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The Advent Of Mcallister








From: Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up

The blazing sun shone pitilessly on an arid plain which was spotted
with dust-gray clumps of mesquite and thorny chaparral. Basking in the
burning sand and alkali lay several Gila monsters, which raised their
heads and hissed with wide-open jaws as several faint, whip-like
reports echoed flatly over the desolate plain, showing that even they
had learned that danger was associated with such sounds.

Off to the north there became visible a cloud of dust and at
intervals something swayed in it, something that rose and fell and
then became hidden again. Out of that cloud came sharp, splitting
sounds, which were faintly responded to by another and larger cloud in
its rear. As it came nearer and finally swept past, the Gilas, to
their terror, saw a madly pounding horse, and it carried a man. The
latter turned in his saddle and raised a gun to his shoulder and the
thunder that issued from it caused the creeping audience to throw up
their tails in sudden panic and bury themselves out of sight in the
sand.

The horse was only a broncho, its sides covered with hideous yellow
spots, and on its near flank was a peculiar scar, the brand. Foam
flecked from its crimsoned jaws and found a resting place on its sides
and on the hairy chaps of its rider. Sweat rolled and streamed from
its heaving flanks and was greedily sucked up by the drought-cursed
alkali. Close to the rider's knee a bloody furrow ran forward and one
of the broncho's ears was torn and limp. The broncho was doing its
best-it could run at that pace until it dropped dead. Every ounce of
strength it possessed was put forth to bring those hind hoofs well in
front of the forward ones and to send them pushing the sand behind in
streaming clouds. The horse had done this same thing many times-when
would its master learn sense?

The man was typical in appearance with many of that broad land.
Lithe, sinewy and bronzed by hard riding and hot suns, he sat in his
Cheyenne saddle like a centaur, all his weight on the heavy, leather-
guarded stirrups, his body rising in one magnificent straight line. A
bleached moustache hid the thin lips, and a gray sombrero threw a
heavy shadow across his eyes. Around his neck and over his open, blue
flannel shirt lay loosely a knotted silk kerchief, and on his thighs a
pair of open-flapped holsters swung uneasily with their ivory handled
burdens. He turned abruptly, raised his gun to his shoulder and fired,
then he laughed recklessly and patted his mount, which responded to
the confident caress by lying flatter to the earth in a spurt of
heart-breaking speed.

"I'll show `em who they're trailin'. This is th' second time I've
started for Muddy Wells, an' I'm goin' to git there, too, for all th'
Apaches out of Hades!"

To the south another cloud of dust rapidly approached and the rider
scanned it closely, for it was directly in his path. As he watched it
he saw something wave and it was a sombrero! Shortly afterward a real
cowboy yell reached his ears. He grinned and slid another cartridge in
the greasy, smoking barrel of the Sharp's and fired again at the cloud
in his rear. Some few minutes later a whooping, bunched crowd of madly
riding cowboys thundered past him and he was recognized.

"Hullo, Frenchy!" yelled the nearest one. "Comin' back?"

"Come on, McAllister!" shouted another; "we'll give `em blazes!" In
response the straining broncho suddenly stiffened, bunched and slid on
its haunches, wheeled and retraced its course. The rear cloud suddenly
scattered into many smaller ones and all swept off to the east. The
rescuing band overtook them and, several hours later, when seated
around a table in Tom Lee's saloon, Muddy Wells, a count was taken of
them, which was pleasing in its facts.

"We was huntin' coyotes when we saw yu," said a smiling puncher who
was known as Salvation Carroll chiefly because he wasn't.

"Yep! They've been stalkin' Tom's chickens," supplied Waffles, the
champion poker player of the outfit. Tom Lee's chickens could whip
anything of their kind for miles around and were reverenced
accordingly.

"Sho! Is that so?" Asked Frenchy with mild incredulity, such a state
of affairs being deplorable.

"She shore is!" answered Tex Le Blanc, and then, as an afterthought,
he added, "Where'd yu hit th' War-whoops?"

"`Bout four hours back. This here's th' second time I've headed for
this place-last time they chased me to Las Cruces."

"That so?" Asked Bigfoot Baker, a giant. "Ain't they allus
interferin', now? Anyhow, they're better'n coyotes."

"They was purty well heeled," suggested Tex, glancing at a bunch of
repeating Winchesters of late model which lay stacked in a corner.
"Charley here said he thought they was from th' way yore cayuse
looked, didn't yu, Charley?" Charley nodded and filled his pipe.

"`Pears like a feller can't amble around much nowadays without
havin' to fight," grumbled Lefty Allen, who usually went out of his
way hunting up trouble.

"We're goin' to th' Hills as soon as our cookie turns up,"
volunteered Tenspot Davis, looking inquiringly at Frenchy. "Heard any
more news?"

"Nope. Same old story-lots of gold. Shucks, I've bit on so many of
them rumors that they don't feaze me no more. One man who don't know
nothin' about prospectin' goes an' stumbles over a fortune an' those
who know it from A to Izzard goes `round pullin' in their belts."

"We don't pull in no belts-We knows just where to look, don't we,
Tenspot?" Remarked Tex, looking very wise.

"Ya-as we do," answered Tenspot, "if yu hasn't dreamed about it, we
do."

"Yu wait; I wasn't dreamin', none whatever," assured Tex.

"I saw it!"

"Ya-as, I saw it too onct," replied Frenchy with sarcasm. "Went and
lugged fifty pound of it all th' way to th' assay office-took me two
days! an' that there four-eyed cuss looks at it and snickers. Then he
takes me by di' arm an' leads me to th' window. 'See that pile, my
friend? That's all like yourn,' sez he. `It's worth about one simoleon
a ton at th' coast. They use it for ballast.'"

"Aw! But this what I saw was gold!" exploded Tex.

"So was mine, for a while!" laughed Frenchy, nodding to the
bartender for another round.

"Well, we're tired of punchin' cows! Ride sixteen hours a day, year
in an' year out, an' what do we get? Fifty a month an' no chance to
spend it, an' grub that'd make a coyote sniffle! I'm for a vacation,
an' if I goes broke, why, I'll punch again!" asserted Waffles, the
foreman, thus revealing the real purpose of the trip.

"What'd yore boss say?" Asked Frenchy.

"Whoop! What didn't he say! Honest, I never thought he had it in
him. It was fine. He cussed an hour frontways an' then trailed back on
a dead gallop, with us a-laughin' fit to bust. Then he rustles for his
gun an' we rustles for town," answered Waffles, laughing at his
remembrance of it.

As Frenchy was about to reply his sombrero was snatched from his
head and disappeared. If he "got mad" he was to be regarded as not
sufficiently well acquainted for banter and he was at once in hot
water; if he took it good-naturedly he was one of the crowd in spirit;
but in either case he didn't get his hat without begging or fighting
for it. This was a recognized custom among the O-Bar-O outfit and was
not intended as an insult.

Frenchy grabbed at the empty air and arose. Punching Lefty playfully
in the ribs he passed his hands behind that person's back. Not finding
the lost head-gear he laughed and, tripping Lefty up, fell with him
and, reaching up on the table for his glass, poured the contents down
Lefty's back and arose.

"Yu son-of-a-gun!" indignantly wailed that unfortunate. "Gee, it
feels funny," he added, grinning as he pulled the wet shirt away from
his spine.

"Well, I've got to be amblin'," said Frenchy, totally ignoring the
loss of his hat. "Goin' down to Buckskin," he offered, and then asked,
"When's yore cook comin'?"

"Day after to-morrow, if he don't get loaded," replied Tex.

"Who is he?"

"A one-eyed Mexican-Quiensabe Antonio."

"I used to know him. He's a heck of a cook. Dished up th' grub one
season when I was punchin' for th' Tin-Cup up in Montana," replied
Frenchy.

"Oh, he kin cook now, all right." replied Waffles.

"That's about all he can cook. Useter wash his knives in th' coffee
pot an' blow on di' tins. I chased him a mile one night for leavin'
sand in th' skillet. Yu can have him-I don't envy yu none whatever.

"He don't sand no skillet when little Tenspot's around," assured
that person, slapping his holster. "Does he, Lefty?"

"If he does, yu oughter be lynched," consoled Lefty.

"Well, so long," remarked Frenchy, riding off to a small store,
where he bought a cheap sombrero.

Frenchy was a jack-of-all-trades, having been cow-puncher,
prospector, proprietor of a "hotel" in Albuquerque, foreman of a
ranch, sheriff, and at one time had played angel to a venturesome but
poor show troupe. Beside his versatility he was well known as the man
who took the stage through the Sioux country when no one else
volunteered. He could shoot with the best, but his one pride was the
brand of poker he handed out. Furthermore, he had never been known to
take an unjust advantage over any man and, on the contrary, had
frequently voluntarily handicapped himself to make the event more
interesting. But he must not be classed as being hampered with self-
restraint.

His reasons for making this trip were two-fold: he wished to see
Buck Peters, the foreman of the Bar-20 outfit, as he and Buck had
punched cows together twenty years before and were firm friends; the
other was that he wished to get square with Hopalong Cassidy, who had
decisively cleaned him out the year before at poker. Hopalong played
either in great good luck or the contrary, while Frenchy played an
even, consistent game and usually left off richer than when he began,
and this decisive defeat bothered him more than he would admit, even
to himself.

The round-up season was at hand and the Bar-20 was short of ropers,
the rumors of fresh gold discoveries in the Black Hills having drawn
all the more restless men north. The outfit also had a slight touch of
the gold fever, and only their peculiar loyalty to the ranch and the
assurance of the foreman that when the work was over he would
accompany them, kept them from joining the rush of those who desired
sudden and much wealth as the necessary preliminary of painting some
cow town in all the "bang up" style such an event would call for.
Therefore they had been given orders to secure the required
assistance, and they intended to do so, and were prepared to kidnap,
if necessary, for the glamour of wealth and the hilarity of the
vacation made the hours falter in their speed.

As Frenchy leaned back in his chair in Cowan's saloon, Buckskin,
early the next morning, planning to get revenge on Hopalong and then
to recover his sombrero, he heard a medley of yells and whoops and
soon the door flew open before the strenuous and concentrated entry of
a mass of twisting and kicking arms and legs, which magically found
their respective owners and reverted to the established order of
things.

When the alkali dust had thinned he saw seven cow-punchers
sitting on the prostrate form of another, who was earnestly engaged in
trying to push Johnny Nelson's head out in the street with one foot as
he voiced his lucid opinion of things in general and the seven in
particular. After Red Connors had been stabbed in the back several
times by the victim's energetic elbow he ran out of the room and
presently returned with a pleased expression and a sombrero full of
water, his finger plugging an old bullet hole in the crown.

"Is he any better, Buck?" Anxiously inquired the man with the
reservoir.

"About a dollar's worth," replied the foreman. "Jest put a little
right here," he drawled as he pulled back the collar of the
unfortunate's shirt.

"Ow! wow! WOW!" wailed the recipient, heaving and straining. The
unengaged leg was suddenly wrested loose, and as it shot up and out
Billy Williams, with his pessimism aroused to a blue-ribbon pitch, sat
down forcibly in an adjacent part of the room, from where he lectured
between gasps on the follies of mankind and the attributes of army
mules.

Red tiptoed around the squirming bunch, looking for an opening, his
pleased expression now having added a grin.

"Seems to be gittin' violent-like," he soliloquized, as he aimed a
stream at Hopalong's ear, which showed for a second as Pete Wilson
strove for a half-nelson, and he managed to include Johnny and Pete in
his effort.

Several minutes later, when the storm had subsided, the woeful crowd
enthusiastically urged Hopalong to the bar, where he "bought."

"Of all th' ornery outfits I ever saw-" began the man at the table,
grinning from ear to ear at the spectacle he had just witnessed.

"Why, hullo, Frenchy! Glad to see yu, yu old son-of-a-gun! What's
th' news from th' Hills?" Shouted Hopalong.

"Rather locoed, an' there's a locoed gang that's headin' that way.
Goin' up?" he asked.

"Shore, after round-up. Seen any punchers trailin' around loose?"

"Ya-as," drawled Frenchy, delving into the possibilities suddenly
opened to him and determining to utilize to the fullest extent the
opportunity that had come to him unsought. "There's nine over to Muddy
Wells that yu might git if yu wants them bad enough. They've got a
sombrero of mine," he added deprecatingly.

"Nine! Twisted Jerusalem, Buck! Nine whole cow-punchers a-pinin' for
work," he shouted, but then added thoughtfully, "Mebby they's
engaged," it being one of the courtesies of the land not to take
another man's help.

"Nope. They've stampeded for th' Hills an' left their boss all
alone," replied Frenchy, well knowing that such desertion would not,
in the minds of the Bar-20 men, add any merits to the case of the
distant outfit.

"Th' sons-of-guns," said Hopalong, "let's go an' get `em," he
suggested, turning to Buck, who nodded a smiling assent.

"Oh, what's the hurry?" Asked Frenchy, seeing his projected game
slipping away into the uncertain future and happy in the thought that
he would be avenged on the O-Bar-O outfit.

"They'll be there till to-morrow noon-they's waitin' for their
cookie, who's goin' with them."

"A cook! A cook! Oh, joy, a cook!" exulted Johnny, not for one
instant doubting Buck's ability to capture the whole outfit and seeing
a whirl of excitement in the effort.

"Anybody we knows?" Inquired Skinny Thompson.

"Shore. Tenspot Davis, Waffles, Salvation Carroll, Bigfoot Baker,
Charley Lane, Lefty Allen, Kid Morris, Curley Tate an' Tex Le Blanc,"
responded Frenchy.

"Umm-m. Might as well rope a blizzard," grumbled Billy. "Might as
well try to git th' Seventh Cavalry. We'll have a pious time
corralling that bunch. Them's th' fellows that hit that bunch of
inquirin' Crow braves that time up in th' Bad Lands an' then said by-
bye to th' Ninth."

"Aw, shut up! They's only two that's very much, an' Buck an'
Hopalong can sing `em to sleep," interposed Johnny, afraid that the
expedition would fall through.

"How about Curley and Tex?" Pugnaciously asked Billy.

"Huh, jest because they buffaloed yu over to Las Vegas yu needn't
think they's dangerous. Salvation an' Tenspot are only ones who can
shoot," stoutly maintained Johnny.

"Here yu, get mum," ordered Buck to the pair. "When this outfit goes
after anything it generally gets it. All in favor of kidnappin' that
outfit signify di' same by kickin' Billy," whereupon Bill swore.

"Do yu want yore hat?" Asked Buck, turning to Frenchy.

"I shore do," answered that individual.

"If yu helps us at th' round-up we'll get it for yu. Fifty a month
an' grub," offered the foreman.

"O.K." replied Frenchy, anxious to even matters.

Buck looked at his watch. "Seven o'clock-we ought to get there by
five if we relays at th' Barred-Horseshoe. Come on."

"How are we goin' to git them?" Asked Billy.

"Yu leave that to me, son. Hopalong an' Frenchy'll tend to that part
of it," replied Buck, making for his horse and swinging into the
saddle, an example which was followed by the others, including
Frenchy.

As they swung off Buck noticed the condition of Frenchy's mount and
halted. "Yu take that cayuse back an' get Cowan's," he ordered.

"That cayuse is good for Cheyenne-she eats work, an' besides I wants
my own," laughed Frenchy.

"Yu must had a reg'lar picnic from th' looks of that crease,"
volunteered Hopalong, whose curiosity was mastering him. "Shoo! I had
a little argument with some feather dusters- th' O-Bar-O crowd cleaned
them up."

"That so?" Asked Buck.

"Yep! They sorter got into th' habit of chasin' me to Las Cruces an'
forgot to stop."

"How many'd yu get?" Asked Lanky Smith.

"Twelve. Two got away. I got two before th' crowd showed up-that
makes fo'teen."

"Now th' cavalry'll be huntin' yu," croaked Billy.

"Hunt nothin'! They was in war-paint-think I was a target?-Think I
was goin' to call off their shots for `em?"

They relayed at the Barred-Horseshoe and went on their way at the
same pace. Shortly after leaving the last-named ranch Buck turned to
Frenchy and asked, "Any of that outfit think they can play poker?"

"Shore. Waffles."

"Does th' reverend Mr. Waffles think so very hard?"

"He shore does."

"Do th' rest of them mavericks think so too?"

"They'd bet their shirts on him."

At this juncture all were startled by a sudden eruption from Billy.
"Haw! Haw! Haw!' he roared as the drift of Buck's intentions struck
him. "Haw! Haw! Haw!"

"Here, yu long-winded coyote," yelled Red, banging him over the head
with his quirt, "If yu don't `Haw! Haw!' away from my ear I'll make it
a Wow! Wow! What d'yu mean? Think I am a echo cliff? Yu slabsided
doodle-bug, yu!"

"G'way, yu crimson topknot, think my head's a hunk of quartz? Fer a
plugged peso I'd strew yu all over th' scenery!" shouted Billy,
feigning anger and rubbing his head.

"There ain't no scenery around here," interposed Lanky. "This here
be-utiful prospect is a sublime conception of th' devil."

"Easy, boy! Them highfalutin' words'il give yu a cramp some day. Yu
talk like a newly-made sergeant," remarked Skinny.

"He learned them words from the sky-pilot over at El Paso,"
volunteered Hopalong, winking at Red. "He used to amble down th' aisle
afore the lights was lit so's he could get a front seat. That was all
hunky for a while, but every time he'd go out to irrigate, that female
organ-wrastler would seem to call th' music off for his special
benefit. So in a month he'd sneak in an' freeze to a chair by th'
door, an' after a while he'd shy like blazes every time he got within
eye range of th' church."

"Shore. But do yu know what made him get religion all of a sudden?
He used to hang around on di' outside after th' joint let out an'
trail along behind di' music-slinger, lookin' like he didn't know what
to do with his hands. Then when he got woozy one time she up an' told
him that she had got a nice long letter from her hubby. Then Mr. Lanky
hit th' trail for Santa Fe so hard that there wasn't hardly none of it
left. I didn't see him for a whole month," supplied Red innocently.

"Yore shore funny, ain't yu?" sarcastically grunted Lanky. "Why, I
can tell things on yu that'd make yu stand treat for a year."

"I wouldn't sneak off to Santa Fe an' cheat yu out of them. Yu ought
to be ashamed of yoreself."

"Yah!" snorted the aggrieved little man. "I had business over to
Santa Fe!"

"Shore," endorsed Hopalong. "We've all had business over to Santa
Fe. Why, about eight years ago I had business-"

"Choke up," interposed Red. "About eight years ago yu was washin'
pans for cookie, an' askin' me for cartridges. Buck used to larrup yu
about four times a day eight years ago."

To their roars of laughter Hopalong dropped to the rear, where, red-
faced and quiet, he bent his thoughts on how to get square.

"We'll have a pleasant time corralling that gang," began Billy for
the third time.

"For heaven's sake get off that trail!" replied Lanky. "We aint
goin' to hold `em up. De-plomacy's th' game."

Billy looked dubious and said nothing. If he hadn't proven that he
was as nervy as any man in the outfit they might have taken more stock
in his grumbling.

"What's the latest from Abilene way?" Asked Buck of Frenchy.

"Nothin' much `cept th' barb-wire ruction," replied the recruit.

"What's that?" Asked Red, glancing apprehensively back at Hopalong.

"Why, th' settlers put up barb-wire fence so's the cattle wouldn't
get on their farms. That would a been all right, for there wasn't much
of it. But some Britishers who own a couple of big ranches out there
got smart all of a sudden an' strung wire all along their lines.
Punchers crossin' th' country would run plumb into a fence an' would
have to ride a day an' a half, mebbe, afore they found th' corner.
Well, naturally, when a man has been used to ridin' where he blame
pleases an' as straight as he pleases he ain't goin' to chase along a
five-foot fence to Trisco when he wants to get to Waco. So th'
punchers got to totin' wire-snips, an' when they runs up agin a fence
they cuts down half a mile or so. Sometimes they'd tie their ropes to
a strand an' pull off a couple of miles an' then go back after th'
rest. Th' ranch bosses sent out men to watch th' fences an' told `em
to shoot any festive puncher that monkeyed with th' hardware. Well, yu
know what happens when a puncher gets shot at."

"When fences grow in Texas there'll be th' devil to pay," said Buck.
He hated to think that some day the freedom of the range would be
annulled, for he knew that it would be the first blow against the
cowboys' occupation. When a man's cattle couldn't spread out all over
the land he wouldn't have to keep so many men. Farms would spring up
and the sun of the free-and-easy cowboy would slowly set.

"I reckons th' cutters are classed th' same as rustlers," remarked
Red with a gleam of temper.

"By th' owners, but not by th' punchers; an' it's th' punchers that
count," replied Frenchy.

"Well, we'll give them a fight," interposed Hopalong, riding up.
"When it gets so I can't go where I please I'll start on th' warpath.
I won't buck the cavalry, but I'll keep it busy huntin' for me an'
I'll have time to `tend to th' wire-fence men, too. Why, we'll be told
we can't tote our guns!"

"They're sayin' that now," replied Frenchy. "Up in Buffalo, Smith,
who's now marshal, makes yu leave `em with th' bartenders."

"I'd like to see any two-laigged cuss get my guns If I didn't want
him to!" began Hopalong, indignant at the idea.

"Easy, son," cautioned Buck. "Yu would do what th' rest did because
yu are a square man. I'm about as hard-headed a puncher as ever
straddled leather an' I've had to use my guns purty considerable, but
I reckons if any decent marshal asked me to cache them in a decent
way, why, I'd do it. An' let me brand somethin' on yore mind-I've
heard of Smith of Buffalo, an' he's mighty nifty with his hands. He
don't stand off an' tell yu to unload yore lead-ranch, but he ambles
up close an' taps yu on yore shirt; if yu makes a gunplay he naturally
knocks yu clean across th' room an' unloads yu afore yu gets yore
senses back. He weighs about a hundred an' eighty an' he's shore got
sand to burn."

"Yah! When I makes a gun play she plays! I'd look nice in Abilene or
Paso or Albuquerque without my guns, wouldn't I? Just because I totes
them in plain sight I've got to hand `em over to some liquor-wrastler?
I reckons not! Some hip-pocket skunk would plug me afore I could wink.
I'd shore look nice loping around a keno layout without my guns, in
th' same town with some cuss huntin' me, wouldn't I? A whole lot of
good a marshal would a done Jimmy, an' didn't Harris get his from a
cur in th' dark?" shouted Hopalong, angered by the prospect.

"We're talkin' about Buffalo, where everybody has to hang up their
guns," replied Buck. "An' there's th' law-"

"To blazes with th' law!" whooped Hopalong in Red's ear as he
unfastened the cinch of Red's saddle and at the same time stabbing
that unfortunate's mount with his spurs, thereby causing a hasty
separation of the two. When Red had picked himself up and things had
quieted down again the subject was changed, and several hours later
they rode into Muddy Wells, a town with a little more excuse for its
existence than Buckskin. The wells were in an arid valley west of
Guadaloupe Pass, and were not only muddy but more or less alkaline.



CHAPTER. X

Peace Hath its Victories


As they neared the central group of buildings they heard a hilarious
and assertive song which sprang from the door and windows of the main
saloon. It was in jig time, rollicking and boisterous, but the words
had evidently been improvised for the occasion, as they clashed
immediately with those which sprang to the minds of the outfit,
although they could not be clearly distinguished. As they approached
nearer and finally dismounted, however, the words became recognizable
and the visitors were at once placed in harmony with the air of jovial
recklessness by the roaring of the verses and the stamping of the
time.

Oh we're red-hot cow-punchers playin' on our luck,
An' there ain't a proposition that we won't buck:
From sunrise to sunset we've ridden on the range,
But now we're oft for a howlin' change.

CHORUS

Laugh a little, sing a little, all th' day;
Play a little, drink a little-we can pay;
Ride a little, dig a little an' rich we'll grow.
Oh, we're that bunch from th' O-Bar-O!

Oh, there was a little tenderfoot an' he had a little gun,
An' th' gun an' him went a-trailin' up some fun.
They ambles up to Santa Fe' to find a quiet game,
An' now they're planted with some more of th' same!

As Hopalong, followed by the others, pushed open the door and
entered he took up the chorus with all the power of Texan lungs and
even Billy joined in. The sight that met their eyes was typical of the
men and the mood and the place. Leaning along the walls, lounging on
the table and straddling chairs with their forearms crossed on the
backs were nine cowboys, ranging from old twenty to young fifty in
years, and all were shouting the song and keeping time with their
hands and feet.

In the center of the room was a large man dancing a
fair buck-and-wing to the time so uproariously set by his companions.
Hatless, neck-kerchief loose, holsters flapping, chaps rippling out
and close, spurs clinking and perspiration streaming from his tanned
face, danced Bigfoot Baker as though his life depended on speed and
noise. Bottles shook and the air was fogged with smoke and dust.
Suddenly, his belt slipping and letting his chaps fall around his
ankles, he tripped and sat down heavily. Gasping for breath, he held
out his hand and received a huge plug of tobacco, for Bigfoot had won
a contest.

Shouts of greeting were hurled at the newcomers and many questions
were fired at them regarding "th' latest from th' Hills." Waffles made
a rush for Hopalong, but fell over Big-foot's feet and all three were
piled up in a heap. All were beaming with good nature, for they were
as so many school boys playing truant. Prosaic cow-punching was
relegated to the rear and they looked eagerly forward to their several
missions. Frenchy told of the barb-wire fence war and of the new regu-
lations of "Smith of Buffalo" regarding cow-punchers' guns, and from
the caustic remarks explosively given it was plain to be seen what a
wire fence could expect, should one be met with, and there were many
imaginary Smiths put hors de combat.

Kid Morris, after vainly trying to slip a blue-bottle fly inside of
Hopalong's shirt, gave it up and slammed his hand on Hopalong's back
instead, crying: "Well, I'll be doggoned if here ain't Hopalong! How's
th' missus an' th' deacon an' all th' folks to hum? I hears yu an'
Frenchy's reg'lar poker fiends!"

"Oh, we plays onct in a while, but we don't want none of yore dust.
Yu'll shore need it all afore th' Hills get through with yu,"
laughingly replied Hopalong.

"Oh, yore shore kind! But I was a sort of reckonin' that we needs
some more. Perfesser P. D. Q. Waffles is our poker man an' he shore
can clean out anything I ever saw. Mebbe yu fellers feel reckless-like
an' would like to make a pool," he cried, addressing the outfit of the
Bar-20, "an' back yore boss of th' full house agin ourn?"

Red turned slowly around and took a full minute in which to size the
Kid up. Then he snorted and turned his back again.

The Kid stared at him in outraged dignity. "Well, what say!" he
softly murmured. Then he leaped forward and walloped Red on the back.
"Hey, yore royal highness!" he shouted. "Yu-yu-yu-oh, hang it-yu! Yu
slab-sided, ring-boned, saddle-galled shade of a coyote, do yu think
I'm only meanderin' in th' misty vales of-of-"

Suggestions intruded from various sources. "Hades?" offered
Hopalong. "Cheyenne?" Murmured Johnny. "Misty mistiness of misty?"
tentatively supplied Waffles.

Red turned around again. "Better come up an' have somethin'," he
sympathetically invited, wiping away an imaginary tear.

"An' he's so young!" sobbed Frenchy.

"An' so fair!" wailed Tex.

"An' so ornery!" howled Lefty, throwing his arms around the
discomfited youngster. Other arms went around him, and out of the
sobbing mob could be heard earnest and heart-felt cussing,
interspersed with imperative commands, which were gradually obeyed.

The Kid straightened up his wearing apparel. "Come on, yu locoed-"

"Angels?" Queried Charley Lane, interrupting him. "Sweet things?"
breathed Hopalong in hopeful expectancy.

"Oh, blast it!" yelled the Kid as he ran out into the street to
escape the persecution.

"Good Kid, all right," remarked Waffles. "He'll go around an' lick
some Mexican an' come back sweet as honey."

"Did somebody say poker?" Asked Bigfoot, digressing from the Kid.

"Oh, yu fellows don't want no poker. Of course yu don't. Poker's
mighty uncertain," replied Red.

"Yah!" exclaimed Tex Le Blanc, pushing forward. "I'll just bet yu to
a standstill that Waffles an' Salvation'll round up all th' festive
simoleons yu can get together! An' I'll throw in Frenchy's hat as an
inducement."

"Well, if yore shore set on it make her a pool," replied Red, "an'
th' winners divide with their outfit. Here's a starter," he added,
tossing a buckskin bag on the table. "Come on, pile `em up."

The crowd divided as the players seated themselves at the table, the
O-Bar-O crowd grouping themselves behind their representatives; the
Bar-20 behind theirs. A deck of cards was brought and the game was on.

Red, true to his nature, leaned back in a corner, where, hands on
hips, he awaited any hostile demonstration on the part of the O-Bar-O;
then, suddenly remembering, he looked half ashamed of his warlike
position and became a peaceful citizen again. Buck leaned with his
broad back against the bar, talking over his shoulder to the
bartender, but watching Tenspot Davis, who was assiduously engaged in
juggling a handful of Mexican dollars.

Up by the door Bigfoot Baker, elated at winning the buck-and-wing
contest, was endeavoring to learn a new step, while his late rival was
drowning his defeat at Buck's elbow. Lefty Allen was softly singing a
Mexican love song, humming when the words would not come.
At the table could be heard low-spoken card terms and good-natured banter,
interspersed with the clink of gold and silver and the soft pat-pat of the
onlookers' feet unconsciously keeping time to Lefty's song. Notwithstanding
the grim assertiveness of belts full of .45's and the peeping handles of long-
barreled Colts, set off with picturesque chaps, sombreros and tinkling
spurs, the scene was one of peaceful content and good-fellowship.

"Ugh!" grunted Johnny, walking over to Red and informing that person
that he, Red, was a worm-eaten prune and that for half a wink he,
Johnny, would prove it. Red grabbed him by the seat of his corduroys
and the collar of his shirt and helped him outside, where they
strolled about, taking pot shots at whatever their fancy suggested.

Down the street in a cloud of dust rumbled the Las Cruces-El Paso
stage and the two punchers went up to meet it. Raw furrows showed in
the woodwork, one mule was missing and the driver and guard wore fresh
bandages. A tired tenderfoot leaped out with a sigh of relief and
hunted for his baggage, which he found to be generously perforated.
Swearing at the God-forsaken land where a man had to fight highwaymen
and Indians inside of half a day he grumblingly lugged his valise
toward a forbidding-looking shack which was called a hotel.

The driver released his teams and then turned to Red. "Hullo, old
hoss, how's th' gang?" he asked genially. "We've had a heck of a time
this yere trip," he went on without waiting for Red to reply. "Five
miles out of Las Cruces we stood off a son-of-a-gun that wanted th'
dude's wealth. Then just this side of the San Andre foothills we runs
into a bunch of young bucks who turned us off this yere way an' gave
us a runnin' fight purty near all th' way. I'm a whole lot farther
from Paso now than I was when I started, an seem as I lost a jack I'll
be some time gittin' there. Yu don't happen to sabe a jack I can
borrow, do yu?"

"I don't know about no jack, but I'll rope yu a bronch," offered
Red, winking at Johnny.

"I'll pull her myself before I'll put dynamite in di' traces,"
replied the driver. "Yu fellers might amble back a ways with me-them
buddin' warriors'll be layin' for me."

"We shore will," responded Johnny eagerly. "There's nine of us now
an' there'll be nine more an' a cook to-morrow, mebby."

"Gosh, yu grows some," replied the guard. "Eighteen'll be a plenty
for them glory hunters."

"We won't be able to," contradicted Red, "for things are peculiar."

At this moment the conversation was interrupted by the tenderfoot,
who sported a new and cheap sombrero and also a belt and holster
complete.

"Will you gentlemen join me?" He asked, turning to Red arid nodding
at the saloon. "I am very dry and much averse to drinking alone."

"Why, shore," responded Red heartily, wishing to put the stranger at
ease.

The game was running about even as they entered and Lefty Allen was
singing "The Insult," the rich tenor softening the harshness of the
surroundings.

I've swum th' Colorado where she's almost lost to view, I've braced
th' Jaro layouts in Cheyenne;
I've fought for muddy water with a howlin' bunch of Sioux, An'
swallowed hot tamales, an' cayenne.

I've rid a pitchin' broncho `till th' sky was underneath, I've
tackled every desert in th' land;
I've sampled XXXX whiskey `till I couldn't hardly see, An' dallied
with th' quicksands of the Grande.

I've argued with th' marshals of a half-a-dozen burgs, I've been
dragged free an' fancy by a cow;
I've had three years' campaignin' with th' fightin', bitin' Ninth,
An' never lost my temper `till right now.

I've had the yaller fever an I've been shot full of holes, I've
grabbed an army mule plumb by its tail;
I've never been so snortin', really highfalutin' mad As when y'u up
an' hands me ginger ale!

Hopalong laughed joyously at a remark made by Waffles and the
stranger glanced quickly at him. His merry, boyish face, underlined by
a jaw showing great firmness and set with an expression of
aggressive self-reliance, impressed the stranger and he remarked to
Red, who lounged lazily near him, that he was surprised to see such a
face on so young a man and he asked who the player was.

"Oh, his name's Hopalong Cassidy," answered Red. "He's di' cuss that
raised that ruction down in Mexico last spring. Rode his cayuse in a
saloon and played with the loungers and had to shoot one before he got
out. When he did get out he had to fight a whole bunch of Mexicans an'
even potted their marshal, who had di' drop on him. Then he returned
and visited the marshal about a month later, took his gun away from
him an' then cut th' cards to see if he was a prisoner or not. He's a
shore funny cuss."

The tenderfoot gasped his amazement. "Are you not fooling with me?"
He asked.

"Tell him yu came after that five hundred dollars reward and see,"
answered Red goodnaturedly.

"Holy smoke!" shouted Waffles as Hopalong won his sixth consecutive
pot. "Did yu ever see such luck?" Frenchy grinned and some time later
raked in his third. Salvation then staked his last cent against
Hopalong's flush and dropped out.

Tenspot flipped to Waffles the money he had been juggling and Lefty
searched his clothes for wealth. Buck, still leaning against the bar,
grinned and winked at Johnny, who was pouring hair-raising tales into
the receptive ears of the stranger. Thereupon Johnny confided to his
newly found acquaintance the facts about the game, nearly causing that
person to explode with delight.

Waffles pushed back his chair, stood up and stretched. At the finish
of a yawn he grinned at his late adversary. "I'm all in, yu old son-
of-a-gun. Yu shore can play draw. I'm goin' to try yu again some time.
I was beat fair an' square an' I ain't got no kick comin', none
whatever," he remarked, as he shook hands with Hopalong.

"`Oh, we're that gang from th' O-Bar-O," hummed the Kid as he
sauntered in. One cheek was slightly swollen and his clothes shed dust
at every step. "Who wins?" he inquired, not having heard Waffles.

"They did, blast it!" exploded Bigfoot.

One of the Kid's peculiarities was revealed in the unreasoning and
hasty conclusions he arrived at. From no desire to imply unfairness,
but rather because of his bitterness against failure of any kind and
his loyalty to Waffles, came his next words:

"Mebby they skinned yu."

Like a flash Waffles sprang before him, his hand held up, palm out.
"He don't mean nothin'-he's only a ignorant kid!" he cried.

Buck smiled and wrested the Colt from Johnny's ever-ready hand.
"Here's another," he said. Red laughed softly and rolled Johnny on the
floor. "Yu jackass," he whispered, "don't yu know better'n to make a
gun-play when we needs them all ?"

"What are we goin' to do?" Asked Tex, glancing at the bulging
pockets of Hopalong's chaps.

"We're goin' to punch cows again, that's what we're to do," answered
Bigfoot dismally.

"An' whose are we goin' to punch? We can't go back to the old man,"
grumbled Tex.

Salvation looked askance at Buck and then at the others. "Mebby," he
began, "Mebby we kin git a job on th' Bar-20." Then turning to Buck
again he bluntly asked, "Are yu short of punchers?"

"Well, I might use some," answered the
foreman, hesitating. "But I
ain't got only one cook, an'-"

"We'll git yu th' cook all O.K.," interrupted Charley Lane
vehemently. "Hi, yu cook!" he shouted, "amble in here an' git a rustle
on!"

There was no reply, and after waiting for a minute he and Waffles
went into the rear room, from which there immediately issued great
chunks of profanity and noise. They returned looking pugnacious and
disgusted, with a wildly fighting man who was more full of liquor than
was the bottle which he belligerently waved.

"This here animated distillery what yu sees is our cook," said
Waffles. "We eats his grub, nobody else. If he gits drunk that's our
funeral; but he won't get drunk! If yu wants us to punch for yu say so
an' we does; if yu don't, we don't."

"Well," replied Buck thoughtfully, "mebby I can use yu." Then with a
burst of recklessness he added, "Yes, if I lose my job! But yu might
sober that Mexican up if yu let him fall in th' horse trough."

As the procession wended its way on its mission of wet charity,
carrying the cook in any manner at all, Frenchy waved his long lost
sombrero at Buck, who stood in the door, and shouted, "Yu old son-of-
a-gun, I'm proud to know yu!"

Buck smiled and snapped his watch shut "Time to amble," he said.





Next: Holding The Claim

Previous: Hopalong Keeps His Word



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