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"Tall man, young an' tracked clean," he muttered to himself. "Fancy
boots, with rather little heels. Shame I done missed him!"

But he said nothing to Banion or anyone else. It was the twentieth time
Bill Jackson, one of Sublette's men and a nephew of one of his partners,
had crossed the Plains, and the lone hand pleased him best. He
instituted his own government for the most part, and had thrown in with
this train because that best suited his book, since the old pack trains
of the fur trade were now no more. For himself, he planned settlement
in Eastern Oregon, a country he once had glimpsed in long-gone beaver
days, a dozen years ago. The Eastern settlements had held him long
enough, the Army life had been too dull, even with Doniphan.

"I must be gittin' old," he muttered to himself as he turned to a
breakfast fire. "Missed - at seventy yard!"




CHAPTER VIII

MAN AGAINST MAN


There were more than two thousand souls in the great caravan which
reached over miles of springy turf and fat creek lands. There were more
than a thousand children, more than a hundred babes in arm, more than
fifty marriageable maids pursued by avid swains. There were bold souls
and weak, strong teams and weak, heavy loads and light loads, neighbor
groups and coteries of kindred blood or kindred spirits.

The rank and file had reasons enough for shifting. There were a score of
Helens driving wagons - reasons in plenty for the futility of all
attempts to enforce an arbitrary rule of march. Human equations, human
elements would shake themselves down into place, willy-nilly. The great
caravan therefore was scantily less than a rabble for the first three or
four days out. The four columns were abandoned the first half day. The
loosely knit organization rolled on in a broken-crested wave, ten,
fifteen, twenty miles a day, the horse-and-mule men now at the front.
Far to the rear, heading only the cow column, came the lank men of
Liberty, trudging alongside their swaying ox teams, with many a
monotonous "Gee-whoa-haw! Git along thar, ye Buck an' Star!" So soon
they passed the fork where the road to Oregon left the trail to Santa
Fé; topped the divide that held them back from the greater valley of the
Kaw.

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._

_The Covered Wagon._

MOLLY COAXES SAM WOODHULL TO LET HER RIDE BANION'S HORSE.]

Noon of the fifth day brought them to the swollen flood of the latter
stream, at the crossing known as Papin's Ferry. Here the semicivilized
Indians and traders had a single rude ferryboat, a scow operated in part
by setting poles, in part by the power of the stream against a cable.
The noncommittal Indians would give no counsel as to fording. They had
ferry hire to gain. Word passed that there were other fords a few miles
higher up. A general indecision existed, and now the train began to pile
up on the south bank of the river.

Late in the afternoon the scout, Jackson, came riding back to the herd
where Banion was at work, jerking up his horse in no pleased frame of
mind.

"Will," said he, "leave the boys ride now an' come on up ahead. We need
ye."

"What's up?" demanded Banion. "Anything worse?"

"Yes. The old fool's had a row over the ferryboat. Hit'd take two weeks
to git us all over that way, anyhow. He's declared fer fordin' the hull
outfit, lock, stock an' barrel. To save a few dollars, he's a goin' to
lose a lot o' loads an' drownd a lot o' womern an' babies - that's what
he's goin' to do. Some o' us called a halt an' stood out fer a council.
We want you to come on up.

"Woodhull's there," he added. "He sides with the old man, o' course. He
rid on the same seat with that gal all day till now. Lord knows what he
done or said. Ain't hit nigh about time now, Major?"

"It's nigh about time," said Will Banion quietly.

They rode side by side, past more than a mile of the covered wagons, now
almost end to end, the columns continually closing up. At the bank of
the river, at the ferry head, they found a group of fifty men. The ranks
opened as Banion and Jackson approached, but Banion made no attempt to
join a council to which he had not been bidden.

A half dozen civilized Indians of the Kaws, owners or operators of the
ferry, sat in a stolid line across the head of the scow at its landing
stage, looking neither to the right nor the left and awaiting the white
men's pleasure. Banion rode down to them.

"How deep?" he asked.

They understood but would not answer.

"Out of the way!" he cried, and rode straight at them. They scattered.
He spurred his horse, the black Spaniard, over the stage and on the deck
of the scow, drove him its full length, snorting; set the spurs hard at
the farther end and plunged deliberately off into the swift, muddy
stream.

The horse sank out of sight below the roily surface. They saw the rider
go down to his armpits; saw him swing off saddle, upstream. The gallant
horse headed for the center of the heavy current, but his master soon
turned him downstream and inshore. A hundred yards down they landed on a
bar and scrambled up the bank.

Banion rode to the circle and sat dripping. He had brought not speech
but action, not theory but facts, and he had not spoken a word.

His eyes covered the council rapidly, resting on the figure of Sam
Woodhull, squatting on his heels. As though to answer the challenge of
his gaze, the latter rose.

"Gentlemen," said he, "I'm not, myself, governed by any mere spirit of
bravado. It's swimming water, yes - any fool knows that, outside of yon
one. What I do say is that we can't afford to waste time here fooling
with that boat. We've got to swim it. I agree with you, Wingate. This
river's been forded by the trains for years, and I don't see as we need
be any more chicken-hearted than those others that went through last
year and earlier. This is the old fur-trader crossing, the Mormons
crossed here, and so can we."

Silence met his words. The older men looked at the swollen stream,
turned to the horseman who had proved it.

"What does Major Banion say?" spoke up a voice.

"Nothing!" was Banion's reply. "I'm not in your council, am I?"

"You are, as much as any man here," spoke up Caleb Price, and Hall and
Kelsey added yea to that. "Get down. Come in."

Banion threw his rein to Jackson and stepped into the ring, bowing to
Jesse Wingate, who sat as presiding officer.

"Of course we want to hear what Mr. Banion has to say," said he. "He's
proved part of the question right now. I've always heard it's fording,
part way, at Papin's Ferry. It don't look it now."

"The river's high, Mr. Wingate," said Banion. "If you ask me, I'd rather
ferry than ford. I'd send the women and children over by this boat. We
can make some more out of the wagon boxes. If they leak we can cover
them with hides. The sawmill at the mission has some lumber. Let's knock
together another boat or two. I'd rather be safe than sorry, gentlemen;
and believe me, she's heavy water yonder."

"I've never seed the Kaw so full," asserted Jackson, "an' I've crossed
her twenty times in spring flood. Do what ye like, you-all - ole
Missoury's goin' to take her slow an' keerful."

"Half of you Liberty men are a bunch of damned cowards!" sneered
Woodhull.

There was silence. An icy voice broke it.

"I take it, that means me?" said Will Banion.

"It does mean you, if you want to take it that way," rejoined his enemy.
"I don't believe in one or two timid men holding up a whole train."

"Never mind about holding up the train - we're not stopping any man from
crossing right now. What I have in mind now is to ask you, do you
classify me as a coward just because I counsel prudence here?"

"You're the one is holding back."

"Answer me! Do you call that to me?"

"I do answer you, and I do call it to you then!" flared Woodhull.

"I tell you, you're a liar, and you know it, Sam Woodhull! And if it
pleases your friends and mine, I'd like to have the order now made on
unfinished business."

Not all present knew what this meant, for only a few knew of the affair
at the rendezvous, the Missourians having held their counsel in the
broken and extended train, where men might travel for days and not meet.
But Woodhull knew, and sprang to his feet, hand on revolver. Banion's
hand was likewise employed at his wet saddle holster, to which he
sprang, and perhaps then one man would have been killed but for Bill
Jackson, who spurred between.

"Make one move an' I drop ye!" he called to Woodhull. "Ye've give yer
promise."

"All right then, I'll keep it," growled Woodhull.

"Ye'd better! Now listen! Do ye see that tall cottingwood tree a half
mile down - the one with the flat umbreller top, like a cypress? Ye kin?
Well, in half a hour be thar with three o' yore friends, no more. I'll
be thar with my man an' three o' his, no more, an' I'll be one o' them
three. I allow our meanin' is to see hit fa'r. An' I allow that what
has been unfinished business ain't goin' to be unfinished come sundown.

"Does this suit ye, Will?"

"It's our promise. Officers didn't usually fight that way, but you said
it must be so, and we both agreed. I agree now."

"You other folks all stay back," said Bill Jackson grimly. "This here is
a little matter that us Missourians is goin' to settle in our own way
an' in our own camp. Hit ain't none o' you-uns' business. Hit's plenty
o' ourn."

Men started to their feet over all the river front. The Indians rose,
walked down the bank covertly.

"Fight!"

The word passed quickly. It was a day of personal encounters. This was
an assemblage in large part of fighting men. But some sense of decency
led the partisans to hurry away, out of sight and hearing of the
womenfolk.

The bell-top cottonwood stood in a little space which had been a dueling
ground for thirty years. The grass was firm and even for a distance of
fifty yards in any direction, and the light at that hour favored neither
man.

For Banion, who was prompt, Jackson brought with him two men. One of
them was a planter by name of Dillon, the other none less than stout
Caleb Price, one of Wingate's chosen captains.

"I'll not see this made a thing of politics," said he. "I'm Northern,
but I like the way that young man has acted. He hasn't had a fair deal
from the officers of this train. He's going to have a fair deal now."

"We allow he will," said Dillon grimly.

He was fully armed, and so were all the seconds. For Woodhull showed the
Kentuckian, Kelsey, young Jed Wingate - the latter by Woodhull's own
urgent request - and the other train captain, Hall. So in its way the
personal quarrel of these two hotheads did in a way involve the entire
train.

"Strip yore man," commanded the tall mountaineer. "We're ready. It's go
till one hollers enough; fa'r stand up, heel an' toe, no buttin' er
gougin'. Fust man ter break them rules gits shot. Is that yore
understandin', gentlemen.

"How we get it, yes," assented Kelsey.

"See you enforce it then, fer we're a-goin' to," concluded Jackson.

He stepped back. From the opposite sides the two antagonists stepped
forward. There was no ring, there was no timekeeper, no single umpire.
There were no rounds, no duration set. It was man to man, for cause the
most ancient and most bitter of all causes - sex.




CHAPTER IX

THE BRUTE


Between the two stalwart men who fronted one another, stripped to
trousers and shoes, there was not so much to choose. Woodhull perhaps
had the better of it by a few pounds in weight, and forsooth looked less
slouchy out of his clothes than in them. His was the long and sinewy
type of muscle. He was in hard condition.

Banion, two years younger than his rival, himself was round and slender,
thin of flank, a trace squarer and fuller of shoulder. His arms showed
easily rippling bands of muscles, his body was hard in the natural vigor
of youth and life in the open air. His eye was fixed all the time on his
man. He did not speak or turn aside, but walked on in.

There were no preliminaries, there was no delay. In a flash the Saxon
ordeal of combat was joined. The two fighters met in a rush.

At the center of the fighting space they hung, body to body, in a
whirling _melée_. Neither had much skill in real boxing, and such
fashion of fight was unknown in that region, the offensive being the
main thing and defense remaining incidental. The thud of fist on face,
the discoloration that rose under the savage blows, the blood that
oozed and scattered, proved that the fighting blood of both these mad
creatures was up, so that they felt no pain, even as they knew no fear.

In their first fly, as witnesses would have termed it, there was no
advantage to either, and both came out well marked. In the combat of the
time and place there were no rules, no periods, no resting times. Once
they were dispatched to it, the fight was the affair of the fighters,
with no more than a very limited number of restrictions as to fouls.

They met and broke, bloody, gasping, once, twice, a dozen times. Banion
was fighting slowly, carefully.

"I'll make it free, if you dare!" panted Woodhull at length.

They broke apart once more by mutual need of breath. He meant he would
bar nothing; he would go back to the days of Boone and Kenton and Girty,
when hair, eye, any part of the body was fair aim.

"You can't dare me!" rejoined Will Banion. "It's as my seconds say."

Young Jed Wingate, suddenly pale, stood by and raised no protest.
Kelsey's face was stony calm. The small eye of Hall narrowed, but he too
held to the etiquette of non-interference in this matter of man and man,
though what had passed here was a deadly thing. Mutilation, death might
now ensue, and not mere defeat. But they all waited for the other side.

"Air ye game to hit, Will?" demanded Jackson at length.

"I don't fear him, anyway he comes," replied Will Banion. "I don't like
it, but all of this was forced on me."

"The hell it was!" exclaimed Kelsey. "I heard ye call my man a liar."

"An' he called my man a coward!" cut in Jackson.

"He is a coward," sneered Woodhull, panting, "or he'd not flicker now.
He's afraid I'll take his eye out, damn him!"

Will Banion turned to his friends.

"Are we gentlemen at all?" said he. "Shall we go back a hundred years?"

"If your man's afraid, we claim the fight!" exclaimed Kelsey. "Breast
yore bird!"

"So be it then!" said Will Banion. "Don't mind me, Jackson! I don't fear
him and I think I can beat him. It's free! I bar nothing, nor can he!
Get back!"

Woodhull rushed first in the next assault, confident of his skill in
rough-and-tumble. He felt at his throat the horizontal arm of his enemy.
He caught away the wrist in his own hand, but sustained a heavy blow at
the side of his head. The defense of his adversary angered him to blind
rage. He forgot everything but contact, rushed, closed and caught his
antagonist in the brawny grip of his arms. The battle at once resolved
itself into the wrestling and battering match of the frontier. And it
was free! Each might kill or maim if so he could.

The wrestling grips of the frontiersmen were few and primitive,
efficient when applied by masters; and no schoolboy but studied all the
holds as matter of religion, in a time when physical prowess was the
most admirable quality a man might have.

Each fighter tried the forward jerk and trip which sometimes would do
with an opponent not much skilled; but this primer work got results for
neither. Banion evaded and swung into a hip lock, so swift that Woodhull
left the ground. But his instinct gave him hold with one hand at his
enemy's collar. He spread wide his feet and cast his weight aside, so
that he came standing, after all. He well knew that a man must keep his
feet. Woe to him who fell when it all was free! His own riposte was a
snakelike glide close into his antagonist's arms, a swift thrust of his
leg between the other's - the grapevine, which sometimes served if done
swiftly.

It was done swiftly, but it did not serve. The other spread his legs,
leaned against him, and in a flash came back in the dreaded crotch lock
of the frontier, which some men boasted no one could escape at their
hands. Woodhull was flung fair, but he broke wide and rose and rushed
back and joined again, grappling; so that they stood once more body to
body, panting, red, savage as any animals that fight, and more cruel.
The seconds all were on their feet, scarce breathing.

They pushed in sheer test, and each found the other's stark strength.
Yet Banion's breath still came even, his eye betokened no anxiety of the
issue. Both were bloody now, clothing and all. Then in a flash the
scales turned against the challenger _a l'outrance_.

Banion caught his antagonist by the wrist, and swift as a flash stooped,
turning his own back and drawing the arm of his enemy over his own
shoulder, slightly turned, so that the elbow joint was in peril and so
that the pain must be intense. It was one of the jiu jitsu holds,
discovered independently perhaps at that instant; certainly a new hold
for the wrestling school of the frontier.

Woodhull's seconds saw the look of pain come on his face, saw him wince,
saw him writhe, saw him rise on his toes. Then, with a sudden squatting
heave, Banion cast him full length in front of him, upon his back!
Before he had time to move he was upon him, pinning him down. A growl
came from six observers.

In an ordinary fall a man might have turned, might have escaped. But
Woodhull had planned his own undoing when he had called it free. Eyeless
men, usually old men, in this day brought up talk of the ancient and
horrible warfare of a past generation, when destruction of the adversary
was the one purpose and any means called fair when it was free.

But the seconds of both men raised no hand when they saw the balls of
Will Banion's thumbs pressed against the upper orbit edge of his enemy's
eyes.

"Do you say enough?" panted the victor.

A groan from the helpless man beneath.

"Am I the best man? Can I whip you?" demanded the voice above him, in
the formula prescribed.

"Go on - do it! Pull out his eye!" commanded Bill Jackson savagely. "He
called it free to you! But don't wait!"

But the victor sprang free, stood, dashed the blood from his own eyes,
wavered on his feet.

The hands of his fallen foe were across his eyes. But even as his men
ran in, stooped and drew them away the conqueror exclaimed:

"I'll not! I tell you I won't maim you, free or no free! Get up!"

So Woodhull knew his eyes were spared, whatever might be the pain of the
sore nerves along the socket bone.

He rose to his knees, to his feet, his face ghastly in his own sudden
sense of defeat, the worse for his victor's magnanimity, if such it
might be called. Humiliation was worse than pain. He staggered, sobbing.

"I won't take nothing for a gift from you!"

But now the men stood between them, like and like. Young Jed Wingate
pushed back his man.

"It's done!" said he. "You shan't fight no more with the man that let
you up. You're whipped, and by your own word it'd have been worse!"

He himself handed Will Banion his coat.

"Go get a pail of water," he said to Kelsey, and the latter departed.

Banion stepped apart, battered and pale beneath his own wounds.

"I didn't want to fight him this way," said he. "I left him his eyes so
he can see me again. If so he wants, I'll meet him any way. I hope he
won't rue back."

"You fool!" said old Bill Jackson, drawing Banion to one side. "Do ye
know what ye're a-sayin'? Whiles he was a-layin' thar I seen the bottoms
o' his boots. Right fancy they was, with smallish heels! That skunk'll
kill ye in the dark, Will. Ye'd orto hev put out'n both his two eyes!"

A sudden sound made them all turn. Came crackling of down brush, the
scream of a woman's voice. At the side of the great tree stood a figure
that had no right there. They turned mute.

It was Molly Wingate who faced them all now, turning from one bloody,
naked figure to the other. She saw Sam Woodhull standing, his hands
still at his face; caught some sense out of Jackson's words, overheard
as she came into the clearing.

"You!" she blazed at Will Banion. "You'd put out a man's eyes! You
brute!"




CHAPTER X

OLE MISSOURY


Molly Wingate looked from one to the other of the group of silent,
shamefaced men. Puzzled, she turned again to the victor in the savage
combat.

"You!"

Will Banion caught up his clothing, turned away.

"You are right!" said he. "I have been a brute! Good-by!"

An instant later Molly found herself alone with the exception of her
brother.

"You, Jed, what was this?" she demanded.

Jed took a deep and heartfelt chew of plug.

"Well, it was a little argument between them two," he said finally.
"Like enough a little jealousy, like, you know - over place in the train,
or something. This here was for men. You'd no business here."

"But it was a shame!"

"I reckon so."

"Who started this?"

"Both of them. All we was here for was to see fair. Men got to fight
sometimes."

"But not like animals, not worse than savages!"

"Well, it was right savage, some of the time, sis."

"They said - about eyes - oh!"

The girl shivered, her hands at her own eyes.

"Yes, they called it free. Anybody else, Sam Woodhull'd be sorry enough
right now. T'other man throwed him clean and had him down, but he let
him up. He didn't never hurt Sam's eyes, only pinched his head a little.
He had a right, but didn't. It had to be settled and it was settled,
fair and more'n fair, by him."

"But, Jed" - the eternal female now - "then, which one really whipped?"

"Will Banion did, ain't I told you? You insulted him, and he's gone.
Having come in here where you wasn't no ways wanted, I reckon the best
thing you can do is to go back to your own wagon and stay there. What
with riding horses you hadn't ought, and seeing fights when you don't
know a damned thing about nothing, I reckon you've made trouble about
enough. Come on!"

"Price," said Bill Jackson to the grave and silent man who walked with
him toward the wagon train beyond the duelling ground, "this settles
hit. Us Missoury wagons won't go on under no sech man as Sam Woodhull.
We didn't no ways eleck him - he was app'inted. Mostly, elected is
better'n app'inted. An' I seen afore now, no man can hold his place on
the trail unless'n he's fatten. We'll eleck Will Banion our cap'n, an'
you fellers kin go to hell. What us fellers started out to do was to go
to Oregon."

"But that'll mean the train's split!"

"Shore hit will! Hit is split right now. But thar's enough o' the
Liberty wagons to go through without no help. We kin whup all the rest
o' this train, give we need ter, let alone a few Injuns now an' then.

"To-night," he concluded, "we'll head up the river, an' leave you
fellers the boat an' all o' Papin's Ferry to git acrost the way you
want. Thar hain't no manner o' man, outfit, river er redskin that Ole
Missoury kain't lick, take 'em as they come, them to name the holts an'
the rules. We done showed you-all that. We're goin' to show you some
more. So good-by." He held out his hand. "Ye helped see far, an' ye're a
far man, an' we'll miss ye. Ef ye git in need o' help come to us. Ole
Missoury won't need no help."

"Well, Woodhull's one of you Missourians," remarked Price.

"Yes, but he ain't bred true. Major Banion is. Hit was me that made him
fight knuckle an' skull an' not with weapons. He didn't want to, but I
had a reason. I'm content an' soothe jest the way she lies. Ef Will
never sees the gal agin she ain't wuth the seem'.

"Ye'll find Col. William Banion at the head o' his own train. He's
fitten, an' he's fout an' proved hit"




CHAPTER XI

WHEN ALL THE WORLD WAS YOUNG


Molly Wingate kneeled by her cooking fire the following morning, her
husband meantime awaiting the morning meal impatiently. All along the
medley of crowded wagons rose confused sounds of activity at a hundred
similar firesides.

"Where's Little Molly?" demanded Wingate. "We got to be up and coming."

"Her and Jed is off after the cattle. Well, you heard the news last
night. You've got to get someone else to run the herd. If each family
drives its own loose stock everything'll be all mixed up. The Liberty
outfit pulled on by at dawn. Well, anyways they left us the sawmill and
the boat.

"Sam Woodhull, he's anxious to get on ahead of the Missourians," she
added. "He says he'll take the boat anyhow, and not pay them Kaws any
such hold-up price like they ask."

"All I got to say is, I wish we were across," grumbled Wingate, stooping
to the bacon spider.

"Huh! So do I - me and my bureau and my hens. Yes, after you've fussed


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