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Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 10681

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Peppajee Jim had meditated long in the shade of his wikiup, and now, when the sun changed from a glaring ball of intense, yellow heat to a sullen red disk hanging low over the bluffs of Snake River, he rose, carefully knocked the ashes from his little stone pipe, with one mechanical movement of his arms, gathered his blanket around him, pushed a too-familiar dog from him with a shove of moccasined foot, and stalked away through the sagebrush.

On the brow of the hill, just where the faint footpath dipped into a narrow gully at the very edge, almost, of the bluff, he stopped, and lifted his head for an unconsciously haughty stare at his surroundings.

Beneath him and half a mile or so up the river valley, the mellow green of Peaceful's orchard was already taking to itself the vagueness of evening shadows. Nearer, the meadow of alfalfa and clover lay like a soft, green carpet of velvet, lined here and there with the irrigation ditches which kept it so. And in the center of the meadow, a small inclosure marked grimly the spot where lay the bones of old John Imsen. All around the man-made oasis of orchards and meadows, the sage and the sand, pushed from the river by the jumble of placer pits, emphasized by sharp contrast what man may do with the most unpromising parts of the earth's surface, once he sets himself heart and muscle to the task.

With the deliberation of his race, Peppajee stood long minutes motionless, gazing into the valley before he turned with a true Indian shrug and went down into the gully, up the steep slope beyond, and then, after picking his way through a jumble of great bowlders, came out eventually into the dust-ridden trail of the white man. Down that he walked, erect, swift, purposeful, his moccasins falling always with the precision of a wild animal upon the best footing among the loose rocks, stubs of sage-roots, or patches of deep dust and sand beside the wagon-road, his sharp, high-featured face set in the stony calm which may hide a tumult of elemental passions beneath and give no sign.

Where the trail curved out sharply to round the Point o' Rocks, he left it, and kept straight on through the sage, entered a rough pass through the huge rock tongue, and came out presently to the trail again, a scant two hundred yards from the Hart haystacks. When he reached the stable, he stopped and looked warily about him, but there was no sight or sound of any there save animals, and he went on silently to the house, his shadow stretching long upon the ground before him until it merged into the shade of the grove beyond the gate, and so was lost for that day.

"Hello, Peppajee," called Wally over his cigarette. "Just in time for supper."

Peppajee grunted, stopped in the path two paces from the porch, folded his arms inside his blanket, and stood so while his eyes traveled slowly and keenly around the group lounging at ease above him. Upon the bulky figure of Baumberger they dwelt longest, and while he looked his face hardened until nothing seemed alive but his eyes.

"Peppajee, this my friend, Mr. Baumberger. You heap sabe Baumberger-come all time from Shoshone, mebbyso catchum heap many fish." Peaceful's mild, blue eyes twinkled over his old meerschaum. He knew the ways of Indians, and more particularly he knew the ways of Peppajee; Baumberger, he guessed shrewdly, had failed to find favor in his eyes.

"Huh!" grunted Peppajee non-commitally, and made no motion to shake hands, thereby confirming Peaceful's suspicion. "Me heap sabe Man-that-catchum-fish." After which he stood as before, his arms folded tightly in his blanket, his chin lifted haughtily, his mouth a straight, stern line of bronze.

"Sit down, Peppajee. Bimeby eat supper," Peaceful invited pacifically, while Baumberger chuckled at the Indian's attitude, which he attributed to racial stupidity.

Peppajee did not even indicate that he heard or, hearing, understood.

"Bothered much with Injuns?" Baumberger asked carelessly, putting away his pipe. "I see there's quite a camp of 'em up on the hill. Hope you've got good watchdogs-they're a thieving lot. If they're a nuisance, Hart, I'll see what can be done about slapping 'em back on their reservation, where they belong. I happen to have some influence with the agent."

"I guess you needn't go to any trouble about it," Peaceful returned dryly. "I've had worse neighbors."

"Oh-if you're stuck on their company!" laughed Baumberger wheezily. "'Every fellow to his taste, as the old woman said when she kissed her cow.' There may be good ones among the lot," he conceded politely when he saw that his time-worn joke had met with disfavor, even by the boys, who could-and usually did-laugh at almost anything. "They all look alike to me, I must admit; I never had any truck with 'em."

"No, I guess not," Peaceful agreed in his slow way, holding his pipe three inches from his face while he eyed Peppajee quizzically. "Don't pay to have any truck with 'em while you feel that way about it." He smoothed down his snow-white beard with his free hand, pushed the pipe-stem between his teeth, and went on smoking.

"I never liked the breed, any way you look at 'em," Baumberger stated calmly.

"Say, you'll queer yourself good and plenty, if you keep on," Wally interrupted bluntly. "Peppajee's ears aren't plugg

ed with cotton-are they, Jim?"

Neither Peppajee nor Baumberger made reply of any sort, and Peaceful turned his mild eyes reproachfully toward his untactful son. But the supper summons clanged insistently from the iron triangle on the back porch and saved the situation from becoming too awkward. Even Baumberger let his tilted chair down upon its four legs with a haste for which his appetite was not alone responsible, and followed the boys into the house as if he were glad to escape from the steady, uncompromising stare of the Indian.

"Better come and eat, Peppajee," Peaceful lingered upon the porch to urge hospitably. "You no get mad. You come eat supper."

"No!" Peppajee jerked the word out with unmistakable finality. "No eat. Bimeby mebbyso makum big talk yo'."

Peaceful studied his face, found it stern and unyielding, and nodded assent. "All right. I eat, then I talk with you." He turned somewhat reluctantly and followed the others inside, leaving Peppajee to pass the time away as pleased him best.

Peppajee stood still for a moment listening to the clatter of dishes from the kitchen, and then with dignity end deliberation seated himself upon the lowest step of the porch, and, pulling his blanket tight around him, resettled his disreputable old sombrero upon his head and stared fixedly at the crimson glow which filled all the west and made even the rugged bluff a wonderful thing of soft, rose tints and shadows of royal purple. Peaceful, coming out half an hour after with Baumberger at his heels, found him so and made a movement to sit down beside him. But Peppajee rose and stalked majestically to the gate, then turned and confronted the two.

"I talk yo'. Mebbyso no talk Man-with-big-belly." He waited impassively.

"All right, Jim." Peaceful turned apologetically toward his guest. "Something he wants to tell me, Baumberger; kinda private, I guess. I'll be back in a minute, anyway."

"Now don't mind me at all," Baumberger protested generously. "Go ahead just as if I wasn't here-that's what'll please me best. I hope I ain't so much of a stranger you've got to stand on ceremony. Go on, and find out what the old buck wants; he's got something on his mind, that's sure. Been stealing fruit, maybe, and wants to square himself before you catch him at it." He laughed his laziest, and began leisurely to fill his pipe.

Peppajee led the way to the stable, where he stopped short and faced Peaceful, his arms folded, one foot thrust forward in the pose he affected when about to speak of matters important.

"Long time ago, when yo' hair black," he began deliberately, with a sonorous lingering upon his vowels, "yo' all time my frien'. I yo' frien' all same. Yo' no likum otha white man. Yo' all time bueno. Yo' house all same my wikiup. Me come eat at yo' house, talk yo' all same brotha. Yo' boys all same my boys-all time my frien'. Me speakum all time no lie, mebbyso."

"No," Peaceful assented unhesitatingly, "you no tell lies, Peppajee. We good friends, many years."

"Huh! Man-that-catchum-fish, him no yo' frien'. Shont-isham. All time him speakum lies-tellum frien' yo', no frien'. Yo' no more tellum stop yo' wikiup. Kay bueno. Yo' thinkum frien'. All time him have bad heart for yo'. Yo' got ranch. Got plenty hay, plenty apple, plenty all thing for eat. All time him think bad for yo'. All time him likum steal yo' ranch."

Peaceful laughed indulgently. "You no sabe," he explained. "Him like my ranch. Him say, long time ago, pay much money for my ranch. Me no sell-me like for keep all time. Baumberger good man. Him no steal my ranch. Me got one paper from government-you sabe?-one paper say ranch all time b'longum me all same. Big white chief say ranch b'longum me all time. I die, ranch b'longum my boys. You sabe?"

Peppajee considered. "Me sabe," he said at length. "Me sabe paper, sabe ranch all time b'longum yo'. All same, him like for ketchum yo' ranch. Me hear much talk, him talk Man-that-coughs, tellum him ketchum ranch. Much white man come, so-" He lifted one hand with thumb and fingers outspread, made a downward gesture, and then raised three fingers. "Catchum ranch."

Peaceful shook his head while he smiled. "No can do that. Mebbyso much men come, heap fight, mebbyso killum me, ranch all same b'longum my boys. Men that fights go to jail, mebbyso hangum." He indicated by signs his exact meaning.

Peppajee scowled, and shook his head stubbornly. "Me heap sabe. All same, ketchum yo' ranch. Man-that-catchum-fish kay bueno. Yo' thinkum frien', yo' damfool. Him all same rattlesnake. Plenty foolum yo'. Yo' see. Yo' thinkum Peppajee Jim heap big fool. Peaceful Hart, him all time one heap big damfool. Him ketchum yo' ranch. Yo' see." He stopped and stared hard at the dim bulk of the grove, whence came the faint odor of smoke from Baumberger's pipe.

"Yo' be smart man," he added grimly, "yo' all same kickum dat mans off yo' ranch." For emphasis he thrust out a foot vigorously in the direction of the house and the man he maligned, and turned his face toward camp. Peaceful watched until the blanketed form merged into the dusk creeping over the valley, and when it disappeared finally into the short cut through the sage, he shook his gray head in puzzlement over the absurd warning, and went back to talk politics with Baumberger.

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