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that you own, money, bonds, stocks and so forth?'

"'My God, yes, yes!' he wailed. 'Save me - only save me, Lahoma!'

"I looked at Red Feather. 'Shall he make it all over to you?'

"Red Feather shook his head. 'Me not want his money. Let him give all
to Red Flower, the daughter him not see since he stole our money and
desert his wife.'

"'Yes, yes, yes,' moaned Mr. Gledware, 'I'll give everything to
her - I'll make over everything to her in the morning, so help me
God - if you spare my life, she shall have everything.'

"All this time Red Feather had never moved his knee from the man's
breast. Now he rose and pointed toward the East. 'The morning will
come,' he said solemnly. 'If you keep your word - well! If you try
fool Red Feather - if you keep back one piece of money, one clod of
earth - ' He wheeled about so suddenly with his drawn knife that I
thought he was plunging it into the man's heart. It shot down like
lightning, but stopped short just before the edge of the blade touched
the miserable coward.

"Mr. Gledware sobbed and gasped and choked, swearing that he would keep
his word, and assuring us that, if he broke it, death would be too good
for him. But what he will do when he thinks him-self safe - that's
another thing! I know his life is as secure as mine, if he is true to
his promise. But if he breaks it - well, we know Red Feather! Do you
think Mr. Gledware will keep his word? Or will he wait to see whether
or not Red Kimball rids him of the Indian? I believe he'll be afraid to
wait. But as soon as he's calm, it will be like death for him to give
up all he owns. That will mean giving up Annabel, too.

"It hasn't been an hour since I came back to my room. When Red Feather
slipped away, the only thing I asked Mr. Gledware was my mother's
maiden name, and the place where her people lived. I'm going to leave
here in the morning. I'm coming back where there's room enough to turn
around in, and air enough to breathe, where men speak the truth because
they don't care who's who, and shoot quick and straight when they have
to. I'm coming back where money's mighty scarce and love's as free and
boundless as Heaven, where good books are few and true hearts are many.
Yes, I'm coming back to the West, and if the winds don't blow all the
sand away, under the sand I expect to be buried. But I want to live
until I'm buried. People have made the big world as it is, - well they
are welcome to it; but God has made the cove as it is, and it's for Me
and Brick and Bill.

"Good night.

"Lahoma.

"Just the three of us: just Me and Brick and Bill: ONE-TWO-THREE!
There's oceans of room out in the big world for everything and
everybody. But in the cove, there's room just for

"Me

"And Brick

"And Bill."



CHAPTER XIX

LIKE LOVERS

On reaching Chickasha, Wilfred Compton telegraphed to Kansas City
asking his brother if Lahoma was still at Mr. Gledware's house in the
country. In the course of a few hours the reply came that she had
already started home to Greer County, Texas. After reading the
message, Wilfred haunted the station, not willing to let even the most
unpromising freight train escape observation.

Everything that came down the track on this last reach of the railroad
into Southwest Oklahoma, was crowded with people, cattle, household
furniture, stores of hardware, groceries, dry-goods - all that man
requires for his physical well-being. The town itself was swarming
with eager jostling throngs bound for many diverse points, and friends
of a day shouted hearty good-bys, or exchanged good-natured badinage,
as they separated to meet no more.

Men on horseback leading heavily laden pack-horses, covered wagons from
which peeped women and children half-reclining upon bedding, their eyes
filled with grave wonder at a world so unlike their homes in the East
or North - pyramids of undressed lumber fastened somehow upon four
wheels and surmounted in precarious fashion by sprawling men whose
faces and garments suggested Broadway, New York and Leadville,
Colorado - Wilfred gazed upon the unending panorama. In those corded
tents he saw the pioneer family already in possession of the new land;
in the stacks of pine boards he beheld houses already sending up the
smoke of peace and prosperity from their chimneys; and in the men and
women who streamed by, their faces alight with hope, their bodies ready
for the grapple with drought, flood, cyclone, famine, he saw the
guaranty of a young and dominant state.

Strangers greeted one another with easy comrade-ship. Sometimes it was
just, "Hello, neighbor!" - and if a warning were shouted across the
street to one endangered by the current of swelling life, it might be -
"Look out there, brother!" The sense of kinship tingled in the air,
opening men's hearts and supplying aid to weaker brethren. Those who
gathered along the track awaiting the arrival of the trains had already
the air of old-timers, eager to extend the hospitality of a well-loved
land.

In such a crowd Wilfred was standing when he first caught sight of
Lahoma among those descending to the jostling platform. He had not
known how she would look, and certainly she was much changed from the
girl of fifteen, but he made his way to her side without the slightest
hesitation.

"Lahoma!"

She turned sharply with a certain ease of movement suggesting fearless
freedom. Her eyes looked straight into the young man's with
penetrating keenness which instantly softened to pleasure. "Why I how
glad I am to see you!" she cried, giving him her hand as they withdrew
from the rush. "But how did you know me?"

"How did YOU know?" he returned, pleased and thrilled by her glowing
brown hair, her eloquent eyes, her warm-tinted cheeks, her form, as
erect as of yore, but not so thin - as pleased and thrilled as if all
these belonged to him. "How did you know ME?" he repeated, looking and
looking, as if he would never be able to believe that she had turned
out so much better than he had ever dreamed she would.

"Oh," said Lahoma, "when I looked into your face, I saw myself as a
girl sitting under the cedar trees in the cove, with Brick and Bill."

"Just you three?" demanded Wilfred wistfully - also smilingly.

"Oho!" exclaimed Lahoma, showing her perfect little teeth as if about
to bite, in a way that filled him with fearful joy, "and so they showed
you that letter!"

"JUST you three?" repeated Wilfred. "Just room enough in the cove for
you - and Brick - and Bill?"

"Listen to me, Wilfred, and I will do the talking."

"Well?"

She lowered her voice to a whisper - "Lean your head closer."

Wilfred put down his head. "Is this close enough?" he whispered,
feeling exalted. Men, women and children circled about them; the air
vibrated with the shock of trunks and mail bags hurled upon the
platform.

"No," said Lahoma, rising on tiptoe.

Wilfred took off his hat and got under hers.

She whispered in his ear, "Red Kimball came on this train - there he
is - he hasn't seen me, yet - was in another coach."

"Well? Go on talking. Lahoma - I'd get closer if I could."

"S-H-H! He knows me, for he was a porter in our hotel. When he sees
us he'll know I've come home to warn Brick. S-H-H! Then he'll try to
keep me from doing it. Look - some of his gang are speaking to
him - they've been waiting here to meet him - they'll go with him, I
expect. We'll all be in the stage-coach together!"

"What do you want me to do to 'em, Lahoma?"

"I want you to pretend that you don't know me - and they mustn't find
out your name is Compton, or they'll think Mr. Edgerton got word to you
to join me here. Be a stranger till we're safe in the cove."

"All right. Good-by - but suppose I hadn't come?"

"Oh, I could have done without you," said Lahoma. "Or I think I could."

"You could never have done without me!" Wilfred declared decidedly.

"I can right NOW - " She drew away. "I'll get into the stage; don't
follow too soon."

There were three stage-coaches drawn up at a short distance from the
platform, and Lahoma went swiftly to the one bound for her part of the
country. She was the first to enter; she was seated quietly in a
corner when the two long seats that faced each other began filling up.
The last to come were four men: one, tall, slender, red-faced and
red-haired, two others of dark and lowering faces, who looked upon the
former as their leader, and the last, Wilfred Compton, who had
unobtrusively joined himself to this remnant of Red Kimball's gang.

The stage, which was built after the manner of the old-fashioned
omnibus, afforded no opportunity of moving to and fro in the selection
of seats, hence, when Red Kimball discovered Lahoma's identity - the
exact moment of the discovery was marked by his violent start - she was
safeguarded from his approach by her proximity to a very large woman
flanked by a thin spinster. These were two sisters, going to the
evening's station where the coach would stop for supper, and Lahoma
discussed with them their plans and hopes with bright cheerfulness and
ready friendship.

Wilfred watched Red Kimball as he glared in that direction, and guessed
his thoughts. Although Kimball knew Lahoma, he was not sure that she
knew him; and though he was convinced at once that she was on a mission
of warning, that might be true without her knowing that he had left
Kansas City. Red Kimball was burning to find out if he were a stranger
to her, but at the same time fearful of disclosing himself. He
muttered to his companions hoarsely, careful that Wilfred, whom he
regarded askance, should overhear nothing that he said.

The situation was such as could not very well continue during the days
it would take the coach to reach Mangum but although Wilfred was
conscious of the strain, he felt excitedly happy. Very little of his
attention was given to Kimball, and a great deal to Lahoma. She was
talking to the sisters about the baby of the one and the chickens of
the other, offering advice on both subjects from the experience of a
certain Mrs. Featherby whom she had known as a child.

"Mrs. Featherby was a very wonderful woman," Lahoma announced with
conviction, "and the first woman I ever knew. And when her baby was
teething..." The very large lady listened with great attention.

"She told me this when I was a small girl," Wilfred presently heard
Lahoma saying. "And I treasured it in my mind. I stored myself with
her experience about everything there is. It came to me, then, that if
she moved away from Headquarters Mountain - that's my mountain - maybe no
other woman would ever come there to live; so I stored myself, because
I was determined to learn the business of being a woman."

The large woman gazed upon her admiringly. "I guess you learned, all
right."

They had not gone five miles before the large woman and her younger
sister were in love with Lahoma - but it hadn't taken Wilfred five
miles. As he listened to her bright suggestions, and noted her living
eyes, her impulsive gestures - for she could not talk without making
little movements with her hands - and her flexible sympathetic voice, he
saw her moving about a well-ordered household.... It was on his farm,
of course; and the house was his, - and she was his Lahoma....

Red Kimball watched her with the same sidewise attention, but his face
was brooding, his half-veiled eyes were red and threatening. What would
happen in the nighttime as the stage pursued its lonely way across the
bleak prairie? Since Red Kimball meant to appeal to the law in his
revenge against Brick, there was no danger of his transgressing it
openly. But in the darkness with two unscrupulous companions under his
command, he would most probably execute some scheme to prevent Lahoma
from reaching her destination.

The evening shadows were stretching far toward the east from the few
trees that marked the dried bed of a stream, when the coach stopped
among a collection of hovels and tents. As the horses were led away,
the passengers dismounted, and both Wilfred and Red Kimball hurriedly
drew close to Lahoma.

Lahoma, however, appeared unaware of their presence. The sisters had
been met by the husband of the older, and as they gathered about the
big wagon, Lahoma was urged to go home with them to supper.

"We're only a little ways out," she was told, "and we'll sure get you
back before the stage leaves - the victuals at the station ain't fit to
eat."

A very little insistence induced Lahoma to comply, and both the young
man and the former highwayman saw her go with disappointment. Kimball
and his friends went into the "Dining Hall" to gulp down a hasty meal,
and Wilfred entered with them. He remained only a moment, however,
just long enough to purchase a number of sandwiches which he stored
away, as if meaning to eat them in the coach.

As soon as he was in the single street with the door closed behind him,
he darted toward the stage barn, and by means of a handsome deposit
obtained two horses. Springing upon one, he rode rapidly from the
settlement, leading the other, and in a short time, came in sight of a
cabin, which, with its outhouses, was the only building in all the wide
expanse. From its appearance he knew it to be the one described to
Lahoma, and he galloped up to the door with the certainty of finding
her within. The big wagon had been unhitched, and the horses were
fastened to its wheels, eating from the bed.

The family was about to sit down to supper; the first to discover
Wilfred as he flitted past the single window in the side of the cabin,
was Lahoma. Before he could knock on the door, she had opened it.

"Oh, Wilfred!" she reproached him, "they'll miss you and know you've
come to consult with me about warning Brick."

"Quick, Lahoma!" said Wilfred, as if she had not spoken, "you can ride
a horse, I suppose?" He smiled, but his eyes were sparkling with
impatience.

In a flash, Lahoma's face was glowing with enthusiasm. She looked back
into the room and cried, "Good-by!" Then Wilfred swung her to the back
of the led horse. "We'll beat 'em!" cried Lahoma, as he sprang upon
his horse. "Fast as you please - I've never been left behind, yet!"

The young man noted with sudden relief that she was dressed for the
hardships of the prairie. It came to him with a sense of wonder that
he had not noticed that before, perhaps from never having seen her in
fashionable attire. As they galloped from the cabin, from whose door
looked astonished faces, Lahoma answered his thought -

"Up there," she said, nodding her head toward the East, "I dressed for
people - but out here, for wind and sand."

Looking back, she saw the family running out of the cottage, waving
handkerchiefs and bonnets as in the mad joy of congratulation.

"They think we're running away together!" shouted Wilfred with
exultation. The hurry of their flight, the certainty of pursuit, the
prospect of dangers from man and nature, thrilled his blood, fixed his
jaw, illumined his eye. All life seemed suddenly a flight across a
level world whose cloud of yellow dust enveloped only himself and
Lahoma. "They think we're running away together. Look at them,
Lahoma. How happy they are at the idea!"

"They don't know there's nobody to object, if we don't," returned
Lahoma gaily, as she urged on her steed. "Come along, Wilfred," she
taunted, as his horse fell a neck behind hers, "what are you staying
back THERE for? Tired? If we get into the trail before that coach
starts, we'll have to put on all speed."

"Doing my best," he called, "but I made a bad bargain when I got this
beast. This is his best lick, and it doesn't promise to last long.
However, it was the only one left at the barn."

Lahoma slightly checked her animal. "That's a good thing, anyway - if
there's none left, those horrible men can't follow."

Wilfred did not answer. He was sure the stage would be driven in
pursuit at breakneck speed, and from the breathing of his horse he
feared it could not long endure the contest. To be sure, Red Kimball
and his men had no lawful excuse to offer the stage-driver for an
attempt to stop them; but three men who had once been desperate
highwaymen might not look for lawful excuses on a dark night in a
dreary desert. Besides, Kimball might, with some show of reason, argue
that since he was bent on the legitimate object of having a writ served
on Brick Willock, he would be justified in preventing Brick from being
warned out of the country.

They galloped on in silence, Lahoma slightly holding back. Night
rapidly drew on.



CHAPTER XX

TOGETHER

Before them, the trail, beaten and rutted, stretched interminably,
losing itself in the darkness before it slipped over the rounded margin
of the world. As darkness increased, the trail seemed to waver before
their eyes like a gray scarf that the wind stirs on the ground. On
either side of it, the nature of the country varied with strange
abruptness, now an unbroken stretch of dead sage-brush showing like
isolated tufts in a gigantic clothes-brush - suddenly, a wilderness of
white sand shifting as the wind rose - again, broken rocks sown
broadcast. Before final darkness came, the trail itself was
varicolored, sometimes white with alkali, sometimes skirting low hills
whose sides showed a deep blue, streaked with crimson.

But now all was black, sand, alkali, gypsum-beds, for the night had
fallen.

In their wide detour they had endeavored to escape detection from the
stage-station, but sheltered by no appreciable inequalities of land,
and denied the refuge that even a small grove might have furnished,
they had, as it were, been held up to view on the prairie; and though
so far away, their horses had been as distinctly outlined as two ants
scurrying across a white page.

Wilfred reflected. "If Kimball, when he came out of that restaurant,
happened to look in this direction, he must have seen us; and the first
inquiry at the barn would inform him who're on the horses.' But he
said nothing until, from the rear, came the sound long-dreaded,
telling, though far away, of bounding horses and groaning wheels.

"Lahoma!"

"Yes - I hear them."

"My horse is about used up. We'll have to side-trail, or they'll ride
us down."

"I could go on," Lahoma answered, as she drew bard on the bit, "but I
wouldn't like to leave you here by yourself."

"You couldn't travel that distance by yourself. And good as your horse
is, it wouldn't last. But thank you for thinking of me," he added,
smiling in the darkness, as he dismounted. "Let me lead your horse as
well as my own."

"No," said Lahoma, "if leading is to be done, I'll do my part." She
leaped lightly to the ground and seized her bridle. Side by side they
slowly ventured from the trail into the invisible country on the left.
They found themselves treading short dead mesquit that did not greatly
obstruct their progress.

"Keep going," Wilfred said, when she paused for breath. "It wouldn't
do for our horses to whinny, for those fellows would hear them if it
was thundering. Give me your hand."

"Here it is," Lahoma felt about in the darkness. "My! but I'm glad
I've got you, Wilfred! Oh, how they are dashing along! Listen how the
man is lashing his whip over those four horses. Wish we could see
'em - must be grand, tearing along at that rate!"

The stage was rapidly coming up abreast of them, and Wilfred felt her
grasp tighten. There was a flash of lights, a glimpse of the driver's
face as of creased leather as he raised his whip above his head - then
noise and cloud of dust passed on and the lights became trailing sparks
that in a minute or two the wind seemed to blow out.

"My poor Brick!" Lahoma wailed. "Do you think he'll take good enough
care of himself from what I wrote in my letters? But no, he doesn't
think Red Kimball is coming yet, for I didn't know it till after I'd
written. He's with Bill now, waiting for another letter. Or for a
telegram."

"No, no, Lahoma," Wilfred tried to sooth her. "He has been hiding for
days. Why should he come out just at the wrong time? You wrote that
you'd not send any more messages. Brick will be on the lookout for
Kimball. He is sure to be watching out for him."

"I know Brick," Lahoma protested, seemingly all at once overcome by the
fatigues of her journey and the hopelessness of the situation. "I was
afraid he wouldn't agree to hide at all; and just as soon as you came
away, and there wasn't any more prospects of letters, he'd get
lonesome, and tire of staying away from home. He's in that cove this
minute, and he'll be there when Red Kimball takes the sheriff after
him." Her voice quivered with distress.

"Don't be afraid, Lahoma," urged Wilfred, slipping his arm protectingly
about her. "Don't grieve - I'm sure Brick is in a safe place."

"Well, I'M not in danger," said Lahoma, with-drawing from his
involuntary embrace. "Don't take ME for Brick! Maybe you're
right - but no, I'm sure he wouldn't be willing to stay out in the
mountains week after week - and during these cold nights! For it is
cold, right now. We must hurry on, Wilfred."

"There's one comfort," said Wilfred, as they retraced their way toward
the trail. "Mr. Gledware won't appear as a witness against Brick.
We'll get him cleared, easy enough."

"But Mr. Gledware WILL appear against him, and he'll swear anything
that Red Kimball wants."

"I thought he agreed to do that only on condition that a certain pin - "

"YES! But Red Kimball brought him that pin just before I left!"

"Brought him the pin that the Indian had?"

"Yes, the pearl and onyx pin. And Mr. Gledware seemed to consider it
so important that I know Red Feather would never have given it up while
he had life."

"Then...?"

Lahoma shuddered. "YES! You see, NOW, what a fiend Red Kimball is. And
you know, NOW, what a hold he has over Mr. Gledware, - can make him
testify in such a way as to ruin my poor Brick. If Brick knew this,
he'd understand how important it is to flee for his life and never,
never let himself be taken. But he thinks nobody could get the better
of Red Feather. You see, if he just dreamed what has happened, he'd
KNOW Mr. Gledware can convict him."

"We must reach Brick Willock before Red Kimball gets his warrant!"
exclaimed Wilfred desperately.

"Yes, we must, we must!" Lahoma was growing slightly hysterical. "I
won't mind any hardship, any danger - but what are we to do? You won't
let me ride on alone - and you wouldn't be willing to leave me here and
take the good horse yourself."

"You're quite right about that!" returned the young man promptly. "We
can only mount again, and go as fast as my miserable beast can travel,
hoping for some chance to come our way. We have the advantage of not
being in the stage where Kimball could keep an eye on us."

"I ought to be more thankful for that than I am," Lahoma sighed. They
mounted, but as they rode forward, Wilfred's horse lagged more and more.

"It's slow sailing," Wilfred remarked, "but it will give us a chance to
talk. By the way, do you feel ready for supper?" From his overcoat
pocket he drew forth the sandwiches.

It seemed to Lahoma to show an unfeeling heart to experience hunger at
such a time, and to find the ham sandwiches good; but it was none the
less true that they were good, and the mustard with which the ham was
plastered added a tang of hope and returned a defiant answer to the
cold inquiry of the north wind.

After they had eaten and the remaining sandwiches had been carefully
stowed away in Wilfred's capacious pocket, they pressed forward with
renewed energy on the part of all save Wilfred's horse. By dint of
constant urging it was kept going faster than a walk though it was
obsessed by a consuming desire to lie down. In order to keep Lahoma's
mind from dwelling on their difficulties and on Brick's peril, the
young man maintained conversation at high pressure, ably seconded by
his companion who was anxious to show herself undaunted.

Wilfred chose as the topic to engage Lahoma's mind, the future of
Oklahoma Territory. The theme filled him with enthusiasm such as no
long-settled commonwealth is able to inspire, and though Lahoma
considered herself a Texan, she was able to enter into his spirit from
having always lived at the margin of the new country. Wilfred dwelt on
the day when Oklahoma would no longer be represented in congress by a
delegate without the right to vote, but would take its place as a state
whose constitution should be something new and inspiring in the history
of civil documents.

Wilfred meant to have a part in the framing of that constitution and as


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Online LibraryJ. Breckenridge EllisLahoma → online text (page 13 of 17)