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"You've had a fight, then? With the Conejeros?"
"With some others, strange Indians. They attacked us at once. I lost two men
that first time and four since. They were hard upon us until we slipped away
in the night."
We were beside a small stream with trees close by and a good defensive
position.
He noticed my guns. "Handsome pistols. I would buy them from you."
"No. They were given me by my father. They are the best of their kind, made
by a master in Italy."
"I was apprenticed to an armorer," he said. "I knew them at once. I knew the
workmanship. You have a fine pair of pistols."
He glanced at Itchakomi, standing beside me. "Your woman?"
"My wife," I said, "by an Indian marriage, which I hold as a true one. You
don't have a friar among you? Or a priest?"
"He was killed, died well, too. A game man." He glanced at me. "You wish to
be married again?"
"I am a Christian," I said, "although not a Catholic. I'd like to be married
again by a Christian sacrament."
"She's beautiful," he said simply, "and proud."
"Among her own people, the Natchee, she is a Sun, a princess."
"I can believe it," he said.
He walked to the fire, and the Ponca woman passed him a bowl of broth made
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from the elk meat. He tasted it greedily and then, shamed, looked quickly
around to be sure his men were eating. They were, but I liked him for it. The
Spanishmen had been our enemies, but this was a man fit to walk upon the
mountains.
"Sit you," I said. "I'll care for your horses."
His hand came up sharply. "No! My men will do that. Nobody touches our
horses!" Then more gently he said, "They are few and hard to come upon. We
bring them up from Mexico, and the Indios have taken to stealing them. Soon
they will be riding them against us."
"Indians who ride?"
"I have seen a few," Diego replied grimly, "and they ride well, too!"
He ate, and then looked at me. "English?"
"My father was. I am American."
He smiled quizzically. "American? What is that? I have not heard the name
before."
"I was born in this land." Pausing, I gestured to the south. "I shall set up
a trading post. You are welcome to trade.'
"It will not be allowed," he said. "This is Spanish land."
"We are befriending you now, and could again. It might serve the Spanish well
to have a friend out here, and not an enemy."
He shrugged. "I do not decide. There are regulations from the king."
He ate in silence until his bowl was empty. Then he cut a slice from a haunch
of elk meat. "I will speak for you," he said. "I think it a good idea."
"Gomez hoped to reach the settlements before you," I said. "He has plans of
his own."
"Gomez is always planning," Diego said. "I know him."
Keokotah had chosen a sleeping place for us among the rocks on a soft stretch
of grass. We gathered there and left the Spanish by the fire. Most of them had
fallen asleep right where they were, too tired to even think of defense.
We could even have stolen their horses.
THIRTY
Through the long day that followed, Diego and his men rested, and well they
needed it. Haggard and driven, they had suffered a grievous defeat, but it was
a time for learning. Here were men who had met strange Indians from the
north some of the Spanish were calling them Komantsi and had fought them and
escaped.
Diego had coffee, and he shared it with us. Over the fire we sat to talk, and
Itchakomi sat with me.
"Fierce men who love to fight." Diego looked over the rim of his cup at me.
"They take no prisoners, want none. They want horses," he added, "and they
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know how to handle them. If you stay here you will be killed."
He sipped his coffee, his eyes straying again and again to the hills. "They
were not many, but their attack was sudden, without warning. They came upon us
at break of day. Only a few of us were armed and ready. An arrow killed our
sentry and then they charged upon us.
"I had my sword, and when I had once fired my pistol, it was only the sword.
Then they were gone, as swiftly as they had come.
"They attacked us again while we marched, and then again. After that we
waited until night and moved away into the mountains. I hope we do not bring
them upon you."
"There will be tracks," I reminded.
"We tried to leave none," Diego said, "but with so many men and the horses
..." he shrugged.
For a long time we were silent. Itchakomi moved away from the fire. We were
making ready to go south to the place we had chosen.
She looked at me. "What we do?"
"Go back where we planned to build," I said. "It is a good place."
"You fear these Komantsi?"
"There are always enemies. These may be no worse than others." I paused and
then said, "Komi, I do not wish to take you into the wilderness until we are
married."
"We are not?"
"By your standards, yes. By mine, yes. But I wish a marriage that will be
accepted by other Christians. My heart knows who is my wife, but other white
people will not recognize our wedding. I wish it to be official, so no one
will say you are just an Indian girl who shares my lodge."
"Very well. We stay. We build lodge."
Diego had fallen asleep by the fire. His men were lying about, also resting.
"Sleep," I said to Keokotah. "I will watch."
There was no movement in our camp. All rested or were busy in one position.
The horses had been taken into the willows near the stream where they were
well hidden. I found a small knoll where I could move about among trees and
rocks and yet remain unseen, and I moved rarely, only to look about, studying
the hills for enemies.
It was a time for thinking. To proceed south to Santa Fe for a proper
marriage would put me into the hands of those who considered themselves my
enemies. I would be imprisoned and probably sent in chains to Mexico for
trial. What would happen to Itchakomi one could only guess, for despite the
regulations laid down by the Spanish king forbidding enslavement of the
Indians, it was done.
The Spanish would not accept my venture into their territory as being
anything but a spying mission. Nor would they permit the establishment of a
trading post by anyone not of their own. Diego was a practical soldier, but
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only a soldier and with no authority except over his own command. Diego was
practical enough to realize that a post where they might obtain food or other
supplies was much to be desired. There was always a difference of viewpoint
between the soldier in the field and the man behind the desk.
So, from the Spanish I could expect nothing but trouble, and I would
certainly hear again from Gomez.
The Komantsi were another risk. It was possible I might win them over, at
least to tolerating my presence.
We would build a fort, but we would arrange an escape route, scouted and
planned. We would have to secure trade goods, and we could trap for fur. At
first it would be very difficult. Very difficult, indeed!
When I went back into camp Diego was up and seated by the fire. I filled a
cup with coffee and sat across the fire from him.
"You know the land to the west?"
He shook his head. "We do not. Some patrols have gone there, and some have
gone north, much farther than this, but we know little of the country."
"The wild game?"
He shrugged. "What you know. Buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, bear "
"Nothing larger?"
"Than a buffalo? What could be? We have seen them that weigh three thousand
pounds, big bulls, very tough, very strong."
"Bears?"
"Ah! There you have it. There are silver bears, very large. We have seen
them. Black bears, also, but smaller. The silver bears ah, they are huge! Very
fierce!"
We talked long, and I thought him a friendly and a lonely man, pleased to be [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]