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   Chapter 2 GOOD INDIAN

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 17427

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


There is a saying-and if it is not purely Western, it is at least purely American-that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. In the very teeth of that, and in spite of the fact that he was neither very good, nor an Indian-nor in any sense "dead"-men called Grant Imsen "Good Indian" to his face; and if he resented the title, his resentment was never made manifest-perhaps because he had grown up with the name, he rather liked it when he was a little fellow, and with custom had come to take it as a matter of course.

Because his paternal ancestry went back, and back to no one knows where among the race of blue eyes and fair skin, the Indians repudiated relationship with him, and called him white man-though they also spoke of him unthinkingly as "Good Injun."

Because old Wolfbelly himself would grudgingly admit under pressure that the mother of Grant had been the half-caste daughter of Wolfbelly's sister, white men remembered the taint when they were angry, and called him Injun. And because he stood thus between the two races of men, his exact social status a subject always open to argument, not even the fact that he was looked upon by the Harts as one of the family, with his own bed always ready for him in a corner of the big room set apart for the boys, and with a certain place at the table which was called his-not even his assured position there could keep him from sometimes feeling quite alone, and perhaps a trifle bitter over his loneliness.

Phoebe Hart had mothered him from the time when his father had sickened and died in her house, leaving Grant there with twelve years behind him, in his hands a dirty canvas bag of gold coin so heavy he could scarce lift it, which stood for the mining claim the old man had just sold, and the command to invest every one of the gold coins in schooling.

Old John Imsen was steeped in knowledge of the open; nothing of the great outdoors had ever slipped past him and remained mysterious. Put when he sold his last claim-others he had which promised little and so did not count-he had signed his name with an X. Another had written the word John before that X, and the word Imsen after; above, a word which he explained was "his," and below the word "mark." John Imsen had stared down suspiciously at the words, and he had not felt quite easy in his mind until the bag of gold coins was actually in his keeping. Also, he had been ashamed of that X. It was a simple thing to make with a pen, and yet he had only succeeded in making it look like two crooked sticks thrown down carelessly, one upon the other. His face had gone darkly red with the shame of it, and he had stood scowling down at the paper.

"That boy uh mine's goin' to do better 'n that, by God!" he had sworn, and the words had sounded like a vow.

When, two months after that, he had faced-incredulously, as is the way with strong men-the fact that for him life was over, with nothing left to him save an hour or so of labored breath and a few muttered sentences, he did not forget that vow. He called Phoebe close to the bed, placed the bag of gold in Grant's trembling hands, and stared intently from one face to the other.

"Mis' Hart, he ain't got-anybody-my folks-I lost track of 'em years ago. You see to it-git some learnin' in his head. When a man knows books-it's-like bein' heeled-good gun-plenty uh ca't'idges-in a fight. When I got that gold-it was like fightin' with my bare hands-against a gatlin' gun. They coulda cheated me-whole thing-on paper-I wouldn't know-luck-just luck they didn't. So you take it-and git the boy schoolin'. Costs money-I know that-git him all it'll buy. Send him-where they keep-the best. Don't yuh let up-n'er let him-whilst they's a dollar left. Put it all-into his head-then he can't lose it, and he can-make it earn more. An'-I guess I needn't ask yuh-be good to him. He ain't got anybody-not a soul-Injuns don't count. You see to it-don't let up till-it's all gone."

Phoebe had taken him literally. And Grant, if he had little taste for the task, had learned books and other things not mentioned in the curriculums of the schools she sent him to-and when the bag was reported by Phoebe to be empty, he had returned with inward relief to the desultory life of the Hart ranch and its immediate vicinity.

His father would probably have been amazed to see how little difference that schooling made in the boy. The money had lasted long enough to take him through a preparatory school and into the second year of a college; and the only result apparent was speech a shade less slipshod than that of his fellows, and a vocabulary which permitted him to indulge in an amazing number of epithets and in colorful vituperation when the fancy seized him.

He rode, hot and thirsty and tired, from Sage Hill one day and found Hartley empty of interest, hot as the trail he had just now left thankfully behind him, and so absolutely sleepy that it seemed likely to sink into the sage-clothed earth under the weight of its own dullness. Even the whisky was so warm it burned like fire, and the beer he tried left upon his outraged palate the unhappy memory of insipid warmth and great bitterness.

He plumped the heavy glass down upon the grimy counter in the dusty far corner of the little store and stared sourly at Pete Hamilton, who was apathetically opening hatboxes for the inspection of an Indian in a red blanket and frowsy braids.

"How much?" The braided one fingered indecisively the broad brim of a gray sombrero.

"Nine dollars." Pete leaned heavily against the shelves behind him and sighed with the weariness of mere living.

"Huh! All same buy one good hoss." The braided one dropped the hat, hitched his blanket over his shoulder in stoical disregard of the heat, and turned away.

Pete replaced the cover, seemed about to place the box upon the shelf behind him, and then evidently decided that it was not worth the effort. He sighed again.

"It is almighty hot," he mumbled languidly. "Want another drink, Good Injun?"

"I do not. Hot toddy never did appeal to me, my friend. If you weren't too lazy to give orders, Pete, you'd have cold beer for a day like this. You'd give Saunders something to do beside lie in the shade and tell what kind of a man he used to be before his lungs went to the bad. Put him to work. Make him pack this stuff down cellar where it isn't two hundred in the shade. Why don't you?"

"We was going to get ice t'day, but they didn't throw it off when the train went through."

"That's comforting-to a man with a thirst like the great Sahara. Ice! Pete, do you know what I'd like to do to a man that mentions ice after a drink like that?"

Pete neither knew nor wanted to know, and he told Grant so. "If you're going down to the ranch," he added, by way of changing the subject, "there's some mail you might as well take along."

"Sure, I'm going-for a drink out of that spring, if nothing else. You've lost a good customer to-day, Pete. I rode up here prepared to get sinfully jagged-and here I've got to go on a still hunt for water with a chill to it-or maybe buttermilk. Pete, do you know what I think of you and your joint?"

"I told you I don't wanta know. Some folks ain't never satisfied. A fellow that's rode thirty or forty miles to get here, on a day like this, had oughta be glad to get anything that looks like beer."

"Is that so?" Grant walked purposefully down to the front of the store, where Pete was fumbling behind the rampart of crude pigeonholes which was the post-office. "Let me inform you, then, that-"

There was a swish of skirts upon the rough platform outside, and a young woman entered with the manner of feeling perfectly at home there. She was rather tall, rather strong and capable looking, and she was bareheaded, and carried a door key suspended from a smooth-worn bit of wood.

"Don't get into a perspiration making up the mail, Pete," she advised calmly, quite ignoring both Grant and the Indian. "Fifteen is an hour late-as usual. Jockey Bates always seems to be under the impression he's an undertaker's assistant, and is headed for the graveyard when he takes fifteen out. He'll get the can, first he knows-and he'll put in a month or two wondering why. I could make better time than he does myself." By then she was leaning with both elbows upon the counter beside the post-office, bored beyond words with life as it must be lived-to judge from her tone and her attitude.

"For Heaven's sake, Pete," she went on languidly, "can't you scare up a novel, or chocolates, or gum, or-ANYTHING to kill time? I'd even enjoy chewing gum right now-it would give my jaws something to think of, anyway."

Pete, grinning

indulgently, came out of retirement behind the pigeonholes, and looked inquiringly around the store.

"I've got cards," he suggested. "What's the matter with a game of solitary? I've known men to put in hull winters alone, up in the mountains, jest eating and sleeping and playin' solitary."

The young woman made a grimace of disgust. "I've come from three solid hours of it. What I really do want is something to read. Haven't you even got an almanac?"

"Saunders is readin' 'The Brokenhearted Bride'-you can have it soon's he's through. He says it's a peach."

"Fifteen is bringing up a bunch of magazines. I'll have reading in plenty two hours from now; but my heavens above, those two hours!" She struck both fists despairingly upon the counter.

"I've got gumdrops, and fancy mixed-"

"Forget it, then. A five-pound box of chocolates is due-on fifteen." She sighed heavily. "I wish you weren't so old, and hadn't quite so many chins, Pete," she complained. "I'd inveigle you into a flirtation. You see how desperate I am for something to do!"

Pete smiled unhappily. He was sensitive about all those chins, and the general bulk which accompanied them.

"Let me make you acquainted with my friend, Good In-er-Mr. Imsen." Pete considered that he was behaving with great discernment and tact. "This is Miss Georgie Howard, the new operator." He twinkled his little eyes at her maliciously. "Say, he ain't got but one chin, and he's only twenty-three years old." He felt that the inference was too plain to be ignored.

She turned her head slowly and looked Grant over with an air of disparagement, while she nodded negligently as an acknowledgment to the introduction. "Pete thinks he's awfully witty," she remarked. "It's really pathetic."

Pete bristled-as much as a fat man could bristle on so hot a day. "Well, you said you wanted to flirt, and so I took it for granted you'd like-"

Good Indian looked straight past the girl, and scowled at Pete.

"Pete, you're an idiot ordinarily, but when you try to be smart you're absolutely insufferable. You're mentally incapable of recognizing the line of demarcation between legitimate persiflage and objectionable familiarity. An ignoramus of your particular class ought to confine his repartee to unqualified affirmation or the negative monosyllable." Whereupon he pulled his hat more firmly upon his head, hunched his shoulders in disgust, remembered his manners, and bowed to Miss Georgie Howard, and stalked out, as straight of back as the Indian whose blanket he brushed, and who may have been, for all he knew, a blood relative of his.

"I guess that ought to hold you for a while, Pete," Miss Georgie approved under her breath, and stared after Grant curiously. "'You're mentally incapable of recognizing the line of demarcation between legitimate persiflage and objectionable familiarity.' I'll bet two bits you don't know what that means, Pete; but it hits you off exactly. Who is this Mr. Imsen?"

She got no reply to that. Indeed, she did not wait for a reply. Outside, things were happening-and, since Miss Georgie was dying of dullness, she hailed the disturbance as a Heaven-sent blessing, and ran to see what was going on.

Briefly, Grant had inadvertently stepped on a sleeping dog's paw-a dog of the mongrel breed which infests Indian camps, and which had attached itself to the blanketed buck inside. The dog awoke with a yelp, saw that it was a stranger who had perpetrated the outrage, and straightway fastened its teeth in the leg of Grant's trousers. Grant kicked it loose, and when it came at him again, he swore vengeance and mounted his horse in haste.

He did not say a word. He even smiled while he uncoiled his rope, widened the loop, and, while the dog was circling warily and watching for another chance at him, dropped the loop neatly over its front quarters, and drew it tight.

Saunders, a weak-lunged, bandy-legged individual, who was officially a general chore man for Pete, but who did little except lie in the shade, reading novels or gossiping, awoke then, and, having a reputation for tender-heartedness, waved his arms and called aloud in the name of peace.

"Turn him loose, I tell yuh! A helpless critter like that-you oughta be ashamed-abusin' dumb animals that can't fight back!"

"Oh, can't he?" Grant laughed grimly.

"You turn that dog loose!" Saunders became vehement, and paid the penalty of a paroxysm of coughing.

"You go to the devil. If you were an able-bodied man, I'd get you, too-just to have a pair of you. Yelping, snapping curs, both of you." He played the dog as a fisherman plays a trout.

"That dog, him Viney dog. Viney heap likum. You no killum, Good Injun." The Indian, his arms folded in his blanket, stood upon the porch watching calmly the fun. "Viney all time heap mad, you killum," he added indifferently.

"Sure it isn't old Hagar's?"

"No b'long-um Hagar-b'long-um Viney. Viney heap likum."

Grant hesitated, circling erratically with his victim close to the steps. "All right, no killum-teachum lesson, though. Viney heap bueno squaw-heap likum Viney. No likum dog, though. Dog all time come along me." He glanced up, passed over the fact that Miss Georgie Howard was watching him and clapping her hands enthusiastically at the spectacle, and settled an unfriendly stare upon Saunders.

"You shut up your yowling. You'll burst a blood vessel and go to heaven, first thing you know. I've never contemplated hiring you as my guardian angel, you blatting buck sheep. Go off and lie down somewhere." He turned in the saddle and looked down at the dog, clawing and fighting the rope which held him fast just back of the shoulder-blades. "Come along, doggie-NICE doggie!" he grinned, and touched his horse with the spurs. With one leap, it was off at a sharp gallop, up over the hill and through the sagebrush to where he knew the Indian camp must be.

Old Wolfbelly had but that morning brought his thirty or forty followers to camp in the hollow where was a spring of clear water-the hollow which had for long been known locally as "the Indian Camp," because of Wolfbelly's predilection for the spot. Without warning save for the beat of hoofs in the sandy soil, Grant charged over the brow of the hill and into camp, scattering dogs, papooses, and squaws alike as he rode.

Shrill clamor filled the sultry air. Sleeping bucks awoke, scowling at the uproar; and the horse of Good Indian, hating always the smell and the litter of an Indian camp, pitched furiously into the very wikiup of old Hagar, who hated the rider of old. In the first breathing spell he loosed the dog, which skulked, limping, into the first sheltered spot he found, and laid him down to lick his outraged person and whimper to himself at the memory of his plight. Grant pulled his horse to a restive stand before a group of screeching squaws, and laughed outright at the panic of them.

"Hello! Viney! I brought back your dog," he drawled. "He tried to bite me-heap kay bueno* dog. Mebbyso you killum. Me no hurtum-all time him Hartley, all time him try hard bite me. Sleeping Turtle tell me him Viney dog. He likum Viney, me no kill Viney dog. You all time mebbyso eat that dog-sabe? No keep-Kay bueno. All time try for bite. You cookum, no can bite. Sabe?"

*AUTHOR'S NOTE.-The Indians of southern Idaho spoke a somewhat mixed dialect. Bueno (wayno), their word for 'good,' undoubtedly being taken from the Spanish language. I believe the word "kay" to be Indian. It means "no", and thus the "Kay bueno" so often used by them means literally "no good," and is a term of reproach On the other hand, "heap bueno" is "very good," their enthusiasm being manifested merely by drawing out the word "heap." In speaking English they appear to have no other way of expressing, in a single phrase, their like or dislike of an object or person.

Without waiting to see whether Viney approved of his method of disciplining her dog, or intended to take his advice regarding its disposal, he wheeled and started off in the direction of the trail which led down the bluff to the Hart ranch. When he reached the first steep descent, however, he remembered that Pete had spoken of some mail for the Harts, and turned back to get it.

Once more in Hartley, he found that the belated train was making up time, and would be there within an hour; and, since it carried mail from the West, it seemed hardly worthwhile to ride away before its arrival. Also, Pete intimated that there was a good chance of prevailing upon the dining-car conductor to throw off a chunk of ice. Grant, therefore, led his horse around into the shade, and made himself comfortable while he waited.

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