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   Chapter 11 “YOU CAN’T PLAY WITH ME”

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 17845

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Good Indian was young, which means that he was not always logical, nor much given to looking very far into the future except as he was personally concerned in what he might see there. By the time Sunday brought Miss Georgie Howard and the stir of preparation for the fishing trip, he forgot that he had taken upon himself the responsibility of watching the obviously harmless movements of Baumberger, or had taken seriously the warnings of Peppajee Jim; or if he did not forget, he at least pushed it far into the background of his mind with the assertion that Peppajee was a meddlesome old fool and Baumberger no more designing than he appeared-which was not at all.

What did interest him that morning was the changeful mood of Evadna; though he kept his interest so well hidden that no one suspected it-not even the young lady herself. It is possible that if Evadna had known that Good Indian's attitude of calm oblivion to her moods was only a mask, she might have continued longer her rigorous discipline of averted face and frigid tones.

As it was, she thawed toward him as he held himself more aloof, until she actually came to the point of addressing him directly, with a flicker of a smile for good measure; and, although he responded with stiff civility, he felt his blood pulse faster, and suddenly conceived the idea that women are like the creatures of the wild. If one is very quiet, and makes no advance whatever, the hunted thing comes closer and closer, and then a sudden pounce-he caught his breath. After that he was wary and watchful and full of his purpose.

Within ten minutes Evadna walked into the trap. They had started, and were fifty yards up the trail, when Phoebe shouted frantically after them. And because she was yet a timid rider and feared to keep the pace set by the others, it was Evadna who heard and turned back to see what was the trouble. Aunt Phoebe was standing beside the road, waving a flask.

"It's the cream for your coffee," she cried, going to meet Evadna. "You can slip it into your jacket-pocket, can't you, honey? Huckleberry is so steady-and you won't do any wild riding like the boys."

"I've got my veil and a box of bait and two handkerchiefs and a piece of soap," the girl complained, reaching down for the bottle, nevertheless. "But I can carry it in my hand till I overtake somebody to give it to."

The somebody proved to be Good Indian, who had found it necessary to stop and inspect carefully the left forefoot of his horse, without appearing aware of the girl's approach. She ambled up at Huckleberry's favorite shuffling gait, struck him with her whip-a blow which would not have perturbed a mosquito-when he showed a disposition to stop beside Grant, and then, when Huckleberry reluctantly resumed his pacing, pulled him up, and looked back at the figure stooped over the hoof he held upon his knee. He was digging into the caked dirt inside the hoof with his pocketknife, and, though Evadna waited while she might have spoken a dozen words, he paid not the slightest attention-and that in spite of the distinct shadow of her head and shoulders which lay at his feet.

"Oh-Grant," she began perfunctorily, "I'm sorry to trouble you-but do you happen to have an empty pocket?"

Good Indian gave a final scrape with his knife, and released the foot, which Keno immediately stamped pettishly into the dust. He closed the knife, after wiping the blade upon his trousers leg, and returned it to his pocket before he so much as glanced toward her.

"I may have. Why?" He picked up the bridle-reins, caught the saddle-horn, and thrust his toe into the stirrup. From under his hat-brim he saw that she was pinching her under lip between her teeth, and the sight raised his spirits considerably.

"Oh, nothing. Aunt Phoebe called me back, and gave me a bottle of cream, is all. I shall have to carry it in my hand, I suppose." She twitched her shoulders, and started Huckleberry off again. She had called him Grant, instead of the formal Mr. Imsen she had heretofore clung to, and he had not seemed to notice it even.

He mounted with perfectly maddening deliberation, but for all that he overtook her before she had gone farther than a few rods, and he pulled up beside her with a decision which caused Huckleberry to stop also; Huckleberry, it must be confessed, was never known to show any reluctance in that direction when his head was turned away from home. He stood perfectly still while Good Indian reached out a hand.

"I'll carry it-I'm more used to packing bottles," he announced gravely.

"Oh, but if you must carry it in your hand, I wouldn't dream of-" She was holding fast the bottle, and trying to wear her Christmas-angel look.

Good Indian laid hold of the flask, and they stood there stubbornly eying each other.

"I thought you wanted me to carry it," he said at last, pulling harder.

"I merely asked if you had an empty pocket." Evadna clung the tighter.

"Now, what's the use-"

"Just what I was thinking!" Evadna was so impolite as to interrupt him.

Good Indian was not skilled in the management of women, but he knew horses, and to his decision he added an amendment. Instinctively he followed the method taught him by experience, and when he fancied he saw in her eyes a sign of weakening, he followed up the advantage he had gained.

"Let go-because I'm going to have it anyway, now," he said quietly, and took the flask gently from her hands. Then he smiled at her for yielding, and his smile was a revelation to the girl, and brought the blood surging up to her face. She rode meekly beside him at the pace he himself set-which was not rapid, by any means. He watched her with quick, sidelong glances, and wondered whether he would dare say what he wanted to say-or at least a part of it.

She was gazing with a good deal of perseverance at the trail, down the windings of which the others could be seen now and then galloping through the dust, so that their progress was marked always by a smothering cloud of gray. Then she looked at Grant unexpectedly, met one of his sharp glances, and flushed hotly again.

"How about this business of hating each other, and not speaking except to please Aunt Phoebe?" he demanded, with a suddenness which startled himself. He had been thinking it, but he hadn't intended to say it until the words spoke themselves. "Are we supposed to keep on acting the fool indefinitely?"

"I was not aware that I, at least, was acting the fool," she retorted, with a washed-out primness.

"Oh, I can't fight the air, and I'm not going to try. What I've got to say, I prefer to say straight from the shoulder. I'm sick of this standing off and giving each other the bad eye over nothing. If we're going to stay on the same ranch, we might as well be friends. What do you say?"

For a time he thought she was not going to say anything. She was staring at the dust-cloud ahead, and chewing absently at the corner of her under lip, and she kept it up so long that Good Indian began to scowl and call himself unseemly names for making any overture whatever. But, just as he turned toward her with lips half opened for a bitter sentence, he saw a dimple appear in the cheek next to him, and held back the words.

"You told me you didn't like me," she reminded, looking at him briefly, and afterward fumbling her reins. "You can't expect a girl-"

"I suppose you don't remember coming up to me that first night, and calling me names, and telling me how you hated me, and-and winding up by pinching me?" he insinuated with hypocritical reproach, and felt of his arm. "If you could see the mark-" he hinted shamelessly.

Evadna replied by pushing up her sleeve and displaying a scratch at least an inch in length, and still roughened and red. "I suppose you don't remember trying to MURDER me?" she inquired, sweetly triumphant. "If you could shoot as well as Jack, I'd have been killed very likely. And you'd be in jail this minute," she added, with virtuous solemnity.

"But you're not killed, and I'm not in jail."

"And I haven't told a living soul about it-not even Aunt Phoebe," Evadna remarked, still painfully virtuous. "If I had-"

"She'd have wondered, maybe, what you were doing away down there in the middle of the night," Good Indian finished. "I didn't tell a soul, either, for that matter."

They left the meadowland and the broad stretch of barren sand and sage, and followed, at a leisurely pace, the winding of the trail through the scarred desolation where the earth had been washed for gold. Evadna stared absently at the network of deep gashes, evidently meditating very seriously. Finally she turned to Grant with an honest impulse of friendliness.

"Well, I'm sure I'm willing to bury the tomahawk-er-that is, I mean-" She blushed hotly at the slip, and stammered incoherently.

"Never mind." His eyes laughed at her confusion. "I

'm not as bad as all that; it doesn't hurt my feelings to have tomahawks mentioned in my presence."

Her cheeks grew redder, if that were possible, but she made no attempt to finish what she had started to say.

Good Indian rode silent, watching her unobtrusively and wishing he knew how to bring the conversation by the most undeviating path to a certain much-desired conclusion. After all, she was not a wild thing, but a human being, and he hesitated. In dealing with men, he had but one method, which was to go straight to the point regardless of consequences. So he half turned in the saddle and rode with one foot free of the stirrup that he might face her squarely.

"You say you're willing to bury the tomahawk; do you mean it?" His eyes sought hers, and when they met her glance held it in spite of her blushes, which indeed puzzled him. But she did not answer immediately, and so he repeated the question.

"Do you mean that? We've been digging into each other pretty industriously, and saying how we hate each other-but are you willing to drop it and be friends? It's for you to say-and you've got to say it now."

Evadna hung up her head at that. "Are you in the habit of laying down the law to everyone who will permit it?" she evaded.

"Am I to take it for granted you meant what you said?" He stuck stubbornly to the main issue. "Girls seem to have a way of saying things, whether they mean anything or not. Did you?"

"Did I what?" She was wide-eyed innocence again.

Good Indian muttered something profane, and kicked his horse in the ribs. When it had taken no more than two leaps forward, however, he pulled it down to a walk again, and his eyes boded ill for the misguided person who goaded him further. He glanced at the girl sharply.

"This thing has got to be settled right now, without any more fooling or beating about the bush," he said-and he said it so quietly that she could scarcely be blamed for not realizing what lay beneath. She was beginning to recover her spirits and her composure, and her whole attitude had become demurely impish.

"Settle it then, why don't you?" she taunted sweetly. "I'm sure I haven't the faintest idea what there is to settle-in that solemn manner. I only know we're a mile behind the others, and Miss Georgie will be wondering-"

"You say I'm to settle it, the way I want it settled?"

If Evadna did not intend anything serious, she certainly was a fool not to read aright his ominously calm tone and his tensely quiet manner. She must have had some experience in coquetry, but it is very likely that she had never met a man just like this one. At all events, she tilted her blonde head, smiled at him daringly, and then made a little grimace meant to signify her defiance of him and his unwarranted earnestness.

Good Indian leaned unexpectedly, caught her in his arms, and kissed her three times upon her teasing, smiling mouth, and while she was gasping for words to voice her amazement he drew back his head, and gazed sternly into her frightened eyes.

"You can't play with ME," he muttered savagely, and kissed her again. "This is how I settle it. You've made me want you for mine. It's got to be love or-hate now. There isn't anything between, for me and you." His eyes passed hungrily from her quivering lips to her eyes, and the glow within his own made her breath come faster. She struggled weakly to free herself, and his clasp only tightened jealously.

"If you had hated me, you wouldn't have stopped back there, and spoken to me," he said, the words coming in a rush. "Women like to play with love, I think. But you can't play with me. I want you. And I'm going to have you. Unless you hate me. But you don't. I'd stake my life on it." And he kissed her again.

Evadna reached up, felt for her hat, and began pulling it straight, and Good Indian, recalled to himself by the action, released her with manifest reluctance. He felt then that he ought never to let her go out of his arms; it was the only way, it seemed to him, that he could be sure of her. Evadna found words to express her thoughts, and her thoughts were as wholly conventional as was the impulse to straighten her hat.

"We've only known each other a week!" she cried tremulously, while her gloved fingers felt inquiringly for loosened hairpins. "You've no right-you're perfectly horrid! You take everything for granted-"

Good Indian laughed at her, a laugh of pure, elemental joy in life and in love.

"A man's heart does not beat by the calendar. Nature made the heart to beat with love, ages before man measured time, and prattled of hours and days and weeks," he retorted. "I'm not the same man I was a week ago. Nor an hour ago. What does it matter, I am-the man I am NOW." He looked at her more calmly. "An hour ago," he pointed out, "I didn't dream I should kiss you. Nor you, that you would let me do it."

"I didn't! I couldn't help myself. You-oh, I never saw such a-a brute!" The tears in her eyes were, perhaps, tears of rage at the swiftness with which he had mastered the situation and turned it in a breath from the safe channel of petty argument. She struck Huckleberry a blow with her whip which sent that astonished animal galloping down the slope before them, his ears laid back and his white eyelashes blinking resentment against the outrage.

Good Indian laughed aloud, spurred Keno into a run, and passed her with a scurry of dust, a flash of white teeth and laughing black eyes, and a wave of his free hand in adieu. He was still laughing when he overtook the others, passed by the main group, and singled out Jack, his particular chum. He refused to explain either his hurry or his mirth further than to fling out a vague sentence about a race, and thereafter he ambled contentedly along beside Jack in the lead, and told how he had won a hundred and sixty dollars in a crap game the last time he was in Shoshone, and how he had kept on until he had "quit ten dollars in the hole." The rest of the boys, catching a few words here and there, crowded close, and left the two girls to themselves, while Good Indian recounted in detail the fluctuations of the game; how he had seesawed for an hour, winning and losing alternately; and how his luck had changed suddenly just when he had made up his mind to play a five-dollar gold piece he had in his hand and quit.

"I threw naturals three times in succession," he said, "and let my bets ride. Then I got Big Dick, made good, and threw another natural. I was seeing those Spanish spurs and that peach of a headstall in Fernando's by that time; seeing them on Keno and me-they're in the window yet, Jack, and I went in when I first hit town and looked them over and priced them; a hundred and fifty, just about what we guessed he'd hold them at. And say, those conchos-you remember the size of 'em, Jack?-they're solid silver, hammered out and engraved by hand. Those Mexicans sure do turn out some fine work on their silver fixings!" He felt in his pocket for a match.

"Pity I didn't let well enough alone," he went on. "I had the price of the outfit, and ten dollars over. But then I got hoggish. I thought I stood a good chance of making seven lucky passes straight-I did once, and I never got over it, I guess. I was going to pinch down to ten-but I didn't; I let her ride. And SHOT CRAPS!"

He drew the match along the stamped saddle-skirt behind the cantle, because that gave him a chance to steal a look behind him without being caught in the act. Good, wide hat-brims have more uses than to shield one's face from the sun. He saw that Evadna was riding in what looked like a sulky silence beside her friend, but he felt no compunction for what he had done; instead he was exhilarated as with some heady wine, and he did not want to do any thinking about it-yet. He did not even want to be near Evadna. He faced to the front, and lighted his cigarette while he listened to the sympathetic chorus from the boys.

"What did you do then?" asked Gene.

"Well, I'd lost the whole blamed chunk on a pair of measly aces," he said. "I was pretty sore by that time, I'm telling you! I was down to ten dollars, but I started right in to bring back that hundred and sixty. Funny, but I felt exactly as if somebody had stolen that headstall and spurs right out of my hand, and I just had to get it back pronto. I started in with a dollar, lost it on craps-sixes, that time-sent another one down the same trail trying to make Little Joe come again, third went on craps, fourth I doubled on nine, lost 'em both on craps-say, I never looked so many aces and sixes in the face in my life! It was sure kay bueno, the luck I had that night. I got up broke, and had to strike Riley for money to get out of town with."

So for a time he managed to avoid facing squarely this new and very important factor which must henceforth have its place in the problem of his life.

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