The senor bent on me his grave look.
“Thank you,” said he. “Sing!” he roared, and then to the Chinaman who showed up in a nervous hover: “Give this lady grub, savvy? If you’ll go with him, ma’am, he’ll get you up something. Then we’d like to see you.”
“I can perfectly well wait——” she began.
“I’d rather not, ma’am,” said Buck with such grave finality that she merely bowed and followed the cook.
They had no tender feelings about me, however. Nobody cared whether I ever ate or not. I was led into the little ranch office and catechized to a fare-ye-well. They sat and roosted and squatted about, emitting solemn puffs of smoke and speaking never a word; and the sun went down in shafts of light through the murk, and the old shadows of former days crept from the corners. When I had finished my story it was dusk.
And on the heels of my recital came the sound of hoofs in a hurry; and presently loomed in the doorway the gigantic figure of Tom Thorne, the sheriff. He peered, seeing nothing through the smoke and the twilight; and the old timers sat tight and smoked.
“Buck Johnson here?” asked Thorne in his big voice.
“Here,” replied the senor.
“I am told,” said Thorne, directly, “that there is here an assembly for unlawful purposes. If so, I call on you in the name of the law to keep the peace.”
“Tom,” rejoined Buck Johnson, “I want you to make me your deputy.”
“For what purpose?”
“There is a dispossession notice to be served hereabouts; a trespasser who must be put off from property that is not his.”
“You men are after Hooper, and I know it. Now you can’t run your neighbours’ quarrels with a gun, not anymore. This is a country of law now.”
“Tom,” repeated Buck in a reasoning tone, “come in. Strike a light if you want to: and take a look around. There’s a lot of your friends here. There’s Jim Carson over in the corner, and Donald Macomber, and Marcus Malley, and Dan Watkins.”
At this slow telling of the most prominent names in the southwest cattle industry Tom Thorne took a step into the room and lighted a match. The little flame, held high above his head, burned down to his fingers while he stared at the impassive faces surrounding him. Probably he had thought to interfere dutifully in a local affair of considerable seriousness; and there is no doubt that Tom Thorne was never afraid of his duty. But here was Arizona itself gathered for purposes of its own. He hardly noticed when the flame scorched his fingers.
“Tom,” said Buck Johnson after a moment, “I heerd tell of a desperate criminal headed for Grant’s Pass, and I figure you can just about catch up with him if you start right now and keep on riding. Only you’d better make me your deputy first. It’ll sort of leave things in good legal responsible hands, as you can always easy point out if asked.”