Imprisoned with the renegades, and equally prisoners of war, were Apaches who had long been loyal and faithful servants to the government; but what of that! Who was there to defend a friendless people?—friendless and voteless.
Transported from the hot, dry uplands of their native country to the low, damp, malarial surroundings of their prison, the Apaches sickened and died; others, unable to endure confinement, suffering the pangs of homesickness, took their own lives.
And down in Sonora, in the inaccessible depths of the Mother of Mountains, Shoz-Dijiji and Nejeunee shared the hunting and the pasture with the cougar and the mountain sheep. They trod in the footsteps of God, where man and horse had never walked before. No man saw them and, for months on end, they saw no man.
Long since had Shoz-Dijiji washed the war paint from his face. He was a hunter now, and upon the rare occasions that he saw other human beings he experienced no urge to kill them.
He had thought it all out during the long, lonely days and nights. Geronimo had made treaties with the Mexicans and with the pindah-lickoyee. He had promised that the Apaches would fight no more against them. That treaty, Shoz-Dijiji felt, bound him, for there were no other Apaches than he. He could not, as yet, think of himself as a pindah-lickoyee. He was an Apache—the last of the Apaches.
He promised himself that he would not kill again except in self-defense. He would show them that it was not the Apaches who broke treaties, but experience warned him that the only way to keep peace was to keep hidden from the eyes of man. He knew that the first one who saw him would shoot at him, if he dared, and that thereafter he would be hunted like the coyote and the cougar.
“Only we shall know that we are keeping the treaty, Nejeunee,” he said, and the pinto stallion, nuzzled his shoulder in complete accord with this or any other view that his beloved master might hold.
Accustomed to being much alone though he was, yet the man often longed for the companionship of his kind. He conjured pictures of camps beneath the pines and cedars of his beloved Arizona hills, of little fires before rude hogans of boughs and skins. He saw Geronimo and Sons-ee-ah-ray squatting there; and with them was Shoz-Dijiji, son of the war chief. These three were always laughing and happy. Gian-nah-tah came to the fire, and Ish-kay-nay. Sometimes these were little children and again they were grown to young man-and woman-hood. He saw many others. Squat, grim warriors, slender youths, lovely maidens whose great, dark eyes looked coquettishly at Shoz-Dijiji.
Most of these were dead. The others, bitter, sullen, had marched away into captivity.
Another figure came, but not to the camp fires of the Shis-Inday. This one came, always, riding a pony over sun scorched hills. Shoz-Dijiji took her in his arms; but she drew away, striking at him. He saw in her eyes, then, a look that he called the snake look. It made him sad and yet this picture came most often to his mind.
He wondered if the snake look would come if she knew that he was a pindah-lickoyee like herself. Perhaps she would not believe it. It was difficult for him to believe it himself. Had any other than Geronimo told him he would not have believed it, but he knew that Geronimo would not lie to him.
Well, she would never know it. It was a shame and a disgrace that he would hide from the knowledge of all men as long as he lived. A white-eyes! Usen! What had Shoz-Dijiji done to deserve this?
But, after all, he was white, he mused. From that fact he could never escape, and it was very lonely living in the mountains forever with only Nejeunee. Perhaps the white girl would believe him; and if she did would it not be better to go and live among the white-eyes as one of them?
He recalled how he used to pity any who had been born white. It would not have been quite so bad had he been born a Mexican, for he knew that there was Indian blood in many of the Mexicans he had known. It would have comforted him had he known that the grandfather of his mother had been a full blooded Cherokee, but he did not know that. He was never to know it, for he was never to know even the names of his father and mother.
He tried to argue with himself that it was no disgrace to be white. Wichita Billings was white, and he thought none the less of her; Lieutenant King was white, and he knew that he was a fine, brave warrior; and there had been Captain Crawford, and there was Lieutenant Gatewood. These men he admired and respected.
Yes, it was all right for them to be white; but still the thought that Shoz-Dijiji, war chief of the Be-don-ko-he, was white seemed all wrong.
He could not forget the pride that had always filled his heart because of the fact that he was an Apache. He had been a great Apache warrior. As a white man he would be nothing. If he went to live among them he would have to wear their hideous clothing and live in their stuffy houses; and he would have to live like the poorest of them, for he would have no money. No, he could not do it.
He thought about the matter a great deal. The lonelier he became the more he thought about it. Wichita Billings was constantly the center of his thoughts. His mind also dwelled upon memories of happy camping places of the past, and it seemed that the sweetest memories hung about the home camps of Arizona.
His lonely heart yearned not only for human companionship but for the grim country that was home to him. Something was happening to Shoz-Dijiji. He thought that he was sick and that he was going to die. He was homesick.
“I could go back and die in my own mountains,” he thought. The idea made him almost happy. He stroked Nejeunee’s soft muzzle and his sleek, arched neck. “How would you like to go home, Nejeunee?” asked Shoz-Dijiji. Nejeunee, after the manner of stallions, nipped the bronze shoulder of his master; but whether it was to signify approbation of the suggestion or was merely in the nature of a caress, only Nejeunee knew.
Lieutenant Samuel Adams King sat beneath one of the cotton wood trees that stands in front of the ranch house of the Crazy B Ranch, his chair tilted back against the bole of the tree. Near him sat Wichita Billings, her fingers busily engaged in the work that was commanding their attention. She might have been embroidering her initials upon a pillow slip or fashioning some dainty bit of lingerie, but she was not. She was cleaning a six-shooter.
“It sure seems tame around these parts now,” she remarked. “Do you know I almost miss being scared out of seven years’ growth every once in a while since the ‘bronchos’ were rounded up and shipped to Florida.”
“I suppose you are cleaning that pistol, then, just as a sentimental reminder of the happy days that are gone,” laughed King.
“Not entirely,” she replied. “There are still plenty of bad hombres left—all the bad ones weren’t Indians, not by a jug full.”
“I suppose not,” agreed King. “As a matter of fact I doubt if the Apaches were responsible for half the killings that have been laid at their door; and, do you know, Chita, I can’t bring myself to believe even yet that it was an Apache that killed your father. We got it pretty straight from some of the renegades themselves that at the time they were all with Geronimo in the mountains near Hot Springs, except those that were still in Sonora, and Shoz-Dijiji.”
“Well, that narrows it down pretty close to one man, doesn’t it?” demanded the girl, bitterly.
“Yes, Chita,” replied King, “but I can’t believe that he did it. He spared my life twice merely because I was your friend. If he could do that, how could he have killed your father?”
“I know, Ad. I’ve argued it out a hundred times,” said the girl, wearily; “but that thousand dollars reward still stands.”
“The chances are that it will stand forever, then,” said King. “Shoz-Dijiji didn’t come in with the other renegades; and, of course, you can’t get anything out of them; but it is better than an even bet that he was killed in Sonora during one of the last engagements. I know several bucks were killed; but they usually got them away and buried them, and they never like to talk about their dead.”
“I hope to God that he is dead,” said the girl.
King shook his head. He knew how bitterly she must feel—more bitterly, perhaps, because the man she suspected was one to whom she had given her friendship and her aid when he was bearing arms against her country.
He had not told her of his conviction that Shoz-Dijiji and the dread Apache Devil were one and the same; and he did not tell her, for he knew that it would but tend to further assure her of the guilt of the Apache. There were two reasons why he did not tell her. One was his loyalty to the savage enemy who had befriended him and who might still be living. The other was his belief that Wichita Billings had harbored a warmer feeling than friendship for the war chief of the Be-don-ko-he, and King was not the type of man who takes an unfair advantage of a rival.
Perhaps it galled this scion of an aristocratic Boston family to admit, even to himself, that an untutored savage might have been his rival in seeking the hand of a girl; but he did not permit the suspicion to lessen his sense of gratitude to Shoz-Dijiji or dim the genuine respect he felt for the courage and honor of that savage warrior.
For a time the two sat in silence, Wichita busy with her revolver, King feasting his eyes upon her regular profile.
“Everything on the ranch running smoothly?” he asked, presently.
Wichita shook her head. “Not like they did when Dad was here,” she admitted. “The boys are good to me, but it’s not like having a man at the head of things. Some of them don’t like ‘Smooth’ and I’ve lost several of my best men on that account. A couple of them quit, and ‘Smooth’ fired some. I can’t interfere. As long as he’s foreman he’s got to be foreman. The minute the boys think I’ve lost confidence in him he won’t have any more authority over them than a jack rabbit.”
“Are you satisfied with him?” asked King.
“Well—he sure knows his business,” she replied; “you’d have to hunt a month of Sundays before you found a better cow man; but he can’t get the work out of his men. They don’t feel any loyalty for him. They used to cuss Dad; and I’ve seen more than one of them pull a gun on him, but they’d work their fool heads off for him. They’d get sore as pups and quit; but they always came back—if he’d take them—and when he died, Ad, I saw men crying that I bet hadn’t cried before since they were babies.”
“That is like the old man,” said King, thinking of his troop commander. “Gosh! How I have hated that fellow—and while I’m hating him I can’t help but love him. There are men like that, you know.”
“They are the real men, I guess,” mused Wichita; “they don’t grow on every sage brush, not by a long shot.”
“Why don’t you sell out, Chita?” King asked her. “This is no job for a girl—it’s a man’s job, and you haven’t the man for it.”
“Lord, I wouldn’t know what to do, Ad,” she cried. “I’d be plumb lost. Why, this is my life—I don’t know anything else. I belong here on a cow ranch in Arizona, and here I’m going to stay.”
“But you don’t belong here, Chita,” he insisted. “You belong on a throne, with a retinue of slaves and retainers waiting on you.”
She leaned back and laughed merrily. “And the first thing I’d know the king would catch me eating peas with my knife and pull the throne out from under me.”
“I’m serious, Chita,” urged King. “Come with me; let me take you away from this. The only throne I can offer you is in my heart, but it will be all yours—forever.”
“I’d like to, Ad,” she replied. “You don’t know how great the temptation is, but —”
“Then why not?” he exclaimed, rising and coming toward her. “We could be married at the post; and I could get a short leave, I’m sure, even though I haven’t been in the service two years. All your worries about the ranch would be over. You wouldn’t have anything to do, Chita, but be happy.”
“It wouldn’t be fair, Ad,” she said.
“Fair? What do you mean?” he demanded.
“It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“Because I don’t know whether I love you enough or not.”
“I’ll take the chance,” he told her. “I’ll make you love me.”
She shook her head. “If I was going to marry a man and face a life that I was sure was going to be worse than the one I was leaving, I’d know that I loved him; and I wouldn’t hesitate a minute; but if I marry you it might just be because what you have to offer me looks like heaven compared to the life I’ve been leading since Dad died. I think too much of you and my self respect to take the chance of waking up to the fact some day that I don’t love you. That would be Hell for us both, Ad; and you don’t deserve it—you’re too white.”
“I tell you that I’m perfectly willing to takethe chance, Chita.”
“Yes, but I wont let you. Wait a while. If I really love you I’ll find it out somehow, and you’ll know it—if you don’t I’ll tell you—but I’m not sure now.”
“Is there someone else, Chita?”
“No!” she cried, and her vehemence startled him.
“I’ll wait, then, because I have to wait,” he said, “and in the meantime if there is any way in which I can help you, let me do it.”
“Well,” she said, laughing, “you might teach the cows how to drill. I can’t think of anything else around a cow outfit, right off-hand, that you could do. Sometimes it seems to me like they didn’t have any cows back where you came from.”
King laughed. “They used to. All the streets in Boston were laid out by cows, they say.”
“Out here,” said Chita, “we drive our cows—we don’t follow them.”
“Perhaps that’s the difference between the East and the West,” said King. “Out here you blaze your own trails. I guess that’s where you get your self-confidence and initiative.”
“And it may account for some of our short-comings, too,” she replied. “Where you’re just following cows you have lots of time to think of other things and improve yourself, but when you’re driving them you haven’t time to think of anything except just cows. That’s the fix I’m in now.”
“When you have discovered that you might learn to love me you will have time for other things,” he reminded her.
“Time to improve myself?” she teased.
“Nothing could improve you in my eyes, Chita,” he said, honestly. “To me you are perfect.”
“If Margaret Cullis hadn’t taught me that it was vulgar I should say ‘Rats’ to that.”
“I won’t,” she promised. “And now you must run along. You know your orders never said anything about spending two hours at the Billings ranch this afternoon. What will your detachment think?”
“They’ll think I’m a fool if I don’t stay all afternoon and ride back to the post in the cool of the night.”
“And get court martialed when you get there. Boots and saddles for you, Lieutenant Samuel Adams King!”
“Yes, sir!” he cried, clicking his heels together and saluting.Then he seized her hand and kissed it.
“Don’t!” she whispered, snatching it away. “Here comes Luke.”
“I don’t care if the World’s coming.”
“That’s because you don’t know what it is to be joshed by a bunch of cow punchers,” she told him. “Say, why when it comes to torture, Victorio and Geronimo and old Whoa could have gone to school to some of these red necks from the Pan Handle.”
“All right, I won’t embarrass you. Good-bye and good luck, and don’t forget the message I brought from Mrs. Cullis. She wants you to come and spend a week or so with her.”
“Tell her I thank her heaps and that I’ll come the first chance I get. Good-bye!”
She watched him walk away, tall, erect, soldierly; trim in his blue blouse, his yellow striped breeches, his cavalry boots, and campaign hat—a soldier, every inch of him and, though still a boy, a veteran already.
And she sighed—sighed because she did not love him, sighed because she was afraid that she would never love him. Lines of bitterness touched the corners of her mouth and her eyes as she thought of the beautiful and priceless thing that she had thrown away—wasted upon a murdering savage—and a flush of shame tinged her cheeks.
Her painful reveries were interrupted by the voice of Luke Jensen.
“I jest been ridin’ the east range, Miss,” he said.
“Yes? Everything all right?”
“I wouldn’t say thet it was an’ I wouldn’t say thet it wasn’t, “ he replied.
“You recollect thet bunch thet always hung out near the head o’ the coulee where them cedars grows out o’ the rocks?”
“Yes, what about them?”
“They’s about half of ’em gone. If they was all gone I’d think they might have drifted to some other part o’ the range; but they was calves, yearlin’s, and some two an’ three year olds still follerin’ their mothers in thet bunch; an’ a bunch like thet don’t scatter fer no good reason.”
“No. What do you make of it, Luke?”
“If the renegades warn’t all c’ralled I’d say Apaches.”
“‘Kansas’ reported another bunch broken up that ranges around the Little Mesa,” said Wichita, thoughtfully. “Do you reckon it’s rustlers, Luke?”
“I wouldn’t say it was an’ I wouldn’t say it wasn’t.”
“What does ‘Smooth’ say?”
“He allows they just natch’rally drifted.”
“Are you riding the east range every day, Luke?”
“Most days. Course it takes me nigh onto a week to cover it, an’ oncet in a while ‘Smooth’ sends me somers else. Yistiddy, he sent me plumb down to the south ranch—me an’ ‘Kansas’.”
“Well, keep your eyes open for that bunch, Luke—they might have drifted.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say they would of and I wouldn’t say they wouldn’t of.”