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he outlined some of his theories of government, Lahoma listened with
quick sympathy and appreciation. A new feeling for him, something like
admiration, something like pride, stirred within her. Here was a man
who meant to do things, things eminently worth a man's time and
strength; and yet, for all his high purposes, there was no look, no
tone, to indicate that he held himself at a higher valuation than those
for whom he meant to labor. As in time of stress the strongest man is
given the heaviest burden, so he seemed to take to himself a leading
part in the future of his country that all who dwelt within its borders
might find it a freer, a richer, a better country because of him.

"You'll call me ambitious," said Wilfred, glowing. "Well, I am. You'll
accuse me of wanting power. So I do!"

Her eyes flashed. "And I'm ambitious for you!" she cried. "Go ahead
and get power. Take the earth! Don't stop till you reach the
sea - that's the spirit of the West. But how did you ever think of
these things?"

"During my long winters on my quarter-section, nobody in sight - just
the prairie and me. Nothing else to think about except the country
that's new-born. So I studied out a good many things, just thinking
about Oklahoma and - and - "

Lahoma said softly, "I KNEW there was SOMETHING ELSE you thought about."

"Yes," exclaimed Wilfred, thrilled. "Yes - there WAS something else!"

"A little girl, I guess," murmured Lahoma gently, with a touch of
compassion in her tone.

"You've guessed it, Lahoma - yes, the dearest little girl in the world."

"I wish she could have cared for you - THAT way - like your voice
sounds," murmured Lahoma.

"Maybe she can," Wilfred's voice grew firmer. "Yes - she MUST!"

"Have you found a gold-mine?"

"What are you talking about, Lahoma? What has a gold-mine to do with
it?"

"Because nothing else goes," returned Lahoma decisively. "You might
get single statehood for Oklahoma, and write the constitution yourself,
and be elected governor - but you'd look just the same to Annabel,
unless you had a gold-mine."

Wilfred gave a jerk at his bridle. "Who's talking about Annabel?" he
cried rather sharply. He had forgotten that there was an Annabel.

"Everybody is," returned Lahoma, somewhat sharply on her own account,
"everybody is, or ought to be!"

"_I_ am not," retorted Wilfred, springing to the ground just in
time - for his horse, on being checked, had promptly lain down.

"Then that's what you get!" remarked Lahoma severely, staring down at
the dark blur on the trail which her imagination correctly interpreted
as the horse stretched out on its side.



CHAPTER XXI

THE NORTHER

The wind increased in fury. Fortunately it was at their back. Wilfred
pressed forward on foot, leading Lahoma's horse; and, partly on account
of their unequal position, partly because of awkward reserve, no more
was said for a long time. She bent forward to shelter her face from
the stinging blast while he trod firmly and methodically on and on,
braced slightly backward against the wind, which was like a hand
pushing him forward.

The voice of the wind filled the night. It whistled and shrieked in
minor keys, dying away at brief intervals to come again with a rush and
roar. It penetrated him to the bone, for he had compelled her to wrap
herself in his overcoat, and when the first stinging grains of fiercely
driven sleet pelted his cheek, he smothered a cry of dismay over her
exposed situation.

It could not be far past midnight. The prospect of a snow-storm in the
bleak lands of the Kiowa appalled him, but even while facing that
possibility his mind was busy with Lahoma's attitude toward himself.
Evidently it had never occurred to her that Annabel had vanished from
his fancy years ago; now that she knew, she was displeased - most
unreasonably so, he thought. Lahoma did not approve of Annabel - why
should she want him to remain passively under her yoke? Unconsciously
his form stiffened in protest as he trudged forward. The wind, so far
from showing signs of abatement, slightly increased, no longer with
intervals of pause. The sleet changed rapidly first to snow, then to
rain - then hail, snow and rain alternated, or descended simultaneously,
always driven with cruel force by the relentless wind.

At last Lahoma shouted, "It's a regular norther! How're you getting
along, Wilfred?"

Despite their discomfort, his heart leaped at this unexpected note of
comradeship. Had she already forgiven him for not loving Annabel?
"Oh, Lahoma!" he cried with sudden tenderness, "what will become of
you?"

She returned gravely, "What will become of Brick? Northers are bad,
but not so bad as some men - Red Kimball, for instance." A terrific
blast shook the half-frozen overcoat about her shoulders as if to
snatch it away. "Don't you wish the Indians built their villages
closer to the trail? Ugh! Hadn't we better burrow a storm-cellar in
the sand? I feel awfully high up in the air."

"Poor Lahoma!"

"Believe I'll walk with you, Wilfred; I'm turning to a lady-icicle."

"Do! I know it would warm you up - a little." His teeth showed an
inclination to chatter. "Come - I'll help you down. Can you find my
arm?"

At that moment the horse gave a violent lunge, then came to a
standstill, quivering and snorting with fright. Wilfred's groping arm
found the saddle empty.

"I didn't have to climb down," announced her uncertain voice from a
distance. It came seemingly from the level of the plain.

"You've fallen - you are hurt!" he exclaimed, but he could not go to her
because the horse refused to budge from the spot and he dared not
loosen his hold.

"Well, I'm a little warmer, anyway!" Her voice approached slowly.
"That was quick exercise; I didn't know I was going to do it till I was
down. Lit on my feet, anyhow. Why don't you come to meet me?"

"This miserable beast won't move a foot. Come and hold him, Lahoma,
while I examine in front, to find out what's scared him."

"All right. Where are you? Can you find my hand?"

"Can't I!" retorted Wilfred, clasping it in a tight grasp.

"Gracious, how wet we are!" she panted, "and blown about. And frozen."

"And scolded," he added plaintively.

"But, Wilfred, it never entered my mind that I was the little girl.
Would I have brought up the subject if I'd known the truth? I never
would. That's why I felt you took advantage ... a man ought to bring
up that subject himself even if I AM a girl out West and - "

"But Lahoma - "

"And not another word do I want you to say about it. EVER. At least,
tonight. PLEASE, Wilfred! So I can think about it. I'll hold the
horse - you go on and find out what's the matter.

"Besides, you said - you KNOW you said, when we were
strolling - that - that I didn't understand such matters. And that you'd
tell me when it was TIME...."

"It's time now, Lahoma, time for you to be somebody's sweetheart - and
you said - you KNOW you said, when we were strolling - that I'd fill the
bill for you."

"But I brought up the subject myself, and I mean to close it, right
short off, for it's a man's subject. Oh, how trembly this horse is!"

"But, Lahoma!"

"Well, what is it?"

"I just wanted to say your name." He started away. "It sounds good to
me."

"Yes, it stands for Oklahoma."

"It stands for much more than that!" he called.

"Yes," she persisted in misunderstanding him, "something big and grand."

"Not so big," he cried, now at some distance, "but what there's room
for more than Brick and Bill in the cove!"

If she answered, the wind drowned her words. With extended arms he
groped along the trail with exceeding caution. Suddenly his foot
touched an object which on examination proved to be a human body, a
gaping wound in its breast.

"Found anything?" called Lahoma, her voice shivering.

He rose quickly and almost stumbled over another object. It was a
second body, stiffened in death.

"I'll be there in a minute," he called, his voice grave and steady.
After a brief pause he added - "I've found one of the horses - it's dead."

"Oh, oh!" she exclaimed. "They've driven it to death."

Wilfred had found a bullet hole behind its ear, but he said nothing.

Suddenly the horse held by Lahoma gave a plunge, broke away and went
galloping back over the trail they had traversed, pursued by Lahoma's
cry of dismay. "I couldn't hold him," she gasped. "He lifted me clear
off the ground...."

Wilfred was also dismayed, but he preserved an accent of calm as he
felt his way toward her, uttering encouragement for which their
condition offered no foundation. But his forced cheerfulness suddenly
changed to real congratulation when his extended hand struck against an
upright wheel.

"Lahoma, here's the stage-coach. It's standing just as we saw it last,
except for the horses."

"The stage-coach!" she marveled, coming toward him. "Oh, Wilfred, I
see now what's happened. One of the horses dropped dead, and Red
Kimball and his men jumped on the other three.... But I wonder what
became of the driver?"

"Get inside!" he ordered. "Thank God, we've found SOMETHING that we
can get inside of. That'll shelter us till morning, anyway, and then
we can determine what's to be done."

Once in the coach, they were safe from the wind which howled above and
around them, rattling the small windows and making the springs creak.
There was no help for the discomfort of soaking garments, but Wilfred
lighted a reserve lantern and placed it in a corner, while thick
leather cushions and stage-blankets offered some prospect of rest.

As no plans could be formed until morning revealed their real plight,
they agreed that all conversation should be foregone in order to
recuperate from the hardships of the day for the trials of tomorrow.
Lahoma soon fell asleep after her exhausting journey of a day and half
a night since leaving the train at Chickasha.

For hours Wilfred sat opposite, staring at her worn face, pathetic in
its youthful roundness from which the bloom had vanished, wondering at
her grace, beauty, helplessness and perfect faith in him. That faith
revealed in every line of the form lying along the seat, and spoke from
the unconscious face from which the brown hair was outspread to dry.

How oddly her voice had sounded, how strange had been its accent when
she said, "It never entered my mind that _I_ was the little girl!" Had
she been sorry for the thought to come? Did she think less of him
because he had not remained true to Annabel? Would it not have been
far better to wait until reaching their destination before hinting of
love? Even while perplexed over these problems, and while charmed by
that appealing face with the softly parted lips, by the figure that
stirred in the rhythm of slumber, other thoughts, other objects weighed
upon him - the two dead men, the dead horse just outside. One of those
men might be Red Kimball; other bodies might lie there which he had
failed to discover. Had the stage been attacked by Indians, or by
white desperadoes who found shelter in the Kiowa country? In either
case, might not the enemy be hovering about the trail, possibly waiting
to descend on the coach?

Armed and watchful, Wilfred waited through the hours. When no longer
able to bear the uncertainty, he crept from the stage with the lantern,
and examined the recent scene of a furious struggle. There were only
two slain - the driver and one of Red Kimball's companions. Either
Kimball and his other comrade had escaped, or had been captured. If
any of the attacking party had fallen, the bodies had been borne away.
Blood-stains indicated that more than two had been shot. From that
ghastly sight it was a relief to find himself once more enclosed by the
coach walls with Lahoma so peacefully sleeping.

Once he fell into a doze from which he was startled by the impression
that soft noises, not of wind or rain, were creeping over the earth.
He sat erect with the confused fancy that wolves were slinking among
the wheels, were glaring up at the windows, were dragging away the
corpses. The sudden movement of his hand as it grasped his pistol
awoke Lahoma.

She opened her eyes wide, but did not lift her cheek from the arm that
lay along the cushion. "There you are," she said, "just as I was
dreaming."

He pretended not to be uneasy, but his ears strained to catch the
meaning of those mysterious movements of the night. Her voice cut
across the vague murmur of the open plain:

"You only came once!"

Although her eyes were wide, she was apparently but half-awake; not a
muscle moved as she looked into his face. "I thought," she murmured,
"it was on account of Annabel."

"I went away because I loved you," he answered softly. "I promised
Brick I'd go if I felt myself caring - and nobody could help caring for
you. That's why I left the country. Just as soon as we laughed
together - it happened. That's why I didn't come again."

"Yes," sighed Lahoma, as if it was not so hard to understand, now.

"And that's why I've come back," he added. "Because I've kept on
loving you."

"Yes," she sighed again. She closed her eyes and seemed to fall
asleep. Perhaps it was a sort of knowing sleep that lost most of the
world but clung tenaciously to a few ideas. The noises of the night
died away. Presently he heard her murmur as a little smile crept about
the parted lips, "The cove's pretty big ... there's more room than I
thought."

When she was wide awake, daylight had slipped through the windows. "Oh,
Wilfred!" she exclaimed, sitting suddenly erect, and putting her hands
to her head mechanically. "Is - are we all right?"

"All right," said the young man cheerily. "There's a good deal of snow
on the ground but it was blown off the trail for the most part. Some
friends have provided us with the means of going forward."

"But I don't understand.'

"We'll finish the sandwiches, and melt some snow for water, and then
mount. Look - see those two Indian ponies fastened to the tongue of the
stage? They'll carry us to the next station like the wind."

She stared from the window, bewildered.

"I don't know any more about them than you," he answered her thoughts.
"But there they are and here we are." He said nothing about the bodies
evidently carried away by those who had brought the ponies. "It's all
a mystery - a mystery of the plains. I haven't unraveled the very first
thread of - it. What's the use? The western way is to take what comes,
isn't it, whether northers or ponies? There's a much bigger mystery
than all that filling my mind."

"What is that?"

"You."

She bent over the sandwich with heightened color. "Poor Brick!" she
murmured as if to divert his thoughts. But his sympathy just then was
not for Brick.

"Lahoma, you said that this is a subject a man should bring up."

She looked at him brightly, still flushing. "Well?"

"I'm bringing it up, Lahoma."

"But we must be planning to save Brick from arrest."

"I'm hoping we'll get home in time - note that I say HOME, Lahoma. I
refer to the cove. I'm hoping we'll reach home in time to forestall
Red Kimball. We've lost a great deal of time, but Brick doubtless is
safely hiding. And when we get to the journey's end - Lahoma, do you
know what naturally comes at the journey's end?"

"A marriage."

"I thought that was what you meant."

"Will you marry me at the journey's end?"

Lahoma turned very red and laid down the sandwich. Then she laughed.
Then she started up. "Let's get on the ponies!" she cried.



CHAPTER XXII

JOURNEY'S END

The snow, that morning, lay in drifts from five to eight inches across
the trail, and to the height of several feet up against those rock
walls raising, as on vast artificial tables, the higher stretches of
the Kiowa country. But by noon the plain was scarcely streaked with
white and when the sun set there was nothing to suggest that a
snowflake had ever fallen in that sand-strewn world. The interminable
reaches, broken only by the level uplands marked from the plain by
their perpendicular walls, and the Wichita Mountains, as faint and
unsubstantial to the eye as curved images of smoke against the
sky - these dreary monotonies and remotenesses naturally oppress the
traveler with a sense of his insignificance. The vast silences, too, of
brooding, treeless wastes, sun-baked river-beds, shadowless brown
squares standing for miles at a brief height above the shadowless brown
floor of the plain - silences amidst which only the wind finds a
voice - these, too, insist drearily on the nothingness of man.

But Wilfred and Lahoma were not thus affected. The somethingness of
man had never to them been so thrillingly evident. They saw and heard
that which was not, except for those having eyes and ears to
apprehend - roses in the sand, bird-song in the desert. And when the
rude cabins and hasty tents of the last stage-station in Greer County
showed dark and white against the horizon of a spring-like morning,
Wilfred cried exultantly:

"The end of the journey!"

And Lahoma, suddenly showing in her cheeks all the roses that had
opened in her dreams, repeated gaily, yet a little brokenly:

"The end of the journey!"

The end of the journey meant a wedding. The plains blossom with
endless flower-gardens and the mountains sing together when the end of
the journey means a wedding.

Leaving Lahoma at the small new hotel from whose boards the sun began
boiling out resin as soon as it was well aloft, Wilfred hurried after a
fresh horse to carry him at once to the cove, ten miles away. Warning
must be given to Brick Willock first of all. Lahoma even had a wild
hope that Brick might devise some means whereby he could attend the
wedding without danger of arrest, but to Wilfred this seemed impossible.

He had gone but a few steps from the hotel when he came face to face
with the sheriff of Greer County. Cutting short his old friend's
outburst of pleasure:

"Look here, Mizzoo," said Wilfred, drawing him aside from the curious
throng on the sidewalk, "have you got a warrant against Brick Willock?"

Mizzoo tapped his breast. "Here!", he said; "know where he is?"

Wilfred sighed with relief: "At any rate, YOU don't!" he cried.

"No - 'rat him! Where're you going, Bill?"

"I want a horse..."

"No use riding over to the cove," remarked his friend, with a grin.
"That is, unless you want to call on some friends of mine - deputies;
they're living in the dugout, just laying for Brick to show himself."

"But, MIZZOO!" expostulated Wilfred, "why are you taking so much
trouble against my best friend? The warrant ought to be enough; and if
you can't get a chance to serve it on him, that's not your fault. Your
deputies haven't any right in that cove, and I'm going to smoke 'em
out."

Mizzoo chewed, with a deprecatory shake of his head. "See here, old
tap," he murmured, "don't you say nothing about being Brick Willock's
friend. The whole country is roused against him. Heard of them three
bodies?"

Wilfred explained that he had just come to town.

"Well, good lord, then, the pleasure I'm going to have in telling you
something you don't know, and something that's full of meat! Let's go
wheres we can sit down - this ain't no standing news." The lank
red-faced sheriff started across the street without looking to see if
he were followed.

He did not stop till he was in his room at the hotel. "Now," he said,
locking the door, "sit down. Yes, you BET. I got a warrant against
Brick Willock! It was sworn out by a fellow named Jeremiah
Kimball - you know him as 'Red.' The form's regular, charges weighty.
Brick Willock was once a member of Red Kimball's gang; he's the only
one that didn't come in to get his amnesty. See? Well, he killed Red's
brother - shot 'im. Gledware's coming on to witness to it. Willock
will claim he done the deed to save Gledware's life - his and his little
gal's. But Gledware will show it was otherwise. Red told me all about
it. Brick's a murderer, and worst of all, he's a murderer without an
amnesty - that's the only difference between him and Red. Well, old
tap, I took my oath to do my duty. You know what that signifies."

"But there's no truth in all this rot. Brick HAD to shoot Kansas
Kimball - "

"Well, let him show that in court. My business is to take him alive.
That ain't all, that's just the preface. Listen! If you'll believe
me, the stage that Red and his pards was in - coming here to swear out
the warrant, they was - that there stage was set on by this friend of
yours - yes, Brick has gathered together some of his old pards and is a
highwayman - why, he shot one of Red's witnesses, and he shot the
driver!"

"I know something about that holdup," cried Wilfred scornfully. "It
must have been done by Indians."

"Red SAW Brick amongst the gang. He RECOGNIZED him. Well, Red and his
other pard gets on horses they cuts loose, and comes like lightning,
and gets here, and tells the story - and maybe you think this community
ain't a-rearing and a-charging and a-sniffing for blood! There'd be
more excitement against Brick Willock if there was more community, but
such as they is, is concentrated."

"Mizzoo, listen to reason. Don't you understand that Red wants
revenge, and has misrepresented this Indian attack to tally with his
other lies?"

"I wouldn't say nothing against Red, old tap. It ain't gentlemanly to
call dead folk liars."

"Dead folk!" echoed Wilfred, starting up.

"I KNOWED you didn't understand that Red's off the trail forever,"
Mizzoo rejoined gently. "I knowed you wouldn't be accusing him so
rancid, had you been posted on his funeral."

Wilfred felt a great relief, then a great wonder.

"He's dead. I don't say he's better off, I don't know; but I guess the
world is. I don't like to censure them that's departed. Brick Willock
is still with us, and him the county can't say enough against. His
life wouldn't be worth two bits if anybody laid eyes on 'im. Consider
his high-handed doings. Wasn't it enough in the past to kill Red's
brother, but what he must needs collect his pals, stop the stage-coach,
shoot two men trying to get Red, and one of 'em the innocent driver?
You say, yes. But hold on, that ain't all he done. No, sir. The very
next day after Red swore out that warrant - and it was yesterday, if you
ask ME - what is saw, when we men of Mangum comes out of our doors?
Three corpses lying on the sidewalk, side by side. You say, what
corpses? Wait. I'm coming to that. One was that driver; one was the
pard that got shot with the driver. The other was Red Kimball his own
self."

"I knew the bodies had been carried away from the trail," exclaimed
Wilfred in perplexity. He related his discoveries of the stormy night.

"But you didn't know they had been brung to town all this distance to
be laid beside Red. You didn't know Red had been stabbed so he could
be added, too. You didn't know the three of them had been left on the
street to rile up every man with blood in his veins. Why, Wilfred, it's
an insult to the whole state of Texas, Such high-handed doings ain't
to be bore. If Brick Willock don't want to be tried in court, is that
an excuse for killing off all that might witness against him? It might
of been ONCE. But we're determined to have a county of law-abiding
citizens. Such free living has got to be nipped in the bud, or we'll
have another No-Man's Land. We're determined to live under the laws.
This is civilization. The cattle business is dead, land is getting
tied up by title-deeds, the deer's gone, and there's nothing left but
civilization. And I am the - er - as sheriff of Greer County I am a - I
am the angel of civilization, you may say."

Mizzoo started up, too excited to notice Wilfred's suddenly distorted
face. It was no time to display a sense of the ludicrous; the young
man hotly burst into passionate argument and reasonable hypothesis.

"We've got civilization," Mizzoo declared doggedly, "and we aim to hold
on to her, you bet! There's going to be no such doings as three
corpses stretched out on the sidewalk for breakfast, not while I'm at
the helm. How'd that look, if wrote up for the New York papers? That
ain't all - remember that ghost I used to worry my life out over, trying
to meet up with on the trail? Him, or her or it, that haunted every
step of the way from Abilene to the Gulf of Mexico? It's a flitting,
that ghost is! Well, I don't claim that no ghost is in my
jurisdiction. Brick's flesh and blood, there's bone to him. As my
aunt (Miss Sue of Missouri) used to say, 'he's some MAN.'"


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