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Title: The Coming of Cassidy—And the Others
Author: Mulford, Clarence Edward, 1883-1956
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Coming of Cassidy—And the Others" ***

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OTHERS ***



[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: Suddenly a rope ... yanked him from the saddle Page 342]



                                  The
                           Coming of Cassidy—
                             And the Others

                                   BY
                          CLARENCE E. MULFORD


                               Author of
                  Hopalong Cassidy, Bar-20 Days, etc.


                            Illustrations by
                             Maynard Dixon



                                CHICAGO
                          A. C. McCLURG & CO.
                                  1913



               Copyright 1908 by The Red Book Corporation
           Copyright 1911 by Field and Stream Publishing Co.
              Copyright 1912 by The Pearson Publishing Co.
              Copyright 1913 by The Pearson Publishing Co.

                               COPYRIGHT
                          A. C. McCLURG & CO.
                                  1913

                        Published, October, 1913

                      Copyrighted in Great Britain



                                PRESS OF
                          THE VAIL-BALLOU Co.
                           BINGHAMTON, N. Y.



                                PREFACE


It was on one of my annual visits to the ranch that Red, whose welcome
always seemed a little warmer than that of the others, finally took me
back to the beginning.  My friendship with the outfit did not begin
until some years after the fight at Buckskin, and, while I was familiar
with that affair and with the history of the outfit from that time on, I
had never seemed to make much headway back of that encounter.  And I
must confess that if I had depended upon the rest of the outfit for
enlightenment I should have learned very little of its earlier exploits.
A more secretive and bashful crowd, when it came to their own
achievements, would be hard to find. But Red, the big, smiling,
under-foreman, at last completely thawed and during the last few weeks
of my stay, told me story after story about the earlier days of the
ranch and the parts played by each member of the outfit.  Names that I
had heard mentioned casually now meant something to me; the characters
stepped out of the obscurity of the past to act their parts again.  To
my mind’s eye came Jimmy Price, even more mischievous than Johnny
Nelson; "Butch" Lynch and Charley James, who erred in judgment; the
coming and going of Sammy Porter, and why "You-Bet" Somes never arrived;
and others who did their best, or worst, and went their way. The tales
will follow, as closely as possible, in chronological order.  Between
some of them the interval is short; between others, long; the less
interesting stories that should fill those gaps may well be omitted.

It was in the ’70s, when the buffalo were fast disappearing from the
state, and the hunters were beginning to turn to other ways of earning a
living, that Buck Peters stopped his wagon on the banks of Snake Creek
and built himself a sod dugout in the heart of a country forbidding and
full of perils.  It was said that he was only the agent for an eastern
syndicate that, carried away by the prospects of the cattle industry,
bought a "ranch," which later was found to be entirely strange to
cattle.  As a matter of fact there were no cows within three hundred
miles of it, and there never had been.  Somehow the syndicate got in
touch with Buck and sent him out to look things over and make a report
to them.  This he did, and in his report he stated that the "ranch" was
split in two parts by about forty square miles of public land, which he
recommended that he be allowed to buy according to his judgment.  When
everything was settled the syndicate found that they owned the west, and
best, bank of an unfailing river and both banks of an unfailing creek
for a distance of about thirty miles.  The strip was not very wide then,
but it did not need to be, for it cut off the back-lying range from
water and rendered it useless to anyone but his employers.  Westward
there was no water to amount to anything for one hundred miles.  When
this had been digested thoroughly by the syndicate it caused Buck’s next
pay check to be twice the size of the first.

He managed to live through the winter, and the following spring a herd
of about two thousand or more poor cattle was delivered to him, and he
noticed at once that fully half of them were unbranded; but mavericks
were cows, and in those days it was not questionable to brand them.
Persuading two members of the drive outfit to work for him he settled
down to face the work and perils of ranching in a wild country.  One of
these two men, George Travis, did not work long; the other was the man
who told me these tales.  Red went back with the drive outfit, but in
Buck’s wagon, to return in four weeks with it heaped full of
necessities, and to find that troubles already had begun.  Buck’s trust
was not misplaced.  It was during Red’s absence that Bill Cassidy, later
to be known by a more descriptive name, appeared upon the scene and
played his cards.

C. E. M.



                                CONTENTS

I  The Coming of Cassidy
II  The Weasel
III  Jimmy Price
IV  Jimmy Visits Sharpsville
V  The Luck of Fools
VI  Hopalong’s Hop
VII  "Dealing the Odd"
VIII  The Norther
IX  The Drive
X  The Hold-Up
XI  Sammy Finds a Friend
XII  Sammy Knows the Game
XIII  His Code
XIV  Sammy Hunts a Job
XV  When Johnny Sloped



                             ILLUSTRATIONS

Suddenly a rope ... yanked him from the saddle . . . Frontispiece

There was a sharp report

"It’s Injuns, close after us"

Crawford’s Colt tore loose from his fingers and dropped near the wheel
of the wagon

"Yo’re a liar!" rang out the vibrant voice of the cowman



                         THE COMING OF CASSIDY
                             AND THE OTHERS



                                   I

                         THE COMING OF CASSIDY


The trail boss shook his fist after the departing puncher and swore
softly.  He hated to lose a man at this time and he had been a little
reckless in threatening to "fire" him; but in a gun-fighting outfit
there was no room for a hothead.  "Cimarron" was boss of the outfit that
was driving a large herd of cattle to California, a feat that had been
accomplished before, but that no man cared to attempt the second time.
Had his soul been enriched by the gift of prophecy he would have turned
back.  As it was he returned to the work ahead of him.  "Aw, let him
go," he growled.  "He ’s wuss off ’n I am, an’ he ’ll find it out quick.
I never did see nobody what got crazy mad so quick as him."

"Bill" Cassidy, not yet of age, but a man in stature and strength, rode
north because it promised him civilization quicker than any other way
except the back trail, and he was tired of the coast range.  He had
forgotten the trail-boss during the last three days of his solitary
journeying and the fact that he was in the center of an uninhabited
country nearly as large as a good-sized state gave him no concern; he
was equipped for two weeks, and fortified by youth’s confidence.

All day long he rode, around mesas and through draws, detouring to avoid
canyons and bearing steadily northward with a certainty that was a
heritage.  Gradually the great bulk of mesas swung off to the west, and
to the east the range grew steadily more level as it swept toward the
peaceful river lying in the distant valley like a carelessly flung rope
of silver.  The forest vegetation, so luxuriant along the rivers and
draws a day or two before, was now rarely seen, while chaparrals and
stunted mesquite became more common.

He was more than twenty-five hundred feet above the ocean, on a great
plateau broken by mesas that stretched away for miles in a vast sea of
grass.  There was just enough tang in the dry April air to make riding a
pleasure and he did not mind the dryness of the season.  Twice that day
he detoured to ride around prairie-dog towns and the sight of buffalo
skeletons lying in groups was not rare.  Alert and contemptuous gray
wolves gave him a passing glance, but the coyotes, slinking a little
farther off, watched him with more interest.  Occasionally he had a shot
at antelope and once was successful.

Warned by the gathering dusk he was casting about for the most favorable
spot for his blanket and fire when a horseman swung into sight out of a
draw and reined in quickly.  Bill’s hand fell carelessly to his side
while he regarded the stranger, who spoke first, and with a restrained
welcoming gladness in his voice.  "Howd’y, Stranger!  You plumb
surprised me."

Bill’s examination told him that the other was stocky, compactly built,
with a pleasing face and a "good eye."  His age was about thirty and the
surface indications were very favorable.  "Some surprised myself," he
replied.  "Ridin’ my way?"

"Far’s th’ house," smiled the other.  "Better join us.  Couple of
buffalo hunters dropped in awhile back."

"They ’ll go a long way before they ’ll find buffalo," Bill responded,
suspiciously.  Glancing around he readily picked out the rectangular
blot in the valley, though it was no easy feat. "Huntin’ or ranchin’?"
he inquired in tones devoid of curiosity.

"Ranchin’," smiled the other.  "Hefty proposition, up here, I reckon.
Th’ wolves ’ll walk in under yore nose.  But I ain’t seen no Injuns."

"You will," was the calm reply.  "You ’ll see a couple, first; an’ then
th’ whole cussed tribe. _They_ ain’t got no buffalo no more, neither."

Buck glanced at him sharply and thought of the hunters, but he nodded.
"Yes.  But if that couple don’t go back?" he asked, referring to the
Indians.

"Then you ’ll save a little time."

"Well, let ’em come.  I ’m here to stay, one way or th’ other.  But,
anyhow, I ain’t got no border ruffians like they have over in th’
Panhandle.  They ’re worse ’n Injuns."

"Yes," agreed Bill.  "Th’ war ain’t ended yet for some of them fellers.
Ex-guerrillas, lots of ’em."

When they reached the house the buffalo hunters were arguing about their
next day’s ride and the elder, looking up, appealed to Bill. "Howd’y,
Stranger.  Ain’t come ’cross no buffaler signs, hev ye?"

Bill smiled.  "Bones an’ old chips.  But th’ gray wolves was headin’
southwest."

"What ’d I tell you?" triumphantly exclaimed the younger hunter.

"Well, they ain’t much dif’rence, is they?" growled his companion.

Bill missed nothing the hunters said or did and during the silent meal
had a good chance to study their faces.  When the pipes were going and
the supper wreck cleaned away, Buck leaned against the wall and looked
across the room at the latest arrival.  "Don’t want a job, do you?" he
asked.

Bill shook his head slowly, wondering why the hunters had frowned at a
job being offered on another man’s ranch.  "I ’m headed north.  But I
’ll give you a hand for a week if you need me," he offered.

Buck smiled.  "Much obliged, friend; but it ’ll leave me worse off than
before.  My other puncher ’ll be back in a few weeks with th’ supplies,
but I need four men all year ’round.  I got a thousand head to brand
yet."

The elder hunter looked up.  "Drive ’em back to cow-country an’ sell
’em, or locate there," he suggested.

Buck’s glance was as sharp as his reply, for he could n’t believe that
the hunter had so soon forgotten what he had been told regarding the
ownership of the cattle.  "I don’t own ’em.  This range is bought an’
paid for.  I won’t lay down."

"I done forgot they ain’t yourn," hastily replied the hunter, smiling to
himself.  Stolen cattle cannot go back.

"If they was I ’d stay," crisply retorted Buck. "I ain’t quittin’
nothin’ I starts."

"How many ’ll you have nex’ spring?" grinned the younger hunter.  He was
surprised by the sharpness of the response.  "More ’n I ’ve got now, in
spite of h—!"

Bill nodded approval.  He felt a sudden, warm liking for this rugged man
who would not quit in the face of such handicaps.  He liked game men,
better if they were square, and he believed this foreman was as square
as he was game.  "By th’ Lord!" he ejaculated.  "For a plugged peso I ’d
stay with you!"

Buck smiled warmly.  "Would good money do?  But don’t you stay if you
oughtn’t, son."

When the light was out Bill lay awake for a long time, his mind busy
with his evening’s observations, and they pleased him so little that he
did not close his eyes until assured by the breathing of the hunters
that they were asleep. His Colt, which should have been hanging in its
holster on the wall where he had left it, lay unsheathed close to his
thigh and he awakened frequently during the night so keyed was he for
the slightest sound.  Up first in the morning, he replaced the gun in
its scabbard before the others opened their eyes, and it was not until
the hunters had ridden out of sight into the southwest that he entirely
relaxed his vigilance.  Saying good-by to the two cowmen was not without
regrets, but he shook hands heartily with them and swung decisively
northward.

He had been riding perhaps two hours, thinking about the little ranch
and the hunters, when he stopped suddenly on the very brink of a sheer
drop of two hundred feet.  In his abstraction he had ridden up the
sloping southern face of the mesa without noticing it.  "Bet there ain’t
another like this for a hundred miles," he laughed, and then ceased
abruptly and started with unbelieving eyes at the mouth of a draw not
far away.  A trotting line of gray wolves was emerging from it and
swinging toward the south-west ten abreast.  He had never heard of such
a thing before and watched them in amazement. "Well, I’m—!" he
exclaimed, and his Colt flashed rapidly at the pack.  Two or three
dropped, but the trotting line only swerved a little without pause or a
change of pace and soon was lost in another draw.  "Why, they ’re single
hunters," he muttered.  "Huh!  I won’t never tell this.  I can’t hardly
believe it myself. How ’bout you, Ring-Bone?" he asked the horse.

Turning, he rode around a rugged pinnacle of rock and stopped again,
gazing steadily along the back trail.  Far away in a valley two black
dots were crawling over a patch of sand and he knew them to be horsemen.
His face slowly reddened with anger at the espionage, for he had not
thought the cowmen could doubt his good will and honesty.  Then suddenly
he swore and spurred forward to cover those miles as speedily as
possible.  "Come on, ol’ Hammer-Head!" he cried.  "We’re goin’ back!"

The hunters had finally decided they would ride into the southwest and
had ridden off in that direction.  But they had detoured and swung north
to see him pass and be sure he was not in their way.  Now, satisfied
upon that point, they were going back to that herd of cattle, easily
turned from skinning buffalo to cattle, and on a large scale.  To do
this they would have to kill two men and then, waiting for the absent
puncher to return with the wagon, kill him and load down the vehicle
with skins.  "Like h—l they will!" he gritted.  "Three or none, you
piruts.  Come on, White-Eye!  Don’t sleep all th’ time; an’ don’t light
often’r once every ten yards, you saddle-galled, barrel-bellied runt!"

Into hollows, out again; shooting down steep-banked draws and avoiding
cacti and chaparral with cat-like agility, the much-described little
pony butted the wind in front and left a low-lying cloud of dust
swirling behind as it whirred at top speed with choppy, tied-in stride
in a winding circle for the humble sod hut on Snake Creek.  The rider
growled at the evident speed of the two men ahead, for he had not gained
upon them despite his efforts.  "If I ’m too late to stop it, I ’ll
clean th’ slate, anyhow," he snapped.  "Even if I has to ambush!  Will
you run?" he demanded, and the wild-eyed little bundle of whalebone and
steel found a little more speed in its flashing legs.

The rider now began to accept what cover he could find and when he
neared the hut left the shelter of the last, low hill for that afforded
by a draw leading to within a hundred yards of the dugout’s rear wall.
Dismounting, he ran lightly forward on foot, alert and with every sense
strained for a warning.

Reaching the wall he peered around the corner and stifled an
exclamation.  Buck’s puncher, a knife in his back, lay head down the
sloping path.  Placing his ear to the wall he listened intently for some
moments and then suddenly caught sight of a shadow slowly creeping past
his toes.  Quickly as he sprang aside he barely missed the flashing
knife and the bulk of the man behind it, whose hand, outflung to save
his balance, accidentally knocked the Colt from Bill’s grasp and sent it
spinning twenty feet away.

Without a word they leaped together, fighting silently, both trying to
gain the gun in the hunter’s holster and trying to keep the other from
it.  Bill, forcing the fighting in hopes that his youth would stand a
hot pace better than the other’s years, pushed his enemy back against
the low roof of the dugout; but as the hunter tripped over it and fell
backward, he pulled Bill with him.  Fighting desperately they rolled
across the roof and dropped to the sloping earth at the doorway, so
tightly locked in each other’s arms that the jar did not separate them.
The hunter, falling underneath, got the worst of the fall but kept on
fighting.  Crashing into the door head first, they sent it swinging back
against the wall and followed it, bumping down the two steps still
locked together.

Bill possessed strength remarkable for his years and build and he was
hard as iron; but he had met a man who had the sinewy strength of the
plainsman, whose greater age was offset by greater weight and the youth
was constantly so close to defeat that a single false move would have
been fatal.  But luck favored him, for as they surged around the room
they crashed into the heavy table and fell with it on top of them. The
hunter got its full weight and the gash in his forehead filled his eyes
with blood.  By a desperate effort he pinned Bill’s arm under his knee
and with his left hand secured a throat grip, but the under man wriggled
furiously and bridged so suddenly as to throw the hunter off him and
Bill’s freed hand, crashing full into the other’s stomach, flashed back
to release the weakened throat grip and jam the tensed fingers between
his teeth, holding them there with all the power of his jaws.  The dazed
and gasping hunter, bending forward instinctively, felt his own throat
seized and was dragged underneath his furious opponent.

In his Berserker rage Bill had forgotten about the gun, his fury
sweeping everything from him but the primal desire to kill with his
hands, to rend and crush like an animal.  He was brought to his senses
very sharply by the jarring, crashing roar of the six-shooter, the
powder blowing away part of his shirt and burning his side.  Twisting
sideways he grasped the weapon with one hand, the wrist with the other
and bent the gun slowly back, forcing its muzzle farther and farther
from him.  The hunter, at last managing to free his left hand from the
other’s teeth, found it useless when he tried to release the younger
man’s grip of the gun; and the Colt, roaring again, dropped from its
owner’s hand as he relaxed.

The victor leaned against the wall, his breath coming in great, sobbing
gulps, his knees sagging and his head near bursting.  He reeled across
the wrecked room, gulped down a drink of whisky from the bottle on the
shelf and, stumbling, groped his way to the outer air where he flung
himself down on the ground, dazed and dizzy.  When he opened his eyes
the air seemed to be filled with flashes of fire and huge, black
fantastic blots that changed form with great swiftness and the hut
danced and shifted like a thing of life.  Hot bands seemed to encircle
his throat and the throbbing in his temples was like blows of a hammer.
While he writhed and fought for breath a faint gunshot reached his ears
and found him apathetic.  But the second, following closely upon the
first, seemed clearer and brought him to himself long enough to make him
arise and stumble to his horse, and claw his way into the saddle.  The
animal, maddened by the steady thrust of the spurs, pitched viciously
and bolted; but the rider had learned his art in the sternest school in
the world, the "busting" corrals of the great Southwest, and he not only
stuck to the saddle, but guided the fighting animal through a barranca
almost choked with obstructions.

Stretched full length in a crevice near the top of a mesa lay the other
hunter, his rifle trained on a small bowlder several hundred yards down
and across the draw.  His first shot had been an inexcusable blunder for
a marksman like himself and now he had a desperate man and a very
capable shot opposing him.  If Buck could hold out until nightfall he
could slip away in the darkness and do some stalking on his own account.

For half an hour they had lain thus, neither daring to take sight.  Buck
could not leave the shelter of the bowlder because the high ground
behind him offered no cover; but the hunter, tiring of the fruitless
wait, wriggled back into the crevice, arose and slipped away, intending
to crawl to the edge of the mesa further down and get in a shot from a
new angle before his enemy learned of the shift; and this shot would not
be a blunder.  He had just lowered himself down a steep wall when the
noise of rolling pebbles caused him to look around, expecting to see his
friend.  Bill was just turning the corner of the wall and their eyes met
at the same instant.

"’Nds up!" snapped the youth, his Colt glinting as it swung up.  The
hunter, gripping the rifle firmly, looked into the angry eyes of the
other, and slowly obeyed.  Bill, watching the rifle intently, forthwith
learned a lesson he never forgot: never to watch a gun, but the eyes of
the man who has it.  The left hand of the hunter seemed to melt into
smoke, and Bill, firing at the same instant, blundered into a hit when
his surprise and carelessness should have cost him dearly.  His bullet,
missing its intended mark by inches, struck the still moving Colt of the
other, knocking it into the air and numbing the hand that held it.  A
searing pain in his shoulder told him of the closeness of the call and
set his lips into a thin, white line.  The hunter, needing no words to
interpret the look in the youth’s eyes, swiftly raised his hands,
holding the rifle high above his head, but neglected to take his finger
from the trigger.

Bill was not overlooking anything now and he noticed the crooked finger.
"Stick th’ muzzle _up_, an’ pull that trigger," he commanded, sharply.
"Now!" he grated.  The report came crashing back from half a dozen
points as he nodded.  "Drop it, an’ turn ’round."  As the other obeyed
he stepped cautiously forward, jammed his Colt into the hunter’s back
and took possession of a skinning knife.  A few moments later the
hunter, trussed securely by a forty-foot lariat, lay cursing at the foot
of the rock wall.

Bill, collecting the weapons, went off to cache them and then peered
over the mesa’s edge to look into the draw.  A leaden splotch appeared
on the rock almost under his nose and launched a crescendo scream into
the sky to whine into silence.  He ducked and leaped back, grinning
foolishly as he realized Buck’s error.  Turning to approach the edge
from another point he felt his sombrero jerk at his head as another
bullet, screaming plaintively, followed the first.  He dropped like a
shot, and commented caustically upon his paucity of brains as he gravely
examined the hole in his head gear.  "Huh!" he grunted.  "I had a fool’s
luck three times in twenty minutes,—d—d if I ’m goin’ to risk th’ next
turn.  _Three_ of ’em," he repeated.  "I ’m a’ Injun from now on.  An’
that foreman shore can shoot!"

He wriggled to the edge and called out, careful not to let any of his
anatomy show above the sky-line.  "Hey, Buck!  I ain’t no buffalo
hunter!  This is Cassidy, who you wanted to punch for you.  Savvy?"  He
listened, and grinned at the eloquent silence.  "You talk too rapid," he
laughed.  Repeating his statements he listened again, with the same
success.  "Now I wonder is he stalkin’ _me_?  Hey, _Buck_!" he shouted.

"Stick yore hands up an’ foller ’em with yore face," said Buck’s voice
from below.  Bill raised his arms and slowly stood up.  "Now what ’n
blazes do _you_ want?" demanded the foreman, belligerently.

"Nothin’.  Just got them hunters, one of ’em alive.  I reckoned mebby
you ’d sorta like to know it."  He paused, cogitating.  "Reckon we
better turn him loose when we gets back to th’ hut," he suggested.
"I’ll keep his guns," he added, grinning.

The foreman stuck his head out in sight. "Well, I’m d—d!" he exclaimed,
and sank weakly back against the bowlder.  "Can you give me a hand?" he
muttered.

The words did not carry to the youth on the skyline, but he saw,
understood, and, slipping and bumping down the steep wall with more
speed than sense, dashed across the draw and up the other side.  He
nodded sagely as he examined the wound and bound it carefully with the
sleeve of his own shirt.  "’T ain’t much—loss of blood, mostly.  Yo ’re
better off than Travis."

"Travis dead?" whispered Buck.  "In th’ back!  Pore feller, pore feller;
didn’t have no show.  Tell me about it."  At the end of the story he
nodded.  "Yo ’re all right, Cassidy; yo ’re a white man.  He ’d ’a’
stood a good chance of gettin’ me, ’cept for you."  A frown clouded his
face and he looked weakly about him as if for an answer to the question
that bothered him.  "Now what am I goin’ to do up here with all these
cows?" he muttered.

Bill rolled the wounded man a cigarette and lit it for him, after which
he fell to tossing pebbles at a rock further down the hill.

"I reckon it _will_ be sorta tough," he replied, slowly.  "But I sorta
reckoned me an’ you, an’ that other feller, can make a big ranch out of
yore little one.  Anyhow, I ’ll bet we can have a mighty big time
tryin’.  A mighty fine time. What you think?"

Buck smiled weakly and shoved out his hand with a visible effort.  "We
can!  Shake, Bill!" he said, contentedly.



                                   II

                               THE WEASEL


The winter that followed the coming of Bill Cassidy to the Bar-20 ranch
was none too mild to suit the little outfit in the cabin on Snake Creek,
but it was not severe enough to cause complaint and they weathered it
without trouble to speak of.  Down on the big ranges lying closer to the
Gulf the winter was so mild as to seem but a brief interruption of
summer. It was on this warm, southern range that Skinny Thompson, one
bright day of early spring, loped along the trail to Scoria, where he
hoped to find his friend, Lanky Smith, and where he determined to put an
end to certain rumors that had filtered down to him on the range and
filled his days with anger.

He was within sight of the little cow-town when he met Frank Lewis, but
recently returned from a cattle drive.  Exchanging gossip of a harmless
nature, Skinny mildly scored his missing friend and complained about his
flea-like ability to get scarce.  Lewis, laughing, told him that Lanky
had left town two days before bound north.  Skinny gravely explained
that he always had to look after his missing friend, who was childish,
irresponsible and helpless when alone. Lewis laughed heartily as he
pictured the absent puncher, and he laughed harder as he pictured the
two together.  Both lean as bean poles, Skinny stood six feet four,
while Lanky was fortunate if he topped five feet by many inches. Also
they were inseparable, which made Lewis ask a question.  "But how does
it come you ain’t with him?"

"Well, we was punchin’ down south an’ has a li’l run-in.  When I rid in
that night I found he had flitted.  What I want to know is what business
has he got, siftin’ out like that an’ makin’ me chase after him?"

"I dunno," replied Lewis, amused.  "You ’re sort of gardjean to him,
hey?"

"Well, he gets sort of homesick if I ain’t with him, anyhow," replied
Skinny, grinning broadly. "An’ who ’s goin’ to look after him when I
ain’t around?"

"That puts me up a tree," replied Lewis.  "I shore can’t guess.  But you
two should ought to ’a’ been stuck together, like them other twins was.
But if he ’d do a thing like that I ’d think you would n’t waste no time
on him."

"Well, he _is_ too ornery an’ downright cussed for any human bein’ to
worry about very much, or ’sociate with steady an’ reg’lar.  Why, lookit
him gettin’ sore on me, an’ for nothin’!  But I ’m so used to bein’
abused I get sort of lost when he ain’t around."

"Well," smiled Lewis, "he’s went up north to punch for Buck Peters on
his li’l ranch on Snake Creek.  If you want to go after him, this is th’
way I told him to go," and he gave instructions hopelessly inadequate to
anyone not a plainsman. Skinny nodded, irritated by what he regarded as
the other’s painful and unnecessary details and wheeled to ride on.  He
had started for town when Lewis stopped him with a word.

"Hey," he called.  Skinny drew rein and looked around.

"Better ride in cautious like," Lewis remarked, casually.  "Somebody was
in town when I left—he shore was thirsty.  He ain’t drinkin’ a drop,
which has riled him considerable. So-long."

"Huh!" grunted Skinny.  "Much obliged. That’s one of th’ reasons I ’m
goin’ to town," and he started forward again, tight-lipped and grim.

He rode slowly into Scoria, alert, watching windows, doors and corners,
and dismounted before Quiggs’ saloon, which was the really "high-toned"
thirst parlor in the town.  He noticed that the proprietor had put black
shades to the windows and door and then, glancing quickly around,
entered.  He made straight for the partition in the rear of the
building, but the proprietor’s voice checked him.  "You needn’t bother,
Skinny—there ain’t nobody in there; an’ I locked th’ back door an hour
ago."  He glanced around the room and added, with studied carelessness:
"You don’t want to get any reckless today."  He mopped the bar slowly
and coughed apologetically.  "Don’t get careless."

"I won’t—it’s me that’s doin’ th’ hunting today," Skinny replied,
meaningly.  "Him a-hunting for me yesterday, when he shore knowed I was
n’t in town, when he knowed he could n’t find me!  I was getting good
an’ tired of him, an’ so when Walt rode over to see me last night an’
told me what th’ coyote was doing yesterday, an’ what he was yelling
around, I just natchurly had to straddle leather an’ come in.  I can’t
let him put that onto me.  Nobody can call me a card cheat an’ a coward
an’ a few other choice things like he did without seeing me, an’ seeing
me quick.  An’ I shore hope he ’s sober.  Are both of ’em in town,
Larry?"

"No; only Dick.  But he’s making noise enough for two.  He shore raised
th’ devil yesterday."

"Well, I ’m goin’ North trailin’ Lanky, but before I leave I ’m shore
goin’ to sweeten things around here.  If I go away without getting him
he ’ll say he scared me out, so I ’ll have to do it when I come back,
anyhow.  You see, it might just as well be today.  But th’ next time I
sit in a game with fellers that can’t drop fifty dollars without saying
they was cheated I ’ll be a blamed sight bigger fool than I am right
now. I should n’t ’a’ taken cards with ’em after what has passed.  Why
didn’t they say they was cheated, then an’ there, an’ not wait till
three days after I left town?  All that’s bothering me is Sam: if I get
his brother when he ain’t around, an’ then goes North, he ’ll say I had
to jump th’ town to get away from him.  But I ’ll stop that by giving
him his chance at me when I get back."

"Say, why don’t you wait a day an’ get ’em both before you go?" asked
Quigg hopefully.

"Can’t: Lanky ’s got two days’ start on me an’ I want to catch him soon
as I can."

"I can’t get it through my head, nohow," Quigg remarked.  "Everybody
knows you play square.  I reckon they’re hard losers."

Skinny laughed shortly: "Why, can’t you see it?  Last year I beat Dick
Bradley out with a woman over in Ballard.  Then his fool brother tried
to cut in an’ beat me out.  Cards? H—l!" he snorted, walking towards the
door. "You an’ everybody else knows—" he stopped suddenly and jerked his
gun loose as a shadow fell across the doorsill.  Then he laughed and
slapped the newcomer on the shoulder: "Hullo, Ace, my boy!  You had a
narrow squeak then. You want to make more noise when you turn corners,
unless somebody ’s looking for you with a gun.  How are you, anyhow?
An’ how’s yore dad?  I ’ve been going over to see him regular, right
along, but I ’ve been so busy I kept putting it off."

"Dad’s better, Skinny; an’ I’m feeling too good to be true.  What ’ll
you have?"

"Reckon it’s my treat; you wet last th’ other time.  Ain’t that right,
Quigg?  Shore, I knowed it was."

"All right, here’s luck," Ace smiled. "Quigg, that’s better stock; an’
would you look at th’ style—real curtains!"

Quigg grinned.  "Got to have ’em.  I ’m on th’ sunny side of th’
street."

"I hear yo ’re goin’ North," Ace remarked.

"Yes, I am; but how ’d you know about it?"

"Why, it ain’t no secret, is it?" asked Ace in surprise.  "If it is, you
must ’a’ told a woman. I heard of it from th’ crowd—everybody seems to
know about it.  Yo ’re going up alone, too, ain’t you?"

"Well, no, it ain’t no secret; an’ I am going alone," slowly replied
Skinny.  "Here, have another."

"All right—this is on me.  Here’s more luck."

"Where is th’ crowd?"

"Keeping under cover for a while to give you plenty of elbow room," Ace
replied.  "He’s sober as a judge, Skinny, an’ mad as a rattler. Swears
he ’ll kill you on sight.  An’ his brother ain’t with him; if he does
come in too soon I ’ll see he don’t make it two to one.  Good luck, an’
so-long," he said quickly, shaking hands and walking towards the door.
He put one hand out first and waved it, slowly stepping to the street
and then walking rapidly out of sight.

Skinny looked after him and smiled.  "Larry, there ’s a blamed fine
youngster," he remarked, reflectively.  "Well, he ought to be—he had th’
best mother God ever put breath into."  He thought for a moment and then
went slowly towards the door.  "I ’ve heard so much about Bradley’s
gun-play that I ’m some curious. Reckon I ’ll see if it’s all true—" and
he had leaped through the doorway, gun in hand. There was no shot, no
sign of his enemy.  A group of men lounged in the door of the "hash
house" farther down the street, all friends of his, and he nodded to
them.  One of them turned quickly and looked down the intersecting
street, saying something that made his companions turn and look with
him.  The man who had been standing quietly by the corner saloon had
disappeared.  Skinny smiling knowingly, moved closer to Quigg’s shack so
as to be better able to see around the indicated corner, and half drew
the Colt which he had just replaced in the holster.  As he drew even
with the corner of the building he heard Quigg’s warning shout and
dropped instantly, a bullet singing over him and into a window of a
near-by store.  He rolled around the corner, scrambled to his feet and
dashed around the rear of the saloon and the corral behind it, crossed
the street in four bounds and began to work up behind the buildings on
his enemy’s side of the street, cold with anger.

"Pot shooting, hey!" he gritted, savagely.

"Says I ’m a-scared to face him, an’ then tries _that_.  _There_, d—n
you!"  His Colt exploded and a piece of wood sprang from the corner
board of Wright’s store.  "Missed!" he swore. "Anyhow, I ’ve notified
you, you coyote."

He sprang forward, turned the corner of the store and followed it to the
street.  When he came to the street end of the wall he leaped past it,
his Colt preceding him.  Finding no one to dispute with him he moved
cautiously towards the other corner and stopped.  Giving a quick glance
around, he smiled suddenly, for the glass in Quigg’s half-open door,
with the black curtain behind it, made a fair mirror.  He could see the
reflection of Wright’s corral and Ace leaning against it, ready to
handle the brother if he should appear as a belligerent; and he could
see along the other side of the store, where Dick Bradley, crouched, was
half-way to the street and coming nearer at each slow step.

Skinny, remembering the shot which he had so narrowly escaped, resolved
that he would n’t take chances with a man who would pot-shoot. He
wheeled, slipped back along his side of the building, turned the rear
corner and then, spurting, sprang out beyond the other wall, crying:
"Here!"

Bradley, startled, fired under his arm as he leaped aside.  Turning
while in the air, his half-raised Colt described a swift, short arc and
roared as he alighted.  As the bullet sang past his enemy’s ear he
staggered and fell,—and Skinny’s smoking gun chocked into its holster.

"There, you coyote!" muttered the victor. "Yore brother is next if he
wants to take it up."

                     *      *      *      *      *

As night fell Skinny rode into a small grove and prepared to camp there.
Picketing his horse, he removed the saddle and dropped it where he would
sleep, for a saddle makes a fair pillow.  He threw his blanket after it
and then started a quick, hot fire for his coffee-making. While
gathering fuel for it he came across a large log and determined to use
it for his night fire, and for that purpose carried it back to camp with
him.  It was not long before he had reduced the provisions in his
saddle-bags and leaned back against a tree to enjoy a smoke. Suddenly he
knocked the ashes from his pipe and grew thoughtful, finally slipping it
into his pocket and getting up.

"That coyote’s brother will know I went North an’ all about it," he
muttered.  "He knows I ’ve got to camp tonight an’ he can foller a trail
as good as th’ next man.  An’ he knows I shot his brother.  I reckon,
mebby, he ’ll be some surprised."

An hour later a blanket-covered figure lay with its carefully covered
feet to the fire, and its head, sheltered from the night air by a
sombrero, lay on the saddle.  A rifle barrel projected above the saddle,
the dim flickering light of the green-wood fire and a stray beam or two
from the moon glinted from its rustless surface.  The fire was badly
constructed, giving almost no light, while the leaves overhead shut out
most of the moonlight.

Thirty yards away, in another clearing, a horse moved about at the end
of a lariat and contentedly cropped the rich grass, enjoying a good
night’s rest.  An hour passed, another, and a third and fourth, and then
the horse’s ears flicked forward as it turned its head to see what
approached.

A crouched figure moved stealthily forward to the edge of the clearing,
paused to read the brand on the animal’s flank and then moved off
towards the fitful light of the smoking fire.  Closer and closer it drew
until it made out the indistinct blanketed figure on the ground.  A
glint from the rifle barrel caused it to shrink back deeper into the
shadows and raise the weapon it carried. For half a minute it stood thus
and then, holding back the trigger of the rifle so there would be no
warning clicks, drew the hammer to a full cock and let the trigger fall
into place, slowly moving forward all the while.  A passing breeze
fanned the fire for an instant and threw the grotesque shadow of a stump
across the quiet figure in the clearing.

The skulker raised his rifle and waited until he had figured out the
exact mark and then a burst of fire and smoke leaped into the brush.  He
bent low to look under the smoke cloud and saw that the figure had not
moved.  Another flash split the night and then, assured beyond a doubt,
he moved forward quickly.

"First shot!" he exclaimed with satisfaction. "I reckons you won’t do no
boastin’ ’bout killin’ Dick, d—n you!"

As he was about to drop to his knees to search the body he started and
sprang back, glancing fearfully around as he drew his Colt.

"Han’s up!" came the command from the edge of the clearing as a man
stepped into sight.  "I reckon—"  Skinny leaped aside as the other’s gun
roared out and fired from his hip; and Sam Bradley plunged across the
blanket-covered log and leaves.

"There," Skinny soliloquized, moving forward.  "I knowed they was
coyotes, _both_ of ’em.  Knowed it all th’ time."


Two days north of Skinny on the bank of Little Wind River a fire was
burning itself out, while four men lay on the sand or squatted on their
heels and watched it contentedly.  "Yes, I got plumb sick of that
country," Lanky Smith was saying, "an’ when Buck sent for me to go up
an’ help him out, I pulls up, an’ here I am."

"I never heard of th’ Bar-20," replied a little, wizened man, whose eyes
were so bright they seemed to be on fire.  "Did n’t know there was any
ranches in that country."

"Buck ’s got th’ only one," responded Lanky, packing his pipe.  "He’s
located on Snake Creek, an’ he ’s got four thousand head.  Reckon there
ain’t nobody within two hundred mile of him.  Lewis said he ’s got a
fine range an’ all th’ water he can use; but three men can’t handle all
them cows in _that_ country, so I ’m goin’ up."

The little man’s eyes seldom left Lanky’s face, and he seemed to be
studying the stranger very closely.  When Lanky had ridden upon their
noon-day camp the little man had not lost a movement that the stranger
made and the other two, disappearing quietly, returned a little later
and nodded reassuringly to their leader.

The wizened leader glanced at one of his companions, but spoke to Lanky.
"George, here, said as how they finally got Butch Lynch.  You did n’t
hear nothin’ about it, did you?"

"They was a rumor down on Mesquite range that Butch was got.  I heard
his gang was wiped out.  Well, it had to come sometime—he was carryin’
things with a purty high hand for a long time.  But I ’ve done heard
that before; more ’n once, too.  I reckon Butch is a li’l too slick to
get hisself killed."

"Ever see him?" asked George carelessly.

"Never; an’ don’t want to.  If them fellers can’t clean their own range
an’ pertect their own cows, I ain’t got no call to edge in."

"He ’s only a couple of inches taller ’n Jim," observed the third man,
glancing at his leader, "an’ about th’ same build.  But he ’s h—l on th’
shoot.  I saw him twice, but I was mindin’ my own business."

Lanky nodded at the leader.  "That ’d make him about as tall as me.
Size don’t make no dif’rence no more—King Colt makes ’em look all
alike."

Jim tossed away his cigarette and arose, stretching and grunting.  "I
shore ate too much," he complained.  "Well, there’s one thing about yore
friend’s ranch: he ain’t got no rustlers to fight, so he ain’t as bad
off as he might be.  I reckon he done named that crick hisself, did n’t
he?  I never heard tell of it."

"Yes; so Lewis says.  He says _he ’d_ called it Split Mesa Crick, ’cause
it empties into Mesa River plumb acrost from a big mesa what’s split in
two as clean as a knife could ’a’ done it."

[Illustration: There was a sharp report]

"The Bar-20 expectin’ you?" casually asked Jim as he picked up his
saddle.

"Shore; they done sent for me.  Me an’ Buck is old friends.  He was up
in Montana ranchin’ with a pardner, but Slippery Trendley kills his
pardner’s wife an’ drove th’ feller loco.  Buck an’ him hunted Slippery
for two years an’ finally drifted back south again.  I dunno where
Frenchy is.  If it wasn’t for me I reckon Buck ’d still be on th’
warpath.  You bet he ’s expectin’ me!"  He turned and threw his saddle
on the evil-tempered horse he rode and, cinching deftly, slung himself
up by the stirrup.  As he struck the saddle there was a sharp report and
he pitched off and sprawled grotesquely on the sand.  The little man
peered through the smoke and slid his gun back into the holster. He
turned to his companions, who looked on idly and with but little
interest.  "Yo ’re d—d right Butch Lynch is too slick to get killed.  I
ain’t takin’ no chances with nobody that rides over my trail these days.
An’, boys, I got a great scheme!  It comes to me like a flash when he ’s
talkin’.  Come on, pull out; an’ don’t open yore traps till I says so.
I want to figger this thing out to th’ last card.  George, shoot his
cayuse; an’ not another sound."

"But that’s a good cayuse; worth easy—"

"Shoot it!" shouted Jim, his eyes snapping. It was unnecessary to add
the alternative, for George and his companion had great respect for the
lightning-like, deadly-accurate gun hands. He started to draw, but was
too late.  The crashing report seemed to come from the leader’s holster,
so quick had been the draw, and the horse sank slowly down, but
unobserved.  Two pairs of eyes asked a question of the little man and he
sneered in reply as he lowered the gun.  "It might ’a’ been you.
Hereafter do what I say. Now, go on ahead, an’ keep quiet."

After riding along in silence for a little while the leader looked at
his companions and called one of them to him.  "George, this job is too
big for the three of us; we can handle the ranch end, but not the drive.
You know where Longhorn an’ his bunch are holdin’ out on th’ Tortilla?
All right; I ’ve got a proposition for ’em, an’ you are goin’ up with
it.  It won’t take you so long if you wake up an’ don’t loaf like you
have been.  Now you listen close, an’ don’t forget a word": and the
little man shared the plan he had worked out, much to his companion’s
delight.  Having made the messenger repeat it, the little man waved him
off: "Get a-goin’; you bust some records or I ’ll bust you, savvy?
Charley ’ll wait for you at that Split Mesa that fool puncher was
a-talkin’ about.  An’ don’t you ride nowheres near it goin’ up—keep to
th’ east of it.  So-long!"

He watched the departing horseman swing in and pass Charley and saw the
playful blow and counter.  He smiled tolerantly as their words came back
to him, George’s growing fainter and fainter and Charley’s louder and
louder until they rang in his ears.  The smile changed subtly and
cynicism touched his face and lingered for a moment.  "Fine, big
bodies—nothing else," he muttered.  "Big children, with children’s
heads.  A little courage, if steadied; but what a paucity of brains!
Good G—d, what a paucity of brains; what a lack of original thought!"


Of some localities it is said their inhabitants do not die, but dry up
and blow away; this, so far as appearances went, seemed true of the
horseman who loped along the north bank of Snake Creek, only he had not
arrived at the "blow away" period.  No one would have guessed his age as
forty, for his leathery, wrinkled skin, thin, sun-bleached hair and
wizened body justified a guess of sixty.  A shrewd observer looking him
over would find about the man a subtle air of potential destruction,
which might have been caused by the way he wore his guns.  A second look
and the observer would turn away oppressed by a disquieting feeling that
evaded analysis by lurking annoyingly just beyond the horizon of
thought.  But a man strong in intuition would not have turned away; he
would have backed off, alert and tense.  Nearing a corral which loomed
up ahead, he pulled rein and went on at a walk, his brilliant eyes
searching the surroundings with a thoroughness that missed nothing.

Buck Peters was complaining as he loafed for a precious half hour in
front of the corral, but Red Connors and Bill Cassidy, his "outfit,"
discussed the low prices cattle were selling for, the over-stocked
southern ranges and the crash that would come to the more heavily
mortgaged ranches when the market broke.  This was a golden opportunity
to stock the little ranch, and Buck was taking advantage of it.  But
their foreman persisted in telling his troubles and finally, out of
politeness, they listened.  The burden of the foreman’s plaint was the
non-appearance of one Lanky Smith, an old friend. When the second herd
had been delivered several weeks before, Buck, failing to persuade one
of the drive outfit to remain, had asked the trail boss to send up
Lanky, and the trail boss had promised.

Red stretched and yawned.  "Mebby he’s lost th’ way."

The foreman snorted.  "He can foller a plain trail, can’t he?  An’ if he
can ride past Split Mesa, he’s a bigger fool than I ever heard of."

"Well, mebby he got drunk an—"

"He don’t get that drunk."  Astonishment killed whatever else he might
have said, for a stranger had ridden around the corral and sat smiling
at the surprise depicted on the faces of the three.

Buck and Red, too surprised to speak, smiled foolishly; Bill, also
wordless, went upon his toes and tensed himself for that speed which had
given to him hands never beaten on the draw. The stranger glanced at
him, but saw nothing more than the level gaze that searched his
squinting eyes for the soul back of them.  The squint increased and he
made a mental note concerning Bill Cassidy, which Bill Cassidy already
had done regarding him.

"I’m called Tom Jayne," drawled the stranger.  "I ’m lookin’ for
Peters."

"Yes?" inquired Buck restlessly.  "I ’m him."

"Lewis sent me up to punch for you."

"You plumb surprised us," replied Buck. "We don’t see nobody up here."

"Reckon not," agreed Jayne smiling.  "I ain’t been pestered a hull lot
by th’ inhabitants on my way up.  I reckon there ’s more _buffalo_ than
men in this country."

Buck nodded.  "An’ blamed few buffalo, too. But Lewis did n’t say
nothin’ about Lanky Smith, did he?"

"Yes; Smith, he goes up in th’ Panhandle for to be a foreman.  Lewis
missed him.  Th’ Panhandle must be purty nigh as crowded as this
country, I reckon," he smiled.

"Well," replied Buck, "anybody Lewis sends up is good enough for me.  I
’m payin’ forty a month.  Some day I ’ll pay more, if I ’m able to an’
it’s earned."

Jayne nodded.  "I ’m aimin’ to be here when th’ pay is raised; an’ I ’ll
earn it."

"Then shake han’s with Red an’ Bill, an’ come with me," said Buck.  He
led the way to the dugout, Bill and Red looking after him and the little
newcomer.  Red shook his head.  "I dunno," he soliloquized, his eyes on
the recruit’s guns.  They were worn low on the thighs, and the lower
ends of the holsters were securely tied to the trousers.  They were low
enough to have the butts even with the swinging hands, so that no time
would have to be wasted in reaching for them; and the sheaths were tied
down, so they would not cling to the guns and come up with them on the
draw.  Bill wore his guns the same way for the same reasons.  Red
glanced at his friend.  "He ’s a queer li’l cuss, Bill," he suggested.
Receiving no reply, he grinned and tried again.  "I said as how he ’s a
queer li’l cuss."  Bill stirred.  "Huh?" he muttered.  Red snorted.
"Why, I says he’s a drunk Injun mendin’ socks.  What in blazes you
reckon I ’d say!"

"Oh, somethin’ like that; but; you should ’a’ said he’s a—a weasel.  A
cold-blooded, ferocious li’l rat that ’d kill for th’ joy of it," and
Bill moved leisurely to rope his horse.

Red looked after him, cogitating deeply. "Cussed if I hadn’t, too!  An’
so he’s a two-gun man, like Bill.  Wears ’em plumb low an’ tied.
Yessir, he’s a shore ’nuff weasel, all right."  He turned and watched
Bill riding away and he grinned as two pictures came to his mind.  In
the first he saw a youth enveloped in swirling clouds of acrid smoke as
two Colts flashed and roared with a speed incredible; in the second
there was no smoke, only the flashing of hands and the cold glitter of
steel, so quick as to baffle the eye.  And even now Bill practiced the
draw, which pleased the foreman; cartridges were hard to get and cost
money.  Red roped his horse and threw on the saddle.  As he swung off
toward his section of the range he shook his head and scowled.

The Weasel had the eastern section, the wildest part of the ranch.  It
was cut and seared by arroyos, barrancas and draws; covered with
mesquite and chaparral and broken by hills and mesas.  The cattle on it
were lost in the chaotic roughness and heavy vegetation and only showed
themselves when they straggled down to the river or the creek to drink.
A thousand head were supposed to be under his charge, but ten times that
number would have been but a little more noticeable.  He quickly learned
ways of riding from one end of the section to the other without showing
himself to anyone who might be a hundred yards from any point of the
ride; he learned the best grazing portions and the safest trails from
them to the ford opposite Split Mesa.

He was very careful not to show any interest in Split Hill Canyon and
hardly even looked at it for the first week; then George returned from
his journey and reported favorably.  He also, with Longhorn’s
assistance, had picked out and learned a good drive route, and it was
decided then and there to start things moving in earnest.

There were two thousand unbranded cattle on the ranch, the entire second
drive herd; most of these were on the south section under Bill Cassidy,
and the remainder were along the river. The Weasel learned that most of
Bill’s cows preferred the river to the creek and crossed his section to
get there.  That few returned was due, perhaps, to their preference for
the eastern pasture.  In a week the Weasel found the really good grazing
portions of his section feeding more cows than they could keep on
feeding; but suddenly the numbers fell to the pastures’ capacity,
without adding a head to Bill’s herd.

Then came a day when Red had been riding so near the Weasel’s section
that he decided to go on down and meet him as he rode in for dinner.
When Red finally caught sight of him the Weasel was riding slowly toward
the bunkhouse, buried in thought.  When his two men had returned from
their scouting trip and reported the best way to drive, his and their
work had begun in earnest.  One small herd had been driven north and
turned over to friends not far away, who took charge of the herd for the
rest of the drive while the Weasel’s companions returned to Split Hill.

Day after day he had noticed the diminishing number of cows on his
sections, which was ideally created by nature to hide such a deficit,
but from now on it would require all his cleverness and luck to hide the
losses and he would be so busy shifting cattle that the rustling would
have to ease up.  One thing bothered him: Bill Cassidy was getting very
suspicious, and he was not altogether satisfied that it was due to
rivalry in gun-play.  He was so deeply engrossed in this phase of the
situation that he did not hear Red approaching over the soft sand and
before Red could make his presence known something occurred that made
him keep silent.

The Weasel, jarred by his horse, which shied and reared with a vigor and
suddenness its rider believed entirely unwarranted under the
circumstances, grabbed the reins in his left hand and jerked viciously,
while his right, a blur of speed, drew and fired the heavy Colt with
such deadly accuracy that the offending rattler’s head dropped under its
writhing, glistening coils, severed clean.

Red backed swiftly behind a chaparral and cogitated, shaking his head
slowly.  "Funny how bashful these gun-artists are!" he muttered. "Now
has he been layin’ for big bets, or was he—?" the words ceased, but the
thoughts ran on and brought a scowl to Red’s face as he debated the
question.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The following day, a little before noon, two men stopped with sighs of
relief at the corral and looked around.  The little man riding the horse
smiled as he glanced at his tall companion. "You won’t have to hoof it
no more, Skinny," he said gladly.  "It’s been a’ awful experience for
both of us, but you had th’ worst end."

"Why, you stubborn li’l fool!" retorted Skinny.  "I can walk back an’ do
it all over again!" He helped his companion down, stripped off the
saddle and turned the animal loose with a resounding slap.  "Huh!" he
grunted as it kicked up its heels.  "You oughta feel frisky, after
loafin’ for two weeks an’ walkin’ for another.  Come on, Lanky," he
said, turning. "There ain’t nobody home, so we ’ll get a fire goin’ an’
rustle chuck for all han’s."

They entered the dugout and looked around, Lanky sitting down to rest.
His companion glanced at the mussed bunks and started a fire to get
dinner for six.  "Mebby they don’t ride in at noon," suggested the
convalescent.  "Then we ’ll eat it all," grinned the cook.  "It’s comin’
to us by this time."

The Weasel, riding toward the rear wall of the dugout, increased the
pace when he saw the smoke pouring out of the chimney, but as he neared
the hut he drew suddenly and listened, his expression of incredulity
followed by one of amazement.

A hearty laugh and some shouted words sent him spinning around and back
to the chaparral. As soon as he dared he swung north to the creek and
risked its quicksands to ride down its middle. Reaching the river he
still kept to the water until he had crossed the ford and scrambled up
the further bank to become lost in the windings of the canyon.

Very soon after the Weasel’s departure Buck dismounted at the corral and
stopped to listen. "Strangers," he muttered.  "Glad they got th’ fire
goin’, anyhow."  Walking to the hut he entered and a yell met him at the
instant recognition.

"Hullo, Buck!"

"Lanky!" he cried, leaping forward.

"Easy!" cautioned the convalescent, evading the hand.  "I ’ve been all
shot up an’ I ain’t right yet."

"That so!  How ’d it happen?"

"Shake han’s with Skinny Thompson, my fool nurse," laughed Lanky.

"I ’m a fool, all right, helpin’ _him_," grinned Skinny, gripping the
hand.  "But when I picks him up down in th’ Li’l Wind River country I
was a’ angel.  Looked after him for two weeks down there, an’ put in
another gettin’ up here. Served him right, too, for runnin’ away from
me."

"Little Wind River country!" exclaimed Buck.  "Why, I thought you was a
foreman in th’ Panhandle."

"Foreman nothin’," replied Lanky.  "I was shot up by a li’l runt of a
rustler an’ left to die two hundred mile from nowhere.  I was n’t
expectin’ no gun-play."

"He’s ridin’ up here," explained Skinny. "Meets three fellers an’ gets
friendly.  They learns his business, an’ drops him sudden when he’s
mountin’.  Butch Lynch did th’ shootin’. Butch got his name butcherin
th’ law.  He could n’t make a livin’ at it.  Then he got chased out of
New Mexico for bein’ mixed up in a free-love sect, an’ pulls for
Chicago.  He reckoned he owned th’ West, so he drifts down here again
an’ turns rustler.  I dunno why he plugs Lanky, less ’n he thinks Lanky
knows him an’ might try to hand him over.  I ’m honin’ for to meet
Butch."

Buck looked from one to the other in amazement, suspicion raging in his
mind.  "Why, I heard you went to th’ Panhandle!" he ejaculated.

Skinny grinned: "A fine foreman he’d make, less ’n for a hawg ranch!"

"Who told you that?" demanded Lanky, with sudden interest.

"Th’ feller Lewis sent up in yore place."

"What?" shouted both in one voice, and Lanky gave a terse description of
Butch Lynch. "That him?"

"That’s him," answered Buck.  "But he was alone.  He ’ll be in soon,
’long with Bill an’ Red—which way did you come?" he demanded eagerly.
"Why, that was through his section—bet he saw you an’ pulled out!"

Skinny reached for his rifle: "I’m goin’ to see," he remarked.

"I ’m with you," replied Buck.

"Me, too," asserted Lanky, but he was pushed back.

"You stay here," ordered Buck.  "He might ride in.  An’ you ’ve got to
send Bill an’ Red after us."

Lanky growled, but obeyed, and trained his rifle on the door.  But the
only man he saw was Red, whose exit was prompt when he had learned the
facts.

Down on the south section Bill, unaware of the trend of events, looked
over the little pasture that nestled between the hills and wondered
where the small herd was.  Up to within the last few days he always had
found it here, loath to leave the heavy grass and the trickling spring,
and watched over by "Old Mosshead," a very pugnacious steer.  He scowled
as he looked east and shook his head.  "Bet they ’re crowdin’ on th’
Weasel’s section, too.  Reckon I ’ll go over and look into it.  He ’ll
be passin’ remarks about th’ way I ride sign."  But he reached the river
without being rewarded by the sight of many of the missing cows and he
became pugnaciously inquisitive.  He had searched in vain for awhile
when he paused and glanced up the river, catching sight of a horseman
who was pushing across at the ford.  "Now, what’s th’ Weasel doin’ over
there?" he growled.  "An’ what’s his hurry? I never did put no trust in
him an’ I ’m going to see what’s up."

Not far behind him a tall, lean man peered over the grass-fringed bank
of a draw and watched him cross the river and disappear over the further
bank.  "Huh!" muttered Skinny, riding forward toward the river.  "That
_might_ be one of Peters’ punchers; but I ’ll trail him to make shore."

Down the river Red watched Bill cross the stream and then saw a stranger
follow.  "What th’ h—l!" he growled, pushing on.  "That’s one of ’em
trailin’ Bill!" and he, in turn, forded the river, hot on the trail of
the stranger.

Bill finally dismounted near the mesa, proceeded on foot to the top of
the nearest rise, and looked down into the canyon at a point where it
widened into a circular basin half a mile across. Dust was arising in
thin clouds as the missing cows, rounded up by three men, constantly
increased the rustlers’ herd.  To the northwest lay the mesa, where the
canyon narrowed to wind its tortuous way through; to the southeast lay
the narrow gateway, where the towering, perpendicular cliffs began to
melt into the sloping sides of hills and changed the canyon into a
swiftly widening valley.  The sight sent the puncher running toward the
pass, for the herd had begun to move toward that outlet, urged by the
Weasel and his nervous companions.

Back in the hills Skinny was disgusted and called himself names.  To
lose a man in less than a minute after trailing him for an hour was more
than his sensitive soul could stand without protest.  Bill had
disappeared as completely as if he had taken wings and flown away.  The
disgusted trailer, dropping to all-fours because of his great height,
went ahead, hoping to blunder upon the man he had lost.

Back of him was Red, whose grin was not so much caused by Skinny’s
dilemma, which he had sensed instantly, as it was by the inartistic
spectacle Skinny’s mode of locomotion presented to the man behind.
There was humor a-plenty in Red’s make-up and the germ of mischief in
his soul was always alert and willing; his finger itched to pull the
trigger, and the grin spread as he pondered over the probable antics of
the man ahead if he should be suddenly grazed by a bullet from the rear.
"Bet he ’d go right up on his head an’ kick," Red chuckled—and it took
all his will power to keep from experimenting.  Then, suddenly, Skinny
disappeared, and Red’s fretful nature clawed at his tropical vocabulary
with great success.  It was only too true—Skinny had become absolutely
lost, and the angry Bar-20 puncher crawled furiously this way and that
without success, until Skinny gave him a hot clew that stung his face
with grit and pebbles. He backed, sneezing, around a rock and wrestled
with his dignity.  Skinny, holed up not far from the canyon’s rim, was
throwing a mental fit and calling himself outrageous names.  "An’ he’s
been trailin’ _me_!  H—l of a fine fool I am; I ’m awful smart today, I
am!  I done gave up my teethin’ ring too soon, I did."  He paused and
scratched his head reflectively.  "Huh! _This_ is some populous region,
an’ th’ inhabitants have pe-culiar ways.  Now I wonder who’s trailin’
him?  I ’m due to get cross-eyed if I try to stalk ’em both."

A bullet, fired from an unexpected direction, removed the skin from the
tip of Skinny’s nose and sent a shock jarring clean through him.  "Is
that him, th’ other feller, or somebody else?" he fretfully pondered,
raising his hand to the crimson spot in the center of his face.  He did
not rub it—he rubbed the air immediately in front of it, and was careful
to make no mistake in distance.  The second bullet struck a rock just
outside the gully and caromed over his head with a scream of baffled
rage.  He shrunk, lengthwise and sidewise, wishing he were not so long;
but he kept on wriggling, backward.  "Not enough English," he muttered.
"Thank th’ Lord he can’t massé!"

The firing put a different aspect on things down in the basin.  The
Weasel crowded the herd into the gap too suddenly and caused a bad jam,
while his companions, slipping away among the bowlders and thickets,
worked swiftly but cautiously up the cliff by taking advantage of the
crevices and seams that scored the wall. Climbing like goats, they
slipped over the top and began a game of hide and seek over the
bowlder-strewn, chaparral-covered plateau to cover the Weasel, who
worked, without cover of any kind, in the basin.

Red was deep in some fine calculations of angles when his sombrero slid
off his head and displayed a new hole, which ogled at him with Cyclopean
ferocity.  He ducked, and shattered all existing records for the crawl,
stopping finally when he had covered twenty yards and collected many
thorns and bruises.  He had worked close to the edge of the cliff and as
he turned to circle back of his enemy he chanced to glance over the rim,
swore angrily and fired.  The Weasel, saving himself from being pinned
under his stricken horse, leaped for the shelter of the cover near the
foot of the basin’s wall.  Red was about to fire again when he swayed
and slipped down behind a bowlder.  The rustler, twenty yards away,
began to maneuver for another shot when Skinny’s rifle cracked viciously
and the cattle thief, staggering to the edge of the cliff, stumbled,
fought for his balance, and plunged down into the basin. His companion,
crawling swiftly toward Skinny’s smoke, showed himself long enough for
Red to swing his rifle and shoot offhand.  At that moment Skinny caught
sight of him and believed he understood the situation.  "You Conners or
Cassidy?" he demanded over the sights.  Red’s answer made him leap
forward and in a few moments the wounded man, bandaged and supported by
his new friend, hobbled to the rim of the basin in time to see the last
act of the tragedy.

The gateway, now free of cattle, lay open and the Weasel dashed for it
in an attempt to gain the horses picketed on the other side.  He had
seen George plunge off the cliff and knew that the game was up.  As he
leaped from his cover Skinny’s head showed over the rim of the cliff and
his bullet sang shrilly over the rustler’s head. The second shot was
closer, but before Skinny could try again Red’s warning cry made him
lower the rifle and stare at the gateway.

The Weasel saw it at the same time, slowed to a rapid walk, but kept on
for the pass, his eyes riveted malevolently on the youth who had
suddenly arisen from behind a bowlder and started to meet him.

"It’s easy to get him now," growled Skinny, starting to raise the rifle,
a picture of Lanky’s narrow escape coming to his mind.

"Bill’s right in line," whispered Red, leaning forward tensely and
robbing his other senses to strengthen sight.  "They ’re th’ best in th’
Southwest," he breathed.

Below them Bill and the Weasel calmly advanced, neither hurried nor
touching a gun. Sixty yards separated them—fifty—forty—thirty—"G—d
A’mighty!" whispered Skinny, his nails cutting into his calloused palms.
Red only quivered.  Twenty-five—twenty.  Then the Weasel slowed down,
crouching a little, and his swinging hands kept closer to his thighs.
Bill, though moving slowly, stood erect and did not change his pace.
Perspiration beaded the faces of the watchers on the cliff and they
almost stopped breathing.  This was worse than they had expected—forty
yards would have been close enough to start shooting.  "It’s a pure case
of speed now," whispered Red, suddenly understanding.  The promised
lesson was due—the lesson the Weasel had promised to give Bill on the
draw.  Accuracy deliberately was being eliminated by that cold-blooded
advance. Fifteen yards—ten—eight—six—five—and a flurry of smoke.  There
had been no movement to the eyes of the watchers—just smoke, and the
flat reports, that came to them like two beats of a snare drum’s roll.
Then they saw Bill step back as the Weasel pitched forward.  He raised
his eyes to meet them and nodded.  "Come on, get th’ cayuses.  We gotta
round up th’ herd afore it scatters," he shouted.

Red leaned against Skinny and laughed senselessly.  "Ain’t he a d—d
fool?"

Skinny stirred and nodded.  "He shore is; but come on.  I don’t want no
argument with _him_."



                                  III

                              JIMMY PRICE


On a range far to the north, Jimmy Price, a youth as time measures age,
followed the barranca’s edge and whistled cheerfully.  He had never
heard of the Bar-20, and would have showed no interest if he had heard
of it, so long as it lay so far away.  He was abroad in search of
adventure and work, and while his finances were almost at ebb tide he
had youth, health, courage and that temperament that laughs at hard luck
and believes in miracles.  The tide was so low it must turn soon and
work would be forthcoming when he needed it.  Sitting in the saddle with
characteristic erectness he loped down a hill and glanced at the faint
trail that led into the hills to the west.  Cogitating a moment he
followed it and soon saw a cow, and soon after others.

"I ’ll round up th’ ranch house, get a job for awhile an’ then drift on
south again," he thought, and the whistle rang out with renewed
cheerfulness.

He noticed that the trail kept to the low ground, skirting even little
hills and showing marked preference for arroyos and draws with but
little regard, apparently, for direction or miles.  He had just begun to
cross a small pasture between two hills when a sharp voice asked a
question: "Where you goin’?"

He wheeled and saw a bewhiskered horseman sitting quietly behind a
thicket.  The stranger held a rifle at the ready and was examining him
critically.  "Where you goin’?" repeated the stranger, ominously.  "An’
what’s yore business?"

Jimmy bridled at the other’s impudent curiosity and the tones in which
it was voiced, and as he looked the stranger over a contemptuous smile
flickered about his thin lips.  "Why, I ’m goin’ west, an’ I ’m lookin’
for th’ sunset," he answered with an exasperating drawl.  "Ain’t seen
it, have you?"

The other’s expression remained unchanged, as if he had not heard the
flippant and pugnacious answer.  "Where you goin’ an’ what for?" he
demanded again.

Jimmy turned further around in the saddle and his eyes narrowed.  "I ’m
goin’ to mind my own business, because it’s healthy," he retorted. "You
th’ President, or only a king?" he demanded, sarcastically.

"I ’m boss of Tortilla range," came the even reply.  "You answer my
question."

"Then you can gimme a job an’ save me a lot of fool ridin’," smiled
Jimmy.  "It ’ll be some experience workin’ for a sour dough as ornery as
you are.  Fifty per’, an’ all th’ rest of it. Where do I eat an’ sleep?"

The stranger gazed steadily at the cool, impudent youngster, who
returned the look with an ironical smile.  "Who sent you out here?" he
demanded with blunt directness.

"Nobody," smiled Jimmy.  "Nobody sends me nowhere, never, ’less ’n I
want to go.  Purty near time to eat, ain’t it?"

"Come over here," commanded the Boss of Tortilla range.

"It’s closer from you to me than from me to you."

"Yo ’re some sassy, now ain’t you?  I ’ve got a notion to drop you an’
save somebody else th’ job."

"He ’ll be lucky if you do, ’cause when that gent drifts along I ’m
natchurally goin’ to get there first.  It’s been tried already."

Anger glinted in the Boss’s eyes, but slowly faded as a grim smile
fought its way into view. "I ’ve a mind to give you a job just for th’
great pleasure of bustin’ yore spirit."

"If yo ’re bettin’ on that card you wants to have a copper handy,"
bantered Jimmy.  "It’s awful fatal when it’s played to win."

"What’s yore name, you cub?"

"Elijah—ain’t I done prophesied?  When do I start punchin’ yore eight
cows, Boss?"

"Right now!  I like yore infernal gall; an’ there’s a pleasant time
comin’ when I starts again’ that spirit."

"Then my name’s Jimmy, which is enough for you to know.  Which cow do I
punch first?" he grinned.

"You ride ahead along th’ trail.  I ’ll show you where you eat," smiled
the Boss, riding toward him.

Jimmy’s face took on an expression of innocence that was ludicrous.

"I allus let age go first," he slowly responded. "I might get lost if I
lead.  I ’m plumb polite, I am."

The Boss looked searchingly at him and the smile faded.  "What you mean
by that?"

"Just what I said.  I ’m plumb polite, an’ hereby provin’ it.  I allus
insist on bein’ polite. Otherwise, gimme my month’s pay an’ I ’ll
resign.  But I ’m shore some puncher," he laughed.

"I observed yore politeness.  I ’m surprised you even know th’ term.
But are you shore you won’t get lost if you foller me?" asked the Boss
with great sarcasm.

"Oh, that’s a chance I gotta take," Jimmy replied as his new employer
drew up alongside. "Anyhow, yo ’re better lookin’ from behind."

"Jimmy, my lad," observed the Boss, sorrowfully shaking his head, "I
shore sympathize with th’ shortness of yore sweet, young life. Somebody
’s natchurally goin’ to spread you all over some dismal landscape one of
these days."

"An’ he ’ll be a whole lot lucky if I ain’t around when he tries it,"
grinned Jimmy.  "I got a’ awful temper when I ’m riled, an’ I reckons
that would rile me up quite a lot."

The Boss laughed softly and pushed on ahead, Jimmy flushing a little
from shame of his suspicions.  But a hundred yards behind him, riding
noiselessly on the sand and grass, was a man who had emerged from
another thicket when he saw the Boss go ahead; and he did not for one
instant remove his eyes from the new member of the outfit.  Jimmy, due
to an uncanny instinct, soon realized it, though he did not look around.
"Huh!  Reckon I ’m th’ meat in this sandwich. Say, Boss, who’s th’ Injun
ridin’ behind me?" he asked.

"That’s Longhorn.  Look out or he ’ll gore you," replied the Boss.

"’That ’d be a bloody shame,’ as th’ Englishman said.  Are all his
habits as pleasant an’ sociable?"

"They ’re mostly worse; he’s a two-gun man."

"Now ain’t that lovely!  Wonder what he’d do if I scratch my laig
sudden?"

"Let me know ahead of time, so I can get out of th’ way.  If you do that
it ’ll save me fifty dollars an’ a lot of worry."

"Huh!  I won’t save it for you.  But I wish I could get out my smokin’
what’s in my hip pocket, without Longhorn gamblin’ on th’ move."

The next day Jimmy rode the west section harassed by many emotions.  He
was weaponless, much to his chagrin and rage.  He rode a horse that was
such a ludicrous excuse that it made escape out of the question, and
they even locked it in the corral at night.  He was always under the
eyes of a man who believed him ignorant of the surveillance.  He already
knew that three different brands of cattle "belonged" to the "ranch,"
and his meager experience was sufficient to acquaint him with a blotted
brand when the work had been carelessly done.  The Boss was the foreman
and his outfit, so far as Jimmy knew, consisted of Brazo Charley and
Longhorn, both of whom worked nights.  The smiling explanation of the
Boss, when Jimmy’s guns had been locked up, he knew to be only part
truth. "Yo ’re so plumb fighty we dass n’t let you have ’em," the Boss
had said.  "If we got to bust yore high-strung, unlovely spirit without
killin’ you, you can’t have no guns.  An’ th’ corral gate is shore
padlocked, so keep th’ cayuse I gave you."

Jimmy, enraged, sprang forward to grab at his gun, but Longhorn,
dexterously tripping him, leaned against the wall and grinned evilly as
the angry youth scrambled to his feet.  "Easy, Kid," remarked the
gun-man, a Colt swinging carelessly in his hand.  "You ’ll get as you
give," he grunted.  "Mind yore own affairs an’ work, an’ we ’ll treat
you right.  Otherwise—" the shrugging shoulders made further
explanations unnecessary.

Jimmy looked from one to the other and silently wheeled, gained the
decrepit horse and rode out to his allotted range, where he saturated
the air with impotent profanity.  Chancing to look back he saw a steer
wheel and face the south; and at other times during the day he saw that
repeated by other cattle—nor was this the only signs of trailing.
Having nothing to do but ride and observe the cattle, which showed no
desire to stray beyond the range allotted to them, he observed very
thoroughly; and when he rode back to the bunkhouse that night he had
deciphered the original brand on his cows and also the foundation for
that worn by Brazo Charley’s herd on the section next to him.  "I dunno
where mine come from, but Charley’s uster belong to th’ C I, over near
Sagebrush basin.  That’s a good hundred miles from here, too.  Just wait
till I get a gun!  Trip me an’ steal my guns, huh?  If I had a good
cayuse I ’d have that C I bunch over here right quick!  I reckon they ’d
like to see this herd."

When he reached the bunkhouse all traces of his anger had disappeared
and he ate hungrily during the silent meal.

When Longhorn and Brazo pushed away from the table Jimmy followed suit
and talked pleasantly of things common to cowmen, until the two picked
up their saddles and rifles and departed in the direction of the corral,
the Boss staying with Jimmy and effectually blocking the door. But he
could not block Jimmy’s hearing so easily and when the faint sound of
hoofbeats rolled past the bunkhouse Jimmy knew that there were more than
two men doing the riding.  He concluded the number to be five, and
perhaps six; but his face gave no indication of his mind’s occupation.

"Play crib?" abruptly demanded the Boss, taking a well-worn deck of
cards from a shelf. Jimmy nodded and the game was soon going on.
"Seventeen," grunted the Boss, pegging slowly. "Pair of fools, they
are," he growled.  "Both plumb stuck on one gal an’ they go courtin’
together.  She reminds _me_ of a slab of bacon, she ’s that homely."

Jimmy laughed at the obvious lie.  "Well, a gal’s a gal out here," he
replied.  "Twenty for a pair," he remarked.  He wondered, as he pegged,
if it was necessary to take along an escort when one went courting on
the Tortilla.  The idea of Brazo and Longhorn tolerating any rival or
any company when courting struck him as ludicrous.  "An’ which is goin’
to win out, do you reckon?"

"Longhorn—he ’s bad; an’ a better gun-man. Twenty-three for six.  Got
th’ other tray?" anxiously grinned the Boss.

"Nothin’ but an eight—that’s two for th’ go. My crib?"

The Boss nodded.  "Ugly as blazes," he mused.  "_I_ would n’t court her,
not even in th’ dark—huh!  Fifteen two an’ a pair.  That’s bad goin’,
very bad goin’," he sighed as he pegged.

"But you can’t tell nothin’ ’bout wimmen from their looks," remarked
Jimmy, with the grave assurance of a man whose experience in that line
covered years instead of weeks.  "Now I knowed a right purty gal once.
She was plumb sweet an’ tender an’ clingin’, she was. An’ she had high
ideas, she did.  She went an’ told me she would n’t have nothin’ to do
with no man what wasn’t honest, an’ all that.  But when a feller I
knowed rid in to her place one night she shore hid him under her bed for
three days an’ nights.  He had got real popular with a certain posse
because he was careless with a straight iron.  Folks fairly yearned for
to get a good look at him.  They rid up to her place and she lied so
sweet an’ perfect they shore apologized for even botherin’ her.  Who ’d
’a’ thought to look under _her_ bed, anyhow?  Some day he ’ll go back
an’ natchurally run off with that li’l gal."  He scanned his hand and
reached for the pegs.  "Got eight here," he grunted.

The Boss regarded him closely.  "She stood off a posse with her eyes an’
mouth, eh?"

"Didn’t have to stand ’em off.  They was plumb ashamed th’ minute they
saw her blushes. An’ they was plumb sorry for her bein’ even a li’l
interested in a no-account brand-blotter like—him."  He turned the crib
over and spread it out with a sort of disgust.  "Come purty near bein’
somethin’ in that crib," he growled.

"An’ did you know that feller?" the Boss asked carelessly.

Jimmy started a little.  "Why, yes; he was once a pal of mine.  But he
got so he could blot a brand plumb clever.  Us cow-punchers shore like
to gamble.  We are plumb childish th’ way we bust into trouble.  I never
seen one yet that was worth anythin’ that would n’t take ’most any kind
of a fool chance just for th’ devilment of it."

The Boss ruffled his cards reflectively.  "Yes; we are a careless breed.
Sort of flighty an’ reckless.  Do you think that gal’s still in love
with you?  Wimmin’ is fickle," he laughed.

"_She_ ain’t," retorted Jimmy with spirit. "She ’ll wait all right—for
him."

The Boss smiled cynically.  "You can’t hide it, Jimmy.  Yo ’re th’ man
what got so popular with th’ sheriff.  Ain’t you?"

Jimmy half arose, but the Boss waved him to be seated again.  "Why, you
ain’t got nothin’ to fear out here," he assured him.  "We sorta like
fellers that ’ll take a chance.  I reckon we all have took th’ short end
one time or another. An’ I got th’ idea mebby yo ’re worth more ’n fifty
a month.  Take any chances for a hundred?"

Jimmy relaxed and grinned cheerfully.  "I reckon I ’d do a whole lot for
a hundred real dollars every month."

"Yo ’re on, fur ’s I ’m concerned.  I ’ll have to speak to th’ boys
about it, first.  Well, I ’m goin’ to turn in.  You ride Brazo’s an’
yore own range for th’ next couple of days.  Good night."

Jimmy arose and sauntered carelessly to the door, watched the Boss enter
his own house, and then sat down on the wash bench and gazed contentedly
across the moonlit range.  "Gosh," he laughed as he went over his story
of the beautiful girl with the high ideals.  "I ’m gettin’ to be a
sumptuous liar, I am.  It comes so easy I gotta look out or I’ll get th’
habit.  I’d do mor’n lie, too, to get my gun back, all right."

He stretched ecstatically and then sat up straight.  The Boss was coming
toward him and something in his hand glittered in the soft moonlight as
it swung back and forth.  "Forget somethin’?" called Jimmy.

"You better stop watchin’ th’ moonlight," laughed the Boss as he drew
near.  "That’s a bad sign—’specially while that gal’s waitin’ for you.
Here’s yore gun an’ belt—I reckoned mebby you might need it."

Jimmy chuckled as he took the weapon.  "I ain’t so shore ’bout needin’
it, but I was plumb lost without it.  Kept feelin’ for it all th’ time
an’ it was gettin’ on my nerves."  He weighed it critically and spun the
cylinder, carelessly feeling for the lead in the chambers as the
cylinder stopped.  Every one was loaded and a thrill of fierce joy
surged over him.  But he was suspicious—the offer was too quick and
transparent.  Slipping on the belt he let the gun slide into the
blackened holster and grinned up at the Boss.  "Much obliged.  It feels
right, now."  He drew the Colt again and emptied the cartridges into his
hand.  "Them ’s th’ only pills as will cure troubles a doctor can’t
touch," he observed, holding one up close to his face and shaking it at
the smiling Boss in the way of emphasis. His quick ear caught the sound
he strained to hear, the soft swish inside the shell.  "Them ’s Law in
this country," he soliloquized as he slid the tested shell in one
particular chamber and filled all the others.  "Yessir," he remarked as
the cylinder slowly revolved until he had counted the right number of
clicks and knew that the tested shell was in the right place.  "Yessir,
them’s The Law."  The soft moonlight suddenly kissed the leveled barrel
and showed the determination that marked the youthful face behind it.
"An’ it shore works both ways, Boss," he said harshly.  "Put up yore
paws!"

As the Boss leaped forward the hammer fell and caused a faint, cap-like
report.  Then the stars streamed across Jimmy’s vision and became
blotted out by an inky-black curtain that suddenly enveloped him.  The
Boss picked up the gun and, tossing it on the bench, waited for the
prostrate youth to regain his senses.

Jimmy stirred and looked around, his eyes losing their look of vacancy
and slowly filling with murderous hatred as he saw the man above him and
remembered what had occurred.  "Sand _sounds_ like powder, my youthful
friend," the Boss was saying, "but it don’t _work_ like powder. I purty
near swallowed yore gal story; but I sorta reckoned mebby I better make
shore about you.  Yo ’re clever, Jimmy; so clever that I dass n’t take
no chances with you.  I ’ll just tie you up till th’ boys come back—we
both know what they ’ll say.  I ’d ’a’ done it then only I like you; an’
I wish you had been in earnest about joinin’ us.  Now get up."

Jimmy arose slowly and cautiously and then moved like a flash, only to
look down the barrel of a Colt.  His clenched hands fell to his side and
he bowed his head; but the Boss was too wary to be caught by any
pretenses of a broken spirit. "Turn ’round an’ hol’ up yore han’s," he
ordered. "I ’ll blow you apart if you even squirms."

Jimmy obeyed, seething with impotent fury, but the steady pressure of
the Colt on his back told him how useless it was to resist.  Life was
good, even a few hours of it, for in those few hours perhaps a chance
would come to him.  The rope that had hung on the wall passed over his
wrists and in a few moments he was helpless. "Now sit down," came the
order and the prisoner obeyed sullenly.  The Boss went in the bunkhouse
and soon returned, picked up the captive and, carrying him to the bunk
prepared for him, dumped him in it, tied a few more knots and, closing
the door, securely propped it shut and strode toward his own quarters,
swearing savagely under his breath.

An hour later, while a string of horsemen rode along the crooked,
low-lying trail across the Tortilla, plain in the moonlight, a figure at
the bunkhouse turned the corner, slipped to the door and carefully
removed the props.

Waiting a moment it opened the door slowly and slipped into the black
interior, and chuckled at the sarcastic challenge from the bunk.
"Sneakin’ back again, hey?" blazed Jimmy, trying in vain to bridge on
his head and heels and turn over to face the intruder.  "Turn me loose
an’ gimme a gun—I oughta have a chance!"

"All right," said a quiet, strange voice. "That’s what I’m here for; but
don’t talk so loud."

"Who ’re you?"

"My name ’s Cassidy.  I ’m from th’ Bar-20, what owns them cows you been
abusin’. Huh! he shore tied some knots!  Wasn’t takin’ no more chances
with you, all right!"

"G’wan!  He never did take none."

"So I ’ve observed.  Get th’ blood circulatin’ an’ I ’ll give you some
war-medicine for that useless gun of yourn what ain’t sand."

"Good for you!  I’ll sidle up agin’ that shack an’ fill him so full of
lead he won’t know what hit him!"

"Well, every man does things in his own way; but I ’ve been thinkin’ he
oughta have a chance. He shore gave you some.  Take it all in all, he ’s
been purty white to you, Kid.  Longhorn ’d ’a’ shot you quick tonight."

"Yes; an’ I ’m goin’ to get him, too!"

"Now you ain’t got no gratitude," sighed Cassidy.  "You want to hog it
all.  I was figgerin’ to clean out this place by myself, but now you cut
in an’ want to freeze me out.  But, Kid, mebby Longhorn won’t come back
no more. My outfit’s a-layin’ for his li’l party.  I sent ’em down word
to expect a call on our north section; an’ I reckon they got a purty
good idea of th’ way up here, in case they don’t receive Longhorn an’
his friends as per schedule."

"How long you been up here?" asked Jimmy in surprise, pausing in his
operation of starting his blood to circulating.

"Long enough to know a lot about this layout. For instance, I know yo
’re honest.  That’s why I cut you loose tonight.  You see, my friends
might drop in here any minute an’ if you was in bad company they might
make a mistake.  They acts some hasty, at times.  I ’m also offerin’ you
a good job if you wants it.  We need another man."

"I ’m yourn, all right.  An’ I reckon I will give th’ Boss a chance.
He’ll be more surprised, that way."

Cassidy nodded in the dark.  "Yes, I reckon so; he ’ll have time to
wonder a li’l.  Now you tell me how yo ’re goin’ at this game."

But he didn’t get a chance then, for his companion, listening intently,
whistled softly and received an answer.  In another moment the room was
full of figures and the soft buzz of animated conversation held his
interest.  "All right," said a deep voice.  "We ’ll keep on an’ get that
herd started back at daylight.  If Longhorn shows up you can handle him;
if you can’t, there ’s yore friend Jimmy," and the soft laugh warmed
Jimmy’s heart.  "Why, Buck," replied Jimmy’s friend, "he ’s spoke for
that job already."  The foreman turned and paused as he stood in the
door.  "Don’t forget; you ain’t to wait for us. Take Jimmy, if you
wants, an’ head for Oleson’s. I ain’t shore that herd of hissn is good
enough for us.  We ’ll handle this li’l drive-herd easy.  So long."

Red Connors stuck his head through a small window: "Hey, if Longhorn
shows up, give him my compliments.  I shore bungled that shot."

"’Tain’t th’ first," chuckled Cassidy.  But Buck cut short the arguments
and led the way to Jimmy’s pasture.

At daylight the Boss rolled out of his bunk, started a fire and put on a
kettle of water to get hot.  Buckling on his gun he opened the door and
started toward the bunkhouse, where everything appeared to be as he had
left it the night before.

"It’s a cussed shame," he growled.  "But I can’t risk him bringin’ a
posse out here.  _What_ th’ devil!" he shouted as he ducked.  A bullet
sang over his head, high above him, and he glanced at the bunkhouse with
renewed interest.

Having notified the Boss of his intentions and of the change in the
situation, Jimmy walked around the corner of the house and sent one
dangerously close to strengthen the idea that sand was no longer sand.
But the Boss had surmised this instantly and was greatly shocked by such
miraculous happenings on his range.  He nodded cheerfully at the nearing
youth and as cheerfully raised his gun.  "An’ he gave me a chance, too!
He could ’a’ got me easy if he didn’t warn me!  Well, here goes, Kid,"
he muttered, firing.

Jimmy promptly replied and scored a hit.  It was not much of a hit, but
it carried reflection in its sting.  The Boss’s heart hardened as he
flinched instinctively and he sent forth his shots with cool
deliberation.  Jimmy swayed and stopped, which sent the Boss forward on
the jump.  But the youth was only further proving his cleverness against
a man whom he could not beat at so long a range.  As the Boss stopped
again to get the work over with, a flash of smoke spurted from Jimmy’s
hand and the rustler spun half way around, stumbled and fell.  Jimmy
paused in indecision, a little suspicious of the fall, but a noise
behind him made him wheel around to look.

A horseman, having topped the little hill just behind the bunkhouse, was
racing down the slope as fast as his worn-out horse could carry him, and
in his upraised hand a Colt glittered as it swung down to become lost in
a spurt of smoke. Longhorn, returning to warn his chief, felt savage
elation at this opportunity to unload quite a cargo of accumulated
grouches of various kinds and sizes, which collection he had picked up
from the Bar-20 northward in a running fight of twenty miles.  Only a
lucky cross trail, that had led him off at a tangent and somehow escaped
the eyes of his pursuers, had saved him from the fate of his companions.

Jimmy swung his gun on the newcomer, but it only clicked, and the vexed
youth darted and dodged and ducked with a speed and agility very
creditable as he jammed cartridges into the empty chambers.  Jimmy’s
interest in the new conditions made him forget that he had a gun and he
stared in rapt and delighted anticipation at the cloud of dust that
swirled suddenly from behind the corral and raced toward the disgruntled
Mr. Longhorn, shouting Red’s message as it came.

Mr. Cassidy sat jauntily erect and guided his fresh, gingery mount by
the pressure of cunning knees.  The brim of his big sombrero, pinned
back against the crown by the pressure of the wind, revealed the
determination and optimism that struggled to show itself around his
firmly set lips; his neckerchief flapped and cracked behind his head and
the hairs of his snow-white goatskin chaps rippled like a thing of life
and caused Jimmy, even in his fascinated interest, to covet them.

But Longhorn’s soul held no reverence for goatskin and he cursed harder
when Red’s compliments struck his ear about the time one of Cassidy’s
struck his shoulder.  He was firing hastily against a man who shot as
though the devil had been his teacher.  The man from the Bar-20 used two
guns and they roared like the roll of a drum and flashed through the
heavy, low-lying cloud of swirling smoke like the darting tongue of an
angry snake.

Longhorn, enveloped in the acrid smoke of his own gun, which wrapped him
like a gaseous shroud, knew that his end had come.  He was being shot to
pieces by a two-gun man, the like of whose skill he had never before
seen or heard of.  As the last note of the short, five second, cracking
tattoo died away Mr. Cassidy slipped his empty guns in their holsters
and turned his pony’s head toward the fascinated spectator, whose mouth
offered easy entry to smoke and dust.  As Cassidy glanced carelessly
back at the late rustler Jimmy shut his mouth, gulped, opened it to
speak, shut it again and cleared his dry throat.  Looking from Cassidy
to Longhorn and back again, he opened his mouth once more.
"You—you—what’d’ju pay for them chaps?" he blurted, idiotically.



                                   IV

                        JIMMY VISITS SHARPSVILLE


Bill Cassidy rode slowly into Sharpsville and dismounted in front of
Carter’s Emporium, nodding carelessly to the loungers hugging the shade
of the store.  "Howd’y," he said.  "Seen anything of Jimmy Price—a kid,
but about my height, with brown hair and a devilish disposition?"

Carter stretched and yawned, a signal for a salvo of yawns.  "Nope,
thank God.  You need n’t describe nothin’ about that Price cub to none
of us.  _We_ know him.  He spent three days here about a year ago, an’
th’ town ’s been sorta restin’ up ever since.  You don’t mean for to
tell us he ’s comin’ here again!" he exclaimed, sitting up with a jerk.

Bill laughed at the expression.  "As long as you yearn for him so
powerful hard, why I gotta tell you he ’s on his way, anyhow.  I had to
go east for a day’s ride an’ he headed this way. He ’s to meet me here."

Carter turned and looked at the others blankly. Old Dad Johnson
nervously stroked his chin. "Well, then he ’ll git here, all right," he
prophesied pessimistically.  "He usually gets where he starts for; an’ I
’m plumb glad I ’m goin’ on to-morrow."

"Ha, ha!" laughed George Bruce.  "So ’m I goin’ on, by Scott!"

Grunts and envious looks came from the group and Carter squirmed
uneasily.  "That’s just like you fellers, runnin’ away an’ leavin’ me to
face it.  An’ it was you fellers what played most of th’ tricks on him
last time he was here.  Huh! now I gotta pay for ’em," he growled.

Bill glanced over the gloomy circle and laughed heartily.  Two faces out
of seven were bright, Dad’s particularly so.  "Well, he seems to be
quite a favorite around here," he grinned.

Carter snorted.  "Huh!  Seems to be nothin’."

"He ain’t exactly a favorite," muttered Dawson. "He ’s a—a—an event;
that’s what he is!"

Carter nodded.  "Yep; that’s what he is, ’though you just can’t help
likin’ th’ cub, he ’s that cheerful in his devilment."

Charley Logan stretched and yawned. "Didn’t hear nothin’ about no
Injuns, did you? A feller rid through here yesterday an’ said they was
out again."

Bill nodded.  "Yes; I did.  An’ there ’s a lot of rumors goin’ around.
They ’ve been over in th’ Crazy Butte country an’ I heard they raided
through th’ Little Mountain Valley last week. Anyhow, th’ Seventh is out
after ’em, in four sections."

"Th’ Seventh is _a_ regiment," asserted George Bruce.  "Leastawise it
was when I was in it. It is th’ best in th’ Service."

Dad snorted.  "Listen to him!  It was when he was in it!  Lordy, Lordy,
Lordy!" he chuckled.

"There hain’t no cavalry slick enough to ketch Apaches," declared Hank,
dogmatically. "Troops has too many fixin’s an’ sech.  You gotta travel
light an’ live without eatin’ an’ drinkin’ to ketch them Injuns; an’
then you never hardly sometimes see ’em, at that."

"Lemme tell you, Mosshead, th’ Seventh can lick all th’ Injuns ever
spawned!" asserted Bruce with heat.  "It wiped out Black Kettle’s camp,
in th’ dead of winter, too!"

"That was Custer as did that," snorted Carter.

"Well, he was leadin’ th’ Seventh, same as he is now!"

Charley Logan shook his head.  "We are talking about ketchin’ ’em, not
fightin’ ’em.  An’ no cavalry in th’ hull country can ketch ’Paches in
_this_ country—it’s too rough.  ’Paches are only scared of punchers."

"Shore," asserted Carter.  "Apaches laugh at troops, less ’n it’s a
pitched battle, when they don’t.  Cavalry chases ’em so fur an’ no
farther; punchers chase ’em inter h—l, out of it an’ back again."

"They shore is ’lusive," cogitated Lefty Dawson, carefully deluging a
fly ten feet away and shifting his cud for another shot.  "An’ I, for
one, admits I ain’t hankerin’ for to chase ’em close."

"Wish we could get that cub Jimmy to chase some," exclaimed Carter.
"Afore he gits here," he explained, thoughtfully.

"Oh, he ’s all right, Carter," spoke up Lefty. "We was all of us young
and playful onct."

"But we all war n’t he-devils workin’ day an’ night tryin’ to make our
betters miserable!"

"Oh, he ’s a good kid," remarked Dad.  "I sorta hates to miss him.
Anyhow, we got th’ best of him, last time."

Bill finished rolling a cigarette, lit it and slowly addressed them.
"Well, all I got to say is that he suits me right plumb down to th’
ground.  Now, just lemme tell you somethin’ about Jimmy," and he gave
them the story of Jimmy’s part in the happenings on Tortilla Range, to
the great delight of his audience.

"By Scott, it’s just like him!" chuckled George Bruce.

"That’s shore Jimmy, all right," laughed Lefty.

"What did _I_ tell you?" beamed Dad.  "He ’s a heller, he is.  He ’s all
right!"

"Then why don’t you stay an’ see him?" demanded Carter.

"I gotta go on, or I would.  Yessir, I would!"

"Reckon them Injuns won’t git so fur north as here," suggested Carter
hopefully, and harking back to the subject which lay heaviest on his
mind.  "They ’ve only been here twict in ten years."

"Which was twice too often," asserted Lefty.

"Th’ last time they was here," remarked Dad, reminiscently, "they didn’t
stop long; though where they went to I dunno.  We gave ’em more ’n they
could handle.  That was th’ time I just bought that new Sharps rifle,
an’ what I done with that gun was turrible."  He paused to gather the
facts in the right order before he told the story, and when he looked
around again he flushed and swore.  The audience had silently faded away
to escape the moth-eaten story they knew by heart.  The fact that Dad
usually improved it and his part in it, each time he told it, did not
lure them.  "Cussed ingrates!" he swore, turning to Bill.  "They ’re
plumb jealous!"

"They act like it, anyhow," agreed Bill soberly. "I ’d like to hear it,
but I ’m too thirsty. Come in an’ have one with me?"  The story was
indefinitely postponed.

An accordion wheezed down the street and a mouth-organ tried desperately
to join in from the saloon next door, but, owing to a great difference
in memory, did not harmonize.  A roar of laughter from Dawson’s, and the
loud clink of glasses told where Dad’s would-have-been audience then
was.  Carter walked around his counter and seated himself in his
favorite place against the door jamb.  Bill, having eluded Dad, sat on a
keg of edibles and smoked in silence and content, occasionally slapping
at the flies which buzzed persistently around his head. Knocking the
ashes from the cigarette he leaned back lazily and looked at Carter.
"Wonder where he is?" he muttered.

"Huh?" grunted the proprietor, glancing around.  "Oh, you worryin’ about
that yearlin’? Well, you needn’t!  Nothin’ never sidetracks Jimmy."

A fusillade of shots made Bill stand up, and Carter leaped to his feet
and dashed toward the counter.  But he paused and looked around
foolishly.  "That’s his yell," he explained. "Didn’t I tell you?  He’s
arrove, same as usual."

The drumming of hoofs came rapidly nearer and heads popped out of
windows and doors, each head flanked by a rifle barrel.  Above a
swirling cloud of dust glinted a spurting Colt and thrust through the
smudge was a hand waving a strange collection of articles.

"Hullo, Kid!" shouted Dawson.  "What you got?  See any Injuns?"

"It’s a G-string an’ a medicine-bag, by all that’s holy!" cried Dad from
the harness shop. "Where ’d you git ’em, Jimmy?"

Jimmy drew rein and slid to a stand, pricking his nettlesome "Calico"
until it pranced to suit him.  Waving the Apache breech-cloth, the
medicine-bag and a stocking-shaped moccasin in one hand, he proudly held
up an old, dirty, battered Winchester repeater in the other and whooped
a war-cry.

"Blame my hide!" shouted Dad, running out into the street.  "It is a
G-string!  He ’s gone an’ got one of ’em!  He ’s gone an’ got a ’Pache!
Good boy, Kid!  An’ how ’d you do it?"

Carter plodded through the dust with Bill close behind.  "_Where’d_ you
do it?" demanded the proprietor eagerly.  To Carter location meant more
than method.  He was plainly nervous.  When he reached the crowd he, in
turn, examined the trophies.  They were genuine, and on the G-string was
a splotch of crimson, muddy with dust.

"What’s in the war-bag, Kid?" demanded Lefty, preparing to see for
himself.  Jimmy snatched it from his hands.  "You never mind what’s in
it, Freckle-face!" he snapped. "That’s my bag, _now_.  Want to spoil my
luck?"

"How’d you do it?" demanded Dad breathlessly.

"_Where_ ’d you do it?" snapped Carter.  He glanced hurriedly around the
horizon and repeated the question with vehemence.  "Where ’d you get
him?"

"In th’ groin, first.  Then through th’—"

"I don’t mean where, I mean _where_—near here?" interrupted Carter.

"Oh, fifteen mile east," answered Jimmy. "He was crawlin’ down on a
bunch of cattle.  He saw me just as I saw him.  But he missed an’ I did
n’t," he gloated proudly.  "I met a Pawnee scout just afterward an’ he
near got shot before he signaled.  He says hell’s a-poppin’.  Th’
’Paches are raidin’ all over th’ country, down—"

"I knowed it!" shouted Carter.  "Yessir, I knowed it!  I felt it all
along!  Where you finds one you finds a bunch!"

"We’ll give ’em blazes, like th’ last time!" cried Dad, hurrying away to
the harness shop where he had left his rifle.

"I ’ve been needin’ some excitement for a long time," laughed Dawson.
"I shore hope they come."

Carter paused long enough to retort over his shoulder: "An’ I hopes you
drop dead!  You never did have no sense!  Not nohow!"

Bill smiled at the sudden awakening and watched the scrambling for
weapons.  "Why, there ’s enough men here to wipe out a tribe.  I reckon
we ’ll stay an’ see th’ fun.  Anyhow, it ’ll be a whole lot safer here
than fightin’ by ourselves out in th’ open somewhere.  What you say?"

"You could n’t drag me away from this town right now with a cayuse,"
Jimmy replied, gravely hanging the medicine-bag around his neck and then
stuffing the gory G-string in the folds of the slicker he carried
strapped behind the cantle of the saddle.  "We ’ll see it out right
here.  But I do wish that ’Pache owned a better gun than this thing.
It’s most fallin’ apart an’ ain’t worth nothin’."

Bill took it and examined the rifling and the breech-block.  He laughed
as he handed it back. "You oughta be glad it was n’t a better gun, Kid.
I don’t reckon he could put two in the same place at two hundred paces
with this thing.  I ain’t even anxious to shoot it off on a bet."

Jimmy gasped suddenly and grinned until the safety of his ears was
threatened.  "Would you look at Carter?" he chuckled, pointing.  Bill
turned and saw the proprietor of Carter’s Emporium carrying water into
his store, and with a speed that would lead one to infer that he was
doing it on a wager.  Emerging again he saw the punchers looking at him
and, dropping the buckets, he wiped his face on his sleeve and shook his
head.  "I ’m fillin’ everything," he called. "I reckon we better stand
’em off from my store—th’ walls are thicker."

Bill smiled at the excuse and looked down the street at the adobe
buildings.  "What about th’ ’dobes, Carter?" he asked.  The walls of
some of them were more than two feet thick.

Carter scowled, scratched his head and made a gesture of impatience.
"They ain’t big enough to hold us all," he replied, with triumph.  "This
here store is th’ best place.  An’, besides, it’s all stocked with water
an’ grub, an’ everything."

Jimmy nodded.  "Yo ’re right, Carter; it’s th’ best place."  To Bill he
said in an aside, "He ’s plumb anxious to protect that shack, now ain’t
he?"

Lefty Dawson came sauntering up.  "Wonder if Carter ’ll let us hold out
in his store?"

"He ’ll pay you to," laughed Bill.

"It’s loop-holed.  Been so since th’ last raid," explained Lefty.  "An’
it’s chock full of grub," he grinned.

They heard Dad’s voice around the corner. "Just like last time," he was
saying.  "We oughta put four men in Dick’s ’dobe acrost th’ street.
Then we’d have a strategy position. You see—oh, hullo," he said as he
rounded the corner ahead of George Bruce.  "Who ’s goin’ on picket
duty?" he demanded.


Under the blazing sun a yellow dog wandered aimlessly down the deserted
street, his main interest in life centered on his skin, which he
frequently sat down to chew.  During the brief respites he lounged in
the doors of deserted buildings, frequently exploring the quiet
interiors for food.  Emerging from the "hotel" he looked across the
street at the Emporium and barked tentatively at the man sitting on its
flat roof. Wriggling apologetically, he slowly gained the middle of the
street and then sat down to investigate a sharp attack.  A can sailed
out of the open door and a flurry of yellow streaked around the corner
of the "hotel" and vanished.

In the Emporium grave men played poker for nails, Bill Cassidy having
corralled all the available cash long before this, and conversed in low
tones.  The walls, reinforced breast high by boxes, barrels and bags,
were divided into regular intervals by the open loopholes, each opening
further indicated by a leaning rifle or two and generous piles of
cartridges.  Two tubs and half a dozen buckets filled with water stood
in the center of the room, carefully covered over with boards and
wrapping paper.  Clouds of tobacco smoke lay in filmy stratums in the
heated air and drifted up the resin-streaked sides of the building. The
shimmering, gray sand stretched away in a glare of sunlight and seemed
to writhe under the heated air, while droning flies flitted lazily
through the windows and held caucuses on the sugar barrel.  A slight,
grating sound overhead caused several of the more irritable or energetic
men to glance up lazily, grateful they were not in Hank’s place.  It was
hot enough under the roof, and they stretched ecstatically as they
thought of Hank.  Three days’ vigil and anxiety had become trying even
to the most stolid.

John Carter fretfully damned solitaire and pushed the cards away to pick
up pencil and paper and figure thoughtfully.  This seemed to furnish him
with even less amusement, for he scowled and turned to watch the poker
game. "Huh," he sniffed, "playin’ poker for nails!  An’ you don’t even
own th’ nails," he grinned facetiously, and glanced around to see if his
point was taken.  He suddenly stiffened when he noticed the man who sat
on his counter and labored patiently and zealously with a pocket knife.
"Hey, you!" he exclaimed excitedly, his wrath quickly aroused.  "Ain’t
you never had no bringin’ up?  If yo ’re so plumb sot on whittlin’, you
tackle that sugar barrel!"

Jimmy looked the barrel over critically and then regarded the peeved
proprietor, shaking his head sorrowfully.  "This here is a better medjum
for the ex-position of my art," he replied gravely. "An’ as for bringin’
up, lemme observe to these gents here assembled that you ain’t never had
no artistic trainin’.  Yore skimpy soul is dwarfed an’ narrowed by false
weights and dented measures.  You can look a sunset in th’ face an’ not
see it for countin’ yore profits."  Carter glanced instinctively at the
figures as Jimmy continued.  "An’ you can’t see no beauty in a daisy’s
grace—which last is from a book.  I ’m here carvin’ th’ very image of my
cayuse an’ givin’ you a work of art, free an’ gratis.  I ’m timid an’
sensitive, I am; an’ I ’ll feel hurt if—"

"Stop that noise," snorted a man in the corner, turning over to try
again.  "Sensitive an’ timid? Yes; as a mule!  Shut up an’ lemme get a
little sleep."

"A-men," sighed a poker-player.  "An’ let him sleep—he ’s a cussed
nuisance when he ’s awake."

"Two mules," amended the dealer.  "Which is worse than one," he added
thoughtfully.

"We oughta put four men in that ’dobe—" began Dad persistently.

"An’ will you shut up about that ’dobe an’ yore four men?" snapped
Lefty.  "Can’t you say nothin’ less ’n it’s about that mud hut?"

Jimmy smiled maddeningly at the irritated crowd.  "As I was sayin’
before you all interrupted me, I ’ll feel hurt—"

"You _will_; an’ quick!" snapped Carter.  "You quit gougin’ that
counter!"

Bill craned his neck to examine the carving, and forthwith held out a
derisively pointing forefinger.

"Cayuse?" he inquired sarcastically.  "Looks more like th’ map of th’
United States, with some almost necessary parts missin’.  Your geography
musta been different from mine."

The artist smiled brightly.  "Here ’s a man with imagination, th’
emancipator of thought. It’s crude an’ untrained, but it’s there.
Imagination is a hopeful sign, for it is only given to human bein’s.
From this we surmise an’ must conclude that Bill is human."

"Will somebody be liar enough to say th’ same of you?" politely inquired
the dealer.

"Will you fools shut up?" demanded the man who would sleep.  He had been
on guard half the night.

"But you oughta label it, Jimmy," said Bill. "You ’ve got California
bulgin’ too high up, an’ Florida sticks out th’ wrong way.  Th’ Great
Lakes is _all_ wrong—looks like a kidney slippin’ off of Canada.  An’
where’s Texas?"

"Huh!  It ’d have to be a cow to show Texas," grinned Dad Johnson, who,
it appeared, also had an imagination and wanted people to know it.

"You cuttin’ in on this teet-a-teet?" demanded Jimmy, dodging the
compliments of the sleepy individual.

"As a map it is no good," decided Bill decisively.

"It is no map," retorted Jimmy.  "I know where California bulges an’ how
Florida sticks out.  What you call California is th’ south end of th’
cayuse, above which I ’m goin’ to put th’ tail—"

"Not if I’m man enough, you ain’t!" interposed Carter, with no regard
for politeness.

"—where I ’m goin’ to put th’ tail," repeated Jimmy.  "Florida is one
front laig raised off th’ ground—"

"Trick cayuse, by Scott!" grunted George Bruce.  "No wonder it looks
like a map."

"Th’ Great Lakes is th’ saddle, an’ Maine is where th’ mane
goes—_Ouch_!"

"Mangy pun," grinned Bill.

"Kentucky ought to be under th’ saddle," laughed Dad, smacking his lips.
"Pass th’ bottle, John."

"You take too much an’ we’ll all be Ill-o’-noise," said Charley Logan
alertly.

"Them Injuns can’t come too soon to suit _me_," growled Fred Thomas.
"Who started this, anyhow?"

The sleepy man arose on one elbow, his eyes glinting.  "After th’ fight,
you ask _me_ th’ same thing!  Th’ answer will be ME!" he snapped. "I ’m
goin’ to clean house in about two minutes, an’ fire you all out in th’
street!"

Jimmy smiled down at him.  "Well, you needn’t be so sweepin’ an’
extensive in yore cleanin’ operations," he retorted.  "All you gotta do
is go outside an’ roll in th’ dust like a chicken."

The crowd roared its appreciation and the sleepy individual turned over
again, growling sweeping opinions.

"But if them Injuns are comin’ I shore wish they ’d hurry up an’ do it,"
asserted Dad.  "I ought to ’a’ been home three days ago."

"Wish to G—d you was!" came from the floor.

Bill tossed away his half-smoked cigarette, Carter promptly plunging
into the sugar barrel after it.  "They ain’t comin’," Bill asserted.
"Every time some drunk Injun gets in a fight or beats his squaw th’
rumor starts.  An’ by th’ time it gets to us it says that all th’
Apaches are out follerin’ old Geronimo on th’ war trail. He can be more
places at once than anybody _I_ ever heard of.  I ’m ridin’ on tomorrow
morning, ’Paches or no ’Paches."

"Good!" exclaimed Jimmy, glancing at Carter. "I ’ll have this here
carving all done by then."

There was a sudden scrambling and thumping overhead and hot exclamations
zephyred down to them.  Carter dashed to the door, while the others
reached for rifles and began to take up positions.

"See ’em, Hank?" cried Carter anxiously.

"See what?" came a growl from above.

"Injuns, of course, you d—d fool!"

"Naw," snorted Hank.  "There ain’t no Injuns out at all, not after Jimmy
got that one."

"Then what’s th’ matter?"

"My dawg’s lickin’ yore dawg.  _Sic_ him, Pete!  Hi, there!  Don’t you
run!"

"My dawg still gettin’ licked?" grinned Carter.

"I ’ll swap you," offered Hank promptly. "Mine can lick yourn, anyhow."

"In a race, mebby."

"H—l!" growled Hank, cautiously separating himself from a patch of hot
resin that had exuded generously from a pine knot.  "I ’m purty nigh
cooked an’ I ’m comin’ down, Injuns or no Injuns.  If they was comin’
this way they’d ’a’ been here long afore this."

"But that Pawnee told Price they was out," objected Carter.  "Cassidy
heard th’ same thing, too.  An’ didn’t Jimmy get one!" he finished
triumphantly.

"Th’ Pawnee was drunk!" retorted Hank, collecting splinters as he
slipped a little down the roof.  "Great Mavericks!  This here is awful!"
He grabbed a protruding nail and checked himself. "Price might ’a’ shot
a ’Pache, or he might not.  I don’t take him serious no more.  An’ that
feller Cassidy can’t help what scared folks tells him.  Sufferin’
_toads_, what a roof!"

Carter turned and looked back in the store. "Jimmy, you shore they are
out?  An’ _will_ you quit cuttin’ that counter!"

Jimmy slid off the counter and closed the knife.  "That’s what th’
Pawnee said.  When I told you fellers about it, you was so plumb anxious
to fight, an’ eager to interrupt an’ ask fool questions that I shore
hated to spoil it all. What that scout says was that th’ ’Paches was out
raidin’ down Colby way, an’ was headin’ south when last re—"

"_Colby_!" yelled Lefty Dawson, as the others stared foolishly.
"_Colby_!  Why, that’s three hundred miles south of here!  An’ you let
us make fools of ourselves for _three_ days!  I ’ll bust you open!" and
he arose to carry out his threat. "Where ’d you git them trophies?"
shouted Dad angrily.  "Them was genuine!"  Jimmy slipped through the
door as Dawson leaped and he fled at top speed to the corral, mounted in
one bound and dashed off a short distance.  "Why, I got them trophies in
a poker game from that same Pawnee scout, you Mosshead!  He could n’t
play th’ game no better ’n you fellers.  An’ th’ blood is snake’s blood,
fresh put on.  You _will_ drive me out of town, hey?" he jeered, and,
wheeling, forthwith rode for his life.  Back in the store Bill knocked
aside the rifle barrel that Carter shoved through a loop hole.  "A joke
’s a joke, Carter," he said sternly.  "You don’t aim to hit him, but you
might," and Carter, surprised at the strength of the twist, grinned,
muttered something and went to the door without his rifle, which Bill
suddenly recognized.  It was the weapon that had made up Jimmy’s
"trophies"!

"Blame his hide!" spluttered Lefty, not knowing whether to shoot or
laugh.  A queer noise behind him made him turn, a movement imitated by
the rest.  They saw Bill rolling over and over on the floor in an agony
of mirth.  One by one the enraged garrison caught the infection and one
by one lay down on the floor and wept.  Lefty, propping himself against
the sugar barrel, swayed to and fro, senselessly gasping.  "They _allus_
are raidin’ down Colby way!  Blame my hide, _oh_, blame my hide!
Ha-ha-ha!  Ha-ha-ha! They _allus_ are raidin’ down _Colby_ way!"

"Three days, an’ Hank _on_ th’ roof!" gurgled George Bruce.  "_Three_
days, by Scott!"

"Hank on th’ roof," sobbed Carter, "settin’ on splinters an hot rosim!
Whee-hee-hee! Three-hee-hee days hatchin’ pine knots an’ rosim!"

"Gimme a drink!  Gimme a drink!" whispered Dad, doubled up in a corner.
"Gimme a ho-ho-ho!" he roared in a fresh paroxysm of mirth.  "Lefty an’
George settin’ up nights watchin’ th’ shadders!  Ho-ho-ho!"

"An’ Carter boardin’ us _free_!" yelled Baldy; Martin.  "Oh, my G—d!
He’ll never get over it!"

"Yessir!" squeaked Dad.  "_Free_; an’ scared we ’d let ’em burn his
store.  ’Better stand ’em off in my place,’ he says.  ’It’s full of
grub,’ he says.  He-he-he!"

"An’ did you see Hank squattin’ on th’ roof like a horned toad waitin’
for his dinner?" shouted Dickinson.  "I’m goin’ to die!  I’m goin’ to
die!" he sobbed.

"No sich luck!" snorted Hank belligerently. "I ’ll skin him alive!
Yessir; _alive_!"

Carter paused in his calculations of his loss in food and tobacco.
"Better let him alone, Hank," he warned earnestly.  "Anyhow, we pestered
him nigh to death las’ time, an’ he ’s shore come back at us.  Better
let him alone!"

Up the street Jimmy stood beside his horse and thumped and scratched the
yellow dog until its rolling eyes bespoke a bliss unutterable and its
tail could not wag because of sheer ecstasy.

"Purp," he said gravely, "never play jokes on a pore unfortunate an’ git
careless.  Don’t never forget it.  Last time I was here they abused me
shameful.  Now that th’ storm has busted an’ this is gettin’ calm-like,
you an’ me ’ll go back an’ get a good look at th’ asylum," he suggested,
vaulting into the saddle and starting toward the store.  No invitation
was needed because the dog had adopted him on the spot.  And the next
morning, when Jimmy and Bill, loaded with poker-gained wealth, rode out
of town and headed south, the dog trotted along in the shadow made by
Jimmy’s horse and glanced up from time to time in hopeful expectancy and
great affection.

A distant, flat pistol shot made them turn around in the saddle and look
back.  A group of the leading citizens of Sharpsville stood in front of
the Emporium and waved hats in one last, and glad farewell.  Now that
Jimmy had left town, they altered their sudden plans and decided to
continue to populate the town of Sharpsville.



                                   V

                           THE LUCK OF FOOLS


"Did you ever see a dog like Asylum?" demanded Jimmy, looking fondly at
the mongrel as they rode slowly the second day after leaving
Sharpsville.

Bill shook his head emphatically.  "Never, nowheres."

Jimmy turned reproachfully.  "Lookit how he ’s follered us."

"Follered _you_," hastily corrected Bill.  "He ought to.  You feed an’
scratch him, an’ he ’ll go anywhere for that.  But he ’s big," he
conceded.

"Mostly wolf-hound," guessed Jimmy, proudly.

"He looks like a wolf—God help it—at th’ end of a hard winter."

"Well, he ain’t yourn!"

"An’ won’t be, not if I can help it."

"He ain’t no good, is he?" sneered Jimmy.

"I wouldn’t say that, Kid," grunted Bill. "You know there ’s good
_Injuns_; but he looks purty healthy right now.  Why did n’t you call
him Hank?  They look—Good G—d!" he exclaimed as he glanced through an
opening in the hills.  The ring of ashes that had been a corral still
smoldered, and smoke arose fitfully from the caved-in roof of the adobe
bunkhouse, whose beams, weakened by fire, had fallen under their heavy
load.

"Injuns!" whispered Jimmy.  "Not gone long, neither.  Mebby they ain’t
all—ain’t all—" he faltered, thinking of what might lie under the roof.
Bill, nodding, rode hurriedly to the ruins, wheeled sharply and
returned, shaking his head slowly.  There was no need to explain Apache
methods to his companion, and he spoke of the Indians instead.  "They
split.  About a dozen in th’ big party an’ about eight in th’ other.  It
looks sorta serious, Kid."

Jimmy nodded.  "I reckon so.  An’ they ’re usually where nobody wants
’em, anyhow. Would n’t Sharpsville be disgusted if they went north?  But
let’s get out of here, ’less you got some plan to bag a couple."

"I like you more all th’ time," Bill smiled. "But I ain’t got no plan,
except to move."

"Now, if they ain’t funny," muttered Jimmy. "If they only knowed what
they was runnin’ into!"

Bill turned in surprise.  "I reckon I ’m easy, but I ’ll bite: what are
they runnin’ into?"

"I don’t mean th’ Injuns; I mean that wagon," replied Jimmy, nodding to
a canvas-covered "schooner" on the opposite hill.  "Come here, ’Sylum!"
he thundered.  Bill wheeled, and smothered a curse when he saw the
woman. "Fools!" he snarled.  "Don’t let _her_ know," and he was
galloping toward the newcomers.

"They shore is innercent," soliloquized Jimmy, following.  "Just like a
baby chasin’ a rattler for to play with it."

Bill drew rein at the wagon and removed his sombrero.  "Howd’y," he
said.  "Where you headin’ for?" he asked pleasantly.

Tom French shifted the reins.  "Sharpsville. And where in—thunder—is
it?"

His brother stuck his head out through the opening in the canvas.  "Yes;
where?"

"You see, we are lost," explained the woman, glancing from Bill to
Jimmy, whose spectacular sliding stop was purely for her benefit, though
she knew it not.  "We left Logan four days ago and have been wandering
about ever since."

"Well, you ain’t a-goin’ to wander no more, ma’am," smiled Bill.  "We
’re goin’ to Logan an’ we ’ll take you as far as th’ Logan-Sharpsville
trail," he said, wondering where it was. "You must ’a’ crossed it
without knowin’ it."

"Then, thank goodness, everything is all right. We are very fortunate in
having met you gentlemen and we will be very grateful to you," she
smiled.

"You bet!" exclaimed Tom.  "But where is Sharpsville?" he persisted.

"Sixty miles north," replied Jimmy, making a great effort to stop with
the reins what he was causing with his shielded spur.  His horse could
cavort beautifully under persuasion.  "Logan, ma’am," he said,
indifferent to the antics of his horse, "is about thirty miles east.
You must ’a’ sashayed some to get only this far in four days," he
grinned.

"And we would be ’sashaying’ yet, if I had n’t found this trail,"
grunted Tom.  There was a sudden disturbance behind his shoulder and the
canvas was opened wider.  "_You_ found it!" snorted George.  "You mean,
_I_ found it. Leave it to Mollie if I did n’t!  And I told you that you
were going wrong.  Didn’t I?" he demanded.

"Hush, George," chided his sister.

"But _did n’t_ I?  Did n’t I say we should have followed that moth-eaten
road running—er—north?"

"Did you?" shouted Tom, turning savagely. "You told me so many fool
things I couldn’t pick out those having a flicker of intelligence
hovering around their outer edges.  _You_ drove two days out of the
four, did n’t you?"

"Tom!" pleaded Mollie, earnestly.

"Oh, let him rave, Sis," rejoined George, and he turned to the punchers.
"Friends, I beg thee to take charge of this itinerant asylum and its
charming nurse, for the good of our being and the salvation of our
souls.  Amen."

Tom found a weak grin.  "Yes, so be it.  We place ourselves and guide
under your orders, though I reserve the right to beat him to a pleasing
pulp when he gets sober enough to feel it. At present he reclines
ungracefully within."

"You mean you got a drunk guide, in there?" demanded Bill angrily.

"He feels the yearning right away," observed George.  "We ’ll have to
take turns thrashing Bacchus, I fear."

"How long’s he been that way?" demanded Bill.

"I have n’t known him long enough to answer that," responded Tom.  "I
doubt if he were ever really sober.  He is a peripatetic distillery and
I believe he lived on blotters even as a child. The first day—"

"—hour," inserted George.

"—he became anxious about the condition of the rear axle and examined it
so frequently that by night he had slipped back into the Stone Age—he
was ossified and petrified.  He could neither see, eat nor talk.
Strange creatures peopled his imagination.  He shot at one before we
could get his gun away from him, and it was our best skillet.  How the
devil he could hit it is more than I know.  At this moment he may be
fleeing from green tigers."

"Beg pardon," murmured George.  "At this moment I have my foot on his
large, unwashed face."

"Why, George!  You’ll hurt him!" gasped Mollie.

"No such luck.  He ’s beyond feeling."

"But you will!  It isn’t right to—"

"Don’t bother your head about him, Sis," interrupted Tom, savagely.

"Sure," grinned George.  "Save your sympathy until he gets sober.  He’ll
need some then."

"Now, George, there is no use of having an argument," she retorted,
turning to face him. And as she turned Bill took quick advantage. One
finger slipped around his scalp and ended in a jerky, lifting motion
that was horribly suggestive.  His other hand and arm swept back and
around, the gesture taking in the hills; and at the same time he nodded
emphatically toward the rear of the wagon, where Jimmy was slowly going.
Across the faces of the brothers there flashed in quick succession
mystification, apprehensive doubt, fear and again doubt.  But a sudden
backward jerk of Bill’s head made them glance at the ruined ’dobe and
the doubt melted into fear, and remained.  George was the first to reply
and he spoke to his sister.  "As long as you fear for his facial beauty,
Sis, I ’ll look for a better place for my foot," and he disappeared
behind the drooping canvas.  Jimmy’s words were powerful, if terse, and
George returned to the seat a very thoughtful man.  He took instant
advantage of his sister’s conversation with Bill and whispered hurriedly
into his brother’s ear.  A faint furrow showed momentarily on Tom’s
forehead, but swiftly disappeared, and he calmly filled his pipe as he
replied.  "Oh, he ’ll sober up," he said.  "We poured the last of it
out.  And I have a great deal of confidence in these two gentlemen."

Bill smiled as he answered Mollie’s question. "Yes, we did have a bad
fire," he said.  "It plumb burned us out, ma’am."

"But _how_ did it happen?" she insisted.

"Yes, yes; how did it happen—I mean it happened like this, ma’am," he
floundered.  "You see, I—that is, _we—we_ had some trouble, ma’am."

"So I surmised," she pleasantly replied.  "I presume it was a fire, was
it not?"

Bill squirmed at the sarcasm and hesitated, but he was saved by Jimmy,
who turned the corner of the wagon and swung into the breach with
promptness and assurance.  "We fired a Greaser yesterday," he explained.
"An’ last night th’ Greaser slipped back an’ fired us.  He got away,
this time, ma’am; but we ’re shore comin’ back for him, all right."

"But is n’t he far away by this time?" she asked in surprise.

"Greasers, ma’am, is funny animals.  I could tell you lots of funny
things about ’em, if I had time.  This particular coyote is nervy an’
graspin’.  I reckon he was a heap disappointed when he found we got out
alive, an’ I reckon he ’s in these hills waitin’ for us to go to Logan
for supplies.  When we do he ’ll round up th’ cows an’ run ’em off.
Savvy?  I means, understand?" he hurriedly explained.

"But why don’t you hunt him now?"

Jimmy shook his head hopelessly.  "You just don’t understand Greasers,
ma’am," he asserted, and looked around.  "Does she?" he demanded.

There was a chorus of negatives, and he continued.  "You see, he’s
plannin’ to steal our cows."

"That’s what he ’s doin’," cheerfully assented Bill.

"I believe you said that before," smiled Mollie.

"Ha, ha!" laughed Bill.  "He shore did!"

"Yes, I did!" snapped Jimmy, glaring at him.

"Then, for goodness’ sake, are you going away and let him do it?"
demanded Mollie.

Jimmy grinned easily, and drawled effectively. "We ’re aimin’ to stop
him, ma’am.  You see," he half whispered, whereat Bill leaned forward
eagerly to learn the facts.  "He won’t show hisself an’ we can’t track
him in th’ hills without gettin’ picked off at long range.  It would be
us that ’d have to do th’ movin’, an’ that ain’t healthy in rough
country.  So we starts to Logan, but circles back an’ gets him when he
’s plumb wrapped up in them cows he ’s honin’ for."

"That’s it," asserted Bill, promptly and proudly.  Jimmy was the
smoothest liar he had ever listened to.  "An’ th’ plan is all Jimmy’s,
too," he enthused, truthfully.

"Doubtless it is quite brilliant," she responded, "but I certainly wish
_I_ were that ’Greaser’!"

"Sis!" exploded George, "I’m surprised!"

"Very well; you may remain so, if you wish. But will someone tell me
this: How can these gentlemen take us to Logan if they are going only
part way and then returning after that dense, but lucky, ’Greaser’?"

"I should ’a’ told you, ma’am," replied Jimmy, "that th’
Logan-Sharpsville trail is about half way.  We ’ll put you on it an’
turn back."

The strain was telling on Bill and he raised his arm.  "Sorry to cut off
this interestin’ conversation, but I reckon we better move.  Jimmy, tie
that wolf-hound to th’ axle—it won’t make him drunk—an’ then go ahead
an’ pick a new trail to Logan.  Keep north of th’ other, an’ stay down
from sky-lines.  I ’ll foller back a ways.  Get a-goin’," and he was
obeyed.

Jimmy rode a quarter of a mile in advance, unjustly escaping the remarks
that Mollie was directing at him, her brothers, Bill, the dog and the
situation in general.  A backward glance as he left the wagon apprised
him that the dangers of scouting were to be taken thankfully. He rode
carelessly up the side of a hill and glanced over the top, ducked
quickly and backed down with undignified haste.  He fervently endorsed
Bill’s wisdom in taking a different route to Logan, for the Apaches
certainly would strike the other trail and follow hard; and to have run
into them would have been disastrous.  He approached the wagon
leisurely, swept off his sombrero and grinned.  "Reckon you could hit
any game?" he inquired.  The brothers nodded glumly.  "Well, get yore
guns handy."  There was really no need for the order.  "There ’s lots of
it, an’ fresh meat ’ll come in good.  Don’t shoot till I says so," he
warned, earnestly.

"O.K., Hawkeye," replied Tom coolly.

"We ’ll wait for the whites of their eyes, _à la Bunker Hill_," replied
George, uneasily, "before we wipe out the game of this large section of
God’s accusing and forgotten wilderness.  Any _big_ game loose?"

Jimmy nodded emphatically.  "You bet!  I just saw a bunch of copperhead
snakes that ’d give you chills."  The tones were very suggestive and
George stroked his rifle nervously and felt little drops of cold water
trickle from his armpits.  Mollie instinctively drew her skirts tighter
around her and placed her feet on the edge of the wagon box under the
seat.  "They can’t climb into the wagon, can they?" she asked
apprehensively.

"Oh, no, ma’am," reassured Jimmy.  "Anyhow, th’ dog will keep them
away."  He turned to the brothers.  "I ain’t shore about th’ way, so I
’m goin’ to see Bill.  Wait till I come back," and he was gone.  Tom
gripped the reins more firmly and waited.  Nothing short of an
earthquake would move that wagon until he had been told to drive on.
George searched the surrounding country with anxious eyes while his
sister gazed fascinatedly at the ground close to the wagon.  She
suddenly had remembered that the dog was tied.

Bill drummed past, waving his arm, and swept out of sight around a bend,
the wagon lurching and rocking after him.  Out of the little valley and
across a rocky plateau, down into an arroyo and up its steep, further
bank went the wagon at an angle that forced a scream from Mollie. The
dog, having broken loose, ran with it, eyeing it suspiciously from time
to time.  Jeff Purdy, the oblivious guide, slid swiftly from the front
of the wagon box and stopped suddenly with a thump against the
tailboard.  George, playing rear guard, managed to hold on and then with
a sigh of relief sat upon the guide and jammed his feet against the
corners of the box.

"So he—went back for—his friend to—find the way!" gasped Mollie in
jerks.  "What a pity—he did—it.  I could—do better myself.  I ’m being
jolted—into a thousand—pieces!"  Her hair, loosening more with each
jolt, uncoiled and streamed behind her in a glorious flame of gold.
Suddenly the wagon stopped so quickly that she gasped in dismay and
almost left the seat.  Then she screamed and jumped for the dashboard.
But it was only Mr. Purdy sliding back again.

Before them was the perpendicular wall of a mesa and another lay several
hundred yards away.  Bill, careful of where he walked, led the horses
past a bowlder until the seat was even with it.  "Step on nothing but
rock," he quietly ordered, and had lifted Mollie in his arms before she
knew it.  Despite her protests he swiftly carried her to the wall and
then slowly up its scored face to a ledge that lay half way to the top.
Back of the ledge was a horizontal fissure that was almost screened from
the sight of anyone below.  Gaining the cave, he lowered her gently to
the floor and stood up.  "Do not move," he ordered.

Her face was crimson, streaked with white lanes of anger and her eyes
snapped.  "What does this mean?" she demanded.

He looked at her a moment, considering. "Ma’am, I was n’t goin’ to tell
you till I had to. But it don’t make no difference now.  It’s Injuns,
close after us.  Don’t show yoreself."

[Illustration: "It’s Injuns, close after us"]

She regarded him calmly.  "I beg your pardon—if I had only known—is
there great danger?"

He nodded.  "If you show yoreself.  There’s allus danger with Injuns,
ma’am."

She pushed the hair back from her face.  "My brothers?  Are they coming
up?"

Her courage set him afire with rage for the Apaches, but he replied
calmly.  "Yes.  Mebby th’ Injuns won’t know yo ’re here, Ma’am.  Me an’
Jimmy ’ll try to lead ’em past.  Just lay low an’ don’t make no noise."

Her eyes glowed suddenly as she realized what he would try to do.  "But
yourself, and Jimmy? Would n’t it be better to stay up here?"

"Yo ’re a thoroughbred, ma’am," he replied in a low voice.  "Me an’
Jimmy has staked our lives more ’n onct out of pure devilment, with
nothin’ to gain.  I reckon we got a reason this time, th’ best we ever
had.  I ’m most proud, ma’am, to play my cards as I get them."  He bent
swiftly and touched her head, and was gone.

Meeting the brothers as they toiled up with supplies, he gave them a few
terse orders and went on.  Taking a handful of sand from behind a
bowlder and scattering it with judicious care, he climbed to the wagon
seat and waited, glancing back at the faint line that marked the
arroyo’s rim.  In a few minutes a figure popped over it and whirled
toward him in a high-flung, swirling cloud of dust.  Overtaking the
lurching wagon, Jimmy shouted a query and kept on, his pony picking its
way with the agility and certainty of a mountain cat.  The wagon,
lurching this way and that, first on the wheels of one side and then on
those of the other, bouncing and jumping at such speed that it was a
miracle it was not smashed to splinters, careened after the hard-riding
horseman.  A rifle bounced over the tailboard, followed swiftly by a box
of cartridges and an ebony-backed mirror, which settled on its back and
glared into the sky like an angry Cyclops.

Mr. Purdy, bruised from head to foot and rapidly getting sober, emitted
language in jerks and grabbed at the tailboard as the wagon box dropped
two feet, leaving him in the air.  But it met him half way and jolted
him almost to the canvas top.  He slid against the side and then jammed
against the tailboard again and reached for it in desperation.  Another
drop in the trail made him miss it, and as the wagon arose again like a
steel spring Mr. Purdy, wondering what caused all the earthquakes, arose
on his hands and knees in the dust and spat angrily after the careening
vehicle.  He scrambled unsteadily to his feet and shook eager fists
after the four-wheeled jumping-jack, and gave the Recording Angel great
anguish of mind and writer’s cramp. Pausing as he caught sight of the
objects on the ground, he stared at them thoughtfully.  He had seen many
things during the past few days and was not to be fooled again.  He
looked at the sky, and back to the rifle.  Then he examined the mesa
wall, and quickly looked back at the weapon.  It was still there and had
not moved. He closed his eyes and opened them suddenly and grunted.
"Huh, bet a ten spot it’s real."  He approached it cautiously, ready to
pounce on it if it moved, but it did not and he picked it up. Seeing the
cartridges, he secured them and then gasped with fear at the glaring
mirror.  After a moment’s thought he grabbed at it and put it in his
pocket just before a sudden, swirling cloud of dust drove him, choking
and gasping, to seek the shelter of the bowlders close to the wall. When
he raised his head again and looked out he caught sight of a sudden
movement in the open, and promptly ducked, and swore. Apaches!  Twelve
of them!

He had seen strange things during the last few days, and just because
the rifle and other objects had turned out to be real was no reason that
he should absolutely trust his eyes in this particular instance.  There
was a limit, which in this case was Apaches in full war dress; so he
arose swaggeringly and fired at the last, and saw the third from the
last slide limply from his horse.  As the rest paused and half of them
wheeled and started back he rubbed his eyes in amazement, damned himself
for a fool and sprinted for the mesa wall, up which he climbed with the
frantic speed of fear.  He was favored by the proverbial luck of fools
and squirmed over a wide ledge without being hit.  There was but one way
to get him and he knew he could pick them off as fast as they showed
above the rim. He rolled over and a look of mystification crept across
his face.  Digging into his pockets to see what the bumps were, he
produced the mirror and a flask.  The former he placed carelessly
against the wall and the latter he raised hastily to his lips. The
mirror glared out over the plain, its rays constantly interrupted by Mr.
Purdy’s cautious movements as he settled himself more comfortably for
defense.

A bullet screamed up the face of the wall and he flattened, intently
watching the rim.  Chancing to glance over the plain, he noticed that
the wagon was still moving, but slowly, while far to the south two
horsemen galloped back toward the mesa on a wide circle, six Apaches
tearing to intercept them before they could gain cover.  "I was shore
wise to leave th’ schooner," he grinned. "I allus know when to jump," he
said, and then swung the rifle toward the rim as a faint sound reached
his ears.  Its smoke blotted out the piercing black eyes that looked for
an instant over the edge and found eternity, and Mr. Purdy grinned when
the sound of impact floated up from below.  "They won’t try that no
more," he grunted, and forthwith dozed in a drunken stupor.  A sober man
might have been tempted to try a shot over the rim, and would have been
dead before he could have pulled the trigger. Mr. Purdy was again
favored by luck.

Leaving two braves to watch him, the other two searched for a better way
up the wall.

The race over the plain was interesting but not deadly or very dangerous
for Bill and Jimmy. Armed with Winchesters and wornout Spencer carbines
and not able to get close to the two punchers, the Apaches did no harm,
and suffered because of Mr. Cassidy’s use of a new, long-range Sharps.
"You allus want to keep Injuns on long range, Kid," Bill remarked as
another fell from its horse.  The shot was a lucky one, but just as
effective.  "They ain’t worth a d—n figurin’ windage an’ th’ drift of a
fast-movin’ target, ’specially when it’s goin’ over ground like this.
It’s a white man’s weapon, Jimmy. Them repeaters ain’t no good for over
five hundred; they don’t use enough powder.  An’ I reckon them Spencers
was wore out long ago. They ain’t even shootin’ close."  He whirled past
the projecting spur of the mesa and leaped from his horse, Jimmy
following quickly.  Three hundred yards down the canyon two Apaches
showed themselves for a moment as they squirmed around a projection high
up on the wall and not more than ten feet below the ledge.  The
expressions which they carried into eternity were those of great
surprise.  The two who kept Mr. Purdy treed on his ledge saw their
friends fall, and squirmed swiftly toward their horses.  It could only
be cowpunchers entering the canyon at the other end and they preferred
the company of their friends until they could determine numbers. When
half way to the animals they changed their minds and crept toward the
scene of action. Mr. Purdy, feeling for his flask, knocked it over the
ledge and looked over after it in angry dismay. Then he shouted and
pointed down.  Bill and Jimmy stared for a moment, nodded emphatically,
and separated hastily.  Mr. Purdy ducked and hugged the ledge with
renewed affection. Glancing around, he was almost blinded by the mirror
and threw it angrily into the canyon, and then rubbed his eyes again.
Far away on the plain was a moving blot which he believed to be
horsemen.  He fired his rifle into the air on a chance and turned again
to the events taking place close at hand.  "Other way, Hombre!" he
warned, and Jimmy, obeying, came upon the Apache from the rear, and
saved Bill’s life.  At hide and seek among rocks the Apache has no
equal, but here they did not have a chance with Mr. Purdy calling the
moves in a language they did not well understand.  A bird’s-eye view is
a distinct asset and Mr. Purdy was playing his novel game with delighted
interest and a plainsman’s instinct.  Consumed with rage, the remaining
Indian whirled around and sent the guide reeling against the wall and
then down in a limp heap.  But Bill paid the debt and continued to worm
among the rocks.

There was a sudden report to the westward and Jimmy staggered and dived
behind a bowlder. The other four, having discovered the trick that had
been played upon them on the other side of the mesa, were anxious to pay
for it.  Bill hurriedly crawled to Jimmy’s side as the youth brushed the
blood out of his eyes and picked up his rifle.  "It’s th’ others, Kid,"
said Bill.  "An’ they ’re gettin’ close.  Don’t move an inch, for this
is their game."  A roar above him made him glance upward and swear
angrily.  "Now they ’ve gone an’ done it!  After all we ’ve done to hide
’em!"  Another shot from the ledge and a hot, answering fire broke out
from below.  "My G—d!" said a voice, weakly.  Bill shook his head.
"That was Tom," he muttered.  "Come on, Kid," he growled.  "We got to
drive ’em out, d—n it!"  They were too interested in picking their way
in the direction of the Apaches to glance at Mr. Purdy’s elevated perch
or they would have seen him on his knees at the very edge making frantic
motions with his one good arm.  He was facing the east and the plain.
Beaming with joy, he waved his arm toward Bill and Jimmy, shouted
instructions in a weak voice, that barely carried to the canyon floor,
and collapsed, his duty done.

Bill was surprised fifteen minutes later to hear strange voices calling
to him from the rear and he turned like a flash, his Colt swinging
first. "Well, I ’m d—d!" he ejaculated.  Four punchers were crawling
toward him.  "Glad to see you," he said, foolishly.

"I reckon so," came the smiling reply.  "That lookin’ glass of yourn
shore bothered us.  We could n’t read it, but we did n’t have to.  Where
are they?"

"Plumb ahead, som’ers.  Four of ’em," Bill replied.  "There ’s two
tender feet up on that ledge, with their sister.  We was gettin’ plumb
worried for ’em."

"Not them as hired Whiskey Jeff for to guide ’em?" asked Dickinson, the
leader.

"Th’ same.  But how ’n h—l did Logan ever come to let ’em start?"
demanded Bill, angrily.

"We did n’t pay no attention to th’ rumors that has been flyin’ around
for th’ last two months. Nobody had seen no signs of ’em," answered the
Logan man.  "We did n’t reckon there was no danger till last night, when
we learned they had n’t showed up in Sharpsville, nor been seen
anywheres near th’ trail.  Then we remembers Jeff’s habits, an’, while
we debates it, we gets word that th’ Injuns was seen north of Cook’s
ranch yesterday.  We moves sudden.  Here comes th’ boys back—I reckon
th’ job ’s done. They ’re a fine crowd, a’right.  You should ’a’ seen
’em cut loose an’ raise th’ dust when we saw that lookin’ glass
a-winkin’.  We could n’t read it none, but we didn’t have to.  We just
cut loose."

"Lookin’ glass!" exclaimed Bill, staring. "That’s twice you ’ve
mentioned it.  What glass?  We didn’t have no lookin’ glass, nohow."

"Well, Whiskey Jeff had one, a’right.  An’ he shore keeps her a-talkin’,
too.  Ain’t it a cussed funny thing that a feller that’s got a
hardboiled face like his’n would go an’ tote a lookin’ glass around with
him?  We never done reckoned he was that vain."

Bill shook his head and gave it up.  He glanced above him at the ledge
and started for it as Jimmy pushed up to him through the little crowd.
"Hello, Kid," Bill smiled.  "Come on up an’ help me get her down," he
invited.  Jimmy shook his head and refused.  "Ah, what’s th’ use? She
’ll only gimme h—l for handin’ her that blamed Greaser lie," he snapped.
"An’ you can do it alone—didn’t you tote her up th’ cussed wall?"  It
had been a long-range view, but Jimmy had seen it, just the same, and
resented it.

Bill turned and looked at him.  "Well, I ’m cussed!" he muttered, and
forthwith climbed the wall.  A few minutes later he stuck his head over
the rim of the ledge and looked down upon a good-natured crowd that
lounged in the shadow of the wall and told each other all about it.
Jimmy was the important center of interest and he was flushed with
pride.  It would take a great deal to make him cut short his hour of
triumph and take him away from the admiring circle that hedged him in
and listened intently to his words. "Yessir, by G—d," he was saying,
"just then I looks over th’ top of a li’l hill an’ what I sees makes me
duck a-plenty.  There was a dozen of ’em, stringin’ south.  I knowed
they ’d shore hit that—"

"Hey, Kid," said a humorous voice from above. Jimmy glanced up, vexed at
the interruption. "Well, what?" he growled.  Bill grinned down at him in
a manner that bid fair to destroy the dignity that Jimmy had striven so
hard to build up.  "She says all right for you.  She ’s done let you
down easy for that whoppin’ big Greaser lie you went an’ spun her.  She
wants to know ain’t you comin’ up so she can talk to you?  How about
it?"

"Go on, Kid," urged a low and friendly voice at his elbow.

"Betcha!" grinned another.  "Wish it was me!  I done seen her in Logan."

Jimmy loosed a throbbing phrase, but obeyed, whereat Bill withdrew his
grinning face from the sight of the grinning faces below.  "He ’s comin’
ma’am; but he’s shore plumb bashful."  He looked down the canyon and
laughed.  "There they go to get Purdy off ’n his perch.  I ’m
natchurally goin’ to lick anybody as tries to thrash that man," he
muttered, glancing at George as he passed Jimmy on the ledge.  George
grinned and shook his head.  "I ’m going to give him the spree of his
sinful, long life," he promised, thoughtfully.

Far to the west, silhouetted for a moment against the crimson sunset,
appeared a row of mounted figures.  It looked long and searchingly at
the mesa and slowly disappeared from view. Bill saw it and pointed it
out to Lefty Dickinson. "There ’s th’ other eight," he said, smiling
cheerfully.  "If it was n’t for Whiskey Jeff’s lookin’ glass that eight
’d mean a whole lot to us. We ’ve had the luck of fools!"



                                   VI

                             HOPALONG’S HOP


Having sent Jimmy to the Bar-20 with a message for Buck Peters and seen
the tenderfeet start for Sharpsville on the right trail and under
escort, Bill Cassidy set out for the Crazy M ranch, by the way of Clay
Gulch.  He was to report on the condition of some cattle that Buck had
been offered cheap and he was anxious to get back to the ranch.  It was
in the early evening when he reached Clay Gulch and rode slowly down the
dusty, shack-lined street in search of a hotel.  The town and the street
were hardly different from other towns and streets that he had seen all
over the cow-country, but nevertheless he felt uneasy.  The air seemed
to be charged with danger, and it caused him to sit even more erect in
the saddle and assume his habit of indifferent alertness.  The first man
he saw confirmed the feeling by staring at him insolently and sneering
in a veiled way at the low-hung, tied-down holsters that graced Bill’s
thighs. The guns proclaimed the gun-man as surely as it would have been
proclaimed by a sign; and it appeared that gun-men were not at that time
held in high esteem by the citizens of Clay Gulch. Bill was growing
fretful and peevish when the man, with a knowing shake of his head,
turned away and entered the harness shop.  "Trouble’s brewin’ somewheres
around," muttered Bill, as he went on.  He had singled out the first of
two hotels when another citizen, turning the corner, stopped in his
tracks and looked Bill over with a deliberate scrutiny that left but
little to the imagination.  He frowned and started away, but Bill
spurred forward, determined to make him speak.

"_Might_ I inquire if this is Clay Gulch?" he asked, in tones that made
the other wince.

"You might," was the reply.  "It is," added the citizen, "an’ th’ Crazy
M lays fifteen mile west."  Having complied with the requirements of
common politeness the citizen of Clay Gulch turned and walked into the
nearest saloon.  Bill squinted after him and shook his head in
indecision.

"He wasn’t guessin’, neither.  He shore knowed where I wants to go.  I
reckon Oleson must ’a’ said he was expectin’ me."  He would have been
somewhat surprised had he known that Mr. Oleson, foreman of the Crazy M,
had said nothing to anyone about the expected visitor, and that no one,
not even on the ranch, knew of it. Mr. Oleson was blessed with
taciturnity to a remarkable degree; and he had given up expecting to see
anyone from Mr. Peters.

As Bill dismounted in front of the "Victoria" he noticed that two men
further down the street had evidently changed their conversation and
were examining him with frank interest and discussing him earnestly.  As
a matter of fact they had not changed the subject of their conversation,
but had simply fitted him in the place of a certain unknown.  Before he
had arrived they discussed in the abstract; now they could talk in the
concrete.  One of them laughed and called softly over his shoulder,
whereupon a third man appeared in the door, wiping his lips with the
back of a hairy, grimy hand, and focused evil eyes upon the innocent
stranger.  He grunted contemptuously and, turning on his heel, went back
to his liquid pleasures.  Bill covertly felt of his clothes and stole a
glance at his horse, but could see nothing wrong.  He hesitated: should
he saunter over for information or wait until the matter was brought to
his attention?  A sound inside the hotel made him choose the latter
course, for his stomach threatened to become estranged and it simply
howled for food.  Pushing open the door he dropped his saddle in a
corner and leaned against the bar.

"Have one with me to get acquainted?" he invited.  "Then I ’ll eat, for
I ’m hungry.  An’ I ’ll use one of yore beds to-night, too."

The man behind the bar nodded cheerfully and poured out his drink.  As
he raised the liquor he noticed Bill’s guns and carelessly let the glass
return to the bar.

"Sorry, sir," he said coldly.  "I ’m hall out of grub, the fire ’s hout,
_hand_ the beds are taken. But mebby ’Awley, down the strite, can tyke
care of you."

Bill was looking at him with an expression that said much and he slowly
extended his arm and pointed to the untasted liquor.

"Allus finish what you start, English," he said slowly and clearly.
"When a man goes to take a drink with me, and suddenly changes his mind,
why I gets riled.  I don’t know what ails this town, an’ I don’t care; I
don’t give a cuss about yore grub an’ your beds; but if you don’t drink
that liquor you poured out _to_ drink, why I ’ll natchurally shove it
down yore British throat so cussed hard it ’ll strain yore neck.  Get to
it!"

The proprietor glanced apprehensively from the glass to Bill, then on to
the business-like guns and back to the glass, and the liquor disappeared
at a gulp.  "W’y," he explained, aggrieved. "There hain’t no call for to
get riled hup like that, strainger.  I bloody well forgot it."

"Then don’t you go an’ ’bloody well’ forget this: Th’ next time I drops
in here for grub an’ a bed, you have ’em both, an’ be plumb polite about
it.  Do you get me?" he demanded icily.

The proprietor stared at the angry puncher as he gathered up his saddle
and rifle and started for the door.  He turned to put away the bottle
and the sound came near being unfortunate for him.  Bill leaped
sideways, turning while in the air and landed on his feet like a cat,
his left hand gripping a heavy Colt that covered the short ribs of the
frightened proprietor before that worthy could hardly realize the move.

"Oh, all right," growled Bill, appearing to be disappointed.  "I
reckoned mebby you was gamblin’ on a shore thing.  I feels impelled to
offer you my sincere apology; you ain’t th’ kind as would even gamble
_on_ a shore thing.  You ’ll see me again," he promised.  The sound of
his steps on the porch ended in a thud as he leaped to the ground and
then he passed the window leading his horse and scowling darkly.  The
proprietor mopped his head and reached twice for the glass before he
found it.  "Gawd, what a bloody ’eathen," he grunted.  "_’E_ won’t be as
easy as the lawst was, blime ’im."

Mr. Hawley looked up and frowned, but there was something in the
suspicious eyes that searched his face that made him cautious.  Bill
dropped his load on the floor and spoke sharply. "I want supper an’ a
bed.  You ain’t full up, an’ you ain’t out of grub.  So I ’m goin’ to
get ’em both right here.  Yes?"

"You shore called th’ turn, stranger," replied Mr. Hawley in his Sunday
voice.  "That’s what I ’m in business for.  An’ business is shore dull
these days."

He wondered at the sudden smile that illuminated Bill’s face and half
guessed it; but he said nothing and went to work.  When Bill pushed back
from the table he was more at peace with the world and he treated,
closely watching his companion.  Mr. Hawley drank with a show of
pleasure and forthwith brought out cigars.  He seated himself beside his
guest and sighed with relief.

"I ’m plumb tired out," he offered.  "An’ I ain’t done much.  You look
tired, too.  Come a long way?"

"Logan," replied Bill.  "Do _you_ know where I ’m goin’?  An’ why?" he
asked.

Mr. Hawley looked surprised and almost answered the first part of the
question correctly before he thought.  "Well," he grinned, "if I could
tell where strangers was goin’, an’ why, I would n’t never ask ’em where
they come from. An’ I ’d shore hunt up a li’l game of faro, you bet!"

Bill smiled.  "Well, that might be a good idea. But, say, what ails this
town, anyhow?"

"What ails it?  Hum!  Why, lack of money for one thing; scenery, for
another; wimmin, for another.  Oh, h—l, I ain’t got time to tell you
what ails it.  Why?"

"Is there anything th’ matter with me?"

"I don’t know you well enough for to answer that kerrect."

"Well, would you turn around an’ stare at me, an’ seem pained an’ hurt?
Do I look funny? Has anybody put a sign on my back?"

"You looks all right to me.  What’s th’ matter?"

"Nothin’, yet," reflected Bill slowly.  "But there will be, mebby.  You
was mentionin’ faro. Here ’s a turn you can call: somebody in this wart
of a two-by-nothin’ town is goin’ to run plumb into a big surprise.
There ’ll mebby be a loud noise an’ some smoke where it starts from; an’
a li’l round hole where it stops.  When th’ curious delegation now
holdin’ forth on th’ street slips in here after I ’m in bed, an’ makes
inquiries about me, you can tell ’em that.  An’ if Mr.—Mr. Victoria
drops in casual, tell him I ’m cleanin’ my guns.  Now then, show me
where I ’m goin’ to sleep."

Mr. Hawley very carefully led the way into the hall and turned into a
room opposite the bar. "Here she is, stranger," he said, stepping back.
But Bill was out in the hall listening.  He looked into the room and
felt oppressed.

"No she ain’t," he answered, backing his intuition.  "She is upstairs,
where there is a li’l breeze.  By th’ Lord," he muttered under his
breath.  "This is some puzzle."  He mounted the stairs shaking his head
thoughtfully.  "It shore is, it shore is."

The next morning when Bill whirled up to the Crazy M bunkhouse and
dismounted before the door a puncher was emerging.  He started to say
something, noticed Bill’s guns and went on without a word.  Bill turned
around and looked after him in amazement.  "Well, what th’ devil!" he
growled.  Before he could do anything, had he wished to, Mr. Oleson
stepped quickly from the house, nodded and hurried toward the ranch
house, motioning for Bill to follow.  Entering the house, the foreman of
the Crazy M waited impatiently for Bill to get inside, and then
hurriedly closed the door.

"They ’ve got onto it some way," he said, his taciturnity gone; "but
that don’t make no difference if you ’ve got th’ sand.  I ’ll pay you
one hundred an’ fifty a month, furnish yore cayuses an’ feed you.  I ’m
losin’ more ’n two hundred cows every month an’ can’t get a trace of th’
thieves.  Harris, Marshal of Clay Gulch, is stumped, too.  _He_ can’t
move without proof; _you_ can.  Th’ first man to get is George Thomas,
then his brother Art.  By that time you ’ll know how things lay.  George
Thomas is keepin’ out of Harris’ way.  He killed a man last week over in
Tuxedo an’ Harris wants to take him over there.  He ’ll not help you, so
don’t ask him to."  Before Bill could reply or recover from his
astonishment Oleson continued and described several men.  "Look out for
ambushes.  It ’ll be th’ hardest game you ever went up ag’in, an’ if you
ain’t got th’ sand to go through with it, say so."

Bill shook his head.  "I got th’ sand to go through with anythin’ I
starts, but I don’t start here.  I reckon you got th’ wrong man.  I come
up here to look over a herd for Buck Peters; an’ here you go shovin’
wages like that at me.  When I tells Buck what I ’ve been offered he ’ll
fall dead."  He laughed.  "Now I knows th’ answer to a lot of things.

"Here, here!" he exclaimed as Oleson began to rave.  "Don’t you go an’
get all het up like that. I reckon I can keep my face shut.  An’ lemme
observe in yore hat-like ear that if th’ rest of this gang is like th’
samples I seen in town, a good gun-man would shore be robbin’ you to
take all that money for th’ job.  Fifty a month, for two months, would
be a-plenty."

Oleson’s dismay was fading, and he accepted the situation with a grim
smile.  "You don’t know them fellers," he replied.  "They ’re a bad lot,
an’ won’t stop at nothin’."

"All right.  Let’s take a look at them cows. I want to get home soon as
I can."

Oleson shook his head.  "I gave you up, an’ when I got a better offer I
let ’em go.  I ’m sorry you had th’ ride for nothin’, but I could n’t
get word to you."

Bill led the way in silence back to the bunk house and mounted his
horse.  "All right," he nodded.  "I shore was late.  Well, I ’ll be
goin’."

"That gun-man is late, too," said Oleson. "Mebby he ain’t comin’.  You
want th’ job at _my_ figgers?"

"Nope.  I got a better job, though it don’t pay so much money.  It’s
steady, an’ a hull lot cleaner.  So-long," and Bill loped away, closely
watched by Shorty Allen from the corral.  And after an interval, Shorty
mounted and swung out of the other gate of the corral and rode along the
bottom of an arroyo until he felt it was safe to follow Bill’s trail.
When Shorty turned back he was almost to town, and he would not have
been pleased had he known that Bill knew of the trailing for the last
ten miles.  Bill had doubled back and was within a hundred yards of
Shorty when that person turned ranchward.

"Huh!  I must be popular," grunted Bill.  "I reckon I will stay in Clay
Gulch till t’morrow mornin’; an’ at the Victoria," he grinned.  Then he
laughed heartily.  "Victoria!  I got a better name for it than that, all
right."

When he pulled up before the Victoria and looked in the proprietor
scowled at him, which made Bill frown as he went on to Hawley’s. Putting
his horse in the corral he carried his saddle and rifle into the barroom
and looked around. There was no one in sight, and he smiled.  Putting
the saddle and rifle back in one corner under the bar and covering them
with gunny sacks he strolled to the Victoria and entered through the
rear door.  The proprietor reached for his gun but reconsidered in time
and picked up a glass, which he polished with exaggerated care.  There
was something about the stranger that obtruded upon his peace of mind
and confidence.  He would let some one else try the stranger out.

Bill walked slowly forward, by force of will ironing out the humor in
his face and assuming his sternest expression.  "I want supper an’ a
bed, an’ don’t forget to be plumb polite," he rumbled, sitting down by
the side of a small table in such a manner that it did not in the least
interfere with the movement of his right hand.  The observing proprietor
observed and gave strict attention to the preparation of the meal.  The
gun-man, glancing around, slowly arose and walked carelessly to a chair
that had blank wall behind it, and from where he could watch windows and
doors.

When the meal was placed before him he glanced up.  "Go over there an’
sit down," he ordered, motioning to a chair that stood close to the
rifle that leaned against the wall.  "Loaded?" he demanded.  The
proprietor could only nod. "Then sling it acrost yore knees an’ keep
still. Well, start movin’."

The proprietor walked as though he were in a trance but when he seated
himself and reached for the weapon a sudden flash of understanding
illumined him and caused cold sweat to bead upon his wrinkled brow.  He
put the weapon down again, but the noise made Bill look up.

"Acrost yore knees," growled the puncher, and the proprietor hastily
obeyed, but when it touched his legs he let loose of it as though it
were hot. He felt a great awe steal through his fear, for here was a
gun-man such as he had read about. This man gave him all the best of it
just to tempt him to make a break.  The rifle had been in his hands, and
while it was there the gun-man was calmly eating with both hands on the
table and had not even looked up until the noise of the gun made him!

"My Gawd, ’e must be a wizard with ’em.  I ’opes I don’t forget!"  With
the thought came a great itching of his kneecap; then his foot itched so
as to make him squirm and wear horrible expressions.  Bill, chancing to
glance up carelessly, caught sight of the expressions and growled,
whereupon they became angelic.  Fearing that he could no longer hold in
the laughter that tortured him, Bill arose.

"Shoulder, _arms_!" he ordered, crisply.  The gun went up with trained
precision.  "Been a sojer," thought Bill.  "Carry, _arms_!  About,
_face_!  To a bedroom, _march_!"  He followed, holding his sides, and
stopped before the room. "This th’ best?" he demanded.  "Well, it ain’t
good enough for me.  About, _face_!  Forward, _march_!  Column, _left_!
Ground, _arms_!  Fall out."  Tossing a coin on the floor as payment for
the supper Bill turned sharply and went out without even a backward
glance.

The proprietor wiped the perspiration from his face and walked
unsteadily to the bar, where he poured out a generous drink and gulped
it down. Peering out of the door to see if the coast was clear, he
scurried across the street and told his troubles to the harness-maker.

Bill leaned weakly against Hawley’s and laughed until the tears rolled
down his cheeks. Pushing weakly from the building he returned to the
Victoria to play another joke on its proprietor.  Finding it vacant he
slipped upstairs and hunted for a room to suit him.  The bed was the
softest he had seen for a long time and it lured him into removing his
boots and chaps and guns, after he had propped a chair against the door
as a warning signal, and stretching out flat on his back, he prepared to
enjoy solid comfort.  It was not yet dark, and as he was not sleepy he
lay there thinking over the events of the past twenty-four hours, often
laughing so hard as to shake the bed. What a reputation he would have in
the morning! The softness of the bed got in its work and he fell asleep,
for how long he did not know; but when he awakened it was dark and he
heard voices coming up from below.  They came from the room he had
refused to take.  One expression banished all thoughts of sleep from his
mind and he listened intently.  "’Red-headed Irish gunman.’  Why, they
means me!  ’Make him hop into h—l.’  I don’t reckon I ’d do that for
anybody, even my friends."

"I tried to give ’im this room, but ’e would n’t tyke it" protested the
proprietor, hurriedly. "’E says the bloody room was n’t good enough for
’im, _hand_ ’e marches me out hand makes off. Likely ’e ’s in
_’Awley’s_."

"No, he ain’t," growled a strange voice. "You ’ve gone an’ bungled th’
whole thing."

"But I s’y I did n’t, you know.  I tries to give ’im this werry room,
George, but ’e would n’t ’ave it.  D’y think I wants ’im running haround
this blooming town?  ’E ’s worse nor the other, _hand_ Gawd knows ’e was
bad enough.  ’E ’s a cold-_blooded_ beggar, ’e is!"

"You missed yore chance," grunted the other. "Wish _I_ had that gun you
had."

"I was wishing to Gawd you did," retorted the proprietor.  "It never
looked so bloody big before, d—n ’is _’ide_!"

"Well, his cayuse is in Hawley’s corral," said the first speaker.  "If I
ever finds Hawley kept him under cover I ’ll blow his head off.  Come
on; we ’ll get Harris first.  He ought to be gettin’ close to town if he
got th’ word I sent over to Tuxedo.  He won’t let us call him.  He’s a
man of his word."

"He ’ll be here, all right.  Fred an’ Tom is watchin’ his shack, an’ we
better take th’ other end of town—there ’s no tellin’ how he ’ll come in
now," suggested Art Thomas.  "But I wish I knowed where that cussed
gun-man is."

As they went out Bill, his chaps on and his boots in his hand, crept
down the stairs, and stopped as he neared the hall door.  The proprietor
was coming back.  The others were outside, going to their stations and
did not hear the choking gasp that the proprietor made as a pair of
strong hands reached out and throttled him. When he came to he was lying
face down on a bed, gagged and bound by a rope that cut into his flesh
with every movement.  Bill, waiting a moment, slipped into the darkness
and was swallowed up.  He was looking for Mr. Harris, and looking
eagerly.

The moon arose and bathed the dusty street and its crude shacks in
silver, cunningly and charitably hiding its ugliness; and passed on as
the skirmishing rays of the sun burst into the sky in close and eternal
pursuit.  As the dawn spread swiftly and long, thin shadows sprang
across the sandy street, there arose from the dissipated darkness close
to the wall of a building an armed man, weary and slow from a tiresome
vigil.  Another emerged from behind a pile of boards that faced the
marshal’s abode, while down the street another crept over the edge of a
dried-out water course and swore softly as he stood up slowly to flex
away the stiffness of cramped limbs.  Of vain speculation he was empty;
he had exhausted all the whys and hows long before and now only muttered
discontentedly as he reviewed the hours of fruitless waiting.  And he
was uneasy; it was not like Harris to take a dare and swallow his own
threats without a struggle.  He looked around apprehensively, shrugged
his shoulders and stalked behind the shacks across from the two hotels.

Another figure crept from the protection of Hawley’s corral like a
slinking coyote, gun in hand and nervously alert.  He was just in time
to escape the challenge that would have been hurled at him by Hawley,
himself, had that gentleman seen the skulker as he grouchily opened one
shutter and scowled sleepily at the kindling eastern sky.  Mr. Hawley
was one of those who go to bed with regret and get up with remorse, and
his temper was always easily disturbed before breakfast.  The skulker,
safe from the remorseful gentleman’s eyes, and gun, kept close to the
building as he walked and was again fortunate, for he had passed when
Mr. Hawley strode heavily into his kitchen to curse the cold, rusty
stove, a rite he faithfully performed each morning.  Across the street
George and Art Thomas walked to meet each other behind the row of shacks
and stopped near the harness shop to hold a consultation.  The subject
was so interesting that for a few moments they were oblivious to all
else.

A man softly stepped to the door of the Victoria and watched the two
across the street with an expression on his face that showed his smiling
contempt for them and their kind.  He was a small man, so far as
physical measurements go, but he was lithe, sinewy and compact.  On his
opened vest, hanging slovenly and blinking in the growing light as if to
prepare itself for the blinding glare of midday, glinted a five-pointed
star of nickel, a lowly badge that every rural community knows and holds
in an awe far above the metal or design.  Swinging low on his hip
gleamed the ivory butt of a silver-plated Colt, the one weakness that
his vanity seized upon.  But under the silver and its engraving, above
and before the cracked and stained ivory handles, lay the power of a
great force; and under the casing of the marshal’s small body lay a
virile manhood, strong in courage and determination.  Toby Harris
watched, smilingly; he loved the dramatic and found keen enjoyment in
the situation.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw a carelessly dressed
cowpuncher slouching indolently along close to the buildings on the
other side of the street with the misleading sluggishness of a panther.
The red hair, kissed by the slanting rays of the sun where it showed
beneath the soiled sombrero, seemed to be a flaming warning; the
half-closed eyes, squinting under the brim of the big hat, missed
nothing as they darted from point to point.

The marshal stepped silently to the porch and then on to the ground, his
back to the rear of the hotel, waiting to be discovered.  He had been in
sight perhaps a minute.  The cowpuncher made a sudden, eye-baffling
movement and smoke whirled about his hips.  Fred, turning the corner
behind the marshal, dropped his gun with a scream of rage and pain and
crashed against the window in sudden sickness, his gunhand hanging by a
tendon from his wrist.  The marshal stepped quickly forward at the shot
and for an instant gazed deeply into the eyes of the startled rustlers.
Then his Colt leaped out and crashed a fraction of a second before the
brothers fired.  George Thomas reeled, caught sight of the puncher and
fired by instinct.  Bill, leaving Harris to watch the other side of the
street, was watching the rear corner of the Victoria and was unprepared
for the shot.  He crumpled and dropped and then the marshal, enraged,
ended the rustler’s earthly career in a stream of flame and smoke.  Tom,
turning into the street further down, wheeled and dashed for his horse,
and Art, having leaped behind the harness shop, turned and fled for his
life.  He had nearly reached his horse and was going at top speed with
great leaps when the prostrate man in the street, raising on his elbow,
emptied his gun after him, the five shots sounding almost as one. Art
Thomas arose convulsively, steadied himself and managed to gain the
saddle.  Harris looked hastily down the street and saw a cloud of dust
racing northward, and grunted.  "Let them go—_they_ won’t never come
back no more." Running to the cowpuncher he raised him after a hurried
examination of the wounded thigh. "Hop along, Cassidy," he smiled in
encouragement. "You ’ll be a better man with one good laig than th’
whole gang was all put together."

The puncher smiled faintly as Hawley, running to them, helped him toward
his hotel.  "Th’ bone is plumb smashed.  I reckon I ’ll hop along
through life.  It ’ll be hop along, for me, all right.  That’s _my_
name, all right.  Huh! Hopalong Cassidy!  But I didn’t hop into h—l, did
I, Harris?" he grinned bravely.

And thus was born a nickname that found honor and fame in the
cow-country—a name that stood for loyalty, courage and most amazing
gun-play.  I have Red’s word for this, and the endorsement of those who
knew him at the time.  And from this on, up to the time he died, and
after, we will forsake "Bill" and speak of him as Hopalong Cassidy, a
cowpuncher who lived and worked in the days when the West was wild and
rough and lawless; and who, like others, through the medium of the only
court at hand, Judge Colt, enforced justice as he believed it should be
enforced.



                                  VII

                           "DEALING THE ODD"


Faro-bank is an expensive game when luck turns a cold shoulder on any
player, and "going broke" is as easy as ruffling a deck. When a man
finds he has two dollars left out of more than two months’ pay and that
it has taken him less than thirty minutes to get down to that mark, he
cannot be censored much if he rails at that Will-o’-the-wisp, the
Goddess of Luck. Put him a good ten days’ ride from home, acquaintances
and money and perhaps he will be justified in adding heat in plenty to
his denunciation.  He had played to win when he should have coppered,
coppered when he should have played to win, he had backed both ends
against the middle and played the high card as well—but only when his
bets were small did the turn show him what he wanted to see.  Perhaps
the case-keeper had hoodooed him, for he never did have any luck at
cards when a tow-headed man had a finger in the game.

Fuming impotently at his helplessness, a man limped across the main
street in Colby, constrained and a little awkward in his new store
clothes and new, squeaking boots that were clumsy with stiffness.  The
only things on him that he could regard as old and tried friends were
the battered sombrero and the heavy, walnut-handled Colt’s .45 which
rubbed comfortably with each movement of his thigh.  The weapon, to be
sure, had a ready cash value—but he could not afford to part with it.
The horse belonged to his ranch, and the saddle must not be sold; to
part with it would be to lose his mark of caste and become a walking
man, which all good punchers despised.

"Ten days from home, knowin’ nobody, two measly dollars in my pocket,
an’ luck dead agin me," he growled with pugnacious pessimism. "Oh, I ’m
a wise old bird, I am!  A h—l of a wise bird.  Real smart an’ cute an’
shiny, a cache of wisdom, a real, bonyfied Smart Aleck with a head full
of spavined brains.  I copper th’ deuce an’ th’ deuce wins; I play th’
King to win for ten dollars when I ought to copper it. I lay two-bits
and it comes right—ten dollars an’ I see my guess go _loco_.  Reckon I
better slip these here twin bucks down in my kill-me-soon boots afore
some blind papoose takes ’em away from me.  Wiser ’n Solomon, I am; I
’ve got old Caesar climbin’ a cactus for pleasure an’ joy.  S-u-c-k-e-r
is my middle name—an’ I ’m busted."

He almost stumbled over a little tray of a three-legged table on the
corner of the street and his face went hard as he saw the layout.  Three
halves of English walnut shells lay on the faded and soiled green cloth
and a blackened, shriveled pea was still rolling from the shaking he had
given the table.  He stopped and regarded it gravely, jingling his two
dollars disconsolately. "Don’t this town do nothin’ else besides
gamble?" he muttered, looking around.

"Howd’y, stranger!" cheerfully cried a man who hastened up.  "Want to
see me fool you?"

The puncher’s anger was aroused to a thin, licking flame; but it passed
swiftly and a cold, calculating look came into his eyes.  He glanced
around swiftly, trying to locate the cappers, but they were not to be
seen, which worried him a little.  He always liked to have possible
danger where he could keep an eye on it.  Perhaps they were eating or
drinking—the thought stirred him again to anger: two dollars would not
feed him very long, nor quench his thirst.

"Pick it out, stranger," invited the proprietor, idly shifting the
shells.  "It’s easy if yo ’re right smart—but lots of folks just can’t
do it; they can’t seem to get th’ hang of it, somehow. That’s why it’s a
bettin’ proposition.  Here it is, right before yore eyes!  One little
pea, three little shells, right here plumb in front of yore eyes!  Th’
little pea hides under one of th’ little shells, right in plain sight:
But can you tell which one?  That’s th’ whole game, right there. See how
it’s done?" and the three little shells moved swiftly but clumsily and
the little pea disappeared.  "Now, then; where would _you_ say it was?"
demanded the hopeful operator, genially.

The puncher gripped his two dollars firmly, shifted his weight as much
as possible on his sound leg, and scowled: he knew where it was. "Do I
look like a kid?  Do you reckon you have to coax like a fool to get me
all primed up to show how re-markably smart an’ quick I am?  You don’t;
I know how smart I am. Say, you ain’t, not by any kinda miracle, a blind
papoose, are you?" he demanded.

"What you mean?" asked the other, smiling as he waited for the joke.  It
did not come, so he continued.  "Don’t take no harm in my fool
wind-jammin’, stranger.  It’s in th’ game. It’s a habit; I ’ve said it
so much I just can’t help it no more—I up an’ says it at a funeral once;
that is, part of it—th’ first part.  That’s dead right!  But I reckon I
’m wastin’ my time—unless you happen to feel coltish an’ hain’t got
nothin’ to do for an age.  I ’ve been playin’ in hard luck th’ last week
or so—you see, I ain’t as good as I uster be.  I ain’t quite so quick,
an’ a little bit off my quickness is a whole lot off my chances.  But
th’ game’s square—an’ that’s a good deal more’n you can say about most
of ’em."

The puncher hesitated, a grin flickering about his thin lips and a calm
joy warming him comfortably.  He knew the operator.  He knew that face,
the peculiar, crescent-shaped scar over one brow, and the big, blue eyes
that years of life had not entirely robbed of their baby-like innocence.
The past, sorted thoroughly and quickly by his memory, shoved out that
face before a crowd of others.  Five years is not a long time to
remember something unpleasant; he had reasons to remember that
countenance.  Knowing the face he also knew that the man had been, at
one time, far from "square."  The associations and means of livelihood
during the past five years, judging from the man’s present occupation,
had not been the kind to correct any evil tendency.  He laid a
forefinger on the edge of the tray.  "Start th’ machinery—I ’ll risk a
couple of dollars, anyhow.  That ain’t much to lose.  I bet two dollars
I can call it right," he said, watching closely.

He won, as he knew he would; and the result told him that the gambler
had not reformed. The dexterous fingers shifting the shells were slower
than others he had seen operate and when he had won again he stopped, as
if to leave. "When I hit town a short time ago I didn’t know I ’d be so
lucky.  I went an’ drawed two months’ pay when I left th’ ranch: I shore
don’t need it.  Shuffle ’em again—it’s yore money, anyhow," he laughed.
"You should ’a’ quit th’ game before you got so slow."

"Goin’ back to work purty soon?" queried the shell-man, wondering how
much this "sucker" had left unspent.

"Not me!  I ’ve only just had a couple of drinks since I hit town—an’
_I_ ’m due to celebrate."

The other’s face gave no hint of his thoughts, which were that the fool
before him had about a hundred dollars on his person.  "Well, luck’s
with you today—you ’ve called it right twice. I ’ll bet you a cool
hundred that you can’t call it th’ third time.  It’s th’ quickness of my
hands agin yore eyes—an’ you can’t beat me three straight.  Make it a
hundred?  I hate to play all day."

"I ’ll lay you my winnings an’ have some more of yore money," replied
the puncher, feverishly. "Ain’t scared, are you?"

"Don’t know what it means to be scared," laughed the other.  "But I
ain’t got no small change, nothin’ but tens.  Play a hundred an’ let’s
have some real excitement."

"Nope; eight or nothin’."

He won again.  "Now, sixteen even.  Come on; I ’ve got you beat."

"But what’s th’ use of stringin’ ’long like that?" demanded the
shell-man.

"Gimme a chance to get my hand in, won’t you?" retorted the puncher.

"Well, all right," replied the gambler, and he lost the sixteen.

"Now thirty," suggested the puncher.  "Next time all I ’ve got, every
red cent.  Once more to practice—then every red," he repeated, shifting
his feet nervously.  "I ’ll clean you out an’ have a real, genuine
blow-out on yore money. Come on, I ’m in a hurry."

"I ’ll fool you _this_ time, by th’ Lord!" swore the gambler, angrily.
"You’ve got more luck than sense.  An’ I ’ll fool you next time, too. Yo
’re quicker ’n most men I ’ve run up agin, but I can beat you, shore as
shootin’.  Th’ game’s square, th’ play fair—my hand agin yore eye.
Ready?  Then watch me!"

He swore luridly and shoved the money across the board to the winner,
bewailing his slowness and getting angrier every moment.  "Yo ’re th’
cussedest man I ever bet agin!  But I’ll get you _this_ time.  You can’t
guess right all th’ time, an’ I know it."

"There she is; sixty-two bucks, three score an’ two simoleons; all I ’ve
got, every cent.  Let’s see you take it away from me!"

The gambler frowned and choked back a curse.  He had risked sixty
dollars to win two, and the fact that he had to let this fool play again
with the fire hurt his pride.  He had no fear for his money—he knew he
could win at every throw—but to play that long for two dollars!  And
suppose the sucker had quit with the sixty!

"Do you get a dollar a month?" he demanded, sarcastically.  "Well, I
reckon you earn it, at that.  Thought you had money, thought you drew
down two months’ pay an’ hain’t had nothin’ more’n two drinks?  Did you
go an’ lose it on th’ way?"

"Oh, I drew it a month ago," replied the sucker, surprised.  "I ’ve only
had two drinks in this town, which I hit ’bout an hour ago.  But I shore
lost a wad playin’ faro-bank agin a towhead.  Come on—lemme take sixty
more of yore money, anyhow."

"Sixty-_two_!" snapped the proprietor, determined to have those two
miserable dollars and break the sucker for revenge.  "Every cent, you
remember."

"_All_ right; I don’t care!  I ain’t no tin-horn," grumbled the other.
"Think I care ’bout two dollars?"  But he appeared to be very nervous,
nevertheless.

"Well, put it on th’ table."

"After you put yourn down."

"There it is.  Now watch me close!"  A gleam of joy flashed up in the
angry man’s eyes as he played with the shells.  "Watch me close! Mebby
it is, an’ mebby it ain’t—th’ game’s square, th’ play ’s fair.  It’s my
hand agin yore eye.  Watch me close!"

"Oh, go ahead!  I’m watchin’, all right. Think I ’d go to sleep now!"

The shifting hands stopped, the shells lay quiet, and the gambler gazed
blankly down the unsympathetic barrel of a Colt.

"Now, Thomas, old thimble-rigger," crisply remarked the supposed sucker
as he cautiously slid the money off the table, to be picked up later
when conditions would be more favorable. "Th’ little pea ain’t under
_no_ shell.  _Stop_! Step back one pace an’ elevate them paws. Don’t
make no more funny motions with that hand, savvy?  But you can drop th’
pea if it hurts them two fingers.  Now we ’ll see if I win; I allus like
to be shore," and he cautiously turned over the shells, revealing
nothing but the dirty green cloth.  "I win; it ain’t there—just like I
thought."

"Who are you, an’ how ’d you know my name?" demanded the gambler,
mentally cursing his two missing cappers.  They were drinking once too
often and things were going to happen in their vicinity, and very soon.

"Why, you took twenty-five dollars from me up in Alameda onct, when I
could n’t afford to lose it," grinned the puncher.  "I was something of
a kid then.  I remember you, all right. My foreman told me about yore
bang-up fight agin th’ Johnson brothers, who gave you that scar.  I
thought then that you were a great man—now I know you ain’t.  I would
n’t ’a’ played at all if I had n’t knowed how crooked you was. Take yore
layout an’ yore crookedness, find th’ pea an’ yore cappers, an’ clear
out.  An’ if anybody asks you if you ’ve seen Hopalong Cassidy you tell
’em I ’m up here in Colby makin’ some easy money beatin’ crooked games.
So-long, an’ _don’t_ look back!"

Hopalong watched him go and then went to the nearest place where he
could get something to eat.  In due time, having disposed of a square
meal, Hopalong called for a drink and a cigar, and sat quietly smoking
for nearly half an hour, so lost in thought that his cigar went out
repeatedly.  As he reviewed his disastrous play at faro many small
details came to him and now he found them interesting.  The dealer was
not a master at his trade and Hopalong had seen many better; in fact the
man was not even second class, and this fact hurt his pride.  He had
played a careful game, and the great majority of his small bets had
won—it was only when he risked twenty or thirty dollars that he lost.
The only big bet that he had been at all lucky on was one where doubles
showed on the turn and he had been split, losing half of his stake.  But
when he had played his last fifty dollars on the Jack, open, the final
blow fell and he had left the table in disgust.

Why weren’t there cue-cards, so the players could keep their own tally
of the cards instead of having to depend on the cue-box kept by the
case-keeper?  This made him suspicious; a crooked dealer and case-keeper
can trim a big bet at will, unless the players keep their own cases or
are exceptionally wise; and even then a really good dealer will get away
with his play nine times out of ten.  While he seldom played a system,
he had backed one that morning; but he was cured of that weakness now.
If the game were square he figured he could get at least an even break;
if crooked, nothing but a gun could beat it, and he had a very good gun.
When he thought of the gun, he reviewed the arrangement of the room and
estimated the weight of the rough, deal table on which rested the faro
layout.  He smiled and turned to the bartender.  "Hey, barkeeper!  Got
any paper an’ a pencil?"

After some rummaging the taciturn dispenser of liquid forget-it produced
the articles in question and Hopalong, drawing some hurried lines, paid
his bill, treated, kept the pencil and headed for the faro game across
the street.

When he entered the room the table was deserted and he nodded to the
dealer as he seated himself at the right of the case-keeper, who now
took his place, and opposite the dealer and the lookout.  He was not
surprised to find no other players in the room, for the hour was wrong;
later in the afternoon there would be many and at night the place would
be crowded.  This suited him perfectly and he settled himself to begin
playing.

When the deck was shuffled and placed in the deal box Hopalong put his
ruled paper in front of him on the table, tallied once against the King
for the soda card and started to play quarters and half dollars.  He
caught the fugitive look that passed between the men as they saw his
cue-card but he gave no sign of having observed it.  After that he never
looked up from the cards while his bets were small.  Two deals did not
alter his money much and he knew that so far the game was straight.  If
it were not to remain straight the crookedness would not come more than
once in a deal if the frame-up was "single-odd" and then not until the
bet was large enough to practically break him.  His high-card play ran
in his favor and kept him gradually drawing ahead.  He lost twice in
calling the last turn and guessed it right once, at four to one, which
made him win in that department of the game.

When the fifth deal began he was quite a little ahead and his play
became bolder, some of the bets going as high as ten dollars.  He broke
even and then played heavier on the following deal.  His first high bet,
twenty dollars, was on the eight, open, only one eight having shown.
Double eights showed on the next turn and he was split, losing half the
stake.

It was about this time that the look-out discovered that Mr. Cassidy was
getting a little excited and several times had nearly forgotten to keep
his cases.  This information was cautiously passed to the dealer and
case-keeper and from then on they evinced a little more interest in the
game.  Finally the player, after studying his cue-card, placed fifty
dollars on the Queen, open, and coppered the deuce, a case-card, and
then put ten more on the high card.  This came in the middle of the game
and he was prepared for trouble as the turn was made, but fortune was
kind to him and he raked in sixty dollars. He was mildly surprised that
he had won, but explained it to himself by thinking that the stakes were
not yet high enough.  From then on he was keenly alert, for the
crookedness would come soon if it ever did, but he strung small sums on
the next dozen turns and waited for a new deal before plunging.

As the dealer shuffled the cards the door opened and closed noisily and
a surprised and doubting voice exclaimed: "Ain’t you Hopalong Cassidy?
Cassidy, of th’ Bar-20?"

Hopalong glanced up swiftly and back to the cards again: "Yes; what of
it?"

"Oh, nothin’.  I saw you onct an’ I wondered if I was right."

"Ain’t got time now; see you later, mebby. You might stick around
outside so I can borrow some money if I go broke."  The man who knew Mr.
Cassidy silently faded, but did not stick around, thereby proving that
the player knew human nature and also how to get rid of a pest.

When the dealer heard the name he glanced keenly at the owner of it,
exchanged significant looks with the case-keeper and faltered for an
instant as he shoved the cards together.  He was not sure that he had
shuffled them right, and an anxious look came into his eyes as he
realized that the deal must go on.  It was far from reassuring to set
out to cheat a man so well known for expert short-gun work as the Bar-20
puncher and he wished he could be relieved.  There was no other dealer
around at that time of the day and he had to go through with it.  He did
not dare to shuffle again and chance losing the card beyond hope, and
for the reason that the player was watching him like a hawk.

A ten lay face up on the deck and Hopalong, tallying against it on his
sheet, began to play small sums.  Luck was variable and remained so
until the first twenty dollar bet, when he reached out excitedly and
raked in his winnings, his coat sleeve at the same time brushing the
cue-card off the table.  But he had forgotten all about the tally sheet
in his eagerness to win and played several more cards before he noticed
it was missing and sought for it.  Smothering a curse he glanced at the
case-keeper’s tally and went on with the play.  He did not see the look
of relief that showed momentarily on the faces of the dealer and his
associates, but he guessed it.

He had no use for cue-cards when he felt like doing without them; he
liked to see them in use by the players because it showed the game to be
more or less straight, and it also saved him from over-heating his
memory.  When he had brushed his tally sheet off the table he knew what
he was doing, and he knew every card that had been drawn out of the box.
So far he had seen no signs of cheating and he wished to give the dealer
a chance.  There should now remain in the deal box three cards, a deuce,
five and a four, with a Queen in sight as the last winner. He knew this
to be true because he had given all his attention to memorizing the
cards as they showed in the deal box, and had made his bets small so he
would not have to bother about them. As he had lost three times on a
four he now believed it was due to win.

Taking all his money he placed it on the four: "Two hundred and seventy
on th’ four to win," he remarked, crisply.

The dealer sniffed almost inaudibly and the case-keeper prepared to
cover him on the cue-rack under cover of the excitement of the turn. If
the four lay under the Queen, Cassidy lost; if not he either won or was
in hock.  The dealer was unusually grave as he grasped the deal box to
make the turn and as the Queen slid off a five-spot showed.

The dealer’s hand trembled as he slid the five off, showing a four, and
a winner for Hopalong. He went white—he had bungled the shuffle in his
indecision and now he did n’t know what might develop.  And in his
agitation he exposed the hock card before he realized what he was doing,
and showed another five.  He had made the mistake of showing the "odd."

Hopalong, ready for trouble, was more prepared than the others and he
was well under way before they started.  His left hand swung hard
against the case-keeper’s jaw, his Colt roared at the drawing bartender,
crumpling the trouble-hunter into a heap on the floor dazed from shock
of a ball that "creased" his head.  He had done this as he sprang to his
feet and his left hand, dropping swiftly to the heavy table, threw it
over onto the lookout and the dealer at the instant their hands found
their guns.  Caught off their balance they went down under it and before
they could move sufficiently to do any damage, Hopalong vaulted the
table and kicked their guns out of their hands.  When they realized just
what had happened a still-smoking Colt covered them.  Many of Hopalong’s
most successful and spectacular plays had been less carefully thought
out beforehand than this one and he laughed sneeringly as he looked at
the men who had been so greedy as to try to clean him out the second
time.

"Get up!" he snarled.

They crawled out of their trap and sullenly obeyed his hand, backing
against the wall.  The case-keeper was still unconscious and Hopalong,
disarming him, dragged him to the wall with the others.

"I wondered where that deuce had crawled to," Mr. Cassidy remarked,
grimly, "an’ I was goin’ to see, only it’s plain now.  I knowed you was
clumsy, but my G—d!  Any man as can’t deal ’single-odd’ ought to quit
th’ business, or play straight.  So you had five fives agin me, eh?
Instead of keepin’ th’ five under th’ Queen, you bungled th’ deuce in
its place.  When you went to pull off th’ Queen an’ five like they was
one card, you had th’ deuce under her.  You see, I keep cases in my old
red head an’ I did n’t have to believe what th’ cue-rack was all fixed
to show me.  An’ I was waitin’, all ready for th’ play that ’d make me
lose.

"As long as this deal was framed up, we ’ll say it was this mornin’.
You cough up th’ hundred an’ ten I lost then, an’ another hundred an’
ten that I ’d won if it was n’t crooked.  An’ don’t forget that
two-seventy I just pulled down, neither.  Make it in double eagles an’
don’t be slow ’bout it.  Money or lead—with _you_ callin’ th’ turn."  It
was not a very large amount and it took only a moment to count it out.
The eleven double eagles representing the mornin’s play seemed to slide
from the dealer’s hand with reluctance—but a man lives only once, and
they slid without stopping.

The winner, taking the money, picked up the last money he had bet and,
distributing it over his person to equalize the weight, gathered up the
guns from the floor.  Backing toward the door he noticed that the
bartender moved and a keen glance at that unfortunate assured him that
he would live.

When he reached the door he stopped a moment to ask a question, the
tenseness of his expression relaxing into a broad, apologetic grin.
"Would you mind tellin’ me where I can find some more frame-ups?  I
shore can use th’ money."

The mumbled replies mentioned a locality not to be found on any map of
the surface of the globe, and grinning still more broadly, Mr. Cassidy
side-stepped and disappeared to find his horse and go on his way
rejoicing.



                                  VIII

                              THE NORTHER


Johnny knew I had a notebook crammed with the stories his friends had
told me; but Johnny, being a wise youth, also knew that there was always
room for one more.  Perhaps that explains his sarcasm, for, as he calmly
turned his back on his fuming friend, he winked at me and sauntered off,
whistling cheerfully.

Red spread his feet apart, jammed his fists against his thighs and
stared after the youngster. His expression was a study and his open
mouth struggled for a retort, but in vain.  After a moment he shook his
head and slowly turned to me.  "Hear th’ fool?  He ’s from _Idyho_, he
is. It never gets cold nowhere else on earth.  Ain’t it terrible to be
so ignorant?"  He glanced at the bunkhouse, into which Johnny had gone
for dry clothing.  "So I ain’t never seen no cold weather?" he mused
thoughtfully.  Snapping his fingers irritably, he wheeled toward the
corral.  "I ’m goin’ down to look at th’ dam—there ’s been lots of water
leanin’ ag’in it th’ last week.  Throw th’ leather on Saint, if you
wants, an’ come along.  I ’ll tell you about some cold weather that had
th’ _Idyho_ brand faded.  _Cold_ weather!  Huh!"

As he swung past the bunkhouse we saw Johnny and Billy Jordan leaning in
the doorway ragging each other, as cubs will.  Johnny grinned at Red and
executed a one-hand phrase of the sign language that is universally
known, which Red returned with a chuckle.  "Wish he ’d been here th’
time God took a hand in a big game on this ranch," he said.  "I ’m minus
two toes on each foot in consequence thereof.  They can’t scare me none
by preachin’ a red-hot hell.  No, sir; not any."

He was silent a moment.  "Mebby it ain’t so bad when a feller is used to
it; but we ain’t. An’ it frequent hits us goin’ over th’ fence, with
both feet off th’ ground.  Anyhow, that Norther was n’t no storm—it was
th’ attendant agitation caused by th’ North Pole visitin’ th’ Gulf.

"Cowan had just put Buckskin on th’ map by buildin’ th’ first shack.
John Bartlett an’ Shorty Jones, d—n him, was startin’ th’ Double Arrow
with two hundred head.  When th’ aforementioned agitation was over they
had less ’n one hundred.  We lost a lot of cows, too; but our range is
sheltered good, an’ that rock wall down past Meeker’s bunkhouse stopped
our drifts, though lots of th’ cows died there.

"We ’d had a mild winter for two weeks, an’ a lot of rain.  We was
chirpin’ like li’l fool birds about winter bein’ over.  Ever notice how
many times winter is over before it is?  But Buck did n’t think so; an’
he shore can smell weather. We was also discussin’ a certain campin’
party Jimmy had discovered across th’ river.  Jimmy was at th’ bunkhouse
that shift an’ he was a great hand for snoopin’ around kickin’ up
trouble. He reports there’s twelve in th’ party an’ they ’re camped back
of Split Hill.  Now, Split Hill is no place for a camp, even in th’
summer; an’ what got us was th’ idea of campin’ at all in th’ winter.
It riled Buck till he forgot to cross off three days on th’ calendar,
which we later discovered by help of th’ almanac an’ th’ moon. Buck
sends Hoppy over to scout around Split Hill.  You know Hoppy.  He
scouted for two days without bein’ seen, an’ without discoverin’ any
lawful an’ sane reason why twelve hard-lookin’ fellers should be campin’
back of Split Hill in th’ winter time.  He also found they had come from
th’ south, an’ he swore there was n’t no cow tracks leadin’ toward them
from our range.  But there was lots of hoss tracks back and forth.  An’
when he reports that th’ campers had left an’ gone on north we all feel
better.  Then he adds they turned east below th’ Double Arrow an’ went
back south again. That’s different.  It’s plain to some of us they was
lookin’ us over for future use; learnin’ our ways an’ th’ lay of th’
land.  There was seven of us at th’ time, but we could ’a’ licked ’em in
a fair fight.

"In them days we only had two line houses. Number One was near Big
Coulee, with Cowan’s at th’ far end of its fifteen miles of north line;
th’ west line was a twenty-five-mile ride south to Lookout Peak.  Number
Two was where th’ Jumpin’ Bear empties into th’ river, now part of
Meeker’s range.  From it th’ riders went west twenty-five miles to th’
Peak an’ north from it twenty-five miles along th’ east line.  There was
a hundred thousan’ acres in Conroy Valley an’ thirty thousan’ in th’
Meeker triangle, which made up Section Two.  At that time mebby ten
thousan’ cows was on this section—two-thirds of all of ’em.  When we
built Number Three on th’ Peak this section was cut down to a reasonable
size.  Th’ third headquarters then was th’ bunkhouse, with only th’ east
line to ride.  One part, th’ shortest, ran north to Cowan’s; th’ other
run about seventeen miles south to Li’l Timber, where th’ line went on
as part of Number Two’s. We paired off an’ had two weeks in each of ’em
in them days.

"When we shifted at th’ end of that week Jimmy Price an’ Ace Fisher got
Number One; Skinny an’ Lanky was in Number Two; an’ me an’ Buck an’
Hoppy took life easy in th’ bunkhouse, with th’ cook to feed us.  Buck,
he scouted all over th’ ranch between th’ lines an’ worked harder than
any of us, spendin’ his nights in th’ nearest house.

"One mornin’, about a week after th’ campers left, Buck looked out of
th’ bunkhouse door an’ cautions me an’ Hoppy to ride prepared for cold
weather.  I can see he ’s worried, an’ to please him we straps a blanket
an’ a buffalo robe behind our saddles, cussin’ th’ size of ’em under our
breath.  I ’ve got th’ short ride that day, an’ Buck says he ’ll wait
for me to come back, after which we ’ll scout around Medicine Bend. He
’s still worried about them campers.  In th’ Valley th’ cows are thicker
’n th’ other parts of th’ range, an’ it would n’t take no time to get a
big herd together.  He ’s got a few things to mend, so he says he ’ll do
th’ work before I get back.

"Down on Section Two things is happenin’ fast, like they mostly do out
here.  Twelve rustlers can do a lot if they have things planned, an’
’most any fair plan will work once.  They only wanted one day—after that
it would be a runnin’ fight, with eight or nine of ’em layin’ back to
hold us off while th’ others drove th’ cows hard.  Why, Slippery
Trendley an’ Tamale Jose was th’ only ones that ever slid across our
lines with that many men.

"Three rustlers slipped up to Number Two at night an’ waited.  When
Skinny opened th’ door in th’ mornin’ he was drove back with a hole in
his shoulder.  Then there was h—l a-poppin’ in that li’l mud shack.  But
it did n’t do no good, for neither of ’em could get out alive until
after dark.  They learned that with sorrow, an’ pain. An’ they shore was
het up about it.  Ace Fisher, ridin’ along th’ west line from Number
One, was dropped from ambush.  Two more rustlers lay back of Medicine
Bend lookin’ for any of us that might ride down from the bunkhouse.  An’
they sent two more over to Li’l Timber to lay under that ledge of rock
that sticks out of th’ south side of th’ bluff like a porch roof.
Either me or Hoppy would be ridin’ that way.  They stacked th’ deck
clever; but Providence cut it square.

"Th’ first miss-cue comes when a pert gray wolf lopes past ahead of
Hoppy when he ’s quite some distance above Li’l Timber.  This gray wolf
was a whopper, an’ Hoppy was all set to get him.  He wanted that sassy
devil more ’n he wanted money just then, so he starts after it. Mr. Gray
Wolf leads him a long chase over th’ middle of th’ range an’ then
suddenly disappears. Hoppy hunts around quite a spell, an’ then heads
back for th’ line.  While he’s huntin’ for th’ wolf it gets cold, an’ it
keeps on gettin’ colder fast.

"Me, I leaves later ’n usual that mornin’.  An’ I don’t get to Cowan’s
until late.  I ’m there when I notices how cussed cold it’s got all of a
sudden.  Cowan looks at his thermometer, which Jimmy later busts, an’
says she has gone down thirty degrees since daylight.  He gives me a
bottle of liquor Buck wanted, an’ I ride west along th’ north line,
hopin’ to meet Jimmy or Ace for a short talk.

"All at once I notice somebody ’s pullin’ a slate-covered blanket over
th’ north sky, an’ I drag _my_ blanket out an’ wrap it around me. I ’m
gettin’ blamed cold, an’ also a li’l worried. Shall I go back to Cowan’s
or head straight for th’ bunkhouse?  Cowan’s the nearest by three miles,
but what’s three miles out here?  It’s got a lot colder than it was when
I was at Cowan’s, an’ while I ’m debatin’ about it th’ wind dies out. I
look up an’ see that th’ slate-covered blanket has traveled fast.  It’s
’most over my head, an’ th’ light is gettin’ poor.  When I look down
again I notice my cayuses’s ears movin’ back an’ forth, an’ he starts
pawin’ an’ actin’ restless. That settles it.  I ’m backin’ instinct just
then, an’ I head for home.  I ain’t cussin’ that blanket none now, an’ I
’m glad I got th’ robe handy; an’ that quart of liquor ain’t bulky no
more.

"All at once th’ bottom falls out of that lead sky, an’ flakes as big as
quarters sift down so fast they hurts my eyes, an’ so thick I can’t see
twenty feet.  In ten minutes everythin’ is white, an’ in ten more I ’m
in a strange country.  My hands an’ feet ache with cold, an’ I ’m
drawin’ th’ blanket closer, when there ’s a puff of wind so cold it cuts
into my back like a knife.  It passes quick, but it don’t fool me.  I
know what’s behind it.  I reach for th’ robe an’ has it ’most unfastened
when there ’s a roar an’ I ’m ’most unseated by th’ wind before I can
get set. I did n’t know then that it’s goin’ to blow that hard for three
days, an’ it’s just as well.  It’s full of ice—li’l slivers that are
sharp as needles an’ cut an’ sting till they make th’ skin raw.  I let
loose of th’ robe an’ tie my bandanna around my face, so my nose an’
mouth is covered.  My throat burns already almost to my lungs.  Good
Lord, but it _is_ cold!  My hands are stiff when I go back for th’ robe,
an’ it’s all I can do to keep it from blowin’ away from me.  It takes me
a long time to get it over th’ blanket, an’ my hands are ’most froze
when it’s fastened.  That was a good robe, but it did n’t make much
difference that day.  Th’ cold cuts through it an’ into my back as if it
was n’t there.  My feet are gettin’ worse all th’ time, an’ it ain’t
long before I ain’t got none, for th’ achin’ stops at th’ ankles. Purty
soon only my knees ache, an’ I know it won’t be long till they won’t
ache no more.

"I ’m squirmin’ in my clothes tryin’ to rub myself warm when I remember
that flask of liquor.  Th’ cork was out far enough for my teeth to get
at it, an’ I drink a quarter of it quick. It’s an awful load—any other
time it would ’a’ knocked me cold, for Cowan sold a lot worse stuff then
than he does now.  But it don’t phase me, except for takin’ most of th’
linin’ out of my mouth an’ throat.  It warms me a li’l, an’ it makes my
knees ache a li’l harder.  But it don’t last long—th’ cold eats through
me just as hard as ever a li’l later, an’ then I begin to see things an’
get sleepy.  Cows an’ cayuses float around in th’ air, an’ I ’m countin’
money, piles of it. I get warm an’ drowsy an’ find myself noddin’. That
scares me a li’l, an’ I fight hard ag’in it. If I go to sleep it’s all
over.  It keeps gettin’ worse, an’ I finds my eyes shuttin’ more an’
more frequent, an’ more an’ more frequent thinkin’ I don’t care, anyhow.
An’ so I drifts along pullin’ at th’ bottle till it’s empty.  That
should ’a’ killed me, then an’ there—but it don’t even make me real
drunk.  Mebby I spilled some of it, my hands bein’ nothin’ but sticks.
I can’t see more ’n five feet now, an’ my eyes water, which freezes on
’em.  I ’ve given up all hope of hearin’ any shootin’.  So I close th’
peekhole in th’ blanket an’ robe, drawin’ ’em tight to keep out some of
th’ cold.  I am sittin’ up stiff in th’ saddle, like a soldier, just
from force of habit, and after a li’l while I don’t know nothin’ more.
Pete says I was a corpse, froze stiff as a ramrod, an’ he calls me ghost
for a long time in fun. But Pete was n’t none too clear in his head
about that time.

"Down at Li’l Timber, Hoppy managed to get under th’ shelter of that
projectin’ ledge of rock on th’ south side of th’ bluff.  Th’ snow an’
ice is whirlin’ under it because of a sort of back draft, but th’ wind
don’t hit so hard.  He ’s fightin’ that cayuse every foot, tryin’ to get
to th’ cave at th’ west end, an’ disputin’ th’ right of way with th’
cows that are packed under it.

There ’s firewood under that ledge an’ there ’s food on th’ hoof, an’
snow water for drink; so if he can make th’ cave he ’s safe.  He ’s more
worried about his supply of smokin’ tobacco than anythin’ else, so far
as he ’s concerned.

"All at once he runs onto four men huddled half-froze in a bunch right
ahead of him.  He knows in a flash who they are, an’ he draws
fumblingly, an’ holds th’ gun in his two hands, they are so cold.  One
clean hit an’ five clean misses in twenty feet!  They’re gropin’ for
their guns when a sudden gust of wind whirls down from th’ top of th’
hill, pilin’ snow an’ ice on ’em till they can’t see nor breathe.  An’ a
couple of old trees come down to make things nicer.  Hoppy is blinded,
an’ when he gets so he can see again there’s one rustler’s arm stickin’
up out of th’ snow, but no signs of th’ other three.  They blundered out
into th’ open tryin’ to get away from th’ stuff comin’ down on ’em, an’
that means they won’t be back no more.

"Hoppy manages to get to th’ cave, tie his cayuse to a fallen tree, an’
gather enough firewood for a good blaze, which he puts in front of th’
cave.  It takes him a long time to use up his matches one by one, an’
then he pulls th’ lead out of a cartridge with his teeth, shakes th’
powder loose in it an’ along th’ barrel.  Usin’ his cigarette papers for
tinder he gets th’ fire started an’ goin’ good an’ is feelin’ some
cheerful when he remembers th’ three rustlers driftin’ south.  They was
bound to hit a big arroyo that would lead ’em almost ag’in’ Number Two’s
door. With th’ wind drivin’ ’em straight for it, Hoppy thinks it might
mean trouble for Lanky or Skinny.  He did n’t think about ’em only
havin’ wool-lined slickers on, or he ’d ’a’ knowed they couldn’t live
till they got halfway.  They left their blankets in camp so they could
work fast.

"People have called us clannish, an’ said we was a lovin’ bunch’ because
we stick together so tight.  We ’ve faced so much together that us of
th’ old bunch has got th’ same blood in our veins.  We ain’t eight
men—we ’re one man in eight different kinds of bodies.  G—d help anybody
that tries to make us less!  It’s one thing to stand up an’ swap shots
with a gunman; but it’s another to turn yore back on a cave an’ a fire
like that an’ go out into what is purty nigh shore death on a long
chance of helpin’ a couple of friends that was able to take care of
themselves.  That’s one of th’ things that explains why we made Shorty
Jones an’ his eleven men pay with their lives for takin’ Jimmy’s life.
Twelve for one!  That fight at Buckskin ain’t generally understood, even
by our friends.  An’ Hoppy crowns his courage twice in that one storm.
Ain’t he an old son-of-a-gun?

"He leaves that fire an’ forces his cayuse to take him out in th’ storm
again, finds that th’ arroyo is level full of snow, but has both banks
swept bare.  He passes them three rustlers in th’ next ten minutes—they
won’t do no more cow-liftin’.  Then he tries to turn back, but that’s
foolish.  So he drifts on, gettin’ a li’l loco by now.  He ’s purty near
asleep when he thinks he hears a shot.  He fights his cayuse again, but
can’t stop it, so he falls off an’ lets it drift, an’ crawls an’ fights
his way back to where that shot was fired from.  G—d only knows how he
does it, but he falls over a cow an’ sees Lanky huggin’ its belly for
th’ li’l warmth in th’ carcass.  An’ he ought to ’a’ found him, after
leavin’ his cayuse an’ turnin’ back on foot in that h—l storm!  Th’
drifts was beginnin’ to make then—when th’ storm was over I saw drifts
thirty feet high in th’ open; an’ in th’ valley there was some that run
’most to th’ top of th’ bluffs, an’ they’re near sixty feet high.

"Well, Lanky is as crazy as him, an’ won’t let go of that cow, an’ they
have a fight, which is good for both of ’em.  Finally Lanky gets some
sense in his head an’ realizes what Hoppy is tryin’ to do for him, an’
they go staggerin’ down wind, first one fallin’ an’ then th’ other. But
they keep fightin’ like th’ game boys they are, neither givin’ a cuss
for himself, but shore obstinate that he ’s goin’ to get th’ other out
of it.  That’s _our_ spirit; an’ we ’re proud of it, by G—d!  Hoppy
wraps th’ robe around Lanky, an’ so they stagger on, neither one knowin’
very much by that time.  Th’ Lord must ’a’ pitied that pair, an’ admired
th’ stuff He ’d put in ’em, for they bump into th’ line house kerslam,
an’ drop, all done an’ exhausted.

"Meanwhile Skinny’s hoppin’ around inside, prayin’ an’ cussin’ by
streaks, every five minutes openin’ th’ door an’ firm’ off his Colt.  He
has tied th’ two ropes together, an’ frequent he ties one end to th’
door, th’ other to hisself, an’ goes out pokin’ around in th’ snow,
hopin’ to stumble over his pardner.  He ’s plumb forgot his bad shoulder
long ago.  Purty soon he opens th’ door again to shoot off th’ gun, an’
in streaks somethin’ between his laigs.  He slams th’ door as he jumps
aside, an’ then looks scared at Lanky’s sombrero!  Mebby he’s slow
hoppin’ outside an’ diggin’ them out of th’ drift that’s near covered
’em!  Now, don’t think bad of Skinny.  He dass n’t leave th’ house to
search any distance, even if he could ’a’ seen anythin’. His best play
is to stick there an’ shoot off his gun—Lanky might drift past if he was
not there to signal.  Skinny thought more of Lanky any time than he did
of hisself, th’ emaciated match!

"It don’t take long to kick in a lot of snow with that wind blowin’ an’
he rubs them two till he ’s got tears in his eyes.  Then he fills ’em
with hot stew an’ whisky, rolls ’em up together an’ heaves ’em in th’
same bunk.  It ain’t warm enough in that house, even with th’ fire
goin’, to make ’em lose no arms or laigs.

"It seems that Lanky, watchin’ his chance as soon as th’ snow fell heavy
enough to cover his movements, slipped out of th’ house an’ started to
circle out around them festive rustlers that held him an’ his friend
prisoners.  He made Skinny stay behind to hold th’ house an’ keep a gun
poppin’.  Lanky has worked up behind where th’ rustlers was layin’ when
th’ Norther strikes full force.  It near blows him over, an’, not havin’
on nothin’ but an old army overcoat that was wore out, th’ cold gets him
quick.  He can’t see, an’ he can’t hear Skinny’s shots no more!  He does
th’ best he can an’ tries to fight back along his trail, but in no time
there ain’t no tracks to follow.  Then he loses his head an’ starts
wanderin’ until a cow blunders down on him.  He shoots th’ cow an’ hugs
its belly to keep warm an’ then he don’t really remember nothin’ ’till
he wakes up in th’ bunk alongside of Hoppy, both gettin’ over an awful
drunk. Skinny kept feedin’ liquor to ’em till it was gone, an’ he had a
plenty when he began.

"Jimmy Price was at Number One when th’ blow started, an’ Buck was in
th’ bunkhouse, an’ it was three weeks before they could get out an’
around, on account of th’ snow fallin’ so steady an’ hard they could n’t
see nothin’.

"Well, getting back to me explains how Pete Wilson came to th’ Bar-20.
He is migratin’ south, just havin’ had th’ pleasure of learnin’ that his
wife sloped with a better-lookin’ man. He was scared she might get tired
of th’ other feller an’ sift back, so he sells out his li’l store, loads
a waggin with blankets, grub, an’ firewood, an’ starts south, winter or
no winter.  He moves fast for a new range, where he can make a new
beginnin’ an’ start life fresh, with five years of burnin’ matrimonial
experience as his valuablest asset.  Pete says he reckoned mebby he
would n’t have so many harness sores if he run single th’ rest of his
life; heretofore he ’d been so busy applyin’ salve that he did n’t have
time to find out just what was th’ trouble with th’ double harness.
Lots of men feel that way, but they ain’t got Pete’s unlovely outspoken
habit of thought.  We used to reckon mebby he was n’t as smart as th’
rest of us, him bein’ slow an’ blunderin’ in his retorts.  We ’ve played
that with coppers lots of times since, though.  While he ain’t what you
’d call quick at retortin’, his retorts usually is heard by th’ whole
county.  It ain’t every collar-galled husband that’s got th’ gumption or
smartness to jump th’ minute th’ hat is lifted.  Pete had.

"He’s drivin’ across our range, an’ when th’ wind dies out sudden an’
th’ snow sifts down, he ’s just smart enough to get out his beddin’ an’
wrap it around him till he looks like a bale of cotton.  An’ even at
that he ’s near froze an’ lookin’ for a place to make a stand when he
feels a bump.  It’s me, fallin’ off my cayuse, against his front wheel.
He emerges from his beddin’, lifts me into th’ waggin, puts most of his
blankets around me, an’ stops.  Knowin’ he can’t save th’ cayuses, he
shoots ’em.  That means grub for us, anyhow, if we run short of th’ good
stuff.  Nobody but Pete could ’a’ got th’ canvas off that waggin in such
a gale, but he did it.  He busts th’ arches an’ slats off th’ top of th’
waggin an’ uses ’em for firewood.  Th’ canvas he drapes over th’ box,
lettin’ it hang down on both sides to th’ ground.  An’ in about five
minutes th’ whole thing was covered over with snow.  Pete ’s the
strongest man we ever saw, an’ we ’ve seen some good ones.  Wrastlin’
that canvas with stiff hands was a whole lot more than what he done to
Big Sandy up there on Thunder Mesa.

"Pete says I was dead when he grabbed me, an’ smellin’ disgraceful of
liquor.  But th’ first thing I know is lookin’ up in th’ gloom at a
ceilin’ that’s right close to my head, an’ at a sorta rafter.  That
rafter gives me a shock.  It don’t even touch th’ ceilin’, but runs
along ’most a foot below it.  I close my eyes an’ do a lot of thinkin’.
I remember freezin’ to death, but that’s all.  An’ just then I hears a
faint voice say: ’He shore was dead.’  I don’t know Pete then, or that
he talked to hisself sometimes.  An’ I reckon I was a li’l off in my
head, at that.  I begin to wonder if he means me, an’ purty soon I ’m
shore of it.  An’ don’t I sympathize with myself?  I ’m dead an’ gone
somewhere; but no preacher I ever heard ever described no place like
this.  Then I smell smoke an’ burnin’ meat—which gives me a clew to th’
range I ’m on. Mebby I ’m shelved in th’ ice box, waitin’ my turn, or
somethin’.  I knew I ’d led a sinful life. But there wasn’t no use of
rubbin’ it in—it’s awful to be dead an’ know it.

"Th’ next time I opens my eyes I can’t see nothin’; but I can feel
somethin’ layin’ alongside of me.  It’s breathin’ slow an’ regular, an
it bothers me till I get th’ idea all of a sudden. It’s another dead
one, cut out of th’ herd an’ shoved in my corral to wait for subsequent
events.  I felt sorry for him, an’ lay there tryin’ to figger it out,
an’ I ’m still figgerin’ when it starts to get light.  Th’ other feller
grunts an’ sits up, bumpin’ his head solid against that fool rafter.  No
dead man that was shoved in a herd consigned to heaven ever used such
language, which makes me all the shorer of where I am. But if hell’s hot
we ’ve still got a long way to go.

"He sits there rubbin’ his head an’ cussin’ steadily, an’ I ’m so moved
by it that I compliments him.  He jumps an’ bumps his head again, an’
looks at me close.  ’D—d if you ain’t a husky corpse,’ he says.  That
settles it.  I ain’t crazy, like I was hopin’, but I ’in dead. ’You an’
me is on th’ ragged edge of h—l,’ he adds.

"’But who tipped _you_ off?’ I asks.  ’They just shoved me in here an’
did n’t tell me nothin’ at all.’

"’Crazy as th’ devil,’ he grunts, lookin’ at me harder.

"’Yo ’re a liar,’ I replies.  ’I may be dead, but d—d if I ’m crazy!’

"’An’ I don’t blame you, either,’ he mused, sorrowful.  ’Now you keep
quiet till I gets somethin’ to eat,’ an’ he crawls into a li’l round
hole at th’ other end of th’ room.

"Purty soon I smell smoke again, an’ after a long time he comes back
with some hot coffee an’ burned meat.  I grab for th’ grub, an’ while I
’m eatin’ I demands to know where I am.

"He laughs, real cheerful, an’ tells me.  I ’m under his waggin,
surrounded by canvas an’ any G—d’s quantity of snow.  Th’ drift over us
is fifteen foot high, th’ wind has died down, an’ it’s still snowin’ so
hard he can’t see twenty feet. It is also away down below freezin’.

"We stayed under that drift ’most three weeks, livin’ on raw meat after
our firewood gave out.  We didn’t suffer none from th’ cold, though,
under all that snow an’ with all th’ blankets we had.  When it stopped
snowin’ we discovered a drift shamefully high about a mile northeast of
us, an’ from th’ smoke comin’ out of it I knew it was th’ bunkhouse.

"Well, to cut it short, it was.  An’ mebby Buck wasn’t glad to see me!
He was worried ’most sick an’ as soon as we could, we got cayuses and
started out to look for th’ others, scared stiff at what we expected to
find."

He paused and was silent a moment.  "But only Ace was missin’," he
added.  "We found him an’ th’ rustlers later, when th’ snow went off."

He paused again and shook his head.  "It shore was a miracle that we did
n’t go with ’em, all of us, except Buck.  Pete was so plumb disgusted
with travelin’ in th’ winter, an’ had lost his cayuses, that when Buck
offers him Ace’s bunk he stays.  An’ he ain’t never left us since. Huh!
Cold?  That cub don’t know nothin’—mebby he will when he grows up, but I
dunno, at that.  _Idyho_!"



                                   IX

                               THE DRIVE


The Norther was a thing of the past, but it left its mark on Buck
Peters, whose grimness of face told what the winter had been to him.
His daily rides over the range, the reports of his men since that deadly
storm had done a great deal to lift the sagging weight that rested on
his shoulders; but he would not be sure until the round-up supplied
facts and figures.

That the losses had not been greater he gave full credit to the valley
with its arroyos, rock walls, draws, heavily grassed range and groves of
timber; for the valley, checking the great southward drift by its steep
ridges of rock, sheltered the herds in timber and arroyos and fed them
on the rich profusion of its grasses, which, by some trick of the
rushing winds, had been whirled clean of snow.

But over the cow-country, north, east, south and west, where vast ranges
were unprotected against the whistling blasts from the north, the losses
had been stupendous, appalling, stunning. Outfits had been driven on and
on before the furious winds, sleepy and apathetic, drifting steadily
southward in the white, stinging shroud to a drowsy death.  Whole herds,
blindly moving before the wind, left their weaker units in constantly
growing numbers to mark the trail, and at last lay down to a sleep
eternal.  And astonishing and incredible were the distances traveled by
some of those herds.

Following the Norther came another menace and one which easily might
surpass the worst efforts of the blizzard.  Warm winds blew steadily, a
hot sun glared down on the snow-covered plain and then came torrents of
rain which continued for days, turning the range into a huge expanse of
water and mud and swelling the water-courses with turgid floods that
swirled and roared above their banks.  Should this be quickly followed
by cold, even the splendid valley would avail nothing.  Ice, forming
over the grasses, would prove as deadly as a pestilence; the cattle,
already weakened by the hardships of the Norther, and not having the
instinct to break through the glassy sheet and feed on the grass
underneath, would search in vain for food, and starve to death.  The
week that followed the cessation of the rains started gray hairs on the
foreman’s head; but a warm, constant sun and warm winds dried off the
water before the return of freezing weather.  The herds were saved.

Relieved, Buck reviewed the situation.  The previous summer had seen
such great northern drives to the railroad shipping points in Kansas
that prices fell until the cattlemen refused to sell.  Rather than drive
home again, the great herds were wintered on the Kansas ranges, ready to
be hurled on the market when Spring came with better prices.  Many
ranches, mortgaged heavily to buy cattle, had been on the verge of
bankruptcy, hoping feverishly for better prices the following year.
Buck had taken advantage of the situation to stock his ranch at a cost
far less than he had dared to dream.  Then came the Norther and in the
three weeks of devastating cold and high winds the Kansas ranges were
swept clean of cattle, and even the ranges in the South were badly
crippled.  Knowing this, Buck also knew that the following Spring would
show record high prices.  If he had the cattle he could clean up a
fortune for his ranch; and if his herd was the first big one to reach
the railroad at Sandy Creek it would practically mean a bonus on every
cow.

Under the long siege of uncertainty his impatience smashed through and
possessed him as a fever and he ordered the calf round-up three weeks
earlier than it ever had been held on the ranch.  There was no need of
urging his men to the task—they, like himself, sprang to the call like
springs freed from a restraining weight, and the work went on in a fever
of haste.  And he took his place on the firing line and worked even
harder than his outfit of fanatics.

One day shortly after the work began a stranger rode up to him and
nodded cheerfully. "Li’l early, ain’t you?"  Buck grunted in reply and
sent Skinny off at top speed to close a threatened gap in the lengthy
driving line.  "Goin’ to git ’em on th’ trail early this year?"
persisted the stranger.  Buck, swayed by some swift intuition, changed
his reply.  "Oh, I dunno; I ’m mainly anxious to see just what that
storm did.  An’ I hate th’ calf burnin’ so much I allus like to get it
over quick."  He shouted angrily at the cook and waved his arms
frantically to banish the chuck wagon.  "He can make more trouble with
that waggin than anybody I ever saw," he snorted.  "Get out of there,
you fool!" he yelled, dashing off to see his words obeyed.  The cook,
grinning cheerfully at his foreman’s language and heat, forthwith chose
a spot that was not destined to be the center of the cut-out herd. And
when Buck again thought of the stranger he saw a black dot moving toward
the eastern skyline.

The crowded days rolled on, measured full from dawn to dark, each one of
them a panting, straining, trying ordeal.  Worn out, the horses were
turned back into the temporary corral or to graze under the eyes of the
horse wranglers, and fresh ones took up their work; and woe unto the
wranglers if the supply fell below the demand. For the tired men there
was no relief, only a shifting in the kind of work they did, and they
drove themselves with grave determination, their iron wills overruling
their aching bodies.  First came the big herds in the valley; then,
sweeping north, they combed the range to the northern line in one grand,
mad fury of effort that lasted day after day until the tally man
joyously threw away his chewed pencil and gladly surrendered the last
sheet to the foreman.  The first half of the game was over.  Gone as if
it were a nightmare was the confusion of noise and dust and cows that
hid a remarkable certainty of method. But as if to prove it not a dream,
four thousand cows were held in three herds on the great range, in
charge of the extra men.

Buck, leading the regular outfit from the north line and toward the
bunkhouse, added the figures of the last tally sheet to the totals he
had in a little book, and smiled with content.  Behind him, cheerful as
fools, their bodies racking with weariness, their faces drawn and gaunt,
knowing that their labors were not half over, rode the outfit,
exchanging chaff and banter in an effort to fool themselves into the
delusion that they were fresh and "chipper."  Nearing the bunkhouse they
cheered lustily as they caught sight of the hectic cook laboring
profanely with two balking pintos that had backed his wagon half over
the edge of a barranca and then refused to pull it back again.  Cookie’s
reply, though not a cheer, was loud and pregnant with feeling.  To think
that he had driven those two animals for the last two weeks from one end
of the ranch to the other without a mishap, and then have them balance
him and his wagon on the crumbling edge of a twenty-foot drop when not a
half mile from the bunkhouse, thus threatening the loss of the wagon and
all it contained and the mangling of his sacred person!  And to make it
worse, here came a crowd of whooping idiots to feast upon his
discomfiture.

The outfit, slowing so as not to frighten the devilish pintos and start
them backing again, drew near; and suddenly the air became filled with
darting ropes, one of which settled affectionately around Cookie’s
apoplectic neck.  In no time the strangling, furious dough-king was
beyond the menace of the crumbling bank, flat on his back in the wagon,
where he had managed to throw himself to escape the whistling hoofs that
quickly turned the dashboard into matchwood.  When he managed to get the
rope from his neck he arose, unsteady with rage, and choked as he tried
to speak before the grinning and advising outfit.  Before he could get
command over his tongue the happy bunch wheeled and sped on its way,
shrieking with mirth unholy.  They had saved him from probable death,
for Cookie was too obstinate to have jumped from the wagon; but they not
only forfeited all right to thanks and gratitude, but deserved horrible
deaths for the conversation they had so audibly carried on while they
worked out the cook’s problem.  And their departing words and gestures
made homicide justifiable and a duty. It was in this frame of mind that
Cookie watched them go.

Buck, emerging from the bunkhouse in time to see the rescue, leaned
against the door and laughed as he had not laughed for one
heart-breaking winter.  Drying his eyes on the back of his hand, he
looked at the bouncing, happy crowd tearing southward with an energy of
arms and legs and lungs that seemed a miracle after the strain of the
round-up.  Just then a strange voice made him wheel like a flash, and he
saw Billy Williams sitting solemnly on his horse near the corner of the
house.

"Hullo, Williams," Buck grunted, with no welcoming warmth in his voice.
"What th’ devil brings _you_ up here?"

"I want a job," replied Billy.  The two, while never enemies nor
interested in any mutual disagreements, had never been friends.  They
never denied a nodding acquaintance, nor boasted of it. "That Norther
shore raised h—l.  There ’s ten men for every job, where I came from."

The foreman, with that quick decision that was his in his earlier days,
replied crisply.  "It’s your’n.  Fifty a month, to start."

"Keno.  Lemme chuck my war-bag through that door an’ I’m ready," smiled
Billy.  He believed he would like this man when he knew him better.  "I
thought th’ Diamond Bar, over east a hundred mile, had weathered th’
storm lucky. You got ’em beat.  They ’re movin’ heaven an’ earth to get
a herd on the trail, but they did n’t have no job for _me_," he laughed,
flushing slightly.  "Sam Crawford owns it," he explained naïvely.

Buck laughed outright.  "I reckon you did n’t have much show with Sam,
after that li’l trick you worked on him in Fenton.  So Sam is in this
country?  How are they fixed?"

"They aims to shove three thousan’ east right soon.  It’s fancy prices
for th’ first herd that gets to Sandy Creek," he offered.  "I heard they
’re havin’ lots of wet weather along th’ Comanchee; mebby Sam ’ll have
trouble a-plenty gettin’ his herd acrost.  Cows is plumb aggervatin’
when it comes to crossin’ rivers," he grinned.

Buck nodded.  "See that V openin’ on th’ sky line?" he asked, pointing
westward.  "Ride for it till you see th’ herd.  Help ’em with it. We ’ll
pick it up t’morrow."  He turned on his heel and entered the house,
grave with a new worry.  He had not known that there was a ranch where
Billy had said the Diamond Bar was located; and a hundred miles handicap
meant much in a race to Sandy Creek.  Crawford was sure to drive as fast
as he dared.  He was glad that Billy had mentioned it, and the wet
weather along the Comanchee—Billy already had earned his first month’s
pay.

All that day and the next the consolidation of the three herds and the
preparation for the drive went on.  Sweeping up from the valley the two
thousand three- and four-year-olds met and joined the thousand that
waited between Little Timber and Three Rocks; and by nightfall the three
herds were one by the addition of the thousand head from Big Coulee.
Four thousand head of the best cattle on the ranch spent the night
within gunshot of the bunkhouse and corrals on Snake Creek.

Buck, returning from the big herd, smiled as he passed the chuck-wagon
and heard Cookie’s snores, and went on, growing serious all too quickly.
At the bunkhouse he held a short consultation with his regular outfit
and then returned to the herd again while his drive crew turned eagerly
to their bunks.  Breakfast was eaten by candle light and when the
eastern sky faded into a silver gray Skinny Thompson vaulted into the
saddle and loped eastward without a backward glance.  The sounds of his
going scarcely had died out before Hopalong, relieved of the
responsibilities of trail boss, shouldered others as weighty and rode
into the north-east with Lanky at his side.  Behind him, under charge of
Red, the herd started on its long and weary journey to Sandy Creek,
every man of the outfit so imbued with the spirit of the race that even
with its hundred miles’ advantage the Diamond Bar could not afford to
waste an hour if it hoped to win.

Out of the side of a verdant hill, whispering and purling, flowed a
small stream and shyly sought the crystal depths of a rock-bound pool
before gaining courage enough to flow gently over the smooth granite lip
and scurry down the gentle slope of the arroyo.  To one side of it
towered a splinter of rock, slender and gray, washed clean by the recent
rains.  To the south of it lay a baffling streak a little lighter than
the surrounding grass lands.  It was, perhaps, a quarter of a mile wide
and ended only at the horizon.  This faint band was the Dunton trail,
not used enough to show the strong characteristics of the depressed
bands found in other parts of the cow-country.  If followed it would
lead one to Dunton’s Ford on the Comanchee, forty miles above West Bend,
where the Diamond Bar aimed to cross the river.

The shadow of the pinnacle drew closer to its base and had crossed the
pool when Skinny Thompson rode slowly up the near bank of the ravine,
his eyes fixed smilingly on the splinter of rock.  He let his mount
nuzzle and play with the pool for a moment before stripping off the
saddle and turning the animal loose to graze. Taking his rifle in the
hope of seeing game, he went up to the top of the hill, glanced westward
and then turned and gazed steadily into the northeast, sweeping slowly
over an arc of thirty degrees.  He stood so for several minutes and then
grunted with satisfaction and returned to the pool.  He had caught sight
of a black dot far away on the edge of the skyline that split into two
parts and showed a sidewise drift.  Evidently his friends would be on
time. Of the herd he had seen no sign, which was what he had expected.

When at last he heard hoofbeats he arose lazily and stretched, chiding
himself for falling asleep, and met his friends as they turned into
sight around the bend of the hill.  "Reckoned you might ’a’ got lost,"
he grinned sleepily.

"G’wan!" snorted Lanky.

"What’d you find?" eagerly demanded Hopalong.

"Three thousan’ head on th’ West Bend trail five days ahead of us,"
replied Skinny.  "Ol’ Sam is drivin’ hard."  He paused a moment. "Acts
like he knows we ’re after him.  Anyhow, I saw that feller that visited
us on th’ third day of th’ round-up.  So I reckon Sam knows."

Lanky grinned.  "He won’t drive so hard later.  I ’d like to see him
when he sees th’ Comanchee!  Bet it’s a lake south of Dunton’s ’cordin’
to what we found.  But it ain’t goin’ to bother us a whole lot."

Hopalong nodded, dismounted and drew a crude map in the sand of the
trail.  Skinny watched it, grave and thoughtful until, all at once, he
understood.  His sudden burst of laughter startled his companions and
they exchanged foolish grins.  It appeared that from Dunton’s Ford
north, in a distance of forty miles, the Comanchee was practically born.
So many feeders, none of them formidable, poured into it that in that
distance it attained the dignity of a river.  Hopalong’s plan was to
drive off at a tangent running a little north from the regular trail and
thus cross numerous small streams in preference to going on straight and
facing the swollen Comanchee at Dunton’s Ford.  As the regular trail
turned northward when not far from Sandy Creek they were not losing
time. Laughing gaily they mounted and started west for the herd which
toiled toward them many miles away.  Thanks to the forethought that had
prompted their scouting expedition the new trail was picked out in
advance and there would be no indecision on the drive.

Eighty miles to the south lay the fresh trail of the Diamond Bar herd,
and five days’ drive eastward on it, facing the water-covered lowlands
at West Bend, Sam Crawford held his herd, certain that the river would
fall rapidly in the next two days.  It was the regular ford, and the
best on the river.  The water did fall, just enough to lure him to stay;
but, having given orders at dark on the second night for an attempt at
crossing at daylight the next morning, he was amazed when dawn showed
him the river was back to its first level.

Sam was American born, but affected things English and delighted in
spelling "labor" and like words with a "u."  He hated hair chaps and
maintained that the gun-play of the West was mythical and existed only
in the minds of effete Easterners.  Knowing that, it was startling to
hear him tell of Plummer, Hickock, Roberts, Thompson and a host of other
gunmen who had splotched the West with blood.  Not only did every man of
that section pack a gun, but Crawford, himself, packed one, thus proving
himself either a malicious liar or an imbecile.  He acted as though the
West belonged to him and that he was the arbiter of its destiny and its
chosen historian—which made him troublesome on the great, free ranges.
Only that his pretensions and his crabbed, irascible, childish temper
made him ludicrous he might have been taken seriously, to his sorrow.
Failing miserably at law, he fled from such a precarious livelihood,
beset with a haunting fear that he had lost his grip, to an inherited
ranch.  This fear that pursued him turned him into a carping critic of
those who excelled him in most things, except in fits of lying about the
West as it existed at that time.

When he found that the river was over the lowlands again he became
furious and, carried away by rage, shouted down the wiser counsel of his
clear-headed night boss and ordered the herd into the water.  Here and
there desperate, wild-eyed steers wheeled and dashed back through the
cordon of riders, their numbers constantly growing as the panic spread.
The cattle in the front ranks, forced into the swirling stream by the
pressure from the rear, swam with the current and clambered out below,
adding to the confusion.  Steers fought throughout the press and
suddenly, out of the right wing of the herd, a dozen crazed animals
dashed out in a bunch for the safety of the higher ground; and after
them came the herd, an irresistible avalanche of maddened beef.  It was
not before dark that they were rounded up into a nervous, panicky herd
once more.  The next morning they were started north along the river, to
try again at Dunton’s Ford, which they reached in three days, and where
another attempt at crossing the river proved in vain.

Meanwhile the Bar-20 herd pushed on steadily with no confusion.  It
crossed the West Run one noon and the upper waters of the Little
Comanchee just before dark on the same day. Next came East Run, Pawnee
Creek and Ten Mile Creek, none of them larger than the stream the cattle
were accustomed to back on the ranch. Another day’s drive brought them
to the west branch of the Comanchee itself, the largest of all the
rivers they would meet.  Here they were handled cautiously and "nudged"
across with such care that a day was spent in the work.  The following
afternoon the east branch held them up until the next day and then, with
a clear trail, they were sent along on the last part of the long
journey.

When Sam Crawford, forced to keep on driving north along the Little
Comanchee, saw that wide, fresh trail, he barely escaped apoplexy and
added the finishing touches to the sullenness of his outfit.  Seeing the
herd across, he gave orders for top speed and drove as he never had
driven before; and when the last river had been left behind he put the
night boss in charge of the cattle and rode on ahead to locate his
rivals of the drive.  Three days later, when he returned to his herd, he
was in a towering fury and talked constantly of his rights and an appeal
to law, and so nagged his men that mutiny stalked in his shadow.

When the Bar-20 herd was passing to the south of the little village of
Depau, Hopalong turned back along the trail to find the Diamond Bar
herd.  So hard had Sam pushed on that he was only two days’ drive behind
Red and his outfit when Hopalong rode smilingly into the Diamond Bar
camp.  He was talking pleasantly of shop to some of the Diamond Bar
punchers when Sam dashed up and began upbraiding him and threatening
dire punishment.  Hopalong, maintaining a grave countenance, took the
lacing meekly and humbly as he winked at the grinning punchers.
Finally, after exasperating Sam to a point but one degree removed from
explosion, he bowed cynically, said "so-long" to the friendly outfit and
loped away toward his friends.  Sam, choking with rage, berated his
punchers for not having thrown out the insulting visitor and commanded
more speed, which was impossible. Reporting to Red the proximity of
their rivals, Hopalong fell in line and helped drive the herd a little
faster.  The cattle were in such condition from the easy traveling of
the last week that they could easily stand the pace if Crawford’s herd
could.  So the race went on, Red keeping the same distance ahead day
after day.

Then came the night when Sandy Creek lay but two days’ drive away.  A
storm had threatened since morning and the first lightning of the drive
was seen.  The cattle were mildly restless when Hopalong rode in at
midnight and he was cheerfully optimistic.  He was also very much awake,
and after trying in vain to get to sleep he finally arose and rode back
along the trail toward the stragglers, which Jimmy and Lanky were
holding a mile away.  Red had pushed on to the last minute of daylight
and Lanky had decided to hold the stragglers instead of driving them up
to the main herd so they would start even with it the following morning.
It was made up of the cattle that had found the drive too much for them
and was smaller than the outfit had dared to hope for.

Hopalong had just begun to look around for the herd when it passed him
with sudden uproar. Shouting to a horseman who rode furiously past, he
swung around and raced after him, desperately anxious to get in front of
the stampede to try to check it before it struck the main herd and made
the disaster complete.  For the next hour he was in a riot of maddened
cattle and shaved death many times by the breadth of a hand.  He could
hear Jimmy and Lanky shouting in the black void, now close and now far
away.  Then the turmoil gradually ceased and the remnant of the herd
paused, undecided whether to stop or go on.  He flung himself at it and
by driving cleverly managed to start a number of cows to milling, which
soon had the rest following suit. The stampede was over.  A cursing blot
emerged from the darkness and hailed.  It was Lanky, coldly ferocious.
He had not heard Jimmy for a long time and feared that the boy might be
lying out on the black plain, trampled into a shapeless mass of flesh.
One stumble in front of the charging herd would have been sufficient.

Daylight disclosed the missing Jimmy hobbling toward the breakfast fire
at the cook wagon.  He was bruised and bleeding and covered with dirt,
his clothes ripped and covered with mud; and every bone and muscle in
his body was alive with pain.

The Diamond Bar’s second squad had ridden in to breakfast when a
horseman was seen approaching at a leisurely lope.  Sam, cursing hotly,
instinctively fumbled at the gun he wore at his thigh in defiance to his
belief concerning the wearing of guns.  He blinked anxiously as the
puncher stopped at the wagon and smiled a heavy-eyed salutation.  The
night boss emerged from the shelter of the wagon and grinned a sheepish
welcome.  "Well, Cassidy, you fellers got th’ trail somehow.  We was
some surprised when we hit yore trail.  How you makin’ it?"

"All right, up to last night," replied Hopalong, shaking hands with the
night boss.  "Got a match, Barnes?" he asked, holding up an unlighted
cigarette.  They talked of things connected with the drive and Hopalong
cautiously swung the conversation around to mishaps, mentioning several
catastrophes of past years. After telling of a certain stampede he had
once seen, he turned to Barnes and asked a blunt question.  "What would
you do to anybody as stampeded yore stragglers within a mile of th’ main
herd on a stormy night?"  The answer was throaty and rumbling.  "Why,
shoot him, I reckon."  The others intruded their ideas and Crawford
squirmed, his hand seeking his gun under the pretense of tightening his
belt.

Hopalong arose and went to his horse, where a large bundle of canvas was
strapped behind the saddle.  He loosened it and unrolled it on the
ground.  "Ever see this afore, boys?" he asked, stepping back.  Barnes
leaped to his feet with an ejaculation of surprise and stared at the
canvas.  "Where’d you git it?" he demanded. "That’s our old wagon
cover!"

Hopalong, ignoring Crawford, looked around the little group and smiled
grimly.  "Well, last night our stragglers was stampeded.  Lanky told me
he saw somethin’ gray blow past him in th’ darkness, an’ then th’ herd
started.  We managed to turn it from th’ trail an’ so it did n’t set off
our main herd.  Jimmy was near killed—well, you know what it is to ride
afore stampeded cows.  I found this cover blowed agin’ a li’l clump of
trees, an’ when I sees yore mark, I reckoned I ought to bring it back."
He dug into his pocket and brought out a heavy clasp knife.  "I just
happened to see this not far from where th’ herd started from, so I
reckoned I ’d return it, too."  He held it out to Barnes, who took it
with an oath and wheeled like a flash to face his employer.

Crawford was backing toward the wagon, his hand resting on the butt of
his gun, and a whiteness of face told of the fear that gripped him. "I
’ll take my time, right now," growled Barnes. "D—d if I works another
day for a low-lived coyote that ’d do a thing like that!"  The punchers
behind him joined in and demanded their wages.  Hopalong, still smiling,
waved his hand and spoke.  "Don’t leave him with all these cows on his
hands, out here on th’ range.  If you quits him, wait till you get to
Sandy Creek.  He ain’t no man, he ain’t; he ’s a nasty lil brat of a kid
that couldn’t never grow up into a man.  So, that bein’ true, he ain’t
goin’ to get handled like a man.  I ’m goin’ to lick him, ’stead of
shootin’ him like he was a man.  You know," he smiled, glancing around
the little circle, "us cowpunchers don’t never carry guns.  We don’t
swear, nor wear chaps, even if all of us has got ’em on right now.  We
say ’please’ an’ ’thank you’ an’ never get mad.  Not never wearin’ a gun
I can’t shoot him; but, by G—d, I can lick him th’ worst he’s ever been
licked, an’ I ’m goin’ to do it right now."  He wheeled to start after
the still-backing cowman, and leaped sideways as a cloud of smoke
swirled around his hips.  Crawford screamed with fear and pain as his
Colt tore loose from his fingers and dropped near the wheel of the
wagon.  Terror gripped him and made him incapable of flight.  Who was
this man, _what_ was he, when he could draw and fire with such speed and
remarkable accuracy?  Crawford’s gun had been half raised before the
other had seen it.  And before his legs could perform one of their most
cherished functions the limping cowpuncher was on him, doing his best to
make good his promise.  The other half of the Diamond Bar drive crew,
attracted by the commotion at the chuck wagon, rode in with ready guns,
saw their friends making no attempt at interference, asked a few terse
questions and, putting up their guns, forthwith joined the circle of
interested and pleased spectators to root for the limping redhead.

[Illustration: Crawford’s Colt tore loose from his fingers and dropped
near the wagon wheel]

                     *      *      *      *      *

Red, back at the Bar-20 wagon, inquired of Cookie the whereabouts of
Hopalong.  Cookie, still smarting under Jimmy’s galling fire of
language, grunted ignorance and a wish.  Red looked at him, scowling.
"You can talk to th’ Kid like that, mebby; but you get a civil tongue in
yore head when any of us grown-ups ask questions."  He turned on his
heel, looked searchingly around the plain and mounting, returned to the
herd, perplexed and vexed.  As he left the camp, Jimmy hobbled around
the wagon and stared after him.  "Kid!" he snorted.  "Grown-ups!" he
sneered.  "Huh!"  He turned and regarded Cookie evilly.  "Yo ’re gonna
get a good lickin’ when I get so I can move better," he promised.
Cookie lifted the red flannel dish-rag out of the pan and regarded it
thoughtfully. "You better wait," he agreed pleasantly.  "You can’t run
now.  I ’m honin’ for to drape this mop all over yore wall-eyed face;
but I can wait."  He sighed and went back to work.  "Wish Red would
shove you in with th’ rest of th’ cripples back yonder, an’ get you
off’n my frazzled nerves."

Jimmy shook his head sorrowfully and limped around the wagon again,
where he resumed his sun bath.  He dozed off and was surprised to be
called for dinner.  As he arose, grunting and growling, he chanced to
look westward, and his shout apprised his friends of the return of the
missing red-head.

Hopalong dismounted at the wagon and grinned cheerfully, despite the
suspicious marks on his face.  Giving an account of events as they
occurred at the Diamond Bar chuck wagon, he wound up with: "Needn’t push
on so hard, Red.  Crawford’s herd is due to stay right where it is an’
graze peaceful for a week.  I heard Barnes give th’ order before I left.
How’s things been out here while I was away?"

Red glared at him, ready to tell his opinion of reckless fools that went
up against a gun-packing crowd alone when his friends had never been
known to refuse to back up one of their outfit. The words hung on his
lips as he waited for a chance to launch them.  But when that chance
came he had been disarmed by the cheerfulness of his happy friend.
"Hoppy," he said, trying to be severe, "yo ’re nothing’ but a crazy, d—d
fool.  But what did they say when you started for huffy Sam like that?"



                                   X

                              THE HOLD-UP


The herd delivered at Sandy Creek had traveled only half way, for the
remaining part of the journey would be on the railroad. The work of
loading the cars was fast, furious fun to anyone who could find humor
enough in his make-up to regard it so.  Then came a long, wearying ride
for the five men picked from the drive outfit to attend to the cattle on
the way to the cattle pens of the city.  Their work at last done, they
"saw the sights" and were now returning to Sandy Creek.

The baggage smoking-car reeked with strong tobacco, the clouds of smoke
shifting with the air currents, and dimly through the haze could be seen
several men.  Three of these were playing cards near the baggage-room
door, while two more lounged in a seat half way down the aisle and on
the other side of the car.  Across from the card-players, reading a
magazine, was a fat man, and near the water cooler was a
dyspeptic-looking individual who was grumbling about the country through
which he was passing.

The first five, as their wearing apparel proclaimed, were not of the
kind usually found on trains, not the drummer, the tourist, or the
farmer.  Their heads were covered with heavy sombreros, their coats were
of thick, black woolens, and their shirts were also of wool.  Around the
throat of each was a large handkerchief, knotted at the back; their
trousers were protected by "chaps," of which three were of goatskin.
The boots were tight-fitting, narrow, and with high heels, and to them
were strapped heavy spurs.  Around the waist, hanging loosely from one
hip, each wore a wide belt containing fifty cartridges in the loops, and
supporting a huge Colt’s revolver, which rested against the thigh.

They were happy and were trying to sing but, owing to different tastes,
there was noticeable a lack of harmony.  "Oh Susanna" never did go well
with "Annie Laurie," and as for "Dixie," it was hopelessly at odds with
the other two.  But they were happy, exuberantly so, for they had
enjoyed their relaxation in the city and now were returning to the
station where their horses were waiting to carry them over the two
hundred miles which lay between their ranch and the nearest
railroad-station.

For a change the city had been pleasant, but after they had spent
several days there it lost its charm and would not have been acceptable
to them even as a place in which to die.  They had spent their money,
smoked "top-notcher" cigars, seen the "shows" and feasted each as his
fancy dictated, and as behooved cowpunchers with money in their pockets.
Now they were glad that every hour reduced the time of their stay in the
smoky, jolting, rocking train, for they did not like trains, and this
train was particularly bad.  So they passed the hours as best they might
and waited impatiently for the stop at Sandy Creek, where they had left
their horses.  Their trip to the "fence country" was now a memory, and
they chafed to be again in the saddle on the open, wind-swept range,
where miles were insignificant and the silence soothing.

The fat man, despairing of reading, watched the card-players and smiled
in good humor as he listened to their conversation, while the dyspeptic,
nervously twisting his newspaper, wished that he were at his
destination.  The baggage-room door opened and the conductor looked down
on the card-players and grinned.  Skinny moved over in the seat to make
room for the genial conductor.

"Sit down, Simms, an’ take a hand," he invited.  Laughter arose
continually and the fat man joined in it, leaning forward more closely
to watch the play.

Lanky tossed his cards face down on the board and grinned at the
onlooker.

"Billy shore bluffs more on a varigated flush than any man I ever saw."

"Call him once in a while and he ’ll get cured of it," laughed the fat
man, bracing himself as the train swung around a sharp turn.

"He ’s too smart," growled Billy Williams. "He tried that an’ found I
did n’t have no varigated flushes.  Come on, Lanky, if yo ’re playing
cards, put up."

Farther down the car, their feet resting easily on the seat in front of
them, Hopalong and Red puffed slowly at their large, black cigars and
spoke infrequently, both idly watching the plain flit by in wearying
sameness, and both tired and lazy from doing nothing but ride.

"Blast th’ cars, anyhow," grunted Hopalong, but he received no reply,
for his companion was too disgusted to say anything.

A startling, sudden increase in the roar of the train and a gust of hot,
sulphurous smoke caused Hopalong to look up at the brakeman, who came
down the swaying aisle as the door slammed shut.

"Phew!" he exclaimed, genially.  "Why in thunder don’t you fellows smoke
up?"

Hopalong blew a heavy ring, stretched energetically and grinned: "Much
farther to Sandy Creek?"

"Oh, you don’t get off for three hours yet," laughed the brakeman.

"That’s shore a long time to ride this bronc train," moodily complained
Red as the singing began again.  "She shore pitches a-plenty," he added.

The train-hand smiled and seated himself on the arm of the front seat:

"Oh, it might be worse."

"Not this side of hades," replied Red with decision, watching his
friend, who was slapping the cushions to see the dust fly out: "Hey, let
up on that, will you!  There’s dust a-plenty without no help from you!"

The brakeman glanced at the card-players and then at Hopalong.

"Do your friends always sing like that?" he inquired.

"Mostly, but sometimes it’s worse."

"On the level?"

"Shore enough; they’re singing ’Dixie,’ now. It’s their best song."

"That ain’t ’Dixie!’"

"Yes it is: that is, most of it."

"Well, then, what’s the rest of it?"

"Oh, them’s variations of their own," remarked Red, yawning and
stretching.  "Just wait till they start something sentimental; you ’ll
shore weep."

"I hope they stick to the variations.  Say, you must be a pretty nifty
gang on the shoot, ain’t you?"

"Oh, some," answered Hopalong.

"I wish you fellers had been aboard with us one day about a month ago.
We was the wrong end of a hold-up, and we got cleaned out proper, too."

"An’ how many of ’em did you get?" asked Hopalong quickly, sitting bolt
upright.

The fat man suddenly lost his interest in the card-game and turned an
eager ear to the brakeman, while the dyspeptic stopped punching holes in
his time-card and listened.  The card-players glanced up and then
returned to their game, but they, too, were listening.

The brakeman was surprised: "How many did we get!  Gosh! we didn’t get
none!  They was six to our five."

"How many cards did you draw, you Piute?" asked Lanky.

"None of yore business; I ain’t dealing, an’ I would n’t tell you if I
was," retorted Billy.

"Well, I can ask, can’t I?"

"Yes—you can, an’ did."

"You didn’t get none?" cried Hopalong, doubting his ears.

"I should say not!"

"An’ they owned th’ whole train?"

"They did."

Red laughed.  "Th’ cleaning-up must have been sumptuous an’ elevating."

"Every time I holds threes he allus has better," growled Lanky to Simms.

"On th’ level, we couldn’t do a thing," the brakeman ran on.  "There ’s
a water tank a little farther on, and they must ’a’ climbed aboard there
when we stopped to connect.  When we got into the gulch the train slowed
down and stopped and I started to get up to go out and see what was the
matter; but I saw that when I looked down a gun-barrel.  The man at the
throttle end of it told me to put up my hands, but they were up as high
then as I could get ’em without climbin’ on the top of the seat.

"Can’t you listen and play at th’ same time?" Lanky asked Billy.

"I wasn’t countin’ on takin’ the gun away from him," the brakeman
continued, "for I was too busy watchin’ for the slug to come out of the
hole.  Pretty soon somebody on the outside whistled and then another
feller come in the car; he was the one that did the cleanin’ up. All
this time there had been a lot of shootin’ outside, but now it got
worse.  Then I heard another whistle and the engine puffed up the track,
and about five minutes later there was a big explosion, and then our two
robbers backed out of the car among the rocks shootin’ back regardless.
They busted a lot of windows."

"An’ you did n’t git none," grumbled Hopalong, regretfully.

"When we got to the express-car, what had been pulled around the turn,"
continued the brakeman, not heeding the interruption, "we found a wreck.
And we found the engineer and fireman standin’ over the
express-messenger, too scared to know he would n’t come back no more.
The car had been blowed up with dynamite, and his fighting soul went
with it. He never knowed he was licked."

"An’ nobody tried to help him!" Hopalong exclaimed, wrathfully now.

"Nobody wanted to die with him," replied the brakeman.

"Well," cried the fat man, suddenly reaching for his valise, "I ’d like
to see anybody try to hold me up!"  Saying which he brought forth a
small revolver.

"You ’d be praying out of your bald spot about that time," muttered the
brakeman.

Hopalong and Red turned, perceived the weapon, and then exchanged winks.

"That’s a fine shootin’-iron, stranger," gravely remarked Hopalong.

"You bet it is!" purred the owner, proudly. "I paid six dollars for that
gun."

Lanky smothered a laugh and his friend grinned broadly: "I reckon that’d
kill a man—if you stuck it in his ear."

"Pshaw!" snorted the dyspeptic, scornfully. "You wouldn’t have time to
get it out of that grip.  Think a train-robber is going to let you
unpack?  Why don’t you carry it in your hip-pocket, where you can get at
it quickly?"

There were smiles at the stranger’s belief in the hip-pocket fallacy but
no one commented upon it.

"Was n’t there no passengers aboard when you was stuck up?" Lanky asked
the conductor.

"Yes, but you can’t count passengers in on a deal like that."

Hopalong looked around aggressively: "We ’re passengers, ain’t we?"

"You certainly are."

"Well, if any misguided maverick gets it into his fool head to stick
_us_ up, you see what happens.  Don’t you know th’ fellers outside have
all th’ worst o’ th’ deal?"

"They have not!" cried the brakeman.

"They ’ve got all the best of it," asserted the conductor emphatically.
"I ’ve been inside, and I know."

"Best nothing!" cried Hopalong.  "They are on th’ ground, watching a
danger-line over a hundred yards long, full of windows and doors. Then
they brace th’ door of a car full of people. While they climb up the
steps they can’t see inside, an’ then they go an’ stick their heads in
plain sight.  It’s an even break who sees th’ other first, with th’ men
inside training their guns on th’ glass in th’ door!"

"Darned if you ain’t right!" enthusiastically cried the fat man.

Hopalong laughed: "It all depends on th’ men inside.  If they ain’t used
to handling guns, ’course they won’t try to fight.  We ’ve been in so
many gun-festivals that we would n’t stop to think.  If any
coin-collector went an’ stuck his ugly face against th’ glass in that
door he ’d turn a back-flip off ’n th’ platform before he knowed he was
hit.  Is there any chance for a stick-up to-day, d’y think?"

"Can’t tell," replied the brakeman.  "But this is about the time we have
the section-camps’ pay on board," he said, going into the baggage end of
the car.

Simms leaned over close to Skinny.  "It’s on this train now, and I ’m
worried to death about it.  I wish we were at Sandy Creek."

"Don’t you go to worryin’ none, then," the puncher replied.  "It ’ll get
to Sandy Creek all right."

Hopalong looked out of the window again and saw that there was a gradual
change in the nature of the scenery, for the plain was becoming more
broken each succeeding mile.  Small woods occasionally hurtled past and
banks of cuts flashed by like mottled yellow curtains, shutting off the
view.  Scrub timber stretched away on both sides, a billowy sea of
green, and miniature valleys lay under the increasing number of trestles
twisting and winding toward a high horizon.

Hopalong yawned again: "Well, it’s none o’ our funeral.  If they let us
alone I don’t reckon we ’ll take a hand, not even to bust up this
monotony."

Red laughed derisively: "Oh, no!  Why, you could n’t sit still nohow
with a fight going on, an’ you know it.  An’ if it’s a stick-up!  Wow!"

"Who gave you any say in this?" demanded his friend.  "Anyhow, you ain’t
no angel o’ peace, not nohow!"

"Mebby they ’ll plug yore new sombrero," laughed Red.

Hopalong felt of the article in question: "If any two-laigged wolf plugs
my war-bonnet he ’ll be some sorry, an’ so ’ll his folks," he asserted,
rising and going down the aisle for a drink.

Red turned to the brakeman, who had just returned: "Say," he whispered,
"get off at th’ next stop, shoot off a gun, an’ yell, just for fun. Go
ahead, it ’ll be better ’n a circus."

"Nix on the circus, says I," hastily replied the other.  "I ain’t
looking for no excitement, an’ I ain’t paid to amuse th’ passengers.  I
hope we don’t even run over a track-torpedo this side of Sandy Creek."

Hopalong returned, and as he came even with them the train slowed.

"What are we stopping for?" he asked, his hand going to his holster.

"To take on water; the tank ’s right ahead."

"What have you got?" asked Billy, ruffling his cards.

"None of yore business," replied Lanky. "You call when you gets any
curious."

"Oh, th’ devil!" yawned Hopalong, leaning back lazily.  "I shore wish I
was on my cayuse pounding leather on th’ home trail."

"Me, too," grumbled Red, staring out of the window.  "Well, we ’re
moving again.  It won’t be long now before we gets out of this."

The card-game continued, the low-spoken terms being interspersed with
casual comment; Hopalong exchanged infrequent remarks with Red, while
the brakeman and conductor stared out of the same window.  There was
noticeable an air of anxiety, and the fat man tried to read his magazine
with his thoughts far from the printed page.  He read and re-read a
single paragraph several times without gaining the slightest knowledge
of what it meant, while the dyspeptic passenger fidgeted more and more
in his seat, like one sitting on hot coals, anxious and alert.

"We ’re there now," suddenly remarked the conductor, as the bank of a
cut blanked out the view.  "It was right here where it happened; the
turn’s farther on."

"How many cards did you draw, Skinny?" asked Lanky.

"Three; drawin’ to a straight flush," laughed the dealer.

"Here ’s the turn!  We ’re through all right," exclaimed the brakeman.

Suddenly there was a rumbling bump, a screeching of air-brakes and the
grinding and rattle of couplings and pins as the train slowed down and
stopped with a suddenness that snapped the passengers forward and back.
The conductor and brakeman leaped to their feet, where the latter stood
quietly during a moment of indecision.

A shot was heard and the conductor’s hand, raised quickly to the
whistle-rope sent blast after blast shrieking over the land.  A babel of
shouting burst from the other coaches and, as the whistle shrieked
without pause, a shot was heard close at hand and the conductor reeled
suddenly and sank into a seat, limp and silent.

At the first jerk of the train the card-players threw the board from
across their knees, scattering the cards over the floor, and crouching,
gained the center of the aisle, intently peering through the windows,
their Colts ready for instant use. Hopalong and Red were also in the
aisle, and when the conductor had reeled Hopalong’s Colt exploded and
the man outside threw up his arms and pitched forward.

"Good boy, Hopalong!" cried Skinny, who was fighting mad.

Hopalong wheeled and crouched, watching the door, and it was not long
before a masked face appeared on the farther side of the glass. Hopalong
fired and a splotch of red stained the white mask as the robber fell
against the door and slid to the platform.

"Hear that shooting?" cried the brakeman. "They ’re at the messenger.
They ’ll blow him up!"

"Come on, fellers!" cried Hopalong, leaping toward the door, closely
followed by his friends.

They stepped over the obstruction on the platform and jumped to the
ground on the side of the car farthest from the robbers.

"Shoot under the cars for legs," whispered Skinny.  "That ’ll bring ’em
down where we can get ’em."

"Which is a good idea," replied Red, dropping quickly and looking under
the car.

"Somebody’s going to be surprised, all right," exulted Hopalong.

The firing on the other side of the train was heavy, being for the
purpose of terrifying the passengers and to forestall concerted
resistance. The robbers could not distinguish between the many reports
and did not know they were being opposed, or that two of their number
were dead.

A whinny reached Hopalong’s ears and he located it in a small grove
ahead of him: "Well, we know where th’ cayuses are in case they make a
break."

A white and scared face peered out of the cab-window and Hopalong
stopped his finger just in time, for the inquisitive man wore the cap of
fireman.

"You idiot!" muttered the gunman, angrily. "Get back!" he ordered.

A pair of legs ran swiftly along the other side of the car and Red and
Skinny fired instantly.  The legs bent, their owner falling forward
behind the rear truck, where he was screened from sight.

"They had it their own way before!" gritted Skinny.  "Now we ’ll see if
they can stand th’ iron!"

By this time Hopalong and Red were crawling under the express-car and
were so preoccupied that they did not notice the faint blue streak of
smoke immediately over their heads.  Then Red glanced up to see what it
was that sizzed, saw the glowing end of a three-inch fuse, and blanched.
It was death not to dare and his hand shot up and back, and the dynamite
cartridge sailed far behind him to the edge of the embankment, where it
hung on a bush.

"Good!" panted Hopalong.  "We ’ll pay ’em for that!"

"They ’re worse ’n rustlers!"

They could hear the messenger running about over their heads, dragging
and up-ending heavy objects against the doors of the car, and Hopalong
laughed grimly:

"Luck’s with this messenger, all right."

"It ought to be—he ’s a fighter."

"Where are they?  Have they tumbled to our game?"

"They’re waiting for the explosion, you chump."

"Stay where you are then.  Wait till they come out to see what’s th’
matter with it."

Red snorted: "Wait nothing!"

"All right, then; I ’m with you.  Get out of my way."

"I ’ve been in situations some peculiar, but this beats ’em all," Red
chuckled, crawling forward.

The robber by the car truck revived enough to realize that something was
radically wrong, and shouted a warning as he raised himself on his elbow
to fire at Skinny but the alert puncher shot first.

As Hopalong and Red emerged from beneath the car and rose to their feet
there was a terrific explosion and they were knocked to the ground,
while a sudden, heavy shower of stones and earth rained down over
everything.  The two punchers were not hurt and they arose to their feet
in time to see the engineer and fireman roll out of the cab and crawl
along the track on their hands and knees, dazed and weakened by the
concussion.

Suddenly, from one of the day-coaches, a masked man looked out, saw the
two punchers, and cried:

"It’s all up!  Save yourselves!"

As Hopalong and Red looked around, still dazed, he fired at them, the
bullet singing past Hopalong’s ear.  Red smothered a curse and reeled as
his friend grasped him.  A wound over his right eye was bleeding
profusely and Hopalong’s face cleared of its look of anxiety when he
realized that it was not serious.

"They creased you!  Blamed near got you for keeps!" he cried, wiping
away the blood with his sleeve.

Red, slightly stunned, opened his eyes and looked about confusedly.
"Who done that? Where is he?"

"Don’t know, but I’ll shore find out," Hopalong replied.  "Can you stand
alone?"

Red pushed himself free and leaned against the car for support: "Course
I can!  Git that cuss!"

When Skinny heard the robber shout the warning he wheeled and ran back,
intently watching the windows and doors of the car for trouble.

"We ’ll finish yore tally right here!" he muttered.

When he reached the smoker he turned and went towards the rear, where he
found Lanky and Billy lying under the platform.  Billy was looking back
and guarding their rear, while his companion watched the clump of trees
where the second herd of horses was known to be.  Just as they were
joined by their foreman, they saw two men run across the track, fifty
yards distant, and into the grove, both going so rapidly as to give no
chance for a shot at them.

"There they are!" shouted Skinny, opening fire on the grove.

At that instant Hopalong turned the rear platform and saw the brakeman
leap out of the door with a Winchester in his hands.  The puncher sprang
up the steps, wrenched the rifle from its owner, and, tossing it to
Skinny, cried: "Here, this is better!"

"Too late," grunted the puncher, looking up, but Hopalong had become
lost to sight among the rocks along the right of way.  "If I only had
this a minute ago!" he grumbled.

The men in the grove, now in the saddle, turned and opened fire on the
group by the train, driving them back to shelter.  Skinny, taking
advantage of the cover afforded, ran towards the grove, ordering his
friends to spread out and surround it; but it was too late, for at that
minute galloping was heard and it grew rapidly fainter.

Red appeared at the end of the train: "Where’s th’ rest of the coyotes?"

"Two of ’em got away," Lanky replied.

"Ya-ho!" shouted Hopalong from the grove. "Don’t none of you fools
shoot!  I’m coming out.  They plumb got away!"

"They near got _you_, Red," Skinny cried.

"Nears don’t count," Red laughed.

"Did you ever notice Hopalong when he ’s fighting mad?" asked Lanky,
grinning at the man who was leaving the woods.  "He allus wears his
sombrero hanging on one ear.  Look at it now!"

"Who touched off that cannon some time back?" asked Billy.

"I did.  It was an anti-gravity cartridge what I found sizzling on a rod
under th’ floor of th’ express car," replied Red.

"Why did n’t you pinch out th’ fuse ’stead of blowing everything up, you
half-breed?" Lanky asked.

"I reckon I was some hasty," grinned Red.

"It blowed me under th’ car an’ my lid through a windy," cried Billy.
"An’ Skinny, he went up in th’ air like a shore-’nough grasshopper."

Hopalong joined them, grinning broadly: "Hey, reckon ridin’ in th’ cars
ain’t so bad after all, is it?"

"Holy smoke!" cried Skinny.  "What’s that a-popping?"

Hopalong, Colt in hand, leaped to the side of the train and looked along
it, the others close behind him, and saw the fat man with his head and
arm out of the window, blazing away into the air, which increased the
panic in the coaches.  Hopalong grinned and fired into the ground, and
the fat man nearly dislocated parts of his anatomy by his hasty
disappearance.

"Reckon he plumb forgot all about his fine, six-dollar gun till just
now," Skinny laughed.

"Oh, he ’s making good," Red replied.  "He said he ’d take a hand if
anything busted loose. It’s a good thing he did n’t come to life while
me an’ Hoppy was under his windy looking for laigs."

"Reckon some of us better go in th’ cars an’ quiet th’ stampede," Skinny
remarked, mounting the steps, followed by Hopalong.  "They’re shore
_loco_."

The uproar in the coach ceased abruptly when the two punchers stepped
through the door, the inmates shrinking into their seats, frightened
into silence.  Skinny and his companion did not make a reassuring sight,
for they were grimy with burned powder and dust, and Hopalong’s sleeve
was stained with Red’s blood.

"Oh, my jewels, my pretty jewels," sobbed a woman, staring at Skinny and
wringing her hands.

"Ma’am, we shore don’t want yore jewelry," replied Skinny, earnestly.
"Ca’m yoreself; we don’t want nothin’."

"_I_ don’t want that!" growled Hopalong, pushing a wallet from him.
"How many times do you want us to tell you we don’t want nothin’? We
ain’t robbers; we licked th’ robbers."

Suddenly he stooped and, grasping a pair of legs which protruded into
the aisle obstructing the passage, straightened up and backed towards
Red, who had just entered the car, dragging into sight a portly
gentleman, who kicked and struggled and squealed, as he grabbed at the
stanchions of seats to stay his progress.  Red stepped aside between two
seats and let his friend pass, and then leaned over and grasped the
portly gentleman’s coat-collar.  He tugged energetically and lifted the
frightened man clear of the aisle and deposited him across the back of a
seat, face down, where he hung balanced, yelling and kicking.

"Shut yore face, you cave-hunter!" cried Red in disgust.  "Stop that
infernal noise!  You fat fellers make all yore noise after th’ fighting
is all over!"

The man on the seat, suddenly realizing what a sight he made, rolled off
his perch and sat up, now more angry than frightened.  He glared at
Red’s grinning face and sputtered:

"It’s an outrage!  It’s an outrage!  I’ll have you hung for this day’s
work, young man!"

"That’s right," grinned Hopalong.  "He shore deserves it.  I told him
more ’n once that he ’d get strung up some day."

"Yes, and you, too!"

"Please don’t," begged Hopalong.  "I don’t want t’ die!"

Tense as the past quarter of an hour had been a titter ran along the car
and, fuming impotently, the portly gentleman fled into the smoker.

"I ’ll bet he had a six-dollar gun, too," laughed Red.

"I ’ll bet he ’s calling hisself names right about now," Hopalong
replied.  Then he turned to reply to a woman: "Yes, ma’am, we did.  But
they was n’t real badmen."

At this a young woman, who was about as pretty as any young woman could
be, arose and ran to Hopalong and, impulsively throwing her arms around
his neck, cried: "You brave man! You hero!  You dear!"

"Skinny!  Red!  Help!" cried the frightened and embarrassed puncher,
struggling to get free.

She kissed him on the cheek, which flamed even more red as he made
frantic efforts to keep his head back.

"Ma’am!" he cried, desperately.  "Leggo, ma’am!  Leggo!"

"Oh!  Ho!  Ho!" roared Red, weak from his mirth and, not looking to see
what he was doing, he dropped into a seat beside another woman. He was
on his feet instantly; fearing that he would have to go through the
ordeal his friend was going through, he fled down the aisle, closely
followed by Hopalong, who by this time had managed to break away.
Skinny backed off suspiciously and kept close watch on Hopalong’s
admirer.

Just then the brakeman entered the car, grinning, and Skinny asked about
the condition of the conductor.

"Oh, he ’s all right now," the brakeman replied. "They shot him through
the arm, but he ’s repaired and out bossin’ the job of clearin’ the
rocks off the track.  He ’s a little shaky yet, but he ’ll come around
all right."

"That’s good.  I ’m shore glad to hear it."

"Won’t you wear this pin as a small token of my gratitude?" asked a
voice at Skinny’s shoulder.

He wheeled and raised his sombrero, a flush stealing over his face:

"Thank you, ma’am, but I don’t want no pay. We was plumb glad to do it."

"But this is not pay!  It’s just a trifling token of my appreciation of
your courage, just something to remind you of it.  I shall feel hurt if
you refuse."

Her quick fingers had pinned it to his shirt while she spoke and he
thanked her as well as his embarrassment would permit.  Then there was a
rush toward him and, having visions of a shirt looking like a jeweler’s
window, he turned and fled from the car, crying: "Pin ’em on th’
brakeman!"

He found the outfit working at a pile of rocks on the track, under the
supervision of the conductor, and Hopalong looked up apprehensively at
Skinny’s approach.

"Lord!" he ejaculated, grinning sheepishly, "I was some scairt you was a
woman."

Red dropped the rock he was carrying and laughed derisively.

"Oh, yo’re a brave man, you are! scared to death by a purty female girl!
If I ’d ’a’ been you I would n’t ’a’ run, not a step!"

Hopalong looked at him witheringly: "Oh, no!  You wouldn’t ’a’ run!
You’d dropped dead in your tracks, you would!"

"You was both of you a whole lot scared," Skinny laughed.  Then, turning
to the conductor: "How do you feel, Simms?"

"Oh, I ’m all right: but it took the starch out of me for awhile."

"Well, I don’t wonder, not a bit."

"You fellows certainly don’t waste any time getting busy," Simms
laughed.

"That’s the secret of gun-fightin’," replied Skinny.

"Well, you ’re a fine crowd all right.  Any time you want to go any
place when you ’re broke, climb aboard my train and I ’ll see’t you get
there."

"Much obliged."

Simms turned to the express-car: "Hey, Jackson!  You can open up now if
you want to."

But the express-messenger was suspicious, fearing that the conductor was
talking with a gun at his head: "You go to h—l!" he called back.

"Honest!" laughed Simms.  "Some cowboy friends o’ mine licked the gang.
Didn’t you hear that dynamite go off?  If they hadn’t fished it out from
under your feet you ’d be communing with the angels ’bout now."

For a moment there was no response, and then Jackson could be heard
dragging things away from the door.  When he was told of the cartridge
and Red had been pointed out to him as the man who had saved his life,
he leaped to the ground and ran to where that puncher was engaged in
carrying the ever-silenced robbers to the baggage-car.  He shook hands
with Red, who laughed deprecatingly, and then turned and assisted him.

Hopalong came up and grinned: "Say, there ’s some cayuses in that grove
up th’ track; shall I go up an’ get ’em?"

"Shore!  I ’ll go an’ get ’em with you," replied Skinny.

In the grove they found seven horses picketed, two of them being
pack-animals, and they led them forth and reached the train as the
others came up.

"Well, here ’s five saddled cayuses, an’ two others," Skinny grinned.

"Then we can ride th’ rest of th’ way in th’ saddle instead of in that
blamed train," Red eagerly suggested.

"That’s just what we can do," replied Skinny. "Leather beats car-seats
any time.  How far are we from Sandy Creek, Simms?"

"About twenty miles."

"An’ we can ride along th’ track, too," suggested Hopalong.

"We shore can," laughed Skinny, shaking hands with the train-crew: "We
’re some glad we rode with you this trip: we ’ve had a fine time."

"And we’re glad you did," Simms replied, "for that ain’t no joke,
either."

Hopalong and the others had mounted and were busy waving their sombreros
and bowing to the heads and handkerchiefs which were decorating the
car-windows.

"All aboard!" shouted the conductor, and cheers and good wishes rang out
and were replied to by bows and waving of sombreros.  Then Hopalong
jerked his gun loose and emptied it into the air, his companions doing
likewise. Suddenly five reports rang out from the smoker and they
cheered the fat man as he waved at them. They sat quietly and watched
the train until the last handkerchief became lost to sight around a
curve, but the screeching whistle could be heard for a long time.

"Gee!" laughed Hopalong as they rode on after the train, "won’t th’
fellers home on th’ ranch be a whole lot sore when they hears about the
good time what they missed!"



                                   XI

                          SAMMY FINDS A FRIEND


The long train ride and the excitement were over and the outfit,
homeward bound, loped along the trail, noisily discussing their exciting
and humorous experiences and laughingly commented upon Hopalong’s
decision to follow them later.  They could not understand why he should
be interested in a town like Sandy Creek after a week spent in the city.

Back in the little cow-town their friend was standing in the office of
the hotel, gazing abstractedly out of the window.  His eyes caught and
focused on a woman who was walking slowly along the other side of the
square and finally paused before McCall’s "Palace," a combination
saloon, dance and gambling hall.  He smiled cynically as his memory ran
back over those other women he had seen in cow-towns and wondered how it
was that the men of the ranges could rise to a chivalry that was famed.
At that distance she was strikingly pretty.  Her complexion was an
alluring blend of color that the gold of her hair crowned like a burst
of sunshine.  He noticed that her eyebrows were too prominent, too black
and heavy to be Nature’s contribution. And there was about her a certain
forwardness, a dash that bespoke no bashful Miss; and her clothes,
though well-fitting, somehow did not please his untrained eye.  A sudden
impulse seized him and he strode to the door and crossed the dusty
square, avoiding the piles of rusted cans, broken bottles and other
rubbish that littered it.

She had become interested in a dingy window but turned to greet him with
a resplendent smile as he stepped to the wooden walk.  He noted with
displeasure that the white teeth displayed two shining panels of gold
that drew his eyes irresistibly; and then and there he hated gold teeth.

"Hello," she laughed.  "I ’m glad to see somebody that’s alive in this
town.  Ain’t it awful?"

He instinctively removed his sombrero and was conscious that his
habitual bashfulness in the presence of members of her sex was somehow
lacking.  "Why, I don’t see nothin’ extra dead about it," he replied.
"Most of these towns are this way in daylight.  Th’ moths ain’t out yet.
You should ’a’ been here last night!"

"Yes?  But you ’re out; an’ you look like you might be able to fly," she
replied.

"Yes; I suppose so," he laughed.

"I see you wear _two_ of ’em," she said, glancing at his guns.  "Ain’t
one of them things enough?"

"One usually is, mostly," he assented.  "But I ’m pig-headed, so I wears
two."

"Ain’t it awrful hard to use two of ’em at once?" she asked, her tone
flattering.  "Then you ’re one of them two-gun men I ’ve heard about,
ain’t you?"

"An’ seen?" he smiled.

"Yes, I ’ve seen a couple.  Where you goin’ so early?"

"Just lookin’ th’ town over," he answered, glancing over her shoulder at
a cub of a cowpuncher who had opened the door of the "Retreat," but
stopped in his tracks when he saw the couple in front of McCall’s.
There was a look of surprised interest on the cub’s face, and it swiftly
changed to one of envious interest. Hopalong’s glance did not linger,
but swept carelessly along the row of shacks and back to his companion’s
face without betraying his discovery.

"Well; you can look it over in about ten seconds, from th’ outside," she
rejoined.  "An’ it’s so dusty out here.  My throat is awful dry
already."

He had n’t noticed any dust in the air, but he nodded.  "Yes; thirsty?"

"Well, it ain’t polite or ladylike to say yes," she demurred, "but I
really am."

He held open the door of the "Palace" and preceded her to the dance
hall, where she rippled the keys of the old piano as she swept past it.
The order given and served, he sipped at his glass and carried on his
share of a light conversation until, suddenly, he arose and made his
apologies. "I got to attend to something" he regretted as he picked up
his sombrero and turned.  "See you later."

"Why!" she exclaimed.  "I was just beginnin’ to get acquainted!"

"A moth without money ain’t no good," he smiled.  "I ’m goin’ out to
find th’ money. When I ’m in good company I like to spend. See you
later?"  He bowed as she nodded, and departed.

Emerging from McCall’s he glanced at the "Retreat" and sauntered toward
it.  When he entered he found the cub resting his elbows on the pine
bar, arguing with the bartender about the cigars sold in the
establishment.  The cub glanced up and appealed to the newcomer. "Ain’t
they?" he demanded.

Hopalong nodded.  "I reckon so.  But what is it about?"

"These cigars," explained the cub, ruefully. "I was just sayin’ there
ain’t a good one in town."

"You lose," replied Hopalong.  "Are you shore you knows a good cigar
when you smokes it?"

"I know it so well that I ain’t found one since I left Kansas City.  You
said I lose.  Do you know one well enough to be a judge?"

Hopalong reached to his vest pocket, extracted a cigar and handed it to
the cub, who took it hesitatingly.  "Why, I’m much obliged.  I—I did n’t
mean that—you know."

Hopalong nodded and rearranged the cigar’s twin-brothers in his pocket.
He would be relieved when they were smoked, for they made him nervous
with their frailty.  The cub lighted the cigar and an unaffected grin of
delight wreathed his features as the smoke issued from his nostrils.
"Who sells ’em?" he demanded, excitedly.

"Corson an’ Lukins, up th’ hill from th’ depot," answered Hopalong.
"Like it?"

"Like it!  Why, stranger, I used to spend most of my week’s pocket money
for these."  He paused and stared at the smiling puncher.  "Did you say
Corson an’ Lukins?" he demanded incredulously.  "Well, I ’ll be hanged!
When was you there?"

"Last week.  Here, bartender; liquor for all hands."

The cub touched the glass to his lips and waved his hand at a table.
Seated across from the stranger with the heaven-sent cigars he ordered
the second round, and when he went to pay for it he drew out a big roll
of bills and peeled off the one on the outside.

Hopalong frowned.  "Sonny," he said in a low voice, "it ain’t none of my
affair, but you oughta put that wad away an’ forget you have it when out
in public.  You shouldn’t tempt yore feller men like that."

The cub laughed: "Oh, I had my eye teeth cut long ago.  Play a little
game?"

Hopalong was amused.  "Didn’t I just tell you not to tempt yore feller
men?"

The cub grinned.  "I reckon it ’ll fade quick, anyhow; but it took me
six months’ hard work to get it together.  It ’ll last about six days, I
suppose."

"Six hours, if you plays every man that comes along," corrected
Hopalong.

"Well, mebby," admitted the cub.  "Say: that was one fine girl you was
talkin’ to, all right," he grinned.

Hopalong studied him a moment.  "Not meanin’ no offense, what’s yore
name?"

"Sammy Porter; why?"

"Well, Sammy," remarked Hopalong as he arose.  "I reckon we ’ll meet
again before I leave. You was remarkin’ she was a fine girl.  I admit
it; she was.  So long," and he started for the door.

Sammy flushed.  "Why, I—I didn’t mean nothin’!" he exclaimed.  "I just
happened to think about her—that’s all!  You know, I saw you talkin’ to
her.  Of course, you saw her first," he explained.

Hopalong turned and smiled kindly.  "You didn’t say nothin’ to offend
me.  I was just startin’ when you spoke.  But as long as you mentioned
it I ’ll say that my interest in th’ lady was only brief.  Her interest
in me was th’ same. Beyond lettin’ you know that I ’ll add that I don’t
generally discuss wimmin.  I ’ll see you later," and, nodding cheerily,
he went out and closed the door behind him.


Hopalong leaned lazily against the hotel, out of reach of the spring
wind, which was still sharp, and basked in the warmth of the timid sun.
He regarded the little cow-town cynically but smilingly and found no
particular fault with it. Existing because the railroad construction
work of the season before had chanced to stop on the eastern bank of the
deceptive creek, and because of the nearness of three drive trails, one
of them important, the town had sprung up, mushroom-like, almost in a
night.  Facing on the square were two general stores, the railroad
station and buildings, two restaurants, a dozen saloons where gambling
either was the main attraction or an ambitious side-line, McCall’s place
and a barber shop with a dingy, bullet-peppered red-and-white pole set
close to the door.  Between the barber shop and McCall’s was a narrow
space, and the windows of the two buildings, while not opposite, opened
on the little strip of ground separating them.

Rubbing a hand across his chin he regarded the barber shop thoughtfully
and finally pushed away from the sun-warmed wall of the hotel and
started lazily toward the red-and-white pole.  As he did so the
tin-panny notes of a piano redoubled and a woman’s voice shrilly arose
to a high note, flatted, broke and swiftly dropped an octave. He
squirmed and looked speculatively along the westward trail, wondering
how far away his outfit was and why he had not gone with them. Another
soaring note that did not flat and a crashing chord from the piano were
followed by a burst of uproarious, reckless laughter. Hopalong frowned,
snapped his fingers in sudden decision and stepped briskly toward the
barber shop as the piano began anew.

Entering quietly and closing the door softly, he glanced appraisingly
through the windows and made known his wants in a low voice.  "I want a
shave, haircut, shampoo, an’ anythin’ else you can think of.  I ’m tired
an’ don’t want to talk. Take yore own time an’ do a good job; an’ if I
’m asleep when yo’re through, don’t wake me till somebody else wants th’
chair.  Savvy?  All right—start in."

In McCall’s a stolid bartender listened to the snatches of conversation
that filtered under the door to the dance hall alongside and on his face
there at times flickered the suggestion of a cynical smile.  A heavy,
dark complexioned man entered from the street and glanced at the closed
door of the dance hall.  The bartender nodded and held up a staying
hand, after which he shoved a drink across the bar.  The heavy-set man
carefully wiped a few drops of spilled liquor from his white, tapering
hands and seated himself with a sigh of relief, and became busy with his
thoughts until the time should come when he would be needed.

On the other side of that door a little comedy was being enacted.  The
musician, a woman, toyed with the keys of the warped and scratched
piano, the dim light from the shaded windows mercifully hiding the paint
and the hardness of her face and helping the jewelry, with which her
hands were covered, keep its tawdry secret.

"I don’t see what makes you so touchy," grumbled Sammy in a pout.  "I
ain’t goin’ to hurt you if I touch yore arm."  He was flushed and there
was a suspicious unsteadiness in his voice.

She laughed.  "Why, I thought you wanted to talk?"

"I did," he admitted, sullenly; "but there’s a limit to most wants.  Oh,
well: go ahead an’ play.  That last piece was all right; but give us a
gallop or a mazurka—anything lively.  Better yet, a caprice: it’s in
keepin’ with yore temperament. If you was to try to interpert mine you
’d have to dig it out of Verdi an’ toll a funeral bell."

"Say; who told you so much about music?" she demanded.

"Th’ man that makes harmonicas," he grinned. He arose and took a step
toward her, but she retreated swiftly, smiling.  "Now behave yourself,
for a little while, at least.  What’s th’ matter with you, anyhow?  What
makes you so silly?"

"You, of course.  I don’t see no purty wimmin out on th’ range, an’ you
went to my head th’ minute I laid eyes on you.  _I_ ain’t in no hurry to
leave this town, now nohow."

"I ’m afraid you ’re going to be awful when you grow up.  But you ’re a
nice boy to say such pretty things.  Here," she said, filling his glass
and handing it to him, "let’s drink another toast—you know such nice
ones."

"Yes; an’ if I don’t run out of ’em purty soon I ’ll have to hunt a
solid, immovable corner somewheres; an’ there ain’t nothin’ solid or
immovable about _this_ room at present," he growled.  "What you allus
drinkin’ to somethin’ for?  Well, here’s a toast—I don’t know any more
fancy ones. Here’s to—_you_!"

"That’s nicer than—oh, pshaw!" she exclaimed, pouting.  "An’ you would
n’t drink a full glass to _that_ one.  You must think I ’m nice, when
you renig like that!  Don’t tell me any more pretty things—an’ stop
right where you are!  Think you can hang onto me after that? Well,
that’s better; why didn’t you do it th’ first time?  You can be a nice
boy when you want to."

He flushed angrily.  "Will you stop callin’ me a boy?" he demanded
unsteadily.  "I ain’t no kid!  I do a man’s work, earn a man’s pay, an’
I spend it like a man."

"An’ drink a boy’s drink," she teased. "You ’ll grow up some day."  She
reached forward and filled his glass again, for an instant letting her
cheek touch his.  Swiftly evading him she laughed and patted him on the
head. "Here, _man_," she taunted, "drink this if you dare!"

He frowned at her but gulped down the liquor. "There, like a fool!" he
grumbled, bitterly. "You tryin’ to get me drunk?" he demanded suddenly
in a heavy voice.

She threw back her head and regarded him coldly.  "It will do me no
good.  Why should I? I merely wanted to see if you would take a dare, if
you were a man.  You are either not sober now, or you are insultingly
impolite.  I don’t care to waste any more words or time with you," and
she turned haughtily toward the door.

He had leaned against the piano, but now he lurched forward and cried
out.  "I ’m sorry if I hurt yore feelin’s that way—I shore didn’t mean
to.  Ain’t we goin’ to make up?" he asked, anxiously.

"Do you mean that?" she demanded, pausing and looking around.

"You know I do, Annie.  Le’s make up—come on; le’s make up."

"Well; I’ll try you, an’ see."

"Play some more.  You play beautiful," he assured her with heavy
gravity.

"I’m tired of—but, say: Can you play poker?" she asked, eagerly.

"Why, shore; who can’t?"

"Well, I can’t, for one.  I want to learn, so I can win my money back
from Jim.  He taught me, but all I had time to learn was how to lose."

Sammy regarded her in puzzled surprise and gradually the idea became
plain.  "Did he teach you, an’ win money from you?  Did he keep it?" he
finally blurted, his face flushed a deeper red from anger.

She nodded.  "Why, yes; why?"

He looked around for his sombrero, muttering savagely.

"Where you goin’?" she asked in surprise.

"To get it back.  He ain’t goin’ to keep it, th’ coyote!"

"Why, he won’t give it back to you if he would n’t to me.  Anyhow, he
won it."

"_Won_ it!" he snapped.  "He stole it, that’s how much he won it.  He
’ll give it back or get shot."

"Now look here," she said, quickly.  "You ain’t goin’ gunnin’ for no
friend of mine.  If you want to get that money for me, an’ I certainly
can use it about now, you got to try some other way.  Say!  Why don’t
you win it from him?" she exulted.  "That’s th’ way—get it back th’ way
it went."

He weighed her words and a grin slowly crept across his face.  "Why, I
reckon you called it, that time, Annie.  That’s th’ way I ’ll try first,
anyhow, Li’l Girl.  Where is this good friend of yourn that steals yore
money?  Where is this feller?"

As if in answer to his inquiry the heavy-set man strolled in, humming
cheerily.  And as he did so the sleepy occupant of the barber’s chair
slowly awoke, rubbed his eyes, stretched luxuriously and, paying his
bill, loafed out and lazily sauntered down the street, swearing softly.

"Why, here he is now," laughed the woman. "You must ’a’ heard us talkin’
about you, Jim. I’m goin’ to get my money back—this is Mr. Porter, Jim,
who ’s goin’ to do it."

The gambler smiled and held out his hand. "Howd’y, Mr. Porter," he said.

Sammy glared at him: "Put yore paw down," he said, thickly.  "I ain’t
shakin’ han’s with no dogs or tin-horns."

The gambler recoiled and flushed, fighting hard to repress his anger.
"What you mean?" he growled, furiously.

"What I said.  If you want revenge sit down there an’ play, if you ’ve
got th’ nerve to play with a man.  I never let no coyote steal a woman’s
money, an’ I ’m goin’ to get Annie her twenty.  Savvy?"

The gambler’s reply was a snarl.  "Play!" he sneered.  "I’ll play, all
right.  It’ll take more ’n a sassy kid to get that money back, too. I ’m
goin’ to take yore last red cent.  You can’t talk to me like that an’
get it over.  An’ don’t let me hear you call her ’Annie’ no more,
neither. Yo ’re too cussed familiar!"

Her hand on Sammy’s arm stopped the draw and he let the gun drop back
into the holster. "_No!_" she whispered.  "Make a fool of him, Sammy!
Beat him at his own game."

Sammy nodded and scowled blackly.  "I call th’ names as suits me," he
retorted.  "When I see you on th’ street I ’m goin’ to call you some
that I ’m savin’ up now because a lady ’s present. They ’re hefty, too."

At first he won, but always small amounts. Becoming reckless, he plunged
heavily on a fair hand and lost.  He plunged again on a better hand and
lost.  Then he steadied as much as his befuddled brain would permit and
played a careful game, winning a small pot.  Another small winning
destroyed his caution and he plunged again, losing heavily.  Steadying
himself once more he began a new deal with excess caution and was
bluffed out of the pot, the gambler sneeringly showing his cards as he
threw them down.  Sammy glanced around to say something to the woman,
but found she had gone.  "Aw, never mind her!" growled his opponent.
"She ’ll be back—she can’t stay away from a kid like you."

The woman was passing through the barroom and, winking at the bartender,
opened the door and stepped to the street.  She smiled as she caught
sight of the limping stranger coming toward her.  He might have found
money, but she was certain he had found something else and in generous
quantities.  He removed his sombrero with an exaggerated sweep of his
hand and hastened to meet her, walking with the conscious erectness of a
man whose feet are the last part of him to succumb.  "Hullo, Sugar," he
grinned. "I found some, a’right.  Now we ’ll have some music.  Come
long."

"There ain’t no hurry," she answered.  "We ’ll take a little walk
first."

"No, we won’t.  We ’ll have some music an’ somethin’ to drink.  If you
won’t make th’ music, I will; or shoot up th’ machine.  Come ’long,
Sugar," he leered, pushing open the door with a resounding slam.  He
nodded to the bartender and apologized.  "No harm meant, Friend.  It
sorta slipped; jus’ slipped, tha’s all.  Th’ young lady an’ me is goin’
to have some music.  What? All right for you, Sugar!  Then I’ll make it
myself," and he paraded stiffly toward the inner door.

The bartender leaned suddenly forward. "Keep out of there!  You ’ll bust
that pianner!"

The puncher stopped with a jerk, swung ponderously on his heel and
leveled a forefinger at the dispenser of drinks.  "I won’t," he said.
"An’ if I do, I ’ll pay for it.  Come on, Sugar—le’s play th’ old thing,
jus’ for spite."  Grasping her arm he gently but firmly escorted her
into the dance hall and seated her at the piano.  As he straightened up
he noticed the card players and, bowing low to her, turned and addressed
them.

"Gents," he announced, bowing again, "we are goin’ to have a li’l music
an’ we hopes you won’t objec’.  Not that we gives a d—n, but we jus’
hopes you won’t."  He laughed loudly at his joke and leaned against the
piano.  "Let ’er go," he cried, beating time.  "Allaman lef an’ ladies
change!  Swing yore partner’s gal—I mean, swing some other gal: but
what’s th’ difference? All join han’s an’ hop to th’ middle—nope! It’s
all han’s roun’ an’ swing ’em again.  But it don’t make no difference,
does it, Lulu?"  He whooped loudly and marched across the room, executed
a few fancy steps and marched back again.  As he passed the card table
Sammy threw down his hand and arose with a curse.  The marcher stopped,
fiddled a bit with his feet until obtaining his balance, and then
regarded the youth quizzically.  "S’matter, Sonny?" he inquired.

Sammy scowled, slowly recognized the owner of the imported cigars and
shook his head.  "Big han’s, but not big enough; an’ I lost my pile."
Staggering to the piano he plumped down on a chair near it and watched
the rippling fingers of the player in drunken interest.

The hilarious cowpuncher, leaning backward perilously, recovered his
poise for a moment and then lurched forward into the chair the youth had
just left.  "Come on, pardner," he grinned across at the gambler.  "Le’s
gamble.  I been honin’ for a game, an’ here she is."  He picked up the
cards, shuffled them clumsily and pushed them out for the cut.  The
gambler hesitated, considered and then turned over a jack.  He lost the
deal and shoved out a quarter without interest.

The puncher leaned over, looked at it closely and grinned.  "Two bits?
That ain’t poker; that’s—that’s dominoes!" he blurted, angrily, with the
quick change of mood of a man in his cups.

"I ain’t anxious to play," replied the gambler. "I ’ll kill a li’l time
at a two-bit game, though. Otherwise I ’ll quit."

"A’right," replied the dealer.  "I did n’t expec’ nothin’ else from a
tin-horn, no-how.  I want two cards after you get yourn."  The gambler
called on the second raise and smiled to himself when he saw that his
opponent had drawn to a pair and an ace.  He won on his own deal and on
the one following.

The puncher increased the ante on the fourth deal and looked up
inquiringly, a grin on his face. "Le’s move out th’ infant class," he
suggested.

The gambler regarded him sharply.  "Well, th’ other _was_ sorta tender,"
he admitted, nodding.

The puncher pulled out a handful of gold coins and clumsily tried to
stalk them, which he succeeded in doing after three attempts.  He was so
busy that he did not notice the look in the other’s eyes.  Picking up
his hand he winked at it and discarded one.  "Goin’ to raise th’ ante a
few," he chuckled.  "I got a feelin’ I ’m goin’ t’ be lucky."  When the
card was dealt to him he let it lay and bet heavily.  The gambler saw it
and raised in turn, and the puncher, frowning in indecision, nodded his
head wisely and met it, calling as he did so.  His four fives were just
two spots shy to win and he grumbled loudly at his luck.  "Huh," he
finished, "she ’s a jack pot, eh?"  He slid a double eagle out to the
center of the table and laughed recklessly.  The deals went around
rapidly, each one calling for a ten-dollar sweetener and when the
seventh hand was dealt the puncher picked his cards and laughed. "She ’s
open," he cried, "for fifty," and shoved out the money with one hand
while he dug up a reserve pile from his pocket with the other.

The gambler saw the opener and raised it fifty, smiling at his
opponent’s expression.  The puncher grunted his surprise, studied his
hand, glanced at the pot and shrugging his shoulders, saw the raise.  He
drew two cards and chuckled as he slid them into his hand; but before
the dealer could make his own draw the puncher’s chuckle died out and he
stared over the gambler’s shoulder.  With an oath he jerked out his gun
and fired.  The gambler leaped to his feet and whirled around to look
behind.  Then he angrily faced the frowning puncher.  "What you think yo
’re doin’?" he demanded, his hand resting inside his coat, the thumb
hooked over the edge of the vest.

The puncher waved his hand apologetically. "I never have no luck when I
sees a cat," he explained.  "A black cat is worse; but a yaller one’s
bad enough.  I ’ll bet that yaller devil won’t come back in a
hurry—judgin’ by th’ way it started.  I won’t miss him, if he does."

The gambler, still frowning, glanced at the deck suspiciously and saw
that it lay as he had dropped it.  The bartender, grinning at them from
the door, cracked a joke and went back to the bar.  Sammy, after a wild
look around, settled back in his chair and soothed the pianist a little
before going back to sleep.

Drawing two cards the gambler shoved them in his hand without a change
in his expression—but he was greatly puzzled.  It was seldom that he
bungled and he was not certain that he had. The discard contained the
right number of cards and his opponent’s face gave no hint to the
thoughts behind it.  He hesitated before he saw the bet—ten dollars was
not much, for the size of the pot justified more.  He slowly saw it,
willing to lose the ten in order to see his opponent’s cards.  There was
something he wished to know, and he wanted to know it as soon as he
could. "I call that," he said.  The puncher’s expression of tenseness
relaxed into one of great relief and he hurriedly dropped his cards.
Three kings, an eight, and a deuce was his offering.  The gambler laid
down a pair of queens, a ten, an eight and a four, waved his hand and
smiled.  "It’s just as well I did n’t draw another queen," he observed,
calmly.  "I might ’a’ raised once for luck."

The puncher raked in the pot and turned around in his chair.  "I cleaned
up that time," he exulted to the woman.  She had stopped playing and was
stroking Sammy’s forehead. Smiling at the exuberant winner she nodded.
"You should have let the cat stay—I think it really brought you luck."
He shook his head emphatically.  "_No_, ma’am!  It was chasin’ it away
as did that.  That’s what did it, a’right."

The gambler glanced quickly at the two top cards on the deck and was
picking up those scattered on the table when his opponent turned around
again.  How that queen and ten had got two cards too deep puzzled him
greatly—he was willing to wager even money that he would not look away
again until the game was finished, not if all the cats in the world were
being slaughtered. One hundred and ninety dollars was too much money to
pay for being caught off his guard, as he was tempted to believe he had
been.  He did not know how much liquor the other had consumed, but he
seemed to be sobering rapidly.

The next few deals did not amount to much. Then a jackpot came around
and was pushed hard.  The puncher was dealing and as he picked up the
deck after the cut he grinned and winked. "Th’ skirmishin’ now bein’
over, th’ battle begins. If that cat stays away long enough mebby I ’ll
make a killin’."

"All right; but don’t make no more gun-plays," warned the gambler,
coldly.  "I allus get excited when I smells gun-powder an’ I do reckless
things sometimes," he added, significantly.

"Then I shore hopes you keep ca’m," laughed the puncher, loud enough to
be heard over the noise of the piano, which was now going again.

The pot was sweetened three times and then the gambler dealt his
opponent openers.  The puncher looked anxiously through the door,
grinning coltishly.  He slowly pushed out twenty dollars.  "There’s th’
key," he grunted. "A’right; see that an’ raise you back.  Good for you!
I’m stayin’ an’ boostin’ same as ever. Fine!  See it again, an’ add
this.  I ’m playin’ with yore money, so I c’n afford to be reckless. All
right; I’m satisfied, too.  Gimme one li’l card.  I shore am glad I
don’t need th’ king of hearts—that was shore on th’ bottom when th’ deal
_begun_."

The gambler, having drawn, cursed and reached swiftly toward his vest
pocket; but he stopped suddenly and contemplated the Colt that peeked
over the edge of the table.  It looked squarely at his short ribs and
was backed by a sober, angry man who gazed steadily into his eyes.
"Drop that hand," said the puncher in a whisper just loud enough to be
heard by the other over the noise of the piano.  "I never did like them
shoulder holsters—I carry my irons where everybody can see ’em."
Leaning forward swiftly he reached out his left hand and cautiously
turned over the other’s cards.  The fourth one was the king of hearts.
"Don’t move," he whispered, not wishing to have the bartender take a
hand from behind.  "An’ don’t talk," he warned as he leaned farther
forward and shoved his Colt against the other’s vest and with his left
hand extracted a short-barreled gun from the sheath under the gambler’s
armpit.  Sinking back in his chair he listened a moment and, raking in
the pot, stowed it away with the other winnings in his pockets.

The gambler stirred, but stopped as the Colt leaped like a flash of
light to the edge of the table.  "Tin-horn," said the puncher, softly,
"you ain’t slick enough.  I did n’t stop you when you wanted that queen
an’ ten because I wanted you to go on with th’ crookedness.  Yaller cats
is more unlucky to you than they are to me.  But when I saw that last
play I lost my temper; an’ I stopped you.  Now if you ’ll cheat with me,
you ’ll cheat with a drunk boy.  So, havin’ cheated him, you really
stole his money away from him.  That bein’ so, you will dig up six
month’s wages at about fifty per month.  I ’d shoot you just as quick as
I ’d shoot a snake; so don’t get no fool notions in yore head.  Dig it
right up."

The gambler studied the man across from him, but after a moment he
silently placed some money on the table.  "It was only two forty," he
observed, holding to three double eagles. The puncher nodded: "I ’ll
take yore word for that.  Now, in th’ beginnin’ I only wanted to get th’
boy his money; but when you started cheatin’ against me I changed my
mind.  I played fair.  Now here’s your short-five," he said as he slid
the gun across the table.  "Mebby you might want to use it sometime," he
smiled.  "Now you vamoose; an’ if I see you in town after th’ next train
leaves, I ’ll _make_ you use that shoulder holster.  An’ tell yore
friends that Hopalong Cassidy says, that for a country where men can
tote their hardware in plain sight, a shoulder layout ain’t no good: you
gotta reach too high. Adios."

He watched the silent, philosophical man-of-cards walk slowly toward the
door, upright, dignified and calm.  Then he turned and approached the
piano.  "Sister," he said, politely, "yore gamblin’ friend is leavin’
town on th’ next train.  He has pressin’ business back east a couple of
stations an’ wonders if you ’ll join him at th’ depot in time for th’
next train."

She had stopped playing and was staring at him in amazement.  "Why
didn’t he come an’ tell me himself, ’stead of sneakin’ away an’ sendin’
you over?" she at last demanded, angrily.

"Well, he wanted to, but he saw a man an’ slipped out with his gun in
his hand.  Mebby there’ll be trouble; but I dunno.  I’m just tellin’
you.  Gee," he laughed, looking at the snoring youth in the chair, "he
got _that_ quick. Why, I saw him less ’n two hours ago an’ he was sober
as a judge.  Reckon I ’ll take him over to th’ hotel an’ put him to
bed."  He went over to the helpless Sammy, shook him and made him get on
his feet.  "Come along, Kid," he said, slipping his arm under the
sagging shoulder. "We’ll get along.  Good-by, Sugar," and, supporting
the feebly protesting cub, he slowly made his way to the rear door and
was gone, a grin wreathing his face as he heard the chink of gold coins
in his several pockets.



                                  XII

                          SAMMY KNOWS THE GAME


A clean-cut, good-looking cowpuncher limped slightly as he passed the
postoffice and found a seat on a box in front of the store next door.
He sighed with relief and gazed cheerfully at the littered square as
though it was something worth looking at. The night had not been a
pleasant one because Sammy Porter had insisted upon either singing or
snoring; and when breakfast was announced the youth almost had recovered
his senses and was full of remorse and a raging thirst.  Being flatly
denied the hair of the dog that bit him he grew eloquently profane and
very abusive. Hence Mr. Cassidy’s fondness for the box.

Sounds obtruded.  They were husky and had dimensions and they came from
the hotel bar. After increasing in volume and carrying power they were
followed to the street by a disheveled youth who kicked open the door
and blinked in the sunlight.  Espying the contented individual on the
box he shook an earnest fist at that person and tried next door.  In a
moment he followed a new burst of noise to the street and shook the
other fist.  Trying the saloon on the other side of the hotel without
success he shook both fists and once again tried the hotel bar, where he
proceeded along lines tactful, flattering and diplomatic.  Only
yesterday he had owned a gun, horse and other personal belongings; he
had possessed plenty of money, a clear head and his sins sat lightly on
his youthful soul.  He still had the sins, but they had grown in weight.
Tact availed him nothing, flattery was futile and diplomacy was in vain.
To all his arguments the bartender sadly shook his head, not because
Sammy had no money, which was the reason he gave, but because of vivid
remembrance of the grimness with which a certain red-haired,
straight-lipped, two-gun cowpuncher had made known his request.  "Let
him suffer," had said the gunman.  "It ’ll be a good lesson for him.
Understand; not a drop!"  And the bartender had understood.  To the
drink-dispenser’s refusal Sammy replied with a masterpiece of eloquence
and during its delivery the bartender stood with his hand on a mallet,
but too spellbound to throw it.  Wheeling at the close of a vivid,
soaring climax, Sammy yanked open the door again and stood transfixed
with amazement and hostile envy.  His new and officious friend surely
knew the right system with women. To the burning indignities of the
morning this added the last straw and Sammy bitterly resolved not to
forget his wrongs.

Had Mr. Cassidy been a kitten he would have purred with delight as he
watched his youthful friend’s vain search for the hair of the dog, and
his grin was threatening to engulf his ears when the Cub slammed into
the hotel.  Hearing the beating of hoofs he glanced around and saw a
trim, pretty young lady astride a trim, high-spirited pony; and both
were thoroughbreds if he was any judge.  They bore down upon him at a
smart lope and stopped at the edge of the walk.  The rider leaped from
the saddle and ran toward him with her hand outstretched and her face
aglow with a delighted surprise.  Her eyes fairly danced with welcome
and relief and her cheeks, reddened by the thrust of the wind for more
than twenty miles, flamed a deeper red, through which streaks of creamy
white played fascinatingly.  "Dick Ellsworth!" she cried. "When did you
get here?"

Mr. Cassidy stumbled to his feet, one hand instinctively going out to
the one held out to him, the other fiercely gripping his sombrero.  His
face flamed under its tan and he mumbled an incoherent reply.

"Don’t you remember _me_?" she chided, a roguish, half-serious
expression flashing over her countenance.  "Not little Annie, whom you
taught to ride?  I used to think I needed you then, Dick; but oh, how I
need you now.  It’s Providence, nothing else, that sent you. Father’s
gone steadily worse and now all he cares for is a bottle.  Joe, the new
foreman, has full charge of everything and he’s not only robbing us
right and left, but he ’s—he ’s bothering _me_!  When I complain to
father of his attentions all I get is a foolish grin.  If you only knew
how I have prayed for you to come back, Dick!  Two bitter years of it.
But now everything is all right.  Tell me about yourself while I get the
mail and then we ’ll ride home together. I suppose Joe will be waiting
for me somewhere on the trail; he usually does.  Did you ever hate
anyone so much you wanted to kill him?" she demanded fiercely, beside
herself for the moment.

Hopalong nodded.  "Well, yes; I have," he answered.  "But you must n’t.
What’s his name?  We ’ll have to look into this."

"Joe Worth; but let’s forget him for awhile," she smiled.  "I ’ll get
the mail while you go after your horse."

He nodded and watched her enter the post-office and then turned and
walked thoughtfully away.  She was mounted when he returned and they
swung out of the town at a lope.

"Where have you been, and what have you been doing?" she asked as they
pushed along the firm, hard trail.

"Punchin’ for th’ Bar-20, southwest of here. I wouldn’t ’a’ been here
today only I let th’ outfit ride on without me.  We just got back from
Kansas City a couple of days back.  But let’s get at this here Joe Worth
prop’sition. I ’m plumb curious.  How long’s he been pesterin’ you?"

"Nearly two years—I can’t stand it much longer."

"An’ th’ outfit don’t cut in?"

"They ’re his friends, and they understand that father wants it so.  You
’ll not know father, Dick: I never thought a man could change so.
Mother’s death broke him as though he were a reed."

"Hum!" he grunted.  "You ain’t carin’ how this coyote is stopped, just
so he is?"

"No!" she flashed.

"An’ he ’ll be waitin’ for you?"

"He usually is."

He grinned.  "Le ’s hope he is this time." He was silent a moment and
looked at her curiously.  "I don’t know how you ’ll take it, but I got a
surprise for you—a big one.  I ’m shore sorry to admit it, but I ain’t
th’ man you think. I ain’t Dick What ’s-his-name, though it shore ain’t
_my_ fault.  I reckon I must look a heap like him; an’ I hope I can
_act_ like him in this here matter.  I want to see it through like _he_
would. I can do as good a job, too.  But it ain’t no-wise fair nor right
to pretend I ’m him.  I ain’t."

She was staring at him in a way he did not like.  "Not Dick Ellsworth!"
she gasped. "You are _not_ Dick?"

"I ’m shore sorry—but I ’d like to play his cards.  I ’m honin’ for to
see this here Joe Worth," he nodded, cheerfully.

"And you let me believe you were?" she demanded coldly.  "You
deliberately led me to talk as I did?"

"Well, now; I didn’t just know what to do. You shore was in trouble,
which was bad.  I reckoned mebby I could get you out of it an’ then go
along ’bout my business.  You ain’t goin’ to stop me a-doin’ it, are
you?" he asked anxiously.

Her reply was a slow, contemptuous look that missed nothing and that
left nothing to be said. Her horse did not like to stand, anyway, and
sprang eagerly forward in answer to the sudden pressure of her knees.
She rode the high-strung bay with superb art, angry, defiant, and erect
as a statue.  Hopalong, shaking his head slowly, gazed after her and
when she had become a speck on the plain he growled a question to his
horse and turned sullenly toward the town.  Riding straight to the hotel
he held a short, low-voiced conversation with the clerk and then sought
his friend, the Cub.  This youthful grouch was glaring across the bar at
the red-faced, angry man behind it, and the atmosphere was not one of
peace.  The Cub turned to see who the newcomer was and thereupon
transferred his glare to the smiling puncher.

"Hullo, Kid," breezed Hopalong.

"You go to h—l!" growled Sammy, remembering to speak respectfully to his
elders.  He backed off cautiously until he could keep both of his
enemies under his eyes.

Hopalong’s grin broadened.  He dug into his pockets and produced a large
sum of money. "Here, Kid," said he, stepping forward and thrusting it
into Sammy’s paralyzed hands. "Take it an’ buy all th’ liquor you wants.
You can get yore gun off ’n th’ clerk, an’ he ’ll tell you where to find
yore cayuse an’ other belongings. I gotta leave town."

Sammy stared at the money in his hand. "What’s this?" he demanded, his
face flushing angrily.

"Money," replied Hopalong.  "It’s that shiny stuff you buys things with.
Spondulix, cash, mazuma.  You spend it, you know."

Sammy sputtered.  He might have frothed had his mouth not been so dry.
"Is it?" he demanded with great sarcasm.  "I thought mebby it was cows,
or buttons.  What you handin’ it to me for?  I ain’t no d—d beggar!"

Hopalong chuckled.  "That money’s yourn. I pried it loose from th’
tin-horn that stole it from you.  I also, besides, pried off a few
chunks more; but them ’s mine.  I allus pays myself good wages; an’ th’
aforesaid chunks is plenty an’ generous.  Amen."

Sammy regarded his smiling friend with a frank suspicion that was
brutal.  The pleasing bulge of the pockets reassured him and he slowly
pocketed his rescued wealth.  He growled something doubtless meant for
thanks and turned to the bar.  "A large chunk of th’ Mojave Desert slid
down my throat las’ night an’ I ’m so dry I rustles in th’ breeze.
Let’s wet down a li’l."  Having extracted some of the rustle he eyed his
companion suspiciously.  "Thought you was a stranger hereabouts?"

"You ’ve called it."

"Huh!  Then I ’m goin’ to stick close to you an get acquainted with th’
female population of th’ towns we hit.  An’ I had allus reckoned
lightnin’ was quick!" he soliloquized, regretfully. "How ’d you do it?"
he demanded.

Hopalong was gazing over his friend’s head at a lurid chromo portraying
the Battle of Bull Run and he pursed his lips thoughtfully. "That shore
was some slaughter," he commented. "Well, Kid," he said, holding out his
hand, "I ’m leavin’.  If you ever gets down my way an’ wants a good job,
drop in an’ see us.  Th’ clerk ’ll tell you how to get there.  An’ th’
next time you gambles, stay sober."

"Hey!  Wait a minute!" exclaimed Sammy. "Goin’ home now?"

"Can’t say as I am, direct."

"Comin’ back here before you do?"

"Can’t say that, neither.  Life is plumb oncertain an’ gunplay ’s even
worse.  Mebby I will if I ’m alive."

"Who you gunnin’ for?  Can’t I take a hand?"

"Reckon not, Sammy.  Why, I ’m cuttin’ in where I ain’t wanted, even if
I am needed.  But it’s my duty.  It’s a h—l of a community as waits for
a total stranger to do its work for it. If yo ’re around an’ I come
back, why I ’ll see you again.  Meanwhile, look out for tin-horns."

Sammy followed him outside and grasped his arm.  "I can hold up my end
in an argument," he asserted fiercely.  "You went an’ did me a good
turn—lemme do _you_ one.  If it’s anythin’ to do with that li’l girl you
met to-day I won’t cut in—only on th’ trouble end.  I’m particular
strong on th’ trouble part.  Look here: Ain’t a friend got no rights?"

Hopalong warmed to the eager youngster—he was so much like Jimmy; and
Jimmy, be it known, could bedevil Hopalong as much as any man alive and
not even get an unkind word for it.  "I ’m scared to let you come, Kid;
she ’d fumigate th’ ranch when you left.  Th’ last twenty-four hours has
outlawed you, all right. You keep to th’ brush trails in th’ draws—don’t
cavort none on skylines till you lose that biled owl look."  He laughed
at the other’s expression and placed his hands on the youth’s shoulders.
"That ain’t it, Kid; I never apologizes, serious, for th’ looks of my
friends.  They ’re my friends, drunk or sober, in h—l or out of it.  I
just can’t see how you can cut in proper.  Better wait for me here—I ’ll
turn up, all right.  Meanwhile, as I says before, look out for
tin-horns."

Sammy watched him ride away, and then slammed his sombrero on the ground
and jumped on it, after which he felt relieved.  Procuring his gun from
the clerk he paused to cross-examine, but after a fruitless half hour he
sauntered out, hiding his vexation, to wrestle with the problem in the
open.  Passing the window of a general store he idly glanced at the
meager display behind the dusty glass and a sudden grin transfigured his
countenance.  He would find out about the girl first and that would help
him solve the puzzle.  Thinking thus he wandered in carelessly and he
wandered out again gravely clutching a small package.  Slipping behind
the next building he tore off the paper and carefully crumpled and
soiled with dust the purchase. Then he went down to the depot and
followed the railroad tracks toward the other side of the square.
Reaching the place where the south trail crossed the tracks he left them
and walked slowly toward a small depression that was surrounded by
hoofprints.  He stooped quickly and straightened up with a woman’s
handkerchief dangling from his fingers.  He grinned foolishly, examined
it, sniffed at it and scratched his head while he cogitated.  A decisive
wave of his hand apprised the two spectators that he had arrived at a
conclusion, which he bore out by heading straight for the postoffice,
which was a part of the grocery store.  The postmaster and grocer, in
person one, watched his approach with frank curiosity.

Sammy nodded and went in the store, followed by the proprietor.
"Howd’y," he remarked, producing the handkerchief.  "Just picked this up
over on th’ trail.  Know who dropped it?"

"Annie Allison, I reckon," replied the other. "She came in that way from
th’ Bar-U.  Want to leave it?"

Sammy considered.  "Why, I might as well take it to her—I’m goin’ down
there purty soon. Don’t know any other ranch that might use a
broncho-buster, do you?"

The proprietor shook his head.  "No; most folks ’round here bust their
own.  Perfessional?"

Sammy nodded.  "Yes.  Here, gimme two-bits’ worth of them pep’mint
lozengers.  Yes, it shore is fine; but it ’ll rain before long.  Well,
by-by."

The bartender of the "Retreat" sniffed suspiciously and eyed the open
door thoughtfully, holding aloft the bar-mop while he considered. Then
he put the mop on the bar and went to the door, where he peered out.
"Huh!" he grunted. "Hogin’ that?" he sarcastically inquired. Sammy held
out the bag and led the way to the bar.  "Where’s th’ Bar-U?  Yes?  Do
their own broncho-bustin’?  Who, me?  Ain’t nothin’ on laigs can throw
me, includin’ humans an’ bartenders.  What?  Well, what you want to get
all skinned up for, for nothin’?  Five dollars? If you must lose it I
might as well have it.  One fall?  All right; come out here an’ get it."

The bartender chuckled and vaulted the counter as advance notice of his
agility and physical condition, and immediately there ensued a soft
shuffling.  Suddenly the building shook and dusted itself and Sammy
arose and stepped back, smiling at his victim.  "Thanks," he remarked.
"Good money was spent on part of my education—boxin’ bein’ th’ other
half.  Now, for five more, where can’t I hit you?"

"Behind th’ bar," grinned the other; "I got deadly weapons there.  Look
here!" he exclaimed hurriedly as a great idea struck him. "Everybody
’round here will back their wrastlin’ reckless; le ’s team up an’ make
some easy money. I ’ll make th’ bets an’ you win ’em.  Split even. What
say?"

"Later on, mebby.  What’d you say that Bar-U foreman’s name was?"

The bartender’s reply was supplemented by a pious suggestion.  "An’ if
you wrastles _him_, bust his cussed neck!"

"Why this friendship?" queried Sammy, laughing.

"Oh, just for general principles."

Sammy bought cigars, left some lozenges and went out to search for his
horse, which he duly found.  Inwardly he was elated and he flexed his
muscles and made curious motions with his arms, which caused the
pie-bald to show the whites of its eyes wickedly and flatten its ragged
ears.  Its actions were justified, for a left hand darted out and
slapped the wrinkling muzzle, deftly escaping the clicking teeth.  Then
the warlike pie-bald reflected judiciously as it chewed the lozenge.
The eyes showed less white and the ears, moving forward and back,
compromised by one staying forward.  The candy was old and stale and the
sting of the mint was negligible, but the sugar was much in evidence.
When the hand darted out again the answering nip was playful and the
ears were set rigidly forward.  Sammy laughed, slipped several more
lozenges into the ready mouth, vaulted lightly to the saddle and rode
slowly toward the square. The pie-bald kicked mildly and reached around
to nip at the stirrup, and then went on about its business as any
well-broken cow pony should. Reaching the square Sammy drew rein
suddenly and watched a horseman who was riding away from the "Retreat."
Waiting a few minutes Sammy spurred forward to the saloon and called the
bartender out to him.  "Who was that feller that just left?" he asked,
curiously.

"Joe Worth, th’ man yo ’re goin’ to strike for that job.  Why don’t you
catch him now an’ mebby save yoreself a day’s ride?"

"Good idea," endorsed Sammy.  "See you later," and the youth wheeled and
loped toward the trail, but drew rein when hidden from the "Retreat" by
some buildings.  He watched the distant horseman until he became a mere
dot and then Sammy pushed on after him.  There was a satisfied look on
his face and he chuckled as he cogitated.  "I shore got th’ drift of
this; I know th’ game!  Wonder how Cassidy got onto it?"  He laughed
contentedly.  "Well, five hundred ain’t too little to split two ways;
an’ mebby it is a two-man job.  Mr. Joe Worth, who was once Mr. George
Atkins, I would n’t give a peso for yore chances after I get th’ lay of
th’ ground an’ find out yore habits.  Yo ’re goin’ back to Willow
Springs as shore as ’dogies’ hang ’round water holes.  An’ you ’ll shore
dance their tune when you gets there."


Mr. Cassidy, arriving at the Bar-U, asked for the foreman and was told
that the boss was in town, but would be back sometime in the afternoon.
The newcomer replied that he would return later and, carefully keeping
out of sight of the ranch house as well as he could, he wheeled and rode
back the way he had come, being very desirous to have a good look at the
foreman before they met.  Arriving at an arroyo several miles north of
the ranch he turned into it and, leaving his horse picketed on good
grass along the bottom, he climbed to a position where he could see the
trail without being seen.  Having settled himself comfortably he
improved the wait by trying to think out the best way to accomplish the
work he had set himself to do.  Shooting was too common and hardly
justifiable unless Mr. Worth forced the issue with weapons of war.

The time passed slowly and he was relieved when a horseman appeared far
to the north and jogged toward him, riding with the careless grace of
one at home in the saddle.  Being thoroughly familiar with the trail and
the surrounding country the rider looked straight ahead as if attention
to the distance yet untraveled might make it less.  He passed within
twenty feet of the watcher and went on his way undisturbed. Hopalong
waited until he was out of sight around a hill and then, vaulting into
the saddle, rode after him, still puzzled as to how he would proceed
about the business in hand.  He dismounted at the bunkhouse and nodded
to those who lingered near the wash bench awaiting their turn.

"Just in time to feed," remarked one of the punchers.  "Watch yore turn
at th’ basins—every man for hisself ’s th’ rule."

"All right," Hopalong laughed.  "But is there any chance to get a job
here?" he asked, anxiously.

"You ’ll have to quiz th’ Ol’ Man—here he comes now," and the puncher
waved at the approaching foreman.  "Hey, Joe!  Got a job for this
hombre?" he called.

The foreman keenly scrutinized the newcomer, as he always examined
strangers.  The two guns swinging low on the hips caught his eyes
instantly but he showed no particular interest in them, notwithstanding
the fact that they proclaimed a gunman.  "Why I reckon I got a job for
you," he said.  "I been waitin’ to keep somebody over on Cherokee Range.
But it’s time to eat: we’ll talk later."

After the meal the outfit passed the time in various ways until
bed-time, the foreman talking to the new member of his family.  During
the night the foreman awakened several times and looked toward the
newcomer’s bunk but found nothing suspicious.  After breakfast he called
Hopalong and one of the others to him. "Ned," he said, "take Cassidy
over to his range and come right back.  Hey, Charley!  You an’ Jim take
them poles down to th’ ford an’ fence in that quicksand just south of
it.  Ben says he ’s been doin’ nothin’ but pullin’ cows outen it.  All
right, Tim; comin’ right away."

Ned and the new puncher lost no time but headed east at once with a
packhorse carrying a week’s provisions for one man.  The country grew
rougher rapidly and when they finally reached the divide a beautiful
sight lay below them, stretching as far as eye could see to the east.
In the middle distance gleamed the Cherokee, flowing toward the south
through its valley of rocks, canyons, cliffs, draws and timber.

"There ’s th’ hut," said Ned, pointing to a small gray blot against the
dead black of a towering cliff.  "Th’ spring’s just south of it. Bucket
Hill, up north there, is th’ north boundary; Twin Spires, south yonder
is th’ other end; an’ th’ Cherokee will stop you on th’ east side. You
ride in every Sat’day if you wants.  Don’t get lonesome," he grinned
and, wheeling abruptly, went back the way they had come.

Hopalong shook his head in disgust.  To be sidetracked like this was
maddening.  It had taken three hours of hard traveling over rough
country to get where he was and it would take as long to return; and all
for nothing!  He regarded the pack animal with a grin, shrugged his
shoulders and led the way toward the hut, the pack horse following
obediently.  It was another hour before he finally reached the little
cabin, for the way was strange and rough.  During this time he had
talked aloud, for he had the tricks of his kind and when alone he talked
to himself. When he reached the hut he relieved the pack horse of its
load, carrying the stuff inside. Closing the door and blocking it with a
rock he found the spring, drank his fill and then let the horses do
likewise.  Then he mounted and started back over the rough trail,
thinking out loud and confiding to his horse and he entered a narrow
defile close to the top of the divide, promising dire things to the
foreman.  Suddenly a rope settled over him, pinned his arms to his sides
and yanked him from the saddle before he had time to think.  He landed
on his head and was dazed as he sat up and looked around.  The foreman’s
rifle confronted him, and behind the foreman’s feet were his two Colts.

"You talks too much," sneered the man with the drop.  "I suspicioned you
th’ minute I laid eyes on you.  It ’ll take a better man than you to get
that five hundred reward.  I reckon th’ Sheriff was too scared to come
hisself."

Hopalong shook his head as if to clear it. What was the man talking
about?  Who was the sheriff?  He gave it up, but would not betray his
ignorance.  Yes; he had talked too much.  He felt of his head and was
mildly surprised to see his hand covered with blood when he glanced at
it.  "Five hundred ’s a lot of money," he muttered.

"Blood money!" snapped the foreman. "You had a gall tryin’ to get me.
Why, I been lookin’ for somebody to try it for two years. An’ I was
ready every minute of all that time."

Slowly it came to Hopalong and with it the realization of how foolish it
would be to deny the part ascribed to himself.  The rope was loose and
his arms were practically free; the foreman had dropped the lariat and
was depending upon his gun.  The captive felt of his head again and,
putting his hands behind him for assistance in getting up, arose slowly
to his feet. In one of the hands was a small rock that it had rested
upon during the effort of rising.  At the movement the foreman watched
him closely and ordered him not to take a step if he wanted to live a
little longer.

"I reckon I ’ll have to shoot you," he announced.  "I dass n’t let you
loose to foller me all over th’ country.  Anyhow, I ’d have to do it
sooner or later.  I wish you was Phelps, d—n him; but he’s a wise
sheriff.  Better stand up agin’ that wall.  I gotta do it; an’ you
deserve it, you Judas!"

"Meanin’ yo’re Christ?" sneered Hopalong. "Did you kill th’ other feller
like that?  If I ’d ’a’ knowed that I ’d ’a’ slapped yore dawg’s face at
th’ bunkhouse an’ made you take an even break.  Shore you got nerve
enough to shoot straight if I looks at you while yo ’re aimin’?"  He
laughed cynically.  "I don’t want to close my eyes."

The foreman’s face went white and he half lowered the rifle as he took a
step forward. Hopalong leaped sideways and his arm straightened out, the
other staggering under the blow of the missile.  Leaping forward
Hopalong ran into a cloud of smoke and staggered as he jumped to close
quarters.  His hand smashed full in the foreman’s face and his knee sank
in the foreman’s groin.  They went down, the foreman weak from the kick
and Hopalong sick and weak from the bullet that had grazed the bone of
his bad thigh.  And lying on the ground they fought in a daze, each
incapable of inflicting serious injury for awhile.  But the foreman grew
stronger as his enemy grew weaker from loss of blood and, wriggling from
under his furious antagonist, he reached for his Colt.  Hopalong threw
himself forward and gripped the gun wrist between his teeth and closed
his jaws until they ached.  But the foreman, pounding ceaselessly on the
other’s face with his free hand, made the jaws relax and drew the
weapon.  Then he saw all the stars in the heavens as Hopalong’s head
crashed full against his jaw and before he could recover the gun was
pinned under his enemy’s knee.  Hopalong’s head crashed again against
the foreman’s jaw and his right hand gripped the corded throat while the
left, its thumb inside the foreman’s cheek and its fingers behind an
ear, tugged and strained at the distorted face. Growling like wild
beasts they strained and panted, and then, suddenly, Hopalong’s grip
relaxed and he made one last, desperate effort to bring his strength
back into one furious attack; but in vain.  The battered foreman, quick
to sense the situation, wrestled his adversary to one side long enough
to grab the Colt from under the shifting knee.  As he clutched it a shot
rang out and the weapon dropped from his nerveless hand before he could
pull the trigger.  An exulting, savage yell roared in his ears and in
the next instant he seemed to leave the ground and soar through space.
He dropped ten feet away and lay dazed and helpless as a knee crashed
against his chest.  Sammy Porter, his face working curiously with relief
and rage, rolled him against the wall of the defile and struck him over
the head with a rifle butt, first disarming him.

Hopalong opened his eyes and looked around, dazed and sick.  The
foreman, bound hand and foot by a forty-five foot lariat, lay close to
the base of the wall and stared sullenly at the sky. Sammy was coming up
the trail with a dripping sombrero held carefully in his hands and was
growling and talking it all over.  Hopalong looked down at his thigh and
saw a heavy, blood-splotched bandage fastened clumsily in place.
Glancing at Sammy again he idly noted that part of the youth’s
blue-flannel shirt was missing. Curiously, it matched the bandage.  He
closed his eyes and tried to think what it was all about.

Sammy ambled up to him, threw some water in the bruised face and then
grinned cheerfully at the language he evoked.  Producing a flask and
holding it up to the light, Sammy slid his thumb to a certain level and
then shoved the bottle against his friend’s teeth.  "Huh!" he chuckled,
yanking the bottle away.  "You’ll be all right in a couple of days.  But
you shore are one h—l of a sight—it’s a toss-up between you an’ Atkins."

                     *      *      *      *      *

It was night.  Hopalong stirred and arose on one elbow and noticed that
he was lying on a blanket that covered a generous depth of leaves and
pine boughs.  The sap-filled firewood crackled and popped and hissed and
whistled under the licking attack of the greedy flames, which flared up
and died down in endless alternation, and which grotesquely revealed to
Hopalong’s throbbing eyes a bound figure lying on another blanket.
That, he decided, was the foreman. Letting his gaze wander around the
lighted circle he made out a figure squatting on the other side of the
fire, and concluded it was Sammy Porter. "What you doin’, Kid?" he
asked.

Sammy arose and walked over to him.  "Oh, just watchin’ a fool puncher
an’ five hundred dollars," he grinned.  "How you feelin’ now, you ol’
sage hen?"

"Good," replied the invalid, and, comparatively, it was the truth.
"Fine an’ strong," he added, which was not the truth.

"That’s the way to talk," cheered the Cub. "You shore had one fine
séance.  You earned that five hundred, all right."

Hopalong reflected and then looked across at the prisoner.  "He can
fight like the devil," he muttered.  "Why, I kicked him hard enough to
kill anybody else."  He turned again and looked Sammy in the eyes,
smiling as best he could. "There ain’t no five hundred for me, Kid.  I
did n’t come for that, did n’t know nothin’ about it.  An’ it’s blood
money, besides.  We ’ll turn him loose if he ’ll get out of the country,
hey? We ’ll give him a chance; either that or you take th’ reward."

Sammy stared, grunted and stared again. "What you ravin’ about?" he
demanded.  "An’ you didn’t come after him for that money?" he asked,
sarcastically.

Hopalong nodded and smiled again.  "That’s right, Kid," he answered,
thoughtfully.  "I come down to make him get out of th’ country. You let
him go after we get out of this.  I reckon I got yore share of the
reward right here in my pocket; purty near that much, anyhow. You take
it an’ let him vamoose.  What you say?"

Sammy rose, angry and disgusted.  His anger spoke first.  "You go to h—l
with yore money!  I don’t want it!"  Then, slowly and wonderingly spoke
his disgust.  "He ’s yourn; do what you want.  But I here remarks, frank
an’ candid, open an’ so all may hear, that yo ’re a large, puzzlin’ d—d
fool.  Now lay back on that blanket an’ go to sleep afore I changes my
mind!"

Sammy drifted past the prisoner and looked down at him.  "Hear that?" he
demanded. There was no answer and he grunted.  "Huh! You heard it, all
right; an’ it plumb stunned you."  Passing on he grabbed the last
blanket in sight, it was on the foreman’s horse, and rolled up in it,
feet to the fire.  His gun he placed under the saddle he had leaned
against, which now made his pillow.  As he squirmed into the most
comfortable position he could find under the circumstances he raised his
head and glanced across at his friend.  "Huh!" he growled softly.
"That’s th’ worst of them sentimental fellers.  That gal shore wrapped
him ’round her li’l finger all right.  Oh, well," he sighed. "’Tain’t
none of my doin’s, thank the Lord; I got sense!"  And with the
satisfaction of this thought still warm upon him he closed his eyes and
went to sleep, confident that the slightest sound would awaken him; and
fully justified in his confidence.



                                  XIII

                                HIS CODE


Mr. "Youbet" Somes, erstwhile foreman of the Two-X-Two ranch, in
Arizona, and now out of a job, rode gloomily toward Kit, a town between
him and his destination.

Needless to say, he was a cowman through and through.  More than that,
he was so saturated with cowmen’s traditions as to resent pugnaciously
anything which flouted them.

He was of the old school, and would not submit quietly to two things,
among others, which an old-school cowman hated—wire fences and sheep.
To this he owed his present ride, for he hated wire fences cordially.
They meant the passing of the free, open range, of straight trails
across country; they meant a great change, an intolerable condition.

"Yessir, bronch!  Things are gettin’ damnabler every year, with th’
railroads, tourists, nesters, barb’ wire, an’ sheep.  Last year, it was
a windmill, that screeched till our hair riz up.  It would n’t work when
we wanted it to, an’ we could n’t stop it when it once got started.

"It gave us no sleep, no peace; an’ it killed Bob Cousins—swung round
with th’ wind an’ knocked him off ’n th’ platform, sixty feet, to th’
ground.  Bob allus did like to monkey with th’ buzz saw.  I shore told
him not to go up there, because th’ cussed thing was loaded; but, bein’
mule-headed, he knowed more ’n me.

"But this year!  Lord—but that was an awful pile of wire, bronch!  Three
strands high, an’ over a hundred an’ fifty miles round that pasture.
That was a’ insult, bronch; an’ I never swaller ’em.  That’s what put me
an’ you out here, in th’ middle of nowhere, tryin’ to find a way out.
G’wan, now!  You ain’t goin’ to rest till I gets off you.  G’wan, I told
you!"

Mr. Somes was riding east, bound for the Bar-20, where he had friends.
For a year or two, he had heard persistent rumors to the effect that
Buck Peters had more cows than he knew what to do with; and he argued
rightly that the Bar-20 foreman could find a place for an old friend,
whose ability was unquestioned.  Of one thing he was certain—there were
no wire fences, down there.

It was dusk when he dismounted in front of Logan’s, in Kit, and went
inside.  The bartender glanced up, reaching for a bottle on the shelf
beside him.

Youbet nodded.  "You got it first pop.  Have one with me.  I ’m countin’
on staying over in town tonight.  Got a place for me?"

"Shore have—upstairs in th’ attic.  Want grub, too?"

"Well, I sorter hope to have somethin’ to eat afore I pull out.  Here’s
how!"  And when Mr. Somes placed his empty glass on the bar, he smiled
good-naturedly.  "That’s good stuff. Much goin’ on in town?"

"Reckon you can get a game most anywhere."

"Where do I get that grub?  Here?"

"No—down th’ street.  Ridin’ far?"

"Yes—a little.  Goin’ down to th’ Bar-20 for a job punchin’.  I hear
Peters has got more cows than he can handle.  Know anybody down there
you wants to send any word to?"

"I ’ll be hanged if I know," laughed the bartender.  "I know a lot of
fellers, but they shift so I can’t keep track of ’em, nohow."

A man in a far corner pushed back his chair, and approached the bar,
scowling as he glanced at Youbet.  "Gimme another," he ordered.

"Why, hullo, stranger!" exclaimed Youbet. "I did n’t see you before.
Have one with me."

The other looked him squarely in the eyes. "Ex-cuse me, stranger—I ’m a
sheepman, an’ I don’t drink with cowmen."

"Well, ex-cuse _me_!" retorted Youbet, like a flash.  "If I ’d ’a’
knowed you was a sheepman, I wouldn’t ’a’ asked you!"

The sheepman drank his liquor and, returning to his corner, placed his
elbows on the table, and his chin in his hands, apparently paying no
further attention to the others.

"If I can’t get a job with Peters, I can try th’ C-80 or Double Arrow,"
continued Youbet, as he toyed with his glass.  "If I can’t get on with
one of them, I reckons Waffles, of th’ O-Bar-O, will find a place for
me, though I don’t like that country a whole lot."

The bartender hesitated for a moment.  "Do you know Waffles?" he asked.

"Shore—know ’em all.  Why?  Do you know him, too?"

"No; but I ’ve heard of him."

"That so?  He ’s a good feller, he is.  I ’ve punched with both him an’
Peters."

"I heard he wasn’t," replied the bartender, slowly but carelessly.

"Then you heard wrong, all right," rejoined Youbet.  "He’s one of us old
fellers—hates sheep, barb’ wire, an’ nesters as bad as I do; an’ sonny,"
he continued, warming as he went on. "Th’ cow country ain’t what it used
to be—not no way.  I can remember when there war n’t no wire, no
nesters, an’ no sheep.  An’, between you and me, I don’t know which is
th’ worst. Every time I runs up agin’ one of ’em, I says it’s th’ worst;
but I guess it’s just about a even break."

"I heard about yore friend Waffles through sheep," replied the
bartender.  "He chased a sheep outfit out of a hill range near his
ranch, an’ killed a couple of ’em, a-doin’ it."

"Served ’em right—served ’em right," responded Youbet, turning and
walking toward the door.  "They ain’t got no business on a cattle
range—not nohow."

The man in the corner started to follow, half raising his hand, as
though to emphasize something he was about to say; but changed his mind,
and sullenly resumed his brooding attitude.

"Reckon I ’ll put my cayuse in yore corral, an’ look th’ town over,"
Youbet remarked, over his shoulder.  "Remember, yo ’re savin’ a bed for
me."

As he stepped to the street, the man in the corner lazily arose and
looked out of the window, swearing softly while he watched the man who
hated sheep.

"Well, there ’s another friend of yore business," laughed the bartender,
leaning back to enjoy the other’s discomfiture.  "_He_ don’t like ’em,
neither."

"He ’s a fool of a mossback, so far behind th’ times he don’t know who
’s President," retorted the other, still staring down the street.

"Well, he don’t know that this has got to be a purty fair sheep
town—that’s shore."

"He ’ll find out, if he makes many more talks like that—an’ that ain’t
no dream, neither!" snapped the sheepman.  He wheeled, and frowned at
the man behind the bar.  "You see what he gets, if he opens his cow
mouth in here tonight.  Th’ boys hate this kind real fervent; an’ when
they finds out that he ’s a side pardner of that coyote Waffles, they
won’t need much excuse.  You wait—that’s all!"

"Oh, what’s th’ use of gettin’ all riled up about it?" demanded the
bartender easily.  "He did n’t know _you_ was a sheepman, when he made
his first break.  An’ lemme tell you somethin’ you want to remember—them
old-time cowmen can use a short gun somethin’ slick.  They ’ve got ’em
trained.  Bet _he_ can work th’ double roll without shootin’ hisself
full of lead."  The speaker grinned exasperatingly.

"Yes!" exploded the sheepman, who had tried to roll two guns at once,
and had spent ten days in bed as a result of it.

The bartender laughed softly as he recalled the incident.  "Have you
tried it since?" he inquired.

"Go to th’ devil!" grinned the other, heading for the door.  "But he ’ll
get in trouble, if he spouts about hatin’ sheep, when th’ boys come in.
You better get him drunk an’ lock him in th’ attic, before then."

"G’wan!  I ain’t playin’ guardian to nobody," rejoined the bartender.
"But remember what I said—them old fellers can use ’em slick an’ rapid."

The sheepman went out as Youbet returned; and the latter seated himself,
crossing his legs and drawing out his pipe.

The bartender perfunctorily drew a cloth across the bar, and smiled.
"So you don’t like wire, sheep, or nesters," he remarked.

Mr. Somes looked up, in surprise, forgetting that he held a lighted
match between thumb and finger.  "Like ’em!  Huh, I reckon not.  I ’m
lookin’ for a job because of wire.  H—l!" he exclaimed, dropping the
match, and rubbing his finger.  "That’s twice I did that fool thing in a
week," he remarked, in apology and self-condemnation, and struck another
match.

"I was foreman of my ranch for nigh onto ten years.  It was a good
ranch, an’ I was satisfied till last year, when they made me put up a
windmill that did n’t mill, but screeched awful. I stood for that
because I could get away from it in th’ daytime.

"But this year!  One day, not very long ago, I got a letter from th’
owners, an’ it says for me to build a wire fence around our range.  It
went on to say that there was two carloads of barb’ wire at Mesquite.
We was to tote that wire home, an’ start in.  If two carloads wasn’t
enough, they ’d send us more.  We had one busted-down grub waggin, an’
Mesquite shore was fifty miles away—which meant a whoppin’ long job
totin’.

"When I saw th’ boys, that night, I told ’em that I ’d got orders to
raise their pay five dollars a month—which made ’em cheer.  Then I told
’em that was so providin’ they helped me build a barb’ wire fence around
th’ range—which did n’t make ’em cheer.

"Th’ boundary lines of th’ range we was usin’ was close onto a hundred
an’ fifty miles long, an’ three strands of wire along a trail like that
is some job.  We was to put th’ posts twelve feet apart, an’ they was to
be five feet outen th’ ground an’ four feet in it—which makes ’em nine
feet over all.

"There was n’t no posts at Mesquite.  Them posts was supposed to be
growin’ freelike on th’ range, just waitin’ for us to cut ’em, skin ’em,
tote an’ drop ’em every twelve feet along a line a hundred an’ fifty
miles long.  An’ then there was to be a hole dug for every post, an’
tampin’, staplin’, an’ stringin’ that hell-wire.  An’ don’t forget that
lone, busted-down grub waggin that was to do that totin’!

"There was some excitement on th’ Two-X-Two that night, an’ a lot of
figgerin’; us bein’ some curious about how many posts was needed, an’
how many holes we was to dig to fit th’ aforesaid posts.  We made it
sixty-six thousand. Think of it!  An’ only eight of us to tackle a job
like that, an’ ride range at th’ same time!"

"Oh, ho!" roared the bartender, hugging himself, and trying to carry a
drink to the narrator at the same time.  "Go on!  That’s good!"

"Is, is it?" snorted Youbet.  "Huh!  You wouldn’t ’a’ thought so, if you
was one of us eight.  Well, I set right down an’ writ a long letter—took
six cents’ worth of stamps—an’ gave our views regardin’ wire fences in
general an’ this one of ourn in particular.  I hated fences, an’ do yet;
an’ so ’d my boys hate ’em, an’ they do yet.

"In due time, I got a answer, which come for two cents.  It says: ’Build
that fence.’

"I sent Charley over to Mesquite to look over them cars of wire.  He saw
’em, both of ’em.  An’ th’ agent saw him.

"Th’ agent was a’ important man, an’ he grabs Charley quick.  ’Hey, you
Two-X-Two puncher—you get that wire home quick.  It went past here three
times before they switched it, an’ I ’ve been gettin’ blazes from th’
company ever since. We needs th’ cars.’

"’Don’t belong to me,’ says Charley.  ’I shore don’t want it.  I ’m
eatin’ beans an’ bacon instead.’

"’You send for that wire!’ yells th’ agent, wild-like.

"Charley winks.  ’Can’t you keep it passin’ this station till it snows
hard?  Have a drink.’

"Well, th’ agent wouldn’t drink, an’ he wouldn’t send that pore wire out
into a cold world no more; an’ so Charley comes home an’ reports, him
lookin’ wanlike.  When he told us, he looked sort of funny, an’ blurts
out that his mother went an’ died up in Laramie, an’ he must shore ’nuff
rustle up there an’ bury her.  He went.

"Then Fred Ball begun to have pains in his stomach, an’ said it was
appendix somethin’, what he had been readin’ about in th’ papers.  He
had to go to Denver, an’ get a good doctor, or he ’d shore die.  He
went.

"Carson had to go to Santa Fé to keep some of his numerous city lots
from bein’ sold off by th’ sheriff.  He went.

"Th’ rest, bein’ handicapped by th’ good start th’ others had made in
corrallin’ all th’ excuses, said they ’d go for th’ wire.  They went.

"I waited four days, an’ then I went after ’em.  When I got to th’
station, I sees th’ agent out sizin’ up our wire; an’ when I hails, he
jumps my way quick, an’ grabs my laig tight.

"’You take that wire home!’ he yells.

"’Shore,’ says I soothingly.  ’You looks mad,’ I adds.

"’Mad!  Mad!’ he shouts, hoppin’ round, but hangin’ onto my laig like
grim death.  ’Mad! I ’m goin’ _loco_—crazy!  I can’t sleep!  There ’s
twenty letters an’ messages on my table, tellin’ me to get that wire
off’n th’ cars an’ send th’ empties back on th’ next freight!  You’ve
got to take it—_got to_!’"

The bartender shocked his nervous system by drinking plain water by
mistake, but he listened eagerly.  "Yes?  What then?"

"Well, then I asks him where I can find my men, an’ team, an’ waggin’.
He tells me.  Th’ team an’ waggin is in a corral down th’ street, but he
don’t know where th’ men are.  They held a gun to his head, an’ said
they ’d kill him if he didn’t flag th’ next train for ’em.  Th’ next
train was a through express, carryin’ mail. He was n’t dead.

"He showed me ten more letters an’ messages, regardin’ th’ flaggin’ of a
contract-mail train for four fares; an’ some of them letters must ’a’
been written by a old-time cowman, they was that eloquent an’
God-fearin’.  Then I went.

"Why, Charley was twenty years old; an’ we figgered that, when th’ last
staple was drove in th’ last post, he ’d ’a’ been dead ten years! Where
did I come in, the—?"

"Oh, Lord!" sighed the bartender, holding his sides, and trying to
straighten his face so that he could talk out of the middle of it.
"That’s th’ best ever!  Have another drink!"

"I ain’t tellin’ my troubles for liquor," snorted Youbet.  "You have one
with me.  Here comes some customers down th’ street, I reckon."

"Say!" exclaimed the bartender hurriedly. "You keep mum about sheep.
This is a red-hot sheep town, an’ it hates Waffles an’ all his friends.
Hullo, boys!" he called to four men, who filed into the room.  "Where ’s
th’ rest of you?"

"Comin’ in later.  Same thing, Jimmy," replied Clayton, chief herder.
"An’ give us th’ cards."

"Have you seen Price?" asked Towne.

"Yes; he was in here a few minutes ago. What ’d you say, Schultz?" the
bartender asked, turning to the man who pulled at his sleeve.

"I said dot you vas nod right aboud vat you said de odder day.  Chust
now I ask Clayton, und he said you vas nod."

"All right, Dutchy—all right!" laughed the bartender.  "Then it’s on me
this time, ain’t it?"

Youbet walked to the bar.  "Say, where do I get that grub?  It’s about
time for me to mosey off an’ feed."

"Next building—and you’ll take mutton if yo ’re wise," replied the
bartender, in a low voice. "Th’ hash is awful, an’ the beef is tough,"
he added, a little louder.

"Mutton be damned!" snorted Youbet, stamping out.  "I eat what I punch!"
And his growls became lost in the street.

Schultz glanced up.  "Yah!  Und he shoot vat I eat, tarn him, ven he
gan!"

"Oh, put yore ante in, an’ don’t talk so much!" rejoined Towne.  "He
ain’t going to shoot _you_."

"It ’ll cost you two bits to come in," remarked Clayton.

"An’ two more," added Towne, raising the ante.

"Goot!  I blay mit you.  But binochle iss der game!"

"I ’ll tell you a good story about a barb’ wire fence tomorrow,
fellers," promised the bartender, grinning.


The poker game had been going for some time before further remarks were
made about the cowman who had left, and then it was Clayton who spoke.

"Say, Jimmy!" he remarked, as Schultz dealt. "Who is yore leather-pants
friend who don’t like mutton?"

The bartender lifted a bottle, and replaced it with great care.  "Oh,
just a ranch foreman, out of a job.  He’s a funny old feller."

"So?  An’ what’s so funny about him?  Get in there, Towne, if you wants
to do any playin’ with us."

"Why, he was ordered to build a hundred an’ fifty miles of wire fence
around his range, an’ he jumped ruther than do it."

"Yas—an’ most of it government land, I reckon," interposed Towne.

"Pshaw!  It’s an old game with them," laughed Clayton.  "Th’ law don’t
get to them; an’ if they ’ve got a good outfit, nobody has got any
chance agin ’em."

"Py Gott, dot’s right!" grunted Schultz.

"Shore, it is," responded Towne, forgetting the game.  "Take that Apache
Hills run-in. Waffles did n’t have no more right to that range than
anybody else, but that did n’t make no difference.  He threw a couple of
outfits in there, penned us in th’ cabin, killed MacKay, an’ shot th’
rest of us up plenty.  Then he threatened to slaughter our herd if we
did n’t pull out. By God, I ’d like to get a cowman like him up here,
where th’ tables are turned around on th’ friends proposition."

"Hullo, boys!" remarked the bartender to the pair who came in.

"Just in time.  Get chairs, an’ take hands," invited Clayton, moving
over.

"Who’s th’ cowman yo’re talkin’ about?" asked Baxter, as he leaned
lazily against the bar.

"Oh, all of ’em," rejoined Towne surlily. "There ’s one in town, now,
who don’t like sheep."

"That so?" queried Baxter slowly.  "I reckon he better keep his mouth
shut, then."

"Oh, he ’s all right!  He ’s a jolly old geezer," assured the bartender.
"He just talks to hear hisself—one of them old-timers what can’t get
right to th’ way things has changed on th’ range. It was them boys that
did great work when th’ range was wild."

"Yes, an’ it’s them bull-headed old fools what are raisin’ all th’ hell
with th’ sheep," retorted Towne, frowning darkly as he remembered some
of the indignities he had borne at the hands of cowmen.

"I wish his name was Waffles."  Clayton smiled significantly.

"Rainin’ again," remarked a man in the doorway, stamping in.  "Reckon it
ain’t never goin’ to stop."

"Where you been so long, Price?" asked Clayton, as a salutation.

"Oh, just shiftin’ about.  That cow wrastler raised th’ devil in th’
hotel," Price replied.  "Old fool!  They brought him mutton, an’ he
wanted to clean out th’ place.  Said he ’d as soon eat barb’ wire.  They
’re feedin’ him hash an’ canned stuff, now."

"He ’ll get hurt, if he don’t look out," remarked Clayton.  "Who is he,
anyhow, Price?"

"Don’t know his name; but he ’s from Arizona, on his way to th’ Pecos
country.  Says he ’s a friend of Buck Peters an’ Waffles.  To use one of
his own expressions, he ’s a old mosshead."

"Friend of Waffles, hey?" exclaimed Towne.

"Yumpin’ Yimminy!" cried Oleson, in the same breath.

"Well, if he knows when he’s well off, he ’ll stay away from here, an’
keep his mouth closed," said Clayton.

"Aw, let him alone!  He’s one agin’ th’ whole town—an’ a good old
feller, at that," hastily assured the bartender.  "It ain’t his fault
that Waffles buffaloed you fellers out of th’ Hills, is it?  He’s goin’
on early tomorrow; so let him be."

"You ’ll get yoreself in trouble, Jimmy, m’ boy, if you inserts yoreself
in this," warned Towne.  "It was us agin’ a whole section, an’ we got
ours.  Let him take his, if he talks too much."

"Shore," replied Price.  "I heard him shoot off his mouth, an hour ago,
an’ he’s got altogether too much to say.  You mind th’ bar an’ yore own
business, Jimmy.  We ain’t kids."

"Go you two bits better," said Clayton, shoving out a coin.  "Gimme some
cards, Towne. It ’ll cost you a dollar to see our raises."

Baxter walked over to watch the play.  "I ’m comin’ in next game.  Who
’s winnin’, now?"

"Reckon I am; but we ain’t much more ’n got started," Clayton replied.
"Did you call, Towne?  Why, I ’ve got three little tens.  You got
anythin’ better?"

"Never saw such luck!" exclaimed Towne disgustedly.  "Dutchy, yo ’re a
Jonah."

"Damn th’ mutton, says I.  It was even in that hash!" growled a voice,
just outside the door.

A moment later, Youbet Somes entered, swinging his sombrero
energetically to shake off the water.

"Damn th’ rain, too, an’ this wart of a town. A man can’t get nothin’
fit to eat for love or money, on a sheep range.  Gimme a drink, sonny!
Mebby it ’ll cut th’ taste of that rank tallow out ’n my mouth.  Th’
reason there is sheep on this earth of our’n is that th’ devil chased
’em out ’n his place—an’ no blame to him."

He drank half his liquor, and, placing the glass on the bar beside him,
turned to watch the game.  "Ah, strangers—that’s th’ only game, after
all.  I ’ve dabbled in ’em all from faro to roulette, but that’s th’
boss of ’em all."

"See you an’ call," remarked Clayton, ignoring the newcomer.  "What you
got, you Dutch pagan?"

"_Zwei Kaisers_ und a bair of chackasses, mit a deuce."

"Kings up!" exclaimed Clayton.  "Why, say—you bet th’ worst of anybody I
ever knew! You ’ll balk on bettin’ two bits on threes, and plunge on a
bluff.  I reckoned you did n’t have nothin’.  Why ain’t you more
consistent?" he asked, winking at Towne.

"Gonsisdency iss no chewel in dis game—it means go broke," placidly
grunted Schultz, raking in his winnings.

His friend Schneider smiled.


"Coyotes are gettin’ too numerous, this year," Baxter remarked,
shuffling.

Youbet pushed his sombrero back on his head. "They don’t get numerous on
a cow range," he said significantly.

"Huh!" snorted Baxter.  "They’ve got too much respect to stay on one
longer than they ’ve got to."

"They’d ruther be with their woolly-coated cousins," rejoined the cowman
quietly.  It was beneath his dignity as a cowman to pay much attention
to what sheepmen said, yet he could not remain silent under such a
remark.

He regarded sheep herders, those human beings who walked at their work,
as men who had reached the lowest rung in the ladder of human endeavors.
His belief was not original with him, but was that of many of his
school.  He was a horseman, a mounted man, and one of the aristocracy of
the range; they were, to him, the rabble, and almost beneath his
contempt.

Besides, it was commonly believed by cowmen that sheep destroyed the
grass as far as cattle grazing was concerned—and this was the chief
reason for the animosity against sheep and their herders, which burned
so strongly in the hearts of cattle owners and their outfits.

Youbet drained his glass, and continued: "The coyote leaves th’ cattle
range for th’ same good reason yore sheep leave it—because they are
chased out, or killed.  Naturally, blood kin will hang together in
banishment."

"You know a whole lot, don’t you?" snorted Clayton, with sarcasm.  "Yo
’re shore wise, you are!"

"He is so vise as a—a gow," remarked Schultz, grinning.

"You ’ll know more, when you get as old as me," replied the ex-foreman,
carefully placing the empty glass on the bar.

"I don’t want to get as old as you, if I have to lose all my common
sense," retorted Clayton angrily.

"An’ be a damned nuisance generally," observed Towne.

"I ’ve seen a lot of things in my life," Youbet began, trying to ignore
the tones of the others. They were young men, and he knew that youth
grew unduly heated in argument.  "I saw th’ comin’ of th’ Texas drive
herds, till th’ range was crowded where th’ year before there was
nothin’.  I saw th’ comin’ of th’ sheep—an’ barb’ wire, I ’m sorry to
say.  Th’ sheep came like locusts, leavin’ a dyin’ range behind ’em.
Thin, half-starved cattle showed which way they went.  You can’t tell me
nothin’ I don’t know about sheep."

"An’ _I_ ’ve seen sheep dyin’ in piles on th’ open range," cried
Clayton, his own wrongs lashing him into a rage.  "_I_ ’ve seen ’em
dynamited, an’ drowned and driven hell-to-split over canyons!  I ’ve had
my men taunted, an’ chased, an’ killed—_killed_, by God!—just because
they tried to make a’ honest livin’!  Who did it all?  Who killed my men
an’ my sheep?  _Who did it?_" he shouted, taking a short step forward,
while an endorsing growl ran along the line of sheepmen at his side.

"Cowpunchers—they did it!  They killed ’em—an’ why?  Because we tried to
use th’ grass that we had as much right to as they had—_that ’s_ why!"

"Th’ cows was here first," replied Youbet, keenly alert, but not one
whit abashed by the odds, long as they were.  "It was theirs because
they was there first."

"It was not theirs, no more’n th’ sun was!" cried Towne, unable to allow
his chief to do all the talking.

"You said you knowed Waffles," continued Clayton loudly.  "Well, he ’s
another of you old-time cowmen!  He killed MacKay—murdered him—because
we was usin’ a hill range a day’s ride from his own grass!  He had
twenty men like hisself to back him up.  If we ’d been as many as them,
they would n’t ’a’ tried it—an’ you know it!"

"I don’t know anything of th’ kind, but I do know—" began Youbet; but
Schultz interrupted him with a remark intended to contain humor.

"Ven you say you doand know anyt’ing, you know somedings; ven you know
dot you doand know noddings, den you know somedings.  Und das iss
so—yah."

"Who th’ devil told you to stick yore Dutch mouth—" retorted Youbet; but
Clayton cut him short.

"So _yo ’re_ a old-timer, hey?" cried the sheepman.  "Well, by God, yore
old-time friend Waffles is a coward, a murderer, an’—"

[Illustration: "Yo’re a liar!" rang out the vibrant voice of the cowman]

"Yo ’re a liar!" rang out the vibrant voice of the cowman, his gun out
and leveled in a flash. The seven had moved forward as one man, actuated
by the same impulse; and their hands were moving toward their guns when
the crashes of Youbet’s weapon reverberated in the small room, the acrid
smoke swirling around him as though to shield him from the result of his
folly—a result which he had weighed and then ignored.

Clayton dropped, with his mouth still open. Towne’s gun chocked back in
the scabbard as its owner stumbled blindly over a chair and went down,
never to rise.  Schultz fired once, and fell back across the table.

The three shots had followed one another with incredible quickness; and
the seven, not believing that one man would dare attack so many, had not
expected his play.  Before the stunned sheepmen could begin firing,
three were dead.

Price, badly wounded, fired as he plunged to the wall for support; and
the other three were now wrapped in their own smoke.

Wounded in several places, with his gun empty, Youbet hurled the weapon
at Price, and missed by so narrow a margin that the sheepman’s aim was
spoiled.  Youbet now sprang to the bar, and tried to vault over it, to
get to the gun which he knew always lay on the shelf behind it.  As his
feet touched the upper edge of the counter, he grunted and, collapsing
like a jackknife, loosed his hold, and fell to the floor.

"_Mein Gott!_" groaned Schneider, as he tried to raise himself.  He
looked around in a dazed manner, hardly understanding just what had
happened.  "He vas mat; crazy mat!"

Oleson arose unsteadily to his feet, and groped his way along, the wall
to where Price lay.

The fallen man looked up, in response to the touch on his shoulder; and
he swore feebly: "Damn that fool—that idiot!"

"Shut up, an’ git out!" shouted the bartender, standing rigidly upright,
with a heavy Colt in his upraised hand.  There were tears in his eyes,
and his voice broke from excitement.  "He wouldn’t swaller yore insults!
He knowed he was a better man!  Get out of here, every damned one of
you, or I ’ll begin where he stopped.  G ’wan—_get out_!"

The four looked at him, befuddled and sorely hurt; but they understood
the attitude, if they did not quite grasp the words—and they knew that
he meant what he looked.  Staggering and hobbling, they finally found
the door, and plunged out to the street, to meet the crowd of men who
were running toward the building.

Jimmy, choking with anger and with respect for the man who had preferred
death to insults, slammed shut the door and, dropping the bar into
place, turned and gazed at the quiet figure huddled at the base of the
counter.

"Old man," he muttered, "now I understands why th’ sheep don’t stay long
on a cattle range."



                                  XIV

                           SAMMY HUNTS A JOB


Sammy Porter, detailed by Hopalong, the trail-boss, rode into Truxton
three days before the herd was due, to notify the agent that cars were
wanted.  Three thousand three-year-olds were on their way to the packing
houses and must be sent through speedily. Sammy saw the agent and,
leaving him much less sweeter in temper than when he had found him, rode
down the dismal street kicking up a prodigious amount of dust.  One
other duty demanded attention and its fulfillment was promised by the
sign over the faded pine front of the first building.

"Restaurant," he read aloud.  "That’s mine. Beans, bacon an’ biscuits
for ’most a month!  But now I ’m goin’ to forget that Blinky Thompkins
ever bossed a trail wagon an’ tried to cook."

Dismounting, he glanced in the window and pulled at the downy fuzz
trying to make a showing on his upper lip.  "Purty, all right.  Brown
hair an’ I reckon brown eyes.  Nice li’l girl. Well, they don’t make no
dents on me no more," he congratulated himself, and entered.  His twenty
years fairly sagged with animosity toward the fair sex, the intermittent
smoke from the ruins of his last love affair still painfully in evidence
at times.  But careless as he tried to be he could not banish the
swaggering mannerisms of Youth in the presence of Maid, or change his
habit of speech under such conditions.

"Well, well," he smiled.  "Here I ’are’ again. Li’l Sammy in search of
his grub.  An’ if it’s as nice as you he ’ll shore have to flag his
outfit an’ keep this town all to hisself.  Got any chicken?"

The maid’s nose went up and Sammy noticed that it tilted a trifle, and
he cocked his head on one side to see it better.  And the eyes were
brown, very big and very deep—they possessed a melting quality he had
never observed before. The maid shrugged her shoulders and swung around,
the tip-tilt nose going a bit higher.

Sammy leaned back against the door and nodded approval of the slender
figure in spic-and-span white.  "Li’l Sammy is a fer-o-cious cow-punch
from a chickenless land," he observed, sorrowfully.  "There ain’t _no_
kinds of chickens. Nothin’ but men an’ cattle an’ misguided cooks; an’
beans, bacon an’ biscuits.  Li’l Miss, have you a chicken for me?"

"No!"  The head went around again, Sammy bending to one side to see it
as long as he could. The pink, shell-like ear that flirted with him
through the loosely-gathered, rebellious hair caught his attention and
he leveled an accusing finger at it.  "Naughty li’l ear, peekin’ at
Sammy that-a-way!  Oh, you stingy girl!" he chided as the back of her
head confronted him. "Well, Sammy don’t like girls, no matter how pink
their ears are, or turned up their noses, or wonderful their eyes.  He
just wants chicken, an’ all th’ fixin’s.  He ’ll be very humble an’
grateful to Li’l Miss if she ’ll tell him what he can have.  An’ he ’ll
behave just like a Sunday-school boy.

"Aw, you don’t want to get mad at only me," he continued after she
refused to answer. "Got any chicken?  Got any—eggs?  Lucky Sammy!  An’
some nice ham?  Two lucky Sammies.  An’ some mashed potatoes?  Fried?
Good.  An’ will Li’l Miss please make a brand new cup of strong coffee?
Then he ’ll go over an’ sit in that nice chair an’ watch an’ listen. But
you ought n’t get mad at him.  Are you really-an’-truly mad?"

She swept down the room, into the kitchen partitioned off at the farther
end and slammed the door.  Sammy grinned, tugged at his upper lip and
fancy-stepped to the table.  He smoothed his tumbled hair, retied his
neck-kerchief and dusted himself off with his red bandanna handkerchief.
"Nice li’l town," he soliloquized.  "_Fine_ li’l town.  Dunno as I ought
to go back to th’ herd—Hoppy did n’t tell me to. Reckon I ’ll stick in
town an’ argue with th’ agent.  If I argue with th’ agent I ’ll be busy;
an’ I can’t leave while I ’m busy."  He leaned back and chuckled.
"Lucky me!  If Hoppy had gone an’ picked Johnny to argue with th’ agent
for three whole days where would _I_ be? But I gotta keep Johnny outa
here, th’ son-of-a-gun. He ain’t like me—he _likes_ girls; an’ he ain’t
bashful."

He picked up a paper lying on a chair near him and looked it over until
the kitchen door squeaked.  She carried a tray covered with a snow-white
napkin which looked like a topographical map with its mountains and
valleys and plains.  His chuckle was infectious to the extent of a smile
and her eyes danced as she placed his dinner before him.

"Betcha it’s fine," he grinned, shoveling sugar into the inky coffee.
"Blinky oughta have a good look at _this_ layout."

"Don’t be too sure," she retorted.  "Mrs. Olmstead is sick and I ’m
taking charge of things for her.  I ’m not a good cook."

"Nothin ’s th’ matter with this," he assured her between bites.  "Lots
better ’n most purty girls can do.  If Hopalong goes up against this he
’ll offer you a hundred a month an’ throw Blinky in to wash th’ dishes.
But he ’d have to ’point me guard, or you would n’t have no time to do
no cookin’."

"You ’d make a fine guard," she retorted.

"Don’t believe it, huh?  Jus’ wait till you know me better."

"How do you know I ’m going to?"

"I ’m a good guesser.  Jus’ put a li’l pepper right there on that yalla
spot.  Say, any chance to get a job in this town?"

"Why, I don’t know."

"Goin’ to stay long?"

"I can’t say.  I won’t go till Mrs. Olmstead is well."

"Not meanin’ no harm to Mrs. Olmstead, of course—but you don’t _have_ to
go, do you?"

"I do as I please."

"So I was thinkin’.  Now, ’bout that job: any chance?  Any ranches near
here?"

"Several.  But they want _men_.  Are you a real cowboy?"

Sammy folded his hands and shook his head sorrowfully.  "Huh!  Want
_men_!  Now if I only had whiskers like Blinky.  Why, ’course I ’m a
cowboy.  Regular one—but I can outgrow it easy.  I ’m a sorta maverick
an’ I ’m willin’ to wear a nice brand.  My name’s Sammy Porter," he
suggested.

"That’s nice.  Mine is n’t nice."

"Easy to change it.  Really like mine?"

"Coffee strong enough?"

"Sumptious.  How long’s Mrs. Olmstead going to be sick?"

Her face clouded.  "I don’t know.  I hope it will not be for long.  She
’s had _so_ much trouble the past year.  Oh, wait!  I forgot the toast!"
and she sped lightly away to rescue the burning bread.

The front door opened and slammed shut, the newcomer dropping into the
nearest chair.  He pounded on the table.  "Hello, there!  I want
somethin’ to eat, quick!"

Sammy turned and saw a portly, flashily dressed drummer whose importance
was written large all over him.  "Hey!" barked the drummer, "gimme
something to eat.  I can’t wait all day!"

A vicious clang in the kitchen told that his presence was known and
resented.

As Sammy turned from the stranger he caught sight of a pretty flushed
face disappearing behind the door jamb, the brown eyes snapping and the
red lips straight and compressed.  His glance, again traveling to the
drummer, began with the dusty patent leathers and went slowly upward,
resting boldly on the heavy face. Sammy’s expression told nothing and
the newcomer, glaring at him for an instant, looked over the menu card
and then stared at the partition, fidgeting in his chair, thumping
meanwhile on the table with his fingers.

At a sound from the kitchen Sammy turned back to his table and smiled
reassuringly as the toast was placed before him.  "I burned it and had
to make new," she said, the pink spots in her cheeks a little deeper in
color.

"Why, th’ other was good enough for me," he replied.  "Know Mrs.
Olmstead a long time?" he asked.

"Ever since I was a little girl.  She lived near us in Clev—"

"Cleveland," he finished.  "State of Ohio," he added, laughingly.  "I
’ll get it all before I go."

"Indeed you won’t!"

"Miss," interrupted the drummer, "if you ain’t too busy, would you mind
gettin’ me a steak an’ some coffee?"  The tones were weighted with
sarcasm and Sammy writhed in his chair.  The girl flushed, turned
abruptly and went slowly into the kitchen, from where considerable noise
now emanated.  In a short time she emerged with the drummer’s order,
placed it in front of him and started back again.  But he stopped her.
"I said I wanted it rare an’ it’s well done. An’ also that I wanted
fried potatoes.  Take it back."

The girl’s eyes blazed: "You gave no instructions," she retorted.

"Don’t tell me that!  I know what I said!" snapped the drummer.  "I
won’t eat it an’ I won’t pay for it.  If you was n’t so _busy_ you ’d
heard what I said."

Sammy was arising before he saw the tears of vexation in her eyes, but
they settled it for him. He placed his hand lightly on her shoulder.
"You get me some pie an’ take a li’l walk.  Me an’ this here gent is
goin’ to hold a palaver. Ain’t we, stranger?"

The drummer glared at him.  "We ain’t!" he retorted.

Sammy grinned ingratiatingly.  "Oh, my; but we are."  He slung a leg
over a chair back and leaned forward, resting his elbow on his knee.
"Yes, indeed we are—least-a-wise, _I_ am."  His tones became very soft
and confiding.  "An’ I ’m shore goin’ to watch you eat that steak."

"What’s that you ’re going to do?" the drummer demanded, half rising.

"Sit down," begged Sammy, his gun swinging at his knee.  He picked up a
toothpick with his left hand and chewed it reflectively.  "These here
Colts make a’ awful muss, sometimes," he remarked.  "’Specially at close
range.  Why," he confided, "I once knowed a man what was shot ’most in
two.  He was a moss-head an’ would n’t do what he was told.  Better
sorta lead off at that steak, _hombre_," he suggested, chewing evenly on
the toothpick.  Noticing that the girl still lingered, hypnotized by
fear and curiosity, he spoke to her over his shoulder.  "Won’t you
please get me that pie, or somethin’?  Run out an’ borrow a pan, or
somethin’," he pleaded.  "I don’t like to be handicapped when I ’m
feedin’ cattle."

The drummer’s red face paled a little and one hand stole cautiously
under his coat—and froze there.  Sammy hardly had moved, but the Colt
was now horizontal and glowered at the gaudy waistcoat.  He was between
it and the girl and she did not see the movement.  His smile was placid
and fixed and he spoke so that she should get no inkling of what was
going on.  "Never drink on an empty stomach," he advised.  "After you
eat that meal, then you can fuss with yore flask all you wants."  He
glanced out of the corner of his eye at the girl and nodded.  "Still
there!  Oh, I most forgot, stranger.  You take off yore hat an’
’pologize, so she can go.  Jus’ say yo ’re a dawg an never did have no
manners. _Say_ it!" he ordered, softly.  The drummer gulped and muttered
something, but the Colt, still hidden from the girl by its owner’s body,
moved forward a little and Sammy’s throaty growl put an end to the
muttering.  "Say it plain," he ordered, the color fading from his face
and leaving pink spots against the white. "That’s better—now, Li’l Miss,
you get me that pie—please!" he begged.

When they were alone Sammy let the gun swing at his knee again.  "I
don’t know how they treats wimmin where you came from, stranger; but out
here we ’re plumb polite. ’Course you did n’t know that, an’ that’s why
you did n’t get all mussed up.  Yo ’re jus’ plain ignorant an’ can’t
help yore bringin’ up.  Now, you eat that steak, _pronto_!"

"It’s too cold, now," grumbled the drummer, fidgeting in the chair.

The puncher’s left hand moved to the table again and when it returned to
his side there was a generous layer of red pepper on the meat. "Easy to
fix things when you know how," he grinned.  "If it gets any colder I ’ll
fix it some more."  His tones became sharper and the words lost their
drawled softness.  "You goin’ to start ag’in that by yoreself, or am I
goin’ to help you?" he demanded, lifting his leg off the chair and
standing erect.  All the humor had left his face and there was a
grimness about the tight lips and a menace in the squinting eyes that
sent a chill rippling down the drummer’s spine.  He tasted a forkful of
the meat and gulped hastily, tears welling into his eyes.  The puncher
moved a little nearer and watched the frantic gulps with critical
attention.  "’Course, you can eat any way you wants—yo’re payin’ for it;
but boltin’ like a coyote ain’t good for th’ stummick. Howsomever, it’s
yore grub," he admitted.

A cup of cold coffee and a pitcher of water followed the meat in the
same gulping haste. Tears streamed down the drummer’s red face as he
arose and turned toward the door.  "Hol’ on, stranger!" snapped Sammy.
"That costs six bits," he prompted.  The coins rang out on the nearest
table, the door slammed and the agonized stranger ran madly down the
street, cursing at every jump.  Sammy sauntered to the door and craned
his neck.  "Somebody ’s jus’ naturally goin’ to bust him wide open one
of these days.  He ain’t got no sense," he muttered, turning back to get
his pie.


A cloud of dust rolled up from the south, causing Briggs a little
uneasiness, and he scowled through the door at the long empty siding and
the pens sprawled along it.

Steps clacked across the platform and a grinning cowpuncher stopped at
the open window. "They’re here," he announced.  "How ’bout th’ cars?"

Briggs looked around wearily.  For three days his life had been made
miserable by this pest, who carried a laugh in his eyes, a sting on his
tongue and a chip on his shoulder.  "They ’ll be here soon," he replied,
with little interest.  "But there ’s th’ pens."

"Yes, there’s th’ pens," smiled Sammy. "They’ll hold ’bout one-tenth of
that herd. Ain’t I been pesterin’ you to get them cars?"

The agent sighed expressively and listened to the instrument on his
table.  When it ceased he grabbed the key and asked a question.  Then he
smiled for the first time that day.  "They ’re passing Franklin.  Be
here in two hours.  Now get out of here or I ’ll lick you."

"There ’s a nice place in one of them pens," smiled Sammy.

"I see you ’re eating at Olmstead’s," parried the agent.

"Yea."

"Nice girl.  Come up last summer when Mrs. Olmstead petered out.  I ate
there last winter."

Sammy grinned at him.  "Why ’d you stop?"

Briggs grew red and glanced at the nearing cloud of dust.  "Better help
your outfit, had n’t you?"

Sammy was thoughtful.  "Say, that’s a plumb favorite eatin’ place, ain’t
it?"

Briggs laughed.  "Wait till Saturday when th’ boys come in.  There ’s a
dozen shinin’ up to that girl.  Tom Clarke is real persistent."

Sammy forsook the building as a prop. "Who ’s he?  Puncher?"

"Yes; an’ bad," replied the agent.  "But I reckon she don’t know it."

Sammy looked at the dust cloud and turned to ask one more question.
"What does this persistent gent look like, an’ where’s he hang out?"  He
nodded at the verbose reply and strode to his horse to ride toward the
approaching herd.  He espied Red first, and hailed.  "Cars here in two
hours.  Where ’s Hoppy?"

"Back in th’ dust.  But what happened to _you_?" demanded Red, with
virile interest. Sammy ignored the challenge and loped along the edge of
the cloud until he found the trail boss. "Them cars ’ll be here in two
hours," he reported.

"Take you three days to find it out?" snapped Hopalong.

"Took me three days to get ’em.  I just about unraveled that agent.  He
swears every time he hears a noise, thinkin’ it’s me."

"Broke?" demanded Hopalong.

Sammy flushed.  "I ain’t gambled a cent since I hit town.  An’ say, them
pens won’t hold a tenth of ’em," he replied, looking over the dark blur
that heaved under the dust cloud like a fog-covered, choppy sea.

"I ’m goin’ to hold ’em on grass," replied the trail boss.  "They ain’t
got enough cars on this toy road to move all them cows in less ’n a
week. I ain’t goin’ to let ’em lose no weight in pens. Wait a minute!
You ’re on night herd for stayin’ away."

When Sammy rode into camp the following morning he scorned Blinky’s
food, much to the open-mouthed amazement of that worthy and Johnny
Nelson.  Blinky thought of doctors and death; but Johnny, noticing his
bunkmate’s restlessness and the careful grooming of his person, had
grave suspicions.  "Good grub in this town?" he asked, saddling to go on
his shift.

Sammy wiped a fleck of dust off his boot and looked up casually.
"Shore.  Best is at the Dutchman’s at th’ far end of th’ street."

Johnny mounted, nodded and departed for the herd, where Red was
pleasantly cursing his tardiness.  Red would eat Blinky’s grub and
gladly. Johnny was cogitating.  "There ’s a girl in this town, an’ he ’s
got three days’ head start.  No wonder them cars just got here!"  Red’s
sarcastic voice intruded.  "Think I eat grass, or my stummick ’s made of
rubber?" he snapped. "Think I feed onct a month like a snake?"

"No, Reddie," smiled Johnny, watching the eyebrows lift at the name.
"More like a hawg."


Friday morning, a day ahead of the agent’s promise, the cars backed onto
the siding and by noon the last cow of the herd was taking its first—and
last—ride.  Sammy slipped away from the outfit at the pens and
approached the restaurant from the rear.  He would sit behind the
partition this time and escape his friends.

The soft sand deadened his steps and when he looked in at the door, a
cheery greeting on the tip of his tongue, he stopped and stared
unnoticed by the sobbing girl bent over the table. One hand, outflung in
dejected abandon, hung over the side and Sammy’s eyes, glancing at it,
narrowed as he looked.  His involuntary, throaty exclamation sent the
bowed head up with a jerk, but the look of hate and fear quickly died
out of her eyes as she recognized him.

"An’ all th’ world tumbled down in a heap," he smiled.  "But it ’ll be
all right again, same as it allus was," he assured her.  "Will Li’l Miss
tell Sammy all about it so he can put it together again?"

She looked at him through tear-dimmed eyes, the sobs slowly drying to a
spasmodic catching in the rounded throat.  She shook her head and the
tears welled up again in answer to his sympathy.  He walked softly to
the table and placed a hand on her bowed head.  "Li’l Miss will tell
Sammy all about it when she dries her eyes an’ gets comfy.  Sammy will
make things all right again an’ laugh with her.  Don’t you mind him a
mite—jus’ cry hard, an’ when all th’ tears are used up, then you tell
Sammy what it’s all about."  She shook her head and would not look up.
He bent down carefully and examined the bruised wrist—and his eyes
glinted with rage; but he did not speak.  The minutes passed in silence,
the girl ashamed to show her reddened and tear-stained face; the boy
stubbornly determined to stay and learn the facts.  He heard his friends
tramp past, wondering where he was, but he did not move.

Finally she brushed back her hair and looked up at him and the misery in
her eyes made him catch his breath.  "Won’t you go?" she pleaded.

He shook his head.

"Please!"

"Not till I finds out whose fingers made them marks," he replied.  The
look of fear flashed up again, but he checked it with a smile he far
from felt.  "Nobody ’s goin’ to make you cry, an’ get away with it," he
told her.  "Who was it?"

"I won’t tell you.  I can’t tell you!  I don’t know!"

"Li’l Miss, look me in th’ eyes an’ say it again. I thought so.  You
mustn’t say things that ain’t true.  Who did that?"

"What do you want to know for?"

"Oh, jus’ because."

"What will you do?"

"Oh, I ’ll sorta talk to him.  All I want to know is his name."

"I won’t tell you; you ’ll fight with him."

He turned his sombrero over and looked gravely into its crown.  "Well,"
he admitted, "he _might_ not like me talkin’ ’bout it.  Of course, you
can’t never tell."

"But he did n’t mean to hurt me.  He ’s only rough and boisterous; and
he wasn’t himself," she pleaded, looking down.

"Uh-huh," grunted Sammy, cogitating. "So ’m I.  _I ’m_ awful rough an’
boisterous, _I_ am; only I don’t hurt wimmin.  What’s his name?"

"I’ll not tell you!"

"Well, all right; but if he ever comes in here again an’ gets rough an’
boisterous he ’ll lose a hull lot of future.  I ’ll naturally blow most
of his head off, which is frequent fatal.  What’s that? Oh, he’s a bad
man, is he?  Uh-huh; so ’m I. Well, I ’m goin’ to run along now an’ see
th’ boss. If you won’t tell, you won’t.  I ’ll be back soon," and he
sauntered to the street and headed for Pete’s saloon, where the agent
had said Mr. Clarke was wont to pass his fretful hours.

As he turned the corner he bumped into Hopalong and Johnny, who grabbed
at him, and missed.  He backed off and rested on his toes, gingery and
alert.  "Keep yore dusty han’s off’n me," he said, quietly.  "I ’m goin’
down to palaver with a gent what I don’t like."

Hopalong’s shrewd glance looked him over. "What did this gent do?" he
asked, and he would not be evaded.

"Oh, he insulted a nice li’l girl, an’ I ’m in a hurry."

"G’way!" exclaimed Johnny.  "That straight?"

"Too d—n straight," snapped Sammy.  "He went an’ bruised her wrists an’
made her cry."

"Lead th’ way, Kid," rejoined Johnny, readjusting his belt.  "Mebby he
’s got some friends," he suggested, hopefully.

"Yes," smiled Hopalong, "mebby he has. An’ anyhow, Sammy; you _know_
yo’re plumb careless with that gun.  You might miss him. Lead th’ way."

As they started toward Pete’s Johnny nudged his bunkmate in the ribs:
"Say; she ain’t got no sisters, has she?" he whispered.


One hour later Sammy, his face slightly scratched, lounged into the
kitchen and tossed his sombrero on a chair, grinning cheerfully at the
flushed, saucy face that looked out from under a mass of rebellious,
brown hair.  "Well, I saw th’ boss, an’ I come back to make everythin’
well again," he asserted, laughing softly.  "That rough an’ boisterous
Mr. Clarke has sloped.  He won’t come back no more."

"Why, _Sammy_!" she cried, aghast.  "What _have_ you done?"

"Well, for one thing, I ’ve got you callin’ me Sammy," he chuckled,
trying to sneak a hand over hers.  "I told th’ boss I ’m goin’ to get a
job up here, so I ’ll know Mr. Clarke won’t come back.  But you know, he
only thought he was bad.  I shore had to take his ol’ gun away from him
so he would n’t go an’ shoot hisself, an’ when las’ seen he was feelin’
for his cayuse, intendin’ to leave these parts.  That’s what I _done_,"
he nodded, brightly.  "Now comes what I ’m goin’ to do.  Oh, Li’l Miss,"
he whispered, eagerly. "I ’m jus’ all mixed up an’ millin’.  My own feet
plumb get in my way.  So I jus’ gotta stick aroun’ an’ change yore name,
what you don’t like. Uh-huh; that’s jus’ what I gotta do," he smiled.

She tossed her head and the tip-tilt nose went up indignantly.  "Indeed
you ’ll do nothing of the kind, Sammy Porter!" she retorted.  "I’ll
choose my own name when the time comes, and it will not be Porter!"

He arose slowly and looked around.  Picking up the pencil that lay on
the shelf he lounged over to the partition and printed his name three
times in large letters.  "All right, Li’l Miss," he agreed.  "I ’ll jus’
leave a list where you can see it while you ’re selectin’.  I ’m now
goin’ out to get that job we spoke about.  You have th’ name all picked
out when I get back," he suggested, waving his hand at the wall.  "An’
did anybody ever tell you it was plumb risky to stick yore li’l nose up
thataway?"

"Sammy Porter!" she stormed, stamping in vexation near the crying point.
"You get right out of here!  I ’ll _never_ speak to you again!"

"You won’t get a chance to talk much if you don’t sorta bring that
snubby nose down a li’l lower.  I ’m plumb weak at times."  He laughed
joyously and edged to the door.  "Don’t forget that list.  I ’m goin’
after that job.  So-long, Li’l Miss."

"Sammy!"

"Oh, all right; I’ll go after it later on," he laughed, returning.



                                   XV

                           WHEN JOHNNY SLOPED


Johnny Nelson hastened to the corner of the bunkhouse and then changed
his pace until he seemed to ooze from there to the cook shack door,
where he lazily leaned against the door jamb and ostentatiously picked
his teeth with the negative end of a match.  The cook looked up calmly,
and calmly went on with his work; but if there was anything rasping
enough to cause his calloused soul to quiver it was the aforesaid
calisthenics executed by Johnny and the match; for Cookie’s blunt nature
hated hints.  If Johnny had demanded, even profanely and with large
personal animus, why meals were not ahead of time, it would be a simple
matter to heave something and enlarge upon his short cut speech. But the
subtleties left the cook floundering in a mire of rage—which he was very
careful to conceal from Johnny.  The youthful nuisance had been evincing
undue interest in early suppers for nearly a month; and judging from the
lightness of his repasts he was entirely unjustified in showing any
interest at all in the evening meal.  So Cookie strangled the biscuit in
his hand, but smiled blandly at his tormentor.

"Well, all through?" he pleasantly inquired, glancing carelessly at
Johnny’s clothes.

"I ’m hopin’ to begin," retorted Johnny, and the toothpick moved rapidly
up and down.

Cookie condensed another biscuit and gulped. "That’s shore some stone,"
he said, enviously, eying the two-caret diamond in Johnny’s new, blue
tie.  Johnny never had worn a tie before he became owner of the diamond,
but with the stone came the keen realization of how lost it was in a
neck-kerchief, how often covered by the wind-blown folds; so he had
hastened to Buckskin and spent a dollar that belonged to Red for the
tie, thus exhausting both the supply of ties and Red’s dollars.  The
honor of wearing the only tie and diamond in that section of the
cow-country brought responsibilities, for he had spoken hastily to
several humorous friends and stood a good chance of being soundly
thrashed therefor.

He threw away the match and scratched his back ecstatically on the door
jamb while he strained his eyes trying to look under his chin. Fixed
chins and short ties are trials one must learn to accept
philosophically—and Johnny might have been spared the effort were it not
for the fact that the tie had been made for a boy, and was awesomely
shortened by encircling a sixteen-inch neck.  Evidently it had been made
for a boy violently inclined toward a sea-faring life, as suggested by
the anchors embroidered in white down its middle.

"Lemme see it," urged Cookie, sighing because its owner had resolutely
refused to play poker when he had no cash.  This had become a blighting
sorrow in the life of a naturally exuberant and very fair cook.

"An’ for how long?" demanded Johnny, a cold and calculating light
glinting in his eyes.

"Oh, till supper ’s ready," replied Cookie with great carelessness.

"Nix; but you can wear it twenty minutes if you ’ll get my grub quick,"
he replied.  "Got to meet Lucas at half-past five."  He cautiously
dropped the match he had thoughtlessly produced.

The cook tried to look his belief and accepted the offer.  Johnny’s
remarkably clean face, plastered hair and general gala attire suggested
that Lucas was a woman—which Lucas profanely would have denied.  Also,
Johnny had been seen washing Ginger, and when a puncher washes a cayuse
it’s a sign of insanity.  Besides, Ginger belonged to Red, who also had
owned that lone dollar.  Red’s clothes did not fit Johnny.

"Goin’ to surprise Lucas?" inquired the cook.

"What you mean?"

Cookie glanced meaningly at the attire: "Er—you ain’t in th’ habit of
puttin’ on war paint for to see Lucas, are you?"

Johnny’s mental faculties produced: "Oh, we ’re goin’ to a dance."

"Where ’bouts?" exploded the cook.

"_Way_ up north!"  One’s mind needs to be active as a flea to lie
properly to a man like the cook.  He had made a ghastly mistake.

"By golly!  I ’ll give th’ boys cold grub an’ go with you," and the cook
began to save time.

Johnny gulped and shook his head: "Got a invite?"

Cookie caught the pan on his foot before it struck the floor and gasped:
"Invite?  Ain’t it free-fer-all?"

"No; this is a high-toned thing-a-bob.  Costs a dollar a head, too."

"High-toned?" snorted the cook, derisively. "Don’t they know you?  An’ I
thought Red was broke.  Show me that permit!"

"Lucas ’s got it—that’s why I ’ve got to catch him."

"Oh!  An’ is _he_ goin’ all feathered up, too?"

"Shore, he ’s got to."

"Huh!  He wouldn’t dress like that to see a _fight_.  Has she got any
sisters?" Cookie finished, hopefully.

"Now what you talkin’ about?"

"Why, Lucas," answered the cook, placidly. "Lemme tell you something.
When you want to lose me have a invite to a water-drinkin’ contest. An’
before you go, be shore to rub Hoppy’s boots some more; that’s such a
pasty shine it ’ll look like sand-paper before you get to th’—dance. You
want to make it hard an’ slippery.  An’ I ’ve read som’ers that only
wimmin ought to smell like a drug-store.  You better let her do th’
fumigatin’."

Johnny surrendered and dolefully whiffed the crushed violets he had paid
two bits a pint for at El Paso—it was not necessary to whiff them, but
he did so.

"You ought to hone yore razor, too," continued the cook, critically.

"I told Buck it was dull, I ain’t goin’ to sharpen it for him.  But,
say, are you shore about th’ perfumery?"

"Why, of course."

"But how ’ll I git it off?"

"Bury th’ clothes," suggested Cookie, grinning.

"I like yore gall!  Which clothes are best, Pete’s or Billy’s?"

"Pete’s would fit you like th’ wide, wide world. You don’t want blankets
on when you go courtin’.  Try Billy’s.  An’ I got a pair of socks,
though one ’s green—but th’ boots ’ll hide it."

"I did n’t put none on my socks, you chump!"

"How’d _I_ know?  But, say!  Has she got any sisters?"

"No!" yelled Johnny, halfway through the gallery in search of Billy’s
clothes.  When he emerged Cookie looked him over.  "Ain’t it funny, Kid,
how a pipe ’ll stink up clothes?" he smiled.  Johnny’s retort was made
over several yards of ground and when he had mounted Cookie yelled and
waved him to return.  When Johnny had obeyed and impatiently demanded
the reason, Cookie pleasantly remarked: "Now, be shore an’ give her my
love, Kid."

Johnny’s reply covered half a mile of trail.

Johnny rode alertly through Perry’s Bend, for Sheriff Nolan was no
friend of his; and Nolan was not only a discarded suitor of Miss Joyce,
but a warm personal friend of George Greener, the one rival Johnny
feared.  Greener was a widower as wealthy as he was unscrupulous, and a
power on that range: when he said "jump," Nolan soared.

The sheriff was standing before the Palace saloon when Johnny rode past,
and he could not keep quiet.  His comment was so judiciously chosen as
to bring white spots on Johnny’s flushed cheeks.  The Bar-20 puncher was
not famed for his self-control, and, wheeling in the saddle, he pointed
a quivering forefinger at Mr. Nolan’s badge of office, so conspicuously
displayed: "Better men than you have hid behind a badge and banked on a
man’s regard for th’ law savin’ ’em from their just deserts.  Politics
is a h—l of a thing when it opens th’ door to anything that might roll
in on th’ wind.  You come down across th’ line tomorrow an’ see me,
without th’ nickel-plated ornament you disgraces," he invited.  "Any dog
can tell a lie in his kennel, but it takes guts to bark outside th’
yard."

Mr. Nolan flushed, went white, hesitated, and walked away.  To fight in
defense of the law was his duty; but no sane man warred on the Bar-20
unless he must.  Mr. Nolan was a man whose ideas of necessity followed
strange curves, and not to his credit.  One might censure Mr. Cassidy or
Mr. Connors, or pick a fight with some of the others of that outfit and
not get killed; but he must not harm their protégé.  Mr. Nolan not only
walked away but he sought the darkest shadows and held conversation with
himself.  If it were only possible to get the pugnacious and very much
spoiled Mr. Nelson to fracture, smash, pulverize some law!  This,
indeed, would be sweet.

Meanwhile Johnny, having watched the sheriff slip away, loosed a few
more words into the air and went on his way, whistling cheerfully.
Reaching the Joyce cottage he was admitted by Miss Joyce herself and at
sight of her blushing face his exuberant confidence melted and left him
timid.  This he was wont to rout by big words and a dashing air he did
not feel.

"Oh!  Come right in," she invited.  "But you are late," she laughed,
chidingly.

He critically regarded the dimples, while he replied that he had drawn
rein to slay the sheriff but, knowing that it would cost him more
valuable time, he had consented with himself to postpone the event.

"But you must not do that!" she cried. "Why, that’s terrible!  You
shouldn’t even think of such things."

"Well, of course—if yo ’re agin’ it I wont."

"But what did he do?"

"Oh, I don’t reckon I can tell that.  But do you really want him to
live?"

"Why, certainly!  What a foolish question."

"But why do you?  Do you—_like_ him?"

"I like everybody."

"Yes; an’ everybody likes you, too," he growled, the smile fading.
"That’s th’ trouble. Do you like him very much?"

"I wish you wouldn’t ask such foolish questions."

"Yes; I know.  But do you?"

"I prefer not to answer."

"Huh!  That’s an answer in itself.  You do."

"I don’t think you ’re very nice tonight," she retorted, a little pout
spoiling the bow in her lips.  "You ’re awfully jealous, and I don’t
like it."

"Gee!  Don’t like it!  I should think you ’d want me to be jealous.  I
only wish you was jealous of _me_.  Norah, I ’ve just got to say it now,
an’ find out—"

"Yes; tell me," she interrupted eagerly. "What _did_ he do?"

"Who?"

"Mr. Nolan, of course."

"Nolan?" he demanded in surprise.

"Yes, yes; tell me."

"I ain’t talkin’ about him.  I was goin’ to tell you something that I
’ve—"

"That you ’ve done and now regret?  Have you ever—ever killed a man?"
she breathed. "Have you?"

"No; _yes_!  Lots of ’em," he confessed, remembering that once she had
expressed admiration for brave and daring men.  "Most half as many as
Hopalong; an’ I ain’t near as old as him, neither."

"You mean Mr. Cassidy?  Why don’t you bring him with you some evening?
I ’d like to meet him."

"Not _me_.  I went an’ brought a friend along once, an’ had to lick him
th’ next day to keep him away from here.  He ’d ’a’ camped right out
there in front if I had n’t.  No, ma’am; not any."

"Why, the idea!  But Mr. Greener’s very much like your friend, Mr.
Cassidy.  He ’s very brave, and a wonderful shot.  He told me so
himself."

"What!  He told you so hisself!  Well, well. Beggin’ yore pardon, he
ain’t nowise like Hoppy, not even in th’ topics of his conversation.
Why, he ’s a child; an’ blinks when he shoots off a gun. Here—can he
show a gun like mine?" and forthwith he held out his Colt, butt
foremost, and indicated the notches he had cut that afternoon.  A
fleeting doubt went through his mind at what his outfit would say when
it saw those notches. The Bar-20 cut no notches.  It wanted to forget.

She looked at them curiously and suddenly drew back.  "Oh!  Are
they—_are_ they?" she whispered.

He nodded: "They are.  There is plenty of room for Nolan’s, an’ mebby
his owner, too," he suggested.  "Can’t you see, Norah?" he asked in a
swift change of tone.  "Can’t you see? Don’t you know how much I—"

"Yes.  It must be terrible to have such remorse," she quickly
interposed.  "And I sympathize with you deeply, too."

"Remorse nothin’!  Them fellers was lookin’ for it, an’ they got just
what they deserved.  If I had n’t ’a’ done it somebody else would."

"And _you_ a murderer!  I never thought that of _you_.  I can hardly
believe it of you.  And you calmly confess it to me as though it were
nothing!"

"Why, I—I—"

"Don’t talk to me!  To think you have human blood on your hands.  To
think—"

"Norah!  Norah, listen; won’t you?"

"—that you are that sort of a man!  How dare you call here as you have?
How dare you?"

"But I tell you they were tryin’ to get _me_!  I just _had_ to.  Why, I
didn’t do it for nothin’. I ’ve got a right to defend myself, ain’t I?"

"You _had_ to?  Is that true?" she demanded.

"Why, shore!  Think I go ’round killin’ men, like Greener does, just for
th’ fun of it?"

"He doesn’t do anything of the kind," she retorted.  "You know he does
n’t!  Did n’t you just say he blinks when he shoots off a gun?"

"Yes; I did.  But I didn’t want you to think he was a murderer like
Nolan," he explained.  Even Cookie, he thought, would find it hard to
get around that neat little effort.

"I ’m so relieved," she laughed, delighted at her success in twisting
him.  "I am so glad he does n’t blink when he shoots.  I ’d hate a man
who was afraid to shoot."

Johnny’s chest arose a little.  "Well, how ’bout me?"

"But you’ve killed men; you’ve shot down your fellow men; and have
ghastly marks on your revolver to brag about."

"Well—say—but how can I shoot without shootin’ or kill without killin’?"
he demanded. "An’ I don’t brag about ’em, neither; it makes me feel too
sad to do any braggin’.  An’ Greener’s killed ’em, too; an’ he brags
about it."

"Yes; but he doesn’t blink!" she exclaimed triumphantly.

"Neither do _I_."

"Yes; but you shoot to kill."

"Lord pity us—don’t _he_?"

"Y-e-s, but that’s different," she replied, smiling brightly.

Johnny looked around the room, his eyes finally resting on his hat.

"Yes, I see it’s different.  Greener can kill, an’ blink!  I can’t.  If
he kills a man he’s a hero; I ’m a murderer.  I kinda reckon he ’s got
th’ trail.  But I love you, an’ you ’ve got to pick my trail—does it
lead up or down?"

"Johnny Nelson!  What are you saying?" she demanded, arising.

"Something turrible, mebby.  I don’t know; an’ I don’t care.  It’s
true—so there you are. Norah, can’t you see I do?" he pleaded, holding
out his hands.  "Won’t you marry me?"

She looked down, her cheeks the color of fire, and Johnny continued
hurriedly: "I ’ve loved you a whole month!  When I ’m ridin’ around I
sorta’ see you, an’ hear you.  Why, I talk to you lots when I ’m alone.
I ’ve saved up some money, an’ I had to work hard to save it, too. I ’ve
got some cows runnin’ with our’n—in a little while I ’ll have a ranch of
my own.  Buck ’ll let me use th’ east part of th’ ranch, an’ there ’s a
hill over there that ’d look fine with a house on it.  I can’t wait no
longer, Norah, I ’ve got to know.  Will you let me put this on yore
finger?"  He swiftly bent the pin into a ring and held it out eagerly:
"Can I?"

She pushed him away and yielded to a sudden pricking of her conscience,
speaking swiftly, as if forcing herself to do a disagreeable duty, and
hating herself at the moment.  "Johnny, I ’ve been a—a flirt!  When I
saw you were beginning to care too much for me I should have stopped it;
but I did n’t.  I amused myself—but I want you to believe one thing, to
give me a little credit for just one thing; I never thought what it
might mean to you.  It was carelessness with me.  But I was flirting,
just the same—and it hurts to admit it.  I ’m not good enough for you,
Johnny Nelson; it’s hard to say, but it’s true.  Can you, _will_ you
forgive me?"

He choked and stepped forward holding out his hands imploringly, but she
eluded him. When he saw the shame in her face, the tears in her eyes, he
stopped and laughed gently: "But we can begin right, now, can’t we?  I
don’t care, not if you ’ll let me see you same as ever.  You might get
to care for me.  And, anyhow, it ain’t yore fault.  I reckon it’s me
that’s to blame."

At that moment he was nearer to victory than he had ever been; but he
did not realize it and opportunity died when he failed to press his
advantage.

"I _am_ to blame," she said, so low he could hardly catch the words.
When she continued it was with a rush: "I am not free—I haven’t been for
a week.  I ’m not free any more—and I ’ve been leading you on!"

His face hardened, for now the meaning of Greener’s sneering laugh came
to him, and a seething rage swept over him against the man who had won.
He knew Greener, knew him well—the meanness of the man’s nature, his
cold cruelty; the many things to the man’s discredit loomed up large
against the frailty of the woman before him.

Norah stepped forward and laid a pleading hand on his arm, for she knew
the mettle of the men who worked under Buck Peters: "What are you
thinking?  Tell me!"

"Why, I ’m thinking what Nolan said.  An’, Norah, listen.  You say you
want me to forgive you?  Well, I do, if there’s anything to forgive. But
I want you to primise me that if Greener don’t treat you right you ’ll
tell me."

"What do you mean?"

"Only what I said.  Do you promise?"

"Perhaps you would better speak to him about it!" she retorted.

"I will—an’ plain.  But don’t worry ’bout me. It was my fault for bein’
a tenderfoot.  I never played this game before, an’ don’t know th’
cards. Good-by."

He rode away slowly, and made the rounds, and by the time he reached
Lacey’s he was so unsteady that he was refused a drink and told to go
home.  But he headed for the Palace instead, and when he stepped high
over the doorsill Nolan was seated in a chair tipped back against one of
the side walls, and behind the bar on the other side of the room Jed
Terry drummed on the counter and expressed his views on local matters.
The sheriff was listening in a bored way until he saw Johnny enter and
head his way, feet high and chest out; and at that moment Nolan’s
interest in local affairs flashed up brightly.

Johnny lost no time: "Nolan," he said, rocking on his heels, "tell
Greener I ’ll kill him if he marries that girl.  He killed his first
wife by abuse an’ he don’t kill no more.  Savvy?"

The sheriff warily arose, for here was the opportunity he had sought.
The threat to kill had a witness.

"An’ if you opens yore toad’s mouth about her like you did tonight, I
’ll kill you, too."  The tones were dispassionate, the words deliberate.

"Hear that, Jed?" cried the sheriff, excitedly. "Nelson, yo ’re under
ar—"

"Shut up!" snapped Johnny loudly, this time with feeling.  "When yo ’re
betters are talkin’ you keep yore face closed.  Now, it ain’t hardly
healthy to slander wimmin in this country, ’specially _good_ wimmin.
You lied like a dog to me tonight, an’ I let you off; don’t try it
again."

"I told th’ truth!" snapped Nolan, heatedly. "I said she was a flirt,
an’ by th’ great horned spoon she is a flirt, an’ you—"

The sheriff prided himself upon his quickness, but the leaping gun was
kicked out of his hand before he knew what was coming; a chair glanced
off Jed’s face and wrapped the front window about itself in its passing,
leaving the bar-tender in the throbbing darkness of inter-planetary
space; and as the sheriff opened his eyes and recovered from the hard
swings his face had stopped, a galloping horse drummed southward toward
the Bar-20; and the silence of the night was shattered by lusty
war-whoops and a spurting .45.


When the sheriff and his posse called at the Bar-20 before breakfast the
following morning they found a grouchy outfit and learned some facts.

"Where ’s Johnny?" repeated Hopalong, with a rising inflection.  "Only
wish I knowed!"

A murmur of wistful desire arose and Lanky Smith restlessly explained
it: "He rampages in ’bout midnight an’ wakes us up with his racket. When
we asks what he ’s doin’ with _our_ possessions he suggests we go to
h—l.  He takes _his_ rifle, Pete’s rifle, Buck’s brand new canteen,
’bout eighty pounds of catridges an’ other useful duffle, _all_ th’
tobacco, an’ blows away quick."

"On my cayuse," murmured Red.

"Wearin’ my _good_ clothes," added Billy, sorrowfully.

"An’ _my_ boots," sighed Hopalong.

"I ain’t got no field glasses no more," grumbled Lanky.

"But he only got one laig of my new pants," chuckled Skinny.  "I was too
strong for him."

"He yanked my blanket off’n me, which makes me steal Red’s," grinned
Pete.

"Which you didn’t keep very long!" retorted Red, with derision.

"Which makes us all peevish," plaintively muttered Buck.

"Now ain’t it a h—l of a note?" laughed Cookie, loudly, forthwith
getting scarce.  He had nothing good enough to be taken.

"An’ whichever was it run ag’in’ yore face, Sheriff?" sympathetically
inquired Hopalong. "Mighty good thing it stopped," he added
thoughtfully.

"Never mind my face!" snorted the peace officer hotly as his deputies
smoothed out their grins.  "I want to know where Nelson is, an’ d—d
quick!  We ’ll search the house first."

"Hold on," responded Buck.  "North of Salt Spring Creek yo ’re a
sheriff; down here yo ’re nothin’.  Don’t search no house.  He ain’t
here."

"How do I know he ain’t?" snapped Nolan.

"My word ’s good; or there ’ll be another election stolen up in yore
county," rejoined Buck ominously.  "An’ I would n’t hunt him too hard,
neither.  We ’ll punish him."

Nolan wheeled and rode toward the hills without another word, his posse
pressing close behind. When they entered Apache Pass one of them
accidentally exploded his rifle, calling forth an angry tirade from the
sheriff.  Johnny heard it, and cared little for the warning from his
friend Lucas; he waited and then rode down the rocky slope of the pass
on the trail of the posse, squinting wickedly at the distant group as he
caught glimpses of them now and again, and with no anxiety regarding
backward glances.  "Lot’s wife ’ll have nothing on them if they look
back," he muttered, fingering his rifle lovingly.  At nightfall he
watched them depart and grinned at the chase he would lead them when
they returned.

But he did not see them again, although his friends reported that they
were turning the range upside down to find him.  One of his outfit rode
out to him with supplies and information every few days and it was Pete
who told him that six posses were in the hills.  "An’ you can’t leave,
’cause one of th’ cordon would get you shore.  I had a h—l of a time
getting in today."  Red reported that the sheriff had sworn to take him
dead or alive.  Then came the blow.  The sheriff was at the point of
death from lockjaw caused by complete paralysis of the curea-frend nerve
just above the phlagmatic diaphragm, which Johnny had fractured.  It was
Hopalong who imparted this sad news, and withered Johnny’s hope of
returning to a comfortable bunkhouse and square meals.  So the fugitive
clung to the hills, shunned sky-lines and wondered if the sheriff would
recover before snow flew.  He was hungry most of the time now because
the outfit was getting stingy with the food supplies—and he dared not
shoot any game.

Four weeks passed, weeks of hunger and nervous strain, and he was
getting desperate.  He had learned that Greener and his fiancée were
going down to Linnville soon, since Perry’s Bend had no parson; and his
cup of bitterness, overflowing, drove him to risk an attempt to leave
that part of the country.  He had seen none of Pete’s "cordon" although
he had looked for them, and he believed he could get away.  So he rode
cautiously down Apache Pass one noon, thoughtfully planning his flight.
The sand, washed down the rock walls by the last rain, deadened all
sounds of his progress, and as he turned a sharp bend in the cut he
almost bumped into Greener and Norah Joyce.  They were laughing at how
they had eluded the crowd of friends who were eager to accompany
them—but the laughter froze when Johnny’s gun swung up.

"’Nds up, Greener!" he snapped, viciously, remembering his promise to
Sheriff Nolan. "Miss Joyce, if you make any trouble it ’ll cost him his
life."

"Turned highwayman, eh?" sneered Greener, keenly alert for the necessary
fraction of a second’s carelessness on the part of the other.  He was
gunman enough to need no more.

"Miss Joyce, will you please ride along?  I want to talk to him alone,"
said Johnny, his eyes fastened intently on those of his enemy.

"Yes, Norah; that’s best.  I ’ll join you in a few minutes," urged
Greener, smiling at her.

Johnny had a sudden thought and his warning was grave and cold.  "Don’t
get very far away an’ don’t make no sounds, or signals; if you do it ’ll
be th’ quickest way to _need_ ’em.  He ’ll pay for any mistakes like
that."

"You coward!" she cried, angrily, and then delivered an impromptu
lecture that sent the blood surging into the fugitive’s wan cheeks.  But
she obeyed, slowly, at Greener’s signal, and when she was out of sight
Johnny spoke.

"Greener, yo ’re not going to marry her.  You know what you are, you
know how yore first wife died—an’ I don’t intend that Norah shall be
abused as the other was.  I ’m a fugitive, hard pressed; I ’m weak from
want of food, and from hardships; all I have left is a slim chance of
gettin’ away.  I ’ve reached the point where I can’t harm myself by
shooting you, an’ I ’m goin’ to do it rather than let any trouble come
to her. But you’ll get an even break, because I ain’t never going to
shoot a man when he ’s helpless. Got anything to say?"

"Yes; yo ’re th’ biggest fool I ever saw," replied Greener.  "Yo’re
locoed through an’ through; an’ I ’m goin’ to take great pleasure in
putting you away.  But I want to thank you for one thing you did.  You
were drunk at the time an’ may not remember it.  When you hit Nolan for
talking like he did I liked you for it, an’ I ’m goin’ to tell you so.
Now we ’ll get at th’ matter before us so I can move along."

Neither had paid any attention to Norah in the earnestness and keen-eyed
scrutiny of each other and the first sign they had of her actions was
when she threw her arms around Greener’s neck and shielded him.  He was
too much of a man to fire from cover and Johnny realized it while the
other tried to get her to leave the scene.

"I won’t leave you to be murdered—I _know_ what it means, I _know_ it,"
she cried.  "My place is here, and you can’t deny your wife’s first
request!  What will I do without you!  Oh, dear, let me stay!  I _will_
stay!  What woman ever had such a wedding day before!  Dear, dear, what
can I do?  Tell me what to do!"

Johnny sniffled and wished the posse had taken him.  This was a side he
had never thought of. His wife!  Greener’s wife!  Then he was too late,
and to go on would be a greater evil than the one he wished to
eliminate.  When she turned on him like a tigress and tore him to pieces
word by word, tears rolling down her pallid cheeks and untold misery in
her eyes, he shook his head and held up his hand.

"Greener, you win; I can’t stop what’s happened," he said, slowly.  "But
I ’ll tell you this, an’ I mean every word: If you don’t treat her like
she deserves, I ’ll come back some of these days and kill you _shore_.
Nolan got his because he talked ill of her; an’ you ’ll get yours if I
die the next minute, if you ain’t square with her."

"I don’t need no instructions on how to treat my wife," retorted the
other.  "An’ I ’m beginnin’ to see th’ cause of yore insanity, and it
pardons you as nothing else will.  Put up yore gun an’ get back to th’
ranch, where you belong—an’ _keep away from me_.  Savvy?"

"Not much danger of me gettin’ in yore way," growled Johnny, "when I ’m
hunted like a dog for doing what any man would ’a’ done.  When th’
sheriff gets well, if he ever does, mebby I ’ll come back an’ take my
medicine.  How was he, anyhow, when you left?"

"Dead tired, an’ some under th’ influence of liquor," replied Greener, a
smile breaking over his frown.  He knew the whole story well, as did the
whole range, and he had laughed over it with the Bar-20 outfit.

"What’s that?  Ain’t he near dead?" cried Johnny, amazed.

"Well, purty nigh dead of fatigue dancin’ at our weddin’ last night; but
I reckon he ’ll be driftin’ home purty soon, an’ all recovered."
Greener suddenly gave way and roared with laughter.  There was a large
amount of humor in his make-up and it took possession of him, shaking
him from head to foot.  He had always liked Johnny, not because he ever
wanted to but because no one could know the Bar-20 protégé and keep from
it.  This climax was too much for him, and his wife, gradually
recovering herself, caught the infection and joined in.

Johnny’s eyes were staring and his mouth wide open, but Greener’s next
words closed the eyes to a squint and snapped shut the open mouth.

"That there paralysis of th’ cure-a-friend nerve did n’t last; an’ when
I heard why you licked him I said a few words that made him a wiser man.
He didn’t hunt you after th’ first day. Now you go up an’ shake han’s
with him.  He knows he got what was coming to him and so does everybody
else know it.  Go home an’ quit playin’ th’ fool for th’ whole blamed
range to laugh at."

Johnny stirred and came back to the scene before him.  His face was
livid with rage and he could not speak at first.  Finally, however, he
mastered himself and looked up: "I ’m cured, all right, but _they_
ain’t!  Wait till my turn comes!  What a fool I was to believe ’em; but
they usually tell th’ truth.  ’Cura-a-friend nerve’! They ’ll pay me
dollar for cent before I ’m finished!"  He caught the sparkle of his
diamond pin, the pin he had won, when drunk, at El Paso, and a sickly
grin flickered over the black frown. "I ’m a little late, I reckon; but
I ’d like to give th’ bride a present to show there ain’t no hard
feelin’s on my part, an’ to bring her luck.  This here pin ain’t no fit
ornament for a fool like me, so if it’s all right, I ’ll be plumb
tickled to see her have it.  How ’bout it, Greener?"

The happy pair exchanged glances and Mrs. Greener, hesitating and
blushing, accepted the gift: "You can bend it into a ring easy," Johnny
hastily remarked, to cut off her thanks.

Greener extended his hand: "I reckon we can be friends, at that, Nelson.
You squared up with me when you licked Nolan.  Come up an’ see us when
you can."

Johnny thanked him and shook hands and then watched them ride slowly
down the canyon, hand in hand, happy as little children.  He sat
silently, lost in thought, his anger rising by leaps and bounds against
the men who had kept him on the anxious seat for a month.  Straightening
up suddenly, he tore off the navy blue necktie and, hurling it from him,
fell into another reverie, staring at the canyon wall, but seeing in his
mind’s eye the outfit planning his punishment; and his eyes grew redder
and redder with fury.  But it was a long way home and his temper cooled
as he rode; that is why no one knew of his return until they saw him
asleep in his bunk when they awakened at daylight the following morning.
And no one ever asked about the diamond, or made any explanations—for
some things are better unmentioned.  But they paid for it all before
Johnny considered the matter closed.



                                THE END





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