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Lahoma by John Breckinridge Ellis

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of a hundred years ago dealing with the sudden war-cry, the flaming
cabin, the stealthy approach of swarming savages, need have traveled
only a few hundred miles to witness on the open page of life what
seemed to them, in their long-settled states, fables of a dead past.

But though the Indian wars in the Territory had been bloody and
vindictive, they had not been protracted as in the old days. Around
the country of the red man was drawn closer and more securely, day
by day, the girdle of civilization. Within its constricting grasp
the spirit of savagery, if not crushed, was at least subdued.
Tribes naked but for their blankets, unadorned save by the tattoo,
found themselves pressed close to other tribes which, already
civilized, had relinquished the chase for agricultural pursuits.
Primeval men, breathing this quickened atmosphere of modernity,
either grew more sophisticated, or perished like wild flowers
brought too near the heat. It is true the plains were still
unoccupied, but they had been captured--for the railroad had come,
and the buffalo had vanished.

Brick Willock and the man he had come to see were very good types
of the first settlers of the new country--one a highwayman, hiding
from his kind, the other a trapper by occupation, trying to keep
ahead of the pursuing waves of immigration. It was the first time
Lahoma had seen Bill Atkins, and as she caught sight of him before
his dugout, her eyes brightened with interest. He was a tall lank
man of about sixty-five, with a huge gray mustache and bushy hair
of iron-gray, but without a beard. The mustache gave him an effect
of exceeding fierceness, and the deeply wrinkled forehead and square
chin added their testimony to his ungracious disposition.

But Lahoma was not afraid of coyotes, catamounts or mountain-lions,
and she was not afraid of Bill Atkins. Her eyes brightened at the
discovery that he held in his hand that which Willock had described
to her as a book.

"Does he read?", she asked Willock, breathlessly. "Does he read,

Willock surveyed the seated figure gravely. "He reads!" he

The man looked up, saw Willock and bent over his book--discovered
Lahoma on the pony, and looked up again, unwillingly but definitely.
"You never told me you had a little girl," he remarked gruffly.

"You never asked me," said Willock. "Get down, Lahoma, and make
yourself at home."

The man shut his book. "What are you going to do?"

"Going to visit you. Turn the pony loose, Lahoma; he won't go far."

"Haven't you got all that north range to yourself?" Bill Atkins
asked begrudgingly.

"Yap. How're you making it, Atkins?"

"Why, as long as I'm let alone, I'm making it all right. It's being
let alone that I can't ever accomplish. When I was a boy I began
my travels to keep out where I could breathe, and I've been crowded
out of Missouri and Kansas and Colorado and Wyoming and California,
and now I've come to the American Desert thinking I could die in
peace, but oh, no, not ME! I no sooner get settled and made my turf
dugout, than here comes a stranger--"

"Name of Brick Willock, if you've forgot," interpolated Willock
genially. "I'll just light my pipe, as I reckon there's no
objections. Lahoma don't care, and you can breathe all right if
you keep with the wind from you."

The man turned his back upon Willock, opened his book and read.

Lahoma approached the block of wood that supported him, while
Willock calmly stretched himself out on the grass. "Is that a
book?" she asked, by way of opening up the conversation.

The man gripped it tighter and moved his lips busily. As she
remained at his knee, he presently said, "Oh, no, it's a

Lahoma smiled pityingly. "Are you afraid of me, Atkins?"

The man looked up with open mouth. "Not exactly, kid!" There was
something in her face that made him lose interest in his book. He
kept looking at her.

"Then why don't you tell the truth? WE won't hurt you."

The man opened his mouth and closed it. Then he said, "It's a

"Did you ever read it before?"

"This is the third time I've read it."

"Seems as it hasn't accomplished no good on you, as you still tell

The man rose abruptly, and laid the book on the seat. His manner
was quite as discouraging as it had been from the start.

"Honey," interposed Willock, "that ain't to say a lie, not a real

"IS it a hand-organ?" Lahoma demanded sternly.

"In a manner of speaking, honey, it is a hand-organ in the sense of
shutting you off from asking questions. You learn to distinguish
the sauces of speech as you gets older. Out in the big world,
people don't say this or that according as it is, they steeps their
words in a sauce as suits the digestion. Don't be so quick to call
'LIES!' till you learns the flavor of a fellow's meaning, not by his
words but by the sauce he steeps 'em in."

"Don't get mad at me," said Lahoma to the trapper. "I don't know
nothing, never having captured and branded the thoughts that is
caged up in books. But I want to be civilized and I am
investigating according."

The trapper, somewhat conciliated, reseated himself. He regarded
the girl with greater interest, not without a certain approval.
"How comes it that you aren't civilized, living with such a knowing
specimen as your own father?"

"My father's dead. Brick is my cousin, but I not knowing nothing
of him till he saved my life two years ago and after that, me with
the Indians and him all alone. Would you like to hear about it?"

"I wouldn't bother him, honey, with all that long story," interposed
Willock, suddenly grown restive.

"Yes, tell me," said the trapper, moving over that she might find
room on the block of wood beside him.

Lahoma seated herself eagerly and looking up into the other's face,
which softened more and more under her fearless gaze, she said:

"We was crossing the plains--father, mother and me, in a big wagon.
And men dressed up like Indians, they come whooping and shooting,
and father turns around and drives with all his might--drives clear
to yonder mountain. And mother dies, being that sick before, and
the jolting too much for her. So father takes me on his horse and
rides all night, and I all asleep. Well, those same men dressed
like Indians, they was in a cabin 'way up north, and had put their
wigs and feathers off and was gambling over what they stole from the
other wagons. So father, he sees the light from the window and
rides up with me. And they takes him for a spy and says they, in
a voice awful fierce, just this way--'KILL 'EM BOTH!'"

The trapper gave a start at the explosiveness of her tone.

Lahoma shouted again, as harshly as she could, "'Kill 'em both,'
says they." Then she turned to Willock. "Did I put them words in
the correct sauce, Brick?"

"You done noble, honey."

Lahoma resumed: "Now it was in a manner of happening that Brick,
he was riding around to have a look at the country, and when he
rides up to the cabin, why, right outside there was me and father,
and two of the robbers about to kill us. 'What are you devils up
to?' says Brick. 'You go to hell,' says the leading man, 'that's
where we're going to send this spy and his little girl,' says he;
'you go to hell and maybe you'll meet 'em there,' he says. And with
that he ups and shoots at Brick, the bullet lifting his hat right
off his head and scaring the horse out from under him, so he falls
right there at the feet of them two robber-men, on his back. Brick,
he never harmed nobody before in his life, but what was he to do?
He might of let them kill him, but that would of left father and me
in their grip, so he just grabs the gun out of the leading man's
hand, as he hadn't ever carried a gun in his life his own self, and
he shot both them robbers, him still laying there on his back--"

"No, honey, I got up about that time."

"Brick, you told me you was still laying there on your back just as
you fell."

"Did I, honey, well, I reckon I was, then, for when I told you about
it, it was more recent."

"It's awful interesting," the trapper remarked dryly.

"Yes, ain't it!" Lahoma glowed. "Then father jumped on one horse
with me, and Brick put out on another, and when I woke up, the
Indians were all everywhere, but Brick come here and lived all alone
and nearly died because he didn't have me to comfort him. So the
Indians took me and they killed father, and for two years I was
moved from village to village till Red Feather brought me to Brick.
And then we found out we are cousins and he is going to civilize me.
Brick, he remembers about a cousin of his, Cousin Martha Willock,
her sister went driving out to the Oklahoma country with her husband
and little girl and wasn't never heard of. I am the little girl,
all right, and Brick he's my second cousin. And wasn't it lucky
Brick was riding around that night, looking at the country, when
they was about to put daylight into me?"

"I'd think," remarked the trapper, "that he'd take you back to your
Cousin Martha, for men-folks like him and me aren't placed to take
care of women-folks."

"Yes, but he got a letter saying my Cousin Martha and all her family
is done been swept away by a flood of the Mississippi River, and him
and me is all they is left of the Willockses, so we got to stick
together. Besides, you see, he killed them two robbers, and the
rest of the gang is laying for him; Brick, he feels so dreadful, he
never having so much as put a scratch to a man's face before, for
he wouldn't never fight as a boy, his conscience wouldn't rest if
he was in civilization. He'd go right up to the first policeman he
met and say, 'I done the deed. Carry me to the pen!' he'd say, and
then what would become of me?"

"He might get another letter from your Cousin Martha to help him
out of the scrape."

Lahoma stared at him, unable to grasp the significance of these
foolish words, and Brick, seeking a diversion, explained his purpose
of taking Lahoma to the settlements after supplies, and proffered
his petition that Bill Atkins accompany them.

Lahoma has never forgotten that expedition to the settlements.
Along the Chisholm Trail marched Brick Willock and Bill Atkins, one
full of genial philosophy, responsive to every sight and sound along
the way, the other taciturn and uncompanionable, a being present in
the flesh, but seemingly absent in the spirit. Behind them rode the
girl, with unceasing interest in the broad hard-beaten trail--the
only mark in that wilderness to tell them that others had passed
that way. The men walked with deliberate but well-measured step,
preserving a pace that carried them mile after mile seemingly with
little weariness. Three times on the journey great herds of cattle
were encountered on their way toward Kansas, and many were the looks
of curiosity cast on the little girl sitting as straight as an
Indian on her pony.

She was glad when a swinging cloud of dust announced the coming of
thousands of steers, attended by cowboys, for it meant a glimpse
into an unknown world, and the bellowing of cattle, the shouting of
men and the cracking of whips stirred her blood. But she was glad,
too, when the stream of life had flowed past, and she was left alone
with Brick and Bill, for then the never-ending conversation with the
former was resumed, picked up at the point where it had been
dropped, or drawn forward from raveled bits of unfinished discourse
of the day before, and though Bill Atkins said almost nothing and
always looked straight ahead, he was, in a way, spice in the feast
of her enjoyment.

When they stopped for their meals, they drew aside from the trail,
if possible near some spring or river-bed in which pools of water
lingered, but such stopping-places were far apart in the desert
country. At night there was a cheerful bonfire, followed by zestful
talk as they lay on the ground, before falling asleep in their
tarpaulins--talk eagerly monopolized by Brick and Lahoma, and to
which Atkins seemed in a manner to listen, perhaps warming his heart
at the light of their comradeship even as they warmed their hands
in the early morning at the breakfast fire. Atkins had brought with
him one of his books, and at the noon hour's rest, and at evening
beside the bonfire, he kept his nose buried in its pages.

Lahoma did not think life would have been too long to devote to such
pilgrimages. In the settlements, she was bewildered, but never
satiated, with novelties, and on the way back, everything she had
seen was discussed, expounded and classified between her and her
"cousin." Sometimes her questions drove Brick up against a stone
wall and then Bill Atkins would raise his voice and in three or four
words put the matter in its true light.

"Bill, he's saw more of life than me," Brick conceded admiringly.
"He has come and went amongst all sorts of people, but my specialty
has in the main been low."

"Yes, I've seen more of life," Atkins agreed; "that's why I try so
hard to keep away from it."

"The more I see, the more I want to see!" cried Lahoma eagerly.

"Yes, honey," Brick explained, "that's because you're a WOMAN."

Once more back in the cove, Lahoma dreamed new dreams, peopling the
grassy solitude with the figures she had encountered on her travels,
likening the rocks to various houses that had caught her fancy. She
turned with absorbed interest to the primer and elementary
arithmetic with which Brick had supplied himself as the first tools
for his mental kit.

The journey hack home had been far easier than the descent into
Texas because both Willock and Atkins had supplied themselves with
ponies,--animals that sold ridiculously cheap at the outlying posts
of the settlements. Brick Willock brought back with him something
else to add cheerfulness and usefulness to approaching winter. This
was a square window-sash, set with four small panes of good glass.
It was hard work to place this window in Lahoma's side of the
dugout, but it was work thoroughly enjoyed. Lahoma's room was on
the west, and from noon to sundown, the advantage of the window was
a source of never-ending delight.

"Good thing we've got our window," Brick would say as they sat on
the low rude bench before the little stove, and the furious wind of
January howled overhead. Or, when the wintry sky was leaden and all
Brick's side of the partition was as dark as the hole of a
prairie-dog, he would visit Lahoma, and gloat over the dim gray
light stealing through the small panes. "That window's no bad
idea!" he would chuckle, stooping his great bulk cautiously as he
seated himself, as if to lighten his weight by doubling in upon

"Good thing I've got my window," Lahoma would say as the snow lay
thick on the plains and in broken lines all over the mountain, and
the cutting blast made the fire jump with sudden fright. She would
hold her book close to the dirt square in which the frame was
planted, and spell out words she had never heard used, such as
"lad," "lass," "sport," and the like mysteries. "This window is
going to civilize me, Brick."

It did not lessen their relish in the subject that they had
discussed it already a hundred times. It was the same way with the
hand-made bench, with the trench that carried water from their door
during sudden downpours, and with the self-congratulation over
owning two ponies to keep each other company.

"They's one thing about us, Lahoma, which it ain't according to the
big outside world, and yet I hope it won't never be changed. We are
mighty glad we've got what we've got. And to be glad of what you've
got is a sure way to multiply your property. Every time you brag
on that window, it shines like two windows to me."

Spring came late that year, and in the early days of March, Brick
rode over to the cove behind the precipice after Bill Atkins. "I
want you to come over to my place," he begged, "and answer some of
Lahoma's questions. Being closeted with her in that there dugout
all winter, she has pumped me as dry as a bone."

Perhaps Bill Atkins had had his fill of solitude during that cold
winter--or perhaps he was hungry for another hour of the little
girl's company. Nothing, however, showed his satisfaction as he
entered her chamber. "Here I am," he announced, seating himself on
the bench. This was his only greeting.

"Is it drug or dragged?" demanded Lahoma.


"Why don't God send me a little girl to play with, after me asking
for one every night, all winter?"

"Don't understand God's business," replied Atkins briefly.

"I puts it this way," Brick spoke up; "God's done sent one little
girl, and it ain't right to crowd Him too far."

"Will I be all they is of me, as long as I live?"

"Nobody won't never come to live in these plains," Brick declared,
"unless its trappers and characters like us. But we'll stay by you,
won't we, Bill Atkins?"

Atkins looked exceedingly gruff and shook his head as if he had his
doubts about it. "You'll have to be taken to the States," he

"But what would become of Brick?"

"Well, honey," said Brick, "you want to take your place with people
in the big world, don't you?"

"Oh, YES!," cried Lahoma, starting up and stretching her arm toward
the window. "In the big world--yes! That's the place for me--
that's where I want to live. But what will become of you?"

"Well," Brick answered slowly, "the rock pile, t'other side the
mountain is good enough for me. Your mother sleeps under it."

"Oh, Brick!" She caught his arm. "You wouldn't die if I went away,
would you?"

"Why, you see, honey, they wouldn't be nothing left to go on. I'd
just sort of stop, you know--but it wouldn't matter--out there in
the big world, people don't remember very long, and when you're
grown you wouldn't know there'd ever been a cove with a dugout in
it, and a window in the wall, and a Brick Willock to carry in the
wood for the fire."

"I'll always remember--and I won't go without you. He COULD go with
me, couldn't he, Bill?"

"I suspicion he has his reasons for not," Atkins observed gravely.

"I has, and I shall never go back to the States."

"Then what's the use civilizing me?" demanded Lahoma mournfully.

"I want you to enjoy yourself. And when I'm old and no-'count,
you'd need somebody to take care of you--and you'd go full-equipped
and ready to stand up to any civilized person that tried to run a
bluff on you."

"But, oh, I want to GO--I want to go out THERE--where there ain't
no plains and alkali and buffalo-grass--where they's pavements and
policemen and people in beautiful clothes. I don't mean NOW, I mean
when I have got civilized." She drew herself up proudly. "I
wouldn't go till I was civilized, till I was like them." She turned
impulsively to Brick: "But you've got to go with me when I go! I'm
going to stay with you till I'm fit to go, and then you're going to
stay with me the rest of my life."

"Am I fit to go with her?" Brick appealed to Bill Atkins.

"You ain't," Bill replied.

"I ain't fit," Brick declared firmly. "I'm a-going to fitten you;
but it's too late to work on me; and besides, if they WAS time
enough, it ain't to the grain of my nature. I knows all I wants to
know, which if little or much is enough for me. And I wouldn't be
fit to go with you out into the big world and cut a figger in it,
which couldn't be no figger but a figger naught. And Atkins who
knows more than me, he says the same."

The tears were in Lahoma's eyes. She looked from one to the other,
her little face deeply troubled. Suddenly she grabbed up her books
and started toward the stove. "Then this here civilizing is going
to stop," she declared.

"Lahoma!" Brick cried in dismay.

"Yes, it is--unless you promise to stay with me when I go to live
in the big world."

"Honey, I'll promise you this: When you are ready to live out
there, I'll sure go with you and stay with you--if you want me, when
the time comes."

Lahoma seized his hand, and jumped up and down in delight.

"It's a safe promise," remarked Bill Atkins dryly.


One evening in May, a tall lithe figure crept the southern base of
the mountain range, following its curves with cautious feet as if
fearful of discovery. It was a young man of twenty-one or two,
bronzed, free of movement, agile of step. His face was firm,
handsome and open, although at present a wish to escape observation
caused the hazel eyes to dart here and there restlessly, while the
mouth tightened in an aspect of sternness. This air of wild
resolution was heightened by the cowboy's ordinary gannents, and the
cowboy's indispensable belt well-stocked with weapons.

On reaching the spur that formed the western jaw of the horseshoe,
he crept on hands and knees, but satisfied by searching glances that
the inner expanse was deserted, he half rose and stole shadow-like
along the granite wall, until he had reached the hill-island that
concealed the cove. Again falling on hands and knees, he drew
himself slowly up among the huge flat rocks that covered the hill
in all directions. In a brief time he had traversed it, and a view
of the cove was suddenly unrolled below. A few yards from Brick
Willock's dugout, now stood a neat log cabin, and not far from the
door of this cabin was a girl of about fifteen, seated on the grass.

She had been reading, but her book had slipped to her feet. With
hands clasped about her knee, and head tilted back, she was watching
the lazy white clouds that stretched like wisps of scattered cotton
across the blue field of the sky. At first the young man was
startled by the impression that she had discovered his presence and
was scrutinizing his position, but a second glance reassured him,
and he stretched himself where a block of granite and, below it, a
cedar tree, effectually protected him from discovery. Thus hidden,
he stared at the girl unblinkingly.

He was like a thirsty traveler drinking at a cool well unexpectedly
discovered in a desert country. For two years he had led the life
of the cowboy, exiled from his kind, going with the boys from lower
Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail, overseeing great herds of
cattle, caring for them day and night, scarcely ever under a roof,
even that of a dugout. Through rain and storm, the ground had been
his bed, and many a blistering summer day a pony captured wild from
the plains, and broken to stand like a dog, had been his only shade.
During these two years of hard life, reckless companions and
exacting duties, he had easily slipped into the grooves of speech
and thought common to his fellows. Only his face, his unconscious
movements and accents, distinguished him from the other boys of "Old
Man Walker"--the boss of the "G-Bar Outfit." On no other condition
but that of apparent assimilation could he have retained his place
with Walker's ranchmen; and in his efforts to remove as quickly as
possible the reproach of tender-foot it was not his fault that he
had retained the features of a different world, or that a certain
air, not of the desert, was always breaking through the crust under
which he would have kept his real self out of sight. He himself was
the least conscious that this was so.

For two years he had seen no one like the girl of the cove,
none--though he had seen women and girls of the settlements, often
enough--who even suggested her kind. Her dress, indeed, was plain
enough, and obviously chosen in cheerful ignorance of forms and
conventions, though the color, a delicate pink, was all he could
have wished. After all, the clothes revealed nothing except absence
from city shops and city standards.

That was wonderful hair, its brown tresses gleaming though untouched
by the sun, as if in it were enmeshed innumerable particles of
light. It seemed to glow from its very fineness, its silkiness--the
kind of hair one is prompted to touch, to feel if it is really that
way! The face was more wonderful, because it told many things that
can not be expressed in mere hair-language. There was the seal of
innocence on the lips, the proof of fearlessness in the eyes, the
touch of thought on the brow, the sign of purpose about the resolute
little chin. The slender brown hands spoke of life in the open air,
and the glow of the cheeks told of burning suns. Her form, her
attitude, spoke not only of instinctive grace, but of a certain
wildness in admirable harmony with the surrounding scene. Somehow,
the ruggedness of the mountains and the desolate solitudes of the
plains were reflected from her face.

The young man gazed as if his thirst would never be appeased. The
flavor of nights about the camp-fire and other nights spent in
driving sleet, also days when the first flowers come and the wide
beds of the desert rivers are swollen with overbrimming floods; the
cruel exposure of winter, the thrilling balminess of early
spring--all spoke to him again from that motionless figure. He
recalled companions of his boyhood and youth, but they were not akin
to this child of the desert mountains. Still more alien were those
of the saloon stations, the haunts at the outskirts of civilization.
It seemed to him that in this young girl, who bad the look and poise
of a woman, he had found what hitherto he had vainly sought in the
wilderness--the beauty and the charm of it, refined and separated
from its sordidness and its uncouthness--in a word, from all that
was base and ugly. It was for this that he had left his home in the
East. Here was typified that loveliness of the unbroken wilderness
without its profanity, its drunkenness, its obscenity, its terrible

At last he tore himself away, retraced his steps as cautiously as
he had conic, and flung himself upon the pony left waiting at a
sheltered nook far from the cove. As he sped over the plains toward
the distant herd, it came to him suddenly in a way not before
experienced, that it was May, that the air was balmy and fragrant,
and that the land, softly lighted in the clear twilight, was
singularly beautiful. He seemed breathing the roses back home--
which recalled another face, but not for long. The last time he
had seen that eastern face, the dew had lain on the early morning
roses--how could a face so different make him think of them? But
imagination is sometimes a bold robber, and now it did not hesitate
to steal those memories of sweet scents to encloud the picture of
the mountain-girl.

The G-Bar headquarters was on the western bank of what was then
known as Red River, but was really the North Fork of Red River.
"Old Man Walker," who was scarcely past middle age, had built his
corral on the margin of the plain which extended to that point in
an unbroken level from a great distance, and which, having reached
that point, dropped without warning, a sheer precipice, to an
extensive lake. The lake was fed by springs issuing from the
bluffs; not far beyond it and not much lower, was the bed of the
river, wide, very red and almost dry. Beyond the river rose the
bold hills of the Kiowa country, a white line chiseled across the
face of each, as if Time had entertained some thought of their
destruction, but finding each a huge block of living rock, had
passed on to torture and shift and alter the bed of the river.

The young man reached the corral after a ride of twelve or thirteen
miles, most of the distance through a country of difficult sand.
He galloped up to the rude enclosure, surrounded by a cloud of dust
through which his keen gray eyes discovered Mizzoo on the eve of
leaving camp. Mizzoo was one of the men whose duty it was to ride
the line all night--the line that the young man had guarded all
day--to keep Walker's cattle from drifting.

"Come on, Mizz," called the young man, as the other swung upon his
broncho, "I'm going back with you."

The lean, leather-skinned, sandy-mustached cattleman uttered words
not meet for print, but expressive of hearty pleasure. "Ain't you
had enough of it, Bill?" he added. "I'd think you'd want to lay up
for tomorrow's work."

"Oh, I ain't sleepy," the young man declared, as they rode away side
by side. "I couldn't close an eye tonight--and I want to talk."

The cattleman chuckled enjoyingly. It was lonely and monotonous
work, riding back and forth through the darkness, keeping a sharp
lookout for wolves or Indians, driving straggling cattle back to
the herd, in brief, doing the picket duty of the plains.

Mizzoo was so called from his habit of attributing his most emphatic
aphorisms to "his aunt, Miss Sue of Missouri"--a lady held by his
companions to be a purely fictitious character, a convenient "Mrs.
Harris" to give weight to sayings worn smooth from centuries of use.

Of all the boys of the ranch, Mizzoo found Wilfred Compton most
companionable. When off duty, they were usually to be found near
each other, whether awake or asleep; and when Mizzoo, on entering
some village at the edge of the desert, sought relaxation from a
life of routine by shooting through the windows and spurring his
pony into the saloons, it was the young man, commonly known as Bill,
who lingered behind to advance money for damages to the windows, or
who kept close to the drunken ranger in order to repair the damages
Mizzoo had done to his own soul and body.

"I'll talk my head off," Mizzoo declared, "if that'll keep you on
the move with me, for it's one thing meeting a ghost in the desert
all alone, and quite another when there's a pair of us. Yes, I know
you don't believe nothing I say about that spirit, and I only hope
we'll come on it tonight! It ain't been a week since I see
something creeping along behind me whilst I was riding the line, a
little thing as swift as a jack-rabbit and as sly as a coyote--
something with long arms and short legs and the face of an Injun--"

"Of course it WAS an Indian," returned the young man carelessly.
"He is hanging about here to steal some of our horses. I don't want
you to talk about your ghost, I've heard of him a thousand times."

"Bill, the more you talk about a ghost, the more impressive he gets.
I tell you that wasn't no live Injun! Didn't I blaze away at him
with my six-shooter and empty all my barrels for nothing? No, sir,
it's the same spirit that haunts the trail from Vernon, Texas, to
Coffeyville. I've shot at that red devil this side of Fort Sill,
and at Skeleton Spring, and at Bull Foot Spring, and a mile from
Doan's store--always at night, for it never rises except at night,
as befits a good ghost. I reckon I'll waste cartridges on that
spook as long as I hit the trail, but I don't never expect to draw
blood. Others has saw him, too, but me more especial. I reckon I'm
the biggest sinner of the G-Bar and has to be plagued most frequent
with visitations to make me a better man when I get to be old."

"He's a knowing old ghost if he's found you out, Mizzoo, but if you
want my company, tonight, you'll drop the Indian. What I want you
to talk about is that little girl you met on the trail down in
Texas, seven years ago."

Mizzoo burst out in a hearty laugh. "I reckon it suits you better
to take her as a little kid," he cried, his tall form shaking
convulsively. "I'll never forget how you looked, Bill, when we
tried to run a bluff on her daddy last month!"

The other did not answer with a smile. Apparently the reminiscence
pleased him less than it did the older man. He spurred his horse
impatiently, and it plunged forward through the drifted banks of
white sand.

Mizzoo hastened to overtake him, still chuckling. "Old Man Walker
never knowed what a proposition he was handing us when he ordered
us to drive the old mountain-lion out of his lair! Looks like the
six of us ought to have done the trick. Them other fellows looked
as wild as bears, and you was just like a United States soldier
marching on a Mexican strongholt, not stopping at nothing, and it
ain't for me to say how brave _I_ done. Pity you and me was at the
tail-end of the attacking party. Fust thing we knowed, them other
four galoots was falling backwards a-getting out of that trap of a
cove, and the bullets was whizzing about our ears--"

He broke off to shout with laughter. "And it was all done by one
old settler and his gal, them standing out open and free with their
breech-loaders, and us hiking out for camp like whipped curs!"

The young man was impatient, but he compelled himself to speak
calmly. "As I never got around the spur of the mountain before you
fellows were in full retreat, I object to being classed with the
whipped curs, and you'll bear that in mind, Mizzoo. You saw the
girl all right, didn't you?"

"You bet I did, and as soon as I see her, I knowed it was the same
I'd came across on the trail, seven year ago. I'd have knowed it
from her daddy, of course, but there wasn't no mistaking HER. Her
daddy give it to us plain that if he ever catched one of us inside
his cove he'd kill us like so many coyotes, and I reckon he would.
Well, he's got as much right to his claim as anybody else--this land
don't belong to nobody, and there he's been a-squatting considerable
longer than we've laid out this ranch. He was in the right of it,
but what I admire was his being able to hold his rights. Lots of
folks has rights but they ain't man enough to hold 'em. And if von
could have seen that gal, her eyes like two big burning suns, and
her mouth closed like a steel-trap, and her hand as steady on that
trigger as the mountain rock behind her! Lord, Bill! what a trembly,
knock-kneed, meaching sort of a husband she's a-going to fashion to
her hand, one of these days! But PRETTY? None more so. And
a-going all to waste out here in the desert!"

They rode on for some time in silence, save for the intermittent
chuckling of the cattleman as visions of his companions' pale faces
and scurrying forms rose before his mind.

"And now about that child, seven years ago," the young man said,
when the last hoarse sound of mirth had died away.

"Why, yes, me and the boys was bringing about two thousand head up
to Abiline when we come on to this same pardner and another man
walking the trail, with a little gal coming behind 'em on her pony.
And it was this same gal. I reckon she was seven or eight year old,
then. Well, sir, I just thought as I looked at her, that I never
seen a prettier sight in this world and I reckon I ain't, for when
I looked at the same gal the other day, the gun she was holding up
to her eye sort of dazzled me so I couldn't take stock of all her
good points. But seeing that little gal out there in the plains
it was like hearing an old-fashioned hymn at the country
meeting-house and knowing a big basket dinner was to follow. I
can't express it more deep than that. We went into camp that
evening, and all of us got pretty soft and mellow, what from the
unusualness of the meeting, and we asked the old codger if we could
all come over to his camp and shake hands with the gal--he'd drawed
back from us about a mile, he was that skeered to be sociable. So
after considerable haggling and jawing, he said we could, and here
we come, just about sundown, all of us looking sheepish enough to
be carved for mutton, but everlasting determined to take that gal
by the paw."

"Well?" said the young man who had often heard this story, but had
never been treated to the sequel, "what happened then, Mizzoo? You
always stop at the same place. Didn't you shake hands with her?"

The other ruminated in deep silence for some time, then rejoined,
"I don't know how it is--a fellow can talk about the worst devilment
in creation with a free rein, and no words hot enough to blister his
tongue, but let him run up against something simple like that, and
the bottom of his lungs seems to fall out. I guess they ain't no
more to be told. That was all there was to it, though I might add
that the next day we come along by old Whisky Simeon's joint that
sets out on the sand-hills, you know, and we put spurs to our bronks
and went whooping by, with old Whisky Sim a-staring and a-hollering
after us like he thought we was crazy. I don't know as I had missed
a drunk before for five year, when the materials was ready-found for
its making. And I ain't never forgot the little kid with the brown
hair and the eyes that seen to your bottom layer, like a water-witch
a-penetrating the ground with a glance, seeing through dirt and clay
and rocks to what water they is."

Mizzoo relapsed into meditative silence, and the young man, in
sympathy with his mood, kept at his side, no longer asking
questions. Darkness came on and the hour grew late but few words
were exchanged as they rode the weary miles that marked the limit
of the range. There were the usual incidents of such work, each
bringing its customary comments. The midnight luncheon beside a
small fire, over which the coffee steamed, roused something like
cheerful conversation which, however, flickered and flared
uncertainly like the bonfire. On the whole the young man was
unwontedly reserved, and the other, perceiving it, fell back
contentedly on his own resources--pleasant memories and rank

"Guess I'll leave you now," remarked the young man, when the fire
had died away.

"Yes, better turn in, for you're most uncommon dull you know,"
Mizzoo replied frankly. "'Twould be just about as much company for
me if you'd hike out and leave me your picture to carry along."

Instead of taking the direction toward the river, the young man set
out at a gallop for the distant mountain range which, in the gloom,
seemed not far away. After an hour's hard riding, he reached it.
His impatience bad made that hour seem almost interminable, yet it
had not been long enough to furnish him with any clear reason for
having come. If, as Mizzoo had declared, he needed sleep, he would
surely not think of finding it near the cove from which his
companions had been warned under penalty of death. If drawn by
longing for another glimpse of the girl of the cove he could not
expect to see her an hour or two after midnight. Yet here he was,
attracted, and still urged on, by impulses he did not attempt to


Earliest dawn found the young man seated composedly upon one of the
flattened outcroppings of the bill of stone that lay like an island
between the outer plain and the sheltered cove. As yet, there was
no sign of life within the cove--both the dugout and the cabin of
cedar logs were as silent and as void of movement as the rocks
behind them. The young man watched first one, then the other, as
tireless and vigilant as if he had not been awake for twenty-four

It was the dugout that first started from its night's repose.
Before the sun showed itself over the rim of the prairie, long
before its rays darted over the distant mountain-crest, the door
was thrown away from the casing, and a great uncouth man, strong as
a giant, and wild of aspect as a savage, strode forth, gun in hand,
his eyes sweeping the landscape in quick flashing glances. Almost
instantly he discovered the figure perched on the granite block
overlooking his retreat. He raised his gun to his shoulder.

The young man fell sidewise behind the rocks and a bullet clipped
the edge of his barricade. Remaining supine, he fastened his
handkerchief to the end of his whip and waved it above the rampart.
Having thus manifested his peaceful intent, he rose, still holding
the flag of truce above his head, and remained motionless. Brick
Willock stared at him for a moment in hostile indecision, then
strode forward. At the same time, an old man, thin, tall and
white-haired, issued from the dugout evidently attracted by the
gunshot; and soon after, the cabin door opened, and the girl of the
cove looked out inquiringly.

In the meantime the young man slowly descended the hill to the oval
valley, while Willock hurried forward to meet him.

"Don't you come no futher!" Willock commanded, threatening with his
gun. "Keep your hands above your head until I can ship your cargo."

Obediently he stood while the great whiskered fellow took the
weapons from his belt, and dived into his hip pockets.

"That'll do. Now--what do you want?"

"It's hard to put it into a few words," the other complained. "I'd
like to have a little talk with you."

"You are one of them fellows that come here to run us out of the
country, ain't you? I don't remember seeing you, but I guess you
belong to the bunch over on Red River. Well, you see we're still
here, meaning to stay. Are your pards outside there, waiting for
a message?"

"Nobody knows I'm here, or thought of coming. Let me put that
affair in its true light. The boys are all under our boss, and when
he lays down the law it isn't for us to argue with him--we carry out

"Unless there's a Brick Willock involved in them orders," returned
the man, with a grim smile.

"But it's our duty to TRY to carry out the orders, whether we like
'em or not. So you won't hold that against me--that little
scrimmage of last month, especially as you came out best man."

"I used to have a boss, myself," Willock spoke uncompromisingly.
"But when he give me certain orders, one particular night that I
recollect, I knocked him on the head and put out for other parts.
You must of thought yourself in PRETTY business coming over here to
take away the land and all on it, that's belonged to me for nine
years, and nobody never having tried to prize me out of it except
some trifling Injuns and horse-thieves. Ain't they NO honesty in
the world? Hasn't no man his property rights? I guess your boss
knowed this wasn't HIS land, didn't he? What's going to become of
this country when man isn't satisfied with what is his'n? Well, now
you've had a little talk with me, and hoping you've enjoyed it, you
can just mosey along. I'll send your weapons after you by a

The young man cast a despairing glance toward the girl who stood
like a statue in her doorway, gravely listening. The man with the
bushy white hair had drawn near, hut evidently with no thought of

"Willock," the voice came so eager, so impetuous, that the words
were somewhat incoherent, "I've GOT to talk to your daughter--hold
on, don't shoot, LISTEN!--that's what I've come for, to see her
and--and meet her and hear her voice. I can't help it, can I? It's
been two long years since I left home, back East, and in all these
two years I've never seen anything like your little girl and--and
what harm can it do? I say! Have pity on a fellow, and do him the
biggest favor he could enjoy on this earth when it won't cost you
a penny, or a turn of your hand. Look here--hold on, don't turn
away! I'm just so lonesome, so homesick, so dead KILLED by all
these sand-hills and alkali beds and nothing to talk to from one
year's end to the next but men and cattle...."

Willock glared at him in silence, fingering the trigger

"There I've sat, on that hill," he continued, "since two o'clock
last night, waiting for daylight so I could ask you to help a
miserable wretch that's just starving to death for the sound of a
girl's voice, and the sight of a girl's smile. Isn't this square,
waiting for you, and telling you the whole truth? I never saw her
but once, and that was from this same hill. She didn't know I was
watching; it was yesterday. Maybe all I'm saying sounds just crazy
to you, and I reckon I am out of my senses, but until I saw her I
didn't know how heart-sick I was of the whole business."

"It IS kinder lonesome," remarked the other gruffly. He lowered
his gun and leaned on it, irresolutely. "You've sure touched me in
the right spot, son, for I knows all you mean and more that you
ain't even ever dreampt of. But you see, we don't know nothing
about your name, your character, if you've got one, nor what you
really intends. I like your looks and the way you talk, fine, just
fine, but I've saw bobcats that was mighty sleek and handsome when
they didn't know I was nigh."

"My name in Wilfred Compton. I--I have a letter or two in my pocket
that I got a long time ago; they'd tell something about me but I'd
rather not show 'em, as they're private--"

"From your gal, I reckon?" asked Willock more mildly.

"Yes," he answered gloomily.

"Carried 'em as long as a year?"

"Nearly two years."

"Mean to still lug 'em around?"

"Of course I'm going to keep 'em."

"Well, I don't deny THAT'S pretty favorable. Now look here, son,
I've been half-crazy from lonesomeness, and I don't believe I've
got the heart to send you away. That gal of ours--she's just a kid,
you understand.... Now you wouldn't be taking up no idea that she
was what you'd classify as a young lady, or anything like that, eh?"

"Of course not--she's fifteen or sixteen, I should think. Upon my
honor, Willock, any thought of sentiment or romance is a thousand
miles from my mind."

"Yes, just so. But such thoughts travels powerful fast; don't take
'em long to lap over a thousand mile."

"But it's because she IS a young girl, fresh and unartificial as
the mountain breezes, that I want to be with her for a little
while--yes, get to know her, if I may."

Willock turned to the taciturn old man standing a little behind him.
"Bill Atkins, what do you say?"

"I say, fire him and do it quick!" was the instant rejoinder,
accompanied by threatening twitchings of the huge white mustache.

Willock was not convinced. "Son, if you sets here till we have had
our breakfast, and has held a caucus over you, I'll bring you the
verdict in about an hour. If you don't like that, they's nothing
to do but put out for your ranch."

"I go on duty at seven," replied the young man composedly, "but I
have a friend riding the line that'll stay with it till I come. So
I'll wait for your caucus."

"That friend--one of them devils I shot at the other day?"

Wilfred Compton smiled with sudden sunniness. "Yes."

Somewhere beneath the immense whiskers, an answering smile slipped
like a breeze, stirring the iron-gray hair. "I kinder believe in
you, son! Nobody can't gainsay that you've played the man in this
matter. Now, just one thing more. You must swear here before me,
with Bill Atkins for an unwilling witness, that should we let you
make the acquaintance of our little gal, and should you get to be
friends, you two, that the very fust minute it comes to you that she
ain't no little gal, but is in the way of being food for love--Bill
Atkins, air I making myself plain?"

"You ain't," returned the old man sourly. "You're too complicated
for ordinary use."

"Then YOU tell him what I mean."

The old man glared at Wilfred fiercely. "If we decide to grant your
request, young man, swear on your honor that the second you find
yourself thinking of our little girl as a WOMAN, to be wooed and
won, you'll put out, and never stop till you're so far away, you'll
be clear out of her world. And not one word to her, not so much as
one hint, mind you, as to the reason of your going; it'll just be
good-by and farewell!"

"You see," Willock interpolated, "she is nothing a little gal, and
we don't want no foolish ideas to the contrary. You takes her for
what she is, nothing took from nor added to. In course, she'll be
growed up some day, I reckon, though may the good Lord take a good
long time finishing up the work He's begun so noble. When she's
growed up, when she's a woman, it ain't for us to say how you come
and how you go, take from or add to. But while she's a kid, it is
different, according."

"You have my word of honor to all these conditions," Wilfred cried
lightly. "As a child of the mountains I ask for her acquaintance.
If I should ever feel differently about her, I'll go away and stay
away until she's a woman. Surely that's enough to promise!"

"There ain't too much to promise, when it comes to the peace and
happiness of our little girl," retorted the old man, "but I can't
think of any more for you to take oath to."

"Me nuther, Bill," agreed Willock. "Seems to me the young man is
bound as firm as humans can do the binding. Now you sit right here,
son, don't come a step nigher the house, and we'll go to breakfast;
and later you'll know whether or not all this promising has been
idle waste of time."

"But I can see how it'll turn out," growled Atkins, "for she is
always a-looking for something new, something out of the big world
that she don't know nothing about."

"Never mind, Bill, don't give up so quick," Willock reproached him,
as they turned away. "She's been having a good look at him all this
time, and it may be she have took a distaste to him already."


The two men went into the cabin. An hour later they reappeared,
accompanied by the girl. Wilfred was still seated obediently on
the rock, but at sight of them he rose with a gay laugh and

"Come over here in the shade," Willock called, as he strode toward
a grassy bank that sloped up to a line of three cedar trees of
interlocked branches. "Come over here and know her. This is our

Lahoma looked at the young man with grave interest, taking note of
his garments and movements as she might have examined the skin and
actions of some unknown animal. Bill Atkins also watched him, but
with suspicious eye, as if anticipating a sudden spring on his ward.

"Set down," said Willock, sinking on the grass. "The last man up
is the biggest fool in Texas!"

Lahoma and Wilfred instantly dropped as if shot, at the same time
breaking into unexpected laughter that caused Willock's beard to
quiver sympathetically. Bill Atkins, sour and unresponsive, stood
as stiffly erect as possible, aided no little in this obstinate
attitude by the natural unelasticity of age.

The young man exclaimed boyishly, still smiling at the girl, "We're
friends already, because we've laughed together."

"Yes," cried Lahoma, "and Brick is in it, too. That's best of all."

"_I_ ain't in it," cried Bill Atkins so fiercely that the young man
was somewhat discomposed.

"Now, Bill," exclaimed the girl reprovingly, "you sit right down by
my side and do this thing right." She explained to the young man,
"Bill Atkins has been higher up than Brick, and he knows forms and
ceremonies, but he despises to act up to what he knows. Sit right
down, Bill, and make the move." There was something so unusual in
the attitude of the blooming young girl toward the weather-beaten,
forbidding-looking man, something so authoritative and at the same
time so protecting, at once the air of a superior who commands and
who shelters from the tyranny of others--that Wilfred was both
amused and touched.

"Yes, Bill," said Willock, "make the move. Make 'em know each

"This is Miss Lahoma Willock," growled Bill; "and this"--waving at
the young man disparagingly--"SAYS he is Wilfred Compton. Know each

"I'm glad to know you," Lahoma declared frankly. "It's mighty lucky
you came this way, for, you see, I just live here in the cove and
never touch the big world. I believe you know a thousand things
about the world that we ain't never dreamed of--"

"That we have never dreamed of," corrected Bill Atkins.

"--That we have never dreamed of," resumed Lahoma meekly; "and
that's what I would like to hear about. I expect to go out in the
big world and be a part of it, when I am older, when I know how to
protect myself, Brick says. I'm just a little girl now, if I do
look so big; I'm only fifteen, but when I am of age I'm going out
into the big world; so that's why I'm glad to know you, to use you
like a kind of dictionary. Are you coming back here again?"

"I hope so!" he exclaimed fervently.

"And so do I. In my cabin I have a long list of things written down
in my tablet that I'd like to know about; questions that come to me
as I sit looking over the hill into the sky, things Brick doesn't
know, and not even Bill Atkins. You going to tell me them there

Bill interposed: "Will you kindly tell me those things?"

"Will you kindly tell me those things?" Lahoma put the revised
question as calmly as if she had not suffered correction.

"You see how it is, son," Willock remarked regretfully; "Lahoma
keeps pretty close to me, and I'm always a-leading her along the
wrong trails, not having laid out an extensive education when I was
planning the grounds I calculated to live in. When I got anything
to say, I just follows the easiest way, knowing I'll get to the end
of it if I talk constant. People in the big world ain't no more
natural in talking than in anything else. They builds up fences and
arbitrary walls, and is careful to stay right in the middle of the
beaten path, and I'm all time keeping Bill busy at putting up the
bars after me, so Lahoma will go straight."

"So that's why I'm glad to know you," Lahoma said gravely. "But
why did you want to know ME?" She fastened on him her luminous
brown eyes, with red lips parted, awaiting the clearing up of this

Wilfred preserved a solemn countenance, "I've been awfully lonesome,
Lahoma, the last two years because, up to that time, I'd lived in
a city with friends all about town and no end of gay times
--and these last two years, I've been in the terrible desert. You
are the first girl I've seen that reminded me of home; when I saw
you and knew you were my kind, the way you held yourself and the
smile in your eyes--"

Bill interposed: "Don't you forget that binding, young man!"

"Of course not. But I don't know how to tell just what it means to
me to be with her--with all of you, I mean--but her especially,
because--well, I had so many friends among the girls, back home
and--and-- It's no use trying to explain; if you've known the
horrible lonesomeness of the plains you already understand, and if
you don't..."

"I know what you mean," Willock remarked, with a reminiscent sigh.

"Let it not be put in words," Bill persisted. "If a thing can't be
expressed, words only mislead. I never knew any good to come of
talking about smiles in eyes. There's nothing to it but misleading

"Go on, Lahoma," said Willock encouragingly, "we're both staying
with you, to see that you come out of this with flying colors. Just
go ahead."

"I want to ask you all about yourself," remarked Lahoma
thoughtfully, "because I can see from your face, and the way you
talk, that you're a real sample of the big world. If I tell you
all about myself, will you do the same?"

Wilfred promised, and Lahoma entered on the history of her
childhood. Wilfred looked and listened joyously, conscious of the
unusual scene, alive to the subtle charm of her fearless eyes, her
unreserved confidences, the melting harmony of her musical tones.
To be sure, she was only a child, but he saw already the promise of
the woman. The petals as yet were closed, but the faint sweet
fragrance was already astir. He found, too, that in her nature was
already developed something not akin to youth, something impersonal,
having nothing to do with one's number of years--like the breath of
experience, or the ancient freshness of a new day. It was born of
the mountains and nourished in the solitude of the plains.

How different the girls of fifteen or sixteen such as he had known
in the city or in sophisticated villages in the East! Lahoma had
not been so engrossed by trivial activities of exacting days that
she had lacked time for thought. Her housekeeping cares were few
and devoid of routine, leaving most of the hours of each day for
reading, for day-dreaming, for absorbed meditation. Somehow the
dreams seemed to linger in, her voice, to hover upon her brow, to
form a part of her; and the longings of those dreams were
half-veiled in her eyes, looking out shyly as if afraid of wounding
her guardians by full revelation. She wanted to meet life, to take
a place in the world--but what would then become of Willock and

"Bill used to live seven miles away at the mountain with the
precipice," she went on, after she had told about the wonderful
window. "But it was too far off. When he got to know me, it tired
him, walking this far twice a day, morning and night,--didn't it,
Bill! So at last Brick and Bill decided to cut some cedars from the
mountain and make me a cabin,--they took the dugout to sleep in.
There are two rooms in the cabin, one, the kitchen where we eat--and
the other, my parlor where I sleep. Some time you shall visit me
in the cabin, if Brick and Bill are willing. They made it for me,
so I couldn't ask anybody in, unless they said so."

"We aren't far enough along," observed Bill, "to be shut up together
under a roof."

"I'd like to have you visit my parlor," Lahoma said somewhat
wistfully. "I'd like to show you all my books--they were Bill's
when we first met him, but since then he's given me everything he's
got, haven't you, old Bill!" Lahoma leaned over and patted the
unyielding shoulder.

Bill stared moodily at the top of the mountain as if in a gloomy
trance, hut Wilfred fancied he moved that honored shoulder a trifle
nearer the girl.

She resumed, her face glowing with sudden rapture: "There are six
books--half a dozen! Maybe you've heard of some of them. Bill's
read 'em over lots of times. He begins with the first on the shelf
and when he's through the row, he just takes 'em up, all over again.
I like to read parts of them--the interesting parts. This is the
way they stand on the shelf: The Children of the Abbey--that's
Bill's favorite; The Scottish Chiefs, David Copperfield, The
Talisman, The Prairie, The Last of the Mohicans."

"I like The Children of the Abbey best, too," observed Brick Willock
thoughtfully. "Lahoma, she's read 'em all to me; that's the way we
get through the winter months. They's something softening and
enriching about that there Children of the Abbey; and Scottish
Chiefs has got some mighty high work in it, too. I tells Lahoma
that I guess them two books is just about as near the real thing out
in the big world as you can get. David Copperfield is sort of slow;
I've went with people that knowed a powerful sight more than them
characters in David. I used to drift about with a bunch of fellows
that Uriah Heep couldn't have stood up against for five minutes.
The Talisman is noble doings, too, but not up-to-date. As for The
Prairie and The Last of the Mohicans, them is dissatisfying books,--
they make you think, being as you lives in just such quarters,
interesting things might happen most any minute--and they never

"Why, Brick!" Lahoma reproached him. "THIS has happened--" she
nodded at Wilfred Compton. "Don't you call that interesting?"

"That's the way _I_ discusses them books," returned Willock with
manifest satisfaction. "I wasn't never no man to be overawed by no
book, which, however high and by whoever wrote, ain't no more like
life than a shadow in a pool. Try to grab that shadow, and where
is it? Just to go out after game and climb the mountains all day
and come home of an evening to sit down to a plate of bacon and
eggs, and another of the same, with coffee smoking on the little
stove, and Lahoma urging on the feast--that's more of real living
than you'd get out of a big library. Ain't it, Bill?"

"Now WE want to talk, Brick," interposed Lahoma--"don't we,

"So your cabin was built," Wilfred prompted her, "and the men took
the dugout."

"Yes--and then, oh! the most wonderful thing happened: a family
settled in the arm of the mountain at the west end--a family that
had a woman and a baby in it--a sure-enough woman with a sweet face
and of a high grade though worked down pretty level what from
hardships--and a baby that laughed, just laughed whenever he saw me
coming in the dugout--and I was over there every day. And that's
how I got to be like a woman, and know how to dress, and how to meet
strangers without being scared, and preside at table, and use
language like this. Other settlers began coming into Greer, but
they were far away, and Brick and Bill don't like folks, so they
stayed shut up pretty close. But for three years I had the mother
and her baby to show me how to be a woman. Then came the soldiers.
Brick thinks a big cattle-king stood in with Congress, and he got
the soldiers sent here to drive out all the settlers because they
were beginning to farm the land instead of letting it grow wild for
the cattle. Anyway, all the settlers were driven out of the
country--and it's been four years since I lost my only friends in
the world--except Brick and Bill. What makes me and Brick and Bill
mad is, that the soldiers didn't have any right to drive out the
settlers, because Texas claims this country, and so does the United
States, but it's never been settled."

"But they didn't drive YOU out," Wilfred remarked inquiringly.

"You see," Brick explained simply, "we didn't want to go."

"It nearly broke Mrs. Featherby's heart to have to leave," Lahoma
added, "for they'd got a good stand of wheat and I think she liked
me 'most as well as I liked her. But Mr. Featherby came from Ohio,
and he had respect to the government, so when the soldiers said
'Go,' he pulled up stakes."

"We ain't got no respect to nothing," Brick explained, "that stands
in the way of doing what we're a mind to. The soldiers come to
force us out, but they changed their minds. I reckon they knew they
hadn't no morality on their side. Sure thing, they knowed they had
but very little safety, whilst occupying their position. None was
left but us in this country till you cattlemen come monopolizing
Heaven and earth. Knowing we got just as much right to this cove
as Uncle Sam himself, we expect to stay here at anchor till Lahoma
steams out into the big world with sails spread. She expects to tug
us along behind her--but I don't know, I'm afraid we'd draw heavy.
Until that time comes, however, we 'lows to lay to, in this harbor.
We feels sheltered. Nothing ain't more sheltering than knowing you
have a moral right and a dependable gun."

"So that's about all," Lahoma went on. "These past four years,
we've just been to ourselves, with a long journey once a year to
the settlements; and all the time I had those sweet thoughts to
dream over, about the little family that used to live in the west
mountain. And I've tried to do like Mrs. Featherby used to do, and
be like she was, and if I can make as fine a woman I needn't ask any
more. She'd been to Europe, too, and she'd taught school in New
England. Bill Atkins is higher up than Brick--Bill used to know Kit
Carson and all those famous pioneers, and he's been most everywhere--
except in settled places. When a boy he saw Sam Houston and ate
with him, and he has heard David Crockett with his own ears--has
heard him say 'Be sure you're right, then go ahead,' that's how far
BILL has been. But it sort of hurt Brick's neck, and even Bill's,
to look up high enough to see where Mrs. Featherby had risen. She
was like you--right out of the big world. She came out here because
the family was awful poor. Is that why you left the big world?"

Wilfred shook his head. "I'm poor enough," he said, "but it wasn't
that. It was a girl."

Brick Willock explained, "He's got a sweetheart; he's been carrying
her letters for about two years. He's done spoke for, Lahoma,
staked out, as a fellow might say, and squatted on."

Lahoma looked at him in breathless interest. "A girl out in the
big world? Completely civilized, I reckon! Was she as old as I

"Why, honey!" Brick exclaimed uneasily, "YOU ain't got no age at
all, to speak of! What are you but a mere child? This young man
is talking about them as has got up to be old enough to think of
sweethearting--something respectable in YEARS."

"And how old does a sweetheart have to be?" demanded Lahoma with
some displeasure. "I feel old enough for anything, and Wilfred
doesn't look any older than the knight standing guard in THE
TALISMAN. Besides, look at David Copperfield and Little Em'ly."

"That was child's work," retorted Brick.

"I was afraid of this," growled Bill Atkins restlessly.

Wilfred laughed out. "Don't worry. My eastern girl is at least
nineteen years old, and so thoroughly civilized that she thinks this
part of the world is still overrun with Indians and buffaloes. She
wouldn't live out here for a fortune, and she wouldn't marry a man
back East without one--that's why I'm here. I didn't have the

"Does she LOVE you, Wilfred?" Her voice was so soft, her eyes were
so big, that Bill uttered a smothered groan, and even Brick sat up.

"She did the last time I saw her--can't say how she feels now;
that's been about two years ago." He spoke lightly; but gazing into
the wonderful depths of Lahoma's eyes, he felt a queer sensation
like a lost heart-beat.

"Did she send you here as a kind of test?"

"Oh, no, she told me good-by and we parted forever. Both of us were
poor,--you can't live in the city if you're poor; you can BE poor
there, but not LIVE. By this time she's found some one with
property, I dare say--she's tremendously handsome and accomplished,
and has a very distinguished-looking mother and they have friends
in society--she'll make it all right, no doubt." His voice was
matter-of-fact even to indifference; but for all that, he seemed to
be deeply inhaling Lahoma's freshness of morning-rose sparkling with

"Does it pierce your heart to think of her marrying somebody else?"
Her voice was sweet with the dream-passion of a young girl.

"When I left home, I flung myself into the life of a cow-puncher
and did all I could to keep from thinking. So my heart's rather
callous by this time. I don't seem to mind like I thought I would
if I should sit down to think about it. That's what I've avoided
like the plague--sitting down to think about it. But I believe I
could sit down and think about it now, pretty calmly."

"Then that's what I'd do," Lahoma cried. "I'd just face it. She
isn't worthy of you if she'd rather have a fortune than the man she
loves. I'd just sit down and face it."

"I will!" He had never before thought it could be easy. It seemed
very easy, now.

"Maybe I could help you," Lahoma suggested earnestly. "When Mrs.
Featherby lived near, I asked her all about such cases and got her
advice and experience. Change of scene and time are the greatest
remedies. You've had both. Then you must tell yourself that she
isn't worthy. And then you'll remind yourself that there are OTHER
girls in the world. Then you keep your mind occupied,--that is a
great thing. If you come to the cove to visit us, we will try to
occupy your mind--won't we Brick?--and Bill?"

Bill looked at Wilfred glumly. "It's too occupied now, I'm afraid."

"Bill, this is a-growing on you," Brick expostulated. "I like the
young chap first rate. He's open and free. Bill, you are
hampering, at times. I would go to my dugout if I was you, and cool
my head."

"Your head'll be hot enough," growled Bill, "when this has gone too

Lahoma opened her eyes wide. "What do you mean?" she demanded,
sincerely perplexed.

"Bill," cried Brick warningly, "you're a-going to start up a fire
where they ain't even been no kindling laid."

Wilfred rose hastily. "I should like dearly to come, and come
often," he exclaimed, "but I couldn't force myself where I'm not

"In that case," remarked Bill inflexibly, "you're seeing me for the
last time, and may look your fill!"

Wilfred smiled at him tolerantly and turned to Willock. "I ought
to go to my work, Brick. I won't try to explain what this hour has
meant to me for I believe you understand. I'm like a man crossing
the desert who finds a spring and gets enough water to last him till
the next oasis."

He held out his hand to Lahoma who had risen swiftly at these signs
of departure. "God bless you, little girl!" he said cheerily. "A
man's fortunate who finds such oases along his desert-trail!"

It was not Bill's gruffness, but Lahoma's charm that warned him to
flee lest he break his promise to her guardians.

"But you can't go, yet," cried Lahoma, not taking his hand, "there
are a thousand things I want to do with you that I've never had a
chance to do with anybody else--strolling, for instance. Come and
stroll--I'll show you about the cove. Brick and Bill don't know
anything about strolling as they do in pictures. Hold out your arm
with a crook in it and I'll slip my hand just inside where you'll
hold it soft and warm like a bird in its nest.... Isn't his noble?
And I holds back--excuse me--I HOLD back my skirts with my other
hand, and this is the way we stroll, like an engraving out of the
history of Louis the Fourteenth's court. Do, oh, do!" Her bright
eyes glowed into his like beckoning stars.

"We stroll," he gravely announced, responding to the pressure of
her fingers, but at the same time feeling somewhat guilty as Bill
rolled his eyes fearfully at Brick.

When they were a few yards from the trees Lahoma whispered, "Make
for the other side of Turtle Hill. I want to feel grown up when I
do my strolling, but I'm nothing but a little barefooted kid when
Brick and Bill are looking at me!"

Hidden by the shoulder of the granite hill island she stopped,
withdrew her hand, and stood very straight as she said, with
breathless eagerness, "Answer me quick! Wilfred: ain't I old enough
to be a sweetheart?"

"Oh, Lahoma," he protested warmly, "please don't think of it. Don't
be anybody's until--until I say the word. You couldn't understand
such matters, dear, you wouldn't know the--the proper time. I'll
tell you when the time comes."

She looked at him keenly. "Am I to wait for a time, or for a
person? I wish you'd never met that girl back East I think you'd
have filled the bill for me, because, having always lived here in
the mountains, I've not learned to be particular. Not but what I've
seen lots of trappers and squatters in my day, but I never wanted
to stroll with them. I don't see why that eastern girl ever turned
you loose from her trap. I think a man's a very wonderful thing;
especially a young man--don't you, Wilfred?"

"Not half so wonderful as you, Lahoma." His voice vibrated with
sudden intensity. "There's your wonderful hair, like light shining
through a brown veil ... and your eyes where your soul keeps her
lights flashing when all the rest of you is in twilight ... and your
hands and feet, four faithful little guides to the wonderful
treasures that belong only to maidenhood ... and your mouth,
changing with your thoughts--an adorable little thermometer, showing
how high the smiles have risen in your heart; a mouth so pure and

"Hey!" shouted Bill Atkins, as he and Brick came around the angle
of the hill. "Hi, there! You may call that strolling, but if so,
it's because you don't know its true name, if you ask ME!"

Wilfred came to himself with a sharp indrawing of his breath.
"Yes," he stammered, somewhat dizzily, "Yes, I--I must be going,

She held his hand beseechingly. "But you'll come again, won't you?
When I hold your hand, it's like grabbing at a bit of the big

"No, Lahoma, I'm not coming again." His look was long and steady,
showing sudden purpose which concealed regret beneath a frank smile
of liking.

She still held his hand, her brown eyes large with entreaty. "You
WILL come again, Wilfred! You must come again! Don't mind Bill.
I'll have a talk with him after you're gone. I'll send him over to
the ranch after you. Just say you'll come again if I send for you."

"Of course he'll come, honey," said Brick, melted by the tears that
sounded in her voice. "He won't get huffy over a foolish old codger
like Bill Atkins. Of course he'll come again and tell you about
street-cars and lamp-posts. Let him go to his work now, he's been
up all night, just to get a word with you. Let him go--he'll come
back tomorrow, I know."

Wilfred turned to Brick and looked into his eyes as he slowly
released Lahoma's hand.

"Oh!" said Brick, considerably disconcerted. "No, I reckon he won't
come back, honey--yes, I guess he'll be busy the rest of the summer.
Well, son, put 'er there--shake! I like you fine, just fine, and
as you can't come here to see us no more, being so busy and--and
otherwise elsewhere bound--I'm kinder sorry to see you go."

"Partings," said Bill, somewhat mollified, "are painful but
necessary, else there wouldn't be any occasion for dentists'

"That's so," Brick agreed. "You called Lahoma an oasis. And what
is an oasis? Something you come up to, and go away from, and that's
the end of the story. You don't settle down and live at a spring
just because it give you a drink when you was thirsty. A man goes
on his way rejoicing, and Wilfred according."

Lahoma walked up to Wilfred with steady eyes. "Are you coming back
to see me?" she asked gravely.

"No, Lahoma. At least not for a long, long time. I don't believe
it's good for me to forget the life I've chosen, even for a happy
hour. When I left the city, it was to drop out of the world--nobody
knows what became of me, not even my brother. You've brought
everything back, and that isn't good for my peace of mind and so--

Tall and straight he stood, like a soldier whose duty it is to face
defeat; and standing thus, he fastened his eyes upon her face as if
to stamp those features in a last long look upon his heart.

"Good-by," said Lahoma; this time she did not hold out her hand.
Her face was composed, her voice quiet. If in her eyes there was
the look of one who has been rebuffed; her pride was too great to
permit a show of pain.

Wilfred hesitated. But what was to be done? Solitude and
homesickness had perhaps distorted his vision; at any rate he had
succumbed to the folly against which he had been warned. He could
not accept Lahoma as a mere child; and though, during the scene, he
had repeatedly reminded himself that she was only fifteen, her face,
her voice, her form, her manner of thought, refused the limits of
childhood. Therefore he went away, outwardly well-content with his
morning, but inwardly full of wrath that his heart had refused the
guidance of his mind.

And she had been so simple, so eager to meet him on an equal plane,
even clinging to him as to the only hope in her narrow world that
might draw her out into deeper currents of knowledge.

"I've always been a fool," he muttered savagely, as he sought his
horse. "I was a fool about Annabel--and now I'm too big a fool to
enjoy what fortune has fairly flung in my path." Presently he began
to laugh--it was all so ridiculous, beating a retreat because he
could not regard a fifteen-year-old girl as a little child! He drew
several time-worn letters from his pocket and tore them into small
bits that fluttered away like snowflakes on the wind. He had no
longer a sentimental interest in them, at all events.


He did not come again. Lahoma used to go to the hill-island, which
she called Turtle Hill because the big flattened rocks looked like
turtles that had crawled up out of the cove to sun themselves; among
these turtles she would lie, watching the open mouth of the mountain
horseshoe in the vain hope that Wilfred would appear from around the
granite wall. Occasionally she descended to the plain and scanned
the level world, but it was pleasanter to watch from the cove
because one never knew, while in that retreat, who might be coming
along the range. On the plain, there were no illusions.

Lahoma courted illusions. And when she knew that Wilfred Compton
had severed connections with Old Man Walker she merely exchanged
one hope, one dream, for another. The opportunity to learn about
the big world was withdrawn; but the anticipation of one day meeting
Wilfred again was as strong as ever. She made no secret of this

Bill Atkins sought to dismiss it effectually. "You don't know about
the big world, Lahoma," he declared, "if you think people meet up
with each other after they've once lost touch. If all this part of
America was blotted out of existence, people in the East wouldn't
miss any ink out of the ink-bottle."

Lahoma tossed her head. "Maybe the world IS big," she conceded.
"But if Wilfred isn't big enough to make himself seen in it when I
go a-looking, I don't care whether I meet him again or not. When
I'm in the big world, I expect to deal only with big people."

"I saw no bigness about HIM," Bill cried slightingly.

"If he isn't big enough to make himself seen," Lahoma serenely
returned, "I won't never--"

"You won't ever--" Bill corrected.

"I won't ever have to wear specs for strained eyes," Lahoma
concluded, smiling at Bill as if she knew why he was as he was, and
willingly took him so because he couldn't help himself.

It was Brick who heard about Wilfred's adventures on leaving the
Red River ranch, and as all three sat outside the cabin in the dusk
of evening, he retailed them as gathered from a recent trip to the
corral. That was a strange story unfolded to Lahoma's ears, a story
rich with the romance of the great West, wild in its primitive
strivings and thrilling in its realizations of countless hopes. The
narrative lost nothing in the telling, for Brick Willock understood
the people and the instincts that moved them, and though Wilfred
Compton might differ from all in his motives and plans, he shared
with all the same hardships, the same spur to ambition.

It was now ten years since the discovery had been made that in the
western part of Indian Territory were fourteen million acres that
had never been assigned to the red man and which, therefore, were
public land, subject to homestead settlement. As long as the
western immigrants could choose among the rich prairie-lands of
Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Dakota and Kansas--and the choice was
open to all, following the agreement of the plains tribes to retire
to reservations,--it was not strange that the unassigned lands of
Indian Territory should have escaped notice, surrounded as they were
by the Cherokee Strip, the Osage and Creek countries, the Chickasaw
Nation, the Wichita, Cado, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

But other public lands were now scarce, or less inviting, and as
far back as 1879, when Lahoma was five years old, colonies had
formed in Kansas City, in Topeka and in Texas, to move upon the
Oklahoma country. The United States troops had dispersed the
"boomers," but in the following year the indefatigable Payne
succeeded in leading a colony into the very heart of the coveted
land. It was in order to escape arrest--for again the United States
cavalry had descended on settlers--that several wagons, among them
that of Gledware's, had driven hastily toward the Panhandle, to come
to grief at the hands of ruffians from No-Man's Land.

As Brick Willock told of Payne's other attempts to colonize the
Oklahoma country, of his arrests, of his attempts to bring his
various cases to the trial, she felt that Willock was, in a way,
dealing with her personal history, for had she not been named Lahoma
in honor of that country which her step-father had seen only to
loose? Time and again the colonists swarmed over the border,
finding their way through Indian villages and along desolate trails
to the land that belonged to the public, but was enjoyed only by the
great cattlemen; as many times, they were driven from their
newly-claimed homes by federal troops, not without severity, and
their leaders were imprisoned.

But, at last, April the twenty-second, 1889, had been appointed as
the day on which the Oklahoma country was to be opened up to
settlement, and it was to meet this event that Wilfred Compton had
left Greer County. He was a unit in that immense throng that waited
impatiently for the hour of noon--a countless host, stretching along
the north on the boundary of the Cherokee Strip, on the south, at
the edge of the Cherokee Nation; on the east, along the Kickapoo and
Pottawatomie reservations; and on the west, blackening the extremity
of the Cheyenne and Arapaho countries. He was one of those who, at
the discharge of the carbines of the patrolling cavalrymen, joined
in the deafening shout raised by men of all conditions and from
almost every state in the Union--a shout as of triumph over the
fulfillment of a ten-years' dream. And, leaning forward on his
pony, he was one of the army of conquest that burst upon the desert,
on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles of every description, in the
mad rush for homes in a land that had never known the incense of the
hearth or the civilizing touch of the plow.

At noon, a wilderness, at night, a land of tents, and on the morrow,
a settled country of furrowed fields. "Pioneer work is awful quick,
nowadays!" grumbled Bill Atkins, as Brick concluded. "It wasn't so
in my time. Up there in the Oklahoma country, fifty years have been
squeezed into a week's time--it's like a magician making a seed grow
and sprout and blossom right before the audience. Lucky I came to
Greer County, Texas--I don't guess IT'LL ever be anything but sand
and a blow."

"It's a great story," Brick declared with enthusiasm. "I reckon
it's the greatest story that America can put out, in the pioneering
line. There they had everything in twenty-four hours that used to
wear out our ancestors: Injuns, unbroken land, no sign of life for
hundreds of miles--and just a turn of the hand and cities is
a-coming up out of the ground, and saloons and churches is rubbing
shoulders, and there's talk of getting out newspapers. What do you
think of it, honey?"

Lahoma was sitting in grave silence, her hands clasped in her lap.
She turned slowly and looked at Willock. "Brick, I'm disappointed."

"Which?" asked Willock, somewhat taken aback. "Where?"

"In him--in Wilfred."

"As how so?"

"Going into that wilderness-life, instead of taking his place in
the world!"

"Well, honey if he hadn't come to THIS wilderness, you'd never of
saw him."

"Yes--but he wasn't settled, and now he's settled in it. Is that
the way to be a man? There's all those other people to do the thing
he's doing. Then what's the use of him?"

"Ain't we in the same box?"

"Yes, and that's why I mean to get out of it, some day. But it's
different with him. He's chosen his box, and gone in, and shut the
lid on himself! I'm disappointed in him. I've been thinking him
a real man. I guess I'm still to see what I'm looking for," added
Lahoma, shaking her head.

"We'll let it go at that," muttered Bill who was anxious to turn
Lahoma's mind from thoughts of Wilfred. "We'll just go ahead and
look for new prospects."

"Not till I make a remark," said Willock, laying aside his pipe.
"Honey, do yon know what I mean by a vision? It calls for a big
vision to take in a big person, and you ain't got it. Maybe it
wasn't meant for women, or at least a girl of fifteen to see further
than her own foot-tracks, so no blame laid and nobody judged,
according. If you don't see nothing in that army of settlers going
into a raw land and falling to work to make it bloom like the rose,
a-setting out to live in solitude for years that in due time the
world may be richer by a great territory, why, you ain't got a big
vision. I've got it, for I was born in the West, and I've lived all
my life, peaceable and calm, right out here or hereabouts. You've
got to breathe western air to get the big vision. You've got to see
towns rise out of the turf over night and bust into cities before
the harvest-fields is ripe, to know what can be did when men is
free, not hampered by set-and-bound rules as holds 'em down to the
ways of their fathers. Back East, folks is straining themselves to
make over, and improve, and polish up what they found ready-to-hand--
but here out West, we creates. It takes a big vision to see the
bigness of the West, and you can't get no true idee by squinting at
the subject."

Lahoma did not reply, and Bill feared that under the conviction of
her friend's eloquence, she had begun to idealize the efforts of
Wilfred Compton. He need not have been afraid. To her imagination,
"big people" were not living in dugouts, or tents, far from
civilization; "big people" were going to the opera every night, and
riding in splendid carriages along imposing boulevards every day.
Brick and Bill had contrived to live as well as they desired from
profits on skins obtained in the mountains and the small tract of
ground they had cultivated in a desultory manner had done little
beyond supplying themselves with vegetables and the horses with some
extra feed. She had no great opinion of agriculture; and though she
had taken part in planting and hoeing with a pleasurable zest, she
had never entertained herself with the thought that she was engaged
in a great work. As to dugouts, they had no place in her dreams of
the future. Since Wilfred had chosen to handicap himself with the
same limitations that bound her, even the thought of him was to be
banished from her world, banished absolutely.

Her day-dreams did not cease, but became more dreamy, more unreal,
since the hero of her fancies, for whom she now had no
flesh-and-blood prototype, was suggested only by her moods and her
books. As the sun-clear days of maidenhood melted imperceptibly
into summer glow and winter spaces, the memory of Wilfred's face
and voice sometimes surprised her at unexpected turns of solitary
musings. But the face grew less defined, the voice lost its
distinctive tone, as the years passed uninterruptedly by.

"I reckon it ain't right," said Brick Willock to Bill Atkins as they
went one morning to examine their traps before Lahoma was astir, "to
keep our little gal to ourselves as we're doing. You're getting
old, Bill, awful old--"

"Well, damn it," growled Bill, "I guess I don't have to be told!"

"You ain't very long for this world, Bill, not in the ordinary
course of nature. And when I've laid you to rest under the
rock-pile, Lahoma ain't going to find the variety in me that she
now has in the two of us. Besides which, I'm in the fifties myself,
and them is halves of hundreds."

"Yes," Bill growled, "and give Lahoma time, she'll die, too.
Nothing but the mountain'll be left to look out on the plains.
Lord, Brick, who do you reckon'll be living in that cove, when we
three are dead and gone?"

"Guess I'll be worrying about something else, then."

"Do you reckon," pursued Bill, in an unwonted tone of mellowness,
"that those who come to live in our dugout will ever imagine what
happy hours we've passed there, just sitting around quiet and
enjoying ourselves and one another?"

"They wouldn't imagine YOU was enjoying of yourself, not if they
was feeding their eyes on you every day. But I'm awful bothered
about Lahoma. I tell you, it ain't right to keep her shut up as in
a cage. Can't you see she's pining for high society such as I ain't
got it in me to supply, and you are too cussed obstinate to

"I guess that's so." Bill drew himself stiffly up by the tree
above--they were ascending the wooded gully that extended from base
to mountain-top.

"Well, what's the hurry? She's only seventeen years old."

"Yes, she was only seventeen years old, two years ago; but she's
nineteen, now."

Bill Atkins sank upon a rock at the foot of a bristling cedar.
"Nineteen! Who, LAHOMA? Then where've I been all the time?"

"You've been a-traveling along at a pretty fast clip toward your
last days, that's where you've been. Just look at yourself! Ain't
you always careful in making your steps as if scared of breaking
something? And now, you're out of breath!"

"It was knocked out by the thought of her being so old--but I guess
you're right. Well, I wouldn't call her life caged-up. The
settlers have been moving in pretty steadily, and she has friends
amongst all the families where there's women-folks. She has her
own pony, and is gone more than suits me; and although there's no
young man disposable, we ain't fretting about that, nor her

"I used to think she might be foolish about Wilfred Compton--but
Lahoma, she ain't foolish about nothing. Nevertheless, Bill, it
ain't right. Settlers is settlers, and what she yearns for is the
big world. I would long since of took her out to see it, but
dassn't from a liability to be catched up for divers deeds that was
unlawfully charged to me in times past. You could have guided her
along the city trails, but was too cussed obstinate."

"She's your cousin," retorted Bill, "and it wasn't for me to act
her guardian. Besides, did you want to lose her? You couldn't take
Lahoma where she'd be seen and known, and expect to get her back
again. Maybe it isn't exactly fair to keep her boarded up--but the
times are changing all that, and sorry am I to see it. Do you know,
Brick, I once thought you and me and Lahoma could just live here in
the cove till time was no more, reading our books, and smoking our
pipes, and taking peaceful morning trips like this--to see whether
we'd caught a coyote in our traps, or a bobcat, or a skunk."

"Yes, that's all right for us; but Lahoma ain't smoking no pipe,
nor is her interest in skunks such as ours."

"Just so--but see how Greer County is getting settled up--that's
what's going to save us, Brick--civilization is coming to Lahoma,
she won't have to go out gunning after it."

"Of course I've thought of that. I ain't got your grammar, but my
mind don't have to wait to let in an idea after it's put its clothes
on. Maybe they comes in nothing but a nightshirt, but I ain't ever
knowed YOU to think of nothing yet, that I hadn't entertained in
some fashion. Of course, civilization is a-creeping up to the
mountain, and I reckon by the time Lahoma is my age it'll be playing
an organ in church. But she's at the age that calls for quick
work--she's got the rest of her life to settle down in. Most all
of a person's life is spent in settling and it's befitting to lay
in the foundation aforetime. Look at that dear girl in The Children
of the Abbey, all them love-passages and the tears she sheds--she
was being a young woman! What would that noble book of been had
that lovely creature been shut up in a cove till nineteen year of
age? Is Lahoma going to have a chance like that amongst these
settlers? Will she ever hear that high talk, that makes your flesh
sort of creep with pride in your race when you read it aloud?"

"Do you want Lahoma to have a lover, Brick Willock?"

"Bill, if he is fit, I say she ought to have a chance."

"And where are you going to find the man?"

"I'm going to help Lahoma find him. I'm like you, Bill, I hates
that lover like a snake this minute, though I ain't no idea who,
where, or what he is, or may be. I hates him--but I ain't going to
stand in Lahoma's way. No, sir, I 'low to meet civilization
half-way. There it is--look!"

Willock stood erect and pointed toward the plain, where perhaps
twenty tents had been pitched within the last two weeks. Bill gave
an unwilling glance, shrugged his shoulders disdainfully, and
resumed progress up the difficult defile.

Willock continued: "Two weeks ago, there wasn't nothing there but
naked sand. Now there's three saloons, a hardware store, a grocery,
a bank--all of 'em under canvas--and the makings of a regular town.
Right out there in the broiling sun! Carloads of lumber and
machinery is on its way, and the stage-coach will be putting off
mail there before long. That's how civilization is a-seeking out
our little gal. But I means to meet it halfway."

"Oh, come on, don't say anything more about it--when I look at those
tents I can't breathe freely. What do you gamble on--a skunk. or
a coyote, in the traps?"

"'Tain't them tents that's seeping your breath, it's pure unalloyed
age. Yes, sir, I means to meet civilization half-way. I've already
been prospecting. There's a party over there in Tent City that's
come on from Chicago just from the lust of seeing pioneer-life at
first hand, people that haven't no idee of buying or settling--it's
a picnic to them. They're camping out, watching life develop--and
what's life-and-death earnestness to others is just amusement to
them. That there's a test of people high-up. Real folks in the big
world don't do nothing, it takes all their time just being folks.
You and me could bag a dozen polecats whilst a fine lady was making
her finger-nails ready for the day. And these Chicago people is
that kind."

"Do you think they'll make friends with Lahoma just to suit you?
The kind of people you're talking about are more afraid of getting
to know strangers than they are of being set on by wildcats."

"They'll make friends with Lahoma, all right, and invite her home
with 'em. That's the way I 'low to set her out in the big world.
Lahoma don't know my plans and neither do they, but I was never a
man to make my plans knowed when I was going to hold up people. Of
course I'M speaking in a figger, but in a figger I may say I've held
up several, in my day."

"THEY won't invite Lahoma to Chicago, not if they are the right

"They will invite Lahoma to Chicago," retorted Willock firmly, "and
they are the right sort. Wait and see; and when you have saw,
render due honor to your Uncle Brick."


"Pardner, I sure am glad to see you--put 'er there again! How are
you feeling, anyhow? Look mighty tough and wiry, I do say; Here,
Bill!" Willock raised his voice to a powerful shout, "Bill! come
and see what's blowed in with the tumbleweed and tickle-grass. A
sure-enough man, that's what I call him, and me to fight if any
dispute's made to the title, according."

The tall bronzed man who was leading his horse along the road
entering the mountain horseshoe, smiled with a touch of gravity in
the light of his gray eyes. Willock found his chin more resolute,
his glance more assured and penetrating, while his step, firm and
alert, told of dauntless purpose. He was no longer the wandering
cowboy content with a bed on the ground wherever chance might find
him at night, but a mature man who had taken root in the soil of
his own acres. Only twenty-five or six, his features were still
touched with the last lingering mobility of youth; but the set of
his mouth and the gleam of his eyes hinted at years of battle
against storms, droughts and loneliness. He was already a veteran
of the prairie, despite his youth.

"Everything looks very natural!" murmured Wilfred Compton, gazing
about on the seamed walls of granite in whose crevices the bright
cedars mocked at winter's threatening hand.

"Yes, mountains is lots more natural than humans. They just sets
there serene and indifferent not caring whether you likes their
looks or not, and they let 'er blow and let 'er snow, it's all one
to them. I reckon when we've been dead so long that nobody could
raise a dispute as to whether we'd ever lived or not, that there
same boulder what they calls Rocking Stone will still be a-making
up its mind whether to roll down into the valley or stay where it
was born. Wilfred, if you knowed how glad I am to see you again,
you'd be sort of scared, I reckon, thinking you'd fell amongst
cannibals. Wonder where that aged trapper is?" He shouted more
lustily, and a bristling white head suddenly appeared on the summit
of Turtle Hill.

"Great Scott!" yelled Bill Atkins, glaring down upon the approaching
figure, "if it ain't Wilfred Compton again! Come on, come on, I was
never as glad to see anybody in all my life!"

The young man looked at Willock somewhat dubiously. "He's very much
altered, then, since I met him last. I'm afraid he has a gun hidden
up there among the rocks."

"Oh, nux, nux," retorted Willock. "He's a-speaking fair. Come

As they ascended the winding road, Wilfred vividly recalled the day
when, from the same elevation, he had watched Lahoma buried in her
day-dreams. A sudden turn brought the cove into view. Lahoma was
not to be seen, but there was the cabin, the dugout and the three
cedar trees in whose shade he had made the discovery that he could
not regard Lahoma as a little girl. It seemed that the cabin door
trembled--was Lahoma's hand upon the latch? And when she opened the
door, what expression would flash upon that face he remembered so
well? Would she be as glad as Willock and Bill Atkins, when she
recognized him? Even one half as glad?

He sighed deeply--it was not to be expected. She had known him only
an hour; since then, many settlers had invaded the country about the
Granite Mountains, a city had sprung up, not far away--other towns
were peeping through the sand, and blooming from canvas to wood and
brick. The air tingled with the electric currents of new life and
intense competition.

"Did Lahoma marry?" he asked abruptly as all three descended to the
lower level of the cove.

"She never did, yet," replied Bill dryly. "Young man, I'm powerful
glad to see you. It's rather chilly out here. I'll take your horse
and we'll gather in the dugout and talk over what's happened since
we last met. Brick, don't you begin on anything interesting till
I come."

"You give me that horse," retorted Brick. "You're too aged a man
to be messing with horses. You'll get a fall one of these days
that'll lay you flat. You'll never knit them bones together, if
you do; you ain't vital enough."

Bill clung grimly to the bridle, muttering something that showed no
lack of vitality in his vocabulary.

"He won't let me take no care of him," complained Brick, as he
conducted Wilfred to the dugout.

Wilfred cast a longing glance toward the cabin, and again he thought
Lahoma's parlor door quivered. He even stopped in the path; but
Willock went on, unconscious, and he was obliged to follow.

"It's a strange thing," remarked Brick, as he descended the hard
dirt steps, "how Lahoma has acted on me. I mean, living with her
these past twelve years, and all the rest of the world shut out,
except Bill. Could I of been told before I saved little Lahoma from
the highwaymen that I'd ever worry over an old coon like Bill
Atkins, as to whether he broke his neck or not, I'd 'a' laughed, for
I'd 'a' had to. But it sure does gall me to have him exposing
himself as he does. I never wanted Bill to come here, but he just
come, like a stray cat. First thing I knowed, he was a-purring at

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