Hopalong cassidy, p.7
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       Hopalong Cassidy, p.7
 

           Honoré Morrow

  CHAPTER VII

  HOPALONG MEETS MEEKER

  When Meeker was within a mile of the line he met Curley, told him whathad occurred and that he was going to find Hopalong. Curley smiled andreplied that he had seen that person less than ten minutes ago andthat he was riding towards the peak, and alone.

  "We'll go after him," Meeker replied. "You come because I want to facehim in force so he won't start no gun-play an' make me kill him.That'd set hell to pop."

  Hopalong espied Johnny far to the east and he smiled as he rememberedthe celerity with which that individual had departed after glancing atthe coin.

  "There ain't no flies on th' Kid, all right," he laughed, ridingslowly so Johnny could join him. He saw Curley riding south and lookedover the rough plain for other H2 punchers. Some time later as hepassed a chaparral he glanced back to see what had become of hisfriend, but found that he had disappeared. When he wheeled to watchfor him he saw Meeker and Curley coming towards him and he shook hisholster to be sure his Colt was not jammed in it too tightly.

  "Well, here's where th' orchestry tunes up, all right," he mutteredgrimly. "Licked th' Greaser, plugged Doc, an' sent word to Meeker tocome up if he wasn't scared. He's come, an' now I'll have to lick twomore. If they push me I'll shoot to kill!"

  The H2 foreman rode ahead of his companion and stopped when fiftyyards from the alert line-rider. Pushing his sombrero back on hishead, he lost no time in skirmishing. "Did you chase my broncho-busterout of yore valley, cut his face with yore quirt, an' shoot Doc? Didyou send word to me that you'd kill me if I showed myself?"

  "Was you ever an auctioneer," calmly asked Hopalong, "or a bookagent?"

  "What's that got to do with it?" Meeker demanded. "You heard what Isaid."

  "I don't know nothing about yore broncho-buster, taking one thing at atime, which is proper."

  "What! You didn't drive him out, or cut him?"

  "No; why?" asked Hopalong, chuckling.

  "He says you did--an' somebody quirted him."

  "He's loco--he wasn't in th' valley," Hopalong replied. "Think hecould get in that valley? Him, or any other man we didn't want in?"

  "You're devilish funny!" retorted Meeker, riding slowly forward,followed by his companion, who began to edge away from his foreman."Since you are so exact, did you chase him off yore range an' pushhim over th' line at th' point of yore gun?"

  "You've got me. Better not come too close--my cayuse don't likegettin' crowded."

  "That's all right," Meeker retorted, not heeding the warning. "Do youmean to tell me you don't know? Yore name's Cassidy, ain't it?" heasked, angrily, his determination to avoid fighting rapidly becominglost.

  "That's my own, shore 'nuf name," Hopalong answered, and then: "Do youmean that cross-eyed, bone-yard of a yellow-faced Greaser I caughtstealing our range?"

  "Yes!" snapped Meeker, stopping again.

  "Why didn't you say so, then, 'stead of calling him yorebroncho-buster?" Hopalong demanded. "How do I know who yorebroncho-buster is? I don't know what every land pirate does in thiscountry."

  "Then you shot Doc--do you know who I mean this time?" sarcasticallyasked the H2 foreman.

  "Oh, shore. He didn't get his gun out quick enough when he went afterit, did he? Any more I can tell you before I begins to say things,too?"

  Meeker, angered greatly by Hopalong's contemptuous inflection and thereckless assertiveness of his every word and look, began to ride todescribe a circle around the Bar-20 puncher, Curley going the otherway.

  "You said you'd kill me when you saw me, didn't you, you--"

  Hopalong was backing away so as to keep both men in front of him,alert, eager, and waiting for the signal to begin his two-handedshooting. "I ain't a whole lot deaf--I can hear you from where youare. You better stop, for I've ridden out of tighter holes than this,an' you'll shore get a pass to h--l if you crowd me too much!"

  Adown th' road, an' gun in hand, Comes Whiskey Bill, mad Whiskey Bill--

  This fragment of song floated out of a chaparral about twenty yardsbehind Hopalong, who grinned pleasantly when he heard it. Now he knewwhere Johnny was, and now he had the whip hand without touching hisguns; while the youngster was not in sight he was all the moredangerous, since he presented no target. Johnny knew this and wasgreatly pleased thereby, and he was more than pleased by the wayHopalong had been talking.

  The effect of the singing was instant and marked on Meeker and hiscompanion, for they not only stopped suddenly and swore, but began toback away, glancing around in an endeavor to locate the joker in thedeck. This they failed to do because Johnny was far too wise toadvertise his exact whereabouts. Meeker looked at Curley and Curleylooked at Meeker, both uneasy and angry.

  "As I was sayin' before th' concert began," Hopalong remarked,laughing shortly, "it's a pass to h--l if you crowd me too much. Now,Meeker, you'll listen to me an' I'll tell you what I didn't have timeto say before: I told that shifty-eyed mud-image of a Greaser thatth' next herd of yourn to cross th' line should be brought in by you,'less you was scared to run th' risks yore men had to take. He saidyou'd kill me for that message, an' I told him you knew where youcould find me. Now about Doc: When a man pulls a gun on me he wants tobe quicker than _he_ was or he'll shore get hurt. I could 'a killedhim just as easy as to plug his gun arm, an' just as easy as I could'a plugged both of you if you pulled on me. You came up here lookingfor my scalp an' if you still wants it I'll go away from th' song birdin the chaparral an' give you th' chance. I'd ruther let things stayas they are, though if you wants, I'll take both you an' Curley,half-mile run together, with Colts."

  "No, I didn't come up here after your scalp, but I got mad after Ifound you. How long is this going to last? I won't stand for it muchlonger, nohow."

  "You'll have to see Buck. I'm obeyin' orders, which are to hold th'line against you, which I'll do."

  "H'm!" replied Meeker, and then: "Do you know my girl?"

  Hopalong thought quickly. "Why, I've seen her ridin' around some. Butwhy?"

  "She says she knows you," persisted Meeker, frowning.

  The frown gave Hopalong his cue, but he hardly knew what to say, notknowing what she had said about it.

  "Hey, you!" he suddenly cried to Curley. "Keep yore hand from thatgun!"

  "I didn't--"

  "You're lying! Any more of that an' I'll gimlet you!"

  "What in h--l are you doing, Curley?" demanded Meeker, the girlquestion out of his mind instantly. He had been looking closely atHopalong and didn't know that Curley was innocent of any attempt touse his Colt.

  "I tell--"

  "Get out of here! I've wasted too much time already. Go home, wherethat gun won't worry you. You, too, Meeker! Bring an imitation bad-manup here an' sayin' you didn't want my scalp! Flit!"

  "I'll go when I'm d----d good and ready!" retorted Meeker, angryagain. "You're too blasted bossy, you are!" he added, riding towardsthe man who had shot Doc.

  A-looking for some place to land----

  floated out of the chaparral and he stiffened in the saddle andstopped.

  "Come on, Curley! We can't lick pot-shooters. An' let that gun alone!"

  "D--n it! I tell you I wasn't going for my gun!" Curley yelled.

  "Get out of here!" blazed Hopalong, riding forward.

  They rode away slowly, consulting in low voices. Then the foremanturned and looked back. "You better be careful how you shoot mypunchers! They ain't all like Doc, an' they ain't all Greasers,neither."

  "Then you're lucky," Hopalong retorted. "You keep yore cows on yoreside an' we won't hurt none of yore outfit."

  When they had gone Hopalong wheeled to look for Johnny and saw himcrawling out of a chaparral, dragging a rifle after him. He caperedabout, waving the rifle and laughing with joy and Hopalong had tolaugh with him. When they were rid of the surplus of the merrimentJohnny patted the rifle. "Reckon they was shore up against a markeddeck that time! Did you see 'em stiffen when I warbled? Acted likethey had roped a puma an' didn't know w
hat to do with it. Gee, it wasfunny!"

  "You're all right, Kid," laughed Hopalong. "It was yore best play--youcouldn't 'a done better."

  "Shore," replied Johnny. "I had my sights glued to Curley's shirtpocket, an' he'd been plumb disgusted if he'd tried to do what yousaid he did. I couldn't 'a missed him with a club at that range. Inearly died when you pushed Meeker's girl question up that blindcanyon. It was a peach of a throw, all right. Bet he ain't rememberedyet that he didn't get no answer to it. We're going to have someblamed fine times down here before everything is settled, ain't we?"

  "I reckon so, Kid. I'm going to leave you now an' look around by WestArroyo. You hang around th' line."

  "All right--so long."

  "Can you catch yore cayuse?"

  "Shore I can; he's hobbled," came the reply from behind a spur of thechaparral. "_Stand still, you hen!_ All right, Hoppy."

  Johnny cantered away and, feeling happy, began, singing:

  Adown th' road, an' gun in hand, Comes Whiskey Bill, mad Whiskey Bill; A-looking for some place to land Comes Whiskey Bill. An' everybody'd like to be Ten miles away behind a tree When on his joyous, achin' spree Starts Whiskey Bill.

  Th' times have changed since you made love, Oh, Whiskey Bill, oh, Whiskey Bill; Th' happy sun grinned up above At Whiskey Bill. An' down th' middle of th' street Th' sheriff comes on toe-in feet, A-wishing for one fretful peek At Whiskey Bill.

  Th' cows go grazin' o'er th' lea-- Pore Whiskey Bill, pore Whiskey Bill; An' aching thoughts pour in on me Of Whiskey Bill. Th' sheriff up an' found his stride, Bill's soul went shootin' down th' slide-- How are things on th' Great Divide, Oh, Whiskey Bill?

 
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