Hopalong cassidy, p.18
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.18
 

           Honoré Morrow

  CHAPTER XVIII

  THE LINE HOUSE RE-CAPTURED

  After Chick, Dan Morgan, and Ed Joyce had commandeered Antonio's horseand left him on foot they rode as rapidly as they could to the corralsof their ranch, where they saddled fresh mounts and galloped back totry conclusions with the men who had humbled them. They also wished tofind their foreman, who they knew was somewhere along the line. Chickrode to the west, Dan to the east, and Ed Joyce straight ahead;intending to search for Meeker and then ride together again.

  Meanwhile Antonio, tired of walking, returned to the line and lay inambush to waylay the first Bar-20 puncher to ride past him, hoping toget a horse and also to leave a dead man for the Bar-20 to find andlay the blame on the H2. He knew that his rustler allies had scouts inthe chaparrals and were ready to run off a big herd as soon asconditions were propitious, and he was anxious to give them the wordto begin.

  It chanced, however, that Ed Joyce was the first man to approach theMexican, and he paid dearly for being a party to taking Antonio'shorse. The dead man would not inflame the Bar-20, but the H2, and theresults would be the same in the end. Mounting Ed's horse Antoniogalloped north into the valley through West Arroyo so as to leavetracks in the direction of the Bar-20, intending to describe asemi-circle and return to his ranch by way of the river trail, leavingthe horse where the trail crossed the Jumping Bear. By going theremainder of the way on foot he would not be seen on the horse of themurdered puncher, which might naturally enough stray in thatdirection, and so be free from suspicion.

  Lanky Smith, wondering why none of his friends had passed him on theline, followed the trail west to see if things were as they should be.He was almost in sight of a point opposite West Arroyo, his view beingobstructed by chaparrals, when he heard a faint shot, and spurredforward, his rifle in the hollow of his arm ready for action. It couldmean only one thing--one of his friends was shooting H2 cows, andcomplications might easily follow. When he had turned out of an arroyowhich made part of the line for a short distance he saw a body huddledon the sand several hundred feet ahead of him. At that instant Meeker,with Chick and Dan close at his heels, came into view on the otherside, saw the body and, drawing their own conclusions, opened a hotfire on the Bar-20 puncher, riding to encircle him. Surprised for aninstant, and then filled with rage because they had killed one of hisfriends, as he thought, he returned their fire and raced at Chick, whowas now some distance from his companions. Dan and Meeker wheeledinstantly and rode to the aid of their friend, and Lanky's horsedropped from under him. Luckily for him he felt a warning tremor gothrough the animal and jerked his feet free from the stirrups as itsank down, quickly crawling behind it for protection.

  Immediately thereafter Chick lost his hat, then the use of his rightarm, followed by being deprived of the services of a very goodcow-pony, for Lanky now had a rest for his rifle and while hismarksmanship was not equal to that of his friend Red, it was goodenough for his present needs. Dan Morgan started to shout to hisforeman and then swore luridly instead, for Lanky was pleased to drillhim at five hundred yards, the bullet tearing a disconcerting hole inDan's thigh.

  Meeker had been most zealously engaged all this time in making hisrifle go off at regular intervals, his bullets kicking up the dust,humming viciously about Lanky's head, and thudding into the carcass ofthe dead horse. Then Lanky swore and shook the blood from his cheek,telling Meeker what he thought about the matter. Settling down againhe determined to husk Meeker's body from its immortal soul, when hefound his magazine empty. Reaching to his belt for the wherewithal forthe husking he discovered the lamentable fact that he had only threecartridges left for the Winchester, and the Colt was more ornamentalthan useful at that range. To make matters worse both Chick and Danwere now sitting up wasting cartridges in his direction, while Meekerseemed to have an unending supply. Just then the H2 foreman found hismark again and rendered his enemy's arm useless. At that point theclouds of misfortune parted and Hopalong, Red and Johnny at his heels,whirled into sight from the west, firing with burning zeal.

  Meeker's horse went down, pinning its rider under it; Dan Morgan threwup his arms as he sat in the saddle, for his rifle was shattered;Chick, popping up his good arm first, arose from behind his fleshybreastwork and announced that he could not fight, although hecertainly wanted to; but Meeker said nothing.

  Riding first to Lanky, his friends joked him into a better humor whilethey attended to his wounds. Then they divided to extend thewound-dressing courtesy. First they tried to kill a man, then to savehim; but, of course, they desired mostly to render him incapable ofinjuring them and as long as this was accomplished it was notnecessary to deprive him of life.

  Hopalong, being in command, went over to look at the H2 foreman andfound him unconscious. Dragging him from under the body of his horseHopalong felt along the pinned leg and found it was not broken.Pouring a generous amount of whiskey down the unconscious man's throathe managed to revive him and then immediately disarmed him. Meekercomplained of pains in his groin, not by words but by actions. Hisleft leg seemed paralyzed and would not obey him. Hopalong called Red,who took the injured man up in front of him, where Hopalong bound hishands to the pommel of the saddle.

  Meeker preserved a stolid silence until Lanky joined them and then hisrage poured out in a torrent of abuse and accusations for the killingof Ed Joyce. Lanky retorted by asking who Ed Joyce was, and wanted toknow whose body he had found just before Meeker had come onto thescene. When he found that they were the same he explained that he hadnot seen it before Meeker had, which the H2 foreman would not believe.Red captured Dan Morgan's horse and led it up. After Chick and Dan hadbeen helped to mount the Bar-20 men's horses, placed before thesaddles and bound there, all started towards Lookout Peak, Lankyriding Dan's horse.

  When they had arrived at their destination Meeker suddenly realizedwhat he was to be used for and stormed impotently against it. He heardthe intermittent firing around the plateau and knew that Doc and Jackstill held the house, and believed they could continue to hold it,since the thick adobe walls were impenetrable to rifle fire.

  "Well, Meeker, it's you for th' house," Hopalong remarked after he hadsent Red to stop the fire of the others. "You got off d----d luckyto-day; th' next time you raise the dickens along our line we'll payyore ranch houses a visit in a body an' give you something to thinkabout. We handled you to-day with six of us up north, an' what th'whole crowd can do you can guess. Now walk up there an' tell themrange-jumpers to vamoose th' house!"

  "They'll shoot me before they sees who I am," Meeker retorted,sullenly. "If yo're so anxious to get 'em out, do it yoreself--I don'twant 'em."

  By this time the others were coming up and heard Meeker's words, andHopalong, turning to Skinny and Billy, curtly ordered them to mount."Take this royal American fool up to th' bunk house to Buck. Tell Buckwhat's took place down here, an' also that we're going to shoot h--lout of th' fellers in th' house before he sees us. After that those ofus who can ride are going down to th' H2 an' clean up that part of th'game, buildings an' all. Go on, lively! Red, Johnny, Pete; cover th'windows an' fill that shack plumb full of lead. It's clouding up nowan' when it gets good an' dark we'll bust in th' door an' end it.Skinny, you come back again, quick, with all th' grub an' cartridgesyou can carry. Meeker started this, but _I'm_ going to finish it an'do it right. There won't be no more line fights down here for a longtime to come."

  "I reckon I'll have to order 'em out," Meeker growled. "What'll you doto 'em if I do?"

  "Send 'em home so quick they won't have any time to say 'good-bye,'"Hopalong rejoined. "We've seen too much of you fellers now. An' afterI send 'em home you see that they stays away from that line--we'llshoot on sight if they gets within gunshot of it! You've shore had agall, pushing us, you an' yore hatful of men an' cows! If it wasn'tfor th' rustling we'd 'a pushed you into th' discard th' day I foundyore Greaser herding on us."

  Meeker, holding his side because of the pain there from the fall,limped slowly up the hill, waving his sombre
ro over his head as headvanced.

  "What do you want now?--_Meeker!_" cried a voice from the building."What's wrong?"

  "Everything; come on out--we lose," the foreman cried, shame in hisvoice.

  "Don't you tell us that if you wants us to stay here," came the swiftreply. "We're game as long as we last, an' we'll last a long time,too."

  "I know it, Doc--" his voice broke--"they've killed Ed an' capturedChick, Dan, an' me. I'd say fight it out, an' I'd fight to th' end,only they'll attack th' ranch house if we do. We're licked, _thistime!_"

  "First sensible words you've said since you've been on this range,"growled Lanky. "You was licked before you began, if you only knowedit. An' you'll get licked _every_ time, too!"

  "Well, we'll come out an' give up if they'll let us all go, includingyou," cried Doc. "I ain't going to get picked off in th' open whileI've got this shack to fight in, not by a blamed sight!"

  "It's all right, Doc," Meeker replied. "How's Jack?" he asked,anxiously, not having heard Doc's companion speak.

  "Wait an' see," was the reply, and the door opened and the twodefenders stepped into sight, bandaged with strips torn from theirwoollen shirts, the remains of which they did not bother to carryaway.

  "Who played that gun through th' west window?" asked Doc, angrily.

  "Me!" cried Skinny, belligerently. "Why?"

  "Muzzle th' talk--you can hold yore pow-wow some other time,"interposed Hopalong. "You fellers get off this range, an' do it quick.An' stay off, savvy?"

  Meeker, his face flushed by rage and hatred for the men who had sohumiliated him, climbed up on Dan's horse and Dan was helped upbehind. Then Chick was helped to mount in front of his foreman andthey rode down the hill, followed by Doc and Jack. The intention wasto let Dan ride to the ranch after they had all got off the Bar-20range, and send up the cook with spare horses. Just then Docremembered that he and Jack had left their mounts below when theywalked up the hill to take the house, and they went after them.

  At this instant Curley was seen galloping up and he soon reported whatSalem had seen. Meeker flew into a rage at this and swore that hewould never give in to either foe. While Curley was learning of thefighting, Doc and his companion returned on foot, reporting that theirhorses had strayed, whereupon Meeker got off the horse he rode andtold Doc and Chick to ride it home, Curley being despatched formounts, while the others sat down on the ground and waited.

  When Curley returned with the horses he was very much excited, cryingthat during his absence Salem had seen six men run off a herd ofseveral hundred head towards Eagle and had tried to overtake them inthe chuck wagon.

  "God A'mighty!" cried Meeker, furiously. "Ain't I got enough, _now_!Rustling, an' on a scale like that! Peters was right after all aboutth' rustling, d--n him. A whole herd! Why didn't they take th' rest,an' th' houses, an' th' whole ranch? An' Salem, th' fool, chasing 'emin th' chuck wagon! Wonder they didn't take him, too."

  "I reckon he wished he had his harpoon with him," Chick snorted, theridiculousness of Salem's action bringing a faint grin to his face,angry and wounded as he was. "He's the locoedest thing that wearspants in this section, or any other!"

  "It was a shore fizzle all around," Meeker grumbled. "But I ain'tthrough with that line yet--no, by th' Lord, I ain't got started yet!But this rustling has got to be cleaned up first of all--th' line canwait; an' if we don't pay no attention to th' valley for a whilethey'll think we've given it up an' get off their guard."

  "Shore!" cried Dan, whose fury had been aroused almost to madness bythe sting of the bitter defeat, and who itched to kill, whetherpuncher or rustler it little mattered; he only wanted a vent for hisrage.

  "We'll parade over that south range like buzzards sighting carrion,"Meeker continued, leading the way homeward. "I ain't a-going to getrobbed all th' time!"

  "Wonder if Smith did shoot Ed?" queried Dan, thoughtfully. "There wasquite a spell between th' shot I heard an' us seeing him, an' he actedlike he had just seen Ed. But it's tough, all right. Ed was a blamedgood feller."

  "Who did shoot him, then?" snapped Meeker, savagely. "There's notelling what happened out there before we got there. Here, Curley, youain't full of holes like us--you ride up there an' get him while we gohome. He's laying near that S arroyo right close to th' line--th' onewe scouted through that time."

  "Shore, I'll get him," replied Curley, wheeling. "See you later."

 
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