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Title: Bring Me His Ears
Author: Mulford, Clarence Edward, 1883-1956
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 "Bring Me His Ears" ***

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[Illustration: Tom pushed on ahead to reconnoiter the Upper Spring

[_Page 262_]]



"Bring Me His Ears"

By CLARENCE E. MULFORD


AUTHOR OF

"Bar 20," "Bar 20 Days," "Bar 20-Three," "Buck Peters, Ranchman," "The
Coming of Cassidy," "Hopalong Cassidy," "Johnny Nelson," "The Man from
Bar 20," "Tex," etc.


A.L. BURT COMPANY

Publishers New York

Published by arrangement with A.C. McClurg & Co.

Printed in U.S.A.



Copyright A.C. McClurg & Co. 1922

Published October, 1922

_Copyrighted in Great Britain_


_Printed in the United States of America_



"Bring Me His Ears"



CHAPTER I

HAWKENS' GUN STORE


The tall, lanky Missourian leaning against the corner of a ramshackle
saloon on Locust Street, St. Louis, Missouri--the St. Louis of the early
forties--turned his whiskey-marked face toward his companion, a short
and slender Mexican trader, sullenly listening to the latter's torrent
of words, which was accompanied by many and excitable gesticulations.
The Missourian shook his head in reply to the accusations of his
companion.

"But he was on thee boat weeth us!" exclaimed the other. "An' you lose
heem--lak theese!" the sharp snap of his fingers denoted magic.

"Thar ain't no use o' gittin' riled," replied Schoolcraft. "How in
tarnation kin a man keep th' trail o' a slippery critter like him in
these yere crowds? I'll git sight o' him, right yere."

"That ees w'at you say," rejoined the Mexican, shrugging his shoulders.
"But w'at weel _I_ say to _le Gobernador_? Theese _hombre_ Tomaz
Boyd--he know vera many t'eengs--too vera many t'eengs--an' he ensult
_le Gobernador_. _Madre de Dios_--sooch ensult!" He shivered at the
thought. "W'en I get thee message, I tr-remble! It say 'Br-ring heem to
me--or breeng me his ears!' I am tol' to go to Señor Schoolcr-raft at
Eendependence--he ees thee man. I go; an' then you lose heem! Bah! You
do not know theese Manuel Armijo, _le Gobernador de Santa Fe_, my
fren'--I tr-remble!"

"You need a good swig, that's what _you_ need," growled Schoolcraft.
"An' if ye warn't a chuckle-head," he said with a flash of anger, "we
wouldn't 'a' come yere at all; I told ye he's got th' prairie fever an'
shore would come back to Independence, whar I got friends; but no--we
had ter foller him!" He spat emphatically. "Thar warn't no sense to it,
nohow!"

The other waved his arms. "But w'y we stan' here, lak theese? W'y you do
no'teeng?"

"Now you look a-here, Pedro," growled the Missourian, his sullen gaze
passing up and down the slender Mexican. "Ye don't want ter use no spurs
on _this_ critter. I ain't no greaser! If ye'll hold them arms still fer
a minute I'll tell ye somethin'. Thar's three ways o' gittin' a deer:
one is trailin'--which we've found ain't no good; another is layin' low
near a runway--which is _yer_ job; th' third is watchin' th' salt
lick--which is _my_ job. You go down ter th' levee, git cached among
them piles o' freight an' keep a lookout on th' landin' stage o' th'
_Belle_. I'll stick right yere on this corner an' watch th' lick, which
is Hawkens' gun store. He lost his pistol overboard, comin' down th'
river, didn't he? An' th' _Belle_ ain't sailin' till arter ten o'clock,
is she? One o' us is bound ter git sight o' him, fer he'll shore go back
by th' river; an' if thar's any place in this town whar a plainsman'll
go, it's that gun store, down th' street. You do what I say, or you an'
Armijo kin go plumb ter hell! An' don't ye wave yer fists under my nose
no more, Pedro; I might misunderstand ye."

The Mexican's face brightened. "Eet ees good, vera good, Señor
Schoolcraft. Hah! You have thee br-rains, my fren'. Armijo, he say:
'Pedro, get heem to Santa Fe, if you can. If you can't, then keel heem,
an' breeng me hees ears.' _Bueno!_ I go, señor. I go _pronto_. _Buena
dia!_"

"Then git," growled Schoolcraft. "Thar's that long-faced clerk o'
Hawkens' openin' th' shop. Now remember: this side o' th' junction o'
th' Oregon trail I'm only ter watch him. If he goes southwest from th'
junction, yer job begins; if he heads up fer th' Platte, my job starts.
I ain't got no love fer him, but I'm hopin' he heads fer Oregon an' gets
killed quick! I hate ter think o' a white man in Armijo's paws. An' if
he hangs 'round th' settlements, we toss up fer th' job. If that's
right, _vamoose_."

"Eet ees r-right to thee vera letter," whispered the Mexican, rubbing
his hands. "Eef only I can get heem to Santa Fe--ah, my fren'!"

"Yer wuss nor a weasel," grunted the Missourian, slight prickles playing
up and down his spine. "Better git down to them freight piles!"

Schoolcraft watched his scurrying friend until he slipped around a
corner and was lost to sight; then he turned and looked up the street at
the gun shop of Jake and Samuel Hawken, whose weapons were renowned all
over that far-stretching western wilderness. Shrugging his shoulders, he
glanced in disgust at the heavy, patented repeating rifle in his hand
and, letting his personal affairs take precedence over those of the
distant Mexican tyrant, he swung down the street, crossed it, and
entered the famous gun shop. He risked nothing by the move, for the
store was the Mecca of frontiersmen, and a trip to St. Louis was hardly
complete without a visit to the shop.

The Hawkens were established, so much so that they were to be singled
out by one of the famous Colt family with a partnership proposition. The
fame of their rifles had rolled westward to the Rockies and beyond. They
were to be found across the Canadian and Mexican boundaries and wherever
hunters and trappers congregated, who scorned the Northwest fusil as fit
only for trading purposes, laughed in their sleeves at the preposterous
length and general inefficiency of the Hudson Bay muskets, and
contentedly patted the stocks of their Hawkens'. There is a tradition
that the length of the Hudson Bay muskets, which often rose over the
head of a tall man while the butt rested on the ground, was due to the
fact that the ignorant Indians could obtain a white man's gun only by
stacking up beaver skins until the pile was as high as the musket. Even
worse than the flintlock trade guns were the _escopetas_ of the south,
matchlocks of prodigious bore and no accuracy or power, which were used
by many of the Mexicans. That swarthy-skinned race which suffered under
the tyranny of Armijo seemed to believe that anything which used powder
was a weapon. The rank and file of the Mexicans were courageous and
usually fought bravely until deserted by their officers, or until they
were fully convinced that the miscellaneous junk with which they were
armed was worse than useless. It can hardly be expected that men
shooting pebbles, nails, and what-not out of nearly useless
blunderbusses; or using bows, arrows, and lances will stand up very long
against straight-shooting troops armed with the best rifles; add to this
the great difference in morale, and the ever-present distrust of the
officers, and a fair and honest understanding may be arrived at.

Hawkens' clerk took down one of the great rifles to go over it with an
oiled rag, which was another example of painting the lily. The weapon
was stocked to the muzzle and shot a bullet weighing thirty-two to the
pound, each thus being an honest half-ounce of lead. It was brass
mounted and had a poorly done engraving of a buffalo on the trap in its
stock. He turned to replace it and take down another when the sound of
the opening door made him pause and face the incoming customer.

The newcomer was neither hunter nor trapper, gambler nor merchant, to
judge from his nondescript and mixed attire. His left hand had an ugly
welt running across the base of the palm and it had not been healed long
enough to have lost its distinctive color. In his right hand he carried
a rifle which was new to that part of the country, and he slid it onto
the counter.

"Swap ye," he gruffly said, stepping back and leering at the clerk. "Too
ak'ard fer me. Can't git used ter it, nohow. I like a stock with a big
drop--this un makes me hump my head down like a bull buffaler. That's
th' wuss o' havin' a long neck."

The clerk glanced at the repeating Colt and then at the injured hand.
The faintest possible suggestion of a knowing smile flitted across his
face, and he shook his head.

"Those are too dangerous," he replied. "We don't handle them."

"W'y, that's a fine rifle!" growled the customer, a heavy frown
settling on his coarse face. "Six shots, with them newfangled caps,
without re-loadin'. She's a plumb fine weapon!"

"Looks good," laughed the clerk; "but we don't care to handle them."

"They've sorta put yer nose outer j'int, ain't they?" sneered the
customer. "Wall, ye kin bet yer peltries I wouldn't be givin' ye th'
chanct to handle _this_ un," he angrily declared, "if it had a bigger
drop an' warn't so ak'ard fer a man like me. Ye can't find a rifle in
yer danged store as kin hold a candle ter it. I bet ye ain't never seen
one afore!"

"It's our business to keep informed," responded the clerk, still
smiling. "We heard all about that rifle as soon as it was patented."

"But ye allus could sell a gun like this un," persisted the scowling
owner. "Ye must have a hull passel o' tenderfeet a-comin' in yere."

The clerk frowned and his voice became slightly edged. "The reputation
of Hawkens' is a valuable asset. It was acquired in two ways: honest
goods and fair dealing. Most tenderfeet ask us for a gun that we can
recommend; we cannot recommend that rifle. Do you care to look at one
that will not shoot through the palm of your extended hand after it gets
hot from rapid shooting?"

"I got ye thar, pardner!" retorted the customer. "I done that with a
poker. Ye don't seem anxious ter do no business."

"Our stock and my time are at your disposal," replied the clerk; "but we
cannot take that Colt in part payment."

"Wall, ye don't have ter: I know a man as will; an' he ain't all
swelled up, neither. You an' yer rifles kin go ter h--l together!" He
jerked the Colt from the counter and stamped out, cursing at every step,
and slammed the door behind him so hard that it shook the shop.
Thoroughly angered, he strode down the street and had gone a block
before he remembered that he was to keep watch on the shop. Cursing
anew, he wheeled and went back on the other side of the street and
stopped at the corner of a ramshackle saloon.

The clerk was taking down another rifle when the door opened again and
he wheeled aggressively, but his frown was swiftly wiped out by a smile.

The newcomer was somewhere in the twenties, stood six feet two in his
moccasins, and had the broad, sloping shoulders that tell of great
strength. He was narrow waisted and sinewy and walked with a step light
and springy. Dressed in buckskin from the soles of his feet to the top
of his head, he had around his waist a broad belt, from which hung
powder horn, bullet pouch, a container for caps, a buckskin bag for
spare patches, a bullet mold, and a heavy, honest skinning knife. Slung
from a strap over one shoulder hung his "possible" bag, containing
various small articles necessary to his calling. In his hand was a
double-barreled rifle which he seemed to be excited about.

"Mr. Jarvis!" he exclaimed, offering the weapon for inspection. "Tell me
what you think of this?"

The clerk chuckled and his eyes lighted with pleasure. "I've seen it, or
its twin, before. English, fine sights, shooting about thirty-six balls
to the pound. They're pointed, aren't they? Ah-ha! I thought so." He
took the gun and examined it carefully. "Just what I've been trying to
tell Mr. Jacob Hawken. Look at those nipples: large diameter across the
threaded end, making it much easier to worry out wet powder by removing
them and working with a bent wire from that end. We have to work at the
ball with a screw, and that is no easy task after the patch paper
becomes swollen. With this rifle you can replace the wet powder with dry
and fire the ball out in much less time. Where did you get it, Mr.
Boyd?"

The plainsman laughed exultingly. "Won it on the boat coming down, from
an English sportsman who was returning home. He said it was a fine
weapon, and I thought so; but I wanted your opinion."

"Take it out on the Grand Prairie and try it out. From what I can see
here it is a remarkably fine rifle; but handsome is, you know."

"I've tried it out already," laughed the other. "It's the best rifle in
this country, always excepting, of course, the Hawken!"

"As long as you put it that way I shall have to agree with you. Did you
see the man who left a few moments before you came in?"

Boyd nodded shortly. "Yes; but I don't care to discuss him beyond
warning you to look out for him. He deals in draft animals in
Independence, has the name of being slippery, and is known as Ephriam
Schoolcraft. However, I'm not an unprejudiced critic, for there is not
the best of feelings between us, due to an unprincipled trick he tried
to play on my partner." His face clouded for a moment. His partner had
joined the ill-fated Texan Santa Fe Expedition and had lost his life at
the hands of one of Armijo's brutal officers, for whom Tom Boyd had an
abiding hatred. On his last visit to Santa Fe he had shown it so
actively that only his wits and forthright courage had let him get out
of the city with his life. "Well, to change the subject, I lost my
pistol in the river, and I've heard a great deal about a revolving Colt
pistol from some Texans I met. It shoots six times without re-loading
and is fitted for caps. Got one?"

"Two," chuckled Jarvis. "A large bore and a smaller. They are fine
weapons, but never rest the barrel on your other hand when you shoot."

"I'll remember that. Which size would you recommend for me?"

"The larger, by all means. We are expecting a shipment by express down
the Ohio and it should reach us almost any day now. It took the Texans
to prove their worth and give them their reputation."

"Fit it with caps, mold and whatever it needs. I need caps and powder
for the rifle, too. First quality Kentucky, or Dupont, of course."

The purchase completed Jarvis watched his friend and customer distribute
them over his person and then asked a question.

"Where to now, Mr. Boyd?"

"Independence and westward," answered the other. "Spring is upon us, the
prairie grass is getting longer all the time, and Independence is as
busy and crowded as an ant hill. All kinds of people are coming in by
train and river, bound for the trade to Santa Fe and Chihuahua, and for
far away Oregon." His eyes shone with enthusiasm. "The homesteaders
interest me the most, for it is to them that we will owe our western
empire. The trappers, hunters, and traders have prepared the way, but
they are only a passing phase. The first two will vanish and in their
places the homesteaders will take root and multiply. Think of it, Mr.
Jarvis, now our frontiers are only halfway across the continent; what an
empire that will some day become!"

Jarvis nodded thoughtfully and looked up. "What does your father say to
all this, especially after the news last fall about your narrow escape
in Santa Fe?"

Boyd shrugged his shoulders. "Father set his heart on me becoming his
junior partner, and to passing his work over to me when he was ready to
retire. Two generations of surgeons, is his boast; and in me he hoped to
make it three. Against that, the West needs men! Those Oregon-bound
wagons bring tears to my eyes. They have cast my die for me. I am on my
way to Fort Bridger and Fort Hall and the valley of the Columbia, to
lend my strength and little knowledge of the open to those who need it
most."

Jarvis nodded his head in sympathy, for he had heard many speak nearly
the same thoughts; indeed, at times, the yearning to leave behind him
the dim old shop and the noisy, bustling city beset him strongly,
despite his years of a life unfitting him for the hardships of the
prairies and mountains. Being able to read Greek and Latin was no asset
on the open trail; although schoolmasters would be needed in that new
country.

"I know how you feel, Mr. Boyd. Have you seen your father since you
landed?"

Tom reluctantly shook his head. "It would only reopen the old bitterness
and lead to further estrangement. No man shall ever speak to me again as
he did--not even him. If you should see him, Jarvis, tell him I asked
you to assure him of my affection."

"I shall be glad to do that," replied the clerk. "You missed him by only
two days. He asked for you and wished you success, and said your home
was open to you when you returned to resume your studies. I think, in
his heart, he is proud of you, but too stubborn to admit it." As he
spoke he chanced to glance through the window of the store. "Don't look
around," he warned. "I want to tell you that Schoolcraft and a Mexican
just passed the shop, peered in at you with more than passing interest
and went on. I suppose it's nothing, though."

"It's enough to make me keep my eyes open," replied Tom, sighting his
new rifle at the great clock on the wall, which seemed to move a little
faster under the threat. "I thought they were watching me on the boat.
Armijo's vindictive enough to go to almost any length. He isn't
accustomed to having his beast face slapped."

Jarvis' jaw dropped in sheer amazement. "You mean--do I understand--eh,
you mean--you slapped _his_ face?"

"So hard that it hurt my hand; I'll wager his teeth are loose," replied
Tom, his interest on his new weapon.

"Er--slapped _Governor_ Armijo's face?" persisted Jarvis from the
momentum of his amazement.

"The Governor of the Department of New Mexico," replied the hunter.

Jarvis drew a sleeve across his forehead and carefully felt for the high
stool behind him. Automatically climbing upon it he seated himself with
great care and then, remembering that his customer was standing, slid
off it apologetically. He was gazing at his companion as though he were
some strange, curious animal.

"Eh--would you mind telling me _why_?" he asked.

"He offended me; and if I'd known then what I found out later I would
have broken every bone in his pompous carcass and thrown him to the
dogs!" His face had reddened a little and the veins on his forehead were
beginning to stand out.

Jarvis examined the clock with almost hypnotic interest. "And how did he
offend you, Mr. Boyd, if I may inquire?"

"Oh, the beast came swaggering along the street, followed at a
respectful distance by a crowd of his boot-lickers, and pushed me out of
his way. I asked him who in hell he thought he was, in choice Spanish,
and the conceited turkey-gobbler reached for his saber. The more I see
of this gun, Jarvis, the more I like it."

"Yes, indeed; and then what, Mr. Boyd?"

"Huh?"

"He reached for his saber--and then?"

"Oh," laughed Tom. "I helped him draw it, and broke it across his own
knee. He called me a choice name and I slapped his face. You should have
seen the boot-lickers! Before they could get their senses back and make
up their minds about rushing my pistol I had slipped through a store,
out of the back and into a place I know well, where I waited till dark.
I understand there was quite a lot of excitement for a day or so."

"I dare say--I dare say there might have been," admitted Jarvis. "In
fact, I am sure there would be. _Damn it_, Tom, would you mind shaking
hands with me?"



CHAPTER II

ABOARD THE _MISSOURI BELLE_


Tom wended his way to the levee and as he passed the last line of
buildings and faced the great slope leading to the water's edge his eyes
kindled. Two graceful stern-wheel packets were moving on the river, the
smaller close to the nearer bank on her way home from the treacherous
Missouri; the larger, curving well over toward the Illinois shore, was
heading downstream for New Orleans. Their graceful lines, open bow decks
with the great derricks supporting the huge landing stages, and the
thick, powerful masts on each edge of the lower deck toward the bow,
each holding up the great spar so necessary for Mississippi river
navigation; the tall stacks with the initials of the boat against a
lattice work between; the regular spacing of windows and doors in the
cabins, and the clean white of their hulls and superstructure, rendered
more vivid by contrast with the tawny flood on all sides of them, made a
striking and picturesque sight. Each had a curving tail of boiling brown
water behind, and a bone in its teeth. These river boats were modeled on
trim and beautiful lines and were far from being crude, frontier
makeshifts.

Several Mackinaw boats moved anglingly across the current from the other
shore, and a keelboat glided down the river for New Orleans, or to turn
up the Ohio for Pittsburg, helped in the current by a dirty, square
sail. The little twin-hulled ferry was just coming in from the Illinois
shore, its catamaran construction giving it a safety which a casual
observation would have withheld. The passengers clung to its rails as it
pitched and bobbed in the rolling wake of the south-bound packet, a wake
dreaded by all small craft unfortunate enough to pass the slapping
paddle at too close a distance, for the following billows were high,
sharp, and close together.

On the great levee wagons and carts rattled and rumbled; drivers shouted
and swore as they picked their impatient and erratic way through the
traffic; lazy negroes, momentarily spurred into energetic activity,
moved all kinds of merchandise between the boats and the great piles on
the sloping river bank, two long lines of them passing each other on the
bridging gangplanks reaching far ashore. Opposed to this scene of labor
and turmoil was a canoe well offshore, whose two occupants, drifting
with the current, lazily fished for the great channel catfish which the
negro population loved so much.

On a packet, which we will call the _Missouri Belle_, a whistle blew
sharply and as the sound died away several groups of passengers hurried
across the levee, scurrying about like panicky bugs when a log is rolled
over, darting this way and that amid the careless bustle of the traffic,
as eager to reach a place of safety as are chickens affrighted by the
shadow of a drifting hawk. The crowd was cosmopolitan enough to suit the
most exacting critic. Freighters, merchants, hunters, trappers, and
Indians returning to the upper trading posts or to their own country;
gamblers; a frock-coated minister who suspiciously regarded every box
and barrel and bale that he saw rolled up the freight gangplank, and who
was a person of great interest to many pairs of eyes on and off the
boat; a priest; a voluble, chattering group of _coureurs des bois_; a
small crowd of soldiers going up to Fort Leavenworth; emigrants,
boatmen, and travelers made up the hurrying procession or stood at the
rails and watched the confusion on the levee.

Tom joined the animated stream, swinging in behind an elderly gentleman
who escorted a young lady of unflurried demeanor through the maelstrom
of wagons, carts, mules, horses, passengers, and heavily laden negroes.
Caught in a jam and forced to make a quick decision and to follow it
instantly, the young lady dropped her glove in picking up her skirts and
a nervous horse was about to stamp it into the dirt and dust when Tom
leaped forward. Grasping the bridle with one hand, he bent swiftly and
reached for the glove with the other. As he was about to grasp it, a man
dressed in nondescript clothes left his Mexican companion and bent
forward on the other side of the horse, his lean, brown fingers eagerly
outstretched.

Tom's surprise at this unexpected interference acted galvanically and
his hand, turning up from the glove, grasped the thrusting fingers of
the other in a grip which not only was powerful but doubly effective by
its unexpectedness. He swiftly straightened the wrist and forearm of his
rival into perfect alignment with the rest of the arm and then, with a
sudden dropping of his own elbow, he turned the other's arm throwing all
his strength and weight into the motion. The result was ludicrous. The
rival, bent forward, his other hand on the ground, had to give way in a
hurry or have his arm dislocated. His right foot arose swiftly into the
air and described a short arc as his whole body followed it; and
quicker than it takes to tell it he was bridged much the same as a
wrestler, his arched back to the ground. Tom grinned sardonically and
with a swift jerk yanked his adversary off his balance, and as the other
sprawled grotesquely in the dust, the victor of the little tilt picked
up the glove, leaped nimbly aside and looked eagerly around for its
owner. He no sooner stood erect than he saw her with a handkerchief
stuffed in her mouth and, bowing stiffly and with sober face he gravely
presented the glove to her. She had waited, despite all her escort could
do, somewhat breathlessly watching the rescue and the short, quick
comedy incidental to it; and now, with reddened cheeks and mischievous
eyes, she took the glove and murmured her thanks. The elderly gentleman,
grinning from ear to ear, raised his high beaver, thanked the plainsman,
and then hurried his charge onto the boat, fearful of the time lost.

Tom stood in his tracks staring after them, hypnotized by the beauty of
the face and the timbre of the voice of the woman whose eyes had
challenged him as she had turned away.

The profane remarks of the wagon driver, the more picturesque remarks of
other drivers, and the vociferous, white-toothed delight of the negroes
did not soothe Ephriam Schoolcraft's outraged dignity nor help to cool
his anger, and he arose from his dust bath seeking whom he might devour.
He did not have to seek far, for a negro's shouted warning reached Tom
in time to spin him around to await his adversary. The plainsman was
cool, imperturbable, and smiling slightly with amusement.

Schoolcraft leaped for him and was sent spinning against a pile of
freight. As he recovered his balance his hand streaked for his belt, but
stopped in the air as he gazed down the barrel of the new Colt snuggling
against the hip of the younger man. It must have looked especially
vicious to a man accustomed to a single-shot pistol, or a
double-barreled Derringer, at best.

"That was no killing matter," said Tom quietly. "Don't make it so, and
don't make us both miss that packet, and get locked up in a St. Louis
jail. I'll get out again quicker than you, but that hardly matters. If
you're going aboard, go ahead; I'm in no great hurry." Out of the corner
of his eye he was watching the Mexican, but found nothing threatening.

Schoolcraft glared at him, allowed a hypocritical smile to mask his
feelings, bowed politely, and walked down the levee, the Mexican
following him, and Tom bringing up the rear. They were quickly separated
by the bustle on the boat, each giving his immediate attention to the
preparations necessary for his comfort during the voyage.

A second blast of the whistle was followed by the groaning of the great
derrick as it lifted the landing stage and swung it aboard; lines were
hauled in and the passengers along the rails waved their adieus and
called last minute messages to those they were leaving behind. It would
be many years before some of them saw their friends again, and for a few
the reunion would not be on this earth. A bell rang aft and the great
stern paddle slapped and thrashed noisily as it bit and tore at the
yellow water beneath it. Showers of sparks, incandescent as they left
the towering stacks, fell in gray flakes on the decks and the river, the
bluish smoke of the wood fires trailing straighter and straighter astern
as the packet rounded into the boiling current and pushed upstream at a
constantly increasing speed, leaving behind her the western metropolis
on the left-hand bank and a straggling hamlet on the other.

Here the Mississippi is a mighty river, approaching half a mile in width
between its limestone banks; deep, swift, its current boiling up the
muddy contribution of the great Missouri, as if eager to expose the
infamy of its pollution to the world. But whatever it lost in purity by
the addition of the muddy water, pouring in eighteen miles above the
city, it gained in greatness. Other large rivers have been tamed and
rendered nearly harmless, but these two have baffled man's labors and
ingenuity, and finally the contributing stream has been given up as
incorrigible.

The confusion of the passengers attending to their baggage, places at
table and their sleeping quarters grew constantly less as mile followed
mile, and by the time the _Belle_ swung in a great, westward curve to
leave the Father of Waters for the more turbid and treacherous bosom of
the Big Muddy, many were eagerly looking for the line marking the
joining of the two great streams. It was plain to the eye, for the
jutting brown flood of the Missouri, dotted with great masses of drift,
was treated with proper suspicion by the clearer flood of the nobler
stream, and curved far out into the latter without losing the identity
of its outer edge for some distance below.



CHAPTER III

ARMIJO'S STRONG ARM


Piloting on the Mississippi was tricky enough, with the shifting bars
and the deadly, submerged logs, stumps, and trees; but the Missouri was
in a class by itself; indeed, at various stages of high water it seemed
hardly to know its own channels or, in some places, even its own bed. It
threw up an island today to remove it next week or ten years later, and
cut a new channel to close up an old one whenever the mood suited.
Gnawing off soft clay promontories or cutting in behind them was a
favorite pastime; and the sand and clay of its banks and the vast
expanses of its bottoms coaxed it into capricious excursions afield.
More than one innocent and unsuspecting settler, locating what he
considered to be a reasonable distance from its shores on some rich
bottom, found his particular portion of the earth's surface under the
river or on its further bank when he returned from a precipitate and
entirely willing flight.

There were two tricks used on the river to get out of sandbar
difficulties that deserve mention. During certain stages of the river it
for some reason would cross over from one side of its bed to the other,
and between the old and the new deep channels would be a space of
considerable distance crossed by the water where there was no channel,
but only a number of shallow washes, none of which perhaps would be deep
enough to let a steamboat through. The deepest would be selected, and
if only two or three more inches of water were needed, the boat would be
run up as far as it could go, the crew would fix the two great spars
with their shoes against the bottom, slanting downstream, set the steam
capstans drawing on their ropes, and then reverse the paddle wheel. The
turning of the great wheel would force water under the hull while the
spars pushed backward and, raising a platform of water around her and
taking it with her, she would slide over the shallow place and go on
about her business.

In case of a bar where there were no submerged banks to hold a platform
of water, and only a few more inches needed, the spars would be used as
before, but the paddle wheel would remain idle. The backward thrust of
the spars would force the boat ahead, while their lifting motion would
raise it a little. This being repeated again and again would eventually
"walk" the boat across and into deeper water on the other side. It was a
slow and laborious operation and sometimes took a day or two, but it was
preferable to lying tied to the bank and waiting for a rise, often a
matter of a week or more.

All this was an old story to Tom, who now was on his fifth trip up the
river, for he was an observant young man and one who easily became
acquainted with persons he wished to know. These included the officers
and pilots, who took to the upstanding young plainsman at first sight
and gave painstaking answers to his many but sensible questions. In
consequence his knowledge of the river was wide and deep, although not
founded on practical experience.

Long before the packet turned into the Missouri he had his affairs
attended to and was leaning against the rail enjoying the shifting
panorama. But the scenery did not take all of his attention, for he was
keeping a watch for a certain Mexican trader and for the young lady of
the glove; and after the boat had rounded into the Big Muddy, he caught
sight of the more interesting of the two as she walked forward on the
port side in the company of her escort. Waiting a few moments to see if
they would discover him, he soon gave it up and went in search of the
purser, who seemed to know about everyone of note in St. Louis.

"Hello, Tom," called that officer, having recovered his breath after the
rush. "Yo're goin' back purty quick, ain't you?"

"Reckon not. One night an' one day in th' city was enough. But this
cussed packet is near as lonesome. I don't know a passenger on board."

"I can fix that," laughed the purser. "I know about three-quarters of
'em, an' can guess at th' rest. I counted seven professional gamblers
comin' up th' plank. They'll be in each other's way. You feelin' like
some excitement?"

"Not with any of them," answered Tom, grinning. "I can count seven times
seven of them fellers in Independence; an' I hear some of 'em are
plannin' to join up with th' next outgoing train."

"Well," mused the purser. His face cleared. "There's that sneakin'
minister. Havin' looked in everythin' but our mouths, he'll mebby have
time to convert a sinner. How 'bout him?"

"Don't hardly think he can do much with me," muttered Tom. He considered
a moment and tried to hide his grin. "Now I noticed an elderly old
gentleman with a young lady, gettin' aboard jest before I did. They was
leavin' you when I showed up. Happen to know 'em?"

"You shouldn't 'a' give back th' glove when you did," laughed the
officer. "You should 'a' had yore quarrel with Schoolcraft first, so you
could 'a' waited till we was under way before you handed it back to her.
That would 'a' give you a better chance to get acquainted. I've heard
that frontierin' sharpens a man's wits, but I dunno. Want to meet 'em?
Th' old sport's interesting when he ain't tryin' to beat th' gamblers at
their own game. An' he's plumb successful at it, too, if there ain't too
many ag'in him."

Tom had the grace to flush under his tan, but he thankfully accepted the
bantering and the suggestion. "What you suppose I've risked wastin' my
time talkin' to you for?" he demanded.

"You know cussed well you wasn't wastin' it," retorted the purser. "Come
on, an' meet one of th' finest young ladies in St. Louis. She won't care
if you pay more attention to her uncle."

A few minutes later Tom had been made acquainted with the couple and
they soon discovered that they had mutual friends in the city. Time
passed rapidly and Patience Cooper and her uncle, Joseph, took a keen
interest in their companion's account of life on the prairies. He found
that the uncle was engaged in the overland trade and was going out to
Independence to complete arrangements for the starting of his wagons
with the Santa Fe caravan. Finding that they were to be seated at
different tables they had the obliging steward change their places so
they could be together, and after the meal the uncle begged to be
excused and headed for the card room, which brought a fleeting frown to
the face of his niece. Tom observed it without appearing to and led the
way to some chairs on deck near the rail.

The blast of the whistle apprised them of a landing in sight and soon
they picked it out, as much by the great piles of firewood as by any
other sign. This was the little hamlet of St. Charles, and here came on
board several plainsmen and voyageurs who, having missed the packet at
St. Louis, had hastened across the neck of land to board it here. As
soon as the gangplank touched the bank a hurrying line of men depleted
the great wood pile, and in a few minutes the landing stage swung aboard
again and the _Missouri Belle_ circled out into mid-channel, a stream of
sparks falling astern.

An annoying wind had been blowing when they left the parent stream,
annoying in a way a stranger to the river never would have dreamed.
There being no permanence to the channels, no fixity to the numerous
bars, no accurate knowledge covering the additions to the terrible,
destroying snags lurking under the surface, the pilot literally had to
read his way every yard and to read it anew every trip. All he had to go
by was the surface of the water, and it told him a true tale as long as
it was reasonably placid. From his high elevation he looked down into
the river and learned from it where the channel lay; and from arrow-head
ripples and little, rolling wavelets, where the snags were, for every
one close enough to the surface to merit attention was revealed by the
telltale "break" on the water. Let a moderate wind blow and his task
became harder and more of a gamble; but even then, knowing that the
waves run higher over deeper water, he still could go ahead; but above
a certain strength the wind not only baffled his reading, but gave such
a sidewise drift to the shallow-draft, high-riding vessel that he could
not hope to take it safely through some of the narrower channels. Rain
or hail, which turned the surface into a uniform area of disturbance,
instantly closed his book; and in this event he had no recourse except
to lie snugly moored to the south bank and wait until the weather
conditions changed. Sometimes these waits were for a few hours,
sometimes for a day or more; and when the persistent southwest prairie
gales blew day and night, moving great clouds of sand with them, the
boat remained a prisoner until they ceased or abated.

There was good reason for choosing that south bank, for the stronger
winds almost invariably came from that direction during the navigation
season, and the bank gave a pleasing protection. While lying moored,
idleness in progress did not mean idleness all around, for the boilers
ate up great quantities of wood, and in many cases the fuel yards were
the growing trees and windfalls on the banks. Once the boat was moored
the crew leaped ashore and became wood-choppers, filling the fuel boxes
and stacking the remainder on shore for future use. In a pinch green
cottonwood sometimes had to be used, but it could be burned only by
adding pitch or resin.

Nowhere on the river was a navigation mark, for nowhere was the channel
permanent enough to allow one to be placed. It was primitive, pioneer
navigation with a vengeance, requiring intelligent, sober, quickwitted
and courageous men to handle the boats. On the Missouri the word "pilot"
was a term of distinction.

The river was high at this time of the year, caused less by the
excessive rains and melting snows in the mountains, being a little early
for them, than by the rains along the immediate valley; bottom lands
were flooded, giving the stream a width remarkable in places and adding
greatly to the amount of drift going down with the current.

The afternoon waned and the wind died, the latter responsible for the
pilot's good nature, and the shadows of evening grew longer and longer
until they died, seeming to expand into a tenuity which automatically
effaced them. But sundown was not mooring time, for the twilight along
the river often lasted until nine o'clock, and not a minute was wasted.

When St. Charles had been left astern Tom had led his companion up onto
the hurricane deck and placed two chairs against the pilot house just
forward of the texas, where the officers had their quarters. The water
was now smooth, barring the myriads of whirling, boiling eddies, and
from their elevated position they could see the configuration of the
submerged bars. The afterglow in the sky turned the mud-colored water
into a golden sheen, and the wind-distorted trees on the higher banks
and ridges were weirdly silhouetted against the colored sky. Gone was
the drab ugliness. The finely lined branches of the distant trees, the
full bulks of the pines and cedars and the towering cottonwoods,
standing out against the greenery of grass covered hills, provided a
soft beauty; while closer to the boat and astern where sky reflections
were not seen, the great, tawny river slipped past with a powerful,
compelling, and yet furtive suggestion of mystery, as well it might.

Tom was telling of the characteristics of the river when the boat veered
sharply and caused him to glance ahead. A great, tumultuous ripple tore
the surface of the water, subsided somewhat and boiled anew, the
wavelets gold and crimson and steel blue against the uniform lavender
shade around them. The many-fanged snag barely had been avoided as it
reached the upward limit of its rhythmic rising and falling.

Soon a bell rang below and the boat slowed as it headed in toward a
high, wooded bank. Nudging gently against it the packet stopped, men
hurried lines ashore, made them fast to the trees and then set a spring
line, which ran from the stern forward to the bank ahead of the bow, so
as to hold the boat offshore far enough to keep it afloat in case the
river should fall appreciably during the night. The pilot emerged behind
them, glanced down at the captain overseeing the mooring operations, and
then spoke to Tom, who made him acquainted with Patience and invited him
to join them. He gladly accepted the invitation and soon had interested
listeners to his store of knowledge about the river. Darkness now had
descended and he pointed at the stream.

"There's somethin' peculiar to th' Missouri," he said. "Notice th' glow
of th' water, several shades lighter than th' darkness on th' bank? On
the Mississippi, now, th' water after dark only makes th' night all th'
blacker; but on this stream th' surface can be seen pretty plain, though
not far ahead. We take full advantage of that when we have to sail after
dark. We would be goin' on now, except that we got news of a new and
very bad place a little further on, an' we'd rather tackle it when we
can see good."

"Oh," murmured Patience. "A ghost road leading through a void."

A long, dark shape appeared on the "ghost road" and bore silently and
swiftly down upon the boat, struck the hull a glancing blow, scraped
noisily, ducked under, turned partly and scurried off astern. It was a
trimmed tree trunk, and by its lowness in the water it told of a journey
nearly ended. Before long one end would sink deeper and deeper, finally
fastening in the alluvial bottom and, anchoring securely, lie in wait to
play battering ram against some ill-fated craft surging boldly against
the current.

The lanterns on shore began to move boatward as the last of the wooding
was finished and the fuel boxes again were full. Farther back among the
trees some trappers had started a fire and were enjoying themselves
around it, their growing hilarity and noise suggesting a bottle being
passed too often. Gradually the boat became quiet and after another
smoke the pilot arose and excused himself, saying that it was expected
that the journey would be resumed between three and four o'clock in the
morning.

"How long will it take us to reach Independence Landing?" asked
Patience.

The pilot shook his head. "That depends on wind, water, and th' strength
of th' current, though th' last don't make very much difference
sometimes."

Tom looked up inquiringly. "I don't just understand th' last part," he
confessed. "Mebby I didn't hear it right."

"Yes, you did," replied the pilot, grinning in the darkness. "When she's
high she's swift; but she's also a hull lot straighter. Th' bends of
this river are famous, an' they add a lot of miles to her length. They
also cut down th' slant of her surface, which cuts down th' strength of
th' current. At lower water we'd have a longer distance to sail, but a
gentler current. When she rises like she is now she cuts off, over or
behind a lot of th' bends an' makes herself a straighter road. An' th'
shorter she gits, th' steeper her pitch grows, which makes a stronger
current. She jest reg'lates herself accordin' to her needs, an' she gits
shet of her floods about as quick as any river on earth. Oh, I tell you,
she's a cute one; an' a mean one, too!"

"She's shore movin' fast enough now," observed Tom, watching the
hurtling driftwood going spectrally down the almost luminous surface.
"How long will this high water last, anyhow?"

"Considerable less than th' June rise," answered the pilot. "She's
fallin' now, which is one of th' reasons we're tied to th' bank instid
of goin' on all night. This here rise is short, but meaner than sin. Th'
June rise is slower an' not so bad, though it lasts longer. It comes
from th' rains an' meltin' snow in th' mountains up above. Down here th'
current ain't as swift as it is further up, for this slope is somethin'
less than a foot to th' mile; but if it warn't for th' big bottoms, that
let some of th' water wander around awhile instid of crowdin' along all
at once, we'd have a current that'd surprise you. Jest now I figger
she's steppin' along about seven miles an hour. Durin' low water it's
some'rs around two; but I've seen it nearer ten on some rises. There are
places where steamboats can't beat th' current an' have to kedge up or
wait for lower water. About gittin' to Independence Landin', or what's
left of it, I'll tell you that when we pass Liberty Landin'. Miles
through th' water ain't miles over th' bottom, an' it's th' last that
counts. Besides, th' weather has got a lot to say about our business. I
hope you ain't gittin' chilled, Miss Cooper, this spring air cuts in
amazin' after sundown."

"I _am_ beginning to feel it," she replied, arising, "I'll say good
night, I believe, and 'turn in.'"

Tom escorted her to the lower deck and watched her cross the cabin and
enter her room, for he had no illusions about some of the men on board.
As her door closed he wheeled and went to look at the engines, which
were connected directly to the huge paddle wheel. The engineer was
getting ready to climb into his bunk, but he smoked a pipe with his
visitor and chatted for a few minutes. Tom knew what it meant to be an
engineer on a Missouri river packet and he did not stay long. He knew
that his host scarcely took his hand from the throttle for a moment
while the boat was moving, for he had to be ready to check her instantly
and send her full speed astern. The over-worked system of communication
between the pilot house and the engine room had received its share of
his attention during his runs on the river.

He next went forward along the main deck and looked at the boilers, the
heat from them distinctly pleasing. As he turned away he heard and felt
the impact from another great, trimmed log slipping along the faint,
gray highway. Some careless woodcutter upstream had worked in vain. He
stopped against the rail and looked at the scurrying water only a few
feet below him, listening to its swishing, burbling complaints as it
eddied along the hull, seeming in the darkness to have a speed
incredible. A huge cottonwood with its upflung branches and sunken
roots paused momentarily as it struck a shallow spot, shivered, lost a
snapping dead limb, collected a surprising amount of débris as it swung
slowly around and tore free from the clutching mud of the bottom and,
once more acquiring momentum, shot out of sight into the night, its
slowly rising branches telling of the heavy roots sinking to their
proper depth. Next came a tree stump like some huge squid, which must
have been well dried out and not in the water for very long, else it
would have found the bottom before this. Then a broken and waterlogged
keelboat, fully twenty-five feet long, scurried past, a great menace to
every boat afloat. Planks, rails from some pasture fence, a lean-to
outhouse, badly smashed, and a great mass of reeds and brush came along
like a floating island. The constantly changing procession and the gray
water fascinated him and he fairly had to tear himself away from it.
Strange splashings along the bank told him of undermined portions of it
tumbling into the river, and a louder splash marked the falling of some
tree not far above.

"She's talkin' a-plenty tonight," said a rough voice behind him and he
turned, barely able to make out a figure dressed much the same as he
was; but he did not see another figure, in Mexican garb, standing in the
blackness against a partition and watching him. The speaker continued.
"More gentle, this hyar trip; ye should 'a' heard her pow-wowin' th'
last run up. I say she's wicked an' cruel as airy Injun; an' nothin'
stops her."

"I can't hardly keep away from her," replied Tom, easily dropping into
the language of the other; "but I ain't likin' her a hull lot. A hard
trail suits me better."

"Now yer plumb shoutin'," agreed the other. "If 'twarn't fer goin'
ashore every night, up in th' game country, I don't reckon I'd want ter
see another steamboat fer th' rest o' my days. Everythin' about 'em is
too onsartin."

Tom nodded, understanding that his companion was a hunter employed by
the steamboat company to supply the boat's table with fresh meat. After
the game country, which really meant the buffalo range, was reached this
man went ashore almost every night and hunted until dawn or later,
always keeping ahead of the boat's mooring and within sight of the river
after daybreak. Whatever he shot he dragged to some easily seen spot on
the bank for the yawl to pick up, and when the steamboat finally
overtook him he went aboard by the same means. His occupation was
hazardous at all times because of the hostility of the Indians, some few
of which, even when their tribes were quiet and inclined to be friendly
for trade purposes, would not refuse a safe opportunity to add a white
man's scalp to their collection. The tribes along the lower sections of
the river were safer, but once in the country of the Pawnees and Sioux,
where his hunting really began, it was a far different matter. He did
not have much of the dangerous country to hunt in because the _Belle_
did not go far enough up the river; but the hunters on the fur company's
boats went through the worst of it.

"Goin' out this spring?" asked the hunter.

"Yep; Oregon, this time," answered Tom. "My scalp ain't safe in Santa Fe
no more. Been thar?"

"Santa Fe, yep; Oregon, no. Went to N'Mexico in '31, an' we got our fust
buffaler jest tother side o' Cottonwood Creek. It war a tough ol' bull.
Bet ye won't git one thar no more. We forded th' Arkansas at th' lower
crossin' an' follered th' dry route. Hear thar's a track acrost it now,
but thar warn't any then. Don't like that stretch, nohow. Longest way
'round is th' best fer _this_ critter. Ye got Bent's Fort handy ter bust
up th' trip, git supplies an' likker; an' I'd ruther tackle Raton Pass,
mean as it is, than cross that cussed dry plain atween th' Crossin' an'
th' Cimarron. I'd ruther have water than empty casks, airy time; an'
fur's th' Injuns air consarned, 'twon't be long afore ye'll have ter
fight 'em all th' way from th' frontier ter th' Mexican settlements.
They'll be gittin' wuss every year."

"Yer talkin' good medicine," replied Tom, thoughtfully. "'Twon't be safe
fer any caravan ter run inter one o' them war parties. Thar cussin' th'
whites a'ready, an' thar bound ter jine han's ag'in us when th' buffaler
git scarce."

The hunter slapped his thigh and laughed uproariously. "Cussed if that
ain't a good un! Why, th' man ain't alive that'll live ter see that day.
They won't git scarce till Kansas is settled solid, an' _then_ there'll
have ter be a bounty put on 'em ter save th' settlers' crops. Why,
thar's _miles_ o' 'em, pardner!"

"I've _seen_ miles o' 'em," admitted Tom; "but they'll go, an' when they
once start ter, they'll go so fast that a few years will see 'em plumb
wiped out."

"Shucks!" replied the hunter, "Why, th' wust enemies they got is th'
Injuns an' th' wolves. Both o' them will go fust, an' th' buffalers'll
git thicker an' thicker."

"_We_ are thar worst enemies!" retorted Tom with spirit. "Th' few th'
Injuns kill don't matter--if it did they'd 'a' been gone long ago. They
only kill fer food an' clothin'; but we kill fer sport an' profit. Every
year that passes sees more whites on th' buffaler ranges an' more hides
comin' in ter th' settlements; an' most of them hides come from th'
cows. Look at th' beaver, man! Thar goin' so fast that in a few years
thar won't be none left. Thar's only one thing that'll save 'em, an'
that's a change in hats. Killin' fer sport is bad enough, but when th'
killin' is fer profit th' end's shore in sight. What do we do? We cut
out th' buffaler tongues an' a few choice bits an' leave th' rest for
th' wolves. Th' Injuns leave nothin' but th' bones. Why, last trip
acrost I saw one man come inter camp with sixteen tongues. He never even
bothered with th' hump ribs! I told him if he done it ag'in an' I saw
him, I'd bust his back; an' th' hull caravan roared at th' _joke_!"

"Danged if it warn't a good un," admitted the hunter, chuckling. "Have
ter spring that on th' boys." He turned and looked around. "Them fellers
on th' bank air shore havin' a good time. They got likker enough,
anyhow. Cussed if it don't sound like a rendezvous! Come on, friend:
what ye say we jine 'em? It's too early to roll up, an' thar's only card
buzzards in th' cabin a-try-in' ter pick th' bones o' a merchant."

"We might do wuss nor that," replied Tom; "but I don't reckon I'll go
ashore tonight."

"Wall, if ye change yer mind ye know th' trail. I'm leavin' ye now,
afore th' bottles air all empty," and the hunter crossed the deck and
strode down the gangplank.

Tom watched the hurrying, complaining water for a few moments and then
turned to go to the cabin. As he did so something whizzed past him and
struck the water with a hiss. Whirling, he leaped into the shadows
under the second deck, the new Colt in his hand; but after a hot, eager
search he had to give it up, and hasten to the cabin, to peer
searchingly around it from the door. The only enemy he had on board to
his knowledge was Schoolcraft--and then another thought came to him: was
Armijo reaching out his arm across the prairies?

Joe Cooper was intent on his game; Schoolcraft and the Mexican trader
were taking things easy at a table in a corner, and both had their
knives at their belts. They did not give him more than a passing glance,
although a frown crept across the Independence horse-dealer's evil face.
Seating himself where he could watch all the doors, Tom tried to solve
the riddle while he waited to scrutinize anyone entering the cabin. At
last he gave up the attempt to unravel the mystery and turned his
attention to the card game, and was surprised to see that it was being
played with all the safeguards of an established gambling house. Having
a friend in the game he watched the dealer and the case-keeper, but
discovered nothing to repay him for his scrutiny. An hour later the game
broke up and Joe Cooper, cashing in his moderate winnings, arose and
joined Tom and suggested a turn about the deck before retiring. Tom
caught a furtive exchange of fleeting and ironical glances between the
case-keeper and the dealer, but thought little of it. He shrugged his
shoulders and followed his new friend toward the door.

Ephriam Schoolcraft, somewhat the worse for liquor, made a slighting
remark as the two left the cabin, but it was so well disguised that it
provided no real peg on which to hang a quarrel; and Tom kept on toward
the deck, the horse-dealer's nasty laugh ringing in his ears. He could
see where he was going to have trouble, but he hoped it would wait until
Independence was reached, for always there were the makings of numerous
quarrels on board under even the best of conditions, and he determined
to overlook a great deal before starting one on his own account. It was
his wish that nothing should mar the pleasure of the trip up the river
for Patience Cooper.

He and his companion stopped in the bow and looked at the merry camp on
shore, both sensing an undertone of trouble. Give the vile, frontier
liquor time to work in such men and anything might be the outcome.

He put his lips close to his companion's ear: "Mr. Cooper, did you
notice anyone hurry into the cabin just before I came in? Anyone who
seemed excited and in a hurry?"

Cooper considered a moment: "No," he replied. "I would have seen any
such person. Something wrong?"

"Schoolcraft, now; and that Mexican friend of his," prompted Tom. "Did
they leave the cabin before you saw me come in?"

"No; they both were where you saw them for an hour or two before you
showed up. I'm dead certain of that because of the interest Schoolcraft
seemed to be taking in me. I don't know why he should single me out for
his attentions, for he don't look like a gambler. I never saw him before
that little fracas you had with him on the levee. Something up?"

"No," slowly answered Tom. "I was just wondering about something."

"Nope; he was there all the time," the merchant assured him. "Seems to
me I heard about some trouble you had in Santa Fe last year. Anything
serious?"

"Nothing more than a personal quarrel. I happened to get there after
they had started McLeod's Texans on the way to Mexico City, and learned
that they had been captured." He clenched his fists and scowled into the
night. "One of the pleasant things I learned from a man who saw it, was
the execution of Baker and Howland. Both shot in the back. Baker was not
killed, so a Mexican stepped up and shot him through the heart as he lay
writhing on the ground. The dogs tore their bodies to pieces that
night." He gripped the railing until the blood threatened to burst from
his finger tips. "I learned the rest of it, and the worst, a long time
later."

Cooper turned and stared at him. "Why, man, that was in October! Late in
October! How could you have been there at that time, and here, in this
part of the country, now? You couldn't cross the prairies that late in
the year!"

"No; I wintered at Bent's Fort," replied Tom. "I hadn't been in
Independence a week before I took the boat down to St Louis, where you
first saw me. There were four of us in the party and we had quite a time
making it. Well, reckon I'll be turning in. See you tomorrow."

He walked rapidly toward the cabin, glanced in and then went to his
quarters. Neither Schoolcraft nor the Mexican were to be seen, for they
were in the former's stateroom with a third man, holding a tense and
whispered conversation. The horse-dealer apparently did not agree with
his two companions, for he kept doggedly shaking his head and
reiterating his contentions in drunken stubbornness that, no matter what
had been overheard, Tom Boyd was not going to Oregon, but back to Santa
Fe. He mentioned Patience Cooper several times and insisted that he was
right. While his companions were not convinced that they were wrong
they, nevertheless, agreed that there should be no more knife throwing
until they knew for certain that the young hunter was not going over the
southwest trail.

Schoolcraft leered into the faces of his friends. "You jest wait an'
see!" He wagged a finger at them. "Th' young fool is head over heels in
love with her; an' he'll find it out afore she jines th' Santa Fe waggin
train. Whar she goes, _he'll_ go. I'm drunk; but I ain't so drunk I
don't know that!"



CHAPTER IV.

TOM CHANGES HIS PLANS


Dawn broke dull and cold, but without much wind, and when Tom awakened
he heard the churning of the great paddle wheel, the almost ceaseless
jangling of the engine room bell and the complaining squeaks of the
hard-worked steering gear. A faint whistle sounded from up river, was
answered by the _Missouri Belle_, and soon the latter lost headway while
the two pilots exchanged their information concerning the river. Again
the paddles thumped and thrashed and the boat shook as it gathered
momentum.

On deck he found a few early risers, wrapped in coats and blankets
against the chill of the morning hour. The overcast sky was cold and
forbidding; the boiling, scurrying surface of the river, sullen and
threatening. Going up to the hurricane deck he poked his head in the
pilot house.

"Come on in," said the pilot "We won't go fur today. See that?"

Tom nodded. The small clouds of sand were easily seen by eyes such as
his and as he nodded a sudden gust tore the surface of the river into a
speeding army of wavelets.

"Peterson jest hollered over an' said Clay Point's an island now, an'
that th' cut-off is bilin' like a rapids. Told me to look out for th'
whirlpool. They're bad, sometimes."

"To a boat like this?" asked Tom in surprise.

"Yep. We give 'em all a wide berth." The wheel rolled over quickly and
the V-shaped, tormented ripple ahead swung away from the bow. "That's
purty nigh to th' surface," commented the pilot. "Jest happened to swing
up an' show its break in time. Hope we kin git past Clay before th' wind
drives us to th' bank. Look there!"

A great, low-lying cloud of sand suddenly rose high into the air like
some stricken thing, its base riven and torn into long streamers that
whipped and writhed. The gliding water leaped into short, angry waves,
which bore down on the boat with remarkable speed. As the blast struck
the _Missouri Belle_ she quivered, heeled a bit, slowed momentarily, and
then bore into it doggedly, but her side drift was plain to the pilot's
experienced eyes.

"We got plenty o' room out here fer sidin'," he observed; "but 'twon't
be long afore th' water'll look th' same all over. We're in fer a bad
day." As he spoke gust after gust struck the water, and he headed the
boat into the heavier waves. "Got to keep to th' deepest water now," he
explained. "Th' snags' telltales are plumb wiped out. I shore wish we
war past Clay. There ain't a decent bank ter lie ag'in this side o' it."

For the next hour he used his utmost knowledge of the river, which had
been developed almost into an instinct; and then he rounded one of the
endless bends and straightened out the course with Clay Point half a
mile ahead.

"Great Jehovah!" he muttered. "Look at Clay!"

The jutting point, stripped bare of trees, was cut as clean as though
some great knife had sliced it. Under its new front the river had cut
in until, as they looked, the whole face of the bluff slid down into the
stream, a slice twenty feet thick damming the current and turning it
into a raging fury. Some hundreds of yards behind the doomed point the
muddy torrent boiled and seethed through its new channel, vomiting
trees, stumps, brush and miscellaneous rubbish in an endless stream. Off
the point, and also where the two great currents came together again
behind it two great whirlpools revolved with sloping surfaces smooth as
ice, around which swept driftwood with a speed not unlike the horses of
some great merry-go-round. The vortex of the one off the point was
easily ten feet below the rim of its circumference, and the width of the
entire affair was greater than the length of the boat. A peeled log, not
quite water-soaked, reached the center and arose as vertical as a plumb
line, swayed in short, quick circles and then dove from sight. A moment
later it leaped from the water well away from the pool and fell back
with a smack which the noise of the wind did not drown. To starboard was
a rhythmic splashing of bare limbs, where a great cottonwood, partly
submerged, bared its fangs. To the right of that was a towhead, a newly
formed island of mud and sand partly awash.

The pilot cursed softly and jerked on the bell handle, the boat
instantly falling into half speed. He did not dare to cut across the
whirlpool, the snag barred him dead ahead, and it was doubtful if there
was room to pass between it and the towhead; but he had no choice in the
matter and he rang again, the boat falling into bare steerageway. If he
ran aground he would do so gently and no harm would be done. So swift
was the current that the moment he put the wheel over a few spokes and
shifted the angle between the keel-line and the current direction, the
river sent the craft sideways so quickly that before he had stopped
turning the wheel in the first direction he had to spin it part way back
again. The snag now lay to port, the towhead to starboard, and holding a
straight course the _Missouri Belle_ crept slowly between them. There
came a slight tremor, a gentle lifting to port, and he met it by a quick
turn of the wheel. For a moment the boat hung pivoted, its bow caught by
a thrusting side current and slowly swinging to port and the snag. A
hard yank on the bell handle was followed by a sudden forward surge, a
perceptible side-slip, a gentle rocking, and the bow swung back as the
boat, entirely free again, surged past both dangers.

The pilot heaved a sigh of relief. "Peterson didn't say nothin' about
th' snag or th' towhead," he growled. Then he grinned. "I bet he rounded
inter th' edge o' th' whirler afore he knowed it was thar! Now that I
recollect it he did seem a mite excited."

"Somethin' like a boy explorin' a cave, an' comin' face to face with a
b'ar," laughed Tom. "I recken you fellers don't find pilotin'
monotonous."

"Thar ain't no two trips alike; might say no two miles, up or down, trip
after trip. Here comes th' rain, an' by buckets; an' thar's th' place I
been a-lookin' fer. Th' bank's so high th' wind won't hardly tech us."

He signaled for half speed and then for quarter and the boat no sooner
had fallen into the latter than her bow lifted and she came to a grating
stop. The crew, which had kept to shelter, sprang forward without a word
and as the captain crossed the bow deck the great spars were being
hauled forward. After the reversed paddles had shown the _Belle_ to be
aground beyond their help, the spars were put to work and it was not
long before they pushed her off again, and a few minutes later she nosed
against the bank.

The pilot sighed and packed his pipe. "Thar!" he said, explosively.
"Hyar we air, an' we ain't a-goin' on ag'in till we kin see th' channel.
No, sir, not if we has ter stay hyar a week!"

Tom led the way below and paused at the foot of the companionway as he
caught sight of Patience. He glowed slightly as he thought that she had
been waiting for him; and when he found that she had not yet entered the
cabin for breakfast, the glow became quite pronounced. He had seen many
pretty girls and had grown up with them, but the fact that she was
pretty was not the thing which made her so attractive to him. There was
a softness in her speaking voice, a quiet dignity and a certain reserve,
so honest that it needed no affectations to make it sensed; and under it
all he felt that there was a latent power of will that would make
panicky fears and actions impossible in her. And he never had perceived
such superb defenses against undue familiarity, superb in their
unobtrusiveness, which to him was proof of their sincerity and that they
were innate characteristics. He felt that she could repel much more
effectively without showing any tangible signs of it than could any
woman he ever had met. He promised himself that the study of her nature
would not be neglected, and he looked forward to it with eagerness.
There was, to him, a charm about her so complex, so subtle that it
almost completed the circle and became simple and apparent.

She smiled slightly and acknowledged his bow as he approached her.

"Good morning, Miss Cooper. Have you and your uncle breakfasted?"

"Not yet," she answered, turning toward the cabin. "I think he is
waiting for us. Shall we go in?"

The plural form of the personal pronoun sent a slight thrill through him
as he opened the door for her, showed her to the table, and seated her
so that she faced the wide expanse of the river.

"I imagined that I felt bumps against the boat sometime during the
night," she remarked. She looked inquiringly at Tom and her uncle. "Did
we strike anything?"

"Why," Tom answered in simulated surprise, "no one said anything about
it to me, and I've been with the pilot almost since dawn. The whole fact
of the matter is that this river's dangers are much over-estimated,
considering that boats of thirty feet and under have been navigating it
since before the beginning of this century. And they had no steam to
help them, neither."

Uncle Joe appeared to be very preoccupied and took no part in the
conversation.

"I have heard uncle and father speak many times about the great dangers
attending the navigation of the Missouri," she responded, smiling
enigmatically, and flashing her uncle a keen, swift glance. "They used
to dwell on it a great deal before father went out to Santa Fe. So many
of their friends were engaged in steamboat navigation that it was a
subject of deep interest to them both, and they seemed to be very well
informed about it." She laughed lightly and again glanced at her uncle.
"Since uncle learned that I might have to make the trip he has talked
in quite a different strain; but he did suggest, somewhat hopefully,
that we put up with the discomforts of the overland route and make the
trip in a wagon. Don't you believe, Mr. Boyd, that knowledge of possible
dangers might be a good thing?"

Uncle Joe gulped the last of his watery coffee, pushed back, and arose.
"Want to see the captain," he said. "Meet you two later on deck," and he
lost no time in getting out of the cabin.

"Well," came the slow and careful answer from Tom, "so many of us pass
numerous dangers in our daily lives, unknown, unsuspected, that we might
have a much less pleasant existence if we knew of them. If they are
dangers that we could guard against, knowledge of them certainly would
be a good thing."

She nodded understandingly and looked out over the tawny, turbulent
flood, then leaned forward quickly; and her companion did not lose this
opportunity to admire her profile. Coming down the stream like an arrow,
with a small square sail set well forward, was a keelboat, its
hide-protected cargo rising a foot or more above the gunwale amidships.
Standing near the mast was a lookout, holding fast to it, and crouched
on top of the cargo, the long, extemporized addition to the tiller
grasped firmly in both hands, was the _patron_, or captain. Sitting
against the rear bulkhead of the hold and facing astern were several
figures covered with canvas and hides, the best shift the crew could
make against the weather. The French-Canadian at the mast waved his
hand, stopping his exultant song long enough to shout a bon voyage to
the steamboat as he shot past, and the little boat darted from their
sight into the rain and the rolling vapor of the river like a hunted
rabbit into a tangle of briars.

"That's splendid!" she exclaimed, an exultant lilt in her voice. "That's
the spirit of this western country: direct, courageous, steadfast! Can't
you feel it, Mr. Boyd?"

His eyes shone and he leaned forward over the table with a fierce
eagerness. In that one moment he had caught a glimpse into the heart and
soul of Patience Cooper that fanned fiercely the flame already lighted
in his heart. His own feelings about the West, the almost tearful
reverence which had possessed him at the sight of those pioneer women,
many with babes at their breasts, that he daily had seen come into
Independence from the East to leave it on the West, the hardships past
great enough to give pause to men of strength, but not shaking their
calm, quiet determination to face greater to the end of that testing
trail, and suffer privations in a vast wilderness; his feelings, his
hopes, his faith, had come back to him in those few words almost as
though from some spirit mirror. He choked as he fought to master himself
and to speak with a level voice.

"Feel it?" he answered, his voice shaking. "I feel it sometimes until
the sheer joy of it hurts me! Wait until you stand on the outskirts of
Independence facing the sunset, and see those wagons, great and small,
plodding with the insistent determination of a wolverine to the distant
rendezvous! Close your eyes and picture that rendezvous, the caravan
slowly growing by the addition of straggling wagons from many feeding
roads. Wait until you stand on the edge of that trail, facing the west,
with rainbows in the mist of your eyes! Oh, Miss Cooper, I can't--but
perhaps we'd better go on deck and see what the weather promises."

She did not look at him, but as she arose her hand for one brief instant
rested lightly on his outflung arm, and set him aquiver with an ecstatic
agony that hurt even while it glorified him. He shook his head savagely,
rose and led the way to the door; and only the moral fiber and training
passed on to him through generations of gentlemen kept him from taking
her in his arms and smothering her with kisses; and in his tense
struggle to hold himself in check he did not realize that such an
indiscretion might have served him well and that such a moment might
never come again. Holding open the door until she had passed through, he
closed it behind them and stumbled into a whirling gust of rain that
stung and chilled him to a better mastery of himself. Opportunity had
knocked in vain.

"Our friends, the pilots, will not be good company on a day like this,"
he said, gripping the rail and interposing his body between her and the
gusts. "The gangplank's out, but there seems to be a lack of warmth in
its invitation. Suppose we go around on the other side?"

On the river side of the boat they found shelter against the slanting
rain and were soon comfortably seated against the cabin wall, wrapped in
the blankets he had coaxed from his friend, the purser.

"Just look at that fury of wind and water!" exclaimed Patience. "I
wonder where that little keelboat is by now?"

"Oh, it's scooting along like a sled down an icy slope," he answered,
hoping that it had escaped the hungry maw of the great whirlpool off
Clay Point. "They must have urgent reasons for driving ahead like that.
It must be an express from the upper Missouri posts to St. Louis.
McKenzie probably wants to get word to Chouteau before the fur company's
steamboat starts up the river. Or it may be the urging of the thrill
that comes with gambling with death."

Behind them Uncle Joe poked his head out of the cabin door and regarded
them curiously. Satisfied that troublesome topics no longer were being
discussed he moved forward slowly.

"Oh, here you are," he said, as though making a discovery. "I thought I
might find you out here. Captain Newell ain't fit company for a savage
wolf this morning. Have you heard how long we're going to be tied up?"

Tom drew a chair toward him and looked up invitingly. "Sit down, Mr.
Cooper. Why, I understand we will stay here all day and night." He
understood the other man's restlessness and anxiety about the wait, but
did not sympathize with him. The longer they were in making the
river-run the better he would be suited.

Uncle Joe glanced out over the wild water. "Oh, well," he sighed. "If we
must, then we must. That river's quite a sight; looks a lot worse than
it is. Hello! What's our reverend friend doing down there? Living in the
hold?" He chuckled. "If he is, it's a poor day to come up for air."

They followed his glance and beheld a tall, austere, long-faced
clergyman emerging from the forward hatch, and behind him came the pilot
with whom they had talked the evening before. When both had reached the
deck and stepped out of the rain the clergyman shook his head stubbornly
and continued his argument.

"I was told to come up on this packet and examine her carefully on the
way," he asserted, doggedly. "Liquor in vast quantities has been getting
past both Fort Leavenworth and Bellevue; and while the military
inspectors may be lax, or worse, that is an accusation which cannot
truthfully be brought against us at the upper agency. If I am not given
honest assistance in the prosecution of my search, your captain may
experience a delay at our levee that will not be to his liking. It's all
the same to me, for if it isn't found on our way up, it _will_ be found
after we reach the agency."

"But, my reverend sir!" replied the pilot, in poorly hidden anger,
"you've been from one end of th' hold to th' other! You've crawled
'round like a worm, stuck yore nose an' fingers inter everythin' thar
war to stick 'em in; you've sounded th' flour barrels with a
wipin'-stick, an' jabbed it inter bags an' bales. Bein' a government
inspector we've had ter let ye do it, whether we liked it or not. I've
got no doubts th' captain will be glad ter take down th' engines, rip
open th' bilers, slit th' stacks an' mebby remove th' plankin' of th'
hull; but--air ye listenin' close, my reverend sir? If ye try ter git me
ter guide ye around in that thar hold ag'in, I'll prove ter ye that th'
life o' a perfect Christian leads ter martyrdom. Jest ram that down yore
skinny neck, an' be damned ter ye!"

"I will not tolerate such language!" exclaimed the indignant shepherd.
"I shall report you, sir!"

"You kin report an' be damned!" retorted the angry pilot. "Yo're too
cussed pious to be real. What's that a-stickin' outer yer pocket?"

The inspector felt quickly of the pocket indicated and pulled out a
half-pint flask of liquor, and stared at it in stupefaction.
"Why--I----"

"Yer a better actor than ye air a preacher," sneered the pilot, glancing
knowingly from the planted bottle around the faces of the crowd which
had quickly assembled. "O' course, you deal in precepts; but they'd be a
cussed sight more convincin' fer a few examples along with 'em. Good
day, my reverend sir!"

The frocked inspector, tearing his eyes from the accusing bottle and
trying to close his mouth, gazed after the swaggering pilot and then
around the circle of grinning faces. A soft laugh from above made him
glance up to where Patience and her companions were thoroughly enjoying
the episode.

"Parson, I'll have a snorter with ye," said a bewhiskered bullwhacker,
striding eagerly forward, his hand outstretched. "Go good on a mornin'
like this."

"Save some fer me, brother," called a trapper, his keen eyes twinkling.
"Allus reckoned you fellers war sort o' baby-like; but thar's th' makin'
o' a man in you." He grinned. "'Sides, we dassn't let all that likker
git up ter th' Injuns."

"Shucks!" exclaimed a raw-boned Missourian. "That's only a sample he's
takin' up ter Bellevue. He ain't worryin' none about a little bottle
like that, not with th' bar'ls they got up thar. What you boys up thar
do with all th' likker ye take off'n th' boats? Nobody ever saw none o'
it go back down th' river."

The baited inspector hurled the bottle far out into the stream and tried
to find a way out of the circle, but he was not allowed to break
through.

"You said somethin' about Leavenworth bein' careless, or wuss," said a
soldier who was going up to that post. "We use common sense, up thar.
Thar's as much likker gits past th' agencies on th' land side as ever
tried ter git past on th' river. Every man up-bound totes as much o' it
as he kin carry. Th' fur company uses judgment in passin' it out, fer it
don't want no drunken Injuns; but th' free traders don't care a rip. If
th' company ain't got it, then th' Injuns trade whar they kin git it;
an' that means they'll git robbed blind, an' bilin' drunk in th'
bargain. If I had my way, they'd throw th' hull kit of ye in th' river."

"That's right," endorsed a trapper, chuckling, and slapping the
inspector on the back with hearty strength. "You hold this hyar boat to
th' bank at Bellevue jest as long as ye kin, parson. It makes better
time than th' boys goin' over th' land, an' 'tain't fair ter th' boys.
Think ye kin hold her a hull week, an' give my pardners a chanct ter
beat her ter th' Mandan villages?" He looked around, grinning. "Them
Injuns must have a hull passel o' furs a-waitin' fer th' first trader."

"What's th' trouble here?" demanded the captain, pushing roughly through
the crowd. "What's th' trouble?"

"Nothing but the baiting of a government inspector and a wearer of the
cloth," bitterly answered the encircled minister.

"Oh," said the captain, relieved. "Wall, ye git as ye give. Are ye
through with th' hold?"

The inspector sullenly regarded him. "I think so," he answered.

The captain wheeled to one of the crew. "Joe, throw on that hatch, lock
it, and keep it locked until we get to Bellevue," he snapped. "We're
ready to comply with government regulations, at the proper time and
place. You and your friends can root around all you want after we get to
Bellevue. The next time I find you in the hold with a lighted candle
I'll take it away from you and lock you in there." He turned, ordered
the crowd to disperse and went back to the texas.

It was an old story, this struggle to get liquor past the posts to the
upper Missouri, and there were tricks as yet untried. From the
unexpected passage of this up-bound inspector, going out to his station
at the agency, and his officious nosings, it was believed by many that
any liquor on board would not have a chance to get through. And why
should the _Belle_ be carrying it, since her destination and turning
point was Bellevue?

"Is it true that liquor is smuggled up the river?" asked Patience as the
inspector became lost to sight below.

Her companions laughed in unison.

"They not only try to get it up," answered Tom, "but they succeed. I've
been watching that sour-faced parson on his restless ramblings about the
boat, and I knew at once that there must be a game on. Sometimes their
information is correct. However, I'll back the officers of this packet
against him, any time."

"I'm afraid you'd win your bet, Mr. Boyd," choked the uncle.

"Uncle Joe! What do you know about it?" asked his niece accusingly.

"Nothing, my dear; not a single thing!" he expostulated, raising his
hands in mock horror, his eyes resting on three new yawls turned
bottomside up on the deck near the bow. He mentally pictured the
half-dozen bullboats stowed on the main deck near the stern, each
capable of carrying two tons if handled right, and he shook with
laughter. This year the fur company's boat carried no liquor and its
captain would insist on a most thorough inspection at Bellevue; but the
fur posts on the upper river would be overjoyed by what she would bring
to them. After the inspection she would proceed on her calm way, and tie
against the bank at a proper distance above the agency; just as the
_Belle_ would spend a night against the bank at a proper distance below
Bellevue; and what the latter would run ashore after midnight, when the
inquisitive minister was deep in sleep, would be smuggled upstream in
the smaller boats during the dark of the night following, and be put
aboard the fur boat above.

"Uncle Joe!" said his niece. "You know something!"

"God help the man that don't!" snorted her uncle. "Look there!"

A heavily loaded Mackinaw boat had shot around the next bend. It was of
large size, nearly fifty feet long and a dozen wide. In the bow were
four men at the great oars and in the stern at the tiller was the
_patron_, singing in lusty and not unpleasant voice and in mixed French
and English, a song of his own composing.

Patience put a finger to her lips and enjoined silence, leaning forward
to catch the words floating across the turbulent water, and to her they
sounded thus:

   _"Mon père Baptiste for Pierre Chouteau
     He work lak dam in le ol' bateau;
   From Union down le ol' Missou
     Lak chased, by gar, by carcajou._

   _"Le coureurs des bois, le voyageur, too,
     He nevaire work so hard, mon Dieu,
   Lak Baptiste père an' Baptiste fils,
     Coureurs avant on le ol' Missou._

   _"McKenzie say: 'Baptiste Ladeaux,
     Thees lettaire you mus' geeve Chouteau;
   Vous are one dam fine voyageur--
     So hurry down le ol' Missou._

   _"Go get vous fils an' vous chapeau,
     You mebby lak Mackinaw bateau'--
   Lak that he say, lak one dam day
     Le voyage weel tak to ol' St. Lou!"_

As the square stern of the fur-laden boat came opposite the packet the
mercurial _patron_ stopped his song and shouted: "_Levez les perches!_"
and the four oars rose from the water and shot into the air, vertical
and rigid. The pilot of the steamboat, chancing to be in the pilot
house, blew a series of short blasts in recognition, causing the
engineer to growl something about wasting his steam. The crew of the
Mackinaw boat arose and cheered, the _patron_ firing his pistol into the
air. Gay vocal exchanges took place between the two boats, and the
patron, catching sight of Patience, placed a hand over his heart and
bowed, rattling off habitant French. She waved in reply and watched the
boat forge ahead under the thrust of the perfectly timed oars.

"Mackinaw boat," said Tom, "and in a hurry. _There's_ the express. There
is a belief on the river that the square stern of those boats gives them
a speed in rapids greater than that of the current. They are very safe
and handy for this kind of navigation, and well built by skilled
artisans at the boat yards of the principal trading posts up the river.
They are a great advance over the bullboat, which preceded them."

"And which are still in use, makeshifts though they are," said Captain
Newell as he stopped beside them. "But you can't beat the bullboat for
the purpose for which it was first made; that of navigating the
shallower streams. I thought you would be glad to know that we expect to
be under way again early in the morning. But, speaking of bullboats, did
you ever see one, Miss Cooper?"

"I've had them pointed out to me at St. Louis, but at a distance," she
answered. "Somehow they did not impress me enough to cause me to
remember what they looked like."

"Why, I'll show you some," offered Tom eagerly. "There's half a dozen on
the main deck."

Uncle Joe squirmed as he glanced around, and arose to leave for the card
room, but the captain smiled and nodded.

"Yes, that's so, Mr. Boyd. Take a look at them when the rain lets up.
We're always glad to carry a few of them back up the river, for we find
them very handy in lightering cargo in case we have mean shallows that
can be crossed in no other way. You'd be surprised how little water this
boat draws after its cargo is taken ashore."

"But why do they call them bullboats?" asked Patience.

"They're named after the hides of the bull buffalo, which are used for
the covering," explained the captain. "First a bundle of rather heavy
willow poles are fashioned into a bottom and bound together with
rawhide. To this other and more slender willow poles are fastened by
their smaller ends and curved up and out to make the ribs. Then two
heavy poles are bent on each side from stem to stern and lashed to the
ends of the ribs, forming the gunwale. Everything is lashed with rawhide
and not a bolt or screw or nail is used. Hides of buffalo bulls, usually
prepared by the Indians, although the hunters and trappers can do the
work as well, are sewn together with sinew after being well soaked. They
are stretched tightly over the frame and lashed securely to the gun'le,
and they dry tight as drumheads and show every rib. Then a pitch of
buffalo tallow and ashes is worked into the seams and over every
suspicious spot on the hides and the boat is ready. Usually a false
flooring of loosely laid willow poles, three or four inches deep, is
placed in the bottom to prevent the water, which is sure to leak in,
from wetting the cargo. In the morning the boat rides high and draws
only a few inches of water; but often at night there may be six or eight
inches slopping around inside. I doubt if any other kind of a boat can
be used very far up on the Platte, and sometimes even bullboats can't go
up."

"How was it that the fur company's boat was tied at the levee at St.
Louis, after we left?" asked Tom. "Rather late for her, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," answered the captain. "The great event on this river has
always been the annual upstream fur packet. She is coming along
somewhere behind us, and very likely will pass us before we reach the
mouth of the Kaw. They take bigger chances with the river than we do
because they've got to get up to Fort Union and away again while
there's water enough." He looked at Patience. "Are you going far, Miss
Cooper?" he asked, anxious to get the conversation into channels more to
his liking.

"Santa Fe, captain," she answered as placidly as though it were a
shopping trip from her home to the downtown stores of St. Louis.

"Well, well!" he exclaimed, as if he had not known it. "That will be
quite an undertaking!"

Tom Boyd was staring at her aghast, doubting his ears. The slowly
changing expression on his face caught her attention and she smiled at
him.

"You look as if you had seen a ghost, Mr. Boyd," she laughed.

"I'm going to do my very best not to see one, Miss Cooper; or let anyone
else see one," he answered mysteriously. "I am glad that I, too, am
bound for Santa Fe. It is a great surprise and pleasure to learn that
you are going over the same trail."

"Why, didn't you say that you were going over the Oregon Trail this
year?" she quickly asked. "At least, I understood you that way."

"I often let my enthusiasm run away with me," he answered. "Much as I
would like to go out to Oregon I will have to wait until my affairs will
permit me to follow my inclination. You see, I've made two trips to
Santa Fe, it has got into my blood, and there are reasons why I must go
over that trail again. And then, knowing the trail so well, it is
possible that I can make very good arrangements this year. But isn't it
a most remarkable coincidence?"

"Very," drily answered the captain. "By the way, Mr. Boyd: you and Mr.
Cooper seem to be quite friendly, and neither of you waste much time in
the company of your present roommates. Seeing that you are both bunked
with strangers, how would it suit you if I put you together in the same
room? Good: then I'll speak to Mr. Cooper, and if it's agreeable to him
I'll have the change made. Sorry to tear myself away from you two, but I
must be leaving now." He bowed and stepped into the cabin, smiling to
himself. He distinctly remembered his conversation with the young man,
only the day before, when Tom had assured him with great earnestness
that he no longer could resist the call of the emigrant trail and that
he was going to follow it with the first outgoing caravan. The captain
was well pleased by the change in the young man's plans, for he knew
that the niece of his old friend would be safer on her long journey
across the plains if Tom Boyd was a member of the caravan. He turned his
steps toward the gaming tables to find her uncle, whom he expected would
be surrounded by the members of a profession which Joe Cooper had
forsaken many years before for a more reputable means of earning a
living.

The reputation of "St. Louis Joe" was known to almost everyone but his
niece; and the ex-gambler was none too sure that she did not know it.
While his name was well-known, there were large numbers of gamblers on
both rivers, newcomers to the streams, who did not know him by sight;
and it was his delight to play the part of an innocent and unsuspecting
merchant and watch them try to fleece him. Not one of the professionals
on the _Missouri Belle_ knew he was playing against a man who could
tutor him in the finer points of his chosen art; but by this time they
had held a conference or two in a vain attempt to figure why their
concerted efforts had borne bitter fruit. One of them, smarting over his
moderate, but annoyingly persistent losses, was beginning to get ugly.
While his pocketbook was lightly touched, his pride was raw and
bleeding. Elias Stevens was known as a quick-tempered man whom it were
well not to prod; and Joseph Cooper was prodding him again and again,
and appearing to take a quiet but deep satisfaction in the operation. At
first Stevens had hungered only for the large sum of money his older
adversary had shown openly and carelessly; but now it was becoming
secondary, and the desire for revenge burning in Stevens was making him
more and more reckless in his play.

The careless way in which Joe Cooper had shown his money to arouse the
avarice of the gamblers had awakened quick interest in others outside
the fraternity, and other heads were planning other ways of getting
possession of it. Two men in particular, believing that the best chance
of stealing it was while the owner of it was on the boat, decided to
make the attempt on this night. If the boat should remain tied to the
bank their escape would be easy; and if it started before daylight they
could make use of the yawl, which was towed most of the time, and always
during a run after dark.

Captain Newell looked in at the gambling tables and did not see his
friend, but as he turned to look about the upper end of the cabin he
caught sight of him coming along the deck, and stepped out to wait for
him.

"Looking for me?" asked Uncle Joe, smiling.

"Yes; want to tell you that your young friend Boyd has changed his mind
and is going out to Santa Fe to look after his numerous interests
there. Ordinarily I would keep my mouth shut, but I know his father and
the whole family, and no finer people live in St. Louis. Who have you in
mind to go in charge of your wagons?"

Uncle Joe scratched his chin reflectively. "Well, I'd thought of Boyd
and was kinda sorry he was going out over the other trail. I'll keep my
eyes on the scamp. Strikes me he'd take _my_ wagons through for his
keep, under the circumstances! He-he-he! Changed his mind, has he?
D----d if I blame him; I'd 'a' gone farther'n that, at his age, for a
girl like Patience. How about a little nip, for good luck?"

"Not now. How would you like to change sleeping partners?" asked the
captain, quickly explaining the matter.

"First rate idea; th' partner I got now spends most of his nights
scratching. Better shift me instead of him, or Boyd'll get cussed little
sleep in that bunk."

Captain Newell leaned against the cabin and laughed. "All right, Joe;
I'll have your things taken out and the change made by supper time, at
the latest. Look out those gamblers in there don't skin you."

       *       *       *       *       *

True to his word the captain shifted Joe Cooper to the room of his new
friend, and sent the bull-necked, bullwhacking bully who had shared
Tom's cabin to take the ex-gambler's former berth. This arrangement was
suitable both ways, for not only were the two friends put together, but
the two loud-voiced, cursing, frontier toughs found each other very
agreeable. They had made each other's acquaintance at the camp-fire on
the bank the night previous and like many new and hastily made
friendships, it had not had time to show its weaknesses. One of them had
stolen a bottle of liquor at the camp-fire carousal and upon learning of
the change shortly after supper, had led his new roommate to their joint
quarters to celebrate the event; where they both remained.

The early part of the night was passed as usual, Uncle Joe at the card
tables, Tom Boyd with Patience and later mingling with the hunters and
trappers in the cabin until his eyes became heavy and threatened to
close. Leaving his friend at the table, he went to their room and in a
few moments was so fast asleep that he did not hear the merchant come
in. It seemed to him that he had barely closed his eyes when he awakened
with a start, sitting up in the berth so suddenly that he soundly
whacked his head against the ceiling. He rolled out and landed on the
floor like a cat, pistol in hand, just as his roommate groped under the
pillow for his own pistol and asked what the trouble was all about.

The sound of it seemed to fill the boat. Shouts, curses, crashes against
the thin partition located it for them as being in the next room, and
lighting a candle, the two friends, pistols in hands, cautiously opened
the door just as one of the boat's officers came running down the
passage-way with a lantern in his hand. There was a terrific crash in
the stateroom and they saw him put down the light and leap into a dark
shadow, and roll out into sight again in a tangle of legs and arms.
Other doors opened and night-shirted men poured out and filled the
passage.

The battle in the stateroom had taken an unexpected turn the moment the
officer appeared, for the door sagged suddenly, burst from its hinges
and flew across the narrow way, followed by a soaring figure, to one
leg of which Ebenezer Whittaker, bully bullwhacker of the Santa Fe
trail, was firmly fastened. After him dived his new friend, who once had
ruled a winter-bound party of his kind in Brown's hole with a high and
mighty hand. The trapper went head first into the growling pair rolling
over the floor, his liquor-stimulated zeal not permitting him to waste
valuable time in so small a matter as the identity of the combatants. He
knew that one of them was his new roommate, the other a prowling thief,
and being uncertain in the poor light as to which was which, he let the
Goddess of Chance direct his energies.

At the other end of the passage-way the boat's officer, now reinforced
by so many willing helpers that the affair was fast taking on the air of
a riot, at last managed to drag the thief's lookout from the human
tangle and hustle him into the eager hands of three of the crew, leaving
the rescuers to fight it out among themselves, which they were doing
with praiseworthy energy and impartial and indefinite aims. Considering
that they did not know whom they were fighting, nor why, they were doing
so well that Tom wondered what force could withstand them if they should
become united in a compelling cause and concerted in their attack.

At the inner end of the passage, having beaten, choked, and gouged the
thief into an inert and senseless mass, the bullwhacker turned his
overflowing energies against his new and too enthusiastic friend, and
they rolled into the stateroom, out again, and toward the heaving pile
at the upper end of the hall. Striking it in a careless, haphazard but
solid manner, just as it was beginning to disintegrate into its bruised
and angry units, the fighting pair acted upon it like a galvanic current
on a reflex center; and forthwith the scramble became scrambled anew.

Finally, by the aid of capstan-bars, boat hooks, axe handles, and
cordwood, the boat's officers and crew managed to pry the mass apart and
drag out one belligerent at a time. They lined them up just as Captain
Newell galloped down the passage-way, dressed in a pair of trousers,
reversed; one rubber boot and one red sock and a night shirt partly
thrust inside the waistband of the trousers; but he was carefully and
precisely hatted with a high-crowned beaver. He looked as if he were
coming from a wake and going to a masquerade. Notwithstanding the very
recent and exciting events he received a great amount of attention.

"What-in-hell's-th'-matter?" he angrily demanded, glaring around him, a
pistol upraised in one hand, the other gripping a seasoned piece of ash.
"Answer-me-I-say-what-in-hell's-th'-matter-down-here?"

"There was a fight," carefully explained the weary officer.

"Hell's-bells-I-thought-it-was-a-prayer-meetin'!" yelped the captain.
"Who-was-fightin'?"

"_They_ was," answered the officer, waving both hands in all directions.

"What-about?"

The officer looked blank and scratched his head, carefully avoiding the
twin knobs rising over one ear. "Damned if _I_ know, sir!"

"Were _you_ fightin', Flynn?" demanded the captain aggressively and with
raging suspicion. "Come, up with it, were you?"

"No, sir; I was a-stoppin' it."

"My G-d! Then don't you never dare start one!" snapped the captain,
staring around. "You look like the British at N'Orleans," he told the
line-up. "What was it all about? Hell's bells! It _must_ 'a' had a
beginning!"

"Yessir," replied the officer. "It sorta begun all at once, right after
th' explosion."

"What explosion?"

"I dunno. I heard it, 'way up on th' hurricane deck, an' hustled right
down here fast as I could run. Just as I got right over there," and he
stepped forward and with his foot touched the exact spot, "that there
stateroom door come bustin' out right at me. I sorta ducked to one side,
an' plumb inter somebody that hit me on th' eye. I reckon th' fightin'
was from then on. Excuse me, sir; but you got yore pants on
upside-down--I means stern-foremost, sir."

"What's my pants got to do with this disgraceful riot, or mebby mutiny?"
blazed the reddening captain. He couldn't resist a downward glance over
his person, and hastily slipped the red-socked foot behind its booted
mate.

Somebody snickered and the sound ran along the line, gathering volume.
Glaring at the battle-scarred line-up, Captain Newell waved the pistol
and seemed at a loss for words.

Uncle Joe stepped forward with the bullwhacker. "Captain, this man says
he woke up an' found a thief reachin' under his pillow, where he keeps
his bottle. I think the thief is against the wall, there; and his
partner, who doubtless acted as his lookout, is in the hands of those
two men. The rest of th' fightin' was promiscuous, but well meant. I
reckon if you put those two thieves in irons an' let th' rest of us go
back to our berths it'll be th' right thing to do. As for Flynn, he
deserves credit for his part in it."

"That's my understanding of it, captain," said Tom, and again burst out
laughing. "Evidently they were after Mr. Cooper's money, which he has
shown recklessly, and they did not know that he had changed staterooms."

"Reckon that's it, captain!" shouted someone, laughingly. "Anyhow, it's
good enough. Come on, captain; it's time for a drink all 'round!"

In another moment a shirt-tailed picnic was in full swing, the bottles
passing rapidly.



CHAPTER V

THE INSULT


Shortly after dawn Tom awakened and became conscious of a steady
vibration and the rhythmical splash of the paddle wheel. Hurriedly
dressing he went out on deck and glanced shoreward. The
cream-and-chocolate colored water, of an opacity dense enough to hide a
piece of shell only a quarter of an inch below its surface, rioted past;
to port was a low-lying island covered with an amazing mass of piled-up
trees, logs and débris, deposited there by the racing current of the
rapidly-falling stream; and the distant shore was covered with dense
forests of walnut and cottonwood, interspersed with rich bottoms masked
by tangles of brush. Farther up he knew the sight would change into an
almost treeless expanse of green prairies, gashed by scored bluffs of
clay. The surface of the river was not smooth and the wind already had
reached disturbing strength, while an occasional gust of chilling rain
peppered the water and assaulted the boat. From the beat of the paddles
and the high frequency of the vibrations he knew the _Belle_ was going
ahead under full steam, but his momentary frown was effaced by the
thought that the pilot was competent and knew what he was doing. Still,
he felt a little uneasy, and went forward to pay the pilot a visit.

Reaching the hurricane deck he saw both pilots at the wheel and also a
lookout on the roof of the little house, while in the very point of the
bow, on the main deck, another lookout was scrutinizing the river ahead.

"We're makin' good time," said Tom pleasantly as he poked his head in
the pilot house.

"Yes," came an answering grunt; "too good, mebby."

His words and manner were not calculated to encourage conversation and
the visitor went down to see about breakfast. Fortified by a cup of
coffee he felt able to wait until the meal was ready and went out on
deck again, standing in the shelter of an angle of the cabin, pretending
to be interested in the slowly shifting panorama, but really impatiently
waiting for the appearance of Patience Cooper. He had waited for about
an hour, hardly stirring from his post near the door which she had used
the morning before, when he caught sight of her crossing the cabin.
Turning from the window and stepping forward he opened the door for her
and after a short, cheerful talk about being under way again, led her to
the breakfast table, ignoring the scowling horse-dealer who sat at a
table in a corner talking to Elias Stevens.

Their breakfast did not take as long as it had on the previous morning,
one reason being that while they ate they sensed the boat turn toward
the shore and before they had finished it stopped along the bank and
moored again.

"I do believe the rain has ceased for the day," Patience observed,
peering out of the window by her side. "It is growing brighter every
minute. I wonder why the boat has stopped?"

"Too much wind," answered her companion, nodding at the waves running
past the boat.

"If that is all, I'm going ashore," she declared.

"You may find it disagreeable," warned Tom, delighted by the prospect of
a tramp with her. "It is bound to be wet under foot and the wind will be
cold and penetrating; but if you don't mind it, I'm sure _I_ don't." He
finished his coffee and smiled. "It will be a great relief to get off
this boat."

"Come on, then; I'll meet you at the landing stage in ten minutes," she
exclaimed. "This will be a good opportunity to get accustomed to the
heavy boots Uncle Joe had made for me. They smell like tallow candles
with leather wicks, if you can imagine the combination."

He saw her enter her stateroom and then went to his own, got his rifle
and stood at the gangplank like a sentry. In less than the allotted time
she joined him, waved gaily at her uncle and the captain, who were
talking together near the pilot house, and went down the sloping plank,
eager to explore the river bank. As they reached the top of the
terrace-like bank and turned to wave again, the sun broke through the
clouds and turned the moisture-laden trees and brush into a jeweled
fairyland. They did not go far south since they were restricted to the
more open spaces where they could walk without rubbing against wet
foliage, but they found comparatively open lanes along the top of the
bank, from where they could keep watch over the packet and get back
without undue haste at the sound of her warning whistle.

They crossed the trails of several animals and she listened with
interest to her companion's description of their makers, wondering at
his intimate knowledge of animal habits. Finally, coming to a great
cottonwood log, stripped of its bark and shining in the sunlight, he
helped her upon it and sat down by her side.

"You surprised me, Miss Cooper, when you mentioned you were going to
Santa Fe," he said, turning to one of the subjects uppermost in his
mind. "It is a long, tedious, trying journey to men, and it might prove
infinitely more so to a woman."

"I suppose so," she replied reflectively. "But you know, Mr. Boyd, I
haven't seen my father in five years, and his letter, sent back by the
eastbound caravan from Santa Fe last year, told us how he missed me and
how dissatisfied he was with his housekeeping arrangements and how he
dreaded to spend another winter away from us. It was too late then, of
course, to make the trip, but I determined to go to him with the first
caravan leaving Independence this spring. Uncle Joe fumed and fussed
about it and collected all the stories of privation, loss of sanity and
sudden death, and everything else of a deterring nature and brought them
home to me to serve as warnings. I can do anything I want with him
except keep him from gambling, and when he really understood that
nothing could stop me, he gave in and I soon had him so busy explaining
away the woeful tales he had brought me, and hunting up new ones of a
bright and cheerful aspect that he half believed them himself. I learned
that all the Indians were pets, that there were miles of flowers all the
way, that people near death from all kinds of causes miraculously
recovered their health by the end of the first two days, and that the
caravan had to watch closely to keep its members from leaving it and
settling all along the trail."

They burst out laughing together. He could easily picture her uncle
frantically reversing himself. He had taken a great liking to Joseph
Cooper, who was a humorous, warm-hearted old fox among his friends,
delighting in their pleasures and sunning himself complacently in their
approbation. No trouble was too great for him to go through if it would
bring happiness to those he cared for.

They laughed and chatted and enjoyed themselves greatly, and were very
much surprised when his lean figure appeared beside the pilot house and
they saw him wave his hat and motion toward his mouth with animation and
great exaggeration.

"Good heavens! Is it dinner time already?" exclaimed Tom, sliding from
the log, and becoming aware for the first time that the log had been far
from as dry as he thought.

Laughing and scampering, they hurried back toward the landing, racing
down the hill that led to the little opening in the grove not far from
the water's edge. As they started down it Tom caught sight of several
figures sprawled on the sand, which had dried quickly under the combined
attacks of sun and wind. Among them he saw the lank form of Ephriam
Schoolcraft slowly arising to one elbow as the horse-dealer turned and
watched them come down the incline.

Patience stumbled, her heavy boots bothering her, and her companion
checked himself and caught her as she pitched forward. Swinging her
through the air, he put her down again on the other side of him and
laughingly offered his arm.

"Thar ain't nothin' like 'lasses fer to draw flies," came the drawling,
unpleasant voice of the sneering figure on the ground. "Blow flies air
included. Wrap it in skirts an' young fellers make plumb fools o'
theirselves. Any flirt kin pull th' wool over thar eyes like it war a
loose skin cap." His raucous laugh was doubly disagreeable because of
the sneer envenoming it, and Tom stiffened.

"I seed an example o' that right yere on this hyar packet; an' most
likely I'll see a hull lot more o' it if I has patience. He-he-he!"

Tom checked his stride, but the quick, reassuring pressure on his arm
made him keep on, his burning face held rigidly toward the boat. He
dared not look at his companion. They walked silently up the landing
stage and into the cabin, Tom waiting with ill concealed impatience
until his companion should join her uncle at the table. But he was
surprised, for she spoke in a pleasant, soft tone and ordered him to
remain where he was for a few minutes. Before he could make up his mind
what she meant he saw her lean over her uncle's table and say something.
The ex-gambler pushed suddenly back, patted her on the head and walked
briskly but nonchalantly toward the curious onlooker.

"You young folks never have any regard for an old man's comfort," he
chuckled as he took hold of Tom's arm. "Now, sir, I'll take great
pleasure in stretching my legs in any direction you may select, and in
stretching the neck of any officious meddler. I am at your service, Tom;
and, damn it, I'm not too old to become a principal!"

Tom stared at him for a moment as the words sunk in. "By G-d!" he
murmured. "There ain't another like her in th' whole, wide world! Thank
you, Mr. Cooper: if you'll be kind enough to stand on one side and keep
the affair strictly between myself and that polecat, I'll try not to
keep you from your dinner very long. He might have been decent enough
to have picked his quarrel in some other way!"

Schoolcraft arose alertly as they entered the little clearing, and
watched Tom hand the double-barreled rifle to his companion, slip off
his belt and throw his coat over it. The horse-dealer grinned with
savage elation as he discarded his own weapons and coat, hardly
believing in his good fortune. Not many men along the border cared to
meet him unarmed.

Tom stepped forward. "Every time I look at that terbaccer juice
a-dribblin' down yer chin, Schoolcraft, it riles me," he said evenly.
"I'm a-goin' ter wipe it off," and his open hand struck his enemy's jaw
with a resounding whack as he stepped swiftly to one side. "You've allus
had a sneakin' grudge ag'in me," he asserted, giving ground before the
infuriated horse-dealer, "since I caught ye cheatin' at Independence.
You've been tryin' ter work it off ever since we left th' levee. I
reckon this belongs to you!"

He stepped in quickly and drove his right fist into Schoolcraft's mouth,
avoiding the flailing blows. "If ye'll stand up ter it an' make it a
fight," he jeered, "I'll be much obliged to ye, fer I've promised my
friend not ter keep him from his dinner." Again he stepped in and struck
the bleeding lips. He boxed correctly according to the times, except
that he used his feet to good advantage. His education at an eastern
university had been well rounded and he never allowed himself to get out
of condition.

Schoolcraft, stung to fury, leaped forward to grapple, hoping to make it
a rough-and-tumble affair, at which style of fighting he had but few
equals. Instead of his adversary stepping to one side, he now stood
solidly planted in one spot, his left foot a little advanced, and drove
in a series of straight-arm blows that sent the horse-dealer staggering
back. The younger man pressed his advantage, moving forward with
unswerving determination, his straight punches invariably beating the
ill-timed and terrific swings of his bleeding opponent, who showed a
vitality and an ability to take punishment not unusual among the men of
his breed. The horse-dealer knew that if the fight remained an open
affair he would not last long, and he got command over his rage and
began to use his head.

Suddenly he dropped to hands and knees under a right-hand blow that was
a little short of hurting him, and sprang up under his enemy's guard,
and brought exultant ejaculations from his little group of friends. But
for the warning conveyed to Tom by the knowledge that he barely had
touched the horse-dealer's jaw with that blow, and could not have
knocked him down, the trick might have worked; and as it was it
succeeded in bringing the two men to close grips. Schoolcraft's right
arm slid around his enemy's waist and hugged him close, while the left
slipped up between them until the hand went under the younger man's chin
and began to push it up and back. It was the horse-dealer's favorite and
most deadly trick and he exulted as he arched his back and threw his
full strength into the task. Never had it failed to win, for the victim
of that hold must either quit or have his neck broken; and the choice
did not rest with the victim.

The muscles of Tom's neck stood out as though they would burst, the
veins of his forehead and throat swelling into tiny serpents, and his
crimson face grew darker and darker, a purplish tint creeping into it.
But Schoolcraft found that he was dealing with a man who had studied
wrestling as eagerly as its sister science. He also found that there was
a counter to his favorite hold, always providing that it had been robbed
of its greatest factor: surprise. For it to be deadly effective his
whole strength had to be thrown into it instantly and meet no ready,
rigid opposition; and in this he had failed because of the subtle
warning conveyed to his adversary when he fell before a harmless blow.
Almost before he knew it Tom's left arm, circling high in air, jammed in
between their heads and forced its way down to Schoolcraft's cheek. At
the same instant the right hand dashed down and got a hold inside his
left thigh, close up against the crotch; and as the left arm thrust his
head sidewise with a power not to be withstood, the right hand lifted
suddenly to the right and he struck the ground on his head and shoulder
with a shock which rendered him senseless.

The winner staggered back, braced himself and swayed a little on his
feet as he sucked in great gulps of air. He wheeled savagely as he heard
a shuffling step to one side and slightly behind him, but the precaution
was not necessary, for simultaneously with the shuffling came Joe
Cooper's snapped warning, cold and deadly.

"Better stop, Stevens! I'm only lookin' for an excuse to blow you open!"

Elias Stevens obeyed, standing irresolute and scowling. "You talk d----d
big behind a gun!" he sneered.

"Only half as big as I might, seeing it's a double gun," retorted the
older man. "If it don't suit you we can turn, step off ten paces an'
fire when we're ready. Might as well make a good job of it while we're
about it. I ain't no Mike Fink; but you ain't no Carpenter, so I reckon
it's purty even."

"I'll take care of any objectors, in any fashion," said Tom, facing
Stevens and the others. "I'll be ready fer you, Stevens, by th' time you
get your weapons an' coat off, if you choose that way. Pickin' on an old
man don't go while there's a younger one around; an', besides, it's my
quarrel. There it is, in your teeth; take it, and eat it!"

"It war a fair fight," said an onlooker in grudging admiration. He
expressed the ethics of the fighting current at that time in that part
of the country. Any kind of fighting, be it with hands, feet, nails,
teeth or other weapons was fair as long as no outsider took a hand in
it. It had been the rule of the keelboatmen and they had carried it up
and down the waterways, from New Orleans to the upper Mississippi and
from Pittsburg to the Rockies.

Tom nodded. "All right. You can tell him that he won't get in close,
next time," he said, glancing at the stirring loser. "Come on, Uncle
Joe; your dinner's plumb cold an' ruined."

"I'm hot enough to warm it as I chaw!" snapped his friend. "I was scared
for a moment, though; fighting out in this country don't get you nothin'
but a tombstone, generally, an' you'll be cussed lucky if you get that.
But you did what you started out to do; I couldn't see no tobacco juice
on his chin th' last time I looked." He followed his companion down the
bank and as they crossed the gangplank he chuckled. "I won't eat no
liver for a long time, I reckon: his face near made me sick!"

"I shouldn't 'a' cut him up so," admitted Tom; "but I was forking off a
grudge. Next time, I'll kill him." Then he thought of Patience and
glowed all over. "There ain't another like her, nowhere!" he muttered.

Uncle Joe glanced sideways at the slightly marked face of his companion,
shrewdly noting the expression of reverent awe and adoration.

"Young man," he said, "you're a little mite hasty, but I like 'em that
way. I reckon if you took my waggins inter Santa Fe you'd get patience."

At this second play on her name within the last half hour Tom whirled in
his tracks and held out his hand. "Uncle Joe, if you think I'm able to
handle 'em, I'll take 'em through h--l if I have to, without a
blister--" then he faltered and his face grew hard as he shook his head
in regret. "I can't do it," he growled. "It wouldn't be fair to bring
down Armijo's wrath on your niece and brother. He'd hound them like the
savage brute he is. No; you'll have to keep to whatever arrangements you
had in mind."

Uncle Joe shook his head. "That's too bad, Tom. I was counting on you
keeping an eye on Patience and seeing her through. It's too cussed bad."

Tom's laugh rang out across the water. "Oh I'm going to do that! I'm
bound for Santa Fe, either as a free lance or with trade goods of my
own; but I am not going with your wagons. I got it pretty well figured
out."

"I'm allus gettin' into places where I've got to back out," grumbled
Uncle Joe. "Now I reckon I'll have to tell Patience you're too young an'
giddy to handle my outfit. An' _then_ mebby I'll have to back out ag'in!
Tell you one thing, this here Santa Fe trip may be fine for invalids,
but it ain't done _my_ health no good!" While Tom laughed at him he
considered. "Huh! I don't reckon it'll be a good thing to let her know
that you an' Armijo are as friendly as a Cheyenne an' a Comanche. Cuss
it! Oh, well; put away this gun an' come on in an' eat, if there's
anything left."



CHAPTER VI

INDIANS AND GAMBLERS


Shortly after noon the wind died down enough to let the packet resume
her upstream labors, and expectations ran high that she would make a
long, peaceful run. They were not to be realized.

The first unpleasant incident occurred when the boat had been run
against a bank at a woodpile to replenish her fuel. The lines were made
fast and the first of the wood-carriers had reached the stacked cordwood
when from behind it arose a dozen renegade Indians, willing to turn
momentarily from their horse-stealing expedition long enough to levy a
tribute of firewater on the boat. They refused to allow a stick to be
removed without either a fight or a supply of liquor and trade goods,
and the leader of the band grappled with the foremost member of the crew
and tried to drag him behind the shelter of the pile and so gain a
hostage to give additional weight to their demands and to save them from
being fired on.

Goaded by despair and fright from the unexpectedness of the attack and
what might be in store for him the white man struggled desperately and,
with the return of a measure of calmness, worked a neat cross-buttock on
his red adversary and threw him sprawling out in plain sight of the
boat. Half a dozen plainsmen on board had leaped for their rifles and
shouted the alarm; a four pound carronade was wheeled swiftly into
position and a charge of canister sent crashing over the woodpile into
the brush and trees. The roar of the gun and the racket caused by the
charge as it rattled through the branches and brush filled the savages
with dismay and, not daring to run from the pile and up the bank under
the cannon and the rapidly augmented rifles on the decks of the boat,
they raised their hands and slowly emerged from their worthless
breastwork.

Captain Newell shouted frantic instructions to his grim and accurate
volunteers, ordering and begging in one breath for them not to fire, for
he knew that bloodshed would start a remorseless sniping warfare along
the river that might last for several seasons. At such a game the
snipers on the banks, concealed as they would be, could reasonably be
expected to run up quite a list of casualties on the boat. This was no
new experience for him and he knew that nothing serious would grow out
of it as long as none of the Indians were injured. This little party was
composed of the renegade scourings of the frontier tribes which had been
debauched by their contact with the liquor-selling whites and they were
more fitted for petty thievery than the rôle of warriors. He shouted and
argued and cursed and pleaded with the eager riflemen, most of whom
burned with the remembrance of stolen packs of furs and equipment at the
hands of such Indians as these.

The growling plainsmen, knowing that he was right and understanding his
position, reluctantly kept their trigger fingers extended and finally
lowered their pieces, hoping that the Indians would lose their heads and
do some overt act; but the Indians were not fools, whatever else they
might have been. With eager alertness on one side and sullen
acquiescence on the other the wooding was finished, ropes cast off and
the _Missouri Belle_ pushed quickly out into the stream, her grim faced
defenders manning the stern decks and praying for an excuse to open
fire.

No sooner had a reasonable distance been opened between the boat and the
bank than the Indians, at a signal from their leader, leaped behind the
woodpile and opened fire on the boat with muskets and bows and arrows,
the latter weapons far more accurate than the miserable trade guns which
a few of the braves carried. With them dropping an arrow is an instinct
and they have developed it to a degree that is remarkable, to say the
least; while with the smooth-bore trade guns, with varying charges of
trade powder and sizes of balls, they were poor shots at any distance.
Instantly two score rifles replied from the boat, pouring their leaden
hail into the stacked wood, but without any noticeable result; and
before a second round could be fired the distance had been increased to
such an extent that only one or two excitable tenderfeet tried a second
shot. The chief result of the incident was the breaking of the monotony
of the trip and the starting of chains of reminiscences among the
hunters and trappers to which the tenderfeet listened with eager ears.

After this flurry of excitement interest slowly swung far astern, where
the American Fur Company's boat was supposed to be breasting the current
on her long voyage to Fort Union and beyond, and many eyes were on the
lookout for a glimpse of her smoke. A sight of the boat itself, except
at close range, was almost hopeless because the bends in the river were
so numerous and close together that the stream seemed like a narrow
lake.

The surface of the water was becoming different from what it had been,
for the great masses of floating débris had thinned and no longer came
down in raft-like formations. This was due to the rapid falling of the
water, which had stranded more and more of the bulkier drift and piled
it up at the head of every island, emerging bar and jutting point. At
the height of the freshets, especially the April rise, often the logs
and trees came down so thick and solid that they resembled floating
islands. This was in large measure due to the simultaneous floating of
the vast accumulations piled up all along the banks, and it aroused
disgust and anxiety in the hearts of the boatmen, who feared for hulls
and paddle wheels.

The harmless brush with the Indians and the stories the affair had
started quickened interest in firearms, and during the rest of the
afternoon there was considerable target practice against the ducks,
geese, and débris, and an occasional long shot at some animal on the
distant bank.

Tom Boyd did his share of this, glad of the opportunity to try out his
new and strange weapons, and to put off meeting Patience Cooper as long
as he could, fearing her attitude concerning his fight with Schoolcraft.
He found that the newly marketed Colt six-shooter was accurate and
powerful at all reasonable ranges, beautifully balanced and well
behaving. It attracted a great deal of attention from fellow travelers,
for it was not as well-known in Missouri as it was in other parts of the
country. The English rifle, not much heavier than the great Hawken
weapons of his companions, despite its two barrels, shot true and
strong, and the two ready shots at his command easily recompensed him
for the additional weight. At this time, in the country into which he
was going, an instantly available second shot had an importance not to
be overlooked. To the Indians, especially, was it disconcerting, and its
moral effect partook of the nature of magic and made a white man's
"medicine" that demanded and received a wholesome respect. He found that
it followed the rough and ready rule of the frontier that up to a
hundred yards the proper charge was as much powder as would cover the
bullet in the palm of the hand. In the long range shots the weapon was
surprisingly accurate, and one thoughtful and intelligent hunter, who
had guided several English sporting parties, gave the credit to the
pointed bullets.

"Thar ain't no doubt about it, pardner," he confided to Tom as he slyly
produced his own bullet mold, and showed it to his companion. "I've
tried 'em out in my own rifle, an' they shore do shoot straighter an'
further. This hyar mold war give ter me by a city hunter I had in my
party when we found it would fit my rifle. I ain't usin' th' old un no
more. Rub a leetle b'ar grease or buffaler tallow on th' patch paper,
young man, ter make 'em go down easier. Thar good beaver."

The sun set in a gold and crimson glory, working its magic metamorphosis
on river, banks, and bottoms, painting the colored cliffs and setting
afire the crystals in which their clay was rich. Though usually the
scenery along this river at this time of the year was nothing to boast
of, there were certain conditions under which it resembled a fairyland.
The rolling wavelets bore their changing colors across the glowing water
and set dancing myriad flashes of sunlight; streaks of sunlight reached
in under the trees along the bank and made fairy paths among the
trunks, while the imbedded crystals in the clay bluffs glittered in
thousands of pin-points of iridescent flame.

When supper time came around Tom still felt a little reluctant to meet
Patience, worried by how she might greet him, although her actions
preceding the fight should have told him that his fears were groundless.
To his great relief she met him as graciously as she had before, and as
a matter of fact he thought he detected a little more warmth and
interest, but discounted this because he feared that his judgment might
be biased in his favor by his hopes.

Uncle Joe apparently had forgotten all about the affair and did not
refer to it in any way, confining himself to subjects connected with the
great southwest highway, its trade, outfitting, the organization of the
caravans, the merchandising at Santa Fe and bits of historical and
personal incidents, not forgetting to comment on the personality of
Armijo and his arbitrary impost of five hundred dollars on each wagon to
cross the boundary, regardless of what its contents might be. He
chuckled over the impost, for the goods which he had sent up to
Independence by an earlier boat had been selected with that tax in mind.
He had his own ideas about the payment of the impost, and although he
could not entirely avoid it, he intended to take a great deal of the
sting out of it.

He contended that the beating of unlawful duties was not cheating, since
it was purely a game of one individual outwitting another, one being an
arbitrary tyrant who was strongly suspected of pocketing the wagon tax
for his own uses. The only trouble with his philosophy was what it set
going, for having proved one evasion of tax to be honest it tended to go
farther and justify other evasions which fairly crossed the ethical
boundaries. One of these was the rumored prohibition of Mackinaw
blankets and the export tax on specie. This last would be something of a
hardship, for coin was the best and most easily carried of all mediums
of payment, and the Mexican government, in levying this tax, would tend
to force the traders to barter rather than sell their goods. If payment
were had in specie, the wagons could be disposed of at a fair profit and
mules used to pack it back to Missouri. When sewed tightly in rawhide
bags it became an unshifting mass by the shrinking of the leather under
the rays of the sun. Some of the traders took mules in exchange for
their goods which, if they could be safely delivered in the Missouri
settlements, would give an additional profit of no mean per centum; but
losses in mules were necessarily suffered on the long return trip, and
the driving, corralling, and guarding of a herd was a task to try the
patience of a saint and the ingenuity of the devil. The Indians would
take almost any kind of chances to stampede a herd of mules, and they
were adepts at the game.

Uncle Joe had been over the trail, having gone out with that band of
Missourians who took the first wagons across from Franklin in 1824, and
he had kept in close touch with the New Mexican and Chihuahuan trade
ever since. He knew the tricks, and had invented some of his own, which
he guarded well. For the despotic Armijo he had a vast contempt, which
was universal among the great majority of the men who knew anything at
all about the cruel, conceited, and dishonest Governor of the
Department of New Mexico. The unfortunate Texan Santa Fe Expedition had
aroused bitter feelings among Americans and Texans against the Mexican,
many of them having had friends and relatives in that terrible winter
march of two thousand miles on foot from Santa Fe to the City of Mexico,
which followed so close upon the heart-breaking and disastrous northward
march from Texas to a vile betrayal and barbarous treatment. Anything
American or Texas plainsmen could do to hurt or discredit the inhuman
pomposity whose rise to power had been through black treachery and
coldly planned murder, would be done with enthusiastic zeal.

At the close of the leisurely eaten meal they went on deck in time to
see the _John Auld_ round the next upstream bend and forge forward, soon
stopping, however, to drift past the slowed _Missouri Belle_ while their
pilots exchanged terse information about the channels and snags. The
_John Auld_ carried a small cargo of fur packs on her main deck and a
few free hunters and trappers on their way to St. Louis to dispose of
their goods and to outfit anew. By this time the fur of the pelts
slipped and the fur taking season was over, but there was always the
buffalo to lure them afield again.

The evening was delightful and hopes ran high for an uninterrupted
voyage. Uncle Joe expressed the belief that the boat would run all night
in view of the favorable weather; Tom demurring on the grounds of the
rapidly falling river and the blackness of the nights. The boat curved
sharply to avoid a jutting bar and straightened out again. Prompted by
sight of some of the passengers who promenaded past them the talk swung
to the fur trade in general and to the end of it, which was rapidly
being brought nearer by the great tide of emigration setting in.
Discussions regarding the emigrants and the great Oregon Trail followed
as a matter of course and almost before they knew it it was time for
Patience to retire, and her companions soon followed her example, Uncle
Joe foregoing his usual night game.

When morning broke they found that they had sailed nearly all the night,
and the boat kept on all day, stopping only at a few landings and to
take on wood, of which she burned an amazing quantity. Another night's
run brought them well up the river, but the following day found them
tied to a bank, because of adverse weather. In the afternoon, the wind
dying out, they were on the way again and another night's sail was
looked for. Patience retired earlier than usual and when Tom returned
from seeing her safely into her room he found Uncle Joe impatiently
waiting for him.

"Come on, Tom," said the merchant. "I've still got a lot to learn about
gamblin' an' there ain't much time left to do it in. Let's go back an'
see if there's a game runnin'. I might as well let somebody else pay th'
expenses of this trip."

Tom nodded and followed his companion into the cabin set apart for men
and sat down at a table with two trappers, from where he could watch the
game at close range, for he realized that the time for the gamblers to
get the merchant's money also was getting short. Under the conditions
almost anything might occur and he felt that he owed a debt to his
friend for the part he had played during the fight with Schoolcraft.

Uncle Joe joined Stevens and a companion, who were idly playing and who
seemed to be impatiently and nervously waiting for his appearance; soon
a tense game was in progress. At a table in a corner from where the
players could be closely watched Ephriam Schoolcraft, his face still
badly bruised, was talking in sullen undertones to the little Mexican
and another companion, while hunters, traders, trappers, and men of
various other callings kept up a low hum of conversation throughout the
cabin.

From one group came fragments of fur trade gossip: "Th' American Fur
Company's talkin' about abandonin' Fort Van Buren. Thar's been a lot o'
posts let go to grass th' last two years. Th' business ain't what it was
ten year ago."

"On th' other hand," replied a companion, "Fox an' Livingston air goin'
fer to put up a post at th' mouth o' th' Little Bighorn, which evens up
fer Van Buren; an' Chardon's aimin' fer to put one up at th' mouth o'
th' Judith. Th' trade's all right, only th' American's got more buckin'
agin' it."

"'Tain't what it onct was, though," said a third trader. "Thar's too
many posts an' private parties. Ye can't go nowhere hardly in th' Injun
country without comin' slap up ag'in a post o' some kind. Thar's Zack:
hey, Zack! Come over hyar!"

Zack, a mountain hunter and a free one, swung over and joined the group.

"Jest been palaverin' with some Canucks," he said. "Fur's I could git
th' hang o' thar parley-vouz thar goin' up ter help open Fort William,
at th' mouth o' th' Yallerstun, fer Fox an' Livingston. They sez Pratte
an' Cabanne had took over Fort Platte, up nigh th' Laramie. How fur ye
goin' on this packet, Smith?"

"Bellevue," answered Smith. "I'm headin' up th' Platte a-ways, if th'
danged Pawnees let me git past. Pardner's waitin' near th' mouth with a
bullboat. Reckon we kin count on enough water, this time o' year, fer
ter float _that_; 'though I shore ain't bettin' on it," he chuckled.

Zack laughed. "Th' Platte shore comes close ter bein' all shadder an' no
substance. Dangest stream _I_ ever seen, an' I've seen a-plenty."

"Don't think a hull lot o' that country, nohow," said a third. "Them
Pawnees air th' worst thieves an' murderers this side o' th' Comanchees.
They kin steal yer shirt without techin' yer coat, danged if they can't.
Blast 'em, I _know_ 'em!"

Zack laughed shortly. "They ain't no-whar with th' Crows when it comes
ter stealin'," he averred.

Smith chuckled again. "Yer right, Zack. He's pizen set ag'in 'em ever
sence they stole his packs an' everythin' that wasn't a-hangin' ter him.
'Twarn't much o' a walk he had, though, only a couple hundred miles."

"Ye kin bet I'm pizen ag'in 'em sence then," retorted the Pawnee-hater
vehemently. "If I tuk scalps I could show ye somethin'. They've paid a
lot fer what they stole that time."

From another group came the mention of a name which took Tom's instant
attention.

"I hears Ol' Jim Bridger's quit tradin' in furs as a reg'lar thing,"
said the voice. "They say he's gone in fer tinkerin' an' outfittin' up
nigh Teton Pass. Got a fust rate post too, they say."

"Tinkerin' what?" demanded a listener. "What kin he outfit 'way up
thar?"

"Emigrants!" snorted the first speaker. "Figgers on sellin' 'em supplies
an' sich, an' repairin' fer 'em at his smithy. I shore reckon they'll
need him a hull lot more'n he'll need them. That's a long haul fer
wagons, tenderfeet's 'spacially--Independence ter th' Divide--'though it
ain't what it was when Hunt an' Crooks went out thirty year ago."

"No, 'tain't," replied a third man. "An' it's a lucky thing fer th'
tenderfeet that Nat Wyeth went an' built Fort Hall whar he did, even if
'twas fer th' Hudson Bay. I'm tellin' ye these hyar emigrants would be
stayin' ter home from Oregon an' Californy if 'twarn't fer what us
trappers has did fer th' country. Thar ain't nary a trail that we didn't
locate fer 'em."

The first man nodded. "Not mentionin' th' Injuns afore us, we found thar
roads, passes, an' drinkin' water fer 'em; an' now thar flockin' in ter
spile our business. One thing, though, thar goin' straight acrost, most
on 'em. It could be a hull lot worse."

While Tom's ears caught bits of the conversation roundabout his eyes
paid attention to the gambling table and on two occasions he half arose
from his chair to object profanely to the way Stevens played; but each
time he was not quite sure. On the third occasion one of the trappers
glanced at him, smiled grimly, and nodded at the hard-pressed gambler.

"Th' fur trade ain't th' only skin game, young feller," he softly said.
"Ol' man a friend o' yourn?"

Tom nodded and watched more closely, and a moment later he stiffened
again.

"Why, h--l!" growled the trapper, sympathizing with one of his own
calling. "Go fur him, young feller, an' chuck him inter th' river! I'll
hold off his pardner fer ye!"

An older trapper sauntered over and seated himself at Tom's side. "Been
watchin' them fer quite a spell," he said in a low voice. "Ain't that
ol' feller St Louis Joe?"

Tom shrugged his shoulders, and saw a great light. Who hadn't heard of
St. Louis Joe? His new friend's love of gambling, and his success
against Stevens and his crowd would be accounted for if the trapper was
right. He glanced at the speaker and replied: "Don't know. I never saw
him till I crossed th' levee at St. Louis jest afore we sailed."

"Looks a heap like him, anyhow," muttered the newcomer. "Fair an' squar,
_he_ war. I seen him play when I war goin' down to N'Orleans, ten year
ago. Never fergit a face, an' I shore remember _his_, fer he war playin'
that time fer 'most all th' money in th' Mississippi Valley, I reckon.
Consarn it, I _know_ it's him! Fer ol' times' sake, if he gits inter
trouble with that skunk, I'm with him ter th' hilt." He started to leave
the table, thought better of it and slid forward to the edge of his
chair. "He's bein' cheated blind. I saw that skunk palm a card!"

Tom nodded, his hand resting on his belt, but he did not take his eyes
from the game. He suspected that Uncle Joe was pretty well informed
about what was going on and would object when it suited him.

The first trapper leaned over the table and whispered to his friend.
"This young feller is watchin' the cheat, an' I'm watchin' th' pardner.
You might keep an eye on that Independence hoss-thief over thar--that
feller with th' raw meat face, that _this_ youngster gave him. From th'
way he's lookin' thar ain't no tellin' how this hyar party is goin' ter
bust up."

The second plainsman nodded and after a moment dropped his pipe on the
floor. He shifted in his chair as he reached down for it and when he sat
up again he was in a little different position, and not a thing at
Schoolcraft's table escaped his eyes.

"I'll take th' greaser 'longside him," muttered the third plainsman.
"W'ich is a plain duty an' a pleasure. Bet ye a plew I nail him atween
his eyes, fust crack, if he gits hostile."

Suddenly there came a loud smack as Uncle Joe's left hand smashed down
on the cards in Stevens' hand, holding them against the table while his
right hand flashed under the partly buttoned edge of his long frock
coat. It hung there, struggling with something in the inside pocket.
Stevens had jerked his own hand loose, relinquishing the cards, and with
the sharp motion a small, compact percussion pistol slid out of his
sleeve and into his grasp as his hand stopped. He was continuing the
motion, swinging the weapon up and forward when Tom, leaning suddenly
forward in his chair, sent his heavy skinning knife flashing through the
air. The first trapper had thrown a pistol down on the gambler's
partner, the second stopped Ephriam Schoolcraft's attempted draw against
Tom, and the third plainsman was peering eagerly along the barrel of his
pistol at a spot between the Mexican's eyes. Had it been a well
rehearsed act things could not have happened quicker or smoother.

Not five other persons in the cabin had any intimation of what was
coming until Tom's knife, flying butt first through the air, knocked
the pistol from Stevens' hand. The weapon struck the floor and exploded,
the bullet passing through a cabin window. As the knife left his hand
the thrower had leaped after it and he grabbed the desperate gambler in
a grip against which it was useless to struggle. Uncle Joe, loosening
his hold on the pocket pistol tangled in the lining of his coat, leaped
around the table and quickly passed his hands over the clothing of the
prisoner.

"What's th' trouble here?" demanded the quick, authoritative voice of
the captain as he ran in from the deck. "Who fired that shot, an' why?"

He soon was made familiar with the whole affair and stepped to the
table, picked up the cards and spread them for everyone to see. Asking a
few questions of disinterested eye-witnesses, he looked about the cabin
and spoke.

"I've nothing to say about gambling on this boat as long as gentlemen
play," he said sharply. "When the play is crooked, _I_ take a hand. I
can't overlook this." He motioned to the group of boat hands crowding
about the door and they took hold of Stevens and his partner. "Take
these men and get their effects, and then put them ashore in the yawl.
I'll have provisions put aboard while you're gone. Stevens, due south
not many miles is the St. Louis-Independence wagon road. It is heavily
traveled this time of the year. You can't miss it. Besides that there
are numerous cabins scattered about the bottoms, and not far upstream is
a settlement. Take 'em away." Glancing over the cabin again and letting
his eyes rest for a moment on Ephriam Schoolcraft, he wheeled and
started for the door, but paused as he reached it. "If there's any
further trouble I'll be on the hurricane deck, for'rd. We're going to
run all night if we can. I don't want any more disturbance on this
packet."

As the captain left, Uncle Joe thanked Tom and the trappers and joined
them at their table, providing the refreshment most liked by the
plainsmen, and the reminiscences became so interesting that the little
group scarcely noticed Tom arise and leave it. He was too restless to
stay indoors and soon found a place to his liking on the deck below,
near the bow, where he paced to and fro in the darkness, wrestling with
a tumult of hopes and fears. Reaching one end of his beat, he wheeled
and started back again, and as he passed the cabin door he suddenly
stopped and peered at the figure framed in the opening, and tore off his
hat, too surprised to speak.

"Mr. Boyd?" came a soft, inquiring, and anxious voice.

"Yes, Miss Cooper; but I thought you were fast asleep long ago!"

"I was," she replied; "but something that sounded like a shot awakened
me, and thinking that it seemed to come from the card tables, I became
fearful and dressed as hurriedly as I could in the dark. Is--is Uncle
Joe--all right?"

"In good health, good company, and in the best of spirits," replied Tom,
smiling at how the last word might be interpreted. "I left him only a
moment ago, swapping tales with some trappers."

"But the shot. Surely it _was_ a shot that awakened me?"

Tom chuckled. "Sleeve pistol fell to the floor and went off
accidentally," he explained. "Luckily no one was hurt, for the ball
passed out of a window and went over the river. Are you warm enough?
This wind is cutting." At her assent he took a step forward. "I'll see
you to your room if you wish."

"I'm too wide awake now to sleep for awhile," she replied, joining him.
"Didn't the boat stop?"

"Yes; two passengers went ashore in the yawl," he answered. "These
packets are certainly accommodating and deserve patronage. Why, Miss
Cooper, you're shivering! Are you sure you are warm enough?"

"Yes," she answered. "Something is bothering me. I don't know what it
is. I wish we were at Independence though. Day and night this river
fascinates me and almost frightens me. It is so swift, so treacherous,
so changeful. It reminds me of some great cat, slipping through a
jungle; and I can't throw the feeling off. If you don't mind, I'll join
you in your sentry-go, you seem to give me the assurance I lack; but
perhaps I'll interfere with your thoughts?"

"Hardly that," he laughed, thrilling as she took his arm for safety
against stumbles in the dark. "You stimulate them, instead. I really was
pacing off a fit of restlessness; but it's gone now. Look here; I wonder
if you fully realize the certain hardships and probable dangers of the
overland journey you are about to make?"

"Perfectly, Mr. Boyd," she answered, quietly. "You'll find me a
different person on land. I underestimate nothing, but hope for the
best. From little things I've picked up here and there I really believe
that the dangers of the trail will be incidental when compared with
those at the other end--at Santa Fe. I have reason to believe that
father has had a great deal of trouble, along with other Americans, with
Governor Armijo. Why is it that American citizens are insulted with
impunity by Mexican officials? I understand that an Englishman may
safely travel from one end of Mexico to the other, secure from
annoyance, unless it be at the hands of Indians over whom the government
exercises but little control."

"It's a universal complaint along the frontier," he replied. "It seems
to be the policy of this country to avoid hurting the sensibilities of
any vicious officialdom or ignorant populace. We seem to prefer to have
our citizens harassed, insulted, and denied justice, rather than assert
unequivocally that the flag goes in spirit with every one of us so long
as we obey the laws of any country we are in. If it were not for the
banding together of the American traders and merchants in Santa Fe, it
would be very hazardous for an American to remain there. Armijo has had
a few clashes with our people and is beginning to have a little respect
for their determination and ability to defend their rights. Since the
sufferings of the Texans have become known, there are any number of
Americans in frontier garb who would cheerfully choke him to death. It
would be a godsend to the New Mexican people if----"

There came a terrific crash, the boat stopped suddenly and the deck
arose under their feet as a huge log smashed up through it. They were
torn apart and thrown down, and as Tom scrambled to his feet, calling
his companion's name, he felt a great relief surge through him as he
heard her answer.



CHAPTER VII

THE WRECKING OF THE MISSOURI BELLE


Tom grasped his companion's arm and hurried her toward the place where
the yawl was tied as shouts, curses, tearing wood and a panic-stricken
crowd of passengers pouring out of the cabins and rooms turned the night
into a pandemonium, over which the hysterical blasts of the whistle
bellowed its raucous calls for help far and wide across water and land.
There came a rush of feet and several groups of passengers dashed toward
the yawl, but stopped abruptly and hesitated as the Colt in Tom's hand
glinted coldly in the soft light of a cabin window.

"Women first!" he snarled, savage as an animal at bay. "I'll kill th'
first man that comes any closer! Get those bullboats overside, an'
somebody round up th' other women an' bring 'em here! Keep cool, an'
everybody'll be saved--lose yore heads an' we'll all die, _some_
quicker'n others! Not another step forward!"

"Right ye air, friend," said a voice, and Zack, pistol in hand, dropped
from the deck above and alighted at Tom's side like a fighting bobcat.
"Put over them bullboats--an' be shore ye get hold o' th' ropes when ye
do. _Lady!_" he shouted, catching sight of an emigrant and his wife.
"Come hyar! An' you," he commanded her husband, "stan' by us--shoot ter
kill if ye pulls trigger. Fine bunch o' cattle!" he sneered, and the
rapidly growing crowd, finding that the guns facing them did not waver,
turned and stampeded for the bullboats, every man of it bellowing orders
and getting in the way of everyone else. There came a splash, a chorus
of curses as a bullboat, thrown overboard upside down, slipped away in
the darkness.

"Right side up, ye tarnation fools!" roared a voice, accompanied by a
solid smash as a hunter near the boats knocked down a frantic freighter
and took charge of the mob. "I'm fixin' fer to kill somebody!" he
yelled. "Hang onter that rope or I'll spatter yer brains all over
creation! Right side up, damn ye! Hold her! Thar! Now then, put over
another--if ye git in that boat till I says so ye won't have no need fer
it!"

Friends coming to his aid helped him hold the milling mob, and their
coolness and determination, tried in many ticklish situations, stood
them in good stead.

"Ask th' captain how bad she is!" shouted Tom as he caught sight of Joe
Cooper tearing through the crowd like a madman. "I got Patience an'
another woman here!"

"I might 'a' known it," yelled Uncle Joe, fighting back the way he had
come. In a moment he returned and shouted until the frantic crowd gave
him heed. "Cap'n says she can't sink! Cap'n says she can't sink! Listen,
damn ye! Cap'n says she can't sink. He's groundin' her on a bar! Keep
'em out of them boats, boys! _Don't_ let them fools get in th' boats!
Not till th' very last thing! They'll only swamp 'em."

"Good fer you, St. Louis!" roared a mountaineer, playing with a skinning
knife in most suggestive manner.

"Th' boilers'll blow up! Th' boilers'll blow up! Look out for th'
boilers!" yelled a tenderfoot, fighting to get to the boats. "They'll
blow up! They'll blow----"

Zack took one swift step sideways and brought the butt of his pistol
down on the jumping jack's head. "Let 'em blow, sister!" he shouted.
"_You_ won't hear 'em! Any more scared o' th' boilers?" he yelled,
facing the crowd menacingly. "They won't blow up till th' water gits to
'em, an' when it does we'll all be knee-deep in it. Thar on this hyar
deck, ye sheep!"

One man was running around in a circle not five feet across, moaning and
blubbering. Tom glanced at him as he came around and stepped quickly
forward, his foot streaking out and up. It caught the human pinwheel on
the chest and he turned a beautiful back flip into the crowd. Zack's
booming laugh roared out over the water and he slapped Tom resoundingly
on the shoulder.

"More fun right hyar than in a free-fer-all at a winter rendyvoo,
pardner. You kick wuss nor a mule. An' whar _you_ goin'?" he asked a
tin-horn gambler who took advantage of his lapse of alertness to dart
past him. Zack swung his stiff arm and the gambler bounced back as
though he had been struck with a club. "Thar's plenty o' it hyar if yer
lookin' fer it," he shouted, raising his pistol.

Uncle Joe clawed his way back again, Tom's double-barreled rifle in his
hands, and grimly took his place at his friend's side. Suddenly he
cocked his head and then heard Tom's voice bellow past his ear.

"Listen, you fools! Th' fur boat! Th' fur boat!" he yelled at the top of
his lungs. His companions and the other little group of resolute men
took up the cry, and as the furor of the crowd died down, the answering
blasts rolled up the river. Suddenly a light, and then an orderly series
of them pushed out from behind the last bend downstream, and showers of
sparks from the belching stacks of the oncoming fur company boat danced
and whirled high into the night, the splashing tattoo of her churning
paddles sounding like music between the reassuring blasts of her
whistle. The two stokers hanging from the levers of her safety valves
kicked their feet in time with her whistle, not knowing which kick would
usher them on an upward journey ending at St. Peter's eager gate. Their
skins were as black as the rods they swung from, but their souls were as
white as their rolling eyes.

"Thank God!" screamed a woman who was fighting her way through the crowd
toward Tom's post, her clothing nearly torn from her; and at the words
she sagged to the deck, inert, unresisting. Tom leaped forward and
hauled her back with him, passed her on to Patience and resumed his grim
guard.

A great shout, still tinged with horror and edged with fear, arose from
the decks of the _Belle_ and thundered across the river, the answering
roar chopped up by the insistent whistle. Several red, stringy,
rapier-like flashes pierced the night and the heavy reports barked
across the hurrying water, to be juggled by a great cliff on the north
bank.

Captain Newell had been busy. Learning that cool minds were dominating
the panicky crowd, and that the bullboats were being properly launched
and were ready for use if the worst came, he gave his undivided
attention to the saving of the _Belle_. Her paddle still thrashed, but
at a speed just great enough to overcome the current and to hold the
snag in the wound it had made. Experience told him that once she drew
back from that slimy assassin blade and fully opened the rent in her
hull her sinking would follow swiftly. Already men had sounded the river
on both sides and reported a steep slant to the bottom, twenty feet of
water on the port side and fifteen on the starboard. One of the spare
yawls, manned by two officers and a deck hand, shot away from the boat
and made hurried soundings to starboard, the called depths bringing a
look of hope to the captain's face. Forty yards to the right lay a
nearly flat bar; but could he make that forty yards? There remained no
choice but to try, for while the _Missouri Belle_, if she sank in her
present position, would not be entirely submerged, she would be even
less so every foot she made toward the shallows.

Part of the crew already had weighted one edge of a buffalo hide and
stood in the bow, directly over the snag, which luckily had pierced the
hull more above than below the water line. The captain signalled and the
great paddle wheel turned swiftly full speed astern. The grating,
splitting sound of the snag leaving the hull was followed by a shouted
order and the hide was lowered overside and instantly sucked against the
rent; and the paddle wheel, quickly reversing, pushed the boat ahead at
an angle to the current until, low in the water, she grounded solidly on
the edge of the flat bar. Anchors were set and cables made taut while
the _Belle_ settled firmly on the sandy bottom and rested almost on an
even keel. There she would stay if the river continued to fall, until
the rent was fully exposed and repaired; and there she would stay,
repaired, until another rise floated her. The captain signalled for the
paddles to stop and then drew a heavy arm across his forehead, sighed,
and turned to face the fur company packet.

The passengers were becoming calm by stages, but the calm was largely
the reaction of hysteria for a few moments until common sense walled up
the breach. Every eye now watched the oncoming steamboat, which had
sailed doggedly ahead for the past two nights and days while the _Belle_
had loitered against the banks. Even the most timid were now calmed by
the sight of her lighted cabins as she ploughed toward her stricken
sister. Fearful of the snag, she came to a stop when nearly abreast of
the _Belle_ and the two captains held a short and shouted conversation.
Her yawl soon returned and reported the water safe, but shoaling
rapidly; and at this information she turned slightly oblique to the
current and, sounding every few feet, crept up to within two gangplanks'
reach of the _Belle_ and anchored bow and stern. Her own great landing
stage swung out over the cheated waters and hung poised while that of
the _Belle_ circled out to meet it, waveringly, as though it had lost a
valuable sense. They soon touched, were made to coincide and then lashed
securely together. At once, women first, the passengers of the _Belle_
began to cross the arched span a few at a time, and sighed with relief
as they reached the deck of the uninjured vessel. On the main deck of
the _Belle_ the crew already was piling up such freight as could be
taken from the hold and the sound of hammering at her bow told of
temporary repairs being made.

Among the last to leave the _Belle_ were Uncle Joe and Tom and as they
started toward the gangplank, Captain Newell hurriedly passed them,
stopped, retraced his steps, and gripped their hands tightly as he
wished them a safe arrival at Independence. Then he plunged out of
sight toward the engine room.

The transfer completed, the fur company boat cast free, raised her
anchors, and sidled cautiously back into the channel. Blowing a hoarse
salute, she straightened out into the current and surged ahead,
apparently in no way daunted by the fate of her sister. Captain Graves
had commanded a heavily loaded boat when he left St. Louis and the
addition of over a hundred passengers and their personal belongings, for
whom some sort of provision must be made in sleeping arrangements and
food, urged him to get to Independence Landing as quickly as he could.
Turning from his supervision of the housing of the gangplank, he bumped
into Uncle Joe, was about to apologize, and then peered into the face of
his new passenger. The few lights which had been placed on deck to help
in the transfer of the passengers, enabled him to recognize the next to
the last man across the plank and his greeting was sharp and friendly.

"Joe Cooper, or I'm blind!" he exclaimed. "Alone, Joe?"

"Got my niece with me, and my friend, Tom Boyd, here."

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Boyd--seems to me I've heard something about a
Tom Boyd fouling the official craft of the Government of New Mexico,"
said the captain, shaking hands with the young plainsman. "We'll do our
best for you-all the rest of the night, and we'll put Miss Cooper in my
cabin. We ought to reach Independence early in the morning. I suppose
that's your destination? Take you on to Westport just as easily."

"Independence is where I started for," said Uncle Joe.

"Then we'll put you ashore there, no matter what the condition of the
landing is. It's easier to land passengers than cargo. But let me tell
you that if you are aiming to go in business there, that Westport is the
coming town since the river ruined the lower landing. Let's see if the
cook's got any hot coffee ready, and a bite to eat: he's had time
enough, anyhow. Come on. First we'll find Miss Cooper and the other
women. I had them all taken to one place. Come on."

Shortly after dawn Tom awakened, rose on one elbow on the blanket he had
thrown on the deck and looked around. Uncle Joe snored softly and
rhythmically on his hard bed, having refused to rob any man of his
berth. He had accepted one concession, however, by throwing his blanket
on the floor of the texas, where he not only would be close to his
niece, but removed from the other men of the _Belle_, many of whom were
not at all reassuring in the matter of personal cleanliness. Arising,
Tom went to a window and looked out, seeing a clear sky and green,
rolling hills and patches of timber bathed in the slanting sunlight. A
close scrutiny of the bank apprised him that they were not far from
Independence Landing and he stepped to the rail to look up the river.
Far upstream on a sharp bend on the south bank were the remains of Old
Fort Clark, as it was often called. About twenty miles farther on the
same side of the river was his destination. He turned to call Uncle Joe
and met the captain at the door of the texas; and he thought he caught a
glimpse of a head bobbing back behind the corner of the cabin. As he
hesitated as to whether to go and verify his eyes, the captain accosted
him, and he stood where he was.

"Fine day, Mr. Boyd," said the officer. "Sleep well on the soft side of
the deck?"

Tom laughed. "I can sleep well any place, captain. If I could have
scooped out a hollow for my hips I wouldn't feel quite so stiff."

"Let me know as soon as Miss Cooper appears and I'll have some breakfast
sent up to her. If you'd like a bite now, come with me."

"Thank you; you are very considerate. I'll call Uncle Joe and bring him
with me."

"You will, hey?" said a voice from the texas. "Uncle Joe is ready right
now, barring the aches of his old bones; and I've just been interrupted
by Patience. She says she can chew chunks out of the cups, she's so
hungry. What's that? You didn't? All right; all right; I'm backing up
again! Have it your own way; you will, anyhow, in the end."

"You stay right where you are, Miss Cooper," called the captain. "I'll
send up breakfast enough for six, and if you keep an eye on this pair
perhaps you can get a bit of it. And let me tell you that it's lucky
that you're real hungry, for the fare on this boat is even worse than it
was on the _Belle_. I'll go right down and look to it."

Breakfast over, the three went out to explore the boat, Patience taking
interest in its human cargo, especially its original passengers, and she
had a good chance to observe them during the absence of the rescued
passengers of the _Belle_, to whom had been given the courtesy of the
first use of the dining-room.

Almost all of the original list on this boat were connected in some way
with the fur trade, the exceptions being a few travelers bound for the
upper Missouri, and two noncommissioned officers going out to Fort
Leavenworth, who had missed the _Belle_ at St Louis, missed her again at
St. Charles, and had been taken aboard by Captain Graves, who would have
to stop at the Fort for inspection.

The others covered all the human phases of the fur business and included
one _bourgeois_, or factor; two partisans, or heads of expeditions;
several clerks, numerous hunters and trappers, both free and under
contract to the company; half a dozen "pork-eaters," who were green
hands engaged for long periods of service by the company and bound to it
almost as tightly and securely as though they were slaves. Some of them
found this to be true, when they tried to desert, later on. They were
called "pork-eaters" because the term now meant about the same as the
word "tenderfeet," and its use came from the habit of the company to
import green hands from Canada under contracts which not only made them
slaves for five years, but almost always left them in the company's debt
at the expiration of their term of service. On the way from Canada they
had been fed on a simple and monotonous diet, its chief article being
pork; and gradually the expression came to be used among the more
experienced voyageurs to express the abstract idea of greenness. There
were camp-keepers, voyageurs, a crew of keelboatmen going up to the
"navy yard" above Fort Union and two skilled boat-builders bound for the
same place; artisans, and several Indians returning either to one of the
posts or to their own country. They made a picturesque assemblage, and
their language, being Indian, English, and French, or rather,
combinations of all three, was not less so than their appearance. Over
them all the bully of the boat, who had reached his semi-official
position through elimination by consent and by combat, exercised a more
or less orderly supervision as to their bickerings and general behavior,
and relieved the boat's officers of much responsibility.

The boat stopped a few minutes at Liberty Landing and then went on,
rounding the nearly circular bend, and as the last turn was made and the
steamboat headed westward again there was a pause in the flurry which
had been going on among the rescued passengers ever since Liberty
Landing had been left. Independence Landing was now close at hand and
the eager crowd marked time until the bank should be reached.

Soon the boat headed in toward what was left of the once fine landing,
its slowly growing ruin being responsible for the rising importance of
the little hamlet of Westport not far above, and for the later and
pretentious Kansas City which was to arise on the bluff behind the
little frontier village. Independence was losing its importance as a
starting point for the overland traffic in the same way that she had
gained it. First it had been Franklin, then Fort Osage, then Blue Mills,
and then Independence; but now, despite its commanding position on one
of the highest bluffs along the river and its prestige from being the
county seat, the latter was slowly settling in the background and giving
way to Westport; but it was not to give up at once, nor entirely, for
the newer terminals had to share their prominence with it, and until the
end of the overland traffic Independence played its part.

The landing was a busy place. Piles of cordwood and freight, the latter
in boxes, barrels, and crates, flanked the landing on three sides;
several kinds of new wagons in various stages of assembling were scenes
of great activity. Most of these were from Pittsburg and had come all
the way by water. A few were of the size first used on the great trail,
with a capacity of about a ton and a half; but most were much larger and
could carry nearly twice as much as the others. Great bales of Osnaburg
sheets, or wagon covers, were in a pile by themselves, glistening white
in their newness. It appeared that the cargo of the _John Auld_ had not
yet been transported up the bluff to the village on the summit.

The landing became very much alive as the fur company's boat swung in
toward it, the workers who hourly expected the _Missouri Belle_ crowding
to the water's edge to welcome the rounding boat, whose whistle early
had apprised them that she was stopping. Free negroes romped and sang,
awaiting their hurried tasks under exacting masters, the bosses of the
gangs; but this time there was to be no work for them. Vehicles of all
kinds, drawn by oxen, mules, and horses, made a solid phalanx around the
freight piles, among them the wagons of Aull and Company, general
outfitters for all kinds of overland journeys. The narrow, winding road
from the water front up to and onto the great bluff well back from the
river was sticky with mud and lined with struggling teams pulling heavy
loads.

When the fur company boat drew near enough for those on shore to see its
unusual human cargo, both as to numbers and kinds, conjecture ran high.
This hardy traveler of the whole navigable river was no common packet,
stopping almost any place to pick up any person who waved a hat, but a
supercilious thoroughbred which forged doggedly into the vast wilderness
of the upper river. Even her curving swing in toward the bank was made
with a swagger and hinted at contempt for any landing under a thousand
miles from her starting point.

Shouts rang across the water and were followed by great excitement on
the bank. Because of the poor condition of the landing she worked her
way inshore with unusual care and when the great gangplank finally
bridged the gap her captain nodded with relief. In a few moments, her
extra passengers ashore, she backed out into the hurrying stream and
with a final blast of her whistle, pushed on up the river.

Friends met friends, strangers advised strangers, and the accident to
the _Belle_ was discussed with great gusto. Impatiently pushing out of
the vociferous crowd, Joe Cooper and his two companions swiftly found a
Dearborn carriage which awaited them and, leaving their baggage to
follow in the wagon of a friend, started along the deeply rutted,
prairie road for the town; Schoolcraft, his partner, and his Mexican
friend sloping along behind them on saddle horses through the lane of
mud. The trip across the bottoms and up the great bluff was wearisome
and tiring. They no sooner lurched out of one rut than they dropped into
another, with the mud and water often to the axles, and they continually
were forced to climb out of the depressed road and risk upsettings on
the steep, muddy banks to pass great wagons hopelessly mired,
notwithstanding their teams of from six to a dozen mules or oxen.
Mud-covered drivers shouted and swore from their narrow seats, or waded
about their wagons up to the middle in the cold ooze. If there was
anything worse than a prairie road in the spring, these wagoners had yet
to learn of it.



CHAPTER VIII

THE NEW SIX-GUN


Independence was alive all over, humming with business, its muddy
streets filled with all kinds of vehicles drawn by various kinds and
numbers of animals. Here a three-yoke ox team pulled stolidly, there a
four-mule team balked on a turn, and around them skittish or dispirited
horses carried riders or drew high-seated carriages. The motley crowd on
foot picked its way as best it could. Indians in savage garb passed
Indians in civilization's clothes, or mixtures of both; gamblers rubbed
elbows with emigrants and made overtures to buckskin-covered trappers
and hunters just in from the prairies and mountains, many of whom were
going up to Westport, their main rendezvous. Traders came into and went
from Aull and Company's big store, wherein was everything the frontier
needed. Behind it were corrals filled with draft animals and sheds full
of carts and wagons.

Boisterous traders and trappers, in all stages of drunkenness, who
thought nothing of spending their season's profits in a single week if
the mood struck them, were still coming in from the western foothills,
valleys, and mountains, their loud conversations replete with rough
phrases and such names as the South Park, Bent's Fort, The Pueblo, Fort
Laramie, Bayou Salade, Brown's Hole, and others. Many of them so much
resembled Indians as to leave a careless observer in doubt. Some were
driving mules almost buried under their two packs, each pack weighing
about one hundred pounds and containing eighty-odd beaver skins,
sixty-odd otter pelts or the equivalent number in other skins. Usually
they arrived in small parties, but here and there was a solitary
trapper. The skins would be sold to the outfitting merchants and would
establish a credit on which the trapper could draw until time to outfit
and go off on the fall hunt. Had he sold them to some far, outlying post
he would have received considerably less for them and have paid from two
hundred to six hundred per cent more for the articles he bought. As long
as there was nothing for him to do in his line until fall set in, he
might just as well spend some of the time on the long march to the
frontier, risking the loss of his goods, animals, and perhaps his life
in order to get better prices and enjoy a change of scene.

The county seat looked good to him after his long stay in the solitudes.
Pack and wagon trains were coming and going, some of the wagons drawn by
as many as a dozen or fifteen yokes of oxen. All was noise, confusion,
life at high pressure, and made a fit surrounding for his coming
carousal; and here was all the liquor he could hope to drink, of better
quality and at better prices, guarantees of which, in the persons of
numerous passers-by, he saw on many sides.

Rumors of all kinds were afloat, most of them concerning hostile Indians
lying in wait at certain known danger spots along the trails, and of the
hostile acts of the Mormons; but the Mormons were behind and the trail
was ahead, and the rumors of its dangers easily took precedence. It was
reported that the first caravan, already on the trail and pressing hard
on the heels of spring, was being escorted by a force of two hundred
United States dragoons, the third time in the history of the Santa Fe
trade that a United States military escort had been provided. Dangers
were magnified, dangers were scorned, dangers were courted, depending
upon the nature of the men relating them. There were many noisy
fire-eaters who took their innings now, in the security of the town, who
would become as wordless, later on, as some of the tight-lipped and
taciturn frontiersmen were now. Greenhorns from the far-distant East
were proving their greenness by buying all kinds of useless articles,
which later they would throw away one by one, and were armed in a manner
befitting buccaneers of the Spanish Main. To them, easiest of all, were
old and heavy oxen sold, animals certain to grow footsore and useless by
the time they had covered a few hundred miles. They bought anything and
everything that any wag suggested, and there were plenty of wags on
hand. The less they knew the more they talked; and experienced caravan
travelers shook their heads at sight of them, recognizing in them the
most prolific and hardest working trouble-makers in the whole, long
wagon train. Here and there an invalid was seen, hoping that the long
trip in the open would restore health, and in many cases the hopes
became realizations.

Joseph Cooper installed his niece in the best hotel the town afforded
and went off to see about his wagons and goods, while Tom Boyd hurried
to a trapper's retreat to find his partner and his friends. The retreat
was crowded with frontiersmen and traders, among whom he recognized
many acquaintances. He no sooner had entered the place than he was
soundly slapped on the shoulder and turned to exchange grins with his
best friend, Hank Marshall, who forthwith led him to a corner where a
small group was seated around a table, and where he found Jim Ogden and
Zeb Houghton, two trapper friends of his who were going out to Bent's
trading post on the Arkansas; Enoch Birdsall and Alonzo Webb, two
veteran traders, and several others who would be identified with the
next caravan to leave.

"Thar's one of them danged contraptions, now!" exclaimed Birdsall,
pointing to the holster swinging from Tom's broad belt. "I don't think
much o' these hyar newfangled weapons we're seein' more an' more every
year. An' cussed if he ain't got a double-bar'l rifle, too! Dang it,
Tom, don't put all yer aigs in one basket; ain't ye keepin' no weapons
ye kin be shore on?"

"Thar both good, Enoch," replied Tom, smiling broadly.

"Shore they air," grunted Birdsall's partner. "Enoch don't reckon
nothin's no good less'n it war foaled in th' Revolutionary War, an' has
got whiskers like a Mormon bishop. Fust he war dead sot ag'in
steamboats; said they war flyin' in th' face o' Providence an' wouldn't
work, nohow. Then he said it war plumb foolish ter try ter take waggins
inter Santer Fe. Next he war dead sot ag'in mules fer anythin' but
packin'. Now he's cold ter caps an' says flints war made 'special by th'
Lord fer ter strike fire with--_but_, he rides on th' steamboats when he
gits th' chanct; he's taken waggins clean ter Chihuahua, drivin' mules
ter 'em; an' he's sorter hankerin' fer ter use caps, though he won't
admit it open. Let him alone an' watch him try ter borrer yer new
pistol when th' Injuns try ter stampede th' animals. He's a danged old
fool in his talk, but you jest keep an eye on him. Thar, I've said my
say."

"An' a danged long say it war!" snorted Enoch, belligerently. "It stands
ter reason that thar pistol can't shoot 'em out o' one bar'l plumb down
the dead center of another _every_ time! An' suppose ye want ter use a
double charge o' powder, whar ye goin' ter put it in them danged little
holes? Suppose yer caps hang fire--what then, I want ter know?"

"S'posin' th' wind blows th' primin' out o' yer pan?" queried Zeb.
"S'posin' ye lose your flint? S'posin' yer powder ain't no good?
S'posin' ye ram down th' ball fust, like ye did that time them Crows
tried ter lift our cache. Fine mess ye nigh made o' that! Onct ye start
thar ain't no end o' s'posin', nohow. Caps is all right, _I_ use 'em!"

"_He_ uses 'em!" chuckled Enoch. "Ain't that a sensible answer? Caps is
all right, if _he_ uses 'em! Danged if he don't make me laugh: but he's
a good ol' beaver, at that, Zeb is. As fur rammin' down th' ball fust,
that time; he never told ye about how he swallered a hull mouthful o'
balls when Singin' Fox sent a arrer through his cap, did he?"

Zeb looked a little self-conscious. "Beaver's shore gittin' scarce," he
said.

"Thar's a passel o' Oregoners rendyvouin' out ter Round Grove," said
Hank. "If we're goin' with 'em we better jine 'em purty quick."

Tom shook his head. "I'm aimin' fer th' Arkansas this trip. Goin' ter
try it onct more."

Hank's jaw dropped. "Thar!" he snorted. "Kin ye beat that?"

"Glad ter hear it," said Jim Ogden. "We'll be with ye fur's th'
Crossin'; but ain't ye gamblin', Tom?"

"Armijo shore will run up th' flags an' order out his barefoot army,"
said Hank, grimly, "if he larns o' it. An' he'll mebby need th' army,
too."

"He'll larn o' it," declared Birdsall. "Thar's a passel o' greasers
goin' over th' trail with us--an' shore as shootin' some o' 'em will go
ahead with th' news arter we reach th' Cimarron. Don't be a danged fool,
Tom; you better go 'long th' Platte with th' emigrants."

"Can't do it," replied Tom. "I've give my word an' I'm goin' through ter
Santa Fe. Armijo'll larn o' it, all right. I've seen signs o' that
already. Some greaser fanned a knife at me on th' boat; but I couldn't
larn nothin' more about it."

"Dang my hide if I ain't got a good notion ter let ye go alone!" snorted
Hank, whereat a roar of laughter arose. It seemed that he was very well
known.

"I'll see how things bust," said Ogden. "I war aimin' fer Bent's, but
thar ain't no use o' gittin' thar much afore fall." He thought a moment,
and then slammed his hand on the table. "I'm goin' with ye, Tom!"

"Talkin' like a blind fool!" growled Zeb Houghton, his inseparable
companion. "I'm startin' fer th' fort, an' I'm goin' thar! If you ain't
got no sense, _I_ has!"

Hank laughed and winked at the others. "I'll go with ye, Zeb. Me an'
you'll go thar together an' let these two fools git stood up ag'in a
wall. Sarve 'em right if he cuts 'em up alive. We'll ask him ter send us
thar ears, fer ter remember 'em by."

Zeb's remarks about the Governor of New Mexico caused every head in the
room to turn his way, and called forth a running fire of sympathetic
endorsements. He banged the table with his fists. "Hank Marshall, ye got
more brains nor I has, but I got ter go 'long an' keep that pore critter
out o' trouble. If I don't he'll lose hoss _an'_ beaver!"

A stranger sauntered over, grinned at them and slid a revolving Colt
pistol on the table. "Thar, boys," he said. "Thar's what ye need if yer
goin' ter Santer Fe. I'm headin' fer home, back east. What'll ye give me
fer it, tradin' in yer old pistol? Had a run o' cussed bad luck last
night, an' I need boat fare. Who wants it?"

Enoch Birdsall and Hank Marshall both reached for it, but Hank was the
quicker. He looked it over carefully and then passed it to his partner.
"What ye think o' her, Tom?" he asked.

After a moment's scrutiny Tom nodded and gave it back. "Looks brand new,
Hank. Good pistol. I tried mine out on th' boat comin' up. They shoot
hard an' straight."

Hank looked up at the stranger and shook his head deprecatingly,
starting the preliminary to a long, hard-driven barter; but he hadn't
reckoned on Birdsall, the skeptic.

"Ten dollars an' this hyar pistol," said Enoch quickly.

"Wall!" exclaimed Hank, staring at him. "Dang ye! Eleven dollars an'
_this_ pistol!"

"Twelve," placidly said Enoch.

"Twelve an' a half!" snapped Hank.

"An' three quarters."

"Thirteen!" growled Hank, trying to hide his misery.

Enoch raised again and, a quarter at a time, they ran the price up to
sixteen dollars, Enoch bidding with Yankee caution and reluctance, Hank
with a stubborn determination not to let his friend get ahead of him.
One was a trader, shrewd and thrifty; the other, a trapper, which made
it a game between a canny barterer on one side and a reckless spender on
the other. At twenty-three dollars Birdsall quit, spat angrily at a box,
and scowled at his excited companion, who was counting the money onto
the table. Hank glared at Enoch, jammed the Colt in his belt and bit
savagely into a plug of tobacco, while the stranger, hiding his smile,
bowed ironically and left them; and in a moment he was back again with
another Colt.

"I knowed it!" mourned Hank. "Dang ye, Enoch!"

"Boys," said the stranger, sadly, "my friend is in th' same fix that I
am. He is willin' ter part with his Colt for th' same money an' another
old fashioned pistol. His mother's dyin' in St. Louie an' he's got ter
git back ter her."

"Too danged bad it ain't him, an' you," snorted Hank.

Jim Ogden held out his hand, took the weapon and studied it. Quietly
handing over his own pistol and the money, he held out his other hand,
empty. "Whar's th' mold; an' some caps?"

"Wall," drawled the stranger, rubbing his chin. "They don't go with th'
weapons--they're separate. Cost ye three dollars fer th' mold; an' th'
caps air two dollars a box o' two hundred."

"Then hand her back ag'in an' take th' Colt," said Ogden, slowly
arising. "Think I'm goin' ter whittle, or chew bullets fer it? Neither
one of them guns has even been used. Thar bran' new, an' with 'em goes
th' mold. Jest because I've spent a lot o' my days up on Green River
ain't sayin' I'm green. They named it that because I left my greenness
thar."

"Th' caps air extry," said the vendor of Colt pistols.

"Ain't said nothin' about no caps, yit," retorted Ogden. "I'm talkin'
molds. Gimme one, an' give Hank one; or ye'll both shore as hell miss
his mother's funeral."

The stranger complied, sold some caps and left the saloon in good humor;
but he had not been gone two minutes before Enoch hastily arose and
pleaded that he had to meet a man; and when they saw him again he had a
newfangled contraption in a holster at his belt.

Hank carelessly opened his mold and glanced at it. "Pinted!" he
exclaimed.

Tom explained swiftly and reassured his friends, and then suggested that
they go down to a smithy owned by a mutual friend, and run some bullets.
"We better do it while we're thinkin' about it, an' have th' time," he
added.

"Got lots o' time," said Ogden. "Be three weeks afore th' second caravan
starts. Thar's two goin' out this year. If 'twarn't fer th' early warm
weather on th' prairies th' fust wouldn't 'a' left yet. Th' grass is
comin' up fast."

"Thar's some waggins o' th' second game out ter Council Grove already,"
said Alonzo Webb. "They wanted me an' Enoch ter go 'long with 'em, but
we couldn't see th' sense o' leavin' town so fur ahead o' time, an'
totin' that much more grub. 'Sides, th' roads'll be better, mebby, later
on."

The smith welcomed them and they used his fire during the lulls in his
business.

"Hear Zachary Woodson's goin' out with eight waggins this year," he told
them. "Missed th' fust caravan. Says he'll be tetotally cussed if he's
goin' ter be captain ag'in this year."

"That's what he says every year," grunted Alonzo.

"He'll be captain if we has th' say-so," replied Hank. "Only thing, he's
a mite too easy with th' fools; but thar's goin' ter be less squabblin'
about obeyin' orders this trip than ever afore. We'll see ter that."

While they discussed matters pertaining to the caravan, and ran bullets,
listening to the gossip of the smith's customers, they saw Uncle Joe and
his two wagoners driving his mules toward the shop to have them re-shod.
They shook hands all around and soon Uncle Joe, grinning from ear to
ear, told them that he was going out with the caravan. He was as tickled
as a boy with a new knife.

"Just as I feared," he said in explanation. "I couldn't find any trader
that was takin' any of his women folks along; so there was only one way
out of it. I got to go. An' I don't mind tellin' you boys that it suits
me clean down to th' ground. Anyhow, all I wanted was an excuse. I got a
light wagon for Patience an' me an' our personal belongings, an' I'm
goin' to drive it myself. Bein' th' only woman in th' caravan, fur as I
know, it'll mebby be a little mite hard on her. Reckon she'll git
lonesome, 'specially since she's so danged purty."

When the laughter died down Hank Marshall, shifting his cud to the other
cheek, looked from Uncle Joe to Tom and back again.

"Wall," he drawled, "I war puzzled a little at fust, but now I reckon
I'm gittin' th' hang o' this hyar thing. Tom war shore hell-bent fer ter
go out ter Oregon this year." He paused, scratched his head, and
grinned. "Reckon I kin drive them mules all by myself. 'Twon't be as
though it war th' fust time I've done it."

After a little good-natured banter Tom and Hank left the smithy to look
after their affairs, for there was quite a lot to be done. The next few
days would be busy ones for them both, but especially so for Tom, who
was expected to share his company between Patience, Hank, and Uncle Joe.

As they swung up the street Hank edged to cross it, pointing to
Schoolcraft's corral. "Might as well be gittin' th' mules afore thar all
run over an' th' best took. If he kin skin me in a mule deal I'm willin'
ter abide by it."

"Not there," objected Tom. "I've had some trouble with him. I'll play
pack animal myself before I'll buy a single critter from him."

Hank shook with silent laughter. "_That's_ whar he got it, huh?" he
exulted. "Cussed if he warn't trimmed proper. I might 'a' knowed it war
you as done it by th' way it looked." He shook again and then became
alert "Thar he is now; an' his friends air with him. Keep yer primin'
dry, boy."

"I reckoned I could shake a laig," said a voice behind them, and they
looked over their shoulders to see Jim Ogden at their heels, and close
behind him came his partner; "but you two kiyotes plumb made me hoof it.
What's yer hurry, anyhow?"

The little group in front of the corral gate shifted in indecision and
looked inquiringly at the horse-dealer. There was a difference between
stirring up trouble between themselves and Tom Boyd for the purpose of
manhandling _him_, and stirring it up between themselves and the four
trappers.

Schoolcraft said something out of the corner of his mouth and the group
melted away into the little shack at the corral gate. He remained where
he was, scowling frankly at his enemy.

"Looks like they war a-fixin' ter try it on us," growled Hank, returning
the scowl with interest. "Let's go over an' say how-de-do ter 'em. This
here town's been too peaceable, _anyhow_."

"What's th' trouble?" asked Ogden, curiously, his partner pressing
against him to hear the answer.

"Ain't none," answered Tom. "Thar might 'a' been, but it's blowed over."

"Wall," drawled Ogden. "Ye never kin tell about these hyar frontier
winds. Yer th' partisan o' this hyar expedition, Tom. We'll foller yer
lead. It's all one ter us whar ye go; we're with ye."

Schoolcraft, knowing that trouble with these plainsmen would almost
certainly end in serious bloodshed, shrugged his shoulders and entered
the shack; and after him, from behind the corral wall darted the slender
Mexican.

"Thar!" exclaimed Tom, pointing. "See that greaser? Keep yer eyes
skinned fer him. He's bad medicine."

"Looks like he war fixin' fer ambushin' us, hidin' behind that wall,"
growled Hank.

"He's got a fine head o' hair ter peel," snorted Zeb Houghton, whose
reputation in regard to scalp lifting was anything but to his credit.
The fingers of his left hand closed involuntarily with a curling motion
and the wrist turned suggestively; and the Mexican, well back from the
dirty window of the shack, felt a rising of his stomach and was poor
company for the rest of the day.

The four swung on again, Ogden and his partner soon leaving the party to
go to their quarters, while Tom and Hank went on along the street and
stopped at another horse-dealer's, where they bought two riding horses
and eight broken-in mules, the latter covered with scars. The horses
were broken to saddle and would carry them over the trail; two of the
mules were to carry their necessaries and the other six their small
stock of merchandise, which they now set out to obtain. In procuring the
latter they were very fortunate, for they found a greenhorn who had paid
too much attention to rumors and had decided at the last moment that
trail life and trading in the far west did not impress him very
favorably; and he sold his stock to them almost at their own terms, glad
to get out of his venture so easily. They took what they wanted of it
and then sold the remainder at a price which nearly paid for their own
goods. Leaving their purchases at Uncle Joe's wagons under the care of
his teamsters, they went to his hotel to spend the night.

After supper Hank, who had shown a restlessness very foreign to him,
said that he was going out to take a walk and would return soon. When
Tom offered to go with him he shook his head, grinned, and departed.

The evening passed very pleasantly for Tom, who needed nothing more than
Patience's presence to make him content, and after she had said good
night he accompanied her uncle to the bar for a night-cap. As he
entered the room he thought he saw a movement outside the window, down
in one corner of the sash, and he slipped to the door and peered out. As
he cogitated about scouting around outside he heard Uncle Joe's voice
calling to him over the noise of the crowd and he made his way back to
the bar, drank to the success of the coming expedition, and engaged in
small talk with his companion and those around them. But his thoughts
were elsewhere, for Hank had been gone a long time.

"Uncle Joe, how long have you known your wagoners?" he asked.

"Long enough to know 'em well." The trader regarded him quizzically.
"Not worryin' about your merchandise, are you?"

"I'm wondering where Hank is."

"In some trapper's rendezvous; he'll show up in th' mornin' with nothin'
worse than a headache."

"I'm not treating him right," soliloquized Tom. "A man shouldn't forget
his friends, especially when they're as close as Hank is. I'm goin'
lookin' for him. Good night."

Uncle Joe watched him push his way directly through the crowd, leaving a
few scowls in his wake, and pop out of the door; and the older man
nodded with satisfaction. "A man shouldn't, Tom, my boy," he muttered.
"Stick to them that's stuck to you--always--forever--in spite of hell.
That's good medicine."

A tour of the places where trappers congregated was barren of results
until he had reached the last of such resorts that he knew, and here he
found Enoch Birdsall and Alonzo Webb, who welcomed him with such
vociferous greetings that he knew they had nearly reached the
quarrelsome stage. To his inquiries as to the whereabouts of his partner
they made boisterous replies, their laughter rattling the windows.

"Ol' beaver's settin' a-top his house--no, 'tain't no house. Settin'
a-top yer pile o' goods cached with Cooper's--you tell 'im," yelled
Alonzo, slapping Enoch across the back and nearly knocking him out of
the chair. "You tell 'im, Ol' Buff'ler!"

"Prairie hen on his nest is more like _him_," shouted Enoch, returning
his friend's love tap with interest, whereupon Alonzo missed twice and
fell to the floor.

"Prairie hen on yer nose!" yelled the prostrate trader, trying to swim
toward his partner. "Thar ain't no prairie beaver as kin knock me down
an' _keep_ me thar! Stan' up like a man, ye polecat! An' I kin lick
_you_, too!" he yelled, as Tom avoided his sweeping arm and hastened
toward the door. "Better run! Better run! Git 'im Enoch, ye fool!"

Tom did not reach the front door, for with astonishing speed and agility
for one so far in his cups Enoch, taking up the quarrel of his friend,
whom he presently would be fighting, leaped from the table, vaulted over
a chair, and by some miracle of drunken equilibrium landed on his feet
with his back to the door and swung both fists at the surprised
plainsman. Tom's eyes glinted, and then twinkled. He had few better
friends than these two quarrelsome traders and, stepping back, he leaped
over the prostrate and anything but silent Alonzo and darted out through
the back door, laughing at the furious squabbling he left behind.
Reaching the corner of the building, he fell into his habitual softness
of tread and slipped along the rear of the shacks on a direct course
for the place where his and Cooper's merchandise was stored.
Schoolcraft's corral loomed up in front of him and he skirted it
silently. He almost had reached its far corner when a Mexican's voice,
raised in altercation inside the inclosure, caught his ear and checked
him, balanced on one foot.

"For why he do eet?" demanded the Mexican, excitedly. "I tol' heem that
he mus' leeve Tomaz tr-rade goods by themselves. He ees goin' to Santa
Fe weethout for-rce; an' now eet ees all spoil! For what he do eet? Bah!
For hees revenge he say. What ees hees revenge like Armijo's?"

"Oh, shut yer mouth an' stop yer yowlin'," growled a gruff voice. "Eph
allus knows what he's a-doin'."

The poised listener outside the corral paused to hear no more but was
off like a shadow, his stride a long, swinging lope, for he was too wise
to dash at full speed and waste fighting breath for the sake of gaining
a few seconds. He made his devious way across a plain studded with
wagons, piles of freight and heaps of débris, and before he reached his
objective the sounds of conflict singled it out for him had he been in
any doubt.

The open wagon-shed loomed suddenly before him and he made out a
struggling mass on the ground before it, his partner's grunted curses
and the growls of Cooper's wagoner saving them from his attack. He went
into the mass feet first, landing with all his weight and the momentum
of his run on a crouched man whose upraised arm was only waiting for a
sure opening. The knife user grunted as he went down, and his head
struck the edge of a wagon-wheel with such force that he no longer was
a combatant. Tom had fallen to his knees after his catapulting impact
and when he arose he held a squirming halfbreed over his head at the
height of his upraised arms. One heave of his powerful body and the
human missile flew through the air and struck two of the half-breed's
friends as they sprang to their feet in sudden alarm. They went down
like tenpins and before they could gain their feet again Tom dropped on
one of them, his knees squarely in the pit of the man's stomach, his
right hand on the throat of the other, while his left gripped his
adversary's knife hand and bent it steadily and inexorably back toward
the wrist.

"Th' little bobcat's j'ined us," panted Hank, crawling onto the man he
now rolled under him. "Tom Boyd, Armijo's pet, with his fangs bared an'
his claws out. Take _this_, you----!" he grunted as his shoulder set
itself behind the smashing blow. "How ye makin' out with yer friend,
Abe?" he asked of the other rolling pair.

It seemed that Abe was not making out according to Hank's
specifications, so he crawled over to help him, and reached out a hand.
It fastened onto a skinny neck and clamped shut, whereupon Abe rolled
victoriously free and paused to glower at his victim. His surprise,
while genuine, was of short duration, and he shook his head at the
cheerful Hank and then pounced onto the man who had been used as a
missile, and pinned him to the ground. In a few moments the fight was
over, and the victors grinned sheepishly at each other in the
semi-darkness and re-arranged various parts of their clothing.

"I saw somethin' smash inter th' waggin wheel an' sorta reckoned you
war some'rs 'round," panted Hank. "Then I saw somethin' else sail inter
th' air an' knock over two o' th' thieves. Then I knowed ye war hyar. Me
an' Abe war doin' our best, but we war beginnin' ter slip, like fur at
th' end o' winter."

"Ye mebbe war sheddin' a little," laughed Tom, "but you'd 'a' shed them
thieves afore ye petered out. Tell me about it."

"Thar ain't nothin' ter tell," replied Hank. "I'm nat'rally suspicious
by bein' up in th' Crow country so much o' my time, an' I got ter
thinkin' 'bout Schoolcraft. I'm mostly stronger on hindsight than I am
on foresight, but this hyar's onct I sorta lined 'em both up an' got a
good bead. I snuk up ter his shanty an' heard him an' that thar greaser
chawin' tough meat with each other. So I come down hyar, expectin' ter
lay fer 'em with Abe; but danged if him an' them warn't at it already! I
only got two feet, two han's an' one mouth, an' I had ter waste one foot
a-standin' on it; but th' rest o' me jined th' dance. Then you come.
That's all."

"How long war you two holdin' off th' six o' 'em?" demanded Tom of Abe
with great interest, and thinking that Cooper's trust was well placed.

"'Twarn't long; two comets an' about six hundred stars, I reckon,"
mumbled the shrinking hero between swollen lips. "I war jest gittin' mad
enough to go fur my knife when Hank gits in step with th' music, an'
jines han's with us. What we goin' ter do with 'em?"

"Oh, give 'em a kick apiece an' turn 'em loose without thar weapons,"
suggested Hank.

Tom shook his head. "They come from Schoolcraft; let's take 'em back to
him," he suggested.

"Go ahead!" enthused Abe. Then he scratched his head. "But who's goin'
ter watch th' goods while we're gone? Jake ain't due fer couple o' hours
yet."

"You air!" snorted Hank. "You need a rest, an' us two is shore enough."
He prodded the figures on the ground with the toe of his moccasin. "Git
up, you squaw dogs!" he ordered.

In a moment five thoroughly cowed men were plodding before their guards.
The sixth, who was still wandering about on the far side of the boundary
of consciousness, was across Tom's shoulder. Reaching the horse-dealer's
shanty, the prisoners opened the door by the simple expedient of surging
against it as they shrunk from the pricks of Hank's skinning knife. The
two men inside escaped the crashing door by vaulting over a small table,
and before they could recover their wits in the face of this amazing
return of their friends they were looking down the barrels of two
six-shooters.

Tom dumped his burden onto the table, kicked a chair through a closed
window, swept an open ink bottle onto Schoolcraft's manly stomach, and
made a horrible face at the pop-eyed Mexican. "Hyar they air, polecat,"
he growled. "Any more raids on our goods an' I trail ye an' shoot on
sight. Don't give a cuss who does it, or why; _I'll git you_. If I miss,
Hank won't; an' we both got good friends. Come on, Hank, it stinks in
here."

Tom turned and stalked out, but not so Hank. He backed out behind his
newfangled weapon, pleasantly thinking of its six ready shots, slid
along the outside of the shack and then waited with great hope for a
head to pop out of the door. Having had no chance to try out the Colt he
was curious regarding its accuracy. No head popped, however, and after
a moment he sighed, slipped along the corral wall and crossed the street
when far enough away to be covered by the darkness. Hank had no faith in
hostile humans and did not believe in showing off. The thieving,
treacherous Crows agreed that the brave who took Hank Marshall's scalp
would be entitled to high honors; with the mournful reflection that by
the time it was taken, if ever, the tribe would have paid a very high
price for it.



CHAPTER IX

THE CARAVAN


At last came the day, and the dawn of it showed a cloudless sky, a
sleeping town and a little caravan winding, with rattle of chains and
squeak of harness, past the silent, straggling houses, bound westward
for the "prairie ocean." Despite the mud and the slowness of the going
high spirits ruled the little train. Youth was about to do and dare,
eager for the gamble with fate; and age looked forward to the lure of
the well-known trail even as it looked backward in memory for faces and
experiences of the years gone by. The occasion was auspicious, for the
start was prompt to the minute and earlier than any they would make
later. They were on the luxuriant and better wooded eastern rim of the
great plains, and would be on it for several days.

Joe Cooper, driving the small wagon with Patience seated at his side,
led the way, eager and exultant. Following him closely came his two
great Pittsburg wagons with their still spotless new sheets, each loaded
with nearly three tons of selected merchandise, their immense wheels
grumbling a little as they slid a fraction of an inch along their
well-greased axles, their broad, new tires squashing out twin canyons in
the mud. Next came two emigrant wagons, their proprietors fearing that
they would not reach the Oregon-bound train at its rendezvous in time to
leave with it. Under their stained and patched canvases two women slept
as though in a steady bed, their children at their sides. Weeks of this
traveling had given to them the boon of being able to fall asleep almost
at will. Then came Enoch Birdsall and Alonzo Webb, sober and gay,
abusing each other humorously, each in his own wagon, handling their
strung-out teams with nonchalant ease. Close to the rear of the last
wagon came the eight mules of Tom Boyd and Hank Marshall, four to a
string, followed by their horse-mounted owners; and behind them were Jim
Ogden and Zeb Houghton, each driving two mules before them.

The road was in execrable condition, its deep ruts masked by a mud as
miry as it appeared to be bottomless, and several times the great wagons
were mired so hard and fast that it took the great ox teams of Alonzo
and Enoch, hooked on in addition to the original mule teams, to pull
them out; and the emigrant wagons, drawn by over-worked oxen, gave
nearly as much trouble. The story of their progress to Council Grove
would be tiring, since it would be but little more than a recital of the
same things over and over again--the problems presented by the roads.

At Round Grove they said good-bye to the emigrants, who joined the rear
guard of their own caravan at this point. Along the so-called Narrows,
the little ridge forming the watershed between the Kansas and Osage
rivers, for a stretch extending quite some distance westward from Round
Grove, the roads were hardly more than a series of mudholes filmed over
and masked by apparently firm ground. In some of these treacherous traps
the wagons often sank to the hubs, and on two occasions the bottom of
the wagon-box rested on the mud. It was hopeless to try to pull them
out with the animals so deep in mud, and only by finding more firm
ground along the side of the trail, the use of long chains and the aid
of every draft animal in the train were the huge wagons dragged out. The
men themselves waded into the traps, buried at times almost to the
waist, and put their shoulders to wheels and wagon-boxes and pushed and
heaved and floundered; and they kept their spirits high despite the
penetrating cold of the mire. Under these conditions stops were frequent
to rest both teams and men, the "noonings" were prolonged, camp made
earlier in the evening than was usual and left later in the morning. The
tally of miles was disheartening, and to make matters worse a heavy
downpour of chilling rain fell half a day before they reached 110 Mile
Creek which, besides making everyone miserable and spoiling the cooking,
swelled the stream so much that it was crossed only with the greatest
difficulty.

One of the few things they were grateful for was the fact that they did
not have to keep regular guard watches at night, for while the Kaws and
Osages might steal an animal or two in hope of receiving a little
whiskey, powder, or tobacco for its return, there was no danger of
wholesale stampeding, and a man or two was sufficient to watch the camp.

One pleasant incident occurred when they pulled in sight of Switzler's
Creek, where they found another section of the caravan in camp. The
augmented train now numbered about twenty-six wagons and formed a rear
guard worthy of the name. The weather had cleared again and the sun
shone brightly all the way to Council Grove. To offset the pleasant
effect of joining the other train, it was at Switzler's Creek that a
hard-pushed mule train overtook them. With it came the little Mexican
and half a dozen of his compatriots, and several of Ephriam
Schoolcraft's chosen bullies. At their appearance Hank Marshall found a
new interest in life, and there was very little occurring in the new
mule train that he missed. His habits now became a little similar to
those of the cat tribe, for he resorted to his old trick of dozing while
riding, catching naps at the noonings, before dark and after dawn. With
him awake at night and Tom awake during the day, and with Jim Ogden's
and Zeb Houghton's nocturnal prowlings thrown in the balance, it looked
as though Hank's remark about "nobody ketchin' these beavers asleep"
would be fully justified.

Council Grove was reached one noon, and they learned that they would
have plenty of time to do the many little things neglected on the way,
for they would stay here two days. This was welcome news, as it gave
them an opportunity to let the draft animals rest and feed well in
preparation for the long prairie haul ahead.

Council Grove of the caravan days is worthy of notice. It was the
meeting place as well as the council place for those who were to cross
the prairies together. To it ran the feeding roads, gradually growing as
strands feed a rope, the loose and frayed ends starting from the
Missouri River points and converging as they neared the grove. Named
from a council and a treaty which took place there between a government
commission sent out to survey a wagon road to the Arkansas River, and a
tribe of Osages, in which safety for the traders was obtained from these
savages, it was doubly well named because of the yearly councils which
were held between the traders themselves to perfect the organization of
the caravan.

The grove itself, of oak, ash, hickory, elm, and many other kinds of
trees, was about half a mile wide and extended along the sides of the
little valley of Council Grove Creek, a large tributary of the Neosho
River. With its dense timber, its rich bottom pastures, and fine, high
prairies it made an ideal spot for a rendezvous; and it was about the
last of the really fine and productive country seen from Independence.
Here were hard woods in plenty, the last to be found on the long trip,
from which to obtain replacements for broken axles and other wagon
parts. This also was the farthest point reached by the trains without
real organization, for from here on every important movement was
officially ordered.

Scattered about the beautiful, green little valley were wagons great and
small, and piles of mule packs, each camp somewhat by itself. There was
much calling and getting acquainted, fun and frolic, much hewing of
trees, mending of gear, and, in general, busy preparation for the
journey over the land of the short buffalo grass. Tenderfeet wasted
their time and ammunition at target practice or in hunting for small
game, and loafed to their hearts' content; but the experienced traveler
put off his loafing and play until he knew that he had done everything
there was to be done. There were horse races and mule races and even
ox-team races; tugs of war, running, jumping, and, in fact, everything
anyone could think of to help pass the time.

After a good night's sleep the Cooper party found there was little to do
except to get timber for "spares," and notwithstanding that a spare axle
was slung from under each of the huge freighters, Uncle Joe insisted
that each wagon carry another, and he personally superintended the
cutting. They had been obtained and slung in place beside the others
when a bugle was heard and criers passed among the little camps calling
everyone for roll call. Nearly two hundred persons answered, all but one
of them being men, and then the electioneering began for the choice of
captain. To be a success a caravan must have one head, and the more
experienced he was the better it would be for the caravan.

Now came the real excitement of the day, for party spirit was strong and
insistent, and the electioneering was carried on with such gusto that
several fights grew out of it. There were four parties at first, among
which was Mike Wardell's, comprising the rougher, more lawless frontier
element. He was a close friend of Ephriam Schoolcraft and he had his
admirers outside of his own class, for a group of tenderfeet which was
impressed by his swaggering, devil-may-care manners backed him in a
body; and another group which was solidly behind him was composed of the
poorer Mexican traders. The second of the larger parties with a
candidate in the field, who had been nominated by a series of caucuses,
was made up of the more experienced and more responsible traders,
veterans of the trail who put safety and order above all other
considerations. This party nominated Zachary Woodson, who had more
wagons in the caravan than any other one man, therefore having more at
stake, and who had not missed his round trip over the route for a dozen
years. His nomination split the Mexicans, for half of them had wagons
and valuable freights, and were in favor of the best leadership.

At first Woodson flatly refused to run, sneeringly reminding his friends
of the lack of cooperation he could expect from the very men who needed
law and order and leadership most. He knew by bitter experience that the
captain of a Santa Fe caravan had no real authority and that his orders
were looked upon as mere requests, to be obeyed or not, as the mood
suited. He was obdurate in his refusal until a split occurred in the
other strong party and resulted in a disgraceful fight among its
members, which was kept from having disastrous results only by the
determined interposition of the more resolute members of his own party.
This caused the two smaller factions to abandon their own candidates and
throw themselves against Wardell, and resulted in the overwhelming
election of the man best suited for the position.

His first act after grudgingly accepting the thankless leadership was to
ask for a list of the men, wagons, and pack animals, and he so
engineered the division of them that each section had as its lieutenant
a man whom he could trust and who did not lack in physical courage so
much needed to get some kind of order and to keep it. The great train
was divided into four divisions, at the present to join so as to march
in two columns; but later to spread out and travel in divisional order
of four straight columns abreast, far enough apart so that the width of
the whole front roughly would equal the length of a column.

Next came the arrangement of the watches, the most cordially hated of
all caravan duties. In this train of nearly ninety wagons there were
nearly one hundred and eighty men physically able to stand a guard, and
no one who was able to stand his trick was let off. The captain
preferred the regular and generally accepted system of two watches, each
of four squads, which put one squad on duty for three hours each
alternate night; but there were so many men for this disagreeable task
that he allowed himself to be over-ruled and consented to a three watch
system, six squads to the watch, which put one watch of nine men and a
corporal on duty for two hours every third night. Almost any concession
was worth making if it would arouse a little interest and a sense of
duty in this very important matter of guarding the camp. The corporal of
each squad arranged to shift up one tour each time their squad went on,
which would give no one squad the same hours for its successive tours of
duty. Nothing could have been fairer than this, but there were objectors
in plenty. Each one of the kickers had his own, perfect plan. Some
wanted smaller squads with the same number of watches so that each tour
of duty would be less; some wanted two watches and smaller squads, to
the same end, both of which would have caused endless changing of the
guard, endless awakenings all night long, with practically continuous
noise and confusion. Captain Woodson, having abandoned the regular and
tried system so as to let the men feel a sense of cooperation, flatly
refused to allow any further changes, and in consequence earned the
smoldering grudges of no small number, which would persist until the end
of the trail and provide an undercurrent of dissatisfaction quick to
seize on any pretext to make trouble.

For the division officers he chose the four men he had in mind, after
over-ruling a demand for a vote on them. As long as he was responsible
for the safety of the caravan he declared that it was his right to
appoint lieutenants whom he knew and could trust. The bickering had
fresh fuel and continued strong all day, and it would last out the
journey.

Arranging the divisions so far as possible to put friends together, with
the exception of some of the tenderfoot parties, they were numbered,
from left to right, as they would travel, and he was careful to put the
more experienced plainsmen on the two outside ranks and, where possible,
the better drivers in the two inner columns. These latter had a little
more complex course to follow in case of sudden need to corral the
caravan. For corralling while traveling in two columns, he instructed
the drivers to follow the wagon ahead and to stop when his own wagon
tongue came even with the rim of the rear wheel of the wagon he was
following. In case of corralling in face of danger, they were to swing
their teams to the inside of the leading wagon, so as to have all the
animals on the inside of the corral; in ordinary camping they were to
swing their teams in the other direction, so the animals would be ready
to graze outside of the corralled wagons. They were to pay no attention
to direction or to sudden inspirations, but were blindly to follow the
wagon in front of them and to close up the gaps. The leading driver of
each column would set the curving track which would bring the wagons
into a great ellipse or a circle while moving in the two column
formation.

The first and fourth columns were commanded by Jim Ogden and Tom Boyd,
while the two inner columns were under a trader named Haviland and a
sullen, mean-tempered trader of Independence and a warm friend of
Schoolcraft. His name was Franklin, and while his personal attributes
were unpleasant and he was a leader of the Schoolcraft element, he was
a first class caravan man and had proved his coolness and
resourcefulness in many a tight place. His appointment also served in a
measure to placate the rebellious element, which nursed the thought that
it could do about as it pleased in its own column. Whether they were
right or wrong in this remained to be seen. While the two column
formation was in use the first and second divisions made up one of them;
the third and fourth, the other. To Tom's delight he found that the
Cooper wagons had been assigned to his own division; but as an offset to
this two wagons belonging to gallivanting tenderfeet had been placed
directly behind them. It was not pleasant to think of these dandified
city sports being so close to Patience Cooper all the way to Santa Fe.
Like many men in love, he was prone to discount the intelligence and
affections of the loved one and to let his fears threaten his common
sense.

The first great watch went on duty at seven o'clock that night, more for
the purpose of breaking the men in to their work than for any need of
defense, for no Indian troubles, despite the rumors afloat in
Independence, were to be looked for so far east. There was a great deal
of joking and needless challenging that night and very little attempt to
follow instructions. An Indian likes nothing better than a noisy,
standing sentry; but this savage preference hardly would be shown in the
vicinity of Council Grove. Woodson knew that discipline could not be
obtained and that every man would do as he pleased until the encampment
received a good scare, but his own sense of responsibility impelled him
to make an effort to get it.

The next day was passed in resting, in placing the wagons in their order
of march, and in drilling the drivers in caravan tactics; and that night
the guard was as noisy as it had been the night before. The squad which
went on duty at one o'clock contained two tenderfeet and between them
they succeeded in shattering the monotony.

A quarter of an hour after the guard had been changed tenderfoot Number
One thought he heard a sound and saw a movement. He promptly challenged
and fired in the same instant. His weapon was a double-barreled fowling
piece charged with buckshot, and there was no doubt about the deadly
efficiency of such a combination when the corporal found the carcass of
a mule with a hole in it nearly as big as a hat. The camp was thrown
into an uproar, guns flashed from the wagons to the imminent peril of
the rest of the sentries, and only the timely and rough interference of
a cool-headed trapper kept the two four-pounders from being fired. They
were loaded with musket balls and pebbles and trained on three wagons
not fifty yards from them. Orders, counter orders, suggestions, shouts
for balls, powder, flints, caps, patches, ramrods, and for about
everything human minds could think of kept the encampment in a
pandemonium until sense was driven into the panicky men and the camp
allowed to resume its silence.

Tenderfoot Number Two heard and saw an Indian approaching him and fired
his pistol at the savage. This took place near the end of the same guard
tour. Only his fright and the poor light which made his wobbling aim all
the more uncertain saved the life of his best friend who, restless and
lonely, was going out to share the remainder of the watch with him.
Again pandemonium reigned and weapons exploded, but this time the
cattle stampeded in the darkness, doing the best they could with their
handicap of hobbles.

At dawn the caravan was astir, the blast from the bugle not needed this
time, for almost every man had animals to hunt for and drive in, and as
a result of this breakfasts were late and the whole day's operations
were thrown out of step. Finally after all the stampeded animals had
been rounded up and the morning meal was out of the way, and things done
at the last minute which should have been done the day before,
preparations were started to get under way. Mules and horses broke loose
and had to be chased and brought back; animals balked and kicked and
helped to turn the camp into a scene of noisy confusion. Several parties
found that they had neglected to cut spare axles and forthwith sallied
off to get them. Others frantically looked for articles they had
misplaced or loaned, one wagon being entirely unpacked to find a coffee
pot and a frying pan which someone else later discovered at the edge of
the creek where they had been dropped after they had been washed, their
owner having left them to get a shot at a squirrel he thought he saw.
The forehanded and wiser members of the caravan took advantage of the
delay and turmoil to cut an extra supply of firewood against a future
need, add to their store of picket stakes and also to fill their water
casks to keep them swelled tight beyond question, against the time when
the much dreaded dry stretch should be reached.

At last from the captain's camp the well-known summons of "Catch up!"
was heard, and passed on from group to group along the creek. Those who
had not yet hitched up their teams, almost at every case old hands at
the game who were wise enough to let their animals graze until the last
minute, now exultantly drove in their teams and filled the little valley
with the rattle of chains, the clicking of yokes, the braying of
indignant mules, and their own vociferations. Soon a teamster yelled
"All's set!" and answering shouts rolled up and down the divisions. At
the shouted command of "Stretch out!" whips cracked, harness creaked,
chains rattled and wagons squeaked as the shouting drivers straightened
out their teams. "Fall in!" came next, and the teams were urged into the
agreed-upon order, the noses of the leaders of one team close to the
tailboard of the wagon ahead. The second and third divisions, falling in
behind the first and fourth, made two strings rolling up the long
western slope of the valley toward the high prairie at its crest.

Songs, jokes, exultant shouts ran along the trains as the valley was
left behind, for now the caravan truly was embarked on the journey, and
every mile covered put civilization that much farther in the rear.
Straight ahead lay the trail, beaten into a plain, broad track leading
toward the sunset, a mark which could not be mistaken and which rendered
the many compasses valueless so far as the trail itself was concerned.

The first day's travel was a comparatively short one, and during the
drive the officers rode back along the lines and again explained the
formation which would be used at the next stopping place. This point was
so near that the caravan kept on past the noon hour and did not stop
until it reached Diamond Spring, a large, crystal spring emptying into a
small brook close to a very good camping ground. The former camp no
sooner had been left than the tenderfeet began to show their
predilection to do as they pleased and to ride madly over the prairie in
search of game which was not there, finally gravitating to a common body
a mile or more ahead of the wagons, a place to which they stuck with a
determination worthy of better things.

At Diamond Spring came the first clash against authority, for the
captain had told each lieutenant to get his division across all streams
before stopping. The word had been passed along the twin lines and
seemed to have been tacitly accepted, yet when the wagons reached the
brook many of the last two divisions, thinking the farther bank too
crowded and ignoring the formation of the night encampment, pulled up
and stopped on the near side. After some argument most of them crossed
over and took up their proper places in the corral, but there were some
who expressed themselves as being entirely satisfied to remain where
they were, since there was no danger from Indians at this point. The
animals were turned loose to graze, restrained only by hobbles until
nightfall, the oxen in most cases yoked together to save trouble with
the stubborn beasts until they should become trained and more docile.
They were the most senseless of the draft animals, often stampeding for
no apparent cause; the sudden rattle of a chain or a yoke often being
all that was needed to turn them into a fleshy avalanche; and while the
Indians did not want oxen, they seemed to be aware of the excitable
natures of the beasts and made use of their knowledge to start stampedes
among the other animals with them, much the same as fulminate of mercury
is used to detonate a charge of a more stable explosive.

The first two watches of the night were pleasant, but when Tom Boyd's
squad went on duty an hour before midnight there was a change in the
weather, and before half an hour had passed the rain fell in sheets and
sent some of the guards to seek shelter in the wagons. Two of them were
tenderfeet, one of Schoolcraft's friends and a trader. Tom was the
so-called corporal of this watch and he was standing his trick as
vigilantly as if they were in the heart of the Kiowa or Comanche
country. He carefully had instructed his men and had posted them in the
best places, and he knew where each of them should be found. After half
an hour of the downpour he made the rounds, called the roll and then
slipped back into the encampment in search of the missing men. Not
knowing them well enough at this time he did not know the wagons to
which they belonged, and he had to wait until later to hunt them out.

Dawn found a wet and dispirited camp as the last guard returned to the
wagons an hour before they should have left their posts. Not a fire
would burn properly and not a breakfast was thoroughly cooked. Everyone
seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, and the animals were mean and
rebellious when driven in for the hobbles to be removed and picket ropes
substituted to hold them. Breakfast at last over, the caravan was about
to start when Tom went along his own division and called four men
together.

"Last night you fellers quit yer posts an' slunk back ter yer wagons,"
he said, ominously. "Two of ye air tenderfeet, an' green ter this life;
one is a trader an' th' other is an old hand on th' trail. You all ought
ter know better. I'm lettin' ye off easy _this_ time, but th' next man
that breaks guard is goin' ter git a cussed fine lickin'. If it's
necessary I'll make an invalid out o' any man in my squad that sneaks
off his post. Git back ter yer wagons, an' don't fergit what I've said."

The tenderfeet were pugnacious, but doubtful of their ground; the trader
was abashed by the keen knowledge of his guilt and the enormity of his
offense. He was a just man and had no retort to make. The teamster, a
bully and a rough, with a reputation to maintain, scowled around the
closely packed circle, looking for sympathy, and found plenty of it
because the crowd was anxious to see the corporal, as personifying
authority, soundly thrashed. They felt that no one had any right to
expect a man to stand guard in such a rain out in the cheerless dark for
two hours, especially when it was admitted that there was no danger to
be feared. Finding encouragement to justify his attitude, and eager to
wipe out the sting of the lecture, the bully grinned nastily and took a
step forward.

"Reg'lar pit-cock, ain't ye?" he sneered. "High an' mighty with yer
mouth, ain't ye? Goin' ter boss things right up ter th' hilt, _you_ air!
Wall, ye--I'm wettin' yer primin', hyar an'----"

Tom stopped the words with a left on the mouth, and while the fight
lasted it was fast and furious; but clumsy brute strength, misdirected
by a blind rage, could not cope with a greater strength, trained, agile,
and cool; neither could a liquor soaked carcass for long take the heavy
punishment that Tom methodically was giving it and come back for more.
As the bullwhacker went down in the mud for the fifth time, there was a
finality about the fall that caused his conqueror to wheel abruptly
from him and face the ring of eager and disappointed faces.

"I warn't too busy ter hear some o' th' remarks," he snarled. "Now's th'
time ter back 'em up! If ye don't it makes a double liar out o' ye! Come
on--step out, an' git it over quick!" He glanced at the two pugnacious
tenderfeet. "You two make about one man, th' way we rate 'em out hyar;
come on, both o' ye!"

While they hesitated, Captain Woodson pushed through the crowd into the
ring, closely followed by Tom's grim and silent friends, and a slender
Mexican, the latter obviously solicitous about Tom's welfare. In a few
moments the excitement died down and the crowd dispersed to its various
wagons and pack animals. As Tom went toward his mules he saw Franklin,
the tough officer of the third division, facing a small group of his own
friends, and suddenly placing his hand against the face of one of them,
pushed the man off his balance.

"I'll cut yer spurs," Franklin declared. "Fust man sneaks off guard in
_my_ gang will wish ter G-d he didn't!" He turned away and met Tom face
to face. "We'll larn 'em, Boyd," he growled. "I'm aimin' ter bust th'
back o' th' first kiyote of _my_ gang that leaves his post unwatched. If
one o' them gits laid up fer th' rest o' th' trip th' others'll stand
ter it, rain or no rain. Ye should 'a' kicked in his ribs while ye had
'im down!"

After a confused and dilatory start the two trains strung out over the
prairie and went on again; but the rebellious wagon-owners on the east
side of the creek were not with the caravan. They were learning their
lesson.

The heavy rain had swollen the waters of the stream, stirred up its soft
bed and turned its banks into treacherous inclines slippery with mud.
When the mean-spirited teams had been hooked to the wagons and sullenly
obeyed the commands to move, they balked in mid-stream and would not
cross it in their "cold collars;" and there they remained, halfway over.
In vain the drivers shouted and swore and whipped; in vain they pleaded
and in vain they called for help. The main part of the caravan, for once
united in spirit, perhaps because it was a mean one, went on without
them, knowing that the recalcitrant rear guard was in no danger; the
sullen spirit of meanness in every heart rejoicing in the lesson being
learned by their stubborn fellow travelers. The captain would have held
up the whole train to give necessary assistance to any unfortunate
wagoner; but there was no necessary assistance required here, for they
could extricate themselves if they went about it right; and there was a
much-needed lesson to be assimilated. Their predicament secretly pleased
every member of the main body, which was somewhat humorous, when it is
considered that the great majority of the men in the main body had no
scruples against disobeying any order that did not suit their mood.

Finally, enraged by being left behind, the stubborn wagoners remembered
one of the reasons advanced by the captain the day before when he had
urged them to cross over and complete the corral. He had spoken of the
difficulty of getting the animals to attempt a hard pull in "cold
collars," when they would do the work without pausing while they were
"warmed up." So after considerable eloquence and persistent urging had
availed them naught, the disgruntled wagoners jumped into the cold
water, waded to the head of the teams and, turning them around, got
them back onto the bank they had left after vainly trying to lead them
across. Once out of the creek, the teams were driven over a circle a
mile in circumference to get their "collars warm." Approaching the creek
at a good pace, the teams crossed it without pausing and slipped and
floundered up the muddy bank at the imminent risk of overturning the
wagons. Reaching the top, they started after the plodding caravan and in
due time overtook it and found their allotted places in the lines, to
some little sarcastic laughter. Never after that did those wagoners
refuse to cross any stream at camp time, while their teams were warmed
up and willing to pull; but instead of giving the captain any credit for
his urging and his arguments, wasted the day before, they blamed him for
going on without them, and nursed a grudge against him and his officers
that showed itself at times until the end of the long journey. They
would not let themselves believe that he would have refused really to
desert them.

The caravan made only fifteen miles and camped on a rise of the open
prairie, where practice was obtained in forming a circular corral, with
the two cannons on the crest of the rise. The evolution was performed
with snap and precision, the sun having appeared in mid-forenoon and
restored the sullen spirits to natural buoyancy. The first squad of the
watch went on duty with military promptness, much to the surprise of the
more experienced travelers. Here for the first time was adopted a system
of grazing which was a hobby with the captain, who believed that hobbled
animals wasted too much time in picking and choosing the best grass and
in wandering around. He maintained that picketed animals would eat more
in the same time, and so each wagoner was given a stretch of prairie as
wide as the space occupied by his wagon and reaching out about one
hundred yards, fan-wise, from the corral. Picket ropes of from twenty to
thirty feet in length let each animal of his team graze over a circle of
that radius, the center being a stake of hardwood two inches thick and
about two feet long. Some of the pickets were pointed with iron and had
a band of the same metal shrunk around the upper and near the top to
keep them from splitting under repeated axe blows. Many of the others
had their points hardened by fire, and a pointed hickory or ash picket
so treated will stand a lot of abuse. Before dark the pickets were
shifted to new places and the animals left to graze all night, for
Indian visits still were a matter of the future.

After they had finished their supper and washed and put away the few
utensils, Tom as usual drifted off to spend an hour or two with Uncle
Joe and Patience. He had not been gone long before Hank got up to loosen
a pack to get a fresh plug of smoking tobacco, and caught sight of
Pedro, the Mexican, sauntering toward him. The visitor grinned
cheerfully and sat down by the dying fire, acting as though he had every
reason to be accorded a cordial welcome.

"Hah!" exclaimed the self-invited guest in rare good humor. "Eet ess
good to get out on thee gr-reat pr-rairie; but eet would haf been better
eef we had went weeth thee fir-rst tr-rain. Weeth that tr-rain was thee
tr-roops. We would be better pr-rotect."

Hank was undecided whether he should turn his back on the visitor and
walk away, or grab him by the collar and the slack of his trousers and
throw him from the fire, when habitual cunning made him grunt his
endorsement of the other's remarks. He never was above acquiring what
information he could get, no matter how trivial it might be.

"Yeah," he replied, passing the plug to his guest. "Fill yer pipe, or
make a cigarette," he invited. "Them danged settlements air all right
fer a change, but this hyar is a hull lot better; an' th' mountings air
better'n this. As fer th' dragoons with th' fust train, it's plumb
welcome to 'em. Thar more trouble than thar worth; an' they allus will
be till they larn ter fight Injuns in th' Injun way. Th' idear o' usin'
th' right hand fer a sword an' th' left fer a pistol! I'd ruther be with
a passel o' mounting boys, fur's fightin' Injuns air consarned. Anyhow,
jest when they git whar they're needed most, down on th' edge o' th'
Kiowa an' Comanche country, th' danged dragoons has ter stop."

"But señor; they must not tr-read on Mexican soil," protested Pedro.

Hank grinned and choked down the retort he was about to make, nodding
his head instead. "Shore; that's th' trouble. Now, if that danged
Governor o' yourn would meet th' train at Cimarron Crossin' an' go th'
rest o' th' way with it, thar'd be some sense ter troop escorts. Thar
ain't a sojer along th' worst stretch o' th' whole trail. I'll bet ye we
won't see hide ner hair o' 'em this side o' Cold Spring, when th' danger
from raidin' Injuns is 'most over."

Pedro spread his hands helplessly. "That ees but too tr-rue, señor.
Theese time we weel not see thee br-rave tr-roops of Mexico befor-re we
r-reach thee Wagon Mound."

"Thar!" triumphantly exclaimed Hank. "What did I tell ye? They used ter
git as fur as Cold Spring, anyhow; but now thar waitin' at th' Wagon
Mound. Next thing we know they'll be waitin' at San Miguel fer ter see
us safe th' last fifty miles through th' settlements!"

"Eet ees thee Apaches that ar-re to blame theese time," explained Pedro
with oily smoothness. "They ar-re ver' bad theese year along thee Rio
Gr-rande del Norte. Ver' bad!"

"Yeah," grunted Hank, puffing reflectively on his pipe. "Mexico an'
Texas both claim all that country east o' th' Grande, but th' Apaches
shore own it, an' run it ter suit theirselves. Bad Injuns, they air."

"Thee customs they ar-re ver' str-rict theese year," commented Pedro,
closely watching his companion. "They ar-re ver' har-rd on my poor
countrymen. They keep thee pr-rices so high on all theese goods."

"Tarnation bother," grunted Hank, beginning to get the reason for the
Mexican's interest in him. "Too bad we don't know somebody that kin git
us past 'em," he suggested, hopefully.

Pedro rubbed his hands complacently and helped to maintain a prolonged
silence; which at last was broken by small talk concerning the caravan
and its various members. After half an hour of this aimless conversation
he arose to leave.

"Thee customs, as you haf so tr-ruly said, ar-re ver' gr-reat bother,
Señor Hank. I know thees ver' much, for I haf a br-rother in thee custom
house. We ar-re ver' close, my br-rother an' me. I weel see you again,
señor. Eet ees good that we get acquaint, weeth so ver' many _milla_ yet
to tr-ravel together. _Buenos noches_, señor."

"Good night," replied Hank, carefully pulling the unburned wood out of
the fire to serve for the cooking of the breakfast. He glanced after the
dapper Mexican and grinned, re-roped the pack, and wandered off to join
his trapper friends at their fire.

"Grease is slippery; an' so is greasers," he chuckled. "Wall, thar's
plenty o' time to figger _jest_ what he's arter. Might be cheatin' th'
customs, an' then ag'in it might not."



CHAPTER X

EN ROUTE


Tom's duties as a lieutenant were to supervise his column, ride ahead of
the train on lookout for possible obstructions or dangers, go on ahead
to creeks and see that the banks sloped enough to permit the wagons to
take them safely, to hunt out and bridge morasses and quagmires that
could not be avoided. If the banks were too steep he and others of the
caravan were to ride ahead with axes, shovels, and mattocks and cut a
sloping road through them; if a morass or a treacherous creek bed had to
be crossed they had to cut great numbers of saplings, branches, and
brush and build up a causeway of alternate layers of wood and dirt. This
would not take long and if properly done, every wagon could cross in
safety.

The caravan in movement should have presented a formation of wagons in
orderly array, preceded by the captain and officers, flanked at a good
distance on both sides by well-armed riders, and followed by a fairly
strong rear-guard; but no such ideal formation could be maintained
except under the discipline of a military or paid force. The flankers
rode far and wide searching endlessly for game and usually wound up with
the advance guard, a mile or more ahead. The rear guard dwindled rapidly
and soon joined the others far in advance, leaving the crawling wagons
entirely unprotected from any sudden attack by Indians who might have
lain concealed in one of the numerous prairie hollows.

There were four conditions every twenty-four hours especially liked by
the savages. One was during the night, between midnight and dawn;
another as the caravan got under way, when there was more or less
confusion and the wagons had broken the corral formation enough so it
could not be re-formed quickly; a third was during the day when every
man who did not have to drive was galivanting a mile or more away,
blazing at rattlesnakes or prairie dogs and making a fool of himself
generally, his thoughts on everything except the safety of the train he
had deserted; and the fourth was in the evening just as the animals were
being staked outside, when most of the men were busy with them and some
distance outside the wagon ramparts, many of the more careless being
unarmed. To offset these conditions so favorable to surprise attacks on
the caravan was one of the captain's most important duties, and the
urgent consideration of water and good grass many times complicated his
problems.

Captain Woodson at one time had been a trapper, and his early
experiences with the fur expeditions here stood him in good stead,
especially his knowledge about Indians. He continually hammered at the
men to flank properly and to scour the country on each side of the
caravan for a mile or more and to investigate every hollow and rise
capable of hiding horses. Before he called the halt for the "noonings"
or the encampments in the evenings, he urged that the surrounding
country be well scouted over and everything suspicious reported. For the
crews of the two cannons, which had been changed the morning following
the narrowly averted calamity of a few days back, he had picked men who
appeared to be calm and resourceful, and these weapons trundled along on
their wheeled carriages in a strategic position, their crews ordered not
to leave them unattended at any time during the day's march--but who
cared for orders?

The trail here being easy and plain, the banks of the streams cut by the
previous caravan, Tom dropped back after a brief exploration along the
flanks, which he made because the flankers would not, to join his
partner and their pack train, plodding along on the left-hand side of
Joe Cooper's wagons.

Hank was a placid, easy-going individual and cared little whether or not
he had company. For the last few days he had been highly amused by
watching several pack animals owned and led by tenderfeet, who had
learned neither to follow them nor to load them right. These green
travelers were continually in trouble. If they were not arguing with
mules gone balky because of unevenly distributed loads, or chasing some
running and kicking animal that scattered the contents of its pack far
and wide over the plain, they were collecting their possessions
piece-meal from a score of acres of prairie and hurriedly re-packing
somewhere behind the caravan, cursing, perspiring, out of breath, and
murderously savage. Some of them re-packed more than a dozen times a day
and were hard put even to keep the caravan in sight. Their natural anger
at their misfortunes was turned into a simmering or a coruscating rage,
that ever and anon burst out with volcanic force as they realized the
utter hopelessness of their position. This was for the first few days,
for the wiser ones used their eyes and ears and mouths to good
advantage, and soon got the knack of packing; but there were some who
seemingly were too dumb to learn.

Hank never obtruded any advice, but cheerfully explained the art of
packing to any man who sought him. He and his partner's animals never
shifted a pack on this smooth going, and this fact began to sink into
some of the tenderfeet, and they eagerly took lessons from the veteran.
It was not long before a spilled pack in that column of the train was an
uncommon occurrence. These eight mules behaved in an admirable manner
and there was a good reason for it. When they had been selected, only
those showing the unmistakable signs of the veteran pack mule were
chosen. The marks of the crupper, _aparejo_ and girth never would
disappear. Tenderfeet scornfully would have passed them by and chosen
sleek, smooth-haired animals of far better appearance; but Hank and Tom
did not make this mistake, realizing that here, indeed, beauty was only
skin deep.

Hank judged that it was about time to take full advantage of the mules'
early training and the results were regarded as downright miracles by
the greenhorns, who attempted to duplicate the system, but with
disastrous endings. One of the mules was an old mare, and her actions,
even in the corral at Independence, told Hank all about her. He now took
from a pack a bell and, riding up to the plodding, sedate pack animal,
fastened it around her neck. Then he tied her to the rear of the second
of Cooper's big wagons, until she should learn that this was to be her
place under all conditions, and dropped back farther and farther while
he watched the other seven. At the sound of the tinkling bell they had
pricked up their long ears and rolled them forward; a certain important
dignity came over each one and they went ahead with an air of
satisfaction that was so apparent that it was ludicrous. Hank grinned
and rode off to play rear guard all by himself, well knowing that his
seven animals would follow the old bell-mare wherever she led, whether
he was there or not. Later he rewarded her by changing her pack and
substituting that of the dwindling food supply, which grew lighter after
every camp. When he finally freed her from the wagon she moved up
alongside the off-wheel mule, for whom she seemed to have an abiding
affection, and from then on she would not stray from his side, nor her
seven followers from her.

On this occasion when Tom returned and found his partner absent, he
surmised that the trapper was off looking for an antelope to vary the
monotony of their fare and to save their bacon and flour. Until the
buffalo country was reached the caravan had to live on flour, bacon, and
perhaps beans, of which each traveler had a limited supply. The chief
reliance for food was the buffalo, and their range was still well ahead.
Tom and Hank, however, not knowing what contingency awaited them on the
Mexican end of the trail, had far exceeded the regular allowance per
man, of fifty pounds of flour, same of bacon, dozen pounds of coffee,
twenty-five pounds of sugar, and a goodly amount of salt. Topping one of
the packs, and dwarfing the patient mule nearly hidden under the load,
were two ten-gallon water casks, each with a few quarts sloshing around
inside. At every stop these kegs were shifted a little so as to give
each portion of them a soaking in turn. The powder, two twenty-five
pound kegs covered with oiled cloth and over that with a heavy, greased
bull-buffalo leather, were in the same packs with the bar lead and a
reserve supply of caps and patches. The bullet molds, nipple wrenches,
and other small necessaries were carried in their "possible" sacks, each
being a beautifully beaded and quilled bag obtained in their trade with
the Indians. Along with the ammunition each had packed a buffalo-hide
bag, fitted with shoulder, breast, and head lines; and should it become
necessary for them to disappear, without a mule, they were equipped to
remain in the mountains and hills for a long time. Later on they would
pack the big bags and keep them ready for instant use.

Tom found not only that his partner had gone, but that the city sports,
tiring of aimless riding ahead, had fallen back to the train and were
now riding leg to leg on both sides of Joe Cooper's small wagon, vying
with each other in their endeavors to be entertaining to Patience. They
were laughing uproariously when the plainsman appeared and one of them,
Dr. Whiting, acknowledged his introduction to Tom with an ironical grin.
Here, he thought, was a mountain yokel all ripe to play target for his
shafts of satire. He would shine out resplendently against this ignorant
plainsman and have a lot of fun in the bargain.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, his mouth open in pretended admiration. "Regular
Daniel Boone! I suppose you know how to bark squirrels; and barking
buffaloes must be an old trick with you by this time."

Tom regarded him thoughtfully. He did not mind the words, but the tone
in which they were spoken was distinctly offensive. He smiled
pleasantly. "Thar ain't no squirrels ter bark on th' prairies; but thar
air some barkin' prairie dogs, though they mostly chatter 'stead o'
bark. They set up an' make a lot o' noise, but don't amount to nothin'.
Th' funny part o' it is, th' dumber they air th' more they chatter. As
fer bein' Dan'l Boone, tenderfeet mostly find it a boon ter have a Dan'l
handy afore this air trail is left." He gravely acknowledged the
introduction to the others and looked at Patience again, and from her
back to the saddled horse tied to the rear of the wagon. "Feel like a
little ride, Miss Cooper" he asked. "Must be tirin' settin' up thar mile
arter mile listenin' to th' chatterin'."

She nodded, holding back her laughter, and Tom led up the horse.

"But, Miss Cooper!" expostulated the doctor. "What are we going to do
without you? We are desolate! Might I offer you a noble escort, six
trusty, knightly blades to flash in your defense?"

She smiled sweetly but shook her head. "When we reach the Indian country
I will be very glad to accept such an escort; but out here I would not
think of imposing on your generosity. This seems to be Mr. Boyd's
expedition; perhaps he may invite you."

Tom shook his head sadly. "Reckon I'll have all I kin do to look arter
Miss Cooper in case we meets airy Injuns, without botherin' with six
_flashes_. See you-all later, mebby."

They drew rein and waited for the crawling column to pass them, smiling
and nodding in reply to the cheerful salutations of the wagoners and
traders. Pedro, the slender Mexican, who took such a deep interest in
the doings of Tom Boyd, removed his wide hat and bowed, in true cavalier
fashion, showing his gleaming teeth in a pearly smile. The interest the
plainsman was showing in his pretty companion was an assurance that Tom
Boyd would need no further persuasion to enter the Mexican settlements.
Franklin, the leader of the third division, temporarily the second
section of Tom's column, allowed himself the luxury of a sullen smile.
He knew his part in the scheme of Pedro and Schoolcraft perfectly and
had no thought of deviating from it, but he could not help admiring the
upstanding plainsman, who was a man after his own heart. They were bound
together by a common interest, the safety of the caravan, and until they
were met by the escort of Mexican cavalry, somewhere near Rock Creek or
the Canadian River, Franklin gave little heed to personal grudges. All
he was supposed to do was to see that the plainsman did not leave the
caravan for good before the escort met it.

The two four-pounders trundled along their rumbling way, only one man to
each gun, the rest of their crews off with the advance guard. Tom
glanced at the all but deserted weapons and frowned. Franklin, noticing
it, frowned in reply. It was not because full cannon crews were needed
on this part of the trail, but because both men knew that it would be
the same all the way.

After the last wagon had passed, Tom and his companion rode forth and
turned when half a mile from the column, riding ahead on a course
parallel with it. The prairie was studded with the earlier flowers of
spring, in some places a rich carpet of delicate colors. Suddenly Tom
pointed to a gray object nearly covered with earth, dried grass of the
year before, and the fresh greenery of this season's slender blades
pushing up through it.

"Buffalo skull," he explained. "Let's look at it; it may tell us
something interesting."

They rode close to it and the plainsman nodded in quick understanding.

"That bull was killed by an Indian," he said. "Notice that it faces the
west? They place them that way to propitiate their gods. A skull hardly
lasts more than three years on the prairie, which means that this animal
was killed about that long ago. It is more than likely that he was an
old, renegade bull, wandering far from the herd to die alone. The
significant fact is, however, that not more than three years ago he
grazed here and was here killed by an Indian; coupled to that is another
significant fact, about one hundred thousand buffalo skins are taken to
the settlements every year. Remembering both those facts and adding
another, that it will be some days before we see even such a bull on the
very outskirts of the buffalo range, what does it mean? And here is a
fact I nearly overlooked; those hundred thousand skins taken each year
are from cow buffalo." He shook his head sadly. "The day of the buffalo,
countless as their numbers still are, is fast setting. Their range is
shrinking hour by hour, almost; and a comparatively few years more will
see them gone. Wait till you witness the brainless slaughter when the
herds are met with. Ah, well, we are a prodigal race, Miss Cooper,
spending our natural heritage with almost a drunken recklessness. If it
were drunken there might be found some excuse for us; but we are doing
it in our sober senses. Excuse me, when I get to thinking along those
lines I'm afraid I get a little fanatical. There's something more
interesting," he said, pointing to the north. "See it?"

After a moment's intense scrutiny she shook her head, and looked up at
him inquiringly.

"I forget that you haven't a plainsman's eyes," he laughed, "accustomed
to focussing for long distances. Why, over there, well beyond that
series of flat-topped prairie swells, is a red handkerchief waving
lazily in the air. It is fastened to a ramrod, and I'm willing to bet
that it belongs to Hank Marshall. He has been grumbling about a steady
diet of bacon. Now that we are getting into antelope country, his
disappearance from his trained mules is easily explained. I can promise
you and Uncle Joe antelope meat tonight. He never would have planted
that flag if he hadn't seen his victim; and while we are a long way off,
let's ride on so he won't be able to blame us if he fails to get his
shot."

Patience was laughing heartily, and hurriedly explained the cause of her
mirth.

"I saw him tie the bell to that old mule's neck. The sudden pride she
showed, the quick alertness of the other seven, and the satisfaction
shared equally by the mules and your partner was one of the most
ludicrous sights I've ever seen. When Uncle Joe, who was in his best
vein, explained the whole affair, I laughed until I cried. Is it true
that the seven worshipers won't leave her?"

Tom, laughing in sympathy with her mirth, nodded. "Picket her, with her
bell on, and we can let the others graze without hobbles or ropes. They
won't leave her. Don't ask me why, for if you do I can only answer by
saying that they have been trained that way; why it is possible for them
to be trained in such a way, and so easily, is beyond me. When we left
Independence Hank and I caught many a scornful glance directed at our
_atejo_, for I must confess that it was made up of eight scarecrows; but
handsome is as handsome does, and now our pack train troubles are
confined solely to packing and unpacking the animals. We don't even have
to remember what pack or _aparejo_ belongs to each mule; they know their
own unerringly, and will shower kicks on any careless or stupid
companion who blunders up to the wrong pack. Perhaps you've heard that
mules are stupid; that's something that you can discount heavily. They
are stupid only when it serves their purpose." He laughed again. "We
have one mule that takes a thrashing every morning, regular as a clock.
Hank calls him 'Dummy,' but I am not sure that he is well named. I can't
decide whether he is dumb or perverse. But the fact remains that he
never selects his own pack, and gets kicked along the line until he
reaches it by elimination. I shall enjoy studying him as we go along."

As they jogged on, a strip of timber running almost at right angles to
their course and thinning out to the north in about the same proportion
that it thickened to the south, came in sight and Tom knew it to be
Cottonwood Creek, and their last glimpse of the waters of the Neosho. He
well remembered the somewhat sharp bend formed by it on the farther
side, which was taken advantage of by some caravans and the corral
formation ignored. A line of closely spaced wagons across the neck of
the bend made corral enough.

"Well, we better get back to the caravan," he said. "While the creek is
all right there are many who are only waiting for a chance to cry that
the officers are remiss in their duties. I'll leave you with your uncle,
well guarded by six trusty knights, and go ahead with the advance
guard."

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and the repression of
her smile did not seriously affect the witchery of the dimples.

"I was a little afraid that I might become lonesome on this long
journey; but things have turned out splendidly. Don't you think Dr.
Whiting has a very distinguished air?"

"Very; it would distinguish him out of hundreds," replied Tom, scowling
at the timber fringe ahead. "He is quite impressive when he is silent.
It's a pity he doesn't realize it."

He turned in the saddle and looked behind. "What did I say? There comes
Hank, with an antelope slung before his saddle. I doubt if the doctor
would need the red handkerchief; antelope are notoriously affected by
anything curious."

She turned away and regarded the caravan studiously. "Isn't every man
expected to do his share in the general duties?" she asked.

"Yes; but most of them dodge obligations. When we left Council Grove
more than half of the members of the train were friendly to Woodson. By
the time we leave Cimarron his friends will be counted on the fingers of
your two hands. That is only what he expects, so it won't come as an
unpleasant surprise."

"What is the doctor's party supposed to do?"

"Two of them have been assigned to the rear guard; the other four, to
our right flank. They can be excused somewhat because of their
greenness. Besides, they only came along for the fun of it. In the
college of life they are only freshmen. Its seriousness hasn't sunk in
yet. The majority of the shirkers should know better, and have their
fortunes, meagre as they may be, at stake. Well, here we are. You don't
know how much I've enjoyed our ride. Uncle Joe," he said as Patience
settled into the wagon seat, "here she is, safe and sound. I'll drop
around with some antelope meat by the time you have your fire going."

"It's been ten years since I've broiled game over a fire," chuckled the
driver. "I'm anxious to get my hand in again. Thank you, Tom."

Tom fastened the horse to the rear of the wagon, waved to his friends,
and loped ahead toward the nearing creek.



CHAPTER XI

INDIAN COUNTRY


After an enjoyable supper of antelope meat, Hank Marshall drifted over
to visit Zeb Houghton and Jim Ogden, and judging from the hilarity
resulting from his call, it was very successful. The caravan was now
approaching the Indian country and was not very far from the easternmost
point where traders had experienced Indian deviltry. Neither he nor his
friends were satisfied with the way guard was kept at night, and he
believed that a little example was worth a deal of precept. On his way
back to his own part of the encampment he dropped over to pay a short
visit to some tenderfeet, two of whom were to mount guard that night.
Jim Ogden, sauntering past, discovered him and wandered over to borrow a
pipeful of tobacco.

"Wall," said Ogden, seating himself before the cheerful fire, "'twon't
be long now afore we git inter buffaler country, an' kin eat food as is
food. Arter ye sink yer teeth inter fat cow an' chaw a tongue or two,
ye'll shore forgit what settlement beef tastes like. That right, Hank?"

"It's shore amazin' how much roast hump ribs a man kin store away
without feelin' it," replied Hank. "But thar's allus one drawback ter
gittin' inter th' buffaler range; whar ye find buffaler ye find Injuns,
an' nobody kin tell what an Injun's goin' ter do. If they only try ter
stampede yer critters yer gittin' off easy. Take a Pawnee war-party,
headin' fer th' Comanche or Kiowa country, fer instance. Thar off fer
ter steal hosses; but thar primed ter fight. If thar strong enough a
caravan'll look good ter 'em. One thing ye want ter remember: if th'
Injuns ain't strong, don't ye pull trigger too quick; as long as yer
rifle's loaded thar'll be plumb respectful, but soon's she's empty, look
out."

"I've been expecting to see them before this," said one of the hosts.

"Wall, from now on mebby ye won't have ter strain yer eyes," Hank
remarked. "They like these hyar timber fringes, whar they kin sneak
right up under yer nose. They got one thing in thar favor, in attackin'
at night; th' twang o' a bowstring ain't heard very fur; but onct ye
hear it ye'll never fergit th' sound. Ain't that so, Jim?"

Jim nodded. "Fer one, I'm keepin' an eye open from now on. Wall, reckon
I'll be movin' on."

"Where do you expect to run into Indians?" asked one of the men near the
fire.

Jim paused, half turned and seemed to be reflecting. "'Most any time,
now. Shore ter git signs o' 'em at th' little Arkansas, couple o' days
from now. May run inter 'em at Turkey Creek, tomorrow night."

Hank arose, emptied his pipe, and looked at Jim. "Jine ye, fur's our
fire," he said, and the two friends strolled away. They had not been
gone long when two shadowy figures met and stopped not far from the
tenderfeet's fire, and held a low-voiced conversation, none of which,
however, was too low to be overheard at the fire.

"How'd'y, Tom."

"How'd'y, Zeb."

"On watch ter night?"

"No; you?"

"No. Glad of it."

"Me, too."

"This is whar Taos Bill war sculped, ain't it?"

"They killed 'im but didn't git his ha'r."

"How'd it happen?"

"Owl screeched an' a wolf howled. Bill snuk off ter find out about it."

"Arrer pizened?"

"Yes; usually air."

"Whar ye goin'?"

"Ter th' crick fer water."

"I'm goin' ter see th' capting. Good night."

"Good night; wish it war good mornin', Zeb."

"Me, too. Good night."

At that instant an owl screeched, the quavering, eerie sound softened by
distance.

"Hear that?"

The mournful sound of a wolf floated through the little valley.

"An' that? Wolves don't generally answer owls, do they?"

"Come along ter th' crick, Zeb. Thar ain't no tellin'."

"I'm with ye," and the two figures moved silently away.

The silence around the camp-fire was profound and reflective, but there
was some squirming and surreptitious examination of caps and flints. The
questioning call of the hoot owl was answered by a weird, uncanny,
succession of sharp barks growing closer and faster, ending in a
mournful, high-pitched, long-drawn, quavering howl. The noisy activity
of the encampment became momentarily slowed and then went on again.

The first guard came off duty with an apparent sense of relief and grew
very loquacious. One of them joined the silent circle of tenderfeet
around the blazing fire.

"Phew!" he grunted as he sat down. "Hear those calls?" His question
remained unanswered, but he did not seem surprised. "When you go on,
Doc?" he asked.

"One o'clock," answered Dr. Whiting. He looked around pityingly.
"Calls?" he sneered. "Don't you know an owl or a wolf when you hear
one?" There was a lack of sincerity in his voice which could not be
disguised. The doctor was like the boy who whistled when going through
the woods.

Midnight came and went, and half an hour later the corporal of the next
watch rooted out his men and led them off to relieve the present guard.
He cautioned them again against standing up.

"To a Injun's eyes a man standin' up on th' prairie is as plain as
Chimbly Rock," he asserted. "Besides, ye kin see a hull lot better if
yer eyes air clost ter th' ground, lookin' agin' th' horizon. Don't git
narvous, an' don't throw th' camp inter a scare about nothin'."

An hour later an owl hooted very close to Dr. Whiting and he sprang to
his feet. As he did so he heard the remarkably well imitated twang of a
bowstring, and his imagination supplied his own interpretation to the
sound passing his ear. Before he could collect his panic-stricken senses
he was seized from behind and a moment later, bound with rawhide and
gagged with buckskin, he lay on his back. A rough hand seized his hair
at the same instant that something cold touched his scalp. At that
moment his attacker sneezed, and a rough, tense voice growled a
challenge from the darkness behind him.

"Who's thar?" called Tom Boyd, the clicking of his rifle hammers sharp
and ominous.

The hand clutching the doctor's hair released it and the action was
followed by a soft and hurried movement through the woods.

"Who's thar?" came the low growl again, as Tom crept into the bound
man's range of vision and peered into the blackness of the woods.
Waiting a moment, the plainsman muttered something about being mistaken,
and departed silently.

After an agony of suspense, the bound man heard the approach of another
figure, and soon the corporal of his guard stopped near him and swore
vengefully under his breath as his soft query brought no answer.

"Cuss him," growled Ogden, angrily. "He's snuk back ter camp. I'll peg
his pelt out ter dry, come daylight." He moved forward to continue his
round of inspection and stumbled over the doctor's prostrate form. In a
flash the corporal's knife was at the doctor's throat. "Who air ye?" he
demanded fiercely. The throaty, jumbled growls and gurgles which
answered him apprised him of the situation, and he lost no time in
removing the gag and cutting the thongs which bound the sentry. "Thar,
now," he said in a whisper. "Tell me about it."

The doctor's account was vivid and earnest and one of his hands was
pressed convulsively against his scalp as if he feared it would leave
him.

Ogden heard him through patiently, grunting affirmatively from time to
time. "Jest what I told th' boys," he commented. "Wall, I reckon they
war scared away. Couldn't 'a' been many, or they'd 'a' rushed us. It war
a scatterin' bunch o' bucks, lookin' fer a easy sculp, or a chanct ter
stampede th' animals. Thievin' Pawnees, I reckon. Mebby they'll come
back ag'in: we'll wait right hyar fer 'em, dang thar eyes."

"Ain't you going to alarm the camp?" incredulously demanded the doctor,
having hard work to keep his teeth from chattering.

"What in tarnation fer? Jest 'cause a couple o' young bucks nigh got yer
h'ar? Hell, no; we'll wait right hyar an' git 'em if they come back."

"Do you think they will?" asked the doctor, trying to sound fierce and
eager.

"Can't never tell what a Injun'll do. They left ye tied up, an' mebby
want yer h'ar plumb bad. Reckon mebby I ought ter go 'round an' warn th'
rest o' th' boys ter keep thar eyes peeled an' look sharp fer 'em;
'specially them nigh th' animals. Bet ye stood up when ye heard 'em?"

"Yes, I did; but I'll never do it again!"

"Thought so. Now you lay low out hyar till I tells th' others. Be back
soon," and before any reply could be made the corporal had become
swallowed up in the night. The weather was not warm, yet Doctor Whiting
sweat copiously, and after he had been relieved and sent back to the
encampment he had great trouble in falling asleep.

Hank Marshall slipped up behind Jim Ogden as that person came in, and
imitated the significant twang. Jim jumped a foot in the air and then
bent over, convulsed with silent laughter.

"Dang ye, Hank; I don't know how ye do it!" he exclaimed. "I never heard
th' like. Thar'll be one bunch o' greenhorns lyin' flat, an' all eyes
an' ears from now on. I war weak from laughin' afore I went out to
stumble over him. When th' guard war changed they couldn't hardly find
him, he war spread out so flat. Jest like a new born buffaler calf that
its maw has cached in a bunch o' grass. Bet ye could fool an Injun with
that thar twang."

"I've did it," said Hank, chuckling.

The next morning Dr. Whiting was quite a hero, and as the caravan left
the creek he rode by the side of Patience, talking until he had
thoroughly exhausted the subject. After he had left her to go
helter-skeltering over the prairie a mile ahead in eager and hopeful
search of buffalo, Hank Marshall rode up to the wagon and took his
place.

He listened to Patience's excited comment about the doctor's narrow
escape, and then, picking up the reins, twanged sharply, winked at her,
and rode off to the flanking line. She stared after him for a moment and
then stuffed her handkerchief into her mouth. When she had command over
herself again she turned indignantly toward her chuckling uncle.

"Just the same, it was a mean trick!" she declared.

"Giddap," said Uncle Joe, and chuckled all the more.

"But it was!"

"It learned 'em all a lesson," he replied. "May save their fool lives,
and ours, too. Giddap!"

It was a long haul to Turkey Creek, but the caravan made it and was
corralled before dark. Buffalo signs had been seen shortly before the
creek was reached, and when old Indian signs were found near the camp
site, the day's excitement took on new life. A broken lodge-pole, some
odds and ends of tanned hides and a discarded moccasin, somehow
overlooked by the Indians' dogs, were discovered near the blackened
spots on the prairie where camp-fires had burned. The night passed
quietly, every sentry flat against the earth and trying to rob the
senses of smell and touch to enrich those of sight and hearing.

In leaving the creek, the two column formation was abandoned and the
wagons rolled up the little divide in four evenly spaced divisions.
There was some semblance of flankers and a rear guard now, and even the
cannons were not forsaken. Then came the great moment.

Two hours after the creek had been left the first herd of buffalo was
sighted. That it was a small one and more likely to provide tough bull
rather than fat cow, made no difference; rear guard, flankers, and
cannon were forgotten in one mad, frantic, and ridiculous rush. Men
dashed off toward the herd without even their pistols. In ten minutes a
moderate sized war-party could have swept down on the caravan and had
things nearly their own way. There would have been no buffalo meat in
camp that night except that the experienced hunters with the advance
guard managed to down two cows and three bulls before the yelling,
excitement-maddened crowd stampeded the little herd and drove it all
over the prairie.

One tenderfoot, better mounted than his fellows, managed to keep up with
a running bull, firing ball after ball into it as fast as he could
re-load. He was learning that a bull-buffalo was a hard animal to kill,
and when it finally wheeled and charged him, he also learned that it was
willing to fight when goaded and made desperate with wounds. Another
greenhorn, to get better aim, dismounted and knelt on the earth. With
the roar of his gun his horse, with all its trappings, gave one snort
and ran away, joining the herd and running with it. It was an hour
before anyone had time to listen to his entreaties, and then it was too
late to go after the runaway animal. He hoofed it back to the caravan,
an angry but wiser man, and was promptly robbed by the man from whom he
bought a horse.

It was an open question whether buffalo tongue or beaver tail was the
better eating, but no one in the caravan had any fault to find with the
portions of buffalo meat which fell to their lot. Despite the toughness
and tastelessness of the old bull meat, it was the first fresh meat they
had enjoyed since leaving Independence, with the exception of the few
who had shared in Hank's antelope, and its poor qualities were
overlooked. No one had a chance to gorge himself and to learn that
overeating of buffalo flesh causes no distress. They found the meat with
the fat and lean more intermixed, juicier, and of a coarser grain than
beef. The choice bits were from the tongue, the udder came next in
merit, followed by the hump-ribs, tenderloins, and marrow bones. They
were fortunate in the selection of the bulls which had been killed, for
they were quite fat and in this condition ran the cow meat a close race;
all but one old bull, which was tough and stringy beyond belief. Despite
the fact that the next camp spot was not very far ahead, the caravan
nooned on the open prairie for the cooking of the fresh meat.

The captain signalled for the four-square corral and the evolution was
creditably performed. The animals were unhitched and staked outside the
enclosure and soon many fires were burning around the encampment and the
savory odors of broiling buffalo meat arose on all sides. Coffee pots
steeped or boiled at every fire, for coffee was the one unstinted drink
of the caravan. It was not long before the encampment was surrounded by
groups seated around the fires, most of the men eating with their
fingers, Indian fashion, and from the universal satisfaction shown it
was evident that buffalo meat had been given a high place by every
palate. In contrast to a steady diet of bacon it was a feast fit for
epicures. The travelers cared little about their good fortune in finding
cows with the first small herd, instead of the usual vanguard or outpost
of bulls, for the cows had been there and they had obtained two of them.
Two hours later the caravan was moving again, and late that afternoon
reached the Little Arkansas, where the first trouble with a treacherous
river bed was experienced.

Knowing what was in store for them, the captain and his lieutenants went
ahead with a force of workers to cut a way through the steep banks and
to bridge the muddy bed. They found that the banks had been cut by the
preceding caravan, but the causeway by now was useless, except as a
foundation for a new one. The stream was not very wide, but made up for
that by the meanness of its bottom. The trees and brush along the banks
provided material for the temporary causeway and it did not take long to
build up a "bridge."

The more or less easy-going manner of the captain changed here and his
commands had a snap to them that should have given them an unquestioned
weight. Because of the restricted space chosen for the camp, the
circular corral was formed, and as the divisions reached and crossed the
causeway they fell in behind the last wagon of the one ahead and crawled
around until the circle was complete and compact. All animals were to be
staked outside the circle until twilight and then driven inside and
hobbled for the night. Care was taken to see that there were but few
gaps between the wagons and that those were securely closed by chains.

The length of the first tour of guard duty was increased considerably,
for the first watch went on as soon as the wagons stopped. They were
getting fairly into the Indian country now. Directly north of them lay
the range of the Pawnees; to the west of that the home of the Cheyennes;
directly west of the Little Arkansas roamed the Arapahoes, and to the
southwest were the Kiowas and Comanches, both of the latter superb
cavalrymen. The last three tribes were being stirred by jealous New
Mexicans to harass the caravans. And the interest of all these tribes,
and of others beyond them in several directions, was centered on the
prairie between the Little Arkansas and the valley of the Arkansas,
eastward from where the latter river left the mountains. This was the
great range of the buffalo, and the buffalo was food, clothing,
habitation, and figured very largely in other necessaries of the savage
tribes.

The peculiar, curving, and ever-shifting migration of the great herds
was followed by hunting parties, which became war-parties in a wink.
Many were the bloody battles fought between the tribes on that stretch
of prairie between the Little Arkansas and the two Coon Creeks. The
Pawnees claimed sovereignty over that part of the country around Pawnee
Rock, but it was one that the tribe did not dare to enjoy with any
degree of permanence. Raiding parties from the south, west, and north
constantly challenged their title, and because of these collisions
hardly a hunting party dared show itself unless in strength. There were,
it is true, small bands roaming the plains, especially after dark, which
traveled on foot; but these were out with the avowed and set purpose of
stealing horses, on which, if successful, they made their escape and
rode home. This especially was a Pawnee trick, and especially adept were
the Pawnees in creeping up to a herd of draft animals and stampeding the
whole bunch. More than one party of traders had thus been left afoot in
mid-prairie and forced to abandon what they could not carry on their
backs. While the Pawnee country was supposed to be north of the Platte,
up around the Loup Fork, they often raided in force well into the
Comanche and Apache country and were as much at home on the south side
of the Arkansas River as on any other part of the plains.

When the orders came to drive the animals inside the corral and hobble
them, there was a great deal of complaint. It was contended that they
could not get food enough in such a restricted space, crowded as it
would be with horses, oxen, and mules; that they would injure each
other; that there would be great trouble in each man getting his own in
the morning; that they would burst through some weak spot and wander
away during the night. To all these objections the captain remained
obdurate. Any man who left his animals outside the corral and lost them
would not be given replacements at the expense of other teams, and could
make what shift he thought best for the transportation of his
merchandise.

Tom and his trapper friends, with some of the more experienced traders,
went among the grumblers and labored with them, preaching that from now
on the utmost, unremitting vigilance would be necessary day and night,
for the danger of losing the animals would grow with every mile and
would not cease until the Mexican settlements were nearly in sight. And
the worse the weather was, the greater would be the need to be alert;
for with tumultuous Nature to arouse the excitability of the animals and
to mask the movements of the Indians, a savage raid would scarcely fail
to cause a wholesale stampede unless the strictest watch was maintained.
To make up for the poor grazing inside the corralled wagons, the
picketing outside the circle in the evening would be supplemented by
more grazing on the outside before leaving in the morning. This would
necessitate later starts, but it could not be avoided.

Tom and Hank were not quite through eating their evening meal when Pedro
paid them a visit.

"Ah, señores," he beamed, "I haf laughed thees day! Just like my Mexico
eet was to see thee _atejo_ that you haf! Thee _mulera_ weeth her seven
childr-ren mar-rching behind her like _soldats_!" He leaned back and
laughed heartily, his teeth gleaming like old ivory.

Hank grinned and glanced at Tom. "If she'd only lead 'em 'round th'
customs we'd think a hull lot more o' her. It riles me ter have ter pay
ter git our goods inter a town arter such hard work gittin' 'em _to_
it."

"Ah," replied Pedro, smiling broadly. "That ees thee law," he reproved
them. "But I deed not know you were going to Santa Fe, señores. Eet was
said somewhere, by somebody, I do not remember who, that you were going
to thee Señor Bent on thee Arkansas. To hunt and to tr-rap, was eet
not?"

Tom emptied his pipe and blew through the stem. "No," he said. "We're
goin' ter Santa Fe. After we sell th' goods we aim ter go up ter Bent's
for th' fall an' winter huntin' an' trappin'. Takes a lot o' money ter
outfit two men th' way they should be, fer a hull season in the
mountains." He grinned. "That's why we're packin' goods ter Santa Fe.
Got to raise some money." Arising he nodded to his guest. "Now, if ye'll
excuse me, friend, I'll leave ye with Hank. See ye later, mebby?"

Pedro nodded and laughed heartily, wagging an accusing finger at the
young plainsman. "Ah, what should keep a br-rave _caballero_ from sooch
a señorita! Pedro has eyes, señor; an' Pedro, he weesh you ver' _mucho_
luck. He weesh you so ver' _mucho_ luck that per-rhaps he can get you
past those customs. Of thees we weel talk more, eh?"

Hank slapped his leg and pushed his plug of tobacco into the visitor's
hands. "Smoke some of that thar Virginny, friend," he urged. "Ye'll find
it some better than that thar husk, or willer bark you people smoke." He
looked at his partner and chuckled. "These hyar young fellers, now; thar
jest ain't no holdin' 'em."

Pedro thought that this particular young "feller" was going to be held
very securely before he saw Santa Fe, but he grinned and waved his hand,
and after Tom had disappeared among the wagons he turned toward the
hunter.

"Has Señor Boyd ever been een our Santa Fe?" he asked in polite
curiosity.

Hank nodded carelessly. "He war thar some years back."

"Perhaps then I can show heem a new way to thee city," said Pedro,
significantly. "One that my br-rother knows ver' good. Thee knowledge of
thees tr-rail ees of _mucho_ less cost than thee customs that you an' me
like so leetle. But of thees we weel talk more some other time. I must
leeve you, señor. _Adios._"

"_Adios_, señor," beamed Hank, again offering the plug.

After a quiet night and a somewhat later start than usual, the day's run
to Cow Creek began, and not five miles from the camp site a sizable herd
of buffalo was sighted. The same thing took place again, the same
confusion, the same senseless chasing without weapons, but this time
there was added the total abandonment of several wagons while the
drivers, unhitching one animal, grabbed guns and joined in the attack,
not realizing that mules hardly were suited for chasing an animal which,
clumsy as it appeared, nearly equalled a horse in speed when once
started on its awkward gallop. But in the results of the chase there was
one noticeable difference between this and the previous hunt, for the
green nimrods had asked questions of the hunters since their first try
at the prairie cattle, and they had cherished the answers. They no
longer fired blindly, after the first flush of their excitement died
down, for now they ranged up alongside their lumbering victims from the
rear and aimed a little behind the short ribs, or a few inches above
the brisket and behind the shoulder. And this hunt was a great success
from the standpoint of the plainsmen who had bought Colt's newfangled
repeating pistols, for they proved their deadliness in such capable
hands, and speeded up the kill.

A group of tenderfeet watched an old hunter butcher a fat cow in almost
the time it takes to tell of it, slitting the skin along the spine from
the shoulder to the tail, and down in front of the shoulder and around
the neck. He removed it as far down as the brisket and laid the freed
skin on the ground to receive the fleece from along the spine, the
protruding hump ribs, which he severed with a tomahawk; and then he
added the liver, tongue, kidneys, certain parts of the intestine, and
one shoulder. Severing the other shoulder and cutting the skin free on
both sides of the body, he bundled up the choice cuts in it, carried it
to his horse and returned to camp. In a few moments the butchering
became general, and soon the triumphant hunters returned to the wagons
with fresh meat enough to provide an unstinted feast for the entire
caravan.

The journey was resumed and the twenty miles to Cow Creek was made in
good time. Here the difficulties of the Little Arkansas were again met
and conquered and the wagons corralled before dark.

It was at this camp that Tom and Hank became certain that they were
being spied upon by Pedro and his companions. Seated around their fire,
smoking with deep content after a heavy meal of fresh buffalo meat, Hank
began to push his foot back and forth on the ground, making deeper and
deeper, longer and longer, the groove his moccasin heel was slowly
wearing in the soft earth. Finally his foot touched his companion's knee
but, without pausing, kept wearing down the groove.

"Th' geese went over early this year," he said, looking up at the starry
sky. "Reckon we'll have th' hot weather a leetle ahead o' time on th'
Dry Route."

Tom did not change a muscle as the familiar, warning sentence struck his
ears. "Yes," he replied. "Be glad when I gits inter Santa Fe, with th'
cool mountains all around. Reckon you'll spend most o' your time playin'
_monte_, an' be clean busted when it's time ter hit th' trail fer
Bent's."

Hank laughed softly. "Did I hear ye say Jim Ogden had some good likker?"
he asked.

"That's what I said."

"'Tain't none o' that thar Taos lightnin'?" skeptically inquired Hank.

"How could it be, him jest a-comin' from Missouri?"

"Wall," chuckled Hank, slowly rising. "Reckon I'll wander over an' see
fer myself. Jim must be considerable lonesome, 'bout now."

"Must be, with only Zeb, Alonzo, Enoch, and a passel o' them fool
tenderfeet a-settin' 'round his fire," snorted Tom. "Go ahead an' git
yer likker; I'll wait fer ye hyar."

It was only a few minutes later when Hank returned, shaking his head.
"All gone," he mourned, and sat down again, regarding the dying embers.
"Jest my luck."

Tom laughed. "Yer better off without it," he replied, and communed with
his thoughts.

Minutes passed in reflective silence and then Jim Ogden loomed up beside
them. "Come on over," he invited, grinning. "Thar warn't no use showin'
a bottle with them thirsty greenhorns settin' 'round ter lick it up. Now
that thar gone, we'll pass it 'round."

Hank looked knowingly at his partner as he hastily arose, and the three
went off together. When half way to the other fire Jim spoke in a low
voice.

"He war thar, Hank; layin' in that little gully, watchin' ye like ye war
pizen." He turned to Tom. "Shall we go an' drag him out?"

"No," answered Tom. "Let him think we don't know nothin' about it. Him
an' his trail inter Santa Fe! Reckons mebby that if them barefoot
soldiers try ter take us in front o' th' caravan they'll get a good
lickin'; but if he can coax us off from th' rest, he kin run us inter an
ambush. If thar's airy way inter Santa Fe that we don't know, I'm danged
if _he_ knows it! Let him spy on us, now that we know he's doin' it.
Thankee, Jim."

By the time they had reached Jim's little fire a figure was wriggling
down the gully, and at an opportune time arose to hands and knees and
scurried to the shelter of Franklin's wagons, a smile on its face. Now
it was certain that Tom Boyd was going through to Santa Fe, and all
would be well. He chuckled as he recalled what he had said about the
Mexican troops not meeting the caravan until Point of Rocks was reached;
they would meet the train at any point his messenger told them to.

At Cow Creek another quiet night was followed by another delayed start
and shortly after noon the vanguard raised a shout of elation, which
sent every mounted man racing ahead; and the sight repaid them for their
haste.

Under their eyes lay the Arkansas River, dotted with green islands, its
channel four or five hundred yards wide, and so shallow that at normal
stage it was formidable at many points. While its low, barren banks,
only occasionally tinted with the green of cottonwoods, were desolate in
appearance, they had a beauty peculiar and striking. As far as the eye
could see spread the sand-hills and hillocks, like waves of some pale
sea, here white and there yellow, accordingly as to how the light was
reflected from them. Its appearance had been abrupt, the prairie floor
rising slightly to the crumbling edge, below which and at some distance
flowed the river, here forming the international boundary between Texas
and the United States. While territorially Texas lay across the river,
according to Texan claims, actually, so far as supervision was
concerned, it was Mexico, for the Texan arm was yet too short to
dominate it and the ordinary traveler let it keep its original name.

While its northern bank was almost destitute of timber, the southern one
showed scattered clumps of cottonwood, protected from the devastating
prairie fires from the North not only by the river itself, but also by
the barren stretch of sand, over which the fires died from starvation.
To the right of the caravan lay the grassy, green rolls of the prairie,
to an imaginative eye resembling the long swells of some great sea; on
the left a ribbon of pale tints, from gleaming whites to light golds
which varied with the depths of the water and the height and position of
the sun. Massive sand dunes, glittering in the sunlight made a rampart
which stretched for miles up and down the river and struck the eye with
the actinic power of pure, drifted snow. Here the nature of the prairie
changed, losing its rich, luxuriant verdure, for here the short buffalo
grass began to dominate to a noticeable extent.

The excitement spread. Eager couriers raced back to the plodding caravan
to tell the news. Some of the more impressionable forthwith rode toward
the river, only a few yards away, hot to be the first to splash in its
waters; but they found that prairie air was deceptive and that the
journey over the rolling hillocks was a great deal longer than they had
thought. But a few miles meant nothing to them and they pushed on,
careless of Comanche, Kiowa, or Pawnee Picts, some with their guns empty
from the salute they had fired at sight of the stream. The caravan kept
stolidly on, following a course roughly paralleling the river and not
stopping until evening found it on the far side of Walnut Creek after
they had crossed a belt of such poor grass that they had grave doubts
about the pasturage at the encampment; and the flinty, uncompromising
nature of the ground down the slope of the little divide, in which
seemingly for eternity was graven the strands of the mighty trail,
seemed to justify their fears. But then, while they were worrying the
most, the grass improved and when they had crossed the creek not far
from its mouth they found themselves in a little, timber-fringed valley
thick with tall grass. And they now had entered one of the great danger
spots of the long trail.

Hank Marshall got his fire started in a hurry while his partner looked
after the pack mules; and when Tom came back to attend to the fire and
prepare the supper, Hank dug into his "possible" sack and produced some
line and a fish hook. Making a paste of flour, he mixed it with some
dried moss he had put away and saved for this use. Rolling the little
doughballs and hardening them over the fire he soon strode off up the
creek, looking wise but saying nothing; and a quarter of an hour later
he returned with three big catfish, one of which he ate after he had
consumed a generous portion of buffalo hump-ribs; and he followed the
fish by a large tongue raked out of the ashes of the fire. To judge from
his expression he had enjoyed a successful and highly gratifying day,
and since he was heavy and drowsy with his gorging and had to go on
watch that night, he rolled up in his blanket under a wagon and despite
the noise on all sides of him, fell instantly asleep. He had "set
hisself" to awaken at eleven o'clock, which he would do almost on the
minute and be thoroughly wide awake.

Fearing for the alertness of the sentries that night, a number of
plainsmen and older traders agreed upon doing duty out of their turns
and followed Hank's example, "settin'" themselves to awaken at different
hours; and despite these precautions had a band of Pawnees discovered
the camp that night they most certainly would have been blessed with
success; and no one understood why the camp had not been discovered, for
the crawling train made a mark on the prairie that could not be missed
by savage eyes miles away.

Because of the height and the luxuriance of the grass within the corral
the morning feeding, beyond the time needed for getting ready to leave,
was dispensed with and the train got off to an early start, fairly
embarked on the eastern part of the great buffalo range and a section of
the trail where Indians could be looked for in formidable numbers.

This great plain fairly was crowded with bison and was dark with them as
far as the eye could see. They could be numbered by the tens of
thousands and actually impeded the progress of the caravan and
threatened constant danger from their blind, unreasoning stampedes which
the draft animals seemed anxious to join. Because of the matted hair in
front of their eyes their vision was impaired; and the keenness of their
scent often hurled them into dangers which a clearer eyesight would have
avoided. So great did this danger become shortly after the train had
left the valley of the Walnut that the rear guard, which had grown
slightly as the days passed, now was sent out to protect the flanks and
to strengthen the vanguard, which had fallen back within a few hundred
feet of the leading wagons. Time after time the stupid beasts barely
were kept from crashing blindly into the train, and the wagoners had the
most trying and tiring day of the whole journey.

Several bands of Indians at times were seen in the distance pursuing
their fleeing game, but all were apparently too busy to bother with the
caravan, which they knew would stop somewhere for the night. No longer
was there any need to freight buffalo meat to the wagons; for so many of
the animals were killed directly ahead that the wagoners only had to
check their teams and help each other butcher and load. This constant
stopping, now one wagon and now another, threw the train out of all
semblance of order and it wandered along the trail with its divisions
mixed, which caused the sweat to stand out on the worried captain's
forehead. His lieutenants threatened and swore and pleaded and at last,
after the wagons had all they could carry of the meat, managed to get
four passable divisions in somewhat presentable order.

While the caravan shuffled itself, chased buffalo out of the way, turned
aside thundering ranks of the formidable-looking beasts, and had a time
hectic enough to suit the most irrational, Pawnee Rock loomed steadily
higher, steadily nearer, and the great sand-hills of the Arkansas
stretched interminably into the West, each fantastic top a glare of
dazzling light.

Well to the North, rising by degrees out of the prairie floor, and
gradually growing higher and bolder as they neared the trail and the
river, were a series of hills which terminated abruptly in a rocky cliff
frowning down upon the rutted wagon road. From the distance the mirage
magnified the ascending hills until they looked like some detached
mountain range, which instead of growing higher as it was approached,
shrunk instead. It was a famous landmark, silent witness of many bloody
struggles, as famous on this trail as was Chimney Rock and Courthouse
Rock along the great emigrant trail going up the Platte; but compared to
them in height it was a dwarf. Here was a lofty perch from which the
eagle eyes of Indian sentries could descry crawling caravans and pack
trains, in either direction, hours before they reached the shadow of the
rocky pile; and from where their calling smoke signals could be seen for
miles around.

Two trails passed it, one east and west; the other, north and south. The
former, cut deep, honest in its purpose and plainness, here crossed the
latter, which was an evanescent, furtive trail, as befits a pathway to
theft and bloodshed, and one made by shadowy raiders as they flitted to
and from the Kiowa-Comanche country and the Pawnee-Cheyenne; only marked
at intervals by the dragging ends of the lodgepoles of peacefully
migrating Indian villages, and even then pregnant with danger. Other
eyes than those of the prairie tribes had looked upon it, other blood
had been spilled there, for distant as it was from the Apaches, and
still more distant from the country of the Utes, war parties of both
these tribes had accepted the gage of battle there flung down. On the
rugged face of the rock itself human conceit had graven human names, and
to be precise as to the date of their foolishness, had added day, month,
and year.

While speaking of days, months, and years it may not be amiss to say
that regarding the latter division of time the caravan was fortunate.
Troubles between Indians and whites developed slowly during the history
of the Trail, from the earlier days of the fur trains and the first of
the traders' caravans, when Indian troubles were hardly more than an
occasional attempted theft, in many cases successful, but seemingly
without that lust for blood on both sides which was to come later. After
the wagon period begun there was a slight increase, due to the need
which certain white men found for shooting game. If game were scarce,
what could be more interesting when secure from retaliation by the
number of armed and resolute men in the caravans, than to pot-shoot some
curious and friendly savage, or gallantly put to flight a handful of
them? The ungrateful savages remembered these pleasantries and were
prone to retaliate, which caused the death of quite a few honest and
innocent whites who followed later. The natural cupidity of the Indian
for horses, his standard of wealth, received a secondary urge, which
later became the principal one, in the days when theft was regarded as a
material reward for killing. While they may have grudged these periodic
crossings of the plains as a trespass, and the wanton slaughter of their
main food supply as a constantly-growing calamity, they still were
keener to steal quietly and get away without bloodshed, and to barter
their dried meat, their dressed hides, their beadwork, and other
manufactures of their busy squaws than to engage in pitched battle at
sight. Had Captain Woodson led a caravan along that same trail twenty or
thirty years later, he would have had good reason to sweat copiously at
the sight of so many dashing savages.

The captain knew the Indian of his day as well as a white man could. He
knew that they still depended upon trading with the fur companies, with
free trappers and free traders, and needed the white man's goods and
good will; they wanted his trinkets, his tobacco to mix with their inner
bark of the red willow; his powder, muskets, and lead, and, most of all,
his watered alcohol. He knew that a white man could stumble into the
average Indian camp and receive food and shelter, especially among those
tribes not yet prostituted by contact with the frontier; that such a
man's goods would be safe and, if he minded his own business, that he
would be sent on his way again unharmed. But he also knew their lust for
horses and mules; he felt their slowly growing feeling of contempt for
men who would trade them wonderful things for worthless beaver, mink,
and otter skins; and a fortune in trade goods for the pelt of a single
silver fox, which neither was warmer nor more durable than the pelt of
other foxes. And he knew the panicky feeling of self-preservation which
might cause some greenhorn of the caravan to shoot true at the wrong
time. So, without worrying about any "deadly circles" or about any
period of time a score or more years away, he sweat right heartily. And
when at last he drew near to Ash Creek, the later history of which
mercifully was spared him, he sighed with relief but worked with the
energy befitting a man who believed that God helped those who helped
themselves; he hustled the caravan down the slope and across the stream
with a speed not to be lightly scorned when the disorganized arrangement
of the train is considered; and he halted the divisions in a circular
formation with great dispatch, making it the most compact and solid wall
of wagons seen so far on the journey.



CHAPTER XII

PAWNEES


At this Ash Creek camp before the wagoners had unhitched their teams
there was a cordon around the corral made up of every man who could be
spared, and the cannon crews stood silently around their freshly primed
guns. The air of tenseness and expectancy pleased Woodson, for it was an
assurance that there would be no laxity about this night's watch. With
the animals staked as close to the wagons as practicable, which caused
some encroachments and several fist fights between jealous wagoners, the
fires soon were cooking supper for squads of men from the sentry line;
and as soon as all had eaten and the camp was not distracted by too many
duties, the cordon thinned until it was composed of a double watch.
Before dusk the animals were driven inside, secured by side-line
hobbles, which are much more effective than hobbling the forelegs, and
all gaps were closed as tightly as possible.

The evening shadows darkened and ran into blackness; the night wind
crept among the branches of the thin line of trees on both banks of the
creek and made soft soughings in the tall, thick grass; overhead the sky
first darkened and then grew lighter, shot with myriads of stars, which
gleamed as only prairie stars can; and among them, luminous and bright,
lay the Milky Way. The creek murmured in musical tones as it fretted at
some slight obstruction and all nature seemed to be at peace. Then
sounded the howl of a buffalo wolf, the gray killer of the plains, deep,
throaty, full, and followed by a quick slide up the scale with a ringing
note that the bluffs and mountains love to toss back and forth. Yet it
was somehow different. Woodson and his trapper aides, seated together
against a wagon, stirred and glanced sidewise at each other. Not one of
them had felt the reflex answer of his spine and hair; not one of them
had thrilled. A simple lack; but a most enlightening one.

Franklin bit into a plug of tobacco, pushed the mouthful into his cheek
with deft tongue, and crossed his legs the other way. "Hell!" he
growled. "Reckon we're in fer it."

"They jest can't git it _all_ in, kin they?" commented Zeb Houghton,
coming up.

"No," answered Tom Boyd. "They leave out th' best part o' it." He
glanced in the direction of the nearest fringe of trees, noisy
cottonwoods all, and shook his head. "We been havin' too fine a stretch
o' weather. Hear them trees? In two hours it'll be blowin' hard; an' I
kin feel th' rain already."

From the blackness of the creek there arose a series of short, sharp
barks, faster and faster, higher and higher, the lost-soul howl climbing
to a pitch that was sheer torture to some ears.

"Kiyote sassin' a gray," chuckled Zeb, ironically.

"'Upon what meat hath--'" began Tom, and checked the quotation. "He
oughter be tuckin' his tail atween his laigs an' streakin' fer th'
Platte; or mebby _he_ missed somethin', too," he said. "Everythin' else
shuts up when th' gray wolf howls."

"Doubled watches air not enough fer tonight," growled Woodson, as a
tremulous, high-pitched, chromatic, and descending run in a minor key
floated through the little valley. If it were an imitation of a
screech-owl it was so perfectly done that no man in the caravan could
detect the difference.

"Us boys will be scoutin' 'round all night," replied Tom. "Hank an' th'
others air gittin' some winks now. I don't look fer no fight afore
daylight; but they'll shore try ter stampede us afore then. Reckon I'll
take a good listen out yonder," he said, and arose. He went to Joe
Cooper's little wagon and was promptly challenged.

"It's Boyd," he answered. "Stick to the wagon, Uncle Joe. We ain't
looking for any rush before daylight. If one comes Hank and I will get
here quick. Where is Miss Cooper?"

"In th' wagon, of course!"

"That's no place for her," retorted Tom. "Those sheets won't stop
arrows. Put her under the wagon, an' hang blankets down th' sides, loose
at th' bottoms. Tight blankets or canvas are little better than paper;
but a loose Mackinaw yields to th' impact somewhat. I've seen a loose
blanket stop a musket ball."

"Can I do anything useful, Mr. Boyd?" came Patience's voice from the
wagon. "I can load and cap, anyhow."

Tom's chuckle came straight from his heart. "Not yet, God bless you.
Despite their reputation in some quarters, Pawnees are not the most
daring fighters. Any of the tribes east of the Mississippi are paragons
of courage when compared to these prairie Indians. Pawnees would rather
steal than fight; and they know that this is no helpless caravan, but
one with nearly two hundred armed men. If they were Comanches or Kiowas,
Utes or Apaches, I'd be bothered a lot more than I am now. And they know
that there are two cannons pointing somewhere into the night. All we
have to worry about is our animals."

The mournful, hair-raising screech of an owl sounded again, and then all
the demons of hell seemed to have broken loose around the camp. The
corralled animals, restless before, now surged one way and now another,
largely cancelling their own efforts because wave met wave; but all the
while they were getting wilder and more frantic and the blood-chilling
yells on all sides finally set them into a sort of rhythm which more and
more became uniform. They surged from one side to the other, striking
the wagons harder and harder. Then the yelling ceased and the Pawnee
whistle was heard. There ensued a few minutes of silence and then the
whistle sounded again. It set off a hellish uproar on one side of the
encampment and the frantic animals whirled and charged in the other
direction. The shock rocked some of the wagons and would have overturned
them but for the great weight of their loads. Anticipating this surge of
the animals some of the traders, told off by the captain, had bound
bundles of twigs and dried grass to long cottonwood sticks and now set
them afire and crawled under the wagons, thrusting the torches into the
faces of the charging mass. This started the animals milling and soon
the whole herd was running in a circle. The stampede had failed.

Here and there from under the wagons on the threatened side of the
encampment guns stabbed into the night, showing where tenderfeet were
gallantly engaged in guessing matches. Arrows curved over the wagon tops
and some of the torch wavers on the other side of the camp had narrow
escapes before their purpose was accomplished and the torches burned
out.

A cricket chirped twice and then twice again not far from Joe Cooper's
little wagon, and the alert plainsman crouched behind an outer wheel
answered by three short trills. "Don't shoot, Uncle Joe," Tom softly
called. "That's Hank."

Hank seemed to be having a hard time of it and made more noise than was
his wont. Alarmed, Tom was about to crawl out and help his friend to the
corral when Hank's querulous complaint barely reached him.

"Danged if ye ain't so plumb full o' buffaler meat ye nigh weigh a ton,"
growled the hunter. "Yourn as heavy as mine, Jim?"

"Wuss," complacently answered Ogden.

"Huh!" snorted another voice, crowding so much meaning into the grunt
that he had the best of the little exchange and the last word.

"If I could twang like you, Hank," said Ogden, pausing a moment to rest,
"I'd have a hull dozen, danged if I wouldn't. Mine's got nigh ter six
feet o' feathers a-hangin' ter him."

Tom rocked back and forth, laughing silently. "Then he makes up fer th'
rest o' yer dozen!" he gasped. "Hostages, by th' Great Horned Spoon!" He
made some funny noises in his throat and gasped again. "A _chief_, too!"

"An' a plumb waste o' good ha'r," growled Hank. "But jest now it's wuth
more on thar heads than fastened ter our belts. Hyar, haul this hyar
warrior o' mine under th' waggin. I'm all tuckered out."

"Hank kin shoot more arrers with his mouth than some Injuns kin with
thar bows," panted Jim, grasping a spoke and yanking his captive roughly
against the wheel. "All I kin imitate is a lance." He chuckled at his
joke and rested.

"When Hank twanged, Big Polecat, hyar, got right up an' stumbled plumb
over me," said Zeb's weary voice. "I near busted his skull with that
newfangled pistol. It's heftier than I'm used ter. Wonder is I didn't
bash his brains out. Hyar, gimme a hand, I can't hardly wiggle no more."

"Wonder what them danged fools air firin' at?" queried Hank, as several
shots rang out in quick succession from the other side of the
encampment. "Don't they know th' dance is over till mornin'?"

"Oh, them greenhorns'll be shootin' all night," growled Ogden. "If
thar's a rush at daylight they won't have no more powder an' ball. When
they hadn't oughter shoot, they shoot; when they oughter shoot, thar too
danged scared to pull trigger."



CHAPTER XIII

HURRAH FOR TEXAS


At daylight the only Indians in sight were several rifle shots from the
caravan, but encircling it. Hostilities of every nature apparently had
ceased, but without causing the travelers to relax in their vigilance.
Breakfast was over before the savages made any move and then a sizable
body of them came charging over the prairie, brandishing their weapons
and yelling at the top of their voices. While not the equals of the
Comanches in horsemanship they were good riders and as they raced toward
the encampment, showing every trick they knew, the spectacle was well
worth watching.

"Showin' off," said Jim Ogden. "Want ter talk with us. Now we got ter
stop them fool greenhorns from shootin'!"

At his warning his companions ran along the line of wagons and begged
that not a shot be fired until the captain gave the word. If the Indians
wanted a parley the best thing would be to give it to them.

Meanwhile the captain and two experienced men rode slowly forward,
stopping while still within rifle shot of their friends. The charging
savages pulled up suddenly and stopped, three of their number riding
ahead with the same unconcern and calm dignity as the white men had
shown. One of them raised a hand, palm out, and when well outside of the
range of the rifles of the encampment, stopped and waited. Captain
Woodson, raising his hand, led his two companions at a slow walk toward
the waiting Indians and when he stopped, the two little parties were
within easy speaking distance of each other. Each group was careful to
show neither distrust nor fear, and apparently neither was armed. Erect
in their saddles, each waited for the other to speak.

"My young men are angry because the white men and their wagons have
crossed the Pawnee country and have frightened away the buffalo," said
the leader of the warriors, a chief, through an interpreter.

"The buffalo are like the grass of the prairies," replied Woodson. "They
are all around us and are bold enough to charge our wagons on the march
and frighten our animals."

"From the Loup Fork to the Arkansas, from the Big Muddy to the great
mountains, is Pawnee country, which none dare enter."

"The Cheyennes, the Arapahoes, the Osages, and other brave tribes tell
us the same thing. We do not know what tribe owns this prairie; but we
do know that friends are always welcome in the Pawnee country, and we
bring presents for our brave brothers, presents of beads and colored
cloth and glasses that show a man his spirit."

"The white chief speaks well; but my braves are angry."

"And my young men are angry because they could not sleep and their
animals were frightened like the Comanches are frightened by the
Pawnees," replied Woodson. "They are hot-headed and are angry at me
because I would not let them make war on our friends, the Pawnees."

"The young men of the Pawnees have not the wisdom of years and did not
know the white men were friends, and had brought them presents of horses
and powder and whiskey."

"I have told my young men that the Pawnees are friends. We did not think
we would meet our red brothers and have horses only for ourselves. Our
whiskey and powder are for the great Pawnee chiefs; our beads and cloth
for their young men."

"It is well," replied the chief. After a moment's silence he looked
keenly into Woodson's eyes. "The Pawnees are sad. White Bear and two of
our young men have not returned to their people." His eyes flashed and a
tenseness seized him and his companions. "Great Eagle wants to know if
his white friends have seen them?"

"Great Eagle's friends found three brave Pawnees in front of their
thunder guns and they feared our young men would fire the great medicine
rifles and hurt the Pawnees. We sent out and brought White Bear and his
warriors to our camp and treated them as welcome guests. Each of them
shall have a horse and a musket, with powder and ball, that they will
not misunderstand our roughness."

At that moment yells broke out on all sides of the encampment and
warriors were seen dashing west along the trail. A well-armed caravan of
twenty-two wagons crawled toward the creek, and Woodson secretly
exulted. It was the annual fur caravan from Bent's Fort to the Missouri
settlements and every member of it was an experienced man.

The fur train did not seem to be greatly excited by the charging horde,
for it only interposed a line of mounted men between the wagons and the
savages. The two leaders wheeled and rode slowly off to meet the Indians
and soon a second parley was taking place. After a little time the fur
caravan, which had moved steadily ahead, reached the encampment and
swiftly formed on one side of it. With the coming of this re-enforcement
of picked men all danger of war ceased.

Before noon the Pawnee chiefs and some of the elder warriors had paid
their visit, received their presents, sold a few horses to wagoners who
had jaded animals and then returned to their camp, pitched along the
banks of the creek a short distance away. The afternoon was spent in
visiting between the two encampments and the night in alert vigilance.
At dawn the animals were turned out to graze under a strong guard and
before noon the caravan was on its way again, its rear guard and
flankers doubled in strength.

Shortly after leaving Ash Creek they came to great sections of the
prairie where the buffalo grass was cropped as short as though a herd of
sheep had crossed it. It marked the grazing ground of the more compact
buffalo herds. The next creek was Pawnee Fork, but since it lay only six
miles from the last stopping place, and because it was wise to put a
greater distance between them and the Pawnees, the caravan crossed it
close to where it emptied into the Arkansas, the trail circling at the
double bend of the creek and crossing it twice. Great care was needed to
keep the wagons from upsetting here, but it was put behind without
accident and the night was spent on the open prairie not far from Little
Coon Creek.

The fuel question was now solved and while the buffalo chips, plentiful
all around them, made execrable, smudgy fires in wet weather if they
would burn at all, in dry weather they gave a quick, hot fire excellent
to cook on and one which threw out more heat, with equal amounts of
fuel, than one of wood; and after an amusing activity in collecting the
chips the entire camp was soon girdled by glowing fires.

The next day saw them nooning at the last named creek, and before
nightfall they had crossed Big Coon Creek. For the last score of miles
they had found such numbers of rattlesnakes that the reptiles became a
nuisance; but notwithstanding this they camped here for the night, which
was made more or less exciting because several snakes sought warmth in
the blankets of some of the travelers. It is not a pleasant feeling to
wake up and find a three-foot prairie rattlesnake coiled up against
one's stomach. Fortunately there were no casualties among the travelers
but, needless to say, there was very little sleep.

Next came the lower crossing of the Arkansas, where there was some
wrangling about the choice of fords; many, fearing the seasonal rise of
the river, which they thought was due almost any minute, urged that it
be crossed here, despite the scarcity of water, and the heavy pulling
among the sand-hills on the other side.

Woodson and the more experienced traders and hunters preferred to chance
the rise, even at the cost of a few days' delay, and to cross at the
upper ford. This would give them better roads, plenty of water and
grass, a safer ford and a shorter drive across the desert-like plain
between the Arkansas and the Cimarron. Eventually he had his way and
after spending the night at the older ford the caravan went on again
along the north bank of the river, and reached The Caches in time to
camp near them. The grass-covered pits were a curiosity and the story of
how Baird and Chambers had been forced to dig them to cache their goods
twenty years before, found many interested listeners.

All this day a heavy rain had poured down, letting up only for a few
minutes in the late afternoon, and again falling all night with
increased volume. With it came one of those prairie windstorms which
have made the weather of the plains famous. Tents and wagon covers were
whipped into fringes, several of them being torn loose and blown away;
two lightly loaded wagons were overturned, and altogether the night was
the most miserable of any experienced so far. While the inexperienced
grumbled and swore, Woodson was pleased, for in spite of the delayed
crossing of the river, he knew that the dreaded Dry Route beyond
Cimarron Crossing would be a pleasant stretch in comparison to what it
usually was.

Morning found a dispirited camp, and no effort was made to get under way
until it was too late to cover the twenty miles to the Cimarron Crossing
that day, and rather than camp without water it was decided to lose a
day here. It would be necessary to wait for the river to fall again
before they would dare to attempt the crossing and the time might as
well be spent here as farther on. The rain fell again that night and all
the following day, but the wind was moderate. The river was being
watched closely and it was found that it had risen four feet since they
reached The Caches; but this was nothing unusual, for, like most prairie
streams, the Arkansas rose quickly until its low banks were overflowed,
when the loss of volume by the flooding of so much country checked it
appreciably; and its fall, once the rains ceased, would be as rapid.
High water was not the only consideration in regard to the fording of
the river, for the soft bottom, disturbed by the strong current, soon
lost what little firmness it had along this part of the great bend, and
became treacherous with quicksand. That it was not true quicksand made
but little difference so long as it mired teams and wagons.

Another argument now was begun. There were several fords of the Arkansas
between this point and the mountains; and there were two routes from
here on, the shorter way across the dry plain of the Cimarron, as direct
as any unsurveyed trail could be, and the longer, more roundabout way
leading another hundred miles farther up the river and crossing it not
far from Bent's Fort, over a pebbly and splendid ford. From here it
turned south along the divide between Apishara Creek and the Purgatoire
River, climbed over the mountain range through Raton Pass, and joined
the more direct trail near Santa Clara Spring under the shadow of the
Wagon Mound. Beside the ford above Bent's Fort there was another, about
thirty miles above The Caches, which crossed the river near Chouteau's
Island.

Each ford and each way had its adherents, but after great argument and
wrangling the Dry Route was decided upon, its friends not only proving
the wisdom of taking the shorter route, but also claimed that the
unpleasantness of the miles of dry traveling was no worse than the rough
and perilous road over Raton Pass, where almost any kind of an accident
could happen to a wagon and where, if the caravan were attacked by Utes
or Apaches before it reached the mountain pasture near the top, they
would be caught in a strung-out condition and corralling would be
impossible. The danger from a possible ambush and from rocks rolled down
from above, in themselves, were worse than the desert stretch of the
shorter route.

At last dawn broke with a clear sky, and with praiseworthy speed the
routine of the camp was rushed and the wagons were heading westward
again. Late that afternoon the four divisions became two and rolled down
the slope toward the Cimarron Crossing, going into camp within a short
distance of the rushing river. The sun had shone all day and the night
promised to be clear, and some of the traders whose goods had been
wetted by the storm at The Caches when their wagon covers had been
damaged or blown away, took quick advantage of the good weather to
spread their merchandise over several acres of sand and stubby brush to
dry out thoroughly; and the four days spent here, waiting for the river
to fall, accomplished the work satisfactorily, although at times the sky
was overcast and threatened rain, while the nights were damp.

Some of the more impetuous travelers urged that time would be saved if
bullboats were made by stretching buffalo hides over the wagon boxes and
floating them across. This had been done more than once, but with only a
day or so to wait, and no pressing need for speed, the time saved would
not be worth the hard work and the risk of such ferrying. At last the
repeated soundings of the bottom began to look favorable and word was
passed around that the crossing would take place as soon as the camp
was ready to be left the next morning, providing that no rain fell
during the night.

Daylight showed a bright sky and a little lower level of the river and
it was not long before the first wagon drawn by four full teams, after a
warming-up drive, rumbled down the bank and hit the water with a splash.
The bottom was still too soft to take things easy in crossing and the
teams were not allowed to pause after once they had entered the water. A
moment's stop might mire both teams and wagons and cause no end of
trouble, hard work, and delay. All day long the wagons crossed and at
night they were safely corralled on the farther bank, on the edge of the
Dry Route and no longer on United States soil.

That evening the leaders of the divisions went among their followers and
urged that in the morning every water cask and container available for
holding water be filled. This flat, monotonous, dry plain might require
three days to cross and every drop of water would be precious. Should
any be found after the recent rains it would be in buffalo wallows and
more fit for animals than for human beings. Again in the morning the
warning was carried to every person in the camp and the need for heeding
it gravely emphasized; and when the caravan started on the laborious and
treacherous journey across the fringe of sand-hills and hillocks which
extended for five or six miles beyond the river, where upsetting of
wagons was by no means an exception, half a dozen wagons had empty water
casks. Their owners had been too busy doing inconsequential things to
think of obeying the orders for a "water scrape," given for their own
good.

The outlying hilly fringe of sand was not as bad as had been expected
for the heavy rains had wetted it well and packed the sand somewhat; but
when the great flat plain was reached and the rough belt left behind,
two wagons had been overturned and held up the whole caravan while they
were unloaded, righted, and re-packed. Since no one had been injured the
misfortunes had been taken lightly and the columns went on again in good
spirits.

It was not yet noon when the advance guard came upon an unusual sight.
The plain was torn and scored and covered with sheepskin saddle-pads,
broken riding gear, battered and discarded firelocks of so ancient a
vintage that it were doubtful whether they would be as dangerous to an
enemy as they might be to their owners; broken lances, bows and arrows,
torn clothing, a two-wheeled cart overturned and partly burned, and half
a score dead mules and horses.

Captain Woodson looked from the strewed ground, around the faces of his
companions.

"Injuns an' greasers?" he asked, glancing at the remains of the
_carreta_ in explanation of the "greaser" end of the couplet. The
replies were affirmative in nature until Tom Boyd, looking fixedly at
one remnant of clothing, swept it from the ground and regarded it in
amazement. Without a word he passed it on to Hank, who eyed it knowingly
and sent it along.

"I'm bettin' th' Texans licked 'em good," growled Tom. "It's about time
somebody paid 'em fer that damnable, two thousand mile trail o'
sufferin' an' death! Wish I'd had a hand in this fight!"

Assenting murmurs came from the hunters and trappers, all of whom would
have been happy to have pulled trigger with the wearers of the coats
with the Lone Star buttons.

Tom shook his head after a moment's reflection. "Hope it war reg'lar
greaser troops an' not poor devils pressed inter service. That's th'
worst o' takin' revenge; ye likely take it out o' th' hides of them that
ain't to blame, an' th' _guilty_ dogs ain't hurt."

"Mebby Salezar war leadin' 'em!" growled Hank. "Hope so!"

"Hope not!" snapped Tom, his eyes glinting. "_I_ want Salezar! I want
him in my two hands, with plenty o' time an' nobody around! I'd as soon
have _him_ as Armijo!"

"Who's he?" asked a tenderfoot. "And what about the Texans, and this
fight here?"

"He's the greaser cur that had charge o' th' Texan prisoners from Santa
Fe to El Paso, where they war turned over to a gentleman an' a
Christian," answered Tom, his face tense. "I owe him fer th' death, by
starvation an' abuse, of as good a friend as any man ever had: an' if I
git my hands on him he'll pay fer it! _That's_ who he is!"

The first day's travel across the dry stretch, notwithstanding the start
had been later than was hoped for, rolled off more than twenty miles of
the flat, monotonous plain. Even here the grama grass was not entirely
missing, and a nooning of two hours was taken to let the animals crop as
much of it as they could find. While the caravan was now getting onto
the fringe of the Kiowa and Comanche country, trouble with these tribes,
at this time of the year, was not expected until the Cimarron was
reached and for this reason the urging for mileage was allowed to keep
the wagons moving until dark. During the night the wagoners arose
several times to change the picket stakes of their animals, hoping by
this and by lengthened ropes to make up for the scantiness of the grass.
In one other way was the sparsity of the grazing partly made up, for the
grama grass was a concentrated food, its small seed capsules reputed to
contain a nourishment approaching that of oats of the same size.

The heat of the day had been oppressive and the contents of the water
casks were showing the effects of it. The feather-headed or stubborn
know-it-alls who had ignored the call of "water scrape" back on the bank
of the Arkansas now were humble pilgrims begging for drinks from their
more provident companions. Tom and Hank had filled their ten-gallon
casks and put them in Joe Cooper's wagons for the use of his and their
animals which, being mules, found a dry journey less trying than the
heavy-footed oxen of other teams. The mules also showed an ability far
beyond their horned draft fellows in picking up sufficient food; they
also were free from the foot troubles which now began to be shown by the
oxen. The triumphant wagoners of the muddier portions of the trail,
whose oxen had caused them to exult by the way they had out-pulled the
mules in every mire, now became thoughtful and lost their levity.

Breakfast was cooked and eaten before daylight and the wagons were
strung out in the four column formation before dawn streaked the sky. A
few buffalo wallows, half full of water from the recent rains, relieved
the situation, and the thirsty animals emptied their slightly alkaline
contents to the last obtainable drop. This second day found the plain
more barren, more desolate, its flat floor apparently interminable, and
the second night camp was not made until after dark, the wagons
corralling by the aid of candle lanterns slung from their rear axles. It
was a silent camp, lacking laughter and high-pitched voices; and the
begging water seekers, while not denied their drinks, were received with
a sullenness which was eloquent. One of them was moved to complain
querulously to Tom Boyd of the treatment he had received at one wagon,
and forthwith learned a few facts about himself and his kind.

"Look hyar," drawled Tom in his best frontier dialect. "If I war runnin'
this caravan yer tongue would be hangin' out fer th' want o' a drink.
You war warned, fair an' squar, back on th' Arkansas, ter carry all th'
water ye could. But ye knew it all, jest like ye know it all every time
a better man gives ye an order. If it warn't fer yer kind th' Injuns
along th' trail would be friendly. Hyar, let me tell ye somethin':

"We been follerin', day after day, a plain trail, so plain that even
_you_ could foller it. But thar was a time when thar warn't no trail,
but jest an unmarked plain, without a landmark, level as it is now, all
'round fur's th' eye could reach. Thar warn't much knowed about it years
ago, an' sometimes a caravan wandered 'round out hyar, its water gone
an' th' men an' animals slowly dyin' fer a drink. Some said go _this_
way, some said to go _that_ way; others, _other_ ways. Nobody knowed
which war right, an' so they went every-which way, addin' mile to mile
in thar wanderin'. Then they blindly stumbled onter th' Cimarron, which
they had ter do if they follered thar compasses an' kept on goin' south;
an' when they got thar they found it dry! Do ye understand that? They
found th' river _dry_! Jest a river bed o' sand, mile after mile, dry as
a bone.

"Which way should they go? It warn't a question _then_, o' headin' fer
Santa Fe; but o' headin' _any_ way a-tall ter git ter th' nearest water.
If they went down they was as bad off as if they went up, fer th' bed
war dry fer miles either way in a dry season. Sufferin'? Hell! you don't
know what sufferin' is! A few o' you fools air thirsty, but yer beggin'
gits ye water. Suppose thar warn't no water a-tall in th' hull caravan,
fer men, wimmin, children, or animals? Suppose ye war so thirsty that
you'd drink what ye found in th' innards o' some ol' buffalo yer war
lucky enough ter kill, an' near commit murder ter git furst chanct at
it? That war done onct. Don't ye let me hear ye bellerin' about bein'
thirsty! Suppose we all had done like you, back thar on th' Arkansas?
An' don't ye come ter _us_ fer water! If we had bar'ls o' it, we'd pour
it out under yer nose afore we'd give ye a mouthful! Yer larnin' some
lessons this hyar trip, but yer larnin' 'em too late. Go 'bout yer
business an' think things over. We're comin' ter bad Injun country. If
ye got airy sense a-tall in yer chuckle head ye'll mebby have a chanct
ter show it."

Before noon on the third day, after crossing more broken country which
was cut up with many dry washes through which the wagons wallowed in
imminent danger of being wrecked, the caravan came to the Cimarron, and
found it dry. Cries of consternation broke out on all sides, and were
followed by dogmatic denials that it was the Cimarron. The arguments
waged hotly between those who were making their first trip and the more
experienced traders. Who ever heard of a dry river? This was only
another dry wash, wider and longer, but only a wash. The Cimarron lay
beyond.

Here ensued the most serious of all the disagreements, for a large
number of the members of the caravans scoffed when told that by
following the plain wagon tracks they would soon reach the lower spring
of the Cimarron. How could the spring be found when this was not the
Cimarron River at all? They knew that when Woodson had been elected at
Council Grove that he was not fitted to take charge of the caravan; that
his officers were incompetent, and now they were sure of it. Anyone with
sense could see that this was no river. If it were a river, then the
prairie-dog mounds they had just passed were mountains. Here was a
situation which needed more than tact, for if the doubting minority was
allowed to follow their inclinations they might find a terrible death at
the end of their wanderings. Dogmatic and pugnacious, almost hysterical
in their repeated determination to go on and find the river, they must
be saved, by force if necessary, from themselves. They would not listen
to the plea that they go on a few miles and let the spring prove them to
be wrong; there was no spring to be found in a few miles if it was
located on the Cimarron. Woodson and others argued, begged, and at last
threatened. They pointed out that they were familiar with every foot of
the trail from one end to the other; that they had made the journey year
after year, spring and fall; that here was the deeply cut trail,
pointing out the way to water, where other wagons had rolled before
them, following the plain and unequivocal tracks. The debate was growing
noisier and more heated when Tom stepped forward and raised his hand.

"Listen!" he shouted again and again, and at last was given a grudged
hearing. "Let's prove this question, for it's a mighty serious one," he
cried. "Last year, where th' trail hit th' Cimarron, which had some
water in it then, a team of mules, frantic from thirst, ran away with a
Dearborn carriage as the driver was getting out. When we came up with
them we found one of them with a broken leg, struggling in the wreckage
of the carriage. I have not been out of your sight all morning, and if I
tell you where to find that wrecked carriage, and you _do_ find it,
you'll know that I'm tellin' th' truth, an' that this is th' Cimarron.
Go along this bank, about four hundred yards, an' you'll find a
steep-walled ravine some thirty feet higher than th' bed of th' river.
At th' bottom of it, a hundred yards from th' river bank, you'll find
what's left of th' Dearborn. When you come back we'll show you how to
relieve your thirst and to get enough water to let you risk goin' on to
th' spring."

Sneers and ridicule replied to him, but a skeptical crowd, led by the
man he had lectured the night before, followed his suggestion and soon
returned with the word that the wrecked carriage had been found just
where Tom had said it would be. The contentious became softened and made
up in sullenness what they lacked in pugnacity; for there are some who,
proven wrong, find cause for anger in the correction, their stubbornness
of such a quality that it seems to prefer to hold to an error and take
the penalties than to accept safety by admitting that they are wrong.

In the meanwhile the experienced travelers had gone down into the river
bed and dug holes in the sand which, thanks to the recent rains, was a
masked reservoir and yielded all the water needed at a depth of two or
three feet. After a hard struggle with the thirsty animals to keep them
from stampeding for the water their nostrils scented, at last all had
been watered and the wagons formed for the noon camp. Humbled greenhorns
who had neglected the "water scrape" at the Arkansas were silently
digging holes along the river bed and filling every vessel they could
spare. They were making the acquaintance of a river of a kind they never
had seen before.

Here they found a dry stretch, despite the heavy rains; had they now
gone down or up its bed they would have found alternating sections of
water and dry sand, and in the water sections they would have found a
current. Some of the traders maintained that its real bed was solid,
unfractured rock, many feet below the sand which covered it, which held
the water as in a pipe and let it follow its tendency to seek its level.
The deep sand blotted and hid the meager stream where the bottom was
farther below the sand's surface; but where the porous layer was not so
thick, the volume of water, being larger than that of the sand,
submerged the filling and flowed in plain sight. Some of the more
uncritical held that the water flowed with the periodicity of tides,
which like many other irrational suppositions, seemed to give the
required explanation of the river's peculiarities. There was no doubt,
however, about the porosity of its sandy bed, nor the amount of sand in
it, for even after the most severe and prolonged summer rainstorms,
which filled the river to overflowing, a few days sufficed to dry it up
again and restore its characteristics.

Having full water casks again the hysteria had subsided and the caravan
set out toward the lower spring, which was reached just before
nightfall. Here they found two men comfortably camped, despite the fact
that they were in the country of their implacable foes. At first they
showed a poorly hidden alarm at the appearance of the wagons but,
finding that they aroused no especial interest, they made themselves a
part of the camp and began to get acquainted; but it was noticeable that
they chose the hunters and trappers in preference to the traders, and
carefully ignored the many Mexicans with the train. But no matter how
careful they were in their speech they could not hide their identity,
for the buttons on their torn and soiled clothing all showed the Lone
Star of Texas, and to certain of the plainsmen this insignia made them
cordially welcome. Among the Mexicans it made them just as cordially
hated.

Tom Boyd espied them when the corral had been formed and invited them to
join him and Hank at supper. A few words between the Texans and the two
plainsmen established a close bond between them, and they became friends
the instant Tom mentioned the partner he had lost on the march of the
First Texan Expedition. Hank's careless reference to the treatment his
partner had given Armijo on the streets of Santa Fe caused them to look
carefully around and then, in low voices, tell the two plainsmen about
the events which recently had transpired between the Cimarron and the
Arkansas.

"Th' greasers in this hyar train air plumb lucky," said one of the
Texans, who called himself Jed Burch. "Ain't that so, Buck?"

Buck Flint nodded sourly. "They kin thank them d----d dragoons o' yourn,
friend," he answered.

"How's that?" asked Tom. "An' what about th' fight we saw signs of, a
couple o' days back?"

"It's all part of a long story," replied Jed, gloomily. "Reckon ye might
as well have th' hull of it, so ye'll know what's up, out hyar." He
looked around cautiously. "Don't want no d----d greasers larnin' it,
though. Who air these fellers comin' now?"

"Good friends o' ourn," said Hank. "Couple o' hunters that hang out,
most o' th' time, at Bent's Fort."

Jim and Zeb arrived, were introduced and vouched for, and the little
circle sat bunched together as the strangers explained some recent
history.

"Ye see, boys," began Burch, "us Texans air pizen ag'in greasers,
'specially since Armijo treated McLeod's boys wuss nor dogs. So a passel
o' us got together this spring an' come up hyar ter git in a crack they
wouldn't fergit. Me an' Buck, hyar, was with th' first crowd, under
Warfield, an' we larned 'em a lesson up on th' Mora. Thar warn't more'n
a score of us, an' we raided that village, nigh under th' nose o' Santer
Fe, killed some o' th' greasers, didn't lose a man, an' run off every
hoss they had, ter keep 'em from follerin' us. But we got careless an'
one night th' danged greasers an' settlement Injuns come up ter us an'
stampeded all thar own hosses an' ourn, too, an' didn't give us a lick
at 'em. That put us afoot with all our stuff. Thar warn't nothin' we
could do, then, but burn our saddles an' what we couldn't carry, an'
hoof it straight fer Bent's. We was on U.S. soil thar, so Warfield
disbanded us an' turned us loose; but we knowed whar ter go, an' we
went.

"Colonel Snively war ter be at a sartin place on th' Arkansas, an' he
war thar. We jined up with him an' went along this hyar trail, larnin'
that Armijo war a-lookin' fer us somewhar on it. Hell! He warn't
a-lookin' fer us: he had a powerful advance guard out feelin' th' way,
but _he_ warn't with it. We come up ter that party and cleaned it up,
nobody on our side gittin' more'n a scratch. But we couldn't git no news
about th' caravan that war due ter come along 'most any day, an' some o'
th' boys got discouraged an' went home. Th' rest o' us went back ter th'
Arkansas, campin' half a day's ride below th' Caches, whar we could keep
our eyes on th' old crossin' an' th' main trail at th' same time. An' we
hadn't been thar very long afore 'long comes th' caravan, full o'
greasers. But, hell: it war guarded by a couple hundred dragoons under
yer Captain Cook which kept us from hittin' it till it got acrost th'
river an' past th' sand-hills, whar U.S. troops dassn't go, seein' it's
Texas soil.

"Everythin' would 'a' been all right if Snively hadn't got polite an'
went over ter visit Cook. They had a red-hot palaver, Cook sayin' he
warn't goin' ter escort a caravan till it was plumb inter danger an'
then stand by an' let it go on ter git wiped out. Snively told him we
warn't aimin' ter wipe it out, but only ter get th' greasers with it.
They had it powerful hard, I heard, an' Cook up an' says he's goin' ter
take our guns away from us if it cost him every man he had. Danged if he
didn't do it, too!"

Flint was laughing heartily and broke in. "Wonder what he thought o' our
weapons?" he exulted. "Not one o' 'em that he got from _our_ bunch war
worth a dang."

Burch grinned in turn. "Ye see, we had took th' guns belongin' ter
Armijo's scoutin' party, an' when Cook took up his collection, a lot o'
th' boys, hidin' thar own good weapons, sorrerfully hands over th'
danged _escopetas_ an' blunderbusses an' bows an' arrers o' th'
greasers. However, he disarmed us an' kept us thar till th' caravan got
such a big start thar warn't no earthly use o' goin' after it, thar not
bein' more'n sixty or seventy o' us that had good weapons. Some o' th'
boys struck out fer home, an' a couple o' score went with th' dragoons
back ter Missouri. Us that war left, about as many as went home, made
Warfield captain ag'in an' went after th' danged caravan, anyhow. We
follered it near ter Point o' Rocks before we gave it up. Nobody
reckoned thar war two caravans on th' trail this year, so Warfield an'
most o' th' boys went back ter Texas; but thar's considerable few o' us
roamin' 'round up hyar, dodgin' th' Comanches on a gamble o' gittin' in
a crack at some o' Armijo's sojers that might come scoutin' 'round ter
see if we has all went back. Anyhow, bein' so fur from home, an'
hankerin' fer a little huntin', we figgered that we might stay up hyar
till fall, or mebby all winter if we hung out at Bent's."

"We made a big mistake, though," confessed Flint. "Ye see, a greaser
must 'a' got away from that fight an' took th' news ter Armijo. When we
passed Cold Spring, follerin' th' caravan, we come on his camp, an' it
war plumb covered with ridin' gear an' belongin's that none o' his brave
army had time ter collect proper. Some o' us that had ter burn our
saddles war ridin' bareback, but we got saddles thar. He must 'a' lit
out _pronto_ when he larned Texans war a-rampagin' along th' trail. From
th' signs he didn't even wait fer th' caravan he war goin' ter protect,
but jest went a-kiyotin' fer home."

"He knew th' difference between starved an' betrayed Texans, an' Texans
that war fixed ter fight," growled Tom. "Go on: what was th' mistake?"

"Wall, Warfield said that if we had made that vanguard surrender
peaceful, which they would 'a' done, we could 'a' captured every man,
kept th' news from Armijo, an' larned jest whar ter find him. He would
'a' been waitin' fer his scoutin' party, an' some mornin' about daylight
he would 'a' found a scoutin' party--from Texas, an' mad an' mean as
rattlers. It don't allus pay ter let yer tempers git th' best o' ye, an'
make ye jump afore ye look. We'd 'a' ruther got Armijo than th' whole
cussed advance guard, an' th' rest o' his army, too."

"With Salezar," muttered Tom.

Burch jumped. "Aye!" he snarled. "With Salezar! Fer them two I'd 'a'
been in favor o' lettin' all th' rest go!"

"What you boys goin' ter do now?" asked Hank.

"Fool 'round up hyar, dodgin' war-parties that air too big ter lick,"
answered Flint. "We been scoutin' up th' river, an' our friends air on a
scout back in th' hills, tryin' ter locate th' nearest Comanche village.
We cleaned out one on th' way up, back on th' Washita. We're aimin' ter
run a big buffaler hunt as soon as we locates th' hostiles."

"How many are there of you?" asked Tom, thoughtfully.

"'Bout a dozen or fifteen: why?" asked Burch.

"Not a very big party to be playin' tag with th' Comanches in thar own
country," Tom replied.

With his foot Burch pushed a stick back into the fire and then glanced
around the little circle. "Wonder what th' _white_ men o' this wagon
train would do if we rode up an' asked fer th' greasers in it ter be
turned over ter us?" he asked.

Tom smiled. "Fight as long as we could pull trigger," he answered. "We
ain't betrayin' no members o' th' caravan. Lord knows we don't like
greasers, an' we _do_ feel strong for Texas; but we'd be plain skunks if
we didn't stick with our feller travelers."

"An' what could we say when we got inter Santer Fe, if we dared go
thar?" asked Hank.

Burch nodded, shrugged his shoulders, and changed the subject to that of
the unfortunate First Texan Expedition and the terrible sufferings it
underwent, a subject at that time very prominent in all Texan hearts. It
did not take them long to judge accurately the real feelings of their
hosts and to learn that their sympathies were all for Texas; but even
with this knowledge they did not again refer to anything connected with
their presence along the trail; instead, they were careful to create the
impression that their little party intended to start almost immediately
northwest across the Cimarron desert for Bent's Fort, and from there to
scour the plains for buffalo skins. They even asked about the Bayou
Salade and its contiguous mountain "parks" as a place to hunt and trap
during the coming winter. After dark they said their good-byes and left
the encampment, to the vast relief of the Mexicans with the train. And
that night and the next, the Mexicans who chanced to be on watch were
the most alert of all the guards.

After their guests had gone the four friends sat in silence for awhile,
reviewing what they had learned, and then Hank spoke up.

"Reckon we better tell Woodson that thar won't be no greaser troops
waitin' fer us this trip?" he asked.

Tom was about to nod, but changed his mind and quickly placed his hand
on his partner's shoulder. "No," he said slowly. "I'm beginnin' ter see
through th' holes in th' ladder! Not a word, boys, ter _anybody_!
Pedro's lie about thar bein' no guard ter meet us this year ain't a lie
no more; but he don't know it, an' he ain't goin' ter know it! Meantime,
we'll keep our ears an' eyes open, an' be ready ter jump like cats. I
got a suspicion!"

"I got a bran' new one," chuckled Hank. "Hurrah for Texas!"



CHAPTER XIV

THE VALLEY OF THE CIMARRON


Because of the next stretch to certain water, a matter of about
thirty-five miles, another very early start was made after the
surrounding country had been searched by the plainsmen for signs of
Indians. Although later in the season than usual for a caravan to cover
this part of the route, the dreaded dry stretch along the usually empty
river bed was found broken here and there by shallow pools and advantage
was taken of these to soak the wooden rims of some of the older and more
faulty wagon wheels. One trader with a wagon which never should have
left Missouri had been put to great trouble to keep the tires on his two
front wheels and had "borrowed" about all the wire and hoop-iron his
friends felt disposed to give him. He had driven so many pieces of iron
between the felloes and the tires that daylight could be seen between
the two; and on topping a little hill between two ravines near the river
bank one of the tires slipped off and went rolling and bounding down the
slope onto the dry river bed. Amid roars of laughter the column stopped
until he had recovered it and re-wedged it onto the wheel, and at the
next nooning stop he drove the wagon into a trickle of water running
down the middle of the river bed and spent most of his time backing and
pulling to get every part of the wheels soaked.

A strong body of scouts which had pushed on ahead of the column
returned shortly after the noon camp had been left, and reported that
about ten miles farther on a section of the river several hundred yards
long was full of water. Not being able to make the Middle Spring that
day, this wet section of the river was decided upon for the night camp.
A score of mounted men were sent on ahead to scour the country for signs
of Indians, but became so hungry for the numerous kinds of wild fruits
and berries along the sides of the ravines, that they did their work
poorly and did not reach the proposed camp site much before the caravan
got there.

The country was cut by a maze of ravines and gullies and studded with
small hills, little pastures of excellent grass nestling between them.
As the wagons filed down a narrow road onto a pasture fronting on the
Cimarron a plainsman, who had pushed on ahead of the caravan because he
doubted the seriousness and intelligence of the scouting party, was seen
dashing down to the farther bank of the river and splashing across it
without checking the speed of his horse.

One look at him was enough for Woodson, and the sharp blast of the bugle
cut the air. Wagoners whipped their tired teams into the best speed they
could give and the clatter and screeching of the rumbling wagons filled
the air as they raced around into the circular formation. The scout
barely had left the river and the wagons still were forming when over
the crest of a hill across the stream appeared a mass of horsemen, their
lances standing like drunken pickets against the sky. No need to ask
what tribe they belonged to, for the hint conveyed by their lances soon
was endorsed by their fantastic two-color blankets, one half red and the
other half blue. Most of them wore, in addition to the regular attire
of the plains Indians, a leather jacket, and from the heels of their
moccasins trailed tassels, another mark of their tribe.

These warriors, magnificent specimens of manhood and superb horsemen,
appeared to be gigantic as they paused and spread out along the crest of
the hill, boldly outlined against the bright sky behind them. They
watched the running circle of wagons stop by jerks as vehicle after
vehicle crowded against the one ahead of it and came to a stand, the
teams inside the corral. They rode slowly down the hill, their numbers
constantly growing, as a line of defenders moved out from the encampment
to interpose itself between the camp and the Comanche warriors; and as
the line stopped to wait for the cannons to get into position the red
enemy charged with a bedlam of whoops and yells. The two quick roars of
the cannons and the hurtling solid shot, which raised dust-puffs high up
on the hill, checked them and they spread out into two thin lines of
racing horsemen running toward both sides of the encampment.

Woodson, glad that the cannoneers had missed in their panicky aim,
ordered the defenders to fall back to the wagons, which they were only
too glad to do; but they did not obey his command to cease firing, and
sent their hastily aimed balls in the general direction of the enemy. No
harm was done by these, not only because of the poor aim but also
because the racing Indians were as yet well out of rifle shot and were
hanging over on the far side of their mounts.

Tom ran to the frantically working cannoneers and threw himself among
them without regard to how he handled them, shouting for them not to
fire until Woodson gave the word, and then to load with musket balls and
fire as fast and true as they could. Franklin joined him, his face as
black as a thunder cloud, and made threats they knew he would carry out
if the instructions were not obeyed.

The racing line drew nearer and nearer, those of the warriors who had
guns discharging them into the air. It looked like a desperate fight was
only a few seconds away when Hank yelled his discovery. Over the crest
of the same hill appeared the women and children of the tribe, their
dogs dragging burdens on their small travoises and the horses pulling
the dragging lodgepoles loaded down with the possessions of their
owners. This meant peace, for if war was intended, all but the warriors
would have been sent away. Some of the more quickwitted of the plainsmen
and traders waved their hats at the debouching village across the river,
and Woodson, with Tom and Franklin at his side, held up his hand and
walked toward the slowing line. An arrow suddenly quivered in the ground
almost under his feet and he stopped, raising both hands. An Indian
dashed back across the river, where he berated a group of non-combatants
and waved them toward the top of the hill. The traveling village
instantly became a confusion of quick movement and climbed the hill and
dipped over its crest much quicker than it had appeared.

Woodson swore under his breath. "Reckon we got ter fight, boys. Look
sharp an' fall back ter th' caravan. Drop th' first brave that lifts bow
an' arrer!" He glanced back to see how far they had to go and glimpsed a
dozen men under Hank and Zeb coming to their aid. He raised his hand to
them and they instantly dropped to their knees, their rifles leaping to
their shoulders. "Now," he grated. "We're bein' covered; turn an' run!"
As the three men reached the covering party they checked themselves,
joined it, faced the savages, and the entire party fell slowly back to
the wagons.

"Funny they didn't send in more'n that one arrer," growled Woodson,
thoroughly puzzled. "These hyar ain't Pawnee hoss-stealers; thar
fightin' men. _Knock down that gun!_" he snapped as a tenderfoot rested
a powerful rifle across a wagon wheel. The man beside the ambitious
Indian fighter struck it aside and the ball went into the ground. "Th'
next man as pulls trigger till I says fer him to is goin' to be d----d
sorry!" cried the captain, drawing his pistol.

The running line, moving back farther under the threat of the two
cannons, gradually stopped, facing the waiting defenders. It seemed like
the calm that precedes a storm. Then down the hill across the river came
a small group of savages more outrageously decked out than any seen so
far.

"Th' chiefs," growled Woodson. "Hope we git out o' this without a fight.
Even th' Comanches ain't usually anxious ter git inter a clawin' match
with Americans, though they air th' best o' th' prairie tribes."

"They do about what they please with th' Mexicans," replied Tom; "but
they've larned that Americans air a different breed, an' have better
guns. But some o' thar raids inter Texas have puffed 'em up. I don't
like thar village climbin' back over that hill."

"If it's ter be peace, I'd a cussed sight ruther have it over th' hill
than planted somewhar close ter us; they'd over-run th' camp an'
friction would be shore ter grow. While mebby they can't steal as slick
as th' Pawnees, they kin do it good enough ter make us cross-eyed
watchin' 'em. Some tenderfoot shore will ketch one of 'em stealin' his
belongin's an' start a fight thar an' then, with a hull passel o' 'em
inside th' corral. Wall, we'll soon find out what's goin' ter come of
it; they've jined th' line."

The white defenders eagerly watched the pow-wow being held to the
southwest of the encampment, their rifles balanced for quick handling;
then they slowly relaxed and some rested their weapons on the ground.
The consulting group of warriors split and from it, riding with slow
dignity toward the wagons, came two chiefs and two lesser warriors. They
held up their hands when within rifle shot and stopped. Woodson, Tom,
Franklin, and Haviland, mounted this time, rode with the same slow
dignity out to meet them. Franklin could speak their tongue well enough
to make himself understood, and Woodson and Tom knew the universal sign
language well enough to express themselves in it. As they left the camp
they caught a glimpse of another band of warriors riding around the
upper end of the hill and roughly estimated the combined force to be
close to five hundred. Here was good reason to be as tactful as
possible. When within speaking distance of the Comanche envoys they drew
up and the two groups eyed each other in silence for several minutes.

"Our village on the Washita is no more," said a chief who had enough
long hair to supply any hirsute deficiency of a dozen men and not suffer
by it. "Its ashes are blown by the winds and its smoke brings tears to
the eyes of our squaws and children. Our winter maize is gone and our
storehouses lie about the ground. White Buffalo and his braves were
hunting the buffalo beyond the Cimarron. Their old men and their squaws
and children were with them. Some of my young men have just returned and
brought us this news. What have the white men to say of this?"

"Our hearts are heavy for our friends the Comanches," answered Woodson.
"There are many tribes of white men, as there are many tribes of
Indians. There are the Americanos, the Mexicanos, the Englise, and the
Tejanos. The Americans come from the North and the East along their
great trail, with goods to trade and with friendship for the Comanches.
The Mexicanos would not dare to burn a Comanche village; but with the
Tejanos are not the Comanches at war? And we have seen Tejanos near the
trail. We have seen where they defeated Armijo's soldiers, almost within
sight of the Arkansas River. Cannot White Buffalo read the signs on the
earth? Our trail is plain for many days to the east, for all to see. Has
he seen our wagon tracks to the Washita? Are his young men blind? We are
many and strong and have thunder guns, but we do not fight except to
protect ourselves and our goods. We are traders."

"We are warriors!" exclaimed the chief. "We also are many and strong,
and our lances are short that our courage may be long. White Buffalo has
listened. He believes that the white chief speaks with a single tongue.
His warriors want the white man's guns and powder; medicine guns that
shoot like the clapping of hands. Such have the Tejanos. He has skins
and meat and _mulos_."

"The medicine guns are Tejano medicine," replied Woodson. "We have only
such as I see in the hands of some of our friends, the Comanches. Powder
and lead we have little, for we have come far and killed much game; blue
and red cloth we have, medicine glasses, beads, awls, knives, tobacco,
and firewater we have much of. Our mules are strong and we need no
more." He looked shrewdly at a much-bedecked Indian at the chief's side.
"We have presents for the Comanche Medicine Man that only his eyes may
see."

The medicine man's face did not change a muscle but there came a gleam
to his eyes that Woodson noted.

"The Comanches are not like the Pawnees or Cheyennes to kill their eyes
and ears with firewater," retorted the chief. "We are not Pawnee dogs
that we must hide from ourselves and see things that are not. Our hair
is long, that those may take it who can. I have spoken."

There was some further talk in which was arranged a visit from the
Comanche chief; the bartering price of mules, skins, and meat, as was
the custom of this tribe; a long-winded exchange of compliments and
assurances of love and good will, in the latter both sides making plenty
of reservations.

When Woodson and his companions returned to the encampment they went
among the members of the caravan with explicit instructions, hoping by
the use of tact and common sense to avert friction with their expected
visitors. Small articles were put away and the wagon covers tightly
drawn to minimize the opportunities of the Indians for theft.

The night passed quietly and the doubled guard apparently was wasted.
Shortly after daylight the opposite hill suddenly swarmed with dashing
warriors, whose horsemanship was a revelation to some of the tenderfeet.
Following the warriors came the non-combatants of the tribe, pouring
down the slope in noisy confusion. Woodson swore under his breath as he
saw the moving village enter the shallow waters of the river to camp on
the same side with the caravan, for it seemed that his flowery
assurances of love and esteem had been taken at their face value; but he
was too wise to credit this, knowing that Indians were quick to take
advantage of any excuse that furthered their ends. The closer together
the two camps were the more easily could the Indians over-run the
corralled traders.

Reaching the encampment's side of the stream the lodges were erected
with most praiseworthy speed, laid out in rows, and the work finished in
a remarkably short time. The conical lodges averaged more than a dozen
feet in diameter and some of them, notably that of the chief, were
somewhere near twice that size.

In the middle of the morning the chiefs and the more important warriors
paid their visit to the corral and were at once put in good spirits by a
salute from the cannons, a passing of the red-stone pipes, and by
receiving presents of tobacco and trade goods. While they sat on the
ground before Woodson's wagon and smoked, the medicine man seemed
restless and finally arose to wander about. He bumped into Tom Boyd, who
had been waiting to see him alone, and was quickly led to Franklin's
wagon where the owner, hiding his laughter, was waiting. It is well to
have the good will of the chiefs, but it is better also to have that of
the medicine man; and wily Hank Marshall never overlooked that end of it
when on a trading expedition among the Indians. He had let Woodson into
his secret before the parley of the day before, and now his scheme was
about to bear fruit.

Franklin made some mysterious passes over a little pile of goods which
was covered with a gaudy red cloth on which had been fastened some beads
and tinsel; and as he did so, both Tom and Hank knelt and bowed their
heads. Franklin stepped back as if fearful of instant destruction, and
then turned to the medicine man, who had overlooked nothing, with an
expression of reverent awe on his face.

For the next few minutes Franklin did very well, considering that he
knew very little of what he was talking about, but he managed to convey
the information that under the red cloth was great medicine, found near
the "Thunderer's Nest," not far from the great and sacred red pipestone
quarry of the far north. The mention of this Mecca of the Indians,
sacred in almost every system of Indian mythology, made a great
impression on the medicine man and it was all he could do to keep his
avaricious fingers off the cloth and wait until Franklin's discourse was
finished. The orator wound up almost in a whisper.

"Here is a sour water that has the power to foretell peace or war," he
declaimed, tragically. "There are two powders, found by the chief of the
Hurons, under the very nest of the Thunder Bird. They look alike, yet
they are different. One has no taste and if it is put into some of the
sour water the water sleeps and tells of peace; but if the other, which
has a taste, is put in the medicine water, the water boils and cries for
war. It is powerful medicine and always works."

The eyes of the red fakir gleamed, for with him often lay the decision
as to peace or war, and in this respect his power was greater even than
that of a chief. After a short demonstration with the water, to which
had been added a few drops of acid, the two powders, one of which was
soda, were tested out. The medicine man slipped his presents under his
robe, placed his fingers on his lips and strode away. When the next
Comanche war-council was held he would be a dominating figure, and the
fame of his medicine would spread far and wide over the Indian country.

"Got him, body an' soul!" chuckled Franklin, rubbing his hands. "Did ye
see his mean ol' eyes near pop out when she fizzed? He saw all th' rest
o' th' stuff an' he won't rest till he gits it all; an' he won't git it
all till his tribe or us has left. He plumb likes th' fizz combination,
an' mebby would want to try it out hyar an' now. Thar won't be no
trouble with _these_ Injuns this trip."

"An' that thar black sand ye gave him," laughed Hank, leaning back
against a wagon wheel, "that looks like powder, so he kin make his spell
over real powder, slip th' sand in its place, an' show how his medicine
will fix th' powder of thar enemies so it won't touch off! Did ye see
th' grin on his leather face, when he savvied that? He's a wise ol'
fakir, _he_ is!"

Tom grinned at Franklin. "Hank, here, has got th' medicine men o' th'
Piegan Blackfeet eatin' out o' his hand. Every time th' Crows git after
him too danged hot he heads fer th' Blackfoot country. They only
follered him thar onct. What all did ye give 'em, Hank?"

"Oh, lots o' little things," chuckled Hank, reminiscently. "Th' medicine
men o' th' Blackfeet air th' greatest in th' world; thar ain't no
others kin come within a mile o' 'em, thanks ter me an' a chemist I know
back in St. Louie. Th' other traders allus git what I leave."

When the important Indian visitors left there was quite a little
ceremony, and the camp was quiet until after the noon meal. Early in the
afternoon, according to the agreement with the chief and the medicine
man, the Indians visited the encampment in squads, and at no time was
there more than thirty or forty savages in the encampment at once.
Instead of the usual attempted stampede of the animals at night all was
peaceful; and instead of having to remain for two or three days in camp,
at all times in danger of a change in the mood of the savages, the
caravan was permitted to leave on the following morning, which miracle
threw Woodson into more or less of a daze. As the last wagon rounded a
hillock several miles from the camp site a mounted Comanche rode out of
the brush and went along the column until he espied Franklin; and a few
moments later he rode into the brush again, a bulging red cloth bundle
stowed under his highly ornamented robe.

But there was more than the desire to trade, the professed friendship
and the bribery of the medicine man that operated for peace in the minds
of the Comanches. Never so early in the history of the trail had they
attacked any caravan as large as this one and got the best of the fight.
In all the early years of the trail the white men killed in such
encounters under such conditions, could be counted on the fingers of one
hand; while the Indian losses had been considerable. With all their
vaunted courage the Comanches early had learned the difference between
Americans and Mexicans, and most of their attempts against large
caravans had been more for the purpose of stampeding the animals than
for fighting, and their efforts mostly had been "full of sound and
fury," like Macbeth's idiot's tale, and signified nothing. Still, the
caravan breathed easier as mile after mile took it away from that
encampment; but their escape was not regarded so seriously as to make
them pass Middle Spring, where good water always could be found, and
here they corralled.

Tom and his friends had grown more alert since leaving the Arkansas, and
without showing it had kept a close watch over Pedro and his companions.
The actions of these and of a few Americans, Franklin among the latter,
seemed to merit scrutiny. A subtle change was taking place in them.
Franklin spent more of his time near Tom and Hank, and Pedro and some of
the Mexicans were showing a veiled elation tinged with anxiety. Wherever
Tom went he was watched, and if he joined the advance guard, or the rear
guard, or the flanking parties, Franklin was certain to show up. He
seemed to have taken a belated but strong fancy to the young plainsman.
When Hank and Tom took the packs from the backs of their mules at night
not a move they made was missed; and they soon learned that quite a few
of the Mexicans were sleeping in the wagons of friends during the
morning traveling.

It was here at Middle Spring where Tom and Jim Ogden staged a serious
disagreement, which spread to one between Hank Marshall and Zeb
Houghton, and resulted in the two sets of partners becoming estranged.
When questioned about it in indirect ways by Franklin, Ogden sullenly
said that he could handle his troubles without the aid of others, and
_would_ handle them "danged quick" if a certain plainsman didn't look
out. Zeb was not so cautious and his remarks, vague as they were, were
plain enough to bring fleeting smiles to the faces of Pedro and his
friends.

The grass was better here than at any place since the Arkansas had been
left and as some of the animals were beginning to show unmistakable
signs of the long journey, it was decided to remain here another night
and give them a chance to recuperate a little. The news was hailed
joyfully and numerous hunting parties were arranged at the fires the
first night. Woodson called for volunteers to form a strong day guard
for the animals, which he wanted driven from the camp to graze over the
best grass, and he asked for another strong guard to watch the corral,
since Comanches, Pawnee Picts, Kiowas, and even more northern tribes out
on horse-stealing expeditions could be looked for without unduly
straining the imagination. Arapahoes, Utes, and even Cheyennes were not
strangers to the valley of the Cimarron, and once in a while Apache
raiders paid it flying visits.

Woodson made the round of the fires, trying to discourage the formation
of so many small hunting parties while the caravan was corralled in such
broken and dangerous country, and succeeded in reducing the numbers of
the hunters about half and in consolidating them into two large parties,
capable of offering some sort of resistance to an Indian attack. One of
these he put under the command of Hank, to that person's great disgust,
for Hank had planned to go on a hunt with his partner, and to join Ogden
and Houghton when well away from the camp. Tom was to remain with the
wagons; Ogden was to have charge of the other hunting party, and
Houghton and Franklin were to stay near the grazing herd.

The fires dimmed here and there as their builders forsook them for
blankets; others glowed brilliantly, among them the fire of Tom and
Hank. The former had said good night to Joe Cooper and Patience and was
walking toward his fire when Pedro silently joined him and went along
with him. Hank was off entertaining a party of tenderfeet with tales of
miraculous adventures in the mountains, and after lying to the best of
his ability for two hours, and hardly being questioned, he described a
wonderful country lying east of Henry's Fork of the Snake River; south
of the Snow Mountains; north of Jackson's Lake and west of the Shoshones
Mountains. It lay along the Yellowstone River and the headwaters of the
Stinking Water, and it contained all manner of natural wonders, which he
described earnestly and graphically, to bursts of laughter. The more
earnest he became the more his auditors roared and finally he got to his
feet, glared around the circle, declared he was not going to "eddicate
airy passel o' danged fools," and stalked away in high dudgeon,
muttering fiercely. Reaching his own fire he threw himself down by it
and glared at the glowing embers as if he held them responsible.

Tom nudged Pedro. "Somebody ask ye fer a left-hand wipin' stick, Hank?"
he asked.

"Thar a passel o' fools!" snorted Hank. "If hoss sense war ten paces
wide an' ten miles long in every man, ye couldn't collect enough o' it
in th' whole danged party fer ter make an ear tab fer a buffaler gnat!"

"Tellin' 'em about that thar river ye saw that couldn't find no way
outer th' valley, an' finally had ter flow up over a mounting?"

"Ye mean them up-side-down water falls?" queried Hank, grinning. "Yes,
an' some o' 'em come clost ter swallerin' it. Why, I sot thar an' filled
'em plumb ter th' ears with lies an' they didn't hardly wink an eye.
Then I told 'em o' that valley on th' Yallerstun, whar th' Injuns won't
go because they figger it's th' home o' th' Devil. An' th' more I told
'em about it, th' more th' danged fools laughed! I'd like ter hold 'em
over one o' them thar water-squirts, or push 'em down into th' bilin'
mud pots! Swallered th' lies, dang 'em, an' spit out th' truth!"

Tom roared and after a moment looked curiously at his partner. "I
thought ye said you'd never tell nobody about that country ag'in?"

"Oh, I felt so danged sorry fer thar ignorance that I reckoned I'd
eddicate 'em, th' dumb fools! If I had a ox an' it didn't know more'n
them all put together, danged if I wouldn't shoot it!" He sliced off a
pipeful of tobacco and pulled an ember from the fire. "What you an'
Pedro been hatchin' out?"

"Nothin', yit," answered Tom; "but I would like ter hear a little more
'bout that thar roundabout trail inter Santa Fe." He looked at Pedro.
"How fur away from hyar does it begin?"

"Not so ver' far, señor," answered the Mexican. "Thees way from thee
Upper Spr-ring, where thee soldats are used to meet thee car-ravan. We
come to eet soon. We should leeve thees camp tomor-row night."

"What's th' use o' that when ye said th' soldiers ain't goin' ter meet
us this year?" demanded Tom.

"Why don't they meet th' trains whar they oughter, 'stead o' waitin'
till they git past th' Injun dangers?" demanded Hank with some feeling.

"Does not thee señor know?" chuckled Pedro. "Eet ees not for protec'
thee car-ravan that they meet eet. Eet ees that no man may leave thee
tr-rail an' smuggle hees goods past thee customs. For what does Manuel
Armijo care for protec' thee traders? Eef he deed, would he not meet
them at thee Arkansas? Eet ees only for thee customs that he sends thee
soldats. To get away fr-rom theese we mus' tak thee other tr-rail befo'
eet ees too late."

"That's all right fer other years," growled Tom; "but if they ain't
goin' ter meet us _this_ time we kin stick ter th' trail an' leave it a
lot closer ter Santer Fe."

Pedro was doing his best to play safe from all angles. If the troops
tried to take Tom Boyd from the caravan, or show that he was a prisoner,
a great deal of trouble might come out of it, for these Americans were
devils for sticking together. If that fear were groundless, then Tom
Boyd and his trapper friends, on sight of the troops, might cut and run;
and if forced to stand and fight they could be counted on to give a good
account of themselves against the poorer arms of their Mexican enemies;
and somewhere in the hills he thought there were Texans and he knew them
well enough to know that they would only be too glad to take a hand in
any fight against Mexicans if they learned of it in time. At first he
had been content to get Tom Boyd to the Upper Spring or to Cold Spring,
only a few miles farther on, and there turn his responsibility over to
the commander of the troops. If he could get them to slip away from
their friends and be captured out of sight and hearing of the caravan
it would suit him much better; and if he could coax them to take their
goods with them, he and his friends could divide the spoils and slip the
plunder past the customs officers. The caravan was now within fifty
miles of Cold Spring and he must make up his mind and act quickly.

"Eet ees then you weesh to pay thee char-rges?" the Mexican asked,
raising his eyebrows.

"No!" growled Hank. "They air a robbery, plain an' simple."

"No!" said Tom, who was giving but little thought to the customs duties,
but a great deal to his own personal freedom. He did not want to meet
any kind of officers, customs or otherwise. He would have jumped at a
secret trail into the settlements had he not known so much about Pedro.
"At th' same time I ain't hankerin' fer ter leave th' caravan so soon.
We're nigh three hundred miles from Sante Fe, an' thar ain't no way we
kin go that'll cut off ten miles. This wagon road runs nigh as straight
as th' crow flies. What about grass fer th' mules, an' water?"

"Ah," breathed Pedro. "We weel not go to Santa Fe, señor; we go near
Taos, less than two hundred mile away from here. Along thee Ocate
Cr-reek I haf fr-riends who know ver' well thee mountains. They weel tak
us over them. How can thee señores sell their goods onless by ways that
ar-re made? Weeth us we haf men that know that tr-rail. We weel send one
befor-re to thee Ocate, an' follow heem fast."

Tom studied the fire for a few moments and then looked up at his guest.
"We want ter think this over, Pedro," he said. "You figger what per cent
o' th' customs savings you want fer yer share, an' we'll decide
tomorrow night. Hank, here, wants ter go ter Bent's an' reckons we kin
git a good price thar fer our goods. Let you know then. Good night."

After Pedro had painted the picture of the innocent-looking loads of
faggots and sheepskins, hay and produce, towering over the backs of the
nearly hidden pack mules as they toiled through the canon and over the
rough trail leading from the Valley of Taos into Santa Fe, their loads
passing the customs house without drawing even a careless glance and
then, by many turnings, safely arriving at various destinations with
their smuggled goods; after he had described the care and foresight of
his friends and their trustworthiness, and made many knowing bows and
grimaces, he smilingly departed and left the partners to themselves.

Knowing that they were being watched they idled before the fire,
careless now of their store of wood, of which plenty was at hand, and
talked at random; but through the droning of their careless words many
times there could be heard the name "Bent's Fort," which Hank mentioned
with affectionate inflections. It seemed that he very strongly preferred
to go to that great trading post and rendezvous of hunters and trappers,
where old friends would be met and new ones made. Tom held out for Santa
Fe, but did not show much enthusiasm. Finally they rolled up in their
blankets, feet toward the fire and heads close together and simulated
sleep. Half an hour later they were holding a whispered conversation
which was pitched so low they barely could hear each other.



CHAPTER XV

TEXAN SCOUTS


The day broke clear and the usual excitement and bustle of the camp was
increased by the eager activities of the two hunting parties. After the
morning meal the animals were driven some distance from the camp and the
herd guards began their day's vigil. Tom placed the outposts and
returned to report to the captain, and then added that he had something
of a very confidential nature to tell him, but did not want to be seen
talking too long with him.

Woodson reflected a moment. "All right; I'll come after ye in a few
minutes an' ask ye ter go huntin' with me. 'Twon't be onusual if we
ketch th' fever, too."

Tom nodded and went over to Cooper's wagons to pay his morning's
respects, and to his chagrin found that Patience had gone for a short
ride with Doctor Whiting and his friends.

"Sorry to miss her, Uncle Joe," he said. "Things are going to happen
fast for me from now on. I may leave the caravan tonight. About two
days' more travel and we'll be south of Bent's. Hank and I don't want to
lose our merchandise, we can't take it with us, and we need to turn it
into money. How much can you carry from here on?"

Uncle Joe scratched his head. "The two big wagons can take five
hundred-weight more apiece, and this wagon can stand near eight hundred,
seein' that it ain't carryin' much more than our personal belongings.
Don't worry, Tom; if I can't handle it all, Alonzo and Enoch can take
th' balance. Them greasers showing their cards?"

"It's like this: According to those Texans we met, no troops are going
to meet us this trip. Their advance guard got thrashed and Armijo and
the main body turned tail at Cold Spring and fled back to Santa Fe. I
could go with the caravan miles farther and probably be safe; but if
Pedro gets a messenger away secretly there is no telling what may
happen. If I stay with the caravan and put up a fight it might end in
embroiling a lot of the boys and certainly would make trouble for them
if the train pushed on to Santa Fe, and it's got to push on. I won't
surrender meekly. So, you see, I'll have to strike out."

Uncle Joe nodded. "If it wasn't for Patience, and my brother in Santa
Fe, I'd strike out with you. Goin' to Bent's?"

"Bent's nothing!" retorted Tom. "I'm going to Santa Fe, but I'm going a
way of my own."

"It's suicide, Tom," warned his friend. "Better let me take in your
stuff, an' meet us here on the way back. Patience won't spoil; an' when
she learns how much you're wanted by Armijo she'll worry herself sick if
she knows you are in th' city. Don't you do it!"

Tom scowled at a break in the hills and in his mind's eye he could see
her riding gaily with his tenderfoot rivals. "Reckon she won't fall
away," he growled. "Anyhow, there's no telling; an' there's no reason
why she should know anything. I told her I was goin' to Santa Fe, an'
I'm going!"

Uncle Joe was about to retort but thought better of it and smiled
instead. "Oh, these jealous lovers!" he chuckled. "Blind as bats! Who do
you know there, in case I want to get word to you?"

Tom swiftly named three men and told where they could be found, his
companion nodding sharply at the mention of two of them.

"Good!" exclaimed the trader. "Throw your packs into my wagons an' I'll
see to stowin' 'em."

"No," replied Tom. "That's got to be done when th' camp's asleep. I'm
supposed to be takin' 'em with me.

"But these Mexicans'll trail you, an' get you when you're asleep,"
objected Uncle Joe.

Tom laughed and shook his head, and turned to face Woodson, who was
walking toward them. "Th' captain an' I am goin' huntin'. See you
later."

"Git yer hoss, Boyd," called the captain. "I'm goin' fer mine now. How
air ye, Mr. Cooper?"

"Never felt better in my life, captain. We all owe you a vote of thanks,
an' I'll see that you get it."

"Thar ain't a man livin' as kin git a vote o' thanks fer me out o' this
caravan," laughed Woodson, his eyes twinkling. "But I ain't got no call
ter kick: I ain't had nigh th' trouble I figgered on. Jest th' same,
I'll be glad when we meet up with th' greaser troops at Cold Spring. I
aim to leave ye thar an' go on ahead an' fix things in th' city."

Uncle Joe caught himself in time. "That's where we bust up?"

Woodson nodded. "Thar ain't no organization from thar in. Don't need it,
with th' sojers. All us proprietors that ain't got reg'lar connections
in th' city will be leavin' from Cold Spring on."

"Any danger from th' Injuns, leavin' that way?"

"Oh, we slip out at night," answered Woodson. "Thar ain't much danger
from any big bands. Got ter do it; customs officers air like axles; they
work better arter they air greased. I aim ter leave two waggins behind
th' noon arter we git to th' Upper Spring, an' save five hundred apiece
on 'em. Th' other six kin make it from thar with th' extry loads, an'
th' extry animals to help pull 'em." He looked toward the wagons of
Alonzo and Enoch, where Tom had tarried on his way back. "Thar's a fine,
upstandin' young man; I've had my eye on him ever since we left th'
Grove."

"He is; an' anythin' he tells you is gospel," said Uncle Joe.

They saw the two traders waving their arms and soon Tom hurried up.

"Alonzo an' Enoch would like to go with us, only thar hosses air with
th' herd," he said.

"Then we'll go afoot," declared Woodson. "I ain't hankerin' so much fer
a hunt as I air ter git away from these danged waggins fer a spell. I'm
sick o' th' sight o' 'em. Better come along, Mr. Cooper."

"That depends on how fur yer goin'; this young scamp will walk me off my
feet."

"Oh, jest a-ways around th' hills; dassn't go too fur, on account of
airy Injuns that may be hangin' 'round."

In a few moments the little group had left the encampment behind and out
of sight and Woodson, waving the others ahead, fell back to Tom's side.

"Hyar we air, with nobody ter listen. What ye want ter tell me?"

To the captain's growing astonishment Tom rapidly sketched his
conversation with the two Texans, his affair with the despotic New
Mexican governor and what it now meant to him. Then he told of his
determination to leave the caravan some night soon, perhaps on this
night.

"Wall, dang my eyes!" exclaimed Woodson at the conclusion of the
narrative. "Good fer them Texans! Young man, which hand did ye hit him
with? That un? Wall, I'll jest shake it, fer luck." He thought a moment.
"Ye air lucky, Boyd; north o' here, acrost th' headwaters o' this river,
an' a couple more streams, which might be dry now, ye'll hit th'
Picketwire, that's allus wet. If ye find th' little cricks dry, head
more westward an' ye'll strike th' Picketwire quicker. It'll take ye
nigh inter sight o' Bent's; an' thar ain't no finer men walkin' than
William an' Charles Bent. Hate ter lose ye, Boyd; but thar ain't no two
ways 'bout it; ye got ter go, or get skinned alive."

"I'm not goin' ter Bent's, captain," said Tom quietly. "I'll be in Santa
Fe soon after you git thar. Hank knows them mountains like you know this
trail. When I'm missed if ye'll throw 'em off my track I'll not fergit
it." He smiled grimly. "If I war goin' ter Bent's they could foller, an'
be damned to 'em. I'd like nothin' better than have 'em chase us
through this kind o' country."

Woodson chuckled and then grew thoughtful. "Boyd, them Texans air goin'
ter make trouble fer us, shore as shootin'. It'll be bad fer you, fer
every American in these settlements is goin' ter be watched purty clost.
Better go ter Bent's."

"Nope; Hank an' me air headin' fer Turley's, up on Arroyo Hondo. Hank
knows him well. Hyar come th' others. I've told you an' Cooper, an'
that's enough. You fellers ain't turnin' back so soon, air ye?" he
called. "Ye don't call this a hunt? Whar's yer meat?"

"Whar's yourn?" countered Alonzo, grinning. "I ate so many berries I got
cramps."

"Us, too," laughed Uncle Joe. "My feet air tender, ridin' so long. We're
goin' back."

"Might as well jine ye, then," said Woodson. "Comin', Boyd?"

"Not fer awhile," answered Tom, pushing on.

He made his way along the lower levels, reveling in the solitude and the
surroundings, and his keen eyes missed nothing. A mile from camp he
suddenly stopped and carefully parted the thick berry bushes. In the
soft soil were the prints of many horses, most of them shod. Cautiously
he followed the tracks and in a few moments came to the edge of a small,
heavily grassed clearing, so well hidden by the brush and the thick
growth of the trees along the encircling, steep-faced hills that its
presence hardly would be suspected. Closely cropped circles, each
centered by the hole made by a picket pin, told him the story; and when
he had located the sand-covered site of the fire, whose ashes and sticks
carefully had been removed, an imprint in the soft clay brought a smile
to his face.

"Following us close," he muttered. "Lord help any Mexicans that wander
away from the wagons. Nearer twenty than what they said." He slipped
along the edge of the pasture and found where the party had left the
little ravine. Following the trail he soon came to another matted growth
of underbrush, and then he heard the barely audible stamp of a horse.
Creeping forward he wormed his way through the greener brush and finally
peered through an opening among the stems and branches. A dozen Texans
were lolling on the floor of the ravine, and he knew that the others
were doing sentry duty.

A shadow passed him and he froze, and then relaxed as Burch came into
sight. It was needful that he make no mistake in how he made his
presence known, for a careless hail might draw a volley.

Burch passed him treading softly and when the man's back was turned to
him Tom called out in a low voice. "Burch! Don't shoot!"

"Boyd!" exclaimed the sentry. "Cussed if ye ain't a good un, gittin'
whar ye air an' me not knowin' it. What ye doin' hyar?"

"Scoutin' fer Injuns. Glad ter see ye."

Burch stepped to the edge of the ravine. "Friend o' mine comin' down,
name o' Boyd." He turned. "Go down an' meet th' boys; thar honin' fer to
shake han's with th' kiyote that hit Armijo. Be with ye soon."

Tom descended and shook hands with the smiling Texans and in a few
moments was at home in the camp. He noticed that they all had the Colt
revolving rifles which his friend Jarvis, back in St. Louis, had
condemned. Each man wore two pistols of the same make, and most of them
carried heavy skinning knives inside their boot legs.

"I heard tell them rifles warn't o' much account," he observed.

"Wall, they ain't as good as they might be," confessed a lanky Texan,
"if thar used careless an' git too hot. A Hawken will out-shoot 'em; but
we mostly fight on hossback, an' like ter git purty clost. Take them
greasers we run inter; we didn't pull trigger till we war a hundred
paces away, an' by th' time we'd emptied th' rifles an' pulled pistols
th' danged fight war over. Th' Injuns don't like 'em worth a cuss.
That's a right smart rifle ye got thar, friend."

Tom passed it around and it was duly admired. Then the guard was changed
and Burch and Flint appeared.

"You fellers air stickin' purty clost ter us," observed Tom.

"But not as clost as th' greasers air," laughed Flint. "Danged if we kin
ketch one o' 'em away from th' waggins."

"That's jest as well," replied Tom. "More'n half of 'em hate Armijo as
much as we do. If ye pick 'em off careless yer bound ter make mistakes.
Thar's one gang that's fer him strong, an' 'twon't be long before they
split from th' others an' stand out so thar won't be no mistakin' 'em.
They'll be trailin' me an' Hank in a bunch. We're aimin' ter slip away
an' head fer Bent's some place between hyar an' the Upper Spring."

"Thought ye was goin' ter Santa Fe," said Burch in surprise. "If yer
goin' ter Bent's ye should 'a' left th' train at th' Crossin'."

"I'm goin' ter Santa Fe," replied Tom, "but thar's some folks that air
anxious ter see me. If they larn I'm thar I'll likely be stood ag'in a
wall; an' Armijo'll add my ears ter his c'llection. We got ter throw 'em
off our trail." He smiled grimly around the circle. "I don't want
Salezar ter larn I'm in this part o' the country, fer I want ter git my
paws on him."

At the mention of that name the eyes of the leader flamed with
flickering fires and he leaned slightly forward, unable to conceal his
eagerness. "Whar ye aimin' ter leave th' caravan, friend?" he asked.

"Don't know jest yet," answered Tom, "but I know th' way we'll head. Ye
know whar th' waggin road crossed McNees Crick? Wall, plumb north o'
that a crick empties inter th' Cimarron. Thar's a dry gully jines th'
crick at its mouth, makin' a V. Th' gully war made by th' buffalers
wearin' away th' top soil, which let the rains cut inter th' sand
beneath an' wash it away. That buffaler trail is th' biggest ye ever
saw, an' it's worn down so deep that every rain pours a stream along it.
It's cut a gully back fer a hundred paces to whar th' buffaler wallers
have turned a little pasture inter a swamp when it rains. Clost to its
upper end is a hill, whar my partner built a cache about ten years back.
He says th' pit could be easy seen when he war thar last."

"We're aimin' ter head fer Bent's as soon as th' caravan gits too fur
along," said the leader, who not long since had returned from the
lepers' hospital, used as a prison in his case, in Mexico City. His
bitterness had seared him to the soul and Tom thought it strange that he
so easily would forego the desire for revenge, the flames of which
intermittently flickered in his eyes. "I've been wonderin' about th'
best an' straightest way to Bent's, with water on it. Yer pardner says
that's th' best trail?"

"Yes," replied Tom. "An' it's th' best fer us in another way. Thar's
springs in th' river bed up thar an' fer near a mile th' river's allus
wet. Ye see, we got ter throw th' greasers off our trail, which will be
too danged plain, with two hosses an' eight mules. I'd swap th' eight
mules fer two hosses, seein' as how we're fixed, but I dassn't make th'
play, fer everybody in th' caravan would larn of it. Come ter think of
it, thar'll be more hosses an' mules; couple o' friends air goin' with
us. We change our packs tonight, buildin' 'em up with buffaler rugs we
traded th' Comanches fer, in case we part with our goods an' leave th'
caravan afterward. Th' two extra hosses would be enough ter carry our
grub an' supplies, an' they'd let us make better time than th' mules
would."

The Texans nodded and one of them glanced at his leader while he spoke
to Tom. "Reckon if ye got them mules ter Bent's ye could sell 'em, or
trade 'em fer a couple o' hosses?" He hesitated and then said: "We're
runnin' powerful short o' powder an' lead."

"Th' caravan bein' so clost ter Santa Fe, it's got more o' both than it
needs," replied Tom. "If we kin git ye some we'll leave it behind th'
hill at that old cache o' Hanks. If ye go that way, look fer it." He
grinned. "Hank an' me air aimin' ter carry some in one of th' buffaler
rug packs. Thar's two fifty-pound pigs o' lead fastened to each o' th'
cannon carriages, an' they won't have no use fer more than one ter each
gun.

"Wish I war goin' with ye," growled the Texan leader, his eyes flaming
again. "I'm hankerin' ter git Salezar's ears, fer I saw th' polecat
c'llect Texan ears on th' road from San Miguel ter 'Paso, ter keep th'
tally o' his prisoners straight. He strung 'em on a wire, d--n him!" His
face became livid with passion, and murder raised its grisly visage in
his eyes.

Tom paled. "Yes," he said. "He took th' ears o' a friend o' mine that
war sick an' weak with hunger an' cold an' exhaustion, an' couldn't keep
up. He had traded most o' his clothes fer short rides on th' mules o'
th' guards. They killed him near Valencia, an' his ears war took ter
account fer him."

"Valencia!" muttered the leader, pacing back and forth like a panther.
"I remember him! Oh, Christ!" he cried, and then got hold of himself.
"Boyd, I'd give everythin' I own ter git my han's on that Salezar; an'
go ter hell with a smile on my face!" Then he stiffened and reached
convulsively toward his holster, for the unmistakable twang of a
bowstring sounded from the bushes above his head. The Texans leaped to
their arms, but Tom stopped them with a cry.

"Wait, boys! That's Hank--my pardner!" He looked up toward the bushes.
"Ye damned fool! Show yerself!"

"Didn't hardly know if 'twar safe," chuckled Hank, his head slowly
arising above the tangle of leaves and vines, a dozen paces from the
place where the bowstring had twanged.

"Whar's that huntin' party ye war nursin'?" quickly demanded Tom.

"Took 'em 'round on t'other side o' th' camp, ast 'em ter hold my hoss,
an' left 'em thar," chuckled the plainsman, making his way down the
hillside with caution and silence that had become habitual.

"Boys," said Tom, "hyar's a 'dopted son o' th' Piegan tribe o' th'
Blackfeet, name o' Hank Marshall, an' he's more Injun than any brave in
th' tribe. Anyhow, I'd ruther have a Injun on my trail than him. He's
goin' with me ter Santa Fe; an' Salezar's shore goin' ter need all his
friends!"

"Put her thar!" said the Texan leader. "If yer lookin' fer help I'll
jine ye, cussed if I won't!"

"Don't want no help that's strange ter Taos an' Santer Fe," laughed
Hank. "We got two Green River boys, an' don't need no more; don't hardly
need them, but Zeb wants his ha'r, an' I wants his ears, ears bein' his
pet joke." He looked at the leader. "You boys run inter some 'Rapahoes?
Thar's nigh onter a dozen projectin' 'round these hills. Stumbled acrost
thar camp a-ways back. If I'd had one o' them newfangled rifles ye got
so many of, danged if I wouldn't 'a' trailed 'em." He grinned
expansively. "They cleaned out a cache o' mine, three year back, up on
Big Sandy Crick, an' I ain't paid 'em fer it yit."

"We shore do need powder an' lead," said the leader thoughtfully. He
turned to one of his men. "Sam, reckon we kin part with pore Williams'
rifle?"

"Seein' as we got three more extrys, reckon we kin," answered Sam. "It
oughter be worth a keg o' powder an' a couple o' pigs o' lead." He
walked over to where their supplies were piled and returned with a heavy
Colt repeating rifle. "Hyar, Hank," he said, handing it to the hunter.
"Be keerful ter keep th' powder from spillin' down 'round th' cap end;
an' don't empty her too fast after th' first few shots. Hyar's th' mold,
an' some caps. Git a Injun ter pay fer pore Williams. She's full loaded,
so look out."

The rifle was sheathed in a saddle scabbard and Hank took it, looked
from it to his own, weighing them both. "Heavy as all git out," he
remarked. "Wall, 'twon't weigh nothin' when it's slung ter a saddle.
Might be handy purty soon. Much obliged, friends. How we goin' ter git
th' powder an' lead ter ye?"

"I've arranged fer that," said Tom, picking up his rifle. "Wall, good
luck, boys. Remember us at Bent's if ye git thar."

"Reckon it's you boys that need th' good luck," grimly replied the
leader. He watched the two visitors until they were lost to sight in the
brush and then turned to his men, his eyes flaming again. "Break camp,
boys; we're crossin' th' river close by, ter circle back ag'in farther
up."

Tom and Hank, moving silently back toward the encampment, had covered
about half of the distance when they heard a sudden burst of shots,
yells, and the thunder of hoofs. Running up the side of a little hill
they peered over the top and flung themselves down. Less than two
hundred paces away a little party of tenderfeet, with Patience Cooper in
the center, fought frightened horses as a band of nearly a dozen Indians
came charging straight for them across the little clearing. As they
looked one of the tenderfeet's horse went down, spilling its rider, and
throwing the group into still greater confusion.

"'Rapahoes!" snorted Hank, and his rifle spoke. "_One_ fer my cache!"

The double-barreled rifle of his companion roared twice and another
warrior plunged from his horse, while the third fought madly to keep his
seat, but his weakening grasp loosened and he rolled over and over
across the grass. Tom dropped the empty rifle and started to rise, his
hand leaping to the Colt revolver at his belt; but Hank, who had slipped
the newly-acquired repeating rifle from its sheath, poked it into his
friend's hand and fell to re-loading his Hawken. "She's yore gal. Give
'em hell!" he grunted.

The deadly and unexpected attack from the little hilltop created a
diversion which for the moment turned the thoughts of the savages from
the tenderfeet in the open, and the charging line split to pass the
forlorn group and give its full attention to the real menace; but as it
hesitated the heavy, regular crashes of the revolving rifle rolled from
the hill, its lead always selecting the warrior nearest to the
panic-stricken group. Here an Indian went down, there a horse; and with
the cry "_Tejanos!_" the rest of the savage band wheeled and dashed over
the route they had come. The last warrior to reach the edge of the
pasture was for one instant silhouetted against the sky on the edge of a
ravine, and at that moment Hank's rifle cracked. Throwing both arms up
over his head, he turned a backward flip from the horse and sprawled
inertly in a currant bush. Re-loading as quickly as they could while on
the run the two plainsmen hastened to the group, and Tom, pulling Dr.
Whiting from his horse, was within an inch of strangling him when
Patience's hands on his wrists checked him.

"Six trusty knights!" sneered the enraged plainsman, hurling the doctor
from him. "I _said_ you were six flashes. Ask a woman to go riding with
you in a country as broken as this, and as over-run with Indians!" He
took a step forward, seething with rage, and ran his eyes over the
speechless tenderfeet. "Git back to camp, all of you! Miss Cooper goes
with us!" Poised, tense, and enraged he watched them go and did not know
that Hank had run to the little hilltop for the double-barreled rifle
until the old hunter returned with it, loaded its two barrels, capped
them and threw the weapon under his arm. At that moment a burst of
firing sounded from the north and Hank cocked his head.

"Sounds like them Colt rifles," he remarked, and then kicked himself
figuratively, for at his words, his two companions, almost in each
other's arms, started, stiffened, and stepped apart. Seeing that the
damage already was done, Hank placidly continued. "Is thar another
passel o' Texans loose 'round hyar, or has our friends hit th' trail
already?"

"Yes," said Tom, quivering like a leaf.

Patience closed her eyes. "Yes," she sighed.

Hank scratched his head and frowned, very much puzzled. "Shucks! thar
ain't no doubt 'bout it, a-tall. Course it is--an' I'm a danged old
fool!"

"You're one of the four best men I ever knew," said Patience, resting
her hand on his arm.

Hank felt of the disgraceful, stubby beard on his face, scowled at his
blackened hands, and furtively brushed at a bloodstain on his shirt.
Then he wheeled abruptly and strode off to look over the victims of the
little affray. When he turned again he saw Patience and Tom going toward
camp, Patience on her horse and Tom striding at her side. Fixing the
strap to his own rifle he slung the weapon over his shoulder and, with
the double-barreled weapon balanced expertly in his hands, slowly
followed after to act as a badly needed protector to them both.

Back in camp Tom handed Patience into her uncle's care, looked at her in
a way she would remember to the end of her days, and hastened on to
report to the captain of the caravan. When he reached Woodson he found
Hank there before him, laughingly recounting the fight. As Tom came up
Hank stepped back and slipped away, heading straight for the excited
group of tenderfeet at the other end of the encampment, and roughly
pushed in among them.

"Look hyar, ye sick pups," he blurted. "My pardner dassn't thrash any o'
ye, or he'll mebby lose his gal. Anybody hyar wantin' ter take advantage
o' an old man? Huh! Then open yer dumb ears ter this: If I ketch airy
one o' ye hangin' 'round Cooper's waggins, or even sayin' 'how-de-do'
to that gal, I'll git ye if I has ter chase ye all the way back ter
Missoury!" He spat at the doctor's feet, turned his back and rambled
over to where his trade goods were piled. On the way he met Zeb, who
scowled at him.

Hank pulled some black mops out of his pocket, showed them, and shoved
them back again.

"Hell!" said Zeb, enviously. "Whar ye git 'em?"

"Found one on a currant bush," chuckled Hank, and went on again.

Zeb placed his fists on his hips and scowled in earnest. "I didn't know
what that shootin' war, with all th' hunters runnin' 'round. Dang him!
He allus _did_ have more luck ner brains!"

Up at the captain's wagon Woodson nodded as his companion finished
speaking. "I reckon ye kin have 'most anythin' in this hyar camp, Boyd.
Two bars o' lead off'n th' cannon carriages, an' a keg o' powder? Shore,
I'll put th' powder in Cooper's little waggin, an' ye kin help yerself
ter th' lead when ye git th' time."



CHAPTER XVI

THE PASSING OF PEDRO


After supper that night Hank and Tom sat around their fire and soon were
joined by Pedro, who paid them effusive compliments about their defeat
of the Arapahoes. They squirmed under his heavy flattery and finally, in
desperation, spoke of the secret trail to Taos. His face beamed in the
firelight and he leaned eagerly forward.

"You have decide?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Tom. "Whar we goin' ter meet, and what time?"

"Ah?" breathed Pedro. "To that have I geeve _mucho_ thought. Eet should
be ear-rly, so we be far away by thee coming of thee sun. Ees eet not
so?"

"Naw," growled Hank. "Folks air not sleepin' sound enough then. Nobody's
goin' ter foller us. Thar'll be lots o' 'em leavin' camp at night from
now on, tryin' ter beat each other ter th' customs fellers. Two hours
afore dawn is time enough. But we got lots o' time ter figger that; we
won't be ter th' Upper Spring fer two more days. Time enough then ter
talk about it."

"But, eet ees tonight!" exclaimed Pedro. "_Madre de Dios!_ You teenk I
mean near thee Upper Spreeng? No! No!"

"Mebby not; but that's whar _we_ mean," said Tom. "Think we're goin'
pokin' along through this Injun country fer two nights an' a day by
ourselves? Th' caravan gits ter Willer Bar tomorrow night, an' camps at
th' Upper Spring, or Cold Spring, th' next night. That puts us near
fifty miles further on in th' protection of th' caravan."

"No! No!" argued Pedro in despair. "Eet ees too _mucho_ reesk!"

"Of what?" demanded Tom, in surprise.

"Eet may be that Armijo send _soldats_ to meet thee tr-rain, lak other
times. Señores, eet mus' be tonight! Tonight eet mus' be!" He looked
around suddenly. "But where ar-re thee _cargas_, thee packs? I do not
see them. What ees eet you do?"

"We put 'em outside th' corral," chuckled Tom knowingly, "so folks will
git used ter seeing 'em thar. Tomorrow night we'll do th' same, an' do
it ag'in at th' Upper Spring. Somebody shore would see us if we had ter
pack 'em here an' sneak 'em through th' camp. Ye should tell yer friends
ter put thar packs outside th' waggins, too. How we goin' ter git
through th' guards around th' camp?"

"By my fr-riends," answered Pedro. "But eet may be too late at Cold
Spreeng!" he expostulated. "Eef thee _soldats_ ar-re there--ah, señores!
Eet ees ver' bad, Cold Spreeng!"

"We ain't botherin' 'bout that," said Tom reassuringly. "Hank kin scout
on ahead o' us, an' if thar camped up thar we kin drop out o' th' train
behind any bend on th' way, an' take ter th' brush."

Pedro begged and pleaded, but to no avail. He still was arguing when his
two companions rolled up in their blankets and settled down to go to
sleep. Sadly he walked away, hiding his anger until well out of their
sight, and then hastened to his own fire and sent three of his
compatriots to watch the sleeping pair. They had their watch for
nothing, and while they doggedly kept their eyes on the two plainsmen,
Uncle Joe and his two wagoners were busy on the other side of the camp,
stowing merchandise in the wagons and making false packs. This they
found easy to do without calling upon many buffalo rugs, for the goods
had been packed in light boxes, over which had been thrown skins and
canvas. By taking out the contents of the boxes and putting the
containers back into their original wrappings the shapes of the packs
did not change. The pigs of lead, a keg of powder and bundles of stones
were wrapped in pieces of old skins to give weight to the packs to keep
them from flopping at every step of the mules. They did not start to
work until Zeb Houghton and Jim Ogden returned from their tour of guard
duty and took up another kind of guard duty near the wagons; and long
before daylight awakened the encampment the work was done and no one the
wiser. Alonzo Webb and Enoch Birdsall had taken care of the packs
belonging to Ogden and Houghton and everything was in shape for quick
action.

On the march again after an early breakfast the caravan plodded along
the trail to reach Willow Bar in good time for the next night camp. As
the wagons rolled along the road following the course of the Cimarron,
Uncle Joe and Patience dropped back to the rear guard, where Hank
Marshall scowled at Jim Ogden, but refrained from open hostilities.
Hank was glad to see them and entertained them mile after mile with
accounts of his life and experiences in the great West. At times his
imagination set a hard pace for his vocabulary, but the latter managed
to keep up. The men exchanged tobacco off and on and no one gave a
second thought to what they were doing. When Uncle Joe and Patience rode
forward again as the train drew near to the noon camping place, Uncle
Joe was poorer and lighter by the loss of a goodly sum in minted gold,
while Hank was richer and heavier. The balance was obtainable in Santa
Fe in the warehouse of a mutual friend.

The wagons hardly had left the noon camp when a heavy rain storm burst
upon them, with a blast of cold air that quickly turned the rain into
driving sheets of hail. These storms were common along the Cimarron and
at times raged for two or three days. The animals became frantic with
fear and pain, and the train was a scene of great confusion from one end
to the other. Alternate downpours of rain, sleet, and heavy hailstones
continued all the rest of the day and the encampment at Willow Bar was
one of sullenness and discontent. The wind rose during the early part of
the night and sent the rain driving into the wagons through every crack
and crevice, and the flapping and slapping and booming of wagon covers,
added to the fury of the wind and the swish of the downpour, filled the
night with a tumult of noise. The guards around the camp either crawled
under skins or crept back to their wagons, not able to see three feet in
the blackness.

Tom and Hank had taken refuge under a great Pittsburg wagon owned by
Haviland and had fastened buffalo rugs to its sides to shed some of the
rain. As soon as darkness set in and Pedro's spies found that they could
not see an arm's length from them and were drenched and half frozen by
the steady downpour, they fled from their posts and sought refuge from
the storm. It took very little to convince them that the men they were
to watch would stay where they were until dawn or later, and they did
not let Pedro know of their deflection.

"Nine, ten, eleven," muttered the first of two men leading packmules as
they felt their way from wagon to wagon. "This oughter be Haviland's,
Zeb. Yep, I kin feel thar skin walls." He bent down and raised the lower
edge of a skin. "Hank! Tom!"

"All right, Jim," came the low answer, and the two partners, bundled in
skins until they looked like nothing human, crawled from their snug
shelter and stood up, their one and constant thought being for the
covers of the hammers of their heavy rifles. Hank pushed ahead and the
night swallowed up the little party.

Uncle Joe raised himself on one elbow and peered through a small opening
in the canvas at the rear end of his first huge wagon, and got a faceful
of cold rain before he could close the opening again. He had done this a
dozen times since dark. Muttering sleepily he rolled up in his blankets
and rugs and dozed again, squirming down into the warm bed as vague
thoughts sped through his mind of what his friends were going to face.

Suddenly the soft whinny of a horse sounded squarely under him, and he
bounced from the blankets and crept to a crack where the canvas was
nailed to the tailboard of the wagon. "Hello!" he called. "Hello!"

A low voice answered him and he shivered as a trickle of cold rain
rolled down his face. "Thought you had given it up till tomorrow night.
This is a hell of a night, boys, to go wandering off from the camp. Sure
you won't get lost among th' hills?" He chuckled at the reply and
shivered again. "Sure I'll tell her Bent's. Yes. No, she won't. What?
Look here, young man; she's plumb cured of tenderfeet. Yes, I remember
everything. All right; good luck, boys. God knows you'll need it!" He
listened for a moment, heard no sounds of movement, and called again.
"What's th' matter?" There came no answer and he crept back to his
blankets, his teeth chattering, and lay awake the rest of the night,
worrying.

Between the wagons and the road the little pack train waited, kept
together by soft bird calls instead of by sight. A plaintive,
disheartened snipe whistled close by and was answered in kind. Hank
almost bumped into Ogden before he saw him. They both looked like
drowned rats, the water slipping from the buffalo hair and pouring from
them in little rills.

"Ain't a guard in sight, or ruther feelin', fifty feet each side o' th'
road," Hank reported. "Bet every blasted one o' 'em is back in camp.
Mules all tied together? Everybody hyar? All right. Off we go."

All night long the little _atejo_ slopped down the streaming road, kept
to it by the uncanny instinct and the oft repeated cheeping and
twittering of the adopted son of the Blackfeet, who could perfectly
imitate any night bird he ever had heard; and he had heard them all.
Horses whinnied, mules brayed, wolves and coyotes howled, foxes
squalled, chipmunks scolded, squirrels chattered and several other
animals performed solos in the dark at the head of the little pack
train, to be answered from the rear. Anyone unfortunate enough to be
camped at the edge of the trail would have thought himself surrounded by
a menagerie.

With the first sullen sign of dawn Tom pushed on ahead, reconnoitered
the Upper Spring, found it deserted and went on, riding some hundreds of
yards from, but parallel to, the trail and soon came to Cold Spring.
Here he saw quantities of camp and riding gear, abandoned firelocks,
personal belongings, and other things "forgotten" by the brave Armijo
and his army in their precipitate retreat from the Texans, while the
latter were still one hundred and fifty miles away. Scouting in the
vicinity for awhile he rode back and met the little _atejo_, which had
been plodding steadily on at its pace of three miles an hour; and all
the urging of which the men were capable would not increase that speed.

At the Upper Spring, which poured into a ravine and flowed toward the
Cimarron a few miles to the north, the wagon road drew farther from the
river and ran toward the Canadian; and here the little party left it to
turn and twist over and around hills, ravines, pastures and woods, and
then slopped down the middle of a storm-swollen rivulet. They turned up
one of its small feeders and followed it for half a mile and then,
crossing a little divide, struck another small brook and splashed down
it until they came to the Cimarron. Here they threw into the river the
useless contents of the false packs, distributed the supplies among the
mules, and pushed on again upstream along the bank.

They now were well up on the headwaters of the river and its width was
negligible, although its storm-fed torrent boiled and seethed and gave
to it a false fierceness. Their doubling and the hiding of their trail
in the streams had not been done so much for the purpose of throwing the
Mexicans off their track, as to make their pursuers think they were
trying to throw them off. They knew that the Mexicans, upon losing the
tracks, would strike straight for the old and now almost abandoned
Indian trail for Bent's Fort.

"We got about a ten-hour start on 'em," growled Tom, "but they'll cut
that down quick, once they git goin'. Reckon I'll lay back a-ways an'
slow 'em up if they git hyar too soon."

Zeb and Jim wheeled their horses and without a word accompanied him to
the rear.

Hank, leading the bell mule, pushed on, looking for the site of his old
cache and for a good place to cross the swollen stream, and he soon
stopped at the water's edge and howled like a wolf. In a few minutes his
companions came up, reported no Mexicans in sight, and unpacked the more
perishable supplies. These they carried across to the other bank, their
horses swimming strongly and soon the mules were ready to follow. Tom
led off, entering the stream with the picket rope of the bell mule
fastened to his saddle, and with his weapons, powder horn and "possible"
sack high above his head. His horse breasted the current strongly,
quartering against it, and the bell mule followed. After her, with a
slight show of hesitation, came the others, the three remaining hunters
bringing up the rear.

As the _atejo_ formed again and started forward Hank hung back, peering
into the stunted trees and brush on the other side of the stream.

"Come on, Hank," said Tom. "What ye lookin' fer? They warn't in sight."

"I war sorta hankerin' fer 'em ter show up," growled Hank with deep
regret. "That's plumb center range from hyar, over thar. Wouldn't mind
takin' a couple o' cracks at 'em, out hyar by ourselves, us four. Allus
hate ter turn my tail ter yaller-bellies like them varmints. I hate 'em
next ter Crows!" He slowly turned his horse and fell in behind the last
mule, glancing back sorrowfully. Then he looked ahead. "Thar's my ol'
cache," he chuckled.

Before them on the right was an eroded hill with steep sides, its flat
top covered with a thick mass of brush, berry bushes and scrub timber,
and on its right was a swamp, filled with pools and rank with
vegetation. The dry wash marking the end of the great buffalo trail was
dry no longer, but poured out a roiled, yellow-brown stream into the
dirty waters of the Cimarron.

Rounding the hill they stopped and exchanged grins, for in a little
horseshoe hollow two horses, with pack saddles on their backs, stopped
their grazing, pulled to the end of their picket-ropes, and looked
inquiringly at the invaders.

"Thar's jest no understandin' th' ways o' Providence," chuckled Hank as
he dismounted. "Hyar we been a-wishin' an' a-wishin' fer a couple o'
hosses to take th' place o' these cold-'lasses mules, an' danged if hyar
they ain't, saddles an' all, right under our noses."

While he went along the back trail on foot to a point from where he
could see the river, his companions became busy. They pooled their
supplies and packed them securely on the Providence-provided horses, put
the rest on their own animals, picketed the mules and removed the bell
from the old mare, tossing it aside so its warning tinkle would be
stilled. Signalling Hank, in a few minutes they were on their way again
along the faint and in many places totally effaced trail leading over
the wastes to the distant trading post on the Arkansas. Coming to a
rainwater rivulet Hank sent them westward down its middle while he rode
splashingly upstream. Soon coming to a tangle of brush he forced his
horse to take a few steps around it on the bank, returned to the stream
and then, holding squarely to its middle, picked his way through the
tangle and rode back to rejoin his friends, having left behind him a
sign of his upward passing. In case Providence went to sleep and took no
more interest in his affairs, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he
had done what he could to hide their trail.

He found his friends waiting for him and he shook his head as he joined
them. "Danged if I like this hyar hidin'," he growled, coming back to
his pet grievance. "I most gen'rally 'd ruther do it myself."

"But it ain't a question o' fighting," retorted Tom. "We got ter hide
our trail from now on in case some greaser gits away, like they did from
them Texans back nigh th' Crossin', an' takes th' news in ter th'
settlements that we didn't go ter Bent's after we left th' wagon road.
Ye'll git all th' danged fightin' yer lookin' fer afore ye puts Santa Fe
behind ye--an' I'm bettin' we'll all show our trails a hull lot worse
afore we git through ter Bent's. Come on; Turley's ranch is a long ways
off. If yer itchin' ter try that repeatin' rifle ye'll shore git th'
chance ter, later."

Hank grinned guiltily and while he was not thoroughly convinced of the
soundness of their flight, so far as his outward appearances showed, he
grunted a little but pushed on and joined his partner. In a few minutes
he grinned again.

"I ain't never had th' chanct ter try fer six plumb-centers without
takin' th' rifle from my shoulder," he remarked. "Jest wait till I take
this hyar Colt up in th' Crow country!" He chuckled with anticipated
pleasures and then glanced sidewise at his partner. "Say, Tom," he said,
reminiscently; "who air th' three other best men yer gal was thinkin'
of, back thar in that little clearin'?"

"What you mean?" demanded Tom, whirling in his saddle, his face flushing
under its tan. "An' she ain't my gal, neither."

Hank chirped and twittered a bit. "Then who's is she?"

"Don't know; but she won't like bein' called mine. Ye oughtn't call her
that."

"Not even atween us two?"

"Not never, a-tall."

"That so?" muttered Hank, a vague plan presenting itself to his mind, to
be considered and used later. "Huh! I must be gittin' old an'
worthless," he mourned. "I been readin' signs fer more'n thirty year,
an' I ain't never read none that war airy plainer, arter them thievin'
'Rapahoes turned tail an' lit out. Anyhow, I reckon mebby yer safe if ye
keep on _thinkin'_ that she's yer gal." He scratched his chin. "But who
war th' other three?"

"Why, I do remember her saying something like that," confessed Tom
slowly, tingling as his memory hurled the whole scene before him.
"Reckon she meant Uncle Joe an' her father."

"That accounts fer two o' 'em," said Hank, nodding heavily; "but who in
tarnation is th' third?"

"Don't know," grunted Tom.

"Huh! Bet he's that stuck-up, no-'count doctor feller. Yeah; that's who
it is." He glanced slyly at his frowning friend. "Told ye I war gettin'
old an' worthless. Gosh! an' she's goin' all th' rest o' th' way ter
Santer Fe with him!" He slapped his horse and growled in mock anxiety.
"We better git a-goin' an' not loaf like we air. Santer Fe's a long ways
off!"

Two miles further on they turned up a little branch of the stream and
Hank, stopping his horse, threw up his hand. "Listen!" he cried.

Four pairs of keen ears sifted the noises of the intermittent wind and
three pairs of eyes turned to regard their companion.

"What ye reckon ye heard?" curiously asked Zeb.

"I'd take my oath I heard rifle shots--a little bust o' 'em," replied
Hank. "Thar ain't no questionin' it; I _am_ gittin' old. Come along;
we'll keep ter th' water fur's we kin, anyhow."

       *       *       *       *       *

Back at the encampment of the caravan dawn found the animals stampeded,
and considerable time elapsed before they were collected and before the
absence of Tom and his friends was noticed. Then, with many
maledictions, Pedro rallied his friends and set out along the wagon
road, following a trail easily seen notwithstanding the rain which had
beaten at the telltale tracks all night. Mile after mile unrolled behind
them, saturated with Spanish curses; miles covered with all the vengeful
ferocity and eagerness of Apaches. The score of Mexicans were
well-armed, having spent the winter in the Missouri settlements and
procured the best weapons to be had there. The Upper Spring came near
and was put behind in a shower of hoof-thrown mud, and without pause
they followed the tracks leading into the rough country, like hounds
unleashed. They were five to one, and these odds were deemed sufficient
in a sudden night attack. There would be satisfaction, glory, and
profits for them all. The Governor had demanded Tom Boyd's ears, on him
if possible, without him if they could be obtained in no other way; the
Governor was powerful and would reward loyal and zealous service. They
followed the trail of the _atejo_ around hills, through ravines, and
past woods, an advance guard of three men feeling the way. Then the
tracks ceased at the side of a creek; but they did not pause. Choosing
the straightest practical route to the Cimarron at the beginning of the
old Indian trail running northward to the Arkansas, they kept on. At
last they saw the muddy flood of the river and as they reached its banks
and read them at a glance they sent up an exultant shout. Holding their
weapons and powder well above the backs of their swimming horses they
reached the further side and took up the trail again.

Pedro dashed forward and flung up an arm and as his followers stopped in
answer he cheered them with a Spanish oration, in which Pedro played no
minor part. "Pedro never loses!" he boasted. "Before noon we will be on
the heels of the gringo dogs and our scouts will find their camp in the
night. Before another sun rises in the heavens we will have their ears
at our belts and their trade goods on the way to the Valley of Taos!
Forward, my braves! Forward, my warriors! Pedro leads you to glory!"

They snapped forward in their saddles as the spurs went home, their
rifles at the ready, their advance guard steadily forging ahead, and
thundered along the tracks of the fleeing _atejo_. Rounding the little
hill with its frowsy cap of brush and scrub timber, they received a
stunning surprise; for dropping down the steep bank as if from the sky
charged twenty-odd vengeful Texans, their repeating rifles cracking like
the roll of a drum. Pedro's exultant face became a sickly yellow, his
burning eyes in an instant changed to glass, and his boasting words
were slashed across by the death rattle in his throat. Volley after
volley crashed and roared as the charging Texans wheeled to charge back
again, and as they turned once more on the hillside they pulled up
sharply and viewed the havoc of their deadly work. No man was left to
carry tales, and Pedro had spoken with prophetic vision, for he had
indeed led his warriors to glory--and oblivion.



CHAPTER XVII

"'SPRESS FROM BENT'S"


Circling back to the river so as not to lose its guidance nor stray too
far out of the direct course, they reached its desolate banks at
nightfall and camped at the base of a low hill on the top of which grew
dense masses of greasewood. Zeb had shot a black-tailed deer on their
way to the river and their supper that night, so far as the meat was
concerned, would have delighted the palate of an epicure. Cooked over
the hot, sputtering, short-lived greasewood, which constantly was added,
and kept on the windward side of the blaze, the flavor of the meat was
very little affected and they gorged, hunter-like, until they could eat
no more; and partly smoked some of the remaining meat to have against
some pressing need.

As the stream dwindled the nature of its banks and of the surrounding
country changed, the vegetation steadily becoming more desert-like.
White chalk cliffs arose like painted eyebrows from the tops of the
banks, where erosion had revealed them; loose and disintegrating
sandstone lay about the broken plain in myriads of shapes. Stunted and
dead cottonwoods added their touch to the general scene, leaning this
way and that, weird, uncanny, ghostlike. The drab sagebrush and the
green fan of the palmetto became steadily more common, the latter
figuring largely in the daily life of the Mexicans, for its mashed,
saponaceous roots provided them with their pulpy _amole_, which was an
excellent substitute for soap. Prickly pears, Spanish bayonets, masses
of greasewood bushes and scattering fringes of short grama grass
completed the carpeting of the desolate plain.

Doggedly they pushed on, thankful for the heavy rains of the last two
days, which had reached even here and left little pools of bad-tasting
water for themselves and their beasts. At noon they stopped and built a
fire of stunted cedar, for in daylight its telltale flames told nothing.
They cooked another black-tailed deer, smoked some of the meat, and ran
bullets until they had all of the latter they could possibly use. On
again toward the Canadian until nightfall, lighting no fire, but eating
the meat they had cooked at noon. They arranged a four-shift watch and
passed a peaceful night. In their range of vision were Raton Peak,
Pike's Peak, and the Wet Mountain, that paradise for hunters; the twin
Spanish Peaks with their caps of snow, and behind these towering
sentries loomed the sullen bulk of a great mountain range under a thin
streak of glittering white.

At any distance their appearance hardly would tell whether they were
white hunters or Indians from Bent's, since their garb was a mixture of
both and their skins so tanned, their hair so long as to cause grave
doubts. More than once in that country two white men have exchanged
shots, each taking the other for an Indian. At Bent's Fort on the
Arkansas there were stray Indians from far-off tribes, and they dressed
in what they could get; and at The Pueblo, that little trading post
farther up on the Arkansas, Indians and whites lived together and
intermarried. Not one of the four but could speak more than one savage
dialect; and Tom's three companions possessed an Indian vocabulary which
left little to be desired. If it came to a test which might prove too
severe for him he could be dumb, and fall back on the sign language.

At last the Canadian was reached and passed, and Hank led them
unerringly up the valley of a little feeding stream which poured its
crystal flood down the gorges of a mountain range now almost over their
heads. Coming to a rocky bowl scooped out of the sheer, overhanging wall
at a bend, he built a fire of dry wood that was safely screened, and
from his "possible" sack he took various leaves and stems and roots he
had collected on the way. Four white men looking more like Indians had
entered that little valley just before dusk. In the morning at dawn two
white men, a Blackfoot and a Delaware, a hunting party from Bent's Fort
with messages for Bent's little Vermajo ranch, located in a mountain
valley, left the ravine and followed a little-used Ute trail that their
leader knew well. Hank wore the Blackfoot distinctive double part in his
hair just above the forehead, the isolated tuft pulled down to the
bridge of his nose, and fastened to his buckskin trousers were thin
strips of beadwork made by Blackfoot squaws.

The Mexican herder working for Bent uneasily watched them as they rode
up to his makeshift lean-to and demanded a change of horses, a report of
his stewardship, and the use of his fire. They were not bad fellows and
were generous with their heavenly tobacco, and finally his uneasiness
wore away and he gossiped with them while the night more and more shut
in his lavish fire and seemed to soften the guttural polyglot of the two
Indians. The white men did most of the talking, as was usual, and could
make themselves understood in the herder's bastard Spanish and they
answered sociably his numerous questions. Had they heard of the great
_Tejano_ army marching to avenge the terrible defeat inflicted by the
brave Armijo on their swaggering vanguard? It was the great subject from
the upper end of the Valley of Taos to the last settlement along the Rio
Grande and the Pecos. The ignoble dogs of _Tejanos_ had basely murdered
the brave Mexican scouting party near the Cimarron Crossing of the
Arkansas. What could the _soldats_ of Mexico do, attacked in their
sleep? Most of the murdered _soldats_ had come from the Valley of Taos,
which always had been friendly to Texas. Was it true that the _Tejanos_
spit fire on dry nights and could kill a full-grown bull buffalo with
their bare hands? Ah, they were devils and the sons of devils, those
_Tejanos_; and at night all doors were tightly barred in the settlements
and strange Americans regarded with suspicion.

Some nights later, down the rough, steep sides of the Arroyo Hondo,
through which trickled a ribbon of water from a recent rain, four
Indians rode carefully, leading two pack animals. They were two
Arapahoes, a Blackfoot, and a Delaware, and they followed the ravine and
soon came in sight of the little mountain pasture, dotted with cedar
bushes and sparsely covered with grass, which sloped gently down the
mountain side. In the fading twilight the so-called ranch stood vaguely
outlined, the nature of its log and adobe walls indiscernible, its mill
and the still house looming vaguely over the main building against the
darker background of the slope. The faint smell of sour mash almost hid
the mealy odor of the grist mill; hogs grunted in the little corral by
the fenced-in garden, while an occasional bleating of sheep came from
the same enclosure. Dark shapes moved over the cedar-brush pasture and
the frequent stamping of hoofs told they were either horses or mules.
High up near the roof of the composite building were narrow oblongs of
faint radiance, where feeble candle light shone through the little
squares of gypsum, so much used in that country in place of window
glass. As the four newcomers smilingly looked at the comfortable
building the foot-compelling strains of a cheap violin squeaked and
rasped resinously from the living quarters and a French-Canadian, far
from home, burst ecstatically into song. Dreaming chickens cackled
briefly and a sleepy rooster complained in restrained indignation, while
the rocky mountain side relayed the distant howl of a prowling coyote.

The leader drew the flap over the ultra-modern rifle in its sheath at
his leg and glanced back at his companions.

"Wall," he growled, "hyar we air; we're plumb inter it, now."

"Up ter our scalp-locks," came a grunted reply.

"Hell! 'Tain't th' fust time they've been in danger. They'll stand a
lot o' takin'," chuckled another voice. He softly imitated a coyote and
the sleepy inmates of the hen house burst into a frightened chorus.

"Hain't ye got no sense?" asked Hank, reprovingly.

"Wouldn't be hyar if I had. I smell sour mash. Let's go on."

Hank kneed his mount, no longer the one which had become so well known
to many eyes on the long wagon trail, and led the way down to the door.
At the soft confusion of guttural tongues outside the house the door
opened and Turley, the proprietor, stood framed in the dim light behind
him.

"'Spress from Señor Bent's," said the nearest Indian, walking forward.
"It's Hank Marshall," he whispered. "Want ter palaver with ye, Turley."

"Want's more whiskey, I reckon," growled Turley. "Hobble yer hosses on
th' pasture. Ye kin roll up 'most anywhar ye like. Fed yit?"

"_Si, señor; muchos gracias_," answered the Indian. "_Señor! cary mucho
aguardiente grano!_"

"Oh, ye do?" sarcastically replied Turley. "Whiskey, huh? Wall, ye'll do
better without it. What's Bent want o' me?"

"_Aguardiente de grano, señor!_"

Turley chuckled. "He does, hey? I say he picks damned poor messengers to
send fer whiskey! We'll talk about that tomorrow. Roll up some'rs in yer
blankets an' don't pester me." He stepped back and the door slammed in
the eager, pleading face of the Blackfoot, to a chorus of disappointed
grunts. The rebuffed savage timidly knocked on the door and it was flung
open, Turley glaring down at him. "Ye heard what I said, an' ye savvied
it! Reckon I want four drunk Injuns 'round hyar all night? We ain't
a-goin' ter have no damned nonsense. Take yer animals off ter th'
pasture an' camp down by th' crick! _Vamoose!_"

The picture of pugnacity, he stood in the door and watched them slowly,
sullenly obey him, and then he slammed it again, swearing under his
breath. "Quickest way ter git murdered is ter give them Injuns likker!"
he growled.

"_Mais, oui_," said the French-Canadian, placing his fiddle back under
his chin, and the stirring air went on again.

Three hours before dawn Hank awoke and without moving his body let his
eyes rove over the dark pasture. Then like a flash of light his heavy
pistol jammed into the dark blotch almost at his side, and he growled a
throaty inquiry.

"It's me, Hank," came the soft reply. "Take that damned thing away!
What's up?"

Three other pairs of eyes were turned on them and then their owners
stirred a little and grunted salutations, and made slight rustlings as
their hands replaced what they had held.

"Nothin', only a courtin' party," chuckled Hank.

"Wall, I've heard tell o' courtin' parties," ruminated Turley; "but
never one made up like Injuns and armed to th' teeth. Might know some
damned fool thing war afoot when yer mixed up in it. Who ye courtin', at
yer time o' life? Somebody's wife?"

"We're aimin' fer Santer Fe," said Hank. "Got ter have help ter git thar
th' way we wants. Them Texans has made it hard fer us, a-stirrin' up
everythin' like they has."

"Whar'd ye git yer hosses?" anxiously demanded Turley.

"Inderpendence, Missoury," innocently answered Hank, his grin lost in
the darkness.

"Then ye come over th' wagon trail, an' up th' Arkansas?"

"Over th' wagon trail an' up th' Cimarron, with th' second caravan o'
traders. Come nigh straight acrost from Cold Spring."

"Wall, I'll be damned!" muttered Turley. Then he snorted. "Ain't ye got
no sense, ye Root Digger? Everybody in th' train'll know them hosses!"

"We swapped 'em at Bent's rancho on th' Vermajo--good gosh! Two o' 'em
come from them Texans!"

"They didn't have no brands," said Tom. "I heard 'em say somethin' about
gettin' some at Bent's. We got ter risk it, anyhow. It'll be like addin'
a spoonful o' freight ter a wagon load."

Hank's mind was running in a groove that he had been gouging deeper and
longer hour after hour and he refused to be sidetracked by any question
concerning the horses they had changed. "We want ter swap hosses ag'in
an' borry some rags fer clothes; an' before daylight, too."

Tom arose on one elbow. "That's all right, fur's it goes; only it don't
go no-whar," he declared. "We want ter git rid o' these hosses, an' we
want th' clothes; but that ain't all. We want a job, Turley. Need any
mule wranglers ter take some freight inter Santer Fe?"

"Day after tomorrow," answered Turley. "We got ter git rid o' these
animals afore then, ye got ter git shet o' 'em afore mornin'. I'll send
Jacques out ter take 'em away as soon as I go back ter th' house. Arter
he leaves with 'em I'll bring ye some ol' clothes so ye'll look a little
different from them four fools that swapped hosses at Bent's rancho. Th'
peon up thar won't git away, nor mebby see nobody fer weeks; but we
better take th' pelt afore th' meat spiles under it. I got some hosses
th' Utes stole from th' 'Rapahoes. We stole 'em from th' Utes. They
ain't marked, an' they ain't knowed down in th' valley."

"But we'll still be four," commented Tom, thoughtfully.

"That's shore a plain trail," said Jim Ogden. "Here: You an' Hank take a
mule apiece an' go back th' way we come, fur a spell. Me an' Zeb kin
freight whiskey with Turley's _atejo_, an' meet ye along th' trail
some'rs, or in Santer Fe, at th' warehouse. Ye kin load yer mules with
faggots ter be sold in town, an' tag onter our mule train fer society
an' pertection. Yer rifles kin be hid under th' faggots."

"We'll be unpackin' th' mules noon an' night," replied Tom. "How 'bout
our rifles then?"

"Can't be did," grunted Hank.

"We got ter risk that peon seein' anybody ter talk to," said Tom.
"Anyhow, 'tain't nothin' unusual fer him ter see fellers from th' fort.
We'll go on with th' _atejo_, after we make a few changes in our
clothes, an' ride Turley's hosses 'stead o' Bent's. But we can't jine
that mule train as no party o' four. We got ter lose that danged number,
that's flat."

"You an' Hank," offered Zeb, "bein' Blackfoot an' Delaware, kin be
hunters from Bent's; me an' Jim, bein' 'Rapahoes turned friendly, kin
come from St. Vrain's post. Th' South Platte, up thar, is th' 'Rapahoe
stampin' ground an' we both know it from one end to t'other. That'll
count fer all o' us havin' first-class weapons. Somebody's shore goin'
ter notice them."

Turley nodded. "Yes; hyar's whar ye lose that cussed four. You two
'Rapahoes git scarce afore daylight, goin' on foot an' leavin' no trail.
Come back from th' way o' th' old Ute trail from th' Bayou Salade. I'm
runnin' a little herdin' up o' my hosses on th' side o' th' mounting;
they're scatterin' in th' brush too much. Fer that I'll be needin' all
my men that ain't goin' as muleteers. I'll hire you boys, two at a time,
ter go 'long with th' _atejo_ as guards. Thar's thieves atween hyar an'
Santer Fe that likes Turley's whiskey an' ground meal. I'll give ye a
writin' ter my agent in town to pay ye off, an' ye'll git through, all
right. Do ye reckon ye'll have ter git outer Santer Fe on th' jump?
Seein' as how yer so danged careful how ye git inter th' town, it may be
that ye ain't welcome a hull lot. Knowin' Hank like I do, makes me
suspicious."

"We'll mebby git out quicker'n scat," answered Tom, chuckling. "They'll
mebby be touchy about strangers, with them Texans prowlin' 'round. If we
git ter goin' strong as a Texan raid an' they find out that it's only
four no-'count Injuns full o' Taos lightnin', they'll mebby move fast.
We may make quite a ruckus afore we git through, if they find out who we
air."

"What th' hell ye aimin' ter do? Capture th' town?" demanded Turley,
unable to longer hold down his curiosity.

"Aimin' ter git our trade goods money, see a young lady, hang 'round
till th' return caravan start back fer th' States, an' mebby squar up
fer a few o' them Texans that _didn't_ git ter Mexico City," answered
Tom.

"This hyar's th' Tom Boyd that slapped Armijo's kiyote face," explained
Hank. "We hears th' Governor is lonesome fer his company."

"Great Jehovah yes!" exclaimed Turley. "Boyd, ye better jine that thar
caravan from Bent's, meetin' up with it at th' Crossin'. Armijo combed
these hyar mountings fer ye, an' watched my rancho fer nigh a week. He'd
'most give his right hand ter git a-holt o' you; an' if he does, you kin
guess what'll happen ter you!" He peered curiously at the young American
and shook his head. "I'm bettin' ye _do_ leave on th' jump, if yer lucky
enough ter leave at all. Ye'll need fresh hosses, another change o'
clothes an' a cache o' grub. Tell ye what," he said, turning to Hank.
"Ye know that little mounting valley whar you an' me stopped fer two
days, that time we war helpin' find th' hosses that war run off Bent's
Vermajo rancho? Wall, I'll fix it so these hyar hosses will be waitin'
fer ye up thar. I got some men I kin trust as long as I'm playin' agin'
th' greasers. I'll cache ye some Dupont an' Galena, too," he offered,
referring to powder and lead. The latter came from Galena, Illinois,
and took its name from that place.

"An' forty pounds o' jerked meat a man," added Hank. "We might have ter
go clean up ter th' South Park afore we dast turn fer Bent's. Hang it on
that thar dead ash we used afore, or clost by if th' tree's down. We
better leave ye some more bullets as will fit our own weapons without no
doubt. We kin run more in th' warehouse in Santer Fe if we need 'em.
Keep yer Galena, Turley, an' leave some patches, instid, along with our
bullets."

"But we'll still be four arter we leave hyar," objected Jim.

"No, ye won't," replied Turley. "Ye'll show up in pairs, ye'll jine in
pairs, ye'll ride an' 'sociate in pairs, an' thar'll be a dozen more
mixin' up with ye. Wall, talk it over among ye while I gits busy afore
it's light," and the friendly rancher was swallowed up in the night.

A few minutes later Jacques, sleepy and grumbling, loomed up out of the
darkness, collected the six horses and departed up the slope. Shortly
after him came Turley with a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends
of worn-out clothing and soon his friends had exchanged a garment or two
with him. Tom and Hank parted with their buckskin shirts and now wore
coarse garments of Pueblo make; Zeb had a Comanche leather jerkin and
Jim wore a blue cotton shirt patched with threadbare red flannel. They
bound bands of beadwork or soft tanned skin around their foreheads, and
Hank's hair proudly displayed two iridescent bronze feathers from the
tail of a rooster. If Joe Cooper, himself, had come face to face with
them he would have passed by without a second glance.

Silently Zeb and Jim melted into the night, while Tom and Hank arose and
went around to the wall of the still house, rolled up in their
newly-acquired blankets against the base of the adobe wall and slept
until discovered and awakened after dawn by one of Turley's mill hands,
who paid them a timid and genuine respect.

They loafed around all day, watching the still house with eager eyes.
Their wordless pleading was in vain, however, for Turley, frankly
scowling at their first appearance, totally ignored them thereafter.
Just before dusk two half-civilized Arapahoes from St. Vrain's South
Platte trading post swung down the mountain side, cast avaricious eyes
on some horses in the pasture, sniffed deeply at the still house, and
asked for whiskey.

"I'll give ye whiskey," said Turley after a moment's thought, a grin
spreading over his face, "but I won't give it ter ye hyar. If ye want
likker I'll give ye a writin' ter my agent in Santer Fe, an' he'll give
ye all yer porous skins kin hold, an' a jug ter take away with ye."

"_Si, señor! Si, señor! Muchos gracias!_"

"Hold on thar! Hold yer hosses!" growled Turley. "Ye don't reckon I'm
makin' ye no present, do ye? Ye got ter earn that likker. If ye want it
bad enough ter escort my _atejo_ ter th' city, it's yourn. I'm combin'
my hosses outer th' brush, an' I'm short-handed. By gosh!" he chuckled,
smiling broadly.

"Thar's a couple more thirsty Injuns 'round hyar, some'rs; hey, Jacques!
Go find them watch dogs o' th' still house. They won't be fur away, you
kin bet. These two an' them shore will scare th' thieves plumb ter death
all th' way ter town. I kin feel _my_ ha'r move!"

Jacques returned shortly with Bent's thirsty hirelings, and after some
negotiations and the promise of horses for them to ride, the Indians
accepted his offer. They showed a little reluctance until he had given
each of them a drink of his raw, new whiskey, which seemed to serve as
fuel to feed a fire already flaming. The bargain struck, he ordered them
fed and let them sleep on the softest bit of ground they could find
around the rancho.



CHAPTER XVIII

SANTA FE


After an early breakfast the _atejo_ of nineteen mules besides the
_mulera_, or bell mule, was brought out of the pasture and the
_aparejos_, leather bags stuffed with hay, thrown on their backs and
cinched fast with wide belts of woven sea-grass, which were drawn so
cruelly tight that they seemed almost to cut the animals in two; this
cruelty was a necessary one and saved them greater cruelties by holding
the packs from slipping and chafing them to the bone. Groaning from the
tightness of the cinches they stood trembling while the huge cruppers
were put into place and breast straps tightened. Then the _carga_ was
placed on them, the whiskey carriers loaded with a cask on each side,
firmly bound with rawhide ropes; the meal carriers with nearly one
hundred fifty pounds in sacks on each side. While the mules winced now,
after they had become warmed up and the hay of the _aparejos_ packed to
a better fit, they could travel longer and carry the heavy burdens with
greater ease than if the cinches were slacked. The packing down and
shaping of the _aparejo_ so loosened the cinch and ropes that frequently
it was necessary to stop and tighten them all after a mile or so had
been put behind.

The _atejo_ was in charge of a major-domo, five _arrieros_, or
muleteers and a cook, or the _madre_, who usually went ahead and led the
bell mule. All the men rode well-trained horses, and both men and horses
from Turley's rancho were sleek, well fed and contented, for the
proprietor was known throughout the valley, and beyond, for his
kindness, honesty and generosity; and he was repaid in kind, for his
employees were faithful, loyal, and courageous in standing up for his
rights and in defending his property. Yet the time was to come some
years hence when his sterling qualities would be forgotten and he would
lose his life at the hands of the inhabitants of the valley.

The _atejo_ swiftly and dexterously packed, the two pairs of
bloodthirsty looking Indian guards divided into advance and rear guard,
the _madre_ led the bell mule down the slope and up the trail leading
over the low mountainous divide toward Ferdinand de Taos, the grunting
mules following in orderly file.

The trail wandered around gorges and bowlders and among pine, cedar, and
dwarf oaks and through patches of service berries with their small,
grapelike fruit, and crossed numerous small rivulets carrying off the
water of the rainy season. Taos, as it was improperly called, lay twelve
miles distant at the foot of the other side of the divide, and it was
reached shortly after noon without a stop on the way. The "noonings"
observed by the caravans were not allowed in an _atejo_, nor were the
mules permitted to stop for even a moment while on the way, for if
allowed a moment's rest they promptly would lie down, and in attempting
to arise under their heavy loads were likely to strain their loins so
badly as to render them forever unfit for work. To remove and replace
the packs would take too much time. Because of the steady traveling the
day's journey rarely exceeded five or six hours nor covered more than
twelve to fifteen miles.

Taos reached, the packs were removed and covered by the _aparejos_, each
pile kept separate. Turned out to graze with the bell mule, without
picket rope or hobbles, the animals would not leave her and could be
counted on, under ordinary circumstances, to be found near camp and all
together.

Taos, a miserable village of adobes, and the largest town in the valley,
had a population of a few American and Canadian trappers who had married
Mexican or Indian women; poor and ignorant Mexicans of all grades except
that of pure Spanish blood, and Indians of all grades except, perhaps,
those of pure Indian blood. The mixed breed Indians had the more courage
of the two, having descended from the Taosas, a tribe still inhabiting
the near-by pueblo, whose warlike tendencies were almost entirely
displayed in defensive warfare in the holding of their enormous,
pyramidal, twin pueblos located on both sides of a clear little stream.
In the earlier days marauding bands of Yutaws and an occasional
war-party of Cheyennes or Arapahoes had learned at a terrible cost that
the Pueblo de Taos was a nut far beyond their cracking, and from these
expeditions into the rich and fertile valley but few returned.

Here was a good chance to test the worth of their disguises, for the
three older plainsmen were well-known to some of the Americans and
Canadians in the village, having been on long trips into the mountains
with a few of them. And so, after the meal of _frijoles_, _atole_ and
jerked meat, the latter a great luxury to Mexicans of the grade of
_arrieros_, Hank and his two Arapahoe companions left the little
encampment and wandered curiously about the streets, to the edification
of uneasy townsfolk, whose conjectures leaned toward the unpleasant.
Ceran St. Vrain, on a visit to the town, passed them close by but did
not recognize the men he had seen for days at a time at his trading post
on the South Platte. Simonds, a hunter from Bent's Fort, passed within a
foot of Hank and did not know him; yet the two had spent a season
together in the Middle Park, lying just across the mountain range west
of Long's Peak.

Continuing on their way the next morning they camped in the open valley
for the night, and the next day crossed a range of mountains. The next
village was El Embudo, a miserable collection of mud huts at the end of
a wretched trail. The Pueblo de San Juan and the squalid,
poverty-stricken village of La Canada followed in turn. Everywhere they
found hatred and ill-disguised fear of the Texans roaming beyond the
Canadian. Next they reached the Pueblo de Ohuqui and here found snug
accommodations for themselves and their animals in the little valley.
From the pueblo the trail lay through an arroyo over another mountain
and they camped part way down its southeast face with Santa Fe sprawled
out below them.

Morning found them going down the sloping trail, the Indian escort
surreptitiously examining their rifles, and in the evening they entered
the collection of mud houses honored by the name of San Francisco de la
Santa Fe, whose population of about three thousand souls was reputed to
be the poorest in worldly wealth in the entire province of New Mexico;
and, judging from the numbers of openly run gambling houses, rum shops
and worse, the town might have deserved the reputation of being the
poorest in morals and spiritual wealth.

Sprawled out under the side of the mountain, its mud houses of a single
story, its barracks, _calabozo_ and even the "palace" of the governor
made of mud, with scarcely a pane of glass in the whole town; its narrow
streets littered with garbage and rubbish; with more than two-thirds of
its population barefooted and unkempt, a mixture of Spaniards and
Indians for generations, in which blending the baser parts of their
natures seemed singularly fitted to survive; with cringing, starving
dogs everywhere; full of beggars, filthy and in most cases disgustingly
diseased, with hands outstretched for alms, as ready to curse the tight
of purse as to bless the generous, and both to no avail; with its
domineering soldiery without a pair of shoes between them, its arrogant
officers in shiny, nondescript uniforms and tarnished gilt, with huge
swords and massive spurs, to lead the unshod mob of privates into
cowardly retreat or leave them to be slaughtered by their Indian foes,
whose lances and bows were superior in accuracy and execution to the
ancient firelocks so often lacking in necessary parts; reputed to be
founded on the ruins of a pueblo which had flourished centuries before
the later "city" and no doubt was its superior in everything but
shameless immorality. There, under Sante Fe mountain and the pure and
almost cloudless blue sky, along the little mountain stream of the same
name, lay Santa Fe, the capital of the department of New Mexico, and the
home of her vainglorious, pompous, good-looking, and brutal governor;
Santa Fe, the greatest glass jewel in a crown of tin; Santa Fe, the
customs gate and the disappointing end of a long, hard trail.

Through the even more filthy streets of the poverty-stricken outskirts
of the town went the little _atejo_, disputing right-of-way in the
narrow, porch-crowded thoroughfares with _hoja_ (corn husk) sellers and
huge burro loads of pine and cedar faggots gathered from the near-by
mountain; past the square where the mud hovels of the soldiers lay; past
a mud church whose tall spire seemed ever to be stretching away from the
smells below; past odorous hog stys, crude mule corrals with their
scarred and mutilated creatures, and sheep pens, and groups of avid
cock-fighters; past open doors through which the halfbreed women,
clothed in a simple garment hanging from the shoulders, could be seen
cooking _frijoles_ or the thin, watery _atole_ and hovering around the
flat stones which served for stoves; past these and worse plodded the
_atejo_, the shrewd mules braying their delight at a hard journey almost
ended. Sullen Indians, apologetic Mexicans, swaggering and too often
drunken soldiers gave way to them, while a string of disputing,
tail-tucking dogs followed at a distance, ever wary, ever ready to wheel
and run.

Reaching the _Plaza Publica_, which was so bare of even a blade of grass
or a solitary tree, and its ground so scored and beaten and covered with
rubbish to suggest that it suffered the last stages of some earthly
mange, they came to the real business section of the town, where nearly
every shop was owned by foreigners. Around this public plaza stood the
architectural triumphs of the city. There was the _palacio_ of the
governor, with its mud walls and its extended roof supported on rough
pine columns to form a great porch; the custom-house, with its greedy,
grafting officials; the mud barracks connected to the atrocious and much
dreaded _calabozo_, whose inmates had abandoned hope as they crossed its
threshold; the mud city hall, the military chapel, fast falling into
ruin, and a few dwellings. The interest attending the passing of the
_atejo_ increased a little as the pack train crossed this square, for
the Indian guards were conspicuous by their height and by the breadth of
shoulder, and the excellence of their well-kept weapons. Strangers were
drawing more critical attention these days, with the Texan threat
hanging over the settlements along the Pecos and the Rio Grande. Peon
women and Indian squaws regarded the four with apparent approval and as
they left the square and plunged into the poorer section again,
compliments and invitations reached their ears. Hopeless _mozos_, or
ill-paid servants, most of them kept in actual slavery by debts they
never could pay off because of the system of accounting used against
them, regarded the four enviously and yearned for their freedom.

Of the four Indians, a tall, strapping Delaware, stooping to be less
conspicuous, whose face was the dirtiest in the _atejo_, suddenly
stiffened and then forced himself to relax into his former lazy slouch.
The rattle of an imported Dearborn, which at all times had to be watched
closely to keep its metal parts from being stripped off and stolen,
filled the street as the vehicle rocked along the ruts toward them,
drawn by two good horses and driven by one Joseph Cooper, of St. Louis,
Missouri. At his side sat his niece, looking with wondering and
disapproving eyes about her, her pretty face improved by its coat of
healthy tan, but marred somewhat by the look of worry it so plainly
showed. She appeared sad and wistful, but at times her thoughts leaped
far away and brought her fleeting smiles so soft, so tender, as to
banish the look of worry and for an instant set a glory there.

Her glance took in the little pack train and its stalwart guards and
passed carelessly over the bending Delaware, and then returned to linger
on him while one might count five. Then he and the _atejo_ passed from
sight and she looked ahead again, unseeing, for her memory was racing
along a wagon road, and became a blank in a frightful, all-night storm.
At her sigh Uncle Joe glanced sidewise at her and took a firmer grip on
his vile native cigar, and silently cursed the day she had left St.
Louis.

"Load of wheat whiskey from th' rancho, I reckon," he said, and pulled
sharply on the reins to keep from running over a hypnotized ring of
cock-fighters. "How your paw can live all th' year 'round in this fester
of a town is a puzzle to me. I'd rather be in a St. Louis jail. Cigar?"
he sneered, yanking it from his mouth and regarding it with palpitant
disgust. He savagely hurled it from him. "Hell!"

A tangle of arms and legs rolled out of a rum shop and fought impotently
in the dust of the street, and sotted faces grinned down at them from
the crowded door. A flaky-skinned beggar slouched from behind the corner
of the building and held out an imploring hand, which the driver's
contemptuous denial turned into a clenched fist afloat in a sea of
Spanish maledictions.

The pack train having reached its destination, the two pairs of guards,
clutching their "writin'" from Turley, departed in hot haste to claim
their payment, and not long thereafter, rifleless, wandered about on
foot to see the sights, gaping and curious. In the hand of each was a
whiskey jug, the cynosure of all eyes. The _Plaza Publica_ seemed to
fascinate them, for they spent most of their time there; and when they
passed the guard house in the _palacio_ they generously replied to the
coaxing banter of the guard off watch, and went on again with lightened
jugs. Here as elsewhere they sensed a poorly hidden feeling of unrest,
and hid their smiles; somewhere north of Texas the _Tejanos_ rode with
vengeance in their hearts and certain death in their heretic rifles. No
one knew how close they might be, or what moment they would storm into
the town behind their deadly weapons. But the fear was largely
apathetic, for these people, between the Apache and Comanche raids of
year after year, had suckled fear from their mothers' breasts.

Finally, apprehensive of the attention they were receiving, the strange
Indians left the plaza and sought refuge with the mules of the _atejo_,
to remain there until after dark; and at their passing, groups of
excited women or quarreling children resumed their gambling in the
streets and all was serene again.

Gambling here was no fugitive evader of the law, no crime to be enjoyed
in secret, but was an institution legalized and flourishing. There even
was a public gaming house, where civil officers, traders, merchants,
travelers, and the clergy grouped avidly around the _monte_ tables and
played at fever heat, momentarily beyond the reach of any other
obsession. Regularly the governor and his wife graced the temple of
chance with their august persons and held informal levees among the
tables, making the place a Mecca for favor-seekers and sycophants, and a
golden treasury for the "house." At this time, so soon after the arrival
of two great caravans and the collection of so much impost, part of
which stuck to every finger that handled it, the play ran high
throughout the crowded room.

The round of festivities attending the arrival of the wagon trains were
not yet stilled, and fandangoes nightly gave hilarity a safety valve.
Great lumbering _carretas_, their wheels cut from solid sections of tree
trunks and the whole vehicle devoid of even a single scrap of precious
iron, shrieked and rattled through the dark streets, filled with shoddy
cavaliers and dazzling women, whose dresses seemed planned to tempt the
resolutions of a saint. _Rebosa_ or lace _mantilla_ over full, rounded,
dark and satiny breasts; fans wielded with an inherited art, to coax
and repel the victims of great and smouldering eyes of jet, which melted
one moment to blaze the next--this was the magic segment of the clock's
round. Now the eyesores of the squalid town were hidden from critical
sight, and the alluring softness and mystery of an ancient Spanish city
made one forget the almost unforgetable. Life and Death danced hand in
hand; Love and Hate bowed and curtsied, and the mad green fires of
Jealousy flickered or flared; while the poverty and the sordid tragedies
of the day gave place to tingling Romance in the feathery night. Violins
and guitars caressed the darkness with throbbing strains, catching the
breath, tingling the nerves and turning dull flesh to pulsing ecstasy.

To the fandango came a flower of a far-off French-American metropolis,
strangely listless; and here felt her blood slowly transmute to wine and
every nerve become a harp-string to make sad music for her soul.

Small wonder that Armijo stood speechless in the sight of such a one as
she, and forgot to press his questioning as to four who had somewhere
left that wagon train; small wonder that he gave no heed to men in the
presence of this exotic flower not yet unfolded, in whose veins the
French blood of the mother coursed with the Saxon of the father, and
played strange and wondrous pranks in delicate features, vivacious eyes,
and hidden whimsicalities now beginning to peek forth.

The coarse sensuality of the governor's face revealed his thoughts to
all the room; his eyes never had known the need to mask the sheerness of
their greedy passion, and in such a moment could not dissemble. What
man like him, in his place and power, with his nature, would glance
twice at a lazy, dirty Indian looking in through the open door, or know
that the murder beast was tearing at its moral fetters in the Delaware's
seething soul? Without again taking his burning eyes from the woman
before him the governor tossed, by force of habit, a copper coin through
the door, alms to a beggar to bring him luck from heaven to further his
plans from hell. Nor did he know the magazine his contemptuous gift had
set aflame, nor see the convulsive struggle between the Delaware and
three other Indians. The guard laughed sneeringly at the fight they
made, three to one, over a single piece of copper: Who was to know that
they fought over a hollow piece of steel, charged twice times three with
leaden death? Who was to read the desperation in that furious struggle,
where a beast-man fought like a fiend against his closest friends? The
struggling four reeled and stumbled from the house, leading away a fiery
tempest and faded into the crooning night. That open door nearly had
been an Open Door, indeed!

Within the room the vivacity died in the woman's eyes, the
whimsicalities drew back in sudden panic at the beast look on the
governor's face; the swing was gone from the strumming music, the rhythm
from the swaying dance. At once the festive room was a pit of slime, the
smiling faces but mocking masks, and the dark shadow of a vulture
descended like a suffocating gas. Like a flash the wall dissolved to
show a long, clean trail, winding from Yesterday into Tomorrow; restful
glades and creeks of shining sands, windswept prairies and a clear, blue
sky; verdant glades and miles of flowers--and a tall, dark youth with
smiling face, who worshiped reverently with tender eyes. She drew
herself up as white streaks crossed her crimson cheeks like some darting
rapier blade, and, bowing coldly to the pompous governor, stood rigidly
erect and stared for a full half-minute into his astonished eyes, and
made them fall. Deliberately and with unutterable scorn and loathing she
turned from him to her father and her uncle, who forthwith shattered the
absurd rules of pomp by showing him their broad backs and leaving at
once. The room hushed as they walked toward the door, but no man stayed
them, for on their faces there blazed the sign of Death.

Armijo, still staring after them, waved his hand and three men slipped
out by another door, to follow and to learn what sanctuary that flower
might choose. As he wheeled about and snapped a profane order the
fiddlers and strummers stumbled into their stammering music; the dance
went on again, with ragged rhythm, like an automaton out of gear.

Down the dark street rumbled the Dearborn, rocking perilously, the
clatter of the running horses filling the narrow way with clamor.
Sprinting at top speed behind it came barefoot soldiers: And then a
human avalanche burst from a pitch dark passage-way. The Dearborn rocked
on and turned a corner; the soldiers groped like blinded, half-stunned
swimmers and as the secretive moments passed, they stumbled to their
feet and staggered back again with garbled tales of prowling monsters,
and crossed themselves continuously. About the time the frightened
soldiers reached the house they had set out from, four Indians crept
along an adobe wall and knocked a signal on the studded planks of a
heavy, warehouse door. There came no creaking from its well-oiled hinges
as it slowly opened, stopped, and swiftly shut again, and left the dark
and smelly courtyard empty.



CHAPTER XIX

THE RENDEZVOUS


Enoch Birdsall stared in amazement at the four he had admitted, despite
the remembrance of the names they had whispered through the crack of the
partly opened door, the light from a single candle making gargoyles of
their hideously painted faces. Alonzo Webb was peering along the barrel
of a newfangled Colt, his eyes mere pin-points of concentration, his
breathing nearly suspended.

Hank's low, throaty laughter filled the dim building and he slapped Tom
on the shoulder. "Didn't I say I could fix us up so our own mothers
wouldn't know us?" he demanded.

"God help us!" said Enoch in hopelessly inadequate accents as he groped
behind him for his favorite cask. He seated himself with great
deliberation. "When Turley's man Allbright brought aroun' yer rifles in
a packload o' hay, I knowed we'd be seein' ye soon; an' he told us plain
that four Injuns had left 'em with him. But; h--l!"

Alonzo had cautiously put away the Colt and was readjusting his facial
expression to suit the changed conditions. Then he suddenly leaned back
against a bale of tobacco leaf, jammed an arm tightly against his mouth,
and laughed until he was limp.

Zeb Houghton glared at him in offended dignity, not knowing just what
to say, but determined to say something. He felt embarrassed and
slightly huffed. "Caravan have airy trouble arter we left it?" he asked.

"Trouble?" queried Enoch, a wise grin wreathing his face. "Some o' us
made more profits this year than we ever did afore. Soon's we found thar
warn't no custom guard ter meet us at Cold Spring, thanks ter them
Texans, we sent some riders ahead from th' ford o' th' Canadian, an'
Woodson held th' caravan thar in camp fer a couple o' days. Them greaser
_rancheros_ air half starved 'most all year 'round an' they jumped at
th' chance ter earn some good U.S. gold. Some o' us had quite some
visitors one night an' some o' th' waggins, ourn among 'em, shore
strayed away from th' encampment an' got lost in th' hills. He had said
somethin' 'bout not wantin' to waste so much time, an' o' takin' a
short-cut; an' everybody war so excited about bein' so clost ter Santer
Fe, an' by this time used ter folks goin' on ahead, that we warn't
hardly missed. Them that did miss us soon forgot it. We're ahead five
hundred dollars a waggin, besides th' other imposts an' th' salve money;
our waggins air waitin' fer us when we go back, an' our goods air comin'
in from th' ranchos in _carretas_ an' by pack mule, under hay, hoja an'
faggots, an' other stuff. Thar's them two axles o' Joe Cooper's that he
war so anxious about back at th' Grove an' at every stream we had ter
cross. Thar empty now, but thar war plumb full o' high-class contraband
when they got here. Woodson slung 'em under one o' his waggins that come
through on th' reg'lar trail, an' brought 'em in. Over thar's what's
left o' your stuff."

"Have you fellers looked in a glass yit?" demanded Alonzo, taking a
mirror from the wall. "Hyar, Boyd, whichever ye air, see what ye look
like."

The passing of the mirror and the candle was the cause of much hilarity,
and the room was filled with subdued merriment until there came a
peculiar knock on the massive door. The candle flame struggled under a
box while voices murmured at the portal, and then there came a cautious
shuffling of feet until the box was removed.

Joe Cooper's curious glance became a stare and his jaw dropped. Tearing
his eyes from the faces of the villainous four he used them to ask a
question of the grinning Enoch which his lips were incapable of framing.

Enoch looked at the four. "One o' ye, who knows who's who, interduce yer
friends ter Mr. Cooper, o' St. Louis, Missoury," he suggested.

Hank shoved Jim Ogden a step forward. "This 'Rapahoe is Jim Ogden, o'
Bent's Fort an' th' Rockies; this other un is Zeb Houghton, o' th'
Louisiana Purchase, Mexico an' Texas; hyar's Tom Boyd, hopin' ter save
his ear-tabs; an' I'm--" from his mouth sounded the twang of a
bowstring.

Uncle Joe sank down on a pile of smuggled Mackinaw blankets, shoved a
cigar in his mouth, lit it and took several puffs before he slammed it
on the floor and crushed it with his foot. Then he recovered himself,
joyously shook hands all around and started a conversation that scorned
the flying minutes. During a lull Alonzo looked shrewdly at the
cheerful Indians and put his thoughts into words.

"Boys, anythin' we've got is yourn fer th' askin'," he slowly said; "but
I'd hate ter reckon it war through me an' Enoch that ye lost yer lives,
an' yer ears. We all war clost friends in Independence an' on th' trail.
Clost friends o' yourn air goin' ter be watched like sin from now on.
Tom Boyd an' his friends left th' caravan ter go ter Bent's--an' a
passel o' greasers went arter 'em hot foot. Mebby th' first gang didn't
git ter Bent's--an' it's shore th' greasers ain't showed up yit--not one
o' them. Bad as Armijo is he ain't no fool by a danged sight. Fer yer
own sakes ye better stay with Armstrong till ye leave th' city. Now that
I've warned ye, I don't give a cuss what ye do; yer welcome ter stay
hyar till yer bones rot--an' ye know it."

Tom nodded. "Yer right, Alonzo. I just got a brand new reason fer livin'
till th' return caravan gits past th' Arkansas. Patience Cooper has
_got_ to go with it; she ain't a-goin' ter spend no winter hyar, if I
kin help it--an' if she does stay, then I do, too, ears or no ears." His
face tensed, his eyes gleaming with hatred through the paint and dirt.
"I come nigh ter commitin' murder tonight. 'Twasn't my fault that I
didn't."

Hank clapped him on the shoulder and turned to Uncle Joe. "We war all
a-lookin' in at th' fandango," he explained. "It war a mighty clost
shave fer th' sheep-stealin' shepherd o' Chavez rancho, that growed up
ter be governor. If 'twarn't fer th' gal I'd never 'a' grabbed Boyd."

Uncle Joe shook his head. "There'll be trouble comin' out o' that," he
declared. "We couldn't do nothin' else, but Armijo'll never rest till he
wipes out th' insult o' our turnin' our backs on him an' leavin' like we
did. An' did ye see th' look she gave him? D----d if it wasn't worth th'
trip from Missouri to see it! Us Americans ain't loved a whole lot out
here, an' them blessed Texans has gone an' made things worse. I wish we
all were rollin' down to th' Crossin'. Patience is goin' back. I've
argued _that_ out, anyhow; right up to th' handle!"

"Get her out of town _now_," urged Tom, wriggling forward on his box.
"Us four'll whisk her up to Bent's, an' jine ye at th' Crossin'."

"If we do that her father will have to leave, too," replied Uncle Joe;
"an' he's stubborn as a mule, Adam is. He says it'll be forgotten, an'
if we make a play like that it'll raise th' devil."

"When her safety is at stake?" sharply demanded Tom.

"He says she ain't in no danger. Him an' Armijo is real friendly. Adam
is th' one man th' Americans in this town depend on ter git 'em a little
justice. I've been arguin' with him tonight, an' I aim to keep on
arguin'; but he's set. I know Adam."

Tom cursed and arose to his feet. "An' _I_ know _Armijo_! I know his
vile history like a book, for I took pains to learn it. His whole career
is built on treachery, sheep-stealin', double-dealin' and assassination.
He robbed Chavez of thousands of sheep--even stealing them and selling
them back to their rightful owner. He sold one little flock back to
Chavez over a dozen times, an' had stolen it from him in th' beginnin'.
Then he dealt _monte_ and made a pile. Then he was made chief custom
house officer in this town, got caught at some of his tricks an' kicked
out. Governor Perez put another man in his place. The condition of
politics in Mexico worked in Armijo's favor and he stirred up a ferment,
headed a conspiracy, raised a force of about a thousand Mexicans an'
Pueblo Indians up at La Canada, and when Perez moved against him Perez's
troops went over to Armijo and the old governor had to flee to this
town, and out of it on th' jump. With him went a score or so of his
personal friends; but the next day the little party was caught, more
than a dozen of them put to death, an' Perez was murdered in the
outskirts of this town and his body dragged around through the streets.
Armijo had not shown his hand openly and the new governor was one of the
active leaders of the insurrection. This did not suit Armijo, who was
playing for big stakes, and he started another revolution, adopted
Federalism for a cloak, drove the insurgent governor from the city,
later shot him and, after declaring himself governor, had his
appointment made official by the Federal government at Mexico City, and
ever since has played tyrant without a check. That's Adam Cooper's
so-called friend. That's the man he trusts. God help Adam; an' God help
Armijo if he harms Patience Cooper!"

His friends nodded, for they knew that he spoke the truth; and Uncle Joe
thoughtlessly lit another cigar before he remembered its make. "Adam's
last cent is sunk out here," he remarked. "He says he ain't goin' to
turn himself inter a pauper an' flee for his life just because his fool
brother is a-scared of shadows. He says th' beast was drunk tonight an'
didn't know what he was doin'."

Tom spread out his hands helplessly, and then clenched them. He paced a
few turns and stopped again. "All right, Uncle Joe; he's her father and
he's backin' his best judgment. I'm an outsider an' have nothin' to say.
Boys," he said, looking at his three hunter friends, "we got work ter
do. We got ter watch Patience Cooper every minute that she's out o' th'
house. Thar's too much at stake fer us to rendezvous hyar, we'll stay at
Armstrong's. Enoch, git our rifles over thar as soon as ye kin. I want
another repeatin' pistol, in a leather case, to hang under my shirt,
below my left arm-pit. Thank th' Lord that Turley's plantin' a relay fer
us up in th' mountains; I'm bettin' we'll need it bad." He looked at
Hank. "Bet it's eighty mile to that place, ain't it?"

"Th' way we come it is," replied the hunter. "I know a straighter trail
that ain't got so many people livin' along it. It's twenty mile shorter,
but harder travelin'."

"If thar's anybody at Bent's ranch on th' Purgatoire, we might pick up a
re-mount thar," muttered Tom. "That'd give us fresh hosses fer th' last
ninety miles to th' fort; but we'll have ter cross th' wagon road ter
git thar."

"We'll use that fer th' second bar'l," said Hank. "I know a better way,
over an old Ute trail leadin' toward th' Bayou Salade; but we'll have
hosses at Bent's ranch if I kin git word ter Holt, Carson or Bill Bent.
We better go 'round an' see Armstrong right away; he may know o'
somebody that's goin' up on th' trail through Raton Pass. He'll do
anythin' fer me."

"Cover th' candle," said Tom. "Give us our rifles; we kin carry 'em all
right at this time o' night, with everybody stayin' indoors on account
o' th' Texans. Any time ye have news fer us, Enoch, an' can't git it ter
Armstrong's, set a box outside th' door."

"It'll be stole," said Enoch, grinning.

"Then set somethin' else out."

"That'll be stole, too."

"What will?"

"Anythin' we put out."

"God help us!" ejaculated Uncle Joe. "Try a busted bottle."

"Glass?" laughed Alonzo, derisively. "No good. If you kin think o'
anythin' that won't be stole, I shore want to larn o' it." He considered
a moment. "Hyar! If I git flour on my elbow an' brush ag'in th' door, we
got news fer ye. I don't think they kin steal that, not all o' it,
anyhow!"

Enoch nodded. "If thar's any news we'll git it. This is th' meetin'
place o' most o' th' Americans hyar. Thar banded purty clost together
an' have made Armijo change his tune a couple o' times. Onct they war
accused o' conspiracy ag'in th' government, which war a danged lie, an'
th' scarecrow troops war ordered out ag'in 'em; but we put up such a
fierce showin' that Armijo climbed down from his high hoss an' nothin'
come o' it except hard feelin's. That's one o' th' reasons, I reckon,
why Adam Cooper ain't worryin' as much as he might about his dater's
safety. An' lookin' at it from a reasonable standpoint, I'm figgerin'
he's right. Boyd, hyar, would worry powerful if _she_ got a splinter in
her finger."

After the laughter had subsided and a little more talk the four
plainsmen slipped out of the building and cautiously made their way to
Armstrong's store and dwelling where, after a whispered palaver at the
heavy door, they were admitted by the sleepy owner of the premises and
shown where they could spread their blankets. In the faint light of the
candle they saw other men lying about on the hard floor, who stirred,
grumbled a little, and went back to sleep again.

When they awakened the next morning they recognized two old friends from
Bent's Fort, a trader from St. Vrain's, and an American hunter and
trapper from the Pueblo near the junction of the Arkansas and Boiling
Spring Rivers. The simple breakfast was soon dispatched and gossip and
news exchanged, and then Hank led aside a hunter named Hatcher, who
stood high at Bent's Fort, and earnestly conversed with him. In a few
moments Hank turned, looked reassuringly at Tom and smiled. Bent's
little ranch on the Purgatoire was being worked and improved and there
would be men and a relay of horses there, providing that the Utes
overlooked the valley in the meantime.

All that day they remained indoors and when night came they slipped out,
one by one, and drifted back to the corral where the _atejo_ still
remained. They had lost their rifles, were sullen and taciturn from too
much drink, and paid no attention to the knowing grins of the friendly
muleteers. Thenceforth they drew only glances of passing interest on the
streets, no one giving a second thought to the stolid, dulled and sodden
wrecks in their filthy, nondescript apparel; and the guard at the
_palacio_ gave them cigarettes rolled in corn husks for running errands,
and found amusement in playing harmless tricks on them.

At the barracks they were less welcome, Don Jesu and Robideau, both
subordinates of Salezar, scarcely tolerating them; while Salezar,
himself, kicked them from in front of the door and threatened to cut off
their ears if he caught them hanging around the building. They accepted
the kicks as a matter of course and thenceforth shrunk from his
approach; and he sneered as he thought of their degradation from once
proud and vengeful warriors of free and warlike tribes, to fawning
beggars with no backbone. But even he, when the need arose, made use of
them to fetch and carry for him and to do menial tasks about the mud
house he called his home. He had seen many of their kind and wasted no
thought on them.

He was the same cruel and brutal tyrant who had herded almost two
hundred half-starved and nearly exhausted men over that terrible trail
down the valley of the Rio Grande, and his soldiers stood in mortal
terror of him and meekly accepted treatment that in any other race would
have swiftly resulted in his death. He had played a prominent part in
the capture and herding of the Texan prisoners and loved to boast of it
at every opportunity, using some of the incidents as threats to his
unfortunate soldiers. Tom and his friends witnessed scenes that made
their blood boil more than it boiled over the indignities they elected
to suffer, and sometimes it was all they could do to refrain from
killing him in his tracks. At the barracks he was a roaring lion, but at
the _palacio_, in the sight and hearing of the chief jackal, he reminded
them of a whipped cur.



CHAPTER XX

TOM RENEGES


As the days passed while waiting for the return of the caravan to
Missouri, Patience rode abroad with either her uncle or her father,
sometimes in the Dearborn, but more often in the saddle. She explored
the ruins of the old church at Pecos, where the Texan prisoners had
spent a miserable night; the squalid hamlets of San Miguel, which she
had passed through on her way to Santa Fe, and Anton Chico had been
visited; the miserable little sheep ranchos had been investigated and
other rides had taken her to other outlying districts; but the one she
loved best was the trail up over the mountain behind Santa Fe. The
almost hidden pack mules and their towering loads of faggots, _hoja_,
hay and other commodities were sights she never tired of, although the
scars on some of the meek beasts once in awhile brought tears to her
eyes. The muleteers, beneficiaries of her generosity, smiled when they
saw her and touched their forelocks in friendly salutation.

On the mountain there was one spot of which she was especially fond. It
was a little gully-like depression more than halfway up that seemed to
be much greener than the rest of the mountain side, and always moist.
The trees were taller and more heavily leafed And threw a shade which,
with the coolness of the moist little nook, was most pleasant. It lay
not far from the rutted, rough and busy trail over the mountain, which
turned and passed below it, the _atejos_ and occasional picturesque
_caballeros_ on their caparisoned horses, passing in review before her
and close enough to be distinctly seen, yet far enough away to hide
disillusioning details. The mud houses of the town at the foot of the
long slope, with their flat roofs, looked much better at this distance
and awakened trains of thought which nearness would have forbidden. It
was also an ideal place to eat a lunch and she and Uncle Joe or her
father made it their turning point.

Her daily rides had given her confidence, and the stares which first had
followed her soon changed to glances of idle curiosity. Of Armijo she
neither had seen nor heard anything more and scarcely gave him a
thought, and the Mexican officers she met saluted politely or ignored
her altogether. Her uncle still harped about Santa Fe being no place for
her, but, having the assurance that she would return to St. Louis with
the caravan, was too wise to press the matter. His efforts were more
strongly bent to get his brother to sell out and he had sounded Woodson
to see if that trader would take over the merchandise. Adam Cooper
seemed to consider closing out his business and returning to Missouri,
but he would not sacrifice it, and there the matter hung, swaying first
to one side and then to the other. By this time Santa Fe had palled on
the American merchant and he had laid by sufficient capital to start in
business in St. Louis or one of the frontier towns, and his brother was
confident that if the stock could be disposed of for a reasonable sum
that Adam would join the returning caravan.

It was in the storehouse of Webb and Birdsall one night, about a week
before the wagons were being put in shape for the return trip that the
matter was settled. Disturbing rumors were floating up from the south
about a possible closing of the ports of entry of the Department of New
Mexico, due to the dangers to Mexican traders on the long trail because
of the presence of Texan raiding parties. The Texans had embittered the
feelings of the Mexicans against the Americans, whom they knew to be
universally in favor of the Lone Star Republic, and the Texan raids of
this summer were taken as a forecast of greater and more determined
raids for the following year.

When Adam and Joe Cooper joined the little group in the warehouse on
this night, they met two Missourians who had just returned from
Chihuahua with a train of eleven wagons. These traders, finding business
so good in the far southern market, and having made arrangements with
some Englishmen there, who were high in favor with the Federal
authorities, were anxious to make another trip if they could load their
wagons at a price that would make the journey worth while. They were
certain that the next year would find the Mexican ports closed against
the overland traffic, eager to clean up what they could before winter
set in and to sell their outfits and return by water. They further
declared that a tenseness was developing between the Federal government
and the United States, carefully hidden at the present, which would
make war between the two countries a matter of a short time. Texas was
full of people who were urging annexation to the United States, and
their numbers were rapidly growing; and when the Lone Star republic
became a state in the American federation, war would inevitably follow.
Some in the circle dissented wholly or in part, but all admitted that
daily Mexico was growing more hostile to Americans.

"Wall, we ain't forcin' our opinions on nobody," said one of the
Chihuahua traders. "We believe 'em ourselves, an' we want ter make
another trip south. Adam, we've heard ye ain't settled in yer mind about
stayin' through another winter hyar. We'll give ye a chanct ter clear
out; what ye got in goods, an' what ye want fer'em lock, stock an'
bar'l?"

"What they cost us here in Santa Fe," said Uncle Joe quickly, determined
to force the issue. "We just brought in more'n two wagon loads, an' what
we had on hand will go a long way toward helpin' you fill your wagons.
Come around tomorrow, look th' goods over, an' if they suit you, we'll
add twelve cents a pound for th' freight charge across th' prairies an'
close 'em out to you. Ain't that right, Adam?" he demanded so sharply
and truculently that his brother almost surrendered at once. Seeing that
they had an ally in Uncle Joe the traders pushed the matter and after a
long, haggling discussion, they offered an additional five per cent of
the purchase price for a quick decision.

Uncle Joe accepted it on the spot and nudged his brother, who grudgingly
accepted the terms if the traders would buy the two great wagons and
their teams. This they promised to do if they could find enough extra
goods to fill them, and they soon left the warehouse for fear of showing
their elation. They knew where they could sell the wagons at a profit
with a little manipulation on the part of their English friend.

Elated by the outcome of his protracted arguments, Uncle Joe hurried
around to Armstrong's store and told the news to Tom and his three
friends.

"We can get them goods off our hands in two days," he exulted; "an' th'
caravan will be ready to leave inside a week. Don't say a word to
nobody, boys. We'll try to sneak Adam and Patience out of town so Armijo
won't miss 'em till they're on th' trail. Them Chihuahua traders won't
disturb th' goods before we start for home because they got to get a lot
more to fill their wagons, an' th' merchandise is safer in th' store
than it will be under canvas. I wish th' next week was past!"

To wish the transaction kept a secret and to keep it a secret were two
different things. The Chihuahua traders found more merchants who felt
that they would be much safer in Missouri than in Santa Fe, and the
south-bound wagon train was stocked three days before time for the
Missouri caravan to leave. There were certain customs regulations
relating to goods going through to El Paso and beyond, certain involved
and exacting forms to be obtained and filled out, much red tape to be
cut with golden shears and many palms to be crossed with specie. Uncle
Joe and his brother found that the matter of transferring their goods to
the traders took longer than they expected and were busy in the store
for several days, leaving Patience to make the most of the short time
remaining of her stay in the capital of the Department of New Mexico.

At last came the day when the eastbound caravan was all but ready to
start, certain last minute needs arising that kept it in the camp
outside the city until the following morning. Busily engaged in its
organizing and in numerous personal matters, they told her to stay in
the city. Uncle Joe and his brother could not accompany Patience on
another ride up the mountain and they understood that she would not
attempt one; but she changed her mind and left the town in the care and
guidance of a Mexican employee of her father, in whom full trust was
reposed. She rode out an hour earlier than was her wont, and when a
Delaware Indian called at the house to beg alms from the generous
señorita he found the building open and empty. Knowing that the last
night was to be spent in the encampment and thinking that she had gone
there, as he understood was the plan, he gave little thought to this and
wandered back to the _Plaza Publica_ to look for his companions. They
were not in sight and he went over to the barracks to seek them there.

Don Jesu swaggered along the side of the building, caught sight of the
disreputable Delaware and contemptuously waved him away. "Out of my
sight, you drunken beggar and son of a beggar! If I catch you here once
more I'll hang you by your thumbs! _Vamoose!_"

The Delaware stiffened a little and seemed reluctant to obey the
command. "I seek my friends," he replied in a guttural polyglot. "I do
no harm."

Don Jesu's face flamed and he drew his sword and brought the flat of the
blade smartly across the Indian's shoulder. "But once more I tell you to
_vamoose_! _Pronto!_" He drew back swiftly and threw the weapon into
position for a thrust, for he had seen a look flare up in the Indian's
eyes that warned him.

The Delaware cringed, muttered something and slunk back along the wall
and as he reached the corner of the building he bumped solidly into
Robideau, who at that moment turned it. The foot of the second officer
could not travel far enough to deliver the full weight of the kick, but
the impact was enough to send the Indian sprawling. As he clawed to
hands and knees, Robideau stood over him, sword in hand, threats and
curses pouring from him in a burning stream. The Indian paused a moment,
got control over his rage, ran off a short distance on hands and knees
and, leaping to his feet, dashed around the corner of the building to
the hilarious and exultant jeers of the sycophantic soldiers. He barely
escaped bumping into a huge, screeching and ungainly _carreta_ being
driven by a soldier and escorted by a squad of his fellows under the
personal command of Salezar. The lash of a whip fell across his
shoulders and cut through blanket and shirt. The second blow was short
and before another could be aimed at him, the Delaware had darted into a
passage-way between two buildings.

The officer laughed loudly, nodded at the scowling driver and again felt
of the canvas cover of the cart: "The city is full of vermin," he
chuckled. "There's not much difference between Texans and Americans, and
these sotted Indians. Tomorrow we will be well rid of many of the gringo
dogs and we will attend to these strange Indians when this present
business has been taken care of. But there is one gringo who will remain
with us!" He laughed until he shook. "_Captain_ Salezar today;
_Colonel_, tomorrow; _quien sabe_?"

He looked at two of his soldiers, squat, powerful half-breeds, and
laughed again. "Jose is a strong man. Manuel is a strong man. Perhaps
tomorrow we will give each one of them two Indians and see which can
flog the longest and the hardest; but," he warned, his face growing hard
and cruel, "the man who bungles his work today will have no ears
tomorrow!"

The Delaware, his right hand thrust into his shirt under the dirty
blanket, crouched in the doorway and was making the fight of his life
against the murderous rage surging through him. The words of the officer
reached him well enough, but in his fury were unintelligible. Wild, mad
plans for revenge were crowding through his mind, mixed and jumbled
until they were nothing more than a mental kaleidoscope, and constantly
thrown back by the frantic struggles of reason. He had nursed the
thought of revenge, mile after mile, day after day, across the prairies
and the desert; but for the last half month he had fought it back for
the safety his freedom might give to the woman he loved.

The grotesque, ungainly cart rumbled and bumped, clacked and screeched
down the street, farther and farther away and still he crouched in the
doorway. The sounds died out, but still he remained in the sheltering
niche. Finally his hand emerged from under the blanket and fell to his
side, and a wretched Indian slouched down the street toward the _Plaza
Publica_. In command of himself once more he shuffled over to the guard
house in the _palacio_ and leaned against the wall, the welt on his back
burning him to the soul, as Armijo's herald stepped from the main door,
blew his trumpet and announced the coming of the governor. Pedestrians
stopped short and bowed as the swarthy tyrant stalked out to his horse,
mounted and rode away, his small body-guard clattering after him. The
Delaware, to hide the expression on his face, bowed lower and longer
than anyone and then slyly produced a plug of smuggled Kentucky tobacco
and slipped it to the sergeant of the guard.

"They'll catch you yet, you thief of the North," warned the sergeant,
shaking a finger at the stolid Indian. "And when they do you'll hang by
the thumbs, or lose your ears." He grinned and shoved the plug into his
pocket, not seeming to be frightened by becoming an accessory after the
fact. "Our governor is in high spirits today, and our captain's face is
like the mid-day sun. He is a devil with the women, is Armijo and his
señora doesn't care a snap. Lucky man, the governor." He laughed and
then looked curiously at his silent companion. "Where do you come from,
and where do you go?"

The Delaware waved lazily toward the North. "Señor Bent. I return
soon."

"Look to it that you do, or the _calabozo_ will swallow you up in one
mouthful. I hear much about the _palacio_." He shook his finger and his
head, both earnestly.

The Delaware drew back slightly and glanced around. Drawing his blanket
about him he turned and slouched away, leaving the plaza by the first
street, and made his slinking and apologetic way to Armstrong's, there
to wait until dark. His three friends were there already and were
rubbing their pistols and rifles, elated that the morrow would find them
on the trail again. The two Arapahoes planned to accompany the caravan
as far as the Crossing of the Arkansas and there turn back toward Bent's
Fort, following the northern branch of the trail along the north bank of
the river.

"Better jine us, Tom," urged Jim Ogden. "You an' Hank an' us will stay
at th' fort till frost comes, an' then outfit thar an' spend th' winter
up in Middle Park."

"Or we kin work up 'long Green River an' winter in Hank's old place,"
suggested Zeb Houghton, rubbing his hands. "Thar'll be good company in
Brown's Hole; an' mebby a scrimmage with th' thievin' Crows if we go up
that way. Yer nose will be outer jint in th' Missouri settlements. I
know a couple o' beaver streams that ain't been teched yit." He glanced
shrewdly at the young man. "It's good otter an' mink country, too. We'll
build a good home camp an' put up some lean-tos at th' fur end o' th'
furtherest trap lines. Th' slopes o' th' little divides air thick with
timber fer our marten traps, an' th' tops air bare. Fox sets up thar
will git plenty o' pelts. I passed through it two year ago an' can't
hardly wait ter git back ag'in. It's big enough fer th' hull four o'
us."

"Thar's no money in beaver at a dollar a plew," commented Hank, watching
his partner out of the corner of his eye. "Time war when it war worth
somethin', I tell ye; but them days air past--an' th' beaver, too, purty
nigh. I remember one spring when I got five dollars a pound fer beaver
from ol' Whiskey Larkin. Met him on th' headwaters o' th' Platte. He
paid me that then an' thar, an' then had ter pack it all th' way ter
Independence. But it's different with th' other skins, an' us four shore
could have a fine winter together."

"It's allus excitin' ter me ter wait till th' pelts prime, settin' in a
good camp with th' traps strung out, smokin' good terbaker an' eatin'
good grub," said Ogden, reminiscently. "Then th' frosts set in, snow
falls an' th' cold comes ter stay; an' we web it along th' lines settin'
traps fer th' winter's work. By gosh! What ye say, Tom?"

Tom was studying the floor, vainly trying to find a way to please his
friends and to follow the commands of an urging he could not resist. For
him the mating call had come, and his whole nature responded to it with
a power which would not be denied. On one hand called the old life, the
old friends to whom he owed so much; a winter season with them in a good
fur country, with perfect companionship and the work he loved so dearly;
on the other the low, sweet voice of love, calling him to the One Woman
and to trails untrod. The past was dead, living only in memory; the
future stirred with life and was rich in promise. He sighed, slowly
shook his head and looked up with moist eyes, glancing from one eager
face to another.

"I'm goin' back ter Missoury," he said in a low voice. "Thar's a
question I got ter ask, back thar, when th' danger's all behind an' it
kin be asked fair. If th' answer is 'no' I promise ter jine ye at Bent's
or foller after. Leave word fer me if ye go afore I git thar. But
trappin' is on its last legs, an' th' money's slippin' out o' it, like
fur from a pelt in th' spring; 'though I won't care a dang about that if
I has ter turn my back on th' settlements." His eyes narrowed and his
face grew hard. "Jest now I'm worryin' about somethin' else. Here I am
in Santer Fe, passin' Armijo an' Salezar every day, an' have ter turn my
back on one of th' big reasons fer comin' hyar. Thar's a new welt acrost
my back that burns through th' flesh inter my soul like a livin' fire.
Thar's an oath I swore on th' memory of a close friend who war beaten
an' starved an' murdered; an' now I'm a lyin' dog, an' my spirit's
turned ter water!" He leaped up and paced back and forth across the
little room like a caged panther.

Hank cleared his throat, his painted face terrible to look upon. "Hell!"
he growled, squirming on his box. "Them as know ye, Tom Boyd, know ye
ain't neither dog ner liar! Takes a good man ter stand what ye have, day
arter day, feelin' like you do, an' keep from chokin' th' life outer
him. We've all took his insults, swallered 'em whole without no salt; ye
wouldn't say _all_ o' us war dogs an' liars, would ye? Tell ye what;
we've been purty clost, you an' me--suppose I slip back from th'
Canadian an' git his ears fer ye? 'Twon't be no trouble, an' I won't be
gone long. Reckon ye'd feel airy better then?"

Zeb moved forward on his cask. "That's you, Hank Marshall!" he exclaimed
eagerly. "I'm with ye! He spit in my face two days ago, an' I want his
ha'r. Good fer you, ol' beaver!"

For the next hour the argument waxed hot, one against three, and
Armstrong had to come in and caution them twice. It was Jim Ogden who
finally changed sides and settled the matter in Tom's favor.

"Hyar! We're nigh fightin' over a dog that ain't worth a cuss!" he
exclaimed. "Mebby Tom will be comin' back ter Bent's afore winter sets
in. Then we kin go ter Green River by th' way o' this town, stoppin'
hyar a day ter git Salezar's ears. Won't do Tom no good if us boys git
th' skunk. If ye don't close yer traps, cussed if I won't go out an' git
him now, an' then hell shore will pop afore th' caravan gits away. Ain't
ye got no sense, ye bloodthirsty Injuns?"



CHAPTER XXI

THE KIDNAPPING


Patience and her Mexican escort rode out of the town along the trail to
Taos Valley, the road leading up the mountain and past her favorite
retreat. She could not resist the cool of the morning hours and the
temptation to pay one more visit to the little niche in the mountain
side. The few farewell calls that she had to make could wait until the
afternoon. They were duties rather than pleasures and the shorter she
could make them the better she would like it. She passed the mud houses
of the soldiers and soon left the city behind. At intervals on the
wretched road she met and smiled at the friendly muleteers and gave
small coins to the toddling Mexican and Indian children before the
wretched hovels scattered along the way. Well before noon she reached
the little nook and unpacked the lunch she had brought along. Sharing it
with her humble escort, who stubbornly insisted on taking his portion to
one side and eating by himself, she spread her own lunch under her
favorite tree and leisurely enjoyed it as she watched the mules passing
below her along the trail. This last view of the distant town and the
mountain trail enchanted her and time slipped by with furtive speed. Far
down on the road, if it could be called such, bumped and slid a huge
_carreta_ covered with a soiled canvas cover, its driver laboring with
his four-mule team. The four had all they could do to draw the massive
cart along the rough trail and she smiled as she wondered how many mules
it would take to pull the heavy vehicle if it were well loaded. She
tried to picture it with the toiling caravan, and laughed aloud at the
absurdity.

While she idly watched the _carreta_ and the little _atejo_ passing it
in the direction of the city, a flash far down the trail caught her eye
and she made out a group of mounted soldiers trotting after an officer,
whose scabbard dully flashed as it jerked and bobbed about. The
_carreta_ was more than half way up the slope, seeming every moment to
be threatened with destruction by the shaking it was receiving, when the
soldiers overtook and passed it. When the squad reached the short
section of the trail immediately below her it met an _atejo_ of a dozen
heavily-laden mules and the arrogant officer waved his sword and ordered
them off the trail. Mules are deliberate and take their own good time,
and they also have a natural reluctance to forsake a known and
comparatively easy trail to climb over rocks under the towering packs.
Their owners tried to lead them aside, although there was plenty of room
for the troops to pass, but the little beasts were stubborn and stuck to
the trail.

Impatiently waiting for perhaps a full minute that his conceit might be
pampered, the officer drew his sword again and peremptorily ordered the
trail cleared for his passing. The muleteers did their best, but it was
not good enough for the puffed-up captain, and he spurred his horse
against a faggot-burdened animal. The load swayed and then toppled,
forcing the little burro to its knees and then over on its side, the
tight girth gripping it as in a vise. The owner of the animal stepped
quickly forward, a black scowl on his face. At his first word of protest
the officer struck him on the head with the flat of the blade and broke
into a torrent of curses and threats. The muleteer staggered back
against a huge bowlder and bowed his head, his arms hanging limply at
his sides. The officer considered a moment, laughed contemptuously and
rode on, his rag-tag, wooden-faced squad following him closely.

As the soldiers passed from his sight around a bend in the trail the
muleteer leaned forward, hand on the knife in his belt, and stared
malevolently at the rocks on the bend; and then hastened to help his two
companions unpack the load of faggots and let the mule arise. The little
animal did not get up. Both its front legs were broken by the rocky
crevice into which they had been forced. The unfortunate Pueblo Indian
knelt swiftly at the side of the little beast and passed his hands along
the slender legs. He shook his head sorrowfully and stroked the burro's
flank. Suddenly leaping to his feet, knife in hand, he took two quick
steps along the trail, but yielded to his clinging and frightened
friends and dejectedly walked back to the suffering animal. For a moment
he stood above it and then, changing his grip on the knife, leaned
quickly over.

Patience had seen the whole tragedy and her eyes were brimming with
tears. As the muleteer bent forward she turned away, sobbing. The
throaty muttering of her guide brought him back to her mind and she
called him to her.

"Sanchez!" she exclaimed, taking a purse from her bosom. "Take this
money to him. It will buy him another burro."

The Mexican's teeth flashed like pearls and he nodded eagerly. In a
moment he was clambering down the rocky mountain side and reached the
trail as the noisy _carreta_ lumbered past the waiting _atejo_. He need
not have hastened, for each mule had seized upon the stop as a valuable
moment for resting and was lying down under its load. Here was work for
the angry muleteers, for every animal must be unloaded, kicked to its
feet and loaded anew.

Sanchez slid down the last rocky wall, flung up his arms and showed the
two gold pieces, making a flamboyant speech as he alternately faced the
wondering muleteer and turned to bow to the slender figure outlined
against the somber greens of the mountain nook. Handing over the money,
he slapped the Indian's shoulder, whirled swiftly and clambered back the
way he had come.

The Indian seemed dazed at his unexpected good fortune, staring at the
money in his hand. He glanced up toward the mountain niche, raised a
hand to his forelock, and then pushed swiftly back from his eager,
curious, crowding friends. They talked together at top speed and for the
moment forgot all about the mules they had so laboriously re-packed; and
when they looked behind them they found they had their work to do over
again. Again the fortunate muleteer looked up, his hand slowly rising
to repeat his thanks; and became a statue in bronze. He saw the ragged
troops seize his benefactress and leap for the guide. Sanchez was no
coward and he knew what loyalty meant and demanded. He fought like a
wild beast until the crash of a pistol in the hands of the officer sent
him staggering on bending legs, back, back, back. Reaching the edge of
the niche he toppled backward, his quivering arms behind him to break
his fall; and plunged and rolled down the rocky slope until stopped by a
stunted tree, where he hung like a bag of meal.

Patience's strength, multiplied by terror, availed her nothing and soon,
bound, gagged and wrapped up in blankets, she was carried to the trail
and placed in the _carreta_ which, its canvas cover again tightly drawn,
quickly began its jolting way down the trail. As it and its escort
passed the _atejo_, now being re-packed, the officer scowled about him
for a sight of the impudent muleteer, but could not see him.

Salezar stopped his horse: "Where is that Pueblo dog?" he demanded.

"He is so frightened he is running all the way home," answered a
muleteer. "He has left us to do his work for him! Are we slaves that we
must serve him? Wait till we see him, Señor Capitan! Just you wait!" He
looked at his companion, who nodded sourly. "Always he is like that,
Señor Capitan."

Salezar questioned them closely about what they had seen, and found that
they had been so busy with the accursed mules that they had had no time
for anything else.

"See that you speak the truth!" he threatened. "There is a gringo woman
missing from Santa Fe and we are seeking her. Her gringo friends are
enemies of the Governor, and those who help them also are his enemies.
Then you have not seen this woman?"

"The more gringos that are missing the louder we will sing. We have not
seen her, Señor Capitan. We will take care that we do not see her."

"Did you hear any shooting, then?"

"If I did it would be that frightened Pablo, shooting at his shadow. He
is like that, Pablo is."

"Listen well!" warned Salezar, his beady eyes aglint. "There are two
kinds of men who do not speak; the wise ones, and the ones who have no
tongues!" He made a significant gesture in front of his mouth, glared
down at the two muleteers and, wheeling, dashed down the trail to
overtake the _carreta_, where he gloated aloud that his prisoner might
hear, and know where she was going, and why.

The two Pueblos listened until the hoofbeats sounded well down the trail
and then scrambled up the mountain side like goats, reaching the little
nook as Pablo dragged the seriously wounded Mexican over the edge. They
worked over him quickly, silently, listening to his broken, infrequent
mutterings and after bandaging him as best they could they put him on a
blanket and carried him to the trail and along it until they reached an
Indian hovel, where they left him in care of a squaw. Returning to the
_atejo_ they had to repack every mule, but they worked feverishly and
the work was soon done and the little train plodded on down the trail.
At the foot of the mountain Pablo said something to his companions, left
the trail and soon was lost to their sight.

Meanwhile the _carreta_, after a journey which was a torture, mentally
and physically, to its helpless occupant, reached the town and rumbled
up to Salezar's house, scraped through the narrow roadway between the
house and the building next door and stopped in the windowless,
high-walled courtyard. Three soldiers quickly carried a blanket-swathed
burden into the house while the others loafed around the entrance to the
driveway to guard against spying eyes. In a few moments the captain came
out, briskly rubbing his hands, gave a curt order regarding alertness
and rode away in the direction of the _palacio_, already a colonel in
his stimulated imagination. This had been a great day in the fortunes of
Captain Salezar and he was eager for his reward.

The sentry at the door of the _palacio_ saluted, told him that he was
waited for and urgently wanted, and then stood at attention. Salezar
stroked his chin, chuckled, and swaggered through the portal. Ten
minutes later he emerged, walking on air and impatient for the coming of
darkness, when his task soon would be finished and his promotion
assured.

And while the captain paced the floor of his quarters at the barracks
and dreamed dreams, an honest, courageous, and loyal Mexican was
fighting against death in a little hovel on the mountain side; and a
Pueblo Indian, stimulated by a queer and jumbled mixture of rage,
gratitude, revenge, and pity, was making his slow way, with infinite
caution, through the cover north of town. Sanchez in his babbling had
mentioned the caravan, a gringo name, and the urgent need for a warning
to be carried. Salezar's name the Pueblo already knew far too well, and
hated as he hated nothing else on earth. The mud-walled _pueblos_ of the
Valley of Taos were regarded by Salezar as rabbit-warrens full of women,
provided by Providence that his hunting might be good.



CHAPTER XXII

"LOS TEJANOS!"


The encampment of the returning caravan was in a little pasture well
outside the town and it was the scene of bustling activity. Its
personnel was different from either of the two trains from the Missouri
frontier, for it was made up of traders and travelers from both of the
earlier, west-bound caravans. Some of the first and second wagon trains
had gone on to El Paso and Chihuahua, a handful of venturesome travelers
were to try for the Pacific coast, and others of the first two trains
had elected to remain in the New Mexican capital. While in the two
west-bound caravans there had been many Mexicans, their number now was
negligible. But this returning train was larger than either of the other
two, carried much less freight, a large amount of specie, and would
drive a large herd of mules across the prairies for sale in the Missouri
settlements, which would fan the fires of Indian avarice all along the
trail.

Uncle Joe and his brother had been busy all day doing their own work,
catching up odds and ends of their Santa Fe connections, and helping
friends get ready for the long trip, and they had not given much thought
to Patience, whom they believed to be saying her farewells to friends
she had made in the city. As the afternoon passed and she and her escort
had not appeared, Uncle Joe became a little uneasy; and as the shadows
began to reach farther and farther from the wagons he mounted his horse
and rode back to Santa Fe to find and join her. It was nearly dark when
he galloped back to the encampment and sought his brother, hoping that
Patience had made her way to the wagons while he had sought for her in
town. He knew that she had not called on any of her friends and that she
must have stolen a last ride through the environs of the town. The two
men were frankly frightened and hurriedly made the rounds of the wagons
and then started for the city. It was dark by then and as they rode by
the last camp-fire of the encampment, four villainous Indians loomed up
in the light of the little blaze and Uncle Joe recognized them
instantly. He drew up quickly.

"Have you seen Patience?" he cried, an agony of fear in his voice. "We
can't find her anywhere!"

The Indians motioned for him to go on and they followed him and his
brother. When a few score paces from the fire they stopped and
consulted, hungrily fingering the locks of their heavy rifles. While
they were sketching a plan a Pueblo Indian, following the trail to the
camp like a speeding shadow, came up to them and blurted out his
fragmentary tale in a mixture of Spanish and Indian.

"Salezar stole white woman on mountain. Put her in _carreta_ and went
back to Santa Fe. Tell these people, that her friends will know.
Salezar, the son of a pig, stole her on the mountain." He burst into a
torrent of words unintelligible and open and shut his hands as he
raved.

Finally in reply to their hot, close questioning he told all he knew,
his answers interspersed with stark curses for Salezar and pity and
anxiety for the angel señorita. His words bore the undeniable stamp of
sincerity, fitted in with what the anxious group feared, and he was
triply bound by the gold pieces crowded into his hands. After another
conference, not pointless now, a plan was hurriedly agreed upon and the
several parts well studied. The Pueblo was given a commission and loaned
a horse, and after repeating what he was to do, shot away into the
darkness. Uncle Joe and his brother grudgingly accepted their parts,
after Tom had shown them they could help in no other way, and turned
back into the encampment, where their hot and eager efforts met with
prompt help from their closest friends. Alonzo Webb and Enoch Birdsall,
mounted, led four horses out of the west side of the camp and melted
into the darkness; several hundred yards from the wagons they turned the
led horses over to four maddened Indians and followed them through the
night, to enter Santa Fe from the south. Not far behind them a cavalcade
rode along the same route, grim and silent. At the little corral where
the _atejo_ had put up the Indians got the horses which Turley had
loaned them, shook hands with the two traders and listened as the
caravan's horses were led off toward the camp.

Armstrong answered the knocks on his door and admitted the Delaware,
listened in amazement to the brief, tense statement of fact, strongly
endorsed Tom's plans, and eagerly accepted his own part. His caller
slipped out, the door closed, and the sounds of walking horses faded
out down the street. A few moments later, Armstrong, rifle in hand,
slipped out of the house and ran southward.

Captain Salezar, sitting at ease in his adobe house, poured himself
another drink of _aguardiente_ and rolled another corn-husk cigarette.
Lighting it from the candle he fell to pacing to and fro across the
small room. As the raw, potent liquor stimulated his imagination he
began to bow to imaginary persons, give orders to officers, and to
introduce himself as Colonel Salezar. From the barracks across the
corner of the square an occasional burst of laughter rang out, but these
were becoming more infrequent and less loud. He heard the grounding
gun-butt of the sentry outside his door as the soldier paused before
wheeling to retrace his steps over the beat.

The sentry paced along the narrow driveway and stopped at the outer
corner of the house to cast an envious glance across at the barracks
where he knew that his friends were engaged in a furtive game of
_monte_, which had started before he had gone on duty not a quarter of
an hour before. He turned slowly to pace back again and then suddenly
threw up his arms as his world became black. His falling firelock was
caught as it left his hands, and soon lay at the side of its gagged and
trussed owner in the blackness along the base of a driveway wall. Two
figures slipped toward the courtyard to the rear of the house and one of
them, taking the rifle of his companion, stopped at the corner of the
wall at the driveway. The other slipped to the door, gently tried the
latch and opened it, one hand hidden beneath the folds of a dirty
blanket. The door swung silently open and shut and the intruder cast a
swift glance around the room.

Captain Salezar grinned into the cracked mirror hanging on the wall,
stiffened to attention, and saluted the image in the glass.

"Colonel Salezar's orders, sir," he declaimed and then, staring with
unbelieving eyes at the apparition pushing out onto the mirror, crossed
himself, whirled and drew his sword almost in one motion.

The Delaware cringed and pulled at a lock of hair straggling down past
his eyes and held out a folded paper, swiftly placing a finger on his
lips.

"_Por le Capitan despues le Gobernador_," he whispered. "_Pronto!_"

The captain's anger and suspicion at so unceremonious an entry slowly
faded, but he did not lower the sword. The Delaware slid forward, abject
and fearful, his eyes riveted on the clumsy blade, the paper held out at
arm's length. "_Por le Capitan_," he muttered. "_Pronto!_"

"You son of swine!" growled Salezar. "You scum! Is this the way you
enter an officer's house? How did you pass the sentry? A score of lashes
on both your backs will teach you manners and him his duty. Give me that
message and stand aside till I call the guard!"

"_Perdón, Capitan! Perdón, perdón!_" begged the Delaware. "_Le
Gobernador_--" his hands streaked out, one gripping the sword wrist of
the captain, the other fastening inexorably on the greasy, swarthy
throat well up under the chin. As the grips clamped down the Delaware's
knee rose and smashed into the Mexican's stomach. The sword clattered
against a wall and the two men fell and rolled and thrashed across the
floor.

"Where _is_ she?" grated the Indian as he writhed and rolled, now
underneath and now uppermost. "Where _is_ she, you murdering dog?"

They smashed against the flimsy table and overturned it, candle, liquor
and all. The candle flickered out and the struggle went on in the
darkness.

"Where _is_ she, Salezar? Yore in th' hands of a _Texan_, you taker of
ears! Where _is_ she?"

Salezar was no weakling and although he had no more real courage than a
rat, like a rat he was cornered and fighting for his life; but Captain
Salezar had lived well and lazily, as his pampered body was now showing
evidence. Try as he might he could not escape those steel-like fingers
for more than a moment. With desperate strength he broke their hold time
and again as he writhed and bridged and rolled, clawed and bit; but they
clamped back again as often. His shouts for help were choked gasps and
the strength he had put forth in the beginning of the struggle was
waning.

The table was now a wreck and they rolled in and over the débris.
Salezar made use of his great spurs at every chance and his opponent's
clothing was ripped and torn to shreds wet with blood. His fingers
searched for his enemy's eyes and missed them, but left their marks on
the painted face. They rolled against one wall and then back to the
other; they slammed again at the door and back into the wreckage of the
table.

"Where _is_ she?" panted the Delaware. "Tell me, Salezar, _where is
she_?"

The captain wriggled desperately and almost gained the top, and thought
he sensed a weakened opposition. "Where she will remain!" he choked.
"Mistress of the _palacio_--until he tires--of her. You--cursed _Tejano_
dog!" He drove a spur at his enemy's side, missed, and it became
entangled in the rags.

The Delaware, blind with fury, smashed his knee into the soft abdomen
and snarled at the answering gasp of pain. "Remember th' prisoners? Near
Valencia--Ernest died in the--night. You cut off his ears--and threw his
body in a--ditch!" He got the throat hold again in spite of nails and
teeth, blows and spurs. "McAllister was shot because he--could not walk.
You stole his clothes--cut off his ears and left--his body at th' side
of th'--road for the wolves!" He felt the spurs graze his leg and he
threw it across the body of the Mexican. "Golpin was shot--other side of
Dead Man's Lake. You took--_his_ ears _too_!" He hauled and tugged and
managed to roll his enemy onto his other leg. "On th' Dead Man's
Journey--Griffin's brains were knocked out with a--gun butt. _His_ ears
were cut off, _too_!" Hooking his feet together he clamped his powerful
thighs in a viselike grip on his enemy. "Gates died in a wagon near--El
Paso, of starvation, sickness--an' fright. You got _his_--ears!"

"As--I'll get--_yours_!" hoarsely moaned Salezar, again missing with the
spurs. "The señorita will be happy--in Armijo's arms. After that--the
soldiers--can have her!"

The Delaware loosened his leg grip, jerked them up toward the captain's
stomach as he hauled his victim down toward them, and clamped them tight
again over the soft stomach.

"Yore lies stick--in yore throat--Salezar!" he panted. "An' those
murders cry--to heaven; but you'll only--hear th' echoes ringin' through
hell--for all eternity. _You_ called th' roll of th' livin'--on that
damnable march; _I_'m--callin' th' roll of th' _dead_! Yore name comes
last! There's many a Texan would give his--chance of heaven to change
places--with me, _now_!" He raised his head in the darkness. "Oh,
Ernest, old pardner; I'm payin' yore debt, _in full_!"

The spurs stabbed in vain, for the Delaware was now well above their
flaying range; the nails scoring his face were growing feeble. He
shifted the leg hold again and managed to imprison one of Salezar's arms
in their grip. Lifting himself from the hips, he released the throat
hold and grabbed the Mexican's other arm, thrust it under him and fell
back on it as his two hands, free now to work their worst, leaped back
under the swarthy chin. The relentless thumbs pressed up and in.

The Blackfoot on guard at the end of the driveway thought he heard the
door open and close, but there was no doubt about the labored breathing
which wheezed along the dark wall. Stumbling steps faltered and dragged
and then the Delaware bumped into him and held to him for a moment.

"Git th' hosses, Hank!" came a mumbled command.

"Thar with Jim an' Zeb," whispered the hunter in surprise. "How'd ye get
so wet? Is that blood?"

"Spurred me--I'll be all right--soon's I git breath. He--fought like
a--fiend."

"Git his ears?" eagerly demanded the Blackfoot.

"Thar's been ears enough took--already. Come on; _she's_ in th'
_palacio_--with _Armijo_!"

"Jest what we figgered, _damn him_!" growled the Blackfoot, leading the
way.

In the stable at the rear of the courtyard a decrepit dog, white with
age, had barked feebly when its breath permitted, while the fight had
raged in the house. The Blackfoot had considered stopping the wheezy
warnings, but they did not have power enough to lure him from his watch.
He had accepted the lesser of the two evils and remained on guard. As
the two Indians crept from the courtyard the aged animal burst into a
paroxysm of barking, which exhausted it. To those who knew the captain's
dog, its barking long since had lost all meaning, for, as the soldiers
said, it barked over nothing. They did not know that the animal dreamed
day and night of the days of its youth and strength and now, in its
dotage, in imagination was living over again stirring incidents of hunts
and fights long past. Gradually it recovered its strength from sounding
its barked warnings in vain, and pantingly sniffed the air. Its actions
became frantic and the decrepit old dog struggled to its feet, swaying
on its feeble legs, its grizzled muzzle pointing toward its master's
house. The composite body odor it had known for so many years had
changed, and ceased abruptly. Whining and whimpering, the dog searched
the air currents, but in vain; the scent came no more. Then, sinking
back on its haunches, it raised its gray nose to the sky and poured out
its grief in one long, quavering howl of surprising volume.

The sleeping square sprang to life, superstitious terror dominated the
barracks. Lights gleamed suddenly and the barracks door opened slowly,
grudgingly as frightened soldiers hurriedly crossed themselves. Don Jesu
and Robideau pushed hesitatingly to the portal and peered fearsomely
into the night. They suddenly cried out, drew their ancient pistols, and
fired at two vague figures slinking hurriedly along the side of the
house opposite. From the darkness there came quick replies. A
coruscating poniard of spiteful flame stabbed into the night. Don Jesu
whirled on buckling legs and pitched sidewise to the street. A second
stab of sparky flame split the darkness and Robideau reeled back into
the arms of his panicky soldiers. As the heavy reports rolled through
the town they seemed to be a signal, for on the southern outskirts of
Santa Fe gun after gun crashed in a rippling, spasmodic volley. A few
stragglers in the all but deserted streets raised a dreaded cry and fled
to the nearest shelter. The cry was taken up and sent rioting through
the city; doors were doubly barred and the soldiers in the barracks,
safer behind the thick mud walls than they would be out in the dark open
against such an enemy, slammed shut the ponderous door and frantically
built barricades of everything movable.

"_Los Tejanos!_" rolled the panicky cries. "_Los Tejanos! Los
Tejanos!_"

The wailing warning of the coming of a plague could not have held more
terror. Gone were the vaunted boastings and the sneers; gone was the
swaggering bravado of the dashing _caballeros_, who had said what they
would do to any Texan force that dared to brave the wrath of the
defenders of San Francisco de la Santa Fe. Gone was all faith, never too
sincere, in ancient _escopeta_ and rusty blunderbuss, now that the
occasion was close at hand to measure them against the devil weapons of
hardy Texan fighting men, of the breed that had stood off, bloody day
after bloody day, four thousand Mexican regulars before a little adobe
church, now glorified for all the ages yet to come. To panicky minds
came magic words of evil portent; the Alamo and San Jacinto. To evil
consciences, bowed with guilt, came burning memories of that sick and
starved Texan band that had walked through winter days and shivered
through winter nights from Santa Fe to the capital, two thousand miles
of suffering, and every step a torture. Texan ears had swung from a
piece of rusty wire to feed the cruel conceit of a swarthy tyrant.

"_Los Tejanos! Los Tejanos! Los Tejanos!_"

At the _palacio_ a human brute recoiled before a barred door between him
and a desperate captive, his honeyed cajolings turning to acid on his
lying tongue. No longer did he hear the measured tread of the palace
guards, who secretly exulted as they fled and left him defenseless.

"_Los Tejanos! Los Tejanos! Los Tejanos!_"

He dashed through a door to grab his weapons and flee, and in through
the open, undefended portal from the square leaped a blood-covered
Delaware, an epic of rags and rage, a man so maddened that all thought
of weapons save Nature's, had gone from his burning brain. Behind him
leaped a Blackfoot, dynamic and deadly as a panther, a Colt pistol in
one eager, upraised hand, in the other the cold length of a keen
skinning knife. Behind them from a wagon deserted in the square came the
sharp crashes of Hawken and Colt, and a shouted battlecry: "Remember th'
Alamo! Remember th' Alamo! Texans to th' fore!"

As the Delaware dashed past an open door he caught a flurry of movement,
the flare of a pistol and his laughter pealed out in one mad shout as he
stopped like a cat and leaped in through the opening. Another flash,
another roar, and a burning welt across a shoulder spurred the bloody
Nemesis to a greater speed. The wavering sword he knocked aside and near
two hundred pounds of fighting, mountain sinew hurled itself behind a
driving fist. The hurtling bulk of Armijo crashed against a wall and
dropped like a bag of grain as the plunging Delaware whirled to pounce
upon it. As he turned, a scream rang out somewhere behind him, through
the door he had just entered, a scream vibrant with desperate hope, and
he bellowed a triumphant answer. Here was his mission; Armijo was a side
issue. The governor, helpless before him, was forgotten and the Delaware
whirled through the door bellowing one name over and over again.
"Patience! Patience! _Patience!_"

"_Los Tejanos! Los Tejanos!_" came from the public square.

"_Los Tejanos! Los Tejanos!_" quavered the despairing echo throughout
the quaking town, while from the south there came the steady crash of
alien rifles, firing harmlessly into the air.

Before him a Blackfoot methodically battered at a door, taking a few
quick steps backward and a plunging dive forward. The Delaware shouted
again and added the power of his driving weight. There came a
splintering crash and the door went in. The Blackfoot whirled and darted
to the great portal leading to the square, bouncing on the balls of his
feet like a cougar expecting danger at every point. The Delaware
scrambled to his feet and gathered a whitefaced woman in his arms,
crushing her to his bloody chest. He felt her go suddenly limp and,
throwing her across a bare and bleeding shoulder, he drew a Colt
repeating pistol and sprang after his Indian ally, not feeling the
weight of his precious burden.

Lurid, stabbing rapiers of fire still sprang from the wagon barricade,
making death certain to any man who opened the barracks' door. Between
their heavy roars the woodwork of the wagon smacked sharply in time to
bursts of fire from the barracks' few windows. The Delaware darted from
the _palacio_ door and held close to the wall, hidden by the portico and
the darkness. As he reached the end of the column-supported roof the
Blackfoot bulked out of the night on his horse, and leading four others.
The lost-soul call of a loon sounded and changed the deadly wagon into a
vehicle of peace and quiet as its Arapahoe defenders slipped away from
it. The sudden creaking of saddle leather was followed by the rolling
thunder of flying hoofs as the first three horses left the square. A
moment's pause and then two more horses galloped through the darkness
after the others, the Arapahoe rear guard sitting almost sidewise in
their saddles, their long, hot rifles pointing backward to send hotter
greetings to whoever might follow.

They raced like gambling fools through the dark night, the Blackfoot
leading the way with the instinct of a homing bird. Mile after mile
strung out behind them, pastures, gullies, knolls rolling past. While
they climbed and dipped and circled they gradually sensed a steady
rising of the ground. Suddenly the Blackfoot shouted for them to halt,
and the laboring horses welcomed the moment's breathing space. The guide
threw himself on the ground and pressed his ear against it. In a moment
he was back in the saddle and gave the word to go on again. He had heard
no sounds of pursuit and he chuckled as he leaned over close to the
Delaware who rode at his flank.

"Nothin' stirrin' behind us, fur's I could make out," he said. "They can
only track us by sound in th' dark, at any speed, an' I'm gamblin' they
wait fer daylight. Thar scared ter stick thar noses out o' doors _this_
night. How's yore gal?"

Tom's rumbling reply could mean anything and they kept on through the
night without further words. The trail had been growing steadily rougher
and steeper and the horses were permitted to fall into a swinging lope.
Another hour passed and then Hank signalled for a stop. From his lips
whistled the crowded, hurried, repeated call of a whip-poor-will. Three
times the insistent demand rang out, clear and piercing. At the count of
ten an echoing whistle sounded and a light flickered on the trail
ahead.

"J'get her?" bawled a voice, tremulous with fear and anxiety, and only a
breath ahead of another.

"Hell yes!" roared Hank. "Got Salezar, Don Jesu and Robideau, too; only
we left _them_ behind--with thar ears!"

In another moment Uncle Joe and Adam Cooper took the precious burden
from the Delaware's numbed arms, someone uncovered the lighted candle
lantern, and saddles were thrown on fresh mounts. The Pueblo pushed
forward and peered into Patience's face, and his own face broke into
smiles. His torrent of mixed Spanish and Indian brought a grin to Hank's
painted countenance.

"This hyar shore is good beaver," he chuckled, clapping the Pueblo on
the shoulder, "but thar's more good news fer _you_." He put his mouth
close to the Pueblo's ear and whispered: "Yer friend Salezar will be
leadin' a percession ter th' buryin' ground. That Delaware thar killed
him with his bare hands!"

The Pueblo touched Tom's arm, his hand passing down it caressingly, to
be seized in a grip which made him wince; and when Adam Cooper offered
him a handful of gold coins the Indian drew himself up proudly and
pushed them away.

"For his friends Pablo do what he can," he said in Spanish. "I now take
these horses back on the trail to make a puzzle in the sand that will
take time to read. Pablo does not forget. _Adios!_" He vaulted onto his
horse, took the lead ropes of the tired mounts, and was lost in the
darkness, eager to weave a pattern of hoof marks to mock pursuing eyes.

The little cavalcade pushed on, following a trail that wound along the
sides of the mountains, passing many places where a handful of resolute
men could check scores. The cold mountain air bit shrewdly, and
occasional gusts of wind blustered along the timbered slopes and set the
pines and cedars whispering. Higher and higher went the narrow trail,
skirting sheer walls of rock on one side, and dizzy precipices on the
other; higher and higher plodded the little caravan in single file,
following the unhesitant leader.

There came a leaden glow high up on the right. It paled swiftly as a
streak of silver flared up behind the jagged crests of the mountains,
here and there caught by a snow mantle to gleam in virgin white. On the
left lay abysmal darkness, like a lake of ink, and slowly out of it
pushed ranks of treetops as the dawn rolled downward and the mountain
fogs dissolved in dew. Deep canons, sheer precipices; long streaks on
mountain sides where resistless avalanches had scraped all greenery from
the glistening rock; green amphitheaters, fit for fairy pageants;
velvety knolls and jewels of mountain pastures lay below them, with here
and there the crystal gleam of ribbon-like mountain brooks, their waters
embarked on a long, depressing journey through capricious oceans of
billowy sands and the salty leagues of desert wastes. Birds flashed
among the branches, chipmunks chattered furiously at these unheeding
invaders of their mountain fastness; high up on a beetling crag a
bighorn ram was silhouetted in rigid majesty, and over all lazily
drifted an eagle against the paling western sky, symbolical of freedom.

There came the musical tinkle of falling water and Hank stopped, raising
his hand. Into the little mountain dell the caravan wound and in a
moment muscles tired and cramped from long, hard riding found relief in
a score of little duties. While the animals were relieved of saddles and
packs and securely picketed, and a fire made of dry wood from a bleached
windfall, Hank climbed swiftly up the mountain side for a view of the
back trail. Perched on an out-thrust finger of rock high above the dell
he knelt motionless, searching with keen and critical eyes every yard of
that windswept trail, following it along its sloping length until it
shrunk into a hair line across the frowning mountain sides and then
faded out entirely. Below him grotesque figures moved about like gnomes
performing incantations around a tiny blaze; dwarfed horses cropped the
plentiful grass and succulent leaves, and a timid streamer of pale blue
smoke arose like a plumb line until the cruising gusts above the
treetops tore it into feathery wisps and carried it away. Across the
valley the rising sun pushed golden floods of light into crevices, among
the rocks, and turned the pines and cedars into glistening cones of
green on stems of jet.

"Wall," said a voice below him, "hyar I am. Go down an' feed. See
anythin'?"

Hank leaned over and looked down at the climbing figure, whose laborious
progress sent a noisy stream of clicking pebbles behind him like sparks
from a rocket.

"Nothin' I ain't plumb glad ter see," replied Hank. "This hyar beats th'
settlements all ter hell." As Jim's horrible face peered over the edge
of the rock balcony Hank eyed it critically and shook his head. "I've
seen some plumb awful lookin' 'Rapahoes; but nothin' ter stack up ag'in
you. Vermillion mebby is yer favorite color, but it don't improve yer
looks a hull lot. Neither does that sorrel juice. How's th' gal?"

"Full o' spunk an' gittin' chipper as a squirrel," answered Jim. "Who's
goin' ter git th' blame fer last night's fandango?"

"Four murderin' Injuns, a-plunderin' an' a-kidnappin'," chuckled Hank.
"Woodson's goin' ter raise hell about th' hull Cooper fambly bein'
stole. Armijo'll keep his mouth shet an' pass th' crime along ter us,
an' make a great show o' gittin' us; but," he winked knowingly at his
accomplice in the night's activities, "chasin' four desperite Injuns
along an open trail, whar his sojers kin spread out an' take advantage
o' thar bein' twenty ter one is _one_ thing; chasin' 'em along a trail
like this, whar they has ter ride Injun fashion, is a hull lot
diff'rent. They've had thar bellies full o' chasin' along Injun trails
in th' mountings. Th' Apaches, Utes, an' Comanches has showed 'em it
don't pay. Thar's sharpshooters that can't be got at; thar's rollin'
rocks, an' ambushes; an' chasin' murderin' Injuns afoot up mounting
sides ain't did in this part o' th' country."

"Meanin' we won't be chased?" demanded Jim, incredulously.

"Not meanin' nothin' o' th' kind," growled Hank, spitting into three
hundred feet of void. "We killed some of th' military aristo-crazy, as
Tom calls 'em, didn't we? We made fools outer th' whole prairie-dog
town, didn't we? An' what's worse, we stole th' gal that Armijo war
sweet on, an' Tom knocked _him_ end over end--oh, Jim, ye should 'a'
seen that! Six feet o' greaser gov'ner a-turnin' a cartwheel in his own
house! _Chase_ us? Hell, yes!"

The Arapahoe rubbed his chin. "Fust ye say one thing, then ye say
another. What ye mean, Ol' Buffaler?"

"I'm bettin' thar's a greaser army a-poundin' along th' wagon road fer
Raton Pass," replied Hank, spitting again with great gusto. "We're a
Delaware from Bent's, a Blackfoot from th' Upper Missoury, an' two ugly
'Rapahoes from 'tother side o' St. Vrains, ain't we? Wall, if ye know a
fox's den ye needn't foller him along th' ridges." He chuckled again.
"We're goin' another way over some Ute trails I knows of."

"But s'posin' they foller us along this trail?"

Hank looked speculatively back along the narrow pathway, with its
numerous bends, and then glanced pityingly at his anxious friend. "I
jest told ye why they won't; an' if they do, _let_ 'em!"

Ogden looked steadily southward along the trail and suddenly laughed:
"Yes; _let_ 'em!"

       *       *       *       *       *

In the great courtyard of Bent's Fort one evening more than a week
later, three trappers sat with their backs against the brass cannon that
scowled at the heavy doors. They were planning their winter's trip in
the mountains, figuring out the supplies and paraphernalia for a party
of four, when Hank, glancing up, saw two people slowly walking along the
high, wide parapet on the side toward the Arkansas. He raised an arm,
pointing, and his companions, following it with their eyes, saw the two
figures suddenly become like one against the moonlit sky.

Hank sighed, bit his lip, and looked down.

"Better figger on a party o' three," he said.





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