“Does Gian-nah-tah come to the hogan of Shoz-Dijiji as friend or enemy?” he asked.
“Listen, Shoz-Dijiji, and you will know,” replied Gian-nah- tah. “Yesterday my heart was bad. Perhaps the fire-water of the white-eyed man made it so, but it is not of that that Gian-nah-tah has come to speak with Shoz-Dijiji. It is of the girl, Wichita.”
“Shoz-Dijiji does not wish to speak of her,” replied the war chief.
“But he will listen while Gian-nah-tah speaks,” said the other, peremptorily. “The white-eyed skunk that sells poisoned water has ridden with four of his braves to capture the white-eyed girl that Shoz-Dijiji loves,” continued Gian-nah-tah. “They follow her to Pimos Canyon, and there they will keep her in the hogan that the white fool with the strange clothing built there six summers ago. Shoz-Dijiji knows the place?”
The Black Bear did not reply. Instead he seized the cartridge belt to which his six-shooter hung and buckled it about his slim hips, took his rifle, his hackamore, ran quickly out in search of his hobbled pony.
Gian-nah-tah hastened to his own hogan for weapons. Warriors, eating their breakfasts, noted the haste of the two and questioned them. Nervous, restless, apprehensive of the results that might follow Geronimo’s departure from the reservation, smarting under the injustice of the white-eyed men in taking their herds from them, many of the braves welcomed any diversion, especially one that might offer an outlet to their pent wrath against the enemy; and so it was that by the time Shoz-Dijiji had found and bridled Nejeunee he discovered that instead of riding alone to the rescue of the white girl he was one of a dozen savage warriors.
Wrapped in blankets they rode slowly, decorously, until they had passed beyond the ken of captious white eyes, six-shooters and rifles hidden beneath the folds of their blankets; then the blankets fell away, folded lengthways across the withers of their ponies, and a dozen warriors, naked but for G strings, quirted their ponies into swinging lope.
Knowing that the troops were out, the Indians followed no beaten road but rode south across the Gila and then turned southeast through the hills toward Pimos Canyon.
“Dirty” Cheetim, with a lead rope on Wichita’s horse, rode beside the girl.
“Thought you was too high-toned for ‘Dirty’ Cheetim, eh?” he sneered. “You was too damn good to be Mrs. Cheetim, eh? Well, you ain’t a-goin’ to be Mrs. Cheetim. You’re just a- goin’ to be one o’ ‘Dirty’ Cheetim’s girls down at the Hog Ranch. Nobody don’t marry them.”
Wichita Billings made no reply. She rode in silence, her eyes straight to the front Hicks, the young puncher who had roped the girl’s horse, rode a few paces to the rear. In his drink muddled brain doubts were forming as to the propriety of the venture into which Cheetim had led him. Perhaps he was more fool than knave; perhaps, sober, he might have balked at the undertaking. After all he was but half conscious of vaguely annoying questionings that might eventually have crystallized into regrets had time sufficed, but it did not.
They were winding up Pimos Canyon toward the deserted shack. “Your old man kicked me out,” Cheetim was saying to the girl. “I reckon you’re thinking that he’ll get me for this, but he won’t. After you bin to the Ranch a spell you won’t be advertising to your old man, nor nobody else, where you be. They’s other girls there as good as you be, an’ they ain’t none of ’em sendin’ out invites to their folks to come an’ see ’em. You—Hell! Look! Injuns!”
Over the western rim of Pimos Canyon a dozen yelling Apaches were charging down the steep hillside.
“Geronimo!” screamed Cheetim and, dropping the lead rope, wheeled about and bolted down the canyon as fast as spur and quirt and horse flesh could carry him.
The four remaining men opened fire on the Apaches, and in the first exchange of shots two had their horses shot from under them. Hicks’ horse, grazed by a bullet, became unmanageable and started off down the canyon after Cheetim’s animal, pitching and squealing, while a third man, realizing the futility of resistance and unhampered by sentiments of chivalry, put spur and followed.
One of the dismounted men ran to the side of Wichita’s horse, seized her arm and dragged her from the saddle before she realized the thing that was in his mind; then, vaulting to the horse’s back, he started after his fellows while the girl ran to the shelter of a bowlder behind which the sole remaining white man had taken up a position from which he might momentarily, at least, wage a hopeless defense against the enemy.
Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah, racing toward the girl, saw her dragged from her horse, saw her take refuge behind the bowlder, and the latter, knowing that the girl was safe, raced after the white man who had stolen her horse and left her, as he thought, to the merciless attentions of a savage enemy.
Shoz-Dijiji, calling his warriors together, circled away from the bowlder behind which the two were crouching. The white man looked from behind the bowlder. Slowly he raised his rifle to take aim. The girl raised her eyes above the level of the bowlder’s top. She saw the Apache warriors gathered a hundred yards away, she saw the rifle of the white man leveled upon them, and then she recognized Shoz- Dijiji.
“Don’t shoot!” she cried to her companion. “Wait!”
“Wait, hell!” scoffed the man. “We ain’t got no more chanct than a snowball in Hell. Why should I wait?”
“One of those Indians is friendly,” replied the girl. “I don’t think he’ll hurt us or let the others hurt us when he knows I’m here.”
Gian-nah-tah, riding fast, had pulled alongside his quarry. With clubbed rifle he knocked the white man from the saddle and in a dozen more strides had seized the bridle rein of the riderless horse.
The man behind the bowlder drew a fine sight on the buck who appeared to be the leader of the renegades. It was Shoz-Dijiji. Wichita Billings snatched the white man’s six- shooter from its holster and shoved the muzzle against his side.
“Drop that gun!” she cautioned; “or I’ll bore you.”
The man lowered his rifle to the accompaniment of lurid profanity.
“Shut up,” admonished Wichita, “and look there!”
Shoz-Dijiji had tied a white rag to the muzzle of his rifle and was waving it to and fro above his head. Wichita stood up and waved a hand above her head. “Stand up!” she commanded, addressing the white man behind the bowlder. The fellow did as he was bid and, again at her command, accompanied her as she advanced to meet Shoz-Dijiji, who was walking toward them alone. As they met, the Black Bear seized the white man’s rifle and wrenched it from his grasp. “Now I kill him,” he announced.
“No! Oh, no!” cried Wichita, stepping between them.
“Why not?” demanded Shoz-Dijiji. “He steal you, eh?”
“Yes, but you mustn’t kill him,” replied the girl. “He came forward under the protection of your white flag.”
“White flag for you—not for dirty coyote,” the Black Bear assured her. “I give him his rifle, then. Him go back. Then I get him.”
“No, Shoz-Dijiji, you must let him go: He doesn’t deserve it, I’ll admit; but it would only bring trouble to you and your people. The troops are already out after Geronimo. If there is a killing here there is no telling what it will lead to.”
“No sabe white-eyed men,” said Shoz-Dijiji disgustedly. “Kill good Indian, yes; kill bad white-eye, no.” He shrugged. “Well, you say no kill, no kill.” He turned to the white man. “Get out, pronto! You sabe? Get out San Carlos. Shoz-Dijiji see you San Carlos again, kill. Get!”
“Gimme my rifle and six-gun,” growled the white, sullenly.
Shoz-Dijiji laid his hand on Wichita’s arm as she was about to return the man’s six-shooter. “Shut up, and hit the trail, white man,” he snapped.
The other hesitated a moment, as though about to speak, looked into the savage face of the Apache, and then started down Pimos Canyon toward the main trail just as Gian-nah-tah rode up leading the girl’s horse.
“Gian-nah-tah,”said the Black Bear, “Shoz-Dijiji, the Be-don-ko-he Apache, rides with the white-eyed girl to the hogan of her father to see that she is not harmed by white-eyed men upon the way.” There was the trace of a smile in the eyes of the Indian as he spoke. “Perhaps,” he continued, “Gian-nah-tah will ride to the camp of my father and tell him that Nan-tan-des-la-par-en has sent troops toward the south to bring Geronimo in, dead or alive.
“When the white-eyed girl is safe Shoz-Dijiji will join his father. Perhaps other Apache warriors will join him. Who knows, Gian-nah-tah?”
“I shall join him,” said Gian-nah-tah.
The other warriors, who had slowly drawn near, had overheard the conversation and now, without exception, each assured Shoz-Dijiji that he would join Geronimo at once or later.
As Wichita mounted her horse and looked about her at the half circle of savage warriors partially surrounding her it seemed incredible that yesterday these men were, and perhaps again tomorrow would be, the cruel, relentless devils of the Apache war-trail.
Now they were laughing among themselves and poking fun at the white man plodding down the canyon and at the other whom Gian-nah-tah had knocked from Wichita’s horse and who was already regaining consciousness and looking about him in a dazed and foolish manner.
It seemed incredible that she should be safe among them when she had been in such danger but a moment before among men of her own race. Many of them smiled pleasantly at her as she tried to thank them for what they had done for her; and they waved friendly hands in adieu as they rode off with Gian-nah-tah toward the north, leaving her alone with Shoz-Dijiji.
“How can I ever thank you, Shoz-Dijiji?” she said. “You are the most wonderful friend that a girl could have.”
The war chief of the Be-don-ko-he looked her straight in the eyes and grunted.
“Me no sabe,” he said, and wheeled his pinto down toward the main trail, beckoning her to follow.
Wichita Billings looked at the man at her side in astonishment. She opened her lips to speak, again but thought better of it and remained silent. They passed the two habitues of the Hog Ranch trudging disgustedly through the dust. The Apache did not even deign to look at them. They came to the main trail, and here Shoz-Dijiji turned southeast in the direction of the Billings ranch. San Carlos lay to the horthwest. Wichita drew rein.
“You may go back to the reservation,” she said. “I shall be safe now the rest of the way home.”
Shoz-Dijiji looked at her. “Come!” he said, and rode on toward the southeast.
Wichita did not move. “I shall not let you ride with me,” she said. “I appreciate what you have done for me, but I cannot permit myself to be put under further obligations to you.”
“Come!” said Shoz-Dijiji, peremptorily. Wichita felt a slow flush mounting her cheek, and it embarrassed and angered her.
“I’ll sit here forever,” she said, “before I’ll let you ride home with me.”
Shoz-Dijiji reined Nejeunee about and rode back to her side. He took hold of her bridle rein and started leading her horse in the direction he wished it to go.
For an instant Wichita Billings was furious. Very seldom in her life had she been crossed. Being an only child in a motherless home she had had her own way more often than not. People had a habit of doing the things that Wichita Billings wanted done. In a way she was spoiled and, too, she had a bit of a temper. Shoz-Dijiji had humiliated her and now he was attempting to coerce her. Her eyes flashed fire as she swung her heavy quirt above her head and brought it down across the man’s naked shoulders.
“Let go of my bridle, you —” but there she stopped, horrified at what she had done. “Oh, Shoz-Dijiji! How could I?” she cried, and burst into tears.
The Apache gave no sign that he had felt the stinging blow, but the ugly welt that rose across his back testified to the force with which the lash had fallen.
As though realizing that she had capitulated the Apache dropped her bridle rein; and Wichita rode on docilely at his side, dabbing at her eyes and nose with her handkerchief and struggling to smother an occasional sob.
Thus in silence they rode as mile after mile of the dusty trail unrolled behind them. Often the girl glanced at the rugged, granitic profile of the savage warrior at her side and wondered what was passing through the brain behind that inscrutable mask. Sometimes she looked at the welt across his shoulders and caught her breath to stifle a new sob.
They were approaching the Billings ranch now. In a few minutes Wichita would be home. She knew what Shoz-Dijiji would do. He would turn and ride away without a word.
Battling with her pride, which was doubly strong because it was composed of both the pride of the white and the pride of the woman, she gave in at last and spoke to him again.
“Can you forgive me, Shoz-Dijiji?” she asked. “It was my ugly temper that did it, not my heart.”
“You only think that,” he said, presently. “The thing that is deep down in your heart, deep in the heart of every white, came out when you lost control of yourself through anger. If Shoz-Dijiji had been white you would not have struck him!”
“Oh, Shoz-Dijiji, how can you say such a thing?” she cried. “There is no white man in the world that I respect more than I do you.”
“That is a lie,” said the Apache, quite simply. “It is not possible for a white-eyes to respect an Apache. Sometimes they think they do, perhaps, but let something happen to make them lose their tempers and the truth rises sure and straight, like a smoke signal after a storm.”
“I do not lie to you—you should not say such a thing to me,” the girl reproached.
“You lie to yourself, not to me; for you only try to deceive yourself. In that, perhaps, you succeed; but you do not deceive me. Shoz-Dijiji knows—you tell him yourself, though you do not mean to. Shoz-Dijiji will finish the words you started when you struck him with your quirt, and then you will understand what Shoz-Dijiji understands: ‘Let go of my bridle, you —, dirty Si-wash!”
Wichita gasped. “Oh, I didn’t say that!” she cried.
“It was in your heart. The Apache knows.” There was no rancor in his voice.
“Oh, Shoz-Dijiji, I couldn’t say that to you—I couldn’t mean it. Can’t you see that I couldn’t?”
They had reached the ranch gate and stopped. “Listen,” said the Apache. “Shoz-Dijiji saw the look in the white girl’s eyes when he kissed her. Shoz-Dijiji has seen that look in the eyes of white women when a snake touched them. Shoz-Dijiji understands!”
“You do not understand!” cried the girl. “God! you do not understand anything.”
“Shoz-Dijiji understands that white girl is for white man—Apache for Apache.If not, you would not have looked that way when Shoz-Dijiji took you in his arms. Cheetim wanted you. He is a white man.” There was a trace of bitterness in his tone. “Why did not you go with him? He is no Apache to bring the snake-look to your eyes.”
The girl was about to reply when they were interrupted by the sound of a gruff voice and looking up saw Billings striding angrily toward them.
“Get in here, Chita!” he ordered, roughly, and then turned to Shoz-Dijiji. “What the hell do you want?” he demanded.
“Father!” exclaimed the girl. “This is my friend. You have no right —”
“No dirty, sneaking, murdering Siwash can hang around my ranch,” shouted Billings angrily. “Now get the hell out of here and stay out!”
Shoz-Dijiji, apparently unmoved, looked the white man in the eyes. “She my friend,” he said. “I come when I please.”
Billings’ fairly danced about in rage. “If I catch you around here again,” he spluttered, “I’ll put a bullet in you where it’ll do the most good.”
“Pindah-lickoyee,” said the Apache, “you make big talk to a war chief of the Be-don-ko-he. When Shoz-Dijiji comes again, then may-be-so you not talk so big about bullets any more,” and wheeling his little pinto stallion, about he rode away.
Attracted by the loud voice of Billings a cow-hand, loitering near the bunkhouse, had walked down to the gate, arriving just as Shoz-Dijiji left.
“Say,” he drawled, “why that there’s the Injun that give me water that time an’ tol’ me how to git here.”
“So he’s the damn skunk wot stole the ewe-neck roan!” exclaimed Billings.
“Yes,” snapped Wichita, angrily, “and he’s the ‘damn skunk’ that saved Luke’s life that time. He’s the ‘damn skunk’ that kept ‘Dirty’ Cheetim from gettin’ me three years ago. He’s the ‘damn skunk’ that saved me from Tats-ah-das-ay-go down at the Pringe ranch. He’s the ‘damn skunk’ that heard this mornin’ that Cheetim was after me again with a bunch of his bums and rode down to Pimos Canyon from San Carlos and took me away from them and brought me home. You ought to be damn proud o’ yourself, Dad!”
Billings looked suddenly crestfallen and Luke Jensen very much embarrassed. He had never heard the boss talked to like this before, and he wished he had stayed at the bunkhouse where he belonged.
“I’m damned sorry,” said Billings after a moment of silence. “If I see that Apache again I’ll tell him so, but ever since they got poor Mason I see red every time I drops my eyes on one of ’em. I’m shore sorry, Chita.”
“He won’t ever know it,” said the girl. “Shoz-Dijiji won’t ever come back again.”