Apache Devil

Chapter Seventeen

Cheetim Strikes!

Edgar Rice Burroughs

IT WAS night. The oil lamps were burning brightly in the barroom of the Hog Ranch. The games were being well patronized. The girls were circulating among the customers, registering thirst. It looked like a large night.

In the back room two men, seated at opposite sides of a table, were conversing in low tones. A bottle, two glasses, and a mutilated jack of spades lay between them. One of the men was Cheetim, the other was Kreff.

“How much longer does thet feller think we kin hold them critters without hevin’ every galoot in the Territory ridin’ onto ’em an’ blowin’ the whole business?” demanded Kreff.

“I been tellin’ him to see you,” said Cheetim. Kreff pushed the jack of spades across the table to the other man. “You take this,” he said. “You see him oftener than I do. Don’t turn this over to him ’til you git the money, but tell him that ef he don’t get a hump on hisself we’ll drive the bunch north an’ sell ’em up there. They can’t stay around here much longer—the girl’s wise now thet somethin’s wrong. Two of the hands has told her they been missin’ stock lately!”

Cheetim sat in silence, thinking. Slowly he filled Kreff’s glass, and poured another drink for himself.

“Here’s how!” he said and drank.

“How!” replied Kreff.

“I been thinkin’,” said Cheetim.

“Don’t strain yourself, ‘Dirty,’ “ Kreff admonished him.

“It’s this-a-way,” continued the other, ignoring Kreff’s pleasantry. “Ef it warn’t for the girl we could clean up big on thet herd. This here Agent’ll buy anything an’ not ask no questions.”

“What do you want me to do,” inquired Kreff, “kill her?”

“I want you to help me get her. Ef I kin get her fer a few days she’ll be glad enough to marry me. Then I’ll give you half what I get out of the cattle.”

“Ride your own range, ‘Dirty,’” rising, “and keep off o’ mine.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ef either one of us gets her it’s me, that’s what I mean.” There was an ugly edge to his voice that Cheetim did not fail to note.

“Oh, hell,” he said, “I didn’t know you was sweet on her.”

“You know it now—keep off the grass.”

.     .     .     .     .

A pinto stallion, tied to a stunted cedar, dozed in the mid-day heat. His master, sprawled at the summit of a rocky knoll, looked down upon the other side at a bunch of cattle resting until it should be cooler, the while they pensively chewed their cuds. A youth lay upon his back beneath the shade of a tree. A saddled pony, with drooping head and ears, stood near by lazily switching its tail in mute remonstrance against the flies. Bridle reins, dragging on the ground, suggested to the pony that it was tethered and were all-sufficient. Somnolence, silence, heat—Arizona at high noon. Shoz-Dijiji surveyed the scene. With a reward of a thousand dollars on his head it behooved him to survey all scenes in advance. The reward, however, was but a secondary stimulus. Training and environment had long since fixed upon him the habit of reconnaissance. Immediately he had recognized Luis Mariel. If he were surprised he gave no evidence of it, for his expression did not change. His eyes wandered over the herd. They noted the various brands, ear-marks, wattles, jug-handles, and though Shoz-Dijiji could not have been termed a cattle man he read them all and knew the ranch and range of every animal in the bunch, for there was no slightest thing from one end of Apache-land to the other that an Apache let pass as of too slight importance to concern him. He saw that most of the cattle belonged to Wichita Billings, but he knew that it was not a Crazy B cowboy that was herding them, for the Crazy B outfit employed no Mexicans.

Long before Luis Mariel was aware of the fact Shoz-Dijiji knew that several horsemen were approaching; but he did not change his position since, if they continued in the direction they were going, they would pass without seeing him.

Presently four men rode into view. He recognized them all. Two of them were Navajoes, one a half-breed and the fourth a white man—the Indian Agent.

Shoz-Dijiji did not like any of them, especially the Indian Agent. He fingered his rifle and wished that Geronimo had not made that treaty with General Miles in Skeleton Canyon. Presently Luis heard the footfalls of the approaching horses and sat up. Seeing the men, he arose. They rode up to him, and the Agent spoke. Shoz-Dijiji saw him take a bit of paper from his pocket and show it to Luis. Luis took another similar bit of paper from his own pocket and compared it with the one that the Agent now handed him. Shoz-Dijiji could not quite make out what the bits of paper were—from a distance they looked like two halves of a playing card.

Luis mounted his pony and helped the men round up the cattle, but after they had started them in the direction of the Agency Luis waved his adios and reined his pony southward toward the Hog Ranch.

Shoz-Dijiji remained motionless until all were well out of sight, then he wormed his way below the brow of the hill, rose and walked down to Nejeunee. He had spent the preceding night in the hogan of friends on the reservation. They had talked of many things, among them being the fact that the Agent was still buying stolen cattle at a low price and collecting a high price for them from the Government.

Shoz-Dijiji knew that he had seen stolen cattle delivered to the Agent, which would not, of itself, have given him any concern; but the fact that most of these cattle had evidently been stolen from Wichita Billings put an entirely different aspect on the matter.

The fact that she hated him, that she had offered a reward for him, dead, could not alter the fact that he loved her; and, loving her, he must find a way to inform her of what he had discovered. Naturally, the first means to that end which occurred to him was Luke Jensen. He would ride back to where Luke Jensen rode and find him.

It is a long way from where Cheetim and Kreff had hidden the stolen herd to the Billings east range, and when one is a fair target for every rifle and six-shooter in the world it behooves one to move warily; so Shoz-Dijiji lay up until night and then rode slowly toward the east.

.     .     .     .     .

Luis Mariel had ridden directly to the Hog Ranch and reported to Cheetim, handing him both halves of the jack of spades as evidence that the herd had been turned over to the proper party in accordance with Luis’ instructions.

“That’s jest what I been waitin’ fer,” said Cheetim. “Now I got some more work fer you, if you’re game. They’s fifty dollars extra in it fer you.”

“What is it?” asked Luis.

“It aint none o’ your business what it is,” replied Cheetim. “All you got to know is thet they may be some shootin’ in it, an’ all you got to do is do what I tell you. If you’re skeered I don’t want you.”

“I am not afraid, Senor,” replied Luis. The fifty dollars appeared a fortune.

“All right. You savvy the Crazy B Ranch?”

“Si, Senor.”

“I want you to take a note to ‘Smooth’ Kreff, the foreman o’ thet outfit.”

“Is that all?”

“No. After you deliver the note you hang around and see what happens. They’s a girl there. When I come I’ll want to know where she is and how many men there are left at the ranch. There’ll be four or five fellers with me. After that I’ll tell you what to do.”

“When does the shooting happen?” asked Luis.

“Oh, maybe they won’t be no shootin’,” replied Cheetim. “I was jest warnin’ you in case they was. I’ll write the letter now an’ then you hit the trail. Ef you ride hard you’ll make it before sun up. I want you there before the hands start out fer the day. Savvy?”

Laboriously, with the stub of a pencil that he constantly wet with his tongue, “Dirty” Cheetim wrote. It appeared to Luis that Senor Cheetim was not accustomed to writing—he seemed to be suffering from mental constipation—but at last the agony was over and Cheetim handed Luis a sheet of soiled paper folded many times into a small wad.

“If Kreff asks you about the cattle you say that when you went up this mornin’ the bars o’ the c’rral was down an’ the cattle gone, an’ don’t you tell him nothin’ different. If you do you won’t get no fifty dollars ’cause you won’t need ’em where I’ll send you.” Cheetim slapped the six-shooter at his hip.

“I understand,” said Luis. He did not like Senor Cheetim, but fifty dollars are fifty dollars.

The sun was but a few minutes high when Luis Mariel reined into the Billings ranch yard. From a slight eminence a mile or two away, beyond the east pasture fence, Shoz-Dijiji saw him come and wondered.

The Apache had taken his position just before dawn and at the first flush of the new day had fixed his field glasses upon the ranch yard. He wished to get in touch with Jensen as quickly as possible and saw in this plan the surest method of determining when and in what direction Luke rode that morning.

Luis went at once to the bunk house, where the men were already astir, and delivered the letter to Kreff, whom he at once recognized as the tall, sandy haired man who had taken him to the herd and given him the torn playing card and his instructions. Kreff recognized Luis, too, but he only frowned.

Almost as laboriously as Cheetim had written it, Kreff deciphered the note.

“Frend Kref:” he read. “Sum fellers stole the herd bring al yore hands & help Me round them up they will think the fellers stol them & That will let us out doan fetch the greser i think he wus in on it dirty yours truely.”

“Hell!” ejaculated Kreff. “What’s eatin’ you?” inquired ‘Kansas.’

“‘Dirty’ Cheetim says a bunch of rustlers is runnin’ off some of our stock. He seen ’em headin’ past his place. Luke! Rustle up that ‘cavvy,’ pronto. You fellers feed while Luke’s gone. We’re all hittin’ the trail after them lousy thieves.”

“I reckon ‘Dirty’ is jest sore ’cause he didn’t git to the bunch ahead o’ them other fellers,” drawled ‘Kansas.’ Luke tucked his shirt tails into his trousers, grabbed his Stetson, and bolted for the corral. When Kreff had finished dressing he went to the cook house and told the Chinese cook to hurry breakfast. Then he walked over to the ranch house and stopping under Wichita’s window called her name aloud.

A moment later, a Navajo blanket about her shoulders, the girl appeared at the window. “What is it, ‘Smooth?’” she asked.

“You was right about the rustling,” he said. “Cheetim jest sent a Greaser with a note sayin’ he’d seen some fellers runnin’ off a bunch of our stock. I’m takin’ all the men an’ ridin’ after ’em. They can’t git away.”

“Good!” cried the girl. “I’ll go with you.”

“No, you better not. They’s almost sure to be shootin’.”

“I can shoot,” she replied.

“I know thet; but please don’t do it, Chita. We’d all be lookin’ after you an’couldn’t do like we would if they wasn’t a woman along.”

“Perhaps you are right,” she admitted. “Gosh! Why wasn’t I born a boy?”

“I’m shore glad you wasn’t.”

Shoz-Dijiji, seeing Luke riding early and alone straight in his direction, felt that once again, after long forgetfulness, Usen had remembered him. He knew that the youth would come only as far as the horses pastured in the east pasture, and so he rode down and came through the gate to meet the cowboy. The willows in the draw screened them from each other’s sight until Luke spurred up the steep bank of the wash and came face to face with the Apache.

“Hello, there!” he exclaimed in surprise. “What you doin’ here?”

“I want you take word to Wichita,” said Shoz-Dijiji. “The Indian Agent is buying cattle that are stolen from her. I saw it yesterday, on the reservation. You tell her?”

“We jest got word of the same bunch, I reckon,” replied Luke. “We’re all ridin’ out after ’em now. Which way was they headin’ when you saw them?”

“Toward the Agency.”

“Thanks a lot, Shoz-Dijiji,” said Luke. “I’ll tell her anyway when I see her about your sendin’ the word to her.”

“No,” said the Apache. “Do not tell her who sent the word.”

“All right. I got to be movin’. The boys is waitin’ fer these broncs. So long, Shoz-Dijiji!”

“Adios!” replied the Apache, and as Jensen herded the horses toward the corrals Shoz-Dijiji rode away, out through the pasture gate, onto the east range.

Something was troubling Shoz-Dijiji’s mind. He had seen Luis Mariel guarding the stolen herd and yet it was he who brought word to the ranch concerning these same cattle. What did it mean?

Through his glasses the Apache watched the departure of the Crazy B cow hands. Apparently all had left the ranch with the exception of Luis Mariel. Why was Luis remaining? He had seen Wichita come into the yard and talk with some of the men as they were mounting, and he had seen her wave them godspeed. She had spoken to Luis, too, and then gone into the house. Luis was hanging around the corrals.Shoz-Dijiji shook his head. Luis was a good boy. He would not harm anyone. There was it something else to think about and that was breakfast. Shoz-Dijiji rode a short distance to the east, dismounted and with bow and arrows set forth in search of his breakfast. In half an hour he had a cottontail and a quail. Returning to Nejeunee he sought a secluded spot and cooked his breakfast.

Ten minutes after Luis Mariel had departed from the Hog Ranch the previous evening Cheetim with four others had ridden out along the same trail; and when Kreff and the other men of the Crazy B rode away in the morning in search of the rustlers, from the hills south of the ranch these five had watched them depart.

“We got lots of time,” said Cheetim, “an’ we’ll wait until they are plenty far away before we ride down. You four’ll hev to git the girl. Ef she seen me comin’ she’d start shootin’ before we was inside the gate, but she don’t know none of you. I was damn sure to pick fellers she didn’t know. You ride in an’ ask fer grub an’ a job. The greaser’ll be there to tell you ef they is any men left around an’ where the girl is. You won’t have no trouble. Jes’ grab her an’ don’t give her no chance to draw thet gun o’ hers, fer I’m here to state thet ol’ man Billings’ girl wouldn’t think no more o’ perforatin’ your ornery hides then she would of spittin’.”

The ride ahead of Kreff and his men was, the foreman knew, a long and hard one. There was some slight chance of borrowing a change of horses at a ranch near Cheetim’s place; but it was only a chance, and so Kreff conserved his horse flesh and did not push on too rapidly.

As he rode he had time to think things out a little more clearly than he had in the excitement and rush of preparation, and he wondered why it had been that Cheetim had not organized a party to go after the rustlers and save the cattle for themselves. He could easily have done it, as there were always several tough gun-men hanging around his place who would commit murder for a pint of whiskey. Yes, that did seem peculiar. And if he had mistrusted the Mexican, why had he intrusted the message to him? Kreff did not trust Cheetim to any greater extent than a cottontail would trust a rattler, and now that he had an opportunity to consider the whole matter carefully he grew suspicious.

Suddenly it occurred to him that he had left Wichita alone on the ranch with only the Chinese cook, and that the Mexican had remained behind after they had left. The more he thought about it the more it worried him. He called Luke to his side.

“Kid,” he said, “we left thet Greaser there on the ranch. I don’t guess we should have. You ride back an’ look after things—an’ don’t let no grass grow under you while you’re doin’ it.”

Luke, though disappointed at the thought of missing the excitement of a brush with the rustlers, reined in, wheeled his pony, and spurred back toward the ranch.

Wichita, coming from the office door after breakfast, saw four strange men ride into the ranch yard. She saw the Mexican youth who had brought word of the stolen cattle ride up to them, but she could not hear what they said, nor was it apparent that the Mexican was acquainted with the newcomers.

The four rode toward her presently, and as they neared her one of them removed his hat and asked if he could see the boss.

“I’m the boss,” she replied.

“We’re lookin’ fer work,” said the man; and as he spoke he dismounted and walked close to her, the others reining near as though to hear what her answer would be.

When the man was quite close he suddenly seized her, whirled her about and held her hands behind her. At the same instant another of his fellows dismounted and stepped quickly to her. She struggled and fought to free herself; but she was helpless, and in another moment they had bound her wrists behind her.

As they were lifting her to one of the horses the Chinese ran from the cook house, calling to them to stop; but one of the men drew his six-shooter, and a single, menacing shot was enough to send the unarmed domestic back into his kitchen.

Cheetim, watching from the hills south of the ranch, saw all that transpired within the yard and was highly elated at the ease with which his nefarious plan was being carried out; but, alas, things were running far too smoothly.

What was that? He bent an attentive ear toward the west and recognized the cadenced pounding of the hoofs of a rapidly galloping horse—the little rift within the lute.

In the ranch yard the men had stopped to argue. Cheetim could see them but he could not understand the delay. He could only curse silently, dividing his attenrion between them and the road to the west, along which he could hear the approaching hoof beats.

“What’s the use of packin’ this girl double?’, the man who had been assigned to carry Wichita demanded. “We got plenty time an’ they’s a hoss standin’ right down there in the c’ral.”

“‘Dirty’ said not to waste no time,” demurred another.

The mention of Cheetim’s descriptive nick-name was the first intimation Wichita had received of the origin and purpose of the plan to abduct her. Now she understood—it was all clear, horribly clear. For years the man had hounded and annoyed her. Twice before he had tried to take her forcibly. It looked now as though he might succeed. Who was there to succor her? Her father dead and every man in her employ gone, for how long she could not guess. There was no one. She wondered why it was that at that moment the figure of an almost naked, bronze savage filled her thoughts to the exclusion of every other source of salvation, and that while she nursed her hatred of him she involuntarily almost prayed that some miracle might bring him to her.

The man who had suggested a separate horse for Wichita insisted. “It wont take two minutes,” he said, “an’ if we are follered we kin make better time than if one of the hosses is packin’ double.”

“Hell, then,” exclaimed one of his fellows, “instead of chawin’ the fat let’s git a hoss. Here, you!” he addressed Luis. “Fetch that hoss. Throw a saddle onto him an’ a lead rope.”

As Luis hastened to obey, Cheetim, seeing the further delay, became frantic. The horseman was approaching rapidly along the road from the west, and the men in the ranch yard were wasting valuable time.

Out on the east range Shoz-Dijiji, having finished his breakfast, mounted Nejeunee and turned the pony’s head toward the east, toward the distant mountains where the Gila rises, toward the ancient stamping grounds of the Be-don-ko-he.

He had no plans for the future. He wanted only to get away. He had seen Wichita Billings through his field glasses, and the sight of her had but aggravated the old hurt. Sad and lonely, the war chief rode toward the deserted camp grounds of his vanished people, where now were only brooding memories.

Luke Jensen galloped into sight of the ranch. Cheetim, lying behind a boulder at the top of a hill, covered him with his rifle sights and fired. Luke heard the bullet scream past his ear. Forewarned of some danger, he knew not what, he was prepared. He took two flying shots at the puff of smoke at the hill top where his unknown assailant lay, dug the rowels into his pony’s sides, and raced for the ranch gate that he saw was standing open.

Cheetim fired once more; but again he missed, and then Luke was inside the yard. Coming toward him from the corrals he saw five men and Wichita, and he knew that something was radically wrong even before one of the men drew his gun and opened fire on him. Unable to return the man’s fire without endangering Wichita, Jensen spurred in the direction of an out-building that would give him shelter until he could get his rifle into action.

The five men spurred toward the gate, quirting Wichita’s horse to equal speed. Three of them were firing at Luke; and just as he reached the out-building, just when he was within a second of safety, Wichita saw him lunge from his saddle, hit.

Then her captors raced through the gate and into the hills south of the ranch, whirling Wichita Billings away with them.

Apache Devil - Contents    |     Chapter Eighteen - “The Apache Devil!”

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