Hopalong cassidy, p.24
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.24
 

           Honoré Morrow

  CHAPTER XXIV

  RED'S DISCOMFITURE

  On their return they separated and Red, coming to an arroyo, rodealong its edge for a mile and then turned north. Ten minutes after hehad changed his course he espied an indistinct black speck movingamong a clump of cottonwoods over half a mile ahead of him, and as heswung his glasses on it a cloud of smoke spurted out. His horsereared, plunged, and then sank to earth where it kicked spasmodicallyand lay quiet. As the horse died Red, who had dismounted at the firsttremor, threw himself down behind it and shoved his rifle across thebody, swearing at the range, for at that distance his Winchester wasuseless. A small handful of sand flew into the air close beside himwith a vicious spat, and the bullet hummed away into the brush as asmall pebble struck him sharply on the cheek. A few seconds later heheard the faint, flat report.

  "It's a clean thousand, an' more," he growled. "Wish I had Hopalong'sgun. I'd make that feller jump!"

  He looked around to see how close he was to cover and when he glancedagain at the cottonwoods they seemed to be free of an enemy. Then ashot came from a point to the north of the trees and thudded into thecarcass of the horse. Red suddenly gave way to his accumulated angerwhich now seethed at a white heat and, scrambling to his feet, ran tothe brush behind him. When he gained it he plunged forward to topspeed, leaping from cover to cover as he zig-zagged towards the manwho had killed Ginger, and who had tried his best to kill him.

  He ran on and on, his rifle balanced in his right hand and ready forinstant use, his breath coming sharply now. Red was in no way at homeout of the saddle. His high-heeled, tight-fitting boots cramped histoes and the sand made running doubly hard. He was not far from thecottonwoods; they lay before him and to his right.

  Turning quickly he went north, so as to go around the plot of groundon which he hoped to find his accurate, long-range assailant, and ashe came to a break in the hitherto close-growing brush he stoppedshort and dropped to one knee behind a hillock of sand, the riflegoing to his shoulder as part of the movement.

  Several hundred yards east of him he saw two men, who were hastilymounting, and running from them was a frightened calf. One of the pairwaved an arm towards the place where Ginger lay and as he did so apuff of smoke lazily arose from behind the hillock of sand to the westand he jumped up in his saddle, his left arm falling to his side.Another puff of smoke arose and his companion fought his wounded andfrightened horse, and then suddenly grasped his side and groaned. Thepuffs were rising rapidly behind the hillock and bullets sang sharplyabout them; the horse of the first man hit leaped forward with abullet-stung rump. Spurring madly the two rustlers dashed into thebrush, lying close along the necks of their mounts, and soon were lostto the sight of the angry marksman.

  Red leaped up, mechanically refilling the magazine of his rifle, andwatched them out of sight, helpless either to stop or pursue them. Heshook his rifle, almost blind with rage, crying: "I hope you get toThunder Mesa before _we_ do, an' stay there; or run into Frenchy an'his men on yore way back! If I could get to Number Two ahead of youyou'd never cross that boundary."

  As he returned to his horse his rage cooled and left him, a quiet,deep animosity taking its place, and he even smiled with savageelation when he thought how he had shot at eight hundred yards--theyhad not escaped entirely free from punishment and his accuracy hadimpressed them so much that they had not lingered to have it out withhim, even as they were two to one, mounted, and armed with long-rangerifles. And he could well allow them to escape, for he would find themagain at the mesa, if they managed to cross the line unseen by hisfriends, and he could pay the debt there.

  He swore when he came to the body of his horse and anger again tookpossession of him. Ginger had been the peer of any animal on therange and, contrary to custom, he had felt no little affection for it.At cutting out it had been unequalled and made the work a pleasure toits rider; at stopping when the rope went home and turning short whenon the dead run it had not been excelled by any horse on the ranch. Hehad taught it several tricks, such as coming to him in response to awhistle, lying down quickly at a slap on the shoulder, and buckingwith whole-hearted zeal and viciousness when mounted by a stranger.Now he slapped the carcass and removed the saddle and bridle which hadso often displeased it.

  "Ginger, old boy," he said, slinging the forty-pound saddle to hisshoulder and turning to begin his long tramp towards the dam, "I shorehate to hoof it, but I'd do it with a lot better temper if I knowedyou was munching grass with th' rest of the cavvieyh. You've been agood old friend, an' I hates to leave you; but if I get any kind of achance at th' thief that plugged you I'll square up for you good an'plenty."

  To the most zealous for exercise, carrying a forty-pounddouble-cinched saddle for over five miles across a hot, sandy plainand under a blazing, scorching sun, with the cinches all the timeworking loose and falling to drag behind and catch in the vegetation,was no pleasant task; and add to that a bridle, full magazine rifle,field glasses, canteen, and a three-pound Colt revolver swinging froma belt heavily weighted with cartridges, and it becomes decidedlyirksome, to say the least. Red's temper can be excused when it isremembered that for years his walking had been restricted to gettingto his horse, that his footwear was unsuited for walking, that he hadbeen shot at and had lost his best horse. Each mile added greatly tohis weariness and temper and by the time he caught sight of Hopalong,who rode recklessly over the range blazing at a panic-stricken coyote,he was near the point of spontaneous combustion.

  He heaved the saddle from him, kicked savagely at it as it dropped,for which he was instantly sorry, and straightened his back slowly forfear that any sudden exertion would break it. His rifle exploded,twice, thrice; and Hopalong sat bolt upright and turned, his riflegoing instinctively to his shoulder before he saw his friend's wavingsombrero.

  The coyote-chaser slid the smoking Sharps into its sheath and gallopedto meet his friend who, filling the air with sulphurous remarks, nowseated himself on the roundly cursed saddle.

  Hopalong swept up and stopped, grinning expectantly and, to Red,exasperatingly. "Where's yore cayuse?" he asked. "Why are you totingyore possessions on th' hoof? Are you emigrating?"

  Red's reply was a look wonderfully expressive of all the evils inhuman nature, it was fairly crowded with murder and torture, andHopalong held his head on one side while he weighed it.

  "Phew!" he exclaimed in wondering awe. "Yo're shore mad! You'd freezeold Geronimo's blood if he saw that look!"

  "An' I'll freeze yourn; I'll let it soak into th' sand if you don'tchange yore front!" blazed Red.

  "What's the matter? Where's Ginger?"

  A rapid-fire string of expletives replied and then Hopalong began tohear sensible words, which more and more interspersed the profanity,and it was not long before he learned of Red's ride along the arroyo'srim.

  "When I turned north," Red continued, wrathfully, "I saw something inthem dozen cottonwoods around that come-an'-go spring; an' then whatdo you think happened?" he cried. Not waiting for any reply hecontinued hastily: "Why, some murdering squaw's dog went an' squibbedat me at long range! With me on my own ranch, too! An' he killedGinger first shot. He missed me three straight an' _I_ couldn't donothing at a thousand an' over with this gun."

  "Th' d--n pirate!" exclaimed Hopalong, hotly.

  "I was a whole lot mad by that time, so I jumped back into th' brushan' ran for th' grove, hoping to get square when I got in range. AfterI'd run about a thousand miles I came to th' edge of th' clearing westof th' trees an' d----d if I didn't see two fellers climbing on theircayuses, an' some hasty, too. Reckon they didn't know how many friendsI might have behind me. Well, I was some shaky from running like Idid, an' they was a good eight hundred away, but I let drive just th'same an' got one in th' arm, th' other somewhere else, an' hit both oftheir cayuses. I wish I'd 'a filled 'em so full of holes they couldn'thang together, th' thieves!"

  "I'd shore like to go after them, Red," Hopalong remarked. "We couldride west an' get 'em when they pass that wate
r hole if you had acayuse."

  "Oh, we'll get 'em, all right--at th' mesa," Red rejoined. "I'm sotired I wouldn't go now if I could. Walking all th' way down here withthat saddle! You get off that cayuse an' let me ride him," hesuggested, mopping his face with his sleeve.

  "What! Me? _Me_ get off an' walk! I reckon not!" replied Hopalong, andthen his face softened. "You pore, unfortunate cow-punch," he said,sympathetically. "You toss up yore belongings an' climb up here behindme. I'll take you to th' dam, where Johnny has picketed his cayuse.Th' Kid's going in for a swim; said he didn't know how soon he'd get achance to take a bath. We can rustle his cayuse for a joke--come on."

  "Oh, wait a minute, can't you?" Red replied, wearily. "I can't lift mylegs high enough to get up there--they're like lead. That trail washell strung out."

  "You should 'a cached yore saddle an' everything but th' gun an' comedown light," Hopalong remarked. "Or you could a' gone to th' line an'waited for somebody to come along. Why didn't you do that?"

  "I ain't leaving that saddle nowhere," Red responded. "Besides I wastoo blamed mad to stop an' think."

  "Well, don't wait very long--Johnny may skin out if you do," Hopalongreplied, and then, suddenly: "Just where was it you shot at themsnakes?" Red told him and Hopalong wheeled as if to ride after them.

  "Here, you!" cried Red, the horseless. "Where th' devil are you goingso sudden?"

  "Up to get them cow-lifters that you couldn't, of course," hiscompanion replied. "I'm shore going to show you how easy it is whenyou know how."

  "Like h--l you are!" Red cried, springing up, his lariat in his hand."Yo're going to stay right here with me, that's what yo're going todo! I've got something for you to do, you compact bundle of gall! Youtry to get away without me and I'll make you look like an interruptedspasm, you wart-headed Algernon!"

  "Do you want 'em to get plumb away?" cried the man in the saddle,concealing his mirth.

  "I want you to stick right here an' tote me to a cayuse!" Redretorted, swinging the rope. "_I'm_ going to be around when anybodygoes after them Siwashes, an' don't you forget it. There ain't nohurry--we'll get 'em quick enough when we starts west. An' if you tryany get-away play an' leave me out here on my two feet with all thesecontraptions, I'll pick you off'n that piebald like hell greased withcalamity!"

  Hopalong laughed heartily. "Why, I was only a-fooling, Red. Do youreckon I'd go away an' leave you standing out here like a busted-downpack mule?"

  "I hoped you was only fooling, but I wasn't taking no chances with acuss like you," Red replied, grinning. "Not with this load of woe, youbet."

  "Say, it's too bad you didn't have my gun up there," Hopalong said,regretfully. "You could 'a got 'em both then, an' had two cayuses toride home on."

  "Well, _I_ could 'a got 'em with it," Red replied, grinning, his goodnature returning under the chaffing. "But you can't hit th' mesa withit over six hundred. They'd 'a got away from you without getting hit."

  Hopalong laughed derisively and then sobered and became anxious."Yo're right, Red, yo're right," he asserted with tender solicitude."Now you get right up here behind me an' I'll take you to th' damwhere th' Kid is. Pore feller," he sighed. "Well, I ain't a-wonderingafter all you've been through. It was enough to make a _strong_-mindedman loco." He smiled reassuringly. "Now climb right up behind me,Reddie. Gimme yore little saddle an' yore no-account gun--Ouch!"

  "I'll give you th' butt of it again if you don't act like you've madeth' best of them gravy brains!" Red snorted. "Here, you lop-earedcow-wrastler--catch this!" throwing the saddle so sudden and hard thatHopalong almost lost his balance from the impact. "Now you gimme alittle room in front of th' tail--I ain't no blasted fly."

  Hopalong gave his friend a hand and Red landed across the horse'sback, to the instant and strong dislike of that animal, which showedits displeasure by bucking mildly.

  "Glory be!" cried Hopalong, laughing. "Riding double on a buckinghinge ain't no play, is it? Suppose he felt like pitching realstrong--where would you be with that tail holt?"

  "You bump my nose again with th' back of yore head an' you'll see howmuch play it is!" Red retorted. "Come on--pull out. We ain't gluedfast. Th' world moves, all right, but if yo're counting on it slidingunder you till th' dam comes around you're way off; it ain't movingthat way. Hey! Stop that spurring!"

  "I'll hook 'em in you again if you don't shut up!" Hopalong promised,jabbing them into the horse, which gave one farewell kick, to Red'sdisgust, and cantered south with ears flattened.

  "Whoop! I'm riding again!" Red exulted.

  "I'm glad it wasn't Red Eagle they went an' killed," Hopalongremarked.

  "Red Eagle!" snorted Red, indignantly. "What good is this cayuse,anyhow? Ginger was worth three like this."

  "Well, if you don't like this cayuse you can get off an' hoof it, youknow," Hopalong retorted. "But I'll tell you what you know a'ready;there ain't no cayuse in this part of th' country that can lose him inlong-distance running. He ain't no fancy, parlor animal like Gingerwas; he don't know how to smoke a cig or wash dishes, or do any of th'fool things yore cayuse did, but he is right on th' job when it comesto going hard an' long. An' it's them two things that tell how much acayuse is worth, down here in this country. If I could 'a jumped onhim up there when they made their get-away from you, me an' th' Sharpswould 'a fixed 'em. They wouldn't be laughing now at how easy youwas."

  "They ain't laughing, not a bit of it--an' they won't even be able toswear after I get out to th' mesa," Red asserted. "Have you seen Buck,or anybody 'cept th' Kid?"

  "Yes. I told Buck an' Frenchy about it, an' Skinny, too," Hopalongreplied. "Buck an' Frenchy went north along th' west line to get th'boys from Number Two. Buck says we'll go after 'em just as soon as wecan get ready, which most of us are now. Pore Lanky; he's got to stayhome an' pet his wounds--Buck said he couldn't go."

  "Did Buck say who was going an' who was going to stay home?"

  "Yes; you, Johnny, Billy, Pete, Skinny, Frenchy, me, Buck, an' PieWillis are going--th' rest will have to watch th' ranch. That makesnine of us. Wonder how many are up that mesa?"

  "There'll be plenty, don't you worry," Red replied. "When we go afteranybody we generally has to mix up with a whole company. I wouldn't bea whole lot surprised if they give us an awful fight before they peterout. They'll be up in th' air a hundred feet. We'll have plenty to do,all right."

  "Well, two won't be there, anyhow--Archer an' Juan. I bet we'll findmost of th' people of Eagle up there waiting for us."

  "Lord, I hope they are!" cried Red. "Then we can clean up everythingat once, town an' all."

  "There's th' Kid--see th' splash?" Hopalong laughed. "He shore isstuck on swimming. He don't care if there's cotton-mouths in therewith him. One of them snakes will get him some day, an' if one does,then we'll plant him, quick."

  "Oh, I dunno. I ain't seen none at th' dam," Red replied. "They don'tlike th' sand there as much as they do th' mud up at th' other end,an' along th' sides. Gee! There's his cayuse!"

  Johnny dove out of sight, turned over and came up again, happy as alark, and saw his friends riding towards him, and he trod water andgrinned. "Hullo, fellers. Coming in?--it's fine! Hey, Red. We're allgoing out to Thunder Mesa as soon as we can! But what are you ridingdouble for? Where's yore cayuse?" Something in Red's expression madehim suspicious of his friends' intentions and, fearing that he mighthave to do some walking, he made a few quick strokes and climbed out,dressing as rapidly as his wet skin would permit.

  Red briefly related his experience and Johnny swore as he struggledthrough his shirt. "What are you going to do?" he asked, poking hishead out into sight.

  "I'm going to ride yore cayuse to th' line house--you ain't as tiredas me," replied Red.

  "Not while I'm alive, you ain't!" cried Johnny, running to his horse.Then he grinned and went back to his clothes. "You take him an' ropeth' cayuse I saw down in that barranca--there's two of 'em there,both belonging to Meeker. But you be shore to come back!"

  "Shore, Kid," Red re
plied, vaulting into the saddle and riding away.

  Johnny fastened his belt around him and looked up. "Say, Hoppy," helaughed, "Buck said Cowan sent my new gun down to th' bunk houseyesterday. He's going to bring it with him when he comes downto-morrow. But I only got fifty cartridges for it--will you lend mesome of yourn if I run short?"

  "Where did Cowan get it?"

  "Why, don't you remember he said he'd get me one like yourn th' nexttime he went north? He got back yesterday--bought it off some fellerup on th' XS. Cost me twenty-five dollars without th' cartridges. ButI've got fifty empties I can load when I get time, so I'll be allright later on. Will you lend me some?"

  "Fifty is enough, you chump," laughed Hopalong. "You won't get thatmany good chances out there."

  "I know; but I want to practise a little. It'll shoot flatter than myWinchester," Johnny grinned, hardly able to keep from riding to thebunk house to get his new gun.

  Red rode up leading a horse. "That's a good rope, Kid, 'though th'hondo is purty heavy," he said, saddling the captured animal. "Is Buckgoing to bring down any food an' cartridges when he comes?" he asked.

  "Yes; three cayuses will pack 'em. We can send back for more if westay out there long enough to need more. Buck says that freak springup on top flows about half a mile through th' chaparral before itpeters out. What do you know about it, Red?" Hopalong asked.

  "Seems to me that he's right. I think it flows through a twistingarroyo. But there'll be water enough for us, all right."

  "I got a .45-120 Sharps just like Hopalong's, Red," Johnny grinned."He said he'd lend me fifty cartridges for it, didn't you, Hoppy?"

  "Well, I'll be blamed!" exclaimed Hopalong. "First thing _I_ knowedabout it, if I did. I tell you you won't need 'em."

  "Where'd you get it?" asked Red.

  "Cowan got it. I told you all about it three weeks ago."

  "Well, you better give it back an' use yore Winchester," replied Red."It ain't no good, an' you'll shoot some of us with it, too. What do_you_ want with a gun that'll shoot eighteen hundred? You can't hitanything now above three hundred."

  "Yo're another--I can, an' you know it, too. Three hundred!" hesnorted. "Huh! Here comes Skinny!"

  Skinny rode up and joined them, all going to the Peak. Finally heturned and winked at Johnny.

  "Hey, Kid. Hopalong ought to go right down to th' H2 while he's gottime. He hadn't ought to go off fighting without saying good-bye tohis girl, had he?"

  "She'd keep him home--wouldn't let him take no chances of gettingshot," Red asserted. "Anyhow, if he went down there he'd forget tocome back."

  "Ow-wow!" cried Johnny. "You hit him! You hit him! Look at his face!"

  "He shore can't do no courting while he's away," Skinny remarked. "Hewouldn't let Red go with him when he went to give Meeker th' shovel,an' I didn't know why till just now."

  "You go to blazes, all of you!" exclaimed Hopalong, red anduncomfortable. "I ain't doing no courting, you chump! An' Red knowswhy I went down there alone."

  "Yes; you gave me a fool reason, an' went alone," Red retorted. "An'if that ain't courting, for th' Lord's sake what is it? Or is shedoing all of it, you being bashful?"

  "Yes, Hoppy; tell us what it is," asked Skinny.

  "Oh, don't mind them, Hoppy; they're jealous," Johnny interposed."Don't you make no excuses, not one. Admit that yo're courting an'tell 'em that yo're going to keep right on a-doing it an' get all th'honey you can."

  Red and Skinny grinned and Hopalong, swearing at Johnny, made a quickgrab for him, but missed, for Johnny knew the strength of that grip."I ain't courting! I'm only trying to--trying to be--sociable; that'sall!"

  "Sociable!" yelled Red. "Oh, Lord!"

  "It must be nice to be sociable," replied Johnny. "Since you ain'tcourting, an' are only trying to be sociable, then you won't care ifwe go down an' try it. Me for th' H2!"

  "You bet; an' I'm going down, too," asserted Red, who was very muchafraid of women, and who wouldn't have called on Mary Meeker for ahundred dollars.

  Hopalong knew his friend's weakness and he quickly replied: "Red, Idare you to do that. I dare you to go down there an' talk to her forfive minutes. When I say talk, I don't mean stammer. I dare you!"

  "Do you dare _me_?" asked Johnny, quickly, glancing at the sun to seehow much time he had.

  "Oh, I ain't got time," replied Red, grinning.

  "You ain't got th' nerve, you mean," jeered Skinny.

  "I dare you, Red," Hopalong repeated, grimly.

  "I asked you if you dared _me?_" hastily repeated Johnny.

  "_You!_ Not on yore life, Kid. But you stay away from there!" Hopalongwarned.

  "Gee--wish you'd lend me them cartridges," sighed Johnny. "MebbeMeeker has got some he ain't so stingy with," he added, thoughtfully.

  "I'll lend you th' cartridges, Kid," Hopalong offered. "But you stayaway from th' H2. D'y hear?"

 
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