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  • 1916
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then laughed with a mirthless uproar that deceived no one into thinking he was amused. Pink and Weary raised their voices sufficiently to tell him where he could go, ,and settled themselves dejectedly in their saddles again.

“Well, I ain’t so darned sure, either,” Lite Avery tardily echoed Applehead’s vague statement, in the dry way he had of speaking detached sentiments from the mental activities that went on behind his calm, mask-like face and his quiet eyes. “Something feels snaky around here today.”

Applehead looked at him with a glimmer of relief in his eyes, but he did not reply to the foreboding directly. “Boys, git yore rifles where you kin use ’em quick,” be advised them grimly. “I kin smell shootin’ along this dang trail.”

Pink’s dimples showed languidly for a moment, and be looked a question at Weary. Weary grinned answer and pulled his rifle from the “boot” where it was slung under his right leg, and jerked the lever forward until a cartridge slid with a click up into the chamber; let the hammer gently down with his thumb and laid the gun across his thighs.

“She’s ready for bear,” he observed placidly.

“Well, now, you boys show some kinda sense,” Applehead told them when Pink had followed Weary’s example. “Fellers like Happy and Bud, they shore do show their ign’rance uh this here, dang country, when they up ‘n’ laff at the idee uh trouble- -now I’m tellin’ yuh!”

From the ridge which was no more than a high claw of the square butte, four Indians in greasy, gray Stetsons with flat crowns nodded with grim satisfaction, and then made baste to point the toes of their moccasins down to where their unkempt ponies stood waiting. They were too far away to, see the shifting of rifles to the laps of the riders, or perhaps they would not have felt quite so satisfied with the steady advance of the four who had taken the right-hand fork of the trail. They could not even tell just which four men made up the party. They did not greatly care, so long as the, force of the white men was divided. They galloped away upon urgent business of their own, elated because their ruse had worked out as they had planned and hoped.

Applehead took a restrained pull at the canteen, cocked his eyes back at the butte they had just passed, squinted ahead over the flat waste that shimmered with heat to the very skyline that was notched and gashed crudely with more barren hills, and then, screwing the top absent-mindedly on the canteen-mouth, leaned and peered long at the hoofprints they were following. Beside him Lite Avery, tall and lean to the point of being skinny, followed his movements with quiet attention and himself took to studying more closely the hoofprints in the sandy soil.

Applehead looked up, gauged the probable direction the trail was taking, and gave a grunt.

“You kin call me a fool,” he said with a certain challenge in his tone, “but this yere trail don’t look good to me, somehow. These yere tracks, they don’t size up the same as they done all the way out here. ‘N’ another thing, they ain’t aimed t’ meet up with the bunch that Luck’s trailin’. We’re headed straight out away from whar Luck’s headed. ‘N’ any way yuh look at it, we’re headed into country whar there ain’t no more water’n what the rich man got in hell. What would any uh Ramon’s outfit want to come away off in here fur? They ain’t nothin’ up in here to call ’em.”

“These, said Lite suddenly, “are different horse-tracks. They’re smaller, for one thing. The bunch we followed out from the red machine rode bigger horses.”

“And carried honey on one side and fresh meat on the other; and one horse was blind in the right eye,” enlarged Pink banteringly, remembering the story of the Careful Observer in an old schoolreader of his childhood days.

“Yes, how do you make that out, Lite? I never noticed any difference in the tracks.”

“The stride is a little shorter today for one thing.” Lite looked around and grinned at Pink, as though he too remembered the dromedary loaded with honey and meat. “Ain’t it, Applehead?”

“It shore is,” Applehead testified, his face bent toward the hot ground. “Ain’t ary one uh the three that travels like they bin a travelin’–‘n’ that shore means something, now I’m tellin’ yuh!” He straightened and stared worriedly ahead of them again. “Uh course, they might a picked up fresh horses,” he admitted. “I calc’late they needed ’em bad enough, if they ain’t been grainin’ their own on the trip.”

“We didn’t see any signs of their horses being turned loose anywhere along,” Lite pointed out with a calm confidence that he was right.

Still, they followed the footprints even though they were beginning to admit with perfect frankness their uneasiness. They were swinging gradually toward one of those isolated bumps of red rockridges which you will find scattered at random through certain parts of the southwest. Perhaps they held some faint hope that what lay on the other side of the ridge would be more promising, just as we all find ourselves building air-castles upon what lies just over the horizon which divides present facts from future possibilities. Besides, these flat-faced ledges frequently formed a sharp dividing line between barren land and fertile, and the hoofprints led that way; so it was with a tacit understanding that they would see what lay beyond the ridge that they rode forward.

Suddenly Applehead, eyeing the rocks speculatively, turned his head suddenly to look behind and to either side like one who seeks a way of escape from sudden peril.

“Don’t make no quick moves, boys,” he said, waving one gloved band nonchalantly toward the flat land from which they were turning, “but foller my lead ‘n’ angle down into that draw off here. Mebbe it’s deep enough to put us outa sight, ‘n’ mebbe it ain’t. But we’ll try it.”

“What’s up? What did yuh see?” Pink and Weary spoke in a duet, urging their horses a little closer.

“You fellers keep back thar ‘n’ don’t act excited!” Applehead eyed them sternly over his shoulder. “I calc’late we’re just about t’ walk into a trap.” He bent–on the side away from the ridge–low over his horse’s shoulder and spoke while he appeared to be scanning the ground. “I seen gun-shine up among them rocks, er I’m a goat. ‘N’ if it’s Navvies, you kin bet they got guns as good as ours, and kin shoot mighty nigh as straight as the best of us–except Lite, uh course, that’s a expert.” He pointed aimlessly at the ground and edged toward the draw.

“Ef they think we’re jest follerin’ a stray track, they’ll likely hold off till we git back in the trail ‘n’ start comin’ on agin,” he explained craftily, still pointing at the ground ahead of him and still urging his horse to the draw. “Ef they suspicion ‘t we’re shyin’ off from the ridge, they’ll draw a fine bead ‘n’ cut loose. I knowed it,” he added with a lugubrious complacency. “I told ye all day that I could smell trouble a-comin’; I knowed dang well ‘t we’d stir up a mess uh fightin’ over here. I never come onto this dang res’vation yit, that I didn’t have t’ kill off a mess uh Navvies before I got offen it agin.

“Now,” he said when they reached the edge of the sandy depression that had been gouged deeper by freshets and offered some shelter in case of attack, “you boys jest fool around here on the aidge ‘n’ foller me down here like you was jest curiouslike over what I’m locatin’. That’ll keep them babies up there guessin’ till we’re all outa sight MEBBY!” He pulled down the corners of his mouth till his mustache-ends dropped a full inch, and lifted himself off his horse with a bored deliberation that was masterly in its convincingness. He stood looking at the ground for a moment and then began to descend leisurely into the draw, leading his horse behind him.

“You go next, Pink,” Weary said shortly, and with his horse began edging him closer to the bank until Pink, unless he made some unwise demonstration of unwillingness, was almost forced to ride down the steep little slope.

“Don’t look towards the ridge, boys,” Applehead warned from below. “Weary, you come on down here next. Lite kin might’ nigh shoot the dang triggers offen their guns ‘fore they kin pull, if they go t’ work ‘n’ start anything.”

So Weary, leaving Lite up there grinning sheepishly over the compliment, rode down because he was told to do so by the man in command. “You seem to forget that Lite’s got a wife on his hands,” he reproved as he went.

“Lite’s a-comin’ right now,” Applehead retorted, peering at the ridge a couple of hundred yards distant. “Git back down the draw ‘s fur’s yuh kin b’fore yuh take out into the open agin. I’ll wait a minute ‘n’ see–“

“Ping-NG-NG!” a bullet, striking a rock on the edge of the draw fifty feet short of the mark, glanced and went humming over the hot waste.

“Well, now, that shows they got a lookout up high, ‘t seen me watchin’ that way. But it’s hard t’ git the range shootin’ down, like that,” Applehead remarked, pulling his horse behind a higher part of the bank.

Close beside him Lite’s rifle spoke, its little steelshod message flying straight as a homing honeybee for the spitting flash be had glimpsed up there among the rocks. Whether he did any damage or not, a dozen rifles answered venomously and flicked up tiny spurts of sand in the close neighborhood of the four.

“If they keep on trying,” Lite commented drily, “they might make a killing, soon as they learn how to shoot straight.”

“‘S jest like them dang Injuns!” Applehead grumbled, shooing the three before him down the draw. “Four t’ our one–it takes jest about that big a majority ‘fore they feel comf table about buildin’ up a fight. Lead yore bosses down till we’re outa easy shootin’ distance, boys, ‘n’ then we’ll head out fer where Luck ought t’ be. If they fixed a trap fer us, they’ve fixed another fer him, chances is, ‘n! the sooner us fellers git t’gether the better show we’ll all of us have. You kin see, the way they worked it to split the bunch, that they ain’t so dang anxious t’ tie into us when we’re t’gether–‘n’ that’s why we can’t git t’ Luck a dang bit too soon, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”

Weary and Pink were finding things to say, also, but old Applehead went on with his monologue just as though they were listening. Lite showed a disposition to stop and take issue with the shooters who kept up a spiteful firing from the ridge. But Applehead stopped him as he was leveling his rifle.

“If yuh shoot,” he pointed out, “they’ll know jest where we air and how fast we’re gittin’ outa here. If yuh don’t, unless their lookout kin see us movin’ out, they got t’ do a heap uh guessin’ in the next few minutes. They only got one chancet in three uh guessin’ right, ’cause we might be camped in one spot, ‘n’ then agin we might be crawlin’ up closer, fer all they kin tell.”

If they were guessing, they must have guessed right; for presently the four heard faint yells from behind them, and Applehead crawled up the bank to where he could look out across the level. What he saw made him slide hastily to the bottom again.

“They’ve clumb down and straddled their ponies,” he announced grimly. “An’ about a dozen is comin’ down this way, keepin’ under cover all they kin. I calc’late mebby we better crawl our bosses ‘n’ do some ridin’ ourselves, boys.” And he added grimly, “They ain’t in good shootin’ distance yit, ‘n’ they dassent show theirselves neither. We’ll keep in this draw long as we kin. They’re bound t’ come careful till they git us located.”

The footing was none the best, but the horses they rode had been running over untracked mesaland since they were bandy-legged colts. They loped along easily, picking automatically the safest places whereon to set their feet, and leaving their riders free to attend to other important matters which proved their true value as horses that knew their business.

Soon the draw shallowed until they found themselves out in the open, with the square-topped mountain five miles or so ahead and a little to the left; a high, untraversable sandstone ledge to their right, and what looked like plain sailing straight ahead past the mountain.

Applehead twisted his body in the saddle and gave a grunt. “Throw some lead back at them hombres, Lite,” he snapped. “And make a killin’ if yuh kin. It’ll make ’em mad, but it’ll hold ’em back fer a spell.”

Lite, the crack rifle-shot of Luck’s company and the man who had taught Jean Douglas to shoot with such wonderful precision, wheeled his horse short around and pulled him to a stand, lined up his rifle sights and crooked his finger on the trigger. And away back there among the Indians a pony reared, and then pitched forward.

“I sure do bate to shoot down a horse,” Lite explained shamefacedly, “but I never did kill a man–“

“We-ell, I calc’late mebby yuh will, ‘fore you’re let out from this yere meetin’,” Applehead prophesied drily. “Now, dang it, RIDE!”

CHAPTER XVI. ANNIE-MANY-PONIES WAITS

In the magic light of many unnamable soft shades which the sun leaves in New Mexico as a love token for his dark mistress night, Annie-Many-Ponies sat with her back against a high, flat rock at the place where Ramon had said she must wait for him, and stared somber-eyed at what she could see of the new land that bad held her future behind the Sandias; waiting for Ramon; and she wondered if Wagalexa Conka had come home from his picture-making in Bear Canon and was angry because she had gone; and shrank from the thought, and tried to picture what life with Ramon would be like, and whether his love would last beyond the wide ring of shiny gold that was to make her a wife.

At her feet the little black dog lay licking his sore paws that had padded patiently after her all day. Beside the rock the black horse stood nibbling at some weeds awkwardly, because of the Spanish bit in his mouth. The horse was hungry, and the little black dog was hungry; Annie-Many-Ponies was hungry also, but she did not feel her, hunger so much, because of the heaviness that was in her heart.

When Ramon came he would bring food, or he would tell her where she might buy. The horse, too, would be fed–when Ramon came. And he would take her to the priest who was his friend, and together they would kneel before the priest. But first, if Ramon would wait, she wanted to confess her sins, so that she need not go into the new life bearing the sins of the old. The priest could pray away the ache that was in her heart; and then, with her heart light as air, she would be married with Ramon. It was long since she had confessed– not since the priest came to the agency when she was there, before she ran away to work in pictures for Wagalexa Conka.

Before her the glow deepened and darkened. A rabbit hopped out of a thick clump of stunted bushes, sniffed the air that blew the wrong way to warn him, and began feeding. Shunka Chistala gathered his soft paws under him, scratched softly for a firm foothold in the ground, and when the rabbit, his back turned and the evening wind blowing full in his face, fed unsuspectingly upon some young bark that he liked, the little black dog launched himself suddenly across the space that divided them. There was a squeak and a thin, whimpering crying–and the little black dog, at least, was sure of his supper.

Annie-Many-Ponies, roused from her brooding, shivered a little when the rabbit cried. She started forward to save it–she who had taught the little black dog to hunt gophers and prairie-dogs!–and when she was too late she scolded the dog in the language of the Sioux. She tore the rabbit away from him while he eyed her reproachfully; but when she saw that it was quite dead, she flung the warm body back to him and went and sat down again with her back to the rock.

A train whistled for the little station of Bernalillo, and soon she saw its headlight paint the squat houses that had before been hidden behind the creeping dusk. Ramon was late in coming and for one breath she caught herself hoping that he would not come at all. But immediately she remembered the love words he had taught her, and smiled her inscrutable little smile that had now a tinge of sadness. Perhaps, she thought wishfully, Ramon had come on the train from Albuquerque. Perhaps he had a horse in the town, and would ride out and meet her here where he had told her to wait.

The train shrieked and painted swiftly hill and embankment and little adobe huts and a corral full of huddled sheep, and went churning away to the northeast. Annie-Many-Ponies followed its course absently with her eyes until the last winking light from its windows and the last wisp of smoke was hidden behind hills and trees. The little black dog finished the rabbit, nosed its tracks back to where it had hopped out of the brush, and came back and curled up at the feet of his mistress, licking his lips and again his travel-sore paws. In a moment, feeling in his dumb way her loneliness, perhaps, be reached up and laid his pink tongue caressingly upon her brown hand.

Dark came softly and with it a noisy wind that whistled and murmured and at last, growing more boisterous as the night deepened, whooped over her bead and tossed wildly the branches of a clump of trees that grew near. Annie-Many-Ponies listened to the wind and thought it a brother, perhaps, of the night wind that came to the Dakota prairies and caroused there until dawn bade it be still. Too red the blood of her people ran in her veins for her to be afraid of the night, even though she peopled it with dim shapes of her fancy.

After a long while the wind grew chill. Annie-Many-Ponies shivered, and then rose and went to the horse and, reaching into the bundle which was still bound to the saddle, she worked a plaid shawl loose from the other things and pulled it out and wrapped it close around her and pulled it over her head like a cowl. Then she went back and sat down against the bowlder, waiting, with the sublime patience of her kind, for Ramon.

Until the wind hushed, listening for the dawn, she sat there and waited. At her feet the little black dog slept with his nose folded between his front paws over which he whimpered sometimes in his dreams. At every little sound all through–the night Annie-Many-Ponies had listened, thinking that at last here came Ramon to take her to the priest, but for the first time since she had stolen out on the mesa to meet him, Ramon did not keep the tryst–and this was to be their marriage meeting! Annie-Many-Ponies grew very still and voiceless in her heart, as if her very soul waited. She did not even speculate upon what the future would be like if Ramon never came. She was waiting.

Then, just before the sky lightened, someone stepped cautiously along a little path that led through rocks and bushes back into the hills. Annie-Many Ponies turned her face that way and listened. But the steps were not the steps of Ramon; Annie-Many-Ponies had too much of the Indian keenness to be fooled by the hasty footsteps of this man. And since it was not Ramon–her slim fingers closed upon the keen-edged knife she carried always in its sinew-sewed buckskin sheath near her heart.

The little black dog lifted his head suddenly and growled, and the footsteps came to a sudden stop quite near the rock.

“It is you?” asked a cautious voice with the unmistakable Mexican tone and soft, slurring accent. “speak me what yoh name.”

“Ramon comes?” Annie asked him quietly, and the footsteps came swiftly nearer until his form was silhouetted by the rock.

“Sh-sh–yoh not spik dat name,” he whispered. “Luis Rojas me. I come for breeng yoh. No can come, yoh man. No spik name–som’bodys maybe hears.”

Annie-Many-Ponies rose and stood peering at him through the dark. “What’s wrong?” she asked abruptly, borrowing the curt phrase from Luck Lindsay. “Why I not speak name? Why–some body–?” she laid ironical stress upon the word–“not come? What business you got, Luis Rojas?”

“No–don’ spik names, me!” The figure was seen to throw out an imploring hand. “Moch troubles, yoh bet! Yoh come now–somebodys she wait in dam-hurry!”

Annie-Many-Ponies, with her fingers still closed upon the bone handle of her sharp-edged knife, thought swiftly. Wariness had been born into her blood– therefore she could understand and meet halfway the wariness of another. Perhaps Wagalexa Conka had suspected that she was going with Ramon; Wagalexa Conka was very keen, and his anger blazed hot as pitch-pine flame. Perhaps Ramon feared Wagalexa Conka–as she, too, feared him. She was not afraid–she would go to Ramon.

She stepped away from the rock and took the black horse by its dropped bridle-reins and followed Luis Rojas up the dim path that wound through trees and rocks until it dropped into a little ravine that was chocked with brush, so that Annie-Many-Ponies had to put the stiff branches aside with her hand lest they scratch her face as she passed.

Luis went swiftly along the path, as though his haste was great; but he went stealthily as well, and she knew that he had some unknown cause for secrecy. She wondered a little at this. Had Wagalexa Conka discovered where she and Ramon were to meet? But how could he discover that which had been spoken but once, and then in the quiet loneliness of that place far back on the mesa? Wagalexa Conka bad not been within three miles of that place, as Annie-Many-Ponies knew well. How then did he know? For he must have followed, since Ramon dared not come to the place he had named for their meeting.

Dawn came while they were still following the little, brush-choked ravine with its faint pathway up the middle of it, made by cattle or sheep or goats, perhaps all three. Luis hurried along, stopping now and then and holding up a hand for silence so that he might listen. Fast as he went, Annie-Many-Ponies kept within two long steps of his heels, her plaid shawl drawn smoothly over her black head and folded together under her chin. Her mouth was set in a straight line, and her chin had the square firmness of the Indian. Luis, looking back at her curiously, could not even guess at her thoughts, but he thought her too calm and cold for his effervescent nature–though he would have liked to tell her that she was beautiful. He did not, because he was afraid of Ramon.

“Poco tiempo, come to his camp, Ramon,” he said when the sun was peering over the high shoulder of a ridge; and he spoke in a hushed tone, as if he feared that someone might overhear him.

“You ‘fraid Wagalexa Conka, he come?” Annie-Many-Ponies asked abruptly, looking at him full.

Luis did not understand her, so he lifted his shoulders in the Mexican gesture which may mean much or nothing. “Quien sabe?” he muttered vaguely and went on. Annie-Many-Ponies did not know what he meant, but she guessed that he did not want to be questioned upon the subject; so she readjusted the shawl that had slipped from her head and went on silently, two long steps behind him.

In a little he turned from the ravine, which was becoming more open and not quite so deep. They scrambled over boulders which the horse must negotiate carefully to avoid a broken leg, and then they were in another little ravine, walled round with rocks and high, brushy slopes. Luis went a little way, stopped beside a huge, jutting boulder and gave a little exclamation of dismay.

“No more here, Ramon,” he said, staring down at the faintly smoking embers of a little fire. “She’s go som’ place, I don’t know, me.”

The slim right hand of Annie-Many-Ponies went instinctively to her bosom and to what lay hidden there. But she waited, looking from the little campfire that was now almost dead, to Luis whom she suspected of treachery. Luis glanced up at her apologetically, caught something of menace in that unwinking, glittering stare, and began hastily searching here and there for some sign that would enlighten him further.

“She’s here when I go, Ramon,” he explained deprecatingly. “I don’ un’stan’, me. She’s tell me go breeng yoh thees place. She’s say I mus’ huree w’ile dark she’s las’. I’m sure s’prised, me!” Luis was a slender young man with a thin, patrician face that had certain picture values for Luck, but which greatly belied his lawless nature. Until he stood by the rock where she had waited for Ramon, Annie-Many-Ponies had never spoken to him. She did not know him, therefore she did not trust him–and she looked her distrust.

Luis turned from her after another hasty glance, and began searching for some sign of Ramon. Presently, in a tiny cleft near the top of the boulder, his black eyes spied a folded paper–two folded papers, as he discovered when he reached up eagerly and pulled them out.

“She’s write letter, Ramon,” he cried with a certain furtive excitement. “Thees for yoh.” And he smiled while he gave her a folded note with “Ana” scrawled hastily across the face of it.

Annie-Many-Ponies extended her left hand for it, and backed the few steps away from him which would insure her safety against a sudden attack, before she opened the paper and read:

“Querida mia, you go with Luis. Hes all rite you trus him. He bring you where i am. i lov you. Ramon”

She read it twice and placed the note in her bosom–next the knife–and looked at Luis, the glitter gone from her eyes. She smiled a little. “I awful hongry,” she said in her soft voice, and it was the second sentence she had spoken since they left the rock where she had waited.

Luis smiled back, relief showing in the uplift of his lips and the lightening of his eyes. “She’s cache grob, Ramon,” he said. “She’s go som’ place and we go also. She’s wait for us. Dam-long way–tree days, I theenk me.”

“You find that grub,” said Annie-Many-Ponies, letting her hand drop away from the knife. “I awful hongry. We eat, then we go.”

“No–no go till dark comes! We walk in night–so somebody don’ see!”

Annie-Many-Ponies looked at him sharply, saw that he was very much in earnest, and turned away to gather some dry twigs for the fire. Up the canon a horse whinnied inquiringly, and Luis, hastening furtively that way, found the horse he bad ridden into this place with Ramon. With the problem of finding provender for the two animals, he had enough to occupy him until Annie-Many-Ponies, from the coarse food he brought her, cooked a crude breakfast.

Truly, this was not what she had dreamed the morning would be like–she who had been worried over the question of whether Ramon would let her confess to the priest before they were married! Here was no priest and no Ramon, even; but a keen-eyed young Mexican whom she scarcely knew at all; and a mysterious hiding-out in closed-in canons until dark before they might follow Ramon who loved her. Annie-Many-Ponies did not understand why all this stealthiness should be necessary, for she knew that proof of her honorable marriage would end Luck’s pursuit–supposing he did pursue–even though his anger might live always for her. She did not understand; and when an Indian confronts a situation which puzzles him, you may be very sure that same Indian is going to be very, very cautious. Annie-Many-Ponies was Indian to the middle of her bone.

CHAPTER XVII. APPLEHEAD SHOWS THE STUFF HE IS MADE 0F

Lite Avery, turning to look back as they galloped up a long slope so gradual in its rise that it seemed almost level, counted just fourteen Indians spreading out fanwise in pursuit. He turned to Applehead with the quiet deference in his manner that had won the old man’s firm friendship.

“What’s this new move signify, boss?” he asked, tilting his head backward. “What they spreading out like that for, when they’re outa easy rifle range?”

Applehead looked behind him, studied the new formation of their enemy, and scowled in puzzlement. He looked ahead, where he knew the land lay practically level before them, all sand and rabbit weed, with a little grass here and there; to the left, where the square butte stood up bold-faced and grim; to the right where a ragged sandstone ledge blocked the way.

“‘S some dang new trap uh theirn,” he decided, his voice signifying disgust for such methods. “Take an Injun ‘n’ he don’t calc’late he’s fightin’ ‘nless he’s figgurin’ on gittin’ yuh cornered. Mebby they got some more cached ahead som’ers. Keep yer eye peeled, boys, ‘n’ shoot at any dang thing yuh see that yuh ain’t dead sure ‘s a rabbit weed. Don’t go bankin’ on rocks bein’ harmless–’cause every dang one’s liable to have an Injun layin’ on his belly behind it. Must be another bunch ahead som’ers, ’cause I know it’s smooth goin’ fer five miles yit. After that they’s a drop down into a rocky kinda pocket that’s hard t’ git out of except the way yuh go in, account of there bein’ one uh them dang rim-rocks runnin’ clean ’round it. Some calls it the Devil’s Fryin’-pan. No water ner grass ner nothin’ else ‘ceptin’ snakes. ‘N’ Navvies kinda ownin’ rattlers as bein’ their breed uh cats, they don’t kill ’em off, so they’s a heap ‘n’ plenty of ’em in that basin.

“But I ain’t aimin’ t’ git caught down in there, now I’m tellin’ yuh! I aim t’ keep along clost t’ that there butte, ‘n’ out on the other side where we kin pick up luck’s trail. I shore would do some rarin’ around if that boy rode off into a mess uh trouble, ‘n’ I’m tellin’ yuh straight!”

“He’s got some good boy at his back,” Weary reminded him, loyal to his Flying U comrade.

“You’re dang right he has! I ain’t sayin’ he ain’t, am I? Throw some more lead back at them skunks behind us, will ye, Lite? ‘N’ the rest of yuh save yore shells fer close-ups!” He grinned a little at the incongruity of a motion-picture phrase in such a situation as this. “‘N’ don’t be so dang skeered uh hurtin’ somebody!” he adjured Lite, drawing rein a little so as not to forge ahead of the other. “You’ll have to kill off a few anyway ‘fore you’re through with ’em.”

Lite aimed at the man riding in the center of the half-circle, and the bullet he sent that way created excitement of some sort; but whether the Indian was badly hit, or only missed by a narrow margin, the four did not wait to discover. They had held their horses down to a pace that merely kept them well ahead of the Indians; and though the horses were sweating, they were holding their own easily enough–with a reserve fund of speed if their riders needed to call upon it.

Applehead, glancing often behind him, scowled over the puzzle of that fanlike formation of riders. They would hardly begin so soon to herd him and his men into that evil little rock basin with the sinister name, and there was no other reason he could think of which would justify those tactics, unless another party waited ahead of them. He squinted ahead uneasily, but the mesa lay parched and empty under the sky–

And then, peering straight into the glare of the sun, he saw, down the slope which they had climbed without realizing that it would have a crest, it was so low–Applehead saw the answer to the puzzle; saw and gave his funny little grunt of astonishment and dismay. Straight as a chalk line from the sandstone ledge on their right to the straight-walled butte on their left stretched that boundary line between the untamed wilderness and the tamed–a barbed wire fence; a four-wire fence at that, with stout cedar posts whereon the wire was stretched taut and true. From the look of the posts, it was not new–four or five years old, perhaps; not six years, certainly, for Applehead had ridden this way six years before and there had been not so much as a post-hole to herald the harnessing of the mesa.

Here, then, was the explanation of the fanlike spreading out of the line of Indians. They knew that the white men would be trapped by the fence, and they were cutting off the retreat–and keeping out of the hottest danger-zone of the white men’s guns. Even while the four were grasping the full significance of the trap that they had ridden into unaware, the Indians topped the ridge behind them, yip-yip-yipping gleefully their coyotelike yells of triumph. The sound so stirred the slow wrath of Lite Avery that, without waiting for the word from Applehead he twisted half around in his saddle, glanced at the nearest Indian along his rifle-sights, bent his forefinger with swift deliberation upon the trigger, and emptied the saddle of one yelling renegade, who made haste to crawl behind a clump of rabbit weed.

“They howl like a mess uh coyotes,” Lite observed in justification of the shot, “and I’m getting sick of hearing ’em.”

“Mama!” Weary, exclaimed annoyedly, “that darn fence is on an up-slope, so it’s going to be next to impossible to jump it! I guess here’s where we do about an eight-hundred-foot scene of Indian Warfare, or Fighting For Their Lives. How yuh feel, Cadwalloper?”

“Me?” Pink’s eyes were purple with sheer, fighting rage. “I feel like cleaning out that bunch back there. They’ll have something to howl about when I get through!”

“Stay back uh me, boys!” Applehead’s voice had a masterful sharpness that made the three tighten reins involuntarily. “You foller me and don’t crowd up on me, neither. Send back a shot or two if them Injuns gits too ambitious.”

The three fell in behind him without cavil or question. He was in charge of the outfit, and that settled it. Pink, released from irksome inaction by the permission to shoot, turned and fired back at the first Indian his sights rested upon. He saw a spurt of sand ten jumps in advance of his target, and he swore and fired again without waiting to steady his aim. The sorrel pack-horse, loping along fifty yards or so behind with a rhythmic clump-clump of frying-pan against coffee-pot at every leap he took, swerved sharply, shook his head as though a bee had stung him, and came on with a few stiff-legged “crow hops” to register his violent objection to being shot through the ear.

Pink, with an increased respect for the shooting skill of Lite Avery, glanced guiltily at the others to see if they bad observed where his second bullet hit. But the others were eyeing Applehead uneasily and paid no attention to Pink or his attempts to hit an Indian on the run. And presently Pink forgot it also while he watched Applehead, who was apparently determined to commit suicide in a violently original form.

“You fellers keep behind, now—and hold the Injuns back fer a minute er two,” Applehead yelled while he set himself squarely in the saddle, gathered up his reins as though be were about to “top a bronk” and jabbed the spurs with a sudden savageness into Johnny’s flanks.

“GIT outa here!” he yelled, and Johnny with an astonished lunge, “got.”

Straight toward the fence they raced, Johnny with his ears laid back tight against his skull and his nose pointed straight out before him, with old Applehead leaning forward and yelling to Johnny with a cracked hoarseness that alone betrayed how far youth was behind him.

They thought at first that he meant to jump the fence, and they knew he could not make it. When they saw that he meant to ride through it, Weary and Pink groaned involuntarily at the certainty of a fall and sickening entanglement in the wires. Only Lite, cool as though he were rounding up milch cows, rode half-turned in the saddle and sent shot after shot back at the line of Navajos, with such swift precision that the Indians swerved and fell back a little, leaving another pony wallowing in the sand and taking with them one fellow who limped until he had climbed up behind one who waited for him.

“Go it, Johnny–dang yore measly hide, go to it! We’ll show ‘m we ain’t so old ‘n’ tender we cain’t turn a trick t’bug their dang eyes out? Bust into it! WE’LL show ’em!–” And Applehead shrilled a raucous range “HOO-EEE-EE!” as Johnny lunged against the taut wires.

It was a long chance he took–a “dang long chance” as Applehead admitted afterward. But, as he had hoped, it happened that Johnny’s stride brought him with a forward leap against the wires, so that the full impact of his eleven-hundred pounds plus the momentum of his speed, plus the weight of Applehead and the saddle, hit the wires fair and full. They popped like cut wires on a bale of hay–and it was lucky that they were tight strung so that there was no slack to take some of the force away. It was not luck, but plain shrewdness on Applehead’s part, that Johnny came straight on, so that there was no tearing see-saw of the strands as they broke. Two inch-long cuts on his chest and a deeper, longer one on his foreleg was the price Johnny paid, and that was all. The lower wire he never touched, since it was a leap that landed him against the fence. He lurched and recovered himself, and went on at a slower gallop while Applehead beckoned the three to come on.

“I kain’t say I’d want to git in the habit uh bustin’ fences that way,” he grinned over his shoulder as the three jumped through the gap he had made and forged up to him. “But I calc’late if they’s another one Johnny n’ me kin make it, mebby.”

“Well, I was brought up in a barbed wire country,” Pink exploded, “but I’ll be darned if I ever saw a stunt like that pulled off before!”

“We-ell, I hed a bronk go hog-wild ‘n’ pop three wires on a fence one time,” Applehead explained modestly, “‘n’ he didn’t cut hisself a-tall, skurcely. It’s all accordin’ t’ how yuh hit it, I reckon. Anyway, I calc’lated it was wuth tryin’, ’cause we shore woulda had our hands full if we’d a stopped at that fence, now I’m tellin’ yuh! ‘N’ another thing,” he added bodefully, “I figgured we’d better be gittin’ to Luck In’ his bunch. I calc’late they need us, mebby.”

No one made any reply to that statement, but even Lite, who never had been inclined to laugh at him, looked at Applehead with a new respect. The Indians, having scurried back out of range of Lite’s uncomfortably close shooting, yelled a bedlam of yips and howls and came on again in a closer group than before, shooting as they rode–at the four men first, and then at the hindmost pack-horse that gave a hop over the wire left across the gap, and came galloping heavily after the others. They succeeded in burying a bullet in the packed bedding, but that was all.

Three hundred yards or so in the lead, the four raced down the long, gentle slope. A mile or two, perhaps three, they could run before their horses gave out. But then, when they could run no longer, they would have to stop and fight; and the question that harped continually through their minds was: Could they run until they reached Luck and the boys with him? Could they? They did not even know where Luck was, or what particular angle of direction would carry them to him quickest. Applehead and Johnny were pointing the way, keeping a length ahead of the others. But even old Applehead was riding, as he would have put it, “by-guess and by-gosh” until they crossed a shallow draw, labored up the hill beyond, and heard, straight away before them, the faint pop-pop of rifle shots. Old Applehead turned and sent them a blazing blue glance over his shoulders.

“RIDE, dang ye!” he barked. “They’ve got Luck cornered in the Devil’s Fryin’-pan!”

CHAPTER XVIII. IN THE DEVIL’S FRYING-PAN

Luck, riding confidently on the trail of the three horsemen who had taken to the south along the front of the square butte, believed that the turn of the trail around the southern end meant simply that the three who came this way would meet their companions on the other side, and that he, following after, would be certain to meet Applehead. He had hopes of the speedy capture of Ramon Chavez and his men, and the hope spread to the four who went with him, so that their spirits rose considerably. Big Medicine and Happy Jack even found a good deal of amusement in their exchange of opinions regarding old granny Applehead and his constant fear of the Navvies. Now and then the Native Son joined in the laugh, though his attention was chiefly given to the discussion Andy and Luck were having about Ramon and his manner of using Luck’s work as an opportunity to rob the bank, and the probable effect it would have on the general standing of Luck and his company unless they managed to land the thieves in jail. Being half Mexican himself, the Native Son was sensitive upon the subject of Ramon, and almost as anxious to see Ramon in jail as was Luck himself.

So while Applehead and his boys were scenting danger and then finding themselves in the middle of it, Luck and his party rode along absorbed in themselves and in the ultimate goal, which was Ramon. They saw nothing queer about the trail they followed, and they saw no evidence of treachery anywhere. They rode with the rifles slung under their right thighs and their six-shooters at their hips, and their eyes roving casually over their immediate surroundings while their minds roved elsewhere–not because they were growing careless, but because there was absolutely nothing to rouse their suspicions, now that they no longer bad Applehead along to preach danger and keep them keyed up to expect it.

They followed the tracks through a scattered grove of stunted pinons, circled at fault for a few minutes in the rocks beyond, and then picked up the trail. They were then in the narrow neck which was called the handle of the Devil’s Frying-pan–and they would have ridden unsuspectingly into the very Pan itself, had not the Native Son’s quick eyes caught a movement on the rim-rock across the bare, rock-bottomed basin. He spoke to luck about it, and luck levelled his field glasses and glimpsed a skulking form up there.

“Hunt yourselves some shelter, boys!” he cried in the sharp tone of warning. “We’ll make sure who’s ahead before we go any farther.”

They ducked behind rocks or trees and piled off their horses in a burry. And a scattered fusillade from the rim-rock ahead of them proved how urgent was their need.

For the first fifteen minutes or so they thought that they were fighting Ramon and his party, and their keenest emotions were built largely of resentment, which showed in the booming voice of Big Medicine when he said grimly:

“Well, I’d jest about as soon pack Ramon in ,dead, as lead ‘im in alive ‘n’ kickin’, by cripes! Which is him, d’yuh reckon?”

From behind a rock shield luck was studying the ledge. “They’re Injuns–or there are Injuns in the bunch, at least,” he told them after a moment. “See that sharp point sticking up straight ahead? I saw an Injun peeking around the edge–to the south. You watch for him, Andy, and let him have it where he lives next time be sticks his head out.” He swung the glasses slowly, taking every inch of the rim in his field of vision. As he moved them be named the man be wanted to watch each place where be had reason to suspect that someone was hiding.

The disheartening part of it was that he needed about a dozen more men than he had; for the rock wall which was the rim of the Frying-pan seemed alive with shooters who waited only for a fair target. Then the Native Son, crouched down between a rock and a clump of brush, turned his head to see what his horse was looking at, back whence they had come.

“Look behind you, Luck,” he advised with more calmness than one would expect of a man in his straits. “They’re back in the pines, too.”

“Fight ’em off–and take care that your backs don’t show to those babies on the rim-rocks,” he ordered instantly, thrusting his glasses into their case and snatching his rifle from its boot on the saddle. “They won’t tackle coming across that bare hollow, even if they can get down into it without breaking their necks. Happy, lead your horse in here between these rocks where mine is. Bud, see if you can get the pack-horses over there outa sight among those bushes and rocks. We’ll hold ’em off while you fix the horses–can’t let ourselves be set afoot out here!”

“I-should-say–NOT!” Andy Green punctuated the sentence with a shot or two. “Say, I wish they’d quit sneaking around in those trees that way, so a fellow could see where to shoot!”

A half hour dragged by. From the rim-rock came occasional shots, to which the besieged could not afford to reply, they were so fully occupied with holding back those who skulked among the trees. The horses, fancying perhaps that this was a motion-picture scene, dozed behind their rock-and-brush shelters and switched apathetically at buzzing flies and whining bullets alike. Their masters crouched behind their bowlders and watched catlike for some open demonstration, and fired when they had the slightest reason to believe that they would hit something besides scenery.

“Miguel must have upset their plans a little,” Luck deduced after a lull. “They set the stage for us down in that hollow, I guess. You can see what we’d have been up against if we had ridden ten rods farther, out away from these rocks and bushes.”

“Aw, they wouldn’t dast kill a bunch uh white men!” Happy Jack protested, perhaps for his own comfort.

“You think they wouldn’t? Luck’s voice was surcharged with sarcasm. What do you think they’re trying to do, then?”

“Aw, the gov’ment wouldn’t STAND fer no such actions!”

“Well, by cripes, I hain’t aimin’ to give the gov’ment no job uh setting on my remains, investigatin’ why I was killed off!” Big Medicine asserted, and took a shot at a distant grimy Stetson to prove he meant what he said.

“Say, they’d have had a SNAP if we’d gone on, and let these fellows back here in the trees close up behind us!” Andy Green exclaimed suddenly, with a vividness of gesture that made Happy Jack try to swallow his Adam’s apple. “By gracious, it would have been a regular rabbit-drive business. They could set in the shade and pick us off just as they darned pleased.”

“Aw, is that there the cheerfullest thing you can think of to say?” Happy Jack was sweating, with something more than desert heat.

“Why, no. The cheerfullest thing I can think of right now is that Mig, here, don’t ride with his eyes shut.” He cast a hasty glance of gratitude toward the Native Son, who flushed under the smooth brown of his cheeks while he fired at a moving bush a hundred yards back in the grove.

For another half hour nothing was gained or lost. The Indians fired desultorily, spatting bit& of lead here and there among the rocks but hitting nobody. The Happy Family took a shot at every symptom of movement in the grove, and toward the, rim-rock they sent a bullet now and then, just to assure the watchers up there that they were not forgotten, and as a hint that caution spelled safety.

For themselves, the boys were amply protected there on the side of the Frying-pan where the handle stretched out into the open land toward the mountain. Perhaps here was once a torrent flowing from the basin-like hollow walled round with rock; at any rate, great bowlders were scattered all along the rim as though spewed from the basin by some mighty force of the bygone ages. The soil, as so often happens in the West, was fertile to the very edge of the Frying-pan and young pinons and bushes had taken root there and managed to keep themselves alive with the snow-moisture of winter, in spite of the scanty rainfall the rest of the year.

The boys were amply protected, yes; but there was not a drop of water save what they had in their canteens, and there was no feed for their horses unless they chose to nibble tender twigs off the bushes near them and call that food. There was, of course, the grain in the packs, but there was neither time nor opportunity to get it out. If it came to a siege, luck and his boys were in a bad way, and they knew it. They were penned as well as protected there in that rocky, brushy neck. The most that they could do was to discourage any rush from those back in the grove; as to getting through that grove themselves, and out in the open, there was not one chance in a hundred that they could do it.

From the outside in to where they were entrenched was just a trifle easier. The Indiana in the grove were all absorbed in watching the edge of the Frying-pan and had their backs to the open, never thinking that white men would be coming that way; for had not the other party been decoyed around the farther end of the big butte, and did not several miles and a barbed-wire fence lie between?

So when Applehead and his three, coming in from the north, approached the grove, they did it under cover of a draw that hid them from sight. From the shots that were fired, Applehead guessed the truth; that Luck’s bunch had sensed danger before they had actually ridden into the Frying-pan itself, and that the Navajos were trying to drive them out of the rocks, and were not making much of a success of it.

“Now,” Applehead instructed the three when they were as close as they could get to the grove without being seen, “I calc’late about the best thing we kin do, boys, is t’ spur up our hosses and ride in amongst ’em shooting and a-hollerin’. Mebby we kin jest natcherlay stampede ’em–but we’ve sure got t’ git through In’ git under cover mighty dang suddent, er they’ll come to theirselves an’ wipe us clean off’n the map–if they’s enough of ’em. These here that’s comin’ along after us, they’ll help t’ swell the party, oncet they git here. I calc’late they figger ‘t we’re runnin’ head-on into a mess uh trouble, ‘n’ they don’t want t’ colleck any stray bullets–‘n’ that’s why they’ve dropped back in the last half mile er so. Haze them pack bosses up this way, Pink, so’st they won’t git caught up ‘fore they git t’ what the rest air. Best use yore six-guns fer this, boys–that’ll leave ye one hand t’ guide yore bosses with, and they’re handier all around in close–work. Air ye ready? Then come on–foller me ‘n’ come a-whoopin’!”

A-whooping they came, up out of the draw and in among the trees as though they had a regiment behind them. Certain crouching figures jumped, sent startled glances behind them and ran like partridges for cover farther on. Only one or two paused to send a shot at these charging fiends who seemed bent on riding them down and who yelled like devils turned loose from the pit. And before they had found safe covert on the farther fringes of the grove and were ready to meet the onslaught, the clamor had ceased and the white men had joined those others among the rocks.

So now there were nine men cornered here on the, edge of the Frying-pan, with no water for their horses and not much hope of getting out of there.

“Darn you, Applehead, why didn’t you keep out of this mess?” Luck demanded with his mouth drawn down viciously at the corners and his eyes warm with affection and gratitude. “What possessed your fool heart to ride into this trap?”

“We-ell, dang it, we had t’ ride som’ers, didn’t we?” Applehead, safe behind a bowlder, pulled off his greasy, gray Stetson and polished his bald head disconcertedly. “Had a bunch uh Navvies hangin’ t’ our heels like tumbleweed–‘n’ we been doin’ some RIDIN’, now, I’m a tellin’ ye! ‘F Lite, here, hadn’t kep’ droppin’ one now an’ then fur the rest t’ devour, I calc’late we’d bin et up, a mile er two back!”

Lite looked up from shoving more cartridges into his rifle-magazine. “If we hadn’t had a real, simon-pure go-getter to boss the job,” he drawled, “I reckon all the shooting I did wouldn’t have cut any ice. Ain’t that right, boys?”

Pink, resting his rifle in a niche of the boulder and moving it here and there trying to fix his sights on a certain green sweater back in the woods that he had glimpsed a minute before, nodded assent. “You’re durn tootin’ it’s right!” he testified.

Weary looked shining-eyed at Applehead’s purple face. “Sure, that’s right!” he emphasized. “And I don’t care how much of a trap you call this, it isn’t a patching to the one Applehead busted us out of. He’s what I call a Real One, boys.”

“Aw, shet yore dang head ‘n’ git yore rifles workin’!” Applehead blurted. “This yere ain’t no time fer kiddin’, ‘n’ I’m tellin’ yuh straight. What’s them fellers acrost the Fryin’-pan think they’re tryin’ t’ do? luck le’s you’n me make a few remarks over that way, ‘n’ leave the boys t’ do some gun-talk with these here babies behind us. Dang it, if I knowed of a better place ‘n’ what this is fer holdin’ ’em off, I’d say make a run fer it. But I don’t ‘n’ that’s fact. Yuh musta sprung the trap ‘fore yuh got inside, ’cause they shore aimed t’ occupy this nest uh rocks theirselves, with you fellers down there in the Fryin’-pan where they could git at yuh.

“Thar’s one of ’em up on the rim-rock–see ‘im?–standin’ thar, by granny, like he was darin’ somebody t’ cut loose! Here, Lite, you spill some lead up thar. We’ll learn ‘im t’ act up smart–“

“Hey, hold on!” Luck grabbed Lite’s arm as he was raising his rifle for a close shot at the fellow. “Don’t shoot! Don’t you see? Thaf’s the peace-sign he’s making!”

“Well, now, dang it, he better be makin’ peace-signs!” growled Applehead querulously, and sat down heavily on a shelf of the rock. “‘Cause Lite, here, shore woulda tuk an ear off’n him in another minnute, now I’m tellin’ ye!”

CHAPTER XIX. PEACE TALK

Across the Frying-pan an Indian stood boldly out upon a jutting point of rock and raised a hand in the sweeping upward motion of the peace-sign. The questing bullets that came seeking for bone and flesh among the rocks and bushes came no more when the signal was passed from those who saw to those farther back who could not see the figure silhouetted against the brilliant blue of the sky. A moment he stood, made the sign again, and waited.

“That’s peace-sign, sure as you’re born!” Luck cried breathlessly, and went scrambling through the bushes to where he might stand in the open, on the very rim of the basin. Applehead yelled to him to come back and not make a dang fool of himself, but luck gave no heed to the warning. He stood out in the blazing sunshine and gave the peace-sign in reply.

On the-rim rock the Indian stood motionless while he might have taken three or four breaths. Then with his hand he gave the sign for “pow-wow” and waited again.

Luck, his pulse thrilling at the once familiar gesture which his tribal “father,” old chief Big Turkey, used to give when he came stalking up for his daily confab with his adopted son, gave back the sign with a hand that trembled noticeably. Whereupon the Indian on the farther rim turned and began dignifiedly to climb through a rift in the ledge down into the Frying-pan.

“He wants a pow-wow,” Luck called back to the bunch. “You fellows stay where you’re at I’m going out there in the middle and talk to him.”

“Now, Luck, don’t let ’em make a dang monkey outa ye,” Applehead protested anxiously. “Injuns is tricky–“

“That’s all right. You can keep a couple of rifles sighted on that old chief–that’s what he is, I take it, from his actions and his talking ‘sign’ and then if they pot me, you can pot him. But they won’t. I know Injuns better than you do, Applehead. He just wants to talk things over–and I’m certainly willing that he should!”

“Well, Lite, you keep your sights lined up on that Injun, then. ‘N’ if they’s a crooked move made towards Luck, you cut loose–‘n’ say! You shoot to kill, this time!” He shook his finger in Lite’s face admonishingly. “‘S all right t’ nip “em here ‘n’ take a hunk out there jest t’ kinda take their minds off’n us—‘s all right enough so fur, ‘n’ I ain’t kickin’ none ’cause yuh ain’t killed off yuh hit. But if this here’s a trick t’ git Luck, you KILL that Injun. ‘N’ if you don’t do it I’ll go out there m’self ‘n’ choke the dang skunk t’ death!”

“I’ll kill him–don’t worry about that,” Lite promised–and the look in his eyes told them that the Indian was doomed at the first sign of treachery.

“You fellers wanta keep an eye peeled fer them in the grove,” Applehead warned. “We ain’t goin’ t’ give ’em no chanst t’ sneak up ‘n’ skulp us whilst we’re watchin’ Luck ‘n’ his dang-fool pow-wowin’ out there in the middle.”

“Aw, gwan! They wouldn’t DAST skelp white folks!” There was a wail in the voice of Happy Jack.

“They dast if they git the chanst,” Applehead retorted fretfully. “‘N’ if you don’t wanta loose that there red mop uh yourn ye better keep yer eyes open, now I’m tellin’ yuh!” He refilled his rifle magazine and took up his station beside Lite Avery where he could watch the Frying-pan through the bushes without exposing himself to a treacherous shot from the rim-rock.

At the foot of the sandstone ledge the Indian stood with his bright red blanket wrapped around him watching Luck. On his own side Luck stood just clear of the rock huddle and watched the Indian. Presently he of the red blanket lifted his hand in the gesture of peace, and started deliberately out across the bare little basin. From his own side, Luck, returning again the gesture, went out to meet him. In the center they met, and eyed each other frankly. Still eyeing Luck, the old Indian put out his hand Indian fashion, and Luck grave it one downward shake and let go.

“How?” he grunted; and in the Indian custom of preparing for a leisurely pow-wow as he had been taught by the Sioux, he squatted upon his boot heels and reached for his cigarette papers and tobacco.

“How?” replied the Navajo, a flicker of interest in his eyes at these little Indian touches in Luck’s manner, and sat himself down cross-legged on the hot sand. Luck rolled a cigarette and passed the “makings” to the other, who received it gravely and proceeded to help himself. luck scratched a match on a stone that lay beside him, lighted the Indian’s cigarette and then his own, took four puffs and blew the smoke upward, watching it spread and drift away, and made the gesture that meant “Our pow-wow will be good,” as he had seen the Sioux medicine men do before a council. Afterwards he began placidly to smoke and meditate.

From his manner you would never have guessed that his life and the lives of the Happy Family hung upon the outcome of this meeting. You would not have surmised that his stomach was gnawing at his nerves, sending out insistently the call for food; or that his thirst tormented him; or that the combination of hunger, heat, thirst and mental strain had bred a jumping headache that was knotting the veins in his temples. All these nagging miseries beset him–but he knew the ways of the Indians and he meant to impress this old man first of all with his plains-Indian training; so he schooled himself to patience.

The Indian eyed him furtively from under heavy eyebrows while he smoked. And the sun beat savagely down upon the sand of that basin, and Luck’s vision blurred with the pain that throbbed behind his eyes. But the facial discipline of the actor was his to command, and he permitted his face to give no sign of what he felt or thought.

The Indian leaned slowly, lifted a brown hand, made a studied gesture or two and waited, his eyes fixed unwinkingly upon Luck. It was as if he were saying to himself: “We’ll see if this white man can speak in the sign-talk of the Indians.”

Luck lifted his two hands, drew them slowly apart to say that he had come a long way. Then, using only his hands–sometimes his fingers only–he began to talk; to tell the old Navajo that he and eight other white men were sheriffs and that they were chasing four white men (since he had no sign that meant Mexican) who had stolen money; that they had come from Albuquerque–and there he began to draw in the sand between them a crude but thoroughly understandable sketch of the trail they had taken and the camps they had made, and the distance they believed the four thieves had travelled ahead of them.

He marked the camp where their horses had been stolen from them and told how long they had waited there until the horses of their own accord returned to camp; thirteen horses, he explained to the old Navajo. He drew a rough square to indicate the square butte, sketched the fork of the trail there and told how four men had turned to the north on a false trail, while he and four others had gone around the southern end of the hill. He calmly made plain that at the end of both false trails a trap had been laid, that Indians had fired upon white men and for no just cause. Why was this go? Why had Indians surrounded them back there in the grove and tried to kill them? Why were Indians shooting at them from the ledge of rocks that circled this little basin? They had no quarrel with the Navajos. They were chasing thieves, to take them to jail.

Folded swelteringly in his red blanket the old Indian sat humped forward a little, smoking slowly his cigarette and studying the sketch Luck had drawn for him. With aching head and parched throat and hungry stomach, Luck sat cross- legged on the hot sand and waited, and would not let his face betray any emotion at all. Up on the Tim-rock brown faces peered down steadfastly at the pow-wow. And back among the rocks and bushes the Happy Family waited restively with eyes turning in all directions guarding against treachery; and Lite, whose bullets always went straight to the spot where they were aimed, stood and stared fixedly over his rifle sights at the red-blanketed figure squatted in the sand and kept his finger crooked upon the trigger. Beside him Applehead fidgeted and grumbled and called Luck names for being so dang slow, and wondered if those two out there meant to sit and chew the rag all day.

The Indian leaned and traced Luck’s trail slowly with his finger. Did the four white men come that way? he asked in sign. And then, had Luck seen them? Was be sure that he was following the four who had stolen money in Albuquerque?

Come to think of it, Luck was not sure to the point of being able to take oath that it was so. He traced again where the hoofprints had been discovered near the stalled automobile, and signed that the six horses they believed to have belonged to the four who had taken two horses packed with food and blankets– and the stolen money.

Then suddenly Luck remembered that, for proof of his story, he had a page of the Evening Herald in his pocket, torn from a copy he had bought on the streets the evening after the robbery. He pulled the folded paper out, spread it before the other and pointed to the article that told of the robbery. “Call some young man of your tribe who can read,” he signed. “Let him read and tell you if I have spoken the truth.”

The Indian took the paper and looked at it curiously.

Now, unless Applehead or some other hot-head spoiled things, Luck believed that things would smooth down beautifully. There had been some misunderstanding, evidently–else the Indiana would never have manifested all this old-fashioned hostility.

The blanketed one showed himself a true diplomat. “Call one of your white men, that there may be two and two,” he gestured. And he added, with the first words he had spoken since they met, “Hablo espanol?”

Well, if he spoke Spanish, thought Luck, why the deuce hadn’t he done it at first? But there is no fathoming the reticence of an Indian–and Luck, by a sudden impulse, hid his own knowledge of the language. He stood up and turned toward the rocks, cupped his hands around his lips and called for the Native Son. “And leave your rifle at home,” he added as an afterthought and in the interests of peace.

The Indian turned to the rim-rock, held up the fragment of newspaper and called for one whom he called Juan. Presently Juan’s Stetson appeared above the ledge, and Juan himself scrambled hastily down the rift and came to them, grinning with his lips and showing a row of beautifully even teeth, and asking suspicious questions with his black eyes that shone through narrowed lids.

Miguel, arriving just then from the opposite direction, sized him up with one heavy-lashed glance and nodded negligently. He had left his rifle behind him as he had been told, but his six-shooter hung inside the waistband of his trousers where he could grip it with a single drop of his hand. The Native Son, lazy as he looked, was not taking any chances.

The old Indian explained in Navajo to the young man who eyed the two white men while,he listened. Of the blanket-vending, depot-haunting type was this young man, with a ready smile and a quick eye for a bargain and a smattering of English learned in his youth at a mission, and a larger vocabulary of Mexican that lent him fluency of speech when the mood to talk was on him. Half of his hair was cut so that it hung even with his ear-lobes. At the back it was long and looped up in the way a horse’s tail is looped in muddy weather, and tied with a grimy red ribbon wound round and round it. He wore a green-and-white roughneck sweater broadly striped, and the blue overalls that inevitably follow American civilization into the wild places.

“‘S hot day,” he announced unemotionally, and took the paper which the red-blanketed one held out to him. His air of condescension could not hide the fact that behind his pride at being able to read print he was unhappily aware also of his limitations in the accomplishment. Along the scare-head Luck had indicated, his dirty forefinger moved slowly while he spelled out the words. “A-a-bank rob!” he read triumphantly, and repeated the statement in Spanish. After that he mumbled. a good deal of it, the longer words arresting his finger while he struggled with the syllables. But he got the sense of it nevertheless, as Luck and Miguel knew by the version he gave in Spanish to the old Indian, with now and then a Navajo word to help out.

When he came to the place where Ramon Chavez and Luis Rojas were named as the thieves, he gavea grunt and looked up at Luck and Miguel, read in, their faces that these were the men they sought, and grinned.

“Me, I know them feller,” he declared unexpectedly. “Dat day I seen them feller. They go–“

The old Indian touched him on the shoulder, and Juan turned and repeated the statement in Spanish. The old man’s eyes went to luck understandingly, while he asked Juan a question in the Navajo tongue, and afterwards gave a command. He turned his eyes upon the Native Son and spoke in Spanish. “The men you want did not come this way,” he said gravely. “Juan will tell.”

“Yes, I know dat Ramon Chavez. I seen him ,dat day. I’m start for home, an’ I seen Ramon Chavez an’ dat Luis Rojas an’ one white feller I’m don’t know dat feller. They don’t got red car. They got big, black car. They come outa corral–scare my horse. They go ‘cross railroad. I go ‘cross rio. One red car pass me. I go along, bimeby I pass red car in sand. Ramon Chavez, he don’t go in dat car. I don’t know them feller. Ramon Chavez he go ‘cross railroad in big black car.”

“Then who was it we’ve been trailing out this way?” Luck asked the question in Spanish and glanced from one brown face to the other.

The older Indian shifted his moccasined feet in the sand and looked away. “Indians,” he said in Mexican. “You follow, Indians think you maybe take them away–put ‘m in jail. All friends of them Indians pretty mad. They come fight you. I hear, I come to find out what’s fighting about.”

Luck gazed at him stupidly for a moment until. the full meaning of the statement seeped through. the ache into his brain. He heaved a great sigh of relief, looked at the Native Son and laughed.

“The joke’s on us, I guess,” he said. “Go, back and tell that to the boys. I’ll be along in a minute.”

Juan, grinning broadly at what he considered a very good joke on the nine white men who had traveled all this way for nothing, went back to explain the mistake to his fellows on the ledge. The old Indian took it upon himself to disperse the Navajos in the grove, and just as suddenly as the trouble started it was stopped–and the Happy Family, if they had been at all inclined to belittle the danger of their position, were made to realize it when thirty or more Navajos came flocking in from all quarters. Many of them could–and did–talk English understandably, and most of them seemed inclined to appreciate the joke. All save those whom Lite had “nipped and nicked” in the course of their flight from the rock ridge to the Frying-Pan. These were inclined to be peevish over their hurts and to nurse them in sullen silence while Luck, having a rudimentary knowledge of medicine and surgery, gave them what firstaid treatment was possible.

Applehead, having plenty of reasons for avoiding publicity, had gone into retirement in the shade of a clump of brush, with Lite to keep him company while he smoked a meditative pipe or two and studied the puzzle of Ramon’s probable whereabouts.

“Can’t trust a Navvy,” he muttered in a discreet undertone to Lite. “I’ve fit ’em b’fore now, ‘n’ I KNOW. ‘N’ you kin be dang sure they ain’t fergot the times I’ve fit ’em, neither! There’s bucks millin’ around here that’s jes’ achin’ fer a chanst at me, t’ pay up fer some I’ve killed off when I was shurf ‘n’ b’fore. So you keep ‘n ,eye peeled, Lite, whilst I think out this yere dang move uh Ramon’s. ‘N’ if you see anybody sneakin’ up on me, you GIT him. I cain’t watch Navvyies ‘n’ mill things over in m’ haid at the same time.”

Lite grinned and wriggled over so that his back was against a rock. He laid his six-shooter Ostentatiously across his lap and got out his tobacco and papers. “Go ahead and think, Applehead,” he consented placidly. “I’ll guard your scalp-lock.”

Speaking literally, Applehead had no scalplock to guard. But he did have a shrewd understanding of the mole-like workings of the criminal mind; and with his own mind free to work on the problem, he presently declared that he would bet he could land Ramon Chavez in jail within a week, and sent Lite after Luck.

“I’ve got it figgered out,” he announced when Luck came over to his retreat. “If Ramon crossed the railroad he was aimin’ t’ hit out across the mesa to the mountains ‘n’ beyond. He wouldn’t go south, ’cause he could be traced among the Injun pueblos–they’s a thousand eyes down, that way b’fore he’d git t’ wild country. He’d keep away from the valley country–er I would, if I was him. I know dang well whar I’D hit fer if I was makin’ a gitaway ‘n’ didn’t come off over here–‘n’ I shore would keep outa Navvy country, now I’m tellin’ yuh! No, sir, I’d take out t’other way, through Hell Canon er Tijeras, ‘n’ I’d make fer the Jemes country. That thar’s plenty wild ‘n’ rough–‘n’ come t’ think of it, the Chavez boys owns quite a big grant, up in there som’ers, ‘n’ have got men in their pay up thar, runnin’ their cattle. Ramon could lay low fer a dang long while up thar ‘n’ be safer’n what he would be out amongst strangers.

“‘N’ another thing, I’d plan t’ have some hosses stached out in one uh them canons, ‘n’ I’d mebby use a autymobile t’ git to ’em, ‘n’ send the car back t’ town– if I could trust the feller that drove it–outa my sight. ‘N’, Luck, if you’ll take my advice, you’ll hit out t’wards the Jemes country. I know every foot uh the way, ‘n’ we kin make it in a coupla days by pushin’ the hosses. ‘N’ I’ll bet every dang hoof I own ‘t we round up that bunch over thar som’ers.”

“You lead out, then,” Luck told him promptly. “I’m willing to admit you’re better qualified to take charge of the outfit than I am. You know the country–and you’ve fit Indians.”

“We-ell, now, you’re dang right I have! ‘N’ if some them bucks don’t go off ‘n’ mind their own business, I’ll likely fight a few morel You shoo ’em outa camp, Luck, ‘n’ start ’em about their own dang business. ‘N’ we’ll eat a bite ‘n’ git on about our own. If we show up any grub whilst this bunch is hangin’ around we’ll have t’ feed ’em–‘n’ you know dang well we ain’t got enough skurcely fer the Jemes trip as it is.”

“I’ve been handing out money as it is till I’m about broke,” Luck confessed, “making presents to those fellows that came in with bullets in their legs and arms. Funny nobody got hit in the body–except one poor devil that got shot in the shoulder.”

“We-ell, now, you kin blame Lite’s dang tender heart fer that there,” Applehead accused, pulling at his sunbrowned mustache. “We was all comin’ on the jump, ‘n’ so was the Injuns; ‘n’ it was purty long range ‘n’ nobody but lite could hit ‘n Injun t’ save his soul. ‘N’ Lite, he wouldn’t shoot t’ kill–he jes’ kep’ on nippin’ an’ nickin’, ‘n’ shootin’ a boss now an’ then. I wisht I was the expert shot Lite is–I’d shore a got me a few Navvies back there, now I’m tellin’ yuh!”

“Bud’s got a bullet in his arm,” Luck said, “but the bone wasn’t hit, so he’ll make out, and one of the pack-horses was shot in the ear. We got off mighty lucky, and I’m certainly glad Lite didn’t get careless. Cost me about fifty dollars to square us as it is. You stay where you are, Applehead, till I get rid of the Indians. The old fellow acts like he feels he ought to stick along till we’re outa here. He’s kind of taken a notion to me because I can talk sign, and he seems to want to make sure we don’t mix it again with the tribe. Some of them are kinda peeved, all right. You’ve got no quarrel with this old fellow, have you? He’s a big-league medicine man in the tribe, and his Spanish name is Mariano Pablo Montoya. Know him?”

“No I don’t, ‘n’ I don’t keer to neither,” Applehead retorted crossly. “Shoo ’em off, Luck, so’s we kin eat. My belly’s shore a floppin’ agin m’ backbone, ‘n’ I’m tellin’ yuh right!”

CHAPTER XX. LUIS ROJAS TALKS

Three days of hiding by day in sequestered little groves or deep, hidden canons, with only Luis Rojas to bear her company–Luis Rojas whom she did not trust and therefore watched always from under her long straight lashes, with oblique glances when she seemed to be gazing straight before her; three nights of tramping through rough places where often the horses must pause and feel carefully for space to set their feet. Roads there were, but Luis avoided roads as though they carried the plague. When he must cross one he invariably turned back and brushed out their footprints–until he discovered that Annie-Many-Ponies was much cleverer at this than he was; often he smoked a cigarette while Annie covered their trail. Three days and three nights, and Ramon was not there where they stopped for the third day.

“We go slow,” Luis explained nervously because of the look in the black, unreadable eyes of this straight, slim Indian girl who was so beautiful–and so silent. “They go muy fas’, Ramon an’ Beel. Poco tiempo–sure, we fin’ dem little soon.”

Annie-Many-Ponies did not betray by so much as a quiver of an eyelash that Luis had mentioned Bill unwittingly. But she hid the name away in her memory, and all that day she sat and pondered over the meager facts that had come her way, and with the needle of her suspicion she wove them together patiently until the pattern was almost complete.

Ramon and Bill–what Bill, save Bill Holmes, would be with Ramon? Ramon and Bill Holmes–memory pictured them again by the rock in the moonlight, muttering in Spanish mostly, muttering mystery always. Ramon and Bill Holmes she remembered the sly, knowing glances between these two at “location” though they scarcely seemed on speaking terms. Ramon and Bill and this mysterious night-travelling, when there should be no trouble and no mystery at all beyond the house of the priest! So much trouble over the marriage of an Indian girl and a young Mexican cattle king? Annie-Many-Ponies was not so stupid as to believe that; she had seen too much of civilization in her wanderings with the show, and her work in pictures. She had seen man and maid “make marriage,” in pictures and in reality. There should be no trouble, no mysterious following of Ramon by night.

Something evil there was, since Bill Holmes was with Ramon. Annie-Many-Ponies knew that it was so. Perhaps–perhaps the evil was against Wagalexa Conka! Perhaps–her heart forgot to beat when the thought stabbed her brain–perhaps they had killed Wagalexa Conka! It might be so, if he had suspected her flight and had followed Ramon, and they had fought.

In the thick shade of a pinon Luis slept with his face to the ground, his forehead pressed upon his folded arms. Annie-Many-Ponies got up silently and went and stood beside him, looking down at him as though she meant to wrest the truth from his brain. And Luis, feeling in his sleep the intensity of her gaze, stirred uneasily, yawned and sat up, looking about him bewilderedly. His glance rested on the girl, and he sprang to his feet and faced her.

Annie-Many-Ponies smiled her little, tantalizing, wistfully inviting smile–the smile which luck bad whimsically called heart-twisting. “I awful lonesome,” she murmured, and sat down with her back nestling comfortably against a grassy bank. “You talk. I not lets you sleep all time. You think I not good for talk to?”

“Me, I not tell w’at I’m theenk,” Luis retorted with a crooning note, and sat down facing her. “Ramon be mad me.”

Annie-Many-Ponies looked at him, her eyes soft and heavy with that languorous look which will quickest befuddle the sense of a man. “You tell; Ramon not hear,” she hinted. “Ramon, he got plenty trobles for thinking about.” She smiled again. “Ramon plenty long ways off. He got Bill Holmes for talking to. You talk to me.”

How he did it, why he did it, Luis Rojas could never explain afterwards. Something there was in her smile, in her voice, that bewitched him. Something there was that made him think she knew and approved of the thing Ramon had planned. He made swift, Spanish love to Annie-Many-Ponies, who smiled upon him but would not let him touch her hand–and so bewitched him the more. He made love–but also he talked. He told Annie-Many-Ponies all that she wished him to tell; and some things that she had never dreamed and that she shrank from hearing.

For he told her of the gold they had stolen, and how they had made it look as though Luck Lindsay had planned the theft. He told her that he loved her–which did not interest her greatly–and he told her that Ramon would never marry her–which was like a knife thrust to her soul. Ramon had many loves, said Luis, and he was true to none; never would he marry a woman to rule his life and make him trouble–it were easier to make love and then laugh and ride away. Luis was “muy s’prised” that Annie-Many-Ponies had ever believed that Ramon would marry her, beautiful though she was, charming though she was, altogether irresistible though she was–Luis became slightly incoherent here and lasped into swift rolling Spanish words which she did not understand.

Luis, before the sun went down and it was time to eat supper and go on, became so thoroughly bewitched that he professed himself eager to let his share of the gold go, and to take Annie-Many-Ponies to a priest and marry her–if she wished very much to be married by a priest. In the middle of his exaltation, Annie-Many-Ponies chilled him with the look she gave him.

“You big fool,” she told him bluntly. “I not so fool like that. I go to Ramon–and plenty gold! I think you awful fool. You make me tired!”

Luis was furious enough for a minute to do her violence–but Annie-Many-Ponies killed that impulse also with the cold contempt in her eyes. She was not afraid of him, and like an animal he dared not strike where he could not inspire fear. He muttered a Mexican oath or two and went mortifiedly away to lead the horses down to the little stream where they might drink. The girl was right–he was a fool, he told himself angrily; and sulked for hours.

Fool or not, he had told Annie-Many-Ponies what she wanted to know. He had given food to her brooding thoughts–food that revived swiftly and nourished certain traits lying dormant in her nature, buried alive under the veneer of white man’s civilization–as we are proud to call it.

The two ate in silence, and in silence they saddled the horses and fared forth again in their quest of Ramon–who had the gold which Annie-Many-Ponies boldly asserted was an added lure. “The monee–always the man wins that has muchos monee.” Luis muttered often to himself as he rode into the dusk. Behind him Annie-Many-Ponies walked and led the black horse that bore all her worldly possessions bound to the saddle. The little black dog padded patiently along at his heels.

CHAPTER XXI. “WAGALEXA CONKA–COLA!”

“So good little girl yoh are to true’ Ramon! Now I knows for sure yoh lov’ me moch as I lov’ yoh! Now we go little ride more to my house high up in the pinons–then we be so happy like two birds in nes’. Firs’ we rest ourselves, querida mia. This good place for res’, my sweetheart that comes so far to be with Ramon. To-morrow we go to my house–to nes’ of my loved one. Thees cabin, she’s very good little nes’ ontil tomorrow–yoh theenk so?”

Annie-Many-Ponies, sitting beside the doorway of the primitive little log cabin where the night-journeys with Luis had ended, looked up into Ramon’s flushed face with her slow smile. But her eyes were two deep, black wells whose depths he could not fathom.

“Where them priest you promise?” she asked, her voice lowered to its softest Indian tone. “Now I think we make plenty marriage; then we go for live in your house.”

Ramon turned and caught her unexpectedly in his arms. “Ah, now you spik foolish talk. Yoh not trus’ Ramon! Why yoh talk pries’, pries’ all time? Lov’, she’s plenty pries’ for us. Pries’ she don’ make us more lov’ each other– pries’ don’ make us happy–we like birds that make nes’ in tree-tops. Yoh think they mus’ have pries’ for help them be happy? Lov’–that’s plenty for me.”

Annie-Many-Ponies drew herself away from his embrace, but she did it gently. Bill Holmes, coming up from the spring, furnished excuse enough, and Ramon let her go.

“You promise me priest for making us marriage,” she persisted in her soft voice.

Ramon twisted the points of his black mustache and regarded her askance, smiling crookedly. “Yoh ‘fraid for trus’ me, that’s why I promise,” he said at last. “Me, I don’ need padre to mumble-mumble foolish words before I can be happy. Yoh ‘fraid of Luck Leen’sey, that’s why I promise. Now yoh come way up here, so luck don’ matter no more. Yoh be happy weeth me.”

“You promise,” Annie-Many-Ponies repeated, a sullen note creeping into her voice.

Bill Holmes, lounging up to the doorway, glanced from one to the other and laughed. “What’s the matter, Ramon?” he bantered. “Can’t you square it with your squaw? Go after her with a club, why don’t you? That’s what they’re used to.”

Ramon did not make any reply whatever, and Bill gave another chuckling laugh and joined Luis, who was going to take the gaunt horses to a tiny meadow beyond the bill. As be went he said something that made Luis look back over his shoulder and laugh.

Annie-Many-Ponies lifted her head and stared straight at Ramon. He did not meet her eyes, nor did he show any resentment of Bill Holmes’ speech; yet he had sworn that he loved her, that he would be proud to have her for his wife. She, the daughter of a chief, had been insulted in his presence, and he had made no protest, shown no indignation.

“You promise priest for making us marriage,” she reiterated coldly, as if she meant to force his real self into the open. “You promise you put ring of gold for wedding on my finger, like white woman’s got.”

Ramon’s laugh was not pleasant. “Yoh theenk marry squaw?” he sneered. “Luck Leen’sey, he don’t marry yoh. Why yoh theenk I marry yoh? You be good, Ramon lov’ yoh. Buy yoh lots pretty theengs, me treat yoh fine. Yoh lucky girl, yoh bet. Yoh don’t be foolish no more. Yoh run away, be my womans. W’at yoh theenk? Go back, perhaps? Yoh theenk Luck Leen’sey take yoh back? You gone off with Ramon Chavez, he say; yoh stay weeth Ramon then. Yoh Ramon’s woman now. Yoh not be foolish like yoh too good for be kees. luck, be kees yoh many times, I bet! Yoh don’ play good girl no more for Ramon–oh-h, no! That joke she’s w’at yoh call ches’nut. We don’ want no more soch foolish talk, or else maybe I do w’at Bill Holmes says she’s good for squaw!”

“You awful big liar,” Annie-Many-Ponies stated with a calm, terrific frankness. “You plenty big thief. You fool me plenty–now I don’t be fool no more. You so mean yoh think all mens like you. You think all girls bad girls. You awful big fool, you think I stay for you. I go.”

Ramon twisted his mustache and laughed at her. “Now yoh so pretty, when yoh mad,” he teased. “How yoh go? All yoh theengs in cabin–monee, clothes, grob–how yoh go? Yoh mad now–pretty soon Ramon he makes yoh glad! Shame for soch cross words–soch cross looks! Now I don’t talk till yoh be good girl, and says yoh lov’ Ramon. I don’t let yoh go, neither. Yoh don’t get far way–I promise yoh for true. I breeng yoh back, sweetheart, I promise I breeng yoh back I Yoh don’t want to go no more w’en I’m through weeth yoh–I promise yoh! Yoh theenk I let yoh go? O-oh-h, no! Ramon not let yoh get far away!”

In her heart she knew that he spoke at last the truth; that this was the real Ramon whom she had never before seen. To every woman must come sometime the bitter awakening from her dreamworld to the real world in all its sordidness and selfishness. Annie-Many-Ponies, standing there looking at Ramon–Ramon who laughed at her goodness–knew now what the future that had lain behind the mountains held in store for her. Not happiness, surely; not the wide ring of gold that would say she was Ramon’s wife. Luis was right. He had spoken the truth, though she had believed that he lied when he said Ramon would never marry a woman. He would love and laugh and ride away, Luis had told her. Well, then–

“Shunka Chistala!” she called softly to the little black dog, that came eagerly, wagging his burr-matted tail. She laid her hand on its head when the dog jumped up to greet her. She smiled faintly while she fondled its silky, flapping ears.

“Why you all time pat that dam-dog?” Ramon flashed out jealously. “You don’t pet yoh man what lov’ yoh!”

“Dogs don’t lie,” said Annie-Many-Ponies coldly, and walked away. She did not look back, she did not hurry, though she must have known that Ramon in one bound could have stopped her with his man’s strength. Her head was high, her shoulders were straight, her eyes were so black the pupils did not show at all, and a film of inscrutability veiled what bitter thoughts were behind them.

As it had been with Luis so it was now with Ramon. Her utter disregard of him held him back from touching her. He stood with wrath in his eyes and let her go–and to hide his weakness from her strength he sent after her a sneering laugh and words that were like a whip.

“All right–jus’ for now I let you ron,” he jeered. “Bimeby she’s different. Bimeby I show yoh who’s boss. I make yoh cry for Ramon be good to yoh!”

Annie-Many-Ponies did not betray by so much as a glance that she beard him. But had he seen her face be would have been startled at the look his words brought there. He would have been startled and perhaps he would have been warned. For never bad she carried so clearly the fighting look of her forefathers who went out to battle. With the little black dog at her heels she climbed a small, round-topped hill that had a single pine like a cockade growing from the top.

For ten minutes she stood there on the top and stared away to the southeast, whence she had come to keep her promise to Ramon. Never, it seemed to her, had a girl been so alone. In all the world there could not be a soul so bitter. Liar–thief–betrayer of women–and she had left the clean, steadfast friendship of her brother Wagalexa Conka for such human vermin as Ramon Chavez! She sat down, and with her face hidden in her shawl and her slim body rocking back and forth in weird rhythm to her wailing, she crooned the mourning song of the Omaha. Death of her past, death of her place among good people, death of her friendship, death of hope–she sat there with her face turned toward the far-away, smiling mesa where she had been happy, and wailed softly to herself as the women of her tribe had wailed when sorrow came to them in the days that were gone.

All through the afternoon she sat there with her back to the lone pine tree and her face turned toward the southeast, while the little black dog lay at her feet and slept. From the cabin Ramon watched her, stubbornly waiting until she would come down to him of her own accord. She would come–of that he was sure. She would come if he convinced her that he would not go up and coax her to come. Ramon had known many girls who were given to sulking over what he considered their imaginary wrongs, and he was very sure that he knew women better than they knew themselves. She would come, give her time enough, and she could not fling at him then any taunt that he had been over-eager. Certainly she would come–she was a woman!

But the shadow of the pines lengthened until they lay like long fingers across the earth; and still she did not come. Bill Holmes and Luis, secure in the knowledge that Ramon was on guard against any unlooked-for visitors, slept heavily on the crude bunks in the cabin. Birds began twittering animatedly as the beat of the day cooled and they came forth from their shady retreats–and still Annie-Many-Ponies sat on the little billtop, within easy calling distance of the cabin, and never once looked down that way. Still the little black dog curled at her feet and slept. For all the movement these two made, they might have been of stone; the pine above was more unquiet than they.

Ramon, watching her while he smoked many cigarettes, became filled with a vague uneasiness What was she thinking? What did she mean to do? He began to have faint doubts of her coming down to him. He began to be aware of something in her nature that was unlike those other women; something more inflexible, more silent, something that troubled him even while he told himself that she was like all the rest and he would be her master.

“Bah! She thinks to play with me, Ramon! Then I will go up and I will show her–she will follow weeping at my heels–like that dog of hers that some day I shall kill!”

He got up and threw away his cigarette, glanced within and saw that Bill and Luis still slept, and started up the hill to where that motionless figure sat beneath the pine and kept her face turned from him. It would be better, thought Ramon, to come upon her unawares, and so he went softly and very slowly, placing each foot as carefully as though he were stalking a wild thing of the woods.

Annie-Many-Ponies did not hear him coming. All her heart was yearning toward that far away mesa. “Wagalexa Conka–cola!” she whispered, for “cola” is the Sioux word for friend. Aloud she dared not speak the word, lest some tricksy breeze carry it to him and fill him with; anger because she had betrayed his friendship. “Wagalexa Conka–cola! cola!”

Friendship that was dead–but she yearned for it the more. And it seemed to her as she whispered, that Wagalexa Conka was very, very near. Her heart felt his nearness, and her eyes softened. The Indian look–the look of her fighting forefathers–drifted slowly from her face as fog, drifts away before the sun. He was near–perhaps he was dead and his spirit had come to take her spirit by the hand and call her cola–friend. If that were so, then she wished that her spirit might go with his spirit, up through all that limitless blue, away and away and away, and never stop, and never tire and never feel anything but friendship like warm, bright sunshine!

Down at the cabin a sound–a cry, a shout–startled her. She brushed her hand across her eyes and looked down. There, surrounding the cabin, were the Happy Family, and old Applehead whom she hated because he hated her. And in their midst stood Bill Holmes and Luis, and the setting sun shone on something bright–like great silver rings–that clasped their wrists.

Coming up the hill toward her was Wagalexa Conka, climbing swiftly, looking up as he came. Annie-Many-Ponies sprang to her feet, startling the little black dog that gave a yelp of astonishment. Came he in peace? She hesitated, watching him unwinkingly. Something swelled in her chest until she could hardly breathe, and then fluttered there like a prisoned bird. “COLA!” she gasped, just under her breath, and raised her hand in the outward, sweeping gesture that spoke peace.

“You theenk to fix trap, you–!”

She whirled and faced Ramon, whose eyes blazed bate and murder and whose tongue spoke the foulness of his soul. He flung out his arm fiercely and thrust her aside. “Me, I kill that dam–“

He did not say any more, and the six-shooter he had levelled at Luck dropped from his nerveless hand like a coiled adder, Annie-Many-Ponies had struck. Like an avenging spirit she pulled the knife free and held it high over her head, facing Luck who stared up at her from below. He thought the look in her eyes was fear of him and of the law, and he lifted his hand and gave back the peace-sign. It was for him she had killed and she should not be punished if he could save her. But Luck failed to read her look aright; it was not fear he saw, but farewell.

For with her free hand she made the sign of peace and farewell–and then the knife descended straight as a plummet to her heart. But even as she fell she spurned the dead Ramon with her feet, so that he rolled a little way while the black dog growled at him with bared teeth; even in death she would not touch him who had been so foul.

Luck ran the last few, steep steps, and took her in his arms. His eyes were blurred so that he could not see her face, and his voice shook so that he could scarcely form the words that brushed back death from her soul and brought a smile to her eyes.

“Annie–little sister!”

Annie-Many-Ponies raised one creeping hand, groping until her fingers touched his face.

“Wagalexa Conka–cola!”

He took her fingers and for an instant, while she yet could feel, he laid them against his lips.