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   Chapter 23 THE MALICE OF A SQUAW

Good Indian By B. M. Bower Characters: 15688

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Good Indian looked in the hammock, but Evadna was not there. He went to the little stone bench at the head of the pond, and when he still did not see her he followed the bank around to the milk-house, where was a mumble of voices. And, standing in the doorway with her arm thrown around her Aunt Phoebe's shoulders in a pretty protective manner, he saw her, and his eyes gladdened. She did not see him at once. She was facing courageously the three inseparables, Hagar, Viney, and Lucy, squatted at the top of the steps, and she was speaking her mind rapidly and angrily. Good Indian knew that tone of old, and he grinned. Also he stopped by the corner of the house, and listened shamelessly.

"That is not true," she was saying very clearly. "You're a bad old squaw and you tell lies. You ought to be put in jail for talking that way." She pressed her aunt's shoulder affectionately. "Don't you mind a word she says, Aunt Phoebe. She's just a mischief-making old hag, and she-oh, I'd like to beat her!"

Hagar shook her head violently, and her voice rose shrill and malicious, cutting short Evadna's futile defiance.

"Ka-a-ay bueno, yo'!" Her teeth gnashed together upon the words. "I no tellum lie. Good Injun him kill Man-that-coughs. All time I seeum creep, creep, through sagebrush. All time I seeum hoss wait where much rock grow. I seeum. I no speakum heap lie. Speakum true. I go tell sheriff mans Good Indian killum Man-that-coughs. I tellum-"

"Why didn't you, then, when the sheriff was in Hartley?" Evadna flung at her angrily. "Because you know it's a lie. That's why."

"Yo' thinkum Good Injun love yo', mebbyso." Hagar's witch-grin was at its malevolent widest. Her black eyes sparkled with venom. "Yo' heap fool. Good Injun go all time Squaw-talk-far-off. Speakum glad word. Good Injun ka-a-ay bueno. Love Squaw-talk-far-off. No love yo'. Speakum lies, yo'. Makum yo' heap cry all time. Makeum yo' heart bad." She cackled, and leered with vile significance toward the girl in the doorway.

"Don't you listen to her, honey." It was Phoebe's turn to reassure.

Good Indian took a step forward, his face white with rage. Viney saw him first, muttered an Indian word of warning, and the three sprang up and backed away from his approach.

"So you've got to call me a murderer!" he cried, advancing threateningly upon Hagar. "And even that doesn't satisfy you. You-"

Evadna rushed up the steps like a crisp little whirlwind, and caught his arm tightly in her two hands.

"Grant! We don't believe a word of it. You couldn't do a thing like that. Don't we KNOW? Don't pay any attention to her. We aren't going to. It'll hurt her worse than any kind of punishment we could give her. Oh, she's a VILE old thing! Too vile for words! Aunt Phoebe and I shouldn't belittle ourselves by even listening to her. SHE can't do any harm unless we let it bother us-what she says. I know you never could take a human life, Grant. It's foolish even to speak of such a thing. It's just her nasty, lying tongue saying what her black old heart wishes could be true." She was speaking in a torrent of trepidation lest he break from her and do some violence which they would all regret. She did not know what he could do, or would do, but the look of his face frightened her.

Old Hagar spat viciously at them both, and shrilled vituperative sentences-in her own tongue fortunately; else the things she said must have brought swift retribution. And as if she did not care for consequences and wanted to make her words carry a definite sting, she stopped, grinned maliciously, and spoke the choppy dialect of her tribe.

"Yo' tellum me shont-isham. Mebbyso yo' tellum yo' no ketchum Squaw-talk-far-off in sagebrush, all time Saunders go dead! Me ketchum hair-Squaw-talk-far-off hair. You like for see, you thinkum me tell lies?"

From under her blanket she thrust forth a greasy brown hand, and shook triumphantly before them a tangled wisp of woman's hair-the hair of Miss Georgie, without a doubt. There was no gainsaying that color and texture. She looked full at Evadna.

"Yo' like see, me show whereum walk," she said grimly. "Good Injun boot make track, Squaw-talk-far-off little shoe make track. Me show, yo' thinkum mebbyso me tell lie. Stoppum in sagebrush, ketchum hair. Me ketchum knife-Good Injun knife, mebbyso." Revenge mastered cupidity, and she produced that also, and held it up where they could all see.

Evadna looked and winced.

"I don't believe a word you say," she declared stubbornly. "You STOLE that knife. I suppose you also stole the hair. You can't MAKE me believe a thing like that!"

"Squaw-talk-far-off run, run heap fas', get home quick. Me seeum, Viney seeum, Lucy seeum." Hagar pointed to each as she named her, and waited until they give a confirmatory nod. The two squaws gazed steadily at the ground, and she grunted and ignored them afterward, content that they bore witness to her truth in that one particular.

"Squaw-talk-far-off sabe Good Injun killum Man-that-coughs, mebbyso," she hazarded, watching Good Indian's face cunningly to see if the guess struck close to the truth.

"If you've said all you want to say, you better go," Good Indian told her after a moment of silence while they glared at each other. "I won't touch you-because you're such a devil I couldn't stop short of killing you, once I laid my hands on you."

He stopped, held his lips tightly shut upon the curses he would not speak, and Evadna felt his biceps tauten under her fingers as if he were gathering himself for a lunge at the old squaw. She looked up beseechingly into his face, and saw that it was sharp and stern, as it had been that morning when the men had first been discovered in the orchard. He raised his free arm, and pointed imperiously to the trail.

"Pikeway!" he commanded.

Viney and Lucy shrank from the tone of him, and, hiding their faces in a fold of blanket, slunk silently away like dogs that have been whipped and told to go. Even Hagar drew back a pace, hardy as was her untamed spirit. She looked at Evadna clinging to his arm, her eyes wide and startlingly blue and horrified at all she had heard. She laughed then-did Hagar-and waddled after the others, her whole body seeming to radiate contentment with the evil she had wrought.

"There's nothing on earth can equal the malice of an old squaw," said Phoebe, breaking into the silence which followed. "I'd hope she don't go around peddling that story-not that anyone would believe it, but-"

Good Indian looked at her, and at Evadna. He opened his lips for speech, and closed them without saying a word. That near he came to telling them the truth about meeting Miss Georgie, and explaining about the hair and the knife and the footprints Hagar had prated about. But he thought of Rachel, and knew that he would never tell anyone, not even Evadna. The girl loosened his arm, and moved toward her aunt.

"I hate Indians-squaws especially," she said positively. "I hate the way they look at one with their beady eyes, just like snakes. I believe that horrid old thing lies awake nights just thinking up nasty, wicked lies to tell about the people she doesn't like. I don't think you ought to ride around alone so much, Grant; she might murder you. It's in her to do it, if she ever got the chance."

"What do you suppose made her ring Georgie Howard in like that?" Phoebe speculated, looking at Grant. "She must have some grudge against her, too."

"I don't know why." Good Indian spoke unguardedly, because he was still thinking of Rachel and those laboriously printed words which he had scattered afar. "She's always giving them candy and fruit, whenever they show up at the station."

"Oh-h!" Evadna gave the word that peculiar, sliding inflection of hers which meant so much, and regarded him unwin

kingly, with her hands clasped behind her.

Good Indian knew well the meaning of both her tone and her stare, but he only laughed and caught her by the arm.

"Come on over to the hammock," he commanded, with all the arrogance of a lover. "We're making that old hag altogether too important, it seems to me. Come on, Goldilocks-we haven't had a real satisfying sort of scrap for several thousand years."

She permitted him to lead her to the hammock, and pile three cushions behind her head and shoulders-with the dark-blue one on top because her hair looked well against it-and dispose himself comfortably where he could look his fill at her while he swung the hammock gently with his boot-heel, scraping a furrow in the sand. But she did not show any dimples, though his eyes and his lips smiled together when she looked at him, and when he took up her hand and kissed each finger-tip in turn, she was as passive as a doll under the caresses of a child.

"What's the matter?" he demanded, when he found that her manner did not soften. "Worrying still about what that old squaw said?"

"Not in the slightest." Evadna's tone was perfectly polite-which was a bad sign.

Good Indian thought he saw the makings of a quarrel in her general attitude, and he thought he might as well get at once to the real root of her resentment.

"What are you thinking about? Tell me, Goldilocks," he coaxed, pushing his own troubles to the back of his mind.

"Oh, nothing. I was just wondering-though it's a trivial matter which is hardly worth mentioning-but I just happened to wonder how you came to know that Georgie Howard is in the habit of giving candy to the squaws-or anything else. I'm sure I never-" She bit her lips as if she regretted having said so much.

Good Indian laughed. In truth, he was immensely relieved; he had been afraid she might want him to explain something else-something which he felt he must keep to himself even in the face of her anger. But this-he laughed again.

"That's easy enough," he said lightly. "I've seen her do it a couple of times. Maybe Hagar has been keeping an eye on me-I don't know; anyway, when I've had occasion to go to the store or to the station, I've nearly always seen her hanging around in the immediate vicinity. I went a couple of times to see Miss Georgie about this land business. She's wise to a lot of law-used to help her father before he died, it seems. And she has some of his books, I discovered. I wanted to see if there wasn't some means of kicking these fellows off the ranch without making a lot more trouble for old Peaceful. But after I'd read up and talked the thing over with her, we decided that there wasn't anything to be done till Peaceful comes back, and we know what he's been doing about it. That's what's keeping him, of course.

"I suppose," he added, looking at her frankly, "I should have mentioned my going there. But to tell you the truth, I didn't think anything much about it. It was just business, and when I'm with you, Miss Goldilocks, I like to forget my troubles. You," he declared, his eyes glowing upon her, "are the antidote. And you wouldn't have mo believe you could possibly be jealous!"

"No," said Evadna, in a more amiable tone. "Of course I'm not. But I do think you showed a-well, a lack of confidence in me. I don't see why I can't help you share your troubles. You know I want to. I think you should have told me, and let me help. But you never do. Just for instance-why wouldn't you tell me yesterday where you were before breakfast? I know you were SOMEWHERE, because I looked all over the place for you," she argued naively. "I always want to know where you are, it's so lonesome when I don't know. And you see-"

She was interrupted at that point, which was not strange. The interruption lasted for several minutes, but Evadna was a persistent little person. When they came back to mundane matters, she went right on with what she had started out to say.

"You see, that gave old Hagar a chance to accuse you of-well, of a MEETING with Georgie. Which I don't believe, of course. Still, it does seem as if you might have told me in the first place where you had been, and then I could have shut her up by letting her see that I knew all about it. The horrid, mean old THING! To say such things, right to your face! And-Grant, where DID she get hold of that knife, do you suppose-and-that-bunch of-hair?" She took his hand of her own accord, and patted it, and Evadna was not a demonstrative kind of person usually. "It wasn't just a tangle, like combings," she went on slowly. "I noticed particularly. There was a lock as large almost as my finger, that looked as if it had been cut off. And it certainly WAS Georgie's hair."

"Georgie's hair," Good Indian smilingly asserted, "doesn't interest me a little bit. Maybe Hagar scalped Miss Georgie to get it. If it had been goldy, I'd have taken it away from her if I had to annihilate the whole tribe, but seeing it wasn't YOUR hair-"

Well, the argument as such was a poor one, to say the least, but it had the merit of satisfying Evadna as mere logic could not have done, and seemed to allay as well all the doubt that had been accumulating for days past in her mind. But an hour spent in a hammock in the shadiest part of the grove could not wipe out all memory of the past few days, nor quiet the uneasiness which had come to be Good Indian's portion.

"I've got to go up on the hill again right after dinner, Squaw-with-sun-hair," he told her at last. "I can't rest, somehow, as long as those gentlemen are camping down in the orchard. You won't mind, will you?" Which shows that the hour had not been spent in quarreling, at all events.

"Certainly not," Evadna replied calmly. "Because I'm going with you. Oh, you needn't get ready to shake your head! I'm going to help you, from now on, and talk law and give advice and 'scout around,' as you call it. I couldn't be easy a minute, with old Hagar on the warpath the way she is. I'd imagine all sorts of things."

"You don't realize how hot it is," he discouraged.

"I can stand it if you can. And I haven't seen Georgie for DAYS. She must get horribly lonesome, and it's a perfect SHAME that I haven't been up there lately. I'm sure she wouldn't treat ME that way." Evadna had put on her angelic expression. "I WOULD go oftener," she declared virtuously, "only you boys always go off without saying anything about it, and I'm silly about riding past that Indian camp alone. That squaw-the one that caught Huckleberry the other day, you know-would hardly let go of the bridle. I was scared to DEATH, only I wouldn't let her see. I believe now she's in with old Hagar, Grant. She kept asking me where you were, and looked so-"

"I think, on the whole, we'd better wait till after supper when it's cooler, Goldenhair," Good Indian observed, when she hesitated over something she had not quite decided to say. "I suppose I really ought to stay and help the boys with that clover patch that Mother Hart is worrying so about. I guess she thinks we're a lazy bunch, all right, when the old man's gone. We'll go up this evening, if you like."

Evadna eyed him with open suspicion, but if she could read his real meaning from anything in his face or his eyes or his manner, she must have been a very keen observer indeed.

Good Indian was meditating what he called "making a sneak." He wanted to have a talk with Miss Georgie himself, and he certainly did not want Evadna, of all people, to hear what he had to say. For just a minute he wished that they had quarreled again. He went down to the stable, started to saddle Keno, and then decided that he would not. After all, Hagar's gossip could do no real harm, he thought, and it could not make much difference if Miss Georgie did not hear of it immediately.

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