He finished the first cigarette, and rolled another from sheer force of habit rather than because he really wanted one. He lifted one foot, and laid it across his knee, and was drawing a match along the sole of his boot when his eyes chanced to rest for a moment upon a flutter of green, which showed briefly around the corner of a great square rock poised insecurely upon one corner, as if it were about to hurl its great bulk down upon the river it had watched so long. He held the blazing match poised midway to its destination while he looked; then he put it to the use he had meant it for, pulled his hat-brim down over his right eye and ear to shield them from the burn of the sun, and went picking his way idly over to the place.
"HUL-lo!" he greeted, in the manner of one who refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of a situation which confronts him suddenly. "What's the excitement?"
There was no excitement whatever. There was Peppajee, hunched up against the rock in that uncomfortable attitude which permits a man to come at the most intimate relations with the outside of his own ankle, upon which he was scowling in seeming malignity. There was his hunting-knife lying upon a flat stone near to his hand, with a fresh red blotch upon the blade, and there was his little stone pipe clenched between his teeth and glowing red within the bowl. Also there was the ankle, purple and swollen from the ligature above it—for his legging was off and torn into strips which formed a bandage, and a splinter of rock was twisted ingeniously in the wrappings for added tightness. From a crisscross of gashes a sluggish, red stream trickled down to the ankle-bone, and from there drip-dropped into a tiny, red pool in the barren, yellow soil.
"Catchum rattlesnake bite?" queried Good Indian inanely, as is the habit of the onlooker when the scene shouts forth eloquently its explanation, and questions are almost insultingly superfluous.
"Huh!" grunted Peppajee, disdaining further speech upon the subject, and regarded sourly the red drip.
"Want me to suck it?" ventured Good Indian unenthusiastically, eying the wound.
"Huh!" Peppajee removed the pipe, his eyes still upon his ankle. "Plenty blood come, mebbyso." To make sure, however, he kneaded the swollen flesh about the wound, thus accelerating slightly the red drip.
Then deliberately he took another turn with the rock, sending the buckskin thongs deeper into the flesh, and held the burning pipe against the skin above the wound until Good Indian sickened and turned away his head. When he looked again, Peppajee was sucking hard at the pipe, and gazing impersonally at the place. He bent again, and hid the glow of his pipe against his ankle. His thin lips tightened while he held it there, but the lean, brown fingers were firm as splinters of the rock behind him. When the fire cooled, he fanned it to life again with his breath, and when it winked redly at him he laid it grimly against his flesh.
So, while Good Indian stood and looked on with lips as tightly drawn as the other's, he seared a circle around the wound—a circle which bit deep and drew apart the gashes like lips opened for protest. He regarded critically his handiwork, muttered a "Bueno" under his breath, knocked the ashes from his pipe, and returned it to some mysterious hiding-place beneath his blanket. Then he picked up his moccasin.
"Them damn' snake, him no speakum," he observed disgustedly. "Heap fool me; him biteum"—he made a stabbing gesture with thumb and finger in the air by way of illustration—"then him go quick." He began gingerly trying to force the moccasin upon his foot, his mouth drawn down with the look of one who considers that he has been hardly used.
"How you get home?" Good Indian's thoughts swung round to practical things. "You got horse?"
Peppajee shook his head, reached for his knife, and slit the moccasin till it was no more than a wrapping. "Mebbyso heap walk," he stated simply.
"Mebbyso you won't do anything of the kind," Good Indian retorted. "You come down and take a horse. What for you all time watchum Baumberger?" he added, remembering then what had brought them both upon the bluff. "Baumberger all time fish—no more." He waved his hand toward the Malad. "Baumberger bueno—catchum fish—no more."
Peppajee got slowly and painfully upon his feet—rather, upon one foot. When Good Indian held out a steadying arm, he accepted it, and leaned rather heavily.
"Yo' eyes sick," said Peppajee, and grinned sardonically. "Yo' eyes see all time Squaw-with-sun-hair. Fillum yo' eyes, yo' see notting. Yo' catchum squaw, bimeby mebbyso see plenty mo'. Me no catchum sick eye. Mebbyso me see heap plenty."
"What you see, you all time watchum Baumberger?"
But Peppajee, hobbling where he must walk, crawling where he might, sliding carefully where a slanting bowlder offered a few feet of smooth descent, and taking hold of Good Indian's offered arm when necessity impelled him, pressed his thin lips together, and refused to answer. So they came at last to the ledge beside the rapids, where a thin wisp of smoke waved lazily in the vagrant breeze which played with the ripples and swayed languidly the smaller branches of the nearby trees.
Only Donny was there, sitting disgruntled upon the most comfortable rock he could find, sulking because the others had taken all the fishing-tackle that was of any account, and had left him to make shift with one bent, dulled hook, a lump of fat pork, and a dozen feet of line.
"And I can catch more fish than anybody in the bunch!" he began complainingly and without preface, waving a dirty hand contemptuously at the despised tackle when the two came slowly up. "That's the way it goes when you take a lot of girls along! They've got to have the best rods and tackle, and all they'll do will be to snag lines and lose leaders and hooks, and giggle alla squeal. Aw—DARN girls!"
"And I'm going to pile it on still thicker, Donny!" Good Indian grinned down at him. "I'm going to swipe your Pirate Chief for a while, till I take Peppajee into camp. He's gentle, and Peppajee's got a snake-bite. I'll be back before you get ready to go home."
"I'm ready to go home right now," growled Donny, sinking his chin between his two palms. "But I guess the walkin' ain't all taken up."
Good Indian regarded him frowningly, gave a little snort, and turned away. Donny in that mood was not to be easily placated, and certainly not to be ignored. He went over to the little flat, and selected Jack's horse, saddled him, and discovered that it had certain well-defined race prejudices, and would not let Peppajee put foot to the stirrup. Keno he knew would be no more tractable, so that he finally slapped Jack's saddle on Huckleberry, and so got Peppajee mounted and headed toward camp.
"You tell Jack I borrowed his saddle and Huckleberry," he called out to the drooping little figure on the rock. "But I'll get back before they want to go home."
But Donny was glooming over his wrongs, and neither heard nor wanted to hear. Having for his legacy a temper cumulative in its heat, he was coming rapidly to the point where he, too, started home, and left no word or message behind; a trivial enough incident in itself, but one which opened the way for some misunderstanding and fruitless speculation upon the part of Evadna.
CHAPTER XIII. CLOUD-SIGN VERSUS CUPID
Few men are ever called upon by untoward circumstance to know the sensations caused by rattlesnake bite, knife gashes, impromptu cauterization, and, topping the whole, the peculiar torture of congested veins and swollen muscles which comes from a tourniquet. The feeling must be unpleasant in the extreme, and the most morbid of sensation-seekers would scarcely put himself in the way of that particular experience.
Peppajee Jim, therefore, had reason in plenty for glowering at the world as he saw it that day. He held Huckleberry rigidly down to his laziest amble that the jar of riding might be lessened, kept his injured foot free from the stirrup, and merely grunted when Good Indian asked him once how he felt.
When they reached the desolation of the old placer-pits, however, he turned his eyes from the trail where it showed just over Huckleberry's ears, and regarded sourly the deep gashes and dislodged bowlders which told where water and the greed of man for gold had raged fiercest. Then, for the first time during the whole ride, he spoke.
"All time, yo' sleepum," he said, in the sonorous, oracular tone which he usually employed when a subject held his serious thought. "Peaceful Hart, him all same sleepum. All same sleepum 'longside snake. No seeum snake, no thinkum mebbyso catchum bite." He glanced down at his own snake-bitten foot. "Snake bite, make all time much hurt." His eyes turned, and dwelt sharply upon the face of Good Indian.
"Yo' all time thinkum Squaw-with-sun-hair. Me tell yo' for watchum, yo' no think for watchum. Baumberga, him all same snake. Yo' think him all time catchum fish. HUH! Yo' heap big fool, yo' thinkum cat. Rattlesnake, mebbyso sleepum in sun one time. Yo' no thinkum bueno, yo' seeum sleep in sun. Yo' heap sabe him all time kay bueno jus' same. Yo' heap sabe yo' come close, him biteum. Mebbyso biteum hard, for killum yo' all time." He paused, then drove home his point like the true orator. "Baumberga catchum fish. All same rattlesnake sleepum in sun. Kay bueno."
Good Indian jerked his mind back from delicious recollection of one sweet, swift-passing minute, and half opened his lips for reply. But he did not speak; he did not know what to say, and it is ill-spent time—that passed in purposeless speech with such as Peppajee. Peppajee roused himself from meditation brief as it seemed deep, lifted a lean, brown hand to push back from his eyes a fallen lock of hair, and pointed straight away to the west.
"Las' night, sun go sleepum. Clouds come all same blanket, sun wrappum in blanket. Cloud look heap mad—mebbyso make much storm. Bimeby much mens come in cloud, stand so—and so—and so." With pointing finger he indicated a half circle. "Otha man come, heap big man. Stoppum 'way off, all time makeum sign, for fight. Me watchum. Me set by fire, watchum cloud makeum sign. Fire smoke look up for say, 'What yo' do all time, mebbyso?' Cloud man shakeum hand, makeum much sign. Fire smoke heap sad, bend down far, lookum me, lookum where cloud look. All time lookum for Peaceful Hart ranch. Me lay down for sleepum, me dream all time much fight. All time bad sign come. Kay bueno." Peppajee shook his head slowly, his leathery face set in deep, somber lines.
"Much trouble come heap quick," he said gravely, hitching his blanket into place upon his shoulder. "Me no sabe—all same, heap trouble come. Much mens, mebbyso much fight, much shootum—mebbyso kill. Peaceful Hart him all time laugh me. All same, me sabe smoke sign, sabe cloud sign, sabe—Baumberga. Heap ka-a-ay bueno!"
Good Indian's memory dashed upon him a picture of bright moonlight and the broody silence of a night half gone, and of a figure forming sharply and suddenly from the black shadow of the stable and stealing away into the sage, and of Baumberger emerging warily from that same shadow and stopping to light his pipe before he strolled on to the house and to the armchair upon the porch.
There might be a sinister meaning in that picture, but it was so well hidden that he had little hope of ever finding it. Also, it occurred to him that Peppajee, usually given over to creature comforts and the idle gossip of camp and the ranches he visited, was proving the sincerity of his manifest uneasiness by a watchfulness wholly at variance with his natural laziness. On the other hand, Peppajee loved to play the oracle, and a waving wisp of smoke, or the changing shapes in a wind-riven cloud meant to him spirit-sent prophecies not to be ignored.
He turned the matter over in his mind, was the victim of uneasiness for five minutes, perhaps, and then drifted off into wondering what Evadna was doing at that particular moment, and to planning how he should manage to fall behind with her when they all rode home, and so make possible other delicious moments. He even took note of certain sharp bends in the trail, where a couple riding fifty yards, say, behind a group would be for the time being quite hidden from sight and to all intents and purposes alone in the world for two minutes, or three—perhaps the time might be stretched to five.
The ranch was quiet, with even the dogs asleep in the shade. Peppajee insisted in one sentence upon going straight on to camp, so they did not stop. Without speaking, they plodded through the dust up the grade, left it, and followed the dim trail through the sagebrush and rocks to the Indian camp which seemed asleep also, except where three squaws were squatting in the sharply defined, conical shadow of a wikiup, mumbling desultorily the gossip of their little world, while their fingers moved with mechanical industry—one shining black head bent over a half-finished, beaded moccasin, another stitching a crude gown of bright-flowered calico, and the third braiding her hair afresh with leisurely care for its perfect smoothness. Good Indian took note of the group before it stirred to activity, and murmured anxiety over the bandaged foot of Peppajee.
"Me no can watchum more, mebbyso six days. Yo' no sleepum all time yo' walk—no thinkum all time squaw. Mebbyso yo' think for man-snake. Mebbyso yo' watchum," Peppajee said, as he swung slowly down from Huckleberry's back.
"All right. I'll watchum plenty," Good Indian promised lightly, gave a glance of passing, masculine interest at the squaw who was braiding her hair, and who was young and fresh-cheeked and bright-eyed and slender, forgot her the instant his eyes left her, and made haste to return to the Malad and the girl who held all his thoughts and all his desire.
That girl was sitting upon the rock which Donny had occupied, and she looked very much as if she were sulking, much as Donny had sulked. She had her chin in a pink palm and was digging little holes in the sand with the tip of her rod, which was not at all beneficial to the rod and did not appear even to interest the digger; for her wonderfully blue eyes were staring at the green-and-white churn of the rapids, and her lips were pursed moodily, as if she did not even see what she was looking at so fixedly.
Good Indian's eyes were upon her while he was dismounting, but he did not go to her immediately. Instead, he busied himself with unsaddling, and explained to the boys just why he had left so unaccountably. Secretly he was hoping that Evadna heard the explanation, and he raised his voice purposely. But Evadna was not listening, apparently; and, if she had been, the noise of the rapids would have prevented her hearing what he said.
Miss Georgie Howard was frying fish and consistently snubbing Baumberger, who hulked loosely near the campfire, and between puffs at his pipe praised heavily her skill, and professed to own a ravenous appetite. Good Indian heard him as he passed close by them, and heard also the keen thrust she gave in return; and he stopped and half turned, looking at her with involuntary appreciation. His glance took in Baumberger next, and he lifted a shoulder and went on. Without intentionally resorting to subterfuge, he felt an urge to wash his hands, and he chose for his ablutions that part of the river's edge which was nearest Evadna.
First he stooped and drank thirstily, his hat pushed back, while his lips met full the hurrying water, clear and cold, yet with the chill it had brought from the mountain springs which fed it, and as he lifted his head he looked full at her.
Evadna stared stonily over him to where the water boiled fastest. He might have been one of the rocks, for all the notice she took of him.
Good Indian frowned with genuine puzzlement, and began slowly to wash his hands, glancing at her often in hope that he might meet her eyes. When she did not seem to see him at all, the smile of a secret shared joyously with her died from his own eyes, and when he had dried his hands upon his handkerchief he cast aside his inward shyness in the presence of the Hart boys and Miss Georgie and Baumberger, and went boldly over to her.
"Aren't you feeling well?" he asked, with tender proprietorship in his tone.
"I'm feeling quite well, thank you," returned Evadna frigidly, neglecting to look at him.
"What is the matter, then? Aren't you having a good time?"
"I'm enjoying myself very much—except that your presence annoys me. I wish you'd go away."
Good Indian turned on his heel and went; he felt that at last Evadna was looking at him, though he would not turn to make sure. And his instinct told him withal that he must ignore her mood if he would win her from it. With a freakish impulse, he headed straight for the campfire and Miss Georgie, but when he came up to her the look she gave him of understanding, with sympathy to soften it, sent him away again without speaking.
He wandered back to the river's edge—this time some distance from where Evadna sat—and began throwing pebbles at the black nose of a wave-washed bowlder away toward the other side. Clark and Gene, loitered up, watched him lazily, and, picking up other pebbles, started to do the same thing. Soon all the boys were throwing at the bowlder, and were making a good deal of noise over the various hits and misses, and the spirit of rivalry waxed stronger and stronger until it was like any other game wherein full-blooded youths strive against one another for supremacy. They came to the point of making bets, at first extravagant and then growing more and more genuinely in earnest, for we're gamblers all, at heart.
Miss Georgie burned a frying-panful of fish until they sent up an acrid, blue smoke, while she ran over to try her luck with a stone or two. Even Baumberger heaved himself up from where he was lounging, and strolled over to watch. But Evadna could not have stuck closer to her rock if she had been glued there, and if she had been blind and deaf she would not have appeared more oblivious.
Good Indian grew anxious, and then angry. The savage stirred within him, and counseled immediate and complete mastery of her—his woman. But there was the white man of him who said the thought was brutal and unchivalrous, and reminded the savage that one must not look upon a woman as a chattel, to be beaten or caressed, as the humor seized the master. And, last of all, there was the surface of him laughing with the others, jeering at those who fell short of the mark, and striving his utmost to be first of them all in accuracy.
He even smiled upon Miss Georgie when she hit the bowlder fairly, and, when the stench of the burning fish drifted over to them, he gave his supply of pebbles into her two hands, and ran to the rescue. He caught Evadna in the act of regarding him sidelong, just as a horse sometimes will keep an eye on the man with the rope in a corral; so he knew she was thinking of him, at least, and was wondering what he meant to do next, and the savage in him laughed and lay down again, knowing himself the master.
What he did was to throw away the burnt fish, clean the frying-pan, and start more sizzling over the fire, which he kicked into just the right condition. He whistled softly to himself while he broke dry sticks across his knee for the fire, and when Miss Georgie cried out that she had made three hits in succession, he called back: "Good shot!" and took up the tune where he had left off. Never, for one instant, was he unconscious of Evadna's secret watchfulness, and never, for one instant, did he let her see that she was in his thoughts.
He finished frying the fish, set out the sandwiches and doughnuts, and pickled peaches and cheese, and pounded upon a tin plate to announce that dinner was ready. He poured the coffee into the cups held out to him, and got the flask of cream from a niche between two rocks at the water's edge. He said "Too bad," when it became generally known that the glare of the sun upon the water had given Evadna a headache, and he said it exactly as he would have spoken if Jack, for instance, had upset the sugar.
He held up the broken-handled butcher knife that was in the camp kit, and declaimed tragically: "Is this a dagger that I see before me?" and much more of the kind that was eery. He saw the reluctant dimple which showed fleetingly in Evadna's cheek, and also the tears which swelled her eyelids immediately after, but she did not know that he saw them, though another did.
He was taken wholly by surprise when Miss Georgie, walking past him afterward on her way to an enticing pool, nipped his arm for attention and murmured:
"You're doing fine—only don't overdo it. She's had just about all she can stand right now. Give her a chance to forgive you—and let her think she came out ahead! Good luck!" Whereupon she finished whatever she pretended to have been doing to her fishing-tackle, and beckoned Wally and Jack to come along.
"We've just got to catch that big one," she laughed, "so Mr. Baumberger can go home and attend to his own business!" It took imagination to feel sure there had been a significant accent on the last of the sentence, and Baumberger must have been imaginative. He lowered his head like a bull meditating assault, and his leering eyes shot her a glance of inquiry and suspicion. But Miss Georgie Howard met his look with a smile that was nothing more than idle amusement.
"I'd like nothing better than to get that four-pounder on my line," she added. "It would be the joke of the season—if a woman caught him."
"Bet you couldn't land him," chuckled Baumberger, breathing a sigh which might have been relief, and ambled away contentedly. "I may not see you folks again till supper," he bethought him to call back. "I'm going to catch a dozen more—and then I thought I'd take 'em up to Pete Hamilton; I'm using his horse, yuh see, and—" He flung out a hand to round off the sentence, turned, and went stumbling over a particularly rocky place.
Miss Georgie stood where she was, and watched him with her mouth twisted to one side and three perpendicular creases between her eyebrows. When he was out of sight, she glanced at Evadna—once more perched sulkily upon the rock.
"Head still bad, chicken?" she inquired cheerfully. "Better stay here in the shade—I won't be gone long."
"I'm going to fish," said Evadna, but she did not stir, not even when Miss Georgie went on, convoyed by all the Hart boys.
Good Indian had volunteered the information that he was going to fish downstream, but he was a long time in tying his leader and fussing with his reel. His preparations were finished just when the last straggler of the group was out of sight. Then he laid down his rod, went over to Evadna, took her by the arm, and drew her back to the farther shelter of the ledge.
"Now, what's the trouble?" he asked directly. "I hope you're not trying to make yourself think I was only—You know what I meant, don't you? And you said yes. You said it with your lips, and with your eyes. Did you want more words? Tell me what it is that bothers you."
There was a droop to Evadna's shoulders, and a tremble to her mouth. She would not look at him. She kept her eyes gazing downward, perhaps to hide tears. Good Indian waited for her to speak, and when it seemed plain that she did not mean to do so, he yielded to his instinct and took her in his arms.
"Sweetheart!" he murmured against her ear, and it was the first time he had ever spoken the word to any woman. "You love me, I know it. You won't say it, but I know you do. I should have felt it this morning if you hadn't cared. You—you let me kiss you. And—"
"And after that you—you rode off and left me—and you went away by yourself, just as if—just as if nothing had happened, and you've acted ever since as if—" She bit her lips, turned her face away from him, plucked at his hands to free herself from his clasping arms, and then she laid her face down against him, and sobbed.
Good Indian tried his best to explain his mood and his actions that day, and if he did not make himself very clear—which could scarcely be expected, since he did not quite understand it himself—he at least succeeded in lifting from her the weight of doubt and of depression.
They were astonished when Wally and Jack and Miss Georgie suddenly confronted them and proved, by the number of fish which they carried, that they had been gone longer than ten minutes or so. They were red as to their faces, and embarrassed as to manner, and Good Indian went away hurriedly after the horses, without meeting the quizzical glances of the boys, or replying t to certain pointed remarks which they fired after him.
"And he's the buckaroo that's got no use for girls!" commented Wally, looking after him, and ran his tongue meditatively along the loose edge of his cigarette. "Kid, I wish you'd tell me how you done it. It worked quick, anyhow."
"And thorough," grinned Jack. "I was thinking some of falling in love with you myself, Vad. Soon as some of the shine wore off, and you got so you acted like a real person."
"I saw it coming, when it first heaved in sight," chirped Miss Georgie, in a more cheerful tone than she had used that day; in too cheerful a tone to be quite convincing, if any one there had been taking notice of mere tones.
CHAPTER XIV. THE CLAIM-JUMPERS
"Guess that bobcat was after my ducks again, last night," commented Phoebe Hart, when she handed Baumberger his cup of coffee. "The way the dogs barked all night—didn't they keep you awake?"
"Never slept better in my life," drawled Baumberger, his voice sliding upward from the first word to the last. His blood-shot eyes, however, rather gave the lie to his statement. "I'm going to make one more try, 'long about noon, for that big one—girls didn't get him, I guess, for all their threats, or I'd heard about it. And I reckon I'll take the evening train home. Shoulda gone yesterday, by rights. I'd like to get a basket uh fish to take up with me. Great coffee, Mrs. Hart, and such cream I never did see. I sure do hate to leave so many good things and go back to a boardin' house. Look at this honey, now!" He sighed gluttonously, leaning slightly over the table while he fed.
"Dogs were barking at something down in the orchard," Wally volunteered, passing over Baumberger's monologue. "I was going down there, but it was so dark—and I thought maybe it was Gene's ghost. That was before the moon came up. Got any more biscuits, mum?"
"My trap wasn't sprung behind the chicken-house," said Donny. "I looked, first thing."
"Dogs," drawled Baumberger, his enunciation muffled by the food in his mouth, "always bark. And cats fight on shed-roofs. Next door to where I board there's a dog that goes on shift as regular as a policeman. Every night at—"
"Oh, Aunt Phoebe!" Evadna, crisp and cool in a summery dress of some light-colored stuff, and looking more than ever like a Christmas angel set a-flutter upon the top of a holiday fir in a sudden gust of wind, threw open the door, rushed halfway into the room, and stopped beside the chair of her aunt. Her hands dropped to the plump shoulder of the sitter. "Aunt Phoebe, there's a man down at the farther end of the strawberry patch! He's got a gun, Aunt Phoebe, and he's camped there, and when he heard me he jumped up and pointed the gun straight at me!"
"Why, honey, that can't be—you must have seen an Indian prowling after windfalls off the apricot trees there. He wouldn't hurt you." Phoebe reached up, and caught the hands in a reassuring clasp.
Evadna's eyes strayed from one face to another around the table till they rested upon Good Indian, as having found sanctuary there.
"But, Aunt Phoebe, he was WASN'T. He was a white man. And he has a camp there, right by that tree the lightning peeled the bark off. I was close before I saw him, for he was sitting down and the currant bushes were between. But I went through to get round where Uncle Hart has been irrigating and it's all mud, and he jumped up and pointed the gun AT me. Just as if he was going to shoot me. And I turned and ran." Her fingers closed upon the hand of her aunt, but her eyes clung to Good Indian, as though it was to him she was speaking.
"Tramp," suggested Baumberger, in a tone of soothing finality, as when one hushes the fear of a child. "Sick the dogs on him. He'll go—never saw the hobo yet that wouldn't run from a dog." He smiled leeringly up at her, and reached for a second helping of honey.
Good Indian pulled his glance from Evadna, and tried to bore through the beefy mask which was Baumberger's face, but all he found there was a gross interest in his breakfast and a certain indulgent sympathy for Evadna's fear, and he frowned in a baffled way.
"Who ever heard of a tramp camped in our orchard!" flouted Phoebe. "They don't get down here once a year, and then they always come to the house. You couldn't know there WAS any strawberry patch behind that thick row of trees—or a garden, or anything else."
"He's got a row of stakes running clear across the patch," Evadna recalled suddenly. "Just like they do for a new street, or a railroad, or something. And—"
Good Indian pushed back his chair with a harsh, scraping noise, and rose. He was staring hard at Baumberger, and his whole face had sharpened till it had the cold, unyielding look of an Indian. And suddenly Baumberger raised his head and met full that look. For two breaths their eyes held each other, and then Baumberger glanced casually at Peaceful.
"Sounds queer—must be some mistake, though. You must have seen something, girl, that reminded you of stakes. The stub off a sagebrush maybe?" He ogled her quite frankly. "When a little girl gets scared—Sick the dogs on him," he advised the family collectively, his manner changing to a blustering anxiety that her fright should be avenged.
Evadna seemed to take his tone as a direct challenge. "I was scared, but I know quite well what I saw. He wasn't a tramp. He had a regular camp, with a coffee-pot and frying-pan and blankets. And there a line of stakes across the strawberry patch."
Before, the breakfast had continued to seem an important incident temporarily suspended. Now Peaceful Hart laid hand to his beard, eyed his wife questioningly, let his glance flicker over the faces of his sons, and straightened his shoulders unconsciously. Good Indian was at the door, his mouth set in a thin, straight, fighting line. Wally and Jack were sliding their chairs back from the table preparing to follow him.
"I guess it ain't anything much," Peaceful opined optimistically. "They can't do anything but steal berries, and they're most gone, anyhow. Go ask him what he wants, down there." The last sentence was but feeble sort of fiction that his boys would await his commands; as a matter of fact, they were outside before he spoke.
"Take the dogs along," called out Baumberger, quite as futilely, for not one of the boys was within hearing.
Until they heard footsteps returning at a run, the four stayed where they were. Baumberger rumbled on in a desultory sort of way, which might have caused an observant person to wonder where was his lawyer training, and the deep cunning and skill with which he was credited, for his words were as profitless and inconsequential as an old woman's. He talked about tramps, and dogs that barked o' nights, and touched gallantly upon feminine timidity and the natural, protective instincts of men.
Peaceful Hart may have heard half of what he said—but more likely he heard none of it. He sat drawing his white beard through his hand, and his mild, blue eyes were turned often to Phoebe in mute question. Phoebe herself was listening, but not to Baumberger; she was permitting Evadna to tuck in stray locks of her soft, brown hair, but her face was turned to the door which opened upon the porch. At the first clatter of running footsteps on the porch, she and Peaceful pushed back their chairs instinctively.
The runner was Donny, and every freckle stood out distinctly upon his face.
"There's four of 'em, papa!" he shouted, all in one breath. "They're jumpin' the ranch for placer claims. They said so. Each one's got a claim, and they're campin' on the corners, so they'll be close together. They're goin' to wash gold. Good Injun—"
"Oh!" screamed Evadna suddenly. "Don't let him—don't let them hurt him, Uncle Hart!"
"Aw, they ain't fightin'," Donny assured her disgustedly. "They're chewin' the rag down there, is all. Good Injun knows one of 'em."
Peaceful Hart stood indecisively, and stared, one and gripping the back of his chair. His lips were working so that his beard bristled about his mouth.
"They can't do nothing—the ranch belongs to me," he said, his eyes turning rather helplessly to Baumberger. "I've got my patent."
"Jumping our ranch!—for placer claims!" Phoebe stood up, leaning hard upon the table with both hands. "And we've lived here ever since Clark was a baby!"
"Now, now, let's not get excited over this," soothed Baumberger, getting out of his chair slowly, like the overfed glutton he was. He picked up a crisp fragment of biscuit, crunched it between his teeth, and chewed it slowly. "Can't be anything serious—and if it is, why—I'm here. A lawyer right on the spot may save a lot of trouble. The main thing is, let's not get excited and do something rash. Those boys—"
"Not excited?—and somebody jumping—our—ranch?" Phoebe's soft eyes gleamed at him. She was pale, so that her face had a peculiar, ivory tint.
"Now, now!" Baumberger put out a puffy hand admonishingly. "Let's keep cool—that's half the battle won. Keep cool." He reached for his pipe, got out his twisted leather tobacco pouch, and opened it with a twirl of his thumb and finger.
"You're a lawyer, Mr. Baumberger," Peaceful turned to him, still helpless in his manner. "What's the best thing to be done?"
"Don't—get—excited." Baumberger nodded his head for every word. "That's what I always say when a client comes to me all worked up. We'll go down there and see just how much there is to this, and—order 'em off. Calmly, calmly! No violence—no threats—just tell 'em firmly and quietly to leave." He stuffed his pipe carefully, pressing down the tobacco with the tip of a finger. "Then," he added with slow emphasis, "if they don't go, after—say twenty-four hours' notice—why, we'll proceed to serve an injunction." He drew a match along the back of his chair, and lighted his pipe.
"I reckon we'd better go and look after those boys of yours," he suggested, moving toward the door rather quickly, for all his apparent deliberation. "They're inclined to be hot-headed, and we must have no violence, above all things. Keep it a civil matter right through. Much easier to handle in court, if there's no violence to complicate the case."
"They're looking for it," Phoebe reminded him bluntly. "The man had a gun, and threw down on Vadnie."
"He only pointed it at me, auntie," Evadna corrected, ignorant of the Western phrase.
The two women followed the men outside and into the shady yard, where the trees hid completely what lay across the road and beyond the double row of poplars. Donny, leaning far forward and digging his bare toes into the loose soil for more speed, raced on ahead, anxious to see and hear all that took place.
"If the boys don't stir up a lot of antagonism," Baumberger kept urging Peaceful and Phoebe, as they hurried into the garden, "the matter ought to be settled without much trouble. You can get an injunction, and—"
"The idea of anybody trying to hold our place for mineral land!" Phoebe's indignation was cumulative always, and was now bubbling into wrath. "Why, my grief! Thomas spent one whole summer washing every likely spot around here. He never got anything better than colors on this ranch—and you can get them anywhere in Idaho, almost. And to come right into our garden, in the right—and stake a placer claim!" Her anger seemed beyond further utterance. "The idea!" she finished weakly.
"Well—but we mustn't let ourselves get excited," soothed Baumberger, the shadow of him falling darkly upon Peaceful and Phoebe as he strode along, upon the side next the sun. Peppajee would have called that an evil thing, portending much trouble and black treachery.
"That's where people always blunder in a thing like this. A little cool-headedness goes farther than hard words or lead. And," he added cheeringly, "it may be a false alarm, remember. We won't borrow trouble. We'll just make sure of our ground, first thing we do."
"It's always easy enough to be calm over the other fellow's trouble," said Phoebe sharply, irritated in an indefinable way by the oily optimism of the other. "It ain't your ox that's gored, Mr. Baumberger."
They skirted the double row of grapevines, picked their way over a spot lately flooded from the ditch, which they crossed upon two planks laid side by side, went through an end of the currant patch, made a detour around a small jungle of gooseberry bushes, and so came in sight of the strawberry patch and what was taking place near the lightning-scarred apricot tree. Baumberger lengthened his stride, and so reached the spot first.
The boys were grouped belligerently in the strawberry patch, just outside a line of new stakes, freshly driven in the ground. Beyond that line stood a man facing them with a.45-.70 balanced in the hollow of his arm. In the background stood three other men in open spaces in the shrubbery, at intervals of ten rods or so, and they also had rifles rather conspicuously displayed. They were grinning, all three. The man just over the line was listening while Good Indian spoke; the voice of Good Indian was even and quiet, as if he were indulging in casual small talk of the country, but that particular claim-jumper was not smiling. Even from a distance they could see that he was fidgeting uncomfortably while he listened, and that his breath was beginning to come jerkily.
"Now, roll your blankets and GIT!" Good Indian finished sharply, and with the toe of his boot kicked the nearest stake clear of the loose soil. He stooped, picked it up, and cast it contemptuously from him. It landed three feet in front of the man who had planted it, and he jumped and shifted the rifle significantly upon his arm, so that the butt of it caressed his right shoulder-joint.
"Now, now, we don't want any overt acts of violence here," wheezed Baumberger, laying hand upon Good Indian's shoulder from behind. Good Indian shook off the touch as if it were a tarantula upon him.
"You go to the devil," he advised chillingly.
"Tut, tut!" Baumberger reproved gently. "The ladies are within hearing, my boy. Let's get at this thing sensibly and calmly. Violence only makes things worse. See how quiet Wally and Jack and Clark and Gene are! THEY realize how childishly spiteful it would be for them to follow your example. They know better. They don't want—"
Jack grinned, and hitched his gun into plainer view. "When we start in, it won't be STICKS we're sending to His Nibs," he observed placidly. "We're just waiting for him to ante."
"This," said Baumberger, a peculiar gleam coming into his leering, puffy-lidded eyes, and a certain hardness creeping into his voice, "this is a matter for your father and me to settle. It's just-a-bide-beyond you youngsters. This is a civil case. Don't foolishly make it come under the criminal code. But there!" His voice purred at them again. "You won't. You're all too clear-headed and sensible."
"Oh, sure!" Wally gave his characteristic little snort. "We're only just standing around to see how fast the cabbages grow!"
Baumberger advanced boldly across the dead line.
"Stanley, put down that gun, and explain your presence here and your object," he rumbled. "Let's get at this thing right end to. First, what are you doing here?"
The man across the line did not put down his rifle, except that he let the butt of it drop slightly away from his shoulder so that the sights were in alignment with an irrigating shovel thrust upright into the ground ten feet to one side of the group. His manner lost little of its watchfulness, and his voice was surly with defiance when he spoke. But Good Indian, regarding him suspiciously through half-closed lids, would have sworn that a look of intelligence flashed between those two. There was nothing more than a quiver of his nostrils to betray him as he moved over beside Evadna—for the pure pleasure of being near her, one would think; in reality, while the pleasure was there, that he might see both Baumberger's face and Stanley's without turning more than his eyes.
"All there is to it," Stanley began blustering, "you see before yuh. I've located twenty acres here as a placer claim. That there's the northwest corner—ap-prox'm'tley—close as I could come by sightin'. Your fences are straight with yer land, and I happen to sabe all yer corners. I've got a right here. I believe this ground is worth more for the gold that's in it than for the turnips you can make grow on top—and that there makes mineral land of it, and as such, open to entry. That's accordin' to law. I ain't goin' to build no trouble—but I sure do aim to defend my prope'ty rights if I have to. I realize yuh may think diffrunt from me. You've got a right to prove, if yuh can, that all this ain't mineral land. I've got jest as much right to prove it is."
He took a breath so deep it expanded visibly his chest—a broad, muscular chest it was—and let his eyes wander deliberately over his audience.
"That there's where I stand," he stated, with arrogant self-assurance. His mouth drew down at the corners in a smile which asked plainly what they were going to do about it, and intimated quite as plainly that he did not care what they did, though he might feel a certain curiosity as an onlooker.
"I happen to know—" Peaceful began, suddenly for him. But Baumberger waved him into silence.
"You'll have to prove there's gold in paying quantities here," he stated pompously.
"That's what I aim to do," Stanley told him imperturbably.
"I proved, over fifteen years ago, that there WASN'T," Peaceful drawled laconically, and sucked so hard upon his pipe that his cheeks held deep hollows.
Stanley grinned at him. "Sorry I can't let it go at that," he said ironically. "I reckon I'll have to do some washin' myself, though, before I feel satisfied there ain't."
"Then you haven't panned out anything yet?" Phoebe caught him up.
Stanley's eyes flickered a questioning glance at Baumberger, and Baumberger puffed out his chest and said:
"The law won't permit you to despoil this man's property without good reason. We can serve an injunction—"
"You can serve and be darned." Stanley's grin returned, wider than before.
"As Mr. Hart's legal adviser," Baumberger began, in the tone he employed in the courtroom—a tone which held no hint of his wheezy chuckle or his oily reassurance—"I hereby demand that you leave this claim which you have staked out upon Thomas Hart's ranch, and protest that your continued presence here, after twenty-four hours have expired, will be looked upon as malicious trespass, and treated as such."
Stanley still grinned. "As my own legal adviser," he returned calmly, "I hereby declare that you can go plumb to HEL-ena." Stanley evidently felt impelled to adapt his vocabulary to feminine ears, for he glanced at them deprecatingly and as if he wished them elsewhere.
If either Stanley or Baumberger had chanced to look toward Good Indian, he might have wondered why that young man had come, of a sudden, to resemble so strongly his mother's people. He had that stoniness of expression which betrays strong emotion held rigidly in check, with which his quivering nostrils and the light in his half-shut eyes contrasted strangely. He had missed no fleeting glance, no guarded tone, and he was thinking and weighing and measuring every impression as it came to him. Of some things he felt sure; of others he was half convinced; and there was more which he only suspected. And all the while he stood there quietly beside Evadna, his attitude almost that of boredom.
"I think, since you have been properly notified to leave," said Baumberger, with the indefinable air of a lawyer who gathers up his papers relating to one case, thrusts them into his pocket, and turns his attention to the needs of his next client, "we'll just have it out with these other fellows, though I look upon Stanley," he added half humorously, "as a test case. If he goes, they'll all go."
"Better say he's a TOUGH case," blurted Wally, and turned on his heel. "What the devil are they standing around on one foot for, making medicine?" he demanded angrily of Good Indian, who unceremoniously left Evadna and came up with him. "I'D run him off the ranch first, and do my talking about it afterward. That hunk uh pork is kicking up a lot uh dust, but he ain't GETTING anywhere!"
"Exactly." Good Indian thrust both hands deep into his trousers pockets, and stared at the ground before him.
Wally gave another snort. "I don't know how it hits you, Grant—but there's something fishy about it."
"Ex-actly." Good Indian took one long step over the ditch, and went on steadily.
Wally, coming again alongside, turned his head, and regarded him attentively.
"Injun's on top," he diagnosed sententiously after a minute. "Looks like he's putting on a good, thick layer uh war-paint, too." He waited expectantly. "You might hand me the brush when you're through," he hinted grimly. "I might like to get out after some scalps myself."
"That so?" Good Indian asked inattentively, and went on without waiting for any reply. They left the garden, and went down the road to the stable, Wally passively following Grant's lead. Someone came hurrying after them, and they turned to see Jack. The others had evidently stayed to hear the legal harangue to a close.
"Say, Stanley says there's four beside the fellows we saw," Jack announced, rather breathlessly, for he had been running through the loose, heavy soil of the garden to overtake them. "They've located twenty acres apiece, he says—staked 'em out in the night and stuck up their notices—and everyone's going to STICK. They're all going to put in grizzlies and mine the whole thing, he told dad. He just the same as accused dad right out of covering up valuable mineral land on purpose. And he says the law's all on their side." He leaned hard against the stable, and drew his fingers across his forehead, white as a girl's when he pushed back his hat. "Baumberger," he said cheerlessly, "was still talking injunction when I left, but—" He flung out his hand contemptuously.
"I wish dad wasn't so—" began Wally moodily, and let it go at that.
Good Indian threw up his head with that peculiar tightening of lips which meant much in the way of emotion.
"He'll listen to Baumberger, and he'll lose the ranch listening," he stated distinctly. "If there's anything to do, we've got to do it."
"We can run 'em off—maybe," suggested Jack, his fighting instincts steadied by the vivid memory of four rifles held by four men, who looked thoroughly capable of using them.
"This isn't a case of apple-stealing," Good Indian quelled sharply, and got his rope from his saddle with the manner of a man who has definitely made up his mind.
"What CAN we do, then?" Wally demanded impatiently.
"Not a thing at present." Good Indian started for the little pasture, where Keno was feeding and switching methodically at the flies. "You fellows can do more by doing nothing to-day than if you killed off the whole bunch."
He came back in a few minutes with his horse, and found the two still moodily discussing the thing. He glanced at them casually, and went about the business of saddling.
"Where you going?" asked Wally abruptly, when Grant was looping up the end of his latigo.
"Just scouting around a little," was the unsatisfactory reply he got, and he scowled as Good Indian rode away.
CHAPTER XV. SQUAW-TALK-FAR-OFF HEAP SMART
Good Indian spoke briefly with the good-looking young squaw, who had a shy glance for him when he came up; afterward he took hold of his hat by the brim, and ducked through the low opening of a wikiup which she smilingly pointed out to him.
"Howdy, Peppajee? How you foot?" he asked, when his unaccustomed eyes discerned the old fellow lying back against the farther wall.
"Huh! Him heap sick all time." Having his injury thus brought afresh to his notice, Peppajee reached down with his hands, and moved the foot carefully to a new position.
"Last night," Good Indian began without that ceremony of long waiting which is a part of Indian etiquette, "much men come to Hart ranch. Eight." He held up his two outspread hands, with the thumbs tucked inside his palms. "Come in dark, no seeum till sun come back. Makeum camp. One man put sticks in ground, say that part belong him. Twenty acres." He flung up his hands, lowered them, and immediately raised them again. "Eight men do that all same. Have guns, grub, blankets—stop there all time. Say they wash gold. Say that ranch have much gold, stake placer claims. Baumberger"—he saw Peppajee's eyelids draw together—"tell men to go away. Tell Peaceful he fight those men—in court. You sabe. Ask Great Father to tell those men they go away, no wash gold on ranch." He waited.
There is no hurrying the speech of an Indian. Peppajee smoked stolidly, his eyes half closed and blinking sleepily. The veneer of white men's ways dropped from him when he entered his own wikiup, and he would not speak quickly.
"Las' night—mebbyso yo' watchum?" he asked, as one who holds his judgment in abeyance.
"I heap fool. I no watch. I let those men come while I think of—a girl. My eyes sleep." Good Indian was too proud to parry, too bitter with himself to deny. He had not said the thing before, even to himself, but it was in his heart to hate his love, because it had cost this catastrophe to his friends.
"Kay bueno." Peppajee's voice was harsh. But after a time he spoke more sympathetically. "Yo' no watchum. Yo' let heap trouble come. This day yo' heart bad, mebbyso. This day yo' no thinkum squaw all time. Mebbyso yo' thinkum fight, no sabe how yo' fight."
Grant nodded silently. It would seem that Peppajee understood, even though his speech was halting. At that moment much of the unfounded prejudice, which had been for a few days set aside because of bigger things, died within him. He had disliked Peppajee as a pompous egotist among his kind. His latent antagonism against all Indians because they were unwelcomely his blood relatives had crystallized here and there against; certain individuals of the tribe. Old Hagar he hated coldly. Peppajee's staginess irritated him. In his youthful arrogance he had not troubled to see the real man of mettle under that dingy green blanket. Now he looked at Peppajee with a startled sense that he had never known him at all, and that Peppajee was not only a grimy Indian—he was also a man.
"Me no sabe one thing. One otha thing me sabe. Yo' no b'lieve Baumberga one frien'. Him all same snake. Them mens come, Baumberga tellum come all time. All time him try for foolum Peaceful. Yo' look out. Yo' no sleepum mo'. All time yo' watchum."
"I come here," said Good Indian; "I think you mebbyso hear talk, you tell me. My heart heap sad, I let this trouble come. I want to kill that trouble. Mebbyso make my friends laugh, be heap glad those men no stealum ranch. You hear talk, mebbyso you tell me now."
Peppajee smoked imperturbably what time his dignity demanded. At length he took the pipe from his mouth, stretched out his arm toward Hartley, and spoke in his sonorous tone, calculated to add weight to his words.
"Yo' go speakum Squaw-talk-far-off," he commanded. "All time makum talk—talk—" He drummed with his fingers upon his left forearm. "Mebbyso heap sabe. Heap sabe Baumberga kay bueno. He thinkum sabe stealum ranch. All time heap talk come Man-that-coughs, come all same Baumberga. Heap smart, dat squaw." A smile laid its faint light upon his grim old lips, and was gone. "Thinkum yo' heap bueno, dat squaw. All time glad for talkum yo'. Yo' go."
Good Indian stood up, his head bent to avoid scraping his hat against the sloping roof of the wikiup.
"You no hear more talk all time you watch?" he asked, passing over Miss Georgie's possible aid or interest in the affair.
"Much talkum—no can hear. All time them damn' Baumberga shut door—no talkum loud. All time Baumberga walkum in dark. Walkum where apples grow, walkum grass, walkum all dat ranch all time. All time me heap watchum. Snake come, bitum foot—no can watchum mo'. Dat time, much mens come. Yo' sabe. Baumberga all time talkum, him heap frien' Peacefu'—heap snake all time. Speakum two tongue Yo' no b'lievum. All time heap big liar, him. Yo' go, speakum Squaw-talk-far-off. Bueno, dat squaw. Heap smart, all same mans. Yo' go. Pikeway." He settled back with a gesture of finality, and so Good Indian left him.
Old Hagar shrilled maledictions after him when he passed through the littered camp on his way back to where he had left his horse, but for once he was deaf to her upbraidings. Indeed, he never heard her—or if he did, her clamor was to him as the yelping of the dogs which filled his ears, but did not enter his thoughts.
The young squaw smiled at him shy-eyed as he went by her, and though his physical eyes saw her standing demurely there in the shade of her wikiup, ready to shrink coyly away from too bold a glance, the man-mind of him was blind and took no notice. He neither heard the baffled screaming of vile epithets when old Hagar knew that her venom could not strike through the armor of his preoccupation, nor saw the hurt look creep into the soft eyes of the young squaw when his face did not turn toward her after the first inattentive glance.
Good Indian was thinking how barren had been his talk with Peppajee, and was realizing keenly how much he had expected from the interview. It is frequently by the depth of our disappointment only that we can rightly measure the height of our hope. He had come to Peppajee for something tangible, some thing that might be called real evidence of the conspiracy he suspected. He had got nothing but suspicion to match his own. As for Miss Georgie Howard—
"What can she do?" he thought resentfully, feeling as if he had been offered a willow switch with which to fight off a grizzly. It seemed to him that he might as sensibly go to Evadna herself for assistance, and that, even his infatuation was obliged to admit, would be idiotic. Peppajee, he told himself when he reached his horse, was particularly foolish sometimes.
With that in his mind, he mounted—and turned Keno's head toward Hartley. The distance was not great—little more than half a mile—but when he swung from the saddle in the square blotch of shade east by the little, red station house upon the parched sand and cinders, Keno's flanks were heaving like the silent sobbing of a woman with the pace his master's spurred heels had required of him.
Miss Georgie gave her hair a hasty pat or two, pushed a novel out of sight under a Boise newspaper, and turned toward him with a breezily careless smile when he stepped up to the open door and stopped as if he were not quite certain of his own mind, or of his welcome.
He was secretly thinking of Peppajee's information that Miss Georgie thought he was "bueno," and he was wondering if it were true. Not that he wanted it to be true! But he was man enough to look at her with a keener interest than he had felt before. And Miss Georgie, if one might judge by her manner, was woman enough to detect that interest and to draw back her skirts, mentally, ready for instant flight into unapproachableness.
"Howdy, Mr. Imsen?" she greeted him lightly. "In what official capacity am I to receive you, please? Do YOU want to send a telegram?" The accent upon the pronoun was very faint, but it was there for him to notice if he liked. So much she helped him. She was a bright young woman indeed, that she saw he wanted help.
"I don't believe I came to see you officially at all," he said, and his eyes lighted a little as he looked at her. "Peppajee Jim told me to come. He said you're a 'heap smart squaw, all same mans.'"
"Item: One pound of red-and-white candy for Peppajee Jim next time I see him." Miss Georgie laughed—but she also sat down so that her face was turned to the window. "Are you in urgent need of a heap smart squaw?" she asked. "I thought"—she caught herself up, and then went recklessly on—"I thought yesterday that you had found one!"
"It's brains I need just now." After the words were out, Good Indian wanted to swear at himself for seeming to belittle Evadna. "I mean," he corrected quickly—"do you know what I mean? I'll tell you what has happened, and if you don't know then, and can't help me, I'll just have to apologize for coming, and get out."
"Yes, I think you had better tell me why you need me particularly. I know the chicken's perfect, and doesn't lack brains, and you didn't mean that she does. You're all stirred up over something. What's wrong?" Miss Georgie would have spoken in just that tone if she had been a man or if Grant had been a woman.
So Good Indian told her.
"And you imagine that it's partly your fault, and that it wouldn't have happened if you had spent more time keeping your weather eye open, and not so much making love?" Miss Georgie could be very blunt, as well as keen. "Well, I don't see how you could prevent it, or what you could have done—unless you had kicked old Baumberger into the Snake. He's the god in this machine. I'd swear to that."
Good Indian had been fiddling with his hat and staring hard at a pile of old ties just outside the window. He raised his head, and regarded her steadily. It was beginning to occur to him that there was a good deal to this Miss Georgie, under that offhand, breezy exterior. He felt himself drawn to her as a person whom he could trust implicitly.
"You're right as far as I'm concerned," he owned, with his queer, inscrutable smile. "I think you're also right about him. What makes you think so, anyway?"
Miss Georgie twirled a ring upon her middle finger for a moment before she looked up at him.
"Do you know anything about mining laws?" she asked, and when he swung his head slightly to one side in a tacit negative, she went on: "You say there are eight jumpers. Concerted action, that. Premeditated. My daddy was a lawyer," she threw in by way of explanation. "I used to help him in the office a good deal. When he—died, I didn't know enough to go on and be a lawyer myself, so I took to this." She waved her hand impatiently toward the telegraph instrument.
"So it's like this: Eight men can take placer claims—can hold them, you know—for one man. That's the limit, a hundred and sixty acres. Those eight men aren't jumping that ranch as eight individuals; they're in the employ of a principal who is engineering the affair. If I were going to shy a pebble at the head mogul, I'd sure try hard to hit our corpulent friend with the fishy eye. And that," she added, "is what all these cipher messages for Saunders mean, very likely. Baumberger had to have someone here to spy around for him and perhaps help him choose—or at least get together—those eight men. They must have come in on the night train, for I didn't see them. I'll bet they're tough customers, every mother's son of them! Fighters down to the ground, aren't they?"
"I only saw four. They were heeled, and ready for business, all right," he told her. "Soon as I saw what the game was, and that Baumberger was only playing for time and a free hand, I pulled out. I thought Peppajee might give me something definite to go on. He couldn't, though."
"Baumberger's going to steal that ranch according to law, you see," Miss Georgie stated with conviction. "They've got to pan out a sample of gold to prove there's pay dirt there, before they can file their claims. And they've got to do their filing in Shoshone. I suppose their notices are up O.K. I wonder, now, how they intend to manage that? I believe," she mused, "they'll have to go in person—I don't believe Baumberger can do that all himself legally. I've got some of daddy's law-books over in my trunk, and maybe I can look it up and make sure. But I know they haven't filed their claims yet. They've GOT to take possession first, and they've got to show a sample of ore, or dust, it would be in this case. The best thing to do—" She drew her eyebrows together, and she pinched her under lip between her thumb and forefinger, and she stared abstractedly at Good Indian. "Oh, hurry up, Grant!" she cried unguardedly. "Think—think HARD, what's best to do!"
"The only thing I can think of," he scowled, "is to kill that—"
"And that won't do, under the circumstances," she cut in airily. "There'd still be the eight. I'd like," she declared viciously, "to put rough-on-rats in his dinner, but I intend to refrain from doing as I'd like, and stick to what's best."
Good Indian gave her a glance of grateful understanding. "This thing has hit me hard," he confided suddenly. "I've been holding myself in all day. The Harts are like my own folks. They're all I've had, and she's been—they've all been—" Then the instinct of repression walled in his emotion, and he let the rest go in a long breath which told Miss Georgie all she needed to know. So much of Good Indian would never find expression in speech; all that was best of him would not, one might be tempted to think.
"By the way, is there any pay dirt on that ranch?" Miss Georgie kept herself rigidly to the main subject.
"No, there isn't. Not," he added dryly, "unless it has grown gold in the last few years. There are colors, of course. All this country practically can show colors, but pay dirt? No!"
"Look out," she advised him slowly, "that pay dirt doesn't grow over night! Sabe?"
Good Indian's eyes spoke admiration of her shrewdness.
"I must be getting stupid, not to have thought of that," he said.
"Can't give me credit for being 'heap smart'?" she bantered. "Can't even let me believe I thought of something beyond the ken of the average person? Not," she amended ironically, "that I consider YOU an average person! Would you mind"—she became suddenly matter of fact—"waiting here while I go and rummage for a book I want? I'm almost sure I have one on mining laws. Daddy had a good deal of that in his business, being in a mining country. We've got to know just where we stand, it seems to me, because Baumberger's going to use the laws himself, and it's with the law we've got to fight him."
She had to go first and put a stop to the hysterical chattering of the sounder by answering the summons. It proved to be a message for Baumberger, and she wrote it down in a spiteful scribble which left it barely legible.
"Betraying professional secrets, but I don't care," she exclaimed, turning swiftly toward him. "Listen to this:
"'How's fishing? Landed the big one yet? Ready for fry?"'
She threw it down upon the table with a pettish gesture that was wholly feminine. "Sounds perfectly innocent, doesn't it? Too perfectly innocent, if you ask me." She stared out of the window abstractedly, her brows pinched together and her lips pursed with a corner between her teeth, much as she had stared after Baumberger the day before; and when she spoke she seemed to have swung her memory back to him then.
"He came up yesterday—with fish for Pete, he SAID, and of course he really did have some—and sent a wire to Shoshone. I found it on file when I came back. That was perfectly innocent, too. It was:
"'Expect to land big one to-night. Plenty of small fry. Smooth trail.'
"I've an excellent memory, you see." She laughed shortly. "Well, I'll go and hunt up that book, and we'll proceed to glean the wisdom of the serpent, so that we won't be compelled to remain as harmless as the dove! You won't mind waiting here?"
He assured her that he would not mind in the least, and she ran out bareheaded into the hot sunlight. Good Indian leaned forward a little in his chair so that he could watch her running across to the shack where she had a room or two, and he paid her the compliment of keeping her in his thoughts all the time she was gone. He felt, as he had done with Peppajee, that he had not known Miss Georgie at all until to-day, and he was a bit startled at what he was finding her to be.
"Of course," she laughed, when she rustled in again like a whiff of fresh air, "I had to go clear to the bottom of the last trunk I looked in. Lucky I only have three to my name, for it would have been in the last one just the same, if I'd had two dozen and had ransacked them all. But I found it, thank Heaven!"
She came eagerly up to him—he was sitting in the beribboned rocker dedicated to friendly callers, and had the rug badly rumpled with his spurs, which he had forgotten to remove—and with a sweep of her forearm she cleared the little table of novel, newspaper, and a magazine and deck of cards, and barely saved her box of chocolates from going bottom up on the floor.
"Like candy? Help yourself, if you do," she said, and tucked a piece into her mouth absent-mindedly before she laid the leather-bound book open on the table. "Now, we'll see what information Mr. Copp can give us. He's a high authority—General Land Office Commissioner, if you please. He's a few years old—several years old, for that matter—but I don't think he's out of date; I believe what he says still goes. M-m-m!-'Liens on Mines'—'Clause Inserted in Patents'—'Affidavits Taken Without Notice to Opposing'—oh, it must be here—it's GOT to be here!"
She was running a somewhat sticky forefinger slowly down the index pages. "It isn't alphabetically arranged, which I consider sloppy of Mr. Copp. Ah-h! 'Minerals Discovered After Patent Has Issued to Agricultural Claimant'—two hundred and eight. We'll just take a look at that first. That's what they're claiming, you know." She hitched her chair closer, and flipped the leaves eagerly. When she found the page, they touched heads over it, though Miss Georgie read aloud.
"Oh, it's a letter—but it's a decision, and as such has weight. U-m!
"SIR: In reply to your letter of inquiry. . . I have to state that all mineral deposits discovered on land after United States Patent therefor has issued to a party claiming under the laws regulating the disposal of agricultural lands, pass with the patent, and this office has no further jurisdiction in the premise. Very respectfully,"
"'PASS WITH THE PATENT!'" Miss Georgie turned her face so that she could look into Grant's eyes, so close to her own. "Old Peaceful must surely have his patent—Baumberger can't be much of a lawyer, do you think? Because that's a flat statement. There's no chance for any legal quibbling in that—IS there?"
"That's about as straight as he could put it," Good Indian agreed, his face losing a little of its anxiety.
"Well, we'll just browse along for more of the same," she suggested cheerfully, and went back to the index. But first she drew a lead pencil from where it had been stabbed through her hair, and marked the letter with heavy brackets, wetting the lead on her tongue for emphasis.
"'Agricultural Claimants Entitled to Full Protection,'" she read hearteningly from the index, and turned hastily to see what was to be said about it. It happened to be another decision rendered in a letter, and they jubilated together over the sentiment conveyed therein.
"Now, here is what I was telling you, Grant," she said suddenly, after another long minute of studying silently the index. "'Eight Locaters of Placer Ground May Convey to One Party'—and Baumberger's certainly that party!—'Who Can Secure Patent for One Hundred and Sixty Acres.' We'll just read up on that, and find out for sure what the conditions are. Now, here"—she had found the page quickly—"listen to this:
"'I have to state that if eight bona-fide locaters'
("Whether they're that remains to be proven, Mr. Baumberger!")
'each having located twenty acres, in accordance with the congressional rules and regulations, should convey all their right, title, and interest in said locations to one person, such person might apply for a patent—'
"And so on into tiresomeness. Really, I'm beginning to think Baumberger's awfully stupid, to even attempt such a silly thing. He hasn't a legal leg to stand on. 'Goes with the patent'—that sounds nice to me. They're not locating in good faith—those eight jumpers down there." She fortified herself with another piece of candy. "All you need," she declared briskly, "is a good lawyer to take this up and see it through."
"You seem to be doing pretty well," he remarked, his eyes dwelling rather intently upon her face, and smiling as they did so.
"I can read what's in the book," she remarked lightly, her eyes upon its pages as if she were consciously holding them from meeting his look. "But it will take a lawyer to see the case through the courts. And let me tell you one thing very emphatically." She looked at him brightly. "Many a case as strong as this has been lost, just by legal quibbling and ignorance of how to handle it properly. Many a case without a leg to stand on has been won, by smooth work on the part of some lawyer. Now, I'll just jot down what they'll have to do, and prove, if they get that land—and look here, Mr. Man, here's another thing to consider. Maybe Baumberger doesn't expect to get a patent. Maybe he means to make old Peaceful so deucedly sick of the thing that he'll sell out cheap rather than fight the thing to a finish. Because this can be appealed, and taken up and up, and reopened because of some technical error—oh, as Jenny Wren says in—in—"
"'Our Mutual Friend?'" Good Indian suggested unexpectedly.
"Oh, you've read it!—where she always says: 'I know their tricks and their manners!' And I do, from being so much with daddy in the office and hearing him talk shop. I know that, without a single bit of justice on their side, they could carry this case along till the very expense of it would eat up the ranch and leave the Harts flat broke. And if they didn't fight and keep on fighting, they could lose it—so there you are."
She shut the book with a slam. "But," she added more brightly when she saw the cloud of gloom settle blacker than before on his face, and remembered that he felt himself at least partly to blame, "it helps a lot to have the law all on our side, and—" She had to go then, because the dispatcher was calling, and she knew it must be a train order. "We'll read up a little more, and see just what are the requirements of placer mining laws—and maybe we can make it a trifle difficult for those eight to comply!" she told him over her shoulder, while her fingers chittered a reply to the call, and then turned her attention wholly to receiving the message.
Good Indian, knowing well the easy custom of the country which makes smoking always permissible, rolled himself a cigarette while he waited for her to come back to his side of the room. He was just holding the match up and waiting for a clear blaze before setting his tobacco afire, when came a tap-tap of feet on the platform, and Evadna appeared in the half-open doorway.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, and widened her indigo eyes at him sitting there and looking so much at home.
"Come right in, chicken," Miss Georgie invited cordially. "Don't stand there in the hot sun. Mr. Imsen is going to turn the seat of honor over to you this instant. Awfully glad you came. Have some candy."
Evadna sat down in the rocker, thrust her two little feet out so that the toe, of her shoes showed close together beyond the hem of her riding-skirt, laid her gauntleted palms upon the arms of the chair and rocked methodically, and looked at Grant and then at Miss Georgie, and afterward tilted up her chin and smiled superciliously at an insurance company's latest offering to the public in the way of a calendar two feet long.
"When did you come up?" Good Indian asked her, trying so hard to keep a placating note out of his voice that he made himself sound apologetic.
"Oh—about an hour ago, I think," Evadna drawled sweetly—the sweet tones which always mean trouble, when employed by a woman.
Good Indian bit his lip, got up, and threw his cigarette out of the window, and looked at her reproachfully, and felt vaguely that he was misunderstood and most unjustly placed upon the defensive.
"I only came over," Evadna went on, as sweetly as before, "to say that there's a package at the store which I can't very well carry, and I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind taking it—when you go."
"I'm going now, if you're ready," he told her shortly, and reached for his hat.
Evadna rocked a moment longer, making him wait for her reply. She glanced at Miss Georgie still busy at the telegraph table, gave a little sigh of resignation, and rose with evident reluctance.
"Oh—if you're really going," she drawled, and followed him outside.
CHAPTER XVI. "DON'T GET EXCITED!"
Lovers, it would seem, require much less material for a quarrel than persons in a less exalted frame of mind.
Good Indian believed himself very much in love with his Christmas angel, and was very much inclined to let her know it, but at the same time he saw no reason why he should not sit down in Miss Georgie's rocking-chair, if he liked, and he could not quite bring himself to explain even to Evadna his reason for doing so. It humiliated him even to think of apologizing or explaining, and he was the type of man who resents humiliation more keenly than a direct injury.
As to Evadna, her atmosphere was that of conscious and magnanimous superiority to any feeling so humanly petty as jealousy—which is extremely irritating to anyone who is at all sensitive to atmospheric conditions.
She stopped outside the window long enough to chirp a commonplace sentence or two to Miss Georgie, and to explain just why she couldn't stay a minute longer. "I told Aunt Phoebe I'd be back to lunch—dinner, I mean—and she's so upset over those horrible men planted in the orchard—did Grant tell you about it?—that I feel I ought to be with her. And Marie has the toothache again. So I really must go. Good-by—come down whenever you can, won't you?" She smiled, and she waved a hand, and she held up her riding-skirt daintily as she turned away. "You didn't say goodby to Georgie," she reminded Grant, still making use of the chirpy tone. "I hope I am not in any way responsible."
"I don't see how you could be," said Good Indian calmly; and that, for some reason, seemed to intensify the atmosphere with which Evadna chose to surround herself.
She led Huckleberry up beside the store platform without giving Grant a chance to help, mounted, and started on while he was in after the package—a roll not more than eight inches long, and weighing at least four ounces, which brought an ironical smile to his lips. But she could not hope to outrun him on Huckleberry, even when Huckleberry's nose was turned toward home, and he therefore came clattering up before she had passed the straggling outpost of rusty tin cans which marked, by implication, the boundary line between Hartley and the sagebrush waste surrounding it.
"You seem to be in a good deal of a hurry," Good Indian observed.
"Not particularly," she replied, still chirpy as to tone and supercilious as to her manner.
It would be foolish to repeat all that was said during that ride home, because so much meaning was conveyed in tones and glances and in staring straight ahead and saying nothing. They were sparring politely before they were over the brow of the hill behind the town; they were indulging in veiled sarcasm—which came rapidly out from behind the veil and grew sharp and bitter—before they started down the dusty grade; they were not saying anything at all when they rounded the Point o' Rocks and held their horses rigidly back from racing home, as was their habit, and when they dismounted at the stable, they refused to look at each other upon any pretext whatsoever.
Baumberger, in his shirt-sleeves and smoking his big pipe, lounged up from the pasture gate where he had been indolently rubbing the nose of a buckskin two-year-old with an affectionate disposition, and wheezed out the information that it was warm. He got the chance to admire a very stiff pair of shoulders and a neck to match for his answer.
"I wasn't referring to your manner, m' son," he chuckled, after he had watched Good Indian jerk the latigo loose and pull off the saddle, showing the wet imprint of it on Keno's hide. "I wish the weather was as cool!"
Good Indian half turned with the saddle in his hands, and slapped it down upon its side so close to Baumberger that he took a hasty step backward, seized Keno's dragging bridle-reins, and started for the stable. Baumberger happened to be in the way, and he backed again, more hastily than before, to avoid being run over.
"Snow blind?" he interrogated, forcing a chuckle which had more the sound of a growl.
Good Indian stopped in the doorway, slipped off the bridle, gave Keno a hint by slapping him lightly on the rump, and when the horse had gone on into the cool shade of the stable, and taking his place in his stall, began hungrily nosing the hay in his manger, he came back to unsaddle Huckleberry, who was nodding sleepily with his under lip sagging much like Baumberger's while he waited. That gentleman seemed to be once more obstructing the path of Good Indian. He dodged back as Grant brushed past him.
"By the great immortal Jehosaphat!" swore Baumberger, with an ugly leer in his eyes, "I never knew before that I was so small I couldn't be seen with the naked eye!"
"You're so small in my estimation that a molecule would look like a hay-stack alongside you!" Good Indian lifted the skirt of Evadna's side-saddle, and proceeded calmly to loosen the cinch. His forehead smoothed a trifle, as if that one sentence had relieved him of some of his bottled bitterness.
"YOU ain't shrunk up none—in your estimation," Baumberger forgot his pose of tolerant good nature to say. His heavy jaw trembled as if he had been overtaken with a brief attack of palsy; so also did the hand which replaced his pipe between his loosely quivering lips. "That little yellow-haired witch must have given yuh the cold shoulder; but you needn't take it out on me. Had a quarrel?" He painstakingly brushed some ashes from his sleeve, once more the wheezing, chuckling fat man who never takes anything very seriously.
"Did you ever try minding your own business?" Grant inquired with much politeness of tone.
"We-e-ell, yuh see, m' son, it's my business to mind other people's business!" He chuckled at what he evidently considered a witty retort. "I've been pouring oil on the troubled waters all forenoon—maybe I've kinda got the habit."
"Only you're pouring it on a fire this time."
"That dangerous, yuh mean?"
"You're liable to start a conflagration you can't stop, and that may consume yourself, is all."
"Say, they sure do teach pretty talk in them colleges!" he purred, grinning loosely, his own speech purposely uncouth.
Good Indian turned upon him, stopped as quickly, and let his anger vent itself in a sneer. It had occurred to him that Baumberger was not goading him without purpose—because Baumberger was not that kind of man. Oddly enough, he had a short, vivid, mental picture of him and the look on his face when he was playing the trout; it seemed to him that there was something of that same cruel craftiness now in his eyes and around his mouth. Good Indian felt for one instant as if he were that trout, and Baumberger was playing him skillfully. "He's trying to make me let go all holds and tip my hand," he thought, keenly reading him, and he steadied himself.
"What d'yuh mean by me pouring oil on fire!" Baumberger urged banteringly. "Sounds like the hero talking to the villain in one of these here save-him-he's-my-sweetheart plays."
"You go to the devil," said Good Indian shortly.
"Don't repeat yourself, m' son; it's a sign uh failing powers. You said that to me this morning, remember? And—don't—get—excited!" His right arm raised slightly when he said that, as if he expected a blow for his answer.
Good Indian saw that involuntary arm movement, but he saw it from the tail of his eye, and he drew his lips a little tighter. Clearly Baumberger was deliberately trying to force him into a rage that would spend some of its force in threats, perhaps. He therefore grew cunningly calm, and said absolutely nothing. He led Huckleberry into the stable, came out, and shut the door, and walked past Baumberger as if he were not there at all. And Baumberger stood with his head lowered so that his flabby jaw was resting upon his chest, and stared frowningly after him until the yard gate swung shut behind his tall, stiffly erect figure.
"I gotta WATCH that jasper," he mumbled over his pipe, as a sort of summing up, and started slowly to the house. Halfway there he spoke again in the same mumbling undertone. "He's got the Injun look in his eyes t'-day. I gotta WATCH him."
He did watch him. It is astonishing how a family can live for months together, and not realize how little real privacy there is for anyone until something especial comes up for secret discussion. It struck Good Indian forcibly that afternoon, because he was anxious for a word in private with Peaceful, or with Phoebe, and also with Evadna—if it was only to continue their quarrel.
At dinner he could not speak without being heard by all. After dinner, the family showed an unconscious disposition to "bunch." Peaceful and Baumberger sat and smoked upon that part of the porch which was coolest, and the boys stayed close by so that they could hear what might be said about the amazing state of affairs down in the orchard.
Evadna, it is true, strolled rather self-consciously off to the head of the pond, carefully refraining, as she passed, from glancing toward Good Indian. He felt that she expected him to follow, but he wanted first to ask Peaceful a few questions, and to warn him not to trust Baumberger, so he stayed where he was, sprawled upon his back with a much-abused cushion under his head and his hat tilted over his face, so that he could see Baumberger's face without the scrutiny attracting notice.
He did not gain anything by staying, for Peaceful had little to say, seeming to be occupied mostly with dreamy meditations. He nodded, now and then, in response to Baumberger's rumbling monologues, and occasionally he removed his pipe from his mouth long enough to reply with a sentence where the nod was not sufficient. Baumberger droned on, mostly relating the details of cases he had won against long odds—cases for the most part similar to this claim-jumping business.
Nothing had been done that day, Grant gathered, beyond giving the eight claimants due notice to leave. The boys were evidently dissatisfied about something, though they said nothing. They shifted their positions with pettish frequency, and threw away cigarettes only half smoked, and scowled at dancing leaf-shadows on the ground.
When he could no longer endure the inaction, he rose, stretched his arms high above his head, settled his hat into place, gave Jack a glance of meaning, and went through the kitchen to the milk-house. He felt sure that Baumberger's ears were pricked toward the sound of his footsteps, and he made them purposely audible.
"Hello, Mother Hart," he called out cheerfully to Phoebe, pottering down in the coolness. "Any cream going to waste, or buttermilk, or cake?" He went down to her, and laid his hand upon her shoulder with a caressing touch which brought tears into her eyes. "Don't you worry a bit, little mother," he said softly. "I think we can beat them at their own game. They've stacked the deck, but we'll beat it, anyhow." His hand slid down to her arm, and gave it a little, reassuring squeeze.
"Oh, Grant, Grant!" She laid her forehead against him for a moment, then looked up at him with a certain whimsical solicitude. "Never mind our trouble now. What's this about you and Vadnie? The boys seem to think you two are going to make a match of it. And HAVE you been quarreling, you two? I only want," she added, deprecatingly, "to see my biggest boy happy, and if I can do anything in any way to help—"
"You can't, except just don't worry when we get to scrapping." His eyes smiled down at her with their old, quizzical humor, which she had not seen in them for some days. "I foresee that we're due to scrap a good deal of the time," he predicted. "We're both pretty peppery. But we'll make out, all right. You didn't"—he blushed consciously—"you didn't think I was going to—to fall dead in love—"
"Didn't I?" Phoebe laughed at him openly. "I'd have been more surprised if you hadn't. Why, my grief! I know enough about human nature, I hope, to expect—"
"Churning?" The voice of Baumberger purred down to them. There he stood bulkily at the top of the steps, good-naturedly regarding them. "Mr. Hart and I are goin' to take a ride up to the station—gotta send a telegram or two about this little affair"—he made a motion with his pipe toward the orchard—"and I just thought a good, cold drink of buttermilk before we start wouldn't be bad." His glance just grazed Good Indian, and passed him over as being of no consequence.
"If you don't happen to have any handy, it don't matter in the least," he added, and turned to go when Phoebe shook her head. "Anything we can get for yuh at the store, Mrs. Hart? Won't be any trouble at all—Oh, all right." He had caught another shake of the head.
"We may be gone till supper-time," he explained further, "and I trust to your good sense, Mrs. Hart, to see that the boys keep away from those fellows down there." The pipe, and also his head, again indicated the men in the orchard. "We don't want any ill feeling stirred up, you understand, and so they'd better just keep away from 'em. They're good boys—they'll do as you say." He leered at her ingratiatingly, shot a keen, questioning look at Good Indian, and went his lumbering way.
Grant went to the top of the steps, and made sure that he had really gone before he said a word. Even then he sat down upon the edge of the stairway with his back to the pond, so that he could keep watch of the approaches to the spring-house; he had become an exceedingly suspicious young man overnight.
"Mother Hart, on the square, what do you think of Baumberger?" he asked her abruptly. "Come and sit down; I want to talk with you—if I can without having the whole of Idaho listening."
"Oh, Grant—I don't know what to think! He seems all right, and I don't know why he shouldn't be just what he seems; he's got the name of being a good lawyer. But something—well, I get notions about things sometimes. And I can't, somehow, feel just right about him taking up this jumping business. I don't know why. I guess it's just a feeling, because I can see you don't like him. And the boys don't seem to, either, for some reason. I guess it's because he won't let 'em get right after those fellows and drive 'em off the ranch. They've been uneasy as they could be all day." She sat down upon a rough stool just inside the door, and looked up at him with troubled eyes. "And I'm getting it, too—seems like I'd go all to pieces if I can't do SOMETHING!" She sighed, and tried to cover the sigh with a laugh—which was not, however, a great success. "I wish I could be as cool-headed as Thomas," she said, with a tinge of petulance. "It don't seem to worry him none!"
"What does he think of Baumberger? Is he going to let him take the case and handle it to please himself?" Good Indian was tapping his boot-toe thoughtfully upon the bottom step, and glancing up now and then as a precaution against being overheard.
"I guess so," she admitted, answering the last question first. "I haven't had a real good chance to talk to Thomas all day. Baumberger has been with him most of the time. But I guess he is; anyway, Baumberger seems to take it for granted he's got the case. Thomas hates to hurt anybody's feelings, and, even if he didn't want him, he'd hate to say so. But he's as good a lawyer as any, I guess. And Thomas seems to like him well enough. Thomas," she reminded Good Indian unnecessarily, "never does say much about anything."
"I'd like to get a chance to talk to him," Good Indian observed. "I'll have to just lead him off somewhere by main strength, I guess. Baumberger sticks to him like a bur to a dog's tail. What are those fellows doing down there now? Does anybody know?"
"You heard what he said to me just now," Phoebe said, impatiently. "He don't want anybody to go near. It's terribly aggravating," she confessed dispiritedly, "to have a lot of ruffians camped down, cool as you please, on your own ranch, and not be allowed to drive 'em off. I don't wonder the boys are all sulky. If Baumberger wasn't here at all, I guess we'd have got rid of 'em before now. I don't know as I think very much of lawyers, anyhow. I believe I'd a good deal rather fight first and go, to law about it afterward if I had to. But Thomas is so—CALM!"
"I think I'll go down and have a look," said Good Indian suddenly. "I'm not under Baumberger's orders, if the rest of the bunch is. And I wish you'd tell Peaceful I want to talk to him, Mother Hart—will you? Tell him to ditch his guardian angel somehow. I'd like to see him on the quiet if I can, but if I can't—"
"Can't be nice, and forgiving, and repentant, and—a dear?" Evadna had crept over to him by way of the rocks behind the pond, and at every pause in her questioning she pushed him forward by his two shoulders. "I'm so furious I could beat you! What do you mean, savage, by letting a lady stay all afternoon by herself, waiting for you to come and coax her into being nice to you? Don't you know I H-A-ATE you?" She had him by the ears, then, pulling his head erratically from side to side, and she finished by giving each ear a little slap and laid her arms around his neck. "Please don't look at me that way, Aunt Phoebe," she said, when she discovered her there inside the door. "Here's a horrible young villain who doesn't know how to behave, and makes me do all the making up. I don't like him one bit, and I just came to tell him so and be done. And I don't suppose," she added, holding her two hands tightly over his mouth, "he has a word to say for himself."
Since he was effectually gagged, Grant had not a word to say. Even when he had pulled her hands away and held them prisoners in his own, he said nothing. This was Evadna in a new and unaccountable mood, it seemed to him. She had certainly been very angry with him at noon. She had accused him, in that roundabout way which seems to be a woman's favorite method of reaching a real grievance, of being fickle and neglectful and inconsiderate and a brute.
The things she had said to him on the way down the grade had rankled in his mind, and stirred all the sullen pride in his nature to life, and he could not forget them as easily as she appeared to have done. Good Indian was not in the habit of saying things, even in anger, which he did not mean, and he could not understand how anyone else could do so. And the things she had said!
But here she was, nevertheless, laughing at him and blushing adorably because he still held her fast, and making the blood of him race most unreasonably.
"Don't scold me, Aunt Phoebe," she begged, perhaps because there was something in Phoebe's face which she did not quite understand, and so mistook for disapproval of her behavior. "I should have told you last night that we're—well, I SUPPOSE we're supposed to be engaged!" She twisted her hands away from him, and came down the steps to her aunt. "It all happened so unexpectedly—really, I never dreamed I cared anything for him, Aunt Phoebe, until he made me care. And last night I couldn't tell you, and this morning I was going to, but all this horrible trouble came up—and, anyway," she finished with a flash of pretty indignation, "I think Grant might have told you himself! I don't think it's a bit nice of him to leave everything like that for me. He might have told you before he went chasing off to—to Hartley." She put her arms around her aunt's neck. "You aren't angry, are you, Aunt Phoebe?" she coaxed. "You—you know you said you wanted me to be par-TIC-ularly nice to Grant!"
"Great grief, child! You needn't choke me to death. Of course I'm not angry." But Phoebe's eyes did not brighten.
"You look angry," Evadna pouted, and kissed her placatingly.
"I've got plenty to be worked up over, without worrying over your love affairs, Vadnie." Phoebe's eyes sought Grant's anxiously. "I don't doubt but what it's more important to you than anything else on earth, but I'm thinking some of the home I'm likely to lose."
Evadna drew back, and made a movement to go.
"Oh, I'm sorry I interrupted you then, Aunt Phoebe. I suppose you and Grant were busy discussing those men in the orchard—"
"Don't be silly, child. You aren't interrupting anybody, and there's no call for you to run off like that. We aren't talking secrets that I know of."
In some respects the mind of Good Indian was extremely simple and direct. His knowledge of women was rudimentary and based largely upon his instincts rather than any experience he had had with them. He had been extremely uncomfortable in the knowledge that Evadna was angry, and strongly impelled, in spite of his hurt pride, to make overtures for peace. He was puzzled, as well as surprised, when she seized him by the shoulders and herself made peace so bewitchingly that he could scarcely realize it at first. But since fate was kind, and his lady love no longer frowned upon him, he made the mistake of taking it for granted she neither asked nor expected him to explain his seeming neglect of her and his visit to Miss Georgie at Hartley.
She was not angry with him. Therefore, he was free to turn his whole attention to this trouble which had come upon his closest friends. He reached out, caught Evadna by the hand, pulled her close to him, and smiled upon her in a way to make her catch her breath in a most unaccountable manner.
But he did not say anything to her; he was a young man unused to dalliance when there were serious things at hand.
"I'm going down there and see what they're up to," he told Phoebe, giving Evadna's hand a squeeze and letting it go. "I suspect there's something more than keeping the peace behind Baumberger's anxiety to have them left strictly alone. The boys had better keep away, though."
"Are you going down in the orchard?" Evadna rounded her unbelievably blue eyes at him. "Then I'm going along."
"You'll do nothing of the kind, little Miss Muffit," he declared from the top step.
"I might want to do some swearing." He grinned down at her, and started off.
"Now, Grant, don't you do anything rash!" Phoebe called after him sharply.
"'Don't—get—excited!'" he retorted, mimicking Baumberger.
"I'm going a little way, whether you want me to or not," Evadna threatened, pouting more than ever.
She did go as far as the porch with him, and was kissed and sent back like a child. She did not, however, go back to her aunt, but ran into her own room, where she could look out through the grove toward the orchard—and to the stable as well, though that view did not interest her particularly at first. It was pure accident that made her witness what took place at the gate.
CHAPTER XVII. A LITTLE TARGET-PRACTICE
A grimy buck with no hat of any sort and with his hair straggling unbraided over one side of his face to conceal a tumor which grew just over his left eye like a large, ripe plum, stood outside the gate, in doubt whether to enter or remain where he was. When he saw Good Indian he grunted, fumbled in his blanket, and held out a yellowish envelope.
"Ketchum Squaw-talk-far-off," he explained gutturally.
Good Indian took the envelope, thinking it must be a telegram, though he could not imagine who would be sending him one. His name was written plainly upon the outside, and within was a short note scrawled upon a telegraph form:
"Come up as soon as you possibly can. I've something to tell you."
That was what she had written. He read it twice before he looked up.
"What time you ketchum this?" he asked, tapping the message with his finger.
"Mebbyso one hour." The buck pulled a brass watch ostentatiously from under his blanket, held it to his ear a moment, as if he needed auricular assurance that it was running properly, and pointed to the hour of three. "Ketchum one dolla, mebbyso pikeway quick. No stoppum," he said virtuously.
"You see Peaceful in Hartley?" Good Indian asked the question from an idle impulse; in reality, he was wondering what it was that Miss Georgie had to tell him.
"Peacefu', him go far off. On train. All same heap fat man go 'long. Mebbyso Shoshone, mebbyso Pocatello."
Good Indian looked down at the note, and frowned; that, probably, was what she had meant to tell him, though he could not see where the knowledge was going to help him any. If Peaceful had gone to Shoshone, he was gone, and that settled it. Undoubtedly he would return the next day—perhaps that night, even. He was beginning to feel the need of a quiet hour in which to study the tangle, but he had a suspicion that Baumberger had some reason other than a desire for peace in wanting the jumpers left to themselves, and he started toward the orchard, as he had at first intended.
"Mebbyso ketchum one dolla, yo'," hinted Charlie, the buck.
But Good Indian went on without paying any attention to him. At the road he met Jack and Wally, just returning from the orchard.
"No use going down there," Jack informed him sulkily. "They're just laying in the shade with their guns handy, doing nothing. They won't let anybody cross their line, and they won't say anything—not even when you cuss 'em. Wally and I got black in the face trying to make them come alive. Baumberger got back yet? Wally and I have got a scheme—"
"He and your dad took the train for Shoshone. Say, does anyone know what that bunch over in the meadow is up to?" Good Indian leaned his back against a tree, and eyed the two morosely.