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Rita leaned forward till her long hair fell upon the neck of the beautiful little horse she was riding, and looked with all her eyes.
“Hark! they are shouting.”
“You could not hear them if they did.”
“They look as if they were.”
Ni-ha-be sat perfectly still in her silver-mounted saddle, although her spirited mustang pony pawed the ground and pulled on his bit as if he were in a special hurry to go on down the side of the mountain.
The two girls were of about the same size, and could not either of them have been over fifteen years old. They were both very pretty, very well dressed and well mounted, and they could both speak in a strange, rough, and yet musical language; but there was no other resemblance between them.
“Father is there, Rita.”
“Can you see him?”
“Yes, and so is Red Wolf.”
“Your eyes are wonderful. Everybody says they are.”
Ni-ha-be might well be proud of her coal-black eyes, and of the fact that she could see so far and so well with them. It was not easy to say just how far away was that excited crowd of men down there in the valley. The air was so clear, and the light so brilliant among those snow-capped mountain ranges, that even things far off seemed sometimes close at hand.
For all that there were not many pairs of eyes, certainly not many brown ones like Rita’s, which could have looked, as Ni-ha-be did, from the pass into the faces of her father and brother and recognized them at such a distance.
She need not have looked very closely to be sure of one thing more—there was not a single white man to be seen in all that long, deep, winding green valley.
Were there any white women?
There were plenty of squaws, old and young, but not one woman with a bonnet, shawl, parasol, or even so much as a pair of gloves. Therefore, none of them could have been white.
Rita was as well dressed as Ni-ha-be, and her wavy masses of brown hair were tied up in the same way, with bands of braided deer-skin, but neither of them had ever seen a bonnet. Their sunburnt, healthy faces told that no parasol had ever protected their complexions, but Ni-ha-be was a good many shades the darker. There must have been an immense amount of hard work expended in making the graceful garments they both wore. All were of fine antelope-skin; soft, velvety, fringed, and worked and embroidered with porcupine quills. Frocks and capes and leggings and neatly fitting moccasins, all of the best, for Ni-ha-be was the only daughter of a great Apache chief, and Rita was every bit as important a person according to Indian notions, for Ni-ha-be’s father had adopted her as his own.
Either one of them would have been worth a whole drove of ponies or a wagon-load of guns and blankets, and the wonder was that they had been permitted to loiter so far behind their friends on a march through that wild, strange, magnificent land.
Had they been farther to the east, or south, or north, it is likely they would have been kept with the rest pretty carefully; but Many Bears and his band were on their way home from a long buffalo-hunt, and were already, as they thought, safe in the Apache country—away beyond any peril from other tribes of Indians, or from the approach of the hated and dreaded white men.
To be sure, there were grizzly bears and wolves and other wild animals to be found among those mountain passes, but they were not likely to remain very near a band of hunters like the one now gathered in that valley.
Great hunters, brave warriors, well able to take care of themselves and their families, but just now they were very much excited about something—something on the ground.
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