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Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 19209

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Saunders, limp and apathetic and colorless, shuffled over to the station with a wheelbarrow which had a decrepit wheel, that left an undulating imprint of its drunken progress in the dust as it went. He loaded the boxes of freight with the abused air of one who feels that Fate has used him hardly, and then sidled up to the station door with the furtive air which Miss Georgie always inwardly resented.

She took the shipping bill from him with her fingertips, reckoned the charges, and received the money without a word, pushing a few pieces of silver toward him upon the table. As he bent to pick them up clawing unpleasantly with vile finger-nails-she glanced at him contemptuously, looked again more attentively, pursed her lips with one corner between her teeth, and when he had clawed the last dime off the smooth surface of the table, she spoke to him as if he were not the reptile she considered him, but a live human.

"Horribly hot, isn't it? I wish I could sleep till noon. It would make the days shorter, anyway."

"I opened up the store, and then I went back to bed," Saunders replied limply. "Just got up when the freight pulled in. Made so blamed much noise it woke me. I seem to need a good deal of sleep." He coughed behind his hand, and lingered inside the door. It was so unusual for Miss Georgie to make conversation with him that Saunders was almost pitifully eager to be agreeable.

"If it didn't sound cruel, this weather," said Miss Georgie lightly, still looking at him-or, more particularly, at the crumpled, soiled collar of his coarse blue shirt-"I'd advise you to get out of Hartley once a day, if it was no more than to take a walk. Though to be sure," she smiled, "the prospect is not inviting, to say the least. Put it would be a change; I'd run up and down the track, if I didn't have to stick here in this office all day."

"I can't stand walking," Saunders whined. "It makes me cough." To illustrate, he gave another little hack behind his hand. "I went up to the stable yesterday with a book, and laid down in the hay. And I went to sleep, and Pete thought I was lost, I guess." He grinned, which was not pleasant, for he chewed tobacco and had ugly, discolored teeth into the bargain.

"I like to lay in the hay," he added lifelessly. "I guess I'll take my bed up there; that lean-to is awful hot."

"Well, you're lucky that you can do exactly as you please, and sleep whenever you please." Miss Georgie turned to her telegraph instrument, and began talking in little staccato sparks of electricity to the agent at Shoshone, merely as a hint to Saunders to take himself away.

"Ain't been anything for me?" he asked, still lingering.

Miss Georgie shook her head. He waited a minute longer, and then sidled out, and when he was heard crunching over the cinders with his barrow-load of boxes, she switched off the current abruptly, and went over to the window to watch him.

"Item," she began aloud, when he was quite gone, her eyes staring vacantly down the scintillating rails to where they seemed to meet in one glittering point far away in the desert. "Item-" But whatever the item was, she jotted it down silently in that mental memorandum book which was one of her whims. "Once I put a thing in that little blue book of mine," she used to tell her father, "it's there for keeps. And there's the advantage that I never leave it lying around to be lost, or for other people to pick up and read to my everlasting undoing. It's better than cipher-for I don't talk in my sleep."

The four-thirty-five train came in its own time, and brought the two missing placer miners. But it did not bring Baumberger, nor Peaceful Hart, nor any word of either. Miss Georgie spent a good deal of time staring out of the window toward the store that day, and when she was not doing that she was moving restlessly about the little office, picking things up without knowing why she did so, and laying them down again when she discovered them in her hands and had no use for them. The ice cream came, and the cake, and the magazines; and she left the whole pile just inside the door without undoing a wrapping.

At five o'clock she rose abruptly from the rocker, in which she had just deposited herself with irritated emphasis, and wired her chief for leave of absence until seven.

"It's important, Mr. Gray. Business which can't wait," she clicked urgently. "I'll be back before Eight is due. Please." Miss Georgie did not often send that last word of her own volition. All up and down the line she was said to be "Independent as a hog on ice"-a simile not pretty, perhaps, nor even exact, but frequently applied, nevertheless, to self-reliant souls like the Hartley operator.

Be that as it may, she received gracious permission to lock the office door from the outside, and she was not long in doing so, and heaved a great sigh of relief when it was done. She went straight to the store, and straight back to where Pete Hamilton was leaning over a barrel redolent of pickled pork. He came up with dripping hands and a treasure-trove of flabby meat, and while he was dangling it over the barrel until the superfluous brine dripped away, she asked him for a horse.

"I dunno where Saunders is again," he said, letting his consent be taken for granted. "But I'll go myself and saddle up, if you'll mind the store. Soon as I finish waitin' on this customer," he added, casting a glance toward a man who sat upon the counter and dangled his legs while he apathetically munched stale pretzels and waited for his purchases.

"Oh, I can saddle, all right, Pete. I've got two hours off, and I want to ride down to see how the Harts are getting along. Exciting times down there, from all accounts."

"Maybe I can round up Saunders. He must be somewheres around," Pete suggested languidly, wrapping the pork in a piece of brown paper and reaching for the string which dangled from the ball hung over his head.

"Saunders is asleep, very likely. If he isn't in his room, never mind hunting him. The horse is in the stable, I suppose. I can saddle better than Saunders."

Pete tied the package, wiped his hands, and went heavily out. He returned immediately, said that Saunders must be up at the stable, and turned his attention to weighing out five pounds of white beans.

Miss Georgie helped herself to a large bag of mixed candy, and put the money in the drawer, laid her key upon the desk for safe-keeping, repinned her white sailor hat so that the hot wind which blew should not take it off her head, and went cheerfully away to the stable.

She did not saddle the horse at once. She first searched the pile of sweet-smelling clover in the far end, made sure that no man was there, assured herself in the same manner of the fact that she was absolutely alone in the stable so far as humans were concerned, and continued her search; not for Saunders now, but for sagebrush. She went outside, and looked carefully at her immediate surroundings.

"There's hardly a root of it anywhere around close," she said to herself. "Nor around the store, either-nor any place where one would be apt to go ordinarily."

She stood there meditatively for a few minutes, remembered that two hours do not last long, and saddled hurriedly. Then, mounting awkwardly because of the large, lumpy bag of candy which she must carry in her hands for want of a pocket large enough to hold it, she rode away to the Indian camp.

The camp was merely a litter of refuse and the ashes of various campfires, with one wikiup standing forlorn in the midst. Miss Georgie never wasted precious time on empty ceremony, and she would have gone into that tent unannounced and stated her errand without any compunction whatever. Put Peppajee was lying outside, smoking in the shade, with his foot bandaged and disposed comfortably upon a folded blanket. She tossed him the bag of candy, and stayed upon her horse.

"Howdy, Peppajee? How your foot? Pretty well, mebbyso?"

"Mebbyso bueno. Sun come two time, mebbyso walk all same no snake biteum." Peppajee's eyes gloated over the gift as he laid it down beside him.

"That's good. Say, Peppajee," Miss Georgie reached up to feel her hatpins and to pat her hair, "I wish you'd watch Saunders. Him no good. I think him bad. I can't keep an eye on him. Can you?"

"No can walk far." Peppajee looked meaningly at his bandages. "No can watchum."

"Well, but you could tell somebody else to watch him. I think he do bad thing to the Harts. You like Harts. You tell somebody to watch Saunders."

"Indians pikeway-ketchum fish. Come back, mebbyso tellum watchum."

Miss Georgie drew in her breath for further argument, decided that it was not worth while, and touched up her horse with the whip. "Good-by," she called back, and saw that Peppajee was looking after her with his eyes, while his face was turned impassively to the front.

"You're just about as satisfying to talk to as a stump," she paid tribute to his unassailable calm. "There's four bits wasted," she sighed, "to say nothing of the trouble I had packing that candy to you-you ungrateful old devil." With which unladylike remark she dismissed him from her mind as a possible ally.

At the ranch, the boys were enthusiastically blistering palms and stiffening the muscles of their backs, turning the water away from the ditches that crossed the disputed tracts so that the trespassers there should have none in which to pan gold-or to pretend that they were panning gold. Since the whole ranch was irrigated by springs running out here and there from unde

r the bluff, and all the ditches ran to meadow and orchard and patches of small fruit, and since the springs could not well be stopped from flowing, the thing was not to be done in a minute.

And since there were four boys with decided ideas upon the subject-ideas which harmonized only in the fundamental desire to harry the interlopers, the thing was not to be done without much time being wasted in fruitless argument.

Wally insisted upon running the water all into a sandy hollow where much of it would seep away and a lake would do no harm, the main objection to that being that it required digging at least a hundred yards of new ditch, mostly through rocky soil.

Jack wanted to close all the headgates and just let the water go where it wanted to-which was easy enough, but ineffective, because most of it found its way into the ditches farther down the slope.

Gene and Clark did not much care how the thing was done-so long as it was done their way. At least, that is what they said.

It was Good Indian who at length settled the matter. There were five springs altogether; he proposed that each one make himself responsible for a certain spring, and see to it that no water reached the jumpers.

"And I don't care a tinker's dam how you do it," he said. "Drink it all, if you want to. I'll take the biggest-that one under the milk-house." Whereat they jeered at him for wanting to be close to Evadna.

"Well, who has a better right?" he challenged, and then inconsiderately left them before they could think of a sufficiently biting retort.

So they went to work, each in his own way, agreeing mostly in untiring industry. That is how Miss Georgie found them occupied-except that Good Indian had stopped long enough to soothe Evadna and her aunt, and to explain that the water would really not rise much higher in the milk-house, and that he didn't believe Evadna's pet bench at the head of the pond would be inaccessible because of his efforts.

Phoebe was sloshing around upon the flooded floor of her milk-house, with her skirts tucked up and her indignation growing greater as she gave it utterance, rescuing her pans of milk and her jars of cream. Evadna, upon the top step, sat with her feet tucked up under her as if she feared an instant inundation. She, also, was giving utterance to her feminine irritation at the discomfort-of her aunt presumably, since she herself was high and dry.

"And it won't do a BIT of good. They'll just knock that dam business all to pieces to-night-" She was scolding Grant.

"Swearing, chicken? Things must be in a great state!"

Grant grinned at Miss Georgie, forgetting for the moment his rebuff that morning. "She did swear, didn't she?" he confirmed wickedly. "And she's been working overtime, trying to reform me. Wanted to pin me down to 'my goodness!' and 'oh, dear!'-with all this excitement taking place on the ranch!"

"I wasn't swearing at all. Grant has been shoveling sand all afternoon, building a dam over by the fence, and the water has been rising and rising till-" She waved her hand gloomily at her bedraggled Aunt Phoebe working like a motherly sort of gnome in its shadowy grotto. "Oh, if I were Aunt Phoebe, I should just shake you, Grant Imsen!"

"Try it," he invited, his eyes worshiping her in her pretty petulance. "I wish you would."

As Miss Georgie went past them down the steps, her face had the set look of one who is consciously and deliberately cheerful under trying conditions.

"Don't quarrel, children," she advised lightly. "Howdy, Mrs. Hart? What are they trying to do-drown you?"

"Oh, these boys of mine! They'll be the death of me, what with the things they won't do, and the things they WILL do. They're trying now to create a water famine for the jumpers, and they're making their own mother swim for the good of the cause." Phoebe held out a plump hand, moist and cold from lifting cool crocks of milk, and laughed at her own predicament.

"The water won't rise any more, Mother Hart," Grant called down to her from the top step, where he was sitting unblushingly beside Evadna. "I told you six inches would be the limit, and then it would run off in the new ditch. You know I explained just why-"

"Oh, yes, I know you explained just WHY," Phoebe cut in disconsolately and yet humorously, "but explanations don't seem to help my poor milk-house any. And what about the garden, and the fruit, if you turn the water all down into the pasture? And what about the poor horses getting their feet wet and catching their death of cold? And what's to hinder that man Stanley and his gang from packing water in buckets from the lake you're going to have in the pasture?"

She looked at Miss Georgie whimsically. "I'm an ungrateful, bad-tempered old woman, I guess, for they're doing it because it's the only thing they can do, since I put my foot down on all this bombarding and burning good powder just to ease their minds. They've got to do something, I suppose, or they'd all burst. And I don't know but what it's a good thing for 'em to work off their energy digging ditches, even if it don't do a mite of good."

Good Indian was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, murmuring lover's confidences behind the shield of his tilted hat, which hid from all but Evadna his smiling lips and his telltale, glowing eyes. He looked up at that last sentence, though it is doubtful if he had heard much of what she had been saying.

"It's bound to do good if it does anything," he said, with an optimism which was largely the outgrowth of his beatific mood, which in its turn was born of his nearness to Evadna and her gracious manner toward him. "We promised not to molest them on their claims. But if they get over the line to meddle with our water system, or carry any in buckets-which they can't, because they all leak like the deuce"-he grinned as he thought of the bullet holes in them-"why, I don't know but what someone might object to that, and send them back on their own side of the line."

He picked up a floating ribbon-end which was a part of Evadna's belt, and ran it caressingly through his fingers in a way which set Miss Georgie's teeth together. "I'm afraid," he added dryly, his eyes once more seeking Evadna's face with pure love hunger, "they aren't going to make much of a stagger at placer mining, if they haven't any water." He rolled the ribbon up tightly, and then tossed it lightly toward her face. "ARE they, Goldilocks?"

"Are they what? I've told you a dozen times to stop calling me that. I had a doll once that I named Goldilocks, and I melted her nose off-she was wax-and you always remind me of the horrible expression it gave to her face. I'd go every day and take her out of the bureau-drawer and look at her, and then cry my eyes out. Won't you come and sit down, Georgie? There's room. Now, what was the discussion, and how far had we got? Aunt Phoebe, I don't believe it has raised a bit lately. I've been watching that black rock with the crack in it." Evadna moved nearer to Good Indian, and pulled her skirts close upon the other side, thereby making a space at least eight inches wide for Miss Georgie's accommodation.

"I can't sit anywhere," said Miss Georgie, looking at her watch. "By the way, chicken, did you have to walk all the way home?"

Evadna looked sidelong at Good Indian, as if a secret had been betrayed. "No," she said, "I didn't. I just got to the top of the grade when a squaw came along, and she was leading Huckleberry. A gaudy young squaw, all red and purple and yellow. She was awfully curious about you, Grant. She wanted to know where you were and what you were doing. I hope you aren't a flirtatious young man. She seemed to know you pretty well, I thought."

She had to explain to her Aunt Phoebe and Grant just how she came to be walking, and she laughed at the squaw's vivid costume, and declared she would have one like it, because Grant must certainly admire colors. She managed, innocently enough, to waste upon such trivialities many of Miss Georgie's precious minutes.

At last that young woman, after glancing many times at her watch, and declining an urgent invitation to stay to supper, declared that she must go, and tried to give Good Indian a significant look without being detected in the act by Evadna. But Good Indian, for the time being wholly absorbed by the smiles of his lady, had no eyes for her, and seemed to attach no especial meaning to her visit. So that Miss Georgie, feminine to her finger-tips and oversensitive perhaps where those two were concerned, suddenly abandoned her real object in going to the ranch, and rode away without saying a word of what she had come to say.

She was a direct young woman who was not in the habit of mincing matters with herself, or of dodging an issue, and she bluntly called herself a fool many times that evening, because she had not said plainly that she would like to talk with Grant "and taken him off to one side-by the ear, if necessary-and talked to him, and told him what I went down there to tell him," she said to herself angrily. "And if Evadna didn't like it, she could do the other thing. It does seem as if girls like that are always having the trail smoothed down for them to dance their way through life, while other people climb over rocks-mostly with packs on their shoulders that don't rightly belong to them." She sighed impatiently. "It must be lovely to be absolutely selfish-when you're pretty enough and young enough to make it stick!" Miss Georgie was, without doubt, in a nasty temper that night.

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