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A stone's throw from either hand, From that well-ordered road we tread, And all the world is wide and strange. --KIPLING
 "We shall come to the parting of the ways to night if we make good time, Krane," Esmond Clarenden said to the young Bostonian, as we rested at noon beside the trait. "To-night we camp at Council Grove and from there on there is no turning back. I had hoped to find a big crowd waiting to start off from that place. But everybody we have met coming in says that there are no freighters going west now. Usually there is no risk in coming alone from Council Grove to the Missouri River, and there is always opportunity for company at this end of the trail."
 We were sitting in a circle under the thin shade of some cottonwood-trees beside a little stream; the air of noon, hot above our heads, was tempered with a light breeze from the southwest. As my uncle spoke, Rex glanced over at Mat Nivers, sitting beside him, and then gazed out thoughtfully across the stream. I had never thought her pretty before. But now her face, tanned by the sun and wind, had a richer glow on cheek and lip. Her damp hair lay in little wavelets about her temples, and her big, sunny, gray eyes were always her best feature.
 Girls made their own dresses on the frontier, and I suppose that anywhere else Mat would have appeared old-fashioned in the neat, comfortable little gowns of durable gingham and soft woolen stuffs that she made for herself. But somehow in all that long journey she was the least travel-soiled of the whole party.
 At my uncle's words she looked up questioningly and I saw the bloom deepen on her cheek as she met the young man's eyes. Somebody else saw that shadow of a blush--Bill Banney lying on the ground beside me, and although he pulled his hat cautiously over his face, I thought he was listening for the answer.
 The young New-Englander stared long at the green prairie before he spoke. I never knew whether it was ignorance, or a lack of energy, that was responsible for his bad grammar in those early days, for Rex Krane was no sham invalid. The lines on his young face told of suffering, and the thin, bony hands showed bodily weakness. At length he turned to my uncle.
 "I started out sort of reckless on this trip," he said, slowly. "I'm nearly twenty and never been worth a dang to anybody anywhere on God's earth; so I thought I might as well be where things looked interestin'. But"--he hesitated--"I'm gettin' a lot stronger every day, a whole lot stronger. Mebby I'd be of some use afterwhile--I don't know, though. I reckon I'd better wait till we get to that Council Grove place. Sounds like a nice locality to rest and think in. Are you goin' on, anyhow, Clarenden, crowd or no crowd?"
 "Though the heavens fall," my uncle answered, simply.
 Jondo had turned quickly to hear this reply and a great light leaped into his deep-set blue eyes. I glanced over at Aunty Boone, sitting apart from us, as she ever chose to do, her own eyes dull, as they always were when she saw keenest; and I remembered how, back at Fort Leavenworth, she had commented on this journey, saying: "They tote together always, an' they're totin' now." Child though I was, I felt that a something more than the cargo of goods was leading my uncle to Santa Fé. What I did not understand was his motive for taking Beverly and Mat and me with him. I had been satisfied before just to go, but now I wanted very much to know why I was going.
 Council Grove by the Neosho River was the end of civilization for the freighter. Beyond it the wilderness spread its untamed lengths, and excepting Bent's Fort far up the Arkansas River on the line of the first old trail, rarely followed now, it held not a sign of civilization for the traveler until he should reach the first outposts of the Mexican almost in the shadow of Santa Fé. It is no wonder that wagon-trains mobilized here, waiting for an increase in numbers before they dared to start on westward. And now there were no trains waiting for our coming. Only a gripping necessity could have led a man like Esmond Clarenden to take the trail alone in the certain perils of the plains during the middle '40's. I did not know until long afterward how brave was the loving heart that beat in that little merchant's bosom. A devotee of ease and refinement, he walked the prairie trails unafraid, and made the desert serve his will.
 The dusk of evening had fallen long before we pitched camp that night under the big oak-trees in the Neosho River valley outside of the little trading-post. Up in the village a light or two gleamed faintly. From somewhere in the darkness came the sound of a violin, mingling with loud talking and boisterous laughter in a distant drinking-den. It would be some time until moon-rise, and the shadowy places thickened to blackness.
 In fair weather all of us except Mat Nivers slept in the open. On stormy nights the younger men occupied one of the wagons, Jondo and Beverly another, and my uncle and myself the third. Mat had the "baby-cab" as Beverly called it, with Aunty Boone underneath it. The ground was Aunty Boone's kingdom. She sat upon it, ate from it, slept on it, and seemed no more soiled than a snake would be by the contact with it.
 "Some day I goes plop under it, and be ground myself," she used to say. "Good black soil I make, too," she always added, with her low chuckle.
 To-night we were all in the wagons, for the spring rains had made the Neosho valley damp and muddy. I was just on the edge of dreamless slumber when a low voice that seemed to cut the darkness caught my ear.
 "Cla'nden! Cla'nden!" it hissed, softly.
 My uncle slipped noiselessly out to where Aunty Boone stood, her head so near to the canvas wagon-cover inside of which I lay that I could hear all that was said.
 She was always a night prowler. What other women learn now from the evening newspaper or from neighborly gossip she, being created without a sense of fear, went forth in her time and gathered at first hand.
 "I been prospectin' up 'round the saloon, Cla'nden. They's a nasty mess of Mexicans in town, all gettin' drunk."
 Then I heard a faint rustle of the bushes and I knew that the woman was slipping away to her place under the wagon. I remembered the Mexican whom I had last seen across the street from the Clarenden store in Independence. These were bad Mexicans, as Aunty Boone had said, and that man had seemed in a silent way a friend of my uncle. I wondered what would happen next. It soon happened. My uncle Esmond came inside the wagon and called, softly:
 "Gail, wake up."
 "I'm awake," I replied, in a half-whisper, as alert as a mystery-loving boy could be.
 "Slip over to Jondo and tell him there are Mexicans in town, and I'm going across the river to see what's up. Tell him to wake up everybody and have them stay in the wagons till I get back."
 He slid away and the shadows ate him. I followed as far as Jondo's wagon, and gave my message. As I came back something seemed to slip away before me and disappear somewhere. I dived into our wagon and crouched down, waiting with beating heart for Uncle Esmond to come back. Once I thought I heard the sound of a horse's feet on the trail to the eastward, but I was not sure.
 All was still and black in the little camp for a long time, and then Esmond Clarenden and Rex Krane crept into the wagon and dropped the flap behind them.
 "Krane, have you decided about this trip yet?" Uncle Esmond asked. "If not, you'd better get right up into town and forget us. You can't be too quick about it, either."
 "Ain't we going to stay here a few days? Why do you want to know to-night?"
 Rex Krane, Yankee-like, met the query with a query.
 "Because there's a pretty strong party of Mexican desperadoes here who are going on east, and they mean trouble for somebody. I shouldn't care to meet them with our strength alone. They are all pretty drunk now and getting wilder every minute. Listen to that!"
 A yell across the river broke the night stillness.
 "There is no telling how soon they may be over here, hunting for us. We must get by them some way, for I cannot risk a fight with them here. Which chance will you choose, the possibility of being overtaken by that Mexican gang going east, or the perils of the plains and the hostility of New Mexico right now? It's about as broad one way as the other for safety, with staying here for a time as the only middle course at present. But that is a perfectly safe one for you."
 "I am going on with you," Rex Krane said, with his slow Yankee drawl. "When danger gets close, then I scatter. There's more chance in seven hundred miles to miss somethin' than there is in a hundred and fifty. And even a half-invalid might be of some use. Say, Clarenden, how'd you get hold of this information? You turned in before I did."
 "Daniel Boone went out on scout duty--self-elected. You know she considers that the earth was made for her to walk on when she chooses to use it that way. She spied trouble ahead and came back, and gave me the key to the west door of Council Grove so I could get out early," my uncle replied.
 "I reckoned as much," Rex declared.
 In the dark I could feel Esmond Clarenden give a start.
 "What do you mean?" he inquired.
 "Oh, I saw the fat lady start out, so I followed her, but I located the nest of Mexicans before she did, and got a good deal out of their drunken jargon. And then I cat-footed it back after a snaky-looking, black Spaniard that seemed to be following her. There were three of us in a row, but the devil hasn't got the hindmost one, not yet--that's me."
 "You saw some one follow Daniel into camp?" my uncle broke in, anxiously. But no threatening peril ever hurried Rex Krane's speech.
 "Yes, and I also followed some one; but I lost him in this ink-well of a hole, and I was waitin' till he left so I could put the cat out, an' shut the door, when you cut across the river. I've been sittin' round now to see that nothin' broke loose till you got back. Meantime, the thing sort of faded away. I heard a horse gallopin' off east, too. Mebby they are outpostin' to surround our retreat. I didn't wake Bill. He's got no more imagination than Bev. If I had needed anybody I'd have stirred up Gail, here."
 In the dark I fairly swelled with pride, and from that moment Rex Krane was added to my little list of heroes that had been made up, so far, of Esmond Clarenden and Jondo and any army officer above the rank of captain.
 "Krane, you'll do. I thought I had your correct measure back in Independence," Uncle Esmond said, heartily. "As to the boys, I can risk them; they are Clarendens. My anxiety is for the little orphan girl. She is only a child. I couldn't leave her behind us, and I must not let a hair of her head be harmed."
 "She's a right womanly little thing," Rex Krane said, carelessly; but I wondered if in the dark his eyes might not have had the same look they had had at noon when he turned to Mat sitting beside my uncle. Maybe back at Boston he had a little sister of his own like her. Anyhow, I decided then that men's words and faces do not always agree.
 Again the roar of voices broke out, and we scrambled from the wagon and quickly gathered our company together.
 "What did you find out?" Jondo asked.
 "We must clear out of here right away and get through to the other side of town and be off by daylight without anybody knowing it. They are a gang of ugly Mexicans who would not let us cross the river if we should wait till morning. They have already sent a spy over here, and they are waiting for him to report."
 "Where is he now?" Bill Banney broke in.
 "They's two of him--I know there is," Rex Krane declared. "One of him went east, to cut us off I reckon; an' t'other faded into nothin' toward the river. Kind of a double deal, looks to me."
 Both men looked doubtingly at the young man; but without further words, Jondo took command, and we knew that the big plainsman would put through whatever Esmond Clarenden had planned. For Aunty Boone was right when she said, "They tote together."
 "We must snake these wagons through town, as though we didn't belong together, but we mustn't get too far apart, either. And remember now, Clarenden, if anybody has to stop and visit with 'em, I'll do it myself," Jondo said.
 "Why can't we ride the ponies? We can go faster and scatter more," I urged, as we hastily broke camp.
 "He is right, Esmond. They haven't been riding all their lives for nothing," Jondo agreed, as Esmond Clarenden turned hesitatingly toward Mat Nivers.
 In the dim light her face seemed bright with courage. It is no wonder that we all trusted her. And trust was the large commodity of the plains in those days, when even as children we ran to meet danger with courageous daring.
 "You must cross the river letting the ponies pick their own ford," Jondo commanded us. "Then go through to the ridge on the northwest side of town. Keep out of the light, and if anybody tries to stop you, ride like fury for the ridge."
 "Lemme go first," Aunty Boone interposed. "Nobody lookin' for me this side of purgatory. 'Fore they gets over their surprise I'll be gone. Whoo-ee!"
 The soft exclamation had a breath of bravery in it that stirred all of us.
 "You are right, Daniel. Lead out. Keep to the shadows. If you must run make your mules do record time," Uncle Esmond said.
 "You'll find me there when you stop," Rex Krane declared. No sick man ever took life less seriously. "I'm goin' ahead to John-the-Baptist this procession and air the parlor bedrooms."
 "Krane, you are an invalid and a fool. You'd better ride in the wagon with me," Bill Banney urged.
 "Mebby I am. Don't throw it up to me, but I'm no darned coward, and I'm foot-loose. It's my job to give the address of welcome over t'other side of this Mexican settlement."
 The tall, thin young man slouched his cap carelessly on his head and strode away toward the river. Youth was reckless in those days, and the trail was the home of dramatic opportunity. But none of us had dreamed hitherto of Rex Krane's degree of daring and his stubborn will.
 The big yellow moon was sailing up from the east; the Neosho glistened all jet and silver over its rough bed; the great shadowy oaks looked ominously after us as we moved out toward the threatening peril before us. Slowly, as though she had time to kill, Aunty Boone sent the brown mule and trusty dun down to the river's rock-bottom ford. Slowly and unconcernedly she climbed the slope and passed up the single street toward the saloon she had already "prospected." Pausing a full minute, she swung toward a far-off cabin light to the south, jogging over the rough ground noisily. The door of the drinking-den was filled with dark faces as the crowd jostled out. Just a lone wagon making its way somewhere about its own business, that was all.
 As the crowd turned in again three ponies galloped up the street toward the slope leading out to the high level prairies beyond the Neosho valley. But who could guess how furiously three young hearts beat, and how tightly three pairs of young hands clutched the bridle reins as we surged forward, forgetting the advice to keep in the shadow.
 Just after we had crossed the river, a man on horseback fell in behind us. We quickened our speed, but he gained on us. Before we reached the saloon he was almost even with us, keeping well in the shadow all the while. In the increasing moonlight, making everything clear to the eye, I gave one quick glance over my shoulder and saw that the horseman was a Mexican. I have lived a life so fraught with danger that I should hardly remember the feeling of fear but for the indelible imprint of that one terrified minute in the moonlit street of Council Grove.
 Two ruffians on watch outside the saloon sprang up with yells. The door burst open and a gang of rowdies fairly spilled out around us. We three on our ponies had the instinctive security on horseback of children born to the saddle, else we should never have escaped from the half-drunken crew. I recall the dust of striking hoofs, the dark forms dodging everywhere, the Mexican rider keeping between us and the saloon door, and most of all I remember one glimpse of Mat Nivers's face with big, staring eyes, and firm-set mouth; and I remember my fleeting impression that she could take care of herself if we could; and over all a sudden shadow as the moon, in pity of our terror, hid its face behind a tiny cloud.
 When it shone out again we were dashing by separate ways up the steep slope to the west ridge, but, strangely enough, the Mexican horseman with a follower or two had turned away from us and was chasing off somewhere out of sight.
 Up on top of the bluff, with Rex Krane and Aunty Boone, we watched and waited. The wooded Neosho valley full of inky blackness seemed to us like a bottomless gorge of terror which no moonlight could penetrate. We strained our ears to catch the rattle of the wagons, but the noise from the saloon, coming faintly now and then, was all the sound we could hear save the voices of the night rising up from the river, and the whisperings of the open prairie to the west.
 In that hour Rex Krane became our good angel.
 "Keep the law, 'Hold fast'! You made a splendid race of it, and if Providence made that fellow lose you gettin' out, and led him and his gang sideways from you, I reckon she will keep on takin' care of you till Clarenden resumes control, so don't you worry."
 But for his brave presence the terror of that lonely watch would have been harder than the peril of the street, for he seemed more like a gentle mother than the careless, scoffing invalid of the trail.
 Midnight came, and the chill of midnight. We huddled together in our wagon and still we waited. Down in the village the lights still burned, and angry voices with curses came to our ears at intervals.
 Meantime the three men across the river moved cautiously, hoping that we were safe on the bluff, and knowing that they dared not follow us too rapidly. The wagons creaked and the harness rattled noisily in the night stillness, as slowly, one by one, they lumbered through the darkness across the river and up the bank to the village street. Here they halted and grouped together.
 "We must hide out and wait, Clarenden," Jondo counciled. "I hope the ponies and the wagon ahead are safe, but they stirred things up. If we go now we'll all be caught."
 The three wagons fell apart and halted wide of the trail where the oak-trees made the blackest shade. The minutes dragged out like hours, and the anxiety for the unprotected group on the bluff made the three men frantic to hurry on. But Jondo's patience equaled his courage, and he always took the least risk. It was nearly midnight, and every noise was intensified. If a mule but moved it set up a clatter of harness chains that seemed to fill the valley.
 At last a horseman, coming suddenly from somewhere, rode swiftly by each shadow-hidden wagon, half pausing at the sound of the mules stamping in their places, and then he hurried up the street.
 "Three against the crowd. If we must fight, fight to kill," Jondo urged, as the ready firearms were placed for action.
 In a minute or two the crew broke out of the saloon and filled the moonlit street, all talking and swearing in broken Spanish.
 "Not come yet!"
 "Pedro say they be here to-morrow night!" "We wait till to-morrow night!"
 And with many wild yells they fell back for a last debauch in the drinking-den.
 "I don't understand it," Jondo declared. "That fellow who rode by here ought to have located every son of us, but if they want to wait till to-morrow night it suits me."
 An hour later, when the village was in a dead sleep, three wagons slowly pulled up the long street and joined the waiting group at the top, and the crossing over was complete.
 Dawn was breaking as our four wagons, followed by the ponies, crept away in the misty light. As we trailed off into the unknown land, I looked back at the bluff below which nestled the last houses we were to see for seven hundred miles. And there, outlined against the horizon, a Mexican stood watching us. I had seen the same man one day riding up from the ravine southwest of Fort Leavenworth. I had seen him dashing toward the river the next day. I had watched him sitting across the street from the Clarenden store in Independence.
 I wondered if it might have been this man who had hung about our camp the evening before, and if it might have been this same man who rode between us and the saloon mob, leading the crowd after him and losing us on the side of the bluff. And as we had eluded the Council Grove danger, I wondered what would come next, and if he would be in it.