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Title: Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-Up; Or, Bar-20
Author: Mulford, Clarence Edward
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.

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HOPALONG CASSIDY’S RUSTLER ROUND-UP

or

BAR-20


By Clarence Edward Mulford



1906



CHAPTER I. Buckskin

The town lay sprawled over half a square mile of alkali plain, its main
Street depressing in its width, for those who were responsible for its
inception had worked with a generosity born of the knowledge that they
had at their immediate and unchallenged disposal the broad lands of
Texas and New Mexico on which to assemble a grand total of twenty
buildings, four of which were of wood. As this material was scarce, and
had to be brought from where the waters of the Gulf lapped against the
flat coast, the last-mentioned buildings were a matter of local pride,
as indicating the progressiveness of their owners.

These creations of hammer and saw were of one story, crude and
unpainted; their cheap weather sheathing, warped and shrunken by the
pitiless sun, curled back on itself and allowed unrestricted entrance to
alkali dust and air. The other shacks were of adobe, and reposed in that
magnificent squalor dear to their owners, Indians and Mexicans.

It was an incident of the Cattle Trail, that most unique and stupendous
of all modern migrations, and its founders must have been inspired with
a malicious desire to perpetrate a crime against geography, or else they
reveled in a perverse cussedness, for within a mile on every side lay
broad prairies, and two miles to the east flowed the indolent waters of
the Rio Pecos itself. The distance separating the town from the river
was excusable, for at certain seasons of the year the placid stream
swelled mightily and swept down in a broad expanse of turbulent, yellow
flood.

Buckskin was a town of one hundred inhabitants, located in the valley of
the Rio Pecos fifty miles south of the Texas-New Mexico line. The
census claimed two hundred, but it was a well-known fact that it was
exaggerated. One instance of this is shown by the name of Tom Flynn.
Those who once knew Tom Flynn, alias Johnny Redmond, alias Bill Sweeney,
alias Chuck Mullen, by all four names, could find them in the census
list. Furthermore, he had been shot and killed in the March of the
year preceding the census, and now occupied a grave in the young but
flourishing cemetery. Perry’s Bend, twenty miles up the river, was
cognizant of this and other facts, and, laughing in open derision at
the padded list, claimed to be the better town in all ways, including
marksmanship.

One year before this tale opens, Buck Peters, an example for the more
recent Billy the Kid, had paid Perry’s Bend a short but busy visit. He
had ridden in at the north end of Main Street and out at the south. As
he came in he was fired at by a group of ugly cowboys from a ranch known
as the C 80. He was hit twice, but he unlimbered his artillery, and
before his horse had carried him, half dead, out on the prairie, he had
killed one of the group. Several citizens had joined the cowboys
and added their bullets against Buck. The deceased had been the best
bartender in the country, and the rage of the suffering citizens can
well be imagined. They swore vengeance on Buck, his ranch, and his
stamping ground.

The difference between Buck and Billy the Kid is that the former never
shot a man who was not trying to shoot him, or who had not been warned
by some action against Buck that would call for it. He minded his own
business, never picked a quarrel, and was quiet and pacific up to
a certain point. After that had been passed he became like a raging
cyclone in a tenement house, and storm-cellars were much in demand.

“Fanning” is the name of a certain style of gun play not unknown among
the bad men of the West. While Buck was not a bad man, he had to rub
elbows with them frequently, and he believed that the sauce for the
goose was the sauce for the gander. So be bad removed the trigger of his
revolver and worked the hammer with the thumb of the “gun hand” or the
heel of the unencumbered hand. The speed thus acquired was greater than
that of the more modern double-action weapon. Six shots in a few seconds
was his average speed when that number was required, and when it is
thoroughly understood that at least some of them found their intended
bullets it is not difficult to realize that fanning was an operation of
danger when Buck was doing it.

He was a good rider, as all cowboys are, and was not afraid of anything
that lived. At one time he and his chums, Red Connors and Hopalong
Cassidy, had successfully routed a band of fifteen Apaches who wanted
their scalps. Of these, twelve never hunted scalps again, nor anything
else on this earth, and the other three returned to their tribe with
the report that three evil Spirits had chased them with “wheel guns”
 (cannons).

So now, since his visit to Perry’s Bend, the rivalry of the two towns
had turned to hatred and an alert and eager readiness to increase the
inhabitants of each other’s graveyard. A state of war existed, which for
a time resulted in nothing worse than acrimonious suggestions. But the
time came when the score was settled to the satisfaction of one side, at
least.

Four ranches were also concerned in the trouble. Buckskin was surrounded
by two, the Bar 20 and the Three Triangle. Perry’s Bend was the
common point for the C 80 and the Double Arrow. Each of the two ranch
contingents accepted the feud as a matter of course, and as a matter
of course took sides with their respective towns. As no better class of
fighters ever lived, the trouble assumed Homeric proportions and insured
a danger zone well worth watching.

Bar-2’s northern line was C 80’s southern one, and Skinny Thompson took
his turn at outriding one morning after the season’s round-up. He was to
follow the boundary and turn back stray cattle. When he had covered the
greater part of his journey he saw Shorty Jones riding toward him on a
course parallel to his own and about long revolver range away. Shorty
and he had “crossed trails” the year before and the best of feelings did
not exist between them.

Shorty stopped and stared at Skinny, who did likewise at Shorty. Shorty
turned his mount around and applied the spurs, thereby causing his
indignant horse to raise both heels at Skinny. The latter took it all
in gravely and, as Shorty faced him again, placed his left thumb to his
nose, wiggling his fingers suggestively. Shorty took no apparent notice
of this but began to shout:

“Yu wants to keep yore busted-down cows on yore own side. They was all
over us day afore yisterday. I’m goin’ to salt any more what comes over,
and don’t yu fergit it, neither.”

Thompson wigwagged with his fingers again and shouted in reply: “Yu c’n
salt all yu wants to, but if I ketch yu adoin’ it yu won’t have to work
no more. An’ I kin say right here thet they’s more C 80 cows over here
than they’s Bar-20’s over there.”

Shorty reached for his revolver and yelled, “Yore a liar!”

Among the cowboys in particular and the Westerners in general at that
time, the three suicidal terms, unless one was an expert in drawing
quick and shooting straight with one movement, were the words “liar,”
 “coward,” and “thief.” Any man who was called one of these in earnest,
and he was the judge, was expected to shoot if he could and save his
life, for the words were seldom used without a gun coming with them. The
movement of Shorty’s hand toward his belt before the appellation reached
him was enough for Skinny, who let go at long range--and missed.


The two reports were as one. Both urged their horses nearer and fired
again. This time Skinny’s sombrero gave a sharp jerk and a hole appeared
in the crown. The third shot of Skinny’s sent the horse of the other to
its knees and then over on its side. Shorty very promptly crawled behind
it and, as he did so, Skinny began a wide circle, firing at intervals as
Shorty’s smoke cleared away.

Shorty had the best position for defense, as he was in a shallow coule,
but he knew that he could not leave it until his opponent had either
grown tired of the affair or had used up his ammunition. Skinny knew it,
too. Skinny also knew that he could get back to the ranch house and lay
in a supply of food and ammunition and return before Shorty could cover
the twelve miles he had to go on foot.

Finally Thompson began to head for home. He had carried the matter as
far as he could without it being murder. Too much time had elapsed now,
and, besides, it was before breakfast and he was hungry. He would go
away and settle the score at some time when they would be on equal
terms.

He rode along the line for a mile and chanced to look back. Two C 80
punchers were riding after him, and as they saw him turn and discover
them they fired at him and yelled. He rode on for some distance and
cautiously drew his rifle out of its long holster at his right leg.
Suddenly he turned around in the saddle and fired twice. One of his
pursuers fell forward on the neck of his horse, and his comrade turned
to help him. Thompson wig-wagged again and rode on, reaching the ranch
as the others were finishing their breakfast.

At the table Red Connors remarked that the tardy one had a hole in his
sombrero, and asked its owner how and where he had received it.

“Had a argument with C 80 out’n th’ line.”

“Go ‘way! Ventilate enny?”

“One.”

“Good boy, sonny! Hey, Hopalong, Skinny perforated C 80 this mawnin’!”

Hopalong Cassidy was struggling with a mouthful of beef. He turned his
eyes toward Red without ceasing, and grinning as well as he could under
the circumstances managed to grunt out “Gu--,” which was as near to
“Good” as the beef would allow.

Lanky Smith now chimed in as he repeatedly stuck his knife into a
reluctant boiled potato, “How’d yu do it, Skinny?”

“Bet he sneaked up on him,” joshed Buck Peters; “did yu ask his pardin,
Skinny?”

“Ask nuthin’,” remarked Red, “he jest nachurly walks up to C 80 an’ sez,
‘Kin I have the pleasure of ventilatin’ yu?’ an’ C So he sez, ‘If yu do
it easy like,’ sez he. Didn’t he, Thompson?”

“They’ll be some ventilatin’ under th’ table if yu fellows don’t lemme
alone; I’m hungry,” complained Skinny.

“Say, Hopalong, I bets yu I kin clean up C 80 all by my lonesome,”
 announced Buck, winking at Red.

“Yah! Yu onct tried to clean up the Bend, Buckie, an’ if Pete an’ Billy
hadn’t afound yu when they come by Eagle Pass that night yu wouldn’t be
here eatin’ beef by th’ pound,” glancing at the hard-working Hopalong.
“It was plum lucky fer yu that they was acourtin’ that time, wasn’t it,
Hopalong?” suddenly asked Red. Hopalong nearly strangled in his efforts
to speak. He gave it up and nodded his head.

“Why can’t yu git it straight, Connors? I wasn’t doin’ no courtin’, it
was Pete. I runned into him on th’ other side o’ th’ pass. I’d look fine
acourtin’, wouldn’t I?” asked the downtrodden Williams.

Pete Wilson skillfully flipped a potato into that worthy’s coffee,
spilling the beverage of the questionable name over a large expanse of
blue flannel shirt. “Yu’s all right, yu are. Why, when I meets yu, yu
was lost in th’ arms of yore ladylove. All I could see was yore feet. Go
an’ git tangled up with a two hundred and forty pound half-breed squaw
an’ then try to lay it onter me! When I proposed drownin’ yore
troubles over at Cowan’s, yu went an’ got mad over what yu called th’
insinooation. An’ yu shore didn’t look any too blamed fine, neither.”

“All th’ same,” volunteered Thompson, who had taken the edge from his
appetite, “we better go over an’ pay C 80 a call. I don’t like what
Shorty said about saltin’ our cattle. He’ll shore do it, unless I camps
on th’ line, which same I hain’t hankerin’ after.”

“Oh, he wouldn’t stop th’ cows that way, Skinny; he was only afoolin’,”
 exclaimed Connors meekly.

“Foolin’ yore gran’mother! That there bunch’ll do anything if we wasn’t
lookin’,” hotly replied Skinny.

“That’s shore nuff gospel, Thomp. They’s sore fer mor’n one thing. They
got aplenty when Buck went on th’ warpath, an they’s hankerin’ to git
square,” remarked Johnny Nelson, stealing the pie, a rare treat, of his
neighbor when that unfortunate individual was not looking. He had
it halfway to his mouth when its former owner, Jimmy Price, a boy of
eighteen, turned his head and saw it going.

“Hi-yi! Yu clay-bank coyote, drap thet pie! Did yu ever see such a
son-of-a-gun fer pie?” he plaintively asked Red Connors, as he grabbed
a mighty handful of apples and crust. “Pie’ll kill yu some day, yu
bob-tailed jack! I had an uncle that died onct. He et too much pie an’
he went an’ turned green, an so’ll yu if yu don’t let it alone.”

“Yu ought’r seed th’ pie Johnny had down in Eagle Flat,” murmured Lanky
Smith reminiscently. “She had feet that’d stop a stampede. Johnny
was shore loco about her. Swore she was the finest blossom that
ever growed.” Here he choked and tears of laughter coursed down his
weather-beaten face as he pictured her. “She was a dainty Mexican, about
fifteen han’s high an’ about sixteen han’s around. Johnny used to chalk
off when he hugged her, usen’t yu, Johnny? One night when he had got
purty well around on th’ second lap he run inter a feller jest startin’
out on his fust. They hain’t caught that Mexican yet.”

Nelson was pelted with everything in sight. He slowly wiped off the
pie crust and bread and potatoes. “Anybody’d think I was a busted grub
wagon,” he grumbled. When he had fished the last piece of beef out of
his ear he went out and offered to stand treat. As the round-up was
over, they slid into their saddles and raced for Cowan’s saloon at
Buckskin.



CHAPTER II. The Rashness of Shorty

Buckskin was very hot; in fact it was never anything else. Few people
were on the streets and the town was quiet. Over in the Houston hotel
a crowd of cowboys was lounging in the barroom. They were very quiet--a
condition as rare as it was ominous. Their mounts, twelve in all, were
switching flies from their quivering skins in the corral at the rear.
Eight of these had a large C 80 branded on their flanks; the other four,
a Double Arrow.

In the barroom a slim, wiry man was looking out of the dirty window
up the street at Cowan’s saloon. Shorty was complaining, “They shore
oughter be here now. They rounded up last week.” The man nearest assured
him that they would come. The man at the window turned and said, “They’s
yer now.”


In front of Cowan’s a crowd of nine happy-go-lucky, daredevil riders
were sliding from their saddles. They threw their reins over the heads
of their mounts and filed in to the bar. Laughter issued from the open
door and the clink of glasses could be heard. They stood in picturesque
groups, strong, self-reliant, humorous, virile. Their expensive
sombreros were pushed far back on their heads and their hairy chaps were
covered with the alkali dust from their ride.

Cowan, bottle in hand, pushed out several more glasses. He kicked a dog
from under his feet and looked at Buck. “Rounded up yet?” he inquired.

“Shore, day afore yisterday,” came the reply. The rest were busy
removing the dust from their throats, and gradually drifted into groups
of two or three. One of these groups strolled over to the solitary card
table, and found Jimmy Price resting in a cheap chair, his legs on the
table.

“I wisht yu’d extricate yore delicate feet from off’n this hyar table,
James,” humbly requested Lanky Smith, morally backed up by those with
him.

“Ya-as, they shore is delicate, Mr. Smith,” responded Jimmy without
moving.

“We wants to play draw, Jimmy,” explained Pete.

“Yore shore welcome to play if yu wants to. Didn’t I tell yu when yu
growed that mustache that yu didn’t have to ask me any more?” queried
the placid James, paternally.

“Call ‘em off, sonny. Pete sez he kin clean me out. Anyhow, yu kin have
the fust deal,” compromised Lanky.

“I’m shore sorry fer Pete if he cayn’t. Yu don’t reckon I has to have
fust deal to beat yu fellers, do yu? Go way an’ lemme alone; I never
seed such a bunch fer buttin’ in as yu fellers.”

Billy Williams returned to the bar. Then he walked along it until he
was behind the recalcitrant possessor of the table. While his aggrieved
friends shuffled their feet uneasily to cover his approach, he tiptoed
up behind Jimmy and, with a nod, grasped that indignant individual
firmly by the neck while the others grabbed his feet. They carried him,
twisting and bucking, to the middle of the street and deposited him in
the dust, returning to the now vacant table.

Jimmy rested quietly for a few seconds and then slowly arose, dusting
the alkali from him.

“Th’ wall-eyed piruts,” he muttered, and then scratched his head for
a way to “play hunk.” As he gazed sorrowfully at the saloon he heard a
snicker from behind him. He, thinking it was one of his late tormentors,
paid no attention to it. Then a cynical, biting laugh stung him. He
wheeled, to see Shorty leaning against a tree, a sneering leer on his
flushed face. Shorty’s right hand was suspended above his holster,
hooked to his belt by the thumb--a favorite position of his when
expecting trouble.

“One of yore reg’lar habits?” he drawled.

Jimmy began to dust himself in silence, but his lips were compressed to
a thin white line.

“Does they hurt yu?” pursued the onlooker.

Jimmy looked up. “I heard tell that they make glue outen cayuses,
sometimes,” he remarked.

Shorty’s eyes flashed. The loss of the horse had been rankling in his
heart all day.

“Does they git yu frequent?” he asked. His voice sounded hard.

“Oh, ‘bout as frequent as yu lose a cayuse, I reckon,” replied Jimmy
hotly.

Shorty’s hand streaked to his holster and Jimmy followed his lead.
Jimmy’s Colt was caught. He had bucked too much. As he fell Shorty ran
for the Houston House.

Pistol shots were common, for they were the universal method of
expressing emotions. The poker players grinned, thinking their victim
was letting off his indignation. Lanky sized up his hand and remarked
half audibly, “He’s a shore good kid.”

The bartender, fearing for his new beveled, gilt-framed mirror, gave a
hasty glance out the window. He turned around, made change and remarked
to Buck, “Yore kid, Jimmy, is plugged.” Several of the more credulous
craned their necks to see, Buck being the first. “Judas!” he shouted,
and ran out to where Jimmy lay coughing, his toes twitching. The saloon
was deserted and a crowd of angry cowboys surrounded their chum-aboy.
Buck had seen Shorty enter the door of the Houston House and he swore.
“Chase them C 80 and Arrow cayuses behind the saloon, Pete, an’ git
under cover.”

Jimmy was choking and he coughed up blood. “He’s shore--got me. My--gun
stuck,” he added apologetically. He tried to sit up, but was not able
and he looked surprised. “It’s purty-damn hot-out here,” he suggested.
Johnny and Billy carried him in the saloon and placed him by the table,
in the chair he had previously vacated. As they stood up he fell across
the table and died.

Billy placed the dead boy’s sombrero on his head and laid the refractory
six-shooter on the table. “I wonder who th’ dirty killer was.” He looked
at the slim figure and started to go out, followed by Johnny. As he
reached the threshold a bullet zipped past him and thudded into the
frame of the door. He backed away and looked surprised. “That’s Shorty’s
shootin’--he allus misses ‘bout that much.” He looked out and saw Buck
standing behind the live oak that Shorty had leaned against, firing at
the hotel. Turning around he made for the rear, remarking to Johnny that
“they’s in th’ Houston.” Johnny looked at the quiet figure in the chair
and swore softly. He followed Billy. Cowan, closing the door and taking
a buffalo gun from under the bar, went out also and slammed the rear
door forcibly.



CHAPTER III. The Argument

Up the street two hundred yards from the Houston House Skinny and Pete
lay hidden behind a bowlder. Three hundred yards on the other side of
the hotel Johnny and Billy were stretched out in an arroyo. Buck was
lying down now, and Hopalong, from his position in the barn belonging to
the hotel, was methodically dropping the horses of the besieged, a job
he hated as much as he hated poison. The corral was their death trap.
Red and Lanky were emitting clouds of smoke from behind the store,
immediately across the street from the barroom. A buffalo gun roared
down by the plaza and several Sharps cracked a protest from different
points. The town had awakened and the shots were dropping steadily.

Strange noises filled the air. They grew in tone and volume and then
dwindled away to nothing. The hum of the buffalo gun and the sobbing
pi-in-in-ing of the Winchesters were liberally mixed with the sharp
whines of the revolvers.

There were no windows in the hotel now. Raw furrows in the bleached wood
showed yellow, and splinters mysteriously sprang from the casings. The
panels of the door were producing cracks and the cheap door handle
flew many ways at once. An empty whisky keg on the stoop boomed out
mournfully at intervals and finally rolled down the steps with a
rumbling protest. Wisps of smoke slowly climbed up the walls and seemed
to be waving defiance to the curling wisps in the open.


Pete raised his shoulder to refill the magazine of his smoking rifle and
dropped the cartridges all over his lap. He looked sheepishly at Skinny
and began to load with his other hand.

“Yore plum loco, yu are. Don’t yu reckon they kin hit a blue shirt
at two hundred?” Skinny cynically inquired. “Got one that time,” he
announced a second later.

“I wonder who’s got th’ buffalo,” grunted Pete. “Mus’ be Cowan,” he
replied to his own question and settled himself to use his left hand.

“Don’t yu git Shorty; he’s my meat,” suggested Skinny.

“Yu better tell Buck--he ain’t got no love fer Shorty,” replied Pete,
aiming carefully.

The panic in the corral ceased and Hopalong was now sending his regrets
against the panels of the rear door. He had cut his last initial in the
near panel and was starting a wobbly “H” in its neighbor. He was in a
good position. There were no windows in the rear wall, and as the door
was a very dangerous place he was not fired at.

He began to get tired of this one-sided business and crawled up on the
window ledge, dangling his feet on the outside. He occasionally sent a
bullet at a different part of the door, but amused himself by annoying
Buck.

“Plenty hot down there?” he pleasantly inquired, and as he received no
answer he tried again. “Better save some of them cartridges fer some
other time, Buck.”

Buck was sending 45-70’s into the shattered window with a precision that
presaged evil to any of the defenders who were rash enough to try to
gain the other end of the room.

Hopalong bit off a chew of tobacco and drowned a green fly that was
crawling up the side of the barn. The yellow liquid streaked downward a
short distance and was eagerly sucked up by the warped boards.

A spurt of smoke leaped from the battered door and the bored Hopalong
promptly tumbled back inside. He felt of his arm, and then, delighted
at the notice taken of his artistic efforts, shot several times from
a crack on his right. “This yer’s shore gittin’ like home,” he gravely
remarked to the splinter that whizzed past his head. He shot again at
the door and it sagged outward, accompanied by the thud of a falling
body. “Pies like mother used to make,” he announced to the loft as he
slipped the magazine full of .45-70’s. “An’ pills like popper used to
take,” he continued when he had lowered the level of the water in his
flask.

He rolled a cigarette and tossed the match into the air, extinguishing
it by a shot from his Colt.

“Got any cigarettes, Hoppy?” said a voice from below.

“Shore,” replied the joyous puncher, recognizing Pete; “how’d yu git
here?”

“Like a cow. Busy?”

“None whatever. Comin’ up?”

“Nope. Skinny wants a smoke too.”

Hopalong handed tobacco and papers down the hole. “So long.”

“So long,” replied the daring Pete, who risked death twice for a smoke.

The hot afternoon dragged along and about three o’clock Buck held up an
empty cartridge belt to the gaze of the curious Hopalong. That observant
worthy nodded and threw a double handful of cartridges, one by one, to
the patient and unrelenting Buck, who filled his gun and piled the few
remaining ones up at his side. “Th’ lives of mice and men gang aft all
wrong,” he remarked at random.

“Th’ son-of-a-gun’s talkin’ Shakespeare,” marveled Hopalong. “Satiate
any, Buck?” he asked as that worthy settled down to await his chance.

“Two,” he replied, “Shorty an’ another. Plenty damn hot down here,” he
complained. A spurt of alkali dust stung his face, but the hand that
made it never made another. “Three,” he called. “How many, Hoppy?”

 “One. That’s four.  Wonder if th’ others got any?”

“Pete said Skinny got one,” replied the intent Buck.

“Th’ son-of-a-gun, he never said nothin’ about it, an’ me a fillin’ his
ornery paws with smokin’.” Hopalong was indignant.

“Bet yu ten we don’t git ‘em afore dark,” he announced.

“Got yu. Go yu ten more I gits another,” promptly responded Buck.

“That’s a shore cinch. Make her twenty.”

“She is.”

“Yu’ll have to square it with Skinny, he shore wanted Shorty plum’ bad,”
 Hopalong informed the unerring marksman.

“Why didn’t he say suthin’ about it? Anyhow, Jimmy was my bunkie.”

Hopalong’s cigarette disintegrated and the board at his left received
a hole. He promptly disappeared and Buck laughed. He sat up in the loft
and angrily spat the soaked paper out from between his lips.

“All that trouble fer nothin’, th’ white-eyed coyote,” he muttered.
Then he crawled around to one side and fired at the center of his “C.”
 Another shot hurtled at him and his left arm fell to his side. “That’s
funny--wonder where th’ damn pirut is?” He looked out cautiously and saw
a cloud of smoke over a knothole which was situated close up under the
eaves of the barroom; and it was being agitated. Some one was blowing at
it to make it disappear. He aimed very carefully at the knot and fired.
He heard a sound between a curse and a squawk and was not molested any
further from that point.

“I knowed he’d git hurt,” he explained to the bandage, torn from the
edge of his kerchief, which he carefully bound around his last wound.

Down in the arroyo Johnny was complaining.

“This yer’s a no good bunk,” he plaintively remarked.

“It shore ain’t--but it’s th’ best we kin find,” apologized Billy.

“That’s th’ sixth that feller sent up there. He’s a damn poor shot,”
 observed Johnny; “must be Shorty.”

“Shorty kin shoot plum’ good--tain’t him,” contradicted Billy.

“Yas--with a six-shooter. He’s off’n his feed with a rifle,” explained
Johnny.

“Yu wants to stay down from up there, yu ijit,” warned Billy as the
disgusted Johnny crawled up the bank. He slid down again with a welt on
his neck.

“That’s somebody else now. He oughter a done better’n that,” he said.

Billy had fired as Johnny started to slide and he smoothed his aggrieved
chum. “He could onct, yu means.”

“Did yu git him?” asked the anxious Johnny, rubbing his welt. “Plum’
center,” responded the business-like Billy. “Go up agin, mebby I kin git
another,” he suggested tentatively.

“Mebby you kin go to blazes. I ain’t no gallery,” grinned the now
exuberant owner of the welt.

“Who’s got the buffalo?” he inquired as the great gun roared.

“Mus’ be Cowan. He’s shore all right. Sounds like a bloomin’ cannon,”
 replied Billy. “Lemme alone with yore fool questions, I’m busy,” he
complained as his talkative partner started to ask another. “Go an’ git
me some water--I’m alkalied. An’ git some .45’s, mine’s purty near gone.”

Johnny crawled down the arroyo and reappeared at Hopalong’s barn.

As he entered the door a handful of empty shells fell on his hat and
dropped to the floor. He shook his head and remarked, “That mus’ be that
fool Hopalong.”

“Yore shore right. How’s business?” inquired the festive Cassidy.

“Purty fair. Billy’s got one. How many’s gone?”

“Buck’s got three, I got two and Skinny’s got one. That’s six, an’ Billy
is seven. They’s five more,” he replied.

“How’d yu know?” queried Johnny as he filled his flask at the horse
trough.

“Because they’s twelve cayuses behind the hotel. That’s why.”

“They might git away on ‘em,” suggested the practical Johnny.

“Can’t. They’s all cashed in.”

“Yu said that they’s five left,” ejaculated the puzzled water carrier.

“Yah; yore a smart cuss, ain’t yu?”

Johnny grinned and then said, “Got any smokin’?” Hopalong looked
grieved. “I ain’t no store. Why don’t yu git generous and buy some?”

He partially filled Johnny’s hand, and as he put the sadly depleted bag
away he inquired, “Got any papers?”

“Nope.”

“Got any matches?” he asked cynically.

“Nope.”

“Kin yu smoke ‘em?” he yelled, indignantly.

“Shore nuff,” placidly replied the unruffled Johnny. “Billy wants some
.45-70’s.”

Hopalong gasped. “Don’t he want my gun, too?”

“Nope. Got a better one. Hurry up, he’ll git mad.” Hopalong was a very
methodical person. He was the only one of his crowd to carry a second
cartridge strap. It hung over his right shoulder and rested on his
left hip. His waist belt held thirty cartridges for the revolvers. He
extracted twenty from that part of the shoulder strap hardest to get at,
the back, by simply pulling it over his shoulder and plucking out the
bullets as they came into reach.

“That’s all yu kin have. I’m Buck’s ammernition jackass,” he explained.
“Bet yu ten we gits ‘em afore dark”--he was hedging.

“Any fool knows that. I’ll take yu if yu bets th’ other way,” responded
Johnny, grinning. He knew Hopalong’s weak spot.

“Yore on,” promptly responded Hopalong, who would bet on anything.


“Well, so long,” said Johnny as he crawled away.

“Hey, yu, Johnny!” called out Hopalong, “don’t yu go an’ tell anybody I
got any pills left. I ain’t no ars’nal.”

Johnny replied by elevating one foot and waving it. Then he disappeared.

Behind the store, the most precarious position among the besiegers,
Red Connors and Lanky Smith were ensconced and commanded a view of the
entire length of the barroom. They could see the dark mass they knew to
be the rear door and derived a great amount of amusement from the spots
of light which were appearing in it.

They watched the “C” (reversed to them) appear and be completed. When
the wobbly “H” grew to completion they laughed heartily. Then the
hardwood bar had been dragged across the field of vision and up to the
front windows, and they could only see the indiscriminate holes which
appeared in the upper panels at frequent intervals.

Every time they fired they had to expose a part of themselves to a
return shot, with the result that Lanky’s forearm was seared its entire
length. Red had been more fortunate and only had a bruised ear.

They laboriously rolled several large rocks out in the open, pushing
them beyond the shelter of the store with their rifles. When they had
crawled behind them they each had another wound. From their new position
they could see Hopalong sitting in his window. He promptly waved his
sombrero and grinned.

They were the most experienced fighters of all except Buck, and were
saving their shots. When they did shoot they always had some portion of
a man’s body to aim at, and the damage they inflicted was considerable.
They said nothing, being older than the rest and more taciturn, and
they were not reckless. Although Hopalong’s antics made them laugh, they
grumbled at his recklessness and were not tempted to emulate him. It was
noticeable, too, that they shoved their rifles out simultaneously and,
although both were aiming, only one fired. Lanky’s gun cracked so close
to the enemy’s that the whirr of the bullet over Red’s head was merged
in the crack of his partner’s reply.

When Hopalong saw the rocks roll out from behind the store he grew very
curious. Then he saw a flash, followed instantly by another from the
second rifle. He saw several of these follow shots and could sit in
silence no longer. He waved his hat to attract attention and then
shouted, “How many?” A shot was sent straight up in the air and he
notified Buck that there were only four left.

The fire of these four grew less rapid--they were saving their
ammunition. A pot shot at Hopalong sent that gentleman’s rifle hurtling
to the ground. Another tore through his hat, removing a neat amount of
skin and hair and giving him a lifelong part. He fell back inside
and proceeded to shoot fast and straight with his revolvers, his head
burning as though on fire. When he had vented the dangerous pressure
of his anger he went below and tried to fish the rifle in with a long
stick. It was obdurate, so he sent three more shots into the door, and,
receiving no reply, ran out around the corner of his shelter and grasped
the weapon. When half way back he sank to the ground. Before another
shot could be fired at him with any judgment a ripping, spitting rifle
was being frantically worked from the barn. The bullets tore the door
into seams and gaps; the lowest panel, the one having the “H” in it,
fell inward in chunks. Johnny had returned for another smoke.

Hopalong, still grasping the rifle, rolled rapidly around the corner of
the barn. He endeavored to stand, but could not. Johnny, hearing rapid
and fluent swearing, came out.

“Where’d they git yu?” he asked.

 “In th’ off leg.  Hurts like blazes.  Did yu git him?”

“Nope. I jest come fer another cig; got any left?”

“Up above. Yore gall is shore apallin’. Help me in, yu two-laigged
jackass.”

“Shore. We’ll shore pay our ‘tentions to that door. She’ll go purty
soon--she’s as full of holes as th’ Bad Lan’s,” replied Johnny. “Git
aholt an’ hop along, Hopalong.”

He helped the swearing Hopalong inside, and then the lead they pumped
into the wrecked door was scandalous. Another panel fell in and
Hopalong’s “C” was destroyed. A wide crack appeared in the one above it
and grew rapidly. Its mate began to gape and finally both were driven
in. The increase in the light caused by these openings allowed Red and
Lanky to secure better aim and soon the fire of the defenders died out.

Johnny dropped his rifle and, drawing his six-shooter, ran out and
dashed for the dilapidated door, while Hopalong covered that opening
with a fusilade.

As Johnny’s shoulder sent the framework flying inward he narrowly missed
sudden death. As it was he staggered to the side, out of range, and
dropped full length to the ground, flat on his face. Hopalong’s rifle
cracked incessantly, but to no avail. The man who had fired the shot was
dead. Buck got him immediately after he had shot Johnny.

Calling to Skinny and Red to cover him, Buck sprinted to where Johnny
lay gasping. The bullet had struck his shoulder. Buck, Colt in hand,
leaped through the door, but met with no resistance. He signaled to
Hopalong, who yelled, “They’s none left.”

The trees and rocks and gullies and buildings yielded men who soon
crowded around the hotel. A young doctor, lately graduated, appeared. It
was his first case, but he eased Johnny. Then he went over to Hopalong,
who was now raving, and attended to him. The others were patched up
as well as possible and the struggling young physician had his pockets
crammed full of gold and silver coins.

The scene of the wrecked barroom was indescribable. Holes, furrows,
shattered glass and bottles, the liquor oozing down the walls of the
shelves and running over the floor; the ruined furniture, a wrecked bar,
seared and shattered and covered with blood; bodies as they had been
piled in the corners; ropes, shells, hats; and liquor everywhere, over
everything, met the gaze of those who had caused the chaos.

Perry’s Bend had failed to wipe out the score.



CHAPTER IV. The Vagrant Sioux


Buckskin gradually readjusted itself to the conditions which had existed
before its sudden leap into the limelight as a town which did things.
The soiree at the Houston House had drifted into the past, and was
now substantially established as an epoch in the history of the
town. Exuberant joy gave way to dignity and deprecation, and to solid
satisfaction; and the conversations across the bar brought forth
parallels of the affair to be judged impartially--and the impartial
judgment was, unanimously, that while there had undoubtedly been good
fights before Perry’s Bend had disturbed the local quiet, they were not
quite up to the new standard of strenuous hospitality. Finally the heat
blistered everything back into the old state, and the shadows continued
to be in demand.

One afternoon, a month after the reception of the honorable delegation
from Perry’s Bend, the town of Buckskin seemed desolated, and the earth
and the buildings thereon were as huge furnaces radiating a visible
heat, but when the blazing sun had begun to settle in the west it awoke
with a clamor which might have been laid to the efforts of a zealous
Satan. At this time it became the Mecca of two score or more joyous
cowboys from the neighboring ranches, who livened things as those
knights of the saddle could.

In the scant but heavy shadow of Cowan’s saloon sat a picturesque figure
from whom came guttural, resonant rumblings which mingled in a spirit of
loneliness with the fretful sighs of a flea-tormented dog. Both dog and
master were vagrants, and they were tolerated because it was a matter of
supreme indifference as to who came or how long they stayed as long as
the ethics and the unwritten law of the cow country were inviolate. And
the breaking of these caused no unnecessary anxiety, for justice was
both speedy and sure.

When the outcast Sioux and his yellow dog had drifted into town some few
months before they had caused neither expostulation nor inquiry, as the
cardinal virtue of that whole broad land was to ask a man no questions
which might prove embarrassing to all concerned; judgment was of
observation, not of history, and a man’s past would reveal itself
through actions. It mattered little whether he was an embezzler or the
wild chip from some prosperous eastern block, as men came to the range
to forget and to lose touch with the pampered East; and the range
absorbed them as its own.



A man was only a man as his skin contained the qualities necessary; and
the illiterate who could ride and shoot and live to himself was far more
esteemed than the educated who could not do those things. The more a man
depends upon himself and the closer is his contact to a quick judgment
the more laconic and even-poised he becomes. And the knowledge that he
is himself a judge tends to create caution and judgment. He has no court
to uphold his honor and to offer him protection, so he must be quick to
protect himself and to maintain his own standing. His nature saved him,
or it executed; and the range absolved him of all unpaid penalties of a
careless past.

He became a man born again and he took up his burden, the exactions of
a new environment, and he lived as long as those exactions gave him the
right to live. He must tolerate no restrictions of his natural rights,
and he must not restrict; for the one would proclaim him a coward,
the other a bully; and both received short shrifts in that land of the
self-protected. The basic law of nature is the survival of the fittest.

So, when the wanderers found their level in Buckskin they were not even
asked by what name men knew them. Not caring to hear a name which might
not harmonize with their idea of the fitness of things, the cowboys of
the Bar-20 had, with a freedom born of excellent livers and fearless
temperaments, bestowed names befitting their sense of humor and
adaptability. The official title of the Sioux was By-and-by; the dog was
known as Fleas. Never had names more clearly described the objects to be
represented, for they were excellent examples of cowboy discernment and
aptitude.

In their eyes By-and-by was a man. He could feel and he could resent
insults. They did not class him as one of themselves, because he did not
have energy enough to demand and justify such classification. With them
he had a right to enjoy his life as he saw fit so long as he did not
trespass on or restrict the rights of others. They were not analytic
in temperament, neither were they moralists. He was not a menace to
society, because society had superb defenses. So they vaguely recognized
his many poor qualities and clearly saw his few good ones. He could
shoot, when permitted, with the best; no horse, however refractory, had
ever been known to throw him; he was an adept at following the trails
left by rustlers, and that was an asset; he became of value to the
community; he was an economic factor.

His ability to consume liquor with indifferent effects raised him
another notch in their estimation. He was not always talking when some
one else wished to--another count. There remained about him that stoical
indifference to the petty; that observant nonchalance of the Indian;
and there was a suggestion, faint, it was true, of a dignity common to
chieftains. He was a log of grave deference which tossed on their sea of
mischievous hilarity.

He wore a pair of corduroy trousers, known to the care-free as “pants,”
 which were held together by numerous patches of what had once been
brilliantly colored calico. A pair of suspenders, torn into two separate
straps, made a belt for himself and a collar for his dog. The trousers
had probably been secured during a fit of absent-mindedness on his part
when their former owner had not been looking. Tucked at intervals in
the top of the corduroys (the exceptions making convenient shelves for
alkali dust) was what at one time had been a stiff-bosomed shirt. This
was open down the front and back, the weight of the trousers on the belt
holding it firmly on the square shoulders of the wearer, thus precluding
the necessity of collar buttons. A pair of moccasins, beautifully worked
with wampum, protected his feet from the onslaughts of cacti and the
inquisitive and pugnacious sand flies; and lying across his lap was
a repeating Winchester rifle, not dangerous because it was empty, a
condition due to the wisdom of the citizens in forbidding any one to
sell, trade or give to him those tubes of concentrated trouble, because
he could get drunk.

The two were contented and happy. They had no cares nor duties, and
their pleasures were simple and easily secured, as they consisted of
sleep and a proneness to avoid moving. Like the untrammeled coyote,
their bed was where sleep overtook them; their food, what the night
wrapped in a sense of security, or the generosity of the cowboys of the
Bar-20. No tub-ridden Diogenes ever knew so little of responsibility or
as much unadulterated content. There is a penalty even to civilization
and ambition.

When the sun had cast its shadows beyond By-and-by’s feet the air became
charged with noise; shouts, shots and the rolling thunder of madly
pounding hoofs echoed flatly throughout the town. By-and-by yawned,
stretched and leaned back, reveling in the semi-conscious ecstasy of the
knowledge that he did not have to immediately get up. Fleas opened one
eye and cocked an ear in inquiry, and then rolled over on his back,
squirmed and sighed contentedly and long. The outfit of the Bar-20 had
come to town.

The noise came rapidly nearer and increased in volume as the riders
turned the corner and drew rein suddenly, causing their mounts to slide
on their haunches in ankle-deep dust.

“Hullo, old Buck-with-th’-pants, how’s yore liver?”

“Come up an irrigate, old tank!”

“Chase th’ flea ranch an’ trail along!”

These were a few of the salutations discernible among the medley of
playful yells, the safety valves of supercharged good-nature.

“Skr-e-e!” yelled Hopalong Cassidy, letting off a fusillade of shots in
the vicinity of Fleas, who rapidly retreated around the corner, where he
wagged his tail in eager expectation. He was not disappointed, for a cow
pony tore around in pursuit and Hopalong leaned over and scratched the
yellow back, thumping it heartily, and, tossing a chunk of beef into the
open jaws of the delighted dog, departed as he had come. The advent of
the outfit meant a square meal, and the dog knew it.

In Cowan’s, lined up against the bar, the others were earnestly and
assiduously endeavoring, with a promise of success, to get By-and-by
drunk, which endeavors coincided perfectly with By-and-by’s idea of the
fitness of things. The fellowship and the liquor combined to thaw
out his reserve and to loosen his tongue. After gazing with an air of
injured surprise at the genial loosening of his knees he gravely handed
his rifle with an exaggerated sweep of his arm, to the cowboy nearest
him, and wrapped his arms around the recipient to insure his balance.
The rifle was passed from hand to hand until it came to Buck Peters, who
gravely presented it to its owner as a new gun.

By-and-by threw out his stomach in an endeavor to keep his head in line
with his heels, and grasping the weapon with both hands turned to Cowan,
to whom he gave it.

“Yu hab this un. Me got two. Me keep new un, mebby so.” Then he loosened
his belt and drank long and deep.

A shadow darkened the doorway and Hopalong limped in. Spying By-and-by
pushing the bottle into his mouth, while Red Connors propped him,
he grinned and took out five silver dollars, which he jingled under
By-and-by’s eyes, causing that worthy to lay aside the liquor and
erratically grab for the tantalizing fortune.

“Not yet, sabe?” said Hopalong, changing the position of the money. “If
yu wants to corral this here herd of simoleons yu has to ride a cayuse
what Red bet me yu can’t ride. Yu has got to grow on that there saddle
and stayed growed for five whole minutes by Buck’s ticker. I ain’t
a-goin’ to tell yu he’s any saw-horse, for yu’d know better, as yu
reckons Red wouldn’t bet on no losin’ proposition if he knowed better,
which same he don’t. Yu straddles that four-laigged cloudburst an’ yu
gets these, sabe? I ain’t seen th’ cayuse yet that yu couldn’t freeze
to, an’ I’m backin’ my opinions with my moral support an’ one month’s
pay.”

By-and-by’s eyes began to glitter as the meaning of the words
sifted through his befuddled mind. Ride a horse--five dollars--ride a
five-dollars horse--horses ride dollars--then he straightened up and
began to speak in an incoherent jumble of Sioux and bad English. He,
the mighty rider of the Sioux; he, the bravest warrior and the greatest
hunter; could he ride a horse for five dollars? Well, he rather thought
he could. Grasping Red by the shoulder, he tacked for the door and
narrowly missed hitting the bottom step first, landing, as it happened,
in the soft dust with Red’s leg around his neck. Somewhat sobered by the
jar, he stood up and apologized to the crowd for Red getting in the way,
declaring that Red was a “Heap good un,” and that he didn’t mean to do
it.

The outfit of the Bar-20 was, perhaps, the most famous of all from
Canada to the Rio Grande. The foreman, Buck Peters, controlled a crowd
of men (who had all the instincts of boys) that had shown no quarter
to many rustlers, and who, while always carefree and easy-going (even
fighting with great good humor and carelessness), had established the
reputation of being the most reckless gang of daredevil gun-fighters
that ever pounded leather. Crooked gaming houses, from El Paso
to Cheyenne and from Phoenix to Leavenworth, unanimously and
enthusiastically damned them from their boots to their sombreros, and
the sheriffs and marshals of many localities had received from their
hands most timely assistance--and some trouble. Wiry, indomitable,
boyish and generous, they were splendid examples of virile manhood; and,
surrounded as they were with great dangers and a unique civilization,
they should not, in justice, be judged by opinions born of the
commonplace.

They were real cowboys, which means, public opinion to the contrary
notwithstanding, that they were not lawless, nor drunken, shooting
bullies who held life cheaply, as their kin has been unjustly pictured;
but while these men were naturally peaceable they had to continually
rub elbows with men who were not. Gamblers, criminals, bullies and the
riffraff that fled from the protected East had drifted among them in
great numbers, and it was this class that caused the trouble.

The hardworking “cow-punchers” lived according to the law of the land,
and they obeyed that greatest of all laws, that of self-preservation.
Their fun was boisterous, but they paid for all the damage they
inflicted; their work was one continual hardship, and the reaction of
one extreme swings far toward the limit of its antithesis. Go back to
the Apple if you would trace the beginning of self-preservation and the
need.

Buck Peters was a man of mild appearance, somewhat slow of speech and
correspondingly quick of action, who never became flurried. His was the
master hand that controlled, and his Colts enjoyed the reputation of
never missing when a hit could have been expected with reason. Many
floods, stampedes and blizzards had assailed his nerves, but he yet
could pour a glass of liquor, held at arm’s length, through a knothole
in the floor without wetting the wood.

Next in age came Lanky Smith, a small, undersized man of retiring
disposition. Then came Skinny Thompson, six feet four on his bared
soles, and true to his name; Hopalong described him as “th’ shadow of a
chalk mark.” Pete Wilson, the slow-witted and very taciturn, and
Billy Williams, the wavering pessimist, were of ordinary height and
appearance. Red Connors, with hair that shamed the name, was the
possessor of a temper which was as dry as tinder; his greatest weakness
was his regard for the rifle as a means of preserving peace. Johnny
Nelson was the protege, and he could do no wrong.

The last, Hopalong Cassidy, was a combination of irresponsibility,
humor, good nature, love of fighting, and nonchalance when face to face
with danger. His most prominent attribute was that of always getting
into trouble without any intention of so doing; in fact, he was much
aggrieved and surprised when it came. It seemed as though when any “bad
man” desired to add to his reputation he invariably selected Hopalong as
the means (a fact due, perhaps, to the perversity of things in general).
Bad men became scarce soon after Hopalong became a fixture in any
locality. He had been crippled some years before in a successful
attempt to prevent the assassination of a friend, Sheriff Harris, of
Albuquerque, and he still possessed a limp.

When Red had relieved his feelings and had dug the alkali out of his
ears and eyes, he led the Sioux to the rear of the saloon, where a
“pinto” was busily engaged in endeavoring to pitch a saddle from his
back, employing the intervals in trying to see how much of the picket
rope he could wrap around his legs.

When By-and-by saw what he was expected to ride he felt somewhat
relieved, for the pony did not appear to have more than the ordinary
amount of cussedness. He waved his hand, and Johnny and Red bandaged the
animal’s eyes, which quieted him at once, and then they untangled
the rope from around his legs and saw that the cinches were secure.
Motioning to By-and-by that all was ready, they jerked the bandage off
as the Indian settled himself in the saddle.

Had By-and-by been really sober he would have taken the conceit out of
that pony in chunks, and as it was he experienced no great difficulty in
holding his seat; but in his addled state of mind he grasped the end of
the cinch strap in such a way that when the pony jumped forward in
its last desperate effort the buckle slipped and the cinch became
unfastened; and By-and-by, still seated in the saddle, flew head
foremost into the horse trough, where he spilled much water.

As this happened Cowan turned the corner, and when he saw the wasted
water (which he had to carry, bucketful at a time, from the wells a good
quarter of a mile away) his anger blazed forth, and yelling, he ran
for the drenched Sioux, who was just crawling out of his bath. When the
unfortunate saw the irate man bearing down on him he sputtered in rage
and fear, and, turning, he ran down the street, with Cowan thundering
flatfootedly behind on a fat man’s gallop, to the hysterical cheers of
the delighted outfit, who saw in it nothing but a good joke.

When Cowan returned from his hopeless task, blowing and wheezing, he
heard sundry remarks, sotto voce, which were not calculated to increase
his opinion of his physical condition.

“Seems to me,” remarked the irrepressible Hopalong, “that one of those
cayuses has got th’ heaves.”

“It shore sounds like it,” acquiesced Johnny, red in the face from
holding in his laughter, “an’ say, somebody interferes.”

“All knock-kneed animals do, yu heathen,” supplied Red.

“Hey, yu, let up on that and have a drink on th’ house,” invited
Cowan. “If I gits that durn war whoop I’ll make yu think there’s been
a cyclone. I’ll see how long that bum hangs around this here burg, I
will.”

Red’s eyes narrowed and his temper got the upper hand. “He ain’t no bum
when yu gives him rotgut at a quarter of a dollar a glass, is he? Any
time that ‘bum’ gits razzled out for nothin’ more’n this, why, I goes
too; an’ I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ about goin’ peaceable--like, neither.”

“I knowed somethin’ like this ‘ud happen,” dolefully sang out Billy
Williams, strong on the side of his pessimism.

“For th’ Lord’s sake, have you broke out?” asked Red, disgustedly. “I’m
goin’ to hit the trail--but just keep this afore yore mind: if By-and-by
gits in any accidents or ain’t in sight when I comes to town again, this
here climate’ll be a heep sight hotter’n it is now. No hard feelings,
sabe? It’s just a casual bit of advice. Come on, fellows, let’s
amble--I’m hungry.”

As they raced across the plain toward the ranch a pair of beady eyes,
snapping with a drunken rage, watched them from an arroyo; and when
Cowan entered the saloon the next morning he could not find By-and-by’s
rifle, which he had placed behind the bar. He also missed a handful of
cartridges from the box near the cash drawer; and had he looked closely
at his bottled whisky he would have noticed a loss there. A horse was
missing from a Mexican’s corral and there were rumors that several
Indians had been seen far out on the plain.



CHAPTER V. The Law of the Range


“Phew! I’m shore hungry,” said Hopalong, as he and Red dismounted at the
ranch the next morning for breakfast. “Wonder what’s good for it?”

“They’s three things that’s good for famine,” said Red, leading the way
to the bunk house. “Yu can pull in yore belt, yu can drink, an yu can
eat. Yore getting as bad as Johnny--but he’s young yet.”

The others met their entrance with a volley of good-humored banter, some
of which was so personal and evoked such responses that it sounded like
the preliminary skirmish to a fight. But under all was that soft accent,
that drawl of humorous appreciation and eyes twinkling in suppressed
merriment. Here they were thoroughly at home and the spirit of
comradeship manifested itself in many subtle ways; the wit became more
daring and sharp, Billy lost some of his pessimism, and the alertness
disappeared from their manner.

Skinny left off romping with Red and yawned. “I wish that cook’ud wake
up an’ git breakfast. He’s the cussedest hombre I ever saw--he kin go to
sleep standin’ up an’ not know it. Johnny’s th’ boy that worries him--th’
kid comes in an’ whoops things up till he’s gorged himself.”

“Johnny’s got th’ most appallin’ feel for grub of anybody I knows,”
 added Red. “I wonder what’s keepin’ him--he’s usually hangin’ around here
bawlin’ for his grub like a spoiled calf, long afore cookie’s got th’
fire goin’.”

“Mebby he rustled some grub out with him--I saw him tip-toein’ out of th’
gallery this mornin’ when I come back for my cigs,” remarked Hopalong,
glancing at Billy.

Billy groaned and made for the gallery. Emerging half a minute later he
blurted out his tale of woe: “Every time I blows myself an’ don’t drink
it all in town some slab-sided maverick freezes to it. It’s gone,” he
added, dismally.

“Too bad, Billy--but what is it?” asked Skinny.

“What is it? Wha’d yu think it was, you emaciated match? Jewelry?
Cayuses? It’s whisky--two simoleons’ worth. Some-thin’s allus wrong. This
here whole yearth’s wrong, just like that cross-eyed sky pilot said over
to--”

“Will yu let up?” Yelled Red, throwing a sombrero at the grumbling
unfortunate. “Yu ask Buck where yore tanglefoot is.

“I’d shore look nice askin’ th’ boss if he’d rustled my whisky, wouldn’t
I? An’ would yu mind throwin’ somebody else’s hat? I paid twenty wheels
for that eight years ago, and I don’t want it mussed none.”

“Gee, yore easy! Why, Ah Sing, over at Albuquerque, gives them away
every time yu gits yore shirt washed,” gravely interposed Hopalong as he
went out to cuss the cook.

“Well, what’d yu think of that?” Exclaimed Billy in an injured tone.

“Oh, yu needn’t be hikin’ for Albuquerque--WasheeWashee’ud charge yu
double for washin’ yore shirt. Yu ought to fall in di’ river some
day--then he might talk business,” called Hopalong over his shoulder
as he heaved an old boot into the gallery. “Hey, yu hibernatin’ son of
morphine, if yu don’t git them flapjacks in here pretty sudden-like
I’ll scatter yu all over di’ landscape, sabe? Yu just wait till Johnny
comes!”

“Wonder where th’ kid is?” asked Lanky, rolling a cigarette. “Off
somewhere lookin’ at di’ sun through di’ bottom of my bottle,” grumbled
Billy.

Hopalong started to go out, but halted on the sill and looked steadily
off toward the northwest. “That’s funny. Hey, fellows, here comes Buck
an’ Johnny ridin’ double--on a walk, too!” he exclaimed. “Wonder what
th’--thunder! Red, Buck’s carryun’ him! Somethin’s busted!” he yelled, as
he dashed for his pony and made for the newcomers.

“I told yu he was hittin’ my bottle,” pertly remarked Billy, as he
followed the rest outside.

“Did yu ever see Johnny drunk? Did yu ever see him drink more’n two
glasses? Shut yore wailin’ face--they’s somethin’ worse’n that in this
here,” said Red, his temper rising. “Hopalong an’ me took yore cheap
liquor--it’s under Pete’s bunk,” he added.

The trio approached on a walk and Johnny, delirious and covered with
blood, was carried into the bunk house. Buck waited until all had
assembled again and then, his face dark with anger, spoke sharply and
without the usual drawl: “Skragged from behind, blast them! Get some
grub an’ water an’ be quick. We’ll see who the gent with th’ grudge is.”

At this point the expostulations of the indignant cook, who, not
understanding the cause, regarded the invasion of china shop bulls as
sacrilegious, came to his ears. Striding quickly to the door, he grabbed
the pan the Mexican was about to throw and, turning the now frightened
man around, thundered, “Keep quiet an’ get ‘em some grub.”

When rifles and ammunition had been secured they mounted and followed
him at a hard gallop along the back trail. No words were spoken, for
none were necessary. All knew that they would not return until they
had found the man for whom they were looking, even if the chase led
to Canada. They did not ask Buck for any of the particulars, for the
foreman was not in the humor to talk, and all, save Hopalong, whose
curiosity was always on edge, recognized only two facts and cared for
nothing else: Johnny had been ambushed and they were going to get the
one who was responsible.

They did not even conjecture as to who it might be, because the trail
would lead them to the man himself, and it mattered nothing who or what
he was--there was only one course to take with an assassin. So they said
nothing, but rode on with squared jaws and set lips, the seven ponies
breast to breast in a close arc.

Soon they came to an arroyo which they took at a leap. As they
approached it they saw signs in the dust which told them that a body had
lain there huddled up; and there were brown spots on the baked alkali.
The trail they followed was now single, Buck having ridden along the
bank of the arroyo when hunting for Johnny, for whom he had orders. This
trail was very irregular, as if the horse had wandered at will. Suddenly
they came upon five tracks, all pointing one way, and four of these
turned abruptly and disappeared in the northwest. Half a mile beyond the
point of separation was a chaparral, which was an important factor to
them.

Each man knew just what had taken place as if he had been an eyewitness,
for the trail was plain. The assassins had waited in the chaparral for
Johnny to pass, probably having seen him riding that way. When he had
passed and his back had been turned to them they had fired and wounded
him severely at the first volley, for Johnny was of the stuff that
fights back and his revolvers had showed full chambers and clean barrels
when Red had examined them in the bunk house. Then they had given chase
for a short distance and, from some inexplicable motive, probably fear,
they had turned and ridden off without knowing how bad he was hit. It
was this trail that led to the northwest, and it was this trail that
they followed without pausing.

When they had covered fifty miles they sighted the Cross Bar O ranch
where they hoped to secure fresh mounts. As they rode up to the ranch
house the owner, Bud Wallace, came around the corner and saw them.

 “Hullo, boys! What deviltry are yu up to now?” he asked.  Buck
leaped from his mount, followed by the others, and shoved his sombrero
back on his head as he started to remove the saddle.

“We’re trailin’ a bunch of murderers. They ambushed Johnny an’ blame
near killed him. I stopped here to get fresh cayuses.”

“Yu did right!” replied Wallace heartily. Then raising his voice he
shouted to some of his men who were near the corral to bring up the
seven best horses they could rope. Then he told the cook to bring out
plenty of food and drink.

“I got four punchers what ain’t doin’ nothin’ but eat,” he suggested.

“Much obliged, Wallace, but there’s only four of ‘em, an’ we’d rather
get ‘em ourselves--Johnny’ud feel better,” replied Buck, throwing his
saddle on the horse that was led up to him.

“How’s yore cartridges--got plenty?” Persisted Wallace.

“Two hundred apiece,” responded Buck, springing into his saddle and
riding off. “So long,” he called.

“So long, an’ plug blazes out of them,” shouted Wallace as the dust
swept over him.

At five in the afternoon they forded the Black River at a point where it
crossed the state line from New Mexico, and at dusk camped at the base
of the Guadalupe Mountains. At daybreak they took up the chase, grim and
merciless, and shortly afterward they passed the smoldering remains of
a camp fire, showing that the pursued had been in a great hurry, for it
should have been put out and masked. At noon they left the mountains to
the rear and sighted the Barred Horeshoe, which they approached.

The owner of the ranch saw them coming, and from their appearance
surmised that something was wrong.

“What is it?” He shouted. “Rustlers?”

“Nope. Murderers. I wants to swap cayuses quick,” answered Buck.

“There they are. Th’ boys just brought ‘em in. Anything else I can let
yu have?”

“Nope,” shouted Buck as they galloped off.

“Somebody’s goin’ to get plugged full of holes,” murmured the ranch
owner as he watched them kicking up the dust in huge clouds.

After they had forded a tributary of the Rio Penasco near the Sacramento
Mountains and had surmounted the opposite bank, Hopalong spurred his
horse to the top of a hummock and swept the plain with Pete’s field
glasses, which he had borrowed for the occasion, and returned to the
rest, who had kept on without slacking the pace. As he took up his
former position he grunted, “War-whoops,” and unslung his rifle, an
example followed by the others.

The ponies were now running at top speed, and as they shot over a rise
their riders saw their quarry a mile and a half in advance. One of the
Indians looked back and discharged his rifle in defiance, and it now
became a race worthy of the name--Death fled from Death. The fresher
mounts of the cowboys steadily cut down the distance and, as the rifles
of the pursuers began to speak, the hard-pressed Indians made for the
smaller of two knolls, the plain leading to the larger one being too
heavily strewn with bowlders to permit speed.

As the fugitives settled down behind the rocks which fringed the edge of
their elevation a shot from one of them disabled Billy’s arm, but had no
other effect than to increase the score to be settled. The pursuers
rode behind a rise and dismounted, from where, leaving their mounts
protected, they scattered out to surround the knoll.

Hopalong, true to his curiosity, finally turned up on the highest point
of the other knoll, a spur of the range in the west, for he always
wanted to see all he could. Skinny, due to his fighting instinct,
settled one hundred yards to the north and on the same spur. Buck lay
hidden behind an enormous bowlder eight hundred yards to the northeast
of Skinny, and the same distance southeast of Buck was Red Connors, who
was crawling up the bed of an arroyo. Billy, nursing his arm, lay in
front of the horses, and Pete, from his position between Billy and
Hopalong, was crawling from rock to rock in an endeavor to get near
enough to use his Colts, his favorite and most effective weapons.
Intermittent puffs of smoke arising from a point between Skinny and Buck
showed where Lanky Smith was improving each shining hour.

There had been no directions given, each man choosing his own position,
yet each was of strategic worth. Billy protected the horses, Hopalong
and Skinny swept the knoll with a plunging fire, and Lanky and Buck lay
in the course the besieged would most likely take if they tried a dash.
Off to the east Red barred them from creeping down the arroyo, and from
where Pete was he could creep up to within sixty yards if he chose the
right rocks. The ranges varied from four hundred yards for Buck to sixty
for Pete, and the others averaged close to three hundred, which allowed
very good shooting on both sides.

Hopalong and Skinny gradually moved nearer to each other for
companionship, and as the former raised his head to see what the others
were doing he received a graze on the ear.

“Wow!” he yelled, rubbing the tingling member.

Two puffs of smoke floated up from the knoll, and Skinny swore.

“Where’d he get yu, Fat?” asked Hopalong.

“G’wan, don’t get funny, son,” replied Skinny.


Jets of smoke arose from the north and east, where Buck and Red were
stationed, and Pete was half way to the knoll. So far he hadn’t been hit
as he dodged in and out, and, emboldened by his luck, he made a run of
five yards and his sombrero was shot from his head. Another dash and his
empty holster was ripped from its support. As he crouched behind a rock
he heard a yell from Hopalong, and saw that interested individual waving
his sombrero to cheer him on. An angry pang! from the knoll caused that
enthusiastic rooter to drop for safety.

“Locoed son-of-a-gun,” complained Pete. “He’ll shore git potted.” Then
he glanced at Billy, who was the center of several successive spurts of
dust.

“How’s business, Billy?” he called pleasantly.

“Oh, they’ll git me yet,” responded the pessimist. “Yu needn’t git
anxious. If that off buck wasn’t so green he’d ‘a’ had me long ago.”

“Ya-hoo! Pete! Oh, Pete!” called Hopalong, sticking his head out at one
side and grinning as the wondering object of his hail craned his neck to
see what the matter was.

“Huh?” grunted Pete, and then remembering the distance he shouted,
“What’s th’ matter?”

“Got any cigarettes?” asked Hopalong.

“Yu poor sheep!” said Pete, and turning back to work he drove a .45 into
a yellow moccasin.

Hopalong began to itch and he saw that he was near an ant hill. Then the
cactus at his right boomed out mournfully and a hole appeared in it. He
fired at the smoke and a yell informed him that he had made a hit.
“Go ‘way!” he complained as a green fly buzzed past his nose. Then he
scratched each leg with the foot of the other and squirmed incessantly,
kicking out with both feet at once. A warning metallic whir-r-r! on his
left caused to yank them in again, and turning his head quickly he the
pleasure of lopping off the head of a rattlesnake with his Colt’s.

“Glad yu wasn’t a copperhead,” he exclaimed. “Somebody had ought ‘a’
shot that fool Noah. Blast the ants!” He drowned with a jet of tobacco
juice a Gila monster that was staring at him and took a savage delight
in its frantic efforts to bury itself.

Soon he heard Skinny swear and he sung out: “What’s the matter, Skinny?
Git plugged again?”

“Naw, bugs--ain’t they mean?” Plaintively asked his friend. “They ain’t
none over here. What kind of bugs?”

“Sufferin’ Moses, I ain’t no bugologist! All kinds!”

But Hopalong got it at last. He had found tobacco and rolled a
cigarette, and in reaching for a match exposed his shoulder to a shot
that broke his collar bone. Skinny’s rifle cracked in reply and the
offending brave rolled out from behind a rock. From the fuss emanating
from Hopalong’s direction Skinny knew that his neighbor had been hit.

“Don’t yu care, Hoppy. I got th’ cuss,” he said consolingly. “Where’d he
git yu?” he asked.

“In di’ heart, yu pie-faced nuisance. Come over here an’ corral this
cussed bandage an’ gimme some water,” snapped the injured man.

Skinny wormed his way through the thorny chaparral and bound up the
shoulder. “Anything else?” he asked.

“Yes. Shoot that bunch of warts an’ blow that tobacco-eyed Gila to
Cheyenne. This here’s worse than the time we cleaned out th’ C 80
outfit!” Then he kicked the dead toad and swore at the sun.

“Close yore yap; yore worse than a kid! Anybody’d think yu never got
plugged afore,” said Skinny indignantly.

“I can cuss all I wants,” replied Hopalong, proving his assertion as he
grabbed his gun and fired at the dead Indian. A bullet whined above
his head and Skinny fired at the smoke. He peeped out and saw that his
friends were getting nearer to the knoll.

“They’s closin’ in now. We’ll soon be gittin’ home,” he reported.

Hopalong looked out in time to see Buck make a dash for a bowlder that
lay ten yards in front of him, which he reached in safety. Lanky also
ran in and Pete added five more yards to his advance. Buck made
another dash, but leaped into the air, and, coming down as if from an
intentional high jump, staggered and stumbled for a few paces and then
fell flat, rolling over and over toward the shelter of a split rock,
where he lay quiet. A leering red face peered over the rocks on the
knoll, but the whoop of exultation was cut short, for Red’s rifle
cracked and the warrior rolled down the steep bank, where another shot
from the same gun settled him beyond question.

Hopalong choked and, turning his face away, angrily dashed his knuckles
into his eyes. “Blast ‘em! Blast ‘em! They’ve got Buck! They’ve got
Buck, blast ‘em! They’ve got Buck, Skinny! Good old Buck! They’ve got
him! Jimmy’s gone, Johnny’s plugged, and now Buck’s gone! Come on!”
 he sobbed in a frenzy of vengeance. “Come on, Skinny! We’ll tear their
cussed hides into a deeper red than they are now! Oh, blast it, I can’t
see--where’s my gun?” He groped for the rifle and fought Skinny when the
latter, red-eyed but cool, endeavored to restrain him. “Lemme go, curse
yu! Don’t yu know they got Buck? Lemme go!”

“Down! Red’s got di’ skunk. Yu can’t do nothin’--they’d drop yu afore
yu took five steps. Red’s got him, I tell yu! Do yu want me to lick yu?
We’ll pay ‘em back with interest if yu’ll keep yore head!” exclaimed
Skinny, throwing the crazed man heavily.

Musical tones, rising and falling in weird octaves, whining pityingly,
diabolically, sobbing in a fascinating monotone and slobbering in
ragged chords, calling as they swept over the plain, always calling and
exhorting, they mingled in barbaric discord with the defiant barks of
the six-shooters and the inquiring cracks of the Winchesters. High up in
the air several specks sailed and drifted, more coming up rapidly from
all directions. Buzzards know well where food can be found.

As Hopalong leaned back against a rock he was hit in the thigh by a
ricochet that tore its way out, whirling like a circular saw, a span
above where it entered. The wound was very nasty, being ripped twice
the size made by an ordinary shot, and it bled profusely. Skinny crawled
over and attended to it, making a tourniquet of his neckerchief and
clumsily bandaging it with a strip torn from his shirt.

“Yore shore lucky, yu are,” he grumbled as he made his way back to his
post, where he vented his rancor by emptying the semi-depleted magazine
of his Winchester at the knoll.

Hopalong began to sing and shout and he talked of Jimmy and his
childhood, interspersing the broken narrative with choice selections
as sung in the music halls of Leavenworth and Abilene. He wound up by
yelling and struggling, and Skinny had his hands full in holding him.

“Hopalong! Cassidy! Come out of that! Keep quiet--yu’ll shore git plugged
if yu don’t stop that plungin’. For gosh sake, did yu hear that?” A
bullet viciously hissed between them and flattened out on a near-by
rock; others cut their way through the chaparral to the sound of falling
twigs, and Skinny threw himself on the struggling man and strapped
Hopalong with his belt to the base of a honey mesquite that grew at his
side.

“Hold still, now, and let that bandage alone. Yu allus goes off di’
range when yu gets plugged,” he complained. He cut down a cactus and
poured the sap over the wounded man’s face, causing him to gurgle and
look around. His eyes had a sane look now and Skinny slid off his chest.

“Git that--belt loose; I ain’t--no cow,” brokenly blazed out the picketed
Hopalong. Skinny did so, handed the irate man his Colts and returned to
his own post, from where he fired twice, reporting the shots.

“I’m tryin’ to get him on th’ glance’ first one went high an’ th’ other
fell flat,” he explained.

Hopalong listened eagerly, for this was shooting that he could
appreciate. “Lemme see,” he commanded. Skinny dragged him over to a
crack and settled down for another try.

“Where is he, Skinny?” Asked Hopalong.

“Behind that second big one. No, over on this here side. See that smooth
granite? If I can get her there on th’ right spot he’ll shore know it.”
 He aimed carefully and fired.

Through Pete’s glasses Hopalong saw a leaden splotch appear on the rock
and he notified the marksman that he was shooting high. “Put her on that
bump closer down,” he suggested. Skinny did so and another yell reached
their ears.

“That’s a dandy. Yore shore all right, yu old cuss,” complimented
Hopalong, elated at the success of the experiment.

Skinny fired again and a brown arm flopped out into sight. Another shot
struck it and it jerked as though it were lifeless.

“He’s cashed. See how she jumped? Like a rope,” remarked Skinny with a
grin. The arm lay quiet.

Pete had gained his last cover and was all eyes and Colts. Lanky was
also very close in and was intently watching one particular rock.
Several shots echoed from the far side of the knoll and they knew that
Red was all right. Billy was covering a cluster of rocks that protruded
above the others and, as they looked, his rifle rang out and the last
defender leaped down and disappeared in the chaparral. He wore yellow
trousers and an old boiled shirt.

“By an’-by, by all that’s bad!” yelled Hopalong. “Th’ measly coyote! An’
me a-fillin’ his ornery hide with liquor. Well, they’ll have to find
him all over again now,” he complained, astounded by the revelation. He
fired into the chaparral to express his pugnacious disgust and scared
out a huge tarantula, which alighted on Skinny’s chaps, crawling rapidly
toward the unconscious man’s neck. Hopalong’s face hardened and he
slowly covered the insect and fired, driving it into the sand, torn
and lifeless. The bullet touched the leathern garment and Skinny
remonstrated, knowing that Hopalong was in no condition for fancy
shooting.

“Huh!” exclaimed Hopalong. “That was a tarantula what I plugged. He
was headin’ for yore neck,” he explained, watching the chaparral with
apprehension.

“Go ‘way, was it? Bully for yu!” exclaimed Skinny, tarantulas being
placed at par with rattlesnakes, and he considered that he had been
saved from a horrible death. “Thought yu said they wasn’t no bugs over
here,” he added in an aggrieved tone.

“They wasn’t none. Yu brought ‘em. I only had th’ main show--Gilas,
rattlers an’ toads,” he replied, and then added, “Ain’t it cussed hot up
here?”

“She is. Yu won’t have no cinch ridin’ home with that leg. Yu better
take my cayuse--he’s busted more’n yourn,” responded Skinny.

“Yore cayuse is at th’ Cross Bar O, yu wall-eyed pirute.”

“Shore ‘nuff. Funny how a feller forgets sometimes. Lemme alone now,
they’s goin’ to git By-an’-by. Pete an’ Lanky has just went in after
him.”

That was what had occurred. The two impatient punchers, had grown tired
of waiting, and risked what might easily have been death in order to
hasten matters. The others kept up a rapid fire, directed at the far end
of the chaparral on the knoll, in order to mask the movements of their
venturesome friends, intending also to drive By-and-by toward them so
that he would be the one to get picked off as he advanced.

Several shots rang out in quick succession on the knoll and the
chaparral became agitated. Several more shots sounded from the depth
of the thicket and a mounted Indian dashed out of the northern edge and
headed in Buck’s direction. His course would take him close to Buck,
whom he had seen fall, and would let him escape at a point midway
between Red and Skinny, as Lanky was on the knoll and the range was very
far to allow effective shooting by these two.

Red saw him leave the chaparral and in his haste to reload jammed the
cartridge, and By-and-by swept on toward temporary safety, with Red
dancing in a paroxysm of rage, swelling his vocabulary with words he had
forgotten existed.

By-and-by, rising to his full height in the saddle, turned and wiggled
his fingers at the frenzied Red and made several other signs that the
cowboy was in the humor to appreciate to the fullest extent. Then he
turned and shook his rifle at the marksmen on the larger knoll, whose
best shots kicked up the dust fully fifty yards too short. The pony was
sweeping toward the reservation and friends only fifteen miles away,
and By-and-by knew that once among the mountains he would be on equal
footing at least with his enemies.

As he passed the rock behind which Buck lay sprawled on his face he
uttered a piercing whoop of triumph and leaned forward on his pony’s
neck. Twenty leaps farther and the spiteful crack of a rifle echoed from
where the foreman was painfully supporting himself on his elbows. The
pony swept on in a spurt of nerve-racking speed, but alone. By-and-by
shrieked again and crashed heavily to the ground, where he rolled
inertly and then lay still. Men like Buck are dangerous until their
hearts have ceased to beat.



CHAPTER VI. Trials of the Convalescent


The days at the ranch passed in irritating idleness for those who
had obstructed the flight of hostile lead, and worse than any of the
patients was Hopalong, who fretted and fumed at his helplessness, which
retarded his recovery. But at last the day came when he was fit for
the saddle again, and he gave notice of his joy in whoops and forthwith
announced that he was entitled to a holiday; and Buck had not the heart
to refuse him.

So he started forth in his quest of peace and pleasure, but instead had
found only trouble and had been forced to leave his card at almost every
place he had visited.

There was that affair in Red Hot Gulch, Colorado, where, under pressure,
he had invested sundry pieces of lead in the persons of several
obstreperous citizens and then had paced the zealous and excitable
sheriff to the state line.

He next was noticed in Cheyenne, where his deformity was vividly
dwelt upon, to the extent of six words, by one Tarantula Charley, the
aforesaid Charley not being able to proceed to greater length on account
of heart failure. As Charley had been a ubiquitous nuisance, those
present availed themselves of the opportunity offered by Hopalong to
indulge in a free drink.

Laramie was his next stopping place, and shortly after his arrival he
was requested to sing and dance by a local terror, who informed all
present that he was the only seventeen-buttoned rattlesnake in the cow
country. Hopalong, hurt and indignant at being treated like a common
tenderfoot, promptly knocked the terror down. After he had irrigated
several square feet of parched throats belonging to the audience he
again took up his journey and spent a day at Denver, where he managed to
avoid any further trouble.

Santa Fe loomed up before him several days later and he entered it
shortly before noon. At this time the old Spanish city was a bundle of
high-strung nerves, and certain parts of it were calculated to furnish
any and all kinds of excitement except revival meetings and church
fairs. Hopalong straddled a lively nerve before he had been in the city
an hour. Two local bad men, Slim Travennes and Tex Ewalt, desiring to
establish the fact that they were roaring prairie fires, attempted to
consume the placid and innocent stranger as he limped across the plaza
in search of a game of draw poker at the Black Hills Emporium, with the
result that they needed repairs, to the chagrin and disgust of their
immediate acquaintances, who endeavored to drown their mortification
and sorrow in rapid but somewhat wild gun play, and soon remembered that
they had pressing engagements elsewhere.

Hopalong reloaded his guns and proceeded to the Emporium, where he found
a game all prepared for him in every sense of the word. On the third
deal he objected to the way in which the dealer manipulated the cards,
and when the smoke cleared away he was the only occupant of the room,
except a dog belonging to the bartender that had intercepted a stray
bullet.

Hunting up the owner of the hound, he apologized for being the indirect
cause of the animal’s death, deposited a sum of Mexican dollars in
that gentleman’s palm and went on his way to Alameda, which he entered
shortly after dark, and where an insult, simmering in its uncalled-for
venom, met him as he limped across the floor of the local dispensary on
his way to the bar. There was no time for verbal argument and precedent
had established the manner of his reply, and his repartee was as quick
as light and most effective. Having resented the epithets he gave his
attention to the occupants of the room.

Smoke drifted over the table in an agitated cloud and dribbled lazily
upward from the muzzle of his six-shooter, while he looked searchingly
at those around him. Strained and eager faces peered at his opponent,
who was sliding slowly forward in his chair, and for the length of a
minute no sound but the guarded breathing of the onlookers could be
heard. This was broken by a nervous cough from the rear of the room, and
the faces assumed their ordinary nonchalant expressions, their rugged
lines heavily shadowed in the light of the flickering oil lamps, while
the shuffling of cards and the clink of silver became audible. Hopalong
Cassidy had objected to insulting remarks about his affliction.

Hopalong was very sensitive about his crippled leg and was always
prompt to resent any scorn or curiosity directed at it, especially
when emanating from strangers. A young man of twenty-three years, when
surrounded by nearly perfect specimens of physical manhood, is apt to
be painfully self-conscious of any such defect, and it reacted on his
nature at times, even though he was well-known for his happy-go-lucky
disposition and playfulness. He consoled himself with the knowledge
that what he lost in symmetry was more than balanced by the celerity
and certainty of his gun hand, which was right or left, or both, as the
occasion demanded.

Several hours later, as his luck was vacillating, he felt a heavy hand
on his shoulder, and was overjoyed at seeing Buck and Red, the latter
grinning as only Red could grin, and he withdrew from the game to enjoy
his good fortune.

While Hopalong had been wandering over the country the two friends had
been hunting for him and had traced him successfully, that being due
to the trail he had blazed with his six-shooters. This they had
accomplished without harm to themselves, as those of whom they inquired
thought that they must want Hopalong “bad,” and cheerfully gave the
information required.

They had started out more for the purpose of accompanying him for
pleasure, but that had changed to an urgent necessity in the following
manner:

While on the way from Denver to Santa Fe they had met Pete Willis of the
Three Triangle, a ranch that adjoined their own, and they paused to pass
the compliments of the season.

“Purty far from th’ grub wagon, Pie,” remarked Buck.

“Oh, I’m only goin’ to Denver,” responded Pie.

“Purty hot,” suggested Red.

“She shore is. Seen anybody yu knows?” Pie asked.

“One or two--Billy of th’ Star Crescent an’ Panhandle Lukins,” answered
Buck.

“That so? Panhandle’s goin’ to punch for us next year. I’ll hunt him up.
I heard down south of Albuquerque that Thirsty Jones an’ his brothers
are lookin’ for trouble,” offered Pie.

“Yah! They ain’t lookin’ for no trouble--they just goes around
blowin’ off. Trouble? Why, they don’t know what she is,” remarked Red
contemptuously.

“Well, they’s been dodgin’ th’ sheriff purty lively lately, an’ if that
ain’t trouble I don’t know what is,” said Pie.

“It shore is, an’ hard to dodge,” acquiesced Buck.

“Well, I has to amble. Is Panhandle in Denver? Yes? I calculates as
how me an’ him’ll buck th’ tiger for a whirl--he’s shore lucky. Well, so
long,” said Pie as he moved on.

“So long,” responded the two.

“Hey, wait a minute,” yelled Pie after he had ridden a hundred yards.
“If yu sees Hopalong yu might tell him that th’ Joneses are goin’ to
hunt him up when they gits to Albuquerque. They’s shore sore on him.
‘Tain’t none of my funeral, only they ain’t always a-carin’ how they
goes after a feller. So long,” and soon he was a cloud of dust on the
horizon.

“Trouble!” snorted Red; “well, between dodgin’ Harris an’ huntin’
Hopalong I reckons they’ll shore find her.” Then to himself he murmured,
“Funny how everythin’ comes his way.”

“That’s gospel shore enough, but, as Pie said, they ain’t a whole lot
particular as how they deal th’ cards. We better get a move on an’ find
that ornery little cuss,” replied Buck.

“O. K., only I ain’t losin’ no sleep about Hoppy. His gun’s too lively
for me to do any worryin’,” asserted Red.

“They’ll get lynched some time, shore,” declared Buck.

“Not if they find Hoppy,” grimly replied Red.

They tore through Santa Fe, only stopping long enough to wet their
throats, and after several hours of hard riding entered Alameda, where
they found Hopalong in the manner narrated.

After some time the three left the room and headed for Albuquerque,
twelve miles to the south. At ten o’clock they dismounted before the
Nugget and Rope, an unpainted wooden building supposed to be a
clever combination of barroom, dance and gambling hall and hotel. The
cleverness lay in the man who could find the hotel part.



CHAPTER VII. The Open Door


The proprietor of the Nugget and Rope, a German named Baum, not being
troubled with police rules, kept the door wide open for the purpose
of inviting trade, a proceeding not to the liking of his patrons for
obvious reasons. Probably not one man in ten was fortunate enough to
have no one “looking for him,” and the lighted interior assured good
hunting to any one in the dark street. He was continually opening the
door, which every newcomer promptly and forcibly slammed shut. When he
saw men walk across the room for the express purpose of slamming it he
began to cherish the idea that there was a conspiracy on foot to anger
him and thus force him to bring about his own death.

After the door had been slammed three times in one evening by one man,
the last slam being so forcible as to shake two bottles from the shelf
and to crack the door itself, he became positive that his suspicions
were correct, and so was very careful to smile and take it as a joke.
Finally, wearied by his vain efforts to keep it open and fearing for the
door, he hit upon a scheme, the brilliancy of which inflated his chest
and gave him the appearance of a prize-winning bantam. When his patrons
strolled in that night there was no door to slam, as it lay behind the
bar.

When Buck and Red entered, closely followed by Hopalong, they elbowed
their way to the rear of the room, where they could see before being
seen. As yet they had said nothing to Hopalong about Pie’s warning and
were debating in their minds whether they should do so or not, when
Hopalong interrupted their thoughts by laughing. They looked up and he
nodded toward the front, where they saw that anxious eyes from all parts
of the room were focused on the open door. Then they noticed that it had
been removed.

The air of semi-hostile, semi-anxious inquiry of the patrons and the
smile of satisfaction covering the face of Baum appealed to them as the
most ludicrous sight their eyes had seen for months, and they leaned
back and roared with laughter, thus calling forth sundry looks of
disapproval from the innocent causes of their merriment. But they were
too well known in Albuquerque to allow the disapproval to approach a
serious end, and finally, as the humorous side of the situation dawned
on the crowd, they joined in the laugh and all went merrily.


At the psychologic moment some one shouted for a dance and the
suggestion met with uproarious approval. At that moment Harris, the
sheriff, came in and volunteered to supply the necessary music if the
crowd would pay the fine against a straying fiddler he had corraled the
day before. A hat was quickly passed and a sum was realized which would
pay several fines to come and Harris departed for the music.

A chair was placed on the bar for the musician and, to the tune of “Old
Dan Tucker” and an assortment of similar airs, the board floor shook
and trembled. It was a comical sight and Hopalong, the only wallflower
besides Baum and the sheriff, laughed until he became weak. Cow punchers
play as they work, hard and earnestly, and there was plenty of action.
Sombreros flapped like huge wings and the baggy chaps looked like small,
distorted balloons.

The Virginia reel was a marvel of supple, exaggerated grace and the
quadrille looked like a free-for-all for unbroken colts. The honor
of prompter was conferred upon the sheriff, and he gravely called the
changes as they were usually called in that section of the country:

   “Oh, th’ ladies trail in
      An’ th’ gents trail out,
   An’ all stampede down th’ middle.
      If yu ain’t got th’ tin
         Yu can dance an’ shout,
   But yu must keep up with th’ fiddle.”


As the dance waxed faster and the dancers grew hotter Hopalong,
feeling lonesome because he wouldn’t face ridicule, even if it was not
expressed, went over and stood by the sheriff. He and Harris were good
friends, for he had received the wound that crippled him in saving the
sheriff from assassination. Harris killed the man who had fired that
shot, and from this episode on the burning desert grew a friendship that
was as strong as their own natures.

Harris was very well liked by the majority and feared by the rest, for
he was a square man and the best sheriff the county had ever known.
Quiet and unassuming, small of stature and with a kind word for every
one, he was a universal favorite among the better class of citizens.
Quick as a flash and unerring in his shooting, he was a nightmare to the
“bad men.” No profane word had ever been known to leave his lips, and
he was the possessor of a widespread reputation for generosity. His
face was naturally frank and open; but when his eyes narrowed with
determination it became blank and cold. When he saw his young friend
sidle over to him he smiled and nodded a hearty welcome.



“They’s shore cuttin’ her loose,” remarked Hopalong.

“First two pairs forward an’ back!--they shore is,” responded the
prompter.

“Who’s th’ gent playin’ lady to Buck?” Queried Hopalong.

“Forward again an’ ladies change!--Billy Jordan.”

Hopalong watched the couple until they swung around and then he laughed
silently. “Buck’s got too many feet,” he seriously remarked to his
friend.

“Swing th’ girl yu loves th’ best!--he ain’t lonesome, look at that--”

Two shots rang out in quick succession and Harris stumbled, wheeled and
pitched forward on his face as Hopalong’s sombrero spun across his
body. For a second there was an intense silence, heavy, strained
and sickening. Then a roar broke forth and the crowd of frenzied
merry-makers, headed by Hopalong, poured out into the street and spread
out to search the town. As daylight dawned the searchers began to
straggle back with the same report of failure. Buck and Red met on the
street near the door and each looked questioningly at the other. Each
shook his head and looked around, their fingers toying absentmindedly at
their belts. Finally Buck cleared his throat and remarked casually,

“Mebby he’s following ‘em.”

Red nodded and they went over toward their horses. As they were
hesitating which route to take, Billy Jordan came up.

“Mebby yu’d like to see yore pardner--he’s out by Buzzard’s Spring. We’ll
take care of him,” jerking his thumb over his shoulder toward the saloon
where Harris’s body lay. “And we’ll all git th’ others later. They
cain’t git away for long.”

Buck and Red nodded and headed for Buzzard’s Spring. As they neared the
water hole they saw Hopalong sitting on a rock, his head resting in one
hand while the other hung loosely from his knee. He did not notice
them when they arrived, and with a ready tact they sat quietly on their
horses and looked in every direction except toward him. The sun became
a ball of molten fire and the sand flies annoyed them incessantly, but
still they sat and waited, silent and apologetic.

Hopalong finally arose, reached for his sombrero, and, finding it gone,
swore long and earnestly at the scene its loss brought before him. He
walked over to his horse and, leaping into the saddle, turned and faced
his friends. “Yu old sons-of-guns,” he said. They looked sheepish and
nodded negatively in answer to the look of inquiry in his eyes. “They
ain’t got ‘em yet,” remarked Red slowly. Hopalong straightened up, his
eyes narrowed and his face became hard and resolute as he led the way
back toward the town.

Buck rode up beside him and, wiping his face with his shirt sleeve,
began to speak to Red. “We might look up th’ Joneses, Red. They had been
dodgin’ th’ sheriff purty lively lately, an’ they was huntin’ Hopalong.
Ever since we had to kill their brother in Buckskin they has been
yappin’ as how they was goin’ to wipe us out. Hopalong an’ Harris was
standin’ clost together an’ they tried for both. They shot twice, one
for Harris an’ one for Hopalong, an’ what more do yu want?”

“It shore looks thataway, Buck,” replied Red, biting into a huge plug of
tobacco which he produced from his chaps. “Anyhow, they wouldn’t be no
loss if they didn’t. Member what Pie said?”

Hopalong looked straight ahead, and when he spoke the words sounded as
though he had bitten them off: “Yore right, Buck, but I gits first try
at Thirsty. He’s my meat an’ I’ll plug th’ fellow what says he ain’t.
Damn him!”

The others replied by applying their spurs, and in a short time they
dismounted before the Nugget and Rope. Thirsty wouldn’t have a chance to
not care how he dealt the cards.

Buck and Red moved quickly through the crowd, speaking fast and
earnestly. When they returned to where they had left their friend they
saw him half a block away and they followed slowly, one on either side
of the street. There would be no bullets in his back if they knew what
they were about, and they usually did.

As Hopalong neared the corner, Thirsty and his two brothers turned it
and saw him. Thirsty said something in a low voice, and the other two
walked across the street and disappeared behind the store. When assured
that they were secure, Thirsty walked up to a huge boulder on the side
of the street farthest from the store and turned and faced his enemy,
who approached rapidly until about five paces away, when he slowed up
and finally stopped.

For a number of seconds they sized each other up, Hopalong quiet
and deliberate with a deadly hatred; Thirsty pale and furtive with a
sensation hitherto unknown to him. It was Right meeting Wrong, and Wrong
lost confidence. Often had Thirsty Jones looked death in the face and
laughed, but there was something in Hopalong’s eyes that made his flesh
creep.

He glanced quickly past his foe and took in the scene with one flash of
his eyes. There was the crowd, eager, expectant, scowling. There were
Buck and Red, each lounging against a boulder, Buck on his right, Red
on his left. Before him stood the only man he had ever feared. Hopalong
shifted his feet and Thirsty, coming to himself with a start, smiled.
His nerve had been shaken, but he was master of himself once more.

“Well!” he snarled, scowling.

Hopalong made no response, but stared him in the eyes.

Thirsty expected action, and the deadly quiet of his enemy oppressed
him. He stared in turn, but the insistent searching of his opponent’s
eyes scorched him and he shifted his gaze to Hopalong’s neck.

“Well!” he repeated uneasily.

“Did yu have a nice time at th’ dance last night?” Asked Hopalong, still
searching the face before him.

“Was there a dance? I was over in Alameda,” replied Thirsty shortly.

“Ya-as, there was a dance, an’ yu can shoot purty durn far if yu was in
Alameda,” responded Hopalong, his voice low and monotonous.

Thirsty shifted his feet and glanced around. Buck and Red were still
lounging against their bowlders and apparently were not paying any
attention to the proceedings. His fickle nerve came back again, for
he knew he would receive fair play. So he faced Hopalong once more and
regarded him with a cynical smile.

“Yu seems to worry a whole lot about me. Is it because yu has a
tender feelin’, or because it’s none of yore blame business?” He asked
aggressively.

Hopalong paled with sudden anger, but controlled himself.

“It’s because yu murdered Harris,” he replied.

“Shoo! An’ how does yu figger it out?” Asked Thirsty, jauntily.

“He was huntin’ yu hard an’ yu thought yu’d stop it, so yu came in to
lay for him. When yu saw me an’ him together yu saw di’ chance to
wipe out another score. That’s how I figger it out,” replied Hopalong
quietly.

“Yore a reg’lar ‘tective, ain’t yu?” Thirsty asked ironically.

“I’ve got common sense,” responded Hopalong.

“Yu has? Yu better tell th’ rest that, too,” replied Thirsty.

“I know yu shot Harris, an’ yu can’t get out of it by makin’ funny
remarks. Anyhow, yu won’t be much loss, an’ th’ stage company’ll feel
better, too.”

“Shoo! An’ suppose I did shoot him, I done a good job, didn’t I?”

“Yu did the worst job yu could do, yu highway robber,” softly said
Hopalong, at the same time moving nearer. “Harris knew yu stopped th’
stage last month, an’ that’s why yu’ve been dodgin’ him.”

“Yore a liar!” shouted Thirsty, reaching for his gun.

The movement was fatal, for before he could draw, the Colt in Hopalong’s
holster leaped out and flashed from its owner’s hip and Thirsty fell
sideways, face down in the dust of the street.

Hopalong started toward the fallen man, but as he did so a shot rang out
from behind the store and he pitched forward, stumbled and rolled behind
the bowlder. As he stumbled his left hand streaked to his hip, and when
he fell he had a gun in each hand.

As he disappeared from sight Goodeye and Bill Jones stepped from behind
the store and started to run away. Not able to resist the temptation to
look again, they stopped and turned and Bill laughed.

“Easy as sin,” he said.

“Run, yu fool--Red an’ Buck’ll be here. Want to git plugged?” shouted
Goodeye angrily.

They turned and started for a group of ponies twenty yards away, and as
they leaped into the saddles two shots were fired from the street. As
the reports died away Buck and Red turned the corner of the store, Colts
in hand, and, checking their rush as they saw the saddles emptied, they
turned toward the street and saw Hopalong, with blood oozing from an
abrasion on his cheek, sitting up cross-legged, with each hand holding a
gun, from which came thin wisps of smoke.

“Th’ son-of-a-gun!” cried Buck, proud and delighted.

“Th’ son-of-a-gun!” echoed Red, grinning.



CHAPTER VIII. Hopalong Keeps His Word

The waters of the Rio Grande slid placidly toward the Gulf, the hot sun
branding the sleepy waters with streaks of molten fire. To the north
arose from the gray sandy plain the Quitman Mountains, and beyond them
lay Bass Ca on. From the latter emerged a solitary figure astride a
broncho, and as he ascended the topmost rise he glanced below him at the
placid stream and beyond it into Mexico. As he sat quietly in his saddle
he smiled and laughed gently to himself. The trail he had just followed
had been replete with trouble which had suited the state of his mind
and he now felt humorous, having cleaned up a pressing debt with his
six-shooter. Surely there ought to be a mild sort of excitement in the
land he faced, something picturesque and out of the ordinary. This
was to be the finishing touch to his trip, and he had left his two
companions at Albuquerque in order that he might have to himself all
that he could find.

Not many miles to the south of him lay the town which had been the
rendezvous of Tamale Jose, whose weakness had been a liking for other
people’s cattle. Well he remembered his first man hunt: the discovery
of the theft, the trail and pursuit and--the ending. He was scarcely
eighteen years of age when that event took place, and the wisdom he had
absorbed then had stood him in good stead many times since. He had even
now a touch of pride at the recollection how, when his older companions
had failed to get Tamale Jose, he with his undeveloped strategy had
gained that end. The fight would never be forgotten, as it was his
first, and no sight of wounds would ever affect him as did those of Red
Connors as he lay huddled up in the dark corner of that old adobe hut.

He came to himself and laughed again as he thought of Carmencita, the
first girl he had ever known--and the last. With a boy’s impetuosity he
had wooed her in a manner far different from that of the peons who sang
beneath her window and talked to her mother. He had boldly scaled the
wall and did his courting in her house, trusting to luck and to his
own ability to avoid being seen. No hidden meaning lay in his words;
he spoke from his heart and with no concealment. And he remembered the
treachery that had forced him, fighting, to the camp of his outfit; and
when he had returned with his friends she had disappeared.

To this day he hated that mud-walled convent and those sisters who
so easily forgot how to talk. The fragrance of the old days wrapped
themselves around him, and although he had ceased to pine for his
black-eyed Carmencita-well, it would be nice if he chanced to see her
again. Spurring his mount into an easy canter he swept down to and
across the river, fording it where he had crossed it when pursuing
Tamale Jose.

The town lay indolent under the Mexican night, and the strumming of
guitars and the tinkle of spurs and tiny bells softly echoed from
several houses. The convent of St. Maria lay indistinct in its heavy
shadows and the little church farther up the dusty street showed dim
lights in its stained windows. Off to the north became audible the
rhythmic beat of a horse and soon a cowboy swept past the convent with a
mocking bow.

He clattered across the stone-paved plaza and threw his mount back
on its haunches as he stopped before a house. Glancing around and
determining to find out a few facts as soon as possible, he rode up
to the low door and pounded upon it with the butt of his Colt. After
waiting for possibly half a minute and receiving no response he hammered
a tune upon it with two Colts and had the satisfaction of seeing half a
score of heads protrude from the windows in the nearby houses.

“If I could scare up another gun I might get th’ whole blamed town up,”
 he grumbled whimsically, and fell on the door with another tune.

“Who is it?” came from within. The voice was distinctly feminine and
Hopalong winked to himself in congratulation.

“Me,” he replied, twirling his fingers from his nose at the curious,
forgetting that the darkness hid his actions from sight.

“Yes, I know; but who is ‘me’?” Came from the house.

“Ain’t I a fool!” he complained to himself, and raising his voice he
replied coaxingly, “Open th’ door a bit an’ see. Are yu Carmencita?”

“O-o-o! but you must tell me who it is first.”

“Mr. Cassidy,” he replied, flushing at the ‘mister,’ “an’ I wants to see
Carmencita.”

“Carmencita who?” teasingly came from behind the door. Hopalong
scratched his head. “Gee, yu’ve roped me--I suppose she has got another
handle. Oh, yu know--she used to live here about seven years back. She
had great big black eyes, pretty cheeks an’ a mouth that ‘ud stampede
anybody. Don’t yu know now? She was about so high,” holding out his
hands in the darkness.

The door opened a trifle on a chain and Hopalong peered eagerly forward.

“Ah, it is you, the brave Americano! You must go away quick or you will
meet with harm. Manuel is awfully jealous and he will kill you! Go at
once, please!”

Hopalong pulled at the half-hearted down upon his lip and laughed
softly. Then he slid the guns back in their holsters and felt for his
sombrero.

“Manuel wants to see me first, Star Eyes.”

“No! no!” she replied, stamping upon the floor vehemently. “You must go
now--at once!”

“I’d shore look nice hittin’ th’ trail because Manuel Somebody wants
to get hurt, wouldn’t I? Don’t yu remember how I used to shinny up this
here wall an’ skin th’ cat gettin’ through that hole up there what yu
said was a window? Ah, come on an’ open th’ door--I’d shore like to see
yu again!” pleaded the irrepressible.

“No! no! Go away. Oh, won’t you please go away!”

Hopalong sighed audibly and turned his horse. As he did so he heard the
door open and a sigh reached his ears. He wheeled like a flash and found
the door closed again on its chain. A laugh of delight came from behind
it.

“Come out, please!--just for a minute,” he begged, wishing that he was
brave enough to smash the door to splinters and grab her.

“If I do, will you go away?” Asked the girl. “Oh, what will Manuel say
if he comes? And all those people, they’ll tell him!”

“Hey, yu!” shouted Hopalong, brandishing his Colts at the protruding
heads. “Git scarce! I’ll shore plug th’ last one in!” Then he laughed at
the sudden vanishing.

The door slowly opened and Carmencita, fat and drowsy, wobbled out
to him. Hopalong’s feelings were interfering with his breathing as he
surveyed her. “Oh, yu shore are mistaken, Mrs. Carmencita. I wants to
see yore daughter!”

“Ah, you have forgotten the little Carmencita who used to look for you.
Like all the men, you have forgotten,” she cooed reproachfully. Then her
fear predominated again and she cried, “Oh, if my husband should see me
now!”

Hopalong mastered his astonishment and bowed. He had a desire to ride
madly into the Rio Grande and collect his senses.

“Yu are right--this is too dangerous--I’ll amble on some,” he replied
hastily. Under his breath he prayed that the outfit would never learn
of this. He turned his horse and rode slowly up the street as the door
closed.

Rounding the corner he heard a soft footfall, and swerving in his saddle
he turned and struck with all his might in the face of a man who leaped
at him, at the same time grasping the uplifted wrist with his other
hand. A curse and the tinkle of thin steel on the pavement accompanied
the fall of his opponent. Bending down from his saddle he picked up the
weapon and the next minute the enraged assassin was staring into the
unwavering and, to him, growing muzzle of a Colt’s .45.

“Yu shore had a bum teacher. Don’t yu know better’n to push it in? An’
me a cowpuncher, too! I’m most grieved at yore conduct--it shows you
don’t appreciate cow-wrastlers. This is safer,” he remarked, throwing
the stiletto through the air and into a door, where it rang out angrily
and quivered. “I don’t know as I wants to ventilate yu; we mostly
poisons coyotes up my way,” he added. Then a thought struck him. “Yu
must be that dear Manuel I’ve been hearin’ so much about?”

A snarl was the only reply and Hopalong grinned.

“Yu shore ain’t got no call to go loco that way, none whatever. I don’t
want yore Carmencita. I only called to say hulloo,” responded Hopalong,
his sympathies being aroused for the wounded man before him from his
vivid recollection of the woman who had opened the door.

“Yah!” snarled Manuel. “You wants to poison my little bird. You with
your fair hair and your cursed swagger!”

The six-shooter tentatively expanded and stopped six inches from the
Mexican’s nose. “Yu wants to ride easy, hombre. I ain’t no angel, but I
don’t poison no woman; an’ don’t yu amble off with th’ idea in yore head
that she wants to be poisoned. Why, she near stuck a knife in me!” he
lied.

The Mexican’s face brightened somewhat, but it would take more than that
to wipe out the insult of the blow. The horse became restless, and when
Hopalong had effectively quieted it he spoke again.

“Did yu ever hear of Tamale Jose?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’m th’ fellow that stopped him in th’ ‘dobe hut by th’ arroyo.
I’m tellin’ yu this so yu won’t do nothin’ rash an’ leave Carmencita a
widow. Sabe?”

The hate on the Mexican’s face redoubled and he took a short step
forward, but stopped when the muzzle of the Colt kissed his nose. He was
the brother of Tamale Jose. As he backed away from the cool touch of
the weapon he thought out swiftly his revenge. Some of his brother’s
old companions were at that moment drinking mescal in a saloon down the
street, and they would be glad to see this Americano die. He glanced
past his house at the saloon and Hopalong misconstrued his thoughts.

“Shore, go home. I’ll just circulate around some for exercise. No hard
feelings, only yu better throw it next time,” he said as he backed away
and rode off. Manuel went down the street and then ran into the saloon,
where he caused an uproar.

Hopalong rode to the end of the plaza and tried to sing, but it was a
dismal failure. Then he felt thirsty and wondered why he hadn’t thought
of it before. Turning his horse and seeing the saloon he rode up to it
and in, lying flat on the animal’s neck to avoid being swept off by the
door frame. His entrance scared white some half a dozen loungers, who
immediately sprang up in a decidedly hostile manner. Hopalong’s Colts
peeped over the ears of his horse and he backed into a corner near the
bar.

“One, two, three--now, altogether, breathe! Yu acts like yu never saw a
real puncher afore. All th’ same,” he remarked, nodding at several
of the crowd, “I’ve seen yu afore. Yu are th’ gents with th’ hot-foot
get-a-way that vamoosed when we got Tamale.”

Curses were flung at him and only the humorous mood he was in saved
trouble. One, bolder than the rest, spoke up: “The senor will not see
any ‘hot-foot get-a-way,’ as he calls it, now! The senor was not wise to
go so far away from his friends!”’

Hopalong looked at the speaker and a quizzical grin slowly spread over
his face. “They’ll shore feel glad when I tells them yu was askin’ for
‘em. But didn’t yu see too much of ‘em once, or was yu poundin’ leather
in the other direction? Yu don’t want to worry none about me--an’ if yu
don’t get yore hands closter to yore neck they’ll be heck to pay! There,
that’s more like home,” he remarked, nodding assurance.

Reaching over he grasped a bottle and poured out a drink, his Colt
slipping from his hand and dangling from his wrist by a thong. As the
weapon started to fall several of the audience involuntarily moved as if
to pick it up. Hopalong noticed this and paused with the glass half
way to his lips. “Don’t bother yoreselves none; I can git it again,” he
said, tossing off the liquor.

“Wow! Holy smoke!” he yelled. “This ain’t drink! Sufferin’ coyotes,
nobody can accuse yu of sellin’ liquor! Did yu make this all by
yoreself?” He asked incredulously of the proprietor, who didn’t know
whether to run or to pray. Then he noticed that the crowd was spreading
out and his Colts again became the center of interest.

“Yu with th’ lovely face, sit down!” he ordered as the person addressed
was gliding toward the door. “I ain’t a-goin’ to let yu pot me from th’
street. Th’ first man who tries to get scarce will stop somethin’ hot.
An’ yu all better sit down,” he suggested, sweeping them with his guns.
One man, more obdurate than the rest, was slow in complying and Hopalong
sent a bullet through the top of his high sombrero, which had a most
gratifying effect.

“You’ll regret this!” hissed a man in the rear, and a murmur of
assent arose. Some one stirred slightly in searching for a weapon and
immediately a blazing Colt froze him into a statue.

“Yu shore looks funny; eeny, meeny, miny, mo,” counted off the daring
horseman; “move a bit an’ off yu go,” he finished. Then his face broke
out in another grin as he thought of more enjoyment.

“That there gent on th’ left,” he said, pointing out with a gun the man
he meant. “Yu sing us a song. Sing a nice little song.”

As the object of his remarks remained mute he let his thumb
ostentatiously slide back with the hammer of the gun under it. “Sing!
Quick!” The man sang.

As Hopalong leaned forward to say something a stiletto flashed past his
neck and crashed into the bottle beside him. The echo of the crash was
merged into a report as Hopalong fired from his waist. Then he backed
out into the Street and, wheeling, galloped across the plaza and again
faced the saloon. A flash split the darkness and a bullet hummed over
his head and thudded into an adobe wall at his back. Another shot and he
replied, aiming at the flash.

From down the Street came the sound of a window opening and he promptly
caused it to close again. Several more windows opened and hastily
closed, and he rode slowly toward the far end of the plaza. As he faced
the saloon once more he heard a command to throw up his hands and saw
the glint of a gun, held by a man who wore the insignia of sheriff.
Hopalong complied, but as his hands went up two spurts of fire shot
forth and the sheriff dropped his weapon, reeled and sat down. Hopalong
rode over to him and swinging down, picked up the gun and looked the
officer over.



“Shoo, yu’ll be all right soon--yore only plugged in th’ arms,” he
remarked as he glanced up the street. Shadowy forms were gliding from
cover to cover and he immediately caused consternation among them by
his accuracy. “Ain’t it sad?” He complained to the wounded man. “I never
starts out but what somebody makes me shoot ‘em. Came down here to see
a girl an’ find she’s married. Then when I moves on peaceable--like her
husband makes me hit him. Then I wants a drink an’ he goes an’ fans a
knife at me, an’ me just teachin’ him how! Then yu has to come along an’
make more trouble”.

“Now look at them fools over there,” he said, pointing at a dark shadow
some fifty paces off. “They’re pattin’ their backs because I don’t
see ‘em, an’ if I hurts them they’ll git mad. Guess I’ll make ‘em dust
along,” he added, shooting into the spot. A howl went up and two men ran
away at top speed.

The sheriff nodded his sympathy and spoke. “I reckons you had better
give up. You can’t get away. Every house, every corner and shadow holds
a man. You are a brave man, but, as you say, unfortunate. Better help me
up and come with me--they’ll tear you to pieces.”

“Shore I’ll help yu up--I ain’t got no grudge against nobody. But my
friends know where I am an’ they’ll come down here an’ raise a ruction
if I don’t show up. So, if it’s all th’ same to you, I’ll be ambling
right along,” he said as he helped the sheriff to his feet.

“Have you any objections to telling me your name?” Asked the sheriff as
he looked himself over.

“None whatever,” answered Hopalong heartily. “I’m Hopalong Cassidy of
th’ Bar 20, Texas.”

“You don’t surprise me--I’ve heard of you,” replied the sheriff wearily.
“You are the man who killed Tamale Jose, whom I hunted for unceasingly.
I found him when you had left and I got the reward. Come again some
time and I’ll divide with you; two hundred and fifty dollars,” he added
craftily.

“I shore will, but I don’t want no money,” replied Hopalong as he turned
away. “Adios, senor,” he called back.

“Adios,” replied the sheriff as he kicked a nearby door for assistance.

The cow-pony tied itself up in knots as it pounded down the street
toward the trail, and although he was fired on he swung into the dusty
trail with a song on his lips. Several hours later he stood dripping wet
on the American side of the Rio Grande and shouted advice to a score of
Mexican cavalrymen on the opposite bank. Then he slowly picked his way
toward El Paso for a game at Faro Dan’s.

The sheriff sat in his easy chair one night some three weeks later,
gravely engaged in rolling a cigarette. His arms were practically well,
the wounds being in the fleshy parts. He was a philosopher and was
disposed to take things easy, which accounted for his being in his
official position for fifteen years. A gentleman at the core, he was
well educated and had visited a goodly portion of the world. A book of
Horace lay open on his knees and on the table at his side lay a shining
new revolver, Hopalong having carried off his former weapon. He read
aloud several lines and in reaching for a light for his cigarette
noticed the new six-shooter. His mind leaped from Horace to Hopalong,
and he smiled grimly at the latter’s promise to call.

Glancing up, his eyes fell on a poster which conveyed the information in
Spanish and in English that there was offered

      +--------------------------------------+
           | |  FIVE HUNDRED PESOS | |

                    REWARD

         For Hopalong Cassidy, of the Ranch

      | | Known as the Bar-20, Texas, U. S. A. | |

      +--------------------------------------+

and which gave a good description of that gentleman.

Sighing for the five hundred, he again took up his book and was lost in
its pages when he heard a knock, rather low and timid. Wearily laying
aside his reading, he strode to the door, expecting to hear a lengthy
complaint from one of his townsmen. As he threw the door wide open the
light streamed out and lighted up a revolver and behind it the beaming
face of a cowboy, who grinned.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” ejaculated the sheriff, starting back in
amazement.

“Don’t say that, sheriff; you’ve got lots of time to reform,” replied a
humorous voice. “How’s th’ wings?”

“Almost well: you were considerate,” responded the sheriff. “Let’s go
in--somebody might see me out here an’ get into trouble,” suggested the
visitor, placing his foot on the sill.

“Certainly--pardon my discourtesy,” said the sheriff. “You see, I
wasn’t expecting you to-night,” he explained, thinking of the
elaborate preparations that he would have gone to if he had thought the
irrepressible would call.

“Well, I was down this way, an’ seeing as how I had promised to drop
in I just natchurally dropped,” replied Hopalong as he took the chair
proffered by his host.

After talking awhile on everything and nothing the sheriff coughed and
looked uneasily at his guest.

“Mr. Cassidy, I am sorry you called, for I like men of your energy and
courage and I very much dislike to arrest you,” remarked the sheriff.
“Of course you understand that you are under arrest,” he added with
anxiety.

“Who, me?” Asked Hopalong with a rising inflection.

“Most assuredly,” breathed the sheriff.

“Why, this is the first time I ever heard anything about it,” replied
the astonished cow-puncher. “I’m an American--don’t that make any
difference?”

“Not in this case, I’m afraid. You see, it’s for manslaughter.”

“Well, don’t that beat th’ devil, now?” Said Hopalong. He felt sorry
that a citizen of the glorious United States should be prey for
troublesome sheriffs, but he was sure that his duty to Texas called upon
him never to submit to arrest at the hands of a Mexican. Remembering
the Alamo, and still behind his Colt, he reached over and took up the
shining weapon from the table and snapped it open on his knee. After
placing the cartridges in his pocket he tossed the gun over on the bed
and, reaching inside his shirt, drew out another and threw it after the
first.

“That’s yore gun; I forgot to leave it,” he said, apologetically.
“Anyhow yu needs two,” he added.

Then he glanced around the room, noticed the poster and walked over
and read it. A full swift sweep of his gloved hand tore it from its
fastenings and crammed it under his belt. The glimmer of anger in his
eyes gave way as he realized that his head was worth a definite price,
and he smiled at what the boys would say when he showed it to them.
Planting his feet far apart and placing his arms akimbo he faced his
host in grim defiance.

“Got any more of these?” He inquired, placing his hand on the poster
under his belt.

“Several,” replied the sheriff.

“Trot ‘em out,” ordered Hopalong shortly.

The sheriff sighed, stretched and went over to a shelf, from which he
took a bundle of the articles in question. Turning slowly he looked at
the puncher and handed them to him.

“I reckons they’s all over this here town,” remarked Hopalong.

“They are, and you may never see Texas again.”

“So? Well, yu tell yore most particular friends that the job is worth
five thousand, and that it will take so many to do it that when th’
mazuma is divided up it won’t buy a meal. There’s only one man in this
country tonight that can earn that money, an’ that’s me,” said the
puncher. “An’ I don’t need it,” he added, smiling.

“But you are my prisoner--you are under arrest,” enlightened the sheriff,
rolling another cigarette. The sheriff spoke as if asking a question.
Never before had five hundred dollars been so close at hand and yet so
unobtainable. It was like having a check-book but no bank account.

“I’m shore sorry to treat yu mean,” remarked Hopalong, “but I was paid a
month in advance an’ I’ll have to go back an’ earn it.”

“You can--if you say that you will return,” replied the sheriff
tentatively. The sheriff meant what he said and for the moment had
forgotten that he was powerless and was not the one to make terms.

Hopalong was amazed and for a time his ideas of Mexicans staggered under
the blow. Then he smiled sympathetically as he realized that he faced a
white man.

“Never like to promise nothin’,” he replied. “I might get plugged, or
something might happen that wouldn’t let me.” Then his face lighted up
as a thought came to him. “Say, I’ll cut di’ cards with yu to see if I
comes back or not.”

The sheriff leaned back and gazed at the cool youngster before him.
A smile of satisfaction, partly at the self-reliance of his guest and
partly at the novelty of his situation, spread over his face. He reached
for a pack of Mexican cards and laughed. “Man! You’re a cool one--I’ll do
it. What do you call?”

“Red,” answered Hopalong.

The sheriff slowly raised his hand and revealed the ace of hearts.
Hopalong leaned back and laughed, at the same time taking from his
pocket the six extracted cartridges. Arising and going over to the
bed he slipped them in the chambers of the new gun and then placed the
loaded weapon at the sheriff’s elbow.

“Well, I reckon I’ll amble, sheriff,” he said as he opened the door. “If
yu ever sifts up my way drop in an’ see me--th’ boys’ll give yu a good
time.”

“Thanks; I will be glad to,” replied the sheriff. “You’ll take your
pitcher to the well once too often some day, my friend. This courtesy,”
 glancing at the restored revolver, “might have cost you dearly.”

“Shoo! I did that once an’ th’ feller tried to use it,” replied
the cowboy as he backed through the door. “Some people are awfully
careless,” he added. “So long--”

“So long,” replied the sheriff, wondering what sort of a man he had been
entertaining.

The door closed softly and soon after a joyous whoop floated in from
the Street. The sheriff toyed with the new gun and listened to the low
caress of a distant guitar.

“Well, don’t that beat all?” He ejaculated.



CHAPTER IX. The Advent of McAllister


The blazing sun shone pitilessly on an arid plain which was spotted
with dust-gray clumps of mesquite and thorny chaparral. Basking in the
burning sand and alkali lay several Gila monsters, which raised their
heads and hissed with wide-open jaws as several faint, whip-like reports
echoed flatly over the desolate plain, showing that even they had
learned that danger was associated with such sounds.

Off to the north there became visible a cloud of dust and at intervals
something swayed in it, something that rose and fell and then became
hidden again. Out of that cloud came sharp, splitting sounds, which were
faintly responded to by another and larger cloud in its rear. As it came
nearer and finally swept past, the Gilas, to their terror, saw a madly
pounding horse, and it carried a man. The latter turned in his saddle
and raised a gun to his shoulder and the thunder that issued from it
caused the creeping audience to throw up their tails in sudden panic and
bury themselves out of sight in the sand.

The horse was only a broncho, its sides covered with hideous yellow
spots, and on its near flank was a peculiar scar, the brand. Foam
flecked from its crimsoned jaws and found a resting place on its sides
and on the hairy chaps of its rider. Sweat rolled and streamed from its
heaving flanks and was greedily sucked up by the drought-cursed alkali.
Close to the rider’s knee a bloody furrow ran forward and one of the
broncho’s ears was torn and limp. The broncho was doing its best--it
could run at that pace until it dropped dead. Every ounce of strength it
possessed was put forth to bring those hind hoofs well in front of
the forward ones and to send them pushing the sand behind in streaming
clouds. The horse had done this same thing many times--when would its
master learn sense?

The man was typical in appearance with many of that broad land. Lithe,
sinewy and bronzed by hard riding and hot suns, he sat in his Cheyenne
saddle like a centaur, all his weight on the heavy, leather-guarded
stirrups, his body rising in one magnificent straight line. A bleached
moustache hid the thin lips, and a gray sombrero threw a heavy shadow
across his eyes. Around his neck and over his open, blue flannel
shirt lay loosely a knotted silk kerchief, and on his thighs a pair of
open-flapped holsters swung uneasily with their ivory handled burdens.
He turned abruptly, raised his gun to his shoulder and fired, then
he laughed recklessly and patted his mount, which responded to
the confident caress by lying flatter to the earth in a spurt of
heart-breaking speed.

“I’ll show ‘em who they’re trailin’. This is th’ second time I’ve
started for Muddy Wells, an’ I’m goin’ to git there, too, for all th’
Apaches out of Hades!”

To the south another cloud of dust rapidly approached and the rider
scanned it closely, for it was directly in his path. As he watched it
he saw something wave and it was a sombrero! Shortly afterward a real
cowboy yell reached his ears. He grinned and slid another cartridge in
the greasy, smoking barrel of the Sharp’s and fired again at the cloud
in his rear. Some few minutes later a whooping, bunched crowd of madly
riding cowboys thundered past him and he was recognized.

“Hullo, Frenchy!” yelled the nearest one. “Comin’ back?”

“Come on, McAllister!” shouted another; “we’ll give ‘em blazes!” In
response the straining broncho suddenly stiffened, bunched and slid on
its haunches, wheeled and retraced its course. The rear cloud suddenly
scattered into many smaller ones and all swept off to the east. The
rescuing band overtook them and, several hours later, when seated around
a table in Tom Lee’s saloon, Muddy Wells, a count was taken of them,
which was pleasing in its facts.

“We was huntin’ coyotes when we saw yu,” said a smiling puncher who was
known as Salvation Carroll chiefly because he wasn’t.

“Yep! They’ve been stalkin’ Tom’s chickens,” supplied Waffles, the
champion poker player of the outfit. Tom Lee’s chickens could whip
anything of their kind for miles around and were reverenced accordingly.

“Sho! Is that so?” Asked Frenchy with mild incredulity, such a state of
affairs being deplorable.

“She shore is!” answered Tex Le Blanc, and then, as an afterthought, he
added, “Where’d yu hit th’ War-whoops?”

“‘Bout four hours back. This here’s th’ second time I’ve headed for this
place--last time they chased me to Las Cruces.”

“That so?” Asked Bigfoot Baker, a giant. “Ain’t they allus interferin’,
now? Anyhow, they’re better’n coyotes.”

“They was purty well heeled,” suggested Tex, glancing at a bunch of
repeating Winchesters of late model which lay stacked in a corner.
“Charley here said he thought they was from th’ way yore cayuse looked,
didn’t yu, Charley?” Charley nodded and filled his pipe.

“‘Pears like a feller can’t amble around much nowadays without havin’ to
fight,” grumbled Lefty Allen, who usually went out of his way hunting up
trouble.

“We’re goin’ to th’ Hills as soon as our cookie turns up,” volunteered
Tenspot Davis, looking inquiringly at Frenchy. “Heard any more news?”

“Nope. Same old story--lots of gold. Shucks, I’ve bit on so many of them
rumors that they don’t feaze me no more. One man who don’t know nothin’
about prospectin’ goes an’ stumbles over a fortune an’ those who know it
from A to Izzard goes ‘round pullin’ in their belts.”

“We don’t pull in no belts--we knows just where to look, don’t we,
Tenspot?” Remarked Tex, looking very wise.

“Ya-as we do,” answered Tenspot, “if yu hasn’t dreamed about it, we do.”

“Yu wait; I wasn’t dreamin’, none whatever,” assured Tex.

“I saw it!”

“Ya-as, I saw it too onct,” replied Frenchy with sarcasm. “Went and
lugged fifty pound of it all th’ way to th’ assay office--took me two
days! an’ that there four-eyed cuss looks at it and snickers. Then
he takes me by di’ arm an’ leads me to th’ window. ‘See that pile, my
friend? That’s all like yourn,’ sez he. ‘It’s worth about one simoleon a
ton at th’ coast. They use it for ballast.’”

“Aw! But this what I saw was gold!” exploded Tex.

“So was mine, for a while!” laughed Frenchy, nodding to the bartender
for another round.

“Well, we’re tired of punchin’ cows! Ride sixteen hours a day, year in
an’ year out, an’ what do we get? Fifty a month an’ no chance to spend
it, an’ grub that’d make a coyote sniffle! I’m for a vacation, an’ if I
goes broke, why, I’ll punch again!” asserted Waffles, the foreman, thus
revealing the real purpose of the trip.

“What’d yore boss say?” Asked Frenchy.

“Whoop! What didn’t he say! Honest, I never thought he had it in him.
It was fine. He cussed an hour frontways an’ then trailed back on a dead
gallop, with us a-laughin’ fit to bust. Then he rustles for his gun an’
we rustles for town,” answered Waffles, laughing at his remembrance of
it.

As Frenchy was about to reply his sombrero was snatched from his
head and disappeared. If he “got mad” he was to be regarded as not
sufficiently well acquainted for banter and he was at once in hot water;
if he took it good-naturedly he was one of the crowd in spirit; but in
either case he didn’t get his hat without begging or fighting for
it. This was a recognized custom among the O-Bar-O outfit and was not
intended as an insult.

Frenchy grabbed at the empty air and arose. Punching Lefty playfully in
the ribs he passed his hands behind that person’s back. Not finding the
lost head-gear he laughed and, tripping Lefty up, fell with him and,
reaching up on the table for his glass, poured the contents down Lefty’s
back and arose.

“Yu son-of-a-gun!” indignantly wailed that unfortunate. “Gee, it feels
funny,” he added, grinning as he pulled the wet shirt away from his
spine.

“Well, I’ve got to be amblin’,” said Frenchy, totally ignoring the
loss of his hat. “Goin’ down to Buckskin,” he offered, and then asked,
“When’s yore cook comin’?”

“Day after to-morrow, if he don’t get loaded,” replied Tex.

“Who is he?”

“A one-eyed Mexican--Quiensabe Antonio.”

“I used to know him. He’s a heck of a cook. Dished up th’ grub one
season when I was punchin’ for th’ Tin-Cup up in Montana,” replied
Frenchy.

“Oh, he kin cook now, all right.” replied Waffles.

“That’s about all he can cook. Useter wash his knives in th’ coffee pot
an’ blow on di’ tins. I chased him a mile one night for leavin’ sand in
th’ skillet. Yu can have him--I don’t envy yu none whatever.

“He don’t sand no skillet when little Tenspot’s around,” assured that
person, slapping his holster. “Does he, Lefty?”

“If he does, yu oughter be lynched,” consoled Lefty.

“Well, so long,” remarked Frenchy, riding off to a small store, where he
bought a cheap sombrero.

Frenchy was a jack-of-all-trades, having been cow-puncher, prospector,
proprietor of a “hotel” in Albuquerque, foreman of a ranch, sheriff,
and at one time had played angel to a venturesome but poor show troupe.
Beside his versatility he was well known as the man who took the stage
through the Sioux country when no one else volunteered. He could shoot
with the best, but his one pride was the brand of poker he handed out.
Furthermore, he had never been known to take an unjust advantage over
any man and, on the contrary, had frequently voluntarily handicapped
himself to make the event more interesting. But he must not be classed
as being hampered with self-restraint.

His reasons for making this trip were two-fold: he wished to see Buck
Peters, the foreman of the Bar-20 outfit, as he and Buck had punched
cows together twenty years before and were firm friends; the other was
that he wished to get square with Hopalong Cassidy, who had decisively
cleaned him out the year before at poker. Hopalong played either
in great good luck or the contrary, while Frenchy played an even,
consistent game and usually left off richer than when he began, and this
decisive defeat bothered him more than he would admit, even to himself.

The round-up season was at hand and the Bar-20 was short of ropers, the
rumors of fresh gold discoveries in the Black Hills having drawn all the
more restless men north. The outfit also had a slight touch of the gold
fever, and only their peculiar loyalty to the ranch and the assurance
of the foreman that when the work was over he would accompany them, kept
them from joining the rush of those who desired sudden and much wealth
as the necessary preliminary of painting some cow town in all the “bang
up” style such an event would call for. Therefore they had been given
orders to secure the required assistance, and they intended to do so,
and were prepared to kidnap, if necessary, for the glamour of wealth and
the hilarity of the vacation made the hours falter in their speed.

As Frenchy leaned back in his chair in Cowan’s saloon, Buckskin, early
the next morning, planning to get revenge on Hopalong and then to
recover his sombrero, he heard a medley of yells and whoops and soon the
door flew open before the strenuous and concentrated entry of a mass
of twisting and kicking arms and legs, which magically found their
respective owners and reverted to the established order of things.

When the alkali dust had thinned he saw seven cow-punchers sitting on
the prostrate form of another, who was earnestly engaged in trying to
push Johnny Nelson’s head out in the street with one foot as he voiced
his lucid opinion of things in general and the seven in particular.
After Red Connors had been stabbed in the back several times by the
victim’s energetic elbow he ran out of the room and presently returned
with a pleased expression and a sombrero full of water, his finger
plugging an old bullet hole in the crown.

“Is he any better, Buck?” Anxiously inquired the man with the reservoir.

“About a dollar’s worth,” replied the foreman. “Jest put a little right
here,” he drawled as he pulled back the collar of the unfortunate’s
shirt.

“Ow! wow! WOW!” wailed the recipient, heaving and straining. The
unengaged leg was suddenly wrested loose, and as it shot up and out
Billy Williams, with his pessimism aroused to a blue-ribbon pitch, sat
down forcibly in an adjacent part of the room, from where he lectured
between gasps on the follies of mankind and the attributes of army
mules.

Red tiptoed around the squirming bunch, looking for an opening, his
pleased expression now having added a grin.

“Seems to be gittin’ violent-like,” he soliloquized, as he aimed a
stream at Hopalong’s ear, which showed for a second as Pete Wilson
strove for a half-nelson, and he managed to include Johnny and Pete in
his effort.

Several minutes later, when the storm had subsided, the woeful crowd
enthusiastically urged Hopalong to the bar, where he “bought.”

“Of all th’ ornery outfits I ever saw--” began the man at the table,
grinning from ear to ear at the spectacle he had just witnessed.

“Why, hullo, Frenchy! Glad to see yu, yu old son-of-a-gun! What’s th’
news from th’ Hills?” Shouted Hopalong.

“Rather locoed, an’ there’s a locoed gang that’s headin’ that way. Goin’
up?” he asked.

“Shore, after round-up. Seen any punchers trailin’ around loose?”

“Ya-as,” drawled Frenchy, delving into the possibilities suddenly opened
to him and determining to utilize to the fullest extent the opportunity
that had come to him unsought. “There’s nine over to Muddy Wells that yu
might git if yu wants them bad enough. They’ve got a sombrero of mine,”
 he added deprecatingly.

“Nine! Twisted Jerusalem, Buck! Nine whole cow-punchers a-pinin’ for
work,” he shouted, but then added thoughtfully, “Mebby they’s engaged,”
 it being one of the courtesies of the land not to take another man’s
help.

“Nope. They’ve stampeded for th’ Hills an’ left their boss all alone,”
 replied Frenchy, well knowing that such desertion would not, in the
minds of the Bar-20 men, add any merits to the case of the distant
outfit.

“Th’ sons-of-guns,” said Hopalong, “let’s go an’ get ‘em,” he suggested,
turning to Buck, who nodded a smiling assent.

“Oh, what’s the hurry?” Asked Frenchy, seeing his projected game
slipping away into the uncertain future and happy in the thought that he
would be avenged on the O-Bar-O outfit.

“They’ll be there till to-morrow noon--they’s waitin’ for their cookie,
who’s goin’ with them.”

“A cook! A cook! Oh, joy, a cook!” exulted Johnny, not for one instant
doubting Buck’s ability to capture the whole outfit and seeing a whirl
of excitement in the effort.

“Anybody we knows?” Inquired Skinny Thompson.

“Shore. Tenspot Davis, Waffles, Salvation Carroll, Bigfoot Baker,
Charley Lane, Lefty Allen, Kid Morris, Curley Tate an’ Tex Le Blanc,”
 responded Frenchy.

“Umm-m. Might as well rope a blizzard,” grumbled Billy. “Might as well
try to git th’ Seventh Cavalry. We’ll have a pious time corralling that
bunch. Them’s th’ fellows that hit that bunch of inquirin’ Crow braves
that time up in th’ Bad Lands an’ then said by-bye to th’ Ninth.”

“Aw, shut up! They’s only two that’s very much, an’ Buck an’ Hopalong
can sing ‘em to sleep,” interposed Johnny, afraid that the expedition
would fall through.

“How about Curley and Tex?” Pugnaciously asked Billy.

“Huh, jest because they buffaloed yu over to Las Vegas yu needn’t think
they’s dangerous. Salvation an’ Tenspot are only ones who can shoot,”
 stoutly maintained Johnny.

“Here yu, get mum,” ordered Buck to the pair. “When this outfit goes
after anything it generally gets it. All in favor of kidnappin’ that
outfit signify di’ same by kickin’ Billy,” whereupon Bill swore.

“Do yu want yore hat?” Asked Buck, turning to Frenchy.

“I shore do,” answered that individual.

“If yu helps us at th’ round-up we’ll get it for yu. Fifty a month an’
grub,” offered the foreman.

“O.K.” replied Frenchy, anxious to even matters.

Buck looked at his watch. “Seven o’clock--we ought to get there by five
if we relays at th’ Barred-Horseshoe. Come on.”

“How are we goin’ to git them?” Asked Billy.

“Yu leave that to me, son. Hopalong an’ Frenchy’ll tend to that part of
it,” replied Buck, making for his horse and swinging into the saddle, an
example which was followed by the others, including Frenchy.

As they swung off Buck noticed the condition of Frenchy’s mount and
halted. “Yu take that cayuse back an’ get Cowan’s,” he ordered.

“That cayuse is good for Cheyenne--she eats work, an’ besides I wants my
own,” laughed Frenchy.

“Yu must had a reg’lar picnic from th’ looks of that crease,”
 volunteered Hopalong, whose curiosity was mastering him. “Shoo! I had
a little argument with some feather dusters--th’ O-Bar-O crowd cleaned
them up.”

“That so?” Asked Buck.

“Yep! They sorter got into th’ habit of chasin’ me to Las Cruces an’
forgot to stop.”

“How many’d yu get?” Asked Lanky Smith.

“Twelve. Two got away. I got two before th’ crowd showed up--that makes
fo’teen.”

“Now th’ cavalry’ll be huntin’ yu,” croaked Billy.

“Hunt nothin’! They was in war-paint-think I was a target?--Think I was
goin’ to call off their shots for ‘em?”

They relayed at the Barred-Horseshoe and went on their way at the same
pace. Shortly after leaving the last-named ranch Buck turned to Frenchy
and asked, “Any of that outfit think they can play poker?”

“Shore. Waffles.”

“Does th’ reverend Mr. Waffles think so very hard?”

“He shore does.”

“Do th’ rest of them mavericks think so too?”

“They’d bet their shirts on him.”

At this juncture all were startled by a sudden eruption from Billy.
“Haw! Haw! Haw!” he roared as the drift of Buck’s intentions struck him.
“Haw! Haw! Haw!”

“Here, yu long-winded coyote,” yelled Red, banging him over the head
with his quirt, “If yu don’t ‘Haw! Haw!’ away from my ear I’ll make it
a Wow! Wow! What d’yu mean? Think I am a echo cliff? Yu slabsided
doodle-bug, yu!”

“G’way, yu crimson topknot, think my head’s a hunk of quartz? Fer a
plugged peso I’d strew yu all over th’ scenery!” shouted Billy, feigning
anger and rubbing his head.

“There ain’t no scenery around here,” interposed Lanky. “This here
be-utiful prospect is a sublime conception of th’ devil.”

“Easy, boy! Them highfalutin’ words’il give yu a cramp some day. Yu talk
like a newly-made sergeant,” remarked Skinny.

“He learned them words from the sky-pilot over at El Paso,” volunteered
Hopalong, winking at Red. “He used to amble down th’ aisle afore the
lights was lit so’s he could get a front seat. That was all hunky for
a while, but every time he’d go out to irrigate, that female
organ-wrastler would seem to call th’ music off for his special benefit.
So in a month he’d sneak in an’ freeze to a chair by th’ door, an’ after
a while he’d shy like blazes every time he got within eye range of th’
church.”

“Shore. But do yu know what made him get religion all of a sudden? He
used to hang around on di’ outside after th’ joint let out an’ trail
along behind di’ music-slinger, lookin’ like he didn’t know what to do
with his hands. Then when he got woozy one time she up an’ told him that
she had got a nice long letter from her hubby. Then Mr. Lanky hit th’
trail for Santa Fe so hard that there wasn’t hardly none of it left. I
didn’t see him for a whole month,” supplied Red innocently.

“Yore shore funny, ain’t yu?” sarcastically grunted Lanky. “Why, I can
tell things on yu that’d make yu stand treat for a year.”

“I wouldn’t sneak off to Santa Fe an’ cheat yu out of them. Yu ought to
be ashamed of yoreself.”

“Yah!” snorted the aggrieved little man. “I had business over to Santa
Fe!”

“Shore,” endorsed Hopalong. “We’ve all had business over to Santa Fe.
Why, about eight years ago I had business--”

“Choke up,” interposed Red. “About eight years ago yu was washin’ pans
for cookie, an’ askin’ me for cartridges. Buck used to larrup yu about
four times a day eight years ago.”

To their roars of laughter Hopalong dropped to the rear, where,
red-faced and quiet, he bent his thoughts on how to get square.

“We’ll have a pleasant time corralling that gang,” began Billy for the
third time.

“For heaven’s sake get off that trail!” replied Lanky. “We aint goin’ to
hold ‘em up. De-plomacy’s th’ game.”

Billy looked dubious and said nothing. If he hadn’t proven that he was
as nervy as any man in the outfit they might have taken more stock in
his grumbling.

“What’s the latest from Abilene way?” Asked Buck of Frenchy.

“Nothin’ much ‘cept th’ barb-wire ruction,” replied the recruit.

“What’s that?” Asked Red, glancing apprehensively back at Hopalong.

“Why, th’ settlers put up barb-wire fence so’s the cattle wouldn’t get
on their farms. That would a been all right, for there wasn’t much of
it. But some Britishers who own a couple of big ranches out there got
smart all of a sudden an’ strung wire all along their lines. Punchers
crossin’ th’ country would run plumb into a fence an’ would have to ride
a day an’ a half, mebbe, afore they found th’ corner. Well, naturally,
when a man has been used to ridin’ where he blame pleases an’ as
straight as he pleases he ain’t goin’ to chase along a five-foot fence
to Trisco when he wants to get to Waco. So th’ punchers got to totin’
wire-snips, an’ when they runs up agin a fence they cuts down half a
mile or so. Sometimes they’d tie their ropes to a strand an’ pull off a
couple of miles an’ then go back after th’ rest. Th’ ranch bosses sent
out men to watch th’ fences an’ told ‘em to shoot any festive puncher
that monkeyed with th’ hardware. Well, yu know what happens when a
puncher gets shot at.”

“When fences grow in Texas there’ll be th’ devil to pay,” said Buck. He
hated to think that some day the freedom of the range would be annulled,
for he knew that it would be the first blow against the cowboys’
occupation. When a man’s cattle couldn’t spread out all over the land he
wouldn’t have to keep so many men. Farms would spring up and the sun of
the free-and-easy cowboy would slowly set.

“I reckons th’ cutters are classed th’ same as rustlers,” remarked Red
with a gleam of temper.

“By th’ owners, but not by th’ punchers; an’ it’s th’ punchers that
count,” replied Frenchy.

“Well, we’ll give them a fight,” interposed Hopalong, riding up. “When
it gets so I can’t go where I please I’ll start on th’ warpath. I won’t
buck the cavalry, but I’ll keep it busy huntin’ for me an’ I’ll have
time to ‘tend to th’ wire-fence men, too. Why, we’ll be told we can’t
tote our guns!”

“They’re sayin’ that now,” replied Frenchy. “Up in Buffalo, Smith, who’s
now marshal, makes yu leave ‘em with th’ bartenders.”

“I’d like to see any two-laigged cuss get my guns If I didn’t want him
to!” began Hopalong, indignant at the idea.

“Easy, son,” cautioned Buck. “Yu would do what th’ rest did because yu
are a square man. I’m about as hard-headed a puncher as ever straddled
leather an’ I’ve had to use my guns purty considerable, but I reckons if
any decent marshal asked me to cache them in a decent way, why, I’d
do it. An’ let me brand somethin’ on yore mind--I’ve heard of Smith of
Buffalo, an’ he’s mighty nifty with his hands. He don’t stand off an’
tell yu to unload yore lead-ranch, but he ambles up close an’ taps yu
on yore shirt; if yu makes a gunplay he naturally knocks yu clean across
th’ room an’ unloads yu afore yu gets yore senses back. He weighs about
a hundred an’ eighty an’ he’s shore got sand to burn.”

“Yah! When I makes a gun play she plays! I’d look nice in Abilene or
Paso or Albuquerque without my guns, wouldn’t I? Just because I totes
them in plain sight I’ve got to hand ‘em over to some liquor-wrastler? I
reckons not! Some hip-pocket skunk would plug me afore I could wink. I’d
shore look nice loping around a keno layout without my guns, in th’
same town with some cuss huntin’ me, wouldn’t I? A whole lot of good a
marshal would a done Jimmy, an’ didn’t Harris get his from a cur in th’
dark?” shouted Hopalong, angered by the prospect.

“We’re talkin’ about Buffalo, where everybody has to hang up their
guns,” replied Buck. “An’ there’s th’ law--”

“To blazes with th’ law!” whooped Hopalong in Red’s ear as he
unfastened the cinch of Red’s saddle and at the same time stabbing that
unfortunate’s mount with his spurs, thereby causing a hasty separation
of the two. When Red had picked himself up and things had quieted down
again the subject was changed, and several hours later they rode into
Muddy Wells, a town with a little more excuse for its existence than
Buckskin. The wells were in an arid valley west of Guadaloupe Pass, and
were not only muddy but more or less alkaline.



CHAPTER. X. Peace Hath its Victories


As they neared the central group of buildings they heard a hilarious
and assertive song which sprang from the door and windows of the main
saloon. It was in jig time, rollicking and boisterous, but the words had
evidently been improvised for the occasion, as they clashed immediately
with those which sprang to the minds of the outfit, although they could
not be clearly distinguished. As they approached nearer and finally
dismounted, however, the words became recognizable and the visitors were
at once placed in harmony with the air of jovial recklessness by the
roaring of the verses and the stamping of the time.

     Oh we’re red-hot cow-punchers playin’ on our luck,
     An’ there ain’t a proposition that we won’t buck:
     From sunrise to sunset we’ve ridden on the range,
     But now we’re oft for a howlin’ change.

CHORUS

     Laugh a little, sing a little, all th’ day;
     Play a little, drink a little--we can pay;
     Ride a little, dig a little an’ rich we’ll grow.
     Oh, we’re that bunch from th’ O-Bar-O!

     Oh, there was a little tenderfoot an’ he had a little gun,
     An’ th’ gun an’ him went a-trailin’ up some fun.
     They ambles up to Santa Fe’ to find a quiet game,
     An’ now they’re planted with some more of th’ same!

As Hopalong, followed by the others, pushed open the door and entered
he took up the chorus with all the power of Texan lungs and even Billy
joined in. The sight that met their eyes was typical of the men and the
mood and the place. Leaning along the walls, lounging on the table and
straddling chairs with their forearms crossed on the backs were nine
cowboys, ranging from old twenty to young fifty in years, and all were
shouting the song and keeping time with their hands and feet.

In the center of the room was a large man dancing a fair buck-and-wing
to the time so uproariously set by his companions. Hatless,
neck-kerchief loose, holsters flapping, chaps rippling out and close,
spurs clinking and perspiration streaming from his tanned face, danced
Bigfoot Baker as though his life depended on speed and noise. Bottles
shook and the air was fogged with smoke and dust. Suddenly, his belt
slipping and letting his chaps fall around his ankles, he tripped and
sat down heavily. Gasping for breath, he held out his hand and received
a huge plug of tobacco, for Bigfoot had won a contest.

Shouts of greeting were hurled at the newcomers and many questions were
fired at them regarding “th’ latest from th’ Hills.” Waffles made a rush
for Hopalong, but fell over Big-foot’s feet and all three were piled up
in a heap. All were beaming with good nature, for they were as so many
school boys playing truant. Prosaic cow-punching was relegated to the
rear and they looked eagerly forward to their several missions. Frenchy
told of the barb-wire fence war and of the new regulations of “Smith
of Buffalo” regarding cow-punchers’ guns, and from the caustic remarks
explosively given it was plain to be seen what a wire fence could
expect, should one be met with, and there were many imaginary Smiths put
hors de combat.

Kid Morris, after vainly trying to slip a blue-bottle fly inside of
Hopalong’s shirt, gave it up and slammed his hand on Hopalong’s back
instead, crying: “Well, I’ll be doggoned if here ain’t Hopalong! How’s
th’ missus an’ th’ deacon an’ all th’ folks to hum? I hears yu an’
Frenchy’s reg’lar poker fiends!”

“Oh, we plays onct in a while, but we don’t want none of yore dust.
Yu’ll shore need it all afore th’ Hills get through with yu,” laughingly
replied Hopalong.

“Oh, yore shore kind! But I was a sort of reckonin’ that we needs some
more. Perfesser P. D. Q. Waffles is our poker man an’ he shore can clean
out anything I ever saw. Mebbe yu fellers feel reckless-like an’ would
like to make a pool,” he cried, addressing the outfit of the Bar-20,
“an’ back yore boss of th’ full house agin ourn?”

Red turned slowly around and took a full minute in which to size the Kid
up. Then he snorted and turned his back again.

The Kid stared at him in outraged dignity. “Well, what say!” he softly
murmured. Then he leaped forward and walloped Red on the back.
“Hey, yore royal highness!” he shouted. “Yu-yu-yu-oh, hang it-yu! Yu
slab-sided, ring-boned, saddle-galled shade of a coyote, do yu think I’m
only meanderin’ in th’ misty vales of-of--”

Suggestions intruded from various sources. “Hades?” offered Hopalong.
“Cheyenne?” Murmured Johnny. “Misty mistiness of misty?” tentatively
supplied Waffles.

Red turned around again. “Better come up an’ have somethin’,” he
sympathetically invited, wiping away an imaginary tear.

“An’ he’s so young!” sobbed Frenchy.

“An’ so fair!” wailed Tex.

“An’ so ornery!” howled Lefty, throwing his arms around the discomfited
youngster. Other arms went around him, and out of the sobbing mob could
be heard earnest and heart-felt cussing, interspersed with imperative
commands, which were gradually obeyed.

The Kid straightened up his wearing apparel. “Come on, yu locoed--”

“Angels?” Queried Charley Lane, interrupting him. “Sweet things?”
 breathed Hopalong in hopeful expectancy.

“Oh, blast it!” yelled the Kid as he ran out into the street to escape
the persecution.

“Good Kid, all right,” remarked Waffles. “He’ll go around an’ lick some
Mexican an’ come back sweet as honey.”

“Did somebody say poker?” Asked Bigfoot, digressing from the Kid.

“Oh, yu fellows don’t want no poker. Of course yu don’t. Poker’s mighty
uncertain,” replied Red.

“Yah!” exclaimed Tex Le Blanc, pushing forward. “I’ll just bet yu to
a standstill that Waffles an’ Salvation’ll round up all th’ festive
simoleons yu can get together! An’ I’ll throw in Frenchy’s hat as an
inducement.”

“Well, if yore shore set on it make her a pool,” replied Red, “an’ th’
winners divide with their outfit. Here’s a starter,” he added, tossing a
buckskin bag on the table. “Come on, pile ‘em up.”

The crowd divided as the players seated themselves at the table, the
O-Bar-O crowd grouping themselves behind their representatives; the
Bar-20 behind theirs. A deck of cards was brought and the game was on.

Red, true to his nature, leaned back in a corner, where, hands on hips,
he awaited any hostile demonstration on the part of the O-Bar-O; then,
suddenly remembering, he looked half ashamed of his warlike position and
became a peaceful citizen again. Buck leaned with his broad back against
the bar, talking over his shoulder to the bartender, but watching
Tenspot Davis, who was assiduously engaged in juggling a handful of
Mexican dollars.

Up by the door Bigfoot Baker, elated at winning the buck-and-wing
contest, was endeavoring to learn a new step, while his late rival was
drowning his defeat at Buck’s elbow. Lefty Allen was softly singing a
Mexican love song, humming when the words would not come. At the
table could be heard low-spoken card terms and good-natured banter,
interspersed with the clink of gold and silver and the soft pat-pat
of the onlookers’ feet unconsciously keeping time to Lefty’s song.
Notwithstanding the grim assertiveness of belts full of .45’s and the
peeping handles of long-barreled Colts, set off with picturesque chaps,
sombreros and tinkling spurs, the scene was one of peaceful content and
good-fellowship.

“Ugh!” grunted Johnny, walking over to Red and informing that person
that he, Red, was a worm-eaten prune and that for half a wink he,
Johnny, would prove it. Red grabbed him by the seat of his corduroys
and the collar of his shirt and helped him outside, where they strolled
about, taking pot shots at whatever their fancy suggested.

Down the street in a cloud of dust rumbled the Las Cruces-El Paso stage
and the two punchers went up to meet it. Raw furrows showed in the
woodwork, one mule was missing and the driver and guard wore fresh
bandages. A tired tenderfoot leaped out with a sigh of relief and hunted
for his baggage, which he found to be generously perforated. Swearing
at the God-forsaken land where a man had to fight highwaymen and
Indians inside of half a day he grumblingly lugged his valise toward a
forbidding-looking shack which was called a hotel.

The driver released his teams and then turned to Red. “Hullo, old hoss,
how’s th’ gang?” he asked genially. “We’ve had a heck of a time this
yere trip,” he went on without waiting for Red to reply. “Five miles out
of Las Cruces we stood off a son-of-a-gun that wanted th’ dude’s wealth.
Then just this side of the San Andre foothills we runs into a bunch of
young bucks who turned us off this yere way an’ gave us a runnin’ fight
purty near all th’ way. I’m a whole lot farther from Paso now than I
was when I started, an seem as I lost a jack I’ll be some time gittin’
there. Yu don’t happen to sabe a jack I can borrow, do yu?”

“I don’t know about no jack, but I’ll rope yu a bronch,” offered Red,
winking at Johnny.

“I’ll pull her myself before I’ll put dynamite in di’ traces,” replied
the driver. “Yu fellers might amble back a ways with me--them buddin’
warriors’ll be layin’ for me.”

“We shore will,” responded Johnny eagerly. “There’s nine of us now an’
there’ll be nine more an’ a cook to-morrow, mebby.”

“Gosh, yu grows some,” replied the guard. “Eighteen’ll be a plenty for
them glory hunters.”

“We won’t be able to,” contradicted Red, “for things are peculiar.”

At this moment the conversation was interrupted by the tenderfoot, who
sported a new and cheap sombrero and also a belt and holster complete.

“Will you gentlemen join me?” He asked, turning to Red and nodding at
the saloon. “I am very dry and much averse to drinking alone.”

“Why, shore,” responded Red heartily, wishing to put the stranger at
ease.

The game was running about even as they entered and Lefty Allen was
singing “The Insult,” the rich tenor softening the harshness of the
surroundings.


   I’ve swum th’ Colorado where she’s almost lost to view, I’ve braced
        th’ Jaro layouts in Cheyenne;

   I’ve fought for muddy water with a howlin’ bunch of Sioux, An’
        swallowed hot tamales, an’ cayenne.

   I’ve rid a pitchin’ broncho ‘till th’ sky was underneath, I’ve
        tackled every desert in th’ land;

   I’ve sampled XXXX whiskey ‘till I couldn’t hardly see, An’ dallied
        with th’ quicksands of the Grande.

   I’ve argued with th’ marshals of a half-a-dozen burgs, I’ve been
        dragged free an’ fancy by a cow;

   I’ve had three years’ campaignin’ with th’ fightin’, bitin’ Ninth,
        An’ never lost my temper ‘till right now.

   I’ve had the yaller fever an I’ve been shot full of holes, I’ve
        grabbed an army mule plumb by its tail;

   I’ve never been so snortin’, really highfalutin’ mad As when y’u up
        an’ hands me ginger ale!

Hopalong laughed joyously at a remark made by Waffles and the stranger
glanced quickly at him. His merry, boyish face, underlined by a
jaw showing great firmness and set with an expression of aggressive
self-reliance, impressed the stranger and he remarked to Red, who
lounged lazily near him, that he was surprised to see such a face on so
young a man and he asked who the player was.

“Oh, his name’s Hopalong Cassidy,” answered Red. “He’s di’ cuss that
raised that ruction down in Mexico last spring. Rode his cayuse in a
saloon and played with the loungers and had to shoot one before he got
out. When he did get out he had to fight a whole bunch of Mexicans an’
even potted their marshal, who had di’ drop on him. Then he returned and
visited the marshal about a month later, took his gun away from him
an’ then cut th’ cards to see if he was a prisoner or not. He’s a shore
funny cuss.”

The tenderfoot gasped his amazement. “Are you not fooling with me?” He
asked.

“Tell him yu came after that five hundred dollars reward and see,”
 answered Red goodnaturedly.

“Holy smoke!” shouted Waffles as Hopalong won his sixth consecutive pot.
“Did yu ever see such luck?” Frenchy grinned and some time later raked
in his third. Salvation then staked his last cent against Hopalong’s
flush and dropped out.

Tenspot flipped to Waffles the money he had been juggling and Lefty
searched his clothes for wealth. Buck, still leaning against the bar,
grinned and winked at Johnny, who was pouring hair-raising tales into
the receptive ears of the stranger. Thereupon Johnny confided to his
newly found acquaintance the facts about the game, nearly causing that
person to explode with delight.

Waffles pushed back his chair, stood up and stretched. At the finish
of a yawn he grinned at his late adversary. “I’m all in, yu old
son-of-a-gun. Yu shore can play draw. I’m goin’ to try yu again some
time. I was beat fair an’ square an’ I ain’t got no kick comin’, none
whatever,” he remarked, as he shook hands with Hopalong.

“Oh, we’re that gang from th’ O-Bar-O,” hummed the Kid as he sauntered
in. One cheek was slightly swollen and his clothes shed dust at every
step. “Who wins?” he inquired, not having heard Waffles.

“They did, blast it!” exploded Bigfoot.

One of the Kid’s peculiarities was revealed in the unreasoning and
hasty conclusions he arrived at. From no desire to imply unfairness,
but rather because of his bitterness against failure of any kind and his
loyalty to Waffles, came his next words:

“Mebby they skinned yu.”

Like a flash Waffles sprang before him, his hand held up, palm out. “He
don’t mean nothin’--he’s only a ignorant kid!” he cried.

Buck smiled and wrested the Colt from Johnny’s ever-ready hand. “Here’s
another,” he said. Red laughed softly and rolled Johnny on the floor.
“Yu jackass,” he whispered, “don’t yu know better’n to make a gun-play
when we needs them all?”

“What are we goin’ to do?” Asked Tex, glancing at the bulging pockets of
Hopalong’s chaps.

“We’re goin’ to punch cows again, that’s what we’re to do,” answered
Bigfoot dismally.

“An’ whose are we goin’ to punch? We can’t go back to the old man,”
 grumbled Tex.

Salvation looked askance at Buck and then at the others. “Mebby,” he
began, “Mebby we kin git a job on th’ Bar-20.” Then turning to Buck
again he bluntly asked, “Are yu short of punchers?”

“Well, I might use some,” answered the foreman, hesitating. “But
 I ain’t got only one cook, an’----”

“We’ll git yu th’ cook all O.K.,” interrupted Charley Lane vehemently.
“Hi, yu cook!” he shouted, “amble in here an’ git a rustle on!”

There was no reply, and after waiting for a minute he and Waffles went
into the rear room, from which there immediately issued great chunks
of profanity and noise. They returned looking pugnacious and disgusted,
with a wildly fighting man who was more full of liquor than was the
bottle which he belligerently waved.

“This here animated distillery what yu sees is our cook,” said Waffles.
“We eats his grub, nobody else. If he gits drunk that’s our funeral; but
he won’t get drunk! If yu wants us to punch for yu say so an’ we does;
if yu don’t, we don’t.”

“Well,” replied Buck thoughtfully, “mebby I can use yu.” Then with a
burst of recklessness he added, “Yes, if I lose my job! But yu might
sober that Mexican up if yu let him fall in th’ horse trough.”

As the procession wended its way on its mission of wet charity, carrying
the cook in any manner at all, Frenchy waved his long lost sombrero
at Buck, who stood in the door, and shouted, “Yu old son-of-a-gun, I’m
proud to know yu!”

Buck smiled and snapped his watch shut “Time to amble,” he said.



CHAPTER XI. Holding the Claim


“Oh, we’re that gang from th’ O-Bar-O,” hummed Waffles, sinking the
branding-iron in the flank of a calf. The scene was one of great
activity and hilarity. Several fires were burning near the huge corral
and in them half a dozen irons were getting hot. Three calves were being
held down for the brand of the “Bar-20” and two more were being dragged
up on their sides by the ropes of the cowboys, the proud cow-ponies
showing off their accomplishments at the expense of the calves’
feelings. In the corral the dust arose in steady clouds as calf after
calf was “cut out” by the ropers and dragged out to get “tagged.” Angry
cows fought valiantly for their terrorized offspring, but always to no
avail, for the hated rope of some perspiring and dust-grimed rider sent
them crashing to earth. Over the plain were herds of cattle and groups
of madly riding cowboys, and two cook wagons were stalled a short
distance from the corral. The round-up of the Bar-20 was taking place,
and each of the two outfits tried to outdo the other and each individual
strove for a prize. The man who cut out and dragged to the fire the most
calves in three days could leave for the Black Hills at the expiration
of that time, the rest to follow as soon as they could.

In this contest Hopalong Cassidy led his nearest rival, Red Connors,
both of whom were Bar-20 men, by twenty cut-outs, and there remained but
half an hour more in which to compete. As Red disappeared into the sea
of tossing horns Hopalong dashed out with a whoop.

 “Hi, yu trellis-built rack of bones, come along there! Whoop!” he
yelled, turning the prisoner over to the squad by the fire.

“Chalk up this here insignificant wart of cross-eyed perversity: an’ how
many?” He called as he galloped back to the corral.

“One ninety-eight,” announced Buck, blowing the sand from the tally
sheet. “That’s shore goin’ some,” he remarked to himself.

When the calf sprang up it was filled with terror, rage and pain, and
charged at Billy from the rear as that pessimistic soul was leaning over
and poking his finger at a somber horned-toad. “Wow!” he yelled as his
feet took huge steps up in the air, each one strictly on its own course.
“Woof!” he grunted in the hot sand as he arose on his hands and knees
and spat alkali.

“What’s s’matter?” He asked dazedly of Johnny Nelson. “Ain’t it funny!”
 he yelled sarcastically as he beheld Johnny holding his sides with
laughter. “Ain’t it funny!” he repeated belligerently. “Of course that
four-laigged, knock-kneed, wobblin’ son-of-a-Piute had to cut me out.
They wasn’t nobody in sight but Billy! Why didn’t yu say he was comin’?
Think I can see four ways to once? Why didn’t--” At this point Red
cantered up with a calf, and by a quick maneuver, drew the taut rope
against the rear of Billy’s knees, causing that unfortunate to sit down
heavily. As he arose choking with broken-winded profanity Red dragged
the animal to the fire, and Billy forgot his grievances in the press of
labor.

“How many, Buck?” Asked Red.

“One-eighty.”

“How does she stand?”

“Yore eighteen to th’ bad,” replied the foreman. “Th’ son-of-a-gun!”
 marveled Red, riding off.

Another whoop interrupted them, and Billy quit watching out of the
corner eye for pugnacious calves as he prepared for Hopalong.

“Hey, Buck, this here cuss was with a Barred-Horseshoe cow,” he
announced as he turned it over to the branding man. Buck made a tally in
a separate column and released the animal. “Hullo, Red! Workin’?” Asked
Hopalong of his rival.

“Some, yu little cuss,” answered Red with all the good nature in the
world. Hopalong was his particular “side partner,” and he could lose to
him with the best of feelings.

“Yu looks so nice an’ cool, an’ clean, I didn’t know,” responded
Hopalong, eyeing a streak of sweat and dust which ran from Red’s eyes to
his chin and then on down his neck.

“What yu been doin’? Plowin’ with yore nose?” Returned Red, smiling
blandly at his friend’s appearance.

“Yah!” snorted Hopalong, wheeling toward the corral. “Come on, yu
pie-eatin’ doodle-bug; I’ll beat yu to th’ gate!”

The two ponies sent showers of sand all over Billy, who eyed them
in pugnacious disgust. “Of all th’ locoed imps that ever made life
miserable fer a man, them’s th’ worst! Is there any piece of fool
nonsense they hain’t harnessed me with?” He beseeched of Buck. “Is there
anything they hain’t done to me? They hides my liquor; they stuffs th’
sweat band of my hat with rope; they ties up my pants; they puts water
in. My boots an’ toads in my bunk--ain’t they never goin’ to get sane?”

“Oh, they’re only kids--they can’t help it,” offered Buck. “Didn’t they
hobble my cayuse when I was on him an’ near bust my neck?”

Hopalong interrupted the conversation by driving up another calf, and
Buck, glancing at his watch, declared the contest at an end.

“Yu wins,” he remarked to the newcomer. “An’ now yu get scarce or Billy
will shore straddle yore nerves. He said as how he was goin’ to get
square on yu to-night.”

“I didn’t, neither, Hoppy!” earnestly contradicted Billy, who bad
visions of a night spent in torment as a reprisal for such a threat.
“Honest I didn’t, did I, Johnny?” He asked appealingly.

“Yu shore did,” lied Johnny, winking at Red, who had just ridden up.

“I don’t know what yore talkin’ about, but yu shore did,” replied Red.

“If yu did,” grinned Hopalong, “I’ll shore make yu hard to find. Come
on, fellows,” he said; “grub’s ready. Where’s Frenchy?”

“Over chewin’ th’ rag with Waffles about his hat--he’s lost it again,”
 answered Red. “He needs a guardian fer that bonnet. Th’ Kid an’
Salvation has jammed it in th’ corral fence an’ Waffles has to stand fer
it.”

“Let’s put it in th’ grub wagon an see him cuss cookie,” suggested
Hopalong.

“Shore,” indorsed Johnny; Cookie’ll feed him bum grub for a week to get
square.

Hopalong and Johnny ambled over to the corral and after some trouble
located the missing sombrero, which they carried to the grub wagon and
hid in the flour barrel. Then they went over by the excited owner and
dropped a few remarks about how strange the cook was acting and how he
was watching Frenchy.

Frenchy jumped at the bait and tore over to the wagon, where he and the
cook spent some time in mutual recrimination. Hopalong nosed around and
finally dug up the hat, white as new-fallen snow.

“Here’s a hat--found it in th’ dough barrel,” he announced, handing it
over to Frenchy, who received it in open-mouthed stupefaction.

“Yu pie-makin’ pirate! Yu didn’t know where my lid was, did yu! Yu
cross-eyed lump of hypocrisy!” yelled Frenchy, dusting off the flour
with one full-armed swing on the cook’s face, driving it into that
unfortunate’s nose and eyes and mouth. “Yu white-washed Chink, yu--rub
yore face with water an’ yu’ve got pancakes.”

“Hey! What you doin’!” yelled the cook, kicking the spot where he had
last seen Frenchy. “Don’t yu know better’n that!”

“Yu live close to yoreself or I’ll throw yu so high th’ sun’ll duck,”
 replied Frenchy, a smile illuminating his face.

“Hey, cookie,” remarked Hopalong confidentially, “I know who put up this
joke on yu. Yu ask Billy who hid th’ hat,” suggested the tease. “Here he
comes now--see how queer he looks.”

“Th’ mournful Piute,” ejaculated the cook. “I’ll shore make him wish
he’d kept on his own trail. I’ll flavor his slush [coffee] with year-old
dish-rags!”

At this juncture Billy ambled up, keeping his weather eye peeled for
trouble. “Who’s a dish-rag?” He queried. The cook mumbled something
about crazy hens not knowing when to quit cackling and climbed up in his
wagon. And that night Billy swore off drinking coffee.

When the dawn of the next day broke, Hopalong was riding toward the
Black Hills, leaving Billy to untie himself as best he might.

The trip was uneventful and several weeks later he entered Red Dog, a
rambling shanty town, one of those western mushrooms that sprang up in a
night. He took up his stand at the Miner’s Rest, and finally secured
six claims at the cost of nine hundred hard-earned dollars, a fund
subscribed by the outfits, as it was to be a partnership affair.

He rode out to a staked-off piece of hillside and surveyed his purchase,
which consisted of a patch of ground, six holes, six piles of dirt and
a log hut. The holes showed that the claims bad been tried and found
wanting.

He dumped his pack of tools and provisions, which he had bought on the
way up, and lugged them into the cabin. After satisfying his curiosity
he went outside and sat down for a smoke, figuring up in his mind how
much gold he could carry on a horse. Then, as he realized that he could
get a pack mule to carry the surplus, he became aware of a strange
presence near at hand and looked up into the muzzle of a Sharp’s rifle.
He grasped the situation in a flash and calmly blew several heavy smoke
rings around the frowning barrel.

“Well?” He asked slowly.

“Nice day, stranger,” replied the man with the rifle, “but don’t yu
reckon yu’ve made a mistake?”

Hopalong glanced at the number burned on a near-by stake and carelessly
blew another smoke ring. He was waiting for the gun to waver.

“No, I reckons not,” he answered. “Why?”

“Well, I’ll jest tell yu since yu asks. This yere claim’s mine an’ I’m
a reg’lar terror, I am. That’s why; an’ seein’ as it is, yu better amble
some.”

Hopalong glanced down the street and saw an interested group watching
him, which only added to his rage for being in such a position. Then
he started to say something, faltered and stared with horror at a point
several feet behind his opponent. The “terror” sprang to one side in
response to Hop-along’s expression, as if fearing that a snake or some
such danger threatened him. As he alighted in his new position he fell
forward and Hopalong slid a smoking Colt in its holster.

Several men left the distant group and ran toward the claim. Hopalong
reached his arm inside the door and brought forth his rifle, with which
he covered their advance.

“Anything yu want?” he shouted savagely.

The men stopped and two of them started to sidle in front of two others,
but Hopalong was not there for the purpose of permitting a move that
would screen any gun play and he stopped the game with a warning shout.
Then the two held up their hands and advanced.

“We wants to git Dan,” called out one of them, nodding at the prostrate
figure.

“Come ahead,” replied Hopalong, substituting a Colt for the rifle.


They carried their badly wounded and insensible burden back to those
whom they had left, and several curses were hurled at the cowboy, who
only smiled grimly and entered the hut to place things ready for a
siege, should one come. He had one hundred rounds of ammunition and
provisions enough for two weeks, with the assurance of reinforcements
long before that time would expire. He cut several rough loopholes and
laid out his weapons for quick handling. He knew that he could stop any
advance during the day and planned only for night attacks. How long
he could go without sleep did not bother him, because he gave it no
thought, as he was accustomed to short naps and could awaken at will or
at the slightest sound.

As dusk merged into dark he crept forth and collected several handfuls
of dry twigs, which he scattered around the hut, as the cracking of
these would warn him of an approach. Then he went in and went to sleep.

He awoke at daylight after a good night’s rest, and feasted on canned
beans and peaches. Then he tossed the cans out of the door and shoved
his hat out. Receiving no response he walked out and surveyed the town
at his feet. A sheepish grin spread over his face as he realized that
there was no danger. Several red-shirted men passed by him on their way
to town, and one, a grizzled veteran of many gold camps, stopped and
sauntered up to him.

“Mornin’,” said Hopalong.

“Mornin’,” replied the stranger. “I thought I’d drop in an’ say that I
saw that gun-play of yourn yesterday. Yu ain’t got no reason to look fer
a rush. This camp is half white men an’ half bullies, an’ th’ white men
won’t stand fer no play like that. Them fellers that jest passed are
neighbors of yourn, an’ they won’t lay abed if yu needs them. But yu
wants to look out fer th’ joints in th’ town. Guess this business is out
of yore line,” he finished as he sized Hopalong up.

“She shore is, but I’m here to stay. Got tired of punchin’ an’ reckoned
I’d get rich.” Here he smiled and glanced at the hole. “How’re yu makin’
out?” He asked.

“‘Bout five dollars a day apiece, but that ain’t nothin’ when grub’s so
high. Got reckless th’ other day an’ had a egg at fifty cents.”

Hopalong whistled and glanced at the empty cans at his feet. “Any
marshal in this burg?”

“Yep. But he’s one of th’ gang. No good, an’ drunk half th’ time an’
half drunk th’ rest. Better come down an’ have something,” invited the
miner.

“I’d shore like to, but I can’t let no gang get in that door,” replied
the puncher.

“Oh, that’s all right; I’ll call my pardner down to keep house till yu
gits back. He can hold her all right. Hey, Jake!” he called to a man who
was some hundred paces distant; “Come down here an’ keep house till we
gits back, will yu?”

The man lumbered down to them and took possession as Hopalong and his
newly found friend started for the town.

They entered the “Miner’s Rest” and Hopalong fixed the room in his mind
with one swift glance. Three men--and they looked like the crowd he had
stopped before--were playing poker at a table near the window. Hopalong
leaned with his back to the bar and talked, with the players always in
sight.

Soon the door opened and a bewhiskered, heavy-set man tramped in, and
walking up to Hopalong, looked him over.

“Huh,” he sneered, “Yu are th’ gent with th’ festive guns that plugged
Dan, ain’t yu?”

Hopalong looked at him in the eyes and quietly replied:

“An’ who th’ deuce are yu?”

The stranger’s eyes blazed and his face wrinkled with rage as he
aggressively shoved his jaw close to Hopalong’s face.

“Yu runt, I’m a better man than yu even if yu do wear hair pants,”
 referring to Hopalong’s chaps. “Yu cow-wrastlers make me tired, an’ I’m
goin’ to show yu that this town is too good for you. Yu can say it right
now that yu are a ornery, game-leg--”

Hopalong smashed his insulter squarely between the eyes with all the
power of his sinewy body behind the blow, knocking him in a heap under
the table. Then he quickly glanced at the card players and saw a hostile
movement. His gun was out in a flash and he covered the trio as he
walked up to them. Never in all his life had he felt such a desire to
kill. His eyes were diamond points of accumulated fury, and those whom
he faced quailed before him.

“Yu scum! Draw, please draw! Pull yore guns an’ gimme my chance! Three
to one, an’ I’ll lay my guns here,” he said, placing them on the bar and
removing his hands. “‘Nearer My God to Thee’ is purty appropriate fer
yu just now! Yu seem to be a-scared of yore own guns. Git down on yore
dirty knees an’ say good an’ loud that yu eats dirt! Shout out that
yu are too currish to live with decent men,” he said, even-toned and
distinct, his voice vibrant with passion as he took up his Colts. “Get
down!” he repeated, shoving the weapons forward and pulling back the
hammers.

The trio glanced at each other, and all three dropped to their knees and
repeated in venomous hatred the words Hopalong said for them.

“Now git! An’ if I sees yu when I leaves I’ll send yu after yore friend.
I’ll shoot on sight now. Git!” He escorted them to the door and kicked
the last one out.

His miner friend still leaned against the bar and looked his approval.

“Well done, youngster! But yu wants to look out--that man,” pointing to
the now groping victim of Hopalong’s blow, “is th’ marshal of this town.
He or his pals will get yu if yu don’t watch th’ corners.”

Hopalong walked over to the marshal, jerked him to his feet and slammed
him against the bar. Then he tore the cheap badge from its place and
threw it on the floor. Reaching down, he drew the marshal’s revolver
from its holster and shoved it in its owner’s hand.

“Yore th’ marshal of this place an’ it’s too good for me, but yore gain’
to pick up that tin lie,” pointing at the badge, “an’ yore goin’ to do
it right now. Then yore gain’ to get kicked out of that door, an’ if
yu stops runnin’ while I can see yu I’ll fill yu so full of holes yu’ll
catch cold. Yore a sumptious marshal, yu are! Yore th’ snortingest ki-yi
that ever stuck its tail atween its laigs, yu are. Yu pop-eyed wall
flower, yu wants to peep to yoreself or some papoose’ll slide yu over
th’ Divide so fast yu won’t have time to grease yore pants. Pick up that
license-tag an’ let me see you perculate so lively that yore back’ll
look like a ten-cent piece in five seconds. Flit!”

The marshal, dazed and bewildered, stooped and fumbled for the badge.
Then he stood up and glanced at the gun in his hand and at the eager man
before him. He slid the weapon in his belt and drew his hand across his
fast-closing eyes. Cursing streaks of profanity, he staggered to the
door and landed in a heap in the street from the force of Hopalong’s
kick. Struggling to his feet, he ran unsteadily down the block and
disappeared around a corner.

The bartender, cool and unperturbed, pushed out three glasses on his
treat: “I’ve seen yu afore, up in Cheyenne--‘member? How’s yore friend
Red?” He asked as he filled the glasses with the best the house
afforded.

“Well, shore ‘nuff! Glad to see yu, Jimmy! What yu doin’ away off here?”
 Asked Hopalong, beginning to feel at home.

“Oh, jest filterin’ round like. I’m awful glad to see yu--this yere wart
of a town needs siftin’ out. It was only last week I was wishin’ one of
yore bunch ‘ud show up--that ornament yu jest buffaloed shore raised th’
devil in here, an’ I wished I had somebody to prospect his anatomy for a
lead mine. But he’s got a tough gang circulating with him. Ever hear of
Dutch Shannon or Blinky Neary? They’s with him.”

“Dutch Shannon? Nope,” he replied.

“Bad eggs, an’ not a-carin’ how they gits square. Th’ feller yu’ salted
yesterday was a bosom friend of th’ marshal’s, an’ he passed in his
chips last night.”

“So?”

“Yep. Bought a bottle of ready-made nerve an’ went to his own funeral.
Aristotle Smith was lookin’ fer him up in Cheyenne last year. Aristotle
said he’d give a century fer five minutes’ palaver with him, but he
shied th’ town an’ didn’t come back. Yu know Aristotle, don’t yu? He’s
th’ geezer that made fame up to Poison Knob three years ago. He used to
go to town ridin’ astride a log on th’ lumber flume. Made four miles in
six minutes with th’ promise of a ruction when he stopped. Once when
he was loaded he tried to ride back th’ same way he came, an’ th’
first thing he knowed he was three miles farther from his supper an’
a-slippin’ down that valley like he wanted to go somewhere. He swum out
at Potter’s Dam an’ it took him a day to walk back. But he didn’t make
that play again, because he was frequently sober, an’ when he wasn’t
he’d only stand off an’ swear at th’ slide.”

“That’s Aristotle, all hunk. He’s th’ chap that used to play checkers
with Deacon Rawlins. They used empty an’ loaded shells for men, an’ when
they got a king they’d lay one on its side. Sometimes they’d jar th’
board an’ they’d all be kings an’ then they’d have a cussin’ match,”
 replied Hopalong, once more restored to good humor.

“Why,” responded Jimmy, “he counted his wealth over twice by mistake an’
shore raised a howl when he went to blow it--thought he’s been robbed,
an’ laid behind th’ houses fer a week lookin’ fer th’ feller that done
it.”

“I’ve heard of that cuss--he shore was th’ limit. What become of him?”
 Asked the miner.

“He ambled up to Laramie an’ stuck his head in th’ window of that joint
by th’ plaza an’ hollered ‘Fire,’ an’ they did. He was shore a good
feller, all th’ same,” answered the bartender. Hopalong laughed and
started for the door. Turning around he looked at his miner friend and
asked: “Comin’ along? I’m goin’ back now.”

“Nope. Reckon I’ll hit th’ tiger a whirl. I’ll stop in when I passes.”

“All right. So long,” replied Hopalong, slipping out of the door and
watching for trouble. There was no opposition shown him, and he arrived
at his claim to find Jake in a heated argument with another of the gang.

“Here he comes now,” he said as Hopalong walked up. “Tell him what yu
said to me.”

“I said yu made a mistake,” said the other, turning to the cowboy in a
half apologetic manner.

“An’ what else?” Insisted Jake.

“Why, ain’t that all?” Asked the claim-jumper’s friend in feigned
surprise, wishing that he had kept quiet.

“Well I reckons it is if yu can’t back up yore words,” responded Jake in
open contempt.

Hopalong grabbed the intruder by the collar of his shirt and hauled him
off the claim. “Yu keep off this, understand? I just kicked yore marshal
out in th’ street, an’ I’ll pay yu th’ next call. If yu rambles in range
of my guns yu’ll shore get in th’ way of a slug. Yu an’ yore gang wants
to browse on th’ far side of th’ range or yu’ll miss a sunrise some
mornin’. Scoot!”

Hopalong turned to his companion and smiled. “What’d he say?” He asked
genially.

“Oh, he jest shot off his mouth a little. They’s all no good. I’ve
collided with lots of them all over this country. They can’t face a good
man an’ keep their nerve. What’d yu say to th’ marshal?”

“I told him what he was an’ threw him outen th’ street,” replied
Hopalong. “In about two weeks we’ll have a new marshal an’ he’ll shore
be a dandy.”

“Yes? Why don’t yu take th’ job yoreself? We’re with yu.”

“Better man comin’. Ever hear of Buck Peters or Red Connors of th’
Bar-20, Texas?”

“Buck Peters? Seems to me I have. Did he punch fer th’ Tin-Cup up in
Montana, ‘bout twenty years back?”

“Shore! Him and Frenchy McAllister punched all over that country an’
they used to paint Cheyenne, too,” replied Hopalong, eagerly.

“I knows him, then. I used to know Frenchy, too. Are they comin’ up
here?”

“Yes,” responded Hopalong, struggling with another can while waiting for
the fire to catch up. “Better have some grub with me--don’t like to eat
alone,” invited the cowboy, the reaction of his late rage swinging him
to the other extreme.

When their tobacco had got well started at the close of the meal and
content had taken possession of them Hopalong laughed quietly and
finally spoke:

“Did yu ever know Aristotle Smith when yu was up in Montana?”

“Did I! Well, me an’ Aristotle prospected all through that country till
he got so locoed I had to watch him fer fear he’d blow us both up. He
greased th’ fryin’ pan with dynamite one night, an’ we shore had to eat
jerked meat an’ canned stuff all th’ rest of that trip. What made yu
ask? Is he comin’ up too?”

“No, I reckons not. Jimmy, th’ bartender, said that he cashed in up
at Laramie. Wasn’t he th’ cuss that built that boat out there on th’
Arizona desert because he was scared that a flood might come? Th’ sun
shore warped that punt till it wasn’t even good for a hencoop.”

“Nope. That was Sister--Annie Tompkins. He was purty near as bad as
Aristotle, though. He roped a puma up on th’ Sacramentos, an’ didn’t
punch no more fer three weeks. Well, here comes my pardner an’ I reckons
I’ll amble right along. If yu needs any referee or a side pardner in any
ruction yu has only got to warble up my way. So long.”

The next ten days passed quietly, and on the afternoon of the eleventh
Hopalong’s miner friend paid him a visit.

“Jake recommends yore peaches,” he laughed as he shook Hopalong’s hand.
“He says yu boosted another of that crowd. That bein’ so I thought I
would drop in an’ say that they’re comin’ after yu to-night, shore. Just
heard of it from yore friend Jimmy. Yu can count on us when th’ rush
comes. But why didn’t yu say yu was a pard of Buck Peters’? Me an’ him
used to shoot up Laramie together. From what yore friend James says, yu
can handle this gang by yore lonesome, but if yu needs any encouragement
yu make some sign an’ we’ll help th’ event along some. They’s eight of
us that’ll be waitin’ up to get th’ returns an’ we’re shore goin’ to be
in range.”

“Gee, it’s nice to run across a friend of Buck’s! Ain’t he a
son-of-a-gun?” Asked Hopalong, delighted at the news. Then, without
waiting for a reply, he went on: “Yore shore square, all right, an’ I
hates to refuse yore offer, but I got eighteen friends comin’ up an’
they ought to get here by tomorrow. Yu tell Jimmy to head them this way
when they shows up an’ I’ll have th’ claim for them. There ain’t no
use of yu fellers gettin’ mixed up in this. Th’ bunch that’s comin’ can
clean out any gang this side of sunup, an’ I expects they’ll shore be
anxious to begin when they finds me eatin’ peaches an’ wastin’ my time
shootin’ bums. Yu pass th’ word along to yore friends, an’ tell them to
lay low an’ see th’ Arory Boerallis hit this town with its tail up. Tell
Jimmy to do it up good when he speaks about me holdin’ th’ claim--I likes
to see Buck an’ Red fight when they’re good an’ mad.”

The miner laughed and slapped Hopalong on the shoulder. “Yore all right,
youngster! Yore just like Buck was at yore age. Say now, I reckons he
wasn’t a reg’lar terror on wheels! Why, I’ve seen him do more foolish
things than any man I knows of, an’ I calculate that if Buck pals
with yu there ain’t no water in yore sand. My name’s Tom Halloway,” he
suggested.

“An’ mine’s Hopalong Cassidy,” was the reply. “I’ve heard Buck speak of
yu.”

“Has yu? Well, don’t it beat all how little this world is? Somebody
allus turnin’ up that knows somebody yu knows. I’ll just amble along,
Mr. Cassidy, an’ don’t yu be none bashful about callin’ if yu needs me.
Any pal of Buck’s is my friend. Well, so long,” said the visitor as he
strode off. Then he stopped and turned around. “Hey, mister!” he
called. “They are goin’ to roll a fire barrel down agin yu from behind,”
 indicating by an outstretched arm the point from where it would start.
“If it burns yu out I’m goin’ to take a band from up there,” pointing to
a cluster of rocks well to the rear of where the crowd would work from,
“an’ I don’t care whether yu likes it or not,” he added to himself.

Hopalong scratched his head and then laughed. Taking up a pick and
shovel, he went out behind the cabin and dug a trench parallel with and
about twenty paces away from the rear wall. Heaping the excavated dirt
up on the near side of the cut, he stepped back and surveyed his labor
with open satisfaction. “Roll yore fire barrel an’ be dogged,” he
muttered. “Mebby she won’t make a bully light for pot shots, though,” he
added, grinning at the execution he would do.

Taking up his tools, he went up to the place from where the gang would
roll the barrel, and made half a dozen mounds of twigs, being careful to
make them very flimsy. Then he covered them with earth and packed
them gently. The mounds looked very tempting from the view-point of a
marksman in search of earth-works, and appeared capable of stopping any
rifle ball that could be fired against them. Hopalong looked them over
critically and stepped back.

“I’d like to see th’ look on th’ face of th’ son-of-a-gun that uses them
for cover--won’t he be surprised” and he grinned gleefully as he pictured
his shots boring through them. Then he placed in the center of each a
chip or a pebble or something that he thought would show up well in the
firelight.

Returning to the cabin, he banked it up well with dirt and gravel,
and tossed a few shovelfuls up on the roof as a safety valve to his
exuberance. When he entered the door he had another idea, and fell to
work scooping out a shallow cellar, deep enough to shelter him when
lying at full length. Then he stuck his head out of the window and
grinned at the false covers with their prominent bull’s-eyes.

“When that prize-winnin’ gang of ossified idiots runs up agin’ these
fortifications they shore will be disgusted. I’ll bet four dollars an’
seven cents they’ll think their medicine-man’s no good. I hopes that
puff-eyed marshal will pick out that hump with th’ chip on it,” and he
hugged himself in anticipation.

He then cut down a sapling and fastened it to the roof and on it he
tied his neckerchief, which fluttered valiantly and with defiance in
the light breeze. “I shore hopes they appreciates that,” he remarked
whimsically, as he went inside the hut and closed the door.

The early part of the evening passed in peace, and Hopalong, tired of
watching in vain, wished for action. Midnight came, and it was not until
half an hour before dawn that he was attacked. Then a noise sent him to
a loophole, where he fired two shots at skulking figures some distance
off. A fusillade of bullets replied; one of them ripped through the door
at a weak spot and drilled a hole in a can of the everlasting peaches.
Hopalong set the can in the frying pan and then flitted from loophole to
loophole, shooting quick and straight. Several curses told him that he
had not missed, and he scooped up a finger of peach juice. Shots thudded
into the walls of his fort in an unceasing stream, and, as it grew
lighter, several whizzed through the loopholes. He kept close to the
earth and waited for the rush, and when it came sent it back, minus two
of its members.

As he reloaded his Colts a bullet passed through his shirt sleeve and he
promptly nailed the marksman. He looked out of a crack in the rear wall
and saw the top of an adjoining hill crowned with spectators, all of
whom were armed. Some time later he repulsed another attack and heard a
faint cheer from his friends on the hill. Then he saw a barrel, blazing
from end to end, roll out from the place he had so carefully covered
with mounds. It gathered speed and bounded over the rough ground,
flashed between two rocks and leaped into the trench, where it crackled
and roared in vain.

“Now,” said Hopalong, blazing at the mounds as fast as he could fire his
rifle, “we’ll just see what yu thinks of yore nice little covers.”

Yells of consternation and pain rang out in a swelling chorus, and legs
and arms jerked and flopped, one man, in his astonishment at the shot
that tore open his cheek, sitting up in plain sight of the marksman.
Roars of rage floated up from the main body of the besiegers, and the
discomfited remnant of barrel-rollers broke for real cover.

Then he stopped another rush from the front, made upon the supposition
that he was thinking only of the second detachment. A hearty cheer arose
from Tom Halloway and his friends, ensconced in their rocky position,
and it was taken up by those on the hill, who danced and yelled their
delight at the battle, to them more humorous than otherwise.

This recognition of his prowess from men of the caliber of his audience
made him feel good, and he grinned: “Gee, I’ll bet Halloway an’ his
friends is shore itchin’ to get in this,” he murmured, firing at a head
that was shown for an instant. “Wonder what Red’ll say when Jimmy tells
him--bet he’ll plow dust like a cyclone,” and Hopalong laughed, picturing
to himself the satiation of Red’s anger. “Old red-headed son-of-a-gun,”
 murmured the cowboy affectionately, “he shore can fight.”

As he squinted over the sights of his rifle his eye caught sight of a
moving body of men as they cantered over the flats about two miles away.
In his eagerness he forgot to shoot and carefully counted them. “Nine,”
 he grumbled. “Wonder what’s th’ matter?” Fearing that they were not
his friends. Then a second body numbering eight cantered into sight and
followed the first.

“Whoop! There’s th’ Red-head!” he shouted, dancing in his joy. “Now,”
 he shouted at the peach can joyously, “yu wait about thirty minutes an’
yu’ll shore reckon Hades has busted loose!”

He grabbed up his Colts, which he kept loaded for repelling rushes, and
recklessly emptied them into the bushes and between the rocks and trees,
searching every likely place for a human target. Then he slipped his
rifle in a loophole and waited for good shots, having worked off the
dangerous pressure of his exuberance.

Soon he heard a yell from the direction of the “Miner’s Rest,” and fell
to jamming cartridges into his revolvers so that he could sally out and
join in the fray by the side of Red.

The thunder of madly pounding hoofs rolled up the trail, and soon a
horse and rider shot around the corner and headed for the copse. Three
more raced close behind and then a bunch of six, followed by the rest,
spread out and searched for trouble.

Red, a Colt in each hand and hatless, stood up in his stirrups and
sent shot after shot into the fleeing mob, which he could not follow on
account of the nature of the ground. Buck wheeled and dashed down the
trail again with Red a close second, the others packed in a solid mass
and after them. At the first level stretch the newcomers swept down
and hit their enemies, going through them like a knife through cheese.
Hopalong danced up and down with rage when he could not find his horse,
and had to stand and yell, a spectator.

The fight drifted in among the buildings, where it became a series of
isolated duels, and soon Hopalong saw panic-stricken horses carrying
their riders out of the other side of the town. Then he went gunning for
the man who had rustled his horse. He was unsuccessful and returned to
his peaches.

Soon the riders came up, and when they saw Hopalong shove a peach into
his powder-grimed mouth they yelled their delight.

“Yu old maverick! Eatin’ peaches like yu was afraid we’d git some!”
 shouted Red indignantly, leaping down and running up to his pal as
though to thrash him.

Hopalong grinned pleasantly and fired a peach against Red’s eye. “I
was savin’ that one for yu, Reddie,” he remarked, as he avoided Buck’s
playful kick. “Yu fellers git to work an’ dig up some wealth--I’m
hungry.” Then he turned to Buck: “Yore th’ marshal of this town, an’ any
son-of-a-gun what don’t like it had better write. Oh, yes, here comes
Tom Halloway--‘member him?”

Buck turned and faced the miner and his hand went out with a jerk.

“Well, I’ll be locoed if I didn’t punch with yu on th’ Tin-Cup!” he
said.

“Yu shore did an’ yu was purty devilish, but that there Cassidy of yourn
beats anything I ever seen.”

“He’s a good kid,” replied Buck, glancing to where Red and Hopalong were
quarreling as to who had eaten the most pie in a contest held some years
before.

Johnny, nosing around, came upon the perforated and partially scattered
piles of earth and twigs, and vented his disgust of them by kicking them
to pieces. “Hey! Hoppy! Oh, Hoppy!” he called, “what are these things?”

Hopalong jammed Red’s hat over that person’s eyes and replied: “Oh,
them’s some loaded dice I fixed for them.”

“Yu son-of-a-gun!” sputtered Red, as he wrestled with his friend in the
exuberance of his pride. “Yu son-of-a-gun! Yu shore ought to be ashamed
to treat ‘em that way!”

“Shore,” replied Hopalong. “But I ain’t!”



CHAPTER XII. The Hospitality of Travennes


Mr. Buck Peters rode into Alkaline one bright September morning and
sought refreshment at the Emporium. Mr. Peters had just finished some
business for his employer and felt the satisfaction that comes with
the knowledge of work well done. He expected to remain in Alkaline
for several days, where he was to be joined by two of his friends and
punchers, Mr. Hopalong Cassidy and Mr. Red Connors, both of whom were
at Cactus Springs, seventy miles to the east. Mr. Cassidy and his friend
had just finished a nocturnal tour of Santa Fe and felt somewhat peevish
and dull in consequence, not to mention the sadness occasioned by
the expenditure of the greater part of their combined capital on such
foolishness as faro, roulette and wet-goods.

Mr. Peters and his friends had sought wealth in the Black Hills, where
they had enthusiastically disfigured the earth in the fond expectation
of uncovering vast stores of virgin gold. Their hopes were of an
optimistic brand and had existed until the last canister of cornmeal
flour had been emptied by Mr. Cassidy’s burro, which waited not upon
it’s master’s pleasure nor upon the ethics of the case. When Mr. Cassidy
had returned from exercising the animal and himself over two miles of
rocky hillside in the vain endeavor to give it his opinion of burros and
sundry chastisements, he was requested, as owner of the beast, to
give his counsel as to the best way of securing eighteen breakfasts.
Remembering that the animal was headed north when he last saw it and
that it was too old to eat, anyway, he suggested a plan which had
worked successfully at other times for other ends, namely, poker.
Mr. McAllister, an expert at the great American game, volunteered his
service in accordance with the spirit of the occasion and, half an hour
later, he and Mr. Cassidy drifted into Pell’s poker parlors, which
were located in the rear of a Chinese laundry, where they gathered unto
themselves the wherewithal for the required breakfasts. An hour spent
in the card room of the “Hurrah” convinced its proprietor that they had
wasted their talents for the past six weeks in digging for gold.
The proof of this permitted the departure of the outfits with their
customary elan.

At Santa Fe the various individuals had gone their respective ways, to
reassemble at the ranch in the near future, and for several days they
had been drifting south in groups of twos and threes and, like chaff
upon a stream, had eddied into Alkaline, where Mr. Peters had found
them arduously engaged in postponing the final journey. After he had
gladdened their hearts and soothed their throats by making several pithy
remarks to the bartender, with whom he established their credit, he
cautioned them against letting any one harm them and, smiling at the
humor of his warning, left abruptly.

Cactus Springs was burdened with a zealous and initiative organization
known as vigilantes, whose duty it was to extend the courtesies of the
land to cattle thieves and the like. This organization boasted of the
name of Travennes’ Terrors and of a muster roll of twenty. There was
also a boast that no one had ever escaped them which, if true, was in
many cases unfortunate. Mr. Slim Travennes, with whom Mr. Cassidy had
participated in an extemporaneous exchange of Colt’s courtesies in
Santa Fe the year before, was the head of the organization and was also
chairman of the committee on arrivals, and the two gentlemen of the
Bar-20 had not been in town an hour before he knew of it.

Being anxious to show the strangers every attention and having a keen
recollection of the brand of gun-play commanded by Mr. Cassidy, he
planned a smoother method of procedure and one calculated to permit him
to enjoy the pleasures of a good old age. Mr. Travennes knew that horse
thieves were regarded as social enemies, that the necessary proof of
their guilt was the finding of stolen animals in their possession, that
death was the penalty and that every man, whether directly concerned or
not, regarded, himself as judge, jury and executioner.

He had several acquaintances who were bound to him by his knowledge of
crimes they had committed and would could not refuse his slightest wish.
Even if they had been free agents they were not above causing the death
of an innocent man. Mr. Travennes, feeling very self-satisfied at his
cleverness, arranged to have the proof placed where it would do the most
harm and intended to take care of the rest by himself.

Mr. Connors, feeling much refreshed and very hungry, arose at daylight
the next morning, and dressing quickly, started off to feed and water
the horses. After having several tilts with the landlord about the
bucket he took his departure toward the corral at the rear. Peering
through the gate, he could hardly believe his eyes. He climbed over it
and inspected the animals at close range, and found that those which he
and his friend had ridden for the last two months were not to be
seen, but in their places were two better animals, which concerned him
greatly. Being fair and square himself, he could not understand the
change and sought enlightenment of his more imaginative and suspicious
friend.

“Hey, Hopalong!” he called, “come out here an’ see what th’ blazes has
happened!”

Mr. Cassidy stuck his auburn head out of the wounded shutter and
complacently surveyed his companion. Then he saw the horses and looked
hard.

“Quit yore foolin’, yu old cuss,” he remarked pleasantly, as he groped
around behind him with his feet, searching for his boots. “Anybody would
think yu was a little boy with yore fool jokes. Ain’t yu ever goin’ to
grow up?”

“They’ve got our bronch,” replied Mr. Connors in an injured tone.
“Honest, I ain’t kiddin’ yu,” he added for the sake of peace.

“Who has?” Came from the window, followed immediately by, “Yu’ve got my
boots!”

“I ain’t--they’re under th’ bunk,” contradicted and explained Mr.
Connors. Then, turning to the matter in his mind he replied, “I don’t
know who’s got them. If I did do yu think I’d be holdin’ hands with
myself?”

“Nobody’d accuse yu of anything like that,” came from the window,
accompanied by an overdone snicker.

Mr. Connors flushed under his accumulated tan as he remembered the
varied pleasures of Santa Fe, and he regarded the bronchos in anything
but a pleasant state of mind.

Mr. Cassidy slid through the window and approached his friend, looking
as serious as he could.

“Any tracks?” He inquired, as he glanced quickly over the ground to see
for himself.

“Not after that wind we had last night. They might have growed there for
all I can see,” growled Mr. Connors.

“I reckon we better hold a pow-wow with th’ foreman of this shack an’
find out what he knows,” suggested Mr. Cassidy. “This looks too good to
be a swap.”

Mr. Connors looked his disgust at the idea and then a light broke in
upon him. “Mebby they was hard pushed an’ wanted fresh cayuses,” he
said. “A whole lot of people get hard pushed in this country. Anyhow,
we’ll prospect th’ boss.”

They found the proprietor in his stocking feet, getting the breakfast,
and Mr. Cassidy regarded the preparations with open approval. He counted
the tin plates and found only three, and, thinking that there would be
more plates if there were others to feed, glanced into the landlord’s
room. Not finding signs of other guests, on whom to lay the blame for
the loss of his horse, he began to ask questions.

“Much trade?” He inquired solicitously.

“Yep,” replied the landlord.

Mr. Cassidy looked at the three tins and wondered if there had ever been
any more with which to supply his trade. “Been out this morning?” he
pursued.

“Nope.”

“Talks purty nigh as much as Buck,” thought Mr. Cassidy, and then said
aloud, “Anybody else here?”

“Nope.”

Mr. Cassidy lapsed into a painful and disgusted silence and his friend
tried his hand.

“Who owns a mosaic bronch, Chinee flag on th’ near side, Skillet brand?”
 asked Mr. Connors.

“Quien sabe?”

“Gosh, he can nearly keep still in two lingoes,” thought Mr. Cassidy.

“Who owns a bob-tailed pinto, saddle-galled, cast in th’ near eye, Star
Diamond brand, white stockin’ on th’ off front prop, with a habit of
scratchin’ itself every other minute?” went on Mr. Connors.

“Slim Travennes,” replied the proprietor, flopping a flapjack. Mr.
Cassidy reflectively scratched the back of his hand and looked innocent,
but his mind was working overtime.

“Who’s Slim Travennes?” Asked Mr. Connors, never having heard of that
person, owing to the reticence of his friend.

“Captain of th’ vigilantes.”

“What does he look like on th’ general run?” Blandly inquired Mr.
Cassidy, wishing to verify his suspicions. He thought of the trouble
he had with Mr. Travennes up in Santa Fe and of the reputation that
gentleman possessed. Then the fact that Mr. Travennes was the leader
of the local vigilantes came to his assistance and he was sure that
the captain had a hand in the change. All these points existed in misty
groups in his mind, but the next remark of the landlord caused them to
rush together and reveal the plot.

“Good,” said the landlord, flopping another flapjack, “and a warnin’ to
hoss thieves.

“Ahem,” coughed Mr. Cassidy and then continued, “is he a tall, lanky,
yaller-headed son-of-a-gun, with a big nose an’ lots of ears?”

“Mebby so,” answered the host.

“Urn, slopping over into bad Sioux,” thought Mr. Cassidy, and then said
aloud, “How long has he hung around this here layout?” At the same time
passing a warning glance at his companion.

The landlord straightened up. “Look here, stranger, if yu hankers after
his pedigree so all-fired hard yu had best pump him.”

“I told yu this here feller wasn’t a man what would give away all he
knowed,” lied Mr. Connors, turning to his friend and indicating the
host. “He ain’t got time for that. Anybody can see that he is a powerful
busy man. An’ then he ain’t no child.”

Mr. Cassidy thought that the landlord could tell all he knew in about
five minutes and then not break any speed records for conversation, but
he looked properly awed and impressed. “Well, yu needn’t go an’ get mad
about it! I didn’t know, did I?”

“Who’s gettin’ mad?” Pugnaciously asked Mr. Connors. After his injured
feelings had been soothed by Mr. Cassidy’s sullen silence he again
turned to the landlord.

“What did this Travennes look like when yu saw him last?” Coaxed Mr.
Connors.

“Th’ same as he does now, as yu can see by lookin’ out of th’ window.
That’s him down th’ street,” enlightened the host, thawing to the
pleasant Mr. Connors.

Mr. Cassidy adopted the suggestion and frowned. Mr. Travennes and two
companions were walking toward the corral and Mr. Cassidy once again
slid out of the window, his friend going by the door.



CHAPTER XIII. Travennes’ Discomfiture


When Mr. Travennes looked over the corral fence he was much chagrined to
see a man and a Colt both paying strict attention to his nose.

“Mornin’, Duke,” said the man with the gun. “Lose anything?”

Mr. Travennes looked back at his friends and saw Mr. Connors sitting on
a rock holding two guns. Mr. Travennes’ right and left wings were the
targets and they pitted their frowns against Mr. Connors’ smile.

“Not that I knows of,” replied Mr. Travennes, shifting his feet
uneasily.

“Find anything?” Came from Mr. Cassidy as he sidled out of the gate.

“Nope,” replied the captain of the Terrors, eying the Colt. “Are yu in
the habit of payin’ early mornin’ calls to this here corral?” persisted
Mr. Cassidy, playing with the gun.

“Ya-as. That’s my business--I’m th’ captain of the vigilantes.”

“That’s too bad,” sympathized Mr. Cassidy, moving forward a step.

Mr. Travennes looked put out and backed off. “What yu mean, stickin’ me
up this-away?” He asked indignantly.

“Yu needn’t go an’ get mad,” responded Mr. Cassidy. “Just business. Yore
cayuse an’ another shore climbed this corral fence last night an’ ate up
our bronchs, an’ I just nachurly want to know about it.”

Mr. Travennes looked his surprise and incredulity and craned his neck to
see for himself. When he saw his horse peacefully scratching itself he
swore and looked angrily up the street. Mr. Connors, behind the shack,
was hidden to the view of those on the street, and when two men ran up
at a signal from Mr. Travennes, intending to insert themselves in the
misunderstanding, they were promptly lined up with the first two by the
man on the rock.

“Sit down,” invited Mr. Connors, pushing a chunk of air out of the way
with his guns. The last two felt a desire to talk and to argue the case
on its merits, but refrained as the black holes in Mr. Connors’ guns
hinted at eruption. “Every time yu opens yore mouths yu gets closer to
th’ Great Divide,” enlightened that person, and they were childlike in
their belief.

Mr. Travennes acted as though he would like to scratch his thigh where
his Colt’s chafed him, but postponed the event and listened to Mr.
Cassidy, who was asking questions.

“Where’s our cayuses, General?”

Mr. Travennes replied that he didn’t know. He was worried, for he
feared that his captor didn’t have a secure hold on the hammer of the
ubiquitous Colt’s.

“Where’s my cayuse?” Persisted Mr. Cassidy.

“I don’t know, but I wants to ask yu how yu got mine,” replied Mr.
Travennes.

“Yu tell me how mine got out an’ I’ll tell yu how yourn got in,”
 countered Mr. Cassidy.

Mr. Connors added another to his collection before the captain replied.

“Out in this country people get in trouble when they’re found with other
folks’ cayuses,” Mr. Travennes suggested.

Mr. Cassidy looked interested and replied: “Yu shore ought to borrow
some experience, an’ there’s lots floating around. More than one man has
smoked in a powder mill, an’ th’ number of them planted who looked in
th’ muzzle of a empty gun is scandalous. If my remarks don’t perculate
right smart I’ll explain.”

Mr. Travennes looked down the street again, saw number five added to the
line-up, and coughed up chunks of broken profanity, grieving his host by
his lack of courtesy.

“Time,” announced Mr. Cassidy, interrupting the round. “I wants them
cayuses an’ I wants ‘em right now. Yu an’ me will amble off an’ get
‘em. I won’t bore yu with tellin’ yu what’ll happen if yu gets skittish.
Slope along an’ don’t be scared; I’m with yu,” assured Mr. Cassidy as he
looked over at Mr. Connors, whose ascetic soul pined for the flapjacks
of which his olfactories caught intermittent whiffs.

“Well, Red, I reckons yu has got plenty of room out here for all yu may
corral; anyhow there ain’t a whole lot more. My friend Slim an’ I are
shore going to have a devil of a time if we can t find them cussed
bronchs. Whew, them flapjacks smell like a plain trail to payday. Just
think of th’ nice maple juice we used to get up to Cheyenne on them
frosty mornings.”

“Get out of here an’ lemme alone! ‘What do yu allus want to go an’ make
a feller unhappy for? Can’t yu keep still about grub when yu knows I
ain’t had my morning’s feed yet?” Asked Mr. Connors, much aggrieved.

“Well, I’ll be back directly an’ I’ll have them cayuses or a scalp. Yu
tend to business an’ watch th’ herd. That shorthorn yearling at th’
end of th’ line”--pointing to a young man who looked capable of taking
risks--“he looks like he might take a chance an’ gamble with yu,”
 remarked Mr. Cassidy, placing Mr. Travennes in front of him and
pushing back his own sombrero. “Don’t put too much maple juice on them
flapjacks, Red,” he warned as he poked his captive in the back of the
neck as a hint to get along. Fortunately Mr. Connors’ closing remarks
are lost to history.

Observing that Mr. Travennes headed south on the quest, Mr. Cassidy
reasoned that the missing bronchos ought to be somewhere in the north,
and he postponed the southern trip until such time when they would
have more leisure at their disposal. Mr. Travennes showed a strong
inclination to shy at this arrangement, but quieted down under
persuasion, and they started off toward where Mr. Cassidy firmly
believed the North Pole and the cayuses to be.

“Yu has got quite a metropolis here,” pleasantly remarked Mr. Cassidy
as under his direction they made for a distant corral. “I can see
four different types of architecture, two of ‘em on one residence,” he
continued as they passed a wood and adobe hut. “No doubt the railroad
will put a branch down here some day an’ then yu can hire their old cars
for yore public buildings. Then when yu gets a post-office yu will shore
make Chicago hustle some to keep her end up. Let’s assay that hollow for
horse-hide; it looks promisin’.”

The hollow was investigated but showed nothing other than cactus and
baked alkali. The corral came next, and there too was emptiness. For an
hour the search was unavailing, but at the end of that time Mr. Cassidy
began to notice signs of nervousness on the part of his guest, which
grew less as they proceeded. Then Mr. Cassidy retraced their steps to
the place where the nervousness first developed and tried another way
and once more returned to the starting point.

“Yu seems to hanker for this fool exercise,” quoth Mr. Trayennes with
much sarcasm. “If yu reckons I’m fond of this locoed ramblin’ yu shore
needs enlightenment.”

“Sometimes I do get these fits,” confessed Mr. Cassidy, “an’ when I
do I’m dead sore on objections. Let’s peek in that there hut,” he
suggested.

“Huh; yore ideas of cayuses are mighty peculiar. Why don’t you look for
‘em up on those cactuses or behind that mesquite? I wouldn’t be a heap
surprised if they was roostin’ on th’ roof. They are mighty knowing
animals, cayuses. I once saw one that could figger like a schoolmarm,”
 remarked Mr. Travennes, beginning sarcastically and toning it down as he
proceeded, out of respect for his companion’s gun.

“Well, they might be in th’ shack,” replied Mr. Cassidy. “Cayuses know
so much that it takes a month to unlearn them. I wouldn’t like to bet
they ain’t in that hut, though.”

Mr. Travennes snickered in a manner decidedly uncomplimentary and began
to whistle, softly at first. The gentleman from the Bar-20 noticed that
his companion was a musician; that when he came to a strong part he
increased the tones until they bid to be heard at several hundred yards.
When Mr. Travennes had reached a most passionate part in “Juanita” and
was expanding his lungs to do it justice he was rudely stopped by the
insistent pressure of his guard’s Colt’s on the most ticklish part of
his ear.

“I shore wish yu wouldn’t strain yoreself thataway,” said Mr. Cassidy,
thinking that Mr. Travennes might be endeavoring to call assistance. “I
went an’ promised my mother on her deathbed that I wouldn’t let nobody
whistle out loud like that, an’ th’ opery is hereby stopped. Besides,
somebody might hear them mournful tones an’ think that something is th’
matter, which it ain’t.”

Mr. Travennes substituted heartfelt cursing, all of which was heavily
accented.

As they approached the hut Mr. Cassidy again tickled his prisoner and
insisted that he be very quiet, as his cayuse was very sensitive to
noise and it might be there. Mr. Cassidy still thought Mr. Travennes
might have friends in the hut and wouldn’t for the world disturb them,
as he would present a splendid target as he approached the building.



CHAPTER XIV. The Tale of a Cigarette


The open door revealed three men asleep on the earthen floor, two of
whom were Mexicans. Mr. Cassidy then for the first time felt called
upon to relieve his companion of the Colt’s which so sorely itched that
gentleman’s thigh and then disarmed the sleeping guards.

“One man an’ a half,” murmured Mr. Cassidy, it being in his creed that
it took four Mexicans to make one Texan.

In the far corner of the room were two bronchos, one of which tried in
vain to kick Mr. Cassidy, not realizing that he was ten feet away. The
noise awakened the sleepers, who sat up and then sprang to their feet,
their hands instinctively streaking to their thighs for the weapons
which peeked contentedly from the bosom of Mr. Cassidy’s open shirt. One
of the Mexicans made a lightning-like grab for the back of his neck for
the knife which lay along his spine and was shot in the front of his
neck for his trouble. The shot spoiled his aim, as the knife flashed
past Mr. Cassidy’s arm, wide by two feet, and thudded into the door
frame, where it hummed angrily.

“The only man who could do that right was th’ man who invented it, Mr.
Bowie, of Texas,” explained Mr. Cassidy to the other Mexican. Then he
glanced at the broncho, that was squealing in rage and fear at the shot,
which sounded like a cannon in the small room, and laughed.

“That’s my cayuse, all right, an’ he wasn’t up no cactus nor roostin’ on
th’ roof, neither. He’s th’ most affectionate beast I ever saw. It took
me nigh onto six months afore I could ride him without fighting him to a
standstill,” said Mr. Cassidy to his guest. Then he turned to the horse
and looked it over. “Come here! What d’yu mean, acting thataway? Yu
ragged end of nothin’ wobbling in space! Yu wall-eyed, ornery, locoed
guide to Hades! Yu won’t be so frisky when yu’ve made them seventy hot
miles between here an’ Alkaline in five hours,” he promised, as he made
his way toward the animal.

Mr. Travennes walked over to the opposite wall and took down a pouch
of tobacco which hung from a peg. He did this in a manner suggesting
ownership, and after he had deftly rolled a cigarette with one hand he
put the pouch in his pocket and, lighting up, inhaled deeply and with
much satisfaction. Mr. Cassidy turned around and glanced the group over,
wondering if the tobacco had been left in the hut on a former call.

“Did yu find yore makings?” He asked, with a note of congratulations in
his voice.

“Yep. Want one?” Asked Mr. Travennes.

Mr. Cassidy ignored the offer and turned to the guard whom he had found
asleep.

“Is that his tobacco?” He asked, and the guard, anxious to make
everything run smoothly, told the truth and answered:

“Shore. He left it here last night,” whereupon Mr. Travennes swore and
Mr. Cassidy smiled grimly.

“Then yu knows how yore cayuse got in an’ how mine got out,” said the
latter. “I wish yu would explain,” he added, fondling his Colts.

Mr. Travennes frowned and remained silent.

“I can tell yu, anyhow,” continued Mr. Cassidy, still smiling, but his
eyes and jaw belied the smile. “Yu took them cayuses out because yu
wanted yourn to be found in their places. Yu remembered Santa Fe an’
it rankled in yu. Not being man enough to notify me that yu’d shoot on
sight an’ being afraid my friends would get yu if yu plugged me on th’
sly, yu tried to make out that me an’ Red rustled yore cayuses. That
meant a lynching with me an’ Red in th’ places of honor. Yu never saw
Red afore, but yu didn’t care if he went with me. Yu don’t deserve fair
play, but I’m going to give it to yu because I don’t want anybody to say
that any of th’ Bar-20 ever murdered a man, not even a skunk like yu.
My friends have treated me too square for that. Yu can take this gun an
yu can do one of three things with it, which are: walk out in th’ open
a hundred paces an’ then turn an walk toward me--after you face me yu can
set it a-going whenever yu want to; the second is, put it under yore hat
an’ I’ll put mine an’ th’ others back by the cayuses. Then we’ll toss
up an’ th’ lucky man gets it to use as he wants. Th’ third is, shoot
yourself.”

Mr. Cassidy punctuated the close of his ultimatum by handing the weapon,
muzzle first, and, because the other might be an adept at “twirling,”
 he kept its recipient covered during the operation. Then, placing his
second Colt’s with the captured weapons, he threw them through the door,
being very careful not to lose the drop on his now armed prisoner.

Mr. Travennes looked around and wiped the sweat from his forehead, and
being an observant gentleman, took the proffered weapon and walked to
the east, directly toward the sun, which at this time was halfway to the
meridian. The glare of its straight rays and those reflected from the
shining sand would, in a measure, bother Mr. Cassidy and interfere with
the accuracy of his aim, and he was always thankful for small favors.

Mr. Travennes was the possessor of accurate knowledge regarding the lay
of the land, and the thought came to him that there was a small but deep
hole out toward the east and that it was about the required distance
away. This had been dug by a man who had labored all day in the burning
sun to make an oven so that he could cook mesquite root in the manner
he had seen the Apaches cook it. Mr. Travennes blessed hobbies, specific
and general, stumbled thoughtlessly and disappeared from sight as the
surprised Mr. Cassidy started forward to offer his assistance.

Upon emphatic notification from the man in the hole that his help was
not needed, Mr. Cassidy wheeled around and in great haste covered the
distance separating him from the hut, whereupon Mr. Travennes swore
in self-congratulation and regret. Mr. Cassidy’s shots barked a cactus
which leaned near Mr. Travennes’ head and flecked several clouds of
alkali near that person’s nose, causing him to sneeze, duck, and grin.

“It’s his own gun,” grumbled Mr. Cassidy as a bullet passed through his
sombrero, having in mind the fact that his opponent had a whole belt
full of .44’s. If it had been Mr. Cassidy’s gun that had been handed over
he would have enjoyed the joke on Mr. Travennes, who would have had five
cartridges between himself and the promised eternity, as he would have
been unable to use the .44’s in Mr. Cassidy’s .45, while the latter would
have gladly consented to the change, having as he did an extra .45. Never
before had Mr. Cassidy looked with reproach upon his .45 caliber Colt’s,
and he sighed as he used it to notify Mr. Travennes that arbitration
was not to be considered, which that person indorsed, said indorsement
passing so close to Mr. Cassidy’s ear that he felt the breeze made by
it.

“He’s been practicin’ since I plugged him up in Santa Fe,” thought Mr.
Cassidy, as he retired around the hut to formulate a plan of campaign.

Mr. Travennes sang “Hi-le, hi-lo,” and other selections, principally
others, and wondered how Mr. Cassidy could hoist him out. The slack of
his belt informed him that he was in the middle of a fast, and suggested
starvation as the derrick that his honorable and disgusted adversary
might employ.

Mr. Cassidy, while figuring out his method of procedure, absent-mindedly
jabbed a finger in his eye, and the ensuing tears floated an idea to
him. He had always had great respect for ricochet shots since his friend
Skinny Thompson had proved their worth on the hides of Sioux. If he
could disturb the sand and convey several grains of it to Mr. Travennes’
eyes the game would be much simplified. While planning for the proposed
excavation, a la Colt’s, he noticed several stones lying near at hand,
and a new and better scheme presented itself for his consideration.
If Mr. Travennes could be persuaded to get out of--well, it was worth
trying.

Mr. Cassidy lined up his gloomy collection and tersely ordered them to
turn their backs to him and to stay in that position, the suggestion
being that if they looked around they wouldn’t be able to dodge quickly
enough. He then slipped bits of his lariat over their wrists and ankles,
tying wrists to ankles and each man to his neighbor. That finished
to his satisfaction, he dragged them in the hut to save them from the
burning rays of the sun.

Having performed this act of kindness, he crept along the hot sand,
taking advantage of every bit of cover afforded, and at last he reached
a point within a hundred feet of the besieged. During the trip
Mr. Travennes sang to his heart’s content, some of the words being
improvised for the occasion and were not calculated to increase Mr.
Cassidy’s respect for his own wisdom if he should hear them. Mr. Cassidy
heard, however, and several fragments so forcibly intruded on his peace
of mind that he determined to put on the last verse himself and to suit
himself.

Suddenly Mr. Travennes poked his head up and glanced at the hut. He was
down again so quickly that there was no chance for a shot at him and
he believed that his enemy was still sojourning in the rear of the
building, which caused him to fear that he was expected to live on
nothing as long as he could and then give himself up. Just to show his
defiance he stretched himself out on his back and sang with all his
might, his sombrero over his face to keep the glare of the sun out of
his eyes.

He was interrupted, however, forgot to finish a verse as he had
intended, and jumped to one side as a stone bounced off his leg. Looking
up, he saw another missile curve into his patch of sky and swiftly bear
down on him. He avoided it by a hair’s breadth and wondered what
had happened. Then what Mr. Travennes thought was a balloon, being
unsophisticated in matters pertaining to aerial navigation, swooped down
upon him and smote him on the shoulder and also bounced off.

Mr. Travennes hastily laid music aside and took up elocution as he
dodged another stone and wished that the mesquite-loving crank had put
on a roof. In evading the projectile he let his sombrero appear on a
level with the desert, and the hum of a bullet as it passed through his
head-gear and into the opposite wall made him wish that there had been
constructed a cellar, also.

“Hi-le, hi-lo” intruded upon his ear, as Mr. Cassidy got rid of the
surplus of his heart’s joy. Another stone the size of a man’s foot
shaved Mr. Travennes’ ear and he hugged the side of the hole nearest his
enemy.

“Hibernate, blank yu!” derisively shouted the human catapult as he
released a chunk of sandstone the size of a quail. “Draw in yore laigs
an’ buck,” was his God-speed to the missile.

“Hey, yu!” indignantly yowled Mr. Travennes from his defective storm
cellar. “Don’t yu know any better’n to heave things thataway?”

“Hi-le, hi-lo,” sang Mr. Cassidy, as another stone soared aloft in the
direction of the complainant. Then he stood erect and awaited results
with a Colt’s in his hand leveled at the rim of the hole. A hat waved
and an excited voice bit off chunks of expostulation and asked for an
armistice. Then two hands shot up and Mr. Travennes, sore and disgusted
and desperate, popped his head up an blinked at Mr. Cassidy’s gun.

“Yu was fillin’ th’ hole up,” remarked Mr. Travennes in an accusing
tone, hiding the real reason for his evacuation. “In a little while I’d
a been th’ top of a pile instead of th’ bottom of a hole,” he announced,
crawling out and rubbing his head.

Mr. Cassidy grinned and ordered his prisoner to one side while be
secured the weapon which lay in the hole. Having obtained it as quickly
as possible be slid it in his open shirt and clambered out again.

“Yu remind me of a feller I used to know,” remarked Mr. Travennes, as he
led the way to the hut, trying not to limp. “Only he throwed dynamite.
That was th’ way he cleared off chaparral--blowed it off. He got so used
to heaving away everything he lit that he spoiled three pipes in two
days.”

Mr. Cassidy laughed at the fiction and then became grave as he pictured
Mr. Connors sitting on the rock and facing down a line of men, any
one of whom was capable of his destruction if given the interval of a
second.

When they arrived at the hut Mr. Cassidy observed that the prisoners had
moved considerably. There was a cleanly swepttrail four yards long where
they had dragged themselves, and they sat in the end nearer the guns.
Mr. Cassidy smiled and fired close to the Mexican’s ear, who lost in one
frightened jump a little of what he had so laboriously gained.

“Yu’ll wear out yore pants,” said Mr. Cassidy, and then added grimly,
“an’ my patience.”

Mr. Travennes smiled and thought of the man who so ably seconded Mr.
Cassidy’s efforts and who was probably shot by this time. The outfit of
the Bar-20 was so well known throughout the land that he was aware the
name of the other was Red Connors. An unreasoning streak of sarcasm
swept over him and he could not resist the opportunity to get in a stab
at his captor.

“Mebby yore pard has wore out somebody’s patience, too,” said Mr.
Travennes, suggestively and with venom.

His captor wheeled toward him, his face white with passion, and Mr.
Travennes shrank back and regretted the words.

“I ain’t shootin’ dogs this here trip,” said Mr. Cassidy, trembling with
scorn and anger, “so yu can pull yourself together. I’ll give yu another
chance, but yu wants to hope almighty hard that Red is O. K. If he
ain’t, I’ll blow yu so many ways at once that if yu sprouts yu’ll make
a good acre of weeds. If he is all right yu’d better vamoose this range,
for there won’t be no hole for yu to crawl into next time. What friends
yu have left will have to tote yu off an’ plant yu,” he finished with
emphasis. He drove the horses outside, and, after severing the bonds on
his prisoners, lined them up.

“Yu,” he began, indicating all but Mr. Travennes, “yu amble right smart
toward Canada,” pointing to the north. “Keep a-going till yu gets far
enough away so a Colt won’t find yu.” Here he grinned with delight as he
saw his Sharp’s rifle in its sheath on his saddle and, drawing it
forth, he put away his Colts and glanced at the trio, who were already
industriously plodding northward. “Hey!” he shouted, and when they
sullenly turned to see what new idea he had found he gleefully waved his
rifle at them and warned them further: “This is a Sharp’s an’ it’s good
for half a mile, so don’t stop none too soon.”

Having sent them directly away from their friends so they could not have
him “potted” on the way back, he mounted his broncho and indicated to
Mr. Travennes that he, too, was to ride, watching that that person did
not make use of the Winchester which Mr. Connors was foolish enough to
carry around on his saddle. Winchesters were Mr. Cassidy’s pet aversion
and Mr. Connors’ most prized possession, this difference of opinion
having upon many occasions caused hasty words between them. Mr. Connors,
being better with his Winchester than Mr. Cassidy was with his Sharp’s,
had frequently proved that his choice was the wiser, but Mr. Cassidy
was loyal to the Sharp’s and refused to be convinced. Now, however,
the Winchester became pregnant with possibilities and, therefore, Mr.
Travennes rode a few yards to the left and in advance, where the rifle
was in plain sight, hanging as it did on the right of Mr. Connors’
saddle, which Mr. Travennes graced so well.

The journey back to town was made in good time and when they came to
the buildings Mr. Cassidy dismounted and bade his companion do likewise,
there being too many corners that a fleeing rider could take advantage
of. Mr. Travennes felt of his bumps and did so, wishing hard things
about Mr. Cassidy.



CHAPTER XV. The Penalty


While Mr. Travennes had been entertained in the manner narrated, Mr.
Connors had passed the time by relating stale jokes to the uproarious
laughter of his extremely bored audience, who had heard the aged efforts
many times since they had first seen the light of day, and most of whom
earnestly longed for a drink. The landlord, hearing the hilarity, had
taken advantage of the opportunity offered to see a free show. Not being
able to see what the occasion was for the mirth, he had pulled on his
boots and made his way to the show with a flapjack in the skillets
which, in his haste, he had forgotten to put down. He felt sure that he
would be entertained, and he was not disappointed. He rounded the corner
and was enthusiastically welcomed by the hungry Mr. Connors, whose
ubiquitous guns coaxed from the skillet its dyspeptic wad.

“Th’ saints be praised!” ejaculated Mr. Connors as a matter of form,
not having a very clear idea of just what saints were, but he knew what
flapjacks were and greedily overcame the heroic resistance of the one
provided by chance and his own guns. As he rolled his eyes in ecstatic
content the very man Mr. Cassidy had warned him against suddenly arose
and in great haste disappeared around the corner of the corral, from
which point of vantage he vented his displeasure at the treatment he had
received by wasting six shots at the mortified Mr. Connors.

“Steady!” sang out that gentleman as the line-up wavered. “He’s
a precedent to hell for yu fellers! Don’t yu get ambitious, none
whatever.” Then he wondered how long it would take the fugitive to
secure a rifle and return to release the others by drilling him at long
range.

His thoughts were interrupted by the vision of a red head that climbed
into view over a rise a short distance off and he grinned his delight as
Mr. Cassidy loomed up, jaunty and triumphant. Mr. Cassidy was executing
calisthenics with a Colt in the rear of Mr. Travennes’ neck and was
leading the horses.

Mr. Connors waved the skillet and his friend grinned his congratulations
at what the token signified.

“I see yu got some more,” said Mr. Cassidy, as he went down the line-up
from the rear and collected nineteen weapons of various makes and
conditions, this number being explained by the fact that all but one of
the prisoners wore two. Then he added the five that had kicked against
his ribs ever since he had left the hut, and carefully threaded the end
of his lariat through the trigger guards.

“Looks like we stuck up a government supply mule, Red,” he remarked,
as he fastened the whole collection to his saddle. “Fourteen colts, six
Merwin-Hulbert’s, three Prescott, an’ one puzzle,” he added, examining
the puzzle. “Made in Germany, it says, and it shore looks like it. It’s
got little pins stickin’ out of th’ cylinder, like you had to swat it
with a hammer or a rock, or somethin’ to make it go off. Must be damn
dangerous, to most anybody around. Looks more like a cactus than a
six-shooter-gosh, it’s a ten-shooter! I allus said them Dutchmen was
bloody-minded cusses. Think of bein’ able to shoot yoreself ten times
before th’ blame thing stops!” Then looking at the line-up for the owner
of the weapon, he laughed at the woeful countenances displayed. “Did
they sidle in by companies or squads?” He asked.

“By twos, mostly. Then they parade-rested an’ got discharged from duty.
I had eleven, but one got homesick, or disgusted, or something, an’
deserted. It was that cussed flapjack,” confessed and explained Mr.
Connors.

“What!” said Mr. Cassidy in a loud voice. “Got away! Well, we’ll have to
make our get-away plumb sudden or we’ll never go.”

At this instant the escaped man again began his bombardment from the
corner of the corral and Mr. Cassidy paused, indignant at the fusillade
which tore up the dust at his feet. He looked reproachfully at Mr.
Connors and then circled out on the plain until he caught a glimpse of
a fleeing cow-puncher, whose back rapidly grew smaller in the
fast-increasing distance.

“That’s yore friend, Red,” said Mr. Cassidy as he returned from his
reconnaissance. “He’s that short-horn yearling. Mebby he’ll come back
again,” he added hopefully. “Anyhow, we’ve got to move. He’ll collect
reinforcements an’ mebby they all won’t shoot like him. Get up on yore
Clarinda an’ hold th’ fort for me,” he ordered, pushing the farther
horse over to his friend. Mr. Connors proved that an agile man can mount
a restless horse and not lose the drop, and backed off three hundred
yards, deftly substituting his Winchester for the Colts. Then Mr.
Cassidy likewise mounted with his attention riveted elsewhere and backed
off to the side of his companion.

The bombardment commenced again from the corral, but this time Mr.
Connors’ rifle slid around in his lap and exploded twice. The bellicose
gentleman of the corral yelled in pain and surprise and vanished.

“Purty good for a Winchester,” said Mr. Cassidy in doubtful
congratulation.

“That’s why I got him,” snapped Mr. Connors in brief reply, and then
he laughed. “Is them th’ vigilantes what never let a man get away?” He
scornfully asked, backing down the street and patting his Winchester.

“Well, Red, they wasn’t all there. They was only twelve all told,”
 excused Mr. Cassidy. “An’ then we was two,” he explained, as he wished
the collection of six-shooters was on Mr. Connors’ horse so they
wouldn’t bark his shin.

“An we still are,” corrected Mr. Connors, as they wheeled and galloped
for Alkaline.

As the sun sank low on the horizon Mr. Peters finished ordering
provisions at the general store, the only one Alkaline boasted, and
sauntered to the saloon where he had left his men. He found diem a few
dollars richer, as they had borrowed ten dollars from the bartender on
their reputations as poker players and had used the money to stake Mr.
McAllister in a game against the local poker champion.

“Has Hopalong an’ Red showed up yet?” Asked Mr. Peters, frowning at the
delay already caused.

“Nope,” replied Johnny Nelson, as he paused from tormenting Billy
Williams.

At that minute the doorway was darkened and Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Connors
entered and called for refreshments. Mr. Cassidy dropped a huge bundle
of six-shooters on the floor, making caustic remarks regarding their
utility.

“What’s th’ matter?” Inquired Mr. Peters of Mr. Cassidy. “Yu looks mad
an’ anxious. An’ where in blazes did yu corral them guns?”

Mr. Cassidy drank deep and then reported with much heat what had
occurred at Cactus Springs and added that he wanted to go back and wipe
out the town, said desire being luridly endorsed by Mr. Connors.

“Why, shore,” said Mr. Peters, “we’ll all go. Such doings must be
stopped instanter.” Then he turned to the assembled outfits and asked
for a vote, which was unanimous for war.

Shortly afterward eighteen angry cowpunchers rode to the east, two
red-haired gentlemen well in front and urging speed. It was 8 P.M. when
they left Alkaline, and the cool of the night was so delightful that the
feeling of ease which came upon them made them lax and they lost three
hours in straying from the dim trail. At eight o’clock the next morning
they came in sight of their destination and separated into two squads,
Mr. Cassidy leading the northern division and Mr. Connors the one which
circled to the south. The intention was to attack from two directions,
thus taking the town from front and rear.

Cactus Springs lay gasping in the excessive heat and the vigilantes who
had toed Mr. Connors’ line the day before were lounging in the shade of
the “Palace” saloon, telling what they would do if they ever faced the
same man again. Half a dozen sympathizers offered gratuitous condolence
and advice and all were positive that they knew where Mr. Cassidy and
Mr. Connors would go when they died.

The rolling thunder of madly pounding hoofs disturbed their post-mortem
and they arose in a body to flee from half their number, who, guns in
hands, charged down upon them through clouds of sickly white smoke.
Travennes’ Terrors were minus many weapons and they could not be
expected to give a glorious account of themselves. Windows rattled and
fell in and doors and walls gave off peculiar sounds as they grew full
of holes. Above the riot rattled the incessant crack of Colt’s and
Winchester, emphasized at close intervals by the assertive roar of
buffalo guns. Off to the south came another rumble of hoofs and Mr.
Connors, leading the second squad,--arrived to participate in the
payment of the debt.

Smoke spurted from windows and other points of vantage and hung wavering
in the heated air. The shattering of woodwork told of heavy slugs
finding their rest, and the whines that grew and diminished in the air
sang the course of .45s.

While the fight raged hottest Mr. Nelson sprang from his horse and ran
to the “Palace,” where he collected and piled a heap of tinder like
wood, and soon the building burst out in flames, which, spreading, swept
the town from end to end.

Mr. Cassidy fired slowly and seemed to be waiting for something. Mr.
Connors laid aside his hot Winchester and devoted his attention to his
Colts. A spurt of flame and smoke leaped from the window of a ‘dobe
hut and Mr. Connors sat down, firing as he went. A howl from the window
informed him that he had made a hit, and Mr. Cassidy ran out and dragged
him to the shelter of a near-by bowlder and asked how much he was hurt.

“Not much--in the calf,” grunted Mr. Connors. “He was a bad shot--must
have been the cuss that got away yesterday,” speculated the injured
man as he slowly arose to his feet. Mr. Cassidy dissented from force of
habit and returned to his station. Mr. Travennes, who was sleeping
late that morning, coughed and fought for air in his sleep, awakened in
smoke, rubbed his eyes to make sure and, scorning trousers and shirt,
ran clad in his red woolen undergarments to the corral, where he mounted
his scared horse and rode for the desert and safety.

Mr. Cassidy, swearing at the marksmanship of a man who fired at his head
and perforated his sombrero, saw a crimson rider sweep down upon him,
said rider being heralded by a blazing .44.

“Gosh!” ejaculated Mr. Cassidy, scarcely believing his eyes. “Oh, it’s
my friend Slim going to hades,” he remarked to himself in audible and
relieved explanation. Mr. Cassidy’s Colts cracked a protest and then he
joined Mr. Peters and the others and with them fought his way out of the
flame-swept town of Cactus Springs.

An hour later Mr. Connors glanced behind him at the smoke silhouetted on
the horizon and pushed his way to where Mr. Cassidy rode in silence. Mr.
Connors grinned at his friend of the red hair, who responded in the same
manner.

“Did yu see Slim?” Casually inquired Mr. Connors, looking off to the
south.

Mr. Cassidy sat upright in his saddle and felt of his Colts. “Yes,” he
replied, “I saw him.”

Mr. Connors thereupon galloped on in silence.



CHAPTER XVI. Rustlers on the Range


The affair at Cactus Springs had more effect on the life at the Bar-20
than was realized by the foreman. News travels rapidly, and certain
men, whose attributes were not of the sweetest, heard of it and swore
vengeance, for Slim Travennes had many friends, and the result of his
passing began to show itself. Outlaws have as their strongest defense
the fear which they inspire, and little time was lost in making
reprisals, and these caused Buck Peters to ride into Buckskin one bright
October morning and then out the other side of the town. Coming to
himself with a start he looked around shamefacedly and retraced his
course. He was very much troubled, for, as foreman of the Bar-20, he
had many responsibilities, and when things ceased to go aright he was
expected not only to find the cause of the evil, but also the remedy.
That was what he was paid seventy dollars a month for and that was what
he had been endeavoring to do. As yet, however, he had only accomplished
what the meanest cook’s assistant had done. He knew the cause of his
present woes to be rustlers (cattle thieves), and that was all.

Riding down the wide, quiet street, he stopped and dismounted before the
ever-open door of a ramshackle, one-story frame building. Tossing the
reins over the flattened ears of his vicious pinto he strode into the
building and leaned easily against the bar, where he drummed with his
fingers and sank into a reverie.

A shining bald pate, bowed over an open box, turned around and
revealed a florid face, set with two small, twinkling blue eyes, as the
proprietor, wiping his hands on his trousers, made his way to Buck’s end
of the bar.

“Mornin’, Buck. How’s things?”

The foreman, lost in his reverie, continued to stare out the door.

“Mornin’,” repeated the man behind the bar. “How’s things?”

“Oh!” ejaculated the foreman, smiling, “purty cussed.”

“Anything flew?”

“Th’ C-80 lost another herd last night.”

His companion swore and placed a bottle at the foreman’s elbow, but
the latter shook his head. “Not this mornin’--I’ll try one of them vile
cigars, however.”

“Them cigars are th’ very best that--” began the proprietor, executing
the order.

“Oh, heck!” exclaimed Buck with weary disgust. “Yu don’t have to palaver
none: I shore knows all that by heart.”

“Them cigars--” repeated the proprietor.

“Yas, yas; them cigars--I know all about them cigars. Yu gets them for
twenty dollars a thousand an’ hypnotizes us into payin’ yu a hundred,”
 replied the foreman, biting off the end ‘of his weed. Then he stared
moodily and frowned. “I wonder why it is?” He asked. “We punchers like
good stuff an’ we pays good prices with good money. What do we get? Why,
cabbage leaves an’ leather for our smokin’ an’ alcohol an’ extract for
our drink. Now, up in Kansas City we goes to a sumptious layout, pays
less an’ gets bang-up stuff. If yu smelled one of them K. C. cigars yu’d
shore have to ask what it was, an’ as for the liquor, why, yu’d think
St. Peter asked yu to have one with him. It’s shore wrong somewhere.”

“They have more trade in K. C.,” suggested the proprietor.

“An’ help, an’ taxes, an’ a license, an’ rent, an’ brass, cut glass,
mahogany an’ French mirrors,” countered the foreman.

“They have more trade,” reiterated the man with the cigars.

“Forty men spend thirty dollars apiece with yu every month.” The
proprietor busied himself under the bar. “Yu’ll feel better to-morrow.
Anyway, what do yu care, yu won’t lose yore job,” he said, emerging.

Buck looked at him and frowned, holding back the words which formed in
anger. What was the use, he thought, when every man judged the world in
his own way.

“Have yu seen any of th’ boys?” He asked, smiling again.

“Nary a boy. Who do yu reckon’s doin’ all this rustlin’?”

“I’m reckonin’, not shoutin’,” responded the foreman.

The proprietor looked out the window and grinned: “Here comes one of
yourn now.”

The newcomer stopped his horse in a cloud of dust, playfully kicked the
animal in the ribs and entered, dusting the alkali from him with a huge
sombrero. Then he straightened up and sniffed: “What’s burnin’?” he
asked, simulating alarm. Then he noticed the cigar between the teeth of
his foreman and grinned: “Gee, but yore a brave man, Buck.”

“Hullo, Hopalong,” said the foreman. “Want a smoke?” Waving his hand
toward the box on the bar.

Mr. Hopalong Cassidy side-stepped and began to roll a cigarette: “Shore,
but I’ll burn my own--I know what it is.”

“What was yu doin’ to my cayuse afore yu come in?” Asked Buck.

“Nothin’,” replied the newcomer. “That was mine what I kicked in th’
corrugations.”

“How is it yore ridin’ the calico?” Asked the foreman. “I thought yu was
dead stuck on that piebald.”

“That piebald’s a goat; he’s beein livin’ off my pants lately,”
 responded Hopalong. “Every time I looks th’ other way he ambles over and
takes a bite at me. Yu just wait ‘til this rustler business is roped,
an’ branded, an’ yu’ll see me eddicate that blessed scrapheap into
eatin’ grass again.” He swiped Billy’s shirt th’ other day--took it right
off th’ corral wall, where Billy’s left it to dry. Then, seeing Buck
raise his eyebrows, he explained: “Shore, he washed it again. That makes
three times since last fall.”

The proprietor laughed and pushed out the ever-ready bottle, but
Hopalong shoved it aside and told the reason: “Ever since I was up to K.
C. I’ve been spoiled. I’m drinkin’ water an’ slush.”

“For Pete’s sake, has any more of yu fellers been up to K. C.?” queried
the proprietor in alarm.

“Shore: Red an’ Billy was up there, too.” responded Hopalong. “Red’s got
a few remarks to shout to yu about yore pain-killer. Yu better send for
some decent stuff afore he comes to town,” he warned.

Buck swung away from the bar and looked at his dead cigar. Then he
turned to Hopalong. “What did you find?” He asked.

“Same old story: nice wide trail up to th’ Staked Plain--then nothin’.”

“It shore beats me,” soliloquized the foreman. “It shore beats me.”

“Think it was Tamale Jose’s old gang?” Asked Hopalong.

“If it was they took th’ wrong trail home--that ain’t th’ way to Mexico.”

Hopalong tossed aside his half-smoked cigarette. “Well, come on home;
what’s th’ use stewin’ over it? It’ll come out all O.K. in th’ wash.”
 Then he laughed: “There won’t be no piebald waitin’ for it.”

Evading Buck’s playful blow he led the way to the door, and soon
they were a cloud of dust on the plain. The proprietor, despairing of
customers under the circumstances, absent-mindedly wiped oil on the bar,
and sought his chair for a nap, grumbling about the way his trade had
fallen off, for there were few customers, and those who did call were
heavy with loss of sleep, and with anxiety, and only paused long enough
to toss off their drink. On the ranges there were occurrences which
tried men’s souls.

For several weeks cattle had been disappearing from the ranges and the
losses had long since passed the magnitude of those suffered when Tamale
Jose and his men had crossed the Rio Grande and repeatedly levied heavy
toll on the sleek herds of the Pecos Valley. Tamale Jose had raided once
too often, and prosperity and plenty had followed on the ranches and the
losses had been forgotten until the fall round-ups clearly showed that
rustlers were again at work.

Despite the ingenuity of the ranch owners and the unceasing vigilance
and night rides of the cow-punchers, the losses steadily increased until
there was promised a shortage which would permit no drive to the western
terminals of the railroad that year. For two weeks the banks of the Rio
Grande had been patrolled and sharp-eyed men searched daily for trails
leading southward, for it was not strange to think that the old raiders
were again at work, notwithstanding the fact that they had paid dearly
for their former depredations.

The patrols failed to discover anything out of the ordinary and the
searchers found no trails. Then it was that the owners and foremen of
the four central ranches met in Cowan’s saloon and sat closeted together
for all of one hot afternoon.

The conference resulted in riders being dispatched from all the ranches
represented, and one of the couriers, Mr. Red Connors, rode north, his
destination being far-away Montana. All the ranches within a radius of
a hundred miles received letters and blanks and one week later the Pecos
Valley Cattle-Thief Elimination Association was organized and working,
with Buck as Chief Ranger.

One of the outcomes of Buck’s appointment was a sudden and marked
immigration into the affected territory. Mr. Connors returned from
Montana with Mr. Frenchy McAllister, the foreman of the Tin-Cup, who was
accompanied by six of his best and most trusted men. Mr. McAllister and
party were followed by Mr. You-bet Somes, foreman of the Two-X-Two of
Arizona, and five of his punchers, and later on the same day Mr. Pie
Willis, accompanied by Mr. Billy Jordan and his two brothers, arrived
from the Panhandle. The O-Bar-O, situated close to the town of Muddy
Wells, increased its payroll by the addition of nine men, each of whom
bore the written recommendation of the foreman of the Bar-20. The C-80,
Double Arrow and the Three Triangle also received heavy reinforcements,
and even Carter, owner of the Barred Horseshoe, far removed from the
zone of the depredations, increased his outfits by half their regular
strength.

Buck believed that if a thing was worth doing at all that it was worth
doing very well, and his acquaintances were numerous and loyal. The
collection of individuals that responded to the call were noteworthy
examples of “gun-play” and their aggregate value was at par with twice
their numbers in cavalry.


Each ranch had one large ranch-house and numerous line-houses scattered
along the boundaries. These latter, while intended as camps for the
outriders, had been erected in the days, none too remote, when Apaches,
Arrapahoes, and even Cheyennes raided southward, and they had been
constructed with the idea of defense paramount. Upon more than one
occasion a solitary line-rider had retreated within their adobe walls
and had successfully resisted all the cunning and ferocity of a score
of paint-bedaubed warriors and, when his outfit had rescued him, emerged
none the worse for his ordeal.

On the Bar-20, Buck placed these houses in condition to withstand seige.
Twin barrels of water stood in opposite corners, provisions were stored
on the hanging shelves and the bunks once again reveled in untidiness.
Spare rifles, in pattern ranging from long-range Sharp’s and buffalo
guns to repeating rifles, leaned against the walls, and unbroken boxes
of cartridges were piled above the bunks. Instead of the lonesome
outrider, he placed four men to each house, two of whom were to remain
at home and hold the house while their companions rode side by side on
their multi-mile beat.

There were six of these houses and, instead of returning each night to
the same line-house, the outriders kept on and made the circuit,
thus keeping every one well informed and breaking the monotony. These
measures were expected to cause the rustling operations to cease at
once, but the effect was to shift the losses to the Double Arrow, the
line-houses of which boasted only one puncher each. Unreasonable economy
usually defeats its object.

The Double Arrow was restricted on the north by the Staked Plain, which
in itself was considered a superb defense. The White Sand Hills formed
its eastern boundary and were thought to be second only to the northern
protection. The only reason that could be given for the hitherto
comparative immunity from the attacks of the rustlers was that its
cattle clung to the southern confines where there were numerous springs,
thus making imperative the crossing of its territory to gain the herds.

It was in line-house No. 3, most remote of all, that Johnny Redmond
fought his last fight and was found face down in the half ruined house
with a hole in the back of his head, which proved that one man was
incapable of watching all the loop holes in four walls at once. There
must have been some casualties on the other side, for Johnny was reputed
to be very painstaking in his “gunplay,” and the empty shells which lay
scattered on the floor did not stand for as many ciphers, of that his
foreman was positive.

He was buried the day he was found, and the news of his death ran
quickly from ranch to ranch and made more than one careless puncher
arise and pace the floor in anger. More men came to the Double Arrow and
its sentries were doubled. The depredations continued, however, and
one night a week later Frank Swift reeled into the ranch-house and fell
exhausted across the supper table. Rolling hoof-beats echoed flatly
and died away on the plain, but the men who pursued them returned empty
handed. The wounds of the unfortunate were roughly dressed and in his
delirium he recounted the fight. His companion was found literally shot
to pieces twenty paces from the door. One wall was found blown in, and
this episode, when coupled with the use of dynamite, was more than could
be tolerated.

When Buck had been informed of this he called to him Hopalong Cassidy,
Red Connors and Frenchy McAllister, and the next day the three men rode
north and the contingents of the ranches represented in the Association
were divided into two squads, one of which was to remain at home and
guard the ranches; the other, to sleep fully dressed and armed and never
to stray far from their ranch-houses and horses. These latter would be
called upon to ride swiftly and far when the word came.



CHAPTER XVII. Mr. Trendley Assumes Added Importance


That the rustlers were working under a well organized system was
evident. That they were directed by a master of the game was ceaselessly
beaten into the consciousness of the Association by the diversity, dash
and success of their raids. No one, save the three men whom they had
destroyed, had ever seen them. But, like Tamale Jose, they had raided
once too often.

Mr. Trendley, more familiarly known to men as “Slippery,” was the
possessor of a biased conscience, if any at all. Tall, gaunt and
weather-beaten and with coal-black eyes set deep beneath hairless
eyebrows, he was sinister and forbidding. Into his forty-five years of
existence he had crowded a century of experience, and unsavory rumors
about him existed in all parts of the great West. From Canada to Mexico
and from Sacramento to Westport his name stood for brigandage. His
operations had been conducted with such consummate cleverness that in
all the accusations there was lacking proof.

Only once had he erred, and then in the spirit of pure deviltry and in
the days of youthful folly, and his mistake was a written note. He
was even thought by some to have been concerned in the Mountain Meadow
Massacre; others thought him to have been the leader of the band of
outlaws that had plundered along the Santa Fe Trail in the late ‘60’s.
In Montana and Wyoming he was held responsible for the outrages of the
band that had descended from the Hole-in-the-Wall territory and for over
a hundred miles carried murder and theft that shamed as being weak the
most assiduous efforts of zealous Cheyennes. It was in this last raid
that he had made the mistake and it was in this raid that Frenchy
McAllister had lost his wife.

When Frenchy had first been approached by Buck as to his going in search
of the rustlers he had asked to go alone. This had been denied by the
foreman of the Bar-20 because the men whom he had selected to accompany
the scout were of such caliber that their presence could not possibly
form a hindrance. Besides being his most trusted friends they were
regarded by him as being the two best exponents of “gun-play” that the
West afforded. Each was a specialist: Hopalong, expert beyond belief
with his Colt’s six-shooters, was only approached by Red, whose
Winchester was renowned for its accuracy. The three made a perfect
combination, as the rashness of the two younger men would be under the
controlling influence of a man who could retain his coolness of mind
under all circumstances.

When Buck and Frenchy looked into each other’s eyes there sprang into
the mind of each the same name--Slippery Trendley. Both had spent the
greater part of a year in fruitless search for that person, the foreman
of the Tin-Cup in vengeance for the murder of his wife, the blasting of
his prospects and the loss of his herds; Buck, out of sympathy for his
friend and also because they had been partners in the Double Y. Now that
the years had passed and the long-sought-for opportunity was believed
to be at hand, there was promised either a cessation of the outrages or
that Buck would never again see his friends.

When the three mounted and came to him for final instructions Buck
forced himself to be almost repellent in order to be capable of coherent
speech. Hopalong glanced sharply at him and then understood, Red was all
attention and eagerness and remarked nothing but the words.

“Have yu ever heard of Slippery Trendley?” Harshly inquired the foreman.

They nodded, and on the faces of the younger men a glint of hatred
showed itself, but Frenchy wore his poker countenance.

Buck continued: “Th’ reason I asked yu was because I don’t want yu to
think yore goin’ on no picnic. I ain’t shore it’s him, but I’ve had
some hopeful information. Besides, he is th’ only man I knows of who’s
capable of th’ plays that have been made. It’s hardly necessary for me
to tell yu to sleep with one eye open and never to get away from yore
guns. Now I’m goin’ to tell yu th’ hardest part: yu are goin’ to search
th’ Staked Plain from one end to th’ other, an’ that’s what no white
man’s ever done to my knowledge.

“Now, listen to this an’ don’t forget it. Twenty miles north from Last
Stand Rock is a spring; ten miles south of that bend in Hell Arroyo is
another. If yu gets lost within two days from th’ time yu enters th’
Plain, put yore left hand on a cactus sometime between sun-up an’
noon, move around until yu are over its shadow an’ then ride straight
ahead--that’s south. If you goes loco beyond Last Stand Rock, follow th’
shadows made before noon--that’s th’ quickest way to th’ Pecos. Yu all
knows what to do in a sand-storm, so I won’t bore you with that. Repeat
all I’ve told yu,” he ordered and they complied.

“I’m tellin’ yu this,” continued the foreman, indicating the two
auxiliaries, “because yu might get separated from Frenchy. Now I
suggests that yu look around near the’ Devils Rocks: I’ve heard that
there are several water holes among them, an’ besides, they might be
turned into fair corrals. Mind yu, I know what I’ve said sounds damned
idiotic for anybody that has had as much experience with th’ Staked
Plain as I have, but I’ve had every other place searched for miles
around. Th’ men of all th’ ranches have been scoutin’ an’ th’ Plain is
th’ only place left. Them rustlers has got to be found if we have to dig
to hell for them. They’ve taken th’ pot so many times that they reckons
they owns it, an’ we’ve got to at least make a bluff at drawin’ cards.
Mebby they’re at th’ bottom of th’ Pecos,” here he smiled faintly, “but
wherever they are, we’ve got to find them. I want to holler ‘Keno.”

“If you finds where they hangs out come away instanter,” here his face
hardened and his eyes narrowed, “for it’ll take more than yu three
to deal with them th’ way I’m a-hankerin’ for. Come right back to th’
Double Arrow, send me word by one of their punchers an’ get all the rest
you can afore I gets there. It’ll take me a day to get th’ men together
an’ to reach yu. I’m goin’ to use smoke signals to call th’ other
ranches, so there won’t be no time lost. Carry all th’ water yu can pack
when yu leaves th’ Double Arrow an’ don’t depend none on cactus juice.
Yu better take a pack horse to carry it, an’ yore grub--yu can shoot it
if yu have to hit th’ trail real hard.”

The three riders felt of their accouterments, said “So long,” and
cantered off for the pack horse and extra ammunition. Then they rode
toward the Double Arrow, stopping at Cowan’s long enough to spend some
money, and reached the Double Arrow at nightfall. Early the next morning
they passed the last line-house and, with the profane well-wishes of
its occupants ringing in their ears, passed onto one of Nature’s worst
blunders--the Staked Plain.



CHAPTER XVIII. The Search Begins


As the sun arose it revealed three punchers riding away from
civilization. On all sides, stretching to the evil-appearing horizon,
lay vast blotches of dirty-white and faded yellow alkali and sand.
Occasionally a dwarfed mesquite raised its prickly leaves and rustled
mournfully. With the exception of the riders and an occasional Gila
monster, no life was discernible. Cacti of all shapes and sizes reared
aloft their forbidding spines or spread out along the sand. All was
dead, ghastly; all was oppressive, startlingly repellent in its sinister
promise; all was the vastness of desolation.

Hopalong knew this portion of the desert for ten miles inward--he had
rescued straying cattle along its southern rim--but once beyond that
limit they would have to trust to chance and their own abilities. There
were water holes on this skillet, but nine out of ten were death traps,
reeking with mineral poisons, colored and alkaline. The two mentioned by
Buck could not be depended on, for they came and went, and more than one
luckless wanderer had depended on them to allay his thirst, and had died
for his trust.

So the scouts rode on in silence, noting the half-buried skeletons of
cattle which were strewn plentifully on all sides. Nearly three per
cent, of the cattle belonging to the Double Arrow yearly found death
on this tableland, and the herds of that ranch numbered many thousand
heads. It was this which made the Double Arrow the poorest of the
ranches, and it was this which allowed insufficient sentries in its
line-houses. The skeletons were not all of cattle, for at rare intervals
lay the sand-worn frames of men.

On the morning of the second day the oppression increased with the wind
and Red heaved a sigh of restlessness. The sand began to skip across the
plain, in grains at first and hardly noticeable. Hopalong turned in his
saddle and regarded the desert with apprehension. As he looked he
saw that where grains had shifted handfuls were now moving. His mount
evinced signs of uneasiness and was hard to control.

A gust of wind, stronger than the others, pricked his face and grains
of sand rolled down his neck. The leather of his saddle emitted strange
noises as if a fairy tattoo was being beaten upon it and he raised his
hand and pointed off toward the east. The others looked and saw what had
appeared to be a fog rise out of the desert and intervene between them
and the sun. As far as eye could reach small whirlwinds formed and broke
and one swept down and covered them with stinging sand. The day became
darkened and their horses whinnied in terror and the clumps of mesquite
twisted and turned to the gusts.

Each man knew what was to come upon them and they dismounted, hobbled
their horses and threw them bodily to the earth, wrapping a blanket
around the head of each. A rustling as of paper rubbing together became
noticeable and they threw themselves flat upon the earth, their heads
wrapped in their coats and buried in the necks of their mounts. For
an hour they endured the tortures of hell and then, when the storm had
passed, raised their heads and cursed Creation. Their bodies burned
as though they had been shot with fine needles and their clothes were
meshes where once was tough cloth. Even their shoes were perforated and
the throat of each ached with thirst.

Hopalong fumbled at the canteen resting on his hip and gargled his mouth
and throat, washing down the sand which wouldn’t come up. His friends
did likewise and then looked around. After some time had elapsed the
loss of their pack horse was noticed and they swore again. Hopalong took
the lead in getting his horse ready for service and then rode around in
a circle half a mile in diameter, but returned empty handed. The horse
was gone and with it went their main supply of food and drink.

Frenchy scowled at the shadow of a cactus and slowly rode toward the
northeast, followed closely by his friends. His hand reached for his
depleted canteen, but refrained--water was to be saved until the last
minute.

“I’m goin’ to build a shack out here an’ live in it, I am!” exploded
Hopalong in withering irony as he dug the sand out of his ears and also
from his sixshooter. “I just nachurally dotes on this, I do!”

The others were too miserable to even grunt and he neatly severed the
head of a Gila monster from its scaly body as it opened it venomous jaws
in rage at this invasion of its territory. “Lovely place!” he sneered.

“You better save them cartridges, Hoppy,” interposed Red as his
companion fired again, feeling that he must say something.

“An’ what for?” blazed his friend. “To plug sand storms? Anybody what we
find on this God-forsaken lay-out won’t have to be shot--they will commit
suicide an’ think it’s fun! Tell yu what, if them rustlers hangs out on
this sand range they’re better men than I reckons they are. Anybody what
hides up here shore earns all he steals.” Hopalong grumbled from force
of habit and because no one else would. His companions understood this
and paid no attention to him, which increased his disgust.

“What are we up here for?” He asked, belligerently. “Why, because them
Double Arrow idiots can’t even watch a desert! We have to do their work
for them an’ they hangs around home an’ gets slaughtered! Yes, sir!”
 he shouted, “they can’t even take care of themselves when they’re in
line-houses what are forts. Why, that time we cleaned out them an’ th’
C-80 over at Buckskin they couldn’t help runnin’ into singin’ lead!”

“Yes,” drawled Red, whose recollection of that fight was vivid. “Yas,
an’ why?” He asked, and then replied to his own question. “Because yu
sat up in a barn behind them, Buck played his gun on th’ side window,
Pete an’ Skinny lay behind a rock to one side of Buck, me an’ Lanky
was across th’ Street in front of them, an’ Billy an’ Johnny was in th’
arroyo on th’ other side. Cowan laid on his stummick on th’ roof of his
place with a buffalo gun, an’ the whole blamed town was agin them. There
wasn’t five seconds passed that lead wasn’t rippin’ through th’ walls
of their shack. Th’ Houston House wasn’t made for no fort, an’ besides,
they wasn’t like th’ gang that’s punchin’ now. That’s why.”

Hopalong became cheerful again, for here was a chance to differ from his
friend. The two loved each other the better the more they squabbled.

“Yas!” responded Hopalong with sarcasm. “Yas!” he reiterated, drawling
it out. “Yu was in front of them, an’ with what? Why, an’ old,
white-haired, interfering Winchester, that’s what! Me an’ my Sharp’s--”

“Yu and yore Sharp’s!” exploded Red, whose dislike for that rifle was
very pronounced. “Yu and yore Sharp’s.”

“Me an’ my Sharp’s, as I was palaverin’ before bein’ interrupted,”
 continued Hopalong, “did more damage in five min--”

“Says yu!” snapped Red with heat. “All yu an yore Sharp’s could do was
to cut yore initials in th’ back door of their shack, an’----”

“Did more damage in five minutes,” continued Hopalong, “than all th’
blasted Winchesters in th’ whole damned town. Why--”

“An’ then they was cut blamed poor. Every time that cannon of yourn
exploded I shore thought th’--”

“Why, Cowan an’ his buffalo did more damage (Cowan was reputed to be a
very poor shot) than yu an--”

“I thought th’ artillery was comin’ into th’ disturbance. I could see
yore red head--”

“MY red head!” exclaimed Hopalong, sizing up the crimson warlock of his
companion. “MY red head!” he repeated, and then turned to Frenchy: “Hey,
Frenchy, who’s got th’ reddest hair, me or Red?”

Frenchy slowly turned in his saddle and gravely scrutinized them.
Being strictly impartial and truthful, he gave up the effort of
differentiating and smiled. “Why, if the tops of yore heads were poked
through two holes in a board an’ I didn’t know which was which, I’d
shore make a mistake if I tried to name ‘em”

But Red had the last word. “Anyhow, you didn’t have a Sharp’s in that
fight--you had a .45-70 Winchester, just like mine!”

Thereupon the discussion was directed at the judge, and the forenoon
passed very pleasantly, Frenchy even smiling in his misery.



CHAPTER XIX. Hopalong’s Decision


Shortly after noon, Hopalong, who had ridden with his head bowed low in
meditation, looked up and slapped his thigh. Then he looked at Red and
grinned.

“Look ahere, Red,” he began, “there ain’t no rustlers with their
headquarters on this God-forsaken sand heap, an’ there never was. They
have to have water an’ lots of it, too, an’ th’ nearest of any account
is th’ Pecos, or some of them streams over in th’ Panhandle. Th’
Panhandle is th’ best place. There are lots of streams an’ lakes over
there an’ they’re right in a good grass country. Why, an’ army could
hide over there an’ never be found unless it was hunted for blamed good.
Then, again, it’s close to the railroad. Up north aways is th’ south
branch of th’ Santa Fe Trail an’ it’s far enough away not to bother
anybody in th’ middle Panhandle. Then there’s Fort Worth purty near,
an’ other trails. Didn’t Buck say he had all th’ rest of th’ country
searched? He meant th’ Pecos Valley an th’ Davis Mountains country. All
th’ rustlers would have to do if they were in th’ Panhandle would be to
cross th’ Canadian an th’ Cimarron an’ hit th’ trail for th’ railroad.
Good fords, good grass an’ water all th’ way, cattle fat when they
are delivered an plenty of room. Th’ more I thinks about it th’ more I
cottons to the Panhandle.”

“Well, it shore does sound good,” replied Red, reflectively.

“Do yu mean th’ Cunningham Lake region or farther north?”

“Just th’ other side of this blasted desert: anywhere where there’s
water,” responded Hopalong, enthusiastically. “I’ve been doin’ some hot
reckonin’ for th’ last two hours an’ this is th’ way it looks to me:
they drives th’ cows up on this skillet for a ways, then turns east an’
hits th’ trail for home an’ water. They can get around th’ ca on near
Thatcher’s Lake by a swing of th’ north. I tell yu that’s th’ only way
out’n this. Who could tell where they turned with th’ wind raisin’ th’
deuce with the trail? Didn’t we follow a trail for a ways, an’ then
what? Why, there wasn’t none to follow. We can ride north ‘till we walk
behind ourselves an’ never get a peek at them. I am in favor of headin’
for th’ Sulphur Spring Creek district. We can spend a couple of weeks,
if we has to, an’ prospect that whole region without havin’ to cut
our’ water down to a smell an’ a taste an live on jerked beef. If we
investigates that country we’ll find something else than sand storms,
poisoned water holes an’ blisters.”

“Ain’t th’ Panhandle full of nesters (farmers)?” Inquired Red,
doubtfully.

“Along th’ Canadian an’ th’ edges, yas; in th’ middle, no,” explained
Hopalong. “They hang close together on account of th’ war-whoops, an’
they like th’ trails purty well because of there allus bein’ somebody
passin’.”

“Buck ought to send some of th’ Panhandle boys up there,” suggested Red.
“There’s Pie Willis an’ th’ Jordans--they knows th’ Panhandle like yu
knows poker.”

Frenchy had paid no apparent attention to the conversation up to this
point, but now he declared himself. “Yu heard what Buck said, didn’t
yu?” He asked. “We were told to search th’ Staked Plains from one end to
th’ other an’ I’m goin’ to do it if I can hold out long enough. I ain’t
goin’ to palaver with yu because what yu say can’t be denied as far as
wisdom is concerned. Yu may have hit it plumb center, but I knows what
I was ordered to do, an’ yu can’t get me to go over there if you shouts
all night. When Buck says anything, she goes. He wants to know where th’
cards are stacked an’ why he can’t holler ‘Keno,’ an’ I’m goin’ to find
out if I can. Yu can go to Patagonia if yu wants to, but yu go alone as
far as I am concerned.”

“Well, it’s better if yu don’t go with us,” replied Hopalong, taking it
for granted that Red would accompany him. “Yu can prospect this end of
th’ game an’ we’ll be takin’ care of th’ other. It’s two chances now
where we only had one afore.”

“Yu go east an’ I’ll hunt around as ordered,” responded Frenchy.

“East nothin’,” replied Hopalong. “Yu don’t get me to wallow in hot
alkali an’ lose time ridin’ in ankle-deep sand when I can hit th’ south
trail, skirt th’ White Sand Hills an’ be in God’s country again. I ain’t
goin’ to wrastle with no ca on this here trip, none whatever. I’m goin’
to travel in style, get to Big Spring by ridin’ two miles to where I
could only make one on this stove. Then I’ll head north along Sulpher
Spring Creek an’ have water an’ grass all th’ way, barrin’ a few
stretches. While you are bein’ fricasseed I’ll be streakin’ through
cottonwood groves an’ ridin’ in the creek.”

“Yu’ll have to go alone, then,” said Red, resolutely. “Frenchy ain’t
a-goin’ to die of lonesomeness on this desert if I knows what I’m about,
an’ I reckon I do, some. Me an’ him’ll follow out what Buck said, hunt
around for a while an’ then Frenchy can go back to th’ ranch to tell
Buck what’s up an’ I’ll take th’ trail yu are a-scared of an’ meet yu at
th’ east end of Cunningham Lake three days from now.”

“Yu better come with me,” coaxed Hopalong, not liking what his friend
had said about being afraid of the trail past the ca on and wishing to
have some one with whom to talk on his trip. “I’m goin’ to have a nice
long swim to-morrow night,” he added, trying bribery.

“An’ I’m goin’ to try to keep from hittin’ my blisters,” responded Red.
“I don’t want to go swimmin’ in no creek full of moccasins--I’d rather
sleep with rattlers or copperheads. Every time I sees a cotton-mouth I
feels like I had just sit down on one.

“I’ll flip a coin to see whether yu comes or not,” proposed Hopalong.

“If yu wants to gamble so bad I’ll flip yu to see who draws our pay
next month, but not for what you said,” responded Red, choking down the
desire to try his luck.

Hopalong grinned and turned toward the south. “If I sees Buck afore yu
do, I’ll tell him yu an’ Frenchy are growin’ watermelons up near Last
Stand Rock an’ are waitin’ for rain. Well, so long,” he said.

“Yu tell Buck we’re obeyin’ orders!” shouted Red, sorry that he was not
going with his bunkie.

Frenchy and Red rode on in silence, the latter feeling strangely
lonesome, for he and the departed man had seldom been separated when
journeys like this were to be taken. And when in search of pleasure they
were nearly always together. Frenchy, while being very friendly with
Hopalong, a friendship that would have placed them side by side against
any odds, was not accustomed to his company and did not notice his
absence.

Red looked off toward the south for the tenth time and for the tenth
time thought that his friend might return. “He’s a son-of-a-gun,” he
soliloquized.

His companion looked up: “He shore is, an’ he’s right about this rustler
business, too. But we’ll look around for a day or so an’ then yu raise
dust for th’ Lake. I’ll go back to th’ ranch an’ get things primed, so
there’ll be no time lost when we get th’ word.”

“I’m sorry I went an’ said what I did about me takin’ th’ trail he was
a-scared of,” confessed Red, after a pause. “Why, he ain’t a-scared of
nothin’.”

“He got back at yu about them watermelons, so what’s th’ difference?”
 Asked Frenchy. “He don’t owe yu nothin’.”

An hour later they searched the Devil’s Rocks, but found no rustlers.
Filling their canteens at a tiny spring and allowing their mounts to
drink the remainder of the water, they turned toward Hell Arroyo, which
they reached at nightfall. Here, also, their search availed them nothing
and they paused in indecision. Then Frenchy turned toward his companion
and advised him to ride toward the Lake in the night when it was
comparatively cool.

Red considered and then decided that the advice was good. He rolled a
cigarette, wheeled and faced the east and spurred forward: “So long,” he
called.

“So long,” replied Frenchy, who turned toward the south and departed for
the ranch.

The foreman of the Bar-20 was cleaning his rifle when he heard the
hoof-beats of a galloping horse and he ran around the corner of the
house to meet the newcomer, whom he thought to be a courier from the
Double Arrow. Frenchy dismounted and explained why he returned alone.

Buck listened to the report and then, noting the fire which gleamed in
his friend’s eyes, nodded his approval to the course. “I reckon it’s
Trendley, Frenchy--I’ve heard a few things since yu left. An’ yu can
bet that if Hopalong an’ Red have gone for him he’ll be found. I expect
action any time now, so we’ll light th’ signal fire.” Then he hesitated;
“Yu light it--yu’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

The balls of smoke which rolled upward were replied to by other balls
at different points on the plain, and the Bar-20 prepared to feed the
numbers of hungry punchers who would arrive within the next twenty-four
hours.

Two hours had not passed when eleven men rode up from the Three
Triangle, followed eight hours later by ten from the O-Bar-O. The
outfits of the Star Circle and the Barred Horseshoe, eighteen in all,
came next and had scarcely dismounted when those of the C-80 and the
Double Arrow, fretting at the delay, rode up. With the sixteen from
the Bar-20 the force numbered seventy-five resolute and pugnacious
cowpunchers, all aching to wipe out the indignities suffered.



CHAPTER XX. A Problem Solved


Hopalong worried his way out of the desert on a straight line, thus
cutting in half the distance he had traveled when going into it. He
camped that night on the sand and early the next morning took up his
journey. It was noon when he began to notice familiar sights, and an
hour later he passed within a mile of line-house No. 3, Double Arrow.
Half an hour later he espied a cow-puncher riding like mad. Thinking
that an investigation would not be out of place, he rode after the rider
and overtook him, when that person paused and retraced his course.

“Hullo, Hopalong!” shouted the puncher and he came near enough to
recognize his pursuer. “Thought yu was farmin’ up on th’ Staked Plain?”

“Hullo, Pie,” replied Hopalong, recognizing Pie Willis. “What was yu
chasin’ so hard?”

“Coyote--damn ‘em, but can’t they go some? They’re gettin’ so thick we’ll
shore have to try strichnine an’ thin ‘em out.”

“I thought anybody that had been raised in th’ Panhandle would know
better’n to chase greased lightnin’,” rebuked Hopalong. “Yu has got
about as much show catchin’ one of them as a tenderfoot has of bustin’
an outlawed cayuse.”

“Shore; I know it,” responded Pie, grinning. “But it’s fun seem’
them hunt th’ horizon. What are yu doin’ down here an’ where are yore
pardners?”

Thereupon Hopalong enlightened his inquisitive companion as to what had
occurred and as to his reasons for riding south.

Pie immediately became enthusiastic and announced his intention
of accompanying Hopalong on his quest, which intention struck that
gentleman as highly proper and wise. Then Pie hastily turned and
played at chasing coyotes in the direction of the line-house, where he
announced that his absence would be accounted for by the fact that
he and Hopalong were going on a journey of investigation into the
Panhandle. Billy Jordan who shared with Pie the accommodations of the
house, objected and showed, very clearly, why he was eminently better
qualified to take up the proposed labors than his companions. The
suggestions were fast getting tangled up with the remarks, when Pie,
grabbing a chunk of jerked beef, leaped into his saddle and absolutely
refused to heed the calls of his former companion and return. He rode to
where Hopalong was awaiting him as if he was afraid he wasn’t going to
live long enough to get there. Confiding to his companion that Billy
was a “locoed sage hen,” he led the way along the base of the White Sand
Hills and asked many questions. Then they turned toward the east and
galloped hard.

It had been Hopalong’s intention to carry out what he had told Red and
to go to Big Spring first and thence north along Sulphur Spring Creek,
but to this his guide strongly dissented. There was a short cut, or
several of them for that matter, was Pie’s contention, and any one
of them would save a day’s hard riding. Hopalong made no objection to
allowing his companion to lead the way over any trail he saw fit, for
he knew that Pie had been born and brought up in the Panhandle, the
Cunningham Lake district having been his back yard, as it were. So they
followed the short cut having the most water and grass, and pounded out
a lively tattoo as they raced over the stretches of sand which seemed to
slide beneath them.

“What do yu know about this here business?” Inquired Pie, as they raced
past a chaparral and onto the edge of a grassy plain.

“Nothin’ more’n yu do, only Buck said he thought Slippery Trendley is at
th’ bottom of it.”

“What!” ejaculated Pie in surprise. “Him!”

“Yore on. An’ between yu an’ me an’ th’ Devil, I wouldn’t be a heap
surprised if Deacon Rankin is with him, neither.”

Pie whistled: “Are him an’ th’ Deacon pals?”

“Shore,” replied Hopalong, buttoning up his vest and rolling a
cigarette. “Didn’t they allus hang out together! One watched that
th’ other didn’t get plugged from behind. It was a sort of
yu-scratch-my-back-an’-I’ll-scratch-yourn arrangement.”

“Well, if they still hangs out together, I know where to hunt for our
cows,” responded Pie. “Th’ Deacon used to range along th’ headwaters
of th’ Colorado--it ain’t far from Cunningham Lake. Thunderation!” he
shouted, “I knows th’ very ground they’re on--I can take yu to th’ very
shack!” Then to himself he muttered: “An’ that doodlebug Billy Jordan
thinkin’ he knowed more about th’ Panhandle than me!”

Hopalong showed his elation in an appropriate manner and his companion
drank deeply from the proffered flask; Thereupon they treated their
mounts to liberal doses of strap-oil and covered the ground with great
speed.

They camped early, for Hopalong was almost worn out from the exertions
of the past few days and the loss of sleep he had sustained. Pie,
too excited to sleep and having had unbroken rest for a long period,
volunteered to keep guard, and his companion eagerly consented.

Early the next morning they broke camp and the evening of the same day
found them fording Sulphur Spring Creek, and their quarry lay only an
hour beyond, according to Pie. Then they forded one of the streams which
form the headwaters of the Colorado, and two hours later they dismounted
in a cottonwood grove. Picketing their horses, they carefully made their
way through the timber, which was heavily grown with brush, and, after
half an hour’s maneuvering, came within sight of the further edge.

Dropping down on all fours, they crawled to the last line of brush and
looked out over an extensive bottoms. At their feet lay a small river,
and in a clearing on the farther side was a rough camp, consisting of
about a dozen leanto shacks and log cabins in the main collection, and a
few scattered cabins along the edge. A huge fire was blazing before
the main collection of huts, and to the rear of these was an indistinct
black mass, which they knew to be the corral.

At a rude table before the fire more than a score of men were eating
supper and others could be heard moving about and talking at different
points in the background. While the two scouts were learning the lay of
the land, they saw Mr. Trendley and Deacon Rankin walk out of the cabin
most distant from the fire, and the latter limped. Then they saw two men
lying on rude cots, and they wore bandages. Evidently Johnny Redmond had
scored in his fight.

The odor of burning cowhide came from the corral, accompanied by the
squeals of cattle, and informed them that brands were being blotted out.
Hopalong longed to charge down and do some blotting out of another kind,
but a heavy hand was placed on his shoulder and he silently wormed his
way after Pie as that person led the way back to the horses. Mounting,
they picked their way out of the grove and rode over the plain at a
walk. When far enough away to insure that the noise made by their horses
would not reach the ears of those in the camp they cantered toward the
ford they had taken on the way up.

After emerging from the waters of the last forded stream, Pie raised his
hand and pointed off toward the northwest, telling his companion to
take that course to reach Cunningham Lake. He himself would ride south,
taking, for the saving of time, a yet shorter trail to the Double Arrow,
from where he would ride to Buck. He and the others would meet Hopalong
and Red at the split rock they had noticed on their way up.

Hopalong shook hands with his guide and watched him disappear into the
night. He imagined he could still catch whiffs of burning cowhide and
again the picture of the camp came to his mind. Glancing again at the
point where Pie had disappeared, he stuffed his sombrero under a strap
on his saddle and slowly rode toward the lake. A coyote slunk past him
on a time-destroying lope and an owl hooted at the foolishness of
men. He camped at the base of a cottonwood and at daylight took up his
journey after a scanty breakfast from his saddle-bags.

Shortly before noon he came in sight of the lake and looked for his
friend. He had just ridden around a clump of cotton-woods when he was
hit on the back with something large and soft. Turning in his saddle,
with his Colts ready, he saw Red sitting on a stump, a huge grin
extending over his features. He replaced the weapon, said something
about fools and dismounted, kicking aside the bundle of grass his friend
had thrown.

“Yore shore easy,” remarked Red, tossing aside his cold cigarette.
“Suppose I was Trendley, where would yu be now?”

“Diggin’ a hole to put yu in,” pleasantly replied Hopalong. “If I didn’t
know he wasn’t around this part of the country I wouldn’t a rode as I
did.”

The man on the stump laughed and rolled a fresh cigarette. Lighting it,
he inquired where Mr. Trendley was, intimating by his words that the
rustler had not been found.

“About thirty miles to th’ southeast,” responded the other. “He’s
figurin’ up how much dust he’ll have when he gets our cows on th’
market. Deacon Rankin is with him, too.”

“Th’ deuce!” exclaimed Red, in profound astonishment.

“Yore right,” replied his companion. Then he explained all the
arrangements and told of the camp.

Red was for riding to the rendezvous at once, but his friend thought
otherwise and proposed a swim, which met with approval. After enjoying
themselves in the lake they dressed and rode along the trail Hopalong
had made in coming for his companion, it being the intention of
the former to learn more thoroughly the lay of the land immediately
surrounding the camp. Red was pleased with this, and while they rode
he narrated all that had taken place since the separation on the Plain,
adding that he had found the trail left by the rustlers after they had
quitted the desert and that he had followed it for the last two hours of
his journey. It was well beaten and an eighth of a mile wide.

At dark they came within sight of the grove and picketed their horses at
the place used by Pie and Hopalong. Then they moved forward and the same
sight greeted their eyes that had been seen the night before. Keeping
well within the edge of the grove and looking carefully for sentries,
they went entirely around the camp and picked out several places which
would be of strategic value later on. They noticed that the cabin used
by Slippery Trendley was a hundred paces from the main collection of
huts and that the woods came to within a tenth part of that distance
of its door. It was heavily built, had no windows and faced the wrong
direction.

Moving on, they discovered the storehouse of the enemy, another tempting
place. It was just possible, if a siege became necessary, for several
of the attacking force to slip up to it and either destroy it by fire
or take it and hold it against all comers. This suggested a look at the
enemy’s water supply, which was the river. A hundred paces separated it
from the nearest cabin and any rustler who could cross that zone under
the fire of the besiegers would be welcome to his drink.

It was very evident that the rustlers had no thought of defense,
thinking, perhaps, that they were immune from attack with such a well
covered trail between them and their foes. Hopalong mentally accused
them of harboring suicidal inclinations and returned with his companion
to the horses. They mounted and sat quietly for a while, and then rode
slowly away and at dawn reached the split rock, where they awaited the
arrival of their friends, one sleeping while the other kept guard. Then
they drew a rough map of the camp, using the sand for paper, and laid
out the plan of attack.

As the evening of the next day came on they saw Pie, followed by many
punchers, ride over a rise a mile to the south and they rode out to meet
him.

When the force arrived at the camp of the two scouts they were shown the
plan prepared for them. Buck made a few changes in the disposition of
the men and then each member was shown where he was to go and was told
why. Weapons were put in a high state of efficiency, canteens were
refilled and haversacks were somewhat depleted. Then the newcomers
turned in and slept while Hopalong and Red kept guard.



CHAPTER XXI. The Call


At three o’clock the next morning a long line of men slowly filed
into the cottonwood grove, being silently swallowed up by the dark.
Dismounting, they left their horses in the care of three of their number
and disappeared into the brush. Ten minutes later forty of the force
were distributed along the edge of the grove fringing on the bank of the
river and twenty more minutes gave ample time for a detachment of twenty
to cross the stream and find concealment in the edge of the woods which
ran from the river to where the corral made an effective barrier on the
south.

Eight crept down on the western side of the camp and worked their way
close to Mr. Trendley’s cabin door, and the seven who followed this
detachment continued and took up their positions at the rear of the
corral, where, it was hoped, some of the rustlers would endeavor to
escape into the woods by working their way through the cattle in the
corral and then scaling the stockade wall. These seven were from the
Three Triangle and the Double Arrow, and they were positive that any
such attempt would not be a success from the view-point of the rustlers.

Two of those who awaited the pleasure of Mr. Trendley crept forward, and
a rope swished through the air and settled over the stump which lay most
convenient on the other side of the cabin door. Then the slack moved
toward the woods, raised from the ground as it grew taut and, with
the stump for its axis, swung toward the door, where it rubbed gently
against the rough logs. It was made of braided horsehair, was half an
inch in diameter and was stretched eight inches above the ground.

As it touched the door, Lanky Smith, Hopalong and Red stepped out of the
shelter of the woods and took up their positions behind the cabin, Lanky
behind the northeast corner where he would be permitted to swing his
right arm. In his gloved right hand he held the carefully arranged coils
of a fifty-foot lariat, and should the chief of the rustlers escape
tripping he would have to avoid the cast of the best roper in the
southwest.

The two others took the northwest corner and one of them leaned slightly
forward and gently twitched the tripping-rope. The man at the other end
felt the signal and whispered to a companion, who quietly disappeared in
the direction of the river and shortly afterward the mournful cry of a
whip-poor-will dirged out on the early morning air. It had hardly died
away when the quiet was broken by one terrific crash of rifles, and the
two camp guards asleep at the fire awoke in another world.

Mr. Trendley, sleeping unusually well for the unjust, leaped from his
bed to the middle of the floor and alighted on his feet and wide
awake. Fearing that a plot was being consummated to deprive him of his
leadership, he grasped the Winchester which leaned at the head of his
bed and, tearing open the door, crashed headlong to the earth. As he
touched the ground, two shadows sped out from the shelter of the cabin
wall and pounced upon him. Men who can rope, throw and tie a wild steer
in thirty seconds flat do not waste time in trussing operations, and
before a minute had elapsed he was being carried into the woods,
bound and helpless. Lanky sighed, threw the rope over one shoulder and
departed after his friends.

When Mr. Trendley came to his senses he found himself bound to a tree in
the grove near the horses. A man sat on a stump not far from him, three
others were seated around a small fire some distance to the north, and
four others, one of whom carried a rope, made their way into the brush.
He strained at his bonds, decided that the effort was useless and
watched the man on the stump, who struck a match and lit a pipe. The
prisoner watched the light flicker up and go out and there was left in
his mind a picture that he could never forget. The face which had been
so cruelly, so grotesquely revealed was that of Frenchy McAllister, and
across his knees lay a heavy caliber Winchester. A curse escaped from
the lips of the outlaw; the man on the stump spat at a firefly and
smiled.

From the south came the crack of rifles, incessant and sharp. The
reports rolled from one end of the clearing to the other and seemed to
sweep in waves from the center of the line to the ends. Faintly in the
infrequent lulls in the firing came an occasional report from the rear
of the corral, where some desperate rustler paid for his venture.

Buck went along the line and spoke to the riflemen, and after some time
had passed and the light had become stronger, he collected the men into
groups of five and six. Taking one group and watching it closely, it
could be seen that there was a world of meaning in this maneuver. One
man started firing at a particular window in an opposite hut and then
laid aside his empty gun and waited. When the muzzle of his enemy’s gun
came into sight and lowered until it had nearly gained its sight level,
the rifles of the remainder of the group crashed out in a volley and
usually one of the bullets, at least, found its intended billet. This
volley firing became universal among the besiegers and the effect was
marked.

Two men sprinted from the edge of the woods near Mr. Trendley’s cabin
and gained the shelter of the storehouse, which soon broke out in
flames. The burning brands fell over the main collection of huts, where
there was much confusion and swearing. The early hour at which the
attack had been delivered at first led the besieged to believe that
it was an Indian affair, but this impression was soon corrected by the
volley firing, which turned hope into despair. It was no great matter
to fight Indians, that they had done many times and found more or less
enjoyment in it; but there was a vast difference between brave and
puncher, and the chances of their salvation became very small. They
surmised that it was the work of the cow-men on whom they had preyed
and that vengeful punchers lay hidden behind that death-fringe of green
willow and hazel.

Red, assisted by his inseparable companion, Hopalong, laboriously
climbed up among the branches of a black walnut and hooked one leg over
a convenient limb. Then he lowered his rope and drew up the Winchester
which his accommodating friend fastened to it. Settling himself in a
comfortable position and sheltering his body somewhat by the tree, he
shaded his eyes by a hand and peered into the windows of the distant
cabins.

“How is she, Red?” Anxiously inquired the man on the ground.

“Bully: want to come up?”

“Nope. I’m goin’ to catch yu when yu lets go,” replied Hopalong with a
grin.

“Which same I ain’t goin’ to,” responded the man in the tree.

He swung his rifle out over a forked limb and let it settle in the
crotch. Then he slew his head around until he gained the bead he wished.
Five minutes passed before he caught sight of his man and then he fired.
Jerking out the empty shell he smiled and called out to his friend:
“One.”

Hopalong grinned and went off to tell Buck to put all the men in trees.

Night came on and still the firing continued. Then an explosion shook
the woods. The storehouse had blown up and a sky full of burning timber
fell on the cabins and soon three were half consumed, their occupants
dropping as they gained the open air. One hundred paces makes fine
pot-shooting, as Deacon Rankin discovered when evacuation was the choice
necessary to avoid cremation. He never moved after he touched the ground
and Red called out: “Two,” not knowing that his companion had departed.

The morning of the next day found a wearied and hopeless garrison, and
shortly before noon a soiled white shirt was flung from a window in the
nearest cabin. Buck ran along the line and ordered the firing to cease
and caused to be raised an answering flag of truce. A full minute
passed and then the door slowly opened and a leg protruded, more slowly
followed by the rest of the man, and Cheyenne Charley strode out to
the bank of the river and sat down. His example was followed by several
others and then an unexpected event occurred. Those in the cabins who
preferred to die fighting, angered at this desertion, opened fire on
their former comrades, who barely escaped by rolling down the slightly
inclined bank into the river. Red fired again and laughed to himself.
Then the fugitives swam down the river and landed under the guns of the
last squad. They were taken to the rear and, after being bound, were
placed under a guard. There were seven in the party and they looked worn
out.

When the huts were burning the fiercest the uproar in the corral arose
to such a pitch as to drown all other sounds. There were left within its
walls a few hundred cattle whose brands had not yet been blotted out,
and these, maddened to frenzy by the shooting and the flames, tore from
one end of the enclosure to the other, crashing against the alternate
walls with a noise which could be heard far out on the plain. Scores
were trampled to death on each charge and finally the uproar subsided
in sheer want of cattle left with energy enough to continue. When the
corral was investigated the next day there were found the bodies of four
rustlers, but recognition was impossible.

Several of the defenders were housed in cabins having windows in the
rear walls, which the occupants considered fortunate. This opinion
was revised, however, after several had endeavored to escape by these
openings. The first thing that occurred when a man put his head out was
the hum of a bullet, and in two cases the experimenters lost all need of
escape.

The volley firing had the desired effect, and at dusk there remained
only one cabin from which came opposition. Such a fire was concentrated
on it that before an hour had passed the door fell in and the firing
ceased. There was a rush from the side, and the Barred Horseshoe men
who swarmed through the cabins emerged without firing a shot. The
organization that had stirred up the Pecos Valley ranches had ceased to
exist.



CHAPTER XXII. The Showdown


A fire burned briskly in front of Mr. Trendley’s cabin that night and
several punchers sat around it occupied in various ways. Two men leaned
against the wall and sang softly of the joys of the trail and the range.
One of them, Lefty Allen, of the O-Bar-O, sang in his sweet tenor, and
other men gradually strolled up and seated themselves on the ground,
where the fitful gleam of responsive pipes and cigarettes showed like
fireflies. The songs followed one after another, first a lover’s plea in
soft Spanish and then a rollicking tale of the cow-towns and men. Supper
had long since been enjoyed and all felt that life was, indeed, well
worth living.

A shadow loomed against the cabin wall and a procession slowly made its
way toward the open door. The leader, Hopalong, disappeared within and
was followed by Mr. Trendley, bound and hobbled and tied to Red, the
rear being brought up by Frenchy, whose rifle lolled easily in the
crotch of his elbow. The singing went on uninterrupted and the hum of
voices between the selections remained unchanged. Buck left the crowd
around the fire and went into the cabin, where his voice was heard
assenting to something. Hopalong emerged and took a seat at the fire,
sending two punchers to take his place. He was joined by Frenchy and
Red, the former very quiet.

In the center of a distant group were seven men who were not armed.
Their belts, half full of cartridges, supported empty holsters. They sat
and talked to the men around them, swapping notes and experiences, and
in several instances found former friends and acquaintances. These men
were not bound and were apparently members of Buck’s force. Then one of
them broke down, but quickly regained his nerve and proposed a game
of cards. A fire was started and several games were immediately in
progress. These seven men were to die at daybreak.

As the night grew older man after man rolled himself in his blanket
and lay down where he sat, sinking off to sleep with a swiftness that
bespoke tired muscles and weariness. All through the night, however,
there were twelve men on guard, of whom three were in the cabin.

At daybreak a shot from one of the guards awakened every man within
hearing, and soon they romped and scampered down to the river’s edge
to indulge in the luxury of a morning plunge. After an hour’s horseplay
they trooped back to the cabin and soon had breakfast out of the way.

Waffles, foreman of the O-Bar-O, and You-bet Somes strolled over to the
seven unfortunates who had just completed a choking breakfast and nodded
a hearty “Good morning.” Then others came up and finally all moved off
toward the river. Crossing it, they disappeared into the grove and all
sounds of their advance grew into silence.

Mr. Trendley, escorted outside for the air, saw the procession as it
became lost to sight in the brush. He sneered and asked for a smoke,
which was granted. Then his guards were changed and the men began to
straggle back from the grove.

Mr. Trendley, with his back to the cabin, scowled defiantly at the crowd
that hemmed him in. The coolest, most damnable murderer in the West was
not now going to beg for mercy. When he had taken up crime as a means
of livelihood he had decided that if the price to be paid for his course
was death, he would pay like a man. He glanced at the cottonwood grove,
wherein were many ghastly secrets, and smiled. His hairless eyebrows
looked like livid scars and his lips quivered in scorn and anger.

As he sneered at Buck there was a movement in the crowd before him and a
pathway opened for Frenchy, who stepped forward slowly and deliberately,
as if on his way to some bar for a drink. There was something different
about the man who had searched the Staked Plain with Hopalong and Red:
he was not the same puncher who had arrived from Montana three weeks
before. There was lacking a certain air of carelessness and he chilled
his friends, who looked upon him as if they had never really known him.
He walked up to Mr. Trendley and gazed deeply into the evil eyes.

Twenty years before, Frenchy McAllister had changed his identity from
a happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care cow-puncher and became a machine. The
grief that had torn his soul was not of the kind which seeks its outlet
in tears and wailing; it had turned and struck inward, and now his
deliberate ferocity was icy and devilish. Only a glint in his eyes told
of exultation, and his words were sharp and incisive; one could well
imagine one heard the click of his teeth as they bit off the consonants:
every letter was clear-cut, every syllable startling in its clearness.

“Twenty years and two months ago to-day,” he began, “you arrived at the
ranchhouse of the Double Y, up near the Montana-Wyoming line. Everything
was quiet, except, perhaps, a woman’s voice, singing. You entered, and
before you left you pinned a note to that woman’s dress. I found it, and
it is due.”

The air of carelessness disappeared from the members of the crowd and
the silence became oppressive. Most of those present knew parts of
Frenchy’s story, and all were in hearty accord with anything he might
do. He reached within his vest and brought forth a deerskin bag. Opening
it, he drew out a package of oiled silk and from that he took a paper.
Carefully replacing the silk and the bag, he slowly unfolded the sheet
in his hand and handed it to Buck, whose face hardened. Two decades had
passed since the foreman of the Bar-20 had seen that precious sheet, but
the scene of its finding would never fade from his memory. He stood as
if carved from stone, with a look on his face that made the crowd shift
uneasily and glance at Trendley.

Frenchy turned to the rustler and regarded him evilly. “You are the
hellish brute that wrote that note,” pointing to the paper in the hand
of his friend. Then, turning again, he spoke: “Buck, read that paper.”

The foreman cleared his throat and read distinctly:


“McAllister: Yore wife is too blame good to live.

                                         TRENDLEY.”


There was a shuffling sound, but Buck and Frenchy, silently backed up by
Hopalong and Red, intervened, and the crowd fell back, where it surged
in indecision.

“Gentlemen,” said Frenchy, “I want you to vote on whether any man here
has more right to do with Slippery Trendley as he sees fit than myself.
Any one who thinks so, or that he should be treated like the others,
step forward. Majority rules.”

There was no advance and he spoke again: “Is there any one here who
objects to this man dying?”

Hopalong and Red awkwardly bumped their knuckles against their guns and
there was no response.

The prisoner was bound with cowhide to the wall of the cabin and four
men sat near and facing him. The noonday meal was eaten in silence, and
the punchers rode off to see about rounding up the cattle that grazed
over the plain as far as eye could see. Supper-time came and passed,
and busy men rode away in all directions. Others came and relieved the
guards, and at midnight another squad took up the vigil.

Day broke and the thunder of hoofs as the punchers rounded up the cattle
became very noticeable. One herd swept past toward the south, guarded
and guided by fifteen men. Two hours later and another followed, taking
a slightly different trail so as to avoid the close-cropped grass left
by the first. At irregular intervals during the day other herds swept
by, until six had passed and denuded the plain of cattle.

Buck, perspiring and dusty, accompanied by Hopalong and Red, rode up
to where the guards smoked and joked. Frenchy came out of the cabin
and smiled at his friends. Swinging in his left hand was a newly filled
Colt’s .45, which was recognized by his friends as the one found in the
cabin and it bore a rough “T” gouged in the butt.

Buck looked around and cleared his throat: “We’ve got th’ cows on th’
home trail, Frenchy,” he suggested.

“Yas?” Inquired Frenchy. “Are there many?”

“Yas,” replied Buck, waving his hand at the guards, ordering them to
follow their friends. “It’s a good deal for us: we’ve done right smart
this hand. An’ it’s a good thing we’ve got so many punchers: we got a
lot of cattle to drive.”

“About five times th’ size of th’ herd that blamed near made angels
out’en me an’ yu,” responded Frenchy with a smile.

“I hope almighty hard that we don’t have no stampedes on this here
drive. If th’ last herds go wild they’ll pick up th’ others, an’ then
there’ll be th’ devil to pay.”

Frenchy smiled again and shot a glance at where Mr. Trendley was bound
to the cabin wall.

Buck looked steadily southward for some time and then flecked a foam-sud
from the flank of his horse. “We are goin’ south along th’ Creek until
we gets to Big Spring, where we’ll turn right smart to th’ west. We
won’t be able to average more’n twelve miles a day, ‘though I’m goin’ to
drive them hard. How’s yore grub?”

“Grub to burn.”

“Got yore rope?” Asked the foreman of the Bar-20, speaking as if the
question had no especial meaning.

Frenchy smiled: “Yes.”

Hopalong absent-mindedly jabbed his spurs into his mount with the result
that when the storm had subsided the spell was broken and he said “So
long,” and rode south, followed by Buck and Red. As they swept out of
sight behind a grove Red turned in his saddle and waved his hat. Buck
discussed with assiduity the prospects of a rainfall and was very
cheerful about the recovery of the stolen cattle. Red could see a tall,
broad-shouldered man standing with his feet spread far apart, swinging a
Colt’s .45, and Hopalong swore at everything under the sun. Dust arose in
streaming clouds far to the south and they spurred forward to overtake
the outfits.

Buck Peters, riding over the starlit plain, in his desire to reach the
first herd, which slept somewhere to the west of him under the care
of Waffles, thought of the events of the past few weeks and gradually
became lost in the memories of twenty years before, which crowded up
before his mind like the notes of a half-forgotten song. His nature,
tempered by two decades of a harsh existence, softened as he lived again
the years that had passed and as he thought of the things which had
been. He was so completely lost in his reverie that he failed to hear
the muffled hoofbeats of a horse that steadily gained upon him, and when
Frenchy McAllister placed a friendly hand on his shoulder he started as
if from a deep sleep.

The two looked at each other and their hands met. The question which
sprang into Buck’s eyes found a silent answer in those of his friend.
They rode on side by side through the clear night and together drifted
back to the days of the Double Y.

After an hour had passed, the foreman of the Bar-20 turned to his
companion and then hesitated:

“Did, did--was he a cur?”

Frenchy looked off toward the south and, after an interval, replied:
“Yas.” Then, as an after thought, he added, “Yu see, he never reckoned
it would be that way.”

Buck nodded, although he did not fully understand, and the subject was
forever closed.



CHAPTER XXIII. Mr. Cassidy Meets a Woman


The work of separating the cattle into herds of the different brands
was not a big contract, and with so many men it took but a comparatively
short time, and in two days all signs of the rustlers had faded. It was
then that good news went the rounds and the men looked forward to a
week of pleasure, which was all the sharper accentuated by the grim
mercilessness of the expedition into the Panhandle. Here was a chance
for unlimited hilarity and a whole week in which to give strict
attention to celebrating the recent victory.

So one day Mr. Hopalong Cassidy rode rapidly over the plain, thinking
about the joys and excitement promised by the carnival to be held
at Muddy Wells. With that rivalry so common to Western towns the
inhabitants maintained that the carnival was to break all records, this
because it was to be held in their town. Perry’s Bend and Buckskin had
each promoted a similar affair, and if this year’s festivities were
to be an improvement on those which had gone before, they would
most certainly be worth riding miles to see. Perry’s Bend had been
unfortunate m being the first to hold a carnival, inasmuch as it only
set a mark to be improved upon, and Buckskin had taken advantage of this
and had added a brass band, and now in turn was to be eclipsed.

The events slated were numerous and varied, the most important being
those which dealt directly with the everyday occupations of the
inhabitants of that section of the country. Broncho busting,
steer-roping and tying, rifle and revolver shooting, trick riding and
fancy roping made up the main features of the programme and were to
be set off by horse and foot racing and other county fair necessities.
Altogether, the proud citizens of the town looked forward with keen
anticipation to the coming excitements, and were prone to swagger a
bit and to rub their hands in condescending egoism, while the crowded
gambling halls and saloons, and the three-card-monte men on the street
corners enriched themselves at the cost of venturesome know-it-ails.

Hopalong was firmly convinced that his day of hard riding was well worth
while, for the Bar-20 was to be represented in strength. Probably
a clearer insight into his idea of a carnival can be gained by his
definition, grouchily expressed to Red Connors on the day following the
last affair: “Raise cain, go broke, wake up an’ begin punching cows
all over again.” But that was the day after and the day after is always
filled with remorse.

Hopalong and Red, having twice in succession won the revolver and rifle
competitions, respectively, hoped to make it ‘Three straight.’ Lanky
Smith, the Bar-20 rope expert, had taken first prize in the only contest
he had entered. Skinny Thompson had lost and drawn with Lefty Allen, of
the O-Bar-O, in the broncho-busting event, but as Skinny had improved
greatly in the interval, his friends confidently expected him to “yank
first place” for the honor of his ranch. These expectations were backed
with all the available Bar-20 money, and, if they were not realized,
something in the nature of a calamity would swoop down upon and wrap
that ranch in gloom. Since the O-Bar-O was aggressively optimistic the
betting was at even money, hats and guns, and the losers would begin
life anew so far as earthly possessions were concerned. No other
competitors were considered in this event, as Skinny and Lefty had so
far outclassed all others that the honor was believed to lie between
these two.

Hopalong, blissfully figuring out the chances of the different
contestants, galloped around a clump of mesquite only fifteen miles from
Muddy Wells and stiffened in his saddle, for twenty rods ahead of him on
the trail was a woman. As she heard him approach she turned and waited
for him to overtake her, and when she smiled he raised his sombrero and
bowed.

“Will you please tell me where I am?” She asked.

“Yu are fifteen miles southeast of Muddy Wells,” he replied.

“But which is southeast?”

“Right behind yu,” he answered. “Th’ town lies right ahead.”

“Are you going there?” She asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then you will not care if I ride with you?” She asked. “I am a trifle
frightened.”

“Why, I’d be some pleased if yu do, ‘though there ain’t nothing out here
to be afraid of now.”

“I had no intention of getting lost,” she assured him, “but I dismounted
to pick flowers and cactus leaves and after a while I had no conception
of where I was.”

“How is it yu are out here?” He asked. “Yu shouldn’t get so far from
town.”

“Why, papa is an invalid and doesn’t like to leave his room, and the
town is so dull, although the carnival is waking it up somewhat. Having
nothing to do I procured a horse and determined to explore the country.
Why, this is like Stanley and Livingstone, isn’t it? You rescued the
explorer!” And she laughed heartily. He wondered who in thunder Stanley
and Livingstone were, but said nothing.

“I like the West, it is so big and free,” she continued. “But it is very
monotonous at times, especially when compared with New York. Papa
swears dreadfully at the hotel and declares that the food will drive him
insane, but I notice that he eats much more heartily than he did when
in the city. And the service!--it is awful. But when one leaves the town
behind it is splendid, and I can appreciate it because I had such a hard
season in the city last winter--so many balls, parties and theaters that
I simply wore myself out.”

“I never hankered much for them things,” Hopalong replied. “An’ I don’t
like th’ towns much, either. Once or twice a year I gets as far as
Kansas City, but I soon tires of it an’ hits th’ back trail. Yu see, I
don’t like a fence country--I wants lots of room an’ air.”

She regarded him intently: “I know that you will think me very forward.”

He smiled and slowly replied: “I think yu are all O. K.”

“There do not appear to be many women in this country,” she suggested.

“No, there ain’t many,” he replied, thinking of the kind to be found
in all of the cow-towns. “They don’t seem to hanker for this kind of
life--they wants parties an’ lots of dancin’ an’ them kind of things. I
reckon there ain’t a whole lot to tempt em to come.

“You evidently regard women as being very frivolous,” she replied.

“Well, I’m speakin’ from there not being any out here,” he responded,
“although I don’t know much about them, to tell th’ truth. Them what are
out here can’t be counted.” Then he flushed and looked away.

She ignored the remark and placed her hand to her hair:

“Goodness! My hair must look terrible!”

He turned and looked: “Yore hair is pretty--I allus did like brown hair.”

She laughed and put back the straggling locks: “It is terrible! Just
look at it! Isn’t it awful?”

“Why, no: I reckons not,” he replied critically. “It looks sort of free
an’ easy thataway.”

“Well, it’s no matter, it cannot be helped,” she laughed. “Let’s race!”
 she cried and was off like a shot.

He humored her until he saw that her mount was getting unmanageable,
when he quietly overtook her and closed her pony’s nostrils with his
hand, the operation having a most gratifying effect.

“Joe hadn’t oughter let yu had this cayuse,” he said.

“Why, how do you know of whom I procured it?” She asked. “By th’ brand:
it’s a O-Bar-O, canceled, with J. H. over it. He buys all of his cayuses
from th’ O-Bar-O.”

She found out his name, and, after an interval of silence, she turned to
him with eyes full of inquiry: “What is that thorny shrub just ahead?”
 She asked.

“That’s mesquite,” he replied eagerly.

“Tell me all about it,” she commanded.

“Why, there ain’t much to tell,” he replied, “only it’s a valuable tree
out here. Th’ Apaches use it a whole lot of ways. They get honey from
th’ blossoms an’ glue an’ gum, an’ they use th’ bark for tannin’ hide.
Th’ dried pods an’ leaves are used to feed their cattle, an’ th’ wood
makes corrals to keep ‘em in. They use th’ wood for making other things,
too, an’ it is of two colors. Th’ sap makes a dye what won’t wash out,
an’ th’ beans make a bread what won’t sour or get hard. Then it makes a
barrier that shore is a dandy-coyotes an’ men can’t get through it, an’
it protects a whole lot of birds an’ things. Th’ snakes hate it like
poison, for th’ thorns get under their scales an’ whoops things up for
‘em. It keeps th’ sand from shiftin’, too. Down South where there is
plenty of water, it often grows forty feet high, but up here it squats
close to th’ ground so it can save th’ moisture. In th’ night th’
temperature sometimes falls thirty degrees, an’ that helps it, too.”

“How can it live without water?” She asked.

“It gets all th’ water it wants,” he replied, smiling. “Th’ tap roots
go straight down ‘til they find it, sometimes fifty feet. That’s why it
don’t shrivel up in th’ sun. Then there are a lot of little roots right
under it an’ they protects th’ tap roots. Th’ shade it gives is th’
coolest out here, for th’ leaves turn with th’ wind an’ lets th’ breeze
through-they’re hung on little stems.”

“How splendid!” she exclaimed. “Oh! Look there!” she cried, pointing
ahead of them. A chaparral cock strutted from its decapitated enemy, a
rattlesnake, and disappeared in the chaparral.

Hopalong laughed: “Mr. Scissors-bill Road-runner has great fun with
snakes. He runs along th’ sand-an’ he can run, too--an’ sees a snake
takin’ a siesta. Snip! goes his bill an’ th’ snake slides over th’
Divide. Our fighting friend may stop some coyote’s appetite before
morning, though, unless he stays where he is.”

Just then a gray wolf blundered in sight a few rods ahead of them, and
Hopalong fired instantly. His companion shrunk from him and looked at
him reproachfully.

“Why did you do that!” she demanded.

“Why, because they costs us big money every year,” he replied. “There’s
a bounty on them because they pull down calves, an’ sometimes full grown
cows. I’m shore wonderin’ why he got so close--they’re usually just out
of range, where they stays.”

“Promise me that you will shoot no more while I am with you.

“Why, shore: I didn’t think yu’d care,” he replied. “Yu are like that
sky-pilot over to Las Cruces--he preached agin killin’ things, which is
all right for him, who didn’t have no cows.”

“Do you go to the missions?” She asked.

He replied that he did, sometimes, but forgot to add that it was usually
for the purpose of hilarity, for he regarded sky-pilots with humorous
toleration.

“Tell me all about yourself--what you do for enjoyment and all about your
work,” she requested.

He explained in minute detail the art of punching cows, and told her
more of the West in half an hour than she could have learned from a
year’s experience. She showed such keen interest in his words that it
was a pleasure to talk to her, and he monopolized the conversation until
the town intruded its sprawling collection of unpainted shacks and adobe
huts in their field of vision.



CHAPTER XXIV. The Strategy of Mr. Peters


Hopalong and his companion rode into Muddy Wells at noon, and Red
Connors, who leaned with Buck Peters against the side of Tom Lee’s
saloon, gasped his astonishment. Buck looked twice to be sure, and then
muttered incredulously: “What th’ heck!” Red repeated the phrase and
retreated within the saloon, while Buck stood his ground, having
had much experience with women, inasmuch as he had narrowly escaped
marrying. He thought that he might as well get all the information
possible, and waited for an introduction. It was in vain, however, for
the two rode past without noticing him.

Buck watched them turn the corner and then called for Red to come out,
but that person, fearing an ordeal, made no reply and the foreman went
in after him. The timorous one was corraling bracers at the bar and
nearly swallowed down the wrong channel when Buck placed a heavy hand on
his broad shoulder.

“G’way!” remarked Red. “I don’t want no introduction, none whatever,” he
asserted. “G’way!” he repeated, backing off suspiciously.

“Better wait ‘til yu are asked,” suggested Buck. “Better wait ‘til yu
sees th’ rope afore yu duck.” Then he laughed: “Yu bashful fellers make
me plumb disgusted. Why, I’ve seen yu face a bunch of guns an never turn
a hair, an’ here yore all in because yu fear yu’ll have to stand
around an’ hide yore hands. She won’t bite yu. Anyway, from what I saw,
Hopalong is due to be her grub--he never saw me at all, th’ chump.”

“He shore didn’t see me, none,” replied Red with distinct relief. “Are
they gone?”

“Shore,” answered Buck. “An’ if they wasn’t they wouldn’t see us, not
if we stood in front of them an’ yelled. She’s a hummer-stands two hands
under him an’ is a whole lot prettier than that picture Cowan has got
over his bar. There’s nothing th’ matter with his eyesight, but he’s
plumb locoed, all th’ same. He’ll go an’ get stuck on her an’ then
she’ll hit th’ trail for home an’ mamma, an’ he won’t be worth his feed
for a year.” Then he paused in consternation: “Thunder, Red: he’s got to
shoot to-morrow!”

“Well, suppose he has?” Responded Red. “I don’t reckon she’ll stampede
his gun-play none.

“Yu don’t reckon, eh?” Queried Buck with much irony. “No, an’ that’s
what’s th’ matter with yu. Why, do yu expect to see him to-morrow? Yu
won’t if I knows him an’ I reckon I do. Nope, he’ll be follerin’ her all
around.”

“He’s got sand to burn,” remarked Red in awe. “Wonder how he got to know
her?”

“Yu can gamble she did th’ introducing part--he ain’t got th’ nerve to
do it himself. He saved her life, or she thinks he did, or some romantic
nonsense like that. So yu better go around an’ get him away, an’ keep
him away, too.”

“Who, me?” Inquired Red in indignation. “Me go around an’ tote him off?
I ain’t no wagon: yu go, or send Johnny.”

“Johnny would say something real pert an’ get knocked into th’ middle
of next week for it. He won’t do, so I reckon yu better go yoreself,”
 responded Buck, smiling broadly and moving off.

“Hey, yu! Wait a minute!” cried Red in consternation. Buck paused and
Red groped for an excuse: “Why don’t you send Billy?” He blurted in
desperation.

The foreman’s smile assumed alarming proportions and he slapped his
thigh in joy: “Good boy!” he laughed. “Billy’s th’ man--good Lord, but
won’t he give Cupid cold feet! Rustle around an’ send th’ pessimistic
soul to me.”

Red, grinning and happy, rapidly visited door after door, shouted, “Hey,
Billy!” and proceeded to the next one. He was getting pugnacious at
his lack of success when he espied Mr. Billy Williams tacking along the
accidental street as if he owned it. Mr. Williams was executing fancy
steps and was trying to sing many songs at once.

Red stopped and grabbed his bibulous friend as that person veered to
starboard: “Yore a peach of a life-preserver, yu are!” he exclaimed.

Billy balanced himself, swayed back and forth and frowned his
displeasure at this unwarranted action: “I ain’t no wife-deserter!” he
shouted. “Unrope me an’ give me th’ trail! No tenderfoot can ride me!”
 Then he recognized his friend and grinned joyously: “Shore I will, but
only one. Jus’ one more, jus’ one more. Yu see, m’friend, it was all
Jimmy’s fault. He--”

Red secured a chancery hold and dragged his wailing and remonstrating
friend to Buck, who frowned with displeasure.

“This yere,” said Red in belligerent disgust, “is th’ dod-blasted hero
what’s a-goin’ to save Hopalong from a mournful future. What are we
a-goin’ to do?”

Buck slipped the Colt’s from Billy’s holster and yanked the erring one
to his feet: “Fill him full of sweet oil, source him in th’ trough, walk
him around for awhile an’ see what it does,” he ordered.

Two hours later Billy walked up to his foreman and weakly asked what was
wanted. He looked as though he had just been released from a six-months’
stay in a hospital.

“Yu go over to th’ hotel an’ find Hopalong,” said the foreman sternly.
“Stay with him all th’ time, for there is a plot on foot to wing him on
th’ sly. If yu ain’t mighty spry he’ll be dead by night.”

Having delivered the above instructions and prevarications, Buck
throttled the laugh which threatened to injure him and scowled at Red,
who again fled into the saloon for fear of spoiling it all with revealed
mirth.

The convalescent stared in open-mouthed astonishment:

“What’s he doin’ in th’ hotel, an’ who’s goin’ to plug him?” He asked.

“Yu leave that to me,” replied Buck, “All yu has to do is to get on th’
job with yore gun,” handing the weapon to him, “an’ freeze to him like
a flea on a cow. Mebby there’ll be a woman in th’ game, but that ain’t
none of yore funeral--yu do what I said.”

“Blast th’ women!” exploded Billy, moving off. When he had entered the
hotel Buck went in to Red.

“For Pete’s sake!” moaned that person in senseless reiteration. “Th’
Lord help Billy! Holy Mackinaw!” he shouted. “Gimme a drink an’ let me
tell th’ boys.”

The members of the outfit were told of the plot and they gave their
uproarious sanction, all needing bracers to sustain them.

Billy found the clerk swapping lies with the bartender and, procuring
the desired information, climbed the stairs and hunted for room No. 6.
Discovering it, he dispensed with formality, pushed open the door and
entered.

He found his friend engaged in conversation with a pretty young
woman, and on a couch at the far side of the room lay an elderly
white-whiskered gentleman who was reading a magazine. Billy felt like a
criminal for a few seconds and then there came to him the thought that
his was a mission of great import and he braced himself to face any
ordeal. “Anyway,” he thought, “th’ prettier they are th’ more dust they
can raise.”

“What are yu doing here?” Cried Hopalong in amazement.

“That’s all right,” averred the protector, confidentially.

“What’s all right?”

“Why, everything,” replied Billy, feeling uncomfortable.

The elderly man hastily sat up and dropped his magazine when he saw
the armed intruder, his eyes as wide open as his mouth. He felt for
his spectacles, but did not need them, for he could see nothing but the
Colt’s which Billy jabbed at him.

“None of that!” snapped Billy. “‘ands up!” he ordered, and the hands went
up so quick that when they stopped the jerk shook the room. Peering over
the gentleman’s leg, Billy saw the spectacles and backed to the wall
as he apologized: “It’s shore on me, Stranger--I reckoned yu was
contemplatin’ some gun-play.”

Hopalong, blazing with wrath, arose and shoved Billy toward the hail,
when Mr. Johnny Nelson, oozing fight and importance, intruded his person
into the zone of action.

“Lord!” ejaculated the newcomer, staring at the vision of female
loveliness which so suddenly greeted him. “Mamma,” he added under his
breath. Then he tore off his sombrero: “Come out of this, Billy, yu
chump!” he exploded, backing toward the door, being followed by the
protector.

Hopalong slammed the door and turned to his hostess, apologizing for the
disturbance.

“Who are they?” Palpitated Miss Deane.

“What the deuce are they doing up here!” blazed her father. Hopalong
disclaimed any knowledge of them and just then Billy opened the door and
looked in.

“There he is again!” cried Miss Deane, and her father gasped. Hopalong
ran out into the hall and narrowly missed kicking Billy into Kingdom
Come as that person slid down the stairs, surprised and indignant.

Mr. Billy Williams, who sat at the top of the stairs, was feeling hungry
and thirsty when he saw his friend, Mr. Pete Wilson, the slow witted,
approaching.

“Hey, Pete,” he called, “come up here an’ watch this door while I
rustles some grub. Keep yore eyes open,” he cautioned.

As Pete began to feel restless the door opened and a dignified gentleman
with white whiskers came out into the hall and then retreated with great
haste and no dignity. Pete got the drop on the door and waited. Hopalong
yanked it open and kissed the muzzle of the weapon before he could stop,
and Pete grinned.

“Coming to th’ fight?” He loudly asked. “It’s going to be a shore ‘nough
sumptious scrap--just th’ kind yu allus like. Come on, th’ boys are
waitin’ for yu.”

“Keep quiet!” hissed Hopalong.

“What for?” Asked Pete in surprise. “Didn’t yu say yu shore wanted to
see that scrap?”

“Shut yore face an’ get scarce, or yu’ll go home in cans!”

As Hopalong seated himself once more Red strolled up to the door and
knocked. Hopalong ripped it open and Red, looking as fierce and worried
as he could, asked Hopalong if he was all right. Upon being assured by
smoking adjectives that he was, the caller looked relieved and turned
thoughtfully away.

“Hey, yu! Come here!” called Hopalong.

Red waved his hand and said that he had to meet a man and clattered
down the stairs. Hopalong thought that he, also, had to meet a man and,
excusing himself, hastened after his friend and overtook him in the
Street, where he forced a confession. Returning to his hostess he told
her of the whole outrage, and she was angry at first, but seeing the
humorous side of it, she became convulsed with laughter. Her father
re-read his paragraph for the thirteenth time and then, slamming the
magazine on the floor, asked how many times he was expected to read ten
lines before he knew what was in them, and went down to the bar.

Miss Deane regarded her companion with laughing eyes and then became
suddenly sober as he came toward her.

“Go to your foreman and tell him that you will shoot to-morrow, for I
will see that you do, and I will bring luck to the Bar-20. Be sure to
call for me at one o’clock: I will be ready.”

He hesitated, bowed, and slowly departed, making his way to Tom Lee’s,
where his entrance hushed the hilarity which had reigned. Striding
to where Buck stood, he placed his hands on his hips and searched the
foreman’s eyes.

Buck smiled: “Yu ain’t mad, are yu?” He asked.

Hopalong relaxed: “No, but blame near it.”

Red and the others grabbed him from the rear, and when he had been
“buffaloed” into good humor he threw them from him, laughed and waved
his hand toward the bar:

“Come up, yu sons-of-guns. Yore a cussed nuisance sometimes, but yore a
bully gang all th’ same.”



CHAPTER XXV. Mr. Ewalt Draws Cards


Tex Ewalt, cow-puncher, prospector, sometimes a rustler, but always a
dude, rode from El Paso in deep disgust at his steady losses at faro
and monte. The pecuniary side of these caused him no worry, for he was
flush. This pleasing opulence was due to his business ability, for
he had recently sold a claim for several thousand dollars. The first
operation was simple, being known in Western phraseology as “jumping”;
and the second, somewhat more complicated, was known as “salting.”

The first of the money spent went for a complete new outfit, and he had
parted with just three hundred and seventy dollars to feed his vanity.
He desired something contrasty and he procured it. His sombrero, of gray
felt a quarter of an inch thick, flaunted a band of black leather, on
which was conspicuously displayed a solid silver buckle. His neck was
protected by a crimson kerchief of the finest, heaviest silk. His shirt,
in pattern the same as those commonly worn in the cow country, was of
buckskin, soft as a baby’s cheek and impervious to water, and the Angora
goatskin chaps, with the long silken hair worn outside, were as white
as snow. Around his waist ran loosely a broad, black leather belt
supporting a heavy black holster, in which lay its walnut-handled
burden, a .44 caliber six-shooter; and thirty center-fire cartridges
peeked from their loops, fifteen on a side. His boots, the soles thin
and narrow and the heels high, were black and of the finest leather.
Huge spurs, having two-inch rowels, were held in place by buckskin
straps, on which, also, were silver buckles. Protecting his hands were
heavy buckskin gloves, also waterproof, having wide, black gauntlets.

Each dainty hock of his dainty eight-hundred-pound buckskin pony was
black, and a black star graced its forehead. Well groomed, with
flowing mane and tail, and with the brand on its flank being almost
imperceptible, the animal was far different in appearance from most of
the cow-ponies. Vicious and high-spirited, it cavorted just enough to
show its lines to the best advantage.


The saddle, a famous Cheyenne and forty pounds in weight, was black,
richly embossed, and decorated with bits of beaten silver which flashed
back the sunlight. At the pommel hung a thirty-foot coil of braided
horsehair rope, and at the rear was a Sharp’s .50-caliber, breech-loading
rifle, its owner having small use for any other make. The color of the
bridle was the same as the saddle and it supported a heavy U bit which
was capable of a leverage sufficient to break the animal’s jaw.

Tex was proud of his outfit, but his face wore a frown--not there only on
acount of his losses, but also by reason of his mission, for under all
his finery beat a heart as black as any in the cow country. For months
he had smothered hot hatred and he was now on his way to ease himself of
it.

He and Slim Travennes had once exchanged shots with Hopalong in Santa
Fe, and the month which he had spent in bed was not pleasing, and from
that encounter had sprung the hatred. That he had been in the wrong made
no difference with him. Some months later he had learned of the death
of Slim, and it was due to the same man. That Slim had again been in
the wrong also made no difference, for he realized the fact and nothing
else.

Lately he had been told of the death of Slippery Trendley and Deacon
Rankin, and he accepted their passing as a personal affront. That they
had been caught red-handed in cattle stealing of huge proportions and
received only what was customary under the conditions formed no excuse
in his mind for their passing. He was now on his way to attend the
carnival at Muddy Wells, knowing that his enemy would be sure to be
there.

While passing through Las Cruces he met Porous Johnson and Silent Somes,
who were thirsty and who proclaimed that fact, whereupon he relieved
them of their torment and, looking forward to more treatment of a
similar nature, they gladly accompanied him without asking why or where.

As they left the town in their rear Tex turned in his saddle and
surveyed them with a cynical smile.

“Have yu heard anything of Trendley?” He asked.

They shook their heads.

“Him an’ th’ Deacon was killed over in th’ Panhandle,” he said.

“What!” chorused the pair.

“Jack Dorman, Shorty Danvers, Charley Teale, Stiffhat Bailey, Billy
Jackson, Terry Nolan an’ Sailor Carson was lynched.”

“What!” they shouted.

“Fish O’Brien, Pinochle Schmidt, Tom Wilkins, Apache Gordon, Charley of
th’ Bar Y, Penobscot Hughes an’ about twenty others died fightin’.”

Porous looked his astonishment: “Cavalry?”

“An’ I’m going after th’ dogs who did it,” he continued, ignoring the
question. “Are yu with me?--Yu used to pal with some of them, didn’t
yu?”

“We did, an’ we’re shore with yu!” cried Porous.

“Yore right,” endorsed Silent. “But who done it?”

“That gang what’s punchin’ for th’ Bar-20-Hopalong Cassidy is th’ one
I’m pining for. Yu fellers can take care of Peters an’ Connors.”

The two stiffened and exchanged glances of uncertainty and apprehension.
The outfit of the Bar-20 was too well known to cause exuberant joy to
spring from the idea of war with it, and well in the center of all the
tales concerning it were the persons Tex had named. To deliberately
set forth with the avowed intention of planting these was not at all
calculated to induce sweet dreams.

Tex sneered his contempt.

“Yore shore uneasy: yu ain’t a-scared, are yu?” He drawled. Porous
relaxed and made a show of subduing his horse: “I reckon I ain’t scared
plumb to death. Yu can deal me a hand,” he asserted.

“I’ll draw cards too,” hastily announced Silent, buttoning his vest.
“Tell us about that jamboree over in th’ Panhandle.”

Tex repeated the story as he had heard it from a bibulous member of the
Barred Horseshoe, and then added a little of torture as a sauce to whet
their appetites for revenge.

“How did Trendley cash in?” Asked Porous.

“Nobody knows except that bum from th’ Tin-Cup. I’ll get him later. I’d
a got Cassidy up in Santa Fe, too, if it wasn’t for th’ sun in my eyes.
Me an’ Slim loosened up on him in th’ Plaza, but we couldn’t see nothing
with him a-standin’ against th’ sun.”

“Where’s Slim now?” Asked Porous. “I ain’t seen him for some time.”

“Slim’s with Trendley,” replied Tex. “Cassidy handed him over to St.
Pete at Cactus Springs. Him an’ Connors sicked their outfit on him an’
his vigilantes, bein helped some by th’ O-Bar-O. They wiped th’ town
plumb off th’ earth, an’ now I’m going to do some wipin’ of my own
account. I’ll prune that gang of some of its blossoms afore long. It’s
cost me seventeen friends so far, an’ I’m going to stop th’ leak, or
make another.”

They entered Muddy Wells at sunrise on the day of the carnival and,
eating a hearty breakfast, sallied forth to do their share toward making
the festivities a success.

The first step considered necessary for the acquirement of case and
polish was begun at the nearest bar, and Tex, being the host, was so
liberal that his friends had reached a most auspicious state when they
followed him to Tom Lee’s.

Tex was too wise to lose his head through drink and had taken only
enough to make him careless of consequences. Porous was determined to
sing “Annie Laurie,” although he hung on the last word of the first
line until out of breath and then began anew. Silent, not wishing to be
outdone, bawled at the top of his lungs a medley of music-hall words to
the air of a hymn.

Tex, walking as awkwardly as any cow-puncher, approached Tom Lee’s, his
two friends trailing erratically, arm in arm, in his rear. Swinging his
arm he struck the door a resounding blow and entered, hand on gun, as it
crashed back. Porous and Silent stood in the doorway and quarreled as
to what each should drink and, compromising, lurched in and seated
themselves on a table and resumed their vocal perpetrations.

Tex swaggered over to the bar and tossed a quarter upon it: “Corn
juice,” he laconically exclaimed. Tossing off the liquor and glancing
at his howling friends, he shrugged his shoulders and strode out by the
rear door, slamming it after him. Porous and Silent, recounting friends
who had “cashed in” fell to weeping and they were thus occupied when
Hopalong and Buck entered, closely followed by the rest of the outfit.

Buck walked to the bar and was followed by Hopalong, who declined his
foreman’s offer to treat. Tom Lee set a bottle at Buck’s elbow and
placed his hands against the bar.

“Friend of yourn just hit the back trail,” he remarked to Hopalong. “He
was primed some for trouble, too,” he added.

“Yaas?” Drawled Hopalong with little interest.

The proprietor restacked the few glasses and wiped off the bar. “Them’s
his pardners,” he said, indicating the pair on the table.

Hopalong turned his head and gravely scrutinized them. Porous was
bemoaning the death of Slim Travennes and Hopalong frowned.

“Don’t reckon he’s no relation of mine,” he grunted.

“Well, he ain’t yore sister,” replied Tom Lee, grinning.

“What’s his brand?” Asked the puncher.

“I reckon he’s a maverick, ‘though yu put yore brand on him up to Santa
Fe a couple of years back. Since he’s throwed back on yore range I
reckon he’s yourn if yu wants him.”

“I reckon Tex is some sore,” remarked Hopalong, rolling a cigarette.

“I reckon he is,” replied the proprietor, tossing Buck’s quarter in the
cash box. “But, say, you should oughter see his rig.”

“Yaas?”

“He’s shore a cow-punch dude--my, but he’s some sumptious an’
highfalutin’. An’ bad? Why, he reckons th’ Lord never brewed a more
high-toned brand of cussedness than his’n. He shore reckons he’s the
baddest man that ever simmered.”

“How’d he look as th’ leadin’ man in a necktie festival?” Blazed Johnny
from across the room, feeling called upon to help the conversation.

“He’d be a howlin’ success, son,” replied Skinny Thompson, “judgin’ by
his friends what we elevated over in th’ Panhandle.”

Lanky Smith leaned forward with his elbow on the table, resting his chin
in the palm of his hand: “Is Ewalt still a-layin’ for yu, Hopalong?” He
asked.

Hopalong turned wearily and tossed his half-consumed cigarette into the
box of sand which did duty as a cuspidore: “I reckon so; an’ he shore
can hatch whenever he gets good an ready, too.”

“He’s probably a-broodin’ over past grievances,” offered Johnny, as
he suddenly pushed Lanky’s elbow from the table, nearly causing a
catastrophe.

“Yu’ll be broodin’ over present grievances if yu don’t look out, yu
everlastin’ nuisance yu,” growled Lanky, planting his elbow in its
former position with an emphasis which conveyed a warning.

“These bantams ruflle my feathers,” remarked Red. “They go around
braggin’ about th’ egg they’re goin’ to lay an’ do enough cacklin’
to furnish music for a dozen. Then when th’ affair comes off yu’ll
generally find they’s been settin’ on a door-knob.”

“Did yu ever see a hen leave th’ walks of peace an’ bugs an’ rustle
hell-bent across th’ trail plumb in front of a cayuse?” Asked Buck.
“They’ll leave off rustlin’ grub an’ become candidates for th’ graveyard
just for cussedness. Well, a whole lot of men are th’ same way. How many
times have I seen them swagger into a gin shop an’ try to run things
sudden an’ hard, an’ that with half a dozen better men in th’ same room?
There’s shore a-plenty of trouble a-comin’ to every man without rustlin’
around for more.

“‘Member that time yu an’ Frenchy tried to run th’ little town of Frozen
Nose, up in Montana?” Asked Johnny, winking at the rest.

“An’ we did run it, for a while,” responded Buck. “But that only goes to
show that most young men are chumps--we were just about yore age then.”

Red laughed at the youngster’s discomfiture: “That little squib of yourn
shore touched her off--I reckon we irrigates on yu this time, don’t we?”

“Th’ more th’ Kid talks, th’ more money he needs,” remarked Lanky,
placing his glass on the bar. “He had to blow me an’ Skinny twice last
night.”

“I got two more after yu left,” added Skinny “He shore oughter practice
keeping still.”

At one o’clock sharp Hopalong walked up to the clerk of the hotel and
grinned. The clerk looked up:

 “Hullo, Cassidy?”  He exclaimed, genially. “What was all that fuss
about this mornin’ when I was away? I haven’t seen you for a long time,
have I? How are you?”

“That fuss was a fool joke of Buck’s, an’ I wish they had been throwed
out,” Hopalong replied. “What I want to know is if Miss Deane is in her
room. Yu see, I have a date with her.”

The clerk grinned:

“So she’s roped you, too, has she?”

“What do yu mean?” Asked Hopalong in surprise. “Well, well,” laughed the
clerk. “You punchers are easy. Any third-rate actress that looks good to
eat can rope you fellows, all right. Now look here, Laura, you keep shy
of her corral, or you’ll be broke so quick you won’t believe you ever
had a cent: that’s straight. This is the third year that she’s been here
and I know what I’m talking about. How did you come to meet her?”

Hopalong explained the meeting and his friend laughed again:

“Why, she knows this country like a book. She can’t get lost anywhere
around here. But she’s blame clever at catching punchers.”

“Well, I reckon I’d better take her, go broke or not,” replied Hopalong.
“Is she in her room?”

“She is, but she is not alone,” responded the clerk. “There is a
dude puncher up there with her and she left word here that she was
indisposed, which means that you are outlawed.”

“Who is he?” Asked Hopalong, having his suspicions. “That friend of
yours: Ewalt. He sported a wad this morning when she passed him, and she
let him make her acquaintance. He’s another easy mark. He’ll be busted
wide open to-night.”

“I reckon I’ll see Tex,” suggested Hopalong, starting for the stairs.

“Come back, you chump!” cried the clerk. “I don’t want any shooting
here. What do you care about it? Let her have him, for it’s an easy way
out of it for you. Let him think he’s cut you out, for he’ll spend all
the more freely. Get your crowd and enlighten them--it’ll be better than
a circus. This may sound like a steer, but it’s straight.”

Hopalong thought for a minute and then leaned on the cigar case:

“I reckon I’ll take about a dozen of yore very best cigars, Charley. Got
any real high-toned brands?”

“Cortez panatella--two for a simoleon,” Chancy replied. “But, seein’ that
it’s you, I’ll throw off a dollar on a dozen. They’re a fool notion of
the old man, for we can’t sell one in a month.”

Hopalong dug up a handful and threw one on the counter, lighting
another: “Yu light a Cortez panatella with me,” he said, pocketing the
remainder. “That’s five simoleons she didn’t get. So long.”

He journeyed to Tom Lee’s and found his outfit making merry. Passing
around his cigars he leaned against the bar and delighted in the first
really good smoke he had since he came home from Kansas City.

Johnny Nelson blew a cloud of smoke at the ceiling and paused with a
pleased expression on his face:

“This is a lalapoloosa of a cigar,” he cried. “Where’d yu get it, an’
how many’s left?”

“I got it from Charley, an’ there’s more than yu can buy at fifty a
shot.”

“Well, I’ll just take a few for luck,” Johnny responded, running out
into the street. Returning in five minutes with both hands full of
cigars he passed them around and grinned: “They’re birds, all right!”

Hopalong smiled, turned to Buck and related his conversation with
Chancy. “What do yu think of that?” He asked as he finished.

“I think Charley oughter be yore guardian,” replied the foreman.

“He was,” replied Hopalong.

“If we sees Tex we’ll all grin hard,” laughed Red, making for the door.
“Come on to th’ contests--Lanky’s gone already.”

Muddy Wells streamed to the carnival grounds and relieved itself of
its enthusiasm and money at the booths on the way. Cow-punchers rubbed
elbows with Indians and Mexicans, and the few tourists that were present
were delighted with the picturesque scene. The town was full of fakirs
and before one of them stood a group of cow-punchers, apparently
drinking in the words of a barker.

“Right this way, gents, and see the woman who don’t eat. Lived for two
years without food, gents. Right this way, gents. Only a quarter of a
dollar. Get your tickets, gents, and see--”

Red pushed forward:

“What did yu say, pard?” He asked. “I’m a little off in my near ear.
What’s that about eatin’ a woman for two years?”

“The greatest wonder of the age, gents. The wom--”

“Any discount for th’ gang?” Asked Buck, gawking.

“Why don’t yu quit smokin’ an’ buy th’ lady a meal?” Asked Johnny from
the center of the group.

“Th’ cane yu ring th’ cane yu get!” came from the other side of the
street and Hopalong purchased rings for the outfit. Twenty-four rings
got one cane, and it was divided between them as they wended their way
toward the grounds.

“That makes six wheels she didn’t get,” murmured Hopalong. As they
passed the snake charmer’s booth they saw Tex and his companion ahead
of them in the crowd, and they grinned broadly. “I like th’ front row in
th’ balcony,” remarked Johnny, who had been to Kansas City. “Don’t cry
in th’ second act--it ain’t real,” laughed Red. “We’ll hang John Brown on
a sour appletree--in th’ Panhandle,” sang Skinny as they passed them.

Arriving at the grounds they hunted up the registration committee and
entered in the contests. As Hopalong signed for the revolver competition
he was rudely pushed aside and Tex wrote his name under that of his
enemy. Hopalong was about to show quick resentment for the insult, but
thought of what Charley had said, and he grinned sympathetically. The
seats were filling rapidly, and the outfit went along the ground looking
for friends. A bugle sounded and a hush swept over the crowd as the
announcement was made for the first event.

“Broncho-busting-Red Devil, never ridden: Frenchy McAllister, Tin-Cup,
Montana; Meteor, killed his man: Skinny Thompson, Bar-20, Texas; Vixen,
never ridden: Lefty Allen, O-Bar-O, Texas.”

All eyes were focused on the plain where the horse was being led out
for the first trial. After the usual preliminaries had been gone through
Frenchy walked over to it, vaulted in the saddle and the bandage was
torn from the animal’s eyes. For ten minutes the onlookers were held
spellbound by the fight before them, and then the horse kicked and
galloped away and Frenchy was picked up and carried from the field.

“Too bad!” cried Buck, running from the outfit.

“Did yu see it?” asked Johnny excitedly, “Th’ cinch busted.” Another
horse was led out and Skinny Thompson vaulted to the saddle, and after
a fight of half an hour rode the animal from the enclosure to the
clamorous shouts of his friends. Lefty Allen also rode his mount from
the same gate, but took ten minutes more in which to do it.

The announcer conferred with the timekeepers and then stepped forward:
“First, Skinny Thompson, Bar-20, thirty minutes and ten seconds; second,
Lefty Allen, O-Bar-O, forty minutes and seven seconds.”

Skinny returned to his friends shamefacedly and did not look as if he
had just won a championship. They made way for him, and Johnny, who
could not restrain his enthusiasm pounded him on the back and cried: “Yu
old son-of-a-gun!”

The announcer again came forward and gave out the competitors for the
next contest, steer-roping and tying. Lanky Smith arose and, coiling his
rope carefully, disappeared into the crowd. The fun was not so great in
this, but when he returned to his outfit with the phenomenal time of six
minutes and eight seconds for his string of ten steers, with twenty-two
seconds for one of them, they gave him vociferous greeting. Three of his
steers had gotten up after he had leaped from his saddle to tie them,
but his horse had taken care of that. His nearest rival was one minute
over him and Lanky retained the championship.

Red Connors shot with such accuracy in the rifle contest as to run his
points twenty per cent higher than Waffles, of the O-Bar-O, and won the
new rifle.

The main interest centered in the revolver contest, for it was known
that the present champion was to defend his title against an enemy and
fears were expressed in the crowd that there would be an “accident.”
 Buck Peters and Red stood just behind the firing line with their hands
on hips, and Tex, seeing the precautions, smiled grimly as he advanced
to the line.

Six bottles, with their necks an inch above a board, stood twenty paces
from him, and he broke them all in as many shots, taking twelve seconds
in which to do it. Hopalong followed him and tied the score. Three tin
balls rolling erratically in a blanket supported by two men were
sent flying into the air in four shots, Tex taking six seconds. His
competitor sent them from the blanket in three shots and in the same
time. In slow shooting from sights Tex passed his rival in points and
stood to win. There was but one more event to be contested and in it
Hopalong found his joy.

Shooting from the hip when the draw is timed is not the sport of even
good shots, and when Tex made sixty points out of a possible hundred, he
felt that he had shot well. When Hopalong went to the line his
friends knew that they would now see shooting such as would be almost
unbelievable, that the best draw-and-shoot marksman in their State was
the man who limped slightly as he advanced and who chewed reflectively
on his fifty-cent cigar. He wore two guns and he stepped with confidence
before the marshal of the town, who was also judge of the contest.

The iron ball which lay on the ground was small enough for the use of a
rifle and could hardly be seen from the rear seats of the amphitheater.
There was a word spoken by the timekeeper, and a gloved hand flashed
down and up, and the ball danced and spun and leaped and rolled as shot
after shot followed it with a precision and speed which brought the
audience to a heavy silence. Taking the gun which Buck tossed to him
and throwing it into the empty holster, he awaited the signal, and then
smoke poured from his hips and the ball jumped continuously. Both guns
emptied in the two-hand shooting, he wheeled and jerked loose the guns
which the marshal wore, spinning around without a pause, the target
hardly ceasing in its rolling. Under his arms he shot, backward and
between his legs; leaping from side to side, ducking and dodging,
following the ball wherever it went. Reloading the weapons quickly,
he stepped forward and followed the ball until once more his guns
were empty. Then he turned and walked back to the side of the marshal,
smiling a little. His friends, and there were many in the crowd, torn
from their affected nonchalance by shooting the like of which they had
not attributed even to him, roared and shouted and danced in a frenzy of
delight.

Red also threw his guns to Hopalong, who caught them in the air and
turning, faced Tex, who stood white of face and completely lost in the
forgetfulness of admiration and amazement. The guns jerked again and a
button flew from the buckskin shirt of his enemy; another tore a flower
from his breast and another drove it into the ground at his feet as
others stirred his hair and cut the buckle off his pretty sombrero. Tex,
dazed, but wise enough to stand quiet, felt his belt tear loose and drop
to his feet, felt a spur rip from its strap and saw his cigarette leap
from his lips. Throwing the guns to Red, Hopalong laughed and abruptly
turned and was lost in the crowd.

For several seconds there was silence, but when the dazed minds realized
what their eyes had seen, there arose a roar which shook the houses in
the town. Roar after roar thundered forth and was sent crashing back
again by the distant walls, sweeping down on the discomfited dude and
causing him to slink into the crowd to find a place less conspicuous. He
was white yet and keen fear gripped his heart as he realized that he had
come to the carnival with the expressed purpose of killing his enemy in
fair combat. The whole town knew it, for he had taken pains to spread
the news.

The woman he had been with knew it from words which she had overheard
while on her way to the grounds with him. His friends knew it and would
laugh him into forgetfulness as the fool who boasted. Now he understood
why he had lost so many friends: they had attempted what he had sworn to
attempt. Look where he would he could see only a smoke-wrapped demon who
moved and shot with a speed incredible. There was reason why Slim had
died. There was reason why Porous and Silent had paled when they learned
of their mission.

He hated his conspicuous clothes and his pretty broncho, and the
woman who had gotten him to squander his money, and who was doubtless
convulsed with laughter at his expense. He worked himself into a passion
which knew no fear and he ran for the streets of the town, there to
make good his boast or to die. When he found his enemy he felt himself
grasped with a grip of steel and Buck Peters swung him around and
grinned maliciously in his face:

“You plaything!” hoarsely whispered the foreman. “Why don’t yu get away
while yu can? Why do yu want to throw yoreself against certain death? I
don’t want my pleasure marred by a murder, an’ that is what it will
be if yu makes a gun-play at Hopalong. He’ll shoot yu as he did yore
buttons. Take yore pretty clothes an’ yore pretty cayuse an’ go where
this is not known, an’ if ever again yu feels like killing Hopalong, get
drunk an’ forget it.”





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