The Death Waltz

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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