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The Search Begins

From: Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up

As the sun arose it revealed three punchers riding away from
civilization. On all sides, stretching to the evil-appearing horizon,
lay vast blotches of dirty-white and faded yellow alkali and sand.
Occasionally a dwarfed mesquite raised its prickly leaves and rustled
mournfully. With the exception of the riders and an occasional Gila
monster, no life was discernible. Cacti of all shapes and sizes reared
aloft their forbidding spines or spread out along the sand. All was
dead, ghastly; all was oppressive, startlingly repellent in its
sinister promise; all was the vastness of desolation.

Hopalong knew this portion of the desert for ten miles inward-he had
rescued straying cattle along its southern rim- but once beyond that
limit they would have to trust to chance and their own abilities.
There were water holes on this skillet, but nine out of ten were death
traps, reeking with mineral poisons, colored and alkaline. The two
mentioned by Buck could not be depended on, for they came and went,
and more than one luckless wanderer had depended on them to allay his
thirst, and had died for his trust.

So the scouts rode on in silence, noting the half-buried skeletons of cattle
which were strewn plentifully on all sides. Nearly three per cent, of the cattle be-
longing to the Double Arrow yearly found death on this tableland, and
the herds of that ranch numbered many thousand heads. It was this
which made the Double Arrow the poorest of the ranches, and it was
this which allowed insufficient sentries in its line-houses. The
skeletons were not all of cattle, for at rare intervals lay the sand-
worn frames of men.

On the morning of the second day the oppression increased with the
wind and Red heaved a sigh of restlessness. The sand began to skip
across the plain, in grains at first and hardly noticeable. Hopalong
turned in his saddle and regarded the desert with apprehension. As he
looked he saw that where grains had shifted handfuls were now moving.
His mount evinced signs of uneasiness and was hard to control.

A gust of wind, stronger than the others, pricked his face and grains of sand
rolled down his neck. The leather of his saddle emitted strange noises
as if a fairy tattoo was being beaten upon it and he raised his hand
and pointed off toward the east. The others looked and saw what had
appeared to be a fog rise out of the desert and intervene between them
and the sun. As far as eye could reach small whirlwinds formed and
broke and one swept down and covered them with stinging sand. The day
became darkened and their horses whinnied in terror and the clumps of
mesquite twisted and turned to the gusts.

Each man knew what was to come upon them and they dismounted,
hobbled their horses and threw them bodily to the earth, wrapping a
blanket around the head of each. A rustling as of paper rubbing
together became noticeable and they threw themselves flat upon the
earth, their heads wrapped in their coats and buried in the necks of
their mounts. For an hour they endured the tortures of hell and then,
when the storm had passed, raised their heads and cursed Creation.
Their bodies burned as though they had been shot with fine needles and
their clothes were meshes where once was tough cloth. Even their shoes
were perforated and the throat of each ached with thirst.

Hopalong fumbled at the canteen resting on his hip and gargled his
mouth and throat, washing down the sand which wouldn't come up. His
friends did likewise and then looked around. After some time had
elapsed the loss of their pack horse was noticed and they swore again.
Hopalong took the lead in getting his horse ready for service and then
rode around in a circle half a mile in diameter, but returned empty
handed. The horse was gone and with it went their main supply of food
and drink.

Frenchy scowled at the shadow of a cactus and slowly rode toward the
northeast, followed closely by his friends. His hand reached for his
depleted canteen, but refrained-water was to be saved until the last

"I'm goin' to build a shack out here an' live in it, I am!" exploded
Hopalong in withering irony as he dug the sand out of his ears and
also from his sixshooter. "I just nachurally dotes on this, I do!"

The others were too miserable to even grunt and he neatly severed
the head of a Gila monster from its scaly body as it opened it
venomous jaws in rage at this invasion of its territory. "Lovely
place!" he sneered.

"You better save them cartridges, Hoppy," interposed Red as his
companion fired again, feeling that he must say something.

"An' what for?" blazed his friend. "To plug sand storms? Anybody
what we find on this God-forsaken lay-out won't have to be shot-they
will commit suicide an' think it's fun! Tell yu what, if them rustlers
hangs out on this sand range they're better men than I reckons they
are. Anybody what hides up here shore earns all he steals. "Hopalong
grumbled from force of habit and because no one else would. His
companions understood this and paid no attention to him, which
increased his disgust.

"What are we up here for?" He asked, belligerently. "Why, because
them Double Arrow idiots can't even watch a desert! We have to do
their work for them an' they hangs around home an' gets slaughtered!
Yes, sir!" he shouted, "they can't even take care of themselves when
they're in line-houses what are forts. Why, that time we cleaned out
them an' th' C-80 over at Buckskin they couldn't help runnin' into
singin' lead!"

"Yes," drawled Red, whose recollection of that fight was vivid.
"Yas, an' why?" He asked, and then replied to his own question.
"Because yu sat up in a barn behind them, Buck played his gun on th'
side window, Pete an' Skinny lay behind a rock to one side of Buck, me
an' Lanky was across th' Street in front of them, an' Billy an' Johnny
was in th' arroyo on th' other side. Cowan laid on his stummick on th'
roof of his place with a buffalo gun, an' the whole blamed town was
agin them. There wasn't five seconds passed that lead wasn't rippin'
through th' walls of their shack. Th' Houston House wasn't made for no
fort, an' besides, they wasn't like th' gang that's punchin' now.
That's why."

Hopalong became cheerful again, for here was a chance to differ from
his friend. The two loved each other the better the more they

"Yas!" responded Hopalong with sarcasm. "Yas!" he reiterated,
drawling it out. "Yu was in front of them, an' with what? Why, an'
old, white-haired, interfering Winchester, that's what! Me an' my

"Yu and yore Sharp's!" exploded Red, whose dislike for that rifle
was very pronounced. "Yu and yore Sharp's."

"Me an' my Sharp's, as I was palaverin' before bein' interrupted,"
continued Hopalong, "did more damage in five min-"

"Says yu!" snapped Red with heat. "All yu an yore Sharp's could do
was to cut yore initials in th' back door of their shack, an' -"

"Did more damage in five minutes," continued Hopalong, "than all th'
blasted Winchesters in th' whole damned town. Why-"

"An' then they was cut blamed poor. Every time that cannon of yourn
exploded I shore thought th'-"

"Why, Cowan an' his buffalo did more damage (Cowan was reputed to be
a very poor shot) than yu an-"

"I thought th' artillery was comin' into th' disturbance. I could
see yore red head-"

"MY red head!" exclaimed Hopalong, sizing up the crimson warlock of
his companion. "MY red head!" he repeated, and then turned to Frenchy:
"Hey, Frenchy, who's got th' reddest hair, me or Red?"

Frenchy slowly turned in his saddle and gravely scrutinized them.
Being strictly impartial and truthful, he gave up the effort of
differentiating and smiled. "Why, if the tops of yore heads were poked
through two holes in a board an' I didn't know which was which, I'd
shore make a mistake if I tried to name `em"

But Red had the last word. "Anyhow, you didn't have a Sharp's in
that fight-you bad a .45-70 Winchester, just like mine!"

Thereupon the discussion was directed at the judge, and the forenoon
passed very pleasantly, Frenchy even smiling in his misery.

Next: Hopalong's Decision

Previous: Mr Trendley Assumes Added Importance

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