Hopalong cassidy, p.13
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.13

           Honoré Morrow



  The eastern sky grew brighter and the dim morning light showed a groupof men at breakfast on the Peak. They already had been given theirorders and as soon as each man finished eating he strode off to wherehis horse was picketed with the others, mounted, and rode away. Petehad ridden in late the night before and was still sleeping in thehouse, Hopalong not wishing to awaken him until it was absolutelynecessary.

  Red Connors, riding back to the house from the horse herd, drew reinfor a final word. "I'm going out to watch that unholy drift ofMeeker's cows, just this side of th' half-way point. They was purtythick last night when I rode in. I told Johnny to keep on that part ofth' line, for I reckon things will get too crowded for one man tohandle. Th' two of us can take care of 'em, all right. You knows whereyou can find us if you need us."

  "I don't like that drift, but I'll stay here an' give Pete an hourmore sleep," Hopalong replied. "Buck didn't know just when he'd bedown again, but I'm looking for him before noon, just th' same."

  "Well, me an' Johnny'll stop th' drift. So long," and Red canteredaway, whistling softly.

  Hopalong kicked out the fire and walked restlessly around the plateau,puzzled by the massing of the H2 cows along the line. The play wasobvious enough on its face, for it meant that Meeker, tired ofinaction, had decided to force the issue by driving into the valley.But Hopalong, suspicious to a degree, was not satisfied with thatsolution.

  On more than one occasion he had searched past the obvious and founddeeper motives, and to this ferment of thought he owed his life manytimes. He, himself, essentially a schemer and trusting no one but themembers of his outfit, accused others of scheming and bent his mind tooutwit them. Buck often irritated him greatly, for the foreman,optimistic and believing all men honest until they proved to beotherwise, held that Meeker thought himself to be in the right and sowas justified in his attempt to use the valley. Hopalong believed thatMeeker was not square, that he knew he had no right to the valley andwas trying to steal range; he maintained that the wiser way was tobelieve all men crooked and put the burden on them of provingotherwise; then he was prepared for anything.

  A better cow-man than Buck Peters never lived; he knew the cattleindustry thoroughly, was honest, fair, and fearless, maintained aneven temper and tried to avoid fighting until the last ditch had beenreached. But it was an indisputable fact that Hopalong Cassidy hadproved himself to be the best man on the ranch when danger threatened.He grasped situations quickly and clearly and his companions looked tohim for suggestions when the sky was clouded by impending conflict.Buck realized that his line-foreman was eminently better qualified tohandle the skirmish line than himself, that Hopalong could carry outthings which would fall flat if any one else attempted them. Back ofBuck's confidence was the pleasing knowledge that no man had ever yetgot in the first shot against Hopalong on an "even break," and thatwhen his puncher's gun exploded it was all over; this is why Hopalongcould, single-handed, win out in any reasonable situation.

  While Hopalong turned the matter over in his mind he thought he saw afigure move among the chaparrals far to the south and he whipped outhis glasses, peering long and steadily at the place. Then he put themaway and laughed softly. "You can't fool me, by G-d! I'll let you makeyore play--an' if Pete don't kill a few of you I'm a liar. Here areth' shells--pick out th' pea."

  Returning to the house he shook Pete. "Hey, get up!"

  Pete bounded up, wide awake in an instant. "Yes?"

  "Put on yore clothes an' come outside a minute," he ordered, goingout.

  Pete finished buttoning his vest when he joined his friend, who waspointing south. "Pete, they're playing for this house, an' I can'tstay--Red an' Johnny may need me any minute. Down there a Greaser iswatching this house. Meeker is massing his cows along th' line for tworeasons; he's trying to draw us away from here so he can get in, an'he's going to push over th' line if he falls down here. You stay inthat shack. Don't leave it for a second, understand? Stop anybody thatcomes up here if you have to kill him. But don't leave this house fornothing, savvy?"

  "Go ahead. I savvy."

  Hopalong vaulted to his saddle and started away. "I'll get somebody tohelp you as soon as I can," he called.

  "Don't need anybody!" Pete shouted, going inside and barring the door.

  Hopalong was elated by the way he had forestalled Meeker, and alsobecause it was Pete who guarded the house. He knew his companions onlyas a man can know friends with whom he has lived for nearly a score ofyears. Red was too good a fighter to be cooped up while troublethreatened in the open; Johnny, rash and hot-tempered, could betempted to leave the house to indulge in personal combat if tauntedenough, and he, too, was too good a man in a _melee_ to remain on thePeak. The man for the house was Pete, for he was accurate enough forthat short range, he was unemotional and did not do much thinking forhimself when it ran counter to his instructions; he had been told tostay in the house and hold it, and that, Hopalong felt certain, hewould do.

  "Pete'll hold 'em with one leg in th' air if they happen to be takinga step when he sees 'em," he laughed.

  But Pete was to be confronted with a situation so unexpected and ofsuch a nature that for once in his life he was going to forgetorders--and small blame to him.

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