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The Talking Leaves - An Indian Story
by William O. Stoddard
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"Young brave," they said, with approving nods. "Glad all over. Make good warrior some day."

He was indeed "glad all over," but Murray cautioned him by a look, and he said nothing.

He was almost too glad to eat, but his appetite came back to him while he and Murray were cooking. He had eaten nothing since morning, and mountain air is a very hungry sort of air.

"That's right, my boy. There's no saying when you may get your next square meal. There's hard work before you and me, and plenty of it."

The next thing that came to Steve was a surprise.

Murray had never worn paint or adopted any more of Indian ways than he could help, but it was a wonder how soon he made himself look like a white man.

There was more in the pack on his spare pony than Steve had imagined.

A few minutes' work with a pair of small scissors made a remarkable change in his hair and beard, and then the long locks of Yellow Head himself had to suffer.

"Go and scrub off every spot of paint, while I'm rigging my hunting-shirt and leggings. You won't know me when you come back."

That was saying a little too much, but To-la-go-to-de himself expressed his admiration. He had seen wilder looking white men, by the hundred, among the border-settlements. No eyes in the world would suspect No Tongue of being a Lipan.

The transformation in Steve's appearance was shortly even greater, for Murray was able to furnish him with a "check" shirt and black silk neckerchief.

"Buckskin trousers'll have to do, my boy. No boots in camp, but I can knock the wrinkles out of this head-piece for you."

It was a black felt hat, and not very badly worn. Murray himself always wore one, but the supply had not been good enough for a long time to allow Steve to do the same.

"Now, Steve, I'm going to make old Two Knives give you the best mount in camp—good as mine."

Such a war-party never carries any slow horses with it, but there were some better than others, and the chief was as anxious as Steve that his "scouts" should be well mounted. Otherwise they might not be able to get back to him with any information they might pick up.

"Plenty of ammunition, Steve. Never mind any other kind of baggage, except some jerked meat. We may have to live on that."

There was no need for To-la-go-to-de to urge them. Not a minute was thrown away in their rapid preparations, and then the whole band turned out to see them ride away.

"I tell you what, Steve," said Murray, "we're not dressed in the latest fashion, but I haven't felt so much like a white man for years. I'll act like one, too."

There was a flash of pain in his eyes as he said that. Could it be he had ever done anything unworthy of his race and training?

Perhaps, for he had ridden on a great many warpaths with the fierce and merciless Lipans.

The latter would not follow till morning, and would move less rapidly than their two scouts, but their progress was not likely to be at all slow.

Steve Harrison rode on by the side of his friend for some distance without saying a word.

"What's the matter, Steve?"

"Murray, I don't mean ever to go back to the Lipans."

"Not unless it's necessary."

"It won't be necessary."

"Can't say, Steve. All this country's full of Apaches. We may get a sight of 'em any minute. I don't much care how soon we do, either."

"I'm not Indian enough for some things, Murray."

"Couldn't you fight Apaches?"

"I suppose I could, if they came to fight me. But I don't want to kill anybody. I thought you said you were feeling more like a white man."

"Steve, I don't know how I'd feel if I had a white shirt on, and a suit of civilized clothes. I'm a good deal of a savage yet, as it is."

"I never saw anything very savage about you."

"I'm on the war-path now, Steve, after my old enemies. Let's make as good time as we can before dark. After that we'll have to go carefully till the moon's up."

They were advancing a good deal more rapidly than the Apaches had been able to do over that same pass, hindered by their long train of tired pack-ponies and their women and children.

It was not a difficult trail to follow, for the lodge pole ends, dragging on the ground, had so deeply marked it that a man like Murray could have found it in the dark.

That was precisely what he did, after the sun sunk behind the western mountains, and the deep shadows crept up from the ravines and covered everything.

After the moon arose it was easier work, and Steve thought he had never seen anything more beautiful than was the moonlight on the quartz cliffs, and the forests, and the little lakes in the deep valleys, and on the foaming streams which came tumbling down the mountain sides from the regions of perpetual snow above.

Perhaps he was right, for hardly anybody has ever seen anything more beautiful in its way than such a moonlight view as that.

There was no time to stop and gaze, for Murray pushed on as fast as possible without using up their tough and wiry mustangs.

"We may need all the legs they've got to-morrow, Steve. We must find grass and water for them before daybreak."

It was a good three hours before sunrise, and the moon had again left them in darkness, when they almost groped their way down a steep declivity into a small hollow.

"Can't say how much there is of it, Steve, but this'll do. The Apache ponies have been cropping this very grass within twenty-four hours. Look at that."

"I can't see it very well."

"Feel of it, then. Don't you understand such a sign as that?"

"It's only a tuft of grass."

"Yes, but I found it ready pulled off, and it hasn't had time to more than wilt a little. The man that pulled it was here yesterday."

Murray did not know it, but no man had pulled that grass. It was a bunch Ni-ha-be had gathered for her pony, and then had thrown at Rita. Still, the guess about the time of it was nearly right, and that was a good enough place to rest in until daylight.

"No cooking this morning, I suppose," remarked Steve, when Murray shook him out of the nice nap he had snatched, wrapped in his "serape," or Mexican blanket. "No breakfast, eh?"

"You don't know what tales a smoke might tell, or to whom it might tell 'em. Cold meat'll have to do for this time, and glad to get it. After that, Steve, you'll do the most dangerous riding ever you did."

"Why, are they so near?"

"Can't be many miles. Our first hunt, though, will be for a place to hide our horses in."

"Why not leave 'em here?"

"I thought of that, but we may need 'em."

Their morning ride was a longer one than Murray imagined, but before noon he was able to say,

"The backbone of the pass is miles behind us, Steve. All the rest of the way'll be down hill, or kind of up and down."

"Up and down" it was, but they had barely advanced another half-mile before Steve exclaimed,

"There they are, Murray!"

"There they are! What a valley it is, too! But, Steve, they don't mean to stay there."

"A spy-glass? I didn't know you had one! How do you tell that they won't stay?"

"The glass? It's a double one. Some army officer owned it once, I suppose. I got it of old Two Knives himself. Nobody knows how it came to him. Look through it."

Steve had seen such things before, but had known very little about them. He did not even know how very good a glass that was with which he was now peering down upon the camp of the Apaches.

"See the lodge-poles lying there—in a dozen places?"

"They've put up some lodges."

"If they meant to stay they'd put up the others. No use for us to go back. The Lipans are coming along fast enough so long as the Apaches are on the move."

"But how can we get any farther? We can't ride right through them."

"I should say not; nor over them either. But if we can get into that pine-forest over there on the north slope, without being seen, we can ride around them."

"I'll risk it, Murray."

"So will I, Steve. I'd never let you try a thing like that alone."

"I could do it."

"Perhaps. And you'll have a good many things of that kind to do before you reach the settlements; but I guess I'll go with you this time."

"You'd better go with me all the way."

Murray said nothing, but he sprung from his horse, and Steve imitated him.

Men on foot were not so likely to be seen from the Apache camp.

There was nothing in or about that camp which Murray did not carefully study through his glass, and it showed him what was going on more clearly and perfectly than even the wonderfully keen black eyes of Ni-ha-be had shown it all to her, from almost the same spot, the day before.

"It's a hunting-camp, Steve, but it's a very strong party."

"Too strong for our Lipans?"

"I don't know about that. If we could surprise them by night we might do something with them."

"I'm no Lipan, Murray. None of those people down there ever did me any harm. Did they ever do you any? I don't mean any other Apaches; I'm just speaking of that camp."

"Well, no, I'm not sure about that. I don't know that I've any special grudge against this lot."

"Seems to me it's a good deal like an Indian to kill one man for what another man did. I'm only a boy, and I've been among the Lipans three years, but I've made up my mind to stay white."

Steve spoke with a good deal of energy, and his robust form seemed to stand up straighter.

"You're right, Steve; don't you do a thing that isn't fit for your color. I won't say anything more about myself just now."

If anybody had been listening to those two that morning, or indeed at any other time, he might have noticed something curious about the way Steve Harrison talked. It was not to be wondered at that a veteran like Murray should be slow of speech, and it suited well with his white hair and his wrinkles.

There was a good reason for it. Except when talking with Murray, Steve had not heard a word of English for three years.

Yes, there had been one other exception. When, ever he had found himself all alone he had talked to himself, asking and answering questions, and listening to his own pronunciation of the words.

"I shall get among white men some day," he thought, "and it would be a dreadful thing to be white myself and not talk white. Anyhow, I've learned Mexican Spanish since I've been out here, and I'll be glad enough to forget all I know of Indian talk."

He did not know it, but some things he said sounded ten years older and wiser just for his manner of saying them. Besides, he had had to think a great deal, and to keep most of his thoughts to himself. Not a great many boys do that.

"Come on, Steve. That ledge isn't badly broken. Horses can follow it, and it heads away right into the pine-forest. We must try it."

"We can get almost down into the valley without being seen."

"Yes, and we can find out if any good gap opens out of the valley to the northward."



CHAPTER X

Captain Skinner and his miners were quickly at the head of that ravine again, but the gold ledge stopped them all as if it had been a high fence.

"Cap," said the man called Bill, "of course them two fellers lit onto this mine. They couldn't ha' helped it. But they haven't done a stroke of work on it. Reckon we kin set up marks of our own."

"'Twont pay."

"We can't leave a claim like this."

Every man of the party was of the same opinion, and Captain Skinner said,

"Go ahead, boys. Only I can tell you one thing. We're going to move out of this, through that western gap, before daylight to-morrow morning. We're too near those red-skins down there to suit me. There's no telling how many there may be of them."

The men sprung to their work with a will. The first thing they did was to set up a "discovery monument" right in the middle of the ledge, at the head of the chasm.

Large flat stones were laid down, others carefully set upon them, and so up and up, till a pretty well shaped, four-sided pyramid had been made, six feet square and as many high.

Then two more, nearly as large, were set up at the ends of the ledge, where the gold vein disappeared in the high cliffs.

Seven strong men can do a great deal in a short time when they are in a hurry and all understand exactly what to do.

"Now we'll go for supper, and send out the rest."

"Must have a shaft begun and a blast fired."

The miners have a law of their own among themselves that a man who finds a mine must do some work on it and set up "marks," or else his claim to it is of no value.

These miners only paid no attention to another "law," that a man like Steve Harrison, for instance, is entitled to all the time required to do his work and set up his monuments. One part of the law is just as good as another.

The return to camp was quickly made, and there was news to tell all around, for the hunters not only brought in game but also the information that they "reckoned an army train could be hauled down that gap to the westward. It's almost as good as a road."

"We'll try it to-morrow," said the Captain.

He went out with all the men he could spare from camp as soon as supper was eaten, and they carried with them pickaxes, crow-bars, mining drills, and shovels. All the tools were pretty well worn, but they would answer for the work in hand.

It was getting dark when they reached the ledge; but that was of less consequence after two huge bonfires had been built near the central monument, and heaped with fragments of fallen pine-trees. Then the work began.

"Gangs of three," said Captain Skinner—"one on each side. We'll have two shafts started. Bill, drill your blast right there."

The shafts would not have been needed for a long time in actually working out ore from a ledge like that, but two such holes would make a very deep mark that could not be wiped out, and the "blast" would make another.

It was hard work, but as fast as the men who were prying and picking loosened a piece of quartz, it was lifted away by their comrades, and it was a wonder how those two shafts did go down.

All the while Bill was tapping away with his hammer and drill on the spot pointed out to him, and was making a hole in the rock about the size of a gun-barrel.

"Two feet, Cap," he shouted at last. "That's as far as I can go with this drill, and it's the longest there is in camp."

"That'll do. Charge it. Our job's 'most done."

The night was cool, but the miners had kept themselves warm enough. They were not sorry to quit when their hard-faced little Captain ordered them out of the two holes; but it was odd to see such great, brawny fellows obeying in that way a man who looked almost like a dwarf beside them.

"Got her charged, Bill?"

"All right, Cap."

"Stand back, boys. Touch yer fuse, Bill."

That was a slow-match that stuck out of the hole he had drilled in the rock, and it led down to the charge of powder he had skilfully rammed in at the bottom.

"We can hardly afford to waste so much powder," the Captain had muttered, "but it won't do for me to cross 'em too much on such a thing."

Back they went for a hundred yards, while the fuse burnt its slow, sputtering way down through the "tamping" Bill had rammed around it.

They had not long to wait. The blazing fires lit up the whole ledge and the bordering cliffs, and the miners could see distinctly everything that happened on it. Suddenly there came a puff of smoke from the drill-hole. Then the rock outside of it, toward the chasm, rose a little, and a great fragment of it tumbled over down the ledge, while a dull, thunderous burst of sound startled the silence of the night, and awaked all the echoes of the cliffs and the canyon.

No such sound had ever before been heard there, by night or by day, since the world was made; but Captain Skinner and his miners were not thinking of things like that.

"That'll do, boys," he said. "There'll be powder-marks on that rock for twenty years. Our claim's good now, if any of us ever come back to make it."

The men thought of how rich a mine it was, and each one promised himself that he would come back, whether the rest did or not.

It is not easy to tire out fellows as tough as they were, but Captain Skinner was a "fair boss," as they all knew, and the men who stood sentinel around his camp that night were not the men who toiled so hard on the mine.

"He doesn't seem to need any sleep himself," remarked one of them to Bill, as they were routed out of their blankets an hour before daylight the next morning.

"You'll have to eat your breakfast on horseback, you three," he said to them. "Strike right for the gap, and if you come across anything that doesn't look right, you can send one of you back to let me know. Sharp, now! We won't be long in following."

Their horses were quickly saddled, and away they rode, each man doing his best, as he went, with a huge piece of cold roast venison. The Captain had remarked to them, "That'll do ye. Your coffee'll be just as hot as ours."

That meant that the cold water of one mountain stream was just about as pleasant to drink as that of another.

Bill and his two comrades were not the men to grumble over a piece of necessary duty like that, and they knew it was "their turn."

The sun was well up before they reached the head of the gap, and a glance showed them that it was all the hunters had prophesied of it. It was, in fact, a sort of natural highway from that table-land down to the valleys and plains of Arizona.

"This'll do first-rate," said Bill: "only I'd like to know what thar is at the lower eend of it."

"That's what we're gwine to look for. If ever we come back to work that mine, Bill, what ranches we can lay out on that level beyond the ruins!"

"Best kind. Raise 'most anything up thar."

No doubt of it; but now for some hours their minds and eyes were busier with the pass before them than with either mines or farming.

"Not a sign yet, Bill, and we're getting well down. See them pines?"

"Off to the left? Hullo! Put for the pines, boys! We'll nab those two! See 'em?"

"Coming right along up. All we've got to do is to 'bush our horses, and let 'em git past us."

"Only two squaws."

The three miners dashed on a minute or so till they could turn aside among the thick-growing cover of the forest.

They rode in a little distance, till they were sure they could not be seen from the pass; then they dismounted, tethered their horses, and slipped cautiously back to crouch among some dense bushes among the rocks within a few yards of the path by which any one coming up the gap must needs ride.

"We'll get 'em."

"Learn all we want to."

"Hullo, Bill, I can see 'em. That ain't all; thar's some kind of a brave not fur behind 'em."

"I see. Only one. Well, we kin take him too."

"Take him! Bah! knock him on the head. I don't exactly like to fire a gun just here."

"Old Skinner'd kill ye if ye gave that kind of warnin' to a crowd of redskins."

"Mebbe there isn't any."

"You don't know. Safe not to make too much noise, anyhow."

They might have fired every cartridge they had and not been heard by the Apaches in the valley; but there was no one to tell them so. At the same time they felt perfectly safe to talk, for they were sure there were no human ears near enough to hear them—so sure that they talked aloud and recklessly.

Perhaps it would have been as well for them to have imitated Captain Skinner, who hardly ever talked at all.

As it was, they had nothing to do but to wait, for their intended captives were evidently in no sort of hurry, and were laughing merrily as they loitered along the ravine below, picking berries here and a flower there, and making a capital frolic of their morning ride.

Laughing, talking, thoughtless of all danger, and yet they were riding on into the most terrible kind of a "trap."

How could any help reach them, if once they should go beyond those treacherous rocks and bushes?



CHAPTER XI

In such a country as that, full of sudden changes from mountain and table-land to valleys and plains, pretty large bodies of men might have been quite near each other without knowing it. Unless, indeed, they should send out sharp-eyed scouts to find out about their neighbors, as did the miners under Captain Skinner, and the Lipans of To-la-go-to-de.

Neither of these "main bodies" remained in camp an hour longer than was necessary, but even after they left their respective camps they moved onward with some caution, half expecting at any moment to see one of their scouts come riding back with important news.

The white men had heavy wagons to prevent them from moving rapidly, but their road toward the "western gap," and even through it, would be almost a straight line compared to the long, rugged, round-about pass over which Murray and Steve Harrison had followed the trail of the Apaches.

"Motion" was decidedly the order of the day, even for the Apaches. To be sure, there had been no known reason why they should bestir themselves so early in the morning; but their chief himself had given orders the night before, right after supper, that no more lodges should be set up, and that all things should be in condition for a march.

He needed yet to make up his mind precisely in what direction the march should be, and Rita's "talking leaves" had not given him a single hint about that.

The fact that they had not was a trouble to him, but it was a little too much to expect of a chief and warrior that he should seem to go for counsel to a mere squaw, and a very young one—a squaw of the pale-faces at that. So Rita and Ni-ha-be had not been molested in their lodge all the evening, and a grand talk they had of it all by themselves, with Mother Dolores to listen.

Dolores had listened, but the girls had been surprised by the fact that she asked almost no questions at all—not even about the cavalry pictures.

She did not explain to them that her mind was all the while too completely filled with the thought of the one picture which had spoken to her, and made her shut her eyes and kneel down. There could not possibly be any other which could do more than that, although it was a great thing that Many Bears should have given them any attention.

Ni-ha-be had slept as soundly as usual that night, and Rita had "made believe" do so, until her adopted sister ceased even to whisper to her, and she could hear the loud breathing of Mother Dolores on the opposite side of the lodge.

Then she opened her eyes in the darkness, and tried to recall all she had seen in the three marvellous magazines, page by page.

How it all did come back to her! Some of the words, too, that she had not understood begun to have a meaning to her.

"They are talking now," she said to herself. "They are almost all talking. They are helping me remember. I'm sure that was my mother—my white mother. But where is my white father? He was not there at all. I must look for him again tomorrow. We must ride off away from the camp, where nobody can see us, and we can talk as much as we please."

"We" meant herself and Ni-ha-be, of course, but it also meant her three prizes. She had brought them to bed with her on her soft buffalo-skin, and she was hugging them closely now. It seemed to her as if they were alive, and had come to tell her almost anything she could think to ask.

Then it was all so still, and she was so tired with her journey and her excitement, that she fell asleep at last, to dream of more people and stranger things than had ever come to her mind before, sleeping or waking.

When morning came there was no need for Rita to propose a ride on horseback. Ni-ha-be spoke of it first, and for the self-same reason; but there was nothing unusual about it, for they almost lived in the saddle, like genuine daughters of the great Apache nation.

That, too, was why nobody paid them any attention when, an hour or so after their late breakfast, they were seen to scold a couple of wild-looking boys into bringing up their horses for them. The chief's two favorites were entitled to that much of service, and were apt to insist upon it.

For a while the very delight of galloping up and down the valley on such swift and beautiful animals as they were riding almost drove out of their minds the thought of talking leaves; but when, a little later, Many Bears slowly arose from a long fit of thinking, there in front of his lodge, and said to Red Wolf, "Call Rita," Rita was nowhere to be seen.

"Find her. Tell her to come and bring me the white men's medicine, talking leaves."

Red Wolf sprang upon the nearest horse—and there were several standing ready for sudden errands—and dashed away in search of his truant sisters.

Mother Dolores could tell him nothing, but his loud, half-angry questionings drew together a knot of squaws and children, two or three of whom were ready to point toward the north-eastern slope of the valley, where it crept up through the pine-forest into the mountains, and tell him he would have to hunt in that direction.

He was ready for it, of course; but he reined in his mustang in front of his father long enough to tell him the cause of the delay.

"Bring them back. They are as wild as rabbits. They will lose their scalps some day."

The chief did not smile when he said that. He was beginning to feel uneasy about the position of his affairs, and he could hardly have told why. He said to himself, "Bad medicine. Can't see him. Great chief smell him."

And then he gave sharp orders to his young braves to have all the ponies caught and brought in from the pastures below, and to the squaws to have all their packs ready and their lodges taken down.

"Big talk come," he said again to himself. "Maybe big fight. Don't know. Must be ready. Somebody catch the great chief asleep if he doesn't look out."

Nobody had ever done that yet, for Many Bears had even a greater name for his cunning than for his fighting.

Red Wolf was well mounted, and he darted away at full speed. His father was not a man to forgive a slow messenger any more than a slow cook.

"I understand," he muttered. "Squaws not stay in valley. Go among trees and rocks. Bears catch 'em some day. Eat 'em all up. Not afraid of anything."

So he was really anxious about them, and afraid they would run into danger?

Certainly.

The red man's family affection does not always show itself in the same way with ours, but there is plenty of it. All the more in the case of a young brave like Red Wolf, with every reason to be proud as well as fond of his sister.

And of Rita?

He was thinking of her now, and wondering if she had learned anything more about the cavalry from her talking leaves.

It was, for all the world, just as if he had been a young white man from "one of the first families." He galloped onward, keenly eying the fringes of the forest and the broken bases of the ledges, until he came to the broad opening below the gap, and here he suddenly stopped and sprung to the ground at a place where the green sod was soft and deeply marked with the prints of horses' hoofs.

"The blue-coat horsemen came out into the valley here. Their tracks are old. Ugh! Those are fresh. Ni-ha-be and Rita."

He was on his horse again in an instant, galloping up the not very steep slope of the pass.

The two girls had been in no hurry, and it was not long before Red Wolf came in sight of them.

He put his hand to his mouth and gave a long, peculiar whoop that meant: "I am after you. Come back!"

They understood it well enough, and Rita might have obeyed at once if she had been left to herself; but there was more than a little mischief behind the black eyes of Ni-ha-be.

"Let him catch us. He won't do anything worse than scold. I'm not afraid of Red Wolf."

Rita was, just a little, but she rode on beside her sister without turning her head.

"We shall not read any out of the leaves this morning."

"Read? What is that?"

"Just the same as a warrior when he finds the trail of a deer. Just like the trail of the blue-coat cavalry. Father and the gray-heads read it."

"Is that the way the leaves talk to you? I guessed it was. It is all signs, like tracks in the mud."

Rita had used the only Apache word she could think of that came at all near to meaning what she wanted, but there was no word for "book," or for any kind of book.

Again they heard the shout of Red Wolf behind them. It was nearer now, and a little angry.

"He is coming, Ni-ha-be. Don't let us ride fast."

"He is saying ugly things. But we will laugh at him, and tell him he cannot whoop loud enough to be heard."

Red Wolf was proud of his powerful voice, and that would be a sure way to tease him.

"Rita! The great chief is angry! He calls for you!"

He was close upon them by this time, and they reined in their horses. Teasing Red Wolf was one thing, but disobeying Many Bears was quite another.

They had seen squaws beaten for smaller offences than that.

"We have done wrong, Ni-ha-be."

"Oh, not much. We can ride back as fast as our ponies can carry us. Turn and meet him."

It had been a very little bit of a "runaway" on the part of the two girls, but it threatened to have serious consequences.

There was no time even for Red Wolf to scold them before the consequences began to come.

They had ridden just to the end of the spot where the rocks and bushes at the roadside were so thick-set and made so perfect a cover for anybody hiding among them.

"Look, Red Wolf! look!"

"Oh, who are they? Enemies!"

The young brave pulled in his mustang so sharply that he almost tumbled him over, and turned his head.

"Pale-faces! How came they here?"

He could hardly have been more astonished if one of the granite bowlders near him had stood up and said, "Good-morning." So far as he could have guessed, the nearest white man was many hundreds of miles away, and his nation was at peace with them for the time; but here were three of the hated race standing in the road to cut oft his retreat and that of his sisters.

Three tall, brawny, evil-looking pale-faces, with rifles in their hands, and the foremost of them was levelling his gun straight at Red Wolf, and shouting, "Surrender, you red-skinned coyote, or I'll put a pill into ye."

An Indian brave, like the son of Many Bears, might deem it an honor to be named after the large, dangerous "wolf" he had killed in single fight with only his knife, but to be called a coyote, a miserable prairie wolf, jackal, was a bitter insult, and that was what it was meant for. He had left his carbine in the camp, but his long lance was in his hand, and his knife and revolver were in his belt.

What could one young brave do against three such powerful and well-armed white men?

"Ni-ha-be!" exclaimed Rita.

"I am an Apache girl! I can fight! You are a pale-face!"

Rita was stung to her very heart by her sister's scornful reply, for she had also brought her bow and arrows. They never stirred from camp without them, and squaws were not permitted to carry firearms.

Ni-ha-be had an arrow already on the string, and Rita followed her example like a flash.

"Red Wolf is a warrior. He is not a coyote. He will show the pale-faces—"

Twang!

The sound of Ni-ha-be's bow-string cut Red Wolf's haughty reply in two in the middle, and it was well for the miner "Bill" that he was quick in dodging. As it was, he dropped his rifle, for there was an arrow through his right arm above the elbow, and Ni-ha-be was fitting another.

Twang!

But the man at whom Rita aimed her arrow was an old Indian fighter, and he parried it easily.

"Red Wolf, your pistol!"

"Boys," exclaimed Bill, "they're a lot of young wild-cats! We'll jest have to shoot. Pick on the redskin, quick, and knock over the two girls before they make a hole into ye."

The two parties were hardly twenty yards apart, and all this had happened in a few seconds; but just then Red Wolf was exclaiming,

"Two more!"

And Rita said, excitedly,

"Stop, Ni-ha-be! See! They are fighting other. These two are friends. Don't shoot!"



CHAPTER XII

During one part of the journey Steve Harrison and Murray had found the ledge along the mountain side pretty rough travelling, but their horses were used to picking their way along bad roads, and after a while they succeeded in getting out on to the comparatively smooth slope of the pine-forest.

"Our only risk now is that we may meet some of their hunters up here after game. We'll push right on."

"I'll fight if it can't be helped, Murray, but I'd a good deal rather not meet anybody."

"Well, so had I. Our business, just now, is scouting, not killing."

"I'll scout all day," said Steve.

"We must find a hiding-place for the horses, and creep down into the valley on foot. I'll show you some new tricks to-day."

The trees were large and the forest open, and no proper place was found for the concealment of such large animals, until they made their way at last to the very edge of the pass, at the point where it left the rugged cliffs of the "gap" and entered the more gentle slope of the forest.

"This'll do, Steve. I could hide a company in here; and no one squad need know where the next one was lying."

That was true enough, but it was of more importance to them that day than any one would have expected.

They tethered their horses between two rocks, where the thickly woven vines overhead made almost a dark stable for them.

"Now, Steve, a good look up and down, and we're off."

Between them and what could be called "the road" were many yards of tangled growth, and before they had gotten through it Steve felt his arm gripped hard.

"Listen! Horses coming! Lie still."

A minute more and they were both willing to lie as still as mice, for that was the very cover chosen by Bill and his two comrades in which to wait for their intended prisoners.

They and their horses were hardly twenty feet from Steve and Murray, and every loud word they said was distinctly heard.

Moreover, Murray and his young friend were on higher ground, and they, too, could look down the pass, and see who was coming.

"Two young squaws," whispered Murray. "The foolish young things are coming right into the trap."

"Can't we help 'em?"

"They're Apache squaws, Steve."

"I don't care. I'm white!"

"So am I. Tell you what, Steve—Ha! I declare!"

"What's the matter, Murray?"

"One of 'em's white! Sure's you live. They sha'n't touch a hair of their heads!"

"White or red?" whispered Steve, and he was not speaking of the color of Ni-ha-be's hair or of Rita's.

The expression of Murray's face astonished Steve. It was ghastly white, under all its tan and sunburn, and the wrinkles seemed twice as deep as usual, while the fire in his sunken eyes was fairly blazing. It was likely to be a bad time for anybody to cross the temper of "No Tongue," and Steve felt that his own blood was getting a little warm.

"There's an Indian coming."

"Apache. After the squaws. Don't you hear his whoop? I suppose they'll shoot him first thing, but they won't send a bullet at the girls. They're a bad crowd. Worse than Apache Indians."

"I don't consider them white men."

"Not inside, they ain't. I'd rather be a Lipan!"

The two merry, laughing girls rode by, in happy ignorance of the danger that was lurking in the thicket, and Red Wolf galloped swiftly on to join them.

Then the three miners, with Bill at their head, sprung out of their cover.

"Look out, boys. Don't use your rifles. Thar must be plenty more within hearin'."

"We'll have to kill the brave."

"Of course. Git close to him, though. No noise. I'd like not to give him a chance to so much as whoop."

They never dreamed of looking behind to see if any one were following them out of the cover, but it would have been better for them to have done so.

"They've start enough now," growled Murray. "Come on, Steve. Step like a cat. We must take them unawares. Have your tie-up ready."

The buckskin thongs which hang from the belt or shoulder or knee of an Indian warrior are not all put there for ornament. They are for use in tying things, and they are terribly strong. No human hand can break one, and they are always there and ready, only needing to be cut off.

Steve's face was almost as pale as Murray's in his excitement. He had looked in the bright faces of the two "young squaws" as they rode by, and it seemed to him as if he could fight those three miners all alone.

They saw Red Wolf join his sisters; they heard the startled cries of Rita and Ni-ha-be, the demand for their surrender, and Red Wolf's reply.

"Now, Steve, quick! Do just as I tell you!"

Twang went Ni-ha-be's bow at that instant, and the man next to Bill was raising his rifle to fire, when his arms were suddenly seized by a grasp of iron and jerked behind him.

"Right at the elbows, Steve. Draw the loop hard. Quick!"

As the next of the miners turned in his tracks he was astonished by a blow between the eyes that laid him flat, and saw a powerful-looking old man, of his own race, levelling a carbine at him saying,

"Give it up, boys. Don't one of ye lift a hand."

Bill could not lift his, with the arrow in his arm. The man Steve had tied could not move his elbows. The man on the ground was ruefully looking into the barrel of Murray's rifle. Besides, here was Red Wolf, springing forward, with his lance in one hand and his revolver in the other, while Rita held his horse, and Ni-ha-be sat upon her own, with her second arrow on the string.

"We give it up," said Bill. "But what are you fellers up to? I see. You're the two miners, and you're down on us because we jumped your claim to that thar gold ledge."

"Wall, Bill," grumbled one of his comrades, "I don't blame 'em for that; but they needn't ha' took sides with redskins."

Red Wolf lowered his lance and stuck his pistol in his belt. "Your prisoners. Not mine," he said to Murray. "Glad to meet friend. Come in good time."

He spoke in Mexican Spanish, but Murray understood him, and so did the miners.

"Hear him, Bill! He knows them two fellers. That's why they ain't afraid to prospect away down here."

He had made a bit of a mistake, but Murray answered, short and sharp,

"Young brave take friend's advice. Jump on horse. Take young squaws back to camp. Tell chief to ride hard. Kill pony. Get away fast."

"Who shall I tell him you are?"

"Say you don't know. Tell him I'm an enemy. Killed you. Killed young squaws. Going to kill him."

There was a sort of grim humor in Murray's face as he said that. Not only Red Wolf, but the two girls, understood it, and the latter would have given a good deal to be able to tell the "white head," as they called him, and his handsome young friend, how thankful they both were.

Steve had not said a word, but he was narrowly watching the three miners for any signs of an effort to get loose. He and Murray might have been able to upset the two unwounded men in a fair fight, but it was just as likely to be the other way.

"It's that other one, Steve. He's watching his chance. That's it. Draw it hard. Now he won't be cutting any capers."

The expression of the miner's eyes promised the unfriendliest kind of "capers" if he should ever get an opportunity to cut them.

"It's no use, boys," said Bill. "Mister, will you jest cut this arrer, close to my arm, so's I can pull it out?"

"I will in a minute. It's as good as a tie of deer-skin jest now. Watch 'em, Steve!"

He walked forward a few steps as he spoke, and looked long and hard into the face of Rita.

"Too bad! too bad! They'd better have killed her, like they did mine. It's awful to think of a white girl growing up to be a squaw. Ride for your camp, young man. I'll take care of these three."

"I will send out warriors to help you. You shall see them all burnt and cut to pieces."

"Oh, Rita!" whispered Ni-ha-be; "they ought to be burnt."

Rita was gazing at the face of old Murray, and did not say a word in reply.

"Come," said Red Wolf; "the great chief is waiting for us."

And then he added to Murray and Steve,

"The lodges of the Apaches are open to their friends. You will come?"

"Steve, you had better say yes. It may be a lift for you."

"I will come some day," said Steve, quickly. "I don't know when."

"The white head must come too. He has the heart of an Apache, and his hand is strong for his friends. We must go now."

He looked at the three miners for a moment, as if he disliked leaving them behind, and then he bounded upon his pony, and the two girls followed him swiftly down the pass.

"Was he not handsome, Rita?"

Ni-ha-be was thinking of Steve Harrison, but Rita replied,

"Oh, very handsome! His hair is white, and his face is wrinkled, but he is so good. He is a great warrior, too. The bad pale-face went down before him like a small boy."

"His hair is not white, it is brown as the hair of a young buffalo. His face is not wrinkled. He is a young brave. He will be a chief."

"Oh, that other one! I hardly looked at him. I hope they will come. I want to see them again."

Red Wolf rode too fast for them to say much, and he did not pause until he reached the very presence of Many Bears and his counsellors.

There were already signs, in all directions, that the camp was beginning to break up, as well as tokens of impatience on the face of the chief.

"Where go?" he said, angrily. "Why do young squaws ride away when they are wanted?"

Ni-ha-be was about to answer, but Red Wolf had his own story to tell first, and he sternly bade her to hold her tongue till he had made his report. It was eagerly listened to.

Pale-face enemies so near! Who could they be? White friends, too, ready to fight for them against other white men, and send them warning of danger! That was more remarkable yet.

A trusty chief and a dozen braves were instantly ordered to dash into the pass, bring back the three prisoners, and learn all they could of the "white head" and his young companion.

Perhaps Steve Harrison would hardly have felt proud of the names which was given him on the instant. The only feat the Apaches knew of his performing was the thorough manner in which, according to Red Wolf, he had tied up those two miners; and so for lack of any other name they spoke of him as the "Knotted Cord." It was not long before Murray himself was known in that council by a long word, terribly hard to pronounce for any but an Apache, but that might be translated "Send Warning." He had actually earned a "good name" among his old enemies.

Rita and Ni-ha-be were saved any farther scolding. There was no time for that now, and the chief was more than ever anxious to ask questions of the "talking leaves," now he was sure of the neighborhood of danger.

Rita was puzzled.

"Ask about the bad pale-faces. Who are they?"

She took her three magazines from the folds of her antelope-skin tunic with trembling hands, for she was dimly beginning to understand that they could not tell her of things which were to be. It seemed to her, in that moment, that she could not read or remember a single word of English.

The one she opened first was not one which contained the pictures of the cavalry; but Rita's face instantly brightened, and she handed it to her father. There were five or six pages, one after the other, each of which contained a picture, large or small, of men engaged in mining for gold among the Western sierras.

The chief gravely turned the leaves till he came to a sketch that drew from him a sharp and sullen "Ugh!"

He had hit it, and there could be no mistake.

There were the sturdy miners, with rifles instead of picks, making a gallant charge upon an attacking party of Indians.

"No need to talk. Great chief see for himself. No lie. I remember. Kill some of them. Rest got away. Now they come to strike the Apaches. Ugh!"

That was a "fancy sketch" by some Eastern artist; but it must have been nearly true to life when an Apache chief could say he had been one of the very crowd of Indians who were being shot at in the picture.

"That do now. Talk more by-and-by. Big fight come."

The part of that band which could not fight was hurried forward at the best speed that could be made, while Many Bears rapidly transformed his buffalo-hunters into "warriors." All that was needed was to give them a chance to paint themselves in sufficiently hideous manner for the "war-path," and deal out to them a double allowance of cartridges for their rifles.

When that was done they made a formidable-looking array, and the last chance of the Lipans or any other enemies for "surprising" them was gone.

Then they rode slowly on after their women and children, and the braves came back from the pass to report to Many Bears that Send Warning, Knotted Cord, and their three prisoners had gone no one could guess whither.



CHAPTER XIII

For a moment Murray and Steve stood looking after the retreating forms of Red Wolf and his sisters.

"I say," exclaimed Bill, "you're a pretty pair of white men! Do you mean to turn us three over to them Apaches?"

"Who are you, anyway? Tell me a straight story, and I'll make up my mind."

"Well, there's no use tryin' to cover our tracks, I s'pose. We belong to the outfit that set up thar own marks on your ledge thar, last night. It wasn't any more our blame than any of the rest."

Murray nodded to Steve, as much as to say, "Keep still. We're learning something. Let him talk." But he replied to Bill,

"There's too many of your crowd for us to tackle. Where are the rest of you?"

"All coming down this way. We was sent ahead to scout."

"So you thought you'd make your outfit safe by picking a quarrel with the Apaches."

"Now, stranger, you've got me thar. 'Twas a fool thing to do."

"Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. You three stand up and swear you bear no malice or ill-will to me and my mate, and you and your crowd'll do us no harm, and I'll let you go."

"How about the mine?"

"Never mind about the mine. If your Captain and the rest are as big fools as you three, there won't any of you come back to meddle with the mine. The Apaches'll look out for that. There'll be worse than they are behind you, too."

He was speaking of the Lipans, but Bill's face grew longer as he listened, and so did the faces of his two friends.

"You know about that, do ye?"

"I know enough to warn you."

"Well, all I kin say is, we've got that dust, bars, nuggets, and all, and we fit hard for it, and we're gwine to keep it."

"What can you do with it here?"

"Here? We're gwine to Mexico. It'll take a good while to spend a pile like that. It took the Chinese a year and a half to stack it up."

"Well, if you don't start back up the pass pretty soon, you won't have any chance. Do you think you can keep your word with us?"

"Reckon we kin, with white men like you. So'll all the rest, when we tell 'em it don't cover the mine. You take your own chances on that."

"We do."

"Then we've no ill-will about this little scrimmage. Mebbe you did us a good turn."

"You may say that. Tell your mates I warn 'em to let the Indians alone down here. There's too many of 'em."

"Tell you what, now, old man, there's something about you that ain't so bad, arter all."

That was the remark of the first miner Murray set loose, but the second added,

"You've got a hard fist of your own, though. My head rings yet."

"It'd ring worse if it had been cracked by an Apache war-club. You and your mates travel!"

They plunged into the thicket for their horses, and when they came out again Murray and Steve had disappeared.

"Gone, have they?" said Bill. "And we don't know any more about 'em than we did before. What'll Captain Skinner say?"

"What'll we say to him? That's what beats me. And to the boys? I don't keer to tell 'em we was whipped in a minute and tied up by an old man, a boy, two girl squaws, and a redskin."

"It don't tell well, that's a fact."

It was the truth, however, and the three miners rode away up the pass in a decidedly uncomfortable frame of mind.

Murray had beckoned Steve to follow him, and they had slipped away among the rocks and bushes, but not too far to see what became of the three miners.

"They might have kept their word, Steve, and they might not. We were at their mercy, standing out there. They could have shot us from the cover."

"Oh, they are white men—not Indians. They never would do such a thing as that!"

"Wouldn't they! Didn't you hear him confess that they were trying to steal your mine? And didn't he say they were robbers, running away with stolen gold? Murderers, too? That's the kind of white men that stir up nine-tenths of all the troubles with the Indians. Let alone the Apaches: that tribe never did keep a treaty."

"The one we saw to-day looked like a Lipan."

"So he did, and he stood right up for the girls. He's a brave fellow. And, Steve, one of those young squaws was no more an Indian than you or I be. It makes my heart sore and sick to think of it. A fine young girl like that, with such an awful life before her!"

"The other one was bright and pretty, too, and she can use her bow and arrows."

"Full-blooded Indian. As full of fight as a wild-cat, and twice as dangerous."

"Now, Murray, what do you think we'd better do?"

"Do? I wish I could say. My head's all in a whirl somehow. I want a chance to do some thinking."

"Time enough for that."

"Not if we keep right on after the Apaches. I'll tell you what, Steve, my mind won't be easy till I've had another look at the ledge. I want to know what they've done."

"The Buckhorn Mine? I'd like to see it, too."

"Then we'll let their outfit go by us, and ride straight back to it. Might as well save time and follow those fellows up the pass. Plenty of hiding-places."

It was a bold thing to do, but they did it, and they were lying safely in a deep ravine that led out of the pass, a few hours later, when the "mining outfit" slowly trundled on its downward way.

Long before that, however, Bill and his two friends had made their report to Captain Skinner.

They had a well made up story to tell him, but it was not very easy for him to believe it.

"Met the two mining fellers, did ye? And they're friends with the 'Paches. Wouldn't let 'em do ye any harm. How many redskins was there?"

"Three. We never fired a shot at 'em nor struck a blow, but one of thar squaws fired an arrer through my arm."

"It's the onlikeliest yarn I ever listened to."

"Thar's the hole in my arm."

"Not that. It isn't queer an Apache wanted to shoot ye. I can believe that. But that you had sense enough not to fire first at a redskin. You never had so much before in all your life."

"Here we are, safe—all three."

"That's pretty good proof. If there'd been a fight they'd ha' been too much for you, with two white men like them to help. Well, we'll go right on down. It's our only show."

"That isn't all, Cap."

"What more is there?"

"The old fellow told me to warn you that thar was danger comin' behind us. He seems to know all about us and about what we did to the ledge."

"We're followed, are we? What did he say about the mine?"

"Said he'd take his chances about that. We agreed to be friends if we met him and his mate again."

"You did? Now, Bill, you've shown good-sense again. What's the matter with you to-day? I never heard of such a thing? It's like finding that mine just where I didn't expect to."

Bill's two associates said nothing. They were quite willing he should do the talking, so long as he did not tell how they had been knocked down and tied up. But one of them had to pucker up his mouth for a sort of silent whistle when he heard Captain Skinner praise them for their wisdom in keeping the peace with the Apaches.

Perhaps all three of them, too, were thinking of what they should say if the exact truth about that morning's work should ever leak out.

Danger behind them. They did not know exactly what, but their consciences told them what it ought to be. That made it grow bigger and bigger the longer they thought of it.

Danger before them in the shape of wandering Apaches; but they had expected to meet that sort of thing, and were ready for it. Only they hoped to dodge it in some way, and to get safely across the border into Mexico with their stolen treasure.

They had at least made sure of their wonderful mine, and that was something. Sooner or later they would all come back and claim it again, and dig fortunes out of it. The two miners would not be able to prove anything. There was no danger from them.

Perhaps not; and yet, as soon as they had fairly disappeared down the pass, below the spot where Steve and Murray were hiding, the latter exclaimed, "Now, Steve, we won't rest our horses till we get there."

They would be quite likely to need rest by that time, for the old man seemed to be in a tremendous hurry.

Steve would hardly have believed anything could excite the veteran to such a pitch, if it had not been that he felt so much of the "gold-fever" in his own veins. It seemed to him as if he were really thirsty for another look at that wonderful ledge.

They turned their horses out to feed on the sweet, fresh grass at last, and pushed forward on foot to the mine.

"They've done it, Steve!"

"I see they have. Our title's all gone!"

He spoke mournfully and angrily; but Murray replied,

"Gone? Why, my boy, those rascals have only been doing our work for us."

"For us? How's that?"

"It was ours. They've set up our monuments, and dug our shafts, and put in a blast for us. They haven't taken anything away from us. I'll show you."

He had taken from a pocket of his buckskins a small, narrow chisel as he spoke, and now he picked up a round stone to serve as a hammer.

"I'm going to make a record, Steve. I'll tell you what to do about it as I go along."

Captain Skinner's miners had been hard workers, but Steve had never seen anybody ply a chisel as Murray did. He was not trying to make pretty letters, but they were all deeply cut and clearly legible.

On the largest stone of the central monument, and on the side monuments, and then on the face of the cliff near the ledge, he cut the name of the mine, "The Buckhorn," and below that on the cliff and one monument he cut the date of discovery and Steve Harrison's name.

"Put on yours too, Murray."

"Well, if you say so. It may be safer. Only I turn all my rights over to you. I'll do it on paper if I ever get a chance."

"I only want my share."

All the while he was chiselling so skilfully and swiftly Murray was explaining to Steve how he was to act when he reached the settlements, and how he should make a legal record of his ownership of that property.

"You must be careful to describe all these marks exactly; the ruins, too, the canyon, the lay of the land, the points of the compass—everything. After all, it may be you'll never be able to work it. But you're young, and there's no telling. The first thing for you to do is to get out of the scrape you're in now."

Steve felt as if there were no longer any doubt of that.

During the busy hours spent on the ledge by their masters the two horses had been feeding and resting, and both Murray and Steve felt like following their example.

"Start a fire, Steve; it'll be perfectly safe. I'll try for a deer, and we'll cook enough to carry us for two days."



CHAPTER XIV

The advance of To-la-go-to-de and his Lipans that day had been a slow one. It grew slower and more cautious as hour after hour and mile after mile of rugged mountain riding went by without any word from the two pale-face scouts.

The chief himself grew uneasy, and he would have sent another party in search of No Tongue and the Yellow Head but for fear of defeating the very object he had in view.

They, he thought, would surely return or send him some word before nightfall; but the sun was nearly setting when at last he went into camp with his discontented warriors on the very spot where Steve and Murray had made their own halt before daylight.

Then, indeed, he could wait no longer, and several braves were ordered out on foot, with others on horseback, a little behind them, to explore what was left of the pass and see what they could find. They could have done more for their chief and themselves if the night had not been a somewhat cloudy one, and not a brave of them ventured to descend into the valley.

If they had done so they might have discovered two very important facts. The first was that the Apache hunting village had left it, bag and baggage, no one could guess whither. The second, and quite as important a discovery, would have been that the camping-ground abandoned by the Apaches had been promptly occupied by a strong party of pale-faces.

All the scouts could really do was to bring back word that the pass was clear of enemies to the border of the valley.

That was an anxious night, therefore, for To-la-go-to-de, and it would hardly have been less so if he had known all about the doings of No Tongue and Yellow Head during the day—about their capture and release of the three miners, and their return to their mine.

The morning would bring news, at all events, for To-la-go-to-de determined to dash on with all his warriors and find it for himself.

"No Tongue is wise. He is a great warrior. Sometimes wise old warrior gets knocked on the head. Then he not come back at all."

There was a possibility, as he well knew, that the Apaches themselves had something to do with the silence of his two pale-face friends; but the Lipan chief was not the man to lie awake over any such thing as that; he was not even anxious enough to dream about them after he got asleep.

Another head had been quite as busy and troubled as that of To-la-go-to-de all that day, and Captain Skinner also would have given something for a few minutes' conversation with "them two mining fellers."

He felt sure they could have given him both information and advice; but he said to himself, "Of course they won't come nigh our outfit. They know we've jumped their claim. Still, they did the friendly thing with Bill and the boys, and they sent word they didn't bear us any ill-will. That's 'cause they feel sure of their own ground. They're on good terms with the redskins. I wish I could say we were."

Well he might, considering how many of them there were in that country, and how near to him some of them were coming.

All the way down the pass the ragged little "Captain" had ridden in advance of his men, carefully scanning every rock, and bush, and tree. At last he paused at the very spot where Bill and his companions had had their little difficulty. He seemed to see some signs that needed studying, and he stooped down and picked up something—only a pair of strong thongs of buckskin, that looked as if they had been recently used in tying up something. He could make very little out of them; but he noticed the marks of horse's feet going up and out of the forest.

"Signs are getting pretty thick. Hullo! An arrow! Cut in two, and blood on it. Bill, isn't this the spot?"

"This 'ere's the very place, Cap. We came awful nigh havin' a fight right yer."

"Glad you made out not to have any. Did those two white men and the Indians ride away in company?"

"Wal, no. The redskins rid away first, and the two fellers promised to foller 'em after a while. Then I reckon they cut off into the timber. 'Peared like they must ha' been huntin'."

"Most likely they were; and waiting for us to get away, so they could go back to their mine. Boys, I'm afraid our claim there won't be worth a great deal by the time we get back."

"We'll take care of that when we come, Cap. They said they'd take thar chances. We'll jest take ours; that's all."

Slower, more and more cautiously, the mining train again moved forward, until, from under the last of the pine-trees, Captain Skinner could look out upon the valley and see that it was empty.

How would he and his men have felt if they could have known that at that very minute Murray was chipping away with his chisel at his inscriptions upon the central monument of the great Buckhorn Mine?

"Not a redskin in sight," he remarked. "If there were any there this morning they've moved on. They're always on the move. Glad of it. We'll go straight on down. There must be plenty of ways out of a valley like that."

No doubt of it; but the first business of those wanderers, after they reached the spring and unhitched their mule-teams, was to carefully examine every hoof-mark and foot-print they could find.

The fact that there had been lodges there was proof that the Apaches were not a war-party, but there was plenty of evidence that they were numerous enough to be dangerous.

"Glad Bill didn't pick a quarrel with such a band as that," grumbled Captain Skinner. "But how did he happen to show so much sense? I never suspected him of it."

That was not very complimentary to Bill, and it was evident that the Captain's opinion of him had not changed.

"Some kind of an accident," he said. "Nobody need waste any time looking out for another one just like it."

It was getting late in the day, and a better place for a camp could not have been found.

"This'll do for to-night, won't it, Cap?" asked one of the miners.

"Of course it will. We'll try to move east from here, or south, when we leave it."

"Shall any of the boys go for game? Must be plenty of it all around."

"Game? Oh yes; plenty of it, after a hundred Apache hunters have been riding it down for nobody knows how long! The redskins leave heaps of game behind 'em, always."

The bitter sarcasm of the Captain's answer prevented any farther remarks on the subject of hunting that afternoon. They had plenty of fresh meat with them, nevertheless, and there was no reason why they should not cook and eat.

There was a reason why they could not at once be altogether pleased with their camping-ground. It was because they found the ashes of one fire still hot enough to kindle with.

"The Apaches haven't been out of this a great while," said Captain Skinner; "but the trail of their lodge-poles when they went shows that they set off to the west'ard. That isn't our direction. I don't care how far they go nor how fast."

When he came to talk with the other miners he found that they hardly felt as he did about it; neither did they like the looks of the mountain range through which the Apaches had come.

"Danger behind us or not," said one of the men. "I move we spend a day or so in huntin', and findin' out jest what's best to be done, before we light out of this. We must be getting pretty close to the Mexican line."

They were even closer than he had any idea of; but, when their evening conference ended, Captain Skinner was outvoted, and a "hunt and scout" was agreed upon for the next day.



CHAPTER XV

Ni-ha-be and Rita had escaped any scolding from Many Bears; but when the story of their morning's adventure was related to Mother Dolores that plump and dignified person felt bound to make up for the chief's neglect. She scolded them in the longest and hardest words of the Apache language; and when she could not think of anything new to add she begun again, and said it all over in Mexican Spanish. By that time she was out of breath, and Ni-ha-be exclaimed,

"I don't care, Mother Dolores—I hit one of them in the arm with an arrow. It went right through. Rita missed; but she isn't an Apache."

"Two young squaws!" said Dolores, scornfully. "Where would you have been now, and Red Wolf too, if it wasn't for that old pale-face and his boy?"

"He wasn't his boy," said Rita. "He didn't look like him a bit."

"Didn't he? And what are all your talking leaves good for? Why didn't they tell you to stay in camp?"

"I didn't ask them. Besides, that isn't what they're good for."

"Not good for much, anyhow. I don't believe they can even cure the rheumatism."

Poor Dolores had never heard the story of the squaw who had a tract given her by a missionary, and who tied it on her sore foot, but that was a good deal her idea of some of the uses of printing.

"No," said Rita, "I don't believe they're good for rheumatism."

"Anyhow," said Ni-ha-be, "the whole camp is getting ready to move. Come, Rita, let's you and I ride on ahead."

"No you won't, not either of you. You'll stay near me now. If the great chief wants you again, I must have you where I can find you."

The girls looked at one another, but there was no wisdom in a rebellion. They had offended quite enough for one day.

"Ni-ha-be," said Rita, "we can keep close together. They won't go fast, and we can look at the leaves all the way."

On an ordinary march a good many of the squaws would have had to go on foot and carry their pappooses, and perhaps heavy loads besides; but the orders of Many Bears prevented that this time. The poorest brave in camp had a pony provided for his wife and children, and as many more as were needed for all his baggage, for the chief was in a hurry, and there was to be no straggling. His orders were to push on as fast as possible until the squad of braves who had ridden ahead should find a safe spot to camp in—one that could be more easily defended than the exposed level they were leaving.

The idea of coming danger, too, was going around among the squaws themselves, and they were in as great a hurry as Many Bears. They did not know exactly what to be afraid of, but they did not feel any better on that account, with such a swarm of little copper-colored children to take care of.

Some ponies had more to carry and some had less, but there was one poor little, long-eared, patient-looking mule who had more than his share. There was no saddle on him, but where a saddle might have been sat a very fat and dreadfully homely squaw, with a pappoose on her back, his round head popping out, as if all he wanted was to look at the country as they went along.

The squaw rode her mule after the fashion of her people, and that was just as if she had been a brave instead of a squaw. But no brave in all the band would have allowed a twelve-year-old boy to climb up in front of him, as she did, or let his younger brother and sister cling on behind her; so that the little mule was turned into a sort of four-footed omnibus.

It did seem, too, as if there were more and more wretched-looking dogs following after that forlorn mule than behind the ponies of any chief's family in the whole band.

"Look, Rita," said Ni-ha-be—"look at old Too Many Toes and her mule!"

That squaw had a name of her own, as well as anybody, but it had not been given her for her beauty.

"Isn't she homely?" said Rita. "I wonder where the rest of her children are?"

"I guess she's divided them around among her relations. There's enough of them to load another mule. Her husband'll never be rich enough to buy ponies. He's lazy."

"He doesn't beat her?"

"He's too lazy for that. And he's afraid of her. I don't believe he's an Apache. Think of a brave afraid of his own squaw!"

There was something very bad in that, according to all Indian notions; but Rita only said,

"What would that mule do if she wanted him to run?"

Just then the shrill voice of Mother Dolores behind them shouted,

"I'm coming. They wanted to make me help them pack!"

The pride of the best cook in the band was seriously offended. As if all such hard work did not properly belong to ugly and ignorant squaws who had not education enough to fry corn-bread for the great chief! She knew her dignity better than that, and she meant to assert it. Perhaps if Many Bears himself had been close at hand, Dolores might have been more willing to work, but there was no opportunity for any appeal to him, and she took her own way.

She was all the more willing that her two charges should ride on to the very head of the little column, and even keep away a short distance to the right of it. They were perfectly safe within whooping distance if they were wanted, and none of the other squaws of Many Bears would dare to leave their ponies and baggage to come and scold. That was worth something.

Silent and submissive as are all Indian women in the presence of braves or of white men, they make up for it all in the use they make of their tongues among themselves. They can talk wonderfully fast and say as many sharp things as may be necessary.

"Now, Rita, see if you can make the leaves tell you anything about Knotted Cord."

"He isn't in them; nor Send Warning either."

"Look. They must be there."

Neither Steve Harrison nor Murray were to be found in the pages of those three magazines; Rita felt sure of that; but she turned the pages carefully as she and Ni-ha-be rode on side by side at a very slow walk.

She came to something else, however, in the back part of one of them which almost drove from her mind the face and form of Send Warning. Ni-ha-be forgot the brown hair and handsome face of the Knotted Cord.

"Oh, so many squaws!"

"All of them so tall, too. I wonder if pale-face squaws ever grow as tall as that? Look at the things on their heads."

"See!" exclaimed Rita. "All clothes! No squaws in them."

"Great chief. Ever so many squaws. Lose part of them. Keep their blankets."

Rita could not quite explain the matter, but she knew better than that.

The series of pictures which so excited and puzzled the two Indian maidens was nothing in the world but what the publishers of that magazine called "A Fashion Plate Supplement."

There was enough there, indeed, to have puzzled anybody. Gradually they began to understand it a little, and their wonder grew accordingly.

"Are they not ugly?" said Ni-ha-be. "Think of being compelled to wear such things. I suppose, if they won't put them on, they get beaten. Ugh! All black things."

"No. Only black in the pictures. Many colors. It says so; 'red,' 'yellow'—all colors."

That was better, and Ni-ha-be could pity the poor white squaws a little less. Rita allowed her to take that magazine into her own keeping; but mile after mile went by, and all she found in it worth studying was that wonderful array of dresses, with and without occupants. She had never dreamed of such things before, and her bright young face grew almost troubled in its expression.

Oh, how she did long just then for a look at a real pale-face woman, gotten up and ornamented like one of those pictured on the pages before her! She was learning a great deal—more than she had any idea of.

But Rita had learned a great deal more; for the faces and the dresses had joined themselves in her mind with ever so many things that came floating up from her memory—things she had forgotten for so long a time that they would never have come back to her at all if something like this had not stirred them up.

Just now, while Ni-ha-be had the fashion plates, Rita was busy with the illustrations of "gold-mining" which had so aroused the mind of Many Bears.

Not that she knew or cared anything about mines or ores or miners, but that some of those pictures also seemed to her to have a familiar look.

"Did I ever see anything like that?" she murmured to herself. "The great chief says he did. It is not a lie. Maybe it will come back to me some day. I don't care for any more pictures now; I'll try and read some words."

That was harder work; but there were strange, new thoughts beginning to come to Rita.

"You have not spoken to me," said Dolores at last. "Do the leaves talk all the while?"

"Look at these," said Ni-ha-be. "They are better than the one you cut out. There's only one squaw in that, and a pappoose. Here are ever so many. And look at the funny little children. How those things must hurt them! The pale-faces are cruel to their families."

Dolores look earnestly enough at the fashion plates. With all her ignorance she had seen enough in her day to understand more of them than the girls could. Once, long ago, when the band of Many Bears had been near one of the frontier "military posts," where United States troops were encamped, she had seen the beautiful "white squaws" of the officers, in their wonderful dresses and ornaments, and she knew that some of these were much like them. She could even help Ni-ha-be to understand it.

Rita had been silent a very long time. All the while the train had travelled nearly five miles. Now she suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, Ni-ha-be! Dolores!" And when they turned to look at her her face was perfectly radiant with triumph and pleasure.

"What is it? Have you found either of them?"

"I can do it! I have done it!"

"What have you done?"

"It is a story talk. Big lie about it all, such as the Apache braves tell at the camp-fire when they are too lazy to hunt. I have read it all."

"Is it a good talk?"

"Let me tell it. I can say it all in Apache words."

That was not the easiest thing in the world to do. It would have been impossible, if the short story which Rita had found had not been of the simplest kind—only about hunters following chamois in the Alps and tumbling into snow-drifts, and being found and helped by great, wise, benevolent St. Bernard dogs.

There were mountains in sight of the girls now that helped make it real, and among them were big-horn antelopes as wild as the chamois, and with very much the same habits. There were snow-drifts up there, too, for they could see the white peaks glisten in the sinking sun. It was all better than the talk of the braves around the winter camp-fires; and, besides, there were the pictures of the dogs and of the chamois. Neither Ni-ha-be nor Dolores uttered a word until Rita had rapidly translated that "story talk" from beginning to end.

"Oh, Rita! are there any more talks like that?"

"Maybe. I don't know. Most of them are very long. Big words, too—more than I can hear."

"Let me see it."

The pictures of the great, shaggy dogs and of the chamois were easy enough to understand. Ni-ha-be knew that she could see a real "big-horn" at a greater distance than Rita. But how was it that not one word came to her of all the "story talk" Rita had translated from those little black "signs" on those two pages of the magazine? It was quite enough to try the patience of a daughter of a great chief, but Dolores said,

"Never mind, Ni-ha-be; if the talking leaves could speak Apache you and I could hear the stories and tell them to Rita?"

That was a little comforting, but Ni-ha-be knew there were no illustrated monthly magazines printed by any of her people, and she grew more and more jealous of her adopted sister.

"Anyhow," she said, "you must hear them all and tell them to us. If any of the words are too big for you, you can leave them out."

Perhaps she could have done that, but what would then have become of the stories and other things?

Rita's prizes promised to be a source of a good deal of annoyance to her, as well as pleasure and profit. They did one thing for all three that day—they made the afternoon's ride across the grassy rolls of the plain seem very short indeed.

Only a few warriors were to be seen when the order to halt was given; but they had picked out a capital place for a camp—a thick grove of large trees on the bank of a deep, swift river. There were many scattered rocks on one side of the grove, and it was just the spot Many Bears had wanted. It was what army officers would call "a very strong position, and easily defended."



CHAPTER XVI

Murray's hunt was a short one, for that grassy tableland, with its cool streams and its shady trees, seemed to be a favorite pasture-ground for the mountain-deer. It is not likely they were often annoyed by hunters of any kind, and they were comparatively easy to approach. Besides, it was not necessary for a marksman like Murray to get so very near.

"A fine fat doe," said Steve, when his friend threw down his game in front of the fire.

"Now for a cooking time," replied Murray; "and then we must have a good nap."

"I'll do a little eating, too, while I'm cooking."

Neither of them neglected that duty, but Murray took the two plump hind-quarters of the doe and roasted them whole. How?—with no stove, no oven, no kitchen tools of any sort or description?

Two forked sticks were set firmly in the ground on either side, in front of the fire, and a strong stick laid across from fork to fork at about four feet from the ground; then a leg of venison, hung to this cross-piece by a thong of raw deer-skin, was turned around and around until the thong would twist no tighter. When it was let go the weight of the meat kept it from untwisting too fast; but it turned around in the opposite direction for ever so long, and it was roasting all the while.

It was precisely what our own great-grandmothers used to call a "roasting-jack," and all it required was somebody to wind it up when it ran down, so that the meat could be evenly done all over.

Meantime the broiling and eating of smaller pieces went right on, and neither Steve nor his friend seemed to have lost their appetite by their long ride and hard work.

"Now, Steve, lie down. Sleep all you can."

"Sha'n't you take a rest?"

"Don't need much. Young eyes call for more sleep than old ones. Lie right down and never mind me. I'll call you when your time comes."

Steve was used to paying the old man a pretty good kind of obedience, and he was glad enough to obey him now. He was quickly asleep under a spreading tree, while Murray sat down before the fire, as if to "mind the roast." There was something more important than venison for him to think of, however. He had taken off his hat, and his white head was bare. With the strong light of the camp-fire shining upon his weather-beaten face he would have made a good subject for a painter. He was thinking deeply—so deeply that at last he thought aloud:

"I am a white man. I've been an Indian long enough. Yes, I think I'll try it. That would be better than killing all the Apaches between this and the California line."

He did not explain what it was he meant to try, or why it would be so much better than killing Apaches; but the stern expression on his face grew milder and milder, until it almost seemed as if he were smiling, and even Steve Harrison had never seen him do that.

The venison roasts were wound up, twisted tight again and again, and at last they were taken off.

"They'll do. I'll give 'em an hour to cool, and then we must be off. I'll pack the rest of the meat raw, but we haven't left much of it."

To much to throw away for men who were not sure of their regular meals, and were very sure of getting hungry.

The hour went by, and then Steve felt himself rudely shaken by the shoulder.

"You can't have it," grumbled Steve. "That gold's ours. I killed it myself, and we're roasting it now."

"Dreaming, are you? Wake up, Steve; it's time we were moving. We've a long night ride before us."

"How late is it?"

"No watch. Can't say exactly; but I reckon we can reach the valley by sunrise, and not overwork our horses. They're both in good condition."

The great heavy carriage and road horses used in the "settlements" would not have been in anything like as good condition as were those two wiry, tough, swift-footed mustangs, after all they had been through. They were ready now for another long pull; but they were likely to stand it better in the cool night hours than under the hot sun.

In a few minutes more the two friends were in the saddle. There was no more that they could do just then for the safety of the Buckhorn Mine; but they had not ridden far before Murray suddenly exclaimed,

"I'm going to do a queer thing, Steve Harrison!"

"You won't go back to the Lipans?"

"Queerer than that. I'm going to ride straight in among that band of Apaches!"

"What for?"

"I can't exactly say as yet. Will you go with me?"

"Anywhere. I'll feel safer about not getting into the hands of the Lipans again."

"They never did you any hurt."

"I should say they did. It's hurt enough to stay among them for three long years."

"Think of what you've learned by it, my boy. And now you've found a gold-mine."

"And it isn't worth ten cents to me. Nobody'd give me a new hat for it."

"You will need one by the time you get to the settlements. We must try and look out for that. The main thing for us to-night is to see that we don't get into bad company."

"Either Lipans or miners. I believe one is about as bad as the other."

They had plenty to talk about but some parts of the pass they were following were densely dark, and they had to feel their way a foot at a time like a pair of blind men. It was slower work than riding over the same ground by day, and Murray turned out nearly right in his calculation of the time they would reach the valley. It was just as the light of the rising sun grew strong and bright that he and Steve stood on the slope at the lower edge of the forest, taking turns at looking through the spy-glass at the white tilts of the two wagons of the miners.

"They've roused up early for something," said Murray.

"Looks as if they were setting out on a hunt or a scout."

"So it does. There they go. Steve, we must ride after those fellows."

"What for?"

"To stop 'em. They'll only run their heads against the Apaches, and leave their camp to be plundered by the Lipans."

"They're in a trap, Murray."

"Come on, Steve!"

But the distance was not less than a couple of miles, and the miners had prepared beforehand for that "early start." It was all against the will of Captain Skinner, and the bad temper he was in only made him start more promptly, and ride faster.

"Tell ye what, boys," he said to the rest, as they galloped on behind him, "I'll give ye all the scouting you want this morning."

At that very moment Murray was saying, "No, Steve, we won't waste any time going to the camp. There's only three men left there. We must catch those fellows and send them back. What are they going so fast for? Why, it'll be a regular race!"

It was very much like one after a little. True, Steve and Murray were riding a good deal more rapidly than the miners; but it takes a great deal of swift running to catch up with men who have more than two miles the start of you, even if you travel two miles to their one, and the "chasers" in this case were not doing nearly so much as that.

"We'll catch 'em, Murray."

"If we don't it'll be a bad race for them. I kind o' feel as if the lives of those men were the prize we're riding for. We mustn't let our horses get blown. If we do, it's good-bye to that crowd ahead of us."

Mile after mile went by, and the excitement of it grew to be something terrible.

"The Apaches can't be far ahead of 'em now, Murray."

"Hark! Hear that?"

"A rifle shot—a whoop!"

"They are pulling up."

"They'd better. I'm afraid we're too late, Murray."

"On, on, Steve! Maybe there's time yet."

Captain Skinner had already seen and heard enough to make him halt his men, and he was gathering them rapidly into close order, when a long, ringing shout behind him drew his anxious eyes from the dangerous-looking "signs" now gathering in his front.

Signs? Yes, danger signs. Wild, dark, painted horsemen riding hither and thither and nearer and nearer, growing more and more numerous every moment. Those were the signs that Many Bears and his warriors meant to stand between any approaching enemy and the camp of their squaws and children. That was a quite a distance yet, but the Apaches did not mean to let any peril come very near it.

The shout was from Murray.

"Don't shoot!"

And in a few seconds more the old man was reining in his panting mustang among the startled and gloomy-faced miners.

"Where did you drop from?" was the cool, steady question of Skinner.

"Never you mind. Is Bill here?"

"He and his two mates are on guard at the camp. I know ye now; you're them two mining fellers. You met Bill and—"

"Yes, I met Bill; but there's no time for talk now. You take your men straight back to camp. It's the only show you've got left."

"Reckon we can beat off a few beggarly Apaches."

"Don't talk. Ride for your camp. If you get there before the Lipans do, take your wagons into the pass, and stay there till they get by. Don't strike a blow at them; they'd be too much for ye."

"Lipans? Going for our camp? Boys, 'bout face! Ride for your lives!"

For so small a man he had a great deal of voice, and his command was instantly obeyed; but he paused long enough to ask of Steve and Murray, "What about you two?"

"Us? We'll stay and keep the Apaches from chasing you."

"Won't they scalp you?"

"Not a bit. But there's one thing you may do. If by any chance you have a talk with the Lipans, you may tell them just where you saw us last. Tell the chief for me that No Tongue and Yellow Head are all right, only their horses are tired, following your trail and the Apaches."

"Hope I won't meet him! You're the queerest pair I ever saw. But I wish the boys had let me foller out the word you sent in by Bill."

"Too late now. Ride out of this the best gait your horse knows."

That too was good advice, and Captain Skinner took it; while the old man sat quietly in his saddle, with Steve Harrison at his side, as if they two were quite enough to stem the torrent of fierce, whooping Apaches which was now sweeping down upon them across the plain.

"Our lives are worth about as much as our title to that mine," said Steve; and it was no shame to him that he felt his young heart beat pretty rapidly.

"Sling your rifle behind you on the saddle; fold your arms; sit still. I'll do the talking."

The storm of dark horsemen was headed by Many Bears in person, and it was barely two minutes more before he was reining in his pony in front of the two "pale-face Lipans."

"How!" said Murray, quite heartily, holding out his right hand, with the open palm up, while he put his left upon his breast.

"How!" replied the chief, with a little hesitation; but a dozen voices around him were shouting,

"Send Warning!"

"Knotted Cord!"

"Pale-face friends of Apaches!"

And it was plain that the description given of them by Red Wolf and the girls had been accurate enough for their instant recognition.

"Other pale-faces run away. Why you stay?"

"Don't know them. Strangers. Run away from Apache chief. Chief must not follow."

"Why not follow?"

"Run against Lipans. Have big fight. Lose many warriors. All for nothing. Better go back."

"Send Warning is a good friend. Do what he say. You come?"

"Yes—we come. Trust friend."

Steve listened in silent wonder. He had never heard Murray speak a word about the Apaches that was not full of distrust of their good faith as well as hate of their ferocity, yet here he was treating them with the most absolute confidence. Steve felt quite sure he would have hesitated, for his own part, to meet a band of Lipans in that way. He did not understand Indian character as well as Murray, in spite of his three years among them. A man who came to them conferring benefits, and betraying no doubt of their good faith, was as safe among them as if he had been one of their own people.

It also occurred to Steve that this was hardly what Murray had been sent out for by To-la-go-to-de, but his devotion to the interests of that chief was not strong enough to make him care much.

Whatever might be Murray's intentions, Steve was clear enough that his own would never carry him back to make any sort of report of their "scouting."

The Apaches wheeled toward the west, and Send Warning and Knotted Cord rode on at the side of Many Bears.



CHAPTER XVII

If To-la-go-to-de and his Lipans had moved forward just a little earlier that morning, they might have been in time to witness the departure of Captain Skinner and his men on their ill-advised expedition. As it was, they were astonished enough by what they saw.

"Pale-faces."

"Big wagons."

"Much horse. Much mule."

"No Tongue leave that behind him for Lipans to take, and go on after Apaches."

They believed they had solved one of their puzzles; but a good deal harder one was the question, "Who are those pale-faces, and where do they come from?" No such party had ever been known or heard of in that vicinity, and To-la-go-to-de instantly came to the decision that this one should never be heard of again.

"Not many," he said. "Ride straight down valley and eat 'em up. Plenty plunder. Carry back big present for squaw to look at."

His eager warriors answered him with whoops and yells of approval, and he led them swiftly down all that was left of the pass and out into the valley.

It looked as if Murray had been altogether right when he sent word to Captain Skinner by Bill that there was "danger behind him." Bill himself was thinking of it at that very moment, and saying to one of his mates, "I'd about as lief see the sheriff and his posse, all the way from Denver."

"Well, yes, I'd a good deal ruther be arrested than scalped any day."

"Thar's a big swarm of 'em. No use for us to fight. I can't even lift my rifle."

"Try a little friendship. Maybe old Skinner'll tell ye you've been showin' good-sense agin."

"May save our scalps, boys; but I don't reckon it'll save us much of anything else."

"They're comin' right down onto us. If Skinner and all the boys were here, we could stop 'em, though."

If To-la-go-to-de's keen eyes had told him there were two dozen sharp-shooting white men in that camp, instead of three, he and his Lipans would never have dreamed of charging in as they now did.

It was not a very ceremonious or friendly way of making a morning call. There was a good deal too much noise about it. Too much clattering of lances and too many fierce, exulting war-whoops.

"Our time's come, Bill."

"It is if we anger them. Keep a steady eye, boys. Say 'How!'"

Those three miners were men of great courage, and their nerves must have been in the best of order, for they steadily walked out to the border of the camp and met the Lipans as if they had invited them to breakfast and were expecting them to come. There was just this difference, however, between their greeting of the Lipans and Murray's encounter with the Apaches: Bill and his two friends had sent no act of kindness and good-will ahead of them, while Murray and Steve were already firmly established, and well known as "friends of the Apaches, ready to fight for friends."

It was a very wide difference, but the three miners had acted wisely. The Lipan warriors in front of them lowered their lances, and the chief himself responded grimly to their "How!" But he did not offer to shake hands with them, and he did not check his braves in their rush through the camp and all over it.

"Don't tell 'em too much, Bill. The Captain and the boys won't be gone long. We can't warn 'em nuther."

That was just before old Two Knives gathered all the English he knew to question his prisoners. He saw at a glance that the men before him were only a part of a large party. The fires and the signs left of the breakfast which had been eaten were quite enough for that, not to speak of the size of the outfit.

"How many?" he asked.

Bill held up both hands, with the fingers spread, twice, and then one hand.

"Ugh! How hurt arm?"

"Fight with Apaches."

"Ugh! Good. Where gone? All pale-face braves?"

"Hunt Apaches. Out there."

"Ugh? Hope find 'em. Kill half. Lipans kill rest. Kill pale-face too. Put down gun. Prisoner this time. Shut mouth."

Bill had never in his life seen an uglier expression on the face of a man than was worn by that of the Lipan chief at that moment.

There was no use in resistance. Silently the three miners permitted themselves to be deprived of all their weapons; but the "stripping" stopped there. A brave who reached out his hand for the battered hat on the head of Bill was checked by To-la-go-to-de.

"Ugh! No want him. Let pale-face wear him. Take off scalp too, by-and-by."

There was nothing very cheering in that, but Bill's head did feel a little safer with the hat on.

"Tell ye what, boys," he afterward said to his mates, "when that redskin's hand teched the brim of that hat it felt as if the hull top o' my head was comin' loose."

It did not take those sixty Lipans long to find out all there was to be found in that camp. Their first and keenest interest was in the horses and mules, and the quality and number of these drew from them shouts of approval. The mules alone were worth any number of mustang ponies in a trade either with other Indians or with the border pale-faces.

Their first attempt at ransacking the wagons was sternly checked by old Two Knives.

"Maybe pale-faces got fire-water. To-la-go-to-de not want braves drunk now. Big fight maybe."

Every brave among them knew the good-sense of that, but they felt better satisfied a little later. The chief himself superintended a careful inspection of the wagons by two of his oldest sub-chiefs.

"He won't find a drap of any kind of liquor," growled Bill. "But I wish thar was some, and I could pisen it for him. They're a bad lot."

"Thar's too many on 'em for the boys to handle, I'm afraid."

"Captain Skinner's jest the man to try it and find out. Thar'll be a hot time, thar will!"

Two Knives probably had some such idea in his head, for his next orders, when carried out, left Bill and his two mates firmly bound to separate trees, so that no braves need be compelled to waste their precious time as "guards" over them.

The camp was now no longer the camp of the miners, it was that of the Lipans, and everything in it was their property, by all the laws of Indian warfare. There was yet to be at some future time, of course, a fair division of the plunder, but the "transfer" had been fully made and it was too late for anybody else to interfere.

It takes a great deal of civilization to make a South-western Indian, of any tribe, understand the white man's idea that his horse is still his own after it has been fairly stolen. To the Indian's mind, the theft gives the thief even a better title than he could acquire by paying money, and the biggest brave of any band is almost sure to be its most successful and renowned horse-thief.

The Lipans were specially well pleased over their morning's work, for they had won all that plunder without the loss of a single warrior.

The fate of the three prisoners was a matter to be thought over. To-la-go-to-de was by no means sure he had no farther use for them. He could wait till his braves should return from the examination he had ordered of the plain below the valley. It was less than an hour before they came back, and in a remarkable hurry, with the news of the approach of the main body of the pale-faces.

Old Two Knives merely nodded his head. His captives had told him the truth. But that number of white men would not be likely to attack at once so strong a band as his own. A full company of regular cavalry would hardly have been enough to scare him, for the Lipans are second to no other in their fighting qualities, and these were picked and chosen warriors.

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