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Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 18165

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Few men are ever called upon by untoward circumstance to know the sensations caused by rattlesnake bite, knife gashes, impromptu cauterization, and, topping the whole, the peculiar torture of congested veins and swollen muscles which comes from a tourniquet. The feeling must be unpleasant in the extreme, and the most morbid of sensation-seekers would scarcely put himself in the way of that particular experience.

Peppajee Jim, therefore, had reason in plenty for glowering at the world as he saw it that day. He held Huckleberry rigidly down to his laziest amble that the jar of riding might be lessened, kept his injured foot free from the stirrup, and merely grunted when Good Indian asked him once how he felt.

When they reached the desolation of the old placer-pits, however, he turned his eyes from the trail where it showed just over Huckleberry's ears, and regarded sourly the deep gashes and dislodged bowlders which told where water and the greed of man for gold had raged fiercest. Then, for the first time during the whole ride, he spoke.

"All time, yo' sleepum," he said, in the sonorous, oracular tone which he usually employed when a subject held his serious thought. "Peaceful Hart, him all same sleepum. All same sleepum 'longside snake. No seeum snake, no thinkum mebbyso catchum bite." He glanced down at his own snake-bitten foot. "Snake bite, make all time much hurt." His eyes turned, and dwelt sharply upon the face of Good Indian.

"Yo' all time thinkum Squaw-with-sun-hair. Me tell yo' for watchum, yo' no think for watchum. Baumberga, him all same snake. Yo' think him all time catchum fish. HUH! Yo' heap big fool, yo' thinkum cat. Rattlesnake, mebbyso sleepum in sun one time. Yo' no thinkum bueno, yo' seeum sleep in sun. Yo' heap sabe him all time kay bueno jus' same. Yo' heap sabe yo' come close, him biteum. Mebbyso biteum hard, for killum yo' all time." He paused, then drove home his point like the true orator. "Baumberga catchum fish. All same rattlesnake sleepum in sun. Kay bueno."

Good Indian jerked his mind back from delicious recollection of one sweet, swift-passing minute, and half opened his lips for reply. But he did not speak; he did not know what to say, and it is ill-spent time-that passed in purposeless speech with such as Peppajee. Peppajee roused himself from meditation brief as it seemed deep, lifted a lean, brown hand to push back from his eyes a fallen lock of hair, and pointed straight away to the west.

"Las' night, sun go sleepum. Clouds come all same blanket, sun wrappum in blanket. Cloud look heap mad-mebbyso make much storm. Bimeby much mens come in cloud, stand so-and so-and so." With pointing finger he indicated a half circle. "Otha man come, heap big man. Stoppum 'way off, all time makeum sign, for fight. Me watchum. Me set by fire, watchum cloud makeum sign. Fire smoke look up for say, 'What yo' do all time, mebbyso?' Cloud man shakeum hand, makeum much sign. Fire smoke heap sad, bend down far, lookum me, lookum where cloud look. All time lookum for Peaceful Hart ranch. Me lay down for sleepum, me dream all time much fight. All time bad sign come. Kay bueno." Peppajee shook his head slowly, his leathery face set in deep, somber lines.

"Much trouble come heap quick," he said gravely, hitching his blanket into place upon his shoulder. "Me no sabe-all same, heap trouble come. Much mens, mebbyso much fight, much shootum-mebbyso kill. Peaceful Hart him all time laugh me. All same, me sabe smoke sign, sabe cloud sign, sabe-Baumberga. Heap ka-a-ay bueno!"

Good Indian's memory dashed upon him a picture of bright moonlight and the broody silence of a night half gone, and of a figure forming sharply and suddenly from the black shadow of the stable and stealing away into the sage, and of Baumberger emerging warily from that same shadow and stopping to light his pipe before he strolled on to the house and to the armchair upon the porch.

There might be a sinister meaning in that picture, but it was so well hidden that he had little hope of ever finding it. Also, it occurred to him that Peppajee, usually given over to creature comforts and the idle gossip of camp and the ranches he visited, was proving the sincerity of his manifest uneasiness by a watchfulness wholly at variance with his natural laziness. On the other hand, Peppajee loved to play the oracle, and a waving wisp of smoke, or the changing shapes in a wind-riven cloud meant to him spirit-sent prophecies not to be ignored.

He turned the matter over in his mind, was the victim of uneasiness for five minutes, perhaps, and then drifted off into wondering what Evadna was doing at that particular moment, and to planning how he should manage to fall behind with her when they all rode home, and so make possible other delicious moments. He even took note of certain sharp bends in the trail, where a couple riding fifty yards, say, behind a group would be for the time being quite hidden from sight and to all intents and purposes alone in the world for two minutes, or three-perhaps the time might be stretched to five.

The ranch was quiet, with even the dogs asleep in the shade. Peppajee insisted in one sentence upon going straight on to camp, so they did not stop. Without speaking, they plodded through the dust up the grade, left it, and followed the dim trail through the sagebrush and rocks to the Indian camp which seemed asleep also, except where three squaws were squatting in the sharply defined, conical shadow of a wikiup, mumbling desultorily the gossip of their little world, while their fingers moved with mechanical industry-one shining black head bent over a half-finished, beaded moccasin, another stitching a crude gown of bright-flowered calico, and the third braiding her hair afresh with leisurely care for its perfect smoothness. Good Indian took note of the group before it stirred to activity, and murmured anxiety over the bandaged foot of Peppajee.

"Me no can watchum more, mebbyso six days. Yo' no sleepum all time yo' walk-no thinkum all time squaw. Mebbyso yo' think for man-snake. Mebbyso yo' watchum," Peppajee said, as he swung slowly down from Huckleberry's back.

"All right. I'll watchum plenty," Good Indian promised lightly, gave a glance of passing, masculine interest at the squaw who was braiding her hair, and who was young and fresh-cheeked and bright-eyed and slender, forgot her the instant his eyes left her, and made haste to return to the Malad and the girl who held all his thoughts and all his desire.

That girl was sitting upon the rock which Donny had occupied, and she looked very much as if she were sulking, much as Donny had sulked. She had her chin in a pink palm and was digging little holes in the sand with the tip of her rod, which was not at all beneficial to the rod and did not appear even to interest the digger; for her wonderfully blue eyes were staring at the green-and-white churn of the rapids, and her lips were pursed moodily, as if she did not even see what she was looking at so fixedly.

Good Indian's eyes were upon her while he was dismounting, but he did not go to her immediately. Instead, he busied himself with unsaddling, and explained to the boys just why he had left so unaccountably. Secretly he was hoping that Evadna heard the explanation, and he raised his voice purposely. But Evadna was not listening, apparently; and, if she had been, the noise of the rapids would have prevented her hearing what he said.

Miss Georgie Howard was frying fish and consistently snubbing Baumberger, who hulked loosely near the campfire, and between puffs at his pipe praised heavily her skill, and professed to own a ravenous appetite. Good Indian heard him as he passed close by them, and heard also the keen thrust she gave in return; and he stopped and half turned, looking at her with involuntary appreciation. His glance took in Baumberger next, and he lifted a shoulder and went on. Without intentionally resorting to subterfuge, he felt an urge to wash his hands, and he chose for his ablutions that part of the river's edge which was nearest Evadna.

First he stooped and drank thirstily, his hat pushed back, while his lips met full the hurrying water, clear and cold, yet with the chill it had brought from the mountain springs which fed it, and as he lifted his head he looked full at her.

Evadna stared stonily over him to where the water boiled fastest. He might have been one of the rocks, for all the notice she took of him.

Good Indian frowned with genuine puzzlement, and began slowly to wash his hands, glancing at her often in hope that he might meet her eyes. When she did not seem to see him at all, the smile of a secret shared joyously with her died from his own eyes, and when he had dried his hands upon his handkerchief he cast aside his inward shyness in the presence of the Hart boys and Miss Georgie and Baumberger, and went boldly over to her.

"Aren't you feeling well?" he asked, with tender proprietorship in his tone.

"I'm feeling quite well, thank you," re

turned Evadna frigidly, neglecting to look at him.

"What is the matter, then? Aren't you having a good time?"

"I'm enjoying myself very much-except that your presence annoys me. I wish you'd go away."

Good Indian turned on his heel and went; he felt that at last Evadna was looking at him, though he would not turn to make sure. And his instinct told him withal that he must ignore her mood if he would win her from it. With a freakish impulse, he headed straight for the campfire and Miss Georgie, but when he came up to her the look she gave him of understanding, with sympathy to soften it, sent him away again without speaking.

He wandered back to the river's edge-this time some distance from where Evadna sat-and began throwing pebbles at the black nose of a wave-washed bowlder away toward the other side. Clark and Gene, loitered up, watched him lazily, and, picking up other pebbles, started to do the same thing. Soon all the boys were throwing at the bowlder, and were making a good deal of noise over the various hits and misses, and the spirit of rivalry waxed stronger and stronger until it was like any other game wherein full-blooded youths strive against one another for supremacy. They came to the point of making bets, at first extravagant and then growing more and more genuinely in earnest, for we're gamblers all, at heart.

Miss Georgie burned a frying-panful of fish until they sent up an acrid, blue smoke, while she ran over to try her luck with a stone or two. Even Baumberger heaved himself up from where he was lounging, and strolled over to watch. But Evadna could not have stuck closer to her rock if she had been glued there, and if she had been blind and deaf she would not have appeared more oblivious.

Good Indian grew anxious, and then angry. The savage stirred within him, and counseled immediate and complete mastery of her-his woman. But there was the white man of him who said the thought was brutal and unchivalrous, and reminded the savage that one must not look upon a woman as a chattel, to be beaten or caressed, as the humor seized the master. And, last of all, there was the surface of him laughing with the others, jeering at those who fell short of the mark, and striving his utmost to be first of them all in accuracy.

He even smiled upon Miss Georgie when she hit the bowlder fairly, and, when the stench of the burning fish drifted over to them, he gave his supply of pebbles into her two hands, and ran to the rescue. He caught Evadna in the act of regarding him sidelong, just as a horse sometimes will keep an eye on the man with the rope in a corral; so he knew she was thinking of him, at least, and was wondering what he meant to do next, and the savage in him laughed and lay down again, knowing himself the master.

What he did was to throw away the burnt fish, clean the frying-pan, and start more sizzling over the fire, which he kicked into just the right condition. He whistled softly to himself while he broke dry sticks across his knee for the fire, and when Miss Georgie cried out that she had made three hits in succession, he called back: "Good shot!" and took up the tune where he had left off. Never, for one instant, was he unconscious of Evadna's secret watchfulness, and never, for one instant, did he let her see that she was in his thoughts.

He finished frying the fish, set out the sandwiches and doughnuts, and pickled peaches and cheese, and pounded upon a tin plate to announce that dinner was ready. He poured the coffee into the cups held out to him, and got the flask of cream from a niche between two rocks at the water's edge. He said "Too bad," when it became generally known that the glare of the sun upon the water had given Evadna a headache, and he said it exactly as he would have spoken if Jack, for instance, had upset the sugar.

He held up the broken-handled butcher knife that was in the camp kit, and declaimed tragically: "Is this a dagger that I see before me?" and much more of the kind that was eery. He saw the reluctant dimple which showed fleetingly in Evadna's cheek, and also the tears which swelled her eyelids immediately after, but she did not know that he saw them, though another did.

He was taken wholly by surprise when Miss Georgie, walking past him afterward on her way to an enticing pool, nipped his arm for attention and murmured:

"You're doing fine-only don't overdo it. She's had just about all she can stand right now. Give her a chance to forgive you-and let her think she came out ahead! Good luck!" Whereupon she finished whatever she pretended to have been doing to her fishing-tackle, and beckoned Wally and Jack to come along.

"We've just got to catch that big one," she laughed, "so Mr. Baumberger can go home and attend to his own business!" It took imagination to feel sure there had been a significant accent on the last of the sentence, and Baumberger must have been imaginative. He lowered his head like a bull meditating assault, and his leering eyes shot her a glance of inquiry and suspicion. But Miss Georgie Howard met his look with a smile that was nothing more than idle amusement.

"I'd like nothing better than to get that four-pounder on my line," she added. "It would be the joke of the season-if a woman caught him."

"Bet you couldn't land him," chuckled Baumberger, breathing a sigh which might have been relief, and ambled away contentedly. "I may not see you folks again till supper," he bethought him to call back. "I'm going to catch a dozen more-and then I thought I'd take 'em up to Pete Hamilton; I'm using his horse, yuh see, and-" He flung out a hand to round off the sentence, turned, and went stumbling over a particularly rocky place.

Miss Georgie stood where she was, and watched him with her mouth twisted to one side and three perpendicular creases between her eyebrows. When he was out of sight, she glanced at Evadna-once more perched sulkily upon the rock.

"Head still bad, chicken?" she inquired cheerfully. "Better stay here in the shade-I won't be gone long."

"I'm going to fish," said Evadna, but she did not stir, not even when Miss Georgie went on, convoyed by all the Hart boys.

Good Indian had volunteered the information that he was going to fish downstream, but he was a long time in tying his leader and fussing with his reel. His preparations were finished just when the last straggler of the group was out of sight. Then he laid down his rod, went over to Evadna, took her by the arm, and drew her back to the farther shelter of the ledge.

"Now, what's the trouble?" he asked directly. "I hope you're not trying to make yourself think I was only-You know what I meant, don't you? And you said yes. You said it with your lips, and with your eyes. Did you want more words? Tell me what it is that bothers you."

There was a droop to Evadna's shoulders, and a tremble to her mouth. She would not look at him. She kept her eyes gazing downward, perhaps to hide tears. Good Indian waited for her to speak, and when it seemed plain that she did not mean to do so, he yielded to his instinct and took her in his arms.

"Sweetheart!" he murmured against her ear, and it was the first time he had ever spoken the word to any woman. "You love me, I know it. You won't say it, but I know you do. I should have felt it this morning if you hadn't cared. You-you let me kiss you. And-"

"And after that you-you rode off and left me-and you went away by yourself, just as if-just as if nothing had happened, and you've acted ever since as if-" She bit her lips, turned her face away from him, plucked at his hands to free herself from his clasping arms, and then she laid her face down against him, and sobbed.

Good Indian tried his best to explain his mood and his actions that day, and if he did not make himself very clear-which could scarcely be expected, since he did not quite understand it himself-he at least succeeded in lifting from her the weight of doubt and of depression.

They were astonished when Wally and Jack and Miss Georgie suddenly confronted them and proved, by the number of fish which they carried, that they had been gone longer than ten minutes or so. They were red as to their faces, and embarrassed as to manner, and Good Indian went away hurriedly after the horses, without meeting the quizzical glances of the boys, or replying t to certain pointed remarks which they fired after him.

"And he's the buckaroo that's got no use for girls!" commented Wally, looking after him, and ran his tongue meditatively along the loose edge of his cigarette. "Kid, I wish you'd tell me how you done it. It worked quick, anyhow."

"And thorough," grinned Jack. "I was thinking some of falling in love with you myself, Vad. Soon as some of the shine wore off, and you got so you acted like a real person."

"I saw it coming, when it first heaved in sight," chirped Miss Georgie, in a more cheerful tone than she had used that day; in too cheerful a tone to be quite convincing, if any one there had been taking notice of mere tones.

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