With this rude setting there was to be enacted a rapid drama of material progress such as the world has never elsewhere seen; but first there must be played the wild prologue of the West, never at any time to have a more lurid scene than here at the Halfway House of a continent, at the intersection of the grand transcontinental trails, the bloody angle of the plains. Eight men in a day, a score in a week, met death by violence. The street in the cemetery doubled before that of the town. There were more graves than houses. This superbly wasteful day, how could it presage that which was to come? In this riotous army of invasion, who could have foreseen the population which was to follow, adventurous yet tenacious, resolved first upon independence, and next upon knowledge, and then upon the fruits of knowledge? Nay, perhaps, after all, the prescience of this coming time lay over Ellisville the Red, so that it roared the more tempestuously on through its brief, brazen day.
STILL A REBEL
In the swift current of humanity then streaming up and down the cattle range, the reputation of the Halfway House was carried far and near; and for fifty miles east and west, for five hundred miles north and south, the beauty of the girl at the Halfway House was matter of general story. This was a new sort of being, this stranger from another land, and when applied to her, all the standards of the time fell short or wide. About her there grew a saga of the cow range, and she was spoken of with awe from the Brazos to the Blue. Many a rude cowman made long pilgrimage to verify rumours he had heard of the personal beauty, the personal sweetness of nature, the personal kindness of heart, and yet the personal reserve and dignity of this new goddess, whose like was not to be found in all the wide realms of the range. Such sceptics came in doubt, but they remained silent and departed reverent. Wider and wider grew her circle of devoted friends—wild and desperate men who rarely knew a roof and whose hands stayed at no deed, but who knew with unerring accuracy the value of a real woman.
For each of these rude, silent, awkward range riders, who stammered in all speech except to men or horses, and who stumbled in all locomotion but that of the saddle, Mary Ellen had a kind spot in her soul, never ceasing to wonder as she did at the customs and traditions of their life. Pinky Smith, laid up at the Halfway House with a broken leg (with which he had come in the saddle for over fifty miles), was blither in bed than he had ever been at table. Ike Wallace, down with a fever at the same place, got reeling into saddle at dawn of a cheerless day, and rode himself and a horse to death that day in stopping a stampede. Pain they knew not, fear they had not, and duty was their only god. They told her, simply as children, of deeds which now caused a shudder, now set tingling the full blood of enthusiasm, and opened up unconsciously to her view a rude field of knight-errantry, whose principles sat strangely close with the best traditions of her own earlier land and time. They were knights-errant, and for all on the Ellisville trail there was but one lady. So hopeless was the case of each that they forbore to argue among themselves.