Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- A WAIF OF THE PLAINS - 4/21 -
loomed through the darkness. All at once he threw up his arm with a wild gesture to the others; and his voice, manly, frank, and assuring, came ringing before him.
"Hold up! Good God! It's no Injun--it's a child!"
In another moment he had reined up beside Clarence and leaned over him, bearded, handsome, powerful and protecting.
"Hallo! What's all this? What are you doing here?"
"Lost from Mr. Silsbee's train," said Clarence, pointing to the darkened west.
"About three hours. I thought they'd come back for us," said Clarence apologetically to this big, kindly man.
"And you kalkilated to wait here for 'em?"
"Yes, yes--I did--till I saw you."
"Then why in thunder didn't you light out straight for us, instead of hanging round here and drawing us out?"
The boy hung his head. He knew his reasons were unchanged, but all at once they seemed very foolish and unmanly to speak out.
"Only that we were on the keen jump for Injins," continued the stranger, "we wouldn't have seen you at all, and might hev shot you when we did. What possessed you to stay here?"
The boy was still silent. "Kla'uns," said a faint, sleepy voice from the mesquite, "take me." The rifle-shot had awakened Susy.
The stranger turned quickly towards the sound. Clarence started and recalled himself. "There," he said bitterly, "you've done it now, you've wakened her! THAT'S why I stayed. I couldn't carry her over there to you. I couldn't let her walk, for she'd be frightened. I wouldn't wake her up, for she'd be frightened, and I mightn't find her again. There!" He had made up his mind to be abused, but he was reckless now that she was safe.
The men glanced at each other. "Then," said the spokesman quietly, "you didn't strike out for us on account of your sister?"
"She ain't my sister," said Clarence quickly. "She's a little girl. She's Mrs. Silsbee's little girl. We were in the wagon and got down. It's my fault. I helped her down."
The three men reined their horses closely round him, leaning forward from their saddles, with their hands on their knees and their heads on one side. "Then," said the spokesman gravely, "you just reckoned to stay here, old man, and take your chances with her rather than run the risk of frightening or leaving her--though it was your one chance of life!"
"Yes," said the boy, scornful of this feeble, grown-up repetition.
The boy came doggedly forward. The man pushed back the well-worn straw hat from Clarence's forehead and looked into his lowering face. With his hand still on the boy's head he turned him round to the others, and said quietly,--
"Suthin of a pup, eh?"
"You bet," they responded.
The voice was not unkindly, although the speaker had thrown his lower jaw forward as if to pronounce the word "pup" with a humorous suggestion of a mastiff. Before Clarence could make up his mind if the epithet was insulting or not, the man put out his stirruped foot, and, with a gesture of invitation, said, "Jump up."
"But Susy," said Clarence, drawing back.
"Look; she's making up to Phil already."
Clarence looked. Susy had crawled out of the mesquite, and with her sun-bonnet hanging down her back, her curls tossed around her face, still flushed with sleep, and Clarence's jacket over her shoulders, was gazing up with grave satisfaction in the laughing eyes of one of the men who was with outstretched hands bending over her. Could he believe his senses? The terror-stricken, willful, unmanageable Susy, whom he would have translated unconsciously to safety without this terrible ordeal of being awakened to the loss of her home and parents at any sacrifice to himself--this ingenuous infant was absolutely throwing herself with every appearance of forgetfulness into the arms of the first new-comer! Yet his perception of this fact was accompanied by no sense of ingratitude. For her sake he felt relieved, and with a boyish smile of satisfaction and encouragement vaulted into the saddle before the stranger.
The dash forward to the train, securely held in the saddle by the arms of their deliverers, was a secret joy to the children that seemed only too quickly over. The resistless gallop of the fiery mustangs, the rush of the night wind, the gathering darkness in which the distant wagons, now halted and facing them, looked like domed huts in the horizon--all these seemed but a delightful and fitting climax to the events of the day. In the sublime forgetfulness of youth, all they had gone through had left no embarrassing record behind it; they were willing to repeat their experiences on the morrow, confident of some equally happy end. And when Clarence, timidly reaching his hand towards the horse-hair reins lightly held by his companion, had them playfully yielded up to him by that hold and confident rider, the boy felt himself indeed a man.
But a greater surprise was in store for them. As they neared the wagons, now formed into a circle with a certain degree of military formality, they could see that the appointments of the strange party were larger and more liberal than their own, or indeed anything they had ever known of the kind. Forty or fifty horses were tethered within the circle, and the camp fires were already blazing. Before one of them a large tent was erected, and through the parted flaps could be seen a table actually spread with a white cloth. Was it a school feast, or was this their ordinary household arrangement? Clarence and Susy thought of their own dinners, usually laid on bare boards beneath the sky, or under the low hood of the wagon in rainy weather, and marveled. And when they finally halted, and were lifted from their horses, and passed one wagon fitted up as a bedroom and another as a kitchen, they could only nudge each other with silent appreciation. But here again the difference already noted in the quality of the sensations of the two children was observable. Both were equally and agreeably surprised. But Susy's wonder was merely the sense of novelty and inexperience, and a slight disbelief in the actual necessity of what she saw; while Clarence, whether from some previous general experience or peculiar temperament, had the conviction that what he saw here was the usual custom, and what he had known with the Silsbees was the novelty. The feeling was attended with a slight sense of wounded pride for Susy, as if her enthusiasm had exposed her to ridicule.
The man who had carried him, and seemed to be the head of the party, had already preceded them to the tent, and presently reappeared with a lady with whom he had exchanged a dozen hurried words. They seemed to refer to him and Susy; but Clarence was too much preoccupied with the fact that the lady was pretty, that her clothes were neat and thoroughly clean, that her hair was tidy and not rumpled, and that, although she wore an apron, it was as clean as her gown, and even had ribbons on it, to listen to what was said. And when she ran eagerly forward, and with a fascinating smile lifted the astonished Susy in her arms, Clarence, in his delight for his young charge, quite forgot that she had not noticed him. The bearded man, who seemed to be the lady's husband, evidently pointed out the omission, with some additions that Clarence could not catch; for after saying, with a pretty pout, "Well, why shouldn't he?" she came forward with the same dazzling smile, and laid her small and clean white hand upon his shoulder.
"And so you took good care of the dear little thing? She's such an angel, isn't she? and you must love her very much."
Clarence colored with delight. It was true it had never occurred to him to look at Susy in the light of a celestial visitant, and I fear he was just then more struck with the fair complimenter than the compliment to his companion, but he was pleased for her sake. He was not yet old enough to be conscious of the sex's belief in its irresistible domination over mankind at all ages, and that Johnny in his check apron would be always a hopeless conquest of Jeannette in her pinafore, and that he ought to have been in love with Susy.
Howbeit, the lady suddenly whisked her away to the recesses of her own wagon, to reappear later, washed, curled, and beribboned like a new doll, and Clarence was left alone with the husband and another of the party.
"Well, my boy, you haven't told me your name yet."
"So Susy calls you, but what else?"
"Any relation to Colonel Brant?" asked the second man carelessly.
"He was my father," said the boy, brightening under this faint prospect of recognition in his loneliness.
The two men glanced at each other. The leader looked at the boy curiously, and said,--
"Are you the son of Colonel Brant, of Louisville?"
"Yes, sir," said the boy, with a dim stirring of uneasiness in his heart. "But he's dead now," he added finally.
"Ah, when did he die?" said the man quickly.
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 21
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything