HotFreeBooks.com
The Covered Wagon
by Emerson Hough
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE

COVERED WAGON

BY

EMERSON HOUGH

AUTHOR OF

HEART'S DESIRE, ETC.

ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTOPLAY

A PARAMOUNT PICTURE

NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS

Made in the United States of America

1922



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I.—YOUTH MARCHES

II.—THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

III.—THE RENDEZVOUS

IV.—FEVER OF NEW FORTUNES

V.—THE BLACK SPANIARD

VI.—ISSUE JOINED

VII.—THE JUMP-OFF

VIII.—MAN AGAINST MAN

IX.—THE BRUTE

X.—OLE MISSOURY

XI.—WHEN ALL THE WORLD WAS YOUNG

XII.—THE DEAD MEN'S TALE

XIII.—WILD FIRE

XIV.—THE KISS

XV.—THE DIVISION

XVI.—THE PLAINS

XVII.—THE GREAT ENCAMPMENT

XVIII.—ARROW AND PLOW

XIX.—BANION OF DONIPHAN'S

XX.—THE BUFFALO

XXI.—THE QUICKSANDS

XXII.—A SECRET OF TWO

XXIII.—AN ARMISTICE

XXIV.—THE ROAD WEST

XXV.—OLD LARAMIE

XXVI.—THE FIRST GOLD

XXVII.—TWO WHO LOVED

XXVIII.—WHEN A MAID MARRIES

XXIX.—THE BROKEN WEDDING

XXX.—THE DANCE IN THE DESERT

XXXI.—HOW, COLA!

XXXII.—THE FIGHT AT THE FORD

XXXIII.—THE FAMILIES ARE COMING

XXXIV.—A MATTER OF FRIENDSHIP

XXXV.—GEE—WHOA—HAW!

XXXVI.—TWO LOVE LETTERS

XXXVII.—JIM BRIDGER FORGETS

XXXVIII.—WHEN THE ROCKIES FELL

XXXIX.—THE CROSSING

XL.—OREGON! OREGON!

XLI.—THE SECRETS OF THE SIERRAS

XLII.—KIT CARSON RIDES

XLIII.—THE KILLER KILLED

XLIV.—YET IF LOVE LACK

XLV.—THE LIGHT OF THE WHOLE WORLD



The

COVERED WAGON



CHAPTER I

YOUTH MARCHES

"Look at 'em come, Jesse! More and more! Must be forty or fifty families."

Molly Wingate, middle-aged, portly, dark browed and strong, stood at the door of the rude tent which for the time made her home. She was pointing down the road which lay like an ecru ribbon thrown down across the prairie grass, bordered beyond by the timber-grown bluffs of the Missouri.

Jesse Wingate allowed his team of harness-marked horses to continue their eager drinking at the watering hole of the little stream near which the camp was pitched until, their thirst quenched, they began burying their muzzles and blowing into the water in sensuous enjoyment. He stood, a strong and tall man of perhaps forty-five years, of keen blue eye and short, close-matted, tawny beard. His garb was the loose dress of the outlying settler of the Western lands three-quarters of a century ago. A farmer he must have been back home.

Could this encampment, on the very front of the American civilization, now be called a home? Beyond the prairie road could be seen a double furrow of jet-black glistening sod, framing the green grass and its spangling flowers, first browsing of the plow on virgin soil. It might have been the opening of a farm. But if so, why the crude bivouac? Why the gear of travelers? Why the massed arklike wagons, the scores of morning fires lifting lazy blue wreaths of smoke against the morning mists?

The truth was that Jesse Wingate, earlier and impatient on the front, out of the very suppression of energy, had been trying his plow in the first white furrows beyond the Missouri in the great year of 1848. Four hundred other near-by plows alike were avid for the soil of Oregon; as witness this long line of newcomers, late at the frontier rendezvous.

"It's the Liberty wagons from down river," said the campmaster at length. "Missouri movers and settlers from lower Illinois. It's time. We can't lie here much longer waiting for Missouri or Illinois, either. The grass is up."

"Well, we'd have to wait for Molly to end her spring term, teaching in Clay School, in Liberty," rejoined his wife, "else why'd we send her there to graduate? Twelve dollars a month, cash money, ain't to be sneezed at."

"No; nor is two thousand miles of trail between here and Oregon, before snow, to be sneezed at, either. If Molly ain't with those wagons I'll send Jed over for her to-day. If I'm going to be captain I can't hold the people here on the river any longer, with May already begun."

"She'll be here to-day," asserted his wife. "She said she would. Besides, I think that's her riding a little one side the road now. Not that I know who all is with her. One young man—two. Well"—with maternal pride—"Molly ain't never lacked for beaus!

"But look at the wagons come!" she added. "All the country's going West this spring, it certainly seems like."

It was the spring gathering of the west-bound wagon-trains, stretching from old Independence to Westport Landing, the spot where that very year the new name of Kansas City was heard among the emigrants as the place of the jump-off. It was now an hour by sun, as these Western people would have said, and the low-lying valley mists had not yet fully risen, so that the atmosphere for a great picture did not lack.

It was a great picture, a stirring panorama of an earlier day, which now unfolded. Slow, swaying, stately, the ox teams came on, as though impelled by and not compelling the fleet of white canvas sails. The teams did not hasten, did not abate their speed, but moved in an unagitated advance that gave the massed column something irresistibly epochal in look.

The train, foreshortened to the watchers at the rendezvous, had a well-spaced formation—twenty wagons, thirty, forty, forty-seven—as Jesse Wingate mentally counted them. There were outriders; there were clumps of driven cattle. Along the flanks walked tall men, who flung over the low-headed cattle an admonitory lash whose keen report presently could be heard, still faint and far off. A dull dust cloud arose, softening the outlines of the prairie ships. The broad gestures of arm and trunk, the monotonous soothing of commands to the sophisticated kine as yet remained vague, so that still it was properly a picture done on a vast canvas—that of the frontier in '48; a picture of might, of inevitableness. Even the sober souls of these waiters rose to it, felt some thrill they themselves had never analyzed.

A boy of twenty, tall, blond, tousled, rode up from the grove back of the encampment of the Wingate family.

"You, Jed?" said his father. "Ride on out and see if Molly's there."

"Sure she is!" commented the youth, finding a plug in the pocket of his jeans. "That's her. Two fellers, like usual."

"Sam Woodhull, of course," said the mother, still hand over eye. "He hung around all winter, telling how him and Colonel Doniphan whipped all Mexico and won the war. If Molly ain't in a wagon of her own, it ain't his fault, anyways! I'll rest assured it's account of Molly's going out to Oregon that he's going too! Well!" And again, "Well!"

"Who's the other fellow, though?" demanded Jed. "I can't place him this far."

Jesse Wingate handed over his team to his son and stepped out into the open road, moved his hat in an impatient signal, half of welcome, half of command. It apparently was observed.

To their surprise, it was the unidentified rider who now set spur to his horse and came on at a gallop ahead of the train. He rode carelessly well, a born horseman. In no more than a few minutes he could be seen as rather a gallant figure of the border cavalier—a border just then more martial than it had been before '46 and the days of "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight."

A shrewed man might have guessed this young man—he was no more than twenty-eight—to have got some military air on a border opposite to that of Oregon; the far Southwest, where Taylor and Scott and the less known Doniphan and many another fighting man had been adding certain thousands of leagues to the soil of this republic. He rode a compact, short-coupled, cat-hammed steed, coal black and with a dashing forelock reaching almost to his red nostrils—a horse never reared on the fat Missouri corn lands. Neither did this heavy embossed saddle with its silver concho decorations then seem familiar so far north; nor yet the thin braided-leather bridle with its hair frontlet band and its mighty bit; nor again the great spurs with jingling rowel bells. This rider's mount and trappings spoke the far and new Southwest, just then coming into our national ken.

The young man himself, however, was upon the face of his appearance nothing of the swashbuckler. True, in his close-cut leather trousers, his neat boots, his tidy gloves, his rather jaunty broad black hat of felted beaver, he made a somewhat raffish figure of a man as he rode up, weight on his under thigh, sidewise, and hand on his horse's quarters, carelessly; but his clean cut, unsmiling features, his direct and grave look out of dark eyes, spoke him a gentleman of his day and place, and no mere spectacular pretender assuming a virtue though he had it not.

He swung easily out of saddle, his right hand on the tall, broad Spanish horn as easily as though rising from a chair at presence of a lady, and removed his beaver to this frontier woman before he accosted her husband. His bridle he flung down over his horse's head, which seemingly anchored the animal, spite of its loud whinnying challenge to these near-by stolid creatures which showed harness rubs and not whitened saddle hairs.

"Good morning, madam," said he in a pleasant, quiet voice. "Good morning, sir. You are Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Wingate, I believe. Your daughter yonder told me so."

"That's my name," said Jesse Wingate, eyeing the newcomer suspiciously, but advancing with ungloved hand. "You're from the Liberty train?"

"Yes, sir. My name is Banion—William Banion. You may not know me. My family were Kentuckians before my father came out to Franklin. I started up in the law at old Liberty town yonder not so long ago, but I've been away a great deal."

"The law, eh?" Jesse Wingate again looked disapproval of the young man's rather pronouncedly neat turnout. "Then you're not going West?"

"Oh, yes, I am, if you please, sir. I've done little else all my life. Two years ago I marched with all the others, with Doniphan, for Mexico. Well, the war's over, and the treaty's likely signed. I thought it high time to march back home. But you know how it is—the long trail's in my blood now. I can't settle down."

Wingate nodded. The young man smilingly went on:

"I want to see how it is in Oregon. What with new titles and the like—and a lot of fighting men cast in together out yonder, too—there ought to be as much law out there as here, don't you think? So I'm going to seek my fortune in the Far West. It's too close and tame in here now. I'm"—he smiled just a bit more obviously and deprecatingly—"I'm leading yonder caballad of our neighbors, with a bunch of Illinois and Indiana wagons. They call me Col. William Banion. It is not right—I was no more than Will Banion, major under Doniphan. I am not that now."

A change, a shadow came over his face. He shook it off as though it were tangible.

"So I'm at your service, sir. They tell me you've been elected captain of the Oregon train. I wanted to throw in with you if I might, sir. I know we're late—we should have been in last night. I rode in to explain that. May we pull in just beside you, on this water?"

Molly Wingate, on whom the distinguished address of the stranger, his easy manner and his courtesy had not failed to leave their impression, answered before her husband.

"You certainly can, Major Banion."

"Mister Banion, please."

"Well then, Mister Banion. The water and grass is free. The day's young. Drive in and light down. You said you saw our daughter, Molly—I know you did, for that's her now."

The young man colored under his bronze of tan, suddenly shy.

"I did," said he. "The fact is, I met her earlier this spring at Clay Seminary, where she taught. She told me you-all were moving West this spring—said this was her last day. She asked if she might ride out with our wagons to the rendezvous. Well—"

"That's a fine horse you got there," interrupted young Jed Wingate. "Spanish?"

"Yes, sir."

"Wild?"

"Oh, no, not now; only of rather good spirit. Ride him if you like. Gallop back, if you'd like to try him, and tell my people to come on and park in here. I'd like a word or so with Mr. Wingate."

With a certain difficulty, yet insistent, Jed swung into the deep saddle, sitting the restive, rearing horse well enough withal, and soon was off at a fast pace down the trail. They saw him pull up at the head of the caravan and motion, wide armed, to the riders, the train not halting at all.

He joined the two equestrian figures on ahead, the girl and the young man whom his mother had named as Sam Woodhull. They could see him shaking hands, then doing a curvet or so to show off his newly borrowed mount.

"He takes well to riding, your son," said the newcomer approvingly.

"He's been crazy to get West," assented the father. "Wants to get among the buffalo."

"We all do," said Will Banion. "None left in Kentucky this generation back; none now in Missouri. The Plains!" His eye gleamed.

"That's Sam Woodhull along," resumed Molly Wingate. "He was with Doniphan."

"Yes."

Banion spoke so shortly that the good dame, owner of a sought-for daughter, looked at him keenly.

"He lived at Liberty, too. I've known Molly to write of him."

"Yes?" suddenly and with vigor. "She knows him then?"

"Why, yes."

"So do I," said Banion simply. "He was in our regiment—captain and adjutant, paymaster and quartermaster-chief, too, sometimes. The Army Regulations never meant much with Doniphan's column. We did as we liked—and did the best we could, even with paymasters and quartermasters!"

He colored suddenly, and checked, sensitive to a possible charge of jealousy before this keen-eyed mother of a girl whose beauty had been the talk of the settlement now for more than a year.

The rumors of the charm of Molly Wingate—Little Molly, as her father always called her to distinguish her from her mother—now soon were to have actual and undeniable verification to the eye of any skeptic who mayhap had doubted mere rumors of a woman's beauty. The three advance figures—the girl, Woodhull, her brother Jed—broke away and raced over the remaining few hundred yards, coming up abreast, laughing in the glee of youth exhilarated by the feel of good horseflesh under knee and the breath of a vital morning air.

As they flung off Will Banion scarce gave a look to his own excited steed. He was first with a hand to Molly Wingate as she sprang lightly down, anticipating her other cavalier, Woodhull, who frowned, none too well pleased, as he dismounted.

Molly Wingate ran up and caught her mother in her strong young arms, kissing her roundly, her eyes shining, her cheeks flushed in the excitement of the hour, the additional excitement of the presence of these young men. She must kiss someone.

Yes, the rumors were true, and more than true. The young school-teacher could well carry her title as the belle of old Liberty town here on the far frontier. A lovely lass of eighteen years or so, she was, blue of eye and of abundant red-brown hair of that tint which ever has turned the eyes and heads of men. Her mouth, smiling to show white, even teeth, was wide enough for comfort in a kiss, and turned up strongly at the corners, so that her face seemed always sunny and carefree, were it not for the recurrent grave, almost somber look of the wide-set eyes in moments of repose.

Above the middle height of woman's stature, she had none of the lank irregularity of the typical frontier woman of the early ague lands; but was round and well developed. Above the open collar of her brown riding costume stood the flawless column of a fair and tall white throat. New ripened into womanhood, wholly fit for love, gay of youth and its racing veins, what wonder Molly Wingate could have chosen not from two but twenty suitors of the best in all that countryside? Her conquests had been many since the time when, as a young girl, and fulfilling her parents' desire to educate their daughter, she had come all the way from the Sangamon country of Illinois to the best school then existent so far west—Clay Seminary, of quaint old Liberty.

The touch of dignity gained of the ancient traditions of the South, never lost in two generations west of the Appalachians, remained about the young girl now, so that she rather might have classed above her parents. They, moving from Kentucky into Indiana, from Indiana into Illinois, and now on to Oregon, never in all their toiling days had forgotten their reverence for the gentlemen and ladies who once were their ancestors east of the Blue Ridge. They valued education—felt that it belonged to them, at least through their children.

Education, betterment, progress, advance—those things perhaps lay in the vague ambitions of twice two hundred men who now lay in camp at the border of our unknown empire. They were all Americans—second, third, fourth generation Americans. Wild, uncouth, rude, unlettered, many or most of them, none the less there stood among them now and again some tall flower of that culture for which they ever hungered; for which they fought; for which they now adventured yet again.

Surely American also were these two young men whose eyes now unconsciously followed Molly Wingate in hot craving even of a morning thus far breakfastless, for the young leader had ordered his wagons on to the rendezvous before crack of day. Of the two, young Woodhull, planter and man of means, mentioned by Molly's mother as open suitor, himself at first sight had not seemed so ill a figure, either. Tall, sinewy, well clad for the place and day, even more foppish than Banion in boot and glove, he would have passed well among the damsels of any courthouse day. The saddle and bridle of his mount also were a trace to the elegant, and the horse itself, a classy chestnut that showed Blue Grass blood, even then had cost a pretty penny somewhere, that was sure.

Sam Woodhull, now moving with a half dozen wagons of his own out to Oregon, was reputed well to do; reputed also to be well skilled at cards, at weapons and at women. Townsmen accorded him first place with Molly Wingate, the beauty from east of the river, until Will Banion came back from the wars. Since then had been another manner of war, that as ancient as male and female.

That Banion had known Woodhull in the field in Mexico he already had let slip. What had been the cause of his sudden pulling up of his starting tongue? Would he have spoken too much of that acquaintance? Perhaps a closer look at the loose lips, the high cheeks, the narrow, close-set eyes of young Woodhull, his rather assertive air, his slight, indefinable swagger, his slouch in standing, might have confirmed some skeptic disposed to analysis who would have guessed him less than strong of soul and character. For the most part, such skeptics lacked.

By this time the last belated unit of the Oregon caravan was at hand. The feature of the dusty drivers could be seen. Unlike Wingate, the newly chosen master of the train, who had horses and mules about him, the young leader, Banion, captained only ox teams. They came now, slow footed, steady, low headed, irresistible, indomitable, the same locomotive power that carried the hordes of Asia into Eastern Europe long ago. And as in the days of that invasion the conquerors carried their households, their flocks and herds with them, so now did these half-savage Saxon folk have with them their all.

Lean boys, brown, barefooted girls flanked the trail with driven stock. Chickens clucked in coops at wagon side. Uncounted children thrust out tousled heads from the openings of the canvas covers. Dogs beneath, jostling the tar buckets, barked in hostile salutation. Women in slatted sunbonnets turned impassive gaze from the high front seats, back of which, swung to the bows by leather loops, hung the inevitable family rifle in each wagon. And now, at the tail gate of every wagon, lashed fast for its last long journey, hung also the family plow.

It was '48, and the grass was up. On to Oregon! The ark of our covenant with progress was passing out. Almost it might have been said to have held every living thing, like that other ark of old.

Banion hastened to one side, where a grassy level beyond the little stream still offered stance. He raised a hand in gesture to the right. A sudden note of command came into his voice, lingering from late military days.

"By the right and left flank—wheel! March!"

With obvious training, the wagons broke apart, alternating right and left, until two long columns were formed. Each of these advanced, curving out, then drawing in, until a long ellipse, closed at front and rear, was formed methodically and without break or flaw. It was the barricade of the Plains, the moving fortresses of our soldiers of fortune, going West, across the Plains, across the Rockies, across the deserts that lay beyond. They did not know all these dangers, but they thus were ready for any that might come.

"Look, mother!" Molly Wingate pointed with kindling eye to the wagon maneuver. "We trained them all day yesterday, and long before. Perfect!"

Her gaze mayhap sought the tall figure of the young commander, chosen by older men above his fellow townsman, Sam Woodhull, as captain of the Liberty train. But he now had other duties in his own wagon group.

Ceased now the straining creak of gear and came rattle of yokes as the pins were loosed. Cattle guards appeared and drove the work animals apart to graze. Women clambered down from wagon seats. Sober-faced children gathered their little arms full of wood for the belated breakfast fires; boys came down for water at the stream.

The west-bound paused at the Missouri, as once they had paused at the Don.

A voice arose, of some young man back among the wagons busy at his work, paraphrasing an ante-bellum air:

Oh, then, Susannah, Don't you cry fer me! I'm goin' out to Oregon, With my banjo on my knee!



CHAPTER II

THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

More than two thousand men, women and children waited on the Missouri for the green fully to tinge the grasses of the prairies farther west. The waning town of Independence had quadrupled its population in thirty days. Boats discharged their customary western cargo at the newer landing on the river, not far above that town; but it all was not enough. Men of upper Missouri and lower Iowa had driven in herds of oxen, horses, mules; but there were not enough of these. Rumors came that a hundred wagons would take the Platte this year via the Council Bluffs, higher up the Missouri; others would join on from St. Jo and Leavenworth.

March had come, when the wild turkey gobbled and strutted resplendent in the forest lands. April had passed, and the wild fowl had gone north. May, and the upland plovers now were nesting all across the prairies. But daily had more wagons come, and neighbors had waited for neighbors, tardy at the great rendezvous. The encampment, scattered up and down the river front, had become more and more congested. Men began to know one another, families became acquainted, the gradual sifting and shifting in social values began. Knots and groups began to talk of some sort of accepted government for the common good.

They now were at the edge of the law. Organized society did not exist this side of the provisional government of Oregon, devised as a modus vivendi during the joint occupancy of that vast region with Great Britain—an arrangement terminated not longer than two years before. There must be some sort of law and leadership between the Missouri and the Columbia. Amid much bickering of petty politics, Jesse Wingate had some four days ago been chosen for the thankless task of train captain. Though that office had small authority and less means of enforcing its commands, none the less the train leader must be a man of courage, resource and decision. Those of the earlier arrivals who passed by his well-organized camp of forty-odd wagons from the Sangamon country of Illinois said that Wingate seemed to know the business of the trail. His affairs ran smoothly, he was well equipped and seemed a man of means. Some said he had three thousand in gold at the bottom of his cargo. Moreover—and this appeared important among the Northern element, at that time predominant in the rendezvous—he was not a Calhoun Secesh, or even a Benton Democrat, but an out and out, antislavery, free-soil man. And the provisional constitution of Oregon, devised by thinking men of two great nations, had said that Oregon should be free soil forever.

Already there were mutterings in 1848 of the coming conflict which a certain lank young lawyer of Springfield, in the Sangamon country—Lincoln, his name was—two years ago among his personal friends had predicted as inevitable. In a personnel made up of bold souls from both sides the Ohio, politics could not be avoided even on the trail; nor were these men the sort to avoid politics. Sometimes at their camp fire, after the caravan election, Wingate and his wife, their son Jed, would compare notes, in a day when personal politics and national geography meant more than they do to-day.

"Listen, son," Wingate one time concluded. "All that talk of a railroad across this country to Oregon is silly, of course. But it's all going to be one country. The talk is that the treaty with Mexico must give us a, slice of land from Texas to the Pacific, and a big one; all of it was taken for the sake of slavery. Not so Oregon—that's free forever. This talk of splitting this country, North and South, don't go with me. The Alleghanies didn't divide it. Burr couldn't divide it. The Mississippi hasn't divided it, or the Missouri, so rest assured the Ohio can't. No, nor the Rockies can't! A railroad? No, of course not. But all the same, a practical wagon road from free soil to free soil—I reckon that was my platform, like enough. It made me captain."

"No, 'twasn't that, Jesse," said his wife. "That ain't what put you in for train captain. It was your blamed impatience. Some of them lower Ioway men, them that first nominated you in the train meeting—town meeting—what you call it, they seen where you'd been plowing along here just to keep your hand in. One of them says to me, 'Plowing, hey? Can't wait? Well, that's what we're going out for, ain't it—to plow?' says he. 'That's the clean quill,' says he. So they 'lected you, Jesse. And the Lord ha' mercy on your soul!"

Now the arrival of so large a new contingent as this of the Liberty train under young Banion made some sort of post-election ratification necessary, so that Wingate felt it incumbent to call the head men of the late comers into consultation if for no better than reasons of courtesy. He dispatched his son Jed to the Banion park to ask the attendance of Banion, Woodhull and such of his associates as he liked to bring, at any suiting hour. Word came back that the Liberty men would join the Wingate conference around eleven of that morning, at which time the hour of the jump-off could be set.



CHAPTER III

THE RENDEZVOUS

As to the start of the great wagon train, little time, indeed, remained. For days, in some instances for weeks, the units of the train had lain here on the border, and the men were growing restless. Some had come a thousand miles and now were keen to start out for more than two thousand miles additional. The grass was up. The men from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas fretted on the leash.

All along the crooked river front, on both sides from Independence to the river landing at Westport, the great spring caravan lay encamped, or housed in town. Now, on the last days of the rendezvous, a sort of hysteria seized the multitude. The sound of rifle fire was like that of a battle—every man was sighting-in his rifle. Singing and shouting went on everywhere. Someone fresh from the Mexican War had brought a drum, another a bugle. Without instructions, these began to sound their summons and continued all day long, at such times as the performers could spare from drink.

The Indians of the friendly tribes—Otos, Kaws, Osages—come in to trade, looked on in wonder at the revelings of the whites. The straggling street of each of the near-by river towns was full of massed wagons. The treble line of white tops, end to end, lay like a vast serpent, curving, ahead to the West. Rivalry for the head of the column began. The sounds of the bugle set a thousand uncooerdinated wheels spasmodically in motion. Organization, system were as yet unknown in this rude and dominant democracy. Need was therefore for this final meeting in the interest of law, order and authority. Already some wagons had broken camp and moved on out into the main traveled road, which lay plain enough on westward, among the groves and glades of the valley of the Kaw. Each man wanted to be first to Oregon, no man wished to take the dust of his neighbor's wagon.

Wingate brought up all these matters at the train meeting of some three score men which assembled under the trees of his own encampment at eleven of the last morning. Most of the men he knew. Banion unobtrusively took a seat well to the rear of those who squatted on their heels or lolled full length on the grass.

After the fashion of the immemorial American town meeting, the beginning of all our government, Wingate called the meeting to order and stated its purposes. He then set forth his own ideas of the best manner for handling the trail work.

His plan, as he explained, was one long earlier perfected in the convoys of the old Santa Fe Trail. The wagons were to travel in close order. Four parallel columns, separated by not too great spaces, were to be maintained as much as possible, more especially toward nightfall. Of these, the outer two were to draw in together when camp was made, the other two to angle out, wagon lapping wagon, front and rear, thus making an oblong corral of the wagons, into which, through a gap, the work oxen were to be driven every night after they had fed. The tents and fires were to be outside of the corral unless in case of an Indian alarm, when the corral would represent a fortress.

The transport animals were to be hobbled each night. A guard, posted entirely around the corral and camp, was to be put out each night. Each man and each boy above fourteen was to be subject to guard duty under the ancient common law of the Plains, and from this duty no man might hope excuse unless actually too ill to walk; nor could any man offer to procure any substitute for himself. The watches were to be set as eight, each to stand guard one-fourth part of alternate nights, so that each man would get every other night undisturbed.

There were to be lieutenants, one for each of the four parallel divisions of the train; also eight sergeants of the guard, each of whom was to select and handle the men of the watch under him. No wagon might change its own place in the train after the start, dust or no dust.

When Wingate ended his exposition and looked around for approval it was obvious that many of these regulations met with disfavor at the start. The democracy of the train was one in which each man wanted his own way. Leaning head to head, speaking low, men grumbled at all this fuss and feathers and Army stuff. Some of these were friends and backers in the late election. Nettled by their silence, or by their murmured comments, Wingate arose again.

"Well, you have heard my plan, men," said he. "The Santa Fe men worked it up, and used it for years, as you all know. They always got through. If there's anyone here knows a better way, and one that's got more experience back of it, I'd like to have him get up and say so."

Silence for a time greeted this also. The Northern men, Wingate's partisans, looked uncomfortably one to the other. It was young Woodhull, of the Liberty contingent, who rose at length.

"What Cap'n Wingate has said sounds all right to me," said he. "He's a new friend of mine—I never saw him till two-three hours ago—but I know about him. What he says about the Santa Fe fashion I know for true. As some of you know, I was out that way, up the Arkansas, with Doniphan, for the Stars and Stripes. Talk about wagon travel—you got to have a regular system or you have everything in a mess. This here, now, is a lot like so many volunteers enlisting for war. There's always a sort of preliminary election of officers; sort of shaking down and shaping up. I wasn't here when Cap'n Wingate was elected—our wagons were some late—but speaking for our men, I'd move to ratify his choosing, and that means to ratify his regulations. I'm wondering if I don't get a second for that?"

Some of the bewhiskered men who sat about him stirred, but cast their eyes toward their own captain, young Banion, whose function as their spokesman had thus been usurped by his defeated rival, Woodhull. Perhaps few of them suspected the argumentum ad hominem—or rather ad feminam—in Woodhull's speech.

Banion alone knew this favor-currying when he saw it, and knew well enough the real reason. It was Molly! Rivals indeed they were, these two, and in more ways than one. But Banion held his peace until one quiet father of a family spoke up.

"I reckon our own train captain, that we elected in case we didn't throw in with the big train, had ought to say what he thinks about it all."

Will Banion now rose composedly and bowed to the leader.

"I'm glad to second Mr. Woodhull's motion to throw our vote and our train for Captain Wingate and the big train," said he. "We'll ratify his captaincy, won't we?"

The nods of his associates now showed assent, and Wingate needed no more confirmation.

"In general, too, I would ratify Captain Wingate's scheme. But might I make a few suggestions?"

"Surely—go on." Wingate half rose.

"Well then, I'd like to point out that we've got twice as far to go as the Santa Fe traders, and over a very different country—more dangerous, less known, harder to travel. We've many times more wagons than any Santa Fe train ever had, and we've hundreds of loose cattle along. That means a sweeping off of the grass at every stop, and grass we've got to have or the train stops.

"Besides our own call on grass, I know there'll be five thousand Mormons at least on the trail ahead of us this spring—they've crossed the river from here to the Bluffs, and they're out on the Platte right now. We take what grass they leave us.

"What I'm trying to get at, captain, is this: We might have to break into smaller detachments now and again. We could not possibly always keep alignment in four columns."

"And then we'd be open to any Indian attack," interrupted Woodhull.

"We might have to fight some of the time, yes," rejoined Banion; "but we'll have to travel all the time, and we'll have to graze our stock all the time. On that one basic condition our safety rests—grass and plenty of it. We're on a long journey.

"You see, gentlemen," he added, smiling, "I was with Doniphan also. We learned a good many things. For instance, I'd rather see each horse on a thirty-foot picket rope, anchored safe each night, than to trust to any hobbles. A homesick horse can travel miles, hobbled, in a night. Horses are a lot of trouble.

"Now, I see that about a fourth of our people, including Captain Wingate, have horses and mules and not ox transport. I wish they all could trade for oxen before they start. Oxen last longer and fare better. They are easier to herd. They can be used for food in the hard first year out in Oregon. The Indians don't steal oxen—they like buffalo better—but they'll take any chance to run off horses or even mules. If they do, that means your women and children are on foot. You know the story of the Donner party, two years ago—on foot, in the snow. They died, and worse than died, just this side of California."

Men of Iowa, of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, began to nod to one another, approving the words of this young man.

"He talks sense," said a voice aloud.

"Well, I'm talking a whole lot, I know," said Banion gravely, "but this is the time and place for our talking. I'm for throwing in with the Wingate train, as I've said. But will Captain Wingate let me add even just a few words more?

"For instance, I would suggest that we ought to have a record of all our personnel. Each man ought to be required to give his own name and late residence, and the names of all in his party. He should be obliged to show that his wagon is in good condition, with spare bolts, yokes, tires, bows and axles, and extra shoes for the stock. Each wagon ought to be required to carry anyhow half a side of rawhide, and the usual tools of the farm and the trail, as well as proper weapons and abundance of ammunition.

"No man ought to be allowed to start with this caravan with less supplies, for each mouth of his wagon, than one hundred pounds of flour. One hundred and fifty or even two hundred would be much better—there is loss and shrinkage. At least half as much of bacon, twenty pounds of coffee, fifty of sugar would not be too much in my own belief. About double the pro rata of the Santa Fe caravans is little enough, and those whose transport power will let them carry more supplies ought to start full loaded, for no man can tell the actual duration of this journey, or what food may be needed before we get across. One may have to help another."

Even Wingate joined in the outspoken approval of this, and Banion, encouraged, went on:

"Some other things, men, since you have asked each man to speak freely. We're not hunters, but home makers. Each family, I suppose, has a plow and seed for the first crop. We ought, too, to find out all our blacksmiths, for I promise you we'll need them. We ought to have a half dozen forges and as many anvils, and a lot of irons for the wagons.

"I suppose, too, you've located all your doctors; also all your preachers—you needn't camp them all together. Personally I believe in Sunday rest and Sunday services. We're taking church and state and home and law along with us, day by day, men, and we're not just trappers and adventurers. The fur trade's gone.

"I even think we ought to find out our musicians—it's good to have a bugler, if you can. And at night, when the people are tired and disheartened, music is good to help them pull together."

The bearded men who listened nodded yet again.

"About schools, now—the other trains that went out, the Applegates in 1843, the Donners of 1846, each train, I believe, had regular schools along, with hours each day.

"Do you think I'm right about all this? I'm sure I don't want Captain Wingate to be offended. I'm not dividing his power. I'm only trying to stiffen it."

Woodhull arose, a sneer on his face, but a hand pushed him down. A tall Missourian stood before him.

"Right ye air, Will!" said he. "Ye've an old head, an' we kin trust hit. Ef hit wasn't Cap'n Wingate is more older than you, an' already done elected, I'd be for choosin' ye fer cap'n o' this here hull train right now. Seein' hit's the way hit is, I move we vote to do what Will Banion has said is fitten. An' I move we-uns throw in with the big train, with Jess Wingate for cap'n. An' I move we allow one more day to git in supplies an' fixin's, an' trade hosses an' mules an' oxens, an' then we start day atter to-morrow mornin' when the bugle blows. Then hooray fer Oregon!"

There were cheers and a general rising, as though after finished business, which greeted this. Jesse Wingate, somewhat crestfallen and chagrined over the forward ways of this young man, of whom he never had heard till that very morning, put a perfunctory motion or so, asked loyalty and allegiance, and so forth.

But what they remembered was that he appointed as his wagon-column captains Sam Woodhull, of Missouri; Caleb Price, an Ohio man of substance; Simon Hall, an Indiana merchant, and a farmer by name of Kelsey, from Kentucky. To Will Banion the trainmaster assigned the most difficult and thankless task of the train, the captaincy of the cow column; that is to say, the leadership of the boys and men whose families were obliged to drive the loose stock of the train.

There were sullen mutterings over this in the Liberty column. Men whispered they would not follow Woodhull. As for Banion, he made no complaint, but smiled and shook hands with Wingate and all his lieutenants and declared his own loyalty and that of his men; then left for his own little adventure of a half dozen wagons which he was freighting out to Laramie—bacon, flour and sugar, for the most part; each wagon driven by a neighbor or a neighbor's son. Among these already arose open murmurs of discontent over the way their own contingent had been treated. Banion had to mend a potential split before the first wheel had rolled westward up the Kaw.

The men of the meeting passed back among their neighbors and families, and spoke with more seriousness than hitherto. The rifle firing ended, the hilarity lessened that afternoon. In the old times the keel-boatmen bound west started out singing. The pack-train men of the fur trade went shouting and shooting, and the confident hilarity of the Santa Fe wagon caravans was a proverb. But now, here in the great Oregon train, matters were quite otherwise. There were women and children along. An unsmiling gravity marked them all. When the dusky velvet of the prairie night settled on almost the last day of the rendezvous it brought a general feeling of anxiety, dread, uneasiness, fear. Now, indeed, and at last, all these realized what was the thing that they had undertaken.

To add yet more to the natural apprehensions of men and women embarking on so stupendous an adventure, all manner of rumors now continually passed from one company to another. It was said that five thousand Mormons, armed to the teeth, had crossed the river at St. Joseph and were lying in wait on the Platte, determined to take revenge for the persecutions they had suffered in Missouri and Illinois. Another story said that the Kaw Indians, hitherto friendly, had banded together for robbery and were only waiting for the train to appear. A still more popular story had it that a party of several Englishmen had hurried ahead on the trail to excite all the savages to waylay and destroy the caravans, thus to wreak the vengeance of England upon the Yankees for the loss of Oregon. Much unrest arose over reports, hard to trace, to the effect that it was all a mistake about Oregon; that in reality it was a truly horrible country, unfit for human occupancy, and sure to prove the grave of any lucky enough to survive the horrors of the trail, which never yet had been truthfully reported. Some returned travelers from the West beyond the Rockies, who were hanging about the landing at the river, made it all worse by relating what purported to be actual experiences.

"If you ever get through to Oregon," they said, "you'll be ten years older than you are now. Your hair will be white, but not by age."

The Great Dipper showed clear and close that night, as if one might almost pick off by hand the familiar stars of the traveler's constellation. Overhead countless brilliant points of lesser light enameled the night mantle, matching the many camp fires of the great gathering. The wind blew soft and low. Night on the prairie is always solemn, and to-night the tense anxiety, the strained anticipation of more than two thousand souls invoked a brooding melancholy which it seemed even the stars must feel.

A dog, ominous, lifted his voice in a long, mournful howl which made mothers put out their hands to their babes. In answer a coyote in the grass raised a high, quavering cry, wild and desolate, the voice of the Far West.



CHAPTER IV

FEVER OF NEW FORTUNES

The notes of a bugle, high and clear, sang reveille at dawn. Now came hurried activities of those who had delayed. The streets of the two frontier settlements were packed with ox teams, horses, wagons, cattle driven through. The frontier stores were stripped of their last supplies. One more day, and then on to Oregon!

Wingate broke his own camp early in the morning and moved out to the open country west of the landing, making a last bivouac at what would be the head of the train. He had asked his four lieutenants to join him there. Hall, Price, and Kelsey headed in with straggling wagons to form the nucleuses of their columns; but the morning wore on and the Missourians, now under Woodhull, had not yet broken park. Wingate waited moodily.

Now at the edge of affairs human apprehensions began to assert themselves, especially among the womenfolk. Even stout Molly Wingate gave way to doubt and fears. Her husband caught her, apron to eyes, sitting on the wagon tongue at ten in the morning, with her pots and pans unpacked.

"What?" he exclaimed. "You're not weakening? Haven't you as much courage as those Mormon women on ahead? Some of them pushing carts, I've heard."

"They've done it for religion, Jess. Oregon ain't no religion for me."

"Yet it has music for a man's ears, Molly."

"Hush! I've heard it all for the last two years. What happened to the Donners two years back? And four years ago it was the Applegates left home in old Missouri to move to Oregon. Who will ever know where their bones are laid? Look at our land we left—rich—black and rich as any in the world. What corn, what wheat—why, everything grew well in Illinois!"

"Yes, and cholera below us wiping out the people, and the trouble over slave-holding working up the river more and more, and the sun blazing in the summer, while in the wintertime we froze!"

"Well, as for food, we never saw any part of Kentucky with half so much grass. We had no turkeys at all there, and where we left you could kill one any gobbling time. The pigeons roosted not four miles from us. In the woods along the river even a woman could kill coons and squirrels, all we'd need—no need for us to eat rabbits like the Mormons. Our chicken yard was fifty miles across. The young ones'd be flying by roasting-ear time—and in fall the sloughs was black with ducks and geese. Enough and to spare we had; and our land opening; and Molly teaching the school, with twelve dollars a month cash for it, and Ted learning his blacksmith trade before he was eighteen. How could we ask more? What better will we do in Oregon?"

"You always throw the wet blanket on Oregon, Molly."

"It is so far!"

"How do we know it is far? We know men and women have crossed, and we know the land is rich. Wheat grows fifty bushels to the acre, the trees are big as the spires on meeting houses, the fish run by millions in the streams. Yet the winters have little snow. A man can live there and not slave out a life.

"Besides"—and the frontier now spoke in him—"this country is too old, too long settled. My father killed his elk and his buffalo, too, in Kentucky; but that was before my day. I want the buffalo. I crave to see the Plains, Molly. What real American does not?"

Mrs. Wingate threw her apron over her face.

"The Oregon fever has witched you, Jesse!" she exclaimed between dry sobs.

Wingate was silent for a time.

"Corn ought to grow in Oregon," he said at last.

"Yes, but does it?"

"I never heard it didn't. The soil is rich, and you can file on six hundred and forty acres. There's your donation claim, four times bigger than any land you can file on here. We sold out at ten dollars an acre—more'n our land really was worth, or ever is going to be worth. It's just the speculators says any different. Let 'em have it, and us move on. That's the way money's made, and always has been made, all across the United States."

"Huh! You talk like a land speculator your own self!"

"Well, if it ain't the movers make a country, what does? If we don't settle Oregon, how long'll we hold it? The preachers went through to Oregon with horses. Like as not even the Applegates got their wagons across. Like enough they got through. I want to see the country before it gets too late for a good chance, Molly. First thing you know buffalo'll be getting scarce out West, too, like deer was getting scarcer on the Sangamon. We ought to give our children as good a chance as we had ourselves."

"As good a chance! Haven't they had as good a chance as we ever had? Didn't our land more'n thribble, from a dollar and a quarter? It may thribble again, time they're old as we are now."

"That's a long time to wait."

"It's a long time to live a life-time, but everybody's got to live it."

She stood, looking at him.

"Look at all the good land right in here! Here we got walnut and hickory and oak—worlds of it. We got sassafras and pawpaw and hazel brush. We get all the hickory nuts and pecans we like any fall. The wild plums is better'n any in Kentucky; and as for grapes, they're big as your thumb, and thousands, on the river. Wait till you see the plum and grape jell I could make this fall!"

"Women—always thinking of jell!"

"But we got every herb here we need—boneset and sassafras and Injun physic and bark for the fever. There ain't nothing you can name we ain't got right here, or on the Sangamon, yet you talk of taking care of our children. Huh! We've moved five times since we was married. Now just as we got into a good country, where a woman could dry corn and put up jell, and where a man could raise some hogs, why, you wanted to move again—plumb out to Oregon! I tell you, Jesse Wingate, hogs is a blame sight better to tie to than buffalo! You talk like you had to settle Oregon!"

"Well, haven't I got to? Somehow it seems a man ain't making up his own mind when he moves West Pap moved twice in Kentucky, once in Tennessee, and then over to Missouri, after you and me was married and moved up into Indiana, before we moved over into Illinois. He said to me—and I know it for the truth—he couldn't hardly tell who it was or what it was hitched up the team. But first thing he knew, there the old wagon stood, front of the house, cover all on, plow hanging on behind, tar bucket under the wagon, and dog and all. All he had to do, pap said, was just to climb up on the front seat and speak to the team. My maw, she climb up on the seat with him. Then they moved—on West. You know, Molly. My maw, she climb up on the front seat—"

His wife suddenly turned to him, the tears still in her eyes.

"Yes, and Jesse Wingate, and you know it, your wife's as good a woman as your maw! When the wagon was a-standing, cover on, and you on the front seat, I climb up by you, Jess, same as I always have and always will. Haven't I always? You know that. But it's harder on women, moving is. They care more for a house that's rain tight in a storm."

"I know you did, Molly," said her husband soberly.

"I suppose I can pack my jells in a box and put in the wagon, anyways." She was drying her eyes.

"Why, yes, I reckon so. And then a few sacks of dried corn will go mighty well on the road."

"One thing"—she turned on him in wifely fury—"you shan't keep me from taking my bureau and my six chairs all the way across! No, nor my garden seeds, all I saved. No, nor yet my rose roots that I'm taking along. We got to have a home, Jess—we got to have a home! There's Jed and Molly coming on."

"Where's Molly now?" suddenly asked her husband. "She'd ought to be helping you right now."

"Oh, back at the camp, I s'pose—her and Jed, too. I told her to pick a mess of dandelion greens and bring over. Larking around with them young fellows, like enough. Huh! She'll have less time. If Jed has to ride herd, Molly's got to take care of that team of big mules, and drive 'em all day in the light wagon too. I reckon if she does that, and teaches night school right along, she won't be feeling so gay."

"They tell me folks has got married going across," she added, "not to mention buried. One book we had said, up on the Platte, two years back, there was a wedding and a birth and a burying in one train, all inside of one hour, and all inside of one mile. That's Oregon!"

"Well, I reckon it's life, ain't it?" rejoined her husband. "One thing, I'm not keen to have Molly pay too much notice to that young fellow Banion—him they said was a leader of the Liberty wagons. Huh, he ain't leader now!"

"You like Sam Woodhull better for Molly, Jess?"

"Some ways. He falls in along with my ideas. He ain't so apt to make trouble on the road. He sided in with me right along at the last meeting."

"He done that? Well, his father was a sheriff once, and his uncle, Judge Henry D. Showalter, he got into Congress. Politics! But some folks said the Banions was the best family. Kentucky, they was. Well, comes to siding in, Jess, I reckon it's Molly herself'll count more in that than either o' them or either o' us. She's eighteen past. Another year and she'll be an old maid. If there's a wedding going across—"

"There won't be," said her husband shortly. "If there is it won't be her and no William Banion, I'm saying that."



CHAPTER V

THE BLACK SPANIARD

Meantime the younger persons referred to in the frank discussion of Wingate and his wife were occupying themselves in their own fashion their last day in camp. Molly, her basket full of dandelion leaves, was reluctant to leave the shade of the grove by the stream, and Jed had business with the team of great mules that Molly was to drive on the trail.

As for the Liberty train, its oval remained unbroken, the men and women sitting in the shade of the wagons. Their outfitting had been done so carefully that little now remained for attention on the last day, but the substantial men of the contingent seemed far from eager to be on their way. Groups here and there spoke in monosyllables, sullenly. They wanted to join the great train, had voted to do so; but the cavalier deposing of their chosen man Banion—who before them all at the meeting had shown himself fit to lead—and the cool appointment of Woodhull in his place had on reflection seemed to them quite too high-handed a proposition. They said so now.

"Where's Woodhull now?" demanded the bearded man who had championed Banion. "I see Will out rounding up his cows, but Sam Woodhull ain't turned a hand to hooking up to pull in west o' town with the others."

"That's easy," smiled another. "Sam Woodhull is where he's always going to be—hanging around the Wingate girl. He's over at their camp now."

"Well, I dunno's I blame him so much for that, neither. And he kin stay there fer all o' me. Fer one, I won't foller no Woodhull, least o' all Sam Woodhull, soldier or no soldier. I'll pull out when I git ready, and to-morrow mornin' is soon enough fer me. We kin jine on then, if so's we like."

Someone turned on his elbow, nodded over shoulder. They heard hoof beats. Banion came up, fresh from his new work on the herd. He asked for Woodhull, and learning his whereabouts trotted across the intervening glade.

"That's shore a hoss he rides," said one man.

"An' a shore man a-ridin' of him," nodded another. "He may ride front o' the train an' not back o' hit, even yet."

Molly Wingate sat on the grass in the little grove, curling a chain of dandelion stems. Near by Sam Woodhull, in his best, lay on the sward regarding her avidly, a dull fire in his dark eyes. He was so enamored of the girl as to be almost unfit for aught else. For weeks he had kept close to her. Not that Molly seemed over-much to notice or encourage him. Only, woman fashion, she ill liked to send away any attentive male. Just now she was uneasy. She guessed that if it were not for the presence of her brother Jed near by this man would declare himself unmistakably.

If the safety of numbers made her main concern, perhaps that was what made Molly Wingate's eye light up when she heard the hoofs of Will Banion's horse splashing in the little stream. She sprang to her feet, waving a hand gayly.

"Oh, so there you are!" she exclaimed. "I was wondering if you'd be over before Jed and I left for the prairie. Father and mother have moved on out west of town. We're all ready for the jump-off. Are you?"

"Yes, to-morrow by sun," said Banion, swinging out of saddle and forgetting any errand he might have had. "Then it's on to Oregon!"

He nodded to Woodhull, who little more than noticed him. Molly advanced to where Banion's horse stood, nodding and pawing restively as was his wont. She stroked his nose, patted his sweat-soaked neck.

"What a pretty horse you have, major," she said. "What's his name?"

"I call him Pronto," smiled Banion. "That means sudden."

"He fits the name. May I ride him?"

"What? You ride him?"

"Yes, surely. I'd love to. I can ride anything. That funny saddle would do—see how big and high the horn is, good as the fork of a lady's saddle."

"Yes, but the stirrup!"

"I'd put my foot in between the flaps above the stirrup. Help me up, sir?"

"I'd rather not."

Molly pouted.

"Stingy!"

"But no woman ever rode that horse—not many men but me. I don't know what he'd do."

"Only one way to find out."

Jed, approaching, joined the conversation.

"I rid him," said he. "He's a goer all right, but he ain't mean."

"I don't know whether he would be bad or not with a lady," Banion still argued. "These Spanish horses are always wild. They never do get over it. You've got to be a rider."

"You think I'm not a rider? I'll ride him now to show you! I'm not afraid of horses."

"That's right," broke in Sam Woodhull. "But, Miss Molly, I wouldn't tackle that horse if I was you. Take mine."

"But I will! I've not been horseback for a month. We've all got to ride or drive or walk a thousand miles. I can ride him, man saddle and all. Help me up, sir?"

Banion walked to the horse, which flung a head against him, rubbing a soft muzzle up and down.

"He seems gentle," said he. "I've pretty well topped him off this morning. If you're sure—"

"Help me up, one of you?"

It was Woodhull who sprang to her, caught her up under the arms and lifted her fully gracious weight to the saddle. Her left foot by fortune found the cleft in the stirrup fender, her right leg swung around the tall horn, hastily concealed by a clutch at her skirt even as she grasped the heavy knotted reins. It was then too late. She must ride.

Banion caught at a cheek strap as he saw Woodhull's act, and the horse was the safer for an instant. But in terror or anger at his unusual burden, with flapping skirt and no grip on his flanks, the animal reared and broke away from them all. An instant and he was plunging across the stream for the open glade, his head low.

He did not yet essay the short, stiff-legged action of the typical bucker, but made long, reaching, low-headed plunges, seeking his own freedom in that way, perhaps half in some equine wonder of his own. None the less the wrenching of the girl's back, the leverage on her flexed knee, unprotected, were unmistakable.

The horse reared again and yet again, high, striking out as she checked him. He was getting in a fury now, for his rider still was in place. Then with one savage sidewise shake of his head after another he plunged this way and that, rail-fencing it for the open prairie. It looked like a bolt, which with a horse of his spirit and stamina meant but one thing, no matter how long delayed.

It all happened in a flash. Banion caught at the rein too late, ran after—too slow, of course. The girl was silent, shaken, but still riding. No footman could aid her now.

With a leap, Banion was in the saddle of Woodhull's horse, which had been left at hand, its bridle down. He drove in the spurs and headed across the flat at the top speed of the fast and racy chestnut—no match, perhaps, for the black Spaniard, were the latter once extended, but favored now by the angle of the two.

Molly had not uttered a word or cry, either to her mount or in appeal for aid. In sooth she was too frightened to do so. But she heard the rush of hoofs and the high call of Banion's voice back of her:

"Ho, Pronto! Pronto! Vien' aqui!"

Something of a marvel it was, and showing companionship of man and horse on the trail; but suddenly the mad black ceased his plunging. Turning, he trotted whinnying as though for aid, obedient to his master's command, "Come here!" An instant and Banion had the cheek strap. Another and he was off, with Molly Wingate, in a white dead faint, in his arms.

By now others had seen the affair from their places in the wagon park. Men and women came hurrying. Banion laid the girl down, sought to raise her head, drove back the two horses, ran with his hat to the stream for water. By that time Woodhull had joined him, in advance of the people from the park.

"What do you mean, you damned fool, you, by riding my horse off without my consent!" he broke out. "If she ain't dead—that damned wild horse—you had the gall—"

Will Banion's self-restraint at last was gone. He made one answer, voicing all his acquaintance with Sam Woodhull, all his opinion of him, all his future attitude in regard to him.

He dropped his hat to the ground, caught off one wet glove, and with a long back-handed sweep struck the cuff of it full and hard across Sam Woodhull's face.



CHAPTER VI

ISSUE JOINED

There were dragoon revolvers in the holsters at Woodhull's saddle. He made a rush for a weapon—indeed, the crack of the blow had been so sharp that the nearest men thought a shot had been fired—but swift as was his leap, it was not swift enough. The long, lean hand of the bearded Missourian gripped his wrist even as he caught at a pistol grip. He turned a livid face to gaze into a cold and small blue eye.

"No, ye don't, Sam!" said the other, who was first of those who came up running.

Even as a lank woman stooped to raise the head of Molly Wingate the sinewy arm back of the hand whirled Woodhull around so that he faced Banion, who had not made a move.

"Will ain't got no weapon, an' ye know it," went on the same cool voice. "What ye mean—a murder, besides that?"

He nodded toward the girl. By now the crowd surged between the two men, voices rose.

"He struck me!" broke out Woodhull. "Let me go! He struck me!"

"I know he did," said the intervener. "I heard it. I don't know why. But whether it was over the girl or not, we ain't goin' to see this other feller shot down till we know more about hit. Ye can meet—"

"Of course, any time."

Banion was drawing on his glove. The woman had lifted Molly, straightened her clothing.

"All blood!" said one. "That saddle horn! What made her ride that critter?"

The Spanish horse stood facing them now, ears forward, his eyes showing through his forelock not so much in anger as in curiosity. The men hustled the two antagonists apart.

"Listen, Sam," went on the tall Missourian, still with his grip on Woodhull's wrist. "We'll see ye both fair. Ye've got to fight now, in course—that's the law, an' I ain't learned it in the fur trade o' the Rockies fer nothin', ner have you people here in the settlements. But I'll tell ye one thing, Sam Woodhull, ef ye make one move afore we-uns tell ye how an' when to make hit, I'll drop ye, shore's my name's Bill Jackson. Ye got to wait, both on ye. We're startin' out, an' we kain't start out like a mob. Take yer time."

"Any time, any way," said Banion simply. "No man can abuse me."

"How'd you gentlemen prefer fer to fight?" inquired the man who had described himself as Bill Jackson, one of the fur brigaders of the Rocky Mountain Company; a man with a reputation of his own in Plains and mountain adventures of hunting, trading and scouting. "Hit's yore ch'ice o' weapons, I reckon, Will. I reckon he challenged you-all."

"I don't care. He'd have no chance on an even break with me, with any sort of weapon, and he knows that."

Jackson cast free his man and ruminated over a chew of plug.

"Hit's over a gal," said he at length, judicially. "Hit ain't usual; but seein' as a gal don't pick atween men because one's a quicker shot than another, but because he's maybe stronger, or something like that, why, how'd knuckle and skull suit you two roosters, best man win and us to see hit fair? Hit's one of ye fer the gal, like enough. But not right now. Wait till we're on the trail and clean o' the law. I heern there's a sheriff round yere some'rs."

"I'll fight him any way he likes, or any way you say," said Banion. "It's not my seeking. I only slapped him because he abused me for doing what he ought to have done. Yes, I rode his horse. If I hadn't that girl would have been killed. It's not his fault she wasn't. I didn't want her to ride that horse."

"I don't reckon hit's so much a matter about a hoss as hit is about a gal," remarked Bill Jackson sagely. "Ye'll hatter fight. Well then, seein' as hit's about a gal, knuckle an' skull, is that right?"

He cast a glance around this group of other fighting men of a border day. They nodded gravely, but with glittering eyes.

"Well then, gentlemen"—and now he stood free of Woodhull—"ye both give word ye'll make no break till we tell ye? I'll say, two-three days out?"

"Suits me," said Woodhull savagely. "I'll break his neck for him."

"Any time that suits the gentleman to break my neck will please me," said Will Banion indifferently. "Say when, friends. Just now I've got to look after my cows. It seems to me our wagon master might very well look after his wagons."

"That sounds!" commented Jackson. "That sounds! Sam, git on about yer business, er ye kain't travel in the Liberty train nohow! An' don't ye make no break, in the dark especial, fer we kin track ye anywhere's. Ye'll fight fair fer once—an' ye'll fight!"

By now the group massed about these scenes had begun to relax, to spread. Women had Molly in hand as her eyes opened. Jed came up at a run with the mule team and the light wagon from the grove, and they got the girl into the seat with him, neither of them fully cognizant of what had gone on in the group of tight-mouthed men who now broke apart and sauntered silently back, each to his own wagon.



CHAPTER VII

THE JUMP-OFF

With the first thin line of pink the coyotes hanging on the flanks of the great encampment raised their immemorial salutation to the dawn. Their clamorings were stilled by a new and sterner voice—the notes of the bugle summoning sleepers of the last night to the duties of the first day. Down the line from watch to watch passed the Plains command, "Catch up! Catch up!" It was morning of the jump-off.

Little fires began at the wagon messes or family bivouacs. Men, boys, barefooted girls went out into the dew-wet grass to round up the transport stock. A vast confusion, a medley of unskilled endeavor marked the hour. But after an hour's wait, adjusted to the situation, the next order passed down the line:

"Roll out! Roll out!"

And now the march to Oregon was at last begun! The first dust cut by an ox hoof was set in motion by the whip crack of a barefooted boy in jeans who had no dream that he one day would rank high in the councils of his state, at the edge of an ocean which no prairie boy ever had envisioned.

The compass finger of the trail, leading out from the timber groves, pointed into a sea of green along the valley of the Kaw. The grass, not yet tall enough fully to ripple as it would a half month later, stood waving over the black-burned ground which the semicivilized Indians had left the fall before. Flowers dotted it, sometimes white like bits of old ivory on the vast rug of spindrift—the pink verbena, the wild indigo, the larkspur and the wild geranium—all woven into a wondrous spangled carpet. At times also appeared the shy buds of the sweet wild rose, loveliest flower of the prairie. Tall rosinweeds began to thrust up rankly, banks of sunflowers prepared to fling their yellow banners miles wide. The opulent, inviting land lay in a ceaseless succession of easy undulations, stretching away illimitably to far horizons, "in such exchanging pictures of grace and charm as raised the admiration of even these simple folk to a pitch bordering upon exaltation."

Here lay the West, barbaric, abounding, beautiful. Surely it could mean no harm to any man.

The men lacked experience in column travel, the animals were unruly. The train formation—clumsily trying to conform to the orders of Wingate to travel in four parallel columns—soon lost order. At times the wagons halted to re-form. The leaders galloped back and forth, exhorting, adjuring and restoring little by little a certain system. But they dealt with independent men. On ahead the landscape seemed so wholly free of danger that to most of these the road to the Far West offered no more than a pleasure jaunt. Wingate and his immediate aids were well worn when at mid afternoon they halted, fifteen miles out from Westport.

"What in hell you pulling up so soon for?" demanded Sam Woodhull surlily, riding up from his own column, far at the rear, and accosting the train leader. "We can go five miles further, anyhow, and maybe ten. We'll never get across in this way."

"This is the very way we will get across," rejoined Wingate. "While I'm captain I'll say when to start and stop. But I've been counting on you, Woodhull, to throw in with me and help me get things shook down."

"Well, hit looks to me ye're purty brash as usual," commented another voice. Bill Jackson came and stood at the captain's side. He had not been far from Woodhull all day long. "Ye're a nacherl damned fool, Sam Woodhull," said he. "Who 'lected ye fer train captain, an' when was it did? If ye don't like the way this train's run go on ahead an' make a train o' yer own, ef that's way ye feel. Pull on out to-night. What ye say, Cap?"

"I can't really keep any man from going back or going ahead," replied Wingate. "But I've counted on Woodhull to hold those Liberty wagons together. Any plainsman knows that a little party takes big risks."

"Since when did you come a plainsman?" scoffed the malcontent, for once forgetting his policy of favor-currying with Wingate in his own surly discontent. He had not been able to speak to Molly all day.

"Well, if he ain't a plainsman yit he will be, and I'm one right now, Sam Woodhull." Jackson stood squarely in front of his superior. "I say he's talkin' sense to a man that ain't got no sense. I was with Doniphan too. We found ways, huh?"

His straight gaze outfronted the other, who turned and rode back. But that very night eight men, covertly instigated or encouraged by Woodhull, their leader, came to the headquarters fire with a joint complaint. They demanded places at the head of the column, else would mutiny and go on ahead together. They said good mule teams ought not to take the dust of ox wagons.

"What do you say, men?" asked the train captain of his aids helplessly. "I'm in favor of letting them go front."

The others nodded silently, looking at one another significantly. Already cliques and factions were beginning.

Woodhull, however, had too much at stake to risk any open friction with the captain of the train. His own seat at the officers' fire was dear to him, for it brought him close to the Wingate wagons, and in sight—if nothing else—of Molly Wingate. That young lady did not speak to him all day, but drew close the tilt of her own wagon early after the evening meal and denied herself to all.

As for Banion, he was miles back, in camp with his own wagons, which Woodhull had abandoned, and on duty that night with the cattle guard—a herdsman and not a leader of men now. He himself was moody enough when he tied his cape behind his saddle and rode his black horse out into the shadows. He had no knowledge of the fact that the old mountain man, Jackson, wrapped in his blanket, that night instituted a solitary watch all his own.

The hundreds of camp fires of the scattered train, stretched out over five miles of grove and glade at the end of the first undisciplined day, lowered, glowed and faded. They were one day out to Oregon, and weary withal. Soon the individual encampments were silent save for the champ or cough of tethered animals, or the whining howl of coyotes, prowling in. At the Missouri encampment, last of the train, and that heading the great cattle drove, the hardy frontier settlers, as was their wont, soon followed the sun to rest.

The night wore on, incredibly slow to the novice watch for the first time now drafted under the prairie law. The sky was faint pink and the shadows lighter when suddenly the dark was streaked by a flash of fire and the silence broken by the crack of a border rifle. Then again and again came the heavier bark of a dragoon revolver, of the sort just then becoming known along the Western marches.

The camp went into confusion. Will Banion, just riding in to take his own belated turn in his blankets, almost ran over the tall form of Bill Jackson, rifle in hand.

"What was it, man?" demanded Banion. "You shooting at a mule?"

"No, a man," whispered the other. "He ran this way. Reckon I must have missed. It's hard to draw down inter a hindsight in the dark, an' I jest chanced hit with the pistol. He was runnin' hard."

"Who was he—some thief?"

"Like enough. He was crawlin' up towards yore wagon, I halted him an' he run."

"You don't know who he was?"

"No. I'll see his tracks, come day. Go on to bed. I'll set out a whiles, boy."

When dawn came, before he had broken his long vigil, Jackson was bending over footmarks in the moister portions of the soil.

"Tall man, young an' tracked clean," he muttered to himself. "Fancy boots, with rather little heels. Shame I done missed him!"

But he said nothing to Banion or anyone else. It was the twentieth time Bill Jackson, one of Sublette's men and a nephew of one of his partners, had crossed the Plains, and the lone hand pleased him best. He instituted his own government for the most part, and had thrown in with this train because that best suited his book, since the old pack trains of the fur trade were now no more. For himself, he planned settlement in Eastern Oregon, a country he once had glimpsed in long-gone beaver days, a dozen years ago. The Eastern settlements had held him long enough, the Army life had been too dull, even with Doniphan.

"I must be gittin' old," he muttered to himself as he turned to a breakfast fire. "Missed—at seventy yard!"



CHAPTER VIII

MAN AGAINST MAN

There were more than two thousand souls in the great caravan which reached over miles of springy turf and fat creek lands. There were more than a thousand children, more than a hundred babes in arm, more than fifty marriageable maids pursued by avid swains. There were bold souls and weak, strong teams and weak, heavy loads and light loads, neighbor groups and coteries of kindred blood or kindred spirits.

The rank and file had reasons enough for shifting. There were a score of Helens driving wagons—reasons in plenty for the futility of all attempts to enforce an arbitrary rule of march. Human equations, human elements would shake themselves down into place, willy-nilly. The great caravan therefore was scantily less than a rabble for the first three or four days out. The four columns were abandoned the first half day. The loosely knit organization rolled on in a broken-crested wave, ten, fifteen, twenty miles a day, the horse-and-mule men now at the front. Far to the rear, heading only the cow column, came the lank men of Liberty, trudging alongside their swaying ox teams, with many a monotonous "Gee-whoa-haw! Git along thar, ye Buck an' Star!" So soon they passed the fork where the road to Oregon left the trail to Santa Fe; topped the divide that held them back from the greater valley of the Kaw.



Noon of the fifth day brought them to the swollen flood of the latter stream, at the crossing known as Papin's Ferry. Here the semicivilized Indians and traders had a single rude ferryboat, a scow operated in part by setting poles, in part by the power of the stream against a cable. The noncommittal Indians would give no counsel as to fording. They had ferry hire to gain. Word passed that there were other fords a few miles higher up. A general indecision existed, and now the train began to pile up on the south bank of the river.

Late in the afternoon the scout, Jackson, came riding back to the herd where Banion was at work, jerking up his horse in no pleased frame of mind.

"Will," said he, "leave the boys ride now an' come on up ahead. We need ye."

"What's up?" demanded Banion. "Anything worse?"

"Yes. The old fool's had a row over the ferryboat. Hit'd take two weeks to git us all over that way, anyhow. He's declared fer fordin' the hull outfit, lock, stock an' barrel. To save a few dollars, he's a goin' to lose a lot o' loads an' drownd a lot o' womern an' babies—that's what he's goin' to do. Some o' us called a halt an' stood out fer a council. We want you to come on up.

"Woodhull's there," he added. "He sides with the old man, o' course. He rid on the same seat with that gal all day till now. Lord knows what he done or said. Ain't hit nigh about time now, Major?"

"It's nigh about time," said Will Banion quietly.

They rode side by side, past more than a mile of the covered wagons, now almost end to end, the columns continually closing up. At the bank of the river, at the ferry head, they found a group of fifty men. The ranks opened as Banion and Jackson approached, but Banion made no attempt to join a council to which he had not been bidden.

A half dozen civilized Indians of the Kaws, owners or operators of the ferry, sat in a stolid line across the head of the scow at its landing stage, looking neither to the right nor the left and awaiting the white men's pleasure. Banion rode down to them.

"How deep?" he asked.

They understood but would not answer.

"Out of the way!" he cried, and rode straight at them. They scattered. He spurred his horse, the black Spaniard, over the stage and on the deck of the scow, drove him its full length, snorting; set the spurs hard at the farther end and plunged deliberately off into the swift, muddy stream.

The horse sank out of sight below the roily surface. They saw the rider go down to his armpits; saw him swing off saddle, upstream. The gallant horse headed for the center of the heavy current, but his master soon turned him downstream and inshore. A hundred yards down they landed on a bar and scrambled up the bank.

Banion rode to the circle and sat dripping. He had brought not speech but action, not theory but facts, and he had not spoken a word.

His eyes covered the council rapidly, resting on the figure of Sam Woodhull, squatting on his heels. As though to answer the challenge of his gaze, the latter rose.

"Gentlemen," said he, "I'm not, myself, governed by any mere spirit of bravado. It's swimming water, yes—any fool knows that, outside of yon one. What I do say is that we can't afford to waste time here fooling with that boat. We've got to swim it. I agree with you, Wingate. This river's been forded by the trains for years, and I don't see as we need be any more chicken-hearted than those others that went through last year and earlier. This is the old fur-trader crossing, the Mormons crossed here, and so can we."

Silence met his words. The older men looked at the swollen stream, turned to the horseman who had proved it.

"What does Major Banion say?" spoke up a voice.

"Nothing!" was Banion's reply. "I'm not in your council, am I?"

"You are, as much as any man here," spoke up Caleb Price, and Hall and Kelsey added yea to that. "Get down. Come in."

Banion threw his rein to Jackson and stepped into the ring, bowing to Jesse Wingate, who sat as presiding officer.

"Of course we want to hear what Mr. Banion has to say," said he. "He's proved part of the question right now. I've always heard it's fording, part way, at Papin's Ferry. It don't look it now."

"The river's high, Mr. Wingate," said Banion. "If you ask me, I'd rather ferry than ford. I'd send the women and children over by this boat. We can make some more out of the wagon boxes. If they leak we can cover them with hides. The sawmill at the mission has some lumber. Let's knock together another boat or two. I'd rather be safe than sorry, gentlemen; and believe me, she's heavy water yonder."

"I've never seed the Kaw so full," asserted Jackson, "an' I've crossed her twenty times in spring flood. Do what ye like, you-all—ole Missoury's goin' to take her slow an' keerful."

"Half of you Liberty men are a bunch of damned cowards!" sneered Woodhull.

There was silence. An icy voice broke it.

"I take it, that means me?" said Will Banion.

"It does mean you, if you want to take it that way," rejoined his enemy. "I don't believe in one or two timid men holding up a whole train."

"Never mind about holding up the train—we're not stopping any man from crossing right now. What I have in mind now is to ask you, do you classify me as a coward just because I counsel prudence here?"

"You're the one is holding back."

"Answer me! Do you call that to me?"

"I do answer you, and I do call it to you then!" flared Woodhull.

"I tell you, you're a liar, and you know it, Sam Woodhull! And if it pleases your friends and mine, I'd like to have the order now made on unfinished business."

Not all present knew what this meant, for only a few knew of the affair at the rendezvous, the Missourians having held their counsel in the broken and extended train, where men might travel for days and not meet. But Woodhull knew, and sprang to his feet, hand on revolver. Banion's hand was likewise employed at his wet saddle holster, to which he sprang, and perhaps then one man would have been killed but for Bill Jackson, who spurred between.

"Make one move an' I drop ye!" he called to Woodhull. "Ye've give yer promise."

"All right then, I'll keep it," growled Woodhull.

"Ye'd better! Now listen! Do ye see that tall cottingwood tree a half mile down—the one with the flat umbreller top, like a cypress? Ye kin? Well, in half a hour be thar with three o' yore friends, no more. I'll be thar with my man an' three o' his, no more, an' I'll be one o' them three. I allow our meanin' is to see hit fa'r. An' I allow that what has been unfinished business ain't goin' to be unfinished come sundown.

"Does this suit ye, Will?"

"It's our promise. Officers didn't usually fight that way, but you said it must be so, and we both agreed. I agree now."

"You other folks all stay back," said Bill Jackson grimly. "This here is a little matter that us Missourians is goin' to settle in our own way an' in our own camp. Hit ain't none o' you-uns' business. Hit's plenty o' ourn."

Men started to their feet over all the river front. The Indians rose, walked down the bank covertly.

"Fight!"

The word passed quickly. It was a day of personal encounters. This was an assemblage in large part of fighting men. But some sense of decency led the partisans to hurry away, out of sight and hearing of the womenfolk.

The bell-top cottonwood stood in a little space which had been a dueling ground for thirty years. The grass was firm and even for a distance of fifty yards in any direction, and the light at that hour favored neither man.

For Banion, who was prompt, Jackson brought with him two men. One of them was a planter by name of Dillon, the other none less than stout Caleb Price, one of Wingate's chosen captains.

"I'll not see this made a thing of politics," said he. "I'm Northern, but I like the way that young man has acted. He hasn't had a fair deal from the officers of this train. He's going to have a fair deal now."

"We allow he will," said Dillon grimly.

He was fully armed, and so were all the seconds. For Woodhull showed the Kentuckian, Kelsey, young Jed Wingate—the latter by Woodhull's own urgent request—and the other train captain, Hall. So in its way the personal quarrel of these two hotheads did in a way involve the entire train.

"Strip yore man," commanded the tall mountaineer. "We're ready. It's go till one hollers enough; fa'r stand up, heel an' toe, no buttin' er gougin'. Fust man ter break them rules gits shot. Is that yore understandin', gentlemen.

"How we get it, yes," assented Kelsey.

"See you enforce it then, fer we're a-goin' to," concluded Jackson.

He stepped back. From the opposite sides the two antagonists stepped forward. There was no ring, there was no timekeeper, no single umpire. There were no rounds, no duration set. It was man to man, for cause the most ancient and most bitter of all causes—sex.



CHAPTER IX

THE BRUTE

Between the two stalwart men who fronted one another, stripped to trousers and shoes, there was not so much to choose. Woodhull perhaps had the better of it by a few pounds in weight, and forsooth looked less slouchy out of his clothes than in them. His was the long and sinewy type of muscle. He was in hard condition.

Banion, two years younger than his rival, himself was round and slender, thin of flank, a trace squarer and fuller of shoulder. His arms showed easily rippling bands of muscles, his body was hard in the natural vigor of youth and life in the open air. His eye was fixed all the time on his man. He did not speak or turn aside, but walked on in.

There were no preliminaries, there was no delay. In a flash the Saxon ordeal of combat was joined. The two fighters met in a rush.

At the center of the fighting space they hung, body to body, in a whirling melee. Neither had much skill in real boxing, and such fashion of fight was unknown in that region, the offensive being the main thing and defense remaining incidental. The thud of fist on face, the discoloration that rose under the savage blows, the blood that oozed and scattered, proved that the fighting blood of both these mad creatures was up, so that they felt no pain, even as they knew no fear.

In their first fly, as witnesses would have termed it, there was no advantage to either, and both came out well marked. In the combat of the time and place there were no rules, no periods, no resting times. Once they were dispatched to it, the fight was the affair of the fighters, with no more than a very limited number of restrictions as to fouls.

They met and broke, bloody, gasping, once, twice, a dozen times. Banion was fighting slowly, carefully.

"I'll make it free, if you dare!" panted Woodhull at length.

They broke apart once more by mutual need of breath. He meant he would bar nothing; he would go back to the days of Boone and Kenton and Girty, when hair, eye, any part of the body was fair aim.

"You can't dare me!" rejoined Will Banion. "It's as my seconds say."

Young Jed Wingate, suddenly pale, stood by and raised no protest. Kelsey's face was stony calm. The small eye of Hall narrowed, but he too held to the etiquette of non-interference in this matter of man and man, though what had passed here was a deadly thing. Mutilation, death might now ensue, and not mere defeat. But they all waited for the other side.

"Air ye game to hit, Will?" demanded Jackson at length.

"I don't fear him, anyway he comes," replied Will Banion. "I don't like it, but all of this was forced on me."

"The hell it was!" exclaimed Kelsey. "I heard ye call my man a liar."

"An' he called my man a coward!" cut in Jackson.

"He is a coward," sneered Woodhull, panting, "or he'd not flicker now. He's afraid I'll take his eye out, damn him!"

Will Banion turned to his friends.

"Are we gentlemen at all?" said he. "Shall we go back a hundred years?"

"If your man's afraid, we claim the fight!" exclaimed Kelsey. "Breast yore bird!"

"So be it then!" said Will Banion. "Don't mind me, Jackson! I don't fear him and I think I can beat him. It's free! I bar nothing, nor can he! Get back!"

Woodhull rushed first in the next assault, confident of his skill in rough-and-tumble. He felt at his throat the horizontal arm of his enemy. He caught away the wrist in his own hand, but sustained a heavy blow at the side of his head. The defense of his adversary angered him to blind rage. He forgot everything but contact, rushed, closed and caught his antagonist in the brawny grip of his arms. The battle at once resolved itself into the wrestling and battering match of the frontier. And it was free! Each might kill or maim if so he could.

The wrestling grips of the frontiersmen were few and primitive, efficient when applied by masters; and no schoolboy but studied all the holds as matter of religion, in a time when physical prowess was the most admirable quality a man might have.

Each fighter tried the forward jerk and trip which sometimes would do with an opponent not much skilled; but this primer work got results for neither. Banion evaded and swung into a hip lock, so swift that Woodhull left the ground. But his instinct gave him hold with one hand at his enemy's collar. He spread wide his feet and cast his weight aside, so that he came standing, after all. He well knew that a man must keep his feet. Woe to him who fell when it all was free! His own riposte was a snakelike glide close into his antagonist's arms, a swift thrust of his leg between the other's—the grapevine, which sometimes served if done swiftly.

It was done swiftly, but it did not serve. The other spread his legs, leaned against him, and in a flash came back in the dreaded crotch lock of the frontier, which some men boasted no one could escape at their hands. Woodhull was flung fair, but he broke wide and rose and rushed back and joined again, grappling; so that they stood once more body to body, panting, red, savage as any animals that fight, and more cruel. The seconds all were on their feet, scarce breathing.

They pushed in sheer test, and each found the other's stark strength. Yet Banion's breath still came even, his eye betokened no anxiety of the issue. Both were bloody now, clothing and all. Then in a flash the scales turned against the challenger a l'outrance.

Banion caught his antagonist by the wrist, and swift as a flash stooped, turning his own back and drawing the arm of his enemy over his own shoulder, slightly turned, so that the elbow joint was in peril and so that the pain must be intense. It was one of the jiu jitsu holds, discovered independently perhaps at that instant; certainly a new hold for the wrestling school of the frontier.

Woodhull's seconds saw the look of pain come on his face, saw him wince, saw him writhe, saw him rise on his toes. Then, with a sudden squatting heave, Banion cast him full length in front of him, upon his back! Before he had time to move he was upon him, pinning him down. A growl came from six observers.

In an ordinary fall a man might have turned, might have escaped. But Woodhull had planned his own undoing when he had called it free. Eyeless men, usually old men, in this day brought up talk of the ancient and horrible warfare of a past generation, when destruction of the adversary was the one purpose and any means called fair when it was free.

But the seconds of both men raised no hand when they saw the balls of Will Banion's thumbs pressed against the upper orbit edge of his enemy's eyes.

"Do you say enough?" panted the victor.

A groan from the helpless man beneath.

"Am I the best man? Can I whip you?" demanded the voice above him, in the formula prescribed.

"Go on—do it! Pull out his eye!" commanded Bill Jackson savagely. "He called it free to you! But don't wait!"

But the victor sprang free, stood, dashed the blood from his own eyes, wavered on his feet.

The hands of his fallen foe were across his eyes. But even as his men ran in, stooped and drew them away the conqueror exclaimed:

"I'll not! I tell you I won't maim you, free or no free! Get up!"

So Woodhull knew his eyes were spared, whatever might be the pain of the sore nerves along the socket bone.

He rose to his knees, to his feet, his face ghastly in his own sudden sense of defeat, the worse for his victor's magnanimity, if such it might be called. Humiliation was worse than pain. He staggered, sobbing.

"I won't take nothing for a gift from you!"

But now the men stood between them, like and like. Young Jed Wingate pushed back his man.

"It's done!" said he. "You shan't fight no more with the man that let you up. You're whipped, and by your own word it'd have been worse!"

He himself handed Will Banion his coat.

"Go get a pail of water," he said to Kelsey, and the latter departed.

Banion stepped apart, battered and pale beneath his own wounds.

"I didn't want to fight him this way," said he. "I left him his eyes so he can see me again. If so he wants, I'll meet him any way. I hope he won't rue back."

"You fool!" said old Bill Jackson, drawing Banion to one side. "Do ye know what ye're a-sayin'? Whiles he was a-layin' thar I seen the bottoms o' his boots. Right fancy they was, with smallish heels! That skunk'll kill ye in the dark, Will. Ye'd orto hev put out'n both his two eyes!"

A sudden sound made them all turn. Came crackling of down brush, the scream of a woman's voice. At the side of the great tree stood a figure that had no right there. They turned mute.

It was Molly Wingate who faced them all now, turning from one bloody, naked figure to the other. She saw Sam Woodhull standing, his hands still at his face; caught some sense out of Jackson's words, overheard as she came into the clearing.

"You!" she blazed at Will Banion. "You'd put out a man's eyes! You brute!"



CHAPTER X

OLE MISSOURY

Molly Wingate looked from one to the other of the group of silent, shamefaced men. Puzzled, she turned again to the victor in the savage combat.

"You!"

Will Banion caught up his clothing, turned away.

"You are right!" said he. "I have been a brute! Good-by!"

An instant later Molly found herself alone with the exception of her brother.

"You, Jed, what was this?" she demanded.

Jed took a deep and heartfelt chew of plug.

"Well, it was a little argument between them two," he said finally. "Like enough a little jealousy, like, you know—over place in the train, or something. This here was for men. You'd no business here."

"But it was a shame!"

"I reckon so."

"Who started this?"

"Both of them. All we was here for was to see fair. Men got to fight sometimes."

"But not like animals, not worse than savages!"

"Well, it was right savage, some of the time, sis."

"They said—about eyes—oh!"

The girl shivered, her hands at her own eyes.

"Yes, they called it free. Anybody else, Sam Woodhull'd be sorry enough right now. T'other man throwed him clean and had him down, but he let him up. He didn't never hurt Sam's eyes, only pinched his head a little. He had a right, but didn't. It had to be settled and it was settled, fair and more'n fair, by him."

"But, Jed"—the eternal female now—"then, which one really whipped?"

"Will Banion did, ain't I told you? You insulted him, and he's gone. Having come in here where you wasn't no ways wanted, I reckon the best thing you can do is to go back to your own wagon and stay there. What with riding horses you hadn't ought, and seeing fights when you don't know a damned thing about nothing, I reckon you've made trouble about enough. Come on!"

"Price," said Bill Jackson to the grave and silent man who walked with him toward the wagon train beyond the duelling ground, "this settles hit. Us Missoury wagons won't go on under no sech man as Sam Woodhull. We didn't no ways eleck him—he was app'inted. Mostly, elected is better'n app'inted. An' I seen afore now, no man can hold his place on the trail unless'n he's fatten. We'll eleck Will Banion our cap'n, an' you fellers kin go to hell. What us fellers started out to do was to go to Oregon."

"But that'll mean the train's split!"

"Shore hit will! Hit is split right now. But thar's enough o' the Liberty wagons to go through without no help. We kin whup all the rest o' this train, give we need ter, let alone a few Injuns now an' then.

"To-night," he concluded, "we'll head up the river, an' leave you fellers the boat an' all o' Papin's Ferry to git acrost the way you want. Thar hain't no manner o' man, outfit, river er redskin that Ole Missoury kain't lick, take 'em as they come, them to name the holts an' the rules. We done showed you-all that. We're goin' to show you some more. So good-by." He held out his hand. "Ye helped see far, an' ye're a far man, an' we'll miss ye. Ef ye git in need o' help come to us. Ole Missoury won't need no help."

"Well, Woodhull's one of you Missourians," remarked Price.

"Yes, but he ain't bred true. Major Banion is. Hit was me that made him fight knuckle an' skull an' not with weapons. He didn't want to, but I had a reason. I'm content an' soothe jest the way she lies. Ef Will never sees the gal agin she ain't wuth the seem'.

"Ye'll find Col. William Banion at the head o' his own train. He's fitten, an' he's fout an' proved hit"



CHAPTER XI

WHEN ALL THE WORLD WAS YOUNG

Molly Wingate kneeled by her cooking fire the following morning, her husband meantime awaiting the morning meal impatiently. All along the medley of crowded wagons rose confused sounds of activity at a hundred similar firesides.

"Where's Little Molly?" demanded Wingate. "We got to be up and coming."

"Her and Jed is off after the cattle. Well, you heard the news last night. You've got to get someone else to run the herd. If each family drives its own loose stock everything'll be all mixed up. The Liberty outfit pulled on by at dawn. Well, anyways they left us the sawmill and the boat.

"Sam Woodhull, he's anxious to get on ahead of the Missourians," she added. "He says he'll take the boat anyhow, and not pay them Kaws any such hold-up price like they ask."

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse