“We’re close enough. Better light here an’ sneak forward on foot,” the man said gruffly.
As he swung from the horse Billie smiled grimly. He had a plan of his own which he meant to try. Buck Sanders might not like it, but he was not in a position to make any serious objection.
They crept forward to a rim rock above a heavily wooded slope. A tongue-shaped grove ran down close to the edge of a narrow gulch.
Prince explained what he meant to do. “We’ll all snake down closer. When I give the word you’ll go forward alone, Sanders, an’ call Jim out. Ask him to come forward an’ look at yore bronco’s hoof. That’s all you’ll have to do.”
Sanders voiced a profane and vigorous protest. “Have you forgot who this guy is you’re arrestin’? Go-Get-’Em Jim is no tenderfoot kid. He’s chain lightnin’ on the shoot. If he suspects me one steenth part of a second, that will be long enough for him to gun me good.”
“He’ll not have a chance. We’ll have him covered all the time.”
“Say, we agreed you was goin’ to make this arrest, not me.”
“I’ll make it. All you’ve got to do is to call him out.”
“All!” shrieked Sanders. “You know damned well I’m takin’ the big risk.”
“That’s the way I intended it to be,” the sheriff assured him coolly. “You’re to get the reward, aren’t you?”
The rustler balked. He polluted the air with low, vicious curses, but in the end he had to come to time.
They slipped through the grove till they could see on the edge of the ravine a dug-out. Prince flashed a handkerchief as a signal and Sanders rode down in the open skirting the timber. He swung from the saddle and shouted a “Hello, in the house!”
No answer came. Buck called a second and a third time. He waited, irresolute. He could not consult with Prince. At last he moved toward the house and entered. Presently he returned to the door and waved to the sheriff to come forward.
Very cautiously the posse accepted the invitation, but every foot of the way Billie kept the man covered.
Sanders ripped out a furious oath. “He’s done made his get-away. Some one must ‘a’ warned him.”
He held out to Prince a note scrawled on a piece of wrapping-paper. It was in Clanton’s pell-mell, huddled chirography:—
Sorry I can’t stay to entertain you, Billie. Make yourself at home. Bacon and other grub in a lard can by the creek. Help yourself.
Crack Sanders one on the bean with your six-gun on account for me.
Billie Prince laughed. The joke was on him, but he was glad of it. As sheriff of Washington County it had been his duty to accept any aid that might come from the treachery of Sanders; but as a friend of Jim Clanton he did not want to win over him by using such weapons.