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Foreword
 
 Westward, along the level prairies of a kingdom yet to be, my memory runs, with a clear vision of the days when romance died not and strong hearts never failed. The glamour of the plains is before my eyes; the tingle of courage, danger-born, is in my pulse-beat; the soft hand of love is touching my hand. I live again the drama of life wherein there are no idle actors, no stale, unmeaning lines. And beyond the action, this way _up_ the years, there runs also the forward-gazing vision toward a new Hesperides:
 Through the veins Of whose vast Empire flows, in strengthening tides, Trade, the calm health of nations.
 * * * * *
 And sometimes I would doubt If statesmen, rocked and dandled into power, Could leave such legacies to kings.


 

There came a time in the law of life When over the nursing sod The shadows broke, and the soul awoke In a strange, dim dream of God. --LANGDON SMITH.
 
 It might have been but yesterday that I saw it all: the glinting sunlight on the yellow Missouri boiling endlessly along at the foot of the bluff; the flood-washed sands across the river; the tangle of tall, coarse weeds fringing them, edged by the scrubby underbrush. And beyond that the big trees of the Missouri woodland, so level against the eastern horizon that I used to wonder if I might not walk upon their solid-looking tops if I could only reach them. I wondered, too, why the trees on our side of the river should vary so in height when those in the eastern distance were so evenly grown. One day I had asked Jondo the reason for this, and had learned that it was because of the level ground on the farther side of the valley. I began then to love the level places of the earth. I love them still. And, always excepting that one titanic rift, where the world stands edgewise, with the sublimity of the Almighty shimmering through its far depths, I love them more than any other thing that nature has yet offered to me.
 But to come back to that picture of yesterday: old Fort Leavenworth on the bluff; the little and big ravines that billow the landscape about it; the faint lines of trails winding along the hillsides toward the southwest; the unclouded skies so everlastingly big and intensely blue; and, hanging like a spray of glorious blossoms flung high above me, the swaying folds of the wind-caressed flag, now drooping on its tall staff, now swelling full and free, straight from its gripping halyards.
 Between me and the fort many people were passing to and fro, some of whom were to walk with me down the long trail of years. Evermore that April day stands out as the beginning of things for me. Dim are the days behind it, a jumble of happy childish hours, each keen enough as the things of childhood go; but from that one day to the present hour the unforgotten deeds of busy years run clearly in my memory as I lift my pen to write somewhat of their dramatic record.
 And that this may not seem all a backward gaze, let me face about and look forward from the beginning--a stretch of canvas, lurid sometimes, sometimes in glorious tinting, sometimes intensely dark, with rifts of lightning cleaving through its blackness. But nowhere dull, nowhere without design in every brush-stroke.
 I had gone out on the bluff to watch for the big fish that Bill Banney, a young Kentuckian over at the fort, had told me were to be seen only on those April days when the Missouri was running north instead of south. And that when little boys kept very still, the fish would come out of the water and play leap-frog on the sand-bars.
 If I failed to see them this morning, I meant to run back to the parade-ground and play leap-frog myself with my cousin Beverly, who wanted proof for most of Bill Banney's stories. Beverly was growing wise and lanky for his age. I was still chubby, and in most things innocent, and inclined to believe all that I heard, or I should not have been taken in by that fish story.
 We were orphans with no recollection of any other home than the log house near the fort. We had been fathered and mothered by our uncle, Esmond Clarenden, owner of the little store across the square from our house, and a larger establishment down at Independence on the Missouri River.
 Always a wonderful man to me was that Esmond Clarenden, product of one of the large old New England colleges. He found time to guard our young years with the same diplomatic system by which he controlled all of his business affairs. He laid his plans carefully and never swerved from carrying them through afterward; he insisted on order in everything; he rendered value for value in his contracts; he chose his employees carefully, and trusted them fully; he had a keen sense of humor, a genial spirit of good-will, and he loved little children. Fitted as he was by culture and genius to have entered into the greater opportunities of the Eastern States, he gave himself to the real up-building of the West, and in the larger comfort and prosperity and peace of the Kansas prairies of to-day his soul goes marching on.
 The waters, as I watched them, were all running south toward that vague, down-stream world shut off by trees at a bend of the course. I waited a long time there for the current to shift to the north, wondering meanwhile about those level-topped forests, and what I might see beyond them if I were sitting on their flat crests. And, as I wondered, the first dim sense of being _shut in_ came filtering through my childish consciousness. I could not cross the river. Big as my playground had always been, I had never been out of sight of the fort's flagstaff up-stream, nor down-stream. The wooded ravines blocked me on the southwest. What lay beyond these limits I had tried to picture again and again. I had been a dreamer all of my short life, and this new feeling of being shut in, held back, from something slipped upon me easily.
 As I sat on the bluff in the April sunshine, I turned my face toward the west and stretched out my chubby arms for larger freedom. I wanted to _see the open level places_, wanted till it hurt me. I could cry easily enough for some things. I could not cry for this. It was too deep for tears to reach. Moreover, this new longing seemed to drop down on me suddenly and overwhelm me, until I felt almost as if I were caught in a net.
 As I stared with half-seeing eyes toward the wooded ravines beyond the fort, suddenly through the budding branches I caught sight of a horseman riding down a half-marked trail into a deep hollow. Horsemen were common enough to forget in a moment, but when this one reappeared on the hither side of the ravine, I saw that the rider's face was very dark, that his dress, from the sombrero to the spurred heel, was Mexican, and that he was heavily armed, even for a plainsman. When he reached the top of the bluff he made straight across the square toward my uncle Esmond Clarenden's little storehouse, and I lost sight of him.
 Something about him seemed familiar to me, for the gift of remembering faces was mine, even then. A fleeting childish memory called up such a face and dress somewhere back in the dim days of babyhood, with the haunting sound of a low, musical voice, speaking in the soft Castilian tongue.
 But the memory vanished and I sat a long time gazing at the wooded west that hid the open West of my day-dreams.
 Suddenly Jondo came riding up on his big black horse to the very edge of the bluff.
 "You are such a little mite, I nearly forgot to see you," he called, cheerily. "Your Uncle Esmond wants you right away. Mat Nivers, or somebody else, sent me to run you down," he added, leaning over to lift me up to a seat on the horse behind him.
 Few handsomer men ever graced a saddle. Big, broad-shouldered, muscular, yet agile, a head set like a Greek statue, and a face--nobody could ever make a picture of Jondo's face for me--the curling brown hair, soft as a girl's, the broad forehead, deep-set blue eyes, heavy dark brow, cheeks always ruddy through the plain's tan, strong white teeth, firm square chin, and a smile like sunshine on the gray prairies. Eyes, lips, teeth--aye, the big heart behind them--all made that smile. No grander prince of men ever rode the trails or dared the dangers of the untamed West. I did not know his story for many years. I wish I might never have known it. But as he began with me, so he ended--brave, beloved old Jondo!
 Down on the parade-ground Beverly Clarenden and Mat Nivers were sitting with their feet crossed under them, tailor fashion, facing each other and talking earnestly. Over by the fort, Esmond Clarenden stood under a big elm-tree. A round little, stout little man he was, whose sturdy strength and grace of bearing made up for his lack of height. Like a great green tent the boughs of the elm, just budding into leaf, drooped over him. A young army officer on a cavalry horse was talking with him as we came up.
 "Run over there to Beverly now. Gail," my uncle said, with a wave of his hand.
 I was always in awe of shoulder-straps, so I scampered away toward the children. But not until, child-like, I had stared at the three men long enough to take a child's lasting estimate of things.
 I carry still the keen impression of that moment when I took, unconsciously, the measure of the three: the mounted army man, commander of the fort, big in his official authority and force; Jondo on his great black horse, to me the heroic type of chivalric courage; and between the two, Esmond Clarenden, unmounted, with feet firmly planted, suggesting nothing heroic, nothing autocratic. And yet, as he stood there, square-built, solid, certain, he seemed in some dim way to be the real man of whom the other two were but shadows. It took a quarter of a century for me to put into words what I learned with one glance that day in my childhood.
 As I came running toward the parade-ground Beverly Clarenden called out:
 "Come here, Gail! Shut your little mouth and open your big ears, and I'll tell you something. Maybe I'd better not tell you all at once, though. It might make you dizzy," he added, teasingly.
 "And maybe you better had," Mat Nivers said, calmly.
 "Maybe you'd better tell him yourself, if you feel that way," Beverly retorted.
 "I guess I'll do that," Mat began, with a twinkle in her big gray eyes; but my cousin interrupted her.
 Beverly loved to tease Mat through me, but he never got far, for I relied on her to curb him; and she was not one to be ruffled by trifles. Mat was an orphan and, like ourselves, a ward of Esmond Clarenden, but there were no ties of kinship between us. She was three years older than Beverly, and although she was no taller than he, she seemed like a woman to me, a keen-witted, good-natured child-woman, neat, cleanly, and contented. I wonder if many women get more out of life in these days of luxurious comforts than she found in the days of frontier hardships.
 "Well, it's this way, Gail. Mat doesn't know the straight of it," Beverly began, dramatically. "There's going to be a war, or something, in Mexico, or somewhere, and a lot of soldiers are coming here to drill, and drill, and drill. And then--"
 The boy paused for effect.
 "And then, and then, _and_ then--or some time," Mat Nivers mimicked, jumping into the pause. "Why, they'll go to Mexico, or somewhere. And what Bev is really trying to tell hasn't anything to do with it--not directly, anyhow," she added, wisely. "The only new thing is that Uncle Esmond is going to Santa Fé right away. You know he has bought goods of the Santa Fé traders since we couldn't remember. And now he's going down there himself, and he's going to take you boys with him. That's what Bev is trying to get out, or keep back."
 "Whoopee-diddle-dee!" Beverly shouted, throwing himself backward and kicking up his heels.
 I jumped up and capered about in glee at the thought of such a journey. But my heart-throb of childish delight was checked, mid-beat.
 "Won't Mat go, too?" I asked, with a sudden pain at my throat. Mat Nivers was a part of life to me.
 The smile fell away from the girl's lips. Her big, sunshiny gray eyes and her laughing good nature always made her beautiful to Beverly and me.
 "I don't want to go and leave Mat," I insisted.
 "Oh, I do," Beverly declared, boastingly. "It would be real nice and jolly without her. And what could a little girl do 'way out on the prairies, and no mother to take care of her, while we were shooting Indians?"
 He sprang up and took aim at the fort with an imaginary bow and arrow. But there was a hollow note in his voice as if it covered a sob.
 "She can shoot Indians as good as you can, Beverly Clarenden, and, besides, there isn't anybody to mother her here but Jondo, and I reckon he'll go with us, won't he?" I urged.
 Mothering was not in my stock of memories. The heart-hunger of the orphan child had been eased by the gentleness of Jondo, the championship of Mat Nivers, and the sure defense of Esmond Clarenden, who said little to children, and was instinctively trusted by all of them.
 With Beverly's banter the smile came back quickly to Mat's eyes. It was never lost from them long at a time.
 "Beverly Clarenden, you keep _your_ little mouth shut and _your_ big ears open," she began, laughingly. "I know the whole sheboodle better 'n any of you, and I'm not teasing and whimpering both at the same time, neither. Bev doesn't know anything except what I've told him, and I wasn't through when you got here, Gail. There is going to be a big war in Texas, and our soldiers are going to go, and to win, too. Just look up at that flag there, and remember now, boys, that wherever the Stars and Stripes go they _stay_."
 "Who told you all that?" Beverly inquired.
 "The stars up in the sky told me that last night," Mat replied, pulling down the corners of her mouth solemnly. "But Uncle Esmond hasn't anything to do with the war, nor soldiers, only like he has been doing here," the girl went on. "He's a store-man, a merchant, and I guess he's just about as good as a general--a colonel, anyhow. But he's too short to fight, and too fat to run."
 "He isn't any coward," Beverly objected.
 "Who said he was?" Mat inquired. "He's one of them usefulest men that keeps things going everywhere."
 "I saw a real Mexican come up out of the ravine awhile ago and go straight over toward Uncle Esmond's store. What do you suppose he came here for? Is he a soldier from down there?" I asked.
 "Oh, just one Mexican don't mean anything anywhere, but the war in Mexico has something to do with our going to Santa Fe, even if Uncle Esmond is just a nice little store-man. That's all a girl knows about things," Beverly insisted.
 Mat opened her big eyes wide and looked straight at the boy.
 "I don't pretend to know what I don't know, but I'll bet a million billion dollars there is something else besides just all this war stuff. I can't tell it, I just feel it. Anyhow, I'm to stay here with Aunty Boone till you come back. Girls can be trusted anywhere, but it may take the whole Army of the West, yet, to follow up and look after two little runty boys. And let me tell _you_ something, Bev, something I heard Aunty Boone say this morning." She said: "Taint goin' to be more 'n a minnit now till them boys grows up an' grows together, same size, same age. They been little and big, long as they goin' to be. Now you know what you're coming to."
 Mat was digging in the ground with a stick, and she flipped a clod at Beverly with the last words. Both of us had once expected to marry her when we grew up, unless Jondo should carry her away as his bride before that time. He was a dozen years older than Mat, who was only fourteen and small for her age. A flush always came to her cheeks when we talked of Jondo in that way. We didn't know why.
 We sat silent for a little while. A vague sense of desolateness, of the turning-places of life, as real to children as to older folk, seemed to press suddenly down upon all three of us. Ours was not the ordinary child-life even of that day. And that was a time when children had no world of their own as they have to-day. Whatever developed men and women became a part of the younger life training as well. And while we were ignorant of much that many children then learned early, for we had lived mostly beside the fort on the edge of the wilderness, we were alert, and self-dependent, fearless and far-seeing. We could use tools readily: we could build fires and prepare game for cooking; we could climb trees, set traps, swim in the creek, and ride horses. Moreover, we were bound to one another by the force of isolation and need for playmates. Our imagination supplied much that our surroundings denied us. So we felt more deeply, maybe, than many city-bred children who would have paled with fear at dangers that we only laughed over.
 No ripple in the even tenor of our days, however, had given any hint of the coming of this sudden tense oppression on our young souls, and we were stunned by what we could neither express nor understand.
 "Whatever comes or doesn't come," Beverly said at last, stretching himself at full length, stomach downward, on the bare ground, "whatever happens to us, we three will stand by each other always and always, won't we, Mat?"
 He lifted his face to the girl's. Oh, Beverly! I saw him again one day down the years, stretched out on the ground like this, lifting again a pleading face. But that belongs--down the years.
 "Yes, always and always," Mat replied, and then because she had a Spartan spirit, she added: "But let's don't say any more that way. Let's think of what you are going to see--the plains, the Santa Fé Trail, the mountains, and maybe bad Indians. And even old Santa Fé town itself. You are in for 'the big shift,' as Aunty Boone says, and you've got to be little men and take whatever comes. It will come fast enough, you can bet on that."
 Yesterday I might have sobbed on her shoulder. I did not know then that out on the bluff an hour ago I had come to the first turn in my life-trail, and that I could not look back now. I did know that I _wanted to go with Uncle Esmond._ I looked away from Mat's gray eyes, and Beverly's head dropped on his arms, face downward--looked at nothing but blue sky, and a graceful drooping flag; nothing but a half-sleepy, half-active fort; nothing but the yellow April floods far up-stream, between wooded banks tenderly gray-green in the spring sunshine. But I did not see any of these things then. Before my eyes there stretched a vast level prairie, with dim mountain heights beyond them. And marching toward them westward, westward, past lurking danger, Indians here and wild beasts there, went three men: the officer on his cavalry mount; Jondo on his big black horse; Esmond Clarenden, neither mounted nor on foot, it seemed, but going forward somehow. And between these three and the misty mountain peaks there was a face--not Mat Nivers's, for the first time in all my day-dreams--a sweet face with dark eyes looking straight into mine. And plainly then, just as plainly as I have heard it many times since then, came a call--the first clear bugle-note of the child-soul--a call to service, to patriotism, and to love.
 All that afternoon while Mat Nivers sang about her tasks Beverly and I tried to play together among the elm and cottonwood trees about our little home, but evening found us wide awake and moping. Instead of the two tired little sleepy-heads that could barely finish supper, awake, when night came, we lay in our trundle-bed, whispering softly to each other and staring at the dark with tear-wet eyes--our spiritual barometers warning us of a coming change. Something must have happened to us that night which only the retrospect of years revealed. In that hour Beverly Clarenden lost a year of his life and I gained one. From that time we were no longer little and big to each other--we were comrades.
 It must have been nearly midnight when I crept out of bed and slipped into the big room where Uncle Esmond and Jondo sat by the fireplace, talking together.
 "Hello, little night-hawk! Come here and roost," Jondo said, opening his arms to me.
 I slid into their embrace and snuggled my head against his broad shoulder, listening to all that was said. Three months later the little boy had become a little man, and my cuddling days had given place to the self-reliance of the fearless youngster of the trail.
 "Why do you make this trip now, Esmond?" Jondo asked at length, looking straight into my uncle's face.
 "I want to get down there right now because I want to get a grip on trade conditions. I can do better after the war if I do. It won't last long, and we are sure to take over a big piece of ground there when it is over. And when that is settled commerce must do the real building-up of the country. I want to be a part of that thing and grow with it. Why do you go with me?"
 My uncle looked directly at Jondo, although he asked the question carelessly.
 "To help you cross the plains. You know the redskins get worse every trip," Jondo answered, lightly.
 I stared at both of them until Jondo said, laughingly:
 "You little owl, what are you thinking about?"
 "I think you are telling each other stories," I replied, frankly.
 For somehow their faces made me think of Beverly's face out on the parade-ground that morning, when he had lifted it and looked at Mat Nivers; and their voices, deep bass as they were, sounded like Beverly's voice whispering between his sobs, before he went to sleep.
 Both men smiled and said nothing. But when I went to my bed again Jondo tucked the covers about me and Uncle Esmond came and bade me good night.
 "I guess you have the makings of a plainsman," he said, with a smile, as he patted me on the head.
 "The beginnings, anyhow," Jondo added. "He can see pretty far already."
 For a long time I lay awake, thinking of all that Uncle Esmond and Jondo had said to me. It is no wonder that I remember that April day as if it were but yesterday. Such days come only to childhood, and oftentimes when no one of older years can see clearly enough to understand the bigness of their meaning to the child who lives through them.
 All of my life I had heard stories of the East, of New York and St. Louis, where there were big houses and wonderful stores. And of Washington, where there was a President, and a Congress, and a strange power that could fill and empty Fort Leavenworth at will. I had heard of the Great Lakes, and of cotton-fields, and tobacco-plantations, and sugar-camps, and ships, and steam-cars. I had pictured these things a thousand times in my busy imagination and had longed to see them. But from that day they went out of my life-dreams. Henceforth I belonged to the prairies of the West. No one but myself took account of this, nor guessed that a life-trend had had its commencement in the small events of one unimportant day. 


 

One stone the more swings to her place In that dread Temple of Thy worth; It is enough that through Thy grace I saw naught common on Thy earth.
 
 The next morning I was wakened by the soft voice of Aunty Boone, our cook, saying:
 "You better get up! Revilly blow over at the fort long time ago. Wonder it didn't blow your batter-cakes clear away. Mat and Beverly been up since 'fore sunup."
 Aunty Boone was the biggest woman I have ever seen. Not the tallest, maybe--although she measured up to a height of six feet and two inches--not the fattest, but a woman with the biggest human frame, overlaid with steel-hard muscles. Yet she was not, in her way, clumsy or awkward. She walked with a free stride, and her every motion showed a powerful muscular control. Her face was jet-black, with keen shining eyes, and glittering white teeth. In my little child-world she was the strangest creature I had ever known. In the larger world whither the years of my manhood have led me she holds the same place.
 She had been born a princess of royal blood, heir to a queenship in her tribe in a far-away African kingdom. In her young womanhood, so the tale ran, the slave-hunter had found her and driven her aboard a slave-ship bound for the American coast. He never drove another slave toward any coast. In Virginia her first purchaser had sold her quickly to a Georgia planter whose _heirs_ sent her on to Mississippi. Thence she soon found her way to the Louisiana rice-fields. Nobody came to take her back to any place she had quitted. "Safety first," is not a recent practice. She had enormous strength and capacity for endurance, she learned rapidly, kept her own counsel, obeyed no command unless she chose to do so, and feared nothing in the Lord's universe. The people of her own race had little in common with her. They never understood her and so they feared her. And being as it were outcast by them, she came to know more of the ways and customs, and even the thoughts, of the white people better than of her own. Being quick to imitate, she spoke in the correcter language of those whom she knew best, rather than the soft, ungrammatical dialect of the plantation slave or the grunt and mumble of the isolated African. Realizing that service was to be her lot, she elected to render that service where and to whom she herself might choose.
 One day she had walked into New Orleans and boarded a Mississippi steamer bound for St. Louis. It took three men to eject her bodily from the deck into a deep and dangerous portion of the stream. She swam ashore, and when the steamer made its next stop she walked aboard again. The three men being under the care of a physician, and the remainder of the crew burdened with other tasks, she was not again disturbed. Some time later she appeared at the landing below Fort Leavenworth, and strode up the slope to the deserted square where Esmond Clarenden stood before his little store alone in the deepening twilight.
 I have heard that she had had a way of appearing suddenly, like a beast of prey, in the dusk of the evening, and that few men cared to meet her at that time alone.
 My uncle was a snug-built man, sixty-two inches high, with small, shapely hands and feet. Towering above him stood this great, strange creature, barefooted, ragged, half tiger, half sphinx.
 "I'm hungry. I'll eat or I kill. I'm nobody's slave!"
 The soft voice was full of menace, the glare of famine and fury was in the burning eyes, and the supple cruelty of the wild beast was in the clenched hands.
 Esmond Clarenden looked up at her with interest. Then pointing toward our house he said, calmly:
 "Neither are you anybody's master. Go over there to the kitchen and get your supper. If you can cook good meals, I'll pay you well. If you can't, you'll leave here."
 Possibly it was the first time in her strange and varied career that she had taken a command kindly, and obeyed because she must. And so the savage African princess, the terror of the terrible slave-ship, the untamed plantation scourge, with a record for deeds that belong to another age and social code, became the great, silent, faithful, fearless servant of the plains; with us, but never of us, in all the years that followed. But she fitted the condition of her day, and in her place she stood, where the beloved black mammy of a gentler mold would have fallen.
 She announced that her name was Daniel Boone, which Uncle Esmond considered well enough for one of such a westward-roving nature. But Jondo declared that the "Daniel" belonged to her because, like unto the Bible Daniel, no lion, nor whole den of lions, would ever dine at her expense. To us she became Aunty Boone. With us she was always gentle--docile, rather; and one day we came to know her real measure, and--we never forgot her.
 I bounced out of bed at her call this morning, and bounced my breakfast into a healthy, good-natured stomach. The sunny April of yesterday had whirled into a chilly rain, whipped along by a raw wind. The skies were black and all the spring verdure was turned to a sickish gray-green.
 "Weather always fit the times," Aunty Boone commented as she heaped my plate with the fat buckwheat cakes that only she could ever turn off a griddle. "You packin' up for somepin' now. What you goin' to get is fo'casted in this here nasty day."
 "Why, we _are_ going away!" I cried, suddenly recalling the day before. "I wish, though, that Mat could go. Wouldn't you like to go, too, Aunty? Only, Bev says there's deserts, where there's just rocks and sand and everything, and no water sometimes. You and Mat couldn't stand that 'cause you are women-folks."
 I stiffened with importance and clutched my knife and fork hard.
 "Couldn't!" Aunty Boone gave a scornful grunt. "Women-folks stands double more 'n men. You'll see when you get older. I know about you freightin' off to Santy Fee. _You_ don't know what desset is. _You_ never _see sand_. You never _feel_ what it is to _want watah_. Only folks 'cross the ocean in the real desset knows that. Whoo-ee!"
 I remembered the weird tales she had told us of her girlhood--tales that had thrilled me with wonder--told sometimes in the twilight, sometimes by the kitchen fire on winter nights, sometimes on long, still, midsummer afternoons when the air quivered with heat and the Missouri hung about hot sand-bars, half asleep.
 "What do you know about this trip, Aunty Boone?" I asked, eagerly; for although she could neither read nor write, she had a sponge-like absorbing power for keeping posted on all that happened at the fort.
 "Cla'n'den"--the woman never called my uncle by any other name--"he's goin' to Santy Fee, an' you boys with him, 'cause--"
 She paused and her shining eyes grew dull as they had a way of doing in her thoughtful or prophetic moments.
 "He knows what for--him an' Jondo. One of 'em's storekeeper an' t'other a plainsman, but they tote together always--an' they totin' now. You can't see what, but they totin', they totin', just the same. Now run out to the store. Things is stirrin'. Things is stirrin'."
 I bolted my cakes, sodden with maple syrup, drank my mug of milk, and hurried out toward the storehouse.
 Fort Leavenworth in the middle '40's was sometimes an indolent place, and sometimes a very busy one, depending upon the activity of the Western frontier. On this raw April morning everything was fairly ajerk with life and motion. And I knew from child-experience that a body of soldiers must be coming up the river soon. Horses were rushed to-day where yesterday they had been leisurely led. Orders were shouted now that had been half sung a week ago. Military discipline took the place of fatigue attitudes. There was a banging of doors, a swinging of brooms, a clatter of tin, and a clanging of iron things. And everywhere went that slapping wind. And every shallow place in the ground held a chilly puddle. The government buildings always seemed big and bare and cold to me. And this morning they seemed drearier than ever, beaten upon by the fitful swish of the rain.
 In contrast with these were my uncle's snug quarters, for warmth was a part of Esmond Clarenden's creed. I used to think that the little storeroom, filled with such things as a frontier fort could find use for, was the biggest emporium in America, and the owner thereof suffered nothing, in my eyes, in comparison with A.T. Stewart, the opulent New York merchant of his day.
 As I ran, bareheaded and coatless, across the wide wet space between our home and the storehouse a soldier came dashing by on horseback. I dodged behind him only to fall sprawling in a slippery pool under the very feet of another horseman, riding swiftly toward the boat-landing.
 Neither man paid any attention to me as I slowly picked myself up and started toward the store. The soldier had not seen me at all. The other man's face was dark, and he wore the dress of the Mexican. It was only by his alertness and skill that his horse missed me, but as he hurried away he gave no more heed to me than if I had been a stone in his path.
 I had turned my ankle in the fall and I could only limp to the storehouse and drop down inside. I would not cry out, but I could not hold back the sobs as I tried to stand, and fell again in a heap at Jondo's feet.
 "Things were stirrin'" there, as Aunty Boone had said, but withal there was no disorder. Esmond Clarenden never did business in that way. No loose ends flapped about his rigging, and when a piece of work was finished with him, there was nothing left to clear away. Bill Banney, the big grown-up boy from Kentucky, who, out of love of adventure, had recently come to the fort, was helping Jondo with the packing of certain goods. Mat and Beverly were perched on the counter, watching all that was being done and hearing all that was said.
 "What's the matter, little plainsman?" Jondo cried, catching me up and setting me on the counter. "Got a thorn in your shoe, or a stone-bruise, or a chilblain?"
 "I slipped out there behind a soldier on horseback, right in front of a little old Mexican who was just whirling off to the river," I said, the tears blinding my eyes.
 "Why, he's turned his ankle! Looks like it was swelling already," Mat Nivers declared, as she slid from the counter and ran toward me.
 "It's a bad job," Jondo declared. "Just when we want to get off, too."
 "Can't I go with you to Santa Fé, Uncle Esmond?" I wailed.
 "Yes, Gail, we'll fix you up all right," my uncle said, but his face was grave as he examined my ankle.
 It was a bad job, much worse than any of us had thought at first. And as they all gathered round me I suddenly noticed the same Mexican standing in the doorway, and I heard some one, I think it was Uncle Esmond, say:
 "Jondo, you'd better take Gail over to the surgeon right away--" His voice trailed off somewhere and all was blank nothingness to me. But my last impression was that my uncle stayed behind with the strange Mexican.
 In the excitement everybody forgot that I had on neither hat nor coat as they carried me through the raw wet air to the army surgeon's quarters beyond the soldiers' barracks.
 A chill and fever followed, and for a week there was only pain and trouble for me. Nothing else hurt quite so deeply, however, as the fear of being left behind when the Clarendens should start for Santa Fé. I would ask no questions, and nobody mentioned the trip, for which everything was preparing. I began at last to have a dread of being left in the night, of wakening some morning to find only Mat and myself with Aunty Boone in the little log house. Uncle Esmond had already been away for three days, but nobody told me where he had gone, nor why he went, nor when he would come back. It kept me awake at night, and the loss of sleep made me nervous and feverish.
 One afternoon about a week after my accident, when Beverly and Mat were putting the room in order and chattering like a couple of squirrels, Beverly said, carelessly:
 "Gail, it's been a half a week since Uncle Esmond went down to our other store in Independence, and we are going to start on our trip just as soon as he gets back, unless he sends for me and Jondo."
 I knew that he was trying to tell me that they meant to go without me, for he hurried out with the last words. No boy wants to talk to a disappointed boy, and I had to clinch my teeth hard to keep back the tears.
 "I want to get well quicker, Mat. I want to go to Santa Fé with Beverly," I wailed, making a desperate effort to get out of bed.
 "You cuddle right down there, Gail Clarenden, if you want to get well at all. If you're real careful you'll be all right in a day or two. Let's wait for Uncle Esmond to come home before we start any worries."
 It was in her voice, girl or woman, that comforting note that could always soothe me.
 "Mat, won't you try to get them to let me go?" I pleaded.
 She made no promises, but busied herself with getting my foot into its place again, singing softly to herself all the while. Then she read me stories from our few story-books till I fell asleep.
 It was twilight when I wakened. Where I lay I could hear Esmond Clarenden and Aunty Boone talking in the kitchen, and I listened eagerly to all they said.
 "But it's no place for a woman," my uncle was urging, gravely.
 "I ain't a woman, I'm a cook. You want cooks if you eats. Mat ain't a woman, she's a girl. But she's stronger 'n Beverly. If you can't leave him, how can you leave her? An' Gail never get well if he's left here, Cla'n'den, now he's got the goin' fever. Never! An' if you never got back--"
 "I don't believe he would get well, either." Then Uncle Esmond spoke lower and I could not hear any more.
 Pretty soon Mat and Beverly burst open the door and came dancing in together, the sweet air of the warm April evening coming in with them, and life grew rose-colored for me in a moment.
 "We are all going to Santa Fé over the long trail. Every last gun of us. Aunty Boone, and Mat, and you, and me, and Jondo, and Uncle Esmond, rag-tag and bobtail. Whoop-ee-diddle-dee!" Beverly threw up his cap, and, catching Mat by the arms, they whirled around the room together.
 "Who says so, Bev?" I asked, eagerly.
 "Them as knows and bosses everything in this world. Jondo told me, and he's just the boss's shadow. Now guess who," Beverly replied.
 "It's all true, Gail," Mat assured me. "Esmond Clarenden _is_ going to Santa Fé in spite of 'war, pestilence, famine, and sword,' as my _History of the World_ says, and he _is_ going to take son Beverly, and son Gail to watch son Beverly; and Miss Mat Nivers to watch both of them and shoo Indians away; and Aunt Daniel Boone to scare the Mexicans into the Gulf of California, if they act ugly, see!"
 She capered about the room, and as she passed me she stooped and patted me on the forehead. I didn't want her to do that. I had taken a long jump away from little-boy-dom a week ago, but I was supremely content now that all of us were to take the long trail together.
 That evening while Mat and Beverly went to look after some fishing-lines they had set--Mat and Bev were always going fishing--and Jondo was down at the store, the officer in command of the fort came in. He paid no attention to me lying there, all eyes and ears whenever shoulder-straps were present.
 "What did you decide to do about the trip to Santa Fé?" he asked, as he tipped back in his chair and settled down to cigars and an evening chat.
 "We shall be leaving on the boat in the morning," my uncle replied.
 The colonel's chair came down with a crack. "You don't mean it!" he exclaimed.
 "I told you a week ago that I would be starting as soon as possible," Esmond Clarenden said, quietly.
 "But, man, the war is raging, simply raging, down in Mexico right now. Our division will be here to commence drill in a few weeks, and we start for the border in a few months. You are mad to take such a risk." The commander's voice rose.
 "We must go, that's all!" my uncle insisted.
 "We? We? Who the devil are 'we'? None of my companies mutinied, I hope."
 The words did not sound like a joke, and there was little humor in the grim face.
 "'We' means Jondo, Banney, a young fellow from Kentucky--" Uncle Esmond began.
 "Humph! Banney's father carried a gun at Fort Dearborn in 1812. I thought that young fellow came here for military service," the colonel commented, testily.
 "Rather say he came for adventure," Esmond Clarenden suggested.
 "He'll get a deuced lot of it in a hurry, if you persuade him off with you."
 A flush swept over Esmond Clarenden's face, but his good-natured smile did not fail as he replied:
 "I don't persuade anybody. The rest of the company are my two nephews and the little girl, my ward, with our cook, Daniel Boone, as commander-in-chief of the pots and pans and any Indian meat foolish enough to fall in her way."
 Then came the explosion. Powder would have cost less than the energy blown off there. The colonel stamped and swore, and sprang to his feet in opposition, and flung himself down in disgust.
 "Women and children!" he gasped. "Why do you sacrifice helpless innocent ones?"
 Just then Aunty Boone strode in carrying a log of wood as big as a man's body, which she deftly threw on the fire. As the flame blazed high she gave one look at the young officer sitting before it, and then walked out as silently and sturdily as she had entered. It was such a look as a Great Dane dog full of superiority and indifference might have given to a terrier puppy, and from where I lay I thought the military man's face took on a very strange expression.
 "I 'sacrifice my innocent ones,'" my uncle answered the query, "because they will be safer with me than anywhere else. Young as they are, there are some forces against them already."
 "Well, you are going to a perilous place, over a most perilous trail, in a most perilous time of national affairs, to meet such treacherously villainous men as New Mexico offers in her market-places right now? And all for the sake of the commerce of the plains? Why do you take such chances to do business with such people, Clarenden?"
 Esmond Clarenden had been staring at the burning logs in the big fireplace during this conversation. He turned now and faced the young army officer squarely as he said in that level tone that we children had learned long ago was final:
 "Colonel, I'd go straight to hell and do business with the devil himself if I had any business dealings with him."
 The colonel's face fell. Slowly he relighted his cigar, and leaned back again in his chair, and with that diplomacy that covers a skilful retreat he said, smilingly:
 "If any man west of the Missouri River ever could do that it would be you, Clarenden. By the holy Jerusalem, the military lost one grand commander when you chose a college instead of West Point, and the East lost one well-bred gentleman from its circles of commerce and culture when you elected to do business on the old Santa Fé Trail instead of Broadway. But I reckon the West will need just such men as you long after the frontier fort has become a central point in the country's civilized area. And, blast you, Clarenden, blast your very picture! No man can help liking you. Not even the devil if he had the chance. Not one man in ten thousand would dare to make that trip right now. You've got the courage of a colonel and the judgment of a judge. Go to Santa Fé! We may meet you coming back. If we do, and you need us, command us!"
 He gave a courteous salute, and the two began to talk of other things; among them the purposes that were bringing young men westward.
 "So Banney, right out of old blue-grassy Kentucky, is going to back out of here and go with you," the colonel remarked.
 "I've hired him to drive one team. It's a lark for him, but the army would be a lark just the same," Esmond Clarenden declared. "He says he is to kill rattlesnakes and Mexicans, while Jondo kills Indians and I sit tight on top of the bales of goods to keep the wind from blowing them away. And the boys are to be made bridle-wise, _plains-broke_ for future freighting. That's all that life means to him right now."
 I do not know what else was said, nor what I heard and what I dreamed after that. If this journey meant a lark to a grown-up boy, it meant a pilgrimage through fairyland to a young boy like myself.
 And so the new life opened to us; and if the way was fraught with hardship and danger, it also taught us courage and endurance. Nor must we be measured by the boy life of to-day. Children lived the grown-up life then. It was all there was for them to live.
 The yellow Missouri boiled endlessly along by the foot of the bluff. The flag flapped broadly in the strong breeze that blew in from the west; the square log house--the only home we had ever known--looked forlornly after us, with its two front windows with blinds half drawn, like two half-closed, watching eyes; the cottonwoods and elms, the tiny storehouse--everything--grew suddenly very dear to us. The fort buildings throwing long shadows in the early morning, the level-topped forests east of the Missouri River, and the budding woodland that overdraped the ravines to the west, even in their silence, seemed like sentient things, loving us, as we loved them.
 We children had gone all over the place before sunrise and touched everything, in token of good-by; from some instinct tarrying longest at the flagpole, where we threw kisses to the great, beautiful banner high above us. Now, at the moment of leaving all these familiar things of all our years, a choking pain came to our throats. Mat's eyes filled with tears and she looked resolutely forward. Beverly and I clutched hands and shut our teeth together, determined to overcome this home-grip on our hearts. Aunty Boone sat in a corner of the deck as the boat swung out into the stream, her eyes dull and unseeing. She never spoke of her thoughts, but I have wondered often, since that big day of my young years, if she might not have recalled other voyages: the slave-ship putting out to sea with the African shores fading behind her; and the big river steamer at the New Orleans dock where brutal hands had hurled her from the deck into the dangerous floods of the Mississippi. This was her third voyage, a brief run from Fort Leavenworth to Independence. She was apart from her fellow-passengers as in the other two, but now nobody gave her a curse, nor a blow.


 

Whose furthest footsteps never strayed Beyond the village of his birth, Is but a lodger for the night In this old Wayside Inn of Earth.
 
 The broad green prairies of the West roll back in huge billows from the Missouri bluffs, and ripple gently on, to melt at last into the level grassy plains sloping away to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Up and down these land-waves, and across these ripples, the old Santa Fé Trail, the slender pathway of a wilderness-bridging commerce, led out toward the great Southwest--a thousand weary miles--to end at last, where the narrow thoroughfare reached the primitive hostelry at the corner of the plaza in the heart of the capital of a Spanish-Mexican demesne.
 It was a strange old highway, tying the western frontier of a new, self-reliant American civilization to the eastern limit of an autocratic European offshoot, grafted upon an ancient Indian stock of the Western Hemisphere. In language, nationality, social code, political faith, and prevailing spiritual creed, the terminals of this highway were as unlike as their geographical naming. For the trail began at _Independence_, in Missouri, and ended at Santa Fé, the "_City of the Holy Faith_," in New Mexico.
 The little trading town of Independence was a busy place in the frontier years of the Middle West. Ungentle and unlovely as it was, it was the great gateway between the river traffic on the one side, and the plains commerce of the far Southwest on the other. At the wharf at Westport, only a few miles away, the steamers left their cargoes of flour and bacon, coffee and calicoes, jewelry and sugar--whatever might have a market value to merchants beyond the desert lands. And here these same steamers took on furs, and silver bullion, and such other produce of the mountains and mines and open plains as the opulently laden caravans had toiled through long days, overland, to bring to the river's wharf.
 To-day the same old gateway stands as of yore. But it may be given only to men who have seen what I have seen, to know how that our Kansas City, the Beautiful, could grow up from that old wilderness outpost of commerce threescore and more years ago.
 The Clarenden store was the busiest spot in the center of this busy little town. Goods from both lines of trade entered and cleared here. In front of the building three Conestoga wagons with stout mule teams stood ready. A fourth wagon, the Dearborn carriage of that time, filled mostly with bedding, clothing, and the few luxuries a long camping-out journey may indulge in, waited only for a team, and we would be off to the plains.
 Jondo and Bill Banney were busy with the last things to be done before we started. Aunty Boone sat on a pile of pelts inside the store, smoking her pipe. Beverly and Mat stood waiting in the big doorway, while I sat on a barrel outside, because my ankle was still a bit stiff. A crowd had gathered before the store to see us off. It was not such a company as the soldier-men at the fort. The outlaw, the loafer, the drunkard, the ruffian, the gambler, and the trickster far outnumbered the stern-faced men of affairs. When the balance turns the other way the frontier disappears. Mingling with these was a pale-faced invalid now and then, with the well-appointed new arrivals from the East.
 "What are we waiting for, Bev?" I asked, as the street filled with men.
 "Got to get another span of moolies for our baby-cart. Uncle Esmond hadn't counted on the nurse and the cook going, you know, but he rigged this littler wagon out in a twinkle."
 "That's the family carriage, drawn by spirited steeds. Us children are to ride in it, with Daniel Boone to help with the driving," Mat added.
 Just then Esmond Clarenden appeared at the door.
 "How soon do you start, Clarenden?" some one in the crowd inquired.
 "Just as soon as I can get a pair of well-broken mules," he replied. "I'm looking for the man who has them to sell quick. I'm in a hurry."
 "What's your great rush?" a well-dressed stranger asked. "They tell me things look squally out West."
 "All the more reason for my being in a hurry then," Uncle Esmond returned.
 "They ain't but three men of you, is they? What do you want of more mules?" put in an inquisitive idler of the trouble-loving class who sooner or later turn arguments into bitter brawls.
 "These three children and the cook in there have this wagon. They are all fair drivers, if I can get the right mules," my uncle said.
 Women and children did not cross the plains in those days, nor could public welfare allow that so valuable a piece of property as Aunty Boone would be in the slave-market should be lost to commerce, and the storm of protest that followed would have overcome a less determined man. It was not on account of sympathy for the weak and defenseless that called out all this abuse, but the lawless spirit that stirs up a mob on the slightest excuse.
 I slid away to the door, where, with Mat and Beverly, I watched Esmond Clarenden, who was listening with his good-natured smile to all of that loud street talk.
 "No man's life is insurable in these troublesome times, with our troops right now down in Mexico," a suave Southern trader urged. "Better sell your slave and put that nice little gal in a boardin'-school somewhere in the South."
 "I'll give you a mighty good bargain for that wench, Clarenden. She might be worth a clare fortune in New Orleans. What d'ye say to a cool thousand?" another man declared, with a slow. Southern drawl.
 Aunty Boone took the pipe from her lips and looked at the stranger.
 "Y'would!" she grunted, stretching her big right hand across her lap, like a huge paw with claws ready underneath.
 "Them plains Injuns never was more _hostile_ than they air right now. I just got in from the mountains an' I know. An' they're bein' set on by more _hostile_ Mexican devils, and political _intrigs_," a bearded mountaineer trapper argued.
 "'Sides all that," interposed the suave Southern gentleman, "it's too early in the spring. Freightin's bound to be delayed by rains--and a nice little gal with only a nigger--" He was not quite himself, and he did not try to say more.
 "Seems like some of these gentlemen consider you are some sort of a fool," a tall, lean Yankee youth observed, as he listened to the babble.
 I had climbed back on the barrel again to see the crowd better, and I stared at the last speaker. His voice was not unpleasant, but he appeared pale and weak and spiritless in that company of tanned, rugged men. Evidently he was an invalid in search of health. We children had seen many invalids, from time to time, at the fort harmless folk, who came to fuss, and stayed to flourish, in our gracious land of the open air.
 "You are a dam' fool," roared a big drunken loafer from the edge of the crowd. "An' I'd lick you in a minnit if you das step into the middle of the street onct. Ornery sneak, to take innocent children into such perils. Come on out here, I tell ye!"
 A growl followed these words. Many men in that company were less than half sober, and utterly irresponsible.
 "Le's jes' hang the fool storekeepin' gent right now; an' make a free-fur-all holiday. I'll begin," the drunken ruffian bawled. He was of the sort that always leads a mob.
 The growl deepened, for blood-lust and drunkenness go together.
 Terrified for my uncle's safety, I stood breathless, staring at the evil-faced crowd of men going suddenly mad, without excuse. At the farthest edge of the insipient mob, sitting on his horse and watching my uncle's face intently, was the very Mexican whom I had twice seen at Fort Leavenworth. At the drunken rowdy's challenge, I thought that he half-lifted a threatening hand. But Esmond Clarenden only smiled, with a mere turn of his head as if in disapproval. In that minute I learned my first lesson in handling ruffians. I knew that my uncle was not afraid, and because of that my faith in his power to take care of himself came back.
 "I want to leave here in half an hour. If you have any good plains-broke mules you will sell for cash, I can do business with you right now. If not, the sooner you leave this place the better."
 He lifted his small, shapely hand unclenched, his good-natured smile and gentlemanly bearing unchanged, but his low voice was stronger than all the growls of the crowd that fell back like whipped dogs.
 As he spoke a horse-dealer, seeing the gathering before the store, came galloping up.
 "I'm your man. Money talks so I can understand it. Wait five minutes and ten seconds and I'll bring a whole strand of mules."
 A rattling of wagons and roar of voices at the far end of the street told of the arrival of a company coming in from the wharf at Westport, and the crowd whirled about and made haste toward the next scene of interest.
 Only two men remained behind, the tall New England youth and the Mexican on the farther side of the street sitting motionless on his horse. A moment later he was gone, and the street was empty save for the pale-faced invalid who had come over to the doorway where Mat and Beverly and I waited together.
 "Why don't you youngsters stay home with your mother, or is she going with you?" he asked, a gleam of interest lighting his dull face as he looked at Mat Nivers.
 "We haven't any of us got a mother," Mat replied, timidly, lifting her gray eyes to his.
 "Mother! Ain't you all one family?" the young man questioned in surprise.
 "No, we are three orphan children that Uncle Esmond has adopted all our lives, I guess." Beverly informed him.
 A wave of sympathy swept over his face.
 "You poor, lonely, unhappy cubs! You've never had a mother to love you!" he exclaimed, in kindly pity.
 "We aren't poor nor lonely nor unhappy. We have always had Uncle Esmond and we didn't need a mother," I exclaimed, earnestly.
 The young man stared at me as I spoke. "What's he, a bachelor or married man?" he inquired.
 "He couldn't be married and keep us, I reckon, and he's taking us with him so nothing will happen to us while he's gone. He's really truly Bev's uncle and mine, but he's just the same as uncle to Mat, who hasn't anybody else," I declared, enthusiastically. Uncle Esmond was my pride, and I meant that he should be fully appreciated.
 The Yankee gazed at all three of us, his eyes resting longest on Mat's bright face. The listlessness left his own that minute and a new light shone on his countenance. But when he turned to my uncle the seeming lack of all interest in living returned to his face again.
 "Say," he drawled, looking down at the stubborn little merchant from his slim six feet of altitude, "you are such a dam' fool as our friend, the tipsy one, says, that I believe I'll go along 'cross the plains with you, if you'll let me. I've not got a darned thing to lose out there but a sick carcass that I'm pretty tired of looking after," he went on, wearily. "I reckon I might as well see the fun through if I never set a hoof on old Plymouth Rock again. My granddaddy was a minute-man at Lexington. Say"--he paused, and his sober face turned sad--"if all the bean-eaters who claim their grandpas were minute-men tell the truth, there wasn't no glory in winning at Lexington, there was such a tremendous sight of 'em. I've heard about eight million men myself make the same claim. But my granddad was the real article in the minute-men business. And I've always admired his grit most of any man in the world. He was about your shape, I reckon, from his picture that old man Copley got out. But, man! he wasn't a patchin' on your coat-sleeve. You are the preposterous-est unlawful-est infamous-est man I ever saw. It's just straight murder and suicide you are bent on, takin' this awful chance of plungin' into a warrin', snake-eatin' country like New Mexico, and I like you for it. Will you take me as an added burden? If you will, I'll deposit the price of my state-room right now. I've got only a little wad of money to get well on or die on. I can spend it either way--not much difference which. My name is Krane, Rex Krane, and in spite of such a floopsy name I hail from Boston, U.S.A."
 There was a hopeless sagging about the young man's mouth, redeemed only by the twinkle in his eye.
 Esmond Clarenden gave him a steady measuring look. He estimated men easily, and rarely failed to estimate truly.
 "I'll take you on your face value," he answered, "and if you want to turn back there will be a chance to do it out a hundred miles or more on the trail. You can try it that far and see how you like it. I'll furnish you your board. There are always plenty of bedrooms on the ground floor and in one of the wagons on rainy nights. You can take a shift driving a team now and then, and every able-bodied man has to do guard duty some of the time. You understand the dangers of the situation by this time. Here comes my man," he added, as the horse-dealer appeared, leading a string of mules up the street.
 "Here's your critters. Take your choice," the dealer urged.
 "I'll take the brown one," my uncle replied, promptly. And the bargain was closed.
 Mat and Beverly and I had already climbed into our wagon, and Aunty Boone appeared now at the store door, ready to join us.
 "You takin' that nigger?" the trader asked.
 "Yes. Lead out your best offer now. I want another mule," Esmond Clarenden replied.
 But the horse-merchant proved to be harder to deal with than the crowd had been. The foolish risk of losing so valuable a piece of property as Daniel Boone ought to be in the slave-market taxed his powers of understanding, profanity, and abuse.
 "Cussin' solid, an' in streaks," Aunty Boone chuckled, softly, as she listened to him unmoved.
 Equally unmoved was Esmond Clarenden. But his genial smile and diplomatic power of keeping still did not prevent him from being as set as the everlasting hills in his own purpose.
 "This here critter is all I'll sell you," the trader declared at last, pulling a big white-eyed dun animal out of the group. "An' nobody's goin' to drive her easy."
 "I'll take it," Uncle Esmond said, promptly, and the vicious-looking beast was brought to where Aunty Boone stood beside the wagon-tongue.
 It was a clear case of hate at first sight, for the mule began to plunge and squeal the instant it saw her. The woman hesitated not a minute, but lifting her big ham-like foot, she gave it one broadside kick that it must have mistaken for a thunderbolt, and in that low purr of hers, that might frighten a jungle tiger, she laid down the law of the journey.
 "You tote me to Santy Fee, or be a dead mule. Take yo' choice right now! Git up!"
 For fifty days the one dependable, docile servant of the Clarendens was the big dun mule, as gentle and kitten-like as a mule can be.
 And so, in spite of opposing conditions and rabble protest and doleful prophecy and the assurance of certain perils, we turned our faces toward the unfriendly land of the sunset skies, the open West of my childish day-dreams.
 * * * * *
 The prairies were splashed with showers and the warm black soil was fecund with growths as our little company followed the windings of the old trail in that wondrous springtime of my own life's spring. There were eight of us: Clarenden, the merchant; Jondo, the big plainsman; Bill Banney, whom love of adventure had lured from the blue grass of Kentucky to the prairie-grass of the West; Rex Krane, the devil-may-care invalid from Boston; and the quartet of us in the "baby cab," as Beverly had christened the family wagon. Uncle Esmond had added three swift ponies to our equipment, which Jondo and Bill found time to tame for riding as we went along.
 We met wagon-trains, scouts, and solitary trappers going east, but so far as we knew our little company was the only westward-facing one on all the big prairies.
 "It's just like living in a fairy-story, isn't it, Gail?" Beverly said to me one evening, as we rounded a low hill and followed a deep little creek down to a shallow fording-place. "All we want is a real princess and a real giant. Look at these big trees all you can, for Jondo says pretty soon we won't see trees at all."
 "Maybe we'll have Indians instead of giants," I suggested. "When do you suppose we'll begin to see the real _bad_ Indians; not just Osages and Kaws and sneaky little Otoes and Pot'wat'mies like we've seen all our lives?"
 "Sooner than we expect," Beverly replied. "Could Mat Nivers ever be a real princess, do you reckon?"
 "I know she won't," I said, firmly, the vision of that fateful day at Fort Leavenworth coming back as I spoke--the vision of level green prairies, with gray rocks and misty mountain peaks beyond. And somewhere, between green prairies and misty peaks, a sweet child face with big dark eyes looking straight into mine. I must have been a dreamer. And in my young years I wondered often why things should be so real to me that nobody else could ever understand.
 "I used to think long ago at the fort that I'd marry Mat some day," Beverly said, reminiscently, as if he were looking across a lapse of years instead of days.
 "So did I," I declared. "But I don't want to now. Maybe our princess will be at the end of the trail, Bev, a real princess. Still, I love Mat just as if she were my sister," I hastened to add.
 "So do I," Beverly responded, heartily.
 A little grain of pity for her loss of prestige was mingling with our subconscious feeling of a need for her help in the day of the giant, if not in the reign of the princess.
 We were trudging along behind our wagon toward the camping-place for the night, which lay beyond the crossing of the stream. We had lived much out of doors at Fort Leavenworth, but the real out of doors of this journey was telling on us already in our sturdy, up-leaping strength, to match each new hardship. We ate like wolves, slept like dead things, and forgot what it meant to be tired. And as our muscles hardened our minds expanded. We were no longer little children. Youth had set its seal upon us on the day when our company had started out from Independence toward the great plains of the Middle West. Little care had we for the responsibility and perils of such a journey; and because our thoughts were buoyant our bodies were vigorous.
 Our camp that night was under wide-spreading elm-trees whose roots struck deep in the deep black loam. After supper Mat and Beverly went down to fish in the muddy creek. Fishing was Beverly's sport and solace everywhere. I was to follow them as soon as I had finished my little chores. The men were scattered about the valley and the camp was deserted. Something in the woodsy greenness of the quiet spot made it seem like home to me--the log house among the elms and cottonwoods at the fort. As I finished my task I wondered how a big, fine house such as I had seen in pictures would look nestled among these beautiful trees. I wanted a home here some day, a real home. It was such a pleasant place even in its loneliness.
 To the west the ground sloped up gently toward the horizon-line, shutting off the track of the trail beyond the ridge. A sudden longing came over me to see what to-morrow's journey would offer, bringing back the sense of being _shut in_ that had made me lose interest in fishes that wouldn't play leap-frog on the sand-bars. And with it came a longing to be alone.
 Instead of following Mat and Beverly to the creek I went out to the top of the swell and stood long in the April twilight, looking beyond the rim of the valley toward the darkening prairies with the great splendor of the sunset's afterglow deepening to richest crimson above the purpling shadows.
 Oh, many a time since that night have I looked upon the Kansas plains and watched the grandeur of coloring that only the Almighty artist ever paints for human eyes. And always I come back, in memory, to that April evening. The soul of a man must have looked out through the little boy's eyes on that night, and a new mile-stone was set there, making a landmark in my life trail. For when I turned toward the darkening east and the shadowy camp where the evening fires gleamed redly in the dusk, I knew then, as well as I know now, if I could only have put it into words, that I was not the same little boy who had run up the long slope to see what lay next in to-morrow's journey.
 I walked slowly back to the camp and sat down beside Esmond Clarenden.
 "What are you thinking about, Gail?" he asked, as I stared at the fire.
 "I wish I knew what would happen next," I replied.
 Jondo was lying at full length on the grass, his elbow bent, and his hand supporting his head. What a wonderful head it was with its crown of softly curling brown hair!
 "I wonder if we have done wrong by the children, Clarenden," the big plainsman said, slowly.
 Uncle Esmond shook his head as he replied:
 "I can't believe it. They may not be safe with us, but we know they would not have been safe without us."
 Just then Beverly and Mat came racing up from the creek bank.
 "Let us stay up awhile," Mat pleaded. "Maybe we'll be less trouble some of these days if we hear you talk about what's coming."
 "They are right, Jondo. Gail here wants to know what is coming next, and Mat wants a share in our councils. What do you want, Beverly?"
 "I want to practise shooting on horseback. I can hit a mark now standing still. I want to do it on the run," Beverly replied.
 I can see now the earnest look in Esmond Clarenden's eyes as he listened. I've seen it in a mother's eyes more than once since then, as she kissed her eldest-born and watched it toddle off alone on its first day of school; or held her peace, when, breaking home ties, the son of her heart bade her good-by to begin life for himself in the world outside.
 The last light of day was lost over the western ridge. The moon was beginning to swell big and yellow through the trees. Twilight was darkening into night. Bill Banney and Rex Krane had joined us now, for every hour we were learning to keep closer together. Jondo threw more wood on the fire, and we nestled about it in snug, homey fashion as if we were to listen to a fairy-tale--three children slipping fast out of childhood into the stern, hard plains life that tried men's souls. As we listened, the older men told of the perils as well as the fascinating adventures of trail life, that we might understand what lay before us in the unknown days. And then they told us stories of the plains, and of the quaint historic things of Santa Fé; of El Palacio, home of all the Governors of New Mexico; an Indian pueblo first, it may have been standing there when William the Norman conquered Harold of the Saxon dynasty of England; or further back when Charlemagne was hanging heathen by the great great gross to make good Christians of them; or even when old Julius Cæsar came and saw and conquered, on either side of the Rubicon, this same old structure may have sheltered rulers in a world unknown. They told us of the old, old church of San Miguel, a citadel for safety from the savage foes of Spain, a sanctuary ever for the sinful and sorrowing ones. And of the Plaza--sacred ground whereon by ceremonial form had been established deeds that should change the destinies of tribes and shape the trend of national pride and power in a new continent. And of La Garita, place of execution, facing whose blind wall the victims of the Spanish rule made their last stand, and, helpless, fell pierced by the bullets of the Spanish soldiery.
 And we children looked into the dying camp-fire and builded there our own castles in Spain, and hoped that that old flag to which we had thrown good-by kisses such a little while ago would one day really wave above old Santa Fé and make it ours to keep. For, young as we were, the flag already symbolized to us the protecting power of a nation strong and gentle and generous.
 "The first and last law of the trail is to 'hold fast,'" Jondo said, as we broke up the circle about the camp-fire.
 "If you can keep that law we will take you into full partnership to-night," Esmond Clarenden added, and we knew that he meant what he said. 


 

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. 


 

"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. 


 

City of the Holy Faith, In thy streets so dim with age, Do I read not Faith's decay, But the Future's heritage. --LILIAN WHITING.
 
 Day was passing and the shadows were already beginning to grow purple in the valleys, long before the golden light had left the opal-crowned peaks of the Sangre-de-Christo Mountains beyond them.
 On the wide crest of a rocky ridge our wagons halted. Behind us the long trail stretched back, past mountain height and cañon wall, past barren slope and rolling green prairie, on to where the wooded ravines hem in the Missouri's yellow floods.
 Before us lay a level plain, edged round with high mesas, over which snowy-topped mountain peaks kept watch. A sandy plain, checkered across by verdant-banded arroyos, and splotched with little clumps of trees and little fields of corn. In the heart of it all was Santa Fé, a mere group of dust-brown adobe blocks--silent, unsmiling, expressionless--the city of the Spanish Mexican, centuries old and centuries primitive.
 As our tired mules slackened their traces and drooped to rest after the long up-climb, Esmond Clarenden called out:
 "Come here, children. Yonder is the end of the trail."
 We gathered eagerly about him, a picture in ourselves, maybe, in an age of picturesque things; four men, bronzed and bearded; two sturdy boys; Mat Nivers, no longer a little girl, it seemed now, with the bloom of health on her tanned cheeks, and the smile of good nature in wide gray eyes; beside her, the Indian maiden, Little Blue Flower, slim, brown, lithe of motion, brief of speech; and towering back of all, the glistening black face of the big, silent African woman.
 So we stood looking out toward that northwest plain where the trail lost itself among the low adobe huts huddled together beside the glistening waters of the Santa Fé River.
 Rex Krane was the first to speak.
 "So that's what we've come out for to see, is it?" he mused, aloud. "That's the precious old town that we've dodged Indians, and shot rattlesnakes, and sunburnt our noses, and rain-soaked our dress suits for! That's why we've pillowed our heads on the cushiony cactus and tramped through purling sands, and blistered our hands pullin' at eider-down ropes, and strained our leg-muscles goin' down, and busted our lungs comin' up, and clawed along the top edge of the world with nothin' but healthy climate between us and the bottom of the bottomless pit. Humph! That's what you call Santa Fé! 'The city of the Holy Faith!' Well, I need a darned lot of 'holy faith' to make me see any city there. It's just a bunch of old yellow brick-kilns to me, and I 'most wish now I'd stayed back at Independence and hunted dog-tooth violets along the Big Blue."
 "It's not Boston, if that's what you were looking for; at least there's no Bunker Hill Monument nor Back Bay anywhere in sight. But I reckon it's the best they've got. I'm tired enough to take what's offered and keep still," Bill Banney declared.
 I, too, wanted to keep still. I had only a faint memory of a real city. It must have been St. Louis, for there was a wharf, and a steamboat and a busy street, and soft voices--speaking a foreign tongue. But the pictures I had seen, and the talk I had heard, coupled with a little boy's keen imagination, had built up a very different Santa Fé in my mind. At that moment I was homesick for Fort Leavenworth, through and through homesick, for the first time since that April day when I had sat on the bluff above the Missouri River while the vision of the plains descended upon me. Everything seemed so different to-night, as if a gulf had widened between us and all the nights behind us.
 We went into camp on the ridge, with the journey's goal in plain view. And as we sat down together about the fire after supper we forgot the hardships of the way over which we had come. The pine logs blazed cheerily, and as the air grew chill we drew nearer together about them as about a home fireside.
 The long June twilight fell upon the landscape. The piñon and scrubby cedars turned to dark blotches on the slopes. The valley swam in a purple mist. The silence of evening was broken only by a faint bird-note in the bushes, and the fainter call of some wild thing stealing forth at nightfall from its daytime retreat. Behind us the mesas and headlands loomed up black and sullen, but far before us the Sangre-de-Christo Mountains lifted their glorified crests, with the sun's last radiance bathing them in crimson floods.
 We sat in silence for a long time, for nobody cared to talk. Presently we heard Aunty Boone's low, penetrating voice inside the wagon corral:
 "You pore gob of ugliness! Yo' done yo' best, and it's green corn and plenty of watah and all this grizzly-gray grass you can stuff in now. It's good for a mule to start right, same as a man. Whoo-ee!"
 The low voice trailed off into weird little whoops of approval. Then the woman wandered away to the edge of the bluff and sat until late that night, looking out at the strange, entrancing New Mexican landscape.
 "To-morrow we put on our best clothes and enter the city," my uncle broke the silence. "We have managed to pull through so far, and we intend to keep on pulling till we unload back at Independence again. But these are unsafe times and we are in an unsafe country. We are going to do business and get out of it again as soon as possible. I shall ask you all to be ready to leave at a minute's notice, if you are coming back with me!"
 "Now you see why I didn't join the army, don't you, Krane?" Bill Banney said, aside. "I wanted to work under a real general."
 Then turning to my uncle, he added:
 "I'm already contracted for the round trip, Clarenden."
 "You are going to start back just as if there were no dangers to be met?" Rex Krane inquired.
 "As if there were dangers to be _met_, not run from," Esmond Clarenden replied.
 "Clarenden," the young Bostonian began, "you got away from that drunken mob at Independence with your children, your mules, and your big Daniel Boone. You started out when war was ragin' on the Mexican frontier, and never stopped a minute because you had to come it alone from Council Grove. You shook yourself and family right through the teeth of that Mexican gang layin' for you back there. You took Little Trailing Arbutus at Pawnee Rock out of pure sympathy when you knew it meant a fight at sun-up, six against fifty. And there would have been a bloody one, too, but for that merciful West India hurricane bustin' up the show. You pulled us up the Arkansas River, and straddled the Gloriettas, with every danger that could ever be just whistlin' about our ears. And now you sit there and murmur softly that 'we are in an unsafe country and these are unsafe times,' so we'd better be toddlin' back home right soon. I want to tell _you_ something now."
 He paused and looked at Mat Nivers. Always he looked at Mat Nivers, who since the first blush one noonday long ago, so it seemed, now, never appeared to know or care where he looked. He must have had such a sister himself; I felt sure of that now.
 "I want to tell _you_," Rex repeated, "that I'm goin' to stay with you. There's something _safe_ about you. And then," he added, carelessly, as he gazed out toward the darkening plain below us, "my mother always said you could tie to a man who was good to children. And you've been good to this infant Kentuckian here."
 He flung out a hand toward Bill Banney without looking away from the open West. "When you want to start back to God's country and the land of Plymouth Rocks and Pawnee Rocks, I'm ready to trot along."
 "I'm glad to hear you say that, Krane," Esmond Clarenden said. "I shall need all the help I can get on the way back. Because we got through safely we cannot necessarily count on a safe return. I may need you in Santa Fé, too."
 "Then command me," Rex replied.
 He looked toward Mat again, but she and Little Blue Flower were coiling their long hair in fantastic fashion about their heads, and laughing like school-girls together.
 Little Blue Flower was as a shy brown fawn following us. She had a way of copying Mat's manner, and she spoke less of Indian and Spanish and more of English from day to day. She had laid aside her Indian dress for one of Mat's neat gingham gowns. I think she tried hard to forget her race in everything except her prayers, for her own people had all been slain by Mexican ruffians. We could not have helped liking her if we had tried to do so. Yet that invisible race barrier that kept a fixed gulf between us and Aunty Boone separated us also from the lovable little Indian lass, albeit the gulf was far less deep and impassable.
 To-night when she and Mat scampered away to the family wagon together, she seemed somehow to really belong to us.
 Presently Jondo and Rex Krane and Bill and Beverly rolled their blankets about them and went to sleep, leaving Esmond Clarenden and myself alone beside the dying fire. The air was sharp and the night silence deepened as the stars came into the skies.
 "Why don't you go to bed, Gail?" my uncle asked.
 "I'm not sleepy. I'm homesick," I replied. "Come here, boy." He opened his arms to me, and I nestled in their embrace.
 "You've grown a lot in these two months, little man," he said, softly. "You are a brave-hearted plainsman, and a good, strong little limb when it comes to endurance, but just once in a while all of us need a mothering touch. It keeps us sweet, my boy. It keeps us sweet and fit to live."
 Oh, many a time in the years that followed did the loving embrace and the gentle words of this gentle, strong man come back to comfort me.
 "Let me tell you something, Gail. I'm going to need a boy like you to help me a lot before we leave Santa Fé, and I shall count on you."
 Just then a noise at the far side of the corral seemed to disturb the stock. A faint stir of awakening or surprise--just a hint in the air. All was still in a moment. Then it came again. We listened. Something, an indefinite something, somewhere, was astir. The surprise became unrest, anxiety, fear, among the mules.
 "Wait here, Gail. I'll see what's up," Uncle Esmond said, in a low voice.
 He hurried away toward the corral and I slipped back in the shadow of a rock and leaned against it to wait.
 In the dim beams of a starlit New Mexican sky I could see clearly out toward the valley, but behind the camp all was darkness. As I waited, hidden by the shadows, suddenly the flap of the family-wagon cover lifted and Little Blue Flower slid out as softly as a cat walks in the dust. She was dressed in her own Indian garb now, with her bright blanket drawn picturesquely about her head and shoulders. Silently she moved about the camp, peering toward the shadows hiding me. Then with noiseless step she slipped toward where Beverly Clarenden lay, his boyish face upturned to the stars, sleeping the dreamless sleep of youth and health. I leaned forward and stared hard as the girl approached him. I saw her drop down on one knee beside him, and, bending over him, she gently kissed his forehead. She rose and gave one hurried look around the place and then, like a bird lifting its wings for flight, she threw up her arms, and in another moment she sprang to the edge of the ridge and slipped from view. I followed, only to see her gliding swiftly away, farther and farther, along the dim trail, until the shadows swallowed her from my sight.
 A low whinny from the corral caught my ear, followed by a rush of horses' feet. As I slipped into my place again to wait for my uncle to return, the smoldering logs blazed out suddenly, lighting up the form of a man who appeared just beyond the fire, so that I saw the face distinctly. Then he, too, was gone, following the way the Indian girl had taken, until he lost himself in the misty dullness of the plains.
 Presently Esmond Clarenden came back to the camp-fire.
 "Gail, the pony we lost in that storm at Pawnee Rock has come back to us. It was standing outside the corral, waiting to get in, just as if it had lost us for a couple of hours. It is in good condition, too."
 "How could it ever get here?" I exclaimed.
 "Any one of a dozen ways," my uncle replied. "It may have run far that stormy morning when it broke out of the corral, and possibly some party coming over the Cimarron Trail picked it up and roved on this way. There is no telling how it got here, since it keeps still itself about the matter. Losing and finding and losing again is the law of events on the plains."
 "But why should it find us right here to-night, like it had been led back?" I insisted.
 "That's the miracle of it, Gail. It is always the strange thing that really happens here. In years to come, if you ever tell the truth about this trip, it will not be believed. When this isn't the frontier any longer, the story of the trail will be accounted impossible."
 Everything seemed impossible to me as I sat there staring at the dying fire. Presently I remembered what I had seen while my uncle was away.
 "Little Blue Flower has run away," I said, "and I saw the Mexican that came to Fort Leavenworth the day before I twisted my ankle. He slipped by here just a minute ago. I know, for I saw his face when the logs flared up."
 Esmond Clarenden gave a start. "Gail, you have the most remarkable memory for faces of any child I ever knew," he said.
 "Did he follow us, too, like the pony, or did he ride the pony after us?" I asked. "He's just everywhere we go, somehow. Did I ever see him before he came to the fort, or did I dream it?"
 "You are a little dreamer, Gail," my uncle said, kindly. "But dreams don't hurt, if you do your part whenever you are needed."
 "Bev and Bill Banney make fun of dreams," I said.
 "Yes, they don't have 'em; but Bev and Bill are ready when it comes to doing things. They are a good deal alike, daring, and a bit reckless sometimes, with good hard sense enough to keep them level."
 "Don't I do, too?" I inquired.
 "Yes, you do and dream, both. That's all the better. But you mustn't forget, too, that sometimes the things we long for in our dreams we must fight for, and even die for, maybe, that those who come after us may be the better for our having them. What was it you said about Little Blue Flower?" Uncle Esmond had forgotten her for the moment.
 "She's gone to Santa Fé, I reckon. Is she bad, Uncle Esmond? Tell me all about things," I urged.
 "We are all here spying out the land, Mexican, Indian, trader, freighter, adventurer, invalid," Uncle Esmond replied. "I don't know what started the little Indian girl off, unless she just felt Indian, as Jondo would say; but I may as well tell you, Gail, that it may have been the Mexican who got our pony for us. He is a strange fellow, walks like a cat, has ears like a timber wolf, and the cunning of a fox."
 "Is he our friend?" I asked, eagerly.
 "Listen, boy. He came to Fort Leavenworth on purpose to bring me an important message, and he waited at Independence to see us off. Do you remember the two spies Krane talked about at Council Grove? I think he followed the Mexican spy across the river to our camp and sent him on east. Then he went back and got the crowd all mixed up by his report, while their own man scouted the trail out there for miles all night. He is the man who put you through town and decoyed the ruffians to one side. He located us after we had crossed the river, and then broke up their meeting and put the fellows off to wait till the next night. That is the way I worked out that Council Grove puzzle. He has a wide range, and there are big things ahead for him in New Mexico.
 "Sooner or later however," my uncle went on, "we will have to reckon with that Kiowa tribe for stealing their captive. They meant to return her for a big ransom price.... Great Heavens, Gail! You seem like a man to me to-night instead of my little boy back at the fort. The plains bring years to us instead of months, with just one crossing. I am counting on you not to tell all you've been told and all you've seen. I can be sure of you if you can keep things to yourself. You'd better get to sleep now. There will be plenty to see over in Santa Fé. And there is always danger afoot. But remember, it is the coward who finds the most trouble in this world. Do your part with a gentleman's heart and a hero's hand, and you'll get to the end of every trail safely. Now go to bed."
 Where I lay that night I could see a wide space of star-gemmed sky, the blue night-sky of the Southwest, and I wondered, as I looked up into the starry deeps, how God could keep so many bright bodies afield up there, and yet take time to guard all the wandering children of men.
 With the day-dawn the strange events of the night seemed as unreal as the vanishing night-shadows. The bluest skies of a blue-sky land curved in fathomless majesty over the yellow valley of the Santa Fé. Against its borders loomed the silent mountain ranges--purple-shaddowed, silver-topped Ortiz and Jemez, Sandia and Sangre-de-Christo. Dusty and deserted lay the trail, save that here and there a group of dark-faced carriers of firewood prodded on their fagot-laden burros toward the distant town. As our wagons halted at the sandy borders of an arroyo the brown-clad form of a priest rose up from the shade of a group of scrubby piñon-trees beside the trail.
 Esmond Clarenden lifted his hat in greeting.
 "Are you going our way? We can give you a ride," he paused to say.
 The man's face was very dark, but it was a young, strong face, and his large, dark eyes were full of the fire of life. When he spoke his voice was low and musical.
 "I thank you. I go toward the mountains. You stay here long?"
 "Only to dispose of my goods. My business is brief," Esmond Clarenden declared.
 The good man leaned forward as if to see each face there, sweeping in everything at one glance. Then he looked down at the ground.
 "These are troublesome days. War is only a temporary evil, but it makes for hate, and hate kills as it dies. Love lives and gives life." A smile lighted his eyes, though his lips were firm. "I wish you well. Among friends or enemies the one haven of safety always is the holy sanctuary."
 Uncle Esmond bowed his head reverently.
 "You will find it beside the trail near the river. The walls are very old and strong, but not so old as hate, nor so strong as love. A little street runs from it, crooked--six houses away. Peace be to all of you." He broke off suddenly and his last sentence was spoken in a clear, strong tone unlike the gentler voice.
 "I thank you, Father!" Jondo said, as the priest passed his wagon.
 The holy man gave him one swift, searching glance. Then lifting his right hand as if in blessing, and slowly dropping it until the forefinger pointed toward the west, he passed on his way.
 Jondo's brown cheek flushed and the lines about his mouth grew hard.
 "Take my place, Bev," he said, as he left his wagon and joined Esmond Clarenden.
 The two spoke earnestly together. Then Jondo mounted Beverly's pony.
 "If you need me--" I heard him say, and he turned away and rode in the direction the priest had taken.
 Uncle Esmond offered no explanation for this sudden action, and his sunny face was stern.
 Usually wagon-trains were spied out long before they reached the city, and a rabble attended their entry. To-day we moved along quietly until the trail became a mere walled lane. On either side one-story adobe huts sat with their backs to the street. No windows opened to the front, and only a wooden door or a closed gateway stared in blank unfriendliness at the passer-by. Little straggling lanes led off aimlessly on either side, as narrow and silent as the strange terminal of the long trail itself.
 I was only a boy, with the heart of a boy and the eyes of a boy. I could only feel; I could not understand the spell of that hour. But to me everything was alluring, wrapt as it was in the mystery of a civilization old here when Plymouth Rock felt the first Pilgrim's foot, or Pawnee Rock stared at the first bold plainsman of the pale face and the conquering soul.
 I was riding beside Beverly's wagon as we neared the quaint, centuries-old, adobe church of San Miguel, rising tall and silent above the low huts about it, its rough walls suggesting a fortress of strength, while its triple towers might be an outlook for a guardsman.
 "Look at that church. Bev, I wonder how old it is," I exclaimed.
 "I should say about a thousand years and a day," Beverly declared. "See that flopsy steeple thing! It looks like building-blocks stacked up there."
 "Maybe this is the sanctuary that priest was talking about," I suggested. "He said the walls were old as hate and strong as love, with a crooked street beside it somewhere."
 "Oh, you sponge! Soaking up everything you see and hear. I wonder you sleep nights for fear the wind will tell the pine trees something you'll miss," Beverly declared. "I can tell a horse's age by its teeth, but churches don't have teeth. Go and ask Mat about it. She knows when the De Sotos and Cortéses and all the other Spanish grandaddees came to Mexico."
 I had just turned back alongside of Mat's wagon--she was always our book of ready reference--when a little girl suddenly dashed out of a walled lane opening into the street behind us. She stopped in the middle of the road, almost under my pony's feet, then with a shout of laughter she dashed into the deep doorway of the church and stood there, peering out at me with eyes brimful of mischief.
 I brought my pony back on its haunches suddenly. I had seen this girl before. The big dark eyes, the straight little nose, the curve of the pink cheek, the china-smooth chin and neck, and, crowning all, the cloud of golden hair shading her forehead and falling in tangled curls behind.
 I did not notice all these features now. It was only the eyes, dark eyes, somewhere this side of misty mountain peaks, and maybe the halo of hair that had been in my vision on that day when Beverly and Mat Nivers and I sat on the parade-ground facing a sudden turn in our life trail.
 I stared at the eyes now, only half conscious that the girl was laughing at me.
 "You big brown bob-cat! You look like you had slept in the Hondo 'royo all your life," she cried, and turned to run away again.
 As she did so a dark face peered round the corner of the church from the crooked street beside it. A sudden gleam of white teeth and glistening eyes, a sudden leap and grip, and a boy, larger than Beverly, caught the little girl by the shoulders and shook her viciously.
 She screamed and struggled. Then, with a wild shriek as he clutched at her curls, she wrenched herself away and plunged inside the church. The boy dived in after her. Another scream, and I had dropped from my pony and leaped across the road. I pushed open the door against the two struggling together. With one grip at his coat-collar I broke his hold on the little girl and flung him outside.
 I have a faint recollection of a priest hurrying down the aisle toward the fighting children, as the little girl, freed from her assailant, dashed out of the door.
 "He jumped at her first, and shook her and pulled her hair," I cried, as the priest caught me by the shoulder. "I'm not going to see anybody pitched into, not a little girl, anyhow."
 I jerked myself free from his grasp and ran out to my pony. At the corner of the church stood the girl, her cheeks flushed, her eyes blazing defiance, her rumpled curls in a tangle about her face.
 "I hate Marcos, he's so cruel, and"--her voice softened and the defiant eyes grew mischievous--"you aren't a bob-cat. You're a--Look out!"
 She shouted the last words and disappeared up the narrow, crooked street, just as a fragment of rock whizzed over my shoulder. I jumped on my pony to dash away, when another rock just missed my head, and I saw the boy, Marcos, beside the church, ready for a third hurl. His black eyes flashed fire, and the grin of malice on his face showed all his fine white teeth.
 I was as mad as a boy can be. Instead of fleeing, I spurred my pony straight at him.
 "You little beast, I dare you to throw that rock at me! I dare you!" I cried.
 The boy dropped the missile and sped away after the girl. I followed in time to see them enter a doorway, six or seven houses up the way. Then I turned back, and in a minute I had overtaken our wagons trailing down to the ford of the Santa Fé River.
 "I thought mebby you'd gone back after Jondo and that holy podder," Rex Krane greeted me. "Better begin to wink naturally and look a little pleasanter now. We'll be in the Plazzer in two or three minutes."
 The drivers flourished their whips, the mules caught their spirit, and with bump and lurch and rattle we swung down the narrow crack between adobe walls that ended before the old Exchange Hotel at the corner of the Plaza.
 This open square in the center of the city was shaded by trees and littered with refuse. The Palace of the Governors fronted it along the entire north side, a long, low, one-story structure whose massive adobe walls defy the wearing years. Compared to the kingly palaces of my imagination, this royal dwelling seemed a very commonplace thing, and the wide portal, or veranda, that ran along its front looked like one of the sheds about the barracks at the fort rather than an entranceway for rulers. Yet this was the house of a ruler hostile to that flag to which I had thrown a good-by kiss, up at Fort Leavenworth.
 On the other three sides of the Plaza were other low adobe buildings, for the business of the city faced this central square.
 A crowd was gathered there when we reached it. Somebody standing before the Palace of the Governors was haranguing in fiery Spanish, if gesture and oral vehemence are true tokens.
 As our wagons rumbled up to the corner of the square the crowd broke up with a shout.
 "Los Americanos! Los Carros!"
 The cry went up everywhere as the rabble left the speaker to flock about us--men, women, children, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, with now and then a Saxon face among them. Our outfit was as well appointed as such a journey's end permitted. We were in our best clothes--clean-shaven gentlemen, well-dressed boys, and one girl, neat and comely in a dark-blue gown of thin stuff with white lace at throat and wrist; and last, and biggest of all, Aunty Boone, in a bright-green lawn with little white dots all over it.
 As I sat on my pony beside my uncle's wagon, I caught sight of the slim figure of Little Blue Flower, well back in the shade of the Plaza. She was watching Beverly, who sat in Jondo's wagon, staring at the crowd and seeing no one in particular. A minute later a tall young Indian boy stepped in front of her, and when he moved away she was gone.
 Many men came forward to greet Esmond Clarenden, and there were many inquiries regarding his goods and many exclamations of surprise that he had come alone with so valuable a cargo.
 It was the first time that Beverly and I had seen him among his equals. At Fort Leavenworth, where the army overruled everything else, men stood above him in authority or below him in business affairs; and while he never cringed to the one, nor patronized the other, where there are no competitors there are no true measures. That day in the Plaza of Santa Fé the merchant was in his own kingdom, where commerce stood above everything else.
 Moreover, this American merchant, following a danger-girt trail, had come in fearlessly, and those men of the Plaza knew that he was one to exact value for value in all his dealings. But I believe that his real power lay in his ready smile, his courtesy, his patience, and his up-bubbling good nature that made him a friendship-builder.
 Among the men who came to make acquaintance with the American trader was a Mexican merchant. Evidently he was a man of some importance, for an interpreter hastened to introduce him, explaining that this man had been away on a journey of some weeks among the mines of New Mexico and the Southwest, and only the day before he had come in from Taos.
 "You will find him a prince of merchants, a sound, unprejudiced business man. His name is Felix Narveo," the American interpreter added.
 The two men shook hands, greeting each other in the Spanish tongue. This Felix Narveo was well dressed and well groomed, but I recognized him at once as the Mexican of Fort Leavenworth and Independence and Council Grove.
 There was one man in that company, however, who did not come forward at all. When I first caught sight of him he was looking at me. I stared back at him with a boy's curiosity, but he did not take his eyes from me until I had dropped my own. After that I watched him keenly. He seemed almost too fair for a Mexican--a tall, spare-built man with black hair, and eyes so steely blue that they were almost black. Everywhere I saw him--at the corners of the little crowd and in the thick of it. He was an easy mark, for he towered above the rest, and, being slender, he seemed to worm his way quickly from place to place. At sight of him, Aunty Boone, who had been peering out with shining eyes, drew her head in as quick as a snake, under the shadow of the wagon cover, and her eyes grew dull. He had not seen her, but I could see that he was watching the remainder of us, and especially my uncle; and I began to feel afraid of him and to wish that he would leave the Plaza. It was years ago that all this happened, and yet to-day my fear of that man still sticks in my memory.
 When he turned away, suddenly I caught sight of the boy, whom I had flung out of the church, standing behind him, the boy whom the little girl had called Marcos. Although his face was dark and the man's was fair, there was a strong likeness between the two.
 This Marcos stared insolently at all of us. Then with a laugh and a grimace at me, he ran after the man and they disappeared together around the corner of the Palace of the Governors. And in the rush of strange sights I forgot them both for a time. 


 

Our dwelling-place in all generations.--Psalms xc, 1.
 
 
 They are wonderful to me still--those few brief days that followed. While Esmond Clarenden was forcing his business transactions to a speedy climax, he was all the time foreseeing Santa Fé under the United States Government. He had not come here as a spy, nor a speculator, but as a commerce-builder, knowing that the same business life would go on when the war cloud lifted, and that the same men who had made the plains commerce profitable under the Mexican flag would not be exiled when the Stars and Stripes should float above the old Palace of the Governors. Belief in the ethics of his calling and trust in manhood were ever a large part of his stock in trade, making him dare to go where he chose to go, and to do what he willed to do.
 
 But no concern for commerce nor extension of national territory disturbed our young minds in those sunlit days, as Mat and Beverly and I looked with the big, quick-seeing eyes of youth on this new strange world at the end of the trail.
 
 We were all together in the deserted dining-room on our first evening in Santa Fé when the man whom I had seen on the Plaza strolled leisurely in. He sat down at one of the farthest tables from us, and his eyes, glistening like blue-black steel, were fixed on us.
 
 Once at Fort Leavenworth I had watched in terror as a bird fluttered helplessly toward a still, steel-eyed snake holding it in thrall. And just at the moment when its enemy was ready to strike, Jondo had happened by and shot the snake's head off. The same terror possessed me now, and I began half-consciously to long for Jondo.
 
 In the midst of new sights I had hardly thought of him since he had left us out beyond the big arroyo. He had come into town at dusk, but soon after supper he had disappeared. His face was very pale, and his eyes had a strange look that never left them again. Something was different in Jondo from that day, but it did not change his gentle nature toward his fellow-men. During our short stay in Santa Fé we hardly saw him at all. We children were too busy with other things to ask questions, and everybody but Rex Krane was too busy to be questioned. Having nothing else to do, Rex became our chaperon, as Uncle Esmond must have foreseen he would be when he measured the young man in Independence on the day we left there.
 
 To-night Esmond Clarenden, smiling and good-natured, paid no heed to the sharp eyes of this stranger fixed on him.
 
 "What's the matter now, little weather-vane? You are always first to sense a coming change," he declared.
 
 "Uncle Esmond, I saw that man watching us like he knew us, out there on the Plaza to-day. Who is he?" I asked, in a low tone.
 
 "His name is Ferdinand Ramero. You will find him watching everywhere. Let that man alone as you would a snake," my uncle warned us.
 
 "Is that his boy?" I asked.
 
 "What boy?" Uncle Esmond inquired.
 
 "Marcos, the boy I pitched endways out of the church. He's bigger than Bev, too," I declared, proudly.
 
 "Gail Clarenden, are you crazy?" Uncle Esmond exclaimed.
 
 "No, I'm not," I insisted, and then I told what had happened at the church, adding, "I saw Marcos with that man in the Plaza, and they went away together."
 
 Esmond Clarenden's face grew grave.
 
 "What kind of a looking child was she, Gail?" he asked, after a pause.
 
 "Oh, she had yellow hair and big sort of dark eyes! She could squeal like anything. She wasn't a baby girl at all, but a regular little fighter kind of a girl."
 
 I grew bashful all at once and hesitated, but my uncle did not seem to hear me, for he turned to Rex Krane and said, in low, earnest tones:
 
 "Krane, if you can locate that child for me you will do me an invaluable service. It was largely on her account that I came here now, and it's a god-send to have a fellow like you to save time for me. Every man has his uses. Your service will be a big one to me."
 
 The young man's face flushed and his eyes shone with a new light.
 
 "If any of you happen to see that girl let me know at once," my uncle said, turning to us, "but, remember, don't act as if you were hunting for her."
 
 "I know now right where she lives. It's up a crooked street by that church. I saw her run in there," I insisted.
 
 "Every hut looks like every other hut, and every little Mex looks like every other little Mex," Beverly declared.
 
 Uncle Esmond smiled, but the stern lines in his face hardly broke as he said, earnestly, "Keep your eyes open and, whatever you do, stay close to Krane while Bill helps me here, and don't forget to watch for that little girl when you are sight-seeing."
 
 "There's not much to see, as Bev says, but the outside of 'dobe walls five feet thick," Rex Krane observed. "But if you know which wall to look through, the lookin' may be easy enough. Seein' things is my specialty, and we'll get this princess if we have to slay a giant and an ogre and take a few dozen Mexican scalps first. The plot just thickens. It's a great game." The tall New-Englander would not take life seriously anywhere, and, with our trust in his guardianship, we could want no better chaperon.
 
 That night Beverly Clarenden and I were in fairyland.
 
 "It's the princess, Bev, the princess we were looking for," I joyously asserted. "And, oh, Bev, she is beautiful, but snappy-like, too. She called me a 'big brown bob-cat', and then she apologized, just as nice as could be."
 
 "And this little Marcos cuss, he'll be the ogre," Beverly declared. "But who'll we have for the giant? That priest, footing it out by that dry creek-thing they call a 'royo?"
 
 "Oh no, no! He and Jondo made up together, and Jondo's nobody's bad man even in a story. It will be that Ferdinand Ramero," I insisted. "But, say, Bev, Jondo wrote a new name on the register this evening, or somebody wrote it for him, maybe. It wasn't his own writing. 'Jean Deau.' I saw it in big, round, back-slanting letters. Why did he do that?"
 
 "Well, I reckon that's his real name in big, round, back-slanting letters down here," Beverly replied. "It's French, and we have just been spelling it like it sounds, that's all."
 
 "Well, maybe so," I commented, and when I fell asleep it was to dream of a princess and Jondo by a strange name, but the same Jondo.
 
 The air of New Mexico puts iron into the blood. The trail life had hardened us all, but the finishing touch for Rex Krane came in the invigorating breath of that mountain-cooled, sun-cleansed atmosphere of Santa Fé. Shrewd, philosophic, brave-hearted like his historic ancestry, he laid his plans carefully now, sure of doing what he was set to do. And the wholesome sense of really serving the man who had measured his worth at a glance gave him a pleasure he had not known before. Of course, he moved slowly and indifferently. One could never imagine Rex Krane hurrying about anything.
 
 "We'll just 'prospect,' as Daniel Boone says," he declared, as he marshaled us for the day. "We are strangers, sight-seein', got no other business on earth, least of all any to take us up to this old San Miguel Church for unholy purposes. 'Course if we see a pretty little dark-eyed, golden-haired lassie anywhere, we'll just make a diagram of the spot she's stand'n' on, for future reference. We're in this game to win, but we don't do no foolish hurryin' about it."
 
 So we wandered away, a happy quartet, and the city offered us strange sights on every hand. It was all so old, so different, so silent, so baffling--the narrow, crooked street; the solid house-walls that hemmed them in; the strange tongue, strange dress, strange customs; the absence of smiling faces or friendly greetings; the sudden mystery of seeking for one whom we must not seem to seek, and the consciousness of an enemy, Ferdinand Ramero, whom we must avoid--that it is small wonder that we lived in fairyland.
 
 We saw the boy, Marcos, here and there, sometimes staring defiantly at us from some projected angle; sometimes slipping out of sight as we approached; sometimes quarreling with other children at their play. But nowhere, since the moment when I had seen the door close on her up that crooked street beside the old church, could we find any trace of the little girl.
 
 In the dim morning light of our fifth day in Santa Fé, a man on horseback, carrying a big, bulky bundle in his arms, slipped out of the crooked, shadow-filled street beside the old church of San Miguel. He halted a moment before the structure and looked up at the ancient crude spire outlined against the sky, then sped down the narrow way by the hotel at the end of the trail. He crossed the Plaza swiftly and dashed out beyond the Palace of the Governors and turned toward the west.
 
 Aunty Boone, who slept in the family wagon--or under it--in the inclosure at the rear of the hotel, had risen in time to peer out of the wooden gate just as the rider was passing. It was still too dark to see the man's face distinctly, but his form, and the burden he carried, and the trappings of the horse she noted carefully, as was her habit.
 
 "Up to cussedness, that man is. Mighty long an' slim. Lemme see! Humph! I know _him_. I'll go wake up somebody."
 
 As the woman leaned far out of the gate she caught sight of a little Indian girl crouching outside of the wall.
 
 "You got no business here, you, Little Blue Flower! Where do you live when you _do_ live?"
 
 Little Blue Flower pointed toward the west.
 
 "Why you come hangin' 'round here?" the African woman demanded.
 
 "Father Josef send me to help the people who help me," she said, in her soft, low voice.
 
 "Go back to your own folks, then, and tell your Daddy Joseph a man just stole a big bunch of something and rode south with it. He can look after that man. We can get along somehow. Now go."
 
 The voice was like a growl, and the little Indian maiden shrank back in the shadow of the wall. The next minute Aunty Boone was rapping softly on the door of the room whose guest had registered as Jean Deau. Ten minutes later another horseman left the street beside the hotel and crossed the Plaza, riding erect and open-faced as only Jondo could ride. Then the African woman sought out Rex Krane, and in a few brief sentences told him what had been taking place. All of which Rex was far too wise to repeat to Beverly and me.
 
 That afternoon it happened that we left Mat Nivers at the hotel, while Rex Krane and Beverly and I strolled out of town on a well-beaten trail leading toward the west.
 
 "It looks interestin'. Let's go on a ways," Rex commented, lazily.
 
 Nobody would have guessed from his manner but that he was indulgently helping us to have a good time with certain restriction as to where we should go, and what we might say, nor that, of the three, he was the most alert and full of definite purpose.
 
 We sat down beside the way as a line of burros loaded with firewood from the mountains trailed slowly by, with their stolid-looking drivers staring at us in silent unfriendliness.
 
 The last driver was the tall young Indian boy whom I had seen standing in front of Little Blue Flower in the crowd of the Plaza. He paid no heed to our presence, and his face was expressionless as he passed us.
 
 "Stupid as his own burro, and not nearly so handsome," Beverly commented.
 
 The boy turned quietly and stared at my cousin, who had not meant to be overheard. Nobody could read the meaning of that look, for his face was as impenetrable as the adobe walls of the Palace of the Governors.
 
 "Bev, you are laying up trouble. An Indian never forgets, and you'll be finding that fellow under your pillow every night till he gets your scalp," Rex Krane declared, as we went on our way.
 
 Beverly laughed and stiffened his sturdy young arms.
 
 "He's welcome to it if he can get it," he said, carelessly. "How many million miles do we go to-day, Mr. Krane?"
 
 "Yonder is your terminal," Rex replied, pointing to a little settlement of mud huts huddling together along the trail. "They call that little metropolis Agua Fria--'pure water'--because there ain't no water there. It's the last place to look for anybody. That's why we look there. You will go in like gentlemen, though--and don't be surprised nor make any great noise over anything you see there. If a riot starts I'll do the startin'."
 
 Carelessly as this was said, we understood the command behind it.
 
 Near the village, I happened to glance back over the way we had come, and there, striding in, soft-footed as a cat behind us, was that young Indian. I turned again just as we reached the first straggling houses at the outskirts of the settlement, but he had disappeared.
 
 It was a strange little village, this Agua Fria. Its squat dwellings, with impenetrable adobe walls, had sat out there on the sandy edge of the dry Santa Fé River through many and many a lagging decade; a single trail hardly more than a cart-width across ran through it. A church, mud-walled and ancient, rose above the low houses, but of order or uniformity of outline there was none. Hands long gone to dust had shaped those crude dwellings on this sunny plain where only man decays, though what he builds endures.
 
 Nobody was in sight and there was something awesome in the very silence everywhere. Rex lounged carelessly along, as one who had no particular aim in view and was likely to turn back at any moment. But Beverly and I stared hard in every direction.
 
 At the end of the village two tiny mud huts, separated from each other by a mere crack of space, encroached on this narrow way even a trifle more than the neighboring huts. As we were passing these a soft Hopi voice called:
 
 "Beverly! Beverly!" And Little Blue Flower, peeping shyly out from the narrow opening, lifted a warning hand.
 
 "The church! The church!" she repeated, softly, then darted out of sight, as if the brown wall were but thick brown vapor into which she melted.
 
 "Why, it's our own little girl!" Beverly exclaimed, with a smile, just as Little Blue Flower turned away, but I am sure she caught his words and saw his smile.
 
 We would have called to her, but Rex Krane evidently did not hear her, for he neither halted nor turned his head. So, remembering our command to be quiet, we passed on.
 
 "I guess we are about to the end of this 'pure water' resort. It's gettin' late. Let's go back home now," our leader said, dispiritedly. So we turned back toward Santa Fé.
 
 At the narrow opening where we had seen Little Blue Flower the young Indian boy stood upright and motionless, and again he gave no sign of seeing us.
 
 "Let's just run over to that church a minute while we are here. Looks interestin' over there," Rex suggested.
 
 I wondered if he could have heard Little Blue Flower, and thought her suggestion was a good one, or if this was a mere whim of his.
 
 The church, a crude mission structure, stood some distance from the trail. As we entered a priest came forward to meet us.
 
 "Can I serve you?" he asked.
 
 The voice was clear and sweet--the same voice that we had heard out beyond the arroyo southeast of town, the same face, too, that we had seen, with the big dark eyes full of fire. Involuntarily I recalled how his hand had pointed to the west when he had pronounced a blessing that day.
 
 "Thank you, Father--" Rex began.
 
 "Josef," the holy man said.
 
 "Yes, thank you, Father Josef. We are just looking at things. No wish to be rude, you know."
 
 Rex lifted his cap and stood bareheaded in the priestly presence.
 
 Father Josef smiled.
 
 "Look here, then."
 
 He led us up the aisle to where, cuddled down on a crude seat, a little girl lay asleep. Her golden hair fell like a cloud about her face, flowing over the edge of the seat almost to the floor. Her cheeks were pink and warm, and her dimpled white hands were clasped together. I had caught Mat Nivers napping many a time, but never in my life had I seen anything half so sweet as this sleeping girl in the beauty of her innocence. And I knew at a glance that this was the same girl whom I had seen before at the door of the old Church of San Miguel.
 
 "Same as grown-ups when the sermon is dull. Thank you, Father Josef. It's a pretty picture. We must be goin' now." Rex Krane dropped some silver in the priest's hand and we left the church.
 
 At the door we passed the Indian boy again, and a third time he gave no sign of seeing us. I was the only one who was troubled, however, for Rex and Beverly did not seem to notice him. As we left the village I caught sight of him again following behind us.
 
 "Look there, Bev," I said, in a low voice. Beverly glanced back, then turned and stared defiantly at the boy.
 
 "Maybe Rex knows about Indians," he said, lightly. "That's three times I found him fooling around in less than an hour, but my scalp is still hanging over one ear."
 
 He pushed back his cap and pulled at his bright brown locks. Happy Bev! How headstrong, brave, and care-free he walked the plains that day.
 
 The evening shadows were lengthening and the peaks of the Sangre-de-Christo range were taking on the scarlet stains of sunset when we raced into town at last. Rex Krane went at once to find Uncle Esmond, and Beverly and I hurried to the hotel to tell Mat of all that we had seen.
 
 Her gray eyes were glowing when she met us at the door and led us into a corner where we could talk by ourselves.
 
 "Uncle Esmond has sold everything to that Mexican merchant, Felix Narveo, and we are going to start home just as soon as he can find that little girl."
 
 "Oh, we've found her! We've found her!" Beverly burst out. But Mat hushed him at once.
 
 "Don't yell it to the sides, Beverly Clarenden. Now listen!" Mat dropped her voice almost to a whisper. "He's going to take that little girl back with us as far as Fort Leavenworth, and then send her on to St. Louis where she has some folks, I guess."
 
 "Isn't he a clipper, though," Beverly exclaimed.
 
 "But what if the Indians should get us?" I asked, anxiously. "I heard the colonel at Fort Leavenworth just give it to Uncle Esmond one night for bringing us."
 
 "You are safe or you are not safe everywhere. And if we got in here I reckon we can get out," Mat reasoned, philosophically. "And Uncle Esmond isn't afraid and he's set on doing it. We aren't going to take any goods back, so we can travel lots faster, and everything will be put in the wagons so we can grab out what's worth most in a hurry if we have to."
 
 So we talked matters over now as we had done on that April day out on the parade-ground at Fort Leavenworth. But now we knew something of what might be before us on that homeward journey. Thrilling hours those were. It is no wonder that, schooled by their events, young as we were, we put away childish things.
 
 That night while we slept things happened of which we knew nothing for many years. There was no moon and the glaring yellow daytime plain was full of gray-edged shadows, under the far stars of a midnight blue sky, as Esmond Clarenden took the same trail that we had followed in the afternoon. On to the village of Agua Fria, black and silent, he rode until he came to the church door. Here he dismounted, and, quickly securing his horse, he entered the building. The chill midnight wind swept in through the open door behind him, threatening to blot out the flickering candles about the altar. Father Josef came slowly down the aisle to meet him, while a tall man, crouching like a beast about to spring, rather than a penitent at prayer, shrank down in the shadowy corner inside the doorway.
 
 The merchant, solid and square-built and fearless, stood before the young priest baring his head as he spoke.
 
 "I come on a grave errand, good Father. This afternoon my two nephews and a young man from New England came in here and saw a child asleep under protection of this holy sanctuary. That child's name is Eloise St. Vrain. I had hoped to find her mother able to care for her. She--cannot do it, as you know. I must do it for her now. I come here to claim what it is my duty to protect."
 
 At these words the crouching figure sprang up and Ferdinand Ramero, his steel-blue eyes blazing, came forward with cat-like softness. But the sturdy little man before the priest stood, hat in hand, undisturbed by any presence there.
 
 "Father Josef," the tall man began, in a voice of menace, "you will not protect this American here. I have confessed to you and you know that this man is my enemy. He comes, a traitor to his own country and a spy to ours. He has risked the lives of three children by bringing them across the plains. He comes alone where large wagon-trains dare not venture. He could not go back to the States now. And lastly, good Father, he has no right to the child that he claims is here."
 
 "To the child that is here, asleep beside our sacred altar," Father Josef said, sternly.
 
 Ferdinand Ramero turned upon the priest fiercely.
 
 "Even the Church might go too far," he muttered, threateningly.
 
 "It might, but it never has," the holy man agreed. Then turning to Esmond Clarenden, he continued: "You must see that these charges do not stand against you. Our Holy Church offers no protection, outside of these four walls, to a traitor or a spy or even an unpatriotic speculator seeking to profit by the needs of war. Nor could it sanction giving the guardianship of a child to one who daringly imperils his own life or the lives of children, nor can it sanction any rights of guardianship unless due cause be given for granting them."
 
 Ferdinand Ramero smiled as the priest concluded. He was a handsome man, with the sort of compelling magnetism that gives controlling power to its possessor. But because I knew my uncle so well in after years, I can picture Esmond Clarenden as he stood that night before the young priest in the little mud-walled church of Agua Fria. And I can picture the tall, threatening man in the shadows beside him. But never have I held an image of him showing a sign of fear.
 
 "Father Josef, I am willing to make any explanation to you. As for this man whom you call Ramero here--up in the States he bears another name and I finished with him there six years ago--I have no time nor breath to waste on him. Are these your demands?" my uncle asked.
 
 "They are," Father Josef replied.
 
 "Do I take away the little girl, Eloise, unmolested, if you are satisfied?" Esmond Clarenden demanded, first making sure of his bargain, like the merchant he was.
 
 Ferdinand Ramero stiffened insolently at these words, and looked threateningly at Father Josef.
 
 "You do," the holy man replied, something of the flashing light in his eyes alone revealing what sort of a soldier the State had lost when this man took on churchly orders.
 
 "I am no traitor to my flag, since my full commerical purpose was known and sanctioned by the military authority at Fort Leavenworth before I left there. I brought no aid to my country's enemy because my full cargo was bargained for by your merchant, Felix Narveo, before the declaration of war was made. I merely acted as his agent bringing his own to him. I have come here as a spy only in this--that I shall profit in strictly legitimate business by the knowledge I hold of commercial conditions and my acquaintance with your citizens when this war for territory ends, no matter how its results may run. I deal in wholesome trade, not in human hate. I offer value for value, not blood for blood."
 
 Up to this time a smile had lighted the merchant's eyes. But now his voice lowered, and the lines about his mouth hardened.
 
 "As to the guardianship of children, Father Josef, I am a bachelor who for nearly nine years have given a home, education, support, and affection to three orphan children, until, though young in years, they are wise and capable. So zealous was I for their welfare, that when word came to me--no matter how--that a company of Mexicans were on their way to Independence, Missouri, ostensibly to seek the protection of the United States Government and to settle on the frontier there, but really to seize these children in my absence, and carry them into the heart of old Mexico, I decided at once that they would be safer with me in New Mexico than without me in Missouri.
 
 "In the night I passed this Mexican gang at Council Grove, waiting to seize me in the morning. At Pawnee Rock a storm scattered a band of Kiowa Indians to whom these same Mexicans had given a little Indian slave girl as a reward for attacking our train if the Mexicans should fail to get us themselves. Through every peril that threatens that long trail we came safely because the hand of the Lord preserved us."
 
 Esmond Clarenden paused, and the priest bowed a moment in prayer.
 
 "If I have dared fate in this journey," the merchant went on, "it was not to be foolhardy, nor for mere money gains, but to keep my own with me, and to rescue the daughter of Mary St. Vrain, of Santa Fé, and take her to a place of safety. It was her mother's last pleading call, as you, Father Josef, very well know, since you yourself heard her last words and closed her dead eyes. Under the New Mexican law, the guardianship of her property rests with others. Mine is the right to protect her and, by the God of heaven, I mean to do it!"
 
 Esmond Clarenden's voice was deep and powerful now, filling the old church with its vehemence.
 
 Up by the altar, the little girl sat up suddenly and looked about her, terrified by the dim light and the strange faces there.
 
 "Don't be afraid, Eloise."
 
 How strangely changed was this gentle tone from the vehement voice of a moment ago.
 
 The little girl sprang up and stared hard at the speaker. But no child ever resisted that smile by which Esmond Clarenden held Beverly and me in loving obedience all the days of our lives with him.
 
 Shaking with fear as she caught sight of Ferdinand Ramero, the girl reached out her hands toward the merchant, who put his arm protectingly about her. The big, dark eyes were filled with tears; the head with its sunny ripples of tangled hair leaned against him for a moment. Then the fighting spirit came back to her, so early in her young life had the need for defending herself been forced upon her.
 
 "Where have I been? Where am I going?" she demanded.
 
 "You are going with me now," Uncle Esmond said, softly.
 
 "And never have to fight Marcos any more? Oh, good, good, good! Let's go now!"
 
 She frowned darkly at Ferdinand Ramero, and, clutching tightly at Esmond Clarenden's hands, she began pulling him toward the open door.
 
 "Eloise," Father Josef said, "you are about to go away with this good man who will be a father to you. Be a good child as your mother would want you to be." His musical voice was full of pathos.
 
 Eloise dropped her new friend's hand and sprang down the aisle.
 
 "I will be good, Father Josef," she said, squeezing his dark hand between her fair little palms. Then, tossing back the curls from her face, she reached up a caressing hand to his cheek.
 
 Father Josef stooped and kissed her white forehead, and turned hastily toward the altar.
 
 "Esmond Clarenden!" It was Ferdinand Ramero who spoke, his sharp, bitter voice filling the church.
 
 "By order of this priest Eloise St. Vrain is yours to protect so long as you stay within these walls. The minute you leave them you reckon with me."
 
 Father Josef whirled about quickly, but the man made a scoffing gesture.
 
 "I brought this child here for protection this morning. But for that sickly Yankee and two inquisitive imps of boys she would have been safe here. I acknowledge sanctuary privilege. Use it as long as you choose in the church of Agua Fria. Set but a foot outside these walls and I say again you reckon with me."
 
 His tall form thrust itself menacingly before the little man and his charge clinging to his arm.
 
 "Set but a foot outside these walls and _you_ will reckon with _me_."
 
 It was Jondo's clear voice, and the big plainsman, towering up suddenly behind Ferdinand Ramero, filled the doorway.
 
 "You meant to hide in the old Church of San Miguel because it is so near to the home where you have kept this little girl. But Gail Clarenden blocked your game and found your house and this child in the church door before our wagon-train had reached the end of the trail. You found this church your nearest refuge, meaning to leave it again early in the morning. I have waited here for you all day, protected by the same means that brought word to Santa Fé this morning. Come out now if you wish. You dare not follow me to the States, but I dare to come to your land. Can you meet me here?" Jondo was handsome in his sunny moods. In his anger he was splendid.
 
 Ferdinand Ramero dropped to a seat beside Father Josef.
 
 "I have told you I cannot face that man. I will stay here now," he said, in a low voice to the priest. "But I do not stay here always, and I can send where I do not follow," he added, defiantly.
 
 Esmond Clarenden was already on his horse with his little charge, snugly wrapped, in his arms.
 
 Father Josef at the portal lifted his hand in sign of blessing.
 
 "Peace be with you. Do not tarry long," he said. Then, turning to Jondo, he gazed into the strong, handsome face. "Go in peace. He will not follow. But forget not to love even your enemies."
 
 In the midnight dimness Jondo's bright smile glowed with all its courageous sweetness.
 
 "I finished that fight long ago," he said. "I come only to help others."
 
 Long these two, priest and plainsman, stood there with clasped hands, the gray night mists of the Santa Fé Valley round about them and all the far stars of the midnight sky gleaming above them.
 
 Then Jondo mounted his horse and rode away up the trail toward Santa Fe. 


 

I will even make a way in the wilderness. --ISAIAH.
 
 
 Bent's fort stood alone in the wide wastes of the upper Arkansas valley. From the Atlantic to the Pacific shores there was in America no more isolated spot holding a man's home. Out on the north bank of the Arkansas, in a grassy river bottom, with rolling treeless plains rippling away on every hand, it reared its high yellow walls in solitary defiance, mute token of the white man's conquering hand in a savage wilderness. It was a great rectangle built of adobe brick with walls six feet through at the base, sloping to only a third of that width at the top, eighteen feet from the ground. Round bastions, thirty feet high, at two diagonal corners, gave outlook and defense. Immense wooden doors guarded a wide gateway looking eastward down the Arkansas River. The interior arrangement was after the Mexican custom of building, with rooms along the outer walls all opening into a big _patio_, or open court. A cross-wall separated this court from the large corral inside the outer walls at the rear. A portal, or porch, roofed with thatch on cedar poles, ran around the entire inner rectangle, sheltering the rooms somewhat from the glare of the white-washed court. A little world in itself was this Bent's Fort, a self-dependent community in the solitary places. The presiding genius of this community was William Bent, whose name is graven hard and deep in the annals of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountain country in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century.
 
 Hither in the middle '40's the wild trails of the West converged: northward, from the trading-posts of Bent and St. Vrain on the Platte; south, over the Raton Pass from Taos and Santa Fé; westward, from the fur-bearing plateaus of the Rockies, where trappers and traders brought their precious piles of pelts down the Arkansas; and eastward, half a thousand miles from the Missouri River frontier--the pathways of a restless, roving people crossed each other here. And it was toward this wilderness crossroads that Esmond Clarenden directed his course in that summertime of my boyhood years.
 
 The heat of a July sun beat pitilessly down on the scorching plains. The weary trail stretched endlessly on toward a somewhere in the yellow distance that meant shelter and safety. Spiral gusts of air gathering out of the low hills to the southeast picked up great cones of dust and whirled them zigzagging across the brown barren face of the land. Every draw was bone dry; even the greener growths along their sheltered sides, where the last moisture hides itself, wore a sickly sallow hue.
 
 Under the burden of this sun-glare, and through these stifling dust-cones, our little company struggled sturdily forward.
 
 We had left Santa Fé as suddenly and daringly as we had entered it, the very impossibility of risking such a journey again being our, greatest safeguard. Esmond Clarenden was doing the thing that couldn't be done, and doing it quickly.
 
 In the gray dawn after that midnight ride to Agua Fria a little Indian girl had slipped like a brown shadow across the Plaza. Stopping at the door of the Exchange Hotel, she leaned against the low slab of petrified wood that for many a year served as a loafer's roost before the hotel doorway. Inside the building Jondo caught the clear twitter of a bird's song at daybreak, twice repeated. A pause, and then it came again, fainter this time, as if the bird were fluttering away through the Plaza treetops.
 
 In that pause, the gate in the wall had opened softly, and Aunty Boone's sharp eyes peered through the crack. The girl caught one glimpse of the black face, then, dropping a tiny leather bag beside the stone, she sped away.
 
 A tall young Indian boy, prone on the ground behind a pile of refuse in the shadowy Plaza, lifted his head in time to see the girl glide along the portal of the Palace of the Governors and disappear at the corner of the structure. Then he rose and followed her with silent moccasined feet.
 
 And Jondo, who had hurried to the hotel door, saw only the lithe form of an Indian boy across the Plaza. Then his eye fell on the slender bag beside the stone slab. It held a tiny scrap of paper, bearing a message:
 
 _Take long trail QUICK. Mexicans follow far_. Trust bearer anywhere. JOSEF.
 
 An hour later we were on our way toward the open prairies and the Stars and Stripes afloat above Fort Leavenworth.
 
 In the wagon beside Mat Nivers was the little girl whose face had been clear in the mystic vision of my day-dreams on the April morning when I had gone out to watch for the big fish on the sand-bars; the morning when I had felt the first heart-throb of desire for the trail and the open plains whereon my life-story would later be written.
 
 We carried no merchandise now. Everything bent toward speed and safety. Our ponies and mules were all fresh ones--secured for this journey two hours after we had come into Santa Fé--save for the big sturdy dun creature that Uncle Esmond, out of pure sentiment, allowed to trail along behind the wagons toward his native heath in the Missouri bottoms.
 
 We had crossed the Gloriettas and climbed over the Raton Pass rapidly, and now we were nearing the upper Arkansas, where the old trail turns east for its long stretch across the prairies.
 
 As far as the eye could see there was no living thing save our own company in all the desolate plain aquiver with heat and ashy dry. The line of low yellow bluffs to the southeast hardly cast a shadow save for a darker dun tint here and there.
 
 At midday we drooped to a brief rest beside the sun-baked trail.
 
 "You all jus' one color," Aunty Boone declared. "You all like the dus' you made of 'cep' Little Lees an' me. She's white and I'm black. Nothin' else makes a pin streak on the face of the earth."
 
 Aunty Boone flourished on deserts and her black face glistened in the sunlight. Deep in the shadow of the wagon cover the face of Eloise St. Vrain--"Little Lees," Aunty Boone had named her--bloomed pink as a wild rose in its frame of soft hair. She had become Aunty Boone's meat and drink from the moment the strange African woman first saw her. This regard, never expressed in caress nor word of tenderness, showed itself in warding from the little girl every wind of heaven that might visit her too roughly. Not that Eloise gave up easily. Her fighting spirit made her rebel against weariness and the hardships of trail life new to her. She fitted into our ways marvelously well, demanding equal rights, but no favors. By some gentle appeal, hardly put into words, we knew that Uncle Esmond did not want us to talk to her about herself. And Beverly and Mat and I, however much we might speculate among ourselves, never thought of resisting his wishes.
 
 Eloise was gracious with Mat, but evidently the boy Marcos had made her wary of all boys. She paid no attention to Beverly and me at first. All her pretty smiles and laughing words were for Uncle Esmond and Jondo. And she was lovely. Never in all these long and varied years have I seen another child with such a richness of coloring, nor such a mass of golden hair rippling around her forehead and falling in big, soft curls about her neck. Her dark eyes with their long black lashes gave to her face its picturesque beauty, and her plump, dimpled arms and sturdy little form bespoke the wholesome promise of future years.
 
 But the life of the trail was not meant for such as she, and I know now that the assurance of having saved her from some greater misfortune alone comforted Uncle Esmond and Jondo in this journey. For Aunty Boone was right when she declared, "They tote together always."
 
 As we grouped together under that shelterless glare, getting what comfort we could out of the brief rest, Jondo sprang up suddenly, his eyes aglow with excitement.
 
 "What's the matter? Because if it isn't, this is one hot day to pretend like it is," Rex Krane asserted.
 
 He was lying on the hot earth beside the trail, his hat pulled over his face. Beverly and Bill Banney were staring dejectedly across the landscape, seeing nothing. I sat looking off toward the east, wondering what lay behind those dun bluffs in the distance.
 
 "Something is wrong back yonder," Jondo declared, making a half-circle with his hand toward the trail behind us.
 
 My heart seemed to stop mid-beat with a kind of fear I had never known before. Aunty Boone had always been her own defender. Mat Nivers had cared for me so much that I never doubted her bigger power. It was for Eloise, Aunty Boone's "Little Lees," that my fear leaped up.
 
 I can close my eyes to-day and see again the desolate land banded by the broad white trail. I can see the dusty wagons and our tired mules with drooping heads. I can see the earnest, anxious faces of Esmond Clarenden and Jondo; Beverly and Bill Banney hardly grasping Jondo's meaning; Rex Krane, half asleep on the edge of the trail. I can see Mat Nivers, brown and strong, and Aunty Boone oozing sweat at every pore. But these are only the setting for that little girl on the wagon-seat with white face and big dark eyes, under the curl-shadowed forehead.
 
 Jondo stared hard toward the hills in the southeast. Then he turned to my uncle with grim face and burning eyes; His was a wonderful voice, clear, strong and penetrating. But in danger he always spoke in a low tone.
 
 "I've watched those dust-whirls for an hour. The wind isn't making all of them. Somebody is stirring them up for cover. Every whirl has an Indian in it. It's all of ten miles to Bent's. We must fight them off and let the others run for it, before they cut us off in front. Look at that!"
 
 The exclamation burst from the plainsman's lips.
 
 That was my last straight looking. The rest is ever a kaleidoscope of action thrilled through with terror. What I saw was a swiftly moving black splotch coming out of the hills, with huge dust-heaps flying here and there before it. Then a yellow cloud spiral blinded our sight as a gust of hot wind swept round us. I remember Jondo's stern face and blazing eyes and his words:
 
 "Mexicans behind the Indians!"
 
 And Uncle Esmond's voice:
 
 "Narveo said they would get us, but I hoped we had outrun them."
 
 The far plains seemed spotted with Indians racing toward us, and coming at an angle from the southeast a dozen Mexicans swept in to cut us off from the trail in front.
 
 I remember a quick snatching of precious things in boxes placed for such a moment as this, a quick snapping of halter ropes around the ponies' necks, a gleaming of gun-barrels in the hot sunlight; a solid cloud of dust rolling up behind us, bigger and nearer every second; and the urgent voice of Jondo: "Ride for your lives!"
 
 And the race began. On the trail somewhere before us was Bent's Fort. We could only hope to reach it soon. We did not even look behind as we tore down that dusty wilderness way.
 
 At the first motion Aunty Boone had seized Eloise St. Vrain with one hand and the big dun mule's neck-strap with the other.
 
 "Go to the devil, you tigers and cannibals!" She roared with the growl of a desert lioness, shaking her big black fist at the band of Mexicans pouring out of the hills.
 
 And dun mule and black woman and white-faced, terror-stricken child became only a dust-cloud far in front of us. Mat and Beverly and I leaped to the ponies and followed the lead of the African woman. Nearest to us was Rex Krane, always a shield for the younger and less able. And behind him, as defense for the rear and protection for the van, came Esmond Clarenden and Bill Banney, with Jondo nearest the enemy, where danger was greatest.
 
 I tell it calmly, but I lived it in a blind whirl. The swift hoof-beat, the wild Indian yells, the whirl of arrows and whiz of bullets, the onrush to outrun the Mexicans who were trying to cut us off from the trail in front. Lived it! I lived ages in it. And then an arrow cut my pony's flank, making him lurch from the trail, a false step, the pony staggering, falling. A sharp pain in my shoulder, the smell of fire, a shriek from demon throats, the glaring sunlight on the rocking plain, searing my eyes in a mad whirlpool of blinding light, the fading sounds--and then--all was black and still.
 
 * * * * *
 
 When I opened my eyes again I was lying on a cot. Bare adobe walls were around me, and a high plastered roof resting on cedar poles sheltered that awful glare from my eyes. Through the open door I could see the rain falling on the bare ground of the court, filling the shallow places with puddles.
 
 I tried to lift myself to see more as shrieks of childish laughter caught my ear, but there was a sickish heat in my dry skin, an evil taste in my throat, and a sharp pain in my left shoulder; and I fell back again.
 
 Another shriek, and Eloise St. Vrain came before my doorway, pattering with bare white feet out into the center of the _patio_ puddles and laughing at the dashing summer shower. Her damp hair, twisted into a knot on top of her head, was curling tightly about her temples and neck, her eyes were shining; her wet clothes slapping at her bare white knees--a picture of the delicious happiness of childhood. A little child of three or four years was toddling after her. He was brown as a berry, and at first I thought he was a little Indian. I could hear Mat and Beverly splashing about safe and joyous somewhere, and I forgot my fever and pain and the dread of that awful glare coming again to sear my burning eyeballs as I watched and listened. A louder shriek as the little child ran behind Eloise and gave her a vigorous shove for one so small.
 
 "Oh, Charlie Bent, see what you've done," Mat cried; and then Beverly was picking up "Little Lees," sprawling, all mud-smeared and happy, in the very middle of the court.
 
 The child stood looking at her with shining black eyes full of a wicked mischief, but he said not a word.
 
 Just then a dull grunt caught my ear, and I half-turned to see a cot beyond mine. An Indian boy lay on it, looking straight at me. I stared back at him and neither of us spoke. His head was bandaged and his cheek was swollen, but with my memory for faces, even Indian faces, I knew him at once for the boy who had followed us into Agua Fria and out of it again.
 
 Just then the frolickers came to the door and peered in at me.
 
 "Are you awake?" Eloise asked.
 
 Then seeing my face, she came romping in, followed by Mat and Beverly and little Charlie Bent, all wet and hilarious. They gave no heed to the Indian boy, who pretended to be asleep. Once, however, I caught him watching Beverly, and his eyes were like dagger points.
 
 "We are having the best times. You must get well right away, because we are going to stay." They all began to clatter, noisily.
 
 Rex Krane appeared at the door just then and they stopped suddenly.
 
 "Clear out of here, you magpies," he commanded, and they scuttled away into the warm rain and the puddles again.
 
 "Do you want anything, Gail?" Rex asked, bending over me.
 
 I drew his head down with my right arm.
 
 "I want that Indian out of here," I whispered.
 
 "Out he goes," Rex returned, promptly, and almost before I knew it the boy was taken away. When we were alone the tall young man sat down beside me.
 
 "You want to ask me a million questions. I'll answer 'em to save you the trouble," he began, in his comfortable way.
 
 "You are wounded in your shoulder. Slight, bullet, that's Mexican; deep, arrow, that's Indian. But you are here and pretty much alive and you will be well soon."
 
 "And Uncle Esmond? Jondo? Bill?" I began, lifting myself up on my well arm.
 
 "Keep quiet. I'll answer faster. Everybody all right. Clarenden and Jondo leave for Independence the minute you are better, and a military escort permits."
 
 I dropped down again.
 
 "The U.S. Army, en route for perdition, via Santa Fé, is camping in the big timbers down-stream now. Jondo and Esmond Clarenden will leave you boys and girls here till it's safe to take you out again. And I and Daniel Boone, vestal god and goddess of these hearth-fires, will keep you from harm till that time. Bill's joining the army for sure now, and our happy family life is ended as far as the Santa Fé Trail is concerned. I'm a well man now, but not quite army-well yet, they tell me."
 
 "Tell me about this." I pointed to my shoulder.
 
 "All in good time. It was a nasty mess of fish. A dozen Mexicans and as many Indians had followed us all the way from the sunny side of the Gloriettas. You and Bev and Mat had got by the Mexics. Daniel Boone and 'Little Lees' were climbing the North Pole by that time. The rest of us were giving battle straight from the shoulder; and someway, I don't know how, just as we had the gang beat back behind us--you had a sniff of a bullet just then--an Indian slipped ahead in the dust. I was tendin' to mite of an arrow wound in my right calf, and I just caught him in time, aimin' at Bev; but he missed him for you. I got him, though, and clubbed his scalp a bit loose."
 
 Rex paused and stared at his right leg.
 
 "How did that boy get here, Rex? Is he a friendly Indian?" I asked.
 
 "Oh, Jondo brought him in out of the wet. Says the child was made to come along, and as soon as he could get away from the gang he had to run with up here; he came right into camp to help us against them. Fine young fellow! Jondo has it from them in authority that we can trust him lyin' or tellin' the truth. _He's all right._"
 
 "How did he get hurt?" I inquired, still remembering in my own mind the day at Agua Fria.
 
 "He'd got into our camp and was fightin' on our side when it happened," Rex replied.
 
 "Some of them shot at him, then?" I insisted. "No, I beat him up with the butt of my gun for shootin' you," Rex said, lazily.
 
 "At me! Why don't you tell Jondo?"
 
 "I tried to," Rex answered, "but I can't make him see it that way. He's got faith in that redskin and he's going to see that he gets back to New Mexico safely--after while."
 
 "Rex, that's the same boy that was down in Agua Fria, the one Bev laughed at. He's no good Indian," I declared.
 
 "You are too wise, Gail Clarenden," Rex drawled, carelessly. "A boy of your brains had ought to be born in Boston. Jondo and I can't agree about him. His name, he says, is Santan. There's one 'n' too many. If you knock off the last one it makes him Santa--'holy'; but if you knock out the middle it's Satan. We don't knock out the same 'n', Jondo and me."
 
 Just then the little child came tumbling noisily into the room.
 
 "Look here, youngun. You can't be makin' a racket here," Rex said.
 
 The boy stared at him, impudently.
 
 "I will, too," he declared, sullenly, kicking at my cot with all his might.
 
 Rex made no reply but, seizing the child around the waist, he carried him kicking and screaming outside.
 
 "You stay out or I'll spank you!" Rex said, dropping him to the ground.
 
 The boy looked up with blazing eyes, but said nothing.
 
 "That's little Charlie Bent. His daddy runs this splendid fort. His mother is a Cheyenne squaw, and he's a grim clinger of a half-breed. Some day he'll be a terror on these plains. It's in him, I know. But that won't interfere with us any. And you children are a lot safer here than out on the trail. Great God! I wonder we ever got you here!" Rex's face was very grave. "Now go to sleep and wake up well. No more thinkin' like a man. You can be a child again for a while."
 
 Those were happy days that followed. Safe behind the strong walls of old Fort Bent, we children had not a care; and with the stress and strain of the trail life lifted from our young minds, we rebounded into happy childhood living. Every day offered a new drama to our wonder-loving eyes. We watched the big hide-press for making buffalo robes and furs into snug bales. We climbed to the cupola of the headquarters department and saw the soldiers marching by on their way to New Mexico. We saw the Ute and the Red River Comanche come filing in on their summer expeditions from the mountains. We saw the trade lines from the far north bearing down to this wilderness crossroads with their early fall stock for barter.
 
 Our playground was the court off which all the rooms opened. And however wild and boisterous the scenes inside those walls in that summer of 1846, in four young lives no touch of evil took root. Stronger than the six-feet width of wall, higher than the eighteen feet of adobe brick guarding us round about, was the stern strength of the young Boston man interned in the fort to protect us from within, as the strength of that structure defended us from without.
 
 And yet he might have failed sometimes, had it not been for Aunty Boone. Nobody trifled with her.
 
 "You let them children be. An give 'em the run of this shack," she commanded of the lesser powers whose business was to domineer over the daily life there. "The man that makes trouble wide as a needle is across is goin' to meet me an' the Judgment Day the same minute."
 
 "When Daniel gets on her crack-o'-doom voice, the mountains goin' to skip like rams and the little hills like lambs, an' the Army of the West won't be necessary to protect the frontier," Rex declared. But he knew her worth to his cause, and he welcomed it.
 
 And so with her brute force and his moral strength we were unconsciously intrenched in a safety zone in this far-isolated place.
 
 With neither Uncle Esmond nor Jondo near us for the first time in our remembrance, we gained a strength in self-dependence that we needed. For with the best of guardianship, there are many ways in which a child's day may be harried unless the child asserts himself. We had the years of children but the sturdy defiance of youth. So we were happy within our own little group, and we paid little heed to the things that nobody else could forestall for us.
 
 Outside of our family, little Charlie Bent, the half-breed child of the proprietor of the fort, was a daily plague. He entered into all of our sports with a quickness and perseverance and wilfulness that was thoroughly American. He took defeat of his wishes, and the equal measure of justice and punishment, with the silent doggedness of an Indian; and on the edge of babyhood he showed a spirit of revenge and malice that we, in our rollicking, affectionate lives, with all our teasing and sense of humor, could not understand; so we laughed at his anger and ignored his imperious demands.
 
 Behind him always was his Cheyenne mother, jealously defending him in everything, and in manifold ways making life a burden--if we would submit to the making, which we seldom did.
 
 And lastly Santan, the young boy who had deserted his Mexican masters for Jondo's command, contrived, with an Indian's shrewdness, never to let us out of his sight. But he gave us no opportunity to approach him. He lived in his own world, which was a savage one, but he managed that it should overlap our world and silently grasp all that was in it. Beverly had persistently tried to be friendly for a time, for that was Beverly's way. Failing to do it, he had nick-named the boy "Satan" for all time.
 
 "We found Little Blue Flower a sweet little muggins," Beverly told the Indian early in our stay at the fort. "We like good Indians like her. She's one clipper."
 
 Santan had merely looked him through as though he were air, and made no reply, nor did he ever by a single word recognize Beverly from that moment.
 
 The evening before we left Fort Bent we children sat together in a corner of the court. The day had been very hot for the season and the night was warm and balmy, with the moonlight flooding the open space, edging the shadows of the inner portal with silver. There was much noise and boisterous laughter in the billiard-room where the heads of affairs played together. Rex Krane had gone to bed early. Out by the rear gate leading to the fort corral, Aunty Boone was crooning a weird African melody. Crouching in the deep shadows beside the kitchen entrance, the Indian boy, Santan, listened to all that was said.
 
 To-night we had talked of to-morrow's journey, and the strength of the military guard who should keep us safe along the way. Then, as children will, we began to speculate on what should follow for us.
 
 "When I get older I'm going to be a freighter like Jondo, Bill and me. We'll kill every Indian who dares to yell along the trail. I'm going back to Santa Fé and kill that boy that stared at me like he was crazy one day at Agua Fria."
 
 In the shadows of the porchway, I saw Santan creeping nearer to us as Beverly ran on flippantly:
 
 "I guess I'll marry a squaw, Little Blue Flower, maybe, like the Bents do, and live happily ever after."
 
 "I'm going to have a big fine house and live there all the time," Mat Nivers declared. Something in the earnest tone told us what this long journey had meant to the brave-hearted girl.
 
 "I'm going to marry Gail when I grow up," Eloise said, meditatively. "He won't ever let Marcos pull my hair." She shook back the curly tresses, gold-gleaming in the moonlight, and squeezed my hand as she sat beside me.
 
 "What will you be, Gail?" Mat asked.
 
 "I'll go and save Bev's scalp when he's gunning too far from home," I declared.
 
 "Oh, he'll be 'Little Lees's' husband, and pull that Marcos cuss's nose if he tries to pull anybody's curls. Whoo-ee! as Aunty Boone would say," Beverly broke in.
 
 I kept a loving grip on the little hand that had found mine, as I would have gripped Beverly's hand sometimes in moments when we talked together as boys do, in the confidences they never give to anybody else.
 
 A gray shadow dropped on the moon, and a chill night wind crept down inside the walls. A sudden fear fell on us. The noises inside the billiard room seemed far away, and all the doors except ours were closed. Santan had crept between us and the two open doorways leading to our rooms. What if he should slip inside. A snake would have seemed better to me.
 
 A silence had fallen on us, and Eloise still clung to my hand. I held it tightly to assure her I wasn't afraid, but I could not speak nor move. Aunty Boone's crooning voice was still, and everything had grown weird and ghostly. The faint wailing cry of some wild thing of the night plains outside crept to our ears, making us shiver.
 
 "When the stars go to sleep an' the moon pulls up the gray covers, it's time to shut your eyes an' forget." Aunty Boone's soft voice broke the spell comfortingly for us. "Any crawlin' thing that gits in my way now, goin' to be stepped on."
 
 At the low hissing sound of the last sentence there was a swift scrambling along the shadows of the porch, and a door near the kitchen snapped shut. The big shining face of the African woman glistened above us and the court was flooded again with the moon's silvery radiance. As we all sprang up to rush for our rooms, "Little Lees" pulled me toward her and gently kissed my cheek.
 
 "You never would let Marcos in if he came to Fort Leavenworth, would you?" she whispered.
 
 "I'd break his head clear off first," I whispered back, and then we scampered away.
 
 That night I dreamed again of the level plains and Uncle Esmond and misty mountain peaks, but the dark eyes were not there, though I watched long for them.
 
 The next day we left Fort Bent, and when I passed that way again it was a great mass of yellow mounds, with a piece of broken wall standing desolately here and there, a wreck of the past in a solitary land.

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