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A Shot From The Rim-rock








From: Good Indian

Good Indian was going to the stable to feed the horses next morning,
when something whined past him and spatted viciously against the side of
the chicken-house. Immediately afterward he thought he heard the sharp
crack which a rifle makes, but the wind was blowing strongly up the
valley, and he could not be sure.

He went over to the chicken-house, probed with his knife-blade into
the plank where was the splintered hole, and located a bullet. He was
turning it curiously in his fingers when another one plunked into the
boards, three feet to one side of him; this time he was sure of the
gun-sound, and he also saw a puff of blue smoke rise up on the rim-rock
above him. He marked the place instinctively with his eyes, and went on
to the stable, stepping rather more quickly than was his habit.

Inside, he sat down upon the oats-box, and meditated upon what he should
do. He could not even guess at his assailant, much less reach him. A
dozen men could be picked off by a rifle in the hands of one at the top,
while they were climbing that bluff.

Even if one succeeded in reaching the foot of the rim-rock, there was
a forty-foot wall of unscalable rock, with just the one narrow fissure
where it was possible to climb up to the level above, by using both
hands to cling to certain sharp projections while the feet sought a
niche here and there in the wall. Easy enough--if one were but left to
climb in peace, but absolutely suicidal if an enemy stood above.

He scowled through the little paneless window at what he could see of
the bluff, and thought of the mile-long grade to be climbed and the
rough stretch of lava rock, sage, and scattered bowlders to be gone over
before one could reach the place upon a horse. Whoever was up there, he
would have more than enough time to get completely away from the spot
before it would be possible to gain so much as a glimpse of him.

And who could he be? And why was he shooting at Good Indian, so far a
non-combatant, guiltless of even firing a single shot since the trouble
began?

Wally came in, his hat far back on his head, a cigarette in the
corner of his mouth, and his manner an odd mixture of conciliation and
defiance, ready to assume either whole-heartedly at the first word from
the man he had cursed so unstintingly before he slept. He looked at Good
Indian, caught sight of the leaden pellet he was thoughtfully turning
round and round in his fingers, and chose to ignore for the moment any
unpleasantness in their immediate past.

"Where you ketchum?" he asked, coming a bit closer.

"In the side of the chicken-house." Good Indian's tone was laconic.

Wally reached out, and took the bullet from him that he might juggle it
curiously in his own fingers. "I don't think!" he scouted.

"There's another one there to match this," Good Indian stated calmly,
"and if I should walk over there after it, I'll gamble there'd be more."

Wally dropped the flattened bullet, stooped, and groped for it in the
litter on the floor, and when he had found it he eyed it more curiously
than before. But he would have died in his tracks rather than ask a
question.

"Didn't anybody take a shot at you, as you came from the house?" Good
Indian asked when he saw the mood of the other.

"If he did, he was careful not to let me find it out." Wally's
expression hardened.

"He was more careless a while ago," said Good Indian. "Some fellow up
on the bluff sent me a little morning salute. But," he added slowly, and
with some satisfaction, "he's a mighty poor shot."

Jack sauntered in much as Wally had done, saw Good Indian sitting there,
and wrinkled his eyes shut in a smile.

"Please, sir, I never meant a word I said!" he began, with exaggerated
trepidation. "Why the dickens didn't you murder the whole yapping bunch
of us, Grant?" He clapped his hand affectionately upon the other's
shoulder. "We kinda run amuck yesterday afternoon," he confessed
cheerfully, "but it sure was fun while it lasted!"

"There's liable to be some more fun of the same kind," Wally informed
him shortly. "Good Injun says someone on the bluff took a shot at him
when he was coming to the stable. If any of them jumpers--"

"It's easy to find out if it was one of them," Grant cut in, as if the
idea had just come to him. "We can very soon see if they're all on their
little patch of soil. Let's go take a look."

They went out guardedly, their eyes upon the rim-rock. Good Indian led
the way through the corral, into the little pasture, and across that to
where the long wall of giant poplars shut off the view.

"I admire courage," he grinned, "but I sure do hate a fool." Which was
all the explanation he made for the detour that hid them from sight of
anyone stationed upon the bluff, except while they were passing from the
stable-door to the corral; and that, Jack said afterward, didn't take
all day.

Coming up from the rear, they surprised Stanley and one other peacefully
boiling coffee in a lard pail which they must have stolen in the night
from the ranch junk heap behind the blacksmith shop. The three peered
out at them from a distant ambush, made sure that there were only two
men there, and went on to the disputed part of the meadows. There the
four were pottering about, craning necks now and then toward the ranch
buildings as if they half feared an assault of some kind. Good Indian
led the way back to the stable.

"If there was any way of getting around up there without being seen,"
he began thoughtfully, "but there isn't. And while I think of it," he
added, "we don't want to let the women know about this."

"They're liable to suspect something," Wally reminded dryly, "if one of
us gets laid out cold."

Good Indian laughed. "It doesn't look as if he could hit anything
smaller than a haystack. And anyway, I think I'm the boy he's after,
though I don't see why. I haven't done a thing--yet."

"Let's feed the horses and then pace along to the house, one at a time,
and find out," was Jack's reckless suggestion. "Anybody that knows us at
all can easy tell which is who. And I guess it would be tolerably safe."

Foolhardy as the thing looked to be, they did it, each after his own
manner of facing a known danger. Jack went first because, as he said,
it was his idea, and he was willing to show his heart was in the right
place. He rolled and lighted a cigarette, wrinkled his eyes shut in a
laugh, and strolled nonchalantly out of the stable.

"Keep an eye on the rim-rock, boys," he called back, without turning his
head. A third of the way he went, stopped dead still, and made believe
inspect something upon the ground at his feet.

"Ah, go ON!" bawled Wally, his nerves all on edge.

Jack dug his heel into the dust, blew the ashes from his cigarette, and
went on slowly to the gate, passed through, and stood well back, out of
sight under the trees, to watch.

Wally snorted disdain of any proceeding so spectacular, but he was as he
was made, and he could not keep his dare-devil spirit quite in abeyance.
He twitched his hat farther back on his head, stuck his hands deep into
his pockets, and walked deliberately out into the open, his neck as
stiff as a newly elected politician on parade. He did not stop, as Jack
had done, but he facetiously whistled "Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are
marching," and he went at a pace which permitted him to finish the tune
before he reached the gate. He joined Jack in the shade, and his face,
when he looked back to the stable, was anxious.

"It must be Grant he wants, all right," he muttered, resting one hand
on Jack's shoulder and speaking so he could not be overheard from the
house. "And I wish to the Lord he'd stay where he's at."

But Good Indian was already two paces from the door, coming steadily up
the path, neither faster nor slower than usual, with his eyes taking in
every object within sight as he went, and his thumb hooked inside his
belt, near where his gun swung at his hip. It was not until his free
hand was upon the gate that lack and Wally knew they had been holding
their breath.

"Well--here I am," said Good Indian, after a minute, smiling down at
them with the sunny look in his eyes. "I'm beginning to think I had a
dream. Only"--he dipped his fingers into the pocket of his shirt and
brought up the flattened bullet--"that is pretty blamed realistic--for
a dream." His eyes searched involuntarily the rim-rock with a certain
incredulity, as if he could not bring himself to believe in that bullet,
after all.

"But two of the jumpers are gone," said Wally. "I reckon we stirred 'em
up some yesterday, and they're trying to get back at us."

"They've picked a dandy place," Good Indian observed. "I think maybe it
would be a good idea to hold that fort ourselves. We should have thought
of that; only I never thought--"

Phoebe, heavy-eyed and pale from wakefulness and worry, came then, and
called them in to breakfast. Gene and Clark came in, sulky still, and
inclined to snappishness when they did speak. Donny announced that he
had been in the garden, and that Stanley told him he would blow the top
of his head off if he saw him there again. "And I never done a thing to
him!" he declared virtuously.

Phoebe set down the coffee-pot with an air of decision.

"I want you boys to remember one thing," she said firmly, "and that is
that there must be no more shooting going on around here. It isn't only
what Baumberger thinks--I don't know as ho's got anything to say about
it--it's what I think. I know I'm only a woman, and you all consider
yourselves men, whether you are or not, and it's beneath your dignity,
maybe, to listen to your mother.

"But your mother has seen the day when she was counted on as much,
almost, as if she'd been a man. Why, great grief! I've stood for hours
peeking out a knot-hole in the wall, with that same old shotgun Donny
got hold of, ready to shoot the first Injun that stuck his nose from
behind a rock."

The color came into her cheeks at the memory, and a sparkle into her
eyes. "I've seen real fighting, when it was a life-and-death matter.
I've tended to the men that were shot before my eyes, and I've sung
hymns over them that died. You boys have grown up on some of the stories
about the things I've been through.

"And here last night," she reproached irritatedly, "I heard someone say:
'Oh, come on--we're scaring Mum to death!' The idea! 'scaring Mum!' I
can tell you young jackanapes one thing: If I thought there was anything
to be gained by it, or if it would save trouble instead of MAKING
trouble, 'MUM' could go down there right now, old as she is, and SCARED
as she is, and clean out the whole, measly outfit!" She stared sternly
at the row of faces bent over their plates.

"Oh, you can laugh--it's only your mother!" she exclaimed indignantly,
when she saw Jack's eyes go shut and Gene's mouth pucker into a tight
knot. "But I'll have you to know I'm boss of this ranch when your
father's gone, and if there's any more of that kid foolishness
to-day--laying behind a currant bush and shooting COFFEE-POTS!--I'll
thrash the fellow that starts it! It isn't the kind of fighting I'VE
been used to. I may be away behind the times--I guess I am!--but I've
always been used to the idea that guns weren't to be used unless you
meant business. This thing of getting out and PLAYING gun-fight is kinda
sickening to a person that's seen the real thing.

"'Scaring Mum to death!"' She seemed to find it very hard to forget
that, or to forgive it. "'SCARING MUM'--and Jack, there, was born in the
time of an Indian uprising, and I laid with your father's revolver on
the pillow where I could put my hand on it, day or night! YOU scare
Mum! MUM will scare YOU, if there's any more of that let's-play-Injun
business going on around this ranch. Why, I'd lead you down there by the
ear, every mother's son of you, and tell that man Stanley to SPANK you!"

"Mum can whip her weight in wildcats any old time," Wally announced
after a heavy silence, and glared aggressively from one foolish-looking
face to another.

As was frequently the case, the wave of Phoebe's wrath ebbed harmlessly
away in laughter as the humorous aspect of her tirade was brought to her
attention.

"Just the same, I want you should mind what I tell you," she said, in
her old motherly tone, "and keep away from those ruffians down there.
You can't do anything but make 'em mad, and give 'em an excuse for
killing someone. When your father gets back, we'll see what's to be
done."

"All right, Mum. We won't look toward the garden to-day," Wally promised
largely, and held out his cup to her to be refilled. "You can keep my
gun, if you want to make dead sure."

"No, I can trust my boys, I hope," and she glowed with real pride in
them when she said it.

Good Indian lingered on the porch for half an hour or so, waiting for
Evadna to appear. She may have seen him through the window--at any rate
she slipped out very quietly, and had her breakfast half eaten before
he suspected that she was up; and when he went into the kitchen, she was
talking animatedly with Marie about Mexican drawn-work, and was drawing
intricate little diagrams of certain patterns with her fork upon the
tablecloth.

She looked up, and gave him a careless greeting, and went back to
discussing certain "wheels" in the corner of an imaginary lunch-cloth
and just how one went about making them. He made a tentative remark or
two, trying to win her attention to himself, but she pushed her cup and
saucer aside to make room for further fork drawings, and glanced at him
with her most exaggerated Christmas-angel look.

"Don't interrupt, please," she said mincingly. "This is IMPORTANT. And,"
she troubled to explain, "I'm really in a hurry, because I'm going to
help Aunt Phoebe make strawberry jam."

If she thought that would fix his determination to remain and have her
to himself for a few minutes, she was mistaken in her man. Good Indian
turned on his heel, and went out with his chin in the air, and found
that Gene and Clark had gone off to the meadow, with Donny an unwelcome
attendant, and that Wally and Jack were keeping the dust moving between
the gate and the stable, trying to tempt a shot from the bluff. They
were much inclined to be skeptical regarding the bullet which Good
Indian carried in his breast-pocket.

"WE can't raise anybody," Wally told him disgustedly, "and I've made
three round trips myself. I'm going to quit fooling around, and go to
work."

Whether he did or not, Good Indian did not wait to prove. He did not
say anything, either, about his own plans. He was hurt most unreasonably
because of Evadna's behavior, and he felt as if he were groping about
blindfolded so far as the Hart trouble was concerned. There must be
something to do, but he could not see what it was. It reminded him oddly
of when he sat down with his algebra open before him, and scowled at
a problem where the x y z's seemed to be sprinkled through it with a
diabolical frequency, and there was no visible means of discovering what
the unknown quantities could possibly be.

He saddled Keno, and rode away in that silent preoccupation which the
boys called the sulks for want of a better understanding of it. As a
matter of fact, he was trying to put Evadna out of his mind for the
present, so that he could think clearly of what he ought to do. He
glanced often up at the rim-rock as he rode slowly to the Point o'
Rocks, and when he was halfway to the turn he thought he saw something
moving up there.

He pulled up to make sure, and a little blue ball puffed out like
a child's balloon, burst, and dissipated itself in a thin, trailing
ribbon, which the wind caught and swept to nothing. At the same time
something spatted into the trail ahead of him, sending up a little spurt
of fine sand.

Keno started, perked up his ears toward the place, and went on, stepping
gingerly. Good Indian's lips drew back, showing his teeth set tightly
together. "Still at it, eh?" he muttered aloud, pricked Keno's flanks
with his rowels, and galloped around the Point.

There, for the time being, he was safe. Unless the shooter upon the
rim-rock was mounted, he must travel swiftly indeed to reach again a
point within range of the grade road before Good Indian would pass out
of sight again. For the trail wound in and out, looping back upon itself
where the hill was oversleep, hidden part of the time from the receding
wall of rock by huge bowlders and giant sage.

Grant knew that he was safe from that quarter, and was wondering whether
he ought to ride up along the top of the bluff before going to Hartley,
as he had intended.

He had almost reached the level, and was passing a steep, narrow, little
gully choked with rocks, when something started up so close beside him
that Keno ducked away and squatted almost upon his haunches. His gun was
in his hand, and his finger crooked upon the trigger, when a voice he
faintly recognized called to him softly:

"Yo' no shoot--no shoot--me no hurtum. All time yo' frien'." She stood
trembling beside the trail, a gay, plaid shawl about her shoulders in
place of the usual blanket, her hair braided smoothly with bright,
red ribbons entwined through it. Her dress was a plain slip of bright
calico, which had four-inch roses, very briery and each with a
gaudy butterfly poised upon the topmost petals running over it in an
inextricable tangle. Beaded moccasins were on her feet, and her eyes
were frightened eyes, with the wistfulness of a timid animal. Yet she
did not seem to be afraid of Good Indian.

"I sorry I scare yo' horse," she said hesitatingly, speaking better
English than before. "I heap hurry to get here. I speak with yo'."

"Well, what is it?" Good Indian's tone was not as brusque as his words;
indeed, he spoke very gently, for him. This was the good-looking young
squaw he had seen at the Indian camp. "What's your name?" he asked,
remembering suddenly that he had never heard it.

"Rachel. Peppajee, he my uncle." She glanced up at him shyly, then down
to where the pliant toe of her moccasin was patting a tiny depression
into the dust. "Bad mans like for shoot yo'," she said, not looking
directly at him again. "Him up there, all time walk where him can look
down, mebbyso see you, mebbyso shootum."

"I know--I'm going to ride around that way and round him up."
Unconsciously his manner had the arrogance of strength and power to do
as he wished, which belongs to healthy young males.

"N-o, no-o!" She drew a sharp breath "o' no good there! Dim shoot yo'.
Yo' no go! Ah-h--I sorry I tellum yo' now. Bad mans, him. I watch, I
take care him no shoot. Him shoot, mebbyso I shoot!"

With a little laugh that was more a plea for gentle judgment than
anything else, she raised the plaid shawl, and gave him a glimpse of a
rather battered revolver, cheap when it was new and obviously well past
its prime.

"I want yo'--" she hesitated; "I want yo'--be heap careful. I want yo'
no ride close by hill. Ride far out!" She made a sweeping gesture toward
the valley. "All time I watch."

He was staring at her in a puzzled way. She was handsome, after her
wild, half-civilized type, and her anxiety for his welfare touched him
and besought his interest.

"Indians go far down--" She swept her arm down the narrowing river
valley. "Catch fish. Peppajee stay--no can walk far. I stay. All go,
mebbyso stay five days." Her hand lifted involuntarily to mark the
number.

He did not know why she told him all that, and he could not learn from
her anything about his assailant. She had been walking along the bluff,
he gathered--though why, she failed to make clear to him. She had, from
a distance, caught a glimpse of a man watching the valley beneath him.
She had seen him raise a rifle, take long aim, and shoot--and she had
known that he was shooting at Good Indian.

When he asked her the second time what was her errand up there--whether
she was following the man, or had suspected that he would be there--she
shook her head vaguely and took refuge behind the stolidity of her race.

In spite of her pleading, he put his horse to scrambling up the first
slope which it was possible to climb, and spent an hour riding, gun in
hand, along the rim of the bluff, much as he had searched it the evening
before.

But there was nothing alive that he could discover, except a hawk which
lifted itself languorously off a high, sharp rock, and flapped lazily
out across the valley when he drew near. The man with the rifle had
disappeared as completely as if he had never been there, and there
was not one chance in a hundred of hunting him out, in all that rough
jumble.

When he was turning back at last toward Hartley, he saw Rachel for a
moment standing out against the deep blue of the sky, upon the very rim
of the bluff. He waved a hand to her, but she gave no sign; only, for
some reason, he felt that she was watching him ride away, and he had a
brief, vagrant memory of the wistfulness he had seen in her eyes.

On the heels of that came a vision of Evadna swinging in the hammock
which hung between the two locust trees, and he longed unutterably to be
with her there. He would be, he promised himself, within the next hour
or so, and set his pace in accordance with his desire, resolved to make
short work of his investigations in Hartley and his discussion of late
events with Miss Georgie.

He had not, it seemed to him, had more than two minutes with Evadna
since that evening of rapturous memory when they rode home together from
the Malad, and afterward sat upon the stone bench at the head of the
pond, whispering together so softly that they did not even disturb the
frogs among the lily-pads within ten feet of them. It was not so long
ago, that evening. The time that had passed since might be reckoned
easily in hours, but to Good Indian it seemed a month, at the very
least.





Next: Evadna Goes Calling

Previous: A Little Target-practice



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