Hopalong cassidy, p.22
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.22

           Honoré Morrow



  When Hopalong returned to the line house on the Peak he saw Johnny andSkinny talking with Lucas, the C80 foreman, and he hailed them.

  "Hullo, Lucas!" he cried. "What are you doing down here?"

  "Glad to see you, Hopalong," Lucas replied, shaking hands. "Came downto see Buck, but Lanky, up in th' bunk house, said he was offsomewhere scouting. From what Lanky said I reckon you fellers had alittle joke down here last week."

  "Yes," responded Hopalong, dismounting. "It was a sort of a joke,except that somebody killed one of Meeker's men. I'll be blamed if Iknow who done it. Lanky says he didn't an' he don't have to deny athing like that neither. Looks to me like he caught some brand-blotterdead to rights, like I did a little while ago, an' like he got th'worst of th' argument. Lanky would 'a told me if he did it, an' don'tyou forget it, neither."

  "What's that about catching somebody dead to rights?" eagerly askedJohnny.

  "Who was it?" asked Skinny.

  "Juan. He toted a running iron an' I caught him just after I lookedover a cow with a new brand--"

  "Did you get him good?" quickly asked Johnny. "Did he put up a fight?"

  "Yes; an' what was th' brand?" Skinny interposed.

  "Here, here!" laughed Hopalong. "I reckon I'll save time if I tell youth' whole story," and he gave a short account of his ride, interruptedoften by the inquisitive and insistent Johnny.

  "An' who is Salem?" Johnny asked.

  "Meeker's cook."

  "What did Meeker say about it when you told him?"

  "Gimme a chance to talk an' I'll tell you!" and Johnny remained silentfor a moment. Finally the story was told and Johnny, who had beenswearing vengeance on all "Greasers," asked one more question,grinning broadly:

  "An' what did Mary say?"

  "You say Meeker lost a whole herd?" asked Lucas. "Let me tell youthere's more people mixed up in this rustling than we think. But I'lltell you one thing; that herd didn't go north, unless they drove tenmiles east or west of our range."

  "Well, I reckon it's under one man, all right," Hopalong replied. "Ifit was a lot of separate fellers running it by themselves there'd 'abeen a lot of blunders an' some few of 'em would 'a been shot beforeJuan went. It's a gang, all right. But why th' devil did they turnloose that H2 rebranded cow, that HQQ that I found? They might 'aknowed it would cause some hot thinking when it was found. That cow isjust about going to lick 'em."

  "Stray," sententiously remarked Skinny.

  "Shore, that's what it was," Lucas endorsed.

  "An' do you know what that means?" asked Hopalong, looking from faceto face. "It means that they can't be holding their herds very faraway. It's three to one that I'm right."

  "Mebby they're down in Eagle," suggested Johnny hopefully, for Eaglewould be a good, exciting proposition in a fight.

  "No, it ain't there," Hopalong replied. "There's too many people downthere. They would all know about it an' want a share in th' profits;but it ain't a whole lot foolish to say that Eagle men are in it."

  "Look here!" cried Skinny. "Mebby that HQQ is their road brand--thatcow might 'a strayed from their drive. They've got to have some brandon cows they sell, an' they can't leave ours on an' get back alive."

  "You are right, but not necessarily so about th' road brand," Hopalongrejoined. "But that don't tell us where they are, does it?"

  "We've got to hunt HQQ cows on th' drive," Johnny interposed as Skinnywas about to speak. "I'll go down to Eagle an' see if I can't get onto a drive. Then I'll trail th' gang all th' way an' back to wherethey hangs out. That'll tell us where to go, all right."

  "You keep out of Eagle--you'd be shot before you reached Quinn'ssaloon," Hopalong said. "No; it ain't Eagle, not at all. See here,Lucas; have you watched them construction camps along that railroad?There ain't a better market nowhere than them layouts; they don't askno questions if th' beef is cheap."

  "Yes, I've watched th' trails leading to 'em."

  "Why, they wouldn't cross yore range!" Hopalong cried. "They'd drivearound you an' hit th' camp from above; they ain't fools. Hey! I'vegot it! They can't go around th' Double Arrow unless they are willingto cross th' Staked Plain, an' you can bet they ain't. That leaves th'west, an' there's a desert out there they wouldn't want to tackle.They drive between th' desert an' yore range."

  "If they drive to th' camps, yo're right without a doubt," Skinnyremarked. "But mebby they are driving south--mebby they're starting aranch along th' Grande, or across it."

  "Well, we'll take th' camps first," Hopalong replied. "Lucas, can youspare a man to look them camps over? Somebody that can live in 'em amonth, if he has to?"

  "Shore. Wood Wright is just th' man."

  "No, he ain't th' man," contradicted Hopalong quickly. "Anybody thatwears chaps, or walks like he does would arouse suspicion in no time,an' get piped out some night. This man has got to have business upthere, like looking for a job. Say! Can you get along without yorecook for a while? If you can't we will!"

  "You bet yore life I can!" exulted Lucas. "That's good. He can get ajob right where th' meat is used, an' where th' hides will be kickingaround. He goes to-morrow!"

  "That's th' way; th' sooner th' better," Hopalong responded. "But wewon't wait for him. We'll scout around lively down here an' if wedon't find anything he may. But for th' Lord's sake, don't let himride a cayuse into that camp that has brands of this section. Cowanwill be glad to lend you his cayuse; he got it up north too far tomake 'em suspicious."

  "Yes; I reckon that'll be about the thing."

  "Here comes Red," Johnny remarked. "Hey, Red, Hoppy got Juan thismorning. Caught him toting a straight iron!"

  "Johnny, you get away lively an' tell Frenchy to scout west," Hopalongordered. "You can stay up in Number Two with them to-night, but comedown here again in th' morning. Red, to-morrow at daylight we go westan' comb that country."

  "That's th' way," remarked Lucas, mounting. "Get right at it. Have yougot any word for Buck? I'll go past th' house an' leave it if youhave."

  "Yes; tell him what we've talked over. An' you might send yore outfitfurther west, too," Hopalong responded. "I'll bet a month's pay weend this cow-lifting before two more weeks roll by. We've got to!"

  "Oh, yes; I near forgot it--Bartlett thinks we-all ought to gettogether after th' rustling is stopped an' shoot that town of Eagleplumb off th' earth," Lucas said. "It's only a hell hole, anyhow, an'it won't do no harm to wipe it out." He looked around the group. "Whatdo you fellers think about it?" he asked.

  "Well, we might, then; we've got too many irons in th' fire now,though," Hopalong replied. "Hey, Johnny! Get a-going! We'll talk aboutEagle later."

  "I'm forgetting lots of things," laughed Lucas. "We had a little fightup our way th' other day. Caught a feller skinning one of Bartlett'scows, what had strayed over on us. Got him dead to rights, too. He putup a fight while he lasted. Said his name was Hawkins."

  "Hawkins!" exclaimed Hopalong. "I've heard that name somewhere."

  "Why, that's th' name on th' notice of reward posted in Cowan's," Redsupplied. "He's wanted for desertion from th' army, an' for otherthings. They want him bad up at Roswell, an' they'll pay for him, deador alive."

  "Well, they won't get him; he ain't keeping good enough," Lucasreplied. "An' we don't want that kind of money. So long," and he wasoff.

  "So you got Juan," Red remarked. "You ought to have took him alive--wecould get it all out of him an' find out where his friends are hangingout."

  "He went after his gun, an' he had an iron," Hopalong replied. "Ididn't know he had left Meeker, an' I didn't stop to think. You see,he was a brand-blotter."

  "What's Meeker going to do about th' line?" Red asked.

  "Nothing for a while; he's too worried an' busy looking after hissleepers. He ain't so bad, after all."

  "Say," remarked Skinny, thoughtfully. "Mebby that gang is over east,like Trendley was. There's lots of water thereabouts, an' good grass,too, in th' Panhan
dle. Look how close it is to Fort Worth an' th'railroad."

  "Too many people over there," Hopalong replied. "An' _they_ know allabout th' time we killed Trendley an' wiped out his gang. They won'tgo where they are shore we'll look."

  "If I can get sight of one of them Greasers I'll find out where theyare," Red growled. "I'll put green rawhide around his face if I haveto, an' when he savvys what th' sun is going to do to that hide an'him, he'll talk, all right, an' be glad of th' chance."

  "To hear you, anybody would think you'd do a thing like that,"Hopalong laughed. "I reckon he'd drop at eight hundred, clean an' atth' first shot. But, say, green rawhide wouldn't do a thing to a man'sface, would it! When it shrunk he'd know it, all right."

  "Crush it to a pulp," Skinny remarked. "But who is going to cook th'supper? I'm starved."

  * * * * *

  Hopalong awakened suddenly and listened and found Red also awake.Hoofbeats were coming towards the house and Hopalong peered out intothe darkness to see who it was, his Colt ready.

  "Who's that?" he challenged, sharply, the clicks of his gun ringingclear in the night air.

  "Why, me," replied a well-known voice. "Who'd you think it was?"

  "Why didn't you stay up in Number Two, like I told you? What's wrong?"

  "Nothing," Johnny replied, stripping off his saddle and bridle.

  "An' you came all th' way down here in th' dark, just to wake us up?"Hopalong asked, incredulously. "Twenty miles just for that!"

  "No. I ain't got here yet--I'm only half way," Johnny retorted. "Can'tyou see I'm here? An' I didn't care about you waking up. I wanted toget here, an' here I am."

  "In th' name of heaven, are you drunk, or crazy?" asked Red. "Of allth' d--n fools I ever--"

  "Oh, shut up, all of you!" growled Skinny, turning over in his bunk."Lot of locoed cusses that don't know enough to keep still! Let th'Kid alone, why don't you!" he muttered, and was sound asleep again.

  "No, I ain't drunk or crazy! Think I was going to stay up there whenyou two fellers are going off scouting to-morrow? Not by a jugful! Iain't letting nothing get past me, all right," Johnny rejoined.

  "Well, you ain't a-going, anyhow," muttered Hopalong, crawling intohis bunk again. "You've got to stay with Skinny--" he did not speakvery loud, because he knew it would cause an argument, and he wishedto sleep instead of talk.

  "What'd you say?" demanded Johnny.

  "For G-d's sake!" marvelled Red. "Can't nobody go an' scratch'emselves unless th' Kid is on th' ground? Come in here an' get tosleep, you coyote!"

  Adown th' road, his gun in hand, Comes Whiskey Bill, mad Whiskey--

  Johnny hummed. "Hey! What you doing?" he yelled, leaping back.

  "You heave any more guns on my face an' you'll find out!" roaredSkinny, sitting up and throwing Johnny's Colt and belt to the floor."Fool infant!"

  "Tumble in an' shut up!" cried Red. "We want some sleep, you sagehen!"

  "Yo're a lot of tumble-bugs!" retorted Johnny, indignantly. "How did Iknow Skinny had his face where I threw my gun! He's so cussed thin Ican't hardly see him in daylight, th' chalk mark! Why didn't he sayso? Think I can see in th' dark?"

  "I don't talk in my sleep!" retorted Skinny, "or go flea-hoppingaround in th' dark like a--"

  "_Shut up!_" shouted Hopalong, and silence at last ensued.

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