The Death Waltz
Category: ALONG THE ROCKY RANGE
Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land
Years ago, when all beyond the Missouri was a waste, the military post at
Fort Union, New Mexico, was the only spot for miles around where any of
the graces of social life could be discovered. Among the ladies at the
post was a certain gay young woman, the sister-in-law of a captain, who
enjoyed the variety and spice of adventure to be found there, and
enjoyed, too, the homage that the young officers paid to her, for women
who could be loved or liked were not many in that wild country. A young
lieutenant proved especially susceptible to her charms, and devoted
himself to her in the hope that he should ultimately win her hand. His
experience with the world was not large enough to enable him to
distinguish between the womanly woman and the coquette.
One day messengers came dashing into the fort with news of an Apache
outbreak, and a detachment was ordered out to chase and punish the
marauding Indians. The lieutenant was put in command of the expedition,
but before starting he confided his love to the young woman, who not only
acknowledged that she returned his affection, but promised that if the
fortune of war deprived him of life she would never marry another. As he
bade her good-by he was heard to say, That is well. Nobody else shall
have you. I will come back and make my claim.
In a few days the detachment came back, but the lieutenant was missing.
It was noticed that the bride-elect grieved but little for him, and
nobody was surprised when she announced her intention of marrying a young
man from the East. The wedding-day arrived. All was gayety at the post,
and in the evening the mess-room was decorated for a ball. As the dance
was in full swing a door flew open with a bang, letting in a draught of
air that made the candles burn dim, and a strange cry, unlike that of any
human creature, sounded through the house. All eyes turned to the door.
In it stood the swollen body of a dead man dressed in the stained uniform
of an officer. The temple was marked by a hatchet-gash, the scalp was
gone, the eyes were wide open and, burned with a terrible light.
Walking to the bride the body drew her from the arms of her husband, who,
like the rest of the company, stood as in a trance, without the power of
motion, and clasping her to its bosom began a waltz. The musicians, who
afterward declared that they did not know what they were doing, struck up
a demoniac dance, and the couple spun around and around, the woman
growing paler and paler, until at last the fallen jaw and staring eyes
showed that life was also extinct in her. The dead man allowed her to
sink to the floor, stood over her for a moment, wrung his hands as he
sounded his fearful cry again, then vanished through the door. A few days
after, a troop of soldiers who had been to the scene of the Apache
encounter returned with the body of the lieutenant.
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