Vanguards of the Plains
Part 2 out of 6
elected ourselves the special guardians, Rex Krane came up alongside
Bill Banney's team in front of us. The young men were no such
hard-and-fast friends as Beverly and I. For some reason they had little
to say to each other.
"Is that what you call Pike's Peak, Bill?" Rex asked.
"No, the mountains are a month away. That's Pawnee Rock, and I'll
breathe a lot freer when we get out of sight of that infernal thing,"
"What's its offense?" Rex inquired.
"It's the peak of perdition, the bottomless pit turned inside out," Bill
"I don't see the excuse for a rock sittin' out here, sayin' nothin',
bein' called all manner of unpleasant names," the young Bostonian
"Well, I reckon you'd find one mighty quick if you ever heard the
soldiers at Fort Leavenworth talk about it once. All the plainsmen dread
it. Jondo says more men have been killed right around this old stone
Sphinx than any other one spot in North America, outside of
"Happy thought! Do their ghosts rise up and walk at midnight? Tell me
more," Rex urged.
"Nobody walks. Everybody runs. There was a terrible Indian fight here
once; the Pawnees in the king-row, and all the hosts of the Midianites,
and Hivites, and Jebusites, Kiowa, Comanche, and Kaw, rag-tag and
bobtail, trying to get 'em out. I don't know who won, but the citadel
got christened Pawnee Rock. It took a fountain filled with blood to do
Rex Krane gave a long whistle.
"I believe Bill is trying to scare him, Bev," I murmured.
"I believe he's just precious wasting time," Beverly replied.
"And so," Bill continued, "it came to be a sort of rock of execution
where romances end and they die happily ever afterward. The Indians get
up there and, being able to read fine print with ease as far away as
either seacoast, they can watch any wagon-train from the time it leaves
Council Grove over east to Bent's Fort on the Purgatoire Creek out west;
and having counted the number of men, and the number of bullets in each
man's pouch, they slip down and jump on the train as it goes by. If the
men can make it to beat them to the top of the rock, as they do
sometimes, they can keep the critters off, unless the Indians are strong
enough to keep them up there and sit around and wait till they starve
for water, and have to come down. It's a grim old fortress, and never
needs a garrison. Indians or white men up there, sometimes they defend
and sometimes attack. But it's a bad place always, and on account of
having our little girl along--" Bill paused. "A fellow gets to see a lot
of country out here," he added.
"Banney, just why didn't you join the army? You'd have a chance to see a
lot more of the country, if this Mexican War goes on," Rex Krane said,
"I'd rather be my own captain and order myself to the front, and
likewise command my rear-guard to retire, whenever I doggone please,"
Bill said. "It isn't the soldiers that'll do this country the most good.
They are useful enough when they are useful, Lord knows. And we'll
always need a decent few of 'em around to look after women and children,
and invalids," he went on. "I tell you, Krane, it's men like Clarenden
that's going to make these prairies worth something one of these days.
The men who build up business, not them that shoot and run to or from.
That's what the West's got to have. I'm through going crazy about army
folks. One man that buys and sells, if he gives good weight and measure,
is, himself, a whole regiment for civilization."
Just then Jondo halted the train, and we gathered about him.
"Clarenden, let's pitch camp at the rock. The horses are dead tired and
this wind is making them nervous. There's a storm due as soon as it lays
a bit, and we would be sort of protected here. A tornado's a giant out
in this country, you know."
"This tavern doesn't have a very good name with the traveling public,
does it, Clarenden?" Rex Krane suggested.
"Not very," my uncle replied. "But in case of trouble, the top of it
isn't a bad place to shoot from."
"What if the other fellow gets there first?" Bill Banney inquired.
"We can run from here as easily as any other place," Jondo assured us.
"I haven't seen a sign of Indians yet. But we've got to be careful. This
point has a bad reputation, and I naturally begin to _feel_ Indians in
the air as soon as I come in sight of it. If we need the law of the
trail anywhere, we need it here," he admonished.
Beverly and I drew close together. We were in the land of _bad_ Indians,
but nothing had happened to us yet, and we could not believe that any
danger was near us now, although we were foolishly half hoping that
there might be, for the excitement of it.
"There's no place in a million miles for anybody to hide, Bill. Where
would Jondo's Indians be?" Beverly asked, as we were getting into camp
order for the night.
Beverly's disposition to demand proof was as strong here as it had been
in the matter of rivers turning their courses, and fishes playing
"They might be behind that ridge out north, and have a scout lying flat
on the top of old Pawnee Rock, up there, lookin' benevolently down at us
over the rim of his spectacles right now," Bill replied, as he pulled
the corral ropes out of the wagon.
"What makes you think so?" I asked, eagerly.
"What Jondo said about his _feeling Indians_, I guess, but he reads
these prairie trails as easy as Robinson Crusoe read Friday's footprints
in the sand, and he hasn't read anything in 'em yet. Indians don't
fight at night, anyhow. That's one good thing. Get hold of that rope,
Bev, and pull her up tight," Bill replied.
Every night our four wagons in camp made a hollow square, with space
enough allowed at the corners to enlarge the corral inside for the
stock. These corners were securely roped across from wagon to wagon.
To-night, however, the corral space was reduced and the quartet of
vehicles huddled closer together.
At dusk the hot wind came sweeping in from the southwest, a wild,
lashing fury, swirling the sand in great spirals from the river bed. Our
fire was put out and the blackness of midnight fell upon us. The horses
were restless and the mules squealed and stamped. All night the very
spirit of fear seemed to fill the air.
Just before daybreak a huge black storm-cloud came boiling up out of the
southwest, with a weird yellow band across the sky before it. Overhead
the stars shed a dim light on the shadowy face of the plains. A sudden
whisper thrilled the camp, chilling our hearts within us.
"Indians near!" We all knew it in a flash.
Jondo, on guard, had caught the sign first. Something creeping across
the trail, not a coyote, for it stood upright a moment, then bent again,
and was lost in the deep gloom. Jondo had shifted to another angle of
the outlook, had seen it again, and again at a third point. It was
encircling the camp. Then all of us, except Jondo, began to see moving
shapes. He saw nothing for a long time, and our spirits rose again.
"You must have been mistaken, Jondo," Rex Krane ventured, as he stared
into the black gloom. "Maybe it was just this infernal wind. It's one
darned sea-breeze of a zephyr."
"I've crossed the plains before. I wasn't mistaken," the big plainsman
replied. "If I had been, you'd still see it. The trouble is that it is
watching now. Everybody lay low. It will come to life again. I hope
there's only one of it."
We had hardly moved after the first alarm, except to peer about and
fancy that dark objects were closing in upon us.
It did come to life again. This time on Jondo's side of the camp.
Something creeping near, and nearer.
The air was motionless and hot above us, the upper heavens were
beginning to be threshed across by clouds, and the silence hung like a
weight upon us. Then suddenly, just beyond the camp, a form rose from
the ground, stood upright, and stretched out both arms toward us. And a
low cry, "Take me. I die," reached our ears.
Still Jondo commanded silence. Indians are shrewd to decoy their foes
out of the security of the camp. The form came nearer--a little girl, no
larger than our Mat--and again came the low call. The voice was Indian,
the accent Spanish, but the words were English.
"Come to us!" Esmond Clarenden answered back in a clear, low tone; and
slowly and noiselessly the girl approached the camp.
I can feel it all now, although that was many years ago: the soft
starlight on the plains; the hot, still air holding its breath against
the oncoming tornado; the group of wagons making a deeper shadow in the
dull light; beyond us the bold front of old Pawnee Rock, huge and gray
in the gloom; our little company standing close together, ready to hurl
a shower of bullets if this proved but the decoy of a hidden foe; and
the girl with light step drawing nearer. Clad in the picturesque garb of
the Southwest Indian, her hair hanging in a great braid over each
shoulder, her dark eyes fixed on us, she made a picture in that dusky
setting that an artist might not have given to his brush twice in a
lifetime on the plains.
A few feet from us she halted.
"Throw up your hands!" Jondo commanded.
The slim brown arms were flung above the girl's head, and I caught the
glint of quaintly hammered silver bracelets, as she stepped forward with
that ease of motion that generations of moccasined feet on sand and sod
and stone can give.
"Take me," she cried, pleadingly. "The Mexicans steal me from my people
and bring me far away. They meet Kiowa. Kiowa beat me; make me slave."
She held up her hands. They were lacerated and bleeding. She slipped the
bright blanket from her brown shoulder. It was bruised and swollen.
"You go to Santa Fe? Take me. I do you good, not bad."
"What would these Kiowas do to us, then?"
It was Bill Banney who spoke.
"They follow you--kill you."
"Oh, cheerful! I wish you were twins," Rex Krane said, softly.
Jondo lifted his hand.
"Let me talk to her," he said.
Then in her own language he got her story.
"Here we are." He turned to us. "Stolen from her people by the Mexicans,
probably the same ones we passed in Council Grove; traded to the Kiowas
out here somewhere, beaten, and starved, and held for ransom, or trade
to some other tribe. They are over there behind Pawnee Rock. They got
sight of us somehow, but they don't intend to bother us. They are on the
lookout for a bigger train. She has slipped away while they sleep. If we
send her back she will be beaten and made a slave. If we keep her, they
will follow us for a fight. They are fifty to our six. What shall we
"We don't need any Indians to help us get into trouble. We are sure
enough of it without that," Bill Banney declared. "And what's one
Indian, anyhow? She's just--"
"Just a little orphan girl like Mat," Rex Krane finished his sentence.
Bill frowned, but made no reply.
The Indian girl was standing outside the corral, listening to all that
was said, her face giving no sign of the struggle between hope and
despair that must have striven within her.
"Uncle Esmond, let's take her, and take our chances." Beverly's boyish
voice had a defiant tone, for the spirit of adventure was strong within
him. The girl turned quickly and a great light leaped into her eyes at
the boy's words.
"Save a life and lose ours. It's not the rule of the plains,
but--there's a higher law like that somewhere, Clarenden," Jondo said,
The girl came swiftly toward Uncle Esmond and stood upright before him.
"I will not hide the truth. I go back to Kiowas. They sell me for big
treasure. They will not harm you," she said. "I stay with you, they say
you steal me, and they come at the first bird's song and kill you every
one. They are so many."
She stood motionless before him, the seal of grim despair on her young
"What's your name?" Esmond Clarenden asked. "Po-a-be. In your words,
'Little Blue Flower,'" the girl said.
"Then, Little Blue Flower, you must stay with us."
She pointed toward the eastern sky where a faint light was beginning to
show above the horizon. "See, the day comes!"
"Then we will break camp now," my uncle said.
"Not in the face of this storm, Clarenden," Jondo declared. "You can
fight an Indian. You can't do a thing but 'hold fast' in one of these
The air was still and hot. The black cloud swept swiftly onward, with
the weird yellow glow before it. In the solitude of the plains the trail
showed like a ghostly pathway of peril. Before us loomed that grim rock
bluff, behind whose crest lay the sleeping band of Kiowas. It was only
because they slept that Little Blue Flower could steal away in hope of
Hotter grew the air and darker the swiftly rolling clouds; black and
awful stood old Pawnee Rock with the silent menace of its sleeping
enemy. In the stillness of the pause before the storm burst we heard
Jondo's voice commanding us. With our first care for the frightened
stock, we grouped ourselves together as he ordered close under the
Suddenly an angry wind leaped out of the sky, beating back the hot dead
air with gigantic flails of fury. Then the storm broke with tornado rage
and cloudburst floods, and in its track terror reigned. Beverly and I
clung together, and, holding a hand of each, Mat Nivers crouched beside
us, herself strong in this second test of courage as she had been in the
camp that night at Council Grove.
I have never been afraid of storms and I can never understand why timid
folk should speak of them as of a living, self-directing force bent
purposely on human destruction. I love the splendor of the lightning and
the thunder's peal. From our earliest years, Beverly and Mat and I had
watched the flood-waters of the Missouri sweep over the bottomlands, and
we had heard the winds rave, and the cannonading of the angry heavens.
But this mad blast of the prairie storm was like nothing we had ever
seen or heard before. A yellow glare filled the sky, a half-illumined,
evil glow, as if to hide what lay beyond it. One breathed in fine sand,
and tasted the desert dust. Behind it, all copper-green, a broad, lurid
band swept up toward the zenith. Under its weird, unearthly light, the
prairies, and everything upon them, took on a ghastly hue. Then came the
inky-black storm-cloud--long, funnel-shaped, pendulous--and in its
deafening roar and the thick darkness that could be felt, and the awful
sweep of its all-engulfing embrace, the senses failed and the very
breath of life seemed beaten away. The floods fell in streams, hot, then
suddenly cold. And then a fusillade of hail bombarded the flat prairies,
defenseless beneath the munitions of the heavens. But in all the wild,
mad blackness, in the shriek and crash of maniac winds, in the swirl of
many waters, and chill and fury of the threshing hail, the law of the
trail failed not: "Hold fast." And with our hands gripped in one
another's, we children kept the law.
Just at the moment when destruction seemed upon us, the long swinging
cloud--funnel lifted. We heard it passing high above us. Then it dropped
against the face of old Pawnee Rock, that must have held the trail law
through all the centuries of storms that have beaten against its bold,
stern front. One tremendous blast, one crashing boom, as if the
foundations of the earth were broken loose, and the thing had left us
Daylight burst upon us in a moment, and the blue heavens smiled down on
the clean-washed prairies. No homes, no crops, no orchards were left in
ruins in those days to mark the cyclone's wrath on wilderness trails. As
the darkness lifted we gathered ourselves together to take hold of life
again and to defend ourselves from our human enemy.
A shower of arrows from the top of the bluff might rain upon us at any
moment, yelling warriors might rush upon us, or a ring of riders
encircle us. It was in times like this that I learned how quickly men
can get the mastery.
Jondo and Esmond Clarenden did not delay a minute in protecting the camp
and setting it in order, taking inventory of the lost and searching for
the missing. Three of our number, with one of the ponies, were missing.
Aunty Boone had crouched in a protected angle at the base of the bluff,
and when we found her she was calmly smoking her pipe.
"Yo' skeered of this little puff?" she queried. "Yo' bettah see a simoon
on the desset, then. This here--just a racket. What's come of that
She was not to be found. Nor was there any trace of Rex Krane anywhere.
In consternation we scanned the prairies far and wide, but only level
green distances were about us, holding no sign of life. We lived hours
in those watching minutes.
Suddenly Beverly gave a shout, and we saw Little Blue Flower running
swiftly from the sloping side of the bluff toward the camp. Behind her
stalked the young New-Englander.
"I went up to see what she was in such a hurry for to see," he
explained, simply. "I calculated it would be as interestin' to me as to
her, and if anything was about to cut loose"--he laid a hand carelessly
on his revolver--"why, I'd help it along. The little pink pansy, it
seems, went to look after our friends, the enemy," Rex went on. "The
hail nearly busted that old rock open. I thought once it had. The ponies
are scattered and likewise the Kiowas. Gone helter-skelter, like
the--tornado. The thing hit hard up there. Some ponies dead, and mebby
an Indian or two. I didn't hunt 'em up. I can't use 'em that way," he
added. "So I just said, 'Pax vobiscum!' and a lot of it, and came
Little Blue Flower's eyes glistened.
"Gone, all gone. The rain god drove them away. Now I know I may go with
you. The rain god loves you."
It was to Beverly, and not to my uncle, that her eyes turned as she
spoke, but he was not even listening to her. To him she was merely an
Indian. She seemed more than that to me, and therein lay the difference
If she had been interesting under the starlight, in the light of day she
became picturesque, a beautiful type of her race, silent, alert of
countenance, with big, expressive, black eyes, and long, heavy braids of
black hair. With her brilliant blanket about her shoulders, a turquoise
pendant on a leather band at her throat, silver bracelets on her brown
arms, she was as pleasing as an Indian maiden could be--adding a touch
of picturesque life to that wonderful journey westward from Pawnee Rock
to Santa Fe. Aunty Boone alone resented her presence among us.
"You can trust a nigger," she growled, "'cause you know they none of 'em
no 'count. But you can't tell about this Injun, whether she's good or
bad. I lets that sort of fish alone."
Little Blue Flower looked up at her with steady gaze and made no reply.
Out of that morning's events I learned a lasting lesson, and I know now
that the influence of Rex Krane on my life began that day, as I recalled
how he had followed Aunty Boone about the dark corners of the little
trading-post on the Neosho; and how he had looked at Mat Nivers once
when Uncle Esmond had suggested his turning back to Independence; and
how he had gone before all of us, the vanguard, to the top of the bluff
west of Council Grove; and now he had followed this Indian girl. From
that time I knew in my boy heart that this tall, careless Boston youth
had a zealous care for the safety of women and children. How much care,
events would run swiftly on to show me. But welded into my life from
that hour was the meaning of a man's high, chivalric duty. And among all
the lessons that the old trail taught to me, none served me more than
this one that came to me on that sweet May morning beneath the shadow of
SPYING OUT THE LAND
City of the Holy Faith,
In thy streets so dim with age,
Do I read not Faith's decay,
But the Future's heritage.
Day was passing and the shadows were already beginning to grow purple in
the valleys, long before the golden light had left the opal-crowned
peaks of the Sangre-de-Christo Mountains beyond them.
On the wide crest of a rocky ridge our wagons halted. Behind us the long
trail stretched back, past mountain height and canon wall, past barren
slope and rolling green prairie, on to where the wooded ravines hem in
the Missouri's yellow floods.
Before us lay a level plain, edged round with high mesas, over which
snowy-topped mountain peaks kept watch. A sandy plain, checkered across
by verdant-banded arroyos, and splotched with little clumps of trees and
little fields of corn. In the heart of it all was Santa Fe, a mere group
of dust-brown adobe blocks--silent, unsmiling, expressionless--the
city of the Spanish Mexican, centuries old and centuries primitive.
As our tired mules slackened their traces and drooped to rest after the
long up-climb, Esmond Clarenden called out:
"Come here, children. Yonder is the end of the trail."
We gathered eagerly about him, a picture in ourselves, maybe, in an age
of picturesque things; four men, bronzed and bearded; two sturdy boys;
Mat Nivers, no longer a little girl, it seemed now, with the bloom of
health on her tanned cheeks, and the smile of good nature in wide gray
eyes; beside her, the Indian maiden, Little Blue Flower, slim, brown,
lithe of motion, brief of speech; and towering back of all, the
glistening black face of the big, silent African woman.
So we stood looking out toward that northwest plain where the trail lost
itself among the low adobe huts huddled together beside the glistening
waters of the Santa Fe River.
Rex Krane was the first to speak.
"So that's what we've come out for to see, is it?" he mused, aloud.
"That's the precious old town that we've dodged Indians, and shot
rattlesnakes, and sunburnt our noses, and rain-soaked our dress suits
for! That's why we've pillowed our heads on the cushiony cactus and
tramped through purling sands, and blistered our hands pullin' at
eider-down ropes, and strained our leg-muscles goin' down, and busted
our lungs comin' up, and clawed along the top edge of the world with
nothin' but healthy climate between us and the bottom of the bottomless
pit. Humph! That's what you call Santa Fe! 'The city of the Holy Faith!'
Well, I need a darned lot of 'holy faith' to make me see any city there.
It's just a bunch of old yellow brick-kilns to me, and I 'most wish now
I'd stayed back at Independence and hunted dog-tooth violets along the
"It's not Boston, if that's what you were looking for; at least there's
no Bunker Hill Monument nor Back Bay anywhere in sight. But I reckon
it's the best they've got. I'm tired enough to take what's offered and
keep still," Bill Banney declared.
I, too, wanted to keep still. I had only a faint memory of a real city.
It must have been St. Louis, for there was a wharf, and a steamboat and
a busy street, and soft voices--speaking a foreign tongue. But the
pictures I had seen, and the talk I had heard, coupled with a little
boy's keen imagination, had built up a very different Santa Fe in my
mind. At that moment I was homesick for Fort Leavenworth, through and
through homesick, for the first time since that April day when I had sat
on the bluff above the Missouri River while the vision of the plains
descended upon me. Everything seemed so different to-night, as if a gulf
had widened between us and all the nights behind us.
We went into camp on the ridge, with the journey's goal in plain view.
And as we sat down together about the fire after supper we forgot the
hardships of the way over which we had come. The pine logs blazed
cheerily, and as the air grew chill we drew nearer together about them
as about a home fireside.
The long June twilight fell upon the landscape. The pinon and scrubby
cedars turned to dark blotches on the slopes. The valley swam in a
purple mist. The silence of evening was broken only by a faint bird-note
in the bushes, and the fainter call of some wild thing stealing forth at
nightfall from its daytime retreat. Behind us the mesas and headlands
loomed up black and sullen, but far before us the Sangre-de-Christo
Mountains lifted their glorified crests, with the sun's last radiance
bathing them in crimson floods.
We sat in silence for a long time, for nobody cared to talk. Presently
we heard Aunty Boone's low, penetrating voice inside the wagon corral:
"You pore gob of ugliness! Yo' done yo' best, and it's green corn and
plenty of watah and all this grizzly-gray grass you can stuff in now.
It's good for a mule to start right, same as a man. Whoo-ee!"
The low voice trailed off into weird little whoops of approval. Then the
woman wandered away to the edge of the bluff and sat until late that
night, looking out at the strange, entrancing New Mexican landscape.
"To-morrow we put on our best clothes and enter the city," my uncle
broke the silence. "We have managed to pull through so far, and we
intend to keep on pulling till we unload back at Independence again.
But these are unsafe times and we are in an unsafe country. We are going
to do business and get out of it again as soon as possible. I shall ask
you all to be ready to leave at a minute's notice, if you are coming
back with me!"
"Now you see why I didn't join the army, don't you, Krane?" Bill Banney
said, aside. "I wanted to work under a real general."
Then turning to my uncle, he added:
"I'm already contracted for the round trip, Clarenden."
"You are going to start back just as if there were no dangers to be
met?" Rex Krane inquired.
"As if there were dangers to be _met_, not run from," Esmond Clarenden
"Clarenden," the young Bostonian began, "you got away from that drunken
mob at Independence with your children, your mules, and your big Daniel
Boone. You started out when war was ragin' on the Mexican frontier, and
never stopped a minute because you had to come it alone from Council
Grove. You shook yourself and family right through the teeth of that
Mexican gang layin' for you back there. You took Little Trailing Arbutus
at Pawnee Rock out of pure sympathy when you knew it meant a fight at
sun-up, six against fifty. And there would have been a bloody one, too,
but for that merciful West India hurricane bustin' up the show. You
pulled us up the Arkansas River, and straddled the Gloriettas, with
every danger that could ever be just whistlin' about our ears. And now
you sit there and murmur softly that 'we are in an unsafe country and
these are unsafe times,' so we'd better be toddlin' back home right
soon. I want to tell _you_ something now."
He paused and looked at Mat Nivers. Always he looked at Mat Nivers, who
since the first blush one noonday long ago, so it seemed, now, never
appeared to know or care where he looked. He must have had such a sister
himself; I felt sure of that now.
"I want to tell _you_," Rex repeated, "that I'm goin' to stay with you.
There's something _safe_ about you. And then," he added, carelessly, as
he gazed out toward the darkening plain below us, "my mother always said
you could tie to a man who was good to children. And you've been good to
this infant Kentuckian here."
He flung out a hand toward Bill Banney without looking away from the
open West. "When you want to start back to God's country and the land of
Plymouth Rocks and Pawnee Rocks, I'm ready to trot along."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, Krane," Esmond Clarenden said. "I shall
need all the help I can get on the way back. Because we got through
safely we cannot necessarily count on a safe return. I may need you in
Santa Fe, too."
"Then command me," Rex replied.
He looked toward Mat again, but she and Little Blue Flower were coiling
their long hair in fantastic fashion about their heads, and laughing
like school-girls together.
Little Blue Flower was as a shy brown fawn following us. She had a way
of copying Mat's manner, and she spoke less of Indian and Spanish and
more of English from day to day. She had laid aside her Indian dress for
one of Mat's neat gingham gowns. I think she tried hard to forget her
race in everything except her prayers, for her own people had all been
slain by Mexican ruffians. We could not have helped liking her if we had
tried to do so. Yet that invisible race barrier that kept a fixed gulf
between us and Aunty Boone separated us also from the lovable little
Indian lass, albeit the gulf was far less deep and impassable.
To-night when she and Mat scampered away to the family wagon together,
she seemed somehow to really belong to us.
Presently Jondo and Rex Krane and Bill and Beverly rolled their blankets
about them and went to sleep, leaving Esmond Clarenden and myself alone
beside the dying fire. The air was sharp and the night silence deepened
as the stars came into the skies.
"Why don't you go to bed, Gail?" my uncle asked.
"I'm not sleepy. I'm homesick," I replied. "Come here, boy." He opened
his arms to me, and I nestled in their embrace.
"You've grown a lot in these two months, little man," he said, softly.
"You are a brave-hearted plainsman, and a good, strong little limb when
it comes to endurance, but just once in a while all of us need a
mothering touch. It keeps us sweet, my boy. It keeps us sweet and fit to
Oh, many a time in the years that followed did the loving embrace and
the gentle words of this gentle, strong man come back to comfort me.
"Let me tell you something, Gail. I'm going to need a boy like you to
help me a lot before we leave Santa Fe, and I shall count on you."
Just then a noise at the far side of the corral seemed to disturb the
stock. A faint stir of awakening or surprise--just a hint in the air.
All was still in a moment. Then it came again. We listened. Something,
an indefinite something, somewhere, was astir. The surprise became
unrest, anxiety, fear, among the mules.
"Wait here, Gail. I'll see what's up," Uncle Esmond said, in a low
He hurried away toward the corral and I slipped back in the shadow of a
rock and leaned against it to wait.
In the dim beams of a starlit New Mexican sky I could see clearly out
toward the valley, but behind the camp all was darkness. As I waited,
hidden by the shadows, suddenly the flap of the family-wagon cover
lifted and Little Blue Flower slid out as softly as a cat walks in the
dust. She was dressed in her own Indian garb now, with her bright
blanket drawn picturesquely about her head and shoulders. Silently she
moved about the camp, peering toward the shadows hiding me. Then with
noiseless step she slipped toward where Beverly Clarenden lay, his
boyish face upturned to the stars, sleeping the dreamless sleep of
youth and health. I leaned forward and stared hard as the girl
approached him. I saw her drop down on one knee beside him, and, bending
over him, she gently kissed his forehead. She rose and gave one hurried
look around the place and then, like a bird lifting its wings for
flight, she threw up her arms, and in another moment she sprang to the
edge of the ridge and slipped from view. I followed, only to see her
gliding swiftly away, farther and farther, along the dim trail, until
the shadows swallowed her from my sight.
A low whinny from the corral caught my ear, followed by a rush of
horses' feet. As I slipped into my place again to wait for my uncle to
return, the smoldering logs blazed out suddenly, lighting up the form of
a man who appeared just beyond the fire, so that I saw the face
distinctly. Then he, too, was gone, following the way the Indian girl
had taken, until he lost himself in the misty dullness of the plains.
Presently Esmond Clarenden came back to the camp-fire.
"Gail, the pony we lost in that storm at Pawnee Rock has come back to
us. It was standing outside the corral, waiting to get in, just as if it
had lost us for a couple of hours. It is in good condition, too."
"How could it ever get here?" I exclaimed.
"Any one of a dozen ways," my uncle replied. "It may have run far that
stormy morning when it broke out of the corral, and possibly some party
coming over the Cimarron Trail picked it up and roved on this way. There
is no telling how it got here, since it keeps still itself about the
matter. Losing and finding and losing again is the law of events on the
"But why should it find us right here to-night, like it had been led
back?" I insisted.
"That's the miracle of it, Gail. It is always the strange thing that
really happens here. In years to come, if you ever tell the truth about
this trip, it will not be believed. When this isn't the frontier any
longer, the story of the trail will be accounted impossible."
Everything seemed impossible to me as I sat there staring at the dying
fire. Presently I remembered what I had seen while my uncle was away.
"Little Blue Flower has run away," I said, "and I saw the Mexican that
came to Fort Leavenworth the day before I twisted my ankle. He slipped
by here just a minute ago. I know, for I saw his face when the logs
Esmond Clarenden gave a start. "Gail, you have the most remarkable
memory for faces of any child I ever knew," he said.
"Did he follow us, too, like the pony, or did he ride the pony after
us?" I asked. "He's just everywhere we go, somehow. Did I ever see him
before he came to the fort, or did I dream it?"
"You are a little dreamer, Gail," my uncle said, kindly. "But dreams
don't hurt, if you do your part whenever you are needed."
"Bev and Bill Banney make fun of dreams," I said.
"Yes, they don't have 'em; but Bev and Bill are ready when it comes to
doing things. They are a good deal alike, daring, and a bit reckless
sometimes, with good hard sense enough to keep them level."
"Don't I do, too?" I inquired.
"Yes, you do and dream, both. That's all the better. But you mustn't
forget, too, that sometimes the things we long for in our dreams we must
fight for, and even die for, maybe, that those who come after us may be
the better for our having them. What was it you said about Little Blue
Flower?" Uncle Esmond had forgotten her for the moment.
"She's gone to Santa Fe, I reckon. Is she bad, Uncle Esmond? Tell me all
about things," I urged.
"We are all here spying out the land, Mexican, Indian, trader,
freighter, adventurer, invalid," Uncle Esmond replied. "I don't know
what started the little Indian girl off, unless she just felt Indian, as
Jondo would say; but I may as well tell you, Gail, that it may have been
the Mexican who got our pony for us. He is a strange fellow, walks like
a cat, has ears like a timber wolf, and the cunning of a fox."
"Is he our friend?" I asked, eagerly.
"Listen, boy. He came to Fort Leavenworth on purpose to bring me an
important message, and he waited at Independence to see us off. Do you
remember the two spies Krane talked about at Council Grove? I think he
followed the Mexican spy across the river to our camp and sent him on
east. Then he went back and got the crowd all mixed up by his report,
while their own man scouted the trail out there for miles all night. He
is the man who put you through town and decoyed the ruffians to one
side. He located us after we had crossed the river, and then broke up
their meeting and put the fellows off to wait till the next night. That
is the way I worked out that Council Grove puzzle. He has a wide range,
and there are big things ahead for him in New Mexico.
"Sooner or later however," my uncle went on, "we will have to reckon
with that Kiowa tribe for stealing their captive. They meant to return
her for a big ransom price.... Great Heavens, Gail! You seem like a man
to me to-night instead of my little boy back at the fort. The plains
bring years to us instead of months, with just one crossing. I am
counting on you not to tell all you've been told and all you've seen. I
can be sure of you if you can keep things to yourself. You'd better get
to sleep now. There will be plenty to see over in Santa Fe. And there is
always danger afoot. But remember, it is the coward who finds the most
trouble in this world. Do your part with a gentleman's heart and a
hero's hand, and you'll get to the end of every trail safely. Now go to
Where I lay that night I could see a wide space of star-gemmed sky, the
blue night-sky of the Southwest, and I wondered, as I looked up into
the starry deeps, how God could keep so many bright bodies afield up
there, and yet take time to guard all the wandering children of men.
With the day-dawn the strange events of the night seemed as unreal as
the vanishing night-shadows. The bluest skies of a blue-sky land curved
in fathomless majesty over the yellow valley of the Santa Fe. Against
its borders loomed the silent mountain ranges--purple-shaddowed,
silver-topped Ortiz and Jemez, Sandia and Sangre-de-Christo. Dusty and
deserted lay the trail, save that here and there a group of dark-faced
carriers of firewood prodded on their fagot-laden burros toward the
distant town. As our wagons halted at the sandy borders of an arroyo the
brown-clad form of a priest rose up from the shade of a group of scrubby
pinon-trees beside the trail.
Esmond Clarenden lifted his hat in greeting.
"Are you going our way? We can give you a ride," he paused to say.
The man's face was very dark, but it was a young, strong face, and his
large, dark eyes were full of the fire of life. When he spoke his voice
was low and musical.
"I thank you. I go toward the mountains. You stay here long?"
"Only to dispose of my goods. My business is brief," Esmond Clarenden
The good man leaned forward as if to see each face there, sweeping in
everything at one glance. Then he looked down at the ground.
"These are troublesome days. War is only a temporary evil, but it makes
for hate, and hate kills as it dies. Love lives and gives life." A smile
lighted his eyes, though his lips were firm. "I wish you well. Among
friends or enemies the one haven of safety always is the holy
Uncle Esmond bowed his head reverently.
"You will find it beside the trail near the river. The walls are very
old and strong, but not so old as hate, nor so strong as love. A little
street runs from it, crooked--six houses away. Peace be to all of you."
He broke off suddenly and his last sentence was spoken in a clear,
strong tone unlike the gentler voice.
"I thank you, Father!" Jondo said, as the priest passed his wagon.
The holy man gave him one swift, searching glance. Then lifting his
right hand as if in blessing, and slowly dropping it until the
forefinger pointed toward the west, he passed on his way.
Jondo's brown cheek flushed and the lines about his mouth grew hard.
"Take my place, Bev," he said, as he left his wagon and joined Esmond
The two spoke earnestly together. Then Jondo mounted Beverly's pony.
"If you need me--" I heard him say, and he turned away and rode in the
direction the priest had taken.
Uncle Esmond offered no explanation for this sudden action, and his
sunny face was stern.
Usually wagon-trains were spied out long before they reached the city,
and a rabble attended their entry. To-day we moved along quietly until
the trail became a mere walled lane. On either side one-story adobe huts
sat with their backs to the street. No windows opened to the front, and
only a wooden door or a closed gateway stared in blank unfriendliness at
the passer-by. Little straggling lanes led off aimlessly on either side,
as narrow and silent as the strange terminal of the long trail itself.
I was only a boy, with the heart of a boy and the eyes of a boy. I could
only feel; I could not understand the spell of that hour. But to me
everything was alluring, wrapt as it was in the mystery of a
civilization old here when Plymouth Rock felt the first Pilgrim's foot,
or Pawnee Rock stared at the first bold plainsman of the pale face and
the conquering soul.
I was riding beside Beverly's wagon as we neared the quaint,
centuries-old, adobe church of San Miguel, rising tall and silent above
the low huts about it, its rough walls suggesting a fortress of
strength, while its triple towers might be an outlook for a guardsman.
"Look at that church. Bev, I wonder how old it is," I exclaimed.
"I should say about a thousand years and a day," Beverly declared. "See
that flopsy steeple thing! It looks like building-blocks stacked up
"Maybe this is the sanctuary that priest was talking about," I
suggested. "He said the walls were old as hate and strong as love, with
a crooked street beside it somewhere."
"Oh, you sponge! Soaking up everything you see and hear. I wonder you
sleep nights for fear the wind will tell the pine trees something you'll
miss," Beverly declared. "I can tell a horse's age by its teeth, but
churches don't have teeth. Go and ask Mat about it. She knows when the
De Sotos and Corteses and all the other Spanish grandaddees came to
I had just turned back alongside of Mat's wagon--she was always our book
of ready reference--when a little girl suddenly dashed out of a walled
lane opening into the street behind us. She stopped in the middle of the
road, almost under my pony's feet, then with a shout of laughter she
dashed into the deep doorway of the church and stood there, peering out
at me with eyes brimful of mischief.
I brought my pony back on its haunches suddenly. I had seen this girl
before. The big dark eyes, the straight little nose, the curve of the
pink cheek, the china-smooth chin and neck, and, crowning all, the cloud
of golden hair shading her forehead and falling in tangled curls behind.
I did not notice all these features now. It was only the eyes, dark
eyes, somewhere this side of misty mountain peaks, and maybe the halo of
hair that had been in my vision on that day when Beverly and Mat Nivers
and I sat on the parade-ground facing a sudden turn in our life trail.
I stared at the eyes now, only half conscious that the girl was laughing
"You big brown bob-cat! You look like you had slept in the Hondo 'royo
all your life," she cried, and turned to run away again.
As she did so a dark face peered round the corner of the church from the
crooked street beside it. A sudden gleam of white teeth and glistening
eyes, a sudden leap and grip, and a boy, larger than Beverly, caught the
little girl by the shoulders and shook her viciously.
She screamed and struggled. Then, with a wild shriek as he clutched at
her curls, she wrenched herself away and plunged inside the church. The
boy dived in after her. Another scream, and I had dropped from my pony
and leaped across the road. I pushed open the door against the two
struggling together. With one grip at his coat-collar I broke his hold
on the little girl and flung him outside.
I have a faint recollection of a priest hurrying down the aisle toward
the fighting children, as the little girl, freed from her assailant,
dashed out of the door.
"He jumped at her first, and shook her and pulled her hair," I cried, as
the priest caught me by the shoulder. "I'm not going to see anybody
pitched into, not a little girl, anyhow."
I jerked myself free from his grasp and ran out to my pony. At the
corner of the church stood the girl, her cheeks flushed, her eyes
blazing defiance, her rumpled curls in a tangle about her face.
"I hate Marcos, he's so cruel, and"--her voice softened and the defiant
eyes grew mischievous--"you aren't a bob-cat. You're a--Look out!"
She shouted the last words and disappeared up the narrow, crooked
street, just as a fragment of rock whizzed over my shoulder. I jumped on
my pony to dash away, when another rock just missed my head, and I saw
the boy, Marcos, beside the church, ready for a third hurl. His black
eyes flashed fire, and the grin of malice on his face showed all his
fine white teeth.
I was as mad as a boy can be. Instead of fleeing, I spurred my pony
straight at him.
"You little beast, I dare you to throw that rock at me! I dare you!" I
The boy dropped the missile and sped away after the girl. I followed in
time to see them enter a doorway, six or seven houses up the way. Then I
turned back, and in a minute I had overtaken our wagons trailing down to
the ford of the Santa Fe River.
"I thought mebby you'd gone back after Jondo and that holy podder," Rex
Krane greeted me. "Better begin to wink naturally and look a little
pleasanter now. We'll be in the Plazzer in two or three minutes."
The drivers flourished their whips, the mules caught their spirit, and
with bump and lurch and rattle we swung down the narrow crack between
adobe walls that ended before the old Exchange Hotel at the corner of
This open square in the center of the city was shaded by trees and
littered with refuse. The Palace of the Governors fronted it along the
entire north side, a long, low, one-story structure whose massive adobe
walls defy the wearing years. Compared to the kingly palaces of my
imagination, this royal dwelling seemed a very commonplace thing, and
the wide portal, or veranda, that ran along its front looked like one of
the sheds about the barracks at the fort rather than an entranceway for
rulers. Yet this was the house of a ruler hostile to that flag to which
I had thrown a good-by kiss, up at Fort Leavenworth.
On the other three sides of the Plaza were other low adobe buildings,
for the business of the city faced this central square.
A crowd was gathered there when we reached it. Somebody standing before
the Palace of the Governors was haranguing in fiery Spanish, if gesture
and oral vehemence are true tokens.
As our wagons rumbled up to the corner of the square the crowd broke up
with a shout.
"Los Americanos! Los Carros!"
The cry went up everywhere as the rabble left the speaker to flock about
us--men, women, children, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, with now and then a
Saxon face among them. Our outfit was as well appointed as such a
journey's end permitted. We were in our best clothes--clean-shaven
gentlemen, well-dressed boys, and one girl, neat and comely in a
dark-blue gown of thin stuff with white lace at throat and wrist; and
last, and biggest of all, Aunty Boone, in a bright-green lawn with
little white dots all over it.
As I sat on my pony beside my uncle's wagon, I caught sight of the slim
figure of Little Blue Flower, well back in the shade of the Plaza. She
was watching Beverly, who sat in Jondo's wagon, staring at the crowd and
seeing no one in particular. A minute later a tall young Indian boy
stepped in front of her, and when he moved away she was gone.
Many men came forward to greet Esmond Clarenden, and there were many
inquiries regarding his goods and many exclamations of surprise that he
had come alone with so valuable a cargo.
It was the first time that Beverly and I had seen him among his equals.
At Fort Leavenworth, where the army overruled everything else, men stood
above him in authority or below him in business affairs; and while he
never cringed to the one, nor patronized the other, where there are no
competitors there are no true measures. That day in the Plaza of Santa
Fe the merchant was in his own kingdom, where commerce stood above
Moreover, this American merchant, following a danger-girt trail, had
come in fearlessly, and those men of the Plaza knew that he was one to
exact value for value in all his dealings. But I believe that his real
power lay in his ready smile, his courtesy, his patience, and his
up-bubbling good nature that made him a friendship-builder.
Among the men who came to make acquaintance with the American trader was
a Mexican merchant. Evidently he was a man of some importance, for an
interpreter hastened to introduce him, explaining that this man had been
away on a journey of some weeks among the mines of New Mexico and the
Southwest, and only the day before he had come in from Taos.
"You will find him a prince of merchants, a sound, unprejudiced business
man. His name is Felix Narveo," the American interpreter added.
The two men shook hands, greeting each other in the Spanish tongue. This
Felix Narveo was well dressed and well groomed, but I recognized him at
once as the Mexican of Fort Leavenworth and Independence and Council
There was one man in that company, however, who did not come forward at
all. When I first caught sight of him he was looking at me. I stared
back at him with a boy's curiosity, but he did not take his eyes from me
until I had dropped my own. After that I watched him keenly. He seemed
almost too fair for a Mexican--a tall, spare-built man with black hair,
and eyes so steely blue that they were almost black. Everywhere I saw
him--at the corners of the little crowd and in the thick of it. He was
an easy mark, for he towered above the rest, and, being slender, he
seemed to worm his way quickly from place to place. At sight of him,
Aunty Boone, who had been peering out with shining eyes, drew her head
in as quick as a snake, under the shadow of the wagon cover, and her
eyes grew dull. He had not seen her, but I could see that he was
watching the remainder of us, and especially my uncle; and I began to
feel afraid of him and to wish that he would leave the Plaza. It was
years ago that all this happened, and yet to-day my fear of that man
still sticks in my memory.
When he turned away, suddenly I caught sight of the boy, whom I had
flung out of the church, standing behind him, the boy whom the little
girl had called Marcos. Although his face was dark and the man's was
fair, there was a strong likeness between the two.
This Marcos stared insolently at all of us. Then with a laugh and a
grimace at me, he ran after the man and they disappeared together around
the corner of the Palace of the Governors. And in the rush of strange
sights I forgot them both for a time.
Our dwelling-place in all generations.--Psalms xc, 1.
They are wonderful to me still--those few brief days that followed.
While Esmond Clarenden was forcing his business transactions to a speedy
climax, he was all the time foreseeing Santa Fe under the United States
Government. He had not come here as a spy, nor a speculator, but as a
commerce-builder, knowing that the same business life would go on when
the war cloud lifted, and that the same men who had made the plains
commerce profitable under the Mexican flag would not be exiled when the
Stars and Stripes should float above the old Palace of the Governors.
Belief in the ethics of his calling and trust in manhood were ever a
large part of his stock in trade, making him dare to go where he chose
to go, and to do what he willed to do.
But no concern for commerce nor extension of national territory
disturbed our young minds in those sunlit days, as Mat and Beverly and I
looked with the big, quick-seeing eyes of youth on this new strange
world at the end of the trail.
We were all together in the deserted dining-room on our first evening in
Santa Fe when the man whom I had seen on the Plaza strolled leisurely
in. He sat down at one of the farthest tables from us, and his eyes,
glistening like blue-black steel, were fixed on us.
Once at Fort Leavenworth I had watched in terror as a bird fluttered
helplessly toward a still, steel-eyed snake holding it in thrall. And
just at the moment when its enemy was ready to strike, Jondo had
happened by and shot the snake's head off. The same terror possessed me
now, and I began half-consciously to long for Jondo.
In the midst of new sights I had hardly thought of him since he had left
us out beyond the big arroyo. He had come into town at dusk, but soon
after supper he had disappeared. His face was very pale, and his eyes
had a strange look that never left them again. Something was different
in Jondo from that day, but it did not change his gentle nature toward
his fellow-men. During our short stay in Santa Fe we hardly saw him at
all. We children were too busy with other things to ask questions, and
everybody but Rex Krane was too busy to be questioned. Having nothing
else to do, Rex became our chaperon, as Uncle Esmond must have foreseen
he would be when he measured the young man in Independence on the day we
To-night Esmond Clarenden, smiling and good-natured, paid no heed to the
sharp eyes of this stranger fixed on him.
"What's the matter now, little weather-vane? You are always first to
sense a coming change," he declared.
"Uncle Esmond, I saw that man watching us like he knew us, out there on
the Plaza to-day. Who is he?" I asked, in a low tone.
"His name is Ferdinand Ramero. You will find him watching everywhere.
Let that man alone as you would a snake," my uncle warned us.
"Is that his boy?" I asked.
"What boy?" Uncle Esmond inquired.
"Marcos, the boy I pitched endways out of the church. He's bigger than
Bev, too," I declared, proudly.
"Gail Clarenden, are you crazy?" Uncle Esmond exclaimed.
"No, I'm not," I insisted, and then I told what had happened at the
church, adding, "I saw Marcos with that man in the Plaza, and they went
Esmond Clarenden's face grew grave.
"What kind of a looking child was she, Gail?" he asked, after a pause.
"Oh, she had yellow hair and big sort of dark eyes! She could squeal
like anything. She wasn't a baby girl at all, but a regular little
fighter kind of a girl."
I grew bashful all at once and hesitated, but my uncle did not seem to
hear me, for he turned to Rex Krane and said, in low, earnest tones:
"Krane, if you can locate that child for me you will do me an invaluable
service. It was largely on her account that I came here now, and it's a
god-send to have a fellow like you to save time for me. Every man has
his uses. Your service will be a big one to me."
The young man's face flushed and his eyes shone with a new light.
"If any of you happen to see that girl let me know at once," my uncle
said, turning to us, "but, remember, don't act as if you were hunting
"I know now right where she lives. It's up a crooked street by that
church. I saw her run in there," I insisted.
"Every hut looks like every other hut, and every little Mex looks like
every other little Mex," Beverly declared.
Uncle Esmond smiled, but the stern lines in his face hardly broke as he
said, earnestly, "Keep your eyes open and, whatever you do, stay close
to Krane while Bill helps me here, and don't forget to watch for that
little girl when you are sight-seeing."
"There's not much to see, as Bev says, but the outside of 'dobe walls
five feet thick," Rex Krane observed. "But if you know which wall to
look through, the lookin' may be easy enough. Seein' things is my
specialty, and we'll get this princess if we have to slay a giant and an
ogre and take a few dozen Mexican scalps first. The plot just thickens.
It's a great game." The tall New-Englander would not take life seriously
anywhere, and, with our trust in his guardianship, we could want no
That night Beverly Clarenden and I were in fairyland.
"It's the princess, Bev, the princess we were looking for," I joyously
asserted. "And, oh, Bev, she is beautiful, but snappy-like, too. She
called me a 'big brown bob-cat', and then she apologized, just as nice
as could be."
"And this little Marcos cuss, he'll be the ogre," Beverly declared. "But
who'll we have for the giant? That priest, footing it out by that dry
creek-thing they call a 'royo?"
"Oh no, no! He and Jondo made up together, and Jondo's nobody's bad man
even in a story. It will be that Ferdinand Ramero," I insisted. "But,
say, Bev, Jondo wrote a new name on the register this evening, or
somebody wrote it for him, maybe. It wasn't his own writing. 'Jean
Deau.' I saw it in big, round, back-slanting letters. Why did he do
"Well, I reckon that's his real name in big, round, back-slanting
letters down here," Beverly replied. "It's French, and we have just been
spelling it like it sounds, that's all."
"Well, maybe so," I commented, and when I fell asleep it was to dream of
a princess and Jondo by a strange name, but the same Jondo.
The air of New Mexico puts iron into the blood. The trail life had
hardened us all, but the finishing touch for Rex Krane came in the
invigorating breath of that mountain-cooled, sun-cleansed atmosphere of
Santa Fe. Shrewd, philosophic, brave-hearted like his historic ancestry,
he laid his plans carefully now, sure of doing what he was set to do.
And the wholesome sense of really serving the man who had measured his
worth at a glance gave him a pleasure he had not known before. Of
course, he moved slowly and indifferently. One could never imagine Rex
Krane hurrying about anything.
"We'll just 'prospect,' as Daniel Boone says," he declared, as he
marshaled us for the day. "We are strangers, sight-seein', got no other
business on earth, least of all any to take us up to this old San Miguel
Church for unholy purposes. 'Course if we see a pretty little dark-eyed,
golden-haired lassie anywhere, we'll just make a diagram of the spot
she's stand'n' on, for future reference. We're in this game to win, but
we don't do no foolish hurryin' about it."
So we wandered away, a happy quartet, and the city offered us strange
sights on every hand. It was all so old, so different, so silent, so
baffling--the narrow, crooked street; the solid house-walls that hemmed
them in; the strange tongue, strange dress, strange customs; the absence
of smiling faces or friendly greetings; the sudden mystery of seeking
for one whom we must not seem to seek, and the consciousness of an
enemy, Ferdinand Ramero, whom we must avoid--that it is small wonder
that we lived in fairyland.
We saw the boy, Marcos, here and there, sometimes staring defiantly at
us from some projected angle; sometimes slipping out of sight as we
approached; sometimes quarreling with other children at their play. But
nowhere, since the moment when I had seen the door close on her up that
crooked street beside the old church, could we find any trace of the
In the dim morning light of our fifth day in Santa Fe, a man on
horseback, carrying a big, bulky bundle in his arms, slipped out of the
crooked, shadow-filled street beside the old church of San Miguel. He
halted a moment before the structure and looked up at the ancient crude
spire outlined against the sky, then sped down the narrow way by the
hotel at the end of the trail. He crossed the Plaza swiftly and dashed
out beyond the Palace of the Governors and turned toward the west.
Aunty Boone, who slept in the family wagon--or under it--in the
inclosure at the rear of the hotel, had risen in time to peer out of the
wooden gate just as the rider was passing. It was still too dark to see
the man's face distinctly, but his form, and the burden he carried, and
the trappings of the horse she noted carefully, as was her habit.
"Up to cussedness, that man is. Mighty long an' slim. Lemme see! Humph!
I know _him_. I'll go wake up somebody."
As the woman leaned far out of the gate she caught sight of a little
Indian girl crouching outside of the wall.
"You got no business here, you, Little Blue Flower! Where do you live
when you _do_ live?"
Little Blue Flower pointed toward the west.
"Why you come hangin' 'round here?" the African woman demanded.
"Father Josef send me to help the people who help me," she said, in her
soft, low voice.
"Go back to your own folks, then, and tell your Daddy Joseph a man just
stole a big bunch of something and rode south with it. He can look after
that man. We can get along somehow. Now go."
The voice was like a growl, and the little Indian maiden shrank back in
the shadow of the wall. The next minute Aunty Boone was rapping softly
on the door of the room whose guest had registered as Jean Deau. Ten
minutes later another horseman left the street beside the hotel and
crossed the Plaza, riding erect and open-faced as only Jondo could ride.
Then the African woman sought out Rex Krane, and in a few brief
sentences told him what had been taking place. All of which Rex was far
too wise to repeat to Beverly and me.
That afternoon it happened that we left Mat Nivers at the hotel, while
Rex Krane and Beverly and I strolled out of town on a well-beaten trail
leading toward the west.
"It looks interestin'. Let's go on a ways," Rex commented, lazily.
Nobody would have guessed from his manner but that he was indulgently
helping us to have a good time with certain restriction as to where we
should go, and what we might say, nor that, of the three, he was the
most alert and full of definite purpose.
We sat down beside the way as a line of burros loaded with firewood from
the mountains trailed slowly by, with their stolid-looking drivers
staring at us in silent unfriendliness.
The last driver was the tall young Indian boy whom I had seen standing
in front of Little Blue Flower in the crowd of the Plaza. He paid no
heed to our presence, and his face was expressionless as he passed us.
"Stupid as his own burro, and not nearly so handsome," Beverly
The boy turned quietly and stared at my cousin, who had not meant to be
overheard. Nobody could read the meaning of that look, for his face was
as impenetrable as the adobe walls of the Palace of the Governors.
"Bev, you are laying up trouble. An Indian never forgets, and you'll be
finding that fellow under your pillow every night till he gets your
scalp," Rex Krane declared, as we went on our way.
Beverly laughed and stiffened his sturdy young arms.
"He's welcome to it if he can get it," he said, carelessly. "How many
million miles do we go to-day, Mr. Krane?"
"Yonder is your terminal," Rex replied, pointing to a little settlement
of mud huts huddling together along the trail. "They call that little
metropolis Agua Fria--'pure water'--because there ain't no water there.
It's the last place to look for anybody. That's why we look there. You
will go in like gentlemen, though--and don't be surprised nor make any
great noise over anything you see there. If a riot starts I'll do the
Carelessly as this was said, we understood the command behind it.
Near the village, I happened to glance back over the way we had come,
and there, striding in, soft-footed as a cat behind us, was that young
Indian. I turned again just as we reached the first straggling houses at
the outskirts of the settlement, but he had disappeared.
It was a strange little village, this Agua Fria. Its squat dwellings,
with impenetrable adobe walls, had sat out there on the sandy edge of
the dry Santa Fe River through many and many a lagging decade; a single
trail hardly more than a cart-width across ran through it. A church,
mud-walled and ancient, rose above the low houses, but of order or
uniformity of outline there was none. Hands long gone to dust had shaped
those crude dwellings on this sunny plain where only man decays, though
what he builds endures.
Nobody was in sight and there was something awesome in the very silence
everywhere. Rex lounged carelessly along, as one who had no particular
aim in view and was likely to turn back at any moment. But Beverly and I
stared hard in every direction.
At the end of the village two tiny mud huts, separated from each other
by a mere crack of space, encroached on this narrow way even a trifle
more than the neighboring huts. As we were passing these a soft Hopi
"Beverly! Beverly!" And Little Blue Flower, peeping shyly out from the
narrow opening, lifted a warning hand.
"The church! The church!" she repeated, softly, then darted out of
sight, as if the brown wall were but thick brown vapor into which she
"Why, it's our own little girl!" Beverly exclaimed, with a smile, just
as Little Blue Flower turned away, but I am sure she caught his words
and saw his smile.
We would have called to her, but Rex Krane evidently did not hear her,
for he neither halted nor turned his head. So, remembering our command
to be quiet, we passed on.
"I guess we are about to the end of this 'pure water' resort. It's
gettin' late. Let's go back home now," our leader said, dispiritedly. So
we turned back toward Santa Fe.
At the narrow opening where we had seen Little Blue Flower the young
Indian boy stood upright and motionless, and again he gave no sign of
"Let's just run over to that church a minute while we are here. Looks
interestin' over there," Rex suggested.
I wondered if he could have heard Little Blue Flower, and thought her
suggestion was a good one, or if this was a mere whim of his.
The church, a crude mission structure, stood some distance from the
trail. As we entered a priest came forward to meet us.
"Can I serve you?" he asked.
The voice was clear and sweet--the same voice that we had heard out
beyond the arroyo southeast of town, the same face, too, that we had
seen, with the big dark eyes full of fire. Involuntarily I recalled how
his hand had pointed to the west when he had pronounced a blessing that
"Thank you, Father--" Rex began.
"Josef," the holy man said.
"Yes, thank you, Father Josef. We are just looking at things. No wish to
be rude, you know."
Rex lifted his cap and stood bareheaded in the priestly presence.
Father Josef smiled.
"Look here, then."
He led us up the aisle to where, cuddled down on a crude seat, a little
girl lay asleep. Her golden hair fell like a cloud about her face,
flowing over the edge of the seat almost to the floor. Her cheeks were
pink and warm, and her dimpled white hands were clasped together. I had
caught Mat Nivers napping many a time, but never in my life had I seen
anything half so sweet as this sleeping girl in the beauty of her
innocence. And I knew at a glance that this was the same girl whom I had
seen before at the door of the old Church of San Miguel.
"Same as grown-ups when the sermon is dull. Thank you, Father Josef.
It's a pretty picture. We must be goin' now." Rex Krane dropped some
silver in the priest's hand and we left the church.
At the door we passed the Indian boy again, and a third time he gave no
sign of seeing us. I was the only one who was troubled, however, for Rex
and Beverly did not seem to notice him. As we left the village I caught
sight of him again following behind us.
"Look there, Bev," I said, in a low voice. Beverly glanced back, then
turned and stared defiantly at the boy.
"Maybe Rex knows about Indians," he said, lightly. "That's three times I
found him fooling around in less than an hour, but my scalp is still
hanging over one ear."
He pushed back his cap and pulled at his bright brown locks. Happy Bev!
How headstrong, brave, and care-free he walked the plains that day.
The evening shadows were lengthening and the peaks of the
Sangre-de-Christo range were taking on the scarlet stains of sunset when
we raced into town at last. Rex Krane went at once to find Uncle Esmond,
and Beverly and I hurried to the hotel to tell Mat of all that we had
Her gray eyes were glowing when she met us at the door and led us into a
corner where we could talk by ourselves.
"Uncle Esmond has sold everything to that Mexican merchant, Felix
Narveo, and we are going to start home just as soon as he can find that
"Oh, we've found her! We've found her!" Beverly burst out. But Mat
hushed him at once.
"Don't yell it to the sides, Beverly Clarenden. Now listen!" Mat dropped
her voice almost to a whisper. "He's going to take that little girl back
with us as far as Fort Leavenworth, and then send her on to St. Louis
where she has some folks, I guess."
"Isn't he a clipper, though," Beverly exclaimed.
"But what if the Indians should get us?" I asked, anxiously. "I heard
the colonel at Fort Leavenworth just give it to Uncle Esmond one night
for bringing us."
"You are safe or you are not safe everywhere. And if we got in here I
reckon we can get out," Mat reasoned, philosophically. "And Uncle Esmond
isn't afraid and he's set on doing it. We aren't going to take any goods
back, so we can travel lots faster, and everything will be put in the
wagons so we can grab out what's worth most in a hurry if we have to."
So we talked matters over now as we had done on that April day out on
the parade-ground at Fort Leavenworth. But now we knew something of what
might be before us on that homeward journey. Thrilling hours those were.
It is no wonder that, schooled by their events, young as we were, we put
away childish things.
That night while we slept things happened of which we knew nothing for
many years. There was no moon and the glaring yellow daytime plain was
full of gray-edged shadows, under the far stars of a midnight blue sky,
as Esmond Clarenden took the same trail that we had followed in the
afternoon. On to the village of Agua Fria, black and silent, he rode
until he came to the church door. Here he dismounted, and, quickly
securing his horse, he entered the building. The chill midnight wind
swept in through the open door behind him, threatening to blot out the
flickering candles about the altar. Father Josef came slowly down the
aisle to meet him, while a tall man, crouching like a beast about to
spring, rather than a penitent at prayer, shrank down in the shadowy
corner inside the doorway.
The merchant, solid and square-built and fearless, stood before the
young priest baring his head as he spoke.
"I come on a grave errand, good Father. This afternoon my two nephews
and a young man from New England came in here and saw a child asleep
under protection of this holy sanctuary. That child's name is Eloise St.
Vrain. I had hoped to find her mother able to care for her. She--cannot
do it, as you know. I must do it for her now. I come here to claim what
it is my duty to protect."
At these words the crouching figure sprang up and Ferdinand Ramero, his
steel-blue eyes blazing, came forward with cat-like softness. But the
sturdy little man before the priest stood, hat in hand, undisturbed by
any presence there.
"Father Josef," the tall man began, in a voice of menace, "you will not
protect this American here. I have confessed to you and you know that
this man is my enemy. He comes, a traitor to his own country and a spy
to ours. He has risked the lives of three children by bringing them
across the plains. He comes alone where large wagon-trains dare not
venture. He could not go back to the States now. And lastly, good
Father, he has no right to the child that he claims is here."
"To the child that is here, asleep beside our sacred altar," Father
Josef said, sternly.
Ferdinand Ramero turned upon the priest fiercely.
"Even the Church might go too far," he muttered, threateningly.
"It might, but it never has," the holy man agreed. Then turning to
Esmond Clarenden, he continued: "You must see that these charges do not
stand against you. Our Holy Church offers no protection, outside of
these four walls, to a traitor or a spy or even an unpatriotic
speculator seeking to profit by the needs of war. Nor could it sanction
giving the guardianship of a child to one who daringly imperils his own
life or the lives of children, nor can it sanction any rights of
guardianship unless due cause be given for granting them."
Ferdinand Ramero smiled as the priest concluded. He was a handsome man,
with the sort of compelling magnetism that gives controlling power to
its possessor. But because I knew my uncle so well in after years, I can
picture Esmond Clarenden as he stood that night before the young priest
in the little mud-walled church of Agua Fria. And I can picture the
tall, threatening man in the shadows beside him. But never have I held
an image of him showing a sign of fear.
"Father Josef, I am willing to make any explanation to you. As for this
man whom you call Ramero here--up in the States he bears another name
and I finished with him there six years ago--I have no time nor breath
to waste on him. Are these your demands?" my uncle asked.
"They are," Father Josef replied.
"Do I take away the little girl, Eloise, unmolested, if you are
satisfied?" Esmond Clarenden demanded, first making sure of his bargain,
like the merchant he was.
Ferdinand Ramero stiffened insolently at these words, and looked
threateningly at Father Josef.
"You do," the holy man replied, something of the flashing light in his
eyes alone revealing what sort of a soldier the State had lost when this
man took on churchly orders.
"I am no traitor to my flag, since my full commerical purpose was
known and sanctioned by the military authority at Fort Leavenworth
before I left there. I brought no aid to my country's enemy because my
full cargo was bargained for by your merchant, Felix Narveo, before the
declaration of war was made. I merely acted as his agent bringing his
own to him. I have come here as a spy only in this--that I shall profit
in strictly legitimate business by the knowledge I hold of commercial
conditions and my acquaintance with your citizens when this war for
territory ends, no matter how its results may run. I deal in wholesome
trade, not in human hate. I offer value for value, not blood for blood."
Up to this time a smile had lighted the merchant's eyes. But now his
voice lowered, and the lines about his mouth hardened.
"As to the guardianship of children, Father Josef, I am a bachelor who
for nearly nine years have given a home, education, support, and
affection to three orphan children, until, though young in years, they
are wise and capable. So zealous was I for their welfare, that when word
came to me--no matter how--that a company of Mexicans were on their way
to Independence, Missouri, ostensibly to seek the protection of the
United States Government and to settle on the frontier there, but really
to seize these children in my absence, and carry them into the heart of
old Mexico, I decided at once that they would be safer with me in New
Mexico than without me in Missouri.
"In the night I passed this Mexican gang at Council Grove, waiting to
seize me in the morning. At Pawnee Rock a storm scattered a band of
Kiowa Indians to whom these same Mexicans had given a little Indian
slave girl as a reward for attacking our train if the Mexicans should
fail to get us themselves. Through every peril that threatens that long
trail we came safely because the hand of the Lord preserved us."
Esmond Clarenden paused, and the priest bowed a moment in prayer.
"If I have dared fate in this journey," the merchant went on, "it was
not to be foolhardy, nor for mere money gains, but to keep my own with
me, and to rescue the daughter of Mary St. Vrain, of Santa Fe, and take
her to a place of safety. It was her mother's last pleading call, as
you, Father Josef, very well know, since you yourself heard her last
words and closed her dead eyes. Under the New Mexican law, the
guardianship of her property rests with others. Mine is the right to
protect her and, by the God of heaven, I mean to do it!"
Esmond Clarenden's voice was deep and powerful now, filling the old
church with its vehemence.
Up by the altar, the little girl sat up suddenly and looked about her,
terrified by the dim light and the strange faces there.
"Don't be afraid, Eloise."
How strangely changed was this gentle tone from the vehement voice of a
The little girl sprang up and stared hard at the speaker. But no child
ever resisted that smile by which Esmond Clarenden held Beverly and me
in loving obedience all the days of our lives with him.
Shaking with fear as she caught sight of Ferdinand Ramero, the girl
reached out her hands toward the merchant, who put his arm protectingly
about her. The big, dark eyes were filled with tears; the head with its
sunny ripples of tangled hair leaned against him for a moment. Then the
fighting spirit came back to her, so early in her young life had the
need for defending herself been forced upon her.
"Where have I been? Where am I going?" she demanded.
"You are going with me now," Uncle Esmond said, softly.
"And never have to fight Marcos any more? Oh, good, good, good! Let's go
She frowned darkly at Ferdinand Ramero, and, clutching tightly at Esmond
Clarenden's hands, she began pulling him toward the open door.
"Eloise," Father Josef said, "you are about to go away with this good
man who will be a father to you. Be a good child as your mother would
want you to be." His musical voice was full of pathos.
Eloise dropped her new friend's hand and sprang down the aisle.
"I will be good, Father Josef," she said, squeezing his dark hand
between her fair little palms. Then, tossing back the curls from her
face, she reached up a caressing hand to his cheek.
Father Josef stooped and kissed her white forehead, and turned hastily
toward the altar.
"Esmond Clarenden!" It was Ferdinand Ramero who spoke, his sharp, bitter
voice filling the church.
"By order of this priest Eloise St. Vrain is yours to protect so long as
you stay within these walls. The minute you leave them you reckon with
Father Josef whirled about quickly, but the man made a scoffing gesture.
"I brought this child here for protection this morning. But for that
sickly Yankee and two inquisitive imps of boys she would have been safe
here. I acknowledge sanctuary privilege. Use it as long as you choose in
the church of Agua Fria. Set but a foot outside these walls and I say
again you reckon with me."
His tall form thrust itself menacingly before the little man and his
charge clinging to his arm.
"Set but a foot outside these walls and _you_ will reckon with _me_."
It was Jondo's clear voice, and the big plainsman, towering up suddenly
behind Ferdinand Ramero, filled the doorway.
"You meant to hide in the old Church of San Miguel because it is so near
to the home where you have kept this little girl. But Gail Clarenden
blocked your game and found your house and this child in the church door
before our wagon-train had reached the end of the trail. You found this
church your nearest refuge, meaning to leave it again early in the
morning. I have waited here for you all day, protected by the same means
that brought word to Santa Fe this morning. Come out now if you wish.
You dare not follow me to the States, but I dare to come to your land.
Can you meet me here?" Jondo was handsome in his sunny moods. In his
anger he was splendid.
Ferdinand Ramero dropped to a seat beside Father Josef.
"I have told you I cannot face that man. I will stay here now," he said,
in a low voice to the priest. "But I do not stay here always, and I can
send where I do not follow," he added, defiantly.
Esmond Clarenden was already on his horse with his little charge, snugly
wrapped, in his arms.
Father Josef at the portal lifted his hand in sign of blessing.
"Peace be with you. Do not tarry long," he said. Then, turning to Jondo,
he gazed into the strong, handsome face. "Go in peace. He will not
follow. But forget not to love even your enemies."
In the midnight dimness Jondo's bright smile glowed with all its
"I finished that fight long ago," he said. "I come only to help others."
Long these two, priest and plainsman, stood there with clasped hands,
the gray night mists of the Santa Fe Valley round about them and all the
far stars of the midnight sky gleaming above them.
Then Jondo mounted his horse and rode away up the trail toward Santa Fe.
THE WILDERNESS CROSSROADS
I will even make a way in the wilderness.
Bent's fort stood alone in the wide wastes of the upper Arkansas valley.
From the Atlantic to the Pacific shores there was in America no more
isolated spot holding a man's home. Out on the north bank of the
Arkansas, in a grassy river bottom, with rolling treeless plains
rippling away on every hand, it reared its high yellow walls in solitary
defiance, mute token of the white man's conquering hand in a savage
wilderness. It was a great rectangle built of adobe brick with walls six
feet through at the base, sloping to only a third of that width at the
top, eighteen feet from the ground. Round bastions, thirty feet high, at
two diagonal corners, gave outlook and defense. Immense wooden doors
guarded a wide gateway looking eastward down the Arkansas River. The
interior arrangement was after the Mexican custom of building, with
rooms along the outer walls all opening into a big _patio_, or open
court. A cross-wall separated this court from the large corral inside
the outer walls at the rear. A portal, or porch, roofed with thatch on
cedar poles, ran around the entire inner rectangle, sheltering the rooms
somewhat from the glare of the white-washed court. A little world in
itself was this Bent's Fort, a self-dependent community in the solitary
places. The presiding genius of this community was William Bent, whose
name is graven hard and deep in the annals of the eastern slopes of the
Rocky Mountain country in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century.
Hither in the middle '40's the wild trails of the West converged:
northward, from the trading-posts of Bent and St. Vrain on the Platte;
south, over the Raton Pass from Taos and Santa Fe; westward, from the
fur-bearing plateaus of the Rockies, where trappers and traders brought
their precious piles of pelts down the Arkansas; and eastward, half a
thousand miles from the Missouri River frontier--the pathways of a
restless, roving people crossed each other here. And it was toward this
wilderness crossroads that Esmond Clarenden directed his course in that
summertime of my boyhood years.
The heat of a July sun beat pitilessly down on the scorching plains. The
weary trail stretched endlessly on toward a somewhere in the yellow
distance that meant shelter and safety. Spiral gusts of air gathering
out of the low hills to the southeast picked up great cones of dust and
whirled them zigzagging across the brown barren face of the land. Every
draw was bone dry; even the greener growths along their sheltered
sides, where the last moisture hides itself, wore a sickly sallow hue.
Under the burden of this sun-glare, and through these stifling
dust-cones, our little company struggled sturdily forward.
We had left Santa Fe as suddenly and daringly as we had entered it, the
very impossibility of risking such a journey again being our, greatest
safeguard. Esmond Clarenden was doing the thing that couldn't be done,
and doing it quickly.
In the gray dawn after that midnight ride to Agua Fria a little Indian
girl had slipped like a brown shadow across the Plaza. Stopping at the
door of the Exchange Hotel, she leaned against the low slab of petrified
wood that for many a year served as a loafer's roost before the hotel
doorway. Inside the building Jondo caught the clear twitter of a bird's
song at daybreak, twice repeated. A pause, and then it came again,
fainter this time, as if the bird were fluttering away through the Plaza
In that pause, the gate in the wall had opened softly, and Aunty Boone's
sharp eyes peered through the crack. The girl caught one glimpse of the
black face, then, dropping a tiny leather bag beside the stone, she sped
A tall young Indian boy, prone on the ground behind a pile of refuse in
the shadowy Plaza, lifted his head in time to see the girl glide along
the portal of the Palace of the Governors and disappear at the corner of
the structure. Then he rose and followed her with silent moccasined
And Jondo, who had hurried to the hotel door, saw only the lithe form of
an Indian boy across the Plaza. Then his eye fell on the slender bag
beside the stone slab. It held a tiny scrap of paper, bearing a message:
_Take long trail QUICK. Mexicans follow far_. Trust bearer anywhere.
An hour later we were on our way toward the open prairies and the Stars
and Stripes afloat above Fort Leavenworth.
In the wagon beside Mat Nivers was the little girl whose face had been
clear in the mystic vision of my day-dreams on the April morning when I
had gone out to watch for the big fish on the sand-bars; the morning
when I had felt the first heart-throb of desire for the trail and the
open plains whereon my life-story would later be written.
We carried no merchandise now. Everything bent toward speed and safety.
Our ponies and mules were all fresh ones--secured for this journey two
hours after we had come into Santa Fe--save for the big sturdy dun
creature that Uncle Esmond, out of pure sentiment, allowed to trail
along behind the wagons toward his native heath in the Missouri bottoms.
We had crossed the Gloriettas and climbed over the Raton Pass rapidly,
and now we were nearing the upper Arkansas, where the old trail turns
east for its long stretch across the prairies.
As far as the eye could see there was no living thing save our own
company in all the desolate plain aquiver with heat and ashy dry. The
line of low yellow bluffs to the southeast hardly cast a shadow save for
a darker dun tint here and there.
At midday we drooped to a brief rest beside the sun-baked trail.
"You all jus' one color," Aunty Boone declared. "You all like the dus'
you made of 'cep' Little Lees an' me. She's white and I'm black. Nothin'
else makes a pin streak on the face of the earth."
Aunty Boone flourished on deserts and her black face glistened in the
sunlight. Deep in the shadow of the wagon cover the face of Eloise St.
Vrain--"Little Lees," Aunty Boone had named her--bloomed pink as a wild
rose in its frame of soft hair. She had become Aunty Boone's meat and
drink from the moment the strange African woman first saw her. This
regard, never expressed in caress nor word of tenderness, showed itself
in warding from the little girl every wind of heaven that might visit
her too roughly. Not that Eloise gave up easily. Her fighting spirit
made her rebel against weariness and the hardships of trail life new to
her. She fitted into our ways marvelously well, demanding equal rights,
but no favors. By some gentle appeal, hardly put into words, we knew
that Uncle Esmond did not want us to talk to her about herself. And
Beverly and Mat and I, however much we might speculate among ourselves,
never thought of resisting his wishes.
Eloise was gracious with Mat, but evidently the boy Marcos had made her
wary of all boys. She paid no attention to Beverly and me at first. All
her pretty smiles and laughing words were for Uncle Esmond and Jondo.
And she was lovely. Never in all these long and varied years have I seen
another child with such a richness of coloring, nor such a mass of
golden hair rippling around her forehead and falling in big, soft curls
about her neck. Her dark eyes with their long black lashes gave to her
face its picturesque beauty, and her plump, dimpled arms and sturdy
little form bespoke the wholesome promise of future years.
But the life of the trail was not meant for such as she, and I know now
that the assurance of having saved her from some greater misfortune
alone comforted Uncle Esmond and Jondo in this journey. For Aunty Boone
was right when she declared, "They tote together always."
As we grouped together under that shelterless glare, getting what
comfort we could out of the brief rest, Jondo sprang up suddenly, his
eyes aglow with excitement.
"What's the matter? Because if it isn't, this is one hot day to pretend
like it is," Rex Krane asserted.
He was lying on the hot earth beside the trail, his hat pulled over his
face. Beverly and Bill Banney were staring dejectedly across the
landscape, seeing nothing. I sat looking off toward the east, wondering
what lay behind those dun bluffs in the distance.
"Something is wrong back yonder," Jondo declared, making a half-circle
with his hand toward the trail behind us.
My heart seemed to stop mid-beat with a kind of fear I had never known
before. Aunty Boone had always been her own defender. Mat Nivers had
cared for me so much that I never doubted her bigger power. It was for
Eloise, Aunty Boone's "Little Lees," that my fear leaped up.
I can close my eyes to-day and see again the desolate land banded by the
broad white trail. I can see the dusty wagons and our tired mules with
drooping heads. I can see the earnest, anxious faces of Esmond Clarenden
and Jondo; Beverly and Bill Banney hardly grasping Jondo's meaning; Rex
Krane, half asleep on the edge of the trail. I can see Mat Nivers, brown
and strong, and Aunty Boone oozing sweat at every pore. But these are
only the setting for that little girl on the wagon-seat with white face
and big dark eyes, under the curl-shadowed forehead.
Jondo stared hard toward the hills in the southeast. Then he turned to
my uncle with grim face and burning eyes; His was a wonderful voice,
clear, strong and penetrating. But in danger he always spoke in a low
"I've watched those dust-whirls for an hour. The wind isn't making all
of them. Somebody is stirring them up for cover. Every whirl has an
Indian in it. It's all of ten miles to Bent's. We must fight them off
and let the others run for it, before they cut us off in front. Look at
The exclamation burst from the plainsman's lips.
That was my last straight looking. The rest is ever a kaleidoscope of
action thrilled through with terror. What I saw was a swiftly moving
black splotch coming out of the hills, with huge dust-heaps flying here
and there before it. Then a yellow cloud spiral blinded our sight as a
gust of hot wind swept round us. I remember Jondo's stern face and
blazing eyes and his words:
"Mexicans behind the Indians!"
And Uncle Esmond's voice:
"Narveo said they would get us, but I hoped we had outrun them."
The far plains seemed spotted with Indians racing toward us, and coming
at an angle from the southeast a dozen Mexicans swept in to cut us off
from the trail in front.
I remember a quick snatching of precious things in boxes placed for such
a moment as this, a quick snapping of halter ropes around the ponies'
necks, a gleaming of gun-barrels in the hot sunlight; a solid cloud of
dust rolling up behind us, bigger and nearer every second; and the
urgent voice of Jondo: "Ride for your lives!"
And the race began. On the trail somewhere before us was Bent's Fort. We
could only hope to reach it soon. We did not even look behind as we tore
down that dusty wilderness way.
At the first motion Aunty Boone had seized Eloise St. Vrain with one
hand and the big dun mule's neck-strap with the other.
"Go to the devil, you tigers and cannibals!" She roared with the growl
of a desert lioness, shaking her big black fist at the band of Mexicans
pouring out of the hills.
And dun mule and black woman and white-faced, terror-stricken child
became only a dust-cloud far in front of us. Mat and Beverly and I
leaped to the ponies and followed the lead of the African woman. Nearest
to us was Rex Krane, always a shield for the younger and less able. And
behind him, as defense for the rear and protection for the van, came
Esmond Clarenden and Bill Banney, with Jondo nearest the enemy, where
danger was greatest.
I tell it calmly, but I lived it in a blind whirl. The swift hoof-beat,
the wild Indian yells, the whirl of arrows and whiz of bullets, the
onrush to outrun the Mexicans who were trying to cut us off from the
trail in front. Lived it! I lived ages in it. And then an arrow cut my
pony's flank, making him lurch from the trail, a false step, the pony
staggering, falling. A sharp pain in my shoulder, the smell of fire, a
shriek from demon throats, the glaring sunlight on the rocking plain,
searing my eyes in a mad whirlpool of blinding light, the fading
sounds--and then--all was black and still.
* * * * *
When I opened my eyes again I was lying on a cot. Bare adobe walls were
around me, and a high plastered roof resting on cedar poles sheltered
that awful glare from my eyes. Through the open door I could see the
rain falling on the bare ground of the court, filling the shallow places
I tried to lift myself to see more as shrieks of childish laughter
caught my ear, but there was a sickish heat in my dry skin, an evil
taste in my throat, and a sharp pain in my left shoulder; and I fell
Another shriek, and Eloise St. Vrain came before my doorway, pattering
with bare white feet out into the center of the _patio_ puddles and
laughing at the dashing summer shower. Her damp hair, twisted into a
knot on top of her head, was curling tightly about her temples and neck,
her eyes were shining; her wet clothes slapping at her bare white
knees--a picture of the delicious happiness of childhood. A little child
of three or four years was toddling after her. He was brown as a berry,
and at first I thought he was a little Indian. I could hear Mat and
Beverly splashing about safe and joyous somewhere, and I forgot my fever
and pain and the dread of that awful glare coming again to sear my
burning eyeballs as I watched and listened. A louder shriek as the
little child ran behind Eloise and gave her a vigorous shove for one so
"Oh, Charlie Bent, see what you've done," Mat cried; and then Beverly
was picking up "Little Lees," sprawling, all mud-smeared and happy, in
the very middle of the court.
The child stood looking at her with shining black eyes full of a wicked
mischief, but he said not a word.
Just then a dull grunt caught my ear, and I half-turned to see a cot
beyond mine. An Indian boy lay on it, looking straight at me. I stared
back at him and neither of us spoke. His head was bandaged and his cheek
was swollen, but with my memory for faces, even Indian faces, I knew him
at once for the boy who had followed us into Agua Fria and out of it
Just then the frolickers came to the door and peered in at me.
"Are you awake?" Eloise asked.
Then seeing my face, she came romping in, followed by Mat and Beverly
and little Charlie Bent, all wet and hilarious. They gave no heed to the
Indian boy, who pretended to be asleep. Once, however, I caught him
watching Beverly, and his eyes were like dagger points.
"We are having the best times. You must get well right away, because we
are going to stay." They all began to clatter, noisily.
Rex Krane appeared at the door just then and they stopped suddenly.
"Clear out of here, you magpies," he commanded, and they scuttled away
into the warm rain and the puddles again.
"Do you want anything, Gail?" Rex asked, bending over me.
I drew his head down with my right arm.
"I want that Indian out of here," I whispered.
"Out he goes," Rex returned, promptly, and almost before I knew it the
boy was taken away. When we were alone the tall young man sat down
"You want to ask me a million questions. I'll answer 'em to save you
the trouble," he began, in his comfortable way.
"You are wounded in your shoulder. Slight, bullet, that's Mexican; deep,
arrow, that's Indian. But you are here and pretty much alive and you
will be well soon."
"And Uncle Esmond? Jondo? Bill?" I began, lifting myself up on my well
"Keep quiet. I'll answer faster. Everybody all right. Clarenden and
Jondo leave for Independence the minute you are better, and a military
I dropped down again.
"The U.S. Army, en route for perdition, via Santa Fe, is camping in the
big timbers down-stream now. Jondo and Esmond Clarenden will leave you
boys and girls here till it's safe to take you out again. And I and
Daniel Boone, vestal god and goddess of these hearth-fires, will keep
you from harm till that time. Bill's joining the army for sure now, and
our happy family life is ended as far as the Santa Fe Trail is
concerned. I'm a well man now, but not quite army-well yet, they tell
"Tell me about this." I pointed to my shoulder.
"All in good time. It was a nasty mess of fish. A dozen Mexicans and as
many Indians had followed us all the way from the sunny side of the
Gloriettas. You and Bev and Mat had got by the Mexics. Daniel Boone and
'Little Lees' were climbing the North Pole by that time. The rest of us
were giving battle straight from the shoulder; and someway, I don't know
how, just as we had the gang beat back behind us--you had a sniff of a
bullet just then--an Indian slipped ahead in the dust. I was tendin' to
mite of an arrow wound in my right calf, and I just caught him in time,
aimin' at Bev; but he missed him for you. I got him, though, and clubbed
his scalp a bit loose."
Rex paused and stared at his right leg.
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