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´╗┐Title: Winning the Wilderness
Author: McCarter, Margaret Hill, 1860-1938
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Winning the Wilderness" ***

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WINNING THE WILDERNESS



          In all the story of the world of man,
          Who blazed the way to greater, better things?
          Who stopped the long migration of wild men,
          And set the noble task of building human homes?
          The learned recluse? The forum teacher?
          The poet-singer? The soldier, voyager,
          The man who digged the ground foretold the destiny
          Of men. 'T was he made anchor for the heart;
          Gave meaning to the hearthstone, and the birthplace,
          And planted vine and figtree at the door.
          He made e'en nations possible. Aye, when
          With his stone axe he made a hoe, he carved,
          Unwittingly, the scepter of the world.
          The steps by which the multitudes have climbed
          Were all rough-hewn by this base implement.
          In its rude path have followed all the minor
          Arts of men. Hark back along the centuries,
          And hear its march across the continents.
          From zone to zone, all 'round the bounteous world,
          The man whose skill makes rich the barren field
          And causes grass to grow, and flowers to blow,
          And fruits to ripen, and grain turn to gold--
          That man is King! Long live the King!
                                          --Mrs. J. K. Hudson.



[Illustration: They sought the trail and followed it westward
in the face of the wind]



WINNING THE WILDERNESS

By

MARGARET HILL McCARTER

Author of "The Price of the Prairie," "A Wall of Men,"
"The Peace of the Solomon Valley," "A Master's Degree," etc.

Illustrations By

J. N. MARCHAND

Chicago

A. C. McCLURG & CO.

1914



Copyright

A. C. McClurg & Co.

1914

Published September, 1914

Copyrighted in Great Britain

W. F. HALL PRINTING COMPANY, CHICAGO



To

THAT FARMER FATHER AND MOTHER

WITH THEIR HANDS ON TODAY

BUT WITH THEIR EYES ON TOMORROW

WHO THROUGH LABOR AND LONELINESS AND

HOPES LONG DEFERRED

HAVE WON A DESERT TO FRUITFULNESS

A WILDERNESS TO BEAUTY



FOREWORD

A reach of level prairie bounded only by the edge of the world--misty
ravelings of heliotrope and amber, covered only by the arch of
heaven--blue, beautiful and pitiless in its far fathomless spaces. To the
southwest a triple fold of deeper purple on the horizon line--mere hint of
commanding headlands thitherward. Across the face of the prairie streams
wandering through shallow clefts, aimlessly, somewhere toward the
southeast; their course secured by gentle swells breaking into sheer low
bluffs on the side next to the water, or by groups of cottonwood trees and
wild plum bushes along their right of way. And farther off the brown
indefinite shadowings of half-tamed sand dunes. Aside from these things, a
featureless landscape--just grassy ground down here and blue
cloud-splashed sky up there.

The last Indian trail had disappeared. The hoofprints of cavalry horses
had faded away. The price had been paid for the prairie--the costly
measure of death and daring. But the prairie itself, in its loneliness and
loveliness, was still unsubdued. Through the fury of the winter's
blizzard, the glory of the springtime, the brown wastes of burning
midsummer, the long autumn, with its soft sweet air, its opal skies, and
the land a dream of splendor which the far mirage reflects and the wide
horizon frames in a curtain of exquisite amethyst--through none of these
was the prairie subdued. Only to the coming of that king whose scepter is
the hoe, did soul of the soil awake to life and promise. To him the
wilderness gave up everything except its beauty and the sweep of the
freedom-breathing winds that still inspire it.



CONTENTS

PART I

 CHAPTER                                    PAGE
      I  The Blessing of Asher                 1
     II  The Sign of the Sunflower            16
    III  The Will of the Wind                 30
     IV  Distress Signals                     45
      V  A Plainsman of the Old School        58
     VI  When the Grasshopper Was a Burden    82
    VII  The Last Bridge Burned              103
   VIII  Anchored Hearthstones               122
     IX  The Beginning of Service            136
      X  The Coming of Love                  155
     XI  Lights and Shadows                  175
    XII  The Fat Years                       187

PART II

   XIII  The Rollcall                        207
    XIV  The Second Generation               224
     XV  The Coburn Book                     238
    XVI  The Humaneness of Champers          263
   XVII  The Purple Notches                  274
  XVIII  Remembering the _Maine_             289
    XIX  The "Fighting Twentieth"            311
     XX  The Crooked Trail                   330
    XXI  Jane Aydelot's Will                 354
   XXII  The Farther Wilderness              362
  XXIII  The End of the Wilderness           379
   XXIV  The Call of the Sunflower           393



ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                          PAGE

They sought the trail and followed it westward
in the face of the wind                                      1

"Read these," she said, "then promise me that
in the hour when Leigh needs my help you will
let me help her"                                           166

"It's a friendly act on somebody's part." he said grimly   180

Leigh turned to see Thaine Aydelot looking down at
her as he leaned over the high back of the rustic seat     274



PART ONE

THE FATHER

      The old Antaean fable of strength renewed from the ground
      Was a human truth for the ages; since the hour of the
          Eden-birth.
      That man among men was strongest who stood with his feet on
          the earth!
                                               --Sharlot M. Hall.



WINNING THE WILDERNESS



CHAPTER I

THE BLESSING OF ASHER


              Unless there be in the background a mother,
              no portrait of a man is complete.
                                      --Winston Churchill

The old Aydelot farm reached quite down to the little village of
Cloverdale, from which it was separated by Clover Creek. But the Aydelot
farmhouse stood a good half-mile away up the National pike road toward the
Virginia state line. The farm consisted of two long narrow strips of
ground, bordering the road on either side and walled about by forests
hiding stagnant marshes in their black-shadowed depths. Francis Aydelot
had taken up the land from the government before the townsite was thought
of. Farming was not to his liking and his house had been an inn, doing a
thriving business with travelers going out along that great National
highway in ante-railway days. But when the village took root and grew into
a little town, the village tavern absorbed the revenue from the traveling
public, and Francis Aydelot had, perforce, to put his own hands to the
plow and earn a living from the land. It was never a labor of love with
him, however, and although he grew well-to-do in the tilling, he resented
the touch of the soil as something degrading.

Cloverdale did not grow toward him, because, out of prejudice at its
being, he would not sell one foot of his ground for town lot purposes.
Nevertheless, since he was upright in all his dealings, the villagers grew
proud of him, deferred to his judgment, quoted his opinions, and rated him
generally the biggest asset of the community, with one exception. That
exception was young Asher Aydelot, a pink-cheeked, gray-eyed boy, only son
of the House of Aydelot and heir to all the long narrow acres from the
wooded crest on the east to the clear waters of Clover Creek on the west.
He was heir to more than these, however, if the heritage of ancestry
counts for anything.

Jean Aydelot, the first of the name in America, driven from France by his
family on account of his Huguenot beliefs, had settled in Virginia. He had
quickly grasped the American ideals of freedom, the while he affiliated
easily with the exclusive English Cavaliers. Something of the wanderlust
in his blood, however, kept him from rooting too firmly at once. It
happened that when a band of Quaker exiles had sought refuge in Virginia
and was about to be driven out by the autocratic Cavaliers, young Aydelot,
out of love for a Quaker girl, had championed their cause vehemently. And
he was so influential in the settlement that he might have succeeded, but
for one family--the wealthy and aristocratic Thaines. Through the son of
this family the final expulsion of these Quakers was accomplished. The
woman in the case was Mercy Pennington, a pretty Quakeress with whom young
Jerome Thaine fell in love, promising protection to all her people in
return for her hand. When she refused his offer, the Thaines carried the
day, and the Quakers again became exiles. Jean Aydelot followed them to
Pennsylvania and married Mercy Pennington, who was promptly disowned by
the Quaker Church for this marriage to one outside its membership.

In spite of all this heresy, however, the Aydelots became one of the
leading families in the development of the colonies. Their descendants
fell heir to the traits of their French-English forbears: freedom of
belief, courage to follow a cause, a touch of the wanderlust, the
mercurial French mind, and the steady poise of the followers of the Inward
Light. A trace of bitterness had come down the years, however, with the
family history; a feud-like resentment against the family of Jerome Thaine
of Virginia.

Francis Aydelot had crossed the Alleghanies and settled in Ohio in
frontier days. Here his life, like his narrow, woods-bound farm, was clean
and open but narrowed by surroundings and lack of opportunity. What had
made for freedom and reform in his ancestors, in him became prejudice and
stubborn will. Mrs. Aydelot was a broad-minded woman. Something of vision
was in her clear gray eyes. Love of beauty, respect for learning, and an
almost statesman-like grasp of civic duty and the trend of national
progress were hers, too.

From such ancestry came Asher Aydelot, the healthiest, happiest country
boy that ever waked the echoes of the old Ohio woodlands, or dared the
currents of her mad little rivers, or whistled fearlessly as he scampered
down the dusty pike road in the soft black summer nights.

Asher was just fifteen when the Civil War swept the nation off its feet.
The Quaker spirit of Mercy Pennington made fighting repulsive to his
father, but in Asher the old Huguenot courage of Jean Aydelot blazed
forth, together with the rash partisanship of a young hot-blood whose life
has been hemmed in too narrowly by forest walls. Almost before Cloverdale
knew there was a war, the Third Ohio Regiment was on its way to the front.
Among its bearded men was one beardless youth, a round-faced drummer boy
of fifteen, the only child of the big farmhouse beside the National road.
In company with him was his boyhood chum, Jim Shirley, son of the
Cloverdale tavern keeper.

                   *       *       *       *       *

An April sun was slipping behind the treetops, and the twilight mists were
already rising above the creek. Francis Aydelot and his wife sat on the
veranda watching Asher in the glory of a military suit and brass buttons
coming up the pike with springing step.

"How strong he is! I'm glad he is at home again," the mother was saying.

"Yes, he's here to stay at last. I have his plans all settled," Francis
Aydelot declared.

"But, Francis, a man must make some plans for himself. Asher may not
agree," Mrs. Aydelot spoke earnestly.

"How can our boy know as well as his father does what is best for him? He
must agree, that's all. We have gone over this matter often enough
together. I won't have any Jim Shirley in my family. He's gone away and
nobody knows where he is, just when his father needs him to take the care
of the tavern off his hands."

"What made Jim go away from Cloverdale?" Mrs. Aydelot asked.

"Nobody seems to know exactly. He left just before his brother, Tank,
married that Leigh girl up the Clover valley somewhere. But everything's
settled for Asher. He will be marrying one of the Cloverdale girls pretty
soon and stay right here in town. We'll take it up with him now. There's
no use waiting."

"And yet I wish we might wait till he speaks of it himself. Remember, he's
been doing his own thinking in the time he's been away," the mother
insisted.

Just then, Asher reached the corner of the door yard. Catching sight of
the two, he put his hands on the top of the paling fence, leaped lightly
over it, and came across to the veranda, where he sat down on the top
step.

"Just getting in from town? The place hasn't changed much, has it?" the
father declared.

"No, not much," Asher replied absently, looking out with unseeing eyes at
the lengthening woodland shadows, "a church or two more, some brick
sidewalk, and a few stores and homes--just added on, not improved. I miss
Jim Shirley everywhere. The older folks seem the same, but some of the
girls are pushing baby-carriages and the boys are getting round-shouldered
and droopy-jawed."

He drew himself up with military steadiness as he spoke.

"Well, you are glad to settle down anyhow," his father responded. "The old
French spirit of roving and adventure has had its day with you, and now
you will begin your life work."

"Yes, I'm done with fighting." Asher's lips tightened. "But what do you
call my life work, father?"

It was the eighth April after the opening of the Civil War. Asher had just
come home from two years of army service on the western plains. Few
changes had come to the little community; but to the young man, who eight
springtimes ago had gone out as a pink-cheeked drummer boy, the years had
been full of changes. He was now twenty-three, straight as an Indian, lean
and muscular as a veteran soldier. The fair, round cheeks of boyhood were
brown and tinged with red-blooded health. There was something resolute and
patient in the clear gray eyes, as if the mother's own far vision had
crept into them. But the ready smile that had made the Cloverdale
community love the boy broke as quickly now on the man's face, giving
promise that his saving sense of humor and his good nature would be
factors to reckon with in every combat.

Asher had staid in the ranks till the end of the war, had been wounded,
captured, and imprisoned; had fought through a hospital fever and narrowly
escaped death in the front of many battle lines. But he did not ask for a
furlough, nor account his duty done till the war was ended. Just before
that time, when he was sick in a Southern prison, a rebel girl had walked
into his life to stay forever. With his chum, Jim Shirley, he had chafed
through two years in a little eastern college, the while bigger things
seemed calling him to action. At the end of the second year, he broke
away, and joining the regular army, began the hazardous life of a Plains
scout.

Two years of fighting a foe from every way the winds blow, cold and
hunger, storms and floods and desert heat, poisonous reptiles, poisoned
arrows of Indians, and the deadly Asiatic cholera; sometimes with brave
comrades, sometimes with brutal cowards, sometimes on scout duty, utterly
and awfully alone; over miles on endless miles of grassy level prairies,
among cruel canyons, in dreary sand lands where men die of thirst,
monotonous and maddening in their barren, eternal sameness; and
sometimes, between sunrises of superb grandeur, and sunsets of sublime
glory, over a land of exquisite virgin loveliness--it is small wonder that
the ruddy cheeks were bronze as an Indian's, that the roundness of boyhood
had given place to the muscular strength of manhood, that the gray eyes
should hold something of patience and endurance and of a vision larger
than the Cloverdale neighborhood might understand.

When Asher had asked, "What do you call my life work, Father?" something
impenetrable was in his direct gaze.

Francis Aydelot deliberated before replying. Then the decisive tone and
firm set of the mouth told what resistance to his will might cost.

"It may not seem quite homelike at first, but you will soon find a wife
and that always settles a man. I can trust you to pick the best there is
here. As to your work, it must be something fit for a gentleman, and
that's not grubbing in the ground. Of course, this is Aydelot soil. It
couldn't belong to anybody else. I never would sell a foot of it to
Cloverdale to let the town build this way. I'd as soon sell to a Thaine
from Virginia as I'd sell to that town."

He waved a hand toward the fields shut in by heavy woodlands, where the
shadows were already black. After a moment he continued:

"Everything is settled for you, Asher. I've been pretty careful and lucky,
too, in some ways. The men who didn't go to war had the big chances at
money making, you know. While you were off fighting, I was improving the
time here. I've done it fairly, though. I never dodged a law in my life,
nor met a man into whose eyes I couldn't look squarely."

As he spoke, the blood left Asher's cheeks and his face grew gray under
the tan.

"Father, do you think a man who fights for his country is to be accounted
below the man who stays at home and makes money?"

"Well, he certainly can do more for his children than some of those who
went to this war can do for their fathers," Francis Aydelot declared.
"Suppose I was helpless and poor now, what could you do for me?"

There was no attempt at reply, and the father went on: "I have prepared
your work for you. You must begin it at once. Years ago Cloverdale set up
a hotel, a poor enough tavern even for those days, but it robbed me of the
patronage this house had before that time, and I had to go to farming.
Every kind of drudgery I've had to do here. Cutting down forests, and
draining swamps is a back-breaking business. I never could forgive the
founders for stopping by Clover Creek, when they might have gone twenty
miles further on where a town was needed and left me here. But that's all
past now. I've improved the time. I have a good share of stock in the bank
and I own the only hotel in Cloverdale. I closed with Shirley as soon as I
heard you were coming home. Shirley's getting old, and since Jim has gone
there's no one to help him and take his place later, so he sold at a very
good figure. He had to sell for some reason, I believe. The Shirleys are
having some family trouble that I don't understand nor care about. You've
always been a sort of idol in the town anyhow. Now that you are to go into
the Shirley House as proprietor I suppose Cloverdale will take it as a
dispensation of Providence in their favor, and you can live like a
gentleman."

"But, father, I've always liked the country best. Don't you remember how
Jim Shirley was always out here instead of my going down town when we were
boys?"

"You are only a boy, now, Asher, and this is all I'll hear to your doing.
You ought to be thankful for having such a chance open to you. I have
leased the farm for five years and you don't want to be a hired man at
twenty dollars a month, I reckon. Of course, the farm will be yours some
day, unless you take a notion to run off to Virginia and marry a Thaine."

The last words were said jokingly, but Asher's mother saw a sudden
hardening of the lines of his face as he sat looking out at the darkening
landscape.

There was only a faint glow in the west now. The fields toward Cloverdale
were wrapped in twilight shadows. Behind the eastern treetops the red disk
of the rising moon was half revealed. Asher Aydelot waited long before he
spoke. At length, he turned toward his father with a certain stiffening of
his form, and each felt a space widening gulf-wise between them.

"You stayed at home and grew rich, Father."

"Well?"

The father's voice cut like a steel edge. He saw only opposition to his
will here, but the mother forecasted the end from that moment.

"Father, war gives us to see bigger things than hatred between two
sections of the country. There is education in it, too. That is a part of
the compensation. Once, when our regiment was captured and starving, the
Fifty-fourth Virginia boys saved our lives by feeding us the best supper I
ever tasted. And a Rebel girl--" he broke off suddenly.

"Well, what of all this? What are you trying to say?" queried the older
man.

"I'm trying to show you that I cannot sit down here in the Shirley House
and play mine host any more than I could--" hesitatingly--"marry a
Cloverdale girl on demand. No Cloverdale girl would have me so. I've seen
too much of the country for such a position, Father. Let the men who staid
at home do the little jobs."

He had not meant to say all this, but the stretch of boundless green
prairies was before his eyes, the memory of heroic action where men
utterly forget themselves was in his mind, making life in that little Ohio
settlement seem only a boy's pastime, to be put away with other childish
things. While night and day, in the battle clamor, in the little college
class room, on boundless prairie billows, among lonely sand
dunes--everywhere, he carried the memory of the gentle touch of the hand
of a rebel girl, who had visited him when he was sick and in prison. And
withal, he resented dictation, as all the Aydelots and Penningtons before
him had done.

"What do you propose to do?" his father asked.

"I don't know yet what I can do. I only know what I cannot do."

"And that is--?"

"Just what I have said. I cannot be a tavern keeper here the rest of my
days with nothing to do half of the time except to watch the men pitch
horseshoes behind the blacksmith shop, and listen to the flies buzz in the
windows on summer afternoons; and everything else so quiet and dead you
don't know whether you are on the street or in the graveyard. If you'd
ever crossed the Mississippi River you'd understand why."

"Well, I haven't, and I don't understand. But the only way to stop this
roving is to make a home of your own. Will you tell me how you expect to
support a Cloverdale girl when you marry one?"

"I don't expect to marry one." The smile was winning, but the son's voice
sounded dangerously like the father's.

"Why not?"

"Because when I marry it will be to a southern girl--" Asher hesitated a
moment. When he went on, his voice was not as son to father, but as man to
man.

"It all happened down in Virginia, when I was wounded and in prison. This
little girl took care of me. Only a soldier really knows what a woman's
hand means in sickness. But she did more. She risked everything, even her
life, to get letters through the lines to you and to get me exchanged. I
shiver yet when I think of her, disguised as a man in soldier's clothes,
taking the chance she did for me. And, well, I left my heart down there.
That's all."

"Why haven't you ever told us this before, Asher?" his father asked.

Asher stood up where the white moonlight fell full on his face. Somehow
the old Huguenot defiance and the old Quaker endurance of his ancestors
seemed all expressed in him.

"I wasn't twenty-one, then, and I have nothing yet to offer a girl by way
of support," he said.

"Why, Asher!" Mrs. Aydelot exclaimed, "you have everything here."

"Not yet, mother," he replied. "And I haven't told you because her name is
Virginia Thaine, and she is a descendant of Jerome Thaine. Are the
Aydelots big enough to bury old hates?"

Francis Aydelot sat moveless as a statue. When at length he spoke, there
was no misunderstanding his meaning.

"You have no means by which to earn a living. You will go down to town and
take charge of the Shirley House at once, or go to work as a hired hand
here. But remember this: from the day you marry a Thaine of Virginia you
are no longer my son. Family ties, family honor, respect for your
forefathers forbid it."

He rose without more words, and went into the house.

Then came the mother's part.

"Sit down, Asher," she said, and Asher dropped to his place on the step.

"We don't seem to see life through the same spectacles," he said calmly.
"Am I wrong, mother? Nobody can choose my life for me, nor my wife,
either. Didn't old grandfather, Jean Aydelot, leave his home in France,
and didn't grandmother, Mercy Pennington, marry to suit her own choice?"

Even in the shadow, his mother noted the patient expression of the gray
eyes looking up at her.

"Asher, it is Aydelot tradition to be determined and self-willed, and the
bitterness against Jerome Thaine and his descendants has never left the
blood--till now."

She stroked his hair lovingwise, as mothers will ever do.

"Do you suppose father will ever change?"

"I don't believe he will. We have talked of this many times, and he will
listen to nothing else. He grows more set in his notions as we all do with
years, unless--"

"Well, you don't, mother. Unless what?" Asher asked.

"Unless we think broadly as the years broaden out toward old age. But,
Asher, what are your plans?"

"I'm afraid I have none yet. You know I was a farmer boy until I was
fifteen, a soldier boy till I was nineteen, a college student for two
years, and a Plains scout for two years more. Tell me, mother, what does
all this fit me for? Not for a tavern in a town of less than a thousand
people."

He sat waiting, his elbow resting on his knee, his chin supported by his
closed hand.

"Asher, when you left school and went out West, I foresaw what has
happened tonight," Mrs. Aydelot began. "I tried to prepare your father for
it, but he would not listen, would not understand. He doesn't yet. He
never will. But I do. You will not stay in Ohio always, because you do not
fit in here now. Newer states keep calling you westward, westward. This
was frontier when we came here in the thirties; we belong here. But,
sooner or later, you will put your life into the building of the West.
Something--the War or the Plains, or may be this Virginia Thaine, has left
you too big for prejudice. You will go sometime where there is room to
think and live as you believe."

"Mother, may I go? I dream of it night and day. I'm so cramped here. The
woods are in my way. I can't see a mile. I want to see to the edge of the
world, as I can on the prairies. A man can win a kingdom out there."

He was facing her now, his whole countenance aglow with bright
anticipation.

"There is only one way to win that kingdom," Mrs. Aydelot declared. "The
man who takes hold of the plow-handles is the man who will really conquer
the prairies. His scepter is not the rifle, but the hoe."

For all his life, Asher Aydelot never forgot his mother's face, nor the
sound of her low prophetic words on that moonlit night on the shadowy
veranda of his childhood home.

"You are right, mother. I don't want to fight any more. It must be the
soil that is calling me back to the West, the big, big West! And I mean to
go when the time comes. I hope it will come soon, and I know you will give
me your blessing then."

His mother's hands were pressed lovingly upon his forehead, as he leaned
against her knee.

"My blessing, and more than mine. The blessing of Moses to Asher of old,
as well. 'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy
strength be. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the
everlasting arms.'"

She bent over her boy, and pushing back the hair from his forehead, she
kissed it reverently, nor dreamed in how many a bitter strife would the
memory of this sacred hour come back to him, with the blessed note of
victory.

The next morning Asher put on his working clothes and began the life of a
hired man on his father's farm. The summer was long and hot, and in the
late August the dread typhoid malaria swept up from the woods marshes. It
was of virulent form and soon had its way with Asher's father and mother.

When the will of Francis Aydelot was read in court, the inexorable will of
a stubborn man, it declared that the Cloverdale Hotel, the bank stock, and
the farm with all the appurtenances thereunto pertaining, should descend
to Asher Aydelot, provided he should remain a resident of Ohio and should
never be united in marriage to any descendant of Jerome Thaine of the
State of Virginia. Failing in this, all the property, except a few hundred
dollars in cash, should descend to one Jane Aydelot, of Philadelphia, and
her heirs and assigns forever; provided these heirs were not the children
of Virginia Thaine of the state of Virginia.

On the same day, Asher wrote to one Jane Aydelot, of Philadelphia, to come
to Ohio and take possession of her property. Then he carefully sodded the
two mounds in the graveyard, and planted old-fashioned sweet pinks upon
them, and bidding good-by to the home of his boyhood, he turned his face
hopefully to the West.



CHAPTER II

THE SIGN OF THE SUNFLOWER


              Little they knew what wealth untold
              Lay hid where the desolate prairies rolled:
              Who would have dared, with brush or pen,
              As this land is now, to paint it then?
                                              --Allerton.

The trail had left the woodland far to the eastward, and wound its way
over broad prairie billows, past bluffy-banked streams, along crests of
low watersheds, until at last it slid down into an open endlessness of the
Lord's earth--just a vasty bigness of landstuff seemingly left over when
geography-making was done. It was untamed stuff, too, whereon one man's
marking was like to the track of foam in the wake of one ship in
mid-ocean. Upon its face lay the trail, broad and barren of growth as the
dusty old National pike road making its way across uplands and valleys of
Ohio. But this was the only likeness. The pike was a gravel-built,
upgraded highway, bordered by little rail-fenced fields and deep forests
hiding malarial marshes in the lower places.

This trail, flat along the ungraded ground, tended in the direction of
least resistance, generally toward the southwest. It was bounded by
absence of landmarks, boulder or tree or cliff. Along either side of it
was a fringe of spindling sunflower stalks, with their blooms of gold
marking two gleaming threads across the plains far toward the misty
nothingness of the western horizon.

The mid-September day had been intensely hot, but the light air was
beginning to flow a bit refreshingly out of the sky. A gray cloud-wave,
creeping tide-like up from the southwest, was tempering the afternoon
glare. In all the landscape the only object to hold the eye was a prairie
schooner drawn by a team of hard-mouthed little Indian ponies, and
followed by a free-limbed black mare of the Kentucky blue blood.

Asher Aydelot sat on the wagon seat holding the reins. Beside him was his
wife, a young, girlish-looking woman with large dark eyes, abundant dark
hair, a straight, aristocratic nose, and well-formed mouth and chin.

The two, coming in from the East on the evening before, had reached the
end of the stage line, where Asher's team and wagon was waiting for them.

The outfit moved slowly. It had left Carey's Crossing at early dawn and
had put twenty-five miles between itself and that last outpost of
civilization.

"Why don't you let the horses trot down this hill slope, Asher?" The
woman's voice had the soft accent of the South.

"Are you tired, Virgie?" Asher Aydelot looked earnestly down at his wife.

"Not a bit!" The bright smile and vigorous lift of the shoulders were
assuring.

"Then we won't hurry. We have several miles to go yet. It is a long day's
run from Carey's to our claim. Wolf County is almost like a state. The
Crossing hopes to become the county seat."

"Why do they call that place Carey's Crossing?" Mrs. Aydelot asked.

"It was a trading post once where the north and south trail crossed the
main trail. Later it was a rallying place for cavalry. Now it's our
postoffice," Asher explained.

"I mean, why call it Carey? I knew Careys back in Virginia."

"It is named for a young doctor, the only one in ten thousand miles, so
far as I know."

"And his family?" Virginia asked.

"He's a bachelor, I believe. By the way, we aren't going down hill. We are
on level ground."

Mrs. Aydelot leaned out beyond the wagon bows to take in the trail behind
them.

"Why, we are right in a big saucer. All the land slopes to the center down
there before us. Can't you see it?"

"No, I've seen it too often. It is just a trick of the plains--one of the
many tricks for the eye out here. Look at the sunflowers, Virgie. Don't
you love them?"

Virginia Aydelot nestled close to her husband's side and put one hand on
his. It was a little hand, white and soft, the hand of a lady born of
generations of gentility. The hand it rested on was big and hard and brown
and very strong looking.

"I've always loved them since the day you sent me the little one in a
letter," she said in a low voice, as if some one might overhear. "I
thought you had forgotten me and the old war days. I wasn't very happy
then." There was a quiver of the lip that hinted at the memory of intense
sorrow. "I had gone up to the spring in that cool little glen in the
mountain behind our home, you know, when a neighbor's servant boy, Bo
Peep, Boanerges Peeperville, he named himself, came grinning round a big
rock ledge with your letter. Just a crushed little sunflower and a sticky
old card, the deuce of hearts. I knew it was from you, and I loved the
sunflower for telling me so. Were you near here then? This land looks so
peaceful and beautiful to me, and homelike somehow, as if we should find
some neighbors just over the hill that you say isn't there."

"Neither the hill nor the neighbors, yet, although settlers will be coming
soon. We won't be lonesome very long, I'm sure."

Asher shifted the reins to his other hand and held the little white
fingers close.

"It wasn't anywhere near here. It was away off in the southwest corner
of--nowhere. I was going to say a shorter word, for that's where we were.
I took that card out of an old deck from the man nearest me. The Comanches
had fixed him, so he didn't need it in his game any more. There were only
two of us left, a big half-breed Cheyenne scout and myself. I picked the
sunflower from the only stalk within a hundred miles of there. I guess it
grew so far from everything just for me that day. Weak as I was, I'll
never forget how hopefully it seemed to look at me. The envelope was one
mother had sent me, you remember. I told the Cheyenne how to start it to
you from the fort. He left me there, wounded and alone--'twas all he could
do--while he went for help about a thousand miles away it must have
seemed, even to an Indian. I thought it was my last message to you,
dearie, for I never expected to be found alive; but I was, and when you
wrote back, sending your letter to 'The Sign of the Sunflower,' Oh, little
girl, the old trail blossom was glorified for me forever."

He broke off so suddenly that his wife looked up inquiringly.

"I was thinking of the cool spring and the rocks, and that shady glen, and
the mountains, and the trees, and the well-kept mansion houses, and
servants like Bo Peep to fetch and carry--and here--Virginia, why did you
let me persuade you away from them? Everything was made ready for you
there. The Lord didn't do anything for this country but go off and leave
it to us."

"Yes, to us. Here is the sunflower and the new home in the new West and
Asher Aydelot. And underfoot is the prairie sod that is ours, and overhead
is heaven that kept watch over you for me, and over both of us for this.
And I persuaded you to bring me here because I wanted to be with you
always."

"You can face it all for me?" he asked.

"With you, you mean. Yes, for we'll stop at 'The Sign of the Sunflower' so
long as we both shall live. How beautiful they are, these endless bands of
gold, drawing us on and on across the plains. Asher, you forget that
Virginia is not as it was before the war. But we did keep inherited pride
in the Thaine family, and the will to do as we pleased. You see what has
pleased me."

"And it shall please me to make such a fortune out of this ground, and
build such a home for you that by and by you will forget you ever were
without the comforts you are giving up now," Asher declared, looking equal
to the task. "Virgie," he added presently, "on the night my mother told me
to come out West she gave me her blessing, and the blessing of the old
Bible Asher also--'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so
shall thy strength be.' I believe the blessing will stay with us; that
the Eternal God will be our refuge in this new West and new
home-building."

They rode awhile in silence. Then Asher said:

"Look yonder, Virginia, south of the trail. Just a faint yellow line."

"Is it another trail, or are you lost and beginning to see things?"

"No, I'm found," Asher replied. "We scattered those seeds ourselves; did
it on Sundays when I was living on my claim, waiting till I could go back
and bring you here. We blazed the way, marked it with gold, I'd better
say; a line clear to Grass River. It leaves the real Sunflower Trail right
here."

"Who were _we_ in this planting?" Virginia asked.

"Oh, me and my first wife, Jim Shirley, and his shepherd dog, Pilot. Jim
and I have done several things together besides that. We were boys
together back in Cloverdale. We went to the war together to fight you
obstreperous Rebels." There was a twinkle in Asher's eyes now.

"Yes, but in the end who really won?" Virginia asked demurely.

"You did, of course--in my case. Jim went back to Cloverdale for awhile.
Then he came out here. He's a fine fellow. Plants a few more seeds by the
wayside than is good for him, maybe, but a friend to the last rollcall. He
was quite a ladies' man once, and nobody knows but himself how much he
would have loved a home. He has something of a story back of his coming
West, but we never speak of that. He's our only neighbor now."

It was twilight when Asher and his wife slipped down over a low swell and
reached their home. The afterglow of sunset was gorgeous in the west. The
gray cloud-tide, now a purple sea, was rifted by billows of flame. Level
mist-folds of pale violet lay along the prairie distances. In the
southwest the horizon line was broken by a triple fold of deepest
blue-black tones, the mark of headlands somewhere. Across the landscape a
grassy outline marked the course of a stream that wandered dimly toward
the darkening night shadows. The subdued tones of evening held all the
scene, save where a group of tall sunflowers stood up to catch the last
light of day full on their golden shields.

"We are here at last, Mrs. Aydelot. Welcome to our neighborhood!" Asher
said bravely as the team halted.

Virginia sat still on the wagon seat, taking in the view of sunset sky and
twilight prairie.

"This is our home," she murmured. "I'm glad we are here."

"I'm glad you are glad. I hope I haven't misrepresented it to you," her
husband responded, turning away that he might not see her face just then.

It was a strange place to call home, especially to one whose years had
been spent mainly in the pretty mountain-walled Virginia valleys where
cool brooks babbled over pebbly beds or splashed down in crystal
waterfalls; whose childhood home had been an old colonial house with
driveways, and pillared verandas, and jessamine-wreathed windows; with
soft carpets and cushioned chairs, and candelabra whose glittering
pendants reflected the light in prismatic tintings; and everywhere the
lazy ease of idle servants and unhurried lives.

The little sod house, nestled among sheltering sunflowers, stood on a
slight rise of ground. It contained one room with two windows, one looking
to the east and the other to the west, and a single door opening on the
south. Above this door was a smooth pine board bearing the inscription,
"Sunflower Inn," stained in rather artistic lettering. A low roof
extending over the doorway gave semblance to a porch which some scorched
vines had vainly tried to decorate. There was a rude seat made of a goods
box beside the doorway. Behind the house rose the low crest of a prairie
billow, hardly discernible on the level plains. Before it lay the endless
prairie across which ran the now half-dry, grass-choked stream. A few
stunted cottonwood trees followed its windings, and one little clump of
wild plum bushes bristled in a draw leading down to the shallow place of
the dry watercourse. All else was distance and vastness void of life and
utter loneliness.

Virginia Aydelot looked at the scene before her. Then she turned to her
husband with a smile on her young face, saying again,

"I am glad I am here."

There is one chord that every woman's voice touches some time, no matter
what her words may be. As Virginia spoke, Asher saw again the moonlight on
the white pillars of the south veranda of the old Aydelot farmhouse, and
his mother sitting in the shadows; and again he caught the tone of her
voice saying,

"Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength
be."

He leaped from the wagon seat and put up his arms to help his wife to the
ground.

"This is the end of the trail," he said gaily. "We have reached the inn
with 'The Sign of the Sunflower.' See the signboard Jim has put up for
us."

At that moment a big shepherd dog came bounding out of the weeds by the
river and leaped toward them with joyous yelps; a light shone through the
doorway, and a voice at once deep and pleasant to the ear, called out:

"Well, here you are, just as supper is ready. Present me to the bride,
Asher, and then I'll take the stock off your hands."

"Mrs. Aydelot, this is Mr. James Shirley, at present the leading artistic
house decorator as well as corn king of the Southwest. Allow me, Jim, to
present my wife. You two ought to like each other if each of you can stand
me."

They shook hands cordially, and each took the other's measure at a glance.
What Shirley saw was a small, well-dressed woman whose charm was a
positive force. It was not merely that she was well-bred and genial of
manner, nor that for many reasons she was pretty and would always be
pretty, even with gray hair and wrinkles. There was something back of all
this; something definite to build on; a self-reliance and unbreakable
determination without the spirit that antagonizes.

"A thoroughbred," was Shirley's mental comment. "The manners of a lady and
the will of a winner."

What Virginia saw was a big, broad-shouldered man, tanned to the very
limit of brownness, painfully clean shaven, and grotesquely clean in
dress; a white shirt, innocent of bluing in its laundry, a glistening
celluloid collar, a black necktie (the last two features evidently just
added to the toilet, and neither as yet set to their service), dark
pantaloons and freshly blacked shoes. But it was Shirley's face that
caught Virginia's eyes, for even with the tan it was a handsome face, with
regular features, and blue eyes seeing life deeply rather than broadly.
Just a hint of the artistic, however, took away from rather than added to
the otherwise manly expression. Clearly, Jim Shirley was a man that men
and women, too, must love if they cared for him at all.. And they couldn't
help caring for him. He had too much of the quality of eternal interest.

"I'm glad to meet you, and I bid you welcome to your new home, Mrs.
Aydelot. The house is in order and supper is ready. I congratulate you,
Asher," he said, as he turned away to take the ponies.

"You will come in and eat with us," Virginia said cordially.

"Not tonight. I must put this stock away and hurry home."

Asher opened his lips to repeat his wife's invitation, but something in
Jim's face held the words, so he merely nodded a good-by as he led his
wife into the sod cabin.

Two decades in Kansas saw hundreds of such cabins on the plains. The walls
of this one were nearly two feet thick and smoothly plastered inside with
a gypsum product, giving an ivory-yellow finish, smooth and hard as bone.
There was no floor but the bare earth into which a nail could scarcely
have been driven. The furniture was meager and plain. There was only one
picture on the wall, the sweet face of Asher's mother. A bookshelf held a
Bible with two or three other volumes, some newspapers and a magazine.
Sundry surprising little devices showed the inventive skill of the
home-builder, but it was all home-made and unpainted. It must have been
the eyes of love that made this place seem homelike to these young people
whose early environment had been so vastly different in everything!

Jim Shirley had a supper of fried ham, stewed wild plums, baked sweet
potatoes, and hot coffee, with canned peaches and some hard little
cookies. Surely the Lord meant men to be the cooks. Society started wrong
in the kitchen, for the average man prepares a better meal with less of
effort and worry than the average or super-average woman will ever do. It
was not the long ride alone, it was this appetizing food that made that
first meal in the sod mansion one that these two remembered in days of
different fortune. They remembered, too, the bunch of sunflowers that
adorned the table that night. The vase was the empty peach can wrapped
round with a piece of newspaper.

As they lingered at their meal, Asher glanced through the little west
window and saw Jim Shirley sitting by the clump of tall sunflowers not far
away watching them with the eager face of a lonely man. A big
white-throated Scotch collie lay beside him, waiting patiently for his
master to start for home.

"I am glad Jim has Pilot," Asher thought. "A dog is better than no company
at all. I wish he had a wife. Poor lonely fellow!"

Half an hour later the two came outside to the seat by the doorway. The
moon was filling the sky with its radiance. A chorus of crickets sang
joyously in the short brown grass about the sunflowers. The cottonwoods
along the river course gleamed like alabaster in the white night-splendor,
and the prairie breeze sang its low crooning song of evening as it flowed
gently over the land. "How beautiful the world is," Virginia said, as she
caught the full radiance of the light on the prairie.

"Is this beautiful to you, Virgie?" Asher asked, as he drew her close to
him. "I've seen these plains when they seemed just plain hell to me, full
of every kind of danger: cholera, poison, cold, hunger, heat, hostile
Indian, and awful loneliness. And yet, the very fascination of the thing
called me back and hardened me to it all. But why? What is there here on
these Kansas prairies to hold me here and make me want to bring you here,
too? Not a feature of this land is like the home country in Virginia. When
the Lord gave Adam and Eve a tryout in the Garden of Eden, He gave them
everything with which to start the world off right. Out here we doubt
sometimes if there is any God west of the Missouri River. He didn't leave
any timber for shelter, nor wood, nor coal for fuel, nor fruit, nor nuts,
nor roots, nor water for the dry land. All there is of this piece of the
Lord's leftovers is just the prairie down here, and the sky over it. And
it's so big I wonder sometimes that there is even enough skystuff to cover
it. And yet, it is beautiful and maddening in its hold, once it gets you.
Why?"

"Maybe it is the very unconquerableness that cries out to the love of
power in you. Maybe the Lord, who knew how easily Adam let Eden slip
through his fingers, decided that on the other side of the world He would
give a younger race of men, a fire-tried race in battle, the chance to
make their own Eden. So He left the stuff here for such as you and me to
picture out our own plan and then work to the pattern. It is the real land
of promise. Everything waiting to be done here."

"And there's only one way to do it. I am sure of that," Asher replied.
"Armies don't win, they terrorize and destroy. We whipped back the Indians
out here; they'd come again, if they dared--but they never will," he added
quickly, as he saw his wife's face whiten in the moonlight. "It's a
struggle to win the soil, with loneliness and distance and a few thousand
other things to fight, beside. But I told you all this before I asked you
to come out here."

"I wish I could have brought some property to you to help you, Asher, but
you know how the Thaine estate was reduced."

"Yes, I helped the family to that," Asher replied.

"Well, I seem to have helped you to lose the Aydelot inheritance. We are
starting neck and neck out here," Virginia cried, "and we'll win. I can
see our plantation--ranch, you call it--now, with groves and a little lake
and a big ranch house, and just acres of wheat and meadows, and red clover
and fine stock and big barns, and you and me, the peers of a proud
countryside when we have really conquered. 'Instead of the thorn shall
come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle
tree.' Isn't that the promise?"

"Oh, Virgie, any man could win a kingdom with a wife like you," Asher said
tenderly. "Back in Ohio, when I grubbed the fence corners, I saw this
country night and day, waiting for us here, and I wondered why the folks
were willing to let the marshes down in the deep woods stagnate and breed
malaria, and then fight the fever with calomel and quinine every summer,
instead of opening the woodland and draining the swamps. Nevertheless,
I've left enough money in the Cloverdale bank to take you back East and
start up some little sort of a living there, if you find you cannot stay
here. I couldn't bring you here and burn all the bridges. All you have to
do is to say you want to go back, and you can go."

"You are very good, Asher." His wife's voice was low and soft. "But I
don't want to go back. Not until we have failed here. And we shall not
fail."

And together that night on the far unconquered plains of Kansas, with the
moon shining down upon them, these two, so full of hope and courage,
planned their future. In the cottonwood trees by the river sands a night
bird twittered sleepily to its mate; the chirp of many crickets in the
short grass below the sunflowers had dwindled to a mere note at intervals.
The soft breeze caressed the two young faces, then wandered far and far
across the lonely land, and in its long low-breathed call to the night
there was a sigh of sadness.



CHAPTER III

THE WILL OF THE WIND


     Naught but the endless hills, dim and far and blue,
     And sighing wind, and sailing cloud, and nobody here but you.
                                                --James W. Steele.

The next day, and for many days following, the wind blew; fiercely and
unceasingly it blew, carrying every movable thing before it. Whatever was
tending in its direction, it helped over the ground amazingly. Whatever
tried to move in the face of it had to fight for every inch of the way. It
whipped all the gold from the sunflowers and threshed them mercilessly
about. It snapped the slender stems of the big, bulgy-headed tumble-weeds
and sent them tumbling over and over, mile after mile, until they were
caught at last in some draw, like helpless living things, to swell the
heap for some prairie fire to feed upon. It lifted the sand from the river
bed and swept it in a prairie simoon up the slope, wrapping the little
cabin in a cloud of gritty dust. The cottonwoods along the waterway moaned
as if in pain and flung up their white arms in feeble protest. The wild
plum bushes in the draw were almost buried by the wind-borne drift
smothering the narrow crevice, while out on the plains the long lashing
waves of bended grass made the eyes burn with weariness. And the sun
watched it all with unpitying stare, and the September heat was maddening.
But it was cool inside the cabin. Sod houses shut out the summer warmth as
they shed off the winter's cold.

Virginia Aydelot stood at the west window watching her husband trying to
carry two full pails of water which the wind seemed bent on blowing
broadcast along his path. He had been plowing a double fireguard around
the premises that morning and his face and clothes were gray with dust.
These days of unceasing winds seemed to Virginia to sap the last atom of
her energy. But she was young and full of determination.

"Why did you put the well so far away, Asher?" she asked, as he came
inside.

The open door gave the wind a new crevice to fill, and it slapped
wrathfully at the buckets, splashing the contents on the floor.

"We have to put wells close to the water in this country. I put this one
in before I built here. And if we have a well, we are so glad we don't try
to move it. The wind might find it out and fill it up with sand while we
were doing it. It's a jealous wind, this." Asher's smile lit up his
dust-grimed face.

"I've tried all day to keep the dust off the table. I meant to do a
washing this morning, but how could any garment stay on the line out there
and not be whipped to shreds?"

"Virginia, did you ever do a washing before the war?" Asher asked through
the towel. He was trying to scrub his face clean with the least possible
amount of water.

"Oh, that's ancient history. No, nor did I do anything else. I was too
young. Did you ever try to till a whole section of land back in Ohio
before the war?" Virginia asked laughingly.

Asher took the towel from his head to look at her.

"You are older than when I first knew you--the little lady of the old
Jerome Thaine mansion home. But you haven't lost any of that girl's charms
and you have gained some new ones with the years."

"Stop staring at me and tell me why you didn't put the house down by the
well, then," Virginia demanded.

"I did pitch my tent there at first, but it is too near the river, and
several things happened, beside," he replied.

"Is that a river, really?" she inquired. "It looks like a weed trail."

"Yes, it is very real when it elects to be. They call it Grass River
because there's no grass in it--only sand and weeds--and they call it a
river because there is seldom any water in it. But I've seen such lazy
sand-foundered streams a mile wide and swift as sin. So I take no risk
with precious property, even if I have to tote barrels of water and slop
the parlor rug on windy days."

"Then, why didn't you put another door in the kitchen end of the house?"
Virginia questioned.

"Two reasons, dearie. First, can you keep one door shut on days like this,
even when there is no draught straight through the house?" he inquired.

"Yes, when I put a chair against it, and the table against the chair, and
the bed against the table, and the cookstove to back up the bed. I see.
Shortage of furniture."

"No, the effect on this cabin if the wind had a sweep through two weak
places in the wall. I built this thing to stay till I get ready to go away
from it, not for it to go off and leave me sitting here under the sky some
stormy day. Of course, the real home, the old Colonial style of house,
will stand higher up after awhile, embowered in trees, and the wind may
play about its vine-covered verandas, and its stately front columns, but
that comes later."

"All right, but what was the second reason for the one doorway? You said
you had two?" Virginia broke in.

"Oh, did I? Well, the other reason is insignificant, but effective in its
way. I had only one door and no lumber within three hundred miles to make
another, and no money to buy lumber, anyhow."

"You should have married a fortune," his wife said demurely.

"I did." The smile on the lips did not match the look in the gray eyes.
"My anxiety is that I shall not squander my possession, now I have it."

"You are squandering your dooryard by plowing out there in front of the
house. Isn't there ground enough if the wind will be merciful, not to use
up our lawn?" Virginia would not be serious.

"I have plowed a double fireguard, and I've burned off the grass between
the two to put a wide band of protection about us. I take no chances.
Everything is master in the wilderness except man. When he has tamed all
these things--prairie fire, storm and drouth, winds and lonely distances,
why, there isn't any more wilderness. But it's tough work getting
acclimated to these September breezes, I know."

Virginia did not reply at once. All day the scream of the wind had whipped
upon her nerves until she wanted to scream herself. But it was not in the
blood of the breed to give up easily. Something of the stubborn
determination that had made the oldtime Thaines drive the Quakers from
Virginia shone now in the dark eyes of this daughter of a well-bred
house.

"It's all a matter of getting one's system and this September wind system
to play the same tune," she said.

"Virginia, you look just as you did that day when you said you were going
through the Rebel ranks in a man's dress to take a message for me to the
Union officer of my command, although you ran the risk of being shot for a
spy on either side of the lines. When I begged you not to do it, you only
laughed at me. I thought then you were the bravest girl I ever saw. Now I
know it."

"Well, I'll try not to get hysterical over the wind out here. It is a
matter of time and adjustment. Let's adjust ourselves to dinner now."

Beyond her lightly spoken words Asher caught the undertone of courage, and
he knew that a battle for supremacy was on, a struggle between physical
outcry and mental poise.

After the meal, he said, "I must take my plow down to Shirley's this
afternoon. His is broken and I can mend it while he puts in his fireguard
with mine. I don't mind the wind, but I won't ask you to face it clear
down to Shirley's claim. I don't like to leave you here, either."

"I think I would rather stay indoors. What is there to be afraid of,
anyhow?" Virginia asked.

"Nothing in the world but loneliness," her husband replied.

"Well, I must get used to that, you know. I can begin now," Virginia said
lightly.

But for all her courage, she watched him drive away with a sob in her
throat. In all the universe there was nothing save a glaring sunlight and
an endless cringing of yellow, wind-threshed grass.

Asher Aydelot had come here with half a dozen other young fellows, all of
whom took up claims along Grass River. Six months later Jim Shirley had
come to the settlement with a like company who extended the free-holdings
until it was seven miles by the winding of the river from Aydelot's claim
on the northwest down the river to Shirley's claim on the southeast.

Eighteen months later only two men were left in the Grass River valley,
Aydelot and Shirley. The shorter trail as the crow flies between their
claims was marked by a golden thread of sunflowers. At the third bend of
the winding stream a gentle ripple of ground rose high enough to hide the
cabin lights from each other that otherwise might have given a neighborly
comfort to the two lone settlers.

Shirley's cabin stood on a tiny swell of ground, mark of a one-time
island, set in a wide bend in the river that was itself a natural
fireguard for most of the circle of the premises.

The house was snug as a squirrel's nest. Before it was a strip of white
clover, as green and fresh looking as if it were on the banks of Clover
Creek in Ohio. Above the door a plain board bore the one word,
"Cloverdale."

Jim Shirley stood watching Asher coming down the trail against the wind,
followed by the big shepherd dog, Pilot, who had bounded off to meet him.

"Hello! How did you get away on a day like this?" he called, as the team
drew near.

"Why, you old granny!" Asher stopped here.

Both men had been on the Kansas plains long enough not to mind the wind.
It flashed into Asher's mind that Jim was hoping to see his wife with him,
and he measured anew the loneliness of the man's life.

"Most too rude for ladies just yet, although I didn't like to leave
Virginia alone."

"What could possibly harm her? Your fireguard's done, double done; there's
no water to drown in, no Indian to frighten, no wild beast to enter, no
white man, in God knows how many hundred miles. Just nothing to be afraid
of."

"Yes, that's it--just nothing. And it's enough to make even a braver woman
afraid. It's the eternal vast nothingness, when the very silence cries out
at you. It's the awful loneliness of the plains that makes the advance
attack in this fight with the wilderness. Don't we both know that?"

"I reckon we do, but we got over it, and so will Mrs. Aydelot."

"How do you know that?" Asher inquired eagerly. "I believe she could
hardly keep back the tears till I got away."

"Then why didn't you get away sooner? I know she will get over it, because
she's as good a woman as we are men, and we stood for it."

"Well, here's your plow. Better get your guard thrown up. I can smell
smoke now. There's a prairie fire sweeping in on this wind somewhere.
There's a storm brewing, too. Remember what a fight we had with fire a
year ago?"

Asher was helping to put Jim's team in the harness.

"Yes, you saved your well and a few other little things. But you've got
your grit, you darned Buckeye, to hold on and start again from the ashes.
And now you have your wife here. You are lucky," Jim declared.

"Where's that broken plow of yours? Is it bolt or weld? Maybe I can mend
it." Asher was casting about for tools.

"It's bolt. Everything is on the stable shelves," Jim called back against
the wind, as he drove the plow deep in the black soil. "Be sure you put
'em back when you are through with 'em, too."

"Poor Jim!" Asher said to himself with a smile. "The artist in him makes
him keep the place in order. He'd stop to hang up his coat and vest if he
had to fight a mad bull. Poor judgment puts a good many tragedies into
lives as well as stage villain types of crime."

And then Asher thought of Virginia, and wondered what she was doing
through the long afternoon. He was whistling softly with a smile in his
eyes as Jim Shirley made the tenth round of the premises and stopped
opposite the stable door.

"Hey, Asher, come out and see the sky now," he called. "It's prairie fire
and equinoctial storm combined."

Asher hurried out to see the dull southwest heavens shutting off the
sunlight out of which raged a wind searing the sky to a dun gray.

"Don't stand there staring, you idiot. Why don't you get your plowing
done?" he cried to Shirley.

Shirley began to loose the trace-chain from the plow.

"That strip is wide enough now," he declared. "I've got a clover guard,
anyhow. I don't need to back-fire like my neighbors do."

As Asher untied his ponies and climbed into the wagon, Jim held their
reins.

"Stop a minute. Let a single man offer you a word of advice, will you?" he
asked.

"All right, I need advice," Asher smiled down on Jim's earnest face.

"Then heed it, too. No use to tell you to take care of your wife. You'll
do that to a fault. But don't make any mistake about Mrs. Asher Aydelot.
She went through Rebel and Union lines once to save your life. Don't doubt
her strength to hold her own here as soon as the first fight is over. She
is like that Kentucky thoroughbred of hers; she's got endurance as well as
grace and beauty."

"Bless you, Jim," Asher said, as he clasped Shirley's hand. "I wish you
had a wife."

"Well, they are something of an anxiety, too. Hustle home ahead of the
storm. I've always wished that bluff at the deep bend didn't hide us from
each other's sight. I'd like to blast it out."

Asher Aydelot hurried northward ahead of the hot winds and deepening
shadows of the coming storm. And all the time, in spite of Jim's
comforting words, an anxiety grew and grew. The miles seemed endless, the
heavens darkened, and the wind suddenly gave a gasp and died away, leaving
a hot, blank stillness everywhere.

Meanwhile, Virginia, alone in the cabin, had fallen asleep from sheer
nerve weariness. When she awoke, it was late in the afternoon. The
screaming outside had ceased, but the whir and whine were still going on,
and the blaring light was toned by the dust-filled air.

"I was only tired," Virginia said to herself. "Now I am rested, I don't
mind the wind."

She went out to watch the trail for Asher's coming. He was not in sight,
so she came inside again, but nothing there could interest her.

"I'll go out and wait awhile," she thought.

Tying a veil over her head, she shut the cabin door and sat down outside.
The wind died suddenly away, the trail was lifeless, and all the plain cut
by the trail as well. Then the solitude of the thing took up the flight
where the wind had left off.

"How can I ever stand this," Virginia cried, springing up. "But Asher
stood it before I came, or even promised to come. No knight of the old
chivalry days ever endured such hardships as the claimholders on these
Kansas plains must endure. But it takes women to make homes. They can
never, never win here without wives. I could go back to Virginia if I
would." She shut her teeth tightly, and the small hands were clenched.
"But I won't do it. I'll stay here with Asher Aydelot. Other men and women
as eager as we are will come soon. We can wait, and some day, Oh, some
day, we'll not miss what the Thaines lost by the war and the Aydelots lost
by the Thaines, for we'll have a prince's holdings on these desolate
plains!"

She stood with her hands clasped looking with far-seeing dark eyes down
the long trail by the dry river bed, like a goddess of Conquest on a vast
untamed prairie.

A sudden sweep of the wind aroused her, and the loneliness of the plains
rose up again.

"I'll get Juno and follow the trail till I meet Asher. I can't get lost
where there's nothing but space," she said aloud, as she hurried to the
stable and led out the petted thoroughbred.

Horses are very human creatures, responding not only to the moods of their
masters, but to the conditions that give these moods. The West was no
kinder to the eastern-bred horse than to the eastern-bred man. All day
Juno had plunged about the stable and pawed the hard earth floor in sheer
nervousness. She leaped out of doors now at Virginia's call, as eager for
comfort as a homesick child.

"We'll chase off and meet Asher, darling."

Even the soft voice the mare had heard all her days did not entirely
soothe her. As Virginia mounted the wind flung shut the stable door with a
bang. Juno leaped as from a gunshot, and dashed away up the river to the
northwest. Her rider tried in vain to change her course and quiet her
spirit. The mare only surged madly forward, as if bent on outrunning the
tantalizing, grinding wind. With the sense of freedom, and with the
boundlessness of the plains, some old instinct of the unbridled days of
by-gone generations woke to life and power in her, and with the bit
between her teeth, she swept away in unrestrained speed.

Virginia was a skilled horsewoman, and she had no fear for herself, so she
held the reins and kept her place.

"I can go wherever you can, you foolish Juno," she cried, giving herself
up to the exhilarating ride. "We'll stay together to the end of the race,
and we will get it out of our systems once for all, and come back
'plains-broke.'"

Beyond a westward sweeping curve of the river's course the chase became a
climb up a long slope that grew steeper and steeper, cutting off the view
of the stream. Here Juno's speed slackened, then dropped into a steady
canter, as she listened for a command to turn back.

"We'll go on to the edge of that bluff, lady, now we are here, and see
what is across the river," Virginia said. "Then we will hurry home to
Asher and prairie hay."

When they came at last over a rough shale outcrop to the highest headland,
the river bed lay between its base and a barren waste of sand dunes, with
broad grassy regions beyond them spreading southward. The view from the
bluff's top was magnificent. Virginia held Juno to the place and looked in
wonder at the vast southwest on this strange September afternoon. Across a
reach of level land, miles wide, a prairie fire was sweeping in the
majesty of mastery. The lurid flames leaped skyward, while roll on surging
roll of black smoke-waves, with folds of gray ashes smothering between,
poured out along the horizon. Beyond the fire was the dark blue
storm-cloud, banded across the front by the hail mark of coppery green.

Virginia sat enchanted by the grandeur of the scene. The veil had fallen
from her head, and with white face and fascinated eyes, she watched the
glowing fury, a graceful rider on a graceful black horse, on the crest of
the lone headland outlined against the sky.

Suddenly the terror of it broke upon her. She was miles from the cabin
with its double fireguard. Asher had said such fires could leap rivers.
Between her and safety were many level banks where the sandy stream bed
was narrow, and many grassy stretches where there was no water at all.

Distance, storm wind, fire and hail, all seemed ready to close down upon
her, making her senses reel. One human being, alone before the wrath of
Nature! In all the years that followed, she never forgot that scene. For
in that moment a whisper came from somewhere out of the void, "The Eternal
God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms," and she
clasped her hands in a wordless prayer.

The wind that had been cruel all day grew suddenly kind. A dead calm held
the air in a hot stillness. Then with a whip and a whirl, it swung its
course about and began to pour cool and strong out of the northwest.

"The wind is changing," Virginia cried, as she felt its chill and saw the
flame and smoke tower upward and bend back from the way. "It is blowing
the fire to the east, to the southeast. But, will it catch Asher? Oh, you
good Wind, blow south! blow south!" she pleaded, as she dashed down the
long slope for the homeward race.

                   *       *       *       *       *

When Asher reached his claim, he looked in vain for Virginia's face as he
passed the cabin window. He hurried the ponies into the corral, and the
wagon under the lean-to beside the stable, half conscious that something
was missing inside. Then he hastened to the cabin, but Virginia was not
there.

"She may be in the stable." He half whispered the words in his anxiety.

The ponies in the corral were greedily eating their hay, but the black
mare Juno was gone. As Asher turned toward the house, he caught the low
roaring of the tempest and felt a rush of cool wind from somewhere. A huge
storm-wave of yellow dust was rolling out of the southwest; beyond it the
heavens were copper-green, and back of that, midnight darkness; while,
borne onward by its force, low waves of prairie fire were swept along the
ground.

Down at the third bend of the river where long growths overhung the
stream, the flames crossed easily. Even as Asher Aydelot watched the
storm cloud, long tongues of fire came licking up the valley toward him,
not a towering height, but a swift crawling destruction which he looked at
with unseeing eyes, for his only thought was for Virginia.

"How could I have missed her if she started to meet me? Yet, where can she
be now?" he groaned.

The hungry flames gnawed vainly about his broad fireguard, then wavered
back and forth along the south prairie, while he watched them under the
fascination the mastery of the elements can exert. He turned at last from
the fire and storm to see Juno and her rider swinging down the northwest
prairie, keeping close to the river line before the chill north wind.

"Oh, Virgie, Virgie," he cried, as she slipped from the saddle and he
caught her in his arms. "I've lived a hundred years since I left you this
afternoon. What made you run away?"

In the joy of her safe return, he forgot the fire.

"Why, don't you see the wind is from the north? And it is blowing
everything south now? I saw it begin away up the river. Did that guard
really keep off that thing I saw from the high bluff up yonder?"

"I put it there to do it, and I'd take the chances. Awful as it is, it
can't do anything but burn, and there's nothing here to burn. If it hadn't
been there, everything would have been gone and you would have come back
to a pile of ashes if the wind had left a pile."

"And you put your puny hands to the plow handles and say to that awful
fury, 'So far, and no farther. This is my home.' You, one little human
being!" Virginia's eyes were glowing with wonder at the miracle.

"Yes, with my puny hands. Me--a little man," Asher smiled quizzically, as
he spread his broad brown hands before his face and drew himself up to his
full six feet of height. "Only I say, 'our home.' But I was so scared
about you, I forgot to notice the change in the wind. The fire is chasing
to the south, and the hailstorm has veered off down that stream this side
of those three headlands over there. The wind gives and the wind takes
away. You can't plow a guard around it."

They sat down by the cabin door to watch the storm and flame blown far
away in whirls of glaring light and surging cloud, until the rain at last
drowned all the fury and washed it over the edge of the south horizon out
of the world.

"Sometime we'll plant hedges and forest trees and checker the country with
windbreaks until days like this will belong only to an old pioneer's
memory," Asher said, as the storm swept wide away.

"Then, I'm glad I came early enough to see this. I'm getting
'plains-broke' along with Juno. Isn't it wonderful to be a real pioneer?
Back in Virginia we were two centuries of generations away from the first
settlers," Virginia exclaimed.

But Asher did not answer. He was thinking of Jim Shirley's declaration:
"She's got endurance as well as grace and beauty."



CHAPTER IV

DISTRESS SIGNALS


       Also, we will make promise. So long as the Blood endures,
       I shall know that your will is mine; ye shall feel that
         my strength is yours.
                                        --A Song of the English.

Virginia Aydelot soon grew brown as a berry in the tanning prairie winds,
and it seemed impossible that this strong young woman of the sod cabin,
with her simple dress and her cheeks abloom, could have been the dainty
child of the old Southern mansion house.

No other autumn had ever seemed quite so beautiful to the Aydelots as
this, their first autumn together. Life was before them with its call to
victory. Youth and health, exuberant spirits and love were theirs. Theirs,
too, was the great boundless world of mists and mirages, of rainbow tinted
grasses and opal heavens, where no two sunsets were ever the same. They
could laugh at their poverty, believing in a time when Ease and Plenty
would rule the land where now they must fight for the bare necessities of
existence, picturing life not as it was then with its many hardships, but
as it would be in a future day when the real world whose last outpost they
had left almost fifty miles to the eastward, should move toward them and
help to people the prairies.

All the week days were full of duties, but every Sabbath morning found the
three settlers of the valley making a prairie sanctuary of the Aydelot
cabin. The elder Aydelots had not united with any church, but Asher and
Jim, when they were only boys, had been converted at a Methodist revival
in Cloverdale. It was an old-fashioned kind of religious leading, but it
was strong enough to hold the two for all the years that followed.
Virginia had been reared an Episcopalian, but the men out-voted her and
declared that the Aydelot home was the Sunflower Inn for six days in the
week, but on the seventh it was the "First Methodist Church of the
Conference of the Prairies."

There was no levity in its service, however, and He who dwelleth not in
temples made with men's hands blessed with his own benediction of peace
and trust and courage the three who set up their altar to Him in this
far-away place.

On Sabbath afternoons they explored the sand dunes and grassy levels up
and down the river. Sometimes they rode northward to the main trail in
hope of sighting some prairie schooner coming hitherward, but not once
that season did the trail hold a human being for them.

October slipped into November with a gradual sharpening of the frosty air.
Everything had been made as snug as possible for the winter. The corrals
were enlarged for the stock. The houses and stables were thatched against
the cold and storms; and fuel and food were carefully stored. But November
was almost passed before the end of the bright and sometimes even balmy
days.

"We must have Jim up to the Sunflower Inn for Thanksgiving dinner. Might
as well invite the whole neighborhood," Asher said one evening, as he
helped Virginia with the supper dishes.

"I'm planning a real dinner, too," his wife declared, "just like old Mammy
Diane used to cook. You couldn't tell it from hers if you'd ever eaten one
of her spreads."

"I suppose it will taste about as near like one of Diane's meals as you
will look like the cook that made her meals," Asher answered.

"Well, I'm getting along that way. Look at my tanned arms now. There's a
regular dead line, a perfect fireguard at the elbow. And my muscles, Mammy
Diane would say, 'is jus' monst'ous.'"

Virginia pushed back her sleeve to show the well-marked line where white
above met tan below.

"Jim will think anything is better than eating alone out of his own grub
box, and your dinner will be a feast," Asher said, opening the door to
carry out the dish water. "What do you think of this?"

A gust of cold rain swished in as the door fell open.

"Our rain is here, at last. Maybe it will bring snow for Thanksgiving, and
we could have a touch of New England here," Virginia said.

The pelting rain and deepening chill made the little home a very snug nest
that night. There was only one stove to warm the house, but they kept up a
fiction of parlor and dining room, kitchen and bed chamber. Even the
library was there, although it encroached dreadfully on the parlor,
bedroom and kitchen, all three, for it consisted of space enough for two
chairs, one footstool, and a tiny lamp-stand, beside which they spent
their evenings.

"Who's likely to drop in tonight, and what's the program for the evening:
charades, music, readings, dancing, cribbage, or political speeches?"
Asher inquired.

They had invented all sorts of pastimes, with make-believe audiences, such
as little children create for their plays. For these two were children in
a big child world. The wilderness is never grown up. It is Nature's
little one waiting to be led on and disciplined to mature uses. Asher and
Virginia had already peopled the valley with imaginary settlers, each one
of a certain type, and they adapted their pastime to the particular
neighbors whom they chose to invite for the evening. How little the
helpless folk in the city, bored with their own dullness, and dependent on
others for amusement--how little could such as these cope with the
loneliness of the home on the plains, or comprehend the resourcefulness of
the home-makers there!

"Oh, let's just spend the evening alone. It's too stormy for the Arnolds
and Archibalds beyond the Deep Bend, and the Spoopendykes have relatives
from the East and the Gilliwigs are all down with colds."

Virginia had tucked herself down in the one rocking chair, with her feet
on the footstool.

"It's such a nice night to be to ourselves. Watch the rain washing that
west window. It's getting worse. I always think of Jim on nights like
this."

"So do I," Asher said, as he sat down in the armed chair he had made for
himself of cottonwood limbs with a gunny sack seat. "He's all alone with
his dog these dark nights, and loneliness cuts to the heart of a man like
Jim. I'm glad I have you, Virginia. I couldn't do without you now. The
rain is getting heavier every minute. Sounds like it was thumping on the
door. Listen to that wind!"

"Tell me about Jim, Asher. What made him come out here anyhow?" Virginia
asked.

"I don't know all the story. Jim has never seemed to want to tell me, and
I've never cared to ask him," Asher replied. "When we were away together
at school, he was in love with one of the prettiest girls that Ohio ever
grew. She lived in the country up the valley from Cloverdale. Her name was
Alice Leigh, and she was a whole cut above the neighborhood. Jim said she
was an artist, could do wonderful things with a brush and she was just
wild to go somewhere and take lessons.

"Jim was planning always how to give her the opportunity to do it, but her
mother, who owned a lot of land for that country and could afford to send
Alice away to study, couldn't see any dollar sign in it, so she kept her
daughter on the farm."

Asher paused and looked at Virginia. His own happiness made his voice
tremble as he went on.

"He has a brother Tank. I suppose his real name is Thaddeus, or Tantalus,
or something like it; I never knew, and I never liked him well enough to
ask. Tank was a black-eyed little runt whom none of the boys liked, a
grasping cuss, younger than Jim, and as selfish as Jim is kind.

"Just before I came West to scout the Indians off the map, Jim came back
to school one time so unlike himself that I made him tell me what was the
matter. It was Tank, he said, who was making trouble for him up in the
Leigh neighborhood, and he was so grieved and unhappy, I wouldn't ask any
more about it. I left for the West soon after that. When I went back to
Cloverdale, Tank Shirley had married Alice Leigh and her mother's farm,
and Jim had left the country. I ran on to him by accident up at Carey's
Crossing when I came West again, but I've never heard him say a word about
the matter, and, of course, I don't mention it, although I believe it
would do Jim good if he could bring himself to tell me about it. He's
never been quite the same since. He has a little tendency to lung trouble,
which the plains air is taking out of him, but he's had a bad attack of
pneumonia, and it's an old enemy of his, as it always is to a man of his
physique. He's a good worker, but lacks judgment to make his work count.
Doesn't really seem to have much to work for. But he's a friend to the
last ditch. Just hear the rain!"

"It seems to be knocking against the door again," Virginia said, "and how
the wind does howl! Poor Jim!"

"Listen to that! Sounds like something loose against the window. There's
something out there." Asher started up with the words.

Something white had seemed to splash up against the window and drop back
again. It splashed up a second time, and fell again. Asher hurried to the
door, and as he opened it, Pilot, the big white-throated dog from the
Shirley claim, came bounding in, so wet and shaggy he seemed to bring all
the storm in with him.

"Why, Pilot, what's the news?" Asher asked. "Jim's sent him, Virgie. He's
done this trick often."

Pilot slipped to the warm stove and shook a whole shower out of his long,
wet hair, while Asher carefully untied a little leather bag fastened to
the collar under the dog's throat.

"You brave fellow. You've come all the way in the rain to bring me this."

He held up a little metal box from which he took a bit of paper. Bending
close to the lamp, he read the message it contained.

"Something is wrong, Virginia. He says, 'I need you.' What's the matter
with Jim, Pilot? Come here and get up in the chair!"

The dog whimpered and sat still.

"Come out here, then! Come on, I tell you!" Asher started as if to open
the door, but the dog did not move.

"He's not out of doors, and he isn't sitting up in a chair. Tell me, now,
Pilot, exactly where Jim is! Jim, mind you!"

The dog looked at him with watchful eyes.

"Where's Jim? Poor Jim!" Asher repeated, and Pilot, with a sorrowful yelp,
stretched himself at full length beside the stove.

"Jim's sick, then?"

Pilot wagged his tail understandingly.

"Virgie, Jim needs me. I must go to him." Asher looked at his wife.

"If Jim needs you, you'll need me," she replied.

"And we'll both need Pilot. So we'll keep all the human beings together,"
Asher said, as he helped his wife to fasten her heavy cloak and tie a long
old-fashioned nubia about her head.

Then they went out into the darkness and the chilling rain, as neighbor to
neighbor, answering this cry for help.

Pilot ran far ahead of them and was waiting with a dog's welcome when they
reached Shirley's cabin. But the master, lying where he caught the chill
draught from the open door, was rigid with cold. A sudden attack of
pneumonia had left him helpless. And tonight, Pilot, doing a dog's best,
did not understand the danger of leaving doors open, and of joyously
shaking his wet fur down on the sick man to whom help was coming none too
soon.

"Hello, Jim! We're all here, doctor, nurse, cook, and hired man, and the
little dog under the wagon," Asher said cheerily, bending over Jim's bunk.
"That pup pretty nearly killed you with kindness, didn't he?"

Jim smiled wanly, then looked blankly away and lay very still.

The plains frontier had no use for the one talent folk. People must know
how to take care of life there. Asher's first memory of Virginia was when
she bent over him, fighting the fever in a prison hospital. He knew her
talent for helping, and he had fairly estimated her quick ingenuity for
this sod house emergency. But a new vision of the plains life came to her
as she watched him, gentle-handed, swift, but unhurried, never giving an
inch to the enemy in fighting with death for the life of Jim Shirley.

"He's safe from that congestion," Asher said when the morning broke. "But
his fever will come on now."

"Where did you learn to do all these things for sick people?" Virginia
asked.

"Partly from a hospital nurse I had in the war. Also, it's a part of the
game here. I learned a few things fighting the cholera in sixty-seven. We
must look everything on the frontier squarely in the face, danger and
death along with the rest, just as we have to do everywhere else, only we
have to depend on each other more here. Hold on there, Jim!"

Asher sprang toward Shirley, who was sitting upright, staring wildly at
the two. Then a struggle began, for the sick man, crazed with delirium,
was bent on driving his helpers from the cabin. When he lay back exhausted
at length, Asher turned to his wife.

"One of us must go to Carey's Crossing for a doctor. You can't hold Jim.
It's all I can do to hold him. But it's a long way to Carey's. Can you
go?"

"I'll try," Virginia replied. And Asher remembered what Jim had said on
the windy September day: "She's as good a woman as we are men."

"You must take Pilot with you and leave him at home. You can't get lost,
for you know the way up to the main trail, and that runs straight to the
Crossing. Dr. Carey knows Jim, and he will come if he can, I am sure. He
pulled Jim back once a year or two ago when the pneumonia had him. Heaven
keep you safe, you brave little soul. Jim may turn the trick for us some
day."

He kissed her good-by and watched her gallop away on her errand of mercy.

"The men will have all the credit by and by for settling this country.
Little glory will come to their wives," he thought. "And yet, the women
make anchor for every hearthstone, and share in every deed of daring and
every test of endurance. God make me worthy of such a wife!"

Virginia Aydelot had spoken truly when she declared that the war had left
the Thaines little except inherited pride and the will to do as they
pleased. Inherited tendencies take varying turns. What had made a reformer
of old Jean Aydelot made a narrow bigot of his descendant, Francis. What
had made a proud, exclusive autocrat of Jerome Thaine, in Virginia Thaine
developed into a pride of conquest for the good of others. It was this
pride and the Thaine will to do as she pleased in defiance of the prairie
perils that sent her now on this errand of mercy for a neighbor in need.
And she took little measure of the reality of the journey. But she was
prudent enough to stop at the Sunflower Inn and make ready for it. She
slipped on a warm jacket under her heavy cloak, and put on her thickest
gloves and overshoes. She wound a long red scarf about her neck and
swathed her head in the gray nubia. Then she mounted her horse for her
long, hard ride.

The little sod house with all its plainness seemed very cosy as she took
leave of it, and the woman instinct for home made its outcry in her when
she turned her face resolutely from its sheltering warmth and felt the
force of the north wind whipping mercilessly upon her. But she steeled
herself to meet the cold, and her spirits rose with the effort.

"You are a mean little wind. Not half as big as the September zephyrs. Do
your worst, you can't scare me," she cried, tucking her head down against
its biting breath.

Upon the main trail the snow that had fallen after midnight deepened in
the lower places as the wind whirled it from the prairie swells. It was
not smooth traveling, although the direction of the trail was clear enough
at first.

Virginia's heart bounded hopefully as Juno covered mile after mile with
that persistent, steady canter that means everything good for a long ride.
But the open plains were bitterly cold and the wind grew fiercer as the
hours passed. High spirits and hope began to give place to determination
and endurance. Virginia shut her teeth in a dogged resolve not to give up.
Indeed, she dared not give up. She must go on. A life depended on her now,
and two lives might be forfeited if she let this unending wind chill her
to forgetfulness.

And so, alone in a white cruelty of solitary land, bounded only by the
gray cruelty of the sky, with a dimming trail before her under a deeper
snowfall, and with long miles behind her, she struggled on.

She tried to think of everything cheerful and good. She tried to find
comfort in the help she would take to Jim. Truly, she was not nearly so
cold now and she was very weary and a wee bit sleepy. A tendency to droop
in the saddle was overcoming her. She roused herself quickly, and with a
jerk at the reins plunged forward at a gallop.

"It will take the stupor out of me," she cried.

Then the reins drooped and the fight with the numbing cold began again.

"I wonder how far along I am. I must be nearly there. I remember we lost
sight of Carey's Crossing soon after we left last September. Some swell of
ground cut us off quickly--and I've never seen a human being since then,
except Asher and Jim Shirley and Pilot," she added.

"The snow is so much heavier right here. It varies so. I've passed half a
dozen changes, but this is the deepest yet. I'm sure I can see the town
beyond this slope ahead. Why! where's the trail, anyhow?"

It was nearing mid-afternoon. Neither horse nor rider had had food nor
water, save once when Juno drank at a crossing. Virginia sat still,
conscious suddenly that she has missed the trail somewhere.

"It isn't far, I know. Could I have left it when I took that gallop?" she
asked herself.

She was wide awake now, for the reality of the situation was upon her, and
she searched madly for some sign of the trail. In that level prairie sea
there was no sign to show where the trail might lie. The gray sky was
pitiless still, and with no guiding ray of sunshine the points of the
compass failed, and the brave woman lost all sense of direction.

"I won't give up," she said at last, despairingly, "but we may as well
rest a little before we try again."

She had dropped down a decided slope and hurried to a group of low bushes
in a narrow draw. While the wind was sliding the snow endlessly back and
forth on the higher ground, the bushes were moveless. Slipping to the
ground beside them, she stamped her feet and swung her arms until the
blood began to warm her chilled body.

"It is so much warmer here. But what next? Oh, dear Father, help me, help
me!" she cried in the depth of her need.

And again the same clear whisper that had spoken to her on the headland
when she watched the September prairie fire, a voice from out of the vast
immensity of the Universe, came to her soul with its calm strength.

"The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

How many a time in the days of winning the wilderness did the blessed
promise come to the pioneer women who braved the frontier to build the
homes of a conquering nation.

"I can't try that blind game again for awhile," Virginia said to herself.
"I'll run up a distress signal; maybe somewhere help is coming to me. I
know now how Jim felt all alone with only a dog's instinct to depend on.
I'm glad I've tried to help him, even if I have failed."

She unwound the long red scarf from her neck and bound her nubia closer
about her throat. Then bending the tallest bush that she could reach she
fastened the bright fabric to its upper limbs and let it swing to its
place again. The scarf spread a little in the breeze and hung above her, a
dumb signal of distress where help was not.

The minutes dragged by like hours to Virginia, trying vainly to decide on
what to do next. The fury of a Plains blizzard would have quickly overcome
her, but this was a lingering fight against cold and a pathless solitude.
Suddenly the memory of one lonely Sabbath day came to her, and how Asher,
always resourceful, had said:

"When you are afraid, pray; but when you are lonely, sing."

She had prayed, and comfort had come with the prayer. She could sing for
comfort, if for nothing else. Somebody might hear. And so she sang. The
song heard sometimes in the little prayer meeting in some country church;
sometimes by sick beds when the end of days is drawing near; sometimes in
hours of shipwreck, above the roar of billows on wide, stormy seas; and
sometimes on battlefields when mangled forms lie waiting the burial trench
and the mournful drumbeat of the last Dead March--the same song rose now
on the lonely prairie winds sweeping out across the hidden trails and
bleak open plains.

                       Nearer, my God, to thee,
                       Nearer to thee,
                       E'en though it be a cross
                       That raiseth me.
                       Still all my song shall be
                       Nearer, my God, to thee,
                       Nearer to thee.



CHAPTER V

A PLAINSMAN OF THE OLD SCHOOL


               I have eaten your bread and salt,
                 I have drunk your water and wine;
               The deaths ye died I have watched beside,
                 And the lives ye led were mine.
                                              --Kipling.

The little postoffice at Carey's Crossing in Wolf County was full of men
waiting for the mail due at noon. Mail came thrice a week now, and
business on the frontier was looking brighter. The postoffice was only one
feature of the room it occupied. Drugs, hardware, horse-feed, groceries,
and notions each had claims of their own, while beside the United States
Mail Department was an inksplashed desk holding a hotel register, likewise
inksplashed. Beyond the storeroom was a long, narrow dining room on one
side and a few little cell-like rooms on the other with a crack of a hall
between them leading back to the kitchen, the whole structure, only one
story high, having more vertical boards than horizontal in its making. But
the lettering over the front door bore the brave information that this was
the Post Office, the General Merchandise Store, and the Jacobs House, all
in one.

The rain of the night had shifted to a light snow that whiffed about in
little white pellets, adding nothing to the land in the way of moisture,
or beauty, or protection from cold. Just a chill fraying out of the rain's
end that matched the bitterness of the wind's long sweep from out of the
vast northwest. A gray sky was clamped down over all, so dull and
monotonous, it seemed that no rainbow tint could ever again brighten the
world.

"The stage is late again," observed one of the men.

"Always is when you want her particular." This from a large man who held
the door open long enough to stare up the open street for the sign of the
coming stage and to let in a surge of cold air at the same time.

"Well, shut the door, Champers. The stage doesn't come inside. It stops at
Hans Wyker's saloon first, anyhow," one of the men behind a counter
declared.

"If you'd open a bar here you'd do some business and run that Wyker fellow
out. Steward, you and Jacobs are too danged satisfied with yourselves. We
need some business spirit in this town if we want to get the county seat
here," Champers declared.

"That may help your real estate, but it's not my kind of business, and no
bar is going into this tavern," Jacobs replied, leaning his elbow against
the back of Stewart, who was bending over the desk.

Stewart and Jacobs were young men, the former a finely built, fair-haired
Scotchman from whom good nature, good health, and good morals fairly
radiated; not the kind of man to become a leader, but rather to belong to
the substantial following of a leader.

Jacobs was short, and slender, and dark--unmistakably of Jewish
blood--with a keen black eye, quick motions, and the general air of a
shrewd business man, letting no dollar escape him. He had also the air of
a gentleman. Nobody in Carey's Crossing had ever heard him swear--the
language of the frontier always--nor seen him drink, nor had taken a
parcel from his store that had been tied up with soiled fingers.

The Jacobs House register might be splashed with ink, but the ledger
records of the business concern were a joy to the eye.

At Stewart's words Champers shut the door with a slam and blustered toward
the stove, crowding smaller men out of their places before it.

"I am glad I don't have to run other men's affairs--"he began, when the
rear door flew open and a slender young Negro hurried in with the
announcement:

"De stage done sighted approachin' from de east, gen'lemen. Hit's done
comin' into town right now."

"All right, Bo Peep; take care of the team," Stewart responded, and a
general re-swarming of the crowd followed.

Just before the stage--a covered wagon drawn by two Indian ponies--reached
the Jacobs House a young man crossed the street and entered the door. Some
men are born with a presence that other men must recognize everywhere. To
this man's quiet, "Hello, gentlemen," the crowd responded, almost to a
man:

"Good morning, Doctor."

"Hello, Carey."

"Hello, Doc."

Each man felt the wish to be recognized by such greeting, and a place was
given him at once. Only Champers, the big man, turned away with a scowl.

"Always gets the best of everything, even to the first chance to get his
mail," he muttered under his breath.

But the mail was soon of secondary interest to the dealer in real estate.
Letters were of less importance to him than strangers, and a stranger had
registered at the desk and was waiting while Stewart called out the mail
in the postoffice department. Champers leaned over the shoulders of
shorter men to read the entry in a cramped little hand, the plain name,
"Thomas Smith, Wilmington, Delaware." Then he looked at the man and drew
his own conclusions.

Dr. Carey was standing beside the letter counter when Todd Stewart read
out, "'Mr. James Shirley,'" and, with a little scrutiny--"'Southwest of
Carey's Crossing.' Anybody here know Mr. James Shirley?"

The stranger made a hasty step forward, but Dr. Carey had already taken
the letter.

"I'll take care of that for you, Stewart," he said quietly. And turning,
he looked into the eyes of the stranger.

It was but a glance, and the latter stepped aside.

Men formed quick judgments on the frontier. As Carey passed the register
he read the latest entry there, and like Champers he too drew his own
conclusions. At the door he turned and said to Jacobs.

"Tell Bo Peep to have your best horse ready by one o'clock for a long
ride."

"All right, Doctor," Jacobs responded.

Half an hour later the Jacobs House dining room was crowded for the midday
meal. By natural selection men fell into their places. Stewart and Jacobs,
with Dr. Carey and Pryor Gaines, the young minister school teacher, had a
table to themselves. The other patrons sat at the long board, while the
little side table for two was filled today with Champers, the real estate
man, and the latest arrival, Mr. Thomas Smith, of Wilmington, Delaware.

"Who's the man with the dark mustache up there?" Thomas Smith asked.

"Doc Carey," Champers replied with a scowl.

"You don't seem to need him?" There was a double meaning in the query, and
Champers caught both.

"No ways," he responded.

"Has some influence here?" the stranger asserted rather than questioned.

"A lot. Has the whole town under hoodoo. It's named for him. He has all
the doctoring he can do and won't half charge, so's no other doctor'll
come here. That's no way to build up a town. He'd get up at one o'clock in
the morning to doctor a widder's cow. Now, sure he would, when he knows
even a dead cow'd make business for the butcher to render up into grease
and the cattle dealer to sell another cow."

"Not your style of a man then?" the stranger observed.

"Oh, pshaw, no, but, as I say, he's got the whole country hoodoo'd. Notice
how everybody give him right of way to get his mail first? Why him? And
hear him order the best horse? I'll bet a tree claim in hades right now
that he's off somewhere to doctor some son of a gun out of cussed good
will."

"Who is this James Shirley whose mail he seems to look after?"

There was a half-tone lowering of the voice as Smith pronounced the name,
which was not lost on Champers, whose business was to catch men at all
corners.

"Jim Shirley lives out in one of the rich valleys west. Him and a fellow
named Aydelot have some big notions of things out there. I don't know the
doc's claim to control his mail, but nobody here would deny Carey any
danged thing he wanted." Champers twisted his face in disgust.

"You are in the real estate business here?" Thomas Smith asked after a
pause, as if the subject fell into entirely new lines.

"Yes," Champers answered absently with eyes alert on the opposite wall.

"I'd like to see you later, Mr.--"

"Champers--Darley Champers," and the dealer in land shoved a soiled card
across the table. "Come in any time. This cold snap will soon be over and
I can show you no end of land worth a gold mine any time you are ready.
But make it soon. Land's goin' faster here'n you Delaware fellers think,
and"--in a lower voice--"Doc Carey's drivin' over it all the time, and
that Jew of a Jacobs ain't in business here on account of no lung trouble,
and his hatred of saloons is somethin' pisen."

They finished their meal in silence, for they had come to an
understanding. The afternoon was too short and cold for real estate
business to be brisk, and nobody in Carey's Crossing noted that the front
window of Darley Champer's little office was covered with a newspaper
blind all the rest of that day, nor did anybody pay attention to the
whereabouts of the stranger--Mr. Thomas Smith, of Wilmington,
Delaware--during this same time. Nobody, except John Jacobs, of the Jacobs
House, who gained his knowledge mostly by instinct; never, at least, by
rude inquiry. He had been up on the roof helping Bo Peep to fasten the
sign over the door which the wind had torn loose. From this place he
could see above the newspaper screen of the window across the street that
Champers and Smith were in a tremendously earnest consultation. He would
have thought nothing of it had not Champers chanced to sight him on the
roof and immediately readjusted the newspaper blind to prevent
observation.

"I'll offer to sell Darley a window shade cheap tomorrow and see how he
bites," and the little Jewish merchant smiled shrewdly at the thought.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Out on the trail that day the snow lay deeper to the westward, hiding the
wagon ruts. The dead sunflower stalks made only a faint black edging along
the white monotony of the way and sometimes on bleak swells there were no
markings at all. Some distance from Carey's Crossing a much heavier
snowfall, covering a wide swath, under which the trails were entirely
lost, had wandered in zigzag lines down from the northwest.

In the early afternoon Dr. Horace Carey had started west on the surest
horse in the Stewart-Jacobs livery stable, taking his old-fashioned
saddle-bags with him through force of habit, and by mid-afternoon was
floundering in the edge of this deeper snowfall.

Nature must have meant Horace Carey for the plains. He was of medium
height, compactly built, without an ounce of unnecessary weight. The
well-rounded form took away all hint of spareness, while it did not
destroy the promise of endurance. His heavy, dark hair and dark gray eyes,
his straight nose and firm mouth under a dark mustache, and his well-set
chin made up an attractive but not handsome face. The magnetism of his
personality was not in manly beauty. It was an inborn gift and would have
characterized him in any condition in life. There was about him a genial
dignity that made men look up to him and a willingness to serve that made
selfishness seem mean. He could not have been thirty, although he had been
on the plains for five years. The West was people by young men. It's need
for daring spirits found less response in men of maturer life. But the
West had most need for humane men. The bully, the dare-devil, the brutal,
and the selfish were refuse before the force that swept the frontier
onward; but they were never elements in real state building. Before such
men as Carey they lost power.

The doctor rode away toward the west, bowing his head before the strong
wind that he knew too well to fear, yet wondering as he rode if he had
done wisely to dare the deepening snow of the buried trail.

"I might have waited a day, anyhow," he thought. "It's a devil of a ride
over to Jim Shirley's, and we got only the tag ends of that storm down at
the Crossing from the looks of this. However, I may as well keep at it
now."

He surged on for a few miles without any signs of an open trail appearing.
Then he dropped to a slow canter.

"I'd better get this worry straightened and my mind untangled if I am to
have any comfort on this ride," he said aloud, as was his wont to do when
out in the open alone. "Everything happens to a man who gives too much
leeway to that indefinite inside guide saying, 'Do this! Let that alone!'
And yet that guide hasn't failed me when I've listened to it."

He let the pony have the rein as he looked ahead with unseeing eyes.

"What made me take this day? First, everybody is well enough to be left
for two or three days, good time for a vacation, and Stewart can take care
of emergencies always. Second, I promised Jim I'd see that his letters got
to him straightway. Third, yes, third, something said, 'Go now!' But
here's the other side. Why go on the heels of a snowstorm? Why not keep
Jim's letter a day or two? It's in my hands. And why mistrust a man who
calls himself innocent 'Thomas Smith?' That's it. He's too innocent.
There's no place on these wide Kansas prairies for that man Thomas Smith.
He'd better get back to his home and his real name at once."

The doctor smiled at the thought, then he frowned at the cold wind and the
shifting snows above the trail.

"You are a fool--a stack of fools, Dr. Horace Carey, to beat out of town
miles on miles on a fool's errand over a lost trail, trusting your
instinct that never lost you a direction yet, and all because of an inward
call to an unrevealed duty. Some other day will do as well. And here's
where I may as well cut off these notions of being led by inside signals.
What should make me sight danger in a man I never saw before, and who will
probably go out on the stage tomorrow morning? Oh, well, the Lord made us
as we are. He knows why."

He wheeled the pony about and began to trot toward Carey's Crossing.
Suddenly he halted.

"Let me see. I'm not twenty miles along, though I've come at a good rate.
I believe I'll cut across northwest and hit some of the settlers up on Big
Wolf Creek for the night. Lucky I've no wife to worry about me."

A wave of sadness swept over the man's face--just a sweep of sorrow that
left no mark. He turned abruptly from the trail and struck in a definite
direction across the snow-covered prairie. Presently his path veered to
the north, then to northwest.

"I know an ugly little creek running into Big Wolf that's the dickens to
cross. I'll run clear round it, even if it takes longer. After all, I'm
doing just what I said I wouldn't do. I don't know why I didn't go on, nor
why I am tacking off up here. Something tells me to do it, and I'll do
it."

But however changeable of mind he seemed to himself, Dr. Carey was a man
who formed his judgments so quickly and acted upon them so promptly that
he seemed most stable to other men. He rode forward now to a land wave
that dropped on one side to a creek, a quarter of a mile away, where black
shrubbery marked the water line. A long swell of wind swung down the
valley, whirling the snow in eddies before it. As the doctor's eye
followed them, he suddenly noted a red scarf lift above the tallest clumps
of bushes and flutter out to its full length, then drop again as the wind
swell passed.

"There's nobody in fifteen miles of here. I reckon that scarf blew there
and caught some time this fall when somebody was going out on the trail.
Mighty human looking thing, though. It seemed waving a signal to me. But I
must hurry on."

He hastened at a gallop up the ridge away from the creek, his mind still
on that red scarf flung about by the winter wind.

"It was a strange thing," he thought, "but every human token is startling
out here. What's that now?"

The doctor had a plainsman's ear as well as a plainsman's eye. As he
listened, through the wail of the wind borne along the distance, he caught
the words of a song, low and pleading like a plaintive cry for help:

                       Though, like the wanderer,
                         The sun gone down,
                       Darkness be over me,
                         My rest a stone--
                       Yet in my dreams I'd be
                       Nearer, my God, to thee,
                         Nearer to thee.

It was a woman's voice and Carey faced about to listen. He knew it came
from the bushes below the red scarf. So he changed his course and hurried
around a bend in the stream to the other side of the brush where Virginia
Aydelot stood beside Juno.

"I'm afraid there isn't even a stone to rest on here, Madam. Can I be of
any service to you?" he said, lifting his hand toward his cap in
semi-military salute.

Virginia stood looking at the stranger with a half-comprehending gaze. She
had been less than an hour beside the bushes, but it had seemed to her
like many hours. And the terrifying certainty of a night alone on the
prairie made the sudden presence of a human being unreal to her.

"I beg your pardon; I am Dr. Carey, of Carey's Crossing, and I was
striking across the prairie to the Big Wolf settlement when I saw your
scarf and heard your singing. I took them both to be distress signals and
came over to see if you needed me."

One had only to listen to Dr. Carey's voice to understand why Darley
Champers should accuse him of laying a charm on the whole settlement.

Virginia recovered herself quickly, saying with a wan smile:

"You came just in time, Doctor. I am lost and need help. I was going to
you, anyhow."

Each one's face was so muffled against the wind that the eyes and lips and
a bit of the cheeks alone were visible.

"Not a bad-looking woman for all the Kansas tan," the doctor thought. "She
has a voice like a true Virginian and fine eyes and teeth. But any woman
who bundles up for a horseback ride across the plains on a day like this
isn't out for a beauty show contest. I've seen eyes like that before,
though, and as to her voice--"

"I am Mrs. Asher Aydelot from the Grass River Valley," Virginia went on.
"There are only three settlers out there now, Mr. Shirley and my husband
and myself. Mr. Shirley is very sick with pneumonia, and Mr. Aydelot could
not leave him, so I started to Carey's Crossing to see if you could come
to him. I missed the trail somewhere. I was trying to help, but I failed,
you see."

The doctor was looking at her with a puzzled expression which she thought
was born of his sympathy. To the mention of her failing he responded
quickly:

"No, Mrs. Aydelot, you succeeded. I had started to Shirley's myself on
personal business, and I was letting some whim turn me aside. If you had
kept the trail we should have missed each other, for I was on my way to
Big Wolf Creek, a good distance away, and your leaving the trail and
wandering down here was providential for Shirley. Shall I show you on to
the Crossing?"

"Oh, no, Doctor, if you will only come back with me. I don't want to go
on," Virginia insisted.

"You are a regular westerner, Mrs. Aydelot," Carey declared. "But you
haven't been out here long. I heard of your passing through our town late
last summer. I was up on Big Wolf then and failed to see you. I know
something of your husband, but I have never met him."

He helped her to mount her horse and together they sought the trail and
followed it westward in the face of the wind.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Near midnight down in Jim Shirley's cabin Asher Aydelot turned from a lull
in the sick man's ravings to see Dr. Horace Carey entering the door with a
pair of saddle bags in his hand.

"Hello, sir! Aydelot? I'm Carey, the doctor."

Then as his quick eye took in the haggard face of the man before him, he
said cheerily:

"Everything fit as a fiddle up your way. I left your cabin snug and warm
as a prairie dog's hole, and your wife is sound asleep by this time, with
a big dog on guard. Yes, I understand," he added, as Asher silently
gripped his hand. "You've died a thousand deaths today. Forget it, and
give me a hand here. My own are too stiff, and I must get these wet boots
off. I always go at my work dry shod."

He had pulled a pair of heavy shoes from the saddle bags, and was removing
his outer coat and sundry scarfs, warming his hands between whiles and
seemingly unconscious of the sick man's presence.

"You are wet to the knees. You dared the short trail and the strange fords
of rivers on a night so dark as this," Asher declared as he helped Carey
to put off his wrappings.

"It's a doctor's business to forget himself when he sees a distress
signal." Then Carey added quietly: "Tell me about Shirley. What have you
been doing for him?"

He was beside Jim's bunk now and his presence seemed to fill the whole
cabin with its subtle strength.

"You know your business, doctor; I'm a farmer," Asher said, as he watched
this frontier physician moving deftly about his work.

"Well, if you mean to farm so far from pill bags you have done well to
follow my trade a little, as you seem to have done with Shirley," Carey
asserted, as he noted the evidences of careful nursing.

"Oh, Virginia--Mrs. Aydelot--helped me," Asher assured him. "She's a nurse
by instinct."

"What did you call your wife?" the doctor inquired.

"Virginia--from her own state. Pretty sick man here." Asher said this as
Dr. Carey suddenly bent over Shirley with stern eyes and tightening lips.
But the eyes grew tender when Jim looked up into his face.

"You're all right, Shirley. You must go to sleep now."

And Shirley, who in his delirium had fought his neighbor all day, became
as obedient as a child, as a very sick child, that night under Horace
Carey's hand.

The next morning Virginia Aydelot was not able to rise from her bed, and
for many days she could do nothing more than to sit in the rocking chair
by the windows and absorb sunshine.

On the fourth day after Carey had reached Shirley's Asher went down the
river in the early afternoon to find how Jim's case was progressing,
leaving his wife comfortably tucked up in the rocking chair by the west
window. The snow was gone and the early December day was as crisp and
beautiful as an Indian summer day in a colder climate. Virginia sat
watching the shadows of the clouds flow along the ground and the prairie
hues changing with the angle of the afternoon sunlight. Suddenly a sound
of ponies' feet outside was followed by a loud rap on the door.

"Come in!" Virginia called. "Lie down, Pilot!"

Pilot did not obey, but sat up alert before his mistress as Darley
Champers' bulk filled the doorway.

"Excuse me, Madam," the real estate dealer said, lifting his hat, "Me and
my friend, Mr. Smith out there, are looking up a claim for a friend of
ours somewhere out in the Grass River settlement. Can you tell me who owns
the last claim taken up down the river, and how far it is from here?"

"Mr. Shirley's claim is a few miles down the river, if you go by the short
trail and ford at the bends, but much longer if you go around by the long
trail," Virginia explained.

"Is it occupied?" Champers put the question in a careless tone.

Pilot's bristles, that had fallen at the sound of Virginia's voice, rose
again with the query. It is well to be wary of one whom a dog distrusts.
But the woman's instinct in Virginia responded little to the dog's
uneasiness, and she replied courteously:

"Yes, Mr. Shirley is there, very sick."

"Um, who have I the honor of addressing now?" Champers asked awkwardly, as
if to change the subject.

"Mrs. Asher Aydelot."

"Well, now, I've heard of Aydelot. Where is your man today? I'd like to
meet him, Mrs. A."

It was the man's way of being friendly, but even a duller-fibred man than
Champers would have understood Mrs. Aydelot's tone as she said:

"You will find him at Shirley's, or on the way. Only the long trail winds
around some bluffs, and you might pass each other without knowing it."

"How many men in this settlement now?" Champers asked.

"Only two," Virginia replied, patting Pilot's head involuntarily.

"Only two! That's sixteen more'n'll ever make it go here," Darley Champers
declared. "Excuse me for saying it, Mrs. Aydelot, but I've been pretty
much over Kansas, and this is the poorest show for settlement the Lord
ever left out of doors. I've always heard this valley was full of claims
you simply couldn't give away, but my friend, who has no end of money and
influence fur developin' the country, wanted me to look over the ground
along the Grass River, It's dead desolation, that's all; no show on earth
in fifty year out here, and in fifty year we won't none of us care for
more'n six feet of ground anywhere. I'm sorry for you, Madam. You must be
awfully lonely here, but you'll be gettin' away soon, I hope. I must be
off. Thank you, Madam, for the information. Good day," and he left the
cabin abruptly.

The sunshine grew pallid and the prairies lay dull and endless. The
loneliness of solitude hung with a dead heaviness and hope beat at the
lowest ebb for Virginia Aydelot, trying bravely to deny his charge against
the future of the land she had struggled so to dream into fruitfulness.
She was only a woman, strong to love and brave to endure, but neither by
nature nor heritage shrewd to read the tricks of selfish trade. And she
believed that while Asher and Jim Shirley were hopeful dreamers like
herself, here was an ill-mannered but unprejudiced man who saw the
situation as they could not see it.

"That woman and her fool dog were half afraid of me at first. They don't
know that women aren't in my line. I'd never harm a one of 'em."

"They're in my line always. Was she good looking? I never pass a pretty
woman," Thomas Smith said smoothly.

"Don't be a danged fool, Smith. I might cut a man's throat to some extent,
if it would help my business any, but I'd cut it more'n some if he forgets
his manners round a woman. We're a coarse, grasping lot out here fur as
property goes, and we ain't got drawing-room manners, but it takes your
smug little easterners to be the real dirty devils. Come on."

And Thomas Smith knew that the big, coarse-grained man was sincere.

"Yonder's Aydelot now. Want to see him?" Darley Champers declared,
sighting Asher down the short trail beyond the deep bend.

"I've no business with him, and he's the man I don't want to see," Thomas
Smith said hastily. "I'll ride on out of sight round this bend and wait
for you. It's a good place when you don't want to be seen."

"Depends on how much of a plainsman Aydelot is. He ought to have sighted
both of us half a mile back," Champers declared.

But Smith hurried away and was soon behind the low bluff at the deep bend.
Asher Aydelot had seen the two before they saw him, and he saw them part
company and only one come on to meet him.

"You're Aydelot from the claim up the river, I s'pose. I'm just out
lookin' at the country. Not much to it but looks," Champers declared as
the two met at the deep bend.

"Yes, sir; my name is Aydelot," Asher replied, deciding at once that this
stranger was not to be accepted on sight, a judgment based not on a
woman's instinct but on a man's experience.

"Any of these claims ever been entered?" Champers asked.

"Yes, sir; most of them," Asher responded.

"I see. Couldn't make it out here. I s'pose you'll get out next. Hard
place to take root. Most too far away, and land's a little thin, I see,"
the real estate dealer remarked carelessly.

"Yes, it's pretty well out," Asher assented.

"The river ever get low here?" was the next query.

"Not often, in the winter," Asher replied.

"Most too uncertain for water power, though, and the railroad ain't comin'
this way at all. I must be gettin' on. One man's too few to be travelin'
so fur from civilization."

"Come up to the cabin for the night," Asher said, with a plainsman's
courtesy.

"Thank you, no. Hope to see you again nearer to the Lord's ground; losin'
game here. Good-by."

Asher did not look like a disappointed man when he reached the Sunflower
Inn.

"Best news in the world," he declared when Virginia related what had
happened in the cabin that afternoon. "A man who goes prospecting around
the Kansas prairies doesn't discourage the poor cuss he pities; he tries
to encourage the wretch to hold on to land he wouldn't have himself.
Listen to me, Virgie. That man has his eye on Grass River right now. I
know his breed."

Meanwhile the early dusk found Champers and Smith approaching Shirley's
premises.

"I don't know about Aydelot," Champers declared as they lariated their
ponies beyond the corral. "He's one of the clear-eyed fellows who sees a
good thing about as soon as you sight it yourself, and then he turns clam
and leach and you won't move him nor get nothin' out of him, and that's
all there is to it."

"Yes, I know that. I mean, you say he does?" Smith seemed too preoccupied
to follow his own words, but Champers followed Smith shrewdly enough.

They made a hasty but careful examination of the premises, keeping wide of
the cabin where the sick man lay.

"He's got three horses in there. He's well fixed," Champers declared,
peering into the stable, where it was too dark to discover that the third
horse was Dr. Carey's. "Let's hike off for some deserted shack for the
night and get an early start for the Crossing in the morning. Easy trick,
this, gettin' in and out of here unseen. And it's one of the best claims
on Grass River."

"Couldn't we slip into the cabin?" Smith asked in a half whisper. "If he's
too sick"--Something in the man's face made it look diabolical in the
fading twilight, and he seemed about to start toward the house.

"Now, see here, Mr. Smith," Champers said with slow sternness. "What'd I
say back there about women? Neither we ain't man-slaughterers out here,
though your _Police Gazette_ and your dime novels paint us that way.
There's more murderers per capiter to a single street in New York than in
the whole state of Kansas, right now. If it's land and money, we're after
it, tooth an' toenail, but forget the thing in your mind this minute or
you an' me parts company right here, an' you can hoof it back to Carey's
Crossing or Wilmington, Delaware."

Smith made no reply and they mounted their ponies and galloped away.

And all the while Dr. Horace Carey, inside the unlighted cabin, had
watched their movements with grim curiosity, even to the hesitating,
half-expressed intention of entering the dwelling.

"Champers would pull up another man's stakes and drive them into his own
ground if he wanted them, but that Thomas Smith would drive them through
the other fellow's body if nobody else was around," was the doctor's
mental comment as he went outside and watched the course of the two men
till the twilight gathered them in.

                   *       *       *       *       *

When the turning point came to the sick man, the up-climb was marvelous,
as his powers of recoil asserted themselves.

"It is just a matter of self-control and good spirits now, Shirley, and
you have both," Dr. Carey said, as he sat by his patient on the ninth day.

"You staid the game out, Carey," Shirley said with an undertone of
hopelessness behind his smile. "What possessed you to happen in, anyhow?"

"I was possessed not to come and turned back after I'd started. If I
hadn't met Mrs. Aydelot coming after me I'd have rampsed off up on Big
Wolf Creek for a week, maybe, and missed your case entirely."

"And likewise my big fee," Jim interrupted. "Some men are born lucky. And
so Mrs. Aydelot went after you. Asher's a fortunate man to have a wife
like Virginia, although he had to give up an inheritance for her."

"How was that?" Carey asked, glad to see the hopeless look leaving Jim's
eyes.

"Oh, it's a pretty long story for a sick man. The mere facts are that
Asher Aydelot was to have bank stock, a good paying hotel, and a splendid
big farm if he'd promise never to marry any descendant of Jerome Thaine,
of Virginia. Asher hiked out West and enlisted in the cavalry and did
United States scout duty for two years, hoping to forget Virginia Thaine,
who is a descendant of this Jerome Thaine. But it wasn't any use. Distance
don't count, you know, in cases like that."

"Yes, I know."

Shirley was too sick to notice Dr. Carey's face, and he did not remember
afterward how low and hard those three words sounded.

"It seems Virginia had pulled Asher through a fever in a Rebel hospital,
and we all love our nurses." Jim patted the doctor's knee as he said this.
"And when the father's will was read out against ever, ever, ever his son
marrying a Thaine, Asher promptly said that the whole inheritance, bank
stock, hotel, and farm, might go where--the old man Aydelot had already
gone--maybe. Anyhow, he married Virginia Thaine and she was game to come
out here and pioneer on a Grass River claim. Strange what a woman will do
for love, isn't it? And to go on a forty-mile ride to save a worthless
pup's life! That's me. Think of the daughter of one of those old Virginia
homes up to a trick like that?"

"You've talked enough now."

Shirley looked up in surprise at this stern command, but Dr. Carey had
gone to the other side of the cabin and sat staring out at the river
running bank-full at the base of the little slope.

When he turned to his patient again, the old tender look was in his eyes.
Men loved Jim Shirley if they cared for him at all. And now the pathetic
hopelessness of Jim's face cut deep as Carey studied it.

"I say, Shirley, did you ever know a man back East named Thomas Smith?" he
asked.

"No. Strange name, that! Where'd you run onto it? Smith! Smith! How do you
spell it?" Jim replied indifferently.

"With a spoonful of quinine in epsom salts, taken raw, if you don't pay
attention. Now listen to me." The doctor's tone was as cheery as ever.

"Well, don't make it necessary for me to tell you when you've talked
enough."

In spite of the joking words, there was a listless hopelessness in
Shirley's voice, matching the dull, listless eyes. And Horace Carey rose
to the situation at once.

"A stranger named Thomas Smith came to the Crossing the day I came down
here. Rather a small man, with close-set, dark eyes; signed his name in a
cramped, left-handed writing. I noticed his right hand seemed a little
stiff, sort of paralyzed at the wrist. But here's the funny thing. He made
me uneasy, and he made me think of you. Could you identify him? He looked
as much like you as I look like that young darkey, Bo Peep, up at the
Jacobs House."

"None of my belongings. You are a delicate plant to be so sensitive to
strangers." Jim sighed from mental weariness more than from physical
weakness.

"I was sensitive, and when I heard Stewart call out your name in the mail
and saw this man step up as if to take the letter, I took it. And if
you'll take a brace and decide it's worth while you can have it. It's
addressed in a woman's handwriting, not a Thomas Smith style of pinching
letters out of a penholder and squeezing them off the pen point. Lie down
there, man!"

For Jim was sitting up, listening intently. With trembling fingers he took
the letter and read it eagerly. Then he looked at Carey with eyes in which
listlessness had given place to determination.

"Doctor, I was ready to throw up the game five minutes ago. Now I'll do
anything to get back to strength and work."

"You don't seem very joyous, however," the doctor responded.

"Joy don't belong to me. We parted company some years ago. But life is
mine."

"And duty?"

"Yes, and duty. Say, Doctor, if you'd ever cared all there was in you to
care for one woman, and then had to give her up, you'd know how I feel.
And if, then, a sort of service opened up before you, you'd know how I
welcome this."

Jim's face, white from his illness, was wonderfully handsome now, and he
looked at his friend with that eager longing for sympathy men of his mould
need deeply. Horace Carey stood up beside the bed and, looking down with a
face where intense feeling and self-control were manifest, said in a low
voice:

"I have cared. I have had to give up, and I know what service means."



CHAPTER VI

WHEN THE GRASSHOPPER WAS A BURDEN


       Although the figtree shall not blossom, neither
       shall fruit be in the vines, the labor of the olive shall
       fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock
       shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no
       herd in the stalls:

       Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.
                                                     --HABAKKUK.

While Jim Shirley was getting back to health, he and his physician had
many long talks regarding the West and its future; its products and its
people. There was only one topic in which Horace Carey was but
intermittently interested, namely, Jim's neighbors--the Aydelots. At
least, it seemed so to Jim, who had loved Asher from boyhood, and had
taken Virginia on sight and paid homage to her for all the years that
followed. Jim accepted the doctor's manner at first as a mere personal
trait, but, having nothing to do except to lie and think, he grew
curiously annoyed over it.

"I wish you'd tell me what ails you?" he blurted out one evening, as the
two sat together in the twilight.

"About what?" the doctor inquired. "If I knew, I might even risk my own
medicine to get over it."

"Don't joke, Horace Carey, not with a frail invalid. I've tried all day to
talk to you about my neighbors and you turn the subject away as if it was
of no consequence, and now, tonight, you settle down and say, 'Tell me
about the Aydelots.' Why do you want to hear in the dark what you won't
listen to in the daylight?"

"Oh, you are a sick man, Jim, or you wouldn't be so silly," the doctor
replied, "but to please you, I'll tell you the truth. I'm homesick."

"Yes?"

"And this Mrs. Aydelot was a Virginia woman."

"Yes?"

"Well, I'm a true son of Virginia, and I thought it might make me happy to
hear about somebody from--"

"You are a magnificent liar," Jim broke in.

"Evidently it's better to have you talk about your neighbors than your
medical advisor tonight," Carey retorted.

"Oh, I won't say a word more," Jim declared.

"More Ananias magnificence! Do you suppose the Aydelots will be down
before we go away?" the doctor asked.

"We?"

"Yes, I am going to take you with me, or give you a quieting powder when I
leave here. On your own declaration you'd do anything to get back to
strength and work. Now, the only way to get well, with or without a
physician, is to get well. And you'll never do that by using up a little
more strength every day than you store up the night before. Men haven't
sense enough to be invalids. Nothing else is such a menace to human life
as the will of the man who owns that life. You'll obey my will for a month
or two."

"You are a--doctor, Carey. No, the Aydelots won't be down before we go
away, because Virginia has been sick ever since that awful trip to Carey's
Crossing," Jim said sadly.

"Why haven't you told me?" Carey's voice was hardly audible.

"Because Asher just told me today, and because you took no interest in
them."

"Sickness is a doctor's interest, always," Carey replied in a stern voice.
And then the two sat in silence while the night shadows darkened the
little cabin.

                   *       *       *       *       *

As soon as Shirley was able to ride, he went up to Carey's Crossing for a
two months' stay, and the Aydelots were left far away from the edge of
civilization. A heavy snowfall buried all the trails and the world, the
happy, busy world, forgot these two holding their claim on the grim
wilderness frontier.

In after years they often talked of the old pioneer days, but of this one
winter they spoke but rarely.

"We lived alone with each other and God," Virginia said once. "He walked
beside us on the prairie and made our little sod house His sanctuary.
Those were consecrated days to Asher and me, like the stormy days of our
first love in the old war times, and the first hours of our baby's life.
We were young and full of hope and belief in the future, and we loved each
other. But we had need to have shoes of iron and brass, as Moses promised
Asher of old. It was a hard, hard way, but it was His way. I am glad we
walked through it all. It made the soil of Kansas sacred to us two
forevermore."

One March day spring came up the Grass River Valley with a glory all its
own, and sky and headland and low level prairie were baptized with a new
life. A month later a half-dozen prairie schooners moved out on the old
sunflower-bordered trail. Then following down the Grass River trail, the
schooner folk saw that the land, which Darley Champers had denounced, was
very good. And for Asher and Virginia Aydelot, the days of lonely solitude
were ended.

But the prairie had no gifts to bestow. It yielded slowly to its
possessors only after they had paid out time and energy and hope and
undying faith in its possibilities. The little sum of money per acre
turned over to the Government represented the very least of the cost.
There were no forests to lay waste here, nor marshes to be drained.
Instead, forests must be grown and waters conserved. What Francis Aydelot
with the Clover Valley community had struggled to overcome on the Ohio
frontier, his son, Asher, with other settlers now strove to develop in
Kansas. But these were young men, many of them graduates, either in the
North or the South, from a four years' course in the University of the
Civil War. No hardship of the plains could be worse than the things they
had already endured. These men who held the plow handles were State
builders and they knew it. Into the State must be builded schools and
churches, roads and bridges, growing timber and perpetual water
reservoirs; while fields of grain and orchard fruitage, and the product of
flock and herd must be multiplied as the sinews of life and larger
opportunity. For all these things the Kansas plains offered to Asher
Aydelot and his little company of neighbors only land below, crossed by a
grass-choked river, and sky overhead, crossed but rarely by blessed
rain-dropping clouds. And yet the less the wilderness voluntarily gave up,
the more these farmer folk were determined to win from it. Truly, they
had need not only for large endurance in the present, but for large vision
of a future victory, and they had both.

The weight of pioneer hardship, however, fell heaviest on the women of
whom Virginia Aydelot was a type. Into the crucible out of which a state
is moulded, she cast her youth and strength and beauty; her love of
luxury, her need for common comforts, her joy in the cultured appointments
of society. She had a genius for music, trained in the best schools of the
East. And sometimes in the lonely days, she marked her only table with a
bit of charcoal to the likeness of a keyboard. Then she set her music
against her clean dishpan and dumbly fingered the melodies she had loved,
hoping her hands might not lose all their cunning in these years of
home-making on the plains.

The spring of the memorable year of 1874 opened auspiciously. The peach
trees on the Aydelot and Shirley claims bloomed for the first time; more
sod had been turned for wheat and corn; gardens and truck patches were
planted; cattle were grazing beyond the sand dunes across the river, while
the young cottonwood and catalpa groves, less than three feet high it is
true, began to make great splotches of darker green on the prairie,
promising cool forest shade in coming years. Mail went west on the main
trail three times a week. The world was coming nearer to the Grass River
settlement which, in spite of his doleful view once, Darley Champers was
helping to fill up to the profit of the real estate business.

Carey's Crossing, having given up all hope of becoming a county seat, had
faded from the face of the earth. The new county seat of Wolf County was
confidently expected to be pitched at Wykerton, up in the Big Wolf Creek
settlement, where one Hans Wyker, former saloon-keeper of Carey's
Crossing, was building up a brewery for the downfall of the community. Dr.
Carey was taking an extended medical course in the East, whither Bo Peep
had followed him. Darley Champers was hovering like a hawk between
Wykerton and the Grass River settlement. Todd Stewart had taken a claim,
while John Jacobs, temporarily in the East, was busy planting the seeds
for a new town which no Wyker brewery should despoil.

All lovely was this springtime of 1874. Midsummer had another story to
tell. A story of a wrathful sun in a rainless sky above a parched land,
swept for days together by the searing south winds. In all the prairie
there was no spot of vivid green, no oasis in the desert of tawny grasses
and stunted brown cornstalks, and bare, hot stubble wherefrom even the
poor crop of straw had been chaffless and mean.

On a Sabbath morning in late July, the little Grass River schoolhouse was
crowded, for Sabbath school was the event of the week. It did not take a
multitude to crowd the sod-built temple of learning. Even with the infant
class out of doors in the shade, the class inside filled the space. The
minister school-teacher, Pryor Gaines, called it the "old folks' class,"
although there was not a person over thirty-five years of age in the whole
settlement.

Asher Aydelot was the superintendent, and Virginia took care of the infant
class. Jim Shirley led the singing, and Pryor Gaines taught the "old
folks." He was the same minister school-teacher who had sat at the table
with Dr. Carey and Todd Stewart and John Jacobs on the day that Thomas
Smith ate his first meal at the Jacobs House. With the passing of Carey's
Crossing, he had taken a homestead claim on Grass River.

This morning the lesson was short, and the children, finding the heat of
the shade outside unbearable, were sitting on the earth floor beside their
parents. Nobody seemed ready to go home.

"Times are getting worse every day," one man observed. "No rain since the
tenth of May, and the prettiest stand of wheat I ever saw, burned to a
half-yield or less before cutting time. I'd counted on wheat for my living
this year."

"It's the same if you'd had corn, Bennington," Jim Shirley observed. "I
was polishing my crown for a Corn King Festival this fall. I don't believe
I'll harvest fifteen bushels to the acre."

"Fifteen bushels!" another neighbor exclaimed. "Fifteen ears to the row a
section long would encourage me, Darley Champers told me when I took up my
claim, if I'd plant a grove or two, that in three years the trees would be
so big that rainfall would be abundant. You all know my catalpa woods is a
wonder," he added with a wink.

Darley Champers himself had just come down the trail and was entering the
door.

"Well, come over our way if you are on the hunt for prosperity," Todd
Stewart interposed. "Grass River isn't living up to its name any better
than our creek; isn't any fuller of weeds than our brook is of--shale. I
did lose the trail in your river this morning, though. The weeds are
nearly up to the pony's flanks. Think of the fertility of a river bed that
will grow weeds three feet high and two shades more yellow green than the
dead grass on the bank. If there's a drop of water in our creek for twenty
miles, I'd go get it and have Brother Gaines analyze it to make sure it
wasn't resin."

"You do well to see the humor of the situation, Stewart," Pryor Gaines
began, with the cheery tone of a man who believes in hope.

"I don't see that that helps any," Bennington, the first speaker, broke in
dolefully. "Joking isn't going to give us food and clothes and fuel till
crop time comes again--if it ever does."

"I'm not suffering for extra clothes. What I wear now is a burden," Todd
Stewart declared.

"Well, gentlemen." Darley Champers took the floor. "What are you going to
do? That's what brought me here today. I knowed I'd find you all here.
When I sent some of you fellows into this blasted Sahara, I was honest. I
thought Grass River was a real stream, not a weed patch and a stone
outcrop. I'd seen water in it, as I can prove by Aydelot. Remember, when
we met down by the bend here, one winter day?"

"Yes, I remember," Asher replied.

"Well, I just come by there and there ain't a drop of water in that deep
bend, no more'n in my hat." Champers plumped his hat down on the floor
with the words. "And the creek, on Stewart's testimony, is a blasted
fissure in the earth."

"I always said when that bend went dry, I'd leave the country, but I
can't," Jim Shirley said doggedly.

"Why not?" Champers inquired.

"Because I can't throw away the only property I have in the world, and I
haven't the means to get away, let alone start up anywhere else."

"We're all in the same boat," Bennington declared.

"Same boat, every fellow rocking it, too, and no water to drown in if we
fall out. We're in the queerest streak of luck yet developed," Todd
Stewart observed.

"Let's take a vote, then, and see how many of us really have no visible
means of support and couldn't walk out of here at all. Let's have a show
of hands," Jim Shirley proposed.

"How did you decide?" Champers asked, as the hands dropped.

His eyes were on Asher Aydelot, who had not voted.

"Didn't you see? Everybody, except Asher there, is nailed fast to the
gumbo," Stewart declared.

Darley Champers looked Asher Aydelot straight in the eyes, and nobody
could have said that pity or dislike or surprise controlled the man's
mind, for something of all three were in that look. Then he said:

"Gentlemen, I know your condition just as well as you do. You're in a
losing game, and it's stay and starve, or--but they ain't no 'or.' Now,
I'll advance money tomorrow on every claim held here and take it and
assume the mortgage. Not that they are worth it. Oh, Lord, no. I'll be
land-logged, and it's out of kindness to you that I'm willin' to stretch
them fellers I represent in the East. But I'll take chances. I'll help
each feller of you to get away for a reasonable price on your claim. It's
a humanitarian move, but I may be able to lump it off for range land in a
few years for about what it costs to pay taxes. But, gents, I got some of
you in and I'm no scallawag when it comes to helpin' you out. Think it
over, and I'll be down this way in two weeks. I've got to go now. It's too
infernal hot to keep alive here. I know where there's two sunflower stalks
up on the trail that's fully two feet tall. I've got to have shade.
Goodday." And Champers was gone.

"What do you say?" The question seemed to come from all at once.

"Let Pryor Gaines speak first. He's our preacher," Asher said with a
smile.

Pryor Gaines was a small, fair-faced man, a scholar, a dreamer, too,
maybe. By birth or accident, he had suffered from a deformity. He limped
when he walked, and his left hand had less than normal efficiency. On his
face the pathos of the large will and the limited power was written over
by the ready smile, the mark of abundant good will toward men.

"I am out of the race," he said calmly. "I'm as poor as any of you, of
course, and I must stay here anyhow, Dr. Carey tells me. I came West on
account of heart action and some pulmonary necessities. I cannot choose
where I shall go, even if I had the means to carry out my choice. But my
necessities need not influence anyone," he added with a smile. "I can live
without you, if I have to."

"How about you?" Stewart said, turning to Asher. "You take no risk at all
in leaving, so you'll go first, I suppose?"

All this time the settlers' wives sat listening to the considerations that
meant so much to them. They wore calico dresses, and not one of them had
on a hat. But their sun-bonnets were clean and stiffly starched, and,
while they were humbly clad, there was not a stupid face among them;
neither was their conversation stupid. Their homes and home devices for
improvement, the last reading in the all too few papers that came their
way, the memories of books and lectures and college life of other days,
and the hope of the future, were among the things of which they spoke.

Virginia Aydelot was no longer the pretty pink and white girl-bride who
had come to the West three years before. Her face and arms were brown as a
gypsy's, but her hair, rumpled by the white sunbonnet she had worn, was
abundant, and her dark eyes and the outlines of her face had not changed.
She would always be handsome without regard to age or locality. Nor had
the harshness of the wilderness made harsh the soft Southern tongue that
was her heritage.

At Stewart's words, Asher glanced at his wife, and he knew from her eyes
what her choice would be.

"When I was a boy on the old farm back at Cloverdale, Ohio, my mother's
advice was as useful to me as my father's." Swift through Asher's mind ran
the memory of that moonlit April night on his father's veranda five years
before. "Out here it is our wives who bear the heaviest burdens. Let us
have their thoughts on the situation."

"That's right," Jim Shirley exclaimed. "Mrs. Aydelot, you are first in
point of time in this settlement. What do you say?"

"It's a big responsibility, Mrs. Aydelot," Bennington, who had not smiled
hitherto, said with a twinkle in his eye.

"As goes Asher Aydelot, so goes Grass River," Todd Stewart declared. "You
speak for him, Mrs. Aydelot, and tell us what to do."

"I cannot tell _you_ what to do. I can speak only for the Aydelots,"
Virginia said. "When we came West Asher told me he had left one bridge not
burned. He had put aside enough money to take us back to Ohio and to start
a new life, on small dimensions, of course, back East, whenever we found
the prairies too hostile. They've often been rough, never worse than now,
but"--her eyes were bright with the unconquerable will to do as she
pleased, true heritage of the Thaines of old--"but I'm not ready to go
yet."

Jim Shirley clapped his hands, but Pryor Gaines spoke earnestly. "There is
no failure in a land where the women will to win. By them the hearthstones
stand or crumble to dust. The Plains are master now. They must be servant
some day."

"Amen!" responded Asher Aydelot, and the Sabbath service ended.

Two weeks later Darley Champers came again to the barren valley and met
the settlers in the sod schoolhouse. Not a cloud had yet scarred the
heavens, not a dewdrop had glistened in the morning sunlight. Clearly,
August was outranking July as king of a season of glaring light and
withering heat. The settlers drooped listlessly on the backless seats, and
the barefoot children did not even try to recite the golden text.

"I'd like to speak to you, Aydelot," Champers said at the door, as the
school service ended.

The two men sought the shady side of the cabin and dropped on the ground.

"I'm goin' to be plain, now, and you mustn't misunderstand me for a
minute," Champers declared. The blusterer is rarely tactful.

"All right."

Champers seemed to take the cheery tone as a personal matter.

"Two weeks ago, I understand you and Mrs. Aydelot headed off these poor
devils from their one chance of escape. Now, you know danged well you
_don't_ intend to stay here a minute longer'n it'll take to kite out of
this in the fall. And you are sacrificing human lives by persuadin' these
folks to hold onto this land they just can't keep, nor make a livin' on,
under five years and pay the interest till their mortgages expire. And
I've just this to say:" Champers spoke persuasively. "I'm not a shark. I'm
humane. If you'll help me to get these poor settlers out of Grass River
Valley, I'm willing to pay you a good commission on every single claim and
take no commission at all on yours. It will help you a lot toward makin' a
bigger start back East. Don't listen to your woman now; listen to me, for
I'm givin' you the chance of your life, robbin' myself to do it, too.
But"--his tone changed abruptly--"if you figger you can take your danged
rainy-day bank account out'n the Cloverdale bank and grab onto this land,
you leave yourself, and hold onto it while you stay East a few years, and
then sneak back here and get rich off their loss, I tell you now, you
can't do it. And if you don't use your influence right now to get 'em to
sell out to my company, you're going to regret it. Don't ask how I know. I
_know_. I warn you once for all. You go in there and help the men decide
right now--I'll buy at a reasonable figger, you understand--and you're
goin' to help make 'em sell to save their fool skins from starvation and
their wives and their little ones, or you're going to rue the day you
drove into Kansas. What do you say? What are you goin' to do?"

The man's voice was full of menace, and he looked at Asher Aydelot with
the determination of one who will not be thwarted.

Asher looked back at him with clear gray eyes that saw deeper than the
threatening words. A half smile hovered about his lips as he replied.

"So that's your game, Darley Champers. If I'll help you to get hold of
this land, you'll pay the settlers more than the claims are worth and
you'll pay me more than they are worth. A pretty good price for worthless
ground."

"Well, look at the landscape and tell me what you see." Darley Champers
flung his hand out toward the sweep of brown prairie with the dry river
bed and the brazen sands beyond it. Lean cattle stood disconsolately in
the shadeless open, while the cultivated fields were a mass of yellow
clods about the starveling crops.

Asher did not heed the interruption.

"You declare that I'll leave here as soon as I can get away, and that I'm
brutal to use my influence to keep the settlers here; that I am working a
trick _you_ have worked out already for me, to get the land myself because
it is valuable; you, in your humane love for your fellowmen, you threaten
me with all unknown calamities if I refuse your demand. And then you ask
me what I have to say, what I am going to do, and, with fine gestures,
what I see?"

"Well?" Champers queried urgently.

The plains life made men patient and deliberate of speech, and Asher did
not hasten his words for all the bluster.

"I say I am not using my influence to keep any man here or push him out of
here. I speak only for the family at the Sunflower Inn. I know 'danged
well' I am not going to leave the Grass River country this fall. Further,
I know your hand before you play it, and I know that if you can play it
against Todd Stewart and Jim Shirley and Cyrus Bennington and the rest of
them, I haven't taken their measure right. I know, again, that I am not
afraid of you, nor can any threat you make have an influence on my action.
And, lastly, as to what I see."

Asher turned toward the west where the hot air quivered between the iron
earth and a sky of brass.

"I see a land fair as the garden of Eden, with grazing herds on broad
meadows, and fields on fields of wheat, and groves and little lakes and
rivers, a land of comfortable homes and schools and churches--and no
saloons nor breweries."

"I see a danged fool," Darley Champers cried, springing up.

"Come down here in twenty-five years and make a hunt for me, then," Asher
said with a smile, but Champers had already plunged inside the
schoolhouse.

The council following was a brief one. Three or four Grass River settlers
agreed to give up the equity on their claims of one hundred and sixty
acres for enough money to transport themselves and their families to their
former homes east of the Mississippi River. This decision left only one
child of all the little ones there, Todd Stewart, a stubby little fellow,
as much of a Scotchman as his fair-haired father, who wound one arm about
his father's neck, and whispered:

"They can't budge us, can they, dad?"

When the matter was concluded, Darley Champers rose to his feet.

"I want to say one thing," he began doggedly. "I give you the chance.
Don't never blame me because you are too green to know what's good for
you. You are the only green things here, though. And don't forget, there
ain't a man of you can get out of here on your own income or on your own
savin's. Not a one. You're all locked into this valley an' the key's in
purgatory. An' I'd see you all with the key before I'd ever lift a finger
to help one of you, and not a one of you can help yourselves."

With these words Champers left the company and rode away up the trail
toward civilization and safety.

In the silence that followed, Pryor Gaines said:

"Friends, let us not forget that this is the Sabbath day on the prairie as
in the crowded city. Let us not leave until we ask for His blessing in
whose sight no sparrow falls unnoticed."

And together the little band of resolute men and women offered prayer to
Him whose is the earth and the fulness, or the emptiness, thereof.

Four days and nights went by. On the fifth morning at daybreak the cool
breeze that sweeps the prairies in the early dawn flowed caressingly along
the Grass River valley. The settlers rose early. This was the best part of
the day, and they made use of it.

"You poor Juno!" Virginia Aydelot said, as she leaned against the corral
post in the morning twilight, and patted the mare gently.

"You and I are 'plains-broke' for certain. We don't care for hot winds,
nor cold winds, nor prairie fire, nor even a hailstorm, if it would only
come. Never mind, old Juno, Asher has the greenest fields of all the
valley because he hasn't stopped plowing. That's why you must keep on
working. Maybe it will rain today, and you'll get to rest. Rain and
rest!"

She looked toward the shadowy purple west, and then away to the east,
decked in the barbaric magnificence of a plains sunrise.

"It may rain today, but it won't rain rain. It will be hot air and
trouble. The sod shack is cool, anyhow, Juno. Not so cool, though, as that
little glen in the mountains where the clear spring bubbles and babbles
all day long." She brushed her hair back from her forehead and, squeezing
Juno's mane, she added, "We don't want to go back yet, though. Not yet, do
we, Juno, even if it rains trouble instead of rain? Inherited pride and
the will to do as we please make us defy the plains, still."

The day was exceedingly hot, but by noon a cloud seemed rising in the
northwest; not a glorious, black thunder-cloud that means cool wind and
sharp lightning and a shower of longed-for rain. A yellow-gray cloud with
no deeper nor shallower tints to it, rising steadily, moving swiftly, shut
off the noonday glare. The shadows deepened below this strange
un-cloud-like cloud, not dark, but dense. The few chickens in the
settlement mistook the clock and went to roost. At every settler's house,
wondering eyes watched the unheard-of phenomenon, so like, yet utterly
unlike, the sun's eclipse.

"Listen, Asher," Virginia exclaimed, as the two stood on the low swell
behind the house. "Listen to the roar, but there's no wind nor thunder."

"Hear that rasping edge to the rumble. It isn't like anything I ever
knew," Asher said, watching the coming cloud intently.

From their height they could see it sweeping far across the land, not high
in the air, but beclouding the prairie like a fog. Only this thing was dry
and carried no cool breath with it. Nearer it came, and the sun above
looked wanly through it, as surging, whipping, shimmering with silver
splinters of light, roaring with the whir of grating wings, countless
millions of grasshoppers filled the earth below and the air above.

"The plague of Egypt," Asher cried, and he and Virginia retreated hastily
before its force.

But they were not swift enough. The mosquito netting across the open
windows was eaten through and the hopping, wriggling, flying pest surged
inside. They smeared greasily on the floor; they gnawed ravenously at
every bit of linen or cotton fabric; they fell into every open vessel.

Truly, life may be made miserable in many ways, but in the Kansas homes in
that memorable grasshopper year of 1874 life was wretchedly uncomfortable.
Out of doors the cloud was a disaster. Nor flood, nor raging wind nor
prairie fire, nor unbroken drouth could claim greater measure of havoc in
its wake than this billion-footed, billion-winged creature, an appetite
grown measureless, a hunger vitalized, and individualized, and endowed
with power of motion. No living shred of grass, or weed, or stalk of corn,
or straw of stubble or tiniest garden growth; no leaf or bit of tender
bark of tree, or shrub, escaped this many-mouthed monster.

In the little peach orchard where there were a few half-ripe peaches, the
very first fruits of the orchards in this untamed land, the hard peach
stones, from which the meat was eaten away, hung on their stems among the
leafless branches. The weed-grown bed of Grass River was swept as by a
prairie fire. And for the labor of the fields, nothing remained. The
cottonwood trees and wild plum bushes belonged to a mid-winter landscape,
and of the many young catalpa groves, only stubby sticks stood up, making
a darker spot on the face of the bare plains.

For three days the Saint Bartholomew of vegetation continued. Then the
pest, still hungry, rose and passed to the southeast, leaving behind it
only a honey-combed soil where eggs were deposited for future hatching,
and a famine-breeding desolation.

In days of great calamity or sorrow, sometimes little things annoy
strangely, and it is not until after the grief has passed that the memory
recalls and the mind wonders why trifles should have had such power amid
such vastly important things. While the grasshopper was a burden, one loss
wore heavily on Virginia Aydelot's mind. She had given up hope for vines
and daintier flowers in the early summer, but one clump of coarse
sunflowers she had tended and watered and loved.

"It is our flower," she said to Asher, who laughed at her care. "I won't
give them up. I can get along without the other blooms this year, but my
sunflowers are my treasure here--the only gold till the wheat turns yellow
for us."

"You are a sentimental sister," Asher declared. But he patiently carried
water from the dwindling well supply to keep the drouth from searing them.
When they fell before the ravenous grasshoppers, foolish as it was,
Virginia mourned their loss above the loss of crops--so scanty were the
joys of these women state builders.

The day after the pests left was the Sabbath. When Asher Aydelot read the
morning lesson in the Sunday school, his voice was deep and unfaltering.
He had chosen the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, with its sublime promises
to a wilderness-locked people.

Then Pryor Gaines offered prayer.

"Although the figtree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the
vines"--the old, old chant of Habakkuk on Mount Shigionoth--"the labor of
the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall
be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I
will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord
God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hind's feet, and He will
make me to walk upon mine high places."

So the scholarly man, crippled and held to the land, prayed; and comfort
came with his words.

Then Jim Shirley stood up to sing.

"I'm no preacher," he said, holding the song book open a moment, "but I do
believe the Lord loves the fellow who can laugh at his own hard luck. We
weren't so green as Darley Champers tried to have us believe, because the
hoppers didn't bite at us when they took every other green and growing
thing, and we have life enough in us to keep on growing. Furthermore, we
aren't the only people that have been pest-ridden. It's even worse up on
Big Wolf Creek, where Wyker's short on corn to feed his brewery this fall.
I'm going to ask everyone who is still glad he's in the Grass River
settlement in Kansas to stand up and sing just like he meant it. It's the
old Portuguese hymn. Asher and I learned it back on Clover Creek in Ohio.

            How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
            Is laid for your faith--in His excellent word!"

Every man and woman rose at once.

"The 'ayes' have it," Jim declared.

Then strong and sweet the song floated out across the desolate
drouth-ridden, pest-despoiled prairie. The same song was sung that day, no
doubt, where many worshipers were met together. The same song, sung in
country chapel and city church; in mining villages, and in lonely lumber
camps; on vessels far out at sea, and in the missionary service of distant
heathen lands; by sick beds in humble homes, and beneath the groined
arches of the Old World cathedrals.

But nowhere above the good green sod of Christendom did it rise in braver,
truer worship from trustful and unconquered hearts than it rose that day
in the little sod schoolhouse on the Kansas prairie, pouring its melody
down the wide spaces of the Grass River Valley.



CHAPTER VII

THE LAST BRIDGE BURNED


 ...Scores of better men had died.
 I could reach the township living, but--He knew what terrors tore me--
 But I didn't! But I didn't! I went down the other side.
                                                        --The Explorer.

Pryor Gaines never preached a better sermon than the one that followed the
singing of that old Portuguese hymn; and there were no doleful faces in
that little company when the service closed. The men stopped long enough
to discuss the best crops to put in for the fall, and how and where they
might get seeds for the same; to consider ways for destroying the eggs
left by the grasshoppers in the honey-combed ground, and to trade help in
the wheat-breaking to begin the next day. The women lingered to plan a
picnic dinner for the coming Saturday. Jim Shirley hummed an old love tune
as he helped Pryor Gaines to close the windows and door for the week. Only
little Todd Stewart, with sober face, scratched thoughtfully at the hard
earth with his hard little toes.

"Can't there be no more little children where there's grasshoppers and
Darley Champerses?" he asked his mother.

"Yes, yes, Todd. You won't be lonesome long," his mother assured him.
"Some time when you are a man you can say, 'I was the only little boy the
grasshoppers and Darley Champers didn't get.' You stout little Trojan!"

And then Todd, too, caught the spirit of the day and went singing
blithely away. Across the bare hollow of Grass River, and beyond the sand
dunes into the brown wastes that had been grassy prairies, his young voice
came trailing back still singing, as he rode behind his father, following
the long hot trail toward their home. And the other settlers went their
ways, each with courage renewed, for the new week's work.

Yet, they were lonesomely few in number, and the prairies were vast; they
were poverty-stricken, with little means by which to sustain life through
the coming season; on every hand the desolate plains lay robbed of every
green growth, and to this land they were nailed hand and foot as to a
cross of crucifixion. But they were young. They believed in the West and
in themselves. Their faces were set toward the future. They had voted
themselves into holding on, and, except for the Aydelots, no one family
had more resource than another. The Aydelots could leave the West if they
chose. But they did not choose. So together they laughed at hardship; they
made the most of their meager possessions; they helped each other as one
family--and they trusted to Providence for the future. And Providence,
albeit she shows a seamy side to poverty, still loves the man who laughs
at hard luck. The seasons following were not unkind. The late summer
rains, the long autumn, and the mild winter were blessings. But withal,
there were days on days of real hunger. Stock died for lack of
encouragement to live without food. And the grim while of waiting for seed
time and signs of prosperity was lived through with that old Anglo-Saxon
tenacity that has led the English speaking peoples to fight and colonize
to the ends of the earth.

"Virginia," Asher said one noontime, as the two sat at their spare meal,
"the folks are coming up tonight to hold a council. I saw Bennington this
morning and he had heard from the men over Todd Stewart's way. Dust the
piano, polish up the chandelier, and decorate with--smiles," he added, as
he saw the shadow on his wife's face.

"I'll have the maid put the reception room in order," Virginia replied,
with an attempt at merriment.

Then through the long afternoon she fought to a finish with the yearning
for the things she missed daily. At supper time, however, she was the same
cheery woman who had laughed at loss and lack so often that she wondered
sometimes if abundance might not really make her sad.

In the evening the men sat on the ground about the door of the Sunflower
Inn. Their wives had not come with them. One woman was sick at home;
little Todd Stewart was at the beginning of a fever, and the other women
were taking turns at nursing. Virginia's turn had been the night before.
She was weary now and she sat in the doorway listening to the men, and
remembering how on just such a moonlit September night she and Asher had
sat together under the Sign of the Sunflower and planned a future of
wealth and comfort.

"The case is desperate," Cyrus Bennington was saying. "Sickness and
starvation and the horses failing every day and the need for all the
plowing and getting winter fuel. Something must be done."

Others agreed, citing additional needs no less pressing.

"There are supplies and money coming from the East right now," Jim Shirley
declared. "A hunting party crossed south two days ago. I was down on lower
Plum Creek searching for firewood, and I met them. They said we might get
help from Wykerton if we went up right away."

"Well, you are Mr. Swift, Jim," one of the men exclaimed. "If you knew it
two days ago, why in thunder didn't you report. We'd have made a wooden
horse gallop to Wykerton before night."

"How'd I round up the neighborhood? I didn't get home till nearly noon
today. And, besides, they said Darley Champers has the distributing of the
supplies and money, and he's putting it where it will do the most good,
not giving to everybody alike, he says."

A sudden blankness fell upon each face, as each recalled the last words of
Champers when he left them on the Sabbath day in August.

"Well, you said a wooden horse could have galloped up to Wykerton." Jim
Shirley tried to speak cheerfully. "A horse of iron might, too, but who's
got a critter in Grass River Valley right now that could make a trip like
that? Mine couldn't. It took me two days and a half to haul up a load of
stuff, mostly sunflower stalks, that I gathered down south."

"Aydelot's black mare could do it if anything could," Pryor Gaines
declared, trying to speak cheerfully, yet he was the least able to meet
the hardships of that season.

"Yes, maybe," Shirley commented. "She's a thoroughbred, and they finally
win, you know. But knowing what you do, who of you wants to face Darley
Champers?"

Again a hopeless despair filled the hearts of the little company. Todd
Stewart clinched his hands together. The husband of the sick woman set his
jaws like iron. Pryor Gaines turned his face away and offered no further
word. Asher Aydelot sat looking out across the prairie, touched to silvery
beauty by the pitying moonlight, and Jim Shirley bowed his head and said
nothing.

"I will go to Wykerton," Virginia Aydelot's soft voice broke the silence.
"I'll take Juno and go tomorrow morning. If Darley Champers refuses me, he
would do the same to you."

"Oh, Mrs. Aydelot, will you go? Can you try it? Do you think you could do
it?" The questions came from the eager settlers.

"We'll try it, Juno and I," Virginia replied.

"Thoroughbreds, both of 'em," Jim Shirley murmured under his breath, and
Pryor Gaines' face expressed the things he could not say.

"I believe that is the best thing to do," Asher Aydelot declared.

Then the settlers said good night, and sought their homes.

As Virginia Aydelot rode away in the early morning, the cool breeze came
surging to her out of the west. The plains were more barren than she had
ever seen them before, but the sky above them had lost nothing of its
beauty. No color had faded from the eastern horizon line, no magnificence
had slipped away from the sunset.

"'The heavens declare the glory of God,'" Virginia said to herself. "Has
He forgotten the earth which is His also?"

She turned at the little swell to the northward to wave good-by to Asher,
standing with arms folded beside a corral post, looking after her.

"Is he thinking of Cloverdale and the big cool farmhouse and the well-kept
farm, and the many people coming and going along that old National pike
road? He gave it all up for me--all his inheritance for me and this."

She looked back once more at the long slope of colorless land and the
solitary figure watching her in the midst of it all.

"I'll tell him tonight I'm ready to go back East. We can go to Ohio, and
Asher can live where his boyhood days were spent. My Virginia can never be
as it was in my childhood, but Asher can have some of the pleasures of his
eastern home." She pushed back the sunbonnet from her face, and let the
west breeze sweep across it.

"I used to wear a veil and was somewhat acquainted with cold cream, and my
hands were really white and soft. They are hard and brown now. When I get
home I'll put it straight to Asher about going back to civilization, even
if there are only a few dollars waiting to take us there, and nothing
waiting for us to do."

With a sigh, half of anticipation and half of regret, she rode away toward
the little town of Wykerton in the Big Wolf Creek settlement.

There were few differences between the new county seat and Carey's
Crossing, except that there were a few more houses, and over by the creek
bank the brewery, by which Hans Wyker proposed to save the West. There
was, however, one difference between the vanished Carey's Crossing and
this place, the difference between the community whose business leaders
have ideals of citizenship, and the community wherein commerce is advanced
by the degradation of its citizens. Wykerton had no Dr. Carey nor John
Jacobs to control it. The loafers stared boldly at Virginia Aydelot as
she rode up before the livery stable and slipped from her saddle. Not
because a woman in a calico dress and sunbonnet, a tanned, brown-handed
woman, was a novelty there, but because the license of the place was one
of impudence and disrespect.

The saloon was on one side of the livery stable and the postoffice was on
the other side. Darley Champers' office stood next to the postoffice, a
dingy little shack with much show of maps and real estate information.
Behind the office was a large barren yard where one little lilac bush
languished above the hard earth. The Wyker hotel and store were across the
street.

Virginia had been intrusted with small sums for sundry purchases for the
settlement, especially for the staple medicines and household
needs--camphor and turpentine, quinine and certain cough syrups for the
winter; castor oil, some old and tried ointment, and brand of painkiller;
thread and needles and pins--especially pins--and buttons for everybody's
clothes. One settler had ridden back at midnight to ask for the purchase
of a pair of shoes for his wife. It was a precious commission that
Virginia Aydelot bore that day, although to the shopper in a Kansas city
today, the sum of money would have seemed pitifully small.

In the postoffice, printed rulings and directions regarding the supplies
were posted on the wall, and Virginia read them carefully. Then with many
misgivings and a prayer for success, she crossed the street to Darley
Champers' place of business.

In spite of her plain dress, Virginia Aydelot was every inch a lady, and
Darley Champers, dull as he was in certain lines, felt the difference her
presence made in the atmosphere of his office when she entered there.

"I understood, Mr. Champers, that you have charge here of the supplies
sent into the state for the relief of those who suffered from the
grasshoppers," she said, when she was seated in the dingy little room.

"Yes, mom!" Champers replied.

"I am Mrs. Asher Aydelot, and I represent the Grass River settlement. I
have come to ask for a share of this relief fund, and as I must start back
as soon as possible after dinner, perhaps we can make all arrangements
now."

She never knew how near her gentle manner and pleasant voice came to
winning the day at once. Champers' first impulse was to grant her anything
she asked for; his second was to refuse everything; his third, his ruling
principle always, was to negotiate to his own advantage. He dropped his
eyes and began to play for time.

"I don't know as I can help you at all, madam," he said, half
sympathetically. "The supplies and money is about gone, except what's
promised, and, well--you ought to have come sooner. I'd a been glad to
help you, but I thought you Grass River folks had about everything you
needed for the winter."

"Oh, Mr. Champers," Virginia cried, "you know that nobody could foretell
the coming of the plague. We were as well off as hundreds of other
settlers this dry summer before the grasshoppers came."

"Yes, yes, madam, but the supplies is gone, about."

"And you cannot promise that any more will be coming soon?" The pathos of
the woman's voice was appealing.

"If you could only understand how poor and how brave those settlers are!"

"I thought your man had some little means to get you and him away, if he'd
use it that way."

The sorrow of failure here and the suffering that must follow it made
Virginia sick at heart. A homesick longing suddenly possessed her; a wish
to get away from the country and forget it altogether. And Champers was
cunning enough to understand.

"You'd just like to get away from it, now, wouldn't you?" he asked
persuasively.

"I surely would, when I think of the suffering there will be," Virginia
replied. "Our staying won't help matters any."

"Not a bit! Not a bit," Champers asserted. "It's too bad you can't go."

Virginia looked up wonderingly.

"Madam, I haven't no supplies. They're all gone, I think. But if you'll
come in right after dinner, I'll see if I can't do something. I'm a humane
man."

"I'll be here at one o'clock," she replied.

It was the last hope, and anything was better than utter failure in her
errand.

When she registered her name at the hotel for dinner, Virginia's eye was
caught by the two names on the page. Both belonged to strangers, but it
was the sharp contrast of the writing that made her read them. One
recorded in a cramped little hand the name of Thomas Smith, Wilmington,
Delaware. The other in big, even, backward slanting letters spelled out
the name of John Jacobs, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The dining room was crowded with men when Virginia entered. Whoever is
hunting for evidence of good breeding and unselfishness, must not expect
too much in any eating-house, be it dining car on the Empire Limited or
grub shack on the western frontier, if only men are accustomed to feed
there. The best places were filled with noisy talkers and eaters, who
stared at her indifferently, and it was not until Gretchen Wyker,
tow-haired, pimpled, and short-necked like her father, chose to do so,
that she finally pointed out a chair at a shabby side table and waved her
empty tin waiter toward it. Virginia was passing the long table of staring
men to reach this seat, when a man rose from the small table at the other
side of the room and crossed hastily to her.

"Excuse me, madam," he said politely. "Will you come over to our table? We
are strangers to you, but you will get better service here than you might
get alone. My name is Jacobs. I saw you in the store this morning, and I
know nearly every man in your settlement."

It was a small service, truly, but to Virginia it was a grateful one in
that embarrassing moment.

"You can take Dr. Carey's place. He's away today, locating a claim on the
upper fork of Grass River somewhere. He hasn't been back a month, but he's
busy as ever. Tell me about your neighborhood," Jacobs said.

Virginia told the story of the community that differed little from the
story of the whole frontier line of Kansas settlements in the early
seventies.

"Do you have hope of help through Mr. Champers?" Jacobs asked.

"I don't know what to hope for from Mr. Champers. He seems kind-hearted,"
Virginia replied.

"I hope you will find him a real friend. He is pretty busy with a man from
the East today," Jacobs answered, with a face so neutral in its expression
that Virginia wondered what his thought might be.

As she rose to leave the table, Mr. Jacobs said:

"I shall be interested in knowing how you succeed this afternoon. I hope
you may not be disappointed. I happen to know that there are funds and
goods both on hand. It's a matter of getting them distributed without
prejudice."

"You are very kind, Mr. Jacobs," Virginia replied. "It is a desperate
case. I feel as if I should be ready to leave the West if I do not get
relief for our neighborhood today."

Jacobs looked at her keenly. "Can you go?" he asked. "I wonder you have
waited until now."

"I've never wanted to go before. I wouldn't now. I could stand it for our
household." The dark eyes flashed with the old Thaine will to do as she
pleased. "But it is my sympathy for other people, for our sick, for
discouraged men."

Jacobs smiled kindly and bowed as she left the room.

When she returned to Champers' office Mr. Thomas Smith was already there,
his small frame and narrow, close-set eyes and secretive manner seeming
out of place in the breezy atmosphere of the plain, outspoken West of the
settlement days. In the conversation that followed it seemed to Virginia
that he controlled all of the real estate dealer's words.

"I am sorry to say that there ain't anything left in the way of supplies,
Mrs. Aydelot, except what's reserved for worthy parties. I've looked over
things carefully." Darley Champers broke the silence at once.

"Who draws the line between the worthy and the unworthy, Mr. Champers?"
Virginia asked. "I am told the relief supply is not exhausted."

"Oh, the distributin's in my hands in a way, but that don't change
matters," Champers said.

"I read the rulings in the postoffice," Virginia began.

"Yes, I had 'em put there. It saves a lot of misunderstandin'," the
guardian of supplies declared. "But it don't change anything here."

Virginia knew that her case was lost and she rose to leave the room. She
had instinctively distrusted Darley Champers from their first meeting. She
had disliked him as an ill-bred, blustering sort of man, but she had not
thought him vindictive until now. Now she saw in him a stubborn,
unforgiving man, small enough to work out of petty spite to the complete
downfall of any who dared oppose his plans.

"Sit down, Mrs. Aydelot. As I said this mornin', it's too bad you can't go
back East now," Champers said seriously.

"We can." Virginia could not keep back the words.

Champers and Smith exchanged glances.

"No, mom, you can't, Mrs. Aydelot. Let me show you why."

He opened the drawer of his rickety desk and out of a mass of papers he
fished up a copy of the _Cincinnati Enquirer_, six weeks old. "Look at
this," and he thrust it into Virginia's hand.

The head-lines were large, but the story was brief. The failure of the
Cloverdale bank, the disappearance of the trusted cashier, the loss of
deposits--a story too common to need detail. Virginia Aydelot never knew
until that moment how much that reserve fund had really meant to her. She
had need of the inherited pride of the Thaines now.

"The papers are not always accurate," she said quietly.

"No, mom. But Mr. Smith here has interests in Cloverdale. He's just come
from there, and he says it's even worse than this states it."

Virginia looked toward Mr. Smith, who nodded assent.

"The failure is complete. Fortunately, I lost but little," he said.

"Why hasn't Mr. Aydelot been notified?" she demanded.

"It does seem queer he wasn't," Thomas Smith assented.

Something in his face made Virginia distrust him more than she distrusted
Darley Champers.

"Now, Mrs. Aydelot, seein' your last bridge is burned, I'm humane enough
to help you. You said this mornin' you wanted to get away. Mr. Smith and I
control some funds together, and he's willing to take Shirley's place and
I'll give you a reasonable figger, not quite so good as I could 'a done
previous to this calamity--but I'll take the Aydelot place off your
hands." Champers smiled triumphantly.

"The Aydelot place is not for sale. Good afternoon." And Virginia left the
office without more words.

When she was gone Champers turned to Smith with a growl.

"It's danged hard to turn agin a woman like her. What made you so
bitter?"

Smith half grinned and half snarled in reply:

"Oh, her neighbor, Shirley, you know."

Hopeless and crushed, Virginia sat down on the bench before the Wyker
House to wait for Juno to be brought to her from the stables. The
afternoon sun was beginning to creep under the roof shading the doorway.
Before her the dusty street ran into the dusty trail leading out to the
colorless west. It was the saddest moment she had known in the conflict
with the wilderness.

"Thy shoes shall be iron and brass," ran the blessing of Asher through her
mind. "It must be true today as in the desert long ago. And Asher lives by
the memory of his mother's blessing." The drooping shoulders lifted. The
dark eyes brightened.

"I won't give up. I'm glad the money's gone," she declared to herself. "We
did depend on it so long as we knew we had it."

"What luck, Mrs. Aydelot?" It was John Jacobs who spoke as he sat down
beside her.

"All bad luck, but we are not discouraged," she replied bravely, and
Jacobs read the whole story in the words.

A silence fell. Virginia sat looking at the vacant street, while the young
man studied her face. Then Juno was brought to the door and Virginia rose
to mount her.

"Mrs. Aydelot," John Jacob's sharp eyes seemed to pierce to her very soul
as he said slowly, "I believe you are not discouraged. You believe in this
country, you, and your neighbors. I believe in it, and I believe in you.
Stewart and I had to dissolve partnership when Carey's Crossing dissolved.
He took a claim. It was all he could do. I went back to Cincinnati, but
only for a time. I'm ready to start again. I will organize a company of
town builders, not brewery builders. You must not look for favors in a
whisky-ridden place like this. There'll be no saloon to rule our town."

Virginia listened interestedly but not understandingly.

"What of this?" Jacobs continued. "I have some means. I'm waiting for
more. I'll invest them in Grass River. Go back and tell your
homesteaders that I'll make a small five-year loan to every man in the
settlement according to his extreme needs. I'll take each man's note with
five per cent interest and the privilege of renewing for two years if
crops fail at the end of the term. I am selfish, I'll admit," he declared,
as Virginia looked at him incredulously, "and I want dollar for
dollar--always--sometimes more. My people are popularly known as
Shylocks. But you note that my rate of usury is small, the time long,
and that I want these settlers to stay. I am not trying to get rid of
them in order to speculate on their land in coming days of
prosperity--the days when you will be landlords over broad acres and I a
merchant prince. I say again, I believe in the West and in you farmer
people who must turn the West from a wilderness to a land of plenty. I'm
willing to risk something on your venture."

"Oh, Mr. Jacobs," was all Virginia could say, and, womanlike, the tears
filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

"Tell the men to send a committee up here with their needs listed," Jacobs
said hastily, "or better, I'll go out there myself the day after tomorrow.
I want to see what kind of a claim Carey has preempted. Good-by, now,
good-by."

He hurried Virginia to her horse and watched her ride away.

Down at the ford of Wolf Creek the willow brush fringed the main trail
thinly for a little distance and half hid the creek trail, winding up a
long canyon-like hollow, until a low place in the bank and a steep climb
brought it up to the open prairie. It was the same trail that Dr. Carey
had spoken of as belonging to an ugly little creek running into Big Wolf,
the trail he had wanted to avoid on the day he had heard Virginia singing
when she was lost on the prairie one cold day.

Virginia paused in this semblance of shade to let Juno drink. She pushed
back her sunbonnet and sat waiting. Her brown face grew radiant as she
thought of the good news she was bearing to the waiting home-makers of the
Grass River Valley. A song came to her lips, and as she sang a soft little
measure she remembered how somewhere down a tributary to this very creek
she had sung for help in pleading tones one cold hopeless day three years
before. So intent was she on the triumph of the hour she did not even look
up the willow-shadowed creek trail.

Dr. Horace Carey, coming in from a distant claim, had dropped into this
trail for the bits of shade here and there and was letting his pony take
its way leisurely along the side of the creek bed. There were only a few
shallow pools now where the fall rains would soon put a running stream,
and as the doctor's way lay along the moist places the pony's feet fell
noiselessly on the soft ground. As he rounded a bend in the stream he
caught sight of Virginia, her face outlined against the background of
willow sprays, making a picture worth a journey to see, it was such a
hopeful, happy face at that moment. Dr. Carey involuntarily checked his
pony at the sight. His own countenance was too pale for a Kansas
plainsman, and he sat so still that the low strain of Virginia's song
reached his ears.

Presently Juno lifted her head and Virginia rode away out on the Sunflower
Trail, bordered now only by dead pest-ridden stalks. Suddenly lifting her
eyes she saw far across a stretch of burned prairie a landscape of
exquisite beauty. In a foreground lay a little lake surrounded by grassy
banks and behind it, on a slight elevation, stood a mansion house of the
old Colonial style with white pillared portico, and green vines and forest
trees casting cool shade. Beyond it, wrapped in mist, rose a mountain
height with a road winding picturesquely in and out along its side.
Virginia caught her breath as a great sob rose in her throat. This was all
so like the old Thaine mansion house of her childhood years.

"It's only the mirage," she said aloud. "But it was so like--what?" She
held Juno back as she looked afar at the receding painting of the plains.
"It's like the house we'll have some day on that slope beyond the
Sunflower Inn. The mountains are misty. They are only the mountains of
memory. But the home and the woods and the water--all may be real."

Then she thought of Asher and of the dull prairie everywhere.

"I wonder if he would want to go back if he could see this as I see it,"
she questioned. "But I know he has seen it daily. I can tell by that look
in his gray eyes."

It was long after moonrise when Asher Aydelot, watching by the corral,
heard the sound of hoof-beats and saw the faint outline of a horse and
rider swinging in from the northward as once before he had watched the
same horse and rider swinging over the same trail before the cool north
wind that beat back the September prairie fire.

"I have supper all ready. See what grew just for you!" Asher said as he
and his wife entered the house.

A bunch of forlorn little sunflowers in a brown pitcher graced the table.
They could scarcely be called flowers, but to Virginia, who had hardly
seen a blossom through the days of drouth, the joy they brought was keener
than the joy that the roses and orchids gave in the days of a later
prosperity.

"I found them in the draw where the wild plums grow," Asher said. "How
they ever escaped the hoppers is a miracle."

"We will christen our claim 'The Sunflower Ranch' tonight, and these are
our decorations for the ceremony. It is all we have now. But it is ours,"
Virginia declared.

And then she told the story of the bank failure at Cloverdale.

"The last bridge is burned surely," Asher commented as he looked across
the table at Virginia. "This is the only property we have except youth and
health and hope--and--each other."

"And the old Aydelot heritage to stand for principle, and your mother's
belief in the West and in you, and the Thaine stubbornness about giving up
what they want to keep," Virginia declared.

"As our days so shall our strength be," Asher added, as he saw his wife's
face bright with hope and determination, and remembered the sweet face of
his mother as it had looked that night on the veranda of the old
farmhouse by the National pike road.

                   *       *       *       *       *

For a long time down by the willows thinly shadowing Wolf Creek a
white-faced man sat looking out toward the west, where a horse and rider
had vanished into the mellow tones of distance.



CHAPTER VIII

ANCHORED HEARTHSTONES


             Dear Mother of Christ, who motherhood blessed,
             All life in thy Son is complete.
             The length of a day, the century's tale
             Of years do His purpose repeat.
             As wide as the world a sympathy comes
             To him who has kissed his own son,
             A tenderness deep as the depths of the sea,
             To motherhood mourning is won.
             No life is for naught. It was heaven's own way
             That the baby who came should stay only a day.

Living by faith, which is the substance of things hoped for, is good for
the spirit but reducing to the flesh. Yet it was much by faith that the
frontier settlers lived through the winter after the grasshopper raid. Jim
Shirley often declared in that time between crops that he could make three
meals a day on Pryor Gaines' smile. And Todd Stewart asserted that when
the meat was all gone from their larder his family lived one whole week on
John Jacobs' belief in the future of their settlement. For the hardship of
that winter was heavy. All the more heavy because the settlers were not
stupid pauper-bred folk but young men and women of intelligence and
culture, whose early lives had known luxuries as well as comforts. But the
saving sense of humor, the saving power of belief in themselves, and the
saving grace of brotherly love carried them through.

The winter was mercifully mild and the short grass of the prairies was
nourishing to the stock that must otherwise have perished. Late in
February a rainfall began that lasted for days and Grass River, rising to
its opportunity, drowned all the fords, so that the neighbors on widely
separated claims were cut off from each other. No telephones relieved the
loneliness of the country dwellers in those days, and each household had
to rely on its own resources for all its needs. March came raging in like
a lion. All the rain turned to snow and the wind to a polar blast as the
one furious blizzard of that season fell upon the plains and for many
hours threshed the snow-covered land.

On the night before the coming of the blizzard the light did not go out in
the Aydelot cabin. And while the wind and rain without raved at door and
window, a faint little cry within told that a new life had come to the
world, a baby girl born in the midst of the storm. Morning brought no
check to the furious elements. And Asher, who had fought in the front line
at Antietam, had forced his way through a storm of Indian arrows out of a
death-trap in the foothills of the Rockies, had ministered to men on the
plains dying of the Asiatic plague, and had bound up the wounds of men who
returned to the battle again, found a new form of heroism that morning in
his own little cabin--the heroism of motherhood.

"You must go for help, Asher," Virginia said, smiling bravely. "Leave the
baby beside me here. We'll wait till you come back. Little Sweetheart, you
are welcome, if you did come with the storm, a little before you were
expected." The young mother looked fondly at the tiny face beside her.

"I can't leave you alone, Virgie," Asher insisted.

"But you must." Virginia's voice was full of courage. "You can go as far
as Pryor Gaines' and send him on for you. Little daughter and I will be
all right till you come back."

So Asher left her.

Pryor Gaines was waterbound across Grass River. Of the three women living
east of the stream one was sick abed, one was kept at home with a sick
husband, and the third had gone with her husband to Wykerton for supplies
and was stormstaid somewhere along the Sunflower Trail.

"I must go for Jim. Any neighborhood is blessed that has a few
good-hearted unmarried folks in it," Asher thought as he braced himself
against the driving rain and hurried away.

When he reached home again the fire was low, the house was very quiet, and
Virginia's face was white against her pillow.

"Our little daughter is asleep," she said, and turning away she seemed not
to hear her husband's voice assuring her that Jim would bring the doctor
as soon as possible.

The blizzard was just beginning in the early evening when Jim Shirley
fairly blew down the trail from the north. He slipped into the kitchen and
passed quietly to the next room. Asher was bending over his wife, who lay
in a delirium.

Jim Shirley had one of those sympathetic natures that read the joys and
sorrows of their friends without words. One look at Asher told him what
had been.

"The doctor was away up Wolf Creek, but I left word with his colored man
for him to come at once, and he'll do it," Jim assured Asher as he stood
for a moment beside the bed. "I didn't wait because you need me."

Asher lifted his head and looked at Jim. As man to man they knew as never
before the strength of their lifetime friendship.

"I need you. She needs the doctor. The baby--"

"Doesn't need any of us," Jim said softly. "I'll do what I can."

It is no strange, unreal story of the wilderness day, this fluttering in
and out of a little life, where no rosewood grew for coffins nor florists
made broken columns of white lilies and immortelles.

But no mother's hands could have been more gentle than the gentle hands of
Jim Shirley as he prepared the little form for burial.

Meantime the wind was at its wildest, and the plains blizzard swirled in
blinding bitterness along the prairie. The hours of the night dragged by
slowly to the two men hoping for the doctor's coming, yet fearing that
hope was impossible in the face of such a night.

"Carey has the keenest sense of direction I ever knew in a human being,"
Jim assured Asher. "I know he will not fail us."

Yet the morning came and the doctor came not. The day differed from the
night only in the visible fierceness of the storm. The wind swept howling
in long angry shrieks from the northwest. The snow seemed one dizzy,
maddening whirlpool of white flakes hanging forever above the earth.

Inside the cabin Virginia's delirium was turning to a frenzy. And Asher
and Jim forgot that somewhere in the world that day there was warmth and
sunlight, health and happiness, flowers, and the song of birds, and babies
cooing on their mothers' knees. And the hours of the day dragged on to
evening.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, Dr. Carey had come into Wykerton belated by the rains.

"The wind is changing. There'll be a snowstorm before morning, Bo Peep,"
he said wearily as the young colored man assisted him into warm, dry
clothes. "It's glorious to sit by a fire on a night like this. I didn't
know how tired I was till now."

"Yes, suh, I'se glad you all is home for the night, suh. I sho' is. I got
mighty little use for this yuh country. I'se sorry now I eveh done taken
my leave of ol' Virginny." Bo Peep's white teeth glistened as he laughed.

"Any calls while I was gone?" Dr. Carey asked.

Bo Peep pretended not to hear as he busied himself over his employer's
wraps, until Carey repeated the question.

"No, suh! no, suh! none that kaint wait till mawhnin', suh," Bo Peep
assured him, adding to himself, "Tiahd as he is, he's not gwine way out to
Grass Riveh this blessed night, not if I loses my job of bein' custodian
of this huh 'stablishment. Not long's my name's Bone-ah-gees Peepehville,
no, suh!"

Dr. Carey settled down for the evening with some inexplicable misgiving he
could not overcome.

"I didn't sleep well last night, Bo Peep," he said when he rose late the
next morning. "I reckon we doctors get so used to being called out on
especially bad nights we can't rest decently in our beds."

"I didn't sleep well, nutheh," Bo Peep replied. "I kep thinkin' bout that
man come heah foh you yestedy. I jes wa'n't gwine to le' yuh go out again
las' night."

"What did he want?" the doctor asked, secretly appreciative of Bo Peep's
goodness of heart as he saw the street full of whirling snow.

"He done said hit wah a maturity case."

Bo Peep tried to speak carelessly. In truth, his conscience had not left
him in peace a moment.

"What do you mean? Who was it?" Horace Carey demanded.

"Don't be mad, Doctah, please don't. Hit wah cuz you all wah done woah out
las' night. Hit wah Misteh Shulley from Grass Riveh, suh. He said hit wah
Misteh Asheh Aydelot's wife--"

"For the love of God!" Horace Carey cried hoarsely, springing up. "Do you
know who Mrs. Aydelot is, Bo Peep?"

"No, suh; neveh see huh."

"She was Virginia Thaine of the old Thaine family back at home."

Bo Peep did not sit down. He fell in a heap at Dr. Carey's feet, moaning
grievously.

"Fo' Gawd, I neveh thought o' harm. I jus' thought o' you all, deed I did.
Oh! Oh!"

"Help to get me off then," Carey commanded, and Bo Peep flew to his
tasks.

When the doctor was ready to start he found two horses waiting outside in
the storm and Bo Peep, wrapped to the eyes, beside them.

"Why two?" he asked kindly, for Bo Peep's face was so full of sorrow he
could not help pitying the boy.

"Please, kaint I go with you all? I can cook betteh'n Miss Virginia eveh
could, an' I can be lots of help an' you all'll need help."

"But it's a stinger of a storm, Bo Peep," the doctor insisted, anxious to
be off.

"Neveh mind! Neveh mind! Lemme go. I won't complain of no stom." And the
doctor let him go.

It was already dark at the Sunflower Ranch when the two, after hours of
battling with wind and snow and bitter cold, reached the cabin door. Bo
Peep, instead of giving up early or hanging a dead weight on Dr. Carey's
hands, as he had feared the boy might do, had been the more hopeful of the
two in all the journey. The hardship was Bo Peep's penance, and right
merrily, after the nature of a merry-hearted race, he took his
punishment.

Jim Shirley, putting wood on the kitchen fire, bent low as he heard the
piteous moanings from the sick room.

"Oh, Lord, if you can work miracles work one now," he pleaded below his
breath. "Bring help out of this storm or give us sense to do the best for
her. We need her so, dear Lord. We need her so."

He lifted his eyes to see Horace Carey between himself and the bedroom
door, slipping out of his snowy coat. And beside him stood Bo Peep,
helping him to get ready for the sick room.

"I know Miss Virginia back in the Souf, suh. I done come to take keer of
this kitchen depahtment. I know jus' what she lak mos' suh," Bo Peep said
to Jim, who had not moved nor spoken. "I'se Misteh Bone-ah-gees
Peepehville, an' I done live with Doctah Carey's family all mah life, suh,
'cept a short time I spent in the Jacobs House at Carey's Crossing. I'se
his custodian now, suh, and I know a few things about the cookin'
depahtment, suh."

He looked the part, and Jim accepted him gladly.

It is given to some men to know the power of the healing spirit. Dr. Carey
was such a man. His presence controlled the atmosphere of the place. There
was balm in his voice and in the touch of his hand as much as in his
medicines. To him his own calling was divine. Who shall say that the hope
and belief with which his few drugs were ministered carried not equal
power with them toward health and wholeness?

When Virginia Aydelot had fallen asleep at last the doctor came into the
kitchen and sat down with the two haggard men to whom his coming had
brought unspeakable solace.

"You can take comfort, Mr. Aydelot," he said assuringly. "Your wife has
been well cared for. Hardly one man in a thousand could do as well as you
have done. I wonder you never studied medicine."

"You seem confident of results, Doctor," Asher said gratefully.

"I have known the Thaine family all my life," Horace Carey said quietly.
And Asher, whose mind was surged with anxiety, did not even think to be
surprised.

"We did not recognize each other when I found her on the way to Carey's
Crossing three or four years ago, and--I did not know she was married
then."

He sat a while in silence, looking at the window against which the wind
outside was whirling the snow. When he spoke again his tone was hopeful.

"Mrs. Aydelot has had a nervous shock. But she is young. She has a
heritage of will power and good blood. She will climb up rapidly with the
coming on of spring."

How strange it was to Asher Aydelot to listen to such words! He had not
slept for fifty hours. It had seemed to him that the dreadful storm
outside and sickness and the presence of death within were to be unending,
and that in all the world Jim Shirley would henceforth be his only
friend.

"You both need sleep," Carey was saying in a matter-of-fact way. "Bo Peep
will take care of things here, and I will look after Mrs. Aydelot. You
will attend to the burial at the earliest possible time in order to save
her any signs of grieving. And you will not grieve either until you have
more time. And remember, Aydelot," he put his hand comfortingly on Asher's
shoulders. "Remember in this affliction that your ambition may stake out
claims and set up houses, but it takes a baby's hand to really anchor the
hearthstones. And sometimes it takes even more. It needs a little grave as
well. I understood from Shirley that some financial loss last fall
prevented you from going back to Ohio. You wouldn't leave Grass River now
if you could."

Dr. Carey's face was magnetic in its earnestness, and even in the sorrow
of the moment Asher remembered that he had known Virginia all her life and
he wondered subconsciously why the two had not fallen in love with each
other.

And so it was that as the Sunflower Inn had received the first bride and
groom to set up the first home in the Grass River Valley, so the first
baby born in the valley opened its eyes to the light of day in the same
Sunflower Inn. And out of this sod cabin came the first form to its
burial. And it was the Sunflower Ranch that gave ground for God's Acre
there for all the years that followed. It happened, too, that as Jim
Shirley had been the friendly helper at that bridal supper and happy
house-warming more than three years ago, so now it was Jim Shirley who in
the hour of sorrow was the helper still.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The winter season passed with the passing of the blizzard. The warm spring
air was delicious and all the prairies were presently abloom with a wild
luxuriance of flowers.

Asher carried Virginia to the sunshine at the west window from which she
could see the beautiful outdoor world.

"We wouldn't leave here now if we could," she declared as she beheld all
the glory of the springtime rolling away before her eyes.

"Bank accounts bring comforts, but they do not make all of life nor
consecrate death. We have given our first-born back to the prairie. It is
sacred soil now," Asher replied.

And then they talked of many things, but mostly of Dr. Carey.

"I have known him from childhood," Virginia said. "He was my very first
sweetheart, as very first sweethearts go. He went into the war when he was
young. I didn't know much that happened after that. He was at home, I
think, when you were in that hospital where I first saw you, and--oh, yes,
Asher, dear, he was at home when your blessed letter came, the one with
the old greasy deuce of hearts and the sunflower. It was this same Bo
Peep, Carey's boy, who brought it to me up in the glen behind the big
house. Horace left Virginia just after that." Virginia closed her eyes and
lived in the past again.

"I wonder you never cared for Dr. Carey, Virgie. He is a prince among
men," Asher said, as he leaned over her chair.

"Oh, I might, if my king had not sent me that sunflower just then. It made
a new world for me."

"But I am only a common farmer, Virgie, just a king of a Kansas claim,
just a home-builder on the prairie," Asher insisted.

"Asher, if you had your choice this minute of all the things you might be,
what would you choose to be?" Virginia asked.

"Just a common farmer, just a king of a Kansas claim," Asher replied. Then
looking out toward the swell of ground beside the Grass River schoolhouse
where the one little mound of green earth marked his first-born's grave,
he added, "Just a home-builder on the prairies."

The second generation of grasshoppers tarried but briefly, then all
together took wing and flew away, no man knew, nor cared, whither. And the
Grass River settlers who had weathered the hurricane of adversity, poor,
but patient and persistent still, planted, sometimes in tears to reap in
joy, sometimes in hope to reap only in heartsick hope deferred, but failed
not to keep on planting. Other settlers came rapidly and the neighborhood
thickened and broadened. And so, amid hardships still, and lack of
opportunity and absence of many elements of culture, a sturdy,
independent, God-fearing people struggled with the soil, while they lifted
up faces full of hope and determination to the skies above them. What of
the prairies they could subdue they bent to their service. What they could
not overcome they defied the right to overcome them. There were no lines
of social caste. They were needy or full together. They shared their
pleasures; together they laughed at calamities; and they comforted one
another in every sorrow.

A new town was platted on the claim that Dr. Carey had preempted where the
upper fork of Grass River crossed the old Sunflower trail. The town
founders ruled Hans Wyker out of a membership among them. Moreover, they
declared their intentions of forever beating back all efforts at saloon
building within the corporation's limits, making Wykerton their sworn
enemy for all time. In the new town, which was a ten-by-ten shack of
vertical boards, a sod stable, and two dugout homes, the very first sale
of lots, for cash, too, was made to Darley Champers & Co., dealers in real
estate, mortgages, loans, etc.

One summer Sabbath afternoon, three years after the grasshopper raid of
dreadful memory, Asher came again to the little grave in the Grass River
graveyard where other graves were consecrating the valley in other hearts.
This time he bore in his arms a dimpled, brown-eyed baby boy who cooed and
smiled as only babies can and flung his little square fists aimlessly
about in baby joy of living.

"We'll wait here, Thaine, till your mother comes from Bennington's to tell
us about the little baby that just came to our settlement only two days
ago and staked out a claim in a lot of hearts."

Little Thaine had found that his fist and his mouth belonged together, so
he offered no comment. Asher sat down on the warm sod with the baby on his
knees.

"This is your little sister's grave, Thaine. She staid with us less than a
day, but we loved her then and we love her still. Her name was to have
been Mercy Pennington Aydelot, after the sweet Quaker girl your two
great-great-grandfathers both loved. Such a big name for such a tiny girl!
She isn't here, Thaine. This is just the little sod house she holds as her
claim. She is in a beautiful mansion now. But she binds us always to the
Grass River Valley because she has a claim here. We couldn't bear to go
away and leave her little holding. And now you've come and all the big
piece of prairie soil that is your papa's and mamma's now will be yours
some day. I hope you'll want to stay here."

A stab of pain thrust him deeply as he remembered his own father and
understood for the first time what Francis Aydelot must have felt for him.
And then he remembered his mother's sacrifice and breadth of view.

"Oh, Thaine, will you want to leave us some day?" he said softly, gazing
down into the baby's big dark eyes. "Heaven give me breadth and courage
and memory, too," he added, "when that time comes not to be unkind; but to
be brave to let you go. Only, Thaine, there's no bigger place to go than
to a big, fine Kansas farm. Oh! we fathers are all alike. What Clover
Creek was to Francis Aydelot, Grass River is to me. Will it be given to
you to see bigger things?"

Thaine Aydelot crowed and stretched his little legs and threw out his
hands.

"Thaine, there are no bigger things than the gifts of the soil. I may
only win it, but you can find its hundredfold of increase. See, yonder
comes your mother. Not the pretty, dainty Virginia girl I brought here as
my bride. But I tell you truly, baby boy, she will always be handsome,
because--you wouldn't understand if I told you, but you will some day."

"Oh, Asher, the new baby is splendid, and Mrs. Bennington is ever so
well," Virginia said, coming up to where he sat waiting for her. "They
call her Josephine after Mr. Bennington's mother. Thaine will never be
lonely here, as we have been. After all, it is not the little graves alone
that anchor us anywhere, for we can take memory with us wherever we go; it
is the children living, as well, that hold our hearthstones fast and build
a real community, even in a wilderness. We are just ready to begin now.
The real story of the prairie is the story of the second generation. The
real romance out here will be Thaine Aydelot's romance, for he was born
here."



CHAPTER IX

THE BEGINNING OF SERVICE


                                 Amid all the din
           Of the everyday battle some peace may begin,
           Like the silence of God in its regal content,
           Till we learn what the lesson of yesterday meant.

Hans Wyker had managed skillfully when he pulled the prospective county
seat of Wolf county up Big Wolf Creek to Wykerton, a town he hoped to
build after his own ideals. And his ideals had only one symbol, namely,
the dollar sign. Hans had congratulated himself not a little over his
success.

"I done it all mineself," he was wont to boast. "So long as Doc Carey tink
he own der town vots name for him, an' so long as Yon Yacob, der
ding-busted little Chew, tink him an' Todd Stewart run all der pusiness
mitout regardin' my saloon pusiness, an' so long as Pryor Gaines preachin'
an' teachin' all time gifin' black eye to me, 'cause I sells wisky, I not
mak no hetway."

"You are danged right," Darley Champers would always assure him.

"Yah, I be. But von day I pull a lot of strinks at vonce. I pull der
county seat locate to Pig Wolf Creek, an' I put up mine prewery here mit
water power here vot dey vassent not at Carey's Crossing. An' der railroat
comin' by dis way soon, I know. I do big business two times in vonce. I
laugh yet to tink how easy Yon Yacob fall down. If Yon Yacob say so he
hold Carey's for der county seat. But no. He yust sit shut oop like ant
neffer say von sinkle vord. An' here she coom--my prewery, my saloon, my
county seat, an' all in vonce."

Hans would laugh till the tears ran down his rough red cheeks. Then
blowing his nose like a blast against the walls of Jericho he would add:

"Yon Yacob go back to Cincinnati. Doc Carey, he come Vest an' locate again
right here. Course he tak up claim on nort fork of Grass River. But dat's
yust for speculation some yet. Gaines an' Stewart go to Grass River
settlement an' homestead. Oh, I scatter 'em like chaffs. Ho! Ho!" And
again the laughter would bring tears to his watery little white-gray
eyes.

What Hans Wyker said of John Jacobs was true, for in the council that
decided the fate of the town it was his silence that lost the day and put
Carey's Crossing off the map. Hans, while rejoicing over the result,
openly accused Jacobs of being a ding-busted, selfish Jew who cared for
nobody but John Jacobs. Secretly Hans admired Jacobs for his business
ability, and all men respected him for a gentleman. Hence it was no small
disappointment to the brewery owner to find when Jacobs returned to Kansas
that he did not mean to open a business in Wykerton. Instead, he loaned
his money to Grass River homesteaders.

When crops began to bring returns Jacobs established a new town farther
west on the claim that Dr. Carey had taken up. Jacobs insisted on calling
the place Careyville in honor of the doctor, because he had been the means
of annihilating the first town named after Carey. And since he had
befriended the settlers in the days after the grasshopper raid he drew all
the trade west of Big Wolf to this new town, cutting deep into the
Wykerton business. Misfortunes hunt in couples when they do not gather in
larger companies. Not only did the Jacobs store decrease the income of the
Wykerton stores, but, following hard after, came the shifting of county
lines. Wolf county fell into three sections, to increase three other
counties. The least desirable ground lay in the north section, and the
town built up on a brewery and the hopes of being hit by a railroad
survey, and of holding the county seat, was left in this third part which,
like Caesar's third part of all Gaul, was most barbarous because least
often the refining influences of civilization found their way thither.

Then came the crushing calamity, the Prohibitory Law, which put Hans Wyker
out of business. And hand in hand with this disaster, when the railroad
came at last it drove its steel lines imperiously westward, ignoring
Wykerton, with the ugly little canyons of Big Wolf on the north, and the
site of Carey's Crossing beside the old blossom-bordered trail on the
south. Finding the new town of Careyville a strategic point, it headed
straight thither, built through it, marked it for a future division point,
and forged onward toward the sunset.

Dr. Carey had located an office on his claim when there were only four
other buildings on the Careyville townsite. Darley Champers opened a
branch office there about the same time, although he did not leave
Wykerton. But the downfall of Wyker and his interests cut deeper into the
interests of the Grass River settlement than anyone dreamed of at the
time. It sifted into Wyker's slow brain that the Jew, as he called Jacobs
with many profane decorations, had been shrewd as well as selfish when his
silent vote had given Wykerton the lead in the race for a county seat
location.

"Infernal scoundrel," Hans would cry with many gestures, "he figger it out
in his own little black het and neffer tell nobody, so. He know to hisself
dat Carey's Crossing's too fur sout, so--an' Big Wolf Creek too fur nort,
so." Hands wide apart, and eyes red with anger. "He know der survey go
between like it, so! And he figger it hit yust fer it hit Grass River,
nort fork. An' he make a townsite dere, yust where Doc Carey take oop.
Devil take him! An' he pull all my town's trade mit his fat pocketbook,
huh! I send Champers to puy all Grass River claims. Dey don't sell none. I
say, 'Champers, let 'em starf.' Den Champers, he let 'em. When supplies
for crasshopper sufferers cooms from East we lock 'em oop in der office,
tight. An' ve sell 'em. Huh! Cooms Yon Yacob an' he loan claim-holters
money--fife per cent, huh! Puy 'em, hide an' hoof, an' horn, an' tail! Dey
all swear py Yon Yacob. He rop me. I fix him yet sometime. I hate Yon
Yacob!"

And Hans Wyker's hate was slow, but it was incurably poison.

One morning in early autumn Dr. Horace Carey drove leisurely down the
street of the town that bore his name. The air was crisp and invigorating,
for the September heat had just been broken by copious showers. Todd
Stewart stood in the doorway of Jacobs' store, watching the doctor's
approach.

"Good morning, Doctor," he called. "Somebody dying or a highwayman chasing
after you for your pocketbook, that you drive so furiously?"

"Good morning, Stewart. No, nobody is in danger. Can't a doctor enjoy
life once in a while? The country's so disgustingly healthy I have to make
the best of it and kill time some way. Come, help at the killing, won't
you?" Carey drew rein before the door of the store.

"I can't do it, Carey. Jacobs is away up on Big Wolf appraising some land
and I want to be here when he comes in. I must do some holding up myself
pretty soon if things don't pick up after this hot summer."

"You're an asset to the community, to be growling like that with this
year's crops fairly choking the market," Horace Carey declared.

With a good-by wave of his hand he turned his horses' heads toward the
south and took his way past the grain elevator toward the railroad
crossing. The morning train was just pulling up to the station, blocking
the street, so Carey sat still watching it with that interest a great
locomotive in motion always holds for thinking people.

"Papa, there's Doctor Carey," a child's voice cried, and Thaine Aydelot
bounded across the platform toward him, followed by his less-excited
father.

Thaine was a sturdy, sun-browned little fellow of seven years, with
blooming cheeks and big dark eyes. He was rather under than over normal
size, and in the simplicity of plains life he had still the innocence of
the very little boy.

"Good morning, Thaine. Good morning, Aydelot. Are you just getting home?
Let me take you out. I'm going your way myself," Dr. Carey said.

"Good morning. Yes, we are getting home a little earlier than we were
expected and nobody is here to meet us. We'll be glad to ride out with
you."

Asher lifted Thaine into the buggy with the words. A certain reserve
between the two men had never been broken, although they respected each
other deeply and were fast friends.

The train cleared the crossing and the three went south over the bridge
across the dry North Fork Creek, beyond the cattle pens, and on to the
open country leading out toward the Grass River Valley. The morning was
glorious with silvery mists lifting along the river's course and a
shimmering light above golden stubble and brown plowed land and level
prairie; while far away, in all its beauty, hung the deep purple veil that
Nature drops between her finite and her infinite, where the things that
are seen melt into the things that are not seen.

"Take the lines, Aydelot, and let me visit with Thaine," Horace Carey
said, giving Asher the reins.

He was fond of children and children were more than fond of him. Thaine
idolized him and snuggled up in his lap now with complete contentment of
soul.

"Tell me all about it now, Thaine. Where have you been so long? I might
have missed you down on the Sunflower Ranch this morning if I had driven
faster and headed off the through train as it came in."

"Oo-o!" Thaine groaned at the possible disaster to himself. "We've been to
Topeka, a very long way off."

"And you saw so many fine things?" Carey questioned.

"Yes, a big, awful big river. And a bridge made of iron. And it just
rattled when we went across. And there were big pieces of the Statehouse
lying around in the tall weeds. And such greeny green grass just
_everywhere_. And, and, oh, the biggest trees. So many, all close
together. Papa said it was like Ohio. Oh, so big. I never knew trees
could grow so big, nor so many of them all together."

Little Thaine spread his short arms to show how wondrous large these trees
were.

"He has never seen a tree before that was more than three inches through,
except two or three lonesome cottonwoods. The forests of his grandfather's
farm in Ohio would be gigantic to him. How little the prairie children
know of the world!" Asher declared.

Dr. Carey remembered what Jim Shirley had told him of that lost estate in
Ohio, and refrained from comment.

"You'd like to live in Topeka where the big Kaw river is, and the big
trees along its banks, and so much green grass, wouldn't you, Thaine?"

"No!" The child's face was quaintly contemptuous. "It's too--too choky."
The little hand clutched at the fat brown throat. "And the grass is so
mussy green, and you can't _see_ to _any_where for the bumpy hills and
things. I like our old brown prairies best. It's so--nice out here." And
with a sigh of perfect satisfaction Thaine leaned against Dr. Carey's
shoulder and gazed out at the wide landscape swathed in the early morning
sunlight.

The two men exchanged glances.

"This will be the land of memory for him some day, as you look back to the
mountains of Virginia and I to the woodlands of Ohio," Asher said.

"It is worth remembering, anyhow," Carey replied. "I can count twenty
young windbreaks from the swell just ahead, and the groves are springing
up on many ranches from year to year. Your grove is the finest in the
valley now, Aydelot."

"It is doing well," Asher said. "Mrs. Aydelot and I planned our home-to-be
on the first evening we came to the Sunflower Inn. It was a sort of
mirage-of-the-desert picture, it is true, but we were like the tapestry
weavers. We hung the pattern up before our eyes and worked to it. It is
slow weaving, I'll admit, but we kept on because we wanted to at first,
then because we had to, and finally because our hearts took root in a
baby's grave. They say the tapestry makers work on the wrong side of the
threads, but when their work is done the pattern comes out complete. I
hope ours will too. But there's many a day of aching muscles, and many a
day of disappointment along the way. Crops prosper and crops fail, but we
can't let the soil go untilled."

"I think we are all tapestry weavers. The trouble is sometimes in the
pattern we hang up before us and sometimes in the careless weaving," Dr.
Carey added.

They rode a while in silence. The doctor's cheek was against Thaine's dark
hair and Asher looked down at his hard brown hands and then away at the
autumn prairie.

Fifteen years on a plains claim, with all the daily grind of sowing and
reaping and care of stock and garden, had not taken quite all the military
bearing from him. He was thirty-eight years old now, vigorous and
wholesome and hopeful. The tanning Kansas sunshine had not hidden the old
expression of patience and endurance, nor had the sight of many hardships
driven the vision from the clear, far-seeing gray eyes.

"Look at the sunflowers, Papa," Thaine cried as a curve of the trail
brought a long golden line to view.

"You like the sunflowers, don't you?" Carey asked.

"Oh, yes, better than all the flowers on the prairie. My mamma loves them,
too, because they made her think once papa wasn't dead."

"Thaine, what do you mean to do when you grow up?" Horace Carey
interrupted the child.

"I'm going to be a soldier like my papa was," Thaine declared decisively.

"But there will probably be no wars. You see, your papa and I fought the
battles all through and settled things. Maybe you can't go to war," Dr.
Carey suggested.

"Oh, yes, I can. There'll be another war by that time, and I'm going, too.
And when I come back I'm going away to where the purple notches are and
have a big ranch and do just like my papa," Thaine asserted.

"Where are the purple notches?" the doctor asked.

"See yonder, away, way off?"

Thaine pointed toward the misty southwest horizon where three darker
curves were outlined against a background of pale purple blending through
lilac up to silvery gray.

"I'm going there some day," the boy insisted.

"And leave your papa and mamma?"

"They left their papas and mammas, too," Thaine philosophized.

The men laughed, although each felt a curious deep pain at the boy's
words.

Thaine settled back, satisfied to be silent as he watched the wonderful
prairie landscape about him.

"I am going down to Shirley's," Carey began, as if to change the subject.
"Strange fellow, Jim; I never knew another like him."

"I was just thinking of Shirley," Asher responded. "He is a royal neighbor
and true friend, better to everybody else than he is to himself. His own
crops suffer sometimes while he helps other folks lay theirs by. And yet
his premises always look like he was expecting company. One cannot help
wondering what purpose stays him in his work."

"There is the tragedy of it," Horace Carey declared. "I never knew a more
affectionate man, yet he has lived a bachelor all these years."

"How long have you known him, Carey?" Asher asked.

"Since the night at Kelley's Ferry, back in the Civil War. Our regiment,
the Fifty-fourth Virginia, was taken. We were worn out with fighting and
marching, and we were nearly starved besides. The Third Ohio boys had been
in the same fix once and our boys--"

"Yes, I was a Third Ohio boy. I know what you fellows did. You saved our
lives," Asher broke in.

"Well, you paid us back at Kelley's Ferry. I first knew Jim Shirley that
night, although he remembered me from the time we had your regiment at our
mercy. He brought me bacon and hard tack and coffee. We have been friends
ever since. How long have you known him?"

"I am going to war when I get big, before I ever go to the purple notches.
I know I am."

Thaine had been listening intently and now he broke in with face aglow and
eyes full of eagerness.

"God forbid!" Carey said. "The lure of the drum beat might be hard for
older men to resist even now."

"Your hand will fit a plow handle better than a gun-stock, Thaine," his
father assured him, looking down at the boy's square, sun-browned hand
with a dimple in each knuckle.

Thaine shut his lips tightly and said no more. But his father, who knew
the heart of a boy, wondered what thoughts might lie back of that
silence.

"I have known Jim all my life," Asher Aydelot took up the conversation
where Thaine had interrupted it. "That is why I have wondered at the
tenacity of his holding on out here. A man of his temperament is prone to
let go quickly. Besides, Jim is far from being a strong man physically."

"When he was down with pneumonia in the early seventies he was ready to
give up. Didn't want to get well and was bound not to do it," Dr. Carey
said, "but somehow a letter I had brought him seemed to change him with
one reading. 'I will do anything to get back to strength and work,' he
declared, and he has worked ever since like a man who knew his business,
even if his business judgment is sometimes faulty."

They rode awhile in silence, drinking in the delicious air of early
autumn. Presently Dr. Carey said:

"Aydelot, I am taking a letter down to Jim this morning. It is in the same
handwriting as the one I took when he had the pneumonia so severely. I
learned a little something of Jim's affairs through friends when I was
East studying some years ago."

He paused for a moment. Then, as if to change the subject, he continued:

"By the way, there was a bank failure at Cloverdale once that interested
you. Did you ever investigate it?"

"There was nothing to investigate," Asher replied.

It did not occur to him to connect the query with Carey's knowledge of
Shirley's affairs or with his studying in the East.

"You have relatives there?" Carey asked.

"Yes, a Jane Aydelot. Married, single, widowed, I can't tell. My father
left his estate to her. I was in love with the West then, and madly in
love with my wife. My father wasn't impressed with either one. But, you
see, I was rash about little things like money matters. I had so much
faith in myself and I couldn't give up a girl like Virginia Thaine.
Understand, I have no quarrel with Jane Aydelot. Her property is
absolutely her own, not mine to crave and look forward to getting some
day."

"I understand," Horace Carey said, looking out toward the purple notches
now more clearly outlined against the sky. "How this country has changed
since that cold day when Mrs. Aydelot came almost to the old Crossing
after me. The sand dunes narrow and the river deepens a little every year.
The towns come and go on the prairies, but the homesteaders build better.
It is the farmer who really makes a new country habitable."

"That's what my mother said when I talked of coming West. But the real
test will come with the second generation. If it is loyal we will have
won. Here is the old Grass River trail that Jim and I followed many lonely
days. The valley is slowly coming out of the wilderness," Asher replied,
remembering his wife's words long before when she said: "The real story of
the plains is the story of the second generation. The real romance out
here will be Thaine Aydelot's romance."

They had reached the old trail that led to the Grass River settlement
now. It was still a new country where few trees, save some lone
cottonwoods, were as tall as a cabin, and nothing broke the view. But
groves had rooted, low windbreaks cut the country at frequent intervals;
many acres of sod had been turned by the plow, and many more were being
shut in by fences where the open cattle range was preempted by freeholds.
One bit of woodland, however, was beginning to dignify the valley. The
Aydelot grove spread over a hundred acres before the one-time sod
Sunflower Inn. The new home was on the swell now as Virginia had seen the
Colonial mansion of the mirage on the day she went seeking aid for the
grasshopper-beset neighborhood. But this was just a little cottage
waiting, like the grove, for years of time in which to grow a mansion
shaded with tall trees, with the lake and the woodland before it, and the
open prairie beyond.

Down at Jim Shirley's ranch the changes were many, for Jim had an artist's
eye. And the energy other settlers spent on the needs of wives and
children Jim spent on making his little dwelling attractive. He had
brought clover seed from Ohio, and had carefully sowed a fire guard around
his sod shack. Year by year the clover business increased; fire guard grew
to clover-lot, and clover-lot to little meadow. Then the little meadow
expanded along Grass River to a small cattle range. Over the door of his
four-roomed cottage he put the name "Cloverdale," as he had put it over
his sod cabin years before. And the Cloverdale Ranch, like the Sunflower
Ranch farther up the river, became a landmark on the trail.

Pryor Gaines, still the teacher-preacher of the Grass River settlement,
had come to the Cloverdale Ranch on an errand, and he and Jim Shirley
were chatting beside the well curb when Dr. Carey drove up.

"Hello, Carey. How did you scent chicken pie so far? And a plum pudding
all brown and ready?" Shirley called hospitably.

"It's my business to find what produces sickness as well as to provide
cures," Carey responded as he stepped from his buggy to tie his horses.

"Take him in the house, Pryor, while I stable his crowbaits," Jim said,
patting one of the doctor's well groomed horses the while.

"I hope you will stay, too," Horace Carey said to Pryor Gaines. "I have
some important news for Shirley, and you and he are fast friends."

"The bachelor twins of Grass River," Pryor Gaines declared. "Jim hasn't
any lungs and I haven't any heart, so we manage to keep a half a household
apiece, and added together make one fairly reputable citizen. I'll stay if
Jim wishes me to, of course."

"The two most useful men in the community," Carey declared. "Jim has been
father and mother, big brother, and hired girl for half the settlement,
while you, you marry and train up and bury. No neighborhood is complete
without a couple of well-meaning old bachelors."

"How about a bachelor M. D.?" Pryor Gaines asked. "I've not been able to
get in my work on you yet."

"Purely a necessary evil, the M. D. business," Carey insisted. "Here's Jim
now. We wait the chicken and plum pudding, Host Shirley."

Jim's skill as a cook had not decreased since the day when he prepared
Asher Aydelot's wedding supper, and the three men who sat together at
that day's meal took large enjoyment in this quiet hour together.

"I have a letter for you, Shirley," the doctor said at last. "It was sent
to me some months ago with the request that I give it to you when I had
word to do so. I have had word. Here it is."

"I think I'll be going now." Pryor Gaines rose with the words.

"Don't go," Jim insisted. "I want you here."

So Gaines sat down. Shirley, who was quick in intuitive power, knew
instinctively what awaited him. He opened the letter and read it while the
two friends busied themselves with a consideration of Jim's bookcase,
reading-table, and toolchest combined, all made out of one goods box with
sundry trimmings.

Jim said nothing when he had finished, grateful that no painful silence on
the part of the other two men forced him to words until he was ready to
speak.

"Listen to me," he said at length. "I need your help now. When I came West
life didn't seem worth living at first, but I had it on my hands and
couldn't throw it away. I tried to take an interest in Asher Aydelot's
home. But it is a second-rate kind of pleasure to sit by your own lonely
fireside and enjoy the thought of the comfort another man has in his home
with the wife of his choice."

A shadow fell on Dr. Carey's face as he sat looking through the open
window at the stretch of green clover down the valley.

"I was about ready to call time on myself one winter here when Carey
brought me a letter. It was from Alice Leigh, my brother Tank's wife. Tank
and I were related--by marriage. We had the same father, but not the same
mother. My mother died the day I was born. Nobody else is so helpless as a
man with a one-day-old baby. My father was fairly forced into a second
marriage by my step-mother, Betsy Tank. She was the housekeeper at the
tavern after my mother's death. Her god was property and Tank is just like
her. She married the old Shirley House. It looked big to her. Oh, well! I
needn't repeat a common family history. I never had a mother, nor a wife,
nor a sister, nor a brother. Even my father was early prejudiced in Tank's
interest against mine, always. The one happy memory of my boyhood years
was the loving interest of Asher Aydelot's mother, who made the old
Aydelot farmhouse on the National road a welcome spot to me. For the Lord
made me with a foolish longing for a home and all of these things--father,
mother, sister, and brother."

"So you have been father and mother, brother and sister to this whole
settlement," Pryor Gaines said.

"Which may be vastly satisfying to these relatives, but does not always
fill the lack in one's own life," Horace Carey added, as a man who might
know whereof he spoke.

"I won't bore you with details," Jim began again. "The letter I had from
Alice Leigh, Tank's wife, a dozen or more years ago, asked me if I would
take the guardianship of her children if they should need a guardian. I
knew they would need one, if she were--taken from earth, as she had reason
to fear then that she might be soon. I began to live with a new motive--a
sense that I was needed, a purpose to be ready to help her children--the
one service I could give to her. There's a long, cruel story back of her
marriage to Tank--a story of deception, coercion, love of money, and all
the elements of common cussedness--too common to make a good story. And,
as generally happens, when Tank married the girl who didn't want him he
treated her as he's always treated everybody else."

Jim clinched his fists hard and shut his teeth with a grip as he sat
silent for a moment. Then drawing a deep breath, as if he were lifting a
weight from his life, he said calmly:

"Mrs. Shirley died some time ago. Only one child survived her--a little
girl six years old. The letter says--"The letter fluttered in Jim's
trembling hands. "It says, 'My little Leigh is just six. She has been
taught to love her uncle Jim.... Through the help of a friend here'--she
doesn't give the name--'I have made you her guardian. I want her to go to
your home. Her father will not take any responsibility, nor try to keep
her. I know you will not fail me.'"

Jim folded the letter abruptly. "It is a dead woman's last wish. How can I
make a home for a little girl? What shall I do?"

He looked at the two men for answer. The doctor lifted his hand to Pryor
Gaines, but the preacher waited awhile before replying. Then he said
thoughtfully:

"It is easy for us two to vote a duty on you, Shirley. I answer only
because you ask, not because I would advise. From my angle of vision, this
looks like your call to service. Your lonely fireside is waiting for a
little child's presence--the child already taught to love you. I would say
send for her at once."

"But how can I send?" Jim questioned. "How can I do a parent's part by
her? I can help a neighbor in need. I can't bring up his children. I'm not
fit for that kind of work. I've hung on here for more than a dozen years
to be ready to help when the time came, and now the thing seems
impossible."

"'As thy day, so shall thy strength be.' If you have prepared yourself to
do anything, you can do it," Pryor Gaines assured him.

"Well, how can I send?" Jim asked again. "There's nobody there to bring
her, and nobody here to go after her. It's an awfully long way from here
to Ohio. A little six-year-old girl can't come alone. I couldn't go back
myself. I may be a coward, but the Almighty made me as I am. I can't go
back to Cloverdale and see only a grave--I can stay here and remember, and
maybe do a kind of a man's part, but I can't go back." He bowed his head
and sat very still.

"You are right, Shirley," Pryor Gaines spoke softly still. "Unless you
were close to the life in its last days, don't hang any graves like dead
weights of ineffectual sorrow about your neck. Look back to the best
memories. Look up to the eternal joy no grave can withhold."

There was a sympathetic chord in Pryor Gaines' voice that spoke home to
the heart, and so long as he lived in the Grass River valley, he gave the
last service for everyone who left it for the larger life beyond it.

"I will go for you, Shirley," Horace Carey said. "You forget who brought
you this letter. That it was sent to me for you, and that the time to give
it to you was left until I was notified. This friend of your brother's
wife is a friend of mine. Let me go."

"Horace Carey, since the night your Virginia regiment fed us poor starving
fellows in the old war times, you've been true blue."

"Well, I wore the gray that night, and I'd probably do it again. I can't
tell. It was worth wearing, if only for men to find out how much bigger
manhood and brotherhood are than any issue of war to be satisfied only by
shedding of innocent blood," Horace Carey replied, glad to lift the burden
of thought from Shirley's mind.

"Could a sectional war ever have begun out here on these broad prairies,
where men need each other so?" Pryor Gaines asked, following the doctor's
lead.

"Something remarkably like it did make a stir out here once. Like it, only
worse," Horace Carey answered with a smile. "But the little girl, what's
her name? Leigh? We'll have her here for you. Your service is only
beginning, but think of the comfort of such a service. I envy you, Jim."

"A little child shall lead them," Pryor Gaines added reverently.

Then they fell to talking of the coming of little Leigh Shirley. The hours
of the day slipped by. The breeze came pouring over the prairie from the
far southwest where the purple notches stood sentinel. The warm afternoon
sunlight streamed in at the door. The while these childless men planned
together for the welfare of one motherless, and worse than fatherless,
little girl away in the Clover Creek Valley in Ohio, waiting for a home
and guardianship and love under far Kansas skies.



CHAPTER X

THE COMING OF LOVE


           I love the world with all its brave endeavor,
             I love its winds and floods, its suns and sands,
           But, oh, I love most deeply and forever
             The clinging touch of timid little hands.

The Ohio woods were gorgeous with the October coloring. The oak in regal
purple stood outlined against the beech in cloth-of-gold, while
green-flecked hickory and elm, and iridescent silver and scarlet ash, and
flaming maple added to the kaleidoscope of splendor.

The old National pike road leading down to Cloverdale was still flanked by
little rail-fenced fields that were bordered by deep woodlands. The old
Aydelot farmhouse was as neat and white, with gardens and flower beds as
well kept, as if only a day had passed since the master and mistress
thereof had gone out to their last earthly home in the Cloverdale
graveyard.

Fifteen years had seen the frontier pushed westward with magic swiftness.
The Grass River Valley, once a wide reach of emptiness and solitude, where
only one homestead stood a lone bulwark against the forces of the
wilderness, now, after a decade and a half, beheld its prairie dotted with
freeholds, where the foundations of homes were laid.

Fifteen years marked little appreciable change in the heritage given up by
Asher Aydelot out of his love for a girl and his dream of a larger
opportunity in the new West. For fifteen springtimes the old-fashioned
sweet pinks had blossomed on the two mounds where his last service had
been given to his native estate. Hardly a tree had been cut in the Aydelot
woods. The marshes in the lower ground had not been drained. The only
change in the landscape was the high grade of the railroad that cut a
triangle from the northwest corner of the farm in its haste to reach
Cloverdale and be done with it. The census of 1880, however, showed an
increase in ten years of seventy-five citizens in Clover County, and the
community felt satisfied with itself.

The afternoon train on the Cloverdale branch was late getting into town,
but the station parasites were rewarded for their patience by the sight of
a stranger following the usual two or three passengers who alighted.
Strangers were not so common in Cloverdale that anyone's face would be
forgotten under ten years of time.

"That's that same feller that come here ten year or mebby twelve year ago.
I'd know him in Guinea," one of the oldest station parasites declared.

"That's him, sure as shootin'," his comrade-in-laziness agreed. "A doctor,
don't you ricolleck? Name's Corrie, no, Craney, no, that's not it
neither--A-ah!" trying hard to think a little.

"Carey. Don't you remember?" the first speaker broke in, "Doc Carey. They
say he doctored Miss Jane in Philadelphia, an' got in good with her,
more'n a dozen years ago."

"Well," drawled the second watcher of affairs, "if he thinks he can get
anything out'n o' her by hangin' round Cloverdale, he's barkin' up the
wrong saplin'. Miss Jane, she's close, an' too set in her ways now. She
must be nigh forty."

"That's right. But, I'll bet he's goin' there now. Let's see."

The two moved to the end of the station, from which strategic point both
the main street, the National pike road, of course, and the new street
running "cat-i-cornered" from the station to the creek bridge could be
commanded.

"Darned fool! is what he is! hikin' straight as a plumbline fur the crick.
If he was worth it, I'd foller him."

"Oh, the ornery pup will be back all right. Lazy fellers waitin' to marry
rich old maids ain't worth follerin'. Darn 'em! Slick skeezicks, tryin' to
git rich jes' doin' nothin'."

So the two citizens agreed while they consigned a perfect stranger to a
mild purgatory. His brisk wholesomeness offended them, and the narrowness
of their own daily lives bred prejudice as the marshes breed mosquitoes.

Dr. Carey walked away with springing step. He was glad to be at his
journey's end; glad to be off the slow little train, and glad to see again
the October woods of the Alleghany foothills. To the eastern-bred man,
nothing in the grandeur of the prairie landscape can quite meet the
craving for the autumn beauty of the eastern forests. The slanting rays of
the late afternoon sun fell athwart the radiant foliage of the woods as
Dr. Carey's way led him between the two lines of flaming glory. When he
had cleared the creek valley, his pace slackened. Something of the old
boyhood joy of living, something of the sorrowful-sweet memory, the tender
grace of a day that is dead, but will never be forgotten, came with the
pensive autumn mood of Nature to make the day sweet to the pensive mind.

Jane Aydelot sat on the veranda of the Aydelot home, looking eagerly
toward Cloverdale, when she discovered Dr. Carey coming leisurely up the
road. She was nearly forty years old, as the railroad station loafers had
declared, but there was nothing about her to indicate the "old maid, set
in her ways." She might have passed for Asher's sister, for she had a
certain erect bearing and strong resemblance of feature. All single women
were called old maids at twenty-five in those days. Else this fair-faced
woman, with clear gray eyes and pink cheeks, and scarce a hint of white in
her abundant brown hair, would not have been considered in the then
ridiculed class. There was a mixture of resoluteness and of timidity in
the expression of her face betokening a character at once determined of
will but shrinking in action. And withal, she was daintily neat and well
kept, like her neat and well-kept farm and home.

As Dr. Carey passed up the flower-bordered walk, she arose to greet him.
If there was a look of glad expectancy in her eyes, the doctor did not
notice it, for the whole setting of the scene was peacefully lovely, and
the fresh-cheeked, white-handed woman was a joy to see. Some quick
remembrance of the brown-handed claimholders' wives crossed his mind at
that instant, and like a cruel stab to his memory came unbidden the
picture of Virginia Thaine in her dainty girlishness in the old mansion
house of the years now dead. Was he to blame that the contrast between
Asher Aydelot's wife, now of Kansas, and Jane Aydelot of Ohio should throw
the favor toward the latter, that he should forget for the moment what
the women of the frontier must sacrifice in the winning of the
wilderness?

"I am glad to see you again, Doctor," Jane Aydelot said in cordial
greeting.

"This is a very great pleasure to me, I assure you, Miss Aydelot," Horace
Carey replied, grasping her hand.

Inside the house everything was as well appointed as the outside
suggested. As the doctor was making himself more presentable after his
long journey, he realized that the pretty, old-fashioned bedroom had
evidently been a boy's room once, Asher Aydelot's room. And with a woman's
loving sentiment, neither Asher's mother nor the present owner had changed
it at all. The petals of a pink rose of the wallpaper by the old-styled
dresser were written over in a boyish hand and the doctor read the names
of "Jim and Alice," and "Asher and Nell."

"Old sweethearts of 'the Kerry Dancing' days," he thought to himself.

From the open window he looked out upon the magnificence of the autumn
forests and saw the white pike road leading down to Clover Creek and the
church spires and courthouse tower above the trees.

"The heir to all this comfort and beauty gave it up because he didn't want
to be a tavern-keeper here, and because he did want a girl--Virginia!"
Horace Carey said the name softly. "I know what her jessamine-draped
window looked out upon. I hardly realized when I was here before what
Asher's early home had been. Yet those two for love of each other are
building their lives into the life of their chosen State. It is the tiller
of the soil who must make the West. But how many times in the lonely days
in that little sod cabin must they have remembered their childhood homes!
How many times when the hot fall winds swept across the dead brown prairie
have their memories turned to the beauty of the October days here in the
East! Oh, well, the heroes weren't all killed at Lexington and Bunker
Hill, nor at Bull Run and Gettysburg. Some of them got away, and with
heroic wives went out to conquer the plains from the harsh rule of Nature
there."

When the doctor went downstairs again, a little girl met him, saying,
"Miss Jane says you may sit in the parlor, or out on the meranda, till
supper is ready."

"How pleasant! Won't you come and sit with me?" Doctor Carey replied.

"I must put the--the lap-robes on the tables to everybody's plate, and the
knives and forks and poons. Nen I'll come," she answered.

Carey sat on the veranda enjoying the minutes and waiting for the little
girl.

"What is your name?" he asked when she appeared, and climbed into Miss
Jane's vacant chair.

"Leigh Shirley. What's yours?"

"Horace Carey."

The doctor could not keep from smiling as he looked at her. She was so
little and pretty, with yellow hair, big blue eyes, china-doll cheeks, and
with all the repose of manner that only childhood and innocence can
bestow.

"I think I like you, Horace," Leigh said frankly, after carefully looking
Carey over.

"Then, we'll be friends," he declared.

"Not for so mery long." Leigh could not master the V of the alphabet yet.
"'Cause I'm going away pretty soon, Miss Jane say. You know my mamma's
dead." The little face was very grave now. "And my Uncle Jim out in Kansas
wants me. I'm going to him."

Even in her innocence, Doctor Carey noted the very definite tone and clear
trend of the young mind.

"Miss Jane loves me and I love her," Leigh explained further. "Don't you
love Miss Jane, Horace?"

"Certainly," Carey said, with some hesitancy.

"I'll tell her so. She will love you, too. She is mery sweet," Leigh
assured him. "Where are you going to?"

"I'm going back to Kansas soon."

"Wim me?"

"I should like to. Let's go together."

Leigh slid quickly from the chair and ran inside, where Doctor Carey heard
her clear childish voice saying, "He is going to Kansas, too, Miss Jane.
He says he loves you. His name is Horace, and he's mery nice. He's not
mery pretty, though, but you love him, too, don't you, Miss Jane?"

Evidently the child was close to Miss Jane, for the doctor heard something
like a kiss and low words that seemed to send her away on some errand.
Presently he caught sight of a sunny head and two big blue eyes and a
little hand beckoning to him, as Leigh peeped around the corner of the
house.

"Miss Jane says I mustn't talk too much and mustn't call you Horace, but
just Doctor Carey. Won't you come with me to get flowers for supper?"

The two strolled together into the old flower garden where verbenas and
phlox and late asters and early chrysanthemums and a few monthly roses
under Miss Jane's careful covering had weathered the first frosts. Leigh
knew each plant and shrub, and gave out information freely.

"Would you rather stay with Miss Jane?"

Doctor Carey knew he should not ask the question, but it came anyhow.

"Oh, no, I want to go to my Uncle Jim." Leigh settled the matter once for
all.

                   *       *       *       *       *

That night Leigh fell asleep early, for Miss Jane was methodical with
children. Then she and Doctor Carey sat until late by the open wood fire
and talked of many things, but first of Leigh and her future.

"You will miss her, I'm sure," the doctor said.

"More than anyone will know," Miss Jane replied. "But I could not be happy
without fulfilling my promise. I wrote you to come soon because each day
makes the giving up a little harder for me. But I must know the truth
about this Uncle Jim. I cannot send Leigh out of my house to be neglected
and unloved. She demands love above all things."

The pink color deepened in Miss Jane's fair cheek as she recalled what
Leigh had said to Doctor Carey about loving her. The doctor remembered
also, and knew why she blushed. Yet blushes, he thought, were becoming to
her.

"I'll tell you all I know of Mr. Shirley. We have been friends for many
years," he said.

Then as truthfully as possible he told her of the life and mind of the
lonely loving plainsman. When he had finished, Miss Jane sat awhile in
silent thought.

"It is right that you should know something of conditions here, Doctor,"
she said at last. "The older Shirleys are dead. Tank's life hastened the
end for them, the Cloverdale gossips say. And as I have owned the Shirley
House for several years, I came to know them well, and I do not think the
gossips were far out of the way."

"What of Tank's life?" Doctor Carey asked. "I have some personal reasons
for asking."

Miss Jane looked up quickly. She was a pretty woman, and a keenly
intelligent one as well. To Horace Carey, she seemed most charming at that
moment.

"Let me tell you of Alice first," she said. "You know, of course, that she
loved Jim. They were just suited to each other. But her mother and Tank's
mother planned otherwise. Alice was submissive. Tank was greedy. He wanted
the old Leigh farm. And envious, for he seemed to hate Jim always. It grew
to be the passion of his life to want to take whatever Jim had. His mother
hated Jim before he was born. It was his pre-natal heritage, combined with
a selfish nature. There was misrepresentation and deception enough to make
a plot for a novel; a misunderstanding and brief estrangement, separating
Jim and Alice forever--all managed by Tank and his mother, for the farm
first, and the downfall of Jim second. They took no account of Alice, who
must be the greatest loser. And after they were married, both
mothers-in-law were disappointed, for the Leigh farm was heavily
incumbered and sold by the sheriff the same fall, and the Shirley House
fell into Uncle Francis Aydelot's hands in about the same way. Love of
property can be the root of much misery." Miss Jane paused, for the story
brought bitterness to her kindly soul.

"It is ended now," Horace Carey said gently. "It is well that it is, I am
sure."

"Yes, Alice rests now beside her two little ones who went before her. She
had no sorrow in going, except for Leigh. And"--

"And you lifted that, I know." Doctor Carey finished the sentence.

"I tried to," Miss Jane said, struggling between timidity and
truthfulness. "I made her last hours peaceful, for she knew Leigh would be
cared for and safe. I saw to that. Tank Shirley is bound to a surrender of
all legal claim to her. It was left to Jim to take her, if he chose. If
not, she belongs to me. She is a strange child, wise beyond her years,
with a sort of power already for not telling all she knows. You can rely
on her in almost anything. She will make a strong woman some day."

Doctor Carey read the loving sacrifice back of the words, and his heart
warmed toward this sweet-spirited, childless woman.

"Jim wants her, else I could not have come," he said gently, "but you can
come to Grass River to see her sometimes."

"Oh, no, it is so far," Jane Aydelot said, and Carey realized in how small
an orbit her life revolved.

"But she does good in it. What does distance count, against that?" he
thought to himself. Aloud he said:

"Tell me of Tank, Miss Aydelot."

"He has run his course here, but he is shrewd enough to escape the law.
His parents mortgaged the Shirley House to get money to keep his doings
quiet. My Uncle Francis foreclosed on them at last. But by Jim's abrupt
leaving, Cloverdale blamed him for a long time for the family misfortunes.
Tank broke every moral law; he invested his money wildly in his greed to
make more money, until finally the bank failure came. That is a long
story, and it was a dead loss. But the cashier's suicide stopped
investigation. All blame was laid on him. And he, being dead, made no
complaint and incriminated nobody."

"Where is Tank now?" Carey asked.

He did not know why the image of Thomas Smith of Wilmington, Delaware,
should come unbidden to his mind just now, nor why he should feel that the
answer to his question held only a portion of what could have been told
him then.

"Nobody knows exactly where," Jane Aydelot replied. "He left his wife
penniless. She lived here with me and died here. Tank hasn't been seen in
Cloverdale for a long time. It is strange how family ties get warped
sometimes. And oftenest over property."

Doctor Carey thought of Asher, and was silent. But Jane Aydelot divined
his thought.

"I am thinking of our own family," she said, looking into the heart of the
wood fire. "I have my cousin Asher's heritage, which by law now neither he
nor any child of his can receive from me."

"Miss Aydelot, he doesn't want it. And there is no prejudice in him
against you at all. Moreover, if his dreams come true, little Thaine
Aydelot will never need it." There was a sternness in Carey's voice that
pained his hostess.

"But, Doctor Carey!" she began hesitatingly. Then, as if to change the
trend of thought, she added simply, "I try to use it well."

Horace Carey was by nature and experience a keen reader of human
minds. As Jane Aydelot studied the burning coals in the grate, he
studied her face, and what he read there gave him both pleasure and
pain. Between him and that face came the image of Virginia Aydelot, who
should be there instead; of the brown-handed farmer's wife, who had
given up so much for the West. And yet, that face, framed in its dark
hair, lighted by luminous dark eyes, seemed to blot out the dainty
pink and white Jane Aydelot. A strength of will, a view of life at wide
angles of vision, a resourcefulness and power of sacrifice seemed to
deify the plainly clad prairie home-maker, winning, not inheriting, her
possessions. Had Jane been anywhere else save in the home that Virginia
might have had, her future might have had another story. But why forecast
the might-have-been?

"You do use your property well, I am sure," Doctor Carey said, replying to
the last words spoken between them, "and yet, you would give it up?" He
knew her answer, or he would not have asked the question.

For reply, she rose and went to the little writing desk where the Aydelot
papers were kept. Taking therefrom two documents, she placed them in
Carey's hands.

"Read these," she said, "then promise me that in the hour when Leigh needs
my help you will let me help her."

They were the will of Francis Aydelot and her own will. How much of
sacrifice lay in that act of hers, only Horace Carey could understand.

[Illustration: "Read these," she said, "then promise me that in the hour
when Leigh needs my help you will let me help her"]

"I promise gladly, Miss Aydelot. I see why you are willing to give up
little Leigh now," he said, looking up with eyes filled with sincerest
admiration. "You are a wonderful woman. You have the same Aydelot heritage
of endurance and patience and the large view of duty that characterizes
your cousin Asher. Your setting is different. I hope the time may come
soon when Ohio and Kansas will not be so far apart as they are tonight."

He rose and took her hand in his.

If Doctor Carey's magnetism made men admire him, it was no less an
attractive force with women. As he looked into Jane Aydelot's gray eyes,
he saw a new light there. And swiftly its meaning translated itself to
him. He dropped her hand and turned away, and when their eyes met again,
the light was gone.

                   *       *       *       *       *

It was still Indian-Summer weather on the prairie when Doctor Carey with
little Leigh Shirley reached Careyville. He had a feeling that Jim would
prefer meeting Leigh in his own home, so no word had been sent forward as
to the time of the coming of the two.

All through the journey, the doctor had wondered how Jane Aydelot could
have given Leigh up at all. She was such a happy prattler, such an honest,
straightforward little body, such an innocent child, and, withal, so
loving that Carey lost his own heart before the first half day was ended.
In her little gray wool gown and her gray cap with its scarlet quill above
her golden hair, she was as dainty and pretty as a picture of childhood
could be.

Down on the Grass River trail, the two came upon Thaine Aydelot trudging
in from some errand to a distant neighbor, and the doctor hailed him at
once.

"Come, ride with us. We'll take you home," he said, turning the wheel for
Thaine's convenience. "This is Leigh Shirley, who is coming to live with
her uncle, Jim. You'll like to go to the Cloverdale Ranch more than ever
now."

Thaine was only a little country boy, unused to conventionalities, so he
took Leigh on her face value at once. And Leigh, honest as she was
innocent, returned the compliment. At the Sunflower Ranch, Carey drew rein
to let Thaine leave them. Leigh, putting both arms about the little boy's
neck, kissed him good-by, saying: "I have known you always because you are
the Thaine"--she caught her breath, and added: "You must come to my uncle
Jim's and see me."

"I will, I will," Thaine assured her.

Doctor Carey looked back to wave good-by just in time to see Virginia
Aydelot coming toward Thaine, who stood watching the buggy. Instantly the
pretty face of Jane Aydelot came to his mind, her face as she had looked
on the night when they sat by the wood fire in the Aydelot farmhouse.
Against that picture stood the reality of Virginia with her richer
coloring.

"Nor storm nor stress can rob her of her beauty," he thought. "However
sweet and self-sacrificing Jane Aydelot may be, the Plains would have
broken her long ago."

He turned about at once and came back to where Thaine stood beside his
mother.

"This is Jim Shirley's little girl, Mrs. Aydelot," he said, gently patting
Leigh's shoulder.

"That's my wife," little Thaine said gravely. "We will go and live at the
purple notches when I come home from the war."

Virginia's heart warmed toward the motherless little one, and Leigh
understood her at once. Nor once in all the years that followed did the
two fail each other.

The Cloverdale homestead never had known such a gala fixing as Jim Shirley
had kept there for nearly a week awaiting the doctor's return. Truly, love
is genius in itself, and only genius could have put so many quaint and
attractive touches to such common surroundings as now embellished the
little four-roomed house in the bend of Grass River.

Doctor Carey tied his horses to the post beside the trail, and, lifting
Leigh from the buggy, he said:

"Uncle Jim is up there waiting for you, and oh, so glad, so glad to have
you come. Go and meet him, Leigh."

Leigh smoothed her little gray wool frock down with her dainty little
hands. Then, pushing back the gray cap with its scarlet quill from her
forehead where the golden hair fell in soft rings, she passed up the
grassy way to meet Jim Shirley. He could never have looked bigger and
handsomer than he did at that moment. In his eyes all the heart hunger of
years seemed centered as he watched the little six-year-old child coming
towards him.

Just before reaching the doorway, she paused, and with that clear
penetration only a little child possesses, she looked up into the strong
man's face.

"Uncle Jim. My Uncle Jim," she cried. "I can love you always."

Jim gathered her close in his arms, and she clung about his neck, softly
patting his brown cheek as they passed into the house. While all unseen,
the light of love went in with them, a light that should never fade from
the hearthstone, driving loneliness and sorrow from it, far away.

Leigh Shirley's coming marked an epoch in the annals of the Grass River
settlement, for her uncle often declared that he could remember only two
events in the West before that time: the coming of Mrs. Aydelot and the
grasshopper raid. With Leigh in his home, he almost forgot that he had
ever been sad-hearted. This loving little child was such a constant source
of interest and surprise. She was so innocently plain-spoken and
self-dependent sometimes, and such a strange little dreamer of dreams at
other times. She would drive a shrewd bargain for whatever she
wanted--some more of Uncle Jim's good cookies, or a ride all alone on the
biggest pony, or a two-days' visit at the Aydelot ranch, scrupulously
rendering back value received of her own wares--kisses, or washing all the
supper dishes for her tired uncle, or staying away from her play to watch
that the chickens did not scratch in the garden.

But there were times when she would go alone to the bend in the river and
people her world with folk of her own creation and live with them and for
them. Chief among them all was a certain Prince Quippi, who would come
from China some day to marry her and take her away to a house made of
purple velvet and adorned with gold knobs. She had to send a letter to
Prince Quippi every day or he would think she did not love him. Of course,
she loved Uncle Jim best of what she called folks--but Prince Quippi was
big and brown and handsome; and, strangely enough, the only kind of letter
he could read from her was in a flower.

So Leigh dropped a flower on the waters of Grass River every day to float
away to China telling her love to Prince Quippi. And oftenest it was the
tawny sunflower, because it was big and strong and could tell a big love
story. Thus she dreamed her happy dreams until one day Thaine Aydelot,
listening to her, said:

"Why my papa sent my mamma a sunflower once, and made her love him very
much. I'll be your real Prince Quippi--not a--a paper-doll, thinkish one,
and come after you."

"Clear from China?" Leigh queried.

"Yes, when I'm a big soldier like my papa, and we'll go off to the purple
notches and live."

"You don't look like my Prince Quippi," Leigh insisted.

"But I can grow to look like _any_ thing I want to--like a big elephant or
a hippopopamus or a--angel, or _any_ _thing_," Thaine assured her.

"Well, escuse me from any of the free--a angel or a elephant. I don't know
what the poppy one is, but it's too poppy," Leigh said decisively.

There were others in the Grass River settlement who would have envied the
mythical Prince Quippi also. For even at six years of age Leigh had the
same quality that marked her uncle. People must love her if they cared for
her at all; and they couldn't help caring for her. She fitted into the
life of the prairie, too, as naturally as Thaine Aydelot did, who was born
to it. The baby gold was soon lost from her hair for the brown-gold like
the shimmering sunlight on the brown prairie. The baby blue eyes deepened
to the deep violet-blue of overhead skies in June. The pretty pink and
white complexion, however, did not grow brown under the kisses of the
prairie winds. The delicate china-doll tinting went with other baby
features, but, save for the few little brown freckles in midsummer, Leigh
Shirley kept year after year the clear complexion with the peach blossom
pink on her cheeks that only rarely the young girls of the dry western
plains possessed in those days of shadeless homes.

Thaine Aydelot looked like a gypsy beside her, he was so brown, and his
big dark eyes and heavy mane of dark hair, and ruddy cheeks made the
contrast striking. From the first day of their meeting, the children were
playmates and companions as often as opportunity offered. They sat
together in the Grass River Sabbath School; they exchanged days on days of
visits, and the first sorrow of their hitherto unclouded lives came when
they found that Leigh was too far away to attend the week-day school.

Settlers were filling up the valley rapidly, but they all wanted ranches,
and ranches do not make close neighbors. Land-lust sometimes overshadows
the divine rights of children. And the lower part of the settlement was
not yet equal to the support of a school of its own.

The two families still kept the custom of spending their Sabbaths
together. And one Sabbath Thaine showed Leigh the books and slate and
sponge and pencils he was to take to school the next week. Leigh, who had
been pleased with all of them, turned to her guardian, saying gravely:

"Uncle Jim, can I go to school wif Thaine?"

"You must meet that question every day now, Jim," Asher said. "Why not
answer it and be rid of it?"

"How can I answer it?" Jim queried.

"Virgie, help us with this educational problem of the State," Asher turned
to his wife. "Women are especially resourceful in these things, Jim. I
hope Kansas will fully recognize the fact some day."

"Who is Kansas?" Virginia asked with a smile.

"Oh, all of us men who depend so much on some woman's brain every day of
our lives," Jim assured her. "Tell me, what to do for my little girl. Mrs.
Bennington and some of the other neighbors say I should send her East for
her sake--"

"And for both of your sakes, Jim, I say, no," Virginia broke in. "The way
must open for all of our children here. It always has for everything else,
you know."

"Thaine can walk the two miles. He's made of iron, anyhow. But Leigh can't
make the five miles 'up stream,'" Asher declared.

"Jim," Virginia Aydelot said gravely, "Pryor Gaines will be our teacher
for many years, we hope, but he is hardly equal to tilling his ground now.
John Jacobs holds the mortgage on his claim still that he put there after
the grasshopper loan, which he could not pay. Life is an uphill pull for
him, and he bears his burdens so cheerfully. I believe Mr. Jacobs would
take the claim and pay him the equity. We all know how unlike a Shylock
John Jacobs really is, even if he is getting rich fast. Now, Jim, why not
take Pryor into your home and let him drive up to the school with Leigh
and the other little folks down your way. We can pay him better wages and
he will have a real home, not a lonely cabin by himself, and you will be
fortunate in having such a man in your household."

"Just the thing, Virginia," Jim declared. "Why haven't we done it before?
He always says I'm his heart and he's my lungs. We might stack up to a
one-man power. Old bachelors should be segregated, anyhow, out here. The
West needs more families. And think what Pryor Gaines' cultivated mind
will mean to a little artist soul like Leigh Shirley's. Glorious!"

"Well, Virgie, if you will also segregate John Jacobs and Dr. Carey, we'll
settle the bachelors once for all. A quartette of royal good fellows, too,
State-makers who really make. They ought to be in the legislature, but
Carey and Pryor are democrats and Jim and Jacobs are republican. They
balance too well for the interests of any party. Anyhow, if Pryor agrees,
the school problem is fixed," Asher asserted.

Pryor Gaines did agree, to the welfare of many children, who remember him
still with that deep-seated affection of student for teacher unlike any
other form of human devotion. But especially did this cultured man put
into Leigh Shirley's life a refining artistic power that stood her well in
the years to come.



CHAPTER XI

LIGHTS AND SHADOWS


              They saw not the shadow that walked beside,
              They heard not the feet with silence shod.
                                              --Whittier.

With successive seasons of good crops, combining with the time of the
crest between two eras of financial depression, and with Eastern capital
easy to reach, a mania of speculation known as "the boom" burst forth; a
mania that swept men's minds as prairie fires sweep along the wide lengths
of the plains, changing both the face of the land and the fortunes of the
land owners, and marking an epoch in the story of the West. New counties
were organized out of the still unoccupied frontier. Thousands of citizens
poured into these counties. Scores of towns were chartered and hundreds of
miles of railroad were constructed. Colleges and universities sprouted up
from the virgin soil of the prairie. Loans on real estate were easy to
secure. Land, especially in town lots, took on an enormously inflated
valuation and the rapid investment in real estate and the rapid
transference from buyer to seller was bewildering, while voting bonds for
extensive and extravagant improvements in cities-to-be was not the least
phase of this brief mania of the fortune-making, fortune-breaking "boom."

When Hans Wyker had seen his own town wane as Careyville waxed, he
consigned the newer community, and all that it was, to all the purgatories
ever organized and some yet to be created.

Wykerton was at a standstill now. The big brewery had become a flouring
mill, but it was idle most of the time. The windows served as targets for
the sons of the men who consumed its brewing product in other days, and
the whole structure had a disconsolate, dismantled appearance.

There was neither a schoolhouse nor a church inside the corporation
limits. The land along Big Wolf was not like the rich prairies west of it,
and freeholds entered first with hopes in Wykerton's prosperity had proved
disappointing, if not disastrous, to their owners.

The rough ground, mortgaged now, and by the decline of the town, decreased
in value, began to fall into the hands of John Jacobs, who made no effort
at settlement, but turned it to grazing purposes. His holdings joined the
property foreclosed by Wyker when his town failed, but inhabited still by
tenants too poor to leave it. The boundary line between Wyker and Jacobs
was the same ugly little creek that Doctor Carey had turned his course to
avoid on that winter day when he had seen Virginia Aydelot's distress
signal and heard her singing a plaintive plea for help.

It was an ugly little stream, with much mire and some quicksand to be
avoided; with deep earth-canyons and sliding avalanches of dirt on steep
slopes, and now and then a stone outcrop jagged and difficult, not to say
dangerous, to footways, and impossible to stock. It was called Little Wolf
because it was narrower than the willow-fringed stream into which it
emptied. But Big Wolf Creek could rarely boast of half the volume of water
that the sluggish little tributary held. Big Wolf was shallow, with more
shale and sand along its bed. Little Wolf was narrow and deceivingly deep
in places.

One Spring day, John Jacobs and Asher Aydelot rode out to Jacobs' ranches
together.

"You are improving your stock every year, Stewart tells me," Asher was
saying. "I may try sheep myself next year."

"I am hoping to have only thoroughbreds some day. That's a good horse you
ride," Jacobs replied.

"Yes, he has a strain of Kentucky blue-blood. My wife owned a thoroughbred
when we came West. We keep the descent still. We've never been without a
black horse in the stable since that time. Do we turn here?"

They were following the lower trail by the willows, when Jacobs turned
abruptly to a rough roadway leading up a shadowy hollow.

"Yes. It's an ugly climb, but much shorter to the sheep range and the
cattle are near."

"How much land have you here, Jacobs?" Asher asked.

"From Little Wolf to the corporation line of Wykerton. Five hundred acres,
more or less; all fenced, too," Jacobs added. "This creek divides Wyker's
ground from mine. All the rest is measured by links and chains. We agreed
to metes and bounds for this because it averages the same, anyhow, and I'd
like a stream between Wyker and myself in addition to a barbed wire fence.
It gives more space, at least."

They had followed the rough way only a short distance when Asher, who was
nearest the creek, halted. The bank was steep and several feet above the
water.

"Does anybody else keep sheep around here?" he inquired.

"Not here," John Jacobs answered.

"Look over there. Isn't that a sheep?"

Asher pointed to a carcass lying half out of the water on a pile of drift
where the stream was narrow, but too deep for fording.

"Maybe some dog killed it and the carcass got into the creek. My sheep
can't get to the water because my pasture is fenced. That's on Wyker's
side, anyhow. I won't risk fording to get over there. It's as dead right
now as it will ever be," Jacobs asserted.

Their trail grew narrower and more secluded, winding up a steep hill
between high banks. Half way up, where the road made a sharp turn, a break
in the side next to the creek opened a rough way down to the water. As
they neared this, a woman coming down the hill caught sight of the two
horsemen around the bend, and made a swift movement toward this opening in
the bank, as if to clamber down from their sight. She was not quick
enough, however, and when she found she had been seen, she waited by the
roadside until the men had passed on.

Asher, who was next to her, looked keenly at her as he bade her good
morning, but John Jacobs merely lifted his hat without giving her more
than a glance.

The woman stared at both, but made no response to their greetings. She was
plainly dressed, with a black scarf tied over her tow-colored hair. She
had a short club in one hand and a big battered tin can in the other,
which she seemed anxious to conceal. When the men had passed, she looked
after them with an ugly expression of malice in her little pale gray
eyes.

"That's a bad face," Asher said, when they were out of her hearing. "I
wonder why she tried to hide that old salt can."

"How do you know it was a salt can?" Jacobs asked.

"Because it is exactly like a salt can I saw at Pryor Gaines' old cabin,
and because some salt fell out as she tipped it over," Asher replied.

"You have an eye for details," Jacobs returned. "That was Gretchen Gimpke,
Hans Wyker's girl. She married his bartender, and is raising a family of
little bartenders back in the hilly country there, while Gimpke helps Hans
run a perfectly respectable tavern in town."

"Well, I may misjudge her, but if I had any interest near here, I should
want her to keep on her own side of the creek," Asher declared.

And somehow both remembered the dead sheep down in the deep pool at the
foot of the hill.

The live sheep were crowding along the fence on the creek side of the big
range when the two men entered it.

"What ails the flock?" Asher asked, as they saw it following the fence
line eagerly.

"Let's ride across and meet them," Jacobs suggested.

The creek side was rough with many little dips and draws hiding the
boundary line in places. The men rode quietly toward the flock by the
shortest way. As they faced a hollow deepening to a draw toward the creek,
Asher suddenly halted.

"Look at that!" he cried, pointing toward the fence.

John Jacobs looked and saw where the ground was lowest that the barbed
wires had been dragged out of place, leaving an opening big enough for two
or more sheep to crowd through at a time. As they neared this point, Asher
said:

"It's a pretty clear case, Jacobs. See that line of salt running up the
bare ground, and here is an opening. The flock is coming down on that
line. They will have a chance to drink after taking their salt."

John Jacobs slid from his horse, and giving the rein to Asher, he climbed
through the hole in the fence and hastily examined the ground beyond it.

"It's a friendly act on somebody's part," he said grimly. "The creek cuts
a deep hole under the bank here. There's a pile of salt right at the edge.
Somebody has sprinkled a line of it clear over the hill to toll the flock
out where they will scramble for it and tumble over into that deep water.
All they need to do is to swim down to the next shallow place and wade
out. The pool may be full of them now, waiting their turn to go. Sheep are
polite in deep water; they never rush ahead."

"They swim well, too, especially if they happen to fall into the water
just before shearing time when their wool is long," Asher said
ironically.

"What did you say Gretchen Gimpke had in that tin can?" Jacobs inquired
blandly.

"Oil of sassafras, I think," Asher responded, as he tied the horses and
helped to mend the weakened fence.

"Nobody prospers long after such tricks. I'll not lose sleep over lost
sheep," John Jacobs declared. "Let's hunt up the cattle and forget this,
and the woman and the scary little twist in the creek trail."

[Illustration: "It's a friendly act on somebody's part." he said grimly]

"Why scary?" Asher asked. "Are you so afraid of women? No wonder you are a
bachelor."

Jacobs did not smile as he said:

"Once when I was a child I read a story of a man being killed at just such
an out-of-the-way place. Every time I go up that crooked, lonesome hill
road, I remember the picture in the book. It always makes me think of that
story."

When the fence was made secure, the two rode away to look after the
cattle. And if a Shadow rode beside them, it was mercifully unseen, and in
nowise dimming to the clear light of the spring day.

It was high noon when they reached Wykerton, where Hans Wyker still fed
the traveling public, although the flourishing hotel where Virginia
Aydelot first met John Jacobs had disappeared. The eating-place behind the
general store room was divided into two parts, a blind partition wall
cutting off a narrow section across the farther end. Ordinary diners went
through the store into the dining room and were supplied from the long
kitchen running parallel with this room.

There were some guests, however, who entered the farther room by a rear
door and were likewise supplied from the kitchen on the side. But as there
was no opening between the two rooms, many who ate at Wyker's never knew
of the narrow room beyond their own eating-place and of the two entrances
into the kitchen covering the side of each room. Of course, the prime
reason for such an arrangement lay in Wyker's willingness to evade the law
and supply customers with contraband drinks. But the infraction of one law
is a breach in the wall through which many lawless elements may crowd. The
place became, by natural selection, the council chamber of the lawless,
and many an evil deed was plotted therein.

"How would you like to keep a store in a place like this, Jacobs?" Asher
Aydelot asked, as the two men waited for their meal.

"I had the chance once. I turned it down. How would you like to keep a
tavern in such a place?" Jacobs returned.

"I turned down a bigger tavern than this once to be a farmer. I have never
regretted it," Asher replied.

"The Sunflower Ranch has always interested me. How long have you had it?"
Jacobs asked.

"Since 1869. I was the first man on Grass River. Shirley came soon
afterward," Asher said.

"And your ranches are typical of you, too," John Jacobs said thoughtfully.
"How much do you own now?"

"Six quarters," Asher replied. "I've added piece by piece. Mortgaged one
quarter to buy another. There's a good deal of it under mortgage now."

"You seem to know what's ahead pretty well," Jacobs remarked.

"I know what's in the prairie soil pretty well. I know that crops will
fail sometimes and boom sometimes, and I know if I live I mean to own
three times what I have now; that I'll have a grove a mile square on it,
and a lake in the middle, and a farmhouse of colonial style up on the
swell where we are living now and that neither John Jacobs nor the First
National Bank of Careyville will hold any mortgage on it." Asher's face
was bright with anticipation.

"You are a dreamer, Aydelot."

"No, Jim Shirley's a dreamer," Asher insisted. "Mrs. Aydelot and I planned
our home the first night she came a bride to our little one-roomed soddy.
There are cottonwoods and elms and locust trees shading our house now
where there was only a bunch of sunflowers then, and except for Jim's
little corn patch and mine, not a furrow turned in the Grass River Valley.
We have accomplished something since then. Why not the whole thing?"

"You have reason for your faith, I admit. But you are right, Shirley is a
dreamer. What's the matter with him?"

"An artistic temperament, more heart than head, a neglected home life in
his boyhood, and a fight for health to do his work. He'll die mortgaged,
but he has helped so many other fellows to lift theirs, I envy Jim's
'abundant entrance' by and by. But now he dreams of a thousand things and
realizes none. Poor fellow! His dooryard is a picture, while the weeds
sometimes choke his garden."

"Yes, he'll die mortgaged. He's never paid me interest nor principal on my
little loan, yet I'd increase it tomorrow if he asked me to do it," John
Jacobs declared.

"You are a blood-sucking Shylock, sure enough," Asher said with a smile.
"I wish Jim would take advantage of you and quit his talking about the
boom and his dreams of what it might do for him."

"How soon will you be platting your Sunflower Ranch into town lots for the
new town that I hear is to be started down your way?" John Jacobs
inquired.

"Town lots do not appeal to me, Jacobs," Asher replied. "I'm a
slow-growing Buckeye, I'll admit, but I can't see anything but mushrooms
in these towns out West where there is no farming community about them.
I've waited and worked a good while; I'm willing to work and wait a while
longer. Some of my dreams have come true. I'll hold to my first position,
even if I don't get rich so fast."

"You are level-headed," Jacobs assured him. "You notice I have not turned
an acre in on this boom. Why? I'm a citizen of Kansas. And while I like to
increase my property, you know my sect bears that reputation--"Jacobs
never blushed for his Jewish origin--"I want to keep on living somewhere.
Why not here? Why do the other fellows out of their goods, as we Jews are
always accused of doing, if it leaves me no customer to buy? I want
farmers around my town, not speculators who work a field from hand to
hand, but leave it vacant at last. It makes your merchant rich today but
bankrupt in a dead town tomorrow. I'm a merchant by calling."

"Horace Greeley said thirty years ago that the twin curses of Kansas were
the land agent and the one-horse politician," Asher observed.

"You are a grub, Aydelot. You have no ambition at all. Why, I've heard
your name mentioned favorably several times for the legislature next
winter," Jacobs insisted jokingly.

"Which reminds me of that rhyme of Hosea Bigelow:

                   If you're arter folks o' gumption
                   You've a darned long row to hoe.

"I'm not an office seeker," Asher replied.

"Do I understand you won't sell lots off that ranch of yours to start a
new town, and you won't run for the legislature when you're dead sure to
be elected. May I ask how you propose to put in the fall after wheat
harvest?" Jacobs asked, with a twinkle in his black eyes.

"I propose to break ground for wheat again, and to experiment with
alfalfa, the new hay product, and to take care of that Aydelot grove and
build the Aydelot lake in the middle of it. And I'll be supplying the
wheat market and banking checks for hay one of these years when your town
starters will be hunting clerkships in your dry goods emporium, and your
farmers, who imagine themselves each a Cincinnatus called to office, will
be asking for appointment as deputy county assessor or courthouse
custodian. Few things can so unfit a Kansas fellow for the real business
of life as a term in the lower house of the Kansas legislature. If you are
a merchant, I'm a farmer, and we will both be booming the state when these
present-day boomers are gone back East to wife's folks, blaming Kansas for
their hard luck. Now, mark my words. But to change the subject," Asher
said smiling, "I thought we should have company for dinner. I saw Darley
Champers and another fellow head in here before us. Darley is in clover
now, planning to charter a town for every other section on Grass River.
Did you know the man who was with him?"

"That's one fly-by-night calling himself Thomas Smith. Innocent name and
easy to lose if you don't want it. Not like Gimpke or Aydelot, now. He's
from Wilmington, Delaware--maybe."

"You seem to doubt his genuineness," Asher remarked.

"I don't believe he will assay well," Jacobs agreed. "I've doubted him
since the day he landed in Carey's Crossing fifteen years ago. Inside of
an hour and a half I caught him and Champers in a consultation so secret
they fastened newspapers across the window to keep from being seen."

"Where were you meanwhile?"

"Up on the roof, fixing the sign the wind had blown loose. When they saw
me through the uncovered upper pane, they shaded that, too. I've little
interest in a man like that."

"Does he come here often?" Asher inquired.

"He's here and away, but he never sets foot in Careyville. My guess is
that he's a part of the 'Co.' of 'Champers and Co.' and that Hans Wyker is
the rest of it. Also that in what they can get by fair means, each of the
trio reserves the right to act alone and independently of the other two,
but when it comes to a cut-throat game, they combine as readily as
hydrogen and sulphur and oxygen; and, combined, they have the same effect
on a proposition that sulphuric acid has on litmus paper. But this is all
only a Jew's guess, of course. For myself, I have business with only one
of the three, Wyker. He doesn't like my sheep, evidently, because he knows
I keep track of his whisky selling in this town and keep the law forever
hanging over him. But I've sworn under high heaven to fight that curse to
humanity wherever I find it threatening, and under high heaven I'll do it,
too."

Jacobs' face was the face of a resolute man with whom law was law. Then
the two talked of other things as they finished their meal.

John Jacobs was city bred, a merchant by instinct, a Jew in religion, and
a strictly honest and exacting business man. Asher Aydelot had been a
country boy and was by choice a farmer. He was a Protestant of the
Methodist persuasion. It must have been his business integrity that first
attracted Jacobs to him. Jacobs was a timid man, and no one else in
Kansas, not even Doctor Carey, understood him or appreciated him quite as
keenly as Asher Aydelot did.



CHAPTER XII

THE FAT YEARS


     "The lean years have passed, and I approve of these fat ones."
     "Be careful, old man. That way lies bad work."
                                         --_The Light That Failed._

John Jacobs little realized how true was his estimate of the firm of
"Champers & Co." Nor did he suspect that at this very minute the firm was
in council in the small room beyond the partition wall--the "blind tiger"
of the Wyker eating-house.

"I tell you it's our chance," Darley Champers was declaring emphatically.
"You mustn't hold back your capital now. This firm isn't organized to
promote health nor Sunday Schools nor some other fellow's fortune. We are
together for yours truly, every one of us. If you two have some other
games back of your own pocketbooks, they don't cut any against this common
purpose. I'm for business for Darley Champers. That's why I'm here. I've
got no love for Doc Carey, ruling men's minds like they was all putty, and
him a putty knife to shape 'em finer yet. And another fellow I'd like to
put down so hard he'll never get over it is that straight-up-and-down
farmer, Asher Aydelot of the Sunflower Ranch, who walks like a military
captain, and works like a hired man, and is so danged independent he don't
give a damn for no man's opinion of him. If it hadn't been for him we'd a
had the whole Grass River Valley now to speculate on. I'm something of a
danged fool, but I knowed this boom was comin'. I felt it in my craw."

"So you always said, Champers," Thomas Smith broke in, "but it's been a
century coming. And look at the capital I've sunk. If you'd worked that
deal through, time of the drouth in seventy-four, we'd be in clover and no
Careyville and no Aydelots in the way. I could have saved Asher's little
bank stock then, too."

"You could?" Darley Champers stared at the speaker.

"Yes, if he'd given up right that first trip of yours down there. When he
refused I knew his breed too well. He's as set and slow and stubborn as
his old dad ever was. That's what ailed those two, they were too near
alike; and you'll never catch Asher Aydelot bending to our plans now. I
warn you."

"Well, but about this bank account?" Champers queried.

"Oh, the fates played the devil with everything in two weeks. Doc Carey
got in with Miss Jane Aydelot down at Philadelphia, and she came straight
to Cloverdale, and, womanlike, made things so hot there I had to let loose
of everything at once or lose everything I had saved for myself. Serves
her right, for Asher's pile went into the dump, although there's naturally
no love lost between the two. But this Miss Jane is Aydelot clear through.
She's so honest and darned set you can't budge her. But she's a timid
woman and so she's safe if you keep out of her range. She won't chase you
far, but she's got fourteen rattles and a button."

"Well, well, let her rattle, and get to pusiness," Hans Wyker demanded.
"Here's Champers says he's here yust for pusiness and he wants to get
Aydelot and Carey, too."

"Gentlemen!" Champers struck the table with his fist. "Let's play fair
now, so's not to spoil each other's games. I'll fix Aydelot if it's in me
to do it, just because he's stood in my way once too often. But he's my
side line, him and Carey is. I'm here for business. Tell me what you are
here for."

Hans Wyker's little eyes were red with pent-up anger and malice as he
burst out:

"Shentlemen, you know my hart luck. You see where I be today. I not repeat
no tiresome history here. Kansas yust boomin'! Wykerton dead! Yon Yacob
own all der groun' right oop to der corporation line on tree side, an' he
not sell one inch for attitions to dis town. He say dere notings to keep
town goin' in two, tree year. What we care? We be rich by den an' let it
go to der devil. But he not sell. Den I go mit you and we organize town
company. We mark townsite, we make Grass River sell to us. We boom! boom!
boom! We knock Careyville from de prairie alretty, mak' Yon Yacob go back
to Cincinnati where he belong mit his Chews. He damned queer Chew, but he
Chew all de same all right, all right. I want to down Yon Yacob, an' I do
it if it take tree hundred fifty years. I'll kill him if he get in my way.
I hate him. He run me off my saloon in ol' Carey Crossin'; my prewery
goin' smash mit der damned prohibittery law; he growin' rich in
Careyville, an' me!"

His voice rose to a shriek and he stamped his foot in rage.

"Hold your noise, Wyker!" Champers growled. "Don't you know who's on the
other side of that partition?"

"I built that partition mineself. It's von dead noise-breaker," Wyker
began. But Champers broke in:

"It's your turn, Smith."

Dr. Carey had described Smith once as rather small, with close-set dark
eyes and a stiff, half-paralyzed right arm and wrist, a man who wrote in a
cramped left-handed style. There was a crooked little scar cutting across
his forehead now above the left eye that promised to stay there for life.
He had a way of evading a direct gaze, suggesting timidity. And when Hans
Wyker had threatened to kill John Jacobs he shivered a little, and for the
instant a gray pallor crept across his face, unnoted by his companions.

"We propose to start a town in the Grass River country that will kill
Careyville. We two put up the capital. You do the buying and selling.
We'll handle real estate lively for a few months. We'll advertise till we
fill the place with buyers, and we'll make our pile right there and
then--and it's all to be done by Darley Champers & Co. We two are not to
be in the open in the game at all."

Thomas Smith spoke deliberately. There seemed to be none of Champers'
bluster nor Wyker's malice in the third part of the company, or else he
was better schooled in self-control.

"You have it exactly," Champers declared. "The first thing is to take in
fellows like Jim Shirley and Cyrus Bennington and Todd Stewart, and
Aydelot, if we can."

"Yes, if we can, but we can't," Thomas Smith insisted.

"And having got the land, with or without their knowing why, we boom her
to destruction. But to be fair, now, why do you want to keep yourself in
hiding, and who's the fellow you want to kill?" Darley Champers said with
a laugh.

"I may as well let you know now why I can't be known in this," Thomas
Smith said smoothly, even if the same gray hue did flit like a shadow a
second time across his countenance--a thing that did not escape the shrewd
eye of Darley Champers this time.

"Wyker is pitted against Jacobs. You are after Asher Aydelot's scalp, if
you can get it. I must get Jim Shirley, fair or foul."

Smith's low voice was full of menace, boding more trouble to his man than
the bluster and threat of the other two could compass.

"I paid you well, Darley Champers, for all information concerning Jim when
I came here fifteen years ago. I was acting under orders, and as Jim would
have known me then I had to keep out of sight a little."

"Vell, and vot has Shirley ever done mit you that you so down on him?"
Hans Wyker asked.

The smooth mask did not drop from Smith's face, save that the small dark
eyes burned with an intense glow.

"I tell you I was acting under orders from Shirley's brother Tank in
Cloverdale, Ohio. And if Dr. Carey hadn't been so blamed quick I'd have
gotten a letter Mrs. Tank Shirley had written to Jim the very day I got to
Carey's Crossing. No brother ever endured more from the hands of a
relative than Tank Shirley endured from Jim. In every way Jim tried to
defraud him of his rights; tried to prejudice their own father against
him; tried to rob him of the girl, a rich girl, too, that he married in
spite Of Jim--and at last contrived to prejudice his wife against him, and
with Jane Aydelot interfering all the time, like the old maid that she is,
managed to get Tank Shirley's only child away from him and given legally
to Jim. Do you wonder Tank hates his brother? You wouldn't if I dared to
tell you all of Jim's cussedness, but some things I'm sworn to secrecy on.
That's Tank's streak of kindness he can't overcome. Gets it from his
mother. I'm his agent, and I'm paid for my work. You both understand me, I
reckon."

"We unterstant, an' we stay py you to der ent," Hans Wyker exclaimed
enthusiastically. But Darley Champers had a different mind.

"I'll watch you, my man, and I'll do business with you accordin'," he said
to himself. "Devil knows whether you are Thomas Smith workin' for Tank
Shirley, or Tank Shirley workin' for hisself under a assoomed name. Long
as I get your capital to push my business I don't care who you are." Aloud
he remarked:

"So that's how Jim Shirley got that little girl. She's a comely youngun,
anyhow. But Smith, since you are only an agent and nobody knows it but us,
why keep yourself so secret? Where's the harm in letting Shirley lay eyes
on you? Why not come out into the open? How'll Shirley know you from the
Mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, anyhow?"

Thomas Smith's face was ashy and his voice was hoarse with anger as he
replied:

"Because I'm not now from Wilmington, Delaware, any more than I ever was.
I'm from Cloverdale, Ohio. You know, Wyker, how I lost money in your
brewery, investing in machinery and starting the thing, only to go to
smash on us."

He turned on Hans fiercely.

"And you know how I lost by you in this town and the land around it. It
was my money took up all this ground to help build up Wykerton and you, as
my agent, sold every acre of it to Jacobs."

This as fiercely as Darley Champers.

Both men nodded and Darley broke in:

"I was honest. I thought Jacobs was gettin' it to boom Wykerton with, or
I'd never sold. And him bein' right here was a danged sight easier'n
havin' some man in Wilmington, Delaware, to write to. That's why I let him
in on three sides, appealin' to his pride."

But Thomas Smith stopped him abruptly.

"Hold on! You need money to push your schemes now. And I'm the one who
does the financing for you."

Both men agreed.

"Then it's death to either of you if you ever tell a word of this. You
understand that? I'm not to be known here because I'm a dead man. I'm the
cashier that was mixed up in the Cloverdale bank affair. And, as I say, if
Jane Aydelot had let things alone Tank Shirley and I could have pulled out
honorably, but, womanlike, because she had a lot of bank stock and was the
biggest loser of anybody, in her own mind, she pushed things where a man
would not have noticed or kept still, and she kept pushing year after
year. Damn a woman, anyhow! All I could do at last was to commit suicide.
Tank planned it. It saved me and helped Tank. You see, Miss Jane had a
line around his neck, too. She was the only one who really saw me go down
and she spread the report that I'd committed suicide on account of the
bank failure. So, gentlemen, I'm really drowned in Clover Creek right
above where the railroad grade that cuts the Aydelot farm reaches the
water."

Darley Champers wondered why Thomas Smith was so particular in his
description.

"I've known Jim Shirley all my life. He was as bad a boy as ever left
Cloverdale, Ohio, under a cloud. Got into trouble over some girl, I
believe, finally. But you can see why I'm out of this game when it comes
to the open. And maybe you could understand, if you knew the brothers as
well as I do, why Tank keeps me after him. And I'll get him yet."

The vengeance of the last words was venomous.

"Well, now we understand each other we'll not be tramping on anybody's
corns," Darley Champers urged, anxious to get away from the subject.

With all of his shortcomings he was a man of different mould from the
other men. Eagerness to represent and invest large capital and to make by
far the best of a bargain by any means just inside the law were his
besetments. But he had not the unremitting hatred that enslaved Thomas
Smith and Hans Wyker.

Champers' store of energy seemed exhaustless. Following this council he
fell upon the Grass River Valley and threshed it to his profit.

One mid-June evening the Grass River schoolhouse was lighted early, while
up from the prairie ranches came the work-worn farmers.

This year the crop outlook was bad, yet somehow an expectant spirit lifted
sagging shoulders and looked out through hopeful eyes.

While the men exchanged neighborly greetings, a group of children, the
second generation in the valley, romped about in the twilight outside.

"Here comes Thaine," they shouted as Asher Aydelot and his boy came down
the trail.

"Come on, Thaine," Leigh Shirley said, reaching for his hand. "We are
going to play drop the handkerchief."

"Thaine's going to stand by me," pretty Jo Bennington declared, pushing
Leigh boisterously aside.

Josephine, the week-old baby Mrs. Aydelot had gone to see one day nine
years ago, had grown into a big, black-eyed, rosy-cheeked girl who lorded
it over every other child in the neighborhood. And every other child
submitted except Leigh Shirley, who had a quiet habit of going straight
ahead about her affairs in a way that vexed the pretty Jo not a little.
From the first coming of Leigh among the children Jo had resented her
independence. But, young as they all were, she objected most to Thaine
Aydelot's claiming Leigh as his playmate. Thaine was Jo's idol from
earliest memory.

"What's the row here?" Todd Stewart, Junior, broke in. "You mustn't fuss
or you'll all have to go in and listen to Darley Champers and I'll play
out here by myself."

Todd was a young-hearted, half-grown boy now, able to work all day in the
hayfield or to romp like a child with younger children in the evening. He
was half a dozen years older than Thaine and Jo, a difference that would
tend to disappear by the end of a decade.

"We'll be good, Toddie, if you'll let us stay and you'll play with us,"
the children entreated, and the game began, with Thaine between Leigh and
Jo.

When Asher Aydelot joined the group inside Darley Champers rapped on the
desk and called the men to order.

"Gentlemen, let's have a businesslike proceeding," he said. "Who shall
preside at the meeting?"

"I move Jim Shirley be made chairman. He's the best looking man here,"
Todd Stewart said, half seriously.

The motion carried and Jim, looking big and handsome and kindly as always,
took the chair.

"I'll ask Mr. Champers to state the purpose of the meeting," he said.

"Gentlemen," Champers began with tremendous dignity, "I represent the firm
of the Champers Town Company, just chartered, with half a million dollars'
capital. Gentlemen, you have the finest valley in Kansas."

The same was said of every other valley in Kansas in the fat years of the
boom. But to do Darley justice, he had never made a finer effort in his
life of many efforts than he was bent on making tonight.

"And this site is the garden spot of it all," he continued. "The
elevation, the water power at the deep bend of Grass River (where at that
moment only a trace of water marked the river's grassy right of way), the
fine farming land--everything ready for a sudden leap into prosperity.
And, gentlemen, the A. and T. (Arctic and Tropic) North and South Railroad
will begin grading down this very stream inside of thirty days. A town
here this year will be a city next year, a danged sight bigger city than
Careyville will ever be. Why, that town's got its growth and is beginning
to decay right now. The A. and T. will miss it comin' south, by ten
mile."

He paused and looked at the men before him. They were farmers, drooped to
rest after the long summer day's work, yet they listened with intense
eagerness. Only Asher Aydelot sat in easy dignity, looking straight at
Darley Champers with steady interest. The four years' training in the
University of the Civil War had not been overcome by his hold on the plow
handles. And no farmer will grow hopelessly stooped in shoulders and sad
of countenance who lifts his face often from the clods beneath his feet to
the stars above his head.

"You all know crops was poor last year and only moderately promisin' this
year," Champers continued. "But this is temporary and you are stayers, as
I can testify. The Champers Town Company is ready to locate a townsite and
start a town right here at the deep bend of Grass River. We propose to
plat the prairie into town lots with a public square for the courthouse
and sites for the railroad station and grain elevators, a big hotel, an
opera house, and factories and foundries that's bound to come."

The speaker paused a moment. Then the inspiration of the evening came to
him.

"When you first came here, Aydelot, there wasn't nothing but imagination
to make this a farming community. And it looked lots more impossible then
than this looks to me now. What's to prevent a metropolis risin' right
here where a decade and a half ago there wasn't nothing but bare
prairie?"

The appeal was forceful, and the very men who had stood like heroes
against hardships and had fought poverty with a grim, unyielding
will-power, the same men fell now before Darley Champers' smooth advances.

"Our company's chartered with no end of stock for sale now that in six
months will be out of sight above par and can't be bought for no price.
It's your time to invest now. You can easy mortgage your farms to raise
the money, seein' you can knock the mortgage off so quick and have
abundance left over, if you use your heads 'stead of your tired legs to
make money out of your land."

Cyrus Bennington and Todd Stewart and Jim Shirley, with others, were
sitting upright with alert faces now. Booms were making men rich all over
Kansas. Why should prosperity not come to this valley as well? It was not
impossible, surely. Only the unpleasant memory of Champers' holding back
the supplies in the days when the grasshopper was a burden would intrude
on the minds of the company tonight. Champers was shrewd to remember also,
and he played his game daringly as well as cautiously.

"Maybe some of you fellows haven't felt right toward me sometimes," he
said. "I hate to tell it now, but justice is justice. The truth is, it was
a friend of yours who advised me not to let any supplies come your way,
time of the grasshopper raid. I listened to him then and didn't know no
better'n to be run by him till I see his scheme to kill Wykerton an' build
a town for hisself. He'll deny it now, declare he never done it, and he'll
not do a thing for your town down here. See if he does. But it's Gawd's
truth, he held me back so's he could run you his way. It's your turn to
listen to me now and believe me, too."

And well they listened, especially the men who still owed John Jacobs for
the loan of 1874.

"You can have a boom right here that'll make you all rich men inside of a
year. Why not turn capitalists yourselves for a while, you hard-working
farmers. Money is easy and credit long, now. Take your chance at it and
make five hundred per cent on your investments. I'm ready to take
subscriptions for stock in this new town right now. Why not stop this
snail's pace of earnin' and go to livin' like gentlemen--like some
Careyville men I know who own hundreds of acres they never earned and they
won't improve so's to help others?"

"You're right there," a farmer sitting beside Asher Aydelot called out.
"We all know how Careyville got her start. It's kept some of us poor doing
it. I'll invest in Town Company stock right now."

Asher Aydelot turned toward the speaker in surprise.

"Jacobs helped you out as well as the rest of us in the drouth and
grasshopper time of seventy-four," he said. "What's your grievance against
him now?"

"Yes, and hung onto me like a leech of a Jew ever since," the man
muttered.

"Because you never paid either interest or principal. And Jacobs has
carried you along and waited your time," Asher asserted frankly.

But the farmer plunged into the discussion again, not realizing that his
grudge against Careyville was the outgrowth of his own shortcomings.

"Take this site right here in the middle of your neighborhood where you've
already got your church and your schoolhouse, and your graveyard,"
Champers declared. "Aydelot here gave part of it and Pryor Gaines the
rest. Gaines don't farm it any more himself, it's most too big a job for a
man of brains like him. And that quarter across the river that used to be
all sand, you own that now, Aydelot, don't you? What did you think of
doin' with it now?"

"I think I'll set it in alfalfa this fall," Asher replied.

"Yes, yes, now these two make the very site we want. You are lucky, for
you are ready right now to start things. How much stock do you want,
Aydelot, and how will you sell?"

As Asher listened he seemed to see the whole scheme of the town builder
bare itself before him, and he wondered at the credulity of his
neighbors.

"Gentlemen," he said, standing before them, "it is a hard thing to put
yourself against neighborhood sentiment and not seem to be selfish. But as
I was the first man in this valley and have known every man who settled
here since, I ought to be well enough known to you to need no certificate
of good moral character here. I offer no criticism on the proposition
before you. You are as capable of judging as I am. The end may show you
more capable, but I decline to buy stock, or to donate, or sell any land
for a townsite at the deep bend of Grass River. A man's freehold is his
own."

Asher's influence had led in Grass River affairs for years. But Darley
Champers had the crowd in the hollow of his paw tonight.

"How about Gaines?" he demanded. "You join him on the south. You ought to
know some of his notions."

"Gaines has no land to consider," Asher said frankly. "He sold it more
than a year ago."

"You mean the Jew foreclosed on the preacher, don't you?" someone said
sarcastically.

"You'll have to ask the preacher," Asher replied good-naturedly. "I
didn't understand it so at the time. But as for myself, I'm no boomer. I
stand for the prosperity that builds from day to day, and stays built. The
values here are in the soil, not in the shining bubbles that glitter and
burst on top of it. You'll have to count me out of your scheme. I'm a
farmer still. So I'll wish you all good luck and good night."

"Good night, I must go with papa," Thaine Aydelot said, springing up from
his play outside.

"No, you've got to stay here. Hold him, Leigh," Jo Bennington commanded,
clutching at Thaine's arm.

Leigh sat calmly disobedient.

"He's his papa's boy, I guess, and he ought to go," she asserted.

"You meany, meany," Jo whispered, "I don't like you."

But Leigh paid little heed to her opinion.

As Asher passed out of the room there was an ugly look in Darley Champers'
eyes.

"No more ambition than a cat. One of them quiet, good-natured fellers that
are as stubborn as the devil once they take a stand. Just a danged
clod-hopper farmer, but he don't leave no enemies behind him. That's
enough to make any man hate him. He's balked twice when I tried to drive.
I'll not be fooled by him always."

So Champers thought as he watched Asher Aydelot walk out of the room. And
in the silence that followed his going the company heard him through the
open window whistling some old patriotic air as he strode away in the June
moonlight with little Thaine trotting beside him.

"Shirley, where is Pryor tonight?" Cyrus Bennington broke the silence with
the query. "I couldn't get him to come; said he had no land for sale nor
money to invest," Jim replied.

"Then Jacobs got him at last. Fine friend to you fellers, that man Jacobs.
Easy to see what he wants. He ain't boomin' no place but Careyville,"
Champers snarled. "But the deep bend ain't the only bend in Grass River.
Or do you want to shove prosperity away when it comes right to your
door?"

Nobody wants to do that. Least of all did the Kansas settlers of the boom
days turn away from the promise of a fortune.

So the boom came to the Grass River Valley as other disasters had come
before it. Where a decade and a half ago Asher and Virginia Aydelot had
lived alone with each other and God, in the heart of the wide solitary
wilderness, the town of Cloverdale was staked out now over the prairie.

Stock in the new venture sold rapidly, and nobody ever knew how much clear
profit came to Champers & Co. from this venture. A big slice of the
Cloverdale ranch went into the staking of the new city, and prosperity
seemed wedded to Jim Shirley. He ceased farming and became a speculator
with dreams of millions in his brain. Other settlers followed his example
until the fever had infected every man in the community except Asher
Aydelot, who would not give up to it, and Pryor Gaines, who had nothing to
give up.

Everything fell out as advertised. The railroad grade swelled up like a
great welt across the land, seemingly in a day. Suburban additions
radiated for miles in every direction. Bonds were voted for light and
water and public buildings and improvements. Speculators rushed to invest
and unload their investments at a profit. The Grass River Farmers'
Company built the Grass River Creamery. And because it looked big and good
they built the Grass River Sugar Factory and the Grass River Elevator. But
while they were building their money into stone and machinery they forgot
to herd cattle to supply the creamery and to grow cane for the sugar
product and to sow and reap grain to be elevated.

Also, the Cloverdale Farmers' Company, made up mostly of the members of
the Grass River Farmers' Company, built the Cloverdale Hotel, and the
Cloverdale State Bank, and the Cloverdale Office Block. And the sad part
of it all was that mortgaged and doubly mortgaged farms and not the price
of crops had furnished the capital for the boom building.

It is an old story now, and none too interesting--the story of a boom
town, founded on prairie breezes and built out of fortune seekers'
dreams.

Meanwhile, Asher Aydelot, watching the sudden easy prosperity of his
neighbors, fought down the temptation to join them and resolutely strove
with the soil for its best yield. The drouth and hot winds had not
forgotten all their old tricks, and even the interest on his mortgage
could not be met promptly sometimes. Yet with the same old Aydelot
tenacity with which his father had held Cloverdale in Ohio away from the
old farm beside the National pike road, the son of this father held the
boundary of the Sunflower Ranch intact, nor yielded up one acre to be
platted into a suburban addition to the new Cloverdale in the Grass River
Valley in Kansas. And all the while the Aydelot windbreaks strengthened;
the Aydelot grove struck deeper root; the long corn furrows and the acres
on acres of broken wheat stubble of the Sunflower Ranch wooed the heavier
rainfall, narrowing the sand dunes and deepening the water courses.

For two brief years Cloverdale, in the Grass River Valley in Kansas, had a
name, even in the Eastern money markets. Speculation became madness; and
riotous commercialism had its little hour of strut and rave.

Then the bubble burst, and all that the boom had promised fell to
nothingness. Many farms were mortgaged, poor crops worked tribulation,
taxes began to eat up acres of weed-grown vacant town lots, Eastern money
was withdrawn to other markets, speculators departed, the strange
enthusiasm burned itself out, and the Wilderness came again to the Grass
River Valley. Not the old Wilderness of loneliness, and drouth, and
grasshoppers, and prairie fires that had dared the pioneer to conquest;
but the Prairie, waiting again the kingly hand on the plow handle, gave no
quarter to him whom the gilded boom had lured to shipwreck.



PART TWO

THE SON

                Give me the land where miles of wheat
                Ripple beneath the wind's light feet,
                Where the green armies of the corn
                Sway in the first sweet breath of morn;
                Give me the large and liberal land
                Of the open heart and the generous hand;
                Under the wide-spaced Kansas sky
                Let me live and let me die.
                                        --Harry A. Kemp.



CHAPTER XIII

THE ROLLCALL


                    Nothing is too late
            Until the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
                                              --Longfellow.

The twilight had fallen on the prairie. Grass River, running bank full
from the heavy May rains, lay like a band of molten silver glistening in
the after-sunset light. The draw, once choked with wild plum bushes in the
first days of the struggle in the wilderness, was the outlet now to the
little lake that nestled in the heart of the Aydelot grove. The odors of
early summer came faintly on the soft twilight breeze. Somewhere among the
cottonwoods a bird called a tender good-night to its mate. Upon the low
swell the lights were beginning to twinkle from the windows of the Aydelot
home, and the sounds of voices and of hurrying footsteps told of something
unusual going on within. Asher Aydelot, driving down the old Grass River
trail, saw from far away the windows of his home beginning to glow like
beacons in the twilight. Beyond it was the glimmer of the waters of the
river and before it spread the mile-long grove, dim and shadowy in the
mist-folds rising up from the prairie.

"A man can win a kingdom in the West, I told my mother one spring evening
long ago," he murmured as his eyes took in the view. "It's surely more
like a kingdom now than it was when we came down this trail a quarter of a
century ago. Twenty-five good years of life, but it's worth the effort,
and we are just now at the opening of our best years. A man's real
usefulness begins at fifty. This is more like a kingdom, too, than it was
ten years ago when those old hulks of wrecks that strew the prairie down
the river were banks, and hotels, and opera houses, and factories of
boomed-up Cloverdale. We are doing something for the land. I hope our boy
will make up his mind to want to keep it when his time comes."

He lifted his head bravely, as if to throw off all doubt, and tightening
the reins on his horses he swung away down the trail toward the home
lights shining in the gathering gloom.

As he neared the house Thaine Aydelot leaped from the side porch and
hurried toward him. Climbing into the moving wagon, he put one hand
affectionately on his father's shoulder.

"Don't you know whose birthday this is?" he inquired with serious
countenance, "and you've not spoken to me all day."

"I know my boy is nineteen today and expects to have a birthday party here
tonight, and that I left him asleep when I started to town this forenoon
about nine o'clock."

"Nine cats! You left at six sharp to go with John Jacobs over to Wolf
Creek after what you never got, judging from this empty wagon. And I had
half of the feeding done when you left the house here. I saw you when I
was out by the old stone corral looking after the pigs, but they squealed
so loud you could not hear me telling you good-by."

"All pigs squeal alike to me," Asher began, but Thaine choked him to
silence.

"Hurry up and get togged out for the party," he urged. "The Benningtons
will be over early. Jo's been here all day. I'll take care of the horses.
Hike!"

"Be sure to rub them down. They had to pull hard today," Asher called back
as he went up the walk toward the house.

"Oh, fiddle! Always take care of a horse like it was a prize poodle. Farms
like he was decorating chinaware. Good enough dad, but too particular. Me
for the State University and the professional or military life. This ranch
is all right for Asher Aydelot, but it's pretty blamed slow for T. A. And
Jo Bennington doesn't like a farm either," he added with a smile.

In the superiority of his youth Thaine fumed at his father's commands, but
failed not to obey them. He was just nineteen, as tall as his father, and
brawny with the strength of the outdoors life of the prairie ranch.
Strength of character was not expressed in his face so much as the promise
of strength with the right conditions for its development in future days.
His features were his mother's set in masculine lines, with the same
abundant dark hair, the same lustrous dark eyes, the same straight nose
and well-formed chin. The same imperious will of all the Thaines to do as
he chose was his heritage, too, and he walked the prairies like a king.

"The real story of the plains is the story of the second generation; the
real romance here will be Thaine Aydelot's romance, for he was born
here."

So Virginia Aydelot had declared on the day she had gone to visit the
Bennington baby, Josephine, and coming home had met Asher with little
Thaine beside Mercy Pennington's grave. Sorrow for the dead had become a
tender memory that day, and joy in the living made life full of hope.

In Virginia's mind a pretty romance was begun in which Thaine and
Josephine were central figures. For mothers will evermore weave romances
for their children so long as the memory of their own romance lives.

The time of the second generation came swiftly, even before the wilderness
of the father's day had been driven entirely from the prairie. Some
compensation for the loss of eastern advantages belonged to the simple
life of the plains children. If they lacked the culture of city society
they were also without its frivolity and temptations. What the prairies
denied them in luxuries they matched with a resourcefulness to meet their
needs. Something of the breadth of the landscape and of the free sweeping
winds of heaven gave them breadth and power to look the world squarely in
the face, and to measure it at its true value, when their hour for action
came.

The Grass River children could ride like Plains Indians. They could cut a
steer out of a herd and prevent or escape a stampede. They had no fear of
distance, nor storm, nor prairie fire, nor blizzard. Because their
opportunities were few, they squandered them the less. Matched against the
city-bred young folks their talents differed in kind, not in number, nor
in character-value.

Tonight the Aydelots were to give a party in honor of Thaine's birthday,
and the farmhouse was dressed for the occasion. Thaine had been busy all
day carrying furniture in or out, mowing the front lawn where the old
double fireguard once lay, and fixing a seat under the white honeysuckle
trellis, "for the afflicted ones," he declared to pretty Jo Bennington.
Jo's blush was becoming. Thaine felt sure that he must be in love with
her. All the other boys were, too, he knew that well enough.

"What's going on in the dining room?" Asher asked, as he sat at supper
with Virginia in the kitchen.

"The decorating committee is fixing it up for dancing. Bo Peep is coming
with his fiddle and there'll be a sound of revelry by night."

"Who's the decorating committee?" Asher inquired.

"Jo Bennington is helping Thaine, and our new hired girl, Rosie Gimpke,
from over on Little Wolf. She came this morning just after you left,"
Virginia replied. "She acts and looks like she'd never had a kind word
spoken to her."

"Rosie Gimpke must be Hans Wyker's granddaughter. There's a nest of them
over on Little Wolf. They give John Jacobs no end of trouble, but you must
have help," Asher said thoughtfully.

Virginia's mind was not on hired help, however, as the sound of laughter
came from the dining room.

"The bridal wreath and snowballs make it look like a wedding was expected
in there," she declared.

"Will the Arnolds and the Archibalds be up? Have you heard from the
Spoopendykes and the Gilliwigs?" Asher inquired with a smile.

"Oh, Asher! What a change since the days when we invented parties for our
lonely evenings here! What has become of the old prairie?"

"It's out there still, under the wheat fields. We have driven the
wilderness back; plowed a fireguard around the whole valley; tempered the
hot winds by windbreaks and groves."

"It seems impossible that there ever was a one-room sod cabin here, and
only you and I and Jim and faithful old Pilot in all the valley."

"Since so many things have come true it may be that many more will also by
the time Thaine is as old as I was when I came out here and thought the
Lord had forgotten all about this prairie until I reminded Him of it. We
can almost forget the hard work and the waiting for results," Asher said.

"Oh, we don't want to forget," Virginia replied. "Not a season's joy or
sorrow but had its uses for us. Do you remember that first supper here and
the sunflowers in the old tin can?"

"Yes, and Jim sitting outside so lonely. What a blessing Leigh has been to
his life. There they come now."

The next moment Jim's tall form filled the doorway.

"Good evening, folks. I can't resist the habit of the sod shack days to
come right into the kitchen. I understand that we forty-niners are to have
an old settlers' reunion while the young folks dance," he said.

There were lines of care on his face now, suggesting a bodily weariness
that might never grow less. The old hopefulness and purpose seemed fading
away. But the kindly light of the eyes had not disappeared, nor the direct
gaze of an honest man whose judgment might bring him to tragedy, while his
sense of honor was still sublime.

"Come in, Jim. Where are Pryor and Leigh? Did you take it you were all we
expected?" Asher asked.

"Leigh went in the front door like a Christian. As to Pryor," he
hesitated a moment. "I'll tell you later about him."

"Take this chair. I must help the children," Virginia said cordially as
she rose and left the kitchen.

Leigh Shirley was coming from the front hall as she entered the dining
room, and Virginia paused a moment to look at her. Something about Leigh
made most people want more than a glance. Tonight, as she stood in the
doorway, Virginia could think of nothing but the pink roses that grew in
the rose garden of the old Thaine mansion house of her girlhood. A vision
swept across her memory of Asher Aydelot--just Thaine's age then--of a
moonlit night, sweet with the odor of many blossoms, and the tinkling
waters of the fountain in the rose garden, and herself a happy young
girl.

Leigh's fair face was set in the golden brown shadows of her hair. On
either side of her square white forehead the sunny ripples kept the only
memory of the golden curls of babyhood. The darker eyebrows and heavy
lashes and the deep violet-blue eyes, the pink bloom of the cheeks, and
the resolute mouth gave to Leigh's face all the charm of the sweet young
girl. But the deeper charm that claimed the steady gaze lay in the spirit
back of the face, in the self-reliance and penetrating power, combined
with something of the artist's dreams; and swayed altogether by genuine
good nature and good will.

Tonight she wore a simple white gown revealing her white throat and the
line of her neck and shoulder. White flowers nestled in the folds of her
hair, and the whole effect enhanced the dainty coloring of cheeks and
lips. Leigh had an artist's eye in dress and knew by instinct what to
wear. She had an artist's hand also, as her mother had had before her,
and was far more skilled in the painting of prairie landscapes than any of
the Grass River folk dreamed of.

Thaine was busy on the top of the stepladder and did not see Leigh as she
came in. Jo Bennington, who was holding sprays of spirea for him to
festoon above the window, stared at Leigh until Thaine, waiting for the
flowers, turned to see the pink-cheeked living picture framed against the
shadows of the hall behind her.

"I thought you were coming early to help us. This Gimpke girl doesn't know
how to do a thing," Jo exclaimed.

If her voice was a trifle high-pitched it was not out of keeping with her
brilliant coloring and dashing manners. Even the thoughtless rebuke of the
Gimpke girl seemed excusable from her lips, and Rosie Gimpke looked at her
with unblinking eyes.

"You can put on my apron and finish, but don't change a thing, now mind.
I'll go and dress. I brought my whole wardrobe over early in the week," Jo
rattled on, and thrusting her gingham apron into Leigh's hands she dashed
through the hall toward the stairway.

Rosie Gimpke, the tow-headed image of her mother, Gretchen Wyker, stared
at Leigh, who smiled back at her. Rosie was stupid and ignorant, but she
knew the difference between Jo Bennington's frown and Leigh Shirley's
smile. A saving thing, the smile of good will, and worth its cost in any
market.

"Shall I help you too, or shall Rosie and I look after the refreshments?"
Virginia asked as she greeted Leigh.

"No, run along and get dressed. Rosie knows just how to fix things in the
kitchen, and I never need anybody else if Leigh can help me," Thaine
declared. "How is this, Leigh?"

Leigh gave a quick glance and answered: "Too heavy everywhere? Can we fix
it right?" "You bet we can. I'm not going to have a thing wrong tonight,"
Thaine answered her. "But Jo fixed it, and you know Jo."

Leigh made no reply, but went about the rearrangement with swift artistic
skill; while Jo, who had changed her mind about being in a hurry, slipped
down stairs to the dining room again. At the doorway she discovered the
undoing of her work. For a minute or two she watched the pair, then passed
unnoticed up stairs again. Leigh Shirley was the only girl who ever dared
to oppose Jo, and she did it so quietly and completely that Jo could only
ignore her. She could not retaliate.

"Jo Bennington, you are the prettiest girl in Kansas, and I claim the
first dance and the last, and some in-betweens, right now," Thaine
declared when she appeared again.

Jo was tall and graceful and imperious in her manner. The oldest and
handsomest child in a large family, she had had her own way at home and
with her associates all her life. Her world was made to give way to her
from the beginning, until nothing seemed possible or popular without her
sanction. Tonight her heavy black hair was coiled in braids about her
head, her black eyes were full of youthful glow and her cheeks were like
June roses. She wore a pink lawn dress vastly becoming to her style, and a
string of old-fashioned pearl beads was wound through her dark braids.

"You'd better make amends for spoiling all my pretty work as you and Leigh
have done," she said in reply to Thaine's frank compliment. "I'll make it
a few more dances, for you do dance better than any of the other boys--"

"Except Todd Stewart, Junior," the owner of the name, who had just come
in, declared. "There is to be a birthday party and an old settlers'
meeting, and maybe a French duel or two before midnight. I remember when I
was the only kid in the Grass River Valley. There were others at first,
but I always thought the grasshoppers or Darley Champers ate 'em. And Jo
is the first white girl baby born in captivity here. We'll lead the
opening of this ball or shoot up the ranch. You can have Jo for the last
dance, Thaine, my son, but me first."

"Oh, that's fine," Jo declared as Thaine was about to protest. "Serves
you right for spoiling my decorations. But, Thaine, I claim you for
the in-betweens and the last. Let's take one more look at the
refreshments--that Gimpke girl may have them all in a mess by this time."

There was a rush for the kitchen, where Leigh Shirley was already showing
Rosie how to keep the table of dishes in order.

Meanwhile, Asher Aydelot had gone out to the seat Thaine had put up under
the honeysuckle trellis.

"It is early for the crowd, Virgie. Come here and watch Boanerges
Peeperville tuning up," Asher Aydelot said as Virginia stood on the
veranda a little later.

She came out to the seat under a bower of sweet white honeysuckle and sat
down beside her husband.

"The same Bo Peep of the old Virginia days, only he was a half-grown boy
then," she said, watching the Negro bending above his violin. "How
faithfully he has served Dr. Carey all these years. He's past forty now.
Asher, we are all getting along."

"With a boy nineteen tonight, how can it be otherwise?" Asher replied.
"But when the Careyville crowd gets here I'm going to ask you for a dance,
anyhow, Miss Thaine."

Virginia stood in the moonlight and looked out over the prairie slumbering
in a silver-broidered robe of evening mist.

"How fast the years have gone. Do you remember the night in the old Thaine
home in Virginia when you were our guest--too sick to dance?" she asked.

Asher caught her arm and drew her to the seat beside him.

"I remember the jessamine vines and the arbor at the end of the rose
garden."

"We are not old until we forget our own romance days," Virginia said. "You
were my hero that night. You are my hero still."

"Even with a son as old now as I was that night? The real romance of the
prairie, you've said it often, Virgie, is Thaine Aydelot's romance.
There's little chance for the rest of us."

The coming of the guests just then called the host and hostess to the
parlor, and the evening's festivities began.

In the building of the Aydelot home there was a memory of the old
farmhouse beside the National pike road in Ohio and the old Thaine mansion
house of the South. The picture the mirage had revealed to Virginia
Aydelot on the afternoon when she rode the long lonely miles from
Wykerton with John Jacob's message of hope in her keeping--that wonderful
mirage picture had grown toward a reality with the slowly winning years.
Tonight, with the lighted rooms and the music of the violin, and the sound
of laughter and the rhythm of dancing feet, and outside the May moonlight
on the veranda with its vine-draped columns, and the big elm trees
throwing long shadows down the lawn, with the odor of plowed fields and
blossoming grain and shrub mingled with the perfume floating from the
creamy catalpa blooms in the shadowy grove, all made a picture not
unworthy to hang beside the painting of an Ohio landscape or an old
Virginia mansion.

"Here's where the forty-niners get the best of it," Jim Shirley declared,
as the older men gathered about the veranda steps. "We're dead certain of
ourselves now. We're not like those youngsters in there with their battles
before 'em."

"There hasn't been such a gathering as this in ten years. Not since the
night Darley Champers herded us into the schoolhouse and blew a boom down
our throats through a goosequill," Cyrus Bennington declared.

"See that black thing away across the prairie east of Aydelot's grove.
Wait till the moon gets out from that cloud. Now!" Todd Stewart directed
the eyes of all to a tall black object distinct in the moonlight.

"That's the Cloverdale Farmers' Company's elevator. Looks like a
lighthouse stretching up in that sea of wheat."

"There are plenty of derelicts in that sea as well as some human derelicts
left afloat," Jim said, with a laugh. "Let's take the census."

"Begin with Darley Champers," Asher suggested.

"Not present. Who got his excuse?" Jim inquired.

"He sent it by me," Horace Carey spoke up. "Business still keeping him
busy. He's a humane man."

"Up to a point he is," John Jacobs broke in. "Let's be fair. He is a
large-sized boomer and a small-sized rascal. A few deals won't bear the
light of day, but mainly they are inside the law. I've let him handle all
but my grazing land around Wykerton. He's done well by me. But he's been
at his line a quarter of a century and he'll end where he began--in a real
estate office over in Wykerton, trying to get something for nothing and
calling it business."

"Horace Carey?" Jim Shirley called next.

"Here," Carey replied.

"With a big H," Todd Stewart declared. "Same doctor of the old school. Why
don't you get married or take a trip to India, Doctor? Not that we aren't
satisfied all over with you as you are, though, and wouldn't hear to your
doing either one. You belong to all of us now."

"I may have a call to a bigger practice some day, a service that will make
you proud of your former honorable townsman. At present I'm satisfied,"
Carey said, with a smile.

Four years later the men remembered this reply and the attractive face of
the speaker, the sound of his voice, and the whole magnetic presence of
the man.

"John Jacobs?" Shirley called next.

"The merchant prince of Careyville," Asher Aydelot declared. "The
money-loaning Shylock. Didn't let the boom so much as turn one hair black
or white. Land owner and stock raiser of the Wolf Creek Valley and hater
of saloons seven days in the week. Whatever it may mean in New York and
Cincinnati and Chicago, being a Jew means being a gentleman in this corner
of Kansas," Asher was running on, till John Jacobs threw a chair cushion
at his head and Jim called out:

"Cyrus Bennington."

"Busted by the boom. Lived at the public crib ever since. Held every
little county office possible to get, asking now for your votes this fall
for County Treasurer. Will end his days seeking an election and go at last
to be with the elected," Cyrus Bennington frankly described himself.

"Not so bad yet as Todd Stewart," Todd declared. "He lost everything in
the boom except his old Scotch Presbyterian faith. Now head clerk in J.
Jacobs' dry goods and general merchandise store. Had the good sense,
though, this old Todd did, to send his son back to the land and make a
farmer out of him, and the second generation of Stewarts in this valley
promises to make it yet. Why don't you revert to the soil, too,
Bennington?"

"Todd is doing well with his leases," Asher Aydelot declared. "He'll be a
landowner yet."

"My family, especially the girls, object to living on a farm," Cyrus
Bennington said gravely. "They have notions of city life I can't overcome.
Jo especially dislikes the country and Jo runs things round the Bennington
place."

"James Shirley, Esquire," Jim announced and added quickly:

"The biggest sucker in the booming gang. Lost his farm to the Champers
Company. Holds a garden patch and homestead only, where once the
Cloverdale Ranch smiled. All under mortgage also to other capitalists.
Boys, I'd be ready to give up if it wasn't for my little girl. What's the
use in a man as big as I am, with no lung power, keeping at it?" There was
a sad hopelessness in Shirley's tone.

"No, no!" the men chorused in one voice. "Go on, Jim, go on!"

"Asher Aydelot." Jim pretended it was the rollcall they demanded.

"Gentlemen," John Jacobs began seriously. But at that moment Leigh
Shirley, followed by Rosie Gimpke, came from the side door with a tray of
glasses and a pitcher of lemonade.

"Gentlemen, a toast to the man who stuck to the soil and couldn't be
blasted to financial ruin by a boom, the wheat king of these prairies. Our
host, Asher Aydelot."

"The clod-hopper, Buckeye farmer," Jim added affectionately, and they
drank to Asher's health.

"Lord bless you, Aydelot. You said the money was in the soil, not on top
of it. I remember you looked like a prophet when you said it," Cyrus
Bennington declared. "But I was wild to get rich quick and let my soil go.
I never look at Aydelot's spreading acres of wheat increasing in area
every year without wondering why the Lord let me be such a fool."

"Well, you've spent a lot of days in an easy chair in the shade of a
county office since then while I was driving a reaper in the hot
sunshine," Asher insisted.

"You are the strongest man here now, for all your farm work, Aydelot,"
John Jacobs asserted. "It is the store that really breaks a man down."

"Not in his nerve, nor in pocketbook," Todd Stewart added. "Here's a
toast, now, to the second generation, and especially to Thaine Aydelot,
son of the Sunflower Ranch. Nineteen years old tonight."

"What is Thaine going to follow, Asher?" someone inquired. "I suppose
you'll be making a gentleman out of him, since he's your only child."

"My father tried to make a gentleman out of me and failed, as you see,"
Asher replied.

"Tragic failure," Jim groaned.

"Seriously, Aydelot, what's Thaine to do?" The query came from Dr. Carey;
the company awaited the answer.

"He isn't wanting to follow anything right now. He has a notion that the
earth is following him," Asher said with a smile. "And having handled
Aydelots all my life, I'm letting him alone a little with the hope that at
last he'll come back to the soil as I did. He goes to the Kansas
University this fall and he has all sorts of notions, even a craving for
military glory. I can't blame him. I had the same disease once. I don't
believe in any wild oats business. I hope Thaine will be a gentleman, but
I don't wonder that a green country boy who has looked out all his life on
open prairies and lonely distances should have a longing for city
pavements and the busy haunts of men. How well he will make his way and
what he will let these things fit him to do depends somewhat on how well
grounded the farm life and home life have made him. The old French Aydelot
blood had something of the wanderlust in it. I hope that trait may not
reappear in Thaine. But where's Pryor Gaines in this rollcall? We are
getting away from the subject before the house."

Jim Shirley's handsome face grew sorrowful.

"He was not affected by the boom. He has been the same man in spirit and
fortune for twenty-five years. But we are going to lose him. That's why
he's not here tonight," Jim hurried on as the others were about to
interrupt him. "He won't say good-by to anybody. You can understand why.
He's going to start for China tomorrow morning--missionary! It's the last
of Pryor Gaines for us. I promised not to tell till he was gone. I've lied
to him. That's all. But you'll not tell on me nor let him know. He says
he's 'called.' And when a preacher gets that in his blood there's no
stopping him."

At that moment Virginia Aydelot and a group of matrons came thronging
out.

"Come in for the Virginia Reel," they demanded. "The young folks are
having refreshments on the side porch and Bo Peep wants us to dance for
him."

"May I have the honor?" Horace Carey said, bowing to Virginia Aydelot.

"With pleasure, Horace," Virginia replied with a smile.

As they led the way to the dining room, Dr. Carey said:

"I congratulate you tonight, Virginia, on your son, your kingly husband,
and your busy, useful life. You've won the West, you two."

"Not yet," Virginia replied. "Not until our son proves himself. He's a
farmer's boy now. Wait five years till he is the age his father was when
he came out here. The test of victory is the second generation."

Bo Peep's fiddle began its song and the still young middle-aged guests
with their host and hostess kept time to its rhythm.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SECOND GENERATION


    The younger generation does not want instruction.
    It is perfectly willing to instruct if anyone will listen to it.
                                    --_The Education of Otis Yeere._

The second generation gave little thought to what was filling the minds of
the first settlers tonight. The company was a large one and a dozen years
later more than one young matron remembered Thaine Aydelot's birthday
party as the beginning of a romance that ended happily for her.

"Jo, you are the queen of the ball tonight," Todd Stewart, Junior,
declared, as he led her to the cool veranda after their fourth dance
together.

Jo looked the part in the moonlight, as in the lamplight.

"Oh, no, I'm not. Leigh Shirley is Thaine's favorite, and his choice is
queen tonight," Jo said coquettishly.

"Darn him! We all know who his choice is, all right," Todd said. "But, Jo,
can't a fellow have half a chance, anyhow? You know, you can't help
knowing a lot of us would fight for you."

He caught her hand in his and she did not resist at once.

"Oh, Jo, I know one fellow, anyhow--"

"Look at Thaine now," Jo interrupted him, as Thaine came near the open
window. "Todd, do you know why he thinks so much of Leigh Shirley?"

"Of Leigh? Does he? I hope he does. He shows good taste, anyhow.
Everybody from Little Plum Creek clear to Northfork likes Leigh."

Jo's eyes flashed.

"She must be very popular."

"Oh, not as they like you, Jo. You must know the difference between you
two, a real beauty and a sweet little girlie."

"She's not so sweet. She tries to attract and doesn't know how," Jo
declared, for jealousy belongs to the dominant.

Todd Stewart's sense of justice was strong, even in his infatuation.

"Why, Jo, you mustn't be jealous of Leigh. She's the girl the boys can't
make like them. She's the funniest, settest little creature. And yet, she
is a cute child. But you are our pride, you know, and to me--well, let me
take you home tonight, and I'll tell you about my pride."

"I don't care for your pride, if you all admire the cute child." Jo
withdrew her hand from his. "Here comes Thaine now. I think you'd better
take Leigh home. Thaine will take me, I'm sure. But I'll go to
refreshments with you," she added, for she knew how to play on more than
one string.

"Why, Josephine, my queen, my queen, where are you hiding? I've danced an
extra, waiting for you. Todd Stewart, I'll have to kill you yet tonight.
What do you mean by breaking up my party?"

Thaine caught Jo's arm and with a mock thrust at Todd he whirled her into
the house.

"Did you really miss me?" Jo's big dark eyes were fastened on Thaine's
face. "More than tongue can tell. Who wouldn't miss you?" Thaine's eyes
were shining mischievously.

"Leigh Shirley wouldn't," Jo said softly and half sadly.

Something impenetrable dropped before Thaine's face.

"Let's go out to the honeysuckle arbor and not dance now. I'm so tired,"
Jo murmured, with a sweet pleading in her voice.

"I fixed it just for you," Thaine declared as he led the way to the
moonlit lawn and shadowy seat.

"You are so good to me, Thaine. What makes you do so many things just for
me? I know you don't really care for me. You are so different from most
farmers' sons." Jo's head drooped a little and she put one hand on his
arm.

"I can't help being good to folks. It's just the angel in me," Thaine
declared. Then he added seriously, "I wish I could do something for you,
Jo. All the boys are wild about you tonight. You are a picture."

She was beautiful at the moment, and as she lifted her eyes to his
something in their shining depths spoke witchingly to the youth of
nineteen, untrained in ways of feminine coquetry. He was only a country
boy, unskilled in social tactics, but a combination of timidity and good
breeding shaped his ideals and his action.

"I don't care for all the boys," Jo murmured.

"Then we are hopelessly bankrupt," Thaine declared. "Isn't this a
wonderful night?"

"Yes, and father and mother are going home so early," Jo said.

"Well, your whole wardrobe is over here; why not stay all night? You can
help Rosie and mother and me tomorrow. There are plenty of Benningtons
left at your home without you, and mother will want you," Thaine urged.

"Do you want me to?" Jo asked softly.

"Tremendously. We'll eat all the ice cream that's left when the crowd goes
and have the empty mansion all to ourselves," Thaine declared.

"We are to dance the last dance together too," Jo reminded him.

"Let's run in now. The crowd doesn't miss me, but I'm host, you know, and
they're gasping for you. They'll be scouring the premises if we wait
longer."

As Thaine lifted Jo to her feet there was a glitter of tears in her bright
eyes. And because the place was shadowy and sweet with honeysuckle
perfume, and the moonlight entrancing, and Jo was very willing, and tears
are ever appealing, he put his arm around her and drew her close to him,
and kissed her on each cheek.

Jo's face was triumphant as they met Leigh Shirley at the dining room
door.

"What's the next case on docket, Leigh?" Thaine asked, dropping Jo's arm.

Jealousy has sharp eyes, but even jealousy could hardly have found fault
with the friendly and indifferent look on Thaine's face.

"Why, it's my first with you, Leigh. Who's your partner, Jo?" Thaine
continued.

Two or three young men claimed the honor, and the music began.

"Mrs. Aydelot, Thaine has asked me to stay all night," Jo said, as the
figures were forming.

"It will please us all," Virginia said graciously, and Jo tripped away.

When the strains of music for the last dance began Jo looked for Thaine,
but he was nowhere to be found. She waited impatiently and the angry
glitter in her eyes was not unbecoming her imperious air.

Bo Peep did not wait long, for he was getting tired. Half a dozen young
men rushed toward Jo as she stood alone. But Todd Stewart let no
opportunity escape him. And the dance began. A minute later Thaine came in
with Leigh Shirley. Smiling a challenge at Todd, he caught Leigh's hand
and swung into the crowd on the floor.

The older guests were already gone. The music trailed off into a weird,
rippling rhythm, with young hearts beating time to its melody and young
feet keeping step to its measure. Then the tired, happy company broke into
groups. Good-bys and good wishes were given again and again, and the party
was over.

The couples took their way up or down the old Grass River trail or out
across the prairie by-roads, with the moon sailing serenely down the west.
Everybody voted it the finest party ever given on Grass River. And nobody
at all, except his mother and Jo Bennington, noticed that Thaine had not
left Leigh Shirley's side from his first dance with her late in the
evening until the time of the good-bys.

As the guests were leaving Thaine turned to Jo, saying:

"I'm sorry about that last dance, but I'll forgive Todd this last time.
Rosie cut her hand on a glass tumbler she dropped and I was helping Leigh
to tie it up when old Bo Peep started the music. Here's the girl I'm to
take home. Got your draperies on already. The carriage waits and the black
steed paws for us by the chicken yard gate. Good-night, gentle beings."
And taking Leigh's arm, he led her away.

"Gimpke is as awkward as a cow," Jo Bennington declared, "and too stupid
to know what's said to her."

But Rosie Gimpke, standing in the shadows of the darkened dining room, was
not too stupid to understand what was said about her. And into her stolid
brain came dreams that night of a fair face with soft golden brown hair
and kindly eyes of deep, tender blue. Stupid as she was, the woman's
instinct in her told her in her dreams that the handsome young son of her
employer might not always look his thoughts nor dance earliest and
oftenest with the girl he liked best. But Rosie was dull and slept heavily
and these things came to her sluggish brain only in fleeting dreams.

Thaine and Leigh did not hurry on their homeward way. And Jo Bennington,
wide awake in the guest room of the Aydelot house, noted that the moon was
far toward the west when Thaine let himself in at the side door and
slipped up stairs unheard by all the household except herself.

"Let's go down by the lake," Thaine suggested as he and Leigh came to the
edge of the grove. "It's full to the bridge, and the lilies are wide open
now. Are you too sleepy to look at them? You used to draw them with chalk
all along the blackboard in the old schoolhouse up there."

"I'm never too sleepy to look at water lilies in the moonlight," Leigh
replied, "nor too tired to paint them, either. Lilies are a part of my
creed. 'Consider the lilies, how they grow.'"

"With their long rubbery stems, up out of mud mostly," Thaine said
carelessly. "I pretty nearly grew fast along with them down there, till I
learned how to gather them a better way."

The woodland shadows were thrust through with shafts of white moonbeams,
giving a weird setting to the silent midnight hour. The odor of woods'
blossoms came with the moist, fresh breath of the May night. There was a
little song of waters gurgling down the spillway that was once only a dry
draw choked with wild plum bushes. The road wound picturesquely through
the grove to a bridged driveway that separated the lakelet into two parts.
A spread of silvery light lay on this driveway and Thaine checked his
horse in the midst of it while the two looked at the waters.

"It's all just silver or sable. There's no middle tone," Leigh said,
looking at the sparkling moonbeams reflected on the face of the lake and
the darkness of the shadowed surface beyond them.

"Isn't there pink, or creamy, or something softer in those lilies right by
the bank? I'm no artist, but that's how it looks to a clod-hopper," Thaine
declared.

"You are an artist, or you wouldn't catch that, where most anybody would
see only steely white and dead black. It is the only color in this black
and white woodsy place," Leigh insisted, looking up at Thaine's face in
the shadow and down at her own white dress.

"There's a bit of color in your cheeks," Thaine said, as he studied the
girl's fair countenance, all pink and white in the moonlight.

"Oh, not the pretty blooming roses like Jo Bennington has," Leigh said,
smiling frankly and folding her hands contentedly in her lap.

Thaine recalled the seat under the honeysuckle, and Jo Bennington's
pleading eyes, and bewitching beauty, and the touch of her hand on his
arm, and her willingness to be kissed. He was flattered by it all, for Jo
was the belle of the valley, and Thaine thought himself in love with her.
He knew that the other boys, especially Todd Stewart, Jr., envied him. And
yet in this quiet hour in the silent grove, with the waters shimmering
below them, the gentle dignity of the sweet-faced girl beside him, with
her purity and simplicity wrapping her about, as the morning mists wrapped
the far purple notches on the southwest horizon, gave to her presence
there an influence he could not understand.

Thaine had never kissed any girl except Jo, had never cared enough for any
other girl to think about it. But tonight there suddenly swept through his
mind the thought of the joy that was waiting for some man to whom Leigh
would give that privilege, and without any self-analysis (boys at nineteen
analyze little) he began to hate the man who should come sometime to claim
the privilege.

"Leigh, don't you ever feel jealous of Jo?" He didn't know why he asked
the question.

Leigh gave a little laugh.

"Ought I?" she inquired, looking up. "She hasn't anything I want."

The deep violet eyes under the long lashes were beautiful without the
flashing and sparkle of Jo Bennington's coquettish gaze.

"That was an idiotic thing to ask," Thaine admitted. "Why should you, sure
enough?"

"I wish I had some of those lilies." Leigh changed the subject abruptly.

"Hold the horse, then, and I'll get them. I keep a hooked knife on a long
stick hidden down here on purpose to cut them for me mummy, on occasion."

Thaine jumped out of the buggy and ran down to the end of the driveway
where the creamy lilies lay on the dark waters near the bank.

"Be careful of your dress," he said, as he came back and handed a bunch of
blossoms with their trailing wet stems up to Leigh. "Do you remember your
Prince Quippi off in China, and your love letters, with old Grass River
for postal service? Will you send me a letter down the old Kaw River when
I go to the Kansas University this fall?"

"A sunflower letter like I used to send to Quippi?" Leigh asked.

"Any kind of a letter. I'll miss you more than anything here, except my
beloved chores about the farm," Thaine responded.

"Jo will write all the letters you'll have time to answer," Leigh
asserted.

"Oh, she says she's going to Lawrence too, if her pa-paw is elected County
Treasurer. We'll be in the University together. You'll just have to write
to me, Leighlie."

"Not unless you go to China. I'll send you a letter there like I used to
send to Prince Quippi." There was a sudden pathos in her tone.

"Will you? Oh, Leigh, will you?" Thaine asked, gaily, looking down into
her face, white and dainty in the soft light. "Quippi never answered one
of them, but I would if I was over there, and I may go yet. There's no
telling."

Leigh looked up with her eyes full of pain.

"Why, I didn't mean to tease you," Thaine declared.

"Thaine, Pryor Gaines is to start to China tomorrow. He's been planning it
for weeks and weeks. He's going to be a missionary and he'll never come
back again--and--and there is so much for me to do when he is gone. He has
been such a kind helper all these years. His refined taste has meant so
much to me in the study of painting, and I need him now."

Thaine gave a low whistle of surprise. Leigh's eyes were full of tears,
but Thaine would not have dared to take her in his arms, as he had taken
Jo Bennington.

"Little neighbor, we've been playmates nearly all our lives. Can't I help
you in some way?" he asked gently.

"Yes, you can," Leigh replied in a low voice. "There are some things I
must do for Uncle Jim and when you are doing _for_ people you can't tell
them nor depend on their advice. When Pryor is gone, may I ask you
sometimes what to do? I won't bother you often."

Asher Aydelot had declared that Alice Leigh was the prettiest girl in Ohio
in her day.

The pink-tinted creamy lilies looking up from the still surface of the
lakelet were not so fair as the pink-tinted face of Alice Leigh's
daughter, framed in the soft brown shadows of her hair with a hint of gold
in the ripples at the white temples. And behind the face, looking out
through long-lashed violet eyes, was loving sacrifice and utter
self-forgetfulness.

Thaine was nineteen and wise to give advice. A sudden thrill caught his
pulse, mid-beat.

"Is that all? Can't I _do_ something?" he asked eagerly.

"That's a great deal. And nobody can _do_ for anybody. We have to _do_ for
ourselves."

"You are not doing anything for Uncle Jim, then, I am to understand,"
Thaine said.

But Leigh ignored his thrust, saying:

"When Pryor leaves, he doesn't want to say good-by to anybody, not even to
Uncle Jim. He says China is only a little way off, just behind the purple
notches over there. I'm going to take him to the train tomorrow and then
I'm going on to Wykerton on business. After that, I may need lots of
advice."

"Wykerton's a joint-ridden place, but John Jacobs has put a good class of
farmers around it. He's such an old saloon hater, Hans Wyker'd like to
kill him. But say, why not tell me now what you are about, so I can be
looking up references and former judicial decisions handed down in similar
cases?" Thaine asked lightly.

"Because it's too long a story, and I must get Pryor to the eight o'clock
limited," Leigh said.

The crowing of chickens in a far away farmyard came faintly at that
moment, and Thaine with a strange new sense of the importance of living,
sent the black horses cantering down the trail to the old Cloverdale Ranch
house.

Jo Bennington slept late. She had been up late. She had danced often and
she had waited for Thaine's homecoming. Yet, when she came downstairs in
a white morning dress all sprinkled with little pink sprays, there was
hardly a hint of weariness in her young face or in her quick footsteps.

"I'm glad you stayed, Jo," Mrs. Aydelot greeted her. "This is 'the morning
after the night before,' and, as usual, the desertions equal the wounded
and imprisoned. Asher and the men had to go across the river early to look
after the fences and washouts on the lower quarter. And Rosie Gimpke
decided to go home this morning as soon as breakfast was done. So it is
left for us to get the house over the party. Not so easy as getting ready
for it, especially without help."

"Where's Thaine?" Jo asked carelessly, though her face was a tattler.

"He took some colts over to John Jacobs' ranch. He had Rosie ride one and
he rode another and led two. They were a sight. I hoped you might see them
go by your window. Thaine had his hat stuck on like a Dutchman's and he
puffed himself out and made up a regular Wyker face as he jogged along.
And Rosie plumped herself down on that capering colt as though she shifted
all responsibility for accidents upon it. The more it pranced about, the
firmer she sat and the less concerned she was. I heard Thaine calling out,
'Breakers ahead!' as he watched her bring it back into the road in front
of him with a sort of side kick of her foot."

"What made Gimpke leave?" Jo asked, to cover her disappointment.

"She cut her hand badly last night. She insisted at first that she would
help me today and go home later to stay till it gets well. Then she
suddenly changed her mind. Possibly it was the spare-room bed," Virginia
said laughing. "When I told her not to wake you when she made up the other
beds, she suddenly got homesick, her hand grew worse and she flew the
premises. I'll run up and attend to that bed while you finish your
breakfast," and Virginia left the room.

At that moment young Todd Stewart appeared on the side porch before the
dining room door.

"Thaine stopped long enough to ask me to come over and move furniture for
his mother," Todd sang out. "He doesn't think you were made to lift
cupboards and carry chairs downstairs."

"Oh, it's his mother he's thinking about," Jo said with pretty petulance.
In truth, she was angry with Thaine for taking Leigh home last night and
for leaving home today.

"No, it's his mother he's ceased to love," Todd said, coming inside. "He
said he'd quit the old home and was moving his goods up to Wolf Creek for
keeps. And with that fat tow-headed Gimpke girl sitting on the frisky bay
colt as unconcerned as a bump on a log, it was the funniest sight I ever
saw."

Jo tossed her head contemptuously.

"Say, Curly Locks, Curly Locks, you ought to always sit on a cushion and
sew a fine seam and wear a dress to breakfast with those little pink
du-dads scattered over it."

"Not if I was a farmer's wife," Jo responded quickly.

"Oh, Jo, do you really want to be a city girl?" Todd's face was frankly
sorrowful. "Could you never be satisfied on a farm?"

"I don't believe I ever could," Jo said prettily.

"Thaine's a farmer all right, Jo."

"He isn't going to be one always," Jo broke in quickly. "He's going to the
Kansas University and there's no telling after that."

"No, he's just going to Wykerton, that's all. Nay, he have went. Him and
him fraulein. And say, there's another pretty fraulein went up the trail
just ahead of the Aydelot horse party. A sweetheart of a girl whom Thaine
Aydelot took home after all last night."

"I don't care where Thaine goes," Jo cried.

"And you don't care for a farmer anyhow," Todd said suavely.

"Oh, that depends on how helpful he is," Jo responded tactfully.

Todd sprang up and began to fling the chairs about with extravagant energy
in his pretense of being useful.

"Let's help Mrs. Aydelot as swift as possible. It's hot as the dickens
this morning, and the prognostics are for a cyclone before twelve hours.
It's nearly eleven of 'em now. I'll take you home when we are through.
Thaine isn't the whole of Grass River and the adjacent creeks and
tributaries and all that in them is."



CHAPTER XV

THE COBURN BOOK


                And I see, from my higher level,
                  It is not the path but the pace
                That wearies the back, and dims the eye,
                  And writes the lines on the face.
                                 --Margaret E. Sangster.

Meanwhile the May sunshine beat hot upon the green prairie, and the
promised storm gathered itself together behind the horizon where the three
headlands were lost in an ash-colored blur. Wykerton, shut in by the
broken country about Big Wolf Creek, was more uncomfortable than the open
prairie. And especially was it uncomfortable in the "blind tiger" of the
Wyker eating-house.

Today the men of the old firm of Champers & Co. were again holding a
meeting in this little room that could have told of much lawless plotting
if walls could only tell.

"It's danged hot in here, Wyker. Open that window," Darley Champers
complained. "What kept you fellows so long, anyhow?"

"Business kep' me, and Smith here, he stop to peek at a pretty girl for
goot as ten minute," Hans Wyker said jocosely.

Champers stared at Thomas Smith, whose small eyes gleamed back at him.

"Oh, I just turned to look at Miss Shirley in the dining room. Can't a man
look at a pretty girl if he is past forty-five? She didn't see me,
though."

"Naw, she see nopotty but young Aydelot sitting mit her. Why you take oop
precious time peekin' trough der crack in der kitchen door? I be back in a
minute vonce. Smitt haf business mit you," Wyker declared as he turned to
the kitchen again.

Left together, the two men sat silent a moment. Then Champers said with a
frown:

"What do you want now? We've got no business with each other except as I
am agent for your rents and mortgages."

"You seem to fatten on them, or something," Smith answered insinuatingly.
"You lose no flesh with the years, I see."

"I've little occasion to worry," Darley Champers replied meaningly.

"Not with a fat income like yours and small returns to your employer who's
kept you all these years," Smith began, but Darley Champers mentally blew
up. It was in the bluffer's game that he always succeeded best.

"Now, see here, dang you. Get to business. You and Wyker and me dissolved
partnership long ago. I've been your agent years and years. I've did my
best. I never got so rich you could notice it on my breath. I'm not a
thief nor a murderer. I keep inside the law. I broke with you fellows
years ago, except straight contract that'll probate in any court. You are
a bully in power and a coward out of it. What the devil do you want with
me? I'm no bank. Be clear and quick about it and quit your infernal
dodgin' human beins like a cut-throat. I've signed your name to no end of
papers for you when you wouldn't put your own left-handed writin' in
sight. I have your written permit safe for doin' it. I reckon somebody
must a' put that right hand of yours out of commission sometime. I'll find
out about it one of these days myself."

Thomas Smith sat looking at the speaker with steady gaze. Many lines
crossed his countenance now, but the crooked scar had not faded with time.
In a coffin his would be the face of an old man. Alive, it was so
colorless and uninteresting in expression that not one person in a hundred
would turn to take a second look at him nor dream of the orgies of
dissipation his years could recount. Withal, he had the shabby, run-down
appearance as of a man in hard lines financially.

"I want money and I want it quick, or I'd not come clear out here. And you
are going to get it for me. That Cloverdale quarter I've held grown to
weeds so long you will sell to the first buyer now. Jim Shirley's at the
last of his string. I did what I wanted to do with him. He'll never own a
quarter again," Smith spoke composedly.

"Yes, I guess you're right. You've done him to his ruin. Jacobs has a
mortgage on his home, too, and a Jew's a Jew. He'll close on Jim with a
snap yet. It won't be the first time he's done it," Darley Champers
declared.

"And that niece, Tank's girl, he was to protect for Alice Leigh?" Smith
asked.

"Oh, eventually she'll either marry some hired man, I reckon, or go to
sewin' or something like it for a livin'. She's a danged pretty girl now,
but girls fade quick," Champers said.

For just one instant something like remorse swept Smith's face. Then he
hardened again as the ruling passion asserted itself.

"Serves her right," he said in a tone so brutal that Champers remembered
it.

"But I tell you I must have money. Two hundred dollars tonight and
fourteen hundred inside of two weeks. And you'll get it for me. You
understand that. And listen, now." Smith's voice slowly uncoiled itself to
Champers' senses as a snake moves leisurely toward a bird it means to draw
to itself. "You say you have signed my name for me and transacted
business, handling my money. If you care to air the thing in court, I'm
ready for you anytime. But do you dare? Well, bring me two hundred dollars
before tomorrow and the other fourteen hundred inside of two weeks. And
after this look out for yourself."

The threat in the last words was indescribable, and Champers would have
shuddered could he have seen Smith's countenance as he left the room.

"So he taunts me with being a coward and a brute, a thief and a
cut-throat; dares to strike me in the face when I've given him a living so
long he's forgotten who did it. I'm done with him. But he don't dare to
say a word."

He shut his lips tightly and slowly clinched his hands.

"For wy you stare so at dat door yet? Where's Champers?" Hans Wyker
demanded as he came in.

"The game's between us two now," Thomas Smith declared, turning to Hans
Wyker.

And a grim game was plotted then and there. Hans, who had been a perpetual
law-breaker since the loss of his brewery business, had let his hatred of
John Jacobs grow to a virulent poison in his system. While Thomas Smith,
whose character Darley Champers had read truly, followed so many wrong
paths down the years that conscience and manhood were strangers to him.
From being a financier he had dropped to the employment of a brewers'
association. His commission was to tempt young men and boys to drink; to
create appetites that should build up the brewing business for the future.
In the game now, Smith was to deliver beer and whisky into Wyker's hands.
Wyker would do the rest. Whoever opposed him must suffer for his
rashness.

It was cooler in the large dining-room where Thaine Aydelot and Leigh
Shirley had met by chance at noontime. Leigh's face wore a deeper bloom
and her eyes were shining with the exciting events of the day: the going
of Pryor Gaines and the business that had brought her to Wykerton.
Something like pain stabbed suddenly into Thaine Aydelot's mind as he
caught sight of her, a surprise to find how daintily attractive she was in
her cool summer gown of pale blue gingham and her becoming hat with its
broad brim above her brown-gold hair.

"I didn't expect to find you here," Leigh said as Thaine took the chair
opposite her at the little table.

"I came over to Little Wolf with Rosie Gimpke and some other colts. Then I
walked over here to catch a ride to Careyville, if I could," Thaine said
carelessly.

"You can ride with me if you want to. I'll be going soon after dinner,"
Leigh suggested.

"Oh, I'll want to all right. It may be well to start early. It's so hot I
expect there'll be a storm before night," Thaine suggested, wondering the
while what Leigh's business in Wykerton might be.

Darley Champers was in a fever when he came from his conference with
Thomas Smith. Smith had played large sums into his hands in the first
years of their partnership. Of late the sums had all gone the other way.
But Champers was entangled enough to know that he must raise the money
required, and the land was the only asset. Few things are more difficult
to accomplish than to find a buyer for what must be sold.

At the office Leigh was waiting for him. "Mr. Champers, I am Leigh Shirley
from the Cloverdale place on Grass River," she said, looking earnestly up
at him.

Darley Champers was no ladies' man, but so far as in his coarse-grained
nature lay, he was never knowingly rude to a woman, and Leigh's manner and
presence made the atmosphere of his office comfortingly different from the
place he had just quitted. The white lilac bush in the yard behind the
office whose blossoms sent a faint odor through the rear door, seemed to
double its fragrance.

"Sit down, madam. I'm pleased to meet you. Can I be of any service to you
today?" he said with bluff cordiality.

"Yes, sir. I want to buy the quarter section lying southeast of us. It was
the old Cloverdale Ranch once. It belongs to Champers & Co. now, the
records show, and I want to get it. It was my Uncle Jim Shirley's first
claim."

Darley Champers stared at the girl and said nothing.

"What do you ask for it?" Leigh inquired.

Still the real estate dealer was silent.

"Isn't it for sale? It is all weed-grown and hasn't been cultivated for
years."

The tremor in the girl's voice reached the best spot in Darley Champers'
trade-hardened heart.

"Lord, yes, it's for sale!" he broke out.

A sense of relief at this sudden opportunity, combined with the intense
satisfaction of getting even with Thomas Smith, overwhelmed him. Smith
would rave at the sale to a Shirley, yet this sale had been demanded.
Champers had written Smith's name into too many documents to need the
owner's handwriting in this transaction. Smith would leave town in the
evening. The whole thing was easy enough. While Leigh waited, the real
humaneness of which Champers so often boasted found its voice within him.

"I'll sell it for sixteen hundred dollars if I can get two hundred down
today and the rest in cash inside of two weeks. But I must close the
bargain today, you understand."

He had fully meant to make it seventeen hundred fifty dollars. It was the
unknown humane thing in him that cut off his own commission.

"It's worth it," he said to himself. "Won't Thomas Smith, who's got no
name to sign to a piece of paper, won't he just cuss when it's all did!
It's worth my little loss just to get something dead on him. The tricky
thief!"

"I'll take it," Leigh said, a strange light glowing in her eyes and a firm
line settling about her red lips.

Champers couldn't realize an hour later how it was all done, nor why with
such a poor bargain for himself he should feel such satisfaction as he saw
Leigh Shirley and Thaine Aydelot driving down the road toward Little Wolf
together. Neither could he understand why the perfume of white lilac
blossoms from the bush in the back yard of his office should seem so sweet
this morning. He was not a flower lover. But he felt the two hundred
dollars of good money in his pocket and chuckled as he forecasted the
hour of Thomas Smith's discovery.

"This is a shadier road than the one I came over this morning," Leigh said
as she and Thaine followed the old trail toward Little Wolf Creek.

"It's a little nearer, too, and you'll see by casting a glimpse westward
that things are doing over Grass River way," Thaine replied.

Leigh saw that a sullen black cloud bank was heaving above the western
horizon and felt the heated air of the May afternoon.

"I don't like storms when I'm away from home," she said.

"Are you afraid, like Jo Bennington? She has the terrors over them. We
were out once when she nearly bankrupted everything, she was so scared."

Thaine recalled a stormy night when Jo had clung to his arm to the danger
of both of them and the frightened horse he could hardly control.

"No, I'm not afraid. I just don't like being blown about. I am glad I
happened to find you, to be blown about, too, if it's necessary," Leigh
replied.

"'Happened' is a good word, Leigh. You happened on what I managed you
should, else that long circus performance with Mademoiselle Rosella
Gimpkello, famous bareback rider, had not been put on the sawdust this hot
day."

"What are you saying, Thaine Aydelot?" Leigh asked.

"You said last night you were coming over here today and that after you
had come you might need my advice. Me for the place where my advice is
needed ever, on land or water. Rosie's hand isn't fit to use yet. I knew
that was a nasty glass cut, so I met her in the hall upstairs early this
morning and persuaded her to come over today. It gave me the excuse I
wanted--to get here by mere happening."

"And leave Mrs. Aydelot all the cleaning up to do. Humane son!" Leigh
exclaimed.

"Oh, Jo stayed all night, and I stopped at Todd Stewart's place and
persuaded him down to help mother and Jo. It wasn't hard work to get him
persuaded, either."

"Aren't you jealous of Todd?" Leigh asked, with a demure curve of her
lip.

"Ought I be? He hasn't anything I want," Thaine retorted.

"No, he's a farmer. Some folks don't like farmers."

"I don't blame them," Thaine said thoughtlessly. "I haven't much use for a
farm myself. But Leigh, am I an unnecessary evil? I really turned 'Rory
Rumpus' and 'rode a raw-boned racer' clear over here just to be ready to
help you. I wish now I'd stayed home and dried the knives and forks and
spoons for my mammie."

"Oh, Thaine, you are as good as--as alfalfa hay, and I need you more today
than I ever did in my life before."

"And I want to help you more than anything. Don't be a still cat,
Leighlie. Tell me what you are up to."

They had reached the steep hill beyond the Jacobs sheep range where the
narrow road with what John Jacobs called "the scary little twist" wound
down between high banks to a shadowy hollow leading out to the open trail
by the willows along Big Wolf. At the break in the bank, opening a rough
way down to the deep waters of Little Wolf, a draught of cool air swept
up refreshingly against their faces. Thaine flattened the buggy top under
the shade of overhanging trees and held the horse to the spot to enjoy the
delightful coolness. They had no such eerie picture to prejudice them
against the place as the picture that haunted John Jacobs' mind here.

"I've bought a ranch, Thaine; the quarter section that Uncle Jim entered
in 1870," Leigh said calmly.

"Alice Leigh Shirley, are you crazy?" Thaine exclaimed.

"No, I'm safe and sane. But that's why I need your advice," Leigh
answered.

Something in the girl's appealing voice and perfect confidence of
friendship, so unlike Jo Bennington's pouting demands and pretty coquetry,
came as a revelation and a sense of loss to Thaine. For he loved Jo. He
was sure of that, cock-sure.

"It's this way," Leigh went on, "you know how Uncle Jim lost everything in
the boom except his honor. He's helped everybody who needed help, and
everybody likes him, I guess."

"I never knew anybody who didn't," Thaine agreed.

"So many things, I needn't name them all, bad crops, bad faith on the part
of others, bad luck and bad judgment and bad health, for all his size,
have helped till he is ready to go hopeless, and Uncle Jim's only
fifty-one. It's no time to quit till you're eighty in such a good old
state as Kansas," Leigh asserted. "Only, big as he is, he's not a real
strong man, and crumples down where small nervy men stand up."

"Well, lady landlord, how can I advise you? You are past advising. You
have already bought," Thaine said.

"You can tell me how to pay for the ranch," Leigh declared calmly. "I
bought of Darley Champers for sixteen hundred dollars. I paid two hundred
down just now. I've been saving it two years; since I left the high school
at Careyville. Butter and eggs and chickens and some other things." She
hesitated, and a dainty pink tint swept her cheek.

Why should a girl be so deliciously fair with the bloom of summer on her
cheeks and with little ringlets curling in baby-gold hair about her
temples and at her neck, and with such red lips sweet to kiss, and then
put about herself a faint invisible something that should make the young
man beside her blush that he would even think of being so rude as to try
to kiss her.

"And you paid how much?" Thaine asked gravely.

"Two hundred dollars. I want to borrow fourteen hundred more and get it
clear away from Darley Champers. I'm sure with a ranch again, Uncle Jim
will be able to win out," Leigh insisted.

"What's on it now?" Thaine asked.

"Just weeds and a million sunflowers. Enough to send Prince Quippi such a
message he'd have to write back a real love letter to me," Leigh replied.

"Leighlie, you can't do it. You might pay interest maybe, year in and year
out, the gnawing, wearing interest. That's all you'd do even with your
hens and butter. Don't undertake the burden."

"I've already done it," Leigh declared.

"Throw it up. You can't make it," Thaine urged.

"I know I can," Leigh maintained stoutly.

"You can't."

"I can."

"How?" Thaine queried hopelessly.

"If I can get the loan--"

"Which you can't," Thaine broke in. "Any man on Grass River will tell you
the same, if you don't want to believe the word of a nineteen-year-old
boy."

"Thaine, I must do something. Even our home is mortgaged. Everything is
slipping out from under us. You don't know what that means."

"My father and mother knew it over and over." Thaine's face was full of
sympathy.

"And they won out. I'm not so foolish after all. When they came out here,
they took the prairies as Nature had left them, grass-covered and waiting.
I'm taking them as the boom left them, weed-covered and waiting. I'll earn
the interest myself and make the land pay the principal and I know exactly
how it will do it, too."

"Tell me how," Thaine demanded.

"It's no dream. I got the idea out of a Coburn book last winter," Leigh
replied.

"You mean the State Agricultural Report of Secretary Coburn? Funny place
to hunt for inspiration; queer gospel, I'd say," Thaine declared. "Why
didn't you go to the census report of 1890, or Radway's Ready Relief
Almanac, or the Unabridged Dictionary?"

"All right, you despiser of small things. It was just an agricultural
report full of tables and statistics and comparative values and things
that I happened on one day when things were looking blackest, and right in
the middle I found a page that Foster Dwight Coburn must have put in just
for me, I guess. There was a little sketch of an alfalfa plant with its
long good roots, and just one paragraph beside it with the title, 'The
Silent Subsoiler.'"

"That sounds well," Thaine observed. He was listening eagerly in spite of
his joking, and his mind was alert to the girl's project.

"Mr. Coburn said," Leigh went on, "that there are some silent subsoilers
that do their work with ease and as effectually as any plow ever hitched,
and the great one of these is alfalfa; that it is a reservoir of wealth
that takes away the fear of protest and over-draft."

"Well, and what if Coburn is right?" Thaine queried.

"Listen, now. I planned how I'd get back that old claim of Uncle Jim's;
how I'd pay some money down and borrow the rest, and begin seeding it to
alfalfa. Then I'll churn and feed chickens and make little sketches of
water lilies, maybe, and pay the interest and let the alfalfa pay off the
principal. I haven't any father or mother, Thaine; Uncle Jim is all I
have. He hasn't always been successful in business ventures, but he's
always been honest. He has nothing to blush for, nothing to keep hidden. I
know we'll win now, for that writing of Foster Dwight Coburn's is true.
Don't try to discourage me, Thaine," she looked up with shining eyes.

"You are a silent little subsoiler yourself, Leigh, doing your work
effectually. Of course you'll win, you brave girl. I wish it was a
different kind of work, though."

A low peal of thunder rolled up from the darkening horizon, and the sun
disappeared behind the advancing clouds.

"That's our notice to quit the premises. I shouldn't want to ford Little
Wolf in a storm. It is ugly enough any time and was bank full when I took
Rosie Posie over this morning. And say, her mother's got a face like a
brass bedstead."

Thaine was lifting the buggy top as he spoke. Suddenly he exclaimed:

"Oh, Leigh, look down yonder."

He pointed down the little rift toward the water.

"Where?" Leigh asked, looking in the direction of his hand.

"Across the creek, around by the side of that hill. That's the Gimpke home
stuck in there where you'd never think of looking for a house from up
here. They can see anybody that goes up this lonely hill and nobody can
see them. If I was gunning for Gimpkes, I'd lie in wait right here,"
Thaine declared.

"Maybe, if the Gimpkes were gunning for you, they could pick you off as
you went innocently up this Kyber Pass and you'd never know what hit you
nor live to tell the tale; and they so snugly out of sight nobody but you
would ever have sighted them," Leigh replied. "But let's hurry on. It will
be cooler on the open prairie than down there along the creek trail. And
if we are storm-stayed, we are storm-stayed, that's all."

"You are the comfortablest girl a fellow could have, Leighlie. You aren't
a bit scared of storms like--"

"Yes, like Jo. I can't help it. I never was much of a 'fraid cat, but I
don't mind admitting I am fonder of water in lakes and rivers and
water-color drawings than thumping down on my head from the little end of
a cyclone funnel."

The air grew cooler in their homeward ride, while they followed the same
old Sunflower Trail that Asher and Virginia Aydelot had followed one
September day a quarter of a century before. And, for some reason, they
did not stop to question, neither was eager to reach the end of the trail
today.

As they came to a crest of the prairie looking down a long verdant slope
toward what was now a woodsy draw, Thaine said, "Leigh, my mother was lost
here somewhere once and Doctor Carey found her. Maybe Doctor Carey is the
man to help you now."

"Oh, Thaine, I believe I could ask Doctor Carey for anything. You are so
good to think of him," Leigh exclaimed. "I knew you'd help me out."

"Yes, I'm good. That's my trade," Thaine replied. "And I'm pretty brave to
offer advice, too. But if you want to talk any about courage, mine's a
different brand from yours. I may be a soldier myself some day. Brother
Aydelot of the Sunflower Ranch, trustee of the Grass River M. E. Church,
fit, bled, and died in the Civil War and was not quite my age now when he
came out all battle-scoured and gory. I always said I'd be a soldier like
my popper. But I'd fall in a dead faint before that alfalfa and mortgage
business you face like a hero. It's getting cooler. See, the storm didn't
get this side of the purple notches; it stayed over there with Pryor
Gaines and Prince Quippi."

They rode awhile in silence, then Thaine said: "Leigh, I will go up to
Careyville and send Doctor Carey down to Cloverdale to see you. It will
save you some time at least, and I'll tell him you want to see him
particularly and alone. You can tell me the result Sunday if you want to."

Leigh did not reply, but gratitude in the violet eyes made words
unnecessary.

On the Sabbath after the party, Thaine Aydelot waited at the church door
for Jo Bennington, who loitered out slowly, chatting the while with Todd
Stewart.

"Let me take you home, Jo. I see your carriage will be full with the
company you will have today," Thaine said.

Jo looked with a pretty pout at the invited guests gathered about her
mother and father waiting for her at the family carriage.

"Thank you, yes. I am glad to get away from those tiresome goody-goodies.
It looks like the Benningtons are taking the whole official board and the
'amen corner' home for dinner."

"Then come to the Sunflower Inn and dine with me. Rosie Gimpke came back
last night and she promised me shortcake and sauerkraut and pretzels and
schooners of Grass River water. Do come."

Indeed, Thaine had been most uncomfortable since the day at Wykerton, and
he wanted to be especially good to Jo now. He didn't know exactly why, nor
had he felt any jealousy at the bright looks and the leisure preference
she had just given to Todd Stewart.

"Oh, you are too good. Yes, I'll go, of course," Jo exclaimed. "Can't we
go down to the grove and see the lilies this afternoon, too?"

"Yes, we can go to China if we want to," Thaine declared. "Wait here in
the shade until I drive up."

Teams were being backed away from the hitching-rack, and much chatting of
neighbors was everywhere. Jim Shirley was not at church today, and Jo saw
Leigh Shirley going alone toward the farther end of the rack where her
buggy stood, while three or four young men were rushing to untie her
horse. Jo, turning to speak to some neighbors, did not notice who had
outdistanced the others in this country church courtesy until she realized
that the crowd was going, and down the deserted hitching line Leigh
Shirley sat in her buggy talking with Thaine, who was standing beside it
with his foot on the step, looking up earnestly into her face.

Jo was no better pleased that Leigh's face was like a fair picture under
her white hat, and she felt her own cheeks flushing as she saw how cool
and poised and unhurried her little neighbor appeared.

"Thank you, Thaine. All right. Don't forget, then," Jo heard her say as
she gathered up the reins, and noted that it was her motion and not the
young man's that cut short the interview.

"Leigh is a leech when she has the chance," Jo said jokingly, as the two
sat in the Aydelot buggy at last.

When one has grown up from babyhood the ruling spirit in a neighborhood,
her opinions are to be accepted.

Thaine gave Jo a quick look but said nothing.

"By the way, papa says Jim isn't very well this summer. Says he still
grieves over the farm he lost. Leigh hasn't much ahead of her, nailed down
to a chicken lot and a cow pasture and a garden. I wonder they don't move
to town. She'd get a clerkship, maybe."

Thaine only waited, and Jo ran on.

"I'd never stay in the country a minute if I could get to town. I'll be
glad when papa's elected treasurer, so we can live in Careyville again.
Poor Leigh. Doesn't she look like a drudge?"

Still Thaine was silent.

"Why don't you say something?" Jo demanded, looking coquettishly at him.

"About what?" he asked gravely.

"About Leigh. I don't want to do all the gossiping. Tell me what you think
of her."

"It would take a Cyclopedia Britannica set of volumes to do that," Thaine
replied.

"Oh, be serious and answer my questions," Jo demanded.

"'Doesn't she look like a drudge?' What kind of an answer--information or
just my opinion?"

"Oh, your opinion, of course," Jo said.

"If she looks like a drudge, it's what she is." The young man's eyes were
on his team.

"I thought you liked her," Jo insisted.

"I do," Thaine replied.

"How much, pray?"

"I haven't measured yet."

Thaine Aydelot was by inheritance a handsome young fellow, and as he
turned now to his companion, something in his countenance gave it a
manliness not usual to his happy-go-lucky expression. But the same
unpenetrable something beyond which no one could see was always on his
face when Jo talked of Leigh.

"How much do you like me?" The query was daringly put, but the beauty of
the girl's striking face seemed to warrant anything from her lips, however
daring.

"A tremendous lot, I know that," Thaine replied quickly, and Jo dropped
her eyes and began to chatter of other things.

In the afternoon the cool grove was inviting, and Thaine and Jo loitered
about in careless enjoyment of woodland shadows and wind-dimpled waters
and Sabbath quiet and one another.

"I want father to have a little boathouse over by the lily corner and make
a picnic place here sometime," Thaine said as they sat by the lake in the
late afternoon.

"Such a nice place for you to come in the summer. Aren't you glad you
don't just have to stay in the country?" Jo asked.

"Would you never be satisfied in the country, Jo?" Thaine queried. "Not if
you had a home there?"

Jo blushed and her face was exquisite in its rich coloring.

"Would you be?" she asked.

"Oh, I'd like to do something worth while," Thaine replied. "Father
doesn't say much, but he wants me here, I know."

"He will get over it, I'm sure," Jo insisted. "Why should the first
generation here weight us all down here, too? I hope you'll not give up to
your father. I wouldn't," Jo said defiantly.

"Did you ever give up to him?" Thaine asked.

"No, he gives up to me." The words were too sweetly said to seem harsh.

"I don't blame him," Thaine added.

"I don't believe any of our crowd will stay here like the old folks have
done, except Todd Stewart and, of course, Leigh," Jo declared.

"Say, Jo, my folks don't look old to me. Mummie is younger and
good-lookinger than anybody, except--"

"Leigh Shirley," Jo broke in.

Thaine looked at his watch without replying.

"Is it late? You must take me home, now," Jo said. "You'll be over
tonight, won't you? We will have some company from Careyville who want to
meet you."

"I'm sorry, but I promised Leigh up here at church that I'd go over to
Cloverdale for a little while tonight."

Thaine could not tell Jo of Leigh's affairs, and he felt that the
Shirleys' intimacy with his father's family and his own expressed
admiration and attention to Jo were sufficient to protect him from
jealousy. Jo stiffened visibly.

"Thaine Aydelot, what's the reason for your actions--Oh, I don't care. Go
to Shirley's, by all means. Everybody to his likes," she cried angrily.

"Well, that's my rathers for tonight, and I can't help it," Thaine
answered hotly.

"Of course you can't. Let's go home quick so you can get off early," Jo
said in an angered tone.

"I'll go as slowly as I can. You can't get rid of me so." Thaine was
getting control of himself again.

"Say, Thaine, tell me why you go away from our company tonight," Jo
pleaded softly, putting her hand on her companion's arm. "Don't you care
to come to our house any more?"

They were in the buggy now on the driveway across the lake. Thaine
recalled the moonlight hour when he sat with Leigh, of how little Leigh
seemed to be thinking of herself, of how he had admired her because she
demanded no admiration from him. Was there an obligation demanded here
today? And had he given grounds for such obligation? Past question, he
had.

"Jo, you must take me just as I am," he said. "All the boys are ready to
crowd into any place I vacate around Cyrus Bennington's premises. You
won't miss one from your company tonight. I may get desperate--and kill
off a few of them sometime to make you really miss me."

He knew he was talking foolishly. He had felt himself superior to the
other young men who obeyed every wish of Jo's. He had been flattered
always by her evident preference for his company, and had not thought of
himself as being controlled by her before. He had been too willing to do
her bidding. Today, for the first time, her rule was irksome. In spite of
his efforts to be agreeable, the drive homeward was not a happy one.

It was twilight when Thaine reached the Cloverdale Ranch and found Leigh
waiting for him on the wide porch. All the way down the river he had been
calling himself names and letting his conscience stab him unmercifully.
And once when something spoke within him, saying, "You never told Jo you
were fond of her. You have not done her any wrong," he stifled back the
pleasing voice and despised himself for trying to find such excuse. He was
only nineteen and had not had the stern discipline of war that Asher
Aydelot had known at the same age.

Jo had offered no further complaint at his refusing her invitation. She
played the vastly more effective part of being grieved but not angry, and
her quiet good-by was so unlike pretty imperious Jo Bennington that Thaine
was tempted to go back and spend the evening in her company. Yet,
strangely enough, he did not blame Leigh for being the cause of his
discomfort, as he should have done. As he neared her home, his conscience
grew less and less noisy, and when he sat at last in Jim Shirley's easy
porch chair with Leigh in a low rocker facing him, while the long summer
Sabbath twilight was falling on the peaceful landscape about him, he had
almost forgotten Jo's claim on him.

"Doctor Carey came down to see me," Leigh was saying, "just as you were
kind enough to ask him to do. He told me he had no money of his own to
loan, but he knew of a fund he might control in a few days. He had to
leave Kansas yesterday on a business trip, but he will see me as soon as
he comes back."

"Better than gold! Your plans just fall together and fit in, don't they?"
Thaine exclaimed. "Will he be back in time, though?"

"Yes. But really, Thaine," Leigh's eyes were beautiful in the twilight, "I
never should have thought of Doctor Carey if it hadn't been for you."

"I am of some use to the community after all," Thaine said with serious
face.

"You are a great deal of use to me," Leigh assured him.

"Oh, anybody else could do all I do for you," he retorted.

"But I wouldn't ask anybody else," the girl replied.

"Not even my mother? She thinks there is no girl like you this side of
heaven, or Virginia, anyhow, and she'd have taken it up with father,"
Thaine declared.

"I thought of her," Leigh answered, "but in things like this, it is
impossible. You said yourself that no man on Grass River would think it a
wise plan. Your father won his fight out here, even his fight against the
boom. We have a different wilderness to overcome, I guess. Mine is
reclaiming that Cloverdale ranch from the Champers Company and the weeds.
I don't know where your battlefield lies, but you'll have it, and it's
because you haven't won yet that I can come to you. You have helped me and
you always will."

"I'm glad you came to me, anyhow," Thaine assured her.

They sat awhile looking out at the prairies and the line of the river
glistening in the gloaming. A faint pink tone edged some gray cloud flakes
in the southwest sky and all the scene was restful in the soft evening
light.

At last Thaine said thoughtfully: "I haven't heard the bugle trumpet for
my call to battle yet. Maybe I'll find out down at the University and make
everybody proud of me some day as I am proud of you in your fight for a
weed-covered quarter of prairie soil. Jo Bennington is always ridiculing
country life, and yet she's pretty fond of Todd Stewart, who is more of a
farmer every day."

A little smile curved the corners of Leigh's mouth, and Thaine knew her
thoughts.

"You are not a bit alike, you two girls," he exclaimed.

"Does it make any difference? There's only one of a kind of anything in
this world, flower or fruit or leaf or life," Leigh added. "I found that
out in painting. There's only one Jo, and one Pryor Gaines, and one Jane
Aydelot as I remember her back in Ohio; one anything or anybody."

"And only one Leigh in all the world."

It was not the usual bantering tone now, and there was something in the
expression of Thaine's handsome face; something looking out from his dark
eyes that Leigh did not see, because she was looking out at the lights
and shadows of evening.

The sunset's afterglow had thrown a splendor far up the sky. In its
reflected light, softened by twilight shadows, Leigh made a picture
herself that an artist might love to paint.

She turned away at his words, and a quiver of pain swept her face as
Thaine leaned toward her eagerly.

"Oh, Leigh, I wasn't joking. You are so unlike anybody else." He broke off
suddenly. But Leigh was herself again and, smiling frankly, she added,
"Let's count our blessings, then, and be thankful it's no worse."

Thaine rose at once.

"I must be going. It is after eight and I ought to be at Bennington's now.
I am so glad, I am so honored, to have your confidence. Won't you keep
telling me your plans, and if I can help you, will you let me do it?"

He had taken Leigh's hand in good-by and held it as he put the question.

"I'll be so glad to have your help, for we will see things alike, not as
the older people see for us. It is only at our age that we dare take
risks. Your father and Uncle Jim wouldn't come to Kansas now if it were
now like it was when they were twenty-one."

Thaine did not release her hand.

"I'm glad there is only one Leigh," he said softly.

The light of his eyes and the sympathetic tone seemed all unlike the heir
of the Sunflower Ranch, yet very much like the spirit of the father who
had wrested it from the wilderness, and the mother who had courageously
shared his every need.

"I don't know tonight where my wilderness lies. But I hope, little girl, I
hope I'll fight as good a battle on my frontier as my father has done--as
you are doing. Good-night."

He hurried away and, falling into the gay company at Bennington's, was
welcomed by Jo as a penitent, and abundantly forgiven.

While down at Cloverdale, Leigh Shirley sat long alone, looking with
unseeing eyes at the twilight into which he had vanished.



CHAPTER XVI

THE HUMANENESS OF CHAMPERS


            What is the use of trying to make things worse?
            Let's find things to do, and forget things.
                                 --_The Light That Failed._

On the third day after Darley Champers had closed with Leigh Shirley,
Horace Carey walked into his office.

"Hello, Champers, how's business?" he asked, with the cheerful way that
drew even his enemies to him.

"Danged bad!" Champers replied. "Rotten world is full of danged fools who
want money and ain't satisfied when you get it for 'em."

"Have you made such a sale lately?" Carey inquired.

"Yes; day before yesterday," Champers replied.

"Was it the old Jim Shirley quarter, the Cloverdale Ranch?" the doctor
asked.

"The very place, and I'm in a devil of a fix, too," Darley Champers
declared. "The trouble is I'm dead sure I'll not get the other fourteen
hundred."

Thomas Smith had been paid the two hundred dollars and had fully released
the land to Champers to finish the sale. Unfortunately for Champers, Smith
still hung about Wykerton, annoying his agent so much that in a fit of
anger, Champers revealed the fact that Leigh Shirley was the buyer of the
Cloverdale Ranch. Smith's rage was the greater because he did not believe
the price money could be paid by a girl without resources, and against
this girl he was not now ready to move. The burden of the whole matter
now was that Darley Champers had taken his life in his own hands by the
deal. The bulldog in Champers was roused now, and, while he was a good
many things evil, he was not a coward.

But for his anger this morning, he would hardly have been so free in
answering Doctor Carey's query. Carey was a living rebuke to him, and no
man loves that force anywhere.

"I tell you, I'm in a devil of a fix," he repeated.

"Well, be wise and go to a doctor in time," Doctor Carey said, only half
in jest. "Champers, we haven't always worked together out here, but I
guess we know each other pretty well. I'm willing to trust you. Are you
afraid to trust me?"

Darley Champers leaned back in his office chair and stared at the
questioner.

Horace Carey's heavy hair was very white now, although he was hardly
fifty-five years old. The decades of consecrated service to his profession
had told only in this one feature. His face was the face of a vigorous
man, and something in his life, maybe the meaning of giving up and the
meaning of the service, he once told Jim Shirley, he had known, had left
upon his countenance their mark of strength. As Darley Champers looked at
this face, he realized, as he had never done before, the freedom and joy
of an unsullied reputation and honest dealing.

"Lord, no, I'd trust you in hell, Doc," he exclaimed bluntly.

"I won't put it to the proof," the doctor assured him. "Nor will I trouble
you nor myself with any matter not concerning us two. Tell me frankly all
the trouble about this sale."

Briefly, Champers explained Smith's hatred of Jim Shirley, and his anger
at the present sale.

"All I ask is that you will not break your word to Miss Shirley," Horace
Carey said. "I happen to know that the money will be ready for you. This
Smith is the same man who came to old Carey's Crossing years ago, of
course?"

"Why, do you remember him?" Darley Champers asked in surprise.

"I've crossed his trail a hundred times since then, and it's always an
ill-smelling trail. Some day I may follow it a bit myself. You'll do well
to break with him," the doctor assured him.

"If Doc Carey ever starts on that hyena's trail, I'd like to be in at the
end of the chase," Champers declared with a grin.

"Why not help a bit yourself? I'm going East for a week. When I come back,
I'll see you. Maybe I can help you a little to get his claws unhooked from
your throat," Carey suggested, and the two men shook hands and separated.

Champers stood up and breathed deeply. The influence of an upright man's
presence is inspiring. Horace Carey did not dream that his confidence and
good will that day were turning the balances for Darley Champers for the
remainder of his life. Champers was by nature a ferret, and Carey's
parting words took root and grew in his mind.

The May rains that had flooded Grass River and its tributaries did worse
for Clover Creek in Ohio a few days later. The lower part of the town of
Cloverdale was uncomfortably submerged until the high railroad grade
across the creek on the Aydelot farm broke and let the back water have
broader outlet.

Doctor Carey had not startled the same old loafers who kept watch over the
railway station when he suddenly dropped into the town again. They were
too busy watching the capers of Clover Creek to attend to their regular
post of duty. And since he had been a guest of Miss Jane Aydelot as much
as a half dozen times in two decades, they knew about what to expect of
him now.

They were more interested in a big bluff stranger who dropped into town
off the early morning train, ate a plentiful meal at the depot restaurant,
and then strolled down to the creek. He loitered all day about the spot
where the grade broke, nor did he leave the place when the crowd was
called away late in the afternoon to a little stream on the other side of
town that had suddenly risen to be a river for the first time in the
memory of man.

To Doctor Carey, Jane Aydelot looked scarce a day older for the dozen
years gone by. Her days were serene and full of good works. Such women do
not lose the charm of youth until late in life.

"I have come for help, as you told me to do when I took Leigh away,"
Doctor Carey said as they sat on the south veranda in the pleasant light
of the May evening.

Jane Aydelot's face was expectant. Nobody except Doctor Carey knew how a
little hungry longing in her eyes disappeared when he made his brief
visits and crept back again when he said good-by.

"I am waiting always to help you," she replied.

"I need fourteen hundred dollars to loan to Leigh, and I must have that
sum at once."

Miss Jane looked thoughtfully at the deep woodland, hiding the marshes as
of old.

"I can arrange it," she said presently. "Tell me about it."

And Horace Carey told her all of Leigh's plans.

"It is a wonderful undertaking for a girl, but she has faith in herself,
and if she fails, the land is abundantly worth the mortgage with nothing
but weeds on it," the doctor explained. "She is a charming girl. She seems
to have inherited all of her mother's sweetness and artistic gifts,
without her mother's submissiveness to others; and from her father, she
has keen business qualities, but fails to inherit his love of gain and
traits of trickery. Her executive mind with her uncle's good heart make a
winning team. By the way, my affection for Jim Shirley is leading me to
make some quiet investigation of an agent of Tank's who is hounding Jim
and will, I suppose, turn against Leigh. Can you help me at all?"

Doctor Carey had always felt that Miss Jane knew much more than she cared
to tell of the Shirley family's affairs.

She rose without replying and went into the house. In a few minutes she
returned and gave a large sealed envelope into Doctor Carey's hands.

"Do not use that until it is needed to protect someone from Tank Shirley's
violence. It is legally drawn and witnessed. You will find it effective if
it is needed at all."

"I have one more duty, Miss Aydelot," Doctor Carey said. "My time is
brief. I have an intuition, too, that I may never come East again."

Jane Aydelot's face whitened, and her hands closed involuntarily on one
another as she waited.

"I must have you and Asher Aydelot reconciled. What can I tell him of
you?"

The pink flush returned to the pale cheeks.

"Let him read my will. I copied it when I had your telegram two days ago.
I cannot give him my property; Uncle Francis' will forbids it. But--take
the copy with you. I hope my wishes will be realized."

Doctor Carey held her hand long when he bade her good-by. In her clear
gray eyes he read a story that gave him infinite sorrow. Stooping down, he
put his arm gently about her shoulders and, drawing her to him, kissed her
once on her forehead, and once--just once--on her lips, and was gone.

They never met again. But those who knew her best in Cloverdale remember
yet that from the Maytime of that year, Miss Jane's face was glorified
with a light never there before.

Down at the creek, Doctor Carey saw a large man intently studying the bank
beyond the break in the railroad grade. Something made the doctor pass
slowly, for the figure appealed to his interest. Presently, the man turned
away and, climbing up to the National pike road before him, made his way
into town. As the last light of evening fell full upon him, it revealed to
Doctor Carey a very white face, and eyes that stared, as if seeing
nothing--even the bluff face and huge form of Darley Champers.

Two weeks later when Darley Champers gave Leigh Shirley the deed in her
own name to the Cloverdale Ranch, he said, in his bluff way:

"I'm sayin' nothin' against Jim Shirley, madam, when I say I hope you'll
keep this in your own name. Some day you'll know why. And I hope to Gawd
you'll prosper with it. It's cost more'n the money paid out for it to get
that quarter section of prairie out of the wilderness. Sorrow and
disappointment, bad management, and blasted hopes, and hard work, and
hate. But I reckon it's clean hands and a pure heart, as the Good Book
says, that you are usin' now. This money don't represent all it'll cost me
yet by a danged sight."

He bade her a hearty good-by and strode away.

The mortgage for the loan was given to Horace Carey, as agreed upon
between himself and Miss Jane Aydelot.

"If Leigh knows it's Aydelot money she might feel like she's taking what
should be Thaine's. Would the Aydelots feel the same if they knew it?"
Miss Jane had asked.

"The thing the Aydelots have never grieved for is this Ohio inheritance,"
Carey answered her. "Asher gave it up to live his life in his own way. If
you knew what a prince of a fellow he is, although he's only a Kansas
farmer, you would understand how that prairie ranch and the lure of the
sunflower have gripped him to the West,"

The day after the completion of the sale Dr. Carey went to the Big Wolf
neighborhood. In the dusk of the evening he drove up to Darley Champers'
office in Wykerton. As he was hitching his team Rosie Gimpke rushed out of
the side street and lunged across to the hitching post.

"Oh, Doctor Carey, coom queek mit me," she exclaimed in a whisper. "Coom,
I just got here from Mis' Aydelot's. They mak' me coom home to work at
the Wyker House, ant a man get hurt bad in there. Coom, do coom," she
urged in a frenzy of eagerness.

"What's the trouble?" Dr. Carey asked.

"Coom. I show you. I 'fraid the man coom back and finish heem. Don't make
no noise, but coom." Rosie was clutching hard at Dr. Carey's arm as she
whispered.

"That sounds surprising, but life is full of surprises," the doctor
thought as he took up his medicine case and followed Rosie's lead.

The way took them to the alley behind the Wyker House, through a rear gate
to the back door of the kitchen, from which it was a short step to the
little "blind tiger" beyond the dining room. Sounds of boisterous talking
and laughter and a general shuffling of dishes told that the evening meal
was beginning. For her size and clumsiness Rosie whisked the doctor deftly
out of sight and joined the ranks of the waiters in the dining room.

The only light inside the little room came from the upper half of the one
window looking toward the alley. As it was already twilight the doctor did
not get his bearings until a huge form on the floor near the table made an
effort to rise.

"What's the trouble here?" Carey asked in the sympathetic-professional
voice by which he controlled sick rooms.

"Lord, Doc, is that you?" Darley Champers followed the words with a
groan.

"You are in a fix," Carey replied as he lifted Champers to his feet.

Blood was on his face and clothes and the floor, and Champers himself was
almost too weak to stand.

"Get me out of here as quick as you can, Doc," he said in a thick voice.

At the same moment Rosie Gimpke appeared from the kitchen.

"Slip him out queek now. I hold the dining room door tight," she urged,
rushing back to the kitchen.

Carey moved quickly and had Darley Champers safely out and into his own
office before Rosie had need to relax her grip on the dining room
door-knob.

"I guess you've saved me," Champers said faintly as the doctor examined
his wounds.

"Not as bad as that," Dr. Carey replied cheerfully. "An ugly scalp wound
and loss of blood, but you'll come back all right."

"And a kick in the abdomen," Champers groaned. "But it was from what was
comin' you saved me. I've never been sick a day in my life and I've had
little sympathy for you and your line, and then to be knocked down so
quick by a little whiffet like Smith and roll over like a log at the first
blow!"

"You're in luck. Most men in your line ought to have been knocked down a
good many times before now," the doctor declared. "How did this happen?"

"I settled with Smith and made him sign everything up to a hog-tight
contract. Then he started in to abuse me till I got tired and told him I'd
just got back from Ohio and a thing or two I saw there. Then he suddenly
belted me and, against all rules of the game, kicked me when I was down,
and left me, threatening to come back and finish me. That's what you saved
me from."

"Champers, my old buggy is like a rocking chair. Let me take you home
with me for a few days while you are wearing patches on your head," Horace
Carey suggested.

Darley Champers stared at his helper in surprise. Then he said slowly:

"Say, Doc, I've hated you a good many years for doin' just such tricks for
folks. It was my cussedness made me do it, I reckon. I'd like to get out
of town a little while. That joint of Wyker's has seen more'n one fellow
laid out, and some of 'em went down Big Wolf later, and some of 'em fell
into Little Wolf and never come out. It's a hole, I tell you. And Smith is
a devil tonight."

On the homeward way Dr. Carey said quietly:

"By the way, Champers, I saw you at Cloverdale, Ohio, last week."

Champers did not start nor seem surprised as he replied:

"Yes, I seen you, but I didn't want to speak to nobody right then."

"No?" Dr. Carey questioned.

"No. I've got hold enough of Smith now to make him afraid of me if I'd
turn loose. I'd a made money by doin' it, too. Good clean money. That's
why he's gettin' good and drunk to beat me up again tonight, maybe."

"Well, why don't you tighten up on him? Why let a scoundrel like that run
free?" Carey inquired.

"Because it might drag Leigh Shirley's name into the muss. And I'm no
devourer of widders and orphans; I'm a humane man, and I'll let Smith run
till his tether snaps and he falls over the precipice and breaks his neck
for hisself. Besides I'm not sure now whether he's a agent, representin'
some principal, or the principal representin' hisself. And in that case
I'd have to deal the cards different for him, and them he'd do harm to."

"You are a humane man, Champers," Carey declared. "I think I've hated you,
too, a good many years. These gray hairs of ours ought to make us better
behaved now. But, even if you do let Smith run, that 'blind tiger' of
Wyker's must go out of business. I'll start John Jacobs after that hole
one of these days. He holds the balance of power on public sentiment out
here. He'll clear it out. His hatred of saloons is like Smith's hatred of
Shirley, only it's a righteous indignation. I've heard John's father was a
drunkard and his mother followed her husband into a saloon in Cincinnati
to persuade him out and was killed by a drunken tough. Anyhow, John will
break up that game of Wyker's one of these times. See if he doesn't."

Darley Champers slowly shifted his huge frame into an easier posture as he
replied:

"Yes, he can do it all right. But mark me, now, the day he runs Hans Wyker
out of that doggery business it will be good-by to John Jacobs. You see if
it isn't. I wouldn't start him after it too quick."

Darley Champers spent two weeks with his physician, and the many friends
of Dr. Carey smiled and agreed with Todd Stewart, who declared:

"Carey would win Satan to be his fast friend if the Old Scratch would only
let Carey doctor him once."

But nobody understood how the awakening of the latent manhood in Darley
Champers and his determination to protect an orphan girl were winning the
doctor to him as well.



CHAPTER XVII

THE PURPLE NOTCHES


                Two things greater than all things are.
                One is Love, and the other War.
                And since we know not how War may prove,
                Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love.
                        --The Ballad of the King's Jest.

The summer ran its hot length of days, but it was a gay season for the
second generation in the Grass River Valley. Nor drouth nor heat can much
annoy when the heart beats young. September would see the first scattering
of the happy company for the winter. The last grand rally for the crowd
came late in August. Two hayrack loads of young folks, with some few in
carriages, were to spend the day at "The Cottonwoods," a far-away picnic
ground toward the three headlands of the southwest. Few of the company had
ever visited the place. Distances are deceiving on the prairies and better
picnic grounds lay nearer to Grass River.

On the afternoon before the picnic Leigh Shirley took her work to the lawn
behind the house.

What most ranches gave over to weed patches, or hog lots, or dumping
grounds along the stream, at Cloverdale had become a shady clover-sodded
lawn sloping down to the river's edge. The biggest cottonwoods and elms in
the whole valley grew on this lawn. A hedge of lilac and other shrubbery
bordered by sunflowers and hollyhocks bounded it from the fields and
trellises of white honeysuckle screened it from the road.

[Illustration: Leigh turned to see Thaine Aydelot looking down at her as
he leaned over the high back of the rustic seat]

In a rustic seat overlooking the river and the prairies beyond, Leigh
Shirley bent lovingly above a square of heavy white paper on which she was
sketching a group of sunflowers glowing in the afternoon sunlight. Leigh's
talent was only an undeveloped inheritance, but if it lacked training it's
fresh originality was unspoiled.

"The top of the afternoon to you."

Leigh turned to see Thaine Aydelot looking down at her as he leaned over
the high back of the rustic seat. He was in his working clothes with his
straw hat set back, showing his brown face. His luminous dark eyes were
shining and a half-teasing, half-sympathetic smile was on his lips. But
whatever the clothes, there was always something of the Southern gentleman
about every man of the Thaine blood. Something of the soldierly bearing of
his father had been his heritage likewise.

"May I see your stuff, or is it not for the profane eyes of a thresher of
alfalfa to look upon?"

Leigh drew back and held up her drawing-board.

"It's just like you, Leigh. You always were an artist, but when did you
learn all the technique? Is that what you call it? How do you do it?"

"I don't know," Leigh answered frankly. "It seems to do itself."

"And why do you do it? Or why don't you do more of it?" Thaine asked.

The girl answered, smiling:

"Just between us two, I hope to do a piece good enough to sell and help to
lift the price of alfalfa seed a bit."

"By the way, I brought the first load of seed over just now. Where's Uncle
Jim?" Thaine asked, trying not to let the pity in his heart show itself in
his eyes.

"Uncle Jim is breaking sod--weeds, I mean--for fall sowing. Wait a minute
and I'll get you the money he left for you."

Thaine threw himself down in the shade beside Leigh's seat while she went
into the house.

"I wish I didn't have to take that money, but I know better than to say a
word," he said to himself. "Thank the Lord, the worried look is beginning
to leave Uncle Jim's face, though. How could any of us get along without
Uncle Jim?"

"What little seed to be worth so much, but it's the beginning of
conquest," Leigh said as Thaine took the bills from her hand. "And it's a
much more hopeful business to reclaim from booms and weeds than from this
lonely old prairie as it was when Uncle Jim and your father first came
here."

"It's just the same old pioneer spirit, though, and you are fighting a
mortgage just like they fought loneliness, and besides, Asher Aydelot had
Virginia Thaine to help him to keep his courage up."

A sudden flush deepened on his ruddy cheeks and he continued:

"Of course you are going to the picnic? You'll have to start early. It's a
goodish way to 'The Cottonwoods.' The Sunflower Ranch needs my talents, so
I can't go with the crowd, but I may draggle in about high noon. I'll
drive over in the buggy, and I'll try to snake some pretty girl off the
wagons to ride home with me when it's all over."

"Maybe the pretty girls will all be preempted before you get there," Leigh
replied.

"I know one that I hope won't be," Thaine said.

Leigh was bending over her drawing board and did not look up for a long
minute. It was her gift to make comfort about her while she followed her
own will unflinchingly. The breeze had blown the golden edges of her hair
into fluffy ripples about her forehead and the deep blue of August skies
was reflected in her blue eyes shaded by their long brown lashes. Thaine
sat watching her every motion, as he always did when he was with her.

"Well?" Leigh looked up with the query. "And what's to hinder your getting
the pretty girl you want if she understands and you are swift enough to
cut off the enemy from a flank movement?"

"The girl herself," Thaine replied.

"Serious! Tragical! Won't you give me that chrome-yellow tube by your
elbow there?" Leigh reached for the paint and their hands met.

"Say, little Sketcher of Things, will you be missing me when I go to
school next month? Or will your art and your ranch take all your
thoughts?"

"I wish they would, but they won't," Leigh said. "They will help to fill
up the time, though."

"Leigh, may I bring you home tomorrow night? I'm going away the next day,
and I won't see you any more for a long time."

"No, you may not," Leigh replied, looking up, and her sunny face framed by
her golden brown hair was winsomely pleasing.

"Why not, Leigh? Am I too late?"

"Too early. You haven't asked Jo and been refused yet. But you are kind to
put me on the 'waiting list.'"

Thaine was standing beside her now.

"I mean it. Has anybody asked you specially--to be your very particular
escort?"

"Oh, yes. The very nicest of the crowd." Leigh's eyes were shining now.
"But I've refused him," she added.

"Who was it?"

"Thaine Aydelot, and I refused because it was good taste for me to do it.
If it's his last day at home--and--oh, I forget what I was going to say."

"I wish you wouldn't make a joke of it, anyhow. Tell me why you are so
unkind to an old neighbor and lifelong pal," Thaine insisted.

But Leigh made no reply.

"Leigh!"

"Tell me why you insist when by all the rules you are due to snake the
prettiest girl in the crowd off the wagon and into your buggy. Why aren't
you satisfied to make the other boys all envy you?" Leigh had risen and
stood beside the rustic seat, her arm across its high back.

"Because it is the last time. Because we've known each other since
childhood and have been playmates, chums, companions; because I am going
one way and you another, and our paths may widen more and more, and
because--oh, Leigh, because I want you."

He leaned against the back of the seat and gently put one hand on her
arm.

The yellow August sunshine lay on the level prairies beyond the river. The
shining thread of waters wound away across the landscape under a play of
light and shadow. The clover sod at their feet was soft and green. The big
golden sunflowers hung on their stalks along the border of the lawn, and
overhead the ripple of the summer breezes in the cottonwoods made a music
like pattering raindrops. Under their swaying boughs Leigh Shirley stood,
a fair, sweet girl. And nothing in the languorous beauty of the midsummer
afternoon could have been quite so pleasing without her presence there.

She looked down at Thaine's big brown hand resting against her white arm,
and then up to his handsome face.

"It would only make trouble for, for everybody. No, I'm coming home with
the crowd on the hayrack." She lifted her arm and began to pull the petals
from a tiny sunflower that lay on the seat beside her.

"Very well." There was no anger in Thaine's tone. "Do you remember the big
sunflower we found to send to Prince Quippi, once?"

"The one that should bring him straight from China to me, if he really
cared for me?" Leigh asked.

"You said that one was to tell him that you loved him and you knew it
would bring him to you. But he never came."

"It's a way my princes have of doing," Leigh said with a little laugh.

"If I were in China and you should send me a sunflower, I'd know you
wanted me to come back."

"If I ever send you one you will know that I do," Leigh said. "Meantime,
my prince will wear a sprig of alfalfa on his coat."

"And a cockle burr in his whiskers, and cerulean blue overalls like mine,
and he'll drudge along in a slow scrap with the soil till the soil gets
him," Thaine added.

"Like it got your father," Leigh commented.

"Oh, he's just one sort of a man by himself," Thaine declared. "A pretty
good sort, of course, else I'd never have recommended him to be my father.
Good-by. I'll see you across the crowd tomorrow."

He turned at once and left her.

"The Cottonwoods" was a picturesque little grove grown in the last decade
about a rocky run down which in the springtime a full stream swept. There
was only a little ripple over a stony bed now, with shallow pools lost in
the deeper basins here and there. The grasses lay flat and brown on the
level prairie about it. Down the shaded valley a light cool breeze poured
steadily. Beyond the stream a gentle slope reached far away to the foot of
the three headlands--the purple notches of Thaine Aydelot's childhood
fancies.

The day was ideal. Such days come sometimes in a Kansas August. The young
people of the Grass River neighborhood had made merry half of the morning
in the grove, and as they gathered for the picnic lunch someone called
out:

"Jo Bennington, where's Thaine Aydelot? Great note for him to disappear
when this Charity Ball was executed mainly for him."

"Better ask Todd Stewart. He's probably had Thaine kidnaped for this
occasion," somebody else suggested.

"I tried to do it and failed," Todd Stewart assented. "I don't need him in
my business. He can start to school today if he wants to."

"Well, you don't want him to go, do you, Jo?"

"Oh, I don't care especially. I'm going away myself, but not to the
University, but I'm not going till papa's elected," Jo replied.

"And if papa's defeated we stay home all winter, eh?" Todd questioned.

"That all depends," Jo replied.

"Of course it does. What is it, and who depends on it? Jo, I'll help you
if you must defend yourself."

Thaine Aydelot bounced down from the rocky bank above into the midst of
the company and became at once Jo's escort by common consent.

"Now life's worth living, Thaine's here. Let's have dinner," the boys
urged.

It was not Leigh Shirley's fault that Thaine should be placed between her
and Jo at the spread of good things to eat; nor Jo's planning that she
should be between Thaine and Todd Stewart. But nobody could be unhappy
today.

In the late afternoon the crowd strolled in couples and quartettes and
groups up and down the picturesque place.

Thaine had been with Jo from the moment of his coming and Leigh was glad
that she had not yielded to his request of the afternoon before. She had
become a little separated from the company as she followed a trail of
golden sunflowers down the edge of the wide space between the stream and
the foot of the headlands towering far beyond it. The sun had disappeared
suddenly and the gleam of the blossoms dulled a trifle. Leigh sat down on
a slab of shale to study the effect of the shadow.

"Are you still looking for a letter that will bring Prince Quippi back?"
Thaine Aydelot asked as he climbed up from the rough stream bed to a seat
beside her.

"I'm watching the effect of sunshine and shadow on the sunflowers," Leigh
replied.

"It will be all shadow if you wait much longer. The clouds are gathering
now and we must start home."

"Then I must be going, too. It's a lovely, lazy place here, though. Some
time I'm going to the top of those bluffs, away off there."

"Let's go up now," Thaine suggested.

"But it's too late. I mustn't keep the crowd waiting," Leigh insisted.
"It's a stiff climb, too."

"I can drive up. I know a trail through the brush. Let me drive you up,
Leigh. It won't take long. There's something worth seeing up there,"
Thaine insisted.

"Well, be quick, Thaine. We'll get into trouble if we are late," Leigh
declared.

The trail up the steep slope twisted its way back and forth through the
low timber that covered the sides of the bluffs, and the two in the buggy
found themselves shut away in its solitary windings.

"What a shadowy road," Leigh said. "And see that cliff dropping down
beyond that turn. How could there be such a romantic place out on these
level plains?"

"It was my fairy land when I was a little tot," Thaine replied. "I came
here long ago and explored it myself."

"I'd like to come here sketching sometime. See how the branches meet
overhead. The odors from the bluffside are like the odors of the woodland
back in the Clover valley in Ohio. I remember them yet, although I was so
little when I left there," Leigh said, turning to Thaine.

He shifted the reins, and throwing his hat in the buggy before him he
pushed back the hair from his forehead.

"Leigh, will you let me take you home? I didn't ask Jo after all. Todd
wouldn't wait long enough for me to do that, as I knew well enough he
wouldn't. Don't be mad at me. Please don't," he pleaded.

"Why, I'm glad if you really want me to go with you, but you shouldn't
have staid away this morning."

"I did it on purpose. I knew Todd wouldn't let the chance slip--nor Jo
neither, if I let him have it."

"You let him have it merely because you didn't want the chance today. Your
kindness will be your undoing some day," Leigh said with a smile that took
off the edge of sarcasm.

Thaine said nothing in response, and they climbed slowly to the top of the
bluff and stood at last on the crest of the middle headland.

Below them lay "The Cottonwoods" and the winding stream whose course,
marked by the dark green line of shrubbery, stretched away toward Grass
River far to the southeast. To the westward a wonderful vista of level
prairie spread endlessly, wherein no line of shrubbery marked a
watercourse nor tree rose up to break the circle of the horizon. Over all
this vast plain the three headlands stood as sentinels. In the west the
sunlight had pierced a heavy cloudbank and was pouring through the rift in
one broad sheet of gold mist from sky to earth. Purple and silver and
burnt umber, with green and gray and richest orange, blended all in the
tones of the landscape, overhung now by a storm-girdled sky.

"This prairie belongs mostly to John Jacobs now and it is just as it was
when the Indians called it the Grand Prairie and the old Pawnees came down
here every summer to hunt buffalo. Some day, soon, there will be a sea of
wheat flowing over all that level plain," Thaine said.

"And up here a home with nothing to cut off a fragment of the whole
horizon. Think of seeing every sunrise and every sunset from a place like
this," Leigh said, her face aglow with an artist's love of beauty. "It's
farther to China than I used to think when I dreamed of a purple velvet
house decorated with gold knobs beyond these three headlands."

"I always did want to live on the Purple Notches," Thaine said
reminiscently. "I'm glad we came up here today."

The sound of singing came faintly up from the valley far away.

"The crowd is mobilized. See the wagons crawling out of the grove and the
civilians in citizens' clothes following in carriages," Thaine said as he
watched the picnic party pushing out toward the eastward. "I'm so glad we
aren't with them."

Leigh sat leaning forward, looking at the majestic distances lost in
purple haze, overshadowed by purple clouds with gold-broidered edges of
sunlight.

"The world is all ours for once. We see all there is of it and yet we are
alone in it up here on the purple notches I used to dream about," she said
softly.

Thaine leaned back in his buggy and looked at Leigh with the same
impenetrable expression on his countenance that was always there when she
was present.

"Leigh," he said at last, "if you didn't have Uncle Jim what would you
do?"

"I don't know," the girl answered.

"I never knew one of the fellows who didn't like you, but you, you don't
seem to care for any of them. Don't they suit you?" Thaine asked.

"Yes, but I can't think much about them."

"Why not?"

Leigh drew a long breath.

"Thaine, you have always been a good friend to me. Some day I'll tell you
why."

"Tell me now," Thaine insisted gently.

Leigh looked up, a mist of tears in her violet eyes.

"Oh, little girl, forgive me. It's because--because," Thaine hesitated.
"Because deep down where nobody ever knew I've loved you always, Leigh. I
didn't know how much until the night of my party and the day we were at
Wykerton."

"Thaine! Thaine! you mustn't say such things," Leigh cried, gripping her
hands together. "You mustn't! You mustn't!"

"But I must, and I will," Thaine declared.

"Then I won't listen to you. You are a flirt. Not satisfied with making
one girl love you, you want to make all of us care for you."

"I know what you mean. I thought I loved Jo. Then I knew I didn't, and I
felt in honor bound to keep her from finding it out. But that's a dead
failure of a business. You can't play that game and win. I've learned a
good many things this summer, and one of them is that Todd Stewart is the
only one who really and truly loves Jo, and she cares as much for him as
she does for anybody."

"How do you know?" Leigh asked as she leaned back now and faced Thaine.

"Because she doesn't know herself yet. She's too spoiled by the indulgence
of everybody and too pretty. She wants attention. But I found finally,
maybe mother helped me a little, that if she has Todd's attention she's
satisfied. More, she's comfortable. She was always on thorns with me.
Isn't that enough about Jo?"

"Well?" Leigh queried.

"No, nothing is well yet. Leigh, let me go away to the University. Let me
make a name for myself, a world-wide name, maybe, let me fight on my
frontier line and then come back and lift the burden you carry now. I want
to do big things somewhere away from the Kansas prairies, away from the
grind of the farm and country life. Oh, Leigh, you are the only girl I
ever can really love."

He leaned forward and took her hands in his own, his dark eyes, beautiful
with the light of love, looking down into hers, his face aglow with the
ambition of undisciplined youth.

"Let me help you," he pleaded.

"It is only sympathy you offer, Thaine, and I don't want sympathy. You
said that game wouldn't win with Jo. Neither would it with me. I am happy
in my work. I'm not afraid of it. The harder part is to get enough money
to buy seed and pay interest, and Uncle Jim and I will earn that. I tell
you the mortgage must be lifted by alfalfa roots just as Coburn's book
says it will be."

There was a defiant little curve on her red lips and the brave hopefulness
of her face was inspiring.

"Go and do your work, Thaine. Fight your battles, push back your frontier
line, win your wilderness, and make a world-wide name for yourself. But
when all is done don't forget that the fight your father and mother made
here, and are making today, is honorable, wonderful; and that the winning
of a Kansas farm, the kingdom of golden wheat, bordered round by golden
sunflowers, is a real kingdom. Its sinews of strength uphold the nation."

"Why, you eloquent little Jayhawker!" Thaine exclaimed. "You should have
been an orator on the side, not an artist. But all this only makes me care
the more. I'm proud of you. I'd want you for my chum if you were a boy. I
want you for my friend, but down under all this I want you for my girl
now, and afterwhile, Leigh, I want you for my own, all mine. Don't you
care for me? Couldn't you learn to care, Leigh? Couldn't you go with me to
a broader life somewhere out in the real big world? Couldn't we come some
time to the Purple Notches and build a home for just our summer days,
because we have seen these headlands all our lives?"

Leigh's head was bowed, and the pink blooms left her cheeks.

"Thaine," she said in a low voice that thrilled him with its sweetness, "I
do care. I have always cared so much that I have hoped this moment might
never come."

Thaine caught her arm eagerly.

"No! no! We can never, never be anything but friends, and if you care more
than that for me now, if you really love me--"the voice was very
soft--"don't ask me why. I cannot tell you, but I know we can never be
anything more than friends, never, never."

The sorrow on her white face, the pathos of the great violet eyes, the
firm outline of the red lips told Thaine Aydelot that words were hopeless.
He had known her every mood from childhood. She never dallied nor
hesitated. The grief of her answer went too deep for words to argue
against. And withal Thaine Aydelot was very proud and unaccustomed to
being denied what he chose to want very much.

"Leigh, will you do two things for me?" he asked at length. The sad, quiet
tone was unlike Thaine Aydelot.

"If I can," Leigh answered.

"First, will you promise me that if you want me you will send for me. If
you ever find--oh, Leigh, ever is such a long word. If you ever think you
can care enough for me to let me come back to you, you will let me know."

"When I send you the little sunflower letter Prince Quippi never answered
you may come back," Leigh said lightly, but the tears were too near for
the promise to seem trivial. "What is the other thing?"

"I want you just once to let me kiss you, Leigh. It's our good-by kiss
forever. Hereafter we are only friends, old chums, you know. Will you let
me be your lover for one minute up here on the Purple Notches, where the
whole world lies around us and nobody knows our secret? Please, Leigh.
Then I'll go away and be a man somewhere in the big world that's always
needing men."

Leigh leaned toward him, and he held her close as he kissed her red lips.
In all the stormy days that followed the memory of that moment was with
him. A moment when love, in all its purity and joy, knew its first
realization.

The next day Leigh Shirley made butter all the morning, and in the
afternoon she tried to retouch her sketch of sunflowers as she had seen
the shadows dull the brightness of their petals in the valley below the
Purple Notches.

The same day Thaine Aydelot left home for the winter, taking the memory of
the most sacred moment of his life with him out into the big world that is
always needing men.



CHAPTER XVIII

REMEMBERING THE MAINE


           The Twentieth Kansas was fortunate in opportunity,
           and heroic in action, and has won a permanent
           place in the hearts of a grateful people.
                                          --William McKinley.

The sunny plains of Kansas were fair and full of growing in the spring of
1898. The alfalfa creeping out against the weeds of the old Cloverdale
Ranch was green under the April sunshine. The breezes sweeping down the
Grass River Valley carried a vigor in their caress. The Aydelot grove,
just budding into leaf, was full of wild birds' song. All the sights and
sounds and odors of springtime made the April day entrancing on the Kansas
prairies.

Leigh Shirley had risen at dawn and come up to the grove in the early
morning. She tethered her pony to graze by the roadside, and with her
drawing board on a slender easel she stood on the driveway across the
lakelet, busy for awhile with her paints and pencil. Then the sweetness of
the morning air, the gurgling waters at the lake's outlet, once the little
draw choked with wild plum bushes, and the trills of music from the
shimmering boughs above her head, all combined to make dreaming pleasant.
She dropped her brushes and stood looking at the lake and the bit of open
woodland, and through it to the wide level fields beyond, with the river
gleaming here and there under the touch of the morning light.

She recalled in contrast the silver and sable tones of the May night when
she and Thaine sat on the driveway and saw the creamy water lilies open
their hearts to the wooing moonlight and the caressing shadows. It was a
fairyland here that night. It was plain daylight now, beautiful, but real.
Life seemed a dream that night. It was very real this April morning. The
young artist involuntarily drew a deep breath that was half a sigh and
stooped to pick up her fallen brushes. But she dropped them again with a
glad cry. Far across the lake, in the leaf-checkered sunshine, Thaine
Aydelot stood smiling at her.

"Shall I stay here and spoil your landscape or come around and shake
hands?" he called across to her.

"Oh, come over here and tell me how you happened," Leigh cried eagerly.

Grass River people blamed the two years of the University life for
breaking Thaine Aydelot's interest in Jo Bennington. Not that Jo lacked
for admirers without him. Life had been made so pleasant for her that she
had not gone away to any school, even after her father's election to
office. And down at the University the pretty girls considered Thaine
perfectly heartless, for now in his second year they were still baffled by
his general admiration and undivided indifference toward all of them. His
eager face as he came striding up the driveway to meet Leigh Shirley would
have been a revelation to them.

"I 'happened' last night, too late to-wake up the dog," Thaine exclaimed.
"I happened to run against Dr. Carey, who had a hurry-up call down this
way, and he happened to drop me at the Sunflower Inn. He's coming by for
breakfast at my urgent demand. This country night practice is enough to
kill a doctor. His hair is whiter than ever, young as he is. He said he is
going to take a trip out West and have a vacation right soon. I told him
all my plans. You can tell him anything, you know. And, besides, I'm
hoping he will beat me to the house this morning and will tell the folks
I'm here."

"Doesn't your mother know you are here?" Leigh asked.

"Not yet. I wanted to come down early and tell the lake good-by. I have to
leave again in a few hours."

The old impenetrable expression had dropped over his face with the words.
And nobody knows why the sunshine grew dull and the birds' songs dropped
to busy twittering about unimportant things.

"Do you always tell it good-by?" Leigh asked, because she could think of
nothing else to say.

"Not always, but this time it's different. I'm so glad I found you. I
should have gone down to Cloverdale, of course, if you hadn't been here,
but this saves time."

A pink wave swept Leigh's cheek, but she smiled a pleasant recognition of
his thoughtfulness.

"I've come home to say good-by because I'm going to enlist in the first
Kansas regiment that goes to Cuba to fight the Spaniards. And I must hurry
back to Lawrence."

"Oh, Thaine! What do you mean?"

Leigh's face was very white.

"Be careful!"

Thaine caught her arm in time to save the light easel from being thrown
over.

"Don't look at me that way, Leigh. Don't you know that President McKinley
has declared war and has called for one hundred and twenty-five thousand
volunteers? Four or five thousand from old Kansas. Do you reckon we
Jayhawkers will wait till one hundred and twenty thousand have enlisted
and trail in on the last five thousand? It would be against all traditions
of the rude forefathers of the Sunflower State."

"Has war really been declared? We haven't had the papers for nearly a
week. Everybody is so busy with farm work right now."

Leigh stood looking anxiously at Thaine.

"Declared! The first gun has been fired. The call for volunteers has come
from Washington, and the Governor has said he will make Fred Funston
Colonel of the first regiment of Kansas volunteers, and he sent out his
appeal for loyal Kansas men to offer themselves. I tell you again, Leigh
Shirley, I'll not be the one hundred and twenty-five thousandth man in the
line. I'm going to be right close up to little Fred Funston, our Kansas
boy, who is to be our Colonel. I have a notion that University students
will make the right kind of soldiers. There will be plenty of ignorance
and disloyalty and drafting into line on the Spanish side. America must
send an intelligent private if the war is to be fought out quickly. I'm
that intelligent gentleman."

"But why must we fight at all, Thaine? Spain has her islands in every sea.
We are almost an inland country. Spain is a naval power. Who ever heard of
the United States being a naval power? I don't understand what is back of
all this fuss." Leigh asked the questions eagerly.

"We fight because we remember the Maine," Thaine said a little boastfully.
"We are keeping in mind the two hundred and sixty-six American sailors
who perished when our good ship was sunk in the harbor at Havana last
February. If we aren't a naval power now we may develop some sinews of
strength before we are through. Your Uncle Sam is a nervy citizen, and it
was a sorry day for proud old Spain when she lighted the fuse to blow up
our good warship. It was a fool's trick that we'll make Spain pay dearly
for yet."

"So it's just for revenge, then, for the Maine horror. Thaine, think how
many times worse than that this war might be. Isn't there any way to
punish Spain except by sending more Americans to be killed by her fuses
and her guns?" Leigh insisted.

"There is more than the _Maine_ affair," Thaine assured her. "You know,
just off our coast, almost in sight of our guns, Spain has held Cuba for
all these centuries in a bondage of degradation and ignorance and cruel
oppression. You know there has been an awful warfare going on there for
three years between the Spanish government and the rebels against it. And
that for a year and a half the atrocities of Weyler, the Captain General
of the Spanish forces, make an unprintable record. The United States has
declared war, not to retaliate for the loss of the _Maine_ alone, awful as
it was, but to right wrongs too long neglected, to put a twentieth century
civilization instead of a sixteenth century barbarity in Cuba."

Thaine was reciting his lesson glibly, but Leigh broke in.

"But why must you go? You, an only child?"

She had never seen a soldier. Her knowledge of warfare had been given her
by the stories Jim Shirley and Dr. Carey had told to her in her childhood.

"It's really not my fault that I'm an only child. It's an inheritance. My
father was an only child, too. He went to war at the mature age of
fifteen. I'll be twenty-one betimes." Thaine stood up with military
stiffness.

"Your father fought to save his country. You just want gold lace and a
lark. War is no frolic, Thaine Aydelot," Leigh insisted.

"I'm not counting on a frolic, Miss Shirley, and I don't want any gold
lace till I have earned it," Thaine declared proudly.

"Then why do you go?" Leigh queried.

"I go in the name of patriotism. Wars don't just happen. At least, that is
what the professor at the University tells us. Back of this Spanish fuss
is a bigger turn waiting than has been foretold. Watch and see if I am not
a prophet. This is a war to right human wrongs. That's why we are going
into it."

"But your father wants you here. The Sunflower Ranch is waiting for you,"
Leigh urged.

"His father wanted him to stay in Ohio, so our family history runs. But
Mr. Asher heard the calling of the prairies. His wilderness lay on the
Kansas plains, and he came out and drove back the frontier line and pretty
near won it. At least, he's got a wheat crop in this year that looks some
like success."

Thaine smiled, but Leigh's face was grave.

"Leighlie, my frontier is where the Spanish yoke hangs heavy on the necks
of slaves. I must go and win it. I must drive back my frontier line where
I find it, not where my grandfather found it. I must do a man's part in
the world's work."

His voice was full of earnestness and his dark eyes were glowing with the
fire of inspiration. By the patriotism and enthusiasm of the youth of
twenty-one has victory come to many a battlefield.

"But I don't want you to go away to war," Leigh pleaded.

"You don't want me here."

Thaine let his hand rest gently on hers for a moment as it lay on top of
the easel; then hastily withdrew it.

"Has your alfalfa struck root deep enough to begin to pull up that
mortgage yet?" he inquired, as if to drop the unpleasant subject.

"Not yet," Leigh answered. "We make every acre help to seed more acres.
It's an uphill pull. It's my war with Spain, you know. But I'm doing
something with these little daubs of mine. I have sold a few pieces. The
price wasn't large, but it was something to put against a hungry interest
account. Some day I want to paint--"she hesitated.

"What?" Thaine asked.

Leigh was bending over her brushes and paints, and did not look up as she
said with an effort at indifference:

"Oh, the Purple Notches. It is so beautiful over there."

Thaine bit his lips to hold back the words, and Leigh went on:

"Dr. Carey says Uncle Jim couldn't have held out long at general farming.
But the Coburn book was right. The alfalfa is the silent subsoiler, and
when the whole quarter is seeded we'll pull that mortgage up by the roots,
all right."

She looked up with shining eyes, and Thaine took both of her hands in his,
saying:

"I must tell you good-by now. Mother will know I am here and will be
dragging the lake for me. This isn't like other good-bys. Of course, I may
come back a Brigadier General and make you very proud of me, or I might
not come at all, but I won't say that. Oh, Leigh, Leigh, may I tell you
once more how dear you are to me? Will you promise again to send me the
same message you sent to Prince Quippi when you want me to come back?"

"I will," Leigh replied in a low voice, and for that moment the grove
became for them a holy sanctuary, wherein their words were sacred vows.

When Thaine reached home again, Dr. Carey was just leaving, and the way
was prepared for the purpose of his own coming, as he had hoped it would
be.

"I've a call to make across the river. I'll be back in time to take you up
to catch the train. There's a feast of a breakfast waiting in there for
you. I know, for I had my share of it. Good-by for an hour or two."

The doctor waved his hand to Thaine and drove away.

"So the wanderlust and spirit of adventure in the Aydelot blood got you
after all," Asher Aydelot said as he looked across the breakfast table at
his son. "It seems such a little while ago that I was a boy in Ohio, a
foolish fifteen-year-old, crazy to see and be into what I've wished so
often since that I could forget."

"But you don't object, Father?" Thaine asked eagerly.

Asher did not reply at once. A rush of boyhood memories flooded his mind,
and as he looked at Virginia he recalled how his mother had looked at him
on the day he left home to join the Third Ohio regiment nearly forty
years ago. And then he remembered the moonlit night and his mother's
blessing when he told of his longing for the open West, where opportunity
hunts the man.

"No, Thaine," he answered gently at last. "All I ask is that you try to
foresee what is coming in hardship and responsibility. Young men go to war
for adventure mostly. The army life may make a hero of you, not by brevet
nor always by official record, but a hero nevertheless in bravery where
courage is needed, and in a sense of duty done. Or it can make a low-grade
scoundrel of you almost before you know it, if you do not put yourself on
guard duty over yourself twenty-four hours out of every twenty-four. War
means real hardship. It is in everything the opposite of peace. And this
war foreshadows big events. It may lead you to Cuba or to the Orient. Our
Asiatic squadron is ordered from Hong Kong. Dr. Carey tells me it is going
to meet the Spanish navy in the Philippines. I thought I fixed the West
when I came here as a scout and later a settler, and drove the frontier
back with my rifle and my hoe. Is it possible your frontier is further
westward still? Even across the Pacific Ocean, where another kind of
wilderness lies?"

Into Asher's clear gray eyes, that for all the years had held the vision
of the wide, pathless prairies redeemed to fruitfulness, there was a
vision now of the big things with which the twentieth century must cope.
The work of a generation younger than his own.

"Don't forget two things, Thaine, when you are fairly started in this
campaign. First, that wars do not last forever. They jar the frontier line
back by leaps, but after war is over the good old prairie soil is waiting
still for you--acres and acres yet unredeemed. And secondly, while you are
a soldier don't waste energy with memories. Fight when you wear a uniform,
and dream and remember when the guns are cold. You have my blessing,
Thaine, only remember the blessing of Moses to Asher of old, 'As your day
so will your strength be.' But you must have your mother's approval too."

Thaine looked lovingly at his mother, and the picture of her fine face
lighted by eyes full of mother love staid with him through all the months
that followed. And all the old family pride of the Thaines of Virginia,
all the old sense of control and daring was in her tone as she answered:

"You have come to a man's estate. You must choose for yourself. But big as
the world is, it is too little for mothers to be lost in. You cannot find
a frontier so far that a mother's love has not outrun you to it. Go out
and win."

"You are a Trojan, mother. I hope I'll always be worthy of your love,
wherever I am," her son murmured.

Two hours later, when Dr. Carey stopped for Thaine, Virginia Aydelot came
down to his buggy. Her face was very white and her eyes were shining with
heroic resolve to be brave to the last.

"Horace, you may be glad you have no children," she said, as they waited
for Thaine and his father to come out.

"My life has had many opportunities for service that must make up for the
lack of other blessings. It may have further opportunity soon. May I ask a
favor of you?"

Virginia was not to blame that her heart was too full to catch the
undertone of sorrow in Horace Carey's words as she replied graciously:

"Anything that I can grant."

"Life is rather uncertain--even with a good doctor in the community--"Dr.
Carey's smile was always winning. "I have hoarded less than I should have
done if there had been a Carey to follow me. There will be nobody but Bo
Peep to miss me, especially after awhile. I want you to give him a home if
he ever needs one. He has some earnings to keep him from want. But you and
I are the only Virginians in the valley. Promise me!"

"Of course I will, always, Horace. Be sure of that."

"Thank you, Virginia. I am planning to start to California in a few days.
I may be gone for several months. I'll tell you good-by now, for I may not
be down this way again before I go."

Virginia remembered afterward the doctor's strong handclasp and the steady
gaze of his dark eyes and the pathos of his voice as he bade her good-by.
But she did not note these then, for at that moment Thaine came down the
walk with his father, and in the sorrow of parting with her son she had no
mind for other things.

Dreary rains filled up the first days of May. At Camp Leedy, where the
Kansas volunteers mobilized on the old Fair Ground on the outskirts of
Topeka, Thaine Aydelot sat under the shelter of his tent watching the
water pouring down the canvas walls of other tents and overflowing the
deep ruts that cut the grassy sod with long muddy gashes. Camp Leedy was
made up mostly of muddy gashes crossed by streams of semi-liquid mud
supposed to be roads. Thaine sat on a pile of sodden straw. His clothing
was muddy, his feet were wet, and the chill of the cold rain made him
shiver.

"Noble warfare, this!" he said to himself. "Asher Aydelot knew his bearing
when he told me that war was no ways like peace. I wonder what's going on
right now down at the Sunflower Ranch. The rain ought to fill that old
spillway draw from the lake down in the woods. It's nearly time for the
water lilies to bloom, too."

The memory of the May night two years before with Leigh Shirley, all pink
and white and sweet and modest, came surging across his mind as a heavy
dash of rain deluged the tent walls about him.

"Look here, Private Thaine Aydelot, Twentieth Kansas Volunteers, if you
are going to be a soldier stop that memory business right here, except to
remember what Private Asher Aydelot, of the Third Ohio Infantry, told you
about guard duty twenty-six hours out of twenty-four. Heigh ho!"

Thaine ended with a sigh, then he shut his teeth grimly and stared at the
unceasing downpour with unseeing eyes.

A noisy demonstration in the camp roused him, and in a minute more young
Todd Stewart lay stretched at full length in the mud before his tent.

"Welcome to our city, whose beauties have overcome others also," Thaine
said, as he helped Todd to rise from the mud.

"Well, you look good to me, whether I do to you or not," Todd declared, as
he scraped at the muddy plaster on his clothing.

"Enter!" Thaine exclaimed dramatically, holding back the tent flaps. "I
hope you are not wounded."

Todd limped inside and sat down on the wet straw.

"No, my company just got to camp. I was so crazy to see anybody from the
short grass country that I made a slide your way too swiftly. I don't mind
these clothes, for I'll be getting my soldier's togs in a minute anyhow,
but I did twist that ankle in my zeal. Where's your uniform?" Todd asked,
staring at Thaine's clothes.

"With yours, still. Make a minute of it when you get it, won't you?"
Thaine replied. "Our common Uncle wants soldiers. He has no time to give
to their clothes. A ragged shirt or naked breast will stop a Spanish
bullet as well as a khaki suit."

"Do you mean to say you haven't your soldier uniform yet?" Todd broke in.

"A few of us have, but most of us haven't. They cost something," Thaine
said with a shiver, for the May afternoon was chilly.

"Then I'll not stay here and risk my precious life for a government so
darned little and stingy."

Todd sprang up with the words, but fell down again, clasping his ankle.

"Oh, yes, you will. You've enlisted already, and you have a bad ankle
already. Let me see it."

Thaine examined the sprained limb carefully. He had something of his
father's ability for such things combined with his mother's gentle touch.

"Let me bind it up a little while you tell me about Grass River. Then hie
thee to a hospital," he said.

"There's nothing new, except that Dr. Carey has gone West for a
vacation and John Jacobs is raising cain over at Wykerton because a hired
hand, just a waif of an orphan boy, got drunk in Hans Wyker's joint
and fell into Big Wolf and was drowned. Funny thing about it was that
Darley Champers came out against Wyker for the first time. It may go
hard with the old Dutchman yet. Jim Shirley isn't very well, but he never
complains, you know. Jo Bennington was wild to have me enlist. I
suppose some pretty University girl was backing you all the time," Todd
said enthusiastically.

"The only pretty girl I care for didn't want me to go to the war at all,"
Thaine replied, staring gloomily out at the rain.

"Well, why do you go, then?" Todd inquired.

"Oh, she doesn't specially care for me here, either," Thaine replied.
"Girls don't control this game for me. But we have some princes of men
here all right."

"As for instance?" Todd queried.

"My captain, Adna Clarke, and his lieutenants, Krause and Alford. They
were first to enlist in our company down in the old rink at Lawrence.
Captain Clarke is the kind of a man who makes you feel like straightening
right up to duty when you see him coming, and he is so genial in his
discipline it is not like discipline. Lieutenant Krause fits in with
him--hand and glove. But, Todd," Thaine went on enthusiastically, "if you
meet a man on this campground with the face of a gentleman, the manners of
a soldier, a smile like sunshine after a dull day in February, and a, well
a sort of air about him that makes you feel he's your friend and that
doing a kind act is the only thing a fellow should ever think of
doing--that's Lieutenant Alford. There are some fine University boys here
and we have all packed up our old Kansas University yell, 'Rock Chalk!
Jay Hawk! K U!' to use on the Spanish. We'll make them learn to run
whenever they hear that yell. The whole regiment is a credit to Kansas, if
we haven't the clothes right now. You are rather a disreputable looking
old mudball yourself. Let's try to get to the hospital tent."

Thaine lifted Todd Stewart to his feet, and as they started up the slushy
way to the hospital tent, he said:

"Yonder is Lieutenant Alford now."

A young man with a face as genial as his manner was dignified responded
pleasantly to the private's salute, and the rainfall seemed less dreary
and all the camp more cheerful for this lieutenant's presence. No wonder
he seemed a prince to the enthusiastic young soldier whose admiration
deepened into an abiding love he was never to lose out of his life in all
the years to come. In the months that followed Thaine came to know Captain
Clarke and his two lieutenants, Krause and Alford, as soldier knows
soldier. Nor did ever Trojan nor Roman military hero have truer homage
from the common private than the boy from the Grass River Valley paid to
these young men commanding his company.

The hardships of soldier life began for Thaine Aydelot and his regiment
with the day of enlistment. The privations at Camp Leedy were many. The
volunteers had come in meagerly clothed because they expected to be fully
supplied by the government they were to serve. The camp equipments were
insufficient. The food was poor, and day after day the rain poured
mercilessly down on the muddy campground, where the volunteers slept on
wet straw piled on the wet earth. Sore throats, colds, and pneumonia
resulted, and many a homesick boy who learned to wade the rice swamps and
to face the Mauser's bullets fearlessly had his first hard lesson of
endurance taught to him before he left Camp Leedy on the old Topeka Fair
Ground.

Wonderful history-making filled up the May days. While the fleets and land
forces were moving against Cuba, the deep sea cable brought the brief
story from Commodore Dewey in the harbor of Manila, "Eleven Spanish
warships destroyed and no Americans killed."

And suddenly the center of interest shifted from the Cuban Island near at
hand to the Philippines on the other side of the world. The front door of
America that for four centuries had opened on the Atlantic ocean opened
once and forever on Pacific waters. A new frontier receding ever before
the footprint of the Anglo-American flung itself about the far-off island
of the Orient with its old alluring call:

                   Something lost behind the Ranges!
                   Over Yonder! Go you there!

And the Twentieth Kansas, under Colonel Fred Funston, broke camp and
hurried to San Francisco to be ready to answer that call.

Thaine Aydelot had never been outside of Kansas before. Small wonder that
the mountains, the desert, the vinelands, and orchard-lands, and
rose-lands of California, the half-orientalism of San Francisco and the
Pacific Ocean with its world-old mystery of untamed immensity should fill
each day with a newer interest; or that the conditions of soldier life at
Camp Merritt beside the Golden Gate, to which the eager-hearted, untrained
young student from the Kansas prairie brought all his youthful enthusiasm
and patriotism and love of adventure, should wound his spirit and test his
power of self-control. Small wonder, too, that the Twentieth Kansas
Regiment, poorly equipped, undrilled, and non-uniformed still, should make
only a sorry showing among the splendid regiments mobilized there; or that
to the big, rich City of San Francisco the ragged fellows from the
prairies, who were dubbed the "Kansas Scarecrows," should become the
byword and laughing stock among things military.

One neglect followed another for the Kansas Twentieth. The poorest camping
spot was their portion. The chill of the nights, the heat of the days
oppressed them. The filth of their unsanitary grounds bred discomfort and
disease.

But no military favors were shown them, and the same old stupid jests and
jibes of the ignorant citizen of the other states were repeated on the
Pacific seaboard. When the thirtieth of May called forth the military
forces in one grand parade the Twentieth Kansas was not invited to take
part.

For Thaine Aydelot, to whom Decoration Day was a sacred Sabbath always,
this greatest of all indignities cut deep where a man's soul feels
keenest. And when transport after transport sailed out of the San
Francisco harbor, loaded with regiments for the Philippines, and still the
Twentieth Kansas was left in idle waiting on the dreary sand lots of Camp
Merritt and the Presidio reservation, the silent campaign that really
makes a soldier was waged daily in Thaine and his comrades.

"Don't complain, boys," Captain Clarke admonished his company. "We'll be
ready when we are called, and that's what really counts."

Other commanders of the regiment gave the same encouragement. So the daily
drilling went on. The sons of the indomitable men and women who had
conquered the border ruffian, the hostile Plains Indian, and the
unfriendly prairie sod, these sons kept their faith in themselves, their
pride in the old Kansas State that bore them, and their everlasting good
humor and energy and ability to learn. Such men are the salt of the
earth.

Todd Stewart made a brave struggle, but his slide on the muddy ground at
Camp Leedy was his military undoing, and his discharge followed.

"I'm going to start back to old Grass River tomorrow," he said to Thaine
Aydelot, who had called to see him with face aglow. "I've made the best
fight I could, but the doctor says the infantry needs two legs, and
neither one wooden. But best of all, Thaine, Jo has written that she wants
me to come home. It's not so bad if there's a welcome like that waiting.
She is slowly overcoming her dislike for country life. But I can't help
envying you."

"Oh, you'll stand on both feet all right when you get them both on the
short grass of the prairie again, and, as you say, the welcome makes up
for a good many losses."

Something impenetrable came into his eyes for the moment only and then the
fire of enthusiasm burned again in them, for Thaine's nerves were a-tingle
with the ambition and anticipation of the young soldier waiting immediate
orders, and he changed the subject eagerly.

"I came to tell you something, Todd. We are to sail the seas on the next
transport to Manila, sure. And we'll see service yet, all right."

Thaine threw his cap in air and danced about the bed in his enthusiasm.

"Glory be! Won't Fred Funston do things when he hits the Orient? Best
colonel that ever had the U. S. military engines to buck against."

Todd rejoiced, even in his own disappointment.

"But see here, Thaine, me child, I also have a bit of news that may
interest you plumb through. My surgeon isn't equal to the Philippines
either, nor the Ephesians, nor Colossians, and he's going back to some
fort in the mountains. Who do you s'pose will take his place? Now, who?"

"How should I know? Seeing I've got to get this regiment off, I have to
leave the hospital corps to you. Who is it?" Thaine asked.

"Dr. Horace Carey, M.D.!" Todd replied.

"You don't mean it!" Thaine gasped.

"Yes, he does, Thaine." It was Horace Carey who spoke, as he entered the
hospital quarter, and, as everywhere else, the same engaging smile and
magnetic charm of personality filled the place.

Thaine turned and gathered him in close embrace.

"Oh, Dr. Carey, are you really going?" He whistled, and shouted, and
executed jigs in his joy. "Why do you go? Can you leave Kansas? You and me
both? Oh, hurry home, Todd, and show Governor Leedy how to run things
without us." And much more to like effect.

"I've a notion I'm the right man to go," Horace Carey answered. "I had
experience in the late Civil War, which seems trifling to you fellows at
the Presidio. I rode the Plains for some years more when rattlesnakes and
Indian arrows--poisoned at that--and cholera and mountain fever called for
a surgeon's aid. I have diplomas and things from the best schools in the
East. I have also some good military friends in authority to back me in
getting a surgeon's place in the army--and, lastly, I haven't a soul to
miss me, nor home to leave dreary, if I get between you and the enemy;
nobody but Boanerges Peeperville to care personally, and Mrs. Aydelot, as
the only other aristocrat in the Grass River Valley, has promised to give
him a home. He has always adored Virginia, Thaine, since he could remember
anything."

Thaine Aydelot was only twenty-one, with little need hitherto for
experience in reading human nature. Moreover, he was alert in every
tingling nerve with the anticipation of an ocean voyage and of strange new
sights and daring deeds half a world away. Yet something in Dr. Carey's
strong face seemed to imply a deeper purpose than his words suggested. A
faint sense of the nobility of the man gripped him and grew upon him, and
never in the years that followed was separate from the memory of the
doctor he had loved from babyhood.

                   *       *       *       *       *

When the Ohio woodlands were gorgeous with the frost-fired splendor of
October word came to Miss Jane Aydelot, of the old Aydelot farmhouse
beside the National pike road, that one Thaine Aydelot had sailed from San
Francisco with the Twentieth Kansas Regiment to see service in the
Philippine Islands. On board the same transport was Dr. Horace Carey, of
the military medical staff. That winter Jane Aydelot's hair turned white,
but the pink bloom of her cheeks and the light of her clear gray eyes made
her a sweet-faced woman still, whose loveliness grew with the years.

The kiss of the same October breezes was on the Kansas prairie with the
hazy horizon and the infinite beauty of wide, level landscapes, overhung
by the infinite beauty of blue, tender skies. Boanerges Peeperville,
established as cook in the Sunflower Inn, was at home in his cosy little
quarter beside the grape arbor of the rear dooryard.

"Tell me, Bo Peep, why Dr. Carey should enter the army again and go to the
Philippines?" Virginia Aydelot asked on the day the news reached the
Sunflower Ranch.

Bo Peep did not answer at once. Virginia was busy arranging some big
yellow chrysanthemums in a tall cut-glass vase that Dr. Carey had left to
be sent down to her when Bo Peep should come to the Aydelots to make his
home.

"See, Bo Peep, aren't they pretty? Set them in the middle of the table
there, carefully. The first bouquet we ever had on our table was a few
little sunflowers in an old peach can wrapped round with a newspaper. You
didn't answer my question. Why did Horace go so far away?"

The servant took the vase carefully and placed it as commanded. Then he
turned to Virginia with a face full of intense feeling.

"Miss Virgie, I done carry messages for him all my days." The pathos of
the soft voice was touching. "I wasn't to give this las' one to you less'n
he neveh come back. An Mis' Virgie, Doctoh Carey won't neveh come back no
mo'. But I kaint tell you yet jus' why he done taken hisself to the
Fillippians, not yet."

"Why do you think he will never come back? You think Thaine will come home
again, don't you?" Virginia queried.

"Oh, yas'm! yas'm! Misteh Thaine, he'll come back all right. But hit's
done fo'casted in my bones that Doctoh Horace won't neveh come. An' when
he don't, I'll tell you why he leff'n Grass Riveh, Kansas, for the
Fillippians."



CHAPTER XIX

THE "FIGHTING TWENTIETH"


     Malolos and Bocaue's trenches know the Kansas yell;
     San Fernando and San Tomas the Kansas story swell;
     At Guiguinto's fiercest battle yon flag in honor flew;
     What roaring rifles kept it, all Luna's army knew;
     And high it swung o'er Caloocan, Bagbag and Marilao--
     "Those raggedy Pops from Kansas" 'fore God they're heroes now.
                                 --Lieutenant-Colonel E. C. Little.

Night had fallen on the city of Manila. Before it lay the bay whose waters
lapped softly against pier and shipping. Behind it in the great arc of a
circle stretched the American line of military outposts, guarded by
sentinels. Beyond that line, north, east, and south, there radiated a
tangle of roads and trails through little villages of nipa huts, past rice
fields and jungles, marshes and rivers, into the very heart of Luzon.
Manila was under American military government, but Luzon was in
insurrection against all government, and a network of rebellious lines of
enemies fretted every jungle, hid in every village, intrenched itself in
every rice field, and banked its earthworks beyond every river. While
Emilio Aguinaldo, the shrewd leader of an ignorant, half-savage peasantry,
plotted craftily with his associates for the seizure of the rich capital
of Luzon and dreamed of the autocratic power and heaps of looted treasure
that he should soon control. For weeks in sight of the American outposts,
the Filipinos had strengthened their trenches, and established their
fortifications, the while they bided the hour of outbreak and slaughter
of the despised Americanos, and the seizing of the rich booty afterward.

Upon the Tondo road, running north from Manila to Caloocan, Thaine
Aydelot, with a Kansas University comrade, was doing silent sentinel duty.
The outpost was nearly a mile away from a bridge on the outskirts of
Manila. In the attack imminent, this bridge would be one of the keys to
the city, and the command had been given to hold it against all invaders
at any cost.

Between Thaine and the bridge was a stretch of dusty road, flanked on one
side by nipa huts. On the other side were scattered dwellings, tall
shrubbery, and low-lying rice fields, beyond which lay the jungle.

Before the young sentinel the road made a sharp bend, cutting off the view
and giving no hint to the enemy around this bend of how strong a force
might be filling the road toward the bridge.

Thaine knew that around that bend and behind the rice dykes and in the
nearby trenches were Filipino insurgents with finger on the trigger ready
to begin an assault. But until the first gun of the first battle is fired,
battle seems impossible to the young soldier.

As Thaine turned from the dim road, he caught the glint of starlight on
the edge of a rice swamp. He wanted to fight Filipinos tonight, not
memories. But the memory of the Aydelot grove and the water lilies opening
their creamy hearts to the moonlight, and Leigh Shirley in her white dress
with her cheeks faintly pink in the clear shadows, all swept his mind and
challenged him to forget everything else.

The same grip on a principle, coupled with a daring spirit and love of
adventure that had brought old Jean Aydelot to the Virginia colony long
ago, and had pushed Francis Aydelot across the Alleghanies into the
forests of the Ohio frontier, and had called Asher Aydelot to the
unconquered prairies of the big West--the same love of adventure and
daring spirit and belief in a cause bigger than his own interests had
lured Thaine Aydelot on to the islands of Oriental seas. With the military
schooling and unschooling where discipline tends to make a soldier, and
absence of home influence tends to make the careless rowdy, the sterling
uprightness of the Aydelots and the inborn gentility of the Thaines kept
the boy from the Kansas prairies a fearless gentleman. Withal, he was
exuberantly pleased with life, as a young man of twenty-one should be. He
lived mostly in the company of Kansas University men, and with the old
University yell of "Rock Chalk! Jay Hawk! K U!" for their slogan, they
stood shoulder to shoulder in every conflict.

Lastly, he was a hero-worshiper at the shrine of his colonel, Fred
Funston, and his captain, Adna Clarke; while in all the regiment, the fair
face of young Lieutenant Alford seemed to him most gracious. Alford was
his soldier ideal, type of the best the battlefield may know. And, even if
all this admiration did have in it much of youthful sentimentalism, it
took nothing from his efficiency when he came to his place on the firing
line.

"I wonder where Doctor Carey is tonight," Thaine's comrade said in a low
voice, as the two came together in the road.

"What's made you think of him?" Thaine asked.

"I haven't seen him since Christmas day. A young Filipino and I got into
a scrap with a drunken Chinaman who was beating a boy, and the Chink
slashed us both. Carey stitched us up, but the other fellow keeps a scar
across his face, all right."

"I know that Filipino," Thaine said. "He seems like a fine young man. The
scar was a marker for him. I'd know him by it anywhere."

"So should I, and by his peculiar gait. I saw a man slipping along beyond
the lines just now who made me think of that fellow, and that made me
think of Doctor Carey," the sentinel said, and turned away.

It was after nine o'clock, and the hours were already beginning to stretch
wearily for sentinels, when a faint sound of guns away to the eastward
broke on the air. Again and again it came, intermittently at first, but
increasing to a steady roar. Down in Manila there was dead quiet, but
along the American line of outposts the ripping of Mauser bullets and long
streaks of light flashed the Filipino challenge to war in steady volleys.

As Thaine listened, the firing seemed to be creeping gradually toward the
north, and he knew the insurgents were swinging toward the Tondo road,
down which they would rush to storm the bridge. In that moment civil life
dropped off like a garment, and he stood up a soldier. He crept cautiously
toward the bend to see what lay beyond, and dropped on his face in the
dusty way as a whirl of bullets split the air above his head.

As he sprang back to his place beside his comrade, other sentinels joined
them, and behind them loomed the tall form of Captain Clarke.

"What's around there, Aydelot?" Clarke asked.

"Didn't you hear?"

Thaine's reply was lost in a roar of rifles, followed by increased firing
along the entire line, massing to the north before the Twentieth's front.

"There are ten more men on the way up here. We'll hold this place until
reinforcements come," Captain Clarke declared.

It was such a strategic point as sometimes turns the history of war. But
the odds are heavy for sixteen men to stand against swarms of insurgents
armed with Mausers and Remingtons. In the thrill of that moment, Thaine
Aydelot would have died by inches had this tall, cool-headed captain of
his demanded it. Clarke arranged his men on either side of the way, and
the return fire began. Suddenly up the road a lantern gleamed. An instant
later a cannon shot plowed the dust between the two lines of men.

"They've turned a cannon loose. Watch out," Clarke called through the
darkness.

A second time and a third the lantern glowed, and each time a cannon ball
crashed through a nipa hut beside the little company, or threw a shower of
dust about the place.

"They have to load that gun by the light of a lantern. Let's fix the
lantern," Thaine cried, as the dust cloud settled down.

"Good! Watch your aim, boys," Captain Clarke replied.

The bullets were falling thick about them. They whizzed through the
bushes, they cut into the thatched huts, they flung swirls of dust on the
little line of brave soldiers, they poured like stinging sweeps of hail,
volley after volley, along the Tondo road. When the lantern flashed again,
sixteen bullets riddled it, and without its help the big gun was
useless.

"Poor lantern! It fell on the firing line, brave to the last," Thaine
declared as the smoke lifted.

But the loss of the cannon only doubled the insurgents' efforts, and they
threshed at the invincible little band with smoking lead. On the one side
was a host of Filipino rebels, believing by the incessant firing of the
Kansans that it was facing an equal host. On the other side were sixteen
men who, knowing the odds against them, dared the game of war to the
limit.

"How many rounds have you left?" Captain Clarke asked.

"Only one," came the answer.

"Give it to them when I give the word. We won't run till our guns are
empty," the captain declared grimly.

The last shot was ready to fly, when a wild yell burst from the darkness
behind them, the shouts to "remember the _Maine_," mingled with the old
university yell of "Rock Chalk, Jay Hawk, K. U. oo!" and reinforcements
charged to the relief of the invincible sixteen.

What disaster might have followed the capture of the Tondo road and the
attack upon the bridge is only conjecture. What did happen is
history--type henceforth of that line of history every company of the
Twentieth Kansas was to help to build. When daylight came, Thaine Aydelot
saw the frontier line that he had proudly felt himself called hither to
push back, and the reality of it was awful. He had pictured captured
trenches, but he had not put in their decoration--the prone forms of dead
Filipinos with staring eyes, seeing nothing earthly any more forever.

Beyond that line, however, lay the new wilderness that the Anglo-American
must conquer, and he flung himself upon the firing line, as if the safety
and honor of the American nation rested on his shoulders alone; while all
his dreams of glorious warfare, where Greek meets Greek in splendid
gallantry, faded out before the actual warfare of the days and nights that
followed.

Thaine's regiment, not the "Kansas Scarecrows," but the "Fighting
Twentieth" now, was one of the regiments on which rested the brunt of
driving back and subduing the rebellious Filipinos. Swiftly the Kansas
boys pushed into the unknown country north of Manila. They rushed across
the rice fields, whose low dykes gave little protection from the enemy.
They plunged through marshes, waist deep in water. They lay for hours
behind their earthworks, half buried in muddy slime. They slept in holes,
drenched to the skin. With the University yell for their battle cry of
freedom, they tore through tropical jungles with the bullets of the enemy
cutting the branches overhead or spattering the dirt about their feet.

The American regiments were six days in reaching Caloocan, a prosperous
town only six miles north of Manila; a mile a day, every foot stubbornly
contested.

On Sabbath morning in the first day's struggle, Thaine was running in a
line of soldiery toward the Filipino fortification, when he was halted
beside a thatched hut that stood between the guns of both armies and was
riddled with bullets.

"Help the corporal here, Aydelot, then double quick it ahead," Lieutenant
Krause commanded.

Thaine followed the corporal inside the hut where, shot to pieces, lay
the mangled forms of women and children who had caught the storm of
bullets from both firing lines. Through a gaping hole in the wall beyond,
he saw a shallow pit where wounded and dead men and women were huddled
together.

"Help me get out the live ones and send them back to Manila, and we'll
cover the others right here," the corporal declared.

It was the neighborhood custom of the Grass River Valley for young men to
assist at every funeral. Thaine had jokingly dubbed himself "official
neighborhood pall-bearer," and had served at so many funerals that the
service had become merely one of silent dignity which he forgot the next
hour. He knew just how to place the flowers effectively, when to step
aside and wait, and when to come forward and take hold. And these were the
only kinds of services he had known for the dead.

As he bent over the blood-smeared bodies to take up the wounded and dying
now, the horror of war burst upon him, and no dead face could be more ashy
gray than the young soldier's face as he lifted it above a dying Filipino
woman whom he stretched tenderly beside the hut. The next victim was a
boy, a deserter from Manila, whom Thaine recognized by a scar across his
cheek as the young Filipino whose wound Doctor Carey had dressed.

"You poor fellow!" Thaine said softly.

The boy's eyes opened in recognition.

"For liberty," he murmured in Spanish, with a scowling face. Then the
scowl faded to a smile, and in a moment more he had entered eternal
liberty.

A detachment of the Red Cross with a white-haired surgeon just then
relieved the corporal of the wounded, and Thaine saw Dr. Horace Carey
coming toward him.

"I know what you are thinking. Maybe your gun did a good deal of it. This
is war, Thaine."

The young man's dark eyes burned with agony at the thought.

"Forget it," Carey added hurriedly. "It is the lost cause here. I worked
that line myself for four years long ago. I know the feeling. But this is
the only medicine to give the islands here. They can't manage liberty for
themselves. You are giving them more freedom with your rifle today than
they could get for themselves in a century. Don't wet your powder with
your tears. You may need it for the devil that's after you now. Wait till
you see a Kansas boy brought in and count the cost again. Good-by."

The doctor hastened away with the wounded, and Thaine helped to straighten
out the forms about him and to fill the pit where they were placed in one
common grave.

"Wait till you see a Kansas boy brought in and then count the cost."

Somehow, the words, ringing again and again down his mind, could not take
away the picture of the thing he had just witnessed. And the dying gasp,
"For liberty!" seemed to stab his soul, as he ran forward.

Two days later his company had orders to hold the trenches before a jungle
filled with sharpshooters. All day the sun had blazed down upon them and
the humid atmosphere had scalded them. All day the murderous "ping! ping!"
of the hidden Mauser in the jungle had stung the air about them.

Late in the afternoon Thaine lay crouched behind his low defense with a
college comrade on either side. Colonel Funston had just given the command
to rid the woods of the sharpshooters, and the force ordered to the attack
came racing by. Captain Clarke stood near Thaine's post, and as the
soldiers rushed forward, Lieutenant Alford halted beside him. Even in the
thrill of the hour, the private down in the trenches felt a sense of
bigger manhood as he looked at the young officer, for Alford was every
inch a king; his soldier uniform became him like a robe of royalty. His
fine face was aglow now with the enthusiasm of the battle and the
assurance of victory.

Thaine did not hear the words of the two officers, for the jungle was
beginning to roar with battle cries and bursting fire from many guns. But
he knew the two had been boyhood friends, university chums, and military
comrades, and the love of man for man shone in their faces.

Alford tarried but a moment with Clarke. As he spied Thaine and his
comrades, he gave an instant's glance of kindly recognition to the
admiring young privates, and was gone. The three involuntarily rose to
their feet, as if to follow him, and from three lusty throats they sent
after him the beloved battle yell of the regiment, "Rock Chalk! Jay Hawk!
K. U.!" then dropped to their places again and hugged the earth as the
rifle balls whizzed about them.

"I'm glad I'm alive and I'm glad I know that man," Thaine said to his
neighbors.

"Alford's a prince. I'll bet he'll clean that woods before he's through.
His work is always well done. Would you listen to that?" his comrade
replied.

A tremendous crash of rifle shots seemed to split the jungle as the Kansas
troops charged into it. The men in the trenches lay flat to the earth
while the balls fell about them or sang a long whining note through the
air over them. Fiercer grew the fray, and louder roared the guns, and
wilder the bullets flew, as the fighting lines swept over the enemy's
earthworks and struck with deadly force into the heart of its wooded
cover.

Then came a lull for shifting the fighting grip. A relief force was
hurried to the front and the first companies retired for a brief rest.
They fell back in order, while the aids came trooping out of the brush in
groups, bearing the wounded to places of shelter. Thaine Aydelot and his
comrades lifted their heads above the earthworks for an instant. Captain
Clarke sat near on a little knoll staring hard at a stretcher borne toward
him by the aids. The manner of covering indicated a dead body on it.

"How different the captain's face is from what it was before the attack,"
Thaine thought, as he recalled the moment when Clarke had talked with
Lieutenant Alford. And then the image of the young lieutenant's face, so
full of life and hope and power and gentleness, swept vividly across his
mind.

"Who is it, boys?" Clarke called to the soldiers with the stretcher.

"Lieutenant Alford," they answered.

Something black dropped before Thaine Aydelot's eyes and Doctor Carey's
words stung like powder burns in his memory.

"Wait till you see a Kansas boy brought in, and count the cost again."

In civil life character builds slowly up to higher levels. In war, it
leaps upward in an instant. Thaine sprang to his feet and stood up to his
full height in the blaze of the tropical sunshine. He did not see his
captain, who had dropped to the ground like a wounded thing, stabbed to
the soul with an agony of sorrow. He did not see the still form of the
young lieutenant outlined under the cover of the stretcher. He did not see
the trenches nor the lines of khaki-clad, sun-browned soldiery plunging
forward to rid the jungle of its deadly peril. In that one moment he
looked down the years with clear vision, as his father, Asher Aydelot, had
learned to look before him, and he saw manhood and a new worth in human
deeds. He had been a sentimental dreamer, ambitious for honors fairly
earned, and eager for adventure. The first shots in the night attack on
the Tondo road made him a soldier. The martyrdom of Lieutenant Alford made
him a patriot. Humanity must be worth much, it seemed to him, if, in the
providence of God, such blood must be spilled to redeem it to nobler
civilization.

Six weeks after the death of Alford before Caloocan, Dr. Horace Carey came
up from the hospital in Manila to the American line to see Thaine Aydelot.
The Kansas boys had been on duty in the trenches north of Caloocan for
forty days, living beside the breastworks under the rude shelter of bamboo
poles, watching a sleepless enemy--a life as full of wearing monotony and
hardship as it was full of constant peril.

"Well, Thaine, how goes the game?" Carey asked, as he sat beside the young
soldier from the Grass River Valley. "I helped you into this world. I'm
glad I haven't had to help you out yet."

Carey had never before seen any resemblance to Asher Aydelot in his son's
face. It was purely a type of the old Thaine family of Virginia. But
today, the pose of the head, the expression of the mouth, the far-seeing
gaze of the dark eyes, bespoke the heritage of the house of Aydelot.

"I hope not to have any more help from you, either. You got me into the
scrape; I'll see to the rest," Thaine replied. "Don't I look all right? I
haven't had a bath, except in swamp mud, since the first of February.
Today is the twenty-third of March. Neither have I seen a razor. Notice my
silky beard. Nor a dress suit, nor a--anything else civilized. Six weeks
in one hole, killing Filipinos for our amusement and dodging their old
Remingtons for theirs, living on army rations and respect for the flag of
my country, may not improve my appearance, but it hasn't started me to the
sick-shack yet. Any news from home?" Thaine ended with the question put so
carelessly, with a face so impenetrable that Doctor Carey took notice at
once.

"Homesick!" was his mental diagnosis, but he answered with equal
carelessness.

"Yes, I had a letter from Leigh Shirley."

Thaine's eyes were too full of unspeakable things now for him to hold
out.

"She says the alfalfa is doing well. She and Jim have kept up all the
interest, and are beginning to reduce the principal. That's why she
wrote."

"Brave little soldier," Thaine muttered.

"Yes, civil life has its heroes, too," the doctor responded. "She also
says," he continued, "that John Jacobs has had Hans Wyker convicted of
running a joint and Hans had to pay a fine and stick in the Careyville
jail thirty days. Hans won't love John for that when he gets out."

"What a hater of whisky John Jacobs is. He's always on the firing line and
never misses his aim, bless him!" Thaine declared.

"Yes, Jacobs' battle is a steady one. He told me just before I left Kansas
how his mother was killed in a saloon in Cincinnati when she was trying to
get his father out of it. John wouldn't live in a state that had no
prohibitory law," the doctor commented.

"Did Leigh write anything else?" Thaine asked.

"Yes. Jo Bennington and Todd Stewart are married. Pryor Gaines is in
Pekin, and he writes that there are rumblings of trouble over there. Shall
we go over and settle it when we finish the Filipino fuss?"

"Might as well. I'd like to see old Pryor. I'm glad Todd and Jo had sense
enough to take each other. I suppose Jo overcame her notions of living
only in the city. What else?" Thaine replied.

"Nothing else. That's your message." Carey's black eyes held a shrewd
twinkle.

"Why mine?" The impenetrable face was on Thaine again.

"See here, boy, don't think I haven't read her story, page by page. If
Leigh had sent you a single line, I'd have begun to doubt."

Thaine threw one arm about the doctor's shoulder and said not a word. Then
Carey read his story also.

"I nearly forgot to tell you that Leigh is doing well with her drawings.
She sent me this, for which she had a good price paid her."

Doctor Carey unfolded the paper back of a magazine having a bit of prairie
landscape for a cover design. In the distance, three headlands swam in
the golden haze of a Kansas October sunset, and their long purple shadows
fell wide across the brown prairie and fields of garnered harvests.

Thaine studied it carefully, but offered no comment.

"Doctor Carey, what brought you to the Philippines?" he asked suddenly.

"To look after you," Carey replied frankly.

"Me! Do I need it?"

"You may. In that case I'll be first aid to the injured," Carey answered.
"I'm to go with the 'Fighting Twentieth' when it starts out of these hog
wallows toward the insurgents' capital. I must get back to Manila and pack
for it. I have my orders to be ready in twenty-four hours."

In twenty-four hours the "Fighting Twentieth" left its six-weeks'
habitation in the trenches and began its campaign northward, and the
young-hearted, white-haired physician with magnetic smile and skillful
judgment found a work in army service so broad and useful that he loved it
for its opportunity.

Fortunately, Thaine had no need for "first aid" from Doctor Carey, and he
saw the doctor only rarely in the sixty days that followed. When the two
had time for each other again, Colonel Fred Funston's name had been
written round the world in the annals of military achievement, the
resourceful, courageous, beloved leader of a band of fighters from the
Kansas prairies who were never defeated, never driven back, never daunted
by circumstances. Great were the pen of that historian that could
fittingly set forth all the deeds of daring and acts of humanity of every
company under every brave captain, for they "all made history, and left
records of unfading glory."

The regiment had reached the Rio Grande, leaving no unconquered post
behind it. Under fire, it had forded the Tulijan, shoulder-deep to the
shorter men. Under fire, it had forged a way through Guiguinto and
Malolos. Under fire, it had swam the Marilao and the Bagbag. And now,
beyond Calumpit, the flower of Aguinaldo's army was massed under General
Luna, north of the Rio Grande. A network of strong fortifications lay
between it and the river, and it commanded all the wide water-front.

As the soldiers waited orders on the south side of the river, Doctor
Horace Carey left his work and sought out Thaine's company, impelled by
the same instinct that once turned him from the old Sunflower Trail to
find Virginia Aydelot lost on the solitary snow-covered prairie beyond
Little Wolf Creek.

"What's before you now?" the doctor asked, as he and Thaine sat on the
ground together.

"The Rio Grande now. We must be nearly to the end if we rout General Luna
here," Thaine replied.

"You've stood it well. I guess you don't need me after all," Carey
remarked.

"I always need you, Doctor Carey," Thaine said earnestly. "Never more than
now. When I saw Captain Clarke wounded and carried away on the other side
of the Tulijan, and could only say 'Captain, my captain,' I needed you.
When Captain Elliot was killed, I needed you; and when Captain William
Watson was shot and wouldn't stay dead because we need him so, and when
Metcalf, Bishop, Agnew, Glasgow, Ramsey, and Martin, and all the other
big-brained fellows do big things, I need you again. Life is a great game;
I'm glad I'm in it."

Horace Carey had never before seen Thaine's bright face so alert with
manly power and beauty and thoughtfulness. War had hardened him. Danger
had tried him. Human needs, larger than battle lines alone can know, had
strengthened him. Vision of large purposes had uplifted him. As he stood
before the white-haired physician whom he had loved from earliest memory,
Carey murmured to himself:

"Can the world find grander soldiers to fight its battles than these
sun-browned boys from our old Kansas prairies?"

"We are going across to Luna's stronghold in a few minutes. Watch him go
into eclipse before Fred Funston. If you stand right here, you'll see me
helping at the job. Good-by," Thaine declared, and, at the bugle call,
fell into his place.

Beyond the river a steady fire was opened on the American forces, and no
bridge nor boat was there by which to cross. Doctor Carey stood watching
the situation with a strange sense of unrest in his mind.

"There must be rafts," declared Colonel Funston.

And there were rafts, hastily made of bamboo poles.

"Somebody must swim across and fasten a cable over there by which to tow
the rafts across. Who will volunteer? You see what's before you," Funston
asserted.

Horace Carey saw two soldiers, Corporal Trembly and Private Edward White,
seize the cable, plunge into the river, and strike out directly toward the
farther side filled with Filipino forces. Rifle balls split the water
about them. Bullet after bullet cut the air above them. Shot after shot
from the ambushed enemy hurtled toward them. The two young men surged
steadily ahead, bent only on reaching the bank and fastening the cable.
They knew only one word, duty, and they did the thing they had agreed to
do. Once across the river, they ran nimbly up the bank and made fast the
rope's end, while cheer after cheer rose from their comrades watching
them, and the battle cry of the Fighting Twentieth, "Rock Chalk, Jay Hawk,
K. U.," went pulsing out across the waters of the Rio Grande as full and
strong as in the days when it rolled out on the university campus on
far-away Mount Oread, beside the Kaw.

The rafts sped along the cable, and squad after squad went pell mell into
General Luna's stronghold, under stubborn fire from the frantic rebels.

Thaine Aydelot was on the last raft to cross the river. Doctor Carey
watched with eager gaze as the last men reached the farther bank. He saw
them scrambling up from the water's edge. He saw Thaine turn back to lift
up a comrade blinded, but not injured, by the smoke of a gun. He saw the
two start forward. Then the faint "ping" of a Mauser came to his ears, and
Thaine threw up his hands and fell backward into the water and sank from
sight, while the other soldiers, unknowing, rushed forward into battle.

For a moment, Horace Carey stood like a statue, then he sprang into the
river and swam against the fire of the hidden foe to where Thaine Aydelot
had disappeared. Ten minutes later, while Luna's forces were trying vainly
to resist the daring Americans, Thaine Aydelot lay on a raft which Carey,
with a Red Cross aid, was pulling toward the south bank.

                   *       *       *       *       *

When the Fighting Twentieth soldiers were relieved from service, and
turned their faces gladly toward the Kansas prairies, whither hundreds of
proud fathers and mothers and wives and sweethearts were waiting to give
eager, happy welcome, Thaine Aydelot lay hovering between life and death
in the hospital at Manila. The white-haired doctor who had saved him from
the waters of the Rio Grande watched hourly beside him, relying not so
much on the ministrations of his calling as in his trust in an Infinite
Father, through whom at last the sick may be made whole.



CHAPTER XX

THE CROOKED TRAIL


                 Life may be given in many ways,
                 And loyalty to truth be sealed
                 As bravely in the closet as the field.
                                              --Lowell.

"Here's yo' letter from the Fillippians, Mis' Virginia; Mr. Champers done
bring hit for you all." Boanerges Peeperville fairly danced into the
living room of the Sunflower Inn. "They ain't no black mournin' aidge
bindin' it round nuthah, thank the good Lawd foh that."

Virginia Aydelot opened the letter with trembling fingers. It was only a
brief page, but the message on it was big with comfort for her.

"It is from Horace," she said, as her eyes followed the lines. "He was
with Thaine when he wrote it. Thaine is perfectly well again and busy as
ever. He and Horace seem to be needed over there yet awhile. Isn't it
wonderful how Thaine ever lived through that dreadful bullet wound and
fever?"

"I jus' wondeh how you all stand up undeh such 'flictions. Seems to me a
motheh done wilt down, but they don't. Mothehs is the bravest things they
is," Bo Peep declared with a broad grin of admiration.

"Oh, we get schooled to it. Asher's mother waited through six years while
he was in army service; and remember how long I waited in Virginia for him
to come back to me! I wondered at the test of my endurance then. I know
now it was to prepare me for Thaine's time of service for his country."

"I done remember, all right, 'bout that time in ol' Virginia, an' the day
I taken you the letteh up in the little glen behind the ol' mansion house
whah hit wah so cool and the watah's so cleah. Misteh Horace wah home that
day, too. Say, Mis' Virginia, did--did he done mention my name anywhar in
that letteh?"

The pathos of the dark face was pitiful.

"'My best love to Bo Peep.'" Virginia pointed to the line as she read.

"Kin I please have this huh envelope?" Bo Peep pleaded, and, clutching it
as a sacred treasure, he said: "Mis' Virginia, didn't I done tellen you
Misteh Thaine would come back?"

"How did you know?" Virginia asked with shining eyes.

"Becuz of what Doctoh Horace lef for me to tell you. It cain't do no hahm
to tell hit thus fah."

Bo Peep hesitated, and Virginia looked curiously at him.

"Doctor Horace won't never come back. I tol' you that sufficiency times.
When he lef, he say, 'Tel Mis' Virginia, if I don't come back, I'se done
goin' to be with Misteh Thaine an' take care of him, 'cause I love the
boy,--hit cain't do no hahm to tell you that while Misteh Horace still
writen to us. An' didn't he tak' care of Misteh Thaine? Didn't he lef his
place an' go down to that Rigrand Riveh, an' didn't he see Misteh Thaine
fall back with a bullet pushin' him right into the watah? Yes, an' be
drownded if Doctoh Horace hadn't done swum right then and fish him out.
An' didn't he stay night time an' day time right by the blessed boy, till
he's pullin' him out of dangeh of death's wing? Oh, yo' son done comin'
back 'cause Misteh Horace say he sho' goin' jus' tak' care of him."

"But, Bo Peep, why do you not believe we'll have Horace here again?"
Virginia asked.

The black man only shook his head mournfully as he answered determinedly,
"Ef yo' saves a life, you has to give one for hit, mos' eveh time, an' mo'
specially in the Fillippians whah they's so murderful and slaughterous."

"Oh, you ought not think that way," Virginia urged. "Run quick, now, and
take the news to Asher. I don't know where he is this morning."

"He's talkin' to Mr. Dabley Champehs out to the barn," Bo Peep said as he
hurried away.

Asher Aydelot was standing before the big barn doors when Darley Champers
turned from the main road and drove into the barnyard. It was a delicious
April morning, with all the level prairie lands smiling back at the skies
above them, and every breath of the morning breeze bearing new vigor and
inspiration in its caressing touch.

"Good morning, Champers; fine morning to live," Asher called out
cheerily.

"Mornin', Aydelot; fine day, fine! Miss Shirley told me last fall she got
her first inspiration for buyin' a quarter of land with nothin' and faith,
and makin' it pay for itself, out of one of Coburn's Agricultural Reports.
I reckon if a book like that could inspire a woman, they's plenty in a
mornin' like this to inspire old Satan to a more uprighteous line of goods
than he generally carries. I never see the country look better. Your wheat
is tremendous. How's the country look to you?" Champers responded.

"I can remember when it looked a good deal worse," Asher replied. "The
Coburn Reports must have helped to turn bare prairie and weedy boom lots
into harvest fields."

The two men had seated themselves on the sloping driveway before the barn
doors. Asher was chewing the tender joint of a spear of foxtail grass, and
Champers had lighted a heavy cigar.

"You don't smoke, I believe," he said cordially, "or I'd insist on
offering the mate."

"No, I just chew," Asher replied, as he bent the foxtail thoughtfully in
his fingers and looked out toward the wheat fields already rippling like
waves under the morning breeze.

"Say, Aydelot, do you remember the day I come down this valley and tried
my danged best to get you to sell out for a song? I've done some pretty
scaly things, all inside the letter of the law, since then, but never
anything that's stuck in my craw like that. I guess you ain't forgot it,
neither?"

"I remember more of those first years than of these later ones, and I
haven't forgotten when you came to the Grass River schoolhouse one hot
Sunday about grasshopper time, but I don't believe anybody holds it
against you. You were out for business just as we were," Asher replied
with a genial smile.

"Say! D'recollect what you said to me when I invited you to cast your
glims over this very country, a burnt-up old prairie that day, so scorched
it was too dry and hot to cut up into town lots for an addition to Hades?"

Asher laughed now.

"No, I don't remember anything about that. It was just the general line of
events that stayed with me," he said.

"Well, I do; and I'll never forget the look in your eyes when you said it,
neither. I'd told you, as I say, just to look at this God-forsaken old
plain and tell me what you see. And you looked, like you was glimpsin'
heaven a'most, and just said sorter solemn like an' prophetic: 'I see a
land fair as the Garden of Eden, with grazing herds on broad meadows, and
fields on fields of wheat, and groves and little lakes and rivers--a land
of comfortable homes and schoolhouses and churches, and no saloons nor
breweries.' And then I broke in and told you I see a danged fool, and you
says, 'Come down here in twenty-five year and make a hunt for me then.'
And, by golly, Aydelot, here I am. You've everlastingly conquered the
prairies for sure, and you are a young man, not fifty-five yet."

"Well, you can see most of those things that I saw that day out yonder,
can't you?"

Asher's eyes followed the waving young wheat and the blossoming orchards,
the grove, full of birds' songs, and the line of Grass River running
deeper year by year. Then he looked at his hard, brown hands and thought
of the toil and faith and hope that had gone into the conquest.

"Yes, I'm still among the middle-aged," he said, straightening with his
habitual military dignity of bearing. "But I don't know about this
everlasting conquest of the prairies. There's still some of it waiting
over beyond those headlands in the open range where John Jacobs has a big
holding. I'll never feel that I have conquered until my boy proves himself
in civil life as well as on the battlefield. If I can bring him back when
he is through with the Orient, then, Darley Champers, I will have done
something beside subdue the soil. Through him, I'll keep the wilderness
from ever getting hold again. If we live so narrowly that our children
hate the lines we follow and will not go on and do still bigger things
than we have done, do we really make a success of life?"

At that moment Bo Peep appeared with Doctor Carey's letter, and the
subject shifted to the problems of the far East.

"We aren't the only people who are having trouble," Asher said. "I read in
the papers that the Boxer uprising that began in southern China last year
is spreading northward and making no end of disturbance."

"What's them Boxers wantin'? Are they a band of prize ring fellers?"
Darley Champers asked.

"Pryor Gaines writes Jim Shirley that they are a secret order of fanatics
bent on stamping out all Christianity and all western ideas of advancement
in the Orient. Things begin to look ugly in China, even from this
distance. When a band of religious fanatics like the Boxers go on the
warpath, their atrocities make a Cheyenne raid or a Kiowa massacre look
like a football game. I hope Pryor will not be in their line of march."

"Pryor Gaines'd better stayed right here. It's what's likely to happen to
a man who goes missionarying too far, and we could 'a used him here."

It was an unusual concession for Darley Champers to make regarding the
church, and Asher looked keenly at him.

"Say, Aydelot," Champers said suddenly, "you have more influence with John
Jacobs 'n anybody else, I know. If you see the Jew, pass it on to him
that Wyker's at his old cut-ups again over in Wykerton, and he's danged
bitter against Jacobs. I can help him on the side like I did before, but
the Jew's got hold of enough over there now to run things, with ownin'
land all round and holdin' mortgages on town property just to keep joints
out of 'em. I do no end of business for Jacobs now. Never had dealin's
with a straighter man. But he'd better look out for Wyker. The Dutchman's
insides is all green with poison, he's hated Jacobs so many years."

"I guess John will make it hard on him if they come to blows again. The
jail sentence and fine Jacobs fastened on him let Wyker down easy. John
Jacobs is one of the state's big men," Asher responded.

"We lost another big man when we let Doc Carey go," Champers went on. "I
used to set up nights and rest myself hatin' him. He done the biggest
missionary work in me the two weeks I stayed at his house ever was done
for a benighted heathen. I hated to see him go." The sadness of the tone
was genuine. "But I mustn't be hangin' round here all the mornin'; I've
got other things to do. Hope your boy'll keep a-goin' till his term's out.
Goodday!" And Champers was gone.

"Till his term's out!" Asher repeated with a smile. "Wouldn't that
six-footer of a soldier boy, whose patriotism burns like a furnace, see
the joke to that! Till he gets his stripes off and forgets the lock-step!
My Thaine, who is giving a young man's strength of body and inspiration of
soul to his country's service! But Carey did do a missionary work in
Champers. The fellow was crooked enough 'inside the law always,' as he
said, but no more out of line than scores of reputable business men are
today. And the fact that he's Jacobs' agent now measures the degree of
trustworthiness Carey has helped to waken in him."

Darley Champers' business took him down the river to the Cloverdale Ranch,
where he found Leigh Shirley training the young vines up the trellis by
the west porch.

"You got a mighty pretty place here; just looks like Jim Shirley,"
Champers declared as he greeted the young gardener.

"Yes, Uncle Jim is never so happy as when he is puttering about the lawn
and garden," Leigh answered.

"How's your alfalfa doin'?" Champers asked as he turned toward the level
stretch of rich green alfalfa fields. "Danged money-maker for you," he
added jovially.

"We'll clear the place with the first cutting this year. It's just the
thing for Uncle Jim," Leigh asserted.

"Yep, Jim's in clover--alfalfa, ruther. You had a good business head when
you run your bluff some years ago, an' you wan't only nineteen then. You
walked into my place an' jest bought that land on sheer bluff." Champers
laughed uproariously, but he grew sober in the next minute.

"Miss Shirley," he said gravely, "I ain't got much style nor sentiment in
my makin's, but I've honestly tried to be humane by widders an' orphans.
I've done men to keep 'em from doin' me, or jest 'cause they was danged
easy, but I never wronged no woman, not even my wife, who divorced me
years ago back East 'cause I wouldn't turn my old mother out o' doors, but
kep' her and provided for her long as she lived."

Nobody in Kansas had ever heard Darley Champers mention his home relations
before. Leigh looked at him gravely, and the sympathy in her deep blue
eyes was grateful to the uncultured man before her.

"Miss Shirley, I ain't wantin' to meddle none, but I come down here to ask
you if you know anything about your father?"

Leigh gave a start and stared at her questioner, but her woman's instinct
told her that only kindly purpose lay back of his question.

He had sat down on the edge of the porch and Leigh stood leaning against
the trellis, clutching the narrow slats, as she looked at him.

"I think he is dead," she answered slowly. "Uncle Jim says he must be. He
was a bad man, made bad not by blood but by selfishness. The Shirleys are
a fine family."

"Excuse me for sayin' it, Miss, but you took every good trait of that
family, an' Nature jest shied every bad trait as far from you as it took
the sins of our old savage Anglo-Saxon ancestors off of our heads; them
that used to kill an' eat their neighborin' tribes, like the Filipinos,
they was. Don't never forget that you're a Shirley an' not a Tank. Your
grandma's name was Tank, I've been told."

Leigh made no response, but something in her face and in the poise of her
figure bespoke the truth of Darley Champers' words.

"I jest come down to tell you," he continued, "that the man I represented
when I sold you this quarter, he represented your father, Tank Shirley,
and Tank got it through this man away from Jim out of pure hate. I sold
it back to you out of pure spite to Tank's agent, who was naggin' me. If
your father is dead, there'd ought to be somethin' comin' back, as the
money you paid for the land would help you some if we could get it back. I
come as a friend. I'm kinder in Doc Carey's shoes while he's gone, you
see. You've got the land as good as paid for. It will be clear, you say,
by June. Buyin' it of your own father, if there's any estate left of him,
you'd ought to have it. Money's always a handy commodity, an' I'd like to
see you git what's your'n after your plucky bluff and winnin'. You could
use it, I reckon?"

"We need it very much," Leigh assured him.

"Say, would you mind tellin' me if you find out anything about your
father's whereabouts or anything?" Champers queried.

"Yes, I will," Leigh replied, "but will you tell me what you know about
him; you must know something?"

It was Champers' turn to start now. "N-not much; not as much as I'm goin'
to know, and it's not for my profit, neither. I don't make money out of
women's needs. I never made a cent on this sale to you, but it was worth
it to get to do that agent once," Champers declared.

Leigh waited quietly.

"I'll be in better shape inside of two days to tell you something
definite. I wish Carey was here. Do you know where he got the money he
loaned you?"

"I never asked him," Leigh answered.

"He borrowed it of Miss Jane Aydelot of Cloverdale, Ohio."

Champers did not mean to be brutal, but the sharp cry of pain and the
look of anguish on Leigh Shirley's face told how grievous was the wound
his words had made.

"Why, you paid it all back; she ain't lost nothin'. Besides, I heard with
my own ears folks sayin' she'd always loved you and it was a pity Jim ever
took you away from her. She might 'a done well by you, they said. You got
no wrong due. Lord knows you've paid it conscientiously enough," Darley
Champers insisted.

"Mr. Champers, will you be sure to tell me all you know as soon as
possible? Meantime, I'll try to find out something to tell you."

"I sure will. Goodday to you."

When Champers rose to leave, Leigh put out her hand to him, and the
winning smile that made all Grass River folk love her as they loved her
uncle Jim now touched the best spot in the heart of the man before her.

"God knows it's a lot better to do for folks than to do 'em, and in the
end I believe you prosper more at it. My business, except the infernal
boom days, never was so good as it's been since I had that time with
Carey, and it's all clean business, too, not a smirch on it. Wish I could
forget a few things I've did, though." So Darley Champers thought, as he
drove up the old Grass River trail in the glory of the April morning.

That morning, Leigh Shirley wrote a long letter to Jane Aydelot of
Cloverdale, Ohio. Leigh had written many letters to her before, but never
one with a plea like this. Miss Jane had mentally grown up with Leigh and
had built many a romance about her, which was only hinted at in the
letters she received.

In the letter of this morning, Leigh begged for all the information Miss
Jane could give concerning her father, and further, she pleaded boldly for
the reconciliation of the Aydelot family, a thing she had never written of
before. Five days later her letter came back "unclaimed" with a brief
statement from the Cloverdale postmaster that Miss Jane Aydelot had passed
away on the day the letter was written, much beloved, etc.

John Jacobs had no need to be warned by Asher Aydelot of Hans Wyker's
doings. He knew all of Wyker's movements through Rosie Gimpke. Jacobs had
been kind to Rosie, whose bare, loveless life knew few kindnesses, and she
harbored the memory of a good deed as her grandfather harbored his hatred.
Moreover, the Wyker joint had played havoc with the Gimpke family. Her
father had died from a fall received in a drunken brawl there. Two
brothers, too drunk to know better, had driven into Little Wolf in a
spring flood and been drowned. A sister had married a drinking man who
regularly beat her in his regular sprees. For a heavy-footed,
heavy-brained, fat German girl, Rosie Gimpke could get into action with
surprising alacrity for the safety of one who had shown her a kindness.

And it was Rosie Gimpke, whom John Jacobs called the Wykerton W. C. T. U.,
who swiftly put the word to him that her grandfather was again defying the
law and menacing the public welfare.

Unfortunately, the messenger who served Rosie in this emergency was
overtaken by Hans and forced to divulge his mission, threatened with dire
evils if he said a word to Rosie about Hans having halted him, and urged
to go with all haste on his errand, and to be sure of the reward, a
ticket to the coming circus and two dishes of ice cream from the Wyker
eating house, as per Rosie's promise.

The boy hastened from the grinning Hans and did his errand, and afterward
held his peace, so far as Rosie was concerned. But he stupidly unloaded
his message and Hans' interference and threats to John Jacobs as an
outsider whom the Wyker family rows could not touch, and had another dish
of ice cream at Jacobs' expense.

This messenger was able, for he brought the word to Rosie that John Jacobs
would come to his Little Wolf ranch the next day, and late in the evening
drop into Wykerton unexpectedly, where he knew Rosie would give him easy
access to the "blind tiger" of the Wyker House. The boy carried a message
also to Darley Champers to meet Jacobs at the top of the hill above Little
Wolf where the trail with the scary little twist wound down by the opening
to the creek, beyond which the Gimpke home was hidden. Then Hans Wyker,
with threats of withholding the circus ticket and the ice cream, was told
both messages just as they had been given to him for Rosie and Champers.
Hans, for reasons of his own, hurried out of Wykerton and took the first
train to Kansas City.

All this happened on the day that Darley Champers had made his trip to the
Cloverdale Ranch. The fine spring weather of the morning leaped to summer
heat in the afternoon, as often happens in the plains country. On the next
day the heat continued, till late in the afternoon a vicious black storm
cloud swirled suddenly up over the edge of the horizon, defying the
restraining call of the three headlands to sheer off to the south, as
storms usually sheered, and burst in fury on the Grass River Valley,
extending east and north until the whole basin drained by Big Wolf was
threshed with a cyclone's anger.

Darley Champers sat half asleep in his office on the afternoon of this
day. His coat and vest were flung on a chair, his collar was on the floor
under the desk, his sleeves were rolled above his elbows. The heat
affected his big bulky frame grievously. The front door was closed to keep
out the afternoon glare, but the rear door, showing the roomy back yard,
was wide open, letting in whatever cool air might wander that way.

Darley was half conscious of somebody's presence as he dozed. He dreamed a
minute or two, then suddenly his eyes snapped open just in time to see
Thomas Smith entering through the rear doorway.

"How do you do?" The voice was between a whine and a snarl.

Champers stared and said nothing.

"It's too hot to be comfortable," Smith said, seating himself opposite
Champers, "but you're looking well."

"You're not," Champers thought.

Thomas Smith was not looking well. Every mark of the down-hill road was on
him, to the last and surest mark of poverty. The hang-dog expression of
the face with its close-set eyes and crooked scar above them showed how
far the evil life had robbed the man of power.

"I got in here yesterday morning, and you went out of town right away,"
Smith began.

"Yes, I seen you, and left immediately," Champers replied.

"Why do you dodge me? Is it because you know I can throw you? Or is it
because I got full here once and beat you up a bit over in Wyker's
place?" Smith asked smoothly, but with something cruel leaping up in his
eyes.

"I didn't dodge you. I had business to see to and I hurried to it, so I
wouldn't miss you this afternoon," Champers declared. "What do you want
now?"

"Money, and I'm going to have it," Smith declared.

"Go get it, then!" Champers said coolly.

"You go get it for me, and go quick," Smith responded. "I'm in a bad fix,
I needn't tell you. I've got to have money; it's what I live for."

"I believe you. It's all you ever did live for, and it's brought you where
it'll bring any man danged soon enough who lives for it that way,"
Champers asserted.

"Since when did you join the Young Men's Christian Association?" Smith
asked blandly.

"Since day before yesterday."

In spite of himself, Darley Champers felt his face flush deeply. He had
just responded to a solicitation from that organization, assuring the
solicitors that he "done it as a business man and not that he was any
prayer meetin' exhorter, but the dollars was all cleaner'n a
millionaire's, anyhow."

"I thought so," Smith went on. "Well, briefly, you have a good many things
to keep covered, you know, and, likewise, so have your friends, the
Shirleys. The girl paid about all the mortgage on that ranch, I find."

Darley Champers threw up his big hand.

"Don't bring her name in here," he demanded savagely.

"Oh, are you soft that way?" The sneer in the allusion was contemptible.
"All the better; you will get me some money right away. Why, I haven't let
you favor me in a long time. You'll be glad to do it now. Let me show you
exactly how."

He paused a moment and the two looked steadily at each other, each seeming
sure of his ground.

"You will go to these Shirleys," Smith continued, all the hate of years
making the name bitter to him, "and you'll arrange that they mortgage up
again right away, and you bring me the money. They can easy get three
thousand on that ranch now, it's so well set to alfalfa. Nothing else will
do but just that."

"And if I don't go?" Darley Champers asked.

"Oh, you'll go. You don't want this Y. M. C. A. crowd to know all I can
tell. No, you don't. And Jim Shirley and that girl Leigh don't want me to
publish all I know about the father and brother, Tank. It might be hard on
both of 'em. Oh, I've got you all there. You can't get away from me and
think because I'm hard up I have lost my grip on you. _I'll never do
that._ I can disgrace you all so Grass River wouldn't wash your names
clean again. So run along. You and the Shirleys will do as I say. You
don't _dare_ not to. And this pretty Leigh, such a gross old creature as
you are fond of, she can work herself to skin and bone to pay off another
mortgage to help Jim. Poor fellow can't work like most men, big as he is.
I remember when he got started wrong in his lungs back in Ohio when he was
a boy. He blamed Tank for shutting him out in the cold one night, or
something like it. That give him his start. He always blamed Tank for
everything. Why, he and Tank had a fight the last time they were together,
and he nearly broke his brother's arm off--"

"Oh, shut up," Champers snapped out.

"Well, be active. I'll give you till tomorrow night; that's ample," Smith
snapped back. "Hans and you are all the people in town who know I'm here
now except the fat woman who waits on the table at Wyker's. I'm lying low
right now, but I won't stay hid long; Wyker'll keep me over one more day,
I reckon. Even he's turned against me when I've got no money to loan him,
but I'll be on my feet again."

"Say, Smith, come in tomorrow night, but don't hurry away now." The big
man's tone was too level to show which way his meaning ran. "I'd like to
go into matters a little with you."

Smith settled back in his chair and waited with the air of one not to be
coaxed.

"You are right in sayin' I'd like to hide some transactions. Not many real
estate men went through the boom days here who don't need to feel that
way. We was all property mad, and you and me and Wyker run our bluff same
as any of 'em, an' we busted the spirit of the law to flinders. And our
givin' and gettin' deeds and our buyin' tax titles an' forty things we
done, was so irregular it might or mightn't stand in court now, dependin'
altogether on how good a lawyer for technicalities we was able to employ.
We know'd the game we was playin', too, and excused ourselves, thinkin'
the Lord wouldn't find us special among so many qualified for the same
game. Smith, I know danged well I'm not so 'shamed of that as I should be.
The thing that hurts me wouldn't be cards for you at all. It's the brutal,
inhumane things no law can touch me for; it's trying to do honest men
out'n their freeholds; it's holdin' back them grasshopper sufferer
supplies, an' havin' the very men I robbed treatin' me like a gentleman
now, that's cutting my rhinoceros hide into strips and hangin' it on the
fence. But you can't capitalize a thing like that in your business."

"Well, I know what I can do."

"As to what you can do to me, you've run that bluff till it's slick on the
track. And I've know'd it just as long as you have, anyhow. Here's my
particular stunt with you. I had business East in '96, time of the big May
flood, and I run down to Cloverdale, Ohio, for a day. The waters was up
higher'n they'd been know'd for some years."

Thomas Smith had stiffened in his chair and sat rigidly gripping the arms.
But Champers seemed not to notice this as he continued:

"The fill where the railroad cuts acrost the old Aydelot farm was washed
out and kep' down the back water from floodin' the low ground. But
naturally it washed out considerable right there."

Smith's face was deadly pale now, with the crooked scar a livid streak
across his forehead. Champers deliberated before he went on. All his
blustering method disappeared and he kept to the even tone and unruffled
demeanor.

"The danged little crick t'other side of town got rampageous late in the
afternoon, and the whole crowd that had watched Clover Crick all day went
pellmellin' off to see new sights, leavin' me entirely alone by the
washout. I remember what you said about pretendin' to commit yourself to
your Maker there in an agreement between you as cashier an' Tank Shirley,
an' the place interested me a lot."

A finer-fibred man could hardly have resisted the agonized face of Thomas
Smith. A cowardly nature would have feared the anger back of it.

"It was gettin' late and pretty cloudy still, and nobody by, an' I staid
round, an' staid round, when just at the right place the bank broke away
and I see the body of a man--just the skeleton mainly, right where you
didn't commit your pretended suicide. Somebody committed it there for you
evidently. There was only a few marks of identification, a big set ring
with a jagged break in the set that swiped too swift acrost a man's face
might leave a ugly scar for life, and if the fellow tried too hard to
drown hisself he might wrench a man's right arm so out o' plum he couldn't
never do much signin' his name again. I disposed of the remains decent as
I could, for Doc Carey was leisurely coming down National pike from Jane
Aydelot's, an' it was gettin' late, an' no cheerful plate nor job in a
crowd in sunshiny weather, let alone there in the dusk of the evening.
Wow! I dreamt of that there gruesome thing two weeks. I throwed the shovel
in the crick. Would you like me to show you where to go to dig, so's you
can be sure your plan with Tank Shirley worked and you didn't drown, after
all? And are you sure you ain't been misrepresenting things to me a little
as agent for Tank Shirley? Are you right sure you ain't Tank Shirley
himself? I've kep' still for four years, not to save you nor myself, but
to keep Leigh Shirley's name from bein' dragged into court 'longside a
name like yours or mine. I never misuse the women, no matter how tricky I
am with men."

Then, as an afterthought, Champers added:

"It's so danged hot this afternoon I can't get over to Grass River; and I
got word to meet Jacobs over at the Little Wolf Ranch later, so I think
I'll take the crooked trail up to that place; it's a lot the coolest road,
and I'll wait till the sun's most down. I guess that three thousand dollar
mortgage can wait over a day now, less you feel too cramped."

Thomas Smith rose from his chair. His face was ashy and his small black
eyes burned with a wicked fire. He gave one long, steady look into
Champers' face and slipped from the rear door like a shadow.

Darley Champers knew he had won the day, and no sense of personal danger
had ever troubled him. He settled back in his chair, drew a long sigh of
relief, and soon snored comfortably through his afternoon's nap.

When he awoke it was quite dark, for the storm cloud covered the sky and
the hot breath from the west was like the air from a furnace mouth.

"It's not late, but it's danged hot. I wonder why that Jew wanted me to
meet him over there. Couldn't he have come here? I'm wet with sweat now.
How'll I be by the time I get out to that ranch?" Champers stretched his
limbs and mopped his hot neck with his handkerchief. "I reckon I'd better
go, though. Jacobs always knows why he wants a thing. And he's the finest
man ever came out of Jewey. With him in town and Asher Aydelot on a farm,
no city nor rural communities could be more blessed."

Then he remembered Thomas Smith and a cold shiver seized his big,
perspiring body.

"I wonder why I dread to go," he said, half aloud. "The creek trail will
be cool, but, golly, I'm danged cold right now."

Again his mind ran to Smith's face as he had seen it last. He put on his
hat and started to take his long raincoat off the hook behind the rear
door.

"Reckon I'd better take it. It looks like storming," he muttered. "Hello!
What the devil!"

For Rosie Gimpke, with blazing cheeks and hair dripping with perspiration,
was hidden behind the coat.

"Oh, Mr. Champers, go queek and find Yon Yacob, but don't go the creek
roat. I coom slippin' to tell you to go sure, and I hit when that strange
man coom slippin' in. I hear all you say, an' I see him troo der crack
here, an' he stant out there a long time looking back in here. So I half
to wait an' you go nappin' an' I still wait. I wait to say, hurry, but
don't go oop nor down der creek trail. I do anything for Miss Shirley, an'
I like you for takin' care off her goot name; goot names iss hardt to get
back if dey gets avay. Hurry."

"Heaven bless your good soul!" Champers said heartily. "But why not take
the cool road? I've overslept and I've got to hurry and the storm's
hustling in."

"Don't, please don't take it," Rosie begged.

The next minute she was gone and as Champers closed and locked his doors
he said to himself, "She does her work like a hero and never will have any
credit for it, 'cause she's not a pioneer nor a soldier. But she has saved
more than one poor fellow snared into that joint I winked at for years."

Then, obedient to her urging, he followed the longer, hotter road toward
the Jacobs' stock ranch bordering on Little Wolf Creek.

Meantime, John Jacobs inspected his property, forgetful of the intense
heat and the coming storm, his mind full of a strange foreboding. At the
top of the hill above where the road wound down through deep shadows he
sat a long while on his horse. "I wonder what makes me so lonely this
evening," he mused. "I'm not of a lonely nature, nor morose, thank the
Lord! There's no telling why we do or don't want to do things. I wonder
where Champers is. He ought to be coming up pretty soon. I wonder if I
hadn't had that dream two nights ago about that picture I saw in a book,
when I was a little chap, if I'd had this fool's cowardice about being out
here alone today. And what was it that made me look over all those papers
in my vault box last night? I have helped Careyville some, and the library
I built will have a good endowment when I'm gone, and so will the
children's park, and the Temperance Societies. Maybe I've not lived in
vain, if I have been an exacting Jew. I never asked for the blood in my
pound of flesh, anyhow. I wonder where Champers can be."

He listened intently and thought he heard someone coming around the bend
down the darkening way.

"That's he, I guess, now," he said.

Then he turned his face toward the wide prairie unrolling to the westward.
Overhanging it were writhing clouds, hurled hither and thither, twisted,
frayed, and burst asunder by the titanic forces of the upper air, and all
converging with centripetal violence toward one vast maelstrom. Its long,
funnel-shaped form dipped and lifted, trailing back and forth like some
sensate thing. With it came an increasing roar from the clashing of timber
up the valley. The vivid shafts of lightning and the blackness that
followed them made the scene terrific with Nature's majestic madness.

"I must get shelter somewhere," Jacobs said. "I am sorry Champers failed
me. I wanted his counsel before I slipped up on Wyker tonight. I thought I
heard him coming just now. Maybe he's waiting for me under cover. I'll go
down and see."

The roar of the cyclone grew louder and the long swinging funnel lifted
and dipped and lifted again, as the awful forces of the air hurled it
onward.

Down at the sharp bend in the road Thomas Smith was crouching, just where
the rift in the bank opened to the creek, and the face of the man was not
good to look upon nor to remember.

"I'll show Darley Champers how well my left hand works. There'll be no
telltale scar left on his face when I'm through, and he can tumble right
straight down to the water from here and on to hell, and Wyker's joint may
bear the blame. Damned old Dutchman, to turn me out now. I set him up in
business when I had money. Here comes Champers now."

The storm-cloud burst upon the hill at that moment. John Jacobs' horse
leaped forward on the steep slope, slid, and fell to its knees. As it
sprang up again the two men could not see each other, for a flash of
lightning blinded them and in the crash of thunder that burst at the same
instant, filling the valley with deafening roar, the sharp report of a
double pistol-shot was swallowed up.

                   *       *       *       *       *

An hour later Darley Champers, drenched with rain, stumbled down the
crooked trail in the semi-darkness. The cool air came fanning out of the
west and a faint rift along the horizon line gave promise of a glorious
April sunset.

As Darley reached the twist in the trail which John Jacobs always
dreaded, the place Thaine Aydelot and Leigh Shirley had invested with
sweet memories, he suddenly drew his rein and stared in horror.

Lying in the rift with his head toward the deep waters of Little Wolf
Creek lay Thomas Smith, scowling with unseeing eyes at the fast clearing
sky. While on the farther side of the road lay the still form of John
Jacobs, rain-beaten and smeared with mud, as if he had struggled backward
in his death-throes.

As Champers bent tenderly over him, the smile on his lips took away the
awfulness of the sight, and the serenity of the rain-drenched face rested
as visible token of an abundant entrance into eternal peace.

Grass River and Big Wolf settlements had never before known a tragedy so
appalling as the assassination of John Jacobs at the hands of an "unknown"
man. Hans Wyker had gone to Kansas City on the day before the event and
Wykerton never saw his face again. Rosie Gimpke, who did not know the
stranger's name, and Darley Champers, who thought he did, believed nothing
could be gained by talking, so they held their peace. And Thomas Smith
went "unknown" back to the dust of the prairie in the Grass River
graveyard.

The coroner tried faithfully to locate the blame. But as Jacobs was
unarmed and was shot from the front, and the stranger had only one bullet
in his revolver and was shot from behind, and as nobody lost nor gained by
not untangling the mystery, the affair after a nine days' complete
threshing, went into local history, the place of sepulchre.



CHAPTER XXI

JANE AYDELOT'S WILL


               Impulsive, earnest, prompt to act,
               And make her generous thought a fact,
               Keeping with many a light disguise
               The secret of self-sacrifice,
               O heart sore-tried! thou hast the best
               That Heaven itself could give thee--rest.
                                           --Snow Bound.

Darley CHAMPERS sat in his little office absorbed in business. The May
morning was ideal. Through the front door the sounds of the street drifted
in. Through the rear door the roomy backyard, which was Champers' one
domestic pleasure, sent in an odor of white lilac. By all the rules
Champers should have preferred hollyhocks and red peonies, if he had cared
for flowers at all. It was for the memory of the old mother, whom he would
not turn adrift to please a frivolous wife, that he grew the white
blossoms she had loved. But as he never spoke of her, nor seemed to see
any other flowers, nobody noticed the peculiarity.

"I wonder how I missed that mail?" he mused, as he turned a foreign
envelope in his hands. "I reckon the sight of that poor devil, Smith,
dropping into town so suddenly five days ago upset me so I forgot my mail
and went to see the Shirleys. And the hot afternoon and Smith's coming in
here, and--"Darley leaned back in his chair and sighed.

"Poor Jacobs! Why should he be taken? Smith was gunning for me and mistook
his man. Lord knows I wasn't fit to go."

He leaned his elbow heavily on the table, resting his head on his hand.

"If Jacobs went on in my place, sacrificed for my sins, so help me God,
I'll carry on his work here. I'll fight the liquor business to the end of
my days. There shan't no joint nor doggery never open a door on Big Wolf
no more. I'll do a man's part for the world I've been doin' for my own
profit most of my life."

His brow cleared, and a new expression came to the bluff countenance. The
humaneness within him was doing its perfect work.

"But about this mail, now." He took up the letter again. "Carey says he
ain't coming back. Him and young Aydelot's dead sure to go to China soon.
An' I'm to handle his business as per previous directions. This is the
first of it. Somebody puttin' on mournin' style, I reckon."

Champers took up a black-edged envelope, whose contents told him as Dr.
Horace Carey's representative that Miss Jane Aydelot of Cloverdale was no
longer living and much more as unnecessary to the business of the moment
as a black-bordered envelope is unnecessary to the business of life. Then
he opened a drawer in his small office safe and took out a bundle of
letters.

"Here's a copy of her will. That's to go to Miss Shirley to read. An' a
copy of old Francis Aydelot's will. What's the value of that, d' you
reckon? Also to be showed to Miss Leigh Shirley. An' here's--what?"

Darley Champers opened the last envelope and began to read. He stopped
suddenly and gave a long surprised whistle.

Beautiful as the morning was, the man laid down the papers, carefully
locked both doors and drew down the front blinds. He took up the envelope
and read its contents. He read them a second time. Then he put down the
neatly written pages and sat staring at nothing for a long time. He took
them up at length for a third reading.

"Everything comes out at last," he murmured. "Oh, Lord, I'm glad Doc Carey
got hold of me when he did."

Slowly he ran his eyes down the lines as he read in a half whisper:

I was walking down the National pike road toward Cloverdale with little
Leigh in the twilight. Where the railroad crosses Clover Creek on the high
fill we saw Tank Shirley and the young cashier, Terrence Smalley, who had
disappeared after the bank failure. It seems Tank had promised to pay
Smalley to stay away and to find Jim and get his property away from him.
Evidently Tank had not kept his word, for they were quarreling and came to
blows until the cashier's face was cut and bleeding above the eye. There
was a struggle, and one pushed the other over the bank into the deep water
there. Little as Leigh was, she knew one of the men was her father, and we
thought he had pushed Smalley into the creek. He had a sort of paralyzed
arm and could not swim. I tried to make her forget all about it. I
promised her my home and farm some day if she would never tell what she
had seen. She shut her lips, but if she forgot, I cannot tell.

That night I went alone to the fill and found Terrence Smalley with a cut
face and a twisted shoulder lying above the place where Tank went down. I
helped him to my home and dressed his wounds. I may have done wrong not to
deliver him to the authorities, but he had a bad story to tell of Tank's
bank record that would have disgraced the Shirley family in Ohio, so we
made an agreement. He would never make himself known to Leigh, nor in any
way disturb her life nor reveal anything of her father's life to disgrace
her name, if I let him go. And I agreed not to report what I had seen, nor
to tell what I knew to his hurt. He promised me also never to show his
face in Cloverdale again. He was a selfish, dishonest man, who used Tank
Shirley's hatred of his brother and his other sins to hide his own
wrongdoing. But I tried to do my duty by the innocent ones who must
suffer, when I turned him loose with his conscience. I do not know what
has become of him, but, so far as I do know, he has kept the secret of
Tank Shirley's crooked dealing with the Cloverdale bank, and he has never
annoyed Leigh, nor brought any disgrace to her name. This statement duly
witnessed, etc.

Slowly Darley Champers read. Then, laying down the pages, he said as
slowly: "'Unknown' in the Grass River graveyard. 'Unknown' to Jim Shirley
and Asher Aydelot, whose eyes he'd never let see him. I understand now,
why. Known to me as Thomas Smith, an escaped defaultin' bank cashier who
didn't commit suicide. Known to the late Miss Aydelot as Tank Shirley's
murderer. If the devil knows where to git on the track of that scoundrel
an' locate him properly in hell, he'll do it without my help. By the Lord
Almighty, I'll never tell what I know. An' this paper goes to ashes here.
Oh, Caesar! If I could only burn up the recollection that I was ever
low-down an' money-grubbin' enough to collute with such as him for
business. I'm danged glad I had that quarter kep' in Leigh's name 'stead
of Jim's. That's why Thomas Smith threatened and didn't act. He didn't
dare to go against Leigh as long as Jane Aydelot was livin'."

He stuck a blazing match to the letter and watched it crumple to ashes on
the rusty stove-hearth. Then he carefully swept the ashes on a newspaper,
and, opening his doors again, he scattered them in the dusty main street
of Wykerton.

That afternoon Champers went again to the Cloverdale Ranch. Leigh was
alone, busy with her brushes and paint-board in the seat on the lawn where
Thaine Aydelot had found her on the summer day painting sunflowers. The
first little sunflower was blooming now by the meadow fence.

"Don't git up, Miss Shirley. Keep your seat, mom. I dropped in on a little
business. I'm glad to set out here."

Champers took off his hat and fanned his red face as he sat on the ground
and looked out at the winding river bordered by alfalfa fields.

"Nice stand you got out there." He pointed with his hat toward the fields.
"Where's Jim?"

"He and Asher Aydelot have gone to Careyville to settle some of John
Jacobs' affairs. They and Todd Stewart are named as trustees in the will,"
Leigh replied.

She had laid aside her brushes and sat with her hands folded in her lap.
Champers pulled up a spear of blue-grass and chewed it thoughtfully. At
length he said:

"Yes, I knew that. Jacobs left no end of things in the way of property for
me to look after. I'll report to them now. I seem to be general handy man.
Doc Carey left matters with me, too."

"Yes?" Leigh said courteously.

"Well, referrin' to that matter regardin' your father we spoke of the
other day, I find, through Doc Carey's helpin' an' some other ways, that
your father, Mr. Tank Shirley, was accidentally drowned in Clover Creek,
Ohio, some years ago. So far as I can find out, he died insolvent. If I
discover anything further, I'll let you know."

Leigh sat very still, her eyes on the far-away headlands that seemed like
blue cloud banks at the moment.

"Had you heard of Miss Jane Aydelot's demise? I reckon you had, of course.
But do you know what her intentions were?"

Leigh looked steadily at her questioner. All her life she had had a way of
keeping her own counsel, nor was it ever easy to know what her thoughts
might be.

"Miss Shirley, the late Miss Jane Aydelot trusted Doc Carey to look after
her affairs. Doc Carey, he trusted me to take his place. Can you trust me
to be the last link of the chain in doin' her business? My grammar's poor,
but my hands is clean now, thank the Lord!"

"Yes, Mr. Champers, I am sure of your uprightness."

Leigh did not dream how grateful these words were to the man before her,
honestly trying to beat back to better ideals of life.

"When I was a very little girl," Leigh went on, "Miss Jane told me I was
to be her heir."

Darley gave a start, but as Leigh's face was calm, he could only wonder
how much she had remembered.

"All the years since I've lived in Kansas I've been kept in mind in many
ways of her favor toward me. I came to know long ago that she was
determined to leave me all the old Aydelot estate. And I knew also that it
should have been Asher's, not mine."

Darley thought of Thaine, and, dull as he was, he read in a flash a
romance that many a finer mind might have missed.

"Well, sufferin' catfish!" he said to himself. "Danged plucky girl; forges
along an' bucks me into sellin' her this ranch an' sets it into alfalfy
an' sets up Jim Shirley for life, 'cause putterin' in the garden an' bein'
kind to the neighbors is the limit to that big man's endurance. An' this
pretty girl, knowin' that Aydelot property ought to be Thaine Aydelot's,
just turns it down, an', by golly, I'll bet she turns him down, too,
fearin' he wouldn't feel like takin' it. An' he's clear hiked to the edges
of Chiny. Well, it's a danged queer world. I'm glad I've only got Darley
Champers to look out for. The day I see them two drivin' out of Wykerton
towards Little Wolf, the time she'd closed the Cloverdale ranch deal, I
knowed the white lilac mother used to love was sweeter in my back lot."

"I could not take Miss Jane's property and be happy," Leigh went on.
"Besides, I can earn a living. See what my brushes can do, and see the
secret I learned in the Coburn book."

Leigh held up the sketch she was finishing, then pointed to the broad
alfalfa acres, refreshingly green in the May sunlight.

"Well, I brought down a copy of the late Miss Aydelot's will that she left
with Doc Carey, who is goin' to Chiny in a few days, him an' Thaine
Aydelot, Doc writes me. An' you can look over it. I've got to go to
Cloverdale next week an' settle things there, an' see that the probatin's
are straight. Lemme hear from you before I go. I must be gettin' on.
Danged fine country, this Grass River Valley. Who'd a' thought it back in
the seventies when Jim Shirley an' Asher Aydelot squatted here? Goodday."

Left alone, Leigh Shirley opened the big envelope holding the will of
Francis Aydelot and read in it the stern decree that no child of Virginia
Thaine should inherit the Aydelot estate in Ohio.

"That's why Miss Jane couldn't leave it to Asher's son," she murmured.

Then she read the will of the late Jane Aydelot. When she lifted her face
from its pages, her fair cheeks were pink with excitement, her deep
violet eyes were shining, her lips were parted in a glad smile. She went
down to the meadow fence and plucked the first little golden sunflower
from its stem, and stood holding it as she looked away to where the three
headlands stood up clear and shimmering in the light of the May afternoon.
That night two letters were hurried to the postoffice. One went no farther
than Wykerton to tell Darley Champers that Leigh would heartily approve of
any action he might take in the business that was taking him to Ohio.



CHAPTER XXII

THE FARTHER WILDERNESS


            And beyond the baths of sunset found new worlds.
                                                   --London.

Dr. Carey and Thaine Aydelot sat watching the play of a fountain in a
moonlit garden of tropical loveliness. In the Manila hospital Thaine had
gone far down the Valley of the Shadow of Death before he reached a
turning point. But youth, good blood, a constitution seasoned by camp and
field, the watchful care of his physician, and the blessing of the Great
Physician, from whom is all health, at last prevailed, and he came back
sturdily to life and strength.

As the two men sat enjoying the hour Dr. Carey suddenly asked:

"After this hospital service, what next?"

"How soon does this involuntary servitude end?" Thaine inquired.

"A fortnight will do all that is possible for us," Carey answered.

"Then I'll enlist with the regulars," Thaine declared.

"Do you mean to follow a military life?" Carey inquired, bending forward
to watch the play of light on the silvery waters, unconscious of the play
of moonbeams on his silvery hair.

"No, not always," Thaine responded.

"Then why don't you go home now?" Carey went on.

Thaine sat silent for some minutes. Then he rose to his full height, the
strong, muscular, agile embodiment of military requirement. On his face
the firing line had graven a nobility the old brown Kansas prairies had
never seen.

He did not know how to tell Dr. Carey, because he did not yet fully
understand himself, that war to him must be a means, not an end, to his
career; nor that in the long quiet hours in the hospital the call of the
Kansas prairies, half a world away, was beginning to reach his ears, the
belief that the man behind the plow may be no less a patriot than the man
behind the gun; that the lifelong influence of his farmer father and
mother was unconsciously winning him back to the peaceful struggle with
the soil. At length he said slowly:

"Dr. Carey, when I saw Lieutenant Alford brought in I counted the cost
again. Only American ideals of government and civilization can win this
wilderness. For this Alford's blood was shed. He wrote to his mother on
Christmas day that he was studying here to get his Master's Degree from
the Kansas University. I saw him just after he had received his diploma
for that Degree. I was a fairly law-abiding civilian. The first shot of
the campaign last February began in me what Alford's sacrifice completed.
I am waiting to see what next. But I have one thing firmly fixed now.
Warfare only opens the way for the wilderness winners to come in and make
a kingdom. The Remington rifle runs back the frontier line; the plowshare
holds the land at last. I want, when my service here is done, to go back
to the wheatfields and the cornfields. I want to smell the alfalfa and see
the prairie windbreaks and be king of a Kansas farm. I've lost my ambition
for gold lace. I want a bigger mental ring of growth every year, and I
believe the biggest place for me to get this will be with my feet on the
prairie sod. Meantime, I shall reenlist, as I said."

"Sit down, Thaine, and let me ask you one question," Dr. Carey said.

The young man dropped to his seat again.

"When your service is done is there anything to hold you from going
straight to the Grass River Valley again?"

Thaine leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head
while he looked steadily at the splashing waters before him as he said
frankly:

"Yes, there is. When I go back I want Leigh Shirley--and it's no use
wanting."

"Thaine, you were a law-abiding civilian at home. The university made you
a student. You came out here a fearless soldier to fight your country's
enemies. Alford's death made you a patriot who would plant American ideals
in these islands. May I tell you that there is still one more lesson to
learn?"

Thaine looked up inquiringly.

"You must learn to be a Christian. You must know what service for humanity
means. Then the call to duty will be a bugle note of victory wherever that
duty may be. You needn't hunt for opportunity to prove this. The
opportunity is hurrying toward you now from out of the Unknown."

The fine head with the heavy masses of white hair seemed halo-crowned at
that moment. It was as he appeared that night that Thaine Aydelot always
remembers him. Two weeks later Thaine enlisted in the Fourteenth United
States Infantry, stationed in Luzon. Dr. Carey was also enrolled in its
hospital staff. In July the regiment was ordered from the Philippines to
join the allied armies of the World Powers at Tien-Tsin in a northern
Chinese province, where the Boxer forces were massing about Peking. And
Thaine's opportunity for learning his greatest lesson came hurrying toward
him from out of the Unknown.

This notorious Boxer uprising, gone now into military annals, had reached
the high tide of its power. Beginning in the southern province of China,
it spread northward, menacing the entire Empire. A secret sect at first,
it was augmented by the riffraff that feeds on any new, and especially
lawless, body; by deserters disloyal to the imperial government; by the
ignorant and the unthinking; by the intimidated and the intimidating. It
enrolled an armed force of one hundred and seventy-five thousand soldiers.
Its purposes were fanatical. It aimed by the crudest means to root out
every idea of modern life and thought in China; every occidental
invention, every progressive method of society, every scientific discovery
for the betterment of humanity. And especially did it aim to put to death
every native Chinese Christian, to massacre every missionary of the
Christ, and to drive out or destroy every foreign citizen in China. Its
resources were abundant, its equipment was ample, its methods unspeakably
atrocious. Month after month the published record of this rebellion was
sickening--its unwritten history beyond human imagining. Impenetrable were
its walled cities, countless in numbers, unknown the scenes of its vast
plains and rivers and barren fields and mountain fastnesses. Fifteen
thousand native Christians and hundreds of foreigners were brutally
massacred. At last it centered its strength about the great city of
Peking. And a faint, smothered wail for deliverance came from the Foreign
Legation shut in behind beleaguered walls inside that city to starve or
perish at the hands of the bloody Boxers.

Very patiently the World Powers waited and warned the Chinese leaders of a
day of retribution. Fanatics are fanatics because they cannot learn. The
conditions only whetted the Boxers to greater barbarity. They believed
themselves invincible and they laughed to scorn all thought of foreign
interference. Then came the sword of the Lord and of Gideon to the battle
lines at Tien-Tsin on the Peiho River, as it came once long ago to the
valley of Jezreel.

In the mid-afternoon of an August day Thaine Aydelot heard the bugle note
calling the troops to marching order. Thaine was fond of the bugler, a
little fifteen-year-old Kansas boy named Kemper, because he remembered
that Asher Aydelot had been a drummer boy once when he was no older than
"Little Kemper," as the regiment called him.

"I wish you were where my father is now, Kemper," Thaine said as the boy
skipped by him.

"Where's that? It can't be hell or he'd be with us," Little Kemper
replied.

"No, he's in Kansas," Thaine said.

"Oh, that's right next door to heaven, but I can't go just yet. There's
too much doing here," the little bugler declared as he hurried away.

Young as he was, Little Kemper was the busiest member of the regiment.
Life with him was a continual "doing" and he did it joyously and well.

"There's something doing here." Thaine hardly had time to think it as the
armies came into their places. It was the third day after the regiment had
reached Tien-Tsin. Along the Peiho river lay a sandy plain with scant
tillage and great stretches of barren lands. Here and there were squalid
villages with now and then a few more pretentious structures with adobe
brick walls and tiled roofs. Everywhere was the desolation of ignorance
and fear, saddening enough, without the Boxer rebellion to intensify it
with months of dreadful warfare.

As Thaine fell into his place he thought of the Aydelot wheatfields and of
the alfalfa that Leigh Shirley's patient judgment had helped to spread
over the Cloverdale Ranch. And even in the face of such big things as he
was on his way to meet the conquest of the prairie soil seemed wonderful.

Big things were waiting him now, and his heart throbbed with their bigness
as his regiment took its place. It was a wonderful company that fell into
line and swung up the Peiho river that August afternoon. The world never
saw its like before, and may never see it again. Not wonderful in numbers,
for there were only sixteen thousand of the allied armies, all told, to
pit themselves against an armed force able to line up one hundred and
sixteen thousand against them. Not numbers, but varying nationalities,
varying races, strange confusion of tongues, with one common purpose
binding all into one body, made the company forming on the banks of the
Peiho a wonderful one.

Thaine's regiment was drawn up at an angle with the line, ready to fall
into its place among the reserves, and the young Kansan watched the flower
of the world's soldiery file along the way.

In the front were the little brown Japanese Cavalry, Artillery, and
Infantry--men who in battle make dying as much their business as living.
Beside these were the English forces, the Scotch Highlanders, the Welsh
Fusiliers, the Royal Artillery, all in best array. Behind them the Indian
Empire troops, the Sikh Infantry with a sprinkling of Sepoys and the
Mounted Bengalese Lancers. Then followed, each in its place, the Italian
marines and foot soldiery, the well-groomed French troops from all
branches of the military; the stalwart, fair-haired Germans, soldiers to a
finish in weight and training; the Siberian Cossacks and the Russian
Infantry and Cavalry, big, brutal looking men whom women of any nation
might fear. In reserve at the last of the line were the American forces,
the Ninth and Fourteenth Regiments of Infantry, the Sixth Cavalry, and F
Battery of the Fifth Artillery.

So marched the host from Tien-Tsin along the sandy plains, led on by one
purpose, to reach the old city of Peking and save the lives of the foreign
citizens shut up inside their compound--whether massacred, or living,
starved, and tortured, this allied army then could not know.

The August day was intensely hot, with its hours made grievous by a heavy,
humid air, and the sand and thick dust ground and flung up in clouds by
sixteen thousand troops, with all the cavalry hoofs and artillery wheels.
It was only a type of the ten days that followed, wherein heat and dust
and humid air, and thirst--burning, maddening thirst--joined together
against the brave soldiery fighting not for fortune, nor glory, nor
patriotism, but for humanity.

As they tramped away in military order, Thaine Aydelot said to his nearest
comrade:

"Goodrich, I saw a familiar German face up in the line."

"Friend of yours the Emperor sent out to keep you company?" Goodrich
inquired with a smile.

"No, a Kansas joint-keeper named Hans Wyker. What do you suppose put him
against the Boxers?"

"Oh, the army is the last resort for some men. It's society's clearing
house," Goodrich replied.

The speaker was a Harvard man, a cultured gentleman, in civil life a
University Professor. The same high purpose was in his service that
controlled Thaine Aydelot now.

"I don't like being at the tail-end of this procession," a big German from
the Pennsylvania foundries declared, as he trudged sturdily along under
the blazing sun. The courage in his determined face and his huge strength
would warrant him a place in the front line anywhere.

"Nor I, Schwoebel," Thaine declared. "I came out with Funston's 'Fighting
Twentieth.' I'm used to being called back, not tolled along after the
rear."

"Rock Chalk! Jay Hawk! K U!" roared Schwoebel in a tremendous bellow.

"Rock Chalk! Jay Hawk! K U!" a Pennsylvania University man named McLearn
followed Schwoebel.

"Rock Chalk! Jay Hawk! K U!" went down the whole line of infantry.

The old Kansas University yell, taken to the Philippines by college men,
became the battle cry of the Twentieth Kansas Volunteers, who when they
returned to civil life, left it there for the American, army--and "Rock
Chalk! Jay Hawk! K U!" became the American watchword and cry of all that
"far flung battle line" marching on through dust and heat to rescue the
imperiled Christians in a beleagured fortress inside the impregnable city
of Peking.

"You needn't worry about the rear, Aydelot. One engagement may whip this
line about, end to end, or it may scale off all that's in front of us and
leave nothing but the rear. All this before we have time to change collars
again. We'll let you or Tasker here lead into Peking," an Indiana
University man declared.

"That's good of you, Binford. Some Kansas man will be first to carry the
flag into Peking. It might as well be Aydelot."

This from Tasker, a slender young fellow from a Kansas railroad office.

So they joked as they tramped along. It was nearly midnight when they
pitched camp before the little village of Peit-Tsang beside the Peiho.

In the dim dawning of the August morning Little Kemper's bugle sounded the
morning reveille. Thaine was just dreaming of home and he thought the
first bugle note was the call for him up the stairway of the Sunflower
Inn. His windows looked out on the Aydelot wheatfields and the grove
beyond, and every morning the sunrise across the level eastern prairie
made a picture only the hand of the Infinite could paint. This morning he
opened his eyes on a far different scene. The reveille became a call to
arms and the troops fell into line ready for battle.

Before the sun had reached the zenith the line was whipped end to end, as
Binford of Indiana had said it might be. In this engagement on the sandy
plain about the little village of Peit-Tsang, Thaine with his comrades
saw what it meant to lead that battle line. He saw the brave little
Japanese mowed down like standing grain before the reaper's sickle. He saw
the ranks move swiftly up to take the places of the fallen, never wavering
nor retreating, rushing to certain death as to places of vantage in a
coronal pageantry. The Filipino's Mauser was as deadly as the older style
gun of the Boxer. A bullet aimed true does a bullet's work. But in this
battle that raged about Peit-Tsang Thaine quickly discovered that this was
no fight in a Filipino jungle. Here was real war, as big and terrible
above the campaigns he had known in Luzon as the purpose in it was big
above loyalty to the flag and extension of American dominion and ideals.

When the thing was ended with the routing of the Boxer forces, of the
sixteen thousand that went into battle a tithe of one-tenth of their
number lay dead on the plains--sixteen hundred men, the cost of conquest
in a far wilderness. The heaviest toll fell on the brave Japanese who had
led in the attack.

Thaine Aydelot did not dream of home that night. He slept on his arms the
heavy sleep of utter weariness, which Little Kemper's bugle call broke at
three o'clock the next morning. Before the August sun had crawled over the
eastern horizon the armies were swinging up the Peiho river toward Peking.
The American troops were leading the column now, as Thaine Aydelot had
wished they might, and in all that followed after the day at Peit-Tsang
the Stars and Stripes, brave token of a brave people, floated above the
front lines of soldiery, even to the end of the struggle.

It was high noon above the Orient, where the Peiho flows beside the
populous town of Yang-Tsun. The Boxer army routed by the battle of
Peit-Tsang had massed its front before the town, a formidable array in
numbers, equipment, and frenzied eagerness to halt here and forever the
poor little line of foreign soldiers creeping in upon it from the sea. The
Boxers knew that they could match the fighting strength of this line with
quadruple force. The troops coming toward them had marched twelve miles
under the August heat of a hundred degrees, through sand and alkali dust,
in the heavy humid air saturated with evil odors. They had had no food
since the night before, nor a drink of water since daydawn. Joyful would
it be to slaughter here the entire band and then rush back to the hoary
old City of Peking with the triumphant message that the Allied Armies of
the World had fallen before China. Then the death of every foreigner in
the Empire would be certain.

At noon the battle lines were formed. In the swinging into place as Thaine
Aydelot stood beside Tasker, surrounded by his comrades, Little Kemper
dashed by him.

"Here's where the corn-fed Kansans do their work," he said gaily to the
Kansas men.

"With a few bean-eaters from Boston to help," Goodrich responded.

"And a Hoosier to give them culture," Binford added.

"Yes, yes, with the William Penn Quakers and the Pennsylvania Dutch,"
Schwoebel roared, striking McLearn on the shoulder.

Men think of many things as the battle breaks, but never do they fight
less bravely because they have laughed the moment before.

Thaine was in the very front of the battle lines. In the pause before the
first onslaught he thought of many things confusedly and a few most
vividly. He thought of Leigh Shirley and her childish dream of Prince
Quippi in China--the China just beyond the purple notches. He thought of
his mother as she had looked that spring morning when he talked of
enlisting for the Spanish War. He thought of his father, who had never
known fear in his life. Of his last words:

"As thy days so shall thy strength be."

And keenly he remembered Dr. Carey, somewhere among the troops behind him.
The fine head crowned with white hair, caressed by the moonbeams, as he
had seen it in the Manila garden, and his earnest words:

"You must learn to be a Christian. You must know what service for humanity
means. You need not hunt for the opportunity to prove this. The
opportunity is hurrying toward you now out of the Unknown."

"It is here, the opportunity," he murmured. "Oh, God, make me a fit
soldier for Thy service."

He did not pray for safety from danger and death; he asked for fitness to
serve and in that moment his great lesson was learned. There came an
instant's longing for Dr. Carey; then the battle storm burst and he did
not think any more, he fought. It were useless to picture that struggle.

Nothing counts in warfare till the results are shown. For six hours the
fighting did not cease, and not at Valley Forge, nor Brandywine, Lake
Erie, nor Buena Vista, Gettysburg, nor Shiloh, San Juan Hill, nor in any
jungle in Luzon did the American flag stream out over greater heroes than
it led today on the plains beside the Peiho river before Yang-Tsun.

At last the firing ceased, the smoke lifted above the field; the Boxers,
gathering their shattered forces together, retreated again before the
little line of Allied Troops invading this big strange land. And the last
hours of that long hot day waned to eventide.

There were only a few of its events that Thaine could comprehend. He knew
Little Kemper had received his death wound, blowing his bugle calls again
and again after he had been stricken, till the last reveille sounded for
him. The plucky little body with the big soul, who had found his brief
fifteen years of life so full of "doing."

Thaine knew that in the thick of the fight the native Indian Infantry, the
Sikhs and Sepoys, had fallen in cowardly fear before the Boxer fire. He
remembered how big Schwoebel, and Tasker, and Binford, Goodrich, and
McLearn, with himself and another man whom he recalled afterward as
Boehringer, a Kansas man, had clubbed self-respect into a few of them and
kicked the other whining cowards from their way. He knew that Schwoebel
had been grievously wounded and was being taken back to Tien-Tsin with
many other brave fellows who had been stricken that day. He knew that near
the last of the fray a man whom he had admired and loved second to
Lieutenant Alford, big Clint Graham, of a royally fine old family of state
builders in far-away Kansas, had fallen by the mistaken shot of Russian
cannon, and the weight of that loss hung heavy about the edge of his
consciousness wherever he turned. But what followed the battle Thaine
Aydelot will never forget.

Twelve hundred men rose no more from that bloody field before Yang-Tsun.
The fighting force, sixteen thousand strong, was wearing off at the rate
of almost a regiment and a half a day, and it was yet a hundred miles to
Peking.

All about Thaine were men with faces grimy as his own; their lips, like
his, split and purple from the alkali dust. They had had no water to drink
in all that long day's twelve miles of marching and six hours of fighting.
Fearful is the price paid out when the wilderness goes forth to war! And
heroic, sublimely heroic, may be the Christianity of the battlefield.

"We must help these fellows," Thaine said to his comrades as the wail for
water went up from wounded men.

"The river is this way," McLearn declared. "Hurry! the boys are dying."

So over countless forms they hurried to the river's brink for water.
Thaine and Tasker and Boehringer were accustomed to muddy streams, for the
prairie waters are never clear. But Goodrich from Boston had a memory of
mountain brooks. The Pennsylvania man, McLearn, the cold springs of the
Alleghanies, and for Binford there was old Broad Ripple out beyond
Indianapolis. All these men came down with dry canteens to the Peiho by
Yang-Tsun. The river was choked with dead Chinamen and dead dogs and
horses. They must push aside the bodies to find room to dip in their
canteens.

                   *       *       *       *       *

"You have one more lesson. You must learn to be a Christian."

Somehow the words seemed to ring round and round just out of Thaine's
mental sight.

"Vasser! Vasser!" cried a big German soldier before him.

Thaine stooped to give him a drink, and as he lifted up the man's head he
saw the stained face of Hans Wyker.

"It's very goot," Hans murmured, licking his lips for more. "Wisky not so
goot as vasser," and then he trailed off into a delirium. "Don't tell.
Don't tell," he pleaded. "I neffer mean to get Schmitt. I not know he
would be der yet. I hide for Yacob, an' I get Schmitt in der back and I
only want Yacob. He send me to der pen for sure yet next time. I hate Yon
Yacob."

A little silence, then Hans murmured:

"I didn't go to Kansas City. I coom back to Gretchen's home by Little
Wolf. I hide where I watch for Yacob. I shoot twice to be sure of Yacob,
an' Schmitt, hidin' in der crack by der roat, get one shot. So I coom to
Yermany and enlist. Gretchen, she coom too an' she stay der. Vell! I help
fight Boxer some. Mine Gott, forgif me. I do once some goot for der world
dis day."

And that was the last of Wyker.

The twilight hour was near. The wounded had been borne away by busy Red
Cross angels of mercy. Wide away across the Chinese plain the big red sun
slipped down the amber summer sky into a bath of molten flame. Then out of
sight behind the edge of the world it turned all the west into one
magnificent surge of scarlet glory, touching to beauty the tiny gray cloud
flecks far away to the eastward; while long rivers of golden light by
rivers of roseate glow mingled at last along the zenith in one vast sweep
of mother-of-pearl. A cool breeze came singing in from the sea--fanning
the fevered faces of the weary soldiers. The desolate places were hidden
by the deepening shadows, and the serenity of the twilight hour fell on
the battlefield.

Then the men of each nationality went out to bury their dead. Swiftly the
little brown Japanese digged and filled up the graves into which their
comrades were deftly heaped. The Russian and Siberian Cossack lunged their
fallen ones in heavily and unfeelingly. The Bengalese and Sikhs thrust
their own out of sight as they were planting for an uncertain harvest.
Each soldier from France who lost his life on that battlefield fell on his
own grave and there his countrymen covered him over, an unmarked spot in a
foreign land.

Thaine straightened a minute above his spade. The cool breezes were
grateful to his heated brow. The after-sunset glow seemed like the
benediction of the Infinite on the closing act of the day. He saw the
hurried and unfeeling dumping of bodies into the holes awaiting them. Then
his heart grew big with something unspeakable as he noted how in all that
irreverent and unsympathetic action the American and English soldiery
alone were serving as brother for brother. In the long trenches prepared
for them their dead were laid with reverent dignity and gentleness. Each
one's place was carefully marked with a numbered slab that in a future day
the sacred dust might be carried back to the soil of the homeland. As the
sunset deepened to richer coloring and the battlefield grew still and
still, far along the lines the bands of the English Royal Artillery and
the Welsh Fusiliers, with the bagpipes of the Scottish Highlanders,
mingled their music with the music of the splendid band of the Fourteenth
American Infantry in the sweet and sacred strains of the beloved old
hymn:

                       Nearer, my God, to Thee,
                         Nearer to Thee.
                       E'en though it be a cross
                         That raiseth me.
                       Still all my song shall be
                       Nearer, my God, to Thee,
                         Nearer to Thee.

And Thaine Aydelot knew that his last and biggest lesson was learned.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE END OF THE WILDERNESS


     Have I named one single river? Have I claimed one single acre?
       Have I kept one single nugget (barring samples)? No, not I.
     Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker.
       But you wouldn't understand it. You go up and occupy.
                                                    --The Explorer.

The victory at Yang-Tsun had come with a tremendous loss of life. To go on
now promised the cutting to pieces of the entire army. To stay here and
await reinforcements would mean the slaughter of all the foreigners in
Peking. In a council of war the next day English and Indian, Russian,
German, Japanese, Italian, and French, general after general declared for
the wisdom of waiting at Yang-Tsun for reinforcements.

Up spoke then General Chaffee of the American command:

"I will not wait while the Boxers massacre the helpless Christians. Stay
here or go back to your own countries, as you please. My army will go on
to Peking, if it must go alone."

And his will prevailed.

Followed then a memorable march, with the Stars and Stripes ever leading
the line. The strength of the force was thirteen thousand now and one
thousand of these fell by the way before the end of the journey.

After Yang-Tsun, for the only time in this ten days' campaign, the
soldiers undressed and bathed themselves like Christians in the
unchristian Peiho, and on the next day, which was the Sabbath, they
listened to the military chapel service. Six days they forged onward with
the same cruel heat, and scalding air, and alkali dust, and poison water,
over dreary plains, through deserted villages, twenty, twenty-five, and
even thirty miles a day, they pushed on toward the Chinese capital.

And ever before them the Boxers slowly receded, stinging grievously as
they moved. Sure were they that at last only dire calamity could await
that slender column moving across the plains, led under a flag of red,
white, and blue, with bands ever playing _The Star-Spangled Banner_, while
from line on line rolled out that weird battle cry of "Rock Chalk! Jay
Hawk! K U!" Sure were they that this stubborn little bands of soldiers
foolishly following the receding Boxer must at last crush itself like
dead-ripe fruit against the ancient and invincible walls of Peking.

On the evening of the sixth day from Yang-Tsun the twelve thousand men of
the Allied Armies, flower of the world's soldiery, stumbled into camp with
their outposts in sight of the great walls of the City of Peking. This had
been the longest and hottest of all the days, with the weariest length of
march. A great storm cloud was rising in the west and the air hung hot and
still before it.

Thaine Aydelot and his comrades threw themselves down, too exhausted to
care for what might happen next.

"This is the hottest day I ever knew," declared McLearn wearily, as he lay
prone on the ground looking up at the hot sky with unblinking eyes.

"I reckon you never hit the National pike on an August day, out between
Green Castle and Terre Haute down in Indianny," Binford suggested.

"Nor St. Marys-by-the-Kaw," Boehringer, a Kansas man, added. "There's
where you get real summery weather."

"Oh, kill him, Aydelot, he's worse than a Boxer. Don't you know I'm from
Boston originally, which is only a State of Mind?" Goodrich urged.

"No matter what state you are from originally, you are in China now, which
is in a state of insurrection that we must get ready for a state of
resurrection tomorrow. What are you thinking about, T. Aydelot? You look
like Moses and the prophets." McLearn half turned over with the question.

Thaine, who was lying on his side, supporting his head on his hand, quoted
softly:

   "'Oh, the prairies' air so quiet, an' there's allers lots of room
   In the golden fields of Kansas, when the
           Sun
               Flowers
                   Bloom.'"

A low boom of thunder rolled across the western sky; a twilight darkness
fell on the earth, and a long night of storm and stress began for the army
of deliverance encamped before Peking.

Outside the city the Boxers massed in numbers. Inside more than a hundred
thousand waited the coming of hardly more than one-tenth of their number.
No wonder they felt secure behind their centuries-old walls.

Thaine Aydelot was accustomed to sleeping tentless on the ground and to
being beaten by rains. He was a sound sleeper and he was very weary. But
tonight he could not sleep. The morrow would see world movements that
should change all future history; in which movements he was a tiny unit,
as every furrow that his father, Asher Aydelot, had run across the face of
the prairie had by so much won it from wilderness to fruitfulness.

All night long the rain poured in torrents upon the camp. A terrific
cannonade of thunder shook the earth. The lightning tore through the
clouds in jagged tongues of flame. Where Thaine lay he could see with
every flash the great frowning black walls of Peking looming up only a few
miles away. In the lull of the thunder a more dreadful cannonading could
be heard, hour after hour. Thaine knew that inside the walls the Boxers
were besieging the Compound. And inside that Compound, if he were yet
alive, was his old teacher, Pryor Gaines. He wondered if the God of
Battles that had led the armies all this long hard way would fail them now
when one more blow might bring deliverance to His children. He remembered
again the blessing with which his father had sent him forth:

"As thy day so shall thy strength be. The Eternal God is thy refuge, and
underneath are the everlasting arms."

The memory brought peace, and at length, wrapped round in the blessing of
an absolute trust, he fell asleep.

Inside of the City of Peking on that dreadful night the madness of the
Boxer forces was comparable to nothing human. Nor jungle beasts starving
for food and drink, frenzied with the smell of blood and the sight of
water, could have raged in more maniac fury than the fury possessing the
demon minds of these fanatics in their supreme struggle to flood the
streets of Peking with rivers of Christian blood. For such as these the
Christ died on the Cross of Calvary. For such as these the missionary is
offered up. A human jungle, untamed and waiting, to whose wilderness the
soldier became a light-bearer, albeit he brought the gospel of gunpowder
to aid him.

The great walls about Peking enclose an area some fourteen miles in length
and twelve miles in width. Within these walls lie several cities,
separated from each other by walls of lesser strength, intended, with one
exception, in the opening of the twentieth century, not so much for
defense as for boundary lines.

The exception is the Imperial City, inside whose sacred precincts it was
firmly believed a foreigner might not set foot and not be stricken dead by
the gods. This City within a city had defenses the allied armies were yet
to come against. It lies on the north, inside the great wall. Just east of
it, along the north wall, was the Foreign Legation, whose south and east
bounds were lesser structures of brick and earth. Here all the foreigners
and many native Christians had been shut in for six long weeks, with the
infuriated Boxers hammering daily at their gates, mad for massacre.

Here they had barricaded themselves with all the meager means available.
They had fortified every gate with whatever might stop a bullet or check a
cannon ball. They filled up the broken places in the walls with piles of
earth; they dug deep trenches inside these walls, and inside these
trenches they had built up heaps of earthworks. Daily they strengthened
the weaker places and watched and prayed. No word from the big world
outside seemingly could come to them--a little handful of the Lord's
children, forgotten of Him, and locked dungeon deep from human aid. They
had sent out a cry for help and had sent up prayers for deliverance. How
far that cry had gone they could not know. Frowning walls besieged by
enemies lay all around them. They could only look up and lift up helpless
hands in prayer to the hot, unpitying August skies above them. Sickness
stalked in over the walls. Hunger tore its way through the gates. Death
swooped down, and sorrow seeped up, and despair lay in wait. But hope, and
trust, and faith, and love failed not.

They ate dogs and horses. They went half naked that they might make sand
bags of their clothes for greater defense. They exhausted every means for
protection and life, but they forgot not to pray.

On this August night, while unknown to the besieged the Allied Armies
encamped only six miles away, the reign of terror reached its height for
the little Christian stronghold.

The storm beat pitilessly on the starved and ragged captives. The rain
softened the earthworks and the rivers of water in the trenches threatened
to undermine the walls. Across these walls the incessant attack of cannon
and roar of rifles was beyond anything the six weeks' siege had known, and
only the power of Omnipotence could stay the bloody hands. So the long
hours of the dreadful night dragged on.

At length came daydawn. The storm had rolled away. A lull in the besieging
guns gave the Legation a little rest of mind. Hungry and helpless, it
waited the passing of another day. A silence seemed to fill the city and
the wiser ones wondered anxiously what it might portend.

Suddenly, in the midst of it, a great gun boomed out to the northeast.
Another gun, and another. Then came a pause and the besieged listened
eagerly, for their own walls felt no shock. Again came the bellow of
cannon, nearer and heavier, repeated and repeated, and the roll of smoke
and the rattling fusillade of bullet shots told that a battle was on.
Outside the gates! An army come against Peking! The Army of Deliverance!
They were here fighting for the Christians! Oh, the music of birds' song,
of rippling waters, of gently pulsing zephyrs, the music of old cathedral
chimes, of grandest orchestras--nothing of them all could sound so like to
the music that the morning stars sang together as this deafening peal of
cannon, this rippling rhythm of Krag rifles.

With bursting hearts they waited and watched the great wall to the north.
It is sixty feet high and fully as wide at its base, tapering to
twenty-five feet across the top. Could the gates be stormed? Could this
wall be shaken? From the highest points inside the Compound eager eyes
scanned the northeast as the battle raged on with crash of shells and whir
of bullets. Then down to the waiting ones came a message that seemed to
fly to every ear in the besieged city, making men and women drop to the
ground in a very ecstasy of joy.

"They've run up the Stars and Stripes on the northeast wall!"

The sword of the Lord and of Gideon was come again to Peking, as it came
once long ago to the Valley of Jezreel.

The Allied Armies broke camp early on the morning of August fourteen in
the year of nineteen hundred. Six miles away stood the most impassable
defense an army of the West might ever storm. Yet the twelve thousand men
did not hesitate. With General Chaffee's troops in the front of the line
they fought through fiercely skirmishing forces up to the hoary old city's
gates, the Fourteenth United States Infantry leading the way. The American
guns cleared the Chinese soldiery from the top of the walls, and the
American cannon were in line ready to blow open the huge gates.

"I want to know what's on the other side before I open up the gates,"
General Chaffee declared.

So the command was given for a volunteer to scale the wall, to stand up a
target for the Chinese rifles! To be blown to pieces by Chinese cannon!
Yet the armies must know what awaited them. There must be no debouching
into a death-trap for a wholesale massacre.

Thaine Aydelot had cherished one hope since the twilight hour on the
battlefield at Yang-Tsun--that when this day should come the American
might lead the way through the Peking gates and be first to enter the
strange old city. Not merely because he was an American patriot, but
because to him the American soldiers with all their sins and follies of
youth and military life were yet world missionaries.

Thaine knew his comrades shared his hope, whether for the same high
purpose he could not have asked. He had no longer dreams of military glory
for himself. His joy was in achievement, no matter by whose hand.

"There's an order for somebody to go up on the wall."

The word was passed along the line. Before it reached Thaine and his
comrades a young soldier had leaped forward to obey the order.

"Glory be, America first!" Goodrich said fervently.

"And a Kansan. A Jayhawker!"

Thaine did not know who said it. He saw the soldier, young Calvin Titus, a
Kansas boy, leap after the Japanese coolies who ran forward toward the
wall with the long bamboo scaling ladders. And for one instant's flash of
time the old level prairies came sweeping into view, the winding line of
Grass River with the sand dunes beyond; the wheat fields, the windbreaks,
the sunflowers beside the trail, and far away the three headlands veiled
in the golden haze of an August morning. A Kansas boy the hero of the
day--first of all that army to stand on top of that hoary old wall! The
prairies had grown another name for the annals of history.

Before him were the little brown coolies holding the ladder, and up its
slender swaying height, round by round, went young Titus nimbly as a
squirrel up a cottonwood limb.

The Kansas men went wild.

"Rock Chalk! Jay Hawk! K U! oo!" they shouted again and again, ending in
the long quavering wail as the University yell must always end.

Up and up went Titus, sixty feet, to the top of the wall. Then as he stood
above the strange old Oriental city, rilled now with frenzied fighters;
above the poor starving Christians in their Compound--saved as by a
miracle; above the twelve thousand soldiers sent hither from the far
homelands beyond the seas to rescue human beings from deadly peril. As he
stood over all these, a target for a hundred guns, the khaki-clad young
Kansan lifted his right hand high above his head and swung out the Stars
and Stripes to all the breezes of that August morning.

Then came the belching of cannon, the bursting of huge timbers, the
groaning of twisting iron, and through the splintered gates the Allied
Armies had entered the city.

Inside the walls the hundred thousand Boxers renewed the strife. The walls
and gates of the Foreign Legation were as stubbornly defended by the
Chinese fanatics on the outside now as the besieged Christians had
defended them against the Chinese on the inside. Entrance was made at last
through the sluiceway, or open sewer, draining out under the city walls.

It was a strange looking line of creatures who came crawling, waist-deep
in filth, through the sewer's channel. The old Aydelot sense of humor had
saved Thaine many a time. And he wondered afterward if he had not seen by
chance the ludicrous picture of himself in a huge mirror, if his heart
would not have burst with grief when Pryor Gaines came toward him, mute
and pallid, with outstretched hands.

The little group of soldiers who had fought and marched together had not
had off their clothes for seven days. A stubby two weeks' beard was on
each face. Their feet were raw from hard marching. Rain and dust and mud
and powder smoke had trimmed their uniforms, and now the baptism by
immersion in the Compound sewer had given them the finishing touches. But
the gaunt-faced men and women, the pitiful, big-eyed children, whose
emaciated forms told the tale of the six weeks' imprisonment, made them
forget themselves as these poor rescued Christians hugged and kissed their
brave rescuers.

Thaine hadn't kissed any woman except his mother since the evening when he
and Leigh Shirley had lingered on the Purple Notches in a sad-sweet moment
of separation. It lifted the pressure crushing round his heart when he saw
Goodrich, with shining eyes, bending to let a poor little missionary
stroke his grimy cheek.

The Boxers retired by degrees before the superior force, entrenching
themselves inside the Imperial City. Never in its history, centuries on
centuries old, had this Imperial City's sacred precincts been defiled by
foreign feet. Here the Boxer felt himself secure. Here the gods of his
fathers would permit no foreigner to enter. On these hoary old walls no
Christian would dare to stand. On three sides of the Imperial City these
walls were invincible. The fourth was equipped with six heavy gates.

In a council of the powers the impossibility of storming these gates
was fully made clear. The number of soldiers was carefully
estimated--American, Japanese, Russian, German, French, and Italian,
Sikh and Sepoy, Bengalese, Scotchman, Welsh, and Royal Englishmen. All
had suffered heavily in this campaign. None more grievously than the
American.

The decision of the council was overwhelming that the Imperial City could
not be taken by this little force outside its battlements. Only General
Chaffee protested against giving up the attempt.

"Can your men take those walls?" The query came from the leaders.

"My men can take hell," General Chaffee replied, with less of profanity
than of truth in his terms. And the attempt was given over to the
Americans.

One of the six gates stood wide open, a death-trap laid by the wily Boxer,
believing that the foreign forces would rush through it to be shot down
like rats in a hole. Beyond it was a paved court some five hundred yards
wide, reaching up to a second wall, equipped likewise with six great
gates.

Thaine's company was singled out to go inside the open gate and draw the
Boxer fire toward themselves while the American army stormed the closed
gates. The little group of men lay flat on the pavement, defending
themselves and harassing the enemy. They knew why they had been sent in,
but they were seasoned soldiers. Thaine looked down the line of less than
a hundred men, McLearn, and Boehringer, Tasker, Goodrich, and Binford, all
were in that line. He felt a thrill of soldier pride as he said to
himself:

"We are fit. They have chosen us for the sacrifice. We'll prove
ourselves." Then he thought of nothing else but duty all that day.

The capture of the first wall opened the way to a second with a paved
court beyond it, and beyond that lay a third, and a fourth, and a fifth;
wall and court, wall and court, through which, and across which the
American army forced its way by heaviest bombarding under heaviest fire,
leaving a clean rear for the other armies to follow in. Only the sixth and
last wall remained. General Chaffee's men had not failed. The flag of red,
white, and blue had led steadily on 'mid a storm of shells and a deluge of
bullets.

One more onslaught and the last gates would burst wide open. Eagerly the
American soldiers waited the command to finish the task. But it was not
given. The leaders of the other armies had counseled together and
prevailed against further advance, whether moved by military prudence or
governed by jealousy of the ability of General Chaffee and the magnificent
record of the American soldiers in the Orient, the privates could not
know.

Just as the command to retire was sounded Japanese coolies had run with
scaling ladders to the last wall. It was the supreme moment for Thaine
Aydelot. He was only a private, but in that instant all the old dominant
Cavalier blood of the Thaines, all the old fearless independence of the
Huguenot Aydelots, all the calm poise and courage of the Quaker
Penningtons throbbed again in his every pulse-beat. He threw aside his
soldier obligation and stood up a man, guided alone by the light within
him.

"It is a far cry from the green Kansas prairies to the heart of old
China," he declared to himself. "Yet I'll go to the heart of that heart
now, and I'll show it the Stars and Stripes of a free people, so help me
God!"

He turned and sped to the last wall, snatching the flag from a
color-bearer as he ran. At the foot of the ladder the men holding it
wavered a little. Thaine threw the flag up to a coolie who was already
climbing.

"Take it up. If I don't get up, wave it there if you die for it," he cried
as he sprang up the ladder behind the color-bearer.

The shots were thick about them as up and up they went until at last
Thaine stood beside the indomitable little Japanese who had carried the
American flag up the ladder.

Below the Kansas boy lay the holy city of an ancient civilization in all
its breadth of ingenuity and narrowness of spirit. Standing there, a
target for every gun, waving the Star-Spangled Banner out over that old
stronghold, he cried:

"This is the end of the wilderness! Look up and see the token of light and
hope and love. Other hands than mine will bear them to you, but I have
shown you their symbol. I, Thaine Aydelot, of Kansas, first of all the
world, have dared to stand on your most sacred walls with Old Glory in my
hand. Wherever its shadow falls there is life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. In God's good time they will all come to you in peace as they
have come to you now in warfare. Mine today has been the soldier service,
and mine today the great reward."



CHAPTER XXIV

THE CALL OF THE SUNFLOWER


     Sons and daughters of the prairie,
       Dreaming, dreaming,
     Of the starry nights that vary,
       Gleaming, gleaming!
   You may wander o'er your country where the vales and mountains be,
   You may dwell in lands far distant, out beyond the surging sea.
   But ah! just a yellow sunflower, though across the world you roam,
   Will take you back to Kansas and the sun-kissed fields of home.
                                                      --Nancy Parker.

Thaine Aydelot sat with Doctor Carey and Pryor Gaines in the latter's home
in the Foreign Compound in Peking.

"I have done my work here," Pryor was saying. "I have only one wish--to go
back to old Grass River in Kansas and spend my days with Jim Shirley. We
two will both live to be old because we are useless; and Leigh will be
marrying one of these times, if the Lord ever made a man good enough for
her. So Jim and I can chum along down the years together."

"It is the place for you, Pryor," Doctor Carey asserted. "And now that the
ranch is making money while Jim sleeps, you two will be happy and busy as
bees. Every neighborhood needs a man or two without family ties. You'll be
the most useful citizens in that corner of the prairies. And think of
eating Jim Shirley's cooking after this."

"And you, Thaine? What now?" Pryor asked as he looked fondly at the young
battle-tried soldier.

"I have done my work here," Thaine quoted his words. "I've only one
wish--to go back to old Grass River in Kansas to take my place on the
prairie and win the soil to its best uses; to do as good a work as my
father has done."

Thaine's dark eyes were luminous with hopefulness, and if a line of pathos
for a loss in his life that nothing could fill had settled about his firm
mouth, it took nothing from the manliness of the strong young face.

"And you, Carey?" Pryor asked.

Doctor Carey did not reply at once. A strange weariness had crept over his
countenance, and a far-away look was in his eyes. The man who had
forgotten himself in his service for others was coming swiftly toward his
reward. But neither of his friends noted the change now. At last he said:

"Years ago I loved a girl as I never could care for any other girl. She
would have loved me sooner or later if something hadn't happened. A
message from the man she cared for most fell into my hands one day long
ago: a withered flower and a little card. I could have kept them back and
won her for my wife, but I didn't. I sent the message to her by a servant
boy--and she has been happy always in her love."

Doctor Carey turned his face away for the moment. Thaine Aydelot's eyes
were so much like Virginia Thaine's to him just then. Presently he went
on:

"Sometimes the thing we fail to get helps us to know better how to live
and to live happily. You will not be a coward, Thaine, when you come,
year by year, to know the greater wilderness inside yourself. You will go
back to the prairies where you belong, as you say, and you will do a man's
part in the big world that's always needing men."

Thaine recalled the evening hour when he and Leigh were on the Purple
Notches and he had declared in the pride of his nineteen years that he
wanted to go out into the big world that is always needing men and do a
man's part there.

"If the big world needs men anywhere, it is on the old prairies," he
declared, and the doctor continued: "I have found my future already. I
shall not leave China again. Grass River may miss me as a friend but not
as a doctor of medicine. Doctors are too plentiful there. My place is here
henceforth, and I'm still young. I came to the Philippines to be with
Thaine"--Horace Carey's voice was low, and the same old winning smile was
on his face--"because I love the boy and because I wanted to protect him
if it should be my fortune to do it. I saved him from the waters of the
Rio Grande and helped to pull him out of the hospital at Manila. He
doesn't need me now, for he goes to do a big work, and I stay here to do a
big work."

"Out of love for me alone?" Thaine asked affectionately, throwing one arm
about Horace Carey's shoulder.

"No, not you alone," Carey answered frankly, "but because something in
your face always reminds me of a face I loved long ago. Of one for whose
sake I have cared for you here. You are going home a brave man. I believe
your life will be full of service and of happiness."

The silence that followed was broken by Pryor Gaines saying:

"All this time--such a tragical time--I have forgotten, Thaine, that I
have a message for you, a little package that reached here late last May.
It was sent to me because the sender thought you were coming to China
soon, and I was asked to keep it for you. You didn't come, and mails
ceased to leave Peking--and then came the siege, the struggle to keep up
the defenses, the sickness, the starvation, the deaths, the constant
attacks, the final sight of Old Glory on the outer walls, and your
triumphal entry through the sewer. You see why I forgot."

He took a little package from his writing desk and gave it into Thaine
Aydelot's hand.

The young soldier tried to open it with steady fingers, for the address
was in a handwriting he knew well. Inside a flat little box was a card
bearing the words:

              To Prince Quippi, Beyond the Purple Notches.

And underneath that lay a withered little yellow sunflower.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Two evenings later as the three men sat together, Horace Carey suddenly
gripped Thaine's hand in his, then sank back in his chair with eyes that
seemed looking straight into eternal peace; and the same smile that had
won men to him seemed winning the angels to welcome him heavenward. In the
midst of his busy, useful years his big work was done.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The sunflowers were just beginning to blossom along the old Grass River
Trail. The line of timber following every stream was in the full leafage
of May. The wheat lay like a yellow-green sea over all the wide prairies.
The breeze came singing down the valley, a morning song of gladness.

Leigh Shirley had come up early to the Sunflower Ranch to spend the day
and night with Virginia Aydelot, while Asher and her uncle Jim took a two
days' business trip to Big Wolf with Darley Champers. Jim had brought
Virginia a big bunch of exquisite roses which nobody but Jim Shirley could
ever have grown to such perfection.

Virginia went into the house to find the tall cut-glass vase Doctor Carey
had sent to her when he started West, while Leigh went to the gate of the
side lot to pet a pretty black colt that whinnied to her.

"You beautiful Juno!" she cried, patting the creature's nose. "Mrs.
Aydelot says you are as graceful and well-bred as all your grandmothers
have been since the time a Juno long ago followed a prairie schooner down
the old Grass River Trail to a little sod shack on a treeless claim in the
wilderness. This is too fine a morning to go indoors," she added as she
came back to the front lawn to the seat under the fragrant white
honeysuckle.

She was as sweet as a blossom herself this morning, with her soft
brown-gold hair waving back from her face, and her blue eyes full of
light.

Somebody had turned from the road and was coming up the walk with
springing step. Leigh turned her head to see who it might be, as she
reached for a spray of the fragrant honeysuckle, and found Thaine Aydelot
standing before her.

With a glad cry, she dropped the blossoms and sprang to her feet.

"Prince Quippi couldn't come nor write, so he sent me. Will I do for an
answer, Leighlie? I was coming back to the blessed old prairies, anyhow;
to my father and mother and the life of a farmer. I have come to see at
last through Asher Aydelot's eyes that wars in any cause are short-lived,
and, even with a Christian soldiery, very brutal; that after the wars come
the empire-makers, who really conquer, and that the man who patiently wins
from the soil its hundredfold of increase may be a king among men. I can
see such big things to be done here, but, oh, Leigh, are you sure you want
me here?"

Thaine was holding her hands in a gentle grip, looking with love-hungry
eyes down into her face.

"I've always been sure I wanted you," Leigh said softly, "and I've always
hoped you would come back here to the prairies again. But, Thaine, I'm so
proud of you, too, for all the heroic things you have helped to do in the
Philippines and in China. I am glad now you did go for a while. You have
been a part of a history-making that shall change all the future years."

Thaine put his arm about her and drew her close to him as he said:

"Then we'll go and build a house on the Purple Notches, a purple velvet
house with gold knobs, and all that yellow prairie away to the west that
was only grass land four years ago we'll turn to wheat fields like Asher
Aydelot's here. John Jacobs was holding that ground for somebody like you
and me. We'll buy it of his estate. We'll show the fathers what the sons
can do."

A thrill of happiness lighted Leigh's face for a moment, then a shadow
fell over it as she said:

"Thaine, Darley Champers and I have kept a secret for a year."

"You kept it 'danged' well. What was it?" Thaine asked gaily.

"Jane Aydelot, who died last year, left me all her property," Leigh
began.

"Good for Jennie," Thaine broke in, but Leigh hurried on.

"I always knew she meant to do it, and that was one reason why I sent you
away. I wouldn't have your money and I felt if you knew you wouldn't ask
me for fear I'd think--Oh, money you don't earn or inherit squarely is
such a grief," Leigh paused.

"So you wouldn't let me have any hope because of this junk in Ohio that
you were afraid you'd get and I'd seem to be wanting if I married you, and
you thought I ought to have and you'd seem to be marrying me to get. If I
ever have an estate, I'll leave it to foreign missions. I'd like to make
trouble for the cuss that got me at the Rio Grande. Money might do it,"
Thaine declared.

Leigh did not laugh.

"You are right, Thaine. I was so unhappy about it all. For since I first
came to Uncle Jim's, I knew I ought not have Miss Jane's love and the farm
that you would have had if she knew you."

"You've known this all these years and never told even me. You silent
little subsoiler!" Thaine exclaimed.

"It grew in my mind from an almost babyhood impression to a woman's
principle," Leigh declared. "I never thought of telling anybody. But
there was another thing that kept me firm that day on the Purple Notches.
Years ago, when I was a baby girl, I remember dimly seeing two men in an
awful fight one night just at dusk down on the railroad track by Clover
Creek in Ohio. I thought one of them was my father. Miss Jane would never
tell me anything about it, and made me promise never to speak of it. So I
grew up sure that my father had committed some dreadful crime, and,
Thaine, until I knew better, I couldn't take the risk of disgracing your
name, the proud name of Aydelot."

"Oh, Leigh, it is no matter what our forefathers do--they were all a bad
lot if we go back far enough. It's what we do that counts. It's what I do
as Thaine Aydelot, not as Asher Aydelot's son, that I must stand or fall
by. It's how far we win our wilderness, little girl, not the wilderness
our fathers won or lost."

Thaine was sitting beside Leigh now, under the perfumy white honeysuckle
blossoms.

"But, Thaine, the bans are all lifted now."

Leigh sat with face aglow. "Your grandfather wouldn't let his property go
to a child of Virginia Aydelot, so Miss Jane couldn't give it to you. She
left it to me--all her property, provided, or hoping, I would--you
should--"she hesitated.

"Yes, we should, and we will," Thaine finished the sentence. "Bless her
good soul! I've always been rather fond of her, anyhow!"

"And Darley Champers found out that my father was accidentally drowned
long ago in Clover Creek. Uncle Jim says he never could swim, and so that
burden is lifted. But, Thaine, will you want to go back to Ohio to the
Aydelot homestead? I could sell it for a club house to the Cloverdale
Country Club, but I waited till you should come, to know what to do."

There was just a little quaver in Leigh's voice.

"Do you want to go back to Ohio?" Thaine inquired. "Unless you do, the
country clubbers may have the place. There is no homestead there for me.
This is my homestead. I want that open ranch-land beyond the Purple
Notches. But, Leigh, if my father as administrator and trustee for John
Jacobs' estate can sell me the ground and your inheritance from Jane
Aydelot pays for it, what is there left for me to do after all? I can't
take favors and give none. I'll run away and enlist with the Regulars
first."

A rueful look came over his face now, and behind the words Leigh read a
determined will.

"The real thing is left to you," she replied, "the biggest work of all.
You must go out and tame the soil. Your father bought his first quarter
with money his father had left him by will, but he had no inheritance to
buy all the other quarters that make the big Aydelot wheat fields of the
Sunflower Ranch. If every acre of the prairie was covered with a layer of
eastern capital, borrowed or inherited, it would not make one stalk of
wheat grow nor ripen one ear of corn. But you may turn up the soil with
your plow and find silver dollars in the furrow. You may herd cattle on
the plains, and their dun hides will bring you cloth-of-gold. You may seed
the brown fields with alfalfa, and it will take away the fear of protest
or over-draft, as the Coburn book says it will. I know, because I've tried
and proved it. Oh, Thaine, with all your grand battles in the East which
is always our West, Luzon is still a jungle and China isn't yet in the
light. You have only prepared the way for the big things that are to
follow. I never hear the old Civil War veterans telling of their
achievements in a Grand Army meeting without wishing that, after their
great story is told, the Grand Army of the Prairies would tell their tale
of how the men and women fought out the battles here with no music of
drums nor roar of cannon, nor bugle calls, nor shoulder straps, nor
comradeship, nor inspiring heroic climaxes, and straight, fierce campaigns
to victory. But just loneliness, and discouragements, and long waiting,
and big, foolish-seeming dreams of what might be, with only the reality of
the unfriendly land to work upon. I'm so glad you want to stay here and to
take that open prairie beyond the Purple Notches for our kingdom."

The happiness in Leigh Shirley's eyes took from Thaine's mind the memory
of all the hardship and tragedy of his two years on the battlefield. Her
pride in his achievements, her joy in his return and her dream of their
future together in a work so full of service, filled his soul with
rejoicing, as the May morning opened for these two its paradise of Youth
and Love.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Asher and Virginia Aydelot had come out on the veranda to look for Leigh.
A moment they waited, then Asher said softly:

"He has forgotten us, but he has come back to the life we love."

"And he will come back to us tenfold more ours, because his heart is
here," Virginia answered, and the two stole softly indoors.

"See the roses Jim brought; they seem to belong to that beautiful vase,"
Virginia said as they stood at the door of the dining room. "I think Jim
must have meant them for Leigh and Thaine."

"Yes, he brought us sunflowers in an old tin peach-can wrapped with a
newspaper, and we had no mahogany dining room set and not so much
cut-glass and china and silver in our cupboard, nor quite such a good rug
on our hardwood floor," Asher replied.

"But we had each other and the vision to see all these things coming to
us," Virginia said as she looked up into her husband's face with
love-lighted eyes. "I wonder where Jim is."

"Jim is present." Jim Shirley came in quietly from the side porch. "He
prepared your wedding supper for you. He buried your first-born, and now
he comes to give you a daughter, He's been first aid to the Aydelots all
along the line, as he will hope to continue to be, world without end, and
a little more."

                   *       *       *       *       *

The homestead on the Purple Notches looks out on a level land stretching
away in an unbroken line to the far westward horizon. Broad fields of
wheat grow golden in the summer sunshine, and acres of dark alfalfa
perfume the air above them. With a clearer vision of what reward farm life
may bring for him who goes forth and earns that reward, the man whom the
Tondo road made a soldier, Caloocan a patriot, and Yang-Tsun a Christian,
has found in the conquest of the soil a life of usefulness and power.

And the father and mother, Asher and Virginia Aydelot, who, through labor
and loneliness and hopes long deferred, won a desert to fruitfulness, a
wilderness to beauty--these two, in the zenith of their days, have proved
their service not in vain, for that they have also won the second
generation back to the kingdom whose scepter is the hoe.

Not in vain did the scout of half a century ago drive back the savage
Indian from the plains; not in vain did Funston and his "Fighting
Twentieth" wade the Tulijan and swim the Marilao; not in vain did
Chaffee's army burst the gates of Peking, nor Calvin Titus fling out Old
Glory above its frowning walls.

Behind the scout came a patient, brave-hearted band of settlers who,
against loneliness and distances and drouth and prairie fire and plague
and boom, slowly but gloriously won the wilderness. Into the jungles of
Luzon will go the saw and spade and spelling book. Upon the Chinese
republic has a new light shined.

Not more to him who drives back the frontier than to him who follows after
and wins that wilderness with sword re-shaped to a plowshare does the
promise to Asher of old stand evermore secure!

"_Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy
strength be. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the
everlasting arms._"

THE END



[Illustration: Sunflower]



BOOKS BY MARGARET HILL MCCARTER

WINNING THE WILDERNESS

Illustrated by J. N. Marchand

The latest book from Mrs. McCarter's pen is pronounced by critics the best
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Illustrated in color by W. D. Goldbeck

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Illustrated in color by J. N. Marchand

"With God Almighty backing us, we've got to stand up like a wall of men,"
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THE PEACE OF THE SOLOMON VALLEY

Frontispiece by Clara P. Wilson

In a breezy manner the story is told of a New York City man sending his
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Illustrated in color by J. N. Marchand

In this book Mrs. McCarter made her fame secure. It is a great picture of
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A. C. McCLURG & CO., Publishers
CHICAGO





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