe, animal-like movement, and stood up.
Boyle took hold of a corner of his blanket and examined it critically.
"Gov'ment ain't pampering you with A1 goods, Lo! I reckon the agent
charged 'em four dollars for that. Our firm could have delivered them to
you for 2 dols. 37 cents, and thrown in a box of beads in the bargain.
Suthin like this!" He took from his pocket a small box containing a gaudy
bead necklace and held it up before the Indian.
The savage, who had regarded him—or rather looked beyond him—with
the tolerating indifference of one interrupted by a frisking inferior
animal, here suddenly changed his expression. A look of childish eagerness
came into his gloomy face; he reached out his hand for the trinket.
"Hol' on!" said Boyle, hesitating for a moment; then he suddenly
ejaculated, "Well! take it, and one o' these," and drew a business card
from his pocket, which he stuck in the band of the battered tall hat of
the aborigine. "There! show that to your friends, and when you're wantin'
anything in our line"—
The interrupting roar of laughter, coming from the box seat of the coach,
was probably what Boyle was expecting, for he turned away demurely and
walked towards the coach. "All right, boys! I've squared the noble red
man, and the star of empire is taking its westward way. And I reckon our
firm will do the 'Great Father' business for him at about half the price
that it is done in Washington."
But at this point the ostlers came hurrying out of the stables. "She's
comin'," said one. "That's her dust just behind the Lone Pine—and by
the way she's racin' I reckon she's comin' in mighty light."
"That's so," said the mail agent, standing up on the box seat for a better
view, "but darned ef I kin see any outside passengers. I reckon we haven't
waited for much."
Indeed, as the galloping horses of the incoming vehicle pulled out of the
hanging dust in the distance, the solitary driver could be seen urging on
his team. In a few moments more they had halted at the lower end of the
"Wonder what's up!" said the mail agent.
"Nothin'! Only a big Injin scare at Pine Barrens," said one of the
ostlers. "Injins doin' ghost dancin'—or suthin like that—and
the passengers just skunked out and went on by the other line. Thar's only
one ez dar come—and she's a lady."
"A lady?" echoed Boyle.
"Yes," answered the driver, taking a deliberate survey of a tall, graceful
girl who, waiving the gallant assistance of the station keeper, had leaped
unaided from the vehicle. "A lady—and the fort commandant's darter
at that! She's clar grit, you bet—a chip o' the old block. And all
this means, sonny, that you're to give up that box seat to HER. Miss Julia
Cantire don't take anythin' less when I'm around."
The young lady was already walking, directly and composedly, towards the
waiting coach—erect, self-contained, well gloved and booted, and
clothed, even in her dust cloak and cape of plain ashen merino, with the
unmistakable panoply of taste and superiority. A good-sized aquiline nose,
which made her handsome mouth look smaller; gray eyes, with an occasional
humid yellow sparkle in their depths; brown penciled eyebrows, and brown
tendrils of hair, all seemed to Boyle to be charmingly framed in by the
silver gray veil twisted around her neck and under her oval chin. In her
sober tints she appeared to him to have evoked a harmony even out of the
dreadful dust around them. What HE appeared to her was not so plain; she
looked him over—he was rather short; through him—he was easily
penetrable; and then her eyes rested with a frank recognition on the
"Good-morning, Mr. Foster," she said, with a smile.
"Mornin', miss. I hear they're havin' an Injin scare over at the Barrens.
I reckon them men must feel mighty mean at bein' stumped by a lady!"
"I don't think they believed I would go, and some of them had their wives
with them," returned the young lady indifferently; "besides, they are
Eastern people, who don't know Indians as well as WE do, Mr. Foster."
The driver blushed with pleasure at the association. "Yes, ma'am," he
laughed, "I reckon the sight of even old 'Fleas in the Blanket' over
there," pointing to the Indian, who was walking stolidly away from the
station, "would frighten 'em out o' their boots. And yet he's got inside
his hat the business card o' this gentleman—Mr. Dick Boyle,
traveling for the big firm o' Fletcher & Co. of Chicago"—he
interpolated, rising suddenly to the formal heights of polite
introduction; "so it sorter looks ez ef any SKELPIN' was to be done it
might be the other way round, ha! ha!"
Miss Cantire accepted the introduction and the joke with polite but cool
abstraction, and climbed lightly into the box seat as the mail bags and a
quantity of luggage—evidently belonging to the evading passengers—were
quickly transferred to the coach. But for his fair companion, the driver
would probably have given profane voice to his conviction that his vehicle
was used as a "d——d baggage truck," but he only smiled grimly,
gathered up his reins, and flicked his whip. The coach plunged forward
into the dust, which instantly rose around it, and made it thereafter a
mere cloud in the distance. Some of that dust for a moment overtook and
hid the Indian, walking stolidly in its track, but he emerged from it at
an angle, with a quickened pace and a peculiar halting trot. Yet that trot
was so well sustained that in an hour he had reached a fringe of rocks and
low bushes hitherto invisible through the irregularities of the apparently
level plain, into which he plunged and disappeared. The dust cloud which
indicated the coach—probably owing to these same irregularities—had
long since been lost on the visible horizon.
The fringe which received him was really the rim of a depression quite
concealed from the surface of the plain,—which it followed for some
miles through a tangled trough-like bottom of low trees and underbrush,—and
was a natural cover for wolves, coyotes, and occasionally bears, whose
half-human footprint might have deceived a stranger. This did not,
however, divert the Indian, who, trotting still doggedly on, paused only
to examine another footprint—much more frequent—the smooth,
inward-toed track of moccasins. The thicket grew more dense and difficult
as he went on, yet he seemed to glide through its density and darkness—an
obscurity that now seemed to be stirred by other moving objects, dimly
seen, and as uncertain and intangible as sunlit leaves thrilled by the
wind, yet bearing a strange resemblance to human figures! Pressing a few
yards further, he himself presently became a part of this shadowy
procession, which on closer scrutiny revealed itself as a single file of
Indians, following each other in the same tireless trot. The woods and
underbrush were full of them; all moving on, as he had moved, in a line
parallel with the vanishing coach. Sometimes through the openings a bared
painted limb, a crest of feathers, or a strip of gaudy blanket was
visible, but nothing more. And yet only a few hundred yards away stretched
the dusky, silent plain—vacant of sound or motion!
Meanwhile the Sage Wood and Pine Barren stage coach, profoundly oblivious—after
the manner of all human invention—of everything but its regular
function, toiled dustily out of the higher plain and began the grateful
descent of a wooded canyon, which was, in fact, the culminating point of
the depression, just described, along which the shadowy procession was
slowly advancing, hardly a mile in the rear and flank of the vehicle. Miss
Julia Cantire, who had faced the dust volleys of the plain unflinchingly,
as became a soldier's daughter, here stood upright and shook herself—her
pretty head and figure emerging like a goddess from the enveloping silver
cloud. At least Mr. Boyle, relegated to the back seat, thought so—although
her conversation and attentions had been chiefly directed to the driver
and mail agent. Once, when he had light-heartedly addressed a remark to
her, it had been received with a distinct but unpromising politeness that
had made him desist from further attempts, yet without abatement of his
cheerfulness, or resentment of the evident amusement his two male
companions got out of his "snub." Indeed, it is to be feared that Miss
Julia had certain prejudices of position, and may have thought that a
"drummer"—or commercial traveler—was no more fitting company
for the daughter of a major than an ordinary peddler. But it was more
probable that Mr. Boyle's reputation as a humorist—a teller of funny
stories and a boon companion of men—was inconsistent with the
feminine ideal of high and exalted manhood. The man who "sets the table in
a roar" is apt to be secretly detested by the sex, to say nothing of the
other obvious reasons why Juliets do not like Mercutios!
For some such cause as this Dick Boyle was obliged to amuse himself
silently, alone on the back seat, with those liberal powers of observation
which nature had given him. On entering the canyon he had noticed the
devious route the coach had taken to reach it, and had already invented an
improved route which should enter the depression at the point where the
Indians had already (unknown to him) plunged into it, and had conceived a
road through the tangled brush that would shorten the distance by some
miles. He had figured it out, and believed that it "would pay." But by
this time they were beginning the somewhat steep and difficult ascent of
the canyon on the other side. The vehicle had not crawled many yards
before it stopped. Dick Boyle glanced around. Miss Cantire was getting
down. She had expressed a wish to walk the rest of the ascent, and the
coach was to wait for her at the top. Foster had effusively begged her to
take her own time—"there was no hurry!" Boyle glanced a little
longingly after her graceful figure, released from her cramped position on
the box, as it flitted youthfully in and out of the wayside trees; he
would like to have joined her in the woodland ramble, but even his good
nature was not proof against her indifference. At a turn in the road they
lost sight of her, and, as the driver and mail agent were deep in a
discussion about the indistinct track, Boyle lapsed into his silent study
of the country. Suddenly he uttered a slight exclamation, and quietly
slipped from the back of the toiling coach to the ground. The action was,
however, quickly noted by the driver, who promptly put his foot on the
brake and pulled up. "Wot's up now?" he growled.
Boyle did not reply, but ran back a few steps and began searching eagerly
on the ground.
"Lost suthin?" asked Foster.
"Found something," said Boyle, picking up a small object. "Look at that! D——d
if it isn't the card I gave that Indian four hours ago at the station!" He
held up the card.
"Look yer, sonny," retorted Foster gravely, "ef yer wantin' to get out and
hang round Miss Cantire, why don't yer say so at oncet? That story won't
"Fact!" continued Boyle eagerly. "It's the same card I stuck in his hat—there's
the greasy mark in the corner. How the devil did it—how did HE get
"Better ax him," said Foster grimly, "ef he's anywhere round."
"But I say, Foster, I don't like the look of this at all! Miss Cantire is
But a burst of laughter from Foster and the mail agent interrupted him.
"That's so," said Foster. "That's your best holt! Keep it up! You jest
tell her that! Say thar's another Injin skeer on; that that thar
bloodthirsty ole 'Fleas in His Blanket' is on the warpath, and you're
goin' to shed the last drop o' your blood defendin' her! That'll fetch
her, and she ain't bin treatin' you well! G'lang!"
The horses started forward under Foster's whip, leaving Boyle standing
there, half inclined to join in the laugh against himself, and yet
impelled by some strange instinct to take a more serious view of his
discovery. There was no doubt it was the same card he had given to the
Indian. True, that Indian might have given it to another—yet by what
agency had it been brought there faster than the coach traveled on the
same road, and yet invisibly to them? For an instant the humorous idea of
literally accepting Foster's challenge, and communicating his discovery to
Miss Cantire, occurred to him; he could have made a funny story out of it,
and could have amused any other girl with it, but he would not force
himself upon her, and again doubted if the discovery were a matter of
amusement. If it were really serious, why should he alarm her? He
resolved, however, to remain on the road, and within convenient distance
of her, until she returned to the coach; she could not be far away. With
this purpose he walked slowly on, halting occasionally to look behind.
Meantime the coach continued its difficult ascent, a difficulty made
greater by the singular nervousness of the horses, that only with great
trouble and some objurgation from the driver could be prevented from
shying from the regular track.
"Now, wot's gone o' them critters?" said the irate Foster, straining at
the reins until he seemed to lift the leader back into the track again.
"Looks as ef they smelt suthin—b'ar or Injin ponies," suggested the
"Injin ponies?" repeated Foster scornfully.
"Fac'! Injin ponies set a hoss crazy—jest as wild hosses would!"
"Whar's yer Injin ponies?" demanded Foster incredulously.
"Dunno," said the mail agent simply.
But here the horses again swerved so madly from some point of the thicket
beside them that the coach completely left the track on the right. Luckily
it was a disused trail and the ground fairly good, and Foster gave them
their heads, satisfied of his ability to regain the regular road when
necessary. It took some moments for him to recover complete control of the
frightened animals, and then their nervousness having abated with their
distance from the thicket, and the trail being less steep though more
winding than the regular road, he concluded to keep it until he got to the
summit, when he would regain the highway once more and await his
passengers. Having done this, the two men stood up on the box, and with an
anxiety they tried to conceal from each other looked down the canyon for
the lagging pedestrians.
"I hope Miss Cantire hasn't been stampeded from the track by any skeer
like that," said the mail agent dubiously.
"Not she! She's got too much grit and sabe for that, unless that drummer
hez caught up with her and unloaded his yarn about that kyard."
They were the last words the men spoke. For two rifle shots cracked from
the thicket beside the road; two shots aimed with such deliberateness and
precision that the two men, mortally stricken, collapsed where they stood,
hanging for a brief moment over the dashboard before they rolled over on
the horses' backs. Nor did they remain there long, for the next moment
they were seized by half a dozen shadowy figures and with the horses and
their cut traces dragged into the thicket. A half dozen and then a dozen
other shadows flitted and swarmed over, in, and through the coach,
reinforced by still more, until the whole vehicle seemed to be possessed,
covered, and hidden by them, swaying and moving with their weight, like
helpless carrion beneath a pack of ravenous wolves. Yet even while this
seething congregation was at its greatest, at some unknown signal it as
suddenly dispersed, vanished, and disappeared, leaving the coach empty—vacant
and void of all that had given it life, weight, animation, and purpose—a
mere skeleton on the roadside. The afternoon wind blew through its open
doors and ravaged rack and box as if it had been the wreck of weeks
instead of minutes, and the level rays of the setting sun flashed and
blazed into its windows as though fire had been added to the ruin. But
even this presently faded, leaving the abandoned coach a rigid, lifeless
spectre on the twilight plain.
An hour later there was the sound of hurrying hoofs and jingling
accoutrements, and out of the plain swept a squad of cavalrymen bearing
down upon the deserted vehicle. For a few moments they, too, seemed to
surround and possess it, even as the other shadows had done, penetrating
the woods and thicket beside it. And then as suddenly at some signal they
swept forward furiously in the track of the destroying shadows.
Miss Cantire took full advantage of the suggestion "not to hurry" in her
walk, with certain feminine ideas of its latitude. She gathered a few wild
flowers and some berries in the underwood, inspected some birds' nests
with a healthy youthful curiosity, and even took the opportunity of
arranging some moist tendrils of her silky hair with something she took
from the small reticule that hung coquettishly from her girdle. It was,
indeed, some twenty minutes before she emerged into the road again; the
vehicle had evidently disappeared in a turn of the long, winding ascent,
but just ahead of her was that dreadful man, the "Chicago drummer." She
was not vain, but she made no doubt that he was waiting there for her.
There was no avoiding him, but his companionship could be made a brief
one. She began to walk with ostentatious swiftness.
Boyle, whose concern for her safety was secretly relieved at this, began
to walk forward briskly too without looking around. Miss Cantire was not
prepared for this; it looked so ridiculously as if she were chasing him!
She hesitated slightly, but now as she was nearly abreast of him she was
obliged to keep on.
"I think you do well to hurry, Miss Cantire," he said as she passed. "I've
lost sight of the coach for some time, and I dare say they're already
waiting for us at the summit."
Miss Cantire did not like this any better. To go on beside this dreadful
man, scrambling breathlessly after the stage—for all the world like
an absorbed and sentimentally belated pair of picnickers—was really
TOO much. "Perhaps if YOU ran on and told them I was coming as fast as I
could," she suggested tentatively.
"It would be as much as my life is worth to appear before Foster without
you," he said laughingly. "You've only got to hurry on a little faster."
But the young lady resented this being driven by a "drummer." She began to
lag, depressing her pretty brows ominously.
"Let me carry your flowers," said Boyle. He had noticed that she was
finding some difficulty in holding up her skirt and the nosegay at the
"No! No!" she said in hurried horror at this new suggestion of their
companionship. "Thank you very much—but they're really not worth
keeping—I am going to throw them away. There!" she added, tossing
them impatiently in the dust.
But she had not reckoned on Boyle's perfect good-humor. That gentle idiot
stooped down, actually gathered them up again, and was following! She
hurried on; if she could only get to the coach first, ignoring him! But a
vulgar man like that would be sure to hand them to her with some joke!
Then she lagged again—she was getting tired, and she could see no
sign of the coach. The drummer, too, was also lagging behind—at a
respectful distance, like a groom or one of her father's troopers.
Nevertheless this did not put her in a much better humor, and halting
until he came abreast of her, she said impatiently: "I don't see why Mr.
Foster should think it necessary to send any one to look after me."
"He didn't," returned Boyle simply. "I got down to pick up something."
"To pick up something?" she returned incredulously.
"Yes. THAT." He held out the card. "It's the card of our firm."
Miss Cantire smiled ironically. "You are certainly devoted to your
"Well, yes," returned Boyle good-humoredly. "You see I reckon it don't pay
to do anything halfway. And whatever I do, I mean to keep my eyes about
me." In spite of her prejudice, Miss Cantire could see that these
necessary organs, if rather flippant, were honest. "Yes, I suppose there
isn't much on that I don't take in. Why now, Miss Cantire, there's that
fancy dust cloak you're wearing—it isn't in our line of goods—nor
in anybody's line west of Chicago; it came from Boston or New York, and
was made for home consumption! But your hat—and mighty pretty it is
too, as YOU'VE fixed it up—is only regular Dunstable stock, which we
could put down at Pine Barrens for four and a half cents a piece, net. Yet
I suppose you paid nearly twenty-five cents for it at the Agency!"
Oddly enough this cool appraisement of her costume did not incense the
young lady as it ought to have done. On the contrary, for some occult
feminine reason, it amused and interested her. It would be such a good
story to tell her friends of a "drummer's" idea of gallantry; and to tease
the flirtatious young West Pointer who had just joined. And the
appraisement was truthful—Major Cantire had only his pay—and
Miss Cantire had been obliged to select that hat from the government
"Are you in the habit of giving this information to ladies you meet in
traveling?" she asked.
"Well, no!" answered Boyle—"for that's just where you have to keep
your eyes open. Most of 'em wouldn't like it, and it's no use aggravating
a possible customer. But you are not that kind."
Miss Cantire was silent. She knew she was not of that kind, but she did
not require his vulgar indorsement. She pushed on for some moments alone,
when suddenly he hailed her. She turned impatiently. He was carefully
examining the road on both sides.
"We have either lost our way," he said, rejoining her, "or the coach has
turned off somewhere. These tracks are not fresh, and as they are all
going the same way, they were made by the up coach last night. They're not
OUR tracks; I thought it strange we hadn't sighted the coach by this
"And then"—said Miss Cantire impatiently.
"We must turn back until we find them again."
The young lady frowned. "Why not keep on until we get to the top?" she
said pettishly. "I'm sure I shall." She stopped suddenly as she caught
sight of his grave face and keen, observant eyes. "Why can't we go on as
"Because we are expected to come back to the COACH—and not to the
summit merely. These are the 'orders,' and you know you are a soldier's
daughter!" He laughed as he spoke, but there was a certain quiet
deliberation in his manner that impressed her. When he added, after a
pause, "We must go back and find where the tracks turned off," she obeyed
without a word.
They walked for some time, eagerly searching for signs of the missing
vehicle. A curious interest and a new reliance in Boyle's judgment
obliterated her previous annoyance, and made her more natural. She ran
ahead of him with youthful eagerness, examining the ground, following a
false clue with great animation, and confessing her defeat with a charming
laugh. And it was she who, after retracing their steps for ten minutes,
found the diverging track with a girlish cry of triumph. Boyle, who had
followed her movements quite as interestedly as her discovery, looked a
little grave as he noticed the deep indentations made by the struggling
horses. Miss Cantire detected the change in his face; ten minutes before
she would never have observed it. "I suppose we had better follow the new
track," she said inquiringly, as he seemed to hesitate.
"Certainly," he said quickly, as if coming to a prompt decision. "That is
"What do you think has happened? The ground looks very much cut up," she
said in a confidential tone, as new to her as her previous observation of
"A horse has probably stumbled and they've taken the old trail as less
difficult," said Boyle promptly. In his heart he did not believe it, yet
he knew that if anything serious had threatened them the coach would have
waited in the road. "It's an easier trail for us, though I suppose it's a
little longer," he added presently.
"You take everything so good-humoredly, Mr. Boyle," she said after a
"It's the way to do business, Miss Cantire," he said. "A man in my line
has to cultivate it."
She wished he hadn't said that, but, nevertheless, she returned a little
archly: "But you haven't any business with the stage company nor with ME,
although I admit I intend to get my Dunstable hereafter from your firm at
the wholesale prices."
Before he could reply, the detonation of two gunshots, softened by
distance, floated down from the ridge above them. "There!" said Miss
Cantire eagerly. "Do you hear that?"
His face was turned towards the distant ridge, but really that she might
not question his eyes. She continued with animation: "That's from the
coach—to guide us—don't you see?"
"Yes," he returned, with a quick laugh, "and it says hurry up—mighty
quick—we're tired waiting—so we'd better push on."
"Why don't you answer back with your revolver?" she asked.
"Haven't got one," he said.
"Haven't got one?" she repeated in genuine surprise. "I thought you
gentlemen who are traveling always carried one. Perhaps it's inconsistent
with your gospel of good-humor."
"That's just it, Miss Cantire," he said with a laugh. "You've hit it."
"Why," she said hesitatingly, "even I have a derringer—a very little
one, you know, which I carry in my reticule. Captain Richards gave it to
me." She opened her reticule and showed a pretty ivory-handled pistol. The
look of joyful surprise which came into his face changed quickly as she
cocked it and lifted it into the air. He seized her arm quickly.
"No, please don't, you might want it—I mean the report won't carry
far enough. It's a very useful little thing, for all that, but it's only
effective at close quarters." He kept the pistol in his hand as they
walked on. But Miss Cantire noticed this, also his evident satisfaction
when she had at first produced it, and his concern when she was about to
discharge it uselessly. She was a clever girl, and a frank one to those
she was inclined to trust. And she began to trust this stranger. A smile
stole along her oval cheek.
"I really believe you're afraid of something, Mr. Boyle," she said,
without looking up. "What is it? You haven't got that Indian scare too?"
Boyle had no false shame. "I think I have," he returned, with equal
frankness. "You see, I don't understand Indians as well as you—and
"Well, you take my word and Foster's that there is not the least danger
from them. About here they are merely grown-up children, cruel and
destructive as most children are; but they know their masters by this
time, and the old days of promiscuous scalping are over. The only other
childish propensity they keep is thieving. Even then they only steal what
they actually want,—horses, guns, and powder. A coach can go where
an ammunition or an emigrant wagon can't. So your trunk of samples is
quite safe with Foster."
Boyle did not think it necessary to protest. Perhaps he was thinking of
"I've a mind," she went on slyly, "to tell you something more. Confidence
for confidence: as you've told me YOUR trade secrets, I'll tell you one of
OURS. Before we left Pine Barrens, my father ordered a small escort of
cavalrymen to be in readiness to join that coach if the scouts, who were
watching, thought it necessary. So, you see, I'm something of a fraud as
regards my reputation for courage."
"That doesn't follow," said Boyle admiringly, "for your father must have
thought there was some danger, or he wouldn't have taken that precaution."
"Oh, it wasn't for me," said the young girl quickly.
"Not for you?" repeated Boyle.
Miss Cantire stopped short, with a pretty flush of color and an adorable
laugh. "There! I've done it, so I might as well tell the whole story. But
I can trust you, Mr. Boyle." (She faced him with clear, penetrating eyes.)
"Well," she laughed again, "you might have noticed that we had a quantity
of baggage of passengers who didn't go? Well, those passengers never
intended to go, and hadn't any baggage! Do you understand? Those
innocent-looking heavy trunks contained carbines and cartridges from our
post for Fort Taylor"—she made him a mischievous curtsy—"under
MY charge! And," she added, enjoying his astonishment, "as you saw, I
brought them through safe to the station, and had them transferred to this
coach with less fuss and trouble than a commissary transport and escort
would have made."
"And they were in THIS coach?" repeated Boyle abstractedly.
"Were? They ARE!" said Miss Cantire.
"Then the sooner I get you back to your treasure again the better," said
Boyle with a laugh. "Does Foster know it?"
"Of course not! Do you suppose I'd tell it to anybody but a stranger to
the place? Perhaps, like you, I know when and to whom to impart
information," she said mischievously.
Whatever was in Boyle's mind he had space for profound and admiring
astonishment of the young lady before him. The girlish simplicity and
trustfulness of her revelation seemed as inconsistent with his previous
impression of her reserve and independence as her girlish reasoning and
manner was now delightfully at variance with her tallness, her aquiline
nose, and her erect figure. Mr. Boyle, like most short men, was apt to
overestimate the qualities of size.
They walked on for some moments in silence. The ascent was comparatively
easy but devious, and Boyle could see that this new detour would take them
still some time to reach the summit. Miss Cantire at last voiced the
thought in his own mind. "I wonder what induced them to turn off here? and
if you hadn't been so clever as to discover their tracks, how could we
have found them? But," she added, with feminine logic, "that, of course,
is why they fired those shots."
Boyle remembered, however, that the shots came from another direction, but
did not correct her conclusion. Nevertheless he said lightly: "Perhaps
even Foster might have had an Indian scare."
"He ought to know 'friendlies' or 'government reservation men' better by
this time," said Miss Cantire; "however, there is something in that. Do
you know," she added with a laugh, "though I haven't your keen eyes I'm
gifted with a keen scent, and once or twice I've thought I SMELT Indians—that
peculiar odor of their camps, which is unlike anything else, and which one
detects even in their ponies. I used to notice it when I rode one; no
amount of grooming could take it away."
"I don't suppose that the intensity or degree of this odor would give you
any idea of the hostile or friendly feelings of the Indians towards you?"
asked Boyle grimly.
Although the remark was consistent with Boyle's objectionable reputation
as a humorist, Miss Cantire deigned to receive it with a smile, at which
Boyle, who was a little relieved by their security so far, and their
nearness to their journey's end, developed further ingenious trifling
until, at the end of an hour, they stood upon the plain again.
There was no sign of the coach, but its fresh track was visible leading
along the bank of the ravine towards the intersection of the road they
should have come by, and to which the coach had indubitably returned. Mr.
Boyle drew a long breath. They were comparatively safe from any invisible
attack now. At the end of ten minutes Miss Cantire, from her superior
height, detected the top of the missing vehicle appearing above the
stunted bushes at the junction of the highway.
"Would you mind throwing those old flowers away now?" she said, glancing
at the spoils which Boyle still carried.
"Why?" he asked.
"Oh, they're too ridiculous. Please do."
"May I keep one?" he asked, with the first intonation of masculine
weakness in his voice.
"If you like," she said, a little coldly.
Boyle selected a small spray of myrtle and cast the other flowers
"Dear me, how ridiculous!" she said.
"What is ridiculous?" he asked, lifting his eyes to hers with a slight
color. But he saw that she was straining her eyes in the distance.
"Why, there don't seem to be any horses to the coach!"
He looked. Through a gap in the furze he could see the vehicle now quite
distinctly, standing empty, horseless and alone. He glanced hurriedly
around them; on the one side a few rocks protected them from the tangled
rim of the ridge; on the other stretched the plain. "Sit down, don't move
until I return," he said quickly. "Take that." He handed back her pistol,
and ran quickly to the coach. It was no illusion; there it stood vacant,
abandoned, its dropped pole and cut traces showing too plainly the fearful
haste of its desertion! A light step behind him made him turn. It was Miss
Cantire, pink and breathless, carrying the cocked derringer in her hand.
"How foolish of you—without a weapon," she gasped in explanation.
Then they both stared at the coach, the empty plain, and at each other!
After their tedious ascent, their long detour, their protracted expectancy
and their eager curiosity, there was such a suggestion of hideous mockery
in this vacant, useless vehicle—apparently left to them in what
seemed their utter abandonment—that it instinctively affected them
alike. And as I am writing of human nature I am compelled to say that they
both burst into a fit of laughter that for the moment stopped all other
"It was so kind of them to leave the coach," said Miss Cantire faintly, as
she took her handkerchief from her wet and mirthful eyes. "But what made
them run away?"
Boyle did not reply; he was eagerly examining the coach. In that brief
hour and a half the dust of the plain had blown thick upon it, and covered
any foul stain or blot that might have suggested the awful truth. Even the
soft imprint of the Indians' moccasined feet had been trampled out by the
later horse hoofs of the cavalrymen. It was these that first attracted
Boyle's attention, but he thought them the marks made by the plunging of
the released coach horses.
Not so his companion! She was examining them more closely, and suddenly
lifted her bright, animated face. "Look!" she said; "our men have been
here, and have had a hand in this—whatever it is."
"Our men?" repeated Boyle blankly.
"Yes!—troopers from the post—the escort I told you of. These
are the prints of the regulation cavalry horseshoe—not of Foster's
team, nor of Indian ponies, who never have any! Don't you see?" she went
on eagerly; "our men have got wind of something and have galloped down
here—along the ridge—see!" she went on, pointing to the hoof
prints coming from the plain. "They've anticipated some Indian attack and
"But if they were the same escort you spoke of, they must have known you
were here, and have"—he was about to say "abandoned you," but
checked himself, remembering they were her father's soldiers.
"They knew I could take care of myself, and wouldn't stand in the way of
their duty," said the young girl, anticipating him with quick professional
pride that seemed to fit her aquiline nose and tall figure. "And if they
knew that," she added, softening with a mischievous smile, "they also
knew, of course, that I was protected by a gallant stranger vouched for by
Mr. Foster! No!" she added, with a certain blind, devoted confidence,
which Boyle noticed with a slight wince that she had never shown before,
"it's all right! and 'by orders,' Mr. Boyle, and when they've done their
work they'll be back."
But Boyle's masculine common sense was, perhaps, safer than Miss Cantire's
feminine faith and inherited discipline, for in an instant he suddenly
comprehended the actual truth! The Indians had been there FIRST; THEY had
despoiled the coach and got off safely with their booty and prisoners on
the approach of the escort, who were now naturally pursuing them with a
fury aroused by the belief that their commander's daughter was one of
their prisoners. This conviction was a dreadful one, yet a relief as far
as the young girl was concerned. But should he tell her? No! Better that
she should keep her calm faith in the triumphant promptness of the
soldiers—and their speedy return.
"I dare say you are right," he said cheerfully, "and let us be thankful
that in the empty coach you'll have at least a half-civilized shelter
until they return. Meantime I'll go and reconnoitre a little."
"I will go with you," she said.
But Boyle pointed out to her so strongly the necessity of her remaining to
wait for the return of the soldiers that, being also fagged out by her
long climb, she obediently consented, while he, even with his inspiration
of the truth, did not believe in the return of the despoilers, and knew
she would be safe.
He made his way to the nearest thicket, where he rightly believed the
ambush had been prepared, and to which undoubtedly they first retreated
with their booty. He expected to find some signs or traces of their spoil
which in their haste they had to abandon. He was more successful than he
anticipated. A few steps into the thicket brought him full upon a
realization of more than his worst convictions—the dead body of
Foster! Near it lay the body of the mail agent. Both had been evidently
dragged into the thicket from where they fell, scalped and half stripped.
There was no evidence of any later struggle; they must have been dead when
they were brought there.
Boyle was neither a hard-hearted nor an unduly sensitive man. His vocation
had brought him peril enough by land and water; he had often rendered
valuable assistance to others, his sympathy never confusing his directness
and common sense. He was sorry for these two men, and would have fought to
save them. But he had no imaginative ideas of death. And his keen
perception of the truth was consequently sensitively alive only to that
grotesqueness of aspect which too often the hapless victims of violence
are apt to assume. He saw no agony in the vacant eyes of the two men lying
on their backs in apparently the complacent abandonment of drunkenness,
which was further simulated by their tumbled and disordered hair matted by
coagulated blood, which, however, had lost its sanguine color. He thought
only of the unsuspecting girl sitting in the lonely coach, and hurriedly
dragged them further into the bushes. In doing this he discovered a loaded
revolver and a flask of spirits which had been lying under them, and
promptly secured them. A few paces away lay the coveted trunks of arms and
ammunition, their lids wrenched off and their contents gone. He noticed
with a grim smile that his own trunks of samples had shared a like fate,
but was delighted to find that while the brighter trifles had attracted
the Indians' childish cupidity they had overlooked a heavy black merino
shawl of a cheap but serviceable quality. It would help to protect Miss
Cantire from the evening wind, which was already rising over the chill and
stark plain. It also occurred to him that she would need water after her
parched journey, and he resolved to look for a spring, being rewarded at
last by a trickling rill near the ambush camp. But he had no utensil
except the spirit flask, which he finally emptied of its contents and
replaced with the pure water—a heroic sacrifice to a traveler who
knew the comfort of a stimulant. He retraced his steps, and was just
emerging from the thicket when his quick eye caught sight of a moving
shadow before him close to the ground, which set the hot blood coursing
through his veins.
It was the figure of an Indian crawling on his hands and knees towards the
coach, scarcely forty yards away. For the first time that afternoon
Boyle's calm good-humor was overswept by a blind and furious rage. Yet
even then he was sane enough to remember that a pistol shot would alarm
the girl, and to keep that weapon as a last resource. For an instant he
crept forward as silently and stealthily as the savage, and then, with a
sudden bound, leaped upon him, driving his head and shoulders down against
the rocks before he could utter a cry, and sending the scalping knife he
was carrying between his teeth flying with the shock from his battered
jaw. Boyle seized it—his knee still in the man's back—but the
prostrate body never moved beyond a slight contraction of the lower limbs.
The shock had broken the Indian's neck. He turned the inert man on his
back—the head hung loosely on the side. But in that brief instant
Boyle had recognized the "friendly" Indian of the station to whom he had
given the card.
He rose dizzily to his feet. The whole action had passed in a few seconds
of time, and had not even been noticed by the sole occupant of the coach.
He mechanically cocked his revolver, but the man beneath him never moved
again. Neither was there any sign of flight or reinforcement from the
thicket around him. Again the whole truth flashed upon him. This spy and
traitor had been left behind by the marauders to return to the station and
avert suspicion; he had been lurking around, but being without firearms,
had not dared to attack the pair together.
It was a moment or two before Boyle regained his usual elastic good-humor.
Then he coolly returned to the spring, "washed himself of the Indian," as
he grimly expressed it to himself, brushed his clothes, picked up the
shawl and flask, and returned to the coach. It was getting dark now, but
the glow of the western sky shone unimpeded through the windows, and the
silence gave him a great fear. He was relieved, however, on opening the
door, to find Miss Cantire sitting stiffly in a corner. "I am sorry I was
so long," he said, apologetically to her attitude, "but"—
"I suppose you took your own time," she interrupted in a voice of injured
tolerance. "I don't blame you; anything's better than being cooped up in
this tiresome stage for goodness knows how long!"
"I was hunting for water," he said humbly, "and have brought you some." He
handed her the flask.
"And I see you have had a wash," she said a little enviously. "How spick
and span you look! But what's the matter with your necktie?"
He put his hand to his neck hurriedly. His necktie was loose, and had
twisted to one side in the struggle. He colored quite as much from the
sensitiveness of a studiously neat man as from the fear of discovery. "And
what's that?" she added, pointing to the shawl.
"One of my samples that I suppose was turned out of the coach and
forgotten in the transfer," he said glibly. "I thought it might keep you
She looked at it dubiously and laid it gingerly aside. "You don't mean to
say you go about with such things OPENLY?" she said querulously.
"Yes; one mustn't lose a chance of trade, you know," he resumed with a
"And you haven't found this journey very profitable," she said dryly. "You
certainly are devoted to your business!" After a pause, discontentedly:
"It's quite night already—we can't sit here in the dark."
"We can take one of the coach lamps inside; they're still there. I've been
thinking the matter over, and I reckon if we leave one lighted outside the
coach it may guide your friends back." He HAD considered it, and believed
that the audacity of the act, coupled with the knowledge the Indians must
have of the presence of the soldiers in the vicinity, would deter rather
than invite their approach.
She brightened considerably with the coach lamp which he lit and brought
inside. By its light she watched him curiously. His face was slightly
flushed and his eyes very bright and keen looking. Man killing, except
with old professional hands, has the disadvantage of affecting the
But Miss Cantire had noticed that the flask smelt of whiskey. The poor man
had probably fortified himself from the fatigues of the day.
"I suppose you are getting bored by this delay," she said tentatively.
"Not at all," he replied. "Would you like to play cards? I've got a pack
in my pocket. We can use the middle seat as a table, and hang the lantern
by the window strap."
She assented languidly from the back seat; he was on the front seat, with
the middle seat for a table between them. First Mr. Boyle showed her some
tricks with the cards and kindled her momentary and flashing interest in a
mysteriously evoked but evanescent knave. Then they played euchre, at
which Miss Cantire cheated adorably, and Mr. Boyle lost game after game
shamelessly. Then once or twice Miss Cantire was fain to put her cards to
her mouth to conceal an apologetic yawn, and her blue-veined eyelids grew
heavy. Whereupon Mr. Boyle suggested that she should make herself
comfortable in the corner of the coach with as many cushions as she liked
and the despised shawl, while he took the night air in a prowl around the
coach and a lookout for the returning party. Doing so, he was delighted,
after a turn or two, to find her asleep, and so returned contentedly to
his sentry round.
He was some distance from the coach when a low moaning sound in the
thicket presently increased until it rose and fell in a prolonged howl
that was repeated from the darkened plains beyond. He recognized the voice
of wolves; he instinctively felt the sickening cause of it. They had
scented the dead bodies, and he now regretted that he had left his own
victim so near the coach. He was hastening thither when a cry, this time
human and more terrifying, came from the coach. He turned towards it as
its door flew open and Miss Cantire came rushing toward him. Her face was
colorless, her eyes wild with fear, and her tall, slim figure trembled
convulsively as she frantically caught at the lapels of his coat, as if to
hide herself within its folds, and gasped breathlessly,—
"What is it? Oh! Mr. Boyle, save me!"
"They are wolves," he said hurriedly. "But there is no danger; they would
never attack you; you were safe where you were; let me lead you back."
But she remained rooted to the spot, still clinging desperately to his
coat. "No, no!" she said, "I dare not! I heard that awful cry in my sleep.
I looked out and saw it—a dreadful creature with yellow eyes and
tongue, and a sickening breath as it passed between the wheels just below
me. Ah! What's that?" and she again lapsed in nervous terror against him.
Boyle passed his arm around her promptly, firmly, masterfully. She seemed
to feel the implied protection, and yielded to it gratefully, with the
further breakdown of a sob. "There is no danger," he repeated cheerfully.
"Wolves are not good to look at, I know, but they wouldn't have attacked
you. The beast only scents some carrion on the plain, and you probably
frightened him more than he did you. Lean on me," he continued as her step
tottered; "you will be better in the coach."
"And you won't leave me alone again?" she said in hesitating terror.
He supported her to the coach gravely, gently—her master and still
more his own for all that her beautiful loosened hair was against his
cheek and shoulder, its perfume in his nostrils, and the contour of her
lithe and perfect figure against his own. He helped her back into the
coach, with the aid of the cushions and shawl arranged a reclining couch
for her on the back seat, and then resumed his old place patiently. By
degrees the color came back to her face—as much of it as was not
hidden by her handkerchief.
Then a tremulous voice behind it began a half-smothered apology. "I am SO
ashamed, Mr. Boyle—I really could not help it! But it was so sudden—and
so horrible—I shouldn't have been afraid of it had it been really an
Indian with a scalping knife—instead of that beast! I don't know why
I did it—but I was alone—and seemed to be dead—and you
were dead too and they were coming to eat me! They do, you know—you
said so just now! Perhaps I was dreaming. I don't know what you must think
of me—I had no idea I was such a coward!"
But Boyle protested indignantly. He was sure if HE had been asleep and had
not known what wolves were before, he would have been equally frightened.
She must try to go to sleep again—he was sure she could—and he
would not stir from the coach until she waked, or her friends came.
She grew quieter presently, and took away the handkerchief from a mouth
that smiled though it still quivered; then reaction began, and her tired
nerves brought her languor and finally repose. Boyle watched the shadows
thicken around her long lashes until they lay softly on the faint flush
that sleep was bringing to her cheek; her delicate lips parted, and her
quick breath at last came with the regularity of slumber.
So she slept, and he, sitting silently opposite her, dreamed—the old
dream that comes to most good men and true once in their lives. He
scarcely moved until the dawn lightened with opal the dreary plain,
bringing back the horizon and day, when he woke from his dream with a
sigh, and then a laugh. Then he listened for the sound of distant hoofs,
and hearing them, crept noiselessly from the coach. A compact body of
horsemen were bearing down upon it. He rose quickly to meet them, and
throwing up his hand, brought them to a halt at some distance from the
coach. They spread out, resolving themselves into a dozen troopers and a
smart young cadet-like officer.
"If you are seeking Miss Cantire," he said in a quiet, businesslike tone,
"she is quite safe in the coach and asleep. She knows nothing yet of what
has happened, and believes it is you who have taken everything away for
security against an Indian attack. She has had a pretty rough night—what
with her fatigue and her alarm at the wolves—and I thought it best
to keep the truth from her as long as possible, and I would advise you to
break it to her gently." He then briefly told the story of their
experiences, omitting only his own personal encounter with the Indian. A
new pride, which was perhaps the result of his vigil, prevented him.
The young officer glanced at him with as much courtesy as might be
afforded to a civilian intruding upon active military operations. "I am
sure Major Cantire will be greatly obliged to you when he knows it," he
said politely, "and as we intend to harness up and take the coach back to
Sage Wood Station immediately, you will have an opportunity of telling
"I am not going back by the coach to Sage Wood," said Boyle quietly. "I
have already lost twelve hours of my time—as well as my trunk—on
this picnic, and I reckon the least Major Cantire can do is to let me take
one of your horses to the next station in time to catch the down coach. I
can do it, if I set out at once."
Boyle heard his name, with the familiar prefix of "Dicky," given to the
officer by a commissary sergeant, whom he recognized as having met at the
Agency, and the words "Chicago drummer" added, while a perceptible smile
went throughout the group. "Very well, sir," said the officer, with a
familiarity a shade less respectful than his previous formal manner. "You
can take the horse, as I believe the Indians have already made free with
your samples. Give him a mount, sergeant."
The two men walked towards the coach. Boyle lingered a moment at the
window to show him the figure of Miss Cantire still peacefully slumbering
among her pile of cushions, and then turned quietly away. A moment later
he was galloping on one of the troopers' horses across the empty plain.
Miss Cantire awoke presently to the sound of a familiar voice and the
sight of figures that she knew. But the young officer's first words of
explanation—a guarded account of the pursuit of the Indians and the
recapture of the arms, suppressing the killing of Foster and the mail
agent—brought a change to her brightened face and a wrinkle to her
"But Mr. Boyle said nothing of this to me," she said, sitting up. "Where
"Already on his way to the next station on one of our horses! Wanted to
catch the down stage and get a new box of samples, I fancy, as the braves
had rigged themselves out with his laces and ribbons. Said he'd lost time
enough on this picnic," returned the young officer, with a laugh. "Smart
business chap; but I hope he didn't bore you?"
Miss Cantire felt her cheek flush, and bit her lip. "I found him most kind
and considerate, Mr. Ashford," she said coldly. "He may have thought the
escort could have joined the coach a little earlier, and saved all this;
but he was too much of a gentleman to say anything about it to ME," she
added dryly, with a slight elevation of her aquiline nose.
Nevertheless Boyle's last words stung her deeply. To hurry off, too,
without saying "good-by," or even asking how she slept! No doubt he HAD
lost time, and was tired of her company, and thought more of his precious
samples than of her! After all, it was like him to rush off for an order!
She was half inclined to call the young officer back and tell him how
Boyle had criticised her costume on the road. But Mr. Ashford was at that
time entirely preoccupied with his men around a ledge of rock and bushes
some yards from the coach, yet not so far away but that she could hear
what they said. "I'll swear there was no dead Injin here when we came
yesterday! We searched the whole place—by daylight, too—for
any sign. The Injin was killed in his tracks by some one last night. It's
like Dick Boyle, lieutenant, to have done it, and like him to have said
nothin' to frighten the young lady. He knows when to keep his mouth shut—and
when to open it."
Miss Cantire sank back in her corner as the officer turned and approached
the coach. The incident of the past night flashed back upon her—Mr.
Boyle's long absence, his flushed face, twisted necktie, and enforced
cheerfulness. She was shocked, amazed, discomfited—and admiring! And
this hero had been sitting opposite to her, silent all the rest of the
"Did Mr. Boyle say anything of an Indian attack last night?" asked
Ashford. "Did you hear anything?"
"Only the wolves howling," said Miss Cantire. "Mr. Boyle was away twice."
She was strangely reticent—in complimentary imitation of her missing
"There's a dead Indian here who has been killed," began Ashford.
"Oh, please don't say anything more, Mr. Ashford," interrupted the young
lady, "but let us get away from this horrid place at once. Do get the
horses in. I can't stand it."
But the horses were already harnessed and mounted, postilion-wise, by the
troopers. The vehicle was ready to start when Miss Cantire called "Stop!"
When Ashford presented himself at the door, the young lady was upon her
hands and knees, searching the bottom of the coach. "Oh, dear! I've lost
something. I must have dropped it on the road," she said breathlessly,
with pink cheeks. "You must positively wait and let me go back and find
it. I won't be long. You know there's 'no hurry.'"
Mr. Ashford stared as Miss Cantire skipped like a schoolgirl from the
coach and ran down the trail by which she and Boyle had approached the
coach the night before. She had not gone far before she came upon the
withered flowers he had thrown away at her command. "It must be about
here," she murmured. Suddenly she uttered a cry of delight, and picked up
the business card that Boyle had shown her. Then she looked furtively
around her, and, selecting a sprig of myrtle among the cast-off flowers,
concealed it in her mantle and ran back, glowing, to the coach. "Thank
you! All right, I've found it," she called to Ashford, with a dazzling
smile, and leaped inside.
The coach drove on, and Miss Cantire, alone in its recesses, drew the
myrtle from her mantle and folding it carefully in her handkerchief,
placed it in her reticule. Then she drew out the card, read its dryly
practical information over and over again, examined the soiled edges,
brushed them daintily, and held it for a moment, with eyes that saw not,
motionless in her hand. Then she raised it slowly to her lips, rolled it
into a spiral, and, loosening a hook and eye, thrust it gently into her
And Dick Boyle, galloping away to the distant station, did not know that
the first step towards a realization of his foolish dream had been taken!