A searching look next morning over
the prairie revealed no sign of enemies, or of Smilax.
Somewhat thoughtful over his continued absence I went
to the kitchen and laid the fire, but did not light
it because our stock of buttonwood had become reduced
to a few small sticks and scraps that would scarcely
more than cook one meal, and the use of other woods
might at this time be an unwise experiment. So
with an eye to prudence I withheld the match until
Her Serene Highness should arrive.
When she did not come nor answer to
my call, I set out to see what might have detained
her, conscious of a vague dread yet not seriously giving
in to it; but, after visiting the fort, this grew into
an unreasoning fear, and I began to run. It seemed
so easy now to understand how some of Efaw Kotee’s
henchmen could have discovered us, slipped up during
the night and overpowered her! What had been
a remote possibility yesterday, to-day grew into a
certainty. With this obsession torturing me I
dashed across the Oasis, finally coming out of the
forest at its extreme eastern tip.
Then I saw her but a few yards away.
Perhaps the brisk wind, rustling the palms and prairie
grass, drowned the noise of my impetuous rush, for
she did not turn.
Her face was toward the east, looking
above an orange sun that still clung to the horizon.
Instinctively I felt that she was thinking of Azuria,
that the pictures of it which I had drawn were recrossing
before her dreamy vision, forming a panorama of splendor
that called more surely than in March the Canadian
flats call the Southern water bird. This gave
her eyes, her uplifted face, her slightly parted lips,
a new glory, and I involuntarily exclaimed:
“Doloria of the Golden Dawn!”
She knew then that I was there and,
without turning, reached back one hand to me.
Impulsively I took it, raised it to my lips, but afraid
to hold it longer I stepped aside as if awaiting her
commands. When I had done that she looked over
her shoulder, gave a little sigh, and said sweetly:
“Chancellor, I wish you’d
convince me that our people are safe, and then help
me settle a grave question of state!”
“I think they’ll be coming to-day, and
“Oh, I hope so!” she clasped her hands.
“As for the state question,”
I continued, “I’ll settle it quickly, if
you’ll let me.”
“No, I’m afraid you can’t!
No, Chancellor,” she gave a little laugh, “you
can’t be trusted to settle that, at all!”
Then firmly, almost severely, putting back into its
place a wave of hair that had been coquetting with
the breeze, she asked: “Is the fire ready?”
“Ready to light,” I answered. “I
came to find you.”
“Then let’s go, for it
isn’t good to ponder over questions of state
“What is it?” I asked,
as we turned back. “Why won’t you
trust me to settle it?”
Another laugh, more full of pathos,
was my answer; nor would she speak again because
of some mischief in her mind, I believed until,
preparing the ambrosial corncakes, she rather abruptly
“I wonder if you deserve any breakfast this
“Why?” I cried, in feigned alarm.
“Because of your impoliteness.”
“My impoliteness was doubtless
the need of breakfast. But when was I impolite?
I don’t remember, honest!”
“Of course, you don’t;
how could you,” she went on rather indifferently.
“Were you not such a capable Chancellor I might
be more offended. I am tryingly stupid at times,
but to be in the very middle of a sentence and discover
that the man I’m talking to is fast asleep, is
humiliating, to say the least.”
Did she think there was a chance of
putting over that atrocious yarn on me of
bluffing me into an admission that I had been the first
to fall asleep?
“You may be right,” I
said, with the utmost gravity, “but I did it
only in justice to you. You were talking, true
enough, but in your sleep; saying things that well,
no gentleman could have remained awake, in the circumstances.”
“I didn’t,” she
cried, darting me a look of uncertainty. “Echochee
says I never do!”
“Echochee wasn’t here
last night,” I casually replied, poking the coals
of her fire closer. “I hope you understand
that I didn’t listen intentionally; for, of
course, you’d never have told me all those things
“Stop it,” she commanded;
and, when I had stopped, there was an ominous silence.
But I would not look at her and indifferently
pretended to be busy. I confess that I was deriving
a purely masculine enjoyment out of this, and intended
to push my counter bluff so vigorously that she would
be driven to admit her own. Therefore, after
I thought the silence had become sufficiently impressive,
I yielded to an impulse that many men find irresistible I
made an egregious ass of myself.
“Lots of people,” said
I, sliding out upon thin ice with the braggadocio
of him who rocks the boat, “chatter like magpies
when dozing in an uncomfortable position. Police
recognize this, and often arrange a suspect’s
cell so he’ll have to sleep sitting up, then
they listen and take down his inmost thoughts.
That’s the way you chattered last night.”
“Chattered!” she caught her breath.
“Yes; just rippled along, you
know, telling everything you’ve been thinking
these last couple of days. Some of it was rather
interesting. Shall I poke up the fire again?”
She sprang around and faced me with blazing eyes,
the picture of embarrassment and fury. “You
consider the things I’ve been thinking the last
couple of days ‘rather interesting!’ Oh,”
she cried, dashing the pan of corn meal batter to
the ground, “you’re damnable I
hate you!” There was a whirl of a skirt, the
twinkle of a little booted foot, and, by Jove, she
had gone flying off like the wind; while I, feeling
about the size of a june-bug, stood first on one leg
and then the other, wondering what the devil she had
been thinking these last couple of days.
Now, when a fellow has made a blatant
ass of himself, I hold that the quickest road to salvation
is “own up and shut up.” If he’s
forgiven, life may flow on as formerly. If he
isn’t, he has recourse to the pose of having
been grossly misunderstood, and eventually work himself
into quite a creditable reproduction of a martyred
nobleman. If he’s good at that kind of
thing, a girl will grow sorry and forgive him in spite
of herself. I got this from Tommy, one day, and
Tommy knows a lot about women really, an
But the most detestable part of my
present muddle was that I had hurt her I,
who would have bartered my life to shield her from
hurts! Feeling thoroughly contrite I went quickly
in pursuit, looking ahead and on both sides for a
glimpse of the dress that meant the world to me.
Regardless of boundaries, regardless of everything
but to implore an instant forgiveness at whatever
cost, I rushed impetuously on, calling her name.
Then I came up with her at the side
of the bubbling spring. She was lying prone upon
the bank, her face buried in her arms that were crossed
beneath it. And, having found her, I could not
advance. Something about the lovely grace of
her body held me enthralled. Furthermore, I had
no right to be here; I was an interloper, a prowler!
There were but two things to do, and do at once, to
wit, make myself humble and scarce.
“Doloria,” I said.
She did not move, perhaps she had
not heard, so I kneeled and took one of her hands,
whereupon she sprang to her feet looking at me strangely,
“You’ve no right here,” she cried.
“You’ve broken faith!”
“No, please no,” I said
quickly. “I’m too desperate to care
where I am when you’re angry! Since you
called me damnable said you hated me the
world’s turned black; so I’m not deliberately
trespassing only lost, because you’ve
taken away your smile!”
“You took it away,”
she retorted. “You’d murder any girl’s
smile by such brutality!”
“Brutality!” I gasped.
“Truthfulness,” she stamped her foot.
“But I wasn’t truthful,”
I hurried to tell her. “I lied like the
devil to call your bluff wanted to make
you own up because well, you’d lied
a little, too! I never dreamed my joke would hurt
you. Great God,” I now cried passionately,
“to think of hurting you who are my life and
breath and” I caught myself,
stopping short and looking at her; then slowly adding:
“You didn’t say a word in your sleep, I
swear it. It was beautiful of you to trust me
that way, and and if you’ll rescue
our breakfast I’ll never be such an idiot again.”
She had partly turned away at my impassioned
outburst, but the assurance I gave that Somnus had
been dumb brought a hint of the fascinating curve
to her lips. Yet her eyes still expressed doubt,
and I was growing desperate enough even to humor her
incredulity, hoping thereby to discover another road
to favor, when she asked:
“You’re not just saying that?”
“On my honor it’s true every
word! I’m sorry, Princess!”
Again she turned away her face, looking
across the spring and murmuring, as though to someone
“It’s because he’s
hungry, I suppose,” then whirled and
held out both hands to me, in that sweet way of hers.
“It’s I who am cruel, Chancellor.
Come, poor man, I’ll feed you; you look as glum
as Pharaoh was Pharaoh glum? I’ll
beat you to the kitchen!” And she bounded away,
almost before the challenge had been given.
Straight she sped with astonishing
swiftness, skimming over fallen logs, darting this
way and that through festoons of vines, with the grace
of a frightened doe. In freedom of motion she
was as some wild thing of forest birth, suggesting
the spirits of the wind, the dappled sunlight, the
dancing waters; yet never lacking an ineffable refinement
that added both charm and mystery.
Each of us was breathing fast when,
shoulder to shoulder, we reached the fire, she claiming
the race without the slightest show of embarrassment.
“But I was holding back,”
I said, finding combativeness a very fair outlet to
pursue, and adding: “You had the start,
“In a race any one has the start
who’s able to get it,” she asserted.
“Besides, I set the pace, and all you had to
do was follow. I slowed up toward the end, anyway.”
The impertinence of it!
“You slowed up because you had
to! And I don’t believe you were angry a
while ago, either!”
“Don’t you?” she asked, slowly.
“Not so very,” I compromised,
seeing the danger signal. “I think you
were just making a jolly chump of me, that’s
all. I don’t so much mind making one of
myself, but it’s rotten having other people do
it for me!”
“I suppose,” she said
indifferently, raising her arms to tuck in a lock
of hair, “that if it’s worthwhile making
the distinction, you might be allowed a choice.”
For the pure deviltry of this remark
I looked around for something to throw at her, and
then saw our fire a tragic picture of dead
ashes which the wind was blowing over a now cold skillet.
“See,” I cried, “what
our family row has led to! Fire out, breakfast
ruined, and here I am due at the office in half an
“Oh, Jack,” she looked
at me gravely, putting an end to our banter and
for the first time calling me Jack, though I believe
she did it unconsciously “haven’t
we any more buttonwood? This is serious, isn’t
“Not so very, perhaps. We can try another
“Will it be safe?” she asked, uncertainly.
“With a small fire of very dry
hardwood, and this rising wind, what little smoke
there is won’t hold together long enough to be
“But it’ll blow right
toward their camp! The wind’s changed since
“That’s more than two
miles off, and they’re probably still after
Smilax. I’ll make a very small fire.”
This, indeed, seemed to work well
enough, and by the time a new breakfast was ready
our uncertainties had become shadows of no consequence.
“But you do know I was
angry, don’t you?” she asked, out of a
clear sky, with an unexpectedness that made me throw
back my head and laugh.
“You bet I do! And you
beat me in the race, too; and you’re the best
cook on our block!”
“It seems to be the same old
story,” she smiled, with affected sorrow, “that
food must always be the price of masculine tractability.
Ah, the long drawn out tragedy of woman’s existence,
that she must forever be stuffing man with things
to eat, as reptiles are stuffed, to keep him facile!”
“You fail to observe, my little
snake charmer,” I replied, “that you omitted
to say good things to eat. I’m never facile
after Smilax feeds me.” Though I
owe Smilax an apology for this!
“He must have run great risks of being bitten.”
“Oh, no; I’m not the biting kind of snake!
I’m a constrictor I hug!”
“Mercy!” She gave a little
gasp, then, turned and went indifferently toward the
Whistling happily I finished the dishes.
But I finished them with the promise of a better cleansing
next time, and soon was calling her.
She came to me humming the song I
had been whistling an unconscious bit of
flattery on her part, but it added to my pleasure.
There is, after all, so much to be gained by hitching
your wagon to a star, that I tried to believe she
deliberately intended it. I would have hitched
up oftener to that same star, except for the fact
that stars sometimes get hot and furious at too many
liberties, and switch their tails and kick the wagons
of well-meaning people to smithereens. That it
may be better to have had a stellar joy-ride and be
sent to hell for speeding than keep your boots forever
in the clay, I will neither affirm nor deny; but the
prudent man hitcheth to the moon!
As we went toward the fort she turned to me, asking:
“Don’t you think they
should have been here sooner? Do you fear anything
you won’t tell me?” Her eyes were anxious,
and I saw how insistent this worry had been.
“Everything depends on how far
Smilax had to go,” I answered. “He’d
never dream of coming back until the men gave up and
they might chase him half across the state! So
a few extra days doesn’t mean anything.
They can’t catch him, that’s certain; and
he and Echochee’ll only stay away as long as
they’re pursued. They’ll come through,
I believe it sincerely; and your Chancellor, sweet
Princess, will guard you with his life with
ten lives, if he had them.”
“I know that,” she murmured,
“and shan’t worry if you tell me not to.”
“Then cheer up! Smilax
is a past-master of the swamps and woods, take my
word for it!”
“I really suppose Echochee knows
a great deal about them, too,” she said, after
a pause, “for when she was sixteen she had to
leave the Reservation with her husband and hide him
in the Everglades. She learned a great deal,
“Why did she have to do that?”
“He’d fought and killed
another Indian, and the officers were expected.
But in the fight he received a cut that made him blind.
For ten years Echochee fed and clothed him, hunting
alligators and watching her chance of slipping the
skins to a market. By extreme stinting she finally
saved enough to ’buy him loose’ her
optimistic way of saying ’pay a lawyer for his
defense.’ Think, after being outcasts all
that time, of leading a blind husband through half
a hundred miles of wilderness, with the savings of
ten years to wager on a chance of having him cleared!”
“I hope he was,” I declared.
“In a sense he was, yes.
He knew where she kept the money, and while she was
in the lawyer’s office persuading him to take
the case, her husband stole it and sneaked away.”
I uttered a cry at this hideous ingratitude,
and she glanced at me, gravely adding:
“Then he got drunk and was run
over by a train; so, in a sense, Echochee freed him,
“Oh, the magnanimous courage
of a woman’s devotion!” I stopped and
looked at her. “It’s always the same,
irrespective of tribe and nation. She’s
dauntless, world-defying, utterly self-sacrificing.
I hope to God, Doloria, that you won’t be among
those who squeeze their hearts dry! You’ve
lived away from the world and may not know how plentiful
these are; but no day passes without its toll of some
woman being silently crucified in her losing fight
to save a besotted biped the lord of her
earthly temple. It’s only by a streak of
luck when their stage is cleared, as Echochee’s
“That may be all right for clearing
the stage,” she murmured, “but it doesn’t
heal the hearts of those who were made to suffer.”
I had not fathomed the penetration
of her sympathy, being satisfied, man like, to let
a swift revenge wipe the slate. She seemed to
be contemplating what I had said, and when she again
spoke her voice was tender as though it had come unbidden
from a wistful reverie.
“I suppose you’re right,
Jack. The world I’ve known, only through
books, must be full of such cruelties. I rather
dread having to go into it. It seems a pity that
I can’t always live in in”
then, with a smile, she asked: “Do you
ever dream? I don’t mean when you’re
asleep, but awake wide awake?”
“I rather think I’m dreaming
now,” I admitted, for a great contentment had
fallen about us as we walked beneath the solemn trees.
The silence that followed was again
stirred by her voice, saying:
“You mustn’t think me
childish, but I’ve always had a secret gateway
to a place my Secret world where
everything is make-believe, and nothing can be but
truth and beauty. Often when Echochee was tiresome,
or I was tired, I used to slip away and go there.”
“I wish you’d take me won’t
“Oh, I can’t,” she
quickly answered, stooping for a flower in our path,
holding it in both hands and leaning her face above
“Yes,” at last I said,
“I’ve a place like that; but I don’t
know whether I live there in make-believe, or throwing
off the make-believe we have to wear in the world
you’re going to, I live honestly with myself.
If you won’t take me to yours, sometime maybe
you’ll come to mine!”
Now, I had no intention of making
love to her. We were talking only about secret
worlds and day-dreams.
“I’m afraid it might be
difficult,” she answered, dropping the flower
and walking a shade more slowly. “Our lives yours
and mine are cast along such opposite lines,
“That’s what Secret worlds
are for,” I told her, “that,
no matter how far apart we are, our spirits may come
and meet; live again, as we’ve lived here; be
happy again as I’ve been.”
I turned, saying with a laugh that was meant to convey
an impression of insouciance yet failing
rather miserably: “These two big pines here,
Princess, actually make the gateway to my pool which
is, in fact, my Secret world, because you helped me
build my home there. So, you see, it wouldn’t
be very difficult, as you were about to enter without
knowing it. Oh, I wish I could tell you more
about it!” And I then became silent, too helplessly
afraid to go on.
A brighter color had come into her
throat and cheeks, but she was smiling whimsically
as she said:
“Then we must go around find
another path to the fort mustn’t we!”
She had stopped before me, poised
delicately, almost swaying; and for several seconds
our eyes, that must have been charged with some untranslatable
excitement, held fast. Mine would not let go,
and hers I believe could not. Her hands, idly
at her sides, were turned palms forward, unconsciously
suggestive of supplication.
“Do you know what you remind
me of when you stand that way?” I asked.
“No,” She looked away
now, laughing lightly though it was more
subtly than suddenly done. “What?”
“Of a fairy that’s flown
from a butterfly moon, just alighting at my threshold
and asking to come in.”
“Wouldn’t a fairy be unseemly
forward to come to a young man’s threshold and
“Not admittance, but admission to
my dreams, where nothing is real but you and beauty.”
“Dreams are for the old, the
young shall see visions! isn’t there
a quotation like that?” she asked, smiling.
“You’re not playing fair,”
I laughed for I was afraid not to laugh,
wanting desperately to say that I was seeing the vision
now that would be my dream forever!
“I’ll play fair if I know
the rules,” she also laughed. “You
haven’t told them to me!”
“We’ll make them up as we go along!”
“But what are we going to play?”
“Make-believe,” I eagerly
cried. “That we’re exploring our Secret
world where we’ll come after,” there
was no laugh in my voice now “you’ve
gone to Azuria, and I’m here alone.”
She gave my face a quick, searching look.
“And we only have to pass between
these two big trees?” she asked, half lightly,
“Only through that gateway, and we’re
in our world!”
“Why should I go, I wonder?”
The question was whispered, almost unconsciously,
and catching the tone of it I also whispered:
“To plant a memory, Doloria,
that will grow and bloom as long as we live; where
each of us may come when we’re lonely.”
What forces, intangible, supernal,
were at work here no man can tell. Philosophers
stumble, fools blunder, and the truth dances on ahead
through Life’s woodland of mysteries one
instant revealing itself in a golden shaft of sunlight,
hiding the next with smothered laughter in the black
shadow of a fern, while seekers after it tramp past
in grumbling blindness.
At this moment our wood seemed rich
with mystic presage. Pleadingly my hands went
out to her, and trustfully she put hers into them.
Slowly I backed between the two big trees, our eyes
held as two charmed beings. Everything about
me called to her, everything in her urged compliance;
and I knew, as did she, that something strange was
happening. Yet when I halted she did not falter,
but came on, bravely, sweetly, into my arms.
That she should have done this was
as inevitable as it was gloriously true. We could
no more have continued to stroll side by side through
our Oasis, commenting on the seasons, sometimes rapturous
over a sunset or the call of a bird, than we could
have rubbed a lamp and brought the Whim sailing
to us over the sea of grass. Static existences
only prevail with static people, and there was too
much surgingly dynamic about this twenty year old
girl to have encouraged it here. I say, too,
with candor that any man of twenty-six whose blood
is red is with the great out-of-doors abetting not
insulated for or against currents. Throw these
two alone in a primitive world where their tent is
the sky, and a spark must eventually jump across the
gradually lessening distance. It is thus that
wild things mate and their mating is incorruptible.
But now as my arms tightened and my
face leaned to hers, she gave a half fearful cry and
sprang tremblingly back, pressing both hands to her
breast, breathing quickly and staring at me with wide
“Chancellor,” she gasped,
“this is madness, don’t you know it?”
The quick alarm in her voice sobered
me and I answered “Yes,” for there was
nothing else to say. And a moment later when,
in an even tone and at a conventional distance, she
suggested: “Shall we go on to the fort?”
I did not reply, but walked mutely at her side.
Our contact had been too instantaneous
for me to collect myself at once, and I wondered how
she was managing to do so or if she were
bluffing. For this sudden serene-mindedness she
now displayed was quite too enigmatic for my comprehension.
“We planted the memory that
will be mine forever,” I whispered, trying to
see her face which she kept partially hid by keeping
half a step ahead of me. “I’ll never
“Oh,” she cried, on the
verge of tears, I thought, “don’t ever
speak to me of it again ever!”
Its nothing we ought to regret it wasnt your fault, I persisted,
“That’s just it it
was my fault, it was,” she interrupted passionately,
and somehow her hand found mine and pressed it.
Was there ever any one more square? “I
knew we were going to do that, and I didn’t
try to stop it. You’ll think that I’m I’m
“The most glorious girl who
ever lived,” I cried, taking full possession
of her hand now.
“Won’t you please be honest?”
she asked, quite seriously. “I am; and I
give you my word I’d never have done it if it
hadn’t seemed so real I mean, our
planting the memory.”
She turned then, and to my relief
she was half smiling. For an instant the longing
to hold her again showed in my face, but she stopped
me with a look. This time it was done with the
intention of stopping me, and I stopped. Yet
the smile had not left her face as she said, in a tone
of sweet confidence:
“Let’s be above-the-board-honest
with each other in all things, Jack; it makes for
long friendships, Echochee says and there’s
nothing finer, anyhow, than to freely admit a mistake.
So it wasn’t your fault any more than mine;
we’ve both been very naughty spirits, and we
mustn’t be again.” She paused, adding:
“After all, I suppose it does make our secret
world just a little
I waited, and when she did not continue, asked:
“A little what?”
Still she hesitated.
“Be honest,” I warned.
She smiled again, looking at me frankly.
“Well, a little sweeter, to
feel that we’re equally to blame; that that’s
why we can’t ever go there again.”
“Eden up-to-date?” I laughed.
“Y-yes, I suppose so; and the
flaming sword has smote us, so we have to be circumspect
forever and ever.”
“But Eve wasn’t! The flaming sword
didn’t phaze her a minute!”
“I’ve had lots of time to improve on Eve,”
she replied archly.
“That’s God’s truth,” I cried.
A rippling laugh burst from her lips a
ringing, happy laugh that was heard, I swear, in listening
heaven. She seemed obsessed by a strange excitement perhaps
like my own, that sprang from a deep, inordinate sense
We were getting on toward the fort,
walking inside the edge of our Oasis near that place
where the fallen palms lay in a confused tangle.
I had her hand and was helping her over this network
of logs when she suddenly sprang before me with dazzling
quickness; facing outward, and holding back her arms
to keep me in check.
It was an act instinctive of protection,
yet scarcely had I time to wonder at it when a whining,
crackling sound, that might have come from anywhere,
dashed past our heads. Men who have heard a high-power
bullet splitting the air do not forget the sound,
which is as quickly recognized a second time as the
rattling of a diamond-back.
Immediately following it came the
crack of a rifle, and guided by this I saw, above
the prairie grass four hundred yards away, the head
and shoulders of a man. At that instant he fired