“Who’s that?” she demanded in a hoarse whisper.
“Shoz-Dijiji,” came the soft reply.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were going to wait on top of the hill.”
“No good you ride far alone at night. Shoz-Dijiji come down to meet you.”
So, after all, her fears had been groundless! “You frightened me,” she said.
The Apache laughed. She handed him the canteen and the food and the end of the halter rope.
“Who that chief you talk to so long?” he asked suddenly.
“Oh, that was the officer in command of the detachment.”
“Yes, I know—what his name?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“He friend Wichita, isn’t he?” demanded Shoz-Dijiji.
“Yes, of course.”
“Mebbyso sometime he need Apache friend, eh? Wichita friend. Shoz-Dijiji friend. Shoz-Dijiji like you very much. You kind. Shoz-Dijiji no forget, never.”
“His name is King,” said the girl, “Lieutenant King, ‘B’ Troop, –th Cavalry.”
Without another word the Apache leaped to the back of the pony and rode away into the night and the darkness. Wichita Billings crept back to her father’s home. That night she dreamed that Lieutenant King and Shoz-Dijiji were fighting to the death and that she stood there watching them, unable to interfere, equally unable to determine which one she wished to see victorious.
Riding northwest in the direction of Cibicu Creek shortly after dawn the following morning Shoz-Dijiji, his eyes always on the alert, saw a slender column of smoke arising from a far mountaintop in the southwest. Stopping, he watched it for several minutes and during that time it remained a steady column of smoke. It carried its message across the desolate waste to Shoz-Dijiji as it did to other scattered warriors of the six tribes, and Shoz-Dijiji reined his pony toward the southwest.
The Apache kept to the hills and to the trailless places as much as possible, for he knew that the whole world was full of enemies searching for him and his kind, searching with field glasses and with rifles; and he knew, too, that those who were not searching for him would shoot him on sight even more quickly.
As he rode his thoughts often returned to the white girl who had befriended him, but more often did they reach ahead across the broken country to embrace the lithe young figure of Ish-kay-nay with the laughing eyes and the black hair. He knew that she would be disappointed but that she would wait. She would not have to wait long, he promised himself, for what he had accomplished once he could accomplish again. Perhaps this time he would take Gian-nah-tah and some of the other young braves with him. Together they could round up many horses in northern Chihuahua or Sonora.
Toward noon, ascending a slight acclivity, Shoz-Dijiji was suddenly confronted by the head and shoulders of a white man as they topped the ridge from the opposite side. Just for an instant the two faced one another. The Apache saw the surprise and fear that swept into the eyes of the pindah lickoyee, saw him turn and vanish.
Dismounting, the Indian led his pony cautiously forward toward the crest of the ridge; ready in his right hand was his six-shooter, alert his ears, his eyes, his every sense. Beyond that summit he knew there was a precipitous hillside, dropping to the bottom of a canyon. A man on foot might scale it, but it was no place to remain and fight, for there was little footing and no cover. These things his knowledge of the spot told him, assuring him that it would be safe to approach the edge of the declivity and reconnoiter, as the white-eyed one must by this time be at the bottom of the canyon.
Cautiously Shoz-Dijiji peered over the edge, several yards from the spot at which the man had disappeared, knowing as he did that if the latter was waiting to fire at him that his attention would be directed upon the spot from which he had discovered the Indian and not even a few yards to the right or to the left; but there was no one waiting to fire at Shoz-Dijiji. At the foot of the canyon wall lay a young white man—quite motionless he lay in a crumpled heap. A few yards away, tied to a stunted bush, was a saddled pony. Shoz-Dijiji remounted and riding a hundred yards up the rim of the canyon zigzagged down its steep side. The man still lay where he had fallen as Shoz-Dijiji approached him and reined in his pony. The Apache dismounted and stooped to examine the white, first removing the other’s revolver from its holster. The man was young, twenty perhaps. He was not dead, as the Indian had at first thought likely, for the canyon wall was high and steep and there were rocks at its base, and it appeared evident that the man had fallen the full distance.
Shoz-Dijiji stood looking at his helpless enemy. His eyes appraised his find in terms of loot; there was a good Colt and many rounds of ammunition, and he had seen a rifle resting in its boot along the side of the tethered pony. Many were the other possessions of the white-eyed one that aroused the cupidity of the swart savage. Shoz-Dijiji fingered the hilt of his hunting knife, a keen butcher knife made in Connecticut for no more sanguinary service than slicing roasts in some quiet New England kitchen. How easy it would be to slit the throat of the hated pindah lickoyee and appropriate his belongings.
It was while Shoz-Dijiji was thinking these thoughts that the young man opened his eyes and looked up into the stern, painted face of the red man. Instinctively the youth reached for his Colt, realized that it was gone, recognized it then in the hands of the Indian, and closed his eyes in despair. He felt sick and he knew that he was badly injured by the fall, how badly he could only guess. He had been without water for two days, he was hopelessly lost, and now that the end had come he was not sure but that after all it was something of a relief. That which caused him the greatest apprehension was his knowledge of the possible manner of his death at the hands of one of these human fiends. His very soul shuddered and shrank from the torture that he knew might be in store for him. Shoz-Dijiji looking down at him recalled his promise to the white girl. He turned to continue his journey, knowing that death must surely overtake the white, and then he stopped. The young man, hearing him move away, had opened his eyes again. He saw the Apache rein in his pony, hesitate, and then wheel back toward him. Again he dismounted at his side, stooped down and felt of his legs lifting them, examining them. He put an arm beneath the youth’s shoulders and lifted him to his feet. To the great surprise of the white man he found that he could stand, that his body was not broken in any place. The Indian helped him to walk to his pony and lifted him into the saddle. Then he offered him his canteen, for he had seen that the youth’s was empty and, too, he had seen in his drawn face, in his swollen lips, the signs of thirst. The boy seized the canteen greedily and placed it to his lips. Shoz-Dijiji permitted him a brief swallow and then took the water from him. Now all fear had left the white man.
“You friendly Indian, eh John?” he asked.
“Me Chihuicahui!” said Shoz-Dijiji fiercely, proudly, tapping his great chest, knowing that the whites knew the fighting, warlike tribes by that name.
“Holy Moses!” breathed the youth. “You a Cheeracow?”
“You lost?” demanded the Black Bear.
“I shore am,” replied the other.
“Come!” commanded the Apache. He urged his pony up the canyon and the steep zigzag trail to the summit. When the white had reached his side the Indian asked, “You savvy Billings ranch?”
“Yes,” replied the youth.
Shoz-Dijiji pointed eastward and a little north to where a dim, blue butte was barely visible behind its veil of haze.
“Billings ranch there,” he said. “Mebbyso one march.” He took the other’s empty canteen and poured the remaining water from his own into it. He emptied the cartridges from the chambers of, the white’s revolver and rifle into his palm and handed the empty weapons back to their owner; then he wheeled his pony and cantered away. Shoz-Dijiji was taking no chances on the honor of a white man—he knew them too well.
For a long time the young man sat looking after his benefactor, his face reflecting the bewilderment that filled his thoughts.
“Well, ding bust my ornery hide!” he remarked, presently, and turned his horse toward the dim, blue butte beyond the horizon.
So, did Shoz-Dijiji the Be-don-ko-he fulfill his promise to the white girl who had befriended him.
Late that afternoon he lay up for a few hours at a place where there was water and shortly after dark, when he had resumed his way, he came upon the first signs of the southward-bound renegades—a broad, well-marked trail, and over it the spoor of cavalry, pressing close behind. In a few miles, by a rocky hill, he found evldences of an engagement and in the moonlight he read the story writ clear upon the ground, in the dust, among the boulders, of the Apache rear guard that had waited here and stopped the advancing soldiers until the main body of the Indians had moved to safety among the rough hills. He guessed that his people had passed through those hills the previous afternoon and that now, under cover of darkness, they were crossing the valley upon the opposite side with the soldiers of the white-eyes in close pursuit.
Farther on again he came upon a place where the Apaches had commenced to break up into small parties and scatter, but there was the older trail of the herd that moved steadily on toward the border. Shoz-Dijiji judged that it was two days ahead of the main body, doubtless being pushed on toward safety by hard riding youths and that it would win the border long before the troops.
During the night he heard shots far, far ahead; the soldiers had caught up with one of the scattering bands, or perhaps the Apaches had prepared an ambush for them. The firing lasted for a long time, grew dimmer and then ceased—a running fight, mused Shoz-Dijiji, restless that he was not there. Night fighting was rare; the soldiers must be pressing his people closely.
It was a hard night for Shoz-Dijiji, urging on his tired mount, constantly on the alert for the enemy, chafing under the consequent delay; but at last the day dawned as he emerged upon the southern slope of the mountain range and overlooked the broad valley across which his people should have passed during the night. Far away, near the base of the opposite mountains he saw several columns of dust, but whether they were caused by Apaches or soldiers he could not be sure, though it was doubtless the latter, since the Indians had broken up into small bands that would make little dust.
A few minutes later he came upon the scene of last night’s battle. It was marked by the bodies of three cavalry horses, empty cartridge shells, some military accouterment, an Apache head-bandanna. As he rode across the spot where the engagement had been fiercest his eye took in every detail of the field and he was sure that there had been no ambush here, but that his people had been overtaken or surprised. It I was not such a place as an Apache war chief would choose to make a stand against an enemy. He was moving on again when something arrested his attention. Always suspicious, instantly on the defensive, he wheeled about to face the direction from which there had come to his ears the faintest of sounds. What was it that had broken the silence of this deserted field of death?
Revolver ready, he waited, listening, for a repetition of the sound, his eyes fixed upon a little clump of bushes two hundred yards away. Again, very faintly, it came to his ears, the sound that had at first attracted his attention, a low moan, vibrant with suffering.
Shoz-Dijiji wheeled his pony and rode diagonally up the side of the hill toward a point where he might overlook the whole field and obtain a view of the ground behind those bushes. If danger lurked there he would know it before he came too close. Fools rush in, but not an Apache.
From his point of vantage he saw a figure huddled upon the ground and recognized it instantly as an Indian. Nowhere else was there a sign of life. Still cautiously, he rode slowly down toward the figure and as he approached; he saw that it was a woman, lying with her face buried in the hollow of an arm. Already, even before he had come close enough to dismount, he recognized something familiar in the contours of that slender body.
Leaping from his mount he ran forward and kneeled beside the woman. Very gently he put an arm beneath her and turned her over. Hot blood gushed against his naked arm. His heart stood still as he looked down into the face of Ish-kay-nay. Her eyes were half closed; she scarcely breathed; only her feeble moans betokened that her poor clay still clung tenaciously to the last, fast ravelling strand of life.
“Ish-kay-nay! My little Ish-kay-nay!” Shoz-Dijiji raised his canteen and poured a few drops of water between her lips. The act recalled the girl who had given him the canteen, and, too, that recalled something else-words that Geronimo had once spoken to him. “Wait,” the old war chief had said, “until they have killed your women; then you will have the right to speak.”
The savage soul of Shoz-Dijiji rose in protest against the cruelty, the wantonness of this act. What if it had been perpetrated during the darkness of night? What if it might have been but a chance shot? Did not Shoz-Dijiji well know that the revealing light of day, or her sex, would not have protected Ish-kay-nay? Had he not seen the soldiers fire into the tepees where the women and children were?
Revived by the water, Ish-kay-nay slowly opened her eyes and looked into his face. Her lips moved in a low whisper: “Shoz-Dijiji, I am coming!” she said.
“Shoz-Dijiji is here with Ish-kay-nay. Do not fear. You are safe.”
The great, dark eyes of Ish-kay-nay opened wider with the return of full consciousness as she gazed wonderingly into the face of her lover.
“You are not dead! Oh, Shoz-Dijiji, he told me that you were dead.”
“Who said that Shoz-Dijiji was dead?” he demanded. “Juh.”
“Juh lied. Why did he tell you that?”
“So that Ish-kay-nay would go with him.”
“ I thought that Shoz-Dijiji was dead and I did not care then what happened to me. It made my father happy.” The effort to speak sent the blood gushing again from the wound in her breast and Shoz-Dijiji tried to check the flow, to stay the hand of death. She tried to speak again. Slowly, haltingly the words came. “Tell Ish-kay-nay—that you—are not angry, Shoz-Dijiji—that you—still love—Ish-kay-nay.”
“Ish-kay-nay did right,” he said. “Only Juh did wrong. Shoz-Dijiji loves Ish-kay-nay. Shoz-Dijiji will kill Juh!” For a long time the girl lay silently in his arms, her breathing so faint that at times he thought that it had ceased. Terrible was the anguish of Shoz-Dijiji—silent anguish, all the more terrible because there was no outward manifestation of it—as he looked down into the half-closed, dimming eyes of little Ish-kay-nay.
Once she rallied and looked up at him. “My Shoz-Dijiji,” she whispered, and then: “Hold me close!” There was fear in those three words. Never before had Shoz-Dijiji heard a note of fear in the voice of Ish-kay-nay. Very gently the savage warrior pressed the slender body closer. There was a long sigh and Ish-kay-nay went limp in his embrace.
Shoz-Dijiji, war chief among the Be-don-ko-he, buried his face in the soft neck and a single, choking sob convulsed his great frame.