Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 19 THE MAN IN AKKOMI’S CLOAK.

  • “My dear fellow, there is, of course, no way of thanking you sufficiently fo_our care of her; but I can only say I am mighty glad to know a man like you.”
  • It was Mr. Seldon who said so, and Dan Overton looked embarrassed an_eprecating under the praise he had to accept.
  • “It is all right for you to make a fuss over it, Seldon,” he returned; “bu_ou know, as well as you know dinner time, that you would have done no less i_ou had found a young girl anywhere without a home—and especially if you foun_er in an Indian camp.”
  • “Did she give you any information as to how she came to be there?”
  • Overton looked at him good-naturedly, but shook his head.
  • “I can’t give you any information about that,” he answered. “If you want t_now anything of her previous to meeting her here, she will have to tell you.”
  • “But she won’t. I can’t understand it; for I can see no need of mystery. _new her mother when she was a girl like ’Tana, and—”
  • “You did?”
  • “Yes, I did. So now, perhaps, you will understand why I take such an interes_n her—why Mr. Haydon takes an interest in her. Simply because she is hi_iece.”
  • “Oh, she is—is she? And he came here, found her dying, or next door to it, an_ever claimed her.”
  • “No; that is a little way of his,” acknowledged his partner. “If she ha_eally died, he never would have said a word about it, for it would hav_aused him a lot of troublesome explanation at home. But I guess he knew _ould be likely to come across her. She is the very image of what her mothe_as. He told me the whole story of how he found her here, and all. And now h_ants to do the proper thing and take her home with him.”
  • “The devil he does!” growled Overton. “Well, why do you come to me about it?”
  • “Your influence with her was one thing,” answered Mr. Seldon, with a dubiou_mile at the dark face before him. “This _protégée_ of yours has a will of he_wn, it seems, and refuses utterly to acknowledge her aristocratic relations, refuses to be a part of her uncle’s household; and we want your influenc_oward changing her mind.”
  • “Well, you’ll never get it,” and the tone was decided as the words. “If sh_ays she is no relation to anybody, I’ll back her up in it, and not ask he_er reasons, either. If she doesn’t want to go with Mr. Haydon, she is th_nly one I will allow to decide, unless he brings a legal order from som_ourt, and I might try to hinder him even then. She willingly came under m_uardianship, and when she leaves it, it must be willingly.”
  • “Oh, of course there will be no coercion about the matter,” explained Mr.
  • Seldon, hastily. “But don’t you, yourself, think it would be a decide_dvantage for her to live for a while with her own relatives?”
  • “I am in no position to judge. I don’t know her relatives. I don’t know why i_s that she has not been taken care of by them long ago; and I am not askin_ny questions. She knows, and that is enough; and I am sure her reasons fo_ot going would satisfy me.”
  • “Well, you are a fine specimen to come to for influence,” observed the other.
  • “She has a grudge against Haydon, that is the obstacle—a grudge, because h_uarreled with her mother long ago. I thought that as you have done so muc_or her, your word might have weight in showing her the folly of it.”
  • “My word would have no more weight than yours,” he answered, curtly. “All _ave done for her amounts to nothing; and I’ve an idea that if she wanted m_o know her family affairs, she would tell me.”
  • “Which, interpreted, means that I had better be at other business tha_ossiping,” said Mr. Seldon, with much good humor. “Well, you are a fine pair, and something alike, too—you goldfinders! She snubbed Max for trying t_ersuade her, and you snub me. As a last resort, I think I shall try to ge_hat old Indian into our lobbying here. He is her next great friend, I hear.”
  • “I haven’t seen him in camp to-day, for a wonder; but he is sure to be aroun_efore night.”
  • “But, you see, we are to go on up to the new works on the lake to-day, and b_ack day after to-morrow. I wish you, too, could go up to-morrow, for I woul_ike your judgment about some changes we expect to make. Could you leave her_or twenty-four hours?”
  • “I’ll try,” promised Overton. “But the new men from the Ferry will be up to- day or to-morrow, so I may not reach there until you are about ready to star_ack.”
  • “Come anyway, if you can, I don’t seem to get much chance to talk to you her_n camp—maybe I could on the river. You may be in a more reasonable mood about ’Tana by that time, and try to influence her to partake of civilization.”
  • “‘Civilization!’ Oh, yes, of course, you imagine it all lies east of th_ppalachian range,” remarked Overton, slightingly. “I expect that from a ma_f Haydon’s stamp, but not from you.”
  • Seldon only laughed.
  • “One would think you had been born and bred out here in the West,” h_emarked, “while you are really only an importation. But what is that racke_bout?”
  • For screeches were sounding from the cabin—cries, feminine and frightened.
  • Overton and Seldon started for it, as did several of the workmen, but thei_aste slackened as they saw ’Tana leaning against a doorway and laughing, while the squaw stood near her, chuckling a little as a substitute fo_erriment.
  • But there were two others within the cabin who were by no means merry—the tw_ousins, who were standing huddled together on the couch, uttering spasmodi_creeches at every movement made by a little gray snake on the floor.
  • It had crept in at a crevice, and did not know how to make its escape from th_oisy shelter it had found. Its fright was equal to that of the women, for i_ppeared decidedly restless, and each uneasy movement of it was a signal fo_resh screams.
  • “Oh, Mr. Overton! I beg of you, kill the horrible reptile!” moaned Mis_locum, who at that moment was as indifferent to the proprieties as Mrs.
  • Huzzard, and was displaying considerable white hosiery and black gaiter tops.
  • “Oh, lawsy! It is coming this way again. Ooh—ooh—h!” and Mrs. Huzzard did _ittle dance from one foot to the other, in a very ecstasy of fear. “Oh, Lavina, I’ll never forgive myself for advising you to come out to this Idah_ountry! Oh, Lord! won’t somebody kill it?”
  • “Why, there is no need to fear that little thing,” said Overton. “Really, i_s not a snake to bite—no more harm in it than in a mouse.”
  • “A _mouse_!” they both shrieked. “Oh, please take it away.”
  • Just then Akkomi came in through the other cabin, and, hearing the shrieks, simply stooped and picked up the little stranger in his hand, holding it tha_hey might see how harmless it was.
  • But, instead of pacifying them, as he had kindly intended, they only cowere_gainst the wall, too horrified even to scream, while they gazed at the ol_ndian, as at something just from the infernal regions.
  • “Lord, have mercy on our souls,” muttered Lavina, in a sepulchral tone, an_ith pallid, almost moveless, lips.
  • “Forever and ever, amen,” added Lorena Jane, clutching her drapery a littl_loser, and a little higher.
  • And not until Overton persuaded Akkomi to throw the frightened little thin_way did they consent to move from their pedestal. Even then it was with fea_nd trembling, and many an awful glance toward the placid old Indian, wh_moked his pipe and never glanced toward them.
  • “Never again will I sleep in that room—not if I die for it!” announced Mrs.
  • Huzzard, and Miss Slocum was of the same mind.
  • “But the cabin is as safe as a tent,” said ’Tana, persuasively, “and, really, it was not a dangerous snake.”
  • “Ooh—h! I beg that you will not mention it,” shivered Miss Slocum. “For m_art, I don’t expect to sleep anywhere after this terrible experience. Bu_’ll go wherever Lorena Jane goes, and do what I can to comfort and protec_er, while she rests.”
  • Akkomi sat on Harris’ doorstep, and smoked, while they argued on the danger_round them, and were satisfied only when Overton put a tent at thei_isposal. They proceeded to have hammocks swung in it on poles set for th_urpose, as they could feel safe on no bed resting on the ground.
  • “But, really, my conscience troubles me about leaving you here alone, ’Tana,” said Mrs. Huzzard, and Overton also looked at her as if interested in he_omfort.
  • “Well, your conscience had better give itself a rest, if that is all it has t_isturb it,” she answered. “I don’t care the least bit about staying alone—_ather like it; though, if I need any one, I’ll have Flap-Jacks stay.”
  • So Overton left them to their arrangements, and said nothing to ’Tana; but a_eldon and Haydon were about to embark, he spoke to the former.
  • “I may not be able to get up there after all, as I may feel it necessary to b_ere at night, so don’t wait for me.”
  • “All right, Overton; but we’d like to have you.”
  • After the others had left the cabin, Akkomi still remained, and the gir_atched him uneasily but did not speak. She talked to Harris, telling him o_he funny actions of the two frightened women, but all the time she talked an_ried to entertain the helpless man, it was with an evident effort, for th_ark old Indian’s face at the door was constantly drawing her attention.
  • When she finally entered her own room, he appeared at the entrance, and, afte_ careful glance, to see that no one was near, he entered and spoke:
  • “’Tana, it is now two suns since we talked. Will you go to-day in my boat fo_ little ways?”
  • “No,” she said, angrily. “Go home to your tepee, Akkomi, and tell the ma_here I am sorry he is not dead. I never will see him again. I go away fro_his place now—very soon—maybe this week. What becomes of him I do not care, and it will be long before I come back.”
  • He muttered some words of regret, and she turned to him more kindly.
  • “Yes, I know, Akkomi, you are my good friend. You think it is right to do wha_ou are doing now. Maybe it is; maybe I am wrong. But I will not be differen_n this matter—never—never!”
  • “If he should come here—”
  • “He would not dare. There are people here he had better fear. Give him th_ames of Seldon and of Haydon.”
  • “He knows; but it is the new miners he fears most; they come from all parts.
  • He wants money.”
  • “Let him work for it, like an honest man,” she said, curtly. “Don’t talk of i_gain. I will not go outside the camp alone, and I will not listen to any mor_ords about it. Now mind that!”
  • In the other cabin, Harris listened intently to each word uttered. His eye_airly blazed in his eagerness to hear ’Tana’s final decision. But when Akkom_louched past his door, and peered in, with his sharp, quick eyes, he ha_elapsed again into the apathetic state habitual to him. To all appearances h_ad not heard their words, and the old Indian walked thoughtfully past th_ents and out into the timber.
  • Lyster called some light greeting to him, but he barely looked up and made n_eply whatever. His thoughts were evidently on other things than cam_ociabilities.
  • It was dark when he returned, and his fit of thoughtfulness was yet upon him, for he spoke to no one. Overton, who had been talking to Harris, noticed hi_moking beside the door as he came out.
  • “You had better bring your camp down here,” he remarked, ironically. “Well, for to-night you will have to spread your blanket in this room if Harri_oesn’t object. That is what I am to do, for I’ve given up my quarters to th_adies, who are afraid of snakes.”
  • Akkomi nodded, and then Overton moved nearer the door again.
  • “Jim, I may not be back for an hour or so. I am going either on the water o_p on the mountain for a little while. Don’t lie awake for me, and I’ll send _ellow in to look after you.”
  • Harris nodded, and ’Tana, in her own room, heard Overton’s steps die away i_he night. He was going on the water or on the mountains—the places she love_o go, and dared not.
  • She felt like calling after him to wait to take her with him once more, an_id rise and go to the door, but no farther.
  • Lights were gleaming all along the little stream; laughter and men’s voice_ame to her across the level. Her own corner of the camp looked very dark an_hadowy in comparison. But she turned back to it with a sigh.
  • “You may go, Flap-Jacks,” she said to the squaw. “I don’t mind being alone, but first fix the bed of Harris.”
  • She noticed Akkomi outside the door, but did not speak to him. She heard th_iner enter the other cabin and assist Harris to his couch and then depart.
  • She wondered a little that the old Indian still sat there smoking, instead o_preading his blanket, as Overton had invited him to do.
  • A book of poems, presented to her by Lyster, was so engrossing, however, tha_he forgot the old fellow, until a movement at the door aroused her, and sh_urned to find the silent smoker inside her cabin.
  • But it was not Akkomi, though it was the cloak of Akkomi that fell from hi_houlders.
  • It was a man dressed as an Indian, but his speech was the speech of a whit_an, as he frowned on her white, startled face.
  • “So, my fine lady, I’ve found you at last, even if you have got too high an_ighty to come when I sent for you,” he said, growlingly. “But I’ll chang_our tune very quick for you.”
  • “Don’t forget that I can change yours,” she retorted. “A word from me, and yo_now there is not a man in this camp wouldn’t help land you where yo_elong—in a prison, or at the end of a rope.”
  • “Oh, no,” and he grimaced in a sardonic way. “I’m not a bit afraid of that—no_ bit in the world. You can’t afford it. These high-toned friends you’ve bee_aking might drop off a little if they heard your old record.”
  • “And who made it for me?” she demanded. “You! You’ve been a curse to every on_onnected with you. In that other room is a man who might be strong and wel_o-day but for you. And there is that girl buried over there by the pictur_ocks of Arrow Lake. Think of my mother, dragged to death through the slums of ’Frisco! And me—”
  • “And you with a gold mine, or the price of one,” he concluded—“plenty of mone_nd plenty of friends. That is about the facts of your case—friends, fro_illionaires down to that digger I saw you with the other night.”
  • “Don’t you dare say a word against him!” she exclaimed, threateningly.
  • “Oh, that’s the way the land lies, is it?” he asked, with an ugly leer at her.
  • “And that is why you were playing ’meet me by moonlight alone,’ that nigh_hen I saw you together at the spring. Well, I think your money might help yo_o some one besides a married man.”
  • “A married man?” she gasped. “Dan!”
  • “Dan, it is,” he answered, insolently. “But you needn’t faint away on tha_ccount. I have other use for you—I want some money.”
  • “You are telling that lie about him because you think it will trouble me,” sh_aid, regarding his painted face closely and giving no heed to his demand.
  • “You know it is not true.”
  • “About the marriage? I’ll swear—”
  • “I would not believe your oath for anything.”
  • “Oh, you wouldn’t? Well, now, what if I prove to you, right in this camp, tha_ know his wife?”
  • “His wife?” She sat down on the side of the couch, and all the cabin seeme_hirling around her.
  • “Well—a girl he married. You may call her what you please. She had been calle_ good many things before he picked her up. Humph! Now that he has struck i_ich, some one ought to let her know. She’d make the dollars fly.”
  • “It is not true! It is not _true_!” she murmured to herself, as if by th_ords she could drive away the possibility of it.
  • He appeared to enjoy the sensation he had created.
  • “It is true,” he answered—“every word of it, and he has been keeping quie_bout it, has he? Well, see here. You don’t believe me—do you? Now, while _as waiting there at the door, a man came in to put your paralyzed partner t_ed. The man was Jake Emmons—used to hang out at Spokane. He knew Lotti_nyder before this Overton did—and after Overton married her, too, I guess.
  • You ask him anything you want to know of it. He can tell you—if he will.”
  • She did not answer. She feared, as he talked, that it was true; and she longe_or him to go away, that she could think alone. The hot blood burned in he_heeks, as she remembered that night by the Twin Springs. The humiliation o_t, if it proved true!
  • “But, see here, ’Tana. I didn’t come here to talk about your virtuous ranger.
  • I want some money—enough to cut the country. It ain’t any more than fair, anyway, that you divide with me, for if it hadn’t been for that sneaking houn_n the other room, half of this find would have been mine a year ago.”
  • “It will do more good where it is,” she answered. “He did right not to trus_ou. And if he were able to walk, you would not be allowed to live man_inutes within reach of him.”
  • “Oh, yes; I know he was trailing me,” he answered, indifferently, “but it wa_o hard trick to keep out of his road. I suppose you let him know you approv_f his feelings toward me.”
  • “Yes, I would load a gun for him to use on you if he were able to hold it,” she answered, and he seemed to think her words amusing.
  • “You have mighty little regard for your duty to me,” he observed.
  • “Duty? I can’t owe you any duty when I never received any from you. I a_early seventeen, and in all the years I remember you, I can’t recall any goo_ct you have ever done for me.”
  • “Nearly seventeen,” and he smiled at her in the way she hated. “Didn’t you_ew uncle, Haydon, tell you better than that? You are nearly eighteen year_ld.”
  • “Eighteen!” and she rose in astonishment. “I?”
  • “You—though you don’t look it. You always were small for your age, so I jus_old you a white lie about it in order to manage you better. But that is over; I don’t care what you do in the future. All I want of you is money to get t_outh America; so fix it up for me.”
  • “I ought to refuse, and call them in to arrest you.”
  • “But you won’t,” he rejoined. “You can’t afford it.”
  • He watched her, though, with some uncertainty, as she sat silent, thinking.
  • “No, I can’t afford it,” she said, at last. “I will be doing wrong to hel_ou, just as if I let a poison snake loose where people travel—for that i_hat you are. But I am not strong enough to let these friends go and star_ver again; so I will help you away this once.”
  • He drew a breath of relief, and gathered up his blanket.
  • “That is the way to talk. You’ve got a level head—”
  • “That will do,” she said, curtly. “I don’t want praise from a coward, a thief, or a murderer. You are all three. I have no money here. You will have to com_gain for it to-morrow night.”
  • “A trick—is it?”
  • “It is no trick. I haven’t got it, that is all. Maybe I can’t get it in money, but I will get it in free gold by to-morrow at dusk. I will put it here unde_he pillow, and will manage to keep the rest away at that time. You can com_s you came this evening, and get it; but I will neither take it nor send i_o you. You will have to risk your freedom and your life to come for it. Bu_hile I can’t quite decide to give you up or to kill you, myself, I hope som_ne else will.”
  • “Hope what you please,” he returned, indifferently. “So long as you get th_ust for me, I can stand your opinion. And you will have it here?”
  • “I will have it here.”
  • “I trust you only because I know you can’t afford to go back on me,” he said, as he wrapped the blanket around him, and dropped his taller form to th_eight of Akkomi. “It is a bargain, then, my dear. Good-night.”
  • “I don’t wish you a good-night,” she answered. “I hope I shall never see yo_live again.”
  • And she never did.