"What's that?" he suddenly exclaimed, stopping short and listening. "What's all that growling? I never heard a bear, but it might be one."
So it might be, indeed, in a country where they were so plentiful, but it was not a grisly this time. It was only a common black bear, very fond of fish, and tremendously disgusted at the failure of his efforts to get hold of some which had plainly been caught and left expressly for him. Standing upon his hind-feet, and springing up as far as he was able, his paws just reached the end of the longest string of trout and set it a swinging. Two Arrows had wisely insisted upon bending down a branch and hanging the fish pretty high, Indian fashion, and Sile now saw the reason of it.
"He'd bring 'em all down as it is if I should let him take his time to it. What shall I do now? Oh, but ain't I glad I brought along my rifle!"
He was glad of it, very; but when he raised it in the direction of that bear the sight seemed to dance in all directions, and he could not get a good aim, short as was the distance.
Sile had the "buck ague."
Even old hunters sometimes find their nerves playing tricks on them. It would not do to miss a shot then and there, and Sile lowered his rifle.
"I'll try a rest and see about this thing. I must hit that bear in the head the first time, sure." He stepped behind a tree and put his rifle through the crotch of a projecting branch. That tree had no shake in it; and the barrel grew steady. "He is getting up on his hind-feet again. Now for him."
The bear poised himself, with uplifted head, and, just as he lifted his paw for another scratch at the fish, Sile pulled the trigger.
The range was very short, the rest was a good one, the sight was quick but careful, and the bit of lead went straight to its intended place under the ear of that black bear. He would need no more fish from that time forth, and he pitched heavily forward upon the ground.
"Wait a moment, Sile! Never run in on a b'ar till yer sure of him. Reckon he's dead, though. Stand where you are, my boy!"
"Why, father! Yellow Pine! You here? I never expected to see you."
"Well, my son," said the judge, "we thought we'd come over and see what luck you were having. Where's Two Arrows?"
"We watched ye jest a moment," said Pine. "Allers take sight from a rest if you can get one. You did that thing fine. There's the making of a prime good shot in ye."
"I shook all over at first," said Sile, walking a little nearer the bear.
"Buck ager. I've had it. He won't come to. If he does it's no matter, now we've got here. I'll come back after breakfast with a hoss and fetch him in. Where's the redskin?"
Sile rapidly explained the cause of his delay in getting back to camp; but what he did not know or explain was the fact that the Nez Perces had had no idea that their drove of lost ponies had wandered into that valley.
"Glad they've got 'em," said Yellow Pine. "Every hoof of ourn'll be safer from this time on, treaty or no treaty, good Indians or bad."
"Would they really steal from us, after all?" asked Sile, soberly.
"Steal hosses? Well, now, that isn't jest the way it looks to them. They're brought up to it. All hoss-flesh is fair game to a plains redskin. The more they have of their own, the easier it is to get 'em to keep their hands off from them that you have and to make believe good. These 'ere Nez Perces ain't a bad lot. Hope we won't run afoul of any that's worse than they are, and more of 'em."
Sile was proud of his fish, and tenfold prouder of his bear, but the proudest person in the mining-camp that morning was Na-tee-kah. Her wonderful brother had earned some more glory. The next proudest being was probably Ha-ha-pah-no, and she asked, several times in succession, of both herself and Na-tee-kah, and without any satisfactory answer,
"What Big Tongue say, now? Tell how he caught pony?"
A FULL CORRAL
Two arrows was a born horseman. About the earliest memory he had was of riding rather than walking. The pony he was now on was one which had carried him many a time. As soon as he had cut and trimmed a very long and serviceable tree-branch all the other ponies and the mules perfectly understood what it was for.
He was in a serious hurry. It was the most important affair of his life. So far as he could see, the only ponies now missing from the drove were the ones which had not been stampeded, but had remained in camp to be eaten. All the rest had been rescued and kept in good order by the genius and generalship of the wicked old mule. Two Arrows could but wish that a dozen or so of the best dogs had been stampeded at the same time. He rode busily hither and thither, shouting vigorously and lashing his charges away from every tuft of grass they lingered over. He knew exactly where to find his people, and he meant to find them quickly. The distance was nearly the same that had been travelled the day before by the mining party, but the loaded wagons had taken more time upon it than loose ponies would, followed by an excited boy with a long "gad."
The fact that he had eaten no breakfast was one which hardly occurred to Two Arrows, in his eager determination to get his runaways home in the shortest possible order. Once they were headed in the right direction there was but little difficulty in guiding them rightly, and now the old mule took his accustomed place in the advance. It was as if he had repented and was even willing to get some credit for leading his reformed command in the way they should go.
The Nez Perce community had all eaten a good breakfast that morning; there had been no vegetables, to be sure, but not a soul had missed them. With plenty of fish and fresh meat they had all that red Indians expect to be provided with, and they asked for no more. Their kind of human life can be kept a-going upon a very narrow diet. The laziest brave in camp was well fed, but for all that there was a general air of dejection and despondency. Long Bear himself sat in front of his lodge, cross-legged and moody, all the forenoon: his children were away from him, on a visit to the pale-faces; his ponies were away upon another visit, he could not guess with whom; his dogs, with the solitary exception of One-eye, had all visited the camp-kettles. His only remaining consolation seemed to be his pipe, and he was rapidly and extravagantly using up all the tobacco he had obtained from Yellow Pine. The shadow of the mighty maple near him grew shorter until it had little more left to lose and could almost announce the arrival of midday. Just then there arose, at the edge of the woods, a long, ear-piercing howl, followed by such a volley of yelps and barking as can only be fired off by a very remarkable dog. One-eye was informing the camp that something great was drawing near, and was doing his best to make up for the absence of the other dogs.
The Nez Perce warriors went for their weapons instinctively but somewhat listlessly, until they heard a tremendous whoop join in with the barking of One-eye and recognized the powerful voice of the Big Tongue. He could out-whoop any other brave he knew of, and he was now doing his best. He had been strolling out towards the open country when One-eye began, and had found and seized upon a sudden heap of unexpected glory.
Away in advance of his command, farther and farther, had wisely trotted the long-legged, long-eared, long-absent wicked old mule. Not another quadruped was in sight when One-eye gave the alarm. The Big Tongue bounded forward as if he were charging upon a beaten enemy, and the mule did but whinny affectionately when he caught the remains of the lariat at the place where it had been gnawed asunder, and sprang triumphantly upon the back of the recaptured mule.
Whoop followed whoop as the happy warrior rode his prize towards the camp, and the entire band, squaws and children included, poured out under the trees to rejoice that they now had a mule as well as a dog. Long Bear came among the rest. Ha-ha-pah-no was not there to make unpleasant remarks, but the old chief knew that mule very well and he knew that by no chance had he returned to his owners of his own free will. He would have remained more contentedly with a man who had found or stolen him. Long Bear was positive that he had not followed his masters lovingly across the mountains, and that he need not make any pretence of having done so. He could hardly have believed that the mule was there at all but that he could see him, with the Big Tongue sitting upon him to be admired.
The old chief turned and looked keenly and wistfully across the grassy rolls, and so did several others of the wiser warriors. There was quite a rise of ground at a little distance and One-eye was making for it as fast as his legs could carry him. Suddenly, as if by a common impulse, all the woods rang with a full chorus of whooping. Over the crest of that green ridge came galloping pony after pony and mule after mule, in a confused rush, and then a shrill shout arose beyond, and they could shortly see Two Arrows, gayly ribboned, ornamented, mounted, dashing madly back and forth and lashing forward the rear-guard of that battalion.
Long Bear folded his arms and stood erect and still, as if he were trying to hold himself in. His own boy, and therefore he himself, had done another mighty deed.
"Ugh! Two Arrows! Young chief! Find pony all alone."
The Big Tongue tried hard to look as if he had found the mule, but it did not seem to fit, somehow, and twice he opened his mouth widely and shut it again in silence; there was no whoop ready to come. Every other brave had a score or more quite ready, but Two Arrows grew silent as he came nearer and rode more sedately. There was almost an air of stateliness about him when at last he followed the trail of his important cavalcade in under the shadows of the forest.
It was not becoming for him to volunteer, in boyish haste, an explanation of his utterly unlooked-for exploit. Even the gray-heads felt that he was entitled to a respectful and dignified reception, and Long Bear himself stepped forward and inquired, in due form, precisely how that wonderful rescue had been accomplished. Now that the question was asked of him, Two Arrows was willing enough to tell the entire story, and to point to all the animals as witnesses to the truth of it. As fast as he told it, the more or less distorted facts went swiftly round from lip to lip among the squaws and younger people. It was almost unlucky for the Big Tongue to remark, dignifiedly,
"Boy find pony. Warrior ride him;" for a half-grown warrior near him added,
"Boy there. Big Tongue here. Same way hunt buffalo."
It sounded a little like Ha-ha-pah-no, and the Big Tongue was silenced. He and the rest now listened to the answers of Two Arrows as to his visit, and he gave a full account of the good treatment he had received. It looked as if honors had fairly been heaped upon him and Na-tee-kah, and, for their sakes, upon Ha-ha-pah-no. Some of the older squaws shortly picked up the annoying fact concerning the latter that she had learned how to make coffee, and that her hair was now brushed and combed and made shiny. They knew what combs were. She would probably wear one now. She would never again be the same woman in her own estimation, they were sure of that. She had always held her head high enough, for her husband was a renowned brave and her tongue was always in good order.
The drove of ponies and mules was the centre of attraction, after Two Arrows had finished his recital, and every Nez Perce searched it eagerly for his own. It was decided to send off several braves at once, with some squaws and pack-ponies, to bring through the pass the lodges and other materials they had hidden near the camp of their starvation. Two Arrows ate his breakfast and dinner in one meal, and was then bidden to mount a pony at once and ride away after his pale-face friends, with the strongest assurances that the Nez Perces regarded them as so many brothers. Long Bear also sent a handsome cougar-skin to Sile, as a proper acknowledgment of the fact that he had been a looker-on at the rescue of the quadrupeds from the misguiding leadership of the bad old mule. Two Arrows rode gladly away upon his errand, and some of the braves set out at once after the "left baggage." All whom they left behind them had now abundant subject-matter for conversation and for unlimited "Ughs!" The entire future suddenly brightened up for that band of Nez Perces, and they were entirely confident of their ability to procure a new supply of dogs. As for One-eye, that sagacious brute wandered around the corral, from hoof to hoof, until he knew the facts of the case thoroughly. He would have followed Two Arrows, but for the stern refusal of Long Bear. He was needed at home all the more now that there would be additional watching and barking to be done. On the whole he was as well satisfied to have it so, for his accumulation of bone treasures was becoming an affair for any dog to think about seriously.
Sile was not exactly a hero when he reached camp, but he was an uncommonly hungry boy. It seemed to him that he could eat as many trout as Ha-ha-pah-no could broil for him, and he certainly worked at it steadily for a long time. Every other human being in camp did the same, although some had already made a fair beginning upon venison cuts and coffee. All had room for some fresh trout, and all said they would be glad of a little bear-meat for a change. Sile was in the saddle promptly enough after breakfast, to go and see his bear brought in. He would not willingly have missed that, and was only afraid lest it should have been stolen in his absence, in spite of the care taken by Yellow Pine to throw bushes over it, and give any roving coyote an idea that a trap was there. Said Pine, in answer to a question,
"Them critters is too cunnin' for their own good. One on 'em'd sit down in front of that there, and howl all day and all night before he'd make up his mind to scratch at the brush."
"How'd he guess at a trap?"
"Oh, they're laid on kind o' reg'lar, and he'd smell the b'ar too, and he'd know it was somethin' more than ordinary. There's jest one thing they ain't cunnin' enough for, and that's a rifle-bullet. They'd dodge that if they could see it a comin'."
The bear was found all safe and was brought in and skinned, and Sile said to himself,
"Now I've got something better than a deer to tell of when Two Arrows gets back again."
THE GOLD MINE
A proud girl was Na-tee-kah that bright September day, and she took an extraordinary amount of pains with her hair. So, for that matter, did Ha-ha-pah-no, and Sile could but discern that both treated him with much more respect than at first. He had been with Two Arrows at the recovery of the ponies, he had killed a buck and a bear, and was evidently able to use the weapons of grown-up white braves. He was therefore not a boy to be snubbed; and, if it had not been for his unfortunate light complexion, he was almost good-looking. At all events he was disposed to do his best to be polite, and they were willing to meet him as nearly half-way as was consistent with dignity and propriety. They were under the especial care of the judge himself, however, and Na-tee-kah derived a vast amount of comfort from an occasional look at his very fatherly and benevolent face. Her obvious respect for Yellow Pine was mingled with something like fear as yet, and she would not have a word to say to any of the miners. Horses were furnished to both of them when the camp broke up for the day's travelling, and no man in the party was more at home upon one, except that a side-saddle was an invention that they had never heard of and did not need.
"We'll git to the mine afore night, jedge," said Yellow Pine, when they halted for their noon luncheon, and the further information he added stimulated all hands to push forward. Not one sign of peril or even of human presence, other than their own, did they encounter, and yet the other human beings of that region were hourly drawing nearer.
The camp of the Apache marauders broke up at sunrise, with a considerable amount of discontented grumbling. A man familiar with their dialect, or with only a little of it, could easily have gathered that they were eager for news which did not come, and for scouts who did not return. Not all of them, to say the least, would ever again come into that or any other camp, news or no news. In the absence of any, it was plainly a due precaution to push forward even farther beyond the supposed pursuit of the men in blue.
There was a good deal more than a mere supposition about that pursuit, for Captain Grover and his men were on the trail at as early an hour as was consistent with a proper care of their horses, and a hearty breakfast all around. They were a fine looking lot of men, bronzed and weather-beaten and soldierly. Their uniforms were not exactly in "parade" condition, but there was nothing slovenly about them, and their weapons were in excellent order. They had several "led-horses," to make good the places of any that might become over-wearied, and every animal in the troop showed signs of careful grooming. A captain, a lieutenant, and thirty men did not seem an overpowering force for a hundred and more of Apache warriors to run from, but neither of the two parties could have a correct knowledge of the strength of the other. Besides, the main object of an Indian raid is never a hard fight, but rather to pick up scalps and plunder and get away without serious loss. Red men are courageous enough, but they have a strong objection to being shot at or sabred, and know that it does not take a great many hard-won victories over cavalry, even if they should win them, to about wipe out the fighting strength of a tribe.
As for Captain Grover, he had been ordered to follow and "strike" that band of Apaches, and compel them to return to their "reservation," and he had no other purpose in mind than to obey thoroughly.
"I'll follow them," he remarked to the lieutenant, "as far as they choose to go. We've wiped out six of their scouts already."
"Garry," said one of the men at the same moment, "reckon them 'Paches'll begin to think this 'ere's an unhealthy crowd to creep in on."
"The more on 'em we can pick off," said Garry, "the fewer we'll have to fight at the close."
"Sharp work when that comes, or I'm mistaken, but they can't take hoss plunder into the mountains."
As they rode along so cheerily and confidently, it became plainer and plainer that those men had small doubt of their ability to deal with any ordinary band of red horse-thieves if they could meet them fairly. It would hardly have seemed so to an unprejudiced observer of the Apache cavalcade that morning. Every warrior was a perfect horseman, and was well mounted and well armed. There were lances instead of sabres, but the pistols and carbines, or rifles, were just as good as those carried by the cavalry. The red men were all trained and experienced soldiers, under capable leaders, and it looked as if all they had to do was to choose a good position and wait for Captain Grover and his men, and destroy them all. As it was, all they seemed to think of was to urge their drove of stolen quadrupeds forward. They could not make the best of time so encumbered, and when they again halted for the night, the men in blue were several miles nearer without one Apache knowing exactly where they were. The trail these had made told Captain Grover all he as yet needed to know, with the help of one used-up pony that the Indians had turned loose to shift for himself.
"Beginning to break down, are they?" said the captain. "I'll strike them among the foothills of the ranges within three days."
All that exciting chase was as yet hidden from the red and white men in the upper valley, and it was quite possible that they would never know anything about it. That depended, in fact, upon whether the Apaches should turn to the left or the right when they reached the "forks" of the little river.
It was pretty late when Two Arrows again caught up with his pale-face friends, and his pony showed signs of very hard riding. If he had been a grown-up brave he could not possibly have had so warm a reception, except from Na-tee-kah and Ha-ha-pah-no. These two considered him the tallest kind of a young chief already, but all the rest regarded him very much as Yellow Pine did, as "the likeliest young redskin he'd ever come across."
"I believe he is," said Judge Parks, and Sile had added,
"Father, what wouldn't he know pretty soon if he could learn to read and write? He understands everything he sees right away."
"I'd like to try the experiment, Sile, but I don't believe he would ever take kindly to books. I'll talk about it some other time. There is something else on my mind just now."
There was a good deal upon everybody's mind, and even Sile ceased to admire Long Bear's present when Yellow Pine rose in his stirrups and pointed forward, shouting.
"There she is, jedge—right back in that there notch!"
Away to the right of them the craggy mountain arose against the sky, facing the valley with an uncommonly precipitous wall. In this grim face of granite could be seen what looked like a mere indentation. When they came to it, however, they discovered that Yellow Pine's "notch" was much narrower at its mouth than beyond it, owing to some ancient overturn and "landslide" of great rocks and small, which almost shut it in. Beyond this barrier, the opening through which was a mere roadway, there were several acres of good grass and trees. There were springs of water also, and the whole place was a good one to camp in, so long as no more bowlders should break loose from the slopes above and come crashing down into it. It was plain that none had done so for a long time past, and the wagons were hauled fearlessly in. There was nobody with them but their drivers, for every other human being had galloped on after Yellow Pine and Judge Parks until the old miner drew rein in front of a great mass of shattered, ragged, dirty looking quartz rock. In front of this a deep hole had been dug by somebody, and near it were traces of old camp-fires, bones of deer and buffalo, some rusty tin cans, and a worn-out pickaxe.
"That's the lode, jedge. It's all I ever told ye it was. Safest place in the world, too, now the 'Paches are gethered onto their reservation. We can go right to work to-morrow mornin'."
Judge Parks was at that moment examining some bits of quartz he had picked up. He took from his pocket a magnifying-glass and closely inspected stone after stone.
"It looks like it, Pine. I haven't a doubt of the value of that vein. Look at that, Sile."
Sile looked with a face more deeply flushed than even his father's.
"Why, it's exactly like Yellow Pine's old specimens, so far as I can see; no more gold in these than in them."
"That's just the point, Sile. He brought me fair specimens. There isn't any humbug or delusion about it. It's all right, Pine, so far as I can see. As for safety, the mouth of this notch could be made a perfect fort of, if we had to quit mining and go to fighting."
"Guess we won't ever have to do that. Game's plenty, and so is fish, and we won't have to use up our provisions. Chance for you, Sile. You can keep the camp-fires going. Fetch in some fish, first thing in the morning, and then go for all the fresh meat there is. What we don't eat we can cure and put away."
"I'll do the hunting!" shouted Sile. "What are the men all chopping for? There's plenty of dry dead wood."
"I'd call it!" exclaimed Yellow Pine. "If they ain't struck with the mine-fever now. Jest look at 'em, jedge."
"Pine," shouted one of the men from a little distance, "this 'ere shelf by the spring's the spot you marked for the shelter, isn't it?"
"All right, boys," he responded. "Thirty feet by twelve, and an ell for cooking and an ell for stowage."
"Nine feet high to the front, and slope to seven and a half, and lay on the mud as you go?"
"That's it. Pitch in, boys."
"I declare," said the judge; "they haven't eaten a mouthful and they've begun building."
"They're old hands, and the sight of that show of pay-rock has kind o' stirred 'em up. It's all correct, though, jedge. We can look for storms every now and then, and the shelter won't be up any too soon if one of them busters should happen to be on its way."
A NEW SETTLEMENT
There is nothing else like enthusiasm. That band of bearded miners went into their work like a crowd of boys building a snow fort. Ha-ha-pah-no and Na-tee-kah took full possession of the camp-fires and cooked for dear life. Judge Parks and Yellow Pine finished their inspection of the hole in the rock and of the ore which had been dug out of it, and then they went to help Sile and Two Arrows care for the horses and mules.
"We won't unpack much till the house is up," said the judge.
"You're satisfied with the outcrop, are ye?" asked Pine, a little proudly.
"It's all you said it was, and that is all I could ask for. We can run a tunnel right in now, so we can work straight along, under cover, in bad weather."
"That's the thing to do. I believe it will pay for itself from the very start."
"If it does," said the judge, "it will be an uncommonly good mine for a gold-mine. Not one in ten but what empties the pocket of its first owner."
"This one won't, then. It's as good a property as there is, and we can cover all the ledge with claims and get a good title to 'em. It's fresh ground, and no kind of interference—"
"Unless the Apaches interfere."
"They don't often come east so far as this, 'specially now that most of 'em have been cornered. Mining in these parts isn't the risky kind of business it used to be. Must say, though, that I felt kind o' streaked sometimes, last year, when I was a prospectin'."
"There was risk in it, all alone; but nine rifles and a good breastwork will make a tremendous difference."
"They will that, and there's no sech thing as takin' us in the rear. They can't climb over that ridge, nor that one."
It was later than usual when anybody lay down that evening. Two Arrows and his sister had heard of mines before, but they had never seen one, and the whole matter was a great curiosity.
These uncommonly well-behaved pale-faces meant to dig a hole into the side of that mountain and get gold out of it, and they were going to build a stone "lodge" and stay there. Sile explained to them, as well as he could, a purpose he had formed of making a great farm in that valley, and raising all sorts of things to feed the miners, and of having a town there, with schools and churches for the Indians, and a public library and a saw-mill and a grist-mill and a blacksmith-shop and a hotel. The main idea obtained by Two Arrows was that in a little while the valley would be full of horses of the best kinds. Na-tee-kah went beyond that and got a picture into her mind of a big stone lodge, where a trader would live and have for sale a wonderful heap of all such things as the white squaws dressed themselves up with. She went to sleep at last, with her black eyes half dazzled by a vision of bright colors and glitterings, and had a dream that the trader had come and was ready to trade almost anything for the skin of a grisly bear. As for Two Arrows, not all that could be said about mines and farms could drive from him one grand ambition, that had taken deep root as he studied the many possessions of those pale-faces. Somehow or other, he meant to obtain a rifle. His father had a good one, and so had each of the acknowledged warriors of his band, but all the boys were as yet forced to put up with bows and arrows. Some of the braves even carried revolvers, and the hunting had been so poor that they were well supplied with ammunition. Two Arrows had learned from Sile that there were extra rifles and pistols, and no end of cartridges, in those wagons, but everybody knew that all that sort of thing had to be paid for, and Two Arrows lay awake a long time, feverishly wondering what he could find among those mountains to buy a rifle with, and a revolver and some ammunition. He felt that he should be a mere boy, after all, and not a full-grown brave, until he could exchange his bow and arrows for weapons which would kill a bear at long range. He wished never to have to wait for another on the top of any rock. It was the only point in which he could see that Sile had any real advantage over him to balance the humiliation of being a pale-face instead of the son of a Nez Perce chief. He was compelled to admit one more in the morning, for he had forgotten the fishing-rods and hooks and lines, and Sile was up before it was light, ready to begin his duty of keeping the camp supplied with provisions.
"We won't walk this time," he said, in a very business-like way. "We'll just ride across to the river and catch enough for breakfast and hurry back. None of the men can be spared from their work."
The sun arose very grandly over the magnificent mountain ranges, but he showed them all that wonderful scenery in vain. Sile was fishing for provisions for his father's men, and Two Arrows thought of rifles and pistols every time he pulled in a trout. He did not speak of the weight upon his mind as yet, but he was gradually forming a purpose of doing so at the earliest opportunity. It was almost like going to an open market for fish, except that there was nothing to pay for them. As fast as a line could be thrown, and its little silvery trap set a whirling, the hook was seized by some trout or other, large or small. Some of them were so heavy as to test the toughness of the upper joints of the rods, and now Two Arrows made a discovery. He had watched Sile work his reel until he had caught the secret of it, and could let a strong fish run a little before he drew him in. It was an idea that suited him exactly, and it made the fun more exciting.
"I say," exclaimed Sile, before a great while, "they're awful eaters, but they can't use up all we've got now. Let's just string 'em, and ride back to camp."
The movements of his hands, along with his words, explained his meaning, and Two Arrows pulled in his last fish with an "Ugh! good," for answer. He was doing one thing more rapidly than anybody had an idea of. He was a born "linguist," as many Indians are, and he was gathering words of English at a great rate. He was not sure he could yet utter correctly quite a number that he fully understood on hearing them, and his pride forbade him to make blunders. His trouble was with his tongue and not with his ears, as many an older fellow has found when he undertook to make a speech before critical people.
The camp was all astir when they rode in, and the coffee-pot was already upon the fire.
"That's the checker, my boy," said Yellow Pine, when he saw the fish. "We sha'n't do any starving. Let your horse feed a while, and then you and he go for some fresh meat. Look at them!"
There was a great grin upon his face as he pointed at Judge Parks and the miners. The judge had taken up a heavy hammer and was busily breaking masses of quartz to examine their quality, and the men had again gone at their building.
"Nary one of 'em's eaten a mouthful," said Pine, just as a chopper rested from his work to shout,
"We'll have enough shingles rived for the roof by the time them fellers gits their wall up;" and another said,
"Pine, that there clay-bank by the spring's the very best kind. It's most as good as mortar."
"'Tis if you temper it well," said Pine. "Call 'em to breakfast. There'll be fish br'iled and ready in no time."
Ha-ha-pah-no and Na-tee-kah each had a frying-pan, and the fish were put in as fast as they were cleaned, but some of the men could not wait for that. They insisted upon cleaning and cooking for themselves, for, as Jonas remarked,
"We can't git at the mine till the shelter's done and the waggins are unpacked. We'll have it up in short order."
As soon as he had finished his coffee and trout and "army bread," Sile went to take a look at what they were doing, and it made him open his eyes. The ground they had chosen, near a fine spring of water, was nearly level. They had marked out the lines of the walls they meant to build, and then along those lines they had dug a trench about a foot deep and two feet wide. No cellar was called for as yet, and the mason-work began at once. There was plenty of broken stone to be had, and it was rolled or carried with busy eagerness to the men who were laying the wall. One man at the clay-bank toiled zealously at the important task of mixing and tempering it, while another came and went with pailfuls that were used up as fast as he could bring them. The stones were laid with their smooth faces inward, and there was not a minute wasted in trimming anything for the sake of appearances. Sile could hardly believe that so much could have been done is so short a time, and he was again astonished when the men returned from breakfast. The wall grew at a tremendous rate. He went from that work to the place where the choppers were swinging their axes. A tall pine-tree, four feet in diameter at the base, was down shortly after the men went at it the previous evening, and now two sturdy fellows were making the chips fly as if they were chopping for a wager. They were evidently cutting the huge trunk into lengths of about three feet, and Sile was studying the matter when Two Arrows touched him on the elbow and pointed at the choppers.
"Ugh! What for?"
"Wait. Show him by-and-by," said Sile. "Make shingles to cover house."
"Ugh! Big lodge. Heap hard. No fall down. Top?"
"Yes. Make cover. Keep out rain."
"Ugh! Pale-face do a heap. Go away and leave him all," said Two Arrows.
It was the longest sentence he had yet attempted in English, and Sile looked at him with some surprise, but he should have remembered that Two Arrows had made a beginning long before that, and was but adding to it. At all events, he was correct in his conclusion that such a lodge could not be carried away, as could those for which Long Bear had sent his braves and squaws through the pass. It was perfectly certain that these would not loiter anywhere, but would go straight on their errand and return, and then the village would once more be under as good a shelter as it knew anything about or cared for.
All that day the axes fell, the wall grew fast, and Judge Parks and Yellow Pine went on with their examinations and their other preparations for "opening the mine;" and all day long some other things went on without their knowing it.
The Apaches, in their encampment away down the river, cooked fish for breakfast at about the same hour that the miners did, but their trout had not been caught anything like so rapidly. It had required the work of several men, up and down the bank, for hours of the previous evening and for all the time since daylight, with their imperfect tackle, to get in enough for such a war-party. Nor had they cleaned or cooked so perfectly, and the fish had been eaten without pepper or salt. There was not a plate or a fork in the band, and there was not even a wish for coffee.
It was a hasty meal, greedily devoured, and then the marauders were once more in the saddle, or riding barebacked, as the case might be. All the while that the miners were so enthusiastically raising their stone lodge a peril they hardly thought of was pushing nearer and nearer. They knew well enough that they were in an Indian country, but were well assured that as yet no hostile red men could be aware of their arrival. It was also pretty sure that every stroke of work they did added to their security, for neither arrow nor bullet will go through a wall of quartz and granite two feet in thickness. Judge Parks had ideas of his own as to the future protection of the "notch," but the time had not yet come to say anything about them.
It was not many hours after the Apaches got in motion before they came to the forks of the stream, and here they halted for a general consultation. They already had well-mounted scouts ahead in both directions, and neither side had yet sent in any suggestion of danger discovered. They were evidently familiarly acquainted with the whole region, and there were arguments in favor of both lines of advance, but a gray-headed old warrior at last settled the question. He had been sitting quietly and listening to what others said until his turn seemed to come, but now he arose, and all seemed willing to listen. Pointing with his long, naked arm up the right fork of the river, he said, in his own harsh, gutteral tongue,
"Mountains. When blue-coats come, lose horses. Caught in big trap."
Turning and pointing up the other fork, he said,
"Morning. Hole in mountains. Blue-coats come. Go through hole. Get away. Come back some day, when blue-coats go home sick. Ugh!"
It was not a long speech, and it could hardly be described as "eloquent" but all the wiser and more influential braves said "Ugh!" and the road to the left was decided upon without any more discussion. That also decided in advance the course to be followed by Captain Grover and his cavalry, when they in their turn should reach the same point. Hour by hour they were slowly gaining upon the dangerous horse-thieves they were pursuing, and in due time they would surely learn whether or not they had a right to rejoice upon catching up with them. They were acting as the police and constables of a very disorderly community.
As for Long Bear and his Nez Perces, they had a very good reason for lazily hunting and fishing around their present camp until the return of the party which had gone for the hidden lodges, and so forth. Very few Indians need anything better than an excuse for not doing anything.
Two Arrows was not one of those Indians. Na-tee-kah continually called his attention to something new which she had discovered in the ways or in the possessions of those pale-faces. She was greatly interested in a curious wire "broiler." It opened, and a fish or a steak was put in, and it shut up and was put upon the coals, and when the cooking was finished, the long handles enabled you to take it off and not burn your fingers. There were twenty other things as wonderful as the broiler; and the judge had shown her how to wash her hands with soap, and had given her a pair of ear-rings and a silver buckle for her new blanket. She hardly knew what would come next, but she entirely sympathized with her brother in his own dream when he told her what it was.
"Ask pale-face chief," she said.
"Ugh! Laugh. Bow and arrows good enough for boy."
He said it almost bitterly, and Na-tee-kah stamped on the ground sharply as she responded,
"Two Arrows is a young chief. Big brave. Not a boy any more. Kill grisly. Kill cougar and big-horn. Bring back pony. Great chief in a little while. Give him rifle."
Two Arrows had a good enough opinion of himself, but he perfectly understood the easy good-nature with which he was treated by Yellow Pine and the rest. They regarded Sile as one bright boy and him as another, and had no idea of wasting costly rifles and such things upon him. He grew almost sullen over it, and was glad to get away from the camp when Sile came and asked him to go on a hunt with him.
This time there was a little pride as well as good-sense in his positive refusal to borrow a rifle. He was determined to shoot with his own weapons or none, and he rode away with no better ones than had been used by his tribe before they had ever heard of white men, and long before gunpowder had been invented. They were pretty good weapons yet, but there was one thing Two Arrows did not dream of. That was that it was not such a great number of years since the ancestors of these very pale-faces had gone to war and to hunt with bows and arrows vastly better than any ever carried by any red Indian in the world. The English race were bowmen once, just as they are riflemen now, shooting closer to the bull's-eye than any other.
Two Arrows felt that there was a sort of fever upon him. It made him hot and restless, and his eyes wandered searchingly in all directions, longing for an opportunity to do something which would bring him nearer to the prizes he coveted. Sile also was watching keenly the tops and branches of every clump of bushes they came to, but it almost seemed as if the game had suddenly migrated. It was natural that none should linger near the smoke and smell of camp-fires and cookery, but it was queer that the two young hunters should canter quietly on for mile after mile, and not so much as get a shot at a deer.
"We won't go back without something," said Sile. "I told father so. I mean to go right along. We can camp in the woods by ourselves if we don't kill anything early enough to get back to-night."
He had some trouble in making his meaning clear to Two Arrows, and the ambitious young Nez Perce was in precisely the frame of mind to agree with him. They even rode a little faster, and were hardly aware of the distance they had travelled. Sile was beginning to grow nervous about his reputation as a hunter and to remember that the camp had only a three days' supply of fresh meat, in spite of the fish. He believed that he had seen everything there was to be seen, but he was mistaken. Suddenly Two Arrows uttered a loud, astonished "Ugh!" sprang from his pony, and beckoned Sile to do the same, leading him hurriedly towards the nearest bushes.
Sile imitated his friend, without any idea of a reason for it, until Two Arrows took him by the arm and pointed away to the right towards the mountain range. They were on the crest of a high roll of ground, and could see for miles in some directions, except as the view was cut off by patches and strips of forest.
All that at first appeared to Sile's eyes were some moving black spots; but now he was able to show Two Arrows another of the advantages of a civilized man over a savage. Slung from his left shoulder was a small leathern case, and Two Arrows watched him closely while he opened it, took out something silver-mounted and handsome and put it to his eyes. Such things had been much discussed in his hearing, and he knew it was the "long eye of the pale-faces;" but he had no faith in it until Sile made him try it.
"There they are; six of 'em," said Sile. "Then look away down yonder and you'll see some more."
"No see us," said Two Arrows. "Come! Heap bad."
So it was, for the dreaded strangers were between them and the mountains. For all they knew, they might have ridden past others unseen, and these might intercept their return. Sile was only a white boy, and in an instant he understood that the young chief was the "captain" of their squad of two.
Two Arrows seemed to have the same notion instinctively, for anybody could read the look of blank uncertainty upon Sile's face. His binocular spy-glass could help him see farther and more accurately than the best pair of Indian eyes in the world, but it could not tell him what to do next.
"Come!" said Two Arrows, as he led his pony back down the slope and towards the forest that skirted the river. This was less than half a mile away, but the horses were not mounted until both were well under cover of it. It struck Sile that they might safely ride homeward along the stream, but Nez Perce training and caution forbade any such risk as that. Even the operation of reaching the bank might be full of peril, for nobody could guess at what moment they might stumble upon Apache warriors, and no others were at all likely to be there. It was most unlikely, however, that their enemies were advancing upon both sides of the water, and as soon as Two Arrows reached it he rode in. It was a wide and therefore shallow place, easily forded, and Sile breathed more freely as soon as he was under the shade of the woods beyond. His guide and captain pushed right on until they were out in a comparatively open reach of country, and then he turned to Sile, his whole face gleaming with uncontrollable excitement, and exclaimed,
"Ugh! Ride now. Kill hoss. Save pale-face. Save Nez Perce. Get there before Apache. All scalp gone if 'Pache come first."
He suppressed a whoop, but the next bound of his pony explained his meaning, and Sile galloped, stride by stride, with him. It was a race for life and for the lives of many others; for Two Arrows had briefly read that problem when he said to Sile, as he handed him back his glass,
"No squaw. Braves on war-path. No hunt. Kill. Take scalp."
Both were well mounted, and Sile rode well, although by no means so completely at home on horseback as was his red friend. His rifle, too, was more tiresome to carry than was a light lance, and the bow and arrows were now tightly "slung," and required no handling. It would not do to wear out their horses in one rush, but they kept on at the highest speed at all consistent with a long ride. It was much faster, at all events, than the Apaches were likely to travel, unless something new should stir them up. By keeping well away from the stream, they were not compelled to follow its windings, and could ride more nearly in a straight line, only turning out for clumps of trees and similar obstructions and paying no attention to game, although they now saw gang after gang of deer and a respectable party of bisons.
There had been no anxiety at the mine on account of the absent hunters. Judge Parks and Yellow Pine had their hands very full of an inspection of the cargoes of the two wagons. The men toiled vigorously at the stone wall and at the shingle riving. Ha-ha-pah-no and Na-tee-kah were as busy as bees over the lengthening list of marvels put before their eyes. It seemed to Na-tee-kah as if Judge Parks must be a kind of magician, or else that he had a whole lodge full of "medicine-men" of a rare breed at home, who could conjure up for him almost anything he might chose to call for. It was no use to try to understand such things as he and Yellow Pine were examining. They belonged to the great mystery of pale-face life, and a Nez Perce girl could not be expected to guess very nearly at their uses. She could comb her hair more carefully, however, and discover a new way of doing it up, and she did not know how closely she was imitating many pale-face young ladies of about her age, not to speak of older ones.
Noon came and went, and there were no signs of returning hunters or of game of any sort, but there was no danger of famine in that camp for days and days to come.
Judge Parks would hardly have unpacked mining-tools and "fixings," as Pine called them, so composedly if he could have known what was going forward farther down the valley and on the other side of the little river.
On, on rode Two Arrows and his companion, and it almost seemed as if both were growing older. It was no sort of boy-play to ride like that, with such tremendous consequences depending upon them. Sile's merry face put on a tremendously sober and earnest expression, while Two Arrows looked as if he were already a chief in command of a war-party. So he was, only that the party was a very small one.
Mile after mile went by, and the horses held out capitally; but at last Two Arrows slackened his gait, seemed to make a silent calculation, and halted.
"Pale-face camp there," he said, emphatically, pointing across towards the mountain range at their left. "Red-head cross water. Tell his people. Two Arrows ride. Tell Nez Perce. Red-head go straight, find camp. Ugh!"
"I can find it," said Sile. "I was thinking we'd gone up river about far enough. We must have got away ahead of the Apaches. Hope I sha'n't meet any."
"Shoot quick," said Two Arrows. "Kill. Take 'calp. Be great brave. Two Arrows kill grisly. Kill 'Pache some day. How!"
He held out his hand, and Sile shook it hard in token of good-bye, and the two boys separated, each to carry his own tidings and face his own dangers. Two Arrows rode on in a straight line up the valley, and Sile wheeled towards the line of forest which bordered the river. It struck him that he was yet a little below the precise neighborhood of the mine, and he was correct, but as yet it was all guess-work. At all events, he was sure that his remaining ride could not be a long one; it could not fail to be intensely exciting. Again he saw plenty of game, and he was strangely tempted to try a shot at a deer until the idea came to him,
"I can't say what ears might hear the report of my rifle."
Deer did not seem to be of any account after that idea took form, and he galloped on. In a few minutes more his horse's feet were in the water, and he was almost immediately aware that he had not chosen a good ford. It grew deep too fast, and he had to ride out again.
"I won't go into another pool," he said to himself. "I'll hunt for a wide place where it ripples well."
He had not the experience and the quick eyes of Two Arrows, but he was learning fast, and it was easy to find a better crossing. Once over, he felt that the forest was itself a sort of protection, and there came a great thrill all over him at the thought of riding out from under it. What if the Apaches should be already there, and what if they had found the camp and destroyed it?
"They haven't done that," said Sile, "unless they managed to take it by surprise. Guess they couldn't do that in broad daylight. Our men are all old hands, and Yellow Pine keeps his eyes about him. I'll get in a good while before dark—that is, if I make out to get in. I wish there was good cover all the way."
He drew rein for a moment under the last line of trees, and he looked earnestly in all directions, but even his spy-glass could not reveal to him a sign of danger. He had never seen anything more absolutely quiet and peaceful than was that stretch of open valley, with its grass and its bushes, and its clusters of grand old trees. It encouraged him a good deal to see a buck and two does feeding within a quarter of a mile of him, and he at once rode watchfully onward. His horse was beginning to show signs of hard riding, and he noted it regretfully. There might yet be a race to run, for all he knew.
There was to be something very different from a race, and the notice of it came to him very suddenly. Just as he rode out through a patch of willows in a long hollow, walking his horse because of their being in his way a little, his heart seemed to stop beating and stand still. Then it beat again, and like a trip-hammer, for a moment. The bridle fell from his hand, and he made ready his rifle as if by an instinctive movement.
Right before him and hardly a hundred yards away, on the rising ground, sat an Indian brave, in his war-paint, upon a very fine looking horse, and Sile was sure at a glance that he could not be one of his Nez Perce friends. They had no such horses as that among all that he and Two Arrows had found for them. The warrior was looking in the opposite direction at the instant, but he was also wheeling his horse, and in a second or so more he caught sight of Sile. He had a lance, but it was slung behind him, and in his hands was as good a repeating-rifle as Sile's own, and he raised it like a flash.
It was as if he lifted two, for Sile's rifle also came up with precisely the same quick, ready-handed motion.
It was an awful moment for Sile. He had never before done as much real thinking in one hour as he did between his first glimpse of that redskin and the rising of the dark, threatening line of that rifle-barrel.
He had thought of the men at the mine, and of their need of warning, and therefore of the necessity that he should protect himself and get to them alive. He had thought of his father and his mother, and of some other people, and he had also thought what a dreadful thing it was to shoot straight at a man, and perhaps to kill him. He had just said to himself,
"I might just kill his horse, and then I could get away from him."
At that very instant the two rifles came to a level, whether he would or not. He felt no symptoms of "buck ague" this time, for every nerve and muscle of his body was stiffening, while his tired horse stood as still as a stone. That was where he had a priceless advantage. The spirited animal ridden by his enemy was a trifle restive for some reason, and caused a shade of delay that was just enough to give Sile his only remaining chance.
"If I hit his horse in the head," he was thinking as he pulled the trigger: but that would have been close shooting at a hundred yards, and just beyond the head of the horse was the naked breast of the warrior.
There were two reports close together, and Sile felt something prick him sharply on the left arm near the shoulder. At the same moment he saw the red man reel to and fro upon his horse, and then pitch off head foremost into the grass.
"Oh, dear me, I've shot him!" he exclaimed, and his first impulse was to ride away as fast as he could.
Then came a suggestion that the brave might be only wounded, and that it was his duty to go and see if he could do anything for him. With that, too, there came a great gush of curiosity and a fierce and feverish sense of triumph. He had fought a duel on horseback with an Indian warrior, with rifles, and there were no other white boys who could say that they had done that. He sat still upon his horse for a moment, and his breath came and went very quickly, and then he somewhat cautiously rode forward. The Indian's horse had bounded away for a little distance when his master fell, but was now standing and looking at him, as if in doubt as to what he ought to do next. Not another human being of any kind was to be seen, but Sile looked around him anxiously enough to make sure that he was alone. Not one sound disturbed the peaceful silence of the valley after those two rifles had spoken.
All irresolution passed out of Sile's mind as he rode forward, for he felt that he had behaved rightly, and had done nothing for which he could blame himself. He watched the fallen man narrowly as he drew near him, but there was no motion or any other sign of life.
"I must have killed him outright!" He sprang from his horse and bent over the prostrate form, but he did not have to look more than once. "That hole—that's where the bullet went in. It must have gone right through his heart. Well, he would have killed me if I had not killed him. I would not have hurt him if I could have helped it."
It seemed to Sile a matter of course that he should pick up the red warrior's rifle, unbuckle and take off the bead-worked belt that carried his knife and revolver, take his lance, catch his horse, and then ride onward, carrying with him all as "spoils of war." He did it coolly and steadily but rapidly, and without any idea how very fast he was growing. He was learning lessons in a great school, but any wise old man could have told him that no two boys learn the same lessons anywhere. A good deal more depends upon the boy himself than upon the school or the teacher.
That tall, brawny Apache warrior had been a distinguished brave, and he had been sent upon a scouting trip away in advance of the rest merely as a customary precaution. There had been no expectation that he would discover anything remarkable. In meeting a solitary pale-face, he had undertaken to kill him very much as a matter of course, for he was just then at war with all white men. Sile had made the better shot of the two, and that was about all that could be said. As for Sile, he was in a greater hurry than ever to get to the mine, and again and again he wondered whether Two Arrows had met any Apaches.
"I do hope he hasn't," he said to himself, "with only a bow and arrows. I wish he had a rifle."
A MIDNIGHT MARCH
When Two Arrows parted from Sile he was well aware that the errand of the Red-head had more real peril in it than his own, and he would not have had him armed with only a bow and arrows; but oh how he did long for a repeating-rifle for his own use! He had been hungry enough for one before; but now that there was a promise of war it seemed to him that the only thing in the world worth the having, except a horse, was one of the white man's terrible weapons. With such as he now had he had killed wild animals and won for himself a name and fame, but in spite of that he almost despised them. What could he do now, for instance, against an Apache well armed, as all that warlike tribe were said to be?
He also had a prejudiced idea that if Sile were to meet one of them he would be in a manner helpless—a mere ignorant, green, untaught, unready, white boy, not the son of a Nez Perce chief, nor skilled in the wiles and ways of Western warfare. As for himself, he felt quite confident that all he needed wherewith to meet and overcome anything or anybody was just such a perfect "repeater" as Sile carried. He somehow overlooked the fact that he had never practised much with one, while Sile belonged to the race that made them. He had been used to a bow and arrows from the time he had learned to ride, and almost from the time he had learned to walk; so that, after all, they might be his safest weapon.
He rode on steadily for a few miles, and then he crossed the stream and proceeded under cover of the trees. It was time to travel more slowly, for his pony had no gallop left in him. The approach to the camp even was made with some caution, but there was no need of any.
The sun was going down, and the fires were blazing brightly. The hunters had done well that day, and there were preparations for much eating. Two Arrows knew at a glance that all things were working prosperously, and that his people had no suspicion of any danger near them. The vast importance of his errand filled him very full, and he halted under the shadow of the trees.
Warriors were stalking around here and there, or were lazily stretched upon the ground. Squaws were busily dressing skins, or cooking or chattering with one another, and children were hungrily watching the cookery and wishing that their turns to be fed might come pretty soon. Old One-eye was at work upon a well-covered bone before going out for his usual night-watch and patrol, but he was suddenly called upon to drop it and to raise his head for a howl.
Out of the growing darkness in the edge of the woods there came a quick series of sharp, threatening, warning whoops, uttered in a shrill and youthful voice that the dog knew perfectly. So did others, for Long Bear sprang to his feet, exclaiming,
"Ugh! Two Arrows!" and answered him with a whoop of such volume and meaning that every brave and boy who heard it understood it as a command, and ran for his weapons first, and then to the corral to see about his pony.
Two Arrows dismounted and led his over-ridden pony into camp. Long Bear stood silently and dignifiedly in front of his lodge waiting for him, and the older warriors were gathering fast to hear the news. They knew very well that no Indian boy would have dared to give such a signal as that without good reason, and their faces were clouding seriously.
"Two Arrows speak quick," said his father. "All hear him."
The young scout felt deeply the pride of his position. He pointed towards the lower valley with all the dignity he could muster, and uttered only the words,
There was a dismal chorus of "Ugh!" from all who heard him, but there was not one war-whoop. He was at once called upon for a minute and careful account of the whole affair, including the locality and condition of Judge Parks and his party of miners. He made his report with a fullness and keenness of observation that stirred up the old chief's family pride amazingly.
"Young chief," he remarked. "Do something more every time."
It looked very much like it, and his return as an intelligent and successful scout added largely to all his other claims to distinction. Not another boy in the band had ever announced anything so very bad and so important.
That was no time for anybody to spend a thought upon the fame of Two Arrows, however. All the old men said, one after another, that they wished they knew just how many Apaches there were in that war-party. Had they known how very strong it was, they might have been even worse puzzled, but Long Bear was really a clear-headed leader, and he decided the whole matter promptly and finally. He told his gathering braves that the place where they were was a bad one to fight in, while their pale-face friends had selected a peculiarly good one. They themselves had but twenty-three warriors armed with rifles, and nearly as many more young men and well-grown boys armed with bows and arrows. That was no force with which to meet Apaches, nobody knew how many, and all sure to be riflemen. To go back through the pass was to die of sure starvation, even if they were not followed and slaughtered among the rocks. The Apaches were plainly making for that very pass, he said; and he was only a keen-eyed chief and not at all a prophet when he read the matter correctly and said,
"'Pache run away from blue-coats. All in a hurry. Not stop. Nez Perce hide and let them go by. Not fight. Keep pony. Keep hair. Good. Ugh!"
The party which had been sent back after the lodges and things was a serious anxiety, and a light-footed youngster was started off at once to warn them. He would be sure to meet them on their way, returning, and could tell them to be on their guard, and very little more could be done for them.
Long Bear finished his speech of explanation, and then, without a moment's pause, he gave the order to break up camp and prepare to march, carrying with them every pound of provisions. Not one moment was to be lost in gaining such protection as might be had from the good position of the miners, and from the fact that they were pale-faces of some importance, and from the other great fact that they were all good riflemen. There was hardly anybody in the band, old enough to understand what an Apache was, who did not fully appreciate the force of the chief's argument, and every squaw did her best to hasten the departure. Lodges came down, ponies were packed, children were gathered, warriors and braves and boys completed their preparations for fighting; the Big Tongue declared his readiness to kill a large number of Apaches, and One-eye was compelled to abandon forever all the bones he had buried since the people he barked for had settled upon the bank of that river.
There was a good deal of quiet and sober efficiency in spite of the excitement. Two Arrows had further questions to answer from quite a number of his elders. He was furnished with one of the best ponies in the drove in acknowledgment of his services. He was now, also, to figure as a kind of guide, and he did not once think of or mention the fatigue of his long, hard ride. He very willingly ate, however, the whole of a buffalo steak, broiled for him by one of the squaws, and felt a good deal better afterwards. He almost felt that he had earned a rifle, or at least a pistol, but well knew that it was all in vain to ask for one, when the supply was insufficient to arm all the braves who were a full head taller than himself.
Still, it was a magnificent thing, at last, to ride out at the head of the cavalcade, by the side of a tall warrior, as the one boy of all that band who was on first-rate terms with the pale-faces and knew perfectly the trail leading to them. As for that, any red man of them all could have followed the tracks of the wagon-wheels, even at night, but Two Arrows had no idea of surrendering that part of his growing importance. It would have done Na-tee-kah's proud heart good to have seen him in particular, and it would have been well worth the while of almost anybody else to have had a good look at the whole affair, as the motley array poured out into the moonlight from under the shadowy cover of the primeval forest.
There were no sleepy ones except the pappooses, and they could sleep under the tightly-drawn blankets upon the backs of their mothers as well as anywhere else. All the rest were more or less hardened to the quick changes and migrations of the kind of life into which they had been born. They were not likely to be injured by being kept up pretty late for one night, and there was no need that anybody should walk, now that their four-footed wealth had returned.
Two Arrows thought of that, and he could hardly help reminding some of his friends of his share in so good a thing. He received a reply from one gray-headed warrior which sounded very much like a snub:
"Ugh! Two Arrows. Red-head. Boys find pony first. Pony there. Brave find next day. Boy talk too much. Kill 'Pache like warrior. Then talk a heap. Show scalp. Whoop. Ugh!"
As for war and that sort of thing, there was no need for anybody to stir the ambition of Two Arrows up to a greater heat. He was ready enough now to do the wildest and rashest things he could think of. He felt as if he were out upon his first war-path, and that there must be somewhere a great heap of glory preparing for him.
The Nez Perce camp had been broken up with great celerity, and no time had been lost, but after all the summons to move had come upon them most unexpectedly. There had been a great deal to do and but a dim light to do it by, and so it was pretty late before the picturesque caravan was in motion. It took a line of march towards the mountains until its head struck the well-marked tracks of the loaded wagons, and from that point forward its course required little guiding. By a stern command from Long Bear the utmost silence was maintained, and, after the moon went down, the movement might fairly be said to have been performed in secret. There was no danger that any small squad of Apache scouts would assail so strong a party. Even the squaws and children felt pretty safe, but it was very hard upon the Big Tongue, for that great brave soon found himself in an advanced party, commanded by Long Bear himself, and after that he was under an absolute necessity of not saying anything.
PREPARING FOR AN ATTACK
A good while before Two Arrows reached the camp of his people Judge Parks and Yellow Pine discovered that they had done about as much as they could at the mouth of what was yet to be the mine until they should have men to help them. The judge handed to Na-tee-kah another book of pictures to wonder over, and then he and Pine went upon a tour of inspection. They found the choppers busy with beetles and wedges upon the lengths of easily-cloven pine, and the heap of long, wide slabs or shingles for the roof was growing rapidly.
"We can make it weather-tight with moss-packing," said Pine, "and if we can't have sash and glass we can make good solid doors and shutters."
"There will be storms," said the judge.
"Yes, but the winters are never hard down here. Even if we got snowed in it wouldn't stay long, and the supply-train'll get here before the end of next month. Can't lose its way."
"I should say not. But now just look at that wall."
It was worth looking at, if only for the way in which it was rising. The mud and stones went into place with a perfect rush. At that rate there would quickly be a finished house there, such as it was to be. All was well and solidly laid, too, and the inner face was smooth enough. That was more than could be said for the outside, and Pine remarked,
"Reckon nobody'll care to rub himself very hard against the side of that shelter when it's done."
From the house they both strolled away for a look at the animals, and then on down to the mouth of the notch. They were noting with care the several peculiarities of the rocky elevations to the right and left, when the judge felt his arm gripped very hard, and Yellow Pine exclaimed,
"Look there, jedge! Something's happened to the young redskin."
Judge Parks carried a spy-glass as good as Sile's and it was up instantly. "That's Sile, but the horse he's leading isn't a pony. Look, Pine."
"I'd call it—How close this thing does bring 'em. I could count his buttons. He's carrying two rifles and a lance. Something mighty queer has turned up, jedge, but you can see that Sile's all right. What can have become of Two Arrows? I hope he hasn't been wiped out. He was the likeliest kind of a young chap."
"We'll know when he gets here."
Waiting was about all they could do, but they grew more and more impatient until Sile came within hail. After that the questions and answers chased each other back and forth until the entire account of Sile's hunt and its ending was perfectly understood.
Sile saw his father shudder and turn pale, and then flush fiery red, while he described his encounter with the Apache. He had dismounted before he got to that, and the next thing he felt was a pair of arms around him, and he heard Yellow Pine exclaim,
"I could a'most hug the young rooster myself. It was jest the gamest kind of thing to do. I say, Sile, he barked ye on yer left arm. I'd call it, now, if that there wasn't close work. Take yer jacket off."
Sile had hardly paid any attention to that matter, although his arm had felt a little stiff, and there was really not much of a hurt. In another instant his father was saying so, but he said it with a peculiar look upon his face. The Indian's bullet had been a "Minie-ball," of course, and, as it grazed his arm, one of its ragged edges had torn through the cloth and touched the flesh only just enough to break the skin and draw a little blood. Sile could fairly say he was "wounded," and no more, and Yellow Pine remarked,
"Reckon we won't send ye to the hospital for that; but I'm all-fired glad it didn't go any nigher. It's jest on a line to where it would ha' knocked yer arm off, if it had struck onto the bone. It's the narrerest kind of an escape."
Judge Parks had nothing more to say, for some reason, and seemed willing that Sile should go right on with further particulars of the day.
"Two Arrows is right," said Pine. "He'd know a war-party, sure. It's war with us, anyhow, and there isn't but one thing to be done. The men must knock off from the house, and come right down and block this 'ere opening with logs and rocks. We can make the best kind of a rifle-pit. Only leave room for one man, or for one hoss at a time, to get in or out."
"That's it," said the judge. "Now, Sile, come along. You must let the men see what you've been up to. They'll know exactly what it means."
Sile had a curious sense of bashfulness about it, but he followed his father, and in a few minutes more the rough, bearded, red-shirted fellows were giving him three of the most ringing cheers he had ever heard. Ha-ha-pah-no and Na-tee-kah looked at him with something that was half wonder. They could not have believed it, but for the horse and the lance, and the rifle and the belt. Here was the Red-head, a mere pale-face boy, bringing in trophies of which a great warrior might have been proud. Na-tee-kah had a sort of notion that Two Arrows must have done it somehow, until well assured that her brother had not been present, and that the Red-head had not taken the scalp of the slain Apache. She had heard that the pale-face warriors sometimes neglected that duty, but could not well understand why, even when Ha-ha-pah-no explained to her that it was "bad medicine" for a white man to scalp anybody.
The situation called for something more than cheers, however, and the miners hurried to the mouth of the notch. To pack it breast-high with fragments of wood and stone was no great matter, and the breastwork was finished in time for a late supper.
"Tell ye what, jedge," remarked one of the men, "if I was a redskin I wouldn't be in a hurry to ride up to that there bar, with a half a dozen rifles peepin' over it. Reckon it'd take the cleanest kind of grit. A feller could stand behind it and pepper away, and be a'most safe agin anything short of cannon."
The wagons and other things were left as they were, and the entire notch was a perfectly safe corral for the animals. All the human beings moved their bivouac down towards the barrier they had made, leaving the fires behind them.
"They're all right, there," said Pine, "and we needn't kindle any down hereaway to tell jest where we are."
There was sense in that, and one sentry was as good as a dozen to keep watch at the narrow entrance left, for even that was securely closed until there should be a good reason for opening it.
Sile found himself the hero of the camp, and that the scratch upon his arm excused him from guard duty. At first he was well pleased to lie down and go to sleep, after the severe fatigue and excitement of his great ride. Never before had he raced it after such a fashion, and every bone and muscle felt the effects of the long strain. He saw, too, that everybody else was taking the matter with perfect coolness. All those miners had been in tight places more than once, and they had great faith in the prudence of redskins about charging upon white riflemen hidden behind rocks. Sile ate a hearty supper. In fact, he was compelled at last to be very positive with Ha-ha-pah-no. She would have gone right on cooking for him until morning if he had let her, and so would Na-tee-kah. They were positively proud of the privilege of bringing him his coffee. He was assured that the horse and weapons of the Apache warrior were his own personal property, and he examined them again and again with a sense of ownership that he had never felt for anything else. He could not tell why, until Jonas remarked to him,
"If you hadn't pulled straight, your plunder'd be in the 'Pache camp 'bout now, scalp and all. It was jest a question of grit and shootin'. I'm powerful glad you made out to throw yer lead to the right spot."
So was Sile, but it was not easy, somehow, for him to make up his mind that he had really killed anybody. He found a queer idea in his mind several times that before long that Apache warrior would wake up and wonder what had become of his horse and his weapons. Not long after supper he curled up in his blanket at the foot of a tree, and in a few minutes he was soundly asleep. He did not hear his father say to Yellow Pine, as the two bent over him,
"My brave boy!"
Nor did he hear Pine grumble,
"If he hasn't earned a good snooze, then nobody has. Tell ye what, jedge, that feller'll be guv'ner of a State one of these days. I'd vote for him. I'd like to have seen him 'changing shots with that there redskin."
They moved away, and the judge remarked,
"We are safe enough for to-night, but they'll find us to-morrow."
"Maybe, maybe not. I can't quite make it out as to what could bring 'em away up here. Two Arrows told Sile they was a war-party, and if that's so, they must have been licked somewhere. They'd never have cut it for these ranges without somebody was after 'em."
"Perhaps so. We'll see. Anyhow, we can keep a sharp lookout."
There was no danger that any sentry would sleep on his post that night, but all the first part and the middle of it went by as peacefully as if the valley were uninhabited.
Sile slept and slept, and when at last he opened his eyes, he could not have told why he did so. The stars were shining. The night air was crisp and chilly, but he was warm under his blanket. It took him almost a minute to gather his thoughts and understand where he really was. That was partly because he had been sleeping heavily, and partly because, at the very last, he had dreamed of being at home, and of leading a remarkable horse into the sitting-room to show it to his mother.
It was a strange place to wake up in, and he could dimly see the forms of other men, rolled in blankets, lying near, each with a rifle lying by him ready for prompt use.
"They won't be taken by surprise," said Sile to himself. "I'm going down for a look at the barrier. I've lain still long enough."
He felt a little stiff when he first rose to his feet, but it passed away when he stretched himself and began to walk. His left arm pained him more than he had expected, and he found it slightly swollen. It was not precisely like the same scratch made in any other way, and he was glad that there was no more of it. Still, he hardly knew what he had that he valued more highly than that light hurt upon his arm. It had made a sort of soldier of him. It was a promotion, and he vaguely hoped that it would leave a scar. Then he half wished that the scar might come out upon his face, where it would not be forever covered up by his coat-sleeve.
"My new horse is in the corral, and I couldn't pick him out now. My lance and things are in the wagon. I'll go and have a look at the barrier. I'm feeling tip-top."
FROM BOW TO RIFLE
Leaning over the upper log of the barrier, rifle in hand, and peering out upon the starlit slope beyond him, stood the form of Jonas, the miner. Not a sound came to him from the mists and shadows of the valley, and he was just remarking, aloud,
"It's as quiet as a cornfield," when a voice at his elbow explained,
"Hist! Ha-ha-pah-no—sh-sh!" and Na-tee-kah dropped upon the ground, and pressed her little round ear against it. So, almost instantly, did Ha-ha-pah-no, and he heard Sile saying,
"Their ears are better than yours or mine if they can hear anything."
"Didn't know there was one of ye nigh me," said Jonas. "That's the way for a feller to lose his hair—looking too hard in one direction while somebody comes up behind him. No, Sile, I haven't heerd a thing."
Na-tee-kah sprang to her feet.
"Horse come. Ugh!" and she held up her hand for silence, while Ha-ha-pah-no also arose, listening intently.
"Indian ears for it," said Jonas. "'Pears to me I can hear something now myself."
"I can't, then," said another voice. It was that of a sleepy miner, who had waked up to follow Sile, just as he had been awakened by even the noiseless movements of the squaws.
"Hark!" exclaimed Jonas.
It was the sound of galloping, and then a shrill whoop.
"Two Arrows!" screamed Na-tee-kah. "'Pache get him!"
Jonas had already thrown down the logs of wood in the opening, and now he shouted,
"Rifles, boys! Ready!"
There was a great shout from the bivouac behind them, but it seemed almost no time before a pony and his rider dashed into dim view before them, followed by a larger shadow, from which came whoop after whoop.
"Take the hind one. Give it to him," shouted Jonas, as a streak of fire sprang from his own rifle-muzzle. Two other shots followed, as if there were any chance of hitting a galloping horseman in such a half darkness as that. Hit or no hit, one Apache warrior was so utterly astounded that he drew rein, all but throwing his horse upon his haunches, and the pony-rider he was pursuing wheeled sharply to the right. Half a minute later and all would have been over with Two Arrows, in all probability, but, as matters had now turned, it was his enemy who had made a blunder. He sat for several precious seconds almost motionless, although not a shot had touched him, and by so doing he put himself up for a target at very short arrow range. The next instant he was dashing wildly away into the darkness, for the horse had an arrow in his flank to spur him, and the brave himself had a similar token of the skill of Two Arrows projecting from his right thigh.
"Sile," said Jonas, "he got it. You can tell that by the yell he gave."
"Come on in," shouted Sile. "There may be more of 'em. We're all up and ready for 'em."
It looked like it, as man after man came hurrying forward, but Two Arrows quieted them on that head. He had been sent forward by Long Bear to announce the coming of the Nez Perces, and he had encountered the Apache less than half a mile from the notch. It had been a close race, although he had a fresh pony and a good start. Any hurt to his pride on account of arriving in that precise manner, followed instead of following, was more than cured by the undoubted fact that he had sent an arrow into his pursuer.
"There wasn't really any show for bullet-work," said Jonas, "but lead'll hurt jest as bad in the dark, in case it gits there."
"All come," said Na-tee-kah. "Good. Two Arrows great brave now. Strike warrior. Fight a heap."
Judge Parks was not sorry to hear of such an addition to his little garrison, as the Nez Perce warriors could be fully depended upon to fight well for their ponies and lives. It was not a great while before the head of their cavalcade came out of the shadows, and deeper and more sonorous whoops answered that of Two Arrows.
"Big Tongue," said Ha-ha-pah-no. "Heap mouth!"
There surely was one whoop that seemed to have swallowed several others, and Jonas remarked,
"That feller could do all the loose yelling for a small tribe. Hark to him, now."
"Big Tongue great brave!" said Ha-ha-pah-no, tartly. "'Pache hear him, 'Pache go dead. Run."
In a few minutes more the Nez Perce ponies were squeezing their packs through the narrow entrance of the notch, and a succession of approving grunts from Long Bear testified the satisfaction he felt at getting into so secure a fort. He perfectly understood the value and uses of that barrier. When daylight came he again said "Ugh!" several times while he was examining the stone wall and the other evidences of the skill and zeal of his pale-face friends.
There was no more sleeping done in the notch, but there was an immense amount of very early cooking and eating, not to speak of the smoking and consultation, and the very general expression of a bad opinion of the entire Apache nation. They and their works, past, present, and to come, were condemned unsparingly. At the same time their fighting qualities were freely admitted, and with them the certainty that no Apache war-party would turn away from a bit of war so well begun as was this.
The sun arose, but almost to the astonishment of Sile, as well as the Nez Perces, the hardy miners behaved very much as if they had no war whatever on their hands.
"Them 'Paches'll come and go," said Jonas, "but we've got to have this 'ere wall finished."
At it they went, well assured that the barrier and all the land near it would be well watched, and that it was an easy thing to do to pick up a rifle if an alarm should come.
Sile felt less interest in the mine, somehow. The story of his exploit had been told, of course, to his Indian friends, and he could but see that it had made him an object of respectful admiration. There was not a warrior among them who would not have been proud of such a feather as that victory, but the effect upon Two Arrows was peculiar. He had regarded himself as Sile's superior in all things which did not belong especially to a young pale-face. It had not occurred to him that Sile was or ever could become a "great brave." Some of the "blue-coats" were, he knew, but Sile was not a blue-coat. He had heard stories of the prowess of other pale-faces, but Sile was a mere boy, and dreadfully green to the ways of the plains and mountains. He could not think of one boy of his band who really knew less of the things most important to be known, except rifle-shooting. His pride was touched in a tender spot, for although he was sure he had sent an arrow into an Apache, he had nothing to show for it. Na-tee-kah was enormously proud of that arrow, and Ha-ha-pah-no was compelled to remind her that her hero brother had brought in neither scalp nor horse, and had saved his own by the timely rifle practice of Sile and the men at the gap. For all that, Na-tee-kah had a vivid persuasion that, if the pale-faces had not interfered and driven away the Apache, there would have been more glory earned by the young chief of the Nez Perces. She could not be dissatisfied with Sile, however. After a brief consultation with his father, the Red-head went to the wagon and brought out the rifle he had won and with it a box of cartridges. It was a capital weapon, in good condition, and Sile showed it to Two Arrows with a great glow on his face and with a sense of standing up uncommonly straight. Several braves gathered to look at it and to declare it "heap good gun."
Two Arrows held it for a moment, with a look which did not need any interpreter. It was intensely wistful, and had a quick flash of keen jealousy in it. What was there that he could not do with such a splendid tool of destruction as that, instead of his lance and bow? He was nothing but a poor red youngster, after all, compelled to wait, he could not guess how long, before he could hope to be armed as a complete brave. He held out the rifle to Sile dejectedly, but then something like a shiver went all over him, for Sile only pushed it back, saying,