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The Talking Leaves - An Indian Story
by William O. Stoddard
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For long years, ever since she was a little girl, she had been taught to think of herself as an Apache maiden, the daughter of a great chief, and she had grown to be very proud of it. She had been even ashamed, at times, of the fact that, in some way that she did not quite understand, she was a pale-face also. Ni-ha-be had been apt to throw it at her whenever there was any dispute between them, and that had helped to keep her from forgetting it.

And, now she had seen Send Warning and Knotted Cord, she had felt that a sort of change was coming over her. She was young, but she could see that in some way they were the superiors of all the red warriors around them. They were listened to and looked up to, although they were almost strangers. To her eyes they were better-looking, something higher and nobler, and she was not at all ashamed of the thought that they belonged to her own people. Then it had come to her, with a great rush of joy in her heart, that she could speak her own language—a little of it. She could even hear many words from the mysterious talking leaves of the pale-faces, and no Apache girl could do that—not even Ni-ha-be herself, for all her wonderfully good eyes.

Then there came to the camp the great excitement caused by finding out the escape of the Lipan prisoners, and quickly after that had come the departure of the force sent out to recapture them.

Rita and Ni-ha-be had been standing side by side, watching all that was done.

"Send Warning is going on the war-path now, Ni-ha-be."

"So are Red Wolf and Knotted Cord. Young braves are worth more than wrinkled old men."

"The great chief himself is wrinkled a little."

"He is a great brave. He must be angry by this time. He will send for Dolores."

They did not know how earnestly that important woman had been using her own eyes all that time. She had seen as much as had either of them, and she was close to them at that moment.

"Young squaws go back to lodge right away. See? All squaws go in a hurry."

A few sharp words from one of the old men had started them, and they were indeed hurrying. They knew there was a good deal of bad temper up in the village just then, and there was no telling who might be made to suffer for it. The last squaw to get home would be very likely to meet a cross husband, and Indian husbands are not pleasant company when anything has made them cross.

The two girls hurried with the rest, and Dolores had very little to say to them.

It was now Ni-ha-be's turn to notice something of a change. Not in herself, but in Dolores. She had been accustomed to feel that whatever difference was made between Rita and herself was in her own favor. She felt that it was right it should be so, much as she loved her adopted sister, for after all it was a great advantage to be every bit an Apache. She was often sorry for Rita, but she could not help her having been born white.

Now, however, although it required all her keenness to detect it, there seemed to be something of unusual respect in the voice and manner of Dolores whenever she spoke to Rita. A touch of special kindness came with it. Not a sign of harshness showed itself all the way to the lodge, although Dolores had one or two pretty sharp things to say to Ni-ha-be. The Mexican darkness of the chief's "great cook" had helped everybody to almost forget her origin, but the thought of it came slowly into Ni-ha-be's mind.

"She read one of the talking leaves herself. It made her shut her eyes and kneel down. Send Warning talked with her. She is as bad as Rita. She is not an Apache at heart."

That was hardly fair to Mother Dolores, for it was only too true that, as Murray said of her, "she was completely Indianized." Even now she was not thinking of herself as a pale-face, or longing to be anything else than the "cook squaw" of the mighty war-chief Many Bears. No; she was not thinking of herself, but a great cloud was gathering in her mind, and she felt that it all belonged in some way to Rita.

She did not speak of it, but she felt a good deal more comfortable after the two girls were safe behind the skin cover of their own lodge.

"Great chief not go on war-path. Better not see young squaws just now. He will send for the talking leaves in the morning. Send Warning will read them to him. He did not look so old to-night. He was a very handsome man when he was young. So long ago!"

Ni-ha-be had been right about her father's appetite, for it was only a few minutes before he came stalking toward the camp-fire for some venison-steak, and Dolores had been wise enough to have it on the coals, so as not to keep him waiting.

He never dreamed of telling her, nor she of asking him, anything about the events of the night or the plans of the warriors, but all the while that steak was broiling she was thinking of Send Warning rather than of Many Bears, and wondering if there would be another fight with the Lipans before sunrise. That was the very question asked of Murray by the chief in command of their squad half an hour or so later.

"What do I think? Well, I think the Lipans are not fools."

"What mean by that?"

"Fools stay and get killed. Cunning men ride hard and get away."

The Apaches rode a little faster after that, and were joined by so many other small parties of warriors that they were quite a respectable force by the time they reached the neighborhood of the camp. It was nearly sunrise then, and the braves who had been watching the camp faithfully reported all that had occurred. They told of the sudden whooping nearly two hours earlier, and Murray at once remarked, "Apache chief knows what that means?"

"He is not very wise. Send Warning tell him."

"It meant that their great chief and the three braves with him had come back to them. Send warrior up toward pass. If I am wrong, the Lipans are there now; if I am right, they are gone."

The warrior scout was sent in a twinkling, for Indian sagacity understood the keenness of Murray's guess, and it was not long before the news came back that not a sign of an enemy could be discovered among the rocks.

It was a disappointment. The daring invaders had escaped, for there would be no use in following them. The whole Apache nation could hardly have forced the narrow places of that pass against so strong a party of good rifle-men. Neither was there any certainty but what the pale-face miners might be in there somewhere, ready to deal destruction on any Apache who should be so unwise as to ride into such a rocky trap.

The sun arose while they were talking about it, and the Apache braves were already searching the camp for anything which might have been left.

They were not without some success, for the first wagon had not burnt very well, and the Lipans had neither time nor heart to take everything out of it.

"Come, Steve. The miners made their last camp over yonder. I can see a wagon-wheel sticking up."

A quick gallop brought them to all that was left of that second wagon. It had burnt better than the other, but had not been completely consumed.

"Nothing left in it."

"If there had been, the Apaches would be here now instead of over yonder. I declare!"

He sprung from his pony, and rushed toward the one hind-wheel which was still upheld by what was left of its broken axle, and by a part of the wagon bottom.

"What is it, Murray?"

"Wait a moment."

Steve too was on foot, just as the old man gave that wheel a jerk that dragged it several feet from its place.

"Look there, Steve!"

"Buckskin bags—some of them half burnt. What is that, Murray, in the ashes? Is it gold?"

"More than that, Steve. It's gold coin—twenty-dollar gold pieces. Stow away as many of those little bags as you can before any Apaches come. It's our plunder."

"They're coming. But how is it ours?"

He was picking up several of the little bags, and putting them inside his hunting-shirt when he asked that question.

"Because we're on this war-path, and have found it. The Apaches would rather have ponies; but they may take what we leave, if they want it."

"Doesn't it belong to those miners? Won't they come for it?"

"They would not find it if they did come, but they never will. They'll trust the Apaches and Lipans too well for that. Besides, it never was theirs. They stole every cent of it."

"Do you suppose we can ever find the owners?"

"Never. It would be an utter impossibility. What we are picking up is ours, by all the laws of the mountains and all the rules of Indian war."

They did not open a single one of the little buckskin bags, but Murray threw down one that would not "chink" and picked up another.

"Coin is better than dust or nuggets, Steve, and we must not take it all. Only what we can stow away quickly. It's just what we are going to need. It will pay the expenses of your trip to the settlements, and take care of you after you get there."

His face was burning hot while he spoke, and his eyes were flashing with sudden and fierce excitement. Could it be possible that he was so terribly fond of money?

Steve wondered and stared, but the Apache young men were crowding around them now, and Murray nodded to him to fall back.

"Mount at once, Steve. Don't seem to claim anything or to interfere. Let them sift the ashes if they want to."

"Seems to me we must have the best part of it."

"That's likely. I think we have as much as we shall need. No. I don't know how much I may need before I get through. Money is a good thing to have sometimes."

Murray was hardly himself that morning, and yet he met the Apache leader coolly enough.

"What do now? Send Warning advise friend."

"Ride back to village. Not lose time. Young men finish plunder. Old men not stay. Great chief want to see us."

That last word was enough and the warrior wheeled his horse westward. His parting orders were few, but they would bring back every Apache from that "war-path" as soon as the search for plunder should be completed.

"It's all right, Steve," said Murray, as they rode along side by side. "If we had stayed there too long some of them might have been curious how much we had picked up. They won't say a word after we are in camp. If an Indian once gets his plunder safe into his own lodge nobody questions his title to it. That is, if it has been taken from an enemy."



CHAPTER XXVII

Not one of the persons who had "wondered what had become of those miners" had so much as guessed at the exact truth, although Murray had come nearer to it than anybody else.

That sunrise found them, as they thought, once for all safe within the boundary of the "foreign country," where no one would ask them any ugly questions about the stolen gold they had brought there.

In fact, the first thing they did, after finishing their hearty breakfast of fresh beef, was to "unpack themselves." Every man wanted to know if he had lost anything on the way, and to make as good a guess as he could how much his load was worth. Then it seemed as if they all spoke together when they tried to express their regret at having been compelled to leave any of their treasure behind.

"No use to think of going back for it now, boys. Some day we'll take another look at that mine, but there won't be a thing worth going for in that wagon."

"What do ye mean to do next, Cap?" asked Bill.

"I told you before. Give our horses a chance to feed, and then push right on. We can afford to use 'em all up now. Three days of hard riding'll carry us out of harm's way."

"And then we can go jest whar we please."

There was a wonderful deal of comfort in that for men who had been "running away" so long as they had, and over so very rough a country. Their hard, rude, weather-beaten faces began to put on an expression of peace and quiet, and even of good-nature, and they gave their weary horses a longer rest than they had at first intended. After that, however, the sharp, stern summons of Captain Skinner called them to "mount and ride" once more, and they were all ready to obey. It was a wild region through which they were going, but at more than one place they passed the ruins of old houses and other traces of former attempts at settlement and cultivation.

"There were good ranches hereaway in the old times," said Captain Skinner, "and there was some mining done, but it was too near the Apache range, and there were too many revolutions. It won't be settled up till there's a new state of things. The Apaches'll take care of that."

All their troubles, they thought, were behind them, and they cared very little for those of the country they had gotten into—less than they might have done if they had imagined how nearly those very troubles might yet concern themselves.

It was impossible, however, not to think and talk about the Apaches, and to "wonder how the Lipans came out of their attack on that village."

Captain Skinner's comment was, "I don't reckon a great many of 'em came out at all. The chances were against them. Old Two Knives made a mistake for once, and I shouldn't wonder if he'd had to pay for it."

Well, so he had, but not so heavily as the Captain imagined.

At that very moment he was leading through the homeward pass just about half of his original war-party—all that "had come out of the attack on that village."

The village itself was in a high state of fermentation that morning. There was mourning in some of the lodges over braves who had fallen in that brief, sharp battle with the Lipans, but there were only five of these in all, so great had been the advantage of superior numbers in the fight, and of holding the ground of it afterward.

The bitterest disgrace of To-la-go-to-de and his warriors had been their failure to carry off the bodies of their friends who had fallen. At least twenty of the Apaches had been more or less wounded, and every man of them was as proud of it as if he had been "promoted." A scar received in battle is a badge of honor to an Indian warrior, and he is apt to make a show of it on every fair opportunity.

There was no need, therefore, of throwing away any pity on those who had been cut by the lances or "barked" by the bullets of the Lipans. Red Wolf himself had concealed a smart score of a lance-thrust along his left side, for fear he might be forbidden going on that second war-path. Even now he refused to consider it as amounting to anything, and his sister's face glowed with family pride as she said to Rita,

"Red Wolf is a true Apache. He's a warrior already. He will be a great chief some day. The Knotted Cord is white. He has no scars. He has never been on a war-path."

She was speaking in her brother's hearing, and Steve was at no great distance at that very moment, talking, in a low, earnest tone, with Murray.

Rita replied, "He is young. Send Warning is a warrior—" But Red Wolf broke in, very honestly, with,

"Knotted Cord is my brother. Only his skin is white. Not his heart. He is a warrior. He has been on war-paths. He has seen the Lipans, the Comanches, the Pawnees, the Mexicans. He is not a boy."

Ni-ha-be's little "pet" was blown away by that, and she looked once more admiringly at the strong and handsome young pale-face. If he had only been so fortunate as to be born an Apache, what might not have been expected of him!

The girls had many questions to ask concerning the events of the night before, and Red Wolf was in an accommodating frame of mind that morning. It was right, too, in his opinion, that the squaws of his family should be able to boast among the other squaws of the mighty doings of their father and brother. That was the way the reputations of warriors were to be made and kept up, aided now and then by the good things they might see fit to say about themselves.

In all that there is just this difference between red men and white, and it would soon disappear with civilization.

That is, when a great white "brave" of any kind does a thing he is proud of he manages to have the story of it printed in the newspapers, so that all his boasting is done for him by somebody else.

The Indian "brave" is compelled to be his own newspaper, and tell his own story of himself. That is all, and it sometimes makes the poor red man appear to be the vainer of the two, which is a great injustice.

The conversation between Steve and Murray could not be overheard by their friends, but it must have been of more than a little importance, to judge by the expression that came and went upon their faces. No Indian warrior's face would have betrayed his feelings in such a manner.

Dolores was busy at the camp-fires, as usual, with her frying-pan, and they were looking at her.

"How old do you think she is, Steve?"

"It's hard to guess, Murray. Maybe she's forty-five."

"She is not much above thirty. The Mexican women grow old sooner than white ones. She was not much above twenty when she cooked for my miners on the Santa Rita mine."

"Do you feel perfectly sure about that?"

"I've watched her. There is no doubt left in my mind. Still, I may ask her a few more questions. Then there is one thing more I want to make sure of."

"Will it keep us here long?"

"It may keep me, Steve."

"Then it will keep me, Murray. You will need me if you have anything on hand. I am anxious enough to get off, but I will not leave you behind. I'll stay and help."

Murray held out his hand.

"It's a fact, Steve. I may need all the help you can give."

"Take care! Here comes Many Bears himself, and two of his cunningest councillors."

It did not require much guessing on Steve's part to know that, for the "cunning" of those old Indians was written all over their dark, wrinkled faces.

"More advice wanted," thought Murray, but it was not asked for so soon as he expected.

The first words of Many Bears were complimentary, of course. His pale-face friend had been very wise. All he had said had been good, even to the not permitting the young men to follow the Lipans into the mountains. Warriors had told the chief that Send Warning and Knotted Cord had picked up something in the camp of the pale-faces. The Apaches were glad. Their friends were welcome to what they had found. Murray interrupted him there by promptly holding out one of the little buckskin bags.

"Great chief take it."

"No. No want it. Send Warning keep it, and tell Apaches what better do next."

"Go to better hunting-ground. Bad place for camp."

"Will the Lipans come again?"

"Not till after next snow. Got enough now. Come then."

All that and more came in as a sort of preface to what Many Bears really wanted to say. He had something very heavy on his mind that morning, and in order to get rid of it he had to tell the whole story of the buffalo-hunt his band had made away beyond the mountains into the country claimed by the Lipans. That was the way they came to be followed so closely by Two Knives and his warriors.

Murray and Steve listened closely, for the chief spoke in very good Mexican Spanish most of the time, and they both understood him. Then came the story of the return through the pass, and it wound up with the finding of the talking leaves by Rita.

"Send Warning knows the rest."

"No," said Murray, "I have not seen the talking leaves."

"Great medicine. Tell Apache chief about miners. Tell about old fight. Tell about blue-coat soldiers come, and where go. Tell about big talk, and treaty, and presents. Many Bears want to hear more."

"Ask young squaw."

"Can't hear all. Send Warning listen. Say what he hears."

"All right. Bring young squaw."

"No need of squaw. Bring talking leaves."

"No," persisted Murray. "Young squaw find. All her medicine. Must hold leaves for Send Warning to read."

"Ugh! Good. Many Bears not care. Dolores bring Rita. Tell her to bring leaves."

Ni-ha-be and Rita were near enough to hear, and the latter at once darted into the lodge for her treasures, while her adopted sister looked after her with a good deal of envy in her eyes.

"She is a pale-face. It is too bad."

Rita was gone but a moment, and her whole body seemed to glow and tremble with excitement as she held out the three magazines to Murray.

"Take one, Steve. You haven't forgotten your reading, have you?"

"Send Warning hear leaves," said Many Bears, anxiously. "The Knotted Cord is young."

"He is white. He can hear. The great chief will listen."

"Ugh!" muttered Ni-ha-be, looking on from a little distance, but Rita looked at Steve, with a bright smile on her face.

"There, Murray," said Steve, "the chief was right. There's a picture of cavalry. All the others he spoke of are here. Here is the picture of the big talk and the treaty."

"Here is the mining fight—" and just there Murray paused as if he could say no more, and the Indians looked at him in undisguised astonishment. His breast was heaving, his lips were quivering, and the hands that held the magazines were trembling as if their owner had an ague fit.

"What find?" exclaimed Many Bears. "Is it bad medicine?"

It was some seconds before Murray could trust himself to speak, but he was thinking very fast.

"The talking leaves have told Many Bears the truth. Now Send Warning is troubled in his mind."

All could see that, and it made them not a little anxious.

"What want? What do?"

"Go into lodge with young squaw. Knotted Cord stay and talk with Apache chief. Nobody come into lodge. Take a little time. Then tell what hear."

It was an unusual request, but there could be no objection, in view of the fact that there was "great medicine" to be looked into. An Indian conjurer always requires the absence of all observers for the performance of his most important juggling. It was at once decided by the chief that Send Warning should have his way.

Rita listened, pale and serious, while Ni-ha-be looked on in jealous amazement.

"I am an Apache girl? Why can he not teach me to hear the talking leaves?"

No doubt he could have done so if she would have given him plenty of time, and been willing to begin with A B C, as Rita had done long years before.

How should all that ABC business have come back to Rita as it did, when she found herself alone in her lodge with that white-headed old pale-face warrior?

She thought she had never before seen so kind and good a face, and she wondered that it did not seem so very old, after all, now it was so near.

"I will sit down, Rita, my dear. Sit down too. You are too tall now to stand up."

Not a human eye was looking upon them, but Rita had suddenly covered her face with her hands.

"Speak," she said, earnestly; "I remember better when I do not see."

She was talking English, just as he had done, only more slowly, and almost as if it hurt her.

"I will read the first word, dear. Then you may spell it. M-i-n-e, mine. That means a gold-mine, like ours, dear. Spell it, Rita, my darling."

"Our mine? Darling? Oh, if I could see my father!"

Murray sprung to his feet as if he were a boy. His mouth opened and closed as if he were keeping back a great shout, and the tears came pouring down over his cheeks.

"Rita! Rita! My dear little daughter! Here I am!"

"Father!"

His arms were around her now, and he was kissing her almost frantically.

Slowly she opened her eyes. "I know it is you when you speak, and when my eyes are shut. When I open them you are very old. My father was young and handsome. His hair was not white."

"Rita, darling, it has been just as white as it is now ever since the morning after I came home and found that the Apaches had carried you away. They killed your mother, and I heard that they had killed you too. I have been an old man ever since, but I think I shall grow young again now."

Time was precious. They could only spare enough for a few hurried questions and answers, and Murray glanced rapidly over the pages of the three magazines.

"Let me take them," he said. "I would like to read them carefully. I shall know what to say to the chief. You must not let anybody know I am your father—not till the right time comes."

"Oh, why not?"

"Because the Apaches would know then that I am their enemy, and have good reason to be. Even if they did not kill me at once, they would not trust me, and I want them to do that. It is my only hope of carrying you away with me. Stay here in the lodge till you are sure your face will not betray you."

She had been crying more copiously than her father, and that would have been a thing to be explained to Ni-ha-be and Dolores. Rita therefore remained in the lodge while Murray, with a great effort, recovered his usual calm self-control, and walked slowly and dignifiedly out. He needed to put on all the dignity he was master of, for his heart was thump-thumping against his ribs, and his brain was in a whirl as to when and how he should be able to claim and carry on the great treasure he had found.

Treasure! The Buckhorn Mine, piled mountain high with twenty-dollar pieces, was nothing to it.



CHAPTER XXVIII

Steve Harrison found his position a little awkward during the time spent by Murray with Rita in the lodge. The chiefs had too much dignity to seem to consult with so young a brave especially as he had not even one of the talking leaves to listen to. He knew that not only Dolores and Ni-ha-be, but half a dozen other squaws, old and young, were staring at him, and he could not understand a word of the low-voiced remarks they made. He was very glad, therefore, when his friend once more appeared, and he saw by the light on his face that he had no unpleasant news to bring.

"What find?" asked Many Bears. "Send Warning and Rita hear something?"

"Hear a little. Send Warning will take the leaves to his own lodge and hear more."

"What say now? Hear about big talk with blue-coat pale-faces?"

"Tell you what I think."

"The chief is listening."

"Break up village. Move west right away. More news come soon. Hear about treaty when you see the lodges of your own people. No time to lose."

That advice agreed so exactly with the notions of Many Bears that he was ready to accept it at once. He turned to his two councillors triumphantly.

"What did I tell you? It is wisdom. We will go. Tell the braves to get ready. Tell all the squaws to pack up. Send on hunting braves. Good many. Kill plenty meat."

There was no opposition. The only objection that could reasonably be raised was that so sudden a departure gave no opportunity for a grand celebration of their victory over the Lipans. They could attend to that some other time, and there was no doubt but what all the whooping and boasting in the band would keep safely till it should be called for.

"Come, Steve," said Murray. "We want an hour by ourselves."

They were quickly inside their own lodge, and were sure there were no listeners.

"Steve!"

"What is it, Murray?"

"That little girl is my own daughter!"

"I've suspected it. And this was the very band of Apaches that broke up your home and your mine."

"Yes, and it is a wonder they have not recognized me. If Apaches of some other band were to join them, some of them might remember me. They have seen me in more than one of their fights with the Lipans."

"It would be all over with us then."

"Of course it would. I am dressed differently, to be sure. I can change a little more. Must crop my hair and beard closer. They know me for a long-bearded old man. I must turn myself into a short-haired young one."

"Can't you dye your hair?"

"Not till we get to the settlements. There are no barbers among the Apaches."

"How will we ever get her away, Murray?"

"Oh, my girl! My poor, dear little girl! I dare not think about my wife. No wonder my hair is white. Steve, I must not let her live and die among these wild people. They have been kind to her, she says; and I do not hate them so much now I know that, but she shall not be an Indian."

He was getting feverishly excited, and Steve replied,

"Now, Murray, of course we will get her away. Haven't you some plan?"

"Only to draw the whole band nearer the frontier, or nearer to some fort or other."

"That's good. We should have a shorter distance to run, if we should escape."

"Now, Steve, I'm all upset and unstrung. That's the reason I came in here. I've got to get my wits about me again, or I can't plan anything."

"Sit down and read."

"Read? Do you suppose I could do that just now? Why, Steve, I've found my little daughter!"

"So you have. I don't wonder you're excited. I am myself. Here, give me a magazine. I'd like to find out how much of my reading will come back."

Murray handed him one, and Steve sat down. He had been fond of books in the days before he was captured by the Lipans. He had not forgotten his reading at all, and it came back to him in a way that made his heart jump. But that was after he had made a great effort, and driven away the faces of Rita and Ni-ha-be.

Both of them would somehow come between his eyes and the paper of those printed pages at first. Both of them were such nice, pretty, well-behaved girls, and yet one of them was white, the daughter of his friend Murray, and the other was only a poor little squaw of the Apaches.

How the black eyes of Ni-ha-be would have snapped if she could have read the thoughts of Knotted Cord at that moment! She would never again have regarded him as a handsome young brave, almost good enough to be an Apache.

Murray, too, picked up a magazine and sat down.

"It will do for a sort of medicine," he muttered. "I may learn something from it, too. The world has changed a great deal since I have had newspapers or magazines to read. There may be some new nations in it, for all I know, and there surely must be a new lot of kings and queens and presidents, and all that sort of thing."

It was that thought which made him turn over a little carelessly all the illustrated articles and the stories, till he came to the "news of the month" among the leaves at the end.

There he began actually to read, and read closely, for it was all very new to him, although it was several months since it had been printed there.

There was a great deal of it, for the editor had condensed everything into the fewest words possible, and more than once Murray's eyes opened wider or his mouth puckered up as if for a whistle. The world had been moving fast while he had been among the Lipans.

"And Rita," he muttered, "she knows nothing at all about any of it. I don't know that I am sorry. She will have all the pleasure of learning all she needs to know, and she won't have anything to unlearn. I wish I could forget some things as completely as she seems to have done. I hope a good many of them will never come back to her at all."

No doubt it was very interesting, and Steve looked up from his own reading to see how completely absorbed Murray had become.

Still, it must have been a remarkable news item that could make a man of steady nerves bound suddenly to his feet and hold that magazine out at arm's length.

"Why, Murray," said Steve, "what can be the matter?"

"Matter? My dear boy! Read that! Rita is an heiress."

"What?"

He might well have been half afraid his friend had lost his wits, but he took the "talking leaves" held out to him, and read the few lines to which the finger of Murray was pointing:

"The great English estate of Cranston Hall, with a baronetcy, is waiting for an heir. The late baronet left no children, and his only brother, to whom the title and all descend, was last heard of in America. He is believed to have been interested in mining in the Far West, and the lawyers are hunting for him."

"Well," said Murray, when Steve ceased reading, "what do you think of that?"

"I don't know exactly what to think. Your name is Murray."

"Robert Cranston Murray, as my father's was before me. It was because he left me only my name that I left England to seek my fortune. Oh, Steve! I must find my way back now. Rita will be the lady of Cranston Hall!"

"Instead of the squaw of some Apache horse-stealer!"

Steve felt a little like dancing, and a good deal like tossing up his hat and venting his feelings by a good hurrah, but the next thought was a sober one.

"How are we ever to get them to give up Rita?"

Murray was thinking the same thought just then, and it seemed to him as if he must go out to the door of the lodge for a little breath of fresh air.

The chief and his councillors were nowhere to be seen, but there was Mother Dolores by the camp-fire.

Murray tried hard to assume a calm and steady face and voice as he strode forward and stood beside her. He spoke to her in Spanish.

"Well, Dolores, which do you like best, cooking for Mexican miners or for the great chief?"

She dropped her stew-pan and stood looking at him for a moment, drawing her breath hard, and then she exclaimed,

"I was right. It is Senor Murray. Ah, senor, it is so long ago! The poor senora—"

"Don't speak of her. I know. We found her. My Rita?"

"Yes, she is your Rita. But they will kill you if you tell them. I will keep your secret, senor. I have kept it now."

She had dimly recognized him, then, and she, too, had been in doubt what to do or say. In answer to a few more questions she told him very truly that she had been better off among the Apaches than before she was captured. Less hard work, better treatment, better food, better position, just about as much real civilization.

Poor Dolores had never known much about that or anything better than the hard lot of a Mexican woman of the lower class among the rough miners. It was better, she said, to be the wife of a chief and have plenty to eat, and little hard work to do.

"But about Rita?"

"If you had your mine now, and your great droves of horses!"

"What could I do?"

"Do, Senor Murray? Why, you could buy half the young squaws in the village, if you had husbands for them. But you are poor now. I suppose it cannot be done."

It was no wonder he had not thought of it before. It was so strange a thing to propose. That a father should buy his own daughter! He turned from her and strode back to his own lodge, to hear what Steve would say. "He's a mere boy, but sometimes he seems to have a great deal of sense."

Steve's remark, after he had heard about Dolores and her idea, was simply,

"That's nothing new, is it? If we can't run away with her, we can ransom her."

"Ransom? Well, now, that's a great deal better word than buy. But our gold coin won't do. They won't take the whole pile for her. They don't really understand the value of it."

"They want ponies, and blankets, and all that?"

"That's it. Why, Steve, it's the queerest thing. I'm so excited I can't think. If we can make a bargain with them they'll be glad enough to go with us to the nearest trading-post. We can buy all we want when we get there. You've helped me out of my scrape."

"Seems to me it was easy enough to think of that."

It may have been, but Murray felt very grateful to Steve. The latter now put down his magazine and went to the door in his turn, for he, too, had a large amount of thinking to do.

"Murray, they are taking down the lodges again."

"Going forward to-night, eh? I'm glad of that. I must spur old Many Bears up to it. Don't want him to lose a day on the road."

"Nor I either. They'll move slowly enough anyhow."

"Oh, they'll find a good place to leave the village, while the chiefs and warriors go on to be present at the treaty talk."

"Suppose there isn't any?"

"There's pretty sure to be something of the kind at this season of the year. Anyhow, we will get them to the right place for us to buy our ponies and blankets, and we will have Rita with us."

It was pretty hard, and he felt it in every corner of his heart, that he could not send for her at once and tell her all about his plans for her release. Yes, and about the beautiful home to which he meant to take her, away beyond the great salt sea she had never seen.



CHAPTER XXIX

Captain Skinner and his miners were well mounted, and they were tough, seasoned horsemen. They were in a great hurry, too, for their minds were full of dreams of the grand good times they meant to have. Some of them talked and laughed and even sung over their plans for the future. Others, older or of more quiet disposition, rode forward in good-humored silence all the many long miles of that second day.

The only thing to be done, now they were once for all beyond the reach of enemies, was to get to a place where they could exchange their gold-dust and nuggets and ingots for coin, and then spend that.

Captain Skinner had been compelled to hear nearly all of them say, one after another, and in very much the same way,

"It's a great pity, Cap, we didn't get out them twenty-dollar pieces, and leave bullion instead."

He had only replied two or three times,

"No use, boys. All under the false bottom, at the hind end of the wagon. No time to go for 'em. Had to take what was handiest."

They made an astonishingly long day's march, and did not meet with the slightest sign of danger. Nor did they come across any better token of civilized life than two deserted "ranches," or farm-houses, made of "abode" or sunburnt brick.

That night they slept soundly on their blankets in the open air, and perhaps some of them dreamed that in a few nights more they would have roofs over their heads, and wake up in the morning to find hot coffee on the breakfast-table. No bell rung for them, however, when breakfast time came, and they had nearly completed their simple meal of broiled beef and cold water when their ears were saluted by a very different sound from that of a bell.

"Horses! Rifles! Mount, boys!" shouted the little Captain. "That's a cavalry bugle!"

Cavalry.

They sprung for their arms, and they mounted in hot haste, but before the last man was in the saddle the music of that bugle was close upon them. It was a good bugle, with a sweet, clear voice, and it was well played by the tall German who had somehow drifted away from the Rhine-land into that gayly dressed and glittering regiment of Mexican lancers.

"No use to fight, boys, even if they were enemies. There's more'n three hundred of 'em. Regulars, too. What on earth brings 'em away up here? Can't be there's any revolution going on."

Captain Skinner was not a man to be easily puzzled, but the appearance of such a force there and then was a remarkable circumstance—altogether unaccountable. So was the action taken by the Mexican colonel in command. No message of inquiry was sent forward. No greeting was offered. The only sound to be heard was that of the bugle as it repeated the signals called for by the few brief, sternly uttered orders that rung out from the head of the column.

"It isn't too late for us to run, Cap," suggested Bill.

"Yes, it is. They'd catch us in no time. Besides, we haven't done anything to run for."

"Not to them we haven't."

In a few minutes more it was too late, if it had not been just then, for the gleaming lances of a full company of the Mexicans began to shine above the grass and bushes behind the miners.

"Trapped, boys! I wonder what they're going to do?"

The Mexican commander was nearly ready to tell them now, for, as his really splendid-looking horsemen closed steadily in upon the silent squad of wild-looking desperadoes, he himself rode forward toward them, accompanied by two officers in brilliant uniforms.

Captain Skinner rode out as if to meet him, but was greeted by an imperative, loud-voiced,

"Halt! Dismount!"

The fire flashed from the eyes of the ragged little Captain.

"Close up, boys! Dismount behind your horses, and take aim across the saddle."

He was obeyed like clock-work, and it was the colonel's turn to "halt," for no less than three of those deadly dark tubes were pointing straight at him, and he saw with what sort of men he was dealing. Had they been six dozen instead of only less than two, they would not have hesitated a second about charging in upon his gay lancers, and would probably have scattered them right and left.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded of Captain Skinner.

"Travelling."

"Where are you going?"

"Going to try and mind our own business."

"Where did you come from?"

"Across the border. Driven out of the mines by Apaches. Didn't expect to find Mexican regular cavalry worse than the redskins."

"We will see about that, senor. You are our prisoners."

"All right, so long as none of you come too near. It won't be healthy for any of you to try."

"No harm is intended you, senor. We are sent to guard this frontier against the Apaches, and to put down a small pronunciamento."

Captain Skinner knew what that meant. There had been some sort of a little revolution in that part of Mexico, and he and his men were suspected of having crossed the border to take part in it.

"All right, colonel. All we want is to march right along. We can pay our own way."

That was the first blunder the wily Captain had made.

The regiment of lancers, like a great many other Mexican regiments, was only "regular" because it happened just then to be employed by the national government. Its pay had not been regular at all, and the minds of both officers and men were excited by the mention of such a thing.

A half-scornful smile shot across the dark face of the colonel as he looked at those ragged men, and wondered how much they would be likely to pay for anything, even if they were not disposed to help themselves without paying. A young officer at his side was more sagacious, and suggested,

"I beg a thousand pardons, colonel, but they are miners."

"Ah! They may have been successful."

The expression of his face underwent a rapid change, and there was nothing scornful in it when he remarked to Captain Skinner that the price of a written "safe-conduct" for him and his men would be a hundred dollars each.

"That's reasonable, Cap."

"We won't mind that."

"Pay him. It's the best we can do."

"All right, Senor Colonel," said the Captain. "We will pay you in gold as soon as it's written."

One of the young officers at once dismounted, and produced a supply of writing materials.

The "safe-conduct" was a curious document, and nothing exactly like it could have been had or bought of any cavalry officer in the United States. It was written in Spanish, of course, and it appeared to vouch for the peaceable and honest character and intentions of the entire company of miners.

The latter stood sternly behind their horses, in a dangerous looking circle, while the bargain was making, and the Captain himself had coin enough to pay for them all without calling for contributions.

The colonel was very polite now, and gave very accurate advice and instructions as to the route the miners would do well to follow.

Captain Skinner's second blunder was that he determined to go by the road laid out for him by the colonel.

Perhaps he might not have done so if he had read one other piece of paper that the young officer wrote for his colonel to sign. Or if he had seen it handed to a lancer, who rode away with it at full speed along the precise path the colonel was describing.

It was addressed, with many titles and formalities, to "General Vincente Garcia," and it was delivered by the lancer postman within three hours.

There was something remarkable in the quantity and quality of the politeness expressed by the Mexican officers after that money had been paid. Not only did they declare their great pleasure at meeting so distinguished a party of "caballeros," but also a great deal of regret at parting with them.

"That's all serene, Cap," said Bill, "but they'd have rid right over us if we'd ha' let 'em."

"We're all right now. Let's make a long push today."

The colonel showed no disposition to detain them, and it was not until they had been on their southward march for an hour that he wheeled his glittering column in the same direction.

Captain Skinner and his men knew nothing about that, and when noon came they found a capital camping-place, precisely as it had been described to them. A beautiful spot it was, with groves of shady trees and a fine spring of water, and there was more than one drove of long-horned cattle in sight.

"Somebody or other's careless about his critters," remarked one of the miners; but the Captain's face was sober.

"It looks too much as if they'd been driven up this way to feed the cavalry on. I don't like it."

"Cap, do you hear that? If it ain't another bugle you can shoot me!"

More than one was heard within the next half-hour, and three consecutive squadrons of lancers rode within sight of the miners' camp and dismounted for their noon-day meal.

They had a perfect right to do so. They were in their own country. Besides, they were not interfering with anybody. There was a good many of them, to be sure, and it was a curious thing that they should happen to come.

"Thar's too big a crop o' lancers this year to suit me," muttered Bill. "Thar's a squad of 'em coming now."

Not a large squad; only a couple of officers and their orderlies, on a very proper errand, very politely done.

It was their duty, they said, with many apologies. General Garcia desired to know who were his neighbors, and so forth.

The colonel's "safe-conduct" was shown them, and they actually touched their hats when they read it.

It was entirely satisfactory, they said. Perfect. The general would be glad to know that all was in due form. Would Captain Skinner do them the great favor to go with them and pay his respects to the general? Or would one of the other caballeros? The general would be glad to sign the "safe-conduct" himself, as the officer In supreme command of the district.

That was precisely what the Captain thought he wanted, and he consented at once.

"Cap," said Bill, "can't you get one of them civil-talkin' chaps to let us have some coffee? Or a side o' bacon?"

The officer understood him, and his bow and smile were of the most polished order as he replied, "Certainly, senor. We will be only too happy. But we hope to have the happiness of your presence at our own mess at dinner to-day. We can promise you something better than camp-fare."

"We are too many, senor," said Captain Skinner.

"Too many, Captain! We shall not have a caballero at each mess. Some of us will be disappointed."

He repeated his invitation, with a tempting list of the good things to be had at the regimental campfires, and the miners assented like one man. They had had no coffee for long months, nor bread, nor tobacco, nor vegetables, and the mere mention of such things entirely overcame their prudence.

They all abandoned their lunch of cold beef, mounted their horses, and followed the polite officers and Captain Skinner.

Their promised "good time" had come to them sooner than they had expected, and they were all jubilant over it.

The Mexicans were as good as their word, and the miners were astonished at the cordial hospitality of their welcome in the cavalry camp. Every "mess" came forward to claim a guest, and they were speedily distributed in a way which left no two of them together.

Captain Skinner found General Garcia as polite as any of the others. Not a word would he speak about business until after dinner, and so the Captain did not know till then how great a mistake he had made in permitting his men to be scattered.

"You will permit us to go on with our journey, of course, will you not, general?" said he at last, over his coffee.

"Certainly. Without doubt. We shall not detain you an hour. But the senor is a caballero of experience and knowledge. He will understand that I cannot permit so strong a body of foreigners to march through my district armed?"

"Armed? We always go armed."

"At home. Of course. You have your own laws and customs. I must enforce those of Mexico, and this district is under martial law."

So smiling and so polite was the general, that Captain Skinner could almost believe he was sorry to be compelled to enforce that law.

He tried, therefore, to argue the point, and was still trying when one of his men came rushing up, knocking over a Mexican as he came, and shouting, "Cap, they've took every weapon I had while I was eatin'! And they won't give them up."

"Will Senor Skinner do me the favor to tell his friend that this is by my order?" The general smiled as he said it.

It was another half-hour before the different "messes" in all parts of the camp brought up to "headquarters" each its angry and disarmed guest.

"It's no use, boys," said Captain Skinner to his crestfallen band. "It's martial law, and we may as well submit. We'd best mount and ride now."

Again General Garcia felt called upon to smile and be very polite. His command was greatly in need of horses. Those of the American caballeros were just suited to cavalry use.

"Oh, if we only had our rifles, Cap!" exclaimed Bill. "Anyhow, we'll get our saddles back."

More than one bearded face grew a little pale at the thought of those saddles. The general's own chief of staff had attended to their transfer from the backs of the splendid American horses to those of the wretched little Mexican ponies, and he had noticed how heavy they all were. It was his duty, therefore, to search them, and not a saddle among them all was now any heavier than a saddle of that size ought to be.

"The ponies," remarked the polite Mexican, "are not strong enough to carry all that gold bullion as well as those heavy Gringo miners."

It was a sad dinner-party for Captain Skinner and his miners. And it turned out as he feared, for not an ounce of stolen gold was to be found in the pockets of that ragged band within ten days of their "first dinner."



CHAPTER XXX

The day the village was moved from the bank of the river was in many ways unsatisfactory to Ni-ha-be, and so was the next and the next. Nothing went to suit her, whether in camp or on the march.

Her father was continually having grave talks with Send Warning. Red Wolf seemed to feel that he could not even ride out after deer or buffalo unless he was accompanied by Knotted Cord. He declared that no Apache "young brave" could surpass the pale-face boy in handling the lance, and that he could even make a good use of a bow and arrows.

But all that was nothing to the remarkable conduct of Dolores. Ni-ha-be was sure Rita had never before received such a degree of attention and respect from the great cook. She had even seen her adopted sister helped to broiled venison again and again before a morsel had been handed to her, the born heiress of the great chief. Her keen black eyes put on a continual watchfulness and they soon detected other strange things, and so did her quick, suspicious ears. She saw Rita look in the face of Send Warning as if she had known him all her life, and she was sure she had heard both him and Knotted Cord speak to her in the detested tongue of their race.

It was all the work of those miserable talking leaves, and they were therefore the worst kind of "bad medicine." She would have burnt them up if she could, but now they were no longer within her reach. Rita had one, but Send Warning and his young friend had taken possession of the others, and were "listening to them" at every opportunity.

Steve said to Murray that the reading of those magazines made him feel as if he were half-way home again.

"We're anything but that, Steve. What do you think old Many Bears proposed this morning?"

"I can't guess."

"Wants to adopt us into his band. Have us marry Indian wives, and settle down."

"Tell him I'm too young. Can't take care of a squaw."

"So I did, and he answered, 'Ugh! Buy squaw some time. No hurry. Young brave good.'"

"Tell him you don't want a wife, but you'd like to buy a daughter, and keep her for me when I get old enough."

"Steve!"

"Now, Murray, I didn't mean to offend you."

"I'm not offended. It's an idea. It's a good one. It would sound right in Indian ears. I will think about it. I've been an Indian so long I hardly know how it would sound to my friends in England."

"They wouldn't care what you did, I guess, to get Rita out of the hands of the Apaches."

"Of course they would not."

Still, it was a delicate piece of business, and Murray went at it very carefully.

That afternoon, as they were riding along side by side, Many Bears again remarked to him that he would be better off among his Apache friends than anywhere else.

"Have lodge. Have squaw. Be chief a little. Be great brave."

"Got good lodge now."

"Yes, but lodge empty. Want squaw."

"Send Warning is old. No child. Rather have daughter. He has taken the Knotted Cord for a son. All he needs now is a young squaw. Keep her for young brave by-and-by."

"Ugh! Good! All Apaches say Send Warning is wise. Know what he likes best. Buy young squaw. Braves get killed in fight. Plenty young squaw have no father. All glad to come into good lodge. Have plenty meat. Plenty nice blanket. Old warrior make 'em behave, too. Good for squaw."

The notion of Many Bears was one that fitted him very well, for as chief of the band it was his duty to keep an eye upon the fortunes of its "orphans." There could be no better "asylum" for one of them than the lodge of a wise old brave like Send Warning.

"No," said Murray, after a moment of silence. "Only one young squaw in camp for me. The great chief must let me have Rita."

Many Bears was as nearly startled as an Indian chief could be by the sudden and daring proposal, although it was not at all the same as if Murray had spoken of Ni-ha-be. He pondered a moment, and then shook his head.

"Rita will be the squaw of a great chief. He will bring me many ponies. Heap give."

Any chief in want of a wife would expect to bring rich presents, all the richer if he were to come for the daughter of a great man like Many Bears. Something far beyond the power of a seemingly poor warrior like Send Warning.

"Good," said Murray, calmly. "Heap give. Suppose you say what you think? How big heap?"

There was a grim smile on the face of Many Bears as he turned and looked in the face of his friend. "How much? Ugh! Suppose big chief bring fifty ponies?"

"Good," said Murray. "Go on."

"Fifty new blanket?"

"Good. All right."

"Five new gun. Fifty knife. Much heap powder. Big roll cloth for squaws. What say?"

"Good. All right."

"Much pistol, too. Suppose chief think of something more?"

"All right. Send Warning give it all."

"Ugh! No got 'em. No find 'em. Send Warning laugh at chief. Bad."

There was an offended look in his eyes, but Murray laid his hand on his arm, saying,

"Listen! Send Warning is white. He is a great man among his own people. He can give heap to chief. Can't find all here. Out on plains. Up in mountains. Go to fort. See blue-coat chief. See traders. Get all he wants there."

"Ugh! Good. Make talking leaf. Send it to fort. Young brave carry it. All things come back."

Many Bears had seen something of that kind done, and had never ceased envying the white man's power to obtain presents by means of a little piece of paper. Murray replied,

"No. Send Warning in no hurry. Wait till we get to fort."

That would not be for many days; and the more Many Bears thought of all the good things he had mentioned the more anxious he became to see his adopted daughter set up in a lodge of her own. Or at least under the care of a warrior who was willing to give such a "big heap" for the privilege. He "thought of something more" almost every hour from that time on, but his demands were mainly for items of moderate cost, and he did not feel at liberty to mention any larger number of ponies or blankets.

"We can buy the blankets easily enough," said Steve, when he was told the terms of the bargain, "but what about the ponies?"

"Cheaper than blankets, my boy. I've seen droves of them going for ten dollars a head. We won't have to give more than twenty. As to the other things there are always traders around the posts."

They had already counted the contents of their little buckskin bags, and Steve had been surprised to find how much money there was in little more than twenty pounds of gold coin. He had found, indeed, a strange pleasure in counting it over and over, while Murray told him of his beautiful home away across the sea.

"You'll be a rich man there."

"Have three or four times as much as this every year. You must come and visit with me, Steve, as soon as you've seen your own people."

"I dare not think much of them, Murray. I can't talk about them. It will be time enough when I learn if any of them are yet alive."

"Your father and mother?"

"Don't, Murray. I'd rather talk about Rita and our plans here."

Poor Ni-ha-be! It was not many days after that before Mother Dolores one morning called her into the lodge.

"Ni-ha-be, Rita is going to the lodge of Send Warning!"

"She shall not! He is to old. His head is white. He is ugly. I will not let her go. He is a pale-face."

"So is she."

"She is an Apache now. She is my sister. He shall not have her."

"She is to be his daughter."

"Ugh! Then he will take her away."

"No. He will stay with us."

"Will the Knotted Cord stay?"

"Of course. He is to be the son of Send Warning."

"Ugh! Good. He is young. He is poor. He has no ponies. He will never have any. Send Warning is poor. How will he pay for Rita?"

"He is rich among his people. He is a great chief."

Ni-ha-be sprung out of the lodge and looked hurriedly around for her adopted sister. Rita had never imagined till that moment how much she was loved by the earnest-hearted Apache girl. Ni-ha-be's arms were twining around her neck, and she was weeping bitterly as she exclaimed,

"He shall not take you away from me. You are not a pale-face any more. You are Apache!"

Rita could not help crying, for the idea of the change which was coming to her was getting more and more difficult to deal with.

They were interrupted by the stately approach of old Many Bears.

"Young squaws foolish. Know nothing. Must laugh. Go to lodge now. Three days go to fort."

Three days? Was it so near? The two friends were glad to go into the lodge, as they were told, and cry it out together.

The nearest United States post at which there were likely to be any traders was still a "two days' journey" to the northward, but Many Bears had actually now received a message from his tribe that there would be "heap presents" for those who should come in time to get them, and he was more than ever anxious to discover if Send Warning had been telling him the truth. His first proposition had been, as before, that Murray should send for what he wanted, and have it brought to the Apache camp, but that had been declared out of the question.

"Ugh! Good. Then Send Warning go with chief. Buy pony. Buy heap other things. Come back and take young squaw to lodge."

"No. The great chief can bring young squaw with him. Send Warning take then what he pay for. Give pony, take young squaw."

After some little argument this was agreed to, but there were almost as serious objections made to Steve Harrison's joining the party who were to visit the post.

"Tell them I'm going anyhow," said Steve to Red Wolf, "whether they like it or not. You come too. I'll buy you a new rifle. Best there is at the fort."

That settled the matter, but Steve did not imagine how much difficulty he would have in getting hold of a rifle for an Indian. He was at last, as it turned out, compelled to keep his word by giving Red Wolf his own, and then buying another for himself from one of the traders.

But Dolores and Ni-ha-be were to be of the party. The first because Many Bears would need to "eat great heap," and the second because she had made up her mind to it very positively and would not give the matter up.

"Rita," said Murray, in a low voice, the morning they rode out of the village-camp, "take a good look back. That's the last you will ever see of it."

Then for the first rime it came into the mind of Rita that she loved not only Ni-ha-be, but all those wild, dark, savage people among whom she had been living ever since she was a little girl. She forgot for the moment how she came among them. She only remembered that the village, with all its wandering, had been her home.

"Father, will I never see any of them again?"

"I think not, Rita."

"You will let me send them presents, will you not?"

"As many as you please, Rita."

"Then I will make the whole village happy some day."

The ride to the fort was a somewhat hurried one, for Many Bears was in some fear lest all the presents should be given out before he could come for his share, and Murray was half in dread lest he should not be able to keep his own promise to the chief.

His first difficulty was removed almost at once, on his arrival, by his finding a trader who had bought a great many more ponies than he knew what to do with. Fifty of them were promptly secured and turned over to Many Bears. Even while that was being cared for Murray sought and obtained two or three important interviews. One was with the United States Army officer in command of the post, and from him he received the promise of all the help he might need.

"Still," said the gallant major, "it will keep the Indians in better humor if you pay as you agreed."

"I mean to exactly."

"It's a little the biggest romance I ever heard of. I'll tell you what: you'd better have the final transfer made in my presence."

"Thank you heartily. That will be just the thing."

Another of Murray's calls was upon the "post barber," the next upon the traders in boots, hats, clothing etc.; and when he finished the last one, Steve Harrison, who had accompanied him, making some purchases on his own account, exclaimed,

"Why, Murray, you don't look as if you were over forty. The major won't know you, nor the chief either."

"I was almost ashamed to have my hair dyed. I did it partly for Rita's sake. So she can remember me better. Partly, I must say, so my English friends will know me."

Rita turned pale when she saw him, and did not say a word; but Ni-ha-be's face put on an expression of great disgust both for him and Steve.

"Ugh! Pale-face! Young brave better wear blanket and look like a man!"

"That's it, Ni-ha-be," said Murray. "He looks like a white man now, not like a red one."

Many Bears also took a look at Send Warning and Knotted Cord in their new rig, and it was not half an hour before he was strutting around in an old blue army uniform coat and a high-crowned hat.

The Apaches of his band declared the "talking leaves" to have told the truth; for, although there was not much of a "big talk" or treaty, there were a good many presents from their "Great Father at Washington," and they were in excellent humor.

Many Bears knew that the price to be paid for Rita was fast being got together, and he may have cared very little whether it should be called a dowry or a ransom, for he had as yet no idea but what she and her new father and Steve would go back with him to their lodge in his camp.

The romantic truth, however, had been told as a great secret to the major's wife, and she told it to the other ladies at the fort, and they all went wild together over a grand new wardrobe for Rita. Never had any daughter of the Apaches owned a tenth of the varied material the enthusiastic ladies prepared in less than twenty-four hours after they had their first glimpse of Rita.

"We must make quite an affair," said the major to Murray, "of your making the payment. Then they will not think of trying to back out."

"There would be danger to Rita, I fear, if I were to make the truth known publicly too soon."

"Of course there would. Are all your presents ready?"

"They will be to-morrow."

"Then bring them to the parade ground in the morning. I will have everything fixed for the occasion."

Major Norris was an experienced "Indian fighter," and just the man to be in command of such a post, for the reason that he had learned how much cheaper it was to have the red men as friends than as enemies. He sent word at once to Many Bears and a number of other "great chiefs" that Send Warning was also a "great chief" and that proper honor must be shown him by his pale-face friends on so great an occasion. Nothing could have better suited the pride of Many Bears, but both Dolores and Ni-ha-be bitterly resented the proposal of the white ladles to prepare Rita's toilet. They would surely have kept her to themselves if it had not been for the tact and good-sense of the major's wife, to whom Murray explained the difficulty.

"Nonsense! Tell them all the ladies of the great chief's family are invited to come to my room in the morning. Tell them it will be bad manners if they do not come."

That was enough. Ni-ha-be felt that the daughter of a great chief ought not to be impolite, and she and Dolores came with Rita in the morning. The white ladies preserved their gravity, but they all said afterward that it was great fun.

Somehow or other, Rita seemed to know the uses of her new wardrobe very well, except that hooks-and-eyes were a sort of mystery, and she had no skill in the handling of pins. Dolores was made happy by the presentation of a wonderful scarf of brilliant colors, and Ni-ha-be consented to "try on" everything that was put before her.

That was as far as they could persuade her to go, however, for she took off bonnet and dress, stockings and shoes, resuming her own pretty and neatly fitting garments. All she would keep on was a pair of bracelets sent to her by Knotted Cord. They were hardly ready when they heard the band begin to play on the parade-ground, and word came from the major to hurry.

It was quite a procession that marched out of the fort barracks with Rita, and the Apache warriors and squaws who were looking on felt that a high compliment was paid to their nation. There were the troops drawn up in splendid array, with flags, and cannon, and music, and the "white chiefs" in their bright uniforms.

There were the great warriors of several "bands" of the Apaches in their paint and feathers. There were the beautiful white squaws in their strange dresses. Many Bears had been looking very intently at a collection of things just in front of where Major Norris was standing, with Murray and Steve Harrison. Ponies, blankets, guns, all, and more than all, that had been agreed upon. No chief who was looking on could say he had ever received more than that for one of his daughters, and the heart of Many Bears swelled proudly within him. There was a cloud upon his haughty face, however, and another on that of Red Wolf, who was standing at his side.

The clouds did not disperse when they searched the approaching party of ladies with their eyes for Rita. Rita! Could that be the adopted daughter of Many Bears walking there behind Mrs. Norris and Mother Dolores? The beautiful young lady whose face was so very pale, and who was dressed so splendidly? They had never before seen her look anything like that. The band played, the soldiers "presented arms," the officers touched their hats, and Murray stepped forward and held out his right hand to Many Bears, pointing with his left to the ponies and things.

"There they are. Send Warning has kept his word. Rita is mine."

"Ugh! Good. Presents all right. Young squaw is the daughter of Send Warning."

He shook hands heartily as he said it; but Many Bears had something more on his mind, and was about to open his mouth, only waiting for the music to stop. He was farther prevented by a sign to his father and a word in Apache from Red Wolf.

"Listen!" exclaimed Many Bears. "Send Warning see ponies? See all presents?"

"Yes, I see them."

"All mine now. Give all to Red Wolf. Young brave want Rita. Give all ponies for her. All presents. All except gun. Great chief keep them. What does Send Warning say?"

"Not want pony. Not want anything. Want daughter. Keep her."

"Red Wolf is young. Come again by-and-by. Bring more pony."

"Listen," said Murray, in his turn. "I tell you a big truth. Rita is my own daughter. When you burn ranch in Mexico, many summers ago, burn mine, take horses, cattle, mules, take away little girl, all that was mine. Got little girl back now. Apaches all good friends of mine."

"Send Warning not come back to lodge?"

"Not now. Go to my own people for a while. Show them my daughter. Say found her again."

"Ugh! Send Warning is a wise man. Cunning chief. Throw dust in the eyes of the Apaches."

It was plain that the chief was troubled in his mind. He hardly knew whether to be angry or not, but there was no reasonable objection to Murray's doing as he pleased with his own daughter, after she had cost him so many ponies.

Murray spoke again.

"Send Warning say what great chief do. Let Ni-ha-be come with Rita to pale-face lodges. Stay awhile. Learn to hear talking leaves. Then come back to her friends. What say?"

The chief pondered a moment, but Ni-ha-be had heard and understood, and a scared look arose in her face.

"Rita! Rita! You are going away? You will not be an Apache girl any more?"

"Oh, Ni-ha-be, come with me!"

Their arms were around each other, and they were both weeping, but Ni-ha-be's mind was made up instantly.

"No. You are born white. You will go with your father. I am an Apache, and I will go with my father."

Many Bears was listening.

"Send Warning hear what young squaw say? All Apaches say good. She will stay with her own people."

Ni-ha-be consented, nevertheless, to remain with Rita at the post head-quarters as long as her friends were camped close by.

Murray and Steve were anxious to begin their return to civilization, but it would be several days before a "train" would go with an escort, and they did not care to run any farther risks.

So the "farewell" was spread over sufficient time to make all sorts of explanations and promises, and Rita's mind became so full of dreams of her new life that she could easily give up the old one.

Ni-ha-be had never seen so much of the pale-faces before, and Rita tried again and again to persuade her to change her mind, but, on the very last morning of all, she resolutely responded,

"No, Rita, you are all pale-face. All over. Head and heart both belong with white friends. Feel happy. Ni-ha-be only little Indian girl here. Out there, on plains, among mountains, Ni-ha-be is the daughter of a great chief. She is an Apache."

No doubt she was right, but she and Rita had a good long cry over it then, and probably more than one afterward. As for Dolores, she came to the fort to say good-bye, but neither Many Bears nor Red Wolf came with her.

"The heart of the great chief is sore," she said, "and he mourns for his pale-face daughter. Not want to speak."

Rita sent many kindly messages, even to Red Wolf, glad as she was that he had failed to make a bargain for her.

Out from the gates of the fort that morning wheeled the cavalry escort of the waiting "train" of supply wagons and traders' "outfits," and behind the cavalry rode a little group of three. The ladies of the garrison, with the major and the rest, had said their last farewells at the gates, and the homeward journey had begun.

"Steve," said Murray, "are you a Lipan or an Apache to-day?"

"Seems to me that is all ever so long ago. I am white again."

"So am I. At one time I had little hope that I ever should be. I never would if I had not found Rita. Oh, my daughter!"

"Father! Father, see—there she is! Oh, Ni-ha-be!"

A swift and beautiful mustang was bounding toward them across the plain from a sort of cloud of wild-looking figures at a little distance, and on its back was a form they all knew well. Nearer it came and nearer.

"She wants to say good-bye again."

Nearer still, so near that they could almost look into her dark, streaming eyes, and Rita held out her arms beseechingly; but at that moment the mustang was suddenly reined in and wheeled to the right-about, while Ni-ha-be clasped both hands upon her face.

"Ni-ha-be! Oh, Ni-ha-be!"

But she was gone like the wind, and did not come again.

"There, Rita," said her father. "It is all for the best. All your Indian life is gone, like mine and Steve's. We have something better before us now."

THE END

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