Hopalong cassidy, p.35
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.35

           Honoré Morrow



  As the day waned the dropping shots became less and less frequent andthe increasing darkness began to work its magic. The unsightly plainwith its crevices and bowlders and scrawny vegetation would soon bechanged into one smooth blot, to be lighted with the lurid flashes ofrifles as Red and Pete fired at irregular intervals through the southwindows of the hut to keep back any rustler who tried to get theammunition within its walls. Two were trying and had approached thewindow just as a bullet hummed through it. They stopped and looked ateach other and moved forward again. Then a bullet from Pete's rifle,entering through the open door, hummed out the window and struckagainst the rocky ridge.

  "Say! Them coyotes can see us through that windy," remarked Clausen."Th' sky at our backs is too light yet."

  "They can't see us standing here," objected Shaw.

  "Then what are they shooting at?"

  "Cuss me if I know. Looks like they was using th' winder for atarget. Reckon we better wait till it gets darker."

  "If we wait till it's dark we can sneak in through th' door,"suggested Clausen. "If we go in crawling we ain't likely to stop noshot high enough to go through that windy."

  "You can if you wants, but I ain't taking no chances like that, nonewhatever."

  Another shot whined through the window and stopped with an angry spatagainst the ridge. Shaw scratched his head reflectively. "It shorebeats me why they keeps that up. There ain't no sense to it," hedeclared in aggrieved tones. "They don't know nothing about themcartridges in there."

  "That's it!" exclaimed Clausen, excitedly. "I bet a stack of bluesthey do know. An' they're covering somebody going in to steal 'em. Oh,h--l!" and he slammed his hat to the ground in bitter anger. "An' usa-standing here like a couple of mired cows! I'm going to risk it."

  "Wait," advised Shaw. "Let's try a hat an' see if they plug at it."

  "Wait be d----d! My feet are growing roots right now. I'm going in,"and Clausen broke away from his friend and ran towards the hut, acrouching run, comical to look at but effective because it kept hishead below the level of the window; without pausing in his stride hisbody lengthened into a supple curve as he plunged head foremostthrough the window, landing on the cabin floor with hands and feetbunched under him, his passing seen only as a fleeting, puzzlingshadow, by the watchful eyes outside.

  Across the cut Johnny was giving Red instructions and turned to leave."Th' cut is full of shadows an' th' moon ain't up yet. Now, remember,one more shot through that window--I'm going to foller it right in.Get word to Pete as soon as you can, though I won't pass th' door.He's only got three cartridges left an' he'll be getting some anxiousabout now. So long."

  "So long, an' good luck, Kid," Red replied.

  Johnny wriggled across the cut on his stomach, picking out the shadowsand gaining the shelter of the opposite bank, stood up, and ran to thehut. Red fired and then Johnny cautiously climbed through the windowand dropped to the floor.

  He had anticipated Clausen by the fraction of a second. As his feettouched the floor the noise of Clausen's arrival saluted him and thestartled Johnny jerked his gun loose and sent a shot in the other'sdirection, leaping aside on the instant. The flash of the dischargewas gone too quickly for him to distinguish anything and thescrambling sound that followed mystified him further. That there hadbeen no return shot did not cause him to dance with joy, farotherwise; it made him drop silently to his stomach and hunt thedarkest part of the hut, the west wall. He lay still for a minute,eyes and ears strained for a sound to tell him where to shoot. ThenRed called to him and wanted an answer, whereupon Johnny thought ofthings he ached to call Red. Then he heard a low voice outside thesouth window, and it called: "Clausen, Clausen--what happened? Whydon't you answer?"

  "Oh, so my guest is Clausen, hey?" Johnny thought. "Wonder if Clausencan see in th' dark? 'Nother d----d fool wanting an answer! I'll betClausen is hugging th' dark spots, too. Wonder if I scared him as muchas he scared me?"

  The suspense was becoming too much of a strain and, poking his Coltout in front of him, he began to move forward, his eyes staring aheadof him at the place where Clausen ought to be.

  Inch by inch he advanced, holding his breath as well as he could,every moment expecting to have Clausen salute him in the face with ahot .45. Johnny was scared, and well scared, but it only provescourage to go on when scared stiff, and Johnny went on and along thewall he thought Clausen was using for a highway.

  "Wonder how it feels to have yore brains blowed out," he shivered."For God's sake, Clausen, make a noise--sneeze, cough, choke, yell,anything!" he prayed, but Clausen remained ominously silent. Johnnypushed his Colt out farther and poked it all around. Touching the wallit made a slight scraping sound and Johnny's blood froze. Still nomove from Clausen, and his fright went down a notch--Clausen wasevidently even more scared than he was. That was consoling. Perhaps hewas so scared that he couldn't pull a trigger, which would be far moreconsoling.

  "Johnny! Johnny! Answer, can't you!" came Red's stentorian voice,causing Johnny to jump a few inches off the floor.

  "Clausen! Clausen!" came another voice.

  "For God's sake, answer, Clausen! Tell 'em yo're here!" prayed Johnny."Yo're d----d unpolite, anyhow."

  By this time he was opposite the door and he wondered if Pete had beentold not to bombard it. He stopped and looked, and stared. What wasthat thing on the floor? Or was it anything at all? He blinked andmoved closer. It looked like a head, but Johnny was taking no chances.He stared steadily into the blackest part of the hut for a moment andthen looked again at the object. He could see it a little plainer now,for it was not quite as dark outside as it was in the building; but hewas not sure about it.

  "Can't fool me, you coyote," he thought. "Yo're hugging this wall astight as a tick on a cow, a blamed sight tighter than I am, an' inabout a minute I'm going to shoot along it about four inches from th'floor. I'd just as soon get shot as be scared to death, anyhow. Mebbywe've passed each other! An' Holy Medicine! Mebby there's two of 'em!"

  He regarded the object again. "That shore looks like a head, allright." He felt a pebble under his hand and drawing back a little hecovered the questionable object and then tossed the pebble at it."Huh, if it's a head, why in thunder didn't it move?"

  There were footsteps outside the south window and he listened, theColt ready to stop any one rash enough to look in, Clausen or noClausen.

  "Where's Clausen, Shaw?" said a voice, and the reply was so low Johnnycould not make it out.

  "Yes; that's just what I want to know," and Johnny stared in frowningintentness at the supposed head. He moved closer to the object and bydint of staring thought he saw the head and shoulders of a man facedown in a black, shallow pool. Then his hand became wet and he jerkedit back and wiped it on his sleeve; he could hardly believe hissenses. As he grasped the significance of his discovery he grinnedsheepishly and moved back to the north wall, where no rustler's bulletcould find him. "Lord! An' I got him th' first crack! Got him shootingby ear!"

  "Johnny! Johnny!" came Red's roar, anxious and querulous.

  Johnny wheeled and shook his Colt out of the window, for the momentforgetting the peril of losing sight of the opening in the other wall."I'll Johnny _you_, you blankety-blank fool!" he shouted. Then heheard a curse at the south window and turned quickly, his Coltcovering the opening. "An' I'll Johnny you too, you cow-stealingcoyotes! Stick yore thieving heads in that windy an' holler for yoreClausen! _I_ can show you where he is, an' send you after him ifyou'll just take a look! Want them cartridges, hey? Well, come an' get'em!"

  A bullet, fired at an angle through the window, was the reply andseveral hummed through the open door and glanced off the steep sidesof the ridge. Waiting until they stopped coming he dropped andwriggled forward along the west wall, feeling in front of him until hetouched a box. Grasping it he dragged the important cartridges to himand then backed to the north window with them.

  He fell to stuffing his pockets with
the captured ammunition and thenstopped short and grinned happily. "Might as well _hold_ this shackan' wait for somebody to look in that windy. They can't get me."

  He dropped the box and walked to the heavy plank door, slamming itshut. He heard the thud of bullets in it as he propped it, andlaughed. "Can't shoot through them planks, they're double thick." Hesmelled his sticky fingers. "An' they're full of resin, besides."

  He stopped suddenly and frowned as a fear entered his mind; and thensmiled, reassured. "Nope; no rustling snake can climb up thatridge--not with Red an' Pete watching it."

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