6. A Newspaper
Seth was bending over his work among the potatoes. It was a large order, for there were more than five acres of it. Every time he stood erect to ease his back he scanned the distance in the direction of the White River. Each time he bent again over his hoe, it was with a dissatisfied look on his sunburnt face. He made up his mind that Rosebud was playing truant again. He cared nothing for the fact of the truancy, but the direction in which his eyes turned whenever he looked up displayed his real source of dissatisfaction. Rosebud had been out since the midday dinner, and he guessed where she was. The mosquitoes worried him to-day, which meant that his temper was ruffled.
Suddenly he paused. But this time he didn't look round. He heard the sound of galloping hoofs racing across the prairie. Continuing his work, he roughly estimated the distance the rider was away.
He gave no sign at all until Rosebud's voice called to him.
"Seth, I've come to help you hoe," she said.
The man saw that the horse was standing pawing the ground among the potatoes.
"I take it friendly of you," he said, eyeing the havoc the animal was creating. "Guess that horse o' yours has intentions that aways too. They're laud'ble, but misplaced."
The girl checked the creature, and turned him off the patch. Then she quietly slid to the ground and removed her saddle and bridle, and drove him off out on the prairie for a roll.
"I'm so sorry, Seth! I'm afraid he's made a mess of these plants."
Rosebud stooped and tried to repair the damage her horse had done. She did not look in Seth's direction, but her smiling face conveyed nothing of her regret. Presently she stood up and stepped gingerly along the furrows toward the man.
"Did you bring a hoe out for me?" she asked innocently.
But her companion was used to the wiles of this tyrant.
"Guess not," he said quietly. "Didn't reckon you'd get back that soon. Say, Rosebud, you'd best git out o' those fixin's if you're going to git busy with a hoe. Ma has her notions."
"Ye-es. Do you think I'm getting any better with a hoe?"
The eyes that looked up into Seth's face were candidly inquiring. There was not a shadow of a smile on the man's face when he answered.
"I've a notion you have few equals with a hoe."
"I was afraid----"
"Ah, that's always the way of folks wi' real talent. Guess you're an eddication with a hoe."
Seth went on with his work until Rosebud spoke again. She was looking away out across the prairie, and her eyes were just a trifle troubled.
"Then I'd best get my things changed and--bring out a hoe. How many rows do you think I could do before tea?"
"That mostly depends on how many p'tater plants git in your way, I guess."
The girl's face suddenly wreathed itself in smiles.
"There, you're laughing at me, and--well, I was going to help you, but now I shan't. I've been down to see my Wanaha. Seth, you ought to have married her. She's the sweetest creature--except Ma--I know. I think it's a pity she married Nevil Steyne. He's a queer fellow. I never know what to make of him. He's kind to her, and he's kind to me--which I'm not sure I like--but I somehow don't like his eyes. They're blue, and I don't like blue eyes. And I don't believe he ever washes. Do you?"
Seth replied without pausing in his work. He even seemed to put more force into it, for the hoe cut into the earth with a vicious ring. But he avoided her direct challenge.
"Guess I haven't a heap of regard for no Injuns nor squaws. I've no call to. But I allow Wanaha's a good woman."
Just for a moment the girl's face became very serious.
"I'm glad you say that, Seth. I knew you wouldn't say anything else; you're too generous. Wanaha is good. Do you know she goes to the Mission because she loves it? She helps us teach the little papooses because she believes in the 'God of the white folks,' she says. I know you don't like me to see so much of her, but somehow I can't help it. Seth, do you believe in foreboding?"
"Can't say I'd gamble a heap that aways."
"Well, I don't know, but I believe it's a good thing that Wanaha loves me--loves us all. She has such an influence over people."
Seth looked up at last. The serious tone of the girl was unusual. But as he said nothing, and simply went on with his work, Rosebud continued.
"Sometimes I can't understand you, Seth. I know, generally speaking, you have no cause to like Indians, while perhaps I have. You see, I have always known them. But you seem to have taken exception only to Little Black Fox and Wanaha as far as I am concerned. You let me teach the Mission children, you even teach them yourself, yet, while admitting Wanaha's goodness, you get angry with me for seeing her. As for Little Black Fox, he is the chief. He's a great warrior, and acknowledged by even the agent and missionary to be the best chief the Rosebuds have ever had. Quite different from his father."
"Guess that's so."
"Then why--may I not talk to them? And, oh, Seth"--the girl's eyes danced with mischief--"he is such a romantic fellow. You should hear him talk in English. He talks--well, he has much more poetry in him than you have."
"Which is mostly a form of craziness," observed Seth, quite unruffled.
"Well, I like craziness."
Seth's occasional lapses into monosyllables annoyed Rosebud. She never understood them. Now there came a gleam of anger into her eyes, and their color seemed to have changed to a hard gray.
"Well, whether you like it or not, you needn't be so ill-tempered about it."
Seth looked up in real astonishment at this unwarrantable charge, and his dark eyes twinkled as he beheld Rosebud's own evident anger.
He shook his head regretfully, and cut out a bunch of weeds with his hoe.
"Guess I'm pretty mean," he said, implying that her assertion was correct.
"Yes." Rosebud's anger was like all her moods, swift rising and as swift to pass. Now it was approaching its zenith. "And to show you how good Wanaha is, look at this." She unfolded her parcel and threw the paper down, disclosing the perfect moccasins the Indian had made for her. "Aren't they lovely? She didn't forget it was my birthday, like--like----"
"Ah, so it is." Seth spoke as though he had just realized the fact of her birthday.
"Aren't they lovely?" reiterated the girl. Her anger had passed. She was all smiles again.
"Indian," said Seth, with a curious click of the tongue, which Rosebud was quick to interpret into an expression of scorn.
"Yes," she exclaimed, firing up again, and her eyes sparkling. "And I like Indian things, and I like Indian people, and I like Little Black Fox. He's nice, and isn't always sneering. And I shall see them all when I like. And--and you can do the hoeing yourself."
She walked off toward the house without the least regard for the potatoes, which now suffered indiscriminately. Her golden head was held very high, but she had less dignity than she thought, for she stumbled in the furrows as she went.
She went straight into the house and up to her room; but she could not fling herself upon her bed and cry, as she probably intended to do. Three large parcels occupied its entire narrow limits. Each was addressed to her, wishing her all happiness on her birthday, and the biggest of the three was from Seth. So, failing room anywhere else, she sat in her rocking-chair, and, instead of an angry outburst, she shed a few quiet, happy tears.
Meanwhile Seth continued his work as though nothing had interrupted him. It was not until supper-time, and he was making his way to the house, that he happened to observe the newspaper which Rosebud had left lying among the potatoes. He stepped across the intervening furrows and picked it up. Newspapers always interested him, he saw so few.
This one, he saw at once, was an English paper. And from London at that. He glanced at the date, and saw that was nearly a month old, and, at the same time, he saw that it was addressed to Nevil Steyne, and beside the address was a note in blue pencil, "Page 3."
His curiosity was aroused, and he turned over to the page indicated. There was a long paragraph marked by four blue crosses. It was headed--
"The Estate of the Missing Colonel Raynor."
Seth read the first few lines casually. Then, as he went on, a curious look crept into his dark eyes, his clean-shaven face took on an expression of strained interest, and his lips closed until they were lost in a straight line which drew down at the corners of his mouth. He read on to the end, and then quietly folded up the paper, and stuffed it into the bosom of his shirt. Once he turned and looked away in the direction in which Nevil Steyne's hut lay tucked away on the river bank. Then he shouldered his hoe and strolled leisurely homeward.