“I’ll blacksnake the condemned fool that set fire to the prairie!” he swore, gulping down a lump in his throat. “Tell me you-all aren’t hurt, Bertie Lee.... God! I thought you was swallowed up in that fire.”
“Daddie, daddie I couldn’t help it. I had to do it,” she wept. “And—I thought I would choke to death, but Mr. Prince saved me. He kept my face close to the water and made me breathe through a handkerchief.”
“Did he?” The man’s face set grimly again. “Well, that won’t save him. As for you, miss, you’re goin’ to yore room to live on bread an’ water for a week. I wish you were a boy for about five minutes so’s I could wear you to a frazzle with a cowhide.”
Snaith’s intentions toward Clanton and Prince had to be postponed for the present, the cattleman discovered a few minutes later. When he and Lee emerged from the river-bed to the bank above, the first thing he saw was a group of cowpunchers shaking hands gayly with the two fugitives. His jaw dropped.
“Where in Mexico did they come from?” he asked himself aloud.
“I expect they’re Webb’s riders,” his daughter answered with a little sob of joy. “I thought they’d never come.”
“You thought.... How did you know they were comin’?”
“Oh, I sent for them,” The girl’s dark eyes met his fearlessly. A flicker of a smile crept into them. “I’ve had the best of you all round, dad. You’d better make that two weeks on bread and water.”
Wallace Snaith gathered his forces and retreated from the field of battle. A man on a spent horse met him at his own gate as he dismounted. He handed the cattleman a note.
On the sheet of dirty paper was written:
The birds you want are nesting in a dugout on the river four miles below town. You got to hurry or they’ll be flown.
Snaith read the note, tore it in half, and tossed the pieces away. He turned to the messenger.
“Tell Joe he’s just a few hours late. His news isn’t news any more.”
Webb drove his cattle up the river, the Staked Plains on his right. The herd was a little gaunt from the long journey and he took the last part of the trek in easy stages. Since he had been awarded the contract for beeves at the Fort, by Department orders the old receiving agent had been transferred. The new appointee was a brother-in-law of McRobert and the owner of the Flying V Y did not want to leave any loophole for rejection of the steers.