Far off a fire flickered, danced,
From far off came a yell,
A scattering blast of musketry,
But not a trooper fell.
Bolt upright with sabers
Drawn, and on parade,
Troop on troop, in column,
Then the phantom bugle brayed.
The sabers all came down to charge
The dancing fire neared,
And Indians, by the thousand,
All kneeling unafeared.
Through their line, once and twice,
We charged, and then again,
The savage lines broke and ran,
And left to us, their slain.
The general, silent at my side,
Smiled at his men in praise,
And they look back at him and grinned,
Each hand to cap did raise.
The bugle whimpered out tattoo
For the East was turning gray.
A coyote howled a mournful note
To curse the coming day.
The ranks about wheeled sharply,
An echo, they were gone.
The man beside glanced fearfully
Toward the approaching dawn.
Then he, too, wheeled his steed
And cried to me, Farewell.
I looked and watched him speed away,
To hide from daylights hell.
Back to my camp, I turned my horse,
And crawled into my bed,
To gain such sleep as I could get
Ere the East turned red.
I slept, I know, into the day,
For the sun was up on high,
I squirmed about and tried to think,
Of where I was and why.
I sat upright and placed my hand,
Where a rusty saber lay.
I picked it up with some surprise,
And fingered its decay.
I read thereon, the time dimmed words,
I read and stared, and creased my brow,
Recalled what had gone before.
I looked to my guns, found grime and dirt,
Inspected my lathered horse
And felt a panic snatch at me,
To direct from there my course.
My horse got saddled awry,
My pack, I let it lay,
And left the fearsome plain behind,
My courage turned to clay.