He stood up and listened, thought he heard a faint sound farther along, and ran. There was no use now in going quietly; what counted most was speed.
Once more he caught sight of the white form fleeing from him like the very wraith it would have him believe it. Then he lost it again; and when he reached the spot where it disappeared, he fell headlong, his feet tangled in some white stuff. He swore audibly, picked himself up, and held the cloth where the moon shone full upon it. It looked like a sheet, or something of the sort, and near one edge was a moist patch of red. He stared at it dismayed, crumpled the cloth into a compact bundle, tucked it under his arm, and ran on, his ears strained to catch some sound to guide him.
"Well, anyhow, I didn't kill him," he muttered uneasily as he crawled through a fence into the orchard. "He's making a pretty swift get-away for a fellow that's been shot."
In the orchard the patches of moonlight were larger, and across one of them he glimpsed a dark object, running wearily. Grant repressed an impulse to shout, and used the breath for an extra burst of speed. The ghost was making for the fence again, as if it would double upon its trail and reach some previously chosen refuge. Grant turned and ran also toward the fence, guessing shrewdly that the fugitive would head for the place where the wire could be spread about, and a beaten trail led from there straight out to the road which passed the house. It was the short cut from the peach orchard; and it occurred to him that this particular spook seemed perfectly familiar with the byways of the ranch. Near the fence he made a discovery that startled him a little.
"It's a squaw, by Jove!" he cried when he caught an unmistakable flicker of skirts; and the next moment he could have laughed aloud if he had not been winded from the chase. The figure reached the fence before him, and in the dim light he could see it stoop to pass through. Then it seemed as if the barbs had caught in its clothing and held it there. It struggled to free itself; and in the next minute he rushed up and clutched it fast.
"Why don't you float over the treetops?" he panted ironically. "Ghosts have no business getting their spirit raiment tangled up in a barbed-wire fence."
It answered with a little exclamation, with a sob following close upon it. There was a sound of tearing cloth, and he held his captive upright, and with a merciless hand turned her face so that the moonlight struck it full. They stared at each other, breathing hard from more than the race they had run.
"Well—I'll—be—" Grant began, in blank amazement.
She wriggled her chin in his palm, trying to free herself from his pitiless staring. Failing that, she began to sob angrily without any tears in her wide eyes.
"You—shot me, you brute!" she cried accusingly at last. "You—SHOT me!" And she sobbed again.
Before he answered, he drew backward a step or two, sat down upon the edge of a rock which had rolled out from a stone-heap, and pulled her down beside him, still holding her fast, as if he half believed her capable of soaring away over the treetops, after all.
"I guess I didn't murder you—from the chase you gave me. Did I hit you at all?"
"Yes, you did! You nearly broke my arm—and you might have killed me, you big brute! Look what you did—and I never harmed you at all!" She pushed up a sleeve, and held out her arm accusingly in the moonlight, disclosing a tiny, red furrow where the skin was broken and still bleeding. "And you shot a big hole right through Aunt Phoebe's sheet!" she added, with tearful severity.
He caught her arm, bent his head over it—and for a moment he was perilously near to kissing it; an impulse which astonished him considerably, and angered him more. He dropped the arm rather precipitately; and she lifted it again, and regarded the wound with mournful interest.
"I'd like to know what right you have to prowl around shooting at people," she scolded, seeing how close she could come to touching the place with her fingertips without producing any but a pleasurable pain.
"Just as much right as you have to get up in the middle of the night and go ahowling all over the ranch wrapped up in a sheet," he retorted ungallantly.
"Well, if I want to do it, I don't see why you need concern yourself about it. I wasn't doing it for your benefit, anyway."
"Will you tell me what you DID do it for? Of all the silly tomfoolery—"
An impish smile quite obliterated the Christmas-angel look for an instant, then vanished, and left her a pretty, abused maiden who is grieved at harsh treatment.
"Well, I wanted to scare Gene," she confessed. "I did, too. I just know he's a cowardy-cat, because he's always trying to scare ME. It's Gene's fault—he told me the grove is haunted. He said a long time ago, before Uncle Hart settled here, a lot of Indians waylaid a wagon-train here and killed a girl, and he says that when the moon is just past the full, something white walks through the grove and wails like a lost soul in torment. He says sometimes it comes and moans at the corner of the house where my room is. I just know he was going to do it himself; but I guess he forgot. So I thought I'd see if he believed his own yarns. I was going to do it every night till I scared him into sleeping in the house. I had a perfectly lovely place to disappear into, where he couldn't trace me if he took to hunting around—only he wouldn't dare." She pulled down her sleeve very carefully, and then, just as carefully, she pushed it up again, and took another look.
"My best friend TOLD me I'd get shot if I came to Idaho," she reminded herself, with a melancholy satisfaction.
"You didn't get shot," Grant contradicted for the sake of drawing more sparks of temper where temper seemed quaintly out of place, and stared hard at her drooping profile. "You just got nicely missed; a bullet that only scrapes off a little skin can't be said to hit. I'd hate to hit a bear like that."
"I believe you're wishing you HAD killed me! You might at least have some conscience in the matter, and be sorry you shot a lady. But you're not. You just wish you had murdered me. You hate girls—you said so. And I don't know what business it is of yours, if I want to play a joke on my cousin, or why you had to be sleeping outside, anyway. I've a perfect right to be a ghost if I choose—and I don't call it nice, or polite, or gentlemanly for you to chase me all over the place with a gun, trying to kill me! I'll never speak to you again as long as I live. When I say that I mean it. I never liked you from the very start, when I first saw you this afternoon. Now I hate and despise you. I suppose I oughtn't to expect you to apologize or be sorry because you almost killed me. I suppose that's just your real nature coming to the surface. Indians love to hurt and torture people! I shouldn't have expected anything else of you, I suppose. I made the mistake of treating you like a white man."
"Don't you think you're making another mistake right now?" Grant's whole attitude changed, as well as his tone. "Aren't you afraid to push the white man down into the dirt, and raise up—the INDIAN?"
She cast a swift, half-frightened glance up into his face and the eyes that glowed ominously in the moonlight.
"When people make the blunder of calling up the Indian," he went on steadily, "they usually find that they have to deal with—the Indian."
Evadna looked at him again, and turned slowly white before her temper surged to the surface again.
"I didn't call up the Indian," she defended hotly; "but if the Indian wants to deal with me according to his nature—why, let him! But you don't ACT like other people! I don't know another man who wouldn't have been horrified at shooting me, even such a tiny little bit; but you don't care at all. You never even said you were sorry."
"I'm not in the habit of saying all I think and feel."
"You were quick enough to apologize, after supper there, when you hadn't really done anything; and now, when one would expect you to be at least decently sorry, you—you—well, you act like the savage you are! There, now! It may not be nice to say it, but it's the truth."
Grant smiled bitterly. "All men are savages under the skin," he said. "How do YOU know what I think and feel? If I fail to come through with the conventional patter, I am called an Indian—because my mother was a half-breed." He threw up his head proudly, let his eyes rest for a moment upon the moon, swimming through a white river of clouds just over the tall poplar hedge planted long ago to shelter the orchard from the sweeping west winds; and, when he looked down at her again, he caught a glimpse of repentant tears in her eyes, and softened.
"Oh, you're a girl, and you demand the usual amount of poor-pussy talk," he told her maliciously. "So I'm sorry. I'm heartbroken. If it will help any, I'll even kiss the hurt to make it well—and I'm not a kissing young man, either, let me tell you."
"I'd die before I'd let you touch me!" Her repentance, if it was that, changed to pure rage. She snatched the torn sheet from him and turned abruptly toward the fence. He followed her, apparently unmoved by her attitude; placed his foot upon the lower wire and pressed it into the soft earth, lifted the one next above it as high as it would go, and thus made it easier for her to pass through. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, as though tempted to reject even that slight favor, then stooped, and went through.
As the wires snapped into place, she halted and looked back at him.
"Maybe I've been mean—but you're been meaner," she summed up, in self-justification. "I suppose the next thing you will do will be to tell the boys. Well, I don't care what you do, so long as you never speak to me again. Go and tell them if you want to—tell. TELL, do you hear? I don't want even the favor of your silence!" She dexterously tucked the bundle of white under the uninjured arm, caught the loose folds of her skirt up in her hands, and ran away up the path, not once stopping to see whether he still followed her.
Grant did not follow. He stood leaning against the fence-post, and watched her until her flying form grew indistinct in the shade of the poplar hedge; watched it reappear in a broad strip of white moonlight, still running; saw it turn, slacken speed to a walk, and then lose itself in the darkness of the grove.
Five minutes, ten minutes, he stood there, staring across the level bit of valley lying quiet at the foot of the jagged-rimmed bluff standing boldly up against the star-flecked sky. Then he shook himself impatiently, muttered something which had to do with a "doddering fool," and retraced his steps quickly through the orchard, the currant bushes, and the strawberry patch, jumped the ditch, and so entered the grove and returned to his blankets.
"We thought the spook had got yuh, sure." Gene lifted his head turtlewise and laughed deprecatingly. "We was just about ready to start out after the corpse, only we didn't know but what you might get excited and take a shot at us in the dark. We heard yuh shoot—what was it? Did you find out?"
"It wasn't anything," said Grant shortly, tugging at a boot.
"Ah—there was, too! What was it you shot at?" Clark joined in the argument from the blackness under the locust tree.
"The moon," Grant told him sullenly. "There wasn't anything else that I could see."
"And that's a lie," Gene amended, with the frankness of a foster-brother. "Something yelled like—"
"You never heard a screech-owl before, did you, Gene?" Grant crept between his blankets and snuggled down, as if his mind held nothing more important than sleep.
"Screech-owl my granny! You bumped into something you couldn't handle—if you want to know what I think about it," Clark guessed shrewdly. "I wish now I'd taken the trouble to hunt the thing down; it didn't seem worth while getting up. But I leave it to Gene if you ain't mad enough to murder whatever it was. What was it?"
He waited a moment without getting a reply.
"Well, keep your teeth shut down on it, then, darn yuh!" he growled. "That's the Injun of it—I know YOU! Screech-owl—huh! You said when you left it was an Indian—and that's why we didn't take after it ourselves. We don't want to get the whole bunch down on us like they are on you—and if there was one acting up around here, we knew blamed well it was on your account for what happened to-day. I guess you found out, all right. I knew the minute you heaved in sight that you was just about as mad as you can get—and that's saying a whole lot. If it WAS an Indian, and you killed him, you better let us—"
"Oh, for the lord's sake, WILL YOU SHUT UP!" Grant raised to an elbow, glared a moment, and lay down again.
The result proved the sort of fellow he was. Clark shut up without even trailing off into mumbling to himself, as was his habit when argument brought him defeat.
CHAPTER VII. MISS GEORGIE HOWARD, OPERATOR
"Where is the delightful Mr. Good Indian off to?" Evadna stopped drumming upon the gatepost and turned toward the person she heard coming up behind her, who happened to be Gene. He stopped to light a match upon the gate and put his cigarette to work before he answered her; and Evadna touched tentatively the wide, blue ribbon wound round her arm and tied in a bow at her elbow, and eyed him guardedly.
"Straight up, he told me," Gene answered sourly. "He's sore over something that happened last night, and he didn't seem to have any talk to give away this morning. He can go to the dickens, for all I care."
"WHAT—happened last night?" Evadna wore her Christmas-angel expression; and her tone was the sweet, insipid tone of childlike innocence.
Gene hesitated. It seemed a sheer waste of opportunity to tell her the truth when she would believe a falsehood just as readily; but, since the truth happened to be quite as improbable as a lie, he decided to speak it.
"There was a noise when the moon had just come up—didn't you hear it? The ghost I told you about. Good Injun went after it with a gun, and I guess they mixed, all right, and he got the worst of it. He was sure on the fight when he came back, and he's pulled out this morning—"
"Do you mean to tell me—did you see it, really?"
"Well, you ask Clark, when you see him," Gene hinted darkly. "You just ask him what was in the grove last night. Ask him what he HEARD." He moved closer, and laid his hand impressively upon her arm. Evadna winced perceptibly. "What yuh jumping for? You didn't see anything, did you?"
"No; but—was there REALLY something?" Evadna freed herself as unobtrusively as possible, and looked at him with wide eyes.
"You ask Clark. He'll tell you—maybe. Good Injun's scared clean off the ranch—you can see that for yourself. He said he couldn't be hired to spend another night here. He thinks it's a bad sign. That's the Injun of it. They believe in spirits and signs and things."
Evadna turned thoughtful. "And didn't he tell you what he—that is, if he found out—you said he went after it—"
"He wouldn't say a blamed thing about it," Gene complained sincerely. "He said there wasn't anything—he told us it was a screech-owl."
"Oh!" Evadna gave a sigh of relief. "Well, I'm going to ask Clark what it was—I'm just crazy about ghost stories, only I never would DARE leave the house after dark if there are funny noises and things, really. I think you boys must be the bravest fellows, to sleep out there—without even your mother with you!"
She smiled the credulous smile of ignorant innocence and pulled the gate open.
"Jack promised to take me up to Hartley to-day," she explained over her shoulder. "When I come back, you'll show me just where it was, won't you, Gene? You don't suppose it would walk in the grove in the daytime, do you? Because I'm awfully fond of the grove, and I do hope it will be polite enough to confine its perambulations entirely to the conventional midnight hour."
Gene did not make any reply. Indeed, he seemed wholly absorbed in staring after her and wondering just how much or how little of it she meant.
Evadna looked back, midway between the gate and the stable, and, when she saw him standing exactly as she had left him, she waved her hand and smiled. She was still smiling when she came up to where Jack was giving those last, tentative twitches and pats which prove whether a saddle is properly set and cinched; and she would not say what it was that amused her. All the way up the grade, she smiled and grew thoughtful by turns; and, when Jack mentioned the fact that Good Indian had gone off mad about something, she contented herself with the simple, unqualified statement that she was glad of it.
Grant's horse dozed before the store, and Grant himself sat upon a bench in the narrow strip of shade on the porch. Evadna, therefore, refused absolutely to dismount there, though her errand had been a post-office money order. Jack was already on the ground when she made known her decision; and she left him in the middle of his expostulations and rode on to the depot. He followed disapprovingly afoot; and, when she brought her horse to a stand, he helped her from the saddle, and took the bridle reins with an air of weary tolerance.
"When you get ready to go home, you can come to the store," he said bluntly. "Huckleberry wouldn't stand here if you hog-tied him. Just remember that if you ever ride up here alone—it might save you a walk back. And say," he added, with a return of his good-natured grin, "it looks like you and Good Injun didn't get acquainted yesterday. I thought I saw mum give him an introduction to you—but I guess I made a mistake. When you come to the store, don't let me forget, and I'll do it myself."
"Oh, thank you, Jack—but it isn't necessary," chirped Evadna, and left him with the smile which he had come to regard with vague suspicion of what it might hide of her real feelings.
Two squaws sat cross-legged on the ground in the shade of the little red depot; and them she passed by hastily, her eyes upon them watchfully until she was well upon the platform and was being greeted joyfully by Miss Georgie Howard, then in one of her daily periods of intense boredom.
"My, my, but you're an angel of deliverance—and by rights you should have a pair of gauze wings, just to complete the picture," she cried, leading her inside and pushing her into a beribboned wicker rocker. "I was just getting desperate enough to haul in those squaws out there and see if I couldn't teach 'em whist or something." She sat down and fingered her pompadour absently. "And that sure would have been interesting," she added musingly.
"Don't let me interrupt you," Evadna began primly. "I only came for a money order—Aunt Phoebe's sending for—"
"Never mind what you came for," Miss Georgie cut in decisively, and laughed. "The express agent is out. You can't get your order till we've had a good talk and got each other tagged mentally—only I've tagged you long ago."
"I thought you were the express agent. Aunt Phoebe said—"
"Nice, truthful Aunt Phoebe! I am, but I'm out—officially. I'm several things, my dear; but, for the sake of my own dignity and self-respect, I refuse to be more than one of them at a time. When I sell a ticket to Shoshone, I'm the ticket agent, and nothing else. Telegrams, I'm the operator. At certain times I'm the express agent. I admit it. But this isn't one of the times."
She stopped and regarded her visitor with whimsical appraisement. "You'll wait till the agent returns, won't you?" And added, with a grimace: "You won't be in the way—I'm not anything official right now. I'm a neighbor, and this is my parlor—you see, I planted you on that rug, with the books at your elbow, and that geranium also; and you're in the rocker, so you're really and truly in my parlor. I'm over the line myself, and you're calling on me. Sabe? That little desk by the safe is the express office, and you can see for yourself that the agent is out."
"Well, upon my word!" Evadna permitted herself that much emotional relief. Then she leaned her head against the cherry-colored head-rest tied to the chair with huge, cherry-colored bows, and took a deliberate survey of the room.
It was a small room, as rooms go. One corner was evidently the telegraph office, for it held a crude table, with the instruments clicking spasmodically, form pads, letter files, and mysterious things which piqued her curiosity. Over it was a railroad map and a makeshift bulletin board, which seemed to give the time of certain trains. And small-paned windows gave one sitting before the instruments an unobstructed view up and down the track. In the corner behind the door was a small safe, with door ajar, and a desk quite as small, with, "Express Office: Hours, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M." on a card above it.
Under a small window opening upon the platform was another little table, with indications of occasional ticket-selling upon it. And in the end of the room where she sat were various little adornments—"art" calendars, a few books, fewer potted plants, a sewing-basket, and two rugs upon the floor, with a rocker for each. Also there was a tiny, square table, with a pack of cards scattered over it.
"Exactly. You have it sized up correctly, my dear." Miss Georgie Howard nodded her—head three times, and her eyes were mirthful. "It's a game. I made it a game. I had to, in self-defense. Otherwise—" She waved a hand conspicuous for its white plumpness and its fingers tapering beautifully to little, pink nails immaculately kept. "I took at the job and the place just as it stands, without anything in the way of mitigation. Can you see yourself holding it down for longer than a week? I've been here a month."
"I think," Evadna ventured, "it must be fun."
"Oh, yes. It's fun—if you make fun OF it. However, before we settle down for a real visit, I've a certain duty to perform, if you will excuse my absence for a moment. Incidentally," she added, getting lazily out of the chair, "it will illustrate just how I manage my system."
Her absence was purely theoretical. She stepped off the rug, went to the "express office," and took a card from the desk. When she had stood it upright behind the inkwell, Evadna read in large, irregular capitals:
"OUT. WILL BE BACK LATER."
Miss Georgie Howard paid no attention to the little giggle which went with the reading, but stepped across to the ticket desk and to the telegraph table, and put similar cards on display. Then she came back to the rug, plumped down in her rocker with a sigh of relief, and reached for a large, white box—the five pounds of chocolates which she had sent for.
"I never eat candy when I'm in the office," she observed soberly. "I consider it unprofessional. Help yourself as liberally as your digestion will stand—and for Heaven's sake, gossip a little! Tell me all about that bunch of nifty lads I see cavorting around the store occasionally—and especially about the polysyllabic gentleman who seems to hang out at the Peaceful Hart ranch. I'm terribly taken with him. He—excuse me, chicken. There's a fellow down the line hollering his head off. Wait till I see what he wants."
Again she left the rug, stepped to the telegraph instrument, and fingered the key daintily until she had, with the other hand, turned down the "out" card. Then she threw the switch, rattled an impatient reply, and waited, listening to the rapid clicking of the sounder. Her eyes and her mouth hardened as she read.
"Cad!" she gritted under her breath. Her fingers were spiteful as they clicked the key in answer. She slammed the current off, set up the "out" notice again, kicked the desk chair against the wall, and came back to the "parlor" breathing quickly.
"I think it must be perfectly fascinating to talk that way to persons miles off," said Evadna, eying the chittering sounder with something approaching awe. "I watched your fingers, and tried to imagine what it was they were saying—but I couldn't even guess."
Miss Georgie Howard laughed queerly. "No, I don't suppose you could," she murmured, and added, with a swift glance at the other: "They said, 'You go to the devil.'" She held up the offending hand and regarded it intently. "You wouldn't think it of them, would you? But they have to say things sometimes—in self-defense. There are two or three fresh young men along the line that can't seem to take a hint unless you knock them in the head with it."
She cast a malevolent look at the clicking instrument. "He's trying to square himself," she observed carelessly. "But, unfortunately, I'm out. He seems on the verge of tears, poor thing."
She poked investigatingly among the chocolates, and finally selected a delectable morsel with epicurean care.
"You haven't told me about the polysyllabic young man," she reminded. "He has held my heart in bondage since he said to Pete Hamilton yesterday in the store—ah—" She leaned and barely reached a slip of paper which was lying upon a row of books. "I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget it," she explained parenthetically. "He said to Pete, in the store, just after Pete had tried to say something funny with the usual lamentable failure—um—'You are mentally incapable of recognizing the line of demarcation between legitimate persiflage and objectionable familiarity.' Now, I want to know what sort of a man, under fifty and not a college professor, would—or could—say that without studying it first. It sounded awfully impromptu and easy—and yet he looks—well, cowboyish. What sort of a young man is he?"
"He's a perfectly horrid young man." Evadna leaned to help herself to more chocolates. "He—well, just to show you how horrid, he calls me a—a Christmas angel! And—"
"Did he!" Miss Georgie eyed her measuringly between bites. "Tag him as being intelligent, a keen observer, with the ability to express himself—" She broke off, and turned her head ungraciously toward the sounder, which seemed to be repeating something over and over with a good deal of insistence. "That's Shoshone calling," she said, frowning attentively. "They've got an old crank up there in the office—I'd know his touch among a million—and when he calls he means business. I'll have to speak up, I suppose." She sighed, tucked a chocolate into her cheek, and went scowling to the table. "Can't the idiot see I'm out?" she complained whimsically. "What's that card for, I wonder?"
She threw the switch, rattled a reply, and then, as the sounder settled down to a steady click-clickety-click-click, she drew a pad toward her, pulled up the chair with her foot, sat down, and began to write the message as it came chattering over the wire. When it was finished and the sounder quiet, her hand awoke to life upon the key. She seemed to be repeating the message, word for word. When she was done, she listened, got her answer, threw off the switch with a sweep of her thumb, and fumbled among the papers on the table until she found an envelope. She addressed it with a hasty scrawl of her pencil, sealed it with a vicious little spat of her hand, and then sat looking down upon it thoughtfully.
"I suppose I've got to deliver that immediately, at once, without delay," she said. "There's supposed to be an answer. Chicken, some queer things happen in this business. Here's that weak-eyed, hollow-chested Saunders, that seems to have just life enough to put in about ten hours a day reading 'The Duchess,' getting cipher messages like the hero of a detective story. And sending them, too, by the way. We operators are not supposed to think; but all the same—" She got her receipt-book, filled rapidly a blank line, tucked it under her arm, and went up and tapped Evadna lightly upon the head with the envelope. "Want to come along? Or would you rather stay here? I won't be more than two minutes."
She was gone five; and she returned with a preoccupied air which lasted until she had disposed of three chocolates and was carefully choosing a fourth.
"Chicken," she said then, quietly, "do you know anything about your uncle and his affairs?" And added immediately: "The chances are ten to one you don't, and wouldn't if you lived there till you were gray?"
"I know he's perfectly lovely," Evadna asserted warmly. "And so is Aunt Phoebe."
"To be sure." Miss Georgie smiled indulgently. "I quite agree with you. And by the way, I met that polysyllabic cowboy again—and I discovered that, on the whole, my estimate was incorrect. He's emphatically monosyllabic. I said sixteen nice things to him while I was waiting for Pete to wake up Saunders; and he answered in words of one syllable; one word, of one syllable. I'm beginning to feel that I've simply got to know that young man. There are deeps there which I am wild to explore. I never met any male human in the least like him. Did you? So absolutely—ah—inscrutable, let us say."
"That's just because he's part Indian," Evadna declared, with the positiveness of youth and inexperience. "It isn't inscrutability, but stupidity. I simply can't bear him. He's brutal, and rude. He told me—told me, mind you—that he doesn't like women. He actually warned me against thinking his politeness—if he ever is polite, which I doubt—means more than just common humanity. He said he didn't want me to misunderstand him and think he liked me, because he doesn't. He's a perfect savage. I simply loathe him!"
"I'd certainly see that he repented, apologized, and vowed eternal devotion," smiled Miss Georgie. "That should be my revenge."
"I don't want any revenge. I simply want nothing to do with him. I don't want to speak to him, even."
"He's awfully good—looking," mused Miss Georgie.
"He looks to me just like an Indian. He ought to wear a blanket, like the rest."
"Then you're no judge. His eyes are dark; but they aren't snaky, my dear. His hair is real wavy, did you notice? And he has the dearest, firm mouth. I noticed it particularly, because I admire a man who's a man. He's one. He'd fight and never give up, once he started. And I think"—she spoke hesitatingly—"I think he'd love—and never give up; unless the loved one disappointed him in some way; and then he'd be strong enough to go his way and not whine about it. I do hate a whiner! Don't you?"
A shadow fell upon the platform outside the door, and Saunders appeared, sidling deprecatingly into the room. He pulled off his black, slouched hat and tucked it under his arm, smoothed his lank, black hair, ran his palm down over his lank, unshaven face with a smoothing gesture, and sidled over to the telegraph table.
"Here's the answer to that message," he said, in a limp tone, without any especial emphasis or inflection. "If you ain't too busy, and could send it right off—it's to go C.O.D. and make 'em repeat it, so as to be sure—"
"Certainly, Mr. Saunders." Miss Georgie rose, the crisp, businesslike operator, and went to the table. She took the sheet of paper from him with her finger tips, as if he were some repulsive creature whose touch would send her shuddering, and glanced at the message. "Write it on the regular form," she said, and pushed a pad and pencil toward him. "I have to place it on file." Whereupon she turned her back upon him, and stood staring down the railroad track through the smoke-grimed window until a movement warned her that he was through.
"Very well—that is all," she said, after she had counted the words twice. "Oh—you want to wait for the repeat."
She laid her fingers on the key and sent the message in a whirl of chittering little sounds, waited a moment while the sounder spoke, paused, and then began a rapid clicking, which was the repeated message, and wrote it down upon its form.
"There—if it's correct, that's all," she told him in a tone of dismissal, and waited openly for him to go. Which he did, after a sly glance at Evadna, a licking of pale lips, as if he would speak but lacked the courage, and a leering grin at Miss Georgie.
He was no sooner over the threshold than she slammed the door shut, in spite of the heat. She walked to the window, glanced down the track again, turned to the table, and restlessly arranged the form pads, sticking the message upon the file. She said something under her breath, snapped the cover on the inkwell, sighed, patted her pompadour, and finally laughed at her own uneasiness.
"Whenever that man comes in here," she observed impatiently, "I always feel as if I ought to clean house after him. If ever there was a human toad—or snake, or—ugh! And what does he mean—sending twenty-word messages that don't make sense when you read them over, and getting others that are just a lot of words jumbled together, hit or miss? I wish—only it's unprofessional to talk about it—but, just the same, there's some nasty business brewing, and I know it. I feel guilty, almost, every time I send one of those cipher messages."
"Maybe he's a detective," Evadna hazarded.
"Maybe." Miss Georgie's tone, however, was extremely skeptical. "Only, so far as I can discover, there's never been anything around here to detect. Nobody has been murdered, or robbed, or kidnapped that I ever heard of. Pete Hamilton says not. And—I wonder, now, if Saunders could be watching somebody! Wouldn't it be funny, if old Pete himself turned out to be a Jesse James brand of criminal? Can you imagine Pete doing anything more brutal than lick a postage stamp?"
"He might want to," Evadna guessed shrewdly, "but it would be too much trouble."
"Besides," Miss Georgie went on speculating, "Saunders never does anything that anyone ever heard of. Sweeps out the store, they say—but I'd hate to swear to that. I never could catch it when it looked swept—and brings the mail sack over here twice a day, and gets one to take back. And reads novels. Of course, the man's half dead with consumption; but no one would object to that, if these queer wires hadn't commenced coming to him."
"Why don't you turn detective yourself and find out?" Plainly, Evadna was secretly laughing at her perturbed interest in the matter.
"Thanks. I'm too many things already, and I haven't any false hair or dark lantern. And, by the way, I'm going to have the day off, Sunday. Charlie Green is coming up to relieve me. And—couldn't we do something?" She glanced wearily around the little office. "Honest, I'd go crazy if I stayed here much longer without a play spell. I want to get clear out, away from the thing—where I can't even hear a train whistle."
"Then you shall come down to the ranch the minute you can get away, and we'll do something or go somewhere. The boys said they'd take me fishing—but they only propose things so they can play jokes on me, it seems to me. They'd make me fall in the river, or something, I just know. But if you'd like to go along, there'd be two of us—"
"Chicken, we'll go. I ought to be ashamed to fish for an invitation the way I did, but I'm not. I haven't been down to the Hart ranch yet; and I've heard enough about it to drive me crazy with the desire to see it. Your Aunt Phoebe I've met, and fallen in love with—that's a matter of course. She told me to visit her just any time, without waiting to be invited especially. Isn't she the dearest thing? Oh! that's a train order, I suppose—sixteen is about due. Excuse me, chicken."
She was busy then until the train came screeching down upon the station, paused there while the conductor rushed in, got a thin slip of paper for himself and the engineer, and rushed out again. When the train grumbled away from the platform and went its way, it left man standing there, a fish-basket slung from one shoulder, a trout rod carefully wrapped in its case in his hand, a box which looked suspiciously like a case of some bottled joy at his feet, and a loose-lipped smile upon his face.
"Howdy, Miss Georgie?" he called unctuously through the open door.
Miss Georgie barely glanced at him from under her lashes, and her shoulders indulged themselves in an almost imperceptible twitch.
"How do you do, Mr. Baumberger?" she responded coolly, and very, very gently pushed the door shut just as he had made up his mind to enter.
CHAPTER VIII. THE AMIABLE ANGLER
Baumberger—Johannes was the name he answered to when any of his family called, though to the rest of the world he was simply Baumberger—was what he himself called a true sport. Women, he maintained, were very much like trout; and so, when this particular woman calmly turned her back upon the smile cast at her, he did not linger there angling uselessly, but betook himself to the store, where his worldly position, rather than his charming personality, might be counted upon to bring him his meed of appreciation.
Good Indian and Jack, sitting side by side upon the porch and saying very little, he passed by with a careless nod, as being not worth his attention. Saunders, glancing up from the absorbing last chapter of "The Brokenhearted Bride," also received a nod, and returned it apathetically. Pete Hamilton, however, got a flabby handshake, a wheezy laugh, and the announcement that he was down from Shoshone for a good, gamy tussle with that four-pounder he had lost last time.
"And I don't go back till I get him—not if I stay here a week," he declared, with jocular savagery. "Took half my leader and my pet fly—I got him with a peacock-bodied gray hackle that I revised to suit my own notions—and, by the great immortal Jehosaphat, he looked like a whale when he jumped up clear of the riffle, turned over, and—" His flabby, white hand made a soaring movement to indicate the manner in which the four-pounder had vanished.
"Better take a day off and go with me, Pete," he suggested, getting an unwieldy-looking pipe from the pocket of his canvas fishing-coat, and opening his eyes at a trout-fly snagged in the mouthpiece. "Now, how did that fly come there?" he asked aggrievedly, while he released it daintily for all his fingers looked so fat and awkward. He stuck the pipe in the corner of his mouth, and held up the fly with that interest which seems fatuous to one who has no sporting blood in his veins.
"Last time I used that fly was when I was down here three weeks ago—the day I lost the big one. Ain't it a beauty, eh? Tied it myself. And, by the great immortal Jehosaphat, it fetches me the rainbows, too. Good mind to try it on the big one. Don't see how I didn't miss it out of my book—I must be getting absent-minded. Sign of old age, that. Failing powers and the like." He shook his head reprovingly and grinned, as if he considered the idea something of a joke. "Have to buck up—a lawyer can't afford to grow absent-minded. He's liable to wake up some day and find himself without his practice."
He got his fly-book from the basket swinging at his left hip, opened it, turned the leaves with the caressing touch one gives to a cherished thing, and very carefully placed the fly upon the page where it belonged; gazed gloatingly down at the tiny, tufted hooks, with their frail-looking five inches of gut leader, and then returned the book fondly to the basket.
"Think I'll go on down to the Harts'," he said, "so as to be that much closer to the stream. Daylight is going to find me whipping the riffles, Peter. You won't come along? You better. Plenty of—ah—snake medicine," he hinted, chuckling so that the whole, deep chest of him vibrated. "No? Well, you can let me have a horse, I suppose—that cow-backed sorrel will do—he's gentle, I know. I think I'll go out and beg an invitation from that Hart boy—never can remember those kids by name—Gene, is it, or Jack?"
He went out upon the porch, laid a hand upon Jack's shoulder, and beamed down upon him with what would have passed easily for real affection while he announced that he was going to beg supper and a bed at the ranch, and wanted to know, as a solicitous after-thought, if Jack's mother had company, or anything that would make his presence a burden.
"Nobody's there—and, if there was, it wouldn't matter," Jack assured him carelessly. "Go on down, if you want to. It'll be all right with mother."
"One thing I like about fishing down here," chuckled Baumberger, his fat fingers still resting lightly upon Jack's shoulder, "is the pleasure of eating my fish at your house. There ain't another man, woman, or child in all Idaho can fry trout like your mother. You needn't tell her I said so—but it's a fact, just the same. She sure is a genius with the frying-pan, my boy."
He turned and called in to Pete, to know if he might have the sorrel saddled right away. Since Pete looked upon Baumberger with something of the awed admiration which he would bestow upon the President, he felt convinced that his horses were to be congratulated that any one of them found favor in his eyes.
Pete, therefore, came as near to roaring at Saunders as his good nature and his laziness would permit, and waited in the doorway until Saunders had, with visible reluctance, laid down his book and started toward the stable.
"Needn't bother to bring the horse down here, my man," Baumberger called after him. "I'll get him at the stable and start from there. Well, wish me luck, Pete—and say! I'll expect you to make a day of it with me Sunday. No excuses, now. I'm going to stay over that long, anyhow. Promised myself three good days—maybe more. A man's got to break away from his work once in a while. If I didn't, life wouldn't be worth living. I'm willing to grind—but I've got to have my playtime, too. Say, I want you to try this rod of mine Sunday. You'll want one like it yourself, if I'm any good at guessing. Just got it, you know—it's the one I was talking to yuh about last time I was down.
"W-ell—I reckon my means of conveyance is ready for me—so long, Peter, till Sunday. See you at supper, boys."
He hooked a thumb under the shoulder-strap of his basket, pulled it to a more comfortable position, waved his hand in a farewell, which included every living thing within sight of him, and went away up the narrow, winding trail through the sagebrush to the stable, humming something under his breath with the same impulse of satisfaction with life which sets a cat purring.
Some time later, he appeared, in the same jovial mood, at the Hart ranch, and found there the welcome which he had counted upon—the welcome which all men received there upon demand.
When Evadna and Jack rode up, they found Mr. Baumberger taking his ease in Peaceful's armchair on the porch, discussing, with animated gravity, the ins and outs of county politics; his fishing-basket lying on its flat side close to his chair, his rod leaning against the house at his elbow, his heavy pipe dragging down one corner of his loose-lipped mouth; his whole gross person surrounded by an atmosphere of prosperity leading the simple life transiently and by choice, and of lazy enjoyment in his own physical and mental well-being.
CHAPTER IX. PEPPAJEE JIM "HEAP SABES"
Peppajee Jim had meditated long in the shade of his wikiup, and now, when the sun changed from a glaring ball of intense, yellow heat to a sullen red disk hanging low over the bluffs of Snake River, he rose, carefully knocked the ashes from his little stone pipe, with one mechanical movement of his arms, gathered his blanket around him, pushed a too-familiar dog from him with a shove of moccasined foot, and stalked away through the sagebrush.
On the brow of the hill, just where the faint footpath dipped into a narrow gully at the very edge, almost, of the bluff, he stopped, and lifted his head for an unconsciously haughty stare at his surroundings.
Beneath him and half a mile or so up the river valley, the mellow green of Peaceful's orchard was already taking to itself the vagueness of evening shadows. Nearer, the meadow of alfalfa and clover lay like a soft, green carpet of velvet, lined here and there with the irrigation ditches which kept it so. And in the center of the meadow, a small inclosure marked grimly the spot where lay the bones of old John Imsen. All around the man-made oasis of orchards and meadows, the sage and the sand, pushed from the river by the jumble of placer pits, emphasized by sharp contrast what man may do with the most unpromising parts of the earth's surface, once he sets himself heart and muscle to the task.
With the deliberation of his race, Peppajee stood long minutes motionless, gazing into the valley before he turned with a true Indian shrug and went down into the gully, up the steep slope beyond, and then, after picking his way through a jumble of great bowlders, came out eventually into the dust-ridden trail of the white man. Down that he walked, erect, swift, purposeful, his moccasins falling always with the precision of a wild animal upon the best footing among the loose rocks, stubs of sage-roots, or patches of deep dust and sand beside the wagon-road, his sharp, high-featured face set in the stony calm which may hide a tumult of elemental passions beneath and give no sign.
Where the trail curved out sharply to round the Point o' Rocks, he left it, and kept straight on through the sage, entered a rough pass through the huge rock tongue, and came out presently to the trail again, a scant two hundred yards from the Hart haystacks. When he reached the stable, he stopped and looked warily about him, but there was no sight or sound of any there save animals, and he went on silently to the house, his shadow stretching long upon the ground before him until it merged into the shade of the grove beyond the gate, and so was lost for that day.
"Hello, Peppajee," called Wally over his cigarette. "Just in time for supper."
Peppajee grunted, stopped in the path two paces from the porch, folded his arms inside his blanket, and stood so while his eyes traveled slowly and keenly around the group lounging at ease above him. Upon the bulky figure of Baumberger they dwelt longest, and while he looked his face hardened until nothing seemed alive but his eyes.
"Peppajee, this my friend, Mr. Baumberger. You heap sabe Baumberger—come all time from Shoshone, mebbyso catchum heap many fish." Peaceful's mild, blue eyes twinkled over his old meerschaum. He knew the ways of Indians, and more particularly he knew the ways of Peppajee; Baumberger, he guessed shrewdly, had failed to find favor in his eyes.
"Huh!" grunted Peppajee non-commitally, and made no motion to shake hands, thereby confirming Peaceful's suspicion. "Me heap sabe Man-that-catchum-fish." After which he stood as before, his arms folded tightly in his blanket, his chin lifted haughtily, his mouth a straight, stern line of bronze.
"Sit down, Peppajee. Bimeby eat supper," Peaceful invited pacifically, while Baumberger chuckled at the Indian's attitude, which he attributed to racial stupidity.
Peppajee did not even indicate that he heard or, hearing, understood.
"Bothered much with Injuns?" Baumberger asked carelessly, putting away his pipe. "I see there's quite a camp of 'em up on the hill. Hope you've got good watchdogs—they're a thieving lot. If they're a nuisance, Hart, I'll see what can be done about slapping 'em back on their reservation, where they belong. I happen to have some influence with the agent."
"I guess you needn't go to any trouble about it," Peaceful returned dryly. "I've had worse neighbors."
"Oh—if you're stuck on their company!" laughed Baumberger wheezily. "'Every fellow to his taste, as the old woman said when she kissed her cow.' There may be good ones among the lot," he conceded politely when he saw that his time-worn joke had met with disfavor, even by the boys, who could—and usually did—laugh at almost anything. "They all look alike to me, I must admit; I never had any truck with 'em."
"No, I guess not," Peaceful agreed in his slow way, holding his pipe three inches from his face while he eyed Peppajee quizzically. "Don't pay to have any truck with 'em while you feel that way about it." He smoothed down his snow-white beard with his free hand, pushed the pipe-stem between his teeth, and went on smoking.
"I never liked the breed, any way you look at 'em," Baumberger stated calmly.
"Say, you'll queer yourself good and plenty, if you keep on," Wally interrupted bluntly. "Peppajee's ears aren't plugged with cotton—are they, Jim?"
Neither Peppajee nor Baumberger made reply of any sort, and Peaceful turned his mild eyes reproachfully toward his untactful son. But the supper summons clanged insistently from the iron triangle on the back porch and saved the situation from becoming too awkward. Even Baumberger let his tilted chair down upon its four legs with a haste for which his appetite was not alone responsible, and followed the boys into the house as if he were glad to escape from the steady, uncompromising stare of the Indian.
"Better come and eat, Peppajee," Peaceful lingered upon the porch to urge hospitably. "You no get mad. You come eat supper."
"No!" Peppajee jerked the word out with unmistakable finality. "No eat. Bimeby mebbyso makum big talk yo'."
Peaceful studied his face, found it stern and unyielding, and nodded assent. "All right. I eat, then I talk with you." He turned somewhat reluctantly and followed the others inside, leaving Peppajee to pass the time away as pleased him best.
Peppajee stood still for a moment listening to the clatter of dishes from the kitchen, and then with dignity end deliberation seated himself upon the lowest step of the porch, and, pulling his blanket tight around him, resettled his disreputable old sombrero upon his head and stared fixedly at the crimson glow which filled all the west and made even the rugged bluff a wonderful thing of soft, rose tints and shadows of royal purple. Peaceful, coming out half an hour after with Baumberger at his heels, found him so and made a movement to sit down beside him. But Peppajee rose and stalked majestically to the gate, then turned and confronted the two.
"I talk yo'. Mebbyso no talk Man-with-big-belly." He waited impassively.
"All right, Jim." Peaceful turned apologetically toward his guest. "Something he wants to tell me, Baumberger; kinda private, I guess. I'll be back in a minute, anyway."
"Now don't mind me at all," Baumberger protested generously. "Go ahead just as if I wasn't here—that's what'll please me best. I hope I ain't so much of a stranger you've got to stand on ceremony. Go on, and find out what the old buck wants; he's got something on his mind, that's sure. Been stealing fruit, maybe, and wants to square himself before you catch him at it." He laughed his laziest, and began leisurely to fill his pipe.
Peppajee led the way to the stable, where he stopped short and faced Peaceful, his arms folded, one foot thrust forward in the pose he affected when about to speak of matters important.
"Long time ago, when yo' hair black," he began deliberately, with a sonorous lingering upon his vowels, "yo' all time my frien'. I yo' frien' all same. Yo' no likum otha white man. Yo' all time bueno. Yo' house all same my wikiup. Me come eat at yo' house, talk yo' all same brotha. Yo' boys all same my boys—all time my frien'. Me speakum all time no lie, mebbyso."
"No," Peaceful assented unhesitatingly, "you no tell lies, Peppajee. We good friends, many years."
"Huh! Man-that-catchum-fish, him no yo' frien'. Shont-isham. All time him speakum lies—tellum frien' yo', no frien'. Yo' no more tellum stop yo' wikiup. Kay bueno. Yo' thinkum frien'. All time him have bad heart for yo'. Yo' got ranch. Got plenty hay, plenty apple, plenty all thing for eat. All time him think bad for yo'. All time him likum steal yo' ranch."
Peaceful laughed indulgently. "You no sabe," he explained. "Him like my ranch. Him say, long time ago, pay much money for my ranch. Me no sell—me like for keep all time. Baumberger good man. Him no steal my ranch. Me got one paper from government—you sabe?—one paper say ranch all time b'longum me all same. Big white chief say ranch b'longum me all time. I die, ranch b'longum my boys. You sabe?"
Peppajee considered. "Me sabe," he said at length. "Me sabe paper, sabe ranch all time b'longum yo'. All same, him like for ketchum yo' ranch. Me hear much talk, him talk Man-that-coughs, tellum him ketchum ranch. Much white man come, so—" He lifted one hand with thumb and fingers outspread, made a downward gesture, and then raised three fingers. "Catchum ranch."
Peaceful shook his head while he smiled. "No can do that. Mebbyso much men come, heap fight, mebbyso killum me, ranch all same b'longum my boys. Men that fights go to jail, mebbyso hangum." He indicated by signs his exact meaning.
Peppajee scowled, and shook his head stubbornly. "Me heap sabe. All same, ketchum yo' ranch. Man-that-catchum-fish kay bueno. Yo' thinkum frien', yo' damfool. Him all same rattlesnake. Plenty foolum yo'. Yo' see. Yo' thinkum Peppajee Jim heap big fool. Peaceful Hart, him all time one heap big damfool. Him ketchum yo' ranch. Yo' see." He stopped and stared hard at the dim bulk of the grove, whence came the faint odor of smoke from Baumberger's pipe.
"Yo' be smart man," he added grimly, "yo' all same kickum dat mans off yo' ranch." For emphasis he thrust out a foot vigorously in the direction of the house and the man he maligned, and turned his face toward camp. Peaceful watched until the blanketed form merged into the dusk creeping over the valley, and when it disappeared finally into the short cut through the sage, he shook his gray head in puzzlement over the absurd warning, and went back to talk politics with Baumberger.
CHAPTER X. MIDNIGHT PROWLERS
Came midnight and moonlight together, and with them came also Good Indian riding somewhat sullenly down the trail to the ranch. Sullen because of Evadna's attitude, which seemed to him permanently antagonistic, and for very slight cause, and which made the ranch an unpleasant abiding place.
He decided that he would not stop at the ranch, but would go on up the valley to where one Abuer Hicks lived by himself in a half-dugout, half-board shack, and by mining a little where his land was untillable, and farming a little where the soil took kindly to fruit and grasses, managed to exist without too great hardship. The pension he received for having killed a few of his fellow-men at the behest of his government was devoted solely to liquid relief from the monotony of his life, and welcome indeed was the man who brought him a bottle of joy between times. Wherefore Good Indian had thoughtfully provided himself with a quart or so and rode with his mind at ease so far as his welcome at the Hicks dwelling place was concerned.
Once again the Peaceful Hart ranch lay in brooding silence under the shadow of the bluff. A few crickets chirped shrilly along the trail, and from their sudden hush as he drew near marked unerringly his passing. Along the spring-fed creek the frogs croaked a tuneless medley before him, and, like the crickets, stopped abruptly and waited in absolute silence to take up their night chant again behind him. His horse stepped softly in the deep sand of the trail, and, when he found that his rider refused to let him stop at the stable-door, shook his head in mute displeasure, and went quietly on. As he neared the silent house, the faint creak of saddle-leather and the rattle of spur-chains against his iron stirrups were smothered in the whispering of the treetops in the grove, so that only the quick hushing of night noises alone betrayed him to any wakeful ear.
He was guilty of staring hard at that corner of the house where he knew Evadna slept, and of scowling over the vague disquiet which the thought of her caused him. No girl had ever troubled his mind before. It annoyed him that the face and voice of Evadna obtruded, even upon his thoughts of other things.
The grove was quiet, and he could hear Gene's unmistakable snore over by the pond—the only sound save the whispering of the trees, which went on, unmindful of his approach. It was evident, he thought, that the ghost was effectually laid—and on the heels of that, as he rode out from the deep shade of the grove and on past the garden to the meadows beyond, he wondered if, after all, it was again hardily wandering through the night; for he thought he glimpsed a figure which flitted behind a huge rock a few rods in advance of him, and his eyes were not used to playing him tricks.
He gave a twitch of his fingers upon the reins, and turned from the trail to investigate. He rode up to the rock, which stood like an island of shade in that sea of soft moonlight, and, peering into the shadows, spoke a guarded challenge:
A figure detached itself without sound from the blot of darkness there, and stood almost at his stirrup.
"Yo' Good Injun—me likum for talk yo'."
Good Indian was conscious of a distinct disappointment, though he kept it from his voice when he answered:
"Oh, it's you, Peppajee. What you do here? Why you no sleepum yo' wikiup?"
Peppajee held up a slim, brown hand for silence, and afterward rested it upon the saddle-fork.
"Yo' heap frien' Peaceful. Me heap frien' all same. Mebbyso we talk. Yo' get down. No can see yo', mebbyso; yo' no likum bad man for se—" He stepped back a pace, and let Good Indian dismount; then with a gesture he led him back into the shadow of the rock.
"Well, what's the row?" Good Indian asked impatiently, and curiously as well.
Peppajee spoke more hastily than was usual. "Me watchum Man-that-catchum-fish. Him hee-eeap kay bueno. Me no sabe why him walk, walk in night—me heap watchum."
"You mean Baumberger? He's all right. He comes down here to catchum many fish—trout, up in the Malad, you sabe. Heap friend Peaceful. You no likum?"
"Kay bueno." Peppajee rested a forefinger upon Good Indian's arm. "Sun up there," he pointed high in the west. "Me go all same Hartley. Come stable—Pete stable—me walkum close—no makum noise. Me hear talk. Stoppum—no can see—me hear much bad talk. All time me hear, heap likum for steal dis ranch. Me no sabe"—his tone was doubtful for a space—"all same, me hear stealum this ranch. Man, you callum—"
"Baumberger?" suggested Grant.
"Him. All same Baumberga, him talk Man-that-coughs. All time say stealum ranch. Makum much bad talk, them mans. Me come ranch, me tellum Peaceful, him all time laugh, me. All time shakum head. Mebbyso thinkum I lie—shont-isham!"
"What more you do?" Good Indian, at least, did not laugh.
"Me go camp. Me thinkum, thinkum all time. Dat man have bad heart. Kay bueno. No can sleep—thinkum mebbyso do bad for Peaceful. Come ranch, stop all time dark, all time heap watchum. Bimeby, mebbyso man—all same yo' callum Baumberga—him come, look, so—" He indicated, by a great craning of neck in all directions, the wariness of one who goes by stealth. "Him walk still all time, go all time ova there." He swept his arm toward the meadows. "Me go still, for watchum. Yo' come, mebbyso make heap much noise—kay bueno. Dat mans, him hear, him heap scare. Me tellum, yo' mebbyso go still." He folded his arms with a gesture of finality, and stood statue-like in the deep gloom beside the rock.
Good Indian fingered his horse's mane while he considered the queer story. There must be something in it, he thought, to bring Peppajee from his blankets at midnight and to impel him, unfriendly as he usually seemed, to confide his worry to him at once and without urging. And yet, to steal the Peaceful Hart ranch—the idea was ludicrous. Still, there was no harm in looking around a bit. He sought a sagebrush that suited his purpose, tied his horse to it, stooped, and took the clanking Mexican spurs from his heels, and touched Peppajee on the shoulder.
"All right," he murmured close to his ear, "we go see."
Without a word, Peppajee turned, and stole away toward the meadows, keeping always in the shadow of rock or bush, silent-footed as a prowling bobcat. Close behind him, not quite so silent because of his riding-boots, which would strike now and then upon a rock, however careful he was of his footing, went Good Indian.
So they circled the meadow, came into sand and sage beyond, sought there unavailingly, went on to the orchard, and skirted it, keen of eye and ear, struck quietly through it, and came at last to the place where, the night before, Grant had overtaken Evadna—and it surprised him not a little to feel his heart pounding unreasonably against his ribs when he stopped beside the rock where they had sat and quarreled.
Peppajee looked back to see why Grant paused there, and then, wrapping his blanket tightly around him, crawled through the fence, and went on, keeping to the broad belt of shade cast upon the ground by the row of poplars. Where the shade stopped abruptly, and beyond lay white moonlight with the ranch buildings blotching it here and there, he stopped and waited until Good Indian stood close beside him. Even then he did not speak, but, freeing an arm slowly from the blanket folds, pointed toward the stable.
Grant looked, saw nothing, stared harder, and so; feeling sure there must be something hidden there, presently believed that a bit of the shadow at that end which was next the corral wavered, stopped, and then moved unmistakably. All the front of the stable was distinctly visible in the white light, and, while they looked, something flitted across it, and disappeared among the sage beyond the trail.
Again they waited; two minutes, three minutes, five. Then another shadow detached itself slowly from the shade of the stable, hesitated, walked out boldly, and crossed the white sand on the path to the house. Baumberger it was, and he stopped midway to light his pipe, and so, puffing luxuriously, went on into the blackness of the grove.
They heard him step softly upon the porch, heard also the bovine sigh with which he settled himself in the armchair there. They caught the aromatic odor of tobacco smoke ascending, and knew that his presence there had all at once become the most innocent, the most natural thing in the world; for any man, waking on such a night, needs no justification for smoking a nocturnal pipe upon the porch while he gazes dreamily out upon the moon-bathed world around him.
Peppajee touched Grant's arm, and turned back, skirting the poplars again until they were well away from the house, and there was no possibility of being heard. He stopped there, and confronted the other.
"What for you no stoppum stable?" he questioned bluntly. "What for you no stoppum ranch, for sleepum?"
"I go for stoppum Hicks' ranch," said Good Indian, without any attempt at equivocation.
Peppajee grunted. "What for yo' no stoppum all same Peaceful?"
Good Indian scorned a subterfuge, and spoke truly. "That girl, Evadna, no likum me. All time mad me. So I no stoppum ranch, no more."
Peppajee grinned briefly and understandingly, and nodded his head. "Me heap sabe. Yo' all time heap like for catchum that girl, be yo' squaw. Bimeby that girl heap likum yo'. Me sabe." He stood a moment staring at the stars peeping down from above the rim-rock which guarded the bluff. "All same, yo' no go stoppum Hicks," he commanded. "Yo' stoppum dis ranch all time. Yo' all time watchum man—yo' callum Baumberga." He seemed to remember and speak the name with some difficulty. "Where him go, yo' go, for heap watchum. All time mebbyso me watchum Man-that-coughs. Me no sabe catchum ranch—all same, me watchum. Them mans heap kay bueno. Yo' bet yo' life!"
A moment he stood there after he was through speaking, and then he was not there. Good Indian did not hear him go, though he had stood beside him; neither could he, catching sight of a wavering shadow, say positively that there went Peppajee.
He waited for a space, stole back to where he could hear any sound from the porch even if he could not see, and when he was certain that Baumberger had gone back to his bed, he got his horse, took him by a roundabout way to the stable, and himself slept in a haystack. At least, he made himself a soft place beside one, and lay there until the sun rose, and if he did not sleep it was not his fault, for he tried hard enough.
That is how Good Indian came to take his usual place at the breakfast table, and to touch elbows with Evadna and to greet her with punctilious politeness and nothing more. That is why he got out his fishing-tackle and announced that he thought he would have a try at some trout himself, and so left the ranch not much behind Baumberger. That is why he patiently whipped the Malad riffles until he came up with the portly lawyer from Shoshone, and found him gleeful over a full basket and bubbling with innocent details of this gamy one and that one still gamier. They rode home together, and together they spent the hot afternoon in the cool depths of the grove.
By sundown Good Indian was ready to call himself a fool and Peppajee Jim a meddlesome, visionary old idiot. Steal the Peaceful Hart ranch? The more he thought of it, the more ridiculous the thing seemed.
CHAPTER XI. "YOU CAN'T PLAY WITH ME"
Good Indian was young, which means that he was not always logical, nor much given to looking very far into the future except as he was personally concerned in what he might see there. By the time Sunday brought Miss Georgie Howard and the stir of preparation for the fishing trip, he forgot that he had taken upon himself the responsibility of watching the obviously harmless movements of Baumberger, or had taken seriously the warnings of Peppajee Jim; or if he did not forget, he at least pushed it far into the background of his mind with the assertion that Peppajee was a meddlesome old fool and Baumberger no more designing than he appeared—which was not at all.
What did interest him that morning was the changeful mood of Evadna; though he kept his interest so well hidden that no one suspected it—not even the young lady herself. It is possible that if Evadna had known that Good Indian's attitude of calm oblivion to her moods was only a mask, she might have continued longer her rigorous discipline of averted face and frigid tones.
As it was, she thawed toward him as he held himself more aloof, until she actually came to the point of addressing him directly, with a flicker of a smile for good measure; and, although he responded with stiff civility, he felt his blood pulse faster, and suddenly conceived the idea that women are like the creatures of the wild. If one is very quiet, and makes no advance whatever, the hunted thing comes closer and closer, and then a sudden pounce—he caught his breath. After that he was wary and watchful and full of his purpose.
Within ten minutes Evadna walked into the trap. They had started, and were fifty yards up the trail, when Phoebe shouted frantically after them. And because she was yet a timid rider and feared to keep the pace set by the others, it was Evadna who heard and turned back to see what was the trouble. Aunt Phoebe was standing beside the road, waving a flask.
"It's the cream for your coffee," she cried, going to meet Evadna. "You can slip it into your jacket-pocket, can't you, honey? Huckleberry is so steady—and you won't do any wild riding like the boys."
"I've got my veil and a box of bait and two handkerchiefs and a piece of soap," the girl complained, reaching down for the bottle, nevertheless. "But I can carry it in my hand till I overtake somebody to give it to."
The somebody proved to be Good Indian, who had found it necessary to stop and inspect carefully the left forefoot of his horse, without appearing aware of the girl's approach. She ambled up at Huckleberry's favorite shuffling gait, struck him with her whip—a blow which would not have perturbed a mosquito—when he showed a disposition to stop beside Grant, and then, when Huckleberry reluctantly resumed his pacing, pulled him up, and looked back at the figure stooped over the hoof he held upon his knee. He was digging into the caked dirt inside the hoof with his pocketknife, and, though Evadna waited while she might have spoken a dozen words, he paid not the slightest attention—and that in spite of the distinct shadow of her head and shoulders which lay at his feet.
"Oh—Grant," she began perfunctorily, "I'm sorry to trouble you—but do you happen to have an empty pocket?"
Good Indian gave a final scrape with his knife, and released the foot, which Keno immediately stamped pettishly into the dust. He closed the knife, after wiping the blade upon his trousers leg, and returned it to his pocket before he so much as glanced toward her.
"I may have. Why?" He picked up the bridle-reins, caught the saddle-horn, and thrust his toe into the stirrup. From under his hat-brim he saw that she was pinching her under lip between her teeth, and the sight raised his spirits considerably.
"Oh, nothing. Aunt Phoebe called me back, and gave me a bottle of cream, is all. I shall have to carry it in my hand, I suppose." She twitched her shoulders, and started Huckleberry off again. She had called him Grant, instead of the formal Mr. Imsen she had heretofore clung to, and he had not seemed to notice it even.
He mounted with perfectly maddening deliberation, but for all that he overtook her before she had gone farther than a few rods, and he pulled up beside her with a decision which caused Huckleberry to stop also; Huckleberry, it must be confessed, was never known to show any reluctance in that direction when his head was turned away from home. He stood perfectly still while Good Indian reached out a hand.
"I'll carry it—I'm more used to packing bottles," he announced gravely.
"Oh, but if you must carry it in your hand, I wouldn't dream of—" She was holding fast the bottle, and trying to wear her Christmas-angel look.
Good Indian laid hold of the flask, and they stood there stubbornly eying each other.
"I thought you wanted me to carry it," he said at last, pulling harder.
"I merely asked if you had an empty pocket." Evadna clung the tighter.
"Now, what's the use—"
"Just what I was thinking!" Evadna was so impolite as to interrupt him.
Good Indian was not skilled in the management of women, but he knew horses, and to his decision he added an amendment. Instinctively he followed the method taught him by experience, and when he fancied he saw in her eyes a sign of weakening, he followed up the advantage he had gained.
"Let go—because I'm going to have it anyway, now," he said quietly, and took the flask gently from her hands. Then he smiled at her for yielding, and his smile was a revelation to the girl, and brought the blood surging up to her face. She rode meekly beside him at the pace he himself set—which was not rapid, by any means. He watched her with quick, sidelong glances, and wondered whether he would dare say what he wanted to say—or at least a part of it.
She was gazing with a good deal of perseverance at the trail, down the windings of which the others could be seen now and then galloping through the dust, so that their progress was marked always by a smothering cloud of gray. Then she looked at Grant unexpectedly, met one of his sharp glances, and flushed hotly again.
"How about this business of hating each other, and not speaking except to please Aunt Phoebe?" he demanded, with a suddenness which startled himself. He had been thinking it, but he hadn't intended to say it until the words spoke themselves. "Are we supposed to keep on acting the fool indefinitely?"
"I was not aware that I, at least, was acting the fool," she retorted, with a washed-out primness.
"Oh, I can't fight the air, and I'm not going to try. What I've got to say, I prefer to say straight from the shoulder. I'm sick of this standing off and giving each other the bad eye over nothing. If we're going to stay on the same ranch, we might as well be friends. What do you say?"
For a time he thought she was not going to say anything. She was staring at the dust-cloud ahead, and chewing absently at the corner of her under lip, and she kept it up so long that Good Indian began to scowl and call himself unseemly names for making any overture whatever. But, just as he turned toward her with lips half opened for a bitter sentence, he saw a dimple appear in the cheek next to him, and held back the words.
"You told me you didn't like me," she reminded, looking at him briefly, and afterward fumbling her reins. "You can't expect a girl—"
"I suppose you don't remember coming up to me that first night, and calling me names, and telling me how you hated me, and—and winding up by pinching me?" he insinuated with hypocritical reproach, and felt of his arm. "If you could see the mark—" he hinted shamelessly.
Evadna replied by pushing up her sleeve and displaying a scratch at least an inch in length, and still roughened and red. "I suppose you don't remember trying to MURDER me?" she inquired, sweetly triumphant. "If you could shoot as well as Jack, I'd have been killed very likely. And you'd be in jail this minute," she added, with virtuous solemnity.
"But you're not killed, and I'm not in jail."
"And I haven't told a living soul about it—not even Aunt Phoebe," Evadna remarked, still painfully virtuous. "If I had—"
"She'd have wondered, maybe, what you were doing away down there in the middle of the night," Good Indian finished. "I didn't tell a soul, either, for that matter."
They left the meadowland and the broad stretch of barren sand and sage, and followed, at a leisurely pace, the winding of the trail through the scarred desolation where the earth had been washed for gold. Evadna stared absently at the network of deep gashes, evidently meditating very seriously. Finally she turned to Grant with an honest impulse of friendliness.
"Well, I'm sure I'm willing to bury the tomahawk—er—that is, I mean—" She blushed hotly at the slip, and stammered incoherently.
"Never mind." His eyes laughed at her confusion. "I'm not as bad as all that; it doesn't hurt my feelings to have tomahawks mentioned in my presence."
Her cheeks grew redder, if that were possible, but she made no attempt to finish what she had started to say.
Good Indian rode silent, watching her unobtrusively and wishing he knew how to bring the conversation by the most undeviating path to a certain much-desired conclusion. After all, she was not a wild thing, but a human being, and he hesitated. In dealing with men, he had but one method, which was to go straight to the point regardless of consequences. So he half turned in the saddle and rode with one foot free of the stirrup that he might face her squarely.
"You say you're willing to bury the tomahawk; do you mean it?" His eyes sought hers, and when they met her glance held it in spite of her blushes, which indeed puzzled him. But she did not answer immediately, and so he repeated the question.
"Do you mean that? We've been digging into each other pretty industriously, and saying how we hate each other—but are you willing to drop it and be friends? It's for you to say—and you've got to say it now."
Evadna hung up her head at that. "Are you in the habit of laying down the law to everyone who will permit it?" she evaded.
"Am I to take it for granted you meant what you said?" He stuck stubbornly to the main issue. "Girls seem to have a way of saying things, whether they mean anything or not. Did you?"
"Did I what?" She was wide-eyed innocence again.
Good Indian muttered something profane, and kicked his horse in the ribs. When it had taken no more than two leaps forward, however, he pulled it down to a walk again, and his eyes boded ill for the misguided person who goaded him further. He glanced at the girl sharply.
"This thing has got to be settled right now, without any more fooling or beating about the bush," he said—and he said it so quietly that she could scarcely be blamed for not realizing what lay beneath. She was beginning to recover her spirits and her composure, and her whole attitude had become demurely impish.
"Settle it then, why don't you?" she taunted sweetly. "I'm sure I haven't the faintest idea what there is to settle—in that solemn manner. I only know we're a mile behind the others, and Miss Georgie will be wondering—"
"You say I'm to settle it, the way I want it settled?"
If Evadna did not intend anything serious, she certainly was a fool not to read aright his ominously calm tone and his tensely quiet manner. She must have had some experience in coquetry, but it is very likely that she had never met a man just like this one. At all events, she tilted her blonde head, smiled at him daringly, and then made a little grimace meant to signify her defiance of him and his unwarranted earnestness.
Good Indian leaned unexpectedly, caught her in his arms, and kissed her three times upon her teasing, smiling mouth, and while she was gasping for words to voice her amazement he drew back his head, and gazed sternly into her frightened eyes.
"You can't play with ME," he muttered savagely, and kissed her again. "This is how I settle it. You've made me want you for mine. It's got to be love or—hate now. There isn't anything between, for me and you." His eyes passed hungrily from her quivering lips to her eyes, and the glow within his own made her breath come faster. She struggled weakly to free herself, and his clasp only tightened jealously.
"If you had hated me, you wouldn't have stopped back there, and spoken to me," he said, the words coming in a rush. "Women like to play with love, I think. But you can't play with me. I want you. And I'm going to have you. Unless you hate me. But you don't. I'd stake my life on it." And he kissed her again.
Evadna reached up, felt for her hat, and began pulling it straight, and Good Indian, recalled to himself by the action, released her with manifest reluctance. He felt then that he ought never to let her go out of his arms; it was the only way, it seemed to him, that he could be sure of her. Evadna found words to express her thoughts, and her thoughts were as wholly conventional as was the impulse to straighten her hat.
"We've only known each other a week!" she cried tremulously, while her gloved fingers felt inquiringly for loosened hairpins. "You've no right—you're perfectly horrid! You take everything for granted—"
Good Indian laughed at her, a laugh of pure, elemental joy in life and in love.
"A man's heart does not beat by the calendar. Nature made the heart to beat with love, ages before man measured time, and prattled of hours and days and weeks," he retorted. "I'm not the same man I was a week ago. Nor an hour ago. What does it matter, I am—the man I am NOW." He looked at her more calmly. "An hour ago," he pointed out, "I didn't dream I should kiss you. Nor you, that you would let me do it."
"I didn't! I couldn't help myself. You—oh, I never saw such a—a brute!" The tears in her eyes were, perhaps, tears of rage at the swiftness with which he had mastered the situation and turned it in a breath from the safe channel of petty argument. She struck Huckleberry a blow with her whip which sent that astonished animal galloping down the slope before them, his ears laid back and his white eyelashes blinking resentment against the outrage.
Good Indian laughed aloud, spurred Keno into a run, and passed her with a scurry of dust, a flash of white teeth and laughing black eyes, and a wave of his free hand in adieu. He was still laughing when he overtook the others, passed by the main group, and singled out Jack, his particular chum. He refused to explain either his hurry or his mirth further than to fling out a vague sentence about a race, and thereafter he ambled contentedly along beside Jack in the lead, and told how he had won a hundred and sixty dollars in a crap game the last time he was in Shoshone, and how he had kept on until he had "quit ten dollars in the hole." The rest of the boys, catching a few words here and there, crowded close, and left the two girls to themselves, while Good Indian recounted in detail the fluctuations of the game; how he had seesawed for an hour, winning and losing alternately; and how his luck had changed suddenly just when he had made up his mind to play a five-dollar gold piece he had in his hand and quit.
"I threw naturals three times in succession," he said, "and let my bets ride. Then I got Big Dick, made good, and threw another natural. I was seeing those Spanish spurs and that peach of a headstall in Fernando's by that time; seeing them on Keno and me—they're in the window yet, Jack, and I went in when I first hit town and looked them over and priced them; a hundred and fifty, just about what we guessed he'd hold them at. And say, those conchos—you remember the size of 'em, Jack?—they're solid silver, hammered out and engraved by hand. Those Mexicans sure do turn out some fine work on their silver fixings!" He felt in his pocket for a match.
"Pity I didn't let well enough alone," he went on. "I had the price of the outfit, and ten dollars over. But then I got hoggish. I thought I stood a good chance of making seven lucky passes straight—I did once, and I never got over it, I guess. I was going to pinch down to ten—but I didn't; I let her ride. And SHOT CRAPS!"
He drew the match along the stamped saddle-skirt behind the cantle, because that gave him a chance to steal a look behind him without being caught in the act. Good, wide hat-brims have more uses than to shield one's face from the sun. He saw that Evadna was riding in what looked like a sulky silence beside her friend, but he felt no compunction for what he had done; instead he was exhilarated as with some heady wine, and he did not want to do any thinking about it—yet. He did not even want to be near Evadna. He faced to the front, and lighted his cigarette while he listened to the sympathetic chorus from the boys.
"What did you do then?" asked Gene.
"Well, I'd lost the whole blamed chunk on a pair of measly aces," he said. "I was pretty sore by that time, I'm telling you! I was down to ten dollars, but I started right in to bring back that hundred and sixty. Funny, but I felt exactly as if somebody had stolen that headstall and spurs right out of my hand, and I just had to get it back pronto. I started in with a dollar, lost it on craps—sixes, that time—sent another one down the same trail trying to make Little Joe come again, third went on craps, fourth I doubled on nine, lost 'em both on craps—say, I never looked so many aces and sixes in the face in my life! It was sure kay bueno, the luck I had that night. I got up broke, and had to strike Riley for money to get out of town with."
So for a time he managed to avoid facing squarely this new and very important factor which must henceforth have its place in the problem of his life.
CHAPTER XII. "THEM DAMN SNAKE"
Three hundred yards up the river, in the shade of a huge bowlder, round an end of which the water hurried in a green swirl that it might the sooner lie quiet in the deep, dark pool below, Good Indian, picking his solitary way over the loose rocks, came unexpectedly upon Baumberger, his heavy pipe sagging a corner of his flabby mouth, while he painstakingly detached a fly from his leader, hooked it into the proper compartment of his fly-book, and hesitated over his selection of another to take its place. Absorption was writ deep on his gross countenance, and he recognized the intruder by the briefest of flickering glances and the slightest of nods.
"Keep back from that hole, will yuh?" he muttered, jerking his head toward the still pool. "I ain't tried it yet."
Good Indian was not particularly interested in his own fishing. The sight of Baumberger, bulking there in the shade with his sagging cheeks and sagging pipe, his flopping old hat and baggy canvas fishing-coat, with his battered basket slung over his slouching shoulder and sagging with the weight of his catch; the sloppy wrinkles of his high, rubber boots shining blackly from recent immersion in the stream, caught his errant attention, and stayed him for a few minutes to watch.
Loosely disreputable looked Lawyer Baumberger, from the snagged hole in his hat-crown where a wisp of graying hair fluttered through, to the toes of his ungainly, rubber-clad feet; loosely disreputable, but not commonplace and not incompetent. Though his speech might be a slovenly mumble, there was no purposeless fumbling of the fingers that chose a fly and knotted it fast upon the leader. There was no bungling movement of hand or foot when he laid his pipe upon the rock, tiptoed around the corner, sent a mechanical glance upward toward the swaying branches of an overhanging tree, pulled out his six feet of silk line with a sweep of his arm, and with a delicate fillip, sent the fly skittering over the glassy center of the pool.
Good Indian, looking at him, felt instinctively that a part, at least, of the man's nature was nakedly revealed to him then. It seemed scarcely fair to read the lust of him and the utter abandonment to the hazard of the game. Pitiless he looked, with clenched teeth just showing between the loose lips drawn back in a grin that was half-snarl, half-involuntary contraction of muscles sympathetically tense.
That was when a shimmering thing slithered up, snapped at the fly, and flashed away to the tune of singing reel and the dance of the swaying rod. The man grew suddenly cruel and crafty and full of lust; and Good Indian, watching him, was conscious of an inward shudder of repulsion. He had fished all his life—had Good Indian—and had found joy in the sport. And here was he inwardly condemning a sportsman who stood self-revealed, repelling, hateful; a man who gloated over the struggle of something alive and at his mercy; to whom sport meant power indulged with impunity. Good Indian did not try to put the thing in words, but he felt it nevertheless.
"Brute!" he muttered aloud, his face eloquent of cold disgust.
At that moment Baumberger drew the tired fish gently into the shallows, swung him deftly upon the rocks, and laid hold of him greedily.
"Ain't he a beaut?" he cried, in his wheezy chuckle. "Wait a minute while I weigh him. He'll go over a pound, I'll bet money on it." Gloatingly he held it in his hands, removed the hook, and inserted under the gills the larger one of the little scales he carried inside his basket.
"Pound and four ounces," he announced, and slid the fish into his basket. He was the ordinary, good-natured, gross Baumberger now. He reached for his pipe, placed it in his mouth, and held out a hand to Good Indian for a match.
"Say, young fella, have you got any stand-in with your noble red brothers?" he asked, after he had sucked life into the charred tobacco.
"Cousins twice or three times removed, you mean," said Good Indian coldly, too proud and too lately repelled to meet the man on friendly ground. "Why do you ask?"
Baumberger eyed him speculatively while he smoked, and chuckled to himself.
"One of 'em—never mind placing him on his own p'ticular limb of the family tree—has been doggin' me all morning," he said at last, and waved a fishy hand toward the bluff which towered high above them. "Saw him when I was comin' up, about sunrise, pokin' along behind me in the sagebrush. Didn't think anything of that—thought maybe he was hunting or going fishing—but he's been sneakin' around behind me ever since. I don't reckon he's after my scalp—not enough hair to pay—but I'd like to know what the dickens he does mean."
"Nothing probably," Good Indian told him shortly, his eyes nevertheless searching the rocks for a sight of the watcher.
"Well, I don't much like the idea," complained Baumberger, casting an eye aloft in fear of snagging his line when he made another cast. "He was right up there a few minutes ago." He pointed his rod toward a sun-ridden ridge above them. "I got a flicker of his green blanket when he raised up and scowled down at me. He ducked when he saw me turn my head—looked to me like the surly buck that blew in to the ranch the night I came; Jim something-or-other. By the great immortal Jehosaphat!" he swore humorously, "I'd like to tie him up in his dirty blanket and heave him into the river—only it would kill all the fish in the Malad."
Good Indian laughed.
"Oh, I know it's funny, young fella," Baumberger growled. "About as funny as being pestered by a mosquito buzzing under your nose when you're playing a fish that keeps cuttin' figure eights in a hole the size uh that one there."
"I'll go up and take a look," Good Indian offered carelessly.
"Well, I wish you would. I can't keep my mind on m' fishing—just wondering what the deuce he's after. And say! You tell him I'll stand him on his off ear if I catch him doggie' me ag'in. Folks come with yuh?" he remembered to ask as he prepared for another cast into the pool.
"They're down there getting a campfire built, ready to fry what fish they catch," Good Indian informed him, as he turned to climb the bluff. "They're going to eat dinner under that big ledge by the rapids. You better go on down."
He stood for a minute, and watched Baumberger make a dexterous cast, which proved fruitless, before he began climbing up the steep slope of jumbled bowlders upon which the bluff itself seemed to rest. He was not particularly interested in his quest, but he was in the mood for purposeless action; he still did not want to think.
He climbed negligently, scattering loose rocks down the hill behind him. He had no expectation of coming upon Peppajee—unless Peppajee deliberately put himself in his way—and so there was no need of caution. He stopped once, and stood long minutes with his head turned to catch the faint sound of high-keyed laughter and talk which drifted up to him. If he went higher, he thought, he might get a glimpse of them—of her, to tell his thought honestly. Whereupon he forgot all about finding and expostulating with Peppajee, and thought only a point of the ridge which would give him a clear view downstream.
To be sure, he might as easily have retraced his steps and joined the group, and seen every changing look in her face. But he did not want to be near her when others were by; he wanted her to himself, or not at all. So he went on, while the sun beat hotly down upon him and the rocks sent up dry waves of heat like an oven.
A rattlesnake buzzed its strident warning between two rocks, but before he turned his attention to the business of killing it, the snake had crawled leisurely away into a cleft, where he could not reach it with the stones he threw. His thoughts, however, were brought back to his surroundings so that he remembered Peppajee. He stood still, and scanned carefully the jumble of rocks and bowlders which sloped steeply down to the river, looking for a betraying bit of color or dirty gray hat-crown.
"But I could look my eyes out and welcome, if he didn't want to be seen," he concluded, and sat down while he rolled a cigarette. "And I don't know as I want to see him, anyway." Still, he did not move immediately. He was in the shade, which was a matter for congratulation on such a day. He had a cigarette between his lips, which made for comfort; and he still felt the exhilarating effects of his unpremeditated boldness, without having come to the point of sober thinking. He sat there, and blew occasional mouthfuls of smoke into the quivering heat waves, and stared down at the river rushing over the impeding rocks as if its very existence depended upon reaching as soon as possible the broader sweep of the Snake.