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   Chapter 18 A SHOT FROM THE RIM-ROCK

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 21910

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Good Indian was going to the stable to feed the horses next morning, when something whined past him and spatted viciously against the side of the chicken-house. Immediately afterward he thought he heard the sharp crack which a rifle makes, but the wind was blowing strongly up the valley, and he could not be sure.

He went over to the chicken-house, probed with his knife-blade into the plank where was the splintered hole, and located a bullet. He was turning it curiously in his fingers when another one plunked into the boards, three feet to one side of him; this time he was sure of the gun-sound, and he also saw a puff of blue smoke rise up on the rim-rock above him. He marked the place instinctively with his eyes, and went on to the stable, stepping rather more quickly than was his habit.

Inside, he sat down upon the oats-box, and meditated upon what he should do. He could not even guess at his assailant, much less reach him. A dozen men could be picked off by a rifle in the hands of one at the top, while they were climbing that bluff.

Even if one succeeded in reaching the foot of the rim-rock, there was a forty-foot wall of unscalable rock, with just the one narrow fissure where it was possible to climb up to the level above, by using both hands to cling to certain sharp projections while the feet sought a niche here and there in the wall. Easy enough-if one were but left to climb in peace, but absolutely suicidal if an enemy stood above.

He scowled through the little paneless window at what he could see of the bluff, and thought of the mile-long grade to be climbed and the rough stretch of lava rock, sage, and scattered bowlders to be gone over before one could reach the place upon a horse. Whoever was up there, he would have more than enough time to get completely away from the spot before it would be possible to gain so much as a glimpse of him.

And who could he be? And why was he shooting at Good Indian, so far a non-combatant, guiltless of even firing a single shot since the trouble began?

Wally came in, his hat far back on his head, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and his manner an odd mixture of conciliation and defiance, ready to assume either whole-heartedly at the first word from the man he had cursed so unstintingly before he slept. He looked at Good Indian, caught sight of the leaden pellet he was thoughtfully turning round and round in his fingers, and chose to ignore for the moment any unpleasantness in their immediate past.

"Where you ketchum?" he asked, coming a bit closer.

"In the side of the chicken-house." Good Indian's tone was laconic.

Wally reached out, and took the bullet from him that he might juggle it curiously in his own fingers. "I don't think!" he scouted.

"There's another one there to match this," Good Indian stated calmly, "and if I should walk over there after it, I'll gamble there'd be more."

Wally dropped the flattened bullet, stooped, and groped for it in the litter on the floor, and when he had found it he eyed it more curiously than before. But he would have died in his tracks rather than ask a question.

"Didn't anybody take a shot at you, as you came from the house?" Good Indian asked when he saw the mood of the other.

"If he did, he was careful not to let me find it out." Wally's expression hardened.

"He was more careless a while ago," said Good Indian. "Some fellow up on the bluff sent me a little morning salute. But," he added slowly, and with some satisfaction, "he's a mighty poor shot."

Jack sauntered in much as Wally had done, saw Good Indian sitting there, and wrinkled his eyes shut in a smile.

"Please, sir, I never meant a word I said!" he began, with exaggerated trepidation. "Why the dickens didn't you murder the whole yapping bunch of us, Grant?" He clapped his hand affectionately upon the other's shoulder. "We kinda run amuck yesterday afternoon," he confessed cheerfully, "but it sure was fun while it lasted!"

"There's liable to be some more fun of the same kind," Wally informed him shortly. "Good Injun says someone on the bluff took a shot at him when he was coming to the stable. If any of them jumpers-"

"It's easy to find out if it was one of them," Grant cut in, as if the idea had just come to him. "We can very soon see if they're all on their little patch of soil. Let's go take a look."

They went out guardedly, their eyes upon the rim-rock. Good Indian led the way through the corral, into the little pasture, and across that to where the long wall of giant poplars shut off the view.

"I admire courage," he grinned, "but I sure do hate a fool." Which was all the explanation he made for the detour that hid them from sight of anyone stationed upon the bluff, except while they were passing from the stable-door to the corral; and that, Jack said afterward, didn't take all day.

Coming up from the rear, they surprised Stanley and one other peacefully boiling coffee in a lard pail which they must have stolen in the night from the ranch junk heap behind the blacksmith shop. The three peered out at them from a distant ambush, made sure that there were only two men there, and went on to the disputed part of the meadows. There the four were pottering about, craning necks now and then toward the ranch buildings as if they half feared an assault of some kind. Good Indian led the way back to the stable.

"If there was any way of getting around up there without being seen," he began thoughtfully, "but there isn't. And while I think of it," he added, "we don't want to let the women know about this."

"They're liable to suspect something," Wally reminded dryly, "if one of us gets laid out cold."

Good Indian laughed. "It doesn't look as if he could hit anything smaller than a haystack. And anyway, I think I'm the boy he's after, though I don't see why. I haven't done a thing-yet."

"Let's feed the horses and then pace along to the house, one at a time, and find out," was Jack's reckless suggestion. "Anybody that knows us at all can easy tell which is who. And I guess it would be tolerably safe."

Foolhardy as the thing looked to be, they did it, each after his own manner of facing a known danger. Jack went first because, as he said, it was his idea, and he was willing to show his heart was in the right place. He rolled and lighted a cigarette, wrinkled his eyes shut in a laugh, and strolled nonchalantly out of the stable.

"Keep an eye on the rim-rock, boys," he called back, without turning his head. A third of the way he went, stopped dead still, and made believe inspect something upon the ground at his feet.

"Ah, go ON!" bawled Wally, his nerves all on edge.

Jack dug his heel into the dust, blew the ashes from his cigarette, and went on slowly to the gate, passed through, and stood well back, out of sight under the trees, to watch.

Wally snorted disdain of any proceeding so spectacular, but he was as he was made, and he could not keep his dare-devil spirit quite in abeyance. He twitched his hat farther back on his head, stuck his hands deep into his pockets, and walked deliberately out into the open, his neck as stiff as a newly elected politician on parade. He did not stop, as Jack had done, but he facetiously whistled "Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching," and he went at a pace which permitted him to finish the tune before he reached the gate. He joined Jack in the shade, and his face, when he looked back to the stable, was anxious.

"It must be Grant he wants, all right," he muttered, resting one hand on Jack's shoulder and speaking so he could not be overheard from the house. "And I wish to the Lord he'd stay where he's at."

But Good Indian was already two paces from the door, coming steadily up the path, neither faster nor slower than usual, with his eyes taking in every object within sight as he went, and his thumb hooked inside his belt, near where his gun swung at his hip. It was not until his free hand was upon the gate that lack and Wally knew they had been holding their breath.

"Well-here I am," said Good Indian, after a minute, smiling down at them with the sunny look in his eyes. "I'm beginning to think I had a dream. Only"-he dipped his fingers into the pocket of his shirt and brought up the flattened bullet-"that is pretty blamed realistic-for a dream." His eyes searched involuntarily the rim-rock with a certain incredulity, as if he could not bring himself to believe in that bullet, after all.

"But two of the jumpers are gone," said Wally. "I reckon we stirred 'em up some yesterday, and they're trying to get back at us."

"They've picked a dandy place," Good Indian observed. "I think maybe it would be a good idea to hold that fort ourselves. We should have thought of that; only I never thought-"

Phoebe, heavy-eyed and pale from wakefulness and worry, came then, and called them in to breakfast. Gene and Clark came in, sulky still, and inclined to snappishness when they did speak. Donny announced that he had been in the garden, and that Stanley told him he would blow the top of his head off if he saw him there again. "And I never done a thing to him!" he declared virtuously.

Phoebe set down the coffee-pot with an air of decision.

"I want you boys to remember one thing," she said firmly, "and that is that there must be no more shooting going on around here. It isn't only what Baumberger thinks-I don't know as ho's got anything to say about it-it's what I think. I know I'm only a woman, and you all consider yourselves men, whether you are or not, and it's beneath your dignity, maybe, to listen to your mother.

"But your mother has seen the day when she was counted on as much, almost, as if she'd been a man. Why, great grief! I've stood for hours peeking out a knot-hole in the wall, with that same old shotgun Donny got hold of, ready to shoot the first Injun that stuck his nose from behind a rock."

The color came into her cheeks at the memory, and a sparkle into her eyes. "I've seen real fighting, when it was a life-and-death matter. I've tended to the men that were shot before my eyes, and I've sung hymns over them that died. You boys have grown up on some of the stories about the things I've been through.

"And here last night," she reproached irritatedly, "I heard someone say: 'Oh, come on-we're scaring Mum to death!' The idea! 'scaring Mum!' I can tell you young jackanapes one thing: If I thought there was anything to be gained by it, or if it would save trouble instead of MAKING trouble, 'MUM' could go down there right now, old as she is, and SCARED as she is, and clean out the whole, measly outfit!" She stared sternly at the row of faces bent over their plates.

"Oh, you can laugh-it's only your mother!" she exclaimed indignantly, when she saw Jack's eyes go shut and Gene's mouth pucker into a tight knot. "But I'll have you to know I'm boss of this ranch when your fa

ther's gone, and if there's any more of that kid foolishness to-day-laying behind a currant bush and shooting COFFEE-POTS!-I'll thrash the fellow that starts it! It isn't the kind of fighting I'VE been used to. I may be away behind the times-I guess I am!-but I've always been used to the idea that guns weren't to be used unless you meant business. This thing of getting out and PLAYING gun-fight is kinda sickening to a person that's seen the real thing.

"'Scaring Mum to death!"' She seemed to find it very hard to forget that, or to forgive it. "'SCARING MUM'-and Jack, there, was born in the time of an Indian uprising, and I laid with your father's revolver on the pillow where I could put my hand on it, day or night! YOU scare Mum! MUM will scare YOU, if there's any more of that let's-play-Injun business going on around this ranch. Why, I'd lead you down there by the ear, every mother's son of you, and tell that man Stanley to SPANK you!"

"Mum can whip her weight in wildcats any old time," Wally announced after a heavy silence, and glared aggressively from one foolish-looking face to another.

As was frequently the case, the wave of Phoebe's wrath ebbed harmlessly away in laughter as the humorous aspect of her tirade was brought to her attention.

"Just the same, I want you should mind what I tell you," she said, in her old motherly tone, "and keep away from those ruffians down there. You can't do anything but make 'em mad, and give 'em an excuse for killing someone. When your father gets back, we'll see what's to be done."

"All right, Mum. We won't look toward the garden to-day," Wally promised largely, and held out his cup to her to be refilled. "You can keep my gun, if you want to make dead sure."

"No, I can trust my boys, I hope," and she glowed with real pride in them when she said it.

Good Indian lingered on the porch for half an hour or so, waiting for Evadna to appear. She may have seen him through the window-at any rate she slipped out very quietly, and had her breakfast half eaten before he suspected that she was up; and when he went into the kitchen, she was talking animatedly with Marie about Mexican drawn-work, and was drawing intricate little diagrams of certain patterns with her fork upon the tablecloth.

She looked up, and gave him a careless greeting, and went back to discussing certain "wheels" in the corner of an imaginary lunch-cloth and just how one went about making them. He made a tentative remark or two, trying to win her attention to himself, but she pushed her cup and saucer aside to make room for further fork drawings, and glanced at him with her most exaggerated Christmas-angel look.

"Don't interrupt, please," she said mincingly. "This is IMPORTANT. And," she troubled to explain, "I'm really in a hurry, because I'm going to help Aunt Phoebe make strawberry jam."

If she thought that would fix his determination to remain and have her to himself for a few minutes, she was mistaken in her man. Good Indian turned on his heel, and went out with his chin in the air, and found that Gene and Clark had gone off to the meadow, with Donny an unwelcome attendant, and that Wally and Jack were keeping the dust moving between the gate and the stable, trying to tempt a shot from the bluff. They were much inclined to be skeptical regarding the bullet which Good Indian carried in his breast-pocket.

"WE can't raise anybody," Wally told him disgustedly, "and I've made three round trips myself. I'm going to quit fooling around, and go to work."

Whether he did or not, Good Indian did not wait to prove. He did not say anything, either, about his own plans. He was hurt most unreasonably because of Evadna's behavior, and he felt as if he were groping about blindfolded so far as the Hart trouble was concerned. There must be something to do, but he could not see what it was. It reminded him oddly of when he sat down with his algebra open before him, and scowled at a problem where the x y z's seemed to be sprinkled through it with a diabolical frequency, and there was no visible means of discovering what the unknown quantities could possibly be.

He saddled Keno, and rode away in that silent preoccupation which the boys called the sulks for want of a better understanding of it. As a matter of fact, he was trying to put Evadna out of his mind for the present, so that he could think clearly of what he ought to do. He glanced often up at the rim-rock as he rode slowly to the Point o' Rocks, and when he was halfway to the turn he thought he saw something moving up there.

He pulled up to make sure, and a little blue ball puffed out like a child's balloon, burst, and dissipated itself in a thin, trailing ribbon, which the wind caught and swept to nothing. At the same time something spatted into the trail ahead of him, sending up a little spurt of fine sand.

Keno started, perked up his ears toward the place, and went on, stepping gingerly. Good Indian's lips drew back, showing his teeth set tightly together. "Still at it, eh?" he muttered aloud, pricked Keno's flanks with his rowels, and galloped around the Point.

There, for the time being, he was safe. Unless the shooter upon the rim-rock was mounted, he must travel swiftly indeed to reach again a point within range of the grade road before Good Indian would pass out of sight again. For the trail wound in and out, looping back upon itself where the hill was oversleep, hidden part of the time from the receding wall of rock by huge bowlders and giant sage.

Grant knew that he was safe from that quarter, and was wondering whether he ought to ride up along the top of the bluff before going to Hartley, as he had intended.

He had almost reached the level, and was passing a steep, narrow, little gully choked with rocks, when something started up so close beside him that Keno ducked away and squatted almost upon his haunches. His gun was in his hand, and his finger crooked upon the trigger, when a voice he faintly recognized called to him softly:

"Yo' no shoot-no shoot-me no hurtum. All time yo' frien'." She stood trembling beside the trail, a gay, plaid shawl about her shoulders in place of the usual blanket, her hair braided smoothly with bright, red ribbons entwined through it. Her dress was a plain slip of bright calico, which had four-inch roses, very briery and each with a gaudy butterfly poised upon the topmost petals running over it in an inextricable tangle. Beaded moccasins were on her feet, and her eyes were frightened eyes, with the wistfulness of a timid animal. Yet she did not seem to be afraid of Good Indian.

"I sorry I scare yo' horse," she said hesitatingly, speaking better English than before. "I heap hurry to get here. I speak with yo'."

"Well, what is it?" Good Indian's tone was not as brusque as his words; indeed, he spoke very gently, for him. This was the good-looking young squaw he had seen at the Indian camp. "What's your name?" he asked, remembering suddenly that he had never heard it.

"Rachel. Peppajee, he my uncle." She glanced up at him shyly, then down to where the pliant toe of her moccasin was patting a tiny depression into the dust. "Bad mans like for shoot yo'," she said, not looking directly at him again. "Him up there, all time walk where him can look down, mebbyso see you, mebbyso shootum."

"I know-I'm going to ride around that way and round him up." Unconsciously his manner had the arrogance of strength and power to do as he wished, which belongs to healthy young males.

"N-o, no-o!" She drew a sharp breath "o' no good there! Dim shoot yo'. Yo' no go! Ah-h-I sorry I tellum yo' now. Bad mans, him. I watch, I take care him no shoot. Him shoot, mebbyso I shoot!"

With a little laugh that was more a plea for gentle judgment than anything else, she raised the plaid shawl, and gave him a glimpse of a rather battered revolver, cheap when it was new and obviously well past its prime.

"I want yo'-" she hesitated; "I want yo'-be heap careful. I want yo' no ride close by hill. Ride far out!" She made a sweeping gesture toward the valley. "All time I watch."

He was staring at her in a puzzled way. She was handsome, after her wild, half-civilized type, and her anxiety for his welfare touched him and besought his interest.

"Indians go far down-" She swept her arm down the narrowing river valley. "Catch fish. Peppajee stay-no can walk far. I stay. All go, mebbyso stay five days." Her hand lifted involuntarily to mark the number.

He did not know why she told him all that, and he could not learn from her anything about his assailant. She had been walking along the bluff, he gathered-though why, she failed to make clear to him. She had, from a distance, caught a glimpse of a man watching the valley beneath him. She had seen him raise a rifle, take long aim, and shoot-and she had known that he was shooting at Good Indian.

When he asked her the second time what was her errand up there-whether she was following the man, or had suspected that he would be there-she shook her head vaguely and took refuge behind the stolidity of her race.

In spite of her pleading, he put his horse to scrambling up the first slope which it was possible to climb, and spent an hour riding, gun in hand, along the rim of the bluff, much as he had searched it the evening before.

But there was nothing alive that he could discover, except a hawk which lifted itself languorously off a high, sharp rock, and flapped lazily out across the valley when he drew near. The man with the rifle had disappeared as completely as if he had never been there, and there was not one chance in a hundred of hunting him out, in all that rough jumble.

When he was turning back at last toward Hartley, he saw Rachel for a moment standing out against the deep blue of the sky, upon the very rim of the bluff. He waved a hand to her, but she gave no sign; only, for some reason, he felt that she was watching him ride away, and he had a brief, vagrant memory of the wistfulness he had seen in her eyes.

On the heels of that came a vision of Evadna swinging in the hammock which hung between the two locust trees, and he longed unutterably to be with her there. He would be, he promised himself, within the next hour or so, and set his pace in accordance with his desire, resolved to make short work of his investigations in Hartley and his discussion of late events with Miss Georgie.

He had not, it seemed to him, had more than two minutes with Evadna since that evening of rapturous memory when they rode home together from the Malad, and afterward sat upon the stone bench at the head of the pond, whispering together so softly that they did not even disturb the frogs among the lily-pads within ten feet of them. It was not so long ago, that evening. The time that had passed since might be reckoned easily in hours, but to Good Indian it seemed a month, at the very least.

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