Read THE WORST MAN IN THE TROOP of Starlight Ranch and Other Stories of Army Life on the Frontier , free online book, by Charles King, on ReadCentral.com.

Just why that young Irishman should have been so balefully branded was more than the first lieutenant of the troop could understand.  To be sure, the lieutenant’s opportunities for observation had been limited.  He had spent some years on detached service in the East, and had joined his comrades in Arizona but a fortnight ago, and here he was already becoming rapidly initiated in the science of scouting through mountain-wilds against the wariest and most treacherous of foemen, ­the Apaches of our Southwestern territory.

Coming, as he had done, direct from a station and duties where full-dress uniform, lavish expenditure for kid gloves, bouquets, and Lubin’s extracts were matters of daily fact, it must be admitted that the sensations he experienced on seeing his detachment equipped for the scout were those of mild consternation.  That much latitude as to individual dress and equipment was permitted he had previously been informed; that “full dress,” and white shirts, collars, and the like would be left at home, he had sense enough to know; but that every officer and man in the command would be allowed to discard any and all portions of the regulation uniform and appear rigged out in just such motley guise as his poetic or practical fancy might suggest, had never been pointed out to him; and that he, commanding his troop while a captain commanded the little battalion, could by any military possibility take his place in front of his men without his sabre, had never for an instant occurred to him.  As a consequence, when he bolted into the mess-room shortly after daybreak on a bright June morning with that imposing but at most times useless item of cavalry equipment clanking at his heels, the lieutenant gazed with some astonishment upon the attire of his brother-officers there assembled, but found himself the butt of much good-natured and not over-witty “chaff,” directed partially at the extreme newness and neatness of his dark-blue flannel scouting-shirt and high-top boots, but more especially at the glittering sabre swinging from his waist-belt.

“Billings,” said Captain Buxton, with much solemnity, “while you have probably learned through the columns of a horror-stricken Eastern press that we scalp, alive or dead, all unfortunates who fall into our clutches, I assure you that even for that purpose the cavalry sabre has, in Arizona at least, outlived its usefulness.  It is too long and clumsy, you see.  What you really want for the purpose is something like this,” ­and he whipped out of its sheath a rusty but keen-bladed Mexican cuchillo, ­“something you can wield with a deft turn of the wrist, you know.  The sabre is apt to tear and mutilate the flesh, especially when you use both hands.”  And Captain Buxton winked at the other subaltern and felt that he had said a good thing.

But Mr. Billings was a man of considerable good nature and ready adaptability to the society or circumstances by which he might be surrounded.  “Chaff” was a very cheap order of wit, and the serenity of his disposition enabled him to shake off its effect as readily as water is scattered from the plumage of the duck.

“So you don’t wear the sabre on a scout?  So much the better.  I have my revolvers and a Sharp’s carbine, but am destitute of anything in the knife line.”  And with that Mr. Billings betook himself to the duty of despatching the breakfast that was already spread before him in an array tempting enough to a frontier appetite, but little designed to attract a bon vivant of civilization.  Bacon, frijoles, and creamless coffee speedily become ambrosia and nectar under the influence of mountain-air and mountain-exercise; but Mr. Billings had as yet done no climbing.  A “buck-board” ride had been his means of transportation to the garrison, ­a lonely four-company post in a far-away valley in Northeastern Arizona, ­and in the three or four days of intense heat that had succeeded his arrival exercise of any kind had been out of the question.  It was with no especial regret, therefore, that he heard the summons of the captain, “Hurry up, man; we must be off in ten minutes.”  And in less than ten minutes the lieutenant was on his horse and superintending the formation of his troop.

If Mr. Billings was astonished at the garb of his brother-officers at breakfast, he was simply aghast when he glanced along the line of Company “A” (as his command was at that time officially designated) and the first sergeant rode out to report his men present or accounted for.  The first sergeant himself was got up in an old gray-flannel shirt, open at and disclosing a broad, brown throat and neck; his head was crowned with what had once been a white felt sombrero, now tanned by desert sun, wind, and dirt into a dingy mud-color; his powerful legs were encased in worn deer-skin breeches tucked into low-topped, broad-soled, well-greased boots; his waist was girt with a rude “thimble-belt,” in the loops of which were thrust scores of copper cartridges for carbine and pistol; his carbine, and those of all the command, swung in a leather loop athwart the pommel of the saddle; revolvers in all manner of cases hung at the hip, the regulation holster, in most instances, being conspicuous by its absence.  Indeed, throughout the entire command the remarkable fact was to be noted that a company of regular cavalry, taking the field against hostile Indians, had discarded pretty much every item of dress or equipment prescribed or furnished by the authorities of the United States, and had supplied themselves with an outfit utterly ununiform, unpicturesque, undeniably slouchy, but not less undeniably appropriate and serviceable.  Not a forage-cap was to be seen, not a “campaign-hat” of the style then prescribed by a board of officers that might have known something of hats, but never could have had an idea on the subject of campaigns.  Fancy that black enormity of weighty felt, with flapping brim well-nigh a foot in width, absorbing the fiery heat of an Arizona sun, and concentrating the burning rays upon the cranium of its unhappy wearer!  No such head-gear would our troopers suffer in the days when General Crook led them through the canyons and deserts of that inhospitable Territory.  Regardless of appearances or style himself, seeking only comfort in his dress, the chief speedily found means to indicate that, in Apache-campaigning at least, it was to be a case of “inter arma silent leges” in dead earnest; for, freely translated, the old saw read, “No red-tape when Indian-fighting.”

Of much of this Lieutenant Billings was only partially informed, and so, as has been said, he was aghast when he marked the utter absence of uniform and the decidedly variegated appearance of his troop.  Deerskin, buckskin, canvas, and flannels, leggings, moccasins, and the like, constituted the bill of dress, and old soft felt hats, originally white, the head-gear.  If spurs were worn at all, they were of the Mexican variety, easy to kick off, but sure to stay on when wanted.  Only two men wore carbine sling-belts, and Mr. Billings was almost ready to hunt up his captain and inquire if by any possibility the men could be attempting to “put up a joke on him,” when the captain himself appeared, looking little if any more like the ideal soldier than his men, and the perfectly satisfied expression on his face as he rode easily around, examining closely the horses of the command, paying especial attention to their feet and the shoes thereof, convinced the lieutenant that all was as it was expected to be, if not as it should be, and he swallowed his surprise and held his peace.  Another moment, and Captain Wayne’s troop came filing past in column of twos, looking, if anything, rougher than his own.

“You follow right after Wayne,” said Captain Buxton; and with no further formality Mr. Billings, in a perfunctory sort of way, wheeled his men to the right by fours, broke into column of twos, and closed up on the leading troop.

Buxton was in high glee on this particular morning in June.  He had done very little Indian scouting, had been but moderately successful in what he had undertaken, and now, as luck would have it, the necessity arose for sending something more formidable than a mere detachment down into the Tonto Basin, in search of a powerful band of Apaches who had broken loose from the reservation and were taking refuge in the foot-hills of the Black Mesa or among the wilds of the Sierra Ancha.  As senior captain of the two, Buxton became commander of the entire force, ­two well-filled troops of regular cavalry, some thirty Indian allies as scouts, and a goodly-sized train of pack-mules, with its full complement of packers, cargadors, and blacksmiths.  He fully anticipated a lively fight, possibly a series of them, and a triumphant return to his post, where hereafter he would be looked up to and quoted as an expert and authority on Apache-fighting.  He knew just where the hostiles lay, and was going straight to the point to flatten them out forthwith; and so the little command moved off under admirable auspices and in the best of spirits.

It was a four-days’ hard march to the locality where Captain Buxton counted on finding his victims; and when on the fourth day, rather tired and not particularly enthusiastic, the command bivouacked along the banks of a mountain-torrent, a safe distance from the supposed location of the Indian stronghold, he sent forward his Apache Mojave allies to make a stealthy reconnoissance, feeling confident that soon after nightfall they would return with the intelligence that the enemy were lazily resting in their “rancheria,” all unsuspicious of his approach, and that at daybreak he would pounce upon and annihilate them.

Soon after nightfall the scouts did return, but their intelligence was not so gratifying:  a small ­a very small ­band of renegades had been encamped in that vicinity some weeks before, but not a “hostile” or sign of a hostile was to be found.  Captain Buxton hardly slept that night, from disappointment and mortification, and when he went the following day to investigate for himself he found that he had been on a false scent from the start, and this made him crabbed.  A week’s hunt through the mountains resulted in no better luck, and now, having had only fifteen days’ rations at the outset, he was most reluctantly and savagely marching homeward to report his failure.

But Mr. Billings had enjoyed the entire trip.  Sleeping in the open air without other shelter than their blankets afforded, scouting by day in single file over miles of mere game-trails, up hill and down dale through the wildest and most dolefully-picturesque scenery he “at least” had ever beheld, under frowning cliffs and beetling crags, through dense forests of pine and juniper, through mountain-torrents swollen with the melting snows of the crests so far above them, through canyons, deep, dark, and gloomy, searching ever for traces of the foe they were ordered to find and fight forthwith, Mr. Billings and his men, having no responsibility upon their shoulders, were happy and healthy as possible, and consequently in small sympathy with their irate leader.

Every afternoon when they halted beside some one of the hundreds of mountain-brooks that came tumbling down from the gorges of the Black Mesa, the men were required to look carefully at the horses’ backs and feet, for mountain Arizona is terrible on shoes, equine or human.  This had to be done before the herds were turned out to graze with their guard around them; and often some of the men would get a wisp of straw or a suitable wipe of some kind, and thoroughly rub down their steeds.  Strolling about among them, as he always did at this time, our lieutenant had noticed a slim but trimly-built young Irishman whose care of and devotion to his horse it did him good to see.  No matter how long the march, how severe the fatigue, that horse was always looked after, his grazing-ground pre-empted by a deftly-thrown picket-pin and lariat which secured to him all the real estate that could be surveyed within the circle of which the pin was the centre and the lariat the radius-vector.

Between horse and master the closest comradeship seemed to exist; the trooper had a way of softly singing or talking to his friend as he rubbed him down, and Mr. Billings was struck with the expression and taste with which the little soldier ­for he was only five feet five ­would render “Molly Bawn” and “Kitty Tyrrell.”  Except when thus singing or exchanging confidences with his steed, he was strangely silent and reserved; he ate his rations among the other men, yet rarely spoke with them, and he would ride all day through country marvellous for wild beauty and be the only man in the command who did not allow himself to give vent to some expression of astonishment or delight.

“What is that man’s name?” asked Mr. Billings of the first sergeant one evening.

“O’Grady, sir,” replied the sergeant, with his soldierly salute; and a little later, as Captain Buxton was fretfully complaining to his subaltern of the ill fortune that seemed to overshadow his best efforts, the latter, thinking to cheer him and to divert his attention from his trouble, referred to the troop: 

“Why, captain, I don’t think I ever saw a finer set of men than you have ­anywhere.  Now, there’s a little fellow who strikes me as being a perfect light-cavalry soldier.”  And the lieutenant indicated his young Irishman.

“You don’t mean O’Grady?” asked the captain in surprise.

“Yes, sir, ­the very one.”

“Why, he’s the worst man in the troop.”

For a moment Mr. Billings knew not what to say.  His captain had spoken with absolute harshness and dislike in his tone of the one soldier of all others who seemed to be the most quiet, attentive, and alert of the troop.  He had noticed, too, that the sergeants and the men generally, in speaking to O’Grady, were wont to fall into a kindlier tone than usual, and, though they sometimes squabbled among themselves over the choice of patches of grass for their horses, O’Grady’s claim was never questioned, much less “jumped.”  Respect for his superior’s rank would not permit the lieutenant to argue the matter; but, desiring to know more about the case, he spoke again: 

“I am very sorry to hear it.  His care of his horse and his quiet ways impressed me so favorably.”

“Oh, yes, d ­n him!” broke in Captain Buxton.  “Horses and whiskey are the only things on earth he cares for.  As to quiet ways, there isn’t a worse devil at large than O’Grady with a few drinks in him.  When I came back from two years’ recruiting detail he was a sergeant in the troop.  I never knew him before, but I soon found he was addicted to drink, and after a while had to ‘break’ him; and one night when he was raising hell in the quarters, and I ordered him into the dark cell, he turned on me like a tiger.  By Jove! if it hadn’t been for some of the men he would have killed me, ­or I him.  He was tried by court-martial, but most of the detail was made up of infantrymen and staff-officers from Crook’s head-quarters, and, by ! they didn’t seem to think it any sin for a soldier to threaten to cut his captain’s heart out, and Crook himself gave me a sort of a rap in his remarks on the case, and ­well, they just let O’Grady off scot-free between them, gave him some little fine, and did more harm than good.  He’s just as surly and insolent now when I speak to him as he was that night when drunk.  Here, I’ll show you.”  And with that Captain Buxton started off towards the herd, Mr. Billings obediently following, but feeling vaguely ill at ease.  He had never met Captain Buxton before, but letters from his comrades had prepared him for experiences not altogether pleasant.  A good soldier in some respects, Captain Buxton bore the reputation of having an almost ungovernable temper, of being at times brutally violent in his language and conduct towards his men, and, worse yet, of bearing ill-concealed malice, and “nursing his wrath to keep it warm” against such of his enlisted men as had ever ventured to appeal for justice.  The captain stopped on reaching the outskirts of the quietly-grazing herd.

“Corporal,” said he to the non-commissioned officer in charge, “isn’t that O’Grady’s horse off there to the left?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go and tell O’Grady to come here.”

The corporal saluted and went off on his errand.

“Now, Mr. Billings,” said the captain, “I have repeatedly given orders that my horses must be side-lined when we are in the hostilescountry.  Just come here to the left.”  And he walked over towards a handsome, sturdy little California horse of a bright bay color.  “Here, you see, is O’Grady’s horse, and not a side-line:  that’s his way of obeying orders.  More than that, he is never content to have his horse in among the others, but must always get away outside, just where he is most apt to be run off by any Indian sharp and quick enough to dare it.  Now, here comes O’Grady.  Watch him, if you want to see him in his true light.”

Standing beside his superior, Mr. Billings looked towards the approaching trooper, who, with a quick, springy step, advanced to within a few yards of them, then stopped short and, erect and in silence, raised his hand in salute, and with perfectly respectful demeanor looked straight at his captain.

In a voice at once harsh and distinctly audible over the entire bivouac, with frowning brow and angry eyes, Buxton demanded, ­

“O’Grady, where are your side-lines?”

“Over with my blankets, sir.”

“Over with your blankets, are they?  Why in ­, sir, are they not here on your horse, where they ought to be?” And the captain’s voice waxed harsher and louder, and his manner more threatening.

“I understood the captain’s orders to be that they need not go on till sunset,” replied the soldier, calmly and respectfully, “and I don’t like to put them on that sore place, sir, until the last moment.”

“Don’t like to?  No sir, I know d ­d well you don’t like to obey this or any other order I ever gave, and wherever you find a loop-hole through which to crawl, and you think you can sneak off unpunished, by ­, sir, I suppose you will go on disobeying orders.  Shut up, sir! not a d ­d word!” for tears of mortification were starting to O’Grady’s eyes, and with flushing face and trembling lip the soldier stood helplessly before his troop-commander, and was striving to say a word in further explanation.

“Go and get your side-lines at once and bring them here; go at once, sir,” shouted the captain; and with a lump in his throat the trooper saluted, faced about, and walked away.

“He’s milder-mannered than usual, d ­n him!” said the captain, turning towards his subaltern, who had stood a silent and pained witness of the scene.  “He knows he is in the wrong and has no excuse; but he’ll break out yet.  Come! step out, you O’Grady!” he yelled after the rapidly-walking soldier.  “Double time, sir.  I can’t wait here all night.”  And Mr. Billings noted that silence had fallen on the bivouac so full of soldier-chaff and laughter but a moment before, and that the men of both troops were intently watching the scene already so painful to him.

Obediently O’Grady took up the “dog-trot” required of him, got his side-lines, and, running back, knelt beside his horse, and with trembling hands adjusted them, during which performance Captain Buxton stood over him, and, in a tone that grew more and more that of a bully as he lashed himself up into a rage, continued his lecture to the man.

The latter finally rose, and, with huge beads of perspiration starting out on his forehead, faced his captain.

“May I say a word, sir?” he asked.

“You may now; but be d ­d careful how you say it,” was the reply, with a sneer that would have stung an abject slave into a longing for revenge, and that grated on Mr. Billings’s nerves in a way that made him clinch his fists and involuntarily grit his teeth.  Could it be that O’Grady detected it?  One quick, wistful, half-appealing glance flashed from the Irishman’s eyes towards the subaltern, and then, with evident effort at composure, but with a voice that trembled with the pent-up sense of wrong and injustice, O’Grady spoke: 

“Indeed, sir, I had no thought of neglecting orders.  I always care for my horse; but it wasn’t sunset when the captain came out ­”

“Not sunset!” broke in Buxton, with an outburst of profanity.  “Not sunset! why, it’s well-nigh dark now, sir, and every man in the troop had side-lined his horse half an hour ago.  D ­n your insolence, sir! your excuse is worse than your conduct.  Mr. Billings, see to it, sir, that this man walks and leads his horse in rear of the troop all the way back to the post.  I’ll see, by ! whether he can be taught to obey orders.”  And with that the captain turned and strode away.

The lieutenant stood for an instant stunned, ­simply stunned.  Involuntarily he made a step towards O’Grady; their eyes met; but the restraint of discipline was upon both.  In that brief meeting of their glances, however, the trooper read a message that was unmistakable.

“Lieutenant ­” he said, but stopped abruptly, pointed aloft over the trees to the eastward with his right hand, dashed it across his eyes, and then, with hurried salute and a choking sort of gurgle in his throat, he turned and went back to his comrades.

Mr. Billings gazed after the retreating form until it disappeared among the trees by the brook-side; then he turned to see what was the meaning of the soldier’s pointing over towards the mesa to the east.

Down in the deep valley in which the little command had halted for the night the pall of darkness had indeed begun to settle; the bivouac-fires in the timber threw a lurid glare upon the groups gathering around them for supper, and towards the west the rugged upheavals of the Mazatzal range stood like a black barrier against the glorious hues of a bank of summer cloud.  All in the valley spoke of twilight and darkness:  the birds were still, the voices of the men subdued.  So far as local indications were concerned, it was ­as Captain Buxton had insisted ­almost dark.  But square over the gilded tree-tops to the east, stretching for miles and miles to their right and left, blazed a vertical wall of rock crested with scrub-oak and pine, every boulder, every tree, glittering in the radiant light of the invisibly setting sun.  O’Grady had not disobeyed his orders.

Noting this, Mr. Billings proceeded to take a leisurely stroll through the peaceful herd, carefully inspecting each horse as he passed.  As a result of his scrutiny, he found that, while most of the horses were already encumbered with their annoying hobble, in “A” Troop alone there were at least a dozen still unfettered, notably the mounts of the non-commissioned officers and the older soldiers.  Like O’Grady, they did not wish to inflict the side-line upon their steeds until the last moment.  Unlike O’Grady, they had not been called to account for it.

When Mr. Billings was summoned to supper, and he rejoined his brother-officers, it was remarked that he was more taciturn than usual.  After that repast had been appreciatively disposed of, and the little group with lighted pipes prepared to spend an hour in chat and contentment, it was observed that Mr. Billings did not take part in the general talk, but that he soon rose, and, out of ear-shot of the officers’ camp-fire, paced restlessly up and down, with his head bent forward, evidently plunged in thought.

By and by the half-dozen broke up and sought their blankets.  Captain Buxton, somewhat mollified by a good supper, was about rolling into his “Navajo,” when Mr. Billings stepped up: 

“Captain, may I ask for information as to the side-line order?  After you left this evening, I found that there must be some misunderstanding about it.”

“How so?” said Buxton, shortly.

“In this, captain;” and Mr. Billings spoke very calmly and distinctly.  “The first sergeant, several other non-commissioned officers and men, ­more than a dozen, I should say, ­did not side-line their horses until half an hour after you spoke to O’Grady, and the first sergeant assured me, when I called him to account for it, that your orders were that it should be done at sunset.”

“Well, by ! it was after sunset ­at least it was getting mighty dark ­when I sent for that black-guard O’Grady,” said Buxton, impetuously, “and there is no excuse for the rest of them.”

“It was beginning to grow dark down in this deep valley, I know, sir; but the tree-tops were in a broad glare of sunlight while we were at the herd, and those cliffs for half an hour longer.”

“Well, Mr. Billings, I don’t propose to have any hair-splitting in the management of my troop,” said the captain, manifestly nettled.  “It was practically sunset to us when the light began to grow dim, and my men know it well enough.”  And with that he rolled over and turned his back to his subaltern.

Disregarding the broad hint to leave, Mr. Billings again spoke: 

“Is it your wish, sir, that any punishment should be imposed on the men who were equally in fault with O’Grady?”

Buxton muttered something unintelligible from under his blankets.

“I did not understand you, sir,” said the lieutenant, very civilly.

Buxton savagely propped himself up on one elbow, and blurted out, ­

“No, Mr. Billings! no!  When I want a man punished I’ll give the order myself, sir.”

“And is it still your wish, sir, that I make O’Grady walk the rest of the way?”

For a moment Buxton hesitated; his better nature struggled to assert itself and induce him to undo the injustice of his order; but the “cad” in his disposition, the weakness of his character, prevailed.  It would never do to let his lieutenant get the upper hand of him, he argued, and so the reply came, and came angrily.

“Yes, of course; he deserves it anyhow, by ! and it’ll do him good.”

Without another word Mr. Billings turned on his heel and left him.

The command returned to garrison, shaved its stubbly beard of two weeks’ growth, and resumed its uniform and the routine duties of the post.  Three days only had it been back when Mr. Billings, marching on as officer of the day, and receiving the prisoners from his predecessor, was startled to hear the list of names wound up with “O’Grady,” and when that name was called there was no response.

The old officer of the day looked up inquiringly:  “Where is O’Grady, sergeant?”

“In the cell, sir, unable to come out.”

“O’Grady was confined by Captain Buxton’s order late last night,” said Captain Wayne, “and I fancy the poor fellow has been drinking heavily this time.”

A few minutes after, the reliefs being told off, the prisoners sent out to work, and the officers of the day, new and old, having made their reports to the commanding officer, Mr. Billings returned to the guard-house, and, directing his sergeant to accompany him, proceeded to make a deliberate inspection of the premises.  The guard-room itself was neat, clean, and dry; the garrison prison-room was well ventilated, and tidy as such rooms ever can be made; the Indian prison-room, despite the fact that it was empty and every shutter was thrown wide open to the breeze, had that indefinable, suffocating odor which continued aboriginal occupancy will give to any apartment; but it was the cells Mr. Billings desired to see, and the sergeant led him to a row of heavily-barred doors of rough unplaned timber, with a little grating in each, and from one of these gratings there peered forth a pair of feverishly-glittering eyes, and a face, not bloated and flushed, as with recent and heavy potations, but white, haggard, twitching, and a husky voice in piteous appeal addressed the sergeant: 

“Oh, for God’s sake, Billy, get me something, or it’ll kill me!”

“Hush, O’Grady,” said the sergeant:  “here’s the officer of the day.”

Mr. Billings took one look at the wan face only dimly visible in that prison-light, for the poor little man shrank back as he recognized the form of his lieutenant: 

“Open that door, sergeant.”

With alacrity the order was obeyed, and the heavy door swung back upon its hinges.

“O’Grady,” said the officer of the day, in a tone gentle as that he would have employed in speaking to a woman, “come out here to me.  I’m afraid you are sick.”

Shaking, trembling, twitching in every limb, with wild, dilated eyes and almost palsied step, O’Grady came out.

“Look to him a moment, sergeant,” said Mr. Billings, and, bending low, he stepped into the cell.  The atmosphere was stifling, and in another instant he backed out into the hall-way.  “Sergeant, was it by the commanding officer’s order that O’Grady was put in there?”

“No, sir; Captain Buxton’s.”

“See that he is not returned there during my tour, unless the orders come from Major Stannard.  Bring O’Grady into the prison-room.”

Here in the purer air and brighter light he looked carefully over the poor fellow, as the latter stood before him quivering from head to foot and hiding his face in his shaking hands.  Then the lieutenant took him gently by the arm and led him to a bunk: 

“O’Grady, man, lie down here.  I’m going to get something that will help you.  Tell me one thing:  how long had you been drinking before you were confined?”

“About forty-eight hours, sir, off and on.”

“How long since you ate anything?”

“I don’t know, sir; not for two days, I think.”

“Well, try and lie still.  I’m coming back to you in a very few minutes.”

And with that Mr. Billings strode from the room, leaving O’Grady, dazed, wonder-stricken, gazing stupidly after him.

The lieutenant went straight to his quarters, took a goodly-sized goblet from the painted pine sideboard, and with practised hand proceeded to mix therein a beverage in which granulated sugar, Angostura bitters, and a few drops of lime-juice entered as minor ingredients, and the coldest of spring-water and a brimming measure of whiskey as constituents of greater quality and quantity.  Filling with this mixture a small leather-covered flask, and stowing it away within the breast-pocket of his blouse, he returned to the guard-house, musing as he went, “’If this be treason,’ said Patrick Henry, ‘make the most of it.’  If this be conduct prejudicial, etc., say I, do your d ­dest.  That man would be in the horrors of jim-jams in half an hour more if it were not for this.”  And so saying to himself, he entered the prison-room, called to the sergeant to bring him some cold water, and then approached O’Grady, who rose unsteadily and strove to stand attention, but the effort was too much, and again he covered his face with his arms, and threw himself in utter misery at the foot of the bunk.

Mr. Billings drew the flask from his pocket, and, touching O’Grady’s shoulder, caused him to raise his head: 

“Drink this, my lad.  I would not give it to you at another time, but you need it now.”

Eagerly it was seized, eagerly drained, and then, after he had swallowed a long draught of the water, O’Grady slowly rose to his feet, looking, with eyes rapidly softening and losing their wild glare, upon the young officer who stood before him.  Once or twice he passed his hands across his forehead, as though to sweep away the cobwebs that pressed upon his brain, but for a moment he did not essay a word.  Little by little the color crept back to his cheek; and, noting this, Mr. Billings smiled very quietly, and said, “Now, O’Grady, lie down; you will be able to sleep now until the men come in at noon; then you shall have another drink, and you’ll be able to eat what I send you.  If you cannot sleep, call the sergeant of the guard; or if you want anything, I’ll come to you.”

Then, with tears starting to his eyes, the soldier found words:  “I thank the lieutenant.  If I live a thousand years, sir, this will never be forgotten, ­never, sir!  I’d have gone crazy without your help, sir.”

Mr. Billings held out his hand, and, taking that of his prisoner, gave it a cordial grip:  “That’s all right, O’Grady.  Try to sleep now, and we’ll pull you through.  Good-by, for the present.”  And, with a heart lighter, somehow, than it had been of late, the lieutenant left.

At noon that day, when the prisoners came in from labor and the officer’s of the day inspected their general condition before permitting them to go to their dinner, the sergeant of the guard informed him that O’Grady had slept quietly almost all the morning, but was then awake and feeling very much better, though still weak and nervous.

“Do you think he can walk over to my quarters?” asked Mr. Billings.

“He will try it, sir, or anything the lieutenant wants him to try.”

“Then send him over in about ten minutes.”

Home once more, Mr. Billings started a tiny blaze in his oil-stove, and soon had a kettle of water boiling merrily.  Sharp to time a member of the guard tapped at the door, and, on being bidden “Come in,” entered, ushering in O’Grady; but meantime, by the aid of a little pot of meat-juice and some cayenne pepper, a glass of hot soup or beef-tea had been prepared, and, with some dainty slices of potted chicken and the accompaniments of a cup of fragrant tea and some ship-biscuit, was in readiness on a little table in the back room.

Telling the sentinel to remain in the shade on the piazza, the lieutenant proceeded first to make O’Grady sit down in a big wicker arm-chair, for the man in his broken condition was well-nigh exhausted by his walk across the glaring parade in the heat of an Arizona noonday sun.  Then he mixed and administered the counterpart of the beverage he had given his prisoner-patient in the morning, only in point of potency it was an evident falling off, but sufficient for the purpose, and in a few minutes O’Grady was able to swallow his breakfast with evident relish, meekly and unhesitatingly obeying every suggestion of his superior.

His breakfast finished, O’Grady was then conducted into a cool, darkened apartment, a back room in the lieutenant’s quarters.

“Now, pull off your boots and outer clothing, man, spread yourself on that bed, and go to sleep, if you can.  If you can’t, and you want to read, there are books and papers on that shelf; pin up the blanket on the window, and you’ll have light enough.  You shall not be disturbed, and I know you won’t attempt to leave.”

“Indeed, sir, I won’t,” began O’Grady, eagerly; but the lieutenant had vanished, closing the door after him, and a minute later the soldier had thrown himself upon the cool, white bed, and was crying like a tired child.

Three or four weeks after this incident, to the small regret of his troop and the politely-veiled indifference of the commissioned element of the garrison, Captain Buxton concluded to avail himself of a long-deferred “leave,” and turned over his company property to Mr. Billings in a condition that rendered it necessary for him to do a thing that “ground” him, so to speak:  he had to ask several favors of his lieutenant, between whom and himself there had been no cordiality since the episode of the bivouac, and an open rupture since Mr. Billings’s somewhat eventful tour as officer of the day, which has just been described.

It appeared that O’Grady had been absent from no duty (there were no drills in that scorching June weather), but that, yielding to the advice of his comrades, who knew that he had eaten nothing for two days and was drinking steadily into a condition that would speedily bring punishment upon him, he had asked permission to be sent to the hospital, where, while he could get no liquor, there would be no danger attendant upon his sudden stop of all stimulant.  The first sergeant carried his request with the sick-book to Captain Buxton, O’Grady meantime managing to take two or three more pulls at the bottle, and Buxton, instead of sending him to the hospital, sent for him, inspected him, and did what he had no earthly authority to do, directed the sergeant of the guard to confine him at once in the dark cell.

“It will be no punishment as he is now,” said Buxton to himself, “but it will be hell when he wakes.”

And so it had been; and far worse it probably would have been but for Mr. Billings’s merciful interference.

Expecting to find his victim in a condition bordering upon the abject and ready to beg for mercy at any sacrifice of pluck or pride, Buxton had gone to the guard-house soon after retreat and told the sergeant that he desired to see O’Grady, if the man was fit to come out.

What was his surprise when the soldier stepped forth in his trimmest undress uniform, erect and steady, and stood unflinchingly before him! ­a day’s rest and quiet, a warm bath, wholesome and palatable food, careful nursing, and the kind treatment he had received having brought him round with a sudden turn that he himself could hardly understand.

“How is this?” thundered Buxton.  “I ordered you kept in the dark cell.”

“The officer of the day ordered him released, sir,” said the sergeant of the guard.

And Buxton, choking with rage, stormed into the mess-room, where the younger officers were at dinner, and, regardless of the time, place, or surroundings, opened at once upon his subaltern: 

“Mr. Billings, by whose authority did you release O’Grady from the dark cell?”

Mr. Billings calmly applied his napkin to his moustache, and then as calmly replied, “By my own, Captain Buxton.”

“By ! sir, you exceeded your authority.”

“Not at all, captain; on the contrary, you exceeded yours.”

At this Buxton flew into a rage that seemed to deprive him of all control over his language.  Oaths and imprecations poured from his lips; he raved at Billings, despite the efforts of the officers to quiet him, despite the adjutant’s threat to report his language at once to the commanding officer.

Mr. Billings paid no attention whatever to his accusations, but went on eating his dinner with an appearance of serenity that only added fuel to his captain’s fire.  Two or three officers rose and left the table in disgust, and just how far the thing might have gone cannot be accurately told, for in less than three minutes there came a quick, bounding step on the piazza, the clank and rattle of a sabre, and the adjutant fairly sprang back into the room: 

“Captain Buxton, you will go at once to your quarters in close arrest, by order of Major Stannard.”

Buxton knew his colonel and that little fire-eater of an adjutant too well to hesitate an instant.  Muttering imprecations on everybody, he went.

The next morning, O’Grady was released and returned to duty.  Two days later, after a long and private interview with his commanding officer, Captain Buxton appeared with him at the officers’ mess at dinner-time, made a formal and complete apology to Lieutenant Billings for his offensive language, and to the mess generally for his misconduct; and so the affair blew over; and, soon after, Buxton left, and Mr. Billings became commander of Troop “A.”

And now, whatever might have been his reputation as to sobriety before, Private O’Grady became a marked man for every soldierly virtue.  Week after week he was to be seen every fourth or fifth day, when his guard tour came, reporting to the commanding officer for duty as “orderly,” the nattiest, trimmest soldier on the detail.

“I always said,” remarked Captain Wayne, “that Buxton alone was responsible for that man’s downfall; and this proves it.  O’Grady has all the instincts of a gentleman about him, and now that he has a gentleman over him he is himself again.”

One night, after retreat-parade, there was cheering and jubilee in the quarters of Troop “A.”  Corporal Quinn had been discharged by expiration of term of service, and Private O’Grady was decorated with his chevrons.  When October came, the company muster-roll showed that he had won back his old grade; and the garrison knew no better soldier, no more intelligent, temperate, trustworthy non-commissioned officer, than Sergeant O’Grady.  In some way or other the story of the treatment resorted to by his amateur medical officer had leaked out.  Whether faulty in theory or not, it was crowned with the verdict of success in practice; and, with the strong sense of humor which pervades all organizations wherein the Celt is represented as a component part, Mr. Billings had been lovingly dubbed “Doctor” by his men, and there was one of their number who would have gone through fire and water for him.

One night some herdsmen from up the valley galloped wildly into the post.  The Apaches had swooped down, run off their cattle, killed one of the cowboys, and scared off the rest.  At daybreak the next morning Lieutenant Billings, with Troop “A” and about a dozen Indian scouts, was on the trail, with orders to pursue, recapture the cattle, and punish the marauders.

To his disgust, Mr. Billings found that his allies were not of the tribes who had served with him in previous expeditions.  All the trusty Apache Mojaves and Hualpais were off with other commands in distant parts of the Territory.  He had to take just what the agent could give him at the reservation, ­some Apache Yumas, who were total strangers to him.  Within forty-eight hours four had deserted and gone back; the others proved worthless as trailers, doubtless intentionally, and had it not been for the keen eye of Sergeant O’Grady it would have been impossible to keep up the pursuit by night; but keep it up they did, and just at sunset, one sharp autumn evening, away up in the mountains, the advance caught sight of the cattle grazing along the shores of a placid little lake, and, in less time than it takes to write it, Mr. Billings and his command tore down upon the quarry, and, leaving a few men to “round up” the herd, were soon engaged in a lively running fight with the fleeing Apaches which lasted until dark, when the trumpet sounded the recall, and, with horses somewhat blown, but no casualties of importance, the command reassembled and marched back to the grazing-ground by the lake.  Here a hearty supper was served out, the horses were rested, then given a good “feed” of barley, and at ten o’clock Mr. Billings with his second lieutenant and some twenty men pushed ahead in the direction taken by the Indians, leaving the rest of the men under experienced non-commissioned officers to drive the cattle back to the valley.

That night the conduct of the Apache Yuma scouts was incomprehensible.  Nothing would induce them to go ahead or out on the flanks; they cowered about the rear of column, yet declared that the enemy could not be hereabouts.  At two in the morning Mr. Billings found himself well through a pass in the mountains, high peaks rising to his right and left, and a broad valley in front.  Here he gave the order to unsaddle and camp for the night.

At daybreak all were again on the alert:  the search for the trail was resumed.  Again the Indians refused to go out without the troops; but the men themselves found the tracks of Tonto moccasins along the bed of a little stream purling through the canyon, and presently indications that they had made the ascent of the mountain to the south.  Leaving a guard with his horses and pack-mules, the lieutenant ordered up his men, and soon the little command was silently picking its way through rock and boulder, scrub-oak and tangled juniper and pine.  Rougher and steeper grew the ascent; more and more the Indians cowered, huddling together in rear of the soldiers.  Twice Mr. Billings signalled a halt, and, with his sergeants, fairly drove the scouts up to the front and ordered them to hunt for signs.  In vain they protested, “No sign, ­no Tonto here,” their very looks belied them, and the young commander ordered the search to be continued.  In their eagerness the men soon leaped ahead of the wretched allies, and the latter fell back in the same huddled group as before.

After half an hour of this sort of work, the party came suddenly upon a point whence it was possible to see much of the face of the mountain they were scaling.  Cautioning his men to keep within the concealment afforded by the thick timber, Mr. Billings and his comrade-lieutenant crept forward and made a brief reconnoissance.  It was evident at a glance that the farther they went the steeper grew the ascent and the more tangled the low shrubbery, for it was little better, until, near the summit, trees and underbrush, and herbage of every description, seemed to cease entirely, and a vertical cliff of jagged rocks stood sentinel at the crest, and stretched east and west the entire length of the face of the mountain.

“By Jove, Billings! if they are on top of that it will be a nasty place to rout them out of,” observed the junior.

“I’m going to find out where they are, anyhow,” replied the other.  “Now those infernal Yumas have got to scout, whether they want to or not.  You stay here with the men, ready to come the instant I send or signal.”

In vain the junior officer protested against being left behind; he was directed to send a small party to see if there were an easier way up the hill-side farther to the west, but to keep the main body there in readiness to move whichever way they might be required.  Then, with Sergeant O’Grady and the reluctant Indians, Mr. Billings pushed up to the left front, and was soon out of sight of his command.  For fifteen minutes he drove his scouts, dispersed in skirmish order, ahead of him, but incessantly they sneaked behind rocks and trees out of his sight; twice he caught them trying to drop back, and at last, losing all patience, he sprang forward, saying, “Then come on, you whelps, if you cannot lead,” and he and the sergeant hurried ahead.  Then the Yumas huddled together again and slowly followed.

Fifteen minutes more, and Mr. Billings found himself standing on the edge of a broad shelf of the mountain, ­a shelf covered with huge boulders of rock tumbled there by storm and tempest, riven by lightning-stroke or the slow disintegration of nature from the bare, glaring, precipitous ledge he had marked from below.  East and west it seemed to stretch, forbidding and inaccessible.  Turning to the sergeant, Mr. Billings directed him to make his way off to the right and see if there were any possibility of finding a path to the summit; then looking back down the side, and marking his Indians cowering under the trees some fifty yards away, he signalled “come up,” and was about moving farther to his left to explore the shelf, when something went whizzing past his head, and, embedding itself in a stunted oak behind him, shook and quivered with the shock, ­a Tonto arrow.  Only an instant did he see it, photographed as by electricity upon the retina, when with a sharp stinging pang and whirring “whist” and thud a second arrow, better aimed, tore through the flesh and muscles just at the outer corner of his left eye, and glanced away down the hill.  With one spring he gained the edge of the shelf, and shouted to the scouts to come on.  Even as he did so, bang! bang! went the reports of two rifles among the rocks, and, as with one accord, the Apache Yumas turned tail and rushed back down the hill, leaving him alone in the midst of hidden foes.  Stung by the arrow, bleeding, but not seriously hurt, he crouched behind a rock, with carbine at ready, eagerly looking for the first sign of an enemy.  The whiz of another arrow from the left drew his eyes thither, and quick as a flash his weapon leaped to his shoulder, the rocks rang with its report, and one of the two swarthy forms he saw among the boulders tumbled over out of sight; but even as he threw back his piece to reload, a rattling volley greeted him, the carbine dropped to the ground, a strange, numbed sensation had seized his shoulder, and his right arm, shattered by a rifle-bullet, hung dangling by the flesh, while the blood gushed forth in a torrent.

Defenceless, he sprang back to the edge; there was nothing for it now but to run until he could meet his men.  Well he knew they would be tearing up the mountain to the rescue.  Could he hold out till then?  Behind him with shout and yells came the Apaches, arrow and bullet whistling over his head; before him lay the steep descent, ­jagged rocks, thick, tangled bushes:  it was a desperate chance; but he tried it, leaping from rock to rock, holding his helpless arm in his left hand; then his foot slipped:  he plunged heavily forward; quickly the nerves threw out their signal for support to the muscles of the shattered member, but its work was done, its usefulness destroyed.  Missing its support, he plunged heavily forward, and went crashing down among the rocks eight or ten feet below, cutting a jagged gash in his forehead, while the blood rained down into his eyes and blinded him; but he struggled up and on a few yards more; then another fall, and, well-nigh senseless, utterly exhausted, he lay groping for his revolver, ­it had fallen from its case.  Then ­all was over.

Not yet; not yet.  His ear catches the sound of a voice he knows well, ­a rich, ringing, Hibernian voice it is:  “Lieutenant, lieutenant! Where are ye?” and he has strength enough to call, “This way, sergeant, this way,” and in another moment O’Grady, with blended anguish and gratitude in his face, is bending over him.  “Oh, thank God you’re not kilt, sir!” (for when excited O’Grady would relapse into the brogue); “but are ye much hurt?”

“Badly, sergeant, since I can’t fight another round.”

“Then put your arm round my neck, sir,” and in a second the little Patlander has him on his brawny back.  But with only one arm by which to steady himself, the other hanging loose, the torture is inexpressible, for O’Grady is now bounding down the hill, leaping like a goat from rock to rock, while the Apaches with savage yells come tearing after them.  Twice, pausing, O’Grady lays his lieutenant down in the shelter of some large boulder, and, facing about, sends shot after shot up the hill, checking the pursuit and driving the cowardly footpads to cover.  Once he gives vent to a genuine Kilkenny “hurroo” as a tall Apache drops his rifle and plunges head foremost among the rocks with his hands convulsively clasped to his breast.  Then the sergeant once more picks up his wounded comrade, despite pleas, orders, or imprecations, and rushes on.

“I cannot stand it, O’Grady.  Go and save yourself.  You must do it.  I order you to do it.”  Every instant the shots and arrows whiz closer, but the sergeant never winces, and at last, panting, breathless, having carried his chief full three hundred yards down the rugged slope, he gives out entirely, but with a gasp of delight points down among the trees: 

“Here come the boys, sir.”

Another moment, and the soldiers are rushing up the rocks beside them, their carbines ringing like merry music through the frosty air, and the Apaches are scattering in every direction.

“Old man, are you much hurt?” is the whispered inquiry his brother-officer can barely gasp for want of breath, and, reassured by the faint grin on Mr. Billings’s face, and a barely audible “Arm busted, ­that’s all; pitch in and use them up,” he pushes on with his men.

In ten minutes the affair is ended.  The Indians have been swept away like chaff; the field and the wounded they have abandoned are in the hands of the troopers; the young commander’s life is saved; and then, and for long after, the hero of the day is Buxton’s bête noire, “the worst man in the troop.”