Good Indian looked in the hammock, but Evadna was not there. He went to the little stone bench at the head of the pond, and when he still did not see her he followed the bank around to the milk- house, where was a mumble of voices. And, standing in the doorway with her arm thrown around her Aunt Phoebe’s shoulders in a pretty protective manner, he saw her, and his eyes gladdened. She did not see him at once. She was facing courageously the three inseparables, Hagar, Viney, and Lucy, squatted at the top of the steps, and she was speaking her mind rapidly and angrily. Good Indian knew that tone of old, and he grinned. Also he stopped by the corner of the house, and listened shamelessly.
“That is not true,” she was saying very clearly. “You’re a bad old squaw and you tell lies. You ought to be put in jail for talking that way.” She pressed her aunt’s shoulder affectionately. “Don’t you mind a word she says, Aunt Phoebe. She’s just a mischief-making old hag, and she–oh, I’d like to beat her!”
Hagar shook her head violently, and her voice rose shrill and malicious, cutting short Evadna’s futile defiance.
“Ka-a-ay bueno, yo’!” Her teeth gnashed together upon the words. “I no tellum lie. Good Injun him kill Man-that-coughs. All time I seeum creep, creep, through sagebrush. All time I seeum hoss wait where much rock grow. I seeum. I no speakum heap lie. Speakum true. I go tell sheriff mans Good Indian killum Man-that-coughs. I tellum–“
“Why didn’t you, then, when the sheriff was in Hartley?” Evadna flung at her angrily. “Because you know it’s a lie. That’s why.”
“Yo’ thinkum Good Injun love yo’, mebbyso.” Hagar’s witch-grin was at its malevolent widest. Her black eyes sparkled with venom. “Yo’ heap fool. Good Injun go all time Squaw-talk-far-off. Speakum glad word. Good Injun ka-a-ay bueno. Love Squaw-talk-far-off. No love yo’. Speakum lies, yo’. Makum yo’ heap cry all time. Makeum yo’ heart bad.” She cackled, and leered with vile significance toward the girl in the doorway.
“Don’t you listen to her, honey.” It was Phoebe’s turn to reassure.
Good Indian took a step forward, his face white with rage. Viney saw him first, muttered an Indian word of warning, and the three sprang up and backed away from his approach.
“So you’ve got to call me a murderer!” he cried, advancing threateningly upon Hagar. “And even that doesn’t satisfy you. You–“
Evadna rushed up the steps like a crisp little whirlwind, and caught his arm tightly in her two hands.
“Grant! We don’t believe a word of it. You couldn’t do a thing like that. Don’t we KNOW? Don’t pay any attention to her. We aren’t going to. It’ll hurt her worse than any kind of punishment we could give her. Oh, she’s a VILE old thing! Too vile for words! Aunt Phoebe and I shouldn’t belittle ourselves by even listening to her. SHE can’t do any harm unless we let it bother us–what she says. _I_ know you never could take a human life, Grant. It’s foolish even to speak of such a thing. It’s just her nasty, lying tongue saying what her black old heart wishes could be true.” She was speaking in a torrent of trepidation lest he break from her and do some violence which they would all regret. She did not know what he could do, or would do, but the look of his face frightened her.
Old Hagar spat viciously at them both, and shrilled vituperative sentences–in her own tongue fortunately; else the things she said must have brought swift retribution. And as if she did not care for consequences and wanted to make her words carry a definite sting, she stopped, grinned maliciously, and spoke the choppy dialect of her tribe.
“Yo’ tellum me shont-isham. Mebbyso yo’ tellum yo’ no ketchum Squaw-talk-far-off in sagebrush, all time Saunders go dead! Me ketchum hair–Squaw-talk-far-off hair. You like for see, you thinkum me tell lies?”
From under her blanket she thrust forth a greasy brown hand, and shook triumphantly before them a tangled wisp of woman’s hair–the hair of Miss Georgie, without a doubt. There was no gainsaying that color and texture. She looked full at Evadna.
“Yo’ like see, me show whereum walk,” she said grimly. “Good Injun boot make track, Squaw-talk-far-off little shoe make track. Me show, yo’ thinkum mebbyso me tell lie. Stoppum in sagebrush, ketchum hair. Me ketchum knife–Good Injun knife, mebbyso.” Revenge mastered cupidity, and she produced that also, and held it up where they could all see.
Evadna looked and winced.
“I don’t believe a word you say,” she declared stubbornly. “You STOLE that knife. I suppose you also stole the hair. You can’t MAKE me believe a thing like that!”
“Squaw-talk-far-off run, run heap fas’, get home quick. Me seeum, Viney seeum, Lucy seeum.” Hagar pointed to each as she named her, and waited until they give a confirmatory nod. The two squaws gazed steadily at the ground, and she grunted and ignored them afterward, content that they bore witness to her truth in that one particular.
“Squaw-talk-far-off sabe Good Injun killum Man-that-coughs, mebbyso,” she hazarded, watching Good Indian’s face cunningly to see if the guess struck close to the truth.
“If you’ve said all you want to say, you better go,” Good Indian told her after a moment of silence while they glared at each other. “I won’t touch you–because you’re such a devil I couldn’t stop short of killing you, once I laid my hands on you.”
He stopped, held his lips tightly shut upon the curses he would not speak, and Evadna felt his biceps tauten under her fingers as if he were gathering himself for a lunge at the old squaw. She looked up beseechingly into his face, and saw that it was sharp and stern, as it had been that morning when the men had first been discovered in the orchard. He raised his free arm, and pointed imperiously to the trail.
“Pikeway!” he commanded.
Viney and Lucy shrank from the tone of him, and, hiding their faces in a fold of blanket, slunk silently away like dogs that have been whipped and told to go. Even Hagar drew back a pace, hardy as was her untamed spirit. She looked at Evadna clinging to his arm, her eyes wide and startlingly blue and horrified at all she had heard. She laughed then–did Hagar–and waddled after the others, her whole body seeming to radiate contentment with the evil she had wrought.
“There’s nothing on earth can equal the malice of an old squaw,” said Phoebe, breaking into the silence which followed. “I’d hope she don’t go around peddling that story–not that anyone would believe it, but–“
Good Indian looked at her, and at Evadna. He opened his lips for speech, and closed them without saying a word. That near he came to telling them the truth about meeting Miss Georgie, and explaining about the hair and the knife and the footprints Hagar had prated about. But he thought of Rachel, and knew that he would never tell anyone, not even Evadna. The girl loosened his arm, and moved toward her aunt.
“I hate Indians–squaws especially,” she said positively. “I hate the way they look at one with their beady eyes, just like snakes. I believe that horrid old thing lies awake nights just thinking up nasty, wicked lies to tell about the people she doesn’t like. I don’t think you ought to ride around alone so much, Grant; she might murder you. It’s in her to do it, if she ever got the chance.”
“What do you suppose made her ring Georgie Howard in like that?” Phoebe speculated, looking at Grant. “She must have some grudge against her, too.”
“I don’t know why.” Good Indian spoke unguardedly, because he was still thinking of Rachel and those laboriously printed words which he had scattered afar. “She’s always giving them candy and fruit, whenever they show up at the station.”
“Oh–h!” Evadna gave the word that peculiar, sliding inflection of hers which meant so much, and regarded him unwinkingly, with her hands clasped behind her.
Good Indian knew well the meaning of both her tone and her stare, but he only laughed and caught her by the arm.
“Come on over to the hammock,” he commanded, with all the arrogance of a lover. “We’re making that old hag altogether too important, it seems to me. Come on, Goldilocks–we haven’t had a real satisfying sort of scrap for several thousand years.”
She permitted him to lead her to the hammock, and pile three cushions behind her head and shoulders–with the dark-blue one on top because her hair looked well against it–and dispose himself comfortably where he could look his fill at her while he swung the hammock gently with his boot-heel, scraping a furrow in the sand. But she did not show any dimples, though his eyes and his lips smiled together when she looked at him, and when he took up her hand and kissed each finger-tip in turn, she was as passive as a doll under the caresses of a child.
“What’s the matter?” he demanded, when he found that her manner did not soften. “Worrying still about what that old squaw said?”
“Not in the slightest.” Evadna’s tone was perfectly polite–which was a bad sign.
Good Indian thought he saw the makings of a quarrel in her general attitude, and he thought he might as well get at once to the real root of her resentment.
“What are you thinking about? Tell me, Goldilocks,” he coaxed, pushing his own troubles to the back of his mind.
“Oh, nothing. I was just wondering–though it’s a trivial matter which is hardly worth mentioning–but I just happened to wonder how you came to know that Georgie Howard is in the habit of giving candy to the squaws–or anything else. I’m sure I never–” She bit her lips as if she regretted having said so much.
Good Indian laughed. In truth, he was immensely relieved; he had been afraid she might want him to explain something else–something which he felt he must keep to himself even in the face of her anger. But this–he laughed again.
“That’s easy enough,” he said lightly. “I’ve seen her do it a couple of times. Maybe Hagar has been keeping an eye on me–I don’t know; anyway, when I’ve had occasion to go to the store or to the station, I’ve nearly always seen her hanging around in the immediate vicinity. I went a couple of times to see Miss Georgie about this land business. She’s wise to a lot of law–used to help her father before he died, it seems. And she has some of his books, I discovered. I wanted to see if there wasn’t some means of kicking these fellows off the ranch without making a lot more trouble for old Peaceful. But after I’d read up and talked the thing over with her, we decided that there wasn’t anything to be done till Peaceful comes back, and we know what he’s been doing about it. That’s what’s keeping him, of course.
“I suppose,” he added, looking at her frankly, “I should have mentioned my going there. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t think anything much about it. It was just business, and when I’m with you, Miss Goldilocks, I like to forget my troubles. You,” he declared, his eyes glowing upon her, “are the antidote. And you wouldn’t have mo believe you could possibly be jealous!”
“No,” said Evadna, in a more amiable tone. “Of course I’m not. But I do think you showed a–well, a lack of confidence in me. I don’t see why _I_ can’t help you share your troubles. You know I want to. I think you should have told me, and let me help. But you never do. Just for instance–why wouldn’t you tell me yesterday where you were before breakfast? I know you were SOMEWHERE, because I looked all over the place for you,” she argued naively. “I always want to know where you are, it’s so lonesome when I don’t know. And you see–“
She was interrupted at that point, which was not strange. The interruption lasted for several minutes, but Evadna was a persistent little person. When they came back to mundane matters, she went right on with what she had started out to say.
“You see, that gave old Hagar a chance to accuse you of–well, of a MEETING with Georgie. Which I don’t believe, of course. Still, it does seem as if you might have told me in the first place where you had been, and then I could have shut her up by letting her see that I knew all about it. The horrid, mean old THING! To say such things, right to your face! And–Grant, where DID she get hold of that knife, do you suppose–and–that–bunch of–hair?” She took his hand of her own accord, and patted it, and Evadna was not a demonstrative kind of person usually. “It wasn’t just a tangle, like combings,” she went on slowly. “I noticed particularly. There was a lock as large almost as my finger, that looked as if it had been cut off. And it certainly WAS Georgie’s hair.”
“Georgie’s hair,” Good Indian smilingly asserted, “doesn’t interest me a little bit. Maybe Hagar scalped Miss Georgie to get it. If it had been goldy, I’d have taken it away from her if I had to annihilate the whole tribe, but seeing it wasn’t YOUR hair–“
Well, the argument as such was a poor one, to say the least, but it had the merit of satisfying Evadna as mere logic could not have done, and seemed to allay as well all the doubt that had been accumulating for days past in her mind. But an hour spent in a hammock in the shadiest part of the grove could not wipe out all memory of the past few days, nor quiet the uneasiness which had come to be Good Indian’s portion.
“I’ve got to go up on the hill again right after dinner, Squaw-with-sun-hair,” he told her at last. “I can’t rest, somehow, as long as those gentlemen are camping down in the orchard. You won’t mind, will you?” Which shows that the hour had not been spent in quarreling, at all events.
“Certainly not,” Evadna replied calmly. “Because I’m going with you. Oh, you needn’t get ready to shake your head! I’m going to help you, from now on, and talk law and give advice and ‘scout around,’ as you call it. I couldn’t be easy a minute, with old Hagar on the warpath the way she is. I’d imagine all sorts of things.”
“You don’t realize how hot it is,” he discouraged.
“I can stand it if you can. And I haven’t seen Georgie for DAYS. She must get horribly lonesome, and it’s a perfect SHAME that I haven’t been up there lately. I’m sure she wouldn’t treat ME that way.” Evadna had put on her angelic expression. “I WOULD go oftener,” she declared virtuously, “only you boys always go off without saying anything about it, and I’m silly about riding past that Indian camp alone. That squaw–the one that caught Huckleberry the other day, you know–would hardly let go of the bridle. I was scared to DEATH, only I wouldn’t let her see. I believe now she’s in with old Hagar, Grant. She kept asking me where you were, and looked so–“
“I think, on the whole, we’d better wait till after supper when it’s cooler, Goldenhair,” Good Indian observed, when she hesitated over something she had not quite decided to say. “I suppose I really ought to stay and help the boys with that clover patch that Mother Hart is worrying so about. I guess she thinks we’re a lazy bunch, all right, when the old man’s gone. We’ll go up this evening, if you like.”
Evadna eyed him with open suspicion, but if she could read his real meaning from anything in his face or his eyes or his manner, she must have been a very keen observer indeed.
Good Indian was meditating what he called “making a sneak.” He wanted to have a talk with Miss Georgie himself, and he certainly did not want Evadna, of all people, to hear what he had to say. For just a minute he wished that they had quarreled again. He went down to the stable, started to saddle Keno, and then decided that he would not. After all, Hagar’s gossip could do no real harm, he thought, and it could not make much difference if Miss Georgie did not hear of it immediately.
That afternoon when the four-thirty-five rushed in from the parched desert and slid to a panting halt beside the station platform, Peaceful Hart emerged from the smoker, descended quietly to the blistering planks, and nodded through the open window to Miss Georgie at her instrument taking train orders.
Behind him perspired Baumberger, purple from the heat and the beer with which he had sought to allay the discomfort of that searing sunlight.
“Howdy, Miss Georgie?” he wheezed, as he passed the window. “Ever see such hot weather in your life? _I_ never did.”
Miss Georgie glanced at him while her fingers rattled her key, and it struck her that Baumberger had lost a good deal of his oily amiability since she saw him last. He looked more flabby and loose-lipped than ever, and his leering eyes were streaked plainly with the red veins which told of heavy drinking. She gave him a nod cool enough to lower the thermometer several degrees, and scribbled away upon the yellow pad under her hand as if Baumberger had sunk into the oblivion her temper wished for him. She looked up immediately, however, and leaned forward so that she could see Peaceful just turning to go down the steps.
“Oh, Mr. Hart! Will you wait a minute?” she called clearly above the puffing of the engine. “I’ve something for you here. Soon as I get this train out–” She saw him stop and turn back to the office, and let it go at that for the present.
“I sure have got my nerve,” she observed mentally when the conductor had signaled the engineer and swung up the steps of the smoker, and the wheels were beginning to clank. All she had for Peaceful Hart in that office was anxiety over his troubles. “Just held him up to pry into his private affairs,” she put it bluntly to herself. But she smiled at him brightly, and waited until Baumberger had gone lumbering with rather uncertain steps to the store, where he puffed up the steps and sat heavily down in the shade where Pete Hamilton was resting after the excitement of the past thirty-six hours.
“I lied to you, Mr. Hart,” she confessed, engagingly. “I haven’t a thing for you except a lot of questions, and I simply must ask them or die. I’m not just curious, you know. I’m horribly anxious. Won’t you take the seat of honor, please? The ranch won’t run off if you aren’t there for a few minutes after you had expected to be. I’ve been waiting to have a little talk with you, and I simply couldn’t let the opportunity go by.” She talked fast, but she was thinking faster, and wondering if this calm, white-bearded old man thought her a meddlesome fool.
“There’s time enough, and it ain’t worth much right now,” Peaceful said, sitting down in the beribboned rocker and stroking his beard in his deliberate fashion. “It seems to be getting the fashion to be anxious,” he drawled, and waited placidly for her to speak.
“You just about swear by old Baumberger, don’t you?” she began presently, fiddling with her lead pencil and going straight to the heart of what she wanted to say.
“Well, I dunno. I’ve kinda learned to fight shy of swearing by anybody, Miss Georgie.” His mild blue eyes settled attentively upon her flushed face.
“That’s some encouragement, anyhow,” she sighed. “Because he’s the biggest old blackguard in Idaho and more treacherous than any Indian ever could be if he tried. I just thought I’d tell you, in case you didn’t know it. I’m certain as I can be of anything, that he’s at the bottom of this placer-claim fraud, and he’s just digging your ranch out from under your feet while he wheedles you into thinking he’s looking after your interests. I’ll bet you never got an injunction against those eight men,” she hazarded, leaning toward him with her eyes sparkling as the subject absorbed all her thoughts. “I’ll bet anything he kept you fiddling around until those fellows all filed on their claims. And now it’s got to go till the case is finally settled in court, because they are technically within their rights in making lawful improvements on their claims.
“Grant,” she said, and her voice nearly betrayed her when she spoke his name, “was sure they faked the gold samples they must have used in filing. We both were sure of it. He and the boys tried to catch them at some crooked work, but the nights have been too dark, for one thing, and they were always on the watch, and went up to Shoshone in couples, and there was no telling which two meant to sneak off next. So they have all filed, I suppose. I know the whole eight have been up–“
“Yes, they’ve all filed–twenty acres apiece–the best part of the ranch. There’s a forty runs up over the bluff; the lower line takes in the house and barn and down into the garden where the man they call Stanley run his line through the strawberry patch. That forty’s mine yet. It’s part uh the homestead. The meadowland is most all included. That was a preemption claim.” Peaceful spoke slowly, and there was a note of discouragement in his voice which it hurt Miss Georgie to hear.
“Well, they’ve got to prove that those claims of theirs are lawful, you know. And if you’ve got your patent for the homestead–you have got a patent, haven’t you?” Something in his face made her fling in the question.
“Y-es–or I thought I had one,” he answered dryly. “It seems now there’s a flaw in it, and it’s got to go back to Washington and be rectified. It ain’t legal till that’s been done.”
Miss Georgie half rose from her chair, and dropped back despairingly. “Who found that mistake?” she demanded. “Baumberger?”
“Y-es, Baumberger. He thought we better go over all the papers ourselves, so the other side couldn’t spring anything on us unawares, and there was one paper that hadn’t been made out right. So it had to be fixed, of course. Baumberger was real put out about it.”
“Oh, of course!” Miss Georgie went to the window to make sure of the gentleman’s whereabouts. He was still sitting upon the store porch, and he was just in the act of lifting a tall, glass mug of beer to his gross mouth when she looked over at him. “Pig!” she gritted under her breath. “It’s a pity he doesn’t drink himself to death.” She turned and faced Peaceful anxiously.
“You spoke a while ago as if you didn’t trust him implicitly,” she said. “I firmly believe he hired those eight men to file on your land. I believe he also hired Saunders to watch Grant, for some reason–perhaps because Grant has shown his hostility from the first. Did you know Saunders–or someone–has been shooting at Grant from the top of the bluff for–well, ever since you left? The last shot clipped his hat-brim. Then Saunders was shot–or shot himself, according to the inquest–and there has been no more rifle practice with Grant for the target.”
“N-no, I hadn’t heard about that.” Peaceful pulled hard at his beard so that his lips were drawn slightly apart. “I don’t mind telling yuh,” he added slowly, “that I’ve got another lawyer working on the case–Black. He hates Baumberger, and he’d like to git something on him. I don’t want Baumberger should know anything about it, though. He takes it for granted I swallow whole everything he says and does–but I don’t. Not by a long shot. Black’ll ferret out any crooked work.”
“He’s a dandy if he catches Baumberger,” Miss Georgie averred, gloomily. “I tried a little detective work on my own account. I hadn’t any right; it was about the cipher messages Saunders used to send and receive so often before your place was jumped. I was dead sure it was old Baumberger at the other end, and I–well, I struck up a mild sort of flirtation with the operator at Shoshone.” She smiled deprecatingly at Peaceful.
“I wanted to find out–and I did by writing a nice letter or two; we have to be pretty cute about what we send over the wires,” she explained, “though we do talk back and forth quite a lot, too. There was a news-agent and cigar man–you know that kind of joint, where they sell paper novels and magazines and tobacco and such–getting Saunders’ messages. Jim Wakely is his name. He told the operator that he and Saunders were just practicing; they were going to be detectives, he said, and rigged up a cipher that they were learning together so they wouldn’t need any codebook. Pretty thin that–but you can’t prove it wasn’t the truth. I managed to find out that Baumberger buys cigars and papers of Jim Wakely sometimes; not always, though.”
Miss Georgie laughed ruefully, and patted her pompadour absent-mindedly.
“So all I got out of that,” she finished, “was a correspondence I could very well do without. I’ve been trying to quarrel with that operator ever since, but he’s so darned easy-tempered!” She went and looked out of the window again uneasily.
“He’s guzzling beer over there, and from the look of him he’s had a good deal more than he needs already,” she informed Peaceful. “He’ll burst if he keeps on. I suppose I shouldn’t keep you any longer–he’s looking this way pretty often, I notice; nothing but the beer-keg holds him, I imagine. And when he empties that–” She shrugged her shoulders, and sat down facing Hart.
“Maybe you could bribe Jim Wakely into giving something away,” she suggested. “I’d sure like to see Baumberger stub his toe in this deal! Or maybe you could get around one of those eight beauties you’ve got camping down on your ranch–but there isn’t much chance of that; he probably took good care to pick clams for that job. And Saunders,” she added slowly, “is eternally silent. Well, I hope in mercy you’ll be able to catch him napping, Mr. Hart.”
Peaceful rose stiffly,–and took up his hat from where he had laid it on the table.
“I ain’t as hopeful as I was a week ago,” he admitted mildly. “Put if there’s any justice left in the courts, I’ll save the old ranch. My wife and I worked hard to make it what it is, and my boys call it home. We can’t save it by anything but law. Fightin’ would only make a bad matter worse. I’m obliged to yuh, Miss Georgie, for taking such an interest–and I’ll tell Black about Jim Wakely.”
“Don’t build any hopes on Jim,” she warned. “He probably doesn’t know anything except that he sent and received messages he couldn’t read any sense into.”
“Well–there’s always a way out, if we can find it. Come down and see us some time. We still got a house to invite our friends to.” He smiled drearily at her, gave a little, old-fashioned bow, and went over to join Baumberger–and to ask Pete Hamilton for the use of his team and buckboard.
Miss Georgie, keeping an uneasy vigil over everything that moved in the barren portion of Hartley which her window commanded, saw Pete get up and start listlessly toward the stable; saw Peaceful sit down to wait; and then Pete drove up with the rig, and they started for the ranch. She turned with a startled movement to the office door, because she felt that she was being watched.
“How, Hagar, and Viney, and Lucy,” she greeted languidly when she saw the three squaws sidle closer, and reached for a bag of candy for them.
Hagar’s greasy paw stretched out greedily for the gift, and placed it in jealous hiding beneath her blanket, but she did not turn to go, as she most frequently did after getting what she came for. Instead, she waddled boldly into the office, her eyes searching cunningly every corner of the little room. Viney and Lucy remained outside, passively waiting. Hagar twitched at something under her blanket, and held out her hand again; this time it was not empty.
“Ketchum sagebrush,” she announced laconically. “Mebbyso yo’ like for buy?”
Miss Georgie stared fixedly at the hand, and said nothing. Hagar drew it under her blanket, held it fumbling there, and thrust it forth again.
“Ketchum where ketchum hair,” she said, and her wicked old eyes twinkled with malice. “Mebbyso yo’ like for buy?”
Miss Georgie still stared, and said nothing. Her under lip was caught tightly between her teeth by now, and her eyebrows were pulled close together.
“Ketchum much track, same place,” said Hagar grimly. “Good Injun makeum track all same boot. Seeum Good Injun creep, creep in bushes, all time Man-that-coughs be heap kill. Yo’ buy hair, buy knife, mebbyso me no tell me seeum Good Injun. Me tell, Good Injun go for jail; mebbyso killum rope.” She made a horrible gesture of hanging by the neck. Afterward she grinned still more horribly. “Ketchum plenty mo’ dolla, me no tell, mebbyso.”
Miss Georgie felt blindly for her chair, and when she touched it she backed and sank into it rather heavily. She looked white and sick, and Hagar eyed her gloatingly.
“Yo’ no like for Good Injun be killum rope,” she chuckled. “Yo’ all time thinkum heap bueno. Mebbyso yo’ love. Yo’ buy? Yo’ payum much dolla?”
Miss Georgie passed a hand slowly over her eyes. She felt numb, and she could not think, and she must think. A shuffling sound at the door made her drop her hand and look up, but there was nothing to lighten her oppressive sense of danger to Grant. Another squaw had appeared, was all. A young squaw, with bright-red ribbons braided into her shining black hair, and great, sad eyes brightening the dull copper tint of her face.
“You no be ‘fraid,” she murmured shyly to Miss Georgie, and stopped where she was just inside the door. “You no be sad. No trouble come Good Injun. I friend.”
Hagar turned, and snarled at her in short, barking words which Miss Georgie could not understand. The young squaw folded her arms inside her bright, plaid shawl, and listened with an indifference bordering closely on contempt, one would judge from her masklike face. Hagar turned from berating her, and thrust out her chin at Miss Georgie.
“I go. Sun go ‘way, mebbyso I come. Mebbyso yo’ heart bad. Me ketchum much dolla yo’, me no tellum, mebbyso. No ketchum, me tell sheriff mans Good Injun all time killum Man-that-coughs.” Turning, she waddled out, jabbing viciously at the young squaw with her elbow as she passed, and spitting out some sort of threat or command–Miss Georgie could not tell which.
The young squaw lingered, still gazing shyly at Miss Georgie.
“You no be ‘fraid,” she repeated softly. “I friend. I take care. No trouble come Good Injun. I no let come. You no be sad.” She smiled wistfully, and was gone, as silently as moved her shadow before her on the cinders.
Miss Georgie stood by the window with her fingernails making little red half-moons in her palms, and watched the three squaws pad out of sight on the narrow trail to their camp, with the young squaw following after, until only a black head could be seen bobbing over the brow of the hill. When even that was gone, she turned from the window, and stood for a long minute with her hands pressed tightly over her face. She was trying to think, but instead she found herself listening intently to the monotonous “Ah-h-CHUCK! ah-h-CHUCK!” of the steam pump down the track, and to the spasmodic clicking of an order from the dispatcher to the passenger train two stations to the west.
When the train was cleared and the wires idle, she went suddenly to the table, laid her fingers purposefully upon the key, and called up her chief. It was another two hours’ leave of absence she asked for “on urgent business.” She got it, seasoned with a sarcastic reminder that her business was supposed to be with the railroad company, and that she would do well to cultivate exactness of expression and a taste for her duties in the office.
She was putting on her hat even while she listened to the message, and she astonished the man at the other end by making no retort whatever. She almost ran to the store, and she did not ask Pete for a saddle-horse; she just threw her office key at him, and told him she was going to take his bay, and she was at the stable before he closed the mouth he had opened in amazement at her whirlwind departure.
“I’D JUST AS SOON HANG FOR NINE MEN AS FOR ONE”
Baumberger climbed heavily out of the rig,and went lurching drunkenly up the path to the house where the cool shade of the grove was like paradise set close against the boundary of the purgatory of blazing sunshine and scorching sand. He had not gone ten steps from the stable when he met Good Indian face to face.
“Hullo,” he growled, stopping short and eying him malevolently with lowered head.
Good Indian’s lips curled silently, and he stepped aside to pursue his way. Baumberger swung his huge body toward him.
“I said HULLO. Nothin’ wrong in that, is there? HULLO–d’yuh hear?”
“Go to the devil!” said Grant shortly.
Baumberger leered at him offensively. “Pretty Polly! Never learned but one set uh words in his life. Can’t yuh say anything but ‘Go to the devil!’ when a man speaks to yuh? Hey?”
“I could say a whole lot that you wouldn’t be particularly glad to hear.” Good Indian stopped, and faced him, coldly angry. For one thing, he knew that Evadna was waiting on the porch for him, and could see even if she could not hear; and Baumberger’s attitude was insulting. “I think,” he said meaningly, “I wouldn’t press the point if I were you.”
“Giving me advice, hey? And who the devil are you?”
“I wouldn’t ask, if I were you. But if you really want to know, I’m the fellow you hired Saunders to shoot. You blundered that time. You should have picked a better man, Mr. Baumberger. Saunders couldn’t have hit the side of a barn if he’d been locked inside it. You ought to have made sure–“
Baumberger glared at him, and then lunged, his eyes like an animal gone mad.
“I’ll make a better job, then!” he bellowed. “Saunders was a fool. I told him to get down next the trail and make a good job of it. I told him to kill you, you lying, renegade Injun–and if he couldn’t, I can! Yuh WILL watch me, hey?”
Good Indian backed from him in sheer amazement. Epithets unprintable poured in a stream from the loose, evil lips. Baumberger was a raving beast of a man. He would have torn the other to pieces and reveled in the doing. He bellowed forth threats against Good Indian and the Harts, young and old, and vaunted rashly the things he meant to do. Heat-mad and drink-mad he was, and it was as if the dam of his wily amiability had broken and let loose the whole vile reservoir of his pirate mind. He tried to strike Good Indian down where he stood, and when his blows were parried he stopped, swayed a minute in drunken uncertainty, and then make one of his catlike motions, pulled a gun, and fired without really taking aim.
Another gun spoke then, and Baumberger collapsed in the sand, a quivering heap of gross human flesh. Good Indian stood and looked down at him fixedly while the smoke floated away from the muzzle of his own gun. He heard Evadna screaming hysterically at the gate, and looked over there inquiringly. Phoebe was running toward him, and the boys–Wally and Gene and Jack, from the blacksmith shop. At the corner of the stable Miss Georgie was sliding from her saddle, her riding whip clenched tightly in her hand as she hurried to him. Peaceful stood beside the team, with the lines still in his hand.
It was Miss Georgie’s words which reached him clearly.
“You just HAD to do it, Grant. I saw the whole thing. You HAD to.”
“Oh, Grant–GRANT! What have you done? What have you done?” That was Phoebe Hart, saying the same thing over and over with a queer, moaning inflection in her voice.
“D’yuh KILL him?” Gene shouted excitedly, as he ran up to the spot.
“Yes.” Good Indian glanced once more at the heap before him. “And I’m liable to kill a few more before I’m through with the deal.” He swung short around, discovered that Evadna was clutching his arm and crying, and pulled loose from her with a gesture of impatience. With the gun still in his hand, he walked quickly down the road in the direction of the garden.
“He’s mad! The boy is mad! He’s going to kill–” Phoebe gave a sob, and ran after him, and with her went Miss Georgie and Evadna, white-faced, all three of them.
“Come on, boys–he’s going to clean out the whole bunch!” whooped Gene.
“Oh, choke off!” Wally gritted disgustedly, glancing over his shoulder at them. “Go back to the house, and STAY there! Ma, make Vad quit that yelling, can’t yuh?” He looked eloquently at Jack, keeping pace with him and smiling with the steely glitter in his eyes. “Women make me sick!” he snorted under his breath.
Peaceful stared after them, went into the stable, and got a blanket to throw over Baumberger’s inert body, stooped, and made sure that the man was dead, with the left breast of his light negligee shirt all blackened with powder and soaked with blood; covered him well, and tied up the team. Then he went to the house, and got the old rifle that had killed Indians and buffalo alike, and went quickly through the grove to the garden. He was a methodical man, and he was counted slow, but nevertheless he reached the scene not much behind the others. Wally was trying to send his mother to the house with Evadna, and neither would go. Miss Georgie was standing near Good Indian, watching Stanley with her lips pressed together.
It is doubtful if Good Indian realized what the others were doing. He had gone straight past the line of stakes to where Stanley was sitting with his back against the lightning-stricken apricot tree. Stanley was smoking a cigarette as if he had heard nothing of the excitement, but his rifle was resting upon his knee in such a manner that he had but to lift it and take aim. The three others were upon their own claims, and they, also, seemed unobtrusively ready for whatever might be going to happen.
Good Indian appraised the situation with a quick glance as he came up, but he did not slacken his pace until he was within ten feet of Stanley.
“You’re across the dead line, m’ son,” said Stanley, with lazy significance. “And you, too,” he added, flickering a glance at Miss Georgie.
“The dead line,” said Good Indian coolly, “is beyond the Point o’ Rocks. I’d like to see you on the other side by sundown.”
Stanley looked him over, from the crown of his gray hat to the tips of his riding-boots, and laughed when his eyes came back to Good Indian’s face. But the laugh died out rather suddenly at what he saw there.
“Got the papers for that?” he asked calmly. But his jaw had squared.
“I’ve got something better than papers. Your boss is dead. I shot him just now. He’s lying back there by the stable.” Good Indian tilted his head backward, without taking his eyes from Stanley’s face–and Stanley’s right hand, too, perhaps. “If you don’t want the same medicine, I’d advise you to quit.”
Stanley’s jaw dropped, but it was surprise which slackened the muscles.
“Baumberger. I said it.”
“You’ll hang for that,” Stanley stated impersonally, without moving.
Good Indian smiled, but it only made his face more ominous.
“Well, they can’t hang a man more than once. I’ll see this ranch cleaned up while I’m about it. I’d just as soon,” he added composedly, “be hanged for nine men as for one.”
Stanley sat on his haunches, and regarded him unwinkingly for so long that Phoebe’s nerves took a panic, and she drew Evadna away from the place. The boys edged closer, their hands resting suggestively upon their gun-butts. Old Peaceful half-raised his rifle, and held it so. It was like being compelled to watch a fuse hiss and shrivel and go black toward a keg of gun-powder.
“I believe, by heck, you would!” said Stanley at last, and so long a time had elapsed that even Good Indian had to think back to know what he meant. Stanley squinted up at the sun, hitched himself up so that his back rested against the tree more comfortably, inspected his cigarette, and then fumbled for a match with which to relight it. “How’d you find out Baumberger was back uh this deal?” he asked curiously and without any personal resentment in tone or manner, and raked the match along his thigh.
Good Indian’s shoulders went up a little.
“I knew, and that’s sufficient. The dead line is down past the Point o’ Rocks. After sundown this ranch is going to hold the Harts and their friends–and NO ONE ELSE. Tell that to your pals, unless you’ve got a grudge against them!”
Stanley held his cigarette between his fingers, and blew smoke through his nostrils while he watched Good Indian turn his back and walk away. He did not easily lose his hold of himself, and this was, with him, a cold business proposition.
Miss Georgie stood where she was until she saw that Stanley did not intend to shoot Good Indian in the back, as he might have done easily enough, and followed so quickly that she soon came up with him. Good Indian turned at the rustling of the skirts immediately behind him, and looked down at her somberly. Then he caught sight of something she was carrying in her hand, and he gave a short laugh.
“What are you doing with that thing?” he asked peremptorily.
Miss Georgie blushed very red, and slid the thing into her pocket.
“Well, every little helps,” she retorted, with a miserable attempt at her old breeziness of manner. “I thought for a minute I’d have to shoot that man Stanley–when you turned your back on him.”
Good Indian stopped, looked at her queerly, and went on again without saying a word.
“WHEN THE SUN GOES AWAY”
“I wish,” said Phoebe, putting her two hands on Miss Georgie’s shoulders at the gate and looking up at her with haggard eyes, “you’d see what you can do with Vadnie. The poor child’s near crazy; she ain’t used to seeing such things happen–“
“Where is she?” Good Indian asked tersely, and was answered immediately by the sound of sobbing on the east porch. The three went together, but it was Grant who reached her first.
“Don’t cry, Goldilocks,” he said tenderly, bending over her. “It’s all right now. There isn’t going to be any more–“
“Oh! Don’t TOUCH me!” She sprang up and backed from him, horror plain in her wide eyes. “Make him keep away, Aunt Phoebe!”
Good Indian straightened, and stood perfectly still, looking at her in a stunned, incredulous way.
“Chicken, don’t be silly!” Miss Georgie’s sane tones were like a breath of clean air. “You’ve simply gone all to pieces. I know what nerves can do to a woman–I’ve had ’em myself. Grant isn’t going to bite you, and you’re not afraid of him. You’re proud of him, and you know it. He’s acted the man, chicken!–the man we knew he was, all along. So pull yourself together, and let’s not have any nonsense.”
“He–KILLED a man! I saw him do it. And he’s going to kill some more. I might have known he was like that! I might have KNOWN when he tried to shoot me that night in the orchard when I was trying to scare Gene! I can show you the mark–where he grazed my arm! And he LAUGHED about it! I called him a savage then–and I was RIGHT–only he can be so nice when he wants to be–and I forgot about the Indian in him–and then he killed Mr. Baumberger! He’s lying out there now! I’d rather DIE than let him–“
Miss Georgie clapped a hand over her mouth, and stopped her. Also, she gripped her by the shoulder indignantly.
“‘Vadna Ramsey, I’m ashamed of you!” she cried furiously. “For Heaven’s sake, Grant, go on off somewhere and wait till she settles down. Don’t stand there looking like a stone image–didn’t you ever see a case of nerves before? She doesn’t know what she’s saying–if she did, she wouldn’t be saying it. You go on, and let me handle her alone. Men are just a nuisance in a case like this.”
She pushed Evadna before her into the kitchen, waited until Phoebe had followed, and then closed the door gently and decisively upon Grant. But not before she had given him a heartening smile just to prove that he must not take Evadna seriously, because she did not.
“We’d better take her to her room, Mrs. Hart,” she suggested, “and make her lie down for a while. That poor fellow–as if he didn’t have enough on his hands without this!”
“I’m not on his hands! And I won’t lie down!” Evadna jerked away from Miss Georgie, and confronted them both pantingly, her cheeks still wet with tears. “You act as if I don’t know what I’m doing’ and I DO know. If I should lie down for a MILLION YEARS, I’d feel just the same about it. I couldn’t bear him to TOUCH me! I–“
“For Heaven’s sake, don’t shout it,” Miss Georgie interrupted, exasperatedly. “Do you want him–“
“To hear? _I_ don’t care whether he does or not.” Evadna was turning sullen at the opposition. “He’ll have to know it SOME TIME, won’t he? If you think can forgive a thing like that and let–“
“He had to do it. Baumberger would have killed HIM. He had a perfect right to kill. He’d have been a fool and a coward if he hadn’t. You come and lie down a while.”
“I WON’T lie down. I don’t care if he did have to do it–I couldn’t love him afterward. And he didn’t have to go down there and threaten Stanley–and–HE’LL DO IT, TOO!” She fell to trembling again. “He’ll DO it–at sundown.”
Phoebe and Miss Georgie looked at each other. He would, if the men stayed. They knew that.
“And I was going to marry him!” Evadna shuddered when she said it, and covered her face with her two hands. “He wasn’t sorry afterward; you could see he wasn’t sorry. He was ready to kill more men. It’s the Indian in him. He LIKES to kill people. He’ll kill those men, and he won’t be a bit sorry he did it. And he could come to me afterward and expect me–Oh, what does he think I AM?” She leaned against the wall, and sobbed.
“I suppose,” she wailed, lashing herself with every bitter thought she could conjure, “he killed Saunders, too, like old Hagar said. He wouldn’t tell me where he was that morning. I asked him, and he wouldn’t tell. He was up there killing Saunders–“
“If you don’t shut up, I’ll shake you!” Miss Georgie in her fury did not wait, but shook her anyway as if she had been a ten-year-old child in a tantrum.
“My Heavens above! I’ll stand for nerves and hysterics, and almost any old thing, but you’re going a little bit too far, my lady. There’s no excuse for your talking such stuff as that, and you’re not going to do it, if I have to gag you! Now, you march to your own room and–STAY there. Do you hear? And don’t you dare let another yip out of you till you can talk sense.”
Good Indian stood upon the porch, and heard every word of that. He heard also the shuffle of feet as Miss Georgie urged Evadna to her room–it sounded almost as if she dragged her there by force–and he rolled a cigarette with fingers that did not so much as quiver. He scratched a match upon the nearest post, and afterward leaned there and smoked, and stared out over the pond and up at the bluff glowing yellow in the sunlight. His face was set and expressionless except that it was stoically calm, and there was a glitter deep down in his eyes. Evadna was right, to a certain extent the Indian in him held him quiet.
It occurred to him that someone ought to pick up Baumberger, and put him somewhere, but he did not move. The boys and Peaceful must have stayed down in the garden, he thought. He glanced up at the tops of the nodding poplars, and estimated idly by their shadow on the bluff how long it would be before sundown, and as idly wondered if Stanley and the others would go, or stay. There was nothing they could gain by staying, he knew, now that Baumberger was out of it. Unless they got stubborn and wanted to fight. In that case, he supposed he would eventually be planted alongside his father. He wished he could keep the boys and old Peaceful out of it, in case there was a fight, but he knew that would be impossible. The boys, at least, had been itching for something like this ever since the trouble started.
Good Indian had, not so long ago, spent hours in avoiding all thought that he might prolong the ecstasy of mere feeling. Now he had reversed the desire. He was thinking of this thing and of that, simply that he might avoid feeling. If someone didn’t kill him within the next hour or so, he was going to feel something–something that would hurt him more than he had been hurt since his father died in that same house. But in the meantime he need only think.
The shadow of the grove, with the long fingers of tho poplars to point the way, climbed slowly up the bluff. Good Indian smoked another cigarette while he watched it. When a certain great bowlder that was like a miniature ledge glowed rosily and then slowly darkened to a chill gray, he threw his cigarette stub unerringly at a lily-pad which had courtesied many a time before to a like missile from his hand, pulled his hat down over his eyes, jumped off the porch, and started around the house to the gate which led to the stable.
Phoebe came out from the sitting-room, ran down the steps, and barred his way.
“Grant!” she said, and there were tears in her eyes, “don’t do anything rash–don’t. If it’s for our sakes–and I know it is–don’t do it. They’ll go, anyway. We’ll have the law on them and make them go. But don’t YOU go down there. You let Thomas handle that part. You’re like one of my own boys. I can’t let you go!”
He looked down at her commiseratingly. “I’ve got to go, Mother Hart. I’ve made my war-talk.” He hesitated, bent his head, and kissed her on the forehead as she stood looking up at him, and went on.
“Grant–GRANT!” she cried heartbrokenly after him, and sank down on the porch-steps with her face hidden in her arms.
Miss Georgie was standing beside the gate, looking toward the stable. She may not have been waiting for him, but she turned without any show of surprise when he walked up behind her.
“Well, your jumpers seem to have taken the hint,” she informed him, with a sort of surface cheerfulness. “Stanley is down there talking to Mr. Hart now, and the others have gone on. They’ll all be well over the dead-line by sundown. There goes Stanley now. Do you really feel that your future happiness depends on getting through this gate? Well–if you must–” She swung it open, but she stood in the opening.
“Grant, I–it’s hard to say just what I want to say–but–you did right. You acted the man’s part. No matter what–others–may think or say, remember that I think you did right to kill that man. And if there’s anything under heaven that I can do, to–to help–you’ll let me do it, won’t you?” Her eyes held him briefly, unabashed at what they might tell. Then she stepped back, and contradicted them with a little laugh. “I will get fired sure for staying over my time,” she said. “I’ll wire for the coroner soon as I get to the office. This will never come to a trial, Grant. He was like a crazy man, and we all saw him shoot first.”
She waited until he had passed through and was a third of the way to the stable where Peaceful Hart and his boys were gathered, and then she followed him briskly, as if her mind was taken up with her own affairs.
“It’s a shame yon fellows got cheated out of a scrap,” she taunted Jack, who held her horse for her while she settled herself in the saddle. “You were all spoiling for a fight–and there did seem to be the makings of a beautiful row!”
Save for the fact that she kept her eyes studiously turned away from a certain place near by, where the dust was pressed down smoothly with the weight of a heavy body, and all around was trampled and tracked, one could not have told that Miss Georgie remembered anything tragic.
But Good Indian seemed to recall something, and went quickly over to her just in time to prevent her starting.
“Was there something in particular you wanted when you came?” he asked, laying a hand on the neck of the bay. “It just occurred to me that there must have been.”
She leaned so that the others could not hear, and her face was grave enough now.
“Why, yes. It’s old Hagar. She came to me this afternoon, and she had that bunch of hair you cut off that was snarled in the bush. She had your knife. She wanted me to buy them–the old blackmailer! She made threats, Grant–about Saunders. She says you–I came right down to tell you, because I was afraid she might make trouble. But there was so much more on hand right here”–she glanced involuntarily at the trampled place in the dust. “She said she’d come back this evening, ‘when the sun goes away.’ She’s there now, most likely. What shall I tell her? We can’t have that story mouthed all over the country.”
Good Indian twisted a wisp of mane in his fingers, and frowned abstractedly.
“If you’ll ride on slowly,” he told her, at last straightening the twisted lock, “I’ll overtake you. I think I’d better see that old Jezebel myself.”
Secretly he was rather thankful for further action. He told the boys when they fired questions at his hurried saddling that he was going to take Miss Georgie home, and that he would be back before long; in an hour, probably. Then he galloped down the trail, and overtook her at the Point o’ Rocks.
The sun was down, and the sky was a great, glowing mass of color. Round the second turn of the grade they came upon Stanley, walking with his hands thrust in his trousers pockets and whistling softly to himself as if he were thinking deeply. Perhaps he was glad to be let off so easily.
“Abandoning my claim,” he announced, lightly as a man of his prosaic temperament could speak upon such a subject. “Dern poor placer mining down there, if yuh want to know!”
Good Indian scowled at him and rode on, because a woman rode beside him. Seven others they passed farther up the hill. Those seven gave him scowl for scowl, and did not speak a word; that also because a woman rode beside him. And the woman understood, and was glad that she was there.
From the Indian camp, back in the sage-inclosed hollow, rose a sound of high-keyed wailing. The two heard it, and looked at each other questioningly.
“Something’s up over there,” Good Indian said, answering her look. “That sounds to me like the squaws howling over a death.”
“Let’s go and see. I’m so late now, a few minutes more won’t matter, one way or the other.” Miss Georgie pulled out her watch, looked at it, and made a little grimace. So they turned into the winding trail, and rode into the camp.
There were confusion, and wailing, and a buzzing of squaws around a certain wikiup. Dogs sat upon their haunches, and howled lugubriously until someone in passing kicked them into yelping instead. Papooses stood nakedly about, and regarded the uproar solemnly, running to peer into the wikiup and then scamper back to their less hardy fellows. Only the bucks stood apart in haughty unconcern, speaking in undertones when they talked at all. Good Indian commanded Miss Georgie to remain just outside the camp, and himself rode in to where the bucks were gathered. Then he saw Peppajee sitting beside his own wikiup, and went to him instead.
“What’s the matter here, Peppajee?” he asked. “Heap trouble walk down at Hart Ranch. Trouble walk here all same, mebbyso?”
Peppajee looked at him sourly, but the news was big, and it must be told.
“Heap much trouble come. Squaw callum Hagar make much talk. Do much bad, mebbyso. Squaw Rachel ketchum bad heart along yo’. Heap cry all time. No sleepum, no eatum–all time heap sad. Ketchum bad spirit, mebbyso. Ketchum debbil. Sun go ‘way, ketchum knife, go Hagar wikiup. Killum Hagar–so.” He thrust out his arm as one who stabs. “Killum himself–so.” He struck his chest with his clenched fist. “Hagar heap dead. Rachel heap dead. Kay bueno. Mebbyso yo’ heap bad medicine. Yo’ go.”
“A squaw just died,” he told Miss Georgie curtly, when they rode on. But her quick eyes noted a new look in his face. Before it had been grave and stern and bitter; now it was sorrowful instead.
LIFE ADJUSTS ITSELF AGAIN TO SOME THINGS
The next day was a day of dust hanging always over the grade because of much hurried riding up and down; a day of many strange faces whose eyes peered curiously at the place where Baumberger fell, and at the cold ashes of Stanley’s campfire, and at the Harts and their house, and their horses and all things pertaining in the remotest degree to the drama which had been played grimly there to its last, tragic “curtain.” They stared up at the rim-rock and made various estimates of the distance and argued over the question of marksmanship, and whether it really took a good shot to fire from the top and hit a man below.
As for the killing of Baumberger, public opinion tried–with the aid of various plugs of tobacco and much expectoration–the case and rendered a unanimous verdict upon it long before the coroner arrived. “Done just right,” was the verdict of Public Opinion, and the self-constituted judges manifested their further approval by slapping Good Indian upon the back when they had a chance, or by solemnly shaking hands with him, or by facetiously assuring him that they would be good. All of which Grant interpreted correctly as sympathy and a desire to show him that they did not look upon him as a murderer, but as a man who had the courage to defend himself and those dear to him from a great danger.
With everything so agreeably disposed of according to the crude–though none the less true, perhaps–ethics of the time and the locality, it was tacitly understood that the coroner and the inquest he held in the grove beside the house were a mere concession to red tape. Nevertheless a general tension manifested itself when the jury, after solemnly listening, in their official capacity, to the evidence they had heard and discussed freely hours before, bent heads and whispered briefly together. There was also a corresponding atmosphere of relief when the verdict of Public Opinion was called justifiable homicide by the coroner and so stamped with official approval.
When that was done they carried Baumberger’s gross physical shell away up the grade to the station; and the dust of his passing settled upon the straggling crowd that censured his misdeeds and mourned not at all, and yet paid tribute to his dead body with lowered voices while they spoke of him, and with awed silence when the rough box was lowered to the station platform.
As the sky clears and grows blue and deep and unfathomably peaceful after a storm, as trees wind-riven straighten and nod graciously to the little cloud-boats that sail the blue above, and wave dainty finger-tips of branches in bon voyage, so did the Peaceful Hart ranch, when the dust had settled after the latest departure and the whistle of the train–which bore the coroner and that other quiet passenger–came faintly down over the rim-rock, settle with a sigh of relief into its old, easy habits of life.
All, that is, save Good Indian himself, and perhaps one other.
. . . . . . . . .
Peaceful cleared his white mustache and beard from a few stray drops of coffee and let his mild blue eyes travel slowly around the table, from one tanned young face to another.
“Now the excitement’s all over and done with,” he drawled in his half-apologetic tones, “it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you boys to get to work and throw the water back where it belongs. I dunno but what the garden’s spoiled already; but the small fruit can be saved.”
“Clark and I was going up to the Injun camp,” spoke up Gene. “We wanted to see–“
“You’ll have to do some riding to get there,” Good Indian informed them dryly. “They hit the trail before sunrise this morning.”
“Huh! What were YOU doing up there that time of day?” blurted Wally, eying him sharply.
“Watching the sun rise.” His lips smiled over the retort, but his eyes did not. “I’ll lower the water in your milk-house now, Mother Hart,” he promised lightly, “so you won’t have to wear rubber-boots when you go to skim the milk.” He gave Evadna a quick, sidelong glance as she came into the room, and pushed back his chair. “I’ll get at it right away,” he said cheerfully, picked up his hat, and went out whistling. Then he put his head in at the door. “Say,” he called, “does anybody know where that long-handled shovel is?” Again he eyed Evadna without seeming to see her at all.
“If it isn’t down at the stable,” said Jack soberly, “or by the apple-cellar or somewhere around the pond or garden, look along the ditches as far up as the big meadow. And if you don’t run across it there–” The door slammed, and Jack laughed with his eyes fast shut and three dimples showing.
Evadna sank listlessly into her chair and regarded him and all her little world with frank disapproval.
“Upon my WORD, I don’t see how anybody can laugh, after what has happened on this place,” she said dismally, “or–WHISTLE, after–” Her lips quivered a little. She was a distressed Christmas angel, if ever there was one.
Wally snorted. “Want us to go CRYING around because the row’s over?” he demanded. “Think Grant ought to wear crepe, I suppose–because he ain’t on ice this morning–or in jail, which he’d hate a lot worse. Think we ought to go around with our jaws hanging down so you could step on ’em, because Baumberger cashed in? Huh! All hurts MY feelings is, I didn’t get a whack at the old devil myself!” It was a long speech for Wally to make, and he made it with deliberate malice.
“Now you’re shouting!” applauded Gene, also with the intent to be shocking.
“THAT’S the stuff,” approved Clark, grinning at Evadna’s horrified eyes.
“Grant can run over me sharp-shod and I won’t say a word, for what he did day before yesterday,” declared Jack, opening his eyes and looking straight at Evadna. “You don’t see any tears rolling down MY cheeks, I hope?”
“Good Injun’s the stuff, all right. He’d ‘a’ licked the hull damn–“
“Now, Donny, be careful what language you use,” Phoebe admonished, and so cut short his high-pitched song of praise.
“I don’t care–I think it’s perfectly awful.” Evadna looked distastefully upon her breakfast. “I just can’t sleep in that room, Aunt Phoebe. I tried not to think about it, but it opens right that way.”
“Huh!” snorted Wally. “Board up the window, then, so you can’t see the fatal spot!” His gray eyes twinkled. “I could DANCE on it myself,” he said, just to horrify her–which he did. Evadna shivered, pressed her wisp of handkerchief against her lips, and left the table hurriedly.
“You boys ought to be ashamed of yourselves!” Phoebe scolded half-heartedly; for she had lived long in the wild, and had seen much that was raw and primitive. “You must take into consideration that Vadnie isn’t used to such things. Why, great grief! I don’t suppose the child ever SAW a dead man before in her life–unless he was laid out in church with flower-anchors piled knee-deep all over him. And to see one shot right before her very eyes–and by the man she expects–or did expect to marry–why, you can’t wonder at her looking at it the way she does. It isn’t Vadnie’s fault. It’s the way she’s been raised.”
“Well,” observed Wally in the manner of delivering an ultimatum, “excuse ME from any Eastern raising!”
A little later, Phoebe boldly invaded the secret chambers of Good Indian’s heart when he was readjusting the rocks which formed the floor of the milk-house.
“Now, Grant,” she began, laying her hand upon his shoulder as he knelt before her, straining at a heavy rock, “Mother Hart is going to give you a little piece of her mind about something that’s none of her business maybe.”
“You can give me as many pieces as you like. They’re always good medicine,” he assured her. But he kept his head bent so that his hat quite hid his face from her. “What about?” he asked, a betraying tenseness in his voice.
“About Vadnie–and you. I notice you don’t speak–you haven’t that I’ve seen, since that day–on the porch. You don’t want to be too hard on her, Grant. Remember she isn’t used to such things. She looks at it different. She’s never seen the times, as I have, where it’s kill or be killed. Be patient with her, Grant–and don’t feel hard. She’ll get over it. I want,” she stopped because her voice was beginning to shake “–I want my biggest boy to be happy.” Her hand slipped around his neck and pressed his head against her knee.
Good Indian got up and put his arms around her and held her close. He did not say anything at all for a minute, but when he did he spoke very quietly, stroking her hair the while.
“Mother Hart, I stood on the porch and heard what she said in the kitchen. She accused me of killing Saunders. She said I liked to kill people; that I shot at her and laughed at the mark I made on her arm. She called me a savage–an Indian. My mother’s mother was the daughter of a chief. She was a good woman; my mother was a good woman; just as good as if she had been white.
“Mother Hart, I’m a white man in everything but half my mother’s blood. I don’t remember her–but I respect her memory, and I am not ashamed because she was my mother. Do you think I could marry a girl who thinks of my mother as something which she must try to forgive? Do you think I could go to that girl in there and–and take her in my arms–and love her, knowing that she feels as she does? She can’t even forgive me for killing that beast!
“She’s a beautiful thing–I wanted to have her for my own. I’m a man. I’ve a healthy man’s hunger for a beautiful woman, but I’ve a healthy man’s pride as well.” He patted the smooth cheek of the only woman he had ever known as a mother, and stared at the rough rock wall oozing moisture that drip-dripped to the pool below.
“I did think I’d go away for awhile,” he said after a minute spent in sober thinking. “But I never dodged yet, and I never ran. I’m going to stay and see the thing through, now. I don’t know–” he hesitated and then went on. “It may not last; I may have to suffer after awhile, but standing out there, that day, listening to her carrying on, kind of–oh, I can’t explain it. But I don’t believe I wes half as deep in love as I thought I was. I don’t want to say anything against her; I’ve no right, for she’s a thousand times better than I am. But she’s different. She never would understand our ways, Mother Hart, or look at life as we do; some people go through life looking at the little things that don’t matter, and passing by the other, bigger things. If you keep your eye glued to a microscope long enough, you’re sure to lose the sense of proportion.
“She won’t speak to me,” he continued after a short silence. “I tried to talk to her yesterday–“
“But you must remember, the poor child was hysterical that day when–she went on so. She doesn’t know anything about the realities of life. She doesn’t mean to be hard.”
“Yesterday,” said Grant with an odd little smile, “she was not hysterical. It seems that–shooting–was the last little weight that tilted the scale against me. I don’t think she ever cared two whoops for me, to tell you the truth. She’s been ashamed of my Indian blood all along; she said so. And I’m not a good lover; I neglected her all the while this trouble lasted, and I paid more attention to Georgie Howard than I did to her–and I didn’t satisfactorily explain about that hair and knife that Hagar had. And–oh, it isn’t the killing, altogether! I guess we were both a good deal mistaken in our feelings.”
“Well, I hope so,” sighed Phoebe, wondering secretly at the decadence of love. An emotion that could burn high and hot in a week, flare bravely for a like space, and die out with no seared heart to pay for the extravagance–she shook her head at it. That was not what she had been taught to call love, and she wondered how a man and a maid could be mistaken about so vital an emotion.
“I suppose,” she added with unusual sarcasm for her, “you’ll be falling in love with Georgie Howard, next thing anybody knows; and maybe that will last a week or ten days before you find out you were MISTAKEN!”
Good Indian gave her one of his quick, sidelong glances.
“She would not be eternally apologizing to herself for liking me, anyway,” he retorted acrimoniously, as if he found it very hard to forgive Evadna her conscious superiority of race and upbringing. “Squaw.”
“Oh, I haven’t a doubt of that!” Phoebe rose to the defense of her own blood. “I don’t know as it’s in her to apologize for anything. I never saw such a girl for going right ahead as if her way is the only way! Bull-headed, I’d call her.” She looked at Good Indian afterward, studying his face with motherly solicitude.
“I believe you’re half in love with her right now and don’t know it!” she accused suddenly.
Good Indian laughed softly and bent to his work again.
“ARE you, Grant?” Phoebe laid a moist hand on his shoulder, and felt the muscles sliding smoothly beneath his clothing while he moved a rock. “I ain’t mad because you and Vadnie fell out; I kind of looked for it to happen. Love that grows like a mushroom lasts about as long–only _I_ don’t call it love! You might tell me–“
“Tell you what?” But Grant did not look up. “If I don’t know it, I can’t tell it.” He paused in his lifting and rested his hands upon his knees, the fingers dripping water back into the spring. He felt that Phoebe was waiting, and he pressed his lips together. “Must a man be in love with some woman all the time?” He shook his fingers impatiently so that the last drops hurried to the pool.
“She’s a good girl, and a brave girl,” Phoebe remarked irrelevantly.
Good Indian felt that she was still waiting, with all the quiet persistence of her sex when on the trail of a romance. He reached up and caught the hand upon his shoulder, and laid it against his cheek. He laughed surrender.
“Squaw-talk-far-off heap smart,” he mimicked old Peppajee gravely. “Heap bueno.” He stood up as suddenly as he had started his rock-lifting a few minutes before, and taking Phoebe by the shoulders, shook her with gentle insistence. “Put don’t make me fall out of one love right into another,” he protested whimsically. “Give a fellow time to roll a cigarette, can’t you?”