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A Friend In Need








From: Bar-20 Days

Stevenson, having started the fire for breakfast, took a pail and
departed towards the spring; but he got no farther than the corral gate,
where he dropped the pail and stared. There was only one horse in the
enclosure where the night before there had been four. He wasted no time
in surmises, but wheeled and dashed back towards the hotel, and his
vigorous shouts brought Old John to the door, sleepy and peevish. Old
John's mouth dropped open as he beheld his habitually indolent host
marking off long distances on the sand with each falling foot.

"What's got inter you?" demanded Old John.

"Our broncs are gone! Our broncs are gone!" yelled Stevenson, shoving
Old John roughly to one side as he dashed through the doorway and on
into the room he had assigned to the sullen and bibulous stranger. "I
knowed it! I knowed it!" he wailed, popping out again as if on springs.
"He's gone, an' he's took our broncs with him, the measly, low-down dog!
I knowed he wasn't no good! I could see it in his eye; an' he wasn't
drunk, not by a darn sight. Go out an' see for yoreself if they ain't
gone!" he snapped in reply to Old John's look. "Go on out, while I throw
some cold grub on the table--won't have no time this morning to do no
cooking. He's got five hours' start on us, an' it'll take some right
smart riding to get him before dark; but we'll do it, an' hang him,
too!"

"What's all this here rumpus?" demanded a sleepy voice from upstairs.
"Who's hanged?" and Charley entered the room, very much interested. His
interest increased remarkably when the calamity was made known and he
lost no time in joining Old John in the corral to verify the news.

Old John waved his hands over the scene and carefully explained what
he had read in the tracks, to his companion's great irritation, for
Charley's keen eyes and good training had already told him all there
was to learn; and his reading did not exactly agree with that of his
companion.

"Charley, he's gone and took our cayuses; an' that's the very way he
came--'round the corner of the hotel. He got all tangled up an' fell
over there, an' here he bumped inter the palisade, an' dropped his
saddle. When he opened the bars he took my roan gelding because it was
the best an' fastest, an' then he let out the others to mix us up on
the tracks. See how he went? Had to hop four times on one foot afore he
could get inter the saddle. An' that proves he was sober, for no drunk
could hop four times like that without falling down an' being drug to
death. An' he left his own critter behind because he knowed it wasn't no
good. It's all as plain as the nose on your face, Charley," and Old John
proudly rubbed his ear. "Hee, hee, hee! You can't fool Old John, even if
he is getting old. No, sir, b' gum."

Charley had just returned from inside the corral, where he had looked
at the brand on the far side of the one horse left, and he waited
impatiently for his companion to cease talking. He took quick advantage
of the first pause Old John made and spoke crisply.

"I don't care what corner he came 'round, or what he bumped inter; an'
any fool can see that. An' if he left that cayuse behind because he
thought it wasn't no good, he was drunk. That's a Bar-20 cayuse, an'
no hoss-thief ever worked for that ranch. He left it behind because
he stole it; that's why. An' he didn't let them others out because he
wanted to mix us up, neither. How'd he know if we couldn't tell the
tracks of our own animals? He did that to make us lose time; that's what
he did it for. An' he couldn't tell what bronc he took last night--it
was too dark. He must 'a' struck a match an' seen where that Bar-20
cayuse was an' then took the first one nearest that wasn't it. An' now
you tell me how the devil he knowed yourn was the fastest, which it
ain't," he finished, sarcastically, gloating over a chance to rub it
into the man he had always regarded as a windy old nuisance.

"Well, mebby what you said is--"

"Mebby nothing!" snapped Charley. "If he wanted to mix the tracks would
he 'a' hopped like that so we couldn't help telling what cayuse he rode?
He knowed we'd pick his trail quick, an' he knowed that every minute
counted; that's why he hopped--why, yore roan was going like the wind
afore he got in the saddle. If you don't believe it, look at them
toe-prints!"

"H'm; reckon yo're right, Charley. My eyes ain't nigh as good as they
once was. But I heard him say something 'bout Winchester," replied Old
John, glad to change the subject. "Bet he's going over there, too. He
won't get through that town on no critter wearing my brand. Everybody
knows that roan, an'--"

"Quit guessing!" snapped Charley, beginning to lose some of the tattered
remnant of his respect for old age. "He's a whole lot likely to head for
a town on a stolen cayuse, now ain't he! But we don't care where he's
heading; we'll foller the trail."

"Grub pile!" shouted Stevenson, and the two made haste to obey.

"Charley, gimme a chaw of yore tobacker," and Old John, biting off a
generous chunk, quietly slipped it into his pocket, there to lay until
after he had eaten his breakfast.

All talk was tabled while the three men gulped down a cold and
uninviting meal. Ten minutes later they had finished and separated to
find horses and spread the news; in fifteen more they had them and were
riding along the plain trail at top speed, with three other men close at
their heels. Three hundred yards from the corral they pounded out of
an arroyo, and Charley, who was leading, stood up in his stirrups and
looked keenly ahead. Another trail joined the one they were following
and ran with and on top of it. This, he reasoned, had been made by one
of the strays and would turn away soon. He kept his eyes looking
well ahead and soon saw that he was right in his surmise, and without
checking the speed of his horse in the slightest degree he went ahead
on the trail of the smaller hoof-prints. In a moment Old John spurred
forward and gained his side and began to argue hot-headedly.

"Hey! Charley!" he cried. "Why are you follering this track?" he
demanded.

"Because it's his; that's why."

"Well, here, wait a minute!" and Old John was getting red from
excitement. "How do you know it is? Mebby he took the other!"

"He started out on the cayuse that made these little tracks," retorted
Charley, "an' I don't see no reason to think he swapped animules. Don't
you know the prints of yore own cayuse?"

"Lawd, no!" answered Old John. "Why, I don't hardly ride the same cayuse
the second day, straight hand-running. I tell you we ought to foller
that other trail. He's just cute enough to play some trick on us."

"Well, you better do that for us," Charley replied, hoping against hope
that the old man would chase off on the other and give his companions a
rest.

"He ain't got sand enough to tackle a thing like that single-handed,"
laughed Jed White, winking to the others.

Old John wheeled. "Ain't, hey! I am going to do that same thing an'
prove that you are a pack of fools. I'm too old to be fooled by a common
trick like that. An' I don't need no help--I'll ketch him all by myself,
an' hang him, too!" And he wheeled to follow the other trail, angry and
outraged. "Young fools," he muttered. "Why, I was fighting all around
these parts afore any of 'em knowed the difference between day an'
night!"

"Hard-headed old fool," remarked Charley, frowning, as he led the way
again.

"He's gittin' old an' childish," excused Stevenson. "They say warn't
nobody in these parts could hold a candle to him in his prime."



Hopalong muttered and stirred and opened his eyes to gaze blankly into
those of one of the men who were tugging at his hands, and as he stared
he started his stupefied brain sluggishly to work in an endeavor to
explain the unusual experience. There were five men around him and
the two who hauled at his hands stepped back and kicked him. A look of
pained indignation slowly spread over his countenance as he realized
beyond doubt that they were really kicking him, and with sturdy vigor.
He considered a moment and then decided that such treatment was most
unwarranted and outrageous and, furthermore, that he must defend himself
and chastise the perpetrators.

"Hey!" he snorted, "what do you reckon yo're doing, anyhow? If you want
to do any kicking, why kick each other, an' I'll help you! But I'll lick
the whole bunch of you if you don't quite mauling me. Ain't you got no
manners? Don't you know anything? Come 'round waking a feller up an'
man-handling--"

"Get up!" snapped Stevenson, angrily.

"Why, ain't I seen you before? Somewhere? Sometime?" queried Hopalong,
his brow wrinkling from intense concentration of thought. "I ain't
dreaming; I've seen a one-eyed coyote som'ers, lately, ain't I?" he
appealed, anxiously, to the others.

"Get up!" ordered Charley, shortly.

"An' I've seen you, too. Funny, all right."

"You've seen me, all right," retorted Stevenson. "Get up, damn you! Get
up!"

"Why, I can't--my han's are tied!" exclaimed Hopalong in great wonder,
pausing in his exertions to cogitate deeply upon this most remarkable
phenomenon. "Tied up! Now what the devil do you think--"

"Use yore feet, you thief!" rejoined Stevenson roughly, stepping forward
and delivering another kick. "Use yore feet!" he reiterated.

"Thief! Me a thief! Shore I'll use my feet, you yaller dog!" yelled the
prostrate man, and his boot heel sank into the stomach of the offending
Mr. Stevenson with sickening force and laudable precision. He drew it
back slowly, as if debating shoving it farther. "Call me a thief,
hey! Come poking 'round kicking honest punchers an' calling 'em names!
Anybody want the other boot?" he inquired with grave solicitation.

Stevenson sat down forcibly and rocked to and fro, doubled up and
gasping for breath, and Hopalong squinted at him and grinned with
happiness. "Hear him sing! Reg'lar ol' brass band. Sounds like a cow
pulling its hoofs outen the mud. Called me a thief, he did, just now.
An' I won't let nobody kick me an' call me names. He's a liar, just a
plain, squaw's dog liar, he--"

Two men grabbed him and raised him up, holding him tightly, and they
were not over careful to handle him gently, which he naturally resented.
Charley stepped in front of him to go to the aid of Stevenson and caught
the other boot in his groin, dropping as if he had been shot. The man
on the prisoner's left emitted a yell and loosed his hold to sympathize
with a bruised shinbone, and his companion promptly knocked the bound
and still intoxicated man down. Bill Thomas swore and eyed the prostrate
figure with resentment and regret. "Hate to hit a man who can fight like
that when he's loaded an' tied. I'm glad, all the same, that he ain't
sober an' loose."

"An' you ain't going to hit him no more!" snapped Jed White, reddening
with anger. "I'm ready to hang him, 'cause that's what he deserves, an'
what we're here for, but I'm damned if I'll stand for any more mauling.
I don't blame him for fighting, an' they didn't have no right to kick
him in the beginning."

"Didn't kick him in the beginning," grinned Bill. "Kicked him in the
ending. Anyhow," he continued seriously, "I didn't hit him hard--didn't
have to. Just let him go an' shoved him quick."

"I'm just naturally going to clean house," muttered the prisoner,
sitting up and glaring around. "Untie my han's an' gimme a gun or a club
or anything, an' watch yoreselves get licked. Called me a thief! What
are you fellers, then?--sticking me up an' busting me for a few measly
dollars. Why didn't you take my money an' lemme sleep, 'stead of waking
me up an' kicking me? I wouldn't 'a' cared then."

"Come on, now; get up. We ain't through with you yet, not by a whole
lot," growled Bill, helping him to his feet and steadying him. "I'm
plumb glad you kicked 'em; it was coming to 'em."

"No, you ain't; you can't fool me," gravely assured Hopalong. "Yo're
lying, an' you know it. What you going to do now? Ain't I got money
enough? Wish I had an even break with you fellers! Wish my outfit was
here!"

Stevenson, on his feet again, walked painfully up and shook his fist at
the captive, from the side. "You'll find out what we want of you, you
damned hoss-thief!" he cried. "We're going to tie you to that there limb
so yore feet'll swing above the grass, that's what we're going to do."

Bill and Jed had their hands full for a moment and as they finally
mastered the puncher, Charley came up with a rope. "Hurry up--no use
dragging it out this way. I want to get back to the ranch some time
before next week."

"Why I ain't no hoss-thief, you liar!" Hopalong yelled. "My name's
Hopalong Cassidy of the Bar-20, an' when I tell my friends about what
you've gone an' done they'll make you hard to find! You gimme any kind
of a chance an' I'll do it all by myself, sick as I am, you yaller
dogs!"

"Is that yore cayuse?" demanded Charley, pointing.

Hopalong squinted towards the animal indicated. "Which one?"

"There's only one there, you fool!"

"That so?" replied Hopalong, surprised. "Well, I never seen it afore.
My cayuse is--is--where the devil is it?" he asked, looking around
anxiously.

"How'd you get that one, then, if it ain't yours?"

"Never had it--'t ain't mine, nohow," replied Hopalong, with strong
conviction. "Mine was a hoss."

"You stole that cayuse last night outen Stevenson's corral," continued
Charley, merely as a matter of form. Charley believed that a man had the
right to be heard before he died--it wouldn't change the result and so
could not do any harm.

"Did I? Why--" his forehead became furrowed again, but the events of
the night before were vague in his memory and he only stumbled in
his soliloquy. "But I wouldn't swap my cayuse for that spavined,
saddle-galled, ring-boned bone-yard! Why, it interferes, an' it's got
the heaves something awful!" he finished triumphantly, as if an appeal
to common sense would clinch things. But he made no headway against
them, for the rope went around his neck almost before he had finished
talking and a flurry of excitement ensued. When the dust settled he was
on his back again and the rope was being tossed over the limb.

The crowd had been too busily occupied to notice anything away from the
scene of their strife and were greatly surprised when they heard a hail
and saw a stranger sliding to a stand not twenty feet from them. "What's
this?" demanded the newcomer, angrily.

Charley's gun glinted as it swung up and the stranger swore again. "What
you doing?" he shouted. "Take that gun off'n me or I'll blow you apart!"

"Mind yore business an' sit still!" Charley snapped. "You ain't in no
position to blow anything apart. We've got a hoss-thief an' we're shore
going to hang him regardless."

"An' if there's any trouble about it we can hang two as well as we can
one," suggested Stevenson, placidly. "You sit tight an' mind yore own
affairs, stranger," he warned.

Hopalong turned his head slowly. "He's a liar, stranger; just a plain,
squaw's dog of a liar. An' I'll be much obliged if you'll lick hell
outen 'em an' let--why, hullo, hoss-thief!" he shouted, at once
recognizing the other. It was the man he had met in the gospel tent, the
man he had chased for a horse-thief and then swapped mounts with. "Stole
any more cayuses?" he asked, grinning, believing that everything was all
right now. "Did you take that cayuse back to Grant?" he finished.

"Han's up!" roared Stevenson, also covering the stranger. "So yo're
another one of 'em, hey? We're in luck to-day. Watch him, boys, till I
get his gun. If he moves, drop him quick."

"You damned fool!" cried Ferris, white with rage. "He ain't no thief,
an' neither am I! My name's Ben Ferris an' I live in Winchester. Why,
that man you've got is Hopalong Cassidy--Cassidy, of the Bar-20!"

"Sit still--you can talk later, mebby," replied Stevenson, warily
approaching him. "Watch him, boys!"

"Hold on!" shouted Ferris, murder in his eyes. "Don't you try that on
me! I'll get one of you before I go; I'll shore get one! You can listen
a minute, an' I can't get away."

"All right; talk quick."

Ferris pleaded as hard as he knew how and called attention to the
condition of the prisoner. "If he did take the wrong cayuse he was too
blind drunk to know it! Can't you see he was!" he cried.

"Yep; through yet?" asked Stevenson, quietly.

"No! I ain't started yet!" Ferris yelled. "He did me a good turn once,
one that I can't never repay, an' I'm going to stop this murder or
go with him. If I go I'll take one of you with me, an' my friends an'
outfit'll get the rest."

"Wait till Old John gets here," suggested Jed to Charley. "He ought to
know this feller."

"For the Lord's sake!" snorted Charley. "He won't show up for a week.
Did you hear that, fellers?" he laughed, turning to the others.

"Stranger," began Stevenson, moving slowly ahead again. "You give us
yore guns an' sit quiet till we gets this feller out of the way. We'll
wait till Old John Ferris comes before doing anything with you. He ought
to know you."

"He knows me all right; an' he'd like to see me hung," replied the
stranger. "I won't give up my guns, an' you won't lynch Hopalong Cassidy
while I can pull a trigger. That's flat!" He began to talk feverishly
to gain time and his eyes lighted suddenly. Seeing that Jed White was
wavering, Stevenson ordered them to go on with the work they had come to
perform, and he watched Ferris as a cat watches a mouse, knowing that
he would be the first man hit if the stranger got a chance to shoot. But
Ferris stood up very slowly in his stirrups so as not to alarm the five
with any quick movement, and shouted at the top of his voice, grabbing
off his sombrero and waving it frantically. A faint cheer reached his
ears and made the lynchers turn quickly and look behind them. Nine men
were tearing towards them at a dead gallop and had already begun to
forsake their bunched-up formation in favor of an extended line. They
were due to arrive in a very few minutes and caused Mr. Ferris' heart to
overflow with joy.

"Me an' my outfit," he said, laughing softly and waving his hand towards
the newcomers, "started out this morning to round up a bunch of cows,
an' we got jackasses instead. Now lynch him, damn you!"

The nine swept up in skirmish order, guns out and ready for anything in
the nature of trouble that might zephyr up. "What's the matter, Ben?"
asked Tom Murphy ominously. As under-foreman of the ranch he regarded
himself as spokesman. And at that instant catching sight of the rope, he
swore savagely under his breath.

"Nothing, Tom; nothing now," responded Mr. Ferris. "They was going to
hang my friend there, Mr. Hopalong Cassidy, of the Bar-20. He's the
feller that lent me his cayuse to get home on when Molly was sick. I'm
going to take him back to the ranch when he gets sober an' introduce him
to some very good friends of hissn that he ain't never seen. Ain't I,
Cassidy?" he demanded with a laugh.

But Mr. Cassidy made no reply. He was sound asleep, as he had been
since the advent of his very good and capable friend, Mr. Ben Ferris, of
Winchester.





Next: Mr Townsend Marshal

Previous: Hopalong Nurses A Grouch



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