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LIFE ADJUSTS ITSELF AGAIN TO SOME THINGS
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?"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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