by Eleanor Gates
Author of The Biography of a Prairie Girl
McCLURE, PHILLIPS &CO.
Copyright, 1906, by
McCLURE, PHILLIPS &CO.
Published, September, 1906
Copyright, 1906, by The Pearson Publishing Company
CHAPTER I. IN
CHAPTER II. A
TRIP AND TROUBLE
DALLAS MAKES A
CHAPTER V. THE
CHAPTER VI. FROM
CHAPTER VII. OUT
OF THE SKY
CHAPTER IX. A
HAND IN THE FUN
CHAPTER X. AN
CHAPTER XI. A
CHAPTER XII. A
CHAPTER XIII. A
PROPOSAL AND A
BACK FROM THE
CHAPTER XIX. AL
BRADEN OF SIOUX
CHAPTER XX. A
CHAPTER XXI. A
MEETING BY THE
CHAPTER XXII. A
THE SPIRIT OF
CHAPTER XXV. THE
SIMON PLAYS A
A CHANGE IN PLAN
CHAPTER XXX. THE
CHAPTER XXXI. BY
THE LIGHT OF A
THE EVE OF OTHER
THE END OF A
FIRE AND ESCAPE
THE LAST WARNING
THE FLIGHT TO
FRASER HEARS A
STANDING AT BAY
CHAPTER XL. SOME
Robert Underwood Johnson, Esq.
CHAPTER I. IN THE FURROW
The coulée was a long, scarlet gash in the brown level of the Dakota
prairie, for the sumach, dyed by the frosts of the early autumn,
covered its sides like a cloth whose upper folds were thrown far over
the brinks of the winding ravine and, southward, half-way to the new
cottonwood shack of the Lancasters. Near it, a dark band against the
flaming shrub, stretched the plowed strip, narrow, but widening with
each slow circuit of the team as the virgin, grass-grown land was
turned by the mould-board to prepare for the corn-planting of the
The sun, just risen, shone coldly upon the plain, and a wind,
bearing with it a hint of raw weather and whirling snow, swept down the
Missouri valley from the north, marshalling in its front hosts of
gabbling ducks and honking geese that were taking noisy flight from a
region soon to be buried and already bleak. Yet with all the chill in
the air, Ben and Betty, the mules, steamed as they toiled to and fro,
and lolled out their tongues with the warmth of their work and the
effort of keeping straight in the furrow; and Dallas, following in
their wake with the reins about her shoulders and the horns of the plow
in a steadying grasp, took off her slouch hat at the turnings to bare
her damp forehead, drew the sleeve of her close-fitting jersey across
her face every few moments, and, at last, to aid her in making better
progress, as well as to cool her ankles, brought the bottom of her
skirt through the waistband, front and back, and walked in her red
flannel petticoat. As she travelled, she looked skyward occasionally
with a troubled face, and, resting but seldom, urged the team forward.
Clear weather and sunshine would not long continue, and the first field
on the claim must be turned up and well harrowed before the opening of
Come, Ben, come, she called coaxingly to the nigh mule. If you
don't dig in now, how d' you expect to have anything to eat next
winter? Betty, Betty, don't let Ben do it all; I'm talking to you, too.
Come along, come along.
Ben and Betty, lean, and grey with age, bent willingly to their
labour at the sound of her voice. Their harnesses creaked a monotonous
complaint with their renewed efforts, the colter came whining behind
them. As Dallas gently slapped the lines along their backs, now and
then, to emphasise her commands, clouds of dust, which had been
gathered as mud in the buffalo-wallow where they went each evening to
roll, ascended and were blown away. Faithfully they pulled, not even
lifting an eyelid or flapping an ear in protest when Simon, the stray
yearling bull that had adopted the claim as its home and tagged Dallas
everywhere, bellowed about their straining legs or loitered at their
very noses and impeded their way.
Plowing was strange work to the patient mules and to the girl who
was guiding them. To her, the level prairie, rank with goldenrod,
pink-flowered smartweed, and purple aster, was a land of wondrous
growth. For twenty years her home had been an arid mesa far to
the south, where her father captained the caretakers of a spur railroad
track. The most western station-house in Texas, standing amid thorny
mesquite, was her birthplace and that of her sister Marylyn; the grey
plateau across which the embankment led was their playground; there
they grew to womanhood under the careful guidance of their frail,
And then two casualties, coming close upon each other, had suddenly
changed their life. Their father was brought home one night so maimed
and crushed by the wheels of a flat-car that he could never hope to
take up his work again; and while he lay, bandaged and broken, fighting
to keep the soul in his crippled body, their mother bravely yielded her
life to a lingering illness.
Many months later, when Evan Lancaster's wounds were at last healed,
Ben and Betty were unhitched from a dirt-laden scraper on the siding
and put before a white-topped prairie-schooner. Then the old
section-boss, with his crutches beside him and his daughters seated in
the all but empty box behind, said a husky farewell to the men crowding
around the wagon, and started the mules along the road that led
northward beside the rails.
He gave no backward glance at the wind-battered house where he had
brought an ailing bride; instead, eager to leave that plain of flying
sand and scanty grasses, he drove the team rapidly forward, bound for a
country where there were wells, and not water-cars, where rain fell
oftener, and where food, both for man and beast, could be gotten easily
from the earth. But Dallas, seated in the schooner's bed, her weeping
sister held soothingly against her breast, watched, dry-eyed, as a
mound by a giant mesquite faded slowly from her sight, and saw her
girlhood's home give way, as a lighthouse sinks behind a speeding
vessel, until only its grey-sprinkled roof showed through the scattered
trees. Then, after pillowing Marylyn's head on a Navajo blanket beside
the swashing water cask, she climbed forward to the driver's seat and
took the reins from her father.
It was April, and when the mesa was left far to rearward, a
world almost forgotten by the crippled section-boss burst in new, green
loveliness upon his desert children. Towering pines and spreading oaks,
lush grass strewn with blossoms, clear-running streams and
gay-feathered birds replaced thirsty vegetation, salt lakes, and
hovering vultures. They travelled slowly, each day bringing some fresh
delight to ear and eye, until one evening in the waning Dakota summer
they camped beside a great crooked split in the prairie, on a flat
peninsula made by a sweeping westward bend of the muddy Missouri.
Across the river from their stopping-place, where an amber sun was
going down, the horizon was near. High bluffs, like a huge wind-break,
stood upon the plain, leaving at their feet only enough space for the
whitewashed frame buildings of Fort Brannon. But to the east, the
paralleling bluffs lay at a distance, and broke their ridge-back far up
the scarlet coulée; from where, southward, stretched a wide gapten
broad and gently undulating milesthat ended at the slough-studded
base of Medicine Mountain. Evan Lancaster, as he stood bareheaded under
the unclouded sky, looked about him upon acres heavy with tangled grass
and weeds; and pleased with the evident richness of the untouched
ground, and with the sheltered situation of the claim on the bend,
swore that the white-topped schooner, with its travel-stained crew of
three, had found on the yellow billows of that northern prairie its
permanent moorings at last.
The felling and hewing of cottonwoods for the shack had occupied the
first few weeks that followed, citizen carpenters from Brannon doing
the heavy cutting and lifting. But when the little house stood, its
square log room and dirt floor open to the sun, Dallas performed her
part of the building, and thatched the hip-roof with coarse grass from
a meadow. Next, the well was dug; and the barn built as a lean-to, for
the Lancasters knew little, but had heard much, about the blizzards of
the territory. Then, while the elder girl covered the slanting rafters
over Ben and Betty's stall, the section-boss hauled a scanty stock of
hay and provisions from Clark's, a cattle-camp and settlement to the
northeast. And finally, when shack and barn were alike done, Dallas put
the mules to the end of an oak beam and took up the task of plowing.
Now she was winding at a black mat that was gradually growing upon
the brown carpet of the prairie. Up and down she walked, her whiplash
trailing behind her like a lively snake, her hands striving to guide
the cleaving share she followed, a look of deep content, despite all
fear for bad weather, upon her sun-browned face.
But while, working the morning hours slowly away, she gave full
attention to the nodding mules and the young bull straggling at their
head, she did not stop to watch the flocks winging by above her, or to
look off to where the plains fell away from the pale azure line of the
sky. So she failed to see, at the middle of the long forenoon, a group
of dark figures that came into sight to the eastward and moved slowly
forward in the direction of the bend.
Toward noon, however, the furrows were turned less regularly. Ben
and Betty were so tired that they no longer drew evenly, but wavered
from side to side. Again and again the off mule jerked the share out of
the sod; each time Dallas patiently circled the team and steered it
back into place again, for her arms were not strong enough to swing the
plow on the whiffletrees. And each time Simon caught sight of her red
flannel petticoat, and, faint, half-awakened objections stirring
beneath his sprouting horns, came back to challenge the goading colour
and butt her crossly in the skirts.
Just before dinner-time, and half-way of the plowed strip, going
east, Dallas suddenly lifted her shoulders to tighten the slack of the
reins, let go the horns and brought the mules to a stand. And then, as
they halted with lowered heads, she caught sight of the distant figures
between her and the horizon, recognising them as men, mounted and on
foot, with wagons hanging at their rear.
She stepped to the head of the team and shaded her eyes for a
moment. As she did so, a part of the advancing body detached itself and
approached more swiftly, only to retreat again; and the sun, climbing
toward the centre of the sky, flashed back upon bright objects carried
at the front of the group.
Soldiers for Brannon, I reckon, she said aloud to Simon, who had
given over his butting and was thoughtfully sniffing the air. Still,
she added, they're coming slow for soldiers.
Simon rubbed a red shoulder against her arm confidingly and gave a
defiant, sideways toss of the head.
You know, don't you? Dallas said, scratching the star in
his curly forehead. Well, I would, too, if I had your nose. She
glanced at the mules and noted their lack of fright. They're not
Indians anyhow, she went on, so I guess we'll do some more plowing.
When the sun was so high that Simon's shadow made but a small
splotch upon the ground under him, Dallas again stopped to look toward
the east. The men and horses had travelled only a short distance, and
were halted for their noon rest. Close to the wagons, the smoke of
burning grass-twists was curling up from under the midday meal.
They ain't soldiers, she said decisively; if they was, they'd go
on to the ferry. And what can they be, headed this way? She
took off her hat and swung it at her father to attract his attention,
then pointed toward the men and teams.
Lancaster was sitting before the shack, his crutches across his
knees. Seeing her signal, he got up and hobbled hastily around the
corner, from where he blinked into the gap. And, unable to make out
anything but a blurred collection of moving things, he called Marylyn
from her dinner-getting.
Come an' see w'at y' c'n make out off thar on th' prairie,
Mar'lyn, he cried. Ef it's antelope, bring out th' Sharps.
Marylyn hurried to him and followed the direction of his gaze. Why,
it's men, pa, she said.
Certainly, it's men, he agreed pettishly. But w'at kin' o'
men? Thet's w'at Ah kain't see.
Marylyn shook her head. Then, as she bent her look inquiringly
toward the far-away camp, a horseman suddenly left it and started on a
gallop toward them. One's coming this way fast! she exclaimed, and
rushed back into the shack for her bonnet.
Lancaster and his younger daughter commented excitedly as the rider
approached. One troop of cavalry had remained at Brannon throughout the
summer to give protection to the wives and children of officers and
enlisted men. The remaining troops belonging at the fort were away on
Indian service. They were to return soon, and the section-boss believed
he saw in the nearing traveller the herald of the home-coming force.
Marylyn, however, was just as certain that Indians were about to
surround them, and hastily brought out the gun. But Dallas wasted no
time in conjectures. She touched up Ben and Betty and finished her
round of the plowed land. Not till the stranger was close did she stop
at the eastern end of the field and wait, leaning on the cross-bar.
He came forward in a sharp canter, keeping a regular tap upon the
flanks of his mount with the end of a lariat. His careless seat in the
saddle and the fact that he wore no spurs told Dallas that he was not a
trooper, though across the lessening distance now between them his
dress of blue shirt, dark breeches and high boots, crowned by a wide,
soft hat, was not unlike a campaign uniform. At his approach, Ben and
Betty became lazily interested and raised their long ears to the front;
Simon advanced a little and took a determined stand beside Dallas, who
hung her lines on the plow-handles and prepared to greet the horseman.
The instant he reached her, he halted abruptly beside the mules and
bared his head. Good-morning, he said with cheery politeness; but his
swift glance over team, plow, and girl showed a surprise that was
She saw his look, and the colour swept up under the tan of her face.
How d' y' do, she answered.
I'm John Lounsbury from Clark's, he began. I've been supplying
that crowd back there with feed and grub for a couple of weeks. He
nodded toward the distant men and horses. May I askII didn't know
any women folks had settled
She faced him squarely for a moment, and he met her eyes. They were
grey, with tawny flecks, wide-open, clear and comprehending. My
father's Evan Lancaster, she explained.
Lancasteroh, he's traded at my store.
That's him over there with Marylyn.
Lounsbury turned in his saddle and looked toward the shack.
Marylyn? he said. What a pretty name! Sounds like Mary_land. How'd
she He paused questioningly.
Mother's name was Mary Lynn, she answered, her voice lowered. So
she just put it together.
Mine's Dallas. I was born in Texas.
He leaned back against his high cantle and smiled. I could 'a'
guessed that, he declared.
Again she coloured sensitively, and hastened to swing the team
around until Betty stood in the furrow. My father's coming, she said.
Instantly Lounsbury was all regret, for he saw that she had
misunderstood him. You don't look Texas, he said earnestly.
It's just the name. Andand I think Dallas is pretty, too.
The implied jest on her native State did not do away with her
displeasure. She nodded gravely and, turning, put the lines about her
shoulders. The mules started.
Now I've got you down on me, he said penitently. Honest, I didn't
She paid no heed.
He clapped on his hat, whipped his horse and followed alongside,
waiting for her to look up. Opposite the shack, Lancaster and his other
daughter were standing by the furrow. Here she drew rein. This is
Marylyn, she said, as the storekeeper leaned to grasp her father's
Lounsbury again lifted his hat and looked down, long and admiringly,
upon the younger girl. Her fair hair, framing in soft waves a pale,
oval face, and her blue eyes, watching him in some confusion, were
strongly in contrast with the straight, heavy braidsbrown, and
showing burnished tints in the lightand the unwavering eyes of her
sister. Looking at her, he was reminded of girls he had seen beyond the
Alleghaniesgirls who knew little, or no, toil, and who jealously
guarded their beauty from sun and wind. Answering Lancaster's blunt
questions, that followed close upon each other, he paid her prettiness
constant and wondering homage; and she, noting the attention, retreated
a little and was quiet and abashed.
Who's you' party? the elder man demanded, indicating the distant
camp with one crutch, and leaning heavily upon the other.
Surveyors, replied Lounsbury.
Surveyors! There was alarm in Lancaster's tone. He suddenly
recalled how, slighting Dallas' advice, he had delayed a trip to the
land-office for the purpose of filing on the claim. W'at they doin'?
Something right in your line, sir. They're laying out a railroad.
A railroad? You don' say! How'll it come?
Why, right this way.
Lancaster caught the other by the bootstrap. Shore? he asked.
Sure, repeated Lounsbury; sure as death and taxes. It's bound to
run somewhere between the coulée and Medicine Mountain, and it'll
stopat least for a few yearsat the Missouri. With those sloughs in
the way at the south end of the gap, it can't reach the river without
coming over your land. First thing you know, you'll have stores and
saloons around your house. There's going to be a town on the Bend,
The elder man scanned the younger's face. Lounsbury was smiling half
teasingly, yet undoubtedly he was in earnest.
W'y, Lawd! breathed the section-boss, realising the whole import
of the news. A railroad would mean immeasurable good fortune to the
trio of settlers who, like young prairie-chickens that fear to leave
the side of their mother, had chosen quarter-sections near the guarding
fort. And to him, penniless, with motherless girls, it meant
The ferrying's so good right here, went on the storekeeper. Why,
it's a ten-to-one shot the track'll end on your claim.
With one accord all looked across the level quarter, where the new
green was creeping in after the late rains.
A railroad! An' a town! The section-boss pulled at his grizzled
goatee. They'll make this piece worth a heap!
They will, agreed Lounsbury. But road or no road, seems to me
you've got about the cream of this side of the river.
You' right, said Lancaster. But the girls were silent, except that
Dallas gave a sigh, deep and full of happiness.
Lounsbury glanced at her. You like the place, don't you? he asked;
even if He suddenly paused. Her palms were open and half turned
upward. Across each lay a crimson stripethe mark of the plow-handle.
For the second time she read his meaning. Yes, I like the prairie,
she answered, if I do have to plow. And she stepped from the furrow
to the unturned sod.
As she stood there, Lounsbury caught the clear outline of her firmly
drawn face. Beside her, Marylyn, slight and colourless, was for the
moment eclipsed. The hat of the elder girl was brushed back, displaying
a forehead upon which shone the very spirit of the unshackled. Her
hands, large, yet not too large for the splendid figure of which they
were the instruments, were clasped upon her breast. Watching her, it
seemed to Lounsbury that she must have sprung as she was from the
plains one daygrave, full-grown and gallant.
Her father's voice broke in harshly. Ah didn' want she
should plow, he protested. Ah figgered t' git someone on tick, but
seems like Dallas, she
We like it here, she interrupted, because the air 's so cool, and
there's lots of grass. Then after bending to gather a purple flower,
she stepped back to the plow.
You're planning to stay, then, said Lounsbury.
Stay! burst forth the section-boss. Don' it look like it?
Lounsbury made no reply, only smiled genially.
Maybe y' reckon we-all ain't safe? continued Lancaster. Wal, th'
nesters 'roun' Fort Sully's safe 'nough.
The storekeeper pointed across the river to where a flag was flying
at the centre of the post quadrangle. You're in sight of that, he
The other snorted. Then, stifling a retort, he searched Lounsbury's
face with his milky-blue eyes. Ah'd like t' ast w'y y' didn' tell me
'bout th' track when Ah seen y' las', he observed suspiciously.
The storekeeper gave a hearty laugh. And why didn't you say you had
daughters? he demanded.
Instantly a change came over the elder man. He darkened angrily. His
breath shortened, as if he had been running. Visible trembling seized
him, body and limbs.
Mystified, Lounsbury turned to Dallas, and saw that her eyes were
fastened upon her father imploringly. No, no, dad, he heard her
whisper; no, no.
The storekeeper hastened to speak. Joking aside, he said, the
reason is this: The railroad company wants the right kind of people to
settle on the land along the survey. It doesn't want men who'd file
just to get a price. So the story hasn't leaked much.
Lancaster was fumbling at his crutches. Ah see, Ah see, he said
sulkily. Then, with an attempt at being courteous, Come up t' th'
shack, Lounsb'ry. Y' brung good news; y' got t' hev you' dinner.
I ate back there, said Lounsbury, dismounting; but I'll stop off
for a while, just the same. As he slipped the reins over his horse's
head, Marylyn remembered the meal she had abandoned and started
homeward. The storekeeper, leading his mount, strode away beside her.
Dallas clucked to the mules.
Ain't you comin'? called her father. W'y, my gal, you worked
'nough this mornin'.
I'll keep at it just a little longer, she answered.
We don' hear ev'ry day thet we live on a town site with a railroad
a-comin', Lancaster said, following her a few steps. Better come.
Dallas did not reply. When she was some rods farther on, her father
called to her again.
Come, Dallas, he urged, an' stop plowin' up th' streets.
She shook her head, slapped the reins along Ben and Betty's dusty
backs and leaned guidingly on the handles of the plow. And as she
travelled slowly riverward, Simon trotted close behind, tossing his
stubby horns at the red of her underskirt and bawling wearily.
CHAPTER II. A TRIP AND TROUBLE AHEAD
Before Dallas reached the end of her furrow she knew that, for at
least some days to come, her work on the plowed strip must cease. Far
and wide, frontiersmen may have heard of the railroad's coming, and
their first move would be, perhaps had been, a rush to the land-office
to file upon quarter-sections touching the survey. And so, no hour
dared be wasted before her father started on his long-deferred trip.
The claim on the peninsulathe claim which the storekeeper had named
as the terminus of the proposed line, as the probable site for a new
townmust at once be legally theirs.
When the mules were turned eastward again, Dallas brought them up
for a breathing spell and, going apart a little distance, sat down, her
knees between her hands. A short space of time had made incredible
changes in their plans, in the possibilities of their prairie home.
Before the cutting of the last two sods, there had stretched ahead only
a succession of uneventful years, whose milestones would be the growing
record of beeves and bushels. But nowshe could not have credited her
senses had it not been for a glimpse of Lounsbury's horse,
industriously cropping beside the lean-to.
She looked across at the shack, squatting on a gentle rise at the
centre of the claim as if it had fled there for refuge out of the
grassy sea whose dry waves lapped up to its very door. Its two small
windows, looking riverward, the narrow door of warped lumber between,
and the shock roof of meadow-grass held down by stones, gave it the
appearance of a grotesque human head that was peering from out the
plain. As Dallas, for the first time, noted the curious resemblance,
the shack seemed to smile back at hera wise, reassuring smile.
A moment later the north wind hooded the sky with clouds, putting
the bend in gloom. She got to her feet and hastened toward the plow. So
brief had been her meeting with the storekeeper that, immediately
following it, his features had escaped her. Now she recalled them, and
thought she recalled that, when he had accosted her, they had worn a
mocking expression. What if her father, in his sudden excitement and
concern, should tell Lounsbury that the claim was not yet filed upon!
should confide in this stranger, who might then take advantage of the
ignorance, age and crippled condition of the section-boss! Hurriedly,
she unhitched Ben and Betty, hung their bridles on the hames, and
turned the team loose to graze. Then she started homeward, with Simon
close upon her heels, and as she crossed the cloud-darkened claim, she
glanced again at the shack. Its windows were in shadow, its door almost
obscured. There was a smirk on its twisted face.
But when, entering the house, she met Lounsbury's kind, level look,
the distrust she had felt unconsciously vanished.
He was seated astride a bench to the left of the fireplace, his hat
flung down in front of him, his shoulders against the wall, his booted
legs thrust out restfully across the floor. Dallas, seeing him out of
the saddle for the first time, was struck by his splendid length, next
by his heavinessa round, but muscular, heaviness that she had never
noted in a Texan. Leaning back with folded arms, he showed, however,
despite his weight and rotundity, the pliance and the litheness of the
Westerner. His hair was dark and thick and worn in a careless part, his
throat was bronzed above the lacings of his shirt, his face
clean-shaven, somewhat squareyet fulland set with blue eyes that
showed an abiding glint of merriment.
If Dallas, as she crossed the sill, formed, with the swift keenness
of the plainswoman, a new and truer estimate of Lounsbury, he, saluting
cordially, failed not to measure her. The dirt-floored shack,
partitioned by Navajo blankets and furnished with unplaned benches, was
a background totally unsuited to Marylyn's delicate beauty; but for the
elder daughter of the section-boss, its very rude simplicity seemed
strangely fine and fitting.
Many women had come under the storekeeper's notice during his
frontier life: Roughly reared women of pure ways who toiled and bore
with the patience of beasts; the women of the army, matching, in dress
and habits, those he had known as a boy; and, last of all, the kind
that always follows in the track of soldier, scout and gambler. Yet
never before on the sundown side of the Mississippi had he seen one who
possessed, along with the reserve a lonely bringing-up enjoins, the
dignity and poise that are counted the fruits of civilisation.
It's good blood, he said to himself, andwith a glance at the
section-bossit's from the mother's side.
Lancaster, at that moment, was truly anything but a picture of
repose. His season of delight over the morning's news had been brief,
and was now succeeded by thorough disquiet. He hobbled to and fro, from
the hearth, where hung a pail of fragrant coffee, to the farther front
window. Lounsbury remarked his evident worry and, not understanding it,
bent down inquiringly toward Marylyn.
She was seated on a buffalo robe before the fire, zealously tending
the coffee. As she felt the storekeeper's look upon her, she glanced
up, and, meeting his eyes, something other than the firelight swept her
throat, neck and brow with crimson touch.
There's no fretting in that quarter, was Lounsbury's mental
comment. He turned on the bench to face Dallas.
She was standing quietly beside the warped door, her arms hanging
tensely at her side, her chin up, her eyes gazing straight at him. And
in them, as well as in her whole attitude, Lounsbury read determination
What's the matter, I wonder, he thought. He leaned toward her,
resting an elbow on the bench. You're getting ready for spring
seeding, Miss Lancaster, he said.
The section-boss giggled nervously. Ef th' town was right here, it
would n' make no difference t' Dallas. Ah'll bet she'll spen' th'
winter shellin' cawn fer plantin', an' pickin' cockle outen th' wheat.
He fell to tugging at his goatee.
Again there was silence. Then, with a deep breath, Dallas
straightened to speak. It was borne to her of a sudden that they were
in needof one in whom they might confide, of one from whom good
advice might come; she felt impelled to tell this stalwart young man,
whose eyes read kindness and whose face read right, who seemed to bear
them nothing but good-will, that they had not filed the claim. And
The fire crackled cosily, the blackened pail steamed from the
cross-piece. Lounsbury spread out his hands before the blaze. I wish I
lived on a quarter, like you folks, he said. I hate the dickering in
a store. Been at it ten years. Was in the fur business, at
firstbought from the Indians and the skin-hunters up and down. Well,
the country got into my blood. You get the West, you know, and it's the
only disease out here that you can't shake. So I've stayed, and I guess
I'll keep a-staying. But sometimes I get a notion to throw my stores up
and go into the cow business or farming.
Dallas sank back, checked, not by Lounsbury's words, but by her
father. The section-boss, one hand behind a hairy ear, was glowering at
the storekeeper. Eh, what? he asked suspiciously.
I say I've a notion to take up some land, repeated Lounsbury.
Right east of you wouldn't be a bad idea. The soil's wonderful
hereabouts. No stumps, no stones, and the loam's thick. Look in the
couléeyou can see there how far it is to the clay. That's why she
wore down so deep
Yes. I believe I'll just pick out a quarter near it. Could plant a
store anyway, when the track comes.
Yas, certainly, said Lancaster. He passed Dallas, giving her a
helpless, apprehensive stare. But, shucks! Ah wouldn' be in sech a
tarnel hurry, ef Ah was you. Spring's plenty o' time.
Lounsbury swung round sharply. Spring! he exclaimed in amazement.
I hope that hasn't been your plan, sir. A man can't file too soon.
Dallas leaned toward Lounsbury again, and her lips parted. But a
quick, peremptory gesture from her father interrupted. Mar'lyn, he
cried, his eyes warning the elder girl, look out fer thet coffee; it's
And Dallas saw that her father did not trust the
storekeeperperhaps feared himand that he did not wish his own
neglect to be known.
But a hint of the state of affairs at the shack had already entered
Lounsbury's mind. As Marylyn rose to pour the coffee, he quickly
changed the subject. Fort 's a quiet place, these days, he observed,
accepting a cup. Wonder when the troops'll be back.
The section-boss sipped at his saucer. Ah don' carry on no dealin's
with Yankee soldier trash, he answered curtly. They keep they side o'
th' river, an' we-all keep ourn.
Lounsbury laughed. Well, he said, you'll find when the redskins
get nasty that the army blue looks pretty good.
The other shrugged.
The storekeeper tapped the holster hanging upon a thigh. I carry a
pop-gun regular. He set down the cup, pulled at his boot-legs and
Ah reckon Ah c'n hol' my own, sah. Lancaster's pride was touched.
No doubt of it, assured the younger man, preparing to go. I
hope, he continued, that you'll call on me at any timeif you need
more provisions, say.
Lancaster did not misunderstand the offer of credit. Thank y', he
replied stiffly, but we certainly got 'nough t' las' through.
Lounsbury remembered how smallcompared with the orders of other
wintering settlerswas the Lancaster stock; and thought, too, how
likely it was that every passerby would be fed with true Southern
hospitality, thus diminishing the supply. But he refrained from making
any further suggestion. He bade the family good-by, lingering a little
at parting beside the younger girl.
Miss Marylyn, he said, before another winter you'll be the belle
of the town of Lancaster.
She put her hand in his bashfully.
And, Miss Dallas? His voice entreated a little.
I hope you'll be the biggest storekeeper, she said.
To Lounsbury's surprise, he saw a trace of fun lurking in her eye.
Ah! you've forgiven me! he declared triumphantly.
But she made no answer as she turned away.
The next moment he was galloping toward the coulée crossing.
Marylyn watched him go. When, having disappeared into the ravine, he
came into sight again on the farther side, he turned in his saddle and
saw her. He took off his hat and waved it. She answered with a farewell
signal, and stood, looking after him, until distance dwarfed horse and
rider to a dot.
On the storekeeper's departure, the shack became a scene of action.
Lancaster gave over walking the floor and collected bedding for a
journey. Marylyn was called in to prepare a box of food for her
fatherpotatoes from the coals of the fireplace, cured pig-meat from
the souse-barrel, bread, and a jug of coffee. While Dallas caught the
mules, gave them some grain and a rubbing-down with straw wisps, and
greased the wagon wheels. All being made ready, the section-boss took
leave of his daughters, urging them to keep within the next day when
the surveyors came up, and to deny his going. Then, with Ben and Betty
at a smart trot, he set off for Bismarck and the land-office.
When he was gone, the squat shack on the bend became vigilant.
Ceaselessly its eyes covered the stretch of road between ferry-landing
and couléeceaselessly, though Dallas alone kept watch for wayfarers.
Not until night fell, and the cloud-masked moon disappeared behind the
western bluffs, were small blankets pinned into place across the
windows, and the peering shock head made sightless.
But even with the house darkened, the early supper eaten and Marylyn
asleep in her bed before the hearth, the elder girl still kept on the
alert. A nervousness born of loneliness had taken possession of her. If
the doorlatch rattled, she raised herself, listening. If Simon rubbed
himself against the warm outer stones of the fireplace, she sprang up,
a startled sentinel, with wide eyes and clenched hands.
But an hour passed. The wind lulled. Simon lay down. She fell to
thinking of the storekeeper. She felt surer than ever, now, that he did
not covet the bend. Setting aside the fact that he had brought them
good news, she was glad he had come. It gave them a neighbour. And,
yes, she forgave him the smile that had provoked her resentment. After
all, the name Dallas did sound Texas.
With morning, and the rising of the sun, she was up and doing the
few chores about lean-to and shack. But when the surveyors arrived,
making short work of their last few miles, she and Marylyn shut
themselves in and escaped being seen. The engineers gone toward
Clark's, Dallas again took up her watch.
Twice before night she was rewarded. The mail-sergeant passed,
bringing a batch of letters to a grateful post; and, late in the
afternoon, an Indian runner came into sight from up the Missouri.
Scorning to use the ferry, he dropped into the river, where the coulée
emptied, and swam across.
The arrival of the scout Dallas associated instinctively with the
expected return of the troopers, and felt a relief that she would not
have cared to confess to her father. The unusual bustle that marked the
next three days at Brannon seemed to justify her belief. Below the
barracks, on the level bottom-land, men were busy erecting a strange
structure. Tall cottonwoods were hauled from the river and set on end
in the sandy ground. As time passed, these came to form a tight,
The night of the third day there was activity on the other bank of
the Missouri. Unknown to shack and fort, the squalid line of shanty
saloons that stretched itself like a waiting serpent along a high bench
opposite the new stockade, sprang into sudden life. Two wagons filled
with men and barrels crossed the bend and emptied themselves into the
dilapidated buildings. And far into the early hours, loud laughter, the
click of chips and the clink of glasses disturbed the quiet of the
night. At dawn, an officer, standing, field-glass in hand, on the
gallery at headquarters, saw two wagons drawn up in front of Shanty
Town and called down a curse upon the heads of the sleeping revellers.
Just see there! he exclaimed. Some vermin got wind of the
paymaster's coming and are here to fleece the men.
A lieutenant sauntered up, putting out his hand for the glasses.
There wasn't a soul in those huts yesterday, he said.
No, of course not, sputtered the other. The devils stayed at
Clark's till the punchers got back from Kansas City. Now, they're on
hand to keep our guard-house and hospital full. By gad! if I commanded
here, I'd have the whole street fired.
Well, said the lieutenant, the men have a way of disciplining
that kind, themselves. Some day, when a favourite is cut in a brawl or
cheated at cards, they'll shoot up the place. If there's anything left,
it'll move on.
It won't do any harm to keep an eye on Shanty Town, all the same,
declared his companion, fiercely. Remember the man that ran it last
year? Slick, by gad! Why, the paymaster might just as well have stopped
over therehe and his ilk got every cent! He wasn't a 'bad' man, mind
younot brave enough for that, but keen-nosed as a moose, conceited as
What was his name?
Oh, Dick or Vic Something-or-other, I don't know what. He's a
bragging renegade, anyway.
Unaware of a reconnoitre, the occupants of the line of shanties
slumbered serenely on; and not until noon did high plumes of smoke,
straight as the flag-pole on the parade-ground, announce, to the
secretly delighted troopers at Brannon, their tardy rising.
Dallas, too, saw the busy chimneys. But while watching them intently
from an open window, her attention was attracted, all at once, in the
opposite direction. She heard, coming out of the coulée, a chorus of
shrill talking, like the pow-wow of a flock of prairie-chickens. Then,
a horse snorted, and there was a low rumble of wheels. Thinking that it
was her father, she leaned into sight. As she did so a team came
scrambling over the scarlet brink, dragging a wagon full of men and
As the horses gained the level prairie, their driver laid aside a
huge black-snake whip with which he had been soundly whacking them, and
looked about. The next moment, Dallas saw him rein in his team and
spring to his feet. He was looking toward the shack, and he raised his
Look at that! Look at that! he cried wildly, his voice carrying
through the clear air.
All looked where he pointed, and someone in the back of the wagon
What d' you call that for luck? yelled the man, shaking his
mittened fist. If Nick knew that!
Dallas could not hear the mingled answers of his companion.
Well, I call it damned
A woman reached up and pulled him into his seat. There was another
shrill chorus, the man whacked the horses till they reared, and the
wagon went rumbling on.
Dallas watched it until it disappeared into the cut at the landing.
Then she sank upon a bench. For a long time she sat, dumb and
immovable, her eyes on the floor. When, finally, she got up, she felt
about her, as if overcome by blindness.
Marylyn had not seen or heard the threatening wagon-driver. Seated
comfortably on the robe by the fire, she strung beads and hummed
Dallas started toward herstoppedthen moved slowly back to the
window, where she took up her watch.
Late that night she sprang from fitful, troubled sleep to hear Simon
lowing and moving about restlessly. A few moments afterward, there came
a mule's long bray from below the shack, followed by the voice of the
section-boss, urging on the team. She found her long cloak and hastened
She could not wait for the wagon to stop before calling anxiously to
her father. Did you file? she asked, walking beside Betty.
Lancaster did not answer, but scolded feebly, as if worn with his
long trip. W'y d' y' fret a man 'fore he c'n git down an' into th'
house? he demanded. Ah'm plumb fruz t' death, an' hungry.
She helped him over the wheel and through the door. Then she went
back and, in feverish haste, stabled the mules. On entering the shack,
now dimly lighted by a fire, she did not need to repeat her question.
She read the answer in her father's face.
No use, Lancaster told her, raising wet, tired eyes to hers. Th'
claim was gone 'fore ever we got herefiled on las' July. He lay
down, muttering in a delirium of grief and physical weariness.
The fire, made only of dry grass, began to die, the room to darken.
Dallas' face shadowed with it. She was thinking of the level quarter
that was to have blossomed under her eager hands; that was to have
brought comfort to Marylyn and her crippled father. And now the land
was gone from them, had never been theirsthey were only squatters.
Any hour, a nameless manperhaps he who had gone by that daymight
descend upon them and
The bail of a bubbling pot slipped down the bar that held it, and
the vessel clattered upon the hearth. She started as if a gun had
exploded at her elbow.
CHAPTER III. DALLAS MAKES A FRIEND
Y-a-a-as, drawled Lancaster, reflectively, gnawing the while at a
fresh slab of tobacco, we jes' nat'ally mavericked this claim.
A fortnight had passed since his return from the land-office. In
that time, his fear had slowly vanished, his confidence returned. And
he had begun to show streaks of the bravado that, in his stronger days,
made him an efficient section-boss. Rosy dreams, even, beset his
braindreams upon which Marylyn, despising her father's meaner
structures (and kept in ignorance of what might, at any moment, raze
them), piled many a rainbow palace. For, to the younger girl, certain
calico-covered books on the mantel had invested the events of the
fortnight just gone with a delightful tinge of romance.
Dallas, however, took a sensible view of their situation. She
pointed out that the man who had made an entry for the land would, in
all probability, return; and that if he did not, five years, at least,
would pass before the railroad reached them. Meanwhile, the
quarter-section should be properly filed upon for possession and farmed
for a living. Now, as she brushed the hearth clean with the wing of a
duck, she listened quietly to her father's confident boasting.
It's this way, m' gal: he saidhe compassed a goodly quid and
shifted it dexterously into the sagging pocket of a cheekInside o'
six months after a man files, he's got t' dig a dugout er put up a
shanty. He's got t' do a leetle farm-work, an' sleep on his claim. When
thet six months is up, ef he ain't done no buildin' er farmin', th'
claim's abandoned, an' th' first man comin' along c'n hev it.
In this case, th' gent in question ain't built, dug er
farmed. Ef he was t' show up an' want this quarter, he could git it by
payin' fer our improvements. Ah reckon we'd hev t' sell an' pull our
freight. But ef he was t' show up an' not pay like a' honest
man, they'dthey'dwal, they'd likely be a leetle
Dallas shook her head. If he comes before his six months is up and
improves, we got to go. That would be the only square thing. Ain't it
Walwal began Lancaster, lamely.
It is, she said. He filed on the quarter, and we had no right to
We hev settled, an' th' lan' 's goin' t' be worth money,
broke in her father.
She put up her hand. We got to go, if he comes. Butshe arose
wearilyif he didn't offer pay for our improvements, how could
we go, or get through the winter, or build again next spring? Our
Look a-here, Dallas, began her father, crossly, they ain't no use
t' worry th' way you do. Winter is clost. It ain't likely th' man'll
come along this late. An' ef he don' show up pretty soon, he ain't got
a chanst. 'Cause, when his six months is gone, Ah'll make another trip
t' Bismarck, contes' his entry, hev it cancelled an' file. Then,
She silenced him, for Marylyn was entering, and quit the shack.
Outside, before the warped door, she paused.
He's always so sure of himself. But he can't do anything. And
MarylynOh, I wish there was someone with us, nowsomeone
that'd help us if anythingwent wrong.
Of a sudden, looking down at her hands, her eyes fell upon the
crimson stripes left across her palms by the plow. And, in fancy, a
horseman was riding swiftly toward her from the east, again, while she
leaned on the cross-brace and waited.
Twenty miles, she said thoughtfully; twenty miles. And turned
the marks under.
* * * * *
Sun-baked, deep of rut and straight as the flight of a crow, lay the
road that led northeast from the swift, shoally ford of the Missouri to
the cattle-camp at Clark's. It began at the rough planking upon which
the rickety ferry-boat, wheezing like some asthmatic monster,
discharged its load of soldiers or citizens, and ran up through the
deep cut in the steep, caving river-bank. From there, over the western
end of the Lancaster quarter, across the coulée under a hub-depth of
muddy backwaterat the only point where the sumach-grown sides sloped
graduallyit took its level, unswerving way.
Twice only in its course did it touch the ravine curving along near
by itonce, six miles from the ferry-landing, where, on the limbs of a
cluster of giant cottonwoods that grew in the bottom of the gully, a
score of Indian dead were lashed, their tobacco-pipes, jerked beef and
guns under the blanket wrappings that hid them; and, again, at Murphy's
Throat, four miles farther up, where the coulée narrowed until a man,
standing in its bed with arms outstretched, could place the tips of his
fingers against either rocky wall. Beyond the Throat, the crack in the
plains grew wider and shallower, veered out to the eastward, and, at
last, came to an abrupt end in a high meadow below the distant
For decades the road had been a buffalo-trail, a foot wide and half
as deep, that, in the dry season, guided the herds in single file from
the caking meadow to the distant waters of the Missouri; then the
travee poles of Indian tribes gave it the semblance of a wagon track,
the centre of which was worn bare by the hoofs of laden ponies and the
feet of trudging squaws; and, finally, the lumbering carts of traders,
the Studebakers of settlers, and those heavier wagons that roll in the
rear of marching men, made of the track a plain and hardened highway.
Down it, that morning, approaching to the accompaniment of loud
talking, the tramping of horses, the cracking of whips and the jingling
of spurs, came a long procession. Yet so absorbed was Dallas in her
plowing that not until the head of its column was close upon her and
there was barely time to go to the bridles of the frightened mules did
she see it.
A tanned, unkempt officer led the way, with baying foxhounds running
about him. On either hand rode his staff, and his scoutsArickaree
Indians, in patched breeches and dusty blankets. And behind,
full-bearded, all military look gone from their boots, hats and
uniforms, came the cavalry, riding two and two, and flying torn and
Dallas had no chance to view the front of the command, for the mules
claimed all her attention by hauling back on their bits. But now they
quieted a little, and she was free to watch the dozen or so musicians
who came next, mounted, with their brass instruments in hand. She saw
that these men were nudging one another, and directing at her glances
which were bold and amused.
Something of her father's hatred of soldiers stirred her. She grew
defiant; yet only for a moment. The musicians trotted by, and now
Indians were passingmen, women and children, whose stolid faces
disclosed no hint of grief or hatred for their captivity. The braves,
twenty in number, formed the head of the band, and kept no order of
march as they spurred forward their ragged, foot-sore ponies. Their
Springfield rifles, knives and tomahawks had been taken from them, but
they still carried their once gay lances, and shields of buffalo-hide
covered with rude pictures of the chase and battle. But though on other
occasions these would have betokened the free warrior, they now only
emphasised by contrast the blankets that trailed ingloriously from
their wearers' shoulders to the ground and the drooping feathers of the
A war-priest, whose string of bears' claws, triple feathers, charms
and bag plainly betokened the medicine-man, headed the tribe. He was
seated upon a gaudily decorated saddle; the nose-band, front and
cheek-pieces of his horse's bridle were thickly studded with brass
nails; bright pom-poms of coloured wool swung from the curb and the
throat-latch; and the nag's tail was stiffly braided with strips of
woolenscarlet and yellow and blue. Close beside him rode two stately
braves of high rank, their mounts as richly caparisoned, their buckskin
shirts gorgeous with bead and porcupine-quill embroidery, otter-skin
head-dresses upon their hair. Like their leader, the dusky faces of the
two Indians and of those forming the rest of the party were hideously
painted, showing that all had but recently been upon the warpath.
The other half of the redskin company was more squalid. A score of
spotted, sway-backed ponies crept along, bearing and, at the same time,
dragging, heavy loads. Each saddle held a squaw and one or more small
childrenthe squaw with a cocoon-like papoose strapped to her back.
And at the tail of each horse, surrounded by limping Indian dogs, came
a travee laden with a wounded or aged Indian, or heaped with cooking
utensils, blankets and buffalo-skins.
One woman of all the squaws rode a pony that had not a double
burden. She was dressed in buckskin and bright calico, and sat upon a
blanket that almost covered her horse. Her hair was braided neatly, her
dark cheeks were daubed with carmine. She kept a rigid seat as she
passed Dallas, and her black eyes answered the other's kindly look with
one full of sullen pride. Beside her hobbled an aged hag across whose
wrinkled mouth and chin was a deep and livid scar.
When the Indians were past, more troopers followed. After them
trundled a half-dozen light field-pieces, the wagon-train, and
ambulances filled with sick or wounded soldiers, all under the conduct
of a rear-guard. Soon, the entire cavalcade was gone, and had halted on
the river-bank to wait the ferry. Dallas was alone again, listening to
the faint strains of the band which, from the cut, was gallantly
announcing the return from the long campaign.
At the door of the shack, Lancaster and his younger daughter were
watching the portage, piecemeal, of the troops. But Dallas, starting
the team again, saw father and sister suddenly turn from the landing to
look and point toward the coulée. Glancing that way, too, she saw the
object of their interest. Over the brink into sight was toiling a
strange figure, bent and almost hidden under an unwieldy load.
She moved aside in some trepidation to await the creature's advance.
Upon its back, as it tottered along, was a score of pots and pans, tied
together, and topped by a sack of buffalo-chips that, at each slow
step, rolled first to one hand and then to the other. Yet with all the
difficulty of balancing the fuel-sack and preventing its falling to the
ground, the straggler did not fail to keep in place a drab
The mules stood perfectly quiet until the figure was near. Then they
became uneasy for the second time, and shied back upon the plow,
tangling their harness.
The effect of this was startling. The sack of chips came tumbling
off the pots and pans, spilling upon the roadway. The tin things
followed with a crash. And, with a grunt, the bent figure retreated a
few steps and uncovered its face.
In very amazement Dallas let go the mules. The creature facing her
was young and pitifully thin. About a face dripping with perspiration
fell a mop of tangled hair. Under a tattered mourning blanket, a
bulging calico waist disclosed, through many rents, a lean and bony
chest. And below the leather strap that belted both the sombre blanket
and the waist, hung limply the shreds of a fringed buckskin petticoat.
The straggler was an Indiana maleyet, despite his sex, he wore, not
a brave's dress, but the filthy, degrading garb of a squaw!
He watched Dallas with cowed, questioning eyes, strangely soft and
un-Indian in their expression. After a moment, seeing that he was ill,
as well as unarmed, she ceased to feel afraid of him.
How, she said, in greeting.
He made no reply, only continued to watch her steadily.
How, she repeated, and smiled.
His eyes instantly brightened.
You sick? she asked, moving her head sorrowfully in pantomime.
For answer, he shambled closer and held up first one naked foot and
then the other, like a suffering hound. Dallas saw that they were sore
from stone bruises and bleeding from cactus wounds.
Oh, you're hurt! she cried.
The Indian nodded, and at once made her a dumb appeal. Lowering
himself stiffly until he was seated upon the dead grass before her, he
pointed eloquently into his wide-open mouth.
Dallas understood. Hungry, she said.
He nodded again.
She had never heard a scoffing white declare that the red man is,
above all, a beggar, so she did not delay answering his mute petition.
She stooped to examine again the cuts and bruises on his feet. Then,
Wait till I come back, she bade him, and his vigorous nod assured her
that he understood what she said. She hurried away to the shack.
She tarried only long enough to tell her father of the straggler and
to hear his objections at her fussin' with a no-'count Injun.
Returning, she found her charge patiently waiting for her. As she came
up, he was facing the ford, where, amid cursing, shouting and trumpet
blares, some troopers were trying to induce the balky ambulance mules
to go aboard the boat. But when she handed him a crockery plate heaped
with boiled potatoes, cold meat and pancakes, and a piece of suet wound
in a soft white cloth, he became indifferent to the lively doings at
the landing and began to eat as if famished.
He made such rapid headway that, before Dallas realised it, the food
was gone, the plate scraped clean and the suet direly threatened. He
gave her a puzzled look as she put forth a hand objectingly.
No, no, she said. And while she tore the soft cloth into strips,
she put the fat out of reach by slipping it into a skirt pocket.
The bandages ready, she knelt before him and tenderly swathed his
There! she said, as she finished. Now, you'd better hurry. The
soldiers are almost over, and you'll be too late to get across dry.
He scrambled up, but, ignoring her advice, put one hand through a
rent in his squaw's waist and began to search for something. Presently,
he brought forth a package done up in dirty muslin, and slowly
unfastened it. A folded paper as soiled as its wrapper fell out. It was
worn through much handling and covered with pencilled words. He handed
it to Dallas.
At first, she could not decipher it. But after studying it carefully
and placing together several detached bits she was able to make it out.
It was written scrawlingly and in a trembling hand.
The bearer of this [it read] the good chief, Red Moon, I
commend to the gentleness and mercy of every God-fearing man
and woman. Once, out of the weakness of the flesh, he wept
under the tortures of a sun-dance. Since then he has been
abused, starved, and spat upon. Yet, hearing from me of
Christ, His suffering, and His command to forgive, he has
put down his desire to revenge his wrongs in blood, and goes
on his way, labouring and enduring in silence. May God be
gracious to whomsoever aids this least one among us.
Here the letter ended, but underneath was the signatureso
fingered, however, that Dallas could spell out only the word
Davidand a blurred postscript which said:
I have christened him Charles, and taught him English, but
since his punishment he has never
The remainder of the paper was illegible.
When Dallas gave it back to the Indian, he wrapped it up carefully
and returned it to his bosom. Then he gathered up the scattered chips,
lifted his double load to his shoulders, drew his sombre blanket close
about him, and shambled slowly away.
Poor thing! said Dallas, in compassion.
He stopped to look back.
Good-by, she said as he went on; good-by.
When he reached the river-bank, he turned again. The frost-blighted
cottonwoods that bordered the Missouri were behind him, gleaming as
yellowly as if, during the short, hot summer, their leafy branches had
caught and imprisoned all the sunshine. Against that belt of brilliant
colour stood out his spare, burdened frame.
Watching, she saw his gaunt face slowly relax in a friendly grin.
CHAPTER IV. MISUNDERSTANDINGS
Snow fell on the very heels of the cavalry. Scarcely were the
Indians safe in the stockade and the troopers once more in barracks,
when some first flakes, like down plucked by the wind from the breasts
of the southward-hastening wild-fowl, came floating out of the sky.
Soon the long sumach leaves on the coulée edge were drooping under a
crystalline weight, the black plowed strip was blending with the
unplowed prairie, and the shock head of the cottonwood shack was
donning a spotless night-cap. And so heavy and ceaseless was the
downfall that, at supper-time, the sweet trumpet notes of retreat
were wafted out from Brannon across a covered plain.
When morning dawned, the heavens were cloudless, and the laggard
sun, as it rose, shone with blinding glory upon peaceful miles. Nowhere
was a sign of wallow, path or road, and the coulée yawned,
white-lipped. Even the Missouri was not unchanged. For, away to the
northwest, there had been a mighty rainstorm, and the murky river
tumbled by in waves that were angry and swollen.
Since his early boyhood, the section-boss had not known snow. Before
the previous day, Dallas and Marylyn had never seen it. It was with
exclamations of delight, therefore, that, crowding together in the
doorway, the three first caught sight of the glistening drifts.
Pa, it's like a Christmas card, cried the younger girl. And,
bareheaded, she ran out to frolic before the shack.
To Dallas, the scene had a deeper meaning. Here was what would
discourage and block anyone who had put off necessary improvements! And
this would last long after the expiration of that six months! I guess
there'll be no building or plowing now, she said to her father,
He, fully as relieved, returned a confident assent.
A little later, Old Michael, the ferryman, drove by, breaking a
track along the blotted road. His ancient corduroys, known to every
river-man from Bismarck to Baton Rouge, were hidden beneath layers of
overcoats. Through the wool cap pulled down to his collar, two wide
holes gave him outlook; a third, and smaller aperture, was filled by
the stem of a corn-cob pipe. He was headed for the cattle-camp, the
lines over a four-in-hand hitched to three empty wagons, a third team
tied to the tailboard of the hindmost box.
On the arrival of the saloon gang, the pilot had left his steamboat
in the hands of his two helpers and made his way to Shanty Town. There,
in a shingle hut, perched atop a whisky cask, and kicking its rotund
belly complacently with his heels, he had wet a throat, long dry, from
the amber depths beneath him.
With each succeeding glass, his obligations had grown apace.
Nevertheless, for a lifetime of rough service had brought about an
immunity that belied his Celtic blood, his brain remained clear, his
step steady and his eye unbleared. Thus it happened that when, cut off
from grazing, it was necessary for the Shanty Town teams to be returned
at once to Clark's, Old Michael was on hand and in condition to take
them, and, by so doing, wipe out his drinking-account.
As he came opposite the shack, Marylyn was still running about in
the snow, while Dallas was sweeping out some long, narrow drifts that
had sifted in through window-and door-cracks. Squinting across at them,
he recalled, all at once, a heated conversation that had taken place at
Shanty Town the afternoon of the southward departure of a Dodge City
courier. And he shook his head sorrowfully.
Ye'll have yer han's fule before long, he advised aloud, or it's
me that's not good at guessin'. And, lifting the front of his cap, he
sympathetically blew the purple bump that served him for a nose till it
rang through the crisp air like a throaty bugle.
Farther on, as he sat pondering deeply and letting the leaders
choose their course, a horseman came cantering toward him, and drew
rein beside his wheel. It was Lounsbury, buried to the ears in a
Sure, it's somethin' important, John, that's a-bringin' ye out
t'-day, cried Old Michael, roguishly, his brogue disclosing his
identity. It's ayther tillegrams or l-a-a-ydies.
The storekeeper coloured under his visor. It's nay-ther, he mocked
None o' yer shillyshallin', warned the ferryman, giving the other
a playful whack with his gad. Oi kin rade ye loike a buke.
You can't read a book, declared Lounsbury. But I'll tell you: I'm
going to the Lancasters'.
Old Michael nodded, with a sly wink through the portholes of his
mask. Oi knowed it! he said. Then, after fishing out a tobacco-bag
from under his many coats and lighting the corn-cob in the protecting
bowl of his palms, In that case, man, Oi got somethin' t' say t' ye.
He leaned over the wheel confidentially, and Lounsbury bent toward
him, so that the smoke of the pipe fed the storekeeper's nostrils. They
talked for a half-hour, the one relating his story, the other putting
in quick questions. At the end of their conversation, Lounsbury held
out his hand.
If their letter brings him, Mike, he said, don't you fail to let
Aye, aye, promised the pilot, earnestly.
They parted. Old Michael continued his way with an easy mind. But
Lounsbury was troubled. Instead of carryingas on his former
visitgood news to the little family on the bend, he must now be the
bearer of evil.
And when, having stalled his horse with Ben and Betty, he entered
the cottonwood shack, his heart smote him still more. For, secretly, he
had hoped that he was to tell them what they already knew. But it
seemed precisely the reverse. There was nothing in the appearance and
actions of the Lancasters that suggested anxiety. The section-boss,
though his manner was not without a certain reserve (as if he half
believed something was about to be wormed out of him), greeted
Lounsbury good-naturedly enough. Marylyn hurried up in a timid flutter
to take his cap and coat. While, facing him from the hearth-side, her
hair coiled upon her head like a crown, her grey eyes bright, her
cheeks glowing, was a new Dallas.
Well, how've you all been? asked Lounsbury, accepting a bench.
Oh, spright 'nough, answered the section-boss. But it's cold,
it's cold. Keeps me tremblin' like a guilty nigger.
You'll get over that, assured the other, rubbing the blood into
his hands. It's natural for you to be soft as chalk-rock the first
winteryou've been living South.
Ah reckon, agreed Lancaster. He sat down beside the younger man,
eyeing him closely. How d' y' come t' git away fr'm business? he
Well, you see, Lounsbury answered, I've got an A 1 man in my
Bismarck store, and at Clark's there's nothing to do week days, hardly.
So I just took some tobacco to Skinney's, where the boys could get at
it, and loped down here. Then, playfully, But I don't see much
happening in these parts. He stretched toward a window. The town of
Lancaster ain't growing very fast.
Dallas, seated on a bench with Marylyn, looked across at him
smilingly. I'm glad of it, she declared. We ain't used to towns.
You folks've never lived in one?
Nowe never even been in one.
He puckered his forehead. Funny, he said. Somehow, I always think
of you two as town girls.
Aw, shucks! exclaimed Lancaster, scowling.
But Dallas was leaning forward, interested. That's on account of
our teachers, she said. There was a school-house up the track, in
Texas, and we went to it on the hand-car. Every year we had a different
teacher, and all of 'em came from big Eastern places like New Orleans
or St. Louis. Soso you see, we kinda got towny from our
One had a gold tooth, put in Marylyn. Her eyes, wide with
recollection, were fixed upon Lounsbury.
But you passed through cities coming north, argued the
N-n-no, said Dallas, slowly; wewe skirted 'em.
What a pity! He turned to the section-boss.
Pity! echoed the latter. Huh! You save you' pity. My gals is
better off ef they don' meet no town hoodlums.
It had been soldier trash before; now, it was town hoodlums.
Lounsbury wondered why he had been allowed a second call. He
glanced at the girls. There was a sudden shadow on each young face. He
changed to the fire, and looked hard at it. How cut off they were!
Where was their happinessexcept in their home? And could he tell them
even that was threatened?
Not by a long shot! he vowed. I'll trust Old Michael.
He set himself to being agreeable, and especially toward the
section-boss. He told of the Norwegian at Medicine Mountain, and of the
old man who lived with wife and children at the little bend up the
river; he admired the Navajo blankets, and explained their symbolic
figures of men, animals and suns; he leaned back, clasping a knee, and
branched into comical stories.
The little shack awoke to unaccustomed merriment. Lancaster warmed
to the storekeeper's genial attentions, and burst into frequent
guffaws; Dallas and Marylyn followed his every word, breaking in, from
time to time, with little gleeful laughs.
But in the midst of it, there came from outside a startling
interruption: Shouts, and a loud, pistol-like cracking, powdery swirls
over the windows, a frightened lowing, and heavy thumps against the
The noise without produced a change within. Incredibly agile,
Lancaster got to a pane. While Dallas, springing up, screened Marylyn,
and waited, as if in suspense.
Dark bulks now shot past, pursued by mounted men. And very soon the
herd was gone, and all was again quiet. Then followed a moment that was
full of embarrassment. Keenly, Lounsbury looked from father to
daughter, the one striving to assume an easy air, the other incapable
of hiding alarm. All at once, he felt certain they shared Old Michael's
information. He determined to tell them that he, too, knew what and
whom they feared.
Expecting someone, Miss Dallas? he asked tentatively.
The section-boss hastened to answer. Expectin' nothin', he
snapped. Then, to cut short any further questioning, Dallas, y' clean
forgot them mules t'-day. Lawd help us! y' goin' t' let 'em starve?
Lounsbury sat quiet, realising that the team was but a pretext. The
elder girl found her cloak, picked up a bucket and left the room.
Marylyn shrank into the dusk at the hearth-side. Lancaster was hobbling
up and down, his crutch-ends digging at the packed dirt of the floor.
The storekeeper, putting aside his determination, went on as though
he had not noticed the other's attitude. The storm was hard on the
stock last night. They must 'a' drifted thirty miles with it. Our loss
is big, likely. The punchers'll bunch everything on four hoofs and
drive 'em into the coulée. Cows'll be out of the wind there, and live
on browse till the ground clears.
But as he was talking, the section-boss made himself ready for the
cold; before he had finished, the elder man had disappeared.
Lounsbury was thoroughly provoked at the treatment shown himhe was
hurt at the plain lack of faith. Again, he considered what course to
pursue. Granted the family knew all he could tell them, what would be
gained by forcing the fact of his knowledge upon them? Nothingunless
it were more suspicion against himself. And if they were in
ignorancewell, it was better than premature care. As before, he
decided to remain silent and depend upon the pilot.
He glanced at Marylyn. On her father's departure, she had moved out
of the shadow. Now, she was sitting bolt upright, with fingers touching
the bench at either side. Her lips were half parted. She was watching
The moment their eyes met, her own fell. She reached to the mantel
for a beaded belt, and began work upon it precipitately.
What is the prairie princess doing? he asked.
Making something. She held the belt by one hand to let it slip
through the other.
He reached for it. My! it's pretty! Wish you'd make me a watch-fob
She flushed and dimpled. I'd like to, she said.
I'll wear it as an amulet. He gave her back the belt, and their
She started nervously.
Why, Miss Marylyn! he said gently. You afraid of me?
No. It was whispered.
Well, you mustn't be. His tone was one that might have been used
to a child. Since I rode here a month ago, I've thought of you folks a
lot. I'd like to do a real good turn for you. Perhaps it's because you
girls seem so lonely
We're not lonely, she declared. The Fort's near, and we can hear
the band. And pa says there'll be three or four steamers go by next
The storekeeper mentally kicked himself. The idea of suggesting a
thing like that, he growled inwardly, when she hadn't even thought of
it! John Lounsbury, you've got about as much sense as a fool mud-hen.
And, went on Marylyn, there's the ladies at Fort Brannon. If
pa She hesitated.
Lounsbury shook his head, smiling. Well, I wouldn't count on
them, if I were you, he advised, remembering certain experiences
of Bismarck belles. Those women over there are as clannish as crows.
Yes? plaintively. She went at her beads again.
As I was saying, he began once more, I've thought of you folks a
lot. Seemed as if I just had to come down to-day. And I brought you
something. See here! He delved into the side pockets of his coat and
pulled out two books.
O-o-oh! breathed Marylyn. Books!
All I had, but maybe you'll like 'em. They're love stories.
The shadow beyond the firelight claimed her again.
From the lean-to came the sound of Lancaster's voice. It was shrill
with anger. A great sadness came over the storekeeper. I wish I could
come down often and look after things, he said. You need another man
There was a short silence. Then, Dallas likes the work outside,
she answered, very low, and driving Ben and Betty up and down.
He nodded. But you?
I like to stay in and sew.
'Stay in and sew,' he mused. That takes me back to the States. My
dear mother sits by the fire and sews. Ah!with big-brotherly
tendernessI hope you'll never have to do anything harder.
Dallas won't let me work outside. She says she's the man.
Dallasthe man! Somehow it stung him. And then he heard the elder
girl pushing an armful of hay before the eager noses of the mules. He
got up quickly. She is tending to those beasts! he exclaimed. Why,
if I'd 'a' thought
She rose also, a wavering figure in the half light.
He picked up hat and coat, then halted. If he offered his help in
the lean-to, what would be his reception? He felt utterly hampered, and
began twirling his thumbs like a bashful cowboy. Moreover, Lancaster
had been gone a good while. Was his absence a hint for his visitor to
The storekeeper went up to Marylyn. Good-by, he said. I must be
She put a trembling hand in his.
The latch clicked behind them, and the section-boss entered. Again
the younger girl started, and consciously.
Lancaster banged the door and looked them over. Huh! he snorted
meaningly. Sohe had misled himself with the idea that Lounsbury had
come to pry into the matter of the claim. And all the while,
underneath, the storekeeper had had another object!
He jerked at a bench, dropped upon it and flung his crutches down.
The other saw the look and heard the sniff. He believed they arose
from the fact that he was still there. Just going, Lancaster, he
said. So long.
Good-by, Miss Marylyn. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. He
gave her a hearty smile.
Good-by. She opened the door for him.
John Lounsbury passed out, regretting that he had been unwelcome;
indignant that the section-boss had misjudged his interest in the
ownership of the claim. But he would have been astounded if he had
known the real nature of the false impression he was leaving with Evan
Lancaster; or had read the thoughts of the younger girl,
country-reared, unused to the little courtesies of speech and action.
For there were two who had misunderstood him that day.
CHAPTER V. THE DESPISED
Squaw Charley crouched, dull-eyed, among the dogs. The dark folds of
his blanket were drawn tight over his tattered waist. Close around his
feet, which were shod in old and cracking moccasins, was tucked his
fringed skirt. An empty grain-sack covered his head and shielded his
face from the wind. As an icy gust now and then filtered in through the
chinks of the stockade wall and swept him, he swayed gently back and
forth; while the tailless curs snuggling against him whined in sympathy
and fought for a warmer place. For the kennel roof of shingles, put up
in one corner of the enclosure as a protection for the pack, had served
only, during the week that followed the storm, to prevent the pale
beams of the winter sun from reaching the pariah and his dumb
Presently the flap of a near-by lodge was flung aside. An Indian
woman emerged and threw a handful of bones toward the shelter. At once
Squaw Charley awoke to action. Shedding sack and blanket, he scrambled
forward with the half-starved, yelping beasts to snatch his portion.
His bone picked clean of its little, the pariah resumed his
crouching seat once more; and the pack closed quietly about him,
licking his face and the hands that had cuffed them as, with much
turning and shivering, they settled down to sleep.
A warrior stalked proudly past, ignoring both his disgraced brother
and the sentries that paced the high board walk at the wall's top. Two
Indian lads approached, chattering to each other over the heart-shaped
horn tops they were swinging on buckskin strings, and tarried a moment
to scoff. Squaw Charley paid no heed to either brave or boys. His face
was hidden, his eyes shut. He seemed, like the dogs, to be sleeping.
Of a sudden there came a shrill summons from a distant wigwam, and
the pariah sprang up eagerly. Afraid-of-a-Fawn stood in the tepee
opening, her evil face with its deep scar thrust forward to look about.
Skunk! she shrieked, as he hurried toward her, and her long, black
teeth snapped together; a fire! Then she spat to cleanse her mouth.
Squaw Charley hastened back to the shingle roof for an armful of
fuel. Returning, he entered the wigwam and knelt beneath the
smoke-hole. And while he arranged the sticks carefully upon a twist of
grass, the aged crone hovered, hawk-like, over him, ready with fist or
foot for any lack of haste, or failure with the fire. Not until, with
flint and steel, he lighted a strip of spongy wood and thrust it under
the dry hay, and a flame leaped up and caught the soot on a hanging
kettle, did she leave him and go on a quest for breakfast rations.
The pariah had not dared to lift his eyes from his task while the
hag was watching. But now he stole a swift glance toward the back of
the lodge, where the maid, Brown Mink, was reclining, and his dull
eyes, like the fuel at his knees, leaped into sudden flame. But, with
the deftness of a woman, he kept on putting bits of wood into the
Brown Mink did not look his way. She lay on a slanting frame of
saplings held together by a network of thongs. The gay blanket on which
she had ridden during the march was folded under her. A buffalo-robe
was spread over her bead-wrought leggins and shoes, its hairy side
under, its tanned face, which was gaudily painted, uppermost.
Festoonings of beads fell from her neck to the top of her richly
embroidered skirt, and heavy ear-drops of gilt pushed through the
purple-black masses of her hair.
Squaw Charley fed his sight gladly with her loveliness, thankful
that she, who once had looked upon him kindly, did not now turn to see
his squalor. The blaze was thawing his chilled limbs and fast warming
him, the brass pot was singing merrily. He kept his hands gratefully
near it, and as, from time to time, the girl held up her arms
admiringly to let the firelight shine upon her bracelets and pinchbeck
rings, he watched her furtively from half-closed eyes.
But not for long. Afraid-of-a-Fawn soon returned with meat and meal
and, cursing, ordered him away.
Off, Ojibway coward, she cried; to the dogs. But see that there
is wood for to-night's cooking and tomorrow's.
The pariah gave the fire under the kettle a last touch, and slunk
out hastily into the snow. The hag pursued him, moving backward and
pulling after her the partly dressed hide of a black-tailed deer.
Make it ready for the cutting-board, she bade, and threw the piece
of hard stone for the fleshing so that it split the pariah's cheek.
Squaw Charley took up the hide and dug in the snow for the stone.
A young warrior was lingering at the lodge flap, blowing spirals of
kinnikinick. He burst into a laugh. Ho! ho! he taunted. The squaw of
a squaw drudges to-day. Ho! ho!
The crone joined in the laugh. Then, Standing Buffalo may enter,
she said, and respectfully led the way into the wigwam.
The pariah heard, yet did not pause. But when, among the dogs again,
he cleaned at the deer hide with short, swift strokes, a light once
more flamed up in his dull eyesa light unlike the one that had burned
in them at Brown Mink's fireside.
* * * * *
He was still working diligently, the sack over his head as before,
when, about the middle hour of the day, Lieutenant Fraser entered the
sliding-panel of the stockade and began to go rapidly from lodge to
lodge, as if in search of someone. Seeing the intruder, the dogs about
Squaw Charley bounded up, hair bristling and teeth bared.
The outcast laid aside his rubbing-stone and strove to quiet them.
But the sudden commotion under the roof had already attracted the young
officer. Stooping, he caught a glimpse of The Squaw.
Oh, there you are! he exclaimed, and motioned for him to come
When the Indian appeared, the deer-skin in his arms, Lieutenant
Fraser pointed toward the entrance. You come with me, he said, with a
gesture in the sign language.
Squaw Charley moved slowly along with him. No one was in sight in
the enclosureno one seemed even to be looking on. But, opposite Brown
Mink's lodge, the old woman dashed out, seized the hide with a scream
of rage and dashed back again. The next moment, Charley passed through
the sliding-panel and took up his march to headquarters.
So this is your last wild pet, eh, Robert? said Colonel Cummings,
as they entered. He backed up to his stove and surveyed Squaw Charley
good-naturedly. Let me see, now: You've run the scale from a devil's
darning-needle to a baby wolf. Next thing, I suppose, you'll be
introducing us to a youngish rattlesnake.
Lieutenant Fraser rumpled his hair sheepishly. But you ought to see
the way they're treating himbanging him around as if he were a dog.
Hm. He certainly doesn't look strong.
They work him to death, Colonel.
The commanding officer laughed. A redskin, working, must be a sight
for sore eyes!
But they don't feed him, sir.
The outcast, wrapped close in his blanket, lifted his pinched face
How'd it happen I didn't notice this fellow during the march?
inquired the colonel, a trifle suspiciously.
He was with the squaws when there was anything to do; but when we
were on the move, he fell to the rear.
Didn't try to get away?
No; just straggled along.
Ah. Do you know whether or not he took part in the fight the day we
At the question, a swift change came over Squaw Charley. He
retreated a little, and bent his head until his chin rested upon his
Lieutenant Fraser threw out his arm in mute reply. No feathers, no
paint, no gaudy shirt or bonnet marked the Indian as a warrior.
The elder man approached the silent, shrinking figure not unkindly.
And what do you want me to do for him, Robert? he asked.
Lieutenant Fraser sprang forward eagerly, his face shining. He's so
quiet and willing, sirso ready to do anything he's told. I'd be
grateful if you thought you could trust him outside the stockade. He
could get the odds and ends from the bachelor's mess.
I'll be hanged! Robert, cried his superior, annoyed. Most men,
just out of West Point, have an eye to killing redskins, not coddling
The other crimsoned. I'm sorry you look at it that way, Colonel,
he said. I'm ready to punish or kill in the case of bad ones.
Butyou'll pardon my saying itI don't see that it's the duty of an
officer to harm a good one.
Squaw Charley raised his head, and shifted timidly from foot to
Well, Robert, replied Colonel Cummings, quietly, you still have
the Eastern view of the Indian question. However, let me ask you this:
Has this man a story, and what is it? For all you know, he may deserve
being 'banged around.'
Lieutenant Fraser was shaking his head in answer, when swift came
one from the pariah. He searched in his bosom, under the tattered
waist, drew out the rag-wound paper and handed it to the commanding
Very carefully the latter read it, his interest growing with every
line. Finally, giving it over to the lieutenant, he smiled at Squaw
That tells the tale, he said. I knew the man that wrote that when
I was with Sibley in Minnesota, the summer after the massacre. He's a
man that writes the truth. He talks the truth, too, and I wish I had
him here, now, so that he could interpret for me.
Why, sir! exclaimed the younger man, it says this chap knows
By all the gods! Of course it does. Robert, I'll make him my
interpreter. The colonel strode up and down in his excitement, pausing
only to contend with the other for the paper. Red Moon, he said at
last, motioning the pariah forward, do you know what I am saying to
Squaw Charley nodded.
Good! good! This is fortunate. Now we can have a talk with these
Sioux. He addressed the Indian again. And you speak English? he
There was a second grave nod.
You shall be my interpreter, Red Moon. You shall have a log house
near the scouts, and the Great Father at Washington will pay you. You
shall have double rations for yourself and your squaw, and more, if you
have papooses. What do you say to that?
Squaw Charley had not taken his eyes from the other's face for an
instant while he was talking. Now, for answer, he shook his head slowly
and sadly from side to side.
Don't want to? cried the colonel.
I'll tell you, sir, interposed Lieutenant Fraser, studying the
paper, I don't believe he ever speaks. You'll notice that it says
here: 'but he has never.' I can't be sure, but I think the next
word is 'spoken.'
Vow of silence?
Something of the kind. Captain Oliver has been telling me about
these bucks that are degraded; and I don't believe that, even if this
fellow spoke, the rest of the tribe would treat with us through him.
That's probably true.
They've made a squaw of him, sir.
Deep humiliation instantly showed in the pariah's eyes and posture.
He looked at Lieutenant Fraser imploringly, and drew his blanket still
more closely about him. Then, as, with a sign, he was bidden to put it
off, he suddenly let it drop to the floor.
Great Scott! cried the colonel. He's dressed like one!
His punishment, sir. And he won't be taken back as a warrior till
he does some big deed.
What does that paper say again? 'Out of the weakness of the flesh
he wept under the tortures of the sun-dance.' So that's the
cause of his trouble! What did they do to you, Red Moon?
To reply, Squaw Charley quickly divested himself of the calico waist
and turned about. And Colonel Cummings, uttering his horror, traced
with tender finger the ragged, ghastly seams that lined the pariah's
Muscles torn loose, he said. Not old wounds, either. As Squaw
Charley resumed waist and blanket, he looked on pityingly.
I'll give him his freedom, he said, when the outcast stood ready
to depart. He can come and go in the post as he likes. Robert, see
that the adjutant understands my order. Now, let him get something to
eat in the kitchen.
When Squaw Charley's hunger had disappeared before the enforced, and
rather nervous, generosity of Colonel Cummings' black cook, and
Lieutenant Fraser had left him, he hurried away from headquarters.
Making his way to the sentry line north of Brannon, he gathered
firewood along the Missouri until dark.
* * * * *
The lantern had been out for an hour in the cottonwood shack. Father
and daughters were asleep. But, at the end of that time, Dallas was
suddenly awakened by the sound of loud stamping and rending in the
lean-to. Ben and Betty, roused by the fear of something, were plunging
and pulling back on their halter-ropes. Startled, her heart beating
wildly, the elder girl crept softly to the warped door.
Her father and sister still slept, undisturbed by the noise in the
stable, which now quieted as abruptly as it had begun. Dallas heard the
team begin to feed again. And from outside the shack there came only a
faint rustle. Was it the uncovered meadow-grass of the eaves as the
wind brushed gently through it? Or the whisper of moccasins on snow?
* * * * *
Later, when The Squaw entered the sliding panel of the stockade, he
crept noiselessly toward the shingle roof. But he was not to gain it
unseen. Afraid-of-a-Fawn, who had been looking about for him, hailed
him savagely as he neared.
Wood for the morning fire, she demanded.
By the light streaming out of a near-by lodge she saw that Squaw
Charley was looking at her defiantly. She set upon him, cursing and
kicking, and drove him before her to the shelter.
The pig! she cried. Running free since the sun was at the centre
of the sky, and yet not a stick! May a thousand devils take the coward!
He quakes like an aspen!
Squaw Charley was indeed trembling, but only with the cold, and
soon, under the shingle roof, the snuggling dogs would warm him. Blows
and abuse counted nothing this night. He was fed; freedom was his; and
he had paid a debt of gratitude.
CHAPTER VI. FROM DODGE CITY
Dad, what's the day after to-morrow?
Evan Lancaster pursed out his mouth and thoughtfully contemplated
his elder daughter.
Ah c'd figger it out, he declared after a puzzled silence, ef Ah
had th' almanac. He hunted about, found the pamphlet and began to
study the December page. Trouble is, he said at last, Ah don' know
no day t' figger fr'mAh los' track 'way back yonder at th' fore part
o' th' month. 'Sides, Ah kain't say whether this is Tuesday er
Wednesday er Thursday. Mar'lyn, d' you remember w'at day o' th' week it
Marylyn left the farther window and walked slowly forward. As she
halted beside her sister, the latter put an arm about her tenderly and
drew her close. A change had recently come over the younger girla
change that Dallas had not failed to see, yet had utterly failed to
understand. Marylyn still performed her few tasks about the house, but
with absent-minded carelessness. Her work done, she took up the
long-neglected vigil at the windows, spending many quiet, and seemingly
purposeless, hours thereall unmindful that the beaded belt lay dusty
and unfinished on a shelf. Only by fits and starts was the shack
enlivened by her happy chatter. At all other times, she was wistful and
distrait. Now, as she answered her father, a faltering light crept into
The last time Mr. Lounsbury was here, she said, hesitatingly, it
was the 6th, and to-day is
Ah c'n git it, the section-boss interrupted. After a moment's
tallying on his fingers, he sat back and clapped his knees in
excitement. W'y, Dallas! he cried, th' day after t'-morrow's the end
o' thet man's six months!
Dallas released Marylyn. Yes, she said, watching the younger girl
wander back mechanically to the post she had forsaken; and to-morrow
you ought to start for Bismarck. Maybe it wouldn't matter if you waited
a while before going; but as long as the weather's good, I think you
ought to go right off.
Ah reckon, he replied, but not heartily.
And so, once more preparations for a trip were made. That night,
when all was ready, and Dallas and her father, having given the team a
late feed, were leaving the stable together, she spoke to him of her
There's just one thing that worries me about your leaving, she
said. I don't know if you've noticed it or not, but Marylyn don't seem
to be feeling good.
Y' think mebbe she takes after her ma? ventured the section-boss.
No, no, he said, she favours me, an' they's no need t' fret.
They's nothin' th' matter with herjus' off her oats a leetle, thet's
The developments of the next morning swept every thought from
Dallas' mind save those concerning the journey. For, when it came time
to harness the mules, she found that Ben had unaccountably gone lame.
Whether his mate had kicked him, or whether he had sprained a leg while
exercising the previous afternoon, she did not know. But it was plain
that, as far as he went, the miles between quarter-section and
land-office were impossible. At once, Dallas suggested that Betty be
driven single to a small pung that had been built for water-hauling
when the well froze up. Accordingly, the mule was put before the
sleigh. Failure resulted. Though both Dallas and her father alternately
coaxed and scolded, Betty, with characteristic stubbornness, refused to
budge a rod from the lean-to without Ben.
Dallas was in despair. She won't go, she won't go, she said.
We've got to think of some other way.
Yestiddy, observed the section-boss, as he unfastened the tugs,
y' said it wouldn' matter ef Ah didn' go now. He was somewhat
complacent over the outcome of the hitch-up.
I don't feel that way now, asserted Dallas.
Thet ol' man up at th' leetle ben' has hosses, he volunteered when
they were again within the shack.
He took 'em to Clark's two months ago, and walked back.
Wal, how 'bout th' Norwegian over by th' Mountain?
He keeps oxen. If a blizzard came up, they'd never lead you out of
it. Then she was moved to make a suggestion which she felt certain,
however, would only be denounced. There are hundreds of horses and
mules at Brannon. I could ask there for a team.
Instantly Lancaster's ire was roused. Thet's all Ah want t' hear
fr'm you 'bout them damned Yankees, he said hotly. An' Ah want y' t'
But you're wrong, dad.
Eh? He turned upon her in amazed disgust.
You're wrong, she repeated gently. We oughtn't to treat the
soldiers as if they was enemies. Some day we'll be in danger here
And then we'll have to take their help.
He began to hobble up and down, working himself into a white heat.
'S long as Ah live on this claim, he said, Ah'll never go t' Brannon
fer anythin', an' they'll be no trottin' back an' forth. Thet ornery
trash over thar is th' same, most of it, thet fought th' South, jus' a
few years ago. Ah kain't forget thet. An' not one of 'em'll ever
set a foot in this house.
After more hobbling, he burst forth again. Ah tell y', Dallas, Ah
won't hev' you gals meetin' them no-'count soldiers
She smiled at him. We don't want to meet any soldiers, she
answered. But there are women at the Fortwomen like mother. It seems
a shame we can't know them.
Y' mother raised y' t' be's fine a lady as any of 'em over thar!
Maybe that's true. If it is, then they'd like us, wouldn't they?
and we could have friends. I'm not thinking about myselfjust about
You gals got each other. Meetin' th' women at Brannon means meetin'
th' men. An' Ah won't hev it! His voice rose almost to a shout.
I'll never speak to you about it again, she said. And her quiet
acceptance mollified him.
M' gal, y' kain't think how Ah feel about them Yanks, he went on
tremulously. An' Ah want y' t' promise me thet whether Ah'm 'live er
dead, y' 'll allus keep on you' own side of th' river.
She glanced up at him quickly. Do you mean that, daddy? she asked,
using the name he had borne in her babyhood.
Ah do! Ah do!
Then I promise. Her tone was sorrowful.
The younger girl faced about slowly.
D' you promise?
Promise? she repeated. Yes,II promise.
Dallas knew that the trip to the land-office was impossible unless
Lounsbury should chance alongwhich was unlikely, some weeks having
passed since his last visit. Undoubtedly were he to come, he would help
them. But would her father allow her to ask the storekeeper's aid?
I'll tell Charley about it to-night, she said finally. We just
got to find a way.
What c'n he do? retorted her father. Far's him's gitting a
team's concerned, we-all might's well look fer someone t' come right
outen th' sky.
Her determination to ask advice of the pariah was a natural one. The
morning that succeeded the night of the mules' terror, she had awakened
to find a reassuring explanation for their fear: In the growing light,
as the trumpet sounded reveille from the fort, she sprang up and looked
out expectantly. On the top of a drift in front of the door was a
bundle of sticks! A hard crust had formed during the night; and
moccasin tracks, leading up to the wood, and then pointing away again,
were cast in it with frozen clearness.
That poor Indian! she had exclaimed, in grateful relief.
Not once after his summoning before Colonel Cummings had The Squaw
forgotten daily to leave firewood at the shack. The evening of his
second trip across the Missouri, Dallas had lain in wait for him,
secreted under the dismantled schooner, which she had drawn into place
beside the door. And as, bringing his offering, he crossed the snow
softly and approached, the terrified mules again announced his coming,
and she hailed him.
Come on, come near, she had called; I want to see you.
Eager to prove his good intent, he had hastened forward; and she,
just as eager to show her thankfulness, had led him into the house.
There, with the distrustful eye of the section-boss upon him, and with
Marylyn watching in trepidation from a distance, he had eaten and drunk
at Dallas' bidding.
At the very moment when Dallas decided to confide in him, Squaw
Charley was not unmindful of her. Where the river-bluffs back of
Brannon shoved their dark shoulders through the snow, the wind having
swept their tops clean of the last downfall, he was working away like a
muskrat. To and fro, he went, searching diligently for buffalo-chips. A
sack followed him on a rope tied to his leather belt, so that he could
beat his hands against his breast as he covered every square rod of
dead, curly grass on the uplands. The bag crammed to the top, he took
off his blanket and, despite the cold, began to fill it also. For he
knew, and fully as well as they who watched the thermometer hanging
just outside the entrance at headquarters, that the night would require
As he hunted along the bare ridge, something more than the frigid
gusts that whipped the skirt about his lean shanks urged him to finish
his gathering and go riverward. In the little snug cabin out on the
prairie a cheery welcome awaited him; before the glowing coals in the
stone fireplace he could warm his shaking legs; there was good food for
his empty stomach. But, better than all else, there a kindly face
always smiled a greeting.
The blanket piled so high with chips that its weight balanced the
grain-sack, he prepared to start riverward. But first, prompted by an
old habit, he climbed to a high point of bluff near by, and, standing
where lookouts had maintained a post before severe weather compelled
their withdrawal, carefully scanned the white horizon. To the west,
from wherethe band in the stockade boastedwarriors of their tribe
would come in the spring to make a rescue; to the north, on either side
of the ice-bound Missouri; to the east, in the wide gap between the
distant ranges of hills, he saw no creature moving. But facing
southward, his hands shading his eyes carefully from the glare, he
spied, on the eastern bank, and at not a great distance, the approach
of a familiar milk-white horse, drawing a heavy pung.
The stooping pariah was transformed by the sight. He threw up his
arms with an inarticulate cry, and sprang away down the slope to his
sack and blanket. Seizing them, he made for the level ground north of
the barracks, descended to the ice, swiftly crossed and dragged the
fuel up to the cottonwoods. Then he started down the river, taking long
The upper part of the improvised sleigh that was tilting its way
across the drifts like a skiff on angry water, was the green box of an
ordinary farm-wagon, set on runners. The wheels of the vehicle lay on
some hay in the rear of the box. On the broad wooden seat was a man,
facing rearward to get the wind at his back. He was almost concealed by
quilts, his arms being wrapped close to his body, and the milk-white
horse was taking his leisurely way unguided. Above the man, and nailed
so loosely to the wagon-seat that it wavered a little from side to side
and kept up a squeaking, was a tall board cross, rude and unpainted.
When he came close to the sleigh, Squaw Charley caught the sound of
singing, and stopped. The traveller was comforting his lonely way with
a sacred hymn, the words of which, scattered by the wind, reached the
Indian in broken, but martial, phrases.
Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching ... war,
... the cross of Jesus
... on before.
Again Squaw Charley spurred himself into long leaps. And behind
Shanty Town, on the open prairie, he brought the horse to a halt.
Once more he gave his wordless crya cry like the shrill hail of a
mute. It brought the man face about. Another second, answering, he
stood up, shook off the quilts to free his arms, reached down and
caught the pariah to his breast.
Tall and spare, he was, and aged; over his shoulders flowed long,
white hair; a beard as white fell to his waist; his sharp eyes were
shaded by heavy brows; he wore a coat of coarse cloth that touched his
feet, and about his head was wound a nubia; as, with face upraised, he
embraced the Indian, he was a stately, venerable figure.
God be praised! he said over and over. Then he held Squaw Charley
away from him a moment to look him up and down. I feared some harm had
come to youthat your people had behaved so cruelly to you that you
had died. But you are well. Yet how thin! Ah! I am so glad to see you
He held him close again, murmuring a blessing. When he released him,
it was to make room for him on the seat, and wrap him up in a thick,
soft quilt. All the while the benevolent old face was shining with
happiness, and tears were streaming down the wrinkled cheeks.
Squaw Charley, too, was overcome. His black eyes were no longer sad
and lowered. They glowed softly, almost adoringly, as he watched his
David Bond had not forgotten you, Charles, the old man said, as he
clucked to the white horse. I was at Dodge Citythat wickedest town
of the plainswhen news came of the capture of your village. At once I
started, for I knew that my duty lay here, here with your poor people,
who will not realise how foolish and puny is their warfare. I did not
come alone, he added, casting a look behind; a white man accompanied
mea man so full of evil and blasphemy that I quake for the safety of
his miserable soul. He has walked most of the distance, for he is
warmer walking, and there are scarce enough quilts for two.
They looked back. A mile to the rear, trailed a solitary man.
Squaw Charley made a quick, questioning sign.
His name is Matthews, replied David Bond; and his mission, I
fear, is a bad one. All the way he has urged my poor Shadrach on and
on, so that we have hardly had time to rest and eat. And all the day,
as he rides or tramps, he mutters to himself. When I ask him what he is
saying, he replies, 'You'll find out quick enough!' and curses more
vilely than before.
The pung was now opposite the stockade. Looking across the river,
David Bond got his first view of the high-walled prison with its
ever-moving and wary guards.
He pulled up his horse. Alas! he exclaimed mournfully, how
misguided they arewhite and red men alike!
The pung slid on until the cut in the river-bank was reached. Again
the old man reined. I cannot cross the river while the ice is so
smooth. Shadrach could not keep his feet. And I will not leave him
behind. But where can I stop on this side?
Glancing to the left, he saw the line of saloons. There, Charles,
he said. I shall drive there and ask for shelter.
He turned the white horse into the cut. As they approached the
shanties, a woman's voice was heard, raised in ribald song.
God sends David Bond whither he is most needed, the old man
A shingle sign was nailed over the door of the first building. On
it, in bold, uneven letters, were the words: The Trooper's Delight. David Bond climbed down and knocked.
There was a moment of dead silence within; then, sounds as if
several persons were moving about on tiptoe; again, silence. The old
man knocked louder. After a short wait, the door was thrown wide. A
thick-set man, whose eyes squinted at cross purposes over his flat,
turned-up nose, filled the entrance.
What in the devil do you want? he demanded roughly, when he saw
David Bond. But his seeming anger illy concealed his relief that it was
not an officered guard, searching for recreant soldiers.
I wish for nothing in the name of the devil, was the simple
answer. But in the name of God, I ask for a roof.
That buck with you? The squint-eyed man shut the door behind him
as he pointed at Squaw Charley.
No; he lives in the stockade yonder.
Oh! He's the one that goes prowlin' 'round here day an' night,
sneakin' an' stealin'!
He may prowl, said David Bond, stoutly, but he does not steal. He
is a good, honest Indian.
The keeper of The Trooper's Delight laughed immoderately. Get out!
Who ever heerd tell of a' honest Injun? Say!tauntinglywhere'd you
an' your broom-tail come from, anyhow?
From Dodge City.
Dodge City! the man cried. Then maybe you seen my brother there,
or heerd if he' comin'. Nick Matthews is his name
David Bond lifted one hand and opened his mouth to answer. But the
words stopped at his lips. For, from the top of the high bank behind
the line of shanties, there came a shout. Looking up, the squint-eyed
man, David Bond, and The Squaw saw a face peering down upon them.
Hello! came the voice again. Hello, Babe! Hello, gran'pa! you
beat me here, didn't y'? Look out! I'm a-comin'!
And amid a little avalanche of snow, icicles, dirt and stones that
frightened the milk-white horse so that he all but overturned the pung,
Nick Matthews tobogganed down the bank on his overcoat and landed
beside them on the shelf.
Short cut, he said, as he got up and shook out the coat. Well,
Babe, old socks, how's things goin'? Howhe threw his thumb back over
his shoulder toward the easthow 'bout over there? What news y' got?
Squaw Charley followed the direction of the pointing.
You ain't come a minnit too soon, declared Babe. Only just a day
or two left of your six months, an' they The two moved toward the
shanty, whispering together.
David Bond called to the brothers appealingly. May I put up here?
he asked. Have you a vacant building that I may share with Shadrach? I
have hay and food of my own.
Nick Matthews came back. He had a putty-coloured face upon which his
blonde eyebrows failed to show; but he summoned a look that was as near
to a scowl as possible. Look a-here, gran'pa, he said, d' you
think I'm goin' t' let you sponge offen my frien's? Not by a long shot!
Hain't I come all the way fr'm Dodge City t' keep th' redskins fr'm
takin' your scalp? What more d' y' want? He gave a laugh in
which there was no humour, disclosing small teeth, ranged close, and
like the first set of a child's.
David Bond did not quail. You have accepted my hospitality for a
month, he said. I ask nothing that is not justly mine.
Matthews snapped his fingers derisively. We can't have you here t'
snoop an' spy, he declared. Git! As he turned to enter the shanty,
he came face to face with the Indian. What's this? Then, noting the
squaw skirt, Gran'pa, who's your lady frien'?
Hate flashed across the pariah's face, like forked lightning on a
One of Sitting Bull's warriors, answered David Bond; and a good
Uncapapa, eh? said Matthews. I savvy their lingo. He plucked at
Squaw Charley's dress. Our warrior wears fine garments, he jeered,
speaking in the Indian tongue. Then, with another laugh, he followed
his brother into the shanty and banged the door.
David Bond took his horse's bridle. We must find hospitality
elsewhere, Shadrach, he said resignedly. And he headed the pung up the
river. As he got back into the wagon-box, he looked round for Squaw
The pariah was standing close to the shanty, his head held forward,
as if he were watching to spring, his hands opening and clenching
Charles! pleaded the old man, reproachfully. Rememberdo good to
them that wish you evil, and love them that hate.
The Indian dropped his arm meekly and shuffled over to the pung. But
when David Bond again drew him on to the seat, his lips moved silently,
and until the cut was reached and Shadrach pulled them out upon the
prairie once more, he continued to glower back at the line of saloons.
It will be a terrible night, the other said, as they came to a
standstill beside the cottonwoods. It is getting late. I suppose I
must try to cross the river.
The pariah was recalled from his backward glances. Rising, he
extended an arm to direct David Bond's attention. And the old man,
rising also, made out the squat shack of the Lancasters, almost hidden
from sight by drifts. With a fervent prayer of thanksgiving, he touched
up Shadrach and steered him toward it, pausing only long enough for the
Indian to load the chip-sack and the filled blanket on top of the
wheels and hay.
If this lonely house will give me shelter and welcome, vowed David
Bond, urging his horse on, it will find me grateful.
Squaw Charley made no answering sign. Bundled again in the soft
quilt, he sat in the wagon-box, brooding. For he had divined, with the
instinct of the savage, that if the shack on the rise before them would
find a faithful friend in him who sat beneath the wavering cross, it
was threatened by the presence of a dangerous foethe man just come to
the shanty saloon by the river.
CHAPTER VII. OUT OF THE SKY
When four distinct rapsSquaw Charley's familiar signalsounded
upon the outer battens of the warped door, Dallas drew back the iron
bolt eagerly, caught the lantern that lighted the dim room from its
high nail above the hearth, and held it over her head. Then, standing
in the opening, with the icy wind fluttering the wide flame till it
leaped and smoked in its socket, she met, not the faltering eyes of the
faithful Indian, but the piercing gaze of aged David Bond.
She fell back and let the lantern drop to her waist. There she held
it, her fingers trembling despite her effort to appear calm. Many days
and nights she had waited expectantly for the man who, by voice and
fist, had displayed an enmity toward them; she had pictured his
arrival, or that of his emissary, and planned what she would say and
do. Now, certain that he had come at lastafter she had long ceased to
watch for himand reading justice and fearlessness in the stern visage
before her, she was dumb and helpless.
Her father's voice, rising from the hearth-side, brought her to
action. Wal! wal! he was saying, don' keep th' door open all night.
With a defiant step forward, and as if to bar intrusion, she spread
out her arms. You're here, she said in a low tone.
Dallas' words did not penetrate the head-covering worn by David
Bond; and the fire having died down for lack of fuel, the interior of
the shack was so dark that he could see only her gesture. He thought
her alone and frightened.
Have no fear, daughter, he begged. I will go somewhere else. But
the ice is so
His gentle address surprised and disarmed her. She advanced
relentingly as her father came up behind.
W'ya stranger? cried the section-boss.
She stopped him. Yes, but we wouldn't turn a dog away to-night,
dad. She motioned David Bond to enter.
As he crossed the sill, Dallas, for the first time, caught a glimpse
of the white horse and the pung, and saw Squaw Charley lifting his load
of chips from the wagon-box.
You came together? she asked.
Charley pointed out your house to me, was the answer.
A sudden hope came to her. Maybe I made a mistake, she said. Tell
me, who are you?
David Bondan evangelist by the grace of God.
She lifted the lantern, so that he could see the others. My father
and my sister, she said. Then she put the light on the table, retired
to a corner and suddenly sank down.
Squaw Charley, having brought in and emptied the sack and blanket,
fed the blaze and crouched at one side of the fireplace. Evan and
Marylyn were across from him, intently examining the features and dress
of the traveller. It was Dallas who, eased, yet shaken, remembered to
Come, Charley, she said, rising, we'll put the horse up. No, no,
as their guest would have accompanied her, we won't need help. The
mules are used to Charley, now, and Simon's pretty ugly to strangers.
She started out. Marylyn, she said, from the door, you take Mr.
Bond's coat. Then, to the evangelist, I'm glad it's you, and
notsomebodyelse. A rare smile crossed her face.
The aged man, divested of his long ulster, advanced and, with
fatherly tenderness, lightly touched her braids.
'I was a stranger, and ye took me in,' he quoted solemnly.
Dallas lingered a moment, arrested by the picture: Lancaster was
leaning forward from his seat in unaccustomed silence; Marylyn sat
beside him, the nubia thrown across her arm; nearer was the Indian, his
copper-coloured face marvellously softened; and, before them all, stood
the evangelist, priestly, patriarchal.
When Dallas and Squaw Charley were gone, the section-boss and his
younger daughter were, for a space, tongue-tied through a lack of
something to say. Soon, however, David Bond broke the quiet to assure
Lancaster of his gratitude. And thereafter the two men talked freely.
You need not fear any trouble with my horse, the evangelist said,
as Dallas was heard bidding Simon keep to his side of the stall.
Shadrach is a gentle beast.
At the name, the section-boss cocked his head like an inquiring
bird. M-m, Shadrach, he began in important reflection; y' call y'
hoss Shadrach. Ah seem t' hev heerd thet name before.
Marylyn raised to her father a quick, warning finger. It's in the
Bible, pa, she whispered.
It's in the Bible.
Don' y' think Ah know? Evan poked the fire cheerfully. He was
fairly started in a conversation. Thet Shadrach was a prophet, ef Ah
recall it jes' right, he said tentatively.
The evangelist shot him a sorrowful glance.
No, pa, whispered Marylyn again. He was put in a furnace.
Remember the furnace, pa?
With th' lions! cried the section-boss. Certainly Ah do.
Oh, pa, that isn't the story.
Evan stroked his moustache. Ah'm kinda offen th' trail, honey,
ain't Ah? he said aside. Then, to cover his mistake and forestall any
embarrassing explanation, he poked the fire again and resolutely began:
Pahson, how'd y' come t' name you' hoss Shadrach?
He had been christened Spooks, began the evangelist as if
repeating an oft-told tale, because his last owner mistook him, one
night, for a ghost. I could not bear to call the faithful animal by
that name, and, day after day, thought over all the names I had ever
heard, striving to find one suitable. That summer something happened
that decided for me. Spooks and I awoke to find ourselves surrounded by
a prairie fire. And I, having hitched up and then gotten down into the
bottom of the wagon, my good horse was forced to meet the wall of flame
alone. He came out unscorched. I knew at once what his name should be.
Henceforth, I called him Shadrach.
The light of returning knowledgeof blessed total recallillumined
the face of the listening section-boss. He gave the fire a glad poke
that sent the burning chips to every side, thrust out his chest proudly
and pinned the other with a triumphant eye. Wal, how 'bout Meshach and
Abednego? he demanded.
David Bond studied a moment, knitting his brows until their heavy
archings met in a single hoary line. I take their place, he said at
last, with dignity.
Following supper, which Dallas prepared, all gathered before the
cheery blaze. There, the evangelist, anxious over the welfare of the
people among whom he had preached and taught, promptly began to
question Squaw Charley.
You have not told me of your capture, he said, or of the fight
that came before it. Were you taken in the northin the country of the
White Motheror in Dakota?
The Indian nodded.
Swiftly, the pariah's whole aspect altered. A moment before,
satisfied as to food, happy and comfortable, he had squatted down in
his blanket. But, now, his shoulders bent, his chin sank to his breast,
his eyes grew dull and sullen.
Were you in the Mauvaises Terres? queried the evangelist.
Squaw Charley shook his head.
On the Powder?
There was a silent assent.
The soldiers pursued; maybe they surprised youwhich?
To answer, the Indian rose slowly. With one of Lancaster's crutches
he raked out some ashes and levelled them upon the hearth-stones. Next,
across them, stooping and using a finger, he drew a varying line that
showed the trend of a stream. Far up toward its source, in a bend, he
placed bits of bread from the table to indicate the lodges of his
tribesmen. Slivers from a stick showed that the tepees had been set
thickly in a grove of tall cottonwoods. White beans, from a filled pan
on the floor near by him, stood for the warriors that had fought. His
fingers moved more quickly as, by means of a handful of corn that
Dallas had put in his leather pouch, he planted the United States
troops on three sides of the Indian campground, and moved them forward
to the attack.
Adroitly he manoeuvred the opposing forces, with advancing here and
retreating there, groans when the white men felt the fight too keenly,
low whoops to picture an Indian gain, little puffs of the breath to
betoken flying bullets. The onlookers saw the battle as it had raged
about the tepees. And the flickering lantern, as Squaw Charley moved it
in a semicircle, told them that the firing began at daybreak and
continued until dark.
All at once he changed the picture. Twelve beans were rapidly
counted out and laid in rows, and he mourned softly over these to show
that they were slain warriors. Five kernels of corna line of
pale-faced deadwere placed beside the bean rows. This done, he
covered the lantern with the grain-sack and leaned back against the
Aye, aye, cried David Bond, sadly. Twelve braves and five
troopers perished! Seventeen souls went to their Maker to mark the
greed of the white man and the yearning to harry off the red! Why do
the Indians not stay in peace and quiet upon the lands set apart for
them, and not go abroad stealing and slaughtering? Why do my own people
not give back to their brothers the country that is rightly theirs?
Once more Squaw Charley stooped forward and, resting his weight on
one hand, traced the return march of the troopers to a crossing of the
Missouri, where the command had buried its dead; from there he drew the
route southward, to the ferry and Fort Brannon. Here, he stuck the
splinters in a circle to picture the stockade below the barracks. At
last, rising, he drew his blanket close about him, put the grain-sack
over his tangled hair and, with a parting look toward Dallas and the
evangelist, went slowly out.
Perfect quiet followed the pariah's going. His recital of the
conflict, dumb though it was, had powerfully stirred the little
audience. For, as he had proceeded with his crude mimicry, the
imagination of the others had filled in the scenes he could not sketch.
The section-boss spoke first. Not incapable of feeling, yet
disliking to show emotion because it might be counted a weakness, he
hastened to clear the air. Say, Dallas, he drawled, with a survey of
the battle-field, he ought t' had some red Mexican beans fer his
Injuns. But the remark failed to appeal.
David Bond made a shake-down for himself beside Lancaster's bunk,
using an armful of hay and the robes and quilts from his pung. However,
the fact that he needed rest, or that his couch was ready, did not
tempt him from the fire. Long after his host disappeared behind the
swinging Navajo blankets, he sat by the hearth. And Dallas stayed with
him, Marylyn's sleepy head pillowed in her lap.
The elder girl felt strangely drawn to him. He returned the interest
he inspired. Like Lounsbury, he marked the unusual character of this
woman of the far frontier. But he saw further than had the younger man:
With her father and sister, she was all firmness and strength, as if
she held herself to be the mainstay of the family; yet, now and then,
unwittingly, she betrayed qualities that were distinctly opposite. Like
Lounsbury, too, when he touched upon the subject of her life it was to
inquire if she had spent any of its years in a town. He felt certain
that she had not; at the same time, his belief was curiously
contradicted by her bearing.
I'll always live on the plains, she said, having told him of the
mesa and their migration north; if I left 'em for a while, I'd
learn things I don't know now; and when I came back, maybe I wouldn't
be satisfied with the shack, or with dad and Marylyn.
Child, where did you get that thought? he asked, astonished.
I don't knowonly my mother would 'a' been happy in Texas if she'd
been born there. But she wasn't, and she wanted her old home till she
She wanted her old home till she diedit was only a sentence, yet
the quiet pathos of it bared to him the tragedy of that mother's exile.
Never a great city, daughter, he advised. Stay here, menaced by
Indians, among rough men and women, with storms and toil besetting you,
but never go to a great city. It is close and dirty and paved, and in
it no man may fill his lungs with pure air, or touch his feet to God's
In cities, questioned Dallas, but in a low tone, as if she wished
no one to overhear; in cities, dodo the women dress like me? She
raised herself a little, though without disturbing Marylyn, so that he
might see her plain, collarless waist and straight, scant skirt.
He gave her a smilea smile as rare and transforming as her own.
She had allowed him a glimpse of her suppressed girlishness. Would
that they did, my daughter, he answered.
I mean in cities likelikeBismarck, she said, a trifle
Perhapssomeehlet me see. He was perplexed. He saw the eager
light in her face; saw that, for some reason, she was striving to
compare herself with the women of the settled districtsand to learn
from him the very things she had feared might bring dissatisfaction
with her life. He did not wish to teach discontent. He would not tell
an untruth. So he created a diversion by taking up his ulster and
searching in a capacious pocket.
But theytheydon't plow.
David Bond brought forth a limp and battered Bible. No, he said;
no, theythey don't plow.
Ah! She looked into the fire. Of a sudden, two memories had
returnedone, of the passing musicians, with their nudging and
insolent smirks; the other, of a man who had leaned back in his saddle
and laughedafter all, perhaps, not at her name.
II suppose they're more like Marylyn, she faltered.
The evangelist adjusted his silver-bowed spectacles and smiled down
at her. And if they are, would it worry you, daughter?
She shook her head slowly, and looked away.
He turned his back, so that both lantern-and firelight could reach
his pages, and, opening the Book at random, began to read. The chapter
done, he turned round and glanced at her again. Her face was still
He rose to retire. She put Marylyn gently aside and rose with him.
Then, and not till then, did Dallas think of their dilemma of the
morning. The evangelist's coming and their talk together had caused her
entirely to forget about the trip to the land-office. However, swift on
its remembrance, came a comforting certainty in David Bond's sympathy
and aid. At once she told him of the necessity of her father's going.
Shadrach and I will start with him to-morrow, was his ready
response. He put out a hand to part the Navajo blankets. But an
unshaped thought made him pause. You will be alone.
Why, we're not afraid.
Brave girl! he said. Her confident answer drove away the moment's
vague uneasiness without its having taken the form or the connection he
might have given it.
Good-night, she called softly.
Good-night, daughter, he answered, and the swinging blankets met
CHAPTER VIII. BEFORE THE WARPED DOOR
The section-boss was thoroughly surprised and not altogether
delighted at being roused early the following morning with the news
that he could start at once for Bismarck. As Dallas' voice penetrated
the partition, he returned the only reply his ice-bound moustache and
goatee would permita muffled growl. She did not hear it, yet she knew
how he felt. The previous day, though a casual observer might have been
misled by his garrulous fretting over Ben's lameness, she was quick to
note, and with a pang, that, secretly, he was relieved. But her pain at
his laxity and indifference was not unmixed with pity. For to her
crippled father, whose crutches, in the snow, hindered rather than
helped him, she guessed how long and lonely and bitter cold seemed the
way to the land-office.
Yet it was something more than these aspects of the journey that
caused Lancaster to view it unfavourably. He knew that in another
thirty-six hours, when the original applicant's half-year was up, he,
and not the other, would have the clearer right to the quarter-section.
Therefore, he regarded the proposed declaration of abandonment, the
cancelling of the old entry and the filing of a new, as forms which
need not be gone through with hurriedly (since the first claimant had
undoubtedly disappeared for good and all), but which might be attended
to quite as well the coming spring, when the roads would be open and
the days warm. Confident of his perfect security on the peninsula, and
possessed by a sneaking, but denied, abhorrence for rush and
discomfort, he rejoiced at delay. So, having left his snug bed to
fumble about in the dark for his clothes, and, these donned, having
loosed his speech before the grateful blaze in the fireplace, he did
not argue fatigue or freezing as an excuse for procrastination; he
passed over these rather too briefly and enlarged upon his safe status
as a settler.
All bosh, he asserted as he watched Dallas and Marylyn busy with
preparations for breakfast. A hull regiment of soldiers couldn' put us
offen this lan', t' say nothin' of a man thet ain't done a thing on it
sence he took it up. Ah might jes' as well stay home.
But he found that Dallas was firm on the question of his
goinghaidstrong, he termed itand would not even pause for a
discussion. She had risen early to feed the occupants of the
lean-toShadrach in particular; next, with a promise of rest later on,
she had awaked Marylyn. Formerly, the younger girl would have persisted
in questioning her about the proposed journey, and in knowing its
purpose. Now, however, her interest in it, like that in most things,
was so small that she appeared totally indifferent, and went about her
work silently. Despite the fact that this somewhat revived Dallas'
anxiety over her sister, the elder girl felt freshly strengthened in
spirit. In all her twenty years of life no other morning had, like this
one, promised her so much happiness.
When the evangelist emerged and, after a sojourn in front of the
hearth, joined the family at table, Lancaster pined to ask him what he
thought of their braving the elements foolishly. Not that the
section-boss esteemed his aged guest. On the contrary, Dallas' evident
interest in the stranger had stirred the unnatural jealousy in her
father's wizen brain. Already, he hated David Bond, and had set him
down for a crank. But Dallas needed a lesson. It was all very well for
her to do the outside duties as if she were a man; that did not
privilege her to ride roughshod over his opinions, or to rule affairs
in general with a heavy hand. However, he found no opportunity for
questions. She, reading impatience and mutiny in her father's every
glance, kept up throughout the meal an unwonted flow of talk.
Dad, she said, covering his plate with a crisp hot-cake for the
dozenth time, I haven't told Mr. Bond all about the claimall the
reasons why we want him to take you to Bismarck;the section-boss
grunted at the weso you please tell him as you're going along. And
don't let your coat get unbuttoned, or your ears froze. I heated some
big rocks for the bottom of the sleigh and some little ones for your
pockets. You'll both weigh so much that Shadrach can't run away if he
wants to, and you can't fall out into a drift.
Not a word from the others checked her cheery stream of comment.
However, breakfast past, and Dallas in the lean-to, David Bond managed
to make a declaration. It was when he saw Lancaster take down the
Sharps from its pegs by the mantel. That should stay behind, he said,
touching the rifle. We are leaving your helpless girls alone. At least
they should have something for defence.
Lancaster instantly agreed, observing to himself that the
evangelist, after all, had some common sense. Shore, he replied,
Ah'll put th' gun back an' we'll take yourn.
But he was corrected with severity. I carry no weapons, sir, said
David Bond. I stand for peace.
Then th' gun goes, declared the section-boss. The gals was alone
before 'thout it. They was no snow on th' groun' then, an' a heap more
chance of someone comin'. They ain't no danger. An' ef Ah take th' gun,
mebbe Ah c'n git a deer on th' way back. We need th' meat.
The evangelist considered a moment. Very well, he said; but I
would advise differently.
Aw, shucks! retorted the other, struggling with his coat.
A moment later, his irritation was increased. At the same time the
visitor unknowingly covered himself forever with suspicion. Through the
frosty air and the darkness rang out the first trumpet blast from
Brannon. And, as if totally unconscious of the action, David Bond
reached up and bared his head.
I love that summons, he said; it bids our good lads wake and do
Lancaster was not unmindful of the courtesy due a guest. But any
reference to patriotism was offensive, and he had been particularly
provoked. So, behind the broad shoulders of the other he disdainfully
turned up his nose.
They were off at last, with Marylyn watching them from a window, and
Dallas walking alongside for a few rods to say good-by and to pat
Shadrach's bony, white flanks encouragingly. Morning was stealing up
the dun east, yet overhead the stars were shining. And their near
radiance, reflected upon the snow, coupled with the light of the slowly
growing dawn, made it possible for the girls to follow the travellers'
straight course for miles. But long after Marylyn left the window, the
elder girl remained outside. The dun of the east was painted out with
uprushing waves of pink. The stars sank back into the heavens, grew
smaller and dimmer, and, one by one, disappeared. Finally, a yellow
rind, haloed in mist, was thrust above the level of the prairie. As
Dallas greeted it, the distant ridge of a snow-drift, rose-tinged like
the sky, hid the crawling speck that was the pung.
* * * * *
On his arrival behind David Bond, Nick Matthews had found that full
pockets were plentiful among the soldiery, and had promptly gone about
emptying them. Soon after entering The Trooper's Delight, he sat down
to a chip-piled table. His quarry surrounded him. And there he stayed
throughout the long night, wide-awake, sharp-witted, unwearied, adding
to his heap of coloured discs honestly and otherwise. Not until
reveille, a clarion warning, sent his fellow-players scurrying back
across the river, did he put his cards one side and throw himself down.
For, though a confirmed night-hawk, he needed a short nap to prepare
for some business that lay before him.
Babe, a direct contrast to his brother, being thick-necked, stumpy
and dark, had not failed to garner his share of the rich harvest. From
his station behind the long counter, which was made of four heavy
planks supported on barrels at either end, he had poured strange
mixtures into beer mugs and exchanged them for good government coin.
When he was not performing his part as bartender, he was scraping illy
timed tunes upon a fiddle.
It was he who was left in charge when, shortly after noon, his
brother awoke, swallowed some whisky and armed himself with a brace of
pistols. Then, with no word to the few loungers in the saloon, the
latter set out, following the road that led up the river to the
ferry-landing. At the cut, he climbed the bank at a leisurely pace and
continued his way eastward, making straight across the snow toward the
squat shack of the Lancasters.
His approach was instantly marked. Marylyn was once more at her
post, studying the square of landscape framed by a window. When he made
a quick figure on that landscape, she saw him, and called to Dallas.
Here's someone coming, she announced, inwardly glad at the
possibility of diversion.
Dallas hurriedly joined her. Who can it be? she asked.
The door was unbolted, the other window not fastened. Yet so far
were her thoughts from molestation that she left them so.
Going to ask him in? questioned Marylyn.
Not till I find out who he is.
They fell silent, conjecturing.
When Matthews reached the drift before the shack, he halted and
signalled for them to open their window. That attitude toward
themclearly he did not expect a welcomeat once roused Dallas'
Marylyn, she said, making as if to obey their visitor, draw the
bolt of the door.
The younger girl, quick to be alarmed, instantly did as she was
told, and Dallas then shoved the sash aside. Both girls looked from the
With all Matthews' hostile intent, it must be said that the moment
found him disconcerted. He had learned on arriving that the
section-boss had two daughters. The news did not alter his
determination one whit. Had anyone suggested such a thing, he would
have been moved to laughter. But now he noted the prettiness of the
younger girl, and a certain conceited desire to appear chivalrous,
which had earned him the title of Lady-Killer among his associates,
made him involuntarily spruce. He smiled ingratiatingly, and prepared
to launch into flowery speech whenhe met Dallas' grave, steady eyes,
and suddenly found himself at a loss for words.
How d' do, Miss? he said at last.
How d' y' do? she returned. In spite of herself her voice
That did not escape Matthews. He shamed his momentary embarrassment
and resolutely grappled the matter that had brought him. I want t' see
your old man, he said. It was a demand.
Dad can't see you to-day, she answered with ready caution. She
thought it best to keep from him, whoever he was, the knowledge of her
Huh! ejaculated Matthews, in an ugly tone. He came a few paces
nearer. I got t' see him, jus' th' same.
But you can't.
Ain't he t' home?
Marylyn pressed close to her sister. Tell him yes, she begged
Dallas hesitated. Then she answered. He's not home. Will you please
come againsome other time?
The gambler chuckled. My dear young lady, he said, his tone
the extreme of insolence, I can't come no other time. Th' business I
got t' do has got t' be done t'-day. I might as well tell you that my
name's MatthewsNick Matthews. This claim you're on is mine, an' I
mean t' have it. What's more, I mean t' have it t'-day.
Ah! Dallas was thinking fast. At her shoulder, aware all at once
that they were in danger, was Marylyn, clinging in pitiful terror.
Yes, added Matthews, as if that clinched the matter.
Dallas looked at him without speaking.
I jus' come from Dodge City, he went on. My intention is t' live
on my land all winter. I'm very sorrythis ironicallyyour
old man took th' trouble to build on it. He ought t' inquired about th'
claim before he done that. Butlong's it's all one with my
plans fer improvin'I don't see's I ought t' kick. He chuckled
again, and spat.
I know, and so does dad, said Dallas, that a man filed upon this
quarter-section in July. We didn't find it out, though, till long after
we built this house. We know his six months is almost up, too. But if
you're him, and even if you've got back only a few hours before it's
up, I'm willing, and I think dad'll be, for you to have the claim. But
you must pay for what we've done on it.
I never ast y' t' do anything on it.
That's so. But the law says
Aw, th' law be damned! I don't pay a cent!
Then I know dad won't leave.
Oh, you do.
Yes, very quietly.
Well, let me tell y', my dear, that you're dead wrong.
You're goin' t' git your duds an' grub t'gether right now; in half a'
hour, you leave this cabin.
At this, Marylyn began to sob.
Come, get a move on, ordered Matthews, threateningly. He knew that
if he wished to regain the land, there would be no time better than the
present. He began to walk up and down, flinging his arms about to start
Dallas turned to comfort Marylyn, putting an arm about her
protectingly. Hush! she said. Keep quiet, honey.
Oh, let's go! let's go! wailed the younger girl.
Matthews came forward again, and took out his watch, a large,
open-faced timepiece hung to a braided buckskin chain. Now, look
a-here, he said peremptorily; I don't want no more funny business.
This claim's mine. Your old man ain't got a solitary right to it. So
you got t' go. I'll give you jus' ten minutes. With this, he
resumed his pacing, comforting his beat with occasional draughts from a
Dallas strove hard to collect herself. I can't do anything till dad
comes, she called to him, finally. You want us to leave. Why, we
haven't got any place to go; and it's cold
Guess I know that, interrupted Matthews. I'm almost friz.
And you've got no right to ask us to go till you've paid for this
house and the wellandand my plowing.
I pay fer nothin' I don't see, and fer no hole in th' ground, he
said. And as far 's a place to go is concernedthis with a
leerthere's Shanty Town. Why, the boys'd be tickled t' death t' see
y'. Then there's allus room at the Fort when there's good-lookin' gals
in the fambly.
Dallas understood the insult. Her grey eyes flamed in her greyer
face. She slammed the window.
Matthews came near, so that his face all but touched the glass. Oh,
that don't do no good, my dear, he said, raising his voice. When I
get ready, I'll come in.
Marylyn had stilled her weeping to listen to him. Now, pallid with
fear, she threw herself upon her sister and again burst forth.
Dallas put her swiftly aside. The face that had been grey was now a
tense white. Her eyes were blazing. She sprang to the gun rack and put
up her arms.
But the pegs were empty!
CHAPTER IX. A HAND IN THE FUN
What under the shining sun! exclaimed Lounsbury, spilling ground
coffee into his boot-tops. He strode to the front of the store, the tin
scoop in his hand still held recklessly upside down. A pung was passing
the grocerya green pung drawn by a milk-white horse. On its
quilt-padded seat were two men. Above them, as they slowly proceeded,
sagged a high board cross.
Lounsbury glanced inquiringly about him. His neighbours were also
watching the strange sight. At the windows of the bunk-house opposite,
and at the openings of other buildings near, were many faces, wide with
good-natured grins. As Lounsbury turned to the travellers again his own
mouth curved in a smile.
But, all at once, he sobered. The pung was now so far away that the
backs of the men were presented to him; and between them, projecting at
a slant over the seat, were the curved tops of a pair of crutches.
Jocular opinions of the passers-by were being freely exchanged back
and forth; he paid no heed to them. The scoop dropped from his hand and
clattered upon the floor; he let it lay. Silent and troubled, unaware
of the demands of an insistent customer, he looked after the departing
At last, he acted. Without waiting even to put on his cap, he
started at a run up the street. His race, bareheaded, increased the
laughter of those who were still watching. They yelled to him
boisterously: Sic' 'em, Bud! Sell 'em somethin', John! Drag 'em
back an' skin 'em! But the storekeeper was deaf. Each yard made him
more certain of the identity of one traveller; his thoughts, as he
pursued, were of him. He gained rapidly on the pung. At the edge of the
camp, in the trough of a drift, he stopped it.
Lancaster spoke first, for Lounsbury was too spent. Wal? wal? he
Excuse me, panted the other, giving, in his eagerness, only a
glance at David Bond, excuse me, but I see you're headed from home. I
wonderedI thought maybe I could do a turn for the young ladies while
For a moment the section-boss did not reply. He was still smarting
over Dallas' generalship, and, if anything, was more disgusted and
rebellious than when he left the shack. So, in the brief pause, he gave
ready ear to the whispering of the yellow harpy. His lids lowered. His
You understand, I'm sure, Lounsbury hastened to say. I thought
they might be alone, that
Thank y', answered Lancaster, snapping out each word; thank y',
they is alone. An' you'll oblige me a damn sight by leavin' 'em
thet way. He settled himself in his seat. Git ap! he said to
Shadrach. The pung slipped slowly on.
Lounsbury was too taken aback either to follow or to retreat. For a
while, he stayed where he was, busily coining forcible phrases for the
relief of his mind. As he retraced his steps, the few who saw him were
discreetly silent. For the camp knew that there were rare moments when
it was best to give him a wide berth.
The interview in the trough of the drift was so brief that David
Bond was shut out of it. But had it been longerhad he been given a
chance to speakthe result might have been the same. The section-boss
had been mute all the way to Clark's. The fact that Dallas had told him
to relate the story of the claim was the strongest reason for his not
doing so. David Bond, therefore, was left in ignorance, and had no
means of connecting the evil companion of his journey north with the
fortunes of the Lancasters. So, as they left Lounsbury behind, he even
found some censure in his heart for the storekeeper.
You were quite right, he said, flicking Shadrach gently. That
young man should pay no visit to your daughters while you are absent.
Yet,he could not refrain from putting a reproof where it seemed
dueyet, I regret your manner of addressing him, your oath
Lancaster glared. Oh, you' gran'mother's tortoise-shell cat! he
said wrathfully. For several hours thereafter he added nothing to this.
Back in his store, Lounsbury was mixing brown sugar with white,
oolong tea with a green variety, and putting thread in the
pickle-barrel. Simultaneously, he was torturing himself: Had the
section-boss left home with no danger threatening? Butthe green pung
was undoubtedly bound for Bismarck. What was it that had suddenly made
him see the necessity of attending to the claim? Along with this came
self-arraignment: After all, he should have told Lancaster that a man
who claimed the quarter-section on the peninsula had been called from
Dodge City. Lounsbury had been certain that Matthews could not reach
Fort Brannon before the spring. But it had never occurred to him that
the section-boss would leave his girls alone! Now, he vowed that if any
harm befell Dallas and Marylyn, he had only himself to blame.
He buckled on his pistol-belt and padlocked the door. I don't care
whether the old man likes it or not, he declared aloud, I'm going
As he swung through the camp on his way to the corral, he saw one of
Old Michael's helpers coming toward him, picking his steps in the
slush. The man motioned, and held out a white something. It was an
envelope, grimy and unaddressed.
Lounsbury ripped it open and pulled out a written sheet.
der mr lunsbery [ran the note] mathuse com las nite in a
quere outfit with a krazy preecher the preecher i think is
at the landcasters but the other sunuvagun is her i hav a i
on him prity kold wether river sollid.
It was partly through the generous employment of his imagination
that the storekeeper was able to make out the scrawl, which, though not
signed, he knew to be the pilot's. That same imagination enabled him to
bring up numberless disturbingalmost terriblepictures.
The astonished helper gazed after him as he went tearing away in the
direction of the horse-herd. By jingo! he grumbled; twenty
milesand he didn't even say treat!
Soon Lounsbury's favorite saddler, urged on by a quirt, was kicking
up a path across the crusted drifts that Shadrach had so recently
surmounted. As the storekeeper cantered swiftly forward, a new question
presented itself to him: Was the preacher in league with Matthews,
and so was carrying the section-boss out of the way? He decided
negatively. He had given only a glance to Lancaster's companion, but
that, together with the passing glimpse from the store, had shown him a
venerable man whose piercing eyes held a pious light. He was no
scoundrel confederate. He was plainly but a brave, perhaps a fanatic
and foolhardy, apostle in the wilderness, and his calling had kept
Matthews from confiding in him.
While Lounsbury thus alternately tortured and eased his mind, he had
passed the sombre clump of cottonwoods where the Indian dead were
lashed, and was fast covering the miles that lay between the burial
boughs and Fort Brannon.
* * * * *
When the ten minutes he had allotted were past, Matthews made a
great show of putting away his watch and took a last pull at the whisky
flask. The bottle disposed of, he walked down the drift to the warped
door and rapped a staccato. No answer was returned. Again, he rapped,
and more imperatively than before. Again, no answer. He pushed back his
hat and applied an ear to the hole through which had hung the
lifting-string of the latch. Then he heard long, unfrequent sobs, like
those of a child who, though almost asleep, is yet sorrowing. Between
the sobs, punctuating them fiercely, sounded the prolonged sucking-in
Might as well stop y' bawlin' an' squallin', he called through the
latch-hole. Time's up!
Getting no reply, as before, he altered his tactics. First, shading
his face with his slim fingers, he looked in. He could not see the
girls. Dallas was close to the door and beyond the limit of his vision.
So was Marylyn, who, helpless with fright, half knelt, half lay,
against her sister. What he could see wasfrom the south windowthe
gaudy Navajo blankets forming two partitions of Lancaster's bedroom,
and, nearer, two partly filled sacks, some harnesses and the seat of a
wagon. The other window afforded a better view. Looks mighty
comfortable, he said as he contemplated it. There was a hearth with
its dying fire; in front of it were circling benches and a thick
buffalo-skin rug; above was a mantel, piled with calico-covered books;
a freshly scrubbed table stood in the farther corner beneath a
dish-cupboard, which was made of a dry goods box; to the left of
thishigh up on the log wallwere a couple of pegs.
It was these that finally riveted Matthews' attention and brought
him to a temporary halt. Got th' gun down! he exclaimed. On finding
that Lancaster was gone, he had decided not to produce a weapon. Now,
however, he quickly felt for one and dropped on all fours. That
biggest gal 'd no more mind pumpin' lead into me than nothin', he
declared, wagging his head wisely. I could tell that by the shine in
her eyes. He crawled around the corner.
Behind the lean-to, he came to several conclusions: It would be
useless to try to get in by either window; both were high and small;
the best spot for an attack was the door. Unless he was hard pressed,
he must not shoot; women were concerned, and the fort or Clark's might
be stirred to unreasonable retaliation in their name; for example,
there was that poor devil of a cow-puncher at Dodge who had been
riddled simply for slapping his wife.... Obviously, the shack must be
occupied without the shedding of blood. But what of his safety? I'll
jus' have t' chance it, he said, and hunted for something to use as a
Not a pole, not even a piece of board, could he find. A scarcity of
fuel before Squaw Charley began furnishing it had led to the burning of
every odd bit of timber. Disgruntled, but not discouraged, Matthews
crawled back to the front of the cabin and closely examined the door.
I thought so! he declared joyfully when he was done. Rain and snow
had swelled the thick boards of which it was built. But through the
narrow cracks between these, he saw that the transverse pieces on the
inside, like the four without, were only slender battens. If I can git
some of them cleats off, he said, I can bust in.
With a horn-handle knife he pried up the end of a batten until he
could get his fingers beneath it. Then he pulled, and it came away. A
light strip from side to side marked where it had been. Three times
more he pried and pulled, and the outer transverse pieces lay on the
snow. For the rest of his job Matthews had to depend on his shoulders.
Putting his knife in his pocket, he backed to the top of the nearest
drift. There he gathered himself together and, with a defiant grunt,
hurled himself headlong at the door. As it bent with the force of the
impact, a shriek rang out. Well satisfied, Matthews retreated and flung
himself forward a second time. The door cracked ominously; the inside
bolt rattled in its sockets. Anticipating a speedy entrance, Matthews
warmed to his task. And each time he fell upon the barrier, a weak moan
from within swelled to a cry of mortal terror.
And thena few feet behind him, a voice interrupteda
well-modulated voice, in an amused, ironical tone. Well, it said
slowly, I hope you're enjoying yourself.
Matthews whirled and reached for a weapon. He was too late. As he
swung it forward, the single eye of a revolver held his. Beyond was
A queer tremor ran around the storekeeper's mouth. His nostrils
swelled, and he wrinkled his forehead. Sorry, he said drily, but
it's my bead.
Sheer surprise, together with a lack of breath, made the other dumb.
Drop your gun, bade Lounsbury.
Matthews' right hand loosed its hold. His revolver fell, and slid,
spinning, to the bottom of the drift.
Now I know all you want to say, said Lounsbury. That this claim
is yours, that your six months ain't up, that Lancaster's jumped it,
and so on. But that won't excuse what you've tried to dobreak into
this house while these young women are alone. Besides, you haven't the
ghost of a right to this land. So you'll oblige me by keeping off it
from now on.
Matthews found his tongue. Who in hell are you? he demanded
Who am I? repeated the storekeeper, smiling down the revolver
barrel. Why, I'm St. George, and you're the dragon. He raised his
voice. Miss Lancaster! he called. Miss Lancaster!
A face appeared at a window, then a second. There were more cries,
but not of fear. The sash was pushed open. Dallas and Marylyn, the
younger girl still clinging to the elder, looked out.
It's all right, said the storekeeper, not taking his eyes from the
enemy. I'm here.
Dallas could not answer. But Marylyn, though exhausted, was fully
alive to their rescue. Her eyes, wide and tearful, were fixed upon
Oh, we're afraid! she cried plaintively; pa's gone, and we're
You needn't be, any more, he said reassuringly.
Matthews, under his breath, was cursing the self-contained man in
the saddle. Enraged at the storekeeper's interference, hot with
disappointment, he saw himself stood up like a tenderfoot. But his
caution prevailed. A certain expression in Lounsbury's eyes, a certain
square set to his jawthe very cues that guided the cattle-campmade
Look a-here, he said to Lounsbury, assuming a conciliatory manner.
Let's talk as one gent to another. These ladies is your friends. So
far, so good. But I has my rights, and I can prove that I slep' on this
quarter-section three times and
Lounsbury's face darkened. He was lightly ironical no longer. He
urged his mount forward. Don't argue with me, you infernal
blackguard, he said. You can prove anything you want to by a lot of
perjuring, thieving land-grabbers. Don't I know 'em! If you filed on
this claim you were hired to do it. You hadn't an idea of settling, or
building a home. You did it for speculating purposesnothing else. And
the law, I happen to know, is dead against that. You're a shark. But
your game won't work. These folks are going to stay in this shack and
on this Bend. And you be mighty careful you don't make 'em any
I'll git a Bismarck lawyer, declared Matthews.
Yes, and we'll tar and feather the shyster. What's more, I'll head
a bunch of Clark's boys, and we'll wipe Shanty Town off the face of the
Matthews raised his shoulders and put his tongue in his cheek.
You're mighty interested in these ladies, seems t' me, he said
The slur did not escape the storekeeper. It determined him to parley
no further. Hoist your hands! he commanded.
Matthews obeyed. His fingers were twitching.
The next command was curt. Mosey!
The other moved away. When he was beyond pistol range, he produced
his second revolver and waved it above his head. You jus' wait! he
shouted. You jus' wait! I'll fix y'!
Lounsbury returned him a mocking salute.
CHAPTER X. AN APPEAL TO HEADQUARTERS
As Matthews ceased his threatening and strode on, a new fear came
over Dallas. She leaned toward Lounsbury from the window. What does he
mean by 'fixing you'? she asked hoarsely.
The storekeeper was still watching riverward, and he answered
without turning his head. He means it's a case of shoot on sight, he
Then you mustn't go near himyou must go back to Clark's. Promise
me you will! I can take care of Marylyn till dad comes. If you got
Lounsbury threw one leg over the pommel and sat sideways for a
while, buckling and unbuckling his reins. When he spoke, it was very
gently, and again he did not look at her. Hadn't you better wrap up a
little? he suggested. It's cold.
She put a coat about Marylyn. It ain't right for you to make our
quarrel yours. You mustn't. I wouldn't have you hurt on our account for
anything. Her eyes beseeched him.
He glanced at her. It's worth a lot to know you feel that way, he
said slowly. ButI'm afraid I can't do what you want. It's your
safety that counts with me.
Marylyn's face had been hidden, to shut out the dread sight of
Matthews. Now she lifted it. She said nothing. But as if suddenly
smitten by a painful thought, she turned from Dallas to Lounsbury, from
Lounsbury to Dallas, questioningly, doubtfully. She drew to one side a
few steps, and stood alone.
The movement escaped the others. The storekeeper had slipped from
his saddle to pick up Matthews' revolver. And the elder girl, against
whom was setting in a tide of reaction, was struggling for composure.
She put out a trembling hand for the weapon.
Got a rifle, too, haven't you? he asked.
No. Dad took it.
Good Heavens! I'm glad I didn't know that coming down!
How'd you happen to come?
I saw the sleigh go by, and was sure something had scared your
father about the claim. So I didn't wait to black my boots.
Oh, it was a comfort to hear you, she said.
Was it? eagerly. He stepped toward her; then drew back.
Well,with a feeble attempt at humourI'd rather be a comfort than
a wet blanket. He had remembered that evil eyes were watching; that
his least move might subject Lancaster's daughters to the coarse
comment of Shanty Town. He dared not even remain out of his saddle. He
Oh, you're going to leave us! exclaimed Marylyn. She began to cry
But I'll be on the lookout every second, he declared. Miss
Dallas,he urged his horse up to the windowdon't think I'm idiot
enough to try to do up that saloon gang down there single-handed. If I
go to Shanty Town, it'll be because I have to. I won't go alone if I
can help it. First of all, I intend to see the Colonel over there, and
lay this matter before him.
But dad she began.
Got to do it, whether your father likes it or not. We're dealing
with a cutthroat. He knows this land's worth money.
And you can't tell what he'll do. He bent to her. That scoundrel
scared you, he said regretfully. You're ready to drop. Oh, yes, you
are! And it's my fault. I knew he might come any daythat he'd make
trouble. But I didn't believe he'd get here so soon, I
I'd given him up, she said.
You! You did know, then!
Quite a while ago.
Knew what? asked Marylyn, stopping her tears. Then, certain that
there was some awful secret behind it all, and that it was being kept
from her, she began to cry again.
Dallas soothed her, and explained.
Do you know when Matthews' six months is up? Lounsbury inquired.
To-night, at twelve.
To-night! Well, we've got to keep him off. He may try to establish
residence in a wickie-up.
But hasn't he a right? Can't he
He hasn't, and he can't. And if he comes this way after midnight,
I'll fix him for trespassing! He laughed.
I wish you wouldn't go to the Fort, though. You've heard dadyou
know how he feels.
I wouldn't go if I didn't have to. But the temperature's falling.
By sundown, they'll begin changing the sentries at Brannon every hour.
No one man could stay out even half the night. And this shack has to be
guarded till morning. I must get someone to relieve me.
I suppose you're right, she said reluctantly.
He brought the horse about. Is there anything I can do before I
go? he asked.
No. We've got everything but wood, and Charley brings us that.
Charley, repeated Lounsbury. Who's Charley?
She told him.
He seemed relieved. I'll look that Indian up, he said, and raised
his hand to his cap.
From the road, he looked round. Despite the distance, he could see
that the girls were where he had left them, and Marylyn's head was once
more pressed against her sister. The sight made him writhe in his
saddle, and wish he were as old as the river-bluffs themselves, that he
might go back and protect them. As he descended to the ice their two
faces rose before him: One, pretty and pale, with the soft roundness of
a child's, the blue eyes filled with all a child's terror and entreaty;
the other, pale, too,though upon it there still lingered the brown of
the summer sunbut firm of outline, its crown a heavy coil of braids,
its centre, eyes that were brave, steadfast, compelling.
The first picture blurred in remembering the second. God bless
her! he murmured. To think she knew all the time, and never cheeped!
At the shack, Dallas, too, was ponderingover a strange
contrariety: Their home was in danger, perhaps their very lives. Yet
the day had fulfilled its promise of the morningit was the happiest
in her life!
* * * * *
The ramshackle ferry-boat was firmly wedged in a dry-dock of ice on
the western side of the Missouri. As Lounsbury passed it, with his
horse following pluckily in spread-eagle fashion, he shouted for Old
Michael. But long before the river had floored, when it was edging and
covering only in the least swift places, the pilot had made his final
crossing, run the wheezy steamer, nose-in, against the bank, and
deserted her. So the storekeeper received no answering halloo. He was
disappointed. It was desirable to embroil as few as possible in the
Lancaster dispute. Old Michael, already a factor, was needed to act the
picketto fire a warning signal if Matthews left Shanty Town.
A substitute was found at the stables. The storekeeper, as he rushed
away after disposing of his mount, came upon Lieutenant Fraser, busily
roaching his own riding-animal, a flighty buckskin cayuse that no one
else cared to handle, and that was affectionately known in barracks as
the She-devil. The men had met before, around the billiard-table at
the sutler's, and Lounsbury had set the young officer down for a
chivalrous, but rather chicken-hearted, youngster, who had chosen his
profession unwisely. So, his story told, the storekeeper was altogether
surprised at Fraser's spirited enthusiasm and quick response.
I've nothing to do, old man, he said, as they went toward the
parade-ground. I can help as well as not. So just take your time. I'll
watch for you.
I hardly think our man'll show his nose before dark. But I can't
leave the way open
They parted at the flag-pole, the West Pointer going down to the
river, and Lounsbury hurrying off in the opposite direction.
Colonel Cummings' entry and reception-room were crowded when the
storekeeper entered. A score of officers were standing about in little
groups, talking excitedly. But Lounsbury was too anxious and distraught
to notice anything unusual. He hurried up to a tall, sad-faced man
whose moustache, thin and coarse, drooped sheer over his mouth, giving
him the look of a martyred walrus.
Can I see the K. O., Captain Oliver? he asked. It's important.
I'll find out, answered the captain. But I don't believe you can.
He's up to his ears. He disappeared into the next room.
Lounsbury bowed to several officers, though he scarcely saw them. He
heard Oliver's low voice, evidently announcing him, then the colonel's.
Yes, bring him in, cried the latter. Maybe he'll know.
The storekeeper entered without waiting. Colonel Cummings stood in
the centre of the room. It was the room known as his library, in
compliment to a row of dog-eared volumes that had somehow survived many
a wet bivouac and rough march. But it resembled a museum. In the
corners, on the walls beneath the bulky heads of buffalo and the
branching antlers of elk, there were swords, tomahawks, bows and
arrows, strings of glass wampum, cartridge belts, Indian bonnets, drums
and shields, and a miscellany of warlike odds and ends. To-day, the
room was further littered by maps, which covered the table, the
benches, and the whole length of an army cot. Over one of these hung
the colonel, making imaginary journeys with the end of a dead cigar.
He turned swiftly to Lounsbury, and caught him by the shoulders.
John, he said, before the other could speak, I need an interpreter.
You've been about here for yearsdo you know one?
There's Soggy, that Phil Kearney fellow
The colonel gave a grunt of disgust. In jail at Omaha, he said.
Played cards with a galoot who had some aces in his boot-tops. Plugged
What's the matter with your Rees?
That's just it! You see, that bunch of Sioux out therehe jerked
his head toward the stockadehelped in a bit of treachery two summers
ago. Rounded up some friendly Rees at a dance and scalped 'em.
Sothere's poison for you! In this business on hand I couldn't trust
even my head scout. He began pacing the floor. Anyway, sign language,
when there are terms to be made and kept, isn't worth a hang!
I wish I could suggest a man, said Lounsbury. Fact is, Colonel,
I'm terribly worried myself. I came to ask you for help in some
The old soldier threw up his hands. Trouble! he cried. Why I'm
simply daft with it! Look at that! He pointed to the farthest side of
It was dimly lighted there. Lounsbury stepped forward and peered
downthen recoiled, as startled as if he had happened upon something
dead. On the floor was a mana man whose back was bent rounding, and
whose arms and legs were hugged up against his abdomen and chest. Torso
and limbs were alike, frightfully shrunken; the hands, mere claws.
Lounsbury could not see the face. But the hair was uncovered, and it
was the hair that made him goose-flesh from head to heel. It was
whitenot the white of old age, with glancing tints of silver or
yellowbut the dead white of an agony that had withered it to the
roots. Circling it, and separating the scalp from the face and neck,
ran a narrow fringe that was still brown, as if, changing in a night,
it had lacked full time for completion.
Lounsbury could not take his eyes from the huddled shape. Colonel
Cummings paused beside him. This morning, he said, speaking in an
undertone, a sentry signalled from beyond the barracks. Two or three
men took guns and ran out. They found this. His clothes were stiff with
ice. He was almost frozen, though he had been travelling steadily. He
was utterly worn out, and was crawling forward on his hands and knees.
The ragged sleeves and trousers, stained darker from the wounds on
elbows and knees, were mute testimony. He couldn't see, continued the
colonel. He was snow-blind. They laid him out on a drift and rubbed
him. The surgeon did the rest. He begged to see me. They brought him
in, and he told his story. It's an old oneyou've heard it. But it's
always new, too. This is Frank Jamieson, a young
As he heard his name, the man stirred, straightened his legs and let
fall his arms. He looked up.
Young! gasped Lounsbury. Good God! The face was aged like the
Jamieson struggled weakly to his feet, using the wall to brace him.
Colonel Cummings hastened across and lent the support of an arm.
No, no, he protested. You mustn't talk. You're too weak.
But Jamieson did not heed. You an interpreter? he asked in a
You're too weak
No, I ain't; no, I ain't. If he'll go with us, I'm strong
enoughwhy, I shovelled snow on the special to Bismarckthat's how
they let me rideand skating home I didn't stop to rest
Yes, yes, my boy, we know.
I walked and walkedstraps brokeI forgot to tell youthat's why
I had to. But it didn't do any goodit didn't do any good! When I got
there As if to shut out some terrible sight, he screened his eyes
with one palsied hand, and sank back limply into Colonel Cummings'
arms. Lounsbury swept the cot clean of maps, and they laid him there.
His father was dead, said the commanding officer; deadand
naked, scalped, mutilated, full of arrows and rifle balls. The house
and barns were burned.
Jamieson put out his arms. My mother! he cried imploringly. My
poor little mother!
Lounsbury knelt beside him, feeling shaken and half sick.
If I could only 'a' been there! But I was 'way off at St. Paul. I
knew something was wrong when the letters stopped.
But you must buck up, Jamieson, said the colonel, so you can help
I will, oh, I will.
How'd you get down here? asked Lounsbury.
I didn't eat for a long time. I was crazy. The snow blinded me, and
I was hungry. But I didn't leave the riverI knew enough for
thatthey found me.
You think the women are alive, Colonel? asked the storekeeper.
Undoubtedly, and with the other half of the very band we've got
heresomewhere up in the Big Horn country. He took a turn up and down
May I ask your plan?
We are in fine shape to talk terms to the captors. I'll send a
command to them, demanding the women. If they are not surrendered, I'll
hang four of the redskins I've got here, Lame Foot, the medicine-man,
and Chiefs Standing Buffalo, Canada John, and Shoot-at-the-Treeall
ringleaders. Then the rest of the band will be put on a reservation. If
the Jamieson women are alive, and they send 'em in, I won't hang the
When'll the command start?
Three hours after we get an interpreter. I've sent word up to
Custer at Lincoln. But the delay! Think what it means to those women!
It was about two women that I wished to speak, said Lounsbury. He
felt apologetic, however, the one danger was so trifling beside the
Colonel Cummings listened. Those girls had better come here, he
said, as the storekeeper finished. Then they'd be safe enough. I
remember seeing one of 'em the day we got back. She was a fine-looking
There are two arguments against their coming, sir. For legal
reasons, it's best they should not vacate the shack or leave the
And, again, the father iswell, he's rather sore about the war.
You don't say!
So, if you could give me a couple of men to take my place now and
then during the nightthe situation is temporary, you see, the
father'll be back in a few days.
There are very strong reasons against my acting in the matter. I'm
here to keep an eye on Indians. The settlers are expected to go to the
civil authorities when they have quarrels. Now, I'd like to mix up with
Shanty Town, for instance. Our guard-room is jammed with men who've
been drugged over there with vile whisky. Yet I can't. I can only
punish my men.
I know that's so.
Of course, I shan't see defenceless women suffer
Lounsbury was piqued. Not altogether defenceless, Colonel. But I
can't stay at the shack
True, true. Why not ask Mrs. Martin, Major Appleton's sister, to go
over. Then you might guard from the barn, if they have one.
That's a splendid suggestion, sir. It would solve the difficulty.
I'd be glad to speak to Mrs. Martin about it. He thought a moment,
passing a hand over his clean-shaven face. You'd have to be relieved
even then, John, I should think.
Not at all.
But you might. In that case He drew Lounsbury close, and spoke
with his lips to the storekeeper's ear. But you understand, he said
aloud as he concluded, that I know nothing about it. If I hear of it,
I shall be very displeased, very.
Lounsbury was wringing his hand, and ready to bolt.
All the same, John, I wish the civil authorities could get at the
I wish so, too. He leaned over Jamieson.
Good luck! said Colonel Cummings, going back to his maps.
And just at that moment, as Lounsbury swung round on his heel, there
rang out from the river a single pistol-shot. It echoed sharply against
the barracks and went dying away upon the bluffs.
CHAPTER XI. A LITTLE STRATEGY
Fraser's shot drew many eyes to the river. For, in the winter time,
any occurrence, however trifling, could get the instant attention of
the lonely garrison. Troopers in various stages of dress came tumbling
out upon the long porch at barracks; others looked from the many
windows of the big frame structure; the washer-women and their hopefuls
blocked the doorways of Clothes-Pin Row; officers everywhereat
headquarters, at the sutler's, in their homesand their wives and
families, up and down the Line, remarked the signal. But when
Lounsbury brought up beside Fraser, and the two seemed to be occupying
themselves with nothing in particular, the onlookers laid the shot to
an over-venturesome water-rat, and so withdrew from their points of
What is it? was the storekeeper's first breathless demand.
The young officer, hands on hips, nodded straight ahead. You see
those willows just below the cut? he asked. Well, there's a queer,
black bunch in 'em.
Yes. Is it a man?
I think so.
Come on, then. Maybe he's aiming for the coulée mouth, so's to
sneak up to the Lancasters' from behind.
They charged away across the mile of ice.
If it's Matthews, why didn't he wing me as I went by, panted
Look, look! cried Fraser. Now, he's moving!
They stopped to loosen their revolvers, after which they started
The tops of the willows were shaking. Presently, they spread
outward, and the black bunch lengthened. Then it emerged, and was
resolved into a blanketed Indian.
Charley! exclaimed the officer. As he spoke, the outcast,
shouldering a bundle of sticks, began to climb the cut.
The two men looked at each other and burst into a laugh.
Fraser, said Lounsbury, did you ever hear of the fellow that
stalked a deer all day and then found it was a speck on his glasses?
That's one on me, admitted the lieutenant, sheepishly. I knew
nobody had come out of that doorbut you see we were in the stable a
'Charley,'that squaw Indian they told me about, eh? Pretty good
Yes. From what I understand, they're pretty good to him.
They followed leisurely, and took up a stand in the cottonwoods
above the landing to discuss the situation. At the very outset,
Lounsbury determined not to speak of the plan that included Mrs.
Martin's aid, the rebuff he had suffered from the section-boss having
decided him against it.
By George! he said regretfully, I wish when I had Matthews
covered that I'd just marched him up the coulée and on to Clark's.
Good idea; too bad you didn't.
But I'll tell you this: I'm not going to stay out here all night
just to shoo him off. I've a good mind to happen in down there, sort
him out, and do the marching act anyhow.
Now, look here, reminded Fraser; that wouldn't do. You don't want
to kill Matthews, and you don't want to be killed. It'd be one or the
other if you poked your nose in there.
What do you advise?
Lie low till you see a good opportunity. I think the chap'll come
But suppose he doesn't?
You'll have to stay here, that's all. I'll divide the watch with
Oh, I don't like to ask you to do that, old man. We ought to be
able to think up some kind of a scheme.
The sun was fast declining. Soon it disappeared behind the
river-bluffs, when the boom of the evening-gun swelled the last note of
Fraser sighed. The trumpet had suggested a certain dire possibility.
I don't care for the cold, he declared, butbutruefullydo
you suppose the K. O.'ll give me more than a month in quarters for
this? There's that dance at the Major's next week; I'd like awfully to
go. If I'm under arrest, I can't. And who'll feed my horse and my
Some sassy sergeant'll shoot your fiend of a nag, said the
storekeeper, and the rattlers'll be requested to devour one another.
When that's over, I'll break it gently to you (and you must be mum)
that the K. O. is disciplining you simply to keep his face. He
knowssuggested it himselfthat I'm to be helped out by some of you
Well, that's better! returned Fraser, relieved. And while they
walked back and forth, he launched into a defence of his pets.
'Fiend of a nag,' he quoted. Why, Buckskin's a tactician; knows
what the trumpet says better than I do.
Night settled swiftly. Despite Lounsbury's prophecy, the temperature
was not unbearable. The wind died with the glow in the west, leaving
the air so still that, to the watchers among the trees, sounds from
Brannon mingled distinctly with the near laughter and talk of Shanty
Town. No moon rose. Only a few stars burned their faint way through the
quickly hidden rents of the sheltering cloud-covering that, knitting
here, breaking there, again, overlapping in soft folds before an urgent
sky breeze, swagged low above the ground.
With darkness, the two left the grove for the ledge upon which was
Shanty Town, and stationed themselves where they could still see
whoever went in or out of The Trooper's Delight. Matthews did not
appear. Numerous men in uniform did. They made noisy exits, and went
brawling along to other shanties; they skulked out of the willows,
flitted across the bit of snow-crusted beach below the saloons, and
scrambled up to hurry in.
When two hours or more had gone by, the storekeeper grew impatient.
He walked back and halted in the inky shadow of the wall down which
Nick Matthews had tobogganed. From there, he pointed to a shaft of
light that was falling upon the north side of the second shanty in the
street. It was from an uncurtained, south opening in the first.
You see that? asked Lounsbury. Well, I'm going over there to look
in. How do we know he hasn't given us the slip, someway?
Let's be careful, said the lieutenant. A proper amount of caution
isn't cowardice. If you're seen, the whole pack'll set on you.
I will be careful, but I'm not going to
That's all very nice, only you must consider the stripe of man
you're dealing with
I can roll a gun, Fraser.
But, Jupiter! This chap isn't going to fight you in the open. He'll
use Indian tacticsfact is, he was raised among 'em.
What's that? asked Lounsbury.
Raised among 'em, I saidwith the Sioux.
Speaks the tongue, then? For some reason, the storekeeper seemed
At that, Lounsbury was off, making straight for the entrance of the
building they had been watching.
Fraser went tearing after, and not far from the door managed to stop
For Heaven's sake! he gasped. What's struck you?
Fraser, said Lounsbury, did you hear that the Colonel wanted an
Exactlygreat Scott! The storekeeper set off again.
Hold on. Fraser caught his arm. Your scheme's all right, but you
can't impress the man. He's got to go of his own accord.
Hm! that's so.
What you suppose he'll say if you rush in there and ask him to
please go away on this long trip and leave your friends serenely in
possession of the land?
I wouldn't say 'please'but you're right. Let's take a look
through that window.
Fraser assented. Shoulder to shoulder, they tiptoed forward and,
keeping out of the shaft of light, viewed the scene within.
It was a busy one, and well bore out the inviting legend of the
shingle sign. Along the plank bar, the troopers were thickly ranged,
smacking their lips in delight over greasy glasses. Beyond them was a
squint-eyed man who trotted untiringly to and fro, mixing and pouring.
Nearer was the stove, its angular barrel and widespread legs giving it
the appearance of some horrid, fire-belching animal.
An unbroken circle of men surrounded it, hats on, rawhide-bottomed
chairs tilted back to an easy slant. From their pipes and cigars smoke
rose steadily and hung, a blue mist, against the sloping rafters of the
There was little talking in the circle. Two or three were asleep,
their heads sagging on their necks with maudlin looseness. The others
spoke infrequently, but often let down their chairs while they spat in
the sand-box under the stove, or screwed about in the direction of the
gaming-table. Among these was Old Michael. He sat nearest the door, a
checkerboard balanced on his knees, his black stub pipe in its toothy
vise. And when he was not feeding the stove's flaming maw with broken
boxes, barrel-staves and green wood, his blowzy countenance was
suspended over the pasteboards he was thumbing in a game of solitaire.
The two outside went under the shaft of light and peeped into the
rear of the room. There was Matthews, one of five at a square table. A
cigar-box partly filled with coin and chips was before him. In front of
the other players were other chip-piles. About the five, hanging over
them, almost pressing upon them, were a number of troopers. Two or
three were idle onlookers. But the majority were following with excited
interest every turn of the cards.
Wretches being plucked of their good six months' pay, whispered
Looks like they're in for all night, Lounsbury returned.
But the officer was pinching him. Sh! See there!
A half-drunken trooper was interrupting the game. He had reeled
forward to the table, and seemed to be addressing himself to Matthews,
who, as he answered, glanced up indifferently. The trooper continued,
emphasising his words by raising a clenched fist and striking the board
The chip-piles toppled. He turned to those about, gesticulating. A
few surrounded him, evidently bent on leading him toward the door.
Others appeared to be continuing the dispute with Matthews. But as the
disturber was pushed out, they gradually subsided.
I've got an idea, announced the storekeeper. And he disappeared
around a corner.
When he returned he was leading the trooper and talking low to him.
All three retired to the shadow of the wall.
Here there was a colloquy. First, Lounsbury held forth; next, the
trooper, protestingly. When the lieutenant broke in, two phrases were
frequently repeatedto the guard-house, and won't if you will.
At last the three went back to the window.
Remember, cautioned the storekeeper, we don't want all these
shebangs stirred up.
Needn't worry, said Fraser. Just listen to that rumpus down
The disjointed music of a wheezy accordion was rending the night.
With it sounded the regular stamp of feet.
Now, the trooper rounded the corner. A moment and, through the
window, Lounsbury and the officer saw him enter the door.
He slipped down to a seat beside Old Michael. There he stayed for a
while. Whenever a brother trooper looked his way, he called him up by
the crooking of a finger and whispered to him. Before long a knot of
men had again surrounded him. But this time their attention was all for
the table at the rear of the room.
There the game was going on. Matthews' chip-pile showed where the
winnings were gravitating. In the dim light there was a strained look
on the faces of the players.
Deal after deal passed. Finally, one of the five, having no more
disks before him, pushed back his chair and got up.
As he stood, dazed and dismayed, the trooper who had been ejected
appeared at his side, clapped him upon the back and spoke. At their
elbows was the knot that had gathered at the stove.
The next moment the trooper turned to the table and snatched the
pack of cards from Matthews' hand. He held up one, pointing at its
back; snapped it down; pointed at a second, then scattered the pack in
Lounsbury and Fraser whipped round the corner and in through the
An uproar greeted themCheat! Clean him out!
Do him like Soggy did! Before them was a jostle of blue backs.
Across these, on the farther side of the plank bar, they saw Matthews,
facing the crowd. His left hand held the cigar-box against his chest,
his right was up and empty.
Hold on, boys! It was Lounsbury.
As if he had caught a cue, the foremost trooperhe who had been the
disturbing elementrepeated the cry, and directed the eyes of his
comrades to the door.
There was a sudden lull. The men in blue wavered. Here and there, a
revolver was covertly returned to place.
Lounsbury pushed forward to the stove, Fraser beside him. Hold on,
boys, he said again, and pointed at Matthews; hold onI've got a
message for that man.
The lull became a dead silence. To the troopers, the sight of
shoulder-straps was discomfiting. For the officer at once became the
personification of the guard-room, chilly, poorly bedded, and worse
provisioned, of all places the one to be dreaded in raw weather. To
Matthews, the interruption was welcome. His right hand slowly lowered
to join its mate.
I'm going to ask you to call your little differences with that
gentleman off, continued Lounsbury.
Matthews fairly blinked. The storekeeper's voice was soft,
Mr. Fraser and I have come to say that Mr. Matthews is wanted to
serve as interpreter for Colonel Cummings.
Interpreter? queried Matthews.
A bullet-head made itself visible from behind a barrel. Don't let
him bluff y', Nick, called a voice.
The other looked round. Shut y' fly-trap, Babe, he commanded.
Thank you, said Lounsbury, pleasantly, interpreter is right. Two
white women are held as captives in an Uncapapa camp somewhere west of
here. It's been learned that you understand and speak the tongue. So,
we present Colonel Cummings' compliments. He would like very much to
have a talk with you at Brannon.
It was a solution to Matthews. Yes? Yes? he said approvingly; then
hesitated in suspicion as he measured the storekeeper.
Oh, I guess I don't want to be no interpreter, he said.
Lounsbury smiled. Just as you say, just as you say.
Boys,cheerilysorry if I cut in at the wrong time. Don't let us
stop your fun. Mr. Fraser is not here officially.
A murmur ran around. The disturbing trooper advanced toward Matthews
Up went Matthews' hand again. Jus' a minute, he said.
The trooper quieted.
Matthews turned to Fraser, mustering an expression of importance.
Lieutenant, he said, you give me your word this is sothat there
ain't no put-up job about it?
Put-up job? Fraser reddened, keeping a straight face with
difficulty. I give my word, he said solemnly, that you're wanted as
interpreter, and that I'll conduct you safely to headquarters.
Matthews put down the cigar-box and saluted.
Word of an officer, he said, is different. And if I can do
anythin'long's it's ladies
He reached to a shelf for his hat.
CHAPTER XII. A CONFESSION
That night, after Squaw Charley had come and gone, Dallas returned
from the lean-to, where she had fed and bedded Simon and the team, to
find Marylyn lying before the hearth, her face flushed and wet with
tears. Instantly, all concern, the elder girl knelt beside her.
Marylyn, she begged, smoothing the soft, unbraided hair spread out
upon the robe, Marylyn, what's the matter?
A long sob.
Why, dear baby, don't you fret. We're going to be all right. Dad'll
soon be back, Mr. Lounsbury's watching, and we won't lose the little
Oh, it ain't that, it ain't that, weeping harder than before; I'm
It was an answer that smote Dallas to the heart. Some trouble,
heretofore concealed, was threatening her sister's peace of mind. And
she had not discovered it in time, had not prevented it, had not
shielded her as she ought.
Marylyn, honey, tell me what's the matter.
The younger girl crept closer, screening her eyes.
Dallas lifted her into her arms. Her cheek was feverish, her hands
were dry and hot.
Sudden terror seized the elder girlthe old terror that had
fastened upon her through all the years of her mother's failing.
Marylyn, she said huskily, do you feel thatthat you're not as
well as you was? are you afraid you'll be sick likemother?
There was an answering shake of the head.
Dallas pressed her close, murmuring her thankfulness, whispering
broken endearments. Oh, Dal's so glad! She couldn't stand it if her
baby sister was to suffer. Oh, honey-heart! honey-heart!
But Marylyn was not comforted.
Listen, bade Dallas. In all your life have you ever asked me to
do anything that I didn't do? or to give you anything that I didn't
give you if I could? And now something's fretting you. I can't think
what it is. But you got to tell me, and I'll help you out.
I don't care what it is, I won't blame you; if it's something
wrong,why, it couldn't be,I'll forgive you. You know that,
Again, No, no, but with less resistance.
Tell me, said Dallas, firmly.
Marylyn looked up. You'll hate me if I do, she faltered.
The elder girl laughed fondly. As if I could!
You promise not to tell pa?
Course, I promise.
Oh, Dallas! She buried her face in her hands. It'sit's that
II like him! I like him!
A moment of perplexity. Then, gradually, it dawned upon the elder
girl whom the other meant. In very surprise her arms loosened their
You do hate me, Marylyn said plaintively.
No, honey, nowhy should I hate you? Her words were earnest. But
her voicesomething had changed it. And she felt a strange hurt, a
vague hurt that seemed to have no cause.
Marylyn raised herself on an elbow. He liked meonce, she said.
He showed it, just as plain. It was right here, that day the
cattle went by.
Dallas got up. She had begun to tremble visibly; her breath was
coming short, as if she had been running.
But the younger girl did not notice. He stayed away so long, she
went on. Then, to-day when he cameyou remember, Dallas,he just
said a word or two to me, and laughed at me because I was afraid.
Andand I saw that I was wrong, and II sawhe likedyou.
Me! Dallas turned. She felt the blood come driving into her
face. She felt that strange hurt easeand go in a rush of joyful
feeling. Then, she understood the cause of itand why she had
trembledwhy that day had been the happiest of her life.
Of a sudden she became conscious that Marylyn's eyes were upon her
with a look of pathetic reproach. She began to laugh.
Nonsense! honey, she said. Don't be silly! Me! Why, he'd never
like a great big gawk like me!
Me, with my red hairyou know it is kinda redand my face,
sunburned as a' Indianhands all calloused likelike a man's. She
turned back to the dusk through the window. Oh, no, not me.
But you looked so funny just now.
Did I? Did I? Dallas stammered out her reason: Wellwell, that
was becausebecause I thought you was going to say it was a soldier.
She laughednervously. But it was Mr. Lounsbury you meant, honey,
The suspicion that had troubled the mind of the younger girl was
allayed. Why, Dallas, how could you think such a thing about me! Like
a soldier? My, no! It was Mr. Lounsburybut he don't like me.
She got up and went to the foot of her father's bunk. When she
reappeared, she was carrying the soap-box that held her belongings. On
the robe once more, she took out and held up to the light of the fire
two books and a strip of beaded cloth.
The elder left the window and stood beside her.
These are what he gave me, went on Marylyn, putting forward the
books. And thisshe showed the beadworkhe asked me to make for
him. But to-day, mournfully, he didn't even speak of it.
Dallas leaned down and touched her lips to the other's hair. Baby
sister, what did you expect him to do? Hold up a man with one hand
andand reach out for a present with the other?
Marylyn put away the box. Anyway, he don't like me.
Like you? Why, he couldn't help it. There isn't a sweeter, prettier
girl on the prairies than my little house-keeper.
He called me the prairie princess, declared Marylyn, but with
Now, that shows, said the elder girl. Don't you worry another
second. When he comes again, you'll see.
So Dallas soothed and comforted her until she fell asleep, when she
lifted her to her father's bed and covered her carefully. Then she drew
aside a swinging blanket to let the firelight shine throughand saw
that there were still tears on her sister's face.
CHAPTER XIII. A PROPOSAL AND A
The medicine lodge of the Indians stood just within the
sliding-panel of the stockade. Thirty poles, their tops lashed together
so as to leave a smoke-hole, their bases spread to form a generous
circle, supported a covering of tanned buffalo hides seamed with
buckskin thongs. Here, barely an hour after Matthews' arrival at Fort
Brannon, Squaw Charley entered hastily and thrust some red coals under
a stick-pile at the centre of the lodge. And at once, by the flickering
light of his fire, the warriors of the band entered the low entrance
and seated themselves in a semicircle.
When Colonel Cummings learned that an interpreter had been found, he
promptly ordered the completion of preparations for the Jamieson
expedition, and the calling of a council, unsatisfactory, but
necessary. The redskins jailed in the stockade must know both the
object of the trip and his terms, so that they, realising their peril,
would reveal the whereabouts of the winter camp of the hostiles.
His interview with Matthews threatened a change in his plans. The
latter, having listened to the story of the captured women and to the
scheme for their rescue, astonished the commanding officer by declining
absolutely to take the proposed journey.
I'd like t' be obligin', he said, but I can't go. I didn't know
there was goin' t' be any travellin'. There's business that'll keep me
Why, man! cried the colonel, I've made you a good offer.
I ain't a-sayin' y' didn't, was the curt answer.
Colonel Cummings knew to what business he referred; but realised
that a discussion of it would not aid in bringing the desired consent.
He pretended to guess at reasons for the refusal.
There's scarcely a possibility of trouble during the journey, he
said. Indians don't like to fight in the snow, especially when their
families are with them and their war-ponies are feeding on cottonwood
bark. Besides, their head chief will be sharp enough to see that he'll
have to treat and not fight if he wants to save the necks of his
favourites. Then, as far as the safety and comfort of my men are
concerned, everything is being done. Better reconsider, Matthews.
Can't do it.
Colonel Cummings left his library, where he had been talking, and
sought Lounsbury's advice. The two held a short, whispered conversation
in the entry.
Let me have a few words with him, said the storekeeper. Matthews'
balking was not altogether a surprise. Nevertheless, it was a keen
disappointment. He had hoped to be able to send Squaw Charley across
the river soon with good news. Let me see him. Maybe I can bring him
They entered the library.
Matthews, began Lounsbury, you might as well go along. If you
stay, you can't get a hold o' that claim. He looked at the colonel's
clock. It's midnight. Your six months are up. If you did have a
chance, it's gone. Possession's nine points in law, and Lancaster's up
at Bismarck nailing the tenth.
If the storekeeper's blunt assertions were of any particular
interest to the other, he failed to show it. He occupied himself with
finding a cigar, cutting it carefully, and lighting it at the stove.
Then he turned about to Colonel Cummings, his glance, as it travelled,
utterly ignoring Lounsbury.
Not to mention the risks you run with the boys, added the
storekeeper easily, amused by the play of indifference.
Oh, I guess Shanty Town can take keer of itself, observed
Matthews, sending up smoke rings.
Lounsbury walked out.
There was but one thing left for Colonel Cummings to do: Ask this
man to interpret in the Medicine Lodge, that at least the Indians might
learn their position. Knowing it, they might be prevailed upon to
select one of their own number to accompany the expedition and repeat
the terms. The commanding officer, rather provoked at Lounsbury, who,
he thought, had harmed, and not helped, his cause, immediately
suggested this course to Matthews.
I can parley-voo for you there, all right, agreed Matthews,
patronisingly. But how you goin'?
You and I, alone.
Matthews stared. Carry any guns? he asked.
Not when I go into the stockade. The Indians are without weapons.
And I like to show them that I trust them.
The other laughed. You go t' tell some redskins that they's goin'
t' be strung up, and y' don't take no gun. Well! not for me,
Then, we'll have a guard.
O. K. I'm with you.
A scout who understood the sign language was despatched to the
stockade. And by the time the braves were settled down before the
blaze, Colonel Cummings, Matthews, and a detail of armed men were
before the aperture of the Medicine Lodge.
The soldiers waited outside the big wigwam, where they made
themselves comfortable by moving up and down. Their commanding officer
and the interpreter went in. At their appearance, the warriors rose
gravely, shook hands, and motioned the white men to take seats upon a
robe placed at Lame Foot's left hand. The air in the place was already
beginning to thicken with kinnikinick and fire smoke; the mingled smell
of tobacco and skins made it nauseating. Colonel Cummings would gladly
have hurried his errand. But Indian etiquette forbade haste. He was
forced to contain himself and let the council proceed with customary
and exasperating slowness.
The first step was the pipe. A young Sioux applied a burning
splinter to a sandstone bowl and handed the long stem to the
medicine-man. His nostrils filled, he gave the pipe to Colonel
Cummings, from whom, in turn, it passed to Matthews, Standing Buffalo,
Canada John, and thence along the curving line of warriors. When all
had smoked, the bowl was once more filled and lighted, and once more it
was sent from hand to hand. Not until this ceremony had been repeated
many times did the council come to speech.
But neither the commanding officer nor his interpreter made the
first address. Though the braves guessed that something unusual had
brought about an assembly at this hour, and though their curiosity on
the subject was childishly live, they surpassed their captor in
patience. Stolidly they looked on while Lame Foot rose to his feet.
The war-priest was not the figure that had led the band south after
the battle; not the haughty, stately brave that the sentimentalist
loves to picture. He was feathered and streaked as before. A stone
mallet hung from his belt. But he wore no string of bears' claws. They
had gone the way of the sutler, which was a tasty way, strewn with
bright-labelled, but aged, canned goods. And as for his embroidered
shirt, it was much soiled and worn, and he had so gained in
weightthrough plentiful food and lack of exercisethat he pressed
out upon it deplorably with a bulging paunch.
Pompously, but using no gestures or inflections, he began a
rambling, lengthy account of his past deeds of valour. From these he
finally swerved to the recital of his people's wrongs. He climaxed,
after an interminable amount of talking, with a boast that awakened the
hearty approbation of his sloven fellows. We but wait for the winter
to go, he said, for in the spring we shall have freedom. Our
brothers, who are sly as foxes and swift as hawks, will sweep down upon
the pony soldiers and slay them.
He sat down amid a chorus of Ho! Hos! The semicircle moved and
bent and nodded. It was plain that he had expressed a common belief.
There was one Indian not of the council to whom his words meant more
than freedom. That Indian was Squaw Charley. A moment after Colonel
Cummings' arrival, the pariah had crept noiselessly into the lodge and
lain down in the shadows. From there, careful all the while to be quiet
and to keep himself well screened, he listened to Lame Foot. But when
the chief came to his bragging conclusion, Squaw Charley forgot his own
degradation for a moment, and forgot to fear discovery. Was a battle
indeed coming! New hope all at once!the hope that he would have the
opportunity, long desired, of getting away from the squaws, the old
men, and the mocking children, and going with the warriors. Once with
them, even in the rôle of cook or drudge, the chance might come to do a
brave act, such an act as would reinstate him. Perhaps he could wound
an enemy, and count coup upon him; perhaps he could face bullets or
arrows to rescue a brother
His dull eyes glinted like cut beads. In very excitement, he raised
his bent, spare body.
Hearing the movement, Lame Foot glared round, and his eyes fell upon
Woo! he cried. A squaw in the council-lodge! Woo!
There was a general turning, and those nearest the pariah made
A second Charley stood uncertainly. Then the look of one accused
came into his face. He tottered backward, through the lodge opening,
and out into the snow.
The council continued.
A dozen warriors followed the war-priest in speech-making. Each of
them said no more than he. To Colonel Cummings' disgust, each one said
no less. Added to the tediousness of it all were Matthews'
interpretations. Toward three o'clock, however, the prime object of the
meeting was reached.
When the commanding officer at last rose, he was in no mood to mince
matters. He used few words, but they were forcible. He asked the
interpreter to repeat them precisely.
They had their effect. While Matthews was doing this, the colonel
did not glance away from the council-fire, yet he knew that in the
semicircle there was genuine consternation. Grunts, startled, angry,
threatening, ran up and down the line. Those warriors named for
possible execution alone were silent.
Presently, one of the others spoke. If we tell you where to go, how
do we know the white chief will not fall upon the winter camp of our
brothers as Custer, The Long-Hair, fell upon Black Kettle's?
I am not going with the pony soldiers, Matthews hastened to say.
Across the Muddy Water, where the road passes, is a wide piece of land
which has been stolen from me.
One of the four condemned glanced up. It was Lame Foot. By The
Plow-Woman? he asked.
By her father. I shall stay until that land is mine again. One of
you must ask your chief that he give up the pale-face squaws.
Canada John answered him. A brave can but take the words of the
white chief. That is not well. One of a double tongue must go.
The white chief has but one, said Matthews, and tapped his own
A silence followed.
The journey begins when the sun is little, he added, and sat down.
Will not the white chief wait until spring? asked Lame Foot, whose
guile made up for his physical defect.
The others studied Colonel Cummings' face as the question was put to
him. They saw the purposepostponement, which might bring freedom for
them, and also a retention of the captive women.
The colonel's answer did not need interpreting. No! he said, and
struck his knees with his open palms.
Why should two squaws matter? asked Shoot-at-the-Tree. Are there
not many everywhere? We will give the white chief some of our ponies.
Your ponies floated, belly up, down the river moons ago, said
Twenty pairs of eyes sparkled with hate. That was news indeed!
Lame Foot spoke again. There was a mathematical phase of the terms
which troubled him. Why should four die for two? he demanded. Among
the whites, has a squaw the value of two soldiers?
Matthews answered gravely that it was so. The brave snorted
Canada John shook his head. Thus comes much evil because we shot
the pinto buffalo.
At that point, the hoof-sheaths that trimmed a rope near the
entrance rattled. The semicircle craned their necks. A plump hand was
pulling aside the flap of the lodge. Then, through the low aperture and
into the light of the fire stepped an Indian woman. She flung back a
head-shawl and faced red man and white. A murmur came from the braves.
It was Brown Mink.
As with the men of the band, plentiful food and no exercise had
worked wonders with her. She was less slender and more solid than
formerly. Her full cheeks shone like the bulging sides of a copper
kettle. But her spirit was little changed. She waited no invitation to
speak. She paused for no words. In her earnestness, she leaned forward
Brown Mink is young, she said. She is but an unfledged crane
walking in strange waters. But she speaks with the voice of her father,
your mighty chief that was. Canada John talks straight. One of a double
tongue must go. The white chief is very angry, so that he plucks the
hairs from his hands. The squaws must be brought back, or four braves
will be choked by ropes. But who can make things smooth? Only The
Double-Tongue. Promise him muchpromise to help him drive the thief
from his land.
Matthews straightened up.
She put out one arm and measured a small length upon it. When our
warriors come, thus short a space will it take to rid the land, she
said. And was gone before any could answer.
There was a long Ho-o-o! of assent.
What's this all about? asked Colonel Cummings.
She wants me t' go, said Matthews.
Well, so do I.
The Indians conferred among themselves. Suddenly, as if they had
reached a decision, they fell silent and settled back. Lame Foot spoke.
In the Moon of Wild Strawberries, he said, the sun is warm and
the grass is growing. He turned to the interpreter. Ask our brothers
to send the women then, and follow them. We shall go free; and
as we go, we shall free the land.
But if your brothers cannot come? said Matthews.
Lame Foot answered. The white chief will send us to Standing Rock
Agency. From there, braves will go out to huntand arrows fly
silently. There are some of two tips. These bite like the
Matthews rubbed his chin. He knew that what Lounsbury had told him
in the colonel's library was true. All legal and moral claims to the
valuable town site across the river were gone. He could secure the Bend
now only by underhand means. And here were those who would do what he
They make a cunning wound, continued Lame Foot, and no one finds
Colonel Cummings was growing impatient. Interpret, interpret, he
They think it's all up with 'em if I don't go, said Matthews. He
looked down thoughtfully. The trip would be a comparatively short one,
and offered good reward. Whatever happened, if the Indians kept their
word with him, he would have both the pay and the land.
Will they tell me where the camp is? asked the Colonel.
Matthews met his eye. Ye-e-e-s, he answered. If I go. He
addressed the warriors: If your promise is a promise
An old chief caught his arm. We are not liars, he said.
It is a task for a child, added Lame Foot.
Enough, answered Matthews. To Colonel Cummings he said, I'm your
Then the interpreter and the Indians, with the commanding officer
unwittingly taking a part, sealed their compact in a pipe of peace.
CHAPTER XIV. ANOTHER PROMISE
The green pung was ten miles or more beyond Clark's before the
section-boss recovered appreciably from his long sulk. What d' y'
s'pose Lounsbury reckoned could happen t' my gals? he demanded of
The evangelist shook the reins at Shadrach. A storm, cold, want,
he replied. There are many evils that might befall two young women
alone in a shanty on the prairie.
Wal, nothin' 's ever happened t' 'em before, declared Lancaster.
But he whistled to stay a change in good fortune, and rapped the wood
of the wagon-box with his bare knuckles.
David Bond busied himself with urging on his horse. God will watch
over them, he said devoutly. 'Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall
neither slumber nor sleep.'
The section-boss sniffed. Sure of the safe trend of his affairs, he
was in a mood to scoff at any religious allusion. Reverence, with him,
was entirely a matter of urgent physical need. He had called to his
Maker but twice in his life: once, when an ugly-tempered peon
threatened him with a spade; again, when, falling from his swiftly
moving flat-car, he felt the heavy wheels grinding him, flesh and bone.
Storm kain't tech th' shack, he said proudly. She 's built like a
ship, t' stan' any win'. She's warm, too, an' thet Injun, he brings us
plenty of wood. An' they's grub 'nough t' las'.
The evangelist was politely attentive.
They's jes' one man thet might come botherin' 'em, Lancaster went
on. But 'tain't likely he'll see these parts before spring. An' Ah
don' b'lieve he'll come then.
David Bond set his brows together. The previous night an unshaped
thought had made him pause a second before leaving Dallas. Now, that
thought became a suspiciona suspicion of the real truth. A man? he
said questioningly; a man?
Being thus prompted on the subject of the claim, Lancaster was
willing to proceed, for he had no feeling that he was obeying Dallas.
Ah'm speakin' of a man thet filed on my section in July, he said.
His six months is up t'-day. So Ah reckon he'll hev t' work a new
piece of track. For Ah inten' t' hang on t' thet quarterit's goin' t'
be worth a pile.
The evangelist threw him a swift glance. What is the name of that
man? he asked.
Ah dunno. Ah clean gone an' f'got it. Ah ought t' wrote it
Would you know it if you heard it?
W'y, yes'twas some ornery name.
Was itwas it Matthews?
Complete bewilderment spoke from Lancaster's wide-open eyes and
mouth. He whirled about upon the evangelist and seized the reins.
Shadrach came to a squatting stop, his ears turning round to catch a
command. Thet's it! Thet's it! cried the section-boss. An' how d'
The two men looked at each other in silence. Lancaster's face was
dark with distrust; David Bond's, pale with alarm.
How? exclaimed the latter, when his tongue at last answered his
will; how? Because Matthews came north with me yesterday!
If Shadrach possessed the sense his master claimed for him, he must
have concluded then and there that the human beings in the pung had
gone stark mad. For after some excited shouting, the one to the other,
they brought him square about and sent him scurrying back toward
They did not retrace their way, but steered due south, thus saving
the few miles that could take them again through Clark's. Shadrach
approved the change in direction, which pointed to a snug corner beside
the friendly bull-calf, and fairly skimmed the hard snow. He had
already gone forty long miles since morning. Yet, undaunted, he took up
the return with good zest, holding a smart pace unwearily. He breathed
deep, and his long Roman nosethrust out on a line with his rocking
backsmoked like an eager charger's.
In the first half-hour that followed the evangelist's disquieting
admission, he listened to a wild, profane tirade: against himself, for
having failed to speak of Matthews; against Dallas, for being in such a
tarnal hurry; against Lounsbury on general principles. The section-boss
found only one person wholly exempt from blamehimself. So he cursed,
he threatened, he wrung his hands, he grabbed a crutch, and, leaning
forward, poked the straining flanks of the white horse.
Gentle, gentle, admonished David Bond. He goes fastest who goes
steadily. I have driven Shadrach ninety miles in twenty-two hours. And
if we are patient with him now, he will get us home by reveille.
But Lancaster only groaned ungratefully and continued to ply the
On they went. As the short day ended and darkness came, they steered
farther to the left, for there was a possible danger of pitching over
the river-bank. When they approached the coulée, the same peril again
met them. Shadrach, however, insured them against accident. He struck
his own trail, and knew it. At once, he quickened his speed, pulling
the reins taut. Behind him, his master, though utterly wearied, kept
awake to watch their course and commend him kindly. Not so the
section-boss. His anger finally spent, he put up his crutch and made
himself comfortable. Then, swaying as the pung swayed, he slept.
Far away at Fort Brannon the council was at an end. Lanterns were
whisking to and fro like giant lightning-bugs about the long garrison
granary and the quartermaster and commissary storehouse, where wagons
were being loaded with tents, ammunition, rations, and forageenough
for sixty days. The library window at headquarters was bright: Colonel
Cummings and a surgeon were respectively commanding and persuading
young Jamieson to await his mother and sister at the post. Nick
Matthews, attended by a watchful sergeant, was having his hair cut by
the citizen barber. While Lounsbury, too joyfully excited to sleep, was
in the sutler's billiard-room, giving Fraser, who was about to depart
with the expedition, a sympathetic history of the Lancastersa history
in which Marylyn was shrewdly made the dainty central figure.
At five o'clock, everything being in readiness, a livelier activity
prevailed. The out-going troop was routed from bed and fortified with a
hot breakfast. By six, boots and saddles had sounded. And, soon, the
detachmentprotected from the cold by blanket-coats, and with black
cutties burning down the whole length of its double linewas leading
the wagon-train at a good jog toward the west.
The men went gladly, accepting the long ride as a welcome relief to
the stagnation of a garrison winter. To them, the possible dangers of
the trip were a mere matter of course, though Guy V. Henry's march of a
twelvemonth beforea terrible march from Fort Robinson into the Black
Hillswas fresh in their memory. Captain Oliver commanded, B Troop
being his own. He was a brave man, but one who let his heart influence
his better judgment, who was neither as acute as a soldier should be
nor as cautious. Yet his commanding officer selected him for the
dutythe choice insured his remaining behind when the campaign of the
coming summer opened; when there would arrive from the States a
certain loyal little wife and her seven babies.
An hour after the cavalry clattered out of Brannon, faithful
Shadrach limped home. The approach of the pung did not frighten Dallas.
For, long before it crossed the coulée, as she walked noiselessly to
and fro across the dirt floor, she heard her father's voice urging the
white horse on. She did not understand the quick return, but prepared
for it by building up the fire and swinging the coffee-pail into place.
The old men heard her story before they stepped from the sleigh. The
evangelist, as he listened, thanked his God for Lounsbury. The
section-boss, on the contrary, was made so angry by the recital of
Matthews' attack that he called down every manner of punishment upon
the latter, and revelled in multiple plans for a sweet revenge.
Jes' let thet scalawag call again, he cried, shaking a crutch
toward Shanty Town. Ah ain't much on my laigs these days, but Ah'm
right good yet with my pistol arm!
Without His arm began David Bond.
A wondering cry from Dallas stopped him. He turned to see her
pointing at the northern sky.
A strange, wild light was creeping up from the horizon and tinting
the heavens. A filmy veil was mounting the zenith, and swinging gently.
Swiftly the glory grew. The veil became a curtain of rainbow colouring,
edged with royal purple and faint red, and lined, here with orange,
there with green, again with delicate pink.
Changes followed. Green, gold, and blue lightning darted from plain
to sky, trailing fainter colours that danced elfishly; and the sheet of
living flame took form. It became a huge clenched fist, resting upright
upon the lighted prairie. About it, in a sky made darker by contrast,
gleamed the scattered stars. Then, one by one, quivering fingers of
light shot forth from the fist. Until, at length, over the little shack
was outspread, palm downward, a shimmering giant hand.
To the evangelist, watching the aurora with upturned face, the hand
was deified. It is a divine manifestation! he whispered reverently.
It brings a message: 'Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by
night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day.'
CHAPTER XV. NECESSITY
While David Bond and Dallas were taking Shadrach from the pung, a
boot crunched the snow behind them. They turned. And there was
Lounsbury, fairly bursting to tell his good news.
When he had told it, he was anxious to get away again, for by a
quick retreat the two girls might be saved the knowledge of the Clark
episode, and he, a very probable second insult. But the evangelist,
having no wish to tattle about Lancaster, yet hoping that the elder
girl would learn what her father had done and administer a deserved
rebuke, urged him in.
The storekeeper did not consent to enter the shack, however, until
Dallas added her invitation; and then he went reluctantly. He was
accustomed to courtesy there on the frontier. The plains-bred men that
he knew instinctively took him at his real valuation, and treated him
accordingly; the men of a more conventional strata (the professional
men of Bismarck, and those who officered at the posts up and down the
river) freely bestowed their friendship upon him; the lawless element
respected him, too, and showed that respect by letting him severely
alone. He shrank from placing himself where a man like
Lancastercrippled, old, and therefore beyond discipliningcould have
the chance to repeat an affront. And he shrank at the thought of a
clashit meant pain for two helpless women. Nevertheless, he yielded.
The streamers were gone from the sky by then. They had faded as
quickly as they had come. Once more, under a dome of cobalt, the river
flowed black between its fringe of trees, and the prairie stretched
white and still.
A bright fire and a singing coffee-pail welcomed the three as the
door swung wide, and the section-boss, who was urging Marylyn to
rustle some grub, turned with a testy word. But he fell silent when
he saw Lounsbury, and edged into the dusky shelter of the hearth-side.
The storekeeper nodded to him, shook hands absently with the younger
girl, and took a bench. His face looked less full than usual, and was
lighted by no hearty smiles.
Little was said until breakfast was readya quick breakfast of
bacon, pone, and coffee. The three men warmed themselves. The girls
moved between fireplace and table. But when the plates were set and the
coffee poured, David Bond asked for the story of Matthews' doings, of
the affair at the saloon, the meeting with Colonel Cummings, and the
council. Dallas and Marylyn heard it from where they stood together
before the blaze. Lancaster heard it,though he pretended not
to,eating and drinking the while with angry smacks.
Lounsbury paid no attention to the section-boss. In fact, before his
recital was done, he had forgotten him. He talked quietly and without
boasting, his face now turned to David Bond, now to the girls.
And you think, said the evangelist, when the story was finished,
you think that Matthews will drop his claim to the Bend?
Lounsbury arose, as if to go, and for the first time since his
entrance looked squarely at Lancaster. This is what I think: he
answered, in Dakota, if a man jumps land that hasn't been improved,
all he's got to do is to hang on to it; don't have to rassle with any
fine points of law. This far west of stuffed chairs, there's a whole
lot in public sentiment. He crossed the room and picked up coat and
Of course, added David Bond, following the law would strengthen
The section-boss adjusted his crutches and stood up. You-all seem
t' be settlin' it 'thout any o' my lip, he said, and laughed
We have your interests at heart, replied the storekeeper.
Lancaster ground his teeth. Now that all danger was past, he felt no
gratitude for the routing of Matthews and the strategy at The Trooper's
Delight. He could only feel that his authority in his own home was
threatened. He turned his back.
Lounsbury glanced at the girls. They were watching their father
I should say, went on Lounsbury, that we have the
interests of your daughters at heart. His hand reached for the latch.
Mr. Lounsbury! Dallas made a swift step toward him.
Now, the section-boss came about. Lounsbury was reminded of the day
on the plowed strip. For he saw that Lancaster was all a-tremble, and
panting as if spent with a hard run. M' gal! he cried sternly.
Dallas stepped back and touched her father's arm. And her
remonstrance was the remonstrance of that other day. No, no, dad, she
cautioned in a low voice; no, no.
Lancaster's breast heaved. He swallowed with an effort, and scowled
from one to another of the four.
David Bond came forward, addressing Lounsbury. Will you tell me
your name? he asked. I want to remember you. You are not a soldier.
Do you belong at Clark's
Did y' size him up fer a cow-punch? broke in Lancaster. Huh! Wal,
Ah never did.
Lounsbury's face dyed to a deep scarlet. No? he said. And why?
Again the section-boss gave a shrill, mocking laugh. Too fat an'
too mouthy, he answered.
For an instant Lounsbury wavered. In that instant the deep scarlet
faded, his eyes opened, his nostrils spread.
Pa! pa! It was Marylyn, half-weeping.
Lounsbury's cool voice cleared the air. I'm a Bismarck man, he
said to the evangelist. I've got a store there. My name is John
Lounsbury. He held out his hand to Dallas.
She advanced again and took it. Oh, thank you! thank you! she
'Bismarck man.' It was Lancaster once more. Wal, w'y the devil
don' y' stay thar?
Lounsbury took no notice of him. I'll be hoofing it, he said to
Dallas. But if I can do anythingyou understand. And went out.
David Bond's keen eyes studied the elder girl. He expected an
outburst of anger and blame. He was surprised when, without speaking,
she brought the benches to the fire and set about clearing the table.
Lancaster seated himself and sucked moodily at his pipe. Marylyn
flitted behind him, to disappear through the swinging blankets. The
evangelist walked up and down.
It was not long before the silence told on the section-boss and
forced him to talk. Ef you-all got anythin' t' say, he snarled
presently, y' might as well spit it out.
No one answered.
Ah got jes' this t' say: he continued, Ah ain't
goin' t' hev no lubber o' a storekeep slaverin' aroun' my gals!
Again no one answered. But David Bond, as he watched Dallas
questioningly, determined to be silent no longer. He paused in his
walk. My friend, he said solemnly, you talk like a madman. For
Dallas stood stock still, her eyes warning him. But it was too late.
Her father snickered, drew on his pipe once or twice, and then
grinned up at the evangelist. It's gittin' light outdoors, he said
significantly. Ah reckon y' could cross th' river.
And so David Bond and the white horse went the way of Lounsbury.
Nearly an hour passed before the section-boss addressed Dallas.
Wal? wal? wal?
She was wrapping up to do the morning chores. Just as well, I
guess, dad, she said wearily. The meal and bacon's pretty low. I've
been cooking out of the seed-sacks lately.
Th' meal an' bacon's got t' las', he answered. Use th' seed ef y'
want t', an' don' give thet Injun so much. We shan't ast tick o' no
lallygaggin', do-a-grapevine-twist dandy.
Dallas sighed, found Marylyn to kiss her, and gratefully breasted
the chill air beyond the door.
His dismissal from the shack brought no hardship upon David Bond. He
found an old acquaintance in Colonel Cummings, who joyfully greeted him
as interpreter in the absence of Matthews. He found familiar faces
among the hostages, whose sullen reserve in his presence he laid to
their imprisonment. At barracks, the enlisted men chaffed him
mischievously, christened him Methuselah, and installed him as
official doom sealer of the post. But when he passed them by to give
every hour of his days and nights to young Jamiesonyoung Jamieson,
battling with all his might against collapsethe men ceased chaffing,
and listened to him with respect. A crank on religion was one thing, a
man with one eye on the Bible and his sleeves rolled up for hard duty
was another. The troopers cared little for sermonising, but they
honoured service. Then, it was Jamieson for whom the evangelist was
caring. And Jamieson held the very heartstrings of the garrison.
As for Lounsbury, Brannon entertained him no less gladly. His was
the rare good-humour that enlivens every occasion. He practised at
target-shooting with the enlisted men; he played billiards with the
officers; he dined; made up sleigh rides; lent himself to theatricals;
furnished a fourth at cards, and, at the frequent dances, led out
homely and pretty alike.
To David Bond it seemed as if the storekeeper were indifferent to
his own dismissal from the shack. But one morning the evangelist
accidentally came upon the younger man. He was watching the Bend
through a telescope, and his face was anxious and troubled.
Lancaster hasn't started for the land-office again, he said. Then,
after a moment's silence, I've just about decided to go Bismarck-way
myself to-day. When you can, will you let me know how they are over
Charles will keep me posted, answered the evangelist, and I shall
send you any news by the mail sleigh.
Thank you, said Lounsbury, simply. Good-by. And at the noon mess
he was missing.
At the shack, the days were numbered slowly, for all their scant
hours of light. Sleep consumed most of the time. The rest was taken by
the meals, the chores and the effort of keeping warm. The line of
calico-covered books helped to vary the monotony. So did the visits of
Squaw Charley. But these were becoming more brief now. Not that
Lancaster made them unpleasantCharley was necessary to himbut that
the Indian was always in a fever to be gone. Since the council, his
eyes were less downcast, his face was less stolid.
One day brought a totally unexpected visitor, whom Lancaster
recognised with some misgivings as the United States land-agent at
Bismarck. The section-boss was soon reassured, however. The agent said
that, having business near Brannon, and remembering that Lancaster
wished to file an entry on the bend when the first claimant's six
months were up, he had come by. In the case of a man who was hurt, he
said, the law allowed such a course. The section-boss, thus saved the
arduous trip, signed the necessary papers with a jubilant mark.
Then came Old Michael for a time or two. It seemed at first as if he
were to be a favourite. He could adapt himself with all the art of his
race. And before Lancaster he was intensely Southern in his views,
whipping the North in many a broguey strife. Untilit befell through a
slip of the tonguea slip that sent him packing off. For he boasted
how, in '62, his freckled hands had helped in piloting the Federals to
Island Number 10!
It was an outcome that gave Dallas little concern. Marylyn was her
worry. The younger girl was listless, pale and moody. Now and then,
Dallas believed she saw a look of actual suffering in her eyes. Once,
awakening in the night, she heard her sob.
Marylyn was unhappy, and the thought made the elder girl desperate.
This led her to a plan: Lounsbury must be asked to forgive their father
and come againmust be told of Marylyn's confession!
Soon afterward a second worry presented itself, one fully as
serious. The provisions were dwindling, the seed-sacks shrinking fast,
and, estranged from Lounsbury, they had nowhere to ask credit but at
When Dallas spoke of it to her father, he chuckled. Wal, we got
Simon, ain't we? he said.
That same night, Marylyn put down her fork and stared across the
table at her sister. Why, Dallas, you don't eat! she complained.
Dallas laughed. I don't work, honey, she answered.
The question of fuel entered next, and became a grave one. So far,
the weather had been fairly mild for the place and the season. Now, it
took a more rigorous turn. The bitter cold was intensified by a stiff
wind. Snow began to fall, and the wind, growing, drove the flakes
level, so that they cut the face like filings of steel. Charley's trips
became uncertain, then impossible. The work of getting out hay for the
stock was a desperate tax. It was so difficult that Dallas dared not
spare a straw for the fireplace, and Ben and Betty's manger had to be
drawn upon for wood. When this source of supply failed, the benches
were sacrificed one by one, the cupboard was torn down, and the bunk
and part of the table were split into kindling.
The family slept shoulder to shoulder before the hearth, with the
brave-coloured blankets of the partition for extra covering. Lancaster
and the younger girl stayed in bed all of the twenty-four hours. Dallas
got up only long enough to tend the animals and prepare food. But a day
came when she could not make her way to the lean-to, and when the
warped door could not be opened in the teeth of the raging storm.
Toward noon, she cooked some food, however. The seed sacks were empty;
there was no rice and no flour. While the blizzard howled without, and
Simon and the mules called pitifully for their fodder and drink, she
broke up what was left of the table. Over its blaze the last smitch of
bacon went to savour the last pint of beans.
After the meal Dallas read aloud. Lying down, she held her book in
one hand until her fingers were blue with cold, then changed to the
other. Father and sister drowsed, and she put the story aside to study
over the predicament in which she felt herself at fault. Counting on
blizzards, but knowing nothing of their duration, she had determined to
say little about their needs until those needs pressed. When, she knew,
her father would see their extremity. The extremity had come. Yet,
willing or unwilling, Lancaster was cut off from seeking help.
That day closed in fearful cold. The wind was become a furious gale.
Sturdily, the log house withstood it. Only the roof seemed threatened.
With each great blast, it lifted a little, as if on the point of
whirling away. But when darkness came, even the roof settled into
quiet. For the drifts that had been piling up gradually to the north
and west of the shack, sealing the windows and the door, had risen to
the grassy eaves and overflowed them, and so weighted the thatch.
Next morning, long before Marylyn and her father wakened, Dallas
roused. The room was in dusk, and its air was so cold that it seemed
fairly to singe the skin. She could not read. Presently, Marylyn
turned. The elder girl hastened to soothe her. Then, their father
yawned. Dallas feigned sleep.
But the evil moment could not be put off. Lancaster propped himself
on an elbow and called to her. He was hungry.
Very quietly, Dallas told him that there was no food.
He grunted, arose and lighted the lantern. You dish thet snow on
th' floor, he commanded. We'll need it fer drink.
What're you going to do? she asked, hastening to obey. Her
voice was lowered apprehensively.
He was wrapping some clothes over his shoes. Butcher Simon, he
Her face became a white spot in the gloom.
Critter'll be tough, like's not, went on her father. But y' c'n
poun' th' meat.
After a long wait, she spoke. You can't reach him, she declared,
Yas, Ah c'n, he answered. Ah c'n chop through with th' hatchet.
He was between the fireplace and a corner, feeling over the logs with
She ran to him. Oh, how can you think of it? she demanded huskily.
Simon's so friendly andcame to us for a home. How can you kill him!
Maybe you could eat him, but I couldn't. It'd just choke
Oh, ain't we sof'! sneered her father. He was fumbling about near
the bunk, as if hunting something. Mebbe y' 'd like Ah should kill a
mule! Ha! ha! No mule-meat fer me. Ah'll give thet bull a tunk
'tween th' eyes, an' we'll hev steak.
She stood in the dim light, one arm crooked up to cover her face.
Presently, Marylyn moaned; then, Dallas lowered her arm and looked down
at her sister. One of the mules would be easier, she said
bitterly. But remembering the brown eyes of the team, and the long,
grey-whiskered noses, she covered her face again.
Ah don' keer w'at y' say, declared her father. We'll hev steak.
He selected a log and began to hack at it.
Shuddering, she sank to her knees, one hand reached out to touch
Marylyn. Maybe Charley'll come, honey, she whispered hopefully.
And now it seemed as if she heard something outside. She crept to
the door. Around the latch was a little space. She put her ear to it,
and the icy air blew against her cheek. There it was again! The shriek
of the gale.
She went back to the bed.
Hack! hack! hack! Then muttered curses. And
again the sound of chopping.
When she could bear it no longer, she got up and stumbled over to
her father. Dad, she said, if I break up the mantel and fix
something, will you stop?
He sat back on his feet, puffing crossly. Light a fire, he said.
Use these chips. Ah'll res'. He threw down the hatchet and crawled
under the blankets. He was glad of the interruption, for the duty ahead
was assuming an ugly guise.
Dallas had filled the coffee-pail with snow. Now, she gathered up
the chips, lit them, and pried up the wide board of the mantel. This
she split with the hatchet.
What you going to make? asked Marylyn, from the bed.
Pepper-tea, honey. It'll warm you up.
Oh, I'm glad. Ma made some once.
Pepper-tea it was. When the snow had melted and the water was
boiling hot, Dallas added pepper and salt. Then she spread a cloth and
turned the wheat and corn sacks out upon it. She got a handful of
flour. With this she thickened the water. Three cups were setting upon
the floor. She took the coffee-pail over, poured into two, and handed
them to her father and Marylyn.
Don't spill a drop, she cautioned.
You got some? queried Marylyn, sitting up.
Dallas went back to the other cup. Well, what do you think I'm
doing? she asked, and lifted it to her lips.
Soon, the three were lying shoulder to shoulder again, the
section-boss drawing a little added comfort from his pipe. Before long,
he was asleep; Marylyn, too. When Dallas got up cautiously and brewed a
cup of peppered water for herself. The hot draught relieved the pangs
of her hunger. She lay down again.
Hours later, she was awakened by hearing faint squeals directly
overhead. Hastily, she lit the lantern and took down the Sharps; then,
stepped directly under the sounds and poked the rifle's muzzle into the
hay of the roof. Above, storm-driven and crowding one another against
the stones of the chimney, were some pigs!
In her eagerness, she trembled so violently that she became unsteady
on her feet. It lost her the opportunity of firing. For, as she waited,
trying to get a blind aim, the squeals suddenly died out. The pigs had
gone over toward the edge of the lean-to.
When next she awoke,awoke from a dream of well-spread tables, she
could not guess how much time had passed, or whether it was day or
night. The shack was pitch dark. Of one thing she could be sure: The
storm had not abated, so there was no hope of aid.
She knew something must be done. Simon and the team wrung her heart
with their pleas. Beside her, Marylyn was turning with fretful
complaints. The younger girl rolled her head from side to side
constantly, and moistened her lips. Dallas chopped up the rifle rack
and made a fire of it; then plied Marylyn with more of the pepper-tea.
The section-boss refused to partake. The first cup, he said, had burned
him. Tobacco was better solace.
Dallas did not taste the tea, either. A fearful nausea beset her.
Her heart went like a trip-hammer. She wrapped up, turning her back to
the blaze. Oddly enough her father did not make a second attack on the
log. His perique went far toward helping him fight the gnawing of
hunger. He could afford, having to endure little pain, to let the hours
bring Dallas to the point where she would ask the life of the bull. He
knew where she was most vulnerable. When Marylyn turned from the tea
that now partially eased her hunger, and began a demand for food, Simon
It came sooner than the section-boss expected. His lethargic sleep
was broken by Dallas' shaking him. As he opened his eyes, she thrust
the hatchet into his hands.
Dad, she said hurriedly. Get up. You got to do it. For
To him, it was a real victory. He wrenched a quid from his
tobacco-slab, grasped the hatchet handle and arose. Dallas had lighted
the lantern once more. Now she pinned one of the smaller blankets over
his shoulders. When he put on his hat and knelt before the chopped-out
place in the east wall, she wrapped a second blanket about his feet and
Go 'long, go 'long, he said, not unkindly. Keep you'self warm.
Then the hack, hack, hack began again.
She did not watch him, but donned the long cloak over her jersey,
kissed Marylyn and paced up and down the shack. For every step there
was a blow of the hatchet.
Poor Simon! Poor Simon! she whispered to herself. The bull was
At last the sound of the hatchet became unbearable. She gave a quick
glance around the room, then, crossing to her father, pulled at his
arm. If you kill Simon, there's no wood to do any cooking, she said.
Better wait, dadhour or two, please!
He twisted from under her hand, and scowled up. Shucks! he
answered. Here's chips 'nough fer a fire. And swung the hatchet with
She lingered a moment, smiling grimly. It was only a play for time.
She knew very well that there would be timber when her father reached
Lancaster was making fast progress. The log upon which he worked was
dry from the heat of the hearth. It splintered like weathered pine. A
section of it was soon cut away so far that a final blow with the
hatchet head drove it in. It rolled to the noses of the mules.
Lancaster thrust his head through the hole.
Between the scantlings that penned Simon into his part of the
lean-to, the section-boss spied two glowing eyes. They watched him,
then the door, then him again. M-m-m-m! came a deep protest,
as the bull blew and pawed at the dirt floor.
The section-boss drew back nervously. Simon's actin' funny, he
said. He's locoed, or he's smelt a mice.
He got no answer. Dallas was in the corner farthest from him,
crowded against the logs. Her arms were raised. Her head rested between
Lancaster grunted disgustedly, and fell to chopping again. The
opening in the wall was not quite wide enough up and down for his body.
He enlarged it by cutting away at the lower side. Finally, satisfied
with its size, he unpinned the shoulder blanket, freed his feet, and
And now Dallas looked round, fastening her eyes upon the dark hole
beyond the hearth. Beside it, the lantern burned with a sickly flame.
It's murder! It's murder! It's murder! she breathed.
Marylyn tossed, moaning. Dallas ran to her. There she stayed, eyes
and ears buried in the bed-clothes.
Within the lean-to, a curious parley was being held. Lancaster was
standing, hatchet in hand, at the bar of Simon's pen. Behind him was
the stable door, before him, just out of reach, the bull. Simon was not
pawing now. His fore feet were spread wide, his nose touched the ground
between them. He was alternately mooing and blowing, and his angry eyes
were fixed, not on the section-boss, but on the bottom of the door.
Simon, Simon, said Lancaster, in a wheedling tone. He could
scarcely see the animal, for the eastern window was snowed shut. The
bull made no move. Presently, the old man shoved the single bar aside
and hopped forward a step or two, his gaze fixed on the star between
those glowing eyes.
Still the bull did not move.
So, Simon, purred the section-boss. He gave another hop forward,
and raised the hatchet. So, Simon, nice Simon!
It was a roar that fairly shook the lean-to. Simon flung up his
Fearful for his safety, Lancaster dodged to the left, stumbled,
overturned, and went down with a cry. Dallashelp!
A cry answered him. The mules reared. Then, out of the gloom plunged
a red bulk, head lowered, tail straight. There was a second roar, a
crash, as the stable door flew outward, an in-rush of frigid air, and
the swirling sound of wind and sleet. And Simon, leaping something that
was lying at the entrance, shot on into the blizzard.
* * * * *
Early morning of the next day, as the Lancasters were enjoying a
breakfast of roasted pork, cooked by a scantling of Simon's manger,
they heard the storm renew its fury in strange noises that were like
the human voice. The warped door creaked, the latch rattled.
They paid little attention to it, being fairly content with the
strange good fortune that had left a fat frozen pig in the snow outside
the lean-to. The stable had been nailed tight again, and there were
enough scantlings in it to last out three or four days. Marylyn was
better, having rallied swiftly on a diet of rich broth. Even Ben and
Betty were not unhappy, for they were greedily consuming the hay of the
Sam Patch's shore bustin' loose, observed the section-boss,
selecting a second juicy rib and salting it from end to end. The salt
spilled. He flickered a pinch over one shoulder.
Boof! boof! boof! bang! came the muffled
sounds from without.
The harder it howls now the sooner it'll get over it, answered
Dallas, piling on more wood.
Lancaster lit his pipe. Danged glad Ah got t'baccy.
Hey! hey! yelled the storm.
Marylyn looked up from a book. Sounds as if men are outside, she
They listened, straining their ears.
Something thumped the warped door. They started up. A moment, and a
thread of light came through the gap above the latch.
They is! cried the section-boss.
A cheer replied. A sharp command was sung out to them. Keep back!
Out of the way!
Again the door was thumped; then great pressure was put upon it. It
opened, letting in a half-dozen men and a wide path of warm sunlight.
Hurrah! hurrah! Folks, you snowed in? Thank God, you're all
right. The basket, boys, the basket.
W'y, Lawd! cried the section-boss, winking against the light;
ain't they no blizzard?
A trooper with a chevroned sleeve saluted them. His air was jaunty.
His face beamed. There was, sir, last night, he said gaily,
but there hain't none now. Clear has ha bell, sir.
Y' fr'm th' Post? demanded Lancaster, trying to look severe.
He of the chevrons waved his companions out. Hi'm from Hingland,
sir, he answered. Sergeant Kippis his my name. Will you 'ave some
'soldier's coffee,' sir?
Dallas hurried past him and into the newly dug tunnel. Overhead was
a serene sky. Between shack and river lay a dazzling mile of drifts.
And midway, brisket deep, but advancing resolutely, and bugling at
every floundering step, was Simon!
CHAPTER XVI. BACK FROM THE WINTER
Well, Captain? It was partly a greeting full of relief, partly an
eager inquiry, as Colonel Cummings came hurrying out of his library to
meet Oliver in the entry.
The latter straightened a little, but hesitated deprecatingly before
taking the colonel's hand. I've nothing to report but failure, sir,
The stinging wind that had blown the command home into barracks, and
scourged the humped shoulders of the men and the thin flanks of their
mounts, had cut the flesh over the captain's high cheek-bones until it
was red and raw. The lower part of his face was hidden under a growth
that matched his drooping moustache. On his forehead and about his
eyes, the skin was a dark sallow, marked by a lattice of deep
lineslines of worry and weariness.
Nothing to report but failure, he repeated, and let the orderly
pull off his stiffened overcoat.
The troop? asked Colonel Cummings, anxiously.
All safe. The other hung his cap on a nail, his belt upon his
Thank Heaven! That stormI was afraid. Where did it catch you?
On the Knife. We put up with some half-breeds. It was hard on the
horses, but a rest for the men.
The colonel led the way into the library.
On his entrance, a figure in the dusk behind the stove sprang up
with a questioning cry. It was young Jamieson.
Easy, easy, for God's sake! begged the captain. He put out one arm
as if to ward off a blow.
Jamieson brought up. He saw the look of defeat in Oliver's bloodshot
eyes, and his voice quaked, his body shuddered in mortal terror of what
he was to hear.
It's bad news, but not as bad as it might be, began the captain.
Colonel Cummings offered him a chair. He dropped into it. It is said
that your mother and sister are alive, and will be delivered up to us
in the spring, provided there are no executions here. ButI didn't see
them, and I don't know where they are.
Jamieson coughed down a heart-broken protest, and, as if stunned,
tottered weakly toward the stove.
Colonel Cummings knotted his hands together. Where's Matthews? he
He was answered by the slamming of the outside door, and by a voice
in the entry; a moment later, there was a sharp tattoo on the library
door. The colonel opened it and answered the interpreter's salute.
With Matthews seated on the army cot, and the commanding officer
pacing to and fro, Captain Oliver made his report. He stood at the
window, his arms folded, his eyes following his superior.
We located the camp easily, he said. The directions given by the
hostages were exact. But that is about the only thing that did come
easily. The rest was all procrastination.
At noon, on the tenth day out, we saw, ahead of us on a ridge, a
single Indian. I selected four men to make a swift detour, thinking
that perhaps they would discover a hunting-party just over the crest.
But the slope beyond was unoccupied, and there were only the marks of
one pair of moccasins. I concluded that the solitary brave was
scouting, and I was right.
A few miles farther, we sighted a half-dozen Indians. They were
watching us from a hill. I called a halt. Then I took two men and Mr.
Matthews and made forward. We carried a truce flag. They let us come
within talking distance. They knew, I am sure, why we were there. But
they asked no questionsjust told us that the command was expected to
advance no farther than a grove that lay a little ahead, to our right.
I assented to that, and said I wished a conference with their
head-chief. They promised me an answer later on, and at once withdrew
to a rise a mile behind. There they stayed until, after a careful
reconnoitre, we entered the grove.
Late that afternoon, Mr. Matthews and I again rode forward to speak
to a trio of warriors. One of them, a big, bony fellow in a splendid
bonnet, asked what we wanted. The interpreter told him. The Indian said
that the head-chief was very sick, and that he could not leave his
lodge. He told us we might accompany them to the village, which lay a
few miles farther up. Of course I rejected the proposal.
Well, I saw there was no use to haggle in that fashion. I ordered
the interpreter to go into particulars. He proceeded to state your
At this point in the narrative, Colonel Cummings stood still.
Captain Oliver advanced toward him a step, and met his eyes in a
curious, helpless way.
It was queer, he continued, but what Mr. Matthews told them
didn't seem to scare them any.
Oh, it didn't! cried the colonel, angrily, and once more began to
No, they grinned at him, and chattered together. Then they rode
away. When dark came on, fearing treachery, we left the grove for a
sheltered place farther down. Our scouts then set out for the Indian
village, going across the river, and far around to the right. On their
return, they said that the Sioux camp numbered several hundred wigwams.
While just above was a village of Dog Soldiers.
The night passed quietly. In the morning, a single brave came
riding toward us. He stopped beyond rifle-reach. I sent the interpreter
out. He returned to say that the chief promised him fair treatment if
he would come alone. I took it that the camp was anxious for a little
entertainment, and that one white was to furnish it. I didn't consider
this second proposal a minuteit was worse than foolish, I thought.
Buthe looked toward the cotMr. Matthews didn't agree with me. He
went. It was a magnificent bit of courage, sir.
The colonel wheeled. By Jupiter! he exclaimed. You did that?
Matthews smiled and crossed his legs awkwardly. Oh, it wa'n't
nothin', he said, forbearing to glance up. I savvy Injuns, you know.
II was willin' to take the chances.
Colonel Cummings looked down. After a moment, and without changing
the position of his body, he turned his face slowly in Oliver's
direction. The eyes of the two officers met, and flashed messages of
When the commanding officer looked at the interpreter again, it was
on his lips to say, But you were afraid to enter the stockade with
me. He checked himself, however, and, instead, reached for Matthews'
hand. It was a magnificent bit of courage, he agreed. Tell us
Matthews fingered the blanket on the cot. I seen the chief, he
said, and told him what you told me to tell him. When I got it all
out, he says to me, 'The white women ain't here; they're with the
Wyomin' band, and the Wyomin' band's up in Canada. Now,' he says, 'the
band'll come south in the spring. So tell Colonel Cummin's, if he don't
do no hangin', I'll send the white women home then.'
A low groan came from behind the stove. Young Jamieson came out, his
features distorted with grief and shining with tears. Think of it!
think of it! Not till spring! Are they well? How are they treating
Oh,so-so, said Matthews, significantly.
Young Jamieson understood. He went back to his seat, sobbing with
the hysterical weakness of a sick man. He's bungled the business,
Colonel, he said bitterly. Oh, God! If you had only let me
Yes, yes, my dear boy, answered the other, soothingly. But please
remember that you couldn't have talked with them. The conference would
have been carried on through Mr. Matthews just the same.
There was a silence, broken only by Jamieson's weeping.
Is thatall? asked Colonel Cummings, at last, addressing himself
to the interpreter.
Shortly afterward, when he was gone, the two officers left the
library for the reception-room, and discussed the expedition in low
I have a feeling, Colonel, that our interpreter wasn't fair in this
thing, was Captain Oliver's first confidence. They were standing at a
front window, watching Matthews cross the parade-ground to the
The same thought occurred to me.
And yetit doesn't seem possible
Oh, if Bond had only come sooner!
Bond! He here?
Yesjust half a day too late.
While they were talking, Matthews was losing his tow beard and
moustache and a good length of hair. This over, and his supper eaten,
he reappeared at headquarters, and went with Colonel Cummings to the
Much to his chagrin, he found the evangelist there, ready to be
present at the interview with the hostages. But the Indians understood
his predicament, and accepted the speech he made for the little it was
worth. It was a speech that, repeated by David Bond, set Colonel
Cummings' last suspicion at rest.
Lounsbury arrived at Fort Brannon the next day, appearing in time
for breakfast. His early advent, which he explained away nonchalantly,
was the cause of some good-natured teasing.
Say, Lounsbury, observed one officer, I thought you were keeping
Get out! he retorted. I'm down here to see that you fellows do
something for the good money Uncle Sam pays you.
Why, don't you know? said Major Appleton. John's here to sell the
sutler some sandy sugar.
That's right! agreed the storekeeper. And I'm going to put up a
plant to make brown sugar out of the Muddy.
Lounsbury could afford to laugh with them, not being the only butt
of the jokers. Fraser suffered, too. For a tattling private, who had
spent the night at Shanty Town, let it out to a corporal, who told it
to a sergeant, who told it to a cub of a second-lieutenant, who told it
to every officer in post (with the single exception of the K. O.)
that Fraserthe good, the discreet, the unimpeachablehad played
poker with Matthews at The Trooper's Delight from taps to revelly,
and lost his last dollar!
The tale had leaked by the hour of Lounsbury's arrival. When the
storekeeper heard it, together with the embellishments it carried by
reason of its having so often changed hands, he first gave Fraser a
grip to show his gratitude, and then sat back and enjoyed the fun.
Fraser, sorely tried by the taunts of his brother-officers, repaid
Lounsbury with glances of wounded reproof.
Blame it all! old man, he cried, when he could get a quiet word
with the other, why didn't you help me out? You're a nice one! Letting
these chaps think I'm a sport! When you know
But Lounsbury only laughed the harder. And was among the first to
dub the lieutenant a sad devil.
The storekeeper did have business with the sutler, though not the
kind suggested by the major. For, after being closeted with that worthy
a half-hour, Squaw Charley was despatched to the Lancasters' with a
basket, and a note which read:
Mr. Evan Lancaster, Dear SirOwing to the fact that a lot
of B troop's surplus rations in the way of beans, butter,
bacon, flour, salt, pepper, dried apples, prunes, rice,
vinegar, molasses, etc., etc., are piling up on my hands, I
wish to dispose of same in some way at once and at any
sacrifice. Would it be possible for you to relieve me of
some of these goods and pay me back next summer out of your
garden? Also hope you can find room for a table, benches,
and extra lumber on same terms. If you can do this, you will
Yours very truly,
JAMES MADISON BLAKELY,
Sutler, Fort Brannon, Dakota Terr.
P. S. Enclosed find samples which please keep if
J. M. B.
When Squaw Charley returned from the shack, he bore an empty basket,
and the following reply:
Dear SirThank you. We would like to do what you said if
you will please chalk it down. We will pay next summer, and
maybe before. I will keep count too.
It was Lounsbury who took possession of the note. He smiled over it,
and put it carefully away in his innermost pocket.
And now there remained one other thing to do. He dropped into the
billiard-room and commenced playing, occasionally going to a window
that commanded the river. When, after a game or two, he saw a man
approaching from Shanty Town, he put up his cue, sauntered opportunely
out, and met the interpreter.
Well, Matthews, was his greeting.
I just wanted to be sure that you know Lancaster's got that tenth
point I spoke about cinched.
And that what I said before you went away still goes. You hear?
I ain't deef, said Matthews, non-committal.
That's all. And Lounsbury went back to his billiards.
The interpreter continued on to the stockade, where he was more
fortunate in the delivery of the true message he had brought.
The white women were not at the winter camp, he said, so they
could not be sent. But your brothers promise to come to save you. Watch
for signals from Medicine Mountain.
CHAPTER XVII. THE AWAKENING
That year, in the northland, winter encroached greedily upon spring.
The latter end of March, the weather did not moderate. Instead, the
wide valley became a channel for winds that were weighted with numbing
sleet. Then, April returned angrily, bringing cold rains and blows to
check all vegetation.
But April half gone, a tardy thaw set in. The icy covering of the
river split into whirling blocks, the snow grew soft and bally, the
crust rotted and picked up. Soon the tempering sun drove the drifts
from south exposures. When a freshet coursed down the coulée, and the
low spots on the prairie filled until they were broad ponds, around
which the migrating wild-fowl alighted with joyous cries. Now eaves
dripped musically; slushy wagon ruts ran like miniature Missouris, and
were travelled by horny frogs; prairie-cocks made each dawning weirdly
noisy, and far and near, where showed the welcome green, blue-eyed
anemones sprang bravely and tossed their fuzzy heads in the sharp air.
Throughout this season, the shack had but one visitorThe Squaw. He
brought fuel, and once a week a basket of supplies from B Troop.
Occasionally, he came swinging a brant by the neck, or carrying a
saddle of fresh venison. But though his manner was as friendly as ever,
and he seemed no less grateful and devoted, he was always strangely
worried and distraught. The evangelist called by once or twice, when
storms or the rushing icepack in the river did not prevent his
crossing. As for Lounsbury, he traversed the bend often on his way to
Brannon and, if he saw a face at a window, waved his hand in pleasant
greeting. But he kept to the road.
Since the morning of the aurora, the little family had ceased to
speak of him. That silence was neither demanded by the section-boss nor
agreed upon by the three. On Lancaster's part, it grew out of the
sneaking consciousness of the ingratitude he did not regret; on the
part of Marylyn, it arose from two causes: a sense of girlish shame at
having confessed her attachment, and a fear that her father would
discover it. With Dallas, consideration for the feelings of her sister
made her shrink from mentioning Lounsbury. Yet there was another
reason, and one no less delicateshe, as well, had a secret to guard.
But in the mind of the elder girl, the thought of Marylyn's
happiness was the uppermost. There were dread moments when it seemed to
her as if that happiness were to be shattered.
During all the past weeks, Marylyn had carefully harboured her
fancies about Lounsbury. Certain of the calico-covered books on the
mantel had no little part in this. Their stories of undying
affectionof bold men, lorn maidens, and the cruel villains who
gloried in severing themhelped her to fit her little circle into
proper rôles. She loved, and must crush out her passion. Lounsbury,
whom she loved, had been sent away by her father. And she lived up to
the play consistently. She saw the storekeeper anguished over his
banishment; saw depths of meaning in the good-natured salutes he gave
the shack. With herself, she accepted loneliness as a sign of deeper
suffering. She was tortured by self-pity, by the doubt she had flung at
Dallas, by the firm belief that her heart was hopelessly fettered.
Gazing into a piece of looking-glass that served her for a mirror, she
marked with sorrowful pride her transparent skin and lustreless eye.
She sighed as she watched from the windows. Patiently, she listened for
footsteps, her face half turned to the door.
And yet what she took so tragically was nothing but failing health.
What was not a fact the night of her admission to Dallas, was almost
come to pass. The few days of great cold and hunger in February,
coupled with long confinement in the dirt-floored house, were having
their effect. She was on the verge of illness.
Lancaster, whenever he noticed her dejection, was inclined to
pooh-pooh it. She looks as ef she'd jes' been slapped, he declared,
an' is expectin' another lammin' any minnit. Ef she'd cry, she'd shore
weep lemon-juice. Again, he reckoned that she had picked up some
notion. Jealous and suspicious as he was, however, he got no nearer to
But Dallasshe was misled far more than either Marylyn or their
father. She fought away from the idea that her sister might be breaking
physically, and tenderly as a mother yearned over her. Anxious-eyed,
she noted the pallor of the childlike face, the melancholy expression
that had come to be habitual. She fretted over the spareness of the
younger girl, who ate only when she was urged. If, sated with sleep,
Marylyn moved in the night, Dallas aroused on the instant and hovered
At last, thoroughly alarmed, the elder girl determined to follow out
the idea that had occurred to her in mid-winter. What did it matter how
hard and hateful the duty would be? What did her own hidden feelings
matter? She would appeal to Lounsbury in her sister's behalf.
But time passed without bringing her the opportunity, and it was
borne in upon her finally that Lounsbury meant to remain away, perhaps
until he was bidden to come. Undaunted, she made plans to waylay him on
the coulée road. Resting the Sharps across her arm, she set out,
morning or afternoon, on a long jaunt.
But Lounsbury was not met. On one such ramble, however, an incident
occurred that was far-reaching, if not fatal, in its results. She was
going, homeward slowly, when she saw, approaching, an ambulance from
Brannon, drawn by a four-mule team. She started timidly aside; then
paused. The vehicle was filled with ladies. A half-dozen, who were
talking and laughing merrily, occupied the lengthwise seats of the
carriage. One sat beside the driver. Dallas put herself in their path,
How often she had watched these same ladies canter out of post on
their horseback rides, officers attending them; or seen them make a
rollicking walking-party to the bluff-top. And she had pictured how,
some day, they would be ferried to the bend. They could not have heard
how her father talked. If they had they would not blame her. If they
passed her, they would smile and bowmaybe stop to speak!
She was all aglow, now. The ambulance rolled near. It was closed on
its sides, and the women within could not see her. The woman on the
seatpretty, slender, daintily claddid. Dallas leaned forward
eagerly, face flushed, eyes shining.
The woman also leaned forward, and looked Dallas up and down,
searchingly, coldly. Her lips were set in a sneer. Her eyes frowned.
Then, the ambulance bowled smartly along, the driver catching at a
leader with his whip.
Who's that, Mrs. Cummings? The women in the rear of the vehicle
were peering out.
Mrs. Cummings answered over her shoulder. Why, it's The
There were Ohs and Ahsand laughter.
The girl by the roadside heard. Slighted, rebuffed, wounded to the
quick, she stumbled homeward, her sight blinded by tears.
She did not wait for Lounsbury again. Once she thought of writing
him, of summoning him through a note given Squaw Charley. But recalling
her father's treatment of the storekeeper, she questioned if the latter
would heed her message. She felt herself isolated. But no hint of her
bitterness was allowed to reach Marylyn. The younger girl knew only
bright words, and unceasing, unselfish care.
For one thing Dallas was deeply thankful: Matthews did not trouble
the shack. David Bond had told her that when the troops left for the
summer campaign, the interpreter would ride with them, the evangelist
being retained at the fort to fill the other's place. The latter
declared that, by the pilot's report, Lounsbury's name made Matthews
lay back his ears, but that he no longer stormed about losing the
And now came the warm daysdays in swift, sweet contrast to those
just gone. Sun and shower banded the sky with triple arcs of promise.
The robins arrived, a plump and saucy crew. Bent-bill curlews stalked
about, uttering wild and mellow calls. The dwellers of the ground threw
up fresh dirt around their burrows. The marsh violets opened pale lilac
cups. And the very logs of the shack put forth ambitious sprigs, so
that, from the front, the grotesque head displayed a bristle of green
whisker. The prairie was awakeblood and soil and sap.
Ben and Betty showed their high spirits with comical sporting. The
mules frolicked together, pitching hind quarters, rearing to box and
nipping at Simon. Fully as gay was he, though his shaggy flanks were
gaunt. He played at goring them, or frisked in ungainly circles.
Occasionally, however, he gave signs of ill-humour, lowered his broad
horns threateningly, even at Dallas, pawed up the new grown grass, and
charged to and fro on the bend, his voice lifted in hoarse challenge.
On the little family, the light, the warmth, and added duties
wrought a good effect. Lancaster's grumbling lessened, and he helped to
plant some boxes with cabbage and tomato seed that the sutler
supplied. Marylyn, coaxed out for an hour or two daily, rewarded Dallas
with smiles. Her appetite grew (rather to her chagrin). And when she
held the looking-glass before her, she saw a faint colour in her
To Dallas, the spring brought renewed courageand a vague longing.
With the first mild evenings, she took to venturing out, wrapped in her
long cloak, for a lonely walk. In her love of the gloaming, she was
like a wild thing. From birth, the twilights of the mesa had
proved irresistible. When she was a child they soothed her little
troubles; in womanhood, if sorrow pressed heavily, they brought her
strength. The half light, the soft air, and the lack of sound were balm
to her spirit.
Nightly she strayed up the coulée, eastward, south, or toward the
river; until, early in May, a second incident occurred and interrupted
her rambles. She had walked as far as the swale that was part way to
the Missouri. There she was startled into a sudden halt. From a point
ahead of her and to the left, sounded a gun shot.
She sank down cautiously, and stayed close to the ground, her
fingers steadying her, her breath suspended. There was no moon, and the
stars were obscured by clouds. The cottonwoods were a black, shapeless
mass. She watched them.
No answering shot rang out. But, after a long wait, a reply came
from the grove. It was a laugh, loud and taunting.
She stayed crouched, and presently saw a small black object leave
the big blackness of the trees and advance. Frightened, she arose and
retraced her steps, glancing behind her as she went. At the shack,
having found the latch-string, she backed into the room.
Her father and sister were asleep. Next morning, on a plea of not
wishing to alarm them, she refrained from telling of the shot. It may
have been a hunter, she reasoned, or a drunken trooper, or one of the
Shanty Town gang. But the laughit rang in her ears.
Several twilights passed, then she ventured out again. A lip of moon
was dropping down an unclouded sky; the stars hung low and white. And
when she neared the swale, she saw, a good distance before her, that
small black object separate itself from the grove again and move
She stopped. She was not frightened now. She knew who it was. And
when she saw his arms come up, and caught the glint of metal, she
called out to him: Don't! don't! It's me!
There was a muttered exclamation, and the arms fell. Miss Dallas,
he cried, and sprang forward.
II was sure it was you, she admitted tremulously. And you've
been guarding here all the time!
Lounsbury was panting. Suppose I'd fired? he said. I had a mind
You'd 'a' missed, likely.
Maybe not. You see, I thought, wellthat Matthews or that precious
brother of his, they might get to bothering you folks. Anyway, ain't it
dangerous for you to be out here late like this?
It is for you. You get shot atkeeping guard on us.
He thumped the swale impatiently with the butt of his gun.
Oh, it was you, she persisted, gravely enough; that is why
I came to-night.
Ah! You mean that I can help you, Miss Dallas. Tell metell me,
what can I do?
Don't let Matthews kill you.
Lounsbury laid down his gun. When he straightened, he stepped to her
side. Me? he said. Well, I'm a match for him. You ain't. But what
She moved aside, averting her face.
There is something, Miss Dallas?
He saw she was disconcerted, and strove to put her at ease. Do you
know, he said, you're so tall in that coat, you almost look like a
'heap big chief.'
She did not hear him. She was not listening. The wished-for
opportunity was come. She was trying desperately to rally a speech.
Youyou ain't been 'round of late, she began at last. I hope
But she could not finish,
No, he said slowly. He rammed his hands into his trouser pockets.
I haven't been around lately. ButI didn't think you'd notice it. He
darted a glance at her.
Was it dad? she asked. Did you think
Yes, it was your father. I thought he went out of his way to
bewell, kinda short, you know. I was only trying t' be decent.
Dad's funny, she said reflectively. Whenever we get to a
chuck-hole, where all of us ought to pull t'gether, he goes slack on
the tugs. He's like Ben that way. So I have t' go up to him, stroke his
mane, fix his curb, and let some cool air under his collar. After
while, he gives a haw-hee-haw and goes on.
Lounsbury did not laugh. He balked when it came to me, he said
soberly. And it hurt. AfterwardI kinda got it into my head that none
of you wanted me.
She looked straight at him. But one didone did, she
He pulled his hands free of his pockets. Oneone, he said
And now everything was clear to her. She knew just what to say. She
had no feelings of self; the duty was not hateful, nor embarrassing.
Who? she repeated. Don't you know, Mr. Lounsbury? Why, Marylyn.
Marylyn, he echoed as if in a puzzle; Marylyn. You're joking!
She caught a shade of reproach in that, and misunderstood it. I
reckon you won't like her so well now, she said.
Like her so well? I don't know what you mean.
Sheshe likes you, stammered Dallas.
Still he was puzzled. I supposed she didn't hate me.
But now you know.
There was no mistaking her. Utterly dumfounded, he could not trust
an immediate answer. I see, I see, he said finally.
And you'll like her just the same?
He drew a deep breath. His eyes were on her face, trying to read it
in the dimness. Then, I am not a cub boy, Miss Dallas.
You won't stay away, she persisted. You'll come.
If I'm judging right, I mustn't. I'mI'm sorry.
He strode back and forth a few times. Whywhy, Miss Dallas, you
must understand that a man can'twhen a girlWell, it'd be low for
me to talk about it, that's allout and out low.
Something stirred her powerfully thensomething she combated, and
concealed from him by a touch of apparent anger. There's nothing low
about it, she said. A man ought to be proud. Oh, as he was about to
reply, you don't know how she's felt. She's been sick over it, white
and sad, and at night she'd cry.
And you're just sorry!
When did you find this out?
That day you drove Matthews away. She told me.
He walked about again. I can't see why she does, he mused
pathetically. I can't remember doing anything.
But you've been so good to useven after the way dad
actedguarded out here, and sent that land-office man down from
He made a protesting gesture. Pshaw!
Oh, yes, you did. And why? Why?if you don't care
A long silence followed. During it she watched him, her very
attitude imploring, while he continued to pace.
All at once he stopped determinedly. There's a reason, he said,
why I can't do what you ask: Come to see Marylyn, andand all that.
Dad? Ah, he's got to think like me.
No; not your father.
Maybethe bitterness of Mrs. Cummings' slight impelled itmaybe
you don't think she's good enough.
Dallas! No! No! He put out a hand to her.
There's a reason. He let his arm fall. And it is fair and square.
I'm proud of it, too, and you must hear it. His tone was significant,
No hint of his meaning suggested itself to her. Then I want to know
it, she said.
I didn't intend to tell you, he began, at least for a while. When
I was at the shack last I made up my mind it wouldn't do any good. I
said to myself, 'You keep quiet.' Buthe plucked off his hat and sent
it whirling to the gunI guess you'll have to know now. Dallas, the
Me? The question was a cry.
Lounsbury waited, standing very still before her. Then reaching out
again, he touched her hand. You, he said quietly.
Again she retreated.
Please don't go, he begged. I want to tell you more. And I want
you to say you believe me. You must believe me.
There was another long silence. Presently he went back and picked up
his hat and gun. I know just where it puts you, he said. But, just
the same, I love you.
He was certain now that he had earned her displeasure. When he spoke
again, it was as one who accepts a sad finality. I love you, and I
want you. I hoped you might think a little of me some day. For I
believe I could make you happy. So it was disappointing to find out
that you hadn't thought of me that way; that you were figuring on
seeing me take Marylyn.
I never had much idea of marrying. But when I saw you that first
time, when you came in through the door, you rememberwhy, then, I
began to think. Couldn't help it. He put on his hat and lifted the gun
to his shoulder. I even wrote mother about you, he said.
He was unprepared for the answer she gave him, for it was an answer.
Without speaking, she buried her face in the curve of her arm, and, as
if seized with an ague, began to tremble.
Dallas, he whispered tenderly. Oh, my dear girl! I'm so glad! so
glad! You willyou do?
But he found himself pleading into space.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE SMOKING MOUNTAIN
Medicine Mountain was a volcano. Out of its rocky summit and into
the quiet air of the May morning was rising a straight, blue column of
A flag wigwagged from the southern lookout station to herald the
phenomenon, and in a moment the post was agog. Keen-sighted scouts
hurried to points of vantage, where they studied the mounting plume.
Far-reaching glasses were trained amid lively surmise from the
galleries fronting the parade. While at barracks, blocking the windows
and thronging the porch, the eager troopers gossiped and craned.
But in the stockade interest reached its highest pitch. Braves,
squaws, and children were strung along the upper end of the enclosure,
breathlessly watching the vapour-thread. Each swarthy face had dropped
the mask of listlessness; each figure was rooted. Not an eye forsook a
straight line to the belching mountain-top.
For full three minutes, the distant fire sent up a steady pillar.
Then, fort and stockade saw that pillar suddenly wobble, as if caught
in the vagaries of a fitful breezesaw it wobble, thicken, break, and
disappear; when the butte again stood, a jagged tooth, against the sky.
Above it, innocently white, floated a hand's breadth of cloud.
And now the trumpet rang. Obeying it, two detachments mounted. One
spurred away down-river, keeping close in the lee of the bluffs. The
other boarded the ferry and was landed at the cut north of Shanty Town,
from where it made toward the Norwegian's. Behind, an envious, but
feverishly happy, garrison set about putting an extra polish on its
arms. The grass was too short for a war-pony. Active duty had not been
expected within the month. Yet the time of dreary waiting was up at
last. For here, within striking distance, were the hostile reds!
The warriors in the stockade knew better. Like so many whipped dogs,
they were scattered to cover, there to hide their bitter chagrin. No
war-party was come to harry Brannon, to lure the troopers into battle,
to free the captive village. A lone Indianthe looked-for
messengerhad fanned that signal-fire on the mountain. And, by a wave
of his blanket, he had told them evil news!
To Colonel Cummings, the seeming early boldness of the enemy gave an
inkling of what might be expected later onin the summerwhen there
would be good grazing, and a smaller force at the post. Already he
feared for the safety of the settlers living within sight of the
garrison flag. The detachment landed at the cut was ordered to warn two
of them. The third was Evan Lancaster. To him the commanding officer
sent David Bond.
But it was Dallas whom the evangelist sought. He found her at work
upon the plowed strip, cross-dragging it in preparation for the
planting of the corn. As she drove up and down, she walked hatless in
the sun. Her hair was down, and hung forward in two braids. She wore
the snug jersey that had been her mother's. Her skirt was tucked up,
back and front, to be out of the way. It disclosed no red flannel
Not far away was Simon, a starling riding him to gobble the
greenheads as they bit. The bull was revolving sulkily on his
picket-rope, and shedding his long winter coat upon the new grass. In
deference to his inborn dislike, Dallas was wearing an underskirt of
Though the evangelist had never seen her trudging behind the mules,
he had often spoken of it pityingly. Yet, as he came toward her now, he
felt only an unbounded pridein her unselfishness, and in her brave
efforts to wrest a living from the soil.
A splendid Ruth, he murmured, advancing, a splendid Ruth, toiling
in the fields!
Seeing him, she gave a swift, troubled glance at the shack. Then,
avoiding his eyes, and without speaking, she pulled up Ben and Betty
and held out a hand.
When he took it, the pride of a moment before changed to compassion.
He remembered that he must tell her what would alarm. For in her face
he saw the traces of many a sleepless night, and of a sapping worry.
Daughter, you are ill! he declared, and kept a tight hold on her
No, there ain't anything the matter with me. Onlystill avoiding
his eyes, she turned to survey the harrowed landonly, I'm some put
out. This sod
Never mind the sod, he said gravely. I want to askdid you see
the mountain? He loosed her fingers, and pointed an arm to the south.
She laughed, following his pointing. Yes, I did. Looks as if claims
are getting scarce, don't it? When a nester has to file up there!
Midway between shack and butte was an ox-team that had been
travelling to and fro across a quarter-section since dawn. The team was
now at a stand, and their driver was slouching against his plow. Beyond
him were several galloping dots.
And you saw the cavalry? said David Bond.
One word will tell you what it means, Dallas. It's Indians!
She showed no sign of disquiet. Presently, when she had thought over
the announcement, she turned round to him, frankly meeting his gaze for
the first time. That's funny, she said. Why, last year, all the way
up from Texas, there wasn't an Indian bothered us!
Last summer, before you came, the soldiers at Brannon did not dare
go more than a mile outside the lines to hunt. It will be the same this
summer. There is that stockade full of prisoners, and four of them are
condemned to be hanged. Before long the Indians will be circling the
She looked away at the ox-team. They were being taken from the plow
and put to a wagon.
Then, again, she turned squarely. What about Shanty Town? she said
He understood. Shanty Town goes when the troops go.
ButhesitatinglyMatthews does not. He will stay at Brannon to act
He will! she said, and coloured.
He coloured, too, feeling himself reproved. But from under the wide,
battered felt that had supplanted the nubia, his eyes shone with no
resentment, only fatherly tenderness.
You wonder why I do not remain, he began, so that Matthews could
be sent away. I shall tell you.
She let the reins fall to the drag. That isn't it, she answered
quickly. We have no right to ask you to do anything after the way dad
treated you. But the Colonel sent you over to tell us to look out.
Didn't he? And he keeps a man over therepays him to stayand that
man is a sight worse than an Indian!
I could have that man dismissed, he said slowly. Please let me
tell you why I don't. In the first place, the Indians are beginning to
act badlyvery badly. They are invading Crow territory, and stealing
from peaceful bands. They are molesting whites wherever they can find
them, and murdering. So we can judge that there will be hard fighting.
For the troops will seek to pay them up.
Oh, Dallas, how I pray to see trouble stop! I am going to the
Indians. I know their leadershave known them for ten years or more. I
shall ask them to consider the good of their squaws and children and
property, and ask them to accept reservation life. If they won't, I
shall beg a few of them to come in with me and at least talk treaty.
That is the first reason for my going. The second is the Jamiesons.
If I find those poor women, and tell their captors that the four chiefs
here are in danger, I know mother and daughter will be handed over to
You're right! You can save them!
God bless you for saying that! It won't be pleasant with Matthews
But you must go. Never mind about Matthews.
I cannot go without being satisfied that you and Marylyn will be
safe. The Colonel said
The Colonel, she interrupted. Then, half resentfully, Did the
women folk send any word?
He was mildly surprised. N-n-no, he answered, they didn't,
She laughed, and picked up the reins.
Well, dad'll never leave this quarter, she said decisively, if
that's what the Colonel wants.
The evangelist shook his head. 'Thou dwellest in the midst of a
rebellious house,' he quoted sadly. Now, if you come to the Fort to
Matthews could move into the shack.
Hardly that, with the backing you have. The boys at the post would
never see Matthews take your home. Believe me, as long as you and your
father care to live here, you can. Public opinion over therehe
pointed to Brannonis strong in your favour. And there is Lounsbury,
too. Why, that man is helpless.
She averted her face.
So you will lose nothing by coming to the Fort, he persisted,
while you may save a great dealyour lives!
Dad will never go to the Fort. He hates 'em like poison.
Yesyeshe's foolish and stiffnecked. For such is punishment
meted out. See! The ox-team was travelling toward them, prodded by the
They stood in silence for a while.
Then, go to Bismarck, urged David Bond, finally. Stay there until
Live on what? she asked.
From a hind pocket he slowly brought forth a narrow buckskin pouch,
tied with a thong. He opened it, and emptied a handful of coins upon a
palm. This is only a little, he said apologetically. But it will
help. Andyou must think first of your safety.
I can't take it, she said, her voice all gentleness. Even if I
didwhat about next winter? I must stay and raise things. Don't you
At Bismarck you would have a double market, Dallas. There is Fort
Lincoln, and the town.
I'dI'd have to plow new ground, she went on. Andwe'd have to
build again, and dig another well
There are men in Bismarck who
Suddenly she lowered her voice and stepped nearer. That's just the
reason dad wouldn't go there, she said. We'd be close to town. We'd
have to meet folks. Here, he keeps away from the Fort, and you, and Mr.
Lounsburyeveryone but Charley.
Ohohoh, breathed the evangelist, helplessly.
Now, you know. It's no use. I don't complain. But, he's fastened to
the Bend with a diamond hitch!
Now, I know! David Bond exclaimed.
A halloo sounded from the shack. Facing that way they saw the
section-boss. He was standing just outside the door, balanced on one
crutch. The other he was thrusting angrily at the ground.
You see! said Dallas. You see! And he can't help it. Poor dad!
The evangelist groaned and held out a hand. Dear girl, he said,
it is good-by. God keep you all, and God help me! I see truly that you
are tied; that I can do no good. The Colonel will surely take care that
you are protected. Lounsbury and Charles will watch. I must go with
that comforting knowledge. My love to MarylynGood-by.
She steadied her voice to answer. I watch, she said. I don't
sleep well, so it's easy. If they heard a gun at Brannon
He raised his hand to bless her. Then, without speaking again,
walked slowly away. She unhooked the tugs and headed the mules for
Wal, called her father, sarcastically, as she approached, what's
thet ol' sniffler want? Is day aft' t'morrow th' en' o' th' world?
She ignored his questions, and told him of the warning.
Instantly, his anger rose. Planting himself before her, he shook a
finger close to her face. So th' Kunnel's tryin' t' skeer us, is he?
he demanded. Tryin' t' git us t' come in an' leave th' Ben'.
Wal!ain't we right under his nose? Kain't he watch out fer us? W'at's
he here fer? W'at's he paid fer?
Then, riding in on the tide of his wrath, came dark suspicion. An'
w'at's he so crazy t' git us away fer? he queried. Yah! yah! Ah'd
like t' knowAh do know! He's got thet low-down card-sharp of a
Matthews fer his interpreter. He knows thet card-sharp wants this lan'.
Thet's his game! An' he kain't fool me!
Maybe, maybe, said Dallas, leaving him to stand beside Marylyn.
But, of course, dad, we mustn't forget that he's warned the other
folks on this side, too.
Her father glared at her. You takin' his part, ain't y'? he
said. M-m-m! how's thet? Are you so all-fired anxious t' git t'
No, dad, I'll never go to Brannon. Never! never! If I did, you, my
father, oughtn't t' misunderstand it.
He quailed before her vehemence, and hobbled shamefacedly toward the
door. O' course, if th' Injuns come he began.
They won't. She drew Marylyn to her. And if they do, a shot'll
He was in the doorway, now. W'y, he cried, here's thet fool
Norwegian goin' t' th' landin'. Wal, he is pritty shy on sand!
We'll be killed if the Indians come, Dallas. It was Marylyn,
whispering up fearfully to her sister.
We'll be careful, honey. Keep away from the coulée after this. Walk
toward Brannon, always.
Dallas spent the afternoon out of doors, where everything spoke of
peace. Not even a hand's breadth of cloud floated upon the sky. The air
was warm, and fragrant with the new growth. Magpies chattered by. The
bobolinks sent up their hearty song.
When she left off work, she saw the settler from the little bend
drive by with his wife and children. Going home, she found her father
cleaning and caressing the Sharps. But in her ability to sense danger,
as in her love of the gloaming, Dallas was like a wild thing. And she
felt not the slightest disquiet.
CHAPTER XIX. AL BRADEN OF SIOUX
Midway of the even, broad expanse between shack and gap stood an
A-tent, very new, very white, and very generous in dimension. Like a
giant mushroom, it had cropped forth during the night. About it
stretched the untouched prairie, all purpling over with
The tent opened toward the river, and was flanked on one side by a
pile of short pickets, their tops dipped the colour of the canvas,
their bases nicely sharpened for the plotting out of ground. Near by,
thrown flat, was a wide board sign, which read, in staring blue
AL BRADEN, REAL ESTATE.
It was well on toward noon before the tent showed life. Then there
emerged from it a bulky man of middle age, who dusted at his high boots
as he came, stretched, drawing his long coat snug, and settled an
elaborate vest. He completed his costume by donning a black hat that
was of wool, and floppy. Then, thumbs tucked in armholes, he strolled
away toward the Lancasters'.
The section-boss and his daughters were lined up on the warm side of
the lean-to, shading their faces from the sun. When the comer was so
near that they could see he was strange to them, Lancaster gave a
peremptory wag of the head, and the two girls disappeared around a
corner. Their father stayed on watch, his jaws working nervously with
the ever-present chew.
The burly man advanced upon the lean-to. Mornin', mornin', was his
greeting. He made several swinging bows at Lancaster, and took him in
shrewdly from eyes that were round and close-set.
The section-boss grunted.
Lovely day, observed the other, with a bland smile. He
changed his tack a little, as if he were going by.
Lancaster hobbled along with him. Y-a-a-s, he drawled. Right
good. Some cool.
The stranger agreed by another series of swinging bows. You got a
nice place herenice place, he continued affably. He loosened one
thumb with a jerk.
The man halted in front of the shack and looked it over. You're a
Southern gentleman, said he, by your talk.
Ah am. Lancaster spoke with unfriendly rising inflection.
Well, well. A hand was extendeda fat hand, where sparkled a
diamond. Say, now, this is lovely, lovely. I'm a Southerner myself,
sir. Put it there!
The section-boss hesitated. So far, Dakota had offered him no
compatriot. He could scarce believe that one stood before him now. A
second, then he gave a pleased grin. Howdy, he said. Hope y' goin'
t' settle hereabout.
They shook heartily.
Settle due east of you, sir, was the answer. My name's Braden
Al Braden. I'm from Sioux Falls.
Won't y' come in?
Tickled t' death!
They entered the shack, Lancaster leading. Dallas and Marylyn
glanced up in surprise from the fireplace, and arose hastily.
M' gals, said the section-boss, motioning their visitor to a
Braden took it, with more swinging bows, and a sweep of his floppy
headgear. Glad t' meet you, he smiled, Miss-a-a-a-Miss
Lancaster's they name, prompted the section-boss, all good nature.
Lancaster. Glad t' meet you both.
Dallas nodded, and drew her sister away to the wagon-seat in the
Jes' fr'm th' Falls, Ah think y' said, began their father, hunting
his tobacco plug along the mantel.
Um. Anyany news fr'm down thet way 'bout this part o' th'
Braden fell to admiring his ring. No, sir, no. Didn't hear nothin'
The section-boss fidgeted. S'pose y' know they's some talk 'bout a
railroad comin' this way, he said carelessly.
Don't go much on that talk. Ten years, twenty yearsmaybe. Too
Lancaster's face lengthened. He blinked in dismay.
My idea, went on Braden, is cows. Goin' t' be a lot of money in
'em, sure as you're alive. Hear Clark's made a good thing of his'n.
Cows! said Lancaster, in disgust. Cows don' help a country; don'
raise th' price o' lan'.
Cows or no cows, your place here's worth a nice little sum,
protested the other, condescendingly; hunderd, anyway.
Lancaster stared. Hunderd! he cried. You got th' grass staggers.
Braden pursed his lips, his thumbs in his armholes again. Three
hunderd and fifty, say, he compromised. I'd be willin' t' give
A moment since, the section-boss had been downcast. Now, he
guffawed. Would y'? he asked; would y'? There was a
sage gleam in his eye.
Lancaster sucked his teeth importantly. Y' couldn' hev it a cent
short o' seven hunderd an' fifty, he declared.
You'll never get it, sir, never. Five hunderd's a spankin'
Telling you what's what. There's thousands of acres around here
just as good as your'n any day in the week. But you got this end of the
ford. That makes a little difference.
Makes 'bout fifteen hunderd dollars' diff'rence.
It was Braden's turn to laugh. My friend, you'll hist to two
thousand pretty soon, he warned; and arose. Better take five hunderd
and fifty when it's offered. He flung out his hands as if he were
Lancaster got up with him, righteously angry. Say, you ain't
no South'ner, he cried. Jes' a slick Yank. Ah c'n see through you
Braden laughed again, tapping the shoulder of the section-boss. You
ain't wise, he confided. Farmin' out here with cows around means
fences. But hang on if you want to. It's your land. He ended this with
a jovial slap, and made for the door. From it, he could see the girls.
He gave them a magnificent bow. Mornin', mornin', he said, and walked
Lancaster went back to the hearth, fairly weak with delight. Dallas
and Marylyn joined him. W'at d' y' think! gurgled their father. Say,
he ain't got th' sense he ought 'a' been born with!
Don't like him, Dallas declared.
Pig eyes, suggested Marylyn.
At that the section-boss calmed. Wal, he said, he's as good
anyhow as slop-over soldiers.
Meanwhile, Braden was on his way to The Trooper's Delight, his face
glum, his step quick, his arms cutting the air like propellers. When he
lumbered into it, he creaked up to the plank bar and helped himself to
a finger of whisky. Then he propped himself on an elbow and stood
scowling into the rear of the room.
From the gaming-table sounded the raillery of a dozen men. Matthews
was there, heels up, hat tipped back, a cigar set between his little
What y' givin' us, cried one of his companions. You're drunk,
Braden listened, turning away. An advertisement of brandy hung from
a shelf on the far side of the bar. He toyed with his goblet, his eyes
fixed on the gaudy, fly-specked picture.
I ain't drunk, Matthews declared. I never been
drunk. My stomick ain't big 'nough to hold the reequissit
There was more laughter. The interpreter, well pleased with himself,
surveyed his audience, pointing the cigar, now up, now down, so that
its glowing end threatened to burn his shirt collar, or, tilting
skyward, all but singed what there was of a tow eyebrow.
And that ain't the best part of the story, he went on. As I was
sayin', not a darned pound of ice was left in Boston. Well, what d' y'
think my old man does? He rents the fastest coast-steamer he can find.
Then, he goes 'way up north in the Atlantic and lays-to with his
weather eye open. Day or two, long comes a' iceberg big as a house. And
by, he hitches to it, and Boston gits ice!
And now, like a ponderous bobcat descending upon its prey, Braden
stole soft-footed across the room. Nick! he said. His jaws came
together with the click of a steel trap.
Matthews lowered his heels. Jumpin' buffalo! he cried in
amazement. Al Braden! Where'd you come from? He took the
other's hand, at the same time pulling him slowly toward the door. Away
from the crowd, they brought up.
Well, you're a nice one! was Braden's answer. You're a
nice one! Lettin' that Bend slip through your fingers!
All the interpreter's cocksureness was gone. He threw the cigar into
the sand-box under the stove, and looked on the verge of following it.
Say, you talk of fleecin', taunted Braden. Why, you been
skinned clean's a whistle! And by a' old fool duffer from Texas!
I was at Dodge when he come, snarled Matthews, finding his voice.
What you go streakin' off to Dodge for, after the tip I give?
Well, no one here was talkin' railroad. So I, well, I
Braden addressed the ceiling, his fat hands outspread. No one here
was talkin' railroad, no one here was talkin' railroad? he mimicked.
So I didn't put much stock in your letter.
You didn't, eh? Braden searched a coat-pocket, found a newspaper
clipping and thrust it under Matthews' nose. Well, read that.
Read it yourself, said Matthews. You know blamed well
Braden interrupted him by beginning. He lowered his voice, and
intoned, giving the interpreter a glance designed to wilt him with the
words that called for stress:
'The proposed line will open up a country of rich grasses
and ground and of unexcelled hunting. The
still troublesome beyond the Missouri, are rapidly
brought to see the advisability of remaining on the
reservations, and little more annoyance on their
may be apprehended. Fort Brannon, he declares, is in
hands of several hundred brave fighting men and may be
looked upon as a place of certain refuge in case of an
outbreak. The soldiers are proving to be such a menace
those Indians who will not agree to reservation life,
whole bands of the more savage redskins are leaving for the
Bad Lands and the rougher country farther
Indian war-parties have been seen east of the big river for
some time. Already there is an increasing interest
land along the survey. And it is believed that
last ties of the new line are laid there will
unclaimed quarter-sections between the Big Sioux
There! Braden wound up. And gradin' begun already at the
The hl you say!
Believe me now, won't you? Didn't they have a bank_quit with
champagney? All the State big-bugs, head sur_veyor, and so on?
That's what I say. And I'll say more. Of course, we was to go
pardners on this thing. So far, so good. But here you ain't did your
half. And you can't kick if I deal from now on with old man Lancaster.
Matthews understood. By, I done my best, he cried. Y' can't
come any of that on me, Braden.
Keep on your shirt, Nick, keep on your shirt. I looked into this
thing at Bismarck, and, under the law, you ain't got one right.
Lancaster owns that Bend. And if I pay him out of my own money, why
ain't it square?
The interpreter hung his head.
Of course, Braden went on, I'd rather divvy. I can see he's one
of them greedy old ducks that's hard to talk money with. Maybe you can
think up how to get the land back.
Matthews leaned close. I had a scheme,he nodded south in the
direction of Medicine Mountainbut the reds can't come. I had t' go
slow. There's women in th' fambly. Nat'lly, all the men up and down the
Muddy want t' see Lancaster stay. There's been a dude fr'm Bismarck
here, off and ontony cuss, sleeps between sheets, nice about his paws
as a cat. He's been ready t' tattle or roll a gun.
Braden sniffed. What trick's he played?
Matthews evaded the question. I seen one of the Clark outfit, he
continued, and tried t' git him t' bother old limpy. Says I, 'They's
stealin' your slow-elk down there.' Wasn't any use. 'Thunderation!'
says the cow-punch. 'You mean that bull? He was a yearlin' when he come
to 'em. That's maverick age.'
Braden sneered. Such a kid! he murmured. Why didn't you lay low,
and not go butting down their door? Why didn't you lose the old man and
snub up one of the girlsmarry her? Big one's a rip-snortin' beauty;
pert, by jingo! as a prairie-dog.
She'd send me a-flyin', urged Matthews. But th' little one
Sure! You're a good-lookerhandsome. If you'd fix yourself up
If I could git rid of the old man! If I could! Aw! come t' think,
what I got that lout of a brother for? Easywith Indians to lay
it on. Blaze the way for 'Babe'he's a sapheadbut he knows enough to
follow a spotted line.
I'll try t' scare 'em off.
Huh! folks that ain't afraid to come this far in a schooner,
Indians or no Indians, ain't likely to stampede at one white.
You don't know how I mean.
Go ahead. No use our brayin' like starved jackasses. Do
somethin'. You was a fool to ever let 'em winter.
Matthews clenched his fists. Well, he said, they won't winter
CHAPTER XX. A CHARGE
David Bond was on his knees in the bed of his wagon, beneath the
high board cross. Before him he held an open Bible. But he was not
reading. His head was uncovered. His beard was lifted. His eyes closed
in prayer. Beside him knelt Squaw Charley, with hands pressed together,
as if reverent; with shoulders bent lower than their wont; with
shifting, downward look. North of the barracks, on the road that led
from the steamer-landing, the two had met in the early hours to say
Swift on the first hint of coming trouble, the evangelist had made
ready for his long journey to the west. Shadrach was shod, his master
fitting the plates to the shaggy hoofs. The runners were taken from the
green box and replaced by the red wheels. Canned food, salted meat,
hardtack, and forage were boxed or sacked at the sutler's. The harness
was greased. A new nail was driven home through the base of the sagging
During these preparations, the post joined in an effort to damp the
aged preacher's hopes and to check his going. He was needed at Brannon,
they said, so that the regiment could be rid of Matthews. His belief
that he could talk peace terms to the hostiles was ludicrous. As for
the Jamieson women, they were dead, or they would have been returned
long since to save the four condemned from hanging. And his own life
was to be uselessly endangered. Already, out upon the prairie, Indian
scouts were keeping watch. He might be able, though alone and unarmed,
to pass them and reach the coulées beyond. But he would only fall into
the murderous clutches of the savages swarming there.
David Bond smiled when they argued. His faith was as firm as the
bluffs that ramparted the fort, and his old heart was unafraid. With
him, against the rest, ranged two menRobert Fraser and young
Jamieson. They believed, as he did, that, knowing the tongue, and
having friends among the Sioux, he would be in no peril; that, by now,
the captive mother and daughter were on American ground again, and
would be given over to his care more readily than to another's; that
the arrival of troops before the enemy's camp would be fraught with
risk for the defenceless two; and that an attempt to take them by force
would be their death-signal.
Colonel Cummings was harrowed by Jamieson's months of anguish and
illness, and angered by the indifference and dawdling of the captors in
the face of his demand and threat. His heart was set upon punishment,
now, not treaty. He felt that he was being played with. And he longed
to find the red Sioux and thrash them soundly. A word about the
evangelist's trip put him out of patience. He regarded it as futile and
rash. Yet he did not forbid ithe dared not. For there was Jamieson's
old-young face and whitening head; and a hidden spark of hope that
would not die.
He owed it to his conscience and position, however, to discourage
David Bond. There will be sharp fighting this summer, he told him. A
hundred good men like you couldn't stop it. The cause lies too deep,
and it is too well founded. In the matter of the women, you will also
fail. They did not come as the price of four chiefs. Will they come
because you ask for them politely? They won't. And you will be
Then I shall die in a noble cause, answered the preacher, simply.
The Indians know me. I am their friend. I have spent my life with
them, taught them, advised, converted. What is all my labour worth,
Colonel, if I cannot go among them in times of distress?
Worth this, said the colonel, that you should know when to use
your common sense. I tell you, you will meet with treachery. Friend, or
no friend, this year the Indians are hunting scalps.
I put my trust in God, murmured David Bond.
Don't put your trust in redskins, retorted Cummings, crossly.
Whereupon he tramped away.
Waste of breathnothing else, he declared to his wife. I'm clean
put out with the old fellow. He's daft on going. Now, why doesn't he
stay here, instead of sticking his throat to the knife? There's plenty
to do. But, no. Off he must rush on a wild-goose chase. Well, he'll
have one, mark that! He's either ripe for an insane asylum or he's a
religious adventurerand I'm hanged if I know which!
It was the bluster that covers an aching wound; that is a vent for
outraged helplessness. And David Bond understood.
When he asked leave to address the stockade, the commanding officer
willingly consented. The attitude of the hostages on that occasion
startled and disturbed the whole post. For the evangelist might as well
have harangued the cottonwood grove across the river. He asked the
braves for messages to their brothers. By way of reply, they got up,
one after the other, from where he had found them, grouped in the sun
before the council-tent, and strolled insolently to their lodges. Soon
he was discoursing to empty space, and to a line of squaws who threw
him malignant glances and jeered at him. He left, surprised, saddened,
Impudence, bold hatred, and defiancethese were following the smoke
from Medicine Mountain. They formed a cue that pointed to one fact: The
prisoners were disappointed. They had been expecting, not peace and
reservation life, but freedom and battle.
David Bond felt a double need for his quick departure and his
services among the gathering war-bands. He hastened his few remaining
tasks and set the day for the start. Now, the day was come. His
farewells had been said at the shack and at headquarters. Breakfast
over and Shadrach put to the shafts, he would take his way up the
river. But first there must be laid upon Squaw Charley a final and a
The prayer finished, he put out a hand and touched the Indian. Then
he opened his tear-blurred eyes and looked at him, his face softening
and working. The Squaw did not budge. His palms were still pressed
tight. He blinked at the wagon-bed.
Charles, said the evangelist, earnestly, you and I love the
little family over yonder. They have been good and kind. I want you to
watch over them while I am gone, and be faithful to them. The father is
crippled and weak, and he has no friends. Charles, you must be a friend
to him, and to the girls. No matter what happens, do not fail them.
There will be another guarding. Guard with him. Something may call him
away; someone may kill him. Take his place. If danger comes, tell of it
at the Fort. Do you promise, Charles? do you promise? He leaned
The outcast moved from side to side uneasily.
Promise, promise, said David Bond. You must give up anything for
them, even your life. Remember thateven your life. I have told you
often, and you have not forgot: 'Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.'
Again the Indian moved uneasily.
'For his friends,' repeated the evangelist. Ah! they have been
your friends! He put his fingers beneath The Squaw's chin and lifted
it. The two looked long into each other's eyes. Then they arose and
Later, when the last buckle of Shadrach's harness was fixed, David
Bond climbed to the seat and took up the reins. A score of troopers
about the head of the white horse stepped aside and formed a little
lane. Here and there, a man reached up. Here and there, too, were
awkward attempts at wit. Hope y' 've made yer will, parson, called
one. Look out them locks o' yourn don't go t' trick out some big
buck, admonished a second. Good-by, cried a third, saluting with
great formality; tell ol' St. Peter he'll git a bunch of us some time
To all, the evangelist returned his blessing.
The interpreter shoved forward through the growing crowd and made a
show of friendliness. Gran'pa, he said, you're pritty game, all
right. Most old war-hosses like you'd be stayin' home and enjoyin'
David Bond threw up his head resentfully. Pension, he said, and
shot a searching look into Matthews' face. I am not a man who sells
his principles for money. What I give to my country, I give free.
The crowd cheered him, swinging their caps.
Then there was a hush. A shrunken figure was hurrying up, stretching
out thin hands to detain him. No one scoffed now. But one stout trooper
put an arm about Jamieson to steady him while he talked.
Mr. Bond, the Colonel thinks I oughtn't to go with you. He wants me
to wait for the ambulance. But he's foolinghe's fooling. He means me
to stay behind, and I know it. So I've come to say that I look to you
to find mother and Alice. Tell them to hurry. For I can't stand
thislong. The grey head dropped to the trooper's shoulder.
Jamieson, said the evangelist, if God spares my life I shall meet
your mother and sister. I shall cheer them and help them. I believe I
shall save them. If they are given to me, I shall come straight back.
Do not go with the command. Stay behind, Jamieson. I'll bring them to
I'll stay, then. I believe
The preacher smiled down, and to every side. Then he clucked to
Shadrach. The tugs straightened. The wagon rolled slowly out of the
The sunlight shone upon the green box and the red wheels, and upon
the staunch old driver, who never once looked back. Above him, emblem
of the sublime Martyr, sagged the high board cross.
CHAPTER XXI. A MEETING BY THE FORD
Under the cottonwoods that shadowed the landing-place, the clematis
trailed its tufts of fluffy grey; a cluster of wind-flowers nodded,
winking their showy blue eyes; birds whisked about to fetch straws and
scraps for their building; and the grass, bright green, but stubby,
wore a changing spatterwork of sun and leaf.
Marylyn let drop her bonnet and the cow-horn that hung by a thong to
her wrist. Then, with folded hands, she looked up and around her,
sniffing the warm air in delight. The Texas home had never offered such
a lovely retreat. There, the arid mesa had grown thorny
mesquite, scraggled cypress, or stunted live-oak for a shade; sand had
whirled ceaselessly before a high, hot wind; no flowers had bloomed but
the pale toadflax and the prickly-pear; and beside the salt lakes of
that almost waterless waste had nested only the vulture.
But this! It was like the blossom-strewn plain that burst upon them
as, desert-wearied, they travelled into Central Texas; like the
glimpses of April woodland in the Upper and Lower Cross Timbers. It
made generous return for the long, merciless winter; morein one
glance, in one breath, it swept away a whole winter of hateful
She caught up bonnet and horn and chose a seat close to the river.
Before her was a gap in the knotted grapevine heaps that clung along
the brink of the bank; through it, veiled only by some tendrils that
swung wishfully across, lay a wedge-like vista of muddy water,
bottom-land, bluff, and sky. The mid-morning sun glinted upon the
treacherous current, upon the wet grass of the bottom-land, upon the
green-brown bluff and the Gatling at its top, upon the far, curving
azure of the sky. Against the dazzle, her blue eyes winked harder than
the breeze-tossed anemones; stretching out upon her back, she rested
them in the shifting canopy of foliage.
A startled kingbird flashed past her, coming from a tree by the cut.
She got up, and saw a man in uniform standing near. He was a young man,
with a flushed face and wildly rumpled hair. In one hand he held a
tasselled hat; in the other, a rifle. He leaned forward from behind a
bull-berry bush, and his look was guiltily eager and admiring.
As startled as the kingbird, she grasped the cow-horn and lifted it
to her lips.
But she did not blow a warning. The uniform retreated in cowardly
haste, the tasselled hat lowered, and the eyes beseeched.
A moment. Then, the man smiled and shook his hat at her roguishly.
A-ah! he saidin the tone of one who has made a discoveryI didn't
know before that a fairy lives in this grove!
Marylyn glanced over a shoulder. Does there? she questioned, half
He took a forward step. There does, he answered solemnly. It's
Goldenhair, as well as I can make out. But where on earth are the
Instantly, she had her bonnet. My! my! she said. Bears!
Indians is bad enough. She peered into the long heaps of tangled
Oh, now! he exclaimed self-accusingly. He whipped a knee with the
hat. Now, I've gone and scared you! Say, honest! There isn't a bear in
a hundred milesI'd stake my stupid head on it.
But Golden she began.
Goldenhair? He smiled again, by way of entreaty. Why, Goldenhair
She clapped on her bonnet in a little flurry, pulling it down to
hide the last yellow wisp.
Misunderstanding the action, he began to plead. Oh, don't go;
please don't go! I've wanted to meet you for months and months.
I've heard so much about youLounsbury's told me.
She gave him a quick look from under the bonnet's rim. Mr.
Lounsbury, she repeated, and stiffened her lips.
He don't know much about me, I reckon. He ain't been to see us for
'months and months.' She began to dig at the ground with the toe of a
Wellwell he floundered, he's been awful rushed,
latelyneeded at Clark'sthere now. I promised toto tend to his
business here for him. But he told me about you, just the same, and
about your sister, too. Say, but she is a brick!
She gave him another look, slightly resentful, but inquiring.
What's a 'brick'? she demanded.
It's a person that's all grit, he answered earnestly.
That's Dallas, she agreed.
He passaged in cavalry fashion until he was between her and the
shack. Then he assumed a front that was cautiously humble. Lounsbury's
had the best of it, he complained. He's known you right from the
start. And this is the first chance I've ever had to know you.
She stopped toeing. But I don't know you, she returned. Mr.
Lounsbury's never told me
Well, I'll tell you: I'm Robert Fraser, from the Fort. That's
really all there is to say about me. You see, I've only been in one
fightthat was last falland I've never even killed an Indian.
She pulled nervously at her bonnet-strings. You're a soldier, she
said. And papa'd be mad as a hornet if he knew I'd spoke to you.
Fraser took another step forward. Pa won't know, he declared.
Promise you won't tell? she asked, blushing consciously.
He cast about him as if to find a proper token for his vow. I
promise, he answered, hat on heart; I promise by the Great Horn
You're the first II ever talked to, she faltered.
No, it's bad. Because I promised pa once that I wouldn't ever have
anything to do with a soldier. And now I'm breaking my word.
But he's dead wrong
That's what Dallas says.
Does she? Bless her heart! Then, why don't you both desert and come
over to the enemy?
Pa says you are enemy.
We were, he corrected soberly. But the war is over now.
Maybe it is, she said, wistful, but pa is still a-fighting.
And Goldenhair's drafted when she'd rather have peace. Too bad! He
motioned her to the seat by the gap.
I can't, I mustn't, she said, and moved a little toward the shack.
Then I'll go, he said firmly. I didn't mean to drive you out of
here. He also movedtoward the landing-place.
At that, she assented, fearful of hurting his feelings. But she
could think of nothing to say, and pulled thoughtfully at the grass.
He studied the farther bluff-top and its warding gun.
Peace, he repeated after a time. It's a thing we're not likely to
have this summer. And you folks must let us watch out for you, no
matter how much you dislike us. The Indians are out and getting ready.
They say there isn't a young brave left on any of the reservations up
this way. They're all huntingand we know what that means. They're
collecting and arming for battle. Our troops go to find them at
daybreak. See! He bent forward, pointing.
Below the stockade, on a level stretch showing yellow with mustard,
where grain had been unshipped the year before, stood long, grey-tented
They've moved out of barracks and gone into temporary camp.
That land man back there's moved and gone, too. She waited. Then,
Areare you going?
He shook his head. I'm scheduled to stay. It was a disappointment;
but I expected it. I've an idea B Troop won't be idle though.
Her brow knit. Indians? she asked.
Your being on this side of the river assures you folks safety, he
hastened to say. And they shan't get to you while B Troop's in post.
All the same, I wish pa'd let Dallas take us away.
If Indians show up, you'll all come to the Fort. And I'd like
No. Pa wouldn't let us. He'd die first.
And so maybe I shan't see you againunless you come here some day.
Do you think that you can? He bent to see her face. The bonnet framed
It'sit's a nice place, she asserted.
He held out his hand to her. I shall come, he said gently. But
now I've got to go.
She gave him her hand. He got to his feet still holding it, and
helped her to rise.
Good-by, she said bashfully, drawing away.
He freed her hand. You don't know how glad I am that we've met, he
said, you don't know. It's been pretty lonesome for me since I came
out. And you are a taste ofof the old life. You're like one of those
prairie-flowers that have escaped from the gardens back home. You
sweeten the Western air, Miss Marylyn.
She hung the cow-horn to her wrist and turned away. Overhead the
heart-shaped leaves were trembling to the rush of the river. Her heart
trembled with them, and her voice. We ain't Eastern, she said,
wistful again. I was born down yonder in the mesquite, I She
paused, glancing back at him.
He stood as she had seen him first. His face was flushed, his
uncovered hair was rumpled. In one hand he held his rifle, in the other
his tasselled hat. And his eyes were eager, admiring. No, you're not
Eastern, he said; you were born down in the mesquite. But remember
this, Miss Marylynit's the deepest woods that grow the sweetest
She went on, out of the grove. He lingered to watch her. Beyond the
coulée road, she caught sight of some dandelions and, gathering her
apron into a generous pouch, started to pick a mess. Her bonnet fell
off. She tied it by a string to her braid. Then, flitting here and
there, as she spied new clusters, she began an old Texas bunk-house
We saw the Indians coming,
We heard them give a yell.
My feelings at that moment
No mortal tongue could tell.
Her step was light. Her cheek was pink. Her eyes were happy. The
corners of her mouth were turned upward smilingly. About her warbled
the blackbirds. She mingled her tune with theirs.
CHAPTER XXII. A FIRST WARNING
Piercing its shrill way through the heavy mist that hung above the
Missouri, came a strange, new trumpet-call from Brannon. The opening
notes, reiterated and smooth-flowing, were unlike the first sprightly
lilt of reveille. As Dallas stilled the squeaking of the well-pulley to
listen, they fell upon her ear disquietly.
The summons ended. From behind, her father's voice called to her
querulously. Seem t' be changin' they mornin' toot over thar, he
said. Ah wonder ef it means anythin' par_tic_ular.
I think the soldiers are going, she answered.
Th' hull passel? he demanded; then, with a grunt, Wal, good
riddance o' bad rubbish.
Later on, as Dallas circled the shack with the plow, turning up a
wide strip as a protection against fires, she found that the reason she
had given for the trumpet's varying was the true one. The sun,
dispersing the fog, had unshrouded the river and unveiled the barracks
and the bluffs. When she saw that, of the canvas row below the stockade
not a tent remained, and the campground lay deserted. While from it,
heading northward through the post to the faint music of the band,
moved an imposing column of cavalry. Arms and equipment flashed
gallantly in the sun. Horses curveted. Handkerchiefs fluttered good-bys
from the galleries of the Line. Up Clothes-Pin Row, the wives and
babies of troopers waited in little groups. At the quarters of the
scouts sounded the melancholy beat of a tom-tom. Accompanying it, and
contrasting with it weirdly, was a plaintive cadencethe monotonous
lament of Indian women.
The column wound on its way, at its rear the heavy-rolling,
white-covered wagon-train. The band had ceased to play. The groups that
had been waving farewells sorrowfully dispersed. The tom-tom was still,
and no wail of squaws was borne across the river. Then, Dallas again
started up Ben and Betty.
And now a sudden fit of depression came over her. The dew sparkled
on the grass, the air was soft, the breeze caressing, the sun was warm
on her shoulders. Yet with all the brightness on every hand, a sense of
uneasiness would not be shaken off.
She found herself reining often to look toward Clark's. Midway of
the eastern ridge was a long, buff blotchthe crossing of the coulée
road. Would a horse and rider pass across that spot to-day? Probably
not. A wave of loneliness and of undeserved injury swept her, welling
the tears to her eyes.
She was halted close to the corn-land when cheery singing reached
her. Marylyn had left the shack and was going riverward, dawdling with
We saw the Indians coming,
We heard them give a yell,
My feelings at that moment
No mortal tongue could tell.
We heard the bugle sounding,
The Captain gave command
'To arms! to arms! my comrades,
And by your ponies stand!'
We fought there full nine hours
Before the strife was o'er.
Such sight of dead and wounded
I ne'er had seen before
Five hundred noble Rangers
As ever saw the West
Were buried by their comrades,
May peaceful be their rest!
Dallas shivered. The song suggested a cruel end for the gay troopers
who had just gone forth. Marylyn! she called.
The younger paused to look back.
Be careful, honey. Keep in sight.
Marylyn nodded, threw a kiss, and strolled on.
All day, Dallas tried to work away her troublesome thoughts. When
she had known that an Indian was signalling from Medicine Mountain, she
had felt no fear. Why was she growing fearful now? For it was fearnot
any mere nervousness, or sadness over the marching of the troops. It
was even more: There was a haunting feeling that something was going to
happen! There was a terrible certainty weighing upon hera certainty
of coming harm!
Toward night, she began to watch about hersouthward, to the shanty
of the Norwegian; eastward, to where the tent of the Sioux Falls man
had been; west, where the setting sun touched the sentinel guns on the
bluffs; along the coulée, where the darkness always crept first.
She found herself examining the tops of distant rises. Medicine
Mountain showed a dark speck at its summit,had she ever noticed that
before? Other peaks looked unfamiliarwere they the lookouts of savage
spies? And north, far beyond the little bend was the smoke of a
camp-fire. In fancy, she saw the one who had lighted ita warrior with
vindictive, painted face, who peered at the squat shack on the bend as
he fanned and smothered the flame.
Night was at hand. The plover were wailing; the sad-voiced pewits
called; one by one, the frogs began a lonesome chant. A light had
sprung up in the shack. She glanced that way. And the window eyes of
the log-house seemed to leer at her.
A warm supper, Marylyn's bright face, her father's placid
retortsall these did not suffice to drive away her forebodings. What
was there in the coming night?
All her instinct spoke for caution. The lantern was shaken out
before the table was cleared. Her father and sister early sought their
beds. She only lay down in her clothes. The hours passed in a strange
suspense. She listened to her father's deep breathing, to the mules,
when they wandered into their stalls, to the snap of Simon's long brush
as he whipped at the mosquitoes. Her eyes kept searching the black
corners of the room, and the pale squares of the windows. Her ears were
alert for every sound.
She fell to thinking of Squaw Charley. He had not come for his
supper, or brought them the daily basket. Was he growing
It was when she could no longer keep awake that her thoughts assumed
even a terrible shape. She dreamed, and in her dream a head came
through the dirt floor close to her bed. It was covered by a war-bonnet
of feathers. Beside it, thrust up by lissome fingersfingers white and
strangely familiarwas a tomahawk.
Soon, she made out a faceMatthews'. She squirmed, striving to
summon her father. A flame flickered up in the fireplace. The face
changed from white to red, and Charley danced before her. She squirmed
again; the face faded
She found herself sitting bolt upright. Her hands were clenched
defensively, her teeth were shut so tight that her jaws ached. She was
staring, wide-eyed, at the door.
The shack was no longer in darkness. Morning was come, and its light
made everything clear. She sprang up and lifted the latch, then fell
back, her stiffened lips framing a cry.
Before the shack, driven deep into the nearest bit of unpacked
ground, was a sapling, new-cut and stripped clean of the bark. From its
top, flying pennon-like in the wind, was a scarlet square. And at one
corner of this, dangling to and fro in horrid suggestiveness, swung a
shrivelled patch that held a lock of hair.
CHAPTER XXIII. AND WHAT FOLLOWED IT
Rifle in hand, forgetful of crutches, bewildered by sleep, the
section-boss came diving through the blanket partition to answer her
call. Wha's matter? Wha's matter? he demanded thickly, rubbing hard
at his eyes to unclog their sight.
Dallas leaned in the doorway, facing out. Her shoulders were bent
forward heavily, as if she, too, were only half awake. Her head was
rested against a casing. She lifted it when she felt him beside her.
Well, dad, she answered grimly, it's Indians, this time, andI
reckon they got us stampeded. She smiled a little, ruefully, and
Winking into the light, Lancaster followed her pointing, and saw the
pole. Up jerked his chin, as if from a blow on the goatee. He stared
wildly. His jaw dropped. W'y, Lawd! he breathed perplexedly, and his
chest heaved beneath the grey flannel of his shirt. Slowly he hobbled
forward in his bare feet, using the gun for a prop. Before the pole, he
halted, and began tousling his grizzled crown with trembling fingers.
Overhead, the scalp-weighted rag swung to and fro in the breeze, waving
him its sinister salute.
Gradually, his brain cleared, and into it there trickled a hint of
the pole's meaning and purpose. He stopped ruffling his hair, and
caught up the Sharps in both hands. Then, all at once, the trickle
swelled to a foaming torrent of suspicion, that carried him close to
the truth. Maddened, cursing, he dropped the gun and fell upon the
sapling, pried it furiously from the sod, and smashed it into a dozen
To Dallas, watching him in silence, the destruction of the pole was
a sore reminder. For, better than ever before, she realised that her
father could only accomplish the hasty, childish things; that beyond
these, he was powerless. Without a doubt, she must ask elsewhere for
As he came limping and raging back to her, she hurried forward to
relieve him of the rifle and to guide his crippled feet. Dad, I think
it's about time we had a' understanding at the Fort, she said quietly,
and took him by an arm.
He brought up short and wrung himself out of her grasp. Th' Fort!
th' Fort! th' Fort! he repeated in a frenzy. Lawd-a-mighty, Dallas,
y' make me sick!
It's Indians, she replied steadily. They're coming too near to be
comfortable. We got to have help.
He raised his fists and shook them. Help an' fiddlesticks! he
blustered. Thet ain't no Injuns! It's thet Shanty Town blackleg
a-tryin' t' skeer us. Go look at th' groun'go look at th' groun', Ah
say. See if they's moccasin tracks thereabout. Ah bet y' won't
fin' any! He turned back to the scattered splinters, pulling Dallas
Together they got down, examining with care. As he had said, there
were no prints of an Indian shoe in the soft earth. But mingling with
the round, faint marks of his own naked heel were thosemore plainly
stampedof a large boot. They led up to the spot from the nearest
point on the river; and back upon themselves toward the same point.
W'at'd Ah tell y'? demanded the section-boss, almost triumphantly.
His voice quavered, however, and he gulped. It's thet scalawag, an' he
wanted us t' know it! Ain't ev'ry Injun in fifty mile shet up tight in
yon corral? Ev'ry one 'cept Charleyan' this ain't the job o' thet
blamed fool. No, siree! An' then, th' mules didn' make no row las'
night. They'd a shore snorted if it was Injuns
I guess that's so, agreed Dallas, hastily, and made him a warning
sign. Marylyn was moving about inside, and calling.
But he was beyond thought for another. Bosh! bosh! he cried.
She's got t' stop bein' coddled an' know w'at's w'at. You got
t' stop talkin' Fort. Ah'm goin' t' ketch thet low-down skunk 'thout no
soldiers. An' Ah'll pepper his ugly hide! Ah'll make him
spit blood like a broncho-buster. Th' idee o' his havin' th'
gall! He rammed the Sharps into its rack and laughed immoderately.
Oh, pa! expostulated Marylyn, in a startled whisper, and flew to
Dallas. Her face, still pink from slumber, paled a little. She laid it
against her sister. Long ago, she had seen her father roused to the
same pitch. The sight had terrified her, and blunted some earlier and
You git you' clothes on, he ordered roughly, an' rustle us some
She retreated, ready for tears.
Dallas walked up to him, gave him his crutches, and put a hand on
his shoulder. Dad, she said firmly, don't take out your mad on
Marylyn. Keep it all forhim. She nodded south toward Brannon.
That's where it belongs.
Dallas, you plumb disgus' me, he retorted. Talkin' soldier, when
y' know Matthews could buy th' hull kit an' boodle with a swig o'
whisky! He arraigned the Fort with a crutch.
What do you think of doing, dad?
Ah'll fin' out where thet cuss was las' nightCharley'll help me,
Ah'll see thetthet Oliver knows o' this, thet he keeps a' eye on
But it'll be easier just to go straight to the Captain; not I, but you
Yes, do pa, urged Marylyn. Oh, Dallas, what's happened?
The elder girl told of the pole and the bootmarks, treating them
lightly. Then she came back to her father. To find that her argument of
a moment before, for all its short-cut logic, had set him utterly
against the plan he had himself proposed. And now he was for no man's
help, but for a vengeance wreaked with his own gun. Hurling a final
defy toward Shanty Town, he disappeared behind the partition.
No breakfast was eaten that morning. The section-boss was too angry
to taste of food, Marylyn was too frightened, and Dallas had no time.
For she was busy with the mules, currying them and putting them before
the wagon. Can't help what you think about it this time, she said
when her father asked her where she was going; I've made up my mind
that if you won't say the Fort, why then I'll have to drive to Clark's
for Mr. Lounsbury. We don't know for sure what that pole meant. We must
Aw, you ain't got a smitch o' pride, he taunted jealously. Goin'
t' Lounsbury. Wal! Wal! You think a heap o' him, don' y'? More 'n you
do o' you' father! Thet sticks out like a sore finger.
No, she answered simply. I'm putting my pride in my pocket, dad.
I'm going to Mr. Lounsbury because I care so much for you, and for
Marylyn. And I want to say somethingI hate to say ityou've almost
discouraged me about Brannon lately. We came here to raise stuff to
sell over there. But I can't see how we can sell over there if we won't
even speak to a soul. It looks as if we're going to give all that
upas if a lot of my work is for nothing.
It was a new thought for the section-boss. And while Dallas
disappeared behind Betty, he pondered it with hanging head. She came
around soon to hitch Ben's tugs, when her father looked up
shamefacedly. Ah'll tell y', Dallas, he said, by way of compromise,
ef Lounsbury don't come back with y'
He will, assured Dallas, stoutly.
W'y, we'll go t' th' Fort, as you say.
All right, dad, she replied, giving his back a pat.
He began to hobble up and down. You ain't scairt t' go? he
ventured at last. Ain't afeerd o' nothin'?
No; and I'm going on my own hook, remember. It's not your fault.
Y' kain't think o' no other way
She paused in front of him. Can you? she asked.
He could have sworn; but there was something in her face that
forbade it. Nono, he said explosively, and so matched her
determination with his hot stubbornness.
He left her, and taking the rifle and all the ammunition there was,
seated himself on a bench placed just outside the door. There he wasa
pitiful sentinelas she circled the shack and reined.
And now another question was presented: Should Marylyn stay or go?
Dallas was for her remaining, so that, in case of need, help could be
summonedfrom somewhere. Marylyn sided with her. And it was long
afterward, when many things were made clear, before the elder girl
understood her sister's actionone that seemed so contrary to what the
younger one felt. But their father opposed them both, and vehemently.
Dallas upon the wagon-seat, prepared for her long drive, had
softened and touched him. She bore herself so bravely. She was so
respectful, and concerned.
You take Mar'lyn, he insisted, an' th' pistol. Ah c'n git along
fine by myself. Charley'll be comin', an' Ah'll hang on t' him. Ah
reckon, between us, we'll be O. K. 'Sides, y' know, Ah got a weasel's
The mention of Charley won Dallas to her father's view. He would not
be alone all day, for the outcast would surely appear. On the other
hand, she longed to have Marylyn with her, where she could shield her
from cross words and possible harm. We'll have Mr. Lounsbury with us
coming home, she said.
At that, Marylyn waxed still more eager to remain. And it took some
pleading to overcome her reluctance, and to bring about her consent.
Finally, however, the two girls drove away.
Before she started the team, Dallas climbed down to say good-by. In
all their lives, few caresses had ever passed between father and
daughter, and those had been during her babyhood. But now, moved by a
common impulse, each reached out at parting to clasp the other. And
there were tears in the eyes of both.
As the wagon trundled out of ear-shot, that one of the trio least
consulted in the affairs of the shack was hard beset by a temptation:
to tell Dallas about Lieutenant Fraser and his earnest, oft-repeated
promise of protection. But Marylyn hesitated, afraid to speakno less
afraid of her sister than of her father. She realised that if she
mentioned the officer, she would have to admit their meetings. And such
a confession would undoubtedly result in an end to those meetings and,
perhaps, in severe blaming. Yetit would also cut short the drive to
Clark's. And what might not be awaiting them on that journey? Still,
there were only two likely dangers: Indians and the interpreter. But
Mr. Fraser says this upper side of the river's safe, she remembered.
As to Matthews, he would not be lingering beside the road to waylay
them. Her fears for her own safety were thus argued down.
There was yet her father's safety to consider. Well, her gallant new
friend would look to that. He'll be across again this afternoon, she
thought, and he'll watch the house careful. He couldn't do any more if
he knew about the pole. So, her conscience satisfied, she decided to
keep her own counsel. That decision cost her abundant grief and
penitence in the months to come.
While Marylyn was busy with her troublesome problem, a similar one
was running in Dallas' brain, where it called for calculation. Would
Matthews threaten the shack that day? It was scarcely probable. Night
offered the best hours for an attack. Therefore, the wagon must return
before night. But could Ben and Betty make Clark's and the return trip
before then? So far, they had never done it. The previous summer, the
drive was begun at dawn, when dawn was at three o'clock. We'll just
have to hike along, she said aloud to Marylyn.
Into the coulée slid the wagon, its long tongue in the air, the
loose tugs hitting the mules in the hock. When the team had scrambled
up the farther side, Dallas put them to a trot by a flick of the
black-snake. Then she bent forward over the dashboard, her eyes fixed
eagerly on that distant brown blotch at the eastern ridge-top. But
Marylyn, as they drew away, looked regretfully backwardto where a
clump of tall cottonwoods, shaking their heart-shaped leaves in the
wind, dappled a flower-studded stretch below the coulée mouth.
Rod by rod the mules climbed the gently sloping prairie. The morning
was perfect, and belied, in its beauty, even a suggestion of lurking
harm. The air, crystal-clear and exhilarating, brought far things
magically near to the eye. On every hand shimmered the springing grass,
now, a pale emerald with the wind brushing it, again, in the still
places, a darker green, and yet againunder the ravine's fringing
willows, where the deer nibbleda cool black. Out of it, the
meadow-larks showed their good-luck waistcoats and rippled their tunes;
out of it, countless wild roses smiled up pinkly to the sun.
But all the loveliness of the new day only mocked at the lonely
girls in the wagon. To them, the grey sands of their desert home, the
blistering northers, the brassy skies, were, unconsciously,
synonymous of safety and peace. More than once, as they pressed on, the
old, red-painted section-house rose before them, a very haven.
Behind, the squat shack was gradually lessening in size. A jutting
corner had already shut from view its crippled sentry.
There was little conversation. Marylyn, for a time, could not
dismiss the subject that had confronted her at the start. Finally,
however, she put it aside impatiently, and let herself drift on a
pleasant current. And Dallasher thoughts were also harried. For as
her home dropped, mile by mile, in the distance, and she was forced to
meet the question of what she would say and do when she arrived at
Clark's, her feelings underwent a marvellous change. It had been easy
enough, in the excitement following her discovery, to contemplate a
meeting with Lounsbury. But that excitement having dwindled not a
little, the idea of seeing him and of talking to him mounted in
proportional importance. She saw herself drawing up before his store,
or standing just within as she related her story. She saw his face, the
blue eyes, full of funand she had not met him since that evening! Her
heart began to thump with her picturing, its poundings playing up to
her throat and down again. Want of food was giving her a sensation of
weakness and sinking. But this seemed also to be the result of mental,
and not physical, suffering. She was torn by a desire to retreat.
Then darted through her mind the remembrance of Marylyn's midnight
confidence. It was a blow on a wound. She glanced at her sister
entreatingly. And what she fancied she read in the other's eyes
instantly altered the desire to turnmade her send the mules forward
at a better pace. Marylyn was sitting stiffly upright, bracing herself
with her hands. Her head was up, her look was eager and fixed. There
was a smile on her parted lips.
She's happy about seeing him, thought Dallas, and was overwhelmed
by a sense of her own guilt.
A diversion soon came in a horrid guise. The road touched the coulée
again, bringing close the giant cottonwoods, where the Sioux dead were
lashed; and the girls, glancing toward the trees, suddenly caught a
glimpse of long, wrapped bodies.
Marylyn edged toward her sister. Oh, I hope it'll be light when we
get here coming back, she whispered, shuddering.
We won't be alone, answered Dallas, reassuringly.
The coulée was deep and dark at that point, and full of queer
shadows. From the boughs that cradled the braves came uncanny
flutterings, as the wind shook loosened scraps of the sleepers'
covering. The dead seemed to be moving restlessly upon their
bier-boards, and waving an imploring summons to be freed of the thongs
that bound them. Overhead was full cause for fear. Floating on
motionless wing, with bare necks craning hungrily, circled black
They say, whispered Marylyn, watching nervously behind, they say
the Indians are scared to come near these trees, never do till one of
'em dies. I don't wonder. It gives me the shivers just to see that
Dallas drew the whip across Betty. A dead Indian's not dangerous,
she said, smiling. And forgot to ask Marylyn where she had heard the
Six miles were gone. But the way ahead was still long, the brown
blotch at the ridge-top was still only a blotch. And the team was fast
tiring. When Murphy's Throat was reached, Dallas drove out to the left,
watered the thirsty pair at a slough, and ate with Marylyn the
long-deferred breakfast. After that they went at a better pace for a
time. Soon, however, the road became steeper, and Betty slacked up. The
sun was high, now, and unpleasantly warm. So the wise old mule merely
humped her back as Dallas applied the lash, and doggedly refused to
increase her speed.
It was noon when the wagon approached the summit. It did not rest
there a moment. Behind was spread out a wonderful landscape. The
Missouri threaded it quarteringly, the western bluffs walled its
farther edge to the sky. Its eastern boundary was the ridge over which
the wagon was rolling. From this undulating line, the verdant land
slipped down and down and downto the fantastic turnings of the river.
But the girls, peering back upon it, through a haze that was softly
blue, were wholly indifferent to its beauty. They sought, and in vain,
for a remote dot that might be the shackthe shack they had left at
the end of that unswerving road.
And now they went forward again. The scene on the farther side of
the summit was newer than that on the other, but did not rival it.
Short coulées had eaten the bluff slopes into flutings, and spilled
small rivulets upon the plain. Yet, barring these, and a lake that
sparkled, a round sapphire, on the right, there was superb uniformity.
Not a stream, not a butte, not even a nubbin of rock varied the view.
And not a head of cattle! To the south moved a score of yellow
animalsantelope. But these and a village of saucy prairie-dogs were
the only signs of life. The land dropped away by imperceptible degrees.
As imperceptibly, it melted into a mellow sky.
Dallas and Marylyn were each intent upon Clark's, lying far ahead,
and to the left, a dun-coloured line which seemed scarcely to get
nearer as the time went. But after an hour, their patience was
rewarded. When the dun-coloured line resolved itself into two, and they
saw the cow-camp: A narrow street flanked by low shanties of canvas and
Again, Dallas and Marylyn were absorbed, each with a mental
conflict. The younger got fidgety, then petulant, and began to complain
of thirst. For once, the elder girl showed scant sympathy. She was
hurriedly planning some new speeches.
At the southern end of the camp, their destination was made plain to
them by a sign reading, General Merchandise. It was nailed along the
hip of a large building that stood midway of the street. Looking to
neither side, they made straight for it.
When the team came to a stand before the store, the girls saw to
their surprise that the door was shut. They waited. A minute passed. No
one came out. Then, Dallas climbed down and knocked. There was no
answer. She waited again. Finally, she tried the knob. It resisted her
effort. From within came the rattle of a chain.
It's locked! She went back to Marylyn. The two looked at each
other. Over the younger's face swept a flush of relief. But Dallas had
forgotten her dread of seeing Lounsbury in a keen disappointment at
finding him gone. She glanced anxiously up and down the street.
It was deserted and still. Dallas climbed back to the seat. Maybe
he's at the Fort, she said encouragingly. We'll drive home quick.
There's a lot of it down-hill. She clucked to the team.
At that moment the door of a near-by shanty opened. A man came out,
waving a letter. Say! hello! he bawled; don't you want your mail?
Dallas checked the mules.
I got a letter for you, he went on. It was Al Braden of Sioux
Dallas gave Marylyn the reins and reached for the letter, noting
that the real-estate man did not doff the floppy hat, or make any
Yep, from Lounsbury. I told him I was going to lope back down to
the Bendbut I didn't. He snickered.
Where's he gone? she asked, slitting the envelope with a shaking
Dunno, answered Braden. He was leaning on a wheel now, surveying
Ben and Betty with a critical, and somewhat disdainful, eye. For each
was hanging upon three legs to rest a fourth. Presently, he glanced up
at Marylyn, and his eye lit impudently. Dunno, he repeated. You're
his girl. You ought to know.
But Dallas did not hear him. She was scanning a page, closely
written and addressed to herself.
A telegram has come calling me home [ran the letter]. It
says my mother is ill'seriously ill'and I am afraid it's
put that way to hide something worse. It is the only thing
that could take me out of Dakota now. But I am not leaving
you unprotected. Before I left Brannon, I arranged to have
Matthews watched every hour of the day and night. And he is
the only thing that might make you trouble. For if the
Indians get nasty, I know Oliver will insist on bringing you
in. Still, I shall worry terribly till I get back. I wish I
could write all I would like to. But it would be what I have
already told youyou will understand.
Thus, it ended.
Dallas thrust it into the pocket of her skirt, took the reins and
lifted the black-snake. Ben saw the threatening movement from behind
his bridle blinds. He sprang forward. The wheel rolled from under
Well, I'll be damned! he growled. Ain't you going to say ta-ta?
He strode along at the tailboard, smirking up at the two in an attempt
to be friendly. Maybe you'd like company going home, he said. Lonely
trip for girls, 'specially when they ain't got a gun. He gave Marylyn
a bold wink.
Thank you, replied Dallas, shortly. We don't want companyand we
have got a gun. She lifted the pistol from the seat.
Braden fell behind. Stop and drink some beer, anyway, he called.
Got some in here. You mustn't be mad at me because Johnnie's mamma
sent for him. Come on back.
To this, no answer was made. Dallas gave the team a few smart cuts.
The wagon rumbled out of the street.
And now began the return journey. Five hours had been consumed in
reaching Clark's. Ten minutes had been wasted there. Another five would
be passed at the first clear water. But allowing for the team's faster
gait when they were headed for home, and for twelve miles of downgrade,
they should not take more than four hours to reach the bend. Twilight
would be settling then.
Dallas figured the return thusbut it was soon plain to her that
sunset would find them miles from the shack. Poor feed, with the
plowing and the harrowing, had thinned the mules. After the first
spurt, they paid no heed to the whip, and fairly crawled. Marylyn,
tired, gave way to passionate complaining. Dallas folded a blanket in
the bottom of the wagon and coaxed her sister to lie down upon it, her
face shielded by the seat. To further dishearten the elder girl, Ben
and Betty showed signs of sore-footedness. Guided out upon the grass,
they travelled better.
It took three precious hours to gain the summit. The afternoon was
then far gone. Across the wide valley, dark clouds were piling upon the
western range; they added to its height, and augured the day's early
closing. When the Throat gaped alongside, the fleecy horizon had rolled
still higher, and beneath it the setting sun showed through like a
harvest moon, blood-red.
Swiftly the day withdrew and the stars came out. Then, the breeze
lulled, and a mist rose from the coulée's wooded bottom. From it came
the tremulous call of an owl. Dallas slipped to her feet and wielded
the black-snake vigorously.
The mules shot forward for a wagon-length. The sudden jolt awakened
Marylyn. She got to her kneesand there were the cottonwoods with the
Spunky little sister, encouraged the elder girl, and helped the
other to the seat.
The road was so dark, now, that it took on the aspect of a standing
man, who was no sooner overridden than he rose again in the lead. This
was a beginning for all manner of fears. Dallas fought her own. But she
could not conquer them. For they enlarged enormously, and changed to a
premonition that ran riot.
Listening and watching, she had suffered the previous night. Yet
that suffering was nothing compared to the agony that stole into her
heart and held ittill she forgot Marylyn's presence. She seemed to
see a figure skulking through the dusk about the shack; it entered the
lean-to and crouched in hiding. She saw it come forth again, keeping
close to the logs. Its eyes shone in the dark!
Her father was beside the door, where she had left him. He was
gazing straight ahead, as if he expected the enemy to approach only
from the front; as if he had no thought of treachery. His figure was
relaxed wearily. His face was drawn. But his eyeslike the
other'swere strangely luminous.
Ah!the figure was creeping toward himnoiselesslystep by
Go in! Go in! Daddy!
The cry was torn from her, though she strove to keep it back. The
strain of the past night and day was telling. Frantically, she begged
Ben and Betty to hasten. Knowing home was not far, they obeyed her
voice, and, presently, were setting back in their collars to block the
descent of the wagon; were splashing through the backwater at the
coulée-crossing, and jerking their load out upon the level. Eastward,
the shack stood out dimly in the starlight. They made for it at a trot.
But all at once they stopped, and began stepping this way and that,
as if ready to leap the tongue. Dallas and Marylyn recoiled, forsaking
the seat for the shelter of the box.
There was a moment's wait, in a stillness as vast as the prairie.
The mules, sidled to the left, shifted their long ears nervously. The
girls listened, the younger shielded by the elder's arms.
Then, across the bend, from the deserted houses of Shanty Town,
sounded the long, soul-chilling howl of a dog.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE SPIRIT OF THE
A broken crutch lying close to the shack on the river side, a
blood-bespattered pane in the window just above, a rifle ball, embedded
deep at a gun's length beyond the panethese were the traces that, on
the following morning, gave an inkling of a deadly clash.
Squaw Charley found them, when the day was yet so young that no
human eyes, save those of an Indian, could have used its scanty light.
Four raps upon the warped door had brought no answer. Loudly repeated,
they had set the wooden latch to shaking lonesomely. Mistrustful, he
had entered and groped about the dark room. Table and benches were in
place. The blankets hung before the bunk. To one side, rolled up
neatly, was the mattress upon which Dallas and Marylyn slept. But
nothing else met his expectant hand and foot. Next, he had visited the
lean-to, where he felt his way carefully from stall to stall,
discovering no occupant. Then, he had gone out to pry around the yard.
And lit upon the marks that told of the struggle.
The absence of the wagon was a clue. He stole along the out-going
tracks, between which, small, circular and clearly stamped, were the
hoof-prints of two mules. Near the coulée-crossing, the tracks ran into
others, and fresher ones, that diverged sharply into the corn. The
hoof-prints between these pointed eastward. He forsook the out-going
and turned back across the field.
At first, the course of the wagon puzzled. After veering north until
the canyon yawned, the team had made along the brink, keeping
perilously near it; farther on, at the upper end of the plowed strip,
the direction abruptly changed. The mules had swung out to the right
upon the open prairie, travelling straight for the middle of the gap.
So far they had gone at a furious gallop. Now, however, they slowed to
a walk. When the course no longer puzzled. To and fro, it wended, this
way for a few feet, then, the otherproof that Ben and Betty had fed.
The Squaw halted. The horizon was faintly yellow. Upon it was a
moving black object, which presently took the clearer form of a wagon
and span. He set off, his loose hair whipping at his back. The team was
also travelling rapidly. Behind was a reddish follower that lowed in
protest of the speed.
When the mules came by, Dallas was standing at the dashboard, plying
the lash. Her face was ashen, her eyes were hollow. She did not see the
Indian, for her gaze was upon the shack. He swung himself into the
rattling box. There lay Marylyn, still in the grasp of the stupor that
had bound them, brain and body, through the night.
Before the mules brought up at the lean-to, Dallas was over a wheel
and tottering in quest of her father. Out of the shack, as she searched
it, sounded her plaintive cry: Daddy! daddy! where are you? Oh, Daddy!
daddy! come back!
Squaw Charley, bringing Marylyn in, found the elder girl kneeling
behind the partition, her arms thrown out to grasp the vacant bunk.
He put his load down gently; then, unbidden, rushed through the door
When Captain Oliver arrived, with Fraser, a surgeon and a detachment
of mounted men, Dallas was seated in the doorway, rocking Marylyn
against her breast. She looked up, dry-eyed, as he hurried to her.
What'd they do it for? she asked him, brokenly. How could they
hurt you, dad? Oh, the land wasn't worth it! the land wasn't worth it!
Something to quicken life in Marylyn was the first thought. Then,
food and drink were given the girls. Meanwhile, the troopers were sent
out under Fraser to range the bend and beat the coulée.
Oliver stayed. But to his questions, Dallas, her reason tottering
like her steps, could only return others that were heartrending:
He'll come back, won't he? They wouldn't kill him? Oh, you don't
think he's dead?
We'll find him, said the captain. He was pitiful in his regret.
This tragedy was striking home to him as even the Jamieson failure had
not. His long, sad face was more like a walrus' than ever.
Mr. Bond said we'd have good luck here, she went on despairingly.
But there was danger by night, wasn't there? There was
She's knocked silly, Oliver murmured to the surgeon. The child
doesn't know what she's saying.
You're right. Clean blunted, was the answer. But I'll straighten
'em both out by noon.
A long halloo summoned the captain to the door. A group of men were
gathered in the swale between the shack and Shanty Town. Fraser was
among them. Oliver signalled, and the young officer wheeled and came
What is it?
Old man's gun, discharged, out there in the grass
And two sets of footprints coming and going across that bit of low
ground. One set looks about two days old, and was made by boots. Other
is newer, and made by moccasins.
There's something strange about these last: Coming this way, the
marks are so light you can hardly see 'em; going back, they're sunk way
Carried a load, eh?
It looks like it. Oliver mounted, and they rode off to the swale.
Noon was past when the captain called at the shack again. He found
the surgeon gone, but his promise fulfilled: Food and medicine had gone
far to revive his patients physically; tears had mercifully combined
with returning strength to right their minds.
This time, the elder girl met Oliver with no incoherence, but with
brave quiet. All her self-command had returned. She asked him in, and
showed a tender forethought for Marylyn by sending her out into the
sunshine and the garden before she listened to what he had to tell.
When he was done, she began her story with the finding of the pole.
Redskins! he exclaimed.
Boot-marks were around it, though, she said.
You are sure? I wish your father had asked my advice. I feel as if
I had come short in my duty.
Please don't, she entreated. You see, we thought we could tend to
itlong's we knew who it was.
He turned astonished eyes upon her. Knew! he exclaimed. Well, for
Heaven's sake out with it, then!
Matthewshe wanted the land.
The interpreter! But last night's tracks were made by moccasins.
There's one Indian free
She let him get no further. It's not Charley, she declared.
Matthews meant us to think it was Indians. Moccasins are easy to get.
That's true. He frowned. Hm!Well, I shall inquire into his
whereabouts during the last two days. And the captain fell to studying
the figures on the Navajos.
Outside, Lieutenant Fraser was passing the shack. He rode on to the
cornfield, where he flung himself off his horse.
Marylyn! Marylyn! he said tremblingly. You poor girl! I'm so
sorryWhat can I say? It's my fault.
She lifted a scared face to his. No, it's mine, she answered; if
I'd told Dallas about you, we'd never 'a' gone to Clark's
Thank goodness you did! But if your father had known about meif I
could have come to the house. I must after this. We'll tell your sister
about us now. Come on.
She shrank back in sudden fright. No, no. Don't you see? She'd
think it was awful I didn't say something yesterday!
Why didn't you, Marylyn?
She looked down. You don't know Dallas. She don't like soldiers any
more'n pa. She said so, and she'd
Oh, I think she does, he argued. Now, let's try herlet's make a
clean breast of it.
Her hands came out in wild imploring. You won't, you won't, you
won't, she begged. Don't you understand?my keeping still was
just as if I'd killed pa! Oh, it was! So I can't tellnow!
Promise you won't, oh, promise you won't! And she went down,
crumpling into a little, miserable heap.
Quickly, he lifted her. Well, we won't tell her then, not if you
don't want tobut we'll have to some day.
Some daymaybebut not now.
All right, thennot now. He led her from garden to coulée and
back again, trying to comfort her all the while as best he could.
You see, Marylyn, he said, you're wrong about its being your
fault. It's mine. I promised Lounsbury I'd look after you folks.
She stopped short. Did you tell him about you and me?
Oh. She was relieved. You mustn't, either. Not him, or anyone.
I don't see how I can ever look Lounsbury in the face again, he
Whereupon, she straightway began to comfort him.
At the shack, Oliver and Dallas had arrived at the question of
I must insist, the captain was saying, upon your coming to live
at the Fort. I cannot spare a permanent guard for this side of the
rivera scouting party up and down once a day is about the best I
could do. We have our hands full already.
Live at the Fort Her lips tightened a little. She got up to
walk. She was thinking of the cold stares, the Ahs, the Ohs, and
the laughter of the post ladies in their bowling ambulance; the nudges
and the grins of the passing musicians; and There's allus room at the
Fort when there's good-lookin' gals in the fambly.
She shook her head.
You love your sister, he reminded. Think of her.
I am thinking of her. I'd go to the Fort if there was
danger. Butanswer me honestoutside of what's happened here, do you
think there's really any danger?
From Indians, you mean? Well, I'll tell youthis was a
complete surprise, a shock to me. Because so far we haven't seen a sign
of the hostiles beyond that signal in the spring. North of here, at
Lincoln, they've shown themselves. But they're largely concentrated in
the northwest, to meet the troops.
Then, there's no danger from Indians.
Still, there might be, and I want you to come. Frankly, I've
omitted to tell you of one disquieting report that has reached us.
After the recent battle on the Rosebud, one of the warriors of Crazy
Horse was captured by General Crook. The prisoner said that within a
day's ride to the west of here, ourand youraged friend
She stopped him, lifting her hands to her face. Not him! she
whispered; not him! Oh, he was so good to us, Captain!
Oliver sighed. I fear it's soyet it's only a report.
Some time went by. Meanwhile, she walked about the room in silence.
Her lips were trembling.
You'll come? he said.
When you're sureshe spoke with difficultythe Indians are
going to make trouble, I will. Butbut I think I'd rather stay. I made
dad a promise onceI'd hate to break itnow.
Your father didn't like us, I understand. I'm sorry. And of course
you feel that you should keep your promise to him. Well, I can send a
convoy with you to Bismarck.
We haven't a cent. You see, I'm counting a heap on my garden.
Oh, we would get something together for you.
She flinched. No, I wouldn't like that. And dad'd hate it worse
than if I broke the promise. Besides, I'm going to pay back B Troop.
B Troop! My troop? What do you owe B Troop?
Why, B Troop's been sending us its surplus rations.
Well, the sutler said so.
I think there's a mistake. B Troop has had no surplus rations.
Had no she began, amazed.
Must have been the sutler's own stuff.
But he wrote From between the leaves of a book on the mantel,
she produced a folded paper.
Or someone else's, went on Oliver.
She had been about to hand him Blakely's letter. Now, as if struck
by an idea, she put it back into the book. When she turned, her eyes
It likely was 'someone else,' she said.
God bless you anyway! To think of such a thing in the midst of your
worry! Even if you did owe B Troop, it would vote you its full rations,
and be proud to go hungry. Please think again about Bismarck for the
I can't give up the claim, Captain. I want to know what happenedI
want to be here ifif dad comes back.
But aren't you forgetting that, Indians or no Indians, there's
danger from this secret enemy?
Secret enemy, she echoed; secret enemy. Go to Bismarck is just
the thing he wants to see us do. You heard what he did in the winter?
Well, he came again yesterday. He saw the wagon leave, and he thought
it was a good chance to move in.
Move in? rejoined Oliver. If that was all, why did he bother
You're right, she cried. He meant to kill!
And now as if some great hidden spring of feeling had been touched,
she came round upon the officer, defiant, resolute and undaunted.
Maybe I'd 'a' gone beforeI'd go this minute for Indians. But that
man!he's had his price for this claim, he's had his price! Now, the
Bend belongs to meand I'm going to stay.
The captain bent toward her. Too risky, too risky, Miss Lancaster,
he advised, unless we get the man. For how could you ever do any
Dallas interrupted, intrepid spirit ringing in her voice.
Get him or not, I'll stick it out all the same. And my outside
workI'll plow and I'll plant just like I used to. But this
time, I'll do it with a gun!
CHAPTER XXV. THE INQUIRY
A Ree scout scoured every foot of ground leading up to the shack. He
trailed the mules, The Squaw, the troopers. He followed those moccasin
prints that came across the draw and went again. He found the last
behind the lean-to, along the side nearest the coulée, on the back-fire
strip in front. And declared they had been made by a white man.
Two circumstances pointed strongly to the truth of this: The body
had been carried away in the direction of Shanty Town; a white man
would have taken so much trouble, not an Indian, who would have left
his handiwork for all to see. And again, when Shanty Town was searched,
one of the huts was found to contain evidence of late occupancyscraps
of food that were not yet stale, and, in a rusty stove, fresh coals.
But though the coulée, the road, the prairie and the timber edging the
river were all faithfully scanned, one thing concerning the murderer's
doings remained a mystery. At Shanty Town, the traces of him began and
ended. But how had he reached Shanty Town?
Old Michael furnished the clue of time. He related how he had heard
the crack of a gun to the eastward the previous evening, about th' ind
av th' furst dog-watch.
Captain Oliver stayed until the last rod had been travelled and the
last stone turned. Then, he was ferried to Brannon. On landing, he went
at once to the wife of his colonel, who had vacated her home when the
command left and was now living with Mrs. Martin at Major Appleton's.
Mrs. Cummings, he said, the old man on the Bend is missing. It
looks like murder. His two girls are left, orphaned and heart-broken.
They need a woman's comfort, ma'am. Will you not go to them, and will
you find a woman to stay with them for a few nights?
Oh, how very sad! exclaimed that lady; then, turned away as if
suddenly perplexed. IIreally don't care to go myself, she went
on, when she had given his request a moment's thought. I know these
country peopleso touchy and taciturn, always ready to think one is
One usually is, retorted the captain, sharply. Then, I
must ask somebody else?
One of the troopers' wives would probably be glad to go.
You are evidently quite mistaken regarding these young women,
declared Oliver, with some heat. Mrs. Oliver will think differently.
Really, I haven't thought of them, she answered petulantly. But
why, may I ask, don't they come to the post?
They prefer to stay in their own little home. In their present
trouble and grief, it is particularly dear to themwould be to
I think it odd, Captain, that they should choose to stay over there
alone. Cancan they beehquite nice?
Madame, replied Oliver, sternly, they wish to do what would
please their father; they wish to be independent.
Ah! Mrs. Cummings threw up her head.
And let me say that I heartily commend them, Oliver fairly roared.
They are made of the stuff of our forefathers, who pushed their way
into the wilderness. Their spirit is the spirit of the frontier. With
which, bowing and fuming, the captain stamped out.
Mrs. Oliver, a motherly chunk of a woman, thought very
differently. Work and babies she consigned to a thrifty trooper's
wife and, in a jiffy, pinned on a bonnet that had stood various
seasons. I'll be back in the morning, she said, with a kiss for each
of the seven. Then, stuffing a tidbit or two into the wide pockets of a
duster, she hastened away.
Captain Oliver, meanwhile, had cleared the front room of his progeny
and summoned the surgeon, Lieutenant Fraser and Matthews.
Matthews came last. As he entered, the three men were struck by a
curious change in him. He was erect and somewhat soldierly in his
bearing; he had let his hair grow until it rested upon the handkerchief
knotted about his throat; while his dress now aped that of the more
picturesque scouts, yet was still half military. Buckskin trousers,
down which, at the outer seams, was a dripping of fringe, were tucked
into high boots. Over his red flannel shirt he wore a tunic or blouse,
also of buckskin, fringed the length of the arms, and belted at the
waist like a hunting-shirt. A vest no longer concealed his revolvers;
his weapons were at his side, like a trooper's. In one gauntleted hand,
he held a wide, grey hat.
You want to see me, Cap'n? he asked, meeting that officer's look
Yes, answered Oliver, shortly. I demand an exact account of your
time for the past thirty-six hours, beginning with the evening after
the departure of the command. I need not tell you why I ask this, and I
make no apology for asking. There are reasons for your wanting that old
man over there out of the way. You attacked his house in the winter
during his absence, when two defenceless women were at home to repel
your attack. That lays you open to mistrust. I may add that Lancaster's
eldest girl regards you as her father's murderer.
As Oliver talked, his woe-begone face had grown fierce and dark.
Now, he arose, lifting clenched fists. Murder, he cried; under my
very nose, and against a household that I had sworn to guard. Speak,
Matthews screwed up his mouth thoughtfully and looked into space.
Beginning the ev'ning after the command left? he said. Let me see.
Why, I ain't crossed since the Colonel left.
Account for your time, repeated Oliver.
I messed at Blakely's that night. Afterward, me and Kippis had a
Ah! At once, Oliver sent for the sutler and the sergeant, and,
waiting for them, tramped up and down. When the men came, he halted and
with pointed finger asked Matthews to repeat his story. The interpreter
And how long did that game last? demanded Oliver.
Without looking in Kippis' direction, the interpreter answered.
Till revelly, he said.
Fraser grunted, the surgeon smiled broadly. But the captain frowned.
Of that, later, he said significantly. Kippis?
The sergeant stepped forward. Hit's hall true, sir, he faltered.
It was Kippis' misfortune always to look more guilty than he was. With
Oliver's angry gaze upon him, he flushed redder than fire.
The captain was only half satisfied. He turned to the sutler. And
The sutler had a round, jolly figurea figure that was a living
advertisement of the fat-producing quality of his edible wares. At
Oliver's question that figure gave a startled bounce, like a kernel of
corn on a hot grid. True, sir, true, he vowed huskily, and coughed in
apprehension behind a plump hand.
The captain looked keenly from man to man. Very well, he said.
Those twelve hours accounted for, Matthews was shown innocent of
planting the pole. Tell me what you did yesterday from revelly on.
Slept till stables.
I know that's so, said Fraser.
After that? Oliver asked.
I goes into the stockade. Little Thief was carving his bride.
The captain glanced at Fraser. The latter nodded back.
I remember, said Oliver, slowly. Then?
Cards till revelly.
The listening officers laughed.
But there was no softening of the captain's face. Who played with
Matthews indicated the sutler and the sergeant by a sideways move of
the head. Them two, he answered.
Truetrue. And Blakely gave another bounce.
True's far's Hi know, sir.
The thirty-six hours were now covered. Oliver sat down. That'll do.
I want The Squaw and the men who have been on duty at the stockade
since the command left. Matthews, you may go.
Matthews bowed, Blakely and the sergeant saluted, and the three
withdrew. Outside, beyond hearing, they exchanged congratulatory shakes
of the hand.
My! but the dander! breathed the relieved sutler, rolling his
apple-round head. I was that scairt!
Make you happreciate the K. Ho. w'en you got 'im, returned Kippis,
Matthews shrugged his shoulders pityingly. But he had nothing to
The three gone, Oliver had turned to those with him. A complete
alibi, he said.
I knew it, said Fraser. But I wanted you to get it first hand.
Yes, sir. And I hope you'll be easy on Kippis. He and Blakely have
been helping me keep tab on Matthews to prevent the very thing that's
An hour later, a second group of men gathered in the captain's front
room. These were the troopers for whom the commanding officer had
asked. With them came Squaw Charley, quaking in his tatters, flinching
at every look. As Oliver appeared, the wretched Indian was
half-dragged, half-pushed before him.
The examination was short. The sentries who had tramped the high
board walk vouched for The Squaw's constant presence in the stockade
throughout the whole of the required time. The guards at the
sliding-panel lent corroboration. From sun-up till taps of the previous
day, Charley had fleshed at the hide of an elk, the scarred fury,
Afraid-of-a-Fawn, hanging over him the while. Both nights, from taps
on, he had watched outside the lodge occupied by the hag and an Indian
Captain Oliver crossed to the bend to tell Dallas his results.
Matthews has witnesses who know where he was every minute of the
time, he said. Undoubtedly he had no active part in this affair.
He knows about it, though, she answered.
That would be hard to prove.
Before he went, the captain proposed certain defensive improvements
for the shack. She accepted them gratefully. Later, a carpenter nailed
thick cleats across the warped door, and the post blacksmith put heavy
lashes of iron over the eyes of the shack.
At nightfall, a detachment landed on the east bank, divided, and
went on a scout in opposite directions. It was only part of Oliver's
plan of guarding, for he did one thing morespoke plainly to Matthews
in regard to the bend.
I advise you to relinquish all claim to the Lancaster place, he
said. I shall allow no warring on girls.
Matthews gave his promise.
During the first few days that followed, Marylyn's heart beat
pendulum-like between grief and dread. It was grief when, in a moment
of forgetfulness, she found that she had set the table for three; or
when, missing her father sorelyfor in the past year he had been much
with hershe spoke of him to Dallas. At such times, with sweet
impartiality, she mourned him as sincerely as she had mourned her
mother. But at night, when the detachment came back from its scouting,
she felt a terrible dreaddread least the hunt had been successful,
and the troopers should ride across the prairie to the shack door,
bearing something solemnly home.
Those first days past, however, the sharp edge of her sorrow,
together with her fears, wore gradually away. She had the elastic
spirit of eighteen. And she was impatient of this new heartache, which
possessed none of the romantic qualities of the old. A doubt of her
father's death, fostered by Dallas, grew until it became a conviction.
He had been taken away, or he had fled; he would return. Meanwhile,
though nothing could have induced her to leave the shack after dark, it
fretted her sorely, that, in the daytime, she was not permitted to go
as far as the grove.
That restriction was the only hardship that the elder girl allowed
the younger to bear. Dallas believed that their father had come to
mortal harm. But she never shared that belief with Marylyn.
We got to keep a stiff upper lip, baby sister, she would say, with
an encouraging pat. And her smile was always hopeful and cheering.
Mrs. Oliver came daily, and spent her time with Marylyn. She did not
feel that Dallas needed buoyingDallas, quiet, self-poised, and
staunch. Yet, all the while, the elder girl was growing wan under the
strain. For, having given generously of her strength, there was no one
from whom, in turn, she might take. And so her thoughts came often to
be of the one who had faithfully watched over them, how faithfully,
shown by the fact that catastrophe had followed swift upon his leaving.
And in her heart she cried out for him.
The tragedy on the bend furnished a nine days' wonder for Brannon.
But the garrison felt little grief over it. Lancaster had earned their
dislike by insults open and veiled, and by his determination to cut his
family off from every friendly influence. The enlisted men were even
inclined to treat his disappearance facetiously. When they heard about
the pole, they declared that in his fright over it, he had fired a
shot, cut a finger, broken a crutchand lit out. One wag announced
that the section-boss was mired in some alkali mud-hole; another, that
he had been bitten by a polecat; a third composed some doggerel lines
in which Lancaster was described as having gone over the range.
Notwithstanding this, the troopers had deep sympathy for the bereaved
Oliver, never too popular, they scored roundly for his treatment of
Matthews, and vowed to the latter that he had ample grounds for walking
off and leaving the whole shooting-match. But Matthews gently chided
them, reminding them that any moment an interpreter might be badly
needed. Furthermore, he said, he would disregard the unfairness shown
him, for he knew his duty.
Brannon was still asking Who? and Why? and How? in the Lancaster
affair when Squaw Charley discovered and showed to Captain Oliver the
testimony that had in some way escaped the scout. Under a willow clump
on the beach before Shanty Town, was a well-defined mark in the sand,
V-shaped, long, and quite deep. It was the mark left by the prow of a
boat that had been pulled out of the water and hidden at the river's
edge. It was almost certain proof of the route taken, going and coming,
by Lancaster's assailant.
But no absolute facts were unearthed. As the days slipped by, this
cruel one became apparent: the section-boss, with his wild outbursts of
anger, his implacable hatreds, his suspicions, and his tantrums of
CHAPTER XXVI. BACKSLIDING
Across the sky, a pale shining ribbon, stretched the Milky Way. The
braves in the stockade were watching it, their faces reverently
upturned. They sat before their lodges in silent knots of two or three;
or stood apart here and there, shrouded in summer sheets of dressed cow
skin, and motionless as statues. When they moved, it was to draw
heavily upon a pipestone bowl and waft the incense of kinnikinick
toward the glimmering strip overheadthe sacred road that leads the
Sioux to the Happy Hunting Grounds.
One moon had passed since the signal smoke arose on Medicine
Mountain. In that time, though they had fasted and prayed, not a crumb
of hope had come to feed their languishing spirits. Truly, it seemed as
if the pied buffalo were bringing them more than a generous share of
ill-luck. The interpreter told them only evil news: That all but sixty
of the pony soldiers had gone to hunt and kill Indians. As for the
distant peak, from it had curled up no news at all!
They gambled no more. They spoke no more of the captive white women.
The four condemned brooded in their wigwams, with eyes gloomy, with
hair unkempt. Among the squaws, hot discontent was working. They
greeted even those who brought them rations with black looks and
menacing gestures. And allwarriors as well as squawsgot up with the
sun and paced along the log walls like prisoned animals, wearing a deep
rut into the earth.
Throughout the winter they had been contented enough with their lot.
In no other winter had they enjoyed such freedom from labour and care,
such health, comfort, and abundant food. But nowthe grass was grazing
high. The new leaves were opening. The willows were in bud. The wild
fowl were back, and nesting by river and slough. In lonely ravines, the
antelope kids were bleatingproof that it was the killing season of
the prong-horn. And here the village was yet shut in a penlike pigs!
Soonit might be any daythe four chiefs would be dragged out to
die by the rope. If the rest were sent away, would it not be to some
reservation? And if, by chance, they got free? Their ponies were gone.
Where could they get others? Then it would be late in the summer,
perhaps. On what would their women and children live? There would be no
dried meat for pemmican; no caches of roots or berries; no packed fish;
no smoked tongue; no backfatnothing. And all would go hungry.
The post saw how terrible was the ferment among the hostage crew.
And following David Bond's last visit to the stockade, had used extra
precautions. The officers' families never entered the sliding-panel
now, but climbed a ladder and viewed the Indians from the safe height
of the board walk. An armed escort went with the rations on issue days.
The sentry beats were halved, and the number of watchers thus doubled.
And every night a detail entered and rigidly searched each lodge, to
see that no brave was trying, after the fashion of the badger, to
burrow a way out. Squaw Charley alone was exempt from any new ruling,
for he came and went when he chose.
Yet he had changed in no less degree than his brothers, though in a
different way. The word from Medicine Mountain had been a blow to
quiver under. For months the outcast whose loyalty The Plow-Woman
boasted, had been slipping from his old-time fealty to her, made false
by his dream of winning back his rank. In a moment he had seen his
chance for honour wiped out. Before him again there lay only woman's
work, curses, beatings, and a life with the dogseven worse: to see
her whom he coveted going to Standing Buffalo!
He could bear the curses and the cruelty. He could sit quiet under
the ridicule that outraged the childish vanity of his kind. He could
thirst. He could starve. But, returning to the roof one night, he had
prowled yearningly past her lodge. And had come upon her and her new
lover, standing cheek to cheek, close wrapped in a single blanket.
And so this night, while the warriors watched the sacred track upon
the sky, he made his way to the river. For there he meant to plead the
God of David Bond, that He send him a chance for valoura chance to
slay. Out in the starlight, therefore, he fell upon his knees.
But before his simple mind had framed his petition, there entered a
thought that puzzled and alarmed. He pondered upon it. The God of David
Bond was a God of Peace, Who frowned in awful anger upon fighting and
bloodshed. The preacher had said so. Had taught Thou shalt not kill!
Had taught that no answers were vouchsafed to wicked prayers; but
punishments, instead. How then could a prayer of that kind be sent
The outcast was dismayed.
Then came a happier idea. The God of David Bond being a God of
peace, why trouble His ear? Why not pray this one prayer for blood to
the Great Spirit he had served beforethe Great Spirit who marked out
the destinies of the Dakotas, who was ever strongest in times of war?
Hurriedly The Squaw got to his feet and ran to the edge of the bank,
where there were climbing lengths of grapevine. Degraded, he might not
use tobacco for a rite. But the Great Spirit would understand. In the
dark, his hands felt for and found a dry stalk. He snapped off a
finger-length of it.
A second to take flint and steel from his buckskin pouch. Another to
light the bit of vine. Then
But he did not sit upon the ground with crossed legs. Neither did he
pull upon the vine. He let it go out, instead. And sank hesitatingly to
his knees. For, again, he had remembered!
David Bond had said: The red man's god is poor and stingy. He lets
his people want and starve. He lets enemies triumph over them, and
destroy. But the God of the white man is rich and good. See how
generously He gives to those who serve Him! Yetlest you anger
Himhave none other. Because He is a jealous God!
He might not pray to either then! He lifted despairing eyesand saw
above him, divinely luminous, that sacred path, glittering white with
the hastening spirits of the dead.
He put a ragged sleeve across his eyes to shut out the sight. It
brought a picture he longed to forgetthe terrible picture of his
It was a spring day, and the Uncapapas, to make ready for battle,
were dancing the great sun-dance. He was the chief Moon Dog then,
haughty as any, brave as the next, given to warfare and the shedding of
blood. In the great tent, it was he who led.
He was naked, save for a loin-cloth. Coup-sticks were braided in his
hair. Eagle feathers trailed from his scalp-lock. The skin of his body
was hidden beneath devices.
He signified a wish to suffer wounding, to have willow wands run
through the flesh of his back. Standing Buffalo was dancing beside him.
And it was that warrior's knife which leaped from its beaded sheath to
do the cutting.
And then the wounds weakened the chief Moon Dog. The wands tore his
flesh past all power to endure. And he knew nothing. But when the
squaws brought him to life again, they told him that, like a squaw, he
had pleaded for mercyand wept!
For this he was branded, spat upon, cast out, and cursed. For this
he had gone hungry, scoured kettles, and herded with the dogs.
David Bond had come, telling him of One Who was bruised, reviled,
and nailed to a tree. That One was the God of the white man. Broken in
spirit, The Squaw had accepted Him.
Yetwhat had the new God done for him? Was his work lighter? No!
Was the food not the cast-off's still, fouled by the touch and the
tongues of others and by the dirt of the pen? Yes. If the new God was
good, why had He not saved the evangelist?
The soul of Squaw Charley tottered.
Overhead, a high-sailing crane bugled. But to the outcast, the
lonely night-cry seemed supernatural, a hail from one of the departed!
He uncovered his eyes and looked up. Above him stretched the pale,
shining ribbon of the Milky Way.
Again the crane sounded its rousing, guttural cry. He shook himself,
as if to free his body from a chain.
Once more he took out flint and steel and lit the bit of grapevine.
Then, he sank to the prairie, where he crossed his legs like a brave.
Now, with deep breath, he drew upon the stem. His nostrils filled, he
tipped back his head; and from them, upward to the path, sent wreath
upon wreath of adoring smoke.
CHAPTER XXVII. SIMON PLAYS A PART
One morning in early July, Matthews came swaggering into the post
barber-shop, his air that of a man who is mightily pleased with
himself. Bill, said he, as he flung off blouse and hat, wish you'd
mow down this stubble of mine.
The barber set about stropping a razor. Don't want your mane
trimmed? he inquired. Strikes meehit's pretty long.
The interpreter loosened the collar of his shirt and took a chair.
Never you mind about my mane, he answered. It's just as long's I
want it. You turn loose on my chin. He leaned back to elevate a pair
of bright-topped boots.
The other directed his gaze upon the sharpening blade. Do you
happen t' know Portugee? he asked humbly. One of the boys is loony on
a gal at Bismarck that he ain't writ to for a year. She's Portugee
Matthews gave a dismissing wave of the hand. I savvy English and
most Injun, he said; none of them fancy languages, though. I been to
school only a week in my hull life. That was down in Omyha, and one
week was plenty. At the remembrance, he shook with silent laughter.
That week, as I say, was 'nough for me. The teachershe was a
lady, mind y'!tries to tell me that it's the same blamed sun we see
comin' up every mornin'. 'Look a-here, now,' I says; 'don't we git a
new moon onct in a while? Then, what's the matter with havin' a change
of sun?' Well, that plumb stumped her. She shut up.
The barber was now ready for operations, so Matthews adjusted his
shoulders, closed his pink-lidded eyes, and followed the suit of his
Bill felt there was something in the wind, and longed to question
Matthews, yet dared not. The interpreter, formerly so feared, and even
disliked, by the enlisted men, was now regarded in B Troop as a
generally misunderstood and maligned individualthis in consequence of
the Lancaster inquiry. Hence, he was playing the rôle of injured
innocence, and seriously taking himself for a popular hero. He was more
cocksure and conceited than ever before, and more prone to brag and
bully. Scraping diligently away, the barber shuddered at the thought of
even letting the razor slip.
Kippis was less respectful. He entered when Matthews was rising, all
redolent of bay-rum, and surveyed the latter in mock amaze. My, ho,
my! he cried. Hain't we bloomin' fine!
Matthews wriggled those faint lines upon his glistening forehead
that served for eyebrows. You go soak your head, he retorted.
And no gun hon 'is 'ip, went on the sergeant. But w'y, ho, w'y
does 'e wear red shirts?
The interpreter spraddled out his legs. Folks git rich mindin'
their own business, he said meaningly.
Kippis could not forego a last jibe. Person'd halmost think
you's goin' sparkin', he declared.
Matthews gave a start, and his keen eyes shot a searching glance at
the sergeant's smiling countenance. What he read there reassured him.
The other was bantering without a notion that he approached the truth.
The interpreter shrugged and stalked out. Within the hour, he was on
his way to the Lancasters'.
He did not go to the shack, however. From the cottonwoods, he spied
Dallas at work in the corn, so he directed his steps thither. She did
not see him. Her back was toward the river, and the sun was glinting on
her swinging hoe. Beyond her, on a picket-rope, was Simon, the bull. He
was travelling in a restless circle, and sending lonesome blasts across
the deserted prairie. He, alone, saw the interpreter, and paused in his
rounds, head raised and eyes bulging inquiringly.
Dallas weeded on, unconscious of a visitor. The corn was
shoulder-high now, and bearded. Its long leaves swayed and whispered,
covering the sound of Matthews' approach. But when he was yet some rods
off, a flock of ground-sparrows rose before him with startled twitters.
At that, she looked back. The next instant, she had caught up the
Matthews halted and lifted his hat, displaying hair pasted down to a
silky smoothness. I ain't got no gun, he said quietly. I jus' come
for to have a talk.
She made no answer.
The interpreter shifted from foot to foot and mopped his forehead.
I allus been sorry for what I done las' winter, he went on. I was a
blame fool to come scarin' you galsought to knowed better. But, you
see, when I started, nobody told me there was women folks over here.
Dallas took a deep breath.
I wanted to tell you, continued Matthews. Andand I wanted to
say I feel sorry about you' losin' your pa. Now he's dead, I wouldn't
take this here land if you come to me and says, 'Nick, it's yourn.'
That's jus' the way I feelyes, ma'am. I savvy how to treat a lady,
Miss Lancaster, gentlemanly and honourable.
You talk nice, commented the girl.
His look faltered from hers. He gave his hard laugh. You're a
little out of temper, he said soothingly. That's natural,
though. You had a lot of trouble.
My trouble's all owing to you, she answered passionately. And
I'll thank you to goright now.
He put out a hand in expostulation. Jus' a minute, he begged. You
done me wrong, but I don't hold it ag'in you. Jus' believe I didn't
hurt your pa. And I admire you and your sistersure I do. By golly!
You're blamed sandy!
You take big chances to come here.
Now, Miss Lancaster! His chin sank. He wagged his head dolefully.
Then, whether from warmth, or a desire to display the glories of his
raiment, he took off his blouse.
As he talked, in a half-whine that was meant to be placating, Simon
suddenly became a more interested spectator. He began to revolve again,
and at the very end of his rope, slipping around with tigerish
gracefulness; or, the rope taut, he halted as near as possible to the
two in the corn, stamped one forefoot angrily and shook his curly head.
There, a bold affront, was that blot of glaring scarlet. It awoke in
him a long-slumbering lust for fight.
But the interpreter did not remark the bull. After repeated praise
and condolence, he had arrived at the main object of his visit.
I got a proposition to make you, he was saying, the while he
cooled himself with his hat. It's jus' this, and it puts a' end to the
hull row. You and me will forgit what's past and done. Eh? He paused
impressively, and threw out an arm toward the shack. Smoke was curling
out of the chimney. A slender figure was flitting to and fro within the
open door. And if I come to see the little one, maybe it'll be O. K.?
To make himself clearer, he touched a hand to his mouth and wafted
toward the house a smacking kiss.
Sudden fury seized Dallas. Her lips moved.
A few rods away was another as furious, one whose eyes were as red
as the interpreter's. Simon was pawing with alternate hoofs, and
tossing dirt and grass into the air. With each stroke he gave a sullen
Now, proceeded Matthews, speaking from one side of his mouth, you
and me wouldn't jibe. He giggled with a feeble attempt at mirth. But
your sister, she's a nice little gal. And she'd like me. I'm
He got no further, nor was Dallas given time to reply. A resonant
blare rang through the lanes of corn. Then came the sound of trotting.
They turned, to behold Simon advancing. He had jerked up the
Matthews saw his peril. With a curse of alarm he dropped coat and
hat and made for the coulée.
But to no use. The sight of that fleeing red maddened the bull. His
feet stretched to a gallop, his broad horns lowered until his muzzle
touched the grass, his tail sprang out to the level of his curly back.
With the picket-rope hissing across his flanks, and with no eye for his
mistress, he bore down upon the hapless Matthews.
Shoot him! Shoot screamed Matthews. The bull was at his heels.
With quick thought, he side-stepped.
It gave him a brief respite. But, since Simon went on for a space
and then wheeled, it also cut him off from the coulée. He tore toward
the shack, now. After him, tether whipping among the stalks, charged
the bull. Again the interpreter side-stepped, just in time, and with
the dexterity of a matador. But Simon was more alert, and came about
like a cow-pony, emitting terrible bellows. Matthews fled toward
Dallas. His face was a sickly green; his hair was loosened and waved
backward in the sun.
Simon! cried Dallas, as the two went by.
Matthews was winded, and when the bull's hot breath fanned his back
for the third time, he resorted to strategy. Once more stepping aside,
and escaping the sharp horns by less than a foot, he followed, and, in
desperation, seized Simon by the tail.
And now the bull's anger was suddenly changed to fear; his desire to
horn that scarlet thing became a desire to get rid of it. With a bawl
of terror he darted this way and that, trying to shake himself free,
and swinging Matthews clear of the ground. This method failed. At once
he adopted new tactics. Bellowing, he raced away through the corn,
dragging the interpreter astride of the stalks, plowing up the earth
with him, rolling him feet-first or sidelong down the rows. But like
grim death, and with raucous oaths, Matthews hung on.
Out of the corn to the coulée road, they wentwhen Simon saw the
grove at the landing. Among those trees many a pestering buffalo-fly
had been outwitted; there, where grapevines tangled, many a mosquito
had been rubbed away. Quick as a flash, Simon made for the cut, with
Matthews coming breathlessly after.
The interpreter thanked his stars for the bull's manoeuvre. The
grove would give him shelter; he could dodge behind a friendly trunk,
or shin one to safety. He
Simon had stopped to indulge in more whiplash waltzing, and the
arm-weary Matthews could scarcely keep his hold. Ma-a-aw! Ma-a-aw!
roared the bull. Then, discouraged, he shot forward again.
But now fright consumed him, and he lost thought of scratching free
of his tormentor. His red eyes were popping from his curly face. His
mouth was wide. His tongue lolled. With great jumps, he sped straight
through the grove.
It was all too swift for calculation. Matthews was conscious only of
a great wind, of an invisible power that bound him to that bull's tail,
of a dull roar in the ears, a blur in the eyes
Simon leaped the hedge of fruit-hung grapevines, poised for a second
on the brink of the river's caving bankhis feet together, his neck
stretched. Then, the red of him disappeared. And, after it, the more
vivid tuft at the end of his tail.
CHAPTER XXVIII. A CHANGE IN PLAN
It was Old Michael who fished the interpreter from his unwelcome
bath. Choking with rage and spewing muddy water, Matthews was hauled
into the stern of a pirogue. There, while the pilot rowed slowly to the
Brannon shore, he stretched his sorry, bedrabbled figurea figure in
striking contrast to that of an hour before. His handkerchief hung upon
one ear, his red shirt clung, his buckskin trousers, dark and slick
from their sousing, bellied with water let in at the band; his
bright-topped boots spurted like pump-nozzles, his pale hair straggled
and dripped into his eyes.
When the boat touched at the steamer-side, he raised himself to look
back. Simon was leisurely ascending the cut, and reaching to left and
right for tender wisps of vine. Matthews gave his hard laugh. I'll
make meat of you, he promised savagely. Then he turned to
The Irishman was leaning back, steadying his craft against the bank
with one hand, holding his stub pipe out in the other. His blowzy face
was blowzier than ever. Down it, from his closed lids, ran the
teardrops, chasing one another into the black-notched cavern of his
Here was a culprit handy to the moment's anger. Matthews arose in
his squashing boots. You lop-eared son-of-a-gun, who you laughin' at?
The cavern widened till the face was split in two. W-w-w-ah! gasped the pilot.
Maybe you think it was funny, said the interpreter, with suave
heat. Cunning deviltry distorted his features. And, stepping forward in
the boat, he kicked Michael on a bunion.
Pain sobered the pilot. With a roar of Howley smoke! he swung his
The interpreter was too quick for him. Like a frightened muskrat, he
sought the water, floundered to a solid footing, and waded out. You
will monkey with a buzz-saw! he taunted. Jus' wait.
Clinging to his injured foot, Old Michael rocked himself and cursed.
But not for long. He was soon rambling toward the barracks. For, he
argued, there's more 'n wan way t' kill a cat.
In a frontier post, news flies with the dust in the air. Soon the
story of Matthews and the bull had spread to every soul at Brannon. The
Line chatted it from gallery to gallery. Clothes-Pin Row digested it in
hilarious groups. At barracks, it set the men to swapping yarns. I
knowed a feller onct that was goin' past a bull-pen, declared one
trooper, and he had a pail of cherries, and I'll be darned if
But, say! Down home, one time, put in a second, there was a vaquero
with a red sash that was stoopin' to fix a flank girth, and Why,
that ain't a two-spot to what happened in Kansas a year ago this
summer. The purtiest gal I ever seenyou know them Kansas gals can be
purtyshe had a wig that'd keep your hands warm in January. Well
When, however, the surgeon recounted the story at the bachelors'
noon mess, mirth over it was noticeably lacking. To the little circle
of officers there was nothing comical in the fact that a man from the
post had molested the girls so recently orphaned. And all save Fraser
vowed stormily that Matthews would be called to account. The young
lieutenant said nothing.
Before the meal ended, the interpreter came in. He had changed his
clothes and restored his hair to its pristine smoothness. He gave the
group his usual bob and smile.
Cold stares answered himfrom all but one, who fairly bounded from
his chair. It was Fraser, face red, shoulders working under the blue of
his uniform. He planted himself before Matthews.
You damned blackguard! he gasped.
The other looked highly amused. What's got into your craw,
sonny? he inquired.
You damned blackguard! repeated Fraser. And struck out.
An amazed and delighted mess room looked on. For Fraser, the
tender-hearted, Fraser, the pink-cheeked mamma's darling, was
battering the interpreter hammer and tongs!
From the doorway the captain's voice interrupted the battle, and the
two men were pulled apart. Matthews fell to wiping at his stained lips,
which had magically puffed to proportions suggesting those of the
colonel's black cook. While the lieutenant was panting, and struggling
wildly to get free.
Oliver thrust the latter behind him and addressed the interpreter.
I'm not stopping this boy because I don't think you need a sound
thrashing, he said. I'd like to see you walloped within an inch of
your life. But I can't have this kind of thing going on.
I wasn't goin' to tech them gals, lisped Matthews. I ain't no
We shan't need your services at Brannon any longer. You
After that, mess went merrily on. Didn't know you had it in you,
Fraser, marvelled one officer. By crackey! added a second. How you
can slug! The surgeon sighed. No one has ever understood Robert,
said he, but women, critters, and kids.
And now Matthews' blood was up, and under his sloping forehead the
grey-matter was bubbling and boiling like the soup in the sutler's pot.
He hurled out terrible oathsagainst the shack, against Captain
Oliver, against Fraser, against the old pilot. Dallas Lancaster had
made a cheap spectacle of him; the commanding officer had ordered him
to leave Brannon; the unlicked calf of a lieutenant had whipped him
out of hand; and the man most ready to guzzle his liquor had gone
through the barracks a-blabbing.
He hurried to his room to pack his belongings. I'll fix 'em, I'll
fix 'em, he raged. I'll git even with the hull crowd.
He halted at a window and looked across the Missouri at the little
shack. When the reds go to the reservation, that'll do for you, he said. Buthow can I soak them damned shoulder-straps?
It was then that a change in his plan came to his mind. Why wait
until the Indians were sent, if
The more he thought of the change, the better he liked it. One
deal, and everybody fixed. Land'll be mine, and there'll be some
He determined to get into the stockade for a last talk with the
hostages. If they approved what he proposed, he would promise them his
services. Yes, he would. The value of the quarter-section had made him
fight for the Bend. But this was a horse of another colour. His pride
had been outragedfor that he would have his quits.
His conduct earlier in the day, and the fight at the sutler's, gave
place, that afternoon, to other and more direful news. A steamer
touched on its way down the river and told of the Custer massacre. Not
a trooper at Brannon but had lost a friend; not an officer but had lost
several. Gloom settled upon the post, and Matthews was forgotten.
He took advantage of that. Before an order went out to prevent him,
he went through the wicket of the sliding-panel and gathered around him
the four chiefs named in Cummings' ultimatum. They were more sullen,
unhappy, and discouraged than ever. A few words, and he had them
breathless with interest
You must look to me alone for freedom now, he said. There has
been a great battle in the Valley of the Greasy Grass. Custer, the Long
Hair, met Sitting Bull and his allies. And Custer and all his men are
Ho, hos, of joy greeted the announcement.
Yet this is not good for you. There will be other battles. Your
brothers will have no time to come and rescue you. Even your friends,
the Scarred-Arms, will not help. For it is said that the Cheyenne
warriors are gone to join the Sioux
What of the two white squaws that were captured? asked
Shoot-at-the-Tree anxiously. And what of usis there danger?
The women are still with your people. And who knows what may happen
soon? So I come to speak of your delivery. I shall get you freeyou
shall free my land.
But our women, suggested Standing Buffalo, his eye straying toward
a tent at the stockade's centre; they go free, too?
That is impossible. But what does it matter? When you are gone,
your women and children will be cared forput upon a reservation. From
there, you can steal them back.
But how can we get free? inquired Lame Foot. Tell us quickly.
Matthews drew the four chiefs' heads together and whispered to them.
After a time, all rose.
Shall we have guns? inquired Canada John.
Nobows and arrows. I can get them, and hide them in my board
lodge across the river.
Lame Foot pouted. Our brothers who are fighting have fine new
rifles from Standing Rock.
Rifles I cannot get, said Matthews.
But, said Standing Buffalo, if we cross to your lodge and get our
bows and arrows, will not the pony soldiers follow in their
Bah! retorted the interpreter. Am I like a pig for sense? The
smoking-canoe shall be gone.
The chiefs nodded.
I must go, added Matthews. There is no time for the pipe.
Remember, if you are discovered trying to escape, I know nothing of it.
Then, I shall try another plan. And keep everything from The Squaw. He
is a friend to the pony soldiers. He may tattle.
And your reward, said Canada John, softly: It is that The
Plow-Woman and her sister shall be
Matthews put a finger to his lips. You will free my land, he said.
When the night comes? whispered Lame Foot. They pressed about
Matthews, taking his hands.
When the night comes, he answered, you will know by a sign. Let a
warrior keep watch. For it shall come when the moon dies. It shall be
the call of a mourning dove.
CHAPTER XXIX. LOUNSBURY'S RETURN
Bismarck nearing at last! Since dawn, Lounsbury's head had been
poked from a window of the forward car. Now, he followed it with a
wedge of shoulder, and muttered a fervent Thank God! His face was
blackened by the breath of the engine, his hair was roughed by the
tugging wind. So that he bore not a trace of the past month's careful
grooming. Outside of Chicago, he had shed his Eastern garb for blue
flannel shirt, dark breeches, and tall boots. Again he was a
A brakeman entered to call out the final stop. Cramped bulks, here
and there, slowly unwound their sleepy lengths and gazed around. A slim
recruit in a front seat, who was outward-bound to fight Indians,
wakened with a protesting oath. Other occupants of the car grudgingly
put away their card packs, but cheerfully clapped on their hats. A
long, hot journey was done.
But Lounsbury, when he drew in his head and shoulder, delayed his
preparations to alight. He reached down to a boot-leg and fished out a
letter, one paragraph of which he carefully re-read.
As I say, if you look for that rascal, you'll find the right man.
He was here, for Charley saw him. 'Who was it?' I asked the Indian.
What do you think he didhe crossed his fingers on his nose!
Lounsbury took a deep breath. It's likely, he said aloud. It
don't take courage to kill a cripple.
The wheels were yet turning when Lounsbury swung off. His looped
belt had been buckled on, and once more his revolver hung handily upon
his thigh. As he tossed his satchel to the ticket-agent, he gave the
.45 a swift look over. Then, with the expression that the Clark
outfit respected showing through the grime of the train, he started on
a tour of saloons.
In a square-fronted groggery, his hunt ended. An assortment of
adventurers packed the placemule-skinners, soldiers, gamblers,
settlers. Among them was a sprinkle of women. He pushed his way through
the crowd until he reached the bar. There, officiating in pink
shirt-sleeves, was the Babe.
A moment Lounsbury faced him in silence, his cheeks puffing and his
chest swelling in an effort at self-control. Then, dropping his hand to
the .45, he gave a jerk of the head. Come out, he ordered.
The Babe's squint eyes made separate inspections of the room. He
was in the act of pouring from a bottle to a glass. Now, as he held
them before him, they tinkled together.
His customer backed away to the door, where it was cooler. The women
cluttered at the farther bar-end. The other loungers rotated to a
position behind Lounsbury, and waited, all a-grin.
He came loafing out, the sweat standing in huge beads upon his nose.
Lounsbury advanced to him, playing a tattoo along the bar with his left
'Babe,' he said quietly, the train goes back Chicago-way in the
The other blinked and gulped. W'y, w'y he began.
You take it, continued Lounsbury. Your family's getting darned
The Babe's diverging orbs popped from his face and again played
from side to side.
Y-e-e-s, drawled Lounsbury. He ripped open the other's vest. Two
pistols were displayed, snuggling head to head. He plucked them out and
kicked them across the room. The morning train, he repeated. So
Babe gave a weak nod. Lounsbury walked out. Howdy, boys, howdy,
he said pleasantly as he went. The admiring crowd returned his salute,
and rotated back to the bar.
He wasted no further time, but hurried to his store, a saddle-roofed
building farther along the street. Before it paced a Fort Lincoln
officer. Lounsbury stopped him for news.
You ought to be chuck full of it, returned the officer, pumping
the storekeeper's arm; just in from New York.
Daytime sortie on us yesterday.
Pretty sassy. How about Brannon?
Nothing since old Lancaster
I heard thatFraser wrote me. Lounsbury gritted his teeth.
And our poor Custer?
Ah, poor Custer! The East's talking about nothing else.
Awful! awful! The officer turned away to hide the twitching of his
Going to Lincoln now? asked Lounsbury.
Not right away.
Then, I'm off.
No, for Brannon.
Brannon! Alone? Lounsbury! Why, the Indians
I'm going, just the same. He hailed a neighbour to bargain for a
cayuse of reputed wind and speed. In another half-hour he was ready.
He rode as light as possible. Behind the cantle, rolled in a poncho,
he tied some hardtack, jerked beef, and brandy. His revolver was
reinforced by a Henry, which he carried in a holster under his leg. For
the .45, he took fifty rounds. A second fifty, designed for the
rifle, occupied the loops of his belt. Thus armed and provisioned, he
jogged out of town.
Good fortune made the journey almost uneventful. He saw but one
Indian, who loped into sight from a wooded bottom, and turned tail when
Lounsbury levelled his gun. Twice only did he come upon signs of
savages. Toward the middle of the first night, he passed a pile of
glowing embers, where food had been cooked and eaten; and fifty miles
lower down, the next afternoon, as he dismounted at a rivulet, the
cayuse shied from an antelope kid that had dragged itself to the water
for a last drink. There was an arrow through its neck, and the little
body was still limber.
Just before dawn, the second morning, he turned with the river,
crossed the coulée, and reined upon the yellowing bend. To his left, a
black dot, stood the shack. Three smaller dots were near itSimon and
the mule team. South, on the opposite bank, were the low, whitewashed
buildings of Fort Brannon. He bared his dust-powdered head in
The cayuse was warm and dripping. He rode to Shanty Town, loosened
the cinch, and led the animal up and down before the deserted huts.
When it stopped blowing and reached for grass, he picketed it on a
lariat north of The Trooper's Delight. Then he descended to the
landing. The light was growing. Already he had been seen from the post.
On his hallooing, a small boat shoved off toward him, dancing its way
against the current. Old Michael was not in it, only his citizen
helpers. Fearing their tittle-tattle, Lounsbury curbed his impatience
to ask about the shack. Landed, he made for the Bach quarters on the
Fraser was not up. To his Come in, Lounsbury entered. They shook
hands without a word, and the storekeeper sat down on the edge of the
After a while, the lieutenant reached out to put a hand on the
Lounsbury, he said, I feel like a criminal. But I never dreamed
anything would go wrong if I kept track of Matthews.
Why, we both thought that, Fraser. You're not to blame any more
than I am.
Oh, if I'd only
But we can't spend any time kicking ourselves. After this there
mustn't be a loophole. Besides watching Matthews, we must
Matthews isn't here.
Kicked out. We don't know where he is. Rapidly, Fraser related the
story of Simon's gallantry.
There was another piece of news of lesser importance: An Indian girl
named Brown Mink was seriously ill. Her wigwam had been moved to the
western curve of the stockade, where the ground was clear, and been
changed from tepee-shape to the form of a walled wickie-up. Mrs.
Cummings, touched with pity, had sent her a comfortable bed, while
Captain Oliver, touched no less, and pleased by the good-humour of his
prisoners, had ordered that, during the daily search of the enclosure,
the tent of the sick girl be left entirely undisturbed.
The young officer omitted to tell of his share in the interpreter's
departure, and was distracted over an accident that had befallen him.
On visiting his wild pets the previous evening, he had found that a box
containing reptiles had been broken open, somehow, and that all his
rattlesnakes were gone!
With the first call for the trumpeters, Lounsbury routed the sutler
in a quest for breakfast. Then, once more he sought the river. There
was no waiting for men to row him. He found the small boat, headed for
the beach below Shanty Town, mounted the cayuse, and climbed the steep
road to the prairie. Before him, on a green stretch between river and
shack, he saw Dallas.
She was cutting grass in that same swale across which, a month
before, had been tracked the deep-planted, laboured footprints. As she
mowed, she moved forward slowly, the bent snathe describing a regular
half-circle, the long, curved blade clearing a fragrant path. Her hat
was off, and lay at a distance behind her, where it floated, boat-like,
on some blue-stem tops. Still farther behind was Simon, cropping
industriously, and keeping a furtive watch upon his mistress out of the
corner of one fiery brown eye.
Lounsbury spurred his horse to a run. She saw him coming, but not
knowing him, kept her scythe on the swing. When he had covered the
greater part of the way, however, she stopped work, retreated to her
hat, and put it on. Then, from beside it, she picked up the Sharps.
He saw that, and his jaw squared. The blood darkened his face, too,
as if the sight shamed him. He spurred faster, reined so sharply that
the horse slid upon its fetlocks, and swung off.
Dallas! he cried. It was not a greeting, but a plea.
The moment was one long dreamed of, yearned for. A woman less
genuine might have met it without a show of feeling. Sheoutspoken and
simplecould not. Her eyes swam. Dropping the gun, she clasped his
I knew you'd get back quick as you could, she said, choking.
For a long moment they stood thus, hand-in-hand, looking at each
other. She saw that he was changed. The glint of merriment was gone
from his eyes. His forehead bore new lines. His mouth had lost its
boyishness. With her, the past four weeks had also left their mark. The
old look of high purpose was on her face. But she was older and graver,
and wore the new expression that Oliver had seen.
She spoke first. Your mother? she faltered inquiringly, and
withdrew a step.
My motheris gone, he said slowly. Then, after a pause, I came
right after that; didn't stop to settle things. I can go back to the
States later. But if I'd been here soonerit mightn't 'a'
She checked him gently. Now, you got enough to worry you without
us. We wouldn't go to the Fort or Bismarck. And that was the whole
trouble. To excuse her father, and to take the blame herself, she told
him of the refusal of David Bond's money, and of Mrs. Cummings' slight.
You see, she explained earnestly, by way of putting the best
possible colour to the latter episode, you see, they think over there
that we're trash. So they're bound to let us alone. It ain't that they
haven't good manners
It was Lounsbury's turn to interrupt. He was tramping about.
Manners! he said violently; manners! what's manners to do with it?
There's a lot that's good mannersand cursed bad heart!
She took up the scythe, brought a whetstone from the depths of a
pocket and ran it down the blade thoughtfully.
I'm going to look into this whole business from first to last, he
went on more quietly. I'll spend the next few days investigating. You
got my letter?
We went to Clark's for you, and got it there. She added that she
had feared Braden, and spoke of his slack courtesy.
Oh, well, he said, partly in apology for the real-estate agent,
if a man out here don't take off his hat to a girl, that means
It wasn't the hat, she answered, and described Braden's further
Lounsbury blazed up again. I'll see about that, too, he declared.
He must be another sample of imported manners.
They heard the cheery grinding of a coffee-mill. As if struck by a
thought, she looked toward the shack.
It's about time for me to go in, she said, a little flurried.
Then, Won'twon't you come, too, and take a snack with us? Marylyn'd
like to see you.
Marylyn! He had read her meaning. Why, Dallas, you don't meant to
say that youthat she still
Yes, very low.
Well,Lounsbury was determined now,there's got to be some kind
of an understanding. I told you how I felt, and you ran away from me.
You shan't do it this time. I'll go to the house, and I'll tell Marylyn
just how things are. I will.
Oh, my baby sister! she murmured.
Instantly, he was all gentleness. Nono, I won't tell her, he
said. But I'm sick and tired of being tied this way, hand and foot. It
was your father first. And now this againDallas!
She could not answer him.
I won't tell her. I'll wait tilltill you do. But, you see that I
can't go to the house. And I suppose I oughtn't to stay here any
longer, for her to see. But I'm coming back here to-nightat taps.
She shook her head. Marylyn would be alone, she said hastily.
Soso I can't.
You will, I know you will. She'll be asleep.
At taps, Dallas. He touched the hand that held the scythe upright.
She thought all at once how worn he was, and white. Another moment, he
had mounted and was cantering off.
Left alone, she dreaded going into breakfast, expecting a hurt
silence, or passionate protests, perhaps tears. And she tried to find
it in her heart to blame Lounsbury for not accompanying her.
But Marylyn welcomed her with a question or two, exclaimed
sorrowfully at the news of Lounsbury's mother, and, when the elder girl
explained that the storekeeper had been too busy to come to the shack,
returned a faint smile.
The brave baby! thought Dallas.
But Marylyn was puzzling over Lounsbury's true reason for staying
awaynow when their father was not there to object. He had told Dallas
he was busy. That, however, was only a pretext. Finally she concluded
that Fraser, in spite of his promise, had made a confidant of the
storekeeper, and that the latter had seen the hopelessness of his
affection for her.
I'm glad, she said to herself. Now, I won't have to tell him.
Lounsbury pursued a feverish investigation that day, and found no
one who cared to quibble with him. From the captain, never jealous of
his dignity, to the roly-poly sutler, there was a very outrush of
facts. As they came, he received them with pitchfork sharpness,
examined them and tossed them aside, which led a wag to remark that the
storekeeper was kin to Simon. Yet, when retreat sounded, he admitted
himself hedged in by indisputable testimony. Lancaster's death was
beyond easy solving. If Matthews were guilty, he was not the principal,
only an accessory, to the crime. Nevertheless, could the storekeeper
have come face to face with the interpreter that day, scores would have
To Dallas, laying the blue-stem of the swale, the hours of the
morning went slowly. Yet how warm and golden they seemed! how tuneful
the birds! how cottony-white the clouds that flecked the sky! how
pleasant the long, hushing sound of the scythe! And all the while, she
thrilled with expectancy, and the minutes hung upon each other, as if
loath to pass.
The very keenness of her joy brought a swift revulsion. At dinner,
with Marylyn sitting across from her, she began to see more clearly.
She realised she had been dreaming; that for her there was only
self-denial. She ate nothing, but drank her dipper thirstily, as if to
wash away a parch in her throat. Back in the swale again, the scythe
was swung less steadily, but with more strength, so that its sharp tip
often hacked up the ground. She pulled her hat over her eyes, forbore
glancing toward the fortand fought. A thousand times she vowed she
would not meet Lounsbury that night. To give herself a better
whip-hand, she called up pictures of MarylynMarylyn, the baby, all
dimples and lisping demands for Dals! Marylyn, the child, slender,
yellow-haired, pale; Marylyn, entering womanhood, still dependent, and,
in her frailty, her pensiveness, more dear than ever before.
Then, with the sun beating upon her, with her temples streaming and
throbbing under the heat and the strain, Dallas' spirit began to flag.
Had she not always borne a hard load? suffered discomforts? There were
the women of the postthey knew little toil or privation. The brunt of
her mother's loss, her father's taking, had fallen upon her. Was she
always to have only sorrow? Now, when happiness came her waya
happiness that another might not havemust she be denied it?
Disheartened, dizzy, she left the swale for the shade of the nearest
It was the hottest part of the day, and the life of the prairie
seemed at a standstill. No breeze stirred the high cottonwoods; the
corn blades were quiet; the birds, song-less; the frogs, hid. Resting
on the fading green, looking out upon the silent reaches, she grew
calm. Then she remembered her sister's confession. Again, in fancy, she
was leaning down in the light of a winter fire, looking into a
tear-stained face. She felt humiliation for her own weakness, and for
thoughts disloyal to Marylyn.
When I see him again, I'll make him promise to come and visit her,
she said. Oh, he must! he must! At last, renewed in spirit,
she returned bravely to her work.
But the afternoon was not without its tormenting thoughts. And she,
who feared no physical danger, quailed before a temptation that was
When the shack pointed a stubby finger toward the east, and the
mules, with Simon in tag, came trailing home from their grazing,
Marylyn called her. Near the door, there wafted out the good smell of
corn-pone and roasting fowl. She drew up the well-bucket, hand over
hand, and washed in its generous leak.
Within, the night wind was changing and sweetening the air. As the
younger girl bustled about, the elder put on a fresher dress, and
smoothed and plaited her hair. Again, that strange elation! She was
Supper! sang out Marylyn.
Dallas started consciously. She was standing at a window, holding
before her the broken bit of looking-glass.
CHAPTER XXX. THE TRYST
The thrashers were singing to the moon. Out of the gaping coulée
came their chorus, loud, rich, and artfully melodised. It mingled, as
it were, with the scent that the wind fanned from the sumach blossoms,
yellowish-green. Moon, music, perfumeand lovers were to meet.
The trysting-place lay in billows of frosty white, like the satin
dress of a bride. Lounsbury measured it impatiently, with anxious eyes
turned to the shack. At the last trumpet-strain from the fort, Dallas
approached it on swift foot, her shadow flitting before.
When he saw hera slender figurehe leaped forward, eager,
grateful. She saw him, and halted, raising defensive hands.
Dallas! Dallas! He stretched out his arms to her.
No, nono, no.
As well try to stem the Missouri. He caught her close and held her.
He pressed his cheek tenderly to hers. She yielded, murmuring to him.
Thusfor a space that was matchlessly sweet. When, without releasing
her, he lifted his head, and lifted hers by a smoothing caress of her
hair. Then he searched her face long and hungrily.
Oh, Dallas, you do care, he said finally, and his voice was
deep with joy.
She did not denyonly, Just makes things worse, she whispered
Gently he let her go. But I love you, he answered.
Her eyes were grave. They seemed to blame him.
I love you, he repeated.
She was too just to forget her own lack of strength. Her eyes
clouded with sadness, and brimmed. I hate myself for coming, she said
We love each other. That isn't a crime, he declared.
For you, it isn't. But it is for me. Becauseit'll hurt Marylyn.
Oh, you don't understandI can't take her happiness. I can't! I
It's not your fault that I love you, Dallas.
What happens next is.
He shook his headsmiling.
She raised her chin, as if striving to master herself. I knew all
day that I'd come, she said steadily. I'd 'a' come if Idied for
Ah, my dearest! He put his hands upon her shoulders, drawing her
She stepped back determinedly. Let me tell you, she begged.
Please, I knew I'd come. So I made up my mind I'd do what was
whiteask you to visit Marylyn, and talk to her. If you would, if you
only would, why, at last, you couldn't help liking her!
Again he smiled at her, shaking his head. I love you, not
You're a good man, she said. You wouldn't like to see me do
anything that wasn't right square. You wouldn'tthink much of me if I
did. I'll do wrong ifif I take you from her.
I wouldn't have you do anything wrong, he declared stoutly. You
never could. But, dear, Marylyn is a child yet. She's too young to know
her own mind. And we're taking her more seriously than she takes
You don't know how sick and down in the mouth she's been. Just
before fatherwent, she got a little better. After that, for a while,
she was bad again. But I could see it wasn't all about father. There's
something else. She's changed sonever talks much, just sits and looks
and looks She turned away.
I'mI'm all she's got, she went on. All her life I've tended
her, just as if I was her mother. I fed her and dressed her. When she
hurt herself, she came to me. Now, she's hurt worse than she's ever
been, and she's come to me about it. I'm bound to help her.
I happened to be the first man she got to know this side of Texas.
She'd forget me in a week if she met someone else. If she don't meet
someone else, I'm afraid she'll have to be hurt.
Dallas straightened proudly. I'll never hurt her, she said.
Nor I, if I can help it. She needn't know about us, just yet.
I won't lie to her, either.
Not lie, dear. But you won't refuse to come out here
I do! I do! I'll never come again.
Ah, Dallas, why should we deny ourselves that much? Why keep apart?
I've lost the last dear one I had. You've lost your father, you're
alone with your little sister. Come to me.
You'd take me away? she asked. You'd have me give up the claim?
To forget what happened?
God help meno! I ask you to share your life with me, your work,
your revenge, everything.
I can't bear to see you and Marylyn staying here alone. And I can't
stay near enough to protect you as I ought. Matthews is sly. If I meet
him, I'll kill him, as I would a wolf. Then, he'll be out of the way.
Butsuppose he gets ahead of me? does you harm? Your staying here
seems all the more terrible to me since I've been East. The idea of
your having just Charley to guard, of your plowing and planting and
She laughed. Outside work is fine, she said. Better than cooking
over a hot stove or breaking your back over a tub. Men have the best
half of thingsthe air and the sky and the horses. I don't complain. I
like my work. Let it make me like a man.
It couldn't. I don't mean that. You're the womanliest woman I've
I don't want you to ever think different.
Never will. And I don't ask you to chain yourself up in a house.
There's a big future in the cow business. We'd take my share of the
Clark herdyou'd ride with mewe'd be partners.
Waitwait. Temptation was dragging sorely at her heart. She
glanced homeward. Behind her, the tall grass was running with the wind.
She longed to run with it. Yet
I'll wait and wait, he said; long as you ask, if it's years.
She retreated a few steps. I must go now. Don't think I don't know
what you've done for usthe sutler, and all that. I'll remember it.
But I got to gogood-by.
Good-night, not good-by, he answered. Can't I come this far and
help you to-morrow with the hay?
Let me send a couple of men, then.
I'll do it alone. I'd rather. It's all in but this little bit.
But please go slow. Don't wear yourself out, Dallas.
If my work was all! she said sorrowfully.
If you would come here, now and then, to me, dear
I'll never come again. This once, I couldn't help it. Oh, I tried
and tried! But next time I can. I'll think of Marylyn. Why, I'd give my
life to make her happy!
But your lovethat goes where it pleases.
You won't come to see her?
It wouldn't help. But I'll be here every night.
She retreated again. He did not attempt to follow.
Good-night, she said.
The moon was drifting up the eastern sky, and, as she went, her
shadow pursued her. He watched until it blended with the shadow of the
shack. Then, walked far to the left, and laid out a beat that half
circled the squat building.
There's just one man I got to look out for, he said aloud. It'd
be different if I had to worry about Indians.
That moment, across the river, in the lodge of Standing Buffalo, the
young chieftain was bending over an uncovered box, holding in one hand
the shaft of an arrow, on the end of which was a piece of freshly
killed dog; in the other hand he held a willow wand, sharpened. Beneath
him, crawling and coiling and singing, were Lieutenant Fraser's
The Indian kept the shaft to one side while he diligently prodded
the reptiles with the willow. When he had enraged them so that they
began to strike blindly at each other and at themselves, he lowered the
shaft and let them drive their fangs into the meat. And when they were
spent with their anger and springing, he covered the box and held up
the flesh, which had turned from red to green, and was dripping dark
with venom. Then, into it, he began thrusting the points of a quiver of
CHAPTER XXXI. BY THE LIGHT OF A
A smudge was burning at the centre of the stockade. In its lee, to
be safe from the swarms of pestering mosquitoes, sat the hostage
braves. Their pipe-smoke blended with the smoke of the fire. Their loud
gibberish was broken only when shrieks of laughter followed a sally of
wit. Their black eyes sparkled. Their white teeth flashed.
Before them were their sons, now romping with the favoured dogs of
the pack; now gathering to watch a wrestling-match between a chosen
couple; again, lining the way while several raced down the enclosure.
The squaws and girls were also outside the lodges, the July night
being hot. They cackled together to the windward side of the lordly
males, and did not approach except to throw more wet sticks upon the
The outcast watched the jollity from his dark corner, and marvelled
at it. For were there not two tragedies threatening, either of which
should, properly, lay hard upon the hearts of the village?
One was the nearing execution of the four condemned. Two sleeps ago,
on the arrival of a runner from the absent cavalry, a wood-wagon had
hauled several loads of lumber to the site of the pony corral. From
that lumberit was said openly, and he had told it in sign-language to
the braves, was to be builta scaffold!
The other tragedy hovered in the illness of Brown Mink. Since her
lodge had been placed against the upper curve of the pen, there had
been much singing, conjuring, dancing and beating of drums. But to no
purpose. Daily, she wasted. She was dying!
He was not allowed to see her, to tend her fire or clean her kettle.
When, on her removal, he had dared to stop at her tent-flap with a
string of pike, Afraid-of-a-Fawn swooped down upon him, her long tushes
clicking and frothing, snatched the wall-eyes from his hold and
belaboured him with them. He had not gone back. But, in secret, he
grieved over Brown Mink's suffering. And often he petitioned in her
behalf, and lifted his worshipping vine toward the Milky Way.
In his sorrow, his shoulders were bent lower than ever, his ebon
eyes were more doglike. Yet, he still dreamed of reinstatement, for he
saw (though he could not understand it) that the warriors were again
counting on escape!
They were unkempt no longer, but wore their hair neatly braided and
well-greased. They ate sparingly, and only twice a day. They almost
forswore water. And by covert exercise they trained away their flesh.
Standing Buffalo and his haughty comrades did not waddle now under a
weight of fat. As on the day of their capture, they were lank and
Rejoicing in their hopes, he, too, had not been without preparation.
A rusty knife found in a rubbish heap by the river had been polished by
thrusting it repeatedly into the dirt. In spare moments, he made
himself a sinew-backed bow, and practised many hours with it. He spent
no time in the lean-tohis guard there had ceased. The necessity for
food did not take him to the shackhis arrows brought down game which
he cooked. At any time, with a sharp stick, he could root up his fill
of wild turnips. He knew where ripe berries loaded the bushes, and
where the plums reddened in the thickets. And how could he chance
staying out of the stockade after midnight, when any dawn might find
his brothers free?
Thoughts of Brown Mink alone took his mind from his dream. He
yearned to see her again, to mark how far disease had ravaged, to show
her that though all others were indifferent, he was not. And he had
determined to tell her farewellto tell her that he would win back his
lost rank. For this, he would even break his vow of silence!
The end that he might gain her side hinged upon two things: His
reaching her wickie-up unseen, and the absence of the crone. These he
hoped for now, as he peered from his corner.
Despite the smudge he could see whatever went on in the stockade,
for the sky was clear, and the stars hung low. Before long his patience
was rewarded by a gradual quieting about the grouped wigwams. As the
smoke thinned for lack of fuel, the mosquitoes drove the braves, to
their beds. The squaws dispersed to attend them. The children, tired
with play, straggled after. The lengthening night brought a welcome
coolness with it. So a sentry soon roared a command from the board
walk. Then the only hostage that was left arose slowly, stretched
himself, and disappeared.
The dwindling pack were the last to lie down. Some wolves were
challenging saucily from the coulée mouth. The dogs answered them in
long-drawn wails. Finally the wolves took off up the river, and the
dogs scratched about to find a moist spot and nestled down. There was
silence now, except when a cur, dreaming of the chase, yapped in his
Squaw Charley crawled from under the roof and along the high wall,
being careful to mark the whereabouts of the brave that was always on
the watch. Above him paced the sentries. But these did not see him
because he kept in the shadow. Foot by foot he went, making toward
Brown Mink's tent.
At last he was so near to it that, reaching out an arm, he could
touch the base of a supporting pole. He drew back then, and squatted,
his eyes on the entrance. Thus, upwards of an hour went by. The time
passed quickly, for it was good to be near the beloved!
Crouched within the shelter of skins was another who waitedthe
hag. She was looking down the stockade through a narrow slit. When she
judged that the sentries were growing less vigilant, she stood up. The
outcast heard the crack of her old joints. A moment, and she stepped
out stealthily and scanned the rim of the pen. Against the sky, the
figure of each sentry was plainly outlined. None was near. Softly, she
padded for the lodge of Standing Buffalo.
The pariah leaped up now, and took a swift step. But as his fingers
closed upon the edge of the tent-flap, a whispered summons made him
pause and glance around. There was a whispered reply, followed by steps
as swift as his own. He sank, rolling himself into a ball. He was not a
second too quick. Afraid-of-a-Fawn returned, with the chief at her
Again the outcast waited, and jealously. Those within also waited,
for a sentry was passing just above. Presently he was gone, and Charley
leaned forward and put his ear against the tent, when he heard the
scratch of a match.
It did not light, and there was a teasing laugh. The outcast sat up
like a startled gopher, one hand to his breast, one out before him.
Again, a scratch. A tiny flame flickered. Too amazed for fear, Charley
put his eye to the slit.
Both hands came up to drive back a cry. At the rear of the
wickie-up, the skins were pulled aside to reveal the stockade wall. Of
this two logs showedhollowed out so completely at the base that they
were mere shells!
Before these logs, all kneeling, were the hag, Standing Buffalo and
Brown Mink. The chief held the match; the old woman, a knife; the girl
was empty-handed. But she was not illnot wastednot dying! She was
full-figured. Her face was round. Her cheeks and lips were as bright as
the dab of paint at the part in her hairas crimson with health as a
The match went out. Squaw Charley dropped back to the wall's shadow.
His heart was pounding madly with a twofold joy: The hacked logs
assured freedom for his brothers, for himself, fighting and rank. And
she was still to be won!
The work is over, said a man's voice.
And when comes the call of a dove? asked a maid's.
Perhaps when the moon dies.
Who can tell? It was the growl of the crone. The Double-Tongue
has run to hole like a fox.
Once more there was silence. A sentry, as he neared, was humming an
unconscious warning. When he was gone again, there was more talk. But
it was low-toned, and Charley could not hear. He did not wait longer.
Slipping away a rod, he dropped on all fours.
When Standing Buffalo emerged and looked to see if he might safely
return, he observed that in the enclosure nothing moved but a dog,
which was going toward the shingle roof. So, composedly drawing his
sheet of cow's hide about him, he strode to his lodge.
* * * * *
Until daybreak, two Indians did not join the others in their rest.
The one sat harking for the call of a mourning-dove. The other sat
cross-legged beside the smudge; and as a splinter new and then revived
the fire, he wafted prayers of thanksgiving to the Great Spirit on its
CHAPTER XXXII. THE EVE OF OTHER
The wide valley was brown, with green splots and tracings for slough
and stream. The distant ranges were grey. The sky showed the misty blue
of the dog-days. Far off to the north and west, black streaks edged the
horizon, where smoke rolled up from prairie-fires.
Brannon was quiet to the point of lethargy. Guard was mounted, and
daily dress-parade held ceremoniously. The trumpet blew its unvarying
round of commands. There was no hunting, and no field duty beyond the
scouting of the eastern shore. The hoarse salute of an upward-plying
steamer roused the garrison to life one morning. But the interruption
lasted barely half an hour. Then the steamer, her pilot-house screened
by sheet iron, and her decks aswarm with infantry, rounded a bend in
the river and went coughing away out of sight. Once again, interest
centred at the site of the pony corral, where a platform was slowly
Life at the shack was even less eventful. For Dallas, it was a
season of idleness. The pumpkins and the melons were swelling; the
tasselled corn wanted weeks before it would ripen; the field and garden
were free of weeds. With no work to do, alone except for her sister,
the elder girl had ample time to worry.
Marylyn saw that she was dispirited, and increased in tenderness
toward her, following her about with eyes that entreated, yet were not
sad. At breakfast she spitted the choicest cuts for Dallas. In the noon
heat, she was at her elbow with a dipper of ginger-beer. And supper
coaxed the elder girl's failing appetite by offerings of tasty stew,
white flour dumplings and pone. As for herself, Marylyn needed neither
urging nor tidbits. She ate heartily. Her sleep was a rest for both
body and mind. Every afternoon she strolled across the bend to the
cottonwoods. The butterflies fared beside her. Overhead, between sun
and earth, hung legions of grasshoppers, like a haze. Underfoot,
bluebell and sunflower nodded. And the grove was a place for dreams!
And Dallaswas a wild thing that cannot tell of its wound.
She uttered no complaint, even to Simon. The outburst that followed
Lounsbury's return was her first and last. She questioned now if her
suffering justified a lament. In this, she resembled her mother. A
woman, coming to the section-house one torrid day, remarked wonderingly
that Mrs. Lancaster gave nary a whimper. The latter looked up with a
smile. I don't think I'm sick enough, she said. Other people, worse
off, have a right to groan. Dallas, certain that Marylyn's heartache
was the keener, would not be behindhand in restraint. And her sister's
happiness, forethought, and desire to please, all drove the thrust of
penitence to the hilt, and turned the knife in that secret wound.
She found no solace in Marylyn's friends of the calico covers. Her
thoughts were too tempestuous for that. They were like milling cattle.
Around and around they tore, mingling and warring, but stilling in the
end to follow the only courseself-denial. Once so rebellious, she was
growing meek at lastmeek and full of contrition. She was coming to
dwell more too, on the lessons that the evangelist had taught her: She
was coming to think of leaning where David Bond had leanedshe, who
had always been a prop.
There was the old terror that had stalked beside her down to her
mother's death. She had fought her way with it, and the conflict had
given her strength. There was the jealousy that had smirched her
sister-love. She had fought it, too, and bitterly, scorning it because
she knew it for a hateful inheritance. Now was come a third misery, and
the worst. She saw herself as a traitor. This was not mere reproach. It
was the torture of a stricken conscience.
Her face grew thin, her hand unsteady, her eyes wore a hunted look.
At night, hers were the scalding tears that dampened the pillow.
And so the days went by. Whatever pangs of remorse, whatever longing
she endured, she remained faithful to the resolution that she would not
give way to temptation again. But every night brought the lonely
watcher to the swale.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE END OF A DREAM
The dark of the moon was come.
All that day the sun had baked, and the steady south blow had been
like the draught of an oven. As evening came, brushing a glory of red
from the sky, the wind quickened, instead of lulling, and fetched up
clouds that rested on the ridge-tops and roofed the wide valley.
Through these not a star showed. But now and then, for an instant, the
post sprang into sight out of the blackness to the weird play of the
In the stockade there was perfect quieta quiet tense with
excitement. Secrecy forbade any strong-heart songs and dances. Caution
advised against mosquito fires. And suspense did away with drumming,
shrill laughter, and feast-shout. The aged men, the women, and the
children kept close within their lodges, where they whispered and
nodded, nose to nose. The warriors stayed outside, preserving their
calm with kinnikinick. In the dark, the open bowls of their scattered
pipes were so many ruddy glow-worms.
From the pitchy shelter of the shingle roof, Squaw Charley looked
out. He sat on his heels, about him the few mangy dogs that had not
found the dinner-pot. One of these stirred. Half rising, he gave it a
kick, just as one of his brothers might have done. Then he squatted
again, and through the ragged strands of his bang, his black eyes
sparkled eagerly. For, of late, every warrior's lodge had seen secret
flesh-painting; under every warrior's blanket were hidden gaudy
tracings of vermilion, scarlet, orange, and blue; and was he not
He had sought in an ash-pile for coals; found a beef bone and
snapped it for marrow; next, taken from his worn pouch a lump of red
earth. He had rubbed the coals to powder in a square of rag, after
which he had mixed the powder and the grease to make a paste. Then, he
had pulled off his mourning blanket and his squaw's shirt, and bared
his body to the waist.
Vermilion, orange, scarlet, and bluethese colours had been laid in
stripes, circles, and figures upon the braves. They were colours that
he, an outcast, might not use. But there was one poor privilege in
flesh-painting that even he could claim. Kneeling again in clout and
squaw's skirt, he had smeared the black and red in rude signs upon his
chest. The braves, his brothers, had painted themselves for battle. But
he, the pariah, had painted himself in the colours of death.
Suddenly he forsook the roof for the shadow of the log wall. There
he waited. Two warriors had left the lodge of Brown Mink and were
crossing the pen. He knew them. The shorter was Canada John, the eldest
of the four condemned. The other was a Sioux who had been captured that
day and cast into prison at sunset. He was a giant in stature, wore
full war paint and dress, and a belt that testified his valour. For it
hung thick with scalps, some jetty and coarse,taken from heads of his
own kind,some brown or fair, with the softness that belongs to the
hair of white women and little children. The two were talking low
together. Presently, as they strolled near, the outcast heard the deep
murmur of their voices; then their words. He leaned toward them, all
How many sleeps before the dove calls? It was the bass of the
Perhaps only another, answered Canada John.
There was a great laugh, like the cry of a full-fed loon. Surely
Big Ox stays not long! But how can my friends be sure that The
Double-Tongue will have horses ready?
He claims a reward.
Ho! Ho! and what?
Canada John halted close to Squaw Charley. There is a cottonwood
lodge beyond the river, he said. It should belong to The
Double-Tongue. He is kept out. An old pale-face and his two daughters
seized it in the Moon of Wild Cherries, and they would not go.
An old man, you say?
But he hunts the white buffalo. Only the daughters are there.
Are they young?
Young and sleek. One is called The Plow-Woman. She is tall, and she
watches like the antelope. The younger has hair like the grass when it
They live alone?
The Squaw guards
And The Man-who-buys-Skins. May he be struck by the zigzag fire!
Who is to have the women?
Canada John scratched his nose. The Medicine-Giver says, 'He that
first reaches them.'
Big Ox shook his head in doubt. The swiftest may yet fail to keep.
Should any pursue, the women will be killed. The soldiers will
think them bit by rattlesnakes.
Again Big Ox burst forth with laughter.
A hammer clicked from the stockade top. A sentry began to bawl
Git, you pup-eaters, he ordered, and slanted his gun to them.
Casting dignity aside, they ducked into the nearest lodge.
Squaw Charley dragged himself back to the shingle roof. There he
fell prone, resting his forehead against the ribs of a dog. The
strength was gone from his body, the light from his eyes. The wind of
that other's nostrils had blasted him. He was like the scattering
ash-heaps of the evening smudges, where the last bit of fuel was
crumbled, and the last red coal was dead.
Long, he stayed upon his face. When the first numbness was past, and
his brain was rallying slowly, a very scourge of sorrow visited
himsorrow for the fate of the shack, where he had warmed himself so
often, relieved his hunger, and known a kindly smile. With sorrow came
remorse. He had not done his part for the little home. He had not
guarded as he ought. And he had helped by bringing rattlesnakeswhich
he had been told were to be used for medicinein the plot for its
destruction. When sorrow and remorse had their turn, a stronger passion
gnawed and racked him. It was the yearning for reinstatement.
Dwelling upon this, he became two Indians, and one of him opposed
the other. They travelled separate trailstrails that bent different
ways, like the horns of a buffalo. The trail to the right was a
warpath. It led him behind his brothers, through the hole in the
stockade. For a while he loitered, loath to share in the work on the
Bend. Afterward, he joined them. They were free, and crazy with their
freedom. He matched his strength with theirs; dared where they
But there was no hope for The Plow-Woman!
He was back on the other trail, and it led to the gallery where
Oliver's hammock swung. The outcast made swift motions with his hands.
He was hustled along with the guard. The sliding-panel opened. The
tent-flaps of Brown Mink's lodge were lifted. He was caught in a mad
onrush; he was howled at; spat upon. Finally, a bruised, exiled
traitor, more despised, if possible, than before, he fled skulking
And here was no hope for his honour!
He was back at the parting of the trails, one man again, helpless
before the knowledge that safety for the shack meant the wiping out
forever of his dream of becoming a brave.
When the pack deserted him, his forehead thumped the ground. Lame
Foot's woman threw him a bone, hitting him fairly on the shoulder. The
blow went unheeded, and he gave no thought to the pickings. The dogs,
returning, fought over him. He only clawed the earth in an effort to
lie flat. The bone yielded to the strongest and fiercest, the other
curs leaped about him, licking at his hair. Now he did not kick them.
Of a sudden, he remembered David Bond. He got feebly to his knees,
covering his face from the dogs. The evangelist had laid a charge upon
him: No matter what came, he was to think first of the shack. He had
accepted it before he knew it would clash with his own purpose. Was he
held to the promise now? David Bond was dead. If he were not obeyed, he
could never come back to punish.
But he had said to give up alleven life. He had given his own life
for the stolen white women. What he preached he had followed. Greater
love, he had said, hath no man than this, that a man lay down his
life for his friends.
It was a queer saying. If a brave went down when a tribe met another
in battle, then a friend of the dead took a life for that life.
To give a lifeit was different, and foolish! Was it not even
cowardly for one to expect another to die for him? And yet
He found himself upon his feet, listening. Across the stockade he
saw the ruddy glow-worms of the scattered pipes dancing in the dark.
But a moment later, when blinding flashes lit up the huge pen, the
hostages were sitting as before, their faces lowered moodily.
Still he listened. And it came again, from the direction of the
riverthe long, sad, cooing call of a dove.
CHAPTER XXXIV. FIRE AND ESCAPE
With the third mourning of the dove, a figure left the lodge of
Canada John and shuffled to the sliding-panel, where it knocked. In
tardy answer, the wicket was pushed aside a little and a lantern was
Hey, Charley! said a friendly voice. A white face peered into a
red one, noting the uneven bang and the handkerchief tied over the head
like a squaw's.
The Indian blinked at the light and showed his teeth in a grin.
Cursing, though not unkindly, the guard pushed the wicket wide.
Don't y' come botherin' me any more t'-night, he counselled, as a
black blanket and a ragged skirt wriggled through.
The Indian grinned again, and did not seek to elude the lantern.
Released, he shuffled away, going straight for the post. But the
stockade left a few rods to the rear, he changed his course, and made
toward the river. Close to its edge, he halted, and mocked the signal.
The call was repeated softly. Then call and echo neared by degrees,
until the Indian and the interpreter were touching hands.
There was no need for words. The night's work was planned. They
started cautiously upstream. Before long they were behind the stables,
ready for the second step. It was one that devolved upon Matthews. For
it he carried a long knife, single-edged, keen, and slightly curved,
like a sabre.
First he tiptoed to the near-by repair-shop, where the stable-guard
and two herders were gathered about a lantern, relieving their irksome
hours with cheese, hardtack, and various tall bottles that had once
adorned the shelves of The Trooper's Delight. Unseen, the interpreter
looked in upon the group.
Tied in twos outside the long barn were six horses, the mounts of
the guard. Each of the animals was bridled and saddled. Matthews went
from pair to pair of the horses, stealing along carefully. When he was
done with the six, he disappeared inside. Down the rows of stalls his
work was surer and more swift. What noise he made was drowned by the
rush of the river.
Now Indian and white ally continued upstream. Beyond the northern
sentry-line, and beyond the sod huts of the scouts, they spied the
first sign of the horse-herd they soughta herd composed of the
sutler's spike-team, a four-in-hand used on the wood-wagon, Lieutenant
Fraser's Buckskin, and a dozen or fifteen second-choice mounts
belonging to absent officers. That sign was a spark on the ground a
long way ahead. They knew it for the lantern of the remaining herder.
Matthews turned aside toward the landing. We meet here, he
The Indian grunted an assent, and made off in the direction of the
When he came back, some time had passed. A flash of lightning
disclosed him to Matthews, who saw that the other was wiping at his
face with his skirt.
How did it go, Canada John? asked the interpreter.
Canada John laughed. The herder was glad to see The Squaw, he
answered. But he fought like a badger.
Here is the small boat. When you have finished on this side,
remember The Man-who-buys-Skins is on the other. He will be glad to see
The Squaw, too.
Have you the oil?
Yes. The interpreter felt for the other's hand and gave him a can.
They parted for the second time.
Canada John now started for the post. As he went, he pulled dry
grass until his arms were full. Arrived beside the barracks, he began
to pile the grass against the pine wall.
In the blackness, Brannon lay peaceful. From the Line tinkled the
soft notes of a guitar. The bray of a commissary mule answered a
mule-bray from the bend. The sentries were announcing their cheery
The interpreter had reached the herd, where he was taking the rope
hobbles from the forelegs of several horses. This done, he climbed into
a herder's saddle and headed the band slowly up the bottom-land. Nearly
all the animals had seen long service, so they went tamely enough.
Where the road along the bank turned west to cross the bluffs through a
break, they took it, and were soon over the ridge and out upon the
prairie. There Matthews started them south. Finally, a mile or more
below the line of the stockade, he completed his wide detour by driving
them due east. Beside the Missouri, he rounded them up and brought them
to a stand.
He tied the horse he had ridden to some willows. Next, having
unwound several rope-lengths from about his waist, he began to catch
and tie others of the bunch. He had rope for only ten. The hobbles
fastened three more. The remaining horses were gentleall but the one
belonging to Fraser. Wily and uncertain of temper, nervous because of
the lightning, the dun-colored cayuse would not let Matthews secure
her. Each time waiting until the coaxing voice was close and the
outstretched hand almost touched, Buckskin whirled with a flirt of
her heels and a toss of her head and capered off. Matthews, swearing in
English and Uncapapa, tried every device he knew, and failed.
He dared not waste another minute. Quickly, he wound some grass into
a twist, lit it and waved it back and forth above his head three times.
After which, as a precaution, he took a flask from his hind-pocket and,
going from horse to horse of the string, to the hobbled three, and to
the half-dozen that were standing loose, rubbed their muzzles with the
liquor. But again he was unable to touch the She-devil. In a fury, he
threw the empty flask at her.
From his hiding-place beside the barracks, the Indian in squaw's
dress saw the signal-torch of the interpreter. At once, he sneaked from
side to side to listen. Then he took a wisp of grass, bound round it a
strip of oily cloth and, kneeling beside the bundle farthest from the
river, set a match to it. Instantly flames leaped up. He ran to other
grass-piles, lighting them one by one.
The next moment, an amazed sentry, who was pacing his beat by the
scouts' huts, saw the growing bonfires and called out in alarm to
another. Before the latter could reply the end of the barracks was
burning. Both sentries fired their guns. The sergeant of the guard
answered with revolver shots. The Gatlings spoke from the lookouts. A
trumpet shrilled the fire-alarm. From the sutler's sounded the clang of
In the midst of the tumult, one spotthe stockadekept strangely
quiet. Its guards were collected at the sliding-panel, from where, not
daring to leave, they watched the growing blaze. So intent were they
upon the sight that they took no heed of their prisoners. Therefore, no
one knew or hindered when the Indian braves, led by Standing Buffalo,
and noiseless as shadows, filed into Brown Mink's wickie-up, crawled
through the breach in the log wall, and sped away into the shielding
Behind, the squaws and children were gathered, with the Indian girl
walking boldly among them. Of a sudden they parted. From under the
shingle roof there was a sound of strugglinga thump, as a body hit
the groundan old woman's squeal of rage. Then, into the faint glare
reflected from the fire, came a stooping figure in squaw's dress, that
sped through the scattering crowd, shot into Brown Mink's tentand was
Across the prairie, Matthews was following after the flighty cayuse;
not trying to catch her, only striving to get her out of the way.
Buckskin was wilful, however, and as often as the angry interpreter
drove her off, came circling saucily backto halt in the path of the
coming braves. The string by the willows, the hobbled horses and the
gentle free ones, were frightened by her into stamping about. But the
whisky biting their noses killed the hated scent that was nearing. Not
so with the cayuse. She caught it. For a moment she waited, head high,
ears a-quiver, nostrils spread. Matthews warned the Indians. They did
not hear. As they raced on, the mare gave a snort of terror, wheeled,
and launched herself full against the end animal of the string.
The tethered horses set back upon their ropes, trampling each other
and pulling themselves free. The gentle ones, thoroughly scared, went
flinging away with them. While the hobbled, with no cow-pony respect
for rope, made up a mad, plunging rear.
Consternation seized the Sioux. They were without boats, without
weapons, without horses. They cursed. They threatened Matthews.
Cross! cross! he cried. Your bows are in my wood lodge. The
soldiers have no horses, and no boats. They cannot swim the river. You
will be safe.
There was no other way.
Wind-swift, my brothers, bade Lame Foot.
The Indians rushed back to where hammers had been ringing for days
past. They tore away boards of the scaffold. Then, returning to the
river, they dropped in.
Matthews called after them. Remember your promise, he said; and
do not drink the water-that-burns in my lodge.
There was no answer.
And now the interpreter took thought for himself. At sundown he had
lusted for the night's doing. But the heart was gone out of him. Even
before the stampede, the whole affair had assumed monster proportions.
He had begun to think of the murdered, and of the maiming, and had
wished himself well out of it. Now, with no horse to carry him across
to safety, there seemed to face him only discovery and punishment.
Well, they drove me to it, he complained. This wouldn't 'a'
happened if they'd give me a square deal. He was wrenching with all
his might at a section of the scaffold platform. I wanted to be
decent, and they treated me like a dog.
With this, he ran down the river bank and launched his frail raft.
Anyhow, he said, I'll git out o' this jus' as fast as water'll take
CHAPTER XXXV. THE LAST WARNING
Thrown down by a sounding-board of inky clouds, the alarm shots at
Brannon, the shouting, the reports of the Gatlings, and the
trumpet-calls fell sharp and clear upon the shack. Dallas, watching
into the blackness from her bench by the door, was up and armed on the
instant, and leaning far over the sill, as if to see the better through
the dark. Soon she made out somethinga glimmerthat, in the
beginning, was redder than the flare of the lightning, fainter, and
more fixed; but which, growing as the din grew, swiftly deepened in
colour, spread wide, and rose, throwing into relief the intervening
grove of cottonwoods, and the form of a man who was racing riverward
from the swale. He disappeared, swelling the distant clamour with a
crya dread cry she had never heard beforeof Fire!
She shut the door behind her and waited a moment. She was no longer
merely watchful. She was uncertain and troubled.
Presently she went in and bent over Marylyn, touching her gently,
and speaking low to save her a fright. Honey, dear, honey. Hop up and
see what's happ'ning at the Fort.
The younger girl scrambled to her feet, putting out nervous hands to
her sister. Dallas quieted her. And they stood together in the door.
And, now, across the Missouri, the guns and trumpets suddenly
stilled, and the shouting lessened. While the glow rapidly thickened
into a roaring press of flame, before which darted the troopers, like
flies in the light of a lamp.
My! my! whispered Marylyn, her voice quavering with sorrow and
awe. She found her clothes and, keeping in line with the door, began to
Looks pretty bad, said Dallas, soberly. The silencing of the guns
augured well, however; and she added thankfully, It could be a lot
I'll put on my shoes, and we can go down a ways, so's to see close.
Shall I, Dal
Sh! Dallas was leaning out again, her head lowered as if to
listen. All at once she turned and, kneeling, felt about on the floor
for her cartridge-belt. Yes, yes, she answered; put 'em onquick!
Are we going down to watch?
The barracks and the stables were high, cherry-hued pyres, terrible
enough to the eye, with their tops crooking northward in the wind. To
Dallas' ear, they were far more terrible, telling of awful
sufferinghinting of direful intent. For the nearer pyre sent proof of
a sacrifice. She could hear the screams of a horse.
The belt found, she stepped back to the door. Hurry, hurry, she
said. The old iron resolve never to desert the shack was fusing in the
heat of a panic. Her unfailing instinct was hardening a new one, that
ruled for immediate flight.
Marylyn was working with her shoe-thongs, not stopping to thread
them, only to wind and tie them around her ankles. She heard her sister
exclaim. Then she was seized and brought forward by a trembling hand.
Marylyn! Marylyn! The boat! She's going!
They looked, and saw a black-funnelled bulk floating across the
watery strip mantled by the blaze.
Maybe they thought it'd burn, suggested Marylyn. See, there's
sparks flying that way.
Dallas leaned back against the door. I guessthat's it, she said
slowly. Then after a moment, But why didn't they bring her straight
across? There's no place to tie up downstream.
Why, there's fire breaking out all over now, cried the younger
girl, forgetting to be afraid in her wonder and excitement. See! One
of the little houses is caught!
It was the first cabin of Clothes-Pin Row. Two or three men were
near it. At that distance they seemed gaily posturing to each other in
If anything is wrong, Dallas said, Mr. Lounsbury'll come
Mr. Lounsbury! repeated Marylyn. Was he here?
On this side, by the grove. I saw him start for the Fort.
And so their going was delayed.
Nevertheless, Dallas' sense of coming danger was acute; and when,
before long, she heard the trumpet again, and saw the troopers fall
away from the pyres, leaving the flames to their work, she lit the
lantern and held it to where were stored her treasuresa lock of her
mother's hair, her father's pipe, the letter she had received from
You take the cartridge-belt, she called to Marylyn.
The other obeyed.
Ready? said Dallas, and lifted the lantern to shake it.
She got no reply. Instead, gasping in alarm, Marylyn came headlong
to her, pinioning her arms with wildly clinging ones. Dallas! oh,
Outside there was a sound of rapid running. Dallas flung herself
against the door, driving it shut. A second, and a weight was hurled
against the outer battens. Then came four raps.
Don't open! don't! cried Marylyn. Maybe it ain't Charley!
But Dallas, undoubting, swung the door back, and into the room
leaped a stooping figure.
It was The Squaw.
He crouched, and moved his head from side to side, as if expecting a
blow or a bullet from behind. His right hand held a bow; his left, a
bundle of arrows. With these he beckoned violently, shaking the water
from his tattered clothes and pointing over his shoulder to the west.
We're coming, Charley. Dearie, stand up. Now, now! Marylyn
was dragged to her feet. The light was quenched. The outcast faced
about. And the three headed for the river, with The Squaw leading at a
As they crossed the plowed land rimming the yard, sleepy birds
fluttered up in front of them with startled cheeps and a whistle of
wings. They swerved to find the shack road, along which the way was
freer and more quiet, and the pace easy. Charley glanced back now and
then to see if they were close; or, halted them, when they listened,
holding their breath.
They paused for the last time near the river end of the corn, and
close to the coulée crossing. From there Dallas saw that the pyres were
lower, and that other buildings of the Row were ablaze; the roof of a
scout hut, too; and the prairie, over which travelled widening
crescents of gold. But the fire was the only thing that was moving. For
not a single man was in sight.
Charley was not watching toward Brannon, only along the nearer bank,
to the south.
Of a sudden, as their eyes followed his, a gun-shot rang out from
the cottonwood grove.
Mr. Lounsbury! cried Dallas, starting forward.
That moment they saw between them and the landing the silhouette of
It was not Lounsbury's; it was too short and thick-set for his.
Moreover, it seemed to be casting aside clothes as it ran.
Like one, The Squaw and Marylyn bolted for the coulée. Dallas
hesitatedthen followed. Near the brink, they missed the steep road,
and went slipping, sliding, and rolling down the sumach-grown side.
Then they struck the bristling bottomrightedturned their feet up
CHAPTER XXXVI. SOME UNEXPECTED
His face as blanched as a dead man's, his voice pealing out above
the babel like a bell, Oliver stood to windward of the double furnace,
giving quick orders on right and left.
Two men there on the Major's quartersLet the guard-house goUse
your blanket, Flaherty, use your blanketSergeant, as Kippis
passed close by, clear the Row and bring 'em all down here. Don't let
'em stop for anythingBoys, boys! turn out those horses!
A trooper rushed up and leaned, yelling, to his captain's ear. They
won't go, sir; they're hamstrung!
With a command, the captain fairly threw the man toward a point
where help was needed and seized upon his first lieutenant. Fraser,
there's a hell-hound loose in this post to-night!
I know, Captain. The fire started in a dozen spots.
It's that damned Indian of yours. I'll have him shot on sight!
Fraser was leaving. He looked back, his face all horror and smut.
Charley? he cried. Never!
Once more Oliver gave tongue, and directions were sent to the
stockade and to the Line. A signal light communicated with the lookouts
on the bluffs.
Kippis was already fulfilling his charge. Through a gap in the
northward-sweeping prairie-firea gap fought out and kept open by a
line of menwere coming the women of Clothes-Pin Row, each carrying a
child and dragging a second by the hand. Behind them scuttled the
papoose-cumbered squaws from the scouts' huts. At their rear trudged
the sergeant, also weighted, and jaunty no longer, but leaving red
stains where his naked feet touched the hot and smouldering ground.
To headquarters! shouted the captain, at the foremost laundress in
the rout. Then he turned to his trumpeter. A moment after, the fires
and the perishing horses were deserted, and the troopers, weapons in
hand, ran out upon the parade-ground, obeying a call to arms.
Oliver led them. As he approached the flagstaff, the voice of a
woman hailed him from the gallery of the nearest house. He sprang that
way, and was up the steps at a bound.
Mrs. Cummings, who had sought refuge in her own home, met him at the
top. The Colonel's library is stripped!
So it was. One hurried look by the light of a lamp showed that not a
bow, not an arrow remained on the walls.
But there was no time for exclaiming or conjecturing. Oliver rushed
back to the gallery and bade all the women and children collect and
keep within quarters. Around it, under Sergeant Kippis, he stationed a
cordon. Next, and while the house was being thoroughly wet down, the
ammunition stores were drawn upon, and extra guns and cartridges were
carried into the long reception-room, where the women could assist in
reloading. Barely three minutes had passed since Oliver sent his
messengers. But headquarters was fixed to withstand an assault and to
protect its inmates. And now, still ignorant of what had befallen, he
ordered the remainder of his men into line.
At this point, with the detachment about to move, a volley of rifle
shots sounded from the stockadeanotherand another. Then up went a
great hubbub: The Indians! The Indians!
Oliver started his troopers double-quick across the square. At the
hospital one of the stockade guard stopped them.
The Indians? croaked Oliver.
The troopers took up the cry: Gone! The Indians are gone!
Oliver turned them back.
They met a second man, black-faced, staggering, frenzied with alarm.
It was Fraser. He caught at the captain's ragged sleeve.
Shotother sidethey're over therethose girls!those
girls His breath failed him.
Again mingled cries went up from the troopers: The shack, boys!
They'll kill them girls! God!
Oliver saw the need. To the ferry, he commanded.
Like one man, they bounded headlong across the parade, through the
red smoke pouring from barracks and stables, and ononly to come short
upon a boatless landing, where they crowded upon each other and cursed.
Fraser was half-crazed. Oliver took him forcibly in hand. No man of
them all, even if not burdened with a gun, could stem the river's
There's one chance yet, he said, the night-herd. He turned to
his trumpeter. Sound the recall, and keep a-sounding it!
Again and again, the familiar strain rang out. All looked northward
to where they knew the herd had been, to where the long curves of the
prairie-fire were still moving.
But the minutes went, and there was no answering beat of hoofs.
Where were the herders? Why did they not obey?
Then, to the south, a reply! Above the spiteful crackling of the
tindery buildings, out of the thinning dark, came a clear, eager neigh!
That way the troopers rushed. Gathering at the flagstaff they saw,
by the light of the burning piles, a single horse come galloping toward
them from the direction of the stockade. Her dun neck was arched like a
charger's. As she swung proudly into an imaginary line, the men greeted
her with a cheer.
That greeting was echoed. Until now, the Indians had been quietas
quiet as a flock of scurrying grouse. But the river was between them
and their enemy, and they felt secure from pursuit. Moreover, whisky
was working. They were boisterous with it. Casting caution aside when
they heard that cheer, they answered with defiant whoops.
The cheers of the troopers changed to anguished groans. One, wildly
repeating a girl's name, sprang toward the waiting Buckskin. From
headquarters came the sobbing of women, the whimpering of frightened
children. And then, nearer and nearer, a dull pounding that swelled
into the steady plud, plud of unshod hoofs.
Once more a cheer went up. A moment, and a cavalcade swept ina
riderless cavalcade, with ropes dangling. It was the night-herd, the
discarded, second-choice mounts of the regiment's officers, a motley
band that had served their country through more than one enlistment,
and that, hearing the familiar summonssome limping, some
hobblinghad followed the dun cayuse to answer it.
Now, nooses were twisted about the noses of the horses. The troopers
mounted. The trumpet sounded the advance.
Again came whoops from across the Missouri. They were farther away
than the first.
They're travellin'! shrilled a voice.
Go upgo up for the crossing, Oliver ordered. Fraser! Fraser!
But the buckskin mare, with her master, far in advance of the twenty
others, was already plunging down the bank and into a black, roily
CHAPTER XXXVII. THE FLIGHT TO
For all that the way was hard, rough with stones and choked by a
tangle of rank growth, the three in the coulée made fast progress over
the first two miles. Charley led. After him came Marylyn, to whom the
loathed split in the plain was become a place of refuge. In the rear,
covering her sister against possible attack, followed Dallas.
As they went, now running, now falling into a quick walk, then
running again, nettles stung their ankles; gooseberry branches tore
their swinging hands; willows lashed their faces. But terror calloused,
and they knew no hurts. Marylyn stepped on something soft and
movingshe only increased her pace. On, on, they sped, stumbling
blindly, gasping with open mouthyet persevering.
The strain told first on the younger girl. So far, her strength had
been unnaturalborn of the terror that made her unconscious of any
wound. It did not long endure. Before three miles had been travelled,
as she sank in a shallow pool to wet her lips, it utterly failed her.
She could not rise, and pleaded faintly for rest.
Just a minute, Dallas, pleaseI can't gomy side hurts.
Dallas helped her through a hindering weave of pond-weeds and
lilies, and laid her upon some marsh-grass beyond. Meanwhile, Charley
stole back a short distance. But the respite was brief, for he returned
straightway and twitched at their dresses, when the elder girl lifted
the younger to her feet, whispering encouragement.
Try again, honey. You got your breath. Try again.
Once more they pressed forward. The lightning had ceased. With a
last grumble, and a scatter of drops, the clouds were pulling apart.
Here and there a few stars shone. These thinned the darkness
considerably, and, at a point where the coulée shallowed, Dallas was
able dimly to see the toiling shapes ahead. Marylyn was wavering.
Spunky little sister! urged the elder girl. Lifting the rifle to
her left shoulder, she came alongside to give the support of an arm.
Where's the cartridge belt? she whispered.
Heavy,panted the otherdropped it.
And now despite Dallas' aid, Marylyn straggled weakly. Another mile,
and with scarcely a sigh of warning, she sank again, exhausted.
Charley, called Dallas. The Squaw joined them. You take one
armthat's it. She took the other. Thus they proceeded.
Marylyn was almost a dead weight. When the channel was clogged with
rocks, she could not put one jaded foot before the other, and was
fairly dragged. On clear sandy stretches she did better. Complete
collapse was near, however; her head was swinging upon her breast; she
Finally Dallas stopped. Hidehide, she counselled between
breaths, a dark place
Ignoring the advice, the outcast thrust his bow and arrows into her
hands; then squatting before Marylyn, he seized her wrist, drew her,
limp and half-dead, upon his back, and staggered on.
Hold to Charley, dear, begged Dallas. He's carrying you
The younger girl murmured gratefully, and locked her hands beneath
The Squaw's chin. This left his arms free to part a path through the
thickets of burweed and plantain that choked the defile, and, for fully
a half-hour, he kept a good jog. But, well worn and hampered as he was,
he began then to wobble.
Dallas gave him the weapons and received Marylyn upon her own
shoulders. Notwithstanding the long way, her vigour remained splendid.
And when there came a tendency to lag, she fought it stoutly. Not until
her limbs refused their service, did she drop down.
Under her wild rye made a cool, stiff couch. She reached through it
and dug her fingers into the wet earth. Marylyn toppled over back and
lay beside her, prone. Charley leaned on an elbow, breathing hard,
When, far behind, down the shadowy crack through which they had
come, sounded wild whoops.
They scrambled up, terror-stricken. Like hunted deer, they whipped
away again, knowing that, in their wake, instead of the one man they
had seen, was a horde!
Once more, though after brave effort, it was Marylyn who compelled a
halt. Dallas strove to rouse her. Try a little longer, honey. Come on,
come on. But the other only sobbed hysterically, until Charley put his
hand upon her mouth.
Can't we crawl out? demanded Dallas. Quick, they'll pass.
The Squaw shook his head, coming close that she might see his
He shook his head again and signed that their pursuers had horses.
It was a moment of supreme despair. She laid her arms upon her
knees, her face upon her arms. Their puny human power had failed. Where
else could they look for succour? Would Lounsbury or the troopers
Then, tearfully, prayerfully, in this utmost need, she raised her
eyes to the sky. It's not for me, she faltered; it's for Marylyn.
That upward glance was not in vain. In front of her, lifting their
plume-like tops against the heavens, she saw the clump of burial trees.
Instantly she took heart, for her quick brain devised a planto hide
in the cottonwoods!
But all three might not stay, for, however much the Sioux avoided
the laden boughs, they would stop to search them if there were not
those ahead to draw them past. And one of those ahead must be a
So she decided. Bending to her sister, she lifted her to a sitting
position. Honey, she said firmly, you see the big trees there? The
Indians are afraid of 'emremember? They'll go by. We'll put you up on
a limb, and you keep quiet. You'll be safe. We'll go onfor help.
YesyesDallas, onlyI can't walk.
Charley! The elder girl bade him assist. Without understanding
fully, he obeyed. Together they carried Marylyn toward the cottonwoods,
out of which several lank, grey bodies shifted into view and shot away.
Dallas chose a tree that grew close to the steep bank. Here, in the
narrow space between trunk and rooty wall, she ordered Charley to get
down on all fours. Then, taking Marylyn upon her shoulders as before,
and steadying herself with both hands, she stood on The Squaw's back.
Little by little, bracing with legs and arms, he raised his load.
Marylyn was now below a thick branch. By reaching up, and summoning the
remnant of her strength, she was able to clasp it, to put a foot over,
to get astride.
Lie down, continued Dallas; they won't stop; don't speak.
Hurriedly, she and Charley resumed their way up the wolf-haunted
bottom, over rocks, through puddles, into pigmy forests of cherry and
plum. But now, careless of lost time, Dallas ran with backward looks
and frequent haltings, giving strict heed to the whereabouts of those
They had travelled a good distance when she judged that the savages
were nearing the burial-place, that the time for her ruse was come.
Letting the outcast go on, she paused for breath; then lifted her
voiceand sent back through the night, a long, inviting call.
Down the wind came instant answer; a great howl of glee. And as if
her presence ahead was unexpected, as if it tempted to a better speed,
a jargon of cries swelled hideously, and drew on.
She's safe! shouted Dallas, exultantly; Charley, she's safe!
Another yowl from a score of throats.
And now began a race.
From the start it was unequal, and the gain on the side of the
pursuers. For the biting poison that had made the Indians bold to the
point of open defiance was now stirring them into fleeter going. They
kept up a constant jabbering. They broke into short, puffy whoops. And
gradually, but surely, the rods decreased between quarry and pack.
The sweat dreening from their faces, The Squaw and Dallas strained
forward. But now of the two, one could scarcely keep a walk. Her
strength was ebbing to the final drop.
The outcast stumbled back to help her.
A little while, and she whispered again. Can't gostopcan't
Every breath was sawing at her sore lungs. She tottered, pitched
forward, and went down.
It was then that Charley pointed to the front, and as if to a
vantage-place. Dallas looked, and saw, at the end of sheer walls, an
oblong opening of greyish light. She hailed it dumbly. There was where
the coulée narrowed until a man, standing in its bed with arms
outstretched, could place the tips of his fingers against either rocky
wall. There a last stand might be made. The Throat!
One helping the other, they dragged themselves on and into the
The time had narrowed. Close behind, crashing through a thicket,
were the warriors, announcing themselves with shrill whoops.
Dallas waited, propped against a stone. The words of the old Texas
song began to run in her mind:
We saw the Indians coming,
We heard them give a yell,
My feelings at that moment
No mortal tongue could tell.
She was spent. She had no hope of being spared from death. Yet she
was strangely calm and unafraid.
Marylyn'll be happy, she said. I know John Lounsbury well enough
She became conscious of thirst. A branch of wild roses, shining with
raindrops, bobbed above her. She bent the flowers to her mouth, one by
one, and sucked their moisture.
She looked to the front again, across the spreading meadow. She
heard the cheeps of awakening birds, and small movements in trees and
grass. The grey of the sky was turning to pink. There was a lifting
fore-glow in the east.
See, Charley, she said, there'll be good light to fight in.
Butbut there's just one charge.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. FRASER HEARS A CALL
As each man of the rescuing party splashed out upon the sandy beach
before Shanty Town, he headed for the open level. There was no waiting
for commands, no attempt at order; only the sound of laboured
breathing, of frantic urging, of the plying of heel and fist. Butchery
threatened, and a wasted moment might be the one that could have stayed
Crossing the Bend, the company was strung to a long, bedrabbled
line. It was slow going. Already the horses had stood hard usagethe
detour with Matthews, the return, and the severely trying swim. Fraser,
given the lead, still kept it, dinging hoarse persuasion into
Buckskin's flattened ears.
So far, the troopers had kept silent through fear for the girls'
safetyfear that the hostages, if aware of pursuit, would wreak
instant death. But now, as their lieutenant advanced to the shack, the
men behind, while trying their utmost to gain, sent forward yell upon
yell to startle the Indians into dropping their captives and seeking
No whoops replied, but from the doorway, unheard, the voice of a
As the line swung up, and by, in a circle, Fraser, weapon in hand,
was down and pressing forward.
He found Lounsbury, seated on the sill, from which he rose
Quickthe coulée! They went that wayGive me a lift!
His hand was wet. Fraser caught him about the waist.
Oh, you're wounded!
Yes,glancing blow. But I tied it up.
Lounsbury? Wounded? It was Oliver.
Up the coulée, Captain! Give me a horse.
The captain turned, shouting orders. The other tried to follow,
Fraser supporting him.
Here, somebody, a horse for Lounsbury.
A third man dismountedJamieson. He put a rope in Fraser's hand.
Take my horse, he said. I'll stay. Ride like the devil,
Lounsbury, and soak 'em one for me!
They helped the storekeeper mount. The command had gone. He and
Half the troopers were travelling the farther brink, half the near.
The two caught up with the latter detachment.
Progress was slow. The men were tired from the fire-fighting. The
horses were all but blown.
Nevertheless, not a moment's halt was taken until, after six
wearisome miles, the troopers came opposite the cottonwoods where the
Indian dead were lashed.
By now the darkness had lifted considerably, and a scout, who was
riding the southern side, advised a hunt for tracks.
No tracks were found on the near brink. The horses moved forward
again, Oliver and Fraser waiting behind to hear from the opposite side.
Anything over there? called the captain, and they fell silent for
All at once, as they waited, Fraser began peering down into the
coulée. What's that? he whispered. What's that? Hark!
Just then came a shout: No tracks, Captain.
Oliver kicked his boots into his horse's side. Come on, come on,
he said, and went hurrying after his men.
But, Captain Fraser was holding back. There was a cry. I
Come on, Fraser. Oliver's horse broke into a trot.
A third time Oliver called sharply. Behind he heard the cayuse
Farther along, however, he turned to address his lieutenantand saw
that Buckskin carried no rider.
CHAPTER XXXIX. STANDING AT BAY
And now through the dusk of the coulée the Indians advanced toward
the Throat. Single file, they came, their leader a stalwart brave who
But, of a sudden, they brought up and retreated, tripping back upon
one another over rubble and bowlder, and giving out startled oaths.
Then they halted, a score of dim, crowding figures.
Beyond the Throat showed a patch of sky, swiftly brightening with
the dawn. Against that patch, thrust up by a ragged arm, was a twirling
There was a parley, while the oaths became a jumble of protests,
haranguing, and threats.
Presently Standing Buffalo could be heard above the rest. They are
only women. Let us take them and be on!
At this, all started forward, but warily. As sudden as before, they
Against the light, for a second time, a ragged arm had shot up. Now
at its top was a sinew-backed bow.
The Indians were amazed. One of their kind defending the women? They
snorted in rage.
As they jostled, stretching this way and that, the arm began slowly
to brandish the bow, and in a manner to announce that the holder
desired single combat.
Standing Buffalo went forward in a bound. I clear the way, he
cried vauntingly to his brothers; to the one before, Who fears? Come
out. He loosened the arrows in his quiver.
The challenger camea stooping figure in squaw's dress.
The sight of him fairly rooted the young chief. The Squaw! His
voice was furious.
Behind, a great laugh went up. And, as though there was no longer a
need either to respect or fear the signals of the one who barred their
path, the whole band charged.
A little to one side of The Squaw, a gun spokeright into their
midst. A brave screamed, catching at his thigh. The others wavered and
fell back beyond rifle reach, taking him with them.
The stooping figure in squaw's dress signed once more for single
Lame Foot addressed his brothers. We delay too long, he cautioned.
Standing Buffalo, go forward and slay the she-skunk, and let us
Standing Buffalo waved his bow aloft. I do so, he promised. But
you, Medicine-Giver, must hold me clean of shame for fighting a squaw!
Then, to the outcast, Come out, coffee-cooler, and die. He halved the
distance between him and the Throat.
Squaw Charley approached him watchfully, setting a shaft in place.
His face seemed all eyeseyes burning with a fierce joy. Standing
Buffalo fitted an arrow. Both raised their bows.
Behind the chief came calls of derision and execration. Behind the
outcast came a voice, clear and steady: Careful, Charley, careful.
To and fro, the contestants were stealing, noiselessly, on the
alert, each striving to get the other in a favourable light.
A minute, anotherthen Standing Buffalo bent his knees, drew and
shot. But the arrow veered a trifle from its intended course.
The Squaw drew. The cord sang. The shaft whistled to its mark.
It drove the chief backward a few paces like a wounded buck. Then,
stopping himself with effort, he lurched forward again. As he came, he
raised his bow and sent a second arrow that cut the bushes on the
The shaft was his last. His face went suddenly livid, his eyeballs
started; drivelling, he clutched at the airtipped down to his
handstouchedlet go his weaponhalf-rosepivoted on a heel, and
slipped in a heap to the stones.
A wordless cry broke from the lips of The Squaw. He sped across the
coulée-bottom to the side of the dead chief. There he struck the fallen
man a blow upon the bare knee, snatched from his head an eagle feather,
daubed it across the flowing wound, and thrust it dripping red into his
Then, as he had not done in years, he straightened. Then he cast
from him the foul rags of his squaw's dress. And in clout and the
colours of death, he stood fortha warrior!
I count a coupRed Moon! he cried.
Howlsfrom a watching band that had been struck dumb.
A coup, IRed Moon. Come on, you dogsyou that called me dog.
Come on, you squaws that called me squaw. Come on, and a warrior will
fight you, one by one!
Before him, more howls, and a bluster of Uncapapa. Behind the voice
again: Charley! Charley!
And now Red Moon leaped back to resume his stand. With his turning,
the band drew after, sending a shower of arrows.
At the Throat he faced them again.
Braves! he laughed mockingly. Dogsthat fight like dogs,
a pack against one!
Now he shot, swift and unerringly. Here one flattened; there,
another; a third broke his jaw upon a stone. Till from their midst flew
the missile of Big Ox, hard-driven, straight. Quivering, it buried its
deadly point in Red Moon's breast.
Deafening whoops echoed in the narrow canyon, drowning the
hoof-beats of a nearing horse.
Red Moon answered them. He was swaying to and fro, like a cypress
limb in a great wind. He lifted his face to the sky until his crimson
scalp-feather drooped; flung back his hair, and clapped palm to mouth
in a war-cry.
Then his bow flew from his hand as his arms spread outspread out
as if seeking something upon which to lean. He sank to his knees,
chanting the death-song of the Sioux.
Charley! Charley! It was a wail.
Not his voice, but another's, answered: Dallas! Where are you?
The Indians heard the call. Catching up wounded and dead, they fell
Dallas, shielded no longer, yet forgetful of danger and self, ran
forward to where Red Moon knelt. Even as she reached him, he could
kneel no longer. He toppled sideways, then straightened upon his back.
But now the band was coming back toward Dallas, on their way to the
Throat. Their purpose was thwarted. Before Dallas was reached, a man
blocked the narrow passage, and two revolvers, barking a staccato,
spread panic among them. They turned to the walls, looking for a place
to scale. From there came tramping and shouts, and they saw, over them,
at either side, a line of downward-pointing guns!
Huddling together, the centre of a complete surround, wounded and
unwounded cast aside their bows and flung up their hands in the peace
Give 'em hell, boys! screamed a trooper.
But the trumpet interfered.
Close to the Throat was a group that had neither eyes nor ears for
the capture. Here was the warrior, Red Moon, calm-faced, bearing his
agony bravely, choking back even a murmur of pain. Over him were
Lounsbury and Dallas, bent for a final look and word.
Dear old fellow, murmured Lounsbury. You gave 'em a good fight
to-day. You saved her.
The surgeon was beside them now, hastily examining. The shaft was
not in the wound; it had fallen. But the poisoned barb remained. He
shook his head.
No use, John, he whispered, and tiptoed away.
Lounsbury leaned farther down. Charley, he said, you're going
now, old man. Say good-by to us.
The Indian moved one hand feebly.
Lounsbury understood. He lifted and shook it gently. Brave Red
Moon, he said.
The savagery was all gone from the Indian's eyes; they were
wonderfully soft and un-Indian in their expression. He seemed, all at
once, to be thinking of something far off. And his look was adoring.
Dallas could not speak to him, but she, too, shook him gently by the
He settled his head upon Lounsbury's arm, as a child might have
done. Then he looked up at Dallas. Friendfriend, he whispered
softly, smiled, and with the touch of the sun on his upturned face, he
CHAPTER XL. SOME ENDINGS AND
Lounsbury was stretched in the hammock on Captain Oliver's gallery,
his bandaged head on a pillow, his left arm resting in a sling. Leaping
about, almost upon him, and imperilling the stout ropes that swung the
hammock, were five of the captain's seven.
Twenty-four hours were gone since, having lashed four Indian dead
among the branches of the burial trees, troopers, Sioux, and rescued
had returned to a post that was half in ashes. Now, guards tramped the
high board walk as before, keeping strict watch of their sulky
prisoners; the ramshackle ferry-boat, dragged away from the bar that
had halted her, was tied up at her landing again; across the upper end
of the parade, grey tents had replaced the barracks; while, farther on,
teams and scrapers were clearing away smoking ruins and dumping them
into the river; squaws were thatching the roofs of the scouts'
shanties; and hammers were ringing on new structures for Clothes-Pin
Row. With cool enterprise, Brannon was hastening toward recovery.
There was other mending that was less rapid: In the stockade, where
one nursed an arrow, another a bullet, wound; in the garrison hospital,
where Kippis and a comrade stumped about on swathed feet; and on the
Oliver gallery, where Lounsbury lay, his face not the usual fulness,
and a trifle white.
The storekeeper, however, was lending entertainment, as hospitality
and his popularity demanded.
The idea of you little apes asking for stories, he was saying to
his audience, when such popping good ones are happening right under
Felicia was the youngest of the seven. She gave back at him,
prancing up and down insistently. But we don't want stories of things
around here, she cried wilfully. We want lords and ladies, and you
gim 'em to us.
Lords and ladies, sniffed Lounsbury. Well, Felicia, stop that
jumping-jack business and I'll begin.
A chorus of delightthen, the five disposed themselves, the boys
(there were two) astride the storekeeper; the girls draping the
swinging net at either side.
Once upon a time, commenced Lounsbury, in the middle of a
gre-a-a-t, wi-i-i-de, fla-a-a-t country
Now, interrupted James, who came next to Felicia. His inflection
was rising and suspicious.
Now, chimed in the others. They, too, did not fancy such familiar
Look here, said the narrator, don't get it into your precious
noddles that this Territory's the only flat country under the sun.
There are other spots upon this green earth where you can see hundreds
of miles in any direction.
Go on, then, go on!
Well, this was such a placegreat, wide, flat place. The lord
lived there. He was called the Lord Harrygot his name from the way he
acted; he was always making forced marches
Again suspicion, which Lounsbury ignored.
And violent demands. Oo! my shin! (This to James, whose heels were
curled up under him.) Violent demands, I said. And so he had the
cheekumthe impudence to love, to love He shut his eyes
in silent rhapsody.
What uz her name?
Ah! Lounsbury threw up his well hand helplessly. No name
was splendid enough for hernot one. But he called herfor want of a
better, mind youhe called her the Rose of the South.
Bully! bully! accompanied by the clapping of hands.
The door from the entry opened. Dallas came slowly out.
Go on, urged Felicia, 'Rose of the South?'
But Lounsbury was looking at Dallas. Rose of the South, he
repeated, a queer tremor running around his mouth; as far south asas
Dallas seemed about to turn.
Lounsbury hurried to put the well hand behind his ear. Felicia, he
said, didn't I hear your mother call?
Felicia rocked herself from foot to foot. Oh, you go on,
she said overbearingly, or you might fall out of the hammock.
But the spell was broken. Her sisters had pounced upon Dallas. The
boys, getting a whiff from regions down the hall, had made off. She
followed, with backward demands for the rest of it later on, and
carried the last of the five with her.
Lounsbury sat up and put out his hand. The fun was gone from his
Dallas, you've had your talk, he said quietly, but with a hint of
anxiety. I know it's all right; it's got to be.
She came part way to him, and stood where morning-glory vines
climbed a lattice. Marylyn's just been telling me, she answered. She
raised her head, very intent upon the flagstaff. The light through the
vines touched the outline of her facea firm outline, cut by a flying
wisp of hair.
Dear? he questioned.
She glanced down at him, smiling through tears. All the time, they
liked each other, she said happily. He calls her Marylyn, and she
calls him Robert.
He got up and went to her. When I saw him there in the road by that
cottonwood bunch, lugging her along so careful, looking so scaredand
the way he held her on Buckskin! He caught her hand.
There's one thing that hurts, she answered. That it kept you out
there watching, and I didn't even go to youbut II
You were doing the white thing by that little sister. That makes it
all the sweeter.
She was afraid I'd scold, still through tears.
I would. I felt different about soldiersthen.
He took a deep breath. They're handy to have around, he said.
She's afraid Mr. Fraser'll find out what she said about you.
He won't. He might get a notion she didn't know her own mind yet!
He mightwell, as Kippis says, ''E's bloomin' 'ot-'eaded,' the little
She don't know I told you. It'd bother her if
That's between you and me, Dallas. He drew her near.
Yes, John, promptingly.
The morning-glory vines on the lattice reached up and out; brushed
by the wind, they made a sheltering veil. He drew her closer. He lifted
her face to his by a smoothing caress of her hair. He kissed her.
My dearest! My splendid girl!
He shook his head roguishly at her. So wild, she was, with the bit
in her teeth. And nowshe eats right out of my hand.
Then, roguish no longer, he lifted her two hands, turned thempalms
upand touched them with his lips.
Ah, dear, there must be no more going-it-alone. I want to take care
of you after this. We won't wait, will we?
Just the minute a minister can be reached?
I've a mind to bribe Mike into taking us up to Bismarck after
You're too sick. Her face was grave, her eyes watched him
anxiously. All night I thought about you: How I went running off when
I heard that shot. Oh, suppose, suppose
I'll be over this in a day. And I know you went because you had to.
Don't I know you weren't afraid? Don't I know why you left Marylyn
behind at the trees? Dallasyou're a wife for a man out here!
She coloured under his praise.
There'll be other things coming up to fight, he went on. That's
the beauty of this Westit keeps you busy. But we'll be together to
make the fight. I don't ask anything more.
After a time, they walked to the top of the steps.
Across the river, at the centre of the yellow bend, it stoodthe
Dear little home! she said.
You wouldn't like to leave it. You can go to Bismarck, you know, or
East, or anywhere.
I'd rather stay.
We'll stayright over there. Then, when the town comes, and it
gets too populousif you like, and if Marylyn's not at this
postwe'll go farther up, to open country again.
We'll take your share of the Clark herd, she said.
I've got a fine little saddle-mare for you, he said.
Somebody entered the parlour behind themtwo somebodies, hand in
Dallas, called one, meekly.
Lounsbury, hailed the other.
The storekeeper went in, Dallas with him. Bless your sweet hearts,
he said when he faced the couple. Marylyn, you rested? Fraser, you
look idiotically happy.
I'm not alone, retorted the lieutenant. I'd hate to describe you
this minute, your face beaming through all that lint.
Save yourself the trouble, here, before my future wife.
Fraser turned to Marylyn. Phew! But we're important! Listen to
Dallas wants to get back to the shack. Can a' ordinary, everyday
trooper look after the finest two-year-old and the finest team in
Dakota? Not by a long shot! And I'm not going to let her go alone,
soberly, after what's happened. Can't take any more chances.
Fraser sobered too. Nothing to fear any more, he said. When
Mike's men were getting the boat off, down below, they foundhim.
A moment's silence.
They think he tried to cross and couldn't. There he was, tangled up
in some willows, poor devil.
That ought to explain some things to the Captain, said Lounsbury,
in a low voice.
Yes. And it will satisfy the K. O., I'm pretty sure. An officer's
not to be blamed so much for things going wrong when the traitor's
practically within the lines. The K. O. himself could have had that
Well, Dallas. Lounsbury was cheery again. You and Marylyn own the
Bend, sure enough.
There was a knock at the door. Then, with a great show of backing
and coughing, young Jamieson appeared.
Frank, said Lounsbury, quit your nonsense and tell us about the
other side. Did the scout find anything?
Yes, he did, answered Jamieson; and what proves how smart the
whole plot was. What do you think? Well, just above where you met that
Indian, they found an outfitblack blanket and a ragged skirt
A quiet fell. Dallas turned away to the windows. Lounsbury followed
Presently, he returned, clearing his voice. They copied Charley's
clothes, he said. I guessed that. As the Indian came up to me, I
spoke. But when he answered, I knewjust a second too late. He gave me
a terrible lick, but I caught it on my arm and came back with the gun.
Don't know how I ever reached the shack.
Mr. Lo peeled in the grove and scampered, said Fraser.
We saw him, said Marylyn, and I ran.
He's the only red that got free.
But, all the same, I plugged him, declared Lounsbury. And I'll
bet he's packing a pound of buckshot. Who was it, do you know?
Again the door opened, and Oliver appeared. His long face was
distressfully haggard; about his temples and across his forehead, what
had been merely lines before were now deep grooves. Yet the fierce,
baffled look that had been in his eyes since the escape was entirely
gone. He smiled at the group most tenderly, and his moustache wiggled
in a most incomprehensible fashion.
He closed the door and waited, his hand on the knob.
Jamieson stepped forward. Captain, he said with mock injury,
these peoplehe indicated the othersdo not mark the flight of the
minutes. I don't wonderit's natural. But I, sir, Ihaving been asked
to breakfast by Mrs. Oliverdo. Isis breakfast ready?
Breakfast is ready, Oliver answered. His voice was unsteady.
Thank goodness for that!
There was the sound of a faint cheer outside; then someone went
rushing up the plank walk before the house. The captain closed the
We shall give thanks for many things to-day, he said
Fraser started, and his eyelids fluttered what his face strove to
What's all that outside? It was Marylyn, innocently.
But Oliver gave a quick sign, pulling nervously at his moustache.
Frank, he began, aa friend is coming home to us this morning.
A-a-ah! It was near a groan.
Waitwait, firmly. Give yourself a moment to guess. Butguess
Jamieson moved like a man in pain. You mean, you mean he
whispered. Oh, Captain, I've waited and waited.
Bravelywe all know that. And there's reward for you.
Behind Jamieson, the others were leaning forward, hopeful,
fearfulin a fever of emotions.
The cheering outside had grown. More people were running up the
walkchildren, men, bareheaded women.
Jamieson, said the captain, you'll be very calm?
Jamieson relaxed, faltering forward. I'll try! I'll try! he
Lounsbury caught him. Tell him, Oliver, he begged.
The captain turned the knob, took Jamieson by a wrist and led him
out through the entry.
On the gallery was a second group. It whispered. It laughed. It
cried. It looked north to where the road came down from the landing.
Easy now, easy, cautioned Oliver. He patted Jamieson, led him down
the steps, and faced him up the Line.
There, my dear boy, he said.
On the upper edge of the parade-ground, the men of B Troop were
surrounding some travellers, caps in air. With their cheers mingled
wild shouts. And one of them was singing the lines of a song, fervent,
loud and martial:
Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
For a moment, as one who questions his own sight and hearing,
Jamieson gazed before him. Then, he flung up his arms and sprang
forward with a great cry:
Mother! mother! Alice!
Down the Line they had taken up the singing. And to it, the troopers
dividing, the travellers came into full view.
There was a wagon, with red wheels, a green box, and drawn by a
milk-white horse. On its seat were two women, who clung to each other
as they looked about. Above them a cross of rude boards stood straight
up into the sunlight of the morning. And beside the cross, driving, sat
a manan aged manwhite-haired, priestly, patriarchal.
CHAPTER XLI. TAPS
The parlour at Captain Oliver's was a homelike place: The black
tarred paper that covered its walls was fairly hidden from sight by
selected illustrations cut out of leading weekliesthese illustrations
being arranged with a nice eye to convenience, right side up, the
small-sized pictures low down, the larger ones higher. There was a
fireplace which, it being summertime, had a screening brown-paper skirt
that fell to the hearth. Above this, along the mantel, was another
skirt, made of a newspaper, short and pouty, and scissored at the lower
edge into an elaborate saw-tooth design. The mantel was further adorned
by certain assorted belongings in the way of a doll, a kite, an empty
bank, a racquet, books, and the like, all cast into their various
positions by the seven small Olivers. On either side of the fireplace
were bracket-lamps. Across the room was the inevitable army cot, spread
with wolf skins. There were chairstwo of themwrought from sugar
barrels. There was a table, quite as ingeniously formed. And,
completing the whole, the long curtains over the windowscurtains
magnificently flowered, and made from a dress-pattern gift (the
captain's) that Mrs. Oliver, ever a woman of resource, had artfully
diverted to another purpose.
To-night, the parlour was more homelike than usualand festive. For
a family party filled it. Here was the hostess, carrying a huge iced
cake, and taking account of the seven's behaviour; the seven
themselves, eager, though somewhat repressed, and doing full justice to
their portions; their father, thankful, as he passed the coffee, that
so much good had come out of some misfortune; Frank Jamieson, mother
and sister on either arm; Marylyn Lancaster, looking dimpled
consciousness; close upon her every move, a certain young lieutenant,
who cast longing glances toward the half-lighted gallery; the surgeon,
ungratefully relegated to a corner, but solacing himself in his cup;
David Bond, his wrinkled old face a benediction; and, lastly, Dallas
Lounsbury was his former self, save for the plaster-strips that had
supplanted the bandages. Everywhere at once he put the grip of two men
into his well arm, smiling upon all like the very genius of happiness.
And DallasMrs. Oliver had offered to sew her a plain white dress
for the occasion. But she had chosensince her John must of necessity
come in his wonted attireto appear in the simple frock she had worn
the night they met in the swale. Above it, her hair was braided and
coiled upon her head like a crown. Her cheeks were a glowing red. Her
All was bedlam: Tongues clattered; cups rattled; laughter rose and
fell; the seven, having no chairs, sat in a line under the leadership
of Felicia and kicked their heels on the floor.
Theninterruptinga knock, loud, peremptory.
The company stilled. Jamieson opened.
There stood a jolly figurethe sutler'sapple-round head and all.
Well, Blakely? asked the captain.
Blakely hung his weight on a foot and, coughing behind his plump
hand, bobbed his answer: Steam's up, sir.
Lounsbury had the centre of the floor. He kept it, reaching out to
bring Dallas beside him. They stood while the others crowded up to give
them well wishes and to tell them good-night.
Last of all came David Bond. My daughter, my son, he said, God
Lounsbury slipped Dallas' hand into his arm. Then the door opened
for them, and they went outtogether.
* * * * *
John is a good man, said the evangelist, and will make a good
husband, He was seated with Fraser on the gallery, watching a light in
midstream dance its way through the dark.
Fraser sighed happily. She's a dear girl, he murmured, looking
back to where the lamp was moving about in Oliver's spare room. She'd
make a wife for a prince.
Presently he roused himself with another sigh. You ought to see the
way we fixed up the shack, he said. White kick-up curtains on the
windowsthat was Mrs. Oliver's idea; rose-berries all over the
mantelMarylyn did that; I stuffed the fireplace full of sumach; then,
Michael sprinkled and swept out, and we covered the floor with Navajo
Little place looked cosey.
Cosey as could be.
A little while, and Fraser sprang up. They're there! he cried.
See? see? They're home!
Far away on the bend, the eyes of the shack were bright.
And you, Mr. Fraser? asked the evangelist.
Marylyn and I will wait for the Colonel. Won't be long, now. Shall
you be here?
I think not. The Indians go to Standing Rock next week. I go with
Poor Charley! said Fraser, huskily. He won't go, poor old chap!
Hardly poor, Mr. Fraser. There was a triumphant ring in David
Bond's voice. Few men gain as much as he by death.
I know. Even the Captain's proud of him now.
They fell silent.
Now from the tent rows that replaced the barracks, rang out the
trumpet, sounding the day's last call. The two turned their heads to
The call ended. The faint, wavering notes of the echo died away upon
river and bluff.
They turned back to the shack againand saw its light go flickering