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From: Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up

Hopalong worried his way out of the desert on a straight line, thus
cutting in half the distance he had traveled when going into it. He
camped that night on the sand and early the next morning took up his
journey. It was noon when he began to notice familiar sights, and an
hour later he passed within a mile of line-house No. 3, Double Arrow.
Half an hour later he espied a cow-puncher riding like mad. Thinking
that an investigation would not be out of place, he rode after the
rider and overtook him, when that person paused and retraced his
course.

"Hullo, Hopalong!" shouted the puncher and he came near enough to
recognize his pursuer. "Thought yu was farmin' up on th' Staked
Plain?"

"Hullo, Pie," replied Hopalong, recognizing Pie Willis. "What was yu
chasin' so hard?"

"Coyote-damn `em, but can't they go some? They're gettin' so thick
we'll shore have to try strichnine an' thin `em out."

"I thought anybody that had been raised in th' Panhandle would know
better'n to chase greased lightnin'," rebuked Hopalong. "Yu has got
about as much show catchin' one of them as a tenderfoot has of bustin'
an outlawed cayuse."

"Shore; I know it," responded Pie, grinning. "But it's fun seem'
them hunt th' horizon. What are yu doin' down here an' where are yore
pardners?"

Thereupon Hopalong enlightened his inquisitive companion as to what
had occurred and as to his reasons for riding south.

Pie immediately became enthusiastic and announced his intention of
accompanying Hopalong on his quest, which intention struck that
gentleman as highly proper and wise. Then Pie hastily turned and
played at chasing coyotes in the direction of the line-house, where he
announced that his absence would be accounted for by the fact that he
and Hopalong were going on a journey of investigation into the
Panhandle. Billy Jordan who shared with Pie the accommodations of the
house, objected and showed, very clearly, why he was eminently better
qualified to take up the proposed labors than his companions. The
suggestions were fast getting tangled up with the remarks, when Pie,
grabbing a chunk of jerked beef, leaped into his saddle and absolutely
refused to heed the calls of his former companion and return. He rode
to where Hopalong was awaiting him as if he was afraid he wasn't going
to live long enough to get there. Confiding to his companion that
Billy was a "locoed sage hen," he led the way along the base of the
White Sand Hills and asked many questions. Then they turned toward the
east and galloped hard.

It had been Hopalong's intention to carry out what he had told Red
and to go to Big Spring first and thence north along Sulphur Spring
Creek, but to this his guide strongly dissented. There was a short
cut, or several of them for that matter, was Pie's contention, and any
one of them would save a day's hard riding. Hopalong made no objection
to allowing his companion to lead the way over any trail he saw fit,
for he knew that Pie had been born and brought up in the Panhandle,
the Cunningham Lake district having been his back yard, as it were. So
they followed the short cut having the most water and grass, and
pounded out a lively tattoo as they raced over the stretches of sand
which seemed to slide beneath them.

"What do yu know about this here business?" Inquired Pie, as they
raced past a chaparral and onto the edge of a grassy plain.

"Nothin' more'n yu do, only Buck said he thought Slippery Trendley
is at th' bottom of it."

"What!" ejaculated Pie in surprise. "Him!"

"Yore on. An' between yu an' me an' th' Devil, I wouldn't be a heap
surprised if Deacon Rankin is with him, neither."

Pie whistled: "Are him an' th' Deacon pals?"

"Shore," replied Hopalong, buttoning up his vest and rolling a
cigarette. "Didn't they allus hang out together! One watched that th'
other didn't get plugged from behind. It was a sort of yu-scratch-my-
back-an'-I'll-scratch-yourn arrangement."

"Well, if they still hangs out together, I know where to hunt for
our cows," responded Pie. "Th' Deacon used to range along th'
headwaters of th' Colorado-it ain't far from Cunningham Lake.
Thunderation!" he shouted, "I knows th' very ground they're on-I can
take yu to th' very shack!" Then to himself he muttered: "An' that
doodlebug Billy Jordan thinkin' he knowed more about th' Panhandle
than me!"

Hopalong showed his elation in an appropriate manner and his
companion drank deeply from the proffered flask; Thereupon they
treated their mounts to liberal doses of strap-oil and covered the
ground with great speed.

They camped early, for Hopalong was almost worn out from the
exertions of the past few days and the loss of sleep he had sustained.
Pie, too excited to sleep and having had unbroken rest for a long
period, volunteered to keep guard, and his companion eagerly
consented.

Early the next morning they broke camp and the evening of the same
day found them fording Sulphur Spring Creek, and their quarry lay only
an hour beyond, according to Pie. Then they forded one of the streams
which form the headwaters of the Colorado, and two hours later they
dismounted in a cottonwood grove. Picketing their horses, they
carefully made their way through the timber, which was heavily grown
with brush, and, after half an hour's maneuvering, came within sight
of the further edge.

Dropping down on all fours, they crawled to the last line of brush and
looked out over an extensive bottoms. At their feet lay a small river, and
in a clearing on the farther side was a rough camp, consisting of about a
dozen leanto shacks and log cabins in the main collection, and a few scattered
cabins along the edge. A huge fire was blazing before the main collection
of huts, and to the rear of these was an indistinct black mass, which they
knew to be the corral.

At a rude table before the fire more than a score of men were eating
supper and others could be heard moving about and talking at different
points in the background. While the two scouts were learning the lay
of the land, they saw Mr. Trendley and Deacon Rankin walk out of the
cabin most distant from the fire, and the latter limped. Then they saw
two men lying on rude cots, and they wore bandages. Evidently Johnny
Redmond had scored in his fight.

The odor of burning cowhide came from the corral, accompanied by the
squeals of cattle, and informed them that brands were being blotted
out. Hopalong longed to charge down and do some blotting out of
another kind, but a heavy hand was placed on his shoulder and he
silently wormed his way after Pie as that person led the way back to
the horses. Mounting, they picked their way out of the grove and rode
over the plain at a walk. When far enough away to insure that the
noise made by their horses would not reach the ears of those in the
camp they cantered toward the ford they had taken on the way up.

After emerging from the waters of the last forded stream, Pie raised
his hand and pointed off toward the northwest, telling his companion
to take that course to reach Cunningham Lake. He himself would ride
south, taking, for the saving of time, a yet shorter trail to the
Double Arrow, from where he would ride to Buck. He and the others
would meet Hopalong and Red at the split rock they had noticed on
their way up.

Hopalong shook hands with his guide and watched him disappear into
the night. He imagined he could still catch whiffs of burning cowhide
and again the picture of the camp came to his mind. Glancing again at
the point where Pie had disappeared, he stuffed his sombrero under a
strap on his saddle and slowly rode toward the lake. A coyote slunk
past him on a time-destroying lope and an owl hooted at the
foolishness of men. He camped at the base of a cottonwood and at
daylight took up his journey after a scanty breakfast from his saddle-
bags.

Shortly before noon he came in sight of the lake and looked for his
friend. He had just ridden around a clump of cotton-woods when he was
hit on the back with something large and soft. Turning in his saddle,
with his Colts ready, he saw Red sitting on a stump, a huge grin
extending over his features. He replaced the weapon, said something
about fools and dismounted, kicking aside the bundle of grass his
friend had thrown.

"Yore shore easy," remarked Red, tossing aside his cold cigarette.
"Suppose I was Trendley, where would yu be now?"

"Diggin' a hole to put yu in," pleasantly replied Hopalong. "If I
didn't know he wasn't around this part of the country I wouldn't a
rode as I did."

The man on the stump laughed and rolled a fresh cigarette. Lighting
it, he inquired where Mr. Trendley was, intimating by his words that
the rustler had not been found.

"About thirty miles to th' southeast," responded the other. "He's
figurin' up how much dust he'll have when he gets our cows on th'
market. Deacon Rankin is with him, too."

"Th' deuce!" exclaimed Red, in profound astonishment.

"Yore right," replied his companion. Then he explained all the
arrangements and told of the camp.

Red was for riding to the rendezvous at once, but his friend thought
otherwise and proposed a swim, which met with approval. After enjoying
themselves in the lake they dressed and rode along the trail Hopalong
had made in coming for his companion, it being the intention of the
former to learn more thoroughly the lay of the land immediately
surrounding the camp. Red was pleased with this, and while they rode
he narrated all that had taken place since the separation on the
Plain, adding that he had found the trail left by the rustlers after
they had quitted the desert and that he had followed it for the last
two hours of his journey. It was well beaten and an eighth of a mile
wide.

At dark they came within sight of the grove and picketed their
horses at the place used by Pie and Hopalong. Then they moved forward
and the same sight greeted their eyes that had been seen the night
before. Keeping well within the edge of the grove and looking
carefully for sentries, they went entirely around the camp and picked
out several places which would be of strategic value later on. They
noticed that the cabin used by Slippery Trendley was a hundred paces
from the main collection of huts and that the woods came to within a
tenth part of that distance of its door. It was heavily built, had no
windows and faced the wrong direction.

Moving on, they discovered the storehouse of the enemy, another
tempting place. It was just possible, if a siege became necessary, for
several of the attacking force to slip up to it and either destroy it
by fire or take it and hold it against all comers. This suggested a
look at the enemy's water supply, which was the river. A hundred paces
separated it from the nearest cabin and any rustler who could cross
that zone under the fire of the besiegers would be welcome to his
drink.

It was very evident that the rustlers had no thought of defense,
thinking, perhaps, that they were immune from attack with such a well
covered trail between them and their foes. Hopalong mentally accused
them of harboring suicidal inclinations and returned with his
companion to the horses. They mounted and sat quietly for a while, and
then rode slowly away and at dawn reached the split rock, where they
awaited the arrival of their friends, one sleeping while the other
kept guard. Then they drew a rough map of the camp, using the sand for
paper, and laid out the plan of attack.

As the evening of the next day came on they saw Pie, followed by
many punchers, ride over a rise a mile to the south and they rode out
to meet him.

When the force arrived at the camp of the two scouts they were shown
the plan prepared for them. Buck made a few changes in the disposition
of the men and then each member was shown where he was to go and was
told why. Weapons were put in a high state of efficiency, canteens
were refilled and haversacks were somewhat depleted. Then the
newcomers turned in and slept while Hopalong and Red kept guard.





Next: The Call

Previous: Hopalong's Decision



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