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Johnny Learns Something

From: Bar-20 Days

For several weeks after Hopalong got back to the ranch, full of
interesting stories and minus the grouch, things went on in a way placid
enough for the most peacefully inclined individual that ever sat a
saddle. And then trouble drifted down from the north and caused a look
of anxiety to spoil Buck Peters' pleasant expression, and began to show
on the faces of his men. When one finds the carcasses of two cows on the
same day, and both are skinned, there can be only one conclusion. The
killing and skinning of two cows out of herds that are numbered by
thousands need not, in themselves, bring lines of worry to any foreman's
brow; but there is the sting of being cheated, the possibility of the
losses going higher unless a sharp lesson be given upon the folly
of fooling with a very keen and active buzz-saw,--and it was the
determination of the outfit of the Bar-20 to teach that lesson, and as
quickly as circumstances would permit.

It was common knowledge that there was a more or less organized band of
shiftless malcontents making its headquarters in and near Perry's Bend,
some distance up the river, and the deduction in this case was easy. The
Bar-20 cared very little about what went on at Perry's Bend--that was
a matter which concerned only the ranches near that town--as long as no
vexatious happenings sifted too far south. But they had so sifted, and
Perry's Bend, or rather the undesirable class hanging out there, was due
to receive a shock before long.

About a week after the finding of the first skinned cows, Pete Wilson
tornadoed up to the bunk house with a perforated arm. Pete was on foot,
having lost his horse at the first exchange of shots, which accounts
for the expression describing his arrival. Pete hated to walk, he hated
still more to get shot, and most of all he hated to have to admit that
his rifle-shooting was so far below par. He had seen the thief at work
and, too eager to work up close to the cattle skinner before announcing
his displeasure, had missed the first shot. When he dragged himself out
from under his deceased horse the scenery was undisturbed save for a
small cloud of dust hovering over a distant rise to the north of him.
After delivering a short and bitter monologue he struck out for
the ranch and arrived in a very hot and wrathful condition. It was
contagious, that condition, and before long the entire outfit was in
the saddle and pounding north, Pete overjoyed because his wound was so
slight as not to bar him from the chase. The shock was on the way,
and as events proved, was to be one long to linger in the minds of the
inhabitants of Perry's Bend and the surrounding range.

The patrons of the Oasis liked their tobacco strong. The pungent smoke
drifted in sluggish clouds along the low, black ceiling, following its
upward slant toward the east wall and away from the high bar at the
other end. This bar, rough and strong, ran from the north wall to within
a scant two feet of the south wall, the opening bridged by a hinged
board which served as an extension to the counter. Behind the bar was
a rear door, low and double, the upper part barred securely--the lower
part was used most. In front of and near the bar was a large round
table, at which four men played cards silently, while two smaller tables
were located along the north wall. Besides dilapidated chairs there were
half a dozen low wooden boxes partly filled with sand, and attention
was directed to the existence and purpose of these by a roughly lettered
sign on the wall, reading: "Gents will look for a box first," which the
"gents" sometimes did. The majority of the "gents" preferred to aim
at various knotholes in the floor and bet on the result, chancing the
outpouring of the proprietor's wrath if they missed.

On the wall behind the bar was a smaller and neater request: "Leave your
guns with the bartender.--Edwards." This, although a month old, still
called forth caustic and profane remarks from the regular frequenters of
the saloon, for hitherto restraint in the matter of carrying weapons
had been unknown. They forthwith evaded the order in a manner consistent
with their characteristics--by carrying smaller guns where they could
not be seen. The majority had simply sawed off a generous part of the
long barrels of their Colts and Remingtons, which did not improve their

Edwards, the new marshal of Perry's Bend, had come direct from Kansas
and his reputation as a fighter had preceded him. When he took up his
first day's work he was kept busy proving that he was the rightful owner
of it and that it had not been exaggerated in any manner or degree.
With the exception of one instance the proof had been bloodless, for he
reasoned that gun-play should give way, whenever possible, to a crushing
"right" or "left" to the point of the jaw or the pit of the stomach.
His proficiency in the manly art was polished and thorough and bespoke
earnest application. The last doubting Thomas to be convinced came to
five minutes after his diaphragm had been rudely and suddenly raised
several inches by a low right hook, and as he groped for his bearings
and got his wind back again he asked, very feebly, where "Kansas" was;
and the name stuck.

When Harlan heard the nickname for the first time he stopped pulling the
cork out of a whiskey bottle long enough to remark, casually, "I allus
reckoned Kansas was purty close to hell," and said no more about it.
Harlan was the proprietor and bartender of the Oasis and catered to the
excessive and uncritical thirsts of the ruck of range society, and he
had objected vigorously to the placing of the second sign in his place
of business; but at the close of an incisive if inelegant reply from the
marshal, the sign went up, and stayed up. Edwards' language and delivery
were as convincing as his fists.

The marshal did not like the Oasis; indeed, he went further and
cordially hated it. Harlan's saloon was a thorn in his side and he was
only waiting for a good excuse to wipe it off the local map. He was the
Law, and behind him were the range riders, who would be only too glad
to have the nest of rustlers wiped out and its gang of ne'er-do-wells
scattered to the four winds. Indeed, he had been given to understand
in a most polite and diplomatic way that if this were not done lawfully
they would try to do it themselves, and they had great faith in their
ability to handle the situation in a thorough and workmanlike manner.
This would not do in a law-abiding community, as he called the town, and
so he had replied that the work was his, and that it would be performed
as soon as he believed himself justified to act. Harlan and his friends
were fully conversant with the feeling against them and had become a
little more cautious, alertly watching out for trouble.

On the evening of the day which saw Pete Wilson's discomfiture most of
the habitues had assembled in the Oasis where, besides the card-players
already mentioned, eight men lounged against the bar. There was some
laughter, much subdued talking, and a little whispering. More whispering
went on under that roof than in all the other places in town put
together; for here rustling was planned, wayfaring strangers were
"trimmed" in "frame-ups" at cards, and a hunted man was certain to find
assistance. Harlan had once boasted that no fugitive had ever been taken
from his saloon, and he was behind the bar and standing on the trap door
which led to the six-by-six cellar when he made the assertion. It was
true, for only those in his confidence knew of the place of refuge under
the floor; it had been dug at night and the dirt carefully disposed of.

It had not been dark very long before talking ceased and card-playing
was suspended while all looked up as the front door crashed open and two
punchers entered, looking the crowd over with critical care.

"Stay here, Johnny," Hopalong told his youthful companion, and then
walked forward, scrutinizing each scowling face in turn, while Johnny
stood with his back to the door, keenly alert, his right hand resting
lightly on his belt not far from the holster.

Harlan's thick neck grew crimson and his eyes hard. "Looking fer
something?" he asked with bitter sarcasm, his hands under the bar.
Johnny grinned hopefully and a sudden tenseness took possession of him
as he watched for the first hostile move.

"Yes," Hopalong replied coolly, appraising Harlan's attitude and look in
one swift glance, "but it ain't here, now. Johnny, get out," he ordered,
backing after his companion, and safely outside, the two walked towards
Jackson's store, Johnny complaining about the little time spent in the

As they entered the store they saw Edwards, whose eye asked a question.

"No; he ain't in there yet," Hopalong replied.

"Did you look all over? Behind the bar?" Edwards asked, slowly. "He
can't get out of town through that cordon you've got strung around it,
an' he ain't nowhere else. Leastwise, I couldn't find him."

"Come on back!" excitedly exclaimed Johnny, turning towards the door.
"You didn't look behind the bar! Come on--bet you ten dollars that's
where he is!"

"Mebby yo're right, Kid," replied Hopalong, and the marshal's nodding
head decided it.

In the saloon there was strong language, and Jack Quinn, expert skinner
of other men's cows, looked inquiringly at the proprietor. "What's up
now, Harlan?"

The proprietor laughed harshly but said nothing--taciturnity was his one
redeeming trait. "Did you say cigars?" he asked, pushing a box across
the bar to an impatient customer. Another beckoned to him and he leaned
over to hear the whispered request, a frown struggling to show itself on
his face. "Nix; you know my rule. No trust in here."

But the man at the far end of the line was unlike the proprietor and he
prefaced his remarks with a curse. "I know what's up! They want Jerry
Brown, that's what! An' I hopes they don't get him, the bullies!"

"What did he do? Why do they want him?" asked the man who had wanted

"Skinning. He was careless or crazy, working so close to their ranch
houses. Nobody that had any sense would take a chance like that,"
replied Boston, adept at sleight-of-hand with cards and very much in
demand when a frame-up was to be rung in on some unsuspecting stranger.
His one great fault in the eyes of his partners was that he hated to
divvy his winnings and at times had to be coerced into sharing equally.

"Aw, them big ranches make me mad," announced the first speaker. "Ten
years ago there was a lot of little ranchers, an' every one of 'em had
his own herd, an' plenty of free grass an' water for it. Where are the
little herds now? Where are the cows that we used to own?" he cried,
hotly. "What happens to a maverick-hunter now-a-days? By God, if a man
helps hisself to a pore, sick dogie he's hunted down! It can't go on
much longer, an' that's shore."

Cries of approbation arose on all sides, for his auditors ignored the
fact that their kind, by avarice and thievery, had forever killed the
occupation of maverick-hunting. That belonged to the old days, before
the demand for cows and their easy and cheap transportation had boosted
the prices and made them valuable.

Slivers Lowe leaped up from his chair. "Yo're right, Harper! Dead right!
I was a little cattle owner once, so was you, an' Jerry, an' most of
us!" Slivers found it convenient to forget that fully half of his small
herd had perished in the bitter and long winter of five years before,
and that the remainder had either flowed down his parched throat or been
lost across the big round table near the bar. Not a few of his cows were
banked in the east under Harlan's name.

The rear door opened slightly and one of the loungers looked up and
nodded. "It's all right, Jerry. But get a move on!"

"Here, you!" called Harlan, quickly bending over the trap door,

Jerry was half way to the proprietor when the front door swung open and
Hopalong, closely followed by the marshal, leaped into the room, and
immediately thereafter the back door banged open and admitted Johnny.
Jerry's right hand was in his side coat pocket and Johnny, young and
self-confident, and with a lot to learn, was certain that he could beat
the fugitive on the draw.

"I reckon you won't blot no more brands!" he cried, triumphantly,
watching both Jerry and Harlan.

The card-players had leaped to their feet and at a signal from Harlan
they surged forward to the bar and formed a barrier between Johnny and
his friends; and as they did so that puncher jerked at his gun, twisting
to half face the crowd. At that instant fire and smoke spurted from
Jerry's side coat pocket and the odor of burning cloth arose. As Johnny
fell, the rustler ducked low and sprang for the door. A gun roared twice
in the front of the room and Jerry staggered a little and cursed as he
gained the opening, but he plunged into the darkness and threw himself
into the saddle on the first horse he found in the small corral.

When the crowd massed, Hopalong leaped at it and strove to tear his way
to the opening at the end of the bar, while the marshal covered Harlan
and the others. Finding that he could not get through. Hopalong sprang
on the shoulder of the nearest man and succeeded in winging the fugitive
at the first shot, the other going wild. Then, frantic with rage and
anxiety, he beat his way through the crowd, hammering mercilessly at
heads with the butt of his Colt, and knelt at his friend's side.

Edwards, angered almost to the point of killing, ordered the crowd
to stand against the wall, and laughed viciously when he saw two men
senseless on the floor. "Hope he beat in yore heads!" he gritted,
savagely. "Harlan, put yore paws up in sight or I'll drill you clean!
Now climb over an' get in line--quick!"

Johnny moaned and opened his eyes. "Did--did I--get him?"

"No; but he gimleted you, all right," Hopalong replied. "You'll come
'round if you keep quiet." He arose, his face hard with the desire to
kill. "I'm coming back for you, Harlan, after I get yore friend! An'
all the rest of you pups, too!"

"Get me out of here," whispered Johnny.

"Shore enough, Kid; but keep quiet," replied Hopalong, picking him up in
his arms and moving carefully towards the door. "We'll get him, Johnny;
an' all the rest, too, when----" The voice died out in the direction of
Jackson's and the marshal, backing to the front door, slipped out and to
one side, running backward, his eyes on the saloon.

"Yore day's about over, Harlan," he muttered. "There's going to be some
few funerals around here before many hours pass."

When he reached the store he found the owner and two Double-Arrow
punchers taking care of Johnny. "Where's Hopalong?" he asked.

"Gone to tell his foreman," replied Jackson. "Hey, youngster, you let
them bandages alone! Hear me?"

"Hullo, Kansas," remarked John Bartlett, foreman of the Double-Arrow. "I
come nigh getting yore man; somebody rode past me like a streak in the
dark, so I just ups an' lets drive for luck, an' so did he. I heard him
cuss an' I emptied my gun after him."

"The rest was a-passing the word along to ride in when I left the line,"
remarked one of the other punchers. "How you feeling now, Johnny?"

Next: The End Of The Trail

Previous: The Stranger's Plan

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