The Watchers


12. Cross Purposes

Seth was out haying. It was noon, and his dinner hour. He and his old collie dog, General, were taking their leisure on the slope of Red Willow slough, while the horses, relieved of their bits and traces, were nibbling at the succulent roots of the grass over which the mower had already passed.

General possessed a sense of duty. His master was apparently sleeping, with his prairie hat drawn over his face. The dog crouched at his feet, struggling hard to keep his eyes open, and remain alert while the other rested from his labors. But the sun was hot, the scent of the grass overpowering, and it was difficult.

At last the man roused and sat up. The dog sprang to his feet. His ears were pricked, and he raced off across the slough. As he went, the sound of wheels became distinctly audible. Rosebud, seated in a buckboard, and driving the old farm mare, Hesper, appeared on the opposite side of the slough. She was bringing Seth his dinner.

A moment later the girl drew rein and sprang out of the vehicle. The heat in no way weighed upon her spirits. She looked as fresh and cool in her white linen dress and sun-hat as if it were an early spring day. Her laughing face was in marked contrast to the man's dark, serious countenance. Her dazzling eyes seemed to be endowed with something of the brilliancy of the sunlight that was so intensely pouring down upon them.

"Oh, Seth, I'm so sorry!" she cried, in anything but a penitent tone, "but just as I was starting Wana came up with a note for you, and I'm afraid we stopped and talked, and you know what a dozy old mare Hesper is, and she just went slower than ever, and I hadn't the heart to whack her, she's such a dear, tame old thing, and so I'm ever so late, and I'm afraid your dinner's all spoiled, and you'll be horribly angry."

But Seth displayed no anger; he only held out his hand.

"An' the note?"

Rosebud thought for a moment. "Whatever did I do with it?" she said, looking about her on the ground. Seth watched her a little anxiously.

"Who was it from?" he asked.

"Oh, just the old Agent. I don't suppose it was important, but I know I put it somewhere."

"Guess so."

Seth lifted the dinner-box out of the buckboard. Suddenly Rosebud's face cleared.

"That's it, Seth. I put it in there. In with the dinner. Oh, and, Seth, I got Ma to let me bring my dinner out, so we can have a picnic, you and I, and General."

Seth was bending over the box.

"Then I guess your dinner's kind o' spoiled too," he said.

"Oh, that doesn't matter so long as yours isn't. You see it's my own fault, and serves me right. If it's very nasty we can give it all to General; so it won't be wasted."

"No, it won't be wasted."

Rosebud watched her companion remove the things from the box, and wondered if he were glad or sorry that she was going to have her dinner with him. She had been wildly delighted at the thought of springing this surprise on him, but now she felt doubtful, and a certain shyness kept her usually busy tongue silent. She would have given much to know what Seth thought. That was just where she found the man so unsatisfactory. She never did know what he really thought about anything.

Seth found the note, and put it in his pocket. Now he set their meal on the newly cut grass. Rosebud, with a thoughtfulness hardly to be expected of her, turned Hesper loose. Then she sat down beside General and put the tin dishes straight, according to her fancy. In silence she helped Seth to a liberal portion of lukewarm stew, and cut the bread. Then she helped the dog, and, finally, herself.

"Ma's a dear!" she suddenly exclaimed, when the silence had become irksome to her. "She's making me a new dress. It's a secret, and I'm not supposed to know."

"Ah! An' how d' you find out?"

"Oh, I asked Pa," Rosebud laughed. "I knew it was something for me. So when he went to look at the new litter of piggies this morning I went with him, and just asked him. I promised not to give him away. Isn't she a dear?"

"Sure. Guess you like dress fixin's."

"Love them."

"Most gals do, I reckon."

"Well, you see, Seth, most girls love to look nice. Mrs. Rankin, even, says that she'd give the world to get hold of a good dressmaker, and she's married. Do you know even Wana likes pretty things, and that's just what I'd like to talk to you about. You see, I've got twenty dollars saved, and I just thought I would get Wana a nice dress, like white people wear. I mean a good one. Do you know what store I could send to in Sioux City, or Omaha, or even New York?"

"I ain't much knowledge o' stores an' things. But I 'lows it's a good notion."

The man's brown eyes looked over at the girl as she plied her knife and fork.

"Maybe," he went on, a moment later, "ther' ain't no need to spend them twenty dollars. I've got some. Say, you talk to Ma an' fix the letter an' I'll mail it."

The girl looked up. Seth's kindness had banished the ready laugh for the moment. If her tongue remained silent her eyes spoke. But Seth was concerned with his food and saw nothing. Rosebud did not even tender thanks. She felt that she could not speak thanks at that moment. Her immediate inclination was a childish one, but the grown woman in her checked it. A year ago she would have acted differently. At last Seth broke the silence.

"Say, Rosebud," he said. "How'd you like a heap o' dollars?"

But the girl's serious mood had not yet passed. She held out her plate to General, and replied, without looking at her companion.

"That depends," she said. "You see, I wouldn't like to marry a man with lots of money. Girls who do are never happy. Ma said so. The only other way to have money is by being clever, and writing, or painting, or play-acting. And I'm not clever, and don't want to be. Then there are girls who inherit money, but----"

"That's jest it," broke in Seth.

"Just what?" Rosebud turned from the dog and eyed her companion curiously.

"Why, s'pose it happened you inherited them dollars?"

"But I'm not likely to."

"That's so. But we know your folks must a' been rich by your silk fixin's. Guess you ain't thought o' your folks."

The girl's sunburnt face took on a confident little smile as she looked out from under the wide brim of her hat.

"Oh, yes, I have. I've thought a lot. Where are they, and why don't they come out and look for me? I can't remember them, though I try hard. Every time I try I go back to Indians--always Indians. I know I'm not an Indian," she finished up naïvely.

"No." Seth lit his pipe. "Guess if we did find 'em you'd have to quit the farm."

There was a short silence.

"Seth, you're always looking for them, I know. Why do you look for them? I don't want them." Rosebud was patting the broad back of General. "Do you know, sometimes I think you want to be rid of me. I'm a trouble to you, I know."

"'Tain't that exactly."

Seth's reply sounded different to what he intended. It sounded to the girl as if he really was seeking her parents to be rid of her. And his manner was so deliberate, so short. She scrambled to her feet without a word, and began to gather up the dishes. Seth smoked on for a moment or two. But as Rosebud showed no sign of continuing the conversation he, too, rose in silence, and went over to Hesper and hitched her to the buckboard. Then he came back and carried the dinner-box to the vehicle, while Rosebud mounted to the driving-seat.

"Seth," she said, and her face was slightly flushed, and a little sparkle of resentment was in her eyes, "when you find them I'll go away. I never looked at it as you do. Yes, I think I should like that heap of dollars."

Seth smiled slowly. But he didn't quite understand her answer.

"Wal, you see, Rosebud, I'm glad you take it that aways. You see it's better you should go. Yes, much better."

His thoughts had turned on the Reservations, that one direction in which they ever seemed to turn. Rosebud was thinking in another direction. Seth wanted to be rid of her, and was meanly cloaking his desire under the guise of her worldly welfare. The angry flush deepened, and she sat very erect with her head held high as she drove off. Nor did she turn for her parting shot.

"I hope you'll find them; I want to go," she said.

Seth made no answer. He watched her until the vehicle dropped down behind the brow of the farther slope. The girl's attitude was as dignified as she could make it while she remained in view. After that it was different. And Seth failed to realize that he had not made his meaning plain. He saw that Rosebud was angry, but he did not pause to consider the cause of her anger.

He stood where she had left him for some time. He found his task harder than ever he had thought it would be. But his duty lay straight before him, and, with all his might, he would have hurried on his letter to England if he could. He knew he could see far ahead in the life of his little world as it affected himself and those he loved. He might be a dull-witted lover, but he was keen and swift to scent danger here on the plains; and that was what he had already done. Cost him what it might, Rosebud must be protected, and this protection meant her removal.

He sighed and turned back to his work, but before he went on with it he opened and read the note which Rosebud had thought so unimportant.

He read it twice over.

"Little Black Fox applied for 'pass' for hunting. He will probably leave the Reservation in three weeks' time. He will take a considerable number of braves with him; I cannot refuse.

"J. P."