Coming leisurely up the path from the corrals, Smith saw Susie sitting on the cottonwood log, wrapped in her mother’s blanket. She was huddled in a squaw’s attitude. He eyed her; he never had seen her like that before. But, knowing Indians better, possibly, than he knew his own race, Smith understood. He recognized the mood. Her Indian blood was uppermost. It rose in most half-breeds upon occasion. Sometimes under the influence of liquor it cropped out, sometimes anger brought it to the surface. He had seen it often—this heavy, smouldering sullenness.
Smith stood with his hands in his pockets, looking at her. He felt more at ease with her than ever before.
“What are you sullin’ about, Susie?”
She did not answer. Her pertness, her Anglo-Saxon vivacity, were gone; her face was wooden, expressionless; her restless eyes slow-moving and dull; her cheek-bones, always noticeably high, looked higher, and her skin was murky and dark.
“You look like a squaw with that sull on,” he ventured again, and there was satisfaction in his face.
It was something to know that, after all, Susie was “Injun”—“pure Injun.” The scheme which had lain dormant in his brain now took active shape. He had wanted Susie’s help, but each time that he had tried to conciliate her, his overtures had ended in a fresh rupture. Now her stinging tongue was dumb, and there was no aggressiveness in her manner.
Smith, laying his hand heavily upon her shoulder, sat down beside her, and a flash, a transitory gleam, shone for an instant in her dull eyes; but she did not move or change expression.
He said in a low voice:
“What you need is stirrin’ up, Susie.”
He watched her narrowly, and continued:
“You ought to get into a game that has some ginger in it. This here life is too tame for a girl like you.”
Without looking at him she asked:
“What kind of a game?” Her voice was lifeless, guttural.
“It’s agin my principles to empty my sack to a woman; but you’re diff’rent—you’re game—you are, Susie.” His voice dropped to a whisper, and the weight of his hand made her shoulder sag. “Let’s you and me rustle a bunch of horses.”
Susie did not betray surprise at the startling proposition by so much as the twitching of an eyelid.
“Just for the hell of it!”
She grunted, but neither in assent nor dissent; so Smith went on in an eager, persuasive whisper:
“There’s Injun enough in you, girl, to make horse-stealin’ all the same as breathin’. You jump in with me on this deal and see how easy you lose that sull. Don’t you ever have a feelin’ take holt of you that you want to do something onery—steal something, mix with somebody? I do. I’ve had that notorious feelin’ workin’ on me strong for days now, and I’ve got to get rid of it. If you’ll come in on this, we’ll have the excitement and make a stake, too. Talk up, girl—show your sand! Be game!”
“What horses do you aim to steal?”
“Reservation horses. Say, the way I can burn their brands and fan ’em over the line won’t trouble me. I’ll come back with a wad—me, Smith—and I’ll whack up even. What do you say?”
“What for a hand do I take in it?”
A smile of triumph lifted the corners of Smith’s mouth.
“You gather ’em up and run ’em into a coulee, that’s all. I’ll do the rest.”
“What do you want me to do it for?”
“Nobody’d think anything of it if they saw you runnin’ horses, because you’re always doin’ it; but they’d notice me.”
“Where’s the coulee?”
“I’ve picked it. I located my plant long ago. I’ve found the best spot in the State to make a plant.”
“Where are you goin’ to sell?”
Smith eyed her inscrutable face suspiciously.
“You’re askin’ lots of questions, girl. I tips my hand too far to no petticoat. You trusts me or you don’t. Will you come in?”
“All right,” said Susie after a silence; “I’ll come in—‘just for the hell of it.’”
She looked at his extended hand and wrapped her own in her blanket.
“There’s no call to shake.”
“Is your heart mixed, Susie?” he demanded. “Ain’t it right toward me?”
“It’ll be right enough when the time comes,” she answered.
The reply did not satisfy Smith, but he told himself that, once she was committed, he could manage her, for, after all, Susie was little more than a child. Smith felt uncommonly pleased with himself for his bold stroke.
The new intimacy between Smith and Susie, the sudden cessation of hostilities, caused surprise on the ranch, but the Indian woman was the only one to whom it gave pleasure. She viewed the altered relations with satisfaction, since it removed the only obstacle, as she believed, to a speedy marriage with Smith.
“Didn’t I tell you he smart white man?” she asked complacently of Susie.
“Oh, yes, he’s awful smart,” Susie answered with sarcasm.
Ralston, more than any one else, was puzzled by their apparent friendship. He had believed that Susie’s antipathy for Smith was as deep as his own, and he wondered what could have happened to bring about such a sudden and complete revulsion of feeling. He was disappointed in her. He felt that she had weakly gone over to the enemy; and it shook his confidence in her sturdy honesty more than anything she could have done. He believed that no person who understood Smith, as Susie undoubtedly did, could make a friend and confidant of him and be “right.” But sometimes he caught Susie’s eyes fixed upon him in a kind of wistful, inquiring scrutiny, which left the impression that something was troubling her, something that she longed to confide in some one upon whom she could rely; but his past experience had taught him the futility of attempting to force her confidence, of trying to learn more than she volunteered.
Smith and Susie rode the surrounding country and selected horses from the various bands. Three or four bore Bear Chief’s brand, there were a pinto and a black buckskin in Running Rabbit’s herd, and a sorrel or two that belonged to Yellow Bird. A couple of bays here were singled out, a brown and black there, until they had the pick of the range.
“We don’t want to get more nor you can cut out alone and handle,” warned Smith. “We don’t want no slip-up on the start.”
“I don’t aim to make no slip-up.”
“We’ve got lookers, we have,” declared Smith. “And them chunky ones go off quickest at a forced sale. I know a horse when I meet up with it, me—Smith.”
“But where you goin’ to cache ’em?” insisted Susie.
“Girl, I ain’t been ridin’ this range for my health. I’ll show you a blind canyon where a regiment of soldiers couldn’t find a hundred head of horses in a year; and over there in the Bad Lands there’s a spring breakin’ out where a man dyin’ of thirst would never think of lookin’ for it. We’re all right. You’re a head-worker, and so am I.” Smith chuckled. “We’ll set some of these Injuns afoot, and make a clean-get-away.”
Smith was more than satisfied with the zest with which Susie now entered into the plot, and the shrewdness which she showed in planning details that he himself had overlooked.
“You work along with me, kid, and I’ll make a dead-game one out of you!” he declared with enthusiasm. “When we make a stake, we’ll go to Billings and rip up the sod!”
“I’ll like that,” said Susie dryly.
“When the right time comes, I’ll know it,” Smith went on. “When I wakes up some mornin’ with a feelin’ that it’s the day to get action on, I always follows that feelin’—if it takes holt of me anyways strong. I has to do certain things on certain days. I hates a chilly day worse nor anything. I wants to hole up, and I feels mean enough to bite myself. But when the sun shines, it thaws me; it draws the frost out of my heart, like. I hates to let anybody’s blood when the sun shines. I likes to lie out on a rock like a lizard, and I feels kind. I’m cur’ous that way, about sun, me—Smith.”