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Mr Holden Drops In








From: Bar-20 Days

Mr. Cassidy dismounted and viewed the building with open disgust,
walking around it to see what held it up, and when he finally realized
that it was self-supporting his astonishment was profound. Undoubtedly
there were shacks in the United States in worse condition, but he hoped
their number was small. Of course he knew that the building was small.
Of course he knew that the building would make a very good place of
defence, but for the sake of argument he called to his companion and
urged that they be satisfied with what defence they could extemporize in
the open. Mr. Connors hotly and hastily dissented as he led the horses
into the building, and straightway the subject was arbitrated with much
feeling and snappy eloquence. Finally Hopalong thought that Red was a
chump, and said so out loud, whereat Red said unpleasant things about
his good friend's pedigree, attributes, intelligence, et al., even going
so far as to prognosticate his friend's place of eternal abode. The
remarks were fast getting to be somewhat personal in tenor when a whine
in the air swept up the scale to a vicious shriek as it passed between
them, dropped rapidly to a whine again and quickly died out in the
distance, a flat report coming to their ears a few seconds later.
Invisible bees seemed to be winging through the air, the angry and
venomous droning becoming more pronounced each passing moment, and the
irregular cracking of rifles grew louder rapidly. An angry s-p-a-t!
told of where a stone behind them had launched the ricochet which hurled
skyward with a wheezing scream. A handful of 'dobe dust sprang from the
corner of the building and sifted down upon them, causing Red to cough.

"That ricochet was a Sharps!" exclaimed Hopalong, and they lost no time
in getting into the building, where the discussion was renewed as they
prepared for the final struggle. Red grunted his cheerful approval, for
now he was out of the blazing sun and where he could better appreciate
the musical tones of the flying bullets; but his companion, slamming
shut the door and propping it with a fallen roof-beam, grumbled and
finally gave rein to his rancor by sneering at the Winchester.

"It shore gets me that after all I have said about that gun you will
tote it around with you and force yoreself into a suicide's grave,"
quoth Mr. Cassidy, with exuberant pugnacity. "I ain't in no way
objecting to the suicide part of it, but I can't see that it's at all
fair to drag me onto the edge of everlasting eternity with you. If you
ain't got no regard for yore own life you shore ought to think a little
about yore friend's. Now you'll waste all yore cartridges an' then
come snooping around me to borrow my gun. Why don't you lose the damned
thing?"

"What I pack ain't none of yore business, which same I'll uphold,"
retorted Mr. Connors, at last able to make himself heard. "You get over
on yore own side an' use yore Colt; I've wondered a whole lot where you
ever got the sense to use a Colt--I wouldn't be a heap surprised to
see you toting a pearl-handled .22, like the kids use. Now you 'tend to
yore grave-yard aspirants, an' lemme do the same with mine."

"The Lord knows I've stood a whole lot from you because you just can't
help being foolish, but I've got plumb weary and sick of it. It stops
right here or you won't get no 'Paches," snorted Hopalong, peering
intently through a hole in the shack. The more they squabbled the better
they liked it,--controversies had become so common that they were
merely a habit; and they served to take the grimness out of desperate
situations.

"Aw, you can't lick one side of me," averred Red loftily. "You never did
stop anybody that was anything," he jeered as he fired from his window.
"Why, you couldn't even hit the bottom of the Grand Canyon if you leaned
over the edge."

"You could, if you leaned too far, you red-headed wart of a half-breed,"
snapped Hopalong. "But how about the Joneses, Tarantula Charley, Slim
Travennes, an' all the rest? How about them, hey?"

"Huh! You couldn't 'a' got any of 'em if they had been sober," and Mr.
Connors shook so with mirth that the Indian at whom he had fired got
away with a whole skin and cheerfully derided the marksman. "That 'Pache
shore reckons it was you shooting at him, I missed him so far. Now, you
shut up--I want to get some so we can go home. I don't want to stay out
here all night an' the next day as well," Red grumbled, his words dying
slowly in his throat as he voiced other thoughts.

Hopalong caught sight of an Apache who moved cautiously through a
chaparral lying about nine hundred yards away. As long as the distant
enemy lay quietly he could not be discerned, but he was not content
with assured safety and took a chance. Hopalong raised his rifle to his
shoulder as the Indian fired and the latter's bullet, striking the
edge of the hole through which Mr. Cassidy peered, kicked up a generous
handful of dust, some of which found lodgment in that individual's eyes.

"Oh! Oh! Oh! Wow!" yelled the unfortunate, dancing blindly around the
room in rage and pain, and dropping his rifle to grab at his eyes. "Oh!
Oh! Oh!"

His companion wheeled like a flash and grabbed him as he stumbled past.
"Are you plugged bad, Hoppy? Where did they get you? Are you hit bad?"
and Red's heart was in his voice.

"No, I ain't plugged bad!" mimicked Hopalong. "I ain't plugged at all!"
he blazed, kicking enthusiastically at his solicitous friend. "Get me
some water, you jackass! Don't stand there like a fool! I ain't going to
fall down. Don't you know my eyes are full of 'dobe?"

Red, avoiding another kick, hastily complied, and as hastily left
Mr. Cassidy to wash out the dirt while he returned to his post by the
window. "Anybody'd think you was full of red-eye, the way you act,"
muttered Red peevishly.

Hopalong, rubbing his eyes of the dirt, went back to the hole in the
wall and looked out. "Hey, Red! Come over here an' spill that brave's
conceit. I can't keep my eyes open long enough to aim, an' it's a nice
shot, too. It'd serve him right if you got him!"

Mr. Connors obeyed the summons and peered out cautiously. "I can't see
him, nohow; where is the coyote?"

"Over there in that little chaparral; see him now? There! See him
moving. Do you mean to tell me--"

"Yep; I see him, all right. You watch," was the reply. "He's just over
nine hundred--where's yore Sharps?" He took the weapon, glanced at the
Buffington sight, which he found to be set right, and aimed carefully.

Hopalong blinked through another hole as his friend fired and saw the
Indian flop down and crawl aimlessly about on hands and knees. "What's
he doing now, Red?"

"Playing marbles, you chump; an' here goes for his agate," replied the
man with the Sharps, firing again. "There! Gee!" he exclaimed, as a
bullet hummed in through the window he had quitted for the moment, and
thudded into the wall, making the dry adobe fly. It had missed him by
only a few inches and he now crept along the floor to the rear of the
room and shoved his rifle out among the branches of a stunted mesquite
which grew before a fissure in the wall. "You keep away from that windy
for a minute, Hoppy," he warned as he waited.

A terror-stricken lizard flashed out of the fissure and along the wall
where the roof had fallen in and flitted into a hole, while a fly buzzed
loudly and hovered persistently around Red's head, to the rage of that
individual. "Ah, ha!" he grunted, lowering the rifle and peering through
the smoke. A yell reached his ears and he forthwith returned to his
window, whistling softly.

Evidently Mr. Cassidy's eyes were better and his temper sweeter, for he
hummed "Dixie" and then jumped to "Yankee Doodle," mixing the two
airs with careless impartiality, which was a sign that he was thinking
deeply. "Wonder what ever became of Powers, Red. Peculiar feller, he
was."

"In jail, I reckon, if drink hasn't killed him."

"Yes; I reckon so," and Mr. Cassidy continued his medley, which prompted
his friend quickly to announce his unqualified disapproval.

"You can make more of a mess of them two songs than anybody I ever heard
murder 'em! Shut up!"--and the concert stopped, the vocalist venting
his feelings at an Indian, and killing the horse instead.

"Did you get him?" queried Red.

"Nope; but I got his cayuse," Hopalong replied, shoving a fresh
cartridge into the foul, greasy breech of the Sharps. "An' here's where
I get him--got to square up for my eyes some way," he muttered, firing.
"Missed! Now what do you think of that!" he exclaimed.

"Better take my Winchester," suggested Red, in a matter-of-fact way, but
he chuckled softly and listened for the reply.

"Aw, you go to the devil!" snapped Mr. Cassidy, firing again. "Whoop!
Got him that time!"

"Where?" asked his companion, with strong suspicion.

"None of yore business!"

"Aw, darn it! Who spilled the water?" yelled Red, staring blankly at the
overturned canteen.

"Pshaw! Reckon I did, Red," apologized his friend ruefully. "Now of all
the cussed luck!"

"Oh, well; we've got another, an' you had to wash out yore eyes. Lucky
we each had one--Holy smoke! It's most all gone! The top is loose!"

Heartfelt profanity filled the room and the two disgusted punchers went
sullenly back to their posts. It was a calamity of no small magnitude,
for, while food could be dispensed with for a long time if necessary,
going without water was another question. It was as necessary as
cartridges.

Then Hopalong laughed at the ludicrous side of the whole affair, thereby
revealing one of the characteristics which endeared him to his friends.
No matter how desperate a situation might be, he could always find in it
something at which to laugh. He laughed going into danger and coming out
of it, with a joke or a pleasantry always trembling on the end of his
tongue.

"Red, did it ever strike you how cussed thirsty a feller gets just
as soon as he knows he can't have no drink? But it don't make much
difference, nohow. We'll get out of this little scrape just as we've
allus got out of trouble. There's some mad war-whoops outside that are
worse off than we are, because they are at the wrong end of yore gun. I
feel sort of sorry for 'em."

"Yo're shore a happy idiot," grinned Red. "Hey! Listen!"

Galloping was heard and Hopalong, running to the door, looked out
through a crack as sudden firing broke out around the rear of the shack,
and fell to pulling away the props, crying, "It's a puncher, Red; he's
riding this way! Come on an' help him in!"

"He's a blamed fool to ride this way! I'm with you!" replied Red,
running to his side.

Half a mile from the house, coming across the open space as fast as he
could urge his horse, rode a cowboy, and not far behind him raced about
a dozen Apaches, yelling and firing.

Red picked up his companion's rifle, and steadying it against the
jamb of the door, fired, dropping one of the foremost of the pursuers.
Quickly reloading again, he fired and missed. The third shot struck
another horse, and then taking up his own gun he began to fire rapidly,
as rapidly as he could work the lever and yet make his shots tell.
Hopalong drew his Colt and ran back to watch the rear of the house, and
it was well that he did so, for an Apache in that direction, believing
that the trapped punchers were so busily engaged with the new
developments as to forget for the moment, sprinted towards the
back window; and he had gotten within twenty paces of the goal when
Hopalong's Colt cracked a protest. Seeing that the warrior was no longer
a combatant, Mr. Cassidy ran back to the door just as the stranger fell
from his horse and crawled past Red. The door slammed shut, the props
fell against it, and the two friends turned to the work of driving back
the second band, which, however, had given up all hope of rushing the
house in the face of Red's telling fire, and had sought cover instead.

The stranger dragged himself to the canteens and drank what little water
remained, and then turned to watch the two men moving from place to
place, firing coolly and methodically. He thought he recognized one of
them from the descriptions he had heard, but he was not sure.

"My name's Holden," he whispered hoarsely, but the cracking of the
rifles drowned his voice. During a lull he tried again. "My name's
Holden," he repeated weakly. "I'm from the Cross-O-Cross, an' can't get
back there again."

"Mine's Cassidy, an' that's Connors, of the Bar-20. Are you hurt very
bad?"

"No; not very bad," lied Holden, trying to smile. "Gee, but I'm glad I
fell in with you two fellers," he exclaimed. He was but little more than
a boy, and to him Hopalong Cassidy and Red Connors were names with which
to conjure. "But I'm plumb sorry I went an' brought you more trouble,"
he added regretfully.

"Oh, pshaw! We had it before you came--you needn't do no worrying about
that, Holden; besides, I reckon you couldn't help it," Hopalong grinned
facetiously. "But tell us how you came to mix up with that bunch," he
continued.

Holden shuddered and hesitated a moment, his companions alertly
shifting from crack to crack, window to window, their rifles cracking at
intervals. They appeared to him to act as if they had done nothing else
all their lives but fight Indians from that shack, and he braced up a
little at their example of coolness.

"It's an awful story, awful!" he began. "I was riding towards Hoyt's
Corners an' when I got about half way there I topped a rise an' saw a
nester's house about half a mile away. It wasn't there the last time I
rode that way, an' it looked so peaceful an' home-like that I stopped
an' looked at it a few minutes. I was just going to start again when
that war-party rode out of a barranca close to the house an' went
straight for it at top speed. It seemed like a dream, 'cause I thought
Apaches never got so far east. They don't, do they? I thought not--these
must 'a' got turned out of their way an' had to hustle for safety.
Well, it was all over purty quick. I saw 'em drag out two women
an'--an'--purty soon a man. He was fighting like fury, but he didn't
last long. Then they set fire to the house an' threw the man's body up
on the roof. I couldn't seem to move till the flames shot up, but then
I must 'a' went sort of loco, because I emptied my gun at 'em, which was
plumb foolish at that distance, for me. The next thing I knowed was that
half of 'em was coming my way as hard as they could ride, an' I lit
out instanter; an' here I am. I can't get that sight outen my head
nohow--it'll drive me loco!" he screamed, sobbing like a child from the
horror of it all.

His auditors still moved around the room, growing more and more
vindictive all the while and more zealously endeavoring to create a
still greater deficit in one Apache war-party. They knew what he had
looked upon, for they themselves had become familiar with the work of
Apaches in Arizona. They could picture it vividly in all its devilish
horror. Neither of them paid any apparent attention to their companion,
for they could not spare the time, and, also, they believed it best to
let him fight out his own battles unassisted.

Holden sobbed and muttered as the minutes dragged along, at times acting
so strangely as to draw a covert side-glance from one or both of the
Bar-20 punchers. Then Mr. Connors saw his boon companion suddenly lean
out of a window and immediately become the target for the hard-working
enemy. He swore angrily at the criminal recklessness of it. "Hey, you!
Come in out of that! Ain't you got no brains at all, you blasted idiot!
Don't you know that we need every gun?"

"Yes; that's right. I sort of forgot," grinned the reckless one, obeying
with alacrity and looking sheepish. "But you know there's two thundering
big tarantulas out there fighting like blazes. You ought to see 'em
jump! It's a sort of a leap-frog fight, Red."

"Fool!" snorted Mr. Connors belligerently. "You'd 'a' jumped if one of
them slugs had 'a' got you! Yo're the damnedest fool that ever walked on
two laigs, you blasted sage-hen!" Mr. Connors was beginning to lose his
temper and talk in his throat.

"Well, they didn't get me, did they? What you yelling about, anyhow?"
growled Hopalong, trying to brazen it out.

"An' you talking about suicide to me!" snapped Mr. Connors, determined
to rub it in and have the last word.

Mr. Holden stared, open-mouthed, at the man who could enjoy a miserable
spider fight under such distressing circumstances, and his shaken nerves
became steadier as he gave thought to the fact that he was a companion
of the two men about whose exploits he had heard so much. Evidently the
stories had not been exaggerated. What must they think of him for giving
way as he had? He rose to his feet in time to see a horse blunder into
the open on Red's side of the house, and after it blundered its owner,
who immediately lost all need of earthly conveyances. Holden laughed
from the joy of being with a man who could shoot like that, and he
took up his rifle and turned to a crack in the wall, filled with the
determination to let his companions know that he was built of the right
kind of timber after all, wounded as he was.

Red's only comment, as he pumped a fresh cartridge into the barrel, was,
"He must 'a' thought he saw a spider fight, too."

"Hey, Red," called Hopalong. "The big one is dead."

"What big one?"

"Why, don't you remember? That big tarantula I was watching. One was
bigger than the other, but the little feller shore waded into him an'--"

"Go to the devil!" shouted Red, who had to grin, despite his anger.

"Presently, presently," replied Hopalong, laughing.

So the day passed, and when darkness came upon them all of the defenders
were wounded, Holden desperately so.

"Red, one of us has got to try to make the ranch," Hopalong suddenly
announced, and his friend knew he was right. Since Holden had appeared
upon the scene they had known that they could not try a dash; one of
them had to stay.

"We'll toss for it; heads, I go," Red suggested, flipping a coin.

"Tails!" cried Hopalong. "It's only thirty miles to Buckskin, an' if I
can get away from here I'm good to make it by eleven to-night. I'll stop
at Cowan's an' have him send word to Lucas an' Bartlett, so there'll be
enough in case any of our boys are out on the range in some line house.
We can pick 'em up on the way back, so there won't be no time lost. If
I get through you can expect excitement on the outside of this sieve
by daylight. You an' Holden can hold her till then, because they never
attack at night. It's the only way out of this for us--we ain't got
cartridges or water enough to last another day."

Red, knowing that Hopalong was taking a desperate chance in working
through the cordon of Indians which surrounded them, and that the house
was safe when compared to running such a gantlet, offered to go through
the danger line with him. For several minutes a wordy war raged and
finally Red accepted a compromise; he was to help, but not to work
through the line.

"But what's the use of all this argument?" feebly demanded Holden. "Why
don't you both go? I ain't a-going to live nohow, so there ain't no use
of anybody staying here with me, to die with me. Put a bullet through me
so them devils can't play with me like they do with others, an' then get
away while you've got a chance. Two men can get through as easy as one."
He sank back, exhausted by the effort.

"No more of that!" cried Red, trying to be stern. "I'm going to stay
with you an' see things through. I'd be a fine sort of a coyote to sneak
off an' leave you for them fiends. An', besides, I can't get away; my
cayuse is hit too hard an' yourn is dead," he lied cheerfully. "An'
yo're going to get well, all right. I've seen fellers hit harder than
you are pull through."

Hopalong walked over to the prostrate man and shook hands with him. "I'm
awful glad I met you, Holden. Yo're pure grit all the way through, an'
I like to tie to that kind of a man. Don't you worry about nothing; Red
can handle this proposition, an' we'll have you in Buckskin by to-morrow
night; you'll be riding again in two weeks. So long."

He turned to Red and shook hands silently, led his horse out of the
building and mounted, glad that the moon had not yet come up, for in the
darkness he had a chance.

"Good luck, Hoppy!" cried Red, running to the door. "Good luck!"

"You bet--an' lots of it, too," groaned Holden, but he was gone. Then
Red wheeled. "Holden, keep yore eyes an' ears open. I'm going out to see
that he gets off. He may run into a--" and he, too, was gone.

Holden watched the doors and windows, striving to resist the weak, giddy
feeling in his head, and ten minutes later he heard a shot and then
several more in quick succession. Shortly afterward Red called out, and
almost immediately the Bar-20 puncher crawled in through a window.

"Well?" anxiously cried the man on the floor. "Did he make it?"

"I reckon so. He got away from the first crowd, anyhow. I wasn't very
far behind him, an' by the time they woke up to what was going on he
was through an' riding like blazes. I heard him call 'em half-breeds a
moment later an' it sounded far off. They hit me,--fired at my flash,
like I drilled one of them. But it ain't much, anyhow. How are you
feeling now?"

"Fine!" lied the other. "That Cassidy is shore a wonder--he's all right,
an' so are you. I'll never see him again, but I shore hope he gets
through!"

"Don't be foolish. Here, you finish the water in yore canteen--I picked
it up outside by yore cayuse. Then go to sleep," ordered Red. "I'll do
all the watching that's necessary."

"I will if you'll call me when you get sleepy."

"Why, shore I will. But don't you want the rest of the water? I ain't a
bit thirsty--I had all I could hold just before you came," Red remarked
as his companion pushed the canteen against him in the dark. He was
choking with thirst. "Well, then; all right," and Red pretended to
drink. "Now, then, you go to sleep; a good snooze will do you a world of
good--it's just what you need."





Next: Buck Takes A Hand

Previous: Red Brings Trouble



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