Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

A patch of green sod 'neath the trees brown and bare, A smell of fresh mould on the mild southern air, A twitter of bird song, a flutter, a call, And though the clouds lower, and threaten and fall--There's Spring in my heart! --Berta Alexander Garvey

When the prairies blossomed again, and the Kansas springtime was in its daintiest green, when a blur of pink was on the few young orchards in the Neosho Valley, and the cottonwoods in the draws were putting forth their glittering tender leaves--in that sweetest time of all the year, a new joy came to me. Most girls married at sixteen in those days, and were grandmothers at thirty-five.

Marjie was no longer a child. No sweeter blossom of young womanhood ever graced the West. All Springvale loved her, except Lettie Conlow. And Cam Gentry summed it all up in his own quaint way, brave old Cam fighting all the battles of the war over again on the veranda of the Cambridge House, since his defective range of vision kept him from the volunteer service. Watching Marjie coming down the street one spring morning Cam declared solemnly:

"The War's done decided, an' the Union has won. A land that can grow girls like Marjory Whately's got the favorin' smile of the Almighty upon it."

For us that season all the world was gay and all the skies were opal-hued, and we almost forgot sometimes that there could be sorrow and darkness and danger. Most of all we forgot about an alien down in the Hermit's Cave, "a good Indian" turned bad in one brief hour. Dear are the memories of that springtide. Many a glorious April have I seen in this land of sunshine, but none has ever seemed quite like that one to me. Nor waving yellow wheat, nor purple alfalfa bloom, nor ramparts of dark green corn on well-tilled land can hold for me one-half the beauty of the windswept springtime prairie. No sweet odor of new-ploughed ground can rival the fragrance of the wild grasses in their waving seas of verdure.

We were coming home from Red Range late one April day, where we had gone to a last-day-of-school affair. The boys and girls did not ride in a group now, but broke up into twos and twos sauntering slowly homeward. The tender pink and green of the landscape with the April sunset tinting in the sky overhead, and all the far south and west stretching away into limitless waves of misty green blending into the amethyst of the world's far bound, gave setting for young hearts beating in tune with the year's young beauty.

Tell Mapleson and Lettie had been with Marjie and me for a time, but at last Tell had led Lettie far away. When we reached the draw beyond the big cottonwood where Jean Pahusca threw us into such disorder on that August evening the year before, we found a rank profusion of spring blossoms. Leading our ponies by the bridle rein we lingered long in the fragrant draw, gathering flowers and playing like two children among them. At length Marjie sat down on the sloping ground and deftly wove into a wreath the little pink blooms of some frail wild flower.

"Come, Phil," she cried, "come, crown me Queen of May here in April!"

I was as tall then as I am now, and Marjie at her full height came only to my shoulder. I stooped to lay that dainty string of blossoms above her brow. They fell into place in her wavy hair and nestled there, making a picture only memory can keep. The air was very sweet and the whole prairie about the little draw was still and dewy. The purple twilight, shot through with sunset coloring, made an exquisite glory overhead, and far beyond us. It is all sacred to me even now, this moment in Love's young dream. I put both my hands gently against her fair round cheeks and looked down her into her brown eyes.

"Oh, Marjie," I said softly, and kissed her red lips just once.

She said never a word while we stood for a moment, a moment we never forgot. The day's last gleam of gold swept about us, and the ripple of a bird's song in the draw beyond the bend fell upon the ear. An instant later both ponies gave a sudden start. We caught their bridle reins, and looked for the cause. Nothing was in sight.

"It must have been a rattlesnake in that tall grass, Phil," Marjie exclaimed. "The ponies don't like snakes, and they don't care for flowers."

"There are no snakes here, Marjie. This is the garden of Eden without the Serpent," I said gayly.

All the homeward way was a dream of joy. We forgot there was a Civil War; that this was a land of aching hearts and dreary homes, and bloodshed and suffering and danger and hate. We were young, it was April on the prairies, and we had kissed each other in the pink-wreathed shadows of the twilight. Oh, it was good to live!

The next morning O'mie came grinning up the hill.

"Say, Phil, ye know I cut the chape Neosho crowd last evening up to Rid Range fur that black-eyed little Irish girl they call Kathleen. So I came home afterwhoile behind you, not carin' to contaminate meself wid such a common set after me pleasant company at Rid Range."

"Well, we managed to pull through without you, O'mie, but don't let it happen again. It's too hard on the girls to be deprived of your presence. Do be more considerate of us, my lord."

O'mie grinned more broadly than ever.

"Well, I see a sight worth waitin' fur on my homeward jaunt in the gloamin'."

"What was it, a rattlesnake?"

"Yes, begorra, it was just that, an' worse. You remember the draw this side of the big cottonwood, the one where the 'good Injun' come at us last August, the time he got knocked sober at the old tepee ring?"

I gave a start and my cheeks grew hot. O'mie pretended not to notice me.

"Well," he went on, "just as I came beyont that ring on this side and dips down toward the draw where Jean come from when he was aimin' to hang a certain curly brown-haired scalp--"

A thrill of horror went through me at the picture.

"Ye needn't shiver. Injuns do that; even little golden curls from babies' heads. You an' me may live to see it, an' kill the Injun that does it, yit. Now kape quiet. In this draw aforesaid, just like a rid granite gravestone sat a rid granite Injun, 'a good Injun,' mind you. In his hands was trailin' a broken wreath of pink blossoms, an' near as an Injun can, an' a Frenchman can't, he was lovin' 'em fondly. My appearance, unannounced by me footman, disconcerted him extramely. He rose up an' he looked a mile tall. They moved some clouds over a little fur his head up there," pointing toward the deep blue April sky where white cumulus clouds were heaped, "an' his eyes was one blisterin' grief, an' blazin' hate. He walks off proud an' erect, but some like a wounded bird too. But mostly and importantly, remember, and renew your watchfulness. It's hate an' a bad Injun now. Mark my words. The 'good Injun' went out last night wid the witherin' of them pink flowers lyin' limp in his cruel brown hands."

"But whose flower wreath could it have been?" I asked carelessly.

"O, phwat difference! Just some silly girl braided 'em up to look sweet for some silly boy. An' maybe he kissed her fur it. I dunno. Annyhow she lost this bauble, an' looking round I found it on the little knoll where maybe she sat to do her flower wreathin'."

He held up an old-fashioned double silver scarf-pin, the two pins held together by a short silver chain, such as shawls were fastened with in those days. Marjie had had the pin in the light scarf she carried on her arm. It must have slipped out when she laid the scarf beside her and sat down to make the wreath. I took the pin from O'mie's hand, my mind clear now as to what had frightened the ponies. A new anxiety grew up from that moment. The "good Indian" was passing. And yet I was young and joyously happy that day, and I did not feel the presence of danger then.

The early May rains following that April were such as we had never known in Kansas before. The Neosho became bank-full; then it spread out over the bottom lands, flooding the wooded valley, creeping up and up towards the bluffs. It raced in a torrent now, and the song of its rippling over stony ways was changed to the roar of many waters, rushing headlong down the valley. On the south of us Fingal's Creek was impassable. Every draw was brimming over, and the smaller streams became rivers. All these streams found their way to the Neosho and gave it impetus to destroy--which it did, tearing out great oaks and sending them swirling and plunging, in its swiftest currents. It found the soft, uncertain places underneath its burden of waters and with its millions of unseen hands it digged and scooped and shaped the thing anew. When at last the waters were all gone down toward the sea and our own beautiful river was itself again, singing its happy song on sunny sands and in purple shadows, the valley contour was much changed. To the boys who had known it, foot by foot, the differences would have been most marked. Especially would we have noted the change about the Hermit's Cave, had not that Maytime brought its burden of strife to us all.

That was the black year of the Civil War, with Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga and Chickamauga all on its record. Here in Kansas the minor tragedies are lost in the great horror of the Quantrill raid at Lawrence. But the constant menace of danger, and the strain of the thousand ties binding us to those from every part of the North who had gone out to battle, filled every day with its own care. When the news of Chancellorsville reached us, Cam Gentry sat on the tavern veranda and wept.

"An' to think of me, strong, an' able, an' longin' to fight for the Union, shut out because I can only see so far."

"But Uncle Cam," Dr. Hemingway urged, "Stonewall Jackson was killed by his own men just when victory was lost to us. You might do the same thing,--kill some man the country needs. And I believe, too, you are kept here for a purpose. Who knows how soon we may need strong men in this town, men who can do the short-range work? The Lord can use us all, and your place is here. Isn't that true, Brother Dodd?"

I was one of the group on the veranda steps that evening where the men were gathered in eager discussion of the news of the great Union loss at Chancellorsville, brought that afternoon by the stage from Topeka. I glanced across at Dodd, pastor of the Methodist Church South. A small, secretive, unsatisfactory man, he seemed to dole out the gospel grudgingly always, and never to any outside his own denomination.

He made no reply and Dr. Hemingway went on: "We have Philip here, and I'd count on him and his crowd against the worst set of outlaws that ever rode across the border. Yet they need your head, Uncle Cam, although their arms are strong."

He patted my shoulder kindly.

"We need you, too," he continued, "to keep us cheered up. When the Lord says to some of us, 'So far shalt thou see, and no farther,' he may give to that same brother the power to scatter sunshine far and wide. Oh, we need you, Brother Gentry, to make us laugh if for nothing else."

Uncle Cam chuckled. He was built for chuckling, and we all laughed with him, except Mr. Dodd. I caught a sneer on his face in the moment.

Presently Father Le Claire and Jean Pahusca joined the group. I had not seen the latter since the day of O'mie's warning. Indian as he was, I could see a change in his impassive face. It made me turn cold, me, to whom fear was a stranger. Father Le Claire, too, was not like himself. Self-possessed always, with his native French grace and his inward spiritual calm, this evening he seemed to be holding himself by a mighty grip, rather than by that habitual self-mastery that kept his life in poise.

I tell these impressions as a man, and I analyze them as a man, but, boy as I was, I felt them then with keenest power. Again the likeness of Indian and priest possessed me, but raised no query within me. In form, in gait and especially in the shape of the head and the black hair about their square foreheads they were as like as father and son. Just once I caught Jean's eye. The eye of a rattlesnake would have been more friendly. O'mie was right. The "good Indian" had vanished. What had come in his stead I was soon to know. But withal I could but admire the fine physique of this giant.

While the men were still full of the Union disaster, two horsemen came riding up to the tavern oak. Their horses were dripping wet. They had come up the trail from the southwest, where the draws were barely fordable. Strangers excited no comment in a town on the frontier. The trail was always full of them coming and going. We hardly noted that for ten days Springvale had not been without them.

"Come in, gentlemen," called Cam. "Here, Dollie, take care of these friends. O'mie, take their horses."

They passed inside and the talk outside went eagerly on.

"Father Le Claire, how do the Injuns feel about this fracas now?" inquired Tell Mapleson.

The priest spoke carefully.

"We always counsel peace. You know we do not belong to either faction."

His smile was irresistible, and the most partisan of us could not dislike him that he spoke for neither North nor South.

"But," Tell persisted, "how do the Injuns themselves feel?"

Tell seemed to have lost his usual insight, else he could have seen that quick, shrewd, penetrating glance of the good Father's reading him through and through.

"I have just come from the Mission," he said. "The Osages are always loyal to the Union. The Verdigris River was too high for me to hear from the villages in the southwest."

Tell was listening eagerly. So also were the two strangers who stood in the doorway now. If the priest noted this he gave no sign. Mr. Dodd spoke here for the first time.

"Well," he said in his pious intonation, "if the Osages are loyal, that clears Jean here. He's an Osage, isn't he?"

Jean made no reply; neither did Le Claire, and Tell Mapleson turned casually to the strangers, engaging them in conversation.

"We shall want our horses at four sharp in the morning," one of the two came out to say to Cam. "We have a long hard day before us."

"At your service," answered Cam. "O'mie, take the order in your head."

"Is that the biggest hostler you've got?" looking contemptuously at little O'mie standing beside me. "If you Kansas folks weren't such damned abolitionists you'd have some able-bodied niggers to do your work right."

O'mie winked at me and gave a low whistle. Neither the wink nor the whistle was lost on the speaker, who frowned darkly at the boy.

Cam squinted up at the men good-naturedly. "Them horses dangerous?" he asked.

"Yes, they are," the stranger replied. "Can we have a room downstairs? We want to go to bed early. We have had a hard day."

"You can begin to say your 'Now I lay me' right away in here if you like," and the landlord led the way into a room off the veranda. One of the two lingered outside in conversation with Mapleson for a brief time.

"Come, go home with me, O'mie," I said later, when the crowd began to thin out.

"Not me," he responded. "Didn't ye hear, 'four A. M. sharp'? It's me flat on me bed till the dewy morn an' three-thirty av it. Them's vicious horses. An' they'll be to curry clane airly. Phil," he added in a lower voice, "this town's a little overrun wid strangers wid no partic'lar business av their own, an' we don't need 'em in ours. For one private citizen, I don't like it. The biggest one of them two men in there's named Yeager, an' he's been here three toimes lately, stayin' only a few hours each toime."

O'mie looked so little to me this evening! I had hardly noted how the other boys had outgrown him.

"You're not very big for a horseman after all, my son, but you're grit clear through. You may do something yet the big fellows couldn't do," I said affectionately.

He was Irish to the bone, and never could entirely master his brogue, but we had no social caste lines, and Springvale took him at face value, knowing his worth.

At Marjie's gate I stopped to make sure everything was all right. Somehow when I knew the Indian was in town I could never feel safe for her. She hurried out in response to my call.

"I'm so glad to see you to-night, Phil," she said, a little tremulously. "I wish father were here. Do you think he is safe?"

She was leaning on the gate, looking eagerly into my eyes. The shadows of the May twilight were deepening around us, and Marjie's white face looked never so sweet to me as now, in her dependence on my assurance.

"I'm sure Mr. Whately is all right. It is the bad news that gets here first. I'm so glad our folks weren't at Chancellorsville."

"But they may be in as dreadful a battle soon. Oh, Phil, I'm so--what? lonesome and afraid to-night. I wish father could come home."

It was not like Marjie, who had been a dear brave girl, always cheering her dependent mother and hopefully expecting the best. To-night there swept over me anew that sense of the duty every man owes to the home. It was an intense feeling then. Later it was branded with fire into my consciousness. I put one of my big hands over her little white hand on the gate.

"Marjie," I said gently, "I promised your father I would let no harm come to you. Don't be afraid, little girl. You can trust me. Until he comes back I will take care of you."

The twilight was sweet and dewy and still. About the house the shadows were darkening. I opened the gate, and drawing her hand through my arm, I went up the walk with her.

"Is that the lilac that is so fragrant?" I caught a faint perfume in the air.

"Yes," sadly, "what there is of it." And then she laughed a little. "That miserable O'mie came up here the day after we went to Red Range and persuaded mother to cut it all down except one straight stick of a bush. He told her it was dying, and that it needed pruning, and I don't know what. And you know mother. I was over at the Anderson's, and when I came home the whole clump was gone. I dreamed the other night that somebody was hiding in there. It was all dead in the middle. Do you remember when we played hide-and-seek in there?"

"I never forget anything you do, Marjie," I answered; "but I'm glad the bushes are thinned out."

She broke off some plumes of the perfumy blossoms.

"Take those to Aunt Candace. Tell her I sent them. Don't let her think you stole them," she was herself now, and her fear was gone.

"May I take something else to Aunt Candace, too, Marjie?"

"What else?" She looked up innocently into my face. We were at the door-step now.

"A good-night kiss, Marjie."

"I'll see her myself about that," she replied mischievously but confusedly, pushing me away. I knew her cheek was flushed as my own, and I caught her hand and held it fast.

"Good-night, Phil." That sweet voice of hers I could not disobey. In a moment I was gone, happy and young and confident. I could have fought the whole Confederate army for the sake of this girl left in my care--my very own guardianship.