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due honor to your Uncle Brick."



CHAPTER XIII

A SURE-ENOUGH MAN

"Pardner, I sure am glad to see you - put 'er there again! How are you
feeling, anyhow? Look mighty tough and wiry, I do say; Here, Bill!"
Willock raised his voice to a powerful shout, "Bill! come and see
what's blowed in with the tumbleweed and tickle-grass. A sure-enough
man, that's what I call him, and me to fight if any dispute's made to
the title, according."

The tall bronzed man who was leading his horse along the road entering
the mountain horseshoe, smiled with a touch of gravity in the light of
his gray eyes. Willock found his chin more resolute, his glance more
assured and penetrating, while his step, firm and alert, told of
dauntless purpose. He was no longer the wandering cowboy content with
a bed on the ground wherever chance might find him at night, but a
mature man who had taken root in the soil of his own acres. Only
twenty-five or six, his features were still touched with the last
lingering mobility of youth; but the set of his mouth and the gleam of
his eyes hinted at years of battle against storms, droughts and
loneliness. He was already a veteran of the prairie, despite his youth.

"Everything looks very natural!" murmured Wilfred Compton, gazing about
on the seamed walls of granite in whose crevices the bright cedars
mocked at winter's threatening hand.

"Yes, mountains is lots more natural than humans. They just sets there
serene and indifferent not caring whether you likes their looks or not,
and they let 'er blow and let 'er snow, it's all one to them. I reckon
when we've been dead so long that nobody could raise a dispute as to
whether we'd ever lived or not, that there same boulder what they calls
Rocking Stone will still be a-making up its mind whether to roll down
into the valley or stay where it was born. Wilfred, if you knowed how
glad I am to see you again, you'd be sort of scared, I reckon, thinking
you'd fell amongst cannibals. Wonder where that aged trapper is?" He
shouted more lustily, and a bristling white head suddenly appeared on
the summit of Turtle Hill.

"Great Scott!" yelled Bill Atkins, glaring down upon the approaching
figure, "if it ain't Wilfred Compton again! Come on, come on, I was
never as glad to see anybody in all my life!"

The young man looked at Willock somewhat dubiously. "He's very much
altered, then, since I met him last. I'm afraid he has a gun hidden up
there among the rocks."

"Oh, nux, nux," retorted Willock. "He's a-speaking fair. Come along!"

As they ascended the winding road, Wilfred vividly recalled the day
when, from the same elevation, he had watched Lahoma buried in her
day-dreams. A sudden turn brought the cove into view. Lahoma was not
to be seen, but there was the cabin, the dugout and the three cedar
trees in whose shade he had made the discovery that he could not regard
Lahoma as a little girl. It seemed that the cabin door trembled - was
Lahoma's hand upon the latch? And when she opened the door, what
expression would flash upon that face he remembered so well? Would she
be as glad as Willock and Bill Atkins, when she recognized him? Even
one half as glad?

He sighed deeply - it was not to be expected. She had known him only an
hour; since then, many settlers had invaded the country about the
Granite Mountains, a city had sprung up, not far away - other towns were
peeping through the sand, and blooming from canvas to wood and brick.
The air tingled with the electric currents of new life and intense
competition.

"Did Lahoma marry?" he asked abruptly as all three descended to the
lower level of the cove.

"She never did, yet," replied Bill dryly. "Young man, I'm powerful
glad to see you. It's rather chilly out here. I'll take your horse
and we'll gather in the dugout and talk over what's happened since we
last met. Brick, don't you begin on anything interesting till I come."

"You give me that horse," retorted Brick. "You're too aged a man to be
messing with horses. You'll get a fall one of these days that'll lay
you flat. You'll never knit them bones together, if you do; you ain't
vital enough."

Bill clung grimly to the bridle, muttering something that showed no
lack of vitality in his vocabulary.

"He won't let me take no care of him," complained Brick, as he
conducted Wilfred to the dugout.

Wilfred cast a longing glance toward the cabin, and again he thought
Lahoma's parlor door quivered. He even stopped in the path; but
Willock went on, unconscious, and he was obliged to follow.

"It's a strange thing," remarked Brick, as he descended the hard dirt
steps, "how Lahoma has acted on me. I mean, living with her these past
twelve years, and all the rest of the world shut out, except Bill.
Could I of been told before I saved little Lahoma from the highwaymen
that I'd ever worry over an old coon like Bill Atkins, as to whether he
broke his neck or not, I'd 'a' laughed, for I'd 'a' had to. But it
sure does gall me to have him exposing himself as he does. I never
wanted Bill to come here, but he just come, like a stray cat. First
thing I knowed, he was a-purring at the fireside - well, not exactly
a-purring, nuther, but sort of mewing, and looking ready to scratch.
He just took up with us and now it's like always being scared to close
a door for fear of catching his tail in the jamb - I'm talking in a
figger. Come in, pard - this used to be Lahoma's boudoir before we
built that cabin for her. See the carpet? Don't tell ME you're
a-walking on it, and not noticing! See that little stove? I brung it
clear across the mountains from a deserted wagon, when I was young.
Two legs is gone and it's squat-bellied, and smokes if the wind gives
it a chance; but I wouldn't trade it for a new one. Set on this bench.
I recollect as well as if it 'us yesterday, Lahoma a-setting there with
her legs untouching of the floor, learning 'A' and 'B' and asking
thousands of questions and getting herself civilized. I couldn't do a
finished job, but Bill took her by the hand later, then a Mrs.
Featherby, what moved over in the west mountain, added stores from New
England and travels in Europe. When the settlers come, she gleaned all
they knowed, always a-rising and a-looking out for new country. That's
a wonderful girl!" he added with conviction.

When Bill came, they sat about the stove, the light from the famous
window bringing out with clear distinctness Brick's huge form and
bristling beard, Bill's thin figure surmounted by its shock of white
hair, and Wilfred's handsome grave face and splendidly developed
physique. It was so warm below the ground that the fire in the stove
was maintained at the lowest state possible; but when the western light
quickly vanished from the window, the glowing coals gave homely cheer
to the crude room.

In answer to their questioner, Wilfred told of his experiences on his
quarter-section: how he had broken the prairie land, put in his crops,
watched them wither away in the terrible dry months, roughed it through
the winters, tried again, fought through another drought, staked all on
the next spring's planting, raised a half-crop, paid off his chattel
mortgage, tried again, - succeeded.

"I've stayed right with it," he said gravely, looking from one to the
other as they smoked in silence, their eyes on his animated face. "Of
course, they required me to stay on the land only during certain
months, every year. But I stayed with it all the time; and I studied
it; and when I failed, as I did year after year, I failed each time in
a different way, because I learned my lesson. And when I'd walled off
the cause of each failure, one by one, seemed like there opened before
me a broad clear way that led right into the goal I'd been seeking from
the first day. Then I closed out all my deals, and looked and saw that
everything was trim and ready for winter - and got my horse and started
for Greer County."

"And glad we are!" cried Bill Atkins. "I hope you can stay a long
time."

"That depends ... Lahoma is well, I suppose?"

"The picture of health - when she left," Brick declared admiringly, "and
the prettiest little gal this side of the angels. When the early
sunlight peeps over the mountain and laughs at the cove that's sulking
from thinking it's about to be left out in the day's doings - that's
like Lahoma's smile. And when you get down sick as I done once from
causes incidental to being made of flesh and blood, and she come and
laid her hand on my burning forehead, her touch always made me think of
an angel's wing, somehow, although I ain't never set up to be
religious, and I think of such things as little as may be - except when
Bill draws me to the subject from seeing him so puny, at times."

"Lahoma's not here?" Wilfred asked anxiously.

"Not now, nor for some time," answered Brick.

"I wish," interposed Bill glumly, "that when you're going to talk about
me, Brick, you'd begin with Bill and not be dragging me in at the
tail-end of what concerns other people. I reckon, Wilfred, you just
traveled here to take a look at the country where you used to herd
cattle?"

"That wasn't my reason. Principally, I wanted to see Lahoma; and
incidentally, my brother."

"Your brother? HE ain't in these parts, is he?"

"No," ruefully, "but I expected him to be. When I left home to turn
cow-puncher, I didn't tell anybody where I'd gone; but just before I
left for Oklahoma to turn farmer, I wrote to my brother. And about a
month ago, seeing things clearing up before me, I asked him to meet me
here at Tent City - he's interested in new towns; he's employed by a
rich man to plant hardware-stores, and I thought he might find an
opening here. He came on, and was here several weeks with a party of
sightseers from Chicago; but he left with them about a week ago."

Willock sat suddenly erect. "Couldn't have been that Sellimer crowd, I
reckon, from Chicago?"

"Yes - Mrs. Sellimer and her daughter, and some of their friends."

Willock whistled loudly. "And that up-and-down looking chap in the
gold nose-glasses was your brother?"

"Never thought of that," Bill exclaimed, "although he had your name - he
looked so different! But now that you've laid aside your cowboy
rigging, I guess you could sit in his class, down at the bottom of it."

Willock was uneasy. "I was told," he observed, "and I took the trouble
to get datty on the subject, that them Sellimers - the mother and
daughter, and the herd they drift with - is of the highest pedigree
Chicago can produce. It sort of jolts me to find out that anybody we
know is kin to the bunch!"

Wilfred laughed without bitterness. "Don't let my kinship to brother
Edgerton disturb your ideal. We're so different that we parted without
saying good-by, and although I had the weakness to imagine we might
patch up old differences if we could meet here in the desert, I suppose
we'd have fallen out in a day or two - we're so unlike. And as to Miss
Sellimer - Annabel Sellimer - she is the girl whose letters I was
carrying about with me when I first saw you. She refused me because I
was as poor as herself; so you see, the whole bunch is out of my class."

"That's good," Willock's face cleared up. "Mind you, I ain't saying
that as for me and Bill, we'd wouldn't rather sit with you in a dugout
than with them in a palace on Lake Michigan. But it's all a matter of
getting Lahoma out into the big world, and you gave me a terrible jolt,
scaring me that after all we'd made a mistake, and they was just of
your plain every-day cloth."

Wilfred moved uneasily. "Has Lahoma made their acquaintance, then?"

"It looks like it, don't it?"

"What looks like it?" Wilfred asked with sudden sharpness.

"Why, her going off, with 'em to spend the winter in high life."

"That's why I was so glad to see you," Bill explained, "her being gone,
and us so lonesome. That's why I'd like to have you stay with us a
long time - until she comes back, if it suits you."

"But I thought.... But I came here to see Lahoma," cried Wilfred,
unable to conceal his disappointment. "I thought as I came up the road
that I saw her half-opening the cabin-door."

"That was Red Feather taking a peep at you. He's the Indian that
brought Lahoma to Willock, as a child. He comes, about once a year, to
see us, but this time he was a little too late for Lahoma. Yes, she's
gone East - they're all putting up in Kansas City just now; on their way
to Chicago."

"Son," said Willock, puffing steadily at his pipe, "why did you want to
see Lahoma?"

"Well - you know she was just a child when I was here before, but she's
hovered before my mind a good deal - I've been too busy to seek the
acquaintance of strangers - just want to keep the few I know." He blew a
rueful breath. "You can't think how all my air-castles have fallen
about my ears! I wanted to see Lahoma! Yes, I wanted to see how she'd
turned out. I have a good farm, now, not very far from Oklahoma City
and - Well, being alone there, year after year, a fellow gets to
imagining a great many things - " He stopped abruptly.

"That's so," Willock agreed sympathetically. "I ain't a-saying that if
Lahoma'd been like me and Bill, she mightn't of liked farming with you
first-class. But she was born as an associate of high men and women,
not cows and chickens. It's the big world for her, and that's where
she's gone. She's with real folks. Be Mr. Edgerton Compton your
brother, or be he not, you can't imagine him setting down with us
sociable in this dugout. You're right about his being different. And
the fact that Miss Sellimer turned you down is encouraging, too. It
shows you couldn't run in her course; you didn't have the speed. I
guess we ain't made no mistake after ail."

There was silence, broken presently, by Bill - "I'm glad you've come,
sure!"

Presently the door opened, and the Indian chief glided into the
apartment with a grunt of salutation. He spread his blanket in a
corner, and sat down, turning a stolid face to the fire.

"Don't pay no attention to him," remarked Willock, as if speaking of
some wild animal. "He comes and goes, and isn't troublesome if you
feeds and sleeps him, and don't try to lay your hand on him."

Bill Atkins rose. "But _I_ always light up when he comes," he
remarked, reaching stiffly for a lantern which in due time glimmered
from the partition wall. "Are you hungry, Wilfred? We never feed till
late; it gives us something to sleep on. I lie awake pretty constantly
all night, anyhow, and when I eat late, my stomach sorter keeps me
company."

Wilfred declared that he was not in the least hungry.

"I'm afraid you're disappointed, son," observed Willock, filling his
pipe anew.

Wilfred turned to him with a frank smile. "Brick - it's just awful!
It's what comes from depending on something you've no right to consider
a sure thing. I never thought of this cove without Lahoma in it;
didn't seem like it could be so empty.... How did she get acquainted
with Annabel? - and with my brother?"

"It come about, son. I see at once that the bunch of 'em was from the
big world. I come home and told Bill, 'Them's the people to tow Lahoma
out into life,' says I. So they invited her to spend the winter with
them, the Sellimers did, and show her city doings."

"Yes - but how did it come about?"

"Nothing more natural. I goes over to their tent and I tells them of
the curiosities and good points of these mountains, and gets 'em to
come on a sort of picnic to explore. So here they comes, and they gets
scattered, what with Bill and Lahoma and me taking different ways - they
liked Lahoma first time they see her, as a matter of course. And so,
that Miss Sellimer, she gets separated from all the rest, and I shows
her a dandy hiding-place where nobody couldn't find her, and I shows
her what a good joke it would be to pretend to be lost. So I leaves
her there to go to tell her crowd she dares 'em to find her. Are you
listening?"

"Of course."

"Well, while she was setting there waiting to be searched for, of a
sudden a great big Injun in a blanket and feathers and red paint jumps
down beside her and grabs her and picks her up, and about as quick as
she knew anything, she was gagged and bound and being bore along
through the air. I reckon it was a terrible moment for her. Now there
is a crevice in the top of the mountain that nobody don't never
explore, because it's just a crack in the rock that ain't to be climbed
out of without a ladder. So the Injun carries her there, and lets her
down with a rope that it seems he must of had handy somewheres, and he
puts out; and there she is, in a holler in the mountain, not able to
move or cry out no more than if she'd been captured by a regular
highwayman."

Wilfred stared at Willock in complete bewilderment. Willock chuckled.

"There was a terrible time!" remarked Bill.

"Dark was a-coming on before the party got plumb scared," Willock
continued, "but they brushed and combed that mountain looking for the
poor lost lady, and as I tells 'em she's a-hiding a-purpose, they think
it a pore sort of joke till midnight catches 'em mighty serious.
Torches is carried here and there and everywhere, but no use. You
would think that the next day the crowd would naturally look down in
that crevice, but that's because I've posted you up on where she is.
There's lots of other crevices, and no reason as they can see why Miss
Sellimer should take the trouble to worm herself down into any of
'em - and as nobody saw that Injun, how could they suspicion foul play?
It must of been AWFUL for pore Miss Sellimer, all bound and gagged in
that horrible way, but it takes heroic treatment to get some cures - and
so Lahoma went with 'em to spend the winter."

"But the Indian - ?"

"Needn't think about HIM no more, son, we got no more use for THAT
Injun. Well, on the next day, Lahoma is looking everywhere, being
urged on by me, and lo, and behold! when she comes to that
crevice - looked like she couldn't be induced to go there of her own
will, but it was brung about finally - what does she see but a tomahawk
lying right at the edge what must have been dropped there recent, or
the crowd would have saw it the day before. It come to her that Miss
Sellimer is a prisoner down below. She looks, but it's too dark to see
nothing. Not telling nobody for fear of starting up false hopes, she
gets a light and lowers it - and there is that miserable young woman,
bound and gagged and her pretty dress all tore. Lahoma jumps to her
feet to raise the cry, when she discovers a ladder under a boulder
which the Injun must have put there meaning to descend to his victim
when the coast was clear. Down she skins, and frees Miss Sellimer,
who's half dead, poor young lady! Lahoma comes up the ladder and meets
me and I carries her out just like a feather - Well, can't you imagine
the rest? I reckon if Miss Sellimer lives a thousand years she'll
never forget the awfulness of that big Injun and the angel sweetness of
the little gal that saved her. Why, if Lahoma had asked for the rings
off her fingers, she could have had 'em, diamonds and all."

Wilfred rose and went to stare at the darkness from the small square
window. Not a word was spoken for some time. At last the silence was
broken by the Indian - "UGH!" grunted Red Feather.

"Just so!" remarked Wilfred, with exceeding dryness.

"What are you thinking, Wilfred?" demanded Brick Willock.

"I'd have thought Lahoma would recognize the ladder."

"So she done; but couldn't the Injun have stole my ladder and carried
it to that boulder? Just as soon as Miss Sellimer was well enough to
travel, NOTHING couldn't hold her in these parts, and that's why your
brother had to leave before seeing you - he's setting to Miss Sellimer,
and if Lahoma don't git him away from her, I reckon he's a goner!"

Bill Atkins spoke vaguely. "It wasn't none of my doings."

Wilfred looked steadily at Willock. "What about your whiskers?"

"Oh, as to them, it was like old times; you takes a cloth and cuts it
out - painted red - Psha! What are we talking of? Bill, let's show him
her letter - what do you say?"

"I reckon it wouldn't hurt," Bill conceded.

"How'd you like it, Wilfred? We can't produce our little gal to keep
you company, but her letter would sort of be like hearing her talk,
wouldn't it? And if you stay with us a spell, we'll let you read 'em
as they come."

Wilfred perceived that Willock was anxious to get his mind off the
harrowing adventure of the crevice, and as he was eager to hear the
letter, and as Brick and Bill were anxious to hear it again, nothing
more was said about the "big Injun."

"Who'll read it?" asked Bill, as he drew the precious letter from the
strong box behind the stove.

"Let Wilfred do the deed," Willock suggested. "It travels slow in my
company, and though Bill reads 'er correct, he does considerable
droning. I expect if Wilfred reads it with unction, it'll sound like a
new document."

Wilfred drew the only stool in the room up beside the lantern, and Bill
and Brick disposed themselves on the bench, each holding his pipe on
his knee as if fearful of losing a word. Red Feather, his beady eyes
fastened on the young man's face, sat gracefully erect, apparently
alert to all that was going on. The lantern reddened the strong
clean-cut face of the young man, and touched the upturned pages to the
whiteness of snow. A sudden wind had sprung up, and the flaring blaze
from the open stove-door touched to vivid distinctness the giant, the
old man and the Indian. Brick closed the stove-door, and the sudden
gloom brought out in mellow effect Wilfred's animated face, the dull
yellow wall against which his sturdy shoulder rested, and the letter in
his hand.



CHAPTER XIV

WRITING HOME

"Dear Brick and Bill:

"I don't know what to tell first. It's all so strange and grand - the
people are just people, but the things are wonderful. The people want
it to be so; they act, and think according to the things around them.
They pride themselves on these things and on being amongst them, and I
am trying to learn to do that, too. When I lived in the cove - it seems
a long, long time ago - my thoughts were always away from dirt-floors
and cook-stoves and cedar logs and wash-pans. But the people in the
big world keep their minds tied right up to such things - only the
things are finer - they are marble floors and magnificent restaurants
and houses on what they call the 'best streets.' At meals, there are
all kinds of little spoons and forks, and they think to use a wrong one
is something dreadful; that is why I say the forks and spoons seem more
important than THEY are, but they want it to be so.

"They have certain ways of doing everything, and just certain times for
doing them, and if you do a wrong thing at a right time, or a right
thing at a wrong time, it shows you are from the West. At first, I
couldn't say a word, or turn around, without showing that I was from
the West. But although I've been from home only a few days, I'm
getting so that nobody can tell that I'm more important than the
furniture around me. I'm trying to be just like the one I'm with, and
I don't believe an outsider can tell that I have any more sense than
the rest of them.

"Miss Sellimer is so nice to me. I told her right at the start that I
didn't know anything about the big world, and she teaches me
everything. I'd be more comfortable if she could forget about my
saving her life, but she never can, and is so grateful it makes me feel
that I'm enjoying all this on false pretenses for you know my finding
her was only an accident. Her mother is very pleasant to me - much more
so than to her. Bill, you know how you speak to your horse, sometimes,
when it acts contrary? That's the way Miss Sellimer speaks to her
mother, at times. However, they don't seem very well acquainted with
each other. Of course if they'd lived together in a cove for years,
they'd have learned to tell each other their thoughts and plans, but
out in the big world there isn't time for anything except to dress and
go.

"I'm learning to dress. I used to think a girl could do that to please
herself, but no, the dresses are a thousand times more important than
the people inside them. It wouldn't matter how wise you are if your
dress is wrong, nor would it matter how foolish, if your dress is like
everybody else's. A person could be independent and do as she pleased,
but she wouldn't be in society. And nobody would believe she was
independent, they would just think she didn't know any better, or was


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Online LibraryJ. Breckenridge EllisLahoma → online text (page 9 of 17)