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The Argument








From: Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up

Up the street two hundred yards from the Houston House Skinny and Pete
lay hidden behind a bowlder. Three hundred yards on the other side of
the hotel Johnny and Billy were stretched out in an arroyo. Buck was
lying down now, and Hopalong, from his position in the barn belonging
to the hotel, was methodically dropping the horses of the besieged, a
job he hated as much as he hated poison. The corral was their death
trap. Red and Lanky were emitting clouds of smoke from behind the
store, immediately across the street from the barroom. A buffalo gun
roared down by the plaza and several Sharps cracked a protest from
different points. The town had awakened and the shots were dropping
steadily.

Strange noises filled the air. They grew in tone and volume and then
dwindled away to nothing. The hum of the buffalo gun and the sobbing
pi-in-in-ing of the Winchesters were liberally mixed with the sharp
whines of the revolvers.

There were no windows in the hotel now. Raw furrows in the bleached
wood showed yellow, and splinters mysteriously sprang from the
casings. The panels of the door were producing cracks and the cheap
door handle flew many ways at once. An empty whisky keg on the stoop
boomed out mournfully at intervals and finally rolled down the steps
with a rumbling protest. Wisps of smoke slowly climbed up the walls
and seemed to be waving defiance to the curling wisps in the open.


Pete raised his shoulder to refill the magazine of his smoking rifle
and dropped the cartridges all over his lap. He looked sheepishly at
Skinny and began to load with his other hand.

"Yore plum loco, yu are. Don't yu reckon they kin hit a blue shirt
at two hundred?" Skinny cynically inquired. "Got one that time," he
announced a second later.

"I wonder who's got th' buffalo," grunted Pete. "Mus' be Cowan," he
replied to his own question and settled himself to use his left hand.

"Don't yu git Shorty; he's my meat," suggested Skinny.

"Yu better tell Buck-he ain't got no love fer Shorty," replied Pete,
aiming carefully.

The panic in the corral ceased and Hopalong was now sending his
regrets against the panels of the rear door. He had cut his last
initial in the near panel and was starting a wobbly "H" in its
neighbor. He was in a good position. There were no windows in the rear
wall, and as the door was a very dangerous place he was not fired at.

He began to get tired of this one-sided business and crawled up on
the window ledge, dangling his feet on the outside. He occasionally
sent a bullet at a different part of the door, but amused himself by
annoying Buck.

"Plenty hot down there?" he pleasantly inquired, and as he received
no answer he tried again. "Better save some of them cartridges fer
some other time, Buck."

Buck was sending 45-70's into the shattered window with a precision
that presaged evil to any of the defenders who were rash enough to try
to gain the other end of the room.

Hopalong bit off a chew of tobacco and drowned a green fly that was
crawling up the side of the barn. The yellow liquid streaked downward
a short distance and was eagerly sucked up by the warped boards.

A spurt of smoke leaped from the battered door and the bored
Hopalong promptly tumbled back inside. He felt of his arm, and then,
delighted at the notice taken of his artistic efforts, shot several
times from a crack on his right. "This yer's shore gittin' like home,"
he gravely remarked to the splinter that whizzed past his head. He
shot again at the door and it sagged outward, accompanied by the thud
of a falling body. "Pies like mother used to make," he announced to
the loft as he slipped the magazine full of .45-70'S. "An' pills like
popper used to take," he continued when he had lowered the level of
the water in his flask.

He rolled a cigarette and tossed the match into the air,
extinguishing it by a shot from his Colt.

"Got any cigarettes, Hoppy?" said a voice from below.

"Shore," replied the joyous puncher, recognizing Pete; "how'd yu git
here?"

"Like a cow. Busy?"

"None whatever. Comin' up?"

"Nope. Skinny wants a smoke too."

Hopalong handed tobacco and papers down the hole. "So long."

"So long," replied the daring Pete, who risked death twice for a
smoke.

The hot afternoon dragged along and about three o'clock Buck held up
an empty cartridge belt to the gaze of the curious Hopalong. That
observant worthy nodded and threw a double handful of cartridges, one
by one, to the patient and unrelenting Buck, who filled his gun and
piled the few remaining ones up at his side. "Th' lives of mice and
men gang aft all wrong," he remarked at random.

"Th' son-of-a-gun's talkin' Shakespeare," marveled Hopalong.
"Satiate any, Buck?" he asked as that worthy settled down to await his
chance.

"Two," he replied, "Shorty an' another. Plenty damn hot down here,"
he complained. A spurt of alkali dust stung his face, but the hand
that made it never made another. "Three," he called. "How many,
Hoppy?"

"One. That's four. Wonder if th' others got any?"

"Pete said Skinny got one," replied the intent Buck.

"Th' son-of-a-gun, he never said nothin' about it, an' me a fillin'
his ornery paws with smokin'." Hopalong was indignant.

"Bet yu ten we don't git `em afore dark," he announced.

"Got yu. Go yu ten more I gits another," promptly responded Buck.

"That's a shore cinch. Make her twenty."

"She is."

"Yu'll have to square it with Skinny, he shore wanted Shorty plum'
bad, "Hopalong informed the unerring marksman.

"Why didn't he say suthin' about it? Anyhow, Jimmy was my bunkie."

Hopalong's cigarette disintegrated and the board at his left
received a hole. He promptly disappeared and Buck laughed. He sat up
in the loft and angrily spat the soaked paper out from between his
lips.

"All that trouble fer nothin', th' white-eyed coyote," he muttered.
Then he crawled around to one side and fired at the center of his "C."
Another shot hurtled at him and his left arm fell to his side. "That's
funny-wonder where th' damn pirut is? "He looked out cautiously and
saw a cloud of smoke over a knothole which was situated close up under
the eaves of the barroom; and it was being agitated. Some one was
blowing at it to make it disappear. He aimed very carefully at the
knot and fired. He heard a sound between a curse and a squawk and was
not molested any further from that point.

"I knowed he'd git hurt," he explained to the bandage, torn from the
edge of his kerchief, which he carefully bound around his last wound.

Down in the arroyo Johnny was complaining.

"This yer's a no good bunk," he plaintively remarked.

"It shore ain't-but it's th' best we kin find," apologized Billy.

"That's th' sixth that feller sent up there. He's a damn poor shot,"
observed Johnny; "must be Shorty."

"Shorty kin shoot plum' good-tain't him," contradicted Billy.

"Yas-with a six-shooter. He's off'n his feed with a rifle,"
explained Johnny.

"Yu wants to stay down from up there, yu ijit," warned Billy as the
disgusted Johnny crawled up the bank. He slid down again with a welt
on his neck.

"That's somebody else now. He oughter a done better'n that, "he
said.

Billy had fired as Johnny started to slide and he smoothed his
aggrieved chum. "He could onct, yu means."

"Did yu git him?" asked the anxious Johnny, rubbing his welt. "Plum'
center," responded the business-like Billy. "Go up agin, mebby I kin
git another," he suggested tentatively.

"Mebby you kin go to blazes. I ain't no gallery," grinned the now
exuberant owner of the welt.

"Who's got the buffalo?" he inquired as the great gun roared.

"Mus' be Cowan. He's shore all right. Sounds like a bloomin'
cannon," replied Billy. "Lemme alone with yore fool questions, I'm
busy," he complained as his talkative partner started to ask another.
"Go an' git me some water-I'm alkalied. An' git some .45's, mine's
purty near gone."

Johnny crawled down the arroyo and reappeared at Hopalong's barn.

As he entered the door a handful of empty shells fell on his hat and
dropped to the floor. He shook his head and remarked, "That mus' be
that fool Hopalong."

"Yore shore right. How's business?" inquired the festive Cassidy.

"Purty fair. Billy's got one. How many's gone?"

"Buck's got three, I got two and Skinny's got one. That's six, an'
Billy is seven. They's five more," he replied.

"How'd yu know?" queried Johnny as he filled his flask at the horse
trough.

"Because they's twelve cayuses behind the hotel. That's why."

"They might git away on `em," suggested the practical Johnny.

"Can't. They's all cashed in."

"Yu said that they's five left," ejaculated the puzzled water
carrier.

"Yah; yore a smart cuss, ain't yu?"

Johnny grinned and then said, "Got any smokin'? "Hopalong looked
grieved. "I ain't no store. Why don't yu git generous and buy some?"

He partially filled Johnny's hand, and as he put the sadly depleted
bag away he inquired, "Got any papers?"

"Nope."

"Got any matches? "he asked cynically.

"Nope."

"Kin yu smoke `em?" he yelled, indignantly.

"Shore nuff," placidly replied the unruffled Johnny. "Billy wants
some .45-70's."

Hopalong gasped. "Don't he want my gun, too?"

"Nope. Got a better one. Hurry up, he'll git mad." Hopalong was a
very methodical person. He was the only one of his crowd to carry a
second cartridge strap. It hung over his right shoulder and rested on
his left hip. His waist belt held thirty cartridges for the revolvers.
He extracted twenty from that part of the shoulder strap hardest to
get at, the back, by simply pulling it over his shoulder and plucking
out the bullets as they came into reach.

"That's all yu kin have. I'm Buck's ammernition jackass," he
explained. "Bet yu ten we gits `em afore dark" -he was hedging.

"Any fool knows that. I'll take yu if yu bets th' other way,"
responded Johnny, grinning. He knew Hopalong's weak spot.

"Yore on," promptly responded Hopalong, who would bet on anything.


"Well, so long," said Johnny as he crawled away.

"Hey, yu, Johnny!" called out Hopalong, "don't yu go an' tell
anybody I got any pills left. I ain't no ars'nal."

Johnny replied by elevating one foot and waving it. Then he
disappeared.

Behind the store, the most precarious position among the besiegers,
Red Connors and Lanky Smith were ensconced and commanded a view of the
entire length of the barroom. They could see the dark mass they knew
to be the rear door and derived a great amount of amusement from the
spots of light which were appearing in it.

They watched the "C" (reversed to them) appear and be completed.
When the wobbly "H" grew to completion they laughed heartily. Then the
hardwood bar had been dragged across the field of vision and up to the
front windows, and they could only see the indiscriminate holes which
appeared in the upper panels at frequent intervals.

Every time they fired they had to expose a part of themselves to a
return shot, with the result that Lanky's forearm was seared its
entire length. Red had been more fortunate and only had a bruised ear.

They laboriously rolled several large rocks out in the open, pushing
them beyond the shelter of the store with their rifles. When they had
crawled behind them they each had another wound. From their new
position they could see Hopalong sitting in his window. He promptly
waved his sombrero and grinned.

They were the most experienced fighters of all except Buck, and were
saving their shots. When they did shoot they always had some portion
of a man's body to aim at, and the damage they inflicted was
considerable. They said nothing, being older than the rest and more
taciturn, and they were not reckless. Although Hopalong's antics made
them laugh, they grumbled at his recklessness and were not tempted to
emulate him. It was noticeable, too, that they shoved their rifles out
simultaneously and, although both were aiming, only one fired. Lanky's
gun cracked so close to the enemy's that the whirr of the bullet over
Red's head was merged in the crack of his partner's reply.

When Hopalong saw the rocks roll out from behind the store he grew
very curious. Then he saw a flash, followed instantly by another from
the second rifle. He saw several of these follow shots and could sit
in silence no longer. He waved his hat to attract attention and then
shouted, "How many?" A shot was sent straight up in the air and he
notified Buck that there were only four left.

The fire of these four grew less rapid-they were saving their
ammunition. A pot shot at Hopalong sent that gentleman's rifle
hurtling to the ground. Another tore through his hat, removing a neat
amount of skin and hair and giving him a lifelong part. He fell back
inside and proceeded to shoot fast and straight with his revolvers,
his head burning as though on fire. When he had vented the dangerous
pressure of his anger he went below and tried to fish the rifle in
with a long stick. It was obdurate, so he sent three more shots into
the door, and, receiving no reply, ran out around the corner of his
shelter and grasped the weapon. When half way back he sank to the
ground. Before another shot could be fired at him with any judgment a
ripping, spitting rifle was being frantically worked from the barn.
The bullets tore the door into seams and gaps; the lowest panel, the
one having the "H" in it, fell inward in chunks. Johnny had returned
for another smoke.

Hopalong, still grasping the rifle, rolled rapidly around the corner
of the barn. He endeavored to stand, but could not. Johnny, hearing
rapid and fluent swearing, came out.

"Where'd they git yu?" he asked.

"In th' off leg. Hurts like blazes. Did yu git him?"

"Nope. I jest come fer another cig; got any left?"

"Up above. Yore gall is shore apallin'. Help me in, yu twoIaigged
jackass."

"Shore. We'll shore pay our `tentions to that door. She'll go purty
soon-she's as full of holes as th' Bad Lan's," replied Johnny. "Git
aholt an' hop along, Hopalong."

He helped the swearing Hopalong inside, and then the lead they
pumped into the wrecked door was scandalous. Another panel fell in and
Hopalong's "C" was destroyed. A wide crack appeared in the one above
it and grew rapidly. Its mate began to gape and finally both were
driven in. The increase in the light caused by these openings allowed
Red and Lanky to secure better aim and soon the fire of the defenders
died out.

Johnny dropped his rifle and, drawing his six-shooter, ran out and
dashed for the dilapidated door, while Hopalong covered that opening
with a fusilade.

As Johnny's shoulder sent the framework flying inward he narrowly
missed sudden death. As it was he staggered to the side, out of range,
and dropped full length to the ground, flat on his face. Hopalong's
rifle cracked incessantly, but to no avail. The man who had fired the
shot was dead. Buck got him immediately after he had shot Johnny.

Calling to Skinny and Red to cover him, Buck sprinted to where
Johnny lay gasping. The bullet had struck his shoulder. Buck, Colt in
hand, leaped through the door, but met with no resistance. He signaled
to Hopalong, who yelled, "They's none left."

The trees and rocks and gullies and buildings yielded men who soon
crowded around the hotel. A young doctor, lately graduated, appeared.
it was his first case, but he eased Johnny. Then he went over to
Hopalong, who was now raving, and attended to him. The others were
patched up as well as possible and the struggling young physician had
his pockets crammed full of gold and silver coins.

The scene of the wrecked barroom was indescribable. Holes, furrows,
shattered glass and bottles, the liquor oozing down the walls of the
shelves and running over the floor; the ruined furniture, a wrecked
bar, seared and shattered and covered with blood; bodies as they had
been piled in the corners; ropes, shells, hats; and liquor everywhere,
over everything, met the gaze of those who had caused the chaos.

Perry's Bend had failed to wipe out the score.





Next: The Vagrant Sioux

Previous: The Rashness Of Shorty



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