So Curley mounted and we rode on at a walk on the horse trail that led up the broad, shallow wash that came out of Cockeye.
Curley led, of course. Then rode Buck Johnson and Watkins and myself. I had horned in on general principles, and nobody kicked. I suppose they thought my general entanglement with this extraordinary series of events entitled me to more than was coming to me as ordinary cow hand. For a long time we proceeded in silence. Then, as we neared the hills, Buck began to lay out his plan.
“When we come up on Cockeye,” he was explaining, “I want you to take a half dozen men or so and throw around the other side on the Cochise trail——”
His speech was cut short by the sound of a rifle shot. The country was still flat, unsuited for concealment or defence. We were riding carelessly. A shivering shock ran through my frame and my horse plunged wildly. For an instant I thought I must be hit, then I saw that the bullet had cut off cleanly the horn of my saddle—within two inches of my stomach!
Surprise paralyzed us for the fraction of a second. Then we charged the rock pile from which the shot had come.
We found there Old Man Hooper seated in a pool of his own blood. He had been shot through the body and was dead. His rifle lay across a rock, trained carefully on the trail. How long he had sat there nursing the vindictive spark of his vitality nobody will ever know—certainly for some hours. And the shot delivered had taken from him the last flicker of life.
“By God, he was sure game!” Buck Johnson pronounced his epitaph.
We cleaned up at the ranch and herded our prisoners together and rode back to Box Springs. The seven men who had been segregated from the rest by Buck Johnson were not among them. I never found out what had become of them nor who had executed whatever decrees had been pronounced against them. There at the home ranch we found Miss Emory very anxious, excited, and interested. Buck and the others in authority left me to inform her of what had taken place.
I told you some time back that this is no love story; but I may as well let you in on the whole sequel to it, and get it off my chest. Windy’s scheme brought immediate results. The partnership agreement was recorded, and after the usual legal red-tape Miss Emory came into the property. She had to have a foreman for the ranch, and hanged if she didn’t pick on me! Think of that; me an ordinary, forty-dollar cow puncher! I tried to tell her that it was all plumb foolishness, that running a big cattle ranch was a man-sized job and took experience, but she wouldn’t listen. Women are like that. She’d seen me blunder in and out of a series of adventures and she thought that settled it, that I was a great man. After arguing with her quite some time about it, I had to give in; so I spit on my hands and sailed