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The Bar-20 Returns

From: Bar-20 Days

Hopalong Cassidy stopped swearing at the weather and looked up and along
the trail in front of him, seeing a hard-riding man approach. He
turned his head and spoke to Buck Peters, who rode close behind him.
"Somebody's shore in a hurry--why, it's Fred Neal."

It was. Mr. Neal was making his arms move and was also shouting
something at the top of his voice. The noise of the rain and of the
horses' hoofs splashing in the mud and water at first made his words
unintelligible, but it was not long before Hopalong heard something
which made him sit up even straighter. In a moment Neal was near enough
to be heard distinctly and the outfit shook itself out of its weariness
and physical misery and followed its leader at reckless speed. As they
rode, bunched close together, Neal briefly and graphically outlined the
relative positions of the combatants, and while Buck's more cautious
mind was debating the best way to proceed against the enemy, Hopalong
cried out the plan to be followed. There would be no strategy--Johnny,
wounded and desperate, was fighting for his life. The simplest way was
the best--a dash regardless of consequences to those making it, for time
was a big factor to the two men in Jackson's store.

"Ride right at 'em!" Hopalong cried. "I know that bunch. They'll be too
scared to shoot straight. Paralyze 'em! Three or four are gone now--an'
the whole crowd wasn't worth one of the men they went out to get. The
quicker it's over the better."

"Right you are," came from the rear.

"Ride up the arroyo as close as we can get, an' then over the edge an'
straight at 'em," Buck ordered. "Their shooting an' the rain will cover
what noise we make on the soft ground. An' boys, no quarter!"

"Reckon not!" gritted Red, savagely. "Not with Edwards an' Jackson
dead, an' the Kid fighting for his life!"

"They're still at it!" cried Lanky Smith, as the faint and intermittent
sound of firing was heard; the driving wind was blowing from the town,
and this, also, would deaden the noise of their approach.

"Thank the Lord! That means that there's somebody left to fight 'em,"
exclaimed Red. "Hope it's the Kid," he muttered.

"They can't rush the store till they get Lacey, an' they can't rush him
till they get the store," shouted Neal over his shoulder. "They'd be in
a cross fire if they tried either--an' that's what licks 'em."

"They'll be in a cross fire purty soon," promised Pete, grimly.

Hopalong and Red reached the edge of the arroyo first and plunged over
the bank into the yellow storm-water swirling along the bottom like a
miniature flood. After them came Buck, Neal, and the others, the water
shooting up in sheets as each successive horse plunged in. Out again
on the farther side they strung out into single file along the narrow
foot-hold between water and bank and raced towards the sharp bend some
hundreds of yards ahead, the point in the arroyo's course nearest the
town. The dripping horses scrambled up the slippery incline and then,
under the goading of spurs and quirts, leaped forward as fast as they
could go across the level, soggy plain.

A quarter of a mile ahead of them lay the scattered shacks of the town,
and as they drew nearer to it the riders could see the flashes of guns
and the smoke-fog lying close to the ground. Fire spat from Jackson's
store and a cloud of smoke still lingered around a window in Lacey's
saloon. Then a yell reached their ears, a yell of rage, consternation
and warning. Figures scurried to seek cover and the firing from
Jackson's and Lacey's grew more rapid.

A mounted man emerged from a corral and tore away, others following his
example, and the outfit separated to take up the chase individually.
Harlan, wounded hard, was trying to run to where he had left his horse,
and after him fled Slivers Lowe. Hopalong was gaining on them when he
saw Slivers raise his arm and fire deliberately into the back of the
proprietor of the Oasis, leap over the falling body, vault into the
saddle of Harlan's horse and gallop for safety. Hopalong's shots went
wide and the last view any one had of Slivers in that part of the
country was when he dropped into an arroyo to follow it for safety.
Laramie Joe fled before Red Connors and Red's rage was so great that it
spoiled his accuracy, and he had the sorrow of seeing the pursued grow
faint in the mist and fog. Pursuit was tried until the pursuers realized
that their mounts were too worn out to stand a show against the fresh
animals ridden by the survivors of the Oasis crowd.

Red circled and joined Hopalong. "Blasted coyotes," he growled. "Killed
Jackson an' Edwards, an' wanted the Kid! He's shore showed 'em what
fighting is, all right. But I wonder what got into 'em all at once to
give 'em nerve enough to start things?"

"Edwards paid his way, all right," replied Hopalong. "If I do as well
when my time comes I won't do no kicking."

"Yore time ain't coming that way," responded Red, grinning. "You'll die
a natural death in bed, unless you gets to cussing me."

"Shore there ain't no more, Buck?" Hopalong called.

"Yes. There was only five, I reckon, an' they was purty well shot up
when we took a hand. You know, Johnny was in it all the time," replied
the foreman, smiling. "This town's had the cleaning up it's needed for
some time," he added.

They were at Jackson's store now, and hurriedly dismounted and ran in
to see Johnny. They found him lying across some boxes, which brought him
almost to the level of a window sill. He was too weak to stand, while
near him in similar condition lay Barr, too weak from loss of blood to
do more than look his welcome.

"How are you, Kid?" cried Buck anxiously, bending over him, while others
looked to Barr's injuries.

"Tired, Buck, awful tired; an' all shot up," Johnny slowly replied.
"When I saw you fellers--streak past this windy--I sort of went
flat--something seemed to break inside me," he said, faintly and with an
effort, and the foreman ordered him not to talk. Deft fingers, schooled
by practice in rough and ready surgery, were busy over him and in half
an hour he lay on Jackson's cot, covered with bandages.

"Why, hullo, Lacey!" exclaimed Hopalong, leaping forward to shake hands
with the man Red and Billy had gone to help. "Purty well scratched up,
but lively yet, hey?"

"I'm able to hobble over here an' shake han's with these
scrappers--they're shore wonders," Lacey replied. "Fought like a whole
regiment! Hullo, Johnny!" and his hand-clasp told much.

"Yore cross fire did it, Lacey; that was the whole thing," Johnny
smiled. "Yo're all right!"

Red turned and looked out of the window toward the Oasis and then
glanced at Buck. "Reckon we better burn Harlan's place--it's all that's
left of that gang now," he suggested.

"Why, yes; I reckon so," replied the foreman. "That's as--"

"No, we won't!" Hopalong interposed quickly. "That stands till Johnny
sets it off. It's the Kid's celebration--he was shot in it."

Johnny smiled.

Next: Barb Wire

Previous: Harlan Strikes

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