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Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 14568

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

"There's no use asking the Injuns to go on the warpath," Gene announced disgustedly, coming out upon the porch where the rest of the boys were foregathered, waiting for the ringing tattoo upon the iron triangle just outside the back door which would be the supper summons. "They're too lazy to take the trouble-and, besides, they're scared of dad. I was talking to Sleeping Turtle just now-met him down there past the Point o' Rocks."

"What's the matter with us boys going on the warpath ourselves? We don't need the Injuns. As long as she knows they're hanging around close, it's all the same. If we could just get mum off the ranch-"

"If we could kidnap her-say, I wonder if we couldn't!" Clark looked at the others tentatively.

"Good Injun might do the rescue act and square himself with her for what happened at the milk-house," Wally suggested dryly.

"Oh, say, you'd scare her to death. There's no use in piling it on quite so thick," Jack interposed mildly. "I kinda like the kid sometimes. Yesterday, when I took her part way up the bluff, she acted almost human. On the dead, she did!"

"Kill the traitor! Down with him! Curses on the man who betrays us!" growled Wally, waving his cigarette threateningly.

Whereupon Gene and Clark seized the offender by heels and shoulders, and with a brief, panting struggle heaved him bodily off the porch.

"Over the cliff he goes-so may all traitors perish!" Wally declaimed approvingly, drawing up his legs hastily out of the way of Jack's clutching fingers.

"Say, old Peppajee's down at the stable with papa," Donny informed them breathlessly. "I told Marie to put him right next to Vadnie if he stays to supper-and, uh course, he will. If mamma don't get next and change his place, it'll be fun to watch her; watch Vad, I mean. She's scared plum to death of anything that wears a blanket, and to have one right at her elbow-wonder where she is-"

"That girl's got to be educated some if she's going to live in this family," Wally observed meditatively. "There's a whole lot she's got to learn, and the only way to learn her thorough is-"

"You forget," Grant interrupted him ironically, "that she's going to make gentlemen of us all."

"Oh, yes-sure. Jack's coming down with it already. You oughta be quarantined, old-timer; that's liable to be catching." Wally snorted his disdain of the whole proceeding. "I'd rather go to jail myself."

Evadna by a circuitous route had reached the sitting-room without being seen or heard; and it was at this point in the conversation that she tiptoed out again, her hands doubled into tight little fists, and her teeth set hard together. She did not look, at that moment, in the least degree "mushy."

When the triangle clanged its supper call, however, she came slowly down from her favorite nook at the head of the pond, her hands filled with flowers hastily gathered in the dusk.

"Here she comes-let's get to our places first, so mamma can't change Peppajee around," Donny implored, in a whisper; and the group on the porch disappeared with some haste into the kitchen.

Evadna was leisurely in her movements that night. The tea had been poured and handed around the table by the Portuguese girl, Marie, and the sugar-bowl was going after, when she settled herself and her ruffles daintily between Grant and a braided, green-blanketed, dignifiedly loquacious Indian.

The boys signaled each another to attention by kicking surreptitiously under the table, but nothing happened. Evadna bowed a demure acknowledgment when her Aunt Phoebe introduced the two, accepted the sugar-bowl from Grant and the butter from Peppajee, and went composedly about the business of eating her supper. She seemed perfectly at ease; too perfectly at ease, decided Grant, who had an instinct for observation and was covertly watching her. It was unnatural that she should rub elbows with Peppajee without betraying the faintest trace of surprise that he should be sitting at the table with them.

"Long time ago," Peppajee was saying to Peaceful, taking up the conversation where Evadna had evidently interrupted it, "many winters ago, my people all time brave. All time hunt, all time fight, all time heap strong. No drinkum whisky all same now." He flipped a braid back over his shoulder, buttered generously a hot biscuit, and reached for the honey. "No brave no more-kay bueno. All time ketchum whisky, get drunk all same likum hog. Heap lazy. No hunt no more, no fight. Lay all time in sun, sleep. No sun come, lay all time in wikiup. Agent, him givum flour, givum meat, givum blanket, you thinkum bueno. He tellum you, kay bueno. Makum Injun lazy. Makum all same wachee-typo" (tramp). "All time eat, all time sleep, playum cards all time, drinkum whisky. Kay bueno. Huh." The grunt stood for disgust of his tribe, always something of an affectation with Peppajee.

"My brother, my brother's wife, my brother's wife's-ah-" He searched his mind, frowning, for an English word, gave it up, and substituted a phrase. "All the folks b'longum my brother's wife, heap lazy all time. Me no likum. Agent one time givum plenty flour, plenty meat, plenty tea. Huh. Them damn' folks no eatum. All time playum cards, drinkum whisky. All time otha fella ketchum flour, ketchum meat, ketchum tea-ketchum all them thing b'longum." In the rhetorical pause he made there, his black eyes wandered inadvertently to Evadna's face. And Evadna, the timid one, actually smiled back.

"Isn't it a shame they should do that," she murmured sympathetically.

"Huh." Peppajee turned his eyes and his attention to Peaceful, as if the opinion and the sympathy of a mere female were not worthy his notice. "Them grub all gone, them Injuns mebbyso ketchum hungry belly." Evadna blushed, and looked studiously at her plate.

"Come my wikiup. Me got plenty flour, plenty meat, plenty tea. Stay all time my wikiup. Sleepum my wikiup. Sun come up"-he pointed a brown, sinewy hand toward the east-"eatum my grub. Sun up there"-his finger indicated the zenith-"eatum some more. Sun go 'way, eatum some more. Then sleepum all time my wikiup. Bimeby, mebbyso my flour all gone, my meat mebbyso gone, mebbyso tea-them folks all time eatum grub, me no ketchum. Me no playum cards, all same otha fella ketchum my grub. Kay bueno. Better me playum cards mebbyso all time.

"Bimeby no ketchum mo' grub, no stopum my wikiup. Them folks pikeway. Me tellum 'Yo' heap lazy, heap kay bueno. Yo' all time eatum my grub, yo' no givum me money, no givum hoss, no givum notting. Me damn' mad all time yo'. Yo' go damn' quick!'" Peppajee held out his cup for more tea. "Me tellum my brother," he finished sonorously, his black eyes sweeping lightly the faces of his audience, "yo' no come back, yo'-"

Evadna caught her breath, as if someone had dashed cold water in her face. Never before in her life had she heard the epithet unprintable, and she stared fixedly at the old-fashioned, silver castor which always stood in the exact center of the table.

Old Peaceful Hart cleared his throat, glanced furtively at Phoebe, and drew his hand down over his white beard. The boys puffed their cheeks with the laughter they would, if possible, restrain, and eyed Evadna's set face aslant. It was Good Indian who rebu

ked the offender.

"Peppajee, mebbyso you no more say them words," he said quietly. "Heap kay bueno. White man no tellum where white woman hear. White woman no likum hear; all time heap shame for her."

"Huh," grunted Peppajee doubtingly, his eyes turning to Phoebe. Times before had he said them before Phoebe Hart, and she had passed them by with no rebuke. Grant read the glance, and answered it.

"Mother Hart live long time in this place," he reminded him. "Hear bad talk many times. This girl no hear; no likum hear. You sabe? You no make shame for this girl." He glanced challengingly across the table at Wally, whose grin was growing rather pronounced.

"Huh. Mebbyso you boss all same this ranch?" Peppajee retorted sourly. "Mebbyso Peacefu' tellum, him no likum."

Peaceful, thus drawn into the discussion, cleared his throat again.

"Wel-l-l-WE don't cuss much before the women," he admitted apologetically "We kinda consider that men's talk. I reckon Vadnie'll overlook it this time." He looked across at her beseechingly. "You no feelum bad, Peppajee."

"Huh. Me no makum squaw-talk." Peppajee laid down his knife, lifted a corner of his blanket, and drew it slowly across his stern mouth. He muttered a slighting sentence in Indian.

In the same tongue Grant answered him sharply, and after that was silence broken only by the subdued table sounds. Evadna's eyes filled slowly until she finally pushed back her chair and hurried out into the yard and away from the dogged silence of that blanketed figure at her elbow.

She was scarcely settled, in the hammock, ready for a comforting half hour of tears, when someone came from the house, stood for a minute while he rolled a cigarette, and then came straight toward her.

She sat up, and waited defensively. More baiting, without a doubt-and she was not in the mood to remember any promises about being a nice, gentle little thing. The figure came close, stooped, and took her by the arm. In the half-light she knew him then. It was Grant.

"Come over by the pond," he said, in what was almost a command. "I want to talk to you a little."

"Does it occur to you that I might not want to talk t to you?" Still, she let him help her to her feet.

"Surely. You needn't open your lips if you don't want to. Just 'lend me your ears, and be silent that ye may hear.' The boys will be boiling out on the porch, as usual, in a minute; so hurry."

"I hope it's something very important," Evadna hinted ungraciously. "Nothing else would excuse this high-handed proceeding."

When they had reached the great rock where the pond had its outlet, and where was a rude seat hidden away in a clump of young willows just across the bridge, he answered her.

"I don't know that it's of any importance at all," he said calmly. "I got to feeling rather ashamed of myself, is all, and it seemed to me the only decent thing was to tell you so. I'm not making any bid for your favor-I don't know that I want it. I don't care much about girls, one way or the other. But, for all I've got the name of being several things-a savage among the rest-I don't like to feel such a brute as to make war on a girl that seems to be getting it handed to her right along."

He tardily lighted his cigarette and sat smoking beside her, the tiny glow lighting his face briefly now and then.

"When I was joshing you there before supper," he went on, speaking low that he might not be overheard-and ridiculed-from the house, "I didn't know the whole outfit was making a practice of doing the same thing. I hadn't heard about the dead tarantula on your pillow, or the rattler coiled up on the porch, or any of those innocent little jokes. But if the rest are making it their business to devil the life out of you, why-common humanity forces me to apologize and tell you I'm out of it from now on."

"Oh! Thank you very much." Evadna's tone might be considered ironical. "I suppose I ought to say that your statement lessens my dislike of you-"

"Not at all." Grant interrupted her. "Go right ahead and hate me, if you feel that way. It won't matter to me-girls never did concern me much, one way or the other. I never was susceptible to beauty, and that seems to be a woman's trump card, always-"

"Well, upon my word!"

"Sounds queer, does it? But it's the truth, and so what's the use of lying, just to be polite? I won't torment you any more; and if the boys rig up too strong a josh, I'm liable to give you a hint beforehand. I'm willing to do that-my sympathies are always with the under dog, anyway, and they're five to one. But that needn't mean that I'm-that I-" He groped for words that would not make his meaning too bald; not even Grant could quite bring himself to warn a girl against believing him a victim of her fascinations.

"You needn't stutter. I'm not really stupid. You don't like me any better than I like you. I can see that. We're to be as decent as possible to each other-you from 'common humanity,' and I because I promised Aunt Phoebe."

"We-e-l!-that's about it, I guess." Grant eyed her sidelong." Only I wouldn't go so far as to say I actually dislike you. I never did dislike a girl, that I remember. I never thought enough about them, one way or the other." He seemed rather fond of that statement, he repeated it so often." The life I live doesn't call for girls. Put that's neither here nor there. What I wanted to say was, that I won't bother you any more. I wouldn't have said a word to you tonight, if you hadn't walked right up to me and started to dig into me. Of course, I had to fight back-the man who won't isn't a normal human being."

"Oh, I know." Evadna's tone was resentful. "From Adam down to you, it has always been 'The woman, she tempted me.' You're perfectly horrid, even if you have apologized. 'The woman, she tempted me,' and-"

"I beg your pardon; the woman didn't," he corrected blandly. "The woman insisted on scrapping. That's different."

"Oh, it's different! I see. I have almost forgotten something I ought to say, Mr. Imsen. I must thank you for-well, for defending me to that Indian."

"I didn't. Nobody was attacking you, so I couldn't very well defend you, could I? I had to take a fall out of old Peppajee, just on principle. I don't get along very well with my noble red cousins. I wasn't doing it on your account, in particular."

"Oh, I see." She rose rather suddenly from the bench. "It wasn't even common humanity, then-"

"Not even common humanity," he echoed affirmatively. "Just a chance I couldn't afford to pass up, of digging into Peppajee."

"That's different." She laughed shortly and left him, running swiftly through the warm dusk to the murmur of voices at the house.

Grant sat where she left him, and smoked two cigarettes meditatively before he thought of returning to the house. When he finally did get upon his feet, he stretched his arms high above his head, and stared for a moment up at the treetops swaying languidly just under the stars.

"Girls must play the very deuce with a man if he ever lets them get on his mind," he mused. "I see right now where a fellow about my size and complexion had better watch out." But he smiled afterward, as if he did not consider the matter very serious, after all.

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