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Miss Georgie Howard Operator

From: Good Indian

"Where is the delightful Mr. Good Indian off to?" Evadna stopped
drumming upon the gatepost and turned toward the person she heard coming
up behind her, who happened to be Gene. He stopped to light a match
upon the gate and put his cigarette to work before he answered her; and
Evadna touched tentatively the wide, blue ribbon wound round her arm and
tied in a bow at her elbow, and eyed him guardedly.

"Straight up, he told me," Gene answered sourly. "He's sore over
something that happened last night, and he didn't seem to have any talk
to give away this morning. He can go to the dickens, for all I care."

"WHAT--happened last night?" Evadna wore her Christmas-angel expression;
and her tone was the sweet, insipid tone of childlike innocence.

Gene hesitated. It seemed a sheer waste of opportunity to tell her the
truth when she would believe a falsehood just as readily; but, since the
truth happened to be quite as improbable as a lie, he decided to speak

"There was a noise when the moon had just come up--didn't you hear it?
The ghost I told you about. Good Injun went after it with a gun, and I
guess they mixed, all right, and he got the worst of it. He was sure on
the fight when he came back, and he's pulled out this morning--"

"Do you mean to tell me--did you see it, really?"

"Well, you ask Clark, when you see him," Gene hinted darkly. "You just
ask him what was in the grove last night. Ask him what he HEARD." He
moved closer, and laid his hand impressively upon her arm. Evadna winced
perceptibly. "What yuh jumping for? You didn't see anything, did you?"

"No; but--was there REALLY something?" Evadna freed herself as
unobtrusively as possible, and looked at him with wide eyes.

"You ask Clark. He'll tell you--maybe. Good Injun's scared clean off the
ranch--you can see that for yourself. He said he couldn't be hired to
spend another night here. He thinks it's a bad sign. That's the Injun of
it. They believe in spirits and signs and things."

Evadna turned thoughtful. "And didn't he tell you what he--that is, if
he found out--you said he went after it--"

"He wouldn't say a blamed thing about it," Gene complained sincerely.
"He said there wasn't anything--he told us it was a screech-owl."

"Oh!" Evadna gave a sigh of relief. "Well, I'm going to ask Clark what
it was--I'm just crazy about ghost stories, only I never would DARE
leave the house after dark if there are funny noises and things,
really. I think you boys must be the bravest fellows, to sleep out
there--without even your mother with you!"

She smiled the credulous smile of ignorant innocence and pulled the gate

"Jack promised to take me up to Hartley to-day," she explained over her
shoulder. "When I come back, you'll show me just where it was, won't
you, Gene? You don't suppose it would walk in the grove in the daytime,
do you? Because I'm awfully fond of the grove, and I do hope it will be
polite enough to confine its perambulations entirely to the conventional
midnight hour."

Gene did not make any reply. Indeed, he seemed wholly absorbed in
staring after her and wondering just how much or how little of it she

Evadna looked back, midway between the gate and the stable, and, when
she saw him standing exactly as she had left him, she waved her hand and
smiled. She was still smiling when she came up to where Jack was giving
those last, tentative twitches and pats which prove whether a saddle is
properly set and cinched; and she would not say what it was that amused
her. All the way up the grade, she smiled and grew thoughtful by turns;
and, when Jack mentioned the fact that Good Indian had gone off mad
about something, she contented herself with the simple, unqualified
statement that she was glad of it.

Grant's horse dozed before the store, and Grant himself sat upon a bench
in the narrow strip of shade on the porch. Evadna, therefore, refused
absolutely to dismount there, though her errand had been a post-office
money order. Jack was already on the ground when she made known her
decision; and she left him in the middle of his expostulations and rode
on to the depot. He followed disapprovingly afoot; and, when she brought
her horse to a stand, he helped her from the saddle, and took the bridle
reins with an air of weary tolerance.

"When you get ready to go home, you can come to the store," he said
bluntly. "Huckleberry wouldn't stand here if you hog-tied him. Just
remember that if you ever ride up here alone--it might save you a walk
back. And say," he added, with a return of his good-natured grin, "it
looks like you and Good Injun didn't get acquainted yesterday. I thought
I saw mum give him an introduction to you--but I guess I made a mistake.
When you come to the store, don't let me forget, and I'll do it myself."

"Oh, thank you, Jack--but it isn't necessary," chirped Evadna, and left
him with the smile which he had come to regard with vague suspicion of
what it might hide of her real feelings.

Two squaws sat cross-legged on the ground in the shade of the little
red depot; and them she passed by hastily, her eyes upon them watchfully
until she was well upon the platform and was being greeted joyfully
by Miss Georgie Howard, then in one of her daily periods of intense

"My, my, but you're an angel of deliverance--and by rights you should
have a pair of gauze wings, just to complete the picture," she cried,
leading her inside and pushing her into a beribboned wicker rocker. "I
was just getting desperate enough to haul in those squaws out there
and see if I couldn't teach 'em whist or something." She sat down
and fingered her pompadour absently. "And that sure would have been
interesting," she added musingly.

"Don't let me interrupt you," Evadna began primly. "I only came for a
money order--Aunt Phoebe's sending for--"

"Never mind what you came for," Miss Georgie cut in decisively, and
laughed. "The express agent is out. You can't get your order till we've
had a good talk and got each other tagged mentally--only I've tagged you
long ago."

"I thought you were the express agent. Aunt Phoebe said--"

"Nice, truthful Aunt Phoebe! I am, but I'm out--officially. I'm several
things, my dear; but, for the sake of my own dignity and self-respect,
I refuse to be more than one of them at a time. When I sell a ticket
to Shoshone, I'm the ticket agent, and nothing else. Telegrams, I'm the
operator. At certain times I'm the express agent. I admit it. But this
isn't one of the times."

She stopped and regarded her visitor with whimsical appraisement.
"You'll wait till the agent returns, won't you?" And added, with a
grimace: "You won't be in the way--I'm not anything official right now.
I'm a neighbor, and this is my parlor--you see, I planted you on that
rug, with the books at your elbow, and that geranium also; and you're in
the rocker, so you're really and truly in my parlor. I'm over the line
myself, and you're calling on me. Sabe? That little desk by the safe is
the express office, and you can see for yourself that the agent is out."

"Well, upon my word!" Evadna permitted herself that much emotional
relief. Then she leaned her head against the cherry-colored head-rest
tied to the chair with huge, cherry-colored bows, and took a deliberate
survey of the room.

It was a small room, as rooms go. One corner was evidently the telegraph
office, for it held a crude table, with the instruments clicking
spasmodically, form pads, letter files, and mysterious things which
piqued her curiosity. Over it was a railroad map and a makeshift
bulletin board, which seemed to give the time of certain trains.
And small-paned windows gave one sitting before the instruments an
unobstructed view up and down the track. In the corner behind the door
was a small safe, with door ajar, and a desk quite as small, with,
"Express Office: Hours, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M." on a card above it.

Under a small window opening upon the platform was another little table,
with indications of occasional ticket-selling upon it. And in the end of
the room where she sat were various little adornments--"art" calendars,
a few books, fewer potted plants, a sewing-basket, and two rugs upon the
floor, with a rocker for each. Also there was a tiny, square table, with
a pack of cards scattered over it.

"Exactly. You have it sized up correctly, my dear." Miss Georgie Howard
nodded her--head three times, and her eyes were mirthful. "It's a game.
I made it a game. I had to, in self-defense. Otherwise--" She waved
a hand conspicuous for its white plumpness and its fingers tapering
beautifully to little, pink nails immaculately kept. "I took at the
job and the place just as it stands, without anything in the way of
mitigation. Can you see yourself holding it down for longer than a week?
I've been here a month."

"I think," Evadna ventured, "it must be fun."

"Oh, yes. It's fun--if you make fun OF it. However, before we settle
down for a real visit, I've a certain duty to perform, if you will
excuse my absence for a moment. Incidentally," she added, getting lazily
out of the chair, "it will illustrate just how I manage my system."

Her absence was purely theoretical. She stepped off the rug, went to the
"express office," and took a card from the desk. When she had stood it
upright behind the inkwell, Evadna read in large, irregular capitals:


Miss Georgie Howard paid no attention to the little giggle which went
with the reading, but stepped across to the ticket desk and to the
telegraph table, and put similar cards on display. Then she came back to
the rug, plumped down in her rocker with a sigh of relief, and reached
for a large, white box--the five pounds of chocolates which she had sent

"I never eat candy when I'm in the office," she observed soberly. "I
consider it unprofessional. Help yourself as liberally as your digestion
will stand--and for Heaven's sake, gossip a little! Tell me all
about that bunch of nifty lads I see cavorting around the store
occasionally--and especially about the polysyllabic gentleman who seems
to hang out at the Peaceful Hart ranch. I'm terribly taken with him.
He--excuse me, chicken. There's a fellow down the line hollering his
head off. Wait till I see what he wants."

Again she left the rug, stepped to the telegraph instrument, and
fingered the key daintily until she had, with the other hand, turned
down the "out" card. Then she threw the switch, rattled an impatient
reply, and waited, listening to the rapid clicking of the sounder. Her
eyes and her mouth hardened as she read.

"Cad!" she gritted under her breath. Her fingers were spiteful as they
clicked the key in answer. She slammed the current off, set up the "out"
notice again, kicked the desk chair against the wall, and came back to
the "parlor" breathing quickly.

"I think it must be perfectly fascinating to talk that way to persons
miles off," said Evadna, eying the chittering sounder with something
approaching awe. "I watched your fingers, and tried to imagine what it
was they were saying--but I couldn't even guess."

Miss Georgie Howard laughed queerly. "No, I don't suppose you could,"
she murmured, and added, with a swift glance at the other: "They said,
'You go to the devil.'" She held up the offending hand and regarded it
intently. "You wouldn't think it of them, would you? But they have to
say things sometimes--in self-defense. There are two or three fresh
young men along the line that can't seem to take a hint unless you knock
them in the head with it."

She cast a malevolent look at the clicking instrument. "He's trying to
square himself," she observed carelessly. "But, unfortunately, I'm out.
He seems on the verge of tears, poor thing."

She poked investigatingly among the chocolates, and finally selected a
delectable morsel with epicurean care.

"You haven't told me about the polysyllabic young man," she reminded.
"He has held my heart in bondage since he said to Pete Hamilton
yesterday in the store--ah--" She leaned and barely reached a slip

of paper which was lying upon a row of books. "I wrote it down so I
wouldn't forget it," she explained parenthetically. "He said to Pete,
in the store, just after Pete had tried to say something funny with the
usual lamentable failure--um--'You are mentally incapable of recognizing
the line of demarcation between legitimate persiflage and objectionable
familiarity.' Now, I want to know what sort of a man, under fifty and
not a college professor, would--or could--say that without studying it
first. It sounded awfully impromptu and easy--and yet he looks--well,
cowboyish. What sort of a young man is he?"

"He's a perfectly horrid young man." Evadna leaned to help herself to
more chocolates. "He--well, just to show you how horrid, he calls me
a--a Christmas angel! And--"

"Did he!" Miss Georgie eyed her measuringly between bites. "Tag him
as being intelligent, a keen observer, with the ability to express
himself--" She broke off, and turned her head ungraciously toward the
sounder, which seemed to be repeating something over and over with a
good deal of insistence. "That's Shoshone calling," she said, frowning
attentively. "They've got an old crank up there in the office--I'd know
his touch among a million--and when he calls he means business. I'll
have to speak up, I suppose." She sighed, tucked a chocolate into her
cheek, and went scowling to the table. "Can't the idiot see I'm out?"
she complained whimsically. "What's that card for, I wonder?"

She threw the switch, rattled a reply, and then, as the sounder settled
down to a steady click-clickety-click-click, she drew a pad toward her,
pulled up the chair with her foot, sat down, and began to write the
message as it came chattering over the wire. When it was finished and
the sounder quiet, her hand awoke to life upon the key. She seemed to be
repeating the message, word for word. When she was done, she listened,
got her answer, threw off the switch with a sweep of her thumb, and
fumbled among the papers on the table until she found an envelope. She
addressed it with a hasty scrawl of her pencil, sealed it with a vicious
little spat of her hand, and then sat looking down upon it thoughtfully.

"I suppose I've got to deliver that immediately, at once, without
delay," she said. "There's supposed to be an answer. Chicken, some queer
things happen in this business. Here's that weak-eyed, hollow-chested
Saunders, that seems to have just life enough to put in about ten hours
a day reading 'The Duchess,' getting cipher messages like the hero of a
detective story. And sending them, too, by the way. We operators are not
supposed to think; but all the same--" She got her receipt-book, filled
rapidly a blank line, tucked it under her arm, and went up and tapped
Evadna lightly upon the head with the envelope. "Want to come along? Or
would you rather stay here? I won't be more than two minutes."

She was gone five; and she returned with a preoccupied air which lasted
until she had disposed of three chocolates and was carefully choosing a

"Chicken," she said then, quietly, "do you know anything about your
uncle and his affairs?" And added immediately: "The chances are ten to
one you don't, and wouldn't if you lived there till you were gray?"

"I know he's perfectly lovely," Evadna asserted warmly. "And so is Aunt

"To be sure." Miss Georgie smiled indulgently. "I quite agree with you.
And by the way, I met that polysyllabic cowboy again--and I discovered
that, on the whole, my estimate was incorrect. He's emphatically
monosyllabic. I said sixteen nice things to him while I was waiting for
Pete to wake up Saunders; and he answered in words of one syllable; one
word, of one syllable. I'm beginning to feel that I've simply got to
know that young man. There are deeps there which I am wild to explore.
I never met any male human in the least like him. Did you? So
absolutely--ah--inscrutable, let us say."

"That's just because he's part Indian," Evadna declared, with the
positiveness of youth and inexperience. "It isn't inscrutability, but
stupidity. I simply can't bear him. He's brutal, and rude. He told
me--told me, mind you--that he doesn't like women. He actually warned
me against thinking his politeness--if he ever is polite, which I
doubt--means more than just common humanity. He said he didn't want me
to misunderstand him and think he liked me, because he doesn't. He's a
perfect savage. I simply loathe him!"

"I'd certainly see that he repented, apologized, and vowed eternal
devotion," smiled Miss Georgie. "That should be my revenge."

"I don't want any revenge. I simply want nothing to do with him. I don't
want to speak to him, even."

"He's awfully good--looking," mused Miss Georgie.

"He looks to me just like an Indian. He ought to wear a blanket, like
the rest."

"Then you're no judge. His eyes are dark; but they aren't snaky, my
dear. His hair is real wavy, did you notice? And he has the dearest,
firm mouth. I noticed it particularly, because I admire a man who's
a man. He's one. He'd fight and never give up, once he started. And I
think"--she spoke hesitatingly--"I think he'd love--and never give up;
unless the loved one disappointed him in some way; and then he'd be
strong enough to go his way and not whine about it. I do hate a whiner!
Don't you?"

A shadow fell upon the platform outside the door, and Saunders appeared,
sidling deprecatingly into the room. He pulled off his black, slouched
hat and tucked it under his arm, smoothed his lank, black hair, ran his
palm down over his lank, unshaven face with a smoothing gesture, and
sidled over to the telegraph table.

"Here's the answer to that message," he said, in a limp tone, without
any especial emphasis or inflection. "If you ain't too busy, and could
send it right off--it's to go C.O.D. and make 'em repeat it, so as to be

"Certainly, Mr. Saunders." Miss Georgie rose, the crisp, businesslike
operator, and went to the table. She took the sheet of paper from him
with her finger tips, as if he were some repulsive creature whose touch
would send her shuddering, and glanced at the message. "Write it on the
regular form," she said, and pushed a pad and pencil toward him. "I have
to place it on file." Whereupon she turned her back upon him, and stood
staring down the railroad track through the smoke-grimed window until a
movement warned her that he was through.

"Very well--that is all," she said, after she had counted the words
twice. "Oh--you want to wait for the repeat."

She laid her fingers on the key and sent the message in a whirl of
chittering little sounds, waited a moment while the sounder spoke,
paused, and then began a rapid clicking, which was the repeated message,
and wrote it down upon its form.

"There--if it's correct, that's all," she told him in a tone of
dismissal, and waited openly for him to go. Which he did, after a sly
glance at Evadna, a licking of pale lips, as if he would speak but
lacked the courage, and a leering grin at Miss Georgie.

He was no sooner over the threshold than she slammed the door shut,
in spite of the heat. She walked to the window, glanced down the track
again, turned to the table, and restlessly arranged the form pads,
sticking the message upon the file. She said something under her breath,
snapped the cover on the inkwell, sighed, patted her pompadour, and
finally laughed at her own uneasiness.

"Whenever that man comes in here," she observed impatiently, "I always
feel as if I ought to clean house after him. If ever there was a human
toad--or snake, or--ugh! And what does he mean--sending twenty-word
messages that don't make sense when you read them over, and getting
others that are just a lot of words jumbled together, hit or miss? I
wish--only it's unprofessional to talk about it--but, just the same,
there's some nasty business brewing, and I know it. I feel guilty,
almost, every time I send one of those cipher messages."

"Maybe he's a detective," Evadna hazarded.

"Maybe." Miss Georgie's tone, however, was extremely skeptical. "Only,
so far as I can discover, there's never been anything around here to
detect. Nobody has been murdered, or robbed, or kidnapped that I ever
heard of. Pete Hamilton says not. And--I wonder, now, if Saunders could
be watching somebody! Wouldn't it be funny, if old Pete himself turned
out to be a Jesse James brand of criminal? Can you imagine Pete doing
anything more brutal than lick a postage stamp?"

"He might want to," Evadna guessed shrewdly, "but it would be too much

"Besides," Miss Georgie went on speculating, "Saunders never does
anything that anyone ever heard of. Sweeps out the store, they say--but
I'd hate to swear to that. I never could catch it when it looked
swept--and brings the mail sack over here twice a day, and gets one
to take back. And reads novels. Of course, the man's half dead with
consumption; but no one would object to that, if these queer wires
hadn't commenced coming to him."

"Why don't you turn detective yourself and find out?" Plainly, Evadna
was secretly laughing at her perturbed interest in the matter.

"Thanks. I'm too many things already, and I haven't any false hair or
dark lantern. And, by the way, I'm going to have the day off,
Sunday. Charlie Green is coming up to relieve me. And--couldn't we do
something?" She glanced wearily around the little office. "Honest, I'd
go crazy if I stayed here much longer without a play spell. I want to
get clear out, away from the thing--where I can't even hear a train

"Then you shall come down to the ranch the minute you can get away,
and we'll do something or go somewhere. The boys said they'd take me
fishing--but they only propose things so they can play jokes on me,
it seems to me. They'd make me fall in the river, or something, I just
know. But if you'd like to go along, there'd be two of us--"

"Chicken, we'll go. I ought to be ashamed to fish for an invitation the
way I did, but I'm not. I haven't been down to the Hart ranch yet; and
I've heard enough about it to drive me crazy with the desire to see it.
Your Aunt Phoebe I've met, and fallen in love with--that's a matter of
course. She told me to visit her just any time, without waiting to be
invited especially. Isn't she the dearest thing? Oh! that's a train
order, I suppose--sixteen is about due. Excuse me, chicken."

She was busy then until the train came screeching down upon the station,
paused there while the conductor rushed in, got a thin slip of paper for
himself and the engineer, and rushed out again. When the train grumbled
away from the platform and went its way, it left man standing there, a
fish-basket slung from one shoulder, a trout rod carefully wrapped in
its case in his hand, a box which looked suspiciously like a case of
some bottled joy at his feet, and a loose-lipped smile upon his face.

"Howdy, Miss Georgie?" he called unctuously through the open door.

Miss Georgie barely glanced at him from under her lashes, and her
shoulders indulged themselves in an almost imperceptible twitch.

"How do you do, Mr. Baumberger?" she responded coolly, and very, very
gently pushed the door shut just as he had made up his mind to enter.

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Previous: The Christmas Angel Plays Ghost

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