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   Chapter 17 A LITTLE TARGET-PRACTICE

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 18828

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


A grimy buck with no hat of any sort and with his hair straggling unbraided over one side of his face to conceal a tumor which grew just over his left eye like a large, ripe plum, stood outside the gate, in doubt whether to enter or remain where he was. When he saw Good Indian he grunted, fumbled in his blanket, and held out a yellowish envelope.

"Ketchum Squaw-talk-far-off," he explained gutturally.

Good Indian took the envelope, thinking it must be a telegram, though he could not imagine who would be sending him one. His name was written plainly upon the outside, and within was a short note scrawled upon a telegraph form:

"Come up as soon as you possibly can. I've something to tell you."

That was what she had written. He read it twice before he looked up.

"What time you ketchum this?" he asked, tapping the message with his finger.

"Mebbyso one hour." The buck pulled a brass watch ostentatiously from under his blanket, held it to his ear a moment, as if he needed auricular assurance that it was running properly, and pointed to the hour of three. "Ketchum one dolla, mebbyso pikeway quick. No stoppum," he said virtuously.

"You see Peaceful in Hartley?" Good Indian asked the question from an idle impulse; in reality, he was wondering what it was that Miss Georgie had to tell him.

"Peacefu', him go far off. On train. All same heap fat man go 'long. Mebbyso Shoshone, mebbyso Pocatello."

Good Indian looked down at the note, and frowned; that, probably, was what she had meant to tell him, though he could not see where the knowledge was going to help him any. If Peaceful had gone to Shoshone, he was gone, and that settled it. Undoubtedly he would return the next day-perhaps that night, even. He was beginning to feel the need of a quiet hour in which to study the tangle, but he had a suspicion that Baumberger had some reason other than a desire for peace in wanting the jumpers left to themselves, and he started toward the orchard, as he had at first intended.

"Mebbyso ketchum one dolla, yo'," hinted Charlie, the buck.

But Good Indian went on without paying any attention to him. At the road he met Jack and Wally, just returning from the orchard.

"No use going down there," Jack informed him sulkily. "They're just laying in the shade with their guns handy, doing nothing. They won't let anybody cross their line, and they won't say anything-not even when you cuss 'em. Wally and I got black in the face trying to make them come alive. Baumberger got back yet? Wally and I have got a scheme-"

"He and your dad took the train for Shoshone. Say, does anyone know what that bunch over in the meadow is up to?" Good Indian leaned his back against a tree, and eyed the two morosely.

"Clark and Gene are over there," said Wally. "But I'd gamble they aren't doing any more than these fellows are. They haven't started to pan out any dirt-they haven't done a thing, it looks like, but lay around in the shade. I must say I don't sabe their play. And the worst of it is," he added desperately, "a fellow can't do anything."

"I'm going to break out pretty darned sudden," Jack observed calmly. "I feel it coming on." He smiled, but there was a look of steel in his eyes.

Good Indian glanced at him sharply.

"Now, you fellows' listen to me," he said. "This thing is partly my fault. I could have prevented it, maybe, if I hadn't been so taken up with my own affairs. Old Peppajee told me Baumberger was up to some devilment when he first came down here. He heard him talking to Saunders in Pete Hamilton's stable. And the first night he was here, Peppajee and I saw him down at the stable at midnight, talking to someone. Peppajee kept on his trail till he got that snake bite, and he warned me a plenty. But I didn't take much stock in it-or if I did-" He lifted his shoulders expressively.

"So," he went on, after a minute of bitter thinking, "I want you to keep out of this. You know how your mother would feel-You don't want to get foolish. You can keep an eye on them-to-night especially. I've an idea they're waiting for dark; and if I knew why, I'd be a lot to the good. And if I knew why old Baumberger took your father off so suddenly, why-I'd be wiser than I am now." He lifted his hat, brushed the moisture from his forehead, and gave a grunt of disapproval when his eyes rested on Jack.

"What yuh loaded down like that for?" he demanded. "You fellows better put those guns in cold storage. I'm like Baumberger in one respect-we don't want any violence!" He grinned without any feeling of mirth.

"Something else is liable to be put in cold storage first," Wally hinted, significantly. "I must say I like this standing around and looking dangerous, without making a pass! I wish something would break loose somewhere."

"I notice you're packing yours, large as life," Jack pointed out. "Maybe you're just wearing it for an ornament, though."

"Sure!" Good Indian, feeling all at once the utter futility of standing there talking, left them grumbling over their forced inaction, without explaining where he was going, or what he meant to do. Indeed, he scarcely knew himself. He was in that uncomfortable state of mind where one feels that one must do something, without having the faintest idea of what that something is, or how it is to be done. It seemed to him that they were all in the same mental befuddlement, and it seemed impossible to stay on the ranch another hour without making a hostile move of some sort-and he knew that, when he did make a move, he at least ought to know why he did it.

The note in his pocket gave him an excuse for action of some sort, even though he felt sure that nothing would come of it; at least, he thought, he would have a chance to discuss the thing with Miss Georgie again-and while he was not a man who must have everything put into words, he had found comfort and a certain clarity of thought in talking with her.

"Why don't you invite me to go along?" Evadna challenged from the gate, when he was ready to start. She laughed when she said it, but there was something beneath the laughter, if he had only been close enough to read it.

"I didn't think you'd want to ride through all that dust and heat again to-day," he called back. "You're better off in the shade."

"Going to call on 'Squaw-talk-far-off'-AGAIN?" She was still laughing, with something else beneath the laugh.

He glanced at her quickly, wondering where she had gotten the name, and in his wonder neglected to make audible reply. Also he passed over the change to ride back to the gate and tell her good-by-with a hasty kiss, perhaps, from the saddle-as a lover should have done.

He was not used to love-making. For him, it was settled that they loved each other, and would marry some day-he hoped the day would be soon. It did not occur to him that a girl wants to be told over and over that she is the only woman in the whole world worth a second thought or glance; nor that he should stop and say just where he was going, and what he meant to do, and how reluctant he was to be away from her. Trouble sat upon his mind like a dead weight, and dulled his perception, perhaps. He waved his hand to her from the stable, and galloped down the trail to the Point o' Rocks, and his mind, so far as Evadna was concerned, was at ease.

Evadna, however, was crying, with her arms folded upon the top of the gate, before the cloud which marked his passing had begun to sprinkle the gaunt, gray sagebushes along the trail with a fresh layer of choking dust. Jack and Wally came up, scowling at the world and finding no words to match their gloom. Wally gave her a glance, and went on to the blacksmith shop, but Jack went straight up to her, for he liked her well.

"What's the matter?" he asked dully. "Mad because you can't smoke up the ranch?"

Evadna fumbled blindly for her handkerchief, scoured her eyes well when she found it, and put up the other hand to further shield her face.

"Oh, the whole place is like a GRAVEYARD," she complained. "Nobody will talk, or do anything but just wander around! I just can't STAND it!" Which was not frank of her.

"It's too hot to do much of anything," he said apologetically. "We might take a ride, if you don't mind the heat."

"You don't want to ride," she objected petulantly. "Why didn't you go with Good Indian?" he countered.

"Because I didn't want to. And I do wish you'd quit calling him that; he has a real name, I believe."

"If you're looking for a scrap," grinned Jack, "I'll stake you to my six gun, and you can go down and kill off a few of those claim-jumpers. You seem to be in just about the proper frame uh mind to murder the whole bunch. Fly at it!"

"It begins to look as if we women would have to do something," she retorted cruelly. "There doesn't seem to be a man on the ranch with spirit enough to stop them from digging up the whole-"

"I guess that'll be about enough," Jack interrupted her, coldly. "Why didn't you say that to Good Indian?"

"I told you not to call him that. I don't see why everybody is so mean to-day. There isn't a person-"

When Jack laughed, he shut his eyes until he looked through narrow slits under heavy lashes, and showed some very nice teeth, and two deep dimples besides the one which always stood in his chin. He laughed then, for the first time that day, and if Evadna had be

en in a less vixenish temper she would have laughed with him just as everyone else always did. But instead of that, she began to cry again, which made Jack feel very much a brute.

"Oh, come on and be good," he urged remorsefully. But Evadna turned and ran back into the house and into her room, and cried luxuriously into her pillow. Jack, peeping in at the window which opened upon the porch, saw her there, huddled upon the bed.

In the spring-house his mother sat crying silently over her helplessness, and failed to respond to his comforting pats upon the shoulder. Donny struck at him viciously when Jack asked him an idle question, and Charlie, the Indian with the tumor over his eye, scowled from the corner of the house where he was squatting until someone offered him fruit, or food, or tobacco. He was of an acquisitive nature, was Charlie-and the road to his favor must be paved with gifts.

"This is what I call hell," Jack stated aloud, and went straight away to the strawberry patch, took up his stand with his toes against Stanley's corner stake, cursed him methodically until he had quite exhausted his vocabulary, and put a period to his forceful remarks by shooting a neat, round hole through Stanley's coffee-pot. And Jack was the mild one of the family.

By the time he had succeeded in puncturing recklessly the frying-pan, and also the battered pan in which Stanley no doubt meant to wash his samples of soil, his good humor returned. So also did the other boys, running in long leaps through the garden and arriving at the spot very belligerent and very much out of breath.

"Got to do something to pass away the time," Jack grinned, bringing his front sight once more to bear upon the coffee-pot, already badly dented and showing three black holes. "And I ain't offering any violence to anybody. You can't hang a man, Mr. Stanley, for shooting up a frying-pan. And I wouldn't-hurt-you-for-anything!" He had just reloaded, so that his bullets saw him to the end of the sentence.

Stanley watched his coffee-pot dance and roll like a thing in pain, and swore when all was done. But he did not shoot, though one could see how his fingers must itch for the feel of the trigger.

"Your old dad will sweat blood for this-and you'll be packing your blanket on your back and looking for work before snow flies," was his way of summing up.

Still, he did not shoot.

It was like throwing pebbles at the bowlder in the Malad, the day before.

When Phoebe came running in terror toward the fusillade, with Marie and her swollen face, and Evadna and her red eyes following in great trepidation far behind, they found four claim-jumpers purple from long swearing, and the boys gleefully indulging in revolver practice with various camp utensils for the targets.

They stopped when their belts were empty as well as their guns, and they went back to the house with the women, feeling much better. Afterward they searched the house for more "shells," clattering from room to room, and looking into cigar boxes and upon out-of-the-way shelves, while Phoebe expostulated in the immediate background.

"Your father would put a stop to it pretty quick if he was here," she declared over and over. "Just because they didn't shoot back this time is no sign they won't next time you boys go to hectoring them." All the while she knew she was wasting her breath, and she had a secret fear that her manner and her tones were unconvincing. If she had been a man, she would have been their leader, perhaps. So she retreated at last to her favorite refuge, the milk-house, and tried to cover her secret approval with grumbling to herself.

There was a lull in the house. The boys, it transpired, had gone in a body to Hartley after more cartridges, and the cloud of dust which hovered long over the trail testified to their haste. They returned surprisingly soon, and they would scarcely wait for their supper before they hurried back through the garden. One would think that they were on their way to a dance, so eager they were.

They dug themselves trenches in various parts of the garden, laid themselves gleefully upon their stomachs, and proceeded to exchange, at the top of their strong, young voices, ideas upon the subject of claim-jumping, and to punctuate their remarks with leaden periods planted neatly and with precision in the immediate vicinity of one of the four.

They had some trouble with Donny, because he was always jumping up that he might yell the louder when one of the enemy was seen to step about uneasily whenever a bullet pinged closer than usual, and the rifles began to bark viciously now and then. It really was unsafe for one to dance a clog, with flapping arms and taunting laughter, within range of those rises, and they told Donny so.

They ordered him back to the house; they threw clods of earth at his bare legs; they threatened and they swore, but it was not until Wally got him by the collar and shook him with brotherly thoroughness that Donny retreated in great indignation to the house.

They were just giving themselves wholly up to the sport of sending little spurts of loose earth into the air as close as was safe to Stanley, and still much too close for his peace of mind or that of his fellows, when Donny returned unexpectedly with the shotgun and an enthusiasm for real bloodshed.

He fired once from the thicket of currant bushes, and, from the remarks which Stanley barked out in yelping staccato, he punctured that gentleman's person in several places with the fine shot of which the charge consisted. He would have fired again if the recoil had not thrown him quite off his balance, and it is possible that someone would have been killed as a result. For Stanley began firing with murderous intent, and only the dusk and Good Indian's opportune arrival prevented serious trouble.

Good Indian had talked long with Miss Georgie, and had agreed with her that, for the present at least, there must be no violence. He had promised her flatly that he would do all in his power to keep the peace, and he had gone again to the Indian camp to see if Peppajee or some of his fellows could give him any information about Saunders.

Saunders had disappeared unaccountably, after a surreptitious conference with Baumberger the day before, and it was that which Miss Georgie had to tell him. Saunders was in the habit of sleeping late, so that she did not know until noon that he was gone. Pete was worried, and garrulously feared the worst. The worst, according to Pete Hamilton, was sudden death of a hemorrhage.

Miss Georgie asserted unfeelingly that Saunders was more in danger of dying from sheer laziness than of consumption, and she even went so far as to hint cynically, that even his laziness was largely hypocritical.

"I don't believe there's a single honest thing about the fellow," she said to Good Indian. "When he coughs, it sounds as if he just did it for effect. When he lies in the shade asleep, I've seen him watching people from under his lids. When he reads, his ears seem always pricked up to hear everything that's going on, and he gives those nasty little slanty looks at everybody within sight. I don't believe he's really gone-because I can't imagine him being really anything. But I do believe he's up to something mean and sneaky, and, since Peppajee has taken this matter to heart, maybe he can find out something. I think you ought to go and see him, anyway, Mr. Imsen."

So Good Indian had gone to the Indian camp, and had afterward ridden along the rim of the bluff, because Sleeping Turtle had seen someone walking through the sagebrush in that direction. From the rim-rock above the ranch, Good Indian had heard the shooting, though the trees hid from his sight what was taking place, and he had given over his search for Saunders and made haste to reach home.

He might have gone straight down the bluff afoot, through a rift in the rim-rock where it was possible to climb down into the fissure and squeeze out through a narrow opening to the bowlder-piled bluff. But that took almost as much time as he would consume in riding around, and so he galloped back to the grade and went down at a pace to break his neck and that of Keno as well if his horse stumbled.

He reached home in time to see Donny run across the road with the shotgun, and the orchard in time to prevent a general rush upon Stanley and his fellows-which was fortunate. He got them all out of the garden and into the house by sheer determination and biting sarcasm, and bore with surprising patience their angry upbraidings. He sat stoically silent while they called him a coward and various other things which were unpleasant in the extreme, and he even smiled when they finally desisted and trailed off sullenly to bed.

But when they were gone he sat alone upon the porch, brooding over the day and all it had held of trouble and perplexity. Evadna appeared tentatively in the open door, stood there for a minute or two waiting for some overture upon his part, gave him a chilly good-night when she realized he was not even thinking of her, and left him. So great was his absorption that he let her go, and it never occurred to him that she might possibly consider herself ill-used. He would have been distressed if he could have known how she cried herself to sleep but, manlike, he would also have been puzzled.

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