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stroll, like an engraving out of the history of Louis the Fourteenth's
court. Do, oh, do!" Her bright eyes glowed into his like beckoning

"We stroll," he gravely announced, responding to the pressure of her
fingers, but at the same time feeling somewhat guilty as Bill rolled
his eyes fearfully at Brick.

When they were a few yards from the trees Lahoma whispered, "Make for
the other side of Turtle Hill. I want to feel grown up when I do my
strolling, but I'm nothing but a little barefooted kid when Brick and
Bill are looking at me!"

Hidden by the shoulder of the granite hill island she stopped, withdrew
her hand, and stood very straight as she said, with breathless
eagerness, "Answer me quick! Wilfred: ain't I old enough to be a

"Oh, Lahoma," he protested warmly, "please don't think of it. Don't be
anybody's until - until I say the word. You couldn't understand such
matters, dear, you wouldn't know the - the proper time. I'll tell you
when the time comes."

She looked at him keenly. "Am I to wait for a time, or for a person?
I wish you'd never met that girl back East I think you'd have filled
the bill for me, because, having always lived here in the mountains,
I've not learned to be particular. Not but what I've seen lots of
trappers and squatters in my day, but I never wanted to stroll with
them. I don't see why that eastern girl ever turned you loose from her
trap. I think a man's a very wonderful thing; especially a young
man - don't you, Wilfred?"

"Not half so wonderful as you, Lahoma." His voice vibrated with sudden
intensity. "There's your wonderful hair, like light shining through a
brown veil ... and your eyes where your soul keeps her lights flashing
when all the rest of you is in twilight ... and your hands and feet,
four faithful little guides to the wonderful treasures that belong only
to maidenhood ... and your mouth, changing with your thoughts - an
adorable little thermometer, showing how high the smiles have risen in
your heart; a mouth so pure and sweet - "

"Hey!" shouted Bill Atkins, as he and Brick came around the angle of
the hill. "Hi, there! You may call that strolling, but if so, it's
because you don't know its true name, if you ask ME!"

Wilfred came to himself with a sharp indrawing of his breath. "Yes," he
stammered, somewhat dizzily, "Yes, I - I must be going, now."

She held his hand beseechingly. "But you'll come again, won't you?
When I hold your hand, it's like grabbing at a bit of the big world."

"No, Lahoma, I'm not coming again." His look was long and steady,
showing sudden purpose which concealed regret beneath a frank smile of

She still held his hand, her brown eyes large with entreaty. "You WILL
come again, Wilfred! You must come again! Don't mind Bill. I'll have
a talk with him after you're gone. I'll send him over to the ranch
after you. Just say you'll come again if I send for you."

"Of course he'll come, honey," said Brick, melted by the tears that
sounded in her voice. "He won't get huffy over a foolish old codger
like Bill Atkins. Of course he'll come again and tell you about
street-cars and lamp-posts. Let him go to his work now, he's been up
all night, just to get a word with you. Let him go - he'll come back
tomorrow, I know."

Wilfred turned to Brick and looked into his eyes as he slowly released
Lahoma's hand.

"Oh!" said Brick, considerably disconcerted. "No, I reckon he won't
come back, honey - yes, I guess he'll be busy the rest of the summer.
Well, son, put 'er there - shake! I like you fine, just fine, and as
you can't come here to see us no more, being so busy and - and otherwise
elsewhere bound - I'm kinder sorry to see you go."

"Partings," said Bill, somewhat mollified, "are painful but necessary,
else there wouldn't be any occasion for dentists' chairs."

"That's so," Brick agreed. "You called Lahoma an oasis. And what is
an oasis? Something you come up to, and go away from, and that's the
end of the story. You don't settle down and live at a spring just
because it give you a drink when you was thirsty. A man goes on his
way rejoicing, and Wilfred according."

Lahoma walked up to Wilfred with steady eyes. "Are you coming back to
see me?" she asked gravely.

"No, Lahoma. At least not for a long, long time. I don't believe it's
good for me to forget the life I've chosen, even for a happy hour.
When I left the city, it was to drop out of the world - nobody knows
what became of me, not even my brother. You've brought everything
back, and that isn't good for my peace of mind and so - good-bye!"

Tall and straight he stood, like a soldier whose duty it is to face
defeat; and standing thus, he fastened his eyes upon her face as if to
stamp those features in a last long look upon his heart.

"Good-by," said Lahoma; this time she did not hold out her hand. Her
face was composed, her voice quiet. If in her eyes there was the look
of one who has been rebuffed; her pride was too great to permit a show
of pain.

Wilfred hesitated. But what was to be done? Solitude and homesickness
had perhaps distorted his vision; at any rate he had succumbed to the
folly against which he had been warned. He could not accept Lahoma as
a mere child; and though, during the scene, he had repeatedly reminded
himself that she was only fifteen, her face, her voice, her form, her
manner of thought, refused the limits of childhood. Therefore he went
away, outwardly well-content with his morning, but inwardly full of
wrath that his heart had refused the guidance of his mind.

And she had been so simple, so eager to meet him on an equal plane,
even clinging to him as to the only hope in her narrow world that might
draw her out into deeper currents of knowledge.

"I've always been a fool," he muttered savagely, as he sought his
horse. "I was a fool about Annabel - and now I'm too big a fool to
enjoy what fortune has fairly flung in my path." Presently he began to
laugh - it was all so ridiculous, beating a retreat because he could not
regard a fifteen-year-old girl as a little child! He drew several
time-worn letters from his pocket and tore them into small bits that
fluttered away like snowflakes on the wind. He had no longer a
sentimental interest in them, at all events.



He did not come again. Lahoma used to go to the hill-island, which she
called Turtle Hill because the big flattened rocks looked like turtles
that had crawled up out of the cove to sun themselves; among these
turtles she would lie, watching the open mouth of the mountain
horseshoe in the vain hope that Wilfred would appear from around the
granite wall. Occasionally she descended to the plain and scanned the
level world, but it was pleasanter to watch from the cove because one
never knew, while in that retreat, who might be coming along the range.
On the plain, there were no illusions.

Lahoma courted illusions. And when she knew that Wilfred Compton had
severed connections with Old Man Walker she merely exchanged one hope,
one dream, for another. The opportunity to learn about the big world
was withdrawn; but the anticipation of one day meeting Wilfred again
was as strong as ever. She made no secret of this expectation.

Bill Atkins sought to dismiss it effectually. "You don't know about
the big world, Lahoma," he declared, "if you think people meet up with
each other after they've once lost touch. If all this part of America
was blotted out of existence, people in the East wouldn't miss any ink
out of the ink-bottle."

Lahoma tossed her head. "Maybe the world IS big," she conceded. "But
if Wilfred isn't big enough to make himself seen in it when I go
a-looking, I don't care whether I meet him again or not. When I'm in
the big world, I expect to deal only with big people."

"I saw no bigness about HIM," Bill cried slightingly.

"If he isn't big enough to make himself seen," Lahoma serenely
returned, "I won't never - "

"You won't ever - " Bill corrected.

"I won't ever have to wear specs for strained eyes," Lahoma concluded,
smiling at Bill as if she knew why he was as he was, and willingly took
him so because he couldn't help himself.

It was Brick who heard about Wilfred's adventures on leaving the Red
River ranch, and as all three sat outside the cabin in the dusk of
evening, he retailed them as gathered from a recent trip to the corral.
That was a strange story unfolded to Lahoma's ears, a story rich with
the romance of the great West, wild in its primitive strivings and
thrilling in its realizations of countless hopes. The narrative lost
nothing in the telling, for Brick Willock understood the people and the
instincts that moved them, and though Wilfred Compton might differ from
all in his motives and plans, he shared with all the same hardships,
the same spur to ambition.

It was now ten years since the discovery had been made that in the
western part of Indian Territory were fourteen million acres that had
never been assigned to the red man and which, therefore, were public
land, subject to homestead settlement. As long as the western
immigrants could choose among the rich prairie-lands of Iowa, Nebraska,
Minnesota, Dakota and Kansas - and the choice was open to all, following
the agreement of the plains tribes to retire to reservations, - it was
not strange that the unassigned lands of Indian Territory should have
escaped notice, surrounded as they were by the Cherokee Strip, the
Osage and Creek countries, the Chickasaw Nation, the Wichita, Cado,
Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

But other public lands were now scarce, or less inviting, and as far
back as 1879, when Lahoma was five years old, colonies had formed in
Kansas City, in Topeka and in Texas, to move upon the Oklahoma country.
The United States troops had dispersed the "boomers," but in the
following year the indefatigable Payne succeeded in leading a colony
into the very heart of the coveted land. It was in order to escape
arrest - for again the United States cavalry had descended on
settlers - that several wagons, among them that of Gledware's, had
driven hastily toward the Panhandle, to come to grief at the hands of
ruffians from No-Man's Land.

As Brick Willock told of Payne's other attempts to colonize the
Oklahoma country, of his arrests, of his attempts to bring his various
cases to the trial, she felt that Willock was, in a way, dealing with
her personal history, for had she not been named Lahoma in honor of
that country which her step-father had seen only to loose? Time and
again the colonists swarmed over the border, finding their way through
Indian villages and along desolate trails to the land that belonged to
the public, but was enjoyed only by the great cattlemen; as many times,
they were driven from their newly-claimed homes by federal troops, not
without severity, and their leaders were imprisoned.

But, at last, April the twenty-second, 1889, had been appointed as the
day on which the Oklahoma country was to be opened up to settlement,
and it was to meet this event that Wilfred Compton had left Greer
County. He was a unit in that immense throng that waited impatiently
for the hour of noon - a countless host, stretching along the north on
the boundary of the Cherokee Strip, on the south, at the edge of the
Cherokee Nation; on the east, along the Kickapoo and Pottawatomie
reservations; and on the west, blackening the extremity of the Cheyenne
and Arapaho countries. He was one of those who, at the discharge of
the carbines of the patrolling cavalrymen, joined in the deafening
shout raised by men of all conditions and from almost every state in
the Union - a shout as of triumph over the fulfillment of a ten-years'
dream. And, leaning forward on his pony, he was one of the army of
conquest that burst upon the desert, on foot, on horseback, and in
vehicles of every description, in the mad rush for homes in a land that
had never known the incense of the hearth or the civilizing touch of
the plow.

At noon, a wilderness, at night, a land of tents, and on the morrow, a
settled country of furrowed fields. "Pioneer work is awful quick,
nowadays!" grumbled Bill Atkins, as Brick concluded. "It wasn't so in
my time. Up there in the Oklahoma country, fifty years have been
squeezed into a week's time - it's like a magician making a seed grow
and sprout and blossom right before the audience. Lucky I came to
Greer County, Texas - I don't guess IT'LL ever be anything but sand and
a blow."

"It's a great story," Brick declared with enthusiasm. "I reckon it's
the greatest story that America can put out, in the pioneering line.
There they had everything in twenty-four hours that used to wear out
our ancestors: Injuns, unbroken land, no sign of life for hundreds of
miles - and just a turn of the hand and cities is a-coming up out of the
ground, and saloons and churches is rubbing shoulders, and there's talk
of getting out newspapers. What do you think of it, honey?"

Lahoma was sitting in grave silence, her hands clasped in her lap. She
turned slowly and looked at Willock. "Brick, I'm disappointed."

"Which?" asked Willock, somewhat taken aback. "Where?"

"In him - in Wilfred."

"As how so?"

"Going into that wilderness-life, instead of taking his place in the

"Well, honey if he hadn't come to THIS wilderness, you'd never of saw

"Yes - but he wasn't settled, and now he's settled in it. Is that the
way to be a man? There's all those other people to do the thing he's
doing. Then what's the use of him?"

"Ain't we in the same box?"

"Yes, and that's why I mean to get out of it, some day. But it's
different with him. He's chosen his box, and gone in, and shut the lid
on himself! I'm disappointed in him. I've been thinking him a real
man. I guess I'm still to see what I'm looking for," added Lahoma,
shaking her head.

"We'll let it go at that," muttered Bill who was anxious to turn
Lahoma's mind from thoughts of Wilfred. "We'll just go ahead and look
for new prospects."

"Not till I make a remark," said Willock, laying aside his pipe.
"Honey, do yon know what I mean by a vision? It calls for a big vision
to take in a big person, and you ain't got it. Maybe it wasn't meant
for women, or at least a girl of fifteen to see further than her own
foot-tracks, so no blame laid and nobody judged, according. If you
don't see nothing in that army of settlers going into a raw land and
falling to work to make it bloom like the rose, a-setting out to live
in solitude for years that in due time the world may be richer by a
great territory, why, you ain't got a big vision. I've got it, for I
was born in the West, and I've lived all my life, peaceable and calm,
right out here or hereabouts. You've got to breathe western air to get
the big vision. You've got to see towns rise out of the turf over
night and bust into cities before the harvest-fields is ripe, to know
what can be did when men is free, not hampered by set-and-bound rules
as holds 'em down to the ways of their fathers. Back East, folks is
straining themselves to make over, and improve, and polish up what they
found ready-to-hand - but here out West, we creates. It takes a big
vision to see the bigness of the West, and you can't get no true idee
by squinting at the subject."

Lahoma did not reply, and Bill feared that under the conviction of her
friend's eloquence, she had begun to idealize the efforts of Wilfred
Compton. He need not have been afraid. To her imagination, "big
people" were not living in dugouts, or tents, far from civilization;
"big people" were going to the opera every night, and riding in
splendid carriages along imposing boulevards every day. Brick and Bill
had contrived to live as well as they desired from profits on skins
obtained in the mountains and the small tract of ground they had
cultivated in a desultory manner had done little beyond supplying
themselves with vegetables and the horses with some extra feed. She
had no great opinion of agriculture; and though she had taken part in
planting and hoeing with a pleasurable zest, she had never entertained
herself with the thought that she was engaged in a great work. As to
dugouts, they had no place in her dreams of the future. Since Wilfred
had chosen to handicap himself with the same limitations that bound
her, even the thought of him was to be banished from her world,
banished absolutely.

Her day-dreams did not cease, but became more dreamy, more unreal,
since the hero of her fancies, for whom she now had no flesh-and-blood
prototype, was suggested only by her moods and her books. As the
sun-clear days of maidenhood melted imperceptibly into summer glow and
winter spaces, the memory of Wilfred's face and voice sometimes
surprised her at unexpected turns of solitary musings. But the face
grew less defined, the voice lost its distinctive tone, as the years
passed uninterruptedly by.

"I reckon it ain't right," said Brick Willock to Bill Atkins as they
went one morning to examine their traps before Lahoma was astir, "to
keep our little gal to ourselves as we're doing. You're getting old,
Bill, awful old - "

"Well, damn it," growled Bill, "I guess I don't have to be told!"

"You ain't very long for this world, Bill, not in the ordinary course
of nature. And when I've laid you to rest under the rock-pile, Lahoma
ain't going to find the variety in me that she now has in the two of
us. Besides which, I'm in the fifties myself, and them is halves of

"Yes," Bill growled, "and give Lahoma time, she'll die, too. Nothing
but the mountain'll be left to look out on the plains. Lord, Brick, who
do you reckon'll be living in that cove, when we three are dead and

"Guess I'll be worrying about something else, then."

"Do you reckon," pursued Bill, in an unwonted tone of mellowness, "that
those who come to live in our dugout will ever imagine what happy hours
we've passed there, just sitting around quiet and enjoying ourselves
and one another?"

"They wouldn't imagine YOU was enjoying of yourself, not if they was
feeding their eyes on you every day. But I'm awful bothered about
Lahoma. I tell you, it ain't right to keep her shut up as in a cage.
Can't you see she's pining for high society such as I ain't got it in
me to supply, and you are too cussed obstinate to display?"

"I guess that's so." Bill drew himself stiffly up by the tree
above - they were ascending the wooded gully that extended from base to

"Well, what's the hurry? She's only seventeen years old."

"Yes, she was only seventeen years old, two years ago; but she's
nineteen, now."

Bill Atkins sank upon a rock at the foot of a bristling cedar.
"Nineteen! Who, LAHOMA? Then where've I been all the time?"

"You've been a-traveling along at a pretty fast clip toward your last
days, that's where you've been. Just look at yourself! Ain't you
always careful in making your steps as if scared of breaking something?
And now, you're out of breath!"

"It was knocked out by the thought of her being so old - but I guess
you're right. Well, I wouldn't call her life caged-up. The settlers
have been moving in pretty steadily, and she has friends amongst all
the families where there's women-folks. She has her own pony, and is
gone more than suits me; and although there's no young man disposable,
we ain't fretting about that, nor her neither."

"I used to think she might be foolish about Wilfred Compton - but
Lahoma, she ain't foolish about nothing. Nevertheless, Bill, it ain't
right. Settlers is settlers, and what she yearns for is the big world.
I would long since of took her out to see it, but dassn't from a
liability to be catched up for divers deeds that was unlawfully charged
to me in times past. You could have guided her along the city trails,
but was too cussed obstinate."

"She's your cousin," retorted Bill, "and it wasn't for me to act her
guardian. Besides, did you want to lose her? You couldn't take Lahoma
where she'd be seen and known, and expect to get her back again. Maybe
it isn't exactly fair to keep her boarded up - but the times are
changing all that, and sorry am I to see it. Do you know, Brick, I
once thought you and me and Lahoma could just live here in the cove
till time was no more, reading our books, and smoking our pipes, and
taking peaceful morning trips like this - to see whether we'd caught a
coyote in our traps, or a bobcat, or a skunk."

"Yes, that's all right for us; but Lahoma ain't smoking no pipe, nor is
her interest in skunks such as ours."

"Just so - but see how Greer County is getting settled up - that's what's
going to save us, Brick - civilization is coming to Lahoma, she won't
have to go out gunning after it."

"Of course I've thought of that. I ain't got your grammar, but my mind
don't have to wait to let in an idea after it's put its clothes on.
Maybe they comes in nothing but a nightshirt, but I ain't ever knowed
YOU to think of nothing yet, that I hadn't entertained in some fashion.
Of course, civilization is a-creeping up to the mountain, and I reckon
by the time Lahoma is my age it'll be playing an organ in church. But
she's at the age that calls for quick work - she's got the rest of her
life to settle down in. Most all of a person's life is spent in
settling and it's befitting to lay in the foundation aforetime. Look
at that dear girl in The Children of the Abbey, all them love-passages
and the tears she sheds - she was being a young woman! What would that
noble book of been had that lovely creature been shut up in a cove till
nineteen year of age? Is Lahoma going to have a chance like that
amongst these settlers? Will she ever hear that high talk, that makes
your flesh sort of creep with pride in your race when you read it

"Do you want Lahoma to have a lover, Brick Willock?"

"Bill, if he is fit, I say she ought to have a chance."

"And where are you going to find the man?"

"I'm going to help Lahoma find him. I'm like you, Bill, I hates that
lover like a snake this minute, though I ain't no idea who, where, or
what he is, or may be. I hates him - but I ain't going to stand in
Lahoma's way. No, sir, I 'low to meet civilization half-way. There it
is - look!"

Willock stood erect and pointed toward the plain, where perhaps twenty
tents had been pitched within the last two weeks. Bill gave an
unwilling glance, shrugged his shoulders disdainfully, and resumed
progress up the difficult defile.

Willock continued: "Two weeks ago, there wasn't nothing there but
naked sand. Now there's three saloons, a hardware store, a grocery, a
bank - all of 'em under canvas - and the makings of a regular town. Right
out there in the broiling sun! Carloads of lumber and machinery is on
its way, and the stage-coach will be putting off mail there before
long. That's how civilization is a-seeking out our little gal. But I
means to meet it halfway."

"Oh, come on, don't say anything more about it - when I look at those
tents I can't breathe freely. What do you gamble on - a skunk, or a
coyote, in the traps?"

"'Tain't them tents that's seeping your breath, it's pure unalloyed
age. Yes, sir, I means to meet civilization half-way. I've already
been prospecting. There's a party over there in Tent City that's come
on from Chicago just from the lust of seeing pioneer-life at first
hand, people that haven't no idee of buying or settling - it's a picnic
to them. They're camping out, watching life develop - and what's
life-and-death earnestness to others is just amusement to them. That
there's a test of people high-up. Real folks in the big world don't do
nothing, it takes all their time just being folks. You and me could bag
a dozen polecats whilst a fine lady was making her finger-nails ready
for the day. And these Chicago people is that kind."

"Do you think they'll make friends with Lahoma just to suit you? The
kind of people you're talking about are more afraid of getting to know
strangers than they are of being set on by wildcats."

"They'll make friends with Lahoma, all right, and invite her home with
'em. That's the way I 'low to set her out in the big world. Lahoma
don't know my plans and neither do they, but I was never a man to make
my plans knowed when I was going to hold up people. Of course I'M
speaking in a figger, but in a figger I may say I've held up several,
in my day."

"THEY won't invite Lahoma to Chicago, not if they are the right sort."

"They will invite Lahoma to Chicago," retorted Willock firmly, "and
they are the right sort. Wait and see; and when you have saw, render

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Online LibraryJ. Breckenridge EllisLahoma → online text (page 8 of 17)