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Good Indian








From: Good Indian

There is a saying--and if it is not purely Western, it is at least
purely American--that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. In the very
teeth of that, and in spite of the fact that he was neither very good,
nor an Indian--nor in any sense "dead"--men called Grant Imsen "Good
Indian" to his face; and if he resented the title, his resentment was
never made manifest--perhaps because he had grown up with the name, he
rather liked it when he was a little fellow, and with custom had come to
take it as a matter of course.

Because his paternal ancestry went back, and back to no one knows
where among the race of blue eyes and fair skin, the Indians repudiated
relationship with him, and called him white man--though they also spoke
of him unthinkingly as "Good Injun."

Because old Wolfbelly himself would grudgingly admit under pressure
that the mother of Grant had been the half-caste daughter of Wolfbelly's
sister, white men remembered the taint when they were angry, and called
him Injun. And because he stood thus between the two races of men, his
exact social status a subject always open to argument, not even the fact
that he was looked upon by the Harts as one of the family, with his own
bed always ready for him in a corner of the big room set apart for the
boys, and with a certain place at the table which was called his--not
even his assured position there could keep him from sometimes feeling
quite alone, and perhaps a trifle bitter over his loneliness.

Phoebe Hart had mothered him from the time when his father had sickened
and died in her house, leaving Grant there with twelve years behind him,
in his hands a dirty canvas bag of gold coin so heavy he could scarce
lift it, which stood for the mining claim the old man had just sold, and
the command to invest every one of the gold coins in schooling.

Old John Imsen was steeped in knowledge of the open; nothing of the
great outdoors had ever slipped past him and remained mysterious. Put
when he sold his last claim--others he had which promised little and so
did not count--he had signed his name with an X. Another had written the
word John before that X, and the word Imsen after; above, a word which
he explained was "his," and below the word "mark." John Imsen had stared
down suspiciously at the words, and he had not felt quite easy in his
mind until the bag of gold coins was actually in his keeping. Also, he
had been ashamed of that X. It was a simple thing to make with a pen,
and yet he had only succeeded in making it look like two crooked sticks
thrown down carelessly, one upon the other. His face had gone darkly red
with the shame of it, and he had stood scowling down at the paper.

"That boy uh mine's goin' to do better 'n that, by God!" he had sworn,
and the words had sounded like a vow.

When, two months after that, he had faced--incredulously, as is the way
with strong men--the fact that for him life was over, with nothing
left to him save an hour or so of labored breath and a few muttered
sentences, he did not forget that vow. He called Phoebe close to the
bed, placed the bag of gold in Grant's trembling hands, and stared
intently from one face to the other.

"Mis' Hart, he ain't got--anybody--my folks--I lost track of 'em years
ago. You see to it--git some learnin' in his head. When a man knows
books--it's--like bein' heeled--good gun--plenty uh ca't'idges--in
a fight. When I got that gold--it was like fightin' with my bare
hands--against a gatlin' gun. They coulda cheated me--whole thing--on
paper--I wouldn't know--luck--just luck they didn't. So you take it--and
git the boy schoolin'. Costs money--I know that--git him all it'll
buy. Send him--where they keep--the best. Don't yuh let up--n'er let
him--whilst they's a dollar left. Put it all--into his head--then he
can't lose it, and he can--make it earn more. An'--I guess I needn't
ask yuh--be good to him. He ain't got anybody--not a soul--Injuns don't
count. You see to it--don't let up till--it's all gone."

Phoebe had taken him literally. And Grant, if he had little taste
for the task, had learned books and other things not mentioned in
the curriculums of the schools she sent him to--and when the bag was
reported by Phoebe to be empty, he had returned with inward relief to
the desultory life of the Hart ranch and its immediate vicinity.

His father would probably have been amazed to see how little difference
that schooling made in the boy. The money had lasted long enough to take
him through a preparatory school and into the second year of a college;
and the only result apparent was speech a shade less slipshod than that
of his fellows, and a vocabulary which permitted him to indulge in an
amazing number of epithets and in colorful vituperation when the fancy
seized him.

He rode, hot and thirsty and tired, from Sage Hill one day and found
Hartley empty of interest, hot as the trail he had just now left
thankfully behind him, and so absolutely sleepy that it seemed likely to
sink into the sage-clothed earth under the weight of its own dullness.
Even the whisky was so warm it burned like fire, and the beer he tried
left upon his outraged palate the unhappy memory of insipid warmth and
great bitterness.

He plumped the heavy glass down upon the grimy counter in the dusty far
corner of the little store and stared sourly at Pete Hamilton, who was
apathetically opening hatboxes for the inspection of an Indian in a red
blanket and frowsy braids.

"How much?" The braided one fingered indecisively the broad brim of a
gray sombrero.

"Nine dollars." Pete leaned heavily against the shelves behind him and
sighed with the weariness of mere living.

"Huh! All same buy one good hoss." The braided one dropped the hat,
hitched his blanket over his shoulder in stoical disregard of the heat,
and turned away.

Pete replaced the cover, seemed about to place the box upon the shelf
behind him, and then evidently decided that it was not worth the effort.
He sighed again.

"It is almighty hot," he mumbled languidly. "Want another drink, Good
Injun?"

"I do not. Hot toddy never did appeal to me, my friend. If you weren't
too lazy to give orders, Pete, you'd have cold beer for a day like this.
You'd give Saunders something to do beside lie in the shade and tell
what kind of a man he used to be before his lungs went to the bad. Put
him to work. Make him pack this stuff down cellar where it isn't two
hundred in the shade. Why don't you?"

"We was going to get ice t'day, but they didn't throw it off when the
train went through."

"That's comforting--to a man with a thirst like the great Sahara. Ice!
Pete, do you know what I'd like to do to a man that mentions ice after a
drink like that?"

Pete neither knew nor wanted to know, and he told Grant so. "If you're
going down to the ranch," he added, by way of changing the subject,
"there's some mail you might as well take along."

"Sure, I'm going--for a drink out of that spring, if nothing else.
You've lost a good customer to-day, Pete. I rode up here prepared to get
sinfully jagged--and here I've got to go on a still hunt for water with
a chill to it--or maybe buttermilk. Pete, do you know what I think of
you and your joint?"

"I told you I don't wanta know. Some folks ain't never satisfied. A
fellow that's rode thirty or forty miles to get here, on a day like
this, had oughta be glad to get anything that looks like beer."

"Is that so?" Grant walked purposefully down to the front of the store,
where Pete was fumbling behind the rampart of crude pigeonholes which
was the post-office. "Let me inform you, then, that--"

There was a swish of skirts upon the rough platform outside, and a young
woman entered with the manner of feeling perfectly at home there.
She was rather tall, rather strong and capable looking, and she was
bareheaded, and carried a door key suspended from a smooth-worn bit of
wood.

"Don't get into a perspiration making up the mail, Pete," she advised
calmly, quite ignoring both Grant and the Indian. "Fifteen is an hour
late--as usual. Jockey Bates always seems to be under the impression
he's an undertaker's assistant, and is headed for the graveyard when he
takes fifteen out. He'll get the can, first he knows--and he'll put in
a month or two wondering why. I could make better time than he does
myself." By then she was leaning with both elbows upon the counter
beside the post-office, bored beyond words with life as it must be
lived--to judge from her tone and her attitude.

"For Heaven's sake, Pete," she went on languidly, "can't you scare up a
novel, or chocolates, or gum, or--ANYTHING to kill time? I'd even enjoy
chewing gum right now--it would give my jaws something to think of,
anyway."

Pete, grinning indulgently, came out of retirement behind the
pigeonholes, and looked inquiringly around the store.

"I've got cards," he suggested. "What's the matter with a game of
solitary? I've known men to put in hull winters alone, up in the
mountains, jest eating and sleeping and playin' solitary."

The young woman made a grimace of disgust. "I've come from three solid
hours of it. What I really do want is something to read. Haven't you
even got an almanac?"

"Saunders is readin' 'The Brokenhearted Bride'--you can have it soon's
he's through. He says it's a peach."

"Fifteen is bringing up a bunch of magazines. I'll have reading in
plenty two hours from now; but my heavens above, those two hours!" She
struck both fists despairingly upon the counter.

"I've got gumdrops, and fancy mixed--"

"Forget it, then. A five-pound box of chocolates is due--on fifteen."
She sighed heavily. "I wish you weren't so old, and hadn't quite so many
chins, Pete," she complained. "I'd inveigle you into a flirtation. You
see how desperate I am for something to do!"

Pete smiled unhappily. He was sensitive about all those chins, and the
general bulk which accompanied them.

"Let me make you acquainted with my friend, Good In--er--Mr. Imsen."
Pete considered that he was behaving with great discernment and tact.
"This is Miss Georgie Howard, the new operator." He twinkled his little
eyes at her maliciously. "Say, he ain't got but one chin, and he's only
twenty-three years old." He felt that the inference was too plain to be
ignored.

She turned her head slowly and looked Grant over with an air of
disparagement, while she nodded negligently as an acknowledgment to
the introduction. "Pete thinks he's awfully witty," she remarked. "It's
really pathetic."

Pete bristled--as much as a fat man could bristle on so hot a day.
"Well, you said you wanted to flirt, and so I took it for granted you'd
like--"

Good Indian looked straight past the girl, and scowled at Pete.

"Pete, you're an idiot ordinarily, but when you try to be smart you're
absolutely insufferable. You're mentally incapable of recognizing the
line of demarcation between legitimate persiflage and objectionable
familiarity. An ignoramus of your particular class ought to confine
his repartee to unqualified affirmation or the negative monosyllable."
Whereupon he pulled his hat more firmly upon his head, hunched his
shoulders in disgust, remembered his manners, and bowed to Miss Georgie
Howard, and stalked out, as straight of back as the Indian whose blanket
he brushed, and who may have been, for all he knew, a blood relative of
his.

"I guess that ought to hold you for a while, Pete," Miss Georgie
approved under her breath, and stared after Grant curiously. "'You're
mentally incapable of recognizing the line of demarcation between
legitimate persiflage and objectionable familiarity.' I'll bet two bits
you don't know what that means, Pete; but it hits you off exactly. Who
is this Mr. Imsen?"

She got no reply to that. Indeed, she did not wait for a reply. Outside,
things were happening--and, since Miss Georgie was dying of dullness,
she hailed the disturbance as a Heaven-sent blessing, and ran to see
what was going on.

Briefly, Grant had inadvertently stepped on a sleeping dog's paw--a dog
of the mongrel breed which infests Indian camps, and which had attached
itself to the blanketed buck inside. The dog awoke with a yelp, saw
that it was a stranger who had perpetrated the outrage, and straightway
fastened its teeth in the leg of Grant's trousers. Grant kicked it
loose, and when it came at him again, he swore vengeance and mounted his
horse in haste.

He did not say a word. He even smiled while he uncoiled his rope,
widened the loop, and, while the dog was circling warily and watching
for another chance at him, dropped the loop neatly over its front
quarters, and drew it tight.

Saunders, a weak-lunged, bandy-legged individual, who was officially a
general chore man for Pete, but who did little except lie in the shade,
reading novels or gossiping, awoke then, and, having a reputation for
tender-heartedness, waved his arms and called aloud in the name of
peace.

"Turn him loose, I tell yuh! A helpless critter like that--you oughta be
ashamed--abusin' dumb animals that can't fight back!"

"Oh, can't he?" Grant laughed grimly.

"You turn that dog loose!" Saunders became vehement, and paid the
penalty of a paroxysm of coughing.

"You go to the devil. If you were an able-bodied man, I'd get you,
too--just to have a pair of you. Yelping, snapping curs, both of you."
He played the dog as a fisherman plays a trout.

"That dog, him Viney dog. Viney heap likum. You no killum, Good Injun."
The Indian, his arms folded in his blanket, stood upon the porch
watching calmly the fun. "Viney all time heap mad, you killum," he added
indifferently.

"Sure it isn't old Hagar's?"

"No b'long-um Hagar--b'long-um Viney. Viney heap likum."

Grant hesitated, circling erratically with his victim close to the
steps. "All right, no killum--teachum lesson, though. Viney heap bueno
squaw--heap likum Viney. No likum dog, though. Dog all time come along
me." He glanced up, passed over the fact that Miss Georgie Howard was
watching him and clapping her hands enthusiastically at the spectacle,
and settled an unfriendly stare upon Saunders.

"You shut up your yowling. You'll burst a blood vessel and go to heaven,
first thing you know. I've never contemplated hiring you as my guardian
angel, you blatting buck sheep. Go off and lie down somewhere." He
turned in the saddle and looked down at the dog, clawing and fighting
the rope which held him fast just back of the shoulder--blades. "Come
along, doggie--NICE doggie!" he grinned, and touched his horse with the
spurs. With one leap, it was off at a sharp gallop, up over the hill and
through the sagebrush to where he knew the Indian camp must be.

Old Wolfbelly had but that morning brought his thirty or forty followers
to camp in the hollow where was a spring of clear water--the hollow
which had for long been known locally as "the Indian Camp," because of
Wolfbelly's predilection for the spot. Without warning save for the beat
of hoofs in the sandy soil, Grant charged over the brow of the hill and
into camp, scattering dogs, papooses, and squaws alike as he rode.

Shrill clamor filled the sultry air. Sleeping bucks awoke, scowling at
the uproar; and the horse of Good Indian, hating always the smell and
the litter of an Indian camp, pitched furiously into the very wikiup of
old Hagar, who hated the rider of old. In the first breathing spell he
loosed the dog, which skulked, limping, into the first sheltered spot
he found, and laid him down to lick his outraged person and whimper to
himself at the memory of his plight. Grant pulled his horse to a restive
stand before a group of screeching squaws, and laughed outright at the
panic of them.

"Hello! Viney! I brought back your dog," he drawled. "He tried to bite
me--heap kay bueno* dog. Mebbyso you killum. Me no hurtum--all time
him Hartley, all time him try hard bite me. Sleeping Turtle tell me him
Viney dog. He likum Viney, me no kill Viney dog. You all time mebbyso
eat that dog--sabe? No keep--Kay bueno. All time try for bite. You
cookum, no can bite. Sabe?"

*AUTHOR'S NOTE.--The Indians of southern Idaho spoke a somewhat mixed
dialect. Bueno (wayno), their word for 'good,' undoubtedly being taken
from the Spanish language. I believe the word "kay" to be Indian.
It means "no", and thus the "Kay bueno" so often used by them means
literally "no good," and is a term of reproach On the other hand, "heap
bueno" is "very good," their enthusiasm being manifested merely by
drawing out the word "heap." In speaking English they appear to have no
other way of expressing, in a single phrase, their like or dislike of an
object or person.

Without waiting to see whether Viney approved of his method of
disciplining her dog, or intended to take his advice regarding its
disposal, he wheeled and started off in the direction of the trail which
led down the bluff to the Hart ranch. When he reached the first steep
descent, however, he remembered that Pete had spoken of some mail for
the Harts, and turned back to get it.

Once more in Hartley, he found that the belated train was making up
time, and would be there within an hour; and, since it carried mail from
the West, it seemed hardly worthwhile to ride away before its arrival.
Also, Pete intimated that there was a good chance of prevailing upon the
dining-car conductor to throw off a chunk of ice. Grant, therefore, led
his horse around into the shade, and made himself comfortable while he
waited.





Next: Old Wives Tales

Previous: Peaceful Hart Ranch



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