Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Holding The Claim








From: Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up

"Oh, we're that gang from th' O-Bar-O," hummed Waffles, sinking the
branding-iron in the flank of a calf. The scene was one of great
activity and hilarity. Several fires were burning near the huge corral
and in them half a dozen irons were getting hot. Three calves were
being held down for the brand of the "Bar-20" and two more were being
dragged up on their sides by the ropes of the cowboys, the proud cow-
ponies showing off their accomplishments at the expense of the calves'
feelings. In the corral the dust arose in steady clouds as calf after
calf was "cut out" by the ropers and dragged out to get "tagged."
Angry cows fought valiantly for their terrorized offspring, but always
to no avail, for the hated rope of some perspiring and dust-grimed
rider sent them crashing to earth.
Over the plain were herds of cattle and groups of madly riding cowboys,
and two cook wagons were stalled a short distance from the corral.
The round-up of the Bar-20 was taking place, and each of the two
outfits tried to outdo the other and each individual strove for a prize.
The man who cut out and dragged to the fire the most calves in three days
could leave for the Black Hills at the expiration of that time, the rest to
follow as soon as they could.

In this contest Hopalong Cassidy led his nearest rival, Red Connors,
both of whom were Bar-2o men, by twenty cut-outs, and there remained
but half an hour more in which to compete. As Red disappeared into the
sea of tossing horns Hopalong dashed out with a whoop.

"Hi, yu trellis-built rack of bones, come along there! Whoop!" he
yelled, turning the prisoner over to the squad by the fire.

"Chalk up this here insignificant wart of cross-eyed perversity: an'
how many?" He called as he galloped back to the corral.

"One ninety-eight," announced Buck, blowing the sand from the tally
sheet. "That's shore goin' some," he remarked to himself.

When the calf sprang up it was filled with terror, rage and pain,
and charged at Billy from the rear as that pessimistic soul was
leaning over and poking his finger at a somber horned-toad. "Wow!" he
yelled as his feet took huge steps up in the air, each one strictly on
its own course. "Woof!" he grunted in the hot sand as he arose on his
hands and knees and spat alkali.

"What's s'matter?" He asked dazedly of Johnny Nelson. "Ain't it
funny!" he yelled sarcastically as he beheld Johnny holding his sides
with laughter. "Ain't it funny!" he repeated belligerently. "Of course
that four-laigged, knock-kneed, wobblin' son-of-a-Piute had to cut me
out. They wasn't nobody in sight but Billy! Why didn't yu say he was
comin'? Think I can see four ways to once? Why didn't-" At this point
Red cantered up with a calf, and by a quick maneuver, drew the taut
rope against the rear of Billy's knees, causing that unfortunate to
sit down heavily. As he arose choking with broken-winded profanity Red
dragged the animal to the fire, and Billy forgot his grievances in the
press of labor.

"How many, Buck?" Asked Red.

"One-eighty."

"How does she stand?"

"Yore eighteen to th' bad," replied the foreman. "Th' son-of-a-gun!"
marveled Red, riding off.

Another whoop interrupted them, and Billy quit watching out of the
corner eye for pugnacious calves as he prepared for Hopalong.

"Hey, Buck, this here cuss was with a Barred-Horseshoe cow," he
announced as he turned it over to the branding man. Buck made a tally
in a separate column and released the animal. "Hullo, Red! Workin'?"
Asked Hopalong of his rival.

"Some, yu little cuss," answered Red with all the good nature in the
world. Hopalong was his particular "side partner," and he could lose
to him with the best of feelings.

"Yu looks so nice an' cool, an' clean, I didn't know," responded
Hopalong, eyeing a streak of sweat and dust which ran from Red's eyes
to his chin and then on down his neck.

"What yu been doin'? Plowin' with yore nose?" Returned Red, smiling
blandly at his friend's appearance.

"Yah!" snorted Hopalong, wheeling toward the corral. "Come on, yu
pie-eatin' doodle-bug; I'll beat yu to th' gate!"

The two ponies sent showers of sand all over Billy, who eyed them in
pugnacious disgust. "Of all th' locoed imps that ever made life
miserable fer a man, them's th' worst! Is there any piece of fool
nonsense they hain't harnessed me with?" He beseeched of Buck. "Is
there anything they hain't done to me? They hides my liquor; they
stuffs th' sweat band of my hat with rope; they ties up my pants; they
puts water in. My boots an' toads in my bunk-ain't they never goin' to
get sane?"

"Oh, they're only kids-they can't help it," offered Buck. "Didn't
they hobble my cayuse when I was on him an' near bust my neck?"

Hopalong interrupted the conversation by driving up another calf,
and Buck, glancing at his watch, declared the contest at an end.

"Yu wins," he remarked to the newcomer. "An' now yu get scarce or
Billy will shore straddle yore nerves. He said as how he was goin' to
get square on yu to-night."

"I didn't, neither, Hoppy!" earnestly contradicted Billy, who bad
visions of a night spent in torment as a reprisal for such a threat.
"Honest I didn't, did I, Johnny?" He asked appealingly.

"Yu shore did," lied Johnny, winking at Red, who had just ridden up.

"I don't know what yore talkin' about, but yu shore did," replied
Red.

"If yu did," grinned Hopalong, "I'll shore make yu hard to find.
Come on, fellows," he said; "grub's ready. Where's Frenchy?"

"Over chewin' th' rag with Waffles about his hat-he's lost it
again," answered Red. "He needs a guardian fer that bonnet. Th' Kid
an' Salvation has jammed it in th' corral fence an' Waffles has to
stand fer it."

"Let's put it in th' grub wagon an see him cuss cookie," suggested
Hopalong.

"Shore," indorsed Johnny; Cookie'll feed him bum grub for a week to
get square.

Hopalong and Johnny ambled over to the corral and after some trouble
located the missing sombrero, which they carried to the grub wagon and
hid in the flour barrel. Then they went over by the excited owner and
dropped a few remarks about how strange the cook was acting and how he
was watching Frenchy.

Frenchy jumped at the bait and tore over to the wagon, where he and
the cook spent some time in mutual recrimination. Hopalong nosed
around and finally dug up the hat, white as new-fallen snow.

"Here's a hat-found it in th' dough barrel," he announced, handing
it over to Frenchy, who received it in open-mouthed stupefaction.

"Yu pie-makin' pirate! Yu didn't know where my lid was, did yu! Yu
cross-eyed lump of hypocrisy!" yelled Frenchy, dusting off the flour
with one full-armed swing on the cook's face, driving it into that
unfortunate's nose and eyes and mouth. "Yu white-washed Chink, yu-rub
yore face with water an' yu've got pancakes."

"Hey! What you doin'!" yelled the cook, kicking the spot where he had
last seen Frenchy. "Don't yu know better'n that!"

"Yu live close to yoreself or I'll throw yu so high th' sun'll duck,"
replied Frenchy, a smile illuminating his face.

"Hey, cookie," remarked Hopalong confidentially, "I know who put up
this joke on yu. Yu ask Billy who hid th' hat," suggested the tease.
"Here he comes now-see how queer he looks."

"Th' mournful Piute," ejaculated the cook. "I'll shore make him wish
he'd kept on his own trail. I'll flavor his slush [coffee] with year-
old dish-rags!"

At this juncture Billy ambled up, keeping his weather eye peeled for
trouble. "Who's a dish-rag?" He queried. The cook mumbled something
about crazy hens not knowing when to quit cackling and climbed up in
his wagon. And that night Billy swore off drinking coffee.

When the dawn of the next day broke, Hopalong was riding toward the
Black Hills, leaving Billy to untie himself as best he might.

The trip was uneventful and several weeks later he entered Red Dog,
a rambling shanty town, one of those western mushrooms that sprang up
in a night. He took up his stand at the Miner's Rest, and finally
secured six claims at the cost of nine hundred hard-earned dollars, a
fund subscribed by the outfits, as it was to be a partnership affair.

He rode out to a staked-off piece of hillside and surveyed his
purchase, which consisted of a patch of ground, six holes, six piles
of dirt and a log hut. The holes showed that the claims bad been tried
and found wanting.

He dumped his pack of tools and provisions, which he had bought on
the way up, and lugged them into the cabin. After satisfying his
curiosity he went outside and sat down for a smoke, figuring up in his
mind how much gold he could carry on a horse. Then, as he realized
that he could get a pack mule to carry the surplus, he became aware of
a strange presence near at hand and looked up into the muzzle of a
Sharp's rifle. He grasped the situation in a flash and calmly blew
several heavy smoke rings around the frowning barrel.

"Well?" He asked slowly.

"Nice day, stranger," replied the man with the rifle, "but don't yu
reckon yu've made a mistake?"

Hopalong glanced at the number burned on a near-by stake and
carelessly blew another smoke ring. He was waiting for the gun to
waver.

"No, I reckons not," he answered. "Why?"

"Well, I'll jest tell yu since yu asks. This yere claim's mine an'
I'm a reg'lar terror, I am. That's why; an' seein' as it is, yu better
amble some."

Hopalong glanced down the street and saw an interested group
watching him, which only added to his rage for being in such a
position. Then he started to say something, faltered and stared with
horror at a point several feet behind his opponent. The "terror"
sprang to one side in response to Hop-along's expression, as if
fearing that a snake or some such danger threatened him. As he
alighted in his new position he fell forward and Hopalong slid a
smoking Colt in its holster.

Several men left the distant group and ran toward the claim.
Hopalong reached his arm inside the door and brought forth his rifle,
with which he covered their advance.

"Anything yu want?" he shouted savagely.

The men stopped and two of them started to sidle in front of two
others, but Hopalong was not there for the purpose of permitting a
move that would screen any gun play and he stopped the game with a
warning shout. Then the two held up their hands and advanced.

"We wants to git Dan," called out one of them, nodding at the
prostrate figure.

"Come ahead," replied Hopalong, substituting a Colt for the rifle.


They carried their badly wounded and insensible burden back to those
whom they had left, and several curses were hurled at the cowboy, who
only smiled grimly and entered the hut to place things ready for a
siege, should one come. He had one hundred rounds of ammunition and
provisions enough for two weeks, with the assurance of reinforcements
long before that time would expire. He cut several rough loopholes and
laid out his weapons for quick handling. He knew that he could stop
any advance during the day and planned only for night attacks. How
long he could go without sleep did not bother him, because he gave it
no thought, as he was accustomed to short naps and could awaken at
will or at the slightest sound.

As dusk merged into dark he crept forth and collected several
handfuls of dry twigs, which he scattered around the hut, as the
cracking of these would warn him of an approach. Then he went in and
went to sleep.

He awoke at daylight after a good night's rest, and feasted on
canned beans and peaches. Then he tossed the cans out of the door and
shoved his hat out. Receiving no response he walked out and surveyed
the town at his feet. A sheepish grin spread over his face as he
realized that there was no danger. Several red-shirted men passed by
him on their way to town, and one, a grizzled veteran of many gold
camps, stopped and sauntered up to him.

"Mornin'," said Hopalong.

"Mornin'," replied the stranger. "I thought I'd drop in an' say that
I saw that gun-play of yourn yesterday. Yu ain't got no reason to look
fer a rush. This camp is half white men an' half bullies, an' th'
white men won't stand fer no play like that. Them fellers that jest
passed are neighbors of yourn, an' they won't lay abed if yu needs
them. But yu wants to look out fer th' joints in th' town. Guess this
business is out of yore line," he finished as he sized Hopalong up.

"She shore is, but I'm here to stay. Got tired of punchin' an'
reckoned I'd get rich." Here he smiled and glanced at the hole.
"How're yu makin' out?" He asked.

"`Bout five dollars a day apiece, but that ain't nothin' when grub's
so high. Got reckless th' other day an' had a egg at fifty cents."

Hopalong whistled and glanced at the empty cans at his feet. "Any
marshal in this burg?"

"Yep. But he's one of th' gang. No good, an' drunk half th' time an'
half drunk th' rest. Better come down an' have something," invited the
miner.

"I'd shore like to, but I can't let no gang get in that door,"
replied the puncher.

"Oh, that's all right; I'll call my pardner down to keep house till
yu gits back. He can hold her all right. Hey, Jake!" he called to a
man who was some hundred paces distant; "Come down here an' keep house
till we gits back, will yu?"

The man lumbered down to them and took possession as Hopalong and
his newly found friend started for the town.

They entered the "Miner's Rest" and Hopalong fixed the room in his
mind with one swift glance. Three men-and they looked like the crowd
he had stopped before-were playing poker at a table near the window.
Hopalong leaned with his back to the bar and talked, with the players
always in sight.

Soon the door opened and a bewhiskered, heavy-set man tramped in,
and walking up to Hopalong, looked him over.

"Huh," he sneered, "Yu are th' gent with th' festive guns that
plugged Dan, ain't yu?"

Hopalong looked at him in the eyes and quietly replied:

"An' who th' deuce are yu?"

The stranger's eyes blazed and his face wrinkled with rage as he
aggressively shoved his jaw close to Hopalong's face.

"Yu runt, I'm a better man than yu even if yu do wear hair pants,"
referring to Hopalong's chaps. "Yu cow-wrastlers make me tired, an'
I'm goin' to show yu that this town is too good for you. Yu can say it
right now that yu are a ornery, game-leg-"

Hopalong smashed his insulter squarely between the eyes with all the
power of his sinewy body behind the blow, knocking him in a heap under
the table. Then he quickly glanced at the card players and saw a
hostile movement. His gun was out in a flash and he covered the trio
as he walked up to them. Never in all his life had he felt such a
desire to kill. His eyes were diamond points of accumulated fury, and
those whom he faced quailed before him.

"Yu scum! Draw, please draw! Pull yore guns an' gimme my chance!
Three to one, an' I'll lay my guns here," he said, placing them on the
bar and removing his hands. "'Nearer My God to Thee' is purty
appropriate fer yu just now! Yu seem to be a-scared of yore own guns.
Git down on yore dirty knees an' say good an' loud that yu eats dirt!
Shout out that yu are too currish to live with decent men," he said,
even-toned and distinct, his voice vibrant with passion as he took up
his Colts. "Get down!" he repeated, shoving the weapons forward and
pulling back the hammers.

The trio glanced at each other, and all three dropped to their knees
and repeated in venomous hatred the words Hopalong said for them.

"Now git! An' if I sees yu when I leaves I'll send yu after yore
friend. I'll shoot on sight now. Git!" He escorted them to the door
and kicked the last one out.

His miner friend still leaned against the bar and looked his
approval.

"Well done, youngster! But yu wants to look out-that man," pointing
to the now groping victim of Hopalong's blow, "is th' marshal of this
town. He or his pals will get yu if yu don't watch th' corners."

Hopalong walked over to the marshal, jerked him to his feet and
slammed him against the bar. Then he tore the cheap badge from its
place and threw it on the floor. Reaching down, he drew the marshal's
revolver from its holster and shoved it in its owner's hand.

"Yore th' marshal of this place an' it's too good for me, but yore
gain' to pick up that tin lie," pointing at the badge, "an' yore goin'
to do it right now. Then yore gain' to get kicked out of that door,
an' if yu stops runnin' while I can see yu I'll fill yu so full of
holes yu'll catch cold. Yore a sumptious marshal, yu are! Yore th'
snortingest ki-yi that ever stuck its tail atween its laigs, yu are.
Yu pop-eyed wall flower, yu wants to peep to yoreself or some
papoose'll slide yu over th' Divide so fast yu won't have time to
grease yore pants. Pick up that license-tag an' let me see you
perculate so lively that yore back'll look like a ten-cent piece in
five seconds. Flit!"

The marshal, dazed and bewildered, stooped and fumbled for the
badge. Then he stood up and glanced at the gun in his hand and at the
eager man before him. He slid the weapon in his belt and drew his hand
across his fast-closing eyes. Cursing streaks of profanity, he
staggered to the door and landed in a heap in the street from the
force of Hopalong's kick. Struggling to his feet, he ran unsteadily
down the block and disappeared around a corner.

The bartender, cool and unperturbed, pushed out three glasses on his
treat: "I've seen yu afore, up in Cheyenne-'member? How's yore friend
Red?" He asked as he filled the glasses with the best the house
afforded.

"Well, shore `nuff! Glad to see yu, Jimmy! What yu doin' away off
here?" Asked Hopalong, beginning to feel at home.

"Oh, jest filterin' round like. I'm awful glad to see yu-this yere
wart of a town needs siftin' out. It was only last week I was wishin'
one of yore bunch `ud show up-that ornament yu jest buffaloed shore
raised th' devil in here, an' I wished I had somebody to prospect his
anatomy for a lead mine. But he's got a tough gang circulating with
him. Ever hear of Dutch Shannon or Blinky Neary? They's with him."

"Dutch Shannon? Nope," he replied.

"Bad eggs, an' not a-carin' how they gits square. Th' feller yu'
salted yesterday was a bosom friend of th' marshal's, an' he passed in
his chips last night."

"So?"

"Yep. Bought a bottle of ready-made nerve an' went to his own
funeral. Aristotle Smith was lookin' fer him up in Cheyenne last year.
Aristotle said he'd give a century fer five minutes' palaver with him,
but he shied th' town an' didn't come back. Yu know Aristotle, don't
yu? He's th' geezer that made fame up to Poison Knob three years ago.
He used to go to town ridin' astride a log on th' lumber flume. Made
four miles in six minutes with th' promise of a ruction when he
stopped. Once when he was loaded he tried to ride back th' same way he
came, an' th' first thing he knowed he was three miles farther from
his supper an' a-slippin' down that valley like he wanted to go some-
where. He swum out at Potter's Dam an' it took him a day to walk back.
But he didn't make that play again, because he was
frequently sober, an' when he wasn't he'd only stand off an' swear at
th' slide."

"That's Aristotle, all hunk. He's th' chap that used to play
checkers with Deacon Rawlins. They used empty an' loaded shells for
men, an' when they got a king they'd lay one on its side. Sometimes
they'd jar th' board an' they'd all be kings an' then they'd have a
cussin' match," replied Hopalong, once more restored to good humor.

"Why," responded Jimmy, "he counted his wealth over twice by mistake
an' shore raised a howl when he went to blow it- thought he's been
robbed, an' laid behind th' houses fer a week lookin' fer th' feller
that done it."

"I've heard of that cuss-he shore was th' limit. What become of
him?" Asked the miner.

"He ambled up to Laramie an' stuck his head in th' window of that
joint by th' plaza an' hollered `Fire,' an' they did. He was shore a
good feller, all th' same," answered the bartender.
Hopalong laughed and started for the door. Turning around he looked
at his miner friend and asked: "Comin' along? I'm goin' back now."

"Nope. Reckon I'll hit th' tiger a whirl. I'll stop in when I
passes."

"All right. So long," replied Hopalong, slipping out of the door and
watching for trouble. There was no opposition shown him, and he
arrived at his claim to find Jake in a heated argument with another of
the gang.

"Here he comes now," he said as Hopalong walked up. "Tell him what
yu said to me."

"I said yu made a mistake," said the other, turning to the cowboy in
a half apologetic manner.

"An' what else?" Insisted Jake.

"Why, ain't that all?" Asked the claim-jumper's friend in feigned
surprise, wishing that he had kept quiet.

"Well I reckons it is if yu can't back up yore words," responded
Jake in open contempt.

Hopalong grabbed the intruder by the collar of his shirt and hauled
him off the claim. "Yu keep off this, understand? I just kicked yore
marshal out in th' street, an' I'll pay yu th' next call. If yu
rambles in range of my guns yu'll shore get in th' way of a slug. Yu
an' yore gang wants to browse on th' far side of th' range or yu'll
miss a sunrise some mornin'. Scoot!"

Hopalong turned to his companion and smiled. "What'd he say?" He
asked genially.

"Oh, he jest shot off his mouth a little. They's all no good. I've
collided with lots of them all over this country. They can't face a
good man an' keep their nerve. What'd yu say to th' marshal?"

"I told him what he was an' threw him outen th' street," replied
Hopalong. "In about two weeks we'll have a new marshal an' he'll shore
be a dandy."

"Yes? Why don't yu take th' job yoreself? We're with yu."

"Better man comin'. Ever hear of Buck Peters or Red Connors of th'
Bar-20, Texas?"

"Buck Peters? Seems to me I have. Did he punch fer th' Tin-Cup up in
Montana, `bout twenty years back?"

"Shore! Him and Frenchy McAllister punched all over that country an'
they used to paint Cheyenne, too," replied Hopalong, eagerly.

"I knows him, then. I used to know Frenchy, too. Are they comin' up
here?"

"Yes," responded Hopalong, struggling with another can while waiting
for the fire to catch up. "Better have some grub with me-don't like to
eat alone," invited the cowboy, the reaction of his late rage swinging
him to the other extreme.

When their tobacco had got well started at the close of the meal and
content had taken possession of them Hopalong laughed quietly and
finally spoke:

"Did yu ever know Aristotle Smith when yu was up in Montana?"

"Did I! Well, me an' Aristotle prospected all through that country
till he got so locoed I had to watch him fer fear he'd blow us both
up. He greased th' fryin' pan with dynamite one night, an' we shore
had to eat jerked meat an' canned stuff all th' rest of that trip.
What made yu ask? Is he comin' up too?"

"No, I reckons not. Jimmy, th' bartender, said that he cashed in up
at Laramie. Wasn't he th' cuss that built that boat out there on th'
Arizona desert because he was scared that a flood might come? Th' sun
shore warped that punt till it wasn't even good for a hencoop."

"Nope. That was Sister-Annie Tompkins. He was purty near as bad as
Aristotle, though. He roped a puma up on th' Sacramentos, an' didn't
punch no more fer three weeks. Well, here comes my pardner an' I
reckons I'll amble right along. If yu needs any referee or a side
pardner in any ruction yu has only got to warble up my way. So long."

The next ten days passed quietly, and on the afternoon of the
eleventh Hopalong's miner friend paid him a visit.

"Jake recommends yore peaches," he laughed as he shook Hopalong's
hand. "He says yu boosted another of that crowd. That bein' so I
thought I would drop in an' say that they're comin' after yu to-night,
shore. Just heard of it from yore friend Jimmy. Yu can count on us
when th' rush comes. But why didn't yu say yu was a pard of Buck
Peters'? Me an' him used to shoot up Laramie together. From what yore
friend James says, yu can handle this gang by yore lonesome, but if yu
needs any encouragement yu make some sign an' we'll help th' event
along some. They's eight of us that'll be waitin' up to get th'
returns an' we're shore goin' to be in range."

"Gee, it's nice to run across a friend of Buck's! Ain't he a son-of-
a-gun?" Asked Hopalong, delighted at the news. Then, without waiting
for a reply, he went on: "Yore shore square, all right, an' I hates to
refuse yore offer, but I got eighteen friends comin' up an' they ought
to get here by tomorrow. Yu tell Jimmy to head them this way when they
shows up an' I'll have th' claim for them. There ain't no use of yu
fellers gettin' mixed up in this. Th' bunch that's comin' can clean
out any gang this side of sunup, an' I expects they'll shore be
anxious to begin when they finds me eatin' peaches an' wastin' my time
shootin' bums. Yu pass th' word along to yore friends, an' tell them
to lay low an' see th' Arory Boerallis hit this town with its tail up.
Tell Jimmy to do it up good when he speaks about me holdin' th' claim-
I likes to see Buck an' Red fight when they're good an' mad."

The miner laughed and slapped Hopalong on the shoulder. "Yore all
right, youngster! Yore just like Buck was at yore age. Say now, I
reckons he wasn't a reg'lar terror on wheels! Why, I've seen him do
more foolish things than any man I knows of, an' I calculate that if
Buck pals with yu there ain't no water in yore sand. My name's Tom
Halloway," he suggested.

"An' mine's Hopalong Cassidy," was the reply. "I've heard Buck speak
of yu."

"Has yu? Well, don't it beat all how little this world is? Somebody
allus turnin' up that knows somebody yu knows. I'll just amble along,
Mr. Cassidy, an' don't yu be none bashful about callin' if yu needs
me. Any pal of Buck's is my friend. Well, so long," said the visitor
as he strode off. Then he stopped and turned around. "Hey, mister!" he
called. "They are goin' to roll a fire barrel down agin yu from
behind," indicating by an outstretched arm the point from where it
would start. "If it burns yu out I'm goin' to take a band from up
there," pointing to a cluster of rocks well to the rear of where the
crowd would work from, "an' I don't care whether yu likes it or not,"
he added to himself.

Hopalong scratched his head and then laughed. Taking up a pick and
shovel, he went out behind the cabin and dug a trench parallel with
and about twenty paces away from the rear wall. Heaping the excavated
dirt up on the near side of the cut, he stepped back and surveyed his
labor with open satisfaction. "Roll yore fire barrel an' be dogged,"
he muttered. "Mebby she won't make a bully light for pot shots,
though," he added, grinning at the execution he would do.

Taking up his tools, he went up to the place from where the gang
would roll the barrel, and made half a dozen mounds of twigs, being
careful to make them very flimsy. Then he covered them with earth and
packed them gently. The mounds looked very tempting from the view-
point of a marksman in search of earth-works, and appeared capable of
stopping any rifle ball that could be fired against them. Hopalong
looked them over critically and stepped back.

"I'd like to see th' look on th' face of th' son-of-a-gun that uses
them for cover-won't he be surprised" and he grinned gleefully as he
pictured his shots boring through them. Then he placed in the center
of each a chip or a pebble or something that he thought would show up
well in the firelight.

Returning to the cabin, he banked it up well with dirt and gravel,
and tossed a few shovelfuls up on the roof as a safety valve to his
exuberance. When he entered the door he had another idea, and fell to
work scooping out a shallow cellar, deep enough to shelter him when
lying at full length. Then he stuck his head out of the window and
grinned at the false covers with their prominent bull's-eyes.

"When that prize-winnin' gang of ossified idiots runs up agin'
these fortifications they shore will be disgusted. I'll bet four dollars
an' seven cents they'll think their medicine-man's no good. I
hopes that puff-eyed marshal will pick out that hump with th' chip on
it," and he hugged himself in anticipation.

He then cut down a sapling and fastened it to the roof and on it he
tied his neckerchief, which fluttered valiantly and with defiance in
the light breeze. "I shore hopes they appreciates that," he remarked
whimsically, as he went inside the hut and closed the door.

The early part of the evening passed in peace, and Hopalong, tired
of watching in vain, wished for action. Midnight came, and it was not
until half an hour before dawn that he was attacked. Then a noise sent
him to a loophole, where he fired two shots at skulking figures some
distance off. A fusillade of bullets replied; one of them ripped
through the door at a weak spot and drilled a hole in a can of the
everlasting peaches. Hopalong set the can in the frying pan and then
flitted from loophole to loophole, shooting quick and straight.
Several curses told him that he had not missed, and he scooped up a
finger of peach juice. Shots thudded into the walls of his fort in an
unceasing stream, and, as it grew lighter, several whizzed through the
loopholes. He kept close to the earth and waited for the rush, and
when it came sent it back, minus two of its members.

As he reloaded his Colts a bullet passed through his shirt sleeve
and he promptly nailed the marksman. He looked out of a crack in the
rear wall and saw the top of an adjoining hill crowned with
spectators, all of whom were armed. Some time later he repulsed
another attack and heard a faint cheer from his friends on the hill.
Then he saw a barrel, blazing from end to end, roll out from the place
he had so carefully covered with mounds. It gathered speed and bounded
over the rough ground, flashed between two rocks and leaped into the
trench, where it crackled and roared in vain.

"Now," said Hopalong, blazing at the mounds as fast as he could fire
his rifle, "we'll just see what yu thinks of yore nice little covers."

Yells of consternation and pain rang out in a swelling chorus, and
legs and arms jerked and flopped, one man, in his astonishment at the
shot that tore open his cheek, sitting up in plain sight of the
marksman. Roars of rage floated up from the main body of the
besiegers, and the discomfited remnant of barrel-rollers broke for
real cover.

Then he stopped another rush from the front, made upon the
supposition that he was thinking only of the second detachment. A
hearty cheer arose from Tom Halloway and his friends, ensconced in
their rocky position, and it was taken up by those on the hill, who
danced and yelled their delight at the battle, to them more humorous
than otherwise.

This recognition of his prowess from men of the caliber of his
audience made him feel good, and he grinned: "Gee, I'll bet Halloway
an' his friends is shore itchin' to get in this," he murmured, firing
at a head that was shown for an instant. "Wonder what Red'll say when
Jimmy tells him-bet he'll plow dust like a cyclone," and Hopalong
laughed, picturing to himself the satiation of Red's anger. "Old red-
headed son-of-a-gun," murmured the cowboy affectionately, "he shore
can fight."

As he squinted over the sights of his rifle his eye caught sight of
a moving body of men as they cantered over the flats about two miles
away. In his eagerness he forgot to shoot and carefully counted them.
"Nine," he grumbled. "Wonder what's th' matter? "Fearing that they
were not his friends. Then a second body numbering eight cantered into
sight and followed the first.

"Whoop! There's th' Red-head!" he shouted, dancing in his joy.
"Now," he shouted at the peach can joyously, "yu wait about thirty
minutes an' yu'll shore reckon Hades has busted loose!"

He grabbed up his Colts, which he kept loaded for repelling rushes,
and recklessly emptied them into the bushes and between the rocks and
trees, searching every likely place for a human target . Then he
slipped his rifle in a loophole and waited for good shots, having
worked off the dangerous pressure of his exuberance.

Soon he heard a yell from the direction of the "Miner's Rest," and
fell to jamming cartridges into his revolvers so that he could sally
out and join in the fray by the side of Red.

The thunder of madly pounding hoofs rolled up the trail, and soon a
horse and rider shot around the corner and headed for the copse. Three
more raced close behind and then a bunch of six, followed by the rest,
spread out and searched for trouble.

Red, a Colt in each hand and hatless, stood up in his stirrups and
sent shot after shot into the fleeing mob, which he could not follow
on account of the nature of the ground. Buck wheeled and dashed down
the trail again with Red a close second, the others packed in a solid
mass and after them. At the first level stretch the newcomers swept
down and hit their enemies, going through them like a knife through
cheese. Hopalong danced up and down with rage when he could not find
his horse, and had to stand and yell, a spectator.

The fight drifted in among the buildings, where it became a series
of isolated duels, and soon Hopalong saw panic-stricken horses
carrying their riders out of the other side of the town. Then he went
gunning for the man who had rustled his horse. He was unsuccessful and
returned to his peaches.

Soon the riders came up, and when they saw Hopalong shove a peach
into his powder-grimed mouth they yelled their delight.

"Yu old maverick! Eatin' peaches like yu was afraid we'd git some!"
shouted Red indignantly, leaping down and running up to his pal as
though to thrash him.

Hopalong grinned pleasantly and fired a peach against Red's eye. "I
was savin' that one for yu, Reddie," he remarked, as he avoided Buck's
playful kick. "Yu fellers git to work an' dig up some wealth-I'm
hungry." Then he turned to Buck: "Yore th' marshal of this town, an'
any son-of-a-gun what don't like it had better write. Oh, yes, here
comes Tom Halloway-'member him?"

Buck turned and faced the miner and his hand went out with a jerk.

"Well, I'll be locoed if I didn't punch with yu on th' Tin-Cup!" he
said.

"Yu shore did an' yu was purty devilish, but that there Cassidy of
yourn beats anything I ever seen."

"He's a good kid," replied Buck, glancing to where Red and Hopalong
were quarreling as to who had eaten the most pie in a contest held
some years before.

Johnny, nosing around, came upon the perforated and partially
scattered piles of earth and twigs, and vented his disgust of them by
kicking them to pieces. "Hey! Hoppy! Oh, Hoppy!" he called, "what are
these things?"

Hopalong jammed Red's hat over that person's eyes and replied: "Oh,
them's some loaded dice I fixed for them."

"Yu son-of-a-gun!" sputtered Red, as he wrestled with his friend in
the exuberance of his pride. "Yu son-of-a-gun! Yu shore ought to be
ashamed to treat `em that way!"

"Shore," replied Hopalong. "But I ain't!"





Next: The Hospitality Of Travennes

Previous: The Advent Of Mcallister



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 449