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 he 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 gave a 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--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!"





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