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Life Adjusts Itself Again To Some Things








From: Good Indian

The next day was a day of dust hanging always over the grade because of
much hurried riding up and down; a day of many strange faces whose eyes
peered curiously at the place where Baumberger fell, and at the cold
ashes of Stanley's campfire, and at the Harts and their house, and their
horses and all things pertaining in the remotest degree to the drama
which had been played grimly there to its last, tragic "curtain." They
stared up at the rim-rock and made various estimates of the distance and
argued over the question of marksmanship, and whether it really took a
good shot to fire from the top and hit a man below.

As for the killing of Baumberger, public opinion tried--with the aid of
various plugs of tobacco and much expectoration--the case and rendered
a unanimous verdict upon it long before the coroner arrived. "Done just
right," was the verdict of Public Opinion, and the self-constituted
judges manifested their further approval by slapping Good Indian upon
the back when they had a chance, or by solemnly shaking hands with him,
or by facetiously assuring him that they would be good. All of which
Grant interpreted correctly as sympathy and a desire to show him that
they did not look upon him as a murderer, but as a man who had the
courage to defend himself and those dear to him from a great danger.

With everything so agreeably disposed of according to the crude--though
none the less true, perhaps--ethics of the time and the locality, it was
tacitly understood that the coroner and the inquest he held in the grove
beside the house were a mere concession to red tape. Nevertheless
a general tension manifested itself when the jury, after solemnly
listening, in their official capacity, to the evidence they had heard
and discussed freely hours before, bent heads and whispered briefly
together. There was also a corresponding atmosphere of relief when the
verdict of Public Opinion was called justifiable homicide by the coroner
and so stamped with official approval.

When that was done they carried Baumberger's gross physical shell away
up the grade to the station; and the dust of his passing settled upon
the straggling crowd that censured his misdeeds and mourned not at all,
and yet paid tribute to his dead body with lowered voices while they
spoke of him, and with awed silence when the rough box was lowered to
the station platform.

As the sky clears and grows blue and deep and unfathomably peaceful
after a storm, as trees wind-riven straighten and nod graciously to the
little cloud-boats that sail the blue above, and wave dainty finger-tips
of branches in bon voyage, so did the Peaceful Hart ranch, when the
dust had settled after the latest departure and the whistle of the
train--which bore the coroner and that other quiet passenger--came
faintly down over the rim-rock, settle with a sigh of relief into its
old, easy habits of life.

All, that is, save Good Indian himself, and perhaps one other.

. . . . . . . . .

Peaceful cleared his white mustache and beard from a few stray drops of
coffee and let his mild blue eyes travel slowly around the table, from
one tanned young face to another.

"Now the excitement's all over and done with," he drawled in his
half-apologetic tones, "it wouldn't be a bad idea for you boys to get
to work and throw the water back where it belongs. I dunno but what the
garden's spoiled already; but the small fruit can be saved."

"Clark and I was going up to the Injun camp," spoke up Gene. "We wanted
to see--"

"You'll have to do some riding to get there," Good Indian informed them
dryly. "They hit the trail before sunrise this morning."

"Huh! What were YOU doing up there that time of day?" blurted Wally,
eying him sharply.

"Watching the sun rise." His lips smiled over the retort, but his eyes
did not. "I'll lower the water in your milk-house now, Mother Hart," he
promised lightly, "so you won't have to wear rubber-boots when you go to
skim the milk." He gave Evadna a quick, sidelong glance as she came into
the room, and pushed back his chair. "I'll get at it right away," he
said cheerfully, picked up his hat, and went out whistling. Then he put
his head in at the door. "Say," he called, "does anybody know where that
long-handled shovel is?" Again he eyed Evadna without seeming to see her
at all.

"If it isn't down at the stable," said Jack soberly, "or by the
apple-cellar or somewhere around the pond or garden, look along the
ditches as far up as the big meadow. And if you don't run across it
there--" The door slammed, and Jack laughed with his eyes fast shut and
three dimples showing.

Evadna sank listlessly into her chair and regarded him and all her
little world with frank disapproval.

"Upon my WORD, I don't see how anybody can laugh, after what has
happened on this place," she said dismally, "or--WHISTLE, after--" Her
lips quivered a little. She was a distressed Christmas angel, if ever
there was one.

Wally snorted. "Want us to go CRYING around because the row's over?" he
demanded. "Think Grant ought to wear crepe, I suppose--because he ain't
on ice this morning--or in jail, which he'd hate a lot worse. Think we
ought to go around with our jaws hanging down so you could step on 'em,
because Baumberger cashed in? Huh! All hurts MY feelings is, I didn't
get a whack at the old devil myself!" It was a long speech for Wally to
make, and he made it with deliberate malice.

"Now you're shouting!" applauded Gene, also with the intent to be
shocking.

"THAT'S the stuff," approved Clark, grinning at Evadna's horrified eyes.

"Grant can run over me sharp-shod and I won't say a word, for what he
did day before yesterday," declared Jack, opening his eyes and looking
straight at Evadna. "You don't see any tears rolling down MY cheeks, I
hope?"

"Good Injun's the stuff, all right. He'd 'a' licked the hull damn--"

"Now, Donny, be careful what language you use," Phoebe admonished, and
so cut short his high-pitched song of praise.

"I don't care--I think it's perfectly awful." Evadna looked
distastefully upon her breakfast. "I just can't sleep in that room, Aunt
Phoebe. I tried not to think about it, but it opens right that way."

"Huh!" snorted Wally. "Board up the window, then, so you can't see the
fatal spot!" His gray eyes twinkled. "I could DANCE on it myself," he
said, just to horrify her--which he did. Evadna shivered, pressed her
wisp of handkerchief against her lips, and left the table hurriedly.

"You boys ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" Phoebe scolded
half-heartedly; for she had lived long in the wild, and had seen much
that was raw and primitive. "You must take into consideration that
Vadnie isn't used to such things. Why, great grief! I don't suppose the
child ever SAW a dead man before in her life--unless he was laid out in
church with flower-anchors piled knee-deep all over him. And to see
one shot right before her very eyes--and by the man she expects--or did
expect to marry--why, you can't wonder at her looking at it the way she
does. It isn't Vadnie's fault. It's the way she's been raised."

"Well," observed Wally in the manner of delivering an ultimatum, "excuse
ME from any Eastern raising!"

A little later, Phoebe boldly invaded the secret chambers of Good
Indian's heart when he was readjusting the rocks which formed the floor
of the milk-house.

"Now, Grant," she began, laying her hand upon his shoulder as he knelt
before her, straining at a heavy rock, "Mother Hart is going to give you
a little piece of her mind about something that's none of her business
maybe."

"You can give me as many pieces as you like. They're always good
medicine," he assured her. But he kept his head bent so that his
hat quite hid his face from her. "What about?" he asked, a betraying
tenseness in his voice.

"About Vadnie--and you. I notice you don't speak--you haven't that I've
seen, since that day--on the porch. You don't want to be too hard on
her, Grant. Remember she isn't used to such things. She looks at it
different. She's never seen the times, as I have, where it's kill or be
killed. Be patient with her, Grant--and don't feel hard. She'll get over
it. I want," she stopped because her voice was beginning to shake "--I
want my biggest boy to be happy." Her hand slipped around his neck and
pressed his head against her knee.

Good Indian got up and put his arms around her and held her close. He
did not say anything at all for a minute, but when he did he spoke very
quietly, stroking her hair the while.

"Mother Hart, I stood on the porch and heard what she said in the
kitchen. She accused me of killing Saunders. She said I liked to kill
people; that I shot at her and laughed at the mark I made on her arm.
She called me a savage--an Indian. My mother's mother was the daughter
of a chief. She was a good woman; my mother was a good woman; just as
good as if she had been white.

"Mother Hart, I'm a white man in everything but half my mother's blood.
I don't remember her--but I respect her memory, and I am not ashamed
because she was my mother. Do you think I could marry a girl who thinks
of my mother as something which she must try to forgive? Do you think
I could go to that girl in there and--and take her in my arms--and love
her, knowing that she feels as she does? She can't even forgive me for
killing that beast!

"She's a beautiful thing--I wanted to have her for my own. I'm a man.
I've a healthy man's hunger for a beautiful woman, but I've a healthy
man's pride as well." He patted the smooth cheek of the only woman he
had ever known as a mother, and stared at the rough rock wall oozing
moisture that drip-dripped to the pool below.

"I did think I'd go away for awhile," he said after a minute spent in
sober thinking. "But I never dodged yet, and I never ran. I'm going to
stay and see the thing through, now. I don't know--" he hesitated and
then went on. "It may not last; I may have to suffer after awhile, but
standing out there, that day, listening to her carrying on, kind of--oh,
I can't explain it. But I don't believe I wes half as deep in love as I
thought I was. I don't want to say anything against her; I've no right,
for she's a thousand times better than I am. But she's different. She
never would understand our ways, Mother Hart, or look at life as we
do; some people go through life looking at the little things that don't
matter, and passing by the other, bigger things. If you keep your eye
glued to a microscope long enough, you're sure to lose the sense of
proportion.

"She won't speak to me," he continued after a short silence. "I tried to
talk to her yesterday--"

"But you must remember, the poor child was hysterical that day when--she
went on so. She doesn't know anything about the realities of life. She
doesn't mean to be hard."

"Yesterday," said Grant with an odd little smile, "she was not
hysterical. It seems that--shooting--was the last little weight that
tilted the scale against me. I don't think she ever cared two whoops
for me, to tell you the truth. She's been ashamed of my Indian blood all
along; she said so. And I'm not a good lover; I neglected her all the
while this trouble lasted, and I paid more attention to Georgie Howard
than I did to her--and I didn't satisfactorily explain about that hair
and knife that Hagar had. And--oh, it isn't the killing, altogether! I
guess we were both a good deal mistaken in our feelings."

"Well, I hope so," sighed Phoebe, wondering secretly at the decadence of
love. An emotion that could burn high and hot in a week, flare bravely
for a like space, and die out with no seared heart to pay for the
extravagance--she shook her head at it. That was not what she had been
taught to call love, and she wondered how a man and a maid could be
mistaken about so vital an emotion.

"I suppose," she added with unusual sarcasm for her, "you'll be falling
in love with Georgie Howard, next thing anybody knows; and maybe that
will last a week or ten days before you find out you were MISTAKEN!"

Good Indian gave her one of his quick, sidelong glances.

"She would not be eternally apologizing to herself for liking me,
anyway," he retorted acrimoniously, as if he found it very hard to
forgive Evadna her conscious superiority of race and upbringing.
"Squaw."

"Oh, I haven't a doubt of that!" Phoebe rose to the defense of her own
blood. "I don't know as it's in her to apologize for anything. I never
saw such a girl for going right ahead as if her way is the only way!
Bull-headed, I'd call her." She looked at Good Indian afterward,
studying his face with motherly solicitude.

"I believe you're half in love with her right now and don't know it!"
she accused suddenly.

Good Indian laughed softly and bent to his work again.

"ARE you, Grant?" Phoebe laid a moist hand on his shoulder, and felt the
muscles sliding smoothly beneath his clothing while he moved a rock. "I
ain't mad because you and Vadnie fell out; I kind of looked for it to
happen. Love that grows like a mushroom lasts about as long--only I
don't call it love! You might tell me--"

"Tell you what?" But Grant did not look up. "If I don't know it, I can't
tell it." He paused in his lifting and rested his hands upon his knees,
the fingers dripping water back into the spring. He felt that Phoebe was
waiting, and he pressed his lips together. "Must a man be in love with
some woman all the time?" He shook his fingers impatiently so that the
last drops hurried to the pool.

"She's a good girl, and a brave girl," Phoebe remarked irrelevantly.

Good Indian felt that she was still waiting, with all the quiet
persistence of her sex when on the trail of a romance. He reached up
and caught the hand upon his shoulder, and laid it against his cheek. He
laughed surrender.

"Squaw-talk-far-off heap smart," he mimicked old Peppajee gravely. "Heap
bueno." He stood up as suddenly as he had started his rock-lifting a
few minutes before, and taking Phoebe by the shoulders, shook her with
gentle insistence. "Put don't make me fall out of one love right into
another," he protested whimsically. "Give a fellow time to roll a
cigarette, can't you?"





Next: When Green Grass Comes

Previous: When The Sun Goes Away



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