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   Chapter 16 “DON’T GET EXCITED!”

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 22692

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Lovers, it would seem, require much less material for a quarrel than persons in a less exalted frame of mind.

Good Indian believed himself very much in love with his Christmas angel, and was very much inclined to let her know it, but at the same time he saw no reason why he should not sit down in Miss Georgie's rocking-chair, if he liked, and he could not quite bring himself to explain even to Evadna his reason for doing so. It humiliated him even to think of apologizing or explaining, and he was the type of man who resents humiliation more keenly than a direct injury.

As to Evadna, her atmosphere was that of conscious and magnanimous superiority to any feeling so humanly petty as jealousy-which is extremely irritating to anyone who is at all sensitive to atmospheric conditions.

She stopped outside the window long enough to chirp a commonplace sentence or two to Miss Georgie, and to explain just why she couldn't stay a minute longer. "I told Aunt Phoebe I'd be back to lunch-dinner, I mean-and she's so upset over those horrible men planted in the orchard-did Grant tell you about it?-that I feel I ought to be with her. And Marie has the toothache again. So I really must go. Good-by-come down whenever you can, won't you?" She smiled, and she waved a hand, and she held up her riding-skirt daintily as she turned away. "You didn't say goodby to Georgie," she reminded Grant, still making use of the chirpy tone. "I hope I am not in any way responsible."

"I don't see how you could be," said Good Indian calmly; and that, for some reason, seemed to intensify the atmosphere with which Evadna chose to surround herself.

She led Huckleberry up beside the store platform without giving Grant a chance to help, mounted, and started on while he was in after the package-a roll not more than eight inches long, and weighing at least four ounces, which brought an ironical smile to his lips. But she could not hope to outrun him on Huckleberry, even when Huckleberry's nose was turned toward home, and he therefore came clattering up before she had passed the straggling outpost of rusty tin cans which marked, by implication, the boundary line between Hartley and the sagebrush waste surrounding it.

"You seem to be in a good deal of a hurry," Good Indian observed.

"Not particularly," she replied, still chirpy as to tone and supercilious as to her manner.

It would be foolish to repeat all that was said during that ride home, because so much meaning was conveyed in tones and glances and in staring straight ahead and saying nothing. They were sparring politely before they were over the brow of the hill behind the town; they were indulging in veiled sarcasm-which came rapidly out from behind the veil and grew sharp and bitter-before they started down the dusty grade; they were not saying anything at all when they rounded the Point o' Rocks and held their horses rigidly back from racing home, as was their habit, and when they dismounted at the stable, they refused to look at each other upon any pretext whatsoever.

Baumberger, in his shirt-sleeves and smoking his big pipe, lounged up from the pasture gate where he had been indolently rubbing the nose of a buckskin two-year-old with an affectionate disposition, and wheezed out the information that it was warm. He got the chance to admire a very stiff pair of shoulders and a neck to match for his answer.

"I wasn't referring to your manner, m' son," he chuckled, after he had watched Good Indian jerk the latigo loose and pull off the saddle, showing the wet imprint of it on Keno's hide. "I wish the weather was as cool!"

Good Indian half turned with the saddle in his hands, and slapped it down upon its side so close to Baumberger that he took a hasty step backward, seized Keno's dragging bridle-reins, and started for the stable. Baumberger happened to be in the way, and he backed again, more hastily than before, to avoid being run over.

"Snow blind?" he interrogated, forcing a chuckle which had more the sound of a growl.

Good Indian stopped in the doorway, slipped off the bridle, gave Keno a hint by slapping him lightly on the rump, and when the horse had gone on into the cool shade of the stable, and taking his place in his stall, began hungrily nosing the hay in his manger, he came back to unsaddle Huckleberry, who was nodding sleepily with his under lip sagging much like Baumberger's while he waited. That gentleman seemed to be once more obstructing the path of Good Indian. He dodged back as Grant brushed past him.

"By the great immortal Jehosaphat!" swore Baumberger, with an ugly leer in his eyes, "I never knew before that I was so small I couldn't be seen with the naked eye!"

"You're so small in my estimation that a molecule would look like a hay-stack alongside you!" Good Indian lifted the skirt of Evadna's side-saddle, and proceeded calmly to loosen the cinch. His forehead smoothed a trifle, as if that one sentence had relieved him of some of his bottled bitterness.

"YOU ain't shrunk up none-in your estimation," Baumberger forgot his pose of tolerant good nature to say. His heavy jaw trembled as if he had been overtaken with a brief attack of palsy; so also did the hand which replaced his pipe between his loosely quivering lips. "That little yellow-haired witch must have given yuh the cold shoulder; but you needn't take it out on me. Had a quarrel?" He painstakingly brushed some ashes from his sleeve, once more the wheezing, chuckling fat man who never takes anything very seriously.

"Did you ever try minding your own business?" Grant inquired with much politeness of tone.

"We-e-ell, yuh see, m' son, it's my business to mind other people's business!" He chuckled at what he evidently considered a witty retort. "I've been pouring oil on the troubled waters all forenoon-maybe I've kinda got the habit."

"Only you're pouring it on a fire this time."

"That dangerous, yuh mean?"

"You're liable to start a conflagration you can't stop, and that may consume yourself, is all."

"Say, they sure do teach pretty talk in them colleges!" he purred, grinning loosely, his own speech purposely uncouth.

Good Indian turned upon him, stopped as quickly, and let his anger vent itself in a sneer. It had occurred to him that Baumberger was not goading him without purpose-because Baumberger was not that kind of man. Oddly enough, he had a short, vivid, mental picture of him and the look on his face when he was playing the trout; it seemed to him that there was something of that same cruel craftiness now in his eyes and around his mouth. Good Indian felt for one instant as if he were that trout, and Baumberger was playing him skillfully. "He's trying to make me let go all holds and tip my hand," he thought, keenly reading him, and he steadied himself.

"What d'yuh mean by me pouring oil on fire!" Baumberger urged banteringly. "Sounds like the hero talking to the villain in one of these here save-him-he's-my-sweetheart plays."

"You go to the devil," said Good Indian shortly.

"Don't repeat yourself, m' son; it's a sign uh failing powers. You said that to me this morning, remember? And-don't-get-excited!" His right arm raised slightly when he said that, as if he expected a blow for his answer.

Good Indian saw that involuntary arm movement, but he saw it from the tail of his eye, and he drew his lips a little tighter. Clearly Baumberger was deliberately trying to force him into a rage that would spend some of its force in threats, perhaps. He therefore grew cunningly calm, and said absolutely nothing. He led Huckleberry into the stable, came out, and shut the door, and walked past Baumberger as if he were not there at all. And Baumberger stood with his head lowered so that his flabby jaw was resting upon his chest, and stared frowningly after him until the yard gate swung shut behind his tall, stiffly erect figure.

"I gotta WATCH that jasper," he mumbled over his pipe, as a sort of summing up, and started slowly to the house. Halfway there he spoke again in the same mumbling undertone. "He's got the Injun look in his eyes t'-day. I gotta WATCH him."

He did watch him. It is astonishing how a family can live for months together, and not realize how little real privacy there is for anyone until something especial comes up for secret discussion. It struck Good Indian forcibly that afternoon, because he was anxious for a word in private with Peaceful, or with Phoebe, and also with Evadna-if it was only to continue their quarrel.

At dinner he could not speak without being heard by all. After dinner, the family showed an unconscious disposition to "bunch." Peaceful and Baumberger sat and smoked upon that part of the porch which was coolest, and the boys stayed close by so that they could hear what might be said about the amazing state of affairs down in the orchard.

Evadna, it is true, strolled rather self-consciously off to the head of the pond, carefully refraining, as she passed, from glancing toward Good Indian. He felt that she expected him to follow, but he wanted first to ask Peaceful a few questions, and to warn him not to trust Baumberger, so he stayed where he was, sprawled upon his back with a much-abused cushion under his head and his hat tilted over his face, so that he could see Baumberger's face without the scrutiny attracting notice.

He did not gain anything by staying, for Peaceful had little to say, seeming to be occupied mostly with dreamy meditations. He nodded, now and then, in response to Baumberger's rumbling monologues, and occasionally he removed his pipe from his mouth long enough to reply with a sentence where the nod was not sufficient. Baumberger droned on, mostly relating the details of cases he had won against long odds-cases for the most part similar to this claim-jumping business.

Nothing had been done that day, Grant gathered, beyond giving the eight claimants due notice to leave. The boys were evidently dissatisfied about something, though they said nothing. They shifted their positions with pettish frequency, and threw away cigarettes only half smoked, and scowled at dancing leaf-shadows on the ground.

When he could no longer endure the inaction, he rose, stretched his arms high above his head, settled his hat into place, gave Jack a glance of meaning, and went through the kitchen to the milk-house. He felt sure that Baumberger's ears were pricked toward the sound of his footsteps, and he made them purposely audible.

"Hello, Mother Hart," he called out cheerfully to Phoebe, pottering down in the coolness. "Any cream going to waste, or buttermilk, or cake?" He went down to her, and laid his hand upon her shoulder with a caressing touch which brought tears into her eyes. "Don't you worry a bit, little mother," he said softly. "I think we can beat them at their own game. They've stacked the deck, but we'll beat it, anyhow." His hand slid down to her arm, and gave it a little, reassuring squeeze.

"Oh, Grant, Grant!" She laid her forehead against him for a moment, then looked up at him with a certain whimsical solicitude. "Never mind our trouble now. What's this about you and Vadnie? The boys seem to think you two are going to make a match of it. And HAVE you been quarreling, you two? I only want," she added, deprec

atingly, "to see my biggest boy happy, and if I can do anything in any way to help-"

"You can't, except just don't worry when we get to scrapping." His eyes smiled down at her with their old, quizzical humor, which she had not seen in them for some days. "I foresee that we're due to scrap a good deal of the time," he predicted. "We're both pretty peppery. But we'll make out, all right. You didn't"-he blushed consciously-"you didn't think I was going to-to fall dead in love-"

"Didn't I?" Phoebe laughed at him openly. "I'd have been more surprised if you hadn't. Why, my grief! I know enough about human nature, I hope, to expect-"

"Churning?" The voice of Baumberger purred down to them. There he stood bulkily at the top of the steps, good-naturedly regarding them. "Mr. Hart and I are goin' to take a ride up to the station-gotta send a telegram or two about this little affair"-he made a motion with his pipe toward the orchard-"and I just thought a good, cold drink of buttermilk before we start wouldn't be bad." His glance just grazed Good Indian, and passed him over as being of no consequence.

"If you don't happen to have any handy, it don't matter in the least," he added, and turned to go when Phoebe shook her head. "Anything we can get for yuh at the store, Mrs. Hart? Won't be any trouble at all-Oh, all right." He had caught another shake of the head.

"We may be gone till supper-time," he explained further, "and I trust to your good sense, Mrs. Hart, to see that the boys keep away from those fellows down there." The pipe, and also his head, again indicated the men in the orchard. "We don't want any ill feeling stirred up, you understand, and so they'd better just keep away from 'em. They're good boys-they'll do as you say." He leered at her ingratiatingly, shot a keen, questioning look at Good Indian, and went his lumbering way.

Grant went to the top of the steps, and made sure that he had really gone before he said a word. Even then he sat down upon the edge of the stairway with his back to the pond, so that he could keep watch of the approaches to the spring-house; he had become an exceedingly suspicious young man overnight.

"Mother Hart, on the square, what do you think of Baumberger?" he asked her abruptly. "Come and sit down; I want to talk with you-if I can without having the whole of Idaho listening."

"Oh, Grant-I don't know what to think! He seems all right, and I don't know why he shouldn't be just what he seems; he's got the name of being a good lawyer. But something-well, I get notions about things sometimes. And I can't, somehow, feel just right about him taking up this jumping business. I don't know why. I guess it's just a feeling, because I can see you don't like him. And the boys don't seem to, either, for some reason. I guess it's because he won't let 'em get right after those fellows and drive 'em off the ranch. They've been uneasy as they could be all day." She sat down upon a rough stool just inside the door, and looked up at him with troubled eyes. "And I'm getting it, too-seems like I'd go all to pieces if I can't do SOMETHING!" She sighed, and tried to cover the sigh with a laugh-which was not, however, a great success. "I wish I could be as cool-headed as Thomas," she said, with a tinge of petulance. "It don't seem to worry him none!"

"What does he think of Baumberger? Is he going to let him take the case and handle it to please himself?" Good Indian was tapping his boot-toe thoughtfully upon the bottom step, and glancing up now and then as a precaution against being overheard.

"I guess so," she admitted, answering the last question first. "I haven't had a real good chance to talk to Thomas all day. Baumberger has been with him most of the time. But I guess he is; anyway, Baumberger seems to take it for granted he's got the case. Thomas hates to hurt anybody's feelings, and, even if he didn't want him, he'd hate to say so. But he's as good a lawyer as any, I guess. And Thomas seems to like him well enough. Thomas," she reminded Good Indian unnecessarily, "never does say much about anything."

"I'd like to get a chance to talk to him," Good Indian observed. "I'll have to just lead him off somewhere by main strength, I guess. Baumberger sticks to him like a bur to a dog's tail. What are those fellows doing down there now? Does anybody know?"

"You heard what he said to me just now," Phoebe said, impatiently. "He don't want anybody to go near. It's terribly aggravating," she confessed dispiritedly, "to have a lot of ruffians camped down, cool as you please, on your own ranch, and not be allowed to drive 'em off. I don't wonder the boys are all sulky. If Baumberger wasn't here at all, I guess we'd have got rid of 'em before now. I don't know as I think very much of lawyers, anyhow. I believe I'd a good deal rather fight first and go, to law about it afterward if I had to. But Thomas is so-CALM!"

"I think I'll go down and have a look," said Good Indian suddenly. "I'm not under Baumberger's orders, if the rest of the bunch is. And I wish you'd tell Peaceful I want to talk to him, Mother Hart-will you? Tell him to ditch his guardian angel somehow. I'd like to see him on the quiet if I can, but if I can't-"

"Can't be nice, and forgiving, and repentant, and-a dear?" Evadna had crept over to him by way of the rocks behind the pond, and at every pause in her questioning she pushed him forward by his two shoulders. "I'm so furious I could beat you! What do you mean, savage, by letting a lady stay all afternoon by herself, waiting for you to come and coax her into being nice to you? Don't you know I H-A-ATE you?" She had him by the ears, then, pulling his head erratically from side to side, and she finished by giving each ear a little slap and laid her arms around his neck. "Please don't look at me that way, Aunt Phoebe," she said, when she discovered her there inside the door. "Here's a horrible young villain who doesn't know how to behave, and makes me do all the making up. I don't like him one bit, and I just came to tell him so and be done. And I don't suppose," she added, holding her two hands tightly over his mouth, "he has a word to say for himself."

Since he was effectually gagged, Grant had not a word to say. Even when he had pulled her hands away and held them prisoners in his own, he said nothing. This was Evadna in a new and unaccountable mood, it seemed to him. She had certainly been very angry with him at noon. She had accused him, in that roundabout way which seems to be a woman's favorite method of reaching a real grievance, of being fickle and neglectful and inconsiderate and a brute.

The things she had said to him on the way down the grade had rankled in his mind, and stirred all the sullen pride in his nature to life, and he could not forget them as easily as she appeared to have done. Good Indian was not in the habit of saying things, even in anger, which he did not mean, and he could not understand how anyone else could do so. And the things she had said!

But here she was, nevertheless, laughing at him and blushing adorably because he still held her fast, and making the blood of him race most unreasonably.

"Don't scold me, Aunt Phoebe," she begged, perhaps because there was something in Phoebe's face which she did not quite understand, and so mistook for disapproval of her behavior. "I should have told you last night that we're-well, I SUPPOSE we're supposed to be engaged!" She twisted her hands away from him, and came down the steps to her aunt. "It all happened so unexpectedly-really, I never dreamed I cared anything for him, Aunt Phoebe, until he made me care. And last night I couldn't tell you, and this morning I was going to, but all this horrible trouble came up-and, anyway," she finished with a flash of pretty indignation, "I think Grant might have told you himself! I don't think it's a bit nice of him to leave everything like that for me. He might have told you before he went chasing off to-to Hartley." She put her arms around her aunt's neck. "You aren't angry, are you, Aunt Phoebe?" she coaxed. "You-you know you said you wanted me to be par-TIC-ularly nice to Grant!"

"Great grief, child! You needn't choke me to death. Of course I'm not angry." But Phoebe's eyes did not brighten.

"You look angry," Evadna pouted, and kissed her placatingly.

"I've got plenty to be worked up over, without worrying over your love affairs, Vadnie." Phoebe's eyes sought Grant's anxiously. "I don't doubt but what it's more important to you than anything else on earth, but I'm thinking some of the home I'm likely to lose."

Evadna drew back, and made a movement to go.

"Oh, I'm sorry I interrupted you then, Aunt Phoebe. I suppose you and Grant were busy discussing those men in the orchard-"

"Don't be silly, child. You aren't interrupting anybody, and there's no call for you to run off like that. We aren't talking secrets that I know of."

In some respects the mind of Good Indian was extremely simple and direct. His knowledge of women was rudimentary and based largely upon his instincts rather than any experience he had had with them. He had been extremely uncomfortable in the knowledge that Evadna was angry, and strongly impelled, in spite of his hurt pride, to make overtures for peace. He was puzzled, as well as surprised, when she seized him by the shoulders and herself made peace so bewitchingly that he could scarcely realize it at first. But since fate was kind, and his lady love no longer frowned upon him, he made the mistake of taking it for granted she neither asked nor expected him to explain his seeming neglect of her and his visit to Miss Georgie at Hartley.

She was not angry with him. Therefore, he was free to turn his whole attention to this trouble which had come upon his closest friends. He reached out, caught Evadna by the hand, pulled her close to him, and smiled upon her in a way to make her catch her breath in a most unaccountable manner.

But he did not say anything to her; he was a young man unused to dalliance when there were serious things at hand.

"I'm going down there and see what they're up to," he told Phoebe, giving Evadna's hand a squeeze and letting it go. "I suspect there's something more than keeping the peace behind Baumberger's anxiety to have them left strictly alone. The boys had better keep away, though."

"Are you going down in the orchard?" Evadna rounded her unbelievably blue eyes at him. "Then I'm going along."

"You'll do nothing of the kind, little Miss Muffit," he declared from the top step.

"Why not?"

"I might want to do some swearing." He grinned down at her, and started off.

"Now, Grant, don't you do anything rash!" Phoebe called after him sharply.

"'Don't-get-excited!'" he retorted, mimicking Baumberger.

"I'm going a little way, whether you want me to or not," Evadna threatened, pouting more than ever.

She did go as far as the porch with him, and was kissed and sent back like a child. She did not, however, go back to her aunt, but ran into her own room, where she could look out through the grove toward the orchard-and to the stable as well, though that view did not interest her particularly at first. It was pure accident that made her witness what took place at the gate.

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