Hopalong cassidy, p.15
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.15

           Honoré Morrow



  Before daylight the next morning Antonio left the ranch and rodesouth, bearing slightly to the west, so as not to leave his trail inCurley's path. He was to meet some of Shaw's men who would come formore cattle. When a dozen miles southwest of the ranch house he espiedthem at work on the edge of an arroyo. They had a fire going and werere-branding a calf. Far out on the plain was a dead cow, the calf'smother, shot because they had become angered by its belligerency whenit had gone "on th' prod." They had driven cow and calf hard and whenthey tried to separate the two the mother had charged viciously,narrowly missing one of them, to die by a shot from the man mostconcerned. Meanwhile the calf had run back over its trail and they hadroped it as it was about to plunge over the bank of the arroyo.

  "You fools!" yelled Antonio, galloping towards them. "Don't you knowbetter'n to blot on this range! How many times have I told you thatCurley rides south!"

  "He never gets this far west--we've watched him," retorted Clausen,angrily.

  "Is that any reason why he can't!" demanded the Mexican. "How do weknow what he'll do?"

  "Yes!" rejoined Clausen. "An' I reckon he can find that steep-bankhollow with th' rope gate, can't he? Suppose he finds th' herds youholds in it for us--what then?"

  "It's a whole lot farther west than here!" retorted Antonio, hotly."They never go to Little Muddy, an' if they do, that's a chance we'vegot to take. But you can wait till you get to th' mesa before youchange brands, can't you!"

  "Aw, close yore pie-sump!" cried Frisco. "Who th' devil is doing this,anyhow? You make more noise than Cheyenne on th' Fourth of July!"

  "What right have you fellers got to take chances an' hobble _me_ withtrouble?"

  "Who's been doing all th' sleepering, hey?" sarcastically demandedDick Archer. "Let Meeker's gang see the God-forsaken bunch of sleepersrunning on their range an' you'll be hobbled with trouble, all right."

  Through laziness, carelessness, or haste calves might not be brandedwhen found with branded cows. Feeling was strong against the use ofthe "running iron," a straight iron rod about eighteen inches longwhich was heated and used as a pencil on the calf's hide, and a mancaught with one in his possession could expect to be dealt withharshly; it was a very easy task to light a fire and "run" a brand,and the running iron was easily concealed under the saddle flap. Butit was not often that a puncher would carry a stamping iron, for itwas cumbersome. With a running iron a brand could be changed, or thewrong mark put on unbranded cattle; but the stamping iron would giveonly one pattern.

  When a puncher came across an unbranded calf with its branded mother,and the number which escaped the roundup was often large, he brandedit, if he had an iron; if he did not have the iron he might cut thecalf's ears to conform to the notch in its mother's ears. When thecalf was again seen it might have attained its full growth. In thatcase there was no branded mother to show to whom it belonged; but itscut ears would tell.

  These unbranded, ear-cut calves were known as "sleepers" and, inlocalities where cattle stealing was being or had been carried on toany extent, such sleepering was regarded with strong suspicion, andmore than one man had paid a dear price for doing the work.

  The ear mark of the H2 was a V, while the Bar-20 depended entirely onthe brand, and part of its punchers' saddle equipment was a stampingiron.

  Cowmen held sleepering in strong disfavor because it was an easymatter for a maverick hunter or a rustler to drive off these sleepersand, after altering the ear cut, to brand them with his own or somestrange brand; and it was easy to make sleepers.

  In the case of rustling the separation of branded calves and motherswas imperative, for should any one see a cow of one brand with a calfof another, it was very probable that a committee of discretionarypowers would look into the matter. Hobbling and laming mothers andthen driving away the calves were not the only ways of separating themand of weaning the calves, for a shot was often as good a way as any;but as dead cows, if found, were certain to tell the true story, thiswas not generally employed.

  "Yes," laughed Frisco. "What about th' sleepers?"

  They were discreetly silent about the cow they had killed, for theywere ashamed of having left such a sign; but they would not standAntonio's scorn and anger, and that of the other members of the band,and so said nothing about it.

  "Where's th' mother of this calf?" demanded the Mexican, not heedingthe remarks about sleepers.

  "Hanged if I know," replied Clausen, easily; "an' hanged if I care--wecan leave _one_ cow, I reckon."

  "Got many for us this time?" asked Archer as they rode west, drivingbefore them the newly branded calf.

  "Not many," replied Antonio. "It's risky, with Curley loose. We won'tbe able to do much till th' fighting starts."

  When they reached their destination they came to a deep, steep-walleddepression, exit from which was had at only one end where a narrowtrail wound up to the plain. Across this trail at its narrowest pointwas stretched a lariat.

  The depression itself was some ten acres in extent and was wellcovered with grass, while near the southwest corner was a muddy poolproviding water for the herd which was now held captive.

  Clausen rode down and removed the rope, riding into the basin tohasten the egress of the herd. When the last cow had scrambled out andjoined its fellows, Archer and Frisco drove them west, leaving Clausento say a few final words with Antonio before joining them.

  "How's th' range war coming on?"

  "Fine!" laughed Antonio. "Meeker's going to attack th' line house onth' Peak, though what good it'll do him is more than I can figure out.I put it in his head because it'll start th' fight. I had to grin whenI heard Meeker and Doc planning it last night--they're easy."

  "Gee!" laughed Clausen. "It's a stiff play. Who's going to win?Meeker?"

  "Meeker's going to get th' licking of his life. I know that Bar-20gang, every one. I've lived down here for some time, an' I know whatthey've done. Don't never get in a six-shooter argument with thatfeller Cassidy; an' if his friend Connors tells you to stop undereight hundred yards, you do it, an' trust to yore tongue, or Colt.He's th' devil hisself with a Winchester."

  "Much obliged--but I ain't so bad that way myself. Well, I'm going toooze west. Got any word for Shaw?"

  "I'll send word by Benito--I'll know more about it to-morrow."

  "All right," and Clausen was being jerked over the scenery by hisimpatient mount.

  Antonio wheeled and rode at a gallop, anxious to be found on northernrange, and eager to learn the result of his foreman's attack.

  * * * * *

  "Salem," once a harpooner on a whaling vessel, now cook for the H2,drove home from Eagle in the chuck wagon, which contained foodsupplies for his ranch. He was in that state hovering between tearsand song, which accounts for the winding trail his wagon wheels left,and also for him being late. He had tarried in Eagle longer than heshould have, for he was reluctant to quit the society of his severalnewly made friends, who so pleasantly allowed him to "buy" for them.When he realized how the time had flown and that his outfit would beclamoring for the noonday meal, such clamoring being spicy andpersonal in its expression, he left the river trail before he shouldand essayed a shorter way home, chanting a sea song.

  A pirate bold, on th' Spanish Main-- Set sail, yo-ho, an' away we go--

  "Starboard yore helm, you lubbers!" he shouted when the horses headedtowards Mexico. Then he saw a large bulk lying on the sand a shortdistance ahead and he sat bolt upright.

  "There she blows! No, blast me, it's a dead cow!"

  He drove closer to it and, stopping the team, staggered over to seewhat had killed it.

  "D--n me, if it ain't shot in th' port eye!" he ejaculated. "If I findthe lubber what's sinkin' our cows, I'll send him to Davy Jones'locker!"

  He returned to the wagon and steered nor' by nor' east, once morecertain of his bearings, for he knew the locality now, and sometimelater he saw Curley ridi
ng towards him.

  "Ahoy!" he yelled. "Ahoy, you wind-jammer!"

  "What's eating you? Why are you so late?" demanded Curley,approaching. "You needn't say--I know."

  "Foller my wake an' you'll see a dead cow," cried Salem. "Deader'ndead, too! Shot in th' starboard--no, was it starboard? Now, d----d ifI know--reckon it was in th' port eye, though I didn't see no portlight; aye, 'twas in th' port--"

  "What in h--l do I care what eye it was!" shouted Curley. "Where isit?"

  "Eight knots astern. Shot in th' port eye, an', as I said, deader'ndead. Flew our flag, too."

  Curley, believing that the cook had seen what he claimed, wheeledabruptly and galloped away to report it to Meeker.

  "Hey! Ain't you going to _see_ it?" yelled Salem, and as he receivedno reply, turned to his team. "Come on, weigh anchor! Think I want tolay out here all night? 'A-sailing out of Salem town,--'" he began,and then stopped short and thought. "I _knowed_ it!--it _was_ th' porteye! Same side th' flag was on!" he exclaimed, triumphantly.

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