“Suffering giraffes!” cried Windy above the chorus of dismay. “Lunkheads! chumps! Of all the idiot plays ever made in this territory!” He turned to the dismayed group. “Ain’t any one of you boys had sense enough to bring any grub?”
But nobody had. The old-fashioned Arizona cowboy ate only twice a day. It would never occur to him to carry a lunch for noon. Still, they might have considered a rescue party’s probable needs.
We mounted and started for the Box Springs ranch. They had at least known enough to bring extra horses.
“Old Hooper knows the cat is out of the bag now,” I suggested as we rode along.
“He sure does.”
“Do you think he’ll stick: or will he get out?”
“I don’t know——” I argued, doubtfully.
“I do,” with great positiveness.
“Why are you so sure?”
“There are men in the brush all around his ranch to see that he does.”
“For heaven’s sake how many have you got together?” I cried, astonished.
“About three hundred,” said Jed.
“What’s the plan?”
“I don’t know. They were chewing over it when I left. But I’ll bet something’s going to pop. There’s a bunch of ’em on that sweet little list you-all dug up.”
We rode slowly. It was near five o’clock when we pulled down the lane toward the big corrals. The latter were full of riding horses, and the fences were topped with neatly arranged saddles. Men were everywhere, seated in rows on top rails, gathered in groups, leaning idly against the ranch buildings. There was a feeling of waiting.
We were discovered and acclaimed with a wild yell that brought everybody running. Immediately we were surrounded. Escorted by a clamouring multitude we moved slowly down the lane and into the enclosure.
There awaited us a dozen men headed by Buck Johnson. They emerged from the office as we drew up. At sight of them the cowboys stopped, and we moved forward alone. For here were the substantial men of this part of the territory, the old timers, who had come in the early days and who had persisted through the Indian wars, the border forays, the cattle rustlings, through drought and enmity and bad years. A grim, elderly, four-square, unsmiling little band of granite-faced pioneers, their very appearance carried a conviction of direct and, if necessary, ruthless action. At sight of them my heart leaped. Twenty-four hours previous my case had seemed none too joyful. Now, mainly by my own efforts, after all, I was no longer alone.
They did not waste time in vain congratulations or query. The occasion was too grave for such side issues. Buck Johnson said something very brief to the effect that he was glad to see us safe.
“If this young lady will come in first,” he suggested.
But I was emboldened to speak up.
“This young lady has not had a bite to eat since last night,” I interposed.