The Cup of Trembling and Other Stories Part 23

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There had been a stoppage ahead, the feet pressing on had slackened step, when there, with his back to the high iron gates of the capitol-grounds, was the beautiful child again. A young woman stood beside him, a fine, wholesome girl like a full-blown cottage rose, with auburn hair, an ivory-white throat, and a back as flat as a trooper's.

It was Callie, of course, with Meta's child. The cup of Henniker's humiliation was full.

The boy stood with his chin up, his hat on the back of his head, his plump hands spread on the hips of his white knickerbockers. He was dressed in his best, as he had come from a children's fete. Around his neck hung a prize which he had won in the games, a silver dog-whistle on a scarlet ribbon. He caught it to his lips and blew a long piercing trill, his dark eyes smiling, the wind blowing the short curls across his cheek.

"There he is, the lame one! I made him look round," said Ross.

Henniker had turned, for one long look--the last, he thought--at his son. All the singleness and pa.s.sion of the mother, the fire and grace and daring of the father, were in the promise of his childish face and form. He flushed, not a self-conscious, but an honest, generous blush, and took his hat away off his head to the lame c.o.xeyite--"because I was mean to him; and they are down and done for now, the c.o.xeys."

"Whose kid is that?" asked the man who walked beside Henniker, seeing the gesture and the look that pa.s.sed between the man and the boy. "He's as handsome as they make 'em," he added, smiling.

Henniker did not reply in the proud word "Mine." A sudden heat rushed to his eyes, his chest was tight to bursting. He pulled his hat down and tramped along. The shuffling feet of the prisoners pa.s.sed on down the middle of the street; the double line of guards kept step on either side. The dust arose and blended the moving shapes, prisoners and guards together, and blotted them out in the distance.

Callie had not seen her old lover at all. "Great is the recuperative power of the human heart." She had been looking at Corporal Niles, who could not turn his well-drilled head to look at her. But a side-spark from his blue eye shot out in her direction, and made her blush and cease to smile. Corporal Niles carried his head a little higher and walked a little straighter after that; and Callie went slowly through the gates, and sat a long while on one of the benches in the park, with her elbow resting on the iron scroll and her cheek upon her hand.

She was thinking about the c.o.xeyites' sentence, and wondering if the cavalry would have to go down to the stockade prison on the Snake; for in that case Corporal Niles would have to go, and the wedding be postponed. Everybody knows it is bad luck to put off a wedding-day; and besides, the yellow roses she had promised her corporal to wear would all be out of bloom, and no other roses but those were the true cavalry yellow.

But the cavalry did not go down till after the wedding, which took place on the evening appointed, at the Meadows cottage, between "Sound off"

and "Taps." The ring was duly blessed, and the father's and mother's kiss was not wanting. The primrose radiance of the summer twilight shone as strong as lamplight in the room, and Callie, in her white dress, with her auburn braids gleaming through the wedding-veil and her lover's colors in the roses on her breast, was as sweet and womanly a picture as any mother could wish to behold.

When little Ross came up to kiss the bride, he somehow forgot, and flung his arms first around Corporal Niles's brown neck.

"Corporal, I'm twice related to the cavalry now," said he. "I had a father in it, and now I've got an uncle in it."

"That's right," the corporal agreed; "and if you have any sort of luck you'll be in it yourself some day."

"But not in the ranks," said Ross firmly. "I'm going to West Point, you know."

"Bless his heart!" cried Callie, catching the boy in her arms; "and how does he think he's going to get there?"

"I shall manage it somehow," said Ross, struggling. He was very fond of Aunt Callie, but a boy doesn't like to be hugged so before his military acquaintances, and in Ross's opinion there had been a great deal too much kissing and hugging, not to speak of crying, already. He did not see why there should be all this fuss just because Aunt Callie was going up to the barracks to live, in the jolliest little whitewashed cabin, with a hop-vine hanging, like the veil on an old woman's bonnet, over the front gable. He only wished that the corporal had asked him to go too!

A slight misgiving about his last speech was making Ross uncomfortable.

If there was a person whose feelings he would not have wished to hurt for anything in the world, it was Corporal Niles.

"Corporal," he amended affectionately, "if I should be a West Pointer, and should be over you, I shouldn't put on any airs, you know. We should be better friends than ever."

"I expect we should, captain. I'm looking forward to the day."

A mild species of corvee had been put in force down on the Snake River while the stockade prison was building. The prisoners as a body rebelled against it, and were not constrained to work; but a few were willing, and these were promptly stigmatized as "scabs," and ill treated by the lordly idlers. Hence they were given a separate camp and treated as trusties.

When the work was done the trusties were rewarded with their freedom, either to go independently, or to stay and eat government rations till the sixty days of their sentence had expired.

Henniker, in spite of his infirmity, had been one of the hardest volunteer workers. But now the work was done, and the question returned, What next? What comes after c.o.xeyism when c.o.xeyism fails?

He sat one evening by the river, and again he was a free man. A dry embankment, warm as an oven to the touch, sloped up to the railroad track above his head; tufts of young sage and broken stone strewed the face of it; there was not a tree in sight. He heard the river boiling down over the rapids and thundering under the bridge. He heard the trumpets calling the men to quarters. "Lights out" had sounded some time before. He had been lying motionless, p.r.o.ne on his face, his head resting on his crossed arms. The sound of the trumpets made him choke up like a homesick boy. He lay there till, faintly in the distance, "Taps"

breathed its slow and sweet good-night.

"Last call," he said. "Time to turn in." He rolled over and began to pull off the rags in which his child had spurned him.

"The next time I'm inspected," he muttered, "I shall be a clean man."

So, naked, he slipped into the black water under the bank. The river bore him up and gave him one more chance, but he refused it: with two strokes he was in the midst of the death current, and it seized him and took him down.

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The Cup of Trembling and Other Stories Part 23 summary

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