Hopalong cassidy, p.6
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.6
 

           Honoré Morrow

  CHAPTER VI

  MEEKER IS TOLD

  When Antonio had covered half of the distance between the line and theH2 bunk house he was hailed from a chaparral and saw Benito ride intoview. He told his satellite what had occurred in the valley, gave hima message for Shaw, who was now on the mesa, and cantered on to tellMeeker his version of the morning's happenings.

  The H2 foreman was standing by the corral when his broncho-buster rodeup, and he stared. "Where'd you get that welt on th' face?" hedemanded.

  Antonio told him, with many exclamations and angry gestures, that hehad ridden through the valley to see if there were any H2 cows grazingon it, that he had found a small herd and was about to return to hisown range when he was held up and struck by Hopalong, who accused himof having driven the cattle across the line. When he had denied thishe had been called a liar and threatened with death if he was everagain caught on that side of the line.

  "By G-d!" cried the foreman. "That's purty high-handed! I'll give 'emsomething to beller about when I finds out just what I want to do!"

  "He say, 'Tell that boss of yourn to no send you, send heemself nex'time.' He say he weel keel you on sight. I say he can't. He laugh,_so_!" laughing in a blood-curdling manner. "He say he keel nex' manan' cows that cross line. He ees _uno_ devil!"

  "He will, hey!" Meeker exclaimed, thoroughly angered. "We'll give himall th' chance he wants when we get things fixed. 'Tony, what did youdo about getting those two men you spoke of? You went down to Eagle,didn't you?"

  "_Si, si_," assured the Mexican. "They come, _pronto_. They can keelheem. They come to-day; _quien sabe_?"

  "I'll do my own killin'--but here comes Doc," Meeker replied. "Looksmad, too. Mebby they was going to kill him an' he objected. Hullo,Doc; what's th' matter?"

  "That Cassidy d--n near blowed my arm off," Doc replied. "Caught himturnin' back one of our cows an' told him not to. When I backed off soI could keep one eye on his friend he up an' plugs me through my gunarm."

  "I see; they owns th' earth!" Meeker roared. "Shootin' up my men'cause they stick up for me! Come in th' house an' get that wingfixed. We can talk in there," he said, glancing at Antonio. "They cut'Tony across th' face with a quirt 'cause he was ridin' in theirvalley!"

  "Let's get th' gang together an' wipe 'em off th' earth," Docsuggested, following Meeker towards the house.

  Mary looked up when they entered: "What's th' matter, Dad? Why, areyou hurt, Doc?"

  "Don't ask questions, girl," Meeker ordered. "Get us some hot wateran' some clean cloth. Sit down, Doc; we'll fix it in no time."

  "We better clean 'em up to-morrow," Doc remarked.

  "No; there ain't no use of losin' men fighting if there's any otherway. You know there's a good strong line house on th' top of LookoutPeak, don't you?"

  "Shore; reg'lar fort. They calls it Number Three."

  Mary had returned and was tearing a bandage, listening intently towhat was being said.

  "What's th' matter with getting in that some day soon an' holdin' itfor good?" asked the foreman. "It overlooks a lot of range, an' oncewe're in it it'll cost 'em a lot of lives to get it back--if they canget it back."

  "You're right!" cried Doc, eagerly. "Let me an' Curley get in thereto-night an' hold her for you. We can do it."

  "You can't do that. Somebody sleeps in it nights. Nope, we've got towork some scheme to get it in th' daylight. They are bound to have itguarded, an' we've got to coax him out somehow. I don't know how, butI will before many hours pass. Hullo, who's this?" he asked, seeingtwo strangers approach the house.

  "Couple of Greasers," grunted Doc.

  "Hey, you," cried Meeker through the open door. "You go down to th'corral an' wait for me."

  "_Si, senor._"

  "What's th' matter, Dad?" asked Mary. "How did Doc get shot?"

  Meeker looked up angrily, but his face softened.

  "There's a whole lot th' matter, Mary. That Bar-20 shore is gettin'hot-headed. Cassidy hit 'Tony acrost th' face with a quirt an' shotDoc. 'Tony was riding through that valley, an' Doc told Cassidy not todrive back a cow of ourn."

  She flushed. "There must 'a been more'n that, Dad. He wouldn't 'a shotfor that. I know it."

  "You know it!" cried Meeker, astonished. "How do you know it?"

  "He ain't that kind. I know he ain't."

  "I asked how you knew it!"

  She looked down and then faced him. "Because I know him, because heain't that kind. What did you say to him, Doc?"

  Meeker's face was a study and Doc flushed, for she was looking himsquarely in the eyes.

  "What did you say to him?" she repeated. "Did you make a gun-play?"

  "Well, by G-d!" shouted Meeker, leaping to his feet. "You know him,hey! 'He ain't that kind!' How long have you known him, an' where'dyou meet him?"

  "This is no time to talk of that," she replied, her spirit aroused."Ask Doc what he did an' said to get shot. Look at him; he lied whenhe told you about it."

  "I told him to quit driving our cows back," Doc cried. "Of course Ihad my hand on my gun when I said it. I'd been a fool if I hadn't,wouldn't I?"

  "That ain't all," she remarked. "Did you try to use it?"

  Meeker was staring first at one and then at the other, not knowingjust what to say. Doc looked at him and his mind was made up.

  "What'd you do, Doc?" he asked.

  "I said: 'What are you doing with that cow?' an' he said it wasn'tnone of my business. I got mad then an' jerked my gun loose, but hegot me first. I wasn't going to shoot. I was only getting ready forhim if he tried to."

  "How did he know you wasn't going to shoot?" Meeker demanded. "ReckonI can't blame him for that. He must be quick on th' draw."

  "Quickest I ever saw. He had his gun out to shoot in front of a cow.At th' time I thought he was going to kill it. That's what made me getin so quick. He slid it back in th' holster an' faced me. I told youwhat happened then."

  "Well, we've got to show them fellers they can't fool with us an' getaway with it," Meeker replied. "An' I've got to have th' use of thatcrick somehow. I'll think of some way to square things."

  "Wait, I'll go with you," Doc remarked, following the other towardsthe door.

  "You go in th' bunk house an' wait for me. I want to see what themGreasers want."

  "Wonder how much 'Tony didn't tell," mused the foreman, as he wenttowards the corral. "Reckon Cassidy cut him 'cause he was a Greaser.Come purty nigh doing it myself, once. Well, I don't care, but I'vegot to notice plays like that or they'll think I'm scared of 'em. I'llgo up an' have it out, an' when I get ready I'll show them swaggerin'bucks what's what."

  When he returned he saw Antonio leaning against his shack, for theMexican was not tolerated by the rest of the outfit and so livedalone. He looked at his foreman and leered knowingly, and then wentinside the building, where he laughed silently. "That's a joke, allright! Meeker hiring two of my brothers to watch his cows an' do hisspying! We'll skin this range before we're through."

  Meeker frowned when he caught his broncho-buster's look and hegrowled: "You never did look good, an' that welt shore makes you lookmore like th' devil than ever." He glanced at the house and the frowndeepened. "So you know Cassidy! That's a _nice_ thing to tell me! I'lljust go up an' see that coyote, right now," and he went for his horse,muttering and scowling.

  Antonio knew of a herd of cows and calves which had not been includedin the H2 roundup, and which were fattening on an outlying range.There was also a large herd of Bar-20 cattle growing larger every dayon the western range far outside the boundaries. Benito was scouting,Shaw and the others were nearly ready for work on the mesa, and nowMeeker had hired Antonio's brothers to help him to be robbed. Added tothis was the constantly growing hostility along the line, and thiswould blaze before he and Benito had finished their work. Everythingconsidered he was very much pleased and even his personal vengeancewas provided for. Doc had more cause for animosity against Hopalongthan he had, and if the Bar-20 puncher should be killed some day whenDoc ro
de the northern range Doc would be blamed for it. But Meeker hadnot acted as he should have done when two of his men had been hurt onthe same day, and that must be remedied. The faster things movedtowards fighting the less chance there would be of the plot becomingknown.

  Antonio was the broncho-buster of the H2 because he was a positivegenius at the work, and he was a good, all-around cowman when heovercame his inherent laziness; but he was cruel to a degree with bothhorses and cattle. Because of his fitness Meeker had overlooked hisundesirable qualities, which he had in plenty. He was entirely toofond of liquor and gambling, was uncertain in his hours, and used histime as he saw fit when not engaged in breaking horses. A naturalliar, exceedingly unclean in his habits, vindictive and with a temperdry as tinder, he was shunned by the other members of the outfit. Thisfilled his heart with hatred for them and for Meeker, who did notinterfere. He swore many times that he would square up everythingsome day, and the day was getting closer.

  In appearance he was about medium height, but his sloping shouldersand lax carriage gave his arms the appearance of being abnormallylong. His face was sharp and narrow, while his thin, wiry body seemedalmost devoid of flesh. Like most cowboys he was a poor walker and histoes turned in like those of an Indian. Such was Antonio, who longedto gamble with Fortune in a dangerous game for stakes which to himwere large, and who had already suggested to Meeker that the linehouse on Lookout Peak was the key to the situation. It was the germ,which grew slowly in the foreman's brain and became more feasible andinsistent day by day, and it accounted for his fits of abstraction; itwould not do to fail if the attempt were made.

 
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