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The Stranger's Plan








From: Bar-20 Days

Fisher, wild with rage, returned to the Paradise and profanely unfolded
the tale of his burning wrongs to the bartender and demanded the loan of
his gun, which the bartender promptly refused. The present owner of the
gun liked Fisher very much for being such a sport and sympathized with
him deeply, but he did not want to have such a pleasing acquaintance
killed.

"Now, see here: you cool down an' I'll lend you fifteen dollars on that
saddle of yourn. You go up an' get that cayuse out before the price
goes up any higher--you don't know that man like I do," remarked the man
behind the bar earnestly. "That feller Townsend can shoot the eyes out
of a small dog at ten miles, purty nigh. Do you savvy my drift?"

"I won't pay him a cussed cent, an' when he goes to sell that piebald at
auction, I'll be on hand with a gun; I'll get one somewhere, all right,
even if I have to steal it. Then I'll shoot out his eyes at ten paces.
Why, he's a two-laigged hold-up! That man would--" he stopped as a
stranger entered the room. "Hey, stranger! Don't you leave that cayuse
of yourn outside all alone or that coyote of a marshal will steal it,
shore. He's the biggest thief I ever knowed. He'll lift yore animal
quick as a wink!" Fisher warned, excitedly.

The stranger looked at him in surprise and then smiled. "Is it usual for
a marshal to steal cayuses? Somewhat out of line, ain't it?" he asked
Fisher, glancing at the bartender for light.

"I don't care what's the rule--that marshal just stole my cayuse; an'
he'll take yourn, too, if you ain't careful," Fisher replied.

"Well," drawled the stranger, smiling still more, "I reckon I ain't
going to stay out there an' watch it, an' I can't bring it in here.
But I reckon it'll be all right. You see, I carry 'big medicine'
agin hoss-thieves," he replied, tapping his holster and smiling as he
remembered the time, not long past, when he himself had been accused of
being one. "I'll take a chance if he will--what'll you all have?"

"Little whiskey," replied Fisher, uneasily, worrying because he could
not stand for a return treat. "But, say; you keep yore eye on that
animal, just the same," he added, and then hurriedly gave his reasons.
"An' the worst part of the whole thing is that I ain't got no gun, an'
can't seem to borrow none, neither," he added, wistfully eyeing the
stranger's Colt. "I gambled mine away to the bartender here an' he won't
lemme borrow it for five minutes!"

"Why, I never heard tell of such a thing before!" exclaimed the
stranger, hardly believing his ears, and aghast at the thought that such
conditions could exist. "Friend," he said, addressing the bartender,
"how is it that this sort of thing can go on in this town?" When the
bartender had explained at some length, his interested listener smote
the bar with a heavy fist and voiced his outraged feelings. "I'll shore
be plumb happy to spread that coyote marshal all over his cussed pound!
Say, come with me; I'm going down there right now an' get that cayuse,
an' if the marshal opens his mouth to peep I'll get him, too. I'm
itching for a chance to tunnel a man like him. Come on an' see the
show!"

"Not much!" retorted Fisher. "While I am some pleased to meet a white
man, an' have a deep an' abiding gratitude for yore noble offer, I can't
let you do it. He put it over on me, an' I'm the one that's got to shoot
him up. He's mine, my pudding; an' I'm hogging him all to myself. That
is one luxury I can indulge in even if I am broke; an' I'm sorry, but
I can't give you cards. Seeing, however, as you are so friendly to the
cause of liberty an' justice, suppose you lend me yore gun for about
three minutes by the watch. From what I've been told about this town
such an act will win for you the eternal love an' gratitude of a
down-trodden people; yore gun will blaze the way to liberty an' light,
freedom an' the right to own yore own property, an' keep it. All I ask
is that I be the undeserving medium."

"A-men," sighed the bartender. "Deacon Jones will now pass down the
aisle an' collect the buttons an' tin money."

"Stranger," continued Fisher, warming up, when he saw that his words
had not produced the desired result, "King James the Twelfth, on the
memorable an' blood-soaked field of Trafalgar, gave men their rights. On
that great day he signed the Magnet Charter, and proved himself as
great a liberator as the sainted Lincoln. You, on this most auspicious
occasion, hold in yore strong hand the destiny of this town--the women
an' children in this cursed community will rise up an' bless you forever
an' pass yore name down to their ancestors as a man of deeds an' honor!
Let us pause to consider this--"

"Hold that pause!" interrupted the astounded bartender hurriedly, and
with shaking voice. "String it out till I get untangled! I ain't up much
on history, so I won't take no chance with that; but I want to tell our
eloquent guest that there ain't no women or children in this town. An'
if there was, I sort of reckon their ancestors would be born first. What
do you think about it--"

"Let us pause to consider the shameful an' burning indignity
perpetrated upon us to-day!" continued Fisher, unheeding the bartender's
words. "I, a peaceful, law-abiding citizen of this glorious
Commonwealth, a free an' equal member of a liberty-loving nation, a
nation whose standard is, now and forever, 'Gimme liberty or gimme
det', a nation that stands for all the conceivable benefits that
mankind may enjoy, a nation that scintillates pyrotechnically over the
prostitution of power--"

Bang! went the bartender's fist on the counter. "Hey! Pause again!
Wait a minute! Go back to 'shameful an' burning,' and gimme a chance!"

"--that stands for an even break, I, Nathaniel G. Fisher, have been
deprived of one of my inalienable rights, the right of locomotion to
distant an' other parts. An' I say, right here an' now, that I won't
allow no spavined individual with thieving prehensils to--"

"Has that pound-keeper got a rifle?" calmly interrupted the stranger,
without a pang of remorse.

"He has. Thus has it allus been with tyrants--well armed, fortified by
habit an' tradition--"

"Then you won't get my gun, savvy? We'll find another way to get that
cayuse as long as you feel that the marshal is yore hunting. Besides,
this man's gall deserves some respect; it is genius, an' to pump genius
full of cold lead is to act rash. Now, suppose you tell me when this
auction is due to come off."

"Oh, not for a week; he wants to run up the board an' keep expenses.
Tyrants, such as him--"

"Shore," interposed the bartender, "he'll make the expenses equal what
he gets for the cayuse, no matter what it comes to. An' he's the whole
town, an' the justice of the peace, besides. What he says goes."

"Well, I'm the Governor of the State an' I've got the Supreme Court
right here in my holster, so I reckon I can reverse his official acts
an' fill his legal opinions full of holes," the stranger replied,
laughing heartily. "Bartender, will you help me play a little joke on
His Honore, the Town,--just a little harmless joke?"

"Well, that all depends whether the joke is harmless on me. You see,
he can shoot like the devil--he allus knows when a man is going to draw,
an' gets his gun out first. I ain't got no respect for him, but I take
off my hat to his gunplay, all right."

The stranger smiled. "Well, I can shoot a bit myself. But I shore wish
he'd hold that auction quick--I've got to go on home without losing
any more time. Fisher, suppose you go down to the pound and dare that
tumble-bug to hold the auction this afternoon. Tell him that you'll
shoot him full of holes if he goes pulling off any auction to-day, an'
dare him to try it. I want it to come off before night, an' I reckon
that'll hustle it along."

"I'll do anything to get the edge on that thief," replied Fisher,
quickly, "but don't you reckon I'd better tote a gun, going down an'
bearding such a thief in his own den? You know I allus like to shoot
when I'm being shot at."

"Well, I don't blame you; it's only a petty weakness," grinned the
stranger, hanging onto his Colt as if fearing that the other would
snatch it and run. "But you'll do better without any gun--me an' the
bartender don't want to have to go down there an' bring you back on a
plank."

"All right, then," sighed Fisher, reluctantly, "but he'll jump the price
again. He'll fine me for contempt of court an' make me pay money I ain't
got for disturbing him. But I'm game--so long."

When he had gained the street, the stranger turned to the bartender.
"Now, friend, you tell me if this man of gall, this Mr. Townsend, has
got many friends in town--anybody that'll be likely to pot shoot from
the back when things get warm. I can't watch both ends unless I know
what I'm up against."

"No! Every man in town hates him," answered the bartender, hastily,
and with emphasis.

"Ah, that's good. Now, I wonder if you could see 'most everybody that's
in town now an' get 'em to promise to help me by letting me run this all
by myself. All I want them to do is not to say a word. It ain't hard to
keep still when you want to."

"Why, I reckon I might see 'em--there ain't many here this time of
day," responded the bartender. "But what's yore game, anyhow?" he asked,
suddenly growing suspicious.

"It's just a little scheme I figgered out," the stranger replied, and
then he confided in the bartender, who jigged a few fancy steps to show
his appreciation of the other's genius. His suspicions left him at once,
and he hastened out to tell the inhabitants of the town to follow his
instructions to the letter, and he knew they would obey, and be glad,
hilariously glad, to do so. While he was hurrying around giving his
instructions, the CG puncher returned to the hotel and reported.

"Well, it worked, all right," Fisher growled. "I told him what I'd do
to him if he tried to auction that cayuse off an' he retorted that if I
didn't shut up an' mind my own business, that he'd sell the horse this
noon, at twelve o'clock, in the public square, wherever that is. I told
him he was a coyote and dared him to do it. Told him I'd pump him full
of air ducts if he didn't wait till next week. Said I had the promise of
a gun an' that it'd give me great pleasure to use it on him if he tried
any auctioneering at my expense this noon. Then he fined me five dollars
more, swore that he'd show me what it meant to dare the marshal of
Rawhide an' insult the dignity of the court an' town council, an' also
that he'd shoot my liver all through my system if I didn't leave him to
his reflections. Now, look here, stranger; noon is only two hours away
an' I'm due to lose my outfit: what are you going to do to get me out
of this mess?" he finished anxiously, hands on hips.

"You did real well, very fine, indeed," replied the stranger, smiling
with content. "An' don't you worry about that outfit--I'm going to get
it back for you an' a little bit more. So, as long as you don't lose
nothing, you ain't got no kick coming, have you? An' you ain't got no
interest in what I'm going to do. Just sit tight an' keep yore eyes an'
ears open at noon. Meantime, if you want something to do to keep you
busy, practise making speeches--you ought to be ashamed to be punching
cows an' working for a living when you could use yore talents an' get a
lot of graft besides. Any man who can say as much on nothing as you
can ought to be in the Senate representing some railroad company or
waterpower steal--you don't have to work there, just loaf an' take
easy money for cheating the people what put you there. Now, don't get
mad--I'm only stringing you: I wouldn't be mean enough to call you a
senator. To tell the truth, I think yo're too honest to even think of
such a thing. But go ahead an' practise--I don't mind it a bit."

"Huh! I couldn't go to Congress," laughed Fisher. "I'd have to practise
by getting elected mayor of some town an' then go to the Legislature for
the finishing touches."

"Mr. Townsend would beat you out," murmured the stranger, looking out of
the window and wishing for noon. He sauntered over to a chair, placed
it where he could see his horse, and took things easy. The bartender
returned with several men at his heels, and all were grinning and
joking. They took up their places against the bar and indulged in
frequent fits of chuckling, not letting their eyes stray from the man in
the chair and the open street through the door, where the auction was
to be held. They regarded the stranger in the light of a would-be
public benefactor, a martyr, who was to provide the town with a little
excitement before he followed his predecessors into the grave. Perhaps
he would not be killed, perhaps he would shoot the pound-keeper and
general public nuisance--but ah, this was the stuff of which dreams were
made: the marshal would never be killed, he would thrive and outlive his
fellow-townsmen, and die in bed at a ripe old age.

One of the citizens, dangling his legs from the card table, again looked
closely at the man with the plan, and then turned to a companion beside
him. "I've seen that there feller som'ers, sometime," he whispered. "I
know I have. But I'll be teetotally dod-blasted if I can place him."

"Well, Jim; I never saw him afore, an' I don't know who he is," replied
the other, refilling his pipe with elaborate care, "but if he can kill
Townsend to-day, I'll be so plumb joyous I won't know what to do with
m'self."

"I'm afraid he won't, though," remarked another, lolling back against
the bar. "The marshal was born to hang--nobody can beat him on the draw.
But, anyhow, we're going to see some fun."

The first speaker, still straining his memory for a clue to the
stranger's identity, pulled out a handful of silver and placed it on
the table. "I'll bet that he makes good," he offered, but there were no
takers.

The stranger now lazily arose and stepped into the doorway, leaning
against the jamb and shaking his holster sharply to loosen the gun
for action. He glanced quickly behind him and spoke curtly: "Remember,
now--I am to do all the talking at this auction; you fellers just look
on."

A mumble of assent replied to him, and the townsmen craned their necks
to look out. A procession slowly wended its way up the street, led by
the marshal, astride a piebald horse bearing the crude brand of the CG.
Three men followed him and numerous dogs of several colors, sizes, and
ages roamed at will, in a listless, bored way, between the horse and
the men. The dust arose sluggishly and slowly dissipated in the hot,
shimmering air, and a fly buzzed with wearying persistence against the
dirty glass in the front window.

The marshal, peering out from under the pulled-down brim of his Stetson,
looked critically at the sleepy horse standing near the open door of the
Paradise and sought its brand, but in vain, for it was standing with
the wrong side towards him. Then he glanced at the man in the door, a
puzzled expression stealing over his face. He had known that man once,
but time and events had wiped him nearly out of his memory and he could
not place him. He decided that the other horse could wait until he had
sold the one he was on, and, stopping before the door of the Paradise,
he raised his left arm, his right arm lying close to his side, not far
from the holster on his thigh.

"Gentlemen an' feller-citizens," he began: "As marshal of this booming
city, I am about to offer for sale to the highest bidder this A Number
1 piebald, pursooant to the decree of the local court an' with the
sanction of the town council an' the mayor. This same sale is for to pay
the town for the board an' keep of this animal, an' to square the fine
in such cases made an' provided. It's sound in wind an' limb, fourteen
han's high, an' in all ways a beautiful piece of hoss-flesh. Now,
gentlemen, how much am I bid for this cayuse? Remember, before you
make me any offer, that this animal is broke to punching cows an' is a
first-class cayuse."

The crowd in the Paradise had flocked out into the street and oozed
along the front of the building, while the stranger now leaned
carelessly against his own horse, critically looking over the one on
sale. Fisher, uneasy and worried, squirmed close at hand and glanced
covertly from his horse and saddle to the guns in the belts on the
members of the crowd.

It was the stranger who broke the silence: "Two bits I bid--two bits,"
he said, very quietly, whereat the crowd indulged in a faint snicker and
a few nudges.

The marshal looked at him and then ignored him. "How much, gentlemen?"
he asked, facing the crowd again.

"Two bits," repeated the stranger, as the crowd remained silent.

"Two bits!" yelled the marshal, glaring at him angrily: "Two bits!
Why, the look in this cayuse's eyes is worth four! Look at the spirit
in them eyes, look at the intelligence! The saddle alone is worth a
clean forty dollars of any man's money. I am out here to sell this
animal to the highest bidder; the sale's begun, an' I want bids, not
jokes. Now, who'll start it off?" he demanded, glancing around; but no
one had anything to say except the terse stranger, who appeared to be
getting irritated.

"You've got a starter--I've given you a bid. I bid two bits--t-w-o
b-i-t-s, twenty-five cents. Now go ahead with yore auction."

The marshal thought he saw an attempt at humor, and since he was feeling
quite happy, and since he knew that good humor is conducive to good
bidding, he smiled, all the time, however, racking his memory for the
name of the humorist. So he accepted the bid: "All right, this gentleman
bids two bits. Two bits I am bid--two bits. Twenty-five cents. Who'll
make it twenty-five dollars? Two bits--who says twenty-five dollars? Ah,
did you say twenty-five dollars?" he snapped, leveling an accusing and
threatening fore-finger at the man nearest him, who squirmed restlessly
and glanced at the stranger. "Did you say twenty-five dollars?" he
shouted.

The stranger came to the rescue. "He did not. He hasn't opened his
mouth. But I said twenty-five cents," quietly observed the humorist.

"Who'll gimme thirty? Who'll gimme thirty dollars? Did I hear thirty
dollars? Did I hear twenty-five dollars bid? Who said thirty dollars?
Did you say twenty-five dollars?"

"How could he when he was talking politics to the man behind him?" asked
the stranger. "I said two bits," he added complacently, as he watched
the auctioneer closely.

"I want twenty-five dollars--an' you shut yore blasted mouth!" snapped
the marshal at the persistent twenty-five-cent man. He did not see
the fire smouldering in the squinting eyes so alertly watching him.
"Twenty-five dollars--not a cent less takes the cayuse. Why, gentlemen,
he's worth twenty in cans! Gimme twenty-five dollars, somebody. I
bid twenty-five. I want thirty. I want thirty, gentlemen; you must gimme
thirty. I bid twenty-five dollars--who's going to make it thirty?"

"Show us yore twenty-five an' she's yourn," remarked the stranger, with
exasperating assurance, while Fisher grew pale with excitement. The
stranger was standing clear of his horse now, and alert readiness
was stamped all over him. "You accepted my bid--show yore twenty-five
dollars or take my two bits."

"You close that face of yourn!" exploded the marshal, angrily. "I don't
mind a little fun, but you've got altogether too damned much to say.
You've queered the bidding, an' now you shut up!"

"I said two bits an' I mean just that. You show yore twenty-five or
gimme that cayuse on my bid," retorted the stranger.

"By the pans of Julius Caesar!" shouted the marshal. "I'll put you to
sleep so you'll never wake up if I hears any more about you an' yore two
bits!"

"Show me, Rednose," snapped the other, his gun out in a flash. "I want
that cayuse, an' I want it quick. You show me twenty-five dollars or
I'll take it out from under you on my bid, you yaller dog! Stop it!
Shut up! That's suicide, that is. Others have tried it an' failed, an'
yo're no sleight-of-hand gun-man. This is the first time I ever paid a
hoss-thief in silver, or bought stolen goods, but everything has to
have a beginning. You get nervous with that hand of yourn an' I'll cure
you of it! Git off that piebald, an' quick!"

The marshal felt stunned and groped for a way out, but the gun under his
nose was as steady as a rock. He sat there stupidly, not knowing enough
to obey orders.

"Come, get off that cayuse," sharply commanded the stranger. "An' I'll
take yore Winchester as a fine for this high-handed business you've been
carrying on. You may be the local court an' all the town officials, but
I'm the Governor, an' here's my Supreme Court, as I was saying to the
boys a little while ago. Yo're overruled. Get off that cayuse, an' don't
waste no more time about it, neither!"

The marshal glared into the muzzle of the weapon and felt a sinking in
the pit of his stomach. Never before had he failed to anticipate the
pull of a gun. As the stranger said, there must always be a beginning, a
first time. He was thinking quickly now; he was master of himself again,
but he realized that he was in a tight place unless he obeyed the man
with the drop. Not a man in town would help him; on the other hand, they
were all against him, and hugely enjoying his discomfiture. With some
men he could afford to take chances and jerk at his gun even when at
such a disadvantage, but--

"Stranger," he said slowly, "what's yore name?"

The crowd listened eagerly.

"My friends call me Hopalong Cassidy; other people, other things--you
gimme that cayuse an' that Winchester. Here! Hand the gun to Fisher, so
there won't be no lamentable accidents: I don't want to shoot you, 'less
I have to."

"They're both yourn," sighed Mr. Townsend, remembering a certain
day over near Alameda, when he had seen Mr. Cassidy at gun-play. He
dismounted slowly and sorrowfully. "Do I--do I get my two bits?" he
asked.

"You shore do--yore gall is worth it," said Mr. Cassidy, turning the
piebald over to its overjoyed owner, who was already arranging further
gambling with his friend, the bartender.

Mr. Townsend pocketed the one bid, surveyed glumly the hilarious crowd
flocking in to the bar to drink to their joy in his defeat, and wandered
disconsolately back to the pound. He was never again seen in that
locality, or by any of the citizens of Rawhide, for between dark and
dawn he resumed his travels, bound for some locality far removed from
limping, red-headed drawbacks.





Next: Johnny Learns Something

Previous: Mr Townsend Marshal



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