John Breckinridge Ellis
Part 4 out of 5
follow too soon."
There were three stage-coaches drawn up at a short distance from
the platform, and Lahoma went swiftly to the one bound for her part
of the country. She was the first to enter; she was seated quietly
in a corner when the two long seats that faced each other began
filling up. The last to come were four men: one, tall, slender,
red-faced and red-haired, two others of dark and lowering faces, who
looked upon the former as their leader, and the last, Wilfred
Compton, who had unobtrusively joined himself to this remnant of Red
The stage, which was built after the manner of the old-fashioned
omnibus, afforded no opportunity of moving to and fro in the
selection of seats, hence, when Red Kimball discovered Lahoma's
identity--the exact moment of the discovery was marked by his
violent start--she was safeguarded from his approach by her
proximity to a very large woman flanked by a thin spinster. These
were two sisters, going to the evening's station where the coach
would stop for supper, and Lahoma discussed with them their plans
and hopes with bright cheerfulness and ready friendship.
Wilfred watched Red Kimball as he glared in that direction, and
guessed his thoughts. Although Kimball knew Lahoma, he was not sure
that she knew him; and though he was convinced at once that she was
on a mission of warning, that might be true without her knowing that
he had left Kansas City. Red Kimball was burning to find out if he
were a stranger to her, but at the same time fearful of disclosing
himself. He muttered to his companions hoarsely, careful that
Wilfred, whom he regarded askance, should overhear nothing that he
The situation was such as could not very well continue during the
days it would take the coach to reach Mangum but although Wilfred
was conscious of the strain, he felt excitedly happy. Very little
of his attention was given to Kimball, and a great deal to Lahoma.
She was talking to the sisters about the baby of the one and the
chickens of the other, offering advice on both subjects from the
experience of a certain Mrs. Featherby whom she had known as a
"Mrs. Featherby was a very wonderful woman," Lahoma announced with
conviction, "and the first woman I ever knew. And when her baby was
teething..." The very large lady listened with great attention.
"She told me this when I was a small girl," Wilfred presently heard
Lahoma saying. "And I treasured it in my mind. I stored myself
with her experience about everything there is. It came to me, then,
that if she moved away from Headquarters Mountain--that's my
mountain--maybe no other woman would ever come there to live; so I
stored myself, because I was determined to learn the business of
being a woman."
The large woman gazed upon her admiringly. "I guess you learned,
They had not gone five miles before the large woman and her younger
sister were in love with Lahoma--but it hadn't taken Wilfred five
miles. As he listened to her bright suggestions, and noted her
living eyes, her impulsive gestures--for she could not talk without
making little movements with her hands--and her flexible sympathetic
voice, he saw her moving about a well-ordered household.... It was
on his farm, of course; and the house was his,--and she was his
Red Kimball watched her with the same sidewise attention, but his
face was brooding, his half-veiled eyes were red and threatening.
What would happen in the nighttime as the stage pursued its lonely
way across the bleak prairie? Since Red Kimball meant to appeal to
the law in his revenge against Brick, there was no danger of his
transgressing it openly. But in the darkness with two unscrupulous
companions under his command, he would most probably execute some
scheme to prevent Lahoma from reaching her destination.
The evening shadows were stretching far toward the east from the few
trees that marked the dried bed of a stream, when the coach stopped
among a collection of hovels and tents. As the horses were led away,
the passengers dismounted, and both Wilfred and Red Kimball
hurriedly drew close to Lahoma.
Lahoma, however, appeared unaware of their presence. The sisters
had been met by the husband of the older, and as they gathered about
the big wagon, Lahoma was urged to go home with them to supper.
"We're only a little ways out," she was told, "and we'll sure get
you back before the stage leaves--the victuals at the station ain't
fit to eat."
A very little insistence induced Lahoma to comply, and both the
young man and the former highwayman saw her go with disappointment.
Kimball and his friends went into the "Dining Hall" to gulp down a
hasty meal, and Wilfred entered with them. He remained only a
moment, however, just long enough to purchase a number of sandwiches
which he stored away, as if meaning to eat them in the coach.
As soon as he was in the single street with the door closed behind
him, he darted toward the stage barn, and by means of a handsome
deposit obtained two horses. Springing upon one, he rode rapidly
from the settlement, leading the other, and in a short time, came
in sight of a cabin, which, with its outhouses, was the only
building in all the wide expanse. From its appearance he knew it
to be the one described to Lahoma, and he galloped up to the door
with the certainty of finding her within. The big wagon had been
unhitched, and the horses were fastened to its wheels, eating from
The family was about to sit down to supper; the first to discover
Wilfred as he flitted past the single window in the side of the
cabin, was Lahoma. Before he could knock on the door, she had
"Oh, Wilfred!" she reproached him, "they'll miss you and know you've
come to consult with me about warning Brick."
"Quick, Lahoma!" said Wilfred, as if she had not spoken, "you can
ride a horse, I suppose?" He smiled, but his eyes were sparkling
In a flash, Lahoma's face was glowing with enthusiasm. She looked
back into the room and cried, "Good-by!" Then Wilfred swung her to
the back of the led horse. "We'll beat 'em!" cried Lahoma, as he
sprang upon his horse. "Fast as you please--I've never been left
The young man noted with sudden relief that she was dressed for the
hardships of the prairie. It came to him with a sense of wonder
that he had not noticed that before, perhaps from never having seen
her in fashionable attire. As they galloped from the cabin, from
whose door looked astonished faces, Lahoma answered his thought--
"Up there," she said, nodding her head toward the East, "I dressed
for people--but out here, for wind and sand."
Looking back, she saw the family running out of the cottage, waving
handkerchiefs and bonnets as in the mad joy of congratulation.
"They think we're running away together!" shouted Wilfred with
exultation. The hurry of their flight, the certainty of pursuit,
the prospect of dangers from man and nature, thrilled his blood,
fixed his jaw, illumined his eye. All life seemed suddenly a flight
across a level world whose cloud of yellow dust enveloped only
himself and Lahoma. "They think we're running away together. Look
at them, Lahoma. How happy they are at the idea!"
"They don't know there's nobody to object, if we don't," returned
Lahoma gaily, as she urged on her steed. "Come along, Wilfred,"
she taunted, as his horse fell a neck behind hers, "what are you
staying back THERE for? Tired? If we get into the trail before
that coach starts, we'll have to put on all speed."
"Doing my best," he called, "but I made a bad bargain when I got
this beast. This is his best lick, and it doesn't promise to last
long. However, it was the only one left at the barn."
Lahoma slightly checked her animal. "That's a good thing,
anyway--if there's none left, those horrible men can't follow."
Wilfred did not answer. He was sure the stage would be driven in
pursuit at breakneck speed, and from the breathing of his horse he
feared it could not long endure the contest. To be sure, Red
Kimball and his men had no lawful excuse to offer the stage-driver
for an attempt to stop them; but three men who had once been
desperate highwaymen might not look for lawful excuses on a dark
night in a dreary desert. Besides, Kimball might, with some show
of reason, argue that since he was bent on the legitimate object of
having a writ served on Brick Willock, he would be justified in
preventing Brick from being warned out of the country.
They galloped on in silence, Lahoma slightly holding back. Night
rapidly drew on.
Before them, the trail, beaten and rutted, stretched interminably,
losing itself in the darkness before it slipped over the rounded
margin of the world. As darkness increased, the trail seemed to
waver before their eyes like a gray scarf that the wind stirs on
the ground. On either side of it, the nature of the country varied
with strange abruptness, now an unbroken stretch of dead sage-brush
showing like isolated tufts in a gigantic clothes-brush--suddenly,
a wilderness of white sand shifting as the wind rose--again, broken
rocks sown broadcast. Before final darkness came, the trail itself
was varicolored, sometimes white with alkali, sometimes skirting low
hills whose sides showed a deep blue, streaked with crimson.
But now all was black, sand, alkali, gypsum-beds, for the night had
In their wide detour they had endeavored to escape detection from
the stage-station, but sheltered by no appreciable inequalities of
land, and denied the refuge that even a small grove might have
furnished, they had, as it were, been held up to view on the
prairie; and though so far away, their horses had been as distinctly
outlined as two ants scurrying across a white page.
Wilfred reflected. "If Kimball, when he came out of that
restaurant, happened to look in this direction, he must have seen
us; and the first inquiry at the barn would inform him who're on
the horses.' But he said nothing until, from the rear, came the
sound long-dreaded, telling, though far away, of bounding horses
and groaning wheels.
"Yes--I hear them."
"My horse is about used up. We'll have to side-trail, or they'll
ride us down."
"I could go on," Lahoma answered, as she drew bard on the bit, "but
I wouldn't like to leave you here by yourself."
"You couldn't travel that distance by yourself. And good as your
horse is, it wouldn't last. But thank you for thinking of me," he
added, smiling in the darkness, as he dismounted. "Let me lead your
horse as well as my own."
"No," said Lahoma, "if leading is to be done, I'll do my part."
She leaped lightly to the ground and seized her bridle. Side by
side they slowly ventured from the trail into the invisible country
on the left. They found themselves treading short dead mesquit that
did not greatly obstruct their progress.
"Keep going," Wilfred said, when she paused for breath. "It
wouldn't do for our horses to whinny, for those fellows would hear
them if it was thundering. Give me your hand."
"Here it is," Lahoma felt about in the darkness. "My! but I'm glad
I've got you, Wilfred! Oh, how they are dashing along! Listen how
the man is lashing his whip over those four horses. Wish we could
see 'em--must be grand, tearing along at that rate!"
The stage was rapidly coming up abreast of them, and Wilfred felt
her grasp tighten. There was a flash of lights, a glimpse of the
driver's face as of creased leather as he raised his whip above his
head--then noise and cloud of dust passed on and the lights became
trailing sparks that in a minute or two the wind seemed to blow out.
"My poor Brick!" Lahoma wailed. "Do you think he'll take good
enough care of himself from what I wrote in my letters? But no, he
doesn't think Red Kimball is coming yet, for I didn't know it till
after I'd written. He's with Bill now, waiting for another letter.
Or for a telegram."
"No, no, Lahoma," Wilfred tried to sooth her. "He has been hiding
for days. Why should he come out just at the wrong time? You wrote
that you'd not send any more messages. Brick will be on the lookout
for Kimball. He is sure to be watching out for him."
"I know Brick," Lahoma protested, seemingly all at once overcome by
the fatigues of her journey and the hopelessness of the situation.
"I was afraid he wouldn't agree to hide at all; and just as soon as
you came away, and there wasn't any more prospects of letters, he'd
get lonesome, and tire of staying away from home. He's in that cove
this minute, and he'll be there when Red Kimball takes the sheriff
after him." Her voice quivered with distress.
"Don't be afraid, Lahoma," urged Wilfred, slipping his arm protectingly
about her. "Don't grieve--I'm sure Brick is in a safe place."
"Well, I'M not in danger," said Lahoma, with-drawing from his
involuntary embrace. "Don't take ME for Brick! Maybe you're
right--but no, I'm sure he wouldn't be willing to stay out in the
mountains week after week--and during these cold nights! For it is
cold, right now. We must hurry on, Wilfred."
"There's one comfort," said Wilfred, as they retraced their way
toward the trail. "Mr. Gledware won't appear as a witness against
Brick. We'll get him cleared, easy enough."
"But Mr. Gledware WILL appear against him, and he'll swear anything
that Red Kimball wants."
"I thought he agreed to do that only on condition that a certain
"YES! But Red Kimball brought him that pin just before I left!"
"Brought him the pin that the Indian had?"
"Yes, the pearl and onyx pin. And Mr. Gledware seemed to consider
it so important that I know Red Feather would never have given it
up while he had life."
Lahoma shuddered. "YES! You see, NOW, what a fiend Red Kimball is.
And you know, NOW, what a hold he has over Mr. Gledware,--can make
him testify in such a way as to ruin my poor Brick. If Brick knew
this, he'd understand how important it is to flee for his life and
never, never let himself be taken. But he thinks nobody could get
the better of Red Feather. You see, if he just dreamed what has
happened, he'd KNOW Mr. Gledware can convict him."
"We must reach Brick Willock before Red Kimball gets his warrant!"
exclaimed Wilfred desperately.
"Yes, we must, we must!" Lahoma was growing slightly hysterical.
"I won't mind any hardship, any danger--but what are we to do? You
won't let me ride on alone--and you wouldn't be willing to leave me
here and take the good horse yourself."
"You're quite right about that!" returned the young man promptly.
"We can only mount again, and go as fast as my miserable beast can
travel, hoping for some chance to come our way. We have the
advantage of not being in the stage where Kimball could keep an eye
"I ought to be more thankful for that than I am," Lahoma sighed.
They mounted, but as they rode forward, Wilfred's horse lagged more
"It's slow sailing," Wilfred remarked, "but it will give us a chance
to talk. By the way, do you feel ready for supper?" From his
overcoat pocket he drew forth the sandwiches.
It seemed to Lahoma to show an unfeeling heart to experience hunger
at such a time, and to find the ham sandwiches good; but it was none
the less true that they were good, and the mustard with which the
ham was plastered added a tang of hope and returned a defiant answer
to the cold inquiry of the north wind.
After they had eaten and the remaining sandwiches had been carefully
stowed away in Wilfred's capacious pocket, they pressed forward with
renewed energy on the part of all save Wilfred's horse. By dint of
constant urging it was kept going faster than a walk though it was
obsessed by a consuming desire to lie down. In order to keep
Lahoma's mind from dwelling on their difficulties and on Brick's
peril, the young man maintained conversation at high pressure, ably
seconded by his companion who was anxious to show herself undaunted.
Wilfred chose as the topic to engage Lahoma's mind, the future of
Oklahoma Territory. The theme filled him with enthusiasm such as
no long-settled commonwealth is able to inspire, and though Lahoma
considered herself a Texan, she was able to enter into his spirit
from having always lived at the margin of the new country. Wilfred
dwelt on the day when Oklahoma would no longer be represented in
congress by a delegate without the right to vote, but would take its
place as a state whose constitution should be something new and
inspiring in the history of civil documents.
Wilfred meant to have a part in the framing of that constitution
and as he outlined some of his theories of government, Lahoma
listened with quick sympathy and appreciation. A new feeling for
him, something like admiration, something like pride, stirred within
her. Here was a man who meant to do things, things eminently worth
a man's time and strength; and yet, for all his high purposes, there
was no look, no tone, to indicate that he held himself at a higher
valuation than those for whom he meant to labor. As in time of
stress the strongest man is given the heaviest burden, so he seemed
to take to himself a leading part in the future of his country that
all who dwelt within its borders might find it a freer, a richer,
a better country because of him.
"You'll call me ambitious," said Wilfred, glowing. "Well, I am.
You'll accuse me of wanting power. So I do!"
Her eyes flashed. "And I'm ambitious for you!" she cried. "Go
ahead and get power. Take the earth! Don't stop till you reach
the sea--that's the spirit of the West. But how did you ever think
of these things?"
"During my long winters on my quarter-section, nobody in sight--just
the prairie and me. Nothing else to think about except the country
that's new-born. So I studied out a good many things, just thinking
about Oklahoma and--and--"
Lahoma said softly, "I KNEW there was SOMETHING ELSE you thought
"Yes," exclaimed Wilfred, thrilled. "Yes--there WAS something
"A little girl, I guess," murmured Lahoma gently, with a touch of
compassion in her tone.
"You've guessed it, Lahoma--yes, the dearest little girl in the
"I wish she could have cared for you--THAT way--like your voice
sounds," murmured Lahoma.
"Maybe she can," Wilfred's voice grew firmer. "Yes--she MUST!"
"Have you found a gold-mine?"
"What are you talking about, Lahoma? What has a gold-mine to do
"Because nothing else goes," returned Lahoma decisively. "You might
get single statehood for Oklahoma, and write the constitution
yourself, and be elected governor--but you'd look just the same to
Annabel, unless you had a gold-mine."
Wilfred gave a jerk at his bridle. "Who's talking about Annabel?"
he cried rather sharply. He had forgotten that there was an
"Everybody is," returned Lahoma, somewhat sharply on her own
account, "everybody is, or ought to be!"
"_I_ am not," retorted Wilfred, springing to the ground just in
time--for his horse, on being checked, had promptly lain down.
"Then that's what you get!" remarked Lahoma severely, staring down
at the dark blur on the trail which her imagination correctly
interpreted as the horse stretched out on its side.
The wind increased in fury. Fortunately it was at their back.
Wilfred pressed forward on foot, leading Lahoma's horse; and, partly
on account of their unequal position, partly because of awkward
reserve, no more was said for a long time. She bent forward to
shelter her face from the stinging blast while he trod firmly and
methodically on and on, braced slightly backward against the wind,
which was like a hand pushing him forward.
The voice of the wind filled the night. It whistled and shrieked
in minor keys, dying away at brief intervals to come again with a
rush and roar. It penetrated him to the bone, for he had compelled
her to wrap herself in his overcoat, and when the first stinging
grains of fiercely driven sleet pelted his cheek, he smothered a cry
of dismay over her exposed situation.
It could not be far past midnight. The prospect of a snow-storm in
the bleak lands of the Kiowa appalled him, but even while facing
that possibility his mind was busy with Lahoma's attitude toward
himself. Evidently it had never occurred to her that Annabel had
vanished from his fancy years ago; now that she knew, she was
displeased--most unreasonably so, he thought. Lahoma did not
approve of Annabel--why should she want him to remain passively
under her yoke? Unconsciously his form stiffened in protest as he
trudged forward. The wind, so far from showing signs of abatement,
slightly increased, no longer with intervals of pause. The sleet
changed rapidly first to snow, then to rain--then hail, snow and
rain alternated, or descended simultaneously, always driven with
cruel force by the relentless wind.
At last Lahoma shouted, "It's a regular norther! How're you getting
Despite their discomfort, his heart leaped at this unexpected note
of comradeship. Had she already forgiven him for not loving
Annabel? "Oh, Lahoma!" he cried with sudden tenderness, "what will
become of you?"
She returned gravely, "What will become of Brick? Northers are bad,
but not so bad as some men--Red Kimball, for instance." A terrific
blast shook the half-frozen overcoat about her shoulders as if to
snatch it away. "Don't you wish the Indians built their villages
closer to the trail? Ugh! Hadn't we better burrow a storm-cellar
in the sand? I feel awfully high up in the air."
"Believe I'll walk with you, Wilfred; I'm turning to a lady-icicle."
"Do! I know it would warm you up--a little." His teeth showed an
inclination to chatter. "Come--I'll help you down. Can you find
At that moment the horse gave a violent lunge, then came to a
standstill, quivering and snorting with fright. Wilfred's groping
arm found the saddle empty.
"I didn't have to climb down," announced her uncertain voice from
a distance. It came seemingly from the level of the plain.
"You've fallen--you are hurt!" he exclaimed, but he could not go to
her because the horse refused to budge from the spot and he dared
not loosen his hold.
"Well, I'm a little warmer, anyway!" Her voice approached slowly.
"That was quick exercise; I didn't know I was going to do it till
I was down. Lit on my feet, anyhow. Why don't you come to meet
"This miserable beast won't move a foot. Come and hold him, Lahoma,
while I examine in front, to find out what's scared him."
"All right. Where are you? Can you find my hand?"
"Can't I!" retorted Wilfred, clasping it in a tight grasp.
"Gracious, how wet we are!" she panted, "and blown about. And
"And scolded," he added plaintively.
"But, Wilfred, it never entered my mind that l was the little girl.
Would I have brought up the subject if I'd known the truth? I never
would. That's why I felt you took advantage ... a man ought to
bring up that subject himself even if I AM a girl out West and--"
"And not another word do I want you to say about it. EVER. At
least, tonight. PLEASE, Wilfred! So I can think about it. I'll
hold the horse--you go on and find out what's the matter.
"Besides, you said--you KNOW you said, when we were
strolling--that--that I didn't understand such matters. And that
you'd tell me when it was TIME...."
"It's time now, Lahoma, time for you to be somebody's
sweetheart--and you said--you KNOW you said, when we were
strolling--that I'd fill the bill for you."
"But I brought up the subject myself, and I mean to close it, right
short off, for it's a man's subject. Oh, how trembly this horse
"Well, what is it?"
"I just wanted to say your name." He started away. "It sounds good
"Yes, it stands for Oklahoma."
"It stands for much more than that!" he called.
"Yes," she persisted in misunderstanding him, "something big and
"Not so big," he cried, now at some distance, but what there's room
for more than Brick and Bill in the cove!"
If she answered, the wind drowned her words. With extended arms he
groped along the trail with exceeding caution. Suddenly his foot
touched an object which on examination proved to be a human body,
a gaping wound in its breast.
"Found anything?" called Lahoma, her voice shivering.
He rose quickly and almost stumbled over another object. It was a
second body, stiffened in death.
"I'll be there in a minute," he called, his voice grave and steady.
After a brief pause he added--"I've found one of the horses--it's
"Oh, oh!" she exclaimed. "They've driven it to death."
Wilfred had found a bullet hole behind its ear, but he said nothing.
Suddenly the horse held by Lahoma gave a plunge, broke away and went
galloping back over the trail they had traversed, pursued by
Lahoma's cry of dismay. "I couldn't hold him," she gasped. "He
lifted me clear off the ground...."
Wilfred was also dismayed, but he preserved an accent of calm as he
felt his way toward her, uttering encouragement for which their
condition offered no foundation. But his forced cheerfulness
suddenly changed to real congratulation when his extended hand
struck against an upright wheel.
"Lahoma, here's the stage-coach. It's standing just as we saw it
last, except for the horses."
"The stage-coach!" she marveled, coming toward him. "Oh, Wilfred,
I see now what's happened. One of the horses dropped dead, and Red
Kimball and his men jumped on the other three.... But I wonder what
became of the driver?"
"Get inside!" he ordered. "Thank God, we've found SOMETHING that
we can get inside of. That'll shelter us till morning, anyway, and
then we can determine what's to be done."
Once in the coach, they were safe from the wind which howled above
and around them, rattling the small windows and making the springs
creak. There was no help for the discomfort of soaking garments,
but Wilfred lighted a reserve lantern and placed it in a corner,
while thick leather cushions and stage-blankets offered some
prospect of rest.
As no plans could be formed until morning revealed their real
plight, they agreed that all conversation should be foregone in
order to recuperate from the hardships of the day for the trials of
tomorrow. Lahoma soon fell asleep after her exhausting journey of
a day and half a night since leaving the train at Chickasha.
For hours Wilfred sat opposite, staring at her worn face, pathetic
in its youthful roundness from which the bloom had vanished,
wondering at her grace, beauty, helplessness and perfect faith in
him. That faith revealed in every line of the form lying along the
seat, and spoke from the unconscious face from which the brown hair
was outspread to dry.
How oddly her voice had sounded, how strange had been its accent
when she said, "It never entered my mind that _I_ was the little
girl!" Had she been sorry for the thought to come? Did she think
less of him because he had not remained true to Annabel? Would it
not have been far better to wait until reaching their destination
before hinting of love? Even while perplexed over these problems,
and while charmed by that appealing face with the softly parted
lips, by the figure that stirred in the rhythm of slumber, other
thoughts, other objects weighed upon him--the two dead men, the dead
horse just outside. One of those men might be Red Kimball; other
bodies might lie there which he had failed to discover. Had the
stage been attacked by Indians, or by white desperadoes who found
shelter in the Kiowa country? In either case, might not the enemy
be hovering about the trail, possibly waiting to descend on the
Armed and watchful, Wilfred waited through the hours. When no
longer able to bear the uncertainty, he crept from the stage with
the lantern, and examined the recent scene of a furious struggle.
There were only two slain--the driver and one of Red Kimball's
companions. Either Kimball and his other comrade had escaped, or
had been captured. If any of the attacking party had fallen, the
bodies had been borne away. Blood-stains indicated that more than
two had been shot. From that ghastly sight it was a relief to find
himself once more enclosed by the coach walls with Lahoma so
Once he fell into a doze from which he was startled by the
impression that soft noises, not of wind or rain, were creeping over
the earth. He sat erect with the confused fancy that wolves were
slinking among the wheels, were glaring up at the windows, were
dragging away the corpses. The sudden movement of his hand as it
grasped his pistol awoke Lahoma.
She opened her eyes wide, but did not lift her cheek from the arm
that lay along the cushion. "There you are," she said, "just as I
He pretended not to be uneasy, but his ears strained to catch the
meaning of those mysterious movements of the night. Her voice cut
across the vague murmur of the open plain:
"You only came once!"
Although her eyes were wide, she was apparently but half-awake; not
a muscle moved as she looked into his face. "I thought," she
murmured, "it was on account of Annabel."
"I went away because I loved you," he answered softly. "I promised
Brick I'd go if I felt myself caring--and nobody could help caring
for you. That's why I left the country. Just as soon as we laughed
together--it happened. That's why I didn't come again."
"Yes," sighed Lahoma, as if it was not so hard to understand, now.
"And that's why I've come back," he added. "Because I've kept on
"Yes," she sighed again. She closed her eyes and seemed to fall
asleep. Perhaps it was a sort of knowing sleep that lost most of
the world but clung tenaciously to a few ideas. The noises of the
night died away. Presently he heard her murmur as a little smile
crept about the parted lips, "The cove's pretty big ... there's more
room than I thought."
When she was wide awake, daylight had slipped through the windows.
"Oh, Wilfred!" she exclaimed, sitting suddenly erect, and putting
her hands to her head mechanically. "Is--are we all right?"
"All right," said the young man cheerily. "There's a good deal of
snow on the ground but it was blown off the trail for the most part.
Some friends have provided us with the means of going forward."
"But I don't understand.'
"We'll finish the sandwiches, and melt some snow for water, and then
mount. Look--see those two Indian ponies fastened to the tongue of
the stage? They'll carry us to the next station like the wind."
She stared from the window, bewildered.
"I don't know any more about them than you," he answered her
thoughts. "But there they are and here we are." He said nothing
about the bodies evidently carried away by those who had brought
the ponies. "It's all a mystery--a mystery of the plains. I
haven't unraveled the very first thread of--it. What's the use?
The western way is to take what comes, isn't it, whether northers
or ponies? There's a much bigger mystery than all that filling my
"What is that?"
She bent over the sandwich with heightened color. "Poor Brick!"
she murmured as if to divert his thoughts. But his sympathy just
then was not for Brick.
"Lahoma, you said that this is a subject a man should bring up."
She looked at him brightly, still flushing. "Well?"
"I'm bringing it up, Lahoma."
"But we must be planning to save Brick from arrest."
"I'm hoping we'll get home in time--note that I say HOME, Lahoma.
I refer to the cove. I'm hoping we'll reach home in time to
forestall Red Kimball. We've lost a great deal of time, but Brick
doubtless is safely hiding. And when we get to the journey's
end--Lahoma, do you know what naturally comes at the journey's end?"
"I thought that was what you meant."
"Will you marry me at the journey's end?"
Lahoma turned very red and laid down the sandwich. Then she
laughed. Then she started up. "Let's get on the ponies!" she
The snow, that morning, lay in drifts from five to eight inches
across the trail, and to the height of several feet up against those
rock walls raising, as on vast artificial tables, the higher
stretches of the Kiowa country. But by noon the plain was scarcely
streaked with white and when the sun set there was nothing to
suggest that a snowflake had ever fallen in that sand-strewn world.
The interminable reaches, broken only by the level uplands marked
from the plain by their perpendicular walls, and the Wichita
Mountains, as faint and unsubstantial to the eye as curved images
of smoke against the sky--these dreary monotonies and remotenesses
naturally oppress the traveler with a sense of his insignificance.
The vast silences, too, of brooding, treeless wastes, sun-baked
river-beds, shadowless brown squares standing for miles at a brief
height above the shadowless brown floor of the plain--silences
amidst which only the wind finds a voice--these, too, insist
drearily on the nothingness of man.
But Wilfred and Lahoma were not thus affected. The somethingness
of man had never to them been so thrillingly evident. They saw and
heard that which was not, except for those having eyes and ears to
apprehend--roses in the sand, bird-song in the desert. And when the
rude cabins and hasty tents of the last stage-station in Greer
County showed dark and white against the horizon of a spring-like
morning, Wilfred cried exultantly:
"The end of the journey!"
And Lahoma, suddenly showing in her cheeks all the roses that had
opened in her dreams, repeated gaily, yet a little brokenly:
"The end of the journey!"
The end of the journey meant a wedding. The plains blossom with
endless flower-gardens and the mountains sing together when the end
of the journey means a wedding.
Leaving Lahoma at the small new hotel from whose boards the sun
began boiling out resin as soon as it was well aloft, Wilfred
hurried after a fresh horse to carry him at once to the cove, ten
miles away. Warning must be given to Brick Willock first of all.
Lahoma even had a wild hope that Brick might devise some means
whereby he could attend the wedding without danger of arrest, but
to Wilfred this seemed impossible.
He had gone but a few steps from the hotel when he came face to face
with the sheriff of Greer County. Cutting short his old friend's
outburst of pleasure:
"Look here, Mizzoo," said Wilfred, drawing him aside from the
curious throng on the sidewalk, "have you got a warrant against
Mizzoo tapped his breast. "Here!", he said; "know where he is?"
Wilfred sighed with relief: "At any rate, YOU don't!" he cried.
"No--'rat him! Where're you going, Bill?"
"I want a horse..."
"No use riding over to the cove," remarked his friend, with a grin.
"That is, unless you want to call on some friends of mine--deputies;
they're living in the dugout, just laying for Brick to show himself."
"But, MIZZOO!" expostulated Wilfred, "why are you taking so much
trouble against my best friend? The warrant ought to be enough;
and if you can't get a chance to serve it on him, that's not your
fault. Your deputies haven't any right in that cove, and I'm going
to smoke 'em out."
Mizzoo chewed, with a deprecatory shake of his head. "See here,
old tap," he murmured, "don't you say nothing about being Brick
Willock's friend. The whole country is roused against him. Heard
of them three bodies?"
Wilfred explained that he had just come to town.
"Well, good lord, then, the pleasure I'm going to have in telling
you something you don't know, and something that's full of meat!
Let's go wheres we can sit down--this ain't no standing news." The
lank red-faced sheriff started across the street without looking to
see if he were followed.
He did not stop till he was in his room at the hotel. "Now," he
said, locking the door, "sit down. Yes, you BET. I got a warrant
against Brick Willock! It was sworn out by a fellow named Jeremiah
Kimball--you know him as 'Red.' The form's regular, charges
weighty. Brick Willock was once a member of Red Kimball's gang;
he's the only one that didn't come in to get his amnesty. See?
Well, he killed Red's brother--shot 'im. Gledware's coming on to
witness to it. Willock will claim he done the deed to save
Gledware's life--his and his little gal's. But Gledware will show
it was otherwise. Red told me all about it. Brick's a murderer,
and worst of all, he's a murderer without an amnesty--that's the
only difference between him and Red. Well, old tap, I took my oath
to do my duty. You know what that signifies."
"But there's no truth in all this rot. Brick HAD to shoot Kansas
"Well, let him show that in court. My business is to take him
alive. That ain't all, that's just the preface. Listen! If you'll
believe me, the stage that Red and his pards was in--coming here to
swear out the warrant, they was--that there stage was set on by this
friend of yours--yes, Brick has gathered together some of his old
pards and is a highwayman--why, he shot one of Red's witnesses, and
he shot the driver!"
"I know something about that holdup," cried Wilfred scornfully.
"It must have been done by Indians."
"Red SAW Brick amongst the gang. He RECOGNIZED him. Well, Red and
his other pard gets on horses they cuts loose, and comes like
lightning, and gets here, and tells the story--and maybe you think
this community ain't a-rearing and a-charging and a-sniffing for
blood! There'd he more excitement against Brick Willock if there
was more community, but such as they is, is concentrated."
"Mizzoo, listen to reason. Don't you understand that Red wants
revenge, and has misrepresented this Indian attack to tally with
his other lies?"
"I wouldn't say nothing against Red, old tap. It ain't gentlemanly
to call dead folk liars."
"Dead folk!" echoed Wilfred, starting up.
"I KNOWED you didn't understand that Red's off the trail forever,"
Mizzoo rejoined gently. "I knowed you wouldn't be accusing him so
rancid, had you been posted on his funeral."
Wilfred felt a great relief, then a great wonder.
"He's dead. I don't say he's better off, I don't know; but I guess
the world is. I don't like to censure them that's departed. Brick
Willock is still with us, and him the county can't say enough
against. His life wouldn't be worth two bits if anybody laid eyes
on 'im. Consider his high-handed doings. Wasn't it enough in the
past to kill Red's brother, but what he must needs collect his pals,
stop the stage-coach, shoot two men trying to get Red, and one of
'em the innocent driver? You say, yes. But hold on, that ain't all
he done. No, sir. The very next day after Red swore out that
warrant--and it was yesterday, if you ask ME--what is saw, when we
men of Mangum comes out of our doors? Three corpses lying on the
sidewalk, side by side. You say, what corpses? Wait. I'm coming
to that. One was that driver; one was the pard that got shot with
the driver. The other was Red Kimball his own self."
"I knew the bodies had been carried away from the trail," exclaimed
Wilfred in perplexity. He related his discoveries of the stormy
"But you didn't know they had been brung to town all this distance
to be laid beside Red. You didn't know Red had been stabbed so he
could be added, too. You didn't know the three of them had been
left on the street to rile up every man with blood in his veins.
Why, Wilfred, it's an insult to the whole state of Texas, Such
high-handed doings ain't to be bore. If Brick Willock don't want
to be tried in court, is that an excuse for killing off all that
might witness against him? It might of been ONCE. But we're
determined to have a county of law-abiding citizens. Such free
living has got to be nipped in the bud, or we'll have another No-
Man's Land. We're determined to live under the laws. This is
civilization. The cattle business is dead, land is getting tied up
by title-deeds, the deer's gone, and there's nothing left but
civilization. And I am the--er--as sheriff of Greer County I am
a--I am the angel of civilization, you may say."
Mizzoo started up, too excited to notice Wilfred's suddenly
distorted face. It was no time to display a sense of the ludicrous;
the young man hotly burst into passionate argument and reasonable
"We've got civilization," Mizzoo declared doggedly, "and we aim to
hold on to her, you bet! There's going to be no such doings as
three corpses stretched out on the sidewalk for breakfast, not while
I'm at the helm. How'd that look, if wrote up for the New York
papers? That ain't all--remember that ghost I used to worry my life
out over, trying to meet up with on the trail? Him, or her or it,
that haunted every step of the way from Abilene to the Gulf of
Mexico? It's a flitting, that ghost is! Well, I don't claim that
no ghost is in my jurisdiction. Brick's flesh and blood, there's
bone to him. As my aunt (Miss Sue of Missouri) used to say, 'he's
Waving aside Mizzoo's ghost, Wilfred elaborated his theory of an
Indian attack, described Brick's peaceable disposition, his
gentleness to Lahoma--then dwelt on the friendship between himself
and Brick, and the relations between himself and Brick's ward.
"It all comes to this," Mizzoo declared: "if you could make me
think Willock a harmless lamb and as innocent, it wouldn't change
conditions. This neighborhood calls for his life and'd take it if
in reach; and my warrant calls for his arrest. All I can promise
is to get him, if possible, behind the bars before the mob gets him
in a rope. As my aunt, whom I have oft-times quoted my aunt (Miss
Sue of Missouri, a woman of elegant sense)--'that's the word,' she
used to say, 'with the bark on it!'"
Wilfred permitted himself the pleasure of taunting Mizzoo with the
very evident truth that before Willock was hanged or imprisoned, he
must first be caught.
Mizzoo grinned good-naturedly. "Yap. Well, we've got a clew locked
up in jail right now that could tell us something, I judge, and will
tell us something before set free; its name is Bill Atkins. He's
a wise old coon, but as sour as a boiled owl,--nothing as yet to be
negotiated with him than if he was a bobcat catched in a trap.
We're hoping time'll mellow him--time and the prospect of being took
out and swung from the nearest limb--speaking literary, not by
nature, as you know trees is as scarce about here as Brick Willock
Wilfred insisted on an immediate visit to Bill. "Brick declared he
wouldn't tell Bill his hiding-place," he said, "for he didn't want
to get him into trouble. He'll tell me if he knows anything--and
if he doesn't, it's an outrage to shut him up, old as he is, and as
rheumatic as he's old."
On the way to the rudely improvised prison, Mizzoo defended himself.
"He wasn't too old and rheumatic to fight like a wildcat--why, he
had to be lifted up bodily and carried into his cell. Not a word
can we get out of him, or a bite of grub into him. I believe that
old codger's just too obstinate to die!"
When they reached the prison door, the crowd gathered about them,
eager for news, watching Mizzoo unfasten the door as if he were
unlocking the secret to Willock's whereabouts. There were loud
imprecations on the head of the murderer, and fierce prophecies as
to what would happen to Bill if he preserved his incriminating
silence. It seemed but a moment before hurrying forms from many
directions packed themselves into a mass before the jail.
The cells were in the basement. The only entrance to the building
was by means of a flight of six steps leading to an unroofed
platform before the door of the story proper. Mizzoo and Wilfred,
standing on this platform, were lifted above the heads of perhaps
a hundred men who watched eagerly the dangling bunch of keys.
Mizzoo had stationed three deputies at the foot of the steps to keep
back the mob, for if the excited men once rushed into the jail
nothing could check their course. The deputies, tall broad-shouldered
fellows, pushed back the threatening tide, always with good-natured
protests,--words half bantering, half appealing, repulsive thrusts
of the arms, rough but inflicting no hurt. So peaceful a minute
before had been the Square, it was difficult to comprehend the sudden
spirit of danger.
Mizzoo whispered to Wilfred, "We'd better get in as quick as
The words were lost in the increasing roar of voices. He spoke
"When I swing open the door, that bunch will try to make a run for
it. You jump inside and I'll be after you like a shot.... We'll
lock ourselves in--"
"Hey, Mizzoo!" shouted a voice from the crowd, "bring out that old
cuss. Drag him to the platform, we want to hear what he's got to
"Say, Mr. Sheriff! Tell him if he won't come to us, we'll go to
him. We've got to know where Brick Willock's hiding, and that's
all about it."
"Sure!" growled a third. "What kind of a town is this, anyway? A
refuge for highwaymen and murderers?"
A struggle took place at the foot of the stairs, not so good-naturedly
as heretofore. A reasoning voice was heard: "Just let me say a word
to the boys."
"Yes!" called others, "let's hear HIM!"
There was a surging forward, and a man was lifted literally over
the heads of the three deputies; he reached the platform breathless,
disheveled, but triumphant. It was the survivor of Red Kimball's
Mizzoo, mistaking his coming for a general rush, had hastily
relocked the door, and he and Wilfred defended themselves with drawn
"I ain't up here to do no harm," called the ex-highwayman. "I ain't
got the spirit for warfare. My chief is killed, my pards is dead.
Even that innocent stage-driver what knew nothing of us, is killed
in the attack that Brick Willock made on us in the dark and behind
our backs. How're you going to grow when the whole world knows you
ain't nothing but a den of snakes? You may claim it's all Brick
Willock. I say if he's bigger than the town, if he murders and
stabs and you can't help it, then the town ain't as good as him.
My life's in danger. I don't know if I'll draw another breath.
What kind of a reputation is that for you to send abroad? There's
a man in this jail can tell you where Willock's hiding. Good day!"
The speaker was down the steps in two leaps, and the deputies drew
aside to let him pass out. Civic pride, above all, civic ambition,
had been touched to the quick. A hoarse roar followed the speech,
and cries for Bill grew frantic. Mizzoo, afraid to unlock the door,
stared at Wilfred in perplexity.
"I told you they had civilization on the brain," he muttered. "The
old times are past. I daresn't make a move toward that lock."
"Drop the keys behind you--I'll get 'em," Wilfred murmured. "Step
a little forward. Say something to 'em."
"Ain't got nothing to say," growled Mizzoo, glaring at the mob.
"These boys are in the right of it, that's how I feel--cuss that
obstinate old bobcat! it's his own fault if they string him up."
"Here they come!" Wilfred exclaimed.
"Steady now, old Mizzoo--we've whipped packs of wolves before
today--coyotes crazy with hunger--big gray loafers in the rocks--eh,
Mizzoo?" He shouted to the deputies who had been pushed against the
railing: "Give it to 'em, boys!"
But the deputies did not fire, and the mob, though chafing with mad
impatience, did not advance. It was a single figure that swept up
the steps, unobstructed, aided, indeed, by the mass of packed men
in the street--a figure slight and erect, tingling with the
necessity of action to which every vein and muscle responded,
tingling so vitally, so electrically, that the crowd also tingled,
not understanding, but none the less thrilled.
"Lahoma!" Wilfred was at her side. "You here!"
"Yes, I'm here," she returned breathlessly, her face flaming with
excitement. "I'm going to talk to these people--let me have that--"
She took the revolver from his unresisting hand, uncocked it, and
slipped it into her bosom. Then she faced the mob and held up her
FACING THE MOB
It was the first time Lahoma had ever faced an audience larger than
that composed of Brick and Bill and Willock, for in the city she had
been content to play an unobtrusive part, listening to others,
commenting inwardly. Speech was now but a mode of action, and in
her effort to turn the sentiment of the mob, she sought not for
words but emotions. Bill's life was at stake. What could she say
to make them Bill's friends? After her uplifted hand had brought
tense silence, she stood at a loss, her eyes big with the appeal her
tongue refused to utter.
The mob was awed by that light in her eyes, by the crimson in her
cheeks, by her beauty, freshness and grace. They would not proceed
to violence while she stood there facing them. Her power she
recognized, but she understood it was that of physical presence.
When she was gone, her influence would depart. They knew Brick and
Bill had sheltered her from her tenderest years, they admired her
fidelity. Whatever she might say to try to move their hearts would
come from a sense of gratitude and would be received in tolerant
silence. The more guilty the highwayman, the more commendable her
loyalty. But it would not change their purpose; as if waiting for
a storm to pass, they stood stolid and close-mouthed, slightly bent
forward, unresisting, but unmoved.
"I'm a western girl," Lahoma said at last, "and ever since Brick
Willock gave me a home when I had none, I've lived right over yonder
at the foot of the mountains. I was there when the cattlemen came,
before the Indians had given up this country; and I was here when
the first settlers moved in, and when the soldiers drove them out.
I was living in the cove with Brick Willock when people came up from
Texas and planted miles and miles of wheat; and I used to play with
the rusty plows and machinery they left scattered about--after the
three years' drought had starved them back to their homes. Then Old
Man Walker came to Red River, sent his cowboys to drive us out of
the cove, and your sheriff led the bunch. And it was Brick and
myself that stood them off with our guns, our backs to the wall and
our powder dry, and we never saw Mizzoo in our cove again. So you
see, I ought to be able to talk to western men in a way they can
appreciate, and if there's anybody here that's not a western man--he
couldn't understand our style, anyhow--he'd better go where he's
needed, for out West you need only western men--like Brick Willock,
At reference to the well-known incident of Mizzoo's attempt to drive
Willock from the cove, there was a sudden wave of laughter, none the
less hearty because Mizzoo's face had flushed and his mouth had
opened sheepishly. But at the recurrence of Willock's name, the
crowd grew serious. They felt the justice of her claim that out
West only western men were needed; they excused her for thinking
Brick a model type; but let any one else hold him up before them as
Lahoma's manner changed; it grew deeper and more forceful:
"Men, I want to talk to you about this case--will you be the jury?
Consider what kind of man swore out that warrant against Brick--the
leader of a band of highwaymen! And who's his chief witness? You
don't know Mr. Gledware. I do. You've heard he's a rich and
influential citizen in the East. That's true. But I'm going to
tell you something to show what he IS--and what Brick Willock is;
just one thing; that's all I'll say about the character of either.
As to Red Kimball, you don't have to be told. I'm not going to talk
about the general features of the case--as to whether Brick was ever
a highwayman or not; as to whether he killed Red's brother to save
me and my stepfather, or did it in cold blood; as to whether he held
up the stage or not. These things you've discussed; you've formed
opinions about them. I want to tell you something you haven't
heard. Will you listen?"
At first no one spoke. Then from the crowd came a measured
impartial voice: "We got lots of time."
She was not discouraged by the intimation in the tone that all her
speaking was in vain. Several in the crowd looked reproachfully at
him who had responded, feeling that Lahoma deserved more consideration;
but in the main, the men nodded grim approval. They had plenty of
time--but at the end of it, Bill would either tell all he knew, or....
Lahoma plunged into the midst of her narrative:
"One evening Brick came on a deserted mover's wagon; he'd traveled
all day with nothing to eat or drink, and he got into the wagon to
escape the blistering sun. In there, he found a dead woman,
stretched on her pallet. He had a great curiosity to see her face,
so he began lifting the cloth that covered her. He saw a pearl and
onyx pin at her throat. It looked like one his mother used to wear.
So he dropped the cloth and never looked at her face. She had died
the evening before, and he knew she wouldn't have wanted any one to
see her THEN. And he dug a grave in the sand, though she was
nothing to him, and buried her--never seeing her face--and covered
the spot with a great pyramid of stones, and prayed for her little
girl--I was her little girl--the Indians had carried me away.
You'll say that was a little thing; that anybody would have buried
the poor helpless body. Maybe so. But about not looking at her
face--well, I don't know; it WAS a little thing, of course, but
somehow it just seems to show that Brick Willock wasn't little--had
something great in his soul, you know. Seems to show that he
couldn't have been a common murderer. It's something you'll have
to feel for yourselves, nobody could explain it so you'd see, if you
don't understand already."
The men stared at her, somewhat bewildered, saying nothing. In some
breasts, a sense of something delicate, not to be defined, was
"One day," Lahoma resumed, "Brick saw a white man with some Indians
standing near that grave. He couldn't imagine what they meant to
do, so he hid, thinking them after him. Years afterward Red Feather
explained why they came that evening to the pile of stones. The
white man was Mr. Gledware. After Red Kimball's gang captured the
wagon-train, Mr. Gledware escaped, married Red Feather's daughter
and lived with the Indians; he'd married immediately, to save his
life, and the tribe suspected he meant to leave Indian Territory at
the first chance. Mr. Gledware, great coward, was terrified night
and day lest the suspicions of the Indians might finally cost him
"It wasn't ten days after the massacre of the emigrants till he
decided to give a proof of good faith. Too great a coward to try
to get away and. caring too much for his wife's rich lands to want
to leave, he told about the pearl and onyx pin--he said he wanted
to give it to Red Flower. A pretty good Indian, Red Feather
was--true friend of mine; HE wouldn't rob graves! But he said he'd
take Mr. Gledware to the place, and if he got that pin, they'd all
know he meant to live amongst them forever. THAT'S why the band was
standing there when Brick Willock looked from the mountain-top. Mr.
Gledware dug up the body, after the Indians had rolled away the
stones--the body of his wife--my mother--the body whose face Brick
Willock wouldn't look at, in its helplessness of death. Mr.
Gledware is the principal witness against Brick. If you don't feel
what kind of man he is from what I've said, nobody could explain it
From several of the intent listeners burst involuntary denunciations
of Gledware, while on the faces of others showed a momentary gleam
Red Kimball's confederate spoke loudly, harshly: "But who killed
Red Kimball and his pard and the stage-driver, if it wasn't Brick
"I think it was Red Feather's band. I'm witness to the fact that
Kimball agreed to bring Mr. Gledware the pearl and onyx pin on
condition that Mr. Gledware appear against Brick. After Mr.
Gledware deserted Red Flower, or rather after her death, Red Feather
carried that pin about him; Mr. Gledware knew he'd never give it up
alive. He was always afraid the Indian would find him--and at last
he did find him. But Red Kimball got the pin--could that mean
anything except that Kimball discovered the Indian's hiding-place
and killed him? But for that, I'd think it Red Feather who attacked
the stage and killed Red Kimball. As it is, I believe it must have
been his friends."
"Now you've said something!" cried Mizzoo. "Boys, don't you think
it's a reasonable explanation?"
Some of them did, evidently, for the grim resolution on their faces
softened; others, however, were unconvinced.
A stern voice was raised: "Let Brick Willock come do his own
explaining. Bill Atkins knows where he's hiding out--and we got to
know. We've started in to be a law-abiding county, and that there
warrant against Willock has got the right of way."
"You've no warrant against Bill," cried Wilfred, stepping to the
edge of the platform, "therefore you've violated the law in locking
"That's so," exclaimed Red Kimball's former comrade. "Well, turn
'im loose, that's what we ask--LET him go--open the jail door!"
"He's locked up for his own safety," shouted Mizzoo. "You fellows
agree to leave him alone, and I'll turn him out quick enough. You
talk about the law--what you want to do to Bill ain't overly lawful,
I take it."
"If he gives up his secret we ain't going to handle him rough," was
the quick retort.
Lahoma found that the softening influence she had exerted was
already fast dissipating. They bore with her merely because of her
youth and sex. She cried out desperately.
"Is there nothing I can say to move your hearts? Has my story of
that pearl and onyx pin been lost on you? Couldn't you understand,
after all? Are you western men, and yet unable to feel the worth
of a western man like Brick?... How he clothed me and sheltered me
when the man who should have supported the child left in his care
neglected her.... How he taught me and was always tender and
gentle--never a cross word--a man like THAT.... And you think he
could kill! I don't know whether Bill was told his hiding-place or
not. But if _I_ knew it, do you think I'd tell? And if Bill
betrayed him,--but Bill wouldn't do it. Thank God, I've been raised
with real MEN, men that know how to stand by each other and be true
to the death. You want Bill to turn traitor. I say, what kind of
men are YOU?"
She turned to Wilfred, blinded by hot tears. "Oh, say something to
them!" she gasped, clinging to his arm.
"Go on," murmured Wilfred. "I couldn't reach em, and you made a
point, that time. Go on--don't give 'em a chance to think."
"But I can't--I've said all I had to say--"
"Don't stop, dear, for God's sake--the case is desperate! You'll
have to do it--for Bill."
"And that isn't all," Lahoma called in a broken pathetic voice, as
she turned her pale face upon the curious crowd. "That isn't all.
You know Brick and Bill have been all I had--all in this world...
You know they couldn't have been sweeter to me if they'd been the
nearest of kin--they were more like women than men, somehow, when
they spoke to me and sat with me in the dugout--and I guess I know
a little about a mother's love because I've always had Brick and
Bill. But one day somebody else came to the cove and--and this
somebody else, well--he--this somebody else wants to marry me--
today. This was the end of our journey," she went on blindly,
"and--and it is our wedding-day. I thought there must be SOME way
to get Brick to the wedding, but you see how it is. And--and we'll
have to marry without him. But Bill's here--in that jail--because
he wouldn't betray his friend. And I couldn't marry without either
Brick or Bill, could I?"
She took her quivering hand from Wilfred's sturdy arm, and moving
to the top of the steps, held out her trembling arms appealingly:
"MEN!-- Give me Bill!"
The crowd was with her, now. No doubt of that. All fierceness
gone, tears here and there, broad grins to hide deep emotion, open
admiration, touched with tenderness, in the eyes that took in her
shy flower-like beauty.
"You shall have Bill!" shouted the spokesman of the crowd. And
other voices cried, "Give her Bill! Give her Bill!"
"Bring him out!" continued the spokesman in stentorian tones.
"We'll not ask him a question. Fellows, clear a path for 'em."
A broad lane was formed through the throng of smiling men whom the
sudden, unexpected light of love had softened magically.
While Mizzoo hastened to Bill's cell, some one exclaimed, "Invite
us, too. Make it a town wedding!"
And another started the shout, "Hurrah for Lahoma!"
Lahoma, who had taken refuge behind Wilfred's protection, wept and
laughed in a rosy glow of triumphant joy.
Mizzoo presently reappeared, leaving the door wide open. He walked
to the stairs, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deep-cut with
appreciation of the situation. "Fellows," he called, "he says you
carried him in there, and dinged if you won't have to carry him out,
for not a step will he take!"
At this unexpected development, a burst of laughter swelled into a
roar. After that mighty merriment, Bill was as safe as a babe.
Twenty volunteers pressed forward to carry the wedding-guest from
his cell. And when the old man slowly but proudly followed Wilfred
and Lahoma to the hotel where certain preparations were to be made
--particularly as touching Bill's personal appearance--the town of
Mangum began gathering at the newly-erected church whither they had
When the four friends--for Mizzoo joined them--drove up to the
church door in the only carriage available, Bill descended stiffly,
his eyes gleaming fiercely from under snowy locks, as if daring any
one to ask him a question about Brick. But nobody did.
The general suspicion that Bill Atkins knew more about Brick Willock
than he had revealed, was not without foundation; though the extent
of his knowledge was more limited than the town supposed. Bill had
carried to his friend--hidden in the crevice in the
mountain-top--the news of Red Kimball's death; since then, they had
not seen each other.
Skulking along wooded gullies by day, creeping down into the cove
at night, Willock had unconsciously reverted to the habits of
thought and action belonging to the time of his outlawry. He was
again, in spirit, a highwayman, though his hostility was directed
only against those seeking to bring him to justice. The softening
influence of the years spent with Lahoma was no longer apparent in
his shifting bloodshot eyes, his crouching shoulders, his furtive
hand ever ready to snatch the weapon from concealment. This
sinister aspect of wildness, intensified by straggling whiskers and
uncombed locks, gave to his giant form a kinship to the huge
grotesquely shaped rocks among which he had made his den.
He heard of Red Kimball's death with bitter disappointment. He had
hoped to encounter his former chief, to grapple with him, to hurl
him, perhaps, from the precipice overlooking Bill's former home.
If in his fall, Kimball, with arms wound about his waist, had
dragged him down to the same death, what matter? Though his enemy
was now no more, the sheriff held the warrant for his arrest--as if
the dead man could still strike a mortal blow. The sheriff might
be overcome--he was but a man. That piece of paper calling for his
arrest--an arrest that would mean, at best, years in. the
penitentiary--had behind it the whole state of Texas.
To Willock's feverish imagination, the warrant became personified;
a mysterious force, not to be destroyed by material means; it was
not only paper, but spirit. And it had come between him and Lahoma,
it had shut him off from the possibility of a peaceful old age. The
cove was no longer home but a hiding-place.
He did not question the justice of this sequel to his earlier life.
No doubt deeds of long ago, never punished, demanded a sacrifice.
He hated the agents of this justice not so much because they
threatened his liberty, his life, as because they stepped in between
himself and Lahoma. Always a man of expedients, he now sought some
way of frustrating justice, and naturally his plans took the color
of violence. Denied the savage joy of killing Red Kimball--and he
would have killed him with as little compunction as if he had been
a wolf--his thoughts turned toward Gledware.
Gledware was the only witness of the deed for which the warrant
demanded his arrest. Willock wished many of his other deeds had
been prompted by impulses as generous as those which had led to
Kansas Kimball's death. Perhaps it was the irony of justice that
he should be threatened by the one act of bloodshed which had saved
Lahoma's life. If he must be hanged or imprisoned because he had
not, like the rest of the band, given himself up for official
pardon, it was as well to suffer from one deed as from another. But
it would be better still, as in the past, to escape all
consequences. Without Gledware, they could prove nothing.
Would Gledware testify, now that Red Kimball, who had bought his
testimony with the death of the Indian, no longer lived to exact
payment? Willock felt sure he would. In the first place, Gledware
had placed himself on record as a witness, hence could hardly
retreat; in the second place, he would doubtless be anxious to rid
himself of the danger of ever meeting Willock, whom his conscience
must have caused him to hate with the hatred of the man who wrongs
Willock transferred all his rage against the dead enemy to the
living. He reminded himself how Gledware had caused the death of
Red Feather, not in the heat of fury or in blind terror, but in
coldblooded bargaining. He meditated on Gledware's attitude toward
Lahoma; he thought nothing good of him, he magnified the evil. That
scene at the grave of his wife--and Red Feather's account of how he
had dug up the body for a mere pin of pearl and onyx.... Ought such
a creature to live to condemn him, to bring sorrow on the
stepdaughter he had basely refused to acknowledge?
To wait for the coming of the witness would be to lose an
opportunity that might never recur. Willock would go to him. In
doing so, he would not only take Gledware by surprise, but would
leave the only neighborhood in which search would be made for
himself. Thus it came about that while the environs of the cove
were being minutely examined, Brick, riding his fastest pony, was
on the way to Kansas City.
He reached Kansas City without unusual incident, where he was
accepted naturally, as a product of the West. Had his appearance
been twice as uncouth, twice as wild, it would have accorded all
the better with western superstitions that prevailed in this city,
fast forgetting that it had been a western outpost. At the hotel,
whose situation he knew from Lahoma's letters, he learned that
Gledware was neither there, nor at his home in the country. The
country-house was closed up and, in fact, there was a rumor that it
was sold, or was about to be sold. One of the porters happened to
know that Gledware had gone for a week's diversion down in the
Ozarks. There were a lake, a club-house, a dancing-hall, as yet
unopened. The season was too early for the usual crowd at Ozark
Lodge, but the warm wave that nearly always came at this time of
year, had prompted a sudden outing party which might last no longer
than the warm wave.
Willock took the first train south and rode with the car window
up--the outside breath was the breath of balmy summer though the
trees stood bleak and leafless against the sky. Two days ago, snow
had fallen--but the birds did not remember it. Seven hours brought
him to a lonely wagon-trail called Ozark Lodge because after winding
among hills several miles it at last reached the clubhouse of that
name overlooking the lake. He left the train in the dusk of
evening, and walked briskly away, the only moving figure in the
His pace did not slacken till a gleam as of fallen sky cupped in
night-fringe warned him that the club-house must be near. A turn
of a hill brought it into view, the windows not yet aglow. Nearer
at hand was the boat-house, seemingly deserted. But as Willock,
now grown wary, crept forward among the post-oaks and blackjacks,
well screened from observation by chinkapin masses of gray
interlocked network, he discovered two figures near the platform
edging the lake. Neither was the one he sought; but from their
being there--they were Edgerton Compton and Annabel,--he knew
Gledware could not be far away.
"No," Annabel was saying decisively, and yet with an accent of
regret, "No, Edgerton, I can't."
"But our last boat-ride," he urged. "Don't refuse me the last
ride--a ride to think about all my life. I'm going away tomorrow
at noon, as I promised. But early in the morning--"
"I have promised HIM," she said with lingering sadness in her voice.
"So I must go with him. He has already engaged the boatman. He'll
be here at seven, waiting for me. So you see--"
"Annabel, I shall be here at seven, also!" he exclaimed impetuously.
"But why? I must go with him, Edgerton. You see that."
"Then I shall row alone."
"Why would you add to my unhappiness?" she pleaded.
"I shall be here at seven," he returned grimly; "while you and he
take your morning boat-ride, I shall row alone."
She turned from him with a sigh, and he followed her dejectedly up
the path toward the club-house.
She had lost some of the fresh beauty which she had brought to the
cove, and her step was no longer elastic; but this Willock did not
notice. He gave little heed to their tones, their gestures, their
looks in which love sought a thin disguise wherein it might show
itself unnamed. He had seized on the vital fact that in the
morning, Annabel and Gledware would push off from the boat-house
steps, presumably alone; and it would be early morning. Perhaps
Gledware would come first to the boat-house, there to wait for
Annabel. In that case, he would not ride with Annabel. The lake
was deep--deep as Willock's hate.
Willock passed the night in the woods, sometimes walking against
time among the hills, sometimes seated on the ground, brooding.
The night was without breath, without coolness. Occasionally he
climbed a rounded elevation from which the clubhouse was
discernible. No lights twinkled among the barren trees. All in
that wilderness seemed asleep save himself. The myriad insects that
sing through the spring and summer months had not yet found their
voices; there was no trill of frogs, not even the hooting of an
owl,--no sound but his own breathing.
At break of dawn he crept into the boat-house like a shadow,
barefooted, bareheaded--the club-house was not yet awake. He looked
about the barnlike room for a hiding-place. Walls, floor, ceiling
were bare. Near the door opening on the lake was a rustic bench,
impossible as a refuge. Only in one corner, where empty boxes and
a disused skiff formed a barricade, could he hope for concealment.
He glided thither, and on the floor between the dusty wall of broad
boards and the jumbled partition, he found a man stretched on his
At first, he thought he had surprised a sleeper, but as the figure
did not move, he decided it must be a corpse. He would have fled
but for his need of this corner. He bent down--the man was bound
hand and foot. In the mouth, a gag was fastened. Neck and ankles
were tied to spikes in the wall.
Willock swiftly surveyed the lake and the sloping hill leading down
from the club-house. Nobody was near. As he stared at the
landscape, the front door of the club-house opened. He darted hack
to the corner. "Pardner," he said, "I got to ask your hospitality
for a spell, and if you move so as to attract attention, I got to
fix you better. I didn't do this here, pardner, but you shore look
like some of my handiwork in days past and gone. I'll share this
corner with you for a while, and if you don't give me away to them
that's coming, I promise to set you free. That's fair, I guess.
'A man ain't all bad,' says Brick, 'as unties the knots that other
men has tied,' says he. Just lay still and comfortable, and we'll
see what's coming."
Presently there were footsteps in the path, and to Willock's intense
disappointment, Gledware and Annabel came in together. They were
in the midst of a conversation and at the first few words, he found
it related to Lahoma. The boatman who had promised to bring the
skiff for them at seven--it developed that Gledware had no intention
of doing the rowing--had not yet come. They sat down on the rustic
bench, their voices distinctly audible in all parts of the small
"Her closest living relative," Gledware said, "is a great-aunt,
living in Boston. As soon as I found out who she was--I'd always
supposed her living among Indians, and that it would be impossible
to find her--but as soon as I learned the truth, without saying
anything to HER, I wrote to her great-aunt. I've never been in a
position to take care of Lahoma--I felt that I ought to place her
with her own family. I got an answer--about what you would expect.
They'd give her a home--I told them what a respectable girl she
is--fairly creditable appearance--intelligent enough... But they
couldn't stand those people she lives with--criminals, you know,
Annabel, highwaymen--murderers! Imagine Brick Willock in a Boston
drawing-room... But you couldn't."
"No," Annabel agreed. "Poor Lahoma! And I know she'd never give
"That's it--she's immovable. She'd insist on taking him along.
But he belongs to another age--a different country. He couldn't
understand. He thinks when you've anything against a man, the
proper move is to kill 'im. He's just like an Indian--a wild beast.
Wouldn't know what we meant if we talked about civilization. His
religion is the knife. Well--you see; if he were out of the way,
Lahoma would have her chance."
"But couldn't he be arrested?"
"That's my only hope. If he were hanged, or locked up for a certain
number of years, Lahoma'd go East. But as long as he's at large,
she'll wait for him to turn up. She'll stay right there in the cove
till she dies of old age, if he's free to visit her at odd moments.
It's her idea of fidelity, and it's true that he did take her in
when she needed somebody. There's a move on foot now, to arrest him
for an old crime--a murder. I witnessed the deed--I'll testify, if
called on. Lahoma will hate me for that--but it'll be the greatest
favor I could possibly do her. She knows I mean to appear against
him, and she thinks me a brute. But if I can convict Willock, it'll
place Lahoma in a family of wealth and refinement--"
He broke off with, "Wonder why that old deaf boatman doesn't come?"
He walked impatiently to the head of the steps and stared out over
the lake. "Somebody out there now," he exclaimed. "Oh,--it's
Edgerton, rowing about!"
He returned to the bench, but did not sit down. "Annabel," he said
abruptly, "you promised me to name the day, this morning."
"Yes," she responded very faintly.
"And I am sure, dear," he added in a deep resonant voice, "that in
time you will come to care for me as I care for you now--you, the
only woman I have ever loved. I understand about Edgerton, but you
see, you couldn't marry him--in fact, he couldn't marry anybody for
years; he has nothing.... And these earlier attachments that we
think the biggest things in our lives--well, they just dwindle,
Annabel, they dwindle as we get the true perspective. I know your
happiness depends upon me, and it rejoices me to know it. I can
give you all you want--all you can dream of--and I'm
man-of-the-world enough to understand that happiness depends just
on that--getting what you want."
Annabel started up abruptly. "I think I heard the boat scraping
"Yes, he's there. Come, dear, and before the ride is ended you must
name the day--"
"DON'T!" she exclaimed sharply. "He--"
"He's as deaf as a post, my dear," Gledware murmured gently. "That's
why I selected him. I knew we'd want to talk--I knew you'd name the day."
He helped her down the rattling boards.
Brick Willock rose softly and stole toward the opening, his eyes
filled with a strange light. They no longer glared with the
blood-lust of a wild beast, but showed gloomy and perplexed; the
words spoken concerning himself had sunk deep.
The boatman sat with his back to Gledware and Annabel. He wore a
long dingy coat of light gray and a huge battered straw hat, whose
wide brim hid his hair and almost eclipsed his face. Willock,
careful not to show himself, stared at the skiff as it shot out from
the landing, his brow wrinkled in anxious thought. He felt strange
and dizzy, and at first fancied it was because of the resolution
that had taken possession of him--the resolution to return to Greer
County and give himself up. This purpose, as unreasoning as his
plan to kill Gledware, grew as fixed in his mind as half an hour
before his other plan had been.
To go voluntarily to the sheriff, unresistingly to hold out his
wrists for the handcuffs--that would indeed mark a new era in his
life. "A wild Indian wouldn't do that," he mused, "nor a wild
beast. I guess I understand, after all. And if that's the way to
make Lahoma happy...."
No wonder he felt queer; but his light-headedness did not rise, as
a matter of fact, entirely from subjective storm-threatenings.
There was something about that boatman--now, when he tilted up his
head slightly, and the hat failed to conceal--was it possible?...
"My God!" whispered Willock; "it's Red Feather!"
And Gledware, with eyes only for Annabel, finding nothing beyond
her but a long gray coat, a big straw hat and two rowing arms--did
not suspect the truth!
In a flash, Willock comprehended all. The Indian had dropped the
pin in Kimball's path, and Kimball, finding it, had carried it to
Gledware as if Red Feather were dead. The Indian had led his braves
against the stage-coach--Kimball had fallen under his knife. Yonder
man in the corner, bound and gagged, was doubtless the old deaf
boatman engaged by Gledware. Red Feather had taken his place that
he might row Gledware far out on the lake....
But Annabel was in the boat. If the Indian...
Far away toward the east, Edgerton Compton was rowing, not near
enough to intervene in case the Indian attempted violence, but
better able than himself to lend assistance if the boat were
overturned. Willock could, in truth, do nothing, except shout a
warning, and this he forebore lest it hasten the impending
catastrophe. He remained, therefore, half-hidden, crouching at the
doorway, his eyes glued to the rapidly gliding boat, with its three
figures clear-cut against the first faint sun-glow.
Red Feather's mind was not constituted to entertain more than one
leading thought at a time. Ever since the desertion and death of
his daughter, revenge had been his dominant passion. It was in
order to find Gledware that he had haunted the trail during the
years of lahoma's youth, always hoping to discover him in the new
country--gliding behind herds of cattle, listening to scraps of
talks among the cattlemen, earning from Mizzoo the uneasy
designation, "the ghost."
Thanks to the reading aloud of Lahoma's letter, he had learned of
Gledware's presence in the city which he had known years before as
Westport Landing. He went thither unbewildered by its marvelous
changes, undistracted by its tumultuous flood of life--for his mind
was full of his mission; he could see only the blood following the
blade of his knife, heard nothing but a groan, a death-rattle.
Gledware's presence in the boat this morning had been made possible
only by the interposition of Lahoma; but for the Indian's
deep-seated affection for her whom he regarded as a child, the man
now smiling into Annabel's pale face would long ago have found his
final resting-place. It was due to the Indian's singleness of
thought that Lahoma's plan had struck him as good. Gledware,
stripped of all his possessions, slinking as a beggar from door to
door, no roof, no bed, but sky and earth
--that is what Red Feather had meant.
He had believed Gledware glad of the respite. That he should accept
the alternative seemed reasonable. There was a choice only between
death and poverty--and Gledware wished to live so desperately--so
basely! The chief cared little for life; still, he would
unhesitatingly have preferred the most meager existence to a knife
in his heart; how much more, then, this craven white man. But the
plan had failed because Gledware did not believe death was the other
alternative. Never in the remotest way had it occurred to the
avenger that Gledware could be spared should he prove false to his
oath. Red Feather was less a man with passions than a cold
relentless fate. This fate would surely overcome the helpless
wretch, should he cling to his riches.
As Red Feather skimmed the water with long sweeps of his oars, never
looking back, the voices of his passengers came to his ears without
meaning. He was thinking of the last few days and how this
morning's ride was their fitting sequel. The early sunbeams were
full on him as he tilted back his head, but they showed no emotion
on his face, hard-set and dully red in the clear radiance.
Crouching near the summer-house at Gledware's place, he had
overheard Red Kimball boast to bring Gledware the pearl and onyx
pin. Then had shot through his darkened mind the suspicion that
Gledware meant to escape the one condition on which his life was to
be spared. With simple cunning he had left the pin where the outlaw
must find it; his own death would be taken for granted--what then?
What then? This ride in the boat. Gledware had made his choice;
he had clung to his possessions--and now Death held the oars. He
was scarcely past middle age. He might have lived so long, he who
so loved to live! But no, he had chosen to be rich--and to die.
When Red Feather brought his mind back to the present, Gledware was
describing to Annabel a ranch in California for which he had traded
the house near Independence. He would take her far away; he would
build a house thus and thus--room so; terraces here; marble
Annabel listened gravely, silently, her face all the paler for the
sunlight flashing over it, for the mimic sun on the waves glancing
up into her pensive eyes. Somehow, the sunshine, the ripple of the
water, seemed to form no part of her life, belonged rather, to
Edgerton Compton rowing in solitude against the sky. Those naked
trees, bare brown hills and ledges of huge stones seemed her world-
boundaries, kin to her, claiming her-- But there was California ...
and the splendid house to be built....
The Indian was listening now, but as he heard projected details
glowingly presented, no change came in his grim deep-lined face.
He simply knew it was not to be--let the fool plan! He found
himself wondering dully why he no longer hated Gledware with that
vindictive fury that gloats over the death-grip, lingers in fiendish
leisure over the lifted scalp. He scarcely remembered the wrong
done his daughter; it was almost as if he had banished the cause of
his revenge; as if vengeance itself had become a simple stroke of
destiny. Gledware had chosen his possession, and the Indian was
"Beautiful one," he heard Gledware say, speaking in an altered tone,
"all that is in the future--but see what I have brought you; this
is for today. It's yours, dear--let me see it around your neck with
the sun full upon it--"
Red Feather turned his head, curiously.
Gledware held outstretched a magnificent diamond necklace which shot
forth dazzling rays as it swung from his eager fingers.
Annabel uttered a smothered cry of delight as the iridescence filled
her eyes. She looked across the water toward the pagoda-shaped
club-house where her mother stood, faintly defined as a speck of
white against the green wall-shingles of the piazza. It seemed that
it needed this glance to steady her nerves. Edgerton was forgotten.
She reached out her hand. And then, perplexed at the necklace being
suddenly withdrawn, she looked up. She caught a glimpse of
Gledware's face, and her blood turned cold.
That face was frozen in horror. At the turning of the boatman's
head, he had instantly recognized under the huge-brimmed hat, the
face of his enemy as if brought back from the grave.
There was a moment's tense silence, filled with mystery for her,
with indescribable agony for him, with simple waiting for the
Indian. Annabel turned to discover the cause of Gledware's terror,
but she saw no malice, no threat, in the boatman's eyes.
Gledware ceased breathing, then his form quivered with a sudden
inrush of breath as of a man emerging from diving. His eyes rolled
in his head as he turned about scanning the shore, glaring at
Edgerton's distant boat. Why had he come unarmed? How could he
have put faith in Red Kimball's assurances? He tortured his brain
for some gleam of hope.
"This is all I have," he shrieked, as if the Indian's foot was
already upon his neck. "This is all I have." He flung the necklace
into the water. "It was a lie about the California ranch--it's a
lie about all my property--I've got nothing, Annabel! I sold the
last bit to get you the necklace, but I shouldn't have done that.
Now it's gone. I have nothing!"
The Indian rose slowly. The oars slipped down and floated away in
the flashing stream of the sun's rays.
Annabel, realizing that the Indian, despite his impassive
countenance, threatened some horrible catastrophe, started up with
a scream. Edgerton had already turned toward them; alarmed at sound
of Gledware's terror. He bent to the oars, comprehending only that
Annabel was in danger.
"Edgerton!" she shrieked blindly. "Edgerton! Edgerton! Edgerton!"
Gledware crouched at her feet, crying beseechingly, "I swear I have
nothing--nothing! I sold everything--gave it away--left it--nothing
in all the world! I'm willing to beg, to starve--I don't want to
own anything--I only want to live--to live.... My God! TO LIVE..."
Red Feather did not utter a word. But with the stealthy lightness
and litheness of a panther, he stepped over the seat and moved
Then Gledware, pushed to the last extremity, despairing of the
interposition of some miraculous chance, was forced back upon
himself. With the vision of an inherent coward he saw all chances
against him; but with the desperation of a maddened soul, he threw
himself upon the defensive.
Red Feather had not expected to see him offer resistance. This show
of clenched teeth and doubled fists suddenly enraged him, and the
old lust of vengeance flamed from his eyes. Hat and disguising coat
were cast aside. For a moment his form, rigid and erect, gleamed
like a statue of copper cut in stern relentless lines, and the
single crimson feather in his raven locks matched, in gold, the
silver brightness of his upraised blade.
The next moment his form shot forward, his arm gripped Gledware
about the neck, despite furious resistance, and both men fell into
The violent shock given to the boat sent Annabel to her knees.
Clutching the side she gazed with horrified eyes at the water in
her wake. The men had disappeared, but in the glowing white path
cut across the lake by the sun, appeared a dull red streak that
thinned away to faint purple and dim pink. She watched the sinister
discoloration with fascinated eyes. What was taking place beneath
the smooth tide? Or was it all over? Had Red Feather found a rock
to which he could cling while he drowned himself with his victim?
Or had their bodies been caught in the tangled branches of a
submerged forest tree? It was one of the mysteries of the Ozarks
never to be solved.
She was still kneeling, still staring with frightened eyes, still
wondering, when Edgerton Compton rowed up beside her.
"He said he had nothing," she stammered, as he helped her to rise.
"He said he had nothing.... How true it is!" Edgerton gently
lifted her to his skiff, then stepped in beside her. He, too, was
watching the water for the possible emergence of a ghastly face.
Annabel began trembling as with the ague. "Edgerton!... He said
it was all a lie--about his property--and so it was. Everything is
a lie except--this..."
She clung to him.
JUST A HABIT
When Bill Atkins with an air of impenetrable mystery invited Wilfred
Compton to a ride that might keep him from his bride several days,
the young man guessed that Willock had been found. Lahoma, divining
as much, urged Wilfred to hasten, assured him that she enjoyed the
publicity and stirring life of the Mangum hotel and expressed
confidence that should she need a friend, Mizzoo would help her
through any difficulty. So Wilfred rode away with Bill, and Willock
was not mentioned.
Bill was evidently in deep trouble, and when Wilfred and he had let
themselves down into the stone corridor whose only entrance was a
crevice in the mountain-top, he understood the old trapper's deep
despondency--Brick Willock was there; and Brick declared his
intention of giving himself up. He announced his purpose before
greetings had subsided. Bill called him an old fool, used unpruned
language, scolded, rather than argued. Wilfred, on the other hand,
delayed events by requesting full particulars of the last few weeks.
"He's told me all he's been up to," Bill objected; "there's no call
to travel over that ground again. What I brought you here for,
Wilfred, is to show him how foolish he'd be to let himself be taken
when he's free as the wind."
"I tells my tale," declared Brick, "and them as has heard it once
can take it or leave it." He was discursive, circumstantial, and
it was a long time before he led them in fancy to the door of the
boat-house and showed them Red Feather and Gledware disappearing
forever beneath the surface of the lake.
"There I waited," he said, "expecting first one head, then the other
to come to light, but nothing happened. Seemed like I couldn't
move. But Edgerton, he began rowing towards me with Annabel, she
happy despite herself, and when I see it wouldn't do to tarry no
longer, I cuts loose the old deaf boatman and unstops his mouth.
Well, sir, he lets out a yell that would a-done credit to a bobcat
fighting in the traps. I had to run for it fellows from the
club-house took after me thinking I'd been murdering somebody--I
skinned them Ozark hills and I skinned myself. But Brick, he says,
'When you turns loose a bobcat, expect scratches,' says he."
"Don't tell about how you hid in the hills waiting for a night
train," Bill pleaded.
"I tells it all;" Brick was inflexible. "You are here, I'm here,
and it's a safe place. We may never be so put again."
"A safe place!" Bill snarled. "Yes, it IS a safe place. But you've
lost your nerve. WAS a time, when you'd have stood out creation in
a hole like this. But you've turned to salt, you have a regular
Bible character--giving up to the law, letting them clap you in
jail, getting yourself hanged, very likely! And all because you've
lost your nerve. See here, Brick, stand 'em out! I'll steady you
through thick and thin. I'll bring you grub and water."
"YOU couldn't do nothing," Brick returned contemptuously, "you're
too old. As for that, I ain't come to the pass of needing being
waited on, I guess. It ain't dangers that subdues me, it's
principles. Look here!"
He walked to the cross-bar that was set in the walls to guard the
floor from the unknown abyss. "I found out they was a hole in the
rock just about five feet under the floor. I can take this rope
and tie one end to the post and let myself down to that little room
where there's grub enough to last a long siege, where there's
bedding and common luxuries, as tobacco and the like. I ain't been
smoked out, into the open, I goes free and disposed and my hands
held up according."
When he had finished the last morsel of his story and had warmed
some of it over for another taste, there came an ominous silence,
broken at last by the querulous voice of Bill, arguing against
Willock waited in patience till his friend had exhausted himself.
"I ain't saying nothing," he explained to Wilfred, "because he ain't
pervious to reason, and it does him good to get that out of his
"Let me make a suggestion," exclaimed Wilfred suddenly.
Willock looked at him suspiciously. "If it ain't counter to my
"It isn't. It's this: Suppose we drop the subject till
tomorrow--it won't hurt any of us to sleep on it, and I know I'D
enjoy another night with you, as in the old days."
"I'm willing to sleep on it, out of friendship," Willock conceded
unwillingly, "though I'd rest easier on a bed in the jail. There
never was no bird more crazy to get into a cage than I am to be shut
up. But as to the old days, they ain't none left. Them deputies
is in the dugout, they're in the cabin I built for Lahoma, they
think they owns our cove. Well, they's no place left for me; life
wouldn't be nothing, crouching and slinking up here in the rocks.
Life wouldn't be nothing to me without Lahoma. I'd have a pretty
chance for happiness, now wouldn't I, sitting up somewheres with
Bill Atkins! I ain't saying I mightn't get out of this country and
find a safe spot where I could live free and disposed with an old
renegade like HIM that nobody ain't after and ain't a-caring whether
he's above ground or in kingdom come. But I couldn't be with
Lahoma; I'm under ban."
"If you were on my farm near Oklahoma City," Wilfred suggested, "and
Lahoma and I lived in the city, you could often see her. Up there,
nobody'd molest you, nobody'd know you. That's what I've been
planning. You could look after the farm and Bill could go back and
forth. As soon as the news comes that Red Feather killed Gledware,
it'll be taken for granted that he killed Red Kimball and attacked
the stage. You'll be cleared of all that and nobody will want you
Willock rose. "Are we going to sleep on this, or shall I answer
you now?" he demanded fixedly.
Wilfred hastily asked for time.
They passed the night in the mountain-top, but Willock had spoken
truly; there were no old days. The one subject forbidden was the
only subject in their minds. All attempts at reminiscence, at
irrelevant anecdotes, were mere pretense. The fact that Wilfred and
Lahoma were now married seemed to banish events of a month ago as
if they were years and years in the past.
They partook of breakfast in the gray dawn of the new day, eating
by lantern-light. And when the light had been extinguished,
Back to Full Books