Hopalong cassidy, p.23
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.23

           Honoré Morrow



  As Hopalong and Red rode down the slope of the Peak the rays of thesun flashed over the hills, giving promise of a very hot day. Theywere prepared to stay several days, if need be, on the semi-arid plainto the west of them, for it would be combed thoroughly before theyreturned. On they loped, looking keenly over the plain andoccasionally using their field glasses to more closely scrutinizedistant objects, searching the barrancas and coulees and threadingthrough mesquite and cactus growths. Hopalong momentarily expected tofind signs of what they were looking for, while Red, according tohis habit, was consistently contradictory in his words anddisproportionately pessimistic.

  Moving forward at a swinging lope they began to circle to the west andas they advanced Hopalong became eager and hopeful, while hiscompanion grumbled more and more. In his heart he believed as Hopalongdid, but there had to be something to talk about to pass the time morepleasantly; so when they met in some barranca to ride together for ashort distance they exchanged pleasantries.

  "Yo're showing even more than yore usual amount of pig-headedignorance to-day," Hopalong grumbled. "Yore blasted, ingrowingdisposition has been shedding cussedness at every step. I'll own up tobeing some curious as to when it's going to peter out."

  "As if that's any of yore business," retorted Red. "But I'll just tellyou, since you asks; it's going to stop when I get good an' ready,savvy?"

  "Yo're awful cheerful at times," sarcastically snorted his companion.

  Red's eyes had been roving over the plain and now he raised hisglasses and looked steadily ahead.

  "What's that out there? Dead cow?" he asked, calmly.

  Hopalong put his glasses on it instantly. "Cow?" he asked,witheringly. "No; it's an over-grown lizard! Come on," he cried,spurring forward, Red close behind him.

  Riding around it they saw that it bore the brand of the H2, andHopalong, dismounting, glanced it over quickly and swore.

  "Shot in th' head--what did I tell you!"

  "You didn't have to get off yore cayuse to see that," retorted Red."But get on again, an' come along. There's more out here. I'll taketh' south end of this--don't get out of hearing."

  "Wait! Wonder why they shot it, instead of driving it off after theygot it this far?" Hopalong mused.

  "Got on th' prod, I reckon, leaving its calf an' being run so hard.I've seen many a one I'd like to have shot. Looks to me like they hangout around that water hole--they drove it that way."

  "You can bet yore head they didn't drive it straight to theirhang-out--they ain't doing nothing like that," Hopalong replied. "Theystruck south after they thought they had throwed off any pursuit. Theydrove it almost north, so far; savvy?"

  "Well, they've got to have water if they're holding cows out on thisstove," Red rejoined. "An' I just told you where th' water is."

  "G'wan! Ten cows would drain that hole in two days!" Hopalongresponded. "They've also got to have grass, though mebby you neverknew that. An' what about that herd Meeker lost? They wouldn't circleso far to a one-by-nothing water hole like that one is."

  "Well, then, where'll they find grass an' water out here?" demandedRed, impatiently. "Th' desert's west, though mebby you never knewthat!"

  "Red, we've been a pair of fools!" Hopalong cried, slapping his thighby way of emphasis. "Here we are skating around up here when ThunderMesa lays south, with plenty of water an' a fair pasture on all sidesof it! That's where we'll go."

  "Hoppy, once in a great while you do show some intelligence, an'you've shown some now; but we better go up to that water hole first,"Red replied. "We can swing south then. We're so close to it now thatthere ain't nothing to be gained by not taking a look at it. Mebbywe'll find a trail, or something."

  "Right you are; come on. There ain't no use of us riding separate nomore."

  Half an hour later Hopalong pointed to one side, to a few half-burnedgreasewood and mesquite sticks which radiated like the spokes of awheel.

  "Yes, I saw 'em," Red remarked. "They couldn't wait till they got homebefore they changed th' brand, blamed fools."

  "Yes, an' that explains th' HQQ cow I discovered," Hopalong quicklyreplied. "They got too blamed hasty to blot it an' it got away from'em."

  "Well, it shore beats th' devil how Meeker had to go an' stir up thisnest of rattlers," Red grumbled, angrily.

  "If these fellers hang out at Thunder Mesa an' drive to th' railroadcamps we ought to strike their trail purty close to th' water hole,"Hopalong remarked. "It's right in their path."

  Red nodded his head. "Yes, we ought to."

  An hour later they rode around a chaparral and came within sight ofthe water hole, which lay a few hundred yards away. As they did so aman rode up out of the depression and started north, unconscious ofhis danger.

  The two men spurred to overtake him, both drawing their rifles andgetting ready for action. He turned in his saddle, saw them, andheading westward, quirted and spurred his horse into a dead run, bothof his pursuers shouting for him to stop as they followed at topspeed. He glanced around again and, seeing that they were slowly butsurely gaining, whipped up his rifle and fired at them several times,both replying. He kept bearing more and more to the west and Red rodeaway at an angle to intercept him. Ten minutes later the fleeing manturned and rode north again, but Red had gained fifty yards overHopalong and suddenly stopping his horse to permit better shooting, hetook quick aim and fired. The pursued man found that his horse wasuseful only as a breastwork as Red's report died away, and hastilypicked himself up and crawled behind it.

  "Look out, Red!" warned Hopalong as he flung himself off his horse andled it down into a deep coulee for protection. "That's Dick Archer,an' he can shoot like th' very devil!"

  Red, already in a gully, laughed. "An' so can I."

  "Hey, I'm going around on th' other side--look out for him," Hopalongcalled, starting away. "We can't waste no more time up here than wehas to."

  "All right; go ahead," Red replied, pushing his sombrero over the edgeof the gully where the rustler could see it; and he laughed softlywhen he saw the new hole in it. "He shore can shoot, all right," hemuttered. Working down the gully until he came to a clump ofgreasewood he crawled up the bank and looked out at the man behindthe dead horse, who was intently watching the place where he had seenRed's sombrero. "I knowed Eagle was holding cards in this game," Redremarked, smiling grimly. "Wonder how many are in it, anyhow?"

  Hearing the crack of a gun he squinted along the sights of hisWinchester and waited patiently for a chance to shoot. Then he heardanother shot and saw the rustler raise himself to change his position,and Red fired. "I knowed, too, that Hoppy would drive him into rangefor me, even if he didn't hit him. Wonder what Mr. Dick Archer thinksabout _my_ shooting about now? Ah!" he cried as the smoke from hissecond shot drifted away. "Got you again!" he grunted. Then he droppedbelow the edge of the gully and grinned as he listened to the bulletswhining overhead, for the rustler, wounded twice inside of a minute byone man, was greatly incensed thereby and petulantly bombarded thegreasewood clump. He knew that he was done for, but that was no reasonwhy he shouldn't do as much damage as he could while he was able.

  "Bet he's mad," grinned Red. "An' there goes that Sharps--I could tellHoppy's gun in a fusillade."

  Crawling back up the gully to his first position Red peered outbetween some gramma grass tufts and again slid his rifle to hisshoulder, laughing softly at the regular reports of the Sharps.

  A puff of smoke enveloped his head and drifted behind him as he workedthe lever of his rifle and, arising, he walked out towards theprostrate man and waved for his friend to join him. As he drew nearthe rustler struggled up on one elbow, and Red, running forward withhis gun raised half-way to his shoulder, cried: "Don't make nogun-play, or I'll blow you apart! Where's th' rest of yore gang?"

  "Go to h--l!" coughed the other, trying to get his Colt out, for hisrifle was empty. He stiffened and fell flat.

  Ten minutes later Hopalong and Red we
re riding southwest along a plainand well beaten trail, both silent and thoughtful. And at the end ofan hour they saw the ragged top of Thunder Mesa towering against thehorizon. They went forward cautiously now and took advantage of theunevenness of the plain, riding through barrancas and keeping close tochaparrals.

  "Well, Red, I reckon we better stop," Hopalong remarked at last, hisglasses glued to his eyes. "No use letting them see us."

  "Is that smoke up there?" asked Red.

  "Yes; an' there's somebody moving around near th' edge."

  "I see him now."

  "I reckon we know all that's necessary," Hopalong remarked. "Thattrail is enough, anyhow. Now we've got to get back to th' ranchwithout letting them fellers see us."

  "We can lead th' cayuses till we can get in that barranca back there,"Red replied. "We won't stick up so prominent if we do that. After wemake it we'll find it easy to keep from being seen if we've anycaution."

  Hopalong threw himself out of the saddle. "Dismount!" he cried. "Thatfeller up there is coming towards this end. He's their lookout, Ibet."

  They remained hidden and quiet for an hour while the lookout gazedaround the plain, both impatient and angry at the time he gave to hisexamination. When he turned and disappeared they waited for a fewminutes to see if he was coming back, and satisfied that the way wasclear, led their horses to the barranca and rode through it until farenough away to be safe from observation.

  Darkness caught them before they had covered half of the distancebetween the mesa and the ranch, and there being no moon to light theway, they picketed their mounts, had supper, and rolling up in theirblankets, spent the night on the open plain.

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