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Category: The Price of the Prairie, A Story of Kansas
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 In even savage bosoms There are longings, yearnings, strivings For the good they comprehend not. --Longfellow

The frontier broke all lines of caste. There was no aristocrat, autocrat, nor plutocrat in Springvale; but the purest democracy was among the children. Life was before us; we loved companionship, and the same dangers threatened us all. The first time I saw Marjie she asked, "Are you afraid of Indians?" They were the terror of her life. Even to-day the mere press despatch of an Indian uprising in Oklahoma or Arizona will set the blood bounding through my veins and my first thought is of her.

I shall never forget the day my self-appointed guardianship of her began. Before we had a schoolhouse, Aunt Candace taught the children of the community in our big living-room. One rainy afternoon, late in the Fall, the darkness seemed to drop down suddenly. We could not see to study, and we were playing boisterously about the benches of our improvised schoolroom, Marjie, Mary Gentry, Lettie and Jim Conlow, Tell Mapleson,--old Tell's boy,--O'mie, both the Mead boys, and the four Anderson children. Suddenly Marjie, who was watching the rain beating against the west window, called, "Phil, come here! What is that long, narrow, red light down by the creek?"

Marjie had the softest voice. Amid the harsh jangle of the Andersons and Bill Mead's big whooping shouts it always seemed like music to me. I stared hard at the sullen block of flame in the evening shadows.

"I don't know what it is," I said.

She slipped her fingers into the pocket of my coat as I turned away, and her eyes looked anxiously into mine. "Could it be an Indian camp-fire?" she queried.

I looked again, flattening my nose against the window pane. "I don't know, Marjie, but I'll find out. Maybe it's somebody's kitchen fire down west. I'll ask O'mie."

In truth, that light had often troubled me. It did not look like the twinkling candle-flare I could see in so many windows of the village. I turned to O'mie, who, with his face to the wall, waited in a game of hide-and-seek. Before I could call him Marjie gave a low cry of terror. We all turned to her in an instant, and I saw outside a dark face close against the window. It was gone so quickly that only O'mie and I caught sight of it.

"What was it, Marjie?" the children cried.

"An Indian boy," gasped Marjie. "He was right against the window."

"I'll bet it was a spook," shouted Bill Mead.

"I'll bet it wasn't nothin' at all," grinned Jim Conlow. "Possum Conlow" we called him for that secretive grin on his shallow face.

"I'll bet it wath a whole gang of Thiennes," lisped tow-headed Bud Anderson.

"They ain't no Injuns nearer than the reserve down the river, and ain't been no Injuns in Springvale for a long time, 'cept annuity days," declared Tell Mapleson.

"Well, let's foind out," shouted O'mie, "I ain't afraid av no Injun."

"Neither am I," I cried, starting after O'mie, who was out of the door at the word.

But Marjie caught my arm, and held it.

"Let O'mie go. Don't go, Phil, please don't."

I can see her yet, her brown eyes full of pleading, her soft brown hair in rippling waves about her white temples. Did my love for her spring into being at that instant? I cannot tell. But I do know that it was a crucial moment for me. Sixty years have I seen, and my life has grown practical and barren of sentiment. But I know that the boy, Phil Baronet, who stood that evening with Marjie and the firelight and safety on one side, and darkness and uncertainty on the other, had come to one of those turning-points in a life, unrecognized for the time, whose decision controls all the years that follow. For suddenly came the query "How can I best take care of her? Shall I stay with her in the light, or go into the dark and strike the danger out of it?" I didn't frame all this into words. It was all only an intense feeling, but the mental judgment was very real. I turned from her and cleared the doorstep at a leap, and in a moment was by O'mie's side, chasing down the hill-slope toward town.

We never thought to run to the bluff's edge and clamber down the shelving, precipitous sides. Here was the only natural hiding-place, but like children we all ran the other way. When we had come in again with the report of "No enemy in sight," and had shut the door against the rain, I happened to glance out of the east window. Climbing up to the street from the cliff I saw the lithe form of a young Indian. He came straight to the house and stood by the east window where he could see inside. Then with quick, springing step he walked down the slope. I crossed to the west window and watched him shutting out that red bar of light now and then, till he melted into the shadows.

Meanwhile the children were chattering like sparrows and had not noticed me.

"Would you know it, Marjie, if you thaw it again?" lisped Bud Anderson.

"Oh, yes! His hair was straight across like this." Marjie drew one hand across her curl-shaded forehead, to show how square the black hair grew about the face she had seen.

"That's nothin'," said Bill Mead. "They change scalps every time they catch a white man,--just take their own off an' put his on, an' it grows. There's lots of men in Kansas look like white men's just Injuns growed a white scalp on 'em."

"Really, is there?" asked Mary Gentry credulously.

"Sure, I've seen 'em," went on Bill with a boy's love of that kind of lying.

"Wouldn't a Injun look funny with my thcalp?" Bud Anderson put in. "I'll bet I'm jutht a Injun mythelf."

"Then you've got some little baby girl's scalp," grinned Jim Conlow.

"'Tain't no 'pothum'th, anyhow," rejoined Bud; and we laughed our fears away.

That evening Aunt Candace sent me home with Marjie to take some fresh doughnuts to Mrs. Whately. I can see the little girl now as we splashed sturdily down Cliff Street through the wet gloom, her face like a white blossom in the shadowy twilight, her crimson jacket open at the throat, and the soft little worsted scarf about her damp fluffy curls making a glow of rich coloring in the dim light.

"You'll never let the Indians get you, will you, Phil?" she asked, when we stood a moment by the bushes just at the steepest bend of the street.

I stood up proudly. I was growing very fast in this gracious climate. "The finest-built boy in Springvale," the men called me. "No, Marjie. The Indians won't get me, nor anybody else I don't want them to have."

She drew close to me, and I caught her hand in mine a moment. Then, boylike, I flipped her heavy braid of hair over her shoulder and shook the wettest bushes till their drops scattered in a shower about her. Something, a dog we thought, suddenly slid out from the bush and down the cliff-side. When I started home after delivering the cakes, Marjie held the candle at the door to light my way. As I turned at the edge of the candle's rays to wave my hand, I saw her framed in the doorway. Would that some artist could paint that picture for me now!

"I'll whistle up by the bushes," I cried, and strode into the dark.

On the bend of the crest, where the street drops down almost too steep for a team of horses to climb, I turned and saw Marjie's light in the window, and the shadow of her head on the pane. I gave a long, low whistle, the signal call we had for our own. It was not an echo, it was too near and clear, the very same low call in the bushes just over the cliff beside me as though some imitator were trying to catch the notes. A few feet farther on my path I came face to face with the same Indian whom I had seen an hour before. He strode by me in silence.

Without once looking back I said to myself, "If you aren't afraid of me, I'm not afraid of you. But who gave that whistle, I wonder. That's my call to Marjie."

"Marjie's awful 'fraid of Injuns," I said to Aunt Candace that night. "Didn't want me to find who it was peeked, but I went after him, clear down to Amos Judson's house, because I thought that was the best way, if it was an Injun. She isn't afraid of anything else. She's the only girl that can ride Tell Mapleson's pony, and only O'mie and Tell and I among the boys can ride him. And she killed the big rattlesnake that nearly had Jim Conlow, killed it with a hoe. And she can climb where no other girl dares to, on the bluff below town toward the Hermit's Cave. But she's just as 'fraid of an Injun! I went to hunt him, though."

"And you did just right, Phil. The only way to be safe is to go after what makes you afraid. I guess, though, there really was nobody. It was just Marjie's imagination, wasn't it?"

"Yes, there was, Auntie; I saw him climb up from the cliff over there and go off down the hill after we came in."

"Why didn't you say so?" asked my aunt.

"We couldn't get him, and it would have scared Marjie," I answered.

"That's right, Phil. You are a regular Kansas boy, you are. The best of them may claim to come from Massachusetts,"--with a touch of pride,--"but no matter where they come from, they must learn how to be quick-witted and brave and manly here in Kansas. It's what all boys need to be here."

A few days later the door of our schoolroom opened and an Indian boy strode in and seated himself on the bench beside Tell Mapleson. He was a lad of fifteen, possibly older. His dress was of the Osage fashion and round his neck he wore a string of elk teeth. His face was thoroughly Indian, yet upon his features something else was written. His long black hair was a shade too jetty and soft for an Indian's, and it grew squarely across his forehead, suggesting the face of a French priest. We children sat open-mouthed. Even Aunt Candace forgot herself a moment. Bud Anderson first found his voice.

"Well, I'll thwan!" he exclaimed in sheer amazement.

Bill Mead giggled and that broke the spell.

"How do you do?" said my aunt kindly.

"How," replied the young brave.

"What is your name, and what do you want?" asked our teacher.

"Jean Pahusca. Want school. Want book--" He broke off and finished in a jargon of French and Indian.

"Where is your home, your tepee?" queried Aunt Candace.

The Indian only shook his head. Then taking from his beads a heavy silver cross, crudely shaped and wrought, he rose and placed it on the table. Taking up a book at the same time he seated himself to study like the rest of us.

"He has paid his tuition," said my aunt, smiling. "We'll let him stay."

So Jean Pahusca was established in our school.

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