Part 4 out of 4
not turn, and when filled was, to use Johnny's graphic phrase, "like a
chain of cows in a ditch." Eight of the wondering and crowded animals,
guided into the pen by men who knew their work to the smallest detail
and lost no time in its performance, filed into the pen after those
branded had filed out. As the first to enter reached the farther end a
stout bar dropped into place, just missing the animal's nose; and as
the last cow discovered that it could go no farther and made up its
mind to back out, it was stopped by another bar, which fell behind it.
The iron heaters tossed a hot iron each to Red and Johnny and the
eight were marked in short order, making about two hundred and fifty
they had branded in three hours. This number compared very favorably
with that of the second chute where Lanky Smith and Frenchy McAlister
waved cold irons and sarcastically asked their iron men if the sun was
supposed to provide the heat; whereat the down-trodden heaters
provided heat with great generosity in their caustic retorts.
"Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me," sang Billy Williams, one of the
feeders. "But why in Jericho don't you fellers get a move on you? You
ain't no good on the platform--you ought to be mixing biscuits for
Cookie. Frenchy and Lanky are the boys to turn 'em out," he offered,
Red's weary air bespoke a vast and settled contempt for such inanities
and his iron descended against the side of the victim below him--he
would not deign to reply. Not so with Johnny, who could not refrain
from hot retort.
"Don't be a fool /all/ the time," snapped Johnny. "Mind yore own
business, you shorthorn. Big-mouthed old woman, that's what--" his
tone dropped and the words sank into vague mutterings which a
strangling cough cut short. "Blasted idiot," he whispered, tears
coming into his eyes at the effort. Burning hair is bad for throat and
Red deftly knocked his companion's iron up and spoke sharply. "You
mind yourn better--that makes the third you've tried to brand twice.
Why don't you look what yo're doing? Hot iron! Hot iron! What're you
fellers doing?" he shouted down at the heaters. "This ain't no time to
go to sleep. How d'ye expect us to do any work when you ain't doing
any yoreselves!" Red's temper was also on the ragged edge.
"You've got one in yore other hand, you sheep!" snorted one of the
iron heaters with restless pugnacity. "Go tearing into us when you--"
he growled the rest and kicked viciously at the fire.
"Lovely bunch," grinned Billy who, followed by Pete Wilson, mounted
the platform to relieve the branders. "Chase yoreselves--me an' Pete
are shore going to show you cranky bugs how to do a hundred an hour.
Ain't we, Pete? An' look here, you," he remarked to the heaters,
"don't you fellers keep /us/ waiting for hot irons!"
"That's right! Make a fool out of yoreself first thing!" snapped one
of the pair on the ground.
"Billy, I never loved you as much as I do this minute," grinned Johnny
wearily. "Wish you'd 'a' come along to show us how to do it an hour
"I would, only--"
"Quit chinning an' get busy," remarked Red, climbing down. "The
chute's full; an' it's all yourn."
Billy caught the iron, gave it a preliminary flourish, and started to
work with a speed that would not endure for long. He branded five out
of the eight and jeered at his companion for being so slow.
"Have yore fun now, Billy," Pete replied with placid good nature.
"Before we're through with this job you'll be lucky if you can do two
of the string, if you keep up that pace."
"He'll be missing every other one," growled his heater with
overflowing malice. "That iron ain't cold, you Chinaman!"
"Too cold for me--don't miss none," chuckled Billy sweetly. "Fill the
chute! Fill the chute! Don't keep us waiting!" he cried to the
guiders, hopping around with feigned eagerness and impatience.
Hopalong Cassidy rode up and stopped as Red returned to take the place
of one of the iron heaters. "How they coming, Red?" he inquired.
"Fast. You can sic that inspector on 'em the first thing to-morrow
morning, if he gets here on time. Bet he's off som'ers getting full of
redeye. Who're going with you on this drive?"
"The inspector is all right--he's here now an' is going to spend the
night with us so as to be on hand the first thing to-morrow," replied
Hopalong, grinning at the hard-working pair on the platform. "Why, I
reckon I'll take you, Johnny, Lanky, Billy, Pete, an' Skinny, an'
we'll have two hoss-wranglers an' a cook, of course. We'll drive up
the right-hand trail through West Valley this time. It's longer, but
there'll be more water that way at this time of the year. Besides, I
don't want no more foot-sore cattle to nurse along. Even the West
Valley trail will be dry enough before we strike Bennett's Creek."
"Yes; we'll have to drive 'em purty hard till we reach the creek,"
replied Red, thoughtfully. "Say; we're going to have three thousand of
the finest three-year-old steers ever sent north out of these parts.
An' we ought to do it in a month an' deliver 'em fat an' frisky. We
can feed 'em good for the last week."
"I just sent some of the boys out to drive in the cayuses," Hopalong
remarked, "an' when they get here you fellers match for choice an'
pick yore remuda. No use taking too few. About eight apiece'll do us
nice. I shore like a good cavvieyeh."
"Hullo, Hoppy!" came from the platform as Billy grinned his welcome
through the dust on his face. "Want a job?"
"Hullo yoreself," growled Pete. "Stick yore iron on that fourth steer
before he gets out, an' talk less with yore mouth."
"Pete's still rabid," called Billy, performing the duty Pete
"That may be the polite name for it," snorted one of the iron heaters,
testing an iron, "but that ain't what I'd say. Might as well cover the
subject thoroughly while yo're on it."
"Yes, verily," endorsed his companion.
"Here comes the last of 'em," smiled Pete, watching several cattle
being driven towards the chute. "We'll have to brand 'em on the move,
Billy; there ain't enough to fill the chute."
"All right; hot iron, you!"
Early the next morning the inspector looked them over and made his
count, the herd was started north and at nightfall had covered twelve
miles. For the next week everything went smoothly, but after that,
water began to be scarce and the herd was pushed harder, and became
harder to handle.
On the night of the twelfth day out four men sat around the fire in
West Valley at a point a dozen miles south of Bennett's Creek, and ate
heartily. The night was black--not a star could be seen and the south
wind hardly stirred the trampled and burned grass. They were
thoroughly tired out and their tempers were not in the sweetest state
imaginable, for the heat during the last four days had been almost
unbearable even to them and they had had their hands full with the
cranky herd. They ate silently, hungrily--there would be time enough
for the few words they had to say when the pipes were going for a
short smoke before turning in.
"I feel like hell," growled Red, reaching for another cup of coffee,
but there was no reply; he had voiced the feelings of all.
Hopalong listened intently and looked up, staring into the darkness,
and soon a horseman was seen approaching the fire. Hopalong nodded
welcome and waved his hand towards the food, and the stranger,
dismounting, picketed his horse and joined the circle. When the pipes
were lighted he sighed with satisfaction and looked around the group.
"Driving north, I see."
"Yes; an' blamed glad to get off this dry range," Hopalong replied.
"The herd's getting cranky an' hard to hold--but when we pass the
creek everything'll be all right again. An' ain't it hot! When you
hear us kick about the heat it means something."
"I'm going yore way," remarked the stranger. "I came down this trail
about two weeks ago. Reckon I was the last to ride through before the
fence went up. Damned outrage, says I, an' I told 'em so, too. They
couldn't see it that way an' we had a little disagreement about it.
They said as how they was going to patrol it."
"Fence! What fence?" exclaimed Red.
"Where's there any fence?" demanded Hopalong sharply.
"Twenty mile north of the creek," replied the stranger, carefully
packing his pipe.
"What? Twenty miles north of the creek?" cried Hopalong. "What creek?"
"Bennett's. The 4X has strung three strands of barb wire from Coyote
Pass to the North Arm. Thirty mile long, without a gate, so they
"But it don't close this trail!" cried Hopalong in blank astonishment.
"It shore does. They say they owns that range an' can fence it in all
they wants. I told 'em different, but naturally they didn't listen to
me. An' they'll fight about it, too."
"But they /can't/ shut off this trail!" exclaimed Billy, with angry
emphasis. "They don't own it no more'n we do!"
"I know all about that--you heard me tell you what they said."
"But how can we get past it?" demanded Hopalong.
"Around it, over the hills. You'll lose about three days doing it,
"I can't take no sand-range herd over them rocks, an' I ain't going to
drive 'round no North Arm or Coyote Pass if I could," Hopalong replied
with quiet emphasis. "There's poison springs on the east an' nothing
but rocks on the west. We go straight through."
"I'm afraid that you'll have to fight if you do," remarked the
"Then we'll fight!" cried Johnny, leaning forward. "Blasted coyotes!
What right have they got to block a drive trail that's as old as
cattle-raising in these parts! That trail was here before I was born,
it's allus been open, an' it's going to stay open! You watch us go
"Yo're dead right, Kid; we'll cut that fence an' stick to this trail,
an' fight if we has to," endorsed Red. "The Bar-20 ain't crawling out
of no hole that it can walk out of. They're bluffing; that's all."
"I don't think they are; an' there's twelve men in that outfit,"
suggested the stranger, offhand.
"We ain't got time to count odds; we never do down our way when we
know we're right. An' we're right enough in this game," retorted
Hopalong, quickly. "For the last twelve days we've had good luck,
barring the few on this dry range; an' now we're in for the other
kind. By the Lord, I wish we was here without the cows to take care of
--we'd show 'em something about blocking drive trails that ain't in
their little book!"
"Blast it all! Wire fences coming down this way now," mused Johnny,
sullenly. He hated them by training as much as he hated horse-thieves
and sheep; and his companions had been brought up in the same school.
Barb wire, the death-knell to the old-time punching, the bar to riding
at will, a steel insult to fire the blood--it had come at last.
"We've shore got to cut it, Red,--" began Hopalong, but the cook had
to rid himself of some of his indignation and interrupted with heat.
"Shore we have!" came explosively from the tail board of the chuck
wagon. "Got to lay it agin my li'l axe an' swat it with my big ol'
monkey wrench! An' won't them posts save me a lot of trouble hunting
chips an' firewood!"
"We've shore got to cut it, Red," Hopalong repeated slowly. "You an'
Johnny an' me'll ride ahead after we cross the creek to-morrow an' do
it. I don't hanker after no fight with all these cows on my han's, but
we've got to risk one."
"Shore!" cried Johnny, hotly. "I can't get over the gall of them
fellers closing up the West Valley drive trail. Why, I never heard
tell of such a thing afore!"
"We're short-handed; we ought to have more'n we have to guard the herd
if there's a fight. If it stampedes--oh, well, that'll work out
to-morrow. The creek's only about twelve miles away an' we'll start at
daylight, so tumble in," Hopalong said as he arose. "Red, I'm going
out to take my shift--I'll send Pete in. Stranger," he added, turning,
"I'm much obliged to you for the warning. They might 'a' caught us
with our hands tied."
"Oh, that's all right," hastily replied the stranger, who was in
hearty accord with the plans, such as they were. "My name's Hawkins,
an' I don't like range fences no more'n you do. I used to hunt buffalo
all over this part of the country before they was all killed off, an'
I allus rode where I pleased. I'm purty old, but I can still see an'
shoot; an' I'm going to stick right along with you fellers an' see it
through. Every man counts in this game."
"Well, that's blamed white of you," Hopalong replied, greatly pleased
by the other's offer. "But I can't let you do it. I don't want to drag
you into no trouble, an'--"
"You ain't dragging me none; I'm doing it myself. I'm about as mad as
you are over it. I ain't good for much no more, an' if I shuffles off
fighting barb wire I'll be doing my duty. First it was nesters, then
railroads an' more nesters, then sheep, an' now it's wire--won't it
never stop? By the Lord, it's got to stop, or this country will go to
the devil an' won't be fit to live in. Besides, I've heard of your
fellers before--I'll tie to the Bar-20 any day."
"Well, I reckon you must if you must; yo're welcome enough," laughed
Hopalong, and he strode off to his picketed horse, leaving the others
to discuss the fence, with the assistance of the cook, until Pete rode
When Hopalong rode in at midnight to arouse the others and send them
out to relieve Skinny and his two companions, the cattle were quieter
than he had expected to leave them, and he could see no change of
weather threatening. He was asleep when the others turned in, or he
would have been further assured in that direction.
Out on the plain where the herd was being held, Red and the three
other guards had been optimistic until half of their shift was over
and it was only then that they began to worry. The knowledge that
running water was only twelve miles away had the opposite effect than
the one expected, for instead of making them cheerful, it caused them
to be beset with worry and fear. Water was all right, and they could
not have got along without it for another day; but it was, in this
case, filled with the possibility of grave danger.
Johnny was thinking hard about it as he rode around the now restless
herd, and then pulled up suddenly, peered into the darkness and went
on again. "Damn that disreputable li'l rounder! Why the devil can't he
behave, 'stead of stirring things up when they're ticklish?" he
muttered, but he had to grin despite himself. A lumbering form had
blundered past him from the direction of the camp and was swallowed up
by the night as it sought the herd, annoying and arousing the thirsty
and irritable cattle along its trail, throwing challenges right and
left and stirring up trouble as it passed. The fact that the
challenges were bluffs made no difference to the pawing steers, for
they were anxious to have things out with the rounder.
This frisky disturber of bovine peace was a yearling that had slipped
into the herd before it left the ranch and had kept quiet and
respectable and out of sight in the middle of the mass for the first
few days and nights. But keeping quiet and respectable had been an
awful strain, and his mischievous deviltry grew constantly harder to
hold in check. Finally he could stand the repression no longer, and
when he gave way to his accumulated energy it had the snap and ginger
of a tightly stretched rubber band recoiling on itself. On the fourth
night out he had thrown off his mask and announced his presence in his
true light by butting a sleepy steer out of its bed, which bed he
straightway proceeded to appropriate for himself. This was folly, for
the ground was not cold and he had no excuse for stealing a body-
warmed place to lie down; it was pure cussedness, and retribution
followed hard upon the act. In about half a minute he had discovered
the great difference between bullying poor, miserable, defenceless
dogies and trying to bully a healthy, fully developed, and pugnacious
steer. After assimilating the preliminary punishment of what promised
to be the most thorough and workmanlike thrashing he had ever known,
the indignant and frightened bummer wheeled and fled incontinently
with the aroused steer in angry pursuit. The best way out was the most
puzzling to the vengeful steer, so the bummer cavorted recklessly
through the herd, turning and twisting and doubling, stepping on any
steer that happened to be lying down in his path, butting others, and
leavening things with great success. Under other conditions he would
have relished the effect of his efforts, for the herd had arisen as
one animal and seemed to be debating the advisability of stampeding;
but he was in no mood to relish anything and thought only of getting
away. Finally escaping from his pursuer, that had paused to fight with
a belligerent brother, he rambled off into the darkness to figure it
all out and to maintain a sullen and chastened demeanor for the rest
of the night. This was the first time a brick had been under the hat.
But the spirits of youth recover quickly--his recovered so quickly
that he was banished from the herd the very next night, which
banishment, not being at all to his liking, was enforced only by rigid
watchfulness and hard riding; and he was roundly cursed from dark to
dawn by the worried men, most of whom disliked the bumming youngster
less than they pretended. He was only a cub, a wild youth having his
fling, and there was something irresistibly likable and comical in his
awkward antics and eternal persistence, even though he was a pest.
Johnny saw more in him than his companions could find, and had quite a
little sport with him: he made fine practice for roping, for he was
about as elusive as a grasshopper and uncertain as a flea. Johnny was
in the same general class and he could sympathize with the
irrepressible nuisance in its efforts to stir up a little life and
excitement in so dull a crowd; Johnny hoped to be as successful in his
mischievous deviltry when he reached the town at the end of the drive.
But to-night it was dark, and the bummer gained his coveted goal with
ridiculous ease, after which he started right in to work off the high
pressure of the energy he had accumulated during the last two nights.
He had desisted in his efforts to gain the herd early in the evening
and had rambled off and rested during the first part of the night, and
the herders breathed softly lest they should stir him to renewed
trials. But now he had succeeded, and although only Johnny had seen
him lumber past, the other three guards were aware of it immediately
by the results and swore in their throats, for the cattle were now on
their feet, snorting and moving about restlessly, and the rattling of
horns grew slowly louder.
"Ain't he having a devil of a good time!" grinned Johnny. But it was
not long before he realized the possibilities of the bummer's efforts
and he lost his grin. "If we get through the night without trouble
I'll see that you are picketed if it takes me all day to get you," he
muttered. "Fun is fun, but it's getting a little too serious for
Sometime after the middle of the second shift the herd, already
irritable, nervous, and cranky because of the thirst they were
enduring, and worked up to the fever pitch by the devilish manoeuvres
of the exuberant and hard-working bummer, wanted only the flimsiest
kind of an excuse to stampede, and they might go without an excuse. A
flash of lightning, a crash of thunder, a wind-blown paper, a flapping
wagon cover, the sudden and unheralded approach of a careless rider,
the cracking and flare of a match, or the scent of a wolf or coyote--
or water, would send an avalanche of three thousand crazed steers
crashing its irresistible way over a pitch-black plain.
Red had warned Pete and Billy, and now he rode to find Johnny and send
him to camp for the others. As he got halfway around the circle he
heard Johnny singing a mournful lay, and soon a black bulk loomed up
in the dark ahead of him. "That you, Kid?" he asked. "That you,
Johnny?" he repeated, a little louder.
The song stopped abruptly. "Shore," replied Johnny. "We're going to
have trouble aplenty to-night. Glad daylight ain't so very far off.
That cussed li'l rake of a bummer got by me an' into the herd. He's
shore raising Ned to-night, the li'l monkey: it's getting serious,
"I'll shoot that yearling at daylight, damn him!" retorted Red. "I
should 'a' done it a week ago. He's picked the worst time for his
cussed devilment! You ride right in an' get the boys, an' get 'em out
here quick. The whole herd's on its toes waiting for the signal; an'
the wink of an eye'll send 'em off. God only knows what'll happen
between now and daylight! If the wind should change an' blow down from
the north, they'll be off as shore as shooting. One whiff of Bennett's
Creek is all that's needed, Kid; an'--"
"Oh, pshaw!" interposed Johnny. "There ain't no wind at all now. It's
been quiet for an hour."
"Yes; an' that's one of the things that's worrying me. It means a
"Not always; we'll come out of this all right," assured Johnny, but he
spoke without his usual confidence. "There ain't no use--" he paused
as he felt the air stir, and he was conscious of Red's heavy
breathing. There was a peculiar hush in the air that he did not like,
a closeness that sent his heart up in his throat, and as he was about
to continue a sudden gust snapped his neck-kerchief out straight. He
felt that refreshing coolness which so often precedes a storm and as
he weighed it in his mind a low rumble of thunder rolled in the north
and sent a chill down his back.
"Good God! Get the boys!" cried Red, wheeling. "It's /changed/! An'
Pete an' Billy out there in front of--/there they go/!" he shouted as
a sudden tremor shook the earth and a roaring sound filled the air. He
was instantly lost to ear and eye, swallowed by the oppressive
darkness as he spurred and quirted into a great, choking cloud of dust
which swept down from the north, unseen in the night. The deep thunder
of hoofs and the faint and occasional flash of a six-shooter told him
the direction, and he hurled his mount after the uproar with no
thought of the death which lurked in every hole and rock and gully on
the uneven and unseen plain beneath him. His mouth and nose were lined
with dust, his throat choked with it, and he opened his burning eyes
only at intervals, and then only to a slit, to catch a fleeting glance
of--nothing. He realized vaguely that he was riding north, because the
cattle would head for water, but that was all, save that he was
animated by a desperate eagerness to gain the firing line, to join
Pete and Billy, the two men who rode before that crazed mass of horns
and hoofs and who were pleading and swearing and yelling in vain only
a few feet ahead of annihilation--if they were still alive. A stumble,
a moment's indecision, and the avalanche would roll over them as if
they were straws and trample them flat beneath the pounding hoofs, a
modern Juggernaut. If he, or they, managed to escape with life, it
would make a good tale for the bunk house some night; if they were
killed it was in doing their duty--it was all in a day's work.
Johnny shouted after him and then wheeled and raced towards the camp,
emptying his Colt in the air as a warning. He saw figures scurrying
across the lighted place, and before he had gained it his friends
raced past him and gave him hard work catching up to them. And just
behind him rode the stranger, to do what he could for his new friends,
and as reckless of consequences as they.
It seemed an age before they caught up to the stragglers, and when
they realized how true they had ridden in the dark they believed that
at last their luck was turning for the better, and pushed on with
renewed hope. Hopalong shouted to those nearest him that Bennett's
Creek could not be far away and hazarded the belief that the steers
would slow up and stop when they found the water they craved; but his
words were lost to all but himself.
Suddenly the punchers were almost trapped and their escape made
miraculous, for without warning the herd swerved and turned sharply to
the right, crossing the path of the riders and forcing them to the
east, showing Hopalong their silhouettes against the streak of pale
gray low down in the eastern sky. When free from the sudden press of
cattle they slowed perceptibly, and Hopalong did likewise to avoid
running them down. At that instant the uproar took on a new note and
increased threefold. He could hear the shock of impact, whip-like
reports, the bellowing of cattle in pain, and he arose in his stirrups
to peer ahead for the reason, seeing, as he did so, the silhouettes of
his friends arise and then drop from his sight. Without additional
warning his horse pitched forward and crashed to the earth, sending
him over its head. Slight as was the warning it served to ease his
fall, for instinct freed his feet from the stirrups, and when he
struck the ground it was feet first, and although he fell flat at the
next instant, the shock had been broken. Even as it was, he was partly
stunned, and groped as he arose on his hands and knees. Arising
painfully he took a short step forward, tripped and fell again; and
felt a sharp pain shoot through his hand as it went first to break the
fall. Perhaps it was ten seconds before he knew what it was that had
thrown him, and when he learned that he also learned the reason for
the whole calamity--in his torn and bleeding hand he held a piece of
"Barb wire!" he muttered, amazed. "Barb wire! Why, what the-- /Damn
that ranch/!" he shouted, sudden rage sweeping over him as the
situation flashed through his mind and banished all the mental effects
of the fall. "They've gone an' strung it south of the creek as well!
Red! Johnny! Lanky!" he shouted at the top of his voice, hoping to be
heard over the groaning of injured cattle and the general confusion.
"Good Lord! /are they killed/!"
They were not, thanks to the forced slowing up, and to the pool of
water and mud which formed an arm of the creek, a back-water away from
the pull of the current. They had pitched into the mud and water up to
their waists, some head first, some feet first, and others as they
would go into a chair. Those who had been fortunate enough to strike
feet first pulled out the divers, and the others gained their feet as
best they might and with varying degrees of haste, but all mixed
profanity and thankfulness equally well; and were equally and
Hopalong, expecting the silence of death or at least the groaning of
injured and dying, was taken aback by the fluent stream of profanity
which greeted his ears. But all efforts in that line were eclipsed
when the drive foreman tersely explained about the wire, and the
providential mud bath was forgotten in the new idea. They forthwith
clamored for war, and the sooner it came the better they would like
"Not now, boys; we've got work to do first," replied Hopalong, who,
nevertheless, was troubled grievously by the same itching trigger
finger. They subsided--as a steel spring subsides when held down by a
weight--and went off in search of their mounts. Daylight had won the
skirmish in the east and was now attacking in force, and revealed a
sight which, stilling the profanity for the moment, caused it to flow
again with renewed energy. The plain was a shambles near the creek,
and dead and dying steers showed where the fence had stood. The rest
of the herd had passed over these. The wounded cattle and three horses
were put out of their misery as the first duty. The horse that
Hopalong had ridden had a broken back; the other two, broken legs.
When this work was out of the way the bruised and shaken men gave
their attention to the scattered cattle on the other side of the
creek, and when Hawkins rode up after wasting time in hunting for the
trail in the dark, he saw four men with the herd, which was still
scattered; four others near the creek, of whom only Johnny was
mounted, and a group of six strangers riding towards them from the
west and along the fence, or what was left of that portion of it.
"That's awful!" he cried, stopping his limping horse near Hopalong.
"An' here come the fools that done it."
"Yes," replied Johnny, his voice breaking from rage, "but they won't
go back again! I don't care if I'm killed if I can get one or two of
"Shut up, Kid!" snapped Hopalong as the 4X outfit drew near. "I know
just how you feel about it; feel that way myself. But there ain't a-
going to be no fighting while I've got these cows on my han's. That
gang'll be here when we come back, all right."
"Mebby one or two of 'em won't," remarked Hawkins, as he looked again
over the carnage along the fence. "I never did much pot-shooting,
'cept agin Injuns; but I dunno--" He did not finish, for the strangers
were almost at his elbow.
Cranky Joe led the 4X contingent and he did the talking for it without
waste of time. "Who the hell busted that fence?" he demanded,
belligerently, looking around savagely. Johnny's hand twitched at the
words and the way they were spoken.
"I did; did you think somebody leaned agin it?" replied Hopalong, very
calmly,--so calmly that it was about one step short of an explosion.
"Well, why didn't you go around?"
"Three thousand stampeding cattle don't go 'round wire fences in the
"Well, that's not our fault. Reckon you better dig down an' settle up
for the damages, an' half a cent a head for water; an' then go 'round.
You can't stampede through the other fence."
"That so?" asked Hopalong.
"Reckon it is."
"Yo're real shore it is?"
"Well there's only six of us here, but there's six more that we can
get blamed quick if we need 'em. It's so, all right."
"Well, coming down to figures, there's eight here, with two hoss-
wranglers an' a cook to come," retorted Hopalong, kicking the
belligerent Johnny on the shins. "We're just about mad enough to
tackle anything: ever feel that way?"
"Oh, no use getting all het up," rejoined Cranky Joe. "We ain't a-
going to fight 'less we has to. Better pay up."
"Send yore bills to the ranch--if they're O. K., Buck'll pay 'em."
"Nix; I take it when I can get it."
"I ain't got no money with me that I can spare."
"Then you can leave enough cows to buy back again."
"I'm not going to pay you one damned cent, an' the only cows I'll
leave are the dead ones--an' if I could take them with me I'd do it.
An' I'm not going around the fence, neither."
"Oh, yes; you are. An' yo're going to pay," snapped Cranky Joe.
"Take it out of the price of two hundred dead cows an' gimme what's
left," Hopalong retorted. "It'll cost you nine of them twelve men to
pry it out'n me."
"You won't pay?" demanded the other, coldly.
"Not a plugged peso."
"Well, as I said before, I don't want to fight nobody 'less I has to,"
replied Cranky Joe. "I'll give you a chance to change yore mind. We'll
be out here after it to-morrow, cash or cows. That'll give you twenty-
four hours to rest yore herd an' get ready to drive. Then you pay, an'
go back, 'round the fence."
"All right; to-morrow suits me," responded Hopalong, who was boiling
with rage and felt constrained to hold it back. If it wasn't for the
Red and three companions swept up and stopped in a swirl of dust and
asked questions until Hopalong shut them up. Their arrival and the
manner of their speech riled Cranky Joe, who turned around and loosed
one more remark; and he never knew how near to death he was at that
"You fellers must own the earth, the way you act," he said to Red and
his three companions.
"We ain't fencing it in to prove it," rejoined Hopalong, his hand on
Cranky Joe wheeled to rejoin his friends. "To-morrow," he said,
Hopalong and his men watched the six ride away, too enraged to speak
for a moment. Then the drive foreman mastered himself and turned to
Hawkins. "Where's their ranch house?" he demanded, sharply. "There
must be some way out of this, an' we've got to find it; an' before
"West; three hours' ride along the fence. I could find 'em the darkest
night what ever happened; I was out there once," Hawkins replied.
"Describe 'em as exact as you can," demanded Hopalong, and when
Hawkins had done so the Bar-20 drive foreman slapped his thigh and
laughed nastily. "One house with one door an' only two windows--are
you shore? Good! Where's the corrals? Good again! So they'll take pay
for their blasted fence, eh? Cash or cows, hey! Don't want no fight
'less it's necessary, but they're going to make us pay for the fence
that killed two hundred head, an' blamed nigh got us, too. An' half a
cent a head for drinking water! I've paid that more'n once--some of
the poor devils squatting on the range ain't got nothing to sell but
water, but I don't buy none out of Bennett's Creek! Pete, you mounted
fellers round up a little--bunch the herd a little closer, an' drive
straight along the trail towards that other fence. We'll all help you
as soon as the wranglers bring us up something to ride. Push 'em hard,
limp or no limp, till dark. They'll be too tired to go crow-hopping
'round any in the dark to-night. An' say! When you see that bummer, if
he wasn't got by the fence, drop him clean. So they've got twelve men,
"What you going to do?" asked Red, beginning to cool down, and very
"Yes; tell us," urged Johnny.
"Why, I'm going to cut that fence, an' cut it all to hell. Then I'm
going to push the herd through it as far out of danger as I can. When
they're all right Cookie an' the hoss-wranglers will have to hold 'em
during the night while we do the rest."
"What's the rest?" demanded Johnny.
"Oh, I'll tell you that later; it can wait," replied Hopalong.
"Meanwhile, you get out there with Pete an' help get the herd in
shape. We'll be with you soon--here comes the wranglers an' the
cavvieyeh. 'Bout time, too."
MR. BOGGS IS DISGUSTED
The herd gained twelve miles by dark and would pass through the
northern fence by noon of the next day, for Cook's axe and monkey
wrench had been put to good use. For quite a distance there was no
fence: about a mile of barb wire had been pulled loose and was tangled
up into several large piles, while rings of burned grass and ashes
surrounded what was left of the posts. The cook had embraced this
opportunity to lay in a good supply of firewood and was the happiest
man in the outfit.
At ten o'clock that night eight figures loped westward along the
southern fence and three hours later dismounted near the first corral
of the 4X ranch. They put their horses in a depression on the plain
and then hastened to seek cover, being careful to make no noise.
At dawn the door of the bunk house opened quickly and as quickly
slammed shut again, three bullets in it being the reason. An uproar
ensued and guns spat from the two windows in the general direction of
the unseen besiegers, who did not bother about replying; they had
given notification of their presence and until it was necessary to
shoot there was no earthly use of wasting ammunition. Besides, the
drive outfit had cooled down rapidly when it found that its herd was
in no immediate danger and was not anxious to kill any one unless
there was need. The situation was conducive to humor rather than
anger. But every time the door moved it collected more lead, and it
finally remained shut.
The noise in the bunk house continued and finally a sombrero was waved
frantically at the south window and a moment later Nat Boggs, foreman
of the incarcerated 4X outfit, stuck his head out very cautiously and
yelled questions which bore directly on the situation and were to the
point. He appeared to be excited and unduly heated, if one might judge
from his words and voice. There was no reply, which still further
added to his heat and excitement. Becoming bolder and a little angrier
he allowed his impetuous nature to get the upper hand and forthwith
attempted the feat of getting through that same window; but a sharp
/pat!/ sounded on a board not a foot from him, and he reconsidered
hastily. His sombrero again waved to insist on a truce, and collected
two holes, causing him much mental anguish and threatening the loss of
his worthy soul. He danced up and down with great agility and no grace
and made remarks, thereby leading a full-voiced chorus.
"Ain't that a hell of a note?" he demanded plaintively as he paused
for breath. "Stick /yore/ hat out, Cranky, an' see what /you/ can do,"
he suggested, irritably.
Cranky Joe regarded him with pity and reproach, and moved back towards
the other end of the room, muttering softly to himself. "I know it
ain't much of a bonnet, but he needn't rub it in," he growled,
"Try again; mebby they didn't see you," suggested Jim Larkin, who had
a reputation for never making a joke. He escaped with his life and
checked himself at the side of Cranky Joe, with whom he conferred on
the harshness of the world towards unfortunates.
The rest of the morning was spent in snipe-shooting at random,
trusting to luck to hit some one, and trusting in vain. At noon Cranky
Joe could stand the strain no longer and opened the door just a little
to relive the monotony. He succeeded, being blessed with a smashed
shoulder, and immediately became a general nuisance, adding greatly to
the prevailing atmosphere. Boggs called him a few kinds of fools and
hastened to nail the door shut; he hit his thumb and his heart became
filled with venom.
"/Now/ look at what they went an' done!" he yelled, running around in
a circle. "Damned outrage!"
"Huh!" snorted Cranky Joe with maddening superiority. "That ain't
nothing--just look at me!"
Boggs looked, very fixedly, and showed signs of apoplexy, and Cranky
Joe returned to his end of the room to resume his soliloquy.
"Why don't you come out an' take them cows!" inquired an unkind voice
from without. "Ain't changed yore mind, have you?"
"We'll give you a drink for half a cent a head--that's the regular
price for watering cows," called another.
The faint ripple of mirth which ran around the plain was lost in
opinions loudly expressed within the room; and Boggs, tears of rage in
his eyes, flung himself down on a chair and invented new terms for
describing human beings.
John Terry was observing. He had been fluttering around the north
window, constantly getting bolder, and had not been disturbed. When he
withdrew his sombrero and found that it was intact he smiled to
himself and leaned his elbows on the sill, looking carefully around
the plain. The discovery that there was no cover on the north side
cheered him greatly and he called to Boggs, outlining a plan of
Boggs listened intently and then smiled for the first time since dawn.
"Bully for you, Terry!" he enthused. "Wait till dark--we'll fool 'em."
A bullet chipped the 'dobe at Terry's side and he ducked as he leaped
back. "From an angle--what did I tell you?" he laughed. "We'll drop
out here an' sneak behind the house after dark. They'll be watching
the door--an' they won't be able to see us, anyhow."
Boggs sucked his thumb tenderly and grinned. "After which--," he
"After which--," gravely repeated Terry, the others echoing it with
"Then, mebby, I can get a drink," chuckled Larkin, brightening under
"The moon comes up at ten," warned a voice. "It'll be full to-night--
an' there ain't many clouds in sight."
"/Ol' King Cole was a merry ol' soul/," hummed McQuade, lightly.
"An'--a--merry--ol'--soul--was--he!--was--he!" thundered the chorus,
deep-toned and strong. "/He had a wife for every toe, an' some toes
"Listen!" cried Meade, holding up his hand.
"/An' every wife had sixteen dogs, an' every dog a flea!/" shouted a
voice from the besiegers, followed by a roar of laughter.
The hilarity continued until dark, only stopping when John Terry
slipped out of the window, dropped to all-fours and stuck his head
around the corner of the rear wall. He saw many stars and was silently
handed to Pete Wilson.
"What was that noise?" exclaimed Boggs in a low tone. "Are you all
right, Terry?" he asked, anxiously.
Three knocks on the wall replied to his question and then McQuade went
out, and three more knocks were heard.
"Wonder why they make that funny noise," muttered Boggs.
"Bumped inter something, I reckon," replied Jim Larkin. "Get out of my
Boggs listened intently and then pushed Duke Lane back. "Don't like
that--sounds like a crack on the head. Hey, Jim! /Say/ something!" he
called softly. The three knocks were repeated, but Boggs was
suspicious and he shook his head decisively. "To 'ell with the
"Still got them twelve men?" asked a strange voice, pleasantly.
"/An' every dog a flea/," hummed another around the corner.
"Hell!" shouted Boggs. "To the door, fellers! To the door--quick!"
A whistle shrilled from behind the house and a leaden tattoo began on
the door. "Other window!" whispered O'Neill. The foreman got there
before him and, shoving his Colt out first to clear the way, yelled
with rage and pain as a pole hit his wrist and knocked the weapon out
of his hand. He was still commenting when Duke Lane pried open the
door and, dropping quickly on his stomach, wriggled out, followed
closely by Charley Beal and Tim. At that instant the tattoo drummed
with greater vigor and such a hail of lead poured in through the
opening that the door was promptly closed, leaving the three men
outside to shift for themselves with the darkness their only cover.
Duke and his companions whispered together as they lay flat and agreed
upon a plan of action. Going around the ends of the house was suicide
and no better than waiting for the rising moon to show them to the
enemy; but there was no reason why the roof could not be utilized. Tim
and Charley boosted Duke up, then Tim followed, and the pair on the
roof pulled Charley to their side. Flat roofs were great institutions
they decided as they crawled cautiously towards the other side. This
roof was of hard, sun-baked adobe, over two feet thick, and they did
not care if their friends shot up on a gamble.
"Fine place, all right," thought Charley, grinning broadly. Then he
turned an agonized face to Tim, his chest rising. "/Hitch! Hitch!/" he
choked, fighting with all his will to master it. "/Hitch-chew! Hitch-
chew! Hitch-chew!/" he sneezed, loudly. There was a scramble below and
a ripple of mirth floated up to them.
"/Hitch-chew/?" jeered a voice. "What do we want to hit you for?"
"Look us over, children," invited another.
"Wait until the moon comes up," chuckled the third. "Be like knocking
the nigger baby down for Red an' the others. Ladies and gents: We'll
now have a little sketch entitled 'Shooting snipe by moonlight.'"
"Jack-snipe, too," laughed Pete. "Will somebody please hold the bag?"
The silence on the roof was profound and the three on the ground tried
"Let me call yore attention to the trained coyotes, ladies an' gents,"
remarked Johnny in a deep, solemn voice. "Coyotes are not birds; they
do not roost on roofs as a general thing; but they are some
intelligent an' can be trained to do lots of foolish tricks. These
"Step this way, people; on-ly ten cents, two nickels," interrupted
Pete. "They bark like dogs, an' howl like hell."
"Shut up!" snapped Tim, angrily.
"After the moon comes up," said Hopalong, "when you fellers get tired
dodging, you can chuck us yore guns an' come down. An' don't forget
that this side of the house is much the safest," he warned.
"Go to hell!" snarled Duke, bitterly.
"Won't; they're laying for me down there."
Johnny crawled to the north end of the wall and, looking cautiously
around the corner, funnelled his hands: "On the roof, Red! On the
"Yes, dear," was the reply, followed by gun-shots.
"Hey! Move over!" snapped Tim, working towards the edge furthest from
the cheerful Red, whose bullets were not as accurate in the dark as
they promised to become in a few minutes when the moon should come up.
"Want to shove me off?" snarled Charley, angrily. "For heaven's sake,
Duke, do you want the whole earth?" he demanded of his second
"You just bet yore shirt I do! An' I want a hole in it, too!"
"Ain't you got no sense?"
"Would I be up here if I had?"
"It's going to be hot as blazes up here when the sun gets high,"
cheerfully prophesied Tim: "an' dry, too," he added for a finishing
"We'll be lucky if we're live enough to worry about the sun's heat--
/say/, that was a /close/ one!" exclaimed Duke, frantically trying to
flatten a little more. "Ah, thought so--there's that blamed moon!"
"Wish I'd gone out the window instead," growled Charley, worming
behind Duke, to the latter's prompt displeasure.
"You fellers better come down, one at a time," came from below. "Send
yore guns down first, too. Red's a blamed good shot."
"Hope he croaks," muttered Duke. "/That's/ closer yet!"
Tim's hand raised and a flash of fire singed Charley's hair. "Got to
do something, anyhow," he explained, lowering the Colt and peering
across the plain.
"You damned near succeeded!" shouted Charley, grabbing at his head.
"Why, they're three hundred, an' you trying for 'em with a--/oh!/" he
"Locoed fool!" swore Duke, "showing 'em where we are! They're doing
good enough as it is! You ought--got /you/, too!"
"/I'm/ going down--that blamed fool out there ain't caring what he
hits," mumbled Charley, clenching his hands from pain. He slid over
the edge and Pete grabbed him.
"Next," suggested Pete, expectantly.
Tim tossed his Colt over the edge. "Here's another," he swore,
following the weapon. He was grabbed and bound in a trice.
"When may we expect you, Mr. Duke?" asked Johnny, looking up.
"Presently, friend, presently. I want to--/wow/!" he finished, and
lost no time in his descent, which was meteoric. "That feller'll
/kill/ somebody if he ain't careful!" he complained as Pete tied his
hands behind his back.
"You wait till daylight an' see," cheerily replied Pete as the three
were led off to join their friends in the corral.
There was no further action until the sun arose and then Hopalong
hailed the house and demanded a parley, and soon he and Boggs met
midway between the shack and the line.
"What d'you want?" asked Boggs, sullenly.
"Want you to stop this farce so I can go on with my drive."
"Well, I ain't holding you!" exploded the 4X foreman.
"Oh, yes; but you are. I can't let you an' yore men out to hang on our
flanks an' worry us; an' I don't want to hold you in that shack till
you all die of thirst, or come out to be all shot up. Besides, I can't
fool around here for a week; I got business to look after."
"Don't you worry about us dying with thirst; that ain't worrying us
"I heard different," replied Hopalong, smiling. "Them fellers in the
corral drank a quart apiece. See here, Boggs; you can't win, an' you
know it. Yo're not bucking me, but the whole range, the whole country.
It's a fight between conditions--the fence idea agin the open range
idea, an' open trails. The fence will lose. You closed a drive trail
that's 'most as old as cow-raising. Will the punchers of this part of
the country stand for it? Suppose you lick us,--which you won't--can
you lick all the rest of us, the JD, Wallace's, Double-Arrow, C-80,
Cross-O-Cross, an' the others! That's just what it amounts to, an' you
better stop right now, before somebody gets killed. You know what that
means in this section. Yo're six to our eight, you ain't got a drink
in that shack, an' you dasn't try to get one. You can't do a thing
agin us, an' you know it."
Boggs rested his hands on his hips and considered, Hopalong waiting
for him to reply. He knew that the Bar-20 man was right but he hated
to admit it, he hated to say he was whipped.
"Are any of them six hurt?" he finally asked.
"Only scratches an' sore heads," responded Hopalong, smiling. "We
ain't tried to kill anybody, yet. I'm putting that up to you."
Boggs made no reply and Hopalong continued: "I got six of yore twelve
men prisoners, an' all yore cayuses are in my han's. I'll shoot every
animal before I'll leave 'em for you to use against me, an' I'll take
enough of yore cows to make up for what I lost by that fence. You've
got to pay for them dead cows, anyhow. If I do let you out you'll have
to road-brand me two hundred, or pay cash. My herd ain't worrying me--
it's moving all the time. It's through that other fence by now. An' if
I have to keep my outfit here to pen you in or shoot you off I can
send to the JD for a gang to push the herd. Don't make no mistake:
yo're getting off easy. Suppose one of my men had been killed at the
"Well, what do you want me to do?"
"Stop this foolishness an' take down them fences for a mile each side
of the trail. If Buck has to come up here the whole thing'll go down.
Road-brand me two hundred of yore three-year-olds. Now as soon as you
agree, an' say that the fight's over, it will be. You can't win out;
an' what's the use of having yore men killed off?"
"I hate to quit," replied the other, gloomily.
"I know how that is; but yo're wrong on this question, dead wrong. You
don't own this range or the trail. You ain't got no right to close
that old drive trail. Honest, now; have you?"
"You say them six ain't hurt?"
"No more'n I said."
"An' if I give in will you treat my men right?"
"When will you leave."
"Just as soon as I get them two hundred three-year-olds."
"Well, I hate a quitter; but I can't do nothing, nohow," mused the 4X
foreman. He cleared his throat and turned to look at the house. "All
right; when you get them cows you get out of here, an' don't never
Hopalong flung his arm with a shout to his men and the other kicked
savagely at an inoffensive stick and slouched back to his bunk house,
a beaten man.
TEX EWALT HUNTS TROUBLE
Not more than a few weeks after the Bar-20 drive outfit returned to
the ranch a solitary horseman pushed on towards the trail they had
followed, bound for Buckskin and the Bar-20 range. His name was Tex
Ewalt and he cordially hated all of the Bar-20 outfit and Hopalong in
particular. He had nursed a grudge for several years and now, as he
rode south to rid himself of it and to pay a long-standing debt, it
grew stronger until he thrilled with anticipation and the sauce of
danger. This grudge had been acquired when he and Slim Travennes had
enjoyed a duel with Hopalong Cassidy up in Santa Fe, and had been
worsted; it had increased when he learned of Slim's death at Cactus
Springs at the hands of Hopalong; and, some time later, hearing that
two friends of his, "Slippery" Trendley and "Deacon" Rankin, with
their gang, had "gone out" in the Panhandle with the same man and his
friends responsible for it, Tex hastened to Muddy Wells to even the
score and clean his slate. Even now his face burned when he remembered
his experiences on that never-to-be-forgotten occasion. He had been
played with, ridiculed, and shamed, until he fled from the town as a
place accursed, hating everything and everybody. It galled him to
think that he had allowed Buck Peters' momentary sympathy to turn him
from his purpose, even though he was convinced that the foreman's
action had saved his life. And now Tex was returning, not to Muddy
Wells, but to the range where the Bar-20 outfit held sway.
Several years of clean living had improved Tex, morally and
physically. The liquor he had once been in the habit of consuming had
been reduced to a negligible quantity; he spent the money on
cartridges instead, and his pistol work showed the results of careful
and dogged practice, particularly in the quickness of the draw.
Punching cows on a remote northern range had repaid him in health far
more than his old game of living on his wits and other people's lack
of them, as proved by his clear eye and the pink showing through the
tan above his beard; while his somber, steady gaze, due to long-held
fixity of purpose, indicated the resourcefulness of a perfectly
reliable set of nerves. His low-hung holster tied securely to his
trousers leg to assure smoothness in drawing, the restrained swing of
his right hand, never far from the well-worn scabbard which sheathed a
triggerless Colt's "Frontier"--these showed the confident and ready
gun-man, the man who seldom missed. "Frontiers" left the factory with
triggers attached, but the absence of that part did not always
incapacitate a weapon. Some men found that the regular method was too
slow, and painstakingly cultivated the art of thumbing the hammer.
"Thumbing" was believed to save the split second so valuable to a man
in argument with his peers. Tex was riding with the set purpose of
picking a fair fight with the best six-shooter expert it had ever been
his misfortune to meet, and he needed that split second. He knew that
he needed it and the knowledge thrilled him with a peculiar elation;
he had changed greatly in the past year and now he wanted an "even
break" where once he would have called all his wits into play to avoid
it. He had found himself and now he acknowledged no superior in
On his way south he met and talked with men who had known him, the old
Tex, in the days when he had made his living precariously. They did
not recognize him behind his beard, and he was content to let the
oversight pass. But from these few he learned what he wished to know,
and he was glad that Hopalong Cassidy was where he had always been,
and that his gun-work had improved rather than depreciated with the
passing of time. He wished to prove himself master of The Master, and
to be hailed as such by those who had jeered and laughed at his
ignominy several years before. So he rode on day after day, smiling
and content, neither under-rating nor over-rating his enemy's ability
with one weapon, but trying to think of him as he really was. He knew
that if there was any difference between Hopalong Cassidy and himself
that it must be very slight--perhaps so slight as to result fatally to
both; but if that were so then it would have to work out as it saw fit
--he at least would have accomplished what many, many others had
In the little town of Buckskin, known hardly more than locally, and
never thought of by outsiders except as the place where the Bar-20
spent their spare time and money, and neutral ground for the
surrounding ranches, was Cowan's saloon, in the dozen years of its
existence the scene of good stories, boisterous fun, and quick deaths.
Put together roughly, of crude materials, sticking up in inartistic
prominence on the dusty edge of a dustier street; warped, bleached by
the sun, and patched with boards ripped from packing cases and with
the flattened sides of tin cans; low of ceiling, the floor one huge
brown discoloration of spring, creaking boards, knotted and split and
worn into hollows, the unpretentious building offered its hospitality
to all who might be tempted by the scrawled, sprawled lettering of its
sign. The walls were smoke-blackened, pitted with numerous small and
clear-cut holes, and decorated with initials carelessly cut by men who
had come and gone.
Such was Cowan's, the best patronized place in many hot and dusty
miles and the Mecca of the cowboys from the surrounding ranches. Often
at night these riders of the range gathered in the humble building and
told tales of exceeding interest; and on these occasions one might see
a row of ponies standing before the building, heads down and quiet. It
is strange how alike cow-ponies look in the dim light of the stars. On
the south side of the saloon, weak, yellow lamp light filtered through
the dirt on the window panes and fell in distorted patches on the
plain, blotched in places by the shadows of the wooden substitutes for
It was a moonlight night late in the fall, after the last beef round-
up was over and the last drive outfit home again, that two cow-ponies
stood in front of Cowan's while their owners lolled against the bar
and talked over the latest sensation--the fencing in of the West
Valley range, and the way Hopalong Cassidy and his trail outfit had
opened up the old drive trail across it. The news was a month old, but
it was the last event of any importance and was still good to laugh
"Boys," remarked the proprietor, "I want you to meet Mr. Elkins. He
came down that trail last week, an' he didn't see no fence across it."
The man at the table arose slowly. "Mr. Elkins, this is Sandy Lucas,
an' Wood Wright, of the C-80. Mr. Elkins here has been a-looking over
the country, sizing up what the beef prospects will be for next year;
an' he knows all about wire fences. Here's how," he smiled, treating
on the house.
Mr. Elkins touched the glass to his bearded lips and set it down
untasted while he joked over the sharp rebuff so lately administered
to wire fences in that part of the country. While he was an ex-cow-
puncher he believed that he was above allowing prejudice to sway his
judgment, and it was his opinion, after careful thought, that barb
wire was harmful to the best interests of the range. He had ridden
over a great part of the cattle country in the last few yeas, and
after reviewing the existing conditions as he understood them, his
verdict must go as stated, and emphatically. He launched gracefully
into a slowly delivered and lengthy discourse upon the subject, which
proved to be so entertaining that his companions were content to
listen and nod with comprehension. They had never met any one who was
so well qualified to discuss the pros and cons of the barb-wire fence
question, and they learned many things which they had never heard
before. This was very gratifying to Mr. Elkins, who drew largely upon
hearsay, his own vivid imagination, and a healthy logic. He was very
glad to talk to men who had the welfare of the range at heart, and he
hoped soon to meet the man who had taken the initiative in giving barb
wire its first serious setback on that rich and magnificent southern
"You shore ought to meet Cassidy--he's a fine man," remarked Lucas
with enthusiasm. "You'll not find any better, no matter where you
look. But you ain't touched yore liquor," he finished with surprise.
"You'll have to excuse me, gentlemen," replied Mr. Elkins, smiling
deprecatingly. "When a man likes it as much as I do it ain't very easy
to foller instructions an' let it alone. Sometimes I almost break
loose an' indulge, regardless of whether it kills me or not. I reckon
it'll get me yet." He struck the bar a resounding blow with his
clenched hand. "But I ain't going to cave in till I has to!"
"That's purty tough," sympathized Wood Wright, reflectively. "I ain't
so very much taken with it, but I know I would be if I knowed I
couldn't have any."
"Yes, that's human nature, all right," laughed Lucas. "That reminds me
of a little thing that happened to me once--"
"Listen!" exclaimed Cowan, holding up his hand for silence. "I reckon
that's the Bar-20 now, or some of it--sounds like them when they're
feeling frisky. There's allus something happening when them fellers
The proprietor was right, as proved a moment later when Johnny Nelson,
continuing his argument, pushed open the door and entered the room. "I
didn't neither; an' you know it!" he flung over his shoulder.
"Then who did?" demanded Hopalong, chuckling. "Why, hullo, boys," he
said, nodding to his friends at the bar. "Nobody else would do a fool
thing like that; nobody but you, Kid," he added, turning to Johnny.
"I don't care a hang what you think; I say I didn't an'--"
"He shore did, all right; I seen him just afterward," laughed Billy
Williams, pressing close upon Hopalong's heels. "Howdy, Lucas; an'
there's that ol' coyote, Wood Wright. How's everybody feeling?"
"Where's the rest of you fellers?" inquired Cowan.
"Stayed home to-night," replied Hopalong.
"Got any loose money, you two?" asked Billy, grinning at Lucas and
"I reckon we have--an' our credit's good if we ain't. We're good for a
dollar or two, ain't we, Cowan?" replied Lucas.
"Two dollars an' four bits," corrected Cowan. "I'll raise it to three
dollars even when you pay me that 'leven cents you owe me."
"'Leven cents? What 'leven cents?"
"Postage stamps an' envelope for that love letter you writ."
"Go to blazes; that wasn't no love letter!" snorted Lucas,
indignantly. "That was my quarterly report. I never did write no love
"We'll trim you fellers to-night, if you've got the nerve to play us,"
grinned Johnny, expectantly.
"Yes; an' we've got that, too. Give us the cards, Cowan," requested
Wood Wright, turning. "They won't give us no peace till we take all
their money away from 'em."
"Open game," prompted Cowan, glancing meaningly at Elkins, who stood
by idly looking on, and without showing much interest in the scene.
"Shore! Everybody can come in what wants to," replied Lucas, heartily,
leading the others to the table. "I allus did like a six-handed game
best--all the cards are out an' there's some excitement in it."
When the deal began Elkins was seated across the table from Hopalong,
facing him for the first time since that day over in Muddy Wells, and
studying him closely. He found no changes, for the few years had left
no trace of their passing on the Bar-20 puncher. The sensation of
facing the man he had come south expressly to kill did not interfere
with Elkins' card-playing ability for he played a good game; and as if
the Fates were with him it was Hopalong's night off as far as poker
was concerned, for his customary good luck was not in evidence. That
instinctive feeling which singles out two duellists in a card game was
soon experienced by the others, who were careful, as became good
players, to avoid being caught between them; in consequence, when the
game broke up, Elkins had most of Hopalong's money. At one period of
his life Elkins had lived on poker for five years, and lived well. But
he gained more than money in this game, for he had made friends with
the players and placed the first wire of his trap. Of those in the
room Hopalong alone treated him with reserve, and this was cleverly
swung so that it appeared to be caused by a temporary grouch due to
the sting of defeat. As the Bar-20 man was known to be given to moods
at times this was accepted as the true explanation and gave promise of
hotly contested games for revenge later on. The banter which the
defeated puncher had to endure stirred him and strengthened the
reserve, although he was careful not to show it.
When the last man rode off, Elkins and the proprietor sought their
bunks without delay, the former to lie awake a long time, thinking
deeply. He was vexed at himself for failing to work out an acceptable
plan of action, one that would show him to be in the right. He would
gain nothing more than glory, and pay too dearly for it, if he killed
Hopalong and was in turn killed by the dead man's friends--and he
believed that he had become acquainted with the quality of the
friendship which bound the units of the Bar-20 outfit into a smooth,
firm whole. They were like brothers, like one man. Cassidy must do the
forcing as far as appearances went, and be clearly in the wrong before
the matter could be settled.
The next week was a busy one for Elkins, every day finding him in the
saddle and riding over some one of the surrounding ranches with one or
more of its punchers for company. In this way he became acquainted
with the men who might be called on to act as his jury when the
showdown came, and he proceeded to make friends of them in a manner
that promised success. And some of his suggestions for the improvement
of certain conditions on the range, while they might not work out
right in the long run, compelled thought and showed his interest. His
remarks on the condition and numbers of cattle were the same in
substance in all cases and showed that he knew what he was talking
about, for the punchers were all very optimistic about the next year's
showing in cattle.
"If you fellers don't break all records for drive herds of quality
next year I don't know nothing about cows; an' I shore don't know
nothing else," he told the foreman of the Bar-20, as they rode
homeward after an inspection of that ranch. "There'll be more dust
hanging over the drive trails leading from this section next year when
spring drops the barriers than ever before. You needn't fear for the
market, neither--prices will stand. The north an' central ranges ain't
doing what they ought to this year--it'll be up to you fellers down
south, here, to make that up; an' you can do it." This was not a
guess, but the result of thought and study based on the observations
he had made on his ride south, and from what he had learned from
others along the way. It paralleled Buck's own private opinion,
especially in regard to the southern range; and the vague suspicions
in the foreman's mind disappeared for good and all.
Needless to say Elkins was a welcome visitor at the ranch houses and
was regarded as a good fellow. At the Bar-20 he found only two men who
would not thaw to him, and he was possessed of too much tact to try
any persuasive measures. One was Hopalong, whose original cold reserve
seemed to be growing steadily, the Bar-20 puncher finding in Elkins a
personality that charged the atmosphere with hostility and quietly
rubbed him the wrong way. Whenever he was in the presence of the
newcomer he felt the tugging of an irritating and insistent antagonism
and he did not always fully conceal it. John Bartlett, Lucas, and one
or two of the more observing had noticed it and they began to prophesy
future trouble between the two. The other man who disliked Elkins was
Red Connors; but what was more natural? Red, being Hopalong's closest
companion, would be very apt to share his friend's antipathy. On the
other hand, as if to prove Hopalong's dislike to be unwarranted,
Johnny Nelson swung far to the other extreme and was frankly
enthusiastic in his liking for the cattle scout. And Johnny did not
pour oil on the waters when he laughingly twitted Hopalong for
allowing "a licking at cards to make him sore." This was the idea that
Elkins was quietly striving to have generally accepted.
The affair thus hung fire, Elkins chafing at the delay and cautiously
working for an opening, which at last presented itself, to be promptly
seized. By a sort of mutual, unspoken agreement, the men in Cowan's
that night passed up the cards and sat swapping stories. Cowan,
swearing at a smoking lamp, looked up with a grin and burned his
fingers as a roar of laughter marked the point of a droll reminiscence
told by Bartlett.
"That's a good story, Bartlett," Elkins remarked, slowing refilling
his pipe. "Reminds me of the lame Greaser, Hippy Joe, an' the canned
oysters. They was both bad, an' neither of 'em knew it till they came
together. It was like this. . . ." The malicious side glance went
unseen by all but Hopalong, who stiffened with the raging suspicion of
being twitted on his own deformity. The humor of the tale failed to
appeal to him, and when his full senses returned Lucas was in the
midst of the story of the deadly game of tag played in a ten-acre lot
of dense underbrush by two of his old-time friends. It was a tale of
gripping interest and his auditors were leaning forward in their
eagerness not to miss a word. "An' Pierce won," finished Lucas; "some
shot up, but able to get about. He was all right in a couple of weeks.
But he was bound to win; he could shoot all around Sam Hopkins."
"But the best shot won't allus win in that game," commented Elkins.
"That's one of the minor factors."
"Yes, sir! It's /luck/ that counts there," endorsed Bartlett, quickly.
"Luck, nine times out of ten."
"Best shot ought to win," declared Skinny Thompson. "It ain't all
luck, nohow. Where'd I be against Hoppy, there?"
"Won't neither!" cried Johnny, excitedly. "The man who sees the other
first wins out. That's wood-craft, an' brains."
"Aw! What do you know about it, anyhow?" demanded Lucas. "If he can't
shoot so good what chance has he got--if he misses the first try, what
"What chance has he got! First chance, miss or no miss. If he can't
see the other first, where the devil does his good shooting come in?"
"Huh!" snorted Wood Wright, belligerently. "Any fool can /see/, but he
can't /shoot/! An' it's as much luck as wood-craft, too, an' don't you
"The first shot don't win, Johnny; not in a game like that, with all
the dodging an' ducking," remarked Red. "You can't put one where you
want it when a feller's slipping around in the brush. It's the most
that counts, an' the best shot gets in the most. I wouldn't want to
have to stand up against Hoppy an' a short gun, not in that game; no,
sir!" and Red shook his head with decision.
The argument waxed hot. With the exception of Hopalong, who sat
silently watchful, every one spoke his opinion and repeated it without
regard to the others. It appeared that in this game, the man with the
strongest lungs would eventually win out, and each man tried to show
his superiority in that line. Finally, above the uproar, Cowan's
bellow was herd, and he kept it up until some notice was taken of it.
"Shut up! /Shut up/! For God's sake, /quit/! Never saw such a bunch of
tinder--let somebody drop a cold, burned-out match in this gang, an'
hell's to pay. Here, /all/ of you, play cards an' forget about cross-
tag in the scrub. You'll be arguing about playing marbles in the dark
"All right," muttered Johnny, "but just the same, the man who--"
"Never mind about the man who! Did you hear /me/?" yelled Cowan,
swiftly reaching for a bucket of water. "/This/ is a game where /I/
gets the most in, an' don't forget it!"
"Come on; play cards," growled Lucas, who did not relish having his
decision questioned on his own story. Undoubtedly somewhere in the
wide, wide world there was such a thing as common courtesy, but none
of it had ever strayed onto that range.
The chairs scraped on the rough floor as the men pulled up to a table.
"I don't care a hang," came Elkins' final comment as he shuffled the
cards with careful attention. "I'm not any fancy Colt expert, but I'm
damned if I won't take a chance in that game with any man as totes a
gun. Leastawise, of /course/, I wouldn't take no such advantage of a
The effect would have been ludicrous but for its deadly significance.
Cowan, stooping to go under the bar, remained in that hunched-up
attitude, his every faculty concentrated in his ears; the match on its
way to the cigarette between Red's lips was held until it burned his
fingers, when it was dropped from mere reflex action, the hand still
stiffly aloft; Lucas, half in and half out of his chair, seemed to
have got just where he intended, making no effort to seat himself.
Skinny Thompson, his hand on his gun, seemed paralyzed; his mouth was
open to frame a reply that never was uttered and he stared through
narrowed eyelids at the blunderer. The sole movement in the room was
the slow rising of Hopalong and the markedly innocent shuffling of the
cards by Elkins, who appeared to be entirely ignorant of the weight
and effect of his words. He dropped the pack for the cut and then
looked up and around as if surprised by the silence and the
expressions he saw.
Hopalong stood facing him, leaning over with both hands on the table.
His voice, when he spoke, rumbled up from his chest in a low growl.
"You won't /have/ no advantage, Elkins. Take it from me, you've had
yore last fling. I'm glad you made it plain, this time, so it's
something I can take hold of." He straightened slowly and walked to
the door, and an audible sigh sounded through the room as it was
realized that trouble was not immediately imminent. At the door he
paused and turned back around, looking back over his shoulder. "At
noon to-morrow I'm going to hoof it north through the brush between
the river an' the river trail, starting at the old ford a mile down
the river." He waited expectantly.
"Me too--only the other way," was the instant rejoinder. "Have it yore
Hopalong nodded and the closing door shut him out into the night.
Without a word the Bar-20 men arose and followed him, the only
hesitant being Johnny, who was torn between loyalty and new-found
friendship; but with a sorrowful shake of the head, he turned away and
passed out, not far behind the others.
"Clannish, ain't they?" remarked Elkins, gravely.
Those remaining were regarding him sternly, questioningly, Cowan with
a deep frown darkening his face. "You hadn't ought to 'a' said that,
Elkins." The reproof was almost an accusation.
Elkins looked steadily at the speaker. "You hadn't ought to 'a' let me
say it," he replied. "How did I know he was so touchy?" His gaze left
Cowan and lingered in turn on each of the others. "Some of you ought
to 'a' told me. I wouldn't 'a' said it only for what I said just
before, an' I didn't want him to think I was challenging him to no
duel in the brush. So I says so, an' then he goes an' takes it up that
I /am/ challenging him. I ain't got no call to fight with nobody.
Ain't I tried to keep out of trouble with him ever since I've been
here? Ain't I kept out of the poker games on his account? Ain't I?"
The grave, even tones were dispassionate, without a trace of animus
and serenely sure of justice.
The faces around him cleared gradually and heads began to nod in
"Yes, I reckon you have," agreed Cowan, slowly, but the frown was not
entirely gone. "Yes, I reckon--mebby--you have."
It was noon by the sun when Hopalong and Red shook hands south of the
old ford and the former turned to enter the brush. Hopalong was cool
and ominously calm while his companion was the opposite. Red was
frankly suspicious of the whole affair and nursed the private opinion
that Mr. Elkins would lay in ambush and shoot his enemy down like a
dog. And Red had promised himself a dozen times that he would study
the signs around the scene of action if Hopalong should not come back,
and take a keen delight, if warranted, in shooting Mr. Elkins full of
holes with no regard for an even break. He was thinking the matter
over as his friend breasted the first line of brush and could not
refrain from giving a slight warning. "Get him, Hoppy," he called,
earnestly; "get him good. Let /him/ do some of the moving about. I'll
be here waiting for you."
Hopalong smiled in reply and sprang forward, the leaves and branches
quickly shutting him from Red's sight. He had worked out his plan of
action the night before when he was alone and the world was still, and
as soon as he had it to his satisfaction he had dropped off to sleep
as easily as a child--it took more than gun-play to disturb his
nerves. He glanced about him to make sure of his bearings and then
struck on a curving line for the river. The first hundred yards were
covered with speed and then he began to move more slowly and with
greater regard for caution, keeping close to the earth and showing a
marked preference for low ground. Sky-lines were all right in times of
peace, but under the present conditions they promised to become
unhealthy. His eyes and ears told him nothing for a quarter of an
hour, and then he suddenly stopped short and crouched as he saw the
plain trail of a man crossing his own direction at a right angle. From
the bottom of one of the heel prints a crushed leaf was slowly rising
back towards its original position, telling him how new the trail was;
and as if this were not enough for his trained mind he heard a twig
snap sharply as he glanced along the line of prints. It sounded very
close, and he dropped instantly to one knee and thought quickly. Why
had the other left so plain a trail, why had he reached up and broken
twigs that projected above his head as he passed? Why had he kicked
aside a small stone, leaving a patch of moist, bleached grass to tell
where it had lain? Elkins had stumbled here, but there were no toe
marks to tell of it. Hopalong would not track, for he was no assassin;
but he knew that he would do if he were, and careless. The answer
leaped to his suspicious mind like a flash, and he did not care to
waste any time in trying to determine whether or not Elkins was
capable of such a trick. He acted on the presumption that the trail
had been made plain for a good reason, and that not far ahead at some
suitable place,--and there were any number of such within a hundred
yards,--the maker of the plain trail lay in wait. Smiling savagely he
worked backward and turning, struck off in a circle. He had no
compunctions whatever now about shooting the other player of the game.
It was not long before he came upon the same trail again and he
started another circle. A bullet /zipped/ past his ear and cut a twig
not two inches from his head. He fired at the smoke as he dropped, and
then wriggled rapidly backward, keeping as flat to the earth as he
could. Elkins had taken up his position in a thicket which stood in
the centre of a level patch of sand in the old bed of the river,--the
bed it had used five years before and forsaken at the time of the big
flood when it cut itself a new channel and made the U-bend which now
surrounded this piece of land on three sides. Even now, during the
rainy season, the thicket which sheltered Mr. Elkins was frequently an
island in a sluggish, shallow overflow.
"Hole up, blast you!" jeered Hopalong, hugging the ground. The second
bullet from Mr. Elkins' gun cut another twig, this one just over his
head, and he laughed insolently. "I ain't ascared to do the moving,
even if you are. Judging from the way you keep out o' sight the canned
oysters are in the can again. /I/ never did no ambushing, you coyote."
"You can't make remarks like that an' get away with 'em--I've knowed
you too long," retorted Elkins, shifting quickly, and none too soon.
"You went an' got Slim afore he was wide awake. I know /you/, all
Hopalong's surprise was but momentary, and his mind raced back over
the years. Who was this man Elkins, that he knew Slim Travennes?
"Yo're a liar, Elkins, an' so was the man who told you that!"
"Call me Ewalt," jeered the other, nastily. "Nobody'll hear it, an'
you'll not live to tell it. Ewalt, Tex Ewalt; call me that."
"So you've come back after all this time to make me get you, have you?
Well, I ain't a-going to shoot no buttons off you /this/ time. I allus
reckoned you learned something at Muddy Wells--but you'll learn it
here," Hopalong rejoined, sliding into a depression, and working with
great caution towards the dry river bed, where fallen trees and
hillocks of sand provided good cover in plenty. Everything was clear
now and despite the seriousness of the situation he could not repress
a smile as he remembered vividly that day at the carnival when Tex
Ewalt came to town with the determination to kill him and show him up
as an imitation. His grievance against Elkins was petty when compared
to that against Ewalt, and he began to force the issue. As he peered
over a stranded log he caught sight of his enemy disappearing into
another part of the thicket, and two of his three shots went home.
Elkins groaned with pain and fear as he realized that his right knee-
cap was broken and would make him slow in his movements. He was lamed
for life, even if he did come out of the duel alive; lamed in the same
way that Hopalong was--the affliction he had made cruel sport of had
come to him. But he had plenty of courage and he returned the fire
with remarkable quickness, his two shots sounding almost as one.
Hopalong wiped the blood from his cheek and wormed his way to a new
place; when half way there he called out again, "How's yore health--
Tex?" in mock sympathy.
Elkins lied manfully and when he looked to get in another shot his
enemy was on the farther bank, moving up to get behind him. He did not
know Hopalong's new position until he raised his head to glance down
over the dried river bed, and was informed by a bullet that nicked his
ear. As he ducked, another grazed his head, the third going wild. He
hazarded a return shot, and heard Hopalong's laugh ring out again.
"Like the story Lucas told, the best shot is going to win out this
time, too," the Bar-20 man remarked, grimly. "You thought a game like
this would give you some chance against a better shot, didn't you? You
are a fool."
"It ain't over yet, not by a damned sight!" came the retort.
"An' you thought you had a little the best of it if you stayed still
an' let me do the moving, didn't you? You'll learn something before I
get through with you: but it'll be too late to do you any good,"
Hopalong called, crouched below a hillock of sand so the other could
not take advantage of the words and single him out for a shot.
"You can't learn me nothing, you assassin; I've got my eyes open, this
time." He knew that he had had them open before, and that Hopalong was
in no way an assassin; but if he could enrage his enemy and sting him
into some reflex carelessness he might have the last laugh.
Elkins' retort was wasted, for the sudden and unusual, although a
familiar sound, had caught Hopalong's ear and he was giving all his
attention to it. While he weighed it, his incredulity holding back the
decision his common sense was striving to give him, the noise grew
louder rapidly and common sense won out in a cry of warning an instant
before a five-foot wall of brown water burst upon his sight, sweeping
swiftly down the old, dry river bed; and behind it towered another and
greater wall. Tree trunks were dancing end over end in it as if they
"Cloud-burst!" he yelled. "Run, Tex! Run for yore life! Cloud-burst up
the valley! Run, you fool; /Run/!"
Tex's sarcastic retort was cut short as he instinctively glanced
north, and his agonized curse lashed Hopalong forward. "Can't run--
knee cap's busted! Can't swim, can't do--ah, hell--!"
Hopalong saw him torn from his shelter and whisked down the raging
torrent like an arrow from a bow. The Bar-20 puncher leaped from the
bank, shot under the yellow flood and arose, gasping and choking many
yards downstream, fighting madly to get the muddy water out of his
throat and eyes. As he struck out with all his strength down the
current, he caught sight of Tex being torn from a jutting tree limb,
and he shouted encouragement and swam all the harder, if such a thing
were possible. Tex's course was checked for a moment by a boiling
back-current and as he again felt the pull of the rushing stream
Hopalong's hand gripped his collar and the fight for safety began.
Whirled against logs and stumps, drawn down by the weight of his
clothes and the frantic efforts of Tex to grasp him--fighting the
water and the man he was trying to save at the same time, his head
under water as often as it was out of it, and Tex's vise-like fingers
threatening him--he headed for the west shore against powerful cross-
currents that made his efforts seem useless. He seemed to get the
worst of every break. Once, when caught by a friendly current, they
were swung under an overhanging branch, but as Hopalong's hand shot up
to grasp it a submerged bush caught his feet and pulled him under, and
Tex's steel-like arms around his throat almost suffocated him before
he managed to beat the other into insensibility and break the hold.
"I'll let you go!" he threatened; but his hand grasped the other's
collar all the tighter and his fighting jaw was set with greater
determination than ever.
They shot out into the main stream, where the U-bend channel joined
the short-cut, and it looked miles wide to the exhausted puncher. He
was fighting only on his will now. He would not give up, though he
scarce could lift an arm, and his lungs seemed on fire. He did not
know whether Tex was dead or alive, but he would get the body ashore
with him, or go down trying. He bumped into a log and instinctively
grasped it. It turned, and when he came up again it was bobbing five
feet ahead of him. Ages seemed to pass before he flung his numb arm
over it and floated with it. He was not alone in the flood; a coyote
was pushing steadily across his path towards the nearer bank, and on a
gliding tree trunk crouched a frightened cougar, its ears flattened
and its sharp claws dug solidly through the bark. Here and there were
cattle and a snake wriggled smoothly past him, apparently as much at
home in the water as out of it. The log turned again and he just
managed to catch hold of it as he came up for the second time.
Things were growing black before his eyes and strange, weird ideas and
images floated through his brain. When he regained some part of his
senses he saw ahead of him a long, curling crest of yellow water and
foam, and he knew, vaguely, that it was pouring over a bar. The next
instant his feet struck bottom and he fought his way blindly and
slowly, with the stubborn determination of his kind, towards the
brush-covered point twenty feet away.
When he opened his eyes and looked around he became conscious of
excruciating pains and he closed them again to rest. His outflung hand
struck something that made him look around again, and he saw Tex
Ewalt, face down at his side. He released his grasp on the other's
collar and slowly the whole thing came to him, and then the necessity
for action, unless he wished to lose what he had fought so hard to
Anything short of the iron man Tex had become would have been dead
before this or have been finished by the mauling he now got from
Hopalong. But Tex groaned, gurgled a curse, and finally opened his
eyes upon his rescuer, who sank back with a grunt of satisfaction.
Slowly his intelligence returned as he looked steadily into Hopalong's
eyes, and with it came the realization of a strange truth: he did not
hate this man at all. Months of right living, days and nights of
honest labor shoulder to shoulder with men who respected him for his
ability and accepted him as one of themselves, had made a new man of
him, although the legacy of hatred from the old Tex had disguised him
from himself until now; but the new Tex, battered, shot-up, nearly
drowned, looked at his old enemy and saw him for the man he really
was. He smiled faintly and reached out his hand.
"Cassidy, yo're the boss," he said. "Shake."