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Buck Takes A Hand








From: Bar-20 Days

Cowan's saloon, club, and place of general assembly for the town of
Buckskin and the nearby ranches, held a merry crowd, for it was pay-day
on the range and laughter and liquor ran a close race. Buck Peters,
his hands full of cigars, passed through the happy-go-lucky,
do-as-you-please crowd and invited everybody to smoke, which nobody
refused to do. Wood Wright, of the C-80, tuned his fiddle anew and swung
into a rousing quick-step. Partners were chosen, the "women" wearing
handkerchiefs on their arms to indicate the fact, and the room shook and
quivered as the scraping of heavy boots filled the air with a cloud of
dust. "Allaman left!" cried the prompter, and then the dance stopped as
if by magic. The door had crashed open and a blood-stained man staggered
in and towards the bar, crying, "Buck! Red's hemmed in by 'Paches!"

"Good God!" roared the foreman of the Bar-20, leaping forward, the
cigars falling to the floor to be crushed and ground into powder by
careless feet. He grasped his puncher and steadied him while Cowan slid
an extra generous glassful of brandy across the bar for the wounded man.
The room was in an uproar, men grabbing rifles and running out to get
their horses, for it was plain to be seen that there was hard work to be
done, and quickly. Questions, threats, curses filled the air, those
who remained inside to get the story listening intently to the jerky
narrative; those outside, caring less for the facts of an action past
than for the action to come, shouted impatiently for a start to be made,
even threatening to go on and tackle the proposition by themselves if
there were not more haste. Hopalong told in a graphic, terse manner all
that was necessary, while Buck and Cowan hurriedly bandaged his wounds.

"Come on! Come on!" shouted the mounted crowd outside, angry, and
impatient for a start, the prancing of horses and the clinking of metal
adding to the noise. "Get a move on! Will you hurry up!"

"Listen, Hoppy!" pleaded Buck, in a furore. "Shut up, you outside!" he
yelled. "You say they know that you got away, Hoppy?" he asked. "All
right--Lanky!" he shouted. "Lanky!"

"All right, Buck!" and Lanky Smith roughly pushed his way through the
crowd to his foreman's side. "Here I am."

"Take Skinny and Pete with you, an' a lead horse apiece. Strike straight
for Powers' old ranch house. Them Injuns'll have pickets out looking for
Hoppy's friends. You three get the pickets nearest the old trail through
that arroyo to the southeast, an' then wait for us. We'll come along the
high bank on the left. Don't make no noise doing it, neither, if you can
help it. Understand? Good! Now ride like the devil!"

Lanky grabbed Pete and Skinny on his way out and disappeared into the
corral; and very soon thereafter hoof-beats thudded softly in the sandy
street and pounded into the darkness of the north, soon lost to the ear.
An uproar of advice and good wishes crashed after them, for the game had
begun.

"It's Powers' old shack, boys!" shouted a man in the door to the
restless force outside, which immediately became more restless. "Hey!
Don't go yet!" he begged. "Wait for me an' the rest. Don't be a lot of
idiots!"

Excited and impatient voices replied from the darkness, vexed, grouchy,
and querulous. "Then get a move on--whoa!--it'll be light before we
get there if you don't hustle!" roared one voice above the confusion.
"You know what that means!"

"Come on! Come on! For God's sake, are you tied to the bar?"

"Yo're a lot of old grandmothers! Come on!"

Hopalong appeared in the door. "I'll show you the way, boys!" he
shouted. "Cowan, put my saddle on yore cayuse--pronto!"

"Good for you, Hoppy!" came from the street. "We'll wait!"

"You stay here; yo're hurt too much!" cried Buck to his puncher, as he
grabbed up a box of cartridges from a shelf behind the bar. "Ain't you
got no sense? There's enough of us to take care of this without you!"

Hopalong wheeled and looked his foreman squarely in the eyes. "Red's
out there, waiting for me--I'm going! I'd be a fine sort of a coyote to
leave him in that hell hole an' not go back, wouldn't I!" he said, with
quiet determination.

"Good for you, Cassidy!" cried a man who hastened out to mount.

"Well, then, come on," replied Buck. "There's blamed few like you," he
muttered, following Hopalong outside.

"Here's the cayuse, Cassidy," cried Cowan, turning the animal over to
him. "Wait, Buck!" and he leaped into the building and ran out again,
shoving a bottle of brandy and a package of food into the impatient
foreman's hand. "Mebby Red or Hoppy'll need it--so long, an' good
luck!" and he was alone in a choking cloud of dust, peering through the
darkness along the river trail after a black mass that was swallowed up
almost instantly. Then, as he watched, the moon pushed its rim up over
the hills and he laughed joyously as he realized what its light would
mean to the crowd. "There'll be great doings when that gang cuts
loose," he muttered with savage elation. "Wish I was with 'em. Damn
Injuns, anyhow!"

Far ahead of the main fighting force rode the three special-duty men,
reeling off the miles at top speed and constantly distancing their
friends, for they changed mounts at need, thanks to the lead horses
provided by Mr. Peters' cool-headed foresight. It was a race against
dawn, and every effort was made to win--the life of Red Connors hung in
the balance and a minute might turn the scale.



In Powers' old ranch house the night dragged along slowly to the grim
watcher, and the man huddled in the corner stirred uneasily and babbled,
ofttimes crying out in horror at the vivid dreams of his disordered
mind. Pacing ceaselessly from window to window, crack to crack, when
the moon came up, Mr. Connors scanned the bare, level plain with anxious
eyes, searching out the few covers and looking for dark spots on the
dull gray sand. They never attacked at night, but still--. Through the
void came the quavering call of a coyote, and he listened for the reply,
which soon came from the black chaparral across the clearing. He knew
where two of them were hiding, anyhow. Holden was muttering and tried
to answer the calls, and Red looked at him for the hundredth time that
night. He glanced out of the window again and noticed that there was a
glow in the eastern sky, and shortly afterwards dawn swiftly developed.

Pouring the last few drops of the precious water between the wounded
man's parched and swollen lips, he tossed the empty canteen from him and
stood erect.

"Pore devil," he muttered, shaking his head sorrowfully, as he realized
that Holden's delirium was getting worse all the time. "If you was all
right we could give them wolves hell to dance to. Well, you won't
know nothing about it if we go under, an' that's some consolation." He
examined his rifle and saw that the Colt at his thigh was fully loaded
and in good working order. "An' they'll pay us for their victory, by
God! They'll pay for it!" He stepped closer to the window, throwing the
rifle into the hollow of his arm. "It's about time for the rush; about
time for the game--"

There was movement by that small chaparral to the south! To the east
something stirred into bounding life and action; a coyote called
twice--and then they came, on foot and silently as fleeting shadows,
leaning forward to bring into play every ounce of energy in the slim,
red legs. Smoke filled the room with its acrid sting. The crashing of
the Winchester, worked with wonderful speed and deadly accuracy by the
best rifle shot in the Southwest, brought the prostrate man to his
feet in an instinctive response to the call to action, the necessity of
defence. He grasped his Colt and stumbled blindly to a window to help
the man who had stayed with him.

On Red's side of the house one warrior threw up his arms and fell
forward, sprawling with arms and legs extended; another pitched to one
side and rolled over twice before he lay still; the legs of the third
collapsed and threw him headlong, bunched up in a grotesque pile
of lifeless flesh; the fourth leaped high into the air and turned a
somersault before he struck the sand, badly wounded, and out of the
fight. Holden, steadying himself against the wall, leaned in a window
on the other side of the shack and emptied his Colt in a dazed
manner--doing his very best. Then the man with the rifle staggered back
with a muttered curse, his right arm useless, and dropped the weapon to
draw his Colt with the other hand.

Holden shrieked once and sank down, wagging his head slowly from side
to side, blood oozing from his mouth and nostrils; and his companion,
goaded into a frenzy of blood-lust and insane rage at the sight, threw
himself against the door and out into the open, to die under the clear
sky, to go like the man he was if he must die. "Damn you! It'll cost you
more yet!" he screamed, wheeling to place his back against the wall.

The triumphant yells of the exultant savages were cut short and turned
to howls of dismay by a fusillade which thundered from the south where a
crowd of hard-riding, hard-shooting cow-punchers tore out of the thicket
like an avalanche and swept over the open sand, yelling and cursing, and
then separated to go in hot pursuit of the sprinting Apaches. Some stood
up in their stirrups and fired down at a slant, making a short, chopping
motion with their heavy Colts; others leaned forward, far over the necks
of their horses, and shot with stationary guns; while yet others, with
reins dangling free, worked the levers of blue Winchesters so rapidly
that the flashes seemed to merge into a continuous flame.

"Thank God! Thank God--an' Hoppy!" groaned the man at the door of the
shack, staggering forward to meet the two men who had lost no time in
pursuit of the enemy, but had ridden straight to him.

"I was scared stiff you was done fer!" cried Hopalong, leaping off his
horse and shaking hands with his friend, whose hand-clasp was not as
strong as usual. "How's Holden?" he demanded, anxiously.

"He passed. It was a close--" began Red, weakly, but his foreman
interposed.

"Shut up, an' drink this!" ordered Buck, kindly but sternly. "We'll do
the talking for a while; you can tell us all about it later on. Why,
hullo!" he cried as Lanky Smith and his two happy companions rode up.
"Reckon you must 'a' got them pickets."

"Shore we did! Stalked 'em on our bellies, didn't we, Skinny?" modestly
replied Mr. Smith, the roping expert of the Bar-20. "Ropes an' clubbed
guns did the rest. Anyhow, there was only two anywhere near the trail."

"We didn't see you," responded the foreman, tying the knot of a bandage
on Mr. Connors' arm. "An' we looked sharp, too."

"Reckon we was hunting for more; we sort of forgot what you said about
waiting for you," Mr. Smith replied, grinning broadly.

"An' you've got a good memory now," smiled Mr. Peters.

"We didn't find no more, though," offered Mr. Pete Wilson, with grave
regret. "An' we looked good, too. But we got Red, an' that's the whole
game. Red, you old son-of-a-gun, you can lick yore weight in powder!"

"It's too bad about Holden," muttered Red, sullenly.





Next: Hopalong Nurses A Grouch

Previous: Mr Holden Drops In



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