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"So I draw the world together, link by link." --KIPLING.
 Day after day we pushed into the unknown wilderness. No wagon-trains passed ours moving eastward. No moccasined track in the dust of the trail gave hint of any human presence near. Where to-day the Pullman car glides in smooth comfort, the old Santa Fé Trail lay like a narrow brown ribbon on the green desolation of Nature's unconquered domain. Out beyond the region of long-stemmed grasses, into the short-grass land, we pressed across a pathless field-of-the-cloth-of-green, gemmed with myriads of bright blossoms--broad acres on acres that the young years of a coming century should change into great wheat-fields to help fill the granaries of the world. How I reveled in it--that far-stretching plain of flower-starred verdure! It was my world--mine, unending, only softening out into lavender mists that rimmed it round in one unbroken fold of velvety vapor.
 At last we came to the Arkansas River--flat-banked, sand-bottomed, wide, wandering, impossible thing--whose shallow waters followed aimlessly the line of least resistance, back and forth across its bed. Rivers had meant something to me. The big muddy Missouri for Independence and Fort Leavenworth, that its steamers might bring the soldiers, and my uncle's goods to their places. The little rivers that ran into the big ones, to feed their currents for down-stream service. The creeks, that boys might wade and swim and fish, else Beverly would have lived unhappily all his days. But here was a river that could neither fetch nor carry. Nobody lived near it, and it had no deep waters like our beloved, ugly old Missouri. I loved the level prairies, but I didn't like that river, somehow. I felt exposed on its blank, treeless borders, as if I stood naked and defenseless, with no haven of cover from the enemies of the savage plains.
 The late afternoon was hot, the sky was dust-dimmed, the south wind feverish and strength-sapping. At dawn we had sighted a peak against the western horizon. We were approaching it now--a single low butte, its front a sheer stone bluff facing southward toward the river, it lifted its head high above the silent plains; and to the north it stretched in a long gentle slope back to a lateral rim along the landscape. The trail crept close about its base, as if it would cling lovingly to this one shadow-making thing amid all the open, blaring, sun-bound miles stretching out on either side of it.
 As Beverly and I were riding in front of Mat's wagon, of which we had elected ourselves the special guardians, Rex Krane came up alongside Bill Banney's team in front of us. The young men were no such hard-and-fast friends as Beverly and I. For some reason they had little to say to each other.
 "Is that what you call Pike's Peak, Bill?" Rex asked.
 "No, the mountains are a month away. That's Pawnee Rock, and I'll breathe a lot freer when we get out of sight of that infernal thing," Bill replied.
 "What's its offense?" Rex inquired.
 "It's the peak of perdition, the bottomless pit turned inside out," Bill declared.
 "I don't see the excuse for a rock sittin' out here, sayin' nothin', bein' called all manner of unpleasant names," the young Bostonian insisted.
 "Well, I reckon you'd find one mighty quick if you ever heard the soldiers at Fort Leavenworth talk about it once. All the plainsmen dread it. Jondo says more men have been killed right around this old stone Sphinx than any other one spot in North America, outside of battle-fields."
 "Happy thought! Do their ghosts rise up and walk at midnight? Tell me more," Rex urged.
 "Nobody walks. Everybody runs. There was a terrible Indian fight here once; the Pawnees in the king-row, and all the hosts of the Midianites, and Hivites, and Jebusites, Kiowa, Comanche, and Kaw, rag-tag and bobtail, trying to get 'em out. I don't know who won, but the citadel got christened Pawnee Rock. It took a fountain filled with blood to do it, though."
 Rex Krane gave a long whistle.
 "I believe Bill is trying to scare him, Bev," I murmured.
 "I believe he's just precious wasting time," Beverly replied.
 "And so," Bill continued, "it came to be a sort of rock of execution where romances end and they die happily ever afterward. The Indians get up there and, being able to read fine print with ease as far away as either seacoast, they can watch any wagon-train from the time it leaves Council Grove over east to Bent's Fort on the Purgatoire Creek out west; and having counted the number of men, and the number of bullets in each man's pouch, they slip down and jump on the train as it goes by. If the men can make it to beat them to the top of the rock, as they do sometimes, they can keep the critters off, unless the Indians are strong enough to keep them up there and sit around and wait till they starve for water, and have to come down. It's a grim old fortress, and never needs a garrison. Indians or white men up there, sometimes they defend and sometimes attack. But it's a bad place always, and on account of having our little girl along--" Bill paused. "A fellow gets to see a lot of country out here," he added.
 "Banney, just why didn't you join the army? You'd have a chance to see a lot more of the country, if this Mexican War goes on," Rex Krane said, meditatively.
 "I'd rather be my own captain and order myself to the front, and likewise command my rear-guard to retire, whenever I doggone please," Bill said. "It isn't the soldiers that'll do this country the most good. They are useful enough when they are useful, Lord knows. And we'll always need a decent few of 'em around to look after women and children, and invalids," he went on. "I tell you, Krane, it's men like Clarenden that's going to make these prairies worth something one of these days. The men who build up business, not them that shoot and run to or from. That's what the West's got to have. I'm through going crazy about army folks. One man that buys and sells, if he gives good weight and measure, is, himself, a whole regiment for civilization."
 Just then Jondo halted the train, and we gathered about him.
 "Clarenden, let's pitch camp at the rock. The horses are dead tired and this wind is making them nervous. There's a storm due as soon as it lays a bit, and we would be sort of protected here. A tornado's a giant out in this country, you know."
 "This tavern doesn't have a very good name with the traveling public, does it, Clarenden?" Rex Krane suggested.
 "Not very," my uncle replied. "But in case of trouble, the top of it isn't a bad place to shoot from."
 "What if the other fellow gets there first?" Bill Banney inquired.
 "We can run from here as easily as any other place," Jondo assured us. "I haven't seen a sign of Indians yet. But we've got to be careful. This point has a bad reputation, and I naturally begin to _feel_ Indians in the air as soon as I come in sight of it. If we need the law of the trail anywhere, we need it here," he admonished.
 Beverly and I drew close together. We were in the land of _bad_ Indians, but nothing had happened to us yet, and we could not believe that any danger was near us now, although we were foolishly half hoping that there might be, for the excitement of it.
 "There's no place in a million miles for anybody to hide, Bill. Where would Jondo's Indians be?" Beverly asked, as we were getting into camp order for the night.
 Beverly's disposition to demand proof was as strong here as it had been in the matter of rivers turning their courses, and fishes playing leap-frog.
 "They might be behind that ridge out north, and have a scout lying flat on the top of old Pawnee Rock, up there, lookin' benevolently down at us over the rim of his spectacles right now," Bill replied, as he pulled the corral ropes out of the wagon.
 "What makes you think so?" I asked, eagerly.
 "What Jondo said about his _feeling Indians_, I guess, but he reads these prairie trails as easy as Robinson Crusoe read Friday's footprints in the sand, and he hasn't read anything in 'em yet. Indians don't fight at night, anyhow. That's one good thing. Get hold of that rope, Bev, and pull her up tight," Bill replied.
 Every night our four wagons in camp made a hollow square, with space enough allowed at the corners to enlarge the corral inside for the stock. These corners were securely roped across from wagon to wagon. To-night, however, the corral space was reduced and the quartet of vehicles huddled closer together.
 At dusk the hot wind came sweeping in from the southwest, a wild, lashing fury, swirling the sand in great spirals from the river bed. Our fire was put out and the blackness of midnight fell upon us. The horses were restless and the mules squealed and stamped. All night the very spirit of fear seemed to fill the air.
 Just before daybreak a huge black storm-cloud came boiling up out of the southwest, with a weird yellow band across the sky before it. Overhead the stars shed a dim light on the shadowy face of the plains. A sudden whisper thrilled the camp, chilling our hearts within us.
 "Indians near!" We all knew it in a flash.
 Jondo, on guard, had caught the sign first. Something creeping across the trail, not a coyote, for it stood upright a moment, then bent again, and was lost in the deep gloom. Jondo had shifted to another angle of the outlook, had seen it again, and again at a third point. It was encircling the camp. Then all of us, except Jondo, began to see moving shapes. He saw nothing for a long time, and our spirits rose again.
 "You must have been mistaken, Jondo," Rex Krane ventured, as he stared into the black gloom. "Maybe it was just this infernal wind. It's one darned sea-breeze of a zephyr."
 "I've crossed the plains before. I wasn't mistaken," the big plainsman replied. "If I had been, you'd still see it. The trouble is that it is watching now. Everybody lay low. It will come to life again. I hope there's only one of it."
 We had hardly moved after the first alarm, except to peer about and fancy that dark objects were closing in upon us.
 It did come to life again. This time on Jondo's side of the camp. Something creeping near, and nearer.
 The air was motionless and hot above us, the upper heavens were beginning to be threshed across by clouds, and the silence hung like a weight upon us. Then suddenly, just beyond the camp, a form rose from the ground, stood upright, and stretched out both arms toward us. And a low cry, "Take me. I die," reached our ears.
 Still Jondo commanded silence. Indians are shrewd to decoy their foes out of the security of the camp. The form came nearer--a little girl, no larger than our Mat--and again came the low call. The voice was Indian, the accent Spanish, but the words were English.
 "Come to us!" Esmond Clarenden answered back in a clear, low tone; and slowly and noiselessly the girl approached the camp.
 I can feel it all now, although that was many years ago: the soft starlight on the plains; the hot, still air holding its breath against the oncoming tornado; the group of wagons making a deeper shadow in the dull light; beyond us the bold front of old Pawnee Rock, huge and gray in the gloom; our little company standing close together, ready to hurl a shower of bullets if this proved but the decoy of a hidden foe; and the girl with light step drawing nearer. Clad in the picturesque garb of the Southwest Indian, her hair hanging in a great braid over each shoulder, her dark eyes fixed on us, she made a picture in that dusky setting that an artist might not have given to his brush twice in a lifetime on the plains.
 A few feet from us she halted.
 "Throw up your hands!" Jondo commanded.
 The slim brown arms were flung above the girl's head, and I caught the glint of quaintly hammered silver bracelets, as she stepped forward with that ease of motion that generations of moccasined feet on sand and sod and stone can give.
 "Take me," she cried, pleadingly. "The Mexicans steal me from my people and bring me far away. They meet Kiowa. Kiowa beat me; make me slave."
 She held up her hands. They were lacerated and bleeding. She slipped the bright blanket from her brown shoulder. It was bruised and swollen.
 "You go to Santa Fé? Take me. I do you good, not bad."
 "What would these Kiowas do to us, then?"
 It was Bill Banney who spoke.
 "They follow you--kill you."
 "Oh, cheerful! I wish you were twins," Rex Krane said, softly.
 Jondo lifted his hand.
 "Let me talk to her," he said.
 Then in her own language he got her story.
 "Here we are." He turned to us. "Stolen from her people by the Mexicans, probably the same ones we passed in Council Grove; traded to the Kiowas out here somewhere, beaten, and starved, and held for ransom, or trade to some other tribe. They are over there behind Pawnee Rock. They got sight of us somehow, but they don't intend to bother us. They are on the lookout for a bigger train. She has slipped away while they sleep. If we send her back she will be beaten and made a slave. If we keep her, they will follow us for a fight. They are fifty to our six. What shall we do?"
 "We don't need any Indians to help us get into trouble. We are sure enough of it without that," Bill Banney declared. "And what's one Indian, anyhow? She's just--"
 "Just a little orphan girl like Mat," Rex Krane finished his sentence.
 Bill frowned, but made no reply.
 The Indian girl was standing outside the corral, listening to all that was said, her face giving no sign of the struggle between hope and despair that must have striven within her.
 "Uncle Esmond, let's take her, and take our chances." Beverly's boyish voice had a defiant tone, for the spirit of adventure was strong within him. The girl turned quickly and a great light leaped into her eyes at the boy's words.
 "Save a life and lose ours. It's not the rule of the plains, but--there's a higher law like that somewhere, Clarenden," Jondo said, earnestly.
 The girl came swiftly toward Uncle Esmond and stood upright before him.
 "I will not hide the truth. I go back to Kiowas. They sell me for big treasure. They will not harm you," she said. "I stay with you, they say you steal me, and they come at the first bird's song and kill you every one. They are so many."
 She stood motionless before him, the seal of grim despair on her young face.
 "What's your name?" Esmond Clarenden asked. "Po-a-be. In your words, 'Little Blue Flower,'" the girl said.
 "Then, Little Blue Flower, you must stay with us."
 She pointed toward the eastern sky where a faint light was beginning to show above the horizon. "See, the day comes!"
 "Then we will break camp now," my uncle said.
 "Not in the face of this storm, Clarenden," Jondo declared. "You can fight an Indian. You can't do a thing but 'hold fast' in one of these hurricanes."
 The air was still and hot. The black cloud swept swiftly onward, with the weird yellow glow before it. In the solitude of the plains the trail showed like a ghostly pathway of peril. Before us loomed that grim rock bluff, behind whose crest lay the sleeping band of Kiowas. It was only because they slept that Little Blue Flower could steal away in hope of rescue.
 Hotter grew the air and darker the swiftly rolling clouds; black and awful stood old Pawnee Rock with the silent menace of its sleeping enemy. In the stillness of the pause before the storm burst we heard Jondo's voice commanding us. With our first care for the frightened stock, we grouped ourselves together as he ordered close under the bluff.
 Suddenly an angry wind leaped out of the sky, beating back the hot dead air with gigantic flails of fury. Then the storm broke with tornado rage and cloudburst floods, and in its track terror reigned. Beverly and I clung together, and, holding a hand of each, Mat Nivers crouched beside us, herself strong in this second test of courage as she had been in the camp that night at Council Grove.
 I have never been afraid of storms and I can never understand why timid folk should speak of them as of a living, self-directing force bent purposely on human destruction. I love the splendor of the lightning and the thunder's peal. From our earliest years, Beverly and Mat and I had watched the flood-waters of the Missouri sweep over the bottomlands, and we had heard the winds rave, and the cannonading of the angry heavens. But this mad blast of the prairie storm was like nothing we had ever seen or heard before. A yellow glare filled the sky, a half-illumined, evil glow, as if to hide what lay beyond it. One breathed in fine sand, and tasted the desert dust. Behind it, all copper-green, a broad, lurid band swept up toward the zenith. Under its weird, unearthly light, the prairies, and everything upon them, took on a ghastly hue. Then came the inky-black storm-cloud--long, funnel-shaped, pendulous--and in its deafening roar and the thick darkness that could be felt, and the awful sweep of its all-engulfing embrace, the senses failed and the very breath of life seemed beaten away. The floods fell in streams, hot, then suddenly cold. And then a fusillade of hail bombarded the flat prairies, defenseless beneath the munitions of the heavens. But in all the wild, mad blackness, in the shriek and crash of maniac winds, in the swirl of many waters, and chill and fury of the threshing hail, the law of the trail failed not: "Hold fast." And with our hands gripped in one another's, we children kept the law.
 Just at the moment when destruction seemed upon us, the long swinging cloud--funnel lifted. We heard it passing high above us. Then it dropped against the face of old Pawnee Rock, that must have held the trail law through all the centuries of storms that have beaten against its bold, stern front. One tremendous blast, one crashing boom, as if the foundations of the earth were broken loose, and the thing had left us far behind.
 Daylight burst upon us in a moment, and the blue heavens smiled down on the clean-washed prairies. No homes, no crops, no orchards were left in ruins in those days to mark the cyclone's wrath on wilderness trails. As the darkness lifted we gathered ourselves together to take hold of life again and to defend ourselves from our human enemy.
 A shower of arrows from the top of the bluff might rain upon us at any moment, yelling warriors might rush upon us, or a ring of riders encircle us. It was in times like this that I learned how quickly men can get the mastery.
 Jondo and Esmond Clarenden did not delay a minute in protecting the camp and setting it in order, taking inventory of the lost and searching for the missing. Three of our number, with one of the ponies, were missing.
 Aunty Boone had crouched in a protected angle at the base of the bluff, and when we found her she was calmly smoking her pipe.
 "Yo' skeered of this little puff?" she queried. "Yo' bettah see a simoon on the desset, then. This here--just a racket. What's come of that little redskin?"
 She was not to be found. Nor was there any trace of Rex Krane anywhere. In consternation we scanned the prairies far and wide, but only level green distances were about us, holding no sign of life. We lived hours in those watching minutes.
 Suddenly Beverly gave a shout, and we saw Little Blue Flower running swiftly from the sloping side of the bluff toward the camp. Behind her stalked the young New-Englander.
 "I went up to see what she was in such a hurry for to see," he explained, simply. "I calculated it would be as interestin' to me as to her, and if anything was about to cut loose"--he laid a hand carelessly on his revolver--"why, I'd help it along. The little pink pansy, it seems, went to look after our friends, the enemy," Rex went on. "The hail nearly busted that old rock open. I thought once it had. The ponies are scattered and likewise the Kiowas. Gone helter-skelter, like the--tornado. The thing hit hard up there. Some ponies dead, and mebby an Indian or two. I didn't hunt 'em up. I can't use 'em that way," he added. "So I just said, 'Pax vobiscum!' and a lot of it, and came kittering back."
 Little Blue Flower's eyes glistened.
 "Gone, all gone. The rain god drove them away. Now I know I may go with you. The rain god loves you."
 It was to Beverly, and not to my uncle, that her eyes turned as she spoke, but he was not even listening to her. To him she was merely an Indian. She seemed more than that to me, and therein lay the difference between us.
 If she had been interesting under the starlight, in the light of day she became picturesque, a beautiful type of her race, silent, alert of countenance, with big, expressive, black eyes, and long, heavy braids of black hair. With her brilliant blanket about her shoulders, a turquoise pendant on a leather band at her throat, silver bracelets on her brown arms, she was as pleasing as an Indian maiden could be--adding a touch of picturesque life to that wonderful journey westward from Pawnee Rock to Santa Fé. Aunty Boone alone resented her presence among us.
 "You can trust a nigger," she growled, "'cause you know they none of 'em no 'count. But you can't tell about this Injun, whether she's good or bad. I lets that sort of fish alone."
 Little Blue Flower looked up at her with steady gaze and made no reply.
 Out of that morning's events I learned a lasting lesson, and I know now that the influence of Rex Krane on my life began that day, as I recalled how he had followed Aunty Boone about the dark corners of the little trading-post on the Neosho; and how he had looked at Mat Nivers once when Uncle Esmond had suggested his turning back to Independence; and how he had gone before all of us, the vanguard, to the top of the bluff west of Council Grove; and now he had followed this Indian girl. From that time I knew in my boy heart that this tall, careless Boston youth had a zealous care for the safety of women and children. How much care, events would run swiftly on to show me. But welded into my life from that hour was the meaning of a man's high, chivalric duty. And among all the lessons that the old trail taught to me, none served me more than this one that came to me on that sweet May morning beneath the shadow of Pawnee Rock.