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You Can't Play With Me








From: Good Indian

Good Indian was young, which means that he was not always logical,
nor much given to looking very far into the future except as he was
personally concerned in what he might see there. By the time Sunday
brought Miss Georgie Howard and the stir of preparation for the fishing
trip, he forgot that he had taken upon himself the responsibility of
watching the obviously harmless movements of Baumberger, or had taken
seriously the warnings of Peppajee Jim; or if he did not forget, he at
least pushed it far into the background of his mind with the assertion
that Peppajee was a meddlesome old fool and Baumberger no more designing
than he appeared--which was not at all.

What did interest him that morning was the changeful mood of Evadna;
though he kept his interest so well hidden that no one suspected it--not
even the young lady herself. It is possible that if Evadna had known
that Good Indian's attitude of calm oblivion to her moods was only a
mask, she might have continued longer her rigorous discipline of averted
face and frigid tones.

As it was, she thawed toward him as he held himself more aloof, until
she actually came to the point of addressing him directly, with a
flicker of a smile for good measure; and, although he responded with
stiff civility, he felt his blood pulse faster, and suddenly conceived
the idea that women are like the creatures of the wild. If one is very
quiet, and makes no advance whatever, the hunted thing comes closer and
closer, and then a sudden pounce--he caught his breath. After that he
was wary and watchful and full of his purpose.

Within ten minutes Evadna walked into the trap. They had started, and
were fifty yards up the trail, when Phoebe shouted frantically after
them. And because she was yet a timid rider and feared to keep the pace
set by the others, it was Evadna who heard and turned back to see what
was the trouble. Aunt Phoebe was standing beside the road, waving a
flask.

"It's the cream for your coffee," she cried, going to meet Evadna. "You
can slip it into your jacket-pocket, can't you, honey? Huckleberry is so
steady--and you won't do any wild riding like the boys."

"I've got my veil and a box of bait and two handkerchiefs and a piece of
soap," the girl complained, reaching down for the bottle, nevertheless.
"But I can carry it in my hand till I overtake somebody to give it to."

The somebody proved to be Good Indian, who had found it necessary to
stop and inspect carefully the left forefoot of his horse, without
appearing aware of the girl's approach. She ambled up at Huckleberry's
favorite shuffling gait, struck him with her whip--a blow which would
not have perturbed a mosquito--when he showed a disposition to stop
beside Grant, and then, when Huckleberry reluctantly resumed his pacing,
pulled him up, and looked back at the figure stooped over the hoof he
held upon his knee. He was digging into the caked dirt inside the hoof
with his pocketknife, and, though Evadna waited while she might have
spoken a dozen words, he paid not the slightest attention--and that in
spite of the distinct shadow of her head and shoulders which lay at his
feet.

"Oh--Grant," she began perfunctorily, "I'm sorry to trouble you--but do
you happen to have an empty pocket?"

Good Indian gave a final scrape with his knife, and released the foot,
which Keno immediately stamped pettishly into the dust. He closed the
knife, after wiping the blade upon his trousers leg, and returned it to
his pocket before he so much as glanced toward her.

"I may have. Why?" He picked up the bridle-reins, caught the
saddle-horn, and thrust his toe into the stirrup. From under his
hat-brim he saw that she was pinching her under lip between her teeth,
and the sight raised his spirits considerably.

"Oh, nothing. Aunt Phoebe called me back, and gave me a bottle of cream,
is all. I shall have to carry it in my hand, I suppose." She twitched
her shoulders, and started Huckleberry off again. She had called him
Grant, instead of the formal Mr. Imsen she had heretofore clung to, and
he had not seemed to notice it even.

He mounted with perfectly maddening deliberation, but for all that he
overtook her before she had gone farther than a few rods, and he pulled
up beside her with a decision which caused Huckleberry to stop
also; Huckleberry, it must be confessed, was never known to show any
reluctance in that direction when his head was turned away from home. He
stood perfectly still while Good Indian reached out a hand.

"I'll carry it--I'm more used to packing bottles," he announced gravely.

"Oh, but if you must carry it in your hand, I wouldn't dream of--" She
was holding fast the bottle, and trying to wear her Christmas-angel
look.

Good Indian laid hold of the flask, and they stood there stubbornly
eying each other.

"I thought you wanted me to carry it," he said at last, pulling harder.

"I merely asked if you had an empty pocket." Evadna clung the tighter.

"Now, what's the use--"

"Just what I was thinking!" Evadna was so impolite as to interrupt him.

Good Indian was not skilled in the management of women, but he knew
horses, and to his decision he added an amendment. Instinctively he
followed the method taught him by experience, and when he fancied he
saw in her eyes a sign of weakening, he followed up the advantage he had
gained.

"Let go--because I'm going to have it anyway, now," he said quietly,
and took the flask gently from her hands. Then he smiled at her for
yielding, and his smile was a revelation to the girl, and brought the
blood surging up to her face. She rode meekly beside him at the pace
he himself set--which was not rapid, by any means. He watched her with
quick, sidelong glances, and wondered whether he would dare say what he
wanted to say--or at least a part of it.

She was gazing with a good deal of perseverance at the trail, down
the windings of which the others could be seen now and then galloping
through the dust, so that their progress was marked always by a
smothering cloud of gray. Then she looked at Grant unexpectedly, met one
of his sharp glances, and flushed hotly again.

"How about this business of hating each other, and not speaking except
to please Aunt Phoebe?" he demanded, with a suddenness which startled
himself. He had been thinking it, but he hadn't intended to say it until
the words spoke themselves. "Are we supposed to keep on acting the fool
indefinitely?"

"I was not aware that I, at least, was acting the fool," she retorted,
with a washed-out primness.

"Oh, I can't fight the air, and I'm not going to try. What I've got
to say, I prefer to say straight from the shoulder. I'm sick of this
standing off and giving each other the bad eye over nothing. If we're
going to stay on the same ranch, we might as well be friends. What do
you say?"

For a time he thought she was not going to say anything. She was staring
at the dust-cloud ahead, and chewing absently at the corner of her under
lip, and she kept it up so long that Good Indian began to scowl and call
himself unseemly names for making any overture whatever. But, just as he
turned toward her with lips half opened for a bitter sentence, he saw a
dimple appear in the cheek next to him, and held back the words.

"You told me you didn't like me," she reminded, looking at him briefly,
and afterward fumbling her reins. "You can't expect a girl--"

"I suppose you don't remember coming up to me that first night, and
calling me names, and telling me how you hated me, and--and winding up
by pinching me?" he insinuated with hypocritical reproach, and felt of
his arm. "If you could see the mark--" he hinted shamelessly.

Evadna replied by pushing up her sleeve and displaying a scratch at
least an inch in length, and still roughened and red. "I suppose you
don't remember trying to MURDER me?" she inquired, sweetly triumphant.
"If you could shoot as well as Jack, I'd have been killed very likely.
And you'd be in jail this minute," she added, with virtuous solemnity.

"But you're not killed, and I'm not in jail."

"And I haven't told a living soul about it--not even Aunt Phoebe,"
Evadna remarked, still painfully virtuous. "If I had--"

"She'd have wondered, maybe, what you were doing away down there in
the middle of the night," Good Indian finished. "I didn't tell a soul,
either, for that matter."

They left the meadowland and the broad stretch of barren sand and sage,
and followed, at a leisurely pace, the winding of the trail through
the scarred desolation where the earth had been washed for gold. Evadna
stared absently at the network of deep gashes, evidently meditating
very seriously. Finally she turned to Grant with an honest impulse of
friendliness.

"Well, I'm sure I'm willing to bury the tomahawk--er--that is, I mean--"
She blushed hotly at the slip, and stammered incoherently.

"Never mind." His eyes laughed at her confusion. "I'm not as bad as
all that; it doesn't hurt my feelings to have tomahawks mentioned in my
presence."

Her cheeks grew redder, if that were possible, but she made no attempt
to finish what she had started to say.

Good Indian rode silent, watching her unobtrusively and wishing he knew
how to bring the conversation by the most undeviating path to a certain
much-desired conclusion. After all, she was not a wild thing, but a
human being, and he hesitated. In dealing with men, he had but
one method, which was to go straight to the point regardless of
consequences. So he half turned in the saddle and rode with one foot
free of the stirrup that he might face her squarely.

"You say you're willing to bury the tomahawk; do you mean it?" His
eyes sought hers, and when they met her glance held it in spite of her
blushes, which indeed puzzled him. But she did not answer immediately,
and so he repeated the question.

"Do you mean that? We've been digging into each other pretty
industriously, and saying how we hate each other--but are you willing
to drop it and be friends? It's for you to say--and you've got to say it
now."

Evadna hung up her head at that. "Are you in the habit of laying down
the law to everyone who will permit it?" she evaded.

"Am I to take it for granted you meant what you said?" He stuck
stubbornly to the main issue. "Girls seem to have a way of saying
things, whether they mean anything or not. Did you?"

"Did I what?" She was wide-eyed innocence again.

Good Indian muttered something profane, and kicked his horse in the
ribs. When it had taken no more than two leaps forward, however, he
pulled it down to a walk again, and his eyes boded ill for the misguided
person who goaded him further. He glanced at the girl sharply.

"This thing has got to be settled right now, without any more fooling
or beating about the bush," he said--and he said it so quietly that she
could scarcely be blamed for not realizing what lay beneath. She was
beginning to recover her spirits and her composure, and her whole
attitude had become demurely impish.

"Settle it then, why don't you?" she taunted sweetly. "I'm sure I
haven't the faintest idea what there is to settle--in that solemn
manner. I only know we're a mile behind the others, and Miss Georgie
will be wondering--"

"You say I'm to settle it, the way I want it settled?"

If Evadna did not intend anything serious, she certainly was a fool not
to read aright his ominously calm tone and his tensely quiet manner. She
must have had some experience in coquetry, but it is very likely that
she had never met a man just like this one. At all events, she tilted
her blonde head, smiled at him daringly, and then made a little grimace
meant to signify her defiance of him and his unwarranted earnestness.

Good Indian leaned unexpectedly, caught her in his arms, and kissed her
three times upon her teasing, smiling mouth, and while she was gasping
for words to voice her amazement he drew back his head, and gazed
sternly into her frightened eyes.

"You can't play with ME," he muttered savagely, and kissed her again.
"This is how I settle it. You've made me want you for mine. It's got to
be love or--hate now. There isn't anything between, for me and you." His
eyes passed hungrily from her quivering lips to her eyes, and the glow
within his own made her breath come faster. She struggled weakly to free
herself, and his clasp only tightened jealously.

"If you had hated me, you wouldn't have stopped back there, and spoken
to me," he said, the words coming in a rush. "Women like to play with
love, I think. But you can't play with me. I want you. And I'm going to
have you. Unless you hate me. But you don't. I'd stake my life on it."
And he kissed her again.

Evadna reached up, felt for her hat, and began pulling it straight,
and Good Indian, recalled to himself by the action, released her with
manifest reluctance. He felt then that he ought never to let her go out
of his arms; it was the only way, it seemed to him, that he could
be sure of her. Evadna found words to express her thoughts, and her
thoughts were as wholly conventional as was the impulse to straighten
her hat.

"We've only known each other a week!" she cried tremulously, while
her gloved fingers felt inquiringly for loosened hairpins. "You've no
right--you're perfectly horrid! You take everything for granted--"

Good Indian laughed at her, a laugh of pure, elemental joy in life and
in love.

"A man's heart does not beat by the calendar. Nature made the heart to
beat with love, ages before man measured time, and prattled of hours and
days and weeks," he retorted. "I'm not the same man I was a week ago.
Nor an hour ago. What does it matter, I am--the man I am NOW." He
looked at her more calmly. "An hour ago," he pointed out, "I didn't
dream I should kiss you. Nor you, that you would let me do it."

"I didn't! I couldn't help myself. You--oh, I never saw such a--a
brute!" The tears in her eyes were, perhaps, tears of rage at the
swiftness with which he had mastered the situation and turned it in a
breath from the safe channel of petty argument. She struck Huckleberry a
blow with her whip which sent that astonished animal galloping down the
slope before them, his ears laid back and his white eyelashes blinking
resentment against the outrage.

Good Indian laughed aloud, spurred Keno into a run, and passed her with
a scurry of dust, a flash of white teeth and laughing black eyes, and a
wave of his free hand in adieu. He was still laughing when he overtook
the others, passed by the main group, and singled out Jack, his
particular chum. He refused to explain either his hurry or his mirth
further than to fling out a vague sentence about a race, and thereafter
he ambled contentedly along beside Jack in the lead, and told how he had
won a hundred and sixty dollars in a crap game the last time he was in
Shoshone, and how he had kept on until he had "quit ten dollars in
the hole." The rest of the boys, catching a few words here and there,
crowded close, and left the two girls to themselves, while Good Indian
recounted in detail the fluctuations of the game; how he had seesawed
for an hour, winning and losing alternately; and how his luck had
changed suddenly just when he had made up his mind to play a five-dollar
gold piece he had in his hand and quit.

"I threw naturals three times in succession," he said, "and let my bets
ride. Then I got Big Dick, made good, and threw another natural. I was
seeing those Spanish spurs and that peach of a headstall in Fernando's
by that time; seeing them on Keno and me--they're in the window yet,
Jack, and I went in when I first hit town and looked them over and
priced them; a hundred and fifty, just about what we guessed he'd
hold them at. And say, those conchos--you remember the size of 'em,
Jack?--they're solid silver, hammered out and engraved by hand. Those
Mexicans sure do turn out some fine work on their silver fixings!" He
felt in his pocket for a match.

"Pity I didn't let well enough alone," he went on. "I had the price of
the outfit, and ten dollars over. But then I got hoggish. I thought I
stood a good chance of making seven lucky passes straight--I did once,
and I never got over it, I guess. I was going to pinch down to ten--but
I didn't; I let her ride. And SHOT CRAPS!"

He drew the match along the stamped saddle-skirt behind the cantle,
because that gave him a chance to steal a look behind him without being
caught in the act. Good, wide hat-brims have more uses than to shield
one's face from the sun. He saw that Evadna was riding in what looked
like a sulky silence beside her friend, but he felt no compunction for
what he had done; instead he was exhilarated as with some heady wine,
and he did not want to do any thinking about it--yet. He did not even
want to be near Evadna. He faced to the front, and lighted his cigarette
while he listened to the sympathetic chorus from the boys.

"What did you do then?" asked Gene.

"Well, I'd lost the whole blamed chunk on a pair of measly aces," he
said. "I was pretty sore by that time, I'm telling you! I was down
to ten dollars, but I started right in to bring back that hundred
and sixty. Funny, but I felt exactly as if somebody had stolen that
headstall and spurs right out of my hand, and I just had to get it
back pronto. I started in with a dollar, lost it on craps--sixes, that
time--sent another one down the same trail trying to make Little Joe
come again, third went on craps, fourth I doubled on nine, lost 'em both
on craps--say, I never looked so many aces and sixes in the face in my
life! It was sure kay bueno, the luck I had that night. I got up broke,
and had to strike Riley for money to get out of town with."

So for a time he managed to avoid facing squarely this new and very
important factor which must henceforth have its place in the problem of
his life.





Next: Them Damn Snake

Previous: Midnight Prowlers



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