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Chapter XXX On the Way to Civilization

WHILE I was watching the trail that day I saw a detachment of cavalry gallop past toward Anadarko. Likely they purposed heading us off should we appear there.

When the sun went down and we were ready to start, we were so stiff, footsore, weak and hungry, we could hardly walk. The month of confinement in the guardhouse had told on our physical condition. Gee Whiz tied his ragged socks on his sore feet, and after we hobbled along for a while we limbered up and made good progress.

It was not yet midnight, but dark as pitch, when we came to the outskirts of Anadarko on the Washita River.

In the woods we ran onto a party of cavalrymen— the same, we were sure, that had passed us during the day.

We crept around the camp, and waded across the river to the Agency.

There was a light in the store. I walked in boldly and bought a can of meat. The clerk I knew. He did not recognise me. But I was on the alert when I left the place.

About a mile on the road to Fort Sill we sat down by the trail and feasted. Gee Whiz was complaining of his sore feet when he suddenly forgot them.

Came the clickety-click of shod hoofs and the noise of wheels on the hard-beaten road.

We knew it was time for the mail from Reno to Fort Sill.

Close enough for us to see in the dim starlight, we made out the familiar buckboard. We saw also that the driver was alone.

When the rig was within a few steps of us, my comrade jumped up.

“Hold up thar!” he commanded.

The frightened driver jerked the mules to a standstill, dropped the lines, and reached up toward the stars.

“All right, boys, all right"’ he quavered. “Here it is right behind me. Don’t shoot!”

“Put your hands down. We don’t want the mail-pouch,” my comrade assured him. “We don’t want nothin’ but a ride.”

The driver grabbed the lines and steadied the shying mules. Then, on his very hearty invitation, we got into the buckboard.

We were glad of the chance to ride, yet uneasy in the knowledge that the mail-carrier had come from Fort Reno. He was certain to know all about our escape and therefore certain to report it. With the whole garrison awake to it, our chances in avoiding arrest would be slim.

We rode for a while in silence. The driver broke it.

“Travellin’ some?” he inquired.

“Down to Sill,” I replied. “Had a little hard luck. Horses pulled their picket-pins. But we’ll find some o’ th’ outfit at Sill. Punchin’ cattle f’r old Goodnight,” I lied. “Yeh know his ranch—out at Paladora Canyon.”

I knew the ranch. Years before, it will be remembered, I had spent some time there when for a season I had left Zakatoh.

The driver abruptly changed the subject.

“Thar was partic’lar hell t’ pay at Reno last night,” he said.

His passengers paid “partic’lar” attention.

“Yep,” he went on, “two gin’ral pris’ners made their git-away. Th’ most darin’ d’livery that any set o’ convicts ever made in these parts. One of ’em had a squaw wife, en’ he is hidin’ around th’ camp thar somewhar I think. They found th’ squaw on a sand-bar in th’ river though. Got drownded. Th’ whole garrison’s scoutin’ after ’em, en’ if they git away, they’ll have to go some.”

Our host was loquacious and apparently friendly. Whatever suspicions he might have entertained concerning us seemed allayed.

He went on to say that the negro sergeant was under arrest in the guardhouse, and that old “Pussy Foot” was in trouble because of the escape.

Old “Pussy Foot” was the other man whom I hoped to see suffer.

This news was a source of no little satisfaction to me.

It was near sunup when we arrived at the crossing of Medicine Bluff Creek above Fort Sill. We left the buckboard, thanked the carrier for the ride, and struck off into the woods.

We made for Cache Creek and soon reached it.

On the bank, just back of the officers’ quarters, stood several large water tanks, unused and £mpty.

Gee Whiz thought one of them would make a good hiding-place.

We chose one and climbed in. It was within forty yards of the back door of an officer’s house. Soldiers passed and repassed all day long. They were so close we could easily hear their conversation. We probably could not have chosen a safer retreat.

At dusk we crawled out, went down to the post gardens and bought food and clothing of the man in charge.

Up to this time my attire had consisted of a shirt, a pair of overalls and moccasins. I had no hat.

Gee Whiz was not only hatless and bootless, but also sockless by this time. He had so often tied and retied his stockings on his sore and swollen feet, that they had become frazzled beyond use.

I was greatly tempted to seize a government horse and hit the trail for the west where I was sure of falling in with some wild tribe. But Gee Whiz kept picturing the wonderful things of the white man’s country in glowing terms, so I stayed with him. That night we set out for Caddo—the nearest railroad station— one hundred and sixty-five miles away.

It was daylight when we arrived at Rush Springs.

From time immemorial this had been a camping place, so we looked for soldiers here. We found a body of cavalry camped on one side of the spring and a wagon-train of freighters on the other.

We hid in the grass until the former started toward Fort Sill, and lingered with the latter long enough to learn that both soldiers and Indians were scouring the country for us.

We left the bullwhackers and the trail, but still headed for Caddo.

During the day, as we made our way along a wooded stream, a posse of marshals suddenly dashed out of the timber and surrounded us.

It was all up, then.

Not yet. The marshals were looking for a gang of train robbers. Our descriptions tallied with none of them, and as Gee Whiz lied so earnestly and so well about having lost our horses, the men let us go.

We took the train at Caddo for Denison, Texas. As we left the train I lost Gee Whiz in the crowd, and out of my life.

I went out of town.

Ten days and nights had passed since my escape from the guardhouse, and I was utterly worn out. I lay down in a fence corner and slept.

When I awoke, the stars were fading out of the eastern sky. I had slept all day and nearly all night.

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