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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBar-20 Days - Chapter 8. Red Brings Trouble
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Bar-20 Days - Chapter 8. Red Brings Trouble Post by :best4you Category :Long Stories Author :Clarence E. Mulford Date :May 2012 Read :3451

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Bar-20 Days - Chapter 8. Red Brings Trouble

CHAPTER VIII. RED BRINGS TROUBLE

After a night spent on the plain and a cigarette for his breakfast, Hopalong, grouchy and hungry, rode slowly to the place appointed for his meeting with Red, but Mr. Connors was over two hours late. It was now mid-forenoon and Hopalong occupied his time for a while by riding out fancy designs on the sand; but he soon tired of this makeshift diversion and grew petulant. Red's tardiness was all the worse because the erring party to the agreement had turned in his saddle at Hoyt's Corners and loosed a flippant and entirely uncalled-for remark about his friend's ideas regarding appointments.

"Well, that red-headed Romeo is shore late this time," Hopalong muttered. "Why don't he find a girl closer to home, anyhow? Thank the Lord I ain't got no use for shell games of any kind. Here I am, without anything to eat an' no prospects of anything, sitting up on this locoed layout like a sore thumb, an' can't move without hitting myself! An' it'll be late to-day before I can get any grub, too. Oh, well," he sighed, "I ain't in love, so things might be a whole lot worse with me. An' he ain't in love, neither, only he won't listen to reason. He gets mad an' calls me a sage hen an' says I'm stuck on myself because some fool told me I had brains."

He laughed as he pictured the object of his friend's affections. "Huh; anybody that got one good, square look at her wouldn't ever accuse him of having brains. But he'll forget her in a month. That was the life of his last hobbling fit an' it was the worst he ever had."

Grinning at his friend's peculiarly human characteristics he leaned back in the saddle and felt for tobacco and papers. As he finished pouring the chopped alfalfa into the paper he glanced up and saw a mounted man top the sky-line of the distant hills and shoot down the slope at full speed.

"I knowed it: started three hours late an' now he's trying to make it up in the last mile," Hopalong muttered, dexterously spreading the tobacco along the groove and quickly rolling the cigarette. Lighting it he looked up again and saw that the horseman was wildly waving a sombrero.

"Huh! Wigwagging for forgiveness," laughed the man who waited. "Old son-of-a-gun, I'd wait a week if I had some grub, an' he knows it. Couldn't get mad at him if I tried."

Mr. Connors' antics now became frantic and he shouted something at the top of his voice. His friend spurred his mount. "Come on, bronc; wake up. His girl said 'yes' an' now he wants me to get him out of his trouble." Whereupon he jogged forward. "What's that?" he shouted, sitting up very straight. "What's that?"

Red energetically swept the sombrero behind him and pointed to the rear. "War-whoops! W-a-r w-h-o-o-p-s! Injuns, you chump!" Mr. Connors appeared to be mildly exasperated.

"Yes?" sarcastically rejoined Mr. Cassidy in his throat, and then shouted in reply: "Love an' liquor don't mix very well in you. Wake up! Come out of it!"

"That's straight--I mean it!" cried Mr. Connors, close enough now to save the remainder of his lungs. "It's a bunch of young bucks on their first war-trail, I reckon. 'T ain't Geronimo, all right; I wouldn't be here now if it was. Three of 'em chased me an' the two that are left are coming hot-foot somewhere the other side of them hills. They act sort of mad, too."

"Mebby they ain't acting at all," cheerily replied his companion. "An' then that's the way you got that graze?" pointing to a bloody furrow on Mr. Connors' cheek. "But just the same it looks like the trail left by a woman's finger nail."

"Finger nail nothing," retorted Mr. Connors, flushing a little. "But, for God's sake, are you going to sit here like a wart on a dead dog an' wait for 'em?" he demanded with a rising inflection. "Do you reckon yo're running a dance, or a party, or something like that?"

"How many?" placidly inquired Mr. Cassidy, gazing intently towards the high sky-line of the distant hills.

"Two--an' I won't tell you again, neither!" snapped the owner of the furrowed cheek. "The others are 'way behind now--but we're standing _still_!"

"Why didn't you say there was others?" reproved Hopalong. "Naturally I didn't see no use of getting all het up just because two sprouted papooses feel like crowding us a bit; it wouldn't be none of _our funeral, would it?" and the indignant Mr. Cassidy hurriedly dismounted and hid his horse in a nearby chaparral and returned to his companion at a run.

"Red, gimme yore Winchester an' then hustle on for a ways, have an accident, fall off yore cayuse, an' act scared to death, if you know how. It's that little trick Buck told us about, an' it shore ought to work fine here. We'll see if two infant feather-dusters can lick the Bar-20. Get a-going!"

They traded rifles, Hopalong taking the repeater in place of the single-shot gun he carried, and Red departed as bidden, his face gradually breaking into an enthusiastic grin as he ruminated upon the plan. "Level-headed old cuss; he's a wonder when it comes to planning or fighting. An' lucky,--well, I reckon!"

Hopalong ran forward for a short distance and slid down the steep bank of a narrow arroyo and waited, the repeater thrust out through the dense fringe of grass and shrubs which bordered the edge. When settled to his complete satisfaction and certain that he was effectually screened from the sight of any one in front of him, he arose on his toes and looked around for his companion, and laughed. Mr. Connors was bending very dejectedly apparently over his prostrate horse, but in reality was swearing heartily at the ignorant quadruped because it strove with might and main to get its master's foot off its head so it could arise. The man in the arroyo turned again and watched the hills and it was not long before he saw two Indians burst into view over the crest and gallop towards his friend. They were not to be blamed because they did not know the pursued had joined a friend, for the second trail was yet some distance in front of them.

"Pair of budding warriors, all right; an' awful important. Somebody must 'a' told _them they had brains," Mr. Cassidy muttered. "They're just at the age when they knows it all an' have to go 'round raising hell all the time. Wonder when they jumped the reservation."

The Indians, seeing Mr. Connors arguing with his prostrate horse, and taking it for granted that he was not stopping for pleasure or to view the scenery, let out a yell and dashed ahead at grater speed, at the same time separating so as to encircle him and attack him front and rear at the same time. They had a great amount of respect for cowboys.

This manoeuvre was entirely unexpected and clashed violently with Mr. Cassidy's plan of procedure, so two irate punchers swore heartily at their rank stupidity in not counting on it. Of course everybody that knew anything at all about such warfare knew that they would do just such a thing, which made it all the more bitter. But Red had cultivated the habit of thinking quickly and he saw at once that the remedy lay with him; he astonished the exultant savages by straddling his disgruntled horse as it scrambled to its feet and galloping away from them, bearing slightly to the south, because he wished to lure his pursuers to ride closer to his anxious and eager friend.

This action was a success, for the yelling warriors, slowing perceptibly because of their natural astonishment at the resurrection and speed of an animal regarded as dead or useless, spurred on again, drawing closer together, and along the chord of the arc made by Mr. Connors' trail. Evidently the fool white man was either crazy or had original and startling ideas about the way to rest a horse when hard pressed, which pleased them much, since he had lost so much time. The pleasures of the war-trail would be vastly greater if all white men had similar ideas.

Hopalong, the light of fighting burning strong in his eyes, watched them sweep nearer and nearer, splendid examples of their type and seeming to be a part of their mounts. Then two shots rang out in quick succession and a cloud of pungent smoke arose lazily from the edge of the arroyo as the warriors fell from their mounts not sixty yards from the hidden marksman.

Mr. Connors' rifle spat fire once to make assurance doubly sure and he hastily rejoined his friend as that person climbed out of the arroyo.

"Huh! They must have been half-breeds!" snorted Red in great disgust, watching his friend shed sand from his clothes. "I allus opined that 'Paches was too blamed slick to bite on a game like that."

"Well, they are purty 'lusive animals, 'Paches; but there are exceptions," replied Hopalong, smiling at the success of their scheme. "Them two ain't 'Paches--they're the exceptions. But let me tell you that's a good game, just the same. It is as long as they don't see the second trail in time. Didn't Buck and Skinny get two that way?"

"Yes, I reckon so. But what'll we do now? What's the next play?" asked Red, hurriedly, his eyes searching the sky-line of the hills. "The rest of the coyotes will be here purty soon, an' they'll be madder than ever now. An' you better gimme back that gun, too."

"Take yore old gun--who wants the blamed thing, anyhow?" Hopalong demanded, throwing the weapon at his friend as he ran to bring up the hidden horse. When he returned he grinned pleasantly. "Why, we'll go on like we was greased for calamity, that's what we'll do. Did you reckon we was going to play leap-frog around here an' wait for the rest of them paint-shops, like a blamed fool pair of idiots?"

"I didn't know what _you might do, remembering how you acted when I met you," retorted Red, shifting his cartridge belt so the empty loops were behind and out of the way. "But I shore knowed what we ought to do, all right."

"Well, mebby you also know how many's headed this way; do you?"

"You've got me stumped there; but there's a round dozen, anyway," Red replied. "You see, the three that chased me were out scouting ahead of the main bunch; an' I didn't have no time to take no blasted census."

"Then we've got to hit the home trail, an' hit it hard. Wind up that four-laigged excuse of yourn, an' take my dust," Hopalong responded, leading the way. "If we can get home there'll be a lot of disgusted braves hitting the high spots on the back trail trying to find a way out. Buck an' the rest of the boys will be a whole lot pleased, too. We can muster thirty men in two hours if we gets to Buckskin, an' that's twenty more than we'll need."

"Tell you one thing, Hoppy; we can get as far as Powers' old ranch house, an' that's shore," replied Red, thoughtfully.

"Yes!" exploded his companion in scorn and pity. "That old sieve of a shack ain't good enough for _me to die in, no matter what you think about it. Why, it's as full of holes as a stiff hat in a melee. Yo're on the wrong trail; think again."

Mr. Cassidy objected not because he believed that Powers' old ranch house was unworthy of serious consideration as a place of refuge and defence, but for the reason that he wished to reach Buckskin so his friends might all get in on the treat. Times were very dull on the ranch, and this was an occasion far too precious to let slip by. Besides, he then would have the pleasure of leading his friends against the enemy and battling on even terms. If he sought shelter he and Red would have to fight on the defensive, which was a game he hated cordially because it put him in a relatively subordinate position and thereby hurt his pride.

"Let me tell you that it's a whole lot better than thin air with a hard-working circle around us--an' you know what that means," retorted Mr. Connors. "But if you don't want to take a chance in the shack, why mebby we can make Wallace's, or the Cross-O-Cross. That is, if we don't get turned out of our way."

"We don't head for no Cross-O-Cross or Wallace's," rejoined his friend with emphasis, "an' we won't waste no time in Powers' shack, neither; we'll push right through as hard as we can go for Buckskin. Let them fellers find their own hunting--our outfit comes first. An' besides that'll mean a detour in a country fine for ambushes. We'd never get through."

"Well, have it yore own way, then!" snapped Red. "You allus was a hard-headed old mule, anyhow." In his heart Red knew that Hopalong was right about Wallace's and the Cross-O-Cross.

Some time after the two punchers had quitted the scene of their trap, several Apaches loped up, read the story of the tragedy at a glance, and galloped on in pursuit. They had left the reservation a fortnight before under the able leadership of that veteran of many war-trails--Black Bear. Their leader, chafing at inaction and sick of the monotony of reservation life, had yielded to the entreaties of a score of restless young men and slipped away at their head, eager for the joys of raiding and plundering. But instead of stealing horses and murdering isolated whites as they had expected, they met with heavy repulses and were now without the mind of their leader. They had fled from one defeat to another and twice had barely eluded the cavalry which pursued them. Now two more of their dwindling force were dead and another had been found but an hour before. Rage and ferocity seethed in each savage heart and they determined to get the puncher they had chased, and that other whose trail they now saw for the first time. They would place at least one victory against the string of their defeats, and at any cost. Whips rose and fell and the war-party shot forward in a compact group, two scouts thrown ahead to feel the way.

Red and Hopalong rode on rejoicing, for there were three less Apaches loose in the Southwest for the inhabitants to swear about and fear, and there was an excellent chance of more to follow. The Southwest had no toleration for the Government's policy of dealing with Indians and derived a great amount of satisfaction every time an Apache was killed. It still clung to the time-honored belief that the only good Indian was a dead one. Mr. Cassidy voiced his elation and then rubbed an empty stomach in vain regret,--when a bullet shrilled past his head, so unexpectedly as to cause him to duck instinctively and then glance apologetically at his red-haired friend; and both spurred their mounts to greater speed. Next Mr. Connors grabbed frantically at his perforated sombrero and grew petulant and loquacious.

"Both them shots was lucky, Hoppy; the feller that fired at me did it on the dead run; but that won't help us none if one of 'em connects with us. You gimme that Sharps--got to show 'em that they're taking big chances crowding us this way." He took the heavy rifle and turned in the saddle. "It's an even thousand, if it's a yard. He don't look very big, can't hardly tell him from his cayuse; an' the wind's puffy. Why don't you dirty or rust this gun? The sun glitters all along the barrel. Well, here goes."

"Missed by a mile," reproved Hopalong, who would have been stunned by such a thing as a hit under the circumstances, even if his good-shooting friend had made it.

"Yes! Missed the coyote I aimed for, but I got the cayuse of his off pardner; see it?"

"Talk about luck!"

"That's all right: it takes blamed good shooting to miss that close in this case. Look! It's slowed 'em up a bit, an' that's about all I hoped to do. Bet they think I'm a real, shore-'nuff medicine-man. Now gimme another cartridge."

"I will not; no use wasting lead at this range. We'll need all the cartridges we got before we get out of this hole. You can't do nothing without stopping--an' that takes time."

"Then I'll stop! The blazes with the time! Gimme another, d'ye hear?"

Mr. Cassidy heard, complied, and stopped beside his companion, who was very intent upon the matter at hand. It took some figuring to make a hit when the range was so great and the sun so blinding and the wind so capricious. He lowered the rifle and peered through the smoke at the confusion he had caused by dropping the nearest warrior. He was said to be the best rifle shot in the Southwest, which means a great deal, and his enemies did not deny it. But since the Sharps shot a special cartridge and was reliable up to the limit of its sight gauge, a matter of eighteen hundred yards, he did not regard the hit as anything worthy of especial mention. Not so his friend, who grinned joyously and loosed his admiration.

"Yo're a shore wonder with that gun, Red! Why don't you lose that repeater an' get a gun like mine? Lord, if I could use a rifle like you, I wouldn't have that gun of yourn for a gift. Just look at what you did with it! Please get one like it."

"I'm plumb satisfied with the repeater," replied Red. "I don't miss very often at eight hundred with it, an' that's long enough range for most anybody. An' if I do miss, I can send another that won't, an' right on the tail of the first, too."

"Ah, the devil! You make me disgusted with yore fool talk about that carbine!" snapped his companion, and the subject was dropped.

The merits of their respective rifles had always been a bone of contention between them and one well chewed, at that. Red was very well satisfied with his Winchester, and he was a good judge.

"You did stop 'em a little," asserted Mr. Cassidy some time later when he looked back. "You stopped 'em coming straight, but they're spreading out to work up around us. Now, if we had good cayuses instead of these wooden wonders, we could run away from 'em dead easy, draw their best mounted warriors to the front an' then close with 'em. Good thing their cayuses are well tired out, for as it is we've got to make a stand purty soon. Gee! They don't like you, Red; they're calling you names in the sign language. Just look at 'em cuss you!"

"How much water have you got?" inquired his friend with anxiety.

"Canteen plumb full. How're you fixed?"

"I got the same, less one drink. That gives us enough for a couple of days with some to spare, if we're careful," Mr. Connors replied. New Mexican canteens are built on generous lines and are known as life-preservers.

"Look at that glory-hunter go!" exclaimed Red, watching a brave who was riding half a mile to their right and rapidly coming abreast of them. "Wonder how he got over there without us seeing him."

"Here; stop him!" suggested Hopalong, holding out his Sharps. "We can't let him get ahead of us and lay in ambush--that's what he's playing to do."

"My gun's good, and better, for me, at this range; but you know, I can't hit a jack-rabbit going over rough country as fast as that feller is," replied his companion, standing up in his stirrups and firing.

"Huh! Never touched him! But he's edging off a-plenty. See him cuss you. What's he calling you, anyhow?"

"Aw, shut up! How the devil do _I know? I don't talk with my arms."

"Are you superstitious, Red?"

"No! Shut up!"

"Well, I am. See that feller over there? If he gets in front of us it's a shore sign that somebody's going to get hurt. He'll have plenty of time to get cover an' pick us off as we come up."

"Don't you worry--his cayuse is deader'n ours. They must 'a' been pushing on purty hard the last few days. See it stumble?--what'd I tell you!"

"Yes; but they're gaining on us slow but shore. We've got to make a stand purty soon--how much further do you reckon that infernal shack is, anyhow?" Hopalong asked sharply.

"'T ain't fur off--see it any minute now."

"Here," remarked Hopalong, holding out his rifle, "stencil yore mark on his hide; catch him just as he strikes the top of that little rise."

"Ain't got time--that shack can't be much further."

And it wasn't, for as they galloped over a rise they saw, half a mile ahead of them, an adobe building in poor state of preservation. It was Powers' old ranch house, and as they neared it, they saw that there was no doubt about the holes.

"Told you it was a sieve," grunted Hopalong, swinging in on the tail of his companion. "Not worth a hang for anything," he added bitterly.

"It'll answer, all right," retorted Red grimly.

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