"Pale-face come. Laugh at him."
Captain Skinner and his men saw nothing to laugh at when they rode near enough to understand the condition of affairs in their camp.
The blow had fallen upon them so suddenly that, for some moments after they halted on the plain, half a mile away, not a man could say a word.
"It's our fault, Cap. We ort to have follered your advice."
"Ort not to have left the camp."
"You was right."
"It's too late for that kind of talk, boys. The question for us is, what had we best do? Anybody got anything to say?"
There was another moment of glum, sulky silence, and then a perfect storm of angry outcries.
"Charge in on 'em!"
"Kill every soul of 'em."
"Fight right away."
"We won't lose all that's in them wagons."
"That'll do, boys. I know you've got all the grit for a fight," said Captain Skinner, "but suppose they're too much for us, and wipe us all out, what then?"
"Then that's what it'll have to be, Cap. We're ready."
"All right, boys. But no matter what comes, not a man of you must run. Not for a yard."
"We'll stand by ye, Cap."
"Most likely thar ain't no use talkin' of Bill and the boys."
"Not much, I reckon. They had no kind of show."
There was no time to do any mourning for their comrades, but the way in which that line of white horsemen now rode forward made the Lipans open their eyes in astonishment.
"Keep about a rod apart," said the Captain. "Walk your horses. Don't fire a shot unless you've got a good aim at something. We'll draw them nigh enough to teach 'em a thing or two."
For once even old Two Knives, with all his cunning, was led into making a mistake. He was unwise enough to try and scare those miners, when there was not a man among them who knew how to be afraid, and they had all agreed to be killed rather than not whip those Lipans and get back what was in the wagons.
It was a bad mistake for those Indians to make even a threat of a charge, when it brought them in a pretty compact mass, just as they were about to wheel, instead of "charging," less than two hundred yards from the steady line of pale-faces.
"Now, boys, save every shot."
It was not a volley. The rifles cracked rapidly, one after another, but all were fired in a very few seconds and the Lipans recoiled in dismay, firing wildly as they went, and carrying off their dead and wounded.
"Keep it up, boys. Steady. Take a pony if you can't hit a redskin."
The "rally" of the Lipans was quickly made, and their own firing grew hotter, but it had little of the cool accuracy that Captain Skinner insisted on from his own men. All the while, too, he was moving steadily forward, and To-la-go-to-de began to understand what kind of men he had to deal with.
A sharp, deep-throated order to three of his braves was rapidly obeyed, and in a few minutes more the miners heard their Captain's voice, excitedly,
"Halt! They've brought out the boys. They've stopped firing."
It was precisely so. There were Bill and his two mates, on foot, with their arms tied behind them, and before each stood a Lipan, with his lance levelled, ready to strike.
"That's plain, boys. They've got their lesson. Don't want any more. Want a talk. They'll kill those three if we don't hold up."
"We've only lost two, Cap, and we've laid out more'n a dozen of them."
"Save the boys!"
"No fault of their'n."
"Have a talk, Cap."
"We'll have to give up something if we do. They'll never give us back the outfit."
"You know what we want. We're close to the border now."
"All right. I'll ride out. I reckon their chief'll come to meet me."
The meaning of the Lipans had been plain enough. The sudden firing of the miners upon their superior force had had all the effect of a surprise.
They were furiously angry over their losses, but their wise leader saw that he must give them a breathing-spell. No troops in the world could stand a fire so withering as that which came from the repeating-rifles of the desperadoes. Quite as many ponies as men had gone down, and their morning's plunder had already cost them more than it was worth. Therefore it must not be permitted to cost them any more, if they could help it by threats and talking.
There was a good deal of beauty as well as convenience in the spot which the Apache braves had chosen for their camp on the bank of the river.
Many Bears had approved of it when he came in, but he had said nothing about the beauty of it. He had only ordered two or three trusty warriors to go at once and hunt for a ford, so that he could get upon the opposite bank of the river if necessary.
It was some little time before they found one, a mile lower down, and then they and the great chief were astonished by a report brought in to him by Dolores with his supper. Some of the squaws, she said, had taken their children into the river for a bath, right there by the camp, and one of them had found a place where she could wade across and back.
It was afterward found to be a flat ledge of rock, with deep water above and below, but it was none the less a bitter pill for the pride of the warriors.
To think of squaws and children presuming to find, right there under their noses, the very thing they were hunting for up and down so anxiously! That, too, when any man's eyes, or any woman's, could now perceive a good deal of a ripple in the water on the shallow place, such as ought to have made them suspect it at once.
Ni-ha-be's own eyes had been the first to notice that ripple, and she had set a couple of bright boys at the business of exploring it.
Of course the older squaws claimed the credit, when the ford was found, but Rita remarked to her sister,
"Let Too Many Toes say she saw it first. Too much talk. She'll be beaten again if she isn't careful."
"I saw it myself."
"I don't care. You and I have done enough, yesterday and to-day. We must keep still."
Rita was right, and Ni-ha-be knew it; but it was very hard to hear Too Many Toes so loudly assert her own acuteness and quickness of vision.
"She's the ugliest squaw in the whole band. Her children are ugly and her husband is too lazy to feed them, Rita."
"Hush. Father and the chiefs are coming. Walk away."
They did not go far and they were looking back all the while. Many Bears and his councillors marched dignifiedly down to the bank, and a tall brave walked right on into the river.
Not a word was spoken while he waded across and back, the water nowhere rising much above his waist, although it ran pretty swiftly.
His next business was to explore the width of the ledge, and that was found to be at least ten feet at the narrowest.
Long before that was done, however, Ni-ha-be had been reconciled to the policy of silence.
Too Many Toes could not be silent, and she disputed so loudly with another old squaw over their claim to the glory of finding that ford, that the chief and the councillors felt that something must be done for discipline.
Many Bears nodded sharply at the husband of Too Many Toes.
"Much noise. Warriors hear too big boasting. Teach squaw."
That was enough, and in a moment more the end of a heavy hide "lariat" or horse rope was falling rapidly upon the shoulders of the two offenders, Too Many Toes getting much the larger share of the beating. Her husband had been one of the braves who had wasted so much time in finding the other ford, and he agreed with his chief that somebody ought to be punished for it.
"Serve her right," said Ni-ha-be.
There was no question but what some kind of justice had been done, and that was a fair specimen of Apache household government.
If the poor, tired-out little mule who had served as an "omnibus" for Too Many Toes and her family happened to see the use made of that lariat, perhaps it comforted him too, for she had beaten him unmercifully all the way, and he was not her mule.
At all events, the discovery of the ford made that a safer place for a camp. Orders were given not to put up any lodges or unpack any baggage until morning, and the whole band prepared for a night in the open air.
It was a complete "bivouac" but there was no hardship in it. The air was dry and warm. There was very little wind. The grass on which they could spread their blankets and buffalo-skins was deep and soft. Besides all that, and more important than anything else, they were all used to it, and would have laughed at anybody who imagined it a hardship.
Even Rita and Ni-ha-be never thought of such a thing, but after they lay down together it seemed more than usually difficult to get to sleep.
Nowhere in the world is the air more pure, and there were no clouds, nor was there yet any moon. The sky was all one blaze of stars, and the two girls could hardly help gazing at them.
"They're so bright," said Rita.
"I've seen them all before. Just as bright as they are now.
"So many of them, too."
"No more than there always is in good weather. When it rains hard it puts them out and they have to be lighted again."
"There is something about them in the talking leaves."
"What do they say?"
"I could not hear it all, but I understood some of it. The wise pale-faces look at the stars and know all their names. All the tribes of them and families."
"Tribes and families! I don't believe it. They're all one tribe, and they all shine for the Apaches." There was no denying that, and Rita had not read or understood enough to say much more.
Long after Ni-ha-be was sound asleep, however, her adopted sister was lying wide-awake, and staring at all that glory overhead.
"I remember now. It was my father told me about the stars. That's why I knew what the talking leaves meant. He was very good to me. I can see him plainer and plainer all the while."
It was a matter of course that one memory should bring back another, but they were all pretty cloudy as yet. Not bright and clear like the great stars, but misty and dim like those white streaks in the sky.
Rita gazed and gazed and thought and thought, until at last her eyelids closed heavily, and she too was asleep. Not so soundly as Ni-ha-be, for many strange dreams came to her, and all she could remember of them was the very last and latest of all.
It was just like the picture which Many Bears had spoken about the day before, only that now the miners did not look like that, and Rita in her dream actually thought she saw Many Bears himself among the Indians who were attacking them.
"He said he was there. I see him. They are coming! The squaw I saw in the book! Mother!"
And suddenly Rita found herself wide awake, and all the rest of her dream was lost to her.
Ni-ha-be too was awake.
"What is the matter, Rita?"
"Oh, a dream!"
"Ugh! I never dream. That's the talking leaves. Dreams are big lies like them. What was it?"
"The fight in the picture."
"Miners? Pale-faces? Look, Rita, the braves are mounting to ride away. It is hardly sunrise, but they are going. Did your dream say there was any danger coming to us?"
"No, it did not say."
"I don't care. The Apaches are warriors, and Many Bears is a great chief. He will not let an enemy come near his camp."
"Besides, we can cross the river."
"Yes, by my ford."
"Ni-ha-be, remember what came to Too Many Toes!"
"She talked too much—when the chief and the braves were troubled in their minds. I know better than to do that. I'll talk to you, though. It's my ford!"
Mother Dolores was already busy at the nearest camp-fire, for she had not allowed the great chief to ride away without a nice bit of something to eat. Meaner braves could go hungry or pick a cold bone as they rode along. Not so the mighty husband of Dolores, the best cook of the Apaches. She knew too well where all her importance and dignity came from, and Many Bears was particularly glad to get his hot venison-steak that morning. No orders were left behind with reference to moving the camp, but all the second-rate braves and half-grown boys were busying themselves over their weapons and ponies with as much importance in their manner as if they had been so many chiefs.
Some of them were well armed with repeating-carbines and good revolvers. Others had old and inferior guns. Many of the "boys" had nothing but bows and arrows, but they knew how to use them, and there is nothing much more effective in a close fight. Nothing except a revolver or a lance, and they all had lances.
On the whole, it was clear that Many Bears could muster quite a strong "reserve," as the soldiers call it, after all his tried and chosen warriors had ridden away with him at their head.
The fighting fever seemed to be spreading after breakfast, and the squaws too got out their bows and arrows, and so did the smaller boys. It looked as if any enemy who should ride into the camp of that band of Apaches that day would find it a sort of hornets' nest, with all the hornets, big and little, practising their stings.
Ni-ha-be and Rita were like the rest, and more than one "young brave," who had never yet been in any kind of a battle, looked enviously at the pretty young chief's daughter who could already boast of having sent an arrow through the arm of a full-grown paleface warrior, and helped defeat him and his dangerous companions.
That was a bright feather for the cap of any Indian girl, and she had been compelled to tell the story of it over and over again to the other squaws.
They came to hear it over now, for it was closely connected in their minds with the warlike preparations and the evident anxiety of their chief.
"Ugh!" scornfully remarked old Too Many Toes. "Pale-face have soft arm. Hold it up for little girl to shoot at. Then laugh at her. S'pose pale-face come here. I show 'em."
"Yes," rejoined Ni-ha-be, with a flash in her black eyes. "Pale-face look at you, see your face, run right away. Afraid you'll talk. Hear you once, then they never come again."
The laughter among the other squaws sounded as if they were not disposed to admire Too Many Toes, but she had something else to say.
"Little girl take prisoners and then let them go. Just like pale-face blue-coat. No sense. I kill every one. You see!"
"You?" said Ni-ha-be. "The only prisoner you ever took was a little rabbit of a mule. He's alive now. You couldn't even talk him to death."
"She talks too much now," added a dignified middle-aged squaw. "Get beaten again. We want to know what's coming. Warriors keep it all to themselves. Did Ni-ha-be hear of many pale-faces?"
"No. Heard Send Warning tell Red Wolf there is danger coming. Believe what he said. Great chief and all the old men believe too. Good friend. Young warrior good friend too. Come see us some day. Squaws cook big dinner."
The questioning was by no means over, but the mention of her last beating silenced Too Many Toes. Public opinion was against her, and there were a good many others who had something to say.
Rita, too, came in for her share, and it was remarkable how closely she and Ni-ha-be were able to describe every article of clothing worn by their two white friends and their three white enemies, with the color of their eyes and hair, and every noticeable thing about their arms and equipments. The girls had eyes of their own, and they had used them to good purpose. The fact is, Indians can read almost everything excepting books.
Many Bears did not seem disposed to hurry his return to his camp after his meeting with Steve and Murray.
Perhaps he was the more willing to ride slowly because it gave him an opportunity to ask a great many questions, and to consider the answers given. He did not seem very curious as to the past history of his new friends. Indian politeness compelled him to let them keep their own affairs to themselves. Besides, the account they gave sounded well.
"Send Warning and Knotted Cord find mine? Ugh! Good. Apache not want him. Friend keep him. Then other pale-face come for mine? Ugh! Bad. Drive off friend. Too many rifle. Too many big strong. You not like it. Ugh! Apaches drive 'em all away. Take every scalp. You see."
"We're in no hurry about the mine," said Murray. "Stay away now. Go back for it some day. Too many Lipans."
"They go away too. Go beyond mountains. Never come over here before. Apaches must teach 'em a lesson."
That was the great trouble in the mind of Many Bears at that moment. He wanted to travel westward as fast as possible, and yet here was a band of his tribe's worst and most ancient enemies within easy striking distance. Not to speak of Captain Skinner and his men, and the "plunder" there might be in their "outfit." He felt that it was no small thing to be a great chief, and to be compelled to decide questions of such importance.
"What you say? Send Warning tell friend what do."
"Let 'em all alone," said Murray, promptly. "Maybe Lipans fight pale-faces. Maybe not. Both get scared and go away. No good to lose warrior for nothing."
"Get scalp. Get big name. All tribe say great chief!" That was the difficulty. His pride was in the way of his good-sense.
Murray did his best in the remainder of that ride, and he might perhaps have succeeded in his peaceful advice, if it had not been for the hot temper of the younger braves and the "war spirit" they found at the camp on their arrival.
"They're a venomous lot," said Murray to Steve, as he looked around him while they were riding in. All the mixed "reserve" who could get ponies had mounted them and ridden out to meet their chief and his warriors. More than one squaw was among them ready to ply bow and arrows, or even a lance, if need should be.
"Well," replied Steve, "I reckon an arrow hurts just as much when a squaw sends it."
"They shoot best on foot."
"I don't see why. I never saw a Lipan squaw in a fight."
"I have, then. I've seen 'em sit down, put their feet on the bow, and send an arrow farther than any brave could send it drawing with his hands. Look at some of those bows. Could you bend them?"
"I never tried it sitting down. I've seen a Lipan squaw use a lance, but it was on a buffalo."
"Do you suppose that ugly old vixen yonder doesn't know how to handle the one she's carrying? They're terribly unmerciful in a fight."
"I'd hate to fall into her hands, before a fight or after one."
"After one would be the worst. Such squaws as she is are the most cruel tormentors of prisoners."
The face of Too Many Toes was again against her, for the lance-bearer was no other.
Alas for her, however!
The warrior to whom the lance belonged, and who also owned the pony she was riding, caught sight of her at that moment, and instantly galloped out from his place in the returning column. He did not listen for a moment to the shrill outcry with which he was greeted, or to her assertion of her readiness to fight the enemies of the Apaches.
The lance was wrested from her, and she was roughly unseated from the pony.
"Go get mule," said the contemptuous brave. "Put heap pappoose on him. Squaw warrior not wanted just now."
"There!" said Ni-ha-be to Rita. "Too Many Toes is in trouble again. I was watching her."
"Where are your eyes, Ni-ha-be? Don't you see who is coming?"
"Father? All the braves? Oh, Rita, there are Knotted Cord and Send Warning! They have come to visit their friends."
"I was looking at that ugly old squaw. I hope she will get beaten again."
Not this time, for she had hastened away at once on being deprived of her borrowed pony. Her offence against the laws of property of an Indian village was covered by the apparent circumstances, or it might have been worse for her.
It was no time for any squaw, old or young, to make herself noticeable, and the two girls kept themselves almost out of sight in the crowd.
They did not so much as guess how eagerly their faces were all the while sought for by the eyes of those two pale-faces.
"Do you see them, Murray?" had been the first thing Steve had said, as they were riding in.
"Not yet. Be careful, Steve. If you see them you must not speak to them. Contrary to rule."
"Not speak to them?"
"Not till the chief himself introduces you. Even after that you must not say too much."
"Well, yes. I suppose they are jealous about their squaws. Just like the Lipans."
"That's it, exactly. All Indians are. Besides, you are a young brave and a pale-face. They may not be quite so particular about a white-headed old warrior like myself."
"I'm white. I'll speak if I get a chance."
"And get kicked out of the village for it, or worse? No, my boy, you must be prudent. You haven't been asked to make yourself at home as yet."
Steve did not want to make himself at home, but he was well pleased, as he looked around him, to see how very strong was that band of Apaches. It seemed as if he had just so much more reason to feel safe about again falling into the hands of the Lipans.
True, he was among the wildest kind of wild Indians, but he was not a prisoner here, and the Apaches had no claim on him.
"They will not care whether I go or stay," he said to himself.
He had not gotten away from them yet, however, and among the first to welcome him was the haughty presence of Red Wolf.
Steve did not know that Ni-ha-be had already stirred up her brother on his account.
"Knotted Cord saved your scalp," she said to him "Now he comes to visit you, and you are too proud to speak to him. You are no better than a pale-face."
"Red Wolf is young. He must wait for his turn. The old men would push him back."
"No, they won't. They will keep Send Warning to talk to them. Knotted Cord is young. His head is brown, not white."
There was something in that, and Red Wolf did not wait till the formal reception of the two white visitors was attended to. He said to his father,
"Knotted Cord is mine. He must eat my venison."
"Ugh! Young braves. Been in same fight. Good. Dolores cook deer-meat for him. Old warrior stay with chiefs. Ugh!"
It was precisely as Ni-ha-be had expected, and Red Wolf was the proudest young brave in camp when he held out his hand to Steve and found it grasped so very heartily.
Steve was glad to see him, and showed it, and so did Murray. The latter, indeed, won the heart of Many Bears by saying of his son, in the presence of the warriors standing by, "Brave young man. Stand right up and fight. Make a great war-chief some day. I like him."
Such testimony from a man who had given proof of his own prowess, and who was, as their keen eyes told them, himself a great warrior, did wonders for the fame of Red Wolf. It was almost as much as if he had taken and brought home a scalp.
"Young men go," said Many Bears. "Send Warning stay with gray heads."
Steve walked away at his new friend's side, both of them a little puzzled what to do or say, until Steve asked a question in Mexican Spanish.
The ice was broken. Red Wolf understood that tongue as well as Steve did.
"You are my brother. You are not a pale-face."
Steve was not altogether ignorant of Indian manners, and of their bitter prejudices, and he replied,
"Brother? Yes. All right. I am an Apache now. Fight for tribe. Fight for brother."
That was precisely what he had already done, so that it was more than a mere profession; but the reply of Red Wolf had a great deal of frankness in it.
"Red Wolf is an Apache. His father is a great chief. He hates pale-faces. Glad his brother has come to be an Apache. Eat with him now. Show him foolish young squaw that ran away and got caught. Squaw know very little."
They had walked along for some distance, and when Red Wolf said that he was very near his own campfire. He had not intended it for any ears but those of Steve Harrison, and his pride forbade his noticing the ripple of laughter which immediately followed it. Not even when he heard Ni-ha-be say, in her own dialect,
"Did you hear him, Rita? He was one of the braves who went to find the ford. They forgot to ask the squaws where to look for it."
Steve heard the rippling laugh, but he did not understand the words. Could they be making fun of him? His cheeks burnt red-hot at the thought of it, for he turned his head just long enough to see that those two pairs of bright and searching eyes were looking straight at him. They dropped instantly, but not before they had seen the quick flush rise to his face.
"Ni-ha-be," whispered Rita, "he will think we are rude."
"Ni-ha-be—Rita," said Red Wolf at that moment, "tell Dolores she must cook for the Knotted Cord. The chief says so. Bring blanket. Bring water. Be quick."
Dolores was near enough to hear, and she was perfectly willing. It was a post of honor to cook for a guest of Many Bears. The girls, too, were ready to bring gourds of drinking water, blankets to sit down upon, or do anything else which could properly be asked of two young Apache ladies of their high rank.
"Rita," said Ni-ha-be, while they were dipping their water-gourds in the river, "he is as handsome as an Apache."
"He is not nearly so good-looking as Send Warning. He is a mere boy."
"Can he see to talk with the talking leaves? His eyes are very good."
"I don't know; I will find out. Send Warning is a wise man—I am sure he is. They will talk to him. He is old, and the snow is on his head."
"Father says the snow is bad on a head sometimes. Every thing dies under it. Head good for nothing."
The two girls were getting up a good deal of partiality concerning their white friends and visitors, but they both stood gravely and silently enough before Red Wolf and the Knotted Cord when they brought them the water.
"Young squaws thank you for help," said Red Wolf. "Both very glad. Very young. Very foolish. Daughters of great chief himself."
Steve almost forgot Murray's caution, for he frankly held out his hand, saying,
"I'm glad Murray and I were on hand to help them. They're too nice to be killed. Glad to see them both well."
Mother Dolores was looking on, and was deeply scandalized by the terrible boldness of Ni-ha-be, for that young lady actually took the hand Steve held out and shook it, for all the world as if she had been a brave. Such a thing was unheard of, and what made it worse was the fact that Rita instantly followed her sister's example.
Red Wolf hardly knew what to say, but he was pretty well used to seeing Ni-ha-be have her own way. He was pleased that they had stopped short of so grave an offence as speaking.
"Rita will go. She will bring the talking leaves by-and-by. Red Wolf has a question to ask of his brother. Ni-ha-be go too."
Steve would have been glad of a longer call upon the daughters of the great chief, but they quietly walked away, as became them, not even laughing until they were at some distance.
Then it was Ni-ha-be who laughed, for Rita was thinking about the talking leaves, and wishing with all her heart that she could manage to ask some questions of her own concerning them.
"If he could not answer me, I am sure Send Warning could. He is old, and he is wise, and I know he is good."
The trees to which Bill and his two mates had been tied by the Lipans were so situated that all that they needed was to turn their heads in order to have a good view of what was doing on the plain to the westward. They saw their captors ride out, and heard their whoops and yells of self-confidence and defiance.
"Don't I wish I was with the boys just now!" growled Bill.
"Three more good rifles'd be a good thing for 'em."
"Skinner'll fight, you see'f he don't. He'll stop some of that yelling."
"He's great on friendship and compromise," groaned Bill. "He may think it's good-sense not to shoot first."
The three gazed anxiously out toward the scene of the approaching conflict, if there was to be one. They could not see the advance of their comrades, but they knew they were coming.
"Hark!" suddenly exclaimed Bill. "That's the boys. Opened on 'em. Oh, don't I wish I was thar!"
The other two could hardly speak, in their excitement and disgust. It was a dreadful thing for men of their stamp to be tied to trees while a fight was going on which might decide whether they were to live or die.
Suddenly a squad of Lipans came dashing in. The cords that bound them were cut—all but those on their hands—and they were rudely lifted upon bare-backed ponies and led rapidly away to the front of the battle.
They could not understand a word of the fierce and wrathful talking around them, but the gesticulations of the warriors were plainer than their speech. Besides, some of them were attending to wounds upon their own bodies or those of others. Some were on foot, their ponies having been shot under them. More than all, there were warriors lying still upon the grass who would never again need horses.
"It's been a sharp fight," muttered Bill, "for a short one. I wonder if any of the boys went under? What are they gwine to do with us?"
A tall Lipan sat on his horse in front of him, with his long lance levelled, as if only waiting the word of command to use it. It remained to be seen whether or not the order would be given, for now To-la-go-to-de himself was riding slowly out to meet Captain Skinner.
"He can't outwit the Captain," said one of the miners. "Shooting first was the right thing to do this time. Skinner doesn't make many mistakes."
It was their confidence in his brains, rather than in his bones and muscles, which made his followers obey him, and they were justified in this instance, as they had been in a great many others.
The greetings between the two leaders were brief and stern, and the first question of old Two Knives was,
"Pale-faces begin fight. What for shoot Lipans?"
"Big lie. Lipans take our camp. Tie up our men. Steal our horses. Ride out in war-paint. Pale-faces kill them all."
The chief understood what sort of men he had to deal with, but his pride rebelled.
"All right. We kill prisoners right away. Keep camp. Keep horse. Kill all pale-faces."
"We won't leave enough of you for the Apaches to bury. There's a big band of them coming. Eat you all up."
"The Lipans are warriors. The Apaches are small dogs. We are not afraid of them."
"You'd better be! If you had us to help you, now, you might whip them. There won't be so many of you by the time they get here. Pale-faces are good friends. Bad enemies. Shoot straight. Kill a heap."
Captain Skinner saw that his "talk" was making a deep impression, but the only comment of the chief was a deep, guttural "Ugh!" and the Captain added,
"Suppose you make peace? Say have fight enough. Not kill any more. Turn and whip Apaches. We help."
"What about camp, wagon, horse, mule, blanket? All kind of plunder."
"Make a divide. We'll help ourselves when we take the Apache ponies. You keep one wagon. We keep one. Same way with horses and mules—divide 'em even. You give up prisoners right away. Give 'em their rifles, and pistols, and knives. Give back all you took from them."
"Ugh! Good! Fight Apaches. Then pale-faces take care of themselves. Give them one day after fight."
That was the sort of treaty that was made, and it saved the lives of Bill and his mates for that day at least.
It was all Captain Skinner could have expected, but the faces of the miners were sober enough over it.
"Got to help fight Apaches, boys."
"And lose one wagon, and only have a day's start afterward."
"One wagon's nothing, boys. All we care much for is in the wagon we'll choose to keep. As to the rest of it, we'll see about that. Did any of you get hurt besides Smith and Gorham?"
"Not a man. But there's two less to divide with if we ever git safe into Mexico."
The chief had at once ridden back to announce the result to his braves, and they, too, received it with a sullen approval which was full of bitter thoughts of what they would do to those pale-faces after the Apaches should be beaten, and the "one day's truce" ended.
The three captives were at once set at liberty, their arms restored to them, and they were permitted to return to the camp and pick out, saddle, and mount their own horses.
"The Captain's got us out of our scrape," said Bill. "I can't guess how he did it."
"Must ha' been by shootin' first."
"And all the boys do shoot so awful straight!"
That had a great deal to do with it, but the immediate neighborhood of the Apaches had a great deal more. To-la-go-to-de knew that Captain Skinner was exactly right, and that the Lipans would be in no condition for a battle with the band of Many Bears after one with so desperate a lot of riflemen as those miners.
The next thing was to make the proposed "division" of the property in and about the camp. The Lipan warriors withdrew from it, all but the chief and six braves. Then Captain Skinner and six of his men rode in.
"This my wagon," said Two Knives, laying his hand upon the larger and seemingly the better stored of the two.
"All right. We'll take the other. This is our team of mules."
So they went on from one article to another, and it would have taken a keen judge of that kind of property to have told, when the division was complete, which side had the best of it. The Lipans felt that they were giving up a great deal, but only the miners knew how much was being restored to them.
"It was worth a fight, boys," said Captain Skinner, when the saved wagon was hauled out among them. "There's a little spring of water out yonder beyond the bushes. Not as good as the other, but it'll serve our turn."
There was little or no mourning over their two fallen companions. Each man felt that his own life was worth a good deal less than he had thought that morning, and there was no telling when his turn might come.
As for the Lipans, they were disposed to be sulky over the day's operations, for they could not disguise the fact that they had been pretty roughly handled by an inferior force. It was as sure as anything could be that they would take the first opportunity which might come to "square accounts" with the miners. Indeed, Captain Skinner was not far from right when he said to his men,
"Boys, it'll be a bad thing for us if the Apaches don't show themselves to-morrow. We can't put any trust in the Lipans."
"Better tell the chief about that old man and the boy," said one of the men.
"I hadn't forgotten it. Yes, I think I'd better."
It was easy to bring old Two Knives to another conference, and he received his message with an "Ugh!" which meant a good deal. He had questions to ask, of course, and the Captain gave him as large an idea as he thought safe to give of the strength and number of the Apaches.
"Let 'em come, though. If we stand by each other we can beat them off."
"Not wait for Apaches to come," said To-la-go-to-de. "All ride after them to-night. Pale-faces ride with Lipans."
That was a part of the agreement between them, but it had not been any part of the intention of Captain Skinner.
"We're in for it, boys," he said, when he returned to his own camp and reported. "We must throw the redskins off to-night. It's time for us to unload that wagon. We're close to the Mexican line. Every man must carry his own share."
"Guess we can do that."
"I don't believe we can. It'll be as much as a man's life's worth to be loaded down too much, with all the riding we've got before us."
"We won't leave an ounce, if we can help it."
"Well, not any more'n we can help."
It was strange sight, a little later, the group those ragged, weather-beaten men made around their rescued wagon, while their leader sat in front of it, with a pair of scales before him.
"Some of the dust is better than other some."
"So are the bars and nuggets."
"Can't help that," replied Captain Skinner. "Everything's got to go by weight. No assay-office down in this corner of Arizona."
So it was gold they were dividing in those little bags of buckskin that the men were stowing away so carefully. Yellow gold, and very heavy. Pockets, money-belts, saddle-bags, all sorts of carrying places on men and horses, were brought into use, until at last a miner exclaimed,
"It's of no use, boys. I don't care to have any more load about me—'specially if there's to be any running."
"Or any swimming," said another.
"Swimming! I've got enough about me to sink a cork man."
"And I've got all I keer to spend. Enough's as good as a feast, I say."
One after another came to the same opinion, although Captain Skinner remarked,
"We're not taking it all, boys. What'll we do with the rest?"
"Cache it. Hide it."
"For the Lipans to find the next day? No, boys; we'll leave it in the wagon, under the false bottom. That's the safest place for it, if any of us ever come back. No redskins ever took the trouble to haul a wagon across the mountains. It'll stay right here."
The "false bottom" was a simple affair, but well made, and there was room between it and the real bottom of that wagon to stow a great deal more than the miners were now leaving.
They would have had no time to dig a hiding-place in the earth if they had wanted to, for messengers came from To-la-go-to-de before sunset to tell them he was nearly ready to start, and from that time forward the keen eyes of strolling Lipan horsemen were watching every step that was taken in the camp of their pale-face allies.
"If they want to know how much supper we eat," said the Captain, "we can't help it. I only hope I can blind 'em in some way before morning."
The supper that was eaten was a hearty one, but there was no use in providing any great weight of provisions to carry with them. Every man and horse had already enough to carry, and the largest and heaviest men were most in doubt as to whether they had better take any provisions at all.
As Steve walked away with Red Wolf, Many Bears at once turned his attention to Murray and the great affairs to be decided by the chiefs and councillors.
For himself, the first idea that called for expression was suggested by a faint odor of something broiling on the coals just in front of Mother Dolores.
"Send Warning ride long way. Get very hungry. Come. All great braves eat a heap."
If the power to eat very nearly as fast, for a given time, as Dolores herself could cook, was a sure mark of greatness, Many Bears had no superior in his own band. It had not made a fat man of him yet, but there was no telling what it might do for him in the course of time.
The chiefs and warriors whose fame and rank entitled them to such a privilege soon gathered for the expected "talk," and there were some of them whose busy squaws ventured to bring them supplies of provisions, but the greater number were contented to wait a while.
Murray found himself regarded as an honored guest. Not only were his hosts indebted to him for past favors, but they were anxiously expecting more. Indians are just like other human beings in such matters. Always ready to give a good dinner to a man from whom they expect something. To be sure, all they were now looking for was good advice, and sometimes people are not willing to give much for that. There was plenty to eat, and with it a great deal of dignity. Even questions were asked slowly and carefully, and every answer was thoughtfully considered before any comment was made upon it. At first Murray merely listened as brave after brave replied to the mention of his name. He saw that only the very gray-headed men had anything to say in favor of peaceful action and a prompt "getting away." He was even surprised at the warlike ardor with which many of the warriors declared their eagerness for a blow at the Lipans, and the good reasons they were able to give.
The presence of the band of Two Knives was a sort of invasion of the Apache hunting-grounds. The Lipans had no business this side of the mountains. They had come to strike the Apaches, and if they should be allowed to get away unhurt they would surely come again. Send Warning had already told how many there were of them. If there were no more than that, none of them ought to be allowed to get away.
Murray could but think that a party of Apaches in the Lipan country would probably be talked about and dealt with very much in the same way; but it seemed to require a special effort for him to think at all. His head had been in a sort of whirl for some minutes before the time when Many Bears turned suddenly upon him with the question,
"What Send Warning say? His head is very white."
Murray was muttering to himself at the moment, while Dolores handed her husband a stick with a piece of corn bread on the point of it, "She is not an Apache; she is a full-blooded Mexican. Yes, I've seen that woman before—" But the chief's inquiry startled him out of that train of recollection. He could not have answered instantly to save his life, but it was according to Indian notions that he should not speak too quickly, so he had time to recover himself.
"More enemies besides Lipans," he said at length. "Apaches better not forget pale-face miners."
The exclamation went all around the circle, for that was the very thing none of them had mentioned.
"Pale-faces fight Lipans," remarked Many Bears.
"Is the great chief sure of that?" asked Murray. "Suppose they come all together. Apaches need more braves then. Suppose they fight each other first, then Apaches eat up all that are left. Great chief better find out."
It was a very loud grunt indeed to come from the throat of Many Bears, and the chiefs and braves looked at one another in a way that spoke a good deal for the value they set on the advice of their white friend.
Whipping sixty Lipans was one thing; attacking them with a strong force of pale-face riflemen to help them was quite another.
"What Send Warning say do?"
"Do?" almost sharply exclaimed Murray, with his eyes upon the retreating form of Mother Dolores. "I'll tell you. Send your whole camp across the river. They can surround it here. Then send out your best braves to watch for the Lipans. They'll attack you before morning. That's what they came for. They won't fight the miners."
He was partly right and partly wrong, but Many Bears and his chiefs rose to their feet as one man.
"The words of Send Warning are wise. He is very old, and he is a chief. No use talk any more. All braves go and eat a heap. Tell squaws bring up all ponies. Get ready to cross river. No lose time."
Murray was not a "general," and he had never studied war, but he knew it would be a good thing to have deep water between that camp and any assailants instead of behind it. Many Bears was a chief of great experience, but it had never occurred to him that it would cost him all his horses if he should be beaten in a fight with a river behind him. The blunder was remedied now with a rapidity which astonished even Murray, for he had not known how good a ford there was right there.
"Hope the Lipans won't find that out," he said to himself. "They'll think twice before they try to swim their horses. I've given these fellows good advice. May prevent a battle. But if one should come, how could I fight the Lipans? What am I doing in an Apache camp anyhow? Steve and I must make haste out of this."
And then a puzzled, pained, anxious look came over his wrinkled face, and he seemed to be looking around him very wistfully indeed, as if he wanted to see somebody.
"Not to-night, perhaps; but I'll see her again in the morning. Steve and I must get away to-morrow. It'll be easy enough to give him his directions, and I can find Two Knives and his braves in a few hours."
Murray was a good deal upset by something or other, and it may be he had not quite made up his own mind what his difficulty might be.
As the deepening gloom of the evening settled slowly down he stood beside Many Bears on the bank of the river, and watched the young braves drive in the last squads of ponies from their pasturage and urge them across the ford. He had no idea how much quiet fun Steve and his friend Red Wolf had already enjoyed in a very similar occupation. The squaws had insisted upon making all the boys and girls who were big enough swim instead of going over on pony-back, and the youngsters in their turn had revenged themselves by doing all the mischievous pranks they knew.
Old Too Many Toes had been conspicuous in shoving small Indians into the water, and when at last she finished packing her little borrowed mule and a borrowed pony, there was a perfect swarm of "divers and duckers" around her. The water came well up the sides of the little mule, and she would not have minded that if the boys had been willing it should go no higher.
Even the solemn face of Many Bears himself expanded into a chuckle of dignified fun.
"Ugh! Squaw scold. Get spattered."
"Look!" said Red Wolf at the same instant. "Drop baby."
Not her pappoose, for it was safe under her blanket, but her three-year-old girl had slipped from behind her, and the river was sweeping it down stream.
"It will be drowned!" exclaimed Steve, in some excitement.
"No. Apache baby never sink. Swim a heap. Look!"
Steve looked, and there was no question but what the queer little thing was paddling bravely, and not even showing fear. To be sure, the current was carrying it away, but Steve now saw that three or four older boys and girls were swimming around it and were ready to give it all the help needed.
For all that, the wrath and anxiety of Too Many Toes exhibited itself in a torrent of long words.
Steve had learned among the Lipans that the red men have a great deal of fun in their compositions, but he was almost surprised to hear Red Wolf say, "Squaw talk big rain. Fall in river. Have freshet then. Lipans can't follow Apaches."
If talk could have raised the river, the chatter of nearly two hundred squaws of all ages, added to the scolding of Too Many Toes, would have made a torrent of it.
And yet a number of the squaws, wives and daughters of men of character and station attended to the business of fording the stream with the silence and gravity of the most dignified white matrons.
Dolores would have scorned putting herself on a level with such a squaw as Too Many Toes, even in the use of her tongue; and as for Ni-ha-be and Rita, they never forgot for a moment whose family they belonged to.
"Rita," said Ni-ha-be, as they rode down to the river, "your blanket is loose. Red Wolf and Knotted Cord are watching us."
"Send Warning is not there."
"No, of course not. He is with the chiefs. Don't let them see we are looking at them."
"I'm not looking at them."
"Neither am I. I don't care for Red Wolf either."
"And I don't care whether Knotted Cord sees me or not. I wish I could talk with Send Warning."
"To ask about the talking leaves."
"Knotted Cord could tell you. He is a pale-face."
"He is a mere boy. Send Warning's head is very white."
"Look out, Rita. Your horse's feet are slipping."
Ni-ha-be had better have been attending to the feet of her own pretty mustang. The ford was not very wide just there, and the two girls were compelled to get a little out of the way of the two mules loaded with lodge-poles.
Alas for the vanity of the chiefs self-confident daughter!
Her horse's fore-feet went over the ledge, and in an instant more she was floundering in the river, while every squaw and young Indian who could see her broke out into merry laughter.
It was well, perhaps, that she slipped from the ford on the up-stream side, but it was clear that she did not need a bit of help from anybody. No Apache girl of her age ever needed to be taught to swim. It was quite a credit to her, indeed, in the eyes of Steve Harrison, that she should so promptly catch her mustang by the head, turn it to the ledge, find her own footing on the rock, and encourage the unlucky quadruped to follow.
Then, although the water was at her shoulders, she managed, all dripping as she was, to clamber into the saddle again. It was so dreadfully provoking. She had heard Red Wolf laugh.
"Rita, did you look at them?"
"Look at whom? I was looking at you."
"Did they both laugh? Or was it only Red Wolf?"
"I don't know."
"Go on! Go on! Too Many Toes is saying something about me. She says it is her ford, and I fell in because I did not know where it was. Hurry on, Rita."
It was a sad blow to the pride of poor Ni-ha-be, but it need not have been. Any girl in the world might have had just such an accident befall her, but not a great many could have helped themselves out of it so skilfully and so bravely. That was precisely what Steve Harrison had been thinking, and he had not joined at all in the laughter of Red Wolf.
It had been the chief's order that the lodges should be set up on the safe side of the ford, and so there was work enough before the squaws. Even some of the younger braves were called upon to lend a hand, and in less than an hour's time there was a very respectable Indian village. Lodges, ponies, fires, dogs, everything belonging to an Apache hunting-camp was there, and between them and any probable danger the river was rolling now, and the Lipans did not know where to look for the ford.
"Ni-ha-be," exclaimed Dolores, sharply, a little later, "go into lodge. Too late for young squaw. What will the great chief say?"
"It is early yet."
"Go in. Lipans come and carry you off. Old pale-face see you, and say foolish young squaw. Not know enough to keep dry. Fall off pony. Ugh!"
That was a sharp hit, and Ni-ha-be obeyed Dolores rather than stay for another reminder of her ducking, but Rita followed her very slowly.
"If I could see him again," she murmured, "I feel sure he would speak to me. I don't care what they say. Dolores may scold as much as she pleases. I will ask Send Warning about those words, and all about those pictures."
She little guessed that at that very moment Murray was saying to Steve Harrison,
"Yes, Steve, she's pure white, but she's Indianized. Talks Indian. Thinks Indian. Don't know she's white."
To-la-go-do-de had all the pride of an Indian chief, but he had good reasons for respecting Captain Skinner. He had seen him handle his men in a fight, and he had talked with him afterward, and he knew that he had not beaten the Captain in either case. Now, therefore, that they were to go on a war-path together, he was not at all above a consultation with so wise and brave a leader.
For his own part, he had decided upon the right policy to follow. He had told his older warriors, "The pale-faces are cunning. The Lipans must be wise. Suppose the Apaches kill many pale-faces. Ugh! Good. Lipans kill rest of them very easy. Not so many to kill."
He was right about the Captain's "cunning," for it was a good deal like his own "wisdom," and it had been expressed to his men in the same way.
"The Apaches are strong enough to beat them and us too, and they'll be on the lookout. We mustn't throw ourselves away, boys. We must get separated somehow. There won't be enough Lipans left to follow us far."
He and Two Knives, therefore, had about the same object in view when they rode out together in advance of their combined force after supper. The sun was setting, but it would be a good while yet before dark.
The miners were all mounted, and nobody would have guessed how much extra weight they were carrying. They were drawn up now in a close rank in front of their little camp, in which they had not left a single guard. Two Knives asked about that.
"What for?" replied Skinner. "What good to leave men? If the Lipans want to rob wagon they kill the men we leave. Suppose Lipans do as they agree, camp safe? No. It will take all the men we've got to fight the Apaches."
That was good-sense, and Two Knives only said "Ugh!" to it; but his next question meant more.
"How about fight? Tell chief what do."
"No, I won't. It's your fight more than mine. If you want us to go ahead, we will go. If you say we are to keep back and let you go ahead, all right. If we say we want to do anything you will think it is crooked. Better not say. You say."
The chief had been expecting to hear some plan of action, and to find something "crooked" in it. Captain Skinner had beaten him at once and completely.
"Then you ride along with Lipans."
"No. The hearts of your young braves are hot and bitter. My men are angry. Must keep apart. Have fight among ourselves. No good."
There was no denying the good-sense of that, and Two Knives had no fear at all but what his pale-face allies would come back after their wagon, extra horses and mules. Of course they would stick to property for which they had shown themselves so ready to fight, and he could not suspect that they now had the best part of it carefully stowed away around them.
"Ugh! Pale-faces can't go ahead. Not stay behind. What then?"
"You say. We go."
"Ride left hand, then. Away off there. Not too far. We go this way. Both find Apaches. Come together then."
"All right. That'll suit us. Send some braves along to see that we don't run away."
Two Knives would have done so if Captain Skinner had not asked for it; but he instantly suspected a cunning plot for the destruction of as many braves as he might send, and he replied,
"Ugh! No good. Pale-faces take care of themselves to-night."
So both of them got what they wanted.
Two Knives believed that by keeping to the right he should make a circuit and surprise the Apache camp, while the miners would be sure to meet any outlying force by riding toward it in a straight line.
Captain Skinner's one idea was to get as far as possible from the Lipans, he hardly cared in what direction. To the "left" was also to the southward, and so he was better off than he had hoped for.
"Go slow, boys," he said to his men. "We must go right across every stream we come to. The more water we can put behind us the better."
The Lipans also advanced with caution at first, keenly watching the distrusted miners until they were hidden from them by the rolls of the prairie and the increasing darkness.
"Cap," said Bill, as they rode along, "why can't we turn now and win back the camp?"
"Yes, we could do it. And win another fight and lose some more men. Perhaps all of us. I'm not in any hurry for that."
The line on which the Captain was leading them slanted away more and more toward the south, but not so much as yet that it need have aroused the suspicions of To-la-go-to-de's keen-eyed spies who were keeping track of them.
They reached a good-sized brook, and the moment they were over it the Captain shouted,
"That gets bigger, or it runs into something before it's gone far. That's our chance, boys."
Nothing could be surer, for all the brooks in the world do that very thing.
Besides, that brook was running in the direction in which the miners wanted to go, and they now pushed forward more rapidly.
"If I knew where the Apache village was," said the Captain, "I'd go near enough to see if we could pick up some ponies. But we won't waste any time looking for it."
The men had plenty of comments to make, but not one of them was willing to set up his own judgment against that of the ragged little Captain. They would never have seen that village if it had not been for the river itself.
The brook was a true guide. In due time it led the miners to the place where it poured its little contribution into the larger stream, and that looked wider and gloomier by night than by day.
"No ford right here, boys. The water runs too still and quiet. We must follow it down."
"Why not follow it up, Captain?"
"Swamps. Can't you see?"
"Wall, no, I can't."
"I can, then. It's half a sort of lake. The river comes out of it. Lower down it'll run faster, and we'll find some shallow place."
"May run against Apaches."
"Got to take our chances."
There was no help for it, but every pair of eyes among them was as busy as the dim light would let it be, while they rode along the bank.
If they could but find a ford!
They thought they found one once, and a tall horseman wheeled his horse down the bank and into the placid water.
"Careful, now. Feel your way a foot at a time," shouted Skinner.
"'Tain't three feet deep yet, and it's a good bottom."
It did not seem to get any deeper until he was half-way across, and the rest were getting ready to follow him, when his horse seemed to stumble and plunge forward.
There was a splash and a smothered cry, and that was all. Days afterward an Apache hunter found a stray horse, all saddled and bridled, feeding on the bank near the spot where he had swum ashore, but nobody ever saw any more of his rider. He had too many pounds of stolen gold about him, heavier than lead, and it had carried him to the bottom instantly.
"Boys," said Captain Skinner, "I'll try the next ford myself. I was half afraid of that."
Every man of them understood just what had happened, and knew that it was of no use for them to do anything but ride along down the bank.
There was not a great deal farther to go before a sharp string of exclamations ran along the line.
"That's the Apache village!"
"It's on the other shore!"
"Hark, boys! Hear that—off to the northward? There's a fight going on. Ride now. We're away in behind it."
Captain Skinner was right again. By pushing on along the bank of the river he was soon in full view of the village, but there was very little of it to be seen at that time of night.
At the same time, just because he was so near it, he ran almost no risk at all of meeting any strong force of Apaches. The sound of far-away fighting had somehow ceased, but the Captain did not care to know any more about it.
"Silence, boys. Forward. Our chance has come."
He never dreamed of looking for a ford there by the village, and there were no squaws to find it for him or point it out. More than a mile below he came to the broad, rippling shallow the Apache warriors had reported to their chief, and into this he led his men without a moment's hesitation.
"Steady, boys; pick your tracks. Where the ripples show, the bottom isn't far down, but it may be a little rough."
A large part of it was rough enough, but Captain Skinner seemed to be able to steer clear of anything really dangerous, and in a few minutes more he was leading them out on the southerly shore.
"Now, boys," he said, "do you see what we've done?"
"We've got across the river," said Bill, "without any more of us gettin' drownded."
"That's so; but we've done a heap more than that. We've put the Apache village between us and the Lipans, and all we've got to do is to strike for the Mexican line."
That was all, and yet at least half of them had something to urge in favor of a night prowl around the Apache village, to see if they could not steal a few ponies.
"My load's gettin' powerful heavy, Cap," said one.
"We want pack ponies for our provisions," said another.
"After we get some."
"Boys," said Captain Skinner, "if that band of Apaches once gets on our track we won't need many more provisions. I'm going to give 'em as wide a berth as ever I can."
Again the Captain showed his superior wisdom, and he hardly permitted them to halt until the sun was rising. Just then the foremost man sent back a loud shout of,
"Here's another river!"
"That's all right," said Captain Skinner. "Now I know where we are."
"Where is it, then?" said Bill.
"The first river we forded was the north fork of the Yaqui, and this is the other fork. When we're on the other bank of that, we're in Mexico. We can go in any line we please then."
The whole band broke out into a chorus of cheers.
Whatever may have been their reason for wishing to get out of the United States, particularly that part of it, it must have been strong enough to make them anxious. They were not contented for a moment until this second "fork" was also forded.
"Cap," asked Bill, "is this Mexico, all around here?"
"I believe it is."
"Then don't you think we'd better go for a few Mexican deer? It's nigh breakfast time."
It would be necessary to hunt for something unless they were to starve. A good place for a camp was selected, the weary horses were unsaddled, all but the half dozen ridden by the hunters, and then the hungry miners could at last find time to "wonder if the Lipans are looking round that prairie after us."
"They won't find us," said Captain Skinner. "Start your fires, boys, I heard a rifle. One of them has struck his game quick."
So he had, but it was a queer kind of "Mexican deer." It had long, smooth, sharp horns and a long tail, and when the miners came to carve that venison one of them said,
"Boys, it's the first beef we've had in two months."
"Cap," said another, "do you reckon thar's a cattle ranch around here?"
"Not so near the Apache range as this is."
"How came this critter here, then?"
"I kin tell you," said the miner who had shot that tall, long-legged, long-horned Mexican steer. "Thar was more of 'em. Wild as buffler. This one wasn't even branded. They're just no man's cattle, they are."
"That's it," said Captain Skinner. "There are plenty of stray herds hereaway without any owner. The natives kill them whenever they want beef, just as we've killed this one. It isn't the best kind of eating, though. I'd rather look for a little deer-meat by-and-by."
Wild beef was better than nothing at all, however, and a busy lot of cooks were they for a long time after the first pieces of it were brought in.
They could talk, too, as well as eat, and the result of all their discussion was that they would do precisely as Captain Skinner had advised at the beginning of it.
"We sha'n't be safe, boys, till we get to some kind of town. We can scatter after that, but we'd best keep together for a while. This is a powerful uncivilized strip of country that we've got into. I've been down this way before, and I know what I'm talking about."
If the Lipan chief could but have known, when he set out from his camp that evening, what had been determined on by Many Bears and his councillors, he might have proceeded more wisely. The Apache chief did not even go over the river, nor did any great number of his warriors. Those who went came back almost immediately, and Murray saw that nothing more could be done in behalf of peace.
"Send Warning come with braves?" inquired Many Bears, when at last his whole force was gathered, impatient to be led away.
"No. We two will stay and help take care of camp. Pale-faces make big peace with Lipans not long ago. Bad for us to strike them."
The chief could understand that.
An Indian of any tribe is held to be bound by the treaties made by his people. The younger braves sometimes forget their duty as completely as some young white men do, but an old warrior, a wise man, like Send Warning, was naturally expected to know better. He did not lose anything, therefore, in the good opinion of his new friends, and the only reply of Many Bears was, "Ugh! Good. Stay with camp. Lodge ready. Lipans never get near camp. All safe."
It might not have been so entirely safe, a few hours later, if Captain Skinner and his miners had known, when they passed it so nearly, that all its fighting population were then miles away on the prairie.
Not many miles, however, for Many Bears was thinking of Murray's assertion that his enemies would surely come to attack him, and he did not intend to let them get by him in the dark. They came pretty near it, after all, widely as the Apaches spread themselves, and keenly as they kept up their lookout.
To-la-go-to-de's grand "circuit" would have succeeded, and he would have dashed in upon the unprotected camp, if it had not been for a mere dwarf of a young brave who had stolen that opportunity to go on his "first war-path." He had done so without permission from his elders, and so kept well away from them, for fear some old warrior or chief might send him back to camp in disgrace.
Boy as he was, however, his ears were of the best, and he knew the sound of the feet of many horses. He heard them coming, and then he knew by the sudden silence that they had halted.
It was just at that moment that the spies of Two Knives came racing up to announce the suspicious change of direction on the part of the miners, and the chief was considering the matter.
"Not go back to camp?"
"No," said one of the Lipan braves, pointing toward the south. "All pale-faces go that way."
"Ugh. Good. Pale-face chief very cunning. Not want to run against Apaches. Go way around. Get there before we do. We ride."
The Apache boy had not waited for them to start again. He had promptly wheeled his pony and dashed away through the darkness with the news.
He had not far to go before he fell in with a squad of his own people, and his work was done. Older and wiser braves than himself, with eyes and ears as keen as his own, rode forward to keep watch of the advancing Lipans, while the others lashed their ponies fiercely away to spread the warning.
Many Bears had no notion of fighting so terrible an enemy with less than his whole force, and he was in no hurry to begin. Orders were sent for every body to fall back without being seen, and the Lipans were allowed to come right along, with the mistaken idea that they were about to make a surprise. It is bad to try such a thing as that and then be surprised yourself instead of astonishing anybody else.
The Lipans were moving in two long, scattered ranks, one about a hundred yards in advance of the other, expecting at any moment to come in sight of the camp-fires of the Apaches, or to meet some stray scout or other, when suddenly old To-la-go-to-de himself rose in his saddle, and sent back a low, warning cry. He had detected the neighborhood of enemies. He had seen shadowy forms flitting along in the gloom around him, and he was not sure but he had heard the beat of hoofs upon the sod.
In half a minute after he had uttered the warning cry which so suddenly halted his warriors, he was quite sure he heard such sounds, and a great many others.
First came a scattering but hot and rapid crash of rifle firing, then a fierce chorus of whoops and yells; and then, before the two ranks of Lipans could join in one body, a wild rush of shouting horsemen dashed in between them. There was a twanging of bows, a clatter of lances, more firing, with greater danger of somebody getting hit than there had been at first, and Two Knives found his little band assailed on all sides at once by superior numbers. The orders of Many Bears were that the rear rank of his foes should only be kept at bay at first, so that he could centre nearly all his force upon the foremost squad. The latter contained a bare two dozen of chosen warriors, and their courage and skill were of little use in such a wild hurly-burly. To-la-go-to-de and three more even suffered the disgrace of being taken prisoners, knocked from their ponies, tied up, and led away toward the Apache village. Had Captain Skinner and his miners been on hand, with all the Lipans they had killed or wounded, the result might have been different. But Captain Skinner was hurrying his men toward the ford, and nothing could restore to usefulness the warriors who had been smitten by their bullets.
The rear rank of the Lipans had made a brave charge at once, but it had taught them all they needed to know. That was a lost battle, and their only remaining hope was in the speed of their horses. They turned from that fruitless charge as one man, and rode swiftly away—swiftly, but not wildly, for they were veterans, and they kept well together. They were dangerous men to follow, and the main body of their foes was not yet ready to try it.
By the time old Two Knives and his three warriors were safely tied up, his fugitives' "rear rank" had galloped quite a distance, all the while successfully beating off the squads of "young braves" that annoyed them.
There is an old proverb that "a stern chase is always a long chase," and the Lipans were even better mounted than their pursuers. Besides, they all knew exactly what to do, and the night seemed to be getting darker, as if for their benefit. They could not mistake their way, and there were very few Apaches near them when they at last rode into their own camp.
There was no time for them to throw away in talking over their defeat, but they seemed to be united in their opinion that it was in some way due to bad faith on the part of Captain Skinner and his miners. If there was no time for anything else, therefore, enough could be spared for gathering the horses and mules of the pale-faces and setting their wagon on fire. They did the same with their own, after taking out of it all they could carry in any other way. They would have some good plunder to show on their return home, if they should get there, but what account could they give of the loss of their great war-chief and so many of his best braves, horses and all?
The Apaches were beginning to show themselves on the borders of the camp, and to send threatening whoops and distant shots into it, before the remnant of the Lipans were ready to move.
They sent their quadrupeds and wounded men ahead, toward the mouth of the pass by which they had entered that valley, and behind these the warriors rode sullenly along, every one of them longing for an opportunity to strike one more blow before he crossed the mountains. Nothing of the kind could be done that night, but there was no saying what might come into their angry minds before morning. They would have plenty of time to think after they were once safe in the pass, for their enemies would not dream of following them among the rocks.
Even before the Apaches set out to find their Lipan enemies Murray and Steve made their way across the ford, and were guided by a bright-eyed boy to the lodge which had been set apart for them. That one had been given them at all was a mark of great respect; and this lodge belonged to Many Bear himself, which added to the honor done them.
"Now, Steve," said Murray, "you stay here awhile. I can do some things better if I'm alone."
"All right. But there's no danger of my going to sleep while you're gone."
"Pretty wide awake, eh? Well, it's an exciting time all around."
"It is for me, Murray. I feel as if I had made a good start on my way home."
"I guess you have. Your path is beginning to look pretty clear."
"I've escaped from the Lipans."
"But not yet from the Apaches. I can't say how soon I'll be back again now, but you'd better not leave the lodge."
Steve threw himself down on the blanket he had spread upon the grass, and his thoughts came to him in a perfect crowd.
Sleep—for a boy like him, who had been for three years a prisoner, and was now getting free! He might as well have gone to sleep on his horse, if he had been out there among the warriors on the prairie.
Murray walked away from the lodge very slowly.
"It's not a bad place for a camp," he said to himself, "but that side of it is all bushes, and they have corralled all their loose ponies right in there. Old Many Bears will make some changes when he comes to see it. The squaws laid it out this time."
The lodges of the chief were not far apart from each other, and Murray had not gone twenty steps before he found himself in front of them and face to face with a very stout and dark-complexioned squaw. If she had been a warrior in the most hideous war-paint she could not have expected a man like Send Warning to be startled so at meeting her.
Perhaps she did not notice the tremor which went over him from head to foot, or that his voice was a little husky when he spoke to her. At all events she answered him promptly enough, for at that moment there was nobody in sight or hearing for whose approval or disapproval Mother Dolores cared a button.
She did not so much as give a thought to the youthful occupants of the lodge behind her.
If Ni-ha-be and Rita were not asleep they should be, and they were mere girls anyhow.
Ni-ha-be had not closed her black eyes for a moment, and Rita had only refrained from talking because of the presence of Dolores.
"I am glad she's gone, Rita. It's too bad we are shut up here, where we can't know a word of all that's going on."
"There will be noise enough when the chief and the warriors come."
"Or if the camp is attacked. My bow and arrows are ready."
"I don't believe we are in any danger. Hark! Ni-ha-be, don't speak."
"Somebody is talking with Dolores."
They listened more and more eagerly, and they even crept to the outer edge of the lodge and gently raised the bottom of the deer-skin covering.
"Ni-ha-be, it is Send Warning."
Murray and Dolores were talking in Mexican Spanish. He was not saying anything about the Lipans, or anything else that seemed to Ni-ha-be very interesting. Neither did Rita understand why it should all be so much so to her, or why her heart should beat and her cheeks burn as she listened.
Murray had used his eyes to some purpose when he had watched Dolores at her cookery, and his first words had made her his very good friend.
"Squaw of great chief. Squaw great cook. Know how."
"Is Send Warning hungry?"
"Not now. Eat enough. Great chief and warriors go after Lipans. Pale-faces stay in camp."
"They will all eat a heap when they come back. Bring Lipan scalps, too."
"The Lipans are enemies of the Apaches. The Mexicans are friends."
"The Mexicans!" exclaimed Dolores.
"Yes. Great chief marry Mexican squaw. Handsome. Good cook."
"I am an Apache!"
"Yes, Apache now. Mexican long ago. Forget all about it. All about Santa Maria—"
"No, no; the talking leaf remembers that." And the poor woman nervously snatched from her bosom the leaf of the magazine on which was printed the picture of the Virgin and Child, and held it out to Murray.
He could but dimly see what it was, but he guessed right, for he said instantly,
"You remember that, do you? I suppose you never knew how to read. Not many of 'em do down there. The Apaches came one day and carried you off. Horses, mules, cattle, good cook—killed all the rest."
"How do you know?" suddenly interrupted Dolores. "I remember all that. Don't want to, but I can't help it. Same thing happen a great many times. Apaches are great warriors. Many Bears is a great chief. Bring back heap of prisoners every time."
She was telling Murray what he wanted to know, but he saw that he must ask his questions carefully, for, as he said to himself, "I never saw a woman so completely Indianized. She is more of an Apache than a Mexican now."
He talked and Dolores answered him, and all the while the two girls heard every word.
Ni-ha-be would have liked to make comments every now and then, and it was quite a trial to be compelled to keep so still, but Rita would not have spoken on any account. It seemed to her as if Dolores were telling all that to her instead of to Send Warning. She found herself thinking almost aloud about him.
"What a kind, sweet voice he has! He cannot speak Apache. I know he is good."
In another moment she again came near betraying herself, for the words were on her very lips before she could stop them and still them down to an excited whisper.
"He is not talking even Mexican now. It is the tongue of the talking leaves, and I can hear what he says."
More than that, for she soon found that she could repeat them over and over to herself, and knew what they meant.
Murray had talked to Dolores as long as was permitted by Indian ideas of propriety, and it was just as he was turning away from her that he said to himself, aloud and in English, "I am not mistaken. She is the same woman. Who would have thought she could forget so? I am on the right track now." And then he had walked pretty swiftly for a short distance, in a way that made Dolores wonder if he were not taken with some sharp and sudden pain. Then he stopped suddenly, and muttered,
"I don't care to see Steve just now. It is too bitter. I'll go down to the corral and see how our horses are getting along. We may need to have them in good condition to-morrow."
The horse corral was just beyond the line of bushes at the back of the lodges of Many Bears, and contained a good deal of wealth in the form of ponies and mules. Those of Murray and Steve were tethered to young trees, but with long lariats, so that they were feeding.
There was no one to watch Murray's movements. Only a brave of high rank would have presumed to go with him, and none of these were left in camp.
Steve Harrison, sitting alone in the lodge, staring out of the door at the smouldering camp-fires, and listening to the neighing of many horses and the barking of many dogs, wondered why his friend did not return, as the time went by, but could not guess at a reason. At last other sounds, distant but growing nearer, began to break in among those that belonged to the camp.
"Hear them whoop!" exclaimed Steve. "It isn't a fight, for there is no firing. Nothing but yells."
A great abundance of noise, to be sure, and it was rapidly coming toward the ford.
"The Lipans must have been beaten," said Steve, for he now saw that the Apache horsemen were crossing the river, and that every squaw and child in the village was pouring out to welcome them. "Squaws can do more whooping than the braves know how to. But I wonder what's become of Murray!"
It was but a few minutes before Red Wolf rode up to tell him the news, and ask him to come and take a look at the prisoners. It flashed across Steve's mind that it would not do for him.
"Lipans! They must not see me." And then he said aloud to Red Wolf, "I must wait for Send Warning. He may tell me I must not look upon them. He is my chief."
"Ugh! Good. Knotted Cord wait. Red Wolf go. Back soon."
As for Murray, he had not failed to hear the noise made by the triumphant braves on their return, and he had understood it better than Steve, for he exclaimed,
"That's the whoop for prisoners. If they bring in any, I must not let them see me here. I never hated Apaches more in my life. It won't do to lose my friends. Here they come."
He crept to the edge of the bushes and lay still. There would be a council called at once, he knew, and he would be sent for; but he was determined to wait and see what was done with the prisoners.
"That's one thing they will consult over. Hullo!"
He sunk down again in the bushes, for a squad of Apache warriors was approaching, bringing with them four men securely bound.
They were the great To-la-go-to-de and his three chiefs, neither of them hurt to speak of; but they were all that were left of the foremost rank of the Lipans in that brief, terrible combat.
Other braves kept back the swarming mob of squaws and children, while the four distinguished captives were almost carried into one of the lodges at the border of the bushes.
Here more thongs of strong deer-skin were tightened upon their helpless limbs, a strong guard of armed braves was stationed in front of the lodge, and the Lipans were left in the dark to such thoughts as might come to them.
Not an Apache among their guards dreamed that anything more dangerous than thoughts could or would come. And yet, within two minutes from the time he was spread upon his back and left alone, old Two Knives heard inside the lodge a low, warning hiss.
His companions also heard it, but neither of them was so unwise as to answer by a sound.
The hiss was repeated, and now it was close to the chief's ear.
"Friend come. No Tongue is here. Great chief must be snake. Creep through hole in back of lodge. Find plenty horse. Ride fast. Get to pass. Never forget friend. No Tongue come some time."
Even while he was whispering the sharp edge of Murray's knife was busy with the thongs, and in a moment more all four of the prisoners were free—free to lie silently while their friend repeated to each in turn his advice as to what they were to do next.
Their nerves had not been shaken by their defeat, and when Murray slipped away again through the slit he had cut in the lodge cover, he was followed by four forms that made their way every bit as quietly as so many snakes could have done.
What puzzled To-la-go-to-de and his friends was that when they ventured to rise upon their feet, out in the dark among the horses, No Tongue was not with them.
"Cunning snake. Stay and strike Apaches. Then come."
"Good friend. Big warrior."
They could not quite understand the matter, but of one thing they were sure: No Tongue had penetrated the Apache camp in the most daring manner, and had set them free at the risk of his own life.
He had disappeared now, but they felt abundantly able to look out for themselves.
Even the ordinary watchers of the corral had left their stations to join the shouting crowd in camp, who were boasting of their victory, and the escaping Lipans could do about as they pleased.
They could find no weapons, but there were saddles and bridles, and scores and scores of fleet steeds to choose from, and it was but a few minutes before Two Knives and his friends were leading their selections through the darkness toward the river. They did not hunt for any ford. Horses and men alike knew how to swim. Once safely across, there was a great temptation to give a whoop, but the chief forbade it.
"No. Keep still. No Tongue is on the trail of the Apaches. Noise bad for him."
With that he sprung into his saddle, and led the way at a fierce gallop. If their horses should not fall with them and break their necks they would soon be beyond pursuit. It was a somewhat reckless thing to do, considering how many squads of Apaches were on that prairie, but they had no weapons, not so much as a knife, among them, and speed seemed to be their only hope.
All the ordinary rules and regulations for the government of an Indian village were knocked in pieces by the arrival of such an event as the victory over the Lipans.
Even Mother Dolores could not reasonably have forbidden Ni-ha-be and Rita from hurrying out of their lodge to join in the general rejoicing. In fact, Dolores had left them to their own devices a full minute before they made their appearance.
"Rita, there is Knotted Cord!"
"I see him."
"If he could understand me I would speak to him."
"Oh, Ni-ha-be! That would be a dreadful thing to do."
Ni-ha-be would not have done any such thing, and Rita knew it; but the chief's daughter saw no reason why she should not lead her sister pretty near the young pale-face brave as they passed him. They could see that he was smiling at them, and it was an act of politeness to smile back. Ni-ha-be laughed.
It was that, perhaps, which led Steve into a mistake. He wanted to say something, and in his haste he forgot to speak Mexican Spanish, as he ought to have done, if he expected to be understood by an Apache young lady.
"There has been a great fight. Your father has taken some prisoners."
"We know it," answered Rita, and she was almost as much startled as was Steve himself.
"What! Do you understand English?"
Ni-ha-be turned at the same moment, and looked at her in astonishment.
"Only some. A little. Not any more talk now. Come, Ni-ha-be."
"Talk Apache, so I can hear. You shall not say any more words to him. Tell me what you said. Tell me his words."
Ni-ha-be's jealous pride was touched to the quick at finding that Rita possessed still another accomplishment that she had not. It was worse than even the talking leaves, for Rita had not seemed to hear them very well. It was too bad!
Rita quickly interpreted all that had been said, but she did it in a way that told both her sister and Steve Harrison that she was a good deal excited about something.
"Come, Ni-ha-be, come."
"I will. There is Red Wolf. We must hurry."
Poor Rita! The whooping and clamor and tumult and confusion all around her confused her more than ever. She was glad there was enough of it to keep Ni-ha-be from asking her any questions; but it seemed as if she would be willing to give her favorite pony to hear a few words more in that strange tongue—the tongue she had known once, and forgotten, till the talking leaves began to speak it to her.
Pretty soon the girls were mingling with their friends and relations, crowding as closely as they dared upon the line of warriors, and striving to get a glimpse of the prisoners by the light of the camp-fires.
It was getting late, but Many Bears had work to do before he could think of calling for a luncheon or going to his lodge. He had seen his captives safely bound and put away under guard, and he now summoned his old men for a brief but very important "talk."
Murray had guessed right when he said he would be sent for, but he had not waited the arrival of any messenger. The words were hardly out of the mouth of Many Bears before a brave in the crowd responded,
"Send Warning is here."
"Where is the Knotted Cord?"
"In lodge. Wait there."
That explanation came from Red Wolf, and the Apaches knew exactly where their pale-face friends were at that particular moment, which was the precise thing Murray wanted them to feel sure of, considering what he knew was about to be found out.
All the rest of the village was full of noise, but the dignity of the older men enforced silence in the circle now gathering closely around the chief. Added to the dignity was a large amount of pride over what they had already done, and a little anxiety concerning what it would be best to do next.
Many Bears turned to Murray. "Send Warning gave good council. His head is white. He is wise. Tell Apaches now where all pale-face gone. No come."
"Send Warning can guess. The pale-faces don't like to be killed. Find too many Apaches. Run away and save scalp."
"Ugh! Good. Nobody know where they go. No use follow. Apaches take Lipan prisoners. What Send Warning say about them?"
"Keep them till to-morrow. No hurry. Something else to think of now. More fight, maybe."
The chief nodded his head, but a chorus of "Ughs!" expressed the dissent of his council. They meant to decide the fate of old Two Knives without delay.
Still, three of the older braves insisted upon arguing the case, one after the other; and by the time the last of them ceased speaking, Murray felt pretty safe about To-la-go-to-de. He said to himself, "The old fox has half an hour the start of them now. He is miles and miles away."
Just then Many Bears turned to him with, "What say now? Any words?"
"No. Never speak twice. Apaches do what think best."
"Ugh! Good. Young braves bring out Lipans. No wait. Kill them all right away."
Prisoners of such a sort were likely to be a troublesome burden to a party on the march like that of Many Bears, and the only real question before the council was, after all, in what precise manner the killing should be done.
At that moment, however, a great cry arose from the vicinity of the lodge where the Lipans had been shut up—a cry of surprise, anger, and disappointment. And then the word spread over the whole camp like wildfire,
"The Lipans are gone!"
It was almost beyond belief, and there was a general rush toward that row of lodges, and beyond them into the bushes and through the corral. It came within an ace of stampeding every pony there, and every trace of anything like a "trail" left by the feet of Two Knives and his warriors was quickly trampled out.
The only bit of a "sign" found by anybody was in the shape of more than a dozen thongs of buckskin on the ground in the lodge, all clean cut through with a sharp knife.
That told plainly how the prisoners had released themselves.
The braves who had searched and tied them were positive that not one of them retained a knife, or was left in a condition to make any use of one. They must have had help from somebody, but it was a great mystery who that somebody could be.
Suspicion might have fallen upon Murray and Steve, but it was well known that the latter had remained in his lodge, refusing even to look at the prisoners, while Send Warning had been in council with the chiefs. They believed they knew where he had been all the while, and none of them imagined that Two Knives had been set free before he had lain in that "prison lodge" three minutes.
It was a terrible mortification, but something must be done; and again Murray was asked for advice.
"What do I think? Let me ask you a question. Did the Lipans go away on foot?"
"Ugh! No. Take good horse."
"Did they have any arms? Gun? lance? bow?"
"Ugh! No. Think not."
"They are cunning warriors. Did they ride out among your young men? Send Warning says they would do just what great Apache chief would do."
"Ugh! Good. Pale-face chief very wise. Lipans go all way round. Like snake. Only one thing for us to do. Catch 'em when they come to pass."
"Better ride now," said Murray. "Send Warning and Knotted Cord will ride with Apache braves. No time lose. Want fresh horse."
He afterward explained to Steve that a little seeming activity on their part was needful at that moment of excitement, lest anything unpleasant should be said about them. Besides, he had no fear of any farther collision with the Lipans. The night was too far gone for that, and he had great confidence in the courage and skill of old Two Knives.
In less than twenty minutes after he had given his advice, he and Steve Harrison, mounted on fresh mustangs chosen for them from the corral by Red Wolf himself, were riding across the ford at the head of a strong squad of Apache warriors, commanded by a chief of well-known skill and prowess.
"They will pick up plenty more on the way, Steve, but they won't have much to do."
"No danger of their catching old Two Knives?"
"Not a bit. I'll tell you all about it some other time."
"I've something to tell you, Murray. I can't keep it."
"Out with it, my boy."
"That white daughter of old Many Bears can speak English. She understood what I said and answered me."
It was dark, or Steve would have seen that the face of his friend grew as white as his hair, and then flushed and brightened with a great and sudden light.
For a moment he was silent, and then he said, in a deep, husky voice,
"Don't say any more about it to me, Steve. Not till I speak to you again. I'm in an awful state of mind to-night."
Steve had somehow made up his mind to that already, but he was saved the necessity of saying anything in reply. Red Wolf rode closer to him at the moment and said,
"Knotted Cord is young. Been on war-path before?"
"Say yes, Steve," muttered Murray.
"Yes, I'm young. Seen a good deal, though. Many war-paths."
"What tribe strike?"
"Lipans, Comanches, Mexicans. Followed some Pawnees once. They got away."
Red Wolf's whole manner told of the respect he felt for a young brave who had already been out against the fiercest warriors of the Indian country. He would have given a good many ponies to have been able to say as much for himself.
"Glad come among Apaches. Stay long time. Never go away."
That was a wonderful thing for Red Wolf to say, considering what a bitter prejudice had been taught him against everybody with a white skin. Ni-ha-be would not have believed it unless she had heard him say it.
"Can't promise," replied Steve. "Go when Send Warning say."
No comment could be made by a "young brave" on an appeal to a white-headed "chief" like Murray, and the talk slackened a little.
It would hardly have done so if they could have looked a few miles in front of them just then. The darkness would have prevented their seeing much, but if they had been near the old Lipan camp they would have seen that it was empty.
A few Apaches had taken possession of it at first, but the smouldering camp-fires and blazing wagons gave light enough to the Lipans among the rocks to enable them to send occasional bullets at whatever might be stirring there, and the place was given up as uselessly dangerous. The scattered shots which now and then came from the mouth of the pass told that the beaten warriors of To-la-go-to-de were wide-awake and ready to defend themselves, and their position was well known to be a strong one—not to be attacked without both orders and re-enforcements.
But for one thing that end of the pass would have been already vacant. The pride of the Lipans forbade their running farther without at least an effort to learn what had become of their chief. They felt that they could never look their squaws in the face again unless they could explain that point.
To be sure it was almost a hopeless case, and the Apaches would be upon them in the morning, but they waited.
Everything seemed to be growing darker, and the outlying Lipan sentinels were not in any fault that four men on horseback should get so near them undiscovered. It was very near, and the new-comers must have known there was danger in it, for one of them suddenly put his hand to his mouth and uttered a fierce, half-triumphant war-whoop. It was the well-known battle-cry of To-la-go-to-de himself, and it was answered by a storm of exulting shouts from the warriors among the rocks. Their chief had escaped!
That was true, and it was a grand thing, but he had brought back with him only three men of his "front rank."
The Apaches could hear the whooping, and the foremost of them deemed it wise to fall back a little. Whatever their enemies might be up to, they were men to be watched with prudence as well as courage.
The words of the great chief were few. There was no farther account to be made of Captain Skinner and his miners, he told them. They were cunning, and they had taken care of themselves. It had been well to plunder their camp. He himself owed his safety to their old friend No Tongue, and the Lipans must never forget him. The Yellow Head had probably been killed, and they would not see him again. They must now gather all their horses and other plunder, and push their retreat as far as possible before morning. Some other time they would come and strike the Apaches, but it was "bad medicine" for them just now.
Whatever else that may have meant, according to Indian superstition, every warrior could understand that their losses had weakened them too much to think of fighting another hard battle. It was no disgrace to make a great deal of haste under such circumstances; and so, if Red Wolf and the rest had been near enough at that hour, they would have seen Two Knives and what was left of his band riding steadily on, deeper and deeper, among the mountains.
All the while that Murray had been sitting among the Apache chiefs and answering their questions, and even when he and Steve mounted the mustangs Red Wolf brought them, there had been three pairs of very keen eyes, not to speak of any others, closely watching him.
"He is not an Apache!" exclaimed Ni-ha-be to Rita. "Why do they make a chief of him? He is nothing but an old pale-face!"
"He is wise. He is good. The great chief listens to him. All the warriors listen. They did as he said to-night, and so they beat the Lipans."
"He is not a warrior. He did not go out and fight."
"All warriors do not go always. Some stay in camp. Young squaws like you and me must not talk about chiefs."
That was good Apache teaching, and Ni-ha-be knew it, but she seemed to have formed a strong dislike for Send Warning, and she retorted,
"He is not a chief—only a pale-face. I will talk about him as much as I please. You like him because he is one of your own people."
Rita was silent. There was a very strange feeling in her heart just then, and she was trying to understand it.