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"L."



CHAPTER XVII

BRICK MAKES A STAND

As soon as Wilfred had finished the letter, not without a wry smile
over the query concerning himself, Bill Atkins exclaimed:

"THEN! Ho! And so she's no more kin to you, Brick, than to me; and
her name's no more Willock than Atkins - and being but a stepdaughter to
old Sneak, neither is it Gledware. Yet you have everlastingly had your
own say about Lahoma, from claiming to be a cousin! I want you to know
from this on that I claim as big a share in Lahoma as anybody else on
this green and living earth."

Wilfred looked up, expecting Brick to consent to this on the ground
that in all likelihood Bill's claim would last but a few years, anyway.
It seemed too good an opening for Brick to lose; but instead of
refreshing himself with his customary gibe, the huge fellow sat dark
and glowering, his eyes staring upward at the crevice in the rock roof,
the lantern-light showing his forehead deeply rutted in a threatening
scowl.

"Another point needs clearing up," Bill said sharply. "What about Red
Kimball's charge? DID you belong to his gang? ARE you a highwayman?"

Brick waved impatiently toward the letter that still gleamed in the
young man's hand. "We goes on document'ry evidence," he said. "I
takes a bold and open stand on the general plea of 'Not guilty' to
nothing. That's technical, and it's arbitrary. Should you be asked
had I ever expressed an opinion as to being a highwayman, or a
lowwayman, you can report me as saying 'Not guilty,' according."

"Brick," interposed Wilfred, returning him the letter, "you're making a
mistake not to trust us with the whole truth. If you wait for Lahoma's
letters and only admit what she discovers, Bill and I can't form any
plan of protecting you. While her information is coming, bit by bit,
the man who wants you hanged is liable to show up - "

"Let 'im come!" growled Brick. "He can't get no closer to me than I'll
be to him. I'm not going to air my past history. What Lahoma finds
out, I admits frank and open; otherwise I stands firm as not guilty,
being on safe ground, technical and arbitrary."

"But if Red Kimball brings the sheriff - it's only a matter of
time - your plea of not guilty won't save you from arrest. And he'll
have any number of rascals to prove what he pleases, whether it's the
truth or not. If Gledware comes as a witness, his position will give
him great influence against you - and the fact that he'd testify after
you'd saved his life, would make a pretty hard hit with the jury."

"Jury nothing!" retorted Brick. "This case ain't never going to a
jury. Such things is settled man to man, in these parts."

"But as surely as the sheriff serves his writ, you'll be landed in
jail. And I happen to know the sheriff; he's a man that couldn't be
turned from his duty - good friend of mine, too."

"Is, eh? Then you'd better advise with him for his good."

"Think of Lahoma. If you killed a man - whether the sheriff, or this
Red Kimball - Lahoma could never feel toward you as she does today."

"And how would she feel toward me if I was hanged, uh? I guess she'd
druther I laid my man low than that I swung high." Willock started up
impatiently. "We're wasting words," he said, roughly. "There is but
the two alternatives: I'm one of 'em, and Red Kimball is the other.
It's simply a question of which gets which. I tries to make it plain,
for there's no going back. Now are you with me, or not? If not, I'll
fight it out along as I always done in times past and gone - and
bedinged to 'em! I'm sorry my young days was as they was, and for
Lahoma's sake I'd cut off this right arm - " he held it out,
rigidly - "if that'd change the past. But the past - and bedinged TO
it - can't be changed. It's there, right over your shoulder, out of
reach. This mountain might as well say, 'I don't like being a big
chunk of granite where all the rest of the country is a smooth prairie;
I'm sorry I erupted; and I guess I'll go back into the heart of the
earth where I come from.' A mountain that's erupted is erupted till
kingdom come, and a man that's did a deed, has did it till the stars
fall. But you CAN imagine this mountain saying, with some sense, too,
'Now, since I HAS erupted, I'll do my best to cover my nakedness with
pretty cedars for to stay green in season and out of season, and I'll
embroider myself with flowers and grasses, and send little
mountain-streams down to make soft water in people's wells so they
won't all-time be fretting because I takes up so much of good
plowing-land,' says the mountain. I may not be a mountain, but I've
got a good top to me which reasons against the future and forgets the
past. I know Red Kimball - and now that he's learned where I live, one
of us is too many, considering the hard times. I mean to keep hiding,
not to be took by surprise; but I 'lows to come forth one of these days
and walk about free and disposed, all danger having been removed."

"What about the law?" demanded Bill. "Do you think IT'S going to let
you walk about free and disposed, after you've removed Red Kimball?"

"I hopes the law and me can get on peaceable together," returned the
other grimly. "I've never had nothing to do with it, and I hopes to be
let alone."

Wilfred spoke with sudden decision: "Brick, I'm with you to the end,
and so is Bill. I have nothing to do with your purposes or plans
except to offer the best advice I know - you've rejected it, but I'm
with you just the same. It strikes me I can help you by going to
Kansas City - for you need only Bill in the cove, - he can bring you
Lahoma's letters. I'll hurry to Lahoma; and if she decides to come
back, as I'm sure she will very soon - well, she'll need a protector.
I'll bring her home. She asks in her letter what I'm here for.
Wouldn't that be a good answer?"

Brick Willock laid his hand on the other's shoulder and stared into his
face with troubled eyes. Gradually his countenance cleared and
something of his old geniality returned. "A first-class answer, son!
I believe you'll do it." He grasped Wilfred's hand. "These are
troublous times, and it's good to feel a hand like this that's steady
and true. Now I ain't going to drag you into nothing that could hurt
you nor Bill, or make you feel sore over past days. I don't need
nobody to lean on - but Lahoma does; and if Red Kimball pops it to me
before I get a chance to keel him over, you two must look out for her."

"I'll look out for her myself, single-handed," said Bill gruffly.

"I know you would, old tap, as long as you lasts," said Willock with an
unwonted note of gentleness. Bill was so embarrassed by the tone that
he cringed awkwardly. After a pause, Willock suggested that Wilfred
wait for one more letter from Lahoma, provided it come within the next
twenty-four hours, then start up the trail for Chickasha and board the
train for Kansas. "She might write something that needed instant
work," he explained. "If so, I'd like to have you here. I'm looking
for developments in her next letter."

"Strange to me," muttered Bill, "about Red Feather and that sneaking
Gledware. Wonder how came the Indian with a pin on him that Gledware
knew of?"

Willock's face was twisted into a sardonic grin. "Guess I could
explain that, all right - but I says nothing beyond Lahoma's word. I
banks on document'ry proofs, and otherwise stands technical and
arbitrary."

Hitherto Wilfred, as guest of honor, had been offered the cabin as his
sleeping-quarters, and he had accepted it because of the countless
reminders of Lahoma's fresh and innocent life; but this night, he
shared the dugout with Bill, from a sense of impending danger. Until a
late hour they sat over the glowing coals, discussing their present
situation and offering conjectures about Willock's younger days. There
could hardly have been a stronger contrast between the emaciated old
man of the huge white mustache, thin reddish cheeks and shock of white
hair, and the broad-shouldered, handsome and erect young man - or the
stern and gloomy countenance of the former, and the expressive eyes and
flexible lips of Wilfred. Yet they seemed unconscious of any chasm of
age or disposition as they spoke in low tones, not without frequent
glances toward the barricaded door and the heavily curtained window.

The wind made strange noises overhead and at times one could be almost
certain there was the stamping of a man's foot upon the earthen roof.
The distant cry of a wild beast, and the nearer yelping of hungry
wolves mingled with the whistling of the wind. Sometimes Wilfred rose
and, passing noiselessly to the window, raised the curtain with a quick
gesture to stare out on a dark and stormy night; and once, in doing so,
he surprised a pair of red eyes under bristling gray hair which seemed
to glow hot as molten lead, as the fire from the open stove caught them
unaware.

"If my arms were tied," remarked Bill, "I'd rather trust myself to that
coyote than to Red Kimball. I hate to think of Brick out yonder on the
mountain, all alone, and no fire to warm him, afraid to smoke his pipe,
I reckon. Well, this kind of thing can't last long, that's plain."

It was Wilfred's conviction that "this kind of thing" could not,
indeed, last long, which kept him awake half through the night; and
yet, when the morning sunlight flooded the cove, it seemed impossible
that deeds of violence could be committed in so peaceful a world. In
that delusion, however, he could not long remain; Lahoma's next letter
came confirmatory of his worst fears.

"Just read it aloud, Wilfred," said Brick, as all gathered about the
lantern in the retreat at the mountain-top. "We're all one, now, and
I've got no secrets from you - at least none that's knowed to Lahoma.
And if the case seems immediate, I reckon you'll prove game, son."

Wilfred nodded briefly. "My horse is ready saddled," he said, as he
opened the letter addressed to Willock. "As soon as I've read 'Yours
truly,' I'll be ready to jump into the saddle, so I say 'good-by' now!"



CHAPTER XVIII

LIFE ON ONE CONDITION

"Dear Brick and Bill:

"I put Bill in, because I am sure that by this time he has been told
what was in my last letter, and I know he's true blue. I have been so
excited since finding out that Red Kimball is determined on revenge,
and that Mr. Gledware may be a witness for him, that I can't think
about anything but the danger at the cove. I feel that I ought to be
there, to lend a hand; what will you do without me, if that horrible
highwayman comes slipping around Turtle Hill, or creeps down the north
mountain in the dead of night? And I would be on my way there, now, if
I didn't hope to find out more about their plans.

"They have come back from the picnic, and I am on the watch, feeling
sure Red Kimball will come again to have another talk with Mr.
Gledware. But he hasn't come yet, and everything is quiet and
peaceable, as if things were going along as things always do and always
will - it makes me dreadfully nervous! So, as it seemed that nothing
was going to happen, I decided to stir up something myself. When
there's no news, why not make some of your own? I made some.

"This is the same day I overheard that plot in the library, but it is
night. When it was good and dark, Annabel came up to my room where I
was watching the road from my window, and she sat down and began
talking about the picnic and what a fine time she had had, with a good
deal about going to Europe. She was all flushed and running over with
talk, and after a while it came clear that she's just been engaged to
Mr. Gledware.

"It seemed to me it would be like fighting behind bushes to tell her
what I thought of Mr Gledware, while under his roof and at his expense,
so I opened up matters by talking about Wilfred Compton. I told her how
faithful and true Wilfred has been to her all these years, carrying her
letters next to his heart, and dreaming of her night and day, and how
he came to see me, once, because it had been two years since he'd seen
a sure-enough girl, and how I tried to interest him as hard as I could,
but he never wanted to come back because his heart belonged to Annabel.

"After a while she began to cry, but it wasn't over Wilfred, it was
over Edgerton. When Wilfred went away to be a cowboy she lost interest
and sympathy in him because she doesn't understand cowboys; they are
not in her imagination. But his brother Edgerton has always been a
city man in nice clothes with pleasing manners, and if he had money -
But what's the use talking? Seems like that's the worst waste of time
there can be, and the most aggravating, to say if so-and-so had money I
Because if he hasn't got it, somebody else has, and if you think
money's more than the man, there you are. And Mr. Gledware has it. He's
not the man but he has the money.

"Then I expressed myself. You know what I think. So does Annabel,
now. That's how I made me some news, when there wasn't any. The news
is, that Annabel will never forgive me, and as I'm here solely as her
guest, my guesting-time will be brief - just long enough to find out
what Mr. Gledware decides to do. I oughtn't to have told Annabel that
she was mercenary, or that Mr. Gledware was as hard as a stone and as
old as M - (I'm not sure how to spell him, but you remember: the
oldest man). Yes, I know I oughtn't. If a woman can marry a man when
she doesn't love him, it won't change her purpose to know what YOU
think about it, because her own feelings are the biggest things that
could stand in the way.

"But I told her, anyway. Seemed like everything in me turned to words
and poured out without my having to keep it going. I just stood there
and watched myself say things. You see, Annabel is so dainty and
pretty, and naturally so sweet - and Mr. Gledware - well, he ISN'T. The
more I thought of that, and the better I remembered poor Wilfred pining
away for her in the desert, and not coming back to see me because he
couldn't get HER out of his brain, and how she changed from him to his
brother, and from Mr. Edgerton to Mr. Gledware, I was ashamed of her,
and sorry for her, and angry with her.

"I wish I hadn't said anything. But I felt glorious at the time, just
like a storm sweeping across the prairie, purifying the air and not
caring whether the earth wants to be purified or not. I did wrong,
because I came to the big world to study people of culture and
refinement, not to quarrel with them. You must have money, you MUST
have money, you MUST have money, if you're civilized. I don't care if
I AM a little storm. Yes, of course, I know a storm isn't a civilized
thing. Well, I know what I'm going to do, - I'm going to come back and
blow the rest of my life right there in the cove, with my Brick and my
Bill.

"So that's my news, that I'm dissatisfied with the big world. It isn't
like I'd have made it, that's the truth! Now I'll lay this letter
aside to cool (I mean IT, and ME, too) and I'll not send it until
something about Red Kimball happens, so you'll be posted on what really
matters. After all, people that marry for money aren't important, they
don't belong to big affairs - but there's something worth discussing in
a plot to commit murder. That MEANS something; as Brick would say,
it's 'vital.' These people about me, kind, gentle, correct, - all their
waking thoughts are devoted to little things - fashionable trifles that
last no longer than the hour in which they're born - just time-killers.
I enjoy these pleasing trifles, but my eyes are opened and I know they
ARE trifles. These people's eyes are not opened. Why? Because they
haven't lived in the West, neighboring with real things like alkali
plains and sand-storms and granite mountains.

"My! but it would open their eyes if one of their dearest friends was
in danger of getting himself hanged! Something permanent in THAT!

"LATER: This is midnight. I expect to leave as soon as I possibly
can, but probably this letter will get away first, so here's something
new to put your mind on; it's rather dreadful, when you give it a calm
thought. But my thoughts are not calm. Far from it. Oh, how excited I
was! But I guess THEY didn't know it. It all happened about an hour
ago, and you can see that my hand is still a little shaky.

"There was a bright moonlight, but you needn't be afraid I'm going to
talk about THAT; this isn't any tale about moons. I was sitting at my
window because I couldn't sleep, not that I expected to see anything
unusual. There's a big summer-house at the far end of the lawn, all
covered with vines, and there's a walk between dense shrubbery, leading
to it from the house. I guess that's why I didn't see anybody go to
that summer-house. The first thing I DID see was Red Kimball come out
and slip through a little side-gate, and hurry along the country road.
As soon as I saw him, I guessed that he and Mr. Gledware had been
conspiring in the summer-house. What a chance I had missed to act the
good scout!

"But it seemed no use to go down, after Red Kimball had left. If Mr.
Gledware was still in the summer-house, I knew he was alone; and if
he'd returned to the house, all was over for the night. I was
wondering what new plot they had formed, and how I was to find out
about it, when my eye was caught by a movement in the hedge that runs
down to the side-gate. The movement was as slight as possible, but as
there wasn't ANY breeze, it made me shiver a little, for I knew
somebody was skulking there. I watched, and pretty soon something
passed through the gate, light and quick and stealthy, like the shadow
of a cloud. Only, there wasn't any cloud; and in the flash of
moonlight I saw it was our old friend - Red Feather.

"Almost as soon as I recognized him, he had disappeared behind a large
lilac-bush; but I had seen what he held in the hand behind his back - it
was a long unsheathed knife. The lilac-bush stood close to the
summer-house. He fell flat to the ground, and though I couldn't see
him, after that I knew he was wriggling his way around the bush. You
would have been ashamed of me for a minute or two, for I kept sitting
beside the window as if I had been turned to a statue of ice. I felt
just that cold, too!

"But maybe I didn't stay there as long as it seemed. First thing I
knew, I was running downstairs as lightly and swiftly as I could, and
out through the door at the end of the side hall that had been left
wide open - and I was at the summer-house door like a flash. There was a
wide path of moonlight across the concrete floor and right in that
glare was a sight never to be forgotten - Red Feather, about to stab Mr.
Gledware to the heart! He held Mr. Gledware by the throat with one
hand, and his other hand held the knife up for the blow. Mr. Gledware
lay on his back, and Red Feather had one knee pressed upon his breast.
In the light, Mr. Gledware's face was purple and dreadfully distorted,
but the Indian looked about as usual - just serious and unchangeable.

"When I reached the doorway, I blotted out most of the moonlight, and I
drew back so Red Feather could see who I was. He looked up and let go
of Mr. Gledware's throat, but didn't move, otherwise. 'RED FEATHER!' I
said. 'GIVE ME THAT KNIFE.'

"Mr. Gledware, recognizing my voice, tried to entreat me to save him,
but he was half-strangled, and only made sounds that turned me faint,
to know that the man my mother had married was such a coward.

"Red Feather told me that if I came any nearer, or if I cried for help,
he would murder that man and escape; but that if I would step into the
shadow and listen, he'd give his reason for doing it before it was
done. So I went across the room from him to save time, hoping I could
persuade him to change his mind. I stood in the shadow, and in a low
voice, I reminded him of his kindness to me, and of our kindness to
him, and I begged for Mr. Gledware's life.

"Red Feather asked me if I knew Mr. Gledware was my stepfather, yet
hadn't acknowledged it to me. I said yes. He asked me if I didn't
know Mr. Gledware had kept still about it because he didn't want the
trouble and expense of taking care of me. I said, of course I had
thought of that. He asked if I knew he had deserted my mother's dead
body in the desert to save his miserable life. I said I knew that, but
he had taken me with him, and he had tried to save me, and I was going
to save him.

"Red Feather shook his head. No, he said, I could not save him, for he
would be dead in two or three minutes - and then he bent over Mr.
Gledware, who all this time was afraid to move or to make a sound. I
hurried to remind him that he hadn't told me his reason for wanting to
kill the man.

"Then Red Feather said that when that man rode with me among the
Indians, Red Feather's daughter had taken a fancy to him, and Mr.
Gledware had married her; and I had been kept away from him so he'd
forget me and not turn his thoughts toward his own people; and they had
taught me that my name was Willock because they were going to take me
to you, Brick. Isn't it wonderful? That day you found the deserted
wagon, and buried my mother, Red Feather was watching you from the
mountain and he wouldn't kill you because you made that grave and knelt
down to talk to the Great Spirit. Afterward, when he rode home and
found that his daughter and Mr. Gledware were to be married, he made up
his mind that if you succeeded in keeping hidden from Red Kimball and
his band, you would be the one to take care of me. And when two years
had passed and you were still safe, he brought me to you! What a glad
day that was!

"When Red Feather's daughter wanted Mr. Gledware's life saved, it was
so. And Red Feather gave them a great stretch of land, and Mr.
Gledware got to be important in the tribe; he made himself one of them,
and they thought him greater than their own chief. At the end of a few
years, there was the great agitation over the boomers coming to the
Oklahoma country, and much talk of the land being thrown open. The
Indians didn't want it done, and they joined together to send some one
to Washington to address congress on the subject. Mr. Gledware was
such an orator that they thought him irresistible, so they selected
him, and, for his fee, they collected over fifty thousand dollars.
Think of it!

"Of course he didn't go near Washington. It was the time of Kansas
City's great boom. He went there and bought up city lots, and sold out
at the right time, and that's why he's rich today. In the meantime,
the Indians didn't know what had become of him, and Red Feather's
daughter died from shame over her desertion - just pined away and hid
herself from her people till she was starved to death. That's why Red
Feather meant to kill Mr. Gledware.

"When he had finished, Red Feather bent over Mr. Gledware and said to
him, 'Me speak all true? Tell Lahoma - me speak all true?'

"And the man whispered feebly, 'It is all true - don't kill me, for
God's sake, don't kill me - save me, Lahoma, MY CHILD!'

"I begged him not to kill the man. Red Feather said to me, 'You hear
how he treat my daughter! You my friend, Lahoma. You know all that,
and yet you tell me not kill him?'

"'I say not kill him.'

"'Then you hate my daughter?'

"'My mother could marry him, Red Feather, and I can beg for his life.'

"He shook his head. 'No, Lahoma, he die; he leave my daughter to die
and this hand do to him what he do to her.'

"I never felt so helpless, so horribly weak and useless! There I was,
only a few yards away, and the man was my stepfather; and his enemy was
our friend. And not far away stood the man's big house filled with
guests - among them strong men who could have overpowered dozens of
Indians. But what could I do?

"Then I had a thought. 'Let him live, Red Feather,' I said, 'but strip
him of all his ill-gotten property. Turn him loose in the world
without a penny; it'll be punishment enough. You can't bring back your
daughter by killing him; but you can make him give up all he has in
return for stealing the money from your tribe.'

"I don't know why I thought of that, and I don't know why it made
instant appeal to Red Feather's mind. I saw at once that he was going
to consent. All he said was, 'Talk to him - ' But I knew what he meant.

"So I crossed the room and looked down at the man. 'Mr. Gledware,' I
said, 'are you willing to give up all your possessions in order to save
your life?'

"'Oh, yes,' he gasped. 'A thousand times, yes! God bless you, Lahoma!'

"'You will deed all your property away from you? And surrender all


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