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An Apache Queen








From: An Apache Princess

In the slant of the evening sunshine a young girl, an Indian, was
crouching among the bare rocks at the edge of a steep and rugged
descent. One tawny little hand, shapely in spite of scratches, was
uplifted to her brows, shading her keen and restless eyes against the
glare. In the other hand, the right, she held a little, circular
pocket-mirror, cased in brass, and held it well down in the shade.
Only the tangle of her thick, black hair and the top of her head could
be seen from the westward side. Her slim young body was clothed in a
dark-blue, well-made garment, half sack, half skirt, with long, loose
trousers of the same material. There was fanciful embroidery of bead
and thread about the throat. There was something un-Indian about the
cut and fashion of the garments that suggested civilized and feminine
supervision. The very way she wore her hair, parted and rolling back,
instead of tumbling in thick, barbaric "bang" into her eyes, spoke of
other than savage teaching; and the dainty make of her moccasins; the
soft, pliant folds of the leggins that fell, Apache fashion, about her
ankles, all told, with their beadwork and finish, that this was no
unsought girl of the tribespeople. Even the sudden gesture with which,
never looking back, she cautioned some follower to keep down, spoke
significantly of rank and authority. It was a chief's daughter that
knelt peering intently over the ledge of rocks toward the black
shadows of the opposite slope. It was Natzie, child of a warrior
leader revered among his people, though no longer spared to guide
them--Natzie, who eagerly, anxiously searched the length of the dark
gorge for sign or signal, and warned her companion to come no further.

Over the gloomy depths, a mile away about a jutting point, three or
four buzzards were slowly circling, disturbed, yet determined. Over
the broad valley that extended for miles toward the westward range of
heights, the mantle of twilight was slowly creeping, as in his
expressive sign language the Indian spreads his extended hands, palms
down, drawing and smoothing imaginary blanket, the robe of night, over
the face of nature. Far to the northward, from some point along the
face of the heights, a fringe of smoke was drifting in the soft breeze
sweeping down the valley from the farther Sierras. Wild, untrodden,
undesired of man, the wilderness lay outspread--miles and miles of
gloom and desolation, save where some lofty scarp of glistening rock,
jutting from among the scattered growth of dark-hued pine and cedar,
caught the brilliant rays of the declining sun.

Behind the spot where Natzie knelt, the general slope was broken by a
narrow ledge or platform, bowlder-strewn--from which, almost
vertically, rose the rocky scarp again. Among the sturdy, stunted fir
trees, bearding the rugged face, frowned a deep fissure, dark as a
wolf den, and, just in front of it, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, crouched
Lola--Natzie's shadow. Rarely in reservation days, until after Blakely
came as agent, were they ever seen apart, and now, in these days of
exile and alarm, they were not divided. Under a spreading cedar, close
to the opening, a tiny fire glowed in a crevice of the rocks, sending
forth no betraying smoke. About it were some rude utensils, a pot or
two, a skillet, an earthen olla, big enough to hold perhaps three
gallons, two bowls of woven grass, close plaited, almost, as the
famous fiber of Panama. In one of these was heaped a store of
pinons, in the other a handful or two of wild plums. Sign of
civilization, except a battered tin teapot, there was none, yet
presently was there heard a sound that told of Anglo-Saxon
presence--the soft voice of a girl in low-toned, sweet-worded
song--song so murmurous it might have been inaudible save in the
intense stillness of that almost breathless evening--song so low that
the Indian girl, intent in her watch at the edge of the cliff, seemed
not to hear at all. It was Lola who heard and turned impatiently, a
black frown in her snapping eyes, and a lithe young Indian lad,
hitherto unseen, dropped noiselessly from a perch somewhere above them
and, filling a gourd at the olla, bent and disappeared in the narrow
crevice back of the curtain of firs. The low song ceased gradually,
softly, as a mother ceases her crooning lullaby, lest the very lack of
the love-notes stir the drowsing baby brain to sudden waking.

With the last words barely whispered the low voice died away. The
Indian lad came forth into the light again, empty-handed; plucked at
Lola's gown, pointed to Natzie, for the moment forgotten, now urgently
beckoning. Bending low, they ran to her. She was pointing across the
deep gorge that opened a way to the southward. Something far down
toward its yawning mouth had caught her eager eye, and grasping the
arm of the lad with fingers that twitched and burned, she whispered in
the Apache tongue:

"They're coming."

One long look the boy gave in the direction pointed, then, backing
away from the edge, he quickly swept away a Navajo blanket that hung
from the protruding branches of a low cedar, letting the broad light
into the cavelike space beyond. There, on a hard couch of rock, skin,
and blanket, lay a fevered form in rough scouting dress. There, with
pinched cheeks, and eyes that heavily opened, dull and suffused, lay
the soldier officer who had ridden forth to rescue and to save,
himself now a crippled and helpless captive. Beside him, wringing out
a wet handkerchief and spreading it on the burning forehead, knelt
Angela. The girls who faced each other for the first time at the
pool--the daughter of the Scotch-American captain--the daughter of the
Apache Mohave chief--were again brought into strange companionship
over the unconscious form of the soldier Blakely.


CAUTIOUSLY HOLDING THE LITTLE MIRROR"]

Resentful of the sudden glare that caused her patient to shrink and
toss complainingly, Angela glanced up almost in rebuke, but was
stilled by the look and attitude of the young savage. He stood with
forefinger on his closed lips, bending excitedly toward her. He was
cautioning her to make no sound, even while his very coming brought
disturbance to her first thought--her fevered patient. Then, seeing
both rebuke and question in her big, troubled eyes, the young Indian
removed his finger and spoke two words: "Patchie come," and, rising,
she followed him out to the flat in front.

Natzie at the moment was still crouching close to the edge, gazing
intently over, one little brown hand nervously grasping the branch of
a stunted cedar, the other as nervously clutching the mirror. So
utterly absorbed was she that the hiss of warning, or perhaps of
hatred, with which Lola greeted the sudden coming of Angela, seemed to
fall unnoted on her ears. Lola, her black eyes snapping and her lips
compressed, glanced up at the white girl almost in fury. Natzie,
paying no heed whatever to what was occurring about her, knelt
breathless at her post, watching, eagerly watching. Then, slowly, they
saw her raise her right hand, still cautiously holding the little
mirror, face downward, and at sight of this the Apache boy could
scarcely control his trembling, and Lola, turning about, spoke some
furious words, in low, intense tone, that made him shrink back toward
the screen. Then the wild girl glared again at Angela, as though the
sight of her were unbearable, and, with as furious a gesture, sought
to drive her, too, again to the refuge of the dark cleft, but Angela
never stirred. Paying no heed to Lola, the daughter of the soldier
gazed only at the daughter of the chief, at Natzie, whose hand was
now level with the surface of the rock. The next instant, far to the
northwest flashed a slender beam of dazzling light, another--another.
An interval of a second or two, and still another flash. Angela could
see the tiny, nebulous dot, like will-'o-the-wisp, dancing far over
among the rocks across a gloomy gorge. She had never seen it before,
but knew it at a glance. The Indian girl was signaling to some of her
father's people far over toward the great reservation, and the tale
she told was that danger menaced. Angela could not know that it told
still more,--that danger menaced not only Natzie, daughter of one
warrior chief, and the chosen of another now among their heroic
dead--it threatened those whom she was pledged to protect, even
against her own people.

Somewhere down that deep and frowning rift to the southwest, Indian
guides were leading their brethren on the trail of these refugees
among the upper rocks. Somewhere, far over among the uplands to the
northwest, other tribesfolk, her own kith and kin, were lurking, and
these the Indian girl was summoning with all speed to her aid.

And in the slant of that same glaring sunshine, not four miles away,
toiling upward along a rocky slope, following the faint sign here and
there of Apache moccasin, a little command of hardy, war-worn men had
nearly reached the crest when their leader signaled backward to the
long column of files, and, obedient to the excited gestures of the
young Hualpai guide, climbed to his side and gazed intently over.
What he saw on a lofty point of rocks, well away from the tortuous
"breaks" through which they had made most of their wearying marches
from the upper Beaver, brought the light of hope, the fire of battle,
to his somber eyes. "Send Arnold up here," he shouted to the men
below, and Arnold came, clambering past rock and bowlder until he
reached the captain's side, took one look in the direction indicated,
and brought his brown hand down with resounding swat on the butt of
his rifle. "Treed 'em!" said he exultantly; then, with doubtful,
backward glance along the crouching file of weary men, some sitting
now and fanning with their broad-brimmed hats, he turned again to the
captain and anxiously inquired: "Can we make it before dark?"

"We must make it!" simply answered Stout.

And then, far over among the heights between them and the reservation,
there went suddenly aloft--one, two, three--compact little puffs of
bluish smoke. Someone was answering signals flashed from the rocky
point--someone who, though far away, was promising aid.

"Let's be the first to reach them, lads," said Stout, himself a
wearied man. And with that they slowly rose and went stumbling upward.
The prize was worth their every effort, and hope was leading on.

An hour later, with barely half the distance traversed, so steep and
rocky, so wild and winding, was the way, with the sun now tangent to
the distant range afar across the valley, they faintly heard a sound
that spurred them on--two shots in quick succession from unseen
depths below the lofty point. And now they took the Indian jog trot.
There was business ahead.

Between them and that gleaming promontory now lay a comparatively open
valley, less cumbered with bowlders than were the ridges and ravines
through which they had come, less obstructed, too, with stunted trees.
Here was opportunity for horsemen, hitherto denied, and Stout called
on Brewster and his score of troopers, who for hours had been towing
their tired steeds at the rear of column. "Mount and push ahead!" said
he. "You are Wren's own men. It is fitting you should get there
first."

"Won't the captain ride with us--now?" asked the nearest sergeant.

"Not if it robs a man of his mount," was the answer. Yet there was
longing in his eye and all men saw it. He had led them day after day,
trudging afoot, because his own lads could not ride. Indeed, there had
been few hours when any horse could safely bear a rider. There came
half a dozen offers now. "I'll tramp afoot if the captain 'll only
take my horse," said more than one man.

And so the captain was with them, as with darkness settling down they
neared the great cliff towering against the southeastward sky. Then
suddenly they realized they were guided thither only just in time to
raise a well-nigh fatal siege. Thundering down the mountain side a big
bowlder came tearing its way, launched from the very point that had
been the landmark of their eager coming, and with the downward
crashing of the rock there burst a yell of fury.

Midway up the steep incline, among the straggling timber, two lithe
young Indians were seen bounding out of a little gully, only just in
time to escape. Two or three others, farther aloft, darted around a
shoulder of cliff as though scurrying out of sight. From the edge of
the precipice the crack of a revolver was followed by a second, and
then by a scream. "Dismount!" cried Brewster, as he saw the captain
throw himself from his horse; then, leaving only two or three to
gather in their now excited steeds, snapping their carbines to full
cock, with blazing eyes and firm-set lips, the chosen band began their
final climb. "Don't bunch. Spread out right and left," were the only
cautions, and then in long, irregular line, up the mountain steep they
clambered, hope and duty still leading on, the last faint light of the
November evening showing them their rocky way. Now, renegadoes, it is
fight or flee for your lives!

Perhaps a hundred yards farther up the jagged face the leaders came
upon an incline so steep that, like the Tontos above them, they were
forced to edge around to the southward, whither their comrades
followed. Presently, issuing from the shelter of the pines, they came
upon a bare and bowlder-dotted patch to cross which brought them
plainly into view of the heights above, and almost instantly under
fire. Shot after shot, to which they could make no reply, spat and
flattened on the rocks about them, but, dodging and ducking
instinctively, they pressed swiftly on. Once more within the partial
shelter of the pines across the open, they again resumed the climb,
coming suddenly upon a sight that fairly spurred them. There, feet
upward among the bowlders, stiff and swollen in death, lay all that
the lynxes had left of a cavalry horse. Close at hand was the battered
troop saddle. Caught in the bushes a few rods above was the folded
blanket, and, lodged in a crevice, still higher, lay the felt-covered
canteen, stenciled with the number and letter of Wren's own troop. It
was the horse of the orderly, Horn--the horse on which the Bugologist
had ridden away in search of Angela Wren. It was all the rescuers
needed to tell them they were now on the trail of both, and now the
carbines barked in earnest at every flitting glimpse of the foe,
sending the wary Tontos skipping and scurrying southward. And, at
last, breathless, panting, well-nigh exhausted, the active leaders
found themselves halting at a narrow, twisting little game trail,
winding diagonally up the slope, with that gray scarp of granite
jutting from the mountain side barely one hundred yards farther; and,
waving from its crest, swung by unseen hands, some white, fluttering
object, faintly seen in the gathering dusk, beckoned them on. The last
shots fired at the last Indians seen gleamed red in the autumn
gloaming. They, the rescuers, had reached their tryst only just as
night and darkness shrouded the westward valley. The last man up had
to grope his way, and long before that last man reached the ledge the
cheering word was passed from the foremost climber: "Both here, boys,
and safe!"

An hour later brought old Heartburn to the scene, scrambling up with
the other footmen, and speedily was he kneeling by the fevered
officer's side. The troopers had been sent back to their horses. Only
Stout, the doctor, Wales Arnold, and one or two sergeants remained at
the ledge, with rescued Angela, the barely conscious patient, and
their protectors, the Indian girls. Already the boy had been hurried
off with a dispatch to Sandy, and now dull, apathetic, and sullen,
Lola sat shrouded in her blanket, while Arnold, with the little Apache
dialect he knew, was striving to get from Natzie some explanation of
her daring and devotion.

Between tears and laughter, Angela told her story. It was much as they
had conjectured. Mad with anxiety on her father's account, she said,
she had determined to reach him and nurse him. She felt sure that,
with so many troops out between the post and the scene of action,
there was less danger of her being caught by Indians than of being
turned back by her own people. She had purposely dashed by the ranch,
fearing opposition, had purposely kept behind Colonel Byrne's party
until she found a way of slipping round and past them where she could
feel sure of speedily regaining the trail. She had encountered neither
friend nor foe until, just as she would have ridden away from the
Willow Tanks, she was suddenly confronted by Natzie, Lola, and two
young Apaches. Natzie eagerly gesticulated, exclaiming, "Apaches,
Apaches," and pointing ahead up the trail, and, though she could
speak no English, convincing Angela that she was in desperate danger.
The others were scowling and hateful, but completely under Natzie's
control, and between them they hustled her pony into a ravine leading
to the north and led him along for hours, Angela, powerless to
prevent, riding helplessly on. At last they made her dismount, and
then came a long, fearful climb afoot, up the steepest trail she had
ever known, until it brought her here. And here, she could not tell
how many nights afterwards--it seemed weeks, so had the days and hours
dragged--here, while she slept at last the sleep of exhaustion, they
had brought Mr. Blakely. He lay there in raging fever when she was
awakened that very morning by Natzie's crying in her ear some words
that sounded like: "Hermano viene! Hermano viene!"



Stout had listened with absorbing interest and to the very last word.
Then, as one who heard at length full explanation of what he had
deemed incredible, his hand went out and clutched that of Arnold,
while his deep eyes, full of infinite pity, turned to where poor
Natzie crouched, watching silently and in utter self-forgetfulness the
doctor's ministrations.

"Wales," he muttered, "that settles the whole business. Whatever you
do,--don't let that poor girl know that--they"--and now he warily
glanced toward Angela--"they--are not brother and sister."





Next: The Meeting At Sandy

Previous: Suspense



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