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Tahan
Chapter XXIX Escape—Death of Nacoomee


'L EV’N o’-clo-o-ck en* aw-l-’s we-ll!” drawled the sentry on Post Number One.

This was echoed around the garrison by the other sentries.

We were in the act of rising to our feet

There was the grating of a key in the door.

We lay down quickly, shackles in hand, and drew our blankets over us.

The black face of the sergeant appeared in the light of the lantern he held aloft.

He took a couple of steps, flashed his lantern over us and up to the grated window, and turned his eyes slowly up toward the hole.

Another instant and that negro would have earned a mighty sore head. But he turned, went out and locked the door.

Up we got. Gee Whiz climbed into the loft I quickly followed.

On the comb of the roof there was a lattice-like ventilator. From the ground it looked like an easy thing to break through, but now the slats seemed to be of iron.

Gee Whiz whispered down to Jack for the old pocket-knife which he had left on the window-sill.

After what seemed like hours we got it, and my comrade went to work on the slats like a beaver.

The night was very still, the faintest noise carrying a long distance. The sound of the whittling seemed to my tense ears loud enough to be heard all over the post.

The walls of the guardhouse were made of scrub-oak logs, two rows of which were set into the ground six or seven feet deep and about two feet apart The space between was filled with gravel and cement So, the only possible way for us to get out was the way we took.

At last enough of the slats were cut We crawled out and straddled the comb of the roof. It was very steep, and as we looked down we could just see the top of a sentry’s head on either side of the guardhouse, as he paced his beat They met at each end of the building.

As my comrade and I sat there astride the roof I lifted my eyes toward the northern sky. Across it flared a long serpent-like streak. I had never seen anything like it It was an awesome thing. I pointed it out to Gee Whiz. He took one good look at it over his shoulder and whispered:

“That’s a comet, Kid, en’ it means good luck.”

There was no moon that night, but the stars looked down out of a clear sky. The eyes of Those-Above were giving us just light enough.

Gee Whiz took my hand in a grasp of true fellowship.

“Now, Kid, we’ll go together, er we’ll die together,” he whispered.

The sentries passed around the comers of the building, and stood, as we thought, talking in low tones.

We slid down to the edge of the roof at the back of the building and dropped together.

We had scarcely struck the ground before both sentries were blazing away at us.

My feet balanced on the edge of a gutter and threw me backward against the wall. Gee Whiz was well away when he discovered I wasn’t with him.

The sentries blazed briskly, but he came back.

Grabbing me by the throat, he shook me hard.

“Damn yeh, air yeh hurt?” he breathed huskily.

“N-no,” I gasped.

“Wal, come on then!” he growled, and jerked me on.

Away we went together.

The sentries blazed busily. Their fire burned holes only in the night.

Soon pandemonium broke loose. Bugles blared. The long roll sounded. Orders were shouted.

We reached the Cheyenne camp down by the river. I spotted the horse I wanted. He was picketed. I pulled up the stake. With the rope in one hand, I laid the other on his withers, ready to leap to his back.

An Indian’s head rose on the other side.

“My horse!” he grunted.

I didn’t wait to argue the point

Gee Whiz also failed in his quest.

The camp was in an uproar. Wild whoops filled the air.

But neither Indians nor soldiers knew what the rumpus was all about until we had made a good start

We neared the place where Nacoomee was to be with the horses. A figure started up from the roots of a tree. It was an Indian woman with a bundle in her arms.

It was not Nacoomee.

The woman stood in silence for a time, despite my anxious questioning. Then she told me simply that in trying to bring the horses across the river, Nacoomee with the horses, had sunk in the quicksand.

Nacoomee!-

But a few hours ago she had left me at the iron-barred door of my cell.

Nacoomee!-

The Great Silence made no answer to my silent call.

I was left alone on the trail too narrow for two to walk abreast.

When I came to myself Gee Whiz was shaking me and trying to pull me away from the place.

There were shouts and yells up toward the post, and the sound of running horses coming nearer.

I had my child in my arms. I begged my comrade to leave me.

The woman spoke.

“Go, and some time come back,” she advised “I will care for Tahpahyeete.”

I knew she would.

“Come, be quick, Kid!” urged the man.

I put my child into the woman’s arms and darted away with Gee Whiz.

It is wise for the hunted to do what the hunter least expects.

We went around the post, once narrowly avoiding a squad of soldiers, and started south parallel with the road toward Fort Sill. The officers would be least likely to look for us in that direction.

How good it was to feel the springy turf under my feet and the cool breeze in my face!

“Think of it, Kid, it’s jes’ thirty days sence I took a good full-sized step,” exulted Gee Whiz.

He stretched his long legs into increased speed. But he soon slowed down. We had a long trail before us, and we needed to save our strength.

It was coming daylight when we arrived at the South Fork of the Canadian River.

For the first time I was aware that Gee Whiz was in his stocking feet. He had left his shoes in the guardhouse. I made him take off his socks. His feet and ankles were bleeding. The prairie briars had torn away the skin and flesh.

My ankles were fully as bad. My moccasins had kept my feet in better condition.

Before we started across the wide stretch of sand on the river’s edge, I showed my comrade how to walk as an Indian walks, with his toes turned inward, so his tracks would not be so easily recognised.

When we had crossed the river he sat down and tenderly nursed his feet. The sharp clinging sand-burs had been torment to him. It was quite a while before he yielded to my coaxing to go on.

Before the sun came up we had found a hiding-place in a fringe of bushes by a little stream. Here Gee Whiz buried his feet in the cool mud all day, while I alternately slept and watched for signs of pursuers.


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