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Waving aside Mizzoo's ghost, Wilfred elaborated his theory of an Indian
attack, described Brick's peaceable disposition, his gentleness to
Lahoma - then dwelt on the friendship between himself and Brick, and the
relations between himself and Brick's ward.

"It all comes to this," Mizzoo declared: "if you could make me think
Willock a harmless lamb and as innocent, it wouldn't change conditions.
This neighborhood calls for his life and'd take it if in reach; and my
warrant calls for his arrest. All I can promise is to get him, if
possible, behind the bars before the mob gets him in a rope. As my
aunt, whom I have oft-times quoted my aunt (Miss Sue of Missouri, a
woman of elegant sense) - 'that's the word,' she used to say, 'with the
bark on it!'"

Wilfred permitted himself the pleasure of taunting Mizzoo with the very
evident truth that before Willock was hanged or imprisoned, he must
first be caught.

Mizzoo grinned good-naturedly. "Yap. Well, we've got a clew locked up
in jail right now that could tell us something, I judge, and will tell
us something before set free; its name is Bill Atkins. He's a wise old
coon, but as sour as a boiled owl, - nothing as yet to be negotiated
with him than if he was a bobcat catched in a trap. We're hoping
time'll mellow him - time and the prospect of being took out and swung
from the nearest limb - speaking literary, not by nature, as you know
trees is as scarce about here as Brick Willock himself."

Wilfred insisted on an immediate visit to Bill. "Brick declared he
wouldn't tell Bill his hiding-place," he said, "for he didn't want to
get him into trouble. He'll tell me if he knows anything - and if he
doesn't, it's an outrage to shut him up, old as he is, and as rheumatic
as he's old."

On the way to the rudely improvised prison, Mizzoo defended himself.
"He wasn't too old and rheumatic to fight like a wildcat - why, he had
to be lifted up bodily and carried into his cell. Not a word can we
get out of him, or a bite of grub into him. I believe that old
codger's just too obstinate to die!"

When they reached the prison door, the crowd gathered about them, eager
for news, watching Mizzoo unfasten the door as if he were unlocking the
secret to Willock's whereabouts. There were loud imprecations on the
head of the murderer, and fierce prophecies as to what would happen to
Bill if he preserved his incriminating silence. It seemed but a moment
before hurrying forms from many directions packed themselves into a
mass before the jail.

The cells were in the basement. The only entrance to the building was
by means of a flight of six steps leading to an unroofed platform
before the door of the story proper. Mizzoo and Wilfred, standing on
this platform, were lifted above the heads of perhaps a hundred men who
watched eagerly the dangling bunch of keys. Mizzoo had stationed three
deputies at the foot of the steps to keep back the mob, for if the
excited men once rushed into the jail nothing could check their course.
The deputies, tall broad-shouldered fellows, pushed back the
threatening tide, always with good-natured protests, - words half
bantering, half appealing, repulsive thrusts of the arms, rough but
inflicting no hurt. So peaceful a minute before had been the Square,
it was difficult to comprehend the sudden spirit of danger.

Mizzoo whispered to Wilfred, "We'd better get in as quick as possible."

The words were lost in the increasing roar of voices. He spoke again:

"When I swing open the door, that bunch will try to make a run for it.
You jump inside and I'll be after you like a shot.... We'll lock
ourselves in - "

"Hey, Mizzoo!" shouted a voice from the crowd, "bring out that old
cuss. Drag him to the platform, we want to hear what he's got to say.

"Say, Mr. Sheriff! Tell him if he won't come to us, we'll go to him.
We've got to know where Brick Willock's hiding, and that's all about
it."

"Sure!" growled a third. "What kind of a town is this, anyway? A
refuge for highwaymen and murderers?"

A struggle took place at the foot of the stairs, not so good-naturedly
as heretofore. A reasoning voice was heard: "Just let me say a word
to the boys."

"Yes!" called others, "let's hear HIM!"

There was a surging forward, and a man was lifted literally over the
heads of the three deputies; he reached the platform breathless,
disheveled, but triumphant. It was the survivor of Red Kimball's band.

Mizzoo, mistaking his coming for a general rush, had hastily relocked
the door, and he and Wilfred defended themselves with drawn revolvers.

"I ain't up here to do no harm," called the ex-highwayman. "I ain't
got the spirit for warfare. My chief is killed, my pards is dead. Even
that innocent stage-driver what knew nothing of us, is killed in the
attack that Brick Willock made on us in the dark and behind our backs.
How're you going to grow when the whole world knows you ain't nothing
but a den of snakes? You may claim it's all Brick Willock. I say if
he's bigger than the town, if he murders and stabs and you can't help
it, then the town ain't as good as him. My life's in danger. I don't
know if I'll draw another breath. What kind of a reputation is that for
you to send abroad? There's a man in this jail can tell you where
Willock's hiding. Good day!"

The speaker was down the steps in two leaps, and the deputies drew
aside to let him pass out. Civic pride, above all, civic ambition, had
been touched to the quick. A hoarse roar followed the speech, and
cries for Bill grew frantic. Mizzoo, afraid to unlock the door, stared
at Wilfred in perplexity.

"I told you they had civilization on the brain," he muttered. "The old
times are past. I daresn't make a move toward that lock."

"Drop the keys behind you - I'll get 'em," Wilfred murmured. "Step a
little forward. Say something to 'em."

"Ain't got nothing to say," growled Mizzoo, glaring at the mob. "These
boys are in the right of it, that's how I feel - cuss that obstinate old
bobcat! it's his own fault if they string him up."

"Here they come!" Wilfred exclaimed.

"Steady now, old Mizzoo - we've whipped packs of wolves before
today - coyotes crazy with hunger - big gray loafers in the rocks - eh,
Mizzoo?" He shouted to the deputies who had been pushed against the
railing: "Give it to 'em, boys!"

But the deputies did not fire, and the mob, though chafing with mad
impatience, did not advance. It was a single figure that swept up the
steps, unobstructed, aided, indeed, by the mass of packed men in the
street - a figure slight and erect, tingling with the necessity of
action to which every vein and muscle responded, tingling so vitally,
so electrically, that the crowd also tingled, not understanding, but
none the less thrilled.

"Lahoma!" Wilfred was at her side. "You here!"

"Yes, I'm here," she returned breathlessly, her face flaming with
excitement. "I'm going to talk to these people - let me have that - "
She took the revolver from his unresisting hand, uncocked it, and
slipped it into her bosom. Then she faced the mob and held up her
empty hand.



CHAPTER XXIII

FACING THE MOB

It was the first time Lahoma had ever faced an audience larger than
that composed of Brick and Bill and Willock, for in the city she had
been content to play an unobtrusive part, listening to others,
commenting inwardly. Speech was now but a mode of action, and in her
effort to turn the sentiment of the mob, she sought not for words but
emotions. Bill's life was at stake. What could she say to make them
Bill's friends? After her uplifted hand had brought tense silence, she
stood at a loss, her eyes big with the appeal her tongue refused to
utter.

The mob was awed by that light in her eyes, by the crimson in her
cheeks, by her beauty, freshness and grace. They would not proceed to
violence while she stood there facing them. Her power she recognized,
but she understood it was that of physical presence. When she was gone,
her influence would depart. They knew Brick and Bill had sheltered her
from her tenderest years, they admired her fidelity. Whatever she
might say to try to move their hearts would come from a sense of
gratitude and would be received in tolerant silence. The more guilty
the highwayman, the more commendable her loyalty. But it would not
change their purpose; as if waiting for a storm to pass, they stood
stolid and close-mouthed, slightly bent forward, unresisting, but
unmoved.

"I'm a western girl," Lahoma said at last, "and ever since Brick
Willock gave me a home when I had none, I've lived right over yonder at
the foot of the mountains. I was there when the cattlemen came, before
the Indians had given up this country; and I was here when the first
settlers moved in, and when the soldiers drove them out. I was living
in the cove with Brick Willock when people came up from Texas and
planted miles and miles of wheat; and I used to play with the rusty
plows and machinery they left scattered about - after the three years'
drought had starved them back to their homes. Then Old Man Walker came
to Red River, sent his cowboys to drive us out of the cove, and your
sheriff led the bunch. And it was Brick and myself that stood them off
with our guns, our backs to the wall and our powder dry, and we never
saw Mizzoo in our cove again. So you see, I ought to be able to talk
to western men in a way they can appreciate, and if there's anybody
here that's not a western man - he couldn't understand our style,
anyhow - he'd better go where he's needed, for out West you need only
western men - like Brick Willock, for instance."

At reference to the well-known incident of Mizzoo's attempt to drive
Willock from the cove, there was a sudden wave of laughter, none the
less hearty because Mizzoo's face had flushed and his mouth had opened
sheepishly. But at the recurrence of Willock's name, the crowd grew
serious. They felt the justice of her claim that out West only western
men were needed; they excused her for thinking Brick a model type; but
let any one else hold him up before them as a model!...

Lahoma's manner changed; it grew deeper and more forceful:

"Men, I want to talk to you about this case - will you be the jury?
Consider what kind of man swore out that warrant against Brick - the
leader of a band of highwaymen! And who's his chief witness? You
don't know Mr. Gledware. I do. You've heard he's a rich and
influential citizen in the East. That's true. But I'm going to tell
you something to show what he IS - and what Brick Willock is; just one
thing; that's all I'll say about the character of either. As to Red
Kimball, you don't have to be told. I'm not going to talk about the
general features of the case - as to whether Brick was ever a highwayman
or not; as to whether he killed Red's brother to save me and my
stepfather, or did it in cold blood; as to whether he held up the stage
or not. These things you've discussed; you've formed opinions about
them. I want to tell you something you haven't heard. Will you
listen?"

At first no one spoke. Then from the crowd came a measured impartial
voice: "We got lots of time."

She was not discouraged by the intimation in the tone that all her
speaking was in vain. Several in the crowd looked reproachfully at him
who had responded, feeling that Lahoma deserved more consideration; but
in the main, the men nodded grim approval. They had plenty of
time - but at the end of it, Bill would either tell all he knew, or....

Lahoma plunged into the midst of her narrative:

"One evening Brick came on a deserted mover's wagon; he'd traveled all
day with nothing to eat or drink, and he got into the wagon to escape
the blistering sun. In there, he found a dead woman, stretched on her
pallet. He had a great curiosity to see her face, so he began lifting
the cloth that covered her. He saw a pearl and onyx pin at her throat.
It looked like one his mother used to wear. So he dropped the cloth and
never looked at her face. She had died the evening before, and he knew
she wouldn't have wanted any one to see her THEN. And he dug a grave
in the sand, though she was nothing to him, and buried her - never
seeing her face - and covered the spot with a great pyramid of stones,
and prayed for her little girl - I was her little girl - the Indians had
carried me away. You'll say that was a little thing; that anybody would
have buried the poor helpless body. Maybe so. But about not looking
at her face - well, I don't know; it WAS a little thing, of course, but
somehow it just seems to show that Brick Willock wasn't little - had
something great in his soul, you know. Seems to show that he couldn't
have been a common murderer. It's something you'll have to feel for
yourselves, nobody could explain it so you'd see, if you don't
understand already."

The men stared at her, somewhat bewildered, saying nothing. In some
breasts, a sense of something delicate, not to be defined, was stirred.

"One day," Lahoma resumed, "Brick saw a white man with some Indians
standing near that grave. He couldn't imagine what they meant to do,
so he hid, thinking them after him. Years afterward Red Feather
explained why they came that evening to the pile of stones. The white
man was Mr. Gledware. After Red Kimball's gang captured the
wagon-train, Mr. Gledware escaped, married Red Feather's daughter and
lived with the Indians; he'd married immediately, to save his life, and
the tribe suspected he meant to leave Indian Territory at the first
chance. Mr. Gledware, great coward, was terrified night and day lest
the suspicions of the Indians might finally cost him his life.

"It wasn't ten days after the massacre of the emigrants till he decided
to give a proof of good faith. Too great a coward to try to get away
and, caring too much for his wife's rich lands to want to leave, he
told about the pearl and onyx pin - he said he wanted to give it to Red
Flower. A pretty good Indian, Red Feather was - true friend of mine; HE
wouldn't rob graves! But he said he'd take Mr. Gledware to the place,
and if he got that pin, they'd all know he meant to live amongst them
forever. THAT'S why the band was standing there when Brick Willock
looked from the mountain-top. Mr. Gledware dug up the body, after the
Indians had rolled away the stones - the body of his wife - my
mother - the body whose face Brick Willock wouldn't look at, in its
helplessness of death. Mr. Gledware is the principal witness against
Brick. If you don't feel what kind of man he is from what I've said,
nobody could explain it to you."

From several of the intent listeners burst involuntary denunciations of
Gledware, while on the faces of others showed a momentary gleam of
horror.

Red Kimball's confederate spoke loudly, harshly: "But who killed Red
Kimball and his pard and the stage-driver, if it wasn't Brick Willock?"

"I think it was Red Feather's band. I'm witness to the fact that
Kimball agreed to bring Mr. Gledware the pearl and onyx pin on
condition that Mr. Gledware appear against Brick. After Mr. Gledware
deserted Red Flower, or rather after her death, Red Feather carried
that pin about him; Mr. Gledware knew he'd never give it up alive. He
was always afraid the Indian would find him - and at last he did find
him. But Red Kimball got the pin - could that mean anything except that
Kimball discovered the Indian's hiding-place and killed him? But for
that, I'd think it Red Feather who attacked the stage and killed Red
Kimball. As it is, I believe it must have been his friends."

"Now you've said something!" cried Mizzoo. "Boys, don't you think it's
a reasonable explanation?"

Some of them did, evidently, for the grim resolution on their faces
softened; others, however, were unconvinced.

A stern voice was raised: "Let Brick Willock come do his own
explaining. Bill Atkins knows where he's hiding out - and we got to
know. We've started in to be a law-abiding county, and that there
warrant against Willock has got the right of way."

"You've no warrant against Bill," cried Wilfred, stepping to the edge
of the platform, "therefore you've violated the law in locking him up."

"That's so," exclaimed Red Kimball's former comrade. "Well, turn 'im
loose, that's what we ask - LET him go - open the jail door!"

"He's locked up for his own safety," shouted Mizzoo. "You fellows
agree to leave him alone, and I'll turn him out quick enough. You talk
about the law - what you want to do to Bill ain't overly lawful, I take
it."

"If he gives up his secret we ain't going to handle him rough," was the
quick retort.

Lahoma found that the softening influence she had exerted was already
fast dissipating. They bore with her merely because of her youth and
sex. She cried out desperately.

"Is there nothing I can say to move your hearts? Has my story of that
pearl and onyx pin been lost on you? Couldn't you understand, after
all? Are you western men, and yet unable to feel the worth of a
western man like Brick?... How he clothed me and sheltered me when the
man who should have supported the child left in his care neglected
her.... How he taught me and was always tender and gentle - never a
cross word - a man like THAT.... And you think he could kill! I don't
know whether Bill was told his hiding-place or not. But if _I_ knew
it, do you think I'd tell? And if Bill betrayed him, - but Bill
wouldn't do it. Thank God, I've been raised with real MEN, men that
know how to stand by each other and be true to the death. You want
Bill to turn traitor. I say, what kind of men are YOU?"

She turned to Wilfred, blinded by hot tears. "Oh, say something to
them!" she gasped, clinging to his arm.

"Go on," murmured Wilfred. "I couldn't reach em, and you made a point,
that time. Go on - don't give 'em a chance to think."

"But I can't - I've said all I had to say - "

"Don't stop, dear, for God's sake - the case is desperate! You'll have
to do it - for Bill."

"And that isn't all," Lahoma called in a broken pathetic voice, as she
turned her pale face upon the curious crowd. "That isn't all. You know
Brick and Bill have been all I had - all in this world... You know they
couldn't have been sweeter to me if they'd been the nearest of
kin - they were more like women than men, somehow, when they spoke to me
and sat with me in the dugout - and I guess I know a little about a
mother's love because I've always had Brick and Bill. But one day
somebody else came to the cove and - and this somebody else,
well - he - this somebody else wants to marry me - today. This was the end
of our journey," she went on blindly, "and - and it is our wedding-day.
I thought there must be SOME way to get Brick to the wedding, but you
see how it is. And - and we'll have to marry without him. But Bill's
here - in that jail - because he wouldn't betray his friend. And I
couldn't marry without either Brick or Bill, could I?"

She took her quivering hand from Wilfred's sturdy arm, and moving to
the top of the steps, held out her trembling arms appealingly:

"MEN! - Give me Bill!"

The crowd was with her, now. No doubt of that. All fierceness gone,
tears here and there, broad grins to hide deep emotion, open
admiration, touched with tenderness, in the eyes that took in her shy
flower-like beauty.

"You shall have Bill!" shouted the spokesman of the crowd. And other
voices cried, "Give her Bill! Give her Bill!"

"Bring him out!" continued the spokesman in stentorian tones. "We'll
not ask him a question. Fellows, clear a path for 'em."

A broad lane was formed through the throng of smiling men whom the
sudden, unexpected light of love had softened magically.

While Mizzoo hastened to Bill's cell, some one exclaimed, "Invite us,
too. Make it a town wedding!"

And another started the shout, "Hurrah for Lahoma!"

Lahoma, who had taken refuge behind Wilfred's protection, wept and
laughed in a rosy glow of triumphant joy.

Mizzoo presently reappeared, leaving the door wide open. He walked to
the stairs, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deep-cut with
appreciation of the situation. "Fellows," he called, "he says you
carried him in there, and dinged if you won't have to carry him out,
for not a step will he take!"

At this unexpected development, a burst of laughter swelled into a
roar. After that mighty merriment, Bill was as safe as a babe. Twenty
volunteers pressed forward to carry the wedding-guest from his cell.
And when the old man slowly but proudly followed Wilfred and Lahoma to
the hotel where certain preparations were to be made - particularly as
touching Bill's personal appearance - the town of Mangum began gathering
at the newly-erected church whither they had been invited.

When the four friends - for Mizzoo joined them - drove up to the church
door in the only carriage available, Bill descended stiffly, his eyes
gleaming fiercely from under snowy locks, as if daring any one to ask
him a question about Brick. But nobody did.



CHAPTER XXIV

MINE ENEMY

The general suspicion that Bill Atkins knew more about Brick Willock
than he had revealed, was not without foundation; though the extent of
his knowledge was more limited than the town supposed. Bill had
carried to his friend - hidden in the crevice in the mountain-top - the
news of Red Kimball's death; since then, they had not seen each other.

Skulking along wooded gullies by day, creeping down into the cove at
night, Willock had unconsciously reverted to the habits of thought and
action belonging to the time of his outlawry. He was again, in spirit,
a highwayman, though his hostility was directed only against those
seeking to bring him to justice. The softening influence of the years
spent with Lahoma was no longer apparent in his shifting bloodshot
eyes, his crouching shoulders, his furtive hand ever ready to snatch
the weapon from concealment. This sinister aspect of wildness,
intensified by straggling whiskers and uncombed locks, gave to his
giant form a kinship to the huge grotesquely shaped rocks among which
he had made his den.

He heard of Red Kimball's death with bitter disappointment. He had
hoped to encounter his former chief, to grapple with him, to hurl him,
perhaps, from the precipice overlooking Bill's former home. If in his
fall, Kimball, with arms wound about his waist, had dragged him down to
the same death, what matter? Though his enemy was now no more, the
sheriff held the warrant for his arrest - as if the dead man could still
strike a mortal blow. The sheriff might be overcome - he was but a man.
That piece of paper calling for his arrest - an arrest that would mean,
at best, years in the penitentiary - had behind it the whole state of
Texas.

To Willock's feverish imagination, the warrant became personified; a
mysterious force, not to be destroyed by material means; it was not
only paper, but spirit. And it had come between him and Lahoma, it had
shut him off from the possibility of a peaceful old age. The cove was
no longer home but a hiding-place.

He did not question the justice of this sequel to his earlier life. No
doubt deeds of long ago, never punished, demanded a sacrifice. He hated
the agents of this justice not so much because they threatened his
liberty, his life, as because they stepped in between himself and
Lahoma. Always a man of expedients, he now sought some way of
frustrating justice, and naturally his plans took the color of
violence. Denied the savage joy of killing Red Kimball - and he would
have killed him with as little compunction as if he had been a
wolf - his thoughts turned toward Gledware.

Gledware was the only witness of the deed for which the warrant
demanded his arrest. Willock wished many of his other deeds had been
prompted by impulses as generous as those which had led to Kansas
Kimball's death. Perhaps it was the irony of justice that he should be
threatened by the one act of bloodshed which had saved Lahoma's life.
If he must be hanged or imprisoned because he had not, like the rest of
the band, given himself up for official pardon, it was as well to
suffer from one deed as from another. But it would be better still, as
in the past, to escape all consequences. Without Gledware, they could
prove nothing.

Would Gledware testify, now that Red Kimball, who had bought his
testimony with the death of the Indian, no longer lived to exact
payment? Willock felt sure he would. In the first place, Gledware had
placed himself on record as a witness, hence could hardly retreat; in
the second place, he would doubtless be anxious to rid himself of the


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Online LibraryJ. Breckenridge EllisLahoma → online text (page 15 of 17)