Hopalong cassidy, p.21
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.21
 

           Honoré Morrow

  CHAPTER XXI

  HOPALONG RIDES SOUTH

  The morning broke clear and showed a clean, freshened plain to the menwho rode to the line house on the Peak, there to take up theirquarters and from there to ride as scouts. Hopalong sent Red to ridealong the line for the purpose of seeing how things were in thatvicinity and, leaving the others to go where they wished, struck southdown the side of the hill, intending to hunt Antonio on his ownground. Tied to his saddle was the shovel and in his pocket he carriedthe brass button, his evidence for Meeker. As he rode at an easy lopehe kept a constant lookout for signs of rustling. Suddenly he leanedforward and tightened his knee grip, the horse responding by breakinginto a gallop, while its rider took up his lariat, shaking it into along loop, his twisting right wrist imparting enough motion to it tokeep it clear of the vegetation and rocks.

  A distant cow wheeled sharply and watched him for a moment and then,snorting, its head down and its tail up, galloped away at a speed notto be found among domesticated cattle. It was bent upon only onething--to escape that dreaded, whirling loop of rawhide, so pliantand yet so strong. Hopalong, not as expert as Lanky, who carried arope nearly sixty feet long and who could place it where he wished,used one longer than the more common lariats.

  The cow did its best, but the pony steadily gained, nimbly executingquick turns and jumping gullies, up one side of a hill and down theother, threading its way with precision through the chaparrals anddeftly avoiding the holes in its path. Closer and closer together camethe pursued and pursuers, and then the long rope shot out and sailedthrough the air, straight for the animal's hind legs. As it settled, aquick upward jerk of the arm did the rest and there was a snubbing ofrope around the saddle horn, a sudden stopping and dropping back onhaunches on the part of the pony, and the cow went down heavily. Therider did not wait for the horse to get set, but left the saddle assoon as the rope had been securely snubbed, and ran to the side of hisvictim.

  The cow was absolutely helpless, for the rope was taut, theintelligent pony leaning back and being too well trained to allow theleast amount of slack to bow the rawhide closer to the earth.Therefore Hopalong gave no thought to his horse, for while cinches,pommel, and rope held, the small, wiry, wild-eyed bundle of galvaniccussedness would hold the cow despite all its efforts to get up.

  "Never saw _that_ brand before, an' I've rid all over this country fora good many years, too," he soliloquized. "There sure ain't no HQQherd down this way, nor no place close enough for a stray. Somebodyis shore starting a herd on his own hook; from th' cows on this range,too.

  "By th' great horned spoon! I can see Bar-20 in them marks!" he cried,bending closer. "All he had to do was to make a H out of th' Bar,close up th' 2, an' put a tail on th' O! Hum--whoop! There is H2 init, too! Close th' 2 an' add a Q, an' there you are! I don't mind ahog once in a while, but working both ranches to a common mark isshore too much for me. Stealing from both ranches an' markin 'em allHQQ!"

  He moved up to look at the ears and swore when he saw them. "D--n it!That's all I want to know! Mebby a sheriff wouldn't get busy on th'evidence, but I ain't no sheriff--I'm just a plain cow-punch with goodcommon sense. Meeker's cut is a V in one ear--here I finds a slantlike Skinny saw, an' in both ears. If that don't cut under Meeker'snotch I'm a liar! All framed up to make a new herd out of our cows.Just let me catch some coyote with a running iron under his saddleflap an' see what happens!"

  He quickly slacked the rope and slipped off the noose, running as fastas he could go to his pony, for some cows get "on the prod" veryeasily, and few cows are afraid of a man on foot; and when along-horned Texas cow has "its dander up," it is not safe for anunmounted man to take a chance with its horns, unless he is willing toshoot it down. This Hopalong would not do, for he did not want to letthe rustlers know that the new brand had been discovered. Vaultinginto his saddle he eluded the charge of the indignant cow and lopedsouth, coiling up his rope as he went.

  Half an hour after leaving the HQQ cow he saw a horseman ahead of him,threading his way through a chaparral. As Hopalong overtook him theother emerged and stopped, uncertain whether to reach for his gun ornot. It was Juan, who had not gone to Mesa overnight, scouting tolearn if any new developments had taken place along the boundary. Juanlooked at the shovel and then at the puncher, his face expressionless.

  Hopalong glanced at the other's cuff, found it was all right, and thenforced himself to smile. "Looking for rustlers?" he bantered.

  "_Si._"

  "What! There ain't no rustlers loose on this range, is there?" askedHopalong, surprised.

  "_Quien sabe?_"

  "Oh, them sleepers were made by yore own, lazy outfit, an' you mightas well own up to it," Hopalong grinned, deprecatingly. "You can foolMeeker, all right, he's easy; but you can't throw dust in my eyes likethat. On th' level, now, ain't I right? Didn't you fellers make themsleepers?"

  Juan shrugged his shoulders. "_Quien sabe?_"

  "That '_Quien sabe_' is th' handiest an' most used pair of words inyore cussed language," replied Hopalong grinning. "Ask one of youfellers something you don't want to tell an' it's '_Quien sabe?_'ain't it?"

  "_Si_," laughed the Mexican.

  "I thought so," Hopalong retorted. "You can't tell me that any gangthat would cut a dam like they did ourn wouldn't sleeper, an' don'tyou forget it, neither!"

  Juan's face cleared for a moment as he gloated over how Antonio'sscheme had worked out, and he laughed. "No can fool you, hey?" Then hepressed his knee tighter against his saddle skirt and a worried lookcame into his eyes.

  Hopalong took no apparent notice of the action, but he saw it, and itsent one word burning through his brain. They were riding at a walknow and Hopalong, not knowing that Juan had left the H2, suggestedthat they ride to the ranch together. He was watching the Mexicanclosely, for it would not be unusual for a man in Juan's position totry to get out of it by shooting. The Mexican refused to ride southand Hopalong, who was determined to stay with his companion until hefound out what he wanted to know, proposed a race to a barranca thatcut into the plain several hundred yards ahead. He would let Juan beathim, and all the way, so he could watch the saddle flap, and if thisfailed he would waste no more time in strategy, but would find outabout it quickly. Juan also declined to race, and very hurriedly, forthe less his saddle was jolted the better it would be for him. He knewHopalong's reputation as a revolver fighter and would take no chances.

  "That ain't a bad cayuse you got there. I was wondering if it couldbeat mine, what's purty good itself. Is it very bronc?" he asked,kicking the animal in the ribs whereupon it reared and pranced.Juan's left hand went to the assistance of his knee, his right graspedthe cantle of his saddle, where it was nearer the butt of his Colt,and a look of fear came into his eyes.

  Hopalong watched his chance and as the restive animal swung towardshim he spurred it viciously, at the same time crying: "Take yore handfrom off that flap, you d----d cow-lifter!"

  The command was unnecessary, for a thin, straight rod of iron slippeddown and stuck in the sand, having worked loose from its lashings.Mexican-like, Juan had put off until to-morrow to heat it and bend aloop in one end for more secure fastening.

  At the instant it fell Juan leaned back and dropped over on the farside of his horse, his right leg coming up level with his enemy, andreached for his gun, intending to shoot through the end of the holsterand save time. But he went farther than he had intended, not stoppinguntil he struck the earth, his bullet missing Hopalong by only a fewinches.

  The Bar-20 puncher slipped his Colt back into the sheath and, leaningdown, deftly picked up the iron and fastened it to his saddle. Ropingthe Mexican's horse he continued on his way to the H2, leaving Juanwhere he had fallen.

  When he arrived at the ranch he turned the horse into the corral andstarted to ride to the bunk house; but Salem, enjoying a respite fromcooking and washing dishes, saw him and started for him on an awkwardrun, crying:

  "Where'd you git that hoss? Where'd you clear from, an' who are y
ou?"

  "Th' cayuse belongs to Meeker--Juan was riding it. Is anybody around?"

  "I'm around, ain't I, you fog-eyed lubber! Where's th' Lascar? Who areyou?"

  "Well, Duke, I'm from th' Bar-20, an' my name is Hop--"

  "Weigh anchor an' 'bout ship! You can't make this port, youwind-jamming pirate!"

  "I want to see yore foreman. This is his shovel, an' I--"

  "Then where'd you get it, hey? How'd you get his--"

  "Hang it!" interrupted Hopalong, losing his patience. "I tell you Iwant to see Meeker! I want to see him about some--"

  "An' where's th' coolie that rid that hoss?" demanded the cook,belligerently.

  "You won't see that thief no more. That's one of th' things I wantto--"

  "Hooray!" cried Salem. "Was he drowned, or shanghaied?"

  "Was he what? What are you talking about, anyhow? Where did you everlearn how to talk Chinese?"

  "What! Chinese! You whale-bellied, barnacle-brained bilge pirate, I'vegot a good notion--"

  "Say, is there anybody around here that ain't loco? Are they all ascrazy as you?" Hopalong asked.

  Salem grabbed up one of the bars of the corral gate and, roaringstrange oaths, ran at the stranger, but Hopalong spurred his horse andkept clear of the pole while Salem grew short winded and more profane.Then the puncher thought of Mary and cantered towards the ranch houseintending to ask her where he could find her father, thus combiningbusiness with pleasure. Salem shook the pole at him and then espiedthe saddled horse in the corral. He disliked horses as much as theydisliked him, so much, in fact, that he said the only reason he didnot get out of the country and go back to the sea was because he hadto ride a horse to do it. But any way was acceptable under the presentexigencies, so he clambered into the saddle after more or less effortand found it not quite roomy enough for one of his growing corpulency.Shouting "Let fall!" he cantered after the invader of his ranch,waving the pole valiantly. He did not see that the ears of his mountwere flattened or that its eyes were growing murderous in theirexpression, and he did not know that the lower end of the pole waspounding lustily against the horse's legs every time he waved theweapon. All he thought about was getting his pleasant duty over withas soon as possible, and he gripped the pole more firmly.

  Hopalong looked around curiously to see what the cook was doing tomake all that noise, and when he saw he held his sides. "Well, if th'locoed son-of-a-gun ain't after me! Lord! Hey, stranger," he shouted,"if you want him to run fast, take hold of his tail an' pull it threetimes!"

  He was not averse to having a little fun at the tenderfoot's expenseand he deferred his visit to the house to circle around the angry cookand shout advice. Instead of laying the reins against his mount's neckto turn it, Salem jerked on them, which the indignant animal instantlyresented. It had felt all along that it was being made a fool of andimposed upon, but now it would have a sweet revenge. Leaping forwardsuddenly it stopped stiff-legged and arched its back several timeswith all the force it was capable of; but it could have stoppedimmediately after the first pitch, for Salem, still holding to thepole, executed a more or less graceful parabola and landed in asitting posture amid much dust.

  "_Whoof!_ What'd we strike?" he demanded dazedly. Then, catching sightof the cause of his flight, which was at that moment cropping anoverlooked tuft of grass as if it were accustomed to upsettingpole-waving cooks, Salem scrambled to his feet and ran at it, gettingin one good whack before the indignant and groping pony could move.

  "There, blast you!" he yelled. "I'll show you what you get for a tricklike that!" Turning, and seeing Hopalong laughing until the tears randown his face, he roared, "What are you laughing at, d--n you?"

  A rope sailed out and tightened around Salem's feet and he once moresat down, unable to arise this time, because of Hopalong's horse,which backed slowly, step by step, dragging the captive, who was nowabsolutely helpless.

  "Now I want to talk to you for a few minutes, an' I'm going to,"Hopalong remarked. "Will you listen quietly or will you risk losingth' seat of yore pants? You've _got_ to listen, anyhow."

  "Wha--what----go ahead, only stop th' headway of yore craft! Lay to!I'm on th' rocks!"

  Laughing, Hopalong rode closer to him. "Where's Antonio?"

  "In h--l, I hope, leastwise that's where he ought to be."

  "Well, I just sent his friend Juan there--had to; he toted a runningiron an'--"

  "Did you? Did you?" cried Salem in accents of joy. "Why didn't you sayso before! Come in an' splice th' main brace, shipmate! That crossbetween a nigger an' a Chinee is in Davy Jones' locker, is he? Hey,wait till I get these lashings cast off--yo're a good hand after all.Come in an' have some grog--best stuff this side of Kentucky, where itwas made."

  "I ain't got time," replied Hopalong, smiling. "Where's that Greaserbroncho-buster?"

  "Going to send _him_ down too? D--n my tops'ls, wish I knowed! Hedeserted, took shore leave, an' ain't reported since. Yo'reclipper-rigged, a regular AB, you are! Spin us th' yarn, matey."

  Hopalong told him about the dam and the shooting of Juan and gave himthe shovel and button for Meeker, Salem's mouth wide open at therecital. When he had finished the cook grabbed his stirrup and urgedhim towards the grog, but Hopalong laughingly declined and, lookingtowards the ranch house, saw Jim Meeker riding like mad in theirdirection.

  "What do you want?" blazed the foreman, drawing rein, his face darkwith anger.

  "I want to plug Antonio, an' his friend Sanchez," Hopalong repliedcalmly. "I just caught Juan with a running iron under his saddle flapan' I drilled him for good. Here's th' iron."

  "Good for you!" cried Meeker, taking the rod. "They've jumped, all of'em. I'm looking for 'em myself, an' we're all looking for coyotestoting these irons. I'm glad you got one of 'em!"

  "Antonio scuttled their dike--here's th' shovel he did it with,"interrupted Salem eagerly. "An' here's th' button off th' Greaser'sjacket. He left it by th' shovel. My mate, here, is cruising to fallin with 'em, an' when he does there'll be--"

  "Why, that's _my_ shovel!" cried Meeker. "An' that's his button, allright."

  Hopalong told him all about the attempt to cut the dam and when he hadceased Meeker swore angrily. "Them Greasers are on th' rustle, shore!They're trying to keep th' fighting going on along th' line so we'llbe too busy to bother 'em in their stealing. I've been losing cowsright an' left--why, they run off a herd of beef right here by th'houses. Salem saw 'em. They killed cows down south an' covered myrange with sleepers an' lame mothers. How did you come to guess hehad an iron?"

  Hopalong told of the HQQ cow he had found and, dismounting, traced thebrand in the sand, Meeker bending over eagerly.

  "You see this Bar-20?" he asked, pointing it out, and his interestedcompanion interrupted him with a curse.

  "Yes, I do; an' do _you_ see this H2?" he demanded. "They've mergedour brands into one--stealing from both of us!"

  "Yes. I figgered that out when I saw th' mark; that's one of th'things I came down to tell you about," Hopalong replied, mountingagain. "An' Red an' me found a Bar-20 calf with a V ear notch, too.That proves what th' dam was cut for, don't it?"

  "Why didn't I drop that coyote when I caught him skulking th' othermorning!" growled Meeker, regretfully. "He had just come back fromyore dam then--had yaller mud on his cayuse an' his stirrups. Out allnight on a played-out bronc, an' me too thick to guess he was up tosome devilment an' shoot him for it! Oh, h--l! I thought purty hard ofyou, Cassidy, but I reckon we all make mistakes. Any man what wouldstop to think out th' real play when he found that shovel is square."

  "Oh, that's all right. I allus did hate Greasers, an' mebby that waswhy I suspected him, that an' th' button."

  Meeker turned to the cook. "Where's Chick an' Dan?" he asked,impatiently. "I ain't seen 'em around."

  "Why, Chick rid off down south an' Dan cleared about an hour ago."

  "What! With that leg of hissen!"

  "Aye, aye, sir; he couldn't leave it behind, you know, sir."

 
; "All right, Cassidy; much obliged. I'll put a stop to th' rustling on_my_ range, or know th' reason why. D--n th' day I ever leftMontanny!" Meeker swore, riding towards the ranch house.

  "Say, I hope you find them Lascars," remarked Salem. "Yo're th' boythat'll give 'em what they needs. Wish you had caught 'em all fourinstead of only one."

  Hopalong smiled. "Then they might 'a got me instead."

  "No, no, siree!" exclaimed the cook. "You can lick 'em all, an' I'llgamble on it, too! But you better come in an' have a swig o' grogbefore you weighs anchor, matey. As I was saying, it's th' best grogwest of Kentucky. Come on in!"

 
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