Vanguards of the Plains
Part 5 out of 6
it over that which had been called Sister Anita; I heard Father Josef's
voice of music repeating the "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust." And
then we turned away and left the spot, as men turn every day to the
common affairs of life.
Four days later Little Blue Flower came to me as I, still numb and cold
and blankly unthinking, sat beside Fort Marcy and looked out with
unseeing eyes at the glory of a New-Mexican sunset.
"I come from Eloise." The sadness of her face and voice even the
Indian's self-control could not conceal.
"She is sad, but brave, and her mother loves her and calls her 'Little
One.' She will never grow up to her mother. But"--Little Blue Flower's
voice faltered and she gazed out at the far Sandia peaks wrapped in the
rich purple folds of twilight, with the scarlet of the afterglow beyond
them--"Eloise loves Beverly. She will always love him. Heaven meant him
for her." There were some other broken sentences, but I did not grasp
them clearly then.
The world was full of gray shadows. The finishing touches had been put
on life for me. I looked out at the dying glow in the west, and wondered
vaguely if the sun would ever cross the Gloriettas again, or ever the
Sangre-de-Christo grow radiant with the scarlet stain of that ineffable
beauty that uplifts and purifies the soul of him who looks on it.
SWEET AND BITTER WATERS
Trust me, it is something to be cast
Face to face with one's self at last,
To be taken out of the fuss and strife,
The endless clatter of plate and knife,
The bore of books, and the bores of the street,
And to be set down on one's own two feet
So nigh to the great warm heart of God,
You almost seem to feel it beat
Down from the sunshine, and up from the sod.
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.
My hair is very white now, and my fingers hold a pen more easily than
they could hold the ox-goad or the rifle, and mine to-day is all the
backward look. Which look is evermore a satisfying thing because it
takes in all of life behind in its true proportion, where the forward
look of youth sees only what comes next and nothing more. And looking
back to-day it seems that, of the many times I walked the long miles of
that old Santa Fe Trail, no journey over it stands out quite so
clear-cut in my memory as the home trip after I had watched the going
away of Eloise, and witnessed the flight of Ferdinand Ramero, and
listened to the story of Jondo's life.
When Little Blue Flower left me sitting beside Fort Marcy's wall my
mind went back in swift review over the flight of days since Beverly
Clarenden and I had come from Cincinnati. I recalled the first meeting
of Eloise with my cousin. How easily they had renewed acquaintance. I
had been surprised and embarrassed and awkward when I found her and
Little Blue Flower down by the Flat Rock below St. Ann's, in the Moon of
the Peach Blossom. I remembered how I had monopolized all of her time in
the days that followed, leaving good-natured Bev to look after the
little Indian girl who never really seemed like an Indian to him. And
keen-piercing as an arrow came now the memory of that midnight hour when
I had seen the two in the little side porch of the Clarenden home, and
again I heard the sorrowful words:
"Oh, Beverly, it breaks my heart."
Eloise had just seen Beverly kiss Little Blue Flower in the shadows of
the porch. And all the while, good-hearted, generous boy that he was, he
had never tried to push his suit with her, had made her love him more,
no doubt, by letting me have full command of all of her time, while he
forgot himself in showing courtesy to the Indian girl, because Bev was
first of all a gentleman. I thought of that dear hour in the church of
San Miguel. Of course, Eloise was glad to find me there--poor, hunted,
frightened child! She would have been as glad, no doubt, to have found
big Bill Banney or Rex Krane, and I had thought her eyes held something
just for me that night. She had not seen Beverly at the chapel beside
the San Christobal River, and to me she had not given even a parting
glance when she went away. If she had cared for me at all she would not
have left me so. And I had climbed the tortuous trail with her and stood
beside her in the zone of sanctuary safety that Father Josef had thrown
about us two.
These things were clear enough to me, but when I tried to think again of
all that Little Blue Flower had said an hour ago my mind went numb:
"Her mother knew her, but only as the little Eloise long lost and never
missed till now. The mother, too, was very beautiful, and young in face,
and child-like in her helplessness. The lonely ranch-house, old, and
strong as a fort, girt round by tall canon walls, nestled in a grassy
open place; and not a comfort had been denied the woman there. For
Gloria Ramero, Ferdinand's wife, had governed that. And Eloise had
entered there to stay. This much was clear enough. But that which
followed seemed to twist and writhe about in my mind with only one thing
sure--Eloise loved Beverly, would always love him. And he could not love
any one else. He could be kind to any girl, but he would not be happy.
Some day when he was older--a real man--then he would long for the girl
of his heart and his own choice, and he would find her and love her,
too, and she would love him and those who stood between them they both
would hate. And Eloise loved Beverly. She could not send Gail any words
herself, but he would understand."
So came the Indian girl's interpretation of the case, but the conclusion
was the message meant for me. I wondered vaguely, as I sat there, if the
vision had come to Beverly years ago as it had come to me: three
men--the soldier on his cavalry mount, Jondo, the plainsman, on his big
black horse, and between the two, Esmond Clarenden, neither mounted nor
on foot, but going forward somehow, steady and sure. And beyond these
three, this side of misty mountain peaks, the cloud of golden hair, the
sweet face, with dark eyes looking into mine. I had not been a dreamer,
I had been a fool.
Through Beverly I learned the next day that Ferdinand Ramero had come
into Santa Fe late at night and had left early the next morning. Marcos
Ramero, faultlessly dressed, lounged about the gambling-halls, and
strolled through the sunny Plaza, idly and insolently, as was his
custom. But Gloria Ramero, to whom Marcos long ago ceased to be more
than coldly courteous, had left the city at once for the San Christobal
Valley, to devote herself to the care of the beautiful woman whom her
brother Felix Narveo in his college days had admired so much.
As for Jondo, years ago when we had met Father Josef out by the sandy
arroyo, he had left us to follow the good man somewhere, and had not
come back to the Exchange Hotel until nightfall. Something had come into
his face that day that never left it again. And now that something had
deepened in the glance of his eye and the firm-set mouth. It was
through that meeting with Father Josef that he had first heard of the
supposed death of Mary Marchland St. Vrain, and it was through the
priest in the chapel he had heard that she was still alive.
Neither Beverly nor Bill Banney nor Rex Krane knew what I had heard in
the church concerning Jondo's early career, and I never spoke of it to
them. But to all of us, outside of that intensified something
indefinable in his face, he was unchanged. He met my eye with the open,
frank glance with which he met the gaze of all men. His smile was no
less engaging and his manner remained the same--fearless, unsuspicious,
definite in serious affairs, good-natured and companionable in
everything. I could not read him now, by one little line, but back of
everything lay that withering, grievous thought--he was a murderer.
Heaven pity the boy when his idol falls, and if he be a dreaming
idealist the hurt is tenfold deeper.
And yet--the trail was waiting there to teach me many things, and
Jondo's words rang through the aisles of my brain:
"If you ever have a real cross, Gail, thank the Lord for the open plains
and the green prairies, and the danger stimulus of the old Santa Fe
Trail. They will seal up your wounds, and soften your hard, rebellious
heart, and make you see things big, and despise the little crooks in
Our Conestoga wagons, with their mule-teams, and the few ponies for
scout service, followed the old trail out of the valley of the Rio
Grande to the tablelands eastward, up the steep sidling way into the
passes of the Glorietta Mountains, down through lone, wind-swept canons,
and on between wild, scarred hills, coming, at last, beyond the
picturesque ridges, snow-crowned and mesa-guarded, into the long, gray,
waterless lands of the Cimmarron country. Here we journeyed along
monotonous levels that rose and fell unnoted because of lack of
landmarks to measure by, only the broad, beaten Santa Fe Trail stretched
on unbending, unchanging, uneffaceable.
As the distance from spring to spring decreased, every drop of water
grew precious, and we pushed on, eager to reach the richer prairies of
the Arkansas Valley. Suddenly in the monotony of the way, and the
increasing calls of thirst, there came a sense of danger, the plains-old
danger of the Comanche on the Cimarron Trail. Bill Banney caught it
first--just a faint sign of one hostile track. All the next day Jondo
scouted far, coming into camp at nightfall with a grave report.
"The water-supply is failing," he told us, "and there is something wrong
out there. The Comanches are hovering near, that's certain, and there is
a single trail that doesn't look Comanche to me that I can't account
for. All we can do is to 'hold fast,'" he added, with his cheery smile
that never failed him.
That night I could not sleep, and the stars and I stared long at each
other. They were so golden and so far away. And one, as I looked,
slipped from its place and trailed wide across the sky until it
vanished, leaving a stream of golden light that lingered before my eyes.
I thought of the trail in the San Christobal Valley, and again I saw the
sunlight on golden hair as Eloise with Little Blue Flower passed out of
sight around the shoulder of a great rock beside the way. At last came
sleep, and in my dreams Eloise was beside me as she had been in the
church of San Miguel, her dark eyes looking up into mine. I knew, in my
dream, that I was dreaming and I did not want to waken. For, "Eloise
loved Beverly, would always love him." Little Blue Flower had said it.
The face was far away, this side of misty mountain peaks, and farther
still. I could see only the eyes looking at me. I wakened to see only
the stars looking at me. I slept again deeply and dreamlessly, and
wakened suddenly. We were far and away from the Apache country, but
there, for just one instant, a face came close to mine--the face of
Santan--the Apache. It vanished instantly as it had come. The night
guard passed by me and crossed the camp. The stars held firm above me. I
had had another dream. But after that I did not sleep till dawn.
The day was very hot, with the scorching breeze of the plains that sears
the very eyeballs dry. Through the dust and glare we pressed on over
long, white, monotonous miles. Hovering near us somewhere were the
Comanches--waiting; with us was burning thirst; ahead of us ran the
taunting mirage--cool, sparkling water rippling between green
banks--receding as we approached, maddening us by the suggestion of its
refreshing picture, the while we knew it was only a picture. For it is
Satan's own painting on the desert to let men know that Dante's dream is
mild compared to the real art of torment. Men and animals began to give
way under the day's burden, and we moved slowly. In times like these
Jondo stayed with the train, sending Bill Banney and Beverly scouting
ahead. That was the longest day that I ever lived on the Santa Fe Trail,
although I followed its miles many times in the best of its freighting
The weary hours dragged at last toward evening, and a dozen signs in
plains lore told us that water must be near. As we topped a low swell at
the bottom of whose long slide lay the little oasis we were seeking, we
came upon Bill Banney's pony lying dead across the trail. And near it
Bill himself, with bloated face and bleared eyes, muttering
"Water-hole! Poison! Don't drink!"
And then he babbled of the muddy Missouri, and the Kentucky blue grass,
and cold mountain springs in the passes of the Gloriettas, warning us
thickly of "death down there."
"Down there," beside the little spring shelved in by shale at the lower
edge of the swell, we found a tiny cairn built of clumps of sod and bits
of shale. Fastened on it was a scrap from Bill's note-book with the
Spring poisoned. Bev gone for water not very far on.--BILL.
So Bill had drunk the poisoned water and had tried to reach us. But for
fear he might not do it, he had scrawled this warning and left it here.
Brave Bill! How madly he had staggered round the place and threshed the
ground in agony when he tried to mount his poisoned pony, and his first
thought was for us. The plains made men see big. Jondo had told me they
could do it. Poor Bill, moaning for water now and tossing in agony in
Jondo's wagon! The Comanches had been cunning in their malice. How we
hated them as we stood looking at the waters of that poisoned spring!
Rex Krane's big, gentle hands were holding Bill's. Rex always had a
mother's heart; while Jondo read the ground with searching glance.
"We will wait here a little while. Bev will report soon, I hope. Come,
Gail," he said to me. "Here is something we will follow now."
A single trail led far away from the beaten road toward a stretch of
coarse dry yucca and loco-weeds that hid a little steep-sided draw
across the plains. At the bottom of it a man lay face downward beside a
dead pony. We scrambled down, shattering the dry earth after us as we
went. Jondo gently lifted the body and turned it face upward. It was
The big plainsman did not cry out, nor drop his hold, but his face
turned gray, and only the dying man saw the look in the blue eyes gazing
into his. Ramero tried to draw away, fear, and hate, and the old
dominant will that ruled his life, strong still in death. As he lay at
the feet of the man whose life hopes he had blasted, he expected no
mercy and asked for none.
"You have me at last. I didn't put the poison in that spring. I would
not have drunk it if I had. It was the one below I fixed for you. And
I'm in your power now. Be quick about it."
For one long minute Jondo looked down at his enemy. Then he lifted his
eyes to mine with the victory of "him that overcometh" shining in their
"If I could make you live, I'd do it, Fred. If you have any word to say,
be quick about it now. Your time is short."
The sweetness of that gentle voice I hear sometimes to-day in the low
notes of song-birds, and the gentle swish of refreshing summer showers.
Ferdinand Ramero lifted his cold blue eyes and looked at the man bending
"Leave me here--forgotten--"
"Not of God. His Mercy endureth forever," Jondo replied.
But there was no repentance, no softening of the hard, imperious heart.
We left him there, pulling down the loose earth from the steep sides of
the draw to cover him from all the frowning elements of the plains. And
when we went back to the waiting train Jondo reported, grimly:
"_No enemy in sight."_
We laid Bill Banney beside the poisoned spring, from whose bitter waters
he had saved our lives. So martyrs filled the unknown graves that made
the milestones of the way in the days of commerce-building on the old
Santa Fe Trail.
The next spring was not far ahead, as Bill's note had said, but the
stars were thick above us and the desolate land was full of shadows
before we reached it--a thirst-mad, heart-sore crowd trailing slowly on
through the gloom of the night.
Beverly was waiting for us and the refreshing moisture of the air above
a spring seemed about him.
"I thought you'd never come. Where's Bill? There's water here. I made
the spring myself," he shouted, as we came near.
The spring that he had digged for us was in the sandy bed of a dry
stream, with low, earth-banks on either side. It was full of water,
hardly clear, but plentiful, and slowly washing out a bigger pool for
itself as it seeped forth.
"There is poison in the real spring down there." Beverly pointed toward
the diminished fountain we had expected to find. "I've worked since noon
We drank, and life came back to us. We pitched camp, and then listened
to Beverly's story of the sweet and bitter waters of the trail that day.
And all the while it seemed as if Bill Banney was just out of sight and
might come galloping in at any moment.
"You know what happened up the trail," my cousin said, sadly. "Bill was
ahead of me and he drank first, and galloped back to warn me and beg me
to come on for water. I thought I could get down here and take some
water back to Bill in time. It's all shale up there. No place to dig
above, nor below, even if one dared to dig below that poison. But I
found a dead coyote that had just left here, and all springs began to
look Comanche to me. I lariated my pony and crept down under the bank
there to think and rest. Everything went poison-spotted before my eyes."
"Where's your pony now, Bev?" Jondo asked.
"I don't know sure, but I expect he is about going over the Raton Pass
by this time," Beverly replied. "Down there things seemed to swim around
me like water everywhere and I knew I'd got to stir. Just then an Indian
came slipping up from somewhere to the spring to drink. He didn't look
right to me at all, but I couldn't sit still and see him kill himself.
If he needed killing I could have done it for him, for he never saw me.
Just as he stooped I saw his face. It was that Apache--Santan--the
wander-foot, for I never heard of an Apache getting so far from the
mountains. I ought to have kept still, Jondo"--Beverly's ready smile
came to his face--"but I'd made that fellow swear he'd let me eternally
alone when we had our little fracas up by the San Christobal Arroyo, so
something like conscience, mean as the stomach-ache, made me call out:
"'Don't drink there; it's poison.'
"He stopped and stared at me a minute, or ten minutes--I didn't count
time on him--and then he said, slow-like:
"'It's the spring west that is poisoned. I put it there for you. You
will not see your men again. They will drink and die. Who put this
"'Lord knows. I didn't,' I told him. 'Two of you carrying poison are two
too many for the Cimarron country.'
"And I hadn't any more conscience after that, but I was faint and slow,
and my aim was bad for eels. He could have fixed me right then, but for
some reason he didn't."
Beverly's face grew sad.
"He made six jumps six ways, and caught my pony's lariat. I can hear his
yell still as he tore a hole in the horizon and jumped right through.
Then I began on that spring. 'Dig or die. Dig or die.' I said over and
over, and we are all here but Bill. I wish I'd got that Apache, though."
Jondo and I looked at each other.
"The thing is clear now," he said, aside to me. "That single trail I
found back yonder day before yesterday was Santan's running on ahead of
us to poison the water for us and then steal a horse and make his way
back to the mountains. An Apache can live on this cactus-covered sand
the same as a rattlesnake. He fixed the upper spring and came down here
to drink. Only Beverly's conscience saved him here. Heaven knows how
Fred Ramer got out here. He may have come with some Mexicans on ahead of
us and left them here to drop his poison in this lower spring. Then he
turned back toward Santa Fe and found his doom up there at Santan's
"I'm like Bev. I wish he had gotten the Apache, now. I don't know yet
how I was fooled in him, for he has always been Fred Ramer's tool, and
Father Josef never trusted him. And to think that Bill Banney, in no way
touching any of our lives, should have been martyred by the crimes of
Fred and this Apache! But that's the old, old story of the trail. Poor
Bill! I hope his sleep will be sweet out in this desolate land. We'll
meet him later somewhere."
The winds must have carried the tale of poisoned water across the
Cimarron country, for the Comanches' trail left ours from that day.
Through threescore and ten miles to the Arkansas River we came, and
there was not a well nor spring nor sign of water in all that distance.
What water we had we carried with us from the Cimarron fountains. But
the sturdy endurance of the days was not without its help to me. And the
wide, wind-swept prairies of Kansas taught me many things. In the
lonely, beautiful land, through long bright days and starlit nights, I
began to see things bigger than my own selfish measure had reckoned. I
thought of Esmond Clarenden and his large scheme of business; Felix
Narveo, the true-hearted friend; and of Father Josef and his life of
devotion. And I lived with Jondo every day. I could not forget the hour
in the little ruined chapel in the San Christobal Valley, and how he
himself had made no effort to clear his own name. But I remembered,
too, that Father Josef, mercilessly just to Ferdinand Ramero, had not
even asked Jondo to defend himself from the black charge against him.
The sunny Kansas prairies, the far open plains, and the wild mountain
trails beyond, had brought their blessing to Jondo, whose life had known
so much of tragedy. And my cross was just my love for a girl who could
not love me. That was all. Jondo had never forgotten nor ceased to love
the mother of Eloise St. Vrain. I should be like Jondo in this. But the
world is wide. Life is full of big things. Henceforth, while I would not
forget, I, too, would be big and strong, and maybe, some time, just as
sunny-faced as my big Jondo.
The trail life, day by day, did bring its blessing to me. The clear,
open land, the far-sweeping winds, the solitude for thought, the bravery
and gentleness of the rough men who walked the miles with me, the
splendor of the day-dawn, the beauty of the sunset, the peace of the
still starlit night, sealed up my wounds, and I began to live for others
and to forget myself; to dream less often, and to work more gladly; to
measure men, not by what had been, but by how they met what was to be
From all the frontier life, rough-hewn and coarse, the elements came
that helped to make the big brave West to-day, and I know now that not
the least of source and growth of power for these came out of the
strength and strife of the things known only to the men who followed the
Santa Fe Trail.
DEFENDING THE TRAIL
WHEN THE SUN WENT DOWN
The mind hath a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one.
Busy years, each one a dramatic era all its own, made up the annals of
the Middle West as the nation began to feel the thrill for expansion in
its pulse-beat. The territorial days of Kansas were big with the tragic
events of border warfare, and her birth into statehood marked the
commencement of the four years of civil strife whose record played a
mighty part in shaping human destiny.
Meanwhile the sunny Kansas prairies lay waiting for the hearthstone and
the plow. And young men, trained in camp and battle-field, looked
westward for adventure, fortune, future homes and fame. But the tribes,
whose hunting-grounds had been the green and grassy plains, yielded
slowly, foot by foot, their stubborn claim, marking in human blood the
price of each acre of the prairie sod. The lonely homesteads were the
prey of savage bands, and the old Santa Fe Trail, always a way of
danger, became doubly perilous now to the men who drove the vans of
commerce along its broad, defenseless miles. The frontier forts
increased: Hays and Harker, Larned and Zarah, and Lyon and Dodge became
outposts of power in the wilderness, whose half-forgotten sites to-day
lie buried under broad pasture-lands and fields of waving grain.
One June day, as the train rolled through the Missouri woodlands along
rugged river bluffs, Beverly Clarenden and I looked eagerly out of the
car window, watching for signs of home. It was two years after the close
of the Civil War. We had just finished six years of Federal service and
were coming back to Kansas City. We were young men still, with all the
unsettled spirit that follows the laying aside of active military life
for the wholesome but uneventful life of peace.
The time of our arrival had been uncertain, and the Clarenden household
had been taken by surprise at our coming.
"I wonder how it will seem to settle down in a store, Bev, after toting
shooting-irons for six years," I said to my cousin, as the train neared
"I don't know," Beverly replied, with a yawn, "but I'm thinking that
after we see all the folks, and play with Mat's little boys awhile, and
eat Aunty Boone's good stuff till we begin to get flabby-cheeked and
soft-muscled, and our jaws crack from smiling so much when we just
naturally want to get out and cuss somebody--about that time I'll be
ready to run away, if I have to turn Dog Indian to do it."
"There's a new Clarenden store at a place called Burlingame out in
Kansas now, somewhere on the old trail. Maybe it will be far enough away
to let you get tamed gradually to civil life there, if Uncle Esmond
thinks you are worth it," I suggested.
"Rex Krane is to take charge of that as soon as we get home. Yonder are
the spires and minarets and domes of Kansas City. Put on your company
grin, Gail," Beverly replied, as we began to run by the huts and cabins
forming the outworks of the little city at the Kaw's mouth.
Six years had made many changes in the place, but the same old welcome
awaited us, and we became happy-hearted boys again as we climbed the
steep road up the bluff to the Clarenden house. On the wide veranda
overlooking the river everybody except one--Bill Banney, sleeping under
the wind-caressed sod beside the Cimarron spring--was waiting to greet
us. There were Esmond Clarenden and Jondo, in the prime of middle life,
the one a little bald, and more than a little stout; the other's heavy
hair was streaked with gray, but the erect form and tremendous physical
strength told how well the plains life had fortified the man of fifty
for the years before him. The prairies had long since become his home;
but whether in scout service for the Government, or as wagon-master for
a Clarenden train on the trail, he was the same big, brave, loyal
And there was Rex Krane, tall, easy-going old Rex, with his wife beside
him. Mat was a fair-faced young matron now, with something Madonna-like
in her calm poise and kindly spirit. Two little boys, Esmond, and Rex,
Junior, clinging to her gown, smiled a shy welcome at us.
In the background loomed the shining face and huge form of Aunty Boone.
She had never seemed bigger to me, even in my little-boy days, when I
considered her a giant. Her eyes grew dull as she looked at us.
"Clean faces and finger-nails now. Got to stain 'em up 'bout once more
'fore you are through. Hungry as ever, I'll bet. I'll get your supper
right away. Whoo-ee!"
As she turned away, Mat said:
"There is somebody else here, boys, that you will be glad to meet. She
has just come and doesn't even know that you are expected. It is 'Little
A rustle of silken skirts, a faint odor of blossoms, a footfall, a
presence, and Eloise St. Vrain stood before us. Eloise, with her golden
hair, the girlish roundness of her fair face, her big dark eyes and
their heavy lashes and clear-penciled brows, her dainty coloring, and
beyond all these the beauty of womanly strength written in her
Her dress was a sort of pale heliotrope, with trimmings of a deeper
shade, and in her hands she carried a big bunch of June roses. She
stopped short, and the pink cheeks grew pale, but in an instant the rich
bloom came back to them again.
"I tried to find you, Eloise. The boys have just come in almost
unannounced," Mat said.
"You didn't mean to hide from us, of course," Beverly broke in, as he
took the girl's hand, his face beaming with genuine joy at meeting her
Eloise met him with the same frank delight with which she always greeted
him. Everything seemed so simple and easy for these two when they came
together. Little Blue Flower was right about them. They seemed to fit
But when she turned to me her eyes were downcast, save for just one
glance. I feel it yet, and the soft touch of her hand as it lay in mine
I think we chatted all together for a while. I had a wound at Malvern
Hill that used to make me dizzy. That, or an older wound, made my pulse
frantic now. I know that it was a rare June day, and the breeze off the
river came pouring caressingly over the bluff. I remember later that
Uncle Esmond and Jondo and Rex Krane went to the Clarenden store, and
that Mat was helping Aunty Boone inside, while Beverly let the two
little Kranes take him down the slope to see some baby squirrels or
something. And Eloise and I were left alone beneath the trees, where
once we had sat together long ago in the "Moon of the Peach Blossom."
For me, all the strength of the years wherein I had built a wall around
my longing love, all my manly loyalty to my cousin's claims, were swept
away, as I have seen the big Missouri floods, joined by the lesser Kaw,
sweep out bridges, snapping like sticks before their power.
"Eloise, it seems a hundred years since I saw you and Little Blue Flower
ride away up the San Christobal River trail out of my sight," I said.
"It has been a long time, but we are not yet old. You seem the same. And
as for me, I feel as if the clock had stopped awhile and had suddenly
started to ticking anew."
It was wonderful to sit beside her and hear her voice again. I did not
dare to ask about her mother, but I am sure she read my thoughts, for
she went on:
"My mother is gone now. She was as happy as a child and never had a
sorrow on her mind after her dreadful fever, although the doctors say
she might have been restored if I had only been with her then. But it is
all ended now."
Eloise paused with saddened face, and looked out toward the Missouri
River, boiling with June rains and melted snows.
"It is all right now," she went on, bravely. "Sister Gloria--you know
who she was--stayed with me to the last. And I have a real mound of
earth in the cemetery beside my father." The last two words were spoken
softly. "Sister Gloria is in the convent now. Marcos is a common
gambler. His father disappeared and left him penniless. Esmond Clarenden
says that his father died out on the plains somewhere."
"And Father Josef?" I inquired.
"Is still the same strong friend to everybody. He spends much time
among the Hopi people. I don't know why, for they are hopelessly
heathen. Their own religion has so many beautiful things to offset our
faith that they are hard to convert."
"And Little Blue Flower--what became of her?" I asked. "Is she a squaw
in some hogan or pueblo, after all that the Sisterhood of St. Ann's did
A shadow fell on the bright face beside me.
"Let's not talk of her to-day." There was a pleading note in Eloise's
voice. "Life has its tragedies everywhere, but I sometimes think that
none of them--American, English, Spanish, French, Mexican, nor any
others of our pale-faced people, have quite such bitter acts as the
Indian tragedy among a gentle race like the people of Hopi-land."
"I hope you will stay with us now."
I didn't know what I really did hope for. I was no longer a boy, but a
young man in the very best of young manhood's years. I had seen this
girl ride away from me without one good-by word or glance. I had heard
her message to me through Little Blue Flower. I had suffered and
outgrown all but the scar. And now one touch of her hand, one smile, one
look from her beautiful eyes, and all the barrier of the years fell
down. I wondered vaguely now about Beverly's wish to turn Dog Indian if
things became too monotonous. I wondered about many things, but I could
not think anything.
"I have no present plans. Father Josef and Esmond Clarenden thought it
would be well for me to come up to Kansas and look at green prairies
instead of red mesas for a while; to rest my eyes, and get my strength
again--which I have never lost," Eloise said, with a smile. "And Jondo
She did not tell me what Jondo had said, for Beverly and Mat and the two
rollicking boys joined us just then and we talked of many things of the
I cannot tell how that June slipped by, nor how Eloise, in the full
bloom of her young womanhood, with the burdens lifted from her heart and
hands, was no more the clinging, crushed Eloise who had sat beside me in
the church of San Miguel, but a self-reliant and deliciously
companionable girl-woman. With Beverly she was always gay, matching him,
mood for mood; and if sometimes I caught the fleeting edge of a shadow
in her eyes, it was gone too soon to measure. I did not seek her company
alone, because I knew that I could not trust myself. Over and over,
Jondo's words, when he had told me the story of Mary Marchland, came
back to me:
"And although they loved each other always, they never saw each other
Nobody, outside of those touched by it, knew Jondo's story, except
myself. He was Theron St. Vrain's brother, yet Eloise never called him
uncle, and, except for the one mention of her father's grave, she did
not speak of him. He was not even a memory to her. And both men's names
were forever stained with the black charge against them.
One evening in late June, Uncle Esmond called me into council.
"Gail, Rex leaves to-morrow for the new store at Burlingame, Kansas. It
is two days out on the Santa Fe Trail. Bev will go with him and stay for
a while. I want you to drive through with Mat and the children and
Eloise a day or two later."
"Eloise?" I looked up in surprise.
"Yes; she will visit with Mat for a while. She has had some trying years
that have taxed her heavily. The best medicine for such is the song of
the prairie winds," Uncle Esmond replied.
"And after that?" I insisted.
"We will wait for 'after that' till it gets here," my uncle smiled as he
spoke. "There are more serious things on hand than where out Little Lees
will eat her meals. She seems able to take care of herself anywhere.
Wonderfully beautiful and charming young woman she is, and her troubles
have strengthened her character without robbing her of her youth and
Esmond Clarenden spoke reminiscently, and I stared at him in surprise
until suddenly I remembered that Jondo had said, "We were all in love
with Mary Marchland." Eloise must seem to him and Jondo like the Mary
Marchland they had known in their young manhood. But my uncle's mood
passed quickly, and his face was very grave as he said:
"The conditions out on the frontier are serious in every way right now.
The Indians are on the war-path, leaving destruction wherever they set
foot. Something must be done to protect the wagon-trains on the Santa Fe
Trail. I have already lost part of two valuable loads this season, and
Narveo has lost three. But the appalling loss of property is nothing
compared to the terror and torture to human life. The settlers on the
frontier claims are being massacred daily. The Governor of Kansas is
doing all he can to get some action from the army leaders at Washington.
But you haven't been in military service for six years without finding
out that some army leaders are flesh and blood, and some are only
wood--plain wooden wood. Meantime, the story of one butchery doesn't get
to the Missouri River before the story of another catches up with it.
It's bad enough when it's ruinous to just my own commercial
business--but in cases like this, humanity is my business."
What a man he was--that Esmond Clarenden! They still say of him in
Kansas City that no sounder financier and no bigger-hearted humanitarian
ever walked the streets of that "Gateway to the Southwest" than the
brave little merchant-plainsman who builded for the generations that
should follow him.
"What will be the outcome, Uncle Esmond? Are we to lose all we have
gained out here?" I asked.
"Not if we are real Westerners. It's got to be stopped. The question
is, how soon," my uncle replied.
That night in a half-waking dream I remembered Aunty Boone's prophetic
greeting a few days before, and how her eyes had narrowed and grown dull
as she said, "One more stainin' of your hands 'fore you are through."
I had given six good years to army service--the years which young men
give to college and to establishing themselves in their life-work. But
the vision of the three men whom I had seen under the elm-tree at Fort
Leavenworth came back to me, and only one--the cavalry man--moved
westward now. I knew that I was dreaming, but I did not want to waken
till the vision of a fair face whose eyes looked into mine should come
to make my dream sweet and restful.
But in my waking hours, in spite of the gravity of conditions that
troubled Esmond Clarenden, in spite of the terrible tidings of daily
killings on the unprotected plains, I forgot everything except the girl
beside me as I went with her and Mat and the children to the new home in
the village of Burlingame beside the Santa Fe Trail.
Eloise St. Vrain had come up to Kansas to let the green prairies shut
out the memory of tall red mesas. About the little town of Burlingame
the prairies were waiting for her eyes to see. It nestled beside a deep
creek under the shelter of forest trees, with the green prairie lapping
up to its edges on every side. The trail wound round the shoulder of a
low hill, and, crossing the stream, it made the main street of the
town, then wandered on westward to where a rim of ground shut the view
of its way from the settlement under the trees by the creek. A stanch
little settlement it was, and, like many Kansas towns of the '60's, with
big, but never-to-be realized, ambition to become a city. Into its life
and up-building Rex Krane was to throw his good-natured Yankee
shrewdness, and Mat her calm, generous spirit; vanguards they were,
among the home-makers of a great State.
My stay in the place was brief, and I saw little of Eloise until the
evening before I was to return to Kansas City. I had meant to go away,
as she had left me in the San Christobal Valley, without one backward
look, but I couldn't do it; and at the close of my last day I went to
the Krane home, where I found her alone. It was the long after-sunset
hour, with the refreshing evening breezes pouring in from all the green
levels about us.
"Rex is at the store, and the others are all gone fishing," Eloise said,
in answer to my inquiry for the family.
"Mat and Bev always did go fishing on every occasion that I can
remember, and they will make fishermen of little Esmond and Rex now.
Would you like to go up to the west side of town and look into New
Mexico?" I asked, wondering why Beverly should go fishing with Mat when
Eloise was waiting for his smile.
But I was desperately lonely to-night, and I might not see Eloise again
until after she and Beverly--I could not go farther. She smiled and
"I'm just honin' for a walk, as Aunty Boone would say, but I'm not quite
ready to see New Mexico yet."
"Oh, it's only a thing made of evening mists rising from the meadows,
and bits of sunset lights left over when the day was finished," I
So we left the shadow of the tall elms and strolled up the main street
toward the west.
Where the one cross-street cut the trail in the center of the village
there was a public well. The ground around it was trampled into mud by
many hoofs. A Mexican train had just come in and was grouped about this
well, drinking eagerly.
"What news of the plains?" I asked their leader as we passed.
"I cannot tell you with the lady here," he replied, bowing courteously.
"It is too awful. A spear hung with a scalp of pretty baby hair like
hers. I see it yet. The plains are all _alive--alive_ with hostile red
men; and the worst one of all--he that had the golden scalp--is but a
half-breed Cheyenne Dog. Never the Apaches were so bad as he."
The cattle horned about the well, with their drivers shouting and
struggling to direct them, as we went wide to avoid the mud, then passed
up to the rise beyond which lay the old trail's westward route.
The mists were rising from the lowlands; along the creek the sunset sky
was all a flaming glory, under whose deep splendor the June prairies lay
tenderly green and still; down in the village the sounds of the Mexicans
settling into camp; the shouting of children, romping late; and out
across the levels, the mooing call of milking-time from some far-away
settler's barn-yard; a robin singing a twilight song in the elms;
crickets chirping in the long grass; and the gentle evening breeze sweet
and cool out of the west--such was the setting for us two. We paused on
the crest of the ridge and sat down to watch the afterglow of a prairie
twilight. We did not speak for a long time, but when our eyes met I knew
the hour had been made for me. In such an hour we had sat beside the
glistening Flat Rock down in the Neosho Valley. I was a whole-hearted
boy when I went down there, full of eagerness for the life of adventure
on the trail, and she a girl just leaving boarding-school. And now--life
sweetens so with years.
"I think I can understand why your uncle thought it would be well for me
to come to Kansas," Eloise said at last. "There is an inspiration and
soothing restfulness in a thing like this. Our mountains are so huge and
tragical; and even their silences are not always gentle. And our plains
are dry and gray. And yet I love the valley of the Santa Fe, and the old
Ortiz and Sandia peaks, and the red sunset's stain on the
Sangre-de-Christo. Many a time I have lifted up my eyes to them for
help, as the shepherd did to his Judean hills when he sang his psalms of
hope and victory."
"Yes, Nature is kind to us if we will let her be. Jondo told me that
long ago, and I've proved it since. But I have always loved the
prairies. And this ridge here belongs to me," I replied.
Eloise looked up inquiringly.
"I'll tell you why. When I was a little boy, years ago, a day-dreaming,
eager-hearted little boy, we camped here one night. That was my first
trip over the trail to Santa Fe. You haven't forgotten it and what a big
brown bob-cat I looked like when I got there. I grew like weeds in a
Kansas corn-field on that trip."
"Oh, I remember you. Go on," Eloise said, laughingly.
"That night after supper, everybody had left camp--Mat and Bev were
fishing--and I was alone and lonely, so I came up here to find what I
could see of the next day's trail. It was such an hour as this. And as I
watched the twilight color deepen, my own horizon widened, and I think
the soul of a man began, in that hour, to look out through the little
boy's eyes; and a new mile-stone was set here to make a landmark in my
life-trail. The boy who went back slowly to the camp that night was not
the same little boy that had run up here to spy out the way of the next
The afterglow was deepening to purple; the pink cloud-flecks were
turning gray in the east, and a kaleidoscope of softest rose and tender
green and misty lavender filled the lengthening shadows of the twilight
"Eloise, I had a longing that night, still unfulfilled. I wish I dared
to tell you what it was."
I turned to look at the fair girl-woman beside me. In the twilight her
eyes were always like stars; and the golden hair and the pink bloom of
her cheeks seemed richer in their shadowy setting. To-night her gown was
white--like the Greek dress she had worn at Mat's wedding, on the night
when she met Beverly in the little side porch at midnight. Why did I
recall that here?
"What was your wish, Gail?" The voice was low and sweet.
I took her hand in mine and she did not draw away from me.
"That I might some day have a real home all my own down there among the
trees. I was a little homesick boy that night, and I came up here to
watch the sunset and see the open level lands that I have always loved.
Eloise, Jondo told me once of three young college men who loved your
beautiful mother, and because of that love they never married anybody,
but they lived useful, happy lives. I can understand now why they should
love her, and why, because they could not have her love, they would not
marry anybody else. One was my uncle Esmond, and one was Father Josef."
"And the third?" The voice was very low and a tremor shook the hand I
"He did not tell me. And I speak of it now only to show you that in what
I want to say I am not altogether selfish and unkind. I love you,
Eloise. I have loved you since the day, long ago, when your face came
before me on the parade-ground at Fort Leavenworth. I told you of that
once down on the bluff by the Clarenden home at Kansas City. I shall
love you, as the Bedouin melody runs,
Til the sun grows cold,
And the stars are old,
And the leaves of the judgment
"But I know that it will end as Uncle Esmond's and Father Josef's loving
did, in my living my life alone."
Eloise quickly withdrew her hand, and the pain in her white face haunts
"I do not want to hurt you, oh, Eloise. I know I do wrong to speak, but
to-night will be the last time. I thought that night in the church at
San Miguel, and that next day when we rode for our lives together, that
you cared for me who would have walked through fire for you. But in that
hour in the little chapel a barrier came between us. You rode away
without one word or glance. And I turned back feeling that my soul was
falling into ruins like that half-ruined little pile of stone that some
holy padre had built his heart into years and years ago. Then Little
Blue Flower brought your message to me and I knew as I sat beside Fort
Marcy's wall that night, and saw the sun go down, that the light of my
life was going out with it."
"But, Gail," Eloise exclaimed, "I said I could not send you any word,
but you would understand. I--I couldn't say any more than that." Her
voice was full of tears and she turned away from me and looked at the
last radiant tints edging the little cloud-flecks above the horizon.
"Of course I understand you, Eloise, and I do not blame you. I never
could blame you for anything." I sprang to my feet. "You'll hate me if I
say another word," I said, savagely.
She rose up, too, and put her hand on my arm. Oh, she was beautiful as
she stood beside me. So many times I have pictured her face, I will not
try to picture it as it looked now in this sweet, sacred moment of our
"Gail, I could never hate you. You do not understand me. I cannot help
what is past now. I hoped you might forget. And yet--" She paused.
All men are humanly alike. In spite of my strong love for Beverly and my
sense of right, the presence of the woman whose image for so many years
had been in the sacredest shrine of my heart, Eloise, in all her beauty
and her womanly strength and purity, standing beside me, her hand still
on my arm--all overpowered me.
I put my arms about her and held her close to me, kissing her forehead,
her cheek, her lips. The world for one long moment was rose-hued like
the sunset's afterglow; and sky and prairie, lowlands along the winding
creek, and tall elm-trees above the deepening shadows, were all engulfed
in a mist of golden glory, shot through with amethyst and sapphire, the
dainty coraline pink of summer dawns, and the iridescent shimmer of
Heaven opens to us here and there such moments on the way of life. And
the memory of them lingers like perfume through all the days that
We turned our faces toward the darkening village street and the tall
elms above the gathering shadows, and neither spoke a word until we
reached the door where I must say good night.
"I cannot ask you to forgive me, Little Lees, because you let me have a
bit of heaven up there. I shall go away a better man. And, remember,
that no blessing in your life can be greater than I would wish for you
The brave white face was before my eyes and the low voice was in my ears
long after I had left her door.
"Gail, I cannot help what has been, but I do not blame you. I should
almost wish myself shut in again by the tall red mesas; but maybe, after
all, the prairies are best for me. I am glad I have known you. Good
"Goodnight," I said, and turned away.
And that was all. The last light of day had gone from the sky, and the
stars overhead were hidden by the thick leafage of the Burlingame elms.
A MAN'S PART
Don't you guess that the things we're seeing now will haunt us through
Heaven and hell rolled into one, glory and blood and tears;
Life's pattern picked with a scarlet thread, where once we wove with
To remind us all how we played our part in the shock of an epic day?
--ROBERT W. SERVICE.
However darkly the sun may go down on hope and love, the real sun shines
on, day after day, with its inexorable call to duty. In less than a week
after I had left Eloise and the vague hope of a home of my own under the
big elm-trees of Burlingame, Governor Crawford of Kansas sent forth a
call for a battalion of four companies of soldiers, and I heard the call
and answered it.
It was to be known as the Eighteenth Kansas Cavalry, with Col. Horace L.
Moore, a veteran soldier of tried mettle, at the head. We were to go at
once to Fort Harker, in the valley of the Smoky Hill River, to begin a
campaign against the Indians, who were laying waste the frontier
settlements and attacking wagon-trains on the Sante Fe Trail.
On the evening before I left home I sat on the veranda of the Clarenden
house, waiting for Uncle Esmond to join me, when suddenly Beverly
Clarenden strode over the edge of the hill. The sunny smile and the
merry twinkle of his eye were Bev's own, and there wasn't a line on his
face to show whether it belonged to the happy lover or the rejected
suitor. I thought I could always read his moods when he had any. He had
"I just got in from Burlingame. At what hour do you leave to-morrow? I'm
going along to chaperon you, as usual," he declared.
"Why, Beverly Clarenden, I thought you were fixed at Burlingame, selling
molasses and calico by the gallon," I exclaimed, but my real thought was
not given to words.
"And let the Cheyennes, and Kiowas, and Arapahoes, and other desperadoes
of the plains gnaw clear into the heart of us? Not your uncle Esmond
Clarenden's nephew. And, Gail, this won't be anything like we have had
since those six Kiowas staked you out on Pawnee Rock once. The
thoroughbred Indians are bad enough, but there is a half-breed leader of
a band of Dog Indians that's worst of all. He's of the yellow kind, with
wolf's fangs. A Mexican on the trail told me that this half-breed ties
up with the worst of every tribe from the Coast Range mountains to
Tecumseh, Kansas," Beverly declared.
"I remember that Mexican. I saw him at the well in Burlingame," I
replied, turning to look at the Kaw winding far away, for the memory of
everything in Burlingame was painful to me.
Aunty Boone's huge form appearing around the corner of the house shut
off my view of the river just then. Her face was glistening, but her
eyes were dull as she looked us over.
"You stainin' your hands again," she purred. "Yes, Aunty. We are going
to lick the redskins into ribbons," Beverly replied.
"You never get that done. Lickin' never settles nobody. You just hold
'em down till they strong enough to boost you off their heads again, and
up they come. Whoo-ee!"
The black woman gave a chuckle.
"Well, I'd rather sit on their heads than have them sitting on mine, or
yours, Aunty Boone," Beverly returned, laughingly.
Aunty Boone's eyes narrowed and there was a strange light in them as she
looked at us, saying:
"You get into trouble, Mr. Bev, you see me comin', hot streaks, to help
you out. Whoo-ee!"
She breathed her weird, African whoop and turned away.
"I'll depend on you." Beverly's face was bright, and there was no shadow
in his eyes, as he called after her retreating form.
We chatted long together, and I hoped--and feared--to have him tell me
the story of his suit with Eloise, and why in such a day, of all the
days of his life, he should choose to run away to the warfare of the
frontier. He could not have failed, I thought. Never a disappointed
lover wore a smile like this. But Beverly had no story to tell me that
* * * * *
The mid-July sun was shining down on a treeless landscape, across which
the yellow, foam-flecked Smoky Hill River wound its sinuous way. Beside
this stream was old Fort Harker, a low quadrangle of quarters, for
military man and beast, grouped about a parade-ground for companionship
rather than for protection. The frontier fort had little need for
defensive strength. About its walls the Indian crawled submissively,
fearful of munitions and authority. It was not here, but out on lonely
trails, in sudden ambush, or in overwhelming numbers, or where long
miles, cut off from water, or exhausting distance banished safe retreat,
that the savage struck in all his fury.
Eastward from Harker the scattered frontier homesteads crouched,
defenseless, in the river valleys. Far to the northwest spread the
desolate lengths of a silent land where the white man's foot had hardly
yet been set. Miles away to the southwest the Santa Fe Trail wound among
the Arkansas sand-hills, never, in all its history, less safe for
freighters than in that summer of 1867.
In this vast demesne the raiding Cheyenne, the cruel Kiowa, the
blood-thirsty Arapahoe, with bands of Dog Indians and outlaws from every
tribe, contested, foot by foot, for supremacy against the out-reaching
civilization of the dominant Anglo-American. The lonely trails were
measured off by white men's graves. The vagrant winds that bear the odor
of alfalfa, and of orchard bloom to-day, were laden often with the smoke
of burning homes, and often, too, they bore that sickening smell of
human flesh, once caught, never to be forgotten. The story of that
struggle for supremacy is a tragic drama of heroism and endurance. In it
the Eighteenth Kansas Cavalry played a stirring part.
It seems but yesterday to me now, that July day so many years ago, when
our four companies, numbering fewer than four hundred men, detrained
from the Union Pacific train at Fort Harker on the Smoky Hill. And the
faces of the men who were to lead us are clear in memory. Our commander,
Colonel Moore, always brave and able; and our captains, Henry Lindsay,
and Edgar Barker, and George Jenness, and David Payne, with the shrewd,
courageous scout, Allison Pliley, and the undaunted, clear-thinking,
young lieutenant, Frank Stahl. Ours was not to be a record of unfading
glory, as national military annals show, yet it may count mightily when
the Great Records are opened for final estimates. Those men who marched
two thousand miles, back and forth, upon the trackless plains in that
four months' campaign, have been forgotten in the debris of uneventful
years. Our long-faded trails lie buried under wide alfalfa-fields and
the paved streets of western Kansas towns. From the far springs that
quenched our burning thirst comes water, trickling through a nickel
faucet into a marble basin, now. Where the fierce sun seared our
eyeballs, in a treeless, barren waste, green groves, atune with
song-birds, cast long swaths of shade on verdant sod. The perils and the
hardships of the Eighteenth Kansas Cavalry are now but as a tale that is
And yet of all the heroes whose life-trails cut my own, I account among
the greatest those men under whose command, and with whose comradeship,
I went out to serve the needs of my generation among the vanguards of
the plains. And if in a sunset hour on the west ridge beyond the little
town of Burlingame I had left a hopeless love behind me, I put a man's
best energy into the thing before me.
The battle-field alone is not the soldier's greatest test. I had kept
step with men who charge an enemy on an open plain or storm a high
defense in the face of sure defeat. I had been ordered with my company
to take redoubts against the flaming throats of bellowing cannon in the
life-and-death grip before Richmond. I had felt the awful thrill of
carnage as my division surged back and forth across the blood-soaked
lengths of Gettysburg, and I never once fell behind my comrades. The
battle-field breeds courage, and self-forgetfulness, and exaltation,
from the sense of duty squarely met.
There were no battle-fields in 1867, where Greek met Greek in splendid
gallantry, out on the Kansas plains. Over Fort Harker hung the pall of
death, and in the July heat the great black plague of Asiatic cholera
stalked abroad and scourged the land. Men were dying like rats, lacking
everything that helps to drive death back. The volunteer who had offered
himself to save the settlers from the scalping-knife had come here only
to look into an open grave, and then, in agony, to drop into it. Such
things test soldiers more than battle-fields. And our men turned back in
fear, preferring the deserter's shame to quick, inglorious martyrdom by
Asiatic cholera. I had a battle of my own the first night at Fort
Harker. There was a growing moon and the night breeze was cool after the
heat of the day. Beverly Clarenden and I went down to the river, whose
tawny waters hardly hid the tawny sands beneath them. The plains were
silent, but from all the hospital tents about the fort came the sharp,
agonized cries of pain that forerun the last collapse of the
plague-stricken sufferers. To get away from the sound of it all we
wandered down the stream to where the banks of soft, caving earth on the
farther side were higher than a man's head, and their shadow hid the
current. We sat down and stared silently at the waters, scarcely
whispering as they rolled along, and at the still shade of the farther
bank upon them. The shadows thickened and moved a little, then grew
still. We also grew still. Then they moved again just opposite us, and
fell into three parts, as three men glided silently along under the
bank's protecting gloom. We waited until they had reached the edge of
the moonlight, and saw three soldiers pass swiftly out across the
unprotected sands to other shadowy places further on.
"Deserters!" Beverly said, half aloud. "You can stay here if you want
to, Gail. I'd rather go up and listen to those poor wretches groan than
stick down here and listen to the fiend inside of me to-night."
He rose and stalked away, and I sat listening to myself. I could join
those three men easily enough. The world is wide. I had no bond to hold
me to one single place in it. I was young and strong, and life is sweet.
Why let the black plague snuff me out of it? I had come here to serve
the State. I should not serve it in a plague-marked grave. I rose to
follow down the stream, to go to where the Smoky Hill joins the big
Republican to make the Kaw, and on to where the Kaw reaches to the
Missouri. But I would not stop there. I'd go until I reached the ocean
The memory of Jondo's eyes when they looked into mine on Pawnee Rock
came unbidden across my mind. Jondo had lived a nameless man. How strong
and helpful all his years had been! How starved had been my life without
his love! I would be another Jondo, somewhere on earth.
I stared after three faintly moving shadows down the stream. 'Twas well
I waited, for Esmond Clarenden came to me now, clean-cut, honest,
everybody's friend. How firm his life had been; and he had built into me
a hatred of deceit and lies. And Jondo was another Uncle Esmond. In
spite of the black shadow on his name, he walked the prairies like a
prince always. I could not be like him if I were a deserter. Up-stream
death was waiting for me; down-stream, disgrace. I turned and followed
up the river's course, but the strength that forced me to it was greater
than that which made me brave on battle-fields. And ever since that
night beside the Smoky Hill I have felt gentler toward the man who
We were not idle long for Fort Harker had just been informed of an
assault on a wagon-train on the Santa Fe Trail and our cavalry squadron
hurried away at once to overtake and punish the assailants.
We came into camp on the bank of Walnut Creek, at the close of a long
summer day of blazing light and heat over the barren trails where there
was no water; a day of long hours in the saddle; a day of nerve-wearing
watchfulness. But we believed that we had left the plague-cursed region
behind us, so we were light-hearted and good-natured; and we ate, and
drank, and took our lot cheerfully.
Among the men at mess that night I saw a new face which was nothing
remarkable, except that something in it told me that I had already seen
that face somewhere, some time. It is my gift never to forget a face,
once seen, no matter how many years may pass before I see it twice. This
soldier was a pleasant fellow, too, and, in a story he was telling,
clever at imitating others.
"Who is that man, Bev? The third one over there?" I asked my cousin.
"Stranger to me. I don't believe I ever saw him before. Who is the
fellow with the smile, Captain?" Beverly asked the officer beside him.
"I don't know. He's not in my company. I'm finding new faces every day,"
the captain replied.
As twilight fell I saw the man again at the edge of the camp. He smiled
pleasantly as he passed me, turning to look at Beverly, who did not see
him, and in a minute he was cantering down to the creek beside our camp.
I saw him cross it and ride quickly out of sight. But that smile brought
to the face the thing that had escaped me.
"I know that fellow now," I said to Beverly and the officer who came up
just then. "He's Charlie Bent, the son of Colonel Bent. Don't you
remember the little sinner at old Fort Bent, Bev?"
"I do, and what a vicious little reptile he was," Beverly replied. "But
Uncle Esmond told me that his father took him away early and had him
schooled like a gentleman in the best Saint Louis had to give. I wonder
whose company he is in."
The officer stared at us.
"You mean to say you know that cavalryman to be Charlie Bent?" he fairly
"Of course it's Charlie. I never missed a face in all my life. That's
his own," I replied.
"The worst Indian on the plains!" the captain declared. "He stirs up
more fiendishness than a whole regiment of thoroughbred Cheyennes could
ever think of. He's led in every killing here since March."
"Not Colonel Bent's son!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, he's the half-breed devil that we'll have to fight, and here he
comes and eats with us and rides away."
"He must be the fellow that the Mexican told us about back at
Burlingame, Gail. I remember now he did say the brute's name was Bent,
but I didn't rope him up with our Fort Bent chum. Gail would have run
him down in half a minute if he had heard the name. I never could
remember anything," Beverly said, in disgust. But the smile was peeping
back of his frown, and he forgot the boy he was soon to have cause
enough to remember.
"We must run that rascal down to-night," the Captain declared, as he
hurried away to consult with the other officers.
But Charlie Bent was not run down that night. Before we had time to get
over our surprise a scream of pain rang through the camp. Another
followed, and another, and when an hour had passed a third of our forces
was writhing in the clutches of the cholera.
I shall never forget the long hours of that night beside the Walnut, nor
Beverly Clarenden's face as he bent over the suffering men. For all of
us who were well worked mightily to save our plague-stricken comrades,
whose couches were of prairie grass and whose hospital roof was the
starlit sky. However forgetful Beverly might be of names and faces, his
strong hand had that soothing firmness that eased the agony of cramping
limbs. Dear Bev! He comforted the sick, and caught the dying words, and
straightened the relaxed bodies of the dead, and smiled next day, and
forgot that he had done it.
At last the night of horror passed, and day came, wan and hot and weary
out of the east. But five of our comrades would see no earthly day
again; and three dozen strong men of the day before lay stretched upon
the ground, pulseless and shrunken and purple, with wrinkled skin and
wide, unseeing eyes.
Before the sun had risen our dead, coffined only by their army blankets,
lay in unmarked graves. Our helpless living were placed in commissary
wagons, and we took the trail slowly and painfully toward the Arkansas
If Charley Bent had gathered up his band to strike that night there
would have been a different chapter in the annals of the plains.
I cannot follow with my pen the long marches of that campaign, and there
was no honorable nor glorious warfare in it. It is a story of
skirmishes, not of battles; of attack and repulse; of ambush and pursuit
and retreat. It is a story of long days under burning skies, by whose
fierce glare our brains seemed shriveling up and the world went black
before our heat-bleared eyes. A story of hard night-rides, when weary
bodies fought with watchful minds the grim struggle that drowsiness can
wage, though sleep, we knew, meant death. It is a story of fevered
limbs and bursting pulse in hospitals whose walls were prairie
distances. A story of hunger, and exhausted rations; of choking thirst,
with only alkali water mocking at us. And never could the story all be
told. There is no rest for cavalrymen in the field. We did not suffer
heavy loss, but here and there our comrades fell, by ones, and twos, at
duty's post; and where they fell they lie, in wayside graves, waiting
for glorious mention until the last reveille shall sound above the
battlements of heaven.
And I was one among these vanguards of the plains, making the old Santa
Fe Trail safe for the feet of trade; and the wide Kansas prairies safe
for homes, and happiness, and hope, and power. I lived the life, and
toughened in its grind. But in my dreams sometimes my other life
returned to me, and a sweet face, with a cloud of golden hair, and dark
eyes looking into mine, came like a benediction to me. Another face came
sometimes now--black, big, and glistening, with eyes of strange, far
vision looking at me, and I heard, over and over, the words of Esmond
"If you get into trouble, Mr. Bev, I'll come, hot streaks, to help you."
But trouble never stuck to "Mr. Bev," because he failed to know it when
Mid-August found us at Fort Hays on the Smoky Hill, beyond whose
protecting guns the wilderness ruled. A wilderness checkered by faint
trails of lawless feet, a wilderness set with bloody claws and poison
stings and cruel fangs, and slow, agonizing death. And with all a
wilderness of weird, fascinating distances and danger, charm and beauty.
The thrill of the explorer of new lands possessed us as we looked far
into the heart of it. Here in these August days the Cheyenne and
Arapahoe and Kiowa bands were riding trails blood-stained by victims
dragged from lonely homesteads, and butchered, here and there, to make
an Indian holiday. The scenes along the valleys of the Sappa and the
Beaver and the Prairie Dog creeks were far too brutal and revolting to
belong to modern life. Against these our Eighteenth Kansas, with a small
body of United States cavalry, struck northward from Fort Hays. We
rested through the long, hot days and marched by night. The moon was
growing toward the full, and in its clear, white splendor the prairies
lay revealed for miles about us. Our command was small and meagerly
equipped, and we were moving on to meet a foe of overwhelming numbers.
Men took strange odds with Fate upon the plains.
Beyond the open, level lands lay a rugged region hemming in the valley
of the Prairie Dog Creek. Here picturesque cliffs and deep, earth-walled
canons split the hills, affording easy ambush for a regiment of red men.
And here, in a triangle of a few miles area, a new Thermopylae, with no
Leonidas but Kansas plainsmen, was staged through two long August days
and nights. One hundred and fifty of us against fifteen hundred
In the early morning of a long, hot August day, we came to an open plain
beyond the Prairie Dog Creek. Our supply-wagons and pack-mules were
separated from us somewhere among the bluffs. We had had no food since
the night before, and our canteens were empty--all on account of the
blundering mismanagement of the United States officer who cammanded
us. I was only a private, and a private's business is not to
question, but to obey. And that major over us, cashiered for cowardice
later, was not a Kansas man. Thank heaven for that!
A score of us, including my cousin and myself, under a sergeant, and
with good Scout Pliley, were suddenly ordered back among the hills.
"Where do we go, and why?" Beverly asked me as we rode along.
"I don't know," I replied. "But Captain Jenness and a file of men were
lost out here somewhere last night. And Indian tracks step over one
another all around here. I guess we are out to find what's lost, maybe.
It isn't a twenty minutes' job, I know that."
"And all our canteens empty, too! Why cut off all visible means of
support in a time like this? Look at these bluffs and hiding-places,
will you! A handful of Indians could scoop our whole body up and pitch
us into the Prairie Dog Creek, and not be missed from a set in a
war-dance," Beverly insisted. "Keep it strictly in the Clarenden family,
Gail, but our honorable commander is a fool and a coward, if he is a
United States major."
"You speak as one expecting a promotion, Bev," I suggested.
"I'd know how to use it if I got it," he smiled brightly at me as we
quickened our pace not to fall behind.
Every day of that campaign Beverly grew dearer to me. I am glad our
lives ran on together for so many years.
The canons deepened and the whole region was bewildering, but still we
struggled on, lost men searching for lost men. The sun blazed hotly, and
the soft yellow bluffs of bone-dry earth reached down to the dry beds of
High noon, and still no food, no water, and no lost men discovered. We
had pushed out to a little opening, ridged in on either side by high,
brown bluffs, when a whoop came from the head of the line.
"Yonder they are! Yonder they are!"
Half a dozen men, led by Captain Jenness, were riding swiftly to join us
and we shouted in our joy. For some among us that was the last joyous
shout. At that moment a yell from savage throats filled the air, and the
thunder of hoofs shook the ground. Over the west ridge, half a mile
away, five hundred Indians came swooping like a hurricane down upon us.
And we numbered, altogether, twenty-nine. I can see that charge to-day:
the blinding, yellow sky, the ridge melting into a cloud of tawny dust,
the surge of ponies with their riders bending low above them; fronting
them, our little group of cavalrymen formed into a hollow square, on
foot, about our mounts; the Indians riding, in a wide circle around us,
with blankets flapping, and streamer-decked lances waving high. And as I
see, I hear again that wild, unearthly shriek and taunting yell and
fiendish laughter. From every point the riflle-balls poured in
upon us, while out of buffalo wallow and from behind each prairie-dog
hillock a surge of arrows from unmounted Indians swept up against us. I
had been on battle-fields before, but this was a circle out of hell set
'round us there. And every man of of knew, as we sent back ball for
ball, what capture here would mean for us before the merciful hand of
death would seal our eyes.
Suddenly, as we moved forward, the frantic circle halted and a hundred
braves came dashing in a fierce charge upon us. Their leader, mounted on
a great, white horse, rode daringly ahead, calling his men to follow
him, and taunting us with cowardice. He spoke good English, and his
voice rang clear and strong above the din of that strange struggle.
Straight on he came, without once looking back, a revolver in each hand,
firing as he rode. A volley from our carbines made his fellows stagger,
then waver, break, and run. Not so the rider of the splendid white
horse, who dared us to strike him down as he dashed full at us.
"Come on, you coward Clarenden boys, and I'll fight you both. I've
waited all these years to do it. I dare you. Oh, I dare you!"
It was Charlie Bent.
Nine balls from Clarenden carbines flew at him. Beverly and I were
listed among the cleverest shots in Kansas, but not one ball brought
harm to the daring outlaw. A score of bullets sung about his insolent
face, but his seemed a charmed life. Right on he forged, over our men,
and through the square to the Indian's circle on the other side, his
mocking laughter ringing as he rode. A bloody scalp hung from his spear,
and, turning 'round just out of range of our fire, shaking his trophy
high, he shouted back:
"We got all of the balance of your men. We'll get you yet."
The sun glared fiercely on the bare, brown earth. A burning thirst began
to parch our lips. We had had no food nor drink for more than twenty
hours. Our horses, wounded with many arrows, were harder to care for
than our brave, stricken men.
Night came upon the canons of the Prairie Dog, and with the darkness the
firing ceased. Somewhere, not far away, there might be a wagon-train
with food for us. And somewhere near there might be a hundred men or
more of our command trying to reach us. But, whether the force and
supplies were safe or the wagons were captured and all our comrades
killed, as Charlie Bent had said, we could not know. We only knew that
we had no food; that one man, and all but four of our cavalry horses
lay dead out in the valley; that two men in our midst were slowly dying,
and a dozen others suffering from wounds of battle, among these our
captain and Scout Pliley; that we were in a wild, strange land, with
Indians perching, vulture-like, on every hill-top, waiting for dawn to
come to seize their starving prey.
We heard an owl hoot here and there, and farther off an answering hoot;
a coyote's bark, a late bird's note, another coyote, and a fainter hoot,
all as night settled. And we knew that owl and coyote and twilight
song-bird were only imitations--sentinel signals from point to point,
where Indian videttes guarded every height, watching the trail with
The glossy cottonwood leaves, in the faint night breeze, rippled like
pattering rain-drops on dry roofs in summertime, and the thin, willow
boughs swayed gently over us. The full moon swept grandly up the
heavens, pouring a flood of softened light over the valley of the
Prairie Dog, whose steep bluffs were guarded by a host of blood-lusting
savages, and whose canons locked in a handful of intrepid men.
If we could only slip out, undiscovered, in the dark we might find our
command somewhere along the creek. It was a perilous thing to undertake,
but to stay there was more perilous.
"Say, Gail," Beverly whispered, when we were in motion, "somebody said
once, 'There have been no great nations without processions,' but this
is the darndest procession I ever saw to help to make a nation great.
Hold on, comrade. There! Rest on my arm a bit. It makes it softer."
The last words to a wounded soldier for whom Bev's grip eased the ride.
It was a strange procession, and in that tragic gloom the boy's
light-hearted words were balm to me.
Silently and slowly we moved forward. The underbrush was thick on either
side of the narrow, stony way that wound between sheer cliffs. We had
torn up our blankets and shirts to muffle the horses' feet, that no
sound of hoofs, striking upon the rocky path, might reach the ears of
the Cheyenne and his allies crouching watchfully above us. At the head
marched Captain Jenness and Scout Pliley, each with his carbine for a
crutch and leaning on each other for support. Followed five soldiers as
front guard through the defile. And then four horses, led by careful
hands, bearing nine suffering, silent men upon their backs. Two of the
horses carried three, and one bore two, and the last horse, one--a dying
boy, whispering into my ear a message for his mother, as I held his
hand. Behind us came the sergeants with the remainder, for rear-guard.
And so we passed, mile after mile, winding in and out, to find some
sheltering spot where, sinking in exhaustion, we might sleep.
The midnight winds grew chill, and the tense strain of that slow march
was maddening, but not a groan came from the wounded men. The vanguards
of the plains knew how to take perilous trails and hold their peace.
When the sun rose on the second day the hills about us swarmed with
savages, whose demoniac yells rent the air. Leonidas had his back
against a rock at old Thermopylae, but our Kansas plainsmen fought in a
ring of fire.
At day-dawn, our brave scout, Pliley, slipped away, and, after long
hours among the barren hills, he found the main command.
Men never gave up hope in the plains warfare, but each of us had saved
one bullet for himself, if we must lose this game. The time for that
last bullet had almost come when the sight of cavalrymen on a distant
ridge told us that our scout was on its way to us again. It took a
hero's heart to thread unseen the dangerous trails and find our comrades
with the cavalry major and bring back aid, but Pliley did it for us--a
man's part. May the sod rest lightly where he sleeps to-day.
Meantime, on the day before, the main force of our cavalry, who had
given us up for lost, had had their own long, fearful struggle. In the
early morning, Lieutenant Stahl, scouting forward in an open plain,
rushed back to give warning of Indians everywhere. And they were
everywhere--a thousand strong against a feeble hundred caught in their
midst. They rode like centaurs, and their aim was deadly true as they
poured down, a murderous avalanche, from every hillslope. Their ponies'
tails, sweeping the ground, lengthened by long horse-hair braids, with
sticks thrust through at intervals by way of ornament; their waving
blankets, and streamered lances held aloft; the savage roar from ten
hundred throats; the mad impetus of their furious charge through clouds
of dust and rifle smoke--all made the valley of the Prairie Dog seem but
a seething hell bursting with fiendins shouts, shot through with
quivering arrows, shattered by bullets, rocked with the thunderous beat
of horses' hoofs, trampling it into one great maelstrom of blood and
All day, with neither food nor water, amid bewildering bluffs and
gorges, alive with savage warriors, the cavalrymen had striven
desperately. Night fell, and in the clear moonlight they forced their
way across the Prairie Dog, and neither man nor horse dared to stop to
drink because an instant's pause meant death.
And the evening and the morning were the first day. And the second was
like unto it, albeit we were no longer a triangle, made up of
wagon-train here and main command there, and our twenty-nine--less two
lost ones--under Captain Jenness, at a third point. Before noon, our
force was all united and we joined hands for the finish.
Beverly and I rode side by side all day. Everywhere around us the
half-breed, Charlie Bent, dashed boldly on his big, white horse calling
us cowardly dogs and taunting us with lack of marksmanship.
"I'm getting tired of that fellow, Gail. I'll pick his horse out from
under him pretty soon, see if I don't." My cousin called to me as
Bent's insolent cry burst forth:
"Come out, and let me show you how to shoot."
Beverly leaped out toward the Indian horde surrounding Bent. He raised
his carbine, and with steady aim, fired far across the field of battle,
the cleanest shot I ever saw. Years ago my cousin had urged Uncle Esmond
to let him practise shooting on horseback. He was a master of the art
now. Charlie Bent's splendid white steed fell headlong, hurling its
rider to the ground and dragging him, face downward, in the dirt.
I cannot paint that day's deeds with my pen, nor ever artist lived whose
brush could reproduce it. If we should lose here, it meant the turning
of the clock from morning back to midnight on the Kansas plains.
Between this and the safety of the prairies stood fewer than a hundred
and fifty men, against a thousand warriors, led by cunning half-breeds
skilled in the white man's language and the red man's fiendishness.
If we should lose--We did not go out there to lose. When each man does a
man's part there is no failure possible at last.
As the sun sank toward late afternoon, the savage force massed for its
great, crushing blow that should annihilate us. The strong center, made
up of the flower of every tribe engaged, was on the crest of a long,
westward-reaching slope, a splendid company of barbaric
warriors--strong, eager, vengeful, doggedly determined to finish now
the struggle with the power they hated.
The air was very clear, and in its crystal distances we could see every
movement and hear each command.
The valley rang with the taunts and jeers and threats and mocking
laughter of our foes, daring us to come out and meet them face to face,
like men. And we went out and met them face to face, like men.
A little force of soldiery fighting, not for ourselves, but for the
hearthstones of a nobler people, our cavalry swung up that long, western
slope in the face of a murderous fire, into the very heart of Cheyenne
strength, enforced by all the iron of the allied tribes. I marvel at it
now, when, in solid phalanx, our foes might easily have mowed us down
like a thin line of standing grain; for their numbers seemed unending,
while flight on flight of arrows and fierce sheets of rifle-fire swept
our ranks as we rode on to death or victory. But each man's face among
us there was bright with courage, and with our steady force unchecked we
swept right on to the very crest of the high slope, scattering the
enemy, at last, like wind-blown autumn leaves, until upon our guidons
victory rested and the long day was won.
I wander alone at dead of night,
But ever before me I see a light,
In darkest hours more clear, more bright;
And the hope that I bear fails never.
The waters of the Smoky Hill flowed yellow, flecked with foam, beside
our camp, where, in a little grove of cottonwood trees, we rested from a
long day's march. The heat of a late Kansas summer day was fanned away
at twilight by the cool prairie breeze. There was an appealing something
in the air that evening hour that made me homesick. So I went down
beside the river to fight out my daily battle and let the wide spaces of
the landscape soothe me, and all the opal tints of sunset skies and the
soft radiance of a prairie twilight bring me their inspiration.
Each day my heart-longing for the girl I must not love grew stronger. I
wondered, as I sat here to-night, what trail would open for me when
Beverly and Eloise should meet again, as lovers must meet some time. We
had not once spoken her name between us, Bev and I, in all the days and
nights since we had been in service on the plains.
As I sat lonely, musing vaguely of a score of things that all ran back
to one fair face, Beverly dropped down beside me. His face was grave and
his eyes had a gentle, pleading look, something strange and different
from the man whose moods I knew.
"I'm homesick, Gail." He smiled as he spoke, and all the boy of all the
years was in that smile.
"So am I, Bev. It must be in the water here," I replied, lightly.
But neither one misunderstood the other.
"I'd like to see Little Lees to-night. Wouldn't you?" he asked,
The question startled me. Maybe my cousin wanted to confide in me here.
I would not be selfish with him.
"Yes, I always like to see her. Why to-night, though?" I asked,
Beverly looked steadily into my face.
"I want to tell you something, Gail. I haven't dared to speak before,
but something tells me I should speak to-night," he said slowly.
I looked away along the winding valley of the Smoky Hill. I must hear it
some time. Why be a coward now?
"Say on, I'm always ready to hear anything from you, Beverly."
I tried to speak firmly, and I hoped my voice did not seem faltering to
him. He sat silent a long while. Then he rose and straightened to his
full height--a splendid form of strength and wholesomeness and grace.
"I'll tell you some time soon, but not to-night. Honor is something with
And so he left me.
I dreamed of him that night with Eloise. And all of us were glad. I
wakened suddenly. Beverly was standing near me. He turned and walked
away, his upright form and gait, even in the faint light, individually
Bev's own. I saw him lie down and draw his blanket about him, then sit
up a moment, then nestle down again. Something went wrong with sleep and
me for a long time, and once I called out, softly:
"Bev, can't you sleep?"
"Oh, shut up! Not if you fidget about me," he replied, with the old
happy-go-lucky toss of the head and careless tone.
It was dim dawn when I wakened. My cousin was sleeping calmly just a few
feet away. An irresistible longing to speak to him overcame me and I
slipped across and gently kicked the slumbering form. Two cavalry
blankets rolled apart. A note pinned to the edge of one caught my eye. I
stooped to read:
DEAR GAIL, Don't hate me. I'm sick of army life. They will call me
a coward and if they get me they will shoot me for a deserter. I
have disgraced the Clarenden name. You'll never see me again.
Good-bye, old boy.
The yells of all the tribes in the battle on the Prairie Dog Creek
shrieked not so fiercely in my ears as that word rang now. And all the
valley of the Smoky Hill echoed and re-echoed it.
My Beverly--who never told a lie, nor feared a danger, nor ever, except
in self-defense, hurt a creature God had made. I could bury Bev, or
stand beside him on his wedding-day. But Beverly disgraced! O, God of
mercy toward all cowards, pity him!
I sat down beside the blankets I had kicked apart and looked back over
my cousin's life. It offered me no help. I thought of Eloise--and his
longing to see her on the night before; of his struggle to tell me
something. I knew now what that something was. Poor boy!
He was not a boy, he was a man--strong, fearless, happy-hearted. How
could the plains make cowards out of such as he? They had made a man of
Jondo, who had all excuse to play the coward. The mystery of the human
mind is a riddle past my reading--and I had always thought of Beverly's
as an open book. The only one to whom I could turn now was not Eloise,
nor my uncle, nor Mat nor Rex, but Jondo, John Doe, the nameless man,
with whom Esmond Clarenden had walked all these years and for whose sake
he had rescued Eloise St. Vrain. They had "toted together," as Aunty
Boone had said. Oh, Aunty Boone with dull eyes of prophecy! I could hear
her soft voice saying:
"If you get into trouble, Mr. Bev, I come, hot streaks, to help you."
She could not come "hot streaks" now, for Beverly had deserted. But
there was Jondo.
I wrote at once to him, inclosing the crumpled note, and then, as one
who walks with neither sight nor feeling any more, I rode the plains and
did a man's part in that Eighteenth Cavalry campaign of '67. The days
went slowly by, bringing the long, bright autumn beauty to the plains
and turning all the elms to gold along the creek at Burlingame. Time
took away the sharp edge from our grief and shame, and left the dull
pain that wears deeper and deeper, unnoticed by us; and all of us who
had loved Beverly lived on and were cheerful for one another's sake.
When Jondo--as only Jondo could--bore the news of my letter to Esmond
Clarenden, he made no reply, but sat like an image of stone. Rex Krane
broke down and sobbed as if his heart would break. But Mat, calm,
poised, and always merciful, merely said:
"We must wait awhile."
It was many days before she broke the news to Eloise St. Vrain, who only
smiled and said:
"Gail is mistaken. Beverly couldn't desert."
It was when the word came to Aunty Boone that the storm broke. They told
me afterward that her face was terrible to see, and that her eyes grew
dull and narrow. She went out to the bluff's edge and sat staring up the
valley of the Kaw as if to see into the hidden record of the coming
One October day, when the Kranes and Eloise sat with my uncle and Jondo
in the soft afternoon air, looking out at the beauty of the Missouri
bluffs, Aunty Boone loomed up before them suddenly.
"I got somebody's fortune, just come clear before me," she declared, in
her soft voice. "Lemme see you' hand, Little Lees!"
Eloise put her shapely white hand upon the big, black paw.
Aunty Boone patted it gently, the first and last caress she ever gave to
any of us.
"You' goin' to get a letter from a dark man. You' goin' to take a long
journey. And somebody goin' with you. An' the one tellin' this is goin'
away, jus' one more voyage to desset sands again, and see Africy and her
own kingdom. Whoo-ee!"
Never before, in all the years that we had known her, had she expressed
a wish for her early home across he seas. Her voice trailed off weirdly,
and she gazed at the Kaw Valley for a long moment. Then she said, in a
low tone that thrilled her listeners with its vibrant power:
"Bev ain't no deserter. He's gone out! Jus' gone out. Whoo-ee!"
She disappeared around the corner of the house and stood long in the
little side porch where Beverly had kissed Little Blue Flower one night
in the "Moon of the Peach-Blossom," and Eloise had found them there, and
I had unwittingly heard what was said.
"Is there no variation in palmistry?" Rex Krane asked. "I never knew a
gypsy in all my life who read a different set of prophecies. It's always
the dark man--I'm light (darn the luck)--and a journey and a letter. But
I thought maybe an African seer, a sort of Voodo, hoodoo, bugaboo, would
have it a light man and a legacy and company coming, instead of you
taking a journey, Eloise."
"You musn't envy me my good fortune, Rex," she declared. "Aunty Boone
says she is going back to Africa, too. You'll need a new cook, Uncle
Esmond. Let me apply for the place right now."
My uncle smiled affectionately on her.
"I could give you a trial, as I gave her. I remember I told her if she
could cook good meals I'd keep her; if not, she'd leave. Do you want to
take the risk?"
"That's where you'll get your journey of the prophecy, Eloise," Jondo
"Well, you leave out the best part of it all," Mat broke in. "She added
that Beverly isn't a deserter, he's just 'gone out.' Why don't you
believe it all, serious or frivolous?"
A shadow lifted from the faces there as a glimpse of hope came slowly
"And as to letters, Eloise," Uncle Esmond said, "I must beg your pardon.
I have one here for you that I had forgotten. It came this morning."
"See if it isn't from a dark man, inviting you to take a journey," Rex
"It must be, it's from Santa Fe," Eloise said, opening the letter
Aunty Boone had come back again and was standing by the corner of the
veranda, half hidden by vines, watching Eloise with steady eyes. The
girl's face grew pale, then deadly white, and her big, dark eyes were
opened wide as she dropped the letter and looked at the faces about her.
"It is from Father Josef," she gasped. "He writes of Little Blue Flower
somewhere in Hopi-land. He asks me to go to Santa Fe at once for her
sake. And it says, too--" The voice faltered and Eloise turned to Esmond
Clarenden. "It says that Beverly is there somewhere and he wants you.
Read it, Uncle Esmond."
As Eloise rose and laid the letter in my uncle's hand, Aunty Boone,
hidden by the vines, muttered in her soft, strange tone:
"He's jus' gone out. Thank Jupiter! He's jus' gone out. I'm goin', hot
streaks, to help him, too. Then I go to my own desset where I'm honin' o
to be, an' stay there till the judgment Day. Whoo-ee!"
In the early morning of a rare October day upon the plains I sat on my
cavalry horse beside Fort Hays, waiting for one last word from my
superior officer, Colonel Moore. He was my uncle's friend, and he had
been kind to the Clarenden boys, as military kindness runs.
"You are honorably discharged," he said. "Take these letters to Fort
Dodge. You will meet your friends there, and have some safeguard from
there on, by order of General Sheridan. God bless you, Gail. You have
ridden well. I wish you a safe journey, and I hope you'll find your
cousin soon. He was a splendid boy until this happened. He may be
cleared some day."
"He is splendid still to me in spite of everything," I replied.
"Yes, yes," my colonel responded. "Never a Clarenden disgraced the name
before. That is why General Sheridan is granting you a squad to help
you. It is a great thing to have a good name. Good-by."
"Good-by. I thank you a thousand times," I said, saluting him.
"And I thank you. A chain, you know, is as strong as its weakest link. A
cavalry troop is as able as its soldiers make it."
He turned his horse about, and I rode off alone across the lonely plains
a hundred miles away toward old Fort Dodge, beside the Arkansas River.
Jondo and Rex were to meet me there for one more trip on the long Santa
Late September rains had blessed the valley of the Arkansas. The level
land about Fort Dodge showed vividly green against the yellow sand-hills
across the river, and the brown, barren bluffs westward, where a little
city would one day rise in pretty picturesqueness. The scene was like
the Garden of Eden to my eyes when I broke through the rough ridges to
the north on the last lap of my long ride thither and hurried down to
the fort. I grant I did not appear like one who had a right to enter
Eden, for I was as brown as a Malayan. Nearly four months of hard
riding, sleeping on the ground, with a sky-cover, eating buffalo meat,
and drinking the dregs of slow-drying pools, had made a plainsman of me,
of the breed that long since disappeared. Golf-sticks and automobile
steering-wheels are held by hands to-day no less courageous than those
that swung the carbine into place, and flung aside the cavalry
bridle-rein in a wild onslaught in our epic day. Each age grows men,
flanked by the coward and the reckless daredevil.
Rex Krane was first to recognize me when I reached the fort.
"Oh, we are all here but Mat: Clarenden, Jondo, Aunty Boone, and Little
Lees; and a squad of half a dozen cavalry men are ready to go with us."
Rex drawled in his old Yankee fashion, hiding an aching heart underneath
his jovial greeting.
"All of us!" I exclaimed.
"Yes. Here they all come!" Rex retorted.
They all came, but I saw only one, veiling the joy in my eyes as best I
could. For with the face of Eloise before me, I knew the hardest battle
of my life was calling me to colors. I had forgotten how womanly she
was, or else her summer by the blessed prairies that lap up to the edge
of the quiet town of Burlingame had brought her peace and helped her to
put away sad memories of her mother.
Behind her--a black background for her fair, golden head--was Aunty
"Our girl was called to Santa Fe, and Daniel here goes with her. I
couldn't stay behind, of course," my uncle said. "The Comanches are
making trouble all along the Cimarron, and we will go up the Arkansas by
the old trail route. It is farther, but the soldiers say much safer
right now, and maybe just as quick for us. There is no load of freight
to hinder us--two wagons and our mounts. Besides, the cavalrymen have
some matters to look after near the mountains, or we might not have had
their protection granted us."
The beauty of that early autumn on the plains and mountains lingers in
my memory still, though half a century has passed since that journey on
the old, long trail to Santa Fe.
At the closing of an Indian summer day we pitched our camp outside the
broken walls of old Fort Bent. Every day found me near Eloise, although
the same barrier was between us that had risen up the day she left me in
the ruined chapel by the San Christobal River. Every day I longed to
tell her what Beverly had said to me the night he--went out. It was due
her that she should know how tenderly he had thought of her.
The night was irresistible, soft and balmy for the time of year, as that
night had been long ago when we children were marooned inside this
stronghold. A thin, growing moon hung in the crystal heavens and all
the shadowy places were softened with gray tones. Jondo and Uncle Esmond
and Rex Krane were talking together. Aunty Boone was clearing up after
the evening meal. The soldiers were about their tasks or pastimes. Only
Eloise and I were left beside the camp-fire.
"Let's go and find the place where we spent our last evening here,
Little Lees," I said, determined to-night to tell her of Beverly.
"And just as many other places as we can remember," Eloise replied.
We clambered over heaps of fallen stone in the wide doorway, and stood
inside the half-roofless ruin that had been a stronghold at the
The outer walls were broken here and there. The wearing elements were
slowly separating the inner walls and sagging roofs. Heaps of debris lay
scattered about. Over the caving well the well-sweep stuck awry, marking
a place of danger. Everywhere was desolation and slow destruction.
We sat down on some fallen timbers in the old court and looked about us.
"It was a pity that Colonel Bent should have blown up this splendid
fortress, and all because the Government wouldn't pay him his price for
it," I declared.
"Destroyed what he had built so carefully, and what was so useful,"
Eloise commented. "Sometimes we wreck our lives in the same way."
I have said the twilight seemed to fit her best, although at all times
she was fair. But to-night she was a picture in her traveling dress of
golden brown, with soft, white folds about her throat. I wondered if she
thought of Beverly as she spoke. It hurt me so to be harsh with his
"Yes, Charlie Bent blew up all that the Colonel built into him, of
education and the ways of cultured folks--a leader of a Dog Indian band,
he is a piece of manhood wrecked. And by the way," I went on, "Beverly
shot his beautiful white horse on the Prairie Dog Creek. You should have
seen that shot. It was the cleanest piece of long-range marksmanship I
ever saw. He hated Bev for that."
"Maybe he gloats over our lost Beverly to-day. He is only 'gone out' to
me," Eloise said softly.
"Let me tell you something, Little Lees. Beverly and I never spoke of
you--you can guess why--until that last night beside the Smoky Hill. He
wanted to tell me something that night."
"And did he?" Eloise asked, eagerly.
"No. He said honor was something with him still. I thought he meant to
tell me of himself and you. Forgive me. I do not want any confidences
not freely given. But now I know it was the struggle in which he went
down that night that he wanted to tell me about. He said first, 'I'm
homesick. I'd like to see Little Lees.' And his eyes were full of
sympathy as he looked at me."
"Did he say anything more?" Eloise's voice was almost a whisper.
"That was all. I thought that night I should hunt a lonely trail--when
he went home to claim--happiness. But now I feel that I could live
Back to Full Books