Hopalong cassidy, p.41
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.41
 

           Honoré Morrow

  CHAPTER XLI

  HOPALONG'S REWARD

  Seven men loitered about the line house on Lookout Peak, wondering whythey, the old outfit, had been told to await their foreman there. Whywere the others, all good fellows, excluded? What could it mean?Foreboding grew upon them as they talked the matter over and when Buckapproached they waited eagerly for him to speak.

  He dismounted and looked at them with pride and affection and a traceof sorrow showed in his voice and face when he began to talk.

  "Boys," he said, slowly, "we've got things ready for snow when itcomes. Th' cattle are strong an' fat, there's plenty of grass curingon th' range, an' th' biggest drive ever sent north from this ranchhas been taken care of. There's seven of you here, two on th' northrange, an' four more good men coming next week; an' thirteen men canhandle this ranch with some time to spare.

  "I've been with you for a long time now. Some of you I've had for overtwelve years, an' no man ever had a better outfit. You've never turnedback on any game, an' you've never had no trouble among yoreselves.You've seen me sending an' getting letters purty regular for sometime, an' you've been surprised at how I've pushed you to get readyfor winter. I'm going to tell you all about it now, an' when I'vefinished I want you to vote on something," and they listened in dumbsurprise and sorrow while he told them of his decision. When he hadfinished they crowded about him and begged him to stay with them,telling him they would not allow him to leave. But if he must go, thenthey, too, must go and help him whip a wild and lawless range intosubmission. He would need them badly in Montana, and nowhere could heget men who would work and fight so hard and cheerfully for him as hisold outfit. They would not let him talk and he could not if theywould, for there was something in his throat which choked and painedhim. Johnny Nelson and Hopalong were tugging at his shoulders and theothers stormed and pleaded and swore, tears in the eyes of all. Hewavered and would have thrown away all his resolutions, when hethought of Hopalong and the girl. Pushing them back he told them hecould not stay and begged them, as they loved him, to consider hisfuture. They looked at one another strangely and then realized howselfish they were, and said so profanely.

  "_Now_ yo're my old outfit," he cried, striking while the iron washot. "I've told you why I must go, an' why I can't take _all_ of youwith me, an' why I won't take a few an' leave th' rest. Don't think Idon't want you! Why, with you at my back I'd buck that range intoshape in no time, an' chase th' festive gun-fighters off th' earth.Mebby some day you can come up to me, but not now. Now I want th' newforeman of th' Bar-20 to be one of th' men who worked so hard an'loyally an' long for me an' th' ranch. I want one of you to take myplace. Th' owners have left th' choice to me, an' say th' man Iappoint will be their choice; an' I ain't a-going to do it--I can't doit. One last favor, boys; go in that house an' pick yore foreman. Gonow, an' I'll wait for you here."

  "We'll do it right here--Red Connors!" cried Hopalong.

  "Hopalong!" yelled Red and Johnny in the same voice, and only a breathahead of the others. "Hopalong! Hopalong!" was the cry, his own voicelost, buried, swept under. He tried to argue, tried to show that hewas unfit, but he could make no headway, for his exploits were shoutedto convince him. As fast as he tried to speak some one rememberedsomething else he had done--they ranged over a period of ten years andfrom Mexico to Cheyenne; from Dodge City and Leavenworth to theRockies.

  Buck laughed and clapped his hands on Hopalong's shoulders. "I appointyou foreman, an' you can't get out of it, nohow! Lemme shake handswith th' new foreman of th' Bar-20--I'm one of th' boys now, an' gladto get rid of th' responsibility for a while. Good luck, son!"

  "No you ain't going to get rid of 'em," laughed Hopalong, but seriouswithal. "Yo're th' foreman of this ranch till you leave us--ain't he,boys?" he appealed.

  Buck put his hands to his ears and yelled for less noise. "All right,I'll play at breaking you in--'though th' Lord knows I can't show younothing you don't know now. My first order under these conditions isthat you ride south, Hopalong, an' tell th' news to Meeker, an' to hisgirl. An' tell 'em separate, too. An' don't forget I want to see youhobbled before I leave next month--tell her to make it soon!"

  Hopalong reddened and grinned under the rapid-fire advice and chaffingof his friends and tried to retort.

  Johnny sprang forward. "Come on, fellers! Put him on his cayuse an'start him south! We've got to have _some_ hand in his courting,anyhow!"

  "Right!"

  "Good idea!"

  "Look out! _Grab_ him, Red!"

  "Up with him!"

  "We ought to escort him on his first love trail," yelled Skinny abovethe uproar. "Come on! _Saddles_, boys!"

  "Like h--l!" cried Hopalong, spurring forward his nettlesome mount."You've got to grow wings to catch me an' Red Eagle! _Go, bronc!_" andhe shot forward like an arrow from a bow, cheers and good wishesthundering after him.

  * * * * *

  Buck moved about restlessly in his sleep and then awakened suddenlyand lay quiet as a hand touched his shoulder. "What is it? Who areyou?" he demanded, ominously.

  "I reckoned you'd like to know that yo're going to be best man in twoweeks, Buck," said a happy voice. "She said a month, but I told heryou was going away before then, an' you _might_, you know. I shorefeel joyous!"

  The huge hand of the elder man closed over his in a grip which madehim wince. "Good boy, an' good luck, Hoppy! It was due you an' Iknowed you'd win. Good luck, an' happiness, son!"

 
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