“Raise your right hand,” he commanded, curtly, and administered the oath. “Now I leave it in your hands to preserve the peace,” he concluded. “I call you all to witness.”
“That’s all right, Tom,” said Buck, still in his crooning tones, taking the big sheriff by the elbow and gently propelling him toward the door, “now as to this yere criminal over toward Grant’s Pass, he was a little bit of a runt about six foot three tall; heavy set, weight about a hundred and ten; light complected with black hair and eyes. You can’t help but find him. Tom’s a good sort,” he observed, coming back, “but he’s young. He don’t realize yet that when things get real serious this sheriff foolishness just nat’rally bogs down. Now I reckon we’d better talk to the girl.”
I made a beeline for the cook house while they did that and filled up for three. By the time I had finished, the conference was raised, and men were catching and saddling their mounts. I did not intend to get left out, you may be sure, so I rustled around and borrowed me a saddle and a horse, and was ready to start with the rest.
We jogged up the road in a rough sort of column, the old timers riding ahead in a group of their own. No injunction had been laid as to keeping quiet; nevertheless, conversation was sparse and low voiced. The men mostly rode in silence smoking their cigarettes. About half way the leaders summoned me, and I trotted up to join them.
They wanted to know about the situation of the ranch as I had observed it. I could not encourage them much. My recollection made of the place a thoroughly protected walled fortress, capable of resisting a considerable assault.
“Of course with this gang we could sail right over them,” observed Buck, thoughtfully, “but we’d lose a considerable of men doing it.”
“Ain’t no chance of sneaking somebody inside?” suggested Watkins.
“Got to give Old Man Hooper credit for some sense,” replied the senor, shortly.
“We can starve ’em out,” suggested somebody.
“Unless I miss the old man a mile he’s already got a messenger headed for the troops at Fort Huachuca,” interposed Macomber. “He ain’t fool enough to take chances on a local sheriff.”
“You’re tooting he ain’t,” approved Buck Johnson. “It’s got to be quick work.”
“Burn him out,” said Watkins.
“It’s the young lady’s property,” hesitated my boss. “I kind of hate to destroy it unless we have to.”
At this moment the Morgan stallion, which I had not noticed before, was reined back to join our little group. Atop him rode the diminutive form of Artie Brower whom I had thought down and out. He had evidently had his evening’s dose of hop and under the excitation of the first effect had joined the party. His derby hat was flattened down to his ears. Somehow it exasperated me.
“For heaven’s sake why don’t you get you a decent hat!” I muttered, but to myself. He was carrying that precious black bag.