Hopalong cassidy, p.12
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.12
 

           Honoré Morrow

  CHAPTER XII

  HOBBLE BURNS AND SLEEPERS

  The western part of the Bar-20 ranch was poor range and but few cattlewere to be found on it until Big Coulee had been reached. This portionof the ranch fed quite a large number of cattle, many of which wereoutlaws, but because of the heavy work demanded on the more fertilesouthern and eastern sections it was the custom with Buck to paylittle attention to the Big Coulee herds; if a man rode up there oncein a while he was satisfied. This time it was Skinny who was to lookover the condition of affairs around Number Two, which was not farfrom Big Coulee.

  Detouring here and there he took his own time and followed the generaldirection of the western line, and about four hours after he hadquitted the Peak he passed line house Number Two and shortly afterwardstopped on the rim of the coulee, a brush-grown depression of a scoreof acres in extent, in which was a pond covering half an acre and fedby springs on the bottom, its outlet being a deep gorge cut in thesoft stone. Half a mile from the pond the small stream disappeared inthe sand and was lost.

  He rode through the coulee without seeing a single cow and anexploration lasting over an hour resulted no better. Beyond a beartrack or two among the berry bushes he saw no signs of animal life.This did not disturb him because he took it for granted that the herdshad wandered back to where the grass was better. Stopping at the linehouse to eat, he mounted and rode towards the hills to report toHopalong.

  Suddenly it struck him that he had seen no cow tracks in the mudaround the water hole and he began to hunt for cattle. Using Pete'sglasses constantly to sweep the plain for the missing herds, it wasnot until he had reached a point half-way to the Peak that his searchwas rewarded by seeing a calf far to the east of him. Watching ituntil it stood out boldly to his sight he followed an impulse and rodetowards it to examine it at close range.

  Upon getting near it he saw that it bore the V notch of the H2 cut inits ear, and that it was not branded. He thought it strange that an H2"sleeper" should be so far from home, without a mother to lead itastray, and he roped it to look more closely at the notch. His opinionwas that it had been done very recently, for the cartilage had not yetdried on the edges. Releasing the animal he mounted and started forthe line, muttering to himself.

  As he swung into the line trail he saw a lame cow limping around athicket and he spurred forward, roped and threw it, this time givingno thought to the ears, for its brand was that of the Bar-20. Helooked at the hocks and found them swollen and inflamed, and hisexperience told him that it had been done by hobbles. This, to him,explained why the calf was alone, and it gave him the choice of twoexplanations for the hobbling and the newly cut ear notch on the calf.Either the H2 was sleepering Bar-20 calves for their irons later on,or rustlers were at work. It seemed incredible that any H2 punchershould come that distance to make a few sleepers--but the herd had notbeen to the water hole! He was greatly wrought up and it was none themore pleasant to be unable to say where the blame lay. There was onlyone thing to do and that was to scout around and try to find a clue tothe perpetrators--and, perhaps, catch the thieves at work. This provedto be unfruitful until he came to North Hill, where he found a cowdead from gunshot. He put spurs to his horse and rode straight for thePeak, which he reached as night fell and as Hopalong, Red, Pete, andLanky were eating supper and debating the line conditions.

  Skinny joined them and listened to the conversation, wordless, noddingor shaking his head at the points made. When he had finished eating heleaned back against his saddle and fumbled for tobacco and pipe,gazing reflectively into the fire, at which he spat. Hopalong turnedin time to see the act and, knowing Skinny's peculiarities, askedabruptly: "What's on yore mind, Skinny?"

  "Little piece of h--l," was the slow reply, and it gained theattention of the others at once. "I saw a H2 sleeper, up just aboveth' Bend and half way between it an' th' line."

  "That so!" exclaimed Hopalong.

  "Long way from home--starting in young to ramble," Red laughed. "Lazytrick, that sleepering."

  "This here calf had a brand new V--hadn't healed yet," Skinnyremarked, lighting his pipe. "An' it didn't--_puff_--haveno--_puff_--mother," he added, significantly.

  "Huh, weaned, you chump--but that fresh V is shore funny."

  "Go on, Skinny," ordered Hopalong, eagerly.

  "I found its mother an hour later--hobble-burned an' limping; an' itwasn't no H2 cow, neither; it was one of ourn."

  "Rustling!" cried Hopalong.

  "Th' H2 is doing it," contradicted Red, quickly.

  "They wouldn't take a chance like that," replied Hopalong.

  "There ain't no rule for taking chances," Red rejoined. "Some men'llgamble with h--l itself--you, for instance, in gun-play."

  "What else?" demanded Hopalong of Skinny.

  "That Big Coulee herd ain't up there, an' hain't been near th' waterhole for so long th' mud's smooth around the edges of th' pond; kinsavvy?"

  "It's rustlers, by G-d!" cried Hopalong, looking triumphantly at Red.

  "An' I found a dead cow--shot--on th' upper end of North Hill," Skinnyadded.

  "H2!" Red shouted. "They're doing it!"

  "Yes, likely; it was an H2 cow," Skinny placidly explained.

  "Why in h--l can't you tell things in a herd, 'stead of stringin' 'emout like a stiff reata trailing to soften!" Red cried. "Yo're thedamndest talker that ever opened a mouth!"

  Skinny took the pipe from his mouth and looked at Red.

  "I allus get it all out, don't I? What are you kicking about?"

  "Yes, you do; like a five thousand herd filtering through a two-footgate!"

  "Mebby th' herd drifted to th' valley," Pete offered.

  "Mebby nothing!" Red retorted. "Why, we can't drive 'em down herewithout 'em acting loco about it."

  "Cows are shore fool animals," Pete suggested in defence.

  "There's more than cows that are fool animals," Red snapped, whileSkinny laughed to see Pete get his share.

  * * * * *

  Sixteen miles to the southeast of the Peak, Meeker sat on a soap boxand listened, with the rest of his outfit, to what Curley wassaying,--"an' when I got down a good ways south I found two youngcalves bellering for their maws. They was sleepers; an' an hour laterI found them same maws bellering for them calves--they was limpinga-plenty an' their hocks looked burned--hobble burns."

  Meeker mused for a moment and then arose. "You ride that rangeregular, an' be cautious. Watch towards Eagle. If you catch anysons-of-skunks gamboling reckless, an' they can't explain why they areflitting over our range, shoot off yore gun accidental--there won't beno inquest."

 
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