Read CHAPTER XII of Desert Conquest / Precious Waters, free online book, by A. M. Chisholm, on ReadCentral.com.

When daylight fully disclosed the wreck, and also his night watchman lying helpless out of harm’s way, Farwell was in a savage temper. Never before, in all his career, had anything like that been put over on him. And the knowledge that he had been sent there for the express purpose of preventing anything of the kind did not improve matters. He hated to put the news on the wire to admit to headquarters that the ranchers apparently had caught him napping. But, having dispatched his telegram, he set his energies to finding some clew to the perpetrators of the outrage.

He drew a large and hopeless blank in Kelly, the watchman. Mr. Kelly’s films ran smoothly up to a certain point, after which they were not even a blur. The Stygian darkness of his hiatus refused to lift by questioning. He had neither seen nor heard anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. About one o’clock in the morning he had laid down his pipe to rest his long-suffering tongue. Immediately afterward, so far as his recollection went, he found himself tied up, half smothered, with aching jaws and a dull pain in his head.

Farwell metaphorically bade this unsatisfactory witness stand aside, and proceeded to investigate the gunny sack, the rope that had tied him, and the rag and stick that had gagged him. Whatever information these might have given to M. Lecoq, S. Holmes, or W. Burns, they yielded none to Farwell, who next inspected the ground. Here, also, he found nothing. There were footmarks in plenty, but he could not read them. Though in the first flare of the explosion he had glimpsed three or four running figures, his eyes had been too dazzled to receive an accurate impression.

“Maybe an Australian nigger or a Mohave trailer could work this out,” he said in disgust to his assistant, Keeler. “I can’t.”

“Well, say,” said young Keeler, “talking about Indians how about old Simon over there? Might try him.”

He pointed. Just above the dam an Indian sat on a pinto pony, gazing stolidly at the wreck. His hair streaked with gray, was braided, and fell below his shoulders on either side. His costume was that of ordinary civilization, save for a pair of new, tight moccasins. Having apparently all the time there was, he had been a frequent spectator of operations, squatting by the hour watching the work. Occasionally his interest had been rewarded by a meal or a plug of tobacco. These things he had accepted without comment and without thanks. His taciturnity and gravity seemed primeval.

“Huh! That old beat!” said Farwell contemptuously. “Every Indian can’t trail. However, we can’t, that’s sure. Maybe he can make a bluff at it. Go and get him.”

Keeler brought up old Simon, and Farwell endeavoured to explain what was wanted in language which he considered suited to the comprehension of a representative of the original North American race. He had a smattering of Chinook, and for the rest he depended on gestures and a loud voice, having the idea that every man can understand English if it be spoken loudly enough.

“Simon,” said he, “last night bad man come and mamook raise heap hell. Him blow up dam. You savvy ‘dam,’ hey?”

“Ah-ha!” Simon grunted proudly. “Me kumtuks. Me kumtuks hell. Me kumtuks dam. Dam good, dam bad; godam

“No, no!” rasped Farwell. “Halo cuss word no bad word no. D-a-m, ‘dam.’ Oh, Lord, the alphabet’s wasted on him, of course. What’s Siwash for dam, Keeler?”

“Search me,” said Keeler; “but ‘pence’ is Chinook for fence, and ‘chuck’ means water. Try him with that.” And Farwell tried again.

“Now, see, Simon! Last night hiyu cultus man come. Bring dynamite hiyu skookum powder. Put um in dam in chuck pence. Set um off. Mamook poo! all same shoot. Bang! Whoosh! Up she go!” He waved his hand at the wreck. “You kumtuks that?”

Simon nodded, understanding.

Mamook bang,” said he; “mamook bust!”

“Right,” Farwell agreed. “Cultus man come at night. Dark. Black. No see um.” He made a footprint in the earth, pointed at it, and then to Simon, and waved a hand at the horizon generally. “You find trail, follow, catch um. Hey, can you do that, Simon? And I’ll bet,” he added to Keeler, “the infernal old blockhead doesn’t understand a word I’ve said.”

But Simon’s reply indicated not only comprehension, but a tolerable acquaintance with modern business methods. Said he:

“How moch you give?”

Keeler grinned. “I think he gets you,” he commented.

“I guess he does,” Farwell admitted. “How much you want?”

“Hundred dolla’!” Simon answered promptly.

“Like blazes!” snapped Farwell. “You blasted, copper-hided old Shylock, I’ll give you five!”

Simon held out his hand. The gesture was unmistakable.

“And they say an Indian doesn’t know enough to vote!” said Farwell. He laid a five-dollar bill in the smoky palm. “Now get busy and earn it.”

Simon inspected the ground carefully. Finally he took a course straight away from the dam.

“That’s about where those fellows ran,” said Farwell. “Maybe the old rascal can trail, after all.”

Simon came to a halt at a spot cut up by hoofs. He bent down, examining the tracks carefully. Farwell, doing likewise, caught sight of a single moccasin track plainly outlined. It lay, long and straight-footed, deep in the soft soil; and where the big toe had pressed there was the mark of a sewn-in patch.

“Here, look here!” he cried. “One of ’em was wearing moccasins, and patched moccasins at that.”

“Sure enough,” said Keeler.

“Here, Simon, look at this,” said the engineer. “You see um? One cultus man wear moccasin. Was he white man or Indian?”

Simon surveyed the track gravely, knelt, and examined it minutely. “Mebbyso Injun,” he said.

“Mebbyso white man,” Farwell objected. “What makes you think it’s an Indian?”

Oleman moccasin, him, Simon replied oracularly. White man throw him away; Injun keep him, mend him mamook tipshin klaska.”

“Something in that, too,” Farwell agreed. “It’s a straight foot no swing-in to the toe. Still, I dont know. Ive seen white men like that. I wonder ” He broke off abruptly, shaking his head.

Simon gave a correct imitation of mounting a horse. “Him klatawa,” he announced. “Him Injun.”

“Got on his horse and pulled out, hey?” said Farwell. “Yes, of course, that’s what he did. That’s why the track is pressed in so deep. That’s all right. Simon, how many men stop last night?”

“Four, five cayuse stop,” Simon answered. “Mebbyso four, five, man stop.”

“Well, four or five cayuses must have left a trail of some kind. You find it. Follow catchum. Find where they live their illahee, where they hang out. You get that?”

Simon nodded and went to his horse. Farwell frowned at the lone moccasin track, and, lifting his eyes, beheld Simon in the act of mounting. Contrary to the custom of white men, the old Indian did so from the off side. Farwell swore suddenly.

“What?” Keeler asked.

“Hey, Simon!” said Farwell. “This man with oleman moccasin him make track getting on cayuse? Him stand so to get on cayuse. You sure of that?”

Simon nodded. “Ah-ha!” he agreed.

“Then he’s a white man,” Farwell exclaimed. “This is the track of a right foot, made while he was standing reaching for the stirrup with the left. An Indian always gets on his horse from the wrong side, and puts his right foot in the stirrup first.”

“So he does,” said Keeler.

“So this fellow is a white man,” Farwell concluded triumphantly. “We want a white man with a patched moccasin. You kumtuks, Simon? Injun mount so. White man so left foot up, right foot down. White man’s moccasin, Simon.”

“Huh!” Simon grunted gravely. “Mebbyso white man; mebbyso sitkum Siwash.”

“Half-breed nothing!” Farwell declared. “Straight white, I tell you. Now get ahead on the trail.”

But whatever Simon’s skill as a trailer, it availed little. In half a mile the hoofprints merged with many others in a beaten track, and so were lost. Simon halted.

Halo mamook!” said he, signifying that he had done his possible. The fact was so self-evident that Farwell could not gainsay it.

“That’s an easy five for you,” he grumbled. “We might as well get back, Keeler. I never took any stock in that old buck, anyway. He’s a gold brick, like all the rest of them.”

But Simon, when they had gone, kept along the beaten track. And shortly he came to where McCrae had turned the buckboard around. Simon, after examining the tracks, took pains to efface them entirely; after which he ambled on, his usually grave countenance illumined by a grin.

Following the road, peering narrowly at either side, he finally came in sight of Talapus Ranch. Halting, he surveyed the fields.

The ditches of Talapus were once more running rap-full; and Donald McCrae, his son, and half a dozen men were busy with shovels and hoes turning the water down among the young grain in marks already prepared which followed the natural slope of the land; taking care that the little rivulets should be of sufficient strength to run the length of the field, but not so strong as to wash out the soil; adjusting the flow to a nicety with miniature dams of sods and stones.

Old Simon rode slowly along the ditch until he came to where Sandy McCrae was working.

“Hello, Simon!” said the latter carelessly. “How you makin’ it this morning? You keeping skookum?

“Ah-ha!” Simon responded gutturally. “Skookum, you?”

“You bet,” Sandy replied. “Hiyu skookum me.” He leaned on his shovel for a moment, stretching his young, sinewy body, grinning at the Indian. The latter dismounted, and, stooping down, touched the young man’s worn footgear.

Mamook huyhuy moccasin,” said he.

“Swap moccasins?” Sandy repeated. “What for? Yours are new. Chee moccasin, you; oleman moccasin, me. What are you getting at? That’s fool talk.”

But Simon insisted. “Mamook huyhuy,” said he. “Halo mitlite oleman moccasin.”

“Why shouldn’t I wear my old moccasins?” asked Sandy.

Simon lifted McCrae’s right foot and placed his finger on a patch beneath the ball of the great toe. His features expanded in a knowing grin. Sandy McCrae’s face suddenly became grave and his mouth grim. His voice, when he spoke, was hard and metallic.

“Quit this sign business and spit it out of you,” he ordered. “Mamook kumtuks! Tell me what you mean!”

Simon condescended to a measure of English which he knew well enough, but which he usually disdained on general principles. He pointed back whence he had come.

Tenas sun (early morning) me stop along camp. Boss tyee man goodandam mad. Him say cultus man mamook raise hiyu hell. Catch hiyu skookum powder bang! Whoosh! Upshego!” He mimicked Farwell’s words and gestures to a nicety. “Him say, s’pose me catch cultus man me catch kwimnum dolla’.” He exhibited the five-dollar bill, grinning once more. “Good! Me nanitch ’round me find trail. Boss tyee man see track of oleman moccasin.” He pointed to Sandy’s right foot.

Young McCrae, his face black as the heart of a storm cloud, said nothing; but his eyes glinted dangerously. The Indian continued:

“Me klatawa kimta on trail. Tyee man him come, too. Bimeby come to hiyu trail, all same road. Me lose trail. Me tell tyee man ’halo mamook.’” He grinned broadly. “Him klatawa back yaka illahee. Me come along alone. See where chik-chik wagon turn around. All right. Me come tell you mamook huyhuy moccasin.”

It was very plain to Sandy now. The old Indian had recognized the track of his moccasin at the dam; had followed the trail to the travelled road where he had deliberately quit; and had come on to warn him to get rid of the incriminating moccasins which were even then on his feet. The suggestion of exchange was merely polite diplomacy.

“Simon,” he said slowly, “blamed if you ain’t a white Injun!”

Simon acknowledged the compliment characteristically. He produced a pipe and examined the empty bowl with interest.

Halo smokin’, me!” he observed gravely.

Sandy nodded and handed him a large plug. The Indian filled his pipe and put the tobacco in his pocket.

“You my tillikum,” he announced. “When you tenas boy I like you, you like me. Good, Konaway McCrae (every McCrae) my tillikum.” He made a large gesture of generous inclusion, paused for an instant, and shot a keen glance at his friend. “Cas-ee Dunne my tillikum, too.”

“Sure,” said Sandy gravely. “We’re all friends of yours, Simon.”

Simon nodded and considered.

“All rancher my tillikum,” he continued after an interval. “Ah-ha! Good! S’pose some time me mamook sick, me feel all same oleman no more grub stop, no more smokin’ stop mebbyso all rancher potlatch grub, potlatch smokin’, send doctin’, send med’cin’? You kumtuks?

He formulated this general scheme of pension and old-age insurance gravely. With five dollars in hand and a future provided for by grateful ranchers, he would be able to worship the Saghalie Tyee at the mission with a good heart.

“You don’t want much,” Sandy commented. “I guess we’d chip in, though, if you got up against the iron any time. Sure. S’pose you mamook sick, all rancher mamook help, give you muckamuck and smokin’, stake you to doctor and dope; s’pose you go mimoluse, bury you in style.”

Simon nodded, well pleased. A fine funeral thrown in for good measure suited his ideas perfectly. It was no more than his due for this evidence of friendship. So much for the future. Now for the present. He surveyed the five-dollar bill and chuckled.

Tyee man hyas damfool!” said he. He cast a shrewd eye at the sun, which stood near the meridian. “Sitkum sun!” he announced.

“Noon and that means you’re hungry,” said Sandy. “I never saw you when you weren’t. Go on up to the house, and say I sent you. Muckamuck mika sick yakwahtin. Eat till your belly goes back on you, if you want to.”

Simon grinned again; but he pointed to Sandy’s feet.

“You mamook hyuhuy moccasin dam quick!” he warned once more.