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delighted foot. Not the quiver of a muscle, however, revealed the fact
that her words had flooded his heart with sunshine. "Well, honey,
that's in reason. But I've got to take you with me after books and
winter supplies, and I don't like the idea of traveling alone. It come
to me that I might get Mr. Settler to go, too. Time was not so long
ago when Injun bands was coming and going, and although old Greer is
beginning to be sprinkled up with settlers, here and there, I can't get
over the feel of the old times. They ain't no sensation as sticks by a
man when he's come to be wedged in between forty-five and fifty, as the
feel of the old times."

"Well," said Lahoma earnestly, "I wish you'd leave me here when you go
after them books. I don't want to be with no strangers, I want to just
squat right here and bear myself company."

"That's in reason. But, honey, while you might be safe enough whilst
bearing the same, I would be plumb crazy worrying about you. I might
not have good cause for worrying, but worrying - it ain't no bird that
spreads its wings and goes north when cold weather comes;
worrying - it's independent of causes and seasons."

"If you have got to be stayed with to keep you from worrying, they
ain't nothing more to be said."

"Just so. That there old settler, I have crossed a few words with him,
and I believe he would do noble to travel with. He's as gruff and
growly as a grizzly bear if you say a word to him, and if he'll just
turn all that temper he's vented on me on to any strangers we may run
up against on the trail, he'll do invaluable."

"I'll go catch up the pony," said Lahoma briefly, "for I see the thing
is to be did. This will be the first visit I ever made in my life when
I wasn't drug by the Injuns."

"You mustn't say 'drug,' honey, unless specifying medicines and herbs.
I ain't saying you didn't get it from me, and knowing you do get from
me all I got, is what makes me hone for them books. You must say
'dragged.' The Injuns DRAGGED you from one village to another." He
paused meditatively, muttering the word to himself, while Lahoma ran
away to catch the pony. When she came back, leading it by the mane, he
said, "I've been a-weighing that word, Lahoma, and it don't seem to me
that 'dragged' sounds proper. It don't seem no sort of word to use in
a parlor. What do you think? DRAGGED! How does that strike you?"

"I don't like the sound of it, neither," said Lahoma, shaking her head.
"I think DRUG is softer. It kinder melts in the ear, and DRAGGED

"Well, don't use neither one till I can find out." Presently he was
swinging along across the plain toward the southwestern range while the
girl kept close beside him on the pony. Their talk was incessant,
voicing the soul of good comradeship, and but for the difference
between heavy bass and fluty soprano, a listener might have supposed
himself overhearing a conversation between two Brick Willocks.

There was nothing about the second range of the Wichita Mountains to
distinguish it from the one farthest toward the northeast except a
precipice at its extremity, rising a sheer three or four hundred feet
above the level plain. Beyond this lofty termination, the mountain
curved inward, leaving a wide grassy cove open toward the south; and
within this half-circle was the settler's dugout.

The unprotected aspect of that little home was in itself an eloquent
commentary on the wonderful changes that had come about during the last
seventeen years. The oval tract of one million five hundred thousand
acres lying between Red River and its fork, named Greer County, and
claimed by Texas, was in miniature a reproduction of the early history
of America. Until 1860 it had not even borne a name, and since then it
had possessed no settled abodes. Here bands of Indians of various
tribes had come and gone at will, and here the Indians of the Plains,
after horrible deeds of depredation, massacre and reprisal, had found
shelter among its mountains. The country lay at the southwest corner
of Indian Territory for which the Indians had exchanged their lands in
other parts of the United States on the guarantee that the government
would "forever secure to them and their heirs the country so exchanged
with them."

At the close of the Civil War the unhappy Indians long continued in a
state of smoldering animosity, or warlike activity, tribe against
tribe, band against band; they had inherited the rancor and bitterness
of the White Man's war with neither the fruits of victory nor the
dignity that attends honorable defeat. The reservations that belonged
originally to the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek
tribes, were reduced in area to make room for new tribes from Kansas,
Colorado and other states, and the Indian wars resulted. For a time
the scalp-knife was crimsoned, the stake was charred, bands stole in
single file over mountains and among half-dried streams; troups of the
regular army were assaulted by invisible foes, and forts were
threatened. Youths who read romances of a hundred years ago dealing
with the sudden war-cry, the flaming cabin, the stealthy approach of
swarming savages, need have traveled only a few hundred miles to
witness on the open page of life what seemed to them, in their
long-settled states, fables of a dead past.

But though the Indian wars in the Territory had been bloody and
vindictive, they had not been protracted as in the old days. Around
the country of the red man was drawn closer and more securely, day by
day, the girdle of civilization. Within its constricting grasp the
spirit of savagery, if not crushed, was at least subdued. Tribes naked
but for their blankets, unadorned save by the tattoo, found themselves
pressed close to other tribes which, already civilized, had
relinquished the chase for agricultural pursuits. Primeval men,
breathing this quickened atmosphere of modernity, either grew more
sophisticated, or perished like wild flowers brought too near the heat.
It is true the plains were still unoccupied, but they had been
captured - for the railroad had come, and the buffalo had vanished.

Brick Willock and the man he had come to see were very good types of
the first settlers of the new country - one a highwayman, hiding from
his kind, the other a trapper by occupation, trying to keep ahead of
the pursuing waves of immigration. It was the first time Lahoma had
seen Bill Atkins, and as she caught sight of him before his dugout, her
eyes brightened with interest. He was a tall lank man of about
sixty-five, with a huge gray mustache and bushy hair of iron-gray, but
without a beard. The mustache gave him an effect of exceeding
fierceness, and the deeply wrinkled forehead and square chin added
their testimony to his ungracious disposition.

But Lahoma was not afraid of coyotes, catamounts or mountain-lions, and
she was not afraid of Bill Atkins. Her eyes brightened at the
discovery that he held in his hand that which Willock had described to
her as a book.

"Does he read?", she asked Willock, breathlessly. "Does he read,

Willock surveyed the seated figure gravely. "He reads!" he responded.

The man looked up, saw Willock and bent over his book - discovered
Lahoma on the pony, and looked up again, unwillingly but definitely.
"You never told me you had a little girl," he remarked gruffly.

"You never asked me," said Willock. "Get down, Lahoma, and make
yourself at home."

The man shut his book. "What are you going to do?"

"Going to visit you. Turn the pony loose, Lahoma; he won't go far."

"Haven't you got all that north range to yourself?" Bill Atkins asked

"Yap. How're you making it, Atkins?"

"Why, as long as I'm let alone, I'm making it all right. It's being
let alone that I can't ever accomplish. When I was a boy I began my
travels to keep out where I could breathe, and I've been crowded out of
Missouri and Kansas and Colorado and Wyoming and California, and now
I've come to the American Desert thinking I could die in peace, but oh,
no, not ME! I no sooner get settled and made my turf dugout, than here
comes a stranger - "

"Name of Brick Willock, if you've forgot," interpolated Willock
genially. "I'll just light my pipe, as I reckon there's no objections.
Lahoma don't care, and you can breathe all right if you keep with the
wind from you."

The man turned his back upon Willock, opened his book and read.

Lahoma approached the block of wood that supported him, while Willock
calmly stretched himself out on the grass. "Is that a book?" she
asked, by way of opening up the conversation.

The man gripped it tighter and moved his lips busily. As she remained
at his knee, he presently said, "Oh, no, it's a hand-organ!"

Lahoma smiled pityingly. "Are you afraid of me, Atkins?"

The man looked up with open mouth. "Not exactly, kid!" There was
something in her face that made him lose interest in his book. He kept
looking at her.

"Then why don't you tell the truth? WE won't hurt you."

The man opened his mouth and closed it. Then he said, "It's a book."

"Did you ever read it before?"

"This is the third time I've read it."

"Seems as it hasn't accomplished no good on you, as you still tell

The man rose abruptly, and laid the book on the seat. His manner was
quite as discouraging as it had been from the start.

"Honey," interposed Willock, "that ain't to say a lie, not a real lie."

"IS it a hand-organ?" Lahoma demanded sternly.

"In a manner of speaking, honey, it is a hand-organ in the sense of
shutting you off from asking questions. You learn to distinguish the
sauces of speech as you gets older. Out in the big world, people don't
say this or that according as it is, they steeps their words in a sauce
as suits the digestion. Don't be so quick to call 'LIES!' till you
learns the flavor of a fellow's meaning, not by his words but by the
sauce he steeps 'em in."

"Don't get mad at me," said Lahoma to the trapper. "I don't know
nothing, never having captured and branded the thoughts that is caged
up in books. But I want to be civilized and I am investigating

The trapper, somewhat conciliated, reseated himself. He regarded the
girl with greater interest, not without a certain approval. "How comes
it that you aren't civilized, living with such a knowing specimen as
your own father?"

"My father's dead. Brick is my cousin, but I not knowing nothing of
him till he saved my life two years ago and after that, me with the
Indians and him all alone. Would you like to hear about it?"

"I wouldn't bother him, honey, with all that long story," interposed
Willock, suddenly grown restive.

"Yes, tell me," said the trapper, moving over that she might find room
on the block of wood beside him.

Lahoma seated herself eagerly and looking up into the other's face,
which softened more and more under her fearless gaze, she said:

"We was crossing the plains - father, mother and me, in a big wagon. And
men dressed up like Indians, they come whooping and shooting, and
father turns around and drives with all his might - drives clear to
yonder mountain. And mother dies, being that sick before, and the
jolting too much for her. So father takes me on his horse and rides
all night, and I all asleep. Well, those same men dressed like
Indians, they was in a cabin 'way up north, and had put their wigs and
feathers off and was gambling over what they stole from the other
wagons. So father, he sees the light from the window and rides up with
me. And they takes him for a spy and says they, in a voice awful
fierce, just this way - 'KILL 'EM BOTH!'"

The trapper gave a start at the explosiveness of her tone.

Lahoma shouted again, as harshly as she could, "'Kill 'em both,' says
they." Then she turned to Willock. "Did I put them words in the
correct sauce, Brick?"

"You done noble, honey."

Lahoma resumed: "Now it was in a manner of happening that Brick, he
was riding around to have a look at the country, and when he rides up
to the cabin, why, right outside there was me and father, and two of
the robbers about to kill us. 'What are you devils up to?' says Brick.
'You go to hell,' says the leading man, 'that's where we're going to
send this spy and his little girl,' says he; 'you go to hell and maybe
you'll meet 'em there,' he says. And with that he ups and shoots at
Brick, the bullet lifting his hat right off his head and scaring the
horse out from under him, so he falls right there at the feet of them
two robber-men, on his back. Brick, he never harmed nobody before in
his life, but what was he to do? He might of let them kill him, but
that would of left father and me in their grip, so he just grabs the
gun out of the leading man's hand, as he hadn't ever carried a gun in
his life his own self, and he shot both them robbers, him still laying
there on his back - "

"No, honey, I got up about that time."

"Brick, you told me you was still laying there on your back just as you

"Did I, honey, well, I reckon I was, then, for when I told you about
it, it was more recent."

"It's awful interesting," the trapper remarked dryly.

"Yes, ain't it!" Lahoma glowed. "Then father jumped on one horse with
me, and Brick put out on another, and when I woke up, the Indians were
all everywhere, but Brick come here and lived all alone and nearly died
because he didn't have me to comfort him. So the Indians took me and
they killed father, and for two years I was moved from village to
village till Red Feather brought me to Brick. And then we found out we
are cousins and he is going to civilize me. Brick, he remembers about a
cousin of his, Cousin Martha Willock, her sister went driving out to
the Oklahoma country with her husband and little girl and wasn't never
heard of. I am the little girl, all right, and Brick he's my second
cousin. And wasn't it lucky Brick was riding around that night,
looking at the country, when they was about to put daylight into me?"

"I'd think," remarked the trapper, "that he'd take you back to your
Cousin Martha, for men-folks like him and me aren't placed to take care
of women-folks."

"Yes, but he got a letter saying my Cousin Martha and all her family is
done been swept away by a flood of the Mississippi River, and him and
me is all they is left of the Willockses, so we got to stick together.
Besides, you see, he killed them two robbers, and the rest of the gang
is laying for him; Brick, he feels so dreadful, he never having so much
as put a scratch to a man's face before, for he wouldn't never fight as
a boy, his conscience wouldn't rest if he was in civilization. He'd go
right up to the first policeman he met and say, 'I done the deed.
Carry me to the pen!' he'd say, and then what would become of me?"

"He might get another letter from your Cousin Martha to help him out of
the scrape."

Lahoma stared at him, unable to grasp the significance of these foolish
words, and Brick, seeking a diversion, explained his purpose of taking
Lahoma to the settlements after supplies, and proffered his petition
that Bill Atkins accompany them.

Lahoma has never forgotten that expedition to the settlements. Along
the Chisholm Trail marched Brick Willock and Bill Atkins, one full of
genial philosophy, responsive to every sight and sound along the way,
the other taciturn and uncompanionable, a being present in the flesh,
but seemingly absent in the spirit. Behind them rode the girl, with
unceasing interest in the broad hard-beaten trail - the only mark in
that wilderness to tell them that others had passed that way. The men
walked with deliberate but well-measured step, preserving a pace that
carried them mile after mile seemingly with little weariness. Three
times on the journey great herds of cattle were encountered on their
way toward Kansas, and many were the looks of curiosity cast on the
little girl sitting as straight as an Indian on her pony.

She was glad when a swinging cloud of dust announced the coming of
thousands of steers, attended by cowboys, for it meant a glimpse into
an unknown world, and the bellowing of cattle, the shouting of men and
the cracking of whips stirred her blood. But she was glad, too, when
the stream of life had flowed past, and she was left alone with Brick
and Bill, for then the never-ending conversation with the former was
resumed, picked up at the point where it had been dropped, or drawn
forward from raveled bits of unfinished discourse of the day before,
and though Bill Atkins said almost nothing and always looked straight
ahead, he was, in a way, spice in the feast of her enjoyment.

When they stopped for their meals, they drew aside from the trail, if
possible near some spring or river-bed in which pools of water
lingered, but such stopping-places were far apart in the desert
country. At night there was a cheerful bonfire, followed by zestful
talk as they lay on the ground, before falling asleep in their
tarpaulins - talk eagerly monopolized by Brick and Lahoma, and to which
Atkins seemed in a manner to listen, perhaps warming his heart at the
light of their comradeship even as they warmed their hands in the early
morning at the breakfast fire. Atkins had brought with him one of his
books, and at the noon hour's rest, and at evening beside the bonfire,
he kept his nose buried in its pages.

Lahoma did not think life would have been too long to devote to such
pilgrimages. In the settlements, she was bewildered, but never
satiated, with novelties, and on the way back, everything she had seen
was discussed, expounded and classified between her and her "cousin."
Sometimes her questions drove Brick up against a stone wall and then
Bill Atkins would raise his voice and in three or four words put the
matter in its true light.

"Bill, he's saw more of life than me," Brick conceded admiringly. "He
has come and went amongst all sorts of people, but my specialty has in
the main been low."

"Yes, I've seen more of life," Atkins agreed; "that's why I try so hard
to keep away from it."

"The more I see, the more I want to see!" cried Lahoma eagerly.

"Yes, honey," Brick explained, "that's because you're a WOMAN."

Once more back in the cove, Lahoma dreamed new dreams, peopling the
grassy solitude with the figures she had encountered on her travels,
likening the rocks to various houses that had caught her fancy. She
turned with absorbed interest to the primer and elementary arithmetic
with which Brick had supplied himself as the first tools for his mental

The journey hack home had been far easier than the descent into Texas
because both Willock and Atkins had supplied themselves with
ponies, - animals that sold ridiculously cheap at the outlying posts of
the settlements. Brick Willock brought back with him something else to
add cheerfulness and usefulness to approaching winter. This was a
square window-sash, set with four small panes of good glass. It was
hard work to place this window in Lahoma's side of the dugout, but it
was work thoroughly enjoyed. Lahoma's room was on the west, and from
noon to sundown, the advantage of the window was a source of
never-ending delight.

"Good thing we've got our window," Brick would say as they sat on the
low rude bench before the little stove, and the furious wind of January
howled overhead. Or, when the wintry sky was leaden and all Brick's
side of the partition was as dark as the hole of a prairie-dog, he
would visit Lahoma, and gloat over the dim gray light stealing through
the small panes. "That window's no bad idea!" he would chuckle,
stooping his great bulk cautiously as he seated himself, as if to
lighten his weight by doubling in upon himself.

"Good thing I've got my window," Lahoma would say as the snow lay thick
on the plains and in broken lines all over the mountain, and the
cutting blast made the fire jump with sudden fright. She would hold
her book close to the dirt square in which the frame was planted, and
spell out words she had never heard used, such as "lad," "lass,"
"sport," and the like mysteries. "This window is going to civilize me,

It did not lessen their relish in the subject that they had discussed
it already a hundred times. It was the same way with the hand-made
bench, with the trench that carried water from their door during sudden
downpours, and with the self-congratulation over owning two ponies to
keep each other company.

"They's one thing about us, Lahoma, which it ain't according to the big
outside world, and yet I hope it won't never be changed. We are mighty
glad we've got what we've got. And to be glad of what you've got is a
sure way to multiply your property. Every time you brag on that
window, it shines like two windows to me."

Spring came late that year, and in the early days of March, Brick rode
over to the cove behind the precipice after Bill Atkins. "I want you
to come over to my place," he begged, "and answer some of Lahoma's
questions. Being closeted with her in that there dugout all winter,
she has pumped me as dry as a bone."

Perhaps Bill Atkins had had his fill of solitude during that cold
winter - or perhaps he was hungry for another hour of the little girl's
company. Nothing, however, showed his satisfaction as he entered her
chamber. "Here I am," he announced, seating himself on the bench.
This was his only greeting.

"Is it drug or dragged?" demanded Lahoma.


"Why don't God send me a little girl to play with, after me asking for
one every night, all winter?"

"Don't understand God's business," replied Atkins briefly.

"I puts it this way," Brick spoke up; "God's done sent one little girl,
and it ain't right to crowd Him too far."

"Will I be all they is of me, as long as I live?"

"Nobody won't never come to live in these plains," Brick declared,
"unless its trappers and characters like us. But we'll stay by you,
won't we, Bill Atkins?"

Atkins looked exceedingly gruff and shook his head as if he had his
doubts about it. "You'll have to be taken to the States," he declared.

"But what would become of Brick?"

"Well, honey," said Brick, "you want to take your place with people in
the big world, don't you?"

"Oh, YES!" cried Lahoma, starting up and stretching her arm toward the
window. "In the big world - yes! That's the place for me - that's where
I want to live. But what will become of you?"

"Well," Brick answered slowly, "the rock pile, t'other side the
mountain is good enough for me. Your mother sleeps under it."

"Oh, Brick!" She caught his arm. "You wouldn't die if I went away,
would you?"

"Why, you see, honey, they wouldn't be nothing left to go on. I'd just
sort of stop, you know - but it wouldn't matter - out there in the big
world, people don't remember very long, and when you're grown you
wouldn't know there'd ever been a cove with a dugout in it, and a
window in the wall, and a Brick Willock to carry in the wood for the

"I'll always remember - and I won't go without you. He COULD go with
me, couldn't he, Bill?"

"I suspicion he has his reasons for not," Atkins observed gravely.

"I has, and I shall never go back to the States."

"Then what's the use civilizing me?" demanded Lahoma mournfully.

"I want you to enjoy yourself. And when I'm old and no-'count, you'd
need somebody to take care of you - and you'd go full-equipped and ready
to stand up to any civilized person that tried to run a bluff on you."

"But, oh, I want to GO - I want to go out THERE - where there ain't no
plains and alkali and buffalo-grass - where they's pavements and
policemen and people in beautiful clothes. I don't mean NOW, I mean
when I have got civilized." She drew herself up proudly. "I wouldn't
go till I was civilized, till I was like them." She turned impulsively
to Brick: "But you've got to go with me when I go! I'm going to stay
with you till I'm fit to go, and then you're going to stay with me the
rest of my life."

"Am I fit to go with her?" Brick appealed to Bill Atkins.

"You ain't," Bill replied.

"I ain't fit," Brick declared firmly. "I'm a-going to fitten you; but
it's too late to work on me; and besides, if they WAS time enough, it
ain't to the grain of my nature. I knows all I wants to know, which if
little or much is enough for me. And I wouldn't be fit to go with you
out into the big world and cut a figger in it, which couldn't be no
figger but a figger naught. And Atkins who knows more than me, he says
the same."

The tears were in Lahoma's eyes. She looked from one to the other, her

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Online LibraryJ. Breckenridge EllisLahoma → online text (page 5 of 17)