What was that, just ahead? In the trail, looming strange through the dusk, lay something that did not harmonize with the surroundings. At first he could not be quite certain what it was, but that it did not belong there was apparent to his trained senses.
Cautiously he approached. It was a horse lying in the trail. It was alive. It tried to rise as he came nearer, but it stumbled and fell again—and it groaned. He saw that it was saddled and bridled. He waited in concealment, listening. There was no other sound. Creeping nearer he saw that the horse could not rise because one of its legs was broken. It suffered. Shoz-Dijiji drew his butcher knife and cut its throat, putting it out of its misery. Cheetim had ridden too fast down this rocky gorge. On foot now, leading Nejeunee, Shoz-Dijiji followed the faint spoor of the dismounted man. He found the place where it turned up the precipitous side of the gorge where no horse could go, and here Shoz-Dijiji abandoned Nejeunee and followed on alone.
All night he followed. At dawn he knew that he was close upon the man he sought. Small particles of earth were still crumbling back into the depression of a footprint where Cheetim had stepped but a few moments before. Did Shoz-Dijiji hasten forward? No. On the contrary he followed more cautiously, more slowly than before, for he gave the enemy credit for doing precisely what Shoz-Dijiji would have done had their positions been reversed—except that Shoz-Dijiji would have done it hours earlier.With infinite patience and care he crept up each slope and from the summit surveyed the terrain ahead before he proceeded. He knew that Cheetim was just ahead of him and that he would soon stop to rest, for the spoor told him that the man was almost exhausted. For a long time Shoz-Dijiji had guessed that the other knew he was being followed—before that he had only feared it. The end must be near.
Shoz-Dijiji crept slowly up a hillside. Just below the summit he stopped and took a red bandanna from his pouch. This he wrapped loosely about the stock of his rifle; and then, holding the piece by the muzzle, raised it slowly just above the hill top. Instantly there came the report of a rifle from beyond the hill; and Shoz-Dijiji; almost smiling, jerked the bandanna from sight.
Quickly he hastened to the right, keeping well below the line of vision of his adversary; and when he crept upward again it was behind a low bush, through the branches of which he could see without being seen.
A hundred yards away Cheetim lay behind a boulder upon another hill top. He was peering out from behind his shelter. Shoz-Dijiji took careful aim—not at the head of his enemy, which was in plain sight, but at his shoulder. Shoz-Dijiji had plans.
He pressed his trigger, and with the report Cheetim jumped convulsively and slumped forward. Slowly the Apache arose and keeping his man covered with his rifle walked toward him. He found the white man, just as he had expected, stunned by the shock of the wound but not dead.
Shoz-Dijiji removed Cheetim’s weapons from his reach and sat down and waited. With the patience that is an Apache’s he waited. Presently Cheetim opened his eyes and looked into the painted face of the Apache Devil. He shuddered and closed them again, but Shoz-Dijiji knew that the man was conscious.
The Indian spoke no word as he bent and seized Cheetim by the hair. Again the man opened his eyes. He saw the butcher knife in the hand of the Indian and screamed.
“Fer God’s sake don’t!” he cried. “I’ll give you whiskey, money—anything you want ef you’ll let me go.”
Shoz-Dijiji did not answer him. The keen blade sank into the flesh of the white man. Cheetim screamed and struggled. There was a quick, deft, circular motion of Shoz-Dijiji’s hand, and a bloody scalp-lock dangled from the fingers of the war chief. It was then that Cheetim fainted.
Shoz-Dijiji sat down and waited. Five, ten, fifteen minutes he waited before Cheetim gave signs of returning consciousness. Still Shoz-Dijiji waited. At last the white man was fully cognizant of his surroundings. He began to weep tears of self pity. Shoz-Dijiji arose and bent over him.
“What are you going to do?” shrieked his victim, but the Apache did not answer him—in words. Instead he took some buckskin thongs from his pouch and making a running noose in one end of each he slipped one upon each wrist and ankle of the prostrate man. Then with his butcher knife he cut some stakes from stout shrubs that grew about them. Returning to Cheetim he turned the man upon his back and, stretching each arm and leg to its full extent, out spread, he staked the screaming coward to the ground.
Rising, he stood looking down at Cheetim for a long minute. Then, in silence, he turned and walked away, back along the trail he had come.
“Don’t leave me!” screamed Cheetim. “Fer God’s sake come back! Come back and kill me. Don’t leave me here to die alone—like this!”
Shoz-Dijiji, war chief of the Be-don-ko-he walked on in silence. Not once did he turn to look back in the direction of the first enemy he had ever tortured. Had he, he would have seen a vulture circling high against the blue on stationary wings above the last victim of the Apache Devil.
Where he had left Nejeunee Shoz-Dijiji found Luis Mariel waiting for him.
“I knew that you would come back to your pony,” said Luis.
“Why did you follow me?” demanded the Apache.
“The Senorita sent me after you.”
“She wished me to say to you that you are to come back to her.”
“Luis,” she said, “take his horse and yours and turn them into the east pasture; then go to the cook house. Chung will give you supper.”
Shoz-Dijiji said nothing. He watched Luis leadipg Nejeunee away. He waited. Wichita came close to him and laid her hands upon his breast as she had once before, long ago. Again came the terrible urge to take her in his arms, but this time he did not surrender to it.
“You sent for me?” he asked.
“To ask you to forgive me.”
“For everything,” she replied.
“There is nothing to forgive. You did not understand—that is all.”
“I understand now.”
“I am glad,” he said simply. “Is that all?”
“No. Kreff has left. I do not know why. He wouldn’t even stop for supper. Just got his stuff and his check and rode away. I need another foreman. Will you take the job?”
“Do you want me?”
“Then I will take it. Now I go to the bunk house.”
“Is there something more?”
“Yes. You know there is. Oh! Shoz-Dijiji, are you a man or a stone?” she cried.
“I am an Apache, Senorita,” he said. “Do not forget that. I am an Apache, and you are a white girl.”
“I do not care. I love you!” She came very close to him again.
“Are you very sure, Chita,?” he asked. “You must make no mistake this time.”
“I am very sure, Shoz-Dijiji.”
“We shall see,” he said, “for we must both be sure. Shoz-Dijiji will be very happy if he finds that you can love him even though he is an Indian—then he will tell you something that you will be glad to know, but not now.”
“There is something that you could tell me now that I should like to hear, Shoz-Dijiji,” she whispered.
“What is that?”
“You have not told me that you love me.”
The war chief took his mate into his arms and looked down into her tear filled eyes.
“Shoz-Dijiji no sabe,” he said, smiling. Then he bent and covered her lips with his.
In the east pasture a filly nickered, and a pinto stallion arched his neck and answered her.