Read CHAPTER XIII of The Watchers of the Plains A Tale of the Western Prairies , free online book, by Ridgwell Cullum, on


Nevil Steyne’s day’s labor, of whatever it consisted, was over. Wanaha had just lit the oil lamp which served her in her small home.

The man was stretched full length upon the bed, idly contemplating the dusky beauty who acknowledged his lordship, while she busied herself over her shining stove. His face wore a half smile, but his smile was in nowise connected with that which his eyes rested on.

Yet the sight he beheld was one to inspire pleasurable thoughts. For surely it falls to the lot of few men, however worthy, to inspire one woman with such a devotion as Wanaha yielded to him. Besides, she was a wonderful picture of beauty, colored it is true, but none the less fair for that. Her long black, braided hair, her delicate, high-bred face so delightfully gentle, and her great, soft black eyes which had almost, but not quite, lost that last latent glimmer of the old savage. Surely, she was worth the tenderest thought.

But Nevil’s thoughts were not with her, and his smile was inspired by his thoughts. The man’s mean, narrow face had nothing pleasant in it as he smiled. Some faces are like this. He was a degenerate of the worst type; for he was a man who had slowly receded from a life of refinement, and mental retrogression finds painful expression on such a face. A ruffian from birth bears less outward trace, for his type is natural to him.

Wanaha always humored her husband’s moods, in which, perhaps, she made a grave error. She held silent until he chose to speak. And when she turned at last to arrange the supper table, he was so moved. The smile had died out of his thin face, and his pale blue eyes wore a look of anxious perplexity when he summoned her attention.

“Wana,” he said, as though rousing himself from a long worrying thought, “we must do something, my Wana. And I hardly know what.”

The black eyes looked straight into the blue ones, and the latter shifted to the table on which the woman’s loving hands had carefully set the necessaries for supper.

“Tell me,” she said simply, “you who are clever maybe I help.”

“That’s just it, my Wana. I believe you can. You have a keen brain. You always help me.”

Nevil relapsed into silence, and bit nervously at his thumb nail. The woman waited with the stoical patience of her race. But she was all interest, for had not the man appealed to her for help?

“It’s your brother,” Nevil said at last. “Your brother, and the white girl at the farm, Rosebud.”


The dark eyes suddenly lit. Here was a matter which lay very near her heart. She had thought so much about it. She had even dared at other times to speak to her husband on the subject, and advise him. Now he came to her.

“Yes,” the man went on, still with that look of perplexity in his shifty eyes; “perhaps I have been wrong. You have told me that I was. But, you see, I looked on your brother as a child almost. And if I let him talk of Rosebud, it was, as I once told you, because he is headstrong. But now he has gone far enough too far. It must be stopped. The man is getting out of hand. He means to have her.”

Wanaha’s eyes dilated. Here indeed was a terrible prospect. She knew her brother as only a woman can know a man. She had not noted the melodramatic manner in which her husband had broken off.

“You say well. It must be stop. Tell your Wana your thought. We will pow-wow like great chiefs.”

“Well, that’s just it,” Nevil went on, rising and drawing up to the table. “I can’t see my way clearly. We can’t stop him in whatever he intends. He’s got some wild scheme in his head, I know; and I can’t persuade him. He’s obstinate as a mule.”

“It is so. Little Black Fox is fierce. He never listen. No. But you think much. You, who are clever more than all the wise men of my race.”

Wanaha served her husband with his food. Whatever might be toward, her duty by him came first. Nevil sat eating in what appeared to be a moody silence. The velvety eyes watched his every expression, and, in sympathy, the woman’s face became troubled too.

“Well, of course we must warn some one,” Nevil went on at last. “But the question is, who? If I go to the Agent, it’ll raise trouble. Parker is bullheaded, and sure to upset Black Fox. Likely he’ll stop his going hunting. If I warn old Rube Sampson it’ll amount to the same thing. He’ll go to the Agent. It must be either Seth or Rosebud.”

“Good, good,” assented the Indian woman eagerly. “You say it to Seth.”

Nevil ate silently for some minutes, while the woman looked on from her seat beside the stove. Whatever was troubling the man it did not interfere with his appetite. He ate coarsely, but his Indian wife only saw that he was healthily hungry.

“Yes, you’re right again, my Wana,” Nevil exclaimed, with apparent appreciation. “I’d prefer to tell Seth, but if I did he’d interfere in a manner that would be sure to rouse your brother’s suspicions. And you know what he is. He’d suspect me or you. He’d throw caution to the devil, and then there’d be trouble. It’s a delicate thing, but I can’t stand by and see anything happen to your chum, my Wana.”

“No; I love the paleface girl,” replied Wanaha, simply.

“It comes to this,” Nevil went on, with something like eagerness in his manner. “We must warn her, and trust to her sense. And mind, I think she’s smart enough.”


The woman’s dark eyes looked very directly into the man’s. Nevil was smiling again. His anxiety and perplexity seemed suddenly to have vanished, now that he had come to his point; as though the detailing of his fears to her had been the real source of his trouble.

“Why, I think it will be simple enough.”

The man left the table and came to the woman’s side. He laid one hand caressingly on her black hair, and she responded with a smiling upward glance of devotion. “See, you must tell her I want to speak with her. I can’t go to her. My presence at the farm is not welcome for one thing,” he said bitterly, “and, for another, in this matter I must not be seen anywhere near her. I’ve considered this thing well. She mustn’t come here either. No.”

He spoke reflectively, biting his long, fair moustache in that nervous way he so often betrayed.

“You, my Wana, must see her openly at the farm. You must tell her that I shall be in the river woods just below the bridge, cutting wood at sundown on Monday. That’s three days from now. She must come to me without being seen, and without letting any one know of her visit. The danger for me, for us, my Wana, is great, and so you must be extra careful for all our sakes and so must she. Then I will tell her all, and advise her.”

The woman’s eyes had never left his face. The trust and confidence her look expressed were almost touching. She did not question. She did not ask why she could not give the girl her warning. Yes, she understood. The proceeding appealed to her nature, for there is no being in the world to compare with the Indian when native cunning is required. She could do this thing. Was it not for Rosebud? But, above all, was it not for him? The honest man rarely puts faith in a woman’s capacity outside her domestic and social duties. The rascal is shrewder.

“It is a good way,” she said, in her deep, soft voice, after much thought. “And I go yes. I tell her. I say to her that she must not speak. And she say ‘yes.’ I know Rosebud. She clever too. She no child.” She paused, and the man moved away to his seat. She looked over at him and presently went on. “Rosebud, she love Seth. I know.”

Nevil suddenly swung round. Only the blind eyes of love could have failed to detect the absolute look of triumph which had leapt to the man’s face. Wanaha mistook the look for one of pleasure, and went on accordingly, feeling that she had struck the right note.

“Yes. And Seth, he love too. They are to each as the Sun and the Moon. But they not know this thing. She think Seth think she like sister. Like Black Fox and your Wana. But I know. I love my man, so I see with live eyes. Yes, these love. So.” And the dark eyes melted with a consuming love for the man she was addressing.

Nevil sprang from his seat, and, crossing to the dark princess, kissed her with unwonted ardor.

“Good, my Wana; you are a gem. You see where I am blind.” And for once he was perfectly sincere.

“It good?” she questioned. Nevil nodded, and at once the woman went on. “So. I know much. Rosebud tell me much. She much angry with Seth. She say Seth always always look for find her white folks. She not want them these white folks. She love Seth. For her he is the world. So. She say Seth angry, and want her go away. Wana listen. Wana laugh inside. Wana love too. Seth good. He love her much much. Then she say she think Seth find these white folks.”

“Seth has found Rosebud’s folk?”

The man’s brows had drawn together over his shifty blue eyes, and a sinister look had replaced the look of triumph that had been there before.

“She say she think.”

“Ah! She only thinks.” Nevil’s thumb was at his mouth again.


Wanaha finished. The change in the man’s face had checked her desire to pursue the subject. She did not understand its meaning, except that her talk seemed no longer to please him; so she ceased. But Nevil was more interested than she thought.

“And what made her think so?” he asked sharply.

“She not say.”

“Ah, that’s a pity.”

The room became silent. The yellow light of the lamp threw vague shadows about, and these two made a dark, suggestive picture. The woman’s placid and now inscrutable face was in marked contrast to her husband’s. His displayed the swift vengeful thoughts passing behind it. His overshot jaws were clenched as closely as was physically possible, while his pallid eyes were more alight than Wanaha had ever seen them. As he sat there, biting his thumb so viciously, she wondered what had angered him.

“I don’t see how he could have found them,” he said at last, more to himself than to her. But she answered him with a quiet reassurance, yet not understanding why it was necessary.

“She only think,” she said.

“But he must have given her some cause to think,” he said testily. “I’m afraid you’re not as cute as I thought.”

Wanaha turned away. His words had caused her pain, but he did not heed. Suddenly his face cleared, and he laughed a little harshly.

“Never mind,” he said; “I doubt if he’ll lose her through that.”

The ambiguity of his remark was lost upon the Indian. She heard the laugh and needed no more. She rose and began to clear the table, while Nevil stood in the open doorway and gazed out into the night.

Standing there, his face hidden from Wanaha, he took no trouble to disguise his thoughts. And from his expression his thoughts were pleasant enough, or at least satisfactory to him, which was all he could reasonably expect.

His face was directed toward White River Farm, and he was thinking chiefly of Seth, a man he hated for no stronger reason than his own loss of caste, his own degeneracy, while the other remained an honest man. The deepest hatreds often are founded on one’s own failings, one’s own obvious inferiority to another. He was thinking of that love which Wanaha had assured him Seth entertained for Rosebud, and he was glad. So glad that he forgot many things that he ought to have remembered. One amongst them was the fact that, whatever he might be, Wanaha was a good woman. And honesty never yet blended satisfactorily with rascality.