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   Chapter 15 SQUAW-TALK-FAR-OFF HEAP SMART

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 25228

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Good Indian spoke briefly with the good-looking young squaw, who had a shy glance for him when he came up; afterward he took hold of his hat by the brim, and ducked through the low opening of a wikiup which she smilingly pointed out to him.

"Howdy, Peppajee? How you foot?" he asked, when his unaccustomed eyes discerned the old fellow lying back against the farther wall.

"Huh! Him heap sick all time." Having his injury thus brought afresh to his notice, Peppajee reached down with his hands, and moved the foot carefully to a new position.

"Last night," Good Indian began without that ceremony of long waiting which is a part of Indian etiquette, "much men come to Hart ranch. Eight." He held up his two outspread hands, with the thumbs tucked inside his palms. "Come in dark, no seeum till sun come back. Makeum camp. One man put sticks in ground, say that part belong him. Twenty acres." He flung up his hands, lowered them, and immediately raised them again. "Eight men do that all same. Have guns, grub, blankets-stop there all time. Say they wash gold. Say that ranch have much gold, stake placer claims. Baumberger"-he saw Peppajee's eyelids draw together-"tell men to go away. Tell Peaceful he fight those men-in court. You sabe. Ask Great Father to tell those men they go away, no wash gold on ranch." He waited.

There is no hurrying the speech of an Indian. Peppajee smoked stolidly, his eyes half closed and blinking sleepily. The veneer of white men's ways dropped from him when he entered his own wikiup, and he would not speak quickly.

"Las' night-mebbyso yo' watchum?" he asked, as one who holds his judgment in abeyance.

"I heap fool. I no watch. I let those men come while I think of-a girl. My eyes sleep." Good Indian was too proud to parry, too bitter with himself to deny. He had not said the thing before, even to himself, but it was in his heart to hate his love, because it had cost this catastrophe to his friends.

"Kay bueno." Peppajee's voice was harsh. But after a time he spoke more sympathetically. "Yo' no watchum. Yo' let heap trouble come. This day yo' heart bad, mebbyso. This day yo' no thinkum squaw all time. Mebbyso yo' thinkum fight, no sabe how yo' fight."

Grant nodded silently. It would seem that Peppajee understood, even though his speech was halting. At that moment much of the unfounded prejudice, which had been for a few days set aside because of bigger things, died within him. He had disliked Peppajee as a pompous egotist among his kind. His latent antagonism against all Indians because they were unwelcomely his blood relatives had crystallized here and there against; certain individuals of the tribe. Old Hagar he hated coldly. Peppajee's staginess irritated him. In his youthful arrogance he had not troubled to see the real man of mettle under that dingy green blanket. Now he looked at Peppajee with a startled sense that he had never known him at all, and that Peppajee was not only a grimy Indian-he was also a man.

"Me no sabe one thing. One otha thing me sabe. Yo' no b'lieve Baumberga one frien'. Him all same snake. Them mens come, Baumberga tellum come all time. All time him try for foolum Peaceful. Yo' look out. Yo' no sleepum mo'. All time yo' watchum."

"I come here," said Good Indian; "I think you mebbyso hear talk, you tell me. My heart heap sad, I let this trouble come. I want to kill that trouble. Mebbyso make my friends laugh, be heap glad those men no stealum ranch. You hear talk, mebbyso you tell me now."

Peppajee smoked imperturbably what time his dignity demanded. At length he took the pipe from his mouth, stretched out his arm toward Hartley, and spoke in his sonorous tone, calculated to add weight to his words.

"Yo' go speakum Squaw-talk-far-off," he commanded. "All time makum talk-talk-" He drummed with his fingers upon his left forearm. "Mebbyso heap sabe. Heap sabe Baumberga kay bueno. He thinkum sabe stealum ranch. All time heap talk come Man-that-coughs, come all same Baumberga. Heap smart, dat squaw." A smile laid its faint light upon his grim old lips, and was gone. "Thinkum yo' heap bueno, dat squaw. All time glad for talkum yo'. Yo' go."

Good Indian stood up, his head bent to avoid scraping his hat against the sloping roof of the wikiup.

"You no hear more talk all time you watch?" he asked, passing over Miss Georgie's possible aid or interest in the affair.

"Much talkum-no can hear. All time them damn' Baumberga shut door-no talkum loud. All time Baumberga walkum in dark. Walkum where apples grow, walkum grass, walkum all dat ranch all time. All time me heap watchum. Snake come, bitum foot-no can watchum mo'. Dat time, much mens come. Yo' sabe. Baumberga all time talkum, him heap frien' Peacefu'-heap snake all time. Speakum two tongue Yo' no b'lievum. All time heap big liar, him. Yo' go, speakum Squaw-talk-far-off. Bueno, dat squaw. Heap smart, all same mans. Yo' go. Pikeway." He settled back with a gesture of finality, and so Good Indian left him.

Old Hagar shrilled maledictions after him when he passed through the littered camp on his way back to where he had left his horse, but for once he was deaf to her upbraidings. Indeed, he never heard her-or if he did, her clamor was to him as the yelping of the dogs which filled his ears, but did not enter his thoughts.

The young squaw smiled at him shy-eyed as he went by her, and though his physical eyes saw her standing demurely there in the shade of her wikiup, ready to shrink coyly away from too bold a glance, the man-mind of him was blind and took no notice. He neither heard the baffled screaming of vile epithets when old Hagar knew that her venom could not strike through the armor of his preoccupation, nor saw the hurt look creep into the soft eyes of the young squaw when his face did not turn toward her after the first inattentive glance.

Good Indian was thinking how barren had been his talk with Peppajee, and was realizing keenly how much he had expected from the interview. It is frequently by the depth of our disappointment only that we can rightly measure the height of our hope. He had come to Peppajee for something tangible, some thing that might be called real evidence of the conspiracy he suspected. He had got nothing but suspicion to match his own. As for Miss Georgie Howard-

"What can she do?" he thought resentfully, feeling as if he had been offered a willow switch with which to fight off a grizzly. It seemed to him that he might as sensibly go to Evadna herself for assistance, and that, even his infatuation was obliged to admit, would be idiotic. Peppajee, he told himself when he reached his horse, was particularly foolish sometimes.

With that in his mind, he mounted-and turned Keno's head toward Hartley. The distance was not great-little more than half a mile-but when he swung from the saddle in the square blotch of shade east by the little, red station house upon the parched sand and cinders, Keno's flanks were heaving like the silent sobbing of a woman with the pace his master's spurred heels had required of him.

Miss Georgie gave her hair a hasty pat or two, pushed a novel out of sight under a Boise newspaper, and turned toward him with a breezily careless smile when he stepped up to the open door and stopped as if he were not quite certain of his own mind, or of his welcome.

He was secretly thinking of Peppajee's information that Miss Georgie thought he was "bueno," and he was wondering if it were true. Not that he wanted it to be true! But he was man enough to look at her with a keener interest than he had felt before. And Miss Georgie, if one might judge by her manner, was woman enough to detect that interest and to draw back her skirts, mentally, ready for instant flight into unapproachableness.

"Howdy, Mr. Imsen?" she greeted him lightly. "In what official capacity am I to receive you, please? Do YOU want to send a telegram?" The accent upon the pronoun was very faint, but it was there for him to notice if he liked. So much she helped him. She was a bright young woman indeed, that she saw he wanted help.

"I don't believe I came to see you officially at all," he said, and his eyes lighted a little as he looked at her. "Peppajee Jim told me to come. He said you're a 'heap smart squaw, all same mans.'"

"Item: One pound of red-and-white candy for Peppajee Jim next time I see him." Miss Georgie laughed-but she also sat down so that her face was turned to the window. "Are you in urgent need of a heap smart squaw?" she asked. "I thought"-she caught herself up, and then went recklessly on-"I thought yesterday that you had found one!"

"It's brains I need just now." After the words were out, Good Indian wanted to swear at himself for seeming to belittle Evadna. "I mean," he corrected quickly-"do you know what I mean? I'll tell you what has happened, and if you don't know then, and can't help me, I'll just have to apologize for coming, and get out."

"Yes, I think you had better tell me why you need me particularly. I know the chicken's perfect, and doesn't lack brains, and you didn't mean that she does. You're all stirred up over something. What's wrong?" Miss Georgie would have spoken in just that tone if she had been a man or if Grant had been a woman.

So Good Indian told her.

"And you imagine that it's partly your fault, and that it wouldn't have happened if you had spent more time keeping your weather eye open, and not so much making love?" Miss Georgie could be very blunt, as well as keen. "Well, I don't see how you could prevent it, or what you could have done-unless you had kicked old Baumberger into the Snake. He's the god in this machine. I'd swear to that."

Good Indian had been fiddling with his hat and staring hard at a pile of old ties just outside the window. He raised his head, and regarded her steadily. It was beginning to occur to him that there was a good deal to this Miss Georgie, under that offhand, breezy exterior. He felt himself drawn to her as a person whom he could trust implicitly.

"You're right as far as I'm concerned," he owned, with his queer, inscrutable smile. "I think you're also right about him. What makes you think so, anyway?"

Miss Georgie twirled a ring upon her middle finger for a moment before she looked up at him.

"Do you know anything about mining laws?" she asked, and when he swung his head slightly to one side in a tacit negative, she went on: "You say there are eight jumpers. Concerted action, that. Premeditated. My daddy was a lawyer," she threw in by way of explanation. "I used to help him in the office a good deal. When he-died, I didn't know enough to go on and be a lawyer myself, so I took to this." She waved her hand impatiently toward the telegraph instrument.

"So it's like this: Eight men can take placer claims-can hold them, you know-for one man. That's the limit, a hundred and sixty acres. Those eight men aren't jumping that ranch as eight individuals; they're in the employ of a principal who is engineering the affair. If I were going to shy a pebble at the head mogul, I'd sure try hard to hit our corpulent friend with the fishy eye. And that," she added, "is what all these cipher messages for Saunders mean, very likely. Baumberger had to have someone here to spy around for him and perhaps help him choose-or at least get together-those eight men. They must have come in on the night train, for I didn't see them. I'll bet they're tough customers, every mother's son of them! Fighters down to the ground, aren't they?"

"I only saw four. They were heeled, and ready for business, all right," he told her. "Soon as I saw what the game was, and that Baumberger was only playing for time and a free hand, I pulled out. I thought Peppajee might give me something definite to go on. He couldn't, though."

"Baumberger's going to steal that ranch according to law, you see," Miss Georgie stated with conviction. "They've got to pan out a sample of gold to prove there's pay dirt there, before they can file their claims. And they've got to do their filing in Shoshone. I suppose their notices are up O.K. I wonder, now, how they intend to manage that? I believe," she mused, "they'll have to go in person-I don't believe Baumberger can do that all himself legally. I've got some of daddy's law-books over in my trunk, and maybe I can look it up and make sure. But I know they haven't filed their claims yet. They've GOT to take possession first, and they've got to show a sample of ore, or dust, it would be in this case. The best thing to do-" She drew her

eyebrows together, and she pinched her under lip between her thumb and forefinger, and she stared abstractedly at Good Indian. "Oh, hurry up, Grant!" she cried unguardedly. "Think-think HARD, what's best to do!"

"The only thing I can think of," he scowled, "is to kill that-"

"And that won't do, under the circumstances," she cut in airily. "There'd still be the eight. I'd like," she declared viciously, "to put rough-on-rats in his dinner, but I intend to refrain from doing as I'd like, and stick to what's best."

Good Indian gave her a glance of grateful understanding. "This thing has hit me hard," he confided suddenly. "I've been holding myself in all day. The Harts are like my own folks. They're all I've had, and she's been-they've all been-" Then the instinct of repression walled in his emotion, and he let the rest go in a long breath which told Miss Georgie all she needed to know. So much of Good Indian would never find expression in speech; all that was best of him would not, one might be tempted to think.

"By the way, is there any pay dirt on that ranch?" Miss Georgie kept herself rigidly to the main subject.

"No, there isn't. Not," he added dryly, "unless it has grown gold in the last few years. There are colors, of course. All this country practically can show colors, but pay dirt? No!"

"Look out," she advised him slowly, "that pay dirt doesn't grow over night! Sabe?"

Good Indian's eyes spoke admiration of her shrewdness.

"I must be getting stupid, not to have thought of that," he said.

"Can't give me credit for being 'heap smart'?" she bantered. "Can't even let me believe I thought of something beyond the ken of the average person? Not," she amended ironically, "that I consider YOU an average person! Would you mind"-she became suddenly matter of fact-"waiting here while I go and rummage for a book I want? I'm almost sure I have one on mining laws. Daddy had a good deal of that in his business, being in a mining country. We've got to know just where we stand, it seems to me, because Baumberger's going to use the laws himself, and it's with the law we've got to fight him."

She had to go first and put a stop to the hysterical chattering of the sounder by answering the summons. It proved to be a message for Baumberger, and she wrote it down in a spiteful scribble which left it barely legible.

"Betraying professional secrets, but I don't care," she exclaimed, turning swiftly toward him. "Listen to this:

"'How's fishing? Landed the big one yet? Ready for fry?"'

She threw it down upon the table with a pettish gesture that was wholly feminine. "Sounds perfectly innocent, doesn't it? Too perfectly innocent, if you ask me." She stared out of the window abstractedly, her brows pinched together and her lips pursed with a corner between her teeth, much as she had stared after Baumberger the day before; and when she spoke she seemed to have swung her memory back to him then.

"He came up yesterday-with fish for Pete, he SAID, and of course he really did have some-and sent a wire to Shoshone. I found it on file when I came back. That was perfectly innocent, too. It was:

"'Expect to land big one to-night. Plenty of small fry. Smooth trail.'

"I've an excellent memory, you see." She laughed shortly. "Well, I'll go and hunt up that book, and we'll proceed to glean the wisdom of the serpent, so that we won't be compelled to remain as harmless as the dove! You won't mind waiting here?"

He assured her that he would not mind in the least, and she ran out bareheaded into the hot sunlight. Good Indian leaned forward a little in his chair so that he could watch her running across to the shack where she had a room or two, and he paid her the compliment of keeping her in his thoughts all the time she was gone. He felt, as he had done with Peppajee, that he had not known Miss Georgie at all until to-day, and he was a bit startled at what he was finding her to be.

"Of course," she laughed, when she rustled in again like a whiff of fresh air, "I had to go clear to the bottom of the last trunk I looked in. Lucky I only have three to my name, for it would have been in the last one just the same, if I'd had two dozen and had ransacked them all. But I found it, thank Heaven!"

She came eagerly up to him-he was sitting in the beribboned rocker dedicated to friendly callers, and had the rug badly rumpled with his spurs, which he had forgotten to remove-and with a sweep of her forearm she cleared the little table of novel, newspaper, and a magazine and deck of cards, and barely saved her box of chocolates from going bottom up on the floor.

"Like candy? Help yourself, if you do," she said, and tucked a piece into her mouth absent-mindedly before she laid the leather-bound book open on the table. "Now, we'll see what information Mr. Copp can give us. He's a high authority-General Land Office Commissioner, if you please. He's a few years old-several years old, for that matter-but I don't think he's out of date; I believe what he says still goes. M-m-m!-'Liens on Mines'-'Clause Inserted in Patents'-'Affidavits Taken Without Notice to Opposing'-oh, it must be here-it's GOT to be here!"

She was running a somewhat sticky forefinger slowly down the index pages. "It isn't alphabetically arranged, which I consider sloppy of Mr. Copp. Ah-h! 'Minerals Discovered After Patent Has Issued to Agricultural Claimant'-two hundred and eight. We'll just take a look at that first. That's what they're claiming, you know." She hitched her chair closer, and flipped the leaves eagerly. When she found the page, they touched heads over it, though Miss Georgie read aloud.

"Oh, it's a letter-but it's a decision, and as such has weight. U-m!

"SIR: In reply to your letter of inquiry. . . I have to state that all mineral deposits discovered on land after United States Patent therefor has issued to a party claiming under the laws regulating the disposal of agricultural lands, pass with the patent, and this office has no further jurisdiction in the premise. Very respectfully,"

"'PASS WITH THE PATENT!'" Miss Georgie turned her face so that she could look into Grant's eyes, so close to her own. "Old Peaceful must surely have his patent-Baumberger can't be much of a lawyer, do you think? Because that's a flat statement. There's no chance for any legal quibbling in that-IS there?"

"That's about as straight as he could put it," Good Indian agreed, his face losing a little of its anxiety.

"Well, we'll just browse along for more of the same," she suggested cheerfully, and went back to the index. But first she drew a lead pencil from where it had been stabbed through her hair, and marked the letter with heavy brackets, wetting the lead on her tongue for emphasis.

"'Agricultural Claimants Entitled to Full Protection,'" she read hearteningly from the index, and turned hastily to see what was to be said about it. It happened to be another decision rendered in a letter, and they jubilated together over the sentiment conveyed therein.

"Now, here is what I was telling you, Grant," she said suddenly, after another long minute of studying silently the index. "'Eight Locaters of Placer Ground May Convey to One Party'-and Baumberger's certainly that party!-'Who Can Secure Patent for One Hundred and Sixty Acres.' We'll just read up on that, and find out for sure what the conditions are. Now, here"-she had found the page quickly-"listen to this:

"'I have to state that if eight bona-fide locaters'

("Whether they're that remains to be proven, Mr. Baumberger!")

'each having located twenty acres, in accordance with the congressional rules and regulations, should convey all their right, title, and interest in said locations to one person, such person might apply for a patent-'

"And so on into tiresomeness. Really, I'm beginning to think Baumberger's awfully stupid, to even attempt such a silly thing. He hasn't a legal leg to stand on. 'Goes with the patent'-that sounds nice to me. They're not locating in good faith-those eight jumpers down there." She fortified herself with another piece of candy. "All you need," she declared briskly, "is a good lawyer to take this up and see it through."

"You seem to be doing pretty well," he remarked, his eyes dwelling rather intently upon her face, and smiling as they did so.

"I can read what's in the book," she remarked lightly, her eyes upon its pages as if she were consciously holding them from meeting his look. "But it will take a lawyer to see the case through the courts. And let me tell you one thing very emphatically." She looked at him brightly. "Many a case as strong as this has been lost, just by legal quibbling and ignorance of how to handle it properly. Many a case without a leg to stand on has been won, by smooth work on the part of some lawyer. Now, I'll just jot down what they'll have to do, and prove, if they get that land-and look here, Mr. Man, here's another thing to consider. Maybe Baumberger doesn't expect to get a patent. Maybe he means to make old Peaceful so deucedly sick of the thing that he'll sell out cheap rather than fight the thing to a finish. Because this can be appealed, and taken up and up, and reopened because of some technical error-oh, as Jenny Wren says in-in-"

"'Our Mutual Friend?'" Good Indian suggested unexpectedly.

"Oh, you've read it!-where she always says: 'I know their tricks and their manners!' And I do, from being so much with daddy in the office and hearing him talk shop. I know that, without a single bit of justice on their side, they could carry this case along till the very expense of it would eat up the ranch and leave the Harts flat broke. And if they didn't fight and keep on fighting, they could lose it-so there you are."

She shut the book with a slam. "But," she added more brightly when she saw the cloud of gloom settle blacker than before on his face, and remembered that he felt himself at least partly to blame, "it helps a lot to have the law all on our side, and-" She had to go then, because the dispatcher was calling, and she knew it must be a train order. "We'll read up a little more, and see just what are the requirements of placer mining laws-and maybe we can make it a trifle difficult for those eight to comply!" she told him over her shoulder, while her fingers chittered a reply to the call, and then turned her attention wholly to receiving the message.

Good Indian, knowing well the easy custom of the country which makes smoking always permissible, rolled himself a cigarette while he waited for her to come back to his side of the room. He was just holding the match up and waiting for a clear blaze before setting his tobacco afire, when came a tap-tap of feet on the platform, and Evadna appeared in the half-open doorway.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, and widened her indigo eyes at him sitting there and looking so much at home.

"Come right in, chicken," Miss Georgie invited cordially. "Don't stand there in the hot sun. Mr. Imsen is going to turn the seat of honor over to you this instant. Awfully glad you came. Have some candy."

Evadna sat down in the rocker, thrust her two little feet out so that the toe, of her shoes showed close together beyond the hem of her riding-skirt, laid her gauntleted palms upon the arms of the chair and rocked methodically, and looked at Grant and then at Miss Georgie, and afterward tilted up her chin and smiled superciliously at an insurance company's latest offering to the public in the way of a calendar two feet long.

"When did you come up?" Good Indian asked her, trying so hard to keep a placating note out of his voice that he made himself sound apologetic.

"Oh-about an hour ago, I think," Evadna drawled sweetly-the sweet tones which always mean trouble, when employed by a woman.

Good Indian bit his lip, got up, and threw his cigarette out of the window, and looked at her reproachfully, and felt vaguely that he was misunderstood and most unjustly placed upon the defensive.

"I only came over," Evadna went on, as sweetly as before, "to say that there's a package at the store which I can't very well carry, and I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind taking it-when you go."

"I'm going now, if you're ready," he told her shortly, and reached for his hat.

Evadna rocked a moment longer, making him wait for her reply. She glanced at Miss Georgie still busy at the telegraph table, gave a little sigh of resignation, and rose with evident reluctance.

"Oh-if you're really going," she drawled, and followed him outside.

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