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Hopalong Loses A Horse

From: Bar-20 Days

For a month after their return from the San Miguel, Hopalong and his
companions worked with renewed zest, and told and retold the other
members of the outfit of their unusual experiences near the Mexican
border. Word had come up to them that Martin had secured the conviction
of the smugglers and was in line for immediate advancement. No one on
the range had the heart to meet Johnny Nelson, for Johnny carried with
him a piece of the ghost, and became pugnacious if his once-jeering
friends and acquaintances refused to nibble on it. Cowan still sold his
remarkable drink, but he had yielded to Johnny's persuasive methods and
now called it "Nelson's Pet."

One bright day the outfit started rounding up a small herd of
three-year-olds, which Buck had sold, and by the end of the week the
herd was complete and ready for the drive. This took two weeks and when
Hopalong led his drive outfit through Hoyt's Corners on its homeward
journey he felt the pull of the town of Grant, some miles distant, and
it was too strong to be resisted. Flinging a word of explanation to the
nearest puncher, he turned to lope away, when Red's voice checked him.
Red wanted to delay his home-coming for a day or two and attend to a
purely personal matter at a ranch lying to the west. Hopalong, knowing
the reason for Red's wish, grinned and told him to go, and not to
propose until he had thought the matter over very carefully. Red's reply
was characteristic, and after arranging a rendezvous and naming the
time, the two separated and rode toward their destinations, while the
rest of the outfit kept on towards their ranch.

"A man owes something to all his friends," Hopalong mused. In this
case he owed a return game of draw poker to certain of Grant's leading
citizens, and he liked to pay his obligations when opportunity offered.

It was mid-afternoon when he topped a rise and saw below him the handful
of shacks making up the town. A look of pleased interest flickered
across his face as he noticed a patched and dirty tent pitched close up
to the nearest shack. "Show!" he exclaimed. "Now, ain't that luck!
I'll shore take it in. If it's a circus, mebby it has a trick mule to
ride--I'll never forget that one up in Kansas City," he grinned. But
almost instantly a doubt arose and tempered the grin. "Huh! Mebby it's
the branding chute of some gospel sharp." As he drew near he focussed
his eyes on the canvas and found that his fears were justified.

"All Are Welcome," he spelled out slowly. "Shore they are!" he muttered.
"I never nowhere saw such hard-working, all-embracing rustlers as them
fellers. They'll stick their iron on anything from a wobbly calf or
dying dogie to a staggering-with-age mosshead, an' shout 'tally one'
with the same joy. Well, not for mine, this trip. I'm going to graze
loose an' buck-jump all I wants. Anyhow, if I did let him brand me I'd
only backslide in a week," and Hopalong pressed his pony to a more rapid
gait as two men emerged from the tent. "There's the sky-pilot now," he
muttered--"an' there's Dave!" he shouted, waving his arm. "Oh, Dave!

Dave Wilkes looked up, and his grin of delight threatened to engulf
his ears. "Hullo, Cassidy! Glad to see you! Keep right on for the
store--I'll be with you in a minute." When David told his companion the
visitor's name the evangelist held up his hand eloquently and spoke.

"I know all about him!" he exclaimed sorrowfully. "If I can lead him out
of his wickedness I will rest content though I save no more souls this
fortnight. Is it all true?"

"Huh! What true?"

"All that I have heard about him."

"Well, I dunno what you've heard," replied Dave, with grave caution,
"but I reckon it might be if it didn't cover lying, stealing, cowardice,
an' such coyote traits. He's shore a holy terror with a short gun, all
right, but lemme tell you something mebby you ain't heard: There ain't
a square man in this part of the country that won't feel some honored
an' proud to be called a friend of Hopalong Cassidy. Them's the
sentiments rampaging hereabouts. I ain't denying that he's gone an'
killed off a lot of men first an' last--but the only trouble there is
that he didn't get 'em soon enough. They all had lived too blamed long
when they went an' stacked up agin him an' that lightning short gun of
hissn. But, say, if yo're calculating to tackle him at yore game, lead
him gentle--don't push none. He comes to life real sudden when he's
shoved. So long; see you later, mebby."

The revivalist looked after him and mused, "I hope I was informed wrong,
but this much I have to be thankful for: The wickedness of most of these
men, these over-grown children, is manly, stalwart, and open; few of
them are vicious or contemptible. Their one great curse is drink."

When Hopalong entered the store he was vociferously welcomed by two
men, and the proprietor joining them, the circle was complete. When the
conversation threatened to repeat itself cards were brought and the next
two hours passed very rapidly. They were expensive hours to the Bar-20
puncher, who finally arose with an apologetic grin and slapped his thigh

"Well, you've got it all; I'm busted wide open, except for a measly
dollar, an' I shore hopes you don't want that," he laughed. "You play a
whole lot better than you did the last time I was here. I've got to move
along. I'm going east an' see Wallace an' from there I've got to meet
Red an' ride home with him. But you come an' see us when you can--it's
me that wants revenge this time."

"Huh; you'll be wanting it worse than ever if we do," smiled Dave.

"Say, Hoppy," advised Tom Lawrence, "better drop in an' hear the
sky-pilot's palaver before you go. It'll do you a whole lot of good, an'
it can't do you no harm, anyhow."

"You going?" asked Hopalong suspiciously.

"Can't--got too much work to do," quickly responded Tom, his brother Art
nodding happy confirmation.

"Huh; I reckoned so!" snorted Hopalong sarcastically, as he shook hands
all around. "You all know where to find us--drop in an' see us when you
get down our way," he invited.

"Sorry you can't stay longer, Cassidy," remarked Dave, as his friend
mounted. "But come up again soon--an' be shore to tell all the boys we
was asking for 'em," he called.

Considering the speed with which Hopalong started for Wallace's, he
might have been expecting a relay of "quarter" horses to keep it going,
but he pulled up short at the tent. Such inconsistency is trying to the
temper of the best-mannered horse, and this particular animal was not in
the least good-mannered, wherefore its rider was obliged to soothe its
resentment in his own peculiar way, listening meanwhile to the loud and
impassioned voice of the evangelist haranguing his small audience.

"I wonder," said Hopalong, glancing through the door, "if them friends
of mine reckon I'm any ascared to go in that tent? Huh, I'll just show
'em anyhow!" whereupon he dismounted, flung the reins over his horse's
head, and strode through the doorway.

The nearest seat, a bench made by placing a bottom board of the
evangelist's wagon across two up-ended boxes, was close enough to the
exhorter and he dropped into it and glanced carelessly at his nearest
neighbor. The carelessness went out of his bearing as his eyes fastened
themselves in a stare on the man's neck-kerchief. Hopalong was hardened
to awful sights and at his best was not an artistic soul, but the
villainous riot of fiery crimson, gaudy yellow, and pugnacious and
domineering green which flaunted defiance and insolence from the
stranger's neck caused his breath to hang over one count and then come
double strong at the next exhalation. "Gee whiz!" he whispered.

The stranger slowly turned his head and looked coldly upon the impudent
disturber of his reverent reflections. "Meaning?" he questioned, with
an upward slant in his voice. The neck-kerchief seemed to grow suddenly
malignant and about to spring. "Meaning?" repeated the other with great
insolence, while his eyes looked a challenge.

While Hopalong's eyes left the scrambled color-insult and tried to
banish the horrible after-image, his mind groped for the rules of
etiquette governing free fist fights in gospel tents, and while he
hesitated as to whether he should dent the classic profile of the
color-bearer or just twist his nose as a sign of displeasure, the voice
of the evangelist arose to a roar and thundered out. Hopalong ducked

"--Stop! Stop before it is too late, before death takes you in the
wallow of your sins! Repent and gain salvation--"

Hopalong felt relieved, but his face retained its expression of
childlike innocence even after he realized that he was not being
personally addressed; and he glanced around. It took him ninety-seven
seconds to see everything there was to be seen, and his eyes were drawn
irresistibly back to the stranger's kerchief. "Awful! Awful thing for
a drinking man to wear, or run up against unexpectedly!" he muttered,
blinking. "Worse than snakes," he added thoughtfully.

"Look ahere, you--" began the owner of the offensive decoration, if it
might be called such, but the evangelist drowned his voice in another
flight of eloquence.

"--Peace! Peace is the message of the Lord to His children," roared
the voice from the upturned soap box, and when the speaker turned and
looked in the direction of the two men-with-a-difference he found them
sitting up very straight and apparently drinking in his words with great
relish; whereupon he felt that he was making gratifying progress toward
the salvation of their spotted souls. He was very glad, indeed, that he
had been so grievously misinformed about the personal attributes of one
Hopalong Cassidy,--glad and thankful.

"Death cometh as a thief in the night," the voice went on. "Think of
the friends who have gone before; who were well one minute and gone the
next! And it must come to all of us, to all of us, to me and to you--"

The man with the afflicted neck started rocking the bench.

"Something is coming to somebody purty soon," murmured Hopalong. He
began to sidle over towards his neighbor, his near hand doubled up into
a huge knot of protuberant knuckles and white-streaked fingers; but as
he was about to deliver his hint that he was greatly displeased at the
antics of the bench, a sob came to his ears. Turning his head swiftly,
he caught sight of the stranger's face, and sorrow was marked so
strongly upon it that the sight made Hopalong gape. His hand opened
slowly and he cautiously sidled back again, disgruntled, puzzled,
and vexed at himself for having strayed into a game where he was so
hopelessly at sea. He thought it all over carefully and then gave it up
as being too deep for him to solve. But he determined one thing: He was
not going to leave before the other man did, anyhow.

"An' if I catch that howling kerchief outside," he muttered, smacking
his lips with satisfaction at what was in store for it. His visit
to Wallace was not very important, anyway, and it could wait on more
important events.

"There sits a sinner!" thundered out the exhorter, and Hopalong looked
stealthily around for a sight of a villain. "God only has the right to
punish. 'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord, and whosoever takes the
law into his own hands, whosoever takes human life, defies the Creator.
There sits a man who has killed his fellow-men, his brothers! Are you
not a sinner, Cassidy?"

Cassidy jumped clear of the bench as he jerked his head around and
stared over the suddenly outstretched arm and pointing finger of the
speaker and into his accusing eyes.

"Answer me! Are you not a sinner?"

Hopalong stood up, confused, bewildered, and then his suspended thoughts
stirred and formed. "Guilty, I reckon, an' in the first degree. But they
didn't get no more'n what was coming to 'em, no more'n they earned. An'
that's straight!"

"How do you know they didn't? How do you know they earned it? How do you
know?" demanded the evangelist, who was delighted with the chance to
argue with a sinner. He had great faith in "personal contact," and
his was the assurance of training, of the man well rehearsed and fully
prepared. And he knew that if he should be pinned into a corner by logic
and asked for his proofs, that he could squirm out easily and take the
offensive again by appealing to faith, the last word in sophistry, and a
greater and more powerful weapon than intelligence. This was his game,
and it was fixed; he could not lose if he could arouse enough interest
in a man to hold him to the end of the argument. He continued to drive,
to crowd. "What right have you to think so? What right have you to judge
them? Have you divine insight? Are you inspired? 'Judge not lest ye be
judged,' saith the Lord, and you dare to fly in the face of that great

"You've got me picking the pea in this game, all right," responded
Hopalong, dropping back on the bench. "But lemme tell you one thing;
Command or no command, devine or not devine, I know when a man has
lived too long, an' when he's going to try to get me. An' all the gospel
sharps south of heaven can't stop me from handing a thief what he's
earned. Go on with the show, but count me out."

While the evangelist warmed to the attack, vaguely realizing that he
had made a mistake in not heeding Dave Wilkes' tip, Hopalong became
conscious of a sense of relief stealing over him and he looked around
wonderingly for the cause. The man with the kerchief had "folded his
tents" and departed; and Hopalong, heaving a sigh of satisfaction,
settled himself more comfortably and gave real attention to the
discourse, although he did not reply to the warm and eloquent man on the
soap box. Suddenly he sat up with a start as he remembered that he had a
long and hard ride before him if he wished to see Wallace, and arising,
strode towards the exit, his chest up and his chin thrust out. The only
reply he made to the excited and personal remarks of the revivalist was
to stop at the door and drop his last dollar into the yeast box before
passing out.

For a moment he stood still and pondered, his head too full of what
he had heard to notice that anything out of the ordinary had happened.
Although the evangelist had adopted the wrong method he had gained
more than he knew and Hopalong had something to take home with him and
wrestle out for himself in spare moments; that is, he would have had
but for one thing: As he slowly looked around for his horse he came to
himself with a sharp jerk, and hot profanity routed the germ of religion
incubating in his soul. His horse was missing! Here was a pretty mess,
he thought savagely; and then his expression of anger and perplexity
gave way to a flickering grin as the probable solution came to his mind.

"By the Lord, I never saw such a bunch to play jokes," he laughed.
"Won't they never grow up? They was watching me when I went inside an'
sneaked up and rustled my cayuse. Well, I'll get back again without much
trouble, all right. They ought to know me better by this time."

"Hey, stranger!" he called to a man who was riding past, "have you seen
anything of a skinny roan cayuse fifteen han's high, white stocking on
the near foreleg, an' a bandage on the off fetlock, Bar-20 being the

The stranger, knowing the grinning inquisitor by sight, suspected that
a joke was being played: he also knew Dave Wilkes and that gentleman's
friends. He chuckled and determined to help it along a little. "Shore
did, pardner; saw a man leading him real cautious. Was he yourn?"

"Oh, no; not at all. He belonged to my great-great-grandfather, who left
him to my second cousin. You see, I borrowed it," he grinned, making his
way leisurely towards the general store, kept by his friend Dave, the
joker. "Funny how everybody likes a joke," he muttered, opening the door
of the store. "Hey, Dave," he called.

Mr. Wilkes wheeled suddenly and stared. "Why, I thought you was half-way
to Wallace's by now!" he exclaimed. "Did you come back to lose that lone

"Oh, I lost that too. But yo're a real smart cuss, now ain't you?"
queried Hopalong, his eyes twinkling and his face wreathed with good
humor. "An' how innocent you act, too. Thought you could scare me,
didn't you? Thought I'd go tearing 'round this fool town like a house
afire, hey? Well, I reckon you can guess again. Now, I'm owning up that
the joke's on me, so you hand over my cayuse, an' I'll make up for lost

Dave Wilkes' face expressed several things, but surprise was dominant.
"Why, I ain't even seen yore ol' cayuse, you chump! Last time I saw it
you was on him, going like the devil. Did somebody pull you off it an'
take it away from you?" he demanded with great sarcasm. "Is somebody
abusing you?"

Hopalong bit into a generous handful of dried apricots, chewed
complacently for a moment, and replied: "'At's aw right; I want my
cayuse." Swallowing hastily, he continued: "I want it, an' I've come to
the right place for it, too. Hand it over, David."

"Dod blast it, I tell you I ain't got it!" retorted Dave, beginning
to suspect that something was radically wrong. "I ain't seen it, an' I
don't know nothing about it."

Hopalong wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Well, then, Tom or Art does,
all right."

"No, they don't, neither; I watched 'em leave an' they rode straight
out of town, an' went the other way, same as they allus do." Dave was
getting irritated. "Look here, you; are you joking or drunk, or both, or
is that animule of yourn really missing?"

"Huh!" snorted Hopalong, trying some new prunes. "'Ese prunes er purty
good," he mumbled, in grave congratulation. "I don' get prunes like 'ese
very of'n."

"I reckon you don't! They ought to be good! Cost me thirty cents a
half-pound," Dave retorted with asperity, anxiously shifting his feet.
It didn't take much of a loss to wipe out a day's profits with him.

"An' I don't reckon you paid none too much for 'em, at that," Mr.
Cassidy responded, nodding his head in comprehension. "Ain't no worms in
'em, is there?"

"Shore there is!" exploded Dave. "Plumb full of 'em!"

"You don't say! Hardly know whether to take a chance with the worms or
try the apricots. Ain't no worms in them, anyhow. But when am I going to
get my cayuse? I've got a long way to go, an' delay is costly--how much
did you say these yaller fellers cost?" he asked significantly, trying
another handful of apricots.

"On the dead level, cross my heart an' hope to die, but I ain't seen
yore cayuse since you left here," earnestly replied Dave. "If you don't
know where it is, then somebody went an' lifted it. It looks like it's
up to you to do some hunting, 'stead of cultivating a belly-ache at my
expense. I ain't trying to keep you, God knows!"

Hopalong glanced out of the window as he considered, and saw, entering
the saloon, the same puncher who had confessed to seeing his horse. "Hey
Dave; wait a minute!" and he dashed out of the store and made good time
towards the liquid refreshment parlor. Dave promptly nailed the covers
on the boxes of prunes and apricots and leaned innocently against the
cracker box to await results, thinking hard all the while. It looked
like a plain case of horse-stealing to him.

"Stranger," cried Hopalong, bouncing into the bar-room, "where did you
see that cayuse of mine?"

"The ancient relic of yore family was aheading towards Hoyt's Corners,"
the stranger replied, grinning broadly. "It's a long walk. Have
something before you starts?"

"Damn the walk! Who was riding him?"

"Nobody at all."

"What do you mean?"

"He wasn't being rid when I saw him."

"Hang it, man; that cayuse was stole from me!"

"Somewhat in the nature of a calamity, now ain't it?" smiled the
stranger, enjoying his contributions to the success of the joke.

"You bet yore life it is!" shouted Hopalong, growing red and then pale.
"You tell me who was leading him, understand?"

"Well, I couldn't see his face, honest I couldn't," replied the
stranger. "Every time I tried it I was shore blinded by the most awful
an' horrible neck-kerchief I've ever had the hard luck to lay my eyes
on. Of all the drunks I ever met, them there colors was--Hey! Wait a
minute!" he shouted at Hopalong's back.

"Dave, gimme yore cayuse an' a rifle--quick!" cried Hopalong from
the middle of the street as he ran towards the store. "Hypocrite
son-of-a-hoss-thief went an' run mine off. Might 'a' knowed nobody but a
thief could wear such a kerchief!"

"I'm with you!" shouted Dave, leading the way on the run towards the
corral in the rear of his store.

"No, you ain't with me, neither!" replied Hopalong, deftly saddling.
"This ain't no plain hoss-thief case--it's a private grudge. See you
later, mebby," and he was pacing a cloud of dust towards the outskirts
of the town.

Dave looked after him. "Well, that feller has shore got a big start on
you, but he can't keep ahead of that Doll of mine for very long. She can
out-run anything in these parts. 'Sides, Cassidy's cayuse looked sort
of done up, while mine's as fresh as a bird. That thief will get what's
coming to him, all right."

Next: Mr Cassidy Cogitates

Previous: The Ghost Of The San Miguel

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