Vanguards of the Plains
Part 3 out of 6
"How did that boy get here, Rex? Is he a friendly Indian?" I asked.
"Oh, Jondo brought him in out of the wet. Says the child was made to
come along, and as soon as he could get away from the gang he had to run
with up here; he came right into camp to help us against them. Fine
young fellow! Jondo has it from them in authority that we can trust him
lyin' or tellin' the truth. _He's all right._"
"How did he get hurt?" I inquired, still remembering in my own mind the
day at Agua Fria.
"He'd got into our camp and was fightin' on our side when it happened,"
"Some of them shot at him, then?" I insisted. "No, I beat him up with
the butt of my gun for shootin' you," Rex said, lazily.
"At me! Why don't you tell Jondo?"
"I tried to," Rex answered, "but I can't make him see it that way. He's
got faith in that redskin and he's going to see that he gets back to New
Mexico safely--after while."
"Rex, that's the same boy that was down in Agua Fria, the one Bev
laughed at. He's no good Indian," I declared.
"You are too wise, Gail Clarenden," Rex drawled, carelessly. "A boy of
your brains had ought to be born in Boston. Jondo and I can't agree
about him. His name, he says, is Santan. There's one 'n' too many. If
you knock off the last one it makes him Santa--'holy'; but if you knock
out the middle it's Satan. We don't knock out the same 'n', Jondo and
Just then the little child came tumbling noisily into the room.
"Look here, youngun. You can't be makin' a racket here," Rex said.
The boy stared at him, impudently.
"I will, too," he declared, sullenly, kicking at my cot with all his
Rex made no reply but, seizing the child around the waist, he carried
him kicking and screaming outside.
"You stay out or I'll spank you!" Rex said, dropping him to the ground.
The boy looked up with blazing eyes, but said nothing.
"That's little Charlie Bent. His daddy runs this splendid fort. His
mother is a Cheyenne squaw, and he's a grim clinger of a half-breed.
Some day he'll be a terror on these plains. It's in him, I know. But
that won't interfere with us any. And you children are a lot safer here
than out on the trail. Great God! I wonder we ever got you here!" Rex's
face was very grave. "Now go to sleep and wake up well. No more thinkin'
like a man. You can be a child again for a while."
Those were happy days that followed. Safe behind the strong walls of old
Fort Bent, we children had not a care; and with the stress and strain of
the trail life lifted from our young minds, we rebounded into happy
childhood living. Every day offered a new drama to our wonder-loving
eyes. We watched the big hide-press for making buffalo robes and furs
into snug bales. We climbed to the cupola of the headquarters department
and saw the soldiers marching by on their way to New Mexico. We saw the
Ute and the Red River Comanche come filing in on their summer
expeditions from the mountains. We saw the trade lines from the far
north bearing down to this wilderness crossroads with their early fall
stock for barter.
Our playground was the court off which all the rooms opened. And however
wild and boisterous the scenes inside those walls in that summer of
1846, in four young lives no touch of evil took root. Stronger than the
six-feet width of wall, higher than the eighteen feet of adobe brick
guarding us round about, was the stern strength of the young Boston man
interned in the fort to protect us from within, as the strength of that
structure defended us from without.
And yet he might have failed sometimes, had it not been for Aunty Boone.
Nobody trifled with her.
"You let them children be. An give 'em the run of this shack," she
commanded of the lesser powers whose business was to domineer over the
daily life there. "The man that makes trouble wide as a needle is across
is goin' to meet me an' the Judgment Day the same minute."
"When Daniel gets on her crack-o'-doom voice, the mountains goin' to
skip like rams and the little hills like lambs, an' the Army of the West
won't be necessary to protect the frontier," Rex declared. But he knew
her worth to his cause, and he welcomed it.
And so with her brute force and his moral strength we were unconsciously
intrenched in a safety zone in this far-isolated place.
With neither Uncle Esmond nor Jondo near us for the first time in our
remembrance, we gained a strength in self-dependence that we needed. For
with the best of guardianship, there are many ways in which a child's
day may be harried unless the child asserts himself. We had the years of
children but the sturdy defiance of youth. So we were happy within our
own little group, and we paid little heed to the things that nobody else
could forestall for us.
Outside of our family, little Charlie Bent, the half-breed child of the
proprietor of the fort, was a daily plague. He entered into all of our
sports with a quickness and perseverance and wilfulness that was
thoroughly American. He took defeat of his wishes, and the equal measure
of justice and punishment, with the silent doggedness of an Indian; and
on the edge of babyhood he showed a spirit of revenge and malice that
we, in our rollicking, affectionate lives, with all our teasing and
sense of humor, could not understand; so we laughed at his anger and
ignored his imperious demands.
Behind him always was his Cheyenne mother, jealously defending him in
everything, and in manifold ways making life a burden--if we would
submit to the making, which we seldom did.
And lastly Santan, the young boy who had deserted his Mexican masters
for Jondo's command, contrived, with an Indian's shrewdness, never to
let us out of his sight. But he gave us no opportunity to approach him.
He lived in his own world, which was a savage one, but he managed that
it should overlap our world and silently grasp all that was in it.
Beverly had persistently tried to be friendly for a time, for that was
Beverly's way. Failing to do it, he had nick-named the boy "Satan" for
"We found Little Blue Flower a sweet little muggins," Beverly told the
Indian early in our stay at the fort. "We like good Indians like her.
She's one clipper."
Santan had merely looked him through as though he were air, and made no
reply, nor did he ever by a single word recognize Beverly from that
The evening before we left Fort Bent we children sat together in a
corner of the court. The day had been very hot for the season and the
night was warm and balmy, with the moonlight flooding the open space,
edging the shadows of the inner portal with silver. There was much noise
and boisterous laughter in the billiard-room where the heads of affairs
played together. Rex Krane had gone to bed early. Out by the rear gate
leading to the fort corral, Aunty Boone was crooning a weird African
melody. Crouching in the deep shadows beside the kitchen entrance, the
Indian boy, Santan, listened to all that was said.
To-night we had talked of to-morrow's journey, and the strength of the
military guard who should keep us safe along the way. Then, as children
will, we began to speculate on what should follow for us.
"When I get older I'm going to be a freighter like Jondo, Bill and me.
We'll kill every Indian who dares to yell along the trail. I'm going
back to Santa Fe and kill that boy that stared at me like he was crazy
one day at Agua Fria."
In the shadows of the porchway, I saw Santan creeping nearer to us as
Beverly ran on flippantly:
"I guess I'll marry a squaw, Little Blue Flower, maybe, like the Bents
do, and live happily ever after."
"I'm going to have a big fine house and live there all the time," Mat
Nivers declared. Something in the earnest tone told us what this long
journey had meant to the brave-hearted girl.
"I'm going to marry Gail when I grow up," Eloise said, meditatively. "He
won't ever let Marcos pull my hair." She shook back the curly tresses,
gold-gleaming in the moonlight, and squeezed my hand as she sat beside
"What will you be, Gail?" Mat asked.
"I'll go and save Bev's scalp when he's gunning too far from home," I
"Oh, he'll be 'Little Lees's' husband, and pull that Marcos cuss's nose
if he tries to pull anybody's curls. Whoo-ee! as Aunty Boone would say,"
Beverly broke in.
I kept a loving grip on the little hand that had found mine, as I would
have gripped Beverly's hand sometimes in moments when we talked together
as boys do, in the confidences they never give to anybody else.
A gray shadow dropped on the moon, and a chill night wind crept down
inside the walls. A sudden fear fell on us. The noises inside the
billiard room seemed far away, and all the doors except ours were
closed. Santan had crept between us and the two open doorways leading to
our rooms. What if he should slip inside. A snake would have seemed
better to me.
A silence had fallen on us, and Eloise still clung to my hand. I held it
tightly to assure her I wasn't afraid, but I could not speak nor move.
Aunty Boone's crooning voice was still, and everything had grown weird
and ghostly. The faint wailing cry of some wild thing of the night
plains outside crept to our ears, making us shiver.
"When the stars go to sleep an' the moon pulls up the gray covers, it's
time to shut your eyes an' forget." Aunty Boone's soft voice broke the
spell comfortingly for us. "Any crawlin' thing that gits in my way now,
goin' to be stepped on."
At the low hissing sound of the last sentence there was a swift
scrambling along the shadows of the porch, and a door near the kitchen
snapped shut. The big shining face of the African woman glistened above
us and the court was flooded again with the moon's silvery radiance. As
we all sprang up to rush for our rooms, "Little Lees" pulled me toward
her and gently kissed my cheek.
"You never would let Marcos in if he came to Fort Leavenworth, would
you?" she whispered.
"I'd break his head clear off first," I whispered back, and then we
That night I dreamed again of the level plains and Uncle Esmond and
misty mountain peaks, but the dark eyes were not there, though I watched
long for them.
The next day we left Fort Bent, and when I passed that way again it was
a great mass of yellow mounds, with a piece of broken wall standing
desolately here and there, a wreck of the past in a solitary land.
BUILDING THE TRAIL
IN THE MOON OF THE PEACH BLOSSOM
Love took me softly by the hand,
Love led me all the country o'er,
And showed me beauty in the land,
That I had never seen before.
You might not be able to find the house to-day, nor the high bluff
whereon it stood. So many changes have been wrought in half a century
that what was green headland and wooded valley in the far '50's may be
but a deep cut or a big fill for a new roadway or factory site to-day.
So diligently has Kansas City fulfilled the scriptural prophecy that
"every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be
Where the great stream bends to the east, the rugged heights about its
elbow, Aunty Boone, in those days, was wont to declare, did not offer
enough level ground to set a hen on. Small reason was there then to hope
that a city, great and gracious, would one day cover those rough ravines
and grace those slopes and hilltops in the angle between the Missouri
and the Kaw.
Aunty Boone had resented leaving Fort Leavenworth when the Clarenden
business made the young city at the Kaw's mouth more desirable for a
home. But Esmond Clarenden foresaw that a military post, when the
protection it offers is no longer needed, will not, in itself, be a
city-builder. The war had brought New Mexico into United States
territory; railroads were slowly creeping westward toward the
Mississippi River; steamboats and big covered wagons were bringing
settlers into Kansas, where little cabins were beginning to mark the
landscape with new hearth-stones. Congress was wrangling over the great
slavery question. The Eastern lawmakers were stupidly opposing the
efforts of Missouri statesmen to extend mail routes westward, or to
spend any energy toward developing that so-called worthless region which
they named "the great American desert." And the old Santa Fe Trail was
now more than ever the highway for the commerical treasures of the
Rocky Mountains and the great Southwest.
It was the time of budding things. In the valley of the Missouri the
black elm boughs, the silvery sycamores and cottonwoods, and the vines
on the gray rock-faced cliffs were veiled in shimmering draperies of
green, with here and there a little group of orchard trees faintly pink
against the landscape's dainty verdure.
Beverly Clarenden and I stood on the deck of a river steamer as it made
the wharf at old Westport Landing, where Esmond Clarenden waited for us.
And long before the steamer's final bump against the pier we had noted
the tall, slender girl standing beside him. We had been away three
years, the only schooling outside of Uncle Esmond's teaching we were
ever to have. We were big boys now, greatly conscious of hands and feet
in our way, "razor broke," Aunty Boone declared, brimful of hilarity and
love of adventure, and eager for the plains life, and the dangers of the
old trail by which we were to conquer or be conquered. In the society of
women we were timid and ill at ease. Aside from this we were
self-conceited, for we knew more of the world and felt ourselves more
important on that spring morning than we ever presumed to know or dared
to feel in all the years that followed.
"Who is she, Gail, that tall one by little fat Uncle Esmond?" Beverly
questioned, as we neared the wharf.
"You don't reckon he's married, Bev? He's all of twenty-four or five
years older than we are, and we aren't calves any more." I replied,
scanning the group on the wharf.
But we forgot the girl in our eagerness to bound down the gang-plank and
hug the man who meant all that home and love could mean to us. In our
three growing years we had almost eliminated Mat Nivers, save as a happy
memory, for mails were slow in those days and we were poor
letter-writers; and we had wondered how to meet her properly now. But
when the tall, slender girl on the wharf came forward and we looked into
the wide gray eyes of our old-time playmate whom, as little boys, we
had both vowed to marry, we forgot everything in our overwhelming love
for our comrade-in-arms, our jolliest friend and counselor.
"Oh, Mat, you miserable thing!" Beverly bubbled, hugging her in his
"You are just bigger and sweeter than ever. I mistook you for Aunty
Boone at first," I chimed in, kissing her on each cheek. And we all
bundled away in an old-fashioned, low-swung carriage, happy as children
again, with no barrier between us and the dear playmate of the past.
The new home, on the high crest overlooking the Missouri valley, nestled
deep in the shade of maple and elm trees, a mansion, compared to that
log house of blessed memory at Fort Leavenworth. A winding road led up
the steep slope from a wooded ravine where a trail ran out from the
little city by the river's edge. Vistas of sheer cliff and stretches of
the muddy on-sweeping Missouri and the full-bosomed Kaw, with scrubby
timbered ravines and growing groves of forest trees, offered themselves
at every turn. And from the top of the bluff the world unrolled in a
panorama of nature's own shaping and coloring.
The house was built of stone, with vines climbing about its thick walls,
and broad veranda. And everywhere Mat's hands had put homey touches of
comfort and beauty. An hundredfold did she return to Esmond Clarenden
all the care and protection he had given to her in her orphaned
childhood. And, after all, it was not military outposts, nor railroads,
nor mail-lines alone that pushed back the wilderness frontier. It was
the hand of woman that also builded empire westward.
"Mat's got her wish at last," I said, as we sat with Uncle Esmond after
dinner under a big maple tree and looked out at the far yellow Missouri,
churning its spring floods to foam against the snags along its
"What's Mat's wish?" Uncle Esmond asked.
"To have a good home and _stay there_. She wished that one night, years
ago back in old Fort Bent. Don't you remember, Bev, when we were out in
the court, and how scared blue we all were when the moon went under a
cloud, and that Indian boy, Santan, was creeping between us and the home
"No, I don't remember anything except that we were in Fort Bent. Got in
by the width of a hair ahead of some Mexicans and Indians, and got out
again after a jolly six weeks. What's the real job for us now, Uncle
Uncle Esmond was staring out toward the Kaw valley, rimmed by high
bluffs in the distance.
"I don't know about Mat having her wish," he said, thoughtfully, "but
never mind. Trade is booming and I'm needing help on the trail this
spring. Jondo starts west in two weeks."
Beverly and I sprang up. Six feet of height, muscular, adventure-loving,
fearless, we had been made to order for the Santa Fe Trail. And if I was
still a dreamer and caught sometimes the finer side of ideals, where
Beverly Clarenden saw only the matter-of-fact, visible things, no
shrewder, braver, truer plainsman ever walked the long distances of the
old Santa Fe Trail than this boy with his bright face and happy-go-lucky
spirit unpained by dreams, untrammeled by fancies.
"Two weeks! We are ready to start right after supper," we declared.
"Oh, I have other matters first," Uncle Esmond said. "Beverly, you must
go up to Fort Leavenworth and arrange a lot of things with Banney for
this trip. He's to go, too, because military escort is short this
"Suits me!" Beverly declared. "Old Bill Banney and I always could get
along together. And this infant here?"
"I'm going to send Gail down to the Catholic Mission, in Kansas. You
remember little Eloise St. Vrain, of course?" Uncle Esmond asked.
"We do!" Beverly assured him. "Pretty as a doll, gritty as a sand-bar,
snappy as a lobster's claw--she dwells within my memory yet."
All girls were little children to us, for the scheme of things had not
included them in our affairs.
I threw a handful of grass in the boy's face, and Uncle Esmond went on.
"She's been at St. Ann's School at the Osage Mission down on the Neosho
River for two or three years, and now she is going to St. Louis. In
these troublesome times on the border, if I have a personal interest, I
feel safer if some big six-footer whom I can trust comes along as an
escort from the Neosho to the Missouri," Uncle Esmond explained.
And then we spoke of other things: the stream of emigration flowing into
the country, the possibilities of the prairies, the future of the city
that should hold the key to the whole Southwest, and especially of the
chance and value of the trail trade.
"It's the big artery that carries the nation's life-blood here," Esmond
Clarenden declared. "Some day when the West is full of people, and
dowered with prosperity, it may remember the men who built the highway
for the feet of trade to run in. And the West may yet measure its
greatness somewhat by the honesty and faithfulness of the merchant of
the frontier, and more by the courage and persistence of the boys who
drove the ox-teams across the plains. Don't forget that you yourselves
are State-builders now."
He spoke earnestly, but his words meant little to me. I was looking out
toward the wide-sweeping Kaw and thinking of the journey I must make,
and wondering if I should ever feel at ease in the society of women.
Wondering, too, what I should say, and how I should really take care of
"Little Lees," who had crossed the plains with us almost a decade ago;
the girl who had held my hand tightly one night at old Fort Bent when
the shadow had slipped across the moon and filled the silvery court with
a gray, ghostly light.
That night the old heart-hunger of childhood came back to me, the
visions of the day-dreaming little boy that were almost forgotten in the
years that had brought me to young manhood. And clearly again, as when I
heard Uncle Esmond's voice that night on the tableland above the valley
of the Santa Fe, I heard his gentle words:
"Sometimes the things we long for in our dreams we must fight for, and
even die for, that those who come after us may be the better for our
But these thoughts passed with the night, and in my youth and
inexperience I took on a spirit of fatherly importance as I went down to
St. Ann's to safeguard a little girl on her way through the Kansas
territory to the Missouri River.
It had been a beautiful day, and there was a freshness in the soft
evening breeze, and an up-springing sweetness from the prairies. A
shower had passed that way an hour before, and the spirit of growing
things seemed to fill the air with a voiceless music.
Just at sunset the stage from the north put me down in front of St.
Ann's Academy in the little Osage Mission village on the Neosho.
A tall nun, with commanding figure and dignified bearing, left the
church steps across the road and came slowly toward me.
"I am looking for Mother Bridget, the head of this school," I said,
lifting my hat.
"I am Mother Bridget." The voice was low and firm. One could not imagine
disobedience under her rule.
"I come from Mr. Esmond Clarenden, to act as escort for a little girl,
Eloise St. Vrain, who is to leave here on the stage for Kansas City
to-morrow," I hesitatingly offered my letter of introduction, which
told all that I had tried to say, and more.
The woman's calm face was gentle, with the protective gentleness of the
stone that will not fail you when you lean on it. One felt sure of
Mother Bridget, as one feels sure of the solid rock to build upon. She
looked at me with keen, half-quizzical eyes. Then she said, quietly:
"You will find the little girl down by Flat Rock Creek. The Indian girl,
Po-a-be, is with her. There may be several Indian girls down there, but
Po-a-be is alone with little Eloise."
I bowed and turned away, conscious that, with this good nun's sincerity,
she was smiling at me back of her eyes somehow.
As I followed the way leading to the creek I passed a group or two of
Indian girls--St. Ann's, under the Loretto Sisterhood, was fundamentally
a mission school for these--and a trio of young ladies, pretty and
coquettish, with daring, mischievous eyes, whose glances made me flush
hot to the back of my neck as I stumbled by them on my way to the
The last sun rays were glistening on the placid waters of the Flat Rock,
and all the world was softly green, touched with a golden glamour. I
paused by a group of bushes to let the spell of the hour have its way
with me. I have always loved the beautiful things of earth; as much now
as in my childhood days, when I felt ashamed to let my love be known; as
now I dare to tell it only on paper, and not to that dear, great circle
of men and women who know me best to-day.
The sound of footsteps and the murmur of soft voices fitted into the
sweetness of that evening hour as two girls, one of them an Indian, came
slowly down a well-worn path from the fields above the Flat Rock Valley.
They did not see me as they sat down on some broad stones beside the
I started forward to make myself known, but caught myself mid-step, for
here was a picture to make any man pause.
The Indian girl facing me was Little Blue Flower, the Kiowas' captive,
whom we had rescued at Pawnee Rock. Her heavy black hair was coiled low
on her neck, a headband of fine silverwork with pink coral pendants was
bound about her forehead and gleaming against her jetty hair. With her
well-poised head, her pure Indian features, her lustrous dark eyes, her
smooth brown skin, her cheeks like the heart of those black-red roses
that grow only in richest soil--surely there was no finer type of that
vanishing race in all the Indian pueblos of the Southwest. But the girl
beside her! Was it really so many years ago that I stood by the bushes
on the Flat Rock's edge and saw that which I see so clearly now? Then
these years have been gracious indeed to me. The sun's level beams fell
on the masses of golden waves that swept in soft little ripples back
from the white brow to a coil of gold on the white neck, held, like the
Indian girl's, with a headband of wrought silver, and goldveined
turquoise; it fell on the clear, smooth skin, the pink bloom of the
cheek, the red lips, the white teeth, the big dark eyes with their
fringe of long lashes beneath straight-penciled dark brows; on the
curves of the white throat and the round white arms. Only a master's
hand could make you see these two, beautiful in their sharp contrast of
deep brown and scarlet against the dainty white and gold.
"Oh, Little Blue Flower, it will not make me change."
I caught the words as I stepped toward the two, and the Indian's soft,
"But you are Miss St. Vrain now. You go away in the morning--and I love
The heart in me stopped just when all its flood had reached my face.
"Miss St. Vrain," I repeated, aloud.
The two sprang up. That afternoon they had been dressed for a girls'
frolic in some Grecian fashion. I cannot tell a Watteau pleat from
window-curtain. I am only a man, and I do not name draperies well. But
these two standing before me were gowned exactly alike, and yet I know
that one was purely and artistically Greek, and one was purely and
"I beg your pardon. I am Mr. Clarenden," I managed to say.
At the name Little Blue Flower's eyes looked as they did on that hot May
night out at Pawnee Rock when she heard Beverly Clarenden's boyish voice
ring out, defiantly:
"Uncle Esmond, let's take her, and take our chances."
But the great light that had leaped into the girl's eyes died slowly out
as she gazed at me.
"You are not Beverly Clarenden," she said, in a low voice.
"No, I'm Gail, the little one. Bev is up at Fort Leavenworth now," I
She turned away without a word and, gathering her draperies about her,
sped up the pathway toward the fields above the creek.
* * * * *
And we two were alone together--the dark-eyed girl of my boyhood vision,
deep-shrined in the boy-heart's holy of holies, and I who had waited for
her coming. It was the hour of golden sunset and long twilight afterglow
on the glistening Flat Rock waters and the green prairies beyond the
A sudden awakening came over me, and in one swift instant I understood
my boyhood dreams and hopes and visions.
"You will pardon me for coming so abruptly, Miss St. Vrain," I said.
"Mother Bridget told me I would find you here."
The girl listened to my stumbling words with eyes full of laughter.
"Don't call me Miss St. Vrain, please. Let me be Eloise, and I can call
you Gail. Even with your height and your broad shoulders you haven't
changed much. And in all these years I was always thinking of you
growing up just as you are. Let's sit down and get acquainted again."
She offered me her hand and we sat down together. I could not speak
then, for one sentence was ringing in my ears--"I was always thinking of
you." In those years when Beverly and I had put away all thoughts of
sweethearts--they could not be a part of the plainsman's life before
us--sweethearts such as older boys in school boasted about, "she was
always thinking of me." The thought brought a keen hurt as if I had done
her some great wrong, and it held me back from words.
She could not interpret my silence, and a look of timidity crept over
her young face.
"I didn't mean to be so--so bold with a stranger," she began.
"You aren't bold, and we aren't strangers. I was just too stupid to
think anybody else could get out of childhood except old Bev Clarenden
and myself," I managed to say at last. "I even forgot Mat Nivers, who is
a young lady now, and Aunty Boone, who hasn't changed a kink of her
woolly hair. But we couldn't be strangers. Not after that trip across
the plains and living at old Fort Bent as we did."
I paused, and the memory of that last night at the fort made me steal a
glance at Eloise to see if she, too, remembered.
She was fair to see just then, with the pink clouds mirrored on the
placid waters reflected in the pink of her cheeks.
"Do you remember what I called you the first time I saw you?" She
looked up with shining eyes.
"You called me a big brown bob-cat, and you said I looked like I'd slept
in the Hondo 'royo all my life. I know I looked it, too. I'll forgive
you if you will excuse my blunder to-day. What became of that boy,
Marcos? Have you ever seen him since you left Santa Fe?" I asked.
The fair face clouded, and a look of longing crept into the big, dark
eyes lifted pleadingly a moment to mine. I wanted to take her in my arms
right then and look about for something to kill for her sake. Yet I
would not, for the gold of all the Mexicos, have touched the hem of her
"Yes, I have seen Marcos many times. His father went to old Mexico after
the war, but the Rameros do not stay long anywhere. Marcos made life
miserable for me sometimes." She paused suddenly.
"The Rameros. Then he was the son of the man who was my uncle's enemy.
Maybe you did as much for him, too, sometimes. You had the spirit to do
it, anyhow," I said, lightly, to hide my real feeling.
"I was a little cat. I'm a lot better now. Let's not go too much into
that time. Tell me where you have been and where you are going." Eloise
changed the subject easily.
"I've been in Cincinnati, attending a boys' school for three years. I
start for Santa Fe in two weeks. My uncle's store is doing a big over
land business, and he keeps the ox-teams just fanning one another,
coming and going across the prairies. I'm crazy to go and see the open
plains again. Cincinnati is a city on stilts, and our little
Independence-Westport Landing-Kansas City place, as the Cincinnati of
the great American desert, is also pretty bumpy, the last place on earth
to put a town--only we can see almost to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from the
hilltops. Won't it be great to view that mud-walled town again? Bev is
going, too--to kill a few Indians for our winter's meat, he says, in his
wicked, blood-thirsty way." So I ran on, glad to be alive in the
delicious beauty of that spring evening as we together went back over
the days of our young years.
"Gail, may we take another passenger to-morrow?" Eloise asked, suddenly.
"Why, as many as the stage will hold! There's to be a nun and a priest
and yourself. I'm chaperon. I could take the priest on my lap if he
isn't too bulky," I answered.
"I want to take Po-a-be. I can't tell you why now."
The lashes dropped over the brown eyes, and I wondered how she could
think that I could refuse her anything.
"Oh, we'll take her on faith and the stage-coach. She can come right to
Castle Clarenden and stay till she gets ready to hurdle off to her own
'wickie up'. She has grown into a beautiful Indian woman, though I
couldn't call her a squaw."
"She isn't a squaw. I'm glad to hear you say that. I think it will make
her very happy to stay at your home for a while. She will miss me a
little when we leave here, maybe," Eloise said, looking at me with a
grateful smile that sent a tingle to my fingertips.
"Won't you stay, too?" I asked, suddenly realizing that this beautiful
girl might slip away as easily as she had come into my life here.
Eloise laughed at my earnestness.
"I couldn't stay long," she said, lightly.
"And why not?" I burst in, eagerly. "What have you in Santa Fe?"
"A little money and a lot of memories," she replied, seriously.
"Oh, I can bring the money up to Kansas for you in an ox-train easily
enough, and you could blow up the old mud-box of a town and not hurt a
hair on the head of a single memory. You know you can take them anywhere
you go. I do mine."
"I'm going to St. Louis, anyhow," Eloise returned, "and you have no
sacred memories--boys don't care for things like girls do."
"They don't? They don't? And I have forgotten the little girl who was
afraid one moonlit night out in the court at Fort Bent and asked me that
I shouldn't ever let Marcos pull her hair. Yes, boys forget."
I laid my hand on her arm and bent forward to look into her face. For
just one flash those big dark eyes looked straight at me, with something
in their depths that I shall never forget.
Then she moved lightly from me.
"Oh, all children remember, I suppose. I do, anyhow--a thousand things
I'd like to forget. It is lovely by the river. Suppose we go down there
for a little while. I must not stay out here too long."
I took her arm and we strolled down the quiet path in the twilight
sweetness to where the broad Neosho, brim full from the spring rains,
swept on between picturesque banks. The afterglow of sunset was flaming
gorgeously above the western prairies, and the mists along the Neosho
were lavender and mother-of-pearl. And before all this had deepened to
purple darkness the full moon would swing up the sky, swathing the earth
with a softened radiance. All the beauty of this warm spring night
seemed but a setting for this girl in her graceful Greek draperies, with
the waving gold of her hair and her dainty pink-and-white coloring.
A new heaven and a new earth had begun for me, and a delicious longing,
clean and sweet, that swept every commoner feeling far away. What matter
that the life before me be filled with danger, and all the coarse and
cruel things of the hard days of the Santa Fe Trail? In that hour I knew
the best of life that a young man can know. Its benediction after all
these years of change is on me still. Awhile we watched the flashing
ripples on the river, and the sky's darkening afterglow. Then we turned
to the moonlit east.
"Do you know what the people of Hopi-land call this month?" Eloise
"I don't know Hopi words for what is beautiful," I replied.
"They call it 'the Moon of the Peach Blossom', and they cherish the time
in their calendar."
"Then we will be Hopi people," I declared, "for it was in their Moon of
the Peach Blossom that you grew up for me from the little girl who
called me a bob-cat down in the doorway of the old San Miguel Church in
Santa Fe, and from Aunty Boone's 'Little Lees' at old Fort Bent, to the
Eloise of St. Ann's by the Kansas Neosho."
The sound of a sweet-toned bell told us that we must not stay longer,
and together we followed the path from the Flat Rock up to the academy
door. And all the way was like the ways of Paradise to me, for I was in
the peach-blossom moon of my own life.
THE HANDS THAT CLING
The hands that take
No weight from your sad cross, oh, lighter far
It were but for the burden that they bring!
God only knows what hind'ring things they are--
The hands that cling.
--ESTHER M. CLARK
The next morning three of us waited in the stage before the door of St.
Ann's Academy. A thin-faced nun, who was called Sister Anita, sat beside
Eloise St. Vrain, her snowy head-dress, with her black veil and somber
garments, contrasting sharply with the silver-gray hat and traveling
costume of her companion. Hints of pink-satin linings to coat-collar and
pocket-flaps, and the pink facing of the broad hat-brim, seemed borrowed
from the silver and pink of misty morning skies, with the golden hair
catching the glint of all the early sunbeams. There was a tenderness in
the bright face, the sadness which parting puts temporarily into young
countenances. The girl looked lovingly at the church, and St. Ann's, and
the green fields reaching up to the edge of the mission premises.
As we waited, Mother Bridget and Little Blue Flower came slowly out of
the academy door. The good mother's arm was around the Indian girl, and
her eyes filled with tears as she looked down affectionately at the dark
Little Blue Flower, true to her heritage, gave no sign of grief save for
the burning light in her big, dry eyes. She listened silently to Mother
Bridget's parting words of advice and submitted without response to the
embrace and gentle good-by kiss on her brown forehead.
The good woman gazed into my face with penetrating eyes, as if to
measure my trustworthiness.
"You will see that no harm comes to my little Po-a-be. The wolves of the
forest are not the only danger for the unprotected lambs," she said,
"I'll do my best, Mother Bridget," I responded, feeling a swelling pride
in my double charge.
Mother Bridget patted Eloise's hand and turned away. She loved all of
her girls, but her heart went out most to the Indian maidens whom she
led toward her civilization and her sacred creed.
As she turned away, the priest who was to go with us came out of the
church door to the stage.
Little Blue Flower sat with the other two women, facing us, her
dark-green dress with her rich coloring making as strong a contrast as
the nun's black robe against the pink-touched silver-gray gown. And the
Indian face, strong, impenetrable, with a faintly feminine softening of
the racial features, and the luminous black eyes, gave setting to the
pure Saxon type of her companion.
I turned from the three to greet the priest and give him a place beside
me. His face seemed familiar, but it was not until I heard his voice, in
a courteous good-morning, that I knew him to be the Father Josef who had
met us on the way into Santa Fe years before, and who later had shown us
the little golden-haired girl asleep on the hard bench in the old
mission church of Agua Fria. A page of my boyhood seemed suddenly to
have opened there, and I wondered curiously at the meaning of it all.
Life, that for three years had been something of a monotonous round of
action for a boy of the frontier, was suddenly filling each day with
events worth while. I wondered many things concerning Father Josef's
presence there, but I had the grace to ask no questions as we five
journeyed over the rolling green prairies of Kansas in the pleasant time
of year which the Hopi calls the Moon of the Peach Blossom.
The priest appeared hardly a day older than when I had first seen him,
and he chatted genially as we rode along.
"We are losing two of our stars," he said, with a gallant little bow.
"Miss St. Vrain goes to St. Louis to relatives, I believe, and Little
Blue Flower, eventually, to New Mexico. St. Ann's under Mother Bridget
is doing a wonderful work among our people, but it is not often that a
girl comes here from such a distance as New Mexico."
I tried to fancy what the Indian girl's thoughts might be as the priest
said this, but her face, as usual, gave no clue to her mind's activity.
Where the Santa Fe Trail crossed the Wakarusa Father Josef left us to
join a wagon-train going west. Sister Anita, who was hurrying back to
Kentucky, she said, on some churchly errand, took a steamer at Westport
Landing, and the three of us came to the Clarenden home on the crest of
We had washed off our travel stains and come out on the veranda when we
saw Beverly Clarenden standing in the sunlight, waiting for us. I had
never seen him look so handsome as he did that day, dressed in the full
regalia of the plains: a fringed and beaded buckskin coat, dark
pantaloons held inside of high-topped boots, a flannel shirt, with a
broad black silk tie fastened in a big bow at his throat, and his
wide-brimmed felt hat set back from his forehead. Clean-shaven, his
bright brown hair--a trifle long, after the custom of the
frontier--flung back from his brow, his blooming face wearing the happy
smile of youth, his tall form easily erect, he seemed the very
embodiment of that defiant power that swept the old Santa Fe Trail clean
for the feet of its commerce to run swiftly along. I am glad that I
never envied him--brother of my heart, who loved me so.
He was not as surprised as I had been to find the grown-up girl instead
of the little child. That wasn't Beverly's way.
"I'm mighty glad to meet you again," he said, with jaunty air, grasping
Eloise by the hand. "You look just as--shall I say promising, as ever."
"I'm glad to see you, Beverly. You and Gail have been my biggest assets
of memory these many years." Eloise was at ease with him in a moment.
Somehow they never misunderstood each other.
"Oh, I'm always an asset, but Gail here gets to be a liability if you
let him stay around too long."
"Here is somebody else. Don't you remember Little Blue Flower?" Eloise
"Little Blue Flower! Why, I should say I do! And are you that little
Beverly's face beamed, and he caught the Indian girl's hand in both of
his in a brotherly grasp. He wasn't to blame that nature had made him
frank and unimaginative.
"I haven't forgotten the last time I saw your face in a wide crack
between two adobe shacks. A 'flower in the crannied wall' in that 'pure
water' sand-pile in New Mexico. I'd have plucked you out of the cranny
right then, if old Rex Krane hadn't given us our 'forward march!'
orders, and an Indian boy, ten feet high and sneaky as a cat, hadn't
been lurking in the middle distance to pluck _me_ as a brand _for_ the
burning. And now you are a St. Ann's girl, a good little Catholic. How
did you ever get away up into Kansas Territory, anyhow?"
Beverly had unconsciously held the girl's hand as he spoke, but at the
mention of the Indian boy she drew back and her bright face became
Just then Mat Nivers joined us--Mat, whom the Lord made to smooth the
way for everybody around her--and we sat down for a visit.
"We are all here, friends of my youthful days," Beverly went on, gaily.
"Bill Banney and Jondo are down in the Clarenden warehouse packing
merchandise for the Santa Fe trade. Even big black Aunty Boone, getting
supper in there, is still a feature of this circus. If only that slim
Yankee, Rex Krane, would appear here now. Uncle Esmond tells me he is to
be here soon, and if all goes well he will go with us to Santa Fe again.
How about it, Mat? Can't you hurry his coming a bit?"
But Mat was staring at the roadway leading to the ravine below us. Her
wide gray eyes were full of eagerness and her cheeks were pink with
excitement. For, sure enough, there was Rex Krane striding up the hill,
with the easy swing of vigorous health. No longer the slender, slouching
young idol of my boyhood days, with Eastern cut of garment and
devil-may-care dejection of manner, all hiding a loving tenderness for
the unprotected, and a daring spirit that scorned danger.
"It's the old settlers' picnic, eh! The gathering of the wild
tribes--anything you want to call it, so we smoke the peace pipe."
Rex greeted all of us as we rushed upon him. But the first hands he
reached for were the hands of our loving big sister Mat. And he held
them close in his as he looked down into her beautiful eyes.
A sudden rush of memories brought back to me the long days on the trail
in the middle '40's, and I knew now why he had always looked at Mat when
he talked to all of us. And I used to think that he must have had a
little sister like her. Now I knew in an instant why Mat could not meet
his eyes to-day with that unconcern with which she met them when she was
a child to me, and he, all of five years ahead of her, was very grown
up. I knew more, for I had entered a new land myself since the hour by
the shimmering Flat Rock in the Moon of the Peach Blossom, and I was
alive to every tint and odor and musical note for every other wayfarer
That was a glorious week that followed, and one to remember on the long
trail days coming to us. I have no quarrel with the happy youth of
to-day, but I feel no sense of loss nor spirit of envy when they tell
me--all young people are my friends--when they tell me of golf-links and
automobile rides, or even the daring hint of airplanes. To the heart of
youth the gasolene-motor or the thrill of the air-craft to-day is no
more than the Indian pony and the uncertain chance of the crude old
canoe on the clear waters of the Big Blue when Kansas City was a village
and the Kansas prairies were in their virgin glory.
Bill Banney had come out of the Mexican War, no longer an adventure
lover, but a seasoned frontiersman. His life knew few of the gentler
touches. He gave it to the plains, where so many lives went, unhonored
and unsung, into the building of an enduring empire.
We would have included him in all the frolic of that wonderful week in
the Moon of the Peach Blossom--but he gave us no opportunity to do so.
And we were young, and the society of girls was a revelation to us. So
with the carelessness of youth we forgot him. We forgot many things that
week that, in Heaven's name, we had cause enough to remember in the
years that followed after.
"There's a theatrical troupe come up from St. Louis to play here
to-night," Rex Krane announced, after supper. "Mat, will you let me take
you down to see the villain get what's due all villains? Then if we have
to kill off Gail and Bev, it will not be so awkward."
"Can't we all go?" Mat suggested.
"Never mind us, Lady Nivers. Little Blue Flower, may I have the pleasure
of your company? I need protection to-night," Beverly said, with much
Little Blue Flower was sitting next to him, or it might not have begun
"Oh, say yes. He's no poorer company than that company of actors down
town," Rex urged.
The Indian girl assented with a smile.
She did not smile often and when she did her eyes were full of light,
and her red lips and perfect white teeth were beautiful enough for a
queen to envy.
"Little Lees, it seems you are doomed to depend on Gail or jump in the
Kaw. I'd prefer the Kaw myself, but life is full of troubles. One more
can be endured." Rex had turned to Eloise St. Vrain.
"Seems to me, having first choice, you might have been more considerate
of my lot yourself," Eloise declared.
"He was. He saved you from a worse fate when he chose Mat," I broke in.
"May we have a song by the choir?" Beverly interrupted, and with his
full bass voice he began to roar our some popular tune of that time.
And it went on as it began, the rambles about the rugged bluffs and
picturesque ravines, where to-day the hard-surfaced Cliff Drive makes a
scenic highway through the beauty spots of a populous city; the daring
canoe rides on the rivers; the gatherings of the young folk in the town;
and the long twilight hours on the crest of the bluff overlooking the
two great waterways. And as by the first selection, Beverly and Little
Blue Flower were companions. Nobody could be unhappy with Bev, least of
all the shy Indian girl with a face full of sunshine, now. And I? I
walked a pathway strewn with rose petals because the golden-haired
Little Lees was beside me. Each day was a frolic day for us, teasing one
another and making a joke of life, and for the morrow we took no thought
One evening Eloise St. Vrain and I sat together on the bluff. It was the
twilight hour, and all the far valley of the Kaw was full of iridescent
misty lights, with gold-tipped clouds of pale lavender above, and the
glistening silver of the river below. We could hear Beverly and Little
Blue Flower laughing together in a big swing among the maples. Aunty
Boone was crooning some African melodies in the bushes half-way down the
slope. Rex and Mat had gone to the ravine below to meet Uncle Esmond.
"Little Lees, the first time I ever saw you you were away out there in
such a misty light as that, and I saw only your hair and your eyes then,
but as clearly as I see them now."
Eloise turned questioningly toward me, and the light in her dark eyes
thrilled to the heart of me. In all her stay with us I had hardly spoken
earnestly of anything before.
"When was that Gail?" she asked, the frivolous spirit gone from her,
"When I was a little boy, one day at Fort Leavenworth. And when I caught
sight of you at the door of old San Miguel I knew you," I replied.
The girl turned her face toward the west again and was silent. I felt my
cheeks flush hotly. I had made her think I was only a dream-sick fool,
when I had told her of the sacredest moment of my life, and I had for
the minute foolishly felt that she might understand. How could I know
that it was I who could not understand?
At last she looked up with a smile as full of mischief as on that day
when she had called me a big brown bob-cat.
"You must have been having a nightmare in your sleep," she declared.
"I think I was," I replied, testily. "Let me tell you something, Little
Lees, something really important."
"I don't believe you know one important thing," Eloise replied, "but
I'll listen, and then if it is I'll tell you something more important."
"I'm willing to hear it now. Tell me first," I replied, wondering the
while how nature, that gives rough-hewn bearded faces to men, could make
a face so daintily colored, in its youthful roundness, as hers.
"I'm going to start to St. Louis day after to-morrow at six o'clock in
the morning. Isn't that important?"
Was there a real earnestness under the lightly spoken words, or did I
imagine it so? If I had only made sure then--but I was young.
"Important! It's a tragedy! I start west in three days, at eight o'clock
in the morning," I said, carelessly.
Sometimes the gray shadows fall on us when neither sunlight nor
moonlight nor starlight is dimmed by any film of vapor. They fell on me
then, and I shivered in my soul. How could I speak otherwise than
carelessly and not show what must not be known? And how could the girl
beside me know that I was speaking thus to keep down the shiver of that
cold shadow? I suppose it must always be the same old story, year after
till the leaves of the judgment book unfold.
"What was that important something you were going to tell me? What Mat
told me last night when we were watching the moon rise?" Eloise asked.
"That Rex and Mat are going to be married to-morrow evening at early
candle-lighting--'early mosquito-biting,' Bev calls it. Rex has loved
Mat since the day when he joined our little wagon-train out of a foolish
sort of notion that he could protect us children, otherwise his life was
useless to him. But something in his own boyhood made him pity all
orphan children. I think it was through neglect in childhood he became
an invalid at nineteen. He doesn't show the marks of it now."
I paused and looked at the young girl beside me, whose eyes were like
stars in the deepening gloom of the evening. It was delicious to have
her look at me and listen to me. It was delicious to live in a rose-hued
twilight, and I forgot the chill of that gray shadow lurking near.
The next evening was entrancing with the soft air of spring, a night
made purposely for brides. The wedding itself was simple in its
appointments, as such events must needs be in the frontier years. All
day we had worked to decorate the plain stone house, which the deftness
of Little Blue Flower and the artistic touch of Little Lees turned into
a spring bower, with trailing vines and blossoms everywhere.
Mat's wedding-gown was neither new nor elaborate, for the affair had
been too hastily decided on, but Eloise had made it bride-like by
draping a filmy veil over Mat's bright brown hair, and Little Blue
Flower had brought her long strands of turquoise beads, "old and
borrowed and blue," to fulfil the needs of every bride.
In the bridal party Beverly and I walked in front, followed by the two
girls in the white Greek robes which they had worn at the school frolic
at St. Ann's, and wearing their headbands, the one of silver and
turquoise, the other of silver and coral. Then came Rex Krane and Bill
Banney. Poor Bill! Nobody guessed that night that the bridal blossoms
were flowers on the coffin of his dead hope. And last of all, Esmond
Clarenden and Mat Nivers, with shining eyes, leaning on his arm. I had
never seen Uncle Esmond in evening dress before, nor dreamed how
splendid a figure he could make for a drawing-room in the costume in
which he was so much at ease. But the handsomest man of all the large
company gathered there that night was Jondo, big, broad-shouldered
Jondo, his deep-blue eyes bright with joy for these two. And in the
background was Aunty Boone, resplendent in a new red calico besprinkled
with her favorite white dots, her head turbaned in a yellow silk
bandana, and about her neck a strand of huge green glass beads. Her eyes
glistened as she watched that night's events, and her comfortable
ejaculations of approval were like the low purr of a satisfied cat. Then
came the solemn pledges, the benediction and congratulations. There was
merrymaking and singing, cake and unfermented wine of grapes for
refreshing, and much good will that night.
When the guests were gone and the lights, save one kitchen candle, were
all out, I had slipped from the dining-room with the last burden of
dishes, when I paused a minute beside the open kitchen window to let the
midnight breeze cool my face.
On the side porch, a little affair made to shelter the doorway, I saw
Beverly Clarenden and Little Blue Flower. He was speaking gently, but
with his blunt frankness, as he patted the two brown hands clinging to
his arm. The Indian girl's white draperies were picturesque anywhere. In
this dramatic setting they were startlingly beautiful, and her face,
outlined in the dim light, was a thing rare to see. I could not hear her
words, but her soft Hopi voice had a tender tone.
I was waiting to let them pass in when I heard Beverly's voice, and I
saw him bend over the little maiden, and, putting one arm around her, he
drew her close to him and kissed her forehead. I knew it was a brother's
sympathetic act--and all men know how dangerous a thing that is; that
there are no ties binding brother to sister except the bonds of kindred
blood. The girl slipped inside the dining-room door, and a minute later
a candle flickered behind her bedroom window-blind in the gable of the
house. I waited for Beverly to go, determined never to mention what I
had seen, when I caught the clear low voice whose tones could make my
pulse thresh in its walls.
"Beverly, Beverly, it breaks my heart--" I lost the remainder of the
sentence, but Beverly's words were clear and direct and full of a frank
"Eloise, do you really care?"
I turned away quickly that I might not hear any more. The rest of that
night I sat wide awake and staring at the misty valley of the Kaw, where
silvery ripples flashed up here and there against the shadowy sand-bars.
* * * * *
The steamboat for St. Louis left the Westport Landing wharf at six
o'clock in the morning, before the mists had lifted over the big yellow
Missouri. From our bluff I saw the smoke belch from its stacks as it
pulled away and started down-stream; but only Uncle Esmond and Jondo
waited to wave good-by to the sweet-faced girl looking back at them from
its deck. Beverly had overslept, and Little Blue Flower had left an hour
earlier with a wagon-train starting west toward Council Grove. In her
room lay the white Grecian robe and the headband of wrought silver with
coral pendants. On the little white pin-cushion on the dressing-table
the bright pin-heads spelled out one Hopi word that carries all good
will and blessing,
Twenty-four hours later Rex Krane left his bride, and he and Bill Banney
and Beverly and I, under command of Jondo, started on our long trip
overland to Santa Fe. And two of us carried some memories we hoped to
lose when new scenes and certain perils should surround us.
"OUR FRIENDS--THE ENEMY"
And you all know security
Is mortal's chiefest enemy.
In St. Louis and Kansas City men of Esmond Clarenden's type were sending
out great caravans of goods and receiving return cargoes across the
plains--pioneer trade-builders, uncrowned sovereigns of national
expansion--against whose enduring power wars for conquest are as
flashlight to daylight. And Beverly Clarenden and I, with the whole
battalion of plainsmen--"bull-whackers," in the common parlance of the
Santa Fe Trail--who drove those caravans to and fro, may also have been
State-builders, as Uncle Esmond had declared we would be. Yet we hardly
looked like makers of empire in those summer days when we followed the
great wagon-trains along the prairies and over the mountain passes.
Two of us had come home from school hilariously eager for the trail
service. But the silent plains made men thoughtful and introspective.
Days of endless level landscapes under wide-arching skies, and nights
in the open beneath the everlasting silent stars, give a man time to get
close to himself, to relive his childhood, to measure human values, to
hear the voice in the storm-cloud and the song of low-purring winds, to
harden against the monotonous glare of sunlight, to defy the burning
heat, and to feel--aye, to feel the spell of crystal day-dawns and the
sweetness of velvet-shadowed twilights. Beverly and I were typical
plainsmen in that we never spoke of these things to each other--that is
not the way of the plainsman.
Our company had been organized at Council Grove--three trains of
twenty-six wagons each, drawn by three or four spans of mules or yoke of
oxen, guarded by eightscore of "bull-whackers." And there were a dozen
or more ponies trained for swift riding in cases of emergency. There
were also half a dozen private outfits under protection of the large
The usual election before starting had made Jondo captain of the whole
company. His was the controlling type of spirit that could have bent a
battalion or swayed a Congress. For all the commanders and lawmakers of
that day were not confined to the army and to Congress. Some of them
escaped to the West and became sovereigns of service there. And Jondo
had need for an intrepid spirit to rule that group of men, as that
journey across the plains proved.
On the day before we left Council Grove he was sitting with the heads of
the other wagon-trains under a big oak-tree, perfecting final plans for
"Gail, I want you to sign some papers here," he said. "It is the
agreement for the trip among the three companies owning the trains."
I read aloud the contract setting forth how one Jean Deau, representing
Esmond Clarenden, of Kansas City, with Smith and Davis, representing two
other companies from St. Louis, together agreed to certain conditions
regarding the journey.
Smith and Davis had already signed, and as I took the pen, a
white-haired old trapper who was sitting near by burst out:
"Jean Deau! Jean Deau! Who the devil is Jean Deau?"
Jondo did not look up, but the lines hardened about his mouth.
"It's a sound. Don't get in the way, old man. Go ahead, Clarenden,"
Few questions were asked in those days, for most men on the plains had a
history, and it was what a man could do here, not what he had done
somewhere else, that counted.
So I, representing Esmond Clarenden, signed the paper and the two
managers hurried away. But the old trapper sat staring at Jondo.
"Say, I'm gittin' close to the end of the trail, and the divide ain't
fur off for me. D'ye mind if I say somethin'?" he asked at last.
Jondo looked up with that smile that could warm any man's heart.
"Say on," he commanded, kindly.
"You aint never signin' your own name nowhere, it sorter seems."
Jondo shook his head.
"Didn't you and this Clarenden outfit go through here 'bout ten years
ago one night? Some Mexican greasers was raisin' hell and proppin' it up
with a whisky-bottle that night, layin' fur you vicious."
Jondo smiled and nodded assent.
"Well, them fellers comin' in had a bargain with a passel of Kioways to
git you plenty if they missed you themselves; to clinch their bargain
they give 'em a pore little Hopi Injun girl they'd brung along with a
lot of other Mexicans and squaws."
"I had that figured out pretty well at the time," Jondo said, with a
"But, Jean Deau--" the old man began.
"No, Jondo. Go on. I'm busy," Jondo interrupted.
The old man's watery eyes gleamed.
"I just want to say friendly-like, that them Kioways never forgot the
trick you worked on 'em, an' the _tornydo_ that busted 'em at Pawnee
Rock they laid to your bad medicine. They went clare back to Bent's Fort
to fix you. Them and that rovin' bunch of Mexicans that scattered along
the trail with 'em in time of the Mexican War. They'd 'a' lost you but
fur a little Apache cuss they struck out there who showed 'em to you."
Jondo looked up quickly now. Santan, Beverly's "Satan," whom our
captain had defended, flashed to my mind, but I knew by Jondo's face
that he did not believe the old trapper's story.
"Them Kioways is still layin' fur you ever' year, I tell you, an'
they're bound to git you sooner or later. I'm tellin' ye in kindness."
The old man's voice weakened a little.
"And I'm taking you in kindness," Jondo said. "You may be doing me a
"I shore am. Take my word an' keep awake. Keep awake!"
In spite of his drink-bleared eyes and weakened frame, there was a hint
of the commander in him, a mere shadow of the energy that had gone years
ago into the wild, solitary life of the trapper who foreran the trail
"One more trip to the ha'nts of the fur-bearin' and it's good-by to the
mountain trails and the river courses fur me," he said, as he rose and
stalked unsteadily away, and--I never saw him again.
At daybreak the next morning we were off for Santa Fe. Our wagons,
loaded with their precious burdens, moved forward six abreast along the
old sun-flower bordered trail. Morning, noon, and evening, pitching camp
and breaking camp, yoking oxen and harnessing mules, keeping night vigil
by shifts, hunting buffalo, killing rattlesnakes, watching for signs of
hostile Indians, meeting incoming trains, or solitary trappers, at long
intervals, breathing the sweet air of the prairies, and gathering rugged
strength from sleep on the wholesome earth--these things, with the
jolliest of fellowship and perfect discipline of our captain, Jondo,
made this hard, free life of the plains a fascinating one. We were
unshaven and brown as Indians. We lost every ounce of fat, but we were
steel-sinewed, and fear, that wearing element that disintegrates the
soul, dropped away from us early on the trail.
But when the full moon came sweeping up the sky, and all the prairie
shadows lay flat to earth under its surge of clear light, in the
stillness of the great lonely land, then the battle with home-sickness
was not the least of the plains' perils.
One midnight watch of such a night, Jondo sat out my vigil with me. Our
eighty or more wagons were drawn up in a rude ellipse with the stock
corraled inside, for we were nearing the danger zone. And yet to-night
danger seemed impossible in such a peaceful land under such clear
"Gail, you were always a far-seeing youngster, even in your cub days,"
Jondo said, after we had sat silent for a long time. "We are moving into
trouble from to-night, and I'll need you now."
"What makes you think so, Jondo?" I asked.
"That train we met going east at noon."
"Mexicans with silver and skins worth double our stuff, what have they
to do with us?" I inquired.
"One of the best men I have ever known is a Mexican in Santa Fe. The
worst man I have ever known is an American there. But I've never yet
trusted a Mexican when you bunch them together. They don't fit into
American harness, and it will be a hundred years before the Mexican in
our country will really love the Stars and Stripes. Deep down in his
heart he will hate it."
"I remember Felix Narveo and Ferdinand Ramero mighty well," I commented.
Jondo stared at me.
"Can't a boy remember things?" I inquired.
"It takes a boy to remember; and they grow up and we forget they have
had eyes, ears, feelings, memories, all keener than we can ever have in
later years. Gail, the Mexican train comes from Felix Narveo, and Narveo
is a man of a thousand. They bring word, however, that the Kiowas are
unusually friendly and that we have nothing to fear this side of the
Cimarron. They don't feel sure of the Utes and Apaches."
"Good enough!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, only they lie when they say it. It's a trap to get us. No Kiowa on
the plains will let a Clarenden train through peacefully, because we
took their captive, Little Blue Flower. It's a hatred kept alive in the
Kiowas by one man in Santa Fe through his Mexican agents with Narveo's
"And that man is Ramero?" I questioned.
"That man is Ramero, and his capacity for hate is appalling. Gail,
there's only one thing in the world that is stronger than hate, and that
Jondo looked out over the moonlit plains, his fine head erect, even in
his meditative moods.
"When a Mexican says a Kiowa has turned friendly, don't believe him.
And when a Kiowa says it himself--kill him. It's your only safe course,"
Jondo said, presently.
"Jondo, why does Ramero stir up the Indians and Mexicans against Uncle
Esmond?" I asked.
"Because Clarenden drove him into exile in New Mexico before it was
United States territory," Jondo replied.
"What did he do that for?" I asked.
"Because of what Ramero had done to me," Jondo replied.
"Well, New Mexico is United States territory now. What keeps this Ramero
in Santa Fe, if he is there?"
"I keep him there. It's safer to know just where a man like that is. So
I put a ring around the town and left him inside of it."
Jondo paused and turned toward me.
"Yonder comes Banney to go on guard now. Gail, I'll tell you all about
it some day. I couldn't on a night like this."
The deep voice sent a shiver through me. There was a pathos in it, too
manly for tears, too courageous for pity.
The days that followed were hard ones. Word had gotten through the camp
that the Indians were very friendly, and that we need not be uneasy this
side of the Cimarron country. Smith and Davis agreed with the train
captain, Jondo, in taking no chances, but most of the one hundred sixty
bull-whackers stampeded like cattle against precaution, and rebelled at
his rigid ruling. He had begun to tighten down upon us as we went
farther and farther into the heart of a savage domain. The night guard
was doubled and every precaution for the stock was demanded, giving
added cause for grumbling and muttered threats which no man had the
courage to speak openly to Jondo's face. I knew why he had said that he
would need me. Bill Banney was always reliable, but growing more silent
and unapproachable every day. Rex Krane's mind was on the girl-wife he
had left in the stone house on the bluff above the Missouri. Beverly was
too cock-sure of himself and too light-hearted, too eager for an Indian
fight. Jondo could counsel with Smith and Davis of the St. Louis trains,
but only as a last resort would he dictate to them. So he turned to me.
We were nearing Pawnee Rock, but as yet no hint of an Indian trail could
we find anywhere. Advance-guards and rear-guards had no news to report
when night came, and the sense of security grew hourly. The day had been
very warm, but our nooning was shortened and we went into camp early.
Everything had gone wrong that day: harness had broken; mules had grown
fractious; a wagon had upset on a rough bit of the trail; half a dozen
men, including Smith and Davis of the St. Louis trains, had fallen
suddenly ill; drinking-water had been warm and muddy; and, most of all,
the consciousness of wide-spread opposition to Jondo's strict ruling
where there were no signs of danger made a very ugly-spirited group of
men who sat down together to eat our evening meal. Bets were openly
made that we wouldn't see a hostile redskin this side of Santa Fe.
Covert sneers pointed many comments, and grim silence threatened more
than everything else. Jondo's face was set, but there was a calmness
about his words and actions, and even the most rebellious that night
knew he was least afraid of any man among us.
At midnight he wakened me. "I want you to help me, Gail," he said. "The
Kiowas will gather for us at Pawnee Rock. They missed us there once
because they were looking for a big train, and it was there we took
their captive girl. The boys are ready to mutiny to-night. I count on
you to stand by me."
Stand by Jondo! In my helpless babyhood, my orphaned childhood, my
sturdy growing years toward young manhood, Jondo had been father,
mother, brother, playmate, guardian angel. I would have walked on
red-hot coals for his sake.
"I want you to slip away to-night, when Rex and Bev are on guard, and
find out what's over that ridge to the north. Don't come back till you
do find out. We'll get to Pawnee Rock to-morrow. I must know to-night.
Can you do it? If you aren't back by sunrise, I'll follow your trail
"I'll go," I replied, proud to show both my courage and my loyalty to my
The night was gray, with a dying moon in the west, and the north ridge
loomed like a low black shadow against the sky. There was a weird
chanting voice in the night wind, pouring endlessly across the open
plains. And everywhere an eyeless, voiceless, motionless land, whereon
my pony's hoof-beats were big and booming. Nature made my eyes and ears
for the trail life, and matched my soul to its level spaces. To-night I
was alert with that love of mastery that made me eager for this task. So
I rode forward until our great camp was only a dull blot on the
horizon-line, melting into mere nothingness as it grew farther away. And
I was alone on the earth. God had taken out every other thing in it,
save the sky over my head and the uneven short-grass sod under my feet.
On I went, veering to the northwest from instinct that I should find my
journey's end soonest that way. Over the divide which hid the wide
valley of the Arkansas, and into the deep draws and low bluffs of a
creek with billowy hills beyond, I found myself still instinctively
_smelling_ my way. I grew more cautious with each step now, knowing that
the chance for me to slip along unseen gave also the chance for an enemy
to trail me unseen.
At last I caught that low breathing sound that goes with the sense of
nearness to life. Leaving my pony by the stream, I climbed to the top of
a little swell, and softly as a cat walks on a carpet, I walked straight
into an Indian camp. It was well chosen for outlook near, and security
from afar. There was a growing light in the sky that follows the
darkness of moonset and runs before the break of dawn. Everything in
the camp was dead still. I saw evidences of war-paint and a recent
war-dance that forerun an Indian attack. I estimated the strength of the
enemy--possibly four hundred warriors, and noted the symbols of the
Kiowa tribe. Then, thrilled with pride at my skill and success, I turned
to retrace my way to my pony--and looked full into the face of an Indian
brave standing motionless in my path. A breath--and two more braves
evolved out of gray air, and the three stood stock-still before me. Out
of the tail of my eye, I caught sight of a drawn bow on either side of
me. I had learned quickness with firearms years ago, but I knew that two
swift arrows would cut my life-line before the sound of my ready
revolver could break the stillness of the camp. Three pairs of snaky
black eyes looked steadily at me, and I stared back as directly into
them. Two arrow-points gently touched my ears. Behind me, a tomahawk
softly marked a ring around my scalp outside of my hat. I was standing
in a circle of death. At last the brave directly before me slowly drew
up his bow and pointed it at me; then dropping it, he snapped the arrow
shaft and threw away the pieces. Pointing to my cocked revolver, he
motioned to me to drop it. At the same time the bows and tomahawks, of
the other warriors were thrown down. It was a silent game, and in spite
of the danger I smiled as I put down my firearms.
"Can't any of you talk?" I asked. "If you are friendly, why don't you
The men did not speak, but by a gesture toward the tallest tepee--the
chief's, I supposed--I understood that he alone would talk to me.
"Well, bring him out." I surprised myself at my boldness. Yet no man
knows in just what spirit he will face a peril.
One of the braves ran to the chief's tent, but the remaining five left
me no chance for escape. It was slowly growing lighter. I thought of
Jondo and his search at sunrise, and the moments seemed like hours. Yet
with marvelous swiftness and stillness a score of Indians with their
chief were mounted, and I, with my pony in the center of a solid ring,
was being hurried away, alive, with friendly captors daubed with
There was a growing light in the east, while the west was still dark. I
thought of the earth as throwing back the gray shadowy covers from its
morning face and piling them about its feet; I thought of some joke of
Beverly's; and I wondered about one of the oxen that had seemed sick in
the evening. I tried to think of nothing and a thousand things came into
my mind. But of life and death and love and suffering, I thought not at
Meantime, Jondo waited anxiously for my coming. Rex and Beverly had gone
to sleep at the end of their watch and nobody else in camp knew of my
going. At dawn a breeze began to swing in from the north, and with its
refreshing touch the weariness and worries of yesterday were swept away.
Everybody wakened in a good humor. But Jondo had not slept, and his
face was sterner than ever as the duties of the day began.
Before sunrise I began to be missed.
"Where's Gail?" Bill Banney was the first to ask.
"That's Clarenden's job, not mine," another of the bull-whackers
resented a command of Jondo's.
"Gail! Gail! Anybody on earth seen Gail Clarenden this morning?" came
from a far corner of the camp.
"Have you lost a man, Jondo?" Smith, still sick in his wagon, inquired.
And the sun was filling the eastern horizon with a roseate glow. It
would be above the edge of the plains in a little while, and still I had
Breakfast followed, with many questions for the absent one. There was an
eagerness to be off early and an uneasiness began to pervade the camp.
"Jondo, you'll have to dig up Gail now. I saw him putting out northwest
about one o'clock," Rex Krane said, aside to the train captain.
"If he isn't here in ten minutes. I'll have to start out after him,"
Ten minutes are long to one who waits. The boys were ready for the camp
order. "Catch up!" to start the harnessing of teams. But it was not
given. The sun's level rays, hot and yellow, smote the camp, and a low
murmur ran from wagon to wagon. Jondo waited a minute longer, then he
climbed to the wagon tongue at the head of the ellipse of vehicles, his
commanding form outlined against the open space, his fine face illumined
by the sunlight.
"Boys, listen to me."
Men listened when Jondo spoke.
"I believe we are in danger, but you have doubted my word. I leave the
days to prove who is right. At midnight I sent Gail Clarenden to find
out what is beyond that ridge--a band of men running parallel with us
that shadows us day by day. If he is not here in ten minutes, we must go
A hush fell on the camp. The oxen switched at the first nipping insects
of the morning, and the ponies and mules, with that horse-sense that all
horsemen have observed in them at times, stood as if waiting for a
decision to be made.
Beverly Clarenden was first to speak.
"If anybody goes after Gail, it's _me_, and I'll not stop till I get
him," he cried, all the brotherly love of a lifetime in his ringing
"And me!" "And me!" "And me!" came from a dozen throats. Plainsmen were
always the truest of comrades in the hour of danger. Nobody questioned
Jondo's wisdom now. All thought was for the missing man.
Rex Krane had leaped up on the wagon next to Jondo's and stood gazing
toward the northwest. At this outburst of eagerness he turned to the
crowd in the corral.
"You wait five minutes and Gail will be here. He's gettin' into sight
out yonder now," he declared.
Another shout, a rush for the open, and a straining of eyes to make sure
of the lone rider coming swiftly down the trail I had followed out at
midnight. And amid a wild swinging of hats and whoops of joy I rode into
camp, hugged by Beverly and questioned by everybody, eager for my story
from the time I left the camp until I rode into it again.
"They took me to Pawnee Rock before they let me know anything, except
that my scalp would hang to the old chief's war-spear if I tried one
eye-wink to get away from them. But they let me keep my gun, and I took
it for a sign," I told the company. "They had a lot of ceremony getting
seated, and then, without any smoking-tobacco or peace-pipe, they gave
"Who said the Kiowas wasn't friendly? They already sent us word enough,"
one man broke in.
Jondo's face, that had been bright and hopeful, now grew grave.
"They said they mean us no harm. They were grateful to Uncle Sam for the
favors he had given them. That the prairies were wide, and there was
room for all of us on it," I continued. "In proof, they said that we
would pass that old rock to-day unharmed where once they would have
counted us their enemies. And they let me go to bring you all this word.
They are going northeast into the big hunting-ground, and we are safe."
No man could take defeat better than Jondo.
"I am glad if I was wrong in my opinion," he said. "Fifteen years on
that trail have made me cautious. I shall still be cautious if I am your
captain. They did not smoke the peace-pipe. In my judgment the Kiowas
lied. Two or three days will prove it. Choose now between me and my
unchanged opinion, and some new train captain."
"Oh, every man makes some bad guesses, Jondo. We'll keep you, of course,
and it's a joke on you, that's all." So ran the comment, and we
hurriedly broke camp and moved on.
But with all of our captain's anxiety Pawnee Rock stood like a
protecting shield above us when we camped at its base, and the long
bright days that followed were full of a sense of security and good
cheer as we pulled away for the Cimarron crossing of the Arkansas River,
All day Jondo rode wide of the trail, sometimes on one side and
sometimes on the other, watching for signs of an enemy. And the bluff,
jovial crowd of bull-whackers laughed together at his holding on to his
opinion out of sheer stubbornness.
On the second night he asked for a triple guard and nobody grumbled, for
everybody really liked the big plainsman and they could afford to be
good-natured with him, now that he was unquestioningly in the wrong.
The camp was in a little draw running down to the river, bordered by a
mere ripple of ground on either side, growing deeper as it neared the
stream and flattening out toward the level prairie in its upper
portion. In spite of the triple guard, Jondo did not sleep that night;
and, strangely enough, I, who had been dull to fear in the hands of the
Indians two nights before, felt nervous and anxious, now when all seemed
Just at daybreak a light shower with big bullet-like drops of rain
pattered down noisily on our camp and a sudden flash of lightning and a
thunderbolt startled the sleepy stock and brought us to our feet, dazed
for an instant. Another light volley of rain, another sheet of lightning
and roar of thunder, and the cloud was gone, scattering down the
Arkansas Valley. But in that flash all of Jondo's cause for anxiety was
justified. The widening draw was full of Kiowas, hideous in war-paint,
and the ridges on either side of us were swarming with Indians beating
dried skins to frighten and stampede our stock, and all yelling like
fiends, while a perfect rain of arrows swept our camp. With the river
below us full of holes and quicksands, our enemies had only to hold the
natural defense on either side while they drove us in a harrowing wedge
back to the water. If our ponies and mules should break from the corral
they would rush for the river or be lost in the widening space back from
the deeper draw, where a well-trained corps of thieves knew how to
capture them. I had estimated the Kiowas' strength at four hundred, two
nights before, which was augmented now by a roving band of Dog
Indians--outcasts from all tribes, who knew no law of heaven or hell
that they must obey. And so we stood, shocked wide awake, with the foe
four to one, man for man against us.
Men remember details acutely in the face of danger. As I write these
words I can hear the sound of Jondo's voice that morning, clear and
strong above the awful din, for nature made him to command in moments of
peril. In a flash we were marshalled, one force to guard the corral, one
to seize and hold either bank and one to charge on the advance of the
Indians down the draw. We were on the defensive, as our captain had
planned we should be, and every man of us realized bitterly now how much
he had done for us, in spite of our distrust of his judgment.
On came the yelling horde, with rifle-rip and singing arrow. And the
sharp cry of pain and the fierce oath told where these shots had sped
home. Four to one, with every advantage of well-laid plan of action
against an unsuspecting sleeping force, the odds and gods were with
them. Dark clouds hung overhead, but the eastern sky was aflame, casting
a lurid glare across the edges of the draw as a stream of savages with
painted faces and naked bedaubed bodies poured down against the corral.
In an instant the chains and ropes holding the stock were severed, and
our mules and oxen and ponies stampeded wildly. By some adroit movement
they were herded over the low bank, and a cloud of dust hid the entire
battleground as the animals, mad with fright and goaded by arrows,
tossed against one another, stumbled blindly until they had cleared the
ridge. A shriek of savage glee and the thunder of hoofs on the hard
earth told how well the thing had been done and how furiously our
animals were being whirled away.
"Go, get 'em, Gail! Stay by 'em! Run!"
Jondo's voice sounded far away, but my work was near. With a dozen
bull-whackers I made a dash out of the draw and, circling wide, we rode
like demons to outflank the cloud of dust that hid our precious
property. On we swept, fleet and sure, in a mad burst of speed to save
our own. We were gaining now, and turning the cloud toward the river.
Another spurt, and we would have them checked, faced about, subdued. I
saw the end, and as the boys swung forward I urged them on.
"To the river. To the river. Head 'em south!" I cried.
And Rex Krane, like a centaur, swirled by me to do the thing I ordered.
Behind me rode Beverly Clarenden bareheaded, his face aglow with power.
As I looked back the dust engulfed him for a moment, and then I heard an
arrow sing, and a sharp cry of pain. The dust had lifted and Beverly and
a huge Indian, the tallest I have ever seen, were grappling together, a
scalping-knife gleaming in the morning light. I dashed forward and
felled the savage with the butt of my revolver. He leaped to his feet
and sprang at me just as Beverly, with unerring aim, sent a blaze of
fire between us. As the savage fell again, my cousin seized his pony;
and with an arrow still swinging to his arm, dashed into the chase, and
left it only when the stock, with the loss of less than a fourth, was
driven up the river's sandy bank and over the swell into the camp
Meantime, Jondo at the front of his men charged into the very center of
the savage battle-line as, furious for blood, they threshed across the
narrow draw--the disciplined arm and courageous heart against a
blood-thirsty foe. A charge, a falling back, another surge to win the
lost ground, a steady holding on and sure advance, and then Jondo, with
one triumphant shout of victory, struck the last fierce blow that sent
the Kiowas into full flight toward the northwest, and the day was won.
Out by the river, a sudden dullness seized me. I lifted my eyes to see
Beverly free and Rex directing the charge; cattle, mules, and ponies
turned back toward safety, and something crawling and writhing about my
feet; Jondo's great shout of victory far away, it seemed, miles and
miles to the north; a cloud of dust sweeping toward me; the crimson east
aflame like the Day of judgment; the dust cloud rolling nearer; the
yellow sands and slow-moving waters of the Arkansas; and six silent
stalwart Kiowa braves, with snaky black eyes, looking steadily at me.
Shadows, and the dust cloud upon me. Then all was night.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE PLAINS
Deeper than speech our love, stronger than life our tether,
But we do not fall on the neck, nor kiss when we come together.
--"A SONG OF THE ENGLISH."
The whole thing was clear now, clear as the big white day that suddenly
beamed along the prairies, scattering the clouds into gray strands
against the upper heavens. The treachery of the Kiowas had been cleverly
executed. Word of their friendliness had come to us through the Mexican
caravan which could have no object in deceiving us, since it was on its
way to Kansas City to do business with the Clarenden house there. And
Jondo had sent a spy by night into the Kiowa camp as if they were not to
be trusted. Yet they had taken no offense; but, letting me keep my
firearms, had led me into their council on the top of Pawnee Rock, where
they had told me in clear English that they had nothing but love for the
white brothers of the plains. And to prove it we should pass unharmed
along the trail where once we had wronged them by stealing their
captive. The prairies were wide enough for all of us and they had
forgotten--as an Indian always forgets--all malice against us. They had
sent me back to camp with greetings to my captain, and had gone on their
way to the heart of the Grand Prairie in the northeast.
It was only Jondo, as he rode wide of the trail for two days, who could
see any mark of an Indian's track. And we had not believed Jondo. We
never made that mistake again: But trust in his shrewdness now, however,
would not bring back the oxen lost and the mules and ponies captured by
the thieving band of Dog Indians. But there was a greater loss than
these. The Kiowas had come for revenge. It was blood, not plunder, they
wanted. A dozen men with arrow wounds reported at roll call, and six men
lay stark dead under the pitiless sky. Among them Davis of the St. Louis
train, who had been too ill to take part in the struggle. One more loss
was there to report, but it was not discovered until later.
Indians seldom leave their dead on the field of battle, but the
blood-stained sod beside their fallen ponies told a story of heavy toll.
Blood marked the trail of hoofprints to the northwest in their wild rout
thither. One comrade they had missed in their flight. He lay down near
the river where the ground had been threshed over by the stampeded
stock. He must have been a giant in life, for his was the longest grave
made in the prairie sod that day. At the river's edge the sands were
pricked with hoofprints, where the struggle to carry away the dead
seemed to have reached clear into the thin yellow current of the
Arkansas, although no trail led out on the far side of the stream.
"That's the very copper cuss with yellow trimmings who had me down when
that arrow stopped me," Beverly exclaimed. "He was seven feet tall and
streaked with yellow just that way. I thought ten million rattlesnakes
and eight billion polecats had hit me. His club was awful. Then I caught
sight of old Gail's face in the dust-storm, coming back to help me. He
gave the Indian one dose and got one back, a good hard bill, and then
the dust closed in and Gail was off again to the northwest out there,
like a hurricane. I could hear him a mile away. Couldn't I Gail? Where
"Oh, back there with the stock!"
"Out there looking over the draw for things that's got all scattered."
No? Not there?
"Oh, he's getting breakfast. And we are all hungry enough to eat raw
"Gail would be helping the wounded, anyhow, or straightening out dead
men's limbs. Poor fellows--to lose six! It's awful!"
No? No? No?
"Bathing in the river? Where? Over there across the sand-bar?"
"By the eternal God, they've got him!" Jondo's agonized voice rang
through the camp.
"We can take care of the wounded, and those fellows lying over there
don't need us. But, oh, Gail! They'll torture him to death!" Rex Krane's
voice choked and he ground his teeth.
"Gail, my Gail!" Beverly sat down white and desparingly calm--Beverly,
whose up-bubbling spirits nobody could repress.
The others wrung their hands and cursed and groaned aloud. Only Bill
Banney, the unimaginative and stern-hearted, stood motionless with set
jaws and black-frowning brows. Bill, whom the plains had made hard and
"We won't give up Gail, will we, Bill?" Jondo spoke sternly, but his
face--they said his face was bright with courage and that his eyes shone
with the inspiration of his will. In all that crowd of eager, faithful
men, he turned now to Bill Banney. Every man had his place on the
plains, and Jondo out of the chrism of his own life-struggle knew that
Bill was bearing a cross in silence, and that his was the martyr spirit
that finds salvation only in deeds. Bill was the man for the place.
And so while straying animals were slowly recovered, while the camp was
set in order, while the dead were laid with simple reverence in
un-coffined graves, and the sick were crudely ministered to, while
Beverly grew feverish and his arrow wound became a festering sore, and
Rex Krane, master of the company, cared for every thing and everybody
with that big mother-heart of his--Jondo and Bill Banney pushed alone
across the desolate plains toward where the Smoky Hills wrapped in their
dim gray-blue mist mark the low watershed that rims the western valley
of the Kaw.
They went alone because skill, and not numbers, could save a captive
from the hands of the Kiowas, and the sight of a force would mean death
to the victim before he could be rescued.
A splash of water against a hot hand hanging down; a sense of light, of
motion; a glimpse of coarse sands and thin straggling weeds beside the
edge of the stream down which the pathway ran; a sharp aching at the
base of the brain; an agony of strained muscles--thus slowly I came to
my senses, to memory, to the knowledge that I was bound hand and foot to
a pony's back; that the sun was hot, and the sands were hotter, and the
glare on the waters blinding; that every splash of the pony's hoofs sent
up glittering sparkles that stabbed my aching eyes like white-hot
dagger-points; that the black and clotted dirt on the pony's shoulder
was not mud, but blood; that before and behind were other splashing
feet, all hiding the trail in the thin current of the wide old Arkansas;
that the quick turns to follow the water and the need for speed gave no
consideration to the helpless rider. The image of six pairs of snaky
black eyes came to help the benumbed brain, and I knew with whom I was
again captive. But there was no question about the friendly motive now,
for there was no friendly motive now. And as we pushed on east, Jondo
and Bill Banney were hurrying toward the northwest, and the space
between us widened every minute. A wave of helplessness and despair
swept over me; then a wild up-leaping prayer for deliverance to a
far-away unpitying Heaven; a sudden sense of the futility of prayer in a
land the Lord had forgotten; and then anger, hot and wholesome, and an
unconquered, dominant will to gain freedom or to die game, swept every
other feeling away, marvelously mastering the sense of pain that had
ground mercilessly at every nerve. Then came that small voice which a
man hears sometimes in the night stillness and sometimes in the blare of
daylight wrangle. And all suddenly I knew that He who notes the
sparrow's fall knew that I was alone with death, slow-lingering,
inch-creeping death, out on that wide, lonely plain. The glare on the
waters softened. The heat fell away. The despair and agony lifted. In
all the world--my world--there was only one, God; not a far, unpitying,
book-made Lord beyond the height of the glaring blue dome above me. God
beside me on, the yellow waters of the Arkansas. His hand in my hot
hand! His strength about me, invisible, unbreakable, infinite. When a
man enters into that shielding Presence, nothing else matters.
I do not know how many miles we went down-stream, leaving no trail in
the shallow water or along its hard-baked edges. But by the time we
dropped that line I had begun to think coherently and to take note of
everything possible to me, bound as I was, face downward, on the pony's
back. It was when we had left the river that the hard riding began, and
a merciful unconsciousness, against which I fought, softened some
stretches of that long day's journey. We crossed the Santa Fe Trail and
were pushing eastward out of sight of it to the north. No stop, no word,
nothing but ride, ride, ride. Truly, I needed the Presence that went
with me on the way.
At sunset we stopped, and I was taken from my pony and thrown to the
ground. I managed, in spite of my bonds, to sit up and look about me.
We were on the top of Pawnee Rock. The heat of the day was spent and all
the radiant tints of evening were making the silent prairies unspeakably
beautiful. I do not know why I should have noted or remembered any of
this, save that the mind sometimes gathers impressions under strange
stress of suffering. I had had no food all day, and when our ponies
stopped to drink, the agony of thirst was maddening. My tongue was
swollen and my lips were cracked and bleeding. The leather thongs that
bound me cut deep now. But--only the men who lived it can know what all
this meant to the pioneer of the trail.
I have sat on the same spot at sunset many a time in these my sunset
years; have gazed in tranquil joy at the whole panorama of the heavens
that hang over the prairies in the opalescent splendor of the
after-sunset hour; have looked out over the earthly paradise of waving
grain, all glowing with the golden gleam of harvest, in the heart of the
rich Kansas wheat-lands--and somehow I'm glad of soul that I foreran
this day and--maybe--maybe I, too, helped somewhat to build the way--the
way that Esmond Clarenden had helped to clear a decade before and was
The six Indians gathered near me. One of them with unmerciful mercy
loosened my bonds a trifle and gave me a sup of water. They did not want
me to die too soon. Then they sat down to eat and drink. I did not shut
my eyes, nor turn my head. I defied their power to crush me, and the
very defiance gave me strength.
The chill air of evening blew about the brow of the rock, the twilight
deepened, and down in the valley the shadows were beginning to hide the
landscape. But the evening hour is long on the headlands. And there was
ample time for another kind of council than that to which I had listened
three mornings ago, when I had been set free to bear a friendly message
to my chief.
They carried me--helpless in their hands--to where, unseen myself, and
secured by rock fragment and rawhide thong, I could see far up the trail
to the eastward. But I could give no signal of distress, save for the
feeble call of my swollen, thirst-parched throat. Then the six bronze
sons of the plains sat down before me, and looked at me. Looked! I never
see a pair of beady black eyes to-day--and there are many such--that I
do not long to kill somebody, so vivid yet is the memory of those
murdering eyes looking at me.
At last they spoke--plains English, it is true--but clear to give their
"Chief Clarenden thinks Kiowas forget. He comes with little train across
the prairies; Kiowas go to meet big train east and fight fair for
Mexican brothers who hate Chief Clarenden. They do not stop to look for
little sneaking coyotes when they seek big game. Clarenden steals away
Kiowas' captive Hopi. Cheat Kiowas of big pay that white Medicine-man
Josef would give for her. Mexican brothers and Kiowa tribe hate
Clarenden. They take his son, _you_, to show Clarenden they can steal,
too. Hopi girl! white brave! all the same."
The speaker's words came deliberately, and he gave a contemptuous wave
of the hand as he closed. And the six sat silent for a time. Then
another voice broke the stillness.
"Yonder is your trail. Chief Clarenden and big white chiefs go by to
Santa Fe to buy and sell and grow rich. Indian sell captives to grow
rich! No! White chief not let Indians buy and sell. But we do not kill
white dogs. We leave you here to watch the trail for wagon-trains. They
may not come soon. They may not see you nor hear you. You can see them
pass on their way to get rich. You can watch them. Hopi girl would have
brought us big money. We get no richer. Watch white men go get rich. You
may watch many days till sun dries your eyes. Nothing trouble you here.
Watch the trail. No wild animal come here. No water drown you here. No
fine meat make you ache with eating here. Watch."
The six looked long at me, and as the light faded their black eyes and
dark faces seemed like the glittering eyes and hooked bills of six great
dark birds of prey.
When the last sunset glow was in the west the six rose up and walked
backward, still looking at me, until they passed my range of vision and
I could only feel their eyes upon me. Then I heard the clatter of
ponies' feet on the hard rock, the fainter stroke on the thin, sandy
soil, the thud on the thickening sod. Thump, thump, thump, farther and
farther and farther away. The west grew scarlet, deepened to purple and
melted at last into the dull gray twilight that foreruns the darkness of
night. One ray of pale gold shimmered far along toward the zenith and
lost itself in the upper heavens, and the stars came forth in the
blue-black eastern sky. And I was alone with the Presence whose arm is
never shortened and whose ear grows never heavy.
The trail to the east was only a dull line along the darker earth. I
looked up at the myriad stars coming swiftly out of space to greet me.
The starlit sky above the open prairie speaks the voice of the Infinite
in a grandeur never matched on land or sea.
I thought of Little Blue Flower on that dim-lighted dawning when she had
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