The Way of a Man
by Emerson Hough
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"You are cold," said she.

"No," I answered, "only angry because I am so weak." We sat silent for very long intervals. At length she raised her hand and pointed.

Even as dusk sank upon us, all the lower sky went black. An advancing roar came upon our ears. And then a blinding wave of rain drove across the surface of the earth, wiping out the day, beating down with remorseless strength and volume as though it would smother and drown us twain in its deluge—us, the last two human creatures of the world!

It caught us, that wave of damp and darkness, and rolled over us and crushed us down as we cowered. I caught up the blanket from the ground and pulled it around the girl's shoulders. I drew her tight to me as I lay with my own back to the storm, and pulled the saddle over her head, with this and my own body keeping out the tempest from her as much as I could. There was no other fence for her, and but for this she might perhaps have died; I do not know. I felt her strain at my arms first, then settle back and sink her head under the saddle flap and cower close like some little schoolfellow, all the curves of her body craving shelter, comfort, warmth. She shivered terribly. I heard her gasp and sob. Ah, how I pitied her that hour!

Our fire was gone at the first sweep of the storm, which raged thunderously by, with heavy feet, over the echoing floor of the world. There came other fires, such blazes and explosions of pale balls of electricity as I had never dreamed might be, with these detonations of pent-up elemental wrath such as I never conceived might have existence under any sky. Night, death, storm, the strength of the elements, all the primeval factors of the world and life were upon us, testing us, seeking to destroy us, beating upon us, freezing, choking, blinding us, leaving us scarce animate.

Yet not destroying us. Still, somewhere under the huddle and draggle of it all burned on the human soul. The steel in my belt was cold, but it had held its fire. The ice in the flints about us held fire also in its depths. Fire was in our bodies, the fire of life—indomitable, yearning—in our two bodies. So that which made the storm test us and try us and seek to slay us, must perhaps have smiled grimly as it howled on and at length disappeared, baffled by the final success of the immutable and imperishable scheme. The fire in our two bodies still was there.

As the rain lessened, and the cold increased, I knew that rigors would soon come upon us. "We must walk," I said. "You shiver, you freeze."

"You tremble," she said. "You are cold. You are very cold."

"Walk, or we die," I gasped; and so I led her at last lower down the side of the ravine, where the wind was not so strong.

"We must run," I said, "or we shall die." I staggered as I ran. With all my soul I challenged my weakness, summoning to my aid that reserve of strength I had always known each hour in my life. Strangely I felt—how I cannot explain—that she must be saved, that she was I. Strange phrases ran through my brain. I remembered only one, "Cleaving only unto her"; and this, in my weakened frame of body and mind, I could not separate from my stern prayer to my own strength, once so ready, now so strangely departed from me.

We ran as we might, back and forward on the slippery mud, scrambled up and down, panting, until at length our hearts began to beat more quickly, and the love of life came back strongly, and the unknown, mysterious fire deep down somewhere, inscrutable, elemental, began to flicker up once more, and we were saved—saved, we two savages, we two primitive human beings, the only ones left alive after the deluge which had flooded all the earth—left alive to begin the world all over again.



To the delirious or the perishing man, time has no measuring. I do not know how we spent the night, or how long it was. Some time it became morning, if morning might be called this gray and cheerless lifting of the gloom, revealing to us the sodden landscape, overcast with still drizzling skies which blotted out each ray of sunlight.

Search what way I might, I could find nothing to relieve our plight. I knew that Auberry would before this time have gone back to follow our trail, perhaps starting after us even before night had approached; but now the rain had blotted out all manner of trails, so rescue from that source was not to be expected. Not even we ourselves could tell where we had wandered, nor could we, using the best of our wits as we then had them, do more than vaguely guess where our fellow travelers by that time might be. Neither did we know distance nor direction of any settlement. What geography we thought right was altogether wrong. The desert, the wilderness, had us in its grip.

We sat, draggled and weary, at the shoulder of the little ravine, haggard and worn by the long strain. Her skin garments, again wet through, clung tight to her figure, uncomfortably. Now and again I could see a tremor running through her body from the chill. Yet as I looked at her I could not withhold my homage to her spirit. She was a splendid creature, so my soul swore to me, thoroughbred as any in all the world. Her chin was high, not drawn down in defeat. I caught sight of her small ear, flat to the head, pink with cold, but the ear of a game creature. Her nose, not aquiline, not masculine, still was not weak. Her chin, as I remember I noted even then, was strong, but lean and not over-laden with flesh. Her mouth, not thin-lipped and cold, yet not too loose and easy, was now plaintive as it was sweet in its full, red Cupid bow. Round and soft and gentle she seemed, yet all the lines of her figure, all the features of her face, betokened bone and breeding. The low-cut Indian shirt left her neck bare. I could see the brick red line of the sunburn creeping down; but most I noted, since ever it was my delight to trace good lineage in any creature, the splendid curve of her neck, not long and weak, not short and animal, but round and strong—perfect, I was willing to call that and every other thing about her.

She turned to me after a time and smiled wanly. "I am hungry," she said.

"We shall make a fire," I answered. "But first I must wait until my coat dries. The lining is wet, and we have no tinder. The bark is wet on the little trees; each spear of grass is wet."

Then I bethought me of an old expedient my father had once shown me. At the bandolier across my shoulder swung my bullet pouch and powder flask, in the former also some bits of tow along with the cleaning worm. I made a loose wad of the tow kept thus dry in the shelter of the pouch, and pushed this down the rifle barrel, after I had with some difficulty discharged the load already there. Then I rubbed a little more powder into another loose wad of tow, and fired the rifle into this. As luck would have it, some sparks still smoldered in the tow, and thus I was able once more to nurse up a tiny flame. I never knew before how comforting a fire might be. So now again we ate, and once more, as the hours advanced, we felt strength coming to us. Yet, in spite of the food, I was obliged to admit a strange aching in my head, and a hot fever burning in my bones.

"See the poor horse," she said, and pointed to our single steed, humped up in the wind, one hip high, his head low, all dejection.

"He must eat," said I, and so started to loosen his hobble. Thus engaged I thought to push on toward the top of the next ridge to see what might be beyond. What I saw was the worst thing that could have met my eyes. I sank down almost in despair.

There, on a flat valley nearly a mile away in its slow descent, stood the peaked tops of more than a score of Indian tepees. Horses were scattered all about. From the tops of the lodges little dribbles of smoke were coming. The wet of the morning kept the occupants within, but here and there a robed figure stalked among the horses.

I gazed through the fringe of grasses at the top of the ridge, feeling that now indeed our cup of danger well-nigh was full. For some moments I lay examining the camp, seeking to divine the intent of these people, whom I supposed to be Sioux. The size of the encampment disposed me to think that it was a hunting party and not an expedition out for war. I saw meat scaffolds, as I supposed, and strips of meat hanging over ropes strung here and there; although of this I could not be sure.

I turned as I heard a whisper at my shoulder. "What is it?" she asked me; and then the next moment, gazing as I did over the ridge, she saw. I felt her cower close to me in her instant terror. "My God!" she murmured, "what shall we do? They will find us; they will kill us!"

"Wait, now," said I. "They have not yet seen us. They may go away in quite the other direction. Do not be alarmed."

We lay there looking at this unwelcome sight for some moments, but at last I saw something which pleased me better.

The men among the horses stopped, looked, and began to hurry about, began to lead up their horses, to gesticulate. Then, far off upon the other side, I saw a blanket waving.

"It is the buffalo signal," I said to her. "They are going to hunt, and their hunt will be in the opposite direction from us. That is good."

We crept back from the top of the ridge, and I asked her to bring me the saddle blanket while I held the horse. This I bound fast around the horse's head.

"Why do you blind the poor fellow?" she inquired, "He cannot eat, he will starve. Besides, we ought to be getting away from here as fast as we can."

"I tie up his head so that he cannot see, or smell, and so fall to neighing to the other horses," I explained to her. "As to getting away, our trail would show plainly on this wet ground. All the trail we left yesterday has been wiped out; so that here is our very safest place, if they do not happen to run across the head of this little draw. Besides, we can still eat; and besides again—" perhaps I staggered a little as I stood.

"You are weak!" she exclaimed. "You are ill!"

"I must admit," said I, "that I could probably not travel far. If I dared tell you to go on alone and leave me, I would command you to do so."

Her face was pale. "What is wrong?" she asked. "Is it a fever? Is it your wound again?"

"It is fever," I answered thickly. "My head is bad. I do not see distinctly. If you please, I think I will lie down for a time."

I staggered blindly now as I walked. I felt her arm under mine. She led me to our little fireside, knelt on the wet ground beside me as I sat, my head hanging dully. I remember that her hands were clasped. I recall the agony on her face.

The day grew warmer as the sun arose. The clouds hung low and moved rapidly under the rising airs. Now and again I heard faint sounds, muffled, far off. "They are firing," I muttered. "They are among the buffalo. That is good. Soon they will go away."

I do not remember much of what I said after that, and recall only that my head throbbed heavily, and that I wanted to lie down and rest. And so, some time during that morning, I suppose, I did lie down, and once more laid hold upon the hand of Mystery.

I do not wish to speak of what followed after that. For me, a, merciful ignorance came; but what that poor girl must have suffered, hour after hour, night after night, day after day, alone, without shelter, almost without food, in such agony of terror as might have been natural even had her solitary protector been possessed of all his faculties—I say I cannot dwell upon that, because it makes the cold sweat stand on my face even now to think of it. So I will say only that one time I awoke. She told me later that she did not know whether it was two or three days we had been there thus. She told me that now and then she left me and crept to the top of the ridge to watch the Indian camp. She saw them come in from the chase, their horses loaded with meat. Then, as the sun came out, they went to drying meat, and the squaws began to scrape the hides. As they had abundant food they did not hunt more than that one day, and no one rode in our direction. Our horse she kept concealed and blindfolded until dark, when she allowed him to feed. This morning she had removed the blanket from his head, because now, as she told me with exultation, the Indians had broken camp, mounted and driven away, all of them, far off toward the west. She had cut and dried the remainder of our antelope meat, taking this hint from what we saw the Indians doing, and so most of our remaining meat had been saved.

I looked at her now, idly, dully. I saw that her belt was drawn tighter about a thinner waist. Her face was much thinner and browner, her eyes more sunken. The white strip of her lower neck was now brick red. I dared not ask her how she had gotten through the nights, because she had used the blanket to blindfold the horse. She had hollowed out a place for my hips to lie more easily, and pulled grasses for my bed. In all ways thoughtfulness and unselfishness had been hers. As I realized this, I put my hands over my face and groaned aloud. Then I felt her hand on my head.

"How did you eat?" I asked her. "You have no fire." "Once I had a fire," she said. "I made it with flint and steel as I saw you do. See," she added, and pointed to a ring of ashes, where there were bits of twigs and other fuel.

"Now you must eat," she said. "You are like a shadow. See, I have made you broth."

"Broth?" said I. "How?"

"In your hat," she said. "My father told me how the Indians boil water with hot stones. I tried it in my own hat first, but it is gone. A hot stone burned it through." Then I noticed that she was bareheaded. I lay still for a time, pondering feebly, as best I could, on the courage and resource of this girl, who now no doubt had saved my life, unworthy as it seemed to me. At last I looked up to her.

"After all, I may get well," I said. "Go now to the thicket at the head of the ravine, and see if there are any little cotton-wood trees. Auberry told me that the inner bark is bitter. It may act like quinine, and break the fever."

So presently she came back with my knife and her hands full of soft green bark which she had found. "It is bitter," said she, "but if I boil it it will spoil your broth." I drank of the crude preparation as best I might, and ate feebly as I might at some of the more tender meat thus softened. And then we boiled the bitter bark, and I drank that water, the only medicine we might have. Alas! it was our last use of my hat as a kettle, for now it, too, gave way.

"Now," she said to me, "I must leave you for a time. I am going over to the Indian camp to see what I can find."

She put my head in the saddle for a pillow, and gave me the remnant of her hat for a shade. I saw her go away, clad like an Indian woman, her long braids down her back, her head bare, her face brown, her moccasined feet slipping softly over the grasses, the metals of her leggins tinkling. My eyes followed her as long as she remained visible, and it seemed to me hours before she returned. I missed her.

She came back laughing and joyful. "See!" she exclaimed. "Many things! I have found a knife, and I have found a broken kettle; and here is an awl made from a bone; and here is something which I think their women use in scraping hides." She showed me all these things, last the saw-edged bone, or scraping hoe of the squaws, used for dressing hides, as she had thought.

"Now I am a squaw," she said, smiling oddly. She stood thoughtfully looking at these things for a time. "Yes," she said, "we are savages now."

I looked at her, but could see no despair on her face. "I do not believe you are afraid," I said to her. "You are a splendid creature. You are brave."

She looked down at me at length as I lay. "Have courage, John Cowles," she said. "Get well now soon, so that we may go and hunt. Our meat is nearly gone."

"But you do not despair," said I, wondering. She shook her head.

"Not yet. Are we not as well off as those?" she pointed toward the old encampment of the Indians. A faint tinge came to her cheeks. "It is strange," said she, "I feel as if the world had absolutely come to an end, and yet—"

"It is just beginning," said I to her. "We are alone. This is the first garden of the world. You are the first woman; I am the first cave man, and all the world depends on us. See," I said—perhaps still a trifle confused in my mind—"all the arts and letters of the future, all the paintings, all the money and goods of all the world; all the peace and war, and all the happiness and content of the world rest with us, just us two. We are the world, you and I."

She sat thoughtful and silent for a time, a faint pink, as I said, just showing on her cheeks.

"John Cowles, of Virginia," she said simply, "now tell me, how shall I mend this broken kettle?"



Poor, indeed, in worldly goods must be those to whom the discarded refuse of an abandoned Indian camp seems wealth. Yet such was the case with us, two representatives of the higher civilization, thus removed from that civilization by no more than a few days' span. As soon as I was able to stand we removed our little encampment to the ground lately occupied by the Indian village.

We must have food, and I could not yet hunt. Here at the camp we found some bits of dried meat. We found a ragged and half-hairless robe, discarded by some squaw, and to us it seemed priceless, for now we had a house by day and a bed by night. A half-dozen broken lodge poles seemed riches to us. We hoarded some broken moccasins which had been thrown away. Like jackals we prowled around the filth and refuse of this savage encampment—-we, so lately used to all the comforts that civilization could give.

In the minds of us both came a thought new to both—a desire for food. Never before had we known how urgent is this desire. How few, indeed, ever really know what hunger is! If our great men, those who shape the destinies of a people, could know what hunger means, how different would be their acts! The trail of the lodge poles of these departing savages showed where they had gone farther in their own senseless pursuit of food, food. We also must eat. After that might begin all the deeds of the world. The surplus beyond the necessary provender of the hour is what constitutes the world's progress, its philosophy, its art, all its stored material gains. We who sat there under the shade of our ragged hide, gaunt, browned by the sun, hatless, ill-clad, animals freed from the yoke of society, none the less were not free from the yet more perpetual yoke of savagery.

For myself, weakened by sickness, such food as we had was of little service. I knew that I was starving, and feared that she was doing little better. I looked at her that morning, after we had propped up our little canopy of hide to break the sun. Her face was clean drawn now into hard lines of muscle. Her limbs lay straight and clean before her as she sat, her hands lying in her lap as she looked out across the plains. Her eyes were still brown and clear, her figure still was that of woman; she was still sweet to look upon, but her cheeks were growing hollow. I said to myself that she suffered, that she needed food. Upon us rested the fate of the earth, as it seemed to me. Unless presently I could arise and kill meat for her, then must the world roll void through the ether, unpeopled ever more.

It was at that time useless for us to think of making our way to any settlements or any human aid. The immediate burden of life was first to be supported. And yet we were unable to go out in search of food. I know not what thoughts came to her mind as we sat looking out on the pictures o; the mirage which the sun was painting on the desert landscape. But, finally, as we gazed, there seemed, among these weird images, one colossal tragic shape which moved, advanced, changed definitely. Now It stood in giant stature, and now dwindled, but always it came nearer. At last it darkened and denned and so disappeared beyond a blue ridge not half a mile away from us. We realized at last that it was a solitary buffalo bull, no doubt coming down to water at a little coulee just beyond us. I turned to look at her, and saw her eyes growing fierce. She reached back for my rifle, and I arose.

"Come," I said, and so we started. We dared not use the horse in stalking our game.

I could stand, I could walk a short way, but the weight of this great rifle, sixteen pounds or more, which I had never felt before, now seemed to crush me down. I saw that I was starved, that the sap was gone from my muscles. I could stagger but a few yards before I was obliged to stop and put down the rifle. She came and put her arm about me firmly, her face frowning and eager. But a tall man can ill be aided by a woman of her stature.

"Can you go?" she said.

"No," said I, "I cannot; but I must and I shall." I put away her arm from me, but in turn she caught up the rifle. Even for this I was still too proud. "No," said I, "I have always carried my own weapons thus far."

"Come, then," she said, "this way"; and so caught the muzzle of the heavy barrel and walked on, leaving me the stock to support for my share of the weight. Thus we carried the great rifle between us, and so stumbled on, until at length the sun grew too warm for me, and I dropped, overcome with fatigue. Patiently she waited for me, and so we two, partners, mates, a man and a woman, primitive, the first, went on little by little.

I knew that the bull would in all likelihood stop near the rivulet, for his progress seemed to indicate that he was very old or else wounded. Finally I could see his huge black hump standing less than a quarter of a mile away from the ridge where I last paused. I motioned to her, and she crept to my side, like some desert creature. We were hunting animals now, the two sexes of Man—nothing more.

"Go," said I, motioning toward the rifle. "I am too weak. I might miss. I can get no farther."

She caught up the rifle barrel at its balancing point, looked to the lock as a man might have done, and leaned forward, eager as any man for the chase. There was no fear in her eye.

"Where shall I shoot it?" she whispered to me, as though it might overhear her.

"At the life, at the bare spot where his shoulder rubs, very low down," I said to her. "And when you shoot, drop and He still. He will soon lie down."

Lithe, brown, sinuous, she crept rapidly away, and presently was hid where the grass grew taller in the flat beyond. The bull moved forward a little also, and I lost sight of both for what seemed to me an unconscionable time. She told me later that she crept close to the water hole and waited there for the bull to come, but that he stood back and stared ahead stupidly and would not move. She said she trembled when at last he approached, so savage was his look. Even a man might be smitten with terror at the fierce aspect of one of these animals.

But at last I heard the bitter crack of the rifle and, raising my head, I saw her spring up and then drop down again. Then, staggering a short way up the opposite slope, I saw the slow bulk of the great black bull. He turned and looked back, his head low, his eyes straight ahead. Then slowly he kneeled down, and so died, with his forefeet doubled under him.

She came running back to me, full of savage joy at her Success, and put her arm under my shoulder and told me to come. Slowly, fast as I could, I went with her to our prey.

We butchered our buffalo as Auberry had showed me, from the backbone down, as he sat dead on his forearms, splitting the skin along the spine, and laying it out for the meat to rest upon. Again I made a fire by shooting a tow wad into such tinder as we could arrange from my coat lining, having dried this almost into flame by a burning-glass I made out of a watch crystal filled with water, not in the least a weak sort of lens. She ran for fuel, and for water, and now we cooked and ate, the fresh meat seeming excellent to me. Once more now we moved our camp, the girl returning for the horse and our scanty belongings.

Always now we ate, haggling out the hump ribs, the tongue, the rich back fat; so almost immediately we began to gain In strength. All the next day we worked as we could at drying the meat, and taking the things we needed from the carcass. We got loose one horn, drying one side of the head in the fire. I saved carefully all the sinews of the back, knowing we might need them. Then between us we scraped At the two halves of the hide, drying it in the sun, fleshing it with our little Indian hoe, and presently rubbing into it brains from the head of the carcass, as the hide grew drier in the sun. We were not yet skilled in tanning as the Indian women are, but we saw that now we would have a house and a bed apiece, and food, food. We broiled the ribs at our fire, boiled the broken leg bones in our little kettle. We made fillets of hide to shade our eyes, she thus binding back the long braids of her hair. We rested and were comforted. Each hour, it seemed to me, she rounded and became more beautiful, supple, young, strong—there, in the beginning of the world. We were rich in these, our belongings, which we shared.



Hitherto, while I was weak, exhausted, and unable to reason beyond the vague factors of anxiety and dread, she had cared for me simply, as though she were a young boy and I an older man. The small details of our daily life she had assumed, because she still was the stronger. Without plot or plan, and simply through the stern command of necessity, our interests had been identical, our plans covered us both as one. At night, for the sake of warmth, we had slept closely, side by side, both too weary and worn out to reason regarding that or any other thing. Once, in the night, I know I felt her arm across my face, upon my head her hand—she still sleeping, and millions of miles away among the stars. I would not have waked her.

But now, behold the strange story of man's advance in what he calls civilization. Behold what property means in regard to what we call laws. We were rich now. We had two pieces of robe instead of one. We might be two creatures now, a man and a woman, a wall between, instead of two suffering, perishing animals, with but one common need, that of self-preservation. There were two houses now, two beds; because this might be and still allow us to survive. Our table was common, and that was all.

I grew stronger rapidly. In spite of my wish, my eyes rested upon her; and thus I noticed that she had changed. My little boy was no longer a little boy, but some strange creature—I knew hot what—like to nothing I had ever seen or known; like no woman of the towns, and no savage of the plains, but better than both and different from either, inscrutable, sweet, yes, and very sad. Often I saw tears in her eyes.

During that first night when we slept apart, the wolves came very close to our meat heaps and set up their usual roaring chorus. The terror of this she could not endure, and so she came creeping with her half robe to my side where I lay. That was necessary. Later that night when she awoke under the shelter of her half hide, she found me sitting awake, near the opening. But she would not have me put over her my portion of the robe. She made of our party two individuals, and that I must understand. I must understand now that society was beginning again, and law, and custom. My playfellow was gone. I liked scarce so well this new creature, with the face of a Sphinx, the form of a woman, the eyes of something hurt, that wept—that wept, because of these results of my own awkwardness and misfortunes.

I say that I was growing stronger. At night, in front of her poor shelter, I sat and thought, and looked out at the stars. The stars said to me that life and desire were one, that the world must go on, that all the future of the world rested with us two. But at this I rebelled. "Ah, prurient stars!" I cried, "and evil of mind! What matters it that you suffer or that I suffer? Let the world end, yes, let the world end before this strange new companion, gained in want, and poverty, and suffering, and now lost by reason of comforts and health, shall shed one tear of suffering!"

But sometimes, worn out by watching, I, too, must lie down. Again, in her sleep, I felt her arm rest upon my neck. Now, God give me what He listeth, but may not this thing come to me again.

For now, day by day, night by night, against all my will and wish, against all my mind and resolution, I knew that I was loving this new being with all my heart and all my soul, forsaking all others, and that this would be until death should us part. I knew that neither here nor elsewhere in the world was anything which could make me whole of this—no principles of duty or honor, no wish nor inclination nor resolve!

I had eaten. I loved. I saw what life is.

I saw the great deceit of Nature. I saw her plan, her wish, her merciless, pitiless desire; and seeing this, I smiled slowly in the dark at the mockery of what we call civilization, its fuss and flurry, its pretense, its misery. Indeed, we are small, but life is not small. We are small, but love is very large and strong, born as it is of the great necessity that man shall not forget the world, that woman shall not rob the race.

For myself, I accepted my station in this plan, saying nothing beyond my own soul. None the less, I said there to my own soul, that this must be now, till death should come to part us twain.



Soon now we would be able to travel; but whither, and for what purpose? I began to shrink from the thought of change. This wild world was enough for me. So long as we might eat and sleep thus, and so long as I might not lose sight of her, it seemed to me I could not anywhere gain in happiness and content. Elsewhere I must lose both.

None the less we must travel. We had been absent now from civilization some three weeks, and must have been given up long since. Our party must have passed far to the westward, and by this time our story was known at Laramie and elsewhere. Parties were no doubt in search of us at that time. But where should these search in that wilderness of the unknown Plains. How should it be known that we were almost within touch of the great highway of the West, now again thronging with wagon trains? By force of these strange circumstances which I have related we were utterly gone, blotted out; our old world no longer existed for us, nor we for it.

As I argued to myself again and again, the laws and customs of that forgotten world no longer belonged to us. We must build laws again, laws for the good of the greatest number. I can promise, who have been in place to know, that in one month's time civilization shall utterly fade away from the human heart, that a new state of life shall within that space enforce itself, so close lies the savage in us always to the skin. This vast scheme of organized selfishness, which is called civilization, shall within three weeks be forgot and found useless, be rescinded as a contract between remaining units of society. This vast fabric of waste and ruin known as wealth shall be swept away at a breath within one month. Then shall endure only the great things of life. Above those shall stand two things—a woman and a man. Without these society is not, these two, a woman and a man.

So I would sit at night, nodding under the stars, and vaguely dreaming of these matters, and things came to me sweetly, things unknown in our ignorance and evil of mind, as we live in what we call civilization. They would become clear underneath the stars; and then the dawn would come, and she would come and sit by me, looking out over the Plains at the shimmering pictures. "What do you see?" she would ask of me.

"I see the ruins of that dome known as the capitol of our nation," I said to her, "where they make laws. See, it is in ruins, and what I see beyond is better."

"Then what more do you see," she would ask.

"I see the ruins of tall buildings of brick and iron, prisons where souls are racked, and deeds of evil are done, and iron sunk into human hearts, and vice and crime, and oppression and wrong of life and love are wrought. These are in ruins, and what I see beyond is better." Humoring me, she would ask that I would tell her further what I saw.

"I see the ruins of tall spires, where the truth was offered by bold assertion. I see the ruins of religion, corrupt because done for gain.

"I see houses also, much crowded, where much traffic and bartering and evil was done, much sale of flesh and blood and love and happiness, ruin, unhappiness. And what I see now is far better than all that."

"And then—" she whispered faintly, her hand upon my sleeve, and looking out with me over the Plains, where the mirage was wavering.

"I see there," I said, and pointed it out to her, "only a Garden, a vast, sweet Garden. And there arises a Tree—-one Tree."

This was my world. But she, looking out over the Plains, still saw with the eye of yesterday. Upon woman the artificial imprint of heredity is set more deeply than with man. The commands of society are wrought into her soul.



Even as we were putting together our small belongings for the resumption of our journey, I looked up and saw what I took to be a wolf, stalking along in the grass near the edge of our encampment. I would have shot it, but reflected that I must not waste a shot on wolves. Advancing closer toward it, as something about its motions attracted me, I saw it was a dog. It would not allow me to approach, but as Ellen came it lay down in the grass, and she got close to it.

"It is sick," she said, "or hurt," and she tossed it a bone.

"Quick," I called out to her, "get it! Tame it. It is worth more than riches to us, that dog."

So she, coaxing it, at last got her hands upon its head, though it would not wag its tail or make any sign of friendship. It was a wolfish mongrel Indian dog. One side of its head was cut or crushed, and it seemed that possibly some squaw had struck it, with intent perhaps to put it into the kettle, but with aim so bad that the victim had escaped.

To savage man, a dog is of nearly as much use as a horse. Now we had a horse and a dog, and food, and weapons, and shelter. It was time we should depart, and we now were well equipped to travel. But whither?

"It seems to me," said I, "that our safest plan is to keep away from the Platte, where the Indians are more apt to be. If we keep west until we reach the mountains, we certainly will be above Laramie, and then if we follow south along the mountains, we must strike the Platte again, and so find Laramie, if we do not meet any one before that time." It may be seen how vague was my geography in regard to a region then little known to any.

"My father will have out the whole Army looking for us," said Ellen Meriwether to me. "We may be found any day."

But for many a day we were not found. We traveled westward day after day, she upon the horse, I walking with the dog. We had a rude travois, which we forced our horse to draw, and our little belongings we carried in a leathern bag, slung between two lodge poles. The dog we did not yet load, although the rubbed hair on his shoulders showed that he was used to harness.

At times on these high rolling plains we saw the buffalo, and when our dried meat ran low I paused for food, not daring to risk waste of our scanty ammunition at such hard game as antelope. Once I lay at a path near a water hole in the pocket of a half-dried stream, and killed two buffalo cows. Here was abundant work for more than two days, cutting, drying, scraping, feasting. Life began to run keen in our veins, in spite of all. I heard her sing, that day, saw her smile. Now our worldly goods were increasing, so I cut down two lodge poles and made a little travois for the dog. We had hides enough now for a small tent, needing only sufficient poles.

"Soon," said she to me, "we will be at Laramie."

"Pray God," said I to myself, "that we never may see Laramie!" I have said that I would set down the truth. And this is the truth; I was becoming a savage. I truly wanted nothing better. I think this might happen to many a man, at least of that day.

We forded several streams, one a large one, which I now think must have been the North Platte; but no river ran as we fancied the Platte must run. So we kept on, until we came one day to a spot whence we saw something low and unmoving and purple, far off in the northwest. This we studied, and so at length saw that it was the mountains. At last our journeying would change, at least, perhaps terminate ere long. A few more days would bring us within touch of this distant range, which, as I suppose now, might possibly have been a spur of what then were still called the Black Hills, a name which applied to several ranges far to the west and south of the mountains now so called. Or perhaps these were peaks of the mountains later called the Laramie Range.

Then came a thing hard for us to bear. Our horse, hobbled as usual for the night, and, moreover, picketed on a long rope I had made from buffalo hides, managed some time in the night to break his hobbles and in some way to pull loose the picket pin. When we saw that he was gone we looked at each other blankly.

"What shall we do?" she asked me in horror. For the first time I saw her sit down in despair. "We are lost! What shall we do?" she wailed.

I trailed the missing horse for many miles, but could only tell he was going steadily, lined out for some distant point. I dared not pursue him farther and leave her behind. An hour after noon I returned and sullenly threw myself on the ground beside her at our little bivouac. I could not bear to think of her being reduced to foot travel over all these cruel miles. Yet, indeed, it now must come to that.

"We have the dog," said I at length. "We can carry a robe and a little meat, and walk slowly. I can carry a hundred pound pack if need be, and the dog can take twenty-five—"

"And I can carry something," she said, rising with her old courage. "It is my part." I made her a pack of ten pounds, and soon seeing that it was too heavy, I took it from her and threw it on my own.

"At least I shall carry the belt," she said. And so she took my belt, with its flask and bullet pouch, the latter now all too scantily filled.

Thus, sore at heart, and somewhat weary, we struggled on through that afternoon, and sank down beside a little water hole. And that night, when I reached to her for my belt that we might again make our fire, she went pale and cried aloud that she had lost it, and that now indeed we must die!

I could hardly comfort her by telling her that on the morrow I would certainly find it. I knew that in case I did not our plight indeed was serious. She wept that night, wept like a child, starting and moaning often in her sleep. That night, for the first time, I took her in my arms and tried to comfort her. I, being now a savage, prayed to the Great Spirit, the Mystery, that my own blood might not be as water, that my heart might be strong—the old savage prayers of primitive man brought face to face with nature.

When morning came I told her I must go back on the trail. "See, now, what this dog has done for us," I said. "The scratches on the ground of his little travois poles will make a trail easy to be followed. I must take him with me and run back the trail. For you, stay here by the water and no matter what your fears, do not move from here in any case, even if I should not be back by night."

"But what if you should not come back!" she said, her terror showing in her eyes.

"But I will come back," I replied. "I will never leave you. I would rise from my grave to come back to you. But the time has not yet come to lie down and die. Be strong. We shall yet be safe."

So I was obliged to turn and leave her sitting alone there, the gray sweep of the merciless Plains all about her. Another woman would have gone mad.

But it was as I said. This dog was our savior. Without his nose I could not have traced out the little travois trail; but he, seeing what was needed, and finding me nosing along and doubling back and seeking on the hard ground, seemed to know what was required, or perhaps himself thought to go back to some old camp for food. So presently he trotted along, his ears up, his nose straight ahead; and I, a savage, depended upon a creature still a little lower in the order of life, and that creature proved a faithful servant.

We went on at a swinging walk, or trot, or lope, as the ground said, and ate up the distance at twice the speed we had used the day before. In a couple of hours I was close to where she had taken the belt, and so at last I saw the dog drop his nose and sniff. There were the missing riches, priceless beyond gold—the little leaden balls, the powder, dry in its horn, the little rolls of tow, the knife swung at the girdle! I knelt down there on the sand, I, John Cowles, once civilized and now heathen, and I raised my frayed and ragged hands toward the Mystery, and begged that I might be forever free of the great crime of thanklessness. Then, laughing at the dog, and loping on tireless as when I was a boy, I ran as though sickness and weakness had never been mine, and presently came back to the place where I had left her.

She saw me coming. She ran out to meet me, holding out her arms.... I say she came, holding out her arms to me.

"Sit down here by my side," I commanded her. "I must talk to you. I will—I will."

"Do not," she implored of me, seeing what was in my mind. "Ah, what shall I do! You are not fair!"

But I took her hands in mine. "I can endure it no longer," I said. "I will not endure it."

She looked at me with her eyes wide—looked me full in the face with such a gaze as I have never seen on any woman's face.

"I love you," I said to her. "I have never loved any one else. I can never love any one again but you." I say that I, John Cowles, had at that moment utterly forgotten all of life and all of the world except this, then and there. "I love you!" I said, over and over again to her.

She pushed away my arm. "They are all the same," she said, as though to herself.

"Yes, all the same," I said. "There is no man who would not love you, here or anywhere."

"To how many have you said that?" she asked me, frowning, as though absorbed, studious, intent on some problem.

"To some," I said to her, honestly. "But it was never thus."

She curled her lip, scorning the truth which she had asked now that she had it. "And if any other woman were here it would be the same. It is because I am here, because we are alone, because I am a woman—ah, that is neither wise nor brave nor good of you!"

"That is not true! Were it any other woman, yes, what you say might be true in one way. But I love you not because you are a woman. It is because you are Ellen. You would be the only woman in the world, no matter where we were nor how many were about us. Though I could choose from all the world, it would be the same!"

She listened with her eyes far away, thinking, thinking. "It is the old story," she sighed.

"Yes, the old story," I said. "It is the same story, the old one. There are the witnesses, the hills, the sky."

"You seem to have thought of such things," she said to me, slowly. "I have not thought. I have simply lived along, enjoying life, not thinking. Do we love because we are but creatures? I cannot be loved so—I will not be! I will not submit that what I have sometimes dreamed shall be so narrow as this. John Cowles, a woman must be loved for herself, not for her sex, by some one who is a man, but who is beside—"

"Oh, I have said all that. I loved you the first time I saw you—the first time, there at the dance."

"And forgot, and cared for another girl the next day.' She argued that all over again.

"That other girl was you," I once more reiterated.

"And again you forgot me."

"And again what made me forget you was yourself! Each time you were that other girl, that other woman. Each time I have seen you you have been different, and each time I have loved you over again. Each day I see you now you are different, Ellen, and each day I love you more. How many times shall I solve this same problem, and come to the same answer. I tell you, the thing is ended and done for me."

"It is easy to think so here, with only the hills and skies to see and hear."

"No, it would be the same," I said. "It is not because of that."

"It is not because I am in your power?" she said. She turned and faced me, her hands on my shoulders, looking me full in the eye. The act a brave one.

"Because I am in your power, John Cowles?" she asked. "Because by accident you have learned that I am a comely woman, as you are a strong man, normal, because I am fit to love, not ill to look at? Because a cruel accident has put me where my name is jeopardized forever—in a situation out of which I can never, never come clean again—is that why? Do you figure that I am a woman because you are a man? Is that why? Is it because you know I am human, and young, and fit for love? Ah, I know that as well as you. But I am in your hands—I am in your power. That is why I say, John Cowles, that you must try to think, that you must do nothing which shall make me hate you or make you hate yourself."

"I thought you missed me when I was gone," I murmured faintly.

"I did miss you," she said. "The world seemed ended for me. I needed you, I wanted you—" I turned toward her swiftly. "Wanted me?"

"I was glad to see you come back. While you were gone I thought. Yes, you have been brave and you have been kind, and you have been strong. Now I am only asking you still to be brave, and kind, and strong."

"But do you love me, will you love me—can you—"

"Because we are here," she said, "I will not answer. What is right, John Cowles, that we should do."

Woman is strongest when armored in her own weakness. My hands fell to the ground beside me. The heats vanished from my blood. I shuddered. I could not smile without my mouth going crooked, I fear. But at last I smiled as best I could, and I said to her, "Ellen! Ellen!" That was all I could find to say.



Strength came to us as we had need, and gradually even the weaker of us two became able to complete the day's journey without the exhaustion it at first had cost her. Summer was now upon us, and the heat at midday was intense, although the nights, as usual, were cold. Deprived of all pack animals, except our dog, we were perforce reduced to the lightest of gear, and discomfort was our continual lot. Food, however, we could still secure, abundant meat, and sometimes the roots of plants which I dug up and tested, though I scarce knew what they were.

We moved steadily on toward the west and northwest, but although we crossed many old Indian trails, we saw no more of these travelers of the Plains. At that time the country which we were traversing had no white population, although the valley of the Platte had long been part of a dusty transcontinental highway. It was on this highway that the savages were that summer hanging, and even had we been certain of its exact location, I should have feared to enter the Platte valley, lest we should meet red men rather than white.

At times we lost the buffalo for days, more especially as we approached the foothills of the mountains, and although antelope became more numerous there, they were far more difficult to kill, and apt to cost us more of our precious ammunition. I planned to myself that if we did not presently escape I would see what might be done toward making a bow and arrows for use on small game, which we could not afford to purchase at the cost of precious powder and ball.

I was glad, therefore, when we saw the first timber of the foothills; still gladder, for many reasons, when I found that we were entering the winding course of a flattened, broken stream, which presently ran back into a shingly valley, hedged in by ranks of noble mountains, snow white on their peaks. Here life should prove easier to us for the time, the country offering abundant shelter and fuel, perhaps game, and certainly change from the monotony of the Plains.

Here, I said to myself, our westward journey must end. It would be bootless to pass beyond Laramie into the mountains, and our next course, I thought, must be toward the south. I did not know that we were then perhaps a hundred miles or more northwest of Laramie, deep in a mountain range far north of the transcontinental trail. For the time, however, it seemed wise to tarry here for rest and recruiting. I threw down the pack. "Now," said I to her, "we rest."

"Yes," she replied, turning her face to the south, "Laramie is that way now. If we stop here my father will come and find us. But then, how could he find us, little as we are, in this big country? Our trail would not be different from that of Indians, even if they found it fresh enough to read. Suppose they never found us!"

"Then," said I, "we should have to live here, forever and ever."

She looked at me curiously. "Could we?" she asked.

"Until I was too old to hunt, you too weak to sew the robes or cook the food."

"What would happen then?"

"We would die," said I. "The world would end, would have to begin all over again and wait twice ten million years until man again was evolved from the amoeba, the reptile, the ape. When we died, this dog here would be the only hope of the world."

She looked at the eternal hills in their snow, and made no answer. Presently we turned to our duties about the camp.

It was understood that we should stay here for at least two days, to mend our clothing and prepare food for the southern journey. I have said I was not happy at the thought of turning toward that world which I had missed so little. Could the wild freedom of this life have worked a similar spell on her? The next day she came to me as I sat by our meager fireside. Without leading of mine she began a manner of speech until now foreign to her.

"What is marriage, John Cowles?" she asked of me, abruptly, with no preface.

"It is the Plan," I answered, apathetically. She pondered for a time.

"Are we, then, only creatures, puppets, toys?"

"Yes," I said to her. "A man is a toy. Love was born before man was created, before animals or plants. Atom, ran to atom, seeking. It was love." She pondered yet a while.

"And what is it, then, John Cowles, that women call 'wrong'?"

"Very often what is right," I said to her, apathetically. "When two love the crime is that they shall not wed. When they do not love, the crime is when they do wed."

"But without marriage," she hesitated, "the home—"

"It is the old question," I said. "The home is built on woman's virtue; but virtue is not the same where there is no tome, no property, where there is no society—it is an artificial thing, born of compromise, and grown stronger by custom of the ages of property-owning man."

I saw a horror come across her eyes.

"What do you say to me, John Cowles? That what a woman prizes is not right, is not good? No, that I shall not think!" She drew apart from me.

"Because you think just as you do, I love you," I said.

"Yet you say so many things. I have taken life as it came, just as other girls do, not thinking. It is not nice, it is not clean, that girls should study over these things. That is not right."

"No, that is not right," said I, dully.

"Then tell me, what is marriage—that one thing a girl dreams of all her life. Is it of the church?"

"It is not of the church," I said.

"Then it is the law."

"It is not the law," I said.

"Then what is it?" she asked. "John Cowles, tell me, what makes a wedding between two who really and truly love. Can marriage be of but two?"

"Yes," said I.

"But there must be witnesses—there must be ceremony—else there is no marriage," she went on. Her woman's brain clung to the safe, sane groove which alone can guide progress and civilization and society—that great, cruel, kind, imperative compromise of marriage, without which all the advancement of the world would be as naught. I loved her for it. But for me, I say I had gone savage. I was at the beginning of all this, whereas it remained with her as she had left it.

"Witnesses?" I said. "Look at those!" I pointed to the mountains. "Marriages, many of them, have been made with no better witnesses than those."

My heart stopped when I saw how far she had jumped to her next speech.

"Then we two are all the people left in the world, John Cowles? When I am old, will you cast me off? When another woman comes into this valley, when I am bent and old, and cannot see, will you cast me off, and, being stronger than I am, will you go and leave me?"

I could not speak at first. "We have talked too much," I said to her presently. But now it was she who would not desist.

"You see, with a woman it is for better, for worse—but with a man—"

"With a Saxon man," I said, "it is also for better, for worse. It is one woman."

She sat and thought for a long time. "Suppose," she said, "that no one ever came."

Now with swift remorse I could see that in her own courage she was feeling her way, haltingly, slowly, toward solution of problems which most women take ready solved from others. But, as I thank God, a filmy veil, softening, refining, always lay between her and reality. In her intentness she laid hold upon my arm, her two hands clasping.

"Suppose two were here, a man and a woman, and he swore before those eternal witnesses that he would not go away any time until she was dead and laid away up in the trees, to dry away and blow off into the air, and go back—"

"Into the flowers," I added, choking.

"Yes, into the trees and the flowers—so that when she was dead and he was dead, and they were both gone back into the flowers, they would still know each other for ever and ever and never be ashamed—would that be a marriage before God, John Cowles?"

What had I brought to this girl's creed of life, heretofore always so sweet and usual? I did not answer. She shook at my arm. "Tell me!" she said. But I would not tell her.

"Suppose they did not come," she said once more. "It is true, they may not find us. Suppose we two were to live here alone, all this winter—just as we are now—none of my people or yours near us. Could we go on?"

"God! Woman, have you no mercy!"

She sat and pondered for yet a time, as though seriously weighing some question in her mind.

"But you have taught me to think, John Cowles. It is you who have begun my thinking, so now I must think. I know we cannot tell what may happen. I ask you, 'John Cowles, if we were brought to that state which we both know might happen—if we were here all alone and no one came, and if you loved me—ah, then would you promise, forever and forever, to love me till death did us part—till I was gone back into the flowers? I remember what they say at weddings. They cling one to the other, forsaking all others, till death do them part. Could you promise me—in that way? Could you promise me, clean and solemn? Because, I would not promise you unless it was solemn, and clean, and unless it was forever."

Strange, indeed, these few days in the desert, which had so drawn apart the veil of things and left us both ready to see so far. She had not seen so far as I, but, womanlike, had reasoned more quickly.

As for me, it seemed that I saw into her heart. I dropped my hands from my eyes and looked at her strangely, my own brain in a whirl, my logic gone. All I knew was that then or elsewhere, whether or not rescue ever came for us, whether we died now or later, there or anywhere in all the world, I would, indeed, love her and her only, forsaking all others until, indeed, we were gone back into the sky and flowers, until we whispered again in the trees, one unto the other! Marriage or no marriage, together or apart, in sickness or in health—so there came to me the stern conviction—love could knock no more at my heart, where once she had stood in her courage and her cleanness. Reverence, I say, was now the one thing left in my heart. Still we sat, and watched the sun shine on the distant white-topped peaks. I turned to her slowly at length.

"Ellen," I said, "do you indeed love me?"

"How can I help it, John Cowles," she answered bravely. My heart stopped short, then raced on, bursting all control. It was long before I could be calm as she.

"You have helped it very long," I said at last, quietly. "But now I must know—would you love me anywhere, in any circumstances, in spite of all? I love you because you are You, not because you are here. I must be loved in the same way, always."

She looked at me now silently, and I leaned and kissed her full on the mouth.



She did not rebel or draw away, but there was that on her face, I say, which left me only reverent. Her hand fell into mine. We sat there, plighted, plighted in our rags and misery and want and solitude. Though I should live twice the allotted span of man, never should I forget what came into my soul that hour.

After a time I turned from her, and from the hills, and from the sky, and looked about us at the poor belongings with which we were to begin our world. All at once my eye fell upon one of our lighter robes, now fairly white with much working. I drew it toward me, and with her still leaning against my shoulder, I took up a charred stick, and so, laboriously, I wrote upon the surface of the hide, these words of our covenant:

"I, John Cowles, take thee, Ellen Meriwether, to be my lawful, wedded wife, in sickness, and in health, for better of for worse, till death do us part."

And I signed it; and made a seal after my name.

"Write," said I to her. "Write as I have written."

She took a fresh brand, blackened at the end, and in lesser characters wrote slowly, letter by letter:

"I, Ellen Meriwether, take thee, John Cowles, to be my lawful, wedded husband—" She paused, but I would not urge her, and it was moments before she resumed—"in sickness and in health, for better or for worse—" Again she paused, thinking, thinking—and so concluded, "till death do us part."

"It means," she said to me, simply as a child, "until we have both gone back into the flowers and the trees."

I took her hand in mine. Mayhap book and bell and organ peal and vestured choir and high ceremony of the church may be more solemn; but I, who speak the truth from this very knowledge, think it could not be.

"When you have signed that, Ellen," I said to her at last, "we two are man and wife, now and forever, here and any place in the world. That is a binding ceremony, and it endows you with your share of all my property, small or large as that may be. It is a legal wedding, and it holds us with all the powers the law can have. It is a contract."

"Do not talk to me of contracts," she said. "I am thinking of nothing but our—wedding."

Still mystical, still enigma, still woman, she would have it that the stars, the mountains—-the witnesses—and not ourselves, made the wedding. I left it so, sure of nothing so much as that, whatever her way of thought might be, it was better than my own.

"But if I do not sign this?" she asked at length.

"Then we are not married."

She sighed and laid down the pen. "Then I shall not sign it—yet," she said.

I caught up her hand as though I would write for her.

"No," she said, "it shall be only our engagement, our troth between us. This will be our way. I have not yet been sufficiently wooed, John Cowles!"

I looked into her eyes and it seemed to me I saw there something of the same light I had seen when she was the masked coquette of the Army ball—the yearning, the melancholy, the mysticism, the challenge, the invitation and the doubting—ah, who shall say what there is in a woman's eye! But I saw also what had been in her eyes each time I had seen her since that hour. I left it so, knowing that her way would be best.

"When we have escaped," she went on, "if ever we do escape, then this will still be our troth, will it not, John Cowles?"

"Yes, and our marriage, when you have signed, now or any other time."

"But if you had ever signed words like these with any other woman, then it would not be our marriage nor our troth, would it, John Cowles?"

"No," I said. And, then I felt my face grow ashy cold and pale in one sudden breath!

"But why do you look so sad?" she asked of me, suddenly. "Is it not well to wait?"

"Yes, it is well to wait," I said. She was so absorbed that she did not look at me closely at that instant.

Again she took up the charred stick in her little hand, and hesitated. "See," she said, "I shall sign one letter of my name each week, until all my name is written! Till that last letter we shall be engaged. After the last letter, when I have signed it of my own free will, and clean, and solemn—clean and solemn, John Cowles—then we will be—Oh, take me home—take me to my father, John Cowles! This is a hard place for a girl to be."

Suddenly she dropped her face into her hands, sobbing.

She hid her head on my breast, sore distressed now. She was glad that she might now be more free, needing some manner of friend; but she was still—what? Still woman! Poor Saxon I must have been had I not sworn to love her fiercely and singly all my life. But yet—

I looked at the robe, now fallen loose upon the ground, and saw that she had affixed one letter of her name and stopped. She smiled wanly. "Your name would be shorter to sign a little at a time," she said; "but a girl must have time. She must wait. And see," she said, "I have no ring. A girl always has a ring."

This lack I could not solve, for I had none.

"Take mine," she said, removing the ring with the rose seal. "Put it on the other finger—the—the right one."

I did so; and I kissed her. But yet—

She was weary and strained now. A pathetic droop came to the corners of her mouth. The palm of her little hand turned up loosely, as though she had been tired and now was resting. "We must wait," she said, as though to herself.

But what of me that night? When I had taken my own house and bed beyond a little thicket, that she might be alone, that night I found myself breathing hard in terror and dread, gazing up at the stars in agony, beating my hands on the ground at the thought of the ruin I had wrought, the crime that I had done in gaining this I had sought.

I had written covenants before! I have said that I would tell simply the truth in these pages, and this is the truth, the only extenuation I may claim. The strength and sweetness of all this strange new life with her had utterly wiped out my past, had put away, as though forever, the world I once had known. Until the moment Ellen Meriwether began the signing of her name, I swear I had forgotten that ever in the world was another by name of Grace Sheraton! I may not be believed—I ought not to be believed; but this is the truth and the truth by what measure my love for Ellen Meriwether was bright and fixed, as much as my promise to the other had been ill-advised and wrong.

A forsworn man, I lay there, thinking of her, sweet, simple, serious and trusting, who had promised to love me, an utterly unworthy man, until we two should go back into the flowers.

Far rather had I been beneath the sod that moment; for I knew, since I loved Ellen Meriwether, she must not complete the signing of her name upon the scroll of our covenant!



The question of food ever arose for settlement, and early the next morning I set out upon a short exploring expedition through our new country, to learn what I might of its resources. There were trout in our little mountain stream, and although we had no hooks or lines I managed to take a few of these in my hands, chasing them under the stones. Also I found many berries now beginning to ripen, and as the forest growth offered us new supplies, I gathered certain barks, thinking that we might make some sort of drink, medicinal if not pleasant. Tracks of deer were abundant; I saw a few antelope, and supposed that possibly these bolder slopes might hold mountain sheep. None of these smaller animals was so useful to us as the buffalo, for each would cost as much expenditure of precious ammunition, and yield less return in bulk. I shook the bullet pouch at my belt, and found it light. We had barely two dozen bullets left; and few hunters would promise themselves over a dozen head of big game for twice as many shots.

I cast about me in search of red cedar that I might make a bow. I searched the willow thicket for arrow shafts, and prowled among little flints and pointed stones on the shores of our stream, seeking arrow points. It finally appeared to me that we might rest here for a time and be fairly safe to make a living in some way. Then, as I was obliged to admit, we would need to hurry on to the southward.

But again fate had its way with us, setting aside all plans. When I returned to our encampment, instead of seeing Ellen come out to meet me as I expected, I found her lying in the shade of the little tepee.

"You are hurt!" I cried. "What has happened?"

"My foot," said she, "I think it is broken!" She was unable to stand.

As she could, catching her breath, she told me how this accident had happened. Walking along the stony creek bank, she had slipped, and her moccasined foot, caught in the narrow crack between two rocks, had been held fast as she fell forward. It pained her now almost unbearably. Tears stood in her eyes.

So now it was my term to be surgeon. Tenderly as I might, I examined the foot, now badly swollen and rapidly becoming discolored. In spite of her protest—although I know it hurt me more than herself—I flexed the joints and found the ankle at least safe. Alas! a little grating in the smaller bones, just below the instep, told me of a fracture.

"Ellen," said I to her, "the foot is broken here—two bones, I think, are gone."

She sank back upon her robe with an exclamation as much of horror as pain.

"What shall we do!" she murmured. "I shall be crippled! I cannot walk—we shall perish!"

"No," I said to her, "we shall mend it. In time you will not know it has happened." Thus we gave courage to each other.

All that morning I poured water from a little height upon the bared foot, so that presently the inflammation and the pain lessened. Then I set out to secure flat splints and some soft bark, and so presently splintered and bound the foot, skillfully as I knew how; and this must have brought the broken bones in good juxtaposition, for at least I know that eventually nature was kind enough to heal this hurt and leave no trace of it.

Now, when she was thus helpless and suffering, needing all her strength, how could I find it in my heart to tell her that secret which it was my duty to tell? How could I inflict upon her a still more poignant suffering than this physical one? Each morning I said to myself, "To-day, if she is better, I will tell her of Grace Sheraton; she must know." But each time I saw her face I could not tell her.

Each day she placed a clean white pebble in a little pile at her side. Presently there were seven.

"John Cowles," she said to me that morning, "bring me our writing, and bring me my pen. To-day I must sign another letter." And, smiling, she did so, looking up into my face with love showing on her own. Had the charcoal been living flame, and had she written on my bare heart, she could not have hurt me more.

Of course, all the simple duties of our life now devolved upon myself. I must hunt, and keep the camp, and cook, and bring the fuel; so that much of the time I was by necessity away from her. Feverishly I explored all our little valley and exulted that here nature was so kind to us. I trapped hares in little runways. I made me a bow and some arrows, and very often I killed stupid grouse with these or even with stones or sticks, as they sat in the trees; and in bark baskets that I made I brought home many berries, now beginning to ripen fully. Roots and bulbs as I found them I experimented with, though not with much success. Occasionally I found fungi which made food. Flowers also I brought to her, flowers of the early autumn, because now the snows were beginning to come down lower on the mountains. In two months winter would be upon us. In one month we would have snow in the valley.

The little pile of white stones at her side again grew, slowly, slowly. Letter by letter her name grew invisible form on the scroll of our covenant—her name, already written, and more deeply, on my heart. On the fifth week she called once more for her charcoal pen, and signed the last letter of her Christian name!

"See, there," she said, "it is all my girl name, E-l-l-e-n." I looked at it, her hand in mine.

"'Ellen!'" I murmured. "It is signature enough, because you are the only Ellen in the world." But she put away my hand gently and said, "Wait."

She asked me now to get her some sort of cut branch for a crutch, saying she was going to walk. And walk she did, though resting her foot very little on the ground. After that, daily she went farther and farther, watched me as I guddled for trout in the stream, aided me as I picked berries in the thickets, helped me with the deer I brought into camp.

"You are very good to me," she said, "and you hunt well. You work. You are a man, John Cowles. I love you."

But hearing words so sweet as these to me, still I did not tell her what secret was in my soul. Each day I said to myself that presently she would be strong enough to bear it, and that then I would tell her. Each day that other world seemed vaguer and farther away. But each day passed and I could not speak. Each day it seemed less worth while to speak. Now I could not endure the thought of losing her. I say that I could not. Let none judge me too harshly who have not known the full measure of this world and that.

There was much sign of bears in our thickets, and I warned her not to go out alone after berries where these long-footed beasts now fed regularly. Sometimes we went there together, with our vessels of bark, and filled them slowly, as she hobbled along. Our little dog was now always with us, having become far more tamed and docile with us than is ever the case of an Indian dog in savagery. One day we wandered in a dense berry thicket, out of which rose here and there chokecherry trees, and we began to gather some of these sour fruits for use in the pemmican which we planned to manufacture. All at once we came to a spot where the cherry trees were torn down, pulled over, ripped up by the roots. The torn earth was very fresh, and I knew that the bear that had done the work could not be far away.

All at once our dog began to growl and erect his hair, sniffing not at the foot scent, but looking directly into the thicket just ahead. He began then to bark, and as he did so there rose, with a sullen sort of grunt and a champing of jaws like a great hog, a vast yellow-gray object, whose head topped the bushes that grew densely all about. The girl at my side uttered a cry of terror and turned to run as best she might, but she fell, and lay there cowering.

The grizzly stood looking at me vindictively with little eyes, its ears back, its jaws working, its paws swinging loosely at its side, the claws white at the lower end, as though newly sharpened for slaughtering. I saw then that it was angered by the sight of the dog, and would not leave us. Each moment I expected to hear it crash through the bush in its charge. Once down in the brush, there would be small chance of delivering a fatal shot; whereas now, as it swung its broad head slightly to one side, the best possible opportunity for killing it presented itself immediately. Without hesitation I swung up the heavy barrel, and drew the small silver bead directly on the base of the ear, where the side bones of a bear's head are flatter and thinner, directly alongside the brain. The vicious crack of the rifle sounded loud there in the thicket; but there came no answer in response to it save a crashing and slipping and a breaking down of the bushes as the vast carcass fell at full length. The little ball had done its work and found the brain.

I knew the bear was dead, but for a time did not venture closely. I looked about and saw the girl slowly rising on her elbow, her face uncovered now, but white in terror. I motioned for her to lie still, and having reloaded, I pushed quietly through the undergrowth. I saw a vast gray, grizzled heap lying there, shapeless, motionless. Then I shouted aloud and went back and picked her up and carried her through the broken thicket, and placed her on the dead body of the grizzly, seating myself at her side.

We were two savages, successful now in the chase—successful, indeed, in winning the capital prize of all savages; for few Indians will attack the grizzly if it can be avoided. She laid her hand wonderingly upon the barrel of the rifle, looking at it curiously, that it had been so deadly as to slay a creature so vast as this. Then she leaned contentedly against my side, and so we sat there for a time. "John Cowles," she said, "you are brave. You are very much a man. I am not afraid when you are with me." I put my arm about her. The world seemed wild and fair and sweet to me. Life, savage, stern, swept through all my veins.

The skinning of the bear was a task of some moment, and as we did this we exulted that we would now have so fine a robe. The coarse meat we could not use, but the fat I took off in flakes and strips, and hung upon the bushes around us for later carrying into camp. In this work she assisted me, hobbling about as best she might.

We were busy at this, both of us greasy and bloody to our elbows, when all at once we stopped and looked at each other in silence. We had heard a sound. To me it sounded like a rifle shot. We listened. It came again, with others. There was a volley of several shots, sounds certain beyond any manner of question.

My heart stopped. She looked at me, some strange thought written upon her face. It was not joy, nor exultation, nor relief. Her eyes were large and startled. There was no smile on her face. These things I noted. I caught her bloody hand in my bloody one, and for an instant I believed we both meditated flight deeper into the wilderness. Yet I reasoned that since these shots were fired on our trail, we must be in all likelihood found in any case, even were these chance hunters coming into our valley, and not a party searching for us.

"It may not be any one we know," I said. "It may be Indians."

"No," said she, "it is my father. They have found us. We must go! John"—she turned toward me and put her hands on my breast—"John!" I saw terror, and regret, and resolve look out of her eyes, but not joy at this deliverance. No, it was not joy that shone in her eyes. None the less, the ancient yoke of society being offered, we bowed our necks again, fools and slaves, surrendering freedom, joy, content, as though that were our duty.



Silently we made our way toward the edge of the thicket where it faced upon the open valley. All about me I could hear the tinkling and crashing of fairy crystal walls, the ruins of that vision house I had builded in my soul. At the edge of the thicket we crouched low, waiting and looking out over the valley, two savages, laired, suspicious.

Almost as we paused I saw coming forward the stooping figure of an Indian trailer, half naked, beleggined, moccasined, following our fresh tracks at a trot. I covered him with the little silver bead, minded to end his quest. But before I could estimate his errand, or prepare to receive him, closely in case he proved an enemy, I saw approaching around a little point of timber other men, white men, a half dozen of them, one a tall man in dusty garments, with boots, and hat, and gloves.

And then I saw her, my promised wife, leave my side, and limp and stagger forward, her arms outstretched. I saw the yoke of submission, the covenant of society, once more accepted.

"Father!" she cried.

They gathered about us. I saw him look down at her with half horror on his face. Then I noticed that she was, clad in fringed skins, that her head covering was a bit of hide, that her hair was burned yellow at the ends, that her foot coverings were uncouth, that her hands and arms were brown, where not stained red by the blood in which they had dabbled. I looked down also at myself, and saw then that I was tall, brown, gaunt, bearded, ragged, my clothing of wool well-nigh gone, my limbs wound in puttee bands of hide, my hands large, horny, blackened, rough. I reeked with grime. I was a savage new drawn from my cave. I dragged behind me the great grizzled hide of the dead bear, clutched in one hairy hand. And somber and sullen as any savage, brutal and silent in resentment at being disturbed, I stared at them.

"Who are you?" demanded the tall man of me sternly; but still I did not answer. The girl's hands tugged at his shoulders. "It is my friend," she said. "He saved me. It is Mr. John Cowles, father, of the Virginia Cowles family. He has come to see you—" But he did not hear her, or show that he heard. His arm about her, supporting her as she limped, he turned back down the valley, and we others followed slowly.

Presently he came to the rude shelter which had been our home. Without speaking he walked about the camp, pushed open the door of the little ragged tepee and looked within. The floor was very narrow. There was one meager bed of hides. There was one fire.

"Come with me," he said at length to me. And so I followed him apart, where a little thicket gave us more privacy.

His was a strong face, keen under heavy gray brows, with hair that rose stiff and gray over a high forehead, so that he seemed like some Osage chief, taller by a third than most men, and naturally a commander among others.

"You are John Cowles, sir, then?" he said to me at length, quietly. "Lieutenant Belknap told me something of this when he came in with his men from the East." I nodded and waited.

"Are you aware, sir, of the seriousness of what you have done?" he broke out. "Why did you not come on to the settlements? What reason was there for you not coming back at once to the valley of the Platte—here you are, a hundred miles out of your way, where a man of any intelligence, it seems to me, would naturally have turned back to the great trail. Hundreds of wagons pass there every day. There is a stage line with daily coaches, stations, houses. A telegraph line runs from one end of the valley to the other. You could not have missed all this had you struck south. A fool would have known that. But you took my girl—" he choked up, and pointed to me, ragged and uncouth.

"Good God! Colonel Meriwether," I cried out at length, "you are not regretting that I brought her through?"

"Almost, sir," he said, setting his lips together. "Almost!"

"Do you regret then that she brought me through—that I owe my life to her?"

"Almost, sir," he repeated. "I almost regret it."

"Then go back—leave us—report us dead!" I broke out, savagely. It was moments before I could accept this old life again offered me.

"She is a splendid girl, a noble being," I said to him, slowly, at last. "She saved me when I was sick and unable to travel. There is nothing I could do that would pay the debt I owe to her. She is a noble woman, a princess among women, body and soul."

"She is like her mother," said he, quietly. "She was too good for this. Sir, you have done my family a grievous wrong. You have ruined my daughter's life."

Now at last I could talk. I struck my hand hard on his shoulder and looked him full in the eye. "Colonel Meriwether," I said to him, "I am ashamed of you."

"What do you mean?" He frowned sternly and shook off my hand.

"I brought her through," I said, "and if it would do any good, I would lie down here and die for her. If what I say is not true, draw up your men for a firing squad and let us end it. I don't care to go back to Laramie."

"What good would that do?" said he. "It's the girl's name that's compromised, man! Why, the news of this is all over the country—the wires have carried it both sides of the mountains; the papers are full of it in the East. You have been gone nearly three months together, and all the world knows it. Don't you suppose all the world will talk? Did I not see—" he motioned his hand toward our encampment.

He babbled of such things, small, unimportant, to me, late from large things in life. I interrupted long enough to tell him briefly of our journey, of our hardships, of what we had gone through, of how my sickness had rendered it impossible for us to return at once, of how we had wandered, with what little judgment remained to us, how we had lived in the meantime.

He shook his head. "I know men," said he.

"Yes," said I, "I would have been no man worth the name had I not loved your daughter. And I admit to you that I shall never love another woman, not in all my life."

In answer he flung down on the ground in front of me something that he carried—the scroll of our covenant, signed by my name and in part by hers.

"What does this mean?" he asked.

"It means," said I, "what it says; that here or anywhere, in sickness or in health, in adversity or prosperity, until I lie down to die and she beside me in her time, we two are in the eye of God married; and in the eye of man would have been, here or wherever else we might be."

I saw his face pale; but a somber flame came into his eyes. "And you say this—you, after all I know regarding you!"

Again I felt that old chill of terror and self-reproach strike to my heart. I saw my guilt once more, horrible as though an actual presence. I remembered what Ellen Meriwether had said to me regarding any other or earlier covenant. I recalled my troth, plighted earlier, before I had ever seen her,—my faith, pledged in another world. So, seeing myself utterly ruined in my own sight and his and hers, I turned to him at length, with no pride in my bearing.

"So I presume Gordon Orme has told you," I said to him. "You know of Grace Sheraton, back there?"

His lips but closed the tighter. "Have you told her—have you told this to my girl?" he asked, finally.

"Draw up your file!" I cried, springing to my feet. "Execute me! I deserve it. No, I have not told her. I planned to do so—I should never have allowed her to sign her name there before I had told her everything—been fair to her as I could. But her accident left her weak—I could not tell her—a thousand things delayed it. Yes, it was my fault."

He looked me over with contempt. "You are not fit to touch the shoe on my girl's foot," he said slowly. "But now, since this thing has begun, since you have thus involved her and compromised her, and as I imagine in some foul way have engaged her affections—now, I say, it must go on. When we get to Laramie, by God! sir, you shall marry that girl. And then out you go, and never see her face again. She is too good for you, but where you can be of use to her, for this reason, you shall be used."

I seated myself, my head in my hands, and pondered. He was commanding me to do that which was my dearest wish in life. But he was commanding me to complete my own folly. "Colonel Meriwether," said I to him, finally, "if it would do her any good I would give up my life for her. But her father can neither tell me how nor when my marriage ceremony runs; nor can he tell me when to leave the side of the woman who is my wife. I am subject to the orders of no man in the world."

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