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   Chapter 22 A BIT OF PAPER

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 14711

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Good Indian came out upon the rim-rock, looked down upon the ranch beneath him, and knew, by various little movements about the place, that breakfast was not yet ready. Gene was carrying two pails of milk to the house, and Wally and Jack were watering the horses that had been stabled overnight. He was on the point of shouting down to them when his arm was caught tightly from behind. He wheeled about and confronted Rachel. Clothed all in dull gray she was, like a savage young Quakeress. Even the red ribbons were gone from her hair, which was covered by the gray blanket wrapped tightly around her slim body. She drew him back from the rim of the bluff.

"You no shout," she murmured gravely. "No lettum see you here. You go quick. Ketchum you cayuse, go to ranch. You no tellum you be this place."

Good Indian stood still, and looked at her. She stood with her arms folded in her blanket, regarding him with a certain yearning steadfastness.

"You all time think why," she said, shrewdly reading his thoughts, "I no take shame. I glad." She flushed, and looked away to the far side of the Snake. "Bad mans no more try for shoot you, mebbyso. I heap-"

Good Indian reached out, and caught her by both shoulders.

"Rachel-if you did that, don't tell me about it. Don't tell me anything. I don't ask you-I don't want to know." He spoke rapidly, in the grip of his first impulse to shield her from what she had done. But he felt her begin to tremble under his fingers, and he stopped as suddenly as he had begun.

"You no glad? You think shame for me? You think I-all time-very-bad!" Tragedy was in her voice, and in her great, dark eyes. Good Indian gulped.

"No, Rachel. I don't think that. I want to help you out of this, if I can, and I meant that if you didn't tell me anything about it, why-I wouldn't know anything about it. You sabe."

"I sabe." Her lips curved into a pathetic little smile. "I sabe you know all what I do. You know for why, me thinkum. You think shame. I no take shame. I do for you no get kill-dead. All time Man-that-coughs try for shootum you. All time I try for-" She broke off to stare questioningly up into his face. "I no tell, you no like for tell," she said quietly. "All same, you go. You ketchum you hoss, you go ranch. I think sheriff mans mebbyso come pretty quick. No find out you be here. I no like you be here this time."

Good Indian turned, yielding to the pleading of her eyes. The heart of him ached dully with the weight of what she had done, and with an uneasy comprehension of her reason for doing it. He walked as quickly as the rough ground would permit, along the bluff toward the grade; and she, with the instinctive deference to the male which is the heritage of primitive woman, followed soft-footedly two paces behind him. Once where the way was clear he stopped, and waited for her to come alongside, but Rachel stopped and waited also, her eyes hungrily searching his face with the look a dog has for his master. Good Indian read the meaning of that look, and went on, and turned no more toward her until he reached his horse.

"You'd better go on to camp, and stay there, Rachel," he said, as casually as he could. "No trouble will come to you." He hesitated, biting his lip and plucking absently the tangles from the forelock of his horse. "You sabe grateful?" he asked finally. And when she gave a quick little nod, he went on: "Well, I'm grateful to you. You did what a man would do for his friend. I sabe. I'm heap grateful, and I'll not forget it. All time I'll be your friend. Good-by." He mounted, and rode away. He felt, just then, that it was the kindest thing he could do.

He looked back once, just as he was turning into the grade road. She was standing, her arms folded in her gray blanket, where he had left her. His fingers tightened involuntarily the reins, so that Keno stopped and eyed his master inquiringly. But there was nothing that he might say to her. It was not words that she wanted. He swung his heels against Keno's flanks, and rode home.

Evadna rallied him upon his moodiness at breakfast, pouted a little because he remained preoccupied under her teasing, and later was deeply offended because he would not tell her where he had been, or what was worrying him.

"I guess you better send word to the doctor he needn't come," the pump man put his head in at the office door to say, just as the freight was pulling away from the water-tank. "Saunders died a few minutes ago. Pete says you better notify the coroner-and I reckon the sheriff, too. Pretty tough to be shot down like that in broad daylight."

"I think I'd rather be shot in daylight than in the dark," Miss Georgie snapped unreasonably because her nerves were all a-jangle, and sent the messages as requested.

Saunders was neither a popular nor a prominent citizen, and there was none to mourn beside him. Peter Hamilton, as his employer and a man whose emotions were easily stirred, was shocked a shade lighter as to his complexion and a tone lower as to his voice perhaps, and was heard to remark frequently that it was "a turrible thing," but the chief emotion which the tragedy roused was curiosity, and that fluttering excitement which attends death in any form.

A dozen Indians hung about the store, the squaws peering inquisitively in at the uncurtained window of the lean-to-where the bed held a long immovable burden with a rumpled sheet over it-and the bucks listening stolidly to the futile gossip on the store porch.

Pete Hamilton, anxious that the passing of his unprofitable servant should be marked by decorum if not by grief, mentally classed the event with election day, in that he refused to sell any liquor until the sheriff and coroner arrived. He also, after his first bewilderment had passed, conceived the idea that Saunders had committed suicide, and explained to everyone who would listen just why he believed it. Saunders was sickly, for one thing. For another, Saunders never seemed to get any good out of living. He had read everything he could get his hands on-and though Pete did not say that Saunders chose to die when the stock of paper novels was exhausted, he left that impression upon his auditors.

The sheriff and the coroner came at nine. All the Hart boys, including Donny, were there before noon, and the group of Indians remained all day wherever the store cast its shadow. Squaws and bucks passed and repassed upon the footpath between Hartley and their camp, chattering together of the big event until they came under the eye of strange white men, whereupon they were stricken deaf and dumb, as is the way of our nation's wards.

When the sheriff inspected the stable and its vicinity, looking for clews, not a blanket was in sight, though a dozen eyes watched every movement suspiciously. When at the inquest that afternoon, he laid upon the table a battered old revolver of cheap workmanship and long past its prime, and testified that he had found it ten feet from the stable-door, in a due line southeast from the hay-corral, and that one shot had been fired from it, there were Indians in plenty to glance furtively at the weapon and give no sign.

The coroner showed the bullet which he had extracted from the body of Saunders, and fitted it into the empty cartridge which had been under the hammer in the revolv

er, and thereby proved to the satisfaction of everyone that the gun was intimately connected with the death of the man. So the jury arrived speedily, and without further fussing over evidence, at the verdict of suicide.

Good Indian drew a long breath, put on his hat, and went over to tell Miss Georgie. The Hart boys lingered for a few minutes at the store, and then rode on to the ranch without him, and the Indians stole away over the hill to their camp. The coroner and the sheriff accepted Pete's invitation into the back part of the store, refreshed themselves after the ordeal, and caught the next train for Shoshone. So closed the incident of Saunders' passing, so far as the law was concerned.

"Well," Miss Georgie summed up the situation, "Baumberger hasn't made any sign of taking up the matter. I don't believe, now, that he will. I wired the news to the papers in Shoshone, so he must know. I think perhaps he's glad to get Saunders out of the way-for he certainly must have known enough to put Baumberger behind the bars.

"But I don't see," she said, in a puzzled way, "how that gun came onto the scene. I looked all around the stable this morning, and I could swear there wasn't any gun."

"Well, he did pick it up-fortunately," Good Indian returned grimly. "I'm glad the thing was settled so easily."

She looked up at him sharply for a moment, opened her lips to ask a question, and then thought better of it.

"Oh, here's your handkerchief," she said quietly, taking it from the bottom of her wastebasket. "As you say, the thing is settled. I'm going to turn you out now. The four-thirty-five is due pretty soon-and I have oodles of work."

He looked at her strangely, and went away, wondering why Miss Georgie hated so to have him in the office lately.

On the next day, at ten o'clock, they buried Saunders on a certain little knoll among the sagebrush; buried him without much ceremony, it is true, but with more respect than he had received when he was alive and shambling sneakily among them. Good Indian was there, saying little and listening attentively to the comments made upon the subject, and when the last bit of yellow gravel had been spatted into place he rode down through the Indian camp on his way home, thankful that everyone seemed to accept the verdict of suicide as being final, and anxious that Rachel should know it. He felt rather queer about Rachel; sorry for her, in an impersonal way; curious over her attitude toward life in general and toward himself in particular, and ready to do her a good turn because of her interest.

But Rachel, when he reached the camp, was not visible. Peppajee Jim was sitting peacefully in the shade of his wikiup when Grant rode up, and he merely grunted in reply to a question or two. Good Indian resolved to be patient. He dismounted, and squatted upon his heels beside Peppajee, offered him tobacco, and dipped a shiny, new nickel toward a bright-eyed papoose in scanty raiment, who stopped to regard him inquisitively.

"I just saw them bury Saunders," Good Indian remarked, by way of opening a conversation. "You believe he shot himself?"

Peppajee took his little stone pipe from his lips, blew a thin wreath of smoke, and replaced the stem between his teeth, stared stolidly straight ahead of him, and said nothing.

"All the white men say that," Good Indian persisted, after he had waited a minute. Peppajee did not seem to hear.

"Sheriff say that, too. Sheriff found the gun."

"Mebbyso sheriff mans heap damfool. Mebbyso heap smart. No sabe."

Good Indian studied him silently. Reticence was not a general characteristic of Peppajee; it seemed to indicate a thorough understanding of the whole affair. He wondered if Rachel had told her uncle the truth.

"Where's Rachel?" he asked suddenly, the words following involuntarily his thought.

Peppajee sucked hard upon his pipe, took it away from his mouth, and knocked out the ashes upon a pole of the wikiup frame.

"Yo' no speakum Rachel no more," he said gravely. "Yo' ketchum 'Vadnah; no ketchum otha squaw. Bad medicine come. Heap much troubles come. Me no likeum. My heart heap bad."

"I'm Rachel's friend, Peppajee." Good Indian spoke softly so that others might not hear. "I sabe what Rachel do. Rachel good girl. I don't want to bring trouble. I want to help."

Peppajee snorted.

"Yo' make heap bad heart for Rachel," he said sourly. "Yo' like for be friend, yo' no come no more, mebbyso. No speakum. Bimeby mebbyso no have bad heart no more. Kay bueno. Yo' white mans. Rachel mebbyso thinkum all time yo' Indian. Mebbyso thinkum be yo' squaw. Kay bueno. Yo' all time white mans. No speakum Rachel no more, yo' be friend.

"Yo' speakum, me like to kill yo', mebbyso." He spoke calmly, but none the less his words carried conviction of his sincerity.

Within the wikiup Good Indian heard a smothered sob. He listened, heard it again, and looked challengingly at Peppajee. But Peppajee gave no sign that he either heard the sound or saw the challenge in Good Indian's eyes.

"I Rachel's friend," he said, speaking distinctly with his face half turned toward the wall of deerskin. "I want to tell Rachel what the sheriff said. I want to thank Rachel, and tell her I'm her friend. I don't want to bring trouble." He stopped and listened, but there was no sound within.

Peppajee eyed him comprehendingly, but there was no yielding in his brown, wrinkled face.

"Yo' Rachel's frien', yo' pikeway," he insisted doggedly.

From under the wall of the wikiup close to Good Indian on the side farthest from Peppajee, a small, leafless branch of sage was thrust out, and waggled cautiously, scraping gently his hand. Good Indian's fingers closed upon it instinctively, and felt it slowly withdrawn until his hand was pressed against the hide wall. Then soft fingers touched his own, fluttered there timidly, and left in his palm a bit of paper, tightly folded. Good Indian closed his hand upon it, and stood up.

"All right, I go," he said calmly to Peppajee, and mounted.

Peppajee looked at him stolidly, and said nothing.

"One thing I would like to know." Good Indian spoke again. "You don't care any more about the men taking Peaceful's ranch. Before they came, you watch all the time, you heap care. Why you no care any more? Why you no help?"

Peppajee's mouth straightened in a grin of pure irony.

"All time Baumberga try for ketchum ranch, me try for stoppum," he retorted. "Yo' no b'lievum, Peacefu' no b'lievum. Me tellum yo' cloud sign, tellum yo' smoke sign, tellum yo' hear much bad talk for ketchum ranch. Yo' all time think for ketchum 'Vadnah squaw. No think for stoppum mens. Yo' all time let mens come, ketchum ranch. Yo' say fightum in co't. Cloud sign say me do notting. Yo' lettum come. Yo' mebbyso makum go. Me no care."

"I see. Well, maybe you're right." He tightened the reins, and rode away, the tight little wad of paper still hidden in his palm. When he was quite out of sight from the camp and jogging leisurely down the hot trail, he unfolded it carefully and looked at it long.

His face was grave and thoughtful when at last he tore it into tiny bits and gave it to the hot, desert wind. It was a pitiful little message, printed laboriously upon a scrap of brown wrapping-paper. It said simply:

"God by i lov yo."

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