John Breckinridge Ellis
Part 1 out of 5
This etext was prepared by Pat Pflieger
by John Breckenridge Ellis
THE TOUCH OF A CHILD
"I have given my word of honor--my sacred oath--not to betray what
I have discovered here."
At these words from the prisoner, a shout arose in which oaths and
mocking laughter mingled like the growling and snapping of hunger-
"Then if I must die," Gledware cried, his voice, in its shrill
excitement, dominating the ferocious insults of the ruffians, "don't
kill the child--you see she is asleep--and she's so young--only
five. Even if she were awake, she wouldn't know how to tell about
this cabin. For God's sake, don't kill the little girl!"
Since the seizure of Gledware, the child had been lying on the rude
table in the midst of a greasy pack of cards--cards that had been
thrown down at the sound of his galloping horse. The table
supported, also, much of the booty captured from the wagon-train,
while on the dirt floor beside it were prizes of the freebooting
expedition, too large to find resting-place on the boards. Nor was
this all. Mingled with stolen garments, cans and boxes of
provisions, purses and bags of gold, were the Indian disguises in
which the highwaymen from No-Man's Land had descended on the
prairie-schooners on their tedious journey from Abilene, Kansas,
toward the Southwest.
In the midst of this confusion of disguises, booty and
playing-cards, surrounded by cruel and sensual faces, the child
slept soundly, her lips slightly parted, her cheeks delicately
flushed, her face eloquent in its appeal of helplessness, innocence
and beauty. One of the band, a tall broad-shouldered man of
middle-age, with an immense quantity of whiskers perhaps worn as a
visible sign of inward wildness, was, despite his hardened nature,
moved to remonstrance. Under cover of lurid oaths and outrageous
obscenity, he advanced his opinion that "the kid" needn't be shot
just because her father was a sneak-jug spy.
"Shut up!" roared a tremendous voice, not directly to the
intercessor, or to the prisoner, but to all present. Evidently it
was a voice of authority, for comparative silence followed the
command. The speaker stepped forward, thrust his fingers through
his intensely red shock of hair, and continued, with one leg thrust
"You know I am something of an orator, or I guess you wouldn't of
made me your leader. Now, as long as I'm your leader, I'm going to
lead; but, I ain't never unreasonable, and when talk is needed, I'm
copious enough. I am called 'Red Kimball,' and my brother yonder,
he is knowed as 'Kansas Kimball.' What else is knowed of us is
this: that we wasn't never wont to turn loose a spy when once
ketched. Here is a man who says he is Henry Gledware--though God
knows if that's so; he comes galloping up to the door just as we are
in the midst of a game. I stakes all my share of the spoils on the
game, and Brick Willock is in a fair way to win it, that I admit,
but in comes this here spy--"
The prisoner in a frenzied voice disclaimed any purpose of spying.
That morning, he had driven the last wagon of the train, containing
his invalid wife and his stepdaughter--for the child lying on the
table was his wife's daughter. At the alarm that the first wagon
had been attacked by Indians, he had turned about his horses and
driven furiously over the prairie, he knew not whither. All that
day he had fled, seeing no one, hearing no pursuing horse-beat. At
night his wife, unable, in her weak condition, to sustain the
terrible jolting, had expired. Taking nothing from the wagon but
his saddle, he had mounted one of the horses with the child before
him, and had continued his flight, the terrific wind at his back.
Unaware that the wind had changed, he had traversed horseback much
of the distance traveled during the day, and at about two in the
morning--that is to say, about all hour ago--seeing a light, he had
ridden straight toward it, to find shelter from the storm.
The prisoner narrated all this in nervous haste, though he had
already given every particular, time and again. His form as well
as his voice trembled with undisguised terror, and indeed, the red
and cruel eyes fastened contemptuously on him might have caused a
much braver man than Gledware to shudder visibly.
"Well, pard," said the leader of the band, waiting until he had
finished, "you can't never claim that you ain't been given your say,
for I do admire free speech. I want to address you reasonable, and
make this plain and simple, as only a man that has been alleged to
be something of an orator can accomplish. My men and me has had our
conference, and it's decided that both of you has got to be shot,
and immediate. The reasons is none but what a sensible man must
admit, and such I take you to be. I am sorry this has happened, and
so is my men, and we wish you well. It's a hard saying, pard, but
whatever your intentions, a spy you have proved. For what do you
find on busting open our door? Here we sit playing with our booty
for stakes, and our Indian togs lying all about. You couldn't help
knowing that we was the 'Indians' that gutted them wagons and put
up the fight that left every man and woman dead on the field except
that there last wagon you are telling us about. You might wish you
didn't know the same, but once knowed, we ain't going to let you
loose. As to that wagon you claim to have stole away from under our
A skeptical laugh burst from the listeners.
Gledware eagerly declared that if he had the remotest idea in what
direction it had been left, he would be glad to lead them to the
spot. He could describe it and its contents--
"You see, pard," Red Kimball interposed, "you are everlasting losing
sight of the point. This here is 1880, which I may say is a recent
date. Time was when a fellow could live in Cimarron, and come and
go free and no questions asked--and none answered. But civilization
is a-pressing us hard, and these days is not our fathers' days. We
are pretty independent even yet in old Cimarron, but busybodies has
got together trying to make it a regular United States territory,
and they ain't going to stand for a real out-and-out band of
highwaymen such as used to levy on stage-coaches and wagon-trains
without exciting no more remarks than the buffaloes. You may be
sorry times is changed; so am I; but if times IS fresh, we might as
well look 'em in the face. Us fellows has been operating for some
years, but whatever we do is blamed on the Indians. That there is
a secret that would ruin our business, if it got out. Tomorrow, a
gang of white men will be depredating in the Washita country to get
revenge for today's massacre, and me and my men couldn't join in the
fun with easy consciences if we knowed you was somewheres loose, to
tell your story."
Again Gledware protested that he would never betray the band.
"Oh, cut this short," interposed Kansas Kimball, with an oath.
"Daylight will catch us and nothing done, if we listen to that
white-livered spy. We don't believe in that wagon he talks about,
and as for this kid, he brought her along just to save his bacon."
"No, as God lives!" cried Gledware. "Can't you see she is dead for
sleep? She was terrified out of her wits all day, and I've ridden
with her all night. Don't kill her, men--" He turned impassioned
eyes on the leader. "Look at her--so young--so unsuspecting-- you
can't have the heart to murder a child like that in cold blood."
"Right you are!" exclaimed the man with the ferocious whiskers--he
who had been spoken of as Brick Willock. "You'll have to go, pard,
but I'm against killing infants."
The leader darted an angry glance at the man who, but for the
untoward arrival of Gledware, would have won from him his share of
the booty. But his voice was smooth and pleasant as he resumed:
"Yes, pard, the kid must die. We couldn't do nothing with her, and
if we left her on some door-step, she's sure old enough, and she
looks full sharp enough, to tell sufficient to trammel us good and
plenty. If we sets her loose in the prairie, she'd starve to death
if not found--and if found, it would settle our case. And as Kansas
says, this debate must close, or daylight will catch us."
Brick Willock, with terrible oaths, again expressed himself as
strongly opposed to this decision.
"Well, Brick," said Red, with a sneer, "do YOU want to take the kid
and raise her, yourself? We've either got to do away with her, or
keep her hid. Do YOU want to be her nurse, and keep with her in
some cave or other while we go foraging?"
Willock muttered deep in his throat, while his companions laughed
"We've had enough of this!" Red declared, his voice suddenly grown
hard and cold. "Kansas, take the prisoner; Brick Willock, as you're
so fond of the kid, you can carry HER." He opened the door and a
rush of wind extinguished the candle. There was silence while it
was being relighted. The flickering light, reddening to a steady
glow, revealed no mercy on the scowling countenances about the
table, and no shadow of presentiment on that of the still
Red went outside and waited till his brother had drawn forth the
quivering man, and Brick Willock had carried out the girl. Then he
looked back into the room. "You fellows can stay in here," he said
authoritatively. "What we've got to do ain't any easier with a lot
of men standing about, looking on."
The man who had relighted the candle, and who crouched to shield it
with a hairy hand from the gust, nodded approval. His friends were
already gathering together the cards to lose in the excitement of
gambling consciousness of what was about to be done. Red closed
the door on the scene, and turned to face the light.
The wind came in furious gusts, with brief intervals of calm. There
were no clouds, however, and the moon, which had risen not long
before, made the prairie almost as light as if morning had dawned.
As far as the eye could reach in any direction, nothing was to be
seen but the level ground, the unflecked sky, the cabin and the
little group near the tethered ponies.
Gledware had already been stationed with his face toward the moon,
and Kansas Kimball was calmly examining his pistol. Between them
and the horses, Brick Willock had come to a halt, the little girl
still sleeping in his powerful arms. Red's eagle eye noted that
she had unconsciously slipped an arm about the highwayman's neck,
as if by some instinct she would cling the closer to the only one
in the band of ten who had spoken for her life.
Red scowled heavily. He had not forgiven Willock for beating him
at cards, still less for his persistent opposition to his wishes;
and he now resolved that it should be Willock's hand to deal the
fatal blow. He had been troubled before tonight by insubordination
on the part of this man of bristling whiskers, this knave whose
voice was ever for mercy, if mercy were possible. Why should
Willock have joined men who were without scruple and without shame?
As the leader stared at him sullenly, he reflected that it was just
such natures that fail at the last extremity of hardihood, that
desert comrades in crime, that turn state's evidence. Yes--Willock
would deal the blow, even if Red found it necessary to call all his
men from the cabin to enforce the order.
The captain's fears were not groundless. He would have been much
more alarmed, could he have known the wonderful thoughts that surged
through Willock's brain, and the wonderful emotions that thrilled
his heart, at the warm confiding pressure of the arm about his neck.
BRICK MAKES A MOVE
As Kansas Kimball raised his weapon to fire, the man before him
uttered a cry of terror and began to entreat for his life. In the
full light of the dazzling moon, his face showed all the pallor,
all the contortions of a coward who, though believing himself lost,
has not the resolution to mask his fear. He poured forth incoherent
promises of secrecy, ejaculations of despair and frenzied assurances
"Hold on, Kansas!" interposed Red. "There's not a one of the bunch
believes that story about the last wagon getting away, and the dying
wife. We know this Gledware is a spy, whatever he says, and that
he brought the kid along for protection. He knew if we got back to
No-Man's Land we couldn't be touched, not being under no
jurisdiction, and he wanted to find us with our paint and feathers
off. He's a sneaking dog, and a bullet's too good for him. But
--"with an oath--"blessed if he don't hate to die worse than any man
ever I saw! I don't mind to spare him a few minutes if he's
agreeable. I put it to him--would he rather the kid be put out of
the way first, and him afterwards, or does he want the first call?"
"For God's sake, put it off as long as you will!" quavered the
prisoner. "I swear I'm no spy. I swear--"
"This is unpleasant," the captain of the highwaymen interposed.
"Just you say another word, and I'll put daylight into you with my
own hand. Stand there and keep mum, and I'll give you a little
Kansas, not without a sigh of relief, lowered his weapon and looked
questioningly at his brother. The shadow of the log cabin was upon
him, making more sinister his uncouth attire, and his lean
vindictive face under the huge Mexican hat. Gledware, not daring
to move, kept his eyes fixed on that deep gloom out of which at any
moment might spurt forth the red flash of death. From within the
cabin came loud oaths inspired by cards or drink, as if the inmates
would drown any calls for mercy or sounds of execution that might
be abroad in the night.
"Now, Brick Willock," the leader spoke grimly, "take your turn
first. That kid's got to die, and you are to do the trick, and do
it without any foolishness."
"I can't," Willock declared doggedly.
"Oh, yes; yes, you can, Brick. You see, we can't 'tend to no infant
class, and I ain't hard-hearted enough to leave a five-year-old girl
to die of hunger on the prairie; nor do I mean to take her to no
town or stage-station as a card for to be tracked by. Oh, yes, you
can, Brick, and now's the time."
"Red," exclaimed Willock desperately, "I tell you fair, and I tell
you foul, that this little one lives as long as I do."
"And what do you aim to do with her, eh, Brick?"
Willock made no reply. He had formed no plans for his future, or
for that of the child; but his left arm closed more tightly about
"Now, Brick," said Red slowly, "this ain't the first time you have
proved yourself no man for our business, and I call Kansas to
witness you've brought this on yourself--"
Without finishing his sentence, Red swiftly raised his arm and fired
pointblank at Willock's head as it was defined above the sleeping
form. Though famed as an orator, Red understood very well that, at
times, action is everything, and there is death in long speaking.
He was noted as a man who never missed his mark; and in the Cimarron
country, which belonged to no state and therefore to no court,
extensive and deadly had been his practise, without fear of
Now, however, his bullet had gone astray. The few words to which
he had treated himself as an introduction to the intended deed had
proved his undoing. They had been enough to warn Willock of what
was coming; and just before Kansas had been called on "to witness,"
that is an instant before Red fired, Willock had sent a bullet
through the threatening wrist. The two detonations were almost
simultaneous, and Red's roar of pain, as he dropped his weapon, rang
out as an accompaniment to the crash of firearms.
The next instant, Willock, with a second shot from his six-shooter,
stretched Kansas on the ground; then, rushing forward with reversed
weapon, he brought the butt down on Red's head with such force as
to deprive him of consciousness. So swift and deadly were his
movements, so wild his appearance as, with long locks streaming in
the wind and huge black whiskers hiding all but glittering eyes,
aquiline nose and a brief space of tough red skin--so much more like
a demon than a man, it was no wonder that the child, awakened by the
firing, screamed with terror at finding her head pressed to his
"Come!" Willock called breathlessly to the prisoner who still stood
with his back to the moon, as if horror at what he had just
witnessed rendered him as helpless as he had been from sheer terror.
Still holding the screaming child, he darted to the ponies that were
tied to the projecting logs of the cabin and hastily unfastened two
of the fleetest.
Henry Gledware, awakened as from a trance, bounded to his side.
Willock helped him to mount, then placed the child the saddle in
front of him.
"Ride!" he urged hoarsely, "ride for your life! They ain't no other
chance for you and the kid and they ain't no other chance for me."
He leaped upon the second pony.
"Which way?" faltered Gledware, settling in the saddle and grasping
the bridle, but without the other's practised ease.
"Follow the moon--I'll ride against the wind--more chance for one
of us if we ain't together. Start when I do, for when they hear
the horses they'll be out of that door like so many devils turned
loose on us. Ride, pardner, ride, and save the kid for God's sake!
Now--off we go!"
He gave Gledware's pony a vicious cut with his lariat, and drove
the spurs into his own broncho. The thunder of hoofs as they
plunged in different directions, caused a sudden commotion within
the isolated cabin. The door was flung open, and in the light that
streamed forth, Willock, looking back, saw dark forms rush out,
gather about the prostrate forms of the two brothers, move here and
there in indecision, then, by a common impulse, burst into a
swinging run for the horses.
As for Gledware, he never once turned his face. Urging on his horse
at utmost speed, and clasping the child to his breast, he raced
toward the light. The shadow of horse, man and child, at first long
and black, lessened to a mere speck, then vanished with the rider
beyond the circle of the level world.
Brick Willock, galloping toward the Southeast, frequently looked
back. He saw the desperadoes leap upon their horses, wheel about
in short circles that brought the animals upright, then spring
forward in pursuit. He heard the shouting which, though far away,
sounded the unmistakable accent of ungovernable fury. In the
glaring moonlight, he distinguished plainly the cloud of dust and
sand raised by the horses, which the wind lifted in white shapes
against the deep blue of the sky. And looking beyond his pursuers
toward the rude cabin where the highwaymen had so long held their
rendezvous, he knew, because no animate forms appeared against the
horizon, that the Kimball brothers lay where he had stretched them-
-one, senseless from the crashing blow on his head, the other,
lifeless from the bullet in his breast.
The little girl and her stepfather had vanished from the smooth open
page of the Texas Panhandle--and Brick Willock rejoiced, with a joy
new to him, that these escaped prisoners had not been pursued. It
was himself that the band meant to subject to their savage vengeance,
and himself alone. The murder of the child was abhorrent to their
hearts which had not attained the hardened insensibility of their
leader's conscience, and they were willing for the supposed spy to
escape, since it spared them the embarrassment of disposing of the
But Brick Willock had been one of them and he had killed their
leader, and their leader's brother, or at least had brought them to
the verge of death. If Red Kimball revived, he would doubtless
right his own wrongs, should Willock live to be punished. In the
meantime, it was for them to treat with the traitor--this giant of
a Texan, huge-whiskered, slow of speech, who had ever been first to
throw himself into the thick of danger but who had always hung back
from deeds of cruelty. He had plundered coaches and wagon-trains
with them, he had fought with them against strong bodies of emigrants,
he had killed and burned--in the eyes of the world his deeds made him
one of them, and his aspect marked him as the most dangerous of the
band. But they had always felt the difference--and now they meant to
kill him not only because he had overpowered their leader but because
of this difference.
As their bullets pursued him, Willock lay along the body of the
broncho, feeling his steed very small, and himself very large--and
yet, despite the rain of lead, his pleasure over the escape of the
child warmed his heart. The sand was plowed up by his side from
the peppering of bullets--but he seemed to feel that innocent
unconscious arm about his great neck; the yells of rage were in his
ears, but he heard the soft breathing of the little one fast asleep
in the midst of her dangers.
He had selected for himself, and for Gledware, ponies that had often
been run against each other, and which no others of all Red
Kimball's corral could surpass in speed. Gledware and the child
were on the pony that Kimball had once staked against the swiftest
animal the Indians could produce--and Willock rode the pride of the
Indian band, which had almost won the prize. The ponies had been
staked on the issue of that encounter--and the highwaymen had
retained, by right of craft and force, what the government would
not permit its wards to barter or sell.
The race was long but always unequal. The ruffians who had dashed
from the scene of the cabin almost in an even line, scattered and
straggled unevenly; now only two were able to send bullets whistling
about Willock's head; now only one found it possible to cover the
distance. At last even he fell out of range. The Indian pony,
apparently tireless, shot on like an arrow driven into the teeth of
the wind, sending up behind a cloud of dust that stretched backward
toward the baffled pursuers, a long wavering ribbon like a clew left
to guide the band into the mysterious depths of the Great American
When the last of the pursuers found further effort useless, he
checked his horse. Willock now sat erect on the broncho's bare
back, lightly clasping the halter. Looking behind, he saw seven
horsemen in varying degrees of remoteness, motionless, doubtless
fixing their wolfish eyes on his fleeing form. As long as he could
distinguish these specks against the sky, they remained stationary.
To his excited imagination they represented a living wall drawn up
between him and the abode of men. Should he ever venture back to
that world, he fancied those seven avengers would be waiting to
receive him with taunts and drawn weapons.
And his conscience told him that the taunts would be merited, for
he had turned traitor, he had failed in the only virtue on which his
fellow criminals prided themselves. Yes, he was a traitor; and by
the only justice he acknowledged, he deserved to die. But the child
who had lain so trustingly upon his wild bosom, who had clung to him
as to a father--she was safe! An unwonted smile crept under the
bristling beard of the fugitive, as he urged the pony forward in
unrelaxing speed. Should he seek refuge among civilized communities,
his crimes would hang over his head--if not discovered, the fear of
discovery would be his, day and night. To venture into his old haunts
in No-Man's Land would be to expose his back to the assassin's knife,
or his breast to ambushed murderers. He dared not seek asylum among
the Indians, for while bands of white men were safe enough in the
Territory, single white men were at the mercy of the moment's caprice--
and certainly, if found astride that Indian pony which the agent had
ordered restored to its owner, his life would not be worth a thought.
These were desperate reflections, and the future seemed framed in
solitude, yet Brick Willock rode on with that odd smile about the
grim lips. The smile was unlike him--but, the whole affair was such
an experience as had never entered his most daring fancy. Never
before in his life had he held a child in his arms, still less had
he felt the sweet embrace of peaceful slumber. To another man it
might have meant nothing; but to this great rough fellow, the very
sight of whom had often struck terror to the heart, that experience
seemed worth all the privations he foresaw.
The sun had risen when the pony, after a few tottering steps,
suddenly sank to earth. Willock unfastened the halter from its
neck, tied it with the lariat about his waist, and without pause,
set out afoot. If the pony died from the terrible strain of that
unremitting flight, doubtless the roving Indians of the plains would
find it and try to follow his trail; if it survived he would be
safer if not found near it. In either case, swift flight was still
imperative, and the shifting sand, beaten out of shape by the
constant wind, promised not to retain his footprints.
Though stiff from long riding, the change of motion soon brought
renewed vigor. Willock had grown thirsty, and as the sun rose
higher and beat down on him from an unclouded sky, his eyes searched
the plains eagerly for some shelter that promised water. He did not
look in vain. Against the horizon rose the low blue shapes of the
Wichita Mountains, looking at first like flat sheets of cardboard,
cut out by a careless hand and set upright in the sand.
As he toiled toward this refuge, not a living form appeared to
dispute his sovereignty of the desert world. His feet sank deep in
the sand, then trod lightly over vast stretches of short sun-burned
mesquit, then again traversed hot shifting reaches of naked sand.
The mountains seemed to recede as he advanced, and at times stifling
dust and relentless heat threatened to overpower him. With dogged
determination he told himself that he might be forced to drop from
utter exhaustion, but it would not be yet--not yet--one more mile,
or, at least, another half-mile. So he advanced, growing weaker,
breathing with more difficulty, but still muttering, "Not yet--not
The mountains had begun to spread apart. There were long ranges
and short. Here and there, a form that had seemed an integral part
of some range, defined itself as distinct from all others, lying
like an island of rock in a sea of unbroken desert. Willock was
approaching the Wichita Mountains from their southwestern extremity.
As far as he could see in one direction, the grotesque forms
stretched in isolated chains or single groups; but in the other, the
end was reached, and beyond lay the unbroken waste of the Panhandle.
Swaying on his great legs as with the weakness of an infant, he was
now very near the end of the system. A wall of granite, sparsely
dotted with green, rose above him to a height of about three hundred
and fifty feet. The length of this range was perhaps six miles, its
thickness a mile. Concealed among these ridges, he might be safe,
but it was no longer possible for him to stand erect; to climb the
difficult ledges would be impossible.
He sank to the ground, his eyes red and dimmed. For some time he
remained there inert, staring, his brain refusing to work. If
yonder stood a white object, between him and the mountain, a curious
white something with wheels, might it not be a covered wagon? No,
it was a mirage. But was it possible for a mirage to deceive him
into the fancy that a wagon stood only a few hundred feet away?
Perhaps it was really a wagon. He stared stupidly, not moving.
There were no dream-horses to this ghost-wagon. There was no sign
of life. If captured by the Indians, it would not have been left
intact. But how came a wagon into this barren world?
He stared up at the sun as if to assure himself that he was awake,
then laughed hoarsely, foolishly. The wagon did not melt away. He
could crawl that far, though in stretching forth his arm he might
grasp but empty air. He began to crawl forward, but the wagon did
not move. As it grew plainer in all its details, a new strength
came to him. He strove to rise, and after several efforts,
succeeded. He staggered forward till his hands grasped one of the
wheels. The contact cleared his brain as by a magic touch. It was
Supporting himself by the sideboard, he drew himself around to the
front, the only opening of the canvas room. He looked within. A
first look told him that the wagon was fitted up for a long journey,
and that its contents had not been disturbed by bandits or Indians.
The second look distinguished two objects that excluded from
attention all others. Upon a mattress at the rear of the wagon lay
a woman, her face covered by a cloth; and near the front seat stood
a keg of water. It was impossible to note the rigid form of the
woman and the position of the arms and hands without perceiving that
she was dead.
The man recognized this truth but it made only a dim impression;
that keg of water meant life--and life was a thousandfold more to
him than death. He drew himself upon the seat, snatched at the tin
cup beside the keg, and drew out the cloth-covered corn-cob that
stopped the flow. Having slaked his thirst, there was mingled with
his sense of ineffable content, an overwhelming desire for sleep.
He dropped on the second mattress, on which bedclothes were
carelessly strewn; his head found the empty pillow that lay indented
as it had been left by some vanished sleeper. As his eyelids
closed, he fell sound asleep. But for the rising and falling of his
powerful breast, he was as motionless as the body of the woman.
Without, the afternoon sun slowly sank behind the mountains casting
long shadows over the plains; the wind swirled the sand in tireless
eddies, sometimes lifting it high in great sheets, forming sudden
dunes; coyotes prowled among the foot-hills and out on the open
levels, squatting with eyes fixed on the wagon, uttering sharp quick
barks of interrogation. A herd of deer lifted their horns against
the horizon, then suddenly bounded away, racing like shadows toward
the lowlands of Red River. On the domelike summit of Mount Welsh,
a mile away, a mountain-lion showed his sinuous form against the sky
seven hundred feet in air. And from the mountainside near at hand
stared from among the thick greenery of a cedar, the face of an
Indian whose black hair was adorned by a single red feather.
Within the wagon, unconscious of all, in strange fellowship, lay
the living and the dead.
AN UNWONTED PRAYER
When Willock started up from the mattress in the covered wagon, the
sun had set. Every object, however, was clearly defined in the
first glow of the long August twilight, and it needed but a glance
to recall the events that had brought him to seek shelter and
slumber beside the dead woman. He sat up suddenly, staring from
under his long black hair as it fell about his eyes. Accustomed as
he was to deeds of violence, even to the sight of men weltering in
their life's blood, he was strangely moved by that rigid form with
the thin arms folded over the breast, by that white cloth concealing
face and hair. A long keen examination of the prairie assured him
that no human being was between him and the horizon. He turned
again toward the woman. He felt an overpowering desire to look on
For years there had been no women in his world but the abandoned
creatures who sought shelter in the resorts of Beer City in No-Man's
Land--these, and the squaws of the reservations, and occasionally
a white terrified face among the wagon-trains. As a boy, before
running away from home in the Middle West, he had known a different
order of beings, and some instinct told him that this woman belonged
to the class of his childhood's association. There was imperative
need of his hurrying to the mountain, lest, at any moment, a roving
band of Indians discover the abandoned wagon; besides this, he was
very hungry since his rest, and the wagon was stocked with
provisions; nevertheless, to look on the face of the dead was his
But it was not easy for him to yield to his curiosity, despite his
life of crime. Something about the majestic repose of that form
seemed to add awe to the mystery of sex; and he crouched staring at
the cloth which no breath stirred save the breath of evening.
He believed, now, the story that Henry Gledware had reiterated in
accents of abject terror. Surely this was the "last wagon" in that
train which Red Kimball had attacked the morning before. Impossible
as it had seemed to the highwaymen, Gledware must have been warned
of the attack in time to turn about and lash his horses out of
danger of discovery. At this spot, Gledware had cut loose the
horses, mounted one with his stepdaughter, leaving the other to go
at will. This, then, was the mother of that child whose arm had
lain in warm confidence about his neck. On hands and knees, Willock
crept to the other mattress and lifted the margin of the large white
His hand moved stealthily, slowly. Catching sight of something that
faintly gleamed at the collar of the dress, he hesitated; his
determination to examine the countenance was as firm as ever, but
his impulse to put it off as long as possible was even stronger.
He bent down to look closer at the ornament; it was a round
breastpin of onyx and pearl set in a heavy rim of gold. The warm
wind, tempered by approaching night to a grateful balminess, stirred
the cloth between his fingers. He stared as if lost in profound
meditation. That pin resembled one his mother used to wear; and,
somehow, the soothing touch of the wind reminded him of her hand on
his forehead. He might have gone back home, if she had not died
long ago. Now, in spite of the many years that had passed over her
grave, the memory of her came as strong, as sweet, as instinct with
the fullness of life, as, if he were suddenly wafted back into
He did not lift the cloth, after all, but having replaced it gently,
he searched the wagon for a spade. It was found in the box fastened
to the end of the wagon, and with the spade, in the gathering
darkness, he dug a grave near the mountainside. Between the strokes
of the blade he sent searching glances over the prairie and along
the sloping ridges of the overlooking range, but there were no
witnesses of his work save the coyotes that prowled like gray
shadows across the sands. When the grave was ready he carried
thither in his giant's arms the body of the woman on the mattress,
and laid it thus to rest. When the sand was smoothed over the
place, he carried thither quantities of heavy stones, and broken
blocks of granite, to preserve the body from wild beasts.
It was dark when the heap of stones had been arranged in the form
of a low pyramid, but though he had not tasted food for twenty-four
hours, he lingered beside the grave, his head bent as if still
struggling with those unwonted memories of the long ago. At last,
as if forced by a mysterious power against which he could no longer
resist, he sank upon his knees.
"O God," he prayed aloud, "take care of the little girl."
He waited, but no more words would come--no other thought. He rose,
feeling strangely elated, as if some great good fortune had suddenly
come into his possession. It had been like this when the sleeping
child lay in his arms; he could almost feel her little cheek against
his bosom, and hear the soft music of her breathing.
He went back to the wagon and sat on the tongue, still oblivious to
any possible danger of surprise. He spoke aloud, for company:
"She wouldn't have wanted me to look at her--she couldn't have
looked natural. Glad I didn't. Great Scott! but that was a
first-rate prayer! Wouldn't have thought after thirty years I could
have done so well. And it was all there, everything was in them
words! If she knew what I was doing, she couldn't have asked
nothing more, for I reckon she wouldn't expect a man like ME to ask
no favors for that white-livered cowardly second-husband of hers.
I put in all my plea for the little girl. Dinged if I understand
how I come to be so intelligent and handy at what's all new business
to me! I just says, 'O God, take care of the little girl,'--just
them words." He rose with an air of great content and went around
to the front in search of provisions. Presently he spoke aloud:
"And as I ain't asked nothing for myself since I run off from home
I guess God won't mind putting the little girl on my expense-
A NEW ROBINSON CRUSOE
It came over him with disconcerting suddenness that he had lost a
great deal of time, and that every moment spent in the covered wagon
was fraught with imminent danger. It was not in his mind that the
hand of highwaymen might discover his hiding-place. Knowing them
as he did, he was sure they would not come so far from their haunts
or from the Sante Fe train in pursuit of him. But the Indians
roamed the Panhandle, as much at home there as in their
reservations--and here they were much more dangerous. Had no savage
eye discerned that wagon during the brilliant August day? Might it
be that even while he slept at the feet of the dead woman, a
feathered head had slipped under the canvas side, a red face had
bent over him?
It was a disquieting fancy. Willock told himself that, had such
been the case, his scalp-lock would not still adorn his own person;
for all that, he was eager to be gone. Instead of eating in the
wagon, he wrapped up some food in a bread-cloth, placed this with
a few other articles in a tarpaulin--among them, powder and shot--
and, having lifted the keg of water to one shoulder, and the
rope-bound tarpaulin to the other, he left the wagon with a loaded
gun in his hand.
Twilight had faded to starlight and the mountain range stood blackly
defined against the glittering stars. It was easy to find his way,
for on the level sands there were no impediments, and when the
mountain was reached, a low divide offered him easy passage up the
ascent. For the most part the slopes were gradual and in steeper
places, ledges of granite, somewhat like giant stairs, assisted him
to the highest ridge. From this vantage-point he could see the
level plain stretching away on the farther side; he could count the
ridges running parallel to the one on which he had paused, and note
the troughs between, which never descended to the level ground to
deserve the name of valleys. Looking down upon this tortured mass
of granite, he seemed gazing over a petrified sea that, in the fury
of a storm, had been caught at the highest dashing of its waves, and
fixed in threatening motion which throughout the ages would remain
as calm and secure as the level waste that stretched from the abrupt
walls in every direction.
On that first ridge he paused but a moment, lest his figure be
outlined against the night for the keen gaze of some hidden foe.
Steadying the keg with one hand and holding his gun alert, he
descended into the first trough and climbed to the next ridge,
meaning to traverse the mile of broken surface, thus setting a
granite wall between him and the telltale wagon. The second ridge
was not so high as the outer wall, and he paused here, feeling more
secure. The ground was fairly level for perhaps fifty yards before
its descent to the next rolling depression where the shadows lay in
unrelieved gloom. On the crest, about him, the dim light defined
broken boulders and great blocks of granite in grotesque forms, some
suggesting fantastic monsters, others, in sharp-cut or rounded forms
seemingly dressed by Cyclopean chisels.
The fugitive was not interested in the dimly defined shapes about
him; his attention had been attracted by a crevice in the smooth
rock ledge at his feet. This ledge, barren of vegetation, and as
level as a slab of rough marble, showed a long black line like a
crack in a stone pavement. At the man's feet the crevice was
perhaps two feet wide, but as it stretched toward the west it
narrowed gradually, and disappeared under a mass of disorganized
stones, as a mere slit in the surface.
Presently he set the keg and the tarpaulin-ball on the ground, not
to rest his shoulders, but in order to sink on his knees beside the
crevice. He put his face down over it, listening, peering, but
making no discovery. Then he unwound the lariat from about his
waist, tied it to the rope that had been a halter, and having
fastened a stone to one end, lowered it into the black space. The
length of the lariat slipped through his fingers and the rope was
following when suddenly the rock found lodgment at the bottom. On
making this discovery he drew up the lariat, opened the cloth
containing the food, and began to eat rapidly and with evident
excitement. He did not fail to watch on all sides as he enjoyed
his long delayed meal, and while he ate and thus watched, he thought
rapidly. When the first cravings of appetite were partly satisfied,
he left his baker's bread and bacon on a stone, tied up the rest of
the food in its cloth, rolled this in the tarpaulin, and lowered it
by means of the lariat into the crevice. Then, having tied the end
of the rope to the gun-barrel, he placed the gun across the crevice
and swung himself down into the gloom.
The walls of the crevice were so close together that he was able to
steady his knees against them, but as he neared the bottom they
widened perceptibly. His first act on setting foot to the stone
flooring was to open the tarpaulin, draw forth a candle and a box
of matches, and strike a light. The chamber of granite in which he
stood was indeed narrow, but full of interest and romance. The
floor was about the same width in all its length, wide enough for
Willock, tall as he was, to stretch across the passage. It extended
perhaps a hundred feet into the heart of the rock, showing the same
smooth walls on either side. The ceiling, however, was varied, as
the outward examination had promised. Overhead the stars were seen
at ease through the two feet of space at the top; but as he carried
his candle forward, this opening decreased, to be succeeded
presently by a roof, at first of jumbled stones crushed together by
outward weight, then of a smooth red surface extending to the end.
The floor was the same everywhere save at its extremities. At the
point of Willock's descent, it dipped away in a narrow line that
would not have admitted a man's body. At the other end, where he
now stood, it suddenly gave way to empty space. It came to an end
so abruptly that there was no means of discovering how deep was the
narrow abyss beyond. Possibly it descended a sheer three hundred
feet, the depth of the ridge at that place. On the smooth floor
which melted to nothingness with such sinister and startling
suddenness, the candlelight revealed the skeleton of a man lying at
the margin of the unknown depths. Mingled with the bones that had
fallen apart with the passing of centuries, was a drawn sword of
blackened hilt and rusted blade--a sword of old Spanish make--and
in the dust of a rotted purse lay a small heap of gold coins of
"Well, pard," said Brick Willock grimly, "you come here first and
much obliged to you. You've told me two things: that once in here,
no getting out--unless you bring along your ladder; and what's
better still, nobody has been here since you come, or that wouldn't
be my money! And now having told me all you got to say, my
cavalier, I guess we'd better part." He raked the bones into a
heap, and dashed them into the black gulf. He did not hear them
when they struck bottom, and the sinister silence gave him an odd
thrill. He shook his head. "If I ever roll out of bed here," he
said, "me and you will spend the rest of the time together,
He did not linger for idle speculation, hut drew himself up his
dangling rope, and in a short time was once more outside the place
of refuge. Always on the lookout for possible watchers, he snatched
up his bread and meat, and ate as he hastened over the outer ridge
and down the rugged side toward the wagon. Here he filled a box
with canned provisions and a side of bacon, and on top of this he
secured a sack of flour. It made a heavy burden, but his long sleep
had restored him to his wonted strength, and he could not be sure
but this trip to the wagon would be his last. With some difficulty
he hoisted the box to his herculean shoulder, and grasping a spade
and an ax in his disengaged hand, toiled upward to his asylum.
When the crevice in the mountain-top was reached, he threw the
contents of the box down into the tarpaulin which he had spread out
to receive it, and having broken up the box with the ax, cast the
boards down that they might fall to one side of the provisions.
This done, he returned to the wagon, from above invisible, but
which, when he stood on the plain, loomed dim and shapeless against
There were great stores of comforts and even some luxuries in the
wagon, and it was hard for him to decide what to take next;
evidently Henry Gledware and his wife had expected to live in their
wagon after reaching their destination, for there was a stove under
the seat, and a stovepipe fastened to one side of the wagon.
"If the Indians don't catch me at this business," said Willock,
looking at the stove, "I'll get you too!" He believed it could be
lowered between the stone lips of his cave-mouth, for it was the
smallest stove he had ever seen, surely less than two feet in width.
"I'll get you in," said the plunderer decidedly, "or something will
For the present, however, he took objects more appropriate to
summer: the mattress upon which he had passed the afternoon, a
bucket in which he packed boxes of matches, a quantity of candles,
soap, and the like. This bucket he put in the middle of the
mattress and flanked it with towels and pillows, between which were
inserted plates, cups and saucers. "I'll just take 'em all," he
muttered, groping for more dishes, "I might have company!"
The mattress once doubled over its ill-assorted contents, he was
obliged to rope both ends before he could carry it in safety. This
load, heavier than the last, he succeeded in getting to the crevice,
and as he poised it over the brink a few yards from where the
tarpaulin lay, he apostrophized it with--"Break if you want to;
pieces is good enough for your Uncle Brick!"
When he left the wagon with his next burden, he was obliged to bend
low under buckets, tools, cans and larger objects. As he moved
slowly to preserve equilibrium, he began to chuckle. "Reckon if the
Injuns saw me now," he said aloud, "they'd take me for an elephant
with the circus-lady riding my back!" At the crevice, he flung in
all that would pass the narrow opening intact, and smashed up what
was too large, that their fragments might also be hidden.
"Pshaw!" grunted Willock, as he started back toward the wagon,
mopping his brow on his shirt-sleeve, "Robinson Crusoe wasn't in
it! Wonder why he done all that complaining when he had a nice easy
sea to wash him and his plunder ashore?"
He was beginning to feel the weariness of the morning return, and
the load that cleaned out the wagon-bed left him so exhausted that
he fell down on the ground beside the crevice, having thrown in his
booty. Here, with his gull at his side and a pistol in his hand,
he fell fast asleep.
He lay there like a man of stone until some inner consciousness
began beating at the door of his senses, warning him that in no
great time the moon would rise. He started up in a state of dazed
bewilderment, staring at the solemn stars, the vague outlines of
giant rocks about him and the limitless sea of darkness that flowed
away from the mountain-top indicating, but not defining, the
"Get up from here!" Willock commanded himself. He obeyed rather
stiffly, but when he was on his feet, ax in hand, he made the trip
to the wagon nimbly enough. As he drew near, he saw gray shadows
slipping away--they were wolves. He shouted at them disdainfully,
and without pause began removing the canvas from over the wagon.
When that was done, his terrific blows resolved the wagon-bed to
separated boards, somewhat splintered hut practically intact. By
means of the wrench he removed the wheels and separated the parts
of the wagon-frame. Always, when he had obtained enough for a load,
he made that toilsome journey to his retreat. He took the four
wheels at one time, rolling them one by one, lifting them singly
from ledge to ledge.
The last of his work was made easier because the darkness had begun
to lift. Suddenly a glow appeared at the rim of the world, to he
followed, as it seemed, almost immediately by the dazzling edge of
an immense silver shield. The moon rolled over the desert waste and
rested like a solid wheel of fire on the sand. Instantly for miles
and miles there was not a shadow on the earth. The level shafts of
light bathed with grotesque luminous distinction the countless
prairie-dogs which, squatting before the mouths of their retreats,
barked at the quick betrayal. Coyotes, as if taken by surprise,
swung swiftly toward remote mountain fastnesses, their backs to the
When Willock made his last and slowest trip to the ridge, his feet
dragging like lead, there was nothing to show that a covered wagon
had stood at the edge of the prairie; the splinters of the final
demolition had already mingled indistinguishably with the
wind-driven sand. Arrived at the second ridge, which was still in
darkness, he took pains that no telltale sign should be left on the
smooth expanse of granite to indicate the near presence of a man.
Swinging to the lariat that was now tied to a short plank, he
lowered himself into the midst of the debris with which that part
of his floor was strewn. Poised on top of the heap of boards that
had formed the sides of the wagon, he pushed upward with a longer
plank and dislodged the one from which the rope dangled. It fell
at his feet.
Provided with nails, a hammer and plenty of lumber, it would not be
difficult to construct a ladder for egress. At present, he was too
tired to provide for the future. He left the spoils just as they
had fallen, except for the old wagon-tongue and a board or two with
which he built a barricade against the unknown depths at the
farthest margin of the floor. Then drawing the mattress to one
side, and clearing it of its contents, he fell upon it with a sigh
of comfort, and was again plunged into slumber--slumber prolonged
far into the following day.
A MYSTERIOUS GUEST
When he awoke, a bar of sunshine which at first he mistook for an
outcropping of Spanish gold, glowed against the granite wall of his
mountain-top retreat. He rose in leisurely fashion--henceforth
there would be plenty of time, years of it, running to waste with
useless days. After eating and partaking sparingly of the brackish
water of the keg, he nailed together two long sideboards of the
dismembered wagon; and having secured these end to end, he fastened
in parallel strips to the surface short sticks as steps to his
ladder. This finished, he made a rope-ladder. The ladder of boards
was for use in leaving the cave; the rope-ladder, which he meant to
hide under some boulder near the crevice, could be used in making
The formless mass of inchoate debris, the result of his toilsome
journeys of the night before, was left as it had fallen--there would
be time enough to sort all that, a hundred times. At present, he
would venture forth with the sole object of examining his
surroundings. "This suits me exactly," he muttered, with a
good-humored chuckle; "just doing one thing at a time, and being
everlasting slow about doing that."
Fastening the rope-ladder about his waist, he scaled the boards,
and on reaching the top, cast them down. First, he looked all
about, but no living creature was in sight. "This is just to my
hand," he said aloud, seeking a suitable hiding-place for the
rope-ladder; "I always did despise company."
Stowing away the rope-ladder in a secure fissure between two giant
blocks of granite, each the size of a large two-story house, he
crossed to the first ridge, and looked out over the prairie, to
triumph over the vacant spot where the covered wagon had stood
fifteen hours before. "No telling what a man can do," he exclaimed
admiringly, "that is to say, if his name is Brick Willock."
His eyes wandered to the mound of stones built over the woman's
grave. His prayer recurred to his mind. "Well, God," he said,
looking up at the cloudless sky, "I guess you're doing it!" After
this expression of faith, he turned about and set forth to traverse
the mountain range. Passing the ridge which he already looked upon
as home, he crossed other ridges of varying height, and at the end
of a mile reached the southern limit of the mountain. Like the
northern side the southern elevation was nearly four hundred feet,
as if the granite sea had dashed upward in fiercest waves, in a last
futile attempt to inundate the plain. The southern wall was
precipitous, and Willock, looking down the cedar-studded declivity,
could gaze directly on the verdant levels that came to the very
He stood at the center of an enormous horseshoe formed on the
southwest by the range curving farther toward the south, and on his
left hand, by the same range sweeping in a quarter-circle toward the
southeast. The mouth of this granite half-circle was opened to the
south, at least a quarter-mile in width; but on his left, a jutting
spur almost at right angles to the main range, and some hundreds of
yards closer to his position, shot across the space within the
horseshoe bend, in such fashion that an observer, standing on the
plain, would have half his view of the inner concave expanse shut
off, except that part of the high north wall that towered above the
Nor was this all. Behind the perpendicular arm, or spur, that ran
out into the sea of mesquit, rose a low hill that was itself in the
nature of an inner spur although, since it failed to reach the
mountain, it might he regarded as a long flat island, surrounded by
the calm green tide. This innermost arm, or island, was so near the
mountain, that the entrance to it opened into a curved inner world
of green, was narrow and strongly protected. The cove thus formed
presented a level floor of ten or twelve acres, and it was directly
down into this cove that Willock gazed. It looked so peaceful and
secure, and its openness to the sunshine was so alluring, that
Willock resolved to descend the steep wall. To do so at that point
was impractical, but the ridge was unequal and not far to the right,
sank to a low divide, while to the left, a deep gully thickly set
with cedars, elms, scrub-oaks and thorn trees invited him with its
steep but not difficult channel, to the ground.
"Here's a choice," observed Willock, as he turned toward the divide;
"guess I'll go by the front, and save the back stairs for an
emergency." The gully was his back stairs. He was beginning to
feel himself rich in architectural possibilities. When he reached
the plain he was outside of a line of hummocks that effectually hid
the cove from sight, more effectually because of a dense grove of
pecans that stood on either side of the grass-grown dunes. Instead
of crossing the barrier, he started due south for the outer prairie,
and when at last he stood midway between the wide jaws of the
mountain horseshoe, he turned and looked intently toward the cove.
It was invisible, and his highest hopes were realized. From this
extended mouth he could clearly see where the first spur shot out
into the sand, and beyond that, he could see how, at a distance,
the sheer wall of granite rose to the sky; but there was nothing to
suggest that behind that scarred arm another projection parallel to
it might be discovered. He walked toward the spur, always watching
for a possible glimpse of the cove. When he stood on the inner
side, his spirits rose higher. The long flat island that he had
discerned from the mountain-top was here not to be defined because,
on account of its lowness and of the abrupt wall beyond, it was
mingled indistinguishably with the perspective of the range.
Concealment was made easier from the fact that the ground of the
cove was lower than all the surrounding land.
Willock now advanced on the cove and found himself presently in a
snug retreat that would have filled with delight the heart of the
most desperate highwayman, or the most timid settler. On the north
was, of course, the towering mountain-wall, broken by the gully in
the protection of whose trees one might creep up or down without
detection. On the east, the same mountain-wall curved in high
protection. In front was the wide irregular island, low, indeed,
but happily high enough to shut out a view of the outside world.
At the end of this barricade there was a gap, no wider than a
wagon-road, along the side of which ran the dry channel of a
mountain stream--the continuation of the gully that cut the
mountain-wall from top to base--but even this gap was high enough
to prevent observation from the plain.
No horsemen could enter the cove save by means of that low trench,
cut as by the hand of man in the granite hill, and as Indian
horsemen were the only enemies to be dreaded, his watchfulness need
be concentrated only on that one point. "Nothing like variety,"
observed Willock cheerfully.
"This will do capital for my summer home! I'm going to live like
a lord--while I'm living."
He examined the ground and found that it was rich and could be
penetrated easily, even to the very foot of the mountain. "I'll
just get my spade," he remarked, "as I ain't got nothing else to
do." In deliberate slowness he returned up the divide, and got the
spade from his retreat, then brought it to the cove. Selecting a
spot near the channel of the dried-up torrent, he began to dig,
relieved to find that he did not strike rock.
"I guess," he said, stopping to lean on his spade as he stared at
the mountain, "the earth just got too full of granite and biled
over, but was keerful to spew it upwards, so's to save as much
ground as it could, while relieving its feelings."
Presently the earth on his blade began to cling from dampness.
"When I digs a well," he remarked boastingly, "what I want is water,
and that's what I gets. As soon as it's deep enough I'll wall her
up with rocks and take the longest drink that man ever pulled off,
that is to say, when it was nothing but common water. They ain't
nothing about water to incite you to keep swallowing when you have
enough. Of a sudden you just naturally leggo and could drown in it
without wanting another drop. That's because it's nature. Art is
different. I reckon a nice clean drinking-joint and a full-stocked
bar is about the highest art that can stimulate a man. But in
nature, you know when you've got enough."
After further digging he added, "And I got about enough of THIS!
I mean the mountains and the plains and the sand and the wind and
the cave and the cove--" he wiped away the dripping sweat and looked
at the sun. "Yes, and of you, too!" He dropped the spade, and sat
down on the heap of dirt. "Oh, Lord, but I'm lonesome! I got
plenty to say, but nobody to listen at me."
He clasped his great hands about his knee, and stared sullenly at
the surrounding ramparts of red and brown granite, dully noting the
fantastic layers, the huge round stones that for ages had been about
to roll down into the valley but had never started, and others cut
in odd shapes placed one upon another in columns along the
perpendicular wall. The sun beat on the long matted hair of his
bared head, but the ceaseless wind brought relief from its pelting
rays. He, however, was conscious neither of the heat nor of the
At last he rose slowly to his towering legs and picked up the spade.
"You're a fool, Brick Willock," he said harshly. "Ain't you got
that well to dig? And then can't you go for your kaig and bring it
here, and carry it back full of fresh water? Dinged if there ain't
enough doings in your world to furnish out a daily newspaper!" He
began to dig, adding in an altered tone: "And Brick, HE says--
'Nothing ain't come to the worst, as long as you're living,' says
He was proud of the well when it was completed; the water was cold
and soft as it oozed up through clean sand, and the walls of
mud-mortised rocks promised permanency. One did not have to
penetrate far into the bottom-lands of that cove to find water which
for unnumbered years had rushed down the mountainside in time of
rain-storms to lie, a vast underground reservoir, for the coming of
man. Willock could reach the surface of the well by lying on his
stomach and scooping with his long arm. He duly carried out his
program, and when the keg was filled with fresh water, it was time
After a cold luncheon of sliced boiled ham and baker's bread, he
returned to the cove, where he idled away the afternoon under the
shade of tall cedar trees whose branches came down to the ground,
forming impenetrable pyramids of green.
Stretched out on the short buffalo-grass he watched the white flecks
follow one another across the sky; he observed the shadows
lengthening from the base of the western arm of the horseshoe till
they threatened to swallow up him and his bright speck of world; he
looked languidly after the flights of birds, and grinned as he saw
the hawks dart into round holes in the granite wall not much larger
than their bodies--those mysterious holes perforating the precipice,
seemingly bored there by a giant auger.
"Go to bed, pards," he called to the hawks. "I reckon it's time
for me, too!" He got up--the sun had disappeared behind the
mountain. He stretched himself, lifting his arms high above his
head and slowly drawing his fists to his shoulder, his elbows
luxuriously crooked. "One thing I got," he observed, "is room,
plenty! Well--" he started toward the divide for his upward climb,
"I've lived a reasonable long life; I am forty-five; but I do think
that since I laid down under that tree, I have thought of everything
I ever done or said since I was a kid. Guess I'll save the future
for another afternoon--and after that, the Lord knows what I'm going
to do with my brain, it's that busy."
The next day he began assorting the contents of his granite home,
moving to the task with conscientious slowness, stopping a dozen
times to make excursions into the outside world. By diligent
economy of his working moments, he succeeded in covering almost two
weeks in the labor of putting his house into order. His bedroom was
next to the barricade that separated the long stone excavation from
the bottomless abyss. Divided from the bedroom by an imaginary
line, was the store-room of provisions. The cans and boxes were
arranged along the floor with methodical exactitude. Different
varieties of fruit and preserves were interspersed in such fashion
that none was repeated until every variety had been passed.
"I begins with this can of peaches," said Willock, laying his finger
upon the beginning of the row--"then comes apples, pears, plums;
then peaches, apples, pears, plums; then peaches, apples, pears,
plums; then peaches--blest if I don't feel myself getting sick of
'em already.... And now my meats: bacon, ham. My breadstuffs:
loaves, crackers. My fillers: sardines, more sardines, more
sardines, likewise canned tomatoes. Let me see--is it too much to
say that I eats a can of preserves in two days? Maybe three. That
is, till I sickens. I begins with peach-day. This is Monday. Say
Thursday begins my apple-days. I judge I can worm myself down
through the list by this time next month. One thing I am sot on:
not to save nothing if I can bring my stomach to carry the burden
with a willing hand. I'll eat mild and calm, but steadfast. Brick
Willock he says, 'Better starve all at once, when there's nothing
left, than starve a little every day,' says Brick. 'When it's a
matter of agony,' says he, 'take the short cut.'"
In arranging his retreat, he had left undisturbed the wagon-tongue,
since removing it from the end of the floor for a more secure
barricade; it had stood with several of the sideboards against the
wall, as if Brick meditated using them for a special purpose. Such
was indeed his plan, and it added some zest to his present
employment to think of what he meant to do next; this was nothing
less than to make a dugout in the cove.
To this enterprise he was prompted not only by a desire to vary his
monotonous days, but to insure safety from possible foes. Should
a skulking savage, or, what would be worse, a stray member of the
robber band catch sight of him among the hills, the spy would spread
the news among his fellows. A relentless search would be
instituted, and even if Willock succeeded in escaping, the band
would not rest till it had discovered his hiding-place. If they
came on the dugout, their search would terminate, and his home in
the crevice would escape investigation; but if there was no dugout
to satisfy curiosity, the crevice would most probably be explored.
"Two homes ain't too many for a character like me, nohow," remarked
Brick, as he set the wagon-tongue and long boards on end to be drawn
up through the crevice. "Cold weather will be coming on in due
time--say three or four months--and what's that to me? a mere
handful of time! Well, I don't never expect to make a fire in my
cave, I'll set my smoke out in the open where it can be traced
without danger to my pantry shelves."
He was even slower about building the dugout than he had been in
arranging the miscellaneous objects in the cavern on top of the
mountain. Transporting the timbers across a mile of ridges and
granite troughs was no light work; and when his tools and material
were in the cove, the digging of the dugout was protracted because
of the closeness of water to the surface. At last he succeeded in
excavating the cellar at a spot within a few yards of the mountain,
without penetrating moistened sand. He leveled down the walls till
he had a chamber about twelve feet square. Over this he placed the
wagon-tongue, converting it into the ridge-pole, which he set upon
forks cut from the near-by cedars. Having trimmed branches of the
trees in the grove, he laid them as close together as possible,
slanting from the ridge-pole to the ground, and over these laid the
bushy cedar branches. This substantial roof he next covered with
dirt, heaping it up till no glimpse of wood was visible tinder the
hard-packed dome. The end of the dugout was closed up in the same
way except for a hole near the top fitted closely to the stovepipe
and packed with mud.
Of the sideboards he fashioned a rude frame, then a door to stand
in it, fitted into grooves that it might be pushed and held into
place without hinges. "Of course I got to take down my door every
time I comes in or out," remarked Willock, regarding his structure
with much complacency, "but they's nothing else to do, and I got to
When he had transported the stove to the cove, he set it up with a
tingle of expectant pleasure. It was to be his day of housewarming,
not because the weather had grown cold, but that he might celebrate.
"This here," he said, "is to be a red-letter day, a day plumb up in
X, Y and Z. I got to take my gun and forage for some game; then
I'll dress my fresh meat and have a cooking. I'll bring over some
grub to keep it company. Let's see--this is plum-day, ain't it?"
He stood meditating, stroking his wild whiskers with a grimy hand.
"Oh, Lord, yes, I believe it IS plum-day! 'Well, they ain't nothing
the way you would have made it yourself,' says Brick, 'not even
though it's you as made it.' This here is plum-day, and that there
can of plums will shore be opened. And having my first fire gives
me a chance to open up my sack of flour; won't I hold carnival!
What I feels sorry about myself is knowing how I'm going to feel
after I've et all them victuals. I believe I'll take a bath, too,
in that pool over yonder in the grove. Ain't I ever going to use
that there soap?... But I don't say as I will. Don't seem wuth
while. They ain't nobody to see me, and I feels clean insides. As
I takes it, you do your washing for them as neighbors with you. If
I had a neighbor!--just a dog, a little yaller dog--or some chickens
to crow and cackle--"
He broke off, to lean despondently on his gun. He remained thus
motionless for a long time, his earth-stained garments, unkempt
hair, hard dark hands and gloomy eye marking him as the only object
in the bright sunshine standing forth unresponsive to nature's
He started into life with a shrug of his powerful shoulders. "It's
just like you, Brick, to spoil a festibul-day with your low idees!
Why don't you keep them idees for a rainy day? Just lay up them
regrets and hankerings for the first rainy day, and then be of a
piece with the heavens and earth. 'If you can't stay cheerful while
the sun's shining,' says Brick, 'God's wasting a mighty nice big sun
Thus admonishing himself, and striving desperately for contentment,
he strode forth from the only exit of the cove, and skirted the
southern wall of the range, looking for game. It was late in the
afternoon when he returned with the best portions of a deer swung
over his shoulder. By this time he was desperately hungry, and the
prospect of the first venison since his exile stirred his pulses,
and gave to the bright scene a cheerful beauty it had not before
worn to his homesick heart. He trudged up to the narrow door of the
dugout which was closed, just as he had left it, and having carried
a noble haunch of venison to the pool to be washed, he descended the
dirt steps and set the door to one side. Without at first
understanding why, he became instantly aware that some one had been
there during his absence.
Of course, as soon as his eyes could penetrate the semi-gloom
sufficiently to distinguish small objects, he saw the proof; but
even before that, the air seemed tingling with some strange
personality. He stood like a statue, gazing fixedly. His alert
eyes, always on guard, had assured him that the cove was deserted-
-there was no use to look behind him. Whoever had been there must
have scaled the mountain, and had either crossed to the plain on the
north, or was hiding behind the rocks. What held his eyes to the
stove was a heap of tobacco, and a clay pipe beside it. Among the
stores removed from the wagon, tobacco had been found in generous
quantity, but during the month now elapsed, bad been sadly reduced.
Willock, however, was not pleased to find the new supply; on the
contrary his emotions were confused and alarmed. Had the tobacco
been ten times as much, it could not have solaced him for the
knowledge that the dugout had been visited.
After a few minutes of immobility, he entered, placed the meat on
a box, and departed softly, closing the door behind him. Casting
apprehensive glances along the mountainside, he stole toward it,
and made his way up the gully, completely hidden by the straggling
line of trees and underbrush, till he stood on the summit. He
approached each ridge with extreme caution, as if about to storm the
barricade of an enemy; thus he traveled over the range without
coming on the traces of his mysterious visitor. Not pausing at the
crevice, he went on to the outer northern ridge of the range, and
lying flat among some high rocks, looked down.
He counted seventeen men near the spot from which he had removed
the wagon. Fifteen were on horseback and two riderless horses
explained the presence of the two on foot. All of them had drawn
up in a circle about the heap of stones that covered the woman's
burial-place. Of the seventeen, sixteen were Indians, painted and
adorned for the war-path. The remaining man, he who stood at the
heap of stones beside the chief, was a white man, and at the first
glance, Willock recognized him; he was the dead woman's husband,
Brick's mind was perplexed with vain questionings: Was it Gledware
who had visited his dugout, or the Indians? Did the pipe and
tobacco indicate a peace-offering? What was the relationship
between Gledware and these Indians? Was he their prisoner, and were
they about to burn him upon the heap of stones? He did not seem
alarmed. Had he made friends with the chief by promising to conduct
him to the deserted wagon? If so, what would they think in regard
to the wagon's disappearance? Had the dugout persuaded them that
there was no other retreat in the mountains?
While Brick watched in agitated suspense, several Indians leaped to
the ground at a signal from the chief and advanced toward the white
man. The chief turned his back upon the company, and started toward
the mountain, his face turned toward Brick's place of observation.
He began climbing upward, the red feather in his hair gleaming
against the green of the cedars. Brick had but to remain where he
was, to reach forth his hand presently and seize the warrior--but
in that case, those on the plain would come swarming up the ascent
Brick darted from his post, swept like a dipping swallow across the
ravine, and snatching up the rope-ladder from its nook under the
boulder, scurried down into the granite chamber. Having removed the
ladder, he crept to the extremity of the excavation, and with his
back against the wall and his gun held in readiness, awaited the
coming of the chief. After the lapse of many minutes he grew
reassured; the Indian, thinking the dugout his only home, had passed
the crevice without the slightest suspicion.
However, lest in thrusting forth his head, he call attention to his
home in the rock, he kept in retreat the rest of that day, nor did
he venture forth that night. After all, the housewarming did not
take place. The stove remained cold, the tobacco and pipe upon it
were undisturbed, and the evening meal consisted notably of plums.
One bright warm afternoon in October two years later, Brick Willock
sat smoking his pipe before the open door of his dugout, taking
advantage of the mountain-shadow that had just reached that spot.
In repose, he always sat, when in the cove, with his face toward the
natural roadway leading over the flat hill-island into the farther
reach of the horseshoe. It was thus he hoped to prevent surprise
from inimical horsemen, and it was thus that, on this particular
afternoon, he detected a shadow creeping over the reddish-brown
stone passage before its producing cause rode suddenly against the
background of the blue sky.
At first glimpse of that shadow of a feathered head, Willock flung
himself down the dirt steps leading to the open door; now, lying
flat, he directed the barrel of his gun over the edge of the level
ground, covering an approaching horseman. As only one Indian came
into view, and as this Indian was armed in a manner as astounding
as it was irresistible, Willock rose to his height of
six-foot-three, lowered his weapon, and advanced to meet him.
When he was near, the Indian--the same chief from whom Willock had
fled on the day of his intended housewarming--this Indian sprang
lightly to the ground, and lifted from the horse that defense which
he had borne in front of him on penetrating the cove; it was the
child for whose sake Willock had separated himself from his kind.
At first, Willock thought he was dreaming one of those dreams that
had solaced his half-waking hours, for he had often imagined how it
would be if that child were in the mountains to bear him company.
But however doubtful he might he regarding her, he took no chances
about the Indian, but kept his alert gaze fixed on him to forestall
any design of treachery.
The Indian made a sign to the little girl to remain with the horse;
then he glided forward, holding somewhat ostentatiously, a filled
pipe in his extended hand. He had evidently come to knit his soul
to that of his white brother while the smoke from their pipes
mingled on the quiet air, forming a frail and uncertain monument to
the spirit of peace.
"Was it you that left a pipe and tobacco on my stove two years ago?"
Willock asked abruptly.
"Yes. You got it? We will smoke." He seated himself gravely on
Willock went into the cabin, and brought out the clay pipe. They
smoked. Willock cast covert glances toward the girl. She stood
slim and straight, her face rigid, her eyes fixed on the horse whose
halter she held. Her limbs were bare and a blanket that descended
to her knees seemed her only garment. The face of the sleeping
child of five was the same, however, as this of the seven-year-old
maid, except that it had grown more beautiful; the wealth of glowing
brown hair made amends for all poverty of attire.
Willock was wonderfully moved; so much so that his manner was harsh,
his voice gruff in the extreme. "What are you going to do with that
girl?" he demanded.
"You take her?" inquired the chief passively.
"Yes--I take her."
"Good!" The Indian smoked serenely.
"Where'd you find her?"
"Not been lost. Her safe all time. Sometime in one village--here,
then there, two, three--move her about. Safe all time. I never
forget. There she is. You take her?"
"I said so, didn't I? Where's her daddy?"
The Indian said nothing, only smoked, his eyes fixed on space.
Willock raised his voice. "Must I ask HER where he is?"
"Her not know. Her not seen him one, two year. She say him dead."
"Oh, he's dead, is he?"
"Him safe, too." He looked at the sun. "Long trail before me.
Then I leave her. I go, now."
"Not much you don't go! Not THIS minute. Where is that girl's daddy?"
"If he's safe, why hasn't she been with him all this time?"
"Me big chief."
"Oh, yes, I judge you are. But that's nothing to me. I'm big
chief, too. I own this corner of the universe--and I want to know
about that girl's daddy."
"Him great man."
"Well--go ahead; tell the rest of it."
"Him settle among my tribe; him never leave our country. 'Big
country, fat country, very rich. Him change name--everything; him
one of us. Marry my daughter. THAT girl not his daughter--daughter
of dead woman. Keep her away from him all time, so him never see
white man, white woman, white child, forget white people, be good
Indian. The girl make him think of dead woman. When a man marry
again, not good to remember dead woman. Him think girl dead, but
no care, no worry, no sad. SHE never his daughter--dead woman's
daughter. All his path is white, no more blue. Him very glad,
every day--my daughter his wife. She keep scalp-knife from his
head. My braves capture--they dance about fire, she say 'No.' She
marry him. Their path is white; the sky over them is white."
He rose, straight as an arrow, and turned his grim face toward the
"I see. And you don't want to tell me where he is, because you want
him to forget he is a white man?"
"Him always live with my people; him marry my daughter."
"Tell me this; is he far away?"
"Very far. Many days. You never find him. You stay here, keep
girl, and me and my people your friends. You come after him--not
"Why, bless your heart, I never want to see that man again; your
daughter is welcome to him, but I'm afraid she's got a bad bargain.
This girl's just as I'd have her--unencumbered. I'm AWFUL glad you
come, pardner! Whenever you happen to be down in this part of
Texas, drop in and make us a visit!"
With every passing moment, Willock was realizing more keenly what
this amazing sequel to the past meant to him. He would not only
have company in his dreary solitude, but, of all company, the very
one he yearned for to comfort his heart. "Give us your paw, old
man--shake. You bet I'll take her!"
He strode forward and addressed the girl: "Are you willing to stay
with me, little one?"
She shrank back from the wild figure. During his two years of
hiding in the mountains, Willock had cared nothing for his personal
appearance. His garments, on disintegrating had been replaced by
skins, thus giving an aspect of assorted colors and materials rather
remarkable. Only when driven by necessity had he ventured on long
journeys to the nearest food-station, carrying the skins obtained
by trapping, and bringing back fresh stores of provisions and
tobacco on the pony purchased by the Spanish gold.
Willock was greatly disconcerted by her attitude. He said
regretfully, "I guess I've been so much with myself that I ain't
noticed my outside as a man ought. Won't you make your home with
me, child?" He held out his rough hand appealingly.
She retreated farther, saying with disapproval, "Much hair!"
Willock laid his hand on his breast, returning, "Much heart!"
"Him white," said the Indian, swinging himself upon his horse. "Him
save your life. Sometime me come visit, come eat, come stay with
As he wheeled about, she held out her arms toward him, crying
wildly, "Don't go! Don't leave me! Him much hair!"
The Indian dashed away without turning his head.
"Good lord, honey," exclaimed Willock, at his wits' ends, "don't
cry! I can't do nothing if you CRY. Won't you come look at your
new home?" He waved eagerly toward the dugout.
"Hole in the ground!" cried the girl desperately. "I want my tepee.
Am I a prairie-dog?"
"No, honey, you ain't. You and me is both white, and we ought to
live together; it ain't right for you to live with red people that
kills and burns your own kith and kin."
She looked at him repellently through her streaming tears. "Big
hair!" she cried. "Big hair!"
"And must I cut it off? I'll make my head as smooth as yonder
bald-headed mountain-peak if it'll keep you from crying. Course
you ain't seen nobody with whiskers amongst them Indians, but THEY
ain't your people. Your people is white, they are like me, they
grows hair. But I'll shave and paint myself red, and hunt for
feathers, if that's what you want."
Her sobbing grew less violent. Despite his ferocious aspect, no
fear could remain in her heart at sight of that distressed
countenance, at sound of those conciliatory tones. Willock,
observing that the tempest was abating, continued in his most
"I'm going to do whatever you say, honey, and you're going to be
the queen of the cove. Ain't you never been lonesome amongst all
them red devils? Ain't you missed your poor mammy as died crossing
the plains? It was me that buried her. Ain't you never knowed how
it felt to want to lay your head on somebody's shoulder and slip
your little arms about his neck, and go to sleep like an angel
whatever was happening around? I guess SO! Well, that's me, too.
Here I've been for two long year, never seeing nothing but wild
animals or prowling savages till the last few months when a settler
comes to them mountains seven mile to the southwest. Looked like
I'd die, sometimes, just having myself to entertain."
"You lonesome, too?" said the girl, looking up incredulously. She
drew a step nearer, a wistful light in her dark eyes.
The man stretched out his arms and dropped them to his side,
heavily. "Like that," he cried--"just emptiness!"
"I stay," she said simply. "All time, want my own people; all time,
Red Feather say some day take me to white people--want to go, all
time. But Red Feather never tell me 'BIG HAIR.' Didn't know what
it was I was looking for--never thought it would be something like
"But you ain't afraid now, are you, little one?"
She shook her head, and drawing nearer, seated herself on the ground
before the dugout. "You LOOK Big Hair," she explained sedately,
"but your speech is talk of weak squaw."
Somewhat disconcerted by these words, Willock sat down opposite her,
and resumed his pipe as if to assert his sex. "I seem weak to you,"
he explained, "because I love you, child, and want to make friends
with you. But let me meet a big man--well, you'd see, then!" He
looked so ferocious as he uttered these words, that she started up
like a frightened quail, grasping her blanket about her.
"No, no, honey," he cooed abjectly, "I wouldn't hurt a fly. Me, I
was always a byword amongst my pards. They'd say, 'There goes Brick
Willock, what never harmed nobody.' When they kept me in at school
I never clumb out the window, and it was me got all the prize cards
at Sunday-school. How comes it, honey, that you ain't forgot to
talk like civilized beings?"
"Red Feather, him always put me with squaw that know English--that
been to school on the reservation. Never let me learn talk like
the Indians. Him always say some day take me to my own people.
But never said 'BIG HAIR.'"
"Did he tell you your mother died two years ago?"
"Yes--father, him dead, too. Both died in the plains. Father was
shot by robbers. Mother was left in big wagon--you bury her near
"Oh, ho! So your father was killed at the same time your mother was,
"Well--all right. And now you got nobody but me to look after you--
but you don't need no more; as long as I'm able to be up and about,
nothing is going to hurt you. Just you tell me what you want, and
it'll be did."
"Want to be ALL like white people; want to be just like mother."
"Well, I'll teach you as fur up as I've been myself. Your style of
talk ain't correct, but it was the best Red Feather could do by you.
Him and you lay down your words like stepping-stones for your
thoughts to step over; but just listen at me, how smooth and fine-
textured my language is, with no breaks or crevices from the
beginning of my periods to where my voice steps down to start on a
lower ledge. That's the way white people talks, not that they got
more to say than Injuns, but they fills in, and embodies everything,
like filling up cabin-walls with mud. I'll take you by the hand
right from where Red Feather left you, and carry you up the heights."
She examined him dubiously: "You know how?"
"I ain't no bell-wether in the paths of learning, honey, but Red
Feather is some miles behind me. What's your name?"
"Born that way, or Injunized?"
"Father before he died, him all time want to go settle in the
Oklahoma country--settle on a claim with mother. They go there two
times--three--but soldiers all time make them go back to Kansas.
So me, I was born and they named me Oklahoma--but all time they call
me Lahoma. That I must be called, Lahoma because that father and
mother all time call me. Lahoma, that my name." She inquired
anxiously, "You call me Lahoma?" She leaned forward, hands upon
knees, in breathless anxiety.
"You bet your life I will, Lahoma!"
"Then me stay all time with you--all time. And you teach me talk
right, and dress right, and be like mother and my white people?
You teach me all that?"
"That's the program. I'm going to civilize you--that means to make
you like white folks. It's going to take time, but the mountains
is full of time."
"You 'civilize' me right now?-- You begin today?" She started up
and stood erect with arms folded, evidently waiting for treatment.
"The process will be going on all the while you're associating with
me, honey. That chief, Red Feather--he has a daughter, hasn't he?"
"No; him say no girl, no boy." She spoke with confidence.
"I see. And your father's dead too, eh?" Evidently Red Feather
had thoroughly convinced her of the truth of these pretenses.
"Both--mother, father. Nobody but me." She knelt down at his side,
her face troubled. "If I had just one!"
"Can you remember either of them?"
"Oh, yes, yes--and Red Feather, him talk about them, talk, talk,
always say me be white with the white people some day. This is the
day. You make me like mother was. You civilize me--begin!" She
regarded him with dignified attention, her little hands locked about
her blanket where it lay folded below her knees. The cloud had
vanished from her face and her eyes sparkled with expectancy.
"I ain't got the tools yet, honey. They's no breaking up and
enriching land that ain't never bore nothing but buffalo-grass,
without I have picks and spades and plows and harrers. I got to get
my tools, to begin."
She stiffened herself. "You needn't be afraid I'll cry. I WANT
you to hurt me, if that the way."
"It ain't like a pain in the stomach, Lahoma. All I gets for you
will be some books. Them is the tools I'm going to operate with."
"Books? What are books?"
"Books?" Willock rubbed his bushy head in desperation. "Books?
Why, they is just thoughts that somebody has ketched and put in a
cage where they can't get away. You go and look at them thoughts
somebody capable has give rise to, and when you finds them as has
never ranged in your own brain, you captures 'em, puts your brand
on 'em, and serves 'em out in your own herd. You see, Lahoma, what
you think in your own brain ain't of no service, for YOU don't know
nothing. If you want to be civilized, you got to lasso other
people's thoughts--people as has went to and fro and has learned
life--and you got to dehorn them ideas, and tame 'em."
Lahoma examined him with new interest. "Are YOU civilized?" Her
"Not to no wide extent, but I can ford toler'ble deep streams that
would drown you, honey. Just put confidence in me, and when I get
over my head, I'll holler for help. I judge I can put five good
years' work on you without exhausting my stores. I can read amongst
the small words pretty peart--the young calves, so to say--and lots
of them big steers in three or four syllables,--I can sort o' guess
at their road-brands from the company I've saw 'em traveling with,
in times past. And I can write my own name, and yours too, I
reckon.--Lahoma Gledware--yes, I'm toler'ble well versed on a
capital 'G'--you just make a gap with a flying tail to it."
"My name NOT Lahoma Gledware," she interposed in some severity.
"My name, Lahoma Willock. Beautiful name--lovely, like flower
--Willock; call me Lahoma Willock--like song of little stream.
Brick Willock stared at her in amazement. "Where'd you get that
"My name Lahoma Willock--Red Feather tell me."
He smoked in silence, puffing rapidly. Then--"My name is Brick
Willock. How came you to be named Lahoma Willock?"
Lahoma suggested thoughtfully--"All white people named Willock?"
"There's a few," Willock shook his head, "with less agreeable names.
But after all, I'm glad you have my name. Yes--the more I think on
it, the more pleased I get. I reckon we're sort of kinfolks, anyhow.
Well, honey, this is enough talk about being civilized; now let's
make the first move on the way. You want to see your mother's grave,
and lay some of these wild flowers on it. That's a part of being
civilized, caring for graves is. It's just savages as forgets the
past and consequently never learns nothing. Come along. Them
moccasins will do famous until I can get you shoes from the
settlements. It's seventy mile to Vernon, Texas, and none too easy
miles. But I got a pony the first time I ventured to Doan's store,
and it'll carry you, if I have to walk at your side. We'll make a
festibul march of that journey, and lay in clothes as a girl should
wear, and books to last through the winter."
Willock rose and explained that they must cross the mountain. As
they traversed it, he reminded her that she had not gathered any of
the flowers that were scattered under sheltering boulders.
"Why?" asked Lahoma, showing that her neglect to do so was
"Well, honey, don't you love and honor that mother that bore so much
pain and trouble for you, traveling with you in her arms to the
Oklahoma country, trying to make a home for you up there in the
wilderness, and at last dying from the hardships of the plains.
Ain't she worth a few flowers."
"She dead. She not see flowers, not smell flowers, not know."
Willock said nothing, but the next time they came to a clump of
blossoms he made a nosegay. Lahoma watched him with a face as calm
and unemotional as that of Red Feather, himself. She held her back
with the erect grace and moved her limbs with the swift ease of
those among whom she had passed the last two years. In delightful
harmony with this air of wildness was the rich and delicate beauty
of her sun-browned face, and the golden glow of her silken brown
hair. Willock's heart yearned toward her as only the heart of one
destined to profound loneliness can yearn toward the exquisite grace
and unconscious charm of a child; but to the degree that he felt
this attraction, he held himself firmly aloof, knowing that wild
animals are frightened when kindness beams without its veil.
"What you do with that?" She pointed at the flowers in his rough
"I'm going to put 'em on your mother's grave."
"She not know. Not see, not smell. She dead, mother dead."
"Lahoma, do you know anything about God?"
"Yes--Great Spirit. God make my path white."
"Well, I want God to know that somebody remembers your mother. It's
God that smells the flowers on the graves of the dead."
They walked on. Pretty soon Lahoma began looking about for flowers,
but they had reached the last barren ledge, and no more came in
"Take these, Lahoma."
"No. Couldn't fool God." They began the last descent. Willock
suddenly discovered that tears were slipping down the girl's face.
He said nothing; he did not fear, now, for he thought the tears
promised a brighter dawning.
Suddenly Lahoma cried joyfully, "Oh, look, Brick, look!" And she
darted toward the spot at the foot of a tall cedar, where purple
and white blossoms showed in profusion. She gathered an armful,
and they went down to the plain.
"Her head's toward the west," he said, as they stood beside the pile
of stones. Lahoma placed the flowers at the Western margin of the
pyramid. Willock laid his at the foot of the grave. The sun had
set and the warmth of the heated sand was tempered by a fragrant
breeze. Though late in October, he felt as if spring were just
dawning. He took Lahoma's hand, and his heart throbbed to find that
she showed no disposition to draw away.
He looked up with a great sigh of thanksgiving. "Well, God," he
said softly, "here she is--You sure done it!"
During the two years passed by Brick Willock in dreary solitude,
conditions about him had changed. The hardships of pioneer life
which, fifty years ago, had obtained in the Middle States yet
prevailed, in 1882, in the tract of land claimed by Texas under the
name of Greer County; but the dangers of pioneer life were greatly
lessened. As Lahoma made the acquaintance of the mountain-range,
and explored the plain extending beyond the natural horseshoe,
Willock believed she ran little danger from Indians. He, himself,
had ceased to preserve his unrelaxing watchfulness; after all, it
had been the highwaymen rather than the red men whom he had most
feared--and after two years it did not seem likely that such
volatile men would pre serve the feeling of vengeance.
With the wisdom derived from his experience with wild natures, he
carefully abstained from any attempt to force Lahoma's friendship,
hence it was not long before he obtained it without reserve. As she
walked beside him, grave and alert, she no longer thought of his
bushy beard and prodigious mop of harsh hair; and the daily
exhibition of his strength caused him to grow handsome in her eyes
because most of those feats were performed for her comfort or
pleasure. In the meantime he talked incessantly, and to his
admiration, he presently found her manner of speech wonderfully like
his own, both fluent and ungrammatical.
He knew nothing of grammar, to be sure, but there were times when
his mistakes, echoed from her lips, struck upon his ear, and though
he might not always know how to correct them, he was prompt to
suggest changes, testing each, as a natural musician judges music,
by ear. Dissatisfied with his own standards, he was all the more
impatient to depart on the expedition after mental tools, despite
the dangers that might beset the journey.
His first task prompted by the coming of Lahoma, had been to
partition off the half of the dugout containing the stove for the
child's private chamber. Cedar posts set in the ground and
plastered with mud higher than his head, left a space between the
top and the apex of the ceiling that the temperature might be
equalized in both rooms. Thus far, however, they did not stay in
the dugout except long enough to eat and sleep, for the autumn had
continued delightful, and the cove seemed to the child her home, of
which the dugout was a sort of cellar. Concerning the stone retreat
in the crevice she knew nothing. Willock did not know why he kept
the secret, since he trusted Lahoma with all his treasures, but the
unreasoning reticence of the man of great loneliness still rested
on him. Some day, he would tell--but not just yet.
"Lahoma," he said one day, "there's a settler over yonder in the
mountains across the south plain. How'd you like to pay him a
"I don't want anybody but you," said Lahoma promptly.
Willock stood on one leg, rubbing the other meditatively with his
delighted foot. Not the quiver of a muscle, however, revealed the
fact that her words had flooded his heart with sunshine. "Well,
honey, that's in reason. But I've got to take you with me after
books and winter supplies, and I don't like the idea of traveling
alone. It come to me that I might get Mr. Settler to go, too. Time
was not so long ago when Injun bands was coming and going, and
although old Greer is beginning to be sprinkled up with settlers,
here and there, I can't get over the feel of the old times. They
ain't no sensation as sticks by a man when he's come to be wedged
in between forty-five and fifty, as the feel of the old times."
"Well," said Lahoma earnestly, "I wish you'd leave me here when you
go after them books. I don't want to be with no strangers, I want
to just squat right here and bear myself company."
"That's in reason. But, honey, while you might be safe enough
whilst bearing the same, I would be plumb crazy worrying about you.
I might not have good cause for worrying, but worrying--it ain't no
bird that spreads its wings and goes north when cold weather comes;
worrying--it's independent of causes and seasons."
"If you have got to be stayed with to keep you from worrying, they
ain't nothing more to be said."
"Just so. That there old settler, I have crossed a few words with
him, and I believe he would do noble to travel with. He's as gruff
and growly as a grizzly bear if you say a word to him, and if he'll
just turn all that temper he's vented on me on to any strangers we
may run up against on the trail, he'll do invaluable."
"I'll go catch up the pony," said Lahoma briefly, "for I see the
thing is to be did. This will be the first visit I ever made in my
life when I wasn't drug by the Injuns."
"You mustn't say 'drug,' honey, unless specifying medicines and
herbs. I ain't saying you didn't get it from me, and knowing you
do get from me all I got, is what makes me hone for them books.
You must say 'dragged.' The Injuns DRAGGED you from one village to
another." He paused meditatively, muttering the word to himself,
while Lahoma ran away to catch the pony. When she came back,
leading it by the mane, he said, "I've been a-weighing that word,
Lahoma, and it don't seem to me that 'dragged' sounds proper. It
don't seem no sort of word to use in a parlor. What do you think?
DRAGGED! How does that strike you?"
"I don't like the sound of it, neither," said Lahoma, shaking her
head. "I think DRUG is softer. It kinder melts in the ear, and
"Well, don't use neither one till I can find out." Presently he
was swinging along across the plain toward the southwestern range
while the girl kept close beside him on the pony. Their talk was
incessant, voicing the soul of good comradeship, and but for the
difference between heavy bass and fluty soprano, a listener might
have supposed himself overhearing a conversation between two Brick
There was nothing about the second range of the Wichita Mountains
to distinguish it from the one farthest toward the northeast except
a precipice at its extremity, rising a sheer three or four hundred
feet above the level plain. Beyond this lofty termination, the
mountain curved inward, leaving a wide grassy cove open toward the
south; and within this half-circle was the settler's dugout.
The unprotected aspect of that little home was in itself an eloquent
commentary on the wonderful changes that had come about during the
last seventeen years. The oval tract of one million five hundred
thousand acres lying between Red River and its fork, named Greer
County, and claimed by Texas, was in miniature a reproduction of the
early history of America. Until 1860 it had not even borne a name,
and since then it had possessed no settled abodes. Here bands of
Indians of various tribes had come and gone at will, and here the
Indians of the Plains, after horrible deeds of depredation, massacre
and reprisal, had found shelter among its mountains. The country
lay at the southwest corner of Indian Territory for which the
Indians had exchanged their lands in other parts of the United
States on the guarantee that the government would "forever secure
to them and their heirs the country so exchanged with them."
At the close of the Civil War the unhappy Indians long continued in
a state of smoldering animosity, or warlike activity, tribe against
tribe, band against band; they had inherited the rancor and
bitterness of the White Man's war with neither the fruits of victory
nor the dignity that attends honorable defeat. The reservations
that belonged originally to the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw,
Seminole and Creek tribes, were reduced in area to make room for new
tribes from Kansas, Colorado and other states, and the Indian wars
resulted. For a time the scalp-knife was crimsoned, the stake was
charred, bands stole in single file over mountains and among
half-dried streams; troups of the regular army were assaulted by
invisible foes, and forts were threatened. Youths who read romances
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