“Well?” I challenged.
“I’ll have you killed,” he said, simply; so simply that I knew he meant it.
“You are foolish to make threats,” I rejoined. “Two can play at that game. You drive much alone.”
“I do not work alone,” he hinted, darkly. “The day my body is found dead of violence, that day marks the doom of a long list of men whom I consider inimical to me—like, perhaps, yourself.” He stared me down with his unwinking gaze.
I returned to Box Springs at a slow jog trot, thinking things over. Old Man Hooper’s warning sobered, but did not act as a deterrent of my intention to continue with the adventure. But how? I could hardly storm the fort single handed and carry off the damsel in distress. On the evidence I possessed I could not even get together a storming party. The cowboy is chivalrous enough, but human. He would not uprise spontaneously to the point of war on the mere statement of incarcerated beauty—especially as ill-treatment was not apparent. I would hardly last long enough to carry out the necessary proselyting campaign. It never occurred to me to doubt that Hooper would fulfill his threat of having me killed, or his ability to do so.
So when the men drifted in two by two at dusk, I said nothing of my real adventures, and answered their chaff in kind.
“He played the piano for me,” I told them the literal truth, “and had me in to the parlour and dining room. He gave me a room to myself with a bed and sheets; and he rode out to his pasture gate with me to say good-bye,” and thereby I was branded a delicious liar.
“They took me into the bunk house and fed me, all right,” said Windy Bill, “and fed my horse. And next morning that old Mexican Joe of his just nat’rally up and kicked me off the premises.”
“Wonder you didn’t shoot him,” I exclaimed.
“Oh, he didn’t use his foot. But he sort of let me know that the place was unhealthy to visit more’n once. And somehow I seen he meant it; and I ain’t never had no call to go back.”
I mulled over the situation all day, and then could stand it no longer. On the dark of the evening I rode to within a couple of miles of Hooper’s ranch, tied my horse, and scouted carefully forward afoot. For one thing I wanted to find out whether the system of high transoms extended to all the rooms, including that in the left wing: for another I wanted to determine the “lay of the land” on that blank side of the house. I found my surmise correct as to the transoms. As to the blank side of the house, that looked down on a wide, green, moist patch and the irrigating ditch with its stunted willows. Then painstakingly I went over every inch of the terrain about the ranch; and might just as well have investigated the external economy of a mud turtle. Realizing that nothing was to be gained in this manner, I withdrew to my strategic base where I rolled down and slept until daylight. Then I saddled and returned toward the ranch.