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Under Fire

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It was the last day of Captain Wilbur Cranston's leave of absence. For three blissful months he had been visiting his old home in a bustling Western city, happy in the happiness of his charming wife in this her first long restoration to civilization since their marriage ten years before; happy in the pride and joy of his father and mother in having once more under their roof the soldier son who had won an honored name in his profession, and in their delight in the exuberant health and antics of two sturdy, plains-bred little Cranstons. The visit proved one continuous round of home pleasures and social gayeties, for Margaret Cranston had been a stanch favorite in the days of her girl- and bellehood, and all her old friends, married and single, rose en masse to welcome her return. Parties, dances, dinners, concerts, theatre and opera, lectures, pictures, parks, drives and rides,—all the endless resources of the metropolitan world had been laid at the feet of the girl who, leaving them to follow her soldier lover to his exile and wanderings, had returned in the fulness of time, in the flush of womanhood, a proud wife and proud and happy mother. People could not understand her choice at the time of her marriage: "Cranston's all right, but the idea of going to live in a tent or dug-out," was the popular way of putting it, and people were still unable to understand how she could have ever found anything to enjoy in that wild life or to make her wish to see it again. It was, therefore, incomprehensible to society that she and her two bouncing boys were utterly overwhelmed with distress at having to remain in so charming a circle, so happy a home, when it came time for the captain to return. Society even resented it a little. Juvenile society—feminine—took it amiss that the Cranston boys should so scorn the arts of peace, and persist furthermore in saying the buffalo and bear and wolves in the municipal "Zoo" were frauds as compared with what they had seen "any day" all around them out on the plains. Tremendous stories did these little Nimrods tell of the big game on which they had tired of dining, but some of their tales were true, and that's what made it so hard for junior society masculine, in which there wasn't a boy who did not honestly and justly hate these young frontiersmen, even while envying with all his civilized heart. Loud was the merriment at school over the Cranstons' blunders in spelling and arithmetic, but what—what was that as offset to their prowess on pony-back, their skill with the bow and sling-shot, their store of Indian trinkets, trophies, ay, even to the surreptitiously shown Indian scalp? What was that to the tales of tremendous adventure in the land of the Sioux and Apache,—the home of the bear and the buffalo? What city-bred boy could "hold a candle" to the glaring halo about the head of two who could claim personal acquaintance with the great war chiefs Red Cloud and Spotted Tail?—who had actually been to ride and hunt with that then just dawning demigod of American boyhood,—Buffalo Bill? Sneer and scoff and cavil as did their little rivals for a time, calumny was crushed and scoffers blighted that wonderful March morning when, before the whole assembled school, there suddenly appeared that paragon of plainsmen, that idol of all well-bred young Westerners, he whom only on flaring posters or in the glare of the footlights had they been permitted to see, and smiling, superbly handsome, king of scouts and Indian-fighters, Buffalo Bill himself stepped into their midst and clasped the little Cranstons, madly rejoicing, in his arms, while their father, the cavalry captain, and even the dreaded teacher looked approvingly on. It was after that episode of no avail for even the sturdiest of their schoolmates to seek to belittle the Cranston fame. Louis, the elder, could not invent a whopper so big as to tax the credulity of the school. Buffalo Bill was "starring it" with his theatrical company through the States that spring, playing some blood-curdling, scalp-taking; hair-raising border drama which all boys eager strove to see, and when his old chum and comrade, the captain, went to call on him at his hotel, the great chief of scouts would not rest until together they had gone to see his friends "the boys." That other parents should have been pestered half to death as a result of this visitation any one who knows boys has not to be told, and many were the queries and complaints addressed to the laughing cavalryman upon that score....