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Miss Georgie Also Makes A Call








From: Good Indian

Saunders, limp and apathetic and colorless, shuffled over to the station
with a wheelbarrow which had a decrepit wheel, that left an undulating
imprint of its drunken progress in the dust as it went. He loaded the
boxes of freight with the abused air of one who feels that Fate has used
him hardly, and then sidled up to the station door with the furtive air
which Miss Georgie always inwardly resented.

She took the shipping bill from him with her fingertips, reckoned the
charges, and received the money without a word, pushing a few pieces
of silver toward him upon the table. As he bent to pick them up clawing
unpleasantly with vile finger-nails--she glanced at him contemptuously,
looked again more attentively, pursed her lips with one corner between
her teeth, and when he had clawed the last dime off the smooth surface
of the table, she spoke to him as if he were not the reptile she
considered him, but a live human.

"Horribly hot, isn't it? I wish I could sleep till noon. It would make
the days shorter, anyway."

"I opened up the store, and then I went back to bed," Saunders replied
limply. "Just got up when the freight pulled in. Made so blamed much
noise it woke me. I seem to need a good deal of sleep." He coughed
behind his hand, and lingered inside the door. It was so unusual for
Miss Georgie to make conversation with him that Saunders was almost
pitifully eager to be agreeable.

"If it didn't sound cruel, this weather," said Miss Georgie lightly,
still looking at him--or, more particularly, at the crumpled, soiled
collar of his coarse blue shirt--"I'd advise you to get out of Hartley
once a day, if it was no more than to take a walk. Though to be sure,"
she smiled, "the prospect is not inviting, to say the least. Put it
would be a change; I'd run up and down the track, if I didn't have to
stick here in this office all day."

"I can't stand walking," Saunders whined. "It makes me cough." To
illustrate, he gave another little hack behind his hand. "I went up to
the stable yesterday with a book, and laid down in the hay. And I went
to sleep, and Pete thought I was lost, I guess." He grinned, which was
not pleasant, for he chewed tobacco and had ugly, discolored teeth into
the bargain.

"I like to lay in the hay," he added lifelessly. "I guess I'll take my
bed up there; that lean-to is awful hot."

"Well, you're lucky that you can do exactly as you please, and sleep
whenever you please." Miss Georgie turned to her telegraph instrument,
and began talking in little staccato sparks of electricity to the agent
at Shoshone, merely as a hint to Saunders to take himself away.

"Ain't been anything for me?" he asked, still lingering.

Miss Georgie shook her head. He waited a minute longer, and then
sidled out, and when he was heard crunching over the cinders with his
barrow-load of boxes, she switched off the current abruptly, and went
over to the window to watch him.

"Item," she began aloud, when he was quite gone, her eyes staring
vacantly down the scintillating rails to where they seemed to meet in
one glittering point far away in the desert. "Item--" But whatever the
item was, she jotted it down silently in that mental memorandum book
which was one of her whims. "Once I put a thing in that little blue
book of mine," she used to tell her father, "it's there for keeps. And
there's the advantage that I never leave it lying around to be lost,
or for other people to pick up and read to my everlasting undoing. It's
better than cipher--for I don't talk in my sleep."

The four-thirty-five train came in its own time, and brought the two
missing placer miners. But it did not bring Baumberger, nor Peaceful
Hart, nor any word of either. Miss Georgie spent a good deal of time
staring out of the window toward the store that day, and when she
was not doing that she was moving restlessly about the little office,
picking things up without knowing why she did so, and laying them down
again when she discovered them in her hands and had no use for them. The
ice cream came, and the cake, and the magazines; and she left the whole
pile just inside the door without undoing a wrapping.

At five o'clock she rose abruptly from the rocker, in which she had just
deposited herself with irritated emphasis, and wired her chief for leave
of absence until seven.

"It's important, Mr. Gray. Business which can't wait," she clicked
urgently. "I'll be back before Eight is due. Please." Miss Georgie did
not often send that last word of her own volition. All up and down the
line she was said to be "Independent as a hog on ice"--a simile not
pretty, perhaps, nor even exact, but frequently applied, nevertheless,
to self-reliant souls like the Hartley operator.

Be that as it may, she received gracious permission to lock the office
door from the outside, and she was not long in doing so, and heaved a
great sigh of relief when it was done. She went straight to the store,
and straight back to where Pete Hamilton was leaning over a barrel
redolent of pickled pork. He came up with dripping hands and a
treasure-trove of flabby meat, and while he was dangling it over the
barrel until the superfluous brine dripped away, she asked him for a
horse.

"I dunno where Saunders is again," he said, letting his consent be
taken for granted. "But I'll go myself and saddle up, if you'll mind the
store. Soon as I finish waitin' on this customer," he added, casting a
glance toward a man who sat upon the counter and dangled his legs while
he apathetically munched stale pretzels and waited for his purchases.

"Oh, I can saddle, all right, Pete. I've got two hours off, and I want
to ride down to see how the Harts are getting along. Exciting times down
there, from all accounts."

"Maybe I can round up Saunders. He must be somewheres around," Pete
suggested languidly, wrapping the pork in a piece of brown paper and
reaching for the string which dangled from the ball hung over his head.

"Saunders is asleep, very likely. If he isn't in his room, never mind
hunting him. The horse is in the stable, I suppose. I can saddle better
than Saunders."

Pete tied the package, wiped his hands, and went heavily out. He
returned immediately, said that Saunders must be up at the stable, and
turned his attention to weighing out five pounds of white beans.

Miss Georgie helped herself to a large bag of mixed candy, and put
the money in the drawer, laid her key upon the desk for safe-keeping,
repinned her white sailor hat so that the hot wind which blew should not
take it off her head, and went cheerfully away to the stable.

She did not saddle the horse at once. She first searched the pile of
sweet-smelling clover in the far end, made sure that no man was there,
assured herself in the same manner of the fact that she was absolutely
alone in the stable so far as humans were concerned, and continued her
search; not for Saunders now, but for sagebrush. She went outside, and
looked carefully at her immediate surroundings.

"There's hardly a root of it anywhere around close," she said to
herself. "Nor around the store, either--nor any place where one would be
apt to go ordinarily."

She stood there meditatively for a few minutes, remembered that two
hours do not last long, and saddled hurriedly. Then, mounting awkwardly
because of the large, lumpy bag of candy which she must carry in her
hands for want of a pocket large enough to hold it, she rode away to the
Indian camp.

The camp was merely a litter of refuse and the ashes of various
campfires, with one wikiup standing forlorn in the midst. Miss Georgie
never wasted precious time on empty ceremony, and she would have gone
into that tent unannounced and stated her errand without any compunction
whatever. Put Peppajee was lying outside, smoking in the shade, with his
foot bandaged and disposed comfortably upon a folded blanket. She tossed
him the bag of candy, and stayed upon her horse.

"Howdy, Peppajee? How your foot? Pretty well, mebbyso?"

"Mebbyso bueno. Sun come two time, mebbyso walk all same no snake
biteum." Peppajee's eyes gloated over the gift as he laid it down beside
him.

"That's good. Say, Peppajee," Miss Georgie reached up to feel her
hatpins and to pat her hair, "I wish you'd watch Saunders. Him no good.
I think him bad. I can't keep an eye on him. Can you?"

"No can walk far." Peppajee looked meaningly at his bandages. "No can
watchum."

"Well, but you could tell somebody else to watch him. I think he do
bad thing to the Harts. You like Harts. You tell somebody to watch
Saunders."

"Indians pikeway--ketchum fish. Come back, mebbyso tellum watchum."

Miss Georgie drew in her breath for further argument, decided that it
was not worth while, and touched up her horse with the whip. "Good-by,"
she called back, and saw that Peppajee was looking after her with his
eyes, while his face was turned impassively to the front.

"You're just about as satisfying to talk to as a stump," she paid
tribute to his unassailable calm. "There's four bits wasted," she
sighed, "to say nothing of the trouble I had packing that candy to
you--you ungrateful old devil." With which unladylike remark she
dismissed him from her mind as a possible ally.

At the ranch, the boys were enthusiastically blistering palms and
stiffening the muscles of their backs, turning the water away from the
ditches that crossed the disputed tracts so that the trespassers there
should have none in which to pan gold--or to pretend that they were
panning gold. Since the whole ranch was irrigated by springs running out
here and there from under the bluff, and all the ditches ran to meadow
and orchard and patches of small fruit, and since the springs could not
well be stopped from flowing, the thing was not to be done in a minute.

And since there were four boys with decided ideas upon the
subject--ideas which harmonized only in the fundamental desire to harry
the interlopers, the thing was not to be done without much time being
wasted in fruitless argument.

Wally insisted upon running the water all into a sandy hollow where much
of it would seep away and a lake would do no harm, the main objection
to that being that it required digging at least a hundred yards of new
ditch, mostly through rocky soil.

Jack wanted to close all the headgates and just let the water go where
it wanted to--which was easy enough, but ineffective, because most of it
found its way into the ditches farther down the slope.

Gene and Clark did not much care how the thing was done--so long as it
was done their way. At least, that is what they said.

It was Good Indian who at length settled the matter. There were five
springs altogether; he proposed that each one make himself responsible
for a certain spring, and see to it that no water reached the jumpers.

"And I don't care a tinker's dam how you do it," he said. "Drink it all,
if you want to. I'll take the biggest--that one under the milk-house."
Whereat they jeered at him for wanting to be close to Evadna.

"Well, who has a better right?" he challenged, and then inconsiderately
left them before they could think of a sufficiently biting retort.

So they went to work, each in his own way, agreeing mostly in untiring
industry. That is how Miss Georgie found them occupied--except that Good
Indian had stopped long enough to soothe Evadna and her aunt, and
to explain that the water would really not rise much higher in the
milk-house, and that he didn't believe Evadna's pet bench at the head of
the pond would be inaccessible because of his efforts.

Phoebe was sloshing around upon the flooded floor of her milk-house,
with her skirts tucked up and her indignation growing greater as she
gave it utterance, rescuing her pans of milk and her jars of cream.
Evadna, upon the top step, sat with her feet tucked up under her as if
she feared an instant inundation. She, also, was giving utterance to her
feminine irritation at the discomfort--of her aunt presumably, since she
herself was high and dry.

"And it won't do a BIT of good. They'll just knock that dam business all
to pieces to-night--" She was scolding Grant.

"Swearing, chicken? Things must be in a great state!"

Grant grinned at Miss Georgie, forgetting for the moment his rebuff that
morning. "She did swear, didn't she?" he confirmed wickedly. "And she's
been working overtime, trying to reform me. Wanted to pin me down to 'my
goodness!' and 'oh, dear!'--with all this excitement taking place on the
ranch!"

"I wasn't swearing at all. Grant has been shoveling sand all afternoon,
building a dam over by the fence, and the water has been rising and
rising till--" She waved her hand gloomily at her bedraggled Aunt Phoebe
working like a motherly sort of gnome in its shadowy grotto. "Oh, if I
were Aunt Phoebe, I should just shake you, Grant Imsen!"

"Try it," he invited, his eyes worshiping her in her pretty petulance.
"I wish you would."

As Miss Georgie went past them down the steps, her face had the set
look of one who is consciously and deliberately cheerful under trying
conditions.

"Don't quarrel, children," she advised lightly. "Howdy, Mrs. Hart? What
are they trying to do--drown you?"

"Oh, these boys of mine! They'll be the death of me, what with the
things they won't do, and the things they WILL do. They're trying now
to create a water famine for the jumpers, and they're making their own
mother swim for the good of the cause." Phoebe held out a plump hand,
moist and cold from lifting cool crocks of milk, and laughed at her own
predicament.

"The water won't rise any more, Mother Hart," Grant called down to her
from the top step, where he was sitting unblushingly beside Evadna. "I
told you six inches would be the limit, and then it would run off in the
new ditch. You know I explained just why--"

"Oh, yes, I know you explained just WHY," Phoebe cut in disconsolately
and yet humorously, "but explanations don't seem to help my poor
milk-house any. And what about the garden, and the fruit, if you turn
the water all down into the pasture? And what about the poor horses
getting their feet wet and catching their death of cold? And what's to
hinder that man Stanley and his gang from packing water in buckets from
the lake you're going to have in the pasture?"

She looked at Miss Georgie whimsically. "I'm an ungrateful, bad-tempered
old woman, I guess, for they're doing it because it's the only thing
they can do, since I put my foot down on all this bombarding and burning
good powder just to ease their minds. They've got to do something, I
suppose, or they'd all burst. And I don't know but what it's a good
thing for 'em to work off their energy digging ditches, even if it don't
do a mite of good."

Good Indian was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, murmuring
lover's confidences behind the shield of his tilted hat, which hid
from all but Evadna his smiling lips and his telltale, glowing eyes. He
looked up at that last sentence, though it is doubtful if he had heard
much of what she had been saying.

"It's bound to do good if it does anything," he said, with an optimism
which was largely the outgrowth of his beatific mood, which in its turn
was born of his nearness to Evadna and her gracious manner toward him.
"We promised not to molest them on their claims. But if they get over
the line to meddle with our water system, or carry any in buckets--which
they can't, because they all leak like the deuce"--he grinned as he
thought of the bullet holes in them--"why, I don't know but what someone
might object to that, and send them back on their own side of the line."

He picked up a floating ribbon-end which was a part of Evadna's belt,
and ran it caressingly through his fingers in a way which set Miss
Georgie's teeth together. "I'm afraid," he added dryly, his eyes once
more seeking Evadna's face with pure love hunger, "they aren't going to
make much of a stagger at placer mining, if they haven't any water."
He rolled the ribbon up tightly, and then tossed it lightly toward her
face. "ARE they, Goldilocks?"

"Are they what? I've told you a dozen times to stop calling me that. I
had a doll once that I named Goldilocks, and I melted her nose off--she
was wax--and you always remind me of the horrible expression it gave
to her face. I'd go every day and take her out of the bureau-drawer
and look at her, and then cry my eyes out. Won't you come and sit down,
Georgie? There's room. Now, what was the discussion, and how far had we
got? Aunt Phoebe, I don't believe it has raised a bit lately. I've been
watching that black rock with the crack in it." Evadna moved nearer to
Good Indian, and pulled her skirts close upon the other side,
thereby making a space at least eight inches wide for Miss Georgie's
accommodation.

"I can't sit anywhere," said Miss Georgie, looking at her watch. "By the
way, chicken, did you have to walk all the way home?"

Evadna looked sidelong at Good Indian, as if a secret had been
betrayed. "No," she said, "I didn't. I just got to the top of the grade
when a squaw came along, and she was leading Huckleberry. A gaudy young
squaw, all red and purple and yellow. She was awfully curious about you,
Grant. She wanted to know where you were and what you were doing. I hope
you aren't a flirtatious young man. She seemed to know you pretty well,
I thought."

She had to explain to her Aunt Phoebe and Grant just how she came to be
walking, and she laughed at the squaw's vivid costume, and declared she
would have one like it, because Grant must certainly admire colors. She
managed, innocently enough, to waste upon such trivialities many of Miss
Georgie's precious minutes.

At last that young woman, after glancing many times at her watch, and
declining an urgent invitation to stay to supper, declared that she
must go, and tried to give Good Indian a significant look without being
detected in the act by Evadna. But Good Indian, for the time being
wholly absorbed by the smiles of his lady, had no eyes for her, and
seemed to attach no especial meaning to her visit. So that Miss Georgie,
feminine to her finger-tips and oversensitive perhaps where those two
were concerned, suddenly abandoned her real object in going to the
ranch, and rode away without saying a word of what she had come to say.

She was a direct young woman who was not in the habit of mincing matters
with herself, or of dodging an issue, and she bluntly called herself a
fool many times that evening, because she had not said plainly that she
would like to talk with Grant "and taken him off to one side--by the
ear, if necessary--and talked to him, and told him what I went down
there to tell him," she said to herself angrily. "And if Evadna didn't
like it, she could do the other thing. It does seem as if girls like
that are always having the trail smoothed down for them to dance their
way through life, while other people climb over rocks--mostly with
packs on their shoulders that don't rightly belong to them." She sighed
impatiently. "It must be lovely to be absolutely selfish--when you're
pretty enough and young enough to make it stick!" Miss Georgie was,
without doubt, in a nasty temper that night.





Next: Somebody Shot Saunders

Previous: Evadna Goes Calling



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