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A Little Target-practice








From: Good Indian

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.

"Clark and Gene are over there," said Wally. "But I'd gamble they aren't
doing any more than these fellows are. They haven't started to pan out
any dirt--they haven't done a thing, it looks like, but lay around in
the shade. I must say I don't sabe their play. And the worst of it is,"
he added desperately, "a fellow can't do anything."

"I'm going to break out pretty darned sudden," Jack observed calmly.
"I feel it coming on." He smiled, but there was a look of steel in his
eyes.

Good Indian glanced at him sharply.

"Now, you fellows' listen to me," he said. "This thing is partly my
fault. I could have prevented it, maybe, if I hadn't been so taken up
with my own affairs. Old Peppajee told me Baumberger was up to some
devilment when he first came down here. He heard him talking to Saunders
in Pete Hamilton's stable. And the first night he was here, Peppajee and
I saw him down at the stable at midnight, talking to someone. Peppajee
kept on his trail till he got that snake bite, and he warned me a
plenty. But I didn't take much stock in it--or if I did--" He lifted his
shoulders expressively.

"So," he went on, after a minute of bitter thinking, "I want you to keep
out of this. You know how your mother would feel--You don't want to get
foolish. You can keep an eye on them--to-night especially. I've an idea
they're waiting for dark; and if I knew why, I'd be a lot to the good.
And if I knew why old Baumberger took your father off so suddenly,
why--I'd be wiser than I am now." He lifted his hat, brushed the
moisture from his forehead, and gave a grunt of disapproval when his
eyes rested on Jack.

"What yuh loaded down like that for?" he demanded. "You fellows better
put those guns in cold storage. I'm like Baumberger in one respect--we
don't want any violence!" He grinned without any feeling of mirth.

"Something else is liable to be put in cold storage first," Wally
hinted, significantly. "I must say I like this standing around and
looking dangerous, without making a pass! I wish something would break
loose somewhere."

"I notice you're packing yours, large as life," Jack pointed out. "Maybe
you're just wearing it for an ornament, though."

"Sure!" Good Indian, feeling all at once the utter futility of standing
there talking, left them grumbling over their forced inaction, without
explaining where he was going, or what he meant to do. Indeed, he
scarcely knew himself. He was in that uncomfortable state of mind where
one feels that one must do something, without having the faintest idea
of what that something is, or how it is to be done. It seemed to him
that they were all in the same mental befuddlement, and it seemed
impossible to stay on the ranch another hour without making a hostile
move of some sort--and he knew that, when he did make a move, he at
least ought to know why he did it.

The note in his pocket gave him an excuse for action of some sort, even
though he felt sure that nothing would come of it; at least, he thought,
he would have a chance to discuss the thing with Miss Georgie again--and
while he was not a man who must have everything put into words, he had
found comfort and a certain clarity of thought in talking with her.

"Why don't you invite me to go along?" Evadna challenged from the gate,
when he was ready to start. She laughed when she said it, but there was
something beneath the laughter, if he had only been close enough to read
it.

"I didn't think you'd want to ride through all that dust and heat again
to-day," he called back. "You're better off in the shade."

"Going to call on 'Squaw-talk-far-off'--AGAIN?" She was still laughing,
with something else beneath the laugh.

He glanced at her quickly, wondering where she had gotten the name, and
in his wonder neglected to make audible reply. Also he passed over the
change to ride back to the gate and tell her good-by--with a hasty kiss,
perhaps, from the saddle--as a lover should have done.

He was not used to love-making. For him, it was settled that they loved
each other, and would marry some day--he hoped the day would be soon. It
did not occur to him that a girl wants to be told over and over that she
is the only woman in the whole world worth a second thought or glance;
nor that he should stop and say just where he was going, and what he
meant to do, and how reluctant he was to be away from her. Trouble sat
upon his mind like a dead weight, and dulled his perception, perhaps.
He waved his hand to her from the stable, and galloped down the trail to
the Point o' Rocks, and his mind, so far as Evadna was concerned, was at
ease.

Evadna, however, was crying, with her arms folded upon the top of the
gate, before the cloud which marked his passing had begun to sprinkle
the gaunt, gray sagebushes along the trail with a fresh layer of choking
dust. Jack and Wally came up, scowling at the world and finding no
words to match their gloom. Wally gave her a glance, and went on to
the blacksmith shop, but Jack went straight up to her, for he liked her
well.

"What's the matter?" he asked dully. "Mad because you can't smoke up the
ranch?"

Evadna fumbled blindly for her handkerchief, scoured her eyes well when
she found it, and put up the other hand to further shield her face.

"Oh, the whole place is like a GRAVEYARD," she complained. "Nobody will
talk, or do anything but just wander around! I just can't STAND it!"
Which was not frank of her.

"It's too hot to do much of anything," he said apologetically. "We might
take a ride, if you don't mind the heat."

"You don't want to ride," she objected petulantly. "Why didn't you go
with Good Indian?" he countered.

"Because I didn't want to. And I do wish you'd quit calling him that; he
has a real name, I believe."

"If you're looking for a scrap," grinned Jack, "I'll stake you to my six
gun, and you can go down and kill off a few of those claim-jumpers. You
seem to be in just about the proper frame uh mind to murder the whole
bunch. Fly at it!"

"It begins to look as if we women would have to do something," she
retorted cruelly. "There doesn't seem to be a man on the ranch with
spirit enough to stop them from digging up the whole--"

"I guess that'll be about enough," Jack interrupted her, coldly. "Why
didn't you say that to Good Indian?"

"I told you not to call him that. I don't see why everybody is so mean
to-day. There isn't a person--"

When Jack laughed, he shut his eyes until he looked through narrow
slits under heavy lashes, and showed some very nice teeth, and two deep
dimples besides the one which always stood in his chin. He laughed then,
for the first time that day, and if Evadna had been in a less vixenish
temper she would have laughed with him just as everyone else always did.
But instead of that, she began to cry again, which made Jack feel very
much a brute.

"Oh, come on and be good," he urged remorsefully. But Evadna turned and
ran back into the house and into her room, and cried luxuriously into
her pillow. Jack, peeping in at the window which opened upon the porch,
saw her there, huddled upon the bed.

In the spring-house his mother sat crying silently over her
helplessness, and failed to respond to his comforting pats upon the
shoulder. Donny struck at him viciously when Jack asked him an idle
question, and Charlie, the Indian with the tumor over his eye, scowled
from the corner of the house where he was squatting until someone
offered him fruit, or food, or tobacco. He was of an acquisitive nature,
was Charlie--and the road to his favor must be paved with gifts.

"This is what I call hell," Jack stated aloud, and went straight away to
the strawberry patch, took up his stand with his toes against Stanley's
corner stake, cursed him methodically until he had quite exhausted his
vocabulary, and put a period to his forceful remarks by shooting a neat,
round hole through Stanley's coffee-pot. And Jack was the mild one of
the family.

By the time he had succeeded in puncturing recklessly the frying-pan,
and also the battered pan in which Stanley no doubt meant to wash his
samples of soil, his good humor returned. So also did the other boys,
running in long leaps through the garden and arriving at the spot very
belligerent and very much out of breath.

"Got to do something to pass away the time," Jack grinned, bringing his
front sight once more to bear upon the coffee--pot, already badly dented
and showing three black holes. "And I ain't offering any violence
to anybody. You can't hang a man, Mr. Stanley, for shooting up a
frying-pan. And I wouldn't--hurt--you--for--anything!" He had just
reloaded, so that his bullets saw him to the end of the sentence.

Stanley watched his coffee-pot dance and roll like a thing in pain, and
swore when all was done. But he did not shoot, though one could see how
his fingers must itch for the feel of the trigger.

"Your old dad will sweat blood for this--and you'll be packing your
blanket on your back and looking for work before snow flies," was his
way of summing up.

Still, he did not shoot.

It was like throwing pebbles at the bowlder in the Malad, the day
before.

When Phoebe came running in terror toward the fusillade, with Marie
and her swollen face, and Evadna and her red eyes following in great
trepidation far behind, they found four claim-jumpers purple from long
swearing, and the boys gleefully indulging in revolver practice with
various camp utensils for the targets.

They stopped when their belts were empty as well as their guns, and they
went back to the house with the women, feeling much better. Afterward
they searched the house for more "shells," clattering from room to room,
and looking into cigar boxes and upon out-of-the-way shelves, while
Phoebe expostulated in the immediate background.

"Your father would put a stop to it pretty quick if he was here," she
declared over and over. "Just because they didn't shoot back this time
is no sign they won't next time you boys go to hectoring them." All the
while she knew she was wasting her breath, and she had a secret fear
that her manner and her tones were unconvincing. If she had been a man,
she would have been their leader, perhaps. So she retreated at last
to her favorite refuge, the milk-house, and tried to cover her secret
approval with grumbling to herself.

There was a lull in the house. The boys, it transpired, had gone in
a body to Hartley after more cartridges, and the cloud of dust which
hovered long over the trail testified to their haste. They returned
surprisingly soon, and they would scarcely wait for their supper before
they hurried back through the garden. One would think that they were on
their way to a dance, so eager they were.

They dug themselves trenches in various parts of the garden, laid
themselves gleefully upon their stomachs, and proceeded to exchange,
at the top of their strong, young voices, ideas upon the subject of
claim-jumping, and to punctuate their remarks with leaden periods
planted neatly and with precision in the immediate vicinity of one of
the four.

They had some trouble with Donny, because he was always jumping up that
he might yell the louder when one of the enemy was seen to step about
uneasily whenever a bullet pinged closer than usual, and the rifles
began to bark viciously now and then. It really was unsafe for one to
dance a clog, with flapping arms and taunting laughter, within range of
those rises, and they told Donny so.

They ordered him back to the house; they threw clods of earth at his
bare legs; they threatened and they swore, but it was not until Wally
got him by the collar and shook him with brotherly thoroughness that
Donny retreated in great indignation to the house.

They were just giving themselves wholly up to the sport of sending
little spurts of loose earth into the air as close as was safe to
Stanley, and still much too close for his peace of mind or that of
his fellows, when Donny returned unexpectedly with the shotgun and an
enthusiasm for real bloodshed.

He fired once from the thicket of currant bushes, and, from the
remarks which Stanley barked out in yelping staccato, he punctured that
gentleman's person in several places with the fine shot of which the
charge consisted. He would have fired again if the recoil had not thrown
him quite off his balance, and it is possible that someone would have
been killed as a result. For Stanley began firing with murderous intent,
and only the dusk and Good Indian's opportune arrival prevented serious
trouble.

Good Indian had talked long with Miss Georgie, and had agreed with
her that, for the present at least, there must be no violence. He had
promised her flatly that he would do all in his power to keep the peace,
and he had gone again to the Indian camp to see if Peppajee or some of
his fellows could give him any information about Saunders.

Saunders had disappeared unaccountably, after a surreptitious conference
with Baumberger the day before, and it was that which Miss Georgie had
to tell him. Saunders was in the habit of sleeping late, so that she did
not know until noon that he was gone. Pete was worried, and garrulously
feared the worst. The worst, according to Pete Hamilton, was sudden
death of a hemorrhage.

Miss Georgie asserted unfeelingly that Saunders was more in danger of
dying from sheer laziness than of consumption, and she even went so far
as to hint cynically, that even his laziness was largely hypocritical.

"I don't believe there's a single honest thing about the fellow," she
said to Good Indian. "When he coughs, it sounds as if he just did it for
effect. When he lies in the shade asleep, I've seen him watching people
from under his lids. When he reads, his ears seem always pricked up to
hear everything that's going on, and he gives those nasty little
slanty looks at everybody within sight. I don't believe he's really
gone--because I can't imagine him being really anything. But I do
believe he's up to something mean and sneaky, and, since Peppajee has
taken this matter to heart, maybe he can find out something. I think you
ought to go and see him, anyway, Mr. Imsen."

So Good Indian had gone to the Indian camp, and had afterward ridden
along the rim of the bluff, because Sleeping Turtle had seen someone
walking through the sagebrush in that direction. From the rim-rock above
the ranch, Good Indian had heard the shooting, though the trees hid from
his sight what was taking place, and he had given over his search for
Saunders and made haste to reach home.

He might have gone straight down the bluff afoot, through a rift in
the rim-rock where it was possible to climb down into the fissure and
squeeze out through a narrow opening to the bowlder-piled bluff. But
that took almost as much time as he would consume in riding around, and
so he galloped back to the grade and went down at a pace to break his
neck and that of Keno as well if his horse stumbled.

He reached home in time to see Donny run across the road with the
shotgun, and the orchard in time to prevent a general rush upon Stanley
and his fellows--which was fortunate. He got them all out of the garden
and into the house by sheer determination and biting sarcasm, and bore
with surprising patience their angry upbraidings. He sat stoically
silent while they called him a coward and various other things which
were unpleasant in the extreme, and he even smiled when they finally
desisted and trailed off sullenly to bed.

But when they were gone he sat alone upon the porch, brooding over
the day and all it had held of trouble and perplexity. Evadna appeared
tentatively in the open door, stood there for a minute or two waiting
for some overture upon his part, gave him a chilly good-night when she
realized he was not even thinking of her, and left him. So great was
his absorption that he let her go, and it never occurred to him that she
might possibly consider herself ill-used. He would have been distressed
if he could have known how she cried herself to sleep but, manlike, he
would also have been puzzled.





Next: A Shot From The Rim-rock

Previous: Don't Get Excited!



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