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Cloud-sign Versus Cupid








From: Good Indian

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.





Next: The Claim-jumpers

Previous: Them Damn Snake



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