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In the dark and trying hour, In the breaking forth of power, In the rush of steeds and men, His right hand will shield thee then. --Longfellow

It was just half past one o'clock when the sweet-toned bell in the Presbyterian Church steeple began to ring. Dr. Hemingway was at the rope in the belfry. His part was to give us our signal. At the first peal the windows of every Union home blazed with light. The doors were flung wide open, and a song--one song--rose on the cool still night.


  O say, can you see by the dawn's early light What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?--Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming! O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It was sung in strong, clear tones as I shall never hear it sung again; and the echoes of many voices, and the swelling music of that old church bell, floated down the Neosho Valley, mingling with the rushing of the turbulent waters.

It was Cam Gentry's plan, this weapon of light and song. The Lord did have a work for him to do, as Dr. Hemingway had said.

"Boys," he had counselled us under the oak, "we can't match 'em in a pitched battle. They're armed an' ready, and you ain't and you can't do nothing in the dark. But let every house be ready, just as Phil has planned. Warn them quietly, and when the church bell rings, let every winder be full of light, every door wide open, and everybody sing."

He could roar bass himself to be heard across the State line, and that night he fairly boomed with song.

"They're dirty cowards, and can't work only in the dark and secret quiet. Give 'em light and song. Let 'em know we are wide awake and not afraid, an' if Gideon ever had the Midianites on the hike, you'll have them pisen Copperheads goin'. They'll never dast to show a coil, the sarpents! cause that's not the way they fight; an' they'll be wholly onprepared, and surprised."

Just before the ringing of the signal bell, the boys had met again by appointment under the tavern oak. Two things we had agreed upon when we met there first. One was a pledge of secrecy as to the part of young Tell and Jim in our work and to the part of Mapleson and Conlow in the plot, for the sake of their boys, who were loyal to the town. The other was to say nothing of Jean's act. Marjie was the light of Springvale, and we knew what the news would mean. We must first save the homes, quietly and swiftly. Other calamities would follow fast enough. In the darkness now, Bud Anderson put both arms around me.

"Phil," he whispered, "you're my king. You muth go to her mother now. In the morning, your Aunt Candathe will come to her. Maybe in the daylight we can find Marjie. He can't get far, unleth the river--"

He held me tight in his arms, that manly, tender-hearted boy. Then I staggered away like one in a dream toward the Whately house. We had not yet warned Mrs. Whately, for we knew her home was to be spared, and our hands were full of what must be done on the instant. Time never seemed so precious to me as in those dreadful minutes when we roused that sleeping town. I know now how Paul Revere felt when he rode to Lexington.

But now my cold knuckles fell like lead against Mrs. Whately's door, and mechanically I gave the low signal whistle I had been wont to give to Marjie. Like a mockery came the clear trill from within. But there was no mockery in the quick opening of the casement above me, where a dim light now gleamed, nor in the flinging up of the curtain, and it was not a spirit but a real face with a crown of curly hair that was outlined in the gloom. And a voice, Marjie's sweet voice, called anxiously:

"Is that you, Phil? I'll be right down." Then the light disappeared, and I heard the patter of feet on the stairs; then the front door opened and I walked straight into heaven. For there stood Marjie, safe and strong, before me--my Marjie, escaped from the grave, or from that living hell that is worse than death, captivity in the hands of an Indian devil.

"What's the matter, Phil?"

"Marjie, can it be you? How did you ever get back?"

She looked at me wonderingly.

"Why, I was only down there at Judson's. The baby's sick and Mrs. Judson sent for me after ten o'clock. I didn't come away till midnight. She may send for me again at any minute,--that's why I'm not in bed. I wanted to stay with her, but she made me come home on mother's account. I ran home by myself. I wasn't afraid. I heard a horse galloping away just before I got up to the gate. But what is the matter, Phil?"

I stood there wholly sure now that I was in Paradise. Jean had not tried to get her after all. She was here, and no harm had touched her. Tell had not understood. Jean had been in the middle of this night's business somewhere, I felt sure, but he had done no one any harm. After all he had been true to his promise to be a good Indian, and Le Claire had misjudged him.

"You didn't see who was on the horse, did you?"

"No. Just as I started from Mrs. Judson's, O'mie came flying by me. He looked so funny. He had on the waterproof cloak I loaned him last night, hood and all, and his face was just as white as milk. I thought he was a girl at first. He called to me almost in a whisper. 'Don't hurry a bit, Marjie,' he said; 'I'm taking your cloak home.' But I couldn't find it anywhere about the door. O'mie is always doing the oddest things!"

Just then the church bell began to ring, and together we put on the lights and joined in the song. Its inspiration drove everything before it. I did not stay long with Marjie, however, for there was much for me to do, and I seemed to have stepped from a world of horror and darkness into a heaven of light. How I wished O'mie would come in! I had not found him in all that hour, ages long to us, in which we had done this much of our work for the town. But I was sure of O'mie.

"He's doing good business somewhere," I said. "Bless his red head. He'll never quit so long as there's a thing to do."

There was no rest for anybody in Springvale that night. As Cam Gentry had predicted, not a torch blazed; and the attacking party, thrown into confusion by the sudden blocking of their secret plan of assault, did not rally. Our next task was to make sure against the Indians, the rumor of whose coming grew everywhere, and the fear of a daybreak massacre kept us all keyed to the pitch of terrible expectancy.

The town had four strongholds, the tavern, the Whately store, the Presbyterian Church, and my father's house. All these buildings were of stone, with walls of unusual thickness. Into these the women and children were gathered as soon as we felt sure the enemy in our midst was outdone. Dr. Hemingway took command of the church. Cam Gentry at his own door was a host.

"I can see who goes in and out of the Cambridge House; I reckon, if I can't tell a Reb from a Bluecoat out in a battle," he declared, as he opened his doors to the first little group of mothers and children who came to him for protection. "I can see safety for every one of you here," he added with that cheery laugh that made us all love him. Aunt Candace was the strong guardian in our home up on Cliff Street. We looked for O'mie to take care of the store, but he was nowhere to be seen and that duty was given to Grandpa Mead, whose fiery Union spirit did not accord with his halting step and snowy hair.

A patrol guard was quickly formed, and sentinels were stationed on the south and west. On the north and east the flooded Neosho was a perfect wall of water round about us.

Since that Maytime, I have lived through many days of peril and suffering, and I have more than once walked bravely as I might along the path at whose end I knew was an open grave, but never to me has come another such night of terror. In all the town there were not a dozen men, loyal supporters of the Union cause, who had a fighting strength. On the eight stalwart boys, and the quickness and shrewdness of little O'mie, the salvation of Springvale rested. After that awful night I was never a boy again. Henceforth I was a man, with a man's work and a man's spirit.

The daylight was never so welcome before, and never a grander sunrise filled the earth with its splendor. I was up on the bluff patrolling the northwest boundary when the dawn began to purple the east. Oh, many a time have I watched the sunrise beyond the Neosho Valley, but on this rare May morning every shaft of light, every tint of roseate beauty along the horizon, every heap of feathery mist that decked the Plains, with the Neosho, bank-full, sweeping like molten silver below it--all these took on a new loveliness. Eagerly, however, I scanned the southwest where the level beams of day were driving back the gray morning twilight, and the green prairie billows were swelling out of the gloom. Point by point, I watched every landmark take form, waiting to see if each new blot on the landscape might not be the first of the dreaded Indian bands whose coming we so feared.

With daybreak, came assurance. Somehow I could not believe that a land so beautiful and a village so peaceful could be threshed and stained and blackened by the fire and massacre of a savage band allied to a disloyal, rebellious host. And yet, I had lived these stormy years in Kansas and the border strife has never all been told. I dared not relax my vigilance, so I watched the south and west, trusting to the river to take care of the east.

And so it happened that, sentinel as I was, I had not seen the approach of a horseman from the northwest, until Father Le Claire came upon me suddenly. His horse was jaded with travel, and he sat it wearily. A pallor overspread his brown cheeks. His garments were wet and mud-splashed.

"Oh, Father Le Claire," I cried, "nobody except my own father could be more welcome. Where have you been?"

"I am not too late, then!" he exclaimed, ignoring my question. His eyes quickly took in the town. No smoke was rising from the kitchen fires this morning, for the homes were deserted. "You are safe still?" He gave a great gasp of relief. Then he turned and looked steadily into my eyes.

"It has been bought with a price," he said simply. "Three days ago I left you a boy. I come back to find you a man. Where's O'mie?"

"D--down there, I think."

It dawned on me suddenly that not one of us had seen or heard of O'mie since he left Tell and Jim at the shop just before midnight. Marjie had seen him a few minutes later, and so had Cam Gentry. But where was he after that? Much as we had needed him, we had had no time to hunt for him. Places had to be filled by those at hand in the dreadful necessity before us. We could count on O'mie, of course. He was no coward, nor laggard; but where could he have kept himself?

"What has happened, Philip?" the priest asked.

Briefly I told him, ending with the story of the threatening terror of an Indian invasion.

"They will not come, Philip. Do not fear. That danger is cut off. The Kiowas, who were on their way to Springvale, have all turned back and they are far away. I know."

His assurance was balm to my soul. And my nerves, on the rack for these three days, with the culmination of the last six hours seemed suddenly to snap within me.

"Go home and rest now," said Father Le Claire. "I will take the word along the line. Come down to the tavern at nine o'clock."

Aunt Candace had hot coffee and biscuit and maple syrup from old Vermont, with ham and eggs, all ready for me. The blessed comfort of a home, safe from harm once more, filled me with a sense of rest. Not until it was lifted did I realize how heavy was the burden I had carried through those May nights and days.

Long before nine o'clock, the tavern yard was full of excited people, all eagerly talking of the events of the last few hours. We had hardly taken our bearings yet, but we had an assurance that the perils of the night no longer threatened us. The strange men who had filled the town the evening before had all disappeared, but in the company here were many whom we knew to be enemies in the dark. Yet they mingled boldly with the others, assuming a loyalty for their own purposes. In the crowd, too, was Jean Pahusca, impenetrable of countenance, indifferent to the occasion as a thing that could not concern him. His red blanket was gone and his leather trousers and dark flannel shirt displayed his superb muscular form. There was no knife in his belt now, and he carried no other weapon. With his soft dark hair and the ruddy color showing in his cheeks, he was dangerously handsome to a romantic eye. Among all its enemies, he had been loyal to Springvale. My better self rebuked my distrust, and my heart softened toward him. His plan with the raiders to seize Marjie must have been his crude notion of saving her from a worse peril. When he knew she was safe he had dropped out of sight in the darkness.

The boys who had done the work of the night before suddenly became heroes. Not all of us had come together here, however. Tell was keeping store up at the "Last Chance," and Jim was seeing to the forge fire, while the father of each boy sauntered about in the tavern yard.

"You won't tell anybody about father," Tell pleaded before he left us. "He never planned it, indeed he didn't. It was old man Dodd and Yeager and them other strangers."

I can picture now the Reverend Mr. Dodd, piously serious, sitting on the tavern veranda at that moment, a disinterested listener to what lay below his spiritual plane of life. Just above his temple was a deep bruise, and his right hand was bound with a white bandage. Five years later, one dark September night, by the dry bed of the Arickaree Creek in Colorado, I heard the story of that bandage and that bruise.

"And you'll be sure to keep still about my dad, too, won't you?" Jim Conlow urged. "He's bad, but--" as if he could find no other excuse, he added grinning, "I don't believe he's right bright; and Tell and me done our best anyhow."

Their best! These two had braved the worst of foes, with those of their own flesh and blood against them. We would keep their secret fast enough, nor should anyone know from the boys who of our own townspeople were in the plot. I believe now that Conlow would have killed Jim had he suspected the boy's part in that night's work. I have never broken faith with Jim, although Heaven knows I have had cause enough to wish never to hear the name of Conlow again.

One more boy was not in our line, O'mie, still missing from the ranks, and now my heart was heavy. Everybody else seemed to forget him in the excitement, however, and I hoped all was well.

On the veranda a group was crowding about Father Le Claire, listening to what he had to say. Nobody tried to do business in our town that day. Men and women and children stood about in groups, glad to be alive and to know that their homes were safe. It was a sight one may not see twice in a lifetime. And the thrill within me, that I had helped a little toward this safety, brought a pleasure unlike any other joy I have ever known.

"Where's Aunt Candace?" I asked Dollie Gentry, who had grasped my arm as if she would ring it from my shoulder.

"Hadn't you heard?" Dollie's eyes filled with tears. "Judson's baby died this mornin'. Judson he can't get across Fingal's Creek or some of the draws, to get home, and the fright last night was too much for Mis' Judson. She fainted away, an' when she come to, the baby was dead. I'm cookin' a good meal for all of 'em. Land knows, carin' for the little corpse is all they can do without botherin' to cook."

Good Mrs. Gentry used her one talent for everybody's comfort. And as for the Judsons, theirs was one of the wayside tragedies that keep ever alongside the line of civil strife.

They made room for us on the veranda, six husky Kansas bred fellows, hardly more than half-way through our teens, and we fell in with the group about Father Le Claire. He gave us a searching glance, and his face clouded. Good Dr. Hemingway beside him was eager for his story.

"Tell us the whole thing," he urged. "Then we can understand our part in it. Surely the arm of the Lord was not shortened for us last night."

"It is a strange story, Dr. Hemingway, with a strange and tragic ending," replied the priest. He related then the plot which O'mie had heard set forth by the strangers in our town. "I left at once to warn the Osages, believing I could return before last night."

"Them Osages is a cussed ornery lot, if that Jean out on the edge of the crowd there is a sample," a man from the west side of town broke in.

"They are true blue, and Jean is not an Osage; he's a Kiowa," Le Claire replied quietly.

"What of him ain't French," declared Cam Gentry. "That's where his durned meanness comes in biggest. Not but what a Kiowa's rotten enough. But sence he didn't seem to take part in this doings last night, I guess we can stand him a little while longer."

Father Le Claire's face flushed. Then a pallor overspread the flame. His likeness to the Indian flashed up with that flush. So had I seen Pahusca flush with anger, and a paleness cover his coppery countenance. Self-mastery was a part of the good man's religion, however, and in a voice calm but full of sympathy he told us of the tragic events whose evil promise had overshadowed our town with an awful peril.

It was a well-planned, cold-blooded horror, this scheme of the Southern Confederacy, to unite the fierce tribes of the Southwest against the unprotected Union frontier. And with the border raiders on the one side and the hostile Indians on the other, small chance of life would have been left to any Union man, woman, or child in all this wide, beautiful Kansas. In the four years of the Civil War no cruelty could have exceeded the consequences of this conspiracy.

Unity of purpose has ever been lacking to the red race. No federation has been possible to it except as that federation is controlled by the European brain. The controlling power in the execution of this dastardly crime lay with desperate but eminently able white men. Their appeal to the Osages, however, was a fruitless one. For a third of a century the faithful Jesuits had labored with this tribe. Not in vain was their seed-sowing.

Le Claire reached the Osages only an hour before an emissary from the leaders of this infamous plot came to the Mission. The presence of the priest counted so mightily, that this call to an Indian confederacy fell upon deaf ears, and the messenger departed to rejoin his superiors. He never found them, for a sudden and tragic ending had come to the conspiracy.

It was a busy day in Kansas annals when that company of Rebel officers came riding up from the South to band together the lawless savages and the outlawed raiders against a loyal commonwealth. Humboldt was the most southern Union garrison in Kansas at that time. South of it the Osages did much scout duty for the Government, and it held them responsible for any invasion of this strip of neutral soil between the North and the South. Out in the Verdigris River country, in this Maytime, a little company of Osage braves on the way from their village to visit the Mission came face to face with this band of invaders in the neutral land. The presence of a score of strange men armed and mounted, though they were dressed as Union soldiers, must be accounted for, these Indians reasoned.

The scouts were moved only by an unlettered loyalty to the flag. They had no notion of the real purpose of these invaders. The white men had only contempt for the authority of a handful of red men calling them to account, and they foolishly fired into the Indian band. It was a fatal foolishness. Two braves fell to the earth, pierced by their bullets. The little body of red men dropped over on the sides of their ponies and were soon beyond gun range, while their opponents went on their way. But briefly only, for, reinforced by a hundred painted braves, the whole fighting strength of their little village, the Osages came out for vengeance. Near a bend in the Verdigris River the two forces came together. Across a scope five miles wide they battled. The white men must have died bravely, for they fought stubbornly, foot by foot, as the Indians drove them into that fatal loop of the river. It is deep and swift here. Down on the sands by its very edge they fell. Not a white man escaped. The Indians, after their savage fashion, gathered the booty, leaving a score of naked, mutilated bodies by the river's side. It was a cruel bit of Western warfare, yet it held back from Kansas a diabolical outrage, whose suffering and horror only those who know the Southwest tribes can picture. And strangely enough, the power that stayed the evil lay with a handful of faithful Indian scouts.

The story of the massacre soon reached the Mission. Dreadful as it was, it lifted a burden from Le Claire's mind; but the news that the Comanches and the Kiowas, unable to restrain their tribes, were already on the war-path, filed him with dread.

A twenty-four hours' rain, with cloudbursts along the way, was now sending the Neosho and Verdigris Rivers miles wide, across their valleys. It was impossible for him to intercept these tribes until the stream should fall. The priest perfected his plans for overtaking them by swift messengers to be sent out from the Mission at the earliest moment, and then he turned his horse upstream toward Springvale. All day he rode with all speed to the northward. The ways were sodden with the heavy rains, and the smaller streams were troublesome to the horseman. Night fell long before he had come to the upper Neosho Valley. With the darkness his anxiety deepened. A thousand chances might befall to bring disaster before he could reach us.

The hours of the black night dragged on, and northward still the priest hurried. It was long after midnight when he found himself on the bluff opposite the town. Between him and Springvale the Neosho rushed madly, and the oak grove of the bottom land was only black treetops above, and water below. All hope of a safe passage across the river here vanished, for he durst not try the angry waters.

"There must have been heavier rains here than down the stream," he thought. "Pray Heaven the messengers may reach the Kiowas before they fall upon any of the settlements in the south. I must go farther up to cross. O God, grant that no evil may threaten that town over there!"

Turning to look once more at the dark valley his eye caught a gleam of light far down the river.

"That must be Jean down at the Hermit's Hole," he said to himself. "I wonder I never tried to follow him there. But if he's down the river it is better for Springvale, anyhow."

All this the priest told to the eager crowd on the veranda of the Cambridge House that morning. But regarding the light and his thought of it, he did not tell us then, nor how, through all and all, his great fear for Springvale was on account of Jean Pahusca's presence there. He knew the Indian's power; and now that the fierce passion of love for a girl and hatred of a rival, were at fever pitch, he dared not think what might follow, neither did he tell us how bitterly he was upbraiding himself for having charged O'mie with secrecy.

He had not yet caught sight of the Irish boy; and Jean, who had himself kept clear of the evil intent against Springvale the night before, had studiously kept the crowd between the priest and himself. We did not note this then, for we were spell-bound by the story of the Confederate conspiracy and of Father Le Claire's efforts for our safety.

"The Kiowas, who were on the war-path, have been cut off by the Verdigris," he concluded. "The waters, that kept me away from Springvale on this side, kept them off in the southwest. The Osages did us God's service in our peril, albeit their means were cruel after the manner of the savage."

A silence fell upon the group on the veranda, as the enormity of what we had escaped dawned upon us.

"Let us thank God that in his ways, past finding out, He has not forsaken his children." Dr. Hemingway spoke fervently.

I looked out on the broad street and down toward the river shining in the May sunlight. The air was very fresh and sweet. The oak trees, were in their heaviest green, and in the glorious light of day the commonest things in this little frontier town looked good to me. Across my vision there swept the picture of that wide, swift-flowing Verdigris River, and of the dead whose blood stained darkly that fatal sand-bar, their naked bodies hacked by savage fury, waiting the coming of pitiful hands to give them shelter in the bosom of the earth. And then I thought of all these beautiful prairies which the plough was beginning to subdue, of the homesteads whose chimney smoke I had seen many a morning from my windows up on Cliff Street. I thought of the little towns and unprotected villages, and of what an Indian raid would mean to these,--of murdered men and burning houses, and women dragged away into a slavery too awful to picture. I thought of Marjie and of what she had escaped. And then clear, as if he were beside me, I heard O'mie's voice:

"Phil, oh, Phil, come, come!" it pleaded.

I started up and stared around me.