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“To the Commandant at Fort Adams:

“For God’s sake send us help at once. We have been fighting the Comanches for two days; half our men are killed and wounded, and we can not hold out much longer. But we have women and children with us, and we shall fight to the last and die game. Send help without an hour’s delay, or it’s all up.

J. T. Shields.”

Covered with dust, and reeking with sweat, with bloody nostril and dilated eye, the black mustang thundered up to the gate of the fort, staggered as if drunken, and then with a wheezing moan, shivered from nose to hoof, and with an awful cry, like that of a dying person, his flanks heaved and he dropped dead to the ground, his lithe, sinewy rider leaping from the saddle, just in time to escape being crushed to death.

Scarcely less frightful and alarming was the appearance of the horseman, so covered with dust and grime, that no one could tell whether he was Indian, African or Caucasian; but, whoever he was, he showed that he was alive to the situation, by running straight through the gate of the stockades, into the parade-ground, where, pausing in a bewildered sort of way, he glanced hurriedly around, and then shouted:

“Where’s the commandant? Quick! some one tell me!”

Colonel Greaves chanced to be standing at that moment in converse with a couple of his officers, and upon hearing the cry, he moved toward the stranger with a rapid tread, but with a certain dignified deliberation that always marked his

 movements. Knowing him to be the man for whom he was searching, the messenger did not wait for him to approach, but fairly bounded toward him, and thrusting a piece of dirty paper, scrawled over with lead pencil, looked imploringly in his face, while he read the words given above.

And as the colonel read, his brows knitted and his face paled. He felt the urgency of that despairing appeal, and he saw the almost utter impossibility of complying with it.

“When was this written?” he asked, of the dust-begrimed courier.

“At daybreak this morning,” was the prompt reply.

“How far away are your friends?”

“Forty miles as the crow flies, and I have never drawn rein since my horse started, till he fell dead just outside the gate.”

“How many men are there in this fix?”

“There were twenty men, and a dozen women and children. When I left, about half that number were alive, and whether any are still living, God only knows, I don’t.”

“I hope it is not as bad as that,” said the colonel, again glancing at the paper, and involuntarily sighing, for despite his schooling upon the frontier, he felt keenly the anguish of this wail, that was borne to him across the sad prairie. “Not as bad as that, I trust; for if they have held out two days, we may hope that they are able to hold out still longer. But how is it that you succeeded in reaching us, when they could not?”

Feeling that some explanation was expected of him, the messenger spoke hurriedly, but as calmly as possible:

“Twenty of us were conveying a party of women and children—the families of merchants and officers at Santa Fe—through the Indian country, on our way to that city, when the Comanches came down on us, in a swarm of hundreds, and finding there was no escaping a fight, we ran our wagons in a circle, shut the women and horses inside, and then it seemed as if hell was let loose upon us. Yelling, shouting, screeching, charging was kept up all that day into the night. We picked off the red devils with every shot, but the more we killed the thicker they came, seeming to spring up from the very ground, until the prairie was covered with them

[Pg 11]

 At night we had a little rest, and we thought perhaps they would draw off and let us alone. Why they didn’t make a charge upon our camp that night, I can not tell; but they only sent a few stray shots, more than one of which was fatal, and at daylight the fun began again, and never stopped till the sun went down, when there wasn’t much of a pause then. That was yesterday, and we had it all through the night, and since we halted the day before yesterday, there hasn’t been a drop of water for horse, man, woman or child, so that you can see what an awful strait they are in.”

By this time quite a group had gathered about the messenger, enchained by the thrilling tale he told, the truth of which was so eloquently attested by his manner and appearance.

“But you haven’t told us how you got here,” reminded the colonel, as the man paused for a moment. “You have succeeded at least in insuring your safety.”

“We made up our minds about midnight last night that something of the kind had to be done, as it was our only hope. Two of our men tried to steal through, crawling on hands and knees, but both were caught within a hundred yards of the camp—one shot dead, and the other so badly tomahawked, that he died within an hour of getting back to us. So I told Shields to let me have his mustang, which is the fleetest creature on the plains, and I would either get through or do as the others did. So, just about daybreak, I crammed that slip of paper in the side of my shoe, stretched out flat on the mustang’s back and give him the word. Away he went like a thunderbolt, with the rifles cracking all about my ears, and the Comanche thundering down upon me like so many bloodhounds. I fell more than one bullet in my legs, and I knew the horse was hurt pretty bad—it didn’t hinder his going, and the noble fellow kept straight along till he brought me here. But you act as if you didn’t know me.”

“Know you?” repeated the amazed colonel. “I never saw you before.”

Fiction & Literature
7 June
Rectory Print