Hopalong cassidy, p.34
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.34

           Honoré Morrow



  When the two foremen entered the firing line again they saw RedConnors and they cautiously went towards him. As they came withintwenty feet of him Buck chanced to glance across the cut and what hesaw brought a sudden smile to his face.

  "Meeker, Red has got that spring under his gun!" he exclaimed in a lowvoice. "They can't get within ten feet of it or within ten feet of th'water at any point along its course. This is too good to bungle--waitfor me," and he ran out of sight around a bend in the crevice, Meekerstaring across at the spring, his eyes following the rivulet until itflowed into the deep, narrow cut it had worn in the side of the mesa.

  Red looked around. "Why, hullo, Meeker! Where's Buck? Thought I heardhim a minute ago. If you have got any water to spare I can use some ofit good. Some thief drilled my canteen when I went fooling along thisbarranca, an' I ain't got a drop left."

  Meeker began to move closer to him, Red warning him to be careful, andadding, "Three of them fellers ain't doing nothing but watch thiscut. Scared we'll get across it an' flank 'em, I reckon."

  "Do you know that yo're covering their water supply?" Meeker asked,handing his canteen to his thirsty companion. "They can't get to it aslong as you stay here. That's why they're after you so hard."

  Red wiped his lips on his sleeve and sighed contentedly. "It's blamedhot, but it's wet. But is that right? Am I keeping 'em thirsty?Where's th' water?"

  "Shore you are; it's right over there--see that little ditch?" Meekerreplied, pointing.

  _Bing! Spat!_

  The H2 foreman dropped his arm and grinned. "They're watching us purtyclose, ain't they? Didn't miss me far, at that," showing his companiona torn sleeve and a lead splotch on the rock behind him.

  "Not a whole lot. Two of them fellers can shoot like blazes. Yo'replumb lucky," Red responded. "If you'd showed more'n yore sleeve thattime they'd 'a hit you." He looked across the cut and puckered hisbrow. "Well, if that's where their water is they don't get none. Mebbywe can force 'em out if we watches that spring right smart."

  "Here comes Buck now, with Skinny."

  "It's too good a card to lose, Skinny," the Bar-20 foreman was sayingas he approached. "You settle some place near here where you can potanybody that tries for a drink. Mebby this little trick wins th' gamefor us--_quien sabe?_ Hullo, Red; where's yore side pardner?"

  "Oh, he went prospecting along this barranca to see if he could getacross," Red replied. "He wants to get up on top of that ridge behindth' shack. Says if he can do it th' fight won't last long. See how itoverlooks their layout?"

  Buck looked and his eyes glistened. "An' he's right, too, like he isgenerally. That's th' key, an' it lies between them an' th' spring.Beats all how quick that feller can size up a hand. If he could playpoker as well as he can fight he could quit working for a living."

  "Yes; yo're shore right," Red replied.

  Several shots rang out from the breastwork and the bullets hummed pastthem down the cut. A burst of derisive laughter replied fifty yards totheir right and a taunt followed it. More shots were fired andanswered by another laugh and taunt, inducing profanity from themarksman, and then Hopalong called to Red. "Six out of seven wentplumb through my sombrero, Red, when I poked it out to find if theywas looking. They was. Purty good for 'em, eh?"

  "Too blamed good to suit me--lucky yore head wasn't in it," Redreplied.

  Hopalong, singing in stentorian voice an original version of "Mary andHer Little Lamb" in which it seemed he aspired to be the lamb, finallycame into view with a perforated sombrero in his hand, which he eyedruefully. "A good roof gone up, but I didn't reckon everybody waslooking my way," he grumbled. "Somebody shore has got to pay for thatlid, too," then he glanced up, saw Meeker, and looked foolish."Howd'y, Meeker; what's new, Buck?"

  "Hey, Hoppy! Did you know I was covering their drinking water?" askedRed, triumphantly.

  "I knowed you was covering some of it, but you needn't take on no airsabout it, for you didn't know it," Hopalong retorted. "What I want toknow is why you wasn't covering _me_, like you said you would!" hecried, eying Red's sombrero, which lay at his feet. "It's all yorefault that my Stetson's bust wide open, an' that being so, we'll justswap, right now, too!" suiting the action to the words.

  "Hey! Gimme that war-bonnet, you bunch of gall!" yelled Red kicking athis tormentor and missing. "Gimme that, d'y hear!"

  "Give you a punch in th' eye, you sheep!" retorted Hopalong, backingaway. "Think you can get away with a play like that after saying youwas going to cover me? _I_ ain't no papoose, you animated carrot!"

  "Gimme that Stetson!" Red commanded, starting to arise. There was asharp hum and he dropped back again, blood flowing from his cheek,that being the extent of his person he had so inadvertently exposed."There, blank you! See what you made me do! Going to drop that hat?"

  "Why don't you give 'em a good shot at you? That ain't no way to treat'em--but honest, Red, you shouldn't get so excited over a little thinglike that," Hopalong replied. "Now, I'll leave it to Meeker,here--hadn't I ought to take his roof?"

  Meeker laughed. "Th' Court reserves its decision, but possession isnine points in law."

  "Huh! Possession is everything. Since I can keep it, why, then,according to th' Court, th' hat belongs to me. Hear that, Red?"

  "Yes, I hear it! An' if I wasn't so cussed busy I'd show you how longyou'd keep it," Red rejoined. "I'll bet you a hat you don't keep it aday after we get this off'n our hands. Bow-legged Algernon, you!"

  "Done--then I'll have two hats; one for work an' one to wear when I'mvisiting," Hopalong laughed. "But you've got th' best of th' swap,anyhow. That new lid of yourn, holes an' all, is worth twice as muchas this wool thing I'm getting for it. My old one is a _hat!_"

  Red refused to lower his dignity by replying and soon fired. "Huh!Reckon that feller won't shoot no more with his right hand."

  "Say, I near forgot to tell you Meeker captured one of them fellersout back; got him tied up now," Buck remarked, relating the incident,Meeker interrupting to give the Bar-20 foreman all the credit.

  "Good!" exclaimed Red. "It's a rope necktie for him. An' one less toshoot at me."

  "An' _you_ here, Buck!" cried Hopalong in surprise. "Come on, lead th'way! How do you know he was th' only one to get behind us! GoodLord!"

  "Gosh, yo're right!" Buck exclaimed, running off. "Come on, Jim. We'rea pair of fools, after all!"

  At the other end of the line Chick Travers and George Cross did aswell as they could with their Colts, but found their effortsunavailing. Their positions were marked by the rustlers and they hadseveral narrow escapes, both being wounded, Cross twice. Ten yardswest of them Frenchy McAllister was crawling forward a foot at a timefrom cover to cover and so far he had not been hit. His position alsohad been marked and he was now trying to find a new one unobserved,where he could have a chance to shoot once without instantly beingfired upon. Pete and Johnny had separated, the latter having given uphis attempt to make the rustler pay for his wounded ear. He hademptied the magazine of the rifle he had found and now only used hisColt. As he worked along the firing line he saw Frenchy ten yards infront of him, covered nicely by a steep rise in the ground.

  "How are you doing out there, Frenchy?" he asked in a low voice.

  "Not very good; wish I had my rifle," came the soft-spoken reply.

  "I had one that I found, but I used up all th' cartridges there was inth' magazine."

  "What kind an' caliber?"

  ".45-70 Winchester. I found it by th' ropes. Pete says he reckonedsome rustler must have left it behind an' got away down th'--"

  "Get it for me, Kid, will you?" interrupted Frenchy, eagerly. "Iplumb forgot to leave my belt of rifle cartridges back in th' camp.Got it on now, an' it's chock full, too. Hurry up, an' I'll work backto you for it."

  "What luck! In a second," Johnny exulted, disappearing. Returning withthe rifle he handed it to his friend and gazed longingly at thebeltful of rifle cartridges. "Say, Frenchy," he beg
an. "You know we'llall have our rifles to-night, an' you've got more cartridges for thatthan you can use before then. It won't be more than three hours beforewe send for ours. Suppose you gimme some of them for Pete--he's gotth' mate to that gun, an' can't use it no more because it's empty."

  "Shore, Kid," and Frenchy slipped a handful of cartridges out of hisbelt and gave them to Johnny. "With my compliments to Pete. What wasthat you was saying about rustlers an' th' ropes?"

  Johnny told of Pete's deductions regarding the finding of the riflesand Frenchy agreed with them, and also that Doc had taken care of theowners of the weapons when they had reached the plain.

  "Well, I'm going further away from them thieves now that I've gotsomething to shoot with," Frenchy asserted. "They won't be looking forany of us a hundred yards or more farther back. Mebbe I can catch someof 'em unawares."

  "I'll chase off an' give Pete these pills," Johnny replied. "He'll betickled plumb to death. He was cussing bad when I left him."

  George Cross, crawling along a steep, smooth rock barely under theshelter of a bowlder, endeavored to grasp the top, but under-reachedand slipped, rolling down to the bottom and in plain sight of therustlers. As his companion, Chick Travers, tried to help him two shotsrang out and Cross, sitting up with his hands to his head, toppledback to arise no more. Chick leaped up and fired twice at one of themarksmen, and missed. His actions had been so sudden and unexpectedthat he escaped the return shot which passed over him by a foot as hedropped back to cover. Somehow the whole line seemed to feel thatthere had been a death among them, as evidenced by the burst of firingalong it. And the whole line felt another thing; that the cartridgesof the rustlers were getting low, for they seemed to be saving theirshots. But it was Hopalong who found the cause of the diminishingfire. After hunting fruitlessly with the two foremen and finding thatHall was the only man to get back of the firing line he left his twocompanions in order to learn the condition of his friends. As he madehis way along the line he chanced to look towards the hut and saw fourrifles on the floor of it, and back of them, piled against the wall,was the rustlers' main supply of ammunition. Calling out, he wasanswered by Pete, who soon joined him.

  "Pete, you lucky devil, turn that rifle through th' door of th' shackan' keep it on them cartridges," he ordered. "They ain't been shootingas fast as they was at first, an' there's th' reason for it. Oh, justwait till daylight to-morrow! They won't last long after that!"

  "They won't get them cartridges, anyhow," Pete replied withconviction.

  "Hey, fellers," cried a voice, and they looked around to see ChickTravers coming towards them. "Yore man Cross has passed. He rolled offhis ledge an' couldn't stop. They got him when he hit th' bottom ofit."

  "D--n 'em!" growled Hopalong. "We'll square our accounts to-morrowmorning. Pete, you watch them cartridges."

  "Shore--" _Bang!_ "Did you see that?" Pete asked, frantically pumpingthe lever of his rifle.

  "Yes!" cried Chick. "Some feller tried to get in that south window!Bet he won't try again after that hint. Hear him cuss? There--Red must'a fired then, too!"

  "Good boy, Pete!--keep 'em out. We'll have somebody in there afterdark," Hopalong responded. "They've got th' best covers now, but we'llturn th' table on 'em when th' sun comes up to-morrow."

  "Here comes Buck an' Meeker," remarked Chick. "Them two are getting awhole lot chummy lately, all right. They're allus together."

  "That's good, too. They're both of 'em all right," Hopalong replied,running to meet them. Chick saw the three engage in a consultation andlook towards the hut and the ridge behind it, Buck and Meeker noddingslowly at what Hopalong was saying. Then they moved off towards thewest where they could examine the building at closer range.

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