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   Chapter 19 EVADNA GOES CALLING

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 14860

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"I have every reason to believe that your two missing jumpers took the train for Shoshone last night," Miss Georgie made answer to Good Indian's account of what had happened since he saw her. "Two furtive-eyed individuals answering your description bought round-trip tickets and had me flag sixteen for them. They got on, all right. I saw them. And if they got off before the next station they must have landed on their heads, because Sixteen was making up time and Shorty pulled the throttle wide open at the first yank, I should judge, from the way he jumped out of town. I've been expecting some of them to go and do their filing stunt-and if the boys have begun to devil them any, the chances are good that they'd take turns at it, anyway. They'd leave someone always on the ground, that's a cinch.

"And Saunders," she went on rapidly, "returned safe enough. He sneaked in just before I closed the office last night, and asked for a telegram. There wasn't any, and he sneaked out again and went to bed-so Pete told me this morning. And most of the Indians have pulled out-squaws, dogs, papooses, and all-on some fishing or hunting expedition. I don't know that it has anything to do with your affairs, or would even interest you, though. And there has been no word from Peaceful, and they can't possibly get back now till the four-thirty-five.

"And that's all I can tell you, Mr. Imsen," she finished crisply, and took up a novel with a significance which not even the dullest man could have ignored.

Good Indian stared, flushed hotly, and made for the door.

"Thank you for the information. I'm afraid this has been a lot of bother for you," he said stiffly, gave her a ceremonious little bow, and went his way stiff-necked and frowning.

Miss Georgie leaned forward so that she could see him through the window. She watched him cross to the store, go up the three rough steps to the platform, and disappear into the yawning blackness beyond the wide-open door.

She did not open the novel and begin reading, even then. She dabbed her handkerchief at her eyes, muttered: "My Heavens, what a fool!" apropos of nothing tangible, and stared dully out at the forlorn waste of cinders with rows of shining rails running straight across it upon ties half sunken in the black desolation, and at the red abomination which was the pump-house squatting beside the dripping tank, the pump breathing asthmatically as it labored to keep the sliding water gauge from standing at the figure which meant reproach for the grimy attendant.

"What a fool-what a fool!" she repeated at the end of ten moody minutes. Then she threw the novel into a corner of the room, set her lower jaw into the square lines of stubbornness, went over to the sleeping telegraph instrument which now and then clicked and twittered in its sleep, called up Shoshone, and commanded the agent there to send down a quart freezer of ice cream, a banana cake, and all the late magazines he could find, including-especially including-the alleged "funny" ones.

"You certainly-are-the prize-fool!" she said, when she switched off the current, and she said it with vicious emphasis. Whereupon she recovered the novel, seated herself determinedly in the beribboned rocker, flipped the leaves of the book spitefully until she found one which had a corner turned down, and read a garden-party chapter much as she used to study her multiplication table when she was ten and hated arithmetic.

A freight was announced over the wire, arrived with a great wheezing and snorting, which finally settled to a rhythmic gasping of the air pump, while a few boxes of store supplies were being dumped unceremoniously upon the platform. Miss Georgie was freight agent as well as many other things, and she went out and stood bareheaded in the sun to watch the unloading.

She performed, with the unthinking precision which comes of long practice, the many little duties pertaining to her several offices, and when the wheels began once more to clank, and she had waved her hand to the fireman, the brakeman, and the conductor, and had seen the dirty flags at the rear of the swaying caboose flap out of sight around the low, sage-covered hill, she turned rather dismally to the parlor end of the office, and took up the book with her former air of grim determination. So for an hour, perhaps.

"Is Miss Georgie Howard at home?" It was Evadna standing in the doorway, her indigo eyes fixed with innocent gayety-which her mouth somehow failed to meet halfway in mirth-upon the reader.

"She is, chicken, and overjoyed at the sight of you!" Miss Georgie rose just as enthusiastically as if she had not seen Evadna slip from Huckleberry's back, fuddle the tie-rope into what looked like a knot, and step lightly upon the platform. She had kept her head down-had Miss Georgie-until the last possible second, because she was still being a fool and had permitted a page of her book to fog before her eyes. There was no fog when she pushed Evadna into the seat of honor, however, and her mouth abetted her eyes in smiling.

"Everything at the ranch is perfectly horrid," Evadna complained pathetically, leaning back in the rocking-chair. "I'd just as soon be shut up in a graveyard. You can't IMAGINE what it's like, Georgie, since those horrible men came and camped around all over the place! All yesterday afternoon and till dark, mind you, the boys were down there shooting at everything but the men, and they began to shoot back, and Aunt Phoebe was afraid the boys would be hit, and so we all went down and-oh, it was awful! If Grant hadn't come home and stopped them, everybody would have been murdered. And you should have heard how they swore at Grant afterward! They just called him everything they could think of for making them stop. I had to sit around on the other side of the house-and even then I couldn't help hearing most of it.

"And to-day it is worse, because they just go around like a lot of dummies and won't do anything but look mean. Aunt Phoebe was so cross-CROSS, mind you!-because I burnt the jam. And some of the jumpers are missing, and nobody knows where they went-and Marie has got the toothache worse than ever, and won't go and have it pulled because it will HURT! I don't see how it can hurt much worse than it does now-she just goes around with tears running down into the flannel around her face till I could SHAKE her!" Evadna laughed-a self-pitying laugh, and rocked her small person violently. "I wish I could have an office and live in it and telegraph things to people," she sighed, and laughed again most adorably at her own childishness. "But really and truly, it's enough to drive a person CRAZY, down at the ranch!"

"For a girl with a brand-new sweetheart-" Miss Georgie reproved quizzically, and reached for the inevitable candy box.

"A lot of good that does, when he's never there!" flashed Evadna, unintentionally revealing her real grievance. "He just eats and goes-and he isn't even there to eat, half the time. And when he's there, he's grumpy, like all the rest." She was saying the things she had told herself, on the way up, that she would DIE rather than say; to Miss Georgie, of all people.

"I expect he's pretty worried, chicken, over that land business." Miss Georgie offered her candy, and Evadna waved the box from her impatiently, as if her spirits were altogether too low for sweets.

"Well,

I'm very sure I'M not to blame for those men being there," she retorted petulantly. "He"-she hesitated, and then plunged heedlessly on-"he acts just as if I weren't anybody at all. I'm sure, if he expects me to be a doll to be played with and then dumped into a corner where I'm to smile and smile until he comes and picks me up again-"

"Now, chicken, what's the use of being silly?" Miss Georgie turned her head slightly away, and stared out of the window. "He's worried, I tell you, and instead of sulking because he doesn't stay and make love-"

"Well, upon my word! Just as if I wanted-"

"You really ought to help him by being kind and showing a little sympathy, instead-"

"It appears that the supply of sympathy-"

"Instead of making it harder for him by feeling neglected and letting him see that you do. My Heavens above!" Miss Georgie faced her suddenly with pink cheeks. "When a man is up against a problem-and carries his life in his hand-"

"You don't know a thing about it!" Evadna stopped rocking, and sat up very straight in the chair. "And even if that were true, is that any reason why he should AVOID me? I'M not threatening his life!"

"He doesn't avoid you. And you're acting sillier than I ever supposed you could. He can't be in two places at once, can he? Now, let's be sensible, chicken. Grant-"

"Oh-h!" There was a peculiar, sliding inflection upon that word, which made Miss Georgie's hand shut into a fist.

"Grant"-Miss Georgie put a defiant emphasis upon it-"is doing all he can to get to the bottom of that jumping business. There's something crooked about it, and he knows it, and is trying to-"

"I know all that." Evadna interrupted without apology.

"Well, of course, if you DO-then I needn't tell you how silly it is for you to complain of being neglected, when you know his time is all taken up with trying to ferret out a way to block their little game. He feels in a certain sense responsible-"

"Yes, I know. He thinks he should have been watching somebody or something instead of-of being with me. He took the trouble to make that clear to me, at least!" Evadna's eyes were very blue and very bright, but there was no look of an angel in her face.

Miss Georgie pressed her lips together tightly for a minute. When she spoke, she was cheerfully impersonal as to tone and manner.

"Chicken, you're a little goose. The man is simply crazy about you, and harassed to death with this ranch business. Once that's settled-well, you'll see what sort of a lover he can be!"

"Thank you so much for holding out a little hope and encouragement, my dear!" Evadna, by the way, looked anything but thankful; indeed, she seemed to resent the hope and the encouragement as a bit of unwarranted impertinence. She glanced toward the door as if she meditated an immediate departure, but ended by settling back in the chair and beginning to rock again.

"It's a nasty, underhand business from start to finish," said Miss Georgie, ignoring the remark. "It has upset everybody-me included, and I'm sure it isn't my affair. It's just one of those tricky cases that you know is rotten to the core, and yet you can't seem to get hold of anything definite. My dad had one or two experiences with old Baumberger-and if ever there was a sly old mole of a man, he's one.

"Did you ever take after a mole, chicken? They used to get in our garden at home. They burrow underneath the surface, you know, and one never sees them. You can tell by the ridge of loose earth that they're there, and if you think you've located Mr. Mole, and jab a stick down, why-he's somewhere else, nine times in ten. I used to call them Baumbergers, even then. Dad," she finished reminiscently, "was always jabbing his law stick down where the earth seemed to move-but he never located old Baumberger, to my knowledge."

She stopped, because Evadna, without a shadow of doubt, was looking bored. Miss Georgie regarded her with the frown she used when she was applying her mental measuring-stick. She began to suspect that Evadna was, after all, an extremely self-centered little person; she was sorry for the suspicion, and she was also conscious of a certain disappointment which was not altogether for herself.

"Ah, well"-she dismissed analysis and the whole subject with a laugh that was partly yawn-"away with dull care. Away with dull everything. It's too hot to think or feel. A real emotion is as superfluous and oppressive as a-a 'camel petticoat!" This time her laugh was real and infectiously carefree. "Take off your hat, chicken. I'll go beg a hunk of ice from my dear friend Peter, and make some lemonade as is lemonade; or claret punch, if you aren't a blue ribboner, or white-ribboner, or some other kind of a good-ribboner." Miss Georgie hated herself for sliding into sheer flippancy, but she preferred that extreme to the other, and she could not hold her ground just then at the "happy medium."

Evadna, however, seemed to disapprove of the flippancy. She did not take off her hat, and she stated evenly that she must go, and that she really did not care for lemonade, or claret punch, either.

"What, in Heaven's name, DO you care for-besides yourself?" flared Miss Georgie, quite humanly exasperated. "There, chicken-the heat always turns me snappy," she repented instantly. "Please pinch me." She held out a beautiful, tapering forearm, and smiled.

"I'm the snappy one," said Evadna, but she did not smile as she began drawing on her gauntlets slowly and deliberately.

If she were waiting for Miss Georgie to come back to the subject of Grant, she was disappointed, for Miss Georgie did not come to any subject whatever. A handcar breezed past the station, the four section-men pumping like demons because of the slight down grade and their haste for their dinner.

Huckleberry gave one snort and one tug backward upon the tie rope and then a coltish kick into the air when he discovered that he was free. After that, he took off through the sagebrush at a lope, too worldly-wise to follow the trail past the store, where someone might rush out and grab him before he could dodge away. He was a wise little pinto-Huckleberry.

"And now, I suppose I'll have the pleasure of walking home," grumbled Evadna, standing upon the platform and gazing, with much self-pity, after her runaway.

"It's noon-stay and eat dinner with me, chicken. Some of the boys will bring him back after you the minute he gets to the ranch. It's too hot to walk." Miss Georgie laid a hand coaxingly upon her arm.

But Evadna was in her mood of perversity. She wouldn't stay to dinner, because Aunt Phoebe would be expecting her. She wouldn't wait for Huckleberry to be brought back to her, because she would never hear the last of it. She didn't mind the heat the least bit, and she would walk. And no, she wouldn't borrow Miss Georgie's parasol; she hated parasols, and she always had and always would. She gathered up her riding-skirt, and went slowly down the steps.

Miss Georgie could be rather perverse herself upon occasion. She waited until Evadna was crunching cinders under her feet before she spoke another word, and then she only called out a flippant, "Adios, senorita!"

Evadna knew no Spanish at all. She lifted her shoulders in what might be disdain, and made no reply whatever.

"Little idiot!" gritted Miss Georgie-and this time she was not speaking of herself.

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