High above the wind is moaning
In a lonely, fretful mood,
Through the lofty spreading branches
Of the elm and cottonwood.
Where the willows hide the fordway
With their fringe of lighter green,
Is the dam, decayed and broken,
Where the beavers once have been.
On the sycamore bent o’er it,
With its gleaming trunk of white,
Sits the barred owl, idly blinking
At the early morning’s light,
While, within its spacious hollow,
Where the rotting heart had clung
Till removed by age and fire,
Sleeps the wild cat with her young.
Plunging through the sluggish water,
Scarcely halting for a drink,
Toiling through the sticky quagmire,
They attain the farther brink.
Here the trail leads to the westward,—
Once the redman’s wild domain;
Now the shallow rutted highway
Of the settler’s wagon train.
Here and there along the edges,
Paths work through the waving grass,
Where at night from bluff to river,
Sneaking coyotes find a pass.
Here the meadow lark sings gaily
As she leaves her hidden nest,
While the sun of early morning
Double-tints her orange breast.
Up this broad and fertile valley,
Tracing all its winding ways,
Plodding on with dogged patience
Through a score of weary days,
Camping in the lonely timber,
Sleeping on the scorching plain,
Bearing heat and thirst and hunger,
Sore fatigue and wind and rain—
Halting only when the telltale
Mark was missing in the track;
Only when he called a greeting,
As he passed some settler’s shack;
Till the valley and its timber
Vanished, where the rolling sward
Of the westward-sweeping prairie
Marks the trail ’cross Mingo’s ford.
Here for hours he searched the crossing
And the wheel-ruts leading on
To the north, a full day’s journey,
But the guiding mark was gone.
Not a vestige here remaining
Of the sign that could be told,
For old Mac had traveled swiftly
And the trail was mixed and old.
Two whole days Bill searched and waited,
Hoping for some other clew,
Weighing questions of direction,
Undecided what to do.
Till, one night, while cooking supper
By the camp-fire’s genial glow,
He was startled by a stranger’s
Sudden presence and “Hello!”
Tall of stature, dark of visage,
By the wind well dried and tanned,
Clad in “shaps” and spurs that jingled,
With a bull whip in his hand.
Close behind him in the shadows,
Eyes aglow with red and green,
Stood a blazed-face Texas pony,
Ewe-necked, cat-hammed, wild, and mean.
“Hello, stranger! glad to see you,
Got my cattle fixed for night;
Just got through, and riding round ’em,
’Cross the bluff, I saw your light.
No, thanks, pardner, had my supper;
Seems your fire is short o’ wood;
I just thought I’d see who’s camped here—
Gee! that bacon does smell good!”