The officers were congratulating their commander and themselves upon the nice work that had brought old Geronimo into a trap at last—a trap from which he could not conceivably escape. They were also talking about the pinto stallion that had wandered up to their picket line during the night.
“I know that pony, sir,” said Lieutenant King to the commanding officer, “and I know the Indian who owns him—he saved my life once. If it is possible, sir, I should like very much to take the pony back to Arizona with me. There is a rancher there whom I believe would be very glad to have him and take care of him.”
“Well, it’s not exactly regular, Mr. King, but perhaps the pony was stolen from this rancher—eh?” the C. O. grinned.
“Perhaps,” agreed King.
“Very well, you may return it to its owner.”
“Thank you, sir!”
“Here are the scouts,” said the C. O. “Return to your troops, and be ready to move out at once!”
Two Apaches approached the commanding officer. They wore the red head-bands of government scouts.
“Well?” demanded the officer. “Did you find Geronimo?”
“Him gone,” said one of rhe scouts.
“Gone! Where in hell has he gone?”
“Mebby so there,” he pointed to the canyon behind them.
“Hell! He couldn’t have gone there. What do you suppose we been doing here?”
“Me no sabe,” replied the Apache. “Him gone—there!”
“How do you know?”
“Me follow tracks.”
“Mebby so half hour.”
The officer turned to his chief of scouts. “Did you hear that? Slipped through our fingers again. The old devil! Get after him at once. Pick up the trail. Keep after him. We’ll follow. If you get in touch with him don’t attack. Just keep in touch with him until we come up.”
Two scouts preceded Geronimo’s little band up the canyon that would take them to the summit and over into Chihuahua. Precipitous walls hemmed them in on both sides, effectually keeping them to the bottom of the canyon. Here the going was good; but, also, it would be good going for horses and no escape for the fleeing renegades should they be overtaken. They were marching rapidly, needing no urging, for each of them knew the life and death necessity for speed.
Behind the two scouts came the women and the two boys. All the fighting men except the two scouts were in the rear. A little behind the others came Gian-nah-tah and three fellows. These would be the first to sight the enemy and give the word that would permit the main body to take a position from which they might best offer a defense. But half a mile remained of level going; then the canyon proper terminated in tumbled, terraced ledges leading upward among great boulders and tortured strata toward the summit that was their goal. Once they reached these ledges no cavalry could pursue.
The commanding officer of the pursuing —th knew this and sent one troop ahead with orders to overtake the renegades at all costs before they reached the sanctuary of those rock strewn ledges. With clanking accouterments and the clash of iron shod hoofs on rocky ground “B” Troop galloped up the canyon, close upon the heels of the Apache scouts.
Just beyond a turn the canyon narrowed, “the beetling cliffs approaching close and the rubble at their base leaving a level path scarce ten feet wide. It was at this point that Gian-nah-tah sighted the leading scout. A half mile more and the renegades would have been safe—just a few minutes and the women and the main body could all be hidden among the boulders at the top of the first terrace, where a thousand cavalrymen could not dislodge them.
Gian-nah-tah turned and fired at the first red banded scout. Beyond the scout Gian-nah-tah now saw the leading horsemen of “B” Troop rounding the turn in the canyon.
He called to one of his fellows. “Go to Geronimo,” he said. “Tell him to hurry. Gian-nah-tah can hold them off until all are among the rocks.”
He knelt upon the red blanket he had thrown off when battle seemed imminent and took careful aim. His shot brought down the horse of a cavalryman. With loud yells “B” Troop came tearing on. Those who rode in front fired as they charged. A bullet passed through Gian-nah-tah’s shoulder. The Apache fired rapidly, but he could not stem that avalanche of plunging horses and yelling men.
Another bullet passed through his chest; but still he knelt there, firing; holding the pass while his people fled to safety. The leading troopers were almost upon him. In an instant he would be ridden down! But he had not held them yet! If they passed him now they would overtake the little band before it won to safety.
He dropped his rifle and seizing the red blanket in both hands arose and waved it in the faces of the oncoming horses. They swerved—they turned, stumbling and plunging among the loose rock of the rubble heaps. Two fell and others piled upon them. For minutes—precious minutes—all was confusion; then they came on again.And again Gian-nah-tah flourished the red blanket in the faces of the horses, almost from beneath their feet. Again the frightened animals wheeled and fought to escape. Once again there was delay.
Another bullet pierced Gian-nah-tah’s body. Weak from loss of blood and from the shock of wounds he could no longer stand, kneeling, he held the pass against fifty men. A fourth bullet passed through him—through his right lung—and, coughing blood, he turned them back again. Through the yelling and the chaos of the fight the troop commander had been trying to extricate himself from the melee and call his men back. Finally he succeeded. The troop was drawn off a few yards.
“Sergeant,” said the captain, “dismount and use your carbine on that fellow. Don’t miss!”
Gian-nah-tah, kneeling, saw what they were doing. but he did not care.—He had held them. His people were safe!
The sergeant knelt and took careful aim.
“Usen has remembered his people at last,” whispered Gian-nah-tah.
The sergeant pressed his trigger; and Gian-nah-tah fell forward on his face, a bullet through his brain. When Captain Cullis led his troop through that narrow pass a moment later he saluted as he passed the dead body of a courageous enemy.
That night Geronimo camped beyond the summit, in the State of Chihuahua. Shoz-Dijiji sat in silence, his head bowed. No one mentioned the name of Gian-nah-tah. None of them had seen him die, but they knew that he was dead. He alone was missing. A girl, lying upon her blanket, sobbed quietly through the night.
In the morning the band separated into small parties and, scattering, led the pursuing troops upon many wild and fruitless chases. Geronimo, with six men and four women, started north toward the United States. Shoz-Dijiji, silent, morose, was one of the party.
Even these small bands often broke up for a day or two into other, smaller parties. Often the men hunted alone, but always there were meeting places designated ahead. Thus Geronimo and his companions ranged slowly northward through Chihuahua.
Cutting wood in the mountains near Casa Grande in Sonora had become too hazardous an occupation since Geronimo had been ranging the country; and so Luis Mariel, the son of Pedro Mariel, the woodchopper of Casa Grande, had come over into Chihuahua to look for other work.
He had never cared to be a woodchopper, but longed, as a youth will, for the picturesque and romantic life of a vaquero; and at last, here in Chihuahua, his ambition had been gratified and today, with three other vaqueros, he was helping guard a grazing herd upon the lower slopes of the Sierra Madre.
The four were youths, starting their careers with the prosaic duties of day herding and whiling away the hours with cigarettes and stories. Luis was quite a hero to the others, for he alone had participated in a real battle with Apaches. Chihuahua seemed a very dull and humdrum country after listening to the tales that Luis told of Apache raids and battles in wild Sonora. He told them of the Apache Devil and boasted that he was an old friend of the family.
Above the edge of a nearby arroyo unblinking eyes watched them. The eyes appraised the four cow ponies and sized up the grazing herd. They were stern eyes, narrowed by much exposure to the pitiless sunlight of the southwest. They were set in a band of white that crossed a blue face from temple to temple. They scrutinized Luis Mariel and recognized him, but their expression did not change.
The Apache saw before him horses that he and his friends needed; he saw food on the hoof, and Usen knew that they needed food; he saw the enemies of his people, anyone of whom would shoot him down on sight, had they the opportunity.But it was he who had the opportunity!
He levelled his rifle and fired. A vaquero cried out and fell from his saddle. The others looked about, drawing their pistols. Shoz-Dijiji fired again and another vaquero fell. Now the two remaining had located the smoke of his rifle and returned his fire.
Shoz-Dijiji dropped below the edge of the arroyo and ran quickly to a new position. When his eyes again peered above the edge of his defense he saw the two galloping toward his former position. He appreciated their bravery and realized their foolhardiness as he dropped his rifle quickly on one of them and pressed the trigger; then he quickly tied a white rag to the muzzle of his smoking rifle and waved it above the edge of the arroyo, though he was careful not to expose any more of his person than was necessary.
Luis Mariel looked in astonishment. What could it mean? A voice called him by name.
“Who are you?” demanded Luis, whose better judgment prompted him to put spurs to his horse and leave the victors in possession of the field.
“I am a friend,” replied Shoz-Dijiji. “We shall not harm you if you will throw down your pistol. If you do not we can shoot you before you can get away.”
Luis appreciated the truth of this statement. Further, he thought that his enemies must number several men; also—he did not know that he who addressed him was not a Mexican, for the Spanish was quite as good as Luis’ own. So he threw down his pistol, being assured by this time that they had been attacked by bandits who wished only to steal the herd. Perhaps they would invite him to join the band, and when was there ever a red-blooded youth who did not at some time in his career aspire to be a brigand or a pirate?
A painted face appeared above the arroyo’s edge. “Mother of God!” cried Luis, “protect me.”
The Apache sprang quickly to level ground and came toward the youth.
“The Apache Devil!” exclaimed Luis.
“Yes,” said Shoz-Dijiji, stooping and picking up Luis’ pistol. “I shall not harm you, if you will do as I tell you.”
“Won’t the others kill me?” asked the youth.
“There are no others,” replied Shoz-Dijiji.
“But you said ‘we,’” explained Luis.
“I am alone.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Round up those three horses and then help me drive this herd to my camp.”
“You will not harm me, nor let your friends harm me?”
“Have I harmed you or your father in the past?”
“Do as I tell you then,” said Shoz-Dijiji, “and you will not be killed.”
Luis rode after the three horses which were now grazing with the herd that had been but momentarily disturbed by the shots. When he returned with them the two men, each leading one of the riderless animals, started the cattle slowly toward the north in the direction of the next meeting place of Geronimo’s party after Shoz-Dijiji had collected the arms and ammunition that had belonged to Luis and his three companions and secured them to the saddle of the horse led by the Apache.
Shoz-Dijiji rode in silence. If he felt any elation because of the success of his adventure it was not apparent in his demeanor. Grim, morose, he herded the cattle onward. His eyes patrolled the world bounded by the horizon, searching for enemies.
Luis Mariel, partly frightened, wholly thrilled, glanced often at his companion. To ride with the Apache Devil—ah, what an adventure. From earliest childhood Luis’ ears had been filled with the stories of Apache ferocity, treachery, cruelty, yet against these were set the knowledge that the Apache Devil had twice befriended his father and had once before befriended him. Perhaps the Apache Devil would not harm him, then; but what of the others?
He had heard hideous stories of the tortures inflicted by the Apaches upon their prisoners. It might be that the Apache Devil could not protect him from the ferocity of his fellows. This thought worried Luis and to such effect that he commenced to formulate plans for escape. If they did not come to the camp of the Indians before dark his chances would be better than to risk making a break for liberty in the face of the menace of the Apache Devil’s marksmanship, which he had reason to know constituted a very real menace.
The afternoon wore on. Angry clouds, gathering in the sky, portended early darkness and a black night. The patient herd plodded slowly on. The hopes of Luis Mariel rose high. Two hours more and escape would be assured if, in the meantime, they did not reach the camp of the Apaches.
“B” Troop of the —th had been dispatched into Chihuahua in the search for the scattered bands of the marauding renegades. Lieutenant Samuel Adams King, with four troopers, was scouting far afield. He had been following what appeared to be a fresh, though faint, Indian track that led toward the north; but now, with night coming down and a storm threatening, he had lost it. While one of the troopers held the horses of the others, King and his remaining men searched on foot for the elusive spoor. Proceeding in different directions the four walked slowly, scrutinizing every inch of ground, searching for a turned pebble, a down-pressed spear of vegetation, King’s path took him through a deep arroyo and out upon the opposite bank. Absorbed in his search he took no note of the growing menace of the gathering storm nor of the distance, constantly increasing, between himself and his men. He knew that when the rain came it would wipe out all trace of the tracks they sought, and this knowledge constituted the urge that kept him oblivious to all other considerations.
The dusk of evening had fallen. Heavy clouds rolled angrily and low above the scene as a herd of cattle slowly topped a gentle rise to the south. Two men drove them, but only one of these saw the soldiers a couple of miles ahead—saw, and knew them for what they were. This one glanced quickly at the landscape ahead and at the gathering storm above. He knew that it was about to break. He knew, too, that the arroyo would soon be filled with muddy, raging water—a barrier impassable by man or beast. All but one of the soldiers would be upon the opposite side of the arroyo from the herd and him.
Knowing these things, Shoz-Dijiji urged the cattle onward in the general direction of the enemy, for even though he passed close to them they would be unable to see him after the rain came—the rain and night.
Luis Mariel viewed the prospect of the impending storm hopefully. Soon it would be dark, but even before that the blinding rain would obliterate all objects within a few yards of him. They had not yet come to the camp of the renegades, and Luis had a horse under him.
The storm was in their rear. The cattle, doubtless, would move on before it; but Luis would turn back into it, and when it had passed he would be safely beyond the ken of the Apache Devil.
A great cloud! black and ominous, bellied low above them, sagging as though to a great weight of water; jagged lightning shot through it, followed by a deafening crash of thunder; the rent cloud spewed its contents upon the earth. It was not rain; it did not fall in drops nor sheets but in a great mass of solid water.
With the bursting of the cloud King found himself in water a foot deep on the level, and afterward the rain fell in torrents that shut everything from view beyond a few yards. Lightning flashed and thunder roared, and. the pounding of the rain between drowned all other sounds. The man floundered through the new made mud back in the direction of his men. All was water—above, below, around him. Suddenly there appeared before him, almost at his feet, a depression. Here the water swirled and eddied, running in a mighty current across his path.
At its very edge he stopped and, realizing what it was, staggered back a few steps—back from the brink of eternity. So close had he been to the shelving bank of the arroyo that another step might have hurled him into the racing, yellow flood that filled it now from brim to brim.
Disconcerted by the first great mass of water that fell upon them, the cattle stopped. The leaders turned back upon the herd. Shoz-Dijiji, in the rear, urged the stragglers forward until, presently, the herd was milling in a muddy circle; but with the coming of the steady torrent and beneath the heavy quirt of the Apache they gradually strung out again in the direction they had been travelling, the storm at their backs.
Shoz-Dijiji, seeing that he was handling the herd alone, looked about him for his companion; but the blinding torrent hid everything but the nearer cattle, and Shoz-Dijiji did not know that Luis was driving his unwilling pony into the teeth of the storm in an effort to escape.
An hour later the storm was over. A full moon shone out of a clear sky. Directly ahead of him Shoz-Dijiji saw something that was frightening the leaders of the herd, causing them to stop and then turn aside. A moment later the Apache recognized the cause of the distraction. It was a man on foot. At first Shoz-Dijiji thought that it was Luis, but when he had ridden nearer he discovered that the man was a soldier. Shoz-Dijiji drew a revolver from the holster at his hip. He would ride close enough to make sure of his aim before firing. He was not afraid that the other would fire first, since the soldier, before he fired, would wish to make sure that Shoz-Dijiji was an enemy. In this Shoz-Dijiji had a great advantage. Being an Apache he knew that all men were his enemies. He could make no mistake on that score.
The soldier hailed him in rather lame Spanish, but there was something in the voice that sounded familiar to the Apache Devil who never forgot anything. So he rode yet closer.
And then, in perfectly understandable English, he said: “Put up your hands, King, or I’ll kill you.”
Lieutenant King put his hands above his head. As yet he had not recognized the other as an Indian. The English, the use of his own name, mystified him.
“Who the hell are you?” he inquired.
“Turn your back,” commanded Shoz-Dijiji. King did as he was bid, and the Apache rode up and disarmed him.
“All right,” said Shoz-Dijiji, after King lowered his arms and turned about.
“Shoz-Dijiji!” exclaimed King.
“Shoz-Dijiji, war chief of the Be-don-ko-he Apaches,” replied the Apache Devil.
“And you’re on the war path. That doesn’t look so good for me, does it, Shoz-Dijiji?”
“Shoz-Dijiji not on war-trail now. Shoz-Dijiji good Indian now. Go in cattle business.”
In the moonlight King saw the grim half smile that accompanied the words of the Indian, but he made no reply. Apache humor was something that he did not pretend to understand. All he knew about it was that upon occasion it might be hideous.
“Mebbe so you like go in cattle business with Shoz-Dijiji?” suggested the Apache.
“I guess that whatever you say goes,” replied the officer.
“All right. Take this horse.” The Indian indicated the led horse at his side. “Now you help drive our cattle. Sabe?”
King grinned. “Perfectly,” he said. Slowly the two men urged the cattle onward until at dawn they came to a patch of meadow land well within the mountain range they had entered shortly after meeting. There was water there and good grazing and little likelihood that the tired animals would wander far from either.
Taking King with him, Shoz-Dijiji rode to the top of a high hill that commanded the broad valley to the south and west, across which they had come. For half an hour the Apache scanned the country below them, using field glasses that King recognized as having once belonged to him, glasses that had been taken from him several years before during an engagement with hostiles.
In the far distance the Indian saw a tiny speck and recognized it as Luis. Beyond Luis and approaching him from the southeast were horsemen. This was doubtless the company of soldiers to which King belonged. Shoz-Dijiji did not call the officer’s attention to either Luis or the soldiers. In his mind he figured quickly just how long it would take the soldiers to reach this point should Luis put them upon the trail of the herd, which he knew that they could easily pick up and follow from the point at which the storm had overtaken them.
“Come,” he said to King, and the two rode down from the hill and turned into a small canyon where they would be hidden from the view of anyone who might enter the meadow where the cattle grazed. In the canyon was a small spring and here they drank. Shoz-Dijiji proffered King a piece of jerked venison that stunk to high heaven, but the officer assured the Apache that he was not hungry.
Having eaten, Shoz-Dijiji bound King’s wrists and ankles. “Now sleep,” he said. He stretched himself nearby and was soon asleep, but it was some time before King fell into a fitful doze. When he awoke, the Indian was removing the bonds from his wrists.
“Now we drive our cattle,” said Shoz-Dijiji. The balance of that day and all the following night they drove the weary beasts through the mountains. There was no pursuit. After their sleep Shoz-Dijiji had again taken King to the hill top and scanned the back trail. The dust of a cavalry troop could be faintly seen in the distance, but it was moving north parallel to the range they had entered and was not upon their trail.
Twice they had stopped for brief rests, not for themselves but for the cattle; and now, at dawn, the trail debouched into an open canyon where there was water and good feed. At the edge of the pasture land Shoz-Dijiji drew rein and pointed up the canyon.
“There,” he said to King, “is the camp of Geronimo. If you go there you will be killed. Mebbe so you like sell your half of the cattle business?”
King grinned. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Shoz-Dijiji buy,” replied the Apache. “He give you a horse and—your life. You sell?”
“You’ve bought some cattle, Shoz-Dijiji,” exclaimed King; “but I can’t understand you. You are not like any other Indian I ever heard of. Why have you done this?”
“Two men drive cattle easier than one,” replied the Apache.
“Yes, I know that; but why are you giving me a chance to escape when you know that I’ll go right back to chasing you and fighting you again? Is it because of Wichita Billings?”
“Shoz-Dijiji no sabe English,” grunted the Indian. “Now you go!” and he pointed back down the canyon along the trail they had just come over.
King wheeled his horse around. “Good-bye, Shoz-Dijiji,” he said. “Perhaps some day I can repay you.”
“Wait!” said the Indian and handed the white man his pistol. Then he sat his horse watching until a turn in the canyon took the other from his sight.
Far away Luis Mariel rode with “B” Troop of the —th. He had not led the soldiers upon the trail of his friend, the Apache Devil.