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Mr Cassidy Cogitates








From: Bar-20 Days

While Hopalong tried to find his horse, Ben Ferris pushed forward,
circling steadily to the east and away from the direction of Hoyt's
corners, which was as much a menace to his health and happiness as the
town of Grant, twenty miles to his rear. If he could have been certain
that no danger was nearer to him than these two towns, he would have
felt vastly relieved, even if his horse was not fresh. During the last
hour he had not urged it as hard as he had in the beginning of his
flight and it had dropped to a walk for minutes at a stretch. This was
not because he felt that he had plenty of time, but for the reason that
he understood horses and could not afford to exhaust his mount so early
in the chase. He glanced back from time to time as if fearing what might
be on his trail, and well he might fear. According to all the traditions
and customs of the range, both of which he knew well, somewhere between
him and Grant was a posse of hard-riding cow-punchers, all anxious and
eager for a glance at him over their sights. In his mind's eye he
could see them, silent, grim, tenacious, reeling off the miles on that
distance-eating lope. He had stolen a horse, and that meant death if
they caught him. He loosened his gaudy kerchief and gulped in fear,
not of what pursued, but of what was miles before him. His own saddle,
strapped behind the one he sat in, bumped against him with each reach of
the horse and had already made his back sore--but he must endure it for
a time. Never in all his life had minutes been so precious.

Another hour passed and the horse seemed to be doing well, much better
than he had hoped--he would rest it for a few minutes at the next water
while he drank his fill and changed the bumping saddle. As he rounded a
turn and entered a heavily grassed valley he saw a stream close at hand
and, leaping off, fixed the saddle first. As he knelt to drink he caught
a movement and jumped up to catch his mount. Time after time he almost
touched it, but it evaded him and kept up the game, cropping a mouthful
of grass during each respite.

"All right!" he muttered as he let it eat. "I'll get my drink while you
eat an' then I'll get you!"

He knelt by the stream again and drank long and deep. As he paused for
breath something made him leap up and to one side, reaching for his
Colt at the same instant. His fingers found only leather and he swore
fiercely as he remembered--he had sold the Colt for food and kept the
rifle for defence. As he faced the rear a horseman rounded the turn and
the fugitive, wheeling, dashed for the stolen horse forty yards away,
where his rifle lay in its saddle sheath. But an angry command and the
sharp hum of a bullet fired in front of him checked his flight and he
stopped short and swore.

"I reckon the jig's up," remarked Mr. Cassidy, balancing the up-raised
Colt with nicety and indifference.

"Yea; I reckon so," sullenly replied the other, tears running into his
eyes.

"Well, I'm damned!" snorted Hopalong with cutting contempt. "Crying like
a li'l baby! Got nerve enough to steal my cayuse, an' then go an'
beller like a lost calf when I catch you. Yo're a fine specimen of a
hoss-thief, I don't think!"

"Yo're a liar!" retorted the other, clenching his fists and growing red.

Mr. Cassidy's mouth opened and then clicked shut as his Colt swung down.
But he did not shoot; something inside of him held his trigger finger
and he swore instead. The idea of a man stealing his horse, being caught
red-handed and unarmed, and still possessed of sufficient courage to
call his captor a name never tolerated or overlooked in that country!
And the idea that he, Hopalong Cassidy, of the Bar-20, could not shoot
such a thief! "Damn that sky pilot! He's shore gone an' made me loco,"
he muttered, savagely, and then addressed his prisoner. "Oh, you ain't
crying? Wind got in yore eyes, I reckon, an' sort of made 'em leak a
little--that it? Or mebby them unholy green roses an' yaller grass on
that blasted fool neck-kerchief of yourn are too much for your eyes,
too!"

"Look ahere!" snapped the man on the ground, stepping forward, one fist
upraised. "I came nigh onto licking you this noon in that gospel sharp's
tent for making fun of that scarf, an' I'll do it yet if you get any
smart about it! You mind yore own business an' close yore fool eyes if
you don't like my clothes!"

"Say! You ain't no cry-baby after all. Hanged if I even think yo're a
real genuine hoss-thief!" enthused Mr. Cassidy. "You act like a twin
brother; but what the devil ever made you steal that cayuse, anyhow?"

"An' that's none of yore business, neither; but I'll tell you, just the
same," replied the thief. "I had to have it; that's why. I'll fight
you rough-an'-tumble to see if I keep it, or if you take the cayuse an'
shoot me besides: is it a go?"

Hopalong stared at him and then a grin struggled for life, got it, and
spread slowly over his tanned countenance. "Yore gall is refreshing!
Damned if it ain't worse than the scarf. Here, you tell me what made you
take a chance like stealing a cayuse this noon--I'm getting to like you,
bad as you are, hanged if I ain't!"

"Oh, what's the use?" demanded the other, tears again coming into his
eyes. "You'll think I'm lying an' trying to crawl out--an' I won't do
neither."

"I didn't say you was a liar," replied Hopalong. "It was the other
way about. Reckon you can try me, anyhow; can't you?"

"Yes; I s'pose so," responded the other, slowly, and in a milder tone
of voice. "An' when I called you that I was mad and desperate. I was
hasty--you see, my wife's dying, or dead, over in Winchester. I was
riding hard to get to her before it was too late when my cayuse stepped
into a hole just the other side of Grant--you know what happened. I shot
the animal, stripped off my saddle an' hoofed it to town, an' dropped
into that gospel dealer's layout to see if he could make me feel any
better--which he could not. I just couldn't stand his palaver about
death an' slipped out. I was going to lay for you an' lick you for the
way you acted about this scarf--had to do something or go loco. But when
I got outside there was yore cayuse, all saddled an' ready to go. I
just up an' threw my saddle on it, followed suit with myself an' was
ten miles out of town before I realized just what I'd done. But the
realizing part of it didn't make no difference to me--I'd 'a' done
it just the same if I had stopped to think it over. That's flat, an'
straight. I've got to get to that li'l woman as quick as I can, an' I'd
steal all the cayuses in the whole damned country if they'd do me any
good. That's all of it--take it or leave it. I put it up to you. That's
yore cayuse, but you ain't going to get it without fighting me for it!
If you shoot me down without giving me a chance, all right! I'll cut a
throat for that wore-out bronc!"

Hopalong was buried in thought and came to himself just in time to cover
the other and stop him not six feet away. "Just a minute, before you
make me shoot you! I want to think about it."

"Damn that gun!" swore the fugitive, nervously shifting his feet and
preparing to spring. "We'd 'a' been fighting by this time if it wasn't
for that!"

"You stand still or I'll blow you apart," retorted Hopalong, grimly. "A
man's got a right to think, ain't he? An' if I had somebody here to mind
these guns so you couldn't sneak 'em on me I'd fight you so blamed quick
that you'd be licked before you knew you was at it. But we ain't going
to fight--stand still! You ain't got no show at all when yo're dead!"

"Then you gimme that cayuse--my God, man! Do you know the hell I've been
through for the last two days? Got the word up at Daly's Crossing an'
ain't slept since. I'll go loco if the strain lasts much longer! She
asking for me, begging to see me: an' me, like a damned idiot, wasting
time out here talking to another. Ride with me, behind me--it's only
forty miles more--tie me to the saddle an' blow me to pieces if you find
I'm lying--do anything you wants; but let me get to Winchester before
dark!"

Hopalong was watching him closely and at the end of the other's outburst
threw back his head. "I reckon I'm a plain fool, a jackass; but I don't
care. I'll rope that cayuse for you. You come along to save time,"
Hopalong ordered, spurring forward. His borrowed rope sailed out,
tightened, and in a moment he was working at the saddle. "Here, you; I'm
going to swamp mounts with you--this one is fresher an' faster." He had
his own saddle off and the other on in record time, and stepped back.
"There; don't stand there like a fool--wake up an' hustle! I might
change my mind--that's the way to move! Gimme that neck-kerchief for
a souveneer, an' get out. Send that cayuse back to Dave Wilkes, at
Grant--it's hissn. Don't thank me; just gimme that scarf an' ride like
the devil."

The other, already mounted, tore the kerchief from his throat and handed
it quickly to his benefactor. "If you ever want a man to take you out of
hell, send to Winchester for Ben Ferris--that's me. So long!"

Mr. Cassidy sat on his saddle where he had dropped it after making the
exchange and looked after the galloping horseman, and when a distant
rise had shut him from sight, turned his eyes on the scarf in his hand
and cogitated. Finally, with a long-drawn sigh he arose, and, placing
the scarf on the ground, caught and saddled his horse. Riding gloomily
back to where the riot of color fluttered on the grass he drew his Colt
and sent six bullets through it with a great amount of satisfaction. Not
content with the damage he had inflicted, he leaned over and swooped
it up. Riding further he also swooped up a stone and tied the kerchief
around it, and then stood up in his stirrups and drew back his arm with
critical judgment. He sat quietly for a time after the gaudy missile had
disappeared into the stream and then, wheeling, cantered away. But he
did not return to the town of Grant--he lacked the nerve to face Dave
Wilkes and tell his childish and improbable story. He would ride on and
meet Red as they had agreed; a letter would do for Mr. Wilkes, and after
he had broken the shock in that manner he could pay him a personal visit
sometime soon. Dave would never believe the story and when it was told
Hopalong wanted to have the value of the horse in his trousers pocket.
Of course, Ben Ferris might have told the truth and he might return
the horse according to directions. Hopalong emerged from his reverie
long enough to appeal to his mount:

"Bronc, I've been thinking: am I or am I not a jackass?"





Next: Red Brings Trouble

Previous: Hopalong Loses A Horse



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