A half hour later we crawled cautiously through a precarious opening and stood blinking at the sunlight.
A group of about twenty men greeted our appearance with a wild cowboy yell. Some of the men of our outfit were there, but not all; and I recognized others from as far south as the Chiracahuas. Windy Bill was there with Jed Parker; but Senor Johnson’s bulky figure was nowhere to be seen. The other men were all riders—nobody of any particular standing or authority. The sun made it about three o’clock of the afternoon. Our adventures had certainly brought us a good sleep!
After we had satisfied our thirst from a canteen we began to ask and answer questions. Artie Brower had made the ranch without mishap, had told his story, and had promptly fallen asleep. Buck Johnson, in his usual deliberate manner, read all the papers through twice; pondered for some time while the more excited Jed and Windy fidgeted impatiently; and then, his mind made up, acted with his customary decision. Three men he sent to reconnoitre in the direction of the Bat-eye Tunnel with instructions to keep out of trouble and to report promptly. His other riders he dispatched with an insistent summons to all the leading cattlemen as far south as the Chiracahua Range, as far east as Grant’s Pass, as far west as Madrona. Such was Buck Johnson’s reputation for level-headedness that without hesitation these men saddled and rode at their best speed. By noon the weightiest of the Soda Spring Valley had gathered in conclave.
“That’s where we faded out,” said Jed Parker. “They sent us up to see about you-all. The scouts from up here come back with their little Wild West story about knocking down this yere mountain on top of you. We had to believe them because they brought back a little proof with them. Mex guns and spurs and such plunder looted off’n the deceased on the field of battle. Bill here can tell you.”
“They was only two of them,” said Windy Bill, diffident for the first time in his life, “and we managed to catch one of ’em foul. We been digging here for too long. We ain’t no prairie dogs to go delving into the bosom of the earth. We thought you must be plumb deceased anyhow: we couldn’t get a peep out of you. I was in favour of leavin’ you lay myself. This yere butte seemed like a first-rate imposing tomb; and I was willing myself to carve a few choice sentiments on some selected rock. Sure I can carve! But Jed here allowed that you owed him ten dollars and maybe had some money in your pocket——”
“Shut up, Windy,” I broke in. “Can’t you see the young lady——”
Windy whirled all contrition and apologies.
“Don’t you mind me, ma’am,” he begged. “They call me Windy Bill, and I reckon that’s about right. I don’t mean nothing. And we’d have dug all through this butte before——”
“I know that. It isn’t your talk,” interrupted Miss Emory, “but the sun is hot—and—haven’t you anything at all to eat?”