"Go it, Johnny—dang yore measly hide, go to it! We'll show 'm we ain't so old 'n' tender we cain't turn a trick t'bug their dang eyes out? Bust into it! WE'LL show 'em!—" And Applehead shrilled a raucous range "HOO-EEE-EE!" as Johnny lunged against the taut wires.
It was a long chance he took—a "dang long chance" as Applehead admitted afterward. But, as he had hoped, it happened that Johnny's stride brought him with a forward leap against the wires, so that the full impact of his eleven-hundred pounds plus the momentum of his speed, plus the weight of Applehead and the saddle, hit the wires fair and full. They popped like cut wires on a bale of hay—and it was lucky that they were tight strung so that there was no slack to take some of the force away. It was not luck, but plain shrewdness on Applehead's part, that Johnny came straight on, so that there was no tearing see-saw of the strands as they broke. Two inch-long cuts on his chest and a deeper, longer one on his foreleg was the price Johnny paid, and that was all. The lower wire he never touched, since it was a leap that landed him against the fence. He lurched and recovered himself, and went on at a slower gallop while Applehead beckoned the three to come on.
"I kain't say I'd want to git in the habit uh bustin' fences that way," he grinned over his shoulder as the three jumped through the gap he had made and forged up to him. "But I calc'late if they's another one Johnny n' me kin make it, mebby."
"Well, I was brought up in a barbed wire country," Pink exploded, "but I'll be darned if I ever saw a stunt like that pulled off before!"
"We-ell, I hed a bronk go hog-wild 'n' pop three wires on a fence one time," Applehead explained modestly, "'n' he didn't cut hisself a-tall, skurcely. It's all accordin' t' how yuh hit it, I reckon. Anyway, I calc'lated it was wuth tryin', 'cause we shore woulda had our hands full if we'd a stopped at that fence, now I'm tellin' yuh! 'N' another thing," he added bodefully, "I figgured we'd better be gittin' to Luck In' his bunch. I calc'late they need us, mebby."
No one made any reply to that statement, but even Lite, who never had been inclined to laugh at him, looked at Applehead with a new respect. The Indians, having scurried back out of range of Lite's uncomfortably close shooting, yelled a bedlam of yips and howls and came on again in a closer group than before, shooting as they rode—at the four men first, and then at the hindmost pack-horse that gave a hop over the wire left across the gap, and came galloping heavily after the others. They succeeded in burying a bullet in the packed bedding, but that was all.
Three hundred yards or so in the lead, the four raced down the long, gentle slope. A mile or two, perhaps three, they could run before their horses gave out. But then, when they could run no longer, they would have to stop and fight; and the question that harped continually through their minds was: Could they run until they reached Luck and the boys with him? Could they? They did not even know where Luck was, or what particular angle of direction would carry them to him quickest. Applehead and Johnny were pointing the way, keeping a length ahead of the others. But even old Applehead was riding, as he would have put it, "by-guess and by-gosh" until they crossed a shallow draw, labored up the hill beyond, and heard, straight away before them, the faint pop-pop of rifle shots. Old Applehead turned and sent them a blazing blue glance over his shoulders.
"RIDE, dang ye!" he barked. "They've got Luck cornered in the Devil's Fryin'-pan!"
CHAPTER XVIII. IN THE DEVIL'S FRYING-PAN
Luck, riding confidently on the trail of the three horsemen who had taken to the south along the front of the square butte, believed that the turn of the trail around the southern end meant simply that the three who came this way would meet their companions on the other side, and that he, following after, would be certain to meet Applehead. He had hopes of the speedy capture of Ramon Chavez and his men, and the hope spread to the four who went with him, so that their spirits rose considerably. Big Medicine and Happy Jack even found a good deal of amusement in their exchange of opinions regarding old granny Applehead and his constant fear of the Navvies. Now and then the Native Son joined in the laugh, though his attention was chiefly given to the discussion Andy and Luck were having about Ramon and his manner of using Luck's work as an opportunity to rob the bank, and the probable effect it would have on the general standing of Luck and his company unless they managed to land the thieves in jail. Being half Mexican himself, the Native Son was sensitive upon the subject of Ramon, and almost as anxious to see Ramon in jail as was Luck himself.
So while Applehead and his boys were scenting danger and then finding themselves in the middle of it, Luck and his party rode along absorbed in themselves and in the ultimate goal, which was Ramon. They saw nothing queer about the trail they followed, and they saw no evidence of treachery anywhere. They rode with the rifles slung under their right thighs and their six-shooters at their hips, and their eyes roving casually over their immediate surroundings while their minds roved elsewhere—not because they were growing careless, but because there was absolutely nothing to rouse their suspicions, now that they no longer bad Applehead along to preach danger and keep them keyed up to expect it.
They followed the tracks through a scattered grove of stunted pinons, circled at fault for a few minutes in the rocks beyond, and then picked up the trail. They were then in the narrow neck which was called the handle of the Devil's Frying-pan—and they would have ridden unsuspectingly into the very Pan itself, had not the Native Son's quick eyes caught a movement on the rim-rock across the bare, rock-bottomed basin. He spoke to luck about it, and luck levelled his field glasses and glimpsed a skulking form up there.
"Hunt yourselves some shelter, boys!" he cried in the sharp tone of warning. "We'll make sure who's ahead before we go any farther."
They ducked behind rocks or trees and piled off their horses in a burry. And a scattered fusillade from the rim-rock ahead of them proved how urgent was their need.
For the first fifteen minutes or so they thought that they were fighting Ramon and his party, and their keenest emotions were built largely of resentment, which showed in the booming voice of Big Medicine when he said grimly:
"Well, I'd jest about as soon pack Ramon in dead, as lead 'im in alive 'n' kickin', by cripes! Which is him, d'yuh reckon?"
From behind a rock shield luck was studying the ledge. "They're Injuns—or there are Injuns in the bunch, at least," he told them after a moment. "See that sharp point sticking up straight ahead? I saw an Injun peeking around the edge—to the south. You watch for him, Andy, and let him have it where he lives next time be sticks his head out." He swung the glasses slowly, taking every inch of the rim in his field of vision. As he moved them be named the man he wanted to watch each place where he had reason to suspect that someone was hiding.
The disheartening part of it was that he needed about a dozen more men than he had; for the rock wall which was the rim of the Frying-pan seemed alive with shooters who waited only for a fair target. Then the Native Son, crouched down between a rock and a clump of brush, turned his head to see what his horse was looking at, back whence they had come.
"Look behind you, Luck," he advised with more calmness than one would expect of a man in his straits. "They're back in the pines, too."
"Fight 'em off—and take care that your backs don't show to those babies on the rim-rocks," he ordered instantly, thrusting his glasses into their case and snatching his rifle from its boot on the saddle. "They won't tackle coming across that bare hollow, even if they can get down into it without breaking their necks. Happy, lead your horse in here between these rocks where mine is. Bud, see if you can get the pack-horses over there outa sight among those bushes and rocks. We'll hold 'em off while you fix the horses—can't let ourselves be set afoot out here!"
"I-should-say—NOT!" Andy Green punctuated the sentence with a shot or two. "Say, I wish they'd quit sneaking around in those trees that way, so a fellow could see where to shoot!"
A half hour dragged by. From the rim-rock came occasional shots, to which the besieged could not afford to reply, they were so fully occupied with holding back those who skulked among the trees. The horses, fancying perhaps that this was a motion-picture scene, dozed behind their rock-and-brush shelters and switched apathetically at buzzing flies and whining bullets alike. Their masters crouched behind their bowlders and watched catlike for some open demonstration, and fired when they had the slightest reason to believe that they would hit something besides scenery.
"Miguel must have upset their plans a little," Luck deduced after a lull. "They set the stage for us down in that hollow, I guess. You can see what we'd have been up against if we had ridden ten rods farther, out away from these rocks and bushes."
"Aw, they wouldn't dast kill a bunch uh white men!" Happy Jack protested, perhaps for his own comfort.
"You think they wouldn't? Luck's voice was surcharged with sarcasm. What do you think they're trying to do, then?"
"Aw, the gov'ment wouldn't STAND fer no such actions!"
"Well, by cripes, I hain't aimin' to give the gov'ment no job uh setting on my remains, investigatin' why I was killed off!" Big Medicine asserted, and took a shot at a distant grimy Stetson to prove he meant what he said.
"Say, they'd have had a SNAP if we'd gone on, and let these fellows back here in the trees close up behind us!" Andy Green exclaimed suddenly, with a vividness of gesture that made Happy Jack try to swallow his Adam's apple. "By gracious, it would have been a regular rabbit-drive business. They could set in the shade and pick us off just as they darned pleased."
"Aw, is that there the cheerfullest thing you can think of to say?" Happy Jack was sweating, with something more than desert heat.
"Why, no. The cheerfullest thing I can think of right now is that Mig, here, don't ride with his eyes shut." He cast a hasty glance of gratitude toward the Native Son, who flushed under the smooth brown of his cheeks while he fired at a moving bush a hundred yards back in the grove.
For another half hour nothing was gained or lost. The Indians fired desultorily, spatting bit& of lead here and there among the rocks but hitting nobody. The Happy Family took a shot at every symptom of movement in the grove, and toward the rim-rock they sent a bullet now and then, just to assure the watchers up there that they were not forgotten, and as a hint that caution spelled safety.
For themselves, the boys were amply protected there on the side of the Frying-pan where the handle stretched out into the open land toward the mountain. Perhaps here was once a torrent flowing from the basin-like hollow walled round with rock; at any rate, great bowlders were scattered all along the rim as though spewed from the basin by some mighty force of the bygone ages. The soil, as so often happens in the West, was fertile to the very edge of the Frying-pan and young pinons and bushes had taken root there and managed to keep themselves alive with the snow-moisture of winter, in spite of the scanty rainfall the rest of the year.
The boys were amply protected, yes; but there was not a drop of water save what they had in their canteens, and there was no feed for their horses unless they chose to nibble tender twigs off the bushes near them and call that food. There was, of course, the grain in the packs, but there was neither time nor opportunity to get it out. If it came to a siege, luck and his boys were in a bad way, and they knew it. They were penned as well as protected there in that rocky, brushy neck. The most that they could do was to discourage any rush from those back in the grove; as to getting through that grove themselves, and out in the open, there was not one chance in a hundred that they could do it.
From the outside in to where they were entrenched was just a trifle easier. The Indiana in the grove were all absorbed in watching the edge of the Frying-pan and had their backs to the open, never thinking that white men would be coming that way; for had not the other party been decoyed around the farther end of the big butte, and did not several miles and a barbed-wire fence lie between?
So when Applehead and his three, coming in from the north, approached the grove, they did it under cover of a draw that hid them from sight. From the shots that were fired, Applehead guessed the truth; that Luck's bunch had sensed danger before they had actually ridden into the Frying-pan itself, and that the Navajos were trying to drive them out of the rocks, and were not making much of a success of it.
"Now," Applehead instructed the three when they were as close as they could get to the grove without being seen, "I calc'late about the best thing we kin do, boys, is t' spur up our hosses and ride in amongst 'em shooting and a-hollerin'. Mebby we kin jest natcherlay stampede 'em—but we've sure got t' git through In' git under cover mighty dang suddent, er they'll come to theirselves an' wipe us clean off'n the map—if they's enough of 'em. These here that's comin' along after us, they'll help t' swell the party, oncet they git here. I calc'late they figger 't we're runnin' head-on into a mess uh trouble, 'n' they don't want t' colleck any stray bullets—'n' that's why they've dropped back in the last half mile er so. Haze them pack bosses up this way, Pink, so'st they won't git caught up 'fore they git t' what the rest air. Best use yore six-guns fer this, boys—that'll leave ye one hand t' guide yore bosses with, and they're handier all around in close—work. Air ye ready? Then come on—foller me 'n' come a-whoopin'!"
A-whooping they came, up out of the draw and in among the trees as though they had a regiment behind them. Certain crouching figures jumped, sent startled glances behind them and ran like partridges for cover farther on. Only one or two paused to send a shot at these charging fiends who seemed bent on riding them down and who yelled like devils turned loose from the pit. And before they had found safe covert on the farther fringes of the grove and were ready to meet the onslaught, the clamor had ceased and the white men had joined those others among the rocks.
So now there were nine men cornered here on the edge of the Frying-pan, with no water for their horses and not much hope of getting out of there.
"Darn you, Applehead, why didn't you keep out of this mess?" Luck demanded with his mouth drawn down viciously at the corners and his eyes warm with affection and gratitude. "What possessed your fool heart to ride into this trap?"
"We-ell, dang it, we had t' ride som'ers, didn't we?" Applehead, safe behind a bowlder, pulled off his greasy, gray Stetson and polished his bald head disconcertedly. "Had a bunch uh Navvies hangin' t' our heels like tumbleweed—'n' we been doin' some RIDIN', now, I'm a tellin' ye! 'F Lite, here, hadn't kep' droppin' one now an' then fur the rest t' devour, I calc'late we'd bin et up, a mile er two back!"
Lite looked up from shoving more cartridges into his rifle-magazine. "If we hadn't had a real, simon-pure go-getter to boss the job," he drawled, "I reckon all the shooting I did wouldn't have cut any ice. Ain't that right, boys?"
Pink, resting his rifle in a niche of the boulder and moving it here and there trying to fix his sights on a certain green sweater back in the woods that he had glimpsed a minute before, nodded assent. "You're durn tootin' it's right!" he testified.
Weary looked shining-eyed at Applehead's purple face. "Sure, that's right!" he emphasized. "And I don't care how much of a trap you call this, it isn't a patching to the one Applehead busted us out of. He's what I call a Real One, boys."
"Aw, shet yore dang head 'n' git yore rifles workin'!" Applehead blurted. "This yere ain't no time fer kiddin', 'n' I'm tellin' yuh straight. What's them fellers acrost the Fryin'-pan think they're tryin' t' do? luck le's you'n me make a few remarks over that way, 'n' leave the boys t' do some gun-talk with these here babies behind us. Dang it, if I knowed of a better place 'n' what this is fer holdin' 'em off, I'd say make a run fer it. But I don't 'n' that's fact. Yuh musta sprung the trap 'fore yuh got inside, 'cause they shore aimed t' occupy this nest uh rocks theirselves, with you fellers down there in the Fryin'-pan where they could git at yuh.
"Thar's one of 'em up on the rim-rock—see 'im?—standin' thar, by granny, like he was darin' somebody t' cut loose! Here, Lite, you spill some lead up thar. We'll learn 'im t' act up smart—"
"Hey, hold on!" Luck grabbed Lite's arm as he was raising his rifle for a close shot at the fellow. "Don't shoot! Don't you see? Thaf's the peace-sign he's making!"
"Well, now, dang it, he better be makin' peace-signs!" growled Applehead querulously, and sat down heavily on a shelf of the rock. "'Cause Lite, here, shore woulda tuk an ear off'n him in another minute, now I'm tellin' ye!"
CHAPTER XIX. PEACE TALK
Across the Frying-pan an Indian stood boldly out upon a jutting point of rock and raised a hand in the sweeping upward motion of the peace-sign. The questing bullets that came seeking for bone and flesh among the rocks and bushes came no more when the signal was passed from those who saw to those farther back who could not see the figure silhouetted against the brilliant blue of the sky. A moment he stood, made the sign again, and waited.
"That's peace-sign, sure as you're born!" Luck cried breathlessly, and went scrambling through the bushes to where he might stand in the open, on the very rim of the basin. Applehead yelled to him to come back and not make a dang fool of himself, but luck gave no heed to the warning. He stood out in the blazing sunshine and gave the peace-sign in reply.
On the-rim rock the Indian stood motionless while he might have taken three or four breaths. Then with his hand he gave the sign for "pow-wow" and waited again.
Luck, his pulse thrilling at the once familiar gesture which his tribal "father," old chief Big Turkey, used to give when he came stalking up for his daily confab with his adopted son, gave back the sign with a hand that trembled noticeably. Whereupon the Indian on the farther rim turned and began dignifiedly to climb through a rift in the ledge down into the Frying-pan.
"He wants a pow-wow," Luck called back to the bunch. "You fellows stay where you're at I'm going out there in the middle and talk to him."
"Now, Luck, don't let 'em make a dang monkey outa ye," Applehead protested anxiously. "Injuns is tricky—"
"That's all right. You can keep a couple of rifles sighted on that old chief—that's what he is, I take it, from his actions and his talking 'sign' and then if they pot me, you can pot him. But they won't. I know Injuns better than you do, Applehead. He just wants to talk things over—and I'm certainly willing that he should!"
"Well, Lite, you keep your sights lined up on that Injun, then. 'N' if they's a crooked move made towards Luck, you cut loose—'n' say! You shoot to kill, this time!" He shook his finger in Lite's face admonishingly. "'S all right t' nip "em here 'n' take a hunk out there jest t' kinda take their minds off'n us—-'s all right enough so fur, 'n' I ain't kickin' none 'cause yuh ain't killed off yuh hit. But if this here's a trick t' git Luck, you KILL that Injun. 'N' if you don't do it I'll go out there m'self 'n' choke the dang skunk t' death!"
"I'll kill him—don't worry about that," Lite promised—and the look in his eyes told them that the Indian was doomed at the first sign of treachery.
"You fellers wanta keep an eye peeled fer them in the grove," Applehead warned. "We ain't goin' t' give 'em no chanst t' sneak up 'n' skulp us whilst we're watchin' Luck 'n' his dang-fool pow-wowin' out there in the middle."
"Aw, gwan! They wouldn't DAST skelp white folks!" There was a wail in the voice of Happy Jack.
"They dast if they git the chanst," Applehead retorted fretfully. "'N' if you don't wanta loose that there red mop uh yourn ye better keep yer eyes open, now I'm tellin' yuh!" He refilled his rifle magazine and took up his station beside Lite Avery where he could watch the Frying-pan through the bushes without exposing himself to a treacherous shot from the rim-rock.
At the foot of the sandstone ledge the Indian stood with his bright red blanket wrapped around him watching Luck. On his own side Luck stood just clear of the rock huddle and watched the Indian. Presently he of the red blanket lifted his hand in the gesture of peace, and started deliberately out across the bare little basin. From his own side, Luck, returning again the gesture, went out to meet him. In the center they met, and eyed each other frankly. Still eyeing Luck, the old Indian put out his hand Indian fashion, and Luck grave it one downward shake and let go.
"How?" he grunted; and in the Indian custom of preparing for a leisurely pow-wow as he had been taught by the Sioux, he squatted upon his boot heels and reached for his cigarette papers and tobacco.
"How?" replied the Navajo, a flicker of interest in his eyes at these little Indian touches in Luck's manner, and sat himself down cross-legged on the hot sand. Luck rolled a cigarette and passed the "makings" to the other, who received it gravely and proceeded to help himself. Luck scratched a match on a stone that lay beside him, lighted the Indian's cigarette and then his own, took four puffs and blew the smoke upward, watching it spread and drift away, and made the gesture that meant "Our pow-wow will be good," as he had seen the Sioux medicine men do before a council. Afterwards he began placidly to smoke and meditate.
From his manner you would never have guessed that his life and the lives of the Happy Family hung upon the outcome of this meeting. You would not have surmised that his stomach was gnawing at his nerves, sending out insistently the call for food; or that his thirst tormented him; or that the combination of hunger, heat, thirst and mental strain had bred a jumping headache that was knotting the veins in his temples. All these nagging miseries beset him—but he knew the ways of the Indians and he meant to impress this old man first of all with his plains-Indian training; so he schooled himself to patience.
The Indian eyed him furtively from under heavy eyebrows while he smoked. And the sun beat savagely down upon the sand of that basin, and Luck's vision blurred with the pain that throbbed behind his eyes. But the facial discipline of the actor was his to command, and he permitted his face to give no sign of what he felt or thought.
The Indian leaned slowly, lifted a brown hand, made a studied gesture or two and waited, his eyes fixed unwinkingly upon Luck. It was as if he were saying to himself: "We'll see if this white man can speak in the sign-talk of the Indians."
Luck lifted his two hands, drew them slowly apart to say that he had come a long way. Then, using only his hands—sometimes his fingers only—he began to talk; to tell the old Navajo that he and eight other white men were sheriffs and that they were chasing four white men (since he had no sign that meant Mexican) who had stolen money; that they had come from Albuquerque—and there he began to draw in the sand between them a crude but thoroughly understandable sketch of the trail they had taken and the camps they had made, and the distance they believed the four thieves had travelled ahead of them.
He marked the camp where their horses had been stolen from them and told how long they had waited there until the horses of their own accord returned to camp; thirteen horses, he explained to the old Navajo. He drew a rough square to indicate the square butte, sketched the fork of the trail there and told how four men had turned to the north on a false trail, while he and four others had gone around the southern end of the hill. He calmly made plain that at the end of both false trails a trap had been laid, that Indians had fired upon white men and for no just cause. Why was this go? Why had Indians surrounded them back there in the grove and tried to kill them? Why were Indians shooting at them from the ledge of rocks that circled this little basin? They had no quarrel with the Navajos. They were chasing thieves, to take them to jail.
Folded swelteringly in his red blanket the old Indian sat humped forward a little, smoking slowly his cigarette and studying the sketch Luck had drawn for him. With aching head and parched throat and hungry stomach, Luck sat cross-legged on the hot sand and waited, and would not let his face betray any emotion at all. Up on the Tim-rock brown faces peered down steadfastly at the pow-wow. And back among the rocks and bushes the Happy Family waited restively with eyes turning in all directions guarding against treachery; and Lite, whose bullets always went straight to the spot where they were aimed, stood and stared fixedly over his rifle sights at the red-blanketed figure squatted in the sand and kept his finger crooked upon the trigger. Beside him Applehead fidgeted and grumbled and called Luck names for being so dang slow, and wondered if those two out there meant to sit and chew the rag all day.
The Indian leaned and traced Luck's trail slowly with his finger. Did the four white men come that way? he asked in sign. And then, had Luck seen them? Was he sure that he was following the four who had stolen money in Albuquerque?
Come to think of it, Luck was not sure to the point of being able to take oath that it was so. He traced again where the hoofprints had been discovered near the stalled automobile, and signed that the six horses they believed to have belonged to the four who had taken two horses packed with food and blankets—and the stolen money.
Then suddenly Luck remembered that, for proof of his story, he had a page of the Evening Herald in his pocket, torn from a copy he had bought on the streets the evening after the robbery. He pulled the folded paper out, spread it before the other and pointed to the article that told of the robbery. "Call some young man of your tribe who can read," he signed. "Let him read and tell you if I have spoken the truth."
The Indian took the paper and looked at it curiously.
Now, unless Applehead or some other hot-head spoiled things, Luck believed that things would smooth down beautifully. There had been some misunderstanding, evidently—else the Indiana would never have manifested all this old-fashioned hostility.
The blanketed one showed himself a true diplomat. "Call one of your white men, that there may be two and two," he gestured. And he added, with the first words he had spoken since they met, "Hablo espanol?"
Well, if he spoke Spanish, thought Luck, why the deuce hadn't he done it at first? But there is no fathoming the reticence of an Indian—and Luck, by a sudden impulse, hid his own knowledge of the language. He stood up and turned toward the rocks, cupped his hands around his lips and called for the Native Son. "And leave your rifle at home," he added as an afterthought and in the interests of peace.
The Indian turned to the rim-rock, held up the fragment of newspaper and called for one whom he called Juan. Presently Juan's Stetson appeared above the ledge, and Juan himself scrambled hastily down the rift and came to them, grinning with his lips and showing a row of beautifully even teeth, and asking suspicious questions with his black eyes that shone through narrowed lids.
Miguel, arriving just then from the opposite direction, sized him up with one heavy-lashed glance and nodded negligently. He had left his rifle behind him as he had been told, but his six-shooter hung inside the waistband of his trousers where he could grip it with a single drop of his hand. The Native Son, lazy as he looked, was not taking any chances.
The old Indian explained in Navajo to the young man who eyed the two white men while he listened. Of the blanket-vending, depot-haunting type was this young man, with a ready smile and a quick eye for a bargain and a smattering of English learned in his youth at a mission, and a larger vocabulary of Mexican that lent him fluency of speech when the mood to talk was on him. Half of his hair was cut so that it hung even with his ear-lobes. At the back it was long and looped up in the way a horse's tail is looped in muddy weather, and tied with a grimy red ribbon wound round and round it. He wore a green-and-white roughneck sweater broadly striped, and the blue overalls that inevitably follow American civilization into the wild places.
"'S hot day," he announced unemotionally, and took the paper which the red-blanketed one held out to him. His air of condescension could not hide the fact that behind his pride at being able to read print he was unhappily aware also of his limitations in the accomplishment. Along the scare-head Luck had indicated, his dirty forefinger moved slowly while he spelled out the words. "A-a-bank rob!" he read triumphantly, and repeated the statement in Spanish. After that he mumbled a good deal of it, the longer words arresting his finger while he struggled with the syllables. But he got the sense of it nevertheless, as Luck and Miguel knew by the version he gave in Spanish to the old Indian, with now and then a Navajo word to help out.
When he came to the place where Ramon Chavez and Luis Rojas were named as the thieves, he gave a grunt and looked up at Luck and Miguel, read in, their faces that these were the men they sought, and grinned.
"Me, I know them feller," he declared unexpectedly. "Dat day I seen them feller. They go—"
The old Indian touched him on the shoulder, and Juan turned and repeated the statement in Spanish. The old man's eyes went to luck understandingly, while he asked Juan a question in the Navajo tongue, and afterwards gave a command. He turned his eyes upon the Native Son and spoke in Spanish. "The men you want did not come this way," he said gravely. "Juan will tell."
"Yes, I know dat Ramon Chavez. I seen him dat day. I'm start for home, an' I seen Ramon Chavez an' dat Luis Rojas an' one white feller I'm don't know dat feller. They don't got red car. They got big, black car. They come outa corral—scare my horse. They go 'cross railroad. I go 'cross rio. One red car pass me. I go along, bimeby I pass red car in sand. Ramon Chavez, he don't go in dat car. I don't know them feller. Ramon Chavez he go 'cross railroad in big black car."
"Then who was it we've been trailing out this way?" Luck asked the question in Spanish and glanced from one brown face to the other.
The older Indian shifted his moccasined feet in the sand and looked away. "Indians," he said in Mexican. "You follow, Indians think you maybe take them away—put 'm in jail. All friends of them Indians pretty mad. They come fight you. I hear, I come to find out what's fighting about."
Luck gazed at him stupidly for a moment until the full meaning of the statement seeped through the ache into his brain. He heaved a great sigh of relief, looked at the Native Son and laughed.
"The joke's on us, I guess," he said. "Go, back and tell that to the boys. I'll be along in a minute."
Juan, grinning broadly at what he considered a very good joke on the nine white men who had traveled all this way for nothing, went back to explain the mistake to his fellows on the ledge. The old Indian took it upon himself to disperse the Navajos in the grove, and just as suddenly as the trouble started it was stopped—and the Happy Family, if they had been at all inclined to belittle the danger of their position, were made to realize it when thirty or more Navajos came flocking in from all quarters. Many of them could—and did—talk English understandably, and most of them seemed inclined to appreciate the joke. All save those whom Lite had "nipped and nicked" in the course of their flight from the rock ridge to the Frying-Pan. These were inclined to be peevish over their hurts and to nurse them in sullen silence while Luck, having a rudimentary knowledge of medicine and surgery, gave them what firstaid treatment was possible.
Applehead, having plenty of reasons for avoiding publicity, had gone into retirement in the shade of a clump of brush, with Lite to keep him company while he smoked a meditative pipe or two and studied the puzzle of Ramon's probable whereabouts.
"Can't trust a Navvy," he muttered in a discreet undertone to Lite. "I've fit 'em b'fore now, 'n' I KNOW. 'N' you kin be dang sure they ain't fergot the times I've fit 'em, neither! There's bucks millin' around here that's jes' achin' fer a chanst at me, t' pay up fer some I've killed off when I was shurf 'n' b'fore. So you keep 'n' eye peeled, Lite, whilst I think out this yere dang move uh Ramon's. 'N' if you see anybody sneakin' up on me, you GIT him. I cain't watch Navvyies 'n' mill things over in m' haid at the same time."
Lite grinned and wriggled over so that his back was against a rock. He laid his six-shooter Ostentatiously across his lap and got out his tobacco and papers. "Go ahead and think, Applehead," he consented placidly. "I'll guard your scalp-lock."
Speaking literally, Applehead had no scalplock to guard. But he did have a shrewd understanding of the mole-like workings of the criminal mind; and with his own mind free to work on the problem, he presently declared that he would bet he could land Ramon Chavez in jail within a week, and sent Lite after Luck.
"I've got it figgered out," he announced when Luck came over to his retreat. "If Ramon crossed the railroad he was aimin' t' hit out across the mesa to the mountains 'n' beyond. He wouldn't go south, 'cause he could be traced among the Injun pueblos—they's a thousand eyes down, that way b'fore he'd git t' wild country. He'd keep away from the valley country—er I would, if I was him. I know dang well whar I'D hit fer if I was makin' a gitaway 'n' didn't come off over here—'n' I shore would keep outa Navvy country, now I'm tellin' yuh! No, sir, I'd take out t'other way, through Hell Canon er Tijeras, 'n' I'd make fer the Jemes country. That thar's plenty wild 'n' rough—'n' come t' think of it, the Chavez boys owns quite a big grant, up in there som'ers, 'n' have got men in their pay up thar, runnin' their cattle. Ramon could lay low fer a dang long while up thar 'n' be safer'n what he would be out amongst strangers.
"'N' another thing, I'd plan t' have some hosses stached out in one uh them canons, 'n' I'd mebby use a autymobile t' git to 'em, 'n' send the car back t' town—I could trust the feller that drove it—outa my sight. 'N', Luck, if you'll take my advice, you'll hit out t'wards the Jemes country. I know every foot uh the way, 'n' we kin make it in a coupla days by pushin' the hosses. 'N' I'll bet every dang hoof I own 't we round up that bunch over thar som'ers."
"You lead out, then," Luck told him promptly. "I'm willing to admit you're better qualified to take charge of the outfit than I am. You know the country—and you've fit Indians."
"We-ell, now, you're dang right I have! 'N' if some them bucks don't go off 'n' mind their own business, I'll likely fight a few morel You shoo 'em outa camp, Luck, 'n' start 'em about their own dang business. 'N' we'll eat a bite 'n' git on about our own. If we show up any grub whilst this bunch is hangin' around we'll have t' feed 'em—'n' you know dang well we ain't got enough skurcely fer the Jemes trip as it is."
"I've been handing out money as it is till I'm about broke," Luck confessed, "making presents to those fellows that came in with bullets in their legs and arms. Funny nobody got hit in the body—except one poor devil that got shot in the shoulder."
"We-ell, now, you kin blame Lite's dang tender heart fer that there," Applehead accused, pulling at his sunbrowned mustache. "We was all comin' on the jump, 'n' so was the Injuns; 'n' it was purty long range 'n' nobody but lite could hit 'n Injun t' save his soul. 'N' Lite, he wouldn't shoot t' kill—he jes' kep' on nippin' an' nickin', 'n' shootin' a boss now an' then. I wisht I was the expert shot Lite is—I'd shore a got me a few Navvies back there, now I'm tellin' yuh!"
"Bud's got a bullet in his arm," Luck said, "but the bone wasn't hit, so he'll make out, and one of the pack-horses was shot in the ear. We got off mighty lucky, and I'm certainly glad Lite didn't get careless. Cost me about fifty dollars to square us as it is. You stay where you are, Applehead, till I get rid of the Indians. The old fellow acts like he feels he ought to stick along till we're outa here. He's kind of taken a notion to me because I can talk sign, and he seems to want to make sure we don't mix it again with the tribe. Some of them are kinda peeved, all right. You've got no quarrel with this old fellow, have you? He's a big-league medicine man in the tribe, and his Spanish name is Mariano Pablo Montoya. Know him?"
"No I don't, 'n' I don't keer to neither," Applehead retorted crossly. "Shoo 'em off, Luck, so's we kin eat. My belly's shore a floppin' agin m' backbone, 'n' I'm tellin' yuh right!"
CHAPTER XX. LUIS ROJAS TALKS
Three days of hiding by day in sequestered little groves or deep, hidden canons, with only Luis Rojas to bear her company—Luis Rojas whom she did not trust and therefore watched always from under her long straight lashes, with oblique glances when she seemed to be gazing straight before her; three nights of tramping through rough places where often the horses must pause and feel carefully for space to set their feet. Roads there were, but Luis avoided roads as though they carried the plague. When he must cross one he invariably turned back and brushed out their footprints—until he discovered that Annie-Many-Ponies was much cleverer at this than he was; often he smoked a cigarette while Annie covered their trail. Three days and three nights, and Ramon was not there where they stopped for the third day.
"We go slow," Luis explained nervously because of the look in the black, unreadable eyes of this straight, slim Indian girl who was so beautiful—and so silent. "They go muy fas', Ramon an' Beel. Poco tiempo—sure, we fin' dem little soon."
Annie-Many-Ponies did not betray by so much as a quiver of an eyelash that Luis had mentioned Bill unwittingly. But she hid the name away in her memory, and all that day she sat and pondered over the meager facts that had come her way, and with the needle of her suspicion she wove them together patiently until the pattern was almost complete.
Ramon and Bill—what Bill, save Bill Holmes, would be with Ramon? Ramon and Bill Holmes—memory pictured them again by the rock in the moonlight, muttering in Spanish mostly, muttering mystery always. Ramon and Bill Holmes she remembered the sly, knowing glances between these two at "location" though they scarcely seemed on speaking terms. Ramon and Bill and this mysterious night-travelling, when there should be no trouble and no mystery at all beyond the house of the priest! So much trouble over the marriage of an Indian girl and a young Mexican cattle king? Annie-Many-Ponies was not so stupid as to believe that; she had seen too much of civilization in her wanderings with the show, and her work in pictures. She had seen man and maid "make marriage," in pictures and in reality. There should be no trouble, no mysterious following of Ramon by night.
Something evil there was, since Bill Holmes was with Ramon. Annie-Many-Ponies knew that it was so. Perhaps—perhaps the evil was against Wagalexa Conka! Perhaps—her heart forgot to beat when the thought stabbed her brain—perhaps they had killed Wagalexa Conka! It might be so, if he had suspected her flight and had followed Ramon, and they had fought.
In the thick shade of a pinon Luis slept with his face to the ground, his forehead pressed upon his folded arms. Annie-Many-Ponies got up silently and went and stood beside him, looking down at him as though she meant to wrest the truth from his brain. And Luis, feeling in his sleep the intensity of her gaze, stirred uneasily, yawned and sat up, looking about him bewilderedly. His glance rested on the girl, and he sprang to his feet and faced her.
Annie-Many-Ponies smiled her little, tantalizing, wistfully inviting smile—the smile which luck bad whimsically called heart-twisting. "I awful lonesome," she murmured, and sat down with her back nestling comfortably against a grassy bank. "You talk. I not lets you sleep all time. You think I not good for talk to?"
"Me, I not tell w'at I'm theenk," Luis retorted with a crooning note, and sat down facing her. "Ramon be mad me."
Annie-Many-Ponies looked at him, her eyes soft and heavy with that languorous look which will quickest befuddle the sense of a man. "You tell; Ramon not hear," she hinted. "Ramon, he got plenty trobles for thinking about." She smiled again. "Ramon plenty long ways off. He got Bill Holmes for talking to. You talk to me."
How he did it, why he did it, Luis Rojas could never explain afterwards. Something there was in her smile, in her voice, that bewitched him. Something there was that made him think she knew and approved of the thing Ramon had planned. He made swift, Spanish love to Annie-Many-Ponies, who smiled upon him but would not let him touch her hand—and so bewitched him the more. He made love—but also he talked. He told Annie-Many-Ponies all that she wished him to tell; and some things that she had never dreamed and that she shrank from hearing.
For he told her of the gold they had stolen, and how they had made it look as though Luck Lindsay had planned the theft. He told her that he loved her—which did not interest her greatly—and he told her that Ramon would never marry her—which was like a knife thrust to her soul. Ramon had many loves, said Luis, and he was true to none; never would he marry a woman to rule his life and make him trouble—it were easier to make love and then laugh and ride away. Luis was "muy s'prised" that Annie-Many-Ponies had ever believed that Ramon would marry her, beautiful though she was, charming though she was, altogether irresistible though she was—Luis became slightly incoherent here and lapsed into swift rolling Spanish words which she did not understand.
Luis, before the sun went down and it was time to eat supper and go on, became so thoroughly bewitched that he professed himself eager to let his share of the gold go, and to take Annie-Many-Ponies to a priest and marry her—if she wished very much to be married by a priest. In the middle of his exaltation, Annie-Many-Ponies chilled him with the look she gave him.
"You big fool," she told him bluntly. "I not so fool like that. I go to Ramon—and plenty gold! I think you awful fool. You make me tired!"
Luis was furious enough for a minute to do her violence—but Annie-Many-Ponies killed that impulse also with the cold contempt in her eyes. She was not afraid of him, and like an animal he dared not strike where he could not inspire fear. He muttered a Mexican oath or two and went mortifiedly away to lead the horses down to the little stream where they might drink. The girl was right—he was a fool, he told himself angrily; and sulked for hours.
Fool or not, he had told Annie-Many-Ponies what she wanted to know. He had given food to her brooding thoughts—food that revived swiftly and nourished certain traits lying dormant in her nature, buried alive under the veneer of white man's civilization—as we are proud to call it.
The two ate in silence, and in silence they saddled the horses and fared forth again in their quest of Ramon—who had the gold which Annie-Many-Ponies boldly asserted was an added lure. "The monee—always the man wins that has muchos monee." Luis muttered often to himself as he rode into the dusk. Behind him Annie-Many-Ponies walked and led the black horse that bore all her worldly possessions bound to the saddle. The little black dog padded patiently along at his heels.
CHAPTER XXI. "WAGALEXA CONKA—COLA!"
"So good little girl yoh are to true' Ramon! Now I knows for sure yoh lov' me moch as I lov' yoh! Now we go little ride more to my house high up in the pinons—then we be so happy like two birds in nes'. Firs' we rest ourselves, querida mia. This good place for res', my sweetheart that comes so far to be with Ramon. To-morrow we go to my house—to nes' of my loved one. Thees cabin, she's very good little nes' ontil tomorrow—yoh theenk so?"
Annie-Many-Ponies, sitting beside the doorway of the primitive little log cabin where the night-journeys with Luis had ended, looked up into Ramon's flushed face with her slow smile. But her eyes were two deep, black wells whose depths he could not fathom.
"Where them priest you promise?" she asked, her voice lowered to its softest Indian tone. "Now I think we make plenty marriage; then we go for live in your house."
Ramon turned and caught her unexpectedly in his arms. "Ah, now you spik foolish talk. Yoh not trus' Ramon! Why yoh talk pries', pries' all time? Lov', she's plenty pries' for us. Pries' she don' make us more lov' each other—pries' don' make us happy—we like birds that make nes' in tree-tops. Yoh think they mus' have pries' for help them be happy? Lov'—that's plenty for me."
Annie-Many-Ponies drew herself away from his embrace, but she did it gently. Bill Holmes, coming up from the spring, furnished excuse enough, and Ramon let her go.
"You promise me priest for making us marriage," she persisted in her soft voice.
Ramon twisted the points of his black mustache and regarded her askance, smiling crookedly. "Yoh 'fraid for trus' me, that's why I promise," he said at last. "Me, I don' need padre to mumble-mumble foolish words before I can be happy. Yoh 'fraid of Luck Leen'sey, that's why I promise. Now yoh come way up here, so luck don' matter no more. Yoh be happy weeth me."
"You promise," Annie-Many-Ponies repeated, a sullen note creeping into her voice.
Bill Holmes, lounging up to the doorway, glanced from one to the other and laughed. "What's the matter, Ramon?" he bantered. "Can't you square it with your squaw? Go after her with a club, why don't you? That's what they're used to."
Ramon did not make any reply whatever, and Bill gave another chuckling laugh and joined Luis, who was going to take the gaunt horses to a tiny meadow beyond the hill. As he went he said something that made Luis look back over his shoulder and laugh.
Annie-Many-Ponies lifted her head and stared straight at Ramon. He did not meet her eyes, nor did he show any resentment of Bill Holmes' speech; yet he had sworn that he loved her, that he would be proud to have her for his wife. She, the daughter of a chief, had been insulted in his presence, and he had made no protest, shown no indignation.
"You promise priest for making us marriage," she reiterated coldly, as if she meant to force his real self into the open. "You promise you put ring of gold for wedding on my finger, like white woman's got."
Ramon's laugh was not pleasant. "Yoh theenk marry squaw?" he sneered. "Luck Leen'sey, he don't marry yoh. Why yoh theenk I marry yoh? You be good, Ramon lov' yoh. Buy yoh lots pretty theengs, me treat yoh fine. Yoh lucky girl, yoh bet. Yoh don't be foolish no more. Yoh run away, be my womans. W'at yoh theenk? Go back, perhaps? Yoh theenk Luck Leen'sey take yoh back? You gone off with Ramon Chavez, he say; yoh stay weeth Ramon then. Yoh Ramon's woman now. Yoh not be foolish like yoh too good for be kees. Luck, be kees yoh many times, I bet! Yoh don' play good girl no more for Ramon—oh-h, no! That joke she's w'at yoh call ches'nut. We don' want no more soch foolish talk, or else maybe I do w'at Bill Holmes says she's good for squaw!"
"You awful big liar," Annie-Many-Ponies stated with a calm, terrific frankness. "You plenty big thief. You fool me plenty—now I don't be fool no more. You so mean yoh think all mens like you. You think all girls bad girls. You awful big fool, you think I stay for you. I go."
Ramon twisted his mustache and laughed at her. "Now yoh so pretty, when yoh mad," he teased. "How yoh go? All yoh theengs in cabin—monee, clothes, grob—how yoh go? Yoh mad now—pretty soon Ramon he makes yoh glad! Shame for soch cross words—soch cross looks! Now I don't talk till yoh be good girl, and says yoh lov' Ramon. I don't let yoh go, neither. Yoh don't get far way—I promise yoh for true. I breeng yoh back, sweetheart, I promise I breeng yoh back I Yoh don't want to go no more w'en I'm through weeth yoh—I promise yoh! Yoh theenk I let yoh go? O-oh-h, no! Ramon not let yoh get far away!"
In her heart she knew that he spoke at last the truth; that this was the real Ramon whom she had never before seen. To every woman must come sometime the bitter awakening from her dreamworld to the real world in all its sordidness and selfishness. Annie-Many-Ponies, standing there looking at Ramon—Ramon who laughed at her goodness—knew now what the future that had lain behind the mountains held in store for her. Not happiness, surely; not the wide ring of gold that would say she was Ramon's wife. Luis was right. He had spoken the truth, though she had believed that he lied when he said Ramon would never marry a woman. He would love and laugh and ride away, Luis had told her. Well, then—
"Shunka Chistala!" she called softly to the little black dog, that came eagerly, wagging his burr-matted tail. She laid her hand on its head when the dog jumped up to greet her. She smiled faintly while she fondled its silky, flapping ears.
"Why you all time pat that dam-dog?" Ramon flashed out jealously. "You don't pet yoh man what lov' yoh!"
"Dogs don't lie," said Annie-Many-Ponies coldly, and walked away. She did not look back, she did not hurry, though she must have known that Ramon in one bound could have stopped her with his man's strength. Her head was high, her shoulders were straight, her eyes were so black the pupils did not show at all, and a film of inscrutability veiled what bitter thoughts were behind them.
As it had been with Luis so it was now with Ramon. Her utter disregard of him held him back from touching her. He stood with wrath in his eyes and let her go—and to hide his weakness from her strength he sent after her a sneering laugh and words that were like a whip.
"All right—jus' for now I let you ron," he jeered. "Bimeby she's different. Bimeby I show yoh who's boss. I make yoh cry for Ramon be good to yoh!"
Annie-Many-Ponies did not betray by so much as a glance that she beard him. But had he seen her face he would have been startled at the look his words brought there. He would have been startled and perhaps he would have been warned. For never bad she carried so clearly the fighting look of her forefathers who went out to battle. With the little black dog at her heels she climbed a small, round-topped hill that had a single pine like a cockade growing from the top.
For ten minutes she stood there on the top and stared away to the southeast, whence she had come to keep her promise to Ramon. Never, it seemed to her, had a girl been so alone. In all the world there could not be a soul so bitter. Liar—thief—betrayer of women—and she had left the clean, steadfast friendship of her brother Wagalexa Conka for such human vermin as Ramon Chavez! She sat down, and with her face hidden in her shawl and her slim body rocking back and forth in weird rhythm to her wailing, she crooned the mourning song of the Omaha. Death of her past, death of her place among good people, death of her friendship, death of hope—she sat there with her face turned toward the far-away, smiling mesa where she had been happy, and wailed softly to herself as the women of her tribe had wailed when sorrow came to them in the days that were gone.
All through the afternoon she sat there with her back to the lone pine tree and her face turned toward the southeast, while the little black dog lay at her feet and slept. From the cabin Ramon watched her, stubbornly waiting until she would come down to him of her own accord. She would come—of that he was sure. She would come if he convinced her that he would not go up and coax her to come. Ramon had known many girls who were given to sulking over what he considered their imaginary wrongs, and he was very sure that he knew women better than they knew themselves. She would come, give her time enough, and she could not fling at him then any taunt that he had been over-eager. Certainly she would come—she was a woman!
But the shadow of the pines lengthened until they lay like long fingers across the earth; and still she did not come. Bill Holmes and Luis, secure in the knowledge that Ramon was on guard against any unlooked-for visitors, slept heavily on the crude bunks in the cabin. Birds began twittering animatedly as the beat of the day cooled and they came forth from their shady retreats—and still Annie-Many-Ponies sat on the little hilltop, within easy calling distance of the cabin, and never once looked down that way. Still the little black dog curled at her feet and slept. For all the movement these two made, they might have been of stone; the pine above was more unquiet than they.
Ramon, watching her while he smoked many cigarettes, became filled with a vague uneasiness What was she thinking? What did she mean to do? He began to have faint doubts of her coming down to him. He began to be aware of something in her nature that was unlike those other women; something more inflexible, more silent, something that troubled him even while he told himself that she was like all the rest and he would be her master.
"Bah! She thinks to play with me, Ramon! Then I will go up and I will show her—she will follow weeping at my heels—like that dog of hers that some day I shall kill!"
He got up and threw away his cigarette, glanced within and saw that Bill and Luis still slept, and started up the hill to where that motionless figure sat beneath the pine and kept her face turned from him. It would be better, thought Ramon, to come upon her unawares, and so he went softly and very slowly, placing each foot as carefully as though he were stalking a wild thing of the woods.
Annie-Many-Ponies did not hear him coming. All her heart was yearning toward that far away mesa. "Wagalexa Conka—cola!" she whispered, for "cola" is the Sioux word for friend. Aloud she dared not speak the word, lest some tricksy breeze carry it to him and fill him with; anger because she had betrayed his friendship. "Wagalexa Conka—cola! cola!"
Friendship that was dead—but she yearned for it the more. And it seemed to her as she whispered, that Wagalexa Conka was very, very near. Her heart felt his nearness, and her eyes softened. The Indian look—the look of her fighting forefathers—drifted slowly from her face as fog, drifts away before the sun. He was near—perhaps he was dead and his spirit had come to take her spirit by the hand and call her cola—friend. If that were so, then she wished that her spirit might go with his spirit, up through all that limitless blue, away and away and away, and never stop, and never tire and never feel anything but friendship like warm, bright sunshine!
Down at the cabin a sound—a cry, a shout—startled her. She brushed her hand across her eyes and looked down. There, surrounding the cabin, were the Happy Family, and old Applehead whom she hated because he hated her. And in their midst stood Bill Holmes and Luis, and the setting sun shone on something bright—like great silver rings—that clasped their wrists.
Coming up the hill toward her was Wagalexa Conka, climbing swiftly, looking up as he came. Annie-Many-Ponies sprang to her feet, startling the little black dog that gave a yelp of astonishment. Came he in peace? She hesitated, watching him unwinkingly. Something swelled in her chest until she could hardly breathe, and then fluttered there like a prisoned bird. "COLA!" she gasped, just under her breath, and raised her hand in the outward, sweeping gesture that spoke peace.
"You theenk to fix trap, you—!"
She whirled and faced Ramon, whose eyes blazed bate and murder and whose tongue spoke the foulness of his soul. He flung out his arm fiercely and thrust her aside. "Me, I kill that dam—"
He did not say any more, and the six-shooter he had levelled at Luck dropped from his nerveless hand like a coiled adder, Annie-Many-Ponies had struck. Like an avenging spirit she pulled the knife free and held it high over her head, facing Luck who stared up at her from below. He thought the look in her eyes was fear of him and of the law, and he lifted his hand and gave back the peace-sign. It was for him she had killed and she should not be punished if he could save her. But Luck failed to read her look aright; it was not fear he saw, but farewell.
For with her free hand she made the sign of peace and farewell—and then the knife descended straight as a plummet to her heart. But even as she fell she spurned the dead Ramon with her feet, so that he rolled a little way while the black dog growled at him with bared teeth; even in death she would not touch him who had been so foul.
Luck ran the last few, steep steps, and took her in his arms. His eyes were blurred so that he could not see her face, and his voice shook so that he could scarcely form the words that brushed back death from her soul and brought a smile to her eyes.
Annie-Many-Ponies raised one creeping hand, groping until her fingers touched his face.
He took her fingers and for an instant, while she yet could feel, he laid them against his lips.