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Bar-20 Days by Clarence E. Mulford

Part 3 out of 4

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later, feeling that he needed more money than the pound was giving
him, he decided that the spirit of the times demanded public
improvements, and therefore, as the executive head of the town, he
levied taxes and improved the town by improving his wardrobe and the
manner of his living. Each saloon must pay into the town treasury the
sum of one hundred dollars per year, which entitled it to police
protection and assured it that no new competitors would be allowed to
do business in Rawhide.

Needless to say he was not furiously popular, and the crowds
congregated where he was not. His tyranny was based upon his uncanny
faculty of anticipating the other man's draw. The citizens were not
unaccustomed to seeing swift death result to the slower man from
misplaced confidence in his speed of hand--that was in the game--an
even break; but to oppose an individual who /always/ knew what you
were going to do before you knew it yourself--this was very
discouraging. Therefore, he flourished and waxed fat.

Of late, however, he had been very low in finances and could expect no
taxes to be paid for three months. Even the pound had yielded him
nothing for over a week, the old patrons of Rawhide's stores and
saloons preferring to ride twenty miles farther in another direction
than to redeem impounded horses. Perhaps his prices had been too high,
he thought; so he assembled the town council, the mayor, the marshal,
and the keeper of the public pound to consult upon the matter. He
decided that the prices were too high and at once posted a new notice
announcing the cut. It was hard to fall from a dollar to "two bits,"
but the treasury was low--the times were panicky.

As soon as he had changed the notice he strolled up to the Paradise to
inform the bartender that impounding fines had been cut to bargain
prices and to ask him to make the fact generally known through his
patrons. As he came within sight of the building he jumped with
pleasure, for a horse was standing dejectedly before the door. Joy of
joys, trade was picking up--a stranger had come to town! Hastening
back to the corral, he added a cipher to the posted figure, added a
decimal point, and changed the cents sign to that of a dollar. Two
dollars and fifty cents was now the price prescribed by law. Returning
hastily to the Paradise, he led the animal away, impounded it, and
then sat down in front of the corral gate with his Winchester across
his knees. Two dollars and fifty cents! Prosperity had indeed

"Where the CG ranch is I dunno, but I do know where one of their
cayuses is," he mused, glancing between two of the corral posts at the
sleepy animal. "If I has to auction it off to pay for its keep and the
fine, the saddle will bring a good, round sum. I allus knowed that a
dollar wasn't enough, nohow."

Nat Fisher, punching cows for the CG and tired of his job, leaned
comfortably back in his chair in the Paradise and swapped lies with
the all-wise bartender. After a while he realized that he was
hopelessly outclassed at this diversion and he dug down into his
pocket and brought to light some loose silver and regarded it
thoughtfully. It was all the money he had and was beginning to grow

"Say, was you ever broke?" he asked suddenly, a trace of sadness in
his voice.

The bartender glanced at him quickly, but remained judiciously silent,
smelling the preamble of an attempt to "touch."

"Well, I have been, am now, an' allus will be, more or less,"
continued Fisher, in soliloquy, not waiting for an answer to his
question. "Money an' me don't ride the same range, not any. Here I am
fifty miles away from my ranch, with four dollars and ninety-five
cents between me an' starvation an' thirst, an' me not going home for
three days yet. I was going to quit the CG this month, but now I gotta
go on working for it till another pay-day. I don't even own a cayuse.
Now, just to show you what kind of a prickly pear I am, I'll cut the
cards with you to see who owns this," he suggested, smiling brightly
at his companion.

The bartender laughed, treated on the house, and shuffled out from
behind the bar with a pack of greasy playing cards. "All at once, or a
dollar a shot?" he asked, shuffling deftly.

"Any way it suits you," responded Fisher, nonchalantly. He knew how a
sport should talk; and once he had cut the cards to see who should own
his full month's pay. He hoped he would be more successful this time.

"Don't make no difference to me," rejoined the bartender.

"All right; all at once, an' have it over with. It's a kid's game, at

"High wins, of course?"

"High wins."

The bartender pushed the cards across the table for his companion to
cut. Nat did so, and turned up a deuce. "Oh, don't bother," he said,
sliding the four dollars and ninety-five cents across the table.

"Wait," grinned the bartender, who was a stickler for rules. He
reached over and turned up a card, and then laughed. "Matched, by

"Try again," grinned Fisher, his face clearing with hope.

The bartender shuffled, and Fisher turned a five, which proved to be
just one point shy when his companion had shown his card.

"Now," remarked Fisher, watching his money disappear into the
bartender's pocket, "I'll put up my gun agin ten of yore dollars if
yo're game. How about it?"

"Done--that's a good weapon."

"None better. Ah, a jack!"

"I say queen--nope, /king/!" exulted the dispenser of liquids. "Say,
mebby you can get a job around here when you quit the CG," he

"That's a good idea," replied Fisher. "But let's finish this while
we're at it. I got a good saddle outside on my cayuse--go look it over
an' tell me how much you'll put up agin it. If you win it an' can't
use it, you can sell it. It's first class."

The bartender walked to the door, looked carefully around for a
moment, his eyes fastening upon a trail in the sandy street. Then he
laughed. "There ain't no saddle out here," he reported, well knowing
where it could be found.

"What! Has that ornery piebald--well, what do you think of that!"
exclaimed Fisher, looking up and down the street. "This is the first
time that ever happened to me. Why, some coyote stole it! Look at the

"No; it ain't stolen," the bartender responded. He considered a moment
and then made a suggestion. "Mebby the marshal can tell you where it
is--he knows everything like that. Nobody can take a cayuse out of
this town while the marshal is up an' well."

"Lucky town, all right," chirped Fisher. "An' where is the marshal?"

"You'll find him down the back way a couple of hundred yards; can't
miss him. He allus hangs out there when there are cayuses in town."

"Good for him! I'll chase right down an' see him; an' when I get that

The bartender watched him go around the corner and shook his head
sadly. "Yes; hell of a lucky town," he snorted bitterly, listening for
the riot to begin.

The marshal still sat against the corral gate and stroked the
Winchester in beatific contemplation. He had a fine job and he was
happy. Suddenly leaning forward to look up the road, he smiled
derisively and shifted the gun. A cow-puncher was coming his way
rapidly, and on foot.

"Are you the marshal of this flea of a town?" politely inquired the

"I am the same," replied the man with the rifle. "Anything I kin do
for you?"

"Yes; have you seen a piebald cayuse straying around loose-like, or
anybody leading one--CG being the brand?"

"I did; it was straying."

"An' which way did it go?"

"Into the town pound."

"What! Pond! What'n blazes is it doing with a pond? Couldn't it drink
without getting in? Where's the pond?"

"Right here. It's eating its fool head off. I said pound, not pond.
P-o-u-n-d; which means that it's pawned, in hock, for destroying the
vegetation of Rawhide, an' disturbing the public peace."

"Good joke on the piebald, all right; it was never locked up before,"
laughed Fisher, trying to read a sign that faced away from him at a
slight angle. "Get it out for me an' I'll disturb /its/ peace. Sorry
it put you to all that trouble," he sympathized.

"Two dollars an' four bits, an' a dollar initiation fee--it wasn't
never in the pound before. That makes three an' a half. Got the money
with you?"

"What!" yelled Fisher, emerging from his trance. "What!" he yelled

"I ain't none deaf," placidly replied the marshal. "Got the money, the
three an' a half?"

"If you think yo're going to skin me outen three-fifty, one-fifty, or
one measly cent, you need some medicine, an' I'll give it to you in
pill form! You'd make a bum-looking angel, so get up an' hand over
that cayuse, /an' do it damned quick/!"

"Three-fifty, an' two bits extry for feed. It'll cost you 'bout a
dollar a day for feed. At the end of the week I'll sell that cayuse at
auction to pay its bills if you don't cough up. Got the money?"

"I've got a lead slug for you if I can borrow my gun for five
minutes!" retorted Fisher, seething double from anger.

"Five dollars more for contempt of court," pleasantly responded Mr.
Townsend. "As Justice of the Peace of this community I must allow no
disrespect, no contempt of the sovereign law of this town to go
unpunished. That makes it eight-seventy-five."

"An' to think I lost my gun!" shouted Fisher, dancing with rage. "I'll
get that cayuse out an' I won't pay a cent, not a damned cent! An'
I'll get you at the same time!"

"Now you dust around for fifteen dollars even an' stop yore contempt
of court an' threats or I'll drill you just for luck!" rejoined Mr.
Townsend, angrily. "If you keep on working yore mouth like that there
won't be nothing coming to you when I sell that cayuse of yourn. Turn
around an' strike out or I'll put you with yore ancestors!"



Fisher, wild with rage, returned to the Paradise and profanely
unfolded the tale of his burning wrongs to the bartender and demanded
the loan of his gun, which the bartender promptly refused. The present
owner of the gun liked Fisher very much for being such a sport and
sympathized with him deeply, but he did not want to have such a
pleasing acquaintance killed.

"Now, see here: you cool down an' I'll lend you fifteen dollars on
that saddle of yourn. You go up an' get that cayuse out before the
price goes up any higher--you don't know that man like I do," remarked
the man behind the bar earnestly. "That feller Townsend can shoot the
eyes out of a small dog at ten miles, purty nigh. Do you savvy my

"I won't pay him a cussed cent, an' when he goes to sell that piebald
at auction, I'll be on hand with a gun; I'll get one somewhere, all
right, even if I have to steal it. Then I'll shoot out /his/ eyes at
ten paces. Why, he's a two-laigged hold-up! That man would--" he
stopped as a stranger entered the room. "Hey, stranger! Don't you
leave that cayuse of yourn outside all alone or that coyote of a
marshal will steal it, shore. He's the biggest thief I ever knowed.
He'll lift yore animal quick as a wink!" Fisher warned, excitedly.

The stranger looked at him in surprise and then smiled. "Is it usual
for a marshal to steal cayuses? Somewhat out of line, ain't it?" he
asked Fisher, glancing at the bartender for light.

"I don't care what's the rule--that marshal just stole my cayuse; an'
he'll take yourn, too, if you ain't careful," Fisher replied.

"Well," drawled the stranger, smiling still more, "I reckon I ain't
going to stay out there an' watch it, an' I can't bring it in here.
But I reckon it'll be all right. You see, I carry 'big medicine' agin
hoss-thieves," he replied, tapping his holster and smiling as he
remembered the time, not long past, when he himself had been accused
of being one. "I'll take a chance if he will--what'll you all have?"

"Little whiskey," replied Fisher, uneasily, worrying because he could
not stand for a return treat. "But, say; you keep yore eye on that
animal, just the same," he added, and then hurriedly gave his reasons.
"An' the worst part of the whole thing is that I ain't got no gun, an'
can't seem to borrow none, neither," he added, wistfully eyeing the
stranger's Colt. "I gambled mine away to the bartender here an' he
won't lemme borrow it for five minutes!"

"Why, I never heard tell of such a thing before!" exclaimed the
stranger, hardly believing his ears, and aghast at the thought that
such conditions could exist. "Friend," he said, addressing the
bartender, "how is it that this sort of thing can go on in this town?"
When the bartender had explained at some length, his interested
listener smote the bar with a heavy fist and voiced his outraged
feelings. "I'll shore be plumb happy to spread that coyote marshal all
over his cussed pound! Say, come with me; I'm going down there right
now an' get that cayuse, an' if the marshal opens his mouth to peep
I'll get him, too. I'm itching for a chance to tunnel a man like him.
Come on an' see the show!"

"Not much!" retorted Fisher. "While I am some pleased to meet a white
man, an' have a deep an' abiding gratitude for yore noble offer, I
can't let you do it. He put it over on me, an' I'm the one that's got
to shoot him up. He's mine, my pudding; an' I'm hogging him all to
myself. That is one luxury I can indulge in even if I am broke; an'
I'm sorry, but I can't give you cards. Seeing, however, as you are so
friendly to the cause of liberty an' justice, suppose you lend me yore
gun for about three minutes by the watch. From what I've been told
about this town such an act will win for you the eternal love an'
gratitude of a down-trodden people; yore gun will blaze the way to
liberty an' light, freedom an' the right to own yore own property, an'
keep it. All I ask is that I be the undeserving medium."

"A-men," sighed the bartender. "Deacon Jones will now pass down the
aisle an' collect the buttons an' tin money."

"Stranger," continued Fisher, warming up, when he saw that his words
had not produced the desired result, "King James the Twelfth, on the
memorable an' blood-soaked field of Trafalgar, gave men their rights.
On that great day he signed the Magnet Charter, and proved himself as
great a liberator as the sainted Lincoln. You, on this most auspicious
occasion, hold in yore strong hand the destiny of this town--the women
an' children in this cursed community will rise up an' bless you
forever an' pass yore name down to their ancestors as a man of deeds
an' honor! Let us pause to consider this--"

"Hold that pause!" interrupted the astounded bartender hurriedly, and
with shaking voice. "String it out till I get untangled! I ain't up
much on history, so I won't take no chance with that; but I want to
tell our eloquent guest that there ain't no women /or/ children in
this town. An' if there was, I sort of reckon their ancestors would be
born first. What do you think about it--"

"Let us pause to consider the shameful an' burning /indignity/
perpetrated upon us to-day!" continued Fisher, unheeding the
bartender's words. "I, a peaceful, law-abiding /citizen/ of this
/glorious/ Commonwealth, a free an' /equal/ member of a liberty-loving
nation, a nation whose standard is, /now/ and forever, 'Gimme liberty
or gimme det', a /nation that stands for all the conceivable benefits
that mankind may enjoy, a /nation/ that scintillates pyrotechnically
over the prostitution of power--"

/Bang!/ went the bartender's fist on the counter. "Hey! Pause again!
Wait a minute! Go back to 'shameful an' burning,' and gimme a chance!"

"--that stands for an even break, I, Nathaniel G. Fisher, have been
deprived of one of my inalienable rights, the right of locomotion to
distant an' other parts. /An'/ I say, right here an' now, that I won't
allow no spavined individual with thieving prehensils to--"

"Has that pound-keeper got a rifle?" calmly interrupted the stranger,
without a pang of remorse.

"He has. Thus has it allus been with tyrants--well armed, fortified by
habit an' tradition--"

"Then you won't get my gun, savvy? We'll find another way to get that
cayuse as long as you feel that the marshal is yore hunting. Besides,
this man's gall deserves some respect; it is genius, an' to pump
genius full of cold lead is to act rash. Now, suppose you tell me when
this auction is due to come off."

"Oh, not for a week; he wants to run up the board an' keep expenses.
Tyrants, such as him--"

"Shore," interposed the bartender, "he'll make the expenses equal what
he gets for the cayuse, no matter what it comes to. An' he's the whole
town, an' the justice of the peace, besides. What he says goes."

"Well, I'm the Governor of the State an' I've got the Supreme Court
right here in my holster, so I reckon I can reverse his official acts
an' fill his legal opinions full of holes," the stranger replied,
laughing heartily. "Bartender, will you help me play a little joke on
His Honore, the Town,--just a little harmless joke?"

"Well, that all depends whether the joke is harmless on /me/. You see,
he can shoot like the devil--he allus knows when a man is going to
draw, an' gets his gun out first. I ain't got no respect for him, but
I take off my hat to his gunplay, all right."

The stranger smiled. "Well, I can shoot a bit myself. But I shore wish
he'd hold that auction quick--I've got to go on home without losing
any more time. Fisher, suppose you go down to the pound and dare that
tumble-bug to hold the auction this afternoon. Tell him that you'll
shoot him full of holes if he goes pulling off any auction to-day, an'
dare him to try it. I want it to come off before night, an' I reckon
that'll hustle it along."

"I'll do anything to get the edge on that thief," replied Fisher,
quickly, "but don't you reckon I'd better tote a gun, going down an'
bearding such a thief in his own den? You know I allus like to shoot
when I'm being shot at."

"Well, I don't blame you; it's only a petty weakness," grinned the
stranger, hanging onto his Colt as if fearing that the other would
snatch it and run. "But you'll do better without any gun--me an' the
bartender don't want to have to go down there an' bring you back on a

"All right, then," sighed Fisher, reluctantly, "but he'll jump the
price again. He'll fine me for contempt of court an' make me pay money
I ain't got for disturbing him. But I'm game--so long."

When he had gained the street, the stranger turned to the bartender.
"Now, friend, you tell me if this man of gall, this Mr. Townsend, has
got many friends in town--anybody that'll be likely to pot shoot from
the back when things get warm. I can't watch both ends unless I know
what I'm up against."

"/No!/ Every man in town hates him," answered the bartender, hastily,
and with emphasis.

"Ah, that's good. Now, I wonder if you could see 'most everybody
that's in town now an' get 'em to promise to help me by letting me run
this all by myself. All I want them to do is not to say a word. It
ain't hard to keep still when you want to."

"Why, I reckon I might see 'em--there ain't many here this time of
day," responded the bartender. "But what's yore game, anyhow?" he
asked, suddenly growing suspicious.

"It's just a little scheme I figgered out," the stranger replied, and
then he confided in the bartender, who jigged a few fancy steps to
show his appreciation of the other's genius. His suspicions left him
at once, and he hastened out to tell the inhabitants of the town to
follow his instructions to the letter, and he knew they would obey,
and be glad, hilariously glad, to do so. While he was hurrying around
giving his instructions, the CG puncher returned to the hotel and

"Well, it worked, all right," Fisher growled. "I told him what I'd do
to him if he tried to auction that cayuse off an' he retorted that if
I didn't shut up an' mind my own business, that he'd sell the horse
this noon, at twelve o'clock, in the public square, wherever that is.
I told him he was a coyote and dared him to do it. Told him I'd pump
him full of air ducts if he didn't wait till next week. Said I had the
promise of a gun an' that it'd give me great pleasure to use it on him
if he tried any auctioneering at my expense this noon. Then he fined
me five dollars more, swore that he'd show me what it meant to dare
the marshal of Rawhide an' insult the dignity of the court an' town
council, an' also that he'd shoot my liver all through my system if I
didn't leave him to his reflections. Now, look here, stranger; noon is
only two hours away an' I'm due to lose my outfit: what are /you/
going to do to get me out of this mess?" he finished anxiously, hands
on hips.

"You did real well, very fine, indeed," replied the stranger, smiling
with content. "An' don't you worry about that outfit--I'm going to get
it back for you an' a little bit more. So, as long as you don't lose
nothing, you ain't got no kick coming, have you? An' you ain't got no
interest in what I'm going to do. Just sit tight an' keep yore eyes
an' ears open at noon. Meantime, if you want something to do to keep
you busy, practise making speeches--you ought to be ashamed to be
punching cows an' working for a living when you could use yore talents
an' get a lot of graft besides. Any man who can say as much on nothing
as you can ought to be in the Senate representing some railroad
company or waterpower steal--you don't have to work there, just loaf
an' take easy money for cheating the people what put you there. Now,
don't get mad--I'm only stringing you: I wouldn't be mean enough to
call you a senator. To tell the truth, I think yo're too honest to
even think of such a thing. But go ahead an' practise--/I/ don't mind
it a bit."

"Huh! I couldn't go to Congress," laughed Fisher. "I'd have to
practise by getting elected mayor of some town an' then go to the
Legislature for the finishing touches."

"Mr. Townsend would beat you out," murmured the stranger, looking out
of the window and wishing for noon. He sauntered over to a chair,
placed it where he could see his horse, and took things easy. The
bartender returned with several men at his heels, and all were
grinning and joking. They took up their places against the bar and
indulged in frequent fits of chuckling, not letting their eyes stray
from the man in the chair and the open street through the door, where
the auction was to be held. They regarded the stranger in the light of
a would-be public benefactor, a martyr, who was to provide the town
with a little excitement before he followed his predecessors into the
grave. Perhaps he would /not/ be killed, perhaps he would shoot the
pound-keeper and general public nuisance--but ah, this was the stuff
of which dreams were made: the marshal would never be killed, he would
thrive and outlive his fellow-townsmen, and die in bed at a ripe old

One of the citizens, dangling his legs from the card table, again
looked closely at the man with the plan, and then turned to a
companion beside him. "I've seen that there feller som'ers, sometime,"
he whispered. "I /know/ I have. But I'll be teetotally dod-blasted if
I can place him."

"Well, Jim; I never saw him afore, an' I don't know who he is,"
replied the other, refilling his pipe with elaborate care, "but if he
can kill Townsend to-day, I'll be so plumb joyous I won't know what to
do with m'self."

"I'm afraid he won't, though," remarked another, lolling back against
the bar. "The marshal was born to hang--nobody can beat him on the
draw. But, anyhow, we're going to see some fun."

The first speaker, still straining his memory for a clue to the
stranger's identity, pulled out a handful of silver and placed it on
the table. "I'll bet that he makes good," he offered, but there were
no takers.

The stranger now lazily arose and stepped into the doorway, leaning
against the jamb and shaking his holster sharply to loosen the gun for
action. He glanced quickly behind him and spoke curtly: "Remember, now
--/I/ am to do all the talking at this auction; you fellers just look

A mumble of assent replied to him, and the townsmen craned their necks
to look out. A procession slowly wended its way up the street, led by
the marshal, astride a piebald horse bearing the crude brand of the
CG. Three men followed him and numerous dogs of several colors, sizes,
and ages roamed at will, in a listless, bored way, between the horse
and the men. The dust arose sluggishly and slowly dissipated in the
hot, shimmering air, and a fly buzzed with wearying persistence
against the dirty glass in the front window.

The marshal, peering out from under the pulled-down brim of his
Stetson, looked critically at the sleepy horse standing near the open
door of the Paradise and sought its brand, but in vain, for it was
standing with the wrong side towards him. Then he glanced at the man
in the door, a puzzled expression stealing over his face. He had known
that man once, but time and events had wiped him nearly out of his
memory and he could not place him. He decided that the other horse
could wait until he had sold the one he was on, and, stopping before
the door of the Paradise, he raised his left arm, his right arm lying
close to his side, not far from the holster on his thigh.

"Gentlemen an' feller-citizens," he began: "As marshal of this booming
city, I am about to offer for sale to the highest bidder this A Number
1 piebald, pursooant to the decree of the local court an' with the
sanction of the town council an' the mayor. This same sale is for to
pay the town for the board an' keep of this animal, an' to square the
fine in such cases made an' provided. It's sound in wind an' limb,
fourteen han's high, an' in all ways a beautiful piece of hoss-flesh.
Now, gentlemen, how much am I bid for this cayuse? Remember, before
you make me any offer, that this animal is broke to punching cows an'
is a first-class cayuse."

The crowd in the Paradise had flocked out into the street and oozed
along the front of the building, while the stranger now leaned
carelessly against his own horse, critically looking over the one on
sale. Fisher, uneasy and worried, squirmed close at hand and glanced
covertly from his horse and saddle to the guns in the belts on the
members of the crowd.

It was the stranger who broke the silence: "Two bits I bid--two bits,"
he said, very quietly, whereat the crowd indulged in a faint snicker
and a few nudges.

The marshal looked at him and then ignored him. "How much, gentlemen?"
he asked, facing the crowd again.

"Two bits," repeated the stranger, as the crowd remained silent.

"Two bits!" yelled the marshal, glaring at him angrily: "/Two bits!/
Why, the /look/ in this cayuse's eyes is worth four! Look at the
spirit in them eyes, look at the intelligence! The saddle alone is
worth a clean forty dollars of any man's money. I am out here to sell
this animal to the highest bidder; the sale's begun, an' I want bids,
not jokes. Now, who'll start it off?" he demanded, glancing around;
but no one had anything to say except the terse stranger, who appeared
to be getting irritated.

"You've got a starter--I've given you a bid. I bid two bits--t-w-o
b-i-t-s, twenty-five cents. Now go ahead with yore auction."

The marshal thought he saw an attempt at humor, and since he was
feeling quite happy, and since he knew that good humor is conducive to
good bidding, he smiled, all the time, however, racking his memory for
the name of the humorist. So he accepted the bid: "All right, this
gentleman bids two bits. Two bits I am bid--two bits. Twenty-five
cents. Who'll make it twenty-five dollars? Two bits--who says twenty-
five dollars? Ah, did /you/ say twenty-five dollars?" he snapped,
leveling an accusing and threatening fore-finger at the man nearest
him, who squirmed restlessly and glanced at the stranger. "/Did you
say twenty-five dollars?/" he shouted.

The stranger came to the rescue. "He did not. He hasn't opened his
mouth. But /I/ said twenty-five /cents/," quietly observed the

"Who'll gimme thirty? Who'll gimme thirty dollars? Did I hear thirty
dollars? Did I hear twenty-five dollars bid? Who said thirty dollars?
Did /you/ say twenty-five dollars?"

"How could he when he was talking politics to the man behind him?"
asked the stranger. "I said two bits," he added complacently, as he
watched the auctioneer closely.

"I want twenty-five dollars--an' you shut yore blasted mouth!" snapped
the marshal at the persistent twenty-five-cent man. He did not see the
fire smouldering in the squinting eyes so alertly watching him.
"Twenty-five dollars--not a cent less takes the cayuse. Why,
gentlemen, he's worth twenty in /cans/! Gimme twenty-five dollars,
somebody. /I/ bid twenty-five. I want thirty. I want thirty,
gentlemen; you must gimme thirty. /I/ bid twenty-five dollars--who's
going to make it thirty?"

"Show us yore twenty-five an' she's yourn," remarked the stranger,
with exasperating assurance, while Fisher grew pale with excitement.
The stranger was standing clear of his horse now, and alert readiness
was stamped all over him. "You accepted my bid--show yore twenty-five
dollars or take my two bits."

"You close that face of yourn!" exploded the marshal, angrily. "I
don't mind a little fun, but you've got altogether too damned much to
say. You've queered the bidding, an' now you shut up!"

"I said two bits an' I mean just that. You show yore twenty-five or
gimme that cayuse on my bid," retorted the stranger.

"By the pans of Julius Caesar!" shouted the marshal. "I'll put you to
sleep so you'll never wake up if I hears any more about you an' yore
two bits!"

"Show me, Rednose," snapped the other, his gun out in a flash. "I want
that cayuse, an' I want it quick. You show me twenty-five dollars or
I'll take it out from under you on my bid, you yaller dog! /Stop it!/
Shut up! That's suicide, that is. Others have tried it an' failed, an'
yo're no sleight-of-hand gun-man. This is the first time I ever paid a
hoss-thief in /silver/, or bought stolen goods, but everything has to
have a beginning. You get nervous with that hand of yourn an' I'll
cure you of it! Git off that piebald, an' quick!"

The marshal felt stunned and groped for a way out, but the gun under
his nose was as steady as a rock. He sat there stupidly, not knowing
enough to obey orders.

"Come, get off that cayuse," sharply commanded the stranger. "An' I'll
take yore Winchester as a fine for this high-handed business you've
been carrying on. You may be the local court an' all the town
officials, but I'm the Governor, an' here's my Supreme Court, as I was
saying to the boys a little while ago. Yo're overruled. Get off that
cayuse, an' don't waste no more time about it, neither!"

The marshal glared into the muzzle of the weapon and felt a sinking in
the pit of his stomach. Never before had he failed to anticipate the
pull of a gun. As the stranger said, there must always be a beginning,
a first time. He was thinking quickly now; he was master of himself
again, but he realized that he was in a tight place unless he obeyed
the man with the drop. Not a man in town would help him; on the other
hand, they were all against him, and hugely enjoying his discomfiture.
With some men he could afford to take chances and jerk at his gun even
when at such a disadvantage, but--

"Stranger," he said slowly, "what's yore name?"

The crowd listened eagerly.

"My /friends/ call me Hopalong Cassidy; other people, other things--
you gimme that cayuse an' that Winchester. Here! Hand the gun to
Fisher, so there won't be no lamentable accidents: I don't want to
shoot you, 'less I have to."

"They're both yourn," sighed Mr. Townsend, remembering a certain day
over near Alameda, when he had seen Mr. Cassidy at gun-play. He
dismounted slowly and sorrowfully. "Do I--do I get my two bits?" he

"You shore do--yore gall is worth it," said Mr. Cassidy, turning the
piebald over to its overjoyed owner, who was already arranging further
gambling with his friend, the bartender.

Mr. Townsend pocketed the one bid, surveyed glumly the hilarious crowd
flocking in to the bar to drink to their joy in his defeat, and
wandered disconsolately back to the pound. He was never again seen in
that locality, or by any of the citizens of Rawhide, for between dark
and dawn he resumed his travels, bound for some locality far removed
from limping, red-headed drawbacks.



For several weeks after Hopalong got back to the ranch, full of
interesting stories and minus the grouch, things went on in a way
placid enough for the most peacefully inclined individual that ever
sat a saddle. And then trouble drifted down from the north and caused
a look of anxiety to spoil Buck Peters' pleasant expression, and began
to show on the faces of his men. When one finds the carcasses of two
cows on the same day, and both are skinned, there can be only one
conclusion. The killing and skinning of two cows out of herds that are
numbered by thousands need not, in themselves, bring lines of worry to
any foreman's brow; but there is the sting of being cheated, the
possibility of the losses going higher unless a sharp lesson be given
upon the folly of fooling with a very keen and active buzz-saw,--and
it was the determination of the outfit of the Bar-20 to teach that
lesson, and as quickly as circumstances would permit.

It was common knowledge that there was a more or less organized band
of shiftless malcontents making its headquarters in and near Perry's
Bend, some distance up the river, and the deduction in this case was
easy. The Bar-20 cared very little about what went on at Perry's Bend
--that was a matter which concerned only the ranches near that town--
as long as no vexatious happenings sifted too far south. But they had
so sifted, and Perry's Bend, or rather the undesirable class hanging
out there, was due to receive a shock before long.

About a week after the finding of the first skinned cows, Pete Wilson
tornadoed up to the bunk house with a perforated arm. Pete was on
foot, having lost his horse at the first exchange of shots, which
accounts for the expression describing his arrival. Pete hated to
walk, he hated still more to get shot, and most of all he hated to
have to admit that his rifle-shooting was so far below par. He had
seen the thief at work and, too eager to work up close to the cattle
skinner before announcing his displeasure, had missed the first shot.
When he dragged himself out from under his deceased horse the scenery
was undisturbed save for a small cloud of dust hovering over a distant
rise to the north of him. After delivering a short and bitter
monologue he struck out for the ranch and arrived in a very hot and
wrathful condition. It was contagious, that condition, and before long
the entire outfit was in the saddle and pounding north, Pete overjoyed
because his wound was so slight as not to bar him from the chase. The
shock was on the way, and as events proved, was to be one long to
linger in the minds of the inhabitants of Perry's Bend and the
surrounding range.

The patrons of the Oasis liked their tobacco strong. The pungent smoke
drifted in sluggish clouds along the low, black ceiling, following its
upward slant toward the east wall and away from the high bar at the
other end. This bar, rough and strong, ran from the north wall to
within a scant two feet of the south wall, the opening bridged by a
hinged board which served as an extension to the counter. Behind the
bar was a rear door, low and double, the upper part barred securely--
the lower part was used most. In front of and near the bar was a large
round table, at which four men played cards silently, while two
smaller tables were located along the north wall. Besides dilapidated
chairs there were half a dozen low wooden boxes partly filled with
sand, and attention was directed to the existence and purpose of these
by a roughly lettered sign on the wall, reading: "Gents will look for
a box first," which the "gents" sometimes did. The majority of the
"gents" preferred to aim at various knotholes in the floor and bet on
the result, chancing the outpouring of the proprietor's wrath if they

On the wall behind the bar was a smaller and neater request: "Leave
your guns with the bartender.--Edwards." This, although a month old,
still called forth caustic and profane remarks from the regular
frequenters of the saloon, for hitherto restraint in the matter of
carrying weapons had been unknown. They forthwith evaded the order in
a manner consistent with their characteristics--by carrying smaller
guns where they could not be seen. The majority had simply sawed off a
generous part of the long barrels of their Colts and Remingtons, which
did not improve their accuracy.

Edwards, the new marshal of Perry's Bend, had come direct from Kansas
and his reputation as a fighter had preceded him. When he took up his
first day's work he was kept busy proving that he was the rightful
owner of it and that it had not been exaggerated in any manner or
degree. With the exception of one instance the proof had been
bloodless, for he reasoned that gun-play should give way, whenever
possible, to a crushing "right" or "left" to the point of the jaw or
the pit of the stomach. His proficiency in the manly art was polished
and thorough and bespoke earnest application. The last doubting Thomas
to be convinced came to five minutes after his diaphragm had been
rudely and suddenly raised several inches by a low right hook, and as
he groped for his bearings and got his wind back again he asked, very
feebly, where "Kansas" was; and the name stuck.

When Harlan heard the nickname for the first time he stopped pulling
the cork out of a whiskey bottle long enough to remark, casually, "I
allus reckoned Kansas was purty close to hell," and said no more about
it. Harlan was the proprietor and bartender of the Oasis and catered
to the excessive and uncritical thirsts of the ruck of range society,
and he had objected vigorously to the placing of the second sign in
his place of business; but at the close of an incisive if inelegant
reply from the marshal, the sign went up, and stayed up. Edwards'
language and delivery were as convincing as his fists.

The marshal did not like the Oasis; indeed, he went further and
cordially hated it. Harlan's saloon was a thorn in his side and he was
only waiting for a good excuse to wipe it off the local map. He was
the Law, and behind him were the range riders, who would be only too
glad to have the nest of rustlers wiped out and its gang of ne'er-do-
wells scattered to the four winds. Indeed, he had been given to
understand in a most polite and diplomatic way that if this were not
done lawfully they would try to do it themselves, and they had great
faith in their ability to handle the situation in a thorough and
workmanlike manner. This would not do in a law-abiding community, as
he called the town, and so he had replied that the work was his, and
that it would be performed as soon as he believed himself justified to
act. Harlan and his friends were fully conversant with the feeling
against them and had become a little more cautious, alertly watching
out for trouble.

On the evening of the day which saw Pete Wilson's discomfiture most of
the habitues had assembled in the Oasis where, besides the card-
players already mentioned, eight men lounged against the bar. There
was some laughter, much subdued talking, and a little whispering. More
whispering went on under that roof than in all the other places in
town put together; for here rustling was planned, wayfaring strangers
were "trimmed" in "frame-ups" at cards, and a hunted man was certain
to find assistance. Harlan had once boasted that no fugitive had ever
been taken from his saloon, and he was behind the bar and standing on
the trap door which led to the six-by-six cellar when he made the
assertion. It was true, for only those in his confidence knew of the
place of refuge under the floor; it had been dug at night and the dirt
carefully disposed of.

It had not been dark very long before talking ceased and card-playing
was suspended while all looked up as the front door crashed open and
two punchers entered, looking the crowd over with critical care.

"Stay here, Johnny," Hopalong told his youthful companion, and then
walked forward, scrutinizing each scowling face in turn, while Johnny
stood with his back to the door, keenly alert, his right hand resting
lightly on his belt not far from the holster.

Harlan's thick neck grew crimson and his eyes hard. "Looking fer
something?" he asked with bitter sarcasm, his hands under the bar.
Johnny grinned hopefully and a sudden tenseness took possession of him
as he watched for the first hostile move.

"Yes," Hopalong replied coolly, appraising Harlan's attitude and look
in one swift glance, "but it ain't here, now. Johnny, get out," he
ordered, backing after his companion, and safely outside, the two
walked towards Jackson's store, Johnny complaining about the little
time spent in the Oasis.

As they entered the store they saw Edwards, whose eye asked a

"No; he ain't in there yet," Hopalong replied.

"Did you look all over? Behind the bar?" Edwards asked, slowly. "He
can't get out of town through that cordon you've got strung around it,
an' he ain't nowhere else. Leastwise, I couldn't find him."

"Come on back!" excitedly exclaimed Johnny, turning towards the door.
"You didn't look behind the bar! Come on--bet you ten dollars that's
where he is!"

"Mebby yo're right, Kid," replied Hopalong, and the marshal's nodding
head decided it.

In the saloon there was strong language, and Jack Quinn, expert
skinner of other men's cows, looked inquiringly at the proprietor.
"What's up now, Harlan?"

The proprietor laughed harshly but said nothing--taciturnity was his
one redeeming trait. "Did you say cigars?" he asked, pushing a box
across the bar to an impatient customer. Another beckoned to him and
he leaned over to hear the whispered request, a frown struggling to
show itself on his face. "Nix; you know my rule. No trust in here."

But the man at the far end of the line was unlike the proprietor and
he prefaced his remarks with a curse. "/I/ know what's up! They want
Jerry Brown, that's what! An' I hopes they don't get him, the

"What did he do? Why do they want him?" asked the man who had wanted

"Skinning. He was careless or crazy, working so close to their ranch
houses. Nobody that had any sense would take a chance like that,"
replied Boston, adept at sleight-of-hand with cards and very much in
demand when a frame-up was to be rung in on some unsuspecting
stranger. His one great fault in the eyes of his partners was that he
hated to divvy his winnings and at times had to be coerced into
sharing equally.

"Aw, them big ranches make me mad," announced the first speaker. "Ten
years ago there was a lot of little ranchers, an' every one of 'em had
his own herd, an' plenty of free grass an' water for it. Where are the
little herds now? Where are the cows that /we/ used to own?" he cried,
hotly. "What happens to a maverick-hunter now-a-days? By God, if a man
helps hisself to a pore, sick dogie he's hunted down! It can't go on
much longer, an' that's shore."

Cries of approbation arose on all sides, for his auditors ignored the
fact that their kind, by avarice and thievery, had forever killed the
occupation of maverick-hunting. That belonged to the old days, before
the demand for cows and their easy and cheap transportation had
boosted the prices and made them valuable.

Slivers Lowe leaped up from his chair. "Yo're right, Harper! Dead
right! /I/ was a little cattle owner once, so was you, an' Jerry, an'
most of us!" Slivers found it convenient to forget that fully half of
his small herd had perished in the bitter and long winter of five
years before, and that the remainder had either flowed down his
parched throat or been lost across the big round table near the bar.
Not a few of his cows were banked in the east under Harlan's name.

The rear door opened slightly and one of the loungers looked up and
nodded. "It's all right, Jerry. But get a move on!"

"Here, /you/!" called Harlan, quickly bending over the trap door,

Jerry was half way to the proprietor when the front door swung open
and Hopalong, closely followed by the marshal, leaped into the room,
and immediately thereafter the back door banged open and admitted
Johnny. Jerry's right hand was in his side coat pocket and Johnny,
young and self-confident, and with a lot to learn, was certain that he
could beat the fugitive on the draw.

"I reckon you won't blot no more brands!" he cried, triumphantly,
watching both Jerry and Harlan.

The card-players had leaped to their feet and at a signal from Harlan
they surged forward to the bar and formed a barrier between Johnny and
his friends; and as they did so that puncher jerked at his gun,
twisting to half face the crowd. At that instant fire and smoke
spurted from Jerry's side coat pocket and the odor of burning cloth
arose. As Johnny fell, the rustler ducked low and sprang for the door.
A gun roared twice in the front of the room and Jerry staggered a
little and cursed as he gained the opening, but he plunged into the
darkness and threw himself into the saddle on the first horse he found
in the small corral.

When the crowd massed, Hopalong leaped at it and strove to tear his
way to the opening at the end of the bar, while the marshal covered
Harlan and the others. Finding that he could not get through. Hopalong
sprang on the shoulder of the nearest man and succeeded in winging the
fugitive at the first shot, the other going wild. Then, frantic with
rage and anxiety, he beat his way through the crowd, hammering
mercilessly at heads with the butt of his Colt, and knelt at his
friend's side.

Edwards, angered almost to the point of killing, ordered the crowd to
stand against the wall, and laughed viciously when he saw two men
senseless on the floor. "Hope he beat in yore heads!" he gritted,
savagely. "Harlan, put yore paws up in sight or I'll drill you clean!
Now climb over an' get in line--quick!"

Johnny moaned and opened his eyes. "Did--did I--get him?"

"No; but he gimleted you, all right," Hopalong replied. "You'll come
'round if you keep quiet." He arose, his face hard with the desire to
kill. "I'm coming back for /you/, Harlan, after I get yore friend! An'
all the rest of you pups, too!"

"Get me out of here," whispered Johnny.

"Shore enough, Kid; but keep quiet," replied Hopalong, picking him up
in his arms and moving carefully towards the door. "We'll get him,
Johnny; an' all the rest, too, when----" The voice died out in the
direction of Jackson's and the marshal, backing to the front door,
slipped out and to one side, running backward, his eyes on the saloon.

"Yore day's about over, Harlan," he muttered. "There's going to be
some few funerals around here before many hours pass."

When he reached the store he found the owner and two Double-Arrow
punchers taking care of Johnny. "Where's Hopalong?" he asked.

"Gone to tell his foreman," replied Jackson. "Hey, youngster, you let
them bandages alone! Hear me?"

"Hullo, Kansas," remarked John Bartlett, foreman of the Double-Arrow.
"I come nigh getting yore man; somebody rode past me like a streak in
the dark, so I just ups an' lets drive for luck, an' so did he. I
heard him cuss an' I emptied my gun after him."

"The rest was a-passing the word along to ride in when I left the
line," remarked one of the other punchers. "How you feeling now,



The rain slanted down in sheets and the broken plain, thoroughly
saturated, held the water in pools or sent it down the steep sides of
the arroyo, to feed the turbulent flood which swept along the bottom,
foam-flecked and covered with swiftly moving driftwood. Around a bend
in the arroyo, where the angry water flung itself against the ragged
bulwark of rock and flashed away in a gleaming line of foam, a
horseman appeared bending low in the saddle for better protection
against the storm. He rode along the edge of the stream on the farther
bank, opposite the steep bluff on the northern side, forcing his
wounded and jaded horse to keep fetlock deep in the water which
swirled and sucked about its legs. He was trying his hardest to hide
his trail. Lower down the hard, rocky ground extended to the water's
edge, and if he could delay his pursuers for an hour or so, he felt
that, even with his tired horse, he would have more than an even

But they had gained more than he knew. Suddenly above him on the top
of the steep bluff across the torrent a man loomed up against the
clouds, peered intently into the arroyo, and then waved his sombrero
to an unseen companion. A puff of smoke flashed from his shoulder and
streaked away, the report of the shot lost in the gale. The fugitive's
horse reared and plunged into the deep water and with its rider was
swept rapidly towards the bend, the way they had come.

"That makes the fourth time I've missed that coyote!" angrily
exclaimed Hopalong as Red Connors joined him.

The other quickly raised his rifle and fired; and the horse, spilling
its rider out of the saddle, floated away tail first. The fugitive,
gripping his rifle, bobbed and whirled at the whim of the greedy water
as shots struck near him. Making a desperate effort, he staggered up
the bank and fell exhausted behind a boulder.

"Well, the coyote is afoot, anyhow," said Red, with great

"Yes; but how are we going to get to him?" asked Hopalong. "We can't
get the cayuses down here, an' we can't swim /that/ water without
them. An' if we could, he'd pot us easy."

"There's a way out of it somewhere," Red replied, disappearing over
the edge of the bluff to gamble with Fate.

"Hey! Come back here, you chump!" cried Hopalong, running forward.
"He'll get you, shore!"

"That's a chance I've got to take if I get him," was the reply.

A puff of smoke sailed from behind the boulder on the other bank and
Hopalong, kneeling for steadier aim, fired and then followed his
friend. Red was downstream casting at a rock across the torrent but
the wind toyed with the heavy, water-soaked /reata/ as though it were
a string. As Hopalong reached his side a piece of driftwood ducked
under the water and an angry humming sound died away downstream. As
the report reached their ears a jet of water spurted up into Red's
face and he stepped back involuntarily.

"He's so shaky," Hopalong remarked, looking back at the wreath of
smoke above the boulder. "I reckon I must have hit him harder than I
thought in Harlan's. Gee! He's wild as blazes!" he yelled as a bullet
hummed high above his head and struck sharply against the rock wall.

"Yes," Red replied, coiling the rope. "I was trying to rope that rock
over there. If I could anchor to that, the current would push us over
quick. But it's too far with this wind blowing."

"We can't do nothing here 'cept get plugged. He'll be getting steadier
as he rests from his fight with the water," Hopalong remarked, and
added quickly, "Say, remember that meadow back there a ways? We can
make her from there, all right."

"Yo're right; that's what we've got to do. He's sending 'em nearer
every shot--Gee! I could 'most feel the wind of that one. An' blamed
if it ain't stopped raining. Come on."

They clambered up the slippery, muddy bank to where they had left
their horses, and cantered back over their trail. Minute after minute
passed before the cautious skulker among the rocks across the stream
could believe in his good fortune. When he at last decided that he was
alone again he left his shelter and started away, with slowly
weakening stride, over cleanly washed rock where he left no trail.

It was late in the afternoon before the two irate punchers appeared
upon the scene, and their comments, as they hunted slowly over the
hard ground, were numerous and bitter. Deciding that it was hopeless
in that vicinity, they began casting in great circles on the chance of
crossing the trail further back from the river. But they had little
faith in their success. As Red remarked, snorting like a horse in his
disgust, "I'll bet four dollars an' a match he's swum down the river
clean to hell just to have the laugh on us." Red had long since given
it up as a bad job, though continuing to search, when a shout from the
distant Hopalong sent him forward on a run.

"Hey, Red!" cried Hopalong, pointing ahead of them. "Look there! Ain't
that a house?"

"Naw; course not! It's a--it's a ship!" Red snorted sarcastically.
"What did you think it might be?"

"G'wan!" retorted his companion. "It's a mission."

"Ah, g'wan yoreself! What's a mission doing up here?" Red snapped.

"What do you think they do? What do they do anywhere?" hotly rejoined
Hopalong, thinking about Johnny. "There! See the cross?"

"Shore enough!"

"An' there's tracks at last--mighty wobbly, but tracks just the same.
Them rocks couldn't go on forever. Red, I'll bet he's cashed in by
this time."

"Cashed nothing! Them fellers don't."

"Well, if he's in that joint we might as well go back home. We won't
get him, not nohow," declared Hopalong.

"Huh! You wait an' see!" replied Red, pugnaciously.

"Reckon you never run up agin a mission real hard," Hopalong
responded, his memory harking back to the time he had disagreed with a
convent, and they both meant about the same to him as far as winning
out was concerned.

"Think I'm a fool kid?" snapped Red, aggressively.

"Well, you ain't no /kid/."

"You let /me/ do the talking; /I'll/ get him."

"All right; an' I'll do the laughing," snickered Hopalong, at the
door. "Sic 'em, Red!"

The other boldly stepped into a small vestibule, Hopalong close at his
heels. Red hitched his holster and walked heavily into a room at his
left. With the exception of a bench, a table, and a small altar, the
room was devoid of furnishings, and the effect of these was lost in
the dim light from the narrow windows. The peculiar, not unpleasant
odor of burning incense and the dim light awakened a latent reverence
and awe in Hopalong, and he sneaked off his sombrero, an inexplicable
feeling of guilt stealing over him. There were three doors in the
walls, deeply shrouded in the dusk of the room, and it was very hard
to watch all three at once.

Red was peering into the dark corners, his hand on the butt of his
Colt, and hardly knew what he was looking for. "This joint must 'a'
looked plumb good to that coyote, all right. He had a hell of a lot of
luck, but he won't keep it for long, damn him!" he remarked.

"Quit cussing!" tersely ordered Hopalong. "An' for God's sake, throw
out that damned cigarette! Ain't you got no manners?"

Red listened intently and then grinned. "Hear that? They're playing
dominoes in there--come on!"

"Aw, you chump! 'Dominee' means 'mother' in Latin, which is what they

"How do you know?"

"Hanged if I can tell--I've heard it somewhere, that's all."

"Well, I don't care what it means. This is a frame-up so that coyote
can get away. I'll bet they gave him a cayuse an' started him off
while we've been losing time in here. I'm going inside an' ask some

Before he could put his plan into execution, Hopalong nudged him and
he turned to see his friend staring at one of the doors. There had
been no sound, but he would swear that a monk stood gravely regarding
them, and he rubbed his eyes. He stepped back suspiciously and then
started forward again.

"Look here, stranger," he remarked, with quiet emphasis, "we're after
that cow-lifter, an' we mean to get him. Savvy?"

The monk did not appear to hear him, so he tried another tack. "/Habla
Espanola?/" he asked, experimentally.

"You have ridden far?" replied the monk in perfect English.

"All the way from the Bend," Red replied, relieved. "We're after Jerry
Brown. He tried to kill Johnny, an' near made good. An' I reckon we've
treed him, judging from the tracks."

"And if you capture him?"

"He won't have no more use for no side pocket shooting."

"I see; you will kill him."

"Shore's it's wet outside."

"I'm afraid you are doomed to disappointment."

"Ya-as?" asked Red with a rising inflection.

"You will not want him now," replied the monk.

Red laughed sarcastically and Hopalong smiled.

"There ain't a-going to be no argument about it. Trot him out,"
ordered Red, grimly.

The monk turned to Hopalong. "Do you, too, want him?"

Hopalong nodded.

"My friends, he is safe from your punishment."

Red wheeled instantly and ran outside, returning in a few moments,
smiling triumphantly. "There are tracks coming in, but there ain't
none going away. He's here. If you don't lead us to him we'll shore
have to rummage around an' poke him out for ourselves: which is it?"

"You are right--he is here, and he is not here."

"We're waiting," Red replied, grinning.

"When I tell you that you will not want him, do you still insist on
seeing him?"

"We'll see him, an' we'll want him, too."

As the rain poured down again the sound of approaching horses was
heard, and Hopalong ran to the door in time to see Buck Peters swing
off his mount and step forward to enter the building. Hopalong stopped
him and briefly outlined the situation, begging him to keep the men
outside. The monk met his return with a grateful smile and, stepping
forward, opened the chapel door, saying, "Follow me."

The unpretentious chapel was small and nearly dark, for the usual
dimness was increased by the lowering clouds outside. The deep, narrow
window openings, fitted with stained glass, ran almost to the rough-
hewn rafters supporting the steep-pitched roof, upon which the heavy
rain beat again with a sound like that of distant drums. Gusts of rain
and the water from the roof beat against the south windows, while the
wailing wind played its mournful cadences about the eaves, and the
stanch timbers added their creaking notes to swell the dirge-like

At the farther end of the room two figures knelt and moved before the
white altar, the soft light of flickering candles playing fitfully
upon them and glinting from the altar ornaments, while before a rough
coffin, which rested upon two pedestals, stood a third, whose rich,
sonorous Latin filled the chapel with impressive sadness. "Give
eternal rest to them, O Lord,"--the words seeming to become a part of
the room. The ineffably sad, haunting melody of the mass whispered
back from the room between the assaults of the enraged wind, while
from the altar came the responses in a low, Gregorian chant, and
through it all the clinking of the censer chains added intermittent
notes. Aloft streamed the vapor of the incense, wavering with the air
currents, now lost in the deep twilight of the sanctuary, and now
faintly revealed by the glow of the candles, perfuming the air with
its aromatic odor.

As the last deep-toned words died away the celebrant moved slowly
around the coffin, swinging the censer over it and then, sprinkling
the body and making the sign of the cross above its head, solemnly

From the shadows along the side walls other figures silently emerged
and grouped around the coffin. Raising it they turned it slowly around
and carried it down the dim aisle in measured tread, moving silently
as ghosts.

"He is with God, Who will punish according to his sins," said a low
voice, and Hopalong started, for he had forgotten the presence of the
guide. "God be with you, and may you die as he died--repentant and in

Buck chafed impatiently before the chapel door leading to a small,
well-kept graveyard, wondering what it was that kept quiet for so long
a time his two most assertive men, when he had momentarily expected to
hear more or less turmoil and confusion.

/C-r-e-a-k!/ He glanced up, gun in hand and raised as the door swung
slowly open. His hand dropped suddenly and he took a short step
forward; six black-robed figures shouldering a long box stepped slowly
past him, and his nostrils were assailed by the pungent odor of the
incense. Behind them came his fighting punchers, humble, awed,
reverent, their sombreros in their hands, and their heads bowed.

"What in blazes!" exclaimed Buck, wonder and surprise struggling for
the mastery as the others cantered up.

"He's cashed," Red replied, putting on his sombrero and nodding toward
the procession.

Buck turned like a flash and spoke sharply: "Skinny! Lanky! Follow
that glory-outfit, an' see what's in that box!"

Billy Williams grinned at Red. "Yo're shore pious, Red."

"Shut up!" snapped Red, anger glinting in his eyes, and Billy

Lanky and Skinny soon returned from accompanying the procession.

"I had to look twice to be shore it was him. His face was plumb happy,
like a baby. But he's gone, all right," Lanky reported.

"Deader'n hell," remarked Skinny, looking around curiously. "This here
is some shack, ain't it?" he finished.

"All right--he knowed how he'd finish when he began. Now for that dear
Mr. Harlan," Buck replied, vaulting into the saddle. He turned and
looked at Hopalong, and his wonder grew. "Hey, /you/! Yes, /you/! Come
out of that an' put on yore lid! Straddle leather--we can't stay here
all night."

Hopalong started, looked at his sombrero and silently obeyed. As they
rode down the trail and around a corner he turned in his saddle and
looked back; and then rode on, buried in thought.

Billy, grinning, turned and playfully punched him in the ribs.
"Getting glory, Hoppy?"

Hopalong raised his head and looked him steadily in the eyes; and
Billy, losing his curiosity and the grin at the same instant, looked
ahead, whistling softly.



Edwards slid off the counter in Jackson's store and glowered at the
pelting rain outside, perturbed and grouchy. The wounded man in the
corner stirred and looked at him without interest and forthwith
renewed his profane monologue, while the proprietor, finishing his
task, leaned back against the shelves and swore softly. It was a
lovely atmosphere.

"Seems to me they've been gone a long time," grumbled the wounded man.
"Reckon he led 'em a long chase--had six hours' start, the toad." He
paused and then as an afterthought said with conviction: "But they'll
get him--they allus do when they make up their minds to it."

Edwards nodded moodily and Jackson replied with a monosyllable.

"Wish I could 'a' gone with 'em," Johnny growled. "I like to square my
own accounts. It's allus that way. I get plugged an' my friends clean
the slate. There was that time Bye-an'-Bye went an' ambushed me--ah,
the devil! But I tell you one thing: when I get well I'm going down to
Harlan's an' clean house proper."

"Yo're in hard luck again: that'll be done as soon as yore friends get
back," Jackson replied, carefully selecting a dried apricot from a box
on the counter and glancing at the marshal to see how he took the

"That'll be done before then," Edwards said crisply, with the air of a
man who has just settled a doubt. "They won't be back much before
to-morrow if he headed for the country I think he did. I'm going down
to the Oasis an' tell that gang to clear out of this town. They've
been here too long now. I never had 'em dead to rights before, but
I've got it on 'em this time. I'd 'a' sent 'em packing yesterday only
I sort of hated to take a man's business away from him an' make him
lose his belongings. But I've wrastled it all out an' they've got to
go." He buttoned his coat about him and pulled his sombrero more
firmly on his head, starting for the door. "I'll be back soon," he
said over his shoulder as he grasped the handle.

"You better wait till you get help--there's too many down there for
one man to watch an' handle," Jackson hastily remarked. "Here, I'll go
with you," he offered, looking for his hat.

Edwards laughed shortly. "You stay here. I do my own work by myself
when I can--that's what I'm here for, an' I can do this, all right. If
I took any help they'd reckon I was scared," and the door slammed shut
behind him.

"He's got sand a plenty," Jackson remarked. "He'd try to push back a
stampede by main strength if he reckoned it was his duty. It's his
good luck that he wasn't killed long ago--/I'd/ 'a' been."

"They're a bunch of cowards," replied Johnny. "As long as you ain't
afraid of 'em, none of 'em wants to start anything. Bunch of sheep!"
he snorted. "Didn't Jerry shoot me through his pocket?"

"Yes; an' yo're another lucky dog," Jackson responded, having in mind
that at first Johnny had been thought to be desperately wounded. "Why,
yore friends have got the worst of this game; they're worse off than
you are--out all day an' night in this cussed storm."

While they talked Edwards made his way through the cold downpour to
Harlan's saloon, alone and unafraid, and greatly pleased by the order
he would give. At last he had proof enough to work on, to satisfy his
conscience, for the inevitable had come as the culmination of
continued and clever defiance of law and order.

He deliberately approached the front door of the Oasis and, opening
it, stepped inside, his hands resting on his guns--he had packed two
Colts for the last twenty-four hours. His appearance caused a ripple
of excitement to run around the room. After what had taken place, a
visit from him could mean only one thing--trouble. And it was entirely
possible that he had others within call to help him out if necessary.

Harlan knew that he would be the one held responsible and he ceased
wiping a glass and held the cloth suspended in one hand and the glass
in the other. "Well?" he snapped, angrily, his eyes smouldering with
fixed hatred.

"Mebby you think it's well, but it's going to be a blamed sight better
before sundown to-morrow night," evenly replied the marshal. "I just
dropped in sort of free-like to tell you to pack up an' get out of
town before dark--load yore wagon an' vamoose; an' take yore friends
with you, too. If you don't--" he did not finish in words, for his
tightening lips made them unnecessary.

"/What!/" yelled Harlan, red with anger. He placed his hands on the
bar and leaned over it as if to give emphasis to his words. "/Me/ pack
up an' git! /Me/ leave this shack! Who's going to pay me for it, hey?
/Me/ leave town! You drop out again an' go back to Kansas where you
come from--they're easier back there!"

"Well, so far I ain't found nothing very craggy 'round here," retorted
Edwards, closely watching the muttering crowd by the bar. "Takes more
than a loud voice an' a pack of sneaking coyotes to send me looking
for something easier. An' let me tell you this: /You/ stay away from
Kansas--they hangs people like you back there. That's whatever. You
pack up an' git out of this town or I'll start a burying plot with you
on yore own land."

The low, angry buzz of Harlan's friends and their savage, scowling
faces would have deterred a less determined man; but Edwards knew they
were afraid of him, and the men on whom he could call to back him up.
And he knew that there must always be a start, there must be one man
to show the way; and each of the men he faced was waiting for some one
else to lead.

"You all slip over the horizon before dark to-night, an' it's dark
early these days," he continued. "/Don't get restless with yore
hands!/" he snapped ominously at the crowd. "I means what I say--you
shake the mud from this town off yore boots before dark--before that
Bar-20 outfit gets back," he finished meaningly.

Questions, imprecations, and threats filled the room, and the crowd
began to spread out slowly. His guns came out like a flash and he
laughed with the elation that comes with impending battle. "The first
man to start it'll drop," he said evenly. "Who's going to be the

"I /won't/ leave town!" shouted Harlan. "I'll stay here if I'm killed
for it!"

"I admire yore loyalty to principle, but you've got damned little
sense," retorted the marshal. "You ain't no practical man. /Keep yore
hands where they are!/"--his vibrant voice turned the shifting crowd
to stone-like rigidity and he backed slowly toward the door, the poor
light gleaming dully from the polished blue steel of his Colts.
Rugged, lion-like, charged to the finger tips with reckless courage
and dare-devil self-confidence, his personality overflowed and
dominated the room, almost hypnotic in its effect. He was but one
against many, but he was the master, and they knew it; they had known
it long enough to accept it without question, and the training now
stood him in good stead.

For a moment he stood in the open doorway, keenly scrutinizing them
for signs of danger, his unwavering guns charged with certain death
and his strong face made stronger by the shadows in its hollows.
"Before dark!"--and he was gone.

He left behind him deep silence, which endured for several moments.

"By the Lord, I /won't/!" cried Harlan, still staring at the door.

The spell was broken and a babel of voices filled the room, threats
mingling with excuses, hot, vibrant, profane. These men were not
cowards all the way through, but only when face to face with the
master. They had flourished in a way by their wits alone on the same
range with the outfits of the C-80 and the Double-Arrow, for
individually they were "bad," and collectively they made a force of no
mean strength. Edwards had landed among them like a thunderbolt and
had proved his prowess, and they still held him in awesome respect.
His reckless audacity and grim singleness of purpose had saved him on
more than one occasion, for had he wavered once he would have been
shot down without mercy. But gradually his enforcement of hampering
laws became more and more intolerable, and their subordinated spirits
were nearly on the point of revolt. When he faced them they resumed
their former positions in relation to him--but once out of his sight
they plotted to destroy him. Here was the crisis: it was now or never.
They could not evade his ultimatum--it was obey or fight.

Submission was not to be thought of, for to flee would be to lose
caste, and the story of such an act would follow them wherever they
went, and brand them as cowards. Here they had lived, and here they
would stay if possible, and to this end they discussed ways and means.

"Harlan's right!" emphatically announced Laramie Joe. "We can't pull
out and have this foller us."

"We should have started it with a rush when he was in here," remarked
Boston, regretfully.

Harlan stopped his pacing and faced them, shoving out a bottle of
whiskey as an aid to his logic.

"That chance is past, an' I don't know but what it is a good thing,"
he began. "He was primed an' looking fer trouble, an' he'd shore got a
few of us afore he went under. What we want is strategy--that's the
game. You fellers have got as much brains as him, an' if we thrash
this thing out we can find a way to call his play--an' get him! No use
of any of us getting plugged 'less we have to. But whatever we do
we've got to start it right quick an' have it over before that Bar-20
gang comes back. Harper, you an' Quinn go scouting--an' don't take no
guns with you, neither. Act like you was hitting the long trail out,
an' work back here on a circle. See how many of his friends are in
town. While you are gone the rest of us will hold a pow-wow an' take
the kinks out of this game. Chase along, an' don't waste no time."

"Good!" cried Slivers Lowe emphatically. "There's blamed few fellers
in town now that have any use for him, for most of them are off on the
ranges. Bet we won't have more than six to fight, an' there's that
many of us here."

The scouts departed at once and the remaining four drew close in

"One more drink around and then no more till this trouble is over,"
Harlan said, passing the bottle. The drinks, in view of the coming
drought and the thirsty work ahead, were long and deep, and new
courage and vindictiveness crept through their veins.

"Now here's the way it looks to me," Harlan continued, placing the
bottle, untasted by himself, on the floor behind him. "We've got to
work a surprise an' take Edwards an' his friends off their guard.
That'll be easy if we're careful, because they think we ain't looking
for fight. When we get them out of the way we can take Jackson's store
an' use one of the other shacks and wait for the Bar-20 to ride in.
They'll canter right in, like they allus do, an' when they get close
enough we'll open the game with a volley an' make every shot tell. 'T
won't last long, 'cause every one of us will have his man named before
they get here. Then the few straddlers in town, seeing how easy we've
gone an' handled it'll join us. We've got four men to come in yet, an'
by the time the C-80 an' Double-Arrow hears about it we'll be fixed to
drive 'em back home. We ought to be over a dozen strong by dark."

"That sounds good, all right," remarked Slivers, thoughtfully, "but
can we do it that easy?"

"Course we can! We ain't fools, an' we all can shoot as well as them,"
snapped Laramie Joe, the most courageous of the lot. Laramie had taken
only one drink, and that a small one, for he was wise enough to
realize that he needed his wits as keen as he could have them.

"We can do it easy, if Edwards goes under first," hastily replied
Harlan. "An' me an' Laramie will see to that part of it. If we don't
get him, you all can hit the trail an' we won't be sore about it. That
is, unless you are made of the stuff that stands up an' fights 'stead
of running away. I reckon I ain't none mistaken in any of you. You'll
all be there when things get hot."

"You can bet the shack /I/ won't do no trail-hitting," growled Boston,
glancing at Slivers, who squirmed a little under the hint.

"Well, I'm glued to the crowd; you can't lose me, fellers," Slivers
remarked, re-crossing his legs uneasily. "Are we going to begin it
from here?"

"We ought to spread out cautions and surround Jackson's, or wherever
Edwards is," Laramie Joe suggested. "That's my--"

"Yo're right! Now you've hit it plumb on the head!" interrupted
Harlan, slapping Laramie heartily across the back. "What did I tell
you about our brains?" he cried, enthusiastically. He had been on the
point of suggesting that plan of operations when Laramie took the
words out of his mouth. "I'd never thought of that, Laramie," he lied,
his face beaming. "Why, we've got 'em licked to a finish right now!"

"This /is/ a hummer of a game," laughed Slivers. "But how about the
Bar-20 crowd?"

"I've told you that already," replied the proprietor.

"You bet it's a hummer," cried Boston, reaching for the whiskey bottle
under cover of the excitement and enthusiasm.

Harlan pushed it away with his foot and raised his clenched fist. "Do
you wonder I didn't think of that plan?" he demanded. "Ain't I been
too mad to think at all? Hain't I seen my friends treated like dogs,
an' made to swaller insults when I couldn't raise my hand to stop it?
Didn't I see Jerry Brown chased out of my place like a wild beast? If
we are what we've been called, then we'll sneak out of town with our
tails atween our laigs; but if we're men we'll stay right here an'
cram the insults down the throats of them that made 'em! If we're
/men/ let's prove it an' make them liars swaller our lead."

"My sentiments an' allus was!" roared Slivers, slapping Harlan's

"We're men, all right, an' we'll show 'em it, too!"

At that instant the door opened and four guns covered it before it had
swung a foot.

"Put 'em down--it's Quinn!" exclaimed the man in the doorway,
flinching a bit. "All right, Jed," he called over his shoulder to the
man who crowded him. After Quinn came Big Jed and Harper brought up
the rear. They had no more than shaken the water from their sombreros
when the back door let in Charley Rich and his two companions, Frank
and Tom Nolan. While greetings were being exchanged and the existing
conditions explained to the newcomers, Harper and Quinn led Harlan to
one side and reported, the proprietor smiling and nodding his head
wisely. And while he listened, Slivers surreptitiously corralled the
whiskey bottle and when the last man finished with it there was
nothing in it but air.

"Well, boys," exclaimed Harlan, "things are our way. Quinn, here, met
Joe Barr, of the C-80, who said Converse an' four other fellers, all
friends of Edwards, stopped at the ranch an' won't be back home till
the storm stops. Harper saw Fred Neil going back to his ranch, so all
we've got to figger on is the marshal, Barr, an' Jackson, an' they're
all in Jackson's store. Lacey might cut in, since he'd sell more
liquor if I went under, but he can't do very much if he does take a
hand. Now we'll get right at it." The whole thing was gone over
thoroughly and in detail, positions assigned and a signal agreed upon.
Seeing that weapons were in good condition after their long storage in
the cellar, and that cartridge belts were full, the ten men left the
room one at a time or in pairs, Harlan and Laramie Joe being the last.
And both Harlan and Laramie delayed long enough to take the precaution
of placing horses where they would be handy in case of need.



Joe Barr laughingly replied to Johnny Nelson's growled remarks about
the condition of things in general and tried to soothe him, but Johnny
was unsoothable.

"An' I've been telling him right along that he's got the best of it,"
complained Jackson in a weary voice. "Got a measly hole through his
shoulder--good Lord! if it had gone a little lower!" he finished with
a show of exasperation.

"An' ain't I been telling you all along that it ain't the measly hole
in my shoulder that's got me on the prod?" retorted Johnny, with more
earnestness than politeness. "But why couldn't I go with my friends
after Jerry an' get shot later if I had to get it at all? Look what
I'm missing, roped an' throwed in this cussed ten-by-ten shack while
they're having a little excitement."

"Yo're missing some blamed nasty weather, Kid," replied the marshal.
"You ain't got no kick coming at all. Why, I got soaked clean through
just going down to the Oasis."

"Well, I'm kicking, just the same," snapped Johnny. "An' furthermore,
I don't see nobody big enough to stop me, neither--did you all get

The rear door opened and Fred Neal looked in. "Hey, Barr; come out an'
gimme a hand in the corral. Busted my cinch all to pieces half a mile
out--an' how the devil it ever busted like that is--" the door slammed
shut and softened his monologue.

"Would you listen to that!" snorted Barr in an injured tone. "Didn't I
go an' tell him near a month ago that his cussed cinch wouldn't hold
no better'n a piece of wet paper?" His complaint added materially to
the atmosphere of sullen discontent pervading the room. "An' now I
gotter go out in this rain an'--" the slam of the door surpassed
anything yet attempted in that line of endeavor. Jackson grabbed a can
of corn as it jarred off the shelf behind him and directed a pleasing
phrase after the peevish Barr.

"Say, won't somebody please smile?" gravely asked Edwards. "I never
saw such a happy, cheerful bunch before."

"I might smile if I wasn't so blamed hungry," retorted Johnny.
"Doesn't anybody ever eat in this town?" he asked in great sarcasm.
"Mebby a good feed won't do me no good, but I'm going to fill myself
regardless. An' after that, if the grub don't shock me to death, I'm
shore going to trim somebody at Ol' Sledge--for two bits a hand."

"If I could play you enough hands at that price I could sell out an'
live high without working," grinned Jackson, preparing to give the
reckless invalid all he could eat. "That's purty high, Kid; but I just
feel real devilish, an' I'm coming in."

"An' I'll go over to my shack, get some money, an' bust the pair of
you," laughed Edwards, again buttoning his coat and going towards the
door. "Holy Cats! A log must 'a' got jammed in the sluice-gate up
there," he muttered, scowling at the black sky. "It's coming down
harder'n ever, but here goes," and he stepped quickly into the storm.

Jackson paused with a frying pan in his hands and looked through the
window after the departing marshal, and saw him stagger, stumble
forward, then jerk out his guns and begin firing. Hard firing now
burst out in front and Jackson, cursing angrily, dropped the pan and
reached for his rifle--to drop it also and sink down, struck by the
bullet which drilled through the window. Johnny let out a yell of
rage, grabbed his Colt, and ran to the door in time to see Edwards
slowly raise up on one elbow, fire his last shot, and fall back
riddled by bullets.

Jackson crawled to his rifle and then to the side window, where he
propped his back against a box and prepared to do his best. "It was
shore a surprise," he swore. "An' they went an' got Edwards before he
could do anything."

"They did not!" retorted Johnny. "He--" the glass in the door vibrated
sharply and the speaker, stepping to one side out of sight, with a new
and superficial wound, opened fire on the building down the street.
Two men were lying on the ground across the street--these Edwards had
shot--and another was trying to drag himself to the shelter of a
building. A man sprinted from an old corral close by in a brave and
foolhardy attempt to save his friend, and Johnny swore because he had
to fire twice at the same mark.

The rear door crashed open and shut as Barr, closely followed by Neal,
ran in. They had been caught in the corral but, thanks to Harlan's
whiskey, had managed to hold their own until they had a chance to make
a rush for the store.

"Where's the marshal?" cried Barr, catching sight of Jackson. "Are you
plugged bad?" he asked, anxiously.

"Well, I ain't plugged a whole lot /good/!" snapped Jackson. "An'
Edwards is dead. They shot him down without warning. We're going to
get ours, too--these walls don't stop them bullets. How many out

"Must be a dozen," hastily replied Neal, who had not remained idle.
Both he and Barr were working like mad men moving boxes and barrels
against the walls to make a breastwork capable of stopping the bullets
which came through the boards.

"I reckon--I'm bleeding inside," Jackson muttered, wearily and without
hope. "Wonder how--long we--can hold out?"

"We'll hold out till we're good an' dead!" replied Johnny, hotly.
"They ain't got us yet an' they'll pay for it before they do. If we
can hold 'em off till Buck an' the rest come back we'll have the
pleasure of seeing 'em buried."

"Oh, I'll get you next time!" assured Barr to an enemy, slipping a
fresh cartridge into the Sharps and peering intently at a slight rise
on the muddy plain. "You shoot like yo're drunk," he mumbled.

"But what is it all about, anyhow?" asked Neal, finding time for an
immaterial question. "Who are they?--can't see nothing but blurs
through this rain!"

"Yes; what's the game?" asked Barr, mildly surprised that he had not
thought of it before.

"It's that Oasis gang," Johnny responded. He fired, and growled with
disappointment. "Harlan's at the head of it," he added.

"Edwards--told Harlan to--get out of--town," Jackson began.

"An' to take his gang with him," Johnny interposed quickly to save
Jackson from the strain. "They had till dark. Guess the rest. Oh, you
/coyote/!" he shouted, staggering back. There was a report farther
down the barricade and Neal called out, "I got him, Nelson; he's done.
How are you?"

"Mad! Mad!" yelled Johnny, touching his twice-wounded shoulder and
dancing with rage and pain. "Right in the same place! Oh, wait!
/Wait!/ Hey, gimme a rifle--I can't do nothing with a Colt at this
range; my name ain't Hopalong," and he went slamming around the room
in hot search of what he wanted.

"There ain't--no more--Johnny," feebly called Jackson, raising
slightly to ease himself. "You can have--my gun purty--soon. I won't
be able--to use it--much longer."

"Why don't Buck an' Hoppy hurry up!" snarled Johnny.

"Be a long time--mebby," mumbled Jackson, his trembling hands trying
to steady the rifle. "They're all--around us. /Ah/, missed!" he
intoned hoarsely, trying to pump the lever with unobeying hands. "I
can't last--much--" the words ceased abruptly and the clatter of the
rifle on the floor told the story.

Johnny stumbled over to him and dragged him aside, covering the
upturned face with his own sombrero, and picked up the rifle. Rolling
a barrel of flour against the wall below the window he fixed himself
as comfortably as possible and threw a shell into the chamber.

"Now, you coyotes; you pay /me/ for /that/!" he gritted, resting the
gun on the window sill and holding it so he could work it with one
hand and shoulder.

"Wonder how them pups ever pumped up enough courage to cut loose like
this?" queried Neal from behind his flour barrel.

"Whiskey," hazarded Barr. "Harlan must 'a' got 'em drunk. An' that's
three times I've missed that snake. Wish it would stop raining so I
could see better."

"Why don't you wish they'd all drop dead? Wish good when you wish at
all: got as much chance of having it come true," responded Neal,
sarcastically. He smothered a curse and looked curiously at his left
arm, and from it to the new, yellow-splintered hole in the wall, which
was already turning dark from the water soaking into it. "Hey, Joe; we
need some more boxes!" he exclaimed, again looking at his arm.

"Yes," came Johnny's voice. "Three of 'em--five of 'em, an' about six
feet long an' a foot deep. But if my outfit gets here in time we'll
want more'n a dozen."

"Say! Lacey's firing now!" suddenly cried Barr. "He's shooting out of
his windy. That'll stop 'em from rushing us! Good boy, Lacey!" he
shouted, but Lacey did not hear him in the uproar.

"An' he's worse off than we are, being alone," commented Neal. "Hey!
One of us better make a break for help--my ranch's the nearest. What
d'ye say?"

"It's suicide; they'll get you before you get ten feet," Barr replied
with conviction.

"No; they won't--the corral hides the back door, an' all the firing is
on this side. I can sneak along the back wall an' by keeping the
buildings atween me an' them, get a long ways off before they know
anything about it. Then it's a dash--an' they can't catch me. But can
you fellers hold out if I do?"

"Two can hold out as good as three--go ahead," Johnny replied. "Leave
me some of yore Colt cartridges, though. You can't use 'em all before
you get home."

"Don't stop fer that; there's a shelfful of all kinds behind the
counter," Barr interposed.

"Well, so long an' good luck," and the rear door closed, and softly
this time.

"Two hours is some wait under the present circumstances," Barr
muttered, shifting his position behind his barricade. "He can't do it
in less, nohow."

Johnny ducked and looked foolish. "Missed me by a foot," he explained.
"He can't do it in two--not there an' back," he replied. "The trail is
mud over the fetlocks. Give him three at the least."

"They ain't shooting as much as they was before."

"Waiting till they gets sober, I reckon," Johnny replied.

"If we don't hear no ruction in a few minutes we'll know he got away
all right," Barr soliloquized. "An' he's got a fine cayuse for mud,

"Hey, why can't you do the same thing if he makes it?" Johnny suddenly
asked. "I can hold her alone, all right."

"Yo're a cheerful liar, you are," laughed Barr. "But can /you/ ride?"

"Reckon so, but I ain't a-going to."

"Why, we /both/ can go--it's a cinch!" Barr cried. "Come on!"

"Lord!--an' I never even thought of that! Reckon I was too mad,"
Johnny replied. "But I sort of hates to leave Jackson an' Edwards," he
added, sullenly.

"But they're gone! You can't do them no good by staying."

"Yes; I know. An' how about Lacey chipping in on our fight?" demanded
Johnny. "I ain't a-going to leave him to take it all. You go, Barr; it
wasn't yore fight, nohow. You didn't even know what you was fighting

"Huh! When anybody shoots at me it's my fight, all right," replied
Barr, seating himself on the floor behind the breastwork. "I forgot
all about Lacey," he apologized. At that instant a tomato can went
/spang!/ and fell off the shelf. "An' it's too late, anyhow; they
ain't a-going to let nobody else get away on that side."

"An' they're tuning up again, too," Johnny replied, preparing for
trouble. "Look out for a rush, Barr."



Hopalong Cassidy stopped swearing at the weather and looked up and
along the trail in front of him, seeing a hard-riding man approach. He
turned his head and spoke to Buck Peters, who rode close behind him.
"Somebody's shore in a hurry--why, it's Fred Neal."

It was. Mr. Neal was making his arms move and was also shouting
something at the top of his voice. The noise of the rain and of the
horses' hoofs splashing in the mud and water at first made his words
unintelligible, but it was not long before Hopalong heard something
which made him sit up even straighter. In a moment Neal was near
enough to be heard distinctly and the outfit shook itself out of its
weariness and physical misery and followed its leader at reckless
speed. As they rode, bunched close together, Neal briefly and
graphically outlined the relative positions of the combatants, and
while Buck's more cautious mind was debating the best way to proceed
against the enemy, Hopalong cried out the plan to be followed. There
would be no strategy--Johnny, wounded and desperate, was fighting for
his life. The simplest way was the best--a dash regardless of
consequences to those making it, for time was a big factor to the two
men in Jackson's store.

"Ride right at 'em!" Hopalong cried. "I know that bunch. They'll be
too scared to shoot straight. Paralyze 'em! Three or four are gone now
--an' the whole crowd wasn't worth one of the men they went out to
get. The quicker it's over the better."

"Right you are," came from the rear.

"Ride up the arroyo as close as we can get, an' then over the edge an'
straight at 'em," Buck ordered. "Their shooting an' the rain will
cover what noise we make on the soft ground. An' boys, /no quarter/!"

"Reckon /not/!" gritted Red, savagely. "Not with Edwards an' Jackson
dead, an' the Kid fighting for his life!"

"They're still at it!" cried Lanky Smith, as the faint and
intermittent sound of firing was heard; the driving wind was blowing
from the town, and this, also, would deaden the noise of their

"Thank the Lord! That means that there's somebody left to fight 'em,"
exclaimed Red. "Hope it's the Kid," he muttered.

"They can't rush the store till they get Lacey, an' they can't rush
him till they get the store," shouted Neal over his shoulder. "They'd
be in a cross fire if they tried either--an' that's what licks 'em."

"They'll be in a cross fire purty soon," promised Pete, grimly.

Hopalong and Red reached the edge of the arroyo first and plunged over
the bank into the yellow storm-water swirling along the bottom like a
miniature flood. After them came Buck, Neal, and the others, the water
shooting up in sheets as each successive horse plunged in. Out again
on the farther side they strung out into single file along the narrow
foot-hold between water and bank and raced towards the sharp bend some
hundreds of yards ahead, the point in the arroyo's course nearest the
town. The dripping horses scrambled up the slippery incline and then,
under the goading of spurs and quirts, leaped forward as fast as they
could go across the level, soggy plain.

A quarter of a mile ahead of them lay the scattered shacks of the
town, and as they drew nearer to it the riders could see the flashes
of guns and the smoke-fog lying close to the ground. Fire spat from
Jackson's store and a cloud of smoke still lingered around a window in
Lacey's saloon. Then a yell reached their ears, a yell of rage,
consternation and warning. Figures scurried to seek cover and the
firing from Jackson's and Lacey's grew more rapid.

A mounted man emerged from a corral and tore away, others following
his example, and the outfit separated to take up the chase
individually. Harlan, wounded hard, was trying to run to where he had
left his horse, and after him fled Slivers Lowe. Hopalong was gaining
on them when he saw Slivers raise his arm and fire deliberately into
the back of the proprietor of the Oasis, leap over the falling body,
vault into the saddle of Harlan's horse and gallop for safety.
Hopalong's shots went wide and the last view any one had of Slivers in
that part of the country was when he dropped into an arroyo to follow
it for safety. Laramie Joe fled before Red Connors and Red's rage was
so great that it spoiled his accuracy, and he had the sorrow of seeing
the pursued grow faint in the mist and fog. Pursuit was tried until
the pursuers realized that their mounts were too worn out to stand a
show against the fresh animals ridden by the survivors of the Oasis

Red circled and joined Hopalong. "Blasted coyotes," he growled.
"Killed Jackson an' Edwards, an' wanted the Kid! He's shore showed 'em
what fighting is, all right. But I wonder what got into 'em all at
once to give 'em nerve enough to start things?"

"Edwards paid his way, all right," replied Hopalong. "If I do as well
when my time comes I won't do no kicking."

"Yore time ain't coming that way," responded Red, grinning. "You'll
die a natural death in bed, unless you gets to cussing me."

"Shore there ain't no more, Buck?" Hopalong called.

"Yes. There was only five, I reckon, an' they was purty well shot up
when we took a hand. You know, Johnny was in it all the time," replied
the foreman, smiling. "This town's had the cleaning up it's needed for
some time," he added.

They were at Jackson's store now, and hurriedly dismounted and ran in
to see Johnny. They found him lying across some boxes, which brought
him almost to the level of a window sill. He was too weak to stand,
while near him in similar condition lay Barr, too weak from loss of
blood to do more than look his welcome.

"How are you, Kid?" cried Buck anxiously, bending over him, while
others looked to Barr's injuries.

"Tired, Buck, awful tired; an' all shot up," Johnny slowly replied.
"When I saw you fellers--streak past this windy--I sort of went flat--
something seemed to break inside me," he said, faintly and with an
effort, and the foreman ordered him not to talk. Deft fingers,
schooled by practice in rough and ready surgery, were busy over him
and in half an hour he lay on Jackson's cot, covered with bandages.

"Why, hullo, Lacey!" exclaimed Hopalong, leaping forward to shake
hands with the man Red and Billy had gone to help. "Purty well
scratched up, but lively yet, hey?"

"I'm able to hobble over here an' shake han's with these scrappers--
they're shore wonders," Lacey replied. "Fought like a whole regiment!
Hullo, Johnny!" and his hand-clasp told much.

"Yore cross fire did it, Lacey; that was the whole thing," Johnny
smiled. "Yo're all right!"

Red turned and looked out of the window toward the Oasis and then
glanced at Buck. "Reckon we better burn Harlan's place--it's all
that's left of that gang now," he suggested.

"Why, yes; I reckon so," replied the foreman. "That's as--"

"No, we won't!" Hopalong interposed quickly. "That stands till Johnny
sets it off. It's the Kid's celebration--he was shot in it."

Johnny smiled.



After the flurry at Perry's Bend the Bar-20 settled down to the calm
routine work and sent several drive herds to their destination without
any unusual incidents. Buck thought that the last herd had been driven
when, late in the summer, he received an order that he made haste to
fill. The outfit was told to get busy and soon rounded up the
necessary number of three-year-olds. Then came the road branding, the
final step except inspection, and this was done not far from the ranch
house, where the facilities were best for speedy work.

Entirely recovered from all ill effects of his afternoon in Jackson's
store up in Perry's bend, Johnny Nelson waited with Red Connors on the
platform of the branding chute and growled petulantly at the sun, the
dust, but most of all at the choking, smarting odor of burned hair
which filled their throats and caused them to rub the backs of grimy
hands across their eyes. Chute-branding robbed them of the excitement,
the leaven of fun and frolic, which they always took from open or
corral branding--and the work of a day in the corral or open was
condensed into an hour or two by the chute. This was one cow wide,
narrow at the bottom and flared out as it went up, so the animal could

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