Hopalong cassidy, p.2
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.2

           Honoré Morrow



  Mary Meeker, daughter of the H2 owner and foreman, found pleasure inriding on little tours of investigation. She had given the southernportions her attention first and found, after the newness had wornoff, that she did not care for the level, sandy stretches ofhalf-desert land which lay so flat for miles. The prospect was alwaysthe same, always uninteresting and wearying and hot. Now shedetermined upon a step which she had wished to take for a long time,and her father's request that she should not take it grew less andless of a deterrent factor. He had given so much thought and worry tothat mysterious valley, dropped so many remarks about it, that she atlast gave rein to her curiosity and made ready to see for herself. Itwas green and hilly, like the rugged Montana she had quitted to comedown to the desert, and it should be a small Montana to her. Therewere hills of respectable size, for these she saw daily from the ranchhouse door, and she loved hills; anything would be better than thelimitless sand.

  She had known little of restraint; her corner of the world had beenfilled entirely by men and she had absorbed much of their bettertraits. Self-reliant as a cowgirl should be, expert with either Coltor Winchester, and at home in the saddle, she feared nothing thedesert might hold, except thirst. She was not only expert withweapons, but she did not fear to use them against men, as she hadproved on one occasion in wild Montana. So she would ride to the hillswhich called her so insistently and examine the valley.

  One bright morning just before the roundup began she went to thecorral and looked at her horse, a cross between Kentucky stock andcow-pony and having in a great degree the speed of the first and thehardiness of the last, and sighed to think that she could not ride itfor days to come. Teuton was crippled and she must choose some otheranimal. She had overheard Doc Riley tell Ed Joyce that the piebald inthe smaller corral was well broken, and this was the horse she wouldtake. The truth of the matter was that the piebald was crafty andpermitted the saddle to be fixed and himself ridden for varyingperiods of time before showing what he thought of such things. Doc,unprepared for the piebald's sudden change in demeanor, had taken atumble, which made him anxious to have his wounded conceit soothed byseeing Ed Joyce receive the same treatment.

  Mary found no trouble in mounting and riding the animal and she wasglad that she had overheard Doc, for now she had two horses which werethoroughly reliable, although, of course, Teuton was the only reallygood horse on the range. She rode out of the corral and headed for theWhite Horse Hills, scarcely twelve miles away. What if her father hadwarned her not to ride near the lawless punchers who rode the northernrange? They were only men and she was sure that to a woman they wouldprove to be gentlemen.

  The southern boundary of the Bar-20 ran along the top of the hills andfrom them east to the river, and it was being patrolled by threeBar-20 punchers, Hopalong, Johnny, and Red, all on the lookout forstraying cattle of both ranches. Neither Hopalong nor Red had everseen Mary Meeker, but Johnny had upon the occasion of his scout overthe H2 range, and he had felt eminently qualified to describe her. Hehad finished his eulogistic monologue by asserting that as soon as hismore unfortunate friends saw her they would lose sleep and sigh often,which prophecy was received in various ways and called forth widelydiffering comment. Red had snorted outright and Pete swore to learnthat a woman was on the range; for Pete had been married, and his wifepreferred another man. Hopalong, remembering a former experience ofhis own, smiled in knowing cynicism when told that he again would fallunder the feminine spell.

  Red was near the river and Johnny half-way to the hills when Hopalongbegan the ascent of Long Hill, wondering why it was that Meeker hadmade no attempt to cross the boundary in force and bring on a crisis;and from Meeker his mind turned to the daughter.

  "So there's a woman down here now," he muttered, riding down into anarroyo and up the other bank. "This country is gettin' as bad asKansas, d----d if it ain't. First thing we know it'll be nursin'bottles an' school houses, an' h--l loose all th' time instead of oncein a while."

  He heard hoofbeats and glanced up quickly, alert and ready fortrouble, for who would be riding where he was but some H2 puncher?

  "What th'----!" he exclaimed under his breath, for riding towards himat an angle was Mary Meeker; and Johnny was wrong in his descriptionof her, but, he thought, the Kid had done as well as his limitedvocabulary would allow. She _was_ pretty, pretty as--she was more thanpretty!

  She had seen him at the same time and flashed a quick glance whichembraced everything; and she was surprised, for he was not onlypassably good-looking, barring the red hair, but very different fromthe men her father had told her made up the outfit of the Bar-20. Heremoved his sombrero instantly and drew up to let her pass, a queerexpression on his face. Yes, he thought, Johnny had wronged her, forno other woman could have such jet-black hair crowning such a face.

  "By God!" he whispered, and went no farther, for that was the summingup of his whole opinion of her.

  "He _is_ a gentleman," she thought triumphantly, for he had provedthat she was right in her surmise regarding the men of the northernranch. She spurred to pass him and then her piebald took part in theproceedings. The prick of the spur awakened in him a sudden desire toassert his rights, and he promptly pitched to make up for his hithertogentle behavior. So taken up with what the last minute had broughtforth she was unprepared for the vicious bucking and when she openedher eyes her head was propped against Hopalong's knee and her facedripping with the contents of his canteen.

  "D--n yore ugly skin!" he was saying to the piebald, which stoodquietly a short distance away, evidently enjoying the result of hisactivity. "Just you wait! I'll show you what's due to come yore waypurty soon!" He turned again to the woman and saw that her eyes wereclosed as before. "By God, yore--yore beautiful!" he exclaimedtriumphantly, for he had found the word at last.

  She moved slightly and color came into her cheeks with a sudden rushand he watched her anxiously. Soon she moved again and then, openingher eyes, struggled to gain her feet. He helped her up and held heruntil she drew away from him.

  "What was it?" she asked.

  "That ugly cayuse went an' pitched when you wasn't lookin' for it," hetold her. "Are you hurt much?"

  "No, just dizzy. I don't want to make you no trouble," she replied.

  "You ain't makin' me any trouble, not a bit," he assured herearnestly. "But I'd like to make some trouble for that ornery cayuseof yourn. Let me tone him down some."

  "No; it was my fault. I should 'a been looking--I never rode himbefore."

  "Well, you've got to take my cayuse to get home on," he said. "He'sbad, but he's a regular angel when stacked up agin that bronc. I'llride the festive piebald, an' we can trade when you get home." Underhis breath he said, "Oh, just wait till I get on you, you wall-eyedpinto! I'll give you what you need, all right!"

  "Thank you, but I can ride him now that I know just what he is," shesaid, her eyes flashing with determination. "I've never let a broncget th' best of me in th' long run, an' I ain't goin' to begin now. Icame up here to look at th' hills an' th' valley, an' I'm not goingback home till I've done it."

  "That's th' way to talk!" he cried in admiration. "I'll get him foryou," he finished, swinging into his saddle. He loosened the lariat atthe saddle horn while he rode towards the animal, which showed suddenrenewed interest in the proceedings, but it tarried too long. Just asit wheeled and leaped forward the rope settled and the next thing itknew was that the sky had somehow slid under its stomach, for it hadbeen thrown over backward and flat on its back. When it had struggledto its feet it found Hopalong astride it, spurring vigorously on theside farthest from Mary, and for five minutes the air was greatlydisturbed. At the end of that time he dismounted and led a penitentpony to its mistress, who vaulted lightly into the saddle and waitedfor her companion to mount. When he had joined her they rode up thehill together side by side.

  Johnny, shortly after he had passed Hopalong on the line, wished tosmoke and felt for his tobac
co pouch, which he found to be empty. Herode on for a short distance, angry with himself for his neglect, andthen remembered that Hopalong had a plentiful supply. He couldovertake the man on the hill much quicker than he could Red, who hadsaid that he was going to ride south along the river to see if JumpingBear Creek was dry. If it were, Meeker could be expected to becomeactive in his aggression. Johnny wheeled and cantered back along theboundary trail, alertly watching for trespassing cattle.

  It was not long before he came within sight of the thicket which stooda little east of the base of Long Hill, and he nearly fell from thesaddle in astonishment, for his friend was on the ground, holding awoman's head on his knee! Johnny didn't care to intrude, andcautiously withdrew to the shelter of the small chaparral, where hewaited impatiently. Wishing to stretch his legs, he dismounted andpicketed his horse and walked around the thicket until satisfied thathe was out of sight of his friend.

  Suddenly he fancied that he heard something suspicious and he creptback around the thicket, keeping close to its base. When he turned thecorner he saw the head of a man on the other side of the chaparralwhich lay a little southwest of his position. It was Antonio, and hewas intently watching the two on the slope of the hill, and entirelyunaware that he was being watched in turn.

  Johnny carefully drew his Colt and covered the Mexican, for he hated"Greasers" instinctively, but on Antonio he lavished a hatred farabove the stock kind. He had seen the shifty-eyed broncho-buster onmore than one occasion and never without struggling with himself tokeep from shooting. Now his finger pressed gently against the triggerof the weapon and he wished for a passable excuse to send the otherinto eternity; but Antonio gave him no cause, only watching eagerlyand intently, his face set in such an expression of malignancy as tocause Johnny's finger to tremble.

  Johnny arose slightly until he could see Hopalong and his companionand he smothered an exclamation. "Gosh A'mighty!" he whispered, againwatching the Mexican. "That's Meeker's gal or I'm a liar! Th'son-of-a-gun, keeping quiet about it all this time. An' no wonder th'Greaser's on th' trail!"

  It was not long before Johnny looked again for Hopalong and saw himriding up the hill with his companion. Then he crept forward, watchingthe Mexican closely, his Colt ready for instant use. Antonio slowlydrew down until he was lost to sight of the Bar-20 puncher, who ranswiftly forward and gained the side of the other thicket, where heagain crept forward, and around the chaparral. When he next caughtsight of the broncho-buster the latter was walking towards his horseand his back was turned to Johnny.

  "Hey, you!" called the Bar-20 puncher, arising and starting after theother.

  Antonio wheeled, leaped to one side and half drew his revolver, but hewas covered and he let the weapon slide back into the holster.

  "What was you doing?"

  Antonio's reply was a scowl and his inquisitor continued withoutwaiting for words from the other.

  "Never mind that, for I saw what you was doing," Johnny said. "An' Ishore knew what you wanted to do, because I came near doing it to you.Now it ain't a whole lot healthy for you to go snooping around thisline like you was, for I'll plug you on suspicion next time. Get onthat cayuse of yourn an' hit th' trail south--go on, make tracks!"

  The Mexican mounted and slowly wheeled. "You hab drop, now," he saidsignificantly. "Nex' time, _quien sabe_?"

  Johnny dropped his Colt into the holster and removed his hand from thebutt. "You're a liar!" he shouted, savagely. "I ain't got th' drop.It's an even break, an' what are you going to do about it?"

  Antonio shrugged his shoulders and rode on without replying, quitecontent to let things stand as they were. He had learned somethingwhich he might be able to use to advantage later on and he hadstrained the situation just a little more.

  "Huh! Next time!" snorted Johnny in contempt as he turned to go backto his horse. "It'll allus be 'nex' time' with that Greaser, 'less hegets a good pot shot at me, which he won't. He ain't got sand enoughto put up a square fight. Now for Red; he'll shore be riding this waypurty soon, an' that'll never do. Hoppy won't want anybody foolin'around th' hills for a while, lucky devil."

  More than an hour had passed before he met Red and he forthwith toldhim that he had caught the Mexican scouting on foot along the line.

  "I ain't none surprised, Kid," Red replied, frowning. "You've seen howth' H2 cows are being driven north agin us an' that means we'll betolerable busy purty soon. Th' Jumping Bear is dry as tinder, an' itwon't be long before Meeker'll be driving to get in th' valley."

  "Well, I'm some glad of that," Johnny replied, frankly. "It's beenpeaceful too blamed long down here. Come on, we'll ride east an' seeif we can find any cows to turn. Hey! Look there!" he cried, spurringforward.

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