Part 3 out of 6
over the tongue spaces, from every crevice of the gray towering wall
came the fire of more and more men. The medicine of the white men was
Three times the ring passed, and that was all. The third circuit was
wide and ragged. The riders dared not come close enough to carry off
their dead and wounded. Then the attack dwindled, the savages scattering
and breaking back to the cover of the stream.
"Now, men, come on!" called out Banion. "Ride them down! Give them a
trimming they'll remember! Come on, boys!"
Within a half hour fifty more Sioux were down, dead or very soon to die.
Of the living not one remained in sight.
"They wanted hit, an' they got hit!" exclaimed Bridger, when at length
he rode back, four war bonnets across his saddle and scalps at his
cantle. He raised his voice in a fierce yell of triumph, not much other
than savage himself, dismounted and disdainfully cast his trophies
across a wagon tongue.
"I've et horse an' mule an' dog," said he, "an' wolf, wil'cat an'
skunk, an' perrairy dog an' snake an' most ever'thing else that wears a
hide, but I never could eat Sioux. But to-morrer we'll have ribs in
camp. I've seed the buffler, an' we own this side the river now."
Molly Wingate sat on a bed roll near by, knitting as calmly as though at
home, but filled with wrath.
"Them nasty, dirty critters!" she exclaimed. "I wish't the boys had
killed them all. Even in daylight they don't stand up and fight fair
like men. I lost a whole churnin' yesterday. Besides, they killed my
best cow this mornin', that's what they done. And lookit this thing!"
She held up an Indian arrow, its strap-iron head bent over at right
angles. "They shot this into our plow beam. Looks like they got a spite
at our plow."
"Ma'am, they have got a spite at hit," said the old scout, seating
himself on the ground near by. "They're scared o' hit. I've seed a bunch
o' Sioux out at Laramie with a plow some Mormon left around when he
died. They'd walk around and around that thing by the hour, talkin' low
to theirselves. They couldn't figger hit out no ways a-tall.
"That season they sent a runner down to the Pawnees to make a peace
talk, an' to find out what this yere thing was the whites had brung out.
Pawnees sent to the Otoes, an' the Otoes told them. They said hit was
the white man's big medicine, an' that hit buried all the buffler under
the ground wherever hit come, so no buffler ever could git out again.
Nacherl, when the runners come back an' told what that thing really was,
all the Injuns, every tribe, said if the white man was goin' to bury the
buffler the white man had got to stay back.
"Us trappers an' traders got along purty well with the Injuns--they
could get things they wanted at the posts or the Rendyvous, an' that was
all right. They had pelts to sell. But now these movers didn't buy
nothin' an' didn't sell nothin'. They just went on through, a-carryin'
this thing for buryin' the buffler. From now on the Injuns is goin' to
fight the whites. Ye kain't blame 'em, ma'am; they only see their
"Five years ago nigh a thousand whites drops down in Oregon. Next year
come fifteen hundred, an' in '45 twicet that many, an' so it has went,
doublin, an' doublin'. Six or seven thousand whites go up the Platte
this season, an' a right smart sprinklin' o' them'll git through to
Oregon. Them 'at does'll carry plows.
"Ma'am, if the brave that sunk a arrer in yore plow beam didn't kill
yore plow hit warn't because he didn't want to. Hit's the truth--the
plow does bury the buffler, an' fer keeps! Ye kain't kill a plow, ner
neither kin yer scare hit away. Hit's the holdin'est thing ther is,
ma'am--hit never does let go."
"How long'll we wait here?" the older woman demanded.
"Anyhow fer two-three days, ma'am. Thar's a lot has got to sort put
stuff an' throw hit away here. One man has drug a pair o' millstones
all the way to here from Ohio. He allowed to get rich startin' a
gris'mill out in Oregon. An' then ther's chairs an' tables, an' God
"Well, anyhow," broke in Mrs. Wingate truculently, "no difference what
you men say, I ain't going to leave my bureau, nor my table, nor my
chairs! I'm going to keep my two churns and my feather bed too. We've
had butter all the way so far, and I mean to have it all the way--and
eggs. I mean to sleep at nights, too, if the pesky muskeeters'll let me.
They most have et me up. And I'd give a dollar for a drink of real water
now. It's all right to settle this water overnight, but that don't take
the sody out of it.
"Besides," she went on, "I got four quarts o' seed wheat in one of them
bureau drawers, and six cuttings of my best rose-bush I'm taking out to
plant in Oregon. And I got three pairs of Jed's socks in another bureau
drawer. It's flat on its back, bottom of the load. I ain't going to dig
it out for no man."
"Well, hang on to them socks, ma'am. I've wintered many a time without
none--only grass in my moccasins. There's outfits in this train that's
low on flour an' side meat right now, let alone socks. We got to cure
some meat. There's a million buffler just south in the breaks wantin' to
move on north, but scared of us an' the Injuns. We'd orto make a good
hunt inside o' ten mile to-morrer. We'll git enough meat to take us a
week to jerk hit all, or else Jim Bridger's a liar--which no one never
has said yit, ma'am."
"Flowers?" he added. "You takin' flowers acrost? Flowers--do they go
with the plow, too, as well as weeds? Well, well! Wimminfolks shore air
a strange race o' people, hain't that the truth? Buryin' the buffler an'
plantin' flowers on his grave!
"But speakin' o' buryin' things," he suddenly resumed, "an' speakin' o'
plows, 'minds me o' what's delayin' us all right now. Hit's a fool
thing, too--buryin' Injuns!"
"As which, Mr. Bridger? What you mean?" inquired Molly Wingate, looking
over her spectacles.
"This new man, Banion, that come in with the Missouri wagons--he taken
hit on hisself to say, atter the fight was over, we orto stop an' bury
all them Injuns! Well, I been on the Plains an' in the Rockies all my
life, an' I never yit, before now, seed a Injun buried. Hit's
onnatcherl. But this here man he, now, orders a ditch plowed an' them
Injuns hauled in an' planted. Hit's wastin' time. That's what's keepin'
him an' yore folks an' sever'l others. Yore husband an' yore son is both
out yan with him. Hit beats hell, ma'am, these new-fangled ways!"
"So that's where they are? I wanted them to fetch me something to make a
"I kain't do that, ma'am. Mostly my squaws--"
"Your what? Do you mean to tell me you got squaws, you old heathen?"
"Not many, ma'am--only two. Times is hard sence beaver went down. I
kain't tell ye how hard this here depressin' has set on us folks out
"Two squaws! My laws! Two--what's their names?" This last with feminine
"Well now, ma'am, I call one on 'em Blast Yore Hide--she's a Ute. The
other is younger an' pertier. She's a Shoshone. I call her Dang Yore
Eyes. Both them women is powerful fond o' me, ma'am. They both are right
proud o' their names, too, because they air white names, ye see. Now
when time comes fer a fire, Blast Yore Hide an' Dang Yore Eyes, they
fight hit out between 'em which gits the wood. I don't study none over
Molly Wingate rose so ruffled that, like an angered hen, she seemed
twice her size.
"You old heathen!" she exclaimed. "You old murderin' lazy heathen man!
How dare you talk like that to me?"
"As what, ma'am? I hain't said nothin' out'n the way, have I? O' course,
ef ye don't want to git the fire stuff, thar's yer darter--she's young
an' strong. Yes, an' perty as a picter besides, though like enough
triflin', like her maw. Where's she at now?"
"None of your business where."
"I could find her."
"Oh, you could! How?"
"I'd find that young feller Sam Woodhull that come in from below,
renegadin' away from his train with that party o' Mormons--him that had
his camp jumped by the Pawnees. I got a eye fer a womern, ma'am, but
so's he--more'n fer Injuns, I'd say. I seed him with yore darter right
constant, but I seemed to miss him in the ride. Whar was he at?"
"I don't know as it's none of your business, anyways."
"No? Well, I was just wonderin', ma'am, because I heerd Cap'n Banion ast
that same question o' yore husband, Cap'n Wingate, an' Cap'n Wingate
done said jest what ye said yerself--that hit wasn't none o' his
business. Which makes things look shore hopeful an' pleasant in this
yere train o' pilgrims, this bright and pleasant summer day, huh?"
Grinning amicably, the incorrigible old mountaineer rose and went his
way, and left the irate goodwife to gather her apron full of plains fuel
BANION OF DONIPHAN'S
Molly Wingate was grumbing over her fire when at length her husband and
son returned to their wagon. Jed was vastly proud over a bullet crease
he had got in a shoulder. After his mother's alarm had taken the form of
first aid he was all for showing his battle scars to a certain damsel in
Caleb Price's wagon. Wingate remained dour and silent as was now his
wont, and cursing his luck that he had had no horse to carry him up in
the late pursuit of the Sioux. He also was bitter over the delay in
making a burial trench.
"Some ways, Jess," commented his spouse, "I'd a'most guess you ain't got
much use for Will Banion."
"Why should I have? Hasn't he done all he could to shoulder me out of my
place as captain of this train? And wasn't I elected at Westport before
"Mostly, a man has to stay elected, Jess."
"Well, I'm going to! I had it out with that young man right now. I told
him I knew why he wanted in our train--it was Molly."
"What did he say?"
"What could he say? He admitted it. And he had the gall to say I'd see
it his way some day. Huh! That's a long day off, before I do. Well, at
least he said he was going back to his own men, and they'd fall behind
again. That suits me."
"Did he say anything about finding Sam Woodhull?"
"Yes. He said that would take its time, too."
"Didn't say he wouldn't?"
"No, I don't know as he did."
"Didn't act scared of it?"
"He didn't say much about it."
"I reckon--and why shouldn't he? He'll play evens some day, of course.
But now, Molly," he went on, with heat, "what's the use talking? We both
know that Molly's made up her mind. She loves Sam and don't love this
other man any more than I do. He's only a drift-about back from the war,
and wandering out to Oregon. He'll maybe not have a cent when he gets
there. He's got one horse and his clothes, and one or two wagons, maybe
not paid for. Sam's got five wagons of goods to start a store with, and
three thousand gold--so he says--as much as we have. The families are
equal, and that's always a good thing. This man Banion can't offer Molly
nothing, but Sam Woodhull can give her her place right from the start,
out in Oregon. We got to think of all them things.
"And I've got to think of a lot of other things, too. It's our girl.
It's all right to say a man can go out to Oregon and live down his
past, but it's a lot better not to have no past to live down. You know
what Major Banion done, and how he left the Army--even if it wasn't why,
it was how, and that's bad enough. Sam Woodhull has told us both all
about Banion's record. If he'd steal in Mexico he'd steal in Oregon."
"You didn't ever get so far along as to talk about that!"
"We certainly did--right now, him and me, not half an hour ago, while we
was riding back."
"I shouldn't have thought he'd of stood it," said his wife, "him sort of
"Well, it did gravel him. He got white, but wouldn't talk. Asked if Sam
Woodhull had the proof, and I told him he had. That was when he said
he'd go back to his own wagons. I could see he was avoiding Sam. But I
don't see how, away out here, and no law nor nothing, we're ever going
to keep the two apart."
"No. They did have it out, like schoolboys behind a barn. Do you suppose
that'll ever do for a man of spirit like Sam Woodhull? No, there's other
ways. And as I said, it's a far ways from the law out here, and getting
farther every day, and wilder and wilder every day. It's only putting it
off, Molly, but on the whole I was glad when Banion said he'd give up
looking for Sam Woodhull this morning and go on back to his own men."
"Did he say he'd give it up?"
"Yes, he did. He said if I'd wait I'd see different. Said he could
wait--said he was good at waiting."
"But he didn't say he'd give it up?"
"I don't know as he did in so many words."
"He won't," said Molly Wingate.
The emigrants had now arrived at the eastern edge of the great region of
free and abundant meat. They now might count on at least six or seven
hundred miles of buffalo to subsist them on their way to Oregon. The cry
of "Buffalo! Buffalo!" went joyously down the lines of wagons, and every
man who could muster a horse and a gun made ready for that chase which
above all others meant most, whether in excitement or in profit.
Of these hundreds of hunters, few had any experience on the Plains. It
was arranged by the head men that the hunt should be strung out over
several miles, the Missourians farthest down the river, the others to
the westward, so that all might expect a fairer chance in an enterprise
of so much general importance.
Banion and Jackson, in accordance with the former's promise to Wingate,
had retired to their own train shortly after the fight with the Sioux.
The Wingate train leaders therefore looked to Bridger as their safest
counsel in the matter of getting meat. That worthy headed a band of the
best equipped men and played his own part in full character. A wild
figure he made as he rode, hatless, naked to the waist, his legs in
Indian leggings and his feet in moccasins. His mount, a compact cayuse
from west of the Rockies, bore no saddle beyond a folded blanket cinched
on with a rawhide band.
For weapons Bridger carried no firearms at all, but bore a short buffalo
bow of the Pawnees--double-curved, sinew-backed, made of the resilient
_bois d'arc_, beloved bow wood of all the Plains tribes. A thick sheaf
of arrows, newly sharpened, swung in the beaver quiver at his back.
Lean, swart, lank of hair, he had small look of the white man left about
him as he rode now, guiding his horse with a jaw rope of twisted hair
and playing his bow with a half dozen arrows held along it with the
fingers of his left hand.
"For buffler the bow's the best," said he. "I'll show ye before long."
They had not too far to go. At that time the short-grass country of the
Platte Valley was the great center of the bison herds. The wallows lay
in thousands, the white alkali showing in circles which almost touched
edge to edge. The influx of emigrants had for the time driven the herds
back from their ancient fords and watering places, to which their
deep-cut trails led down, worn ineradicably into the soil. It was along
one of the great buffalo trails that they now rode, breasting the line
of hills that edged the Platte to the south.
When they topped the flanking ridge a marvelous example of wild
abundance greeted them. Bands of elk, yet more numerous bands of
antelope, countless curious gray wolves, more than one grizzly bear made
away before them, although by orders left unpursued. Of the feathered
game they had now forgot all thought. The buffalo alone was of interest.
The wild guide rode silent, save for a low Indian chant he hummed, his
voice at times rising high, as though importunate.
"Ye got to pray to the Great Speret when-all ye hunt, men," he
explained. "An' ye got to have someone that can call the buffler, as the
Injuns calls that when they hunt on foot. I kin call 'em, too, good as
ary Injun. Why shouldn't I?
"Thar now!" he exclaimed within the next quarter of an hour. "What did
Jim Bridger tell ye? Lookee yonder! Do-ee say Jim Bridger can't make
buffler medicine? Do-ee see 'em over yan ridge--thousands?"
The others felt their nerves jump as they topped the ridge and saw fully
the vast concourse of giant black-topped, beard-fronted creatures which
covered the plateau in a body a mile and more across--a sight which
never failed to thrill any who saw it.
It was a rolling carpet of brown, like the prairie's endless wave of
green. Dust clouds of combat rose here and there. A low muttering rumble
of hoarse dull bellowing came audible even at that distance. The
spectacle was to the novice not only thrilling--it was terrifying.
The general movement of the great pack was toward the valley; closest to
them a smaller body of some hundreds that stood, stupidly staring, not
yet getting the wind of their assailants.
Suddenly rose the high-pitched yell of the scout, sounding the charge.
Snorting, swerving, the horses of the others followed his, terror
smitten but driven in by men most of whom at least knew how to ride.
Smoothly as a bird in flight, Bridger's trained buffalo horse closed the
gap between him and a plunging bunch of the buffalo. The white savage
proved himself peer of any savage of the world. His teeth bared as he
threw his body into the bow with a short, savage jab of the left arm as
he loosed the sinew cord. One after another feather showed, clinging to
a heaving flank; one after another muzzle dripped red with the white
foam of running; then one after another great animal began to slow; to
stand braced, legs apart; soon to begin slowly kneeling down. The living
swept ahead, the dying lay in the wake.
The insatiate killer clung on, riding deep into the surging sea of
rolling humps. At times, in savage sureness and cruelty, he did not ride
abreast and drive the arrow into the lungs, but shot from the rear,
quartering, into the thin hide back of the ribs, so that the shaft
ranged forward into the intestines of the victim. If it did not bury,
but hung free as the animal kicked at it convulsively, he rode up, and
with his hand pushed the shaft deeper, feeling for the life, as the
Indians called it, with short jabs of the imbedded missile. Master of an
old trade he was, and stimulated by the proofs of his skill, his
followers emulated him with their own weapons. The report of firearms,
muffled by the rolling thunder of hoofs, was almost continuous so long
as the horses could keep touch with the herd.
Bridger paused only when his arrows were out, and grumbled to himself
that he had no more, so could count only a dozen fallen buffalo for his
product. That others, wounded, carried off arrows, he called bad luck
and bad shooting. When he trotted back on his reeking horse, his quiver
dancing empty, he saw other black spots than his own on the short grass.
His followers had picked up the art not so ill. There was meat in sight
now, certainly--as well as a half dozen unhorsed riders and three or
four wounded buffalo disposed to fight.
The old hunter showed his men how to butcher the buffalo, pulling them
on their bellies, if they had not died thus, and splitting the hide down
the back, to make a receptacle for the meat as it was dissected; showed
them how to take out the tongue beneath the jaw, after slitting open the
lower jaw. He besought them not to throw away the back fat, the hump,
the boss ribs or the intestinal _boudins_; in short, gave them their
essential buffalo-hunting lessons. Then he turned for camp, he himself
having no relish for squaw's work, as he called it, and well assured the
wagons would now have abundance.
Banion and Jackson, with their followers, held their hunt some miles
below the scene of Bridger's chase, and had no greater difficulty in
getting among the herds.
"How're ye ridin', Will?" asked Jackson before they mounted for the
start from camp.
Banion slapped the black stallion on the neck.
"Not his first hunt!" said he.
"I don't mean yore hoss, but yore shootin' irons. Whar's yore guns?"
"I'll risk it with the dragoon revolvers," replied Banion, indicating
his holsters. "Not the first time for them, either."
"No? Well, maybe-so they'll do; but fer me, I want a hunk o' lead. Fer
approachin' a buffler, still-huntin', the rifle's good, fer ye got time
an' kin hold close. Plenty o' our men'll hunt thataway to-day, an' git
meat; but fer me, give me a hunk o' lead. See here now, I got only a
shotgun, cap an' ball, fourteen gauge, she is, an' many a hide she's
stretched. I kerry my bullets in my mouth an' don't use no patchin'--ye
hain't got time, when ye're runnin' in the herd. I let go a charge o'
powder out'n my horn, clos't as I kin guess hit, spit in a bullet, and
roll her home on top the powder with a jar o' the butt on top my saddle
horn. That sots her down, an' she holds good enough to stay in till I
ram the muzzle inter ha'r an' let go. She's the same as meat on the
"Well," laughed Banion, "you've another case of _de gustibus_, I
"You're another, an' I call it back!" exclaimed the old man so
truculently that his friend hastened to explain.
"Well, I speak Blackfoot, Crow, Bannack, Grow Vaw, Snake an' Ute,"
grumbled the scout, "but I never run acrost no Latins out here. I
allowed maybe-so ye was allowin' I couldn't kill buffler with Ole Sal.
That's what I keep her fer--just buffler. I'll show ye afore long."
And even as Bridger had promised for his favorite weapon, he did prove
beyond cavil the efficiency of Old Sal. Time after time the roar or the
double roar of his fusee was heard, audible even over the thunder of the
hoofs; and quite usually the hunk of lead, driven into heart or lights,
low down, soon brought down the game, stumbling in its stride. The old
halfbreed style of loading, too, was rapid enough to give Jackson as
many buffalo as Bridger's bow had claimed before his horse fell back and
the dust cloud lessened in the distance.
The great speed and bottom of Banion's horse, as well as the beast's
savage courage and hunting instinct, kept him in longer touch with the
running game. Banion was in no haste. From the sound of firing he knew
his men would have meat. Once in the surge of the running herd, the
rolling backs, low heads and lolling tongues, shaggy frontlets and
gleaming eyes all about him, he dropped the reins on Pronto's neck and
began his own work carefully, riding close and holding low, always ready
for the sudden swerve of the horse away from the shot to avoid the usual
rush of the buffalo when struck. Since he took few chances, his shot
rarely failed. In a mile or so, using pains, he had exhausted all but
two shots, one in each weapon, and of course no man could load the old
cap-and-ball revolver while in the middle of a buffalo run. Now, out of
sheer pride in his own skill with small arms, he resolved upon
attempting a feat of which he once had heard but never had seen.
Jackson, at a considerable distance to the rear, saw his leader riding
back of two bulls which he had cut off and which were making frantic
efforts to overtake the herd. After a time they drew close together,
running parallel and at top speed. At the distance, what Jackson saw was
a swift rush of the black horse between the two bulls. For an instant
the three seemed to run neck and neck. Then the rider's arms seemed
extended, each on its side. Two puffs of blue smoke stained the gray
dust. The black horse sprang straight ahead, not swerving to either
side. Two stumbling forms slowed, staggered and presently fell. Then the
dust passed, and he saw the rider trot back, glancing here and there
over the broad rolling plain at the work of himself and his men.
"I seed ye do hit, boy!" exclaimed the grizzled old hunter when they
met. "I seed ye plain, an' ef I hadn't, an' ye'd said ye'd did hit, I'd
of said ye was a liar."
"Oh, the double?" Banion colored, not ill pleased at praise from Sir
Hubert, praise indeed. "Well, I'd heard it could be done."
"Once is enough. Let 'em call ye a liar atter this! Ef ary one o' them
bulls had hit ye ye'd have had no hoss; an' ary one was due to hit ye,
or drive ye against the other, an' then he would. That's a trap I hain't
ridin' inter noways, not me!"
He looked at his own battered piece a trifle ruefully.
"Well, Ole Sal," said he, "'pears like you an' me ain't newfangled
enough for these times, not none! When I git to Oregon, ef I ever do,
I'm a goin' to stay thar. Times back, five year ago, no one dreamed o'
wagons, let alone plows. Fust thing, they'll be makin' plows with
wheels, an' rifles that's six-shooters too!"
He laughed loud and long at his own conceit.
"Well, anyways," said he, "we got meat. We've licked one red nation an'
got enough meat to feed the white nation, all in a couple o' days. Not
so bad--not so bad."
And that night, in the two separate encampments, the white nation, in
bivouac, on its battle ground, sat around the fires of _bois des vaches_
till near morning, roasting boss ribs, breaking marrowbones, laughing,
singing, boasting, shaking high their weapons of war, men making love to
their women--the Americans, most terrible and most successful of all
savages in history.
But from one encampment two faces were missing until late--Banion and
Jackson of the Missourians. Sam Woodhull, erstwhile column captain of
the great train, of late more properly to be called unattached, also was
absent. It was supposed by their friends that these men might be out
late, superintending the butchering, or that at worst they were
benighted far out and would find their way to camp the next morning.
Neither of these guesses was correct. Any guess, to be correct, must
have included in one solution the missing men of both encampments, who
had hunted miles apart.
As Banion and Jackson ended their part in the buffalo running and gave
instructions to the wagon men who followed to care for the meat, they
found themselves at a distance of several miles from their starting
point. They were deep into a high rolling plateau where the going was
more difficult than in the level sunken valley of the Platte. Concluding
that it would be easier to ride the two sides of the triangle than the
one over which they had come out, they headed for the valley at a sharp
angle. As they rode, the keen eye of Jackson caught sight of a black
object apparently struggling on the ground at the bottom of a little
swale which made down in a long ribbon of green.
"Look-ee yan!" he exclaimed. "Some feller's lost his buffler, I expect.
Let's ride down an' put him out'n his misery afore the wolves does."
They swung off and rode for a time toward the strange object. Banion
"That's no buffalo! That's a man and his horse! He's bogged down!"
"You're right, Will, an' bogged bad! I've knew that light-green slough
grass to cover the wurst sort o' quicksand. She runs black sand under
the mud, God knows how deep. Ye kain't run a buffler inter hit--he
knows. Come on!"
They spurred down a half mile of gentle slope, hard and firm under foot,
and halted at the edge of one of the strange man-traps which sometimes
were found in the undrained Plains--a slough of tall, coarse, waving
grass which undoubtedly got its moisture from some lower stratum.
In places a small expanse of glistening black mud appeared, although for
the most part the mask of innocent-looking grass covered all signs of
danger. It was, in effect, the dreaded quicksand, the octopus of the
Plains, which covered from view more than one victim and left no
The rider had attempted to cross a narrow neck of the slough. His mount
had begun to sink and flounder, had been urged forward until the danger
was obvious. Then, too late, the rider had flung off and turned back,
sinking until his feet and legs were gripped by the layer of deep soft
sand below. It was one of the rarest but most terrible accidents of the
Blackened by the mud which lay on the surface, his hat half buried, his
arms beating convulsively as he threw himself forward again and again,
the victim must in all likelihood soon have exhausted himself. The chill
of night on the high Plains soon would have done the rest, and by good
fortune he might have died before meeting his entombment. His horse ere
this had accepted fate, and ceasing to struggle lay almost buried, his
head and neck supported by a trembling bit of floating grass roots.
"Steady, friend!" called out Banion as he ran to the edge. "Don't fight
it! Spread out your arms and lie still! We'll get you out!"
"Quick! My lariat, Jackson, and yours!" he added.
The scout was already freeing the saddle ropes. The two horses stood,
reins down, snorting at the terror before them, whose menace they now
"Take the horse!" called Banion. "I'll get the man!"
He was coiling the thin, braided hide _reata_, soft as a glove and
strong as steel, which always hung at the Spanish saddle.
He cast, and cast again--yet again, the loop at forty feet gone to
nothing. The very silence of the victim nerved him to haste, and he
stepped in knee deep, finding only mud, the trickle of black sands being
farther out. The rope sped once more, and fell within reach--was caught.
A sob or groan came, the first sound. Even then from the imprisoned
animal beyond him came that terrifying sound, the scream of a horse in
mortal terror. Jackson's rope fell short.
"Get the rope under your arms!" called Banion to the blackened, sodden
figure before him. Slowly, feebly, his order was obeyed. With much
effort the victim got the loop below one arm, across a shoulder, and
"Your rope, quick, Bill!"
Jackson hurried and they joined the ends of the two ropes.
"Not my horse--he's wild. Dally on to your own saddle, Bill, and go slow
or you'll tear his head off."
The scout's pony, held by the head and backed slowly, squatted to its
haunches, snorting, but heaving strongly The head of the victim was
drawn oddly toward his shoulder by the loop, but slowly, silently, his
hands clutching at the rope, his body began to rise, to slip forward.
Banion, deep as he dared, at last caught him by the collar, turned up
his face. He was safe. Jackson heard the rescuer's deep exclamation, but
"Cast free, Will, cast free quick, and I'll try for the horse!"
He did try, with the lengthened rope, cast after cast, paying little
attention to the work of Banion, who dragged out his man and bent over
him as he lay motionless on the safe edge of the treacherous sunken
sands which still half buried him.
"No use!" exclaimed the older man. He ran to his saddle and got his
deadly double barrel, then stepped as close as possible to the sinking
animal as he could. There came a roar. The head of the horse dropped
flat, began to sink. "Pore critter!" muttered the old man, capping his
reloaded gun. He now hastened to aid Banion.
The latter turned a set face toward him and pointed. The rescued man had
opened his eyes. He reached now convulsively for a tuft of grass,
"Hit's Sam Woodhull!" ejaculated the scout. Then, suddenly, "Git away,
Banion looked over his shoulder as he stood, his own hands and arms, his
clothing, black with mire. The old man's gray eye was like a strange
gem, gleaming at the far end of the deadly double tube, which was
leveled direct at the prostrate man's forehead.
"No!" Banion's call was quick and imperative. He flung up a hand,
stepped between. "No! You'd kill him--now?"
With a curse Jackson flung his gun from him, began to recoil the muddied
ropes. At length, without a word, he came to Banion's side. He reached
down, caught an arm and helped Banion drag the man out on the grass. He
caught off a handful of herbage and thrust it out to Woodhull, who
remained silent before what seemed his certain fate.
"Wipe off yore face, you skunk!" said the scout. Then he seated himself,
morosely, hands before knees.
"Will Banion," said he, "ye're a fool--a nacherl-borned, congenual,
ingrain damned fool! Ye're flyin' in the face o' Proverdence, which
planted this critter right here fer us ter leave where no one'd ever be
the wiser, an' where he couldn't never do no more devilment. Ye idjit,
leave me kill him, ef ye're too chicken-hearted yoreself! Or leave us
throw him back in again!"
Banion would not speak at first, though his eyes never left Woodhull's
streaked, ghastly face.
"By God!" said he slowly, at length, "if we hadn't joined Scott and
climbed Chapultepec together, I'd kill you like a dog, right here! Shall
I give you one more chance to square things for me? You know what I
mean! Will you promise?"
"Promise?" broke in Jackson. "Ye damned fool, would ye believe ary
promise he made, even now? I tell-ee, boy, he'll murder ye the fust
chanct he gits! He's tried hit one night afore. Leave me cut his throat,
Will! Ye'll never be safe ontel I do. Leave me cut his throat er kill
him with a rock. Hit's only right."
Banion shook his head.
"No," he said slowly, "I couldn't, and you must not."
"Do you promise?" he repeated to the helpless man. "Get up--stand up! Do
you promise--will you swear?"
"Swear? Hell!" Jackson also rose as Woodhull staggered to his feet. "Ye
knew this man orto kill ye, an' ye sneaked hit, didn't ye? Whar's yer
"There!" Woodhull nodded to the bog, over which no object now showed.
"I'm helpless! I'll promise! I'll swear!"
"Then we'll not sound the No-quarter charge that you and I have heard
the Spanish trumpets blow. You will remember the shoulder of a man who
fought with you? You'll do what you can now--at any cost?"
"What cost?" demanded Woodhull thickly.
Banion's own white teeth showed as he smiled.
"What difference?" said he. "What odds?"
"That's hit!" Again Jackson cut in, inexorable. "Hit's no difference to
him what he sw'ars, yit he'd bargain even now. Hit's about the gal!"
"Hush!" said Banion sternly. "Not another word!"
"Figure on what it means to you." He turned to Woodhull. "I know what it
means to me. I've got to have my own last chance, Woodhull, and I'm
saving you for that only. Is your last chance now as good as mine? This
isn't mercy--I'm trading now. You know what I mean."
Woodhull had freed his face of the mud as well as he could. He walked
away, stooped at a trickle of water to wash himself. Jackson quietly
rose and kicked the shotgun back farther from the edge. Woodhull now was
near to Banion's horse, which, after his fashion, always came and stood
close to his master. The butts of the two dragoon revolvers showed in
their holsters at the saddle. When he rose from the muddy margin,
shaking his hands as to dry them, he walked toward the horse. With a
sudden leap, without a word, he sprang beyond the horse, with a swift
clutch at both revolvers, all done with a catlike quickness not to have
been predicted. He stood clear of the plunging horse, both weapons
leveled, covering his two rescuers.
"Evener now!" His teeth bared. "Promise _me_!"
Jackson's deep curse was his answer. Banion rose, his arms folded.
"You're a liar and a coward, Sam!" said he. "Shoot, if you've got the
Incredible, yet the man was a natural murderer. His eye narrowed. There
came a swift motion, a double empty click!
"Try again, Sam!" said Banion, taunting him. "Bad luck--you landed on an
He did try again. Swift as an adder, his hands flung first one and then
the other weapon into action.
Click after click, no more; Jackson sat dumb, expecting death.
"They're all empty, Sam," said Banion at last as the murderer cast down
the revolvers and stood with spread hands. "For the first time, I didn't
reload. I didn't think I'd need them."
"You can't blame me!" broke out Woodhull. "You said it was no quarter!
Isn't a prisoner justified in trying to escape?"
"You've not escaped," said Banion, coldly now. "Rope him, Jackson."
The thin, soft hide cord fell around the man's neck, tightened.
"Now," shrilled Jackson, "I'll give ye a dog's death!"
He sprang to the side of the black Spaniard, who by training had settled
back, tightening the rope.
A SECRET OF TWO
Catching the intention of the maddened man, now bent only on swift
revenge, Banion sprang to the head of his horse, flinging out an arm to
keep Jackson out of the saddle. The horse, frightened at the stubborn
struggle between the two, sprang away. Woodhull was pulled flat by the
rope about his neck, nor could he loosen it now with his hands, for the
horse kept steadily away. Any instant and he might be off in a mad
flight, dragging the man to his death.
"Ho! Pronto--_Vien aqui_!"
Banion's command again quieted the animal. His ears forward, he came up,
whickering his own query as to what really was asked of him.
Banion caught the bridle rein once more and eased the rope. Jackson by
now had his shotgun and was shouting, crazed with anger. Woodhull's life
chance was not worth a bawbee.
It was his enemy who saved it once again, for inscrutable but unaltered
reasons of his own.
"Drop that, Jackson!" called Banion. "Do as I tell you! This man's
Cursing himself, his friend, their captive, the horse, his gun and all
animate and inanimate Nature in his blood rage, the old man, livid in
wrath, stalked away at length. "I'll kill him sometime, ef ye don't
yerself!" he screamed, his beard trembling. "Ye damned fool!"
"Get up, Woodhull!" commanded Banion. "You've tried once more to kill
me. Of course, I'll not take any oath or promise from you now. You don't
understand such things. The blood of a gentleman isn't anywhere in your
strain. But I'll give you one more chance--give myself that chance too.
There's only one thing you understand. That's fear. Yet I've seen you on
a firing line, and you started with Doniphan's men. We didn't know we
had a coward with us. But you are a coward.
"Now I leave you to your fear! You know what I want--more than life it
is to me; but your life is all I have to offer for it. I'm going to wait
"Come on, now! You'll have to walk. Jackson won't let you have his
horse. My own never carried a woman but once, and he's never carried a
coward at all. Jackson shall not have the rope. I'll not let him kill
"What do you mean?" demanded the prisoner, not without his effrontery.
The blood came back to Banion's face, his control breaking.
"I mean for you to walk, trot, gallop, damn you! If you don't you'll
strangle here instead of somewhere else in time."
He swung up, and Jackson sullenly followed.
"Give me that gun," ordered Banion, and took the shotgun and slung it
in the pommel loop of his own saddle.
The gentle amble of the black stallion kept the prisoner at a trot. At
times Banion checked, never looking at the man following, his hands at
the rope, panting.
"Ye'll try him in the camp council, Will?" began Jackson once more.
"Anyways that? He's a murderer. He tried to kill us both, an' he will
yit. Boy, ye rid with Doniphan, an' don't know the _ley refugio_ Hasn't
the prisoner tried to escape? Ain't that old as Mayheeco Veeayho? Take
this skunk in on a good rope like that? Boy, ye're crazy!"
"Almost," nodded Banion. "Almost. Come on. It's late."
It was late when they rode down into the valley of the Platte. Below
them twinkled hundreds of little fires of the white nation, feasting.
Above, myriad stars shone in a sky unbelievably clear. On every hand
rose the roaring howls of the great gray wolves, also feasting now; the
lesser chorus of yapping coyotes. The savage night of the Plains was on.
Through it passed three savage figures, one a staggering, stumbling man
with a rope around his neck.
They came into the guard circle, into the dog circle of the encampment;
but when challenged answered, and were not stopped.
"Here, Jackson," said Banion at length, "take the rope. I'm going to our
camp. I'll not go into this train. Take this pistol--it's loaded now.
Let off the _reata_, walk close to this man. If he runs, kill him. Find
Molly Wingate. Tell her Will Banion has sent her husband to her--once
more. It's the last time."
He was gone in the dark. Bill Jackson, having first meticulously
exhausted the entire vituperative resources of the English, the Spanish
and all the Indian languages he knew, finally poked the muzzle of the
pistol into Woodhull's back.
"Git, damn ye!" he commanded. "Center, guide! Forrerd, march! Ye--"
He improvised now, all known terms of contempt having been heretofore
Threading the way past many feast fires, he did find the Wingate wagons
at length, did find Molly Wingate. But there his memory failed him. With
a skinny hand at Sam Woodhull's collar, he flung him forward.
"Here, Miss Molly," said he, "this thing is somethin' Major Banion sont
in ter ye by me. We find hit stuck in the mud. He said ye're welcome."
But neither he nor Molly really knew why that other man had spared Sam
Woodhull's life, or what it was he awaited in return for Sam Woodhull's
All that Jackson could do he did. As he turned in the dark he implanted
a heartfelt kick which sent Sam Woodhull on his knees before Molly
Wingate as she stood in wondering silence.
Then arose sudden clamorings of those who had seen part of this--seen an
armed man assault another, unarmed and defenseless, at their very
firesides. Men came running up. Jesse Wingate came out from the side of
"What's all this?" he demanded. "Woodhull, what's up? What's wrong
To the challenge of Wingate and his men Jackson made answer with a
high-pitched fighting yell. Sweeping his pistol muzzle across and back
again over the front of the closing line, he sprang into saddle and
"Hit means we've brung ye back a murderer. Git yer own rope--ye kain't
have mine! If ye-all want trouble with Old Missoury over this, er
anything else, come runnin' in the mornin'. Ye'll find us sp'ilin' fer a
He was off in the darkness.
Men clustered around the draggled man, one of their, own men, recently
one in authority. Their indignation rose, well grounded on the growing
feeling between the two segments of the train. When Woodhull had told
his own story, in his own way, some were for raiding the Missouri
detachment forthwith. Soberer counsel prevailed. In the morning Price,
Hall and Kelsey rode over to the Missouri encampment and asked for their
leader. Banion met them while the work of breaking camp went on, the
cattle herd being already driven in and held at the rear by lank,
youthful riders, themselves sp'lin' fer a fight.
"Major Banion," began Caleb Price, "we've come over to get some sort of
understanding between your men and ours. It looks like trouble. I don't
"Nor do I," rejoined Banion. "We started out for Oregon as friends. It
seems to me that should remain our purpose. No little things should
"Precisely. But little things have altered it. I don't propose to pass
on any quarrel between you and one of our people--a man from your own
town, your own regiment. But that has now reached a point where it might
mean open war between two parts of our train. That would mean ruin.
"Yes," replied Banion, "surely it is. You see, to avoid that, I was just
ordering my people to pull out. I doubt if we could go on together now.
I don't want war with any friends. I reckon we can take care of any
enemies. Will this please you?"
Caleb Price held out his hand.
"Major, I don't know the truth of any of the things I've heard, and I
think those are matters that may be settled later on. But I am obliged
to say that many of our people trust you and your leadership more than
they do our own. I don't like to see you leave."
"Well, then we won't leave. We'll hold back and follow you. Isn't that
"It is more than fair, for you can go faster now than we can, like
enough. But will you promise me one thing, sir?"
"What is it?"
"If we get in trouble and send back for you, will you come?"
"Yes, we'll come. But pull on out now, at once. My men want to travel.
We've got our meat slung on lines along the wagons to cure as we move.
We'll wait till noon for you."
"It is fair." Price turned to his associates. "Ride back, Kelsey, and
tell Wingate we all think we should break camp at once.
"You see," he added to Banion, "he wouldn't even ride over with us. I
regret this break between you and him. Can't it be mended?"
A sudden spasm passed across Will Banion's browned face.
"It cannot," said he, "at least not here and now. But the women and
children shall have no risk on that account. If we can ever help, we'll
The two again shook hands, and the Wingate lieutenants rode away, so
ratifying a formal division of the train.
"What do you make of all this, Hall?" asked sober-going Caleb Price at
last. "What's the real trouble? Is it about the girl?"
"Oh, yes; but maybe more. You heard what Woodhull said. Even if Banion
denied it, it would be one man's word against the other's. Well, it's
wide out here, and no law."
"Will two roosters that has been breasted?"
THE ROAD WEST
Came now once more the notes of the bugle in signal for the assembly.
Word passed down the scattered Wingate lines, "Catch up! Catch up!"
Riders went out to the day guards with orders to round up the cattle.
Dark lines of the driven stock began to dribble in from the edge of the
valley. One by one the corralled vehicles broke park, swung front or
rear, until the columns again held on the beaten road up the valley in
answer to the command, "Roll out! Roll out!" The Missourians, long
aligned and ready, fell in far behind and pitched camp early. There were
two trains, not one.
Now, hour after hour and day by day, the toil of the trail through sand
flats and dog towns, deadly in its monotony, held them all in apathy.
The lightheartedness of the start in early spring was gone. By this time
the spare spaces in the wagons were kept filled with meat, for always
there were buffalo now. Lines along the sides of the wagons held loads
of rudely made jerky--pieces of meat slightly salted and exposed to the
clear dry air to finish curing.
But as the people fed full there began a curious sloughing off of the
social compact, a change in personal attitude. A dozen wagons, short of
supplies or guided by faint hearts, had their fill of the Far West and
sullenly started back east. Three dozen broke train and pulled out
independently for the West, ahead of Wingate, mule and horse transport
again rebelling against being held back by the ox teams. More and more
community cleavages began to define. The curse of flies by day, of
mosquitoes by night added increasing miseries for the travelers. The hot
midday sun wore sore on them. Restless high spirits, grief over personal
losses, fear of the future, alike combined to lessen the solidarity of
the great train; but still it inched along on its way to Oregon, putting
behind mile after mile of the great valley of the Platte.
The grass now lay yellow in the blaze of the sun, the sandy dust was
inches deep in the great road, cut by thousands of wheels. Flotsam and
jetsam, wreckage, showed more and more. Skeletons of cattle, bodies not
yet skeletons, aroused no more than a casual look. Furniture lay cast
aside, even broken wagons, their wheels fallen apart, showing intimate
disaster. The actual hardships of the great trek thrust themselves into
evidence on every hand, at every hour. Often was passed a little cross,
half buried in the sand, or the tail gate of a wagon served as head
board for some ragged epitaph of some ragged man.
It was decided to cross the South Fork at the upper ford, so called.
Here was pause again for the Wingate train. The shallow and fickle
stream, fed by the June rise in the mountains, now offered a score of
channels, all treacherous. A long line of oxen, now wading and now
swimming, dragging a long rope to which a chain was rigged--the latter
to pull the wagon forward when the animals got footing on ahead--made a
constant sight for hours at a time. One wagon after another was snaked
through rapidly as possible. Once bogged down in a fast channel, the
fluent sand so rapidly filled in the spokes that the settling wagon was
held as though in a giant vise. It was new country, new work for them
all; but they were Americans of the frontier.
The men were in the water all day long, for four days, swimming, wading,
digging. Perhaps the first plow furrow west of the Kaw was cast when
some plows eased down the precipitous bank which fronted one of the
fording places. Beyond that lay no mark of any plow for more than a
They now had passed the Plains, as first they crossed the Prairie. The
thin tongue of land between the two forks, known as the Highlands of the
Platte, made vestibule to the mountains. The scenery began to change, to
become rugged, semi-mountainous. They noted and held in sight for a day
the Courthouse Rock, the Chimney Rock, long known to the fur traders,
and opened up wide vistas of desert architecture new to their
They were now amid great and varied abundance of game. A thousand
buffalo, five, ten, might be in sight at one time, and the ambition of
every man to kill his buffalo long since had been gratified.
Black-tailed deer and antelope were common, and even the mysterious
bighorn sheep of which some of them had read. Each tributary stream now
had its delicious mountain trout. The fires at night had abundance of
the best of food, cooked for the most part over the native fuel of the
_bois des vaches_.
The grass showed yet shorter, proving the late presence of the toiling
Mormon caravan on ahead. The weather of late June was hot, the glare of
the road blinding. The wagons began to fall apart in the dry, absorbent
air of the high country. And always skeletons lay along the trail. An ox
abandoned by its owners as too footsore for further travel might better
have been shot than abandoned. The gray wolves would surely pull it down
before another day. Continuously such tragedies of the wilderness went
on before their wearying eyes.
Breaking down from the highlands through the Ash Hollow gap, the train
felt its way to the level of the North Fork of the great river which had
led them for so long. Here some trapper once had built a cabin--the
first work of the sort in six hundred miles--and by some strange concert
this deserted cabin had years earlier been constituted a post office of
the desert. Hundreds of letters, bundles of papers were addressed to
people all over the world, east and west. No government recognized this
office, no postage was employed in it. Only, in the hope that someone
passing east or west would carry on the inclosures without price, folk
here sent out their souls into the invisible.
"How far'll we be out, at Laramie?" demanded Molly Wingate of the train
scout, Bridger, whom Banion had sent on to Wingate in spite of his
"Nigh onto six hundred an' sixty-seven mile they call hit, ma'am, from
Independence to Laramie, an' we'll be two months a-makin' hit, which
everges around ten mile a day."
"But it's most to Oregon, hain't it?"
"Most to Oregon? Ma'am, it's nigh three hundred mile beyond Laramie to
the South Pass, an' the South Pass hain't half-way to Oregon. Why,
ma'am, we ain't well begun!"
An old gray man in buckskins sat on the ground in the shade of the adobe
stockade at old Fort Laramie, his knees high in front of him, his eyes
fixed on the ground. His hair fell over his shoulders in long curls
which had once been brown. His pointed beard fell on his breast. He sat
silent and motionless, save that constantly he twisted a curl around a
forefinger, over and over again. It was his way. He was a long-hair, a
man of another day. He had seen the world change in six short years,
since the first wagon crossed yonder ridges, where now showed yet one
more wagon train approaching.
He paid no attention to the debris and discard of this new day which lay
all about him as he sat and dreamed of the days of trap and packet. Near
at hand were pieces of furniture leaning against the walls, not bought
or sold, but abandoned as useless here at Laramie. Wagon wheels,
tireless, their fellies falling apart, lay on the ground, and other
ruins of great wagons, dried and disjointed now.
Dust lay on the ground. The grass near by was all cropped short. Far
off, a village of the Cheyennes, come to trade, and sullen over the fact
that little now could be had for robes or peltries, grazed their ponies
aside from the white man's road. Six hundred lodges of the Sioux were on
the tributary river a few miles distant. The old West was making a last
gallant stand at Laramie.
Inside the gate a mob of white men, some silent and businesslike, many
drunken and boisterous, pushed here and there for access to the trading
shelves, long since almost bare of goods. Six thousand emigrants passed
It was the Fourth of July in Old Laramie, and men in jeans and wool and
buckskin were celebrating. Old Laramie had seen life--all of life, since
the fur days of La Ramee in 1821. Having now superciliously sold out to
these pilgrims, reserving only alcohol enough for its own consumption,
Old Laramie was willing to let the world wag, and content to twiddle a
man curl around a finger.
But yet another detachment of the great army following the hegira of the
Mormons was now approaching Laramie. In the warm sun of mid-morning, its
worn wheels rattling, its cattle limping and with lolling tongues, this
caravan forded and swung wide into corral below the crowded tepees of
the sullen tribesmen.
[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture.
The Covered Wagon_.
JUST BEFORE THE START OF THE WAGON TRAIN.]
Ahead of it now dashed a horseman, swinging his rifle over his head and
uttering Indian yells. He pulled up at the very door of the old adobe
guard tower with its mounted swivel guns; swung off, pushed on into the
honeycomb of the inner structure.
The famous border fortress was built around a square, the living
quarters on one side, the trading rooms on another. Few Indians were
admitted at one time, other than the Indian wives of the _engages_, the
officials of the fur company or of the attached white or halfbreed
hunters. Above some of the inner buildings were sleeping lofts. The
inner open space served as a general meeting ground. Indolent but on
guard, Old Laramie held her watch, a rear guard of the passing West in
its wild days before the plow.
All residents here knew Jim Bridger. He sought out the man in charge.
"How, Bordeaux?" he began. "Whar's the bourgeois, Papin?"
"Down river--h'east h'after goods."
The trader, hands on his little counter, nodded to his shelves.
"Nada!" he said in his polyglot speech. "Hi'll not got a damned thing
lef'. How many loads you'll got for your h'own post, Jeem?"
"Eight wagons. Iron, flour and bacon."
"Hi'll pay ye double here what you'll kin git retail there, Jeem, and
take it h'all h'off your hand. This h'emigrant, she'll beat the fur."
"I'll give ye half," said Bridger. "Thar's people here needs supplies
that ain't halfway acrost. But what's the news, Bordeaux? Air the Crows
"H'on the Sweetwater, h'awaitin' for the peelgrim. Hi'll heard of your
beeg fight on the Platte. Plenty beeg fight on ahead, too, maybe-so.
You'll bust h'up the trade, Jeem. My Sioux, she's scare to come h'on the
post h'an' trade. He'll stay h'on the veelage, her."
"Every dog to his own yard. Is that all the news?"
"Five thousand Mormons, he'll gone by h'aready. H'womans pullin' the
han'cart, _sacre Enfant_! News--you'll h'ought to know the news. You'll
been h'on the settlement six mont'!"
"Hit seemed six year. The hull white nation's movin'. So. That all?"
"Well, go h'ask Keet. He's come h'up South Fork yesterdays. Maybe-so
_quelq' cho' des nouvelles_ h'out West. I dunno, me."
"Kit--Kit Carson, you mean? What's Kit doing here?"
"_Oui._ I dunno, me."
He nodded to a door. Bridger pushed past him. In an inner room a party
of border men were playing cards at a table. Among these was a slight,
sandy-haired man of middle age and mild, blue eye. It was indeed Carson,
the redoubtable scout and guide, a better man even than Bridger in the
work of the wilderness.
"How are you, Jim?" he said quietly, reaching up a hand as he sat.
"Haven't seen you for five years. What are you doing here?"
He rose now and put down his cards. The game broke up. Others gathered
around Bridger and greeted him. It was some time before the two
mountain men got apart from the others.
"What brung ye north, Kit?" demanded Bridger at length. "You was in
Californy in '47, with the General."
"Yes, I was in California this spring. The treaty's been signed with
Mexico. We get the country from the Rio Grande west, including
California. I'm carrying dispatches to General Kearny at Leavenworth.
There's talk about taking over Laramie for an Army post. The tribes are
up in arms. The trade's over, Jim."
"What I know, an' have been sayin'! Let's have a drink, Kit, fer old
Laughing, Carson turned his pockets inside out. As he did so something
heavy fell from his pocket to the floor. In courtesy as much as
curiosity Bridger stooped first to pick it up. As he rose he saw
Carson's face change as he held out his hand.
"What's this stone, Kit--yer medicine?"
But Bridger's own face altered suddenly as he now guessed the truth. He
looked about him suddenly, his mouth tight. Kit Carson rose and they
passed from the room.
"Only one thing heavy as that, Mister Kit!" said Bridger fiercely.
"Where'd you git hit? My gran'pap had some o' that. Hit come from North
Carliny years ago. I know what hit is--hit's gold! Kit Carson, damn ye,
hit's the gold!"
"Shut your mouth, you fool!" said Carson. "Yes, it's gold. But do you
want me to be a liar to my General? That's part of my dispatches."
"Hit" come from Californy?"
"Curse me, yes, California! I was ordered to get the news to the Army
first. You're loose-tongued, Jim. Can you keep this?"
"Like a grave, Kit."
Carson felt inside his shirt and pulled out a meager and ill-printed
sheet which told the most epochal news that this or any country has
known--the midwinter discovery of gold at Sutter's Mills.
A flag was flying over Laramie stockade, and this flag the mountain men
saw fit to salute with many libations, hearing now that it was to fly
forever over California as over Oregon. Crowding the stockade inclosure
full was a motley throng--border men in buckskins, _engages_ swart as
Indians, French breeds, full-blood Cheyennes and Sioux of the northern
hills, all mingling with the curious emigrants who had come in from the
wagon camps. Plump Indian girls, many of them very comely, some of them
wives of the trappers who still hung about Laramie, ogled the newcomers,
laughing, giggling together as young women of any color do, their black
hair sleek with oil, their cheeks red with vermilion, their wrists heavy
with brass or copper or pinchbeck circlets, their small moccasined feet
peeping beneath gaudy calico given them by their white lords. Older
squaws, envious but perforce resigned, muttered as their own
stern-faced stolid red masters ordered them to keep close. Of the
full-bloods, whether Sioux or Cheyennes, only those drunk were other
than sullenly silent and resentful as they watched the white man's orgy
at Old Laramie on the Fourth of July of 1848.
Far flung along the pleasant valley lay a vast picture possible in no
other land or day. The scattered covered wagons, the bands of cattle and
horses, the white tents rising now in scores, the blue of many fires,
all proved that now the white man had come to fly his flag over a new
Bridger stood, chanting an Indian song. A group of men came out, all
excited with patriotic drink. A tall man in moccasins led, his fringed
shirt open over a naked breast, his young squaw following him.
"Let me see one o' them damned things!" he was exclaiming. "That's why I
left home fifty year ago. Pap wanted to make me plow! I ain't seed one
since, but I'll bet a pony I kin run her right now! Go git yer plow
things, boys, an' fotch on ary sort of cow critter suits ye, I'll bet I
kin hook 'em up an' plow with 'em, too, right yere!"
The old gray man at the gate sat and twisted his long curls.
The sweet wind of the foothills blew aslant the smokes of a thousand
fires. Over the vast landscape passed many moving figures. Young Indian
men, mostly Sioux, some Cheyennes, a few Gros Ventres of the Prairie,
all peaceable under the tacit truce of the trading post, rode out from
their villages to their pony herds. From the post came the occasional
note of an inharmonic drum, struck without rhythm by a hand gone lax.
The singers no longer knew they sang. The border feast had lasted long.
Keg after keg had been broached. The Indian drums were going. Came the
sound of monotonous chants, broken with staccato yells as the border
dance, two races still mingling, went on with aboriginal excesses on
either side. On the slopes as dusk came twinkled countless tepee fires.
Dogs barked mournfully a-distant. The heavy half roar of the buffalo
wolves, superciliously confident, echoed from the broken country.
Now and again a tall Indian, naked save where he clutched his robe to
him unconsciously, came staggering to his tepee, his face distorted,
yelling obscene words and not knowing what he said. Patient, his
youngest squaw stood by his tepee, his spear held aloft to mark his door
plate, waiting for her lord to come. Wolfish dogs lay along the tepee
edges, noses in tails, eyeing the master cautiously. A grumbling old
woman mended the fire at her own side of the room, nearest the door,
spreading smooth robes where the man's medicine hung at the willow
tripod, his slatted lazyback near by. In due time all would know whether
at the game of "hands," while the feast went on, the little elusive bone
had won or lost for him. Perhaps he had lost his horses, his robes, his
weapons--his squaws. The white man's medicine was strong, and there was
much of it on his feasting day.
From the stockade a band of mounted Indians, brave in new finery, decked
with eagle bonnets and gaudy in beaded shirts and leggings, rode out
into the slopes, chanting maudlin songs. They were led by the most
beautiful young woman of the tribe, carrying a wand topped by a gilded
ball, and ornamented with bells, feathers, natural flowers. As the wild
pageant passed the proud savages paid no attention to the white men.
The old gray man at the gate sat and twisted his long curls.
And none of them knew the news from California.
THE FIRST GOLD
The purple mantle of the mountain twilight was dropping on the hills
when Bridger and Carson rode out together from the Laramie stockade to
the Wingate encampment in the valley. The extraordinary capacity of
Bridger in matters alcoholic left him still in fair possession of his
faculties; but some new purpose, born of the exaltation of alcohol, now;
held his mind.
"Let me see that little dingus ye had, Kit," said he--"that piece o'
Carson handed it to him.
"Ye got any more o' hit, Kit?"
"Plenty! You can have it if you'll promise not to tell where it came
"If I do, Jim Bridger's a liar, Kit!"
He slipped the nugget into his pocket. They rode to the head of the
train, where Bridger found Wingate and his aids, and presented his
friend. They all, of course, knew of Fremont's famous scout, then at the
height of his reputation, and greeted him with enthusiasm. As they
gathered around him Bridger slipped away. Searching among the wagons, he
at last found Molly Wingate and beckoned her aside with portentous
injunctions of secrecy.
In point of fact, a sudden maudlin inspiration had seized Jim Bridger,
so that a promise to Kit Carson seemed infinitely less important than a
promise to this girl, whom, indeed, with an old man's inept infatuation,
he had worshiped afar after the fashion of white men long gone from
society of their kind. Liquor now made him bold. Suddenly he reached out
a hand and placed in Molly's palm the first nugget of California gold
that ever had come thus far eastward. Physically heavy it was; of what
tremendous import none then could have known.
"I'll give ye this!" he said. "An' I know whar's plenty more."
She dropped the nugget because of the sudden weight in her hand; picked
"Gold!" she whispered, for there is no mistaking gold.
"Where did you get it?"
She was looking over her shoulder instinctively.
"Listen! Ye'll never tell? Ye mustn't! I swore to Kit Carson, that give
hit to me, I'd never tell no one. But I'll set you ahead o' any livin'
bein', so maybe some day ye'll remember old Jim Bridger.
"Yes, hit's gold! Kit Carson brung it from Sutter's Fort, on the
Sacramenty, in Californy. They've got it thar in wagonloads. Kit's on
his way east now to tell the Army!"
"Everyone will know!"
"Yes, but not now! Ef ye breathe this to a soul, thar won't be two
wagons left together in the train. Thar'll be bones o' womern from here
Wide-eyed, the girl stood, weighing the nugget in her hands.
"Keep hit, Miss Molly," said Bridger simply. "I don't want hit no more.
I only got hit fer a bracelet fer ye, or something. Good-by. I've got to
leave the train with my own wagons afore long an' head fer my fort.
Ye'll maybe see me--old Jim Bridger--when ye come through.
"Yes, Miss Molly, I ain't as old as I look, and I got a fort o' my own
beyant the Green River. This year, what I'll take in for my cargo, what
I'll make cash money fer work fer the immygrints, I'll salt down anyways
ten thousand; next year maybe twicet that, or even more. I sartainly
will do a good trade with them Mormons."
"I suppose," said the girl, patient with what she knew was alcoholic
"An' out there's the purtiest spot west o' the Rockies, My valley is
ever'thing a man er a womern can ask or want. And me, I'm a permanent
man in these yere parts. It's me, Jim Bridger, that fust diskivered the
Great Salt Lake. It's me, Jim Bridger, fust went through Colter's Hell
up in the Yellowstone. Ain't a foot o' the Rockies I don't know. I
eena-most built the Rocky Mountains, me." He spread out his hands. "And
I've got to be eena'most all Injun myself."
"I suppose." The girl's light laugh cut him.
"But never so much as not to rever'nce the white woman, Miss Molly.
Ye're all like angels to us wild men out yere. We--we never have forgot.
And so I give ye this, the fust gold from Californy. There may be more.
I don't know."
"But you're going to leave us? What are you going to do?" A sudden
kindness was in the girl's voice.
"I'm a-goin' out to Fort Bridger, that's what I'm a-goin' to do; an'
when I git thar I'm a-goin' to lick hell out o' both my squaws, that's
what I'm a-goin' to do! One's named Blast Yore Hide, an' t'other Dang
Yore Eyes. Which, ef ye ask me, is two names right an' fitten, way I
All at once Jim Bridger was all Indian again. He turned and stalked
a-way. She heard his voice rising in his Indian chant as she turned back
to her own wagon fire.
But now shouts were arising, cries coming up the line. A general
movement was taking place toward the lower end of the camp, where a high
quavering call rose again and again.
"There's news!" said Carson to Jesse Wingate quietly. "That's old Bill
Jackson's war cry, unless I am mistaken. Is he with you?"
"He was," said Wingate bitterly. "He and his friends broke away from the
train and have been flocking by themselves since then."
Three men rode up to the Wingate wagon, and two flung off. Jackson was
there, yes, and Jed Wingate, his son. The third man still sat his
horse. Wingate straightened.
"Mr. Banion! So you see fit to come into my camp?" For the time he had
"How are you, Bill?" said Kit Carson quietly, as he now stepped forward
from the shadows. The older man gave him a swift glance.
"Kit! You here--why?" he demanded. "I've not seed ye, Kit, sence the
last Rendyvous on the Green. Ye've been with the Army on the coast?"
"Yes. Going east now."
"Allus ridin' back and forerd acrost the hull country. I'd hate to keep
ye in buckskin breeches, Kit. But ye're carryin' news?"
"Yes," said Carson. "Dispatches about new Army posts--to General Kearny.
Some other word for him, and some papers to the Adjutant General of the
Army. Besides, some letters from Lieutenant Beale in Mexico, about war
matters and the treaty, like enough. You know, we'll get all the
southern country to the Coast?"
"An' welcome ef we didn't! Not a beaver to the thousand miles, Kit. I'm
goin' to Oregon--goin' to settle in the Nez Perce country, whar there's
horses an' beaver."
"But wait a bit afore you an' me gits too busy talkin'. Ye see, I'm with
Major Banion, yan, an' the Missoury train. We're in camp ten mile below.
We wouldn't mix with these people no more--only one way--but I reckon
the Major's got some business o' his own that brung him up. I rid with
him. We met the boy an' ast him to bring us in. We wasn't sure how
friendly our friends is feelin' towards him an' me."
He grinned grimly. As he spoke they both heard a woman's shrilling, half
greeting, half terror. Wingate turned in time to see his daughter fall
to the ground in a sheer faint.
Will Banion slipped from his saddle and hurried forward.
TWO WHO LOVED
Jesse Wingate made a swift instinctive motion toward the revolver which
swung at his hip. But Jed sprang between him and Banion.
"No! Hold on, Pap--stop!" cried Jed. "It's all right. I brought him in.
"As a prisoner?"
"I am no man's prisoner, Captain Wingate," said Banion's deep voice.
His eyes were fixed beyond the man to whom he spoke. He saw Molly, to
whom her mother now ran, to take the white face in her own hands.
Wingate looked from one to the other.
"Why do you come here? What do I owe you that you should bring more
trouble, as you always have? And what do you owe me?"
"I owe you nothing!" said Banion. "You owe me nothing at all. I have not
traveled in your train, and I shall not travel in it. I tell you once
more, you're wrong in your beliefs; but till I can prove that I'll not
risk any argument about it."
"Then why do you come to my camp now?"
"You should know."
"I do know. It's Molly!"
"It's Molly, yes. Here's a letter from her. I found it in the cabin at
Ash Hollow. Your friend Woodhull could have killed me--we passed him
just now. Jed could have killed me--you can now; it's easy. But that
wouldn't change me. Perhaps it wouldn't change her."
"You come here to face me down?"
"No, sir. I know you for a brave man, at least. I don't believe I'm a
coward--I never asked. But I came to see Molly, because here she's asked
it. I don't know why. Do you want to shoot me like a coyote?"
"No. But I ask you, what do I owe you?"
"Nothing. But can we trade? If I promise to leave you with my train?"
"You want to steal my girl!"
"No! I want to earn her--some day."
The old Roman before him was a man of quick and strong decisions. The
very courage of the young man had its appeal.
"At least you'll eat," said he. "I'd not turn even a black Secesh away
hungry--not even a man with your record in the Army."
"No, I'll not eat with you."
"Wait then! I'll send the girl pretty soon, if you are here by her
invitation. I'll see she never invites you again."
Wingate walked toward his wagon. Banion kept out of the light circle and
found his horse. He stood, leaning his head on his arms in the saddle,
waiting, until after what seemed an age she slipped out of the darkness,
almost into his arms, standing pale, her fingers lacing and
unlacing--the girl who had kissed him once--to say good-by.
"Will Banion!" she whispered. "Yes, I sent for you. I felt you'd find
"Yes, Molly." It was long before he would look at her. "You're the
same," said he. "Only you've grown more beautiful every day. It's hard
to leave you--awfully hard. I couldn't, if I saw you often."
He reached out again and took her in his arms, softly, kissed her
tenderly on each cheek, whispered things that lovers do say. But for his
arms she would have dropped again, she was so weak. She fought him off
"No! No! It is not right! No! No!"
"You're not going to be with us any more?" she said at last.
He shook his head. They both looked at his horse, his rifle, swung in
its sling strap at the saddle horn. She shook her head also.
"Is this the real good-by, Will?" Her lips trembled.
"It must be. I have given my word to your father. But why did you send
for me? Only to torture me? I must keep my word to hold my train apart.
I've promised my men to stick with them."
"Yes, you mustn't break your word. And it was fine just to see you a
minute, Will; just to tell you--oh, to say I love you, Will! But I
didn't think that was why I sent. I sent to warn you--against him. It
seems always to come to the same thing."
She was trying not to sob. The man was in but little better case. The
stars did not want them to part. All the somber wilderness world
whispered for them to love and not to part at all. But after a time they
knew that they again had parted, or now were able to do so.
"Listen, Will," said the girl at last, putting back a lock of her fallen
hair. "I'll have to tell you. We'll meet in Oregon? I'll be married
then. I've promised. Oh, God help me! I think I'm the wickedest woman in
all the world, and the most unhappy. Oh, Will Banion, I--I love a thief!
Even as you are, I love you! I guess that's why I sent for you, after
"Go find the scout--Jim Bridger!" she broke out suddenly. "He's going on
ahead. Go on to his fort with him--he'll have wagons and horses. He
knows the way. Go with Bridger, Will! Don't go to Oregon! I'm afraid for
you. Go to California--and forget me! Tell Bridger--"
"Why, where is it?" she exclaimed.
She was feeling in the pocket of her apron, and it was empty.
"I've lost it!" she repeated. "I lose everything!"
"What was it, Molly?"
She leaned her lips to his ear.
"It was gold!"
He stood, the magic name of that metal which shows the color in the
shade electrifying even his ignorance of the truth.
She told him then, breaking her own promise magnificently, as a woman
"Go, ride with Bridger," she went on. "Don't tell him you ever knew me.
He'll not be apt to speak of me. But they found it, in California, the
middle of last winter--gold! Gold! Carson's here in our camp--Kit
Carson. He's the first man to bring it to the Valley of the Platte. He
was sworn to keep it secret; so was Bridger, and so am I. Not to Oregon,
Will--California! You can live down your past. If we die, God bless the
man I do love. That's you, Will! And I'm going to marry--him. Ten days!
On the trail! And he'll kill you, Will! Oh, keep away!"
She paused, breathless from her torrent of incoherent words, jealous of
the passing moments. It was vague, it was desperate, it was crude. But
they were in a world vague, desperate and crude.
"I've promised my men I'd not leave them," he said at last. "A promise
is a promise."
"Then God help us both! But one thing--when I'm married, that's the end
between us. So good-by."
He leaned his head back on his saddle for a time, his tired horse
turning back its head. He put out his hand blindly; but it was the
muzzle of his horse that had touched his shoulder. The girl was gone.
The Indian drums at Laramie thudded through the dark. The great wolf in
the breaks lifted his hoarse, raucous roar once more. The wilderness was
afoot or bedding down, according to its like.
WHEN A MAID MARRIES
Carson, Bridger and Jackson, now reunited after years, must pour
additional libations to Auld Lang Syne at Laramie, so soon were off
together. The movers sat around their thrifty cooking fires outside the
wagon corral. Wingate and his wife were talking heatedly, she in her
nervousness not knowing that she fumbled over and over in her fingers
the heavy bit of rock which Molly had picked up and which was in her
handkerchief when it was requisitioned by her mother to bathe her face
just now. After a time she tossed the nugget aside into the grass. It
was trodden by a hundred feet ere long.
But gold will not die. In three weeks a prowling Gros Ventre squaw found
it and carried it to the trader, Bordeaux, asking, "Shoog?"
"Non, non!" replied the Laramie trader. "Pas de shoog!" But he looked
curiously at the thing, so heavy.
"How, cola!" wheedled the squaw. "Shoog!" She made the sign for sugar,
her finger from her palm to her lips. Bordeaux tossed the thing into the
tin can on the shelf and gave her what sugar would cover a spoon.
"Where?" He asked her, his fingers loosely shaken, meaning, "Where did
you get it?"
The Gros Ventre lied to him like a lady, and told him, on the South
Fork, on the Creek of Bitter Cherries--near where Denver now is; and
where placers once were. That was hundreds of miles away. The Gros
Ventre woman had been there once in her wanderings and had seen some
Years later, after Fort Laramie was taken over by the Government,
Bordeaux as sutler sold much flour and bacon to men hurrying down the
South Fork to the early Colorado diggings. Meantime in his cups he often
had told the mythical tale of the Gros Ventre woman--long after
California, Idaho, Nevada, Montana were all afire. But one of his
halfbreed children very presently had commandeered the tin cup and its
contents, so that to this day no man knows whether the child swallowed
the nugget or threw it into the Laramie River or the Platte River or the
sagebrush. Some depose that an emigrant bought it of the baby; but no
What all men do know is that gold does not die; nay, nor the news of it.
And this news now, like a multiplying germ, was in the wagon train that
had started out for Oregon.
As for Molly, she asked no questions at all about the lost nugget, but
hurried to her own bed, supperless, pale and weeping. She told her
father nothing of the nature of her meeting with Will Banion, then nor
at any time for many weeks.
"Molly, come here, I want to talk to you."
Wingate beckoned to his daughter the second morning after Banion's
The order for the advance was given. The men had brought in the cattle
and the yoking up was well forward. The rattle of pots and pans was
dying down. Dogs had taken their places on flank or at the wagon rear,
women were climbing up to the seats, children clinging to pieces of
dried meat. The train was waiting for the word.
The girl followed him calmly, high-headed.
"Molly, see here," he began. "We're all ready to move on. I don't know
where Will Banion went, but I want you to know, as I told him, that he
can't travel in our train."
"He'll not ask to, father. He's promised to stick to his own men."
"He's left you at last! That's good. Now I want you to drop him from
your thoughts. Hear that, and heed it. I tell you once more, you're not
treating Sam Woodhull right."
She made him no answer.
"You're still young, Molly," he went on. "Once you're settled you'll
find Oregon all right. Time you were marrying. You'll be twenty and an
old maid first thing you know. Sam will make you a good husband. Heed
what I say."
But she did not heed, though she made no reply to him. Her eye,
"scornful, threatening and young," looked yonder where she knew her
lover was; not was it in her soul ever to return from following after
him. The name of her intended husband left her cold as ice.
"Roll out! Roll out! Ro-o-o-ll ou-t!"
The call went down the line once more. The pistolry of the wagon whips
made answer, the drone of the drivers rose as the sore-necked oxen bowed
their heads again, with less strength even for the lightened loads.
The old man who sat by the gate at Fort Laramie, twisting a curl around
his finger, saw the plain clearing now, as the great train swung out and
up the river trail. He perhaps knew that Jim Bridger, with his own
freight wagons, going light and fast with mules, was on west, ahead of
the main caravan. But he did not know the news Jim Bridger carried, the
same news that Carson was carrying east. The three old mountain men, for
a few hours meeting after years, now were passing far apart, never to
meet again. Their chance encountering meant much to hundreds of men and
women then on the road to Oregon; to untold thousands yet to come.
As for one Samuel Woodhull, late column captain, it was to be admitted
that for some time he had been conscious of certain buffetings of fate.
But as all thoroughbred animals are thin-skinned, so are all the
short-bred pachydermatous, whereby they endure and mayhap arrive at the
manger well as the next. True, even Woodhull's vanity and self-content
had everything asked of them in view of his late series of mishaps; but
by now he had somewhat chirked up under rest and good food, and was once
more the dandy and hail fellow. He felt assured that very presently
bygones would be bygones. Moreover--so he reasoned--if he, Sam Woodhull,
won the spoils, what matter who had won any sort of victory? He knew, as
all these others knew and as all the world knows, that a beautiful woman
is above all things _spolia opima_ of war. Well, in ten days he was to
marry Molly Wingate, the most beautiful woman of the train and the belle
of more than one community. Could he not afford to laugh best, in spite
of all events, even if some of them had not been to his own liking?
But the girl's open indifference was least of all to his liking. It
enraged his vain, choleric nature to its inner core. Already he planned
dominance; but willing to wait and to endure for ten days, meantime he
employed innocence, reticence, dignity, attentiveness, so that he seemed
a suitor misunderstood, misrepresented, unjustly used--to whose patient
soul none the less presently must arrive justice and exoneration, after
which all would be happier even than a marriage bell. After the wedding
bells he, Samuel Woodhull, would show who was master.
Possessed once more of horse, arms and personal equipment, and having
told his own story of persecution to good effect throughout the train,
Woodhull had been allowed to resume a nominal command over a part of the
Wingate wagons. The real control lay in the triumvirate who once had
usurped power, and who might do so again.
Wingate himself really had not much more than nominal control of the
general company, although he continued to give what Caleb Price called
the easy orders. His wagons, now largely changed to ox transport, still
traveled at the head of the train, Molly continuing to drive her own
light wagon and Jed remaining on the cow column.
The advance hardly had left Fort Laramie hidden by the rolling ridges
before Woodhull rode up to Molly's wagon and made excuse to pass his
horse to a boy while he himself climbed up on the seat with his fiancee.
She made room for him in silence, her eyes straight ahead. The wagon
cover made good screen behind, the herdsmen were far in the rear, and
from the wagons ahead none could see them. Yet when, after a moment, her
affianced husband dropped an arm about her waist the girl flung it off
"Don't!" she exclaimed. "I detest love-making in public. We see enough
of it that can't be hid. It's getting worse, more open, the farther we
"The train knows we are to be married at the halfway stop, Molly. Then
you'll change wagons and will not need to drive."
"Wait till then."
"I count the hours. Don't you, dearest?"
She turned a pallid face to him at last, resentful of his endearments.
"Yes, I do," she said. But he did not know what she meant, or why she
was so pale.
"I think we'll settle in Portland," he went on. "The travelers' stories
say that place, at the head of navigation on the Willamette, has as good
a chance as Oregon City, at the Falls. I'll practice law. The goods I am
taking out will net us a good sum, I'm hoping. Oh, you'll see the day
when you'll not regret that I held you to your promise! I'm not playing
this Oregon game to lose it."
"Do you play any game to lose it?"
"No! Better to have than to explain have not--that's one of my mottoes."
"No matter how?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I was only wondering."
"About men--and the differences."
"My dear, as a school-teacher you have learned to use a map, a
blackboard. Do you look on us men as ponderable, measurable,
"A girl ought to if she's going to marry."
"Well, haven't you?"
She still was staring straight ahead, cold, making no silent call for a
lover's arms or arts. Her silence was so long that at length even his
thick hide was pierced.
"Molly!" he broke out. "Listen to me! Do you want the engagement broken?
Do you want to be released?"
"What would they all think?"
"Not the question. Answer me!"
"No, I don't want it broken. I want it over with. Isn't that fair?"
"Didn't you say you wanted me on any terms?"
"Don't you now?"
"Yes, I do, and I'm going to have you, too!"
His eye, covetous, turned to the ripe young beauty of the maid beside
him. He was willing to pay any price.
"Then it all seems settled."
"All but one part. You've never really and actually told me you loved
A wry smile.
"I'm planning to do that after I marry you. I suppose that's the
tendency of a woman? Of course, it can't be true that only one man will
do for a woman to marry, or one woman for a man? If anything went wrong
on that basis--why, marrying would stop? That would be foolish,
wouldn't it? I suppose women do adjust? Don't you think so?"
His face grew hard under this cool reasoning.
"Am I to understand that you are marrying me as a second choice, and so
that you can forget some other man?"
"Couldn't you leave a girl a secret if she had one? Couldn't you be
happier if you did? Couldn't you take your chance and see if there's
anything under the notion about more than one man and more than one
woman in the world? Love? Why, what is love? Something to marry on? They
say it passes. They tell me that marriage is more adjustable, means more
interests than love; that the woman who marries with her eyes open is
apt to be the happiest in the long run. Well, then you said you wanted
me on any terms. Does not that include open eyes?"
"You're making a hard bargain--the hardest a man can be obliged to
"It was not of my seeking."
"You said you loved me--at first."
"No. Only a girl's in love with love--at first. I've not really lied to
you. I'm trying to be honest before marriage. Don't fear I'll not be
afterward. There's much in that, don't you think? Maybe there's
something, too, in a woman's ability to adjust and compromise? I don't
know. We ought to be as happy as the average married couple, don't you
think? None of them are happy for so very long, they say. They say love
doesn't last long. I hope not. One thing, I believe marriage is easier
to beat than love is."
"How old are you, really, Molly?"
"I am just over nineteen, sir."
"You are wise for that; you are old."
"Yes--since we started for Oregon."
He sat in sullen silence for a long time, all the venom of his nature
gathering, all his savage jealousy.
"You mean since you met that renegade, traitor and thief, Will Banion!
Tell me, isn't that it?"
"Yes, that's true. I'm older now. I know more."
"And you'll marry me without love. You love him without marriage? Is
"I'll never marry a thief."
"But you love one?"
"I thought I loved you."
"But you do love him, that man!"
Now at last she turned to him, gazing straight through the mist of her
"Sam, if you really loved me, would you ask that? Wouldn't you just try
to be so gentle and good that there'd no longer be any place in my heart
for any other sort of love, so I'd learn to think that our love was the
only sort in the world? Wouldn't you take your chance and make good on
it, believing that it must be in nature that a woman can love more than
one man, or love men in more than one way? Isn't marriage broader and
with more chance for both? If you love me and not just yourself alone,
can't you take your chance as I am taking mine? And after all, doesn't
a woman give the odds? If you do love, me--"
"If I do, then my business is to try to make you forget Will Banion."