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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBar-20 Days - Chapter 9. Mr. Holden Drops In
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Bar-20 Days - Chapter 9. Mr. Holden Drops In Post by :ow24160 Category :Long Stories Author :Clarence E. Mulford Date :May 2012 Read :2781

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Bar-20 Days - Chapter 9. Mr. Holden Drops In


Mr. Cassidy dismounted and viewed the building with open disgust, walking around it to see what held it up, and when he finally realized that it was self-supporting his astonishment was profound. Undoubtedly there were shacks in the United States in worse condition, but he hoped their number was small. Of course he knew that the building was small. Of course he knew that the building would make a very good place of defence, but for the sake of argument he called to his companion and urged that they be satisfied with what defence they could extemporize in the open. Mr. Connors hotly and hastily dissented as he led the horses into the building, and straightway the subject was arbitrated with much feeling and snappy eloquence. Finally Hopalong thought that Red was a chump, and said so out loud, whereat Red said unpleasant things about his good friend's pedigree, attributes, intelligence, et al., even going so far as to prognosticate his friend's place of eternal abode. The remarks were fast getting to be somewhat personal in tenor when a whine in the air swept up the scale to a vicious shriek as it passed between them, dropped rapidly to a whine again and quickly died out in the distance, a flat report coming to their ears a few seconds later. Invisible bees seemed to be winging through the air, the angry and venomous droning becoming more pronounced each passing moment, and the irregular cracking of rifles grew louder rapidly. An angry _s-p-a-t! told of where a stone behind them had launched the ricochet which hurled skyward with a wheezing scream. A handful of 'dobe dust sprang from the corner of the building and sifted down upon them, causing Red to cough.

"That ricochet was a Sharps!" exclaimed Hopalong, and they lost no time in getting into the building, where the discussion was renewed as they prepared for the final struggle. Red grunted his cheerful approval, for now he was out of the blazing sun and where he could better appreciate the musical tones of the flying bullets; but his companion, slamming shut the door and propping it with a fallen roof-beam, grumbled and finally gave rein to his rancor by sneering at the Winchester.

"It shore gets me that after all I have said about that gun you will tote it around with you and force yoreself into a suicide's grave," quoth Mr. Cassidy, with exuberant pugnacity. "I ain't in no way objecting to the suicide part of it, but I can't see that it's at all fair to drag _me onto the edge of everlasting eternity with you. If you ain't got no regard for yore own life you shore ought to think a little about yore friend's. Now you'll waste all yore cartridges an' then come snooping around me to borrow my gun. Why don't you lose the damned thing?"

"What I pack ain't none of yore business, which same I'll uphold," retorted Mr. Connors, at last able to make himself heard. "You get over on yore own side an' use yore Colt; I've wondered a whole lot where you ever got the sense to use a Colt--_I wouldn't be a heap surprised to see you toting a pearl-handled .22, like the kids use. Now you 'tend to yore grave-yard aspirants, an' lemme do the same with mine."

"The Lord knows I've stood a whole lot from you because you just can't help being foolish, but I've got plumb weary and sick of it. It stops right here or you won't get no 'Paches," snorted Hopalong, peering intently through a hole in the shack. The more they squabbled the better they liked it,--controversies had become so common that they were merely a habit; and they served to take the grimness out of desperate situations.

"Aw, you can't lick one side of me," averred Red loftily. "You never did stop anybody that was anything," he jeered as he fired from his window. "Why, you couldn't even hit the bottom of the Grand Canyon if you leaned over the edge."

"You could, if you leaned too far, you red-headed wart of a half-breed," snapped Hopalong. "But how about the Joneses, Tarantula Charley, Slim Travennes, an' all the rest? How about them, hey?"

"Huh! You couldn't 'a' got any of 'em if they had been sober," and Mr. Connors shook so with mirth that the Indian at whom he had fired got away with a whole skin and cheerfully derided the marksman. "That 'Pache shore reckons it was you shooting at him, I missed him so far. Now, you shut up--I want to get some so we can go home. I don't want to stay out here all night an' the next day as well," Red grumbled, his words dying slowly in his throat as he voiced other thoughts.

Hopalong caught sight of an Apache who moved cautiously through a chaparral lying about nine hundred yards away. As long as the distant enemy lay quietly he could not be discerned, but he was not content with assured safety and took a chance. Hopalong raised his rifle to his shoulder as the Indian fired and the latter's bullet, striking the edge of the hole through which Mr. Cassidy peered, kicked up a generous handful of dust, some of which found lodgment in that individual's eyes.

"Oh! Oh! Oh! Wow!" yelled the unfortunate, dancing blindly around the room in rage and pain, and dropping his rifle to grab at his eyes. "Oh! Oh! Oh!"

His companion wheeled like a flash and grabbed him as he stumbled past. "Are you plugged bad, Hoppy? Where did they get you? Are you hit bad?" and Red's heart was in his voice.

"No, I ain't plugged bad!" mimicked Hopalong. "I ain't plugged at all!" he blazed, kicking enthusiastically at his solicitous friend. "Get me some water, you jackass! Don't stand there like a fool! I ain't going to fall down. Don't you know my eyes are full of 'dobe?"

Red, avoiding another kick, hastily complied, and as hastily left Mr. Cassidy to wash out the dirt while he returned to his post by the window. "Anybody'd think you was full of red-eye, the way you act," muttered Red peevishly.

Hopalong, rubbing his eyes of the dirt, went back to the hole in the wall and looked out. "Hey, Red! Come over here an' spill that brave's conceit. I can't keep my eyes open long enough to aim, an' it's a nice shot, too. It'd serve him right if you got him!"

Mr. Connors obeyed the summons and peered out cautiously. "I can't see him, nohow; where is the coyote?"

"Over there in that little chaparral; see him now? _There! See him moving. Do you mean to tell me--"

"Yep; I see him, all right. You watch," was the reply. "He's just over nine hundred--where's yore Sharps?" He took the weapon, glanced at the Buffington sight, which he found to be set right, and aimed carefully.

Hopalong blinked through another hole as his friend fired and saw the Indian flop down and crawl aimlessly about on hands and knees. "What's he doing now, Red?"

"Playing marbles, you chump; an' here goes for his agate," replied the man with the Sharps, firing again. "There! Gee!" he exclaimed, as a bullet hummed in through the window he had quitted for the moment, and thudded into the wall, making the dry adobe fly. It had missed him by only a few inches and he now crept along the floor to the rear of the room and shoved his rifle out among the branches of a stunted mesquite which grew before a fissure in the wall. "You keep away from that windy for a minute, Hoppy," he warned as he waited.

A terror-stricken lizard flashed out of the fissure and along the wall where the roof had fallen in and flitted into a hole, while a fly buzzed loudly and hovered persistently around Red's head, to the rage of that individual. "Ah, ha!" he grunted, lowering the rifle and peering through the smoke. A yell reached his ears and he forthwith returned to his window, whistling softly.

Evidently Mr. Cassidy's eyes were better and his temper sweeter, for he hummed "Dixie" and then jumped to "Yankee Doodle," mixing the two airs with careless impartiality, which was a sign that he was thinking deeply. "Wonder what ever became of Powers, Red. Peculiar feller, he was."

"In jail, I reckon, if drink hasn't killed him."

"Yes; I reckon so," and Mr. Cassidy continued his medley, which prompted his friend quickly to announce his unqualified disapproval.

"You can make more of a mess of them two songs than anybody I ever heard murder 'em! _Shut up!_"--and the concert stopped, the vocalist venting his feelings at an Indian, and killing the horse instead.

"Did you get him?" queried Red.

"Nope; but I got his cayuse," Hopalong replied, shoving a fresh cartridge into the foul, greasy breech of the Sharps. "An' here's where I get him--got to square up for my eyes some way," he muttered, firing. "Missed! Now what do you think of that!" he exclaimed.

"Better take my Winchester," suggested Red, in a matter-of-fact way, but he chuckled softly and listened for the reply.

"Aw, you go to the devil!" snapped Mr. Cassidy, firing again. "Whoop! Got him that time!"

"Where?" asked his companion, with strong suspicion.

"None of yore business!"

"Aw, darn it! Who spilled the water?" yelled Red, staring blankly at the overturned canteen.

"Pshaw! Reckon I did, Red," apologized his friend ruefully. "Now of all the cussed luck!"

"Oh, well; we've got another, an' you had to wash out yore eyes. Lucky we each had one--_Holy smoke! It's most all gone! The top is loose!"

Heartfelt profanity filled the room and the two disgusted punchers went sullenly back to their posts. It was a calamity of no small magnitude, for, while food could be dispensed with for a long time if necessary, going without water was another question. It was as necessary as cartridges.

Then Hopalong laughed at the ludicrous side of the whole affair, thereby revealing one of the characteristics which endeared him to his friends. No matter how desperate a situation might be, he could always find in it something at which to laugh. He laughed going into danger and coming out of it, with a joke or a pleasantry always trembling on the end of his tongue.

"Red, did it ever strike you how cussed thirsty a feller gets just as soon as he knows he can't have no drink? But it don't make much difference, nohow. We'll get out of this little scrape just as we've allus got out of trouble. There's some mad war-whoops outside that are worse off than we are, because they are at the wrong end of yore gun. I feel sort of sorry for 'em."

"Yo're shore a happy idiot," grinned Red. "Hey! Listen!"

Galloping was heard and Hopalong, running to the door, looked out through a crack as sudden firing broke out around the rear of the shack, and fell to pulling away the props, crying, "It's a puncher, Red; he's riding this way! Come on an' help him in!"

"He's a blamed fool to ride this way! I'm with you!" replied Red, running to his side.

Half a mile from the house, coming across the open space as fast as he could urge his horse, rode a cowboy, and not far behind him raced about a dozen Apaches, yelling and firing.

Red picked up his companion's rifle, and steadying it against the jamb of the door, fired, dropping one of the foremost of the pursuers. Quickly reloading again, he fired and missed. The third shot struck another horse, and then taking up his own gun he began to fire rapidly, as rapidly as he could work the lever and yet make his shots tell. Hopalong drew his Colt and ran back to watch the rear of the house, and it was well that he did so, for an Apache in that direction, believing that the trapped punchers were so busily engaged with the new developments as to forget for the moment, sprinted towards the back window; and he had gotten within twenty paces of the goal when Hopalong's Colt cracked a protest. Seeing that the warrior was no longer a combatant, Mr. Cassidy ran back to the door just as the stranger fell from his horse and crawled past Red. The door slammed shut, the props fell against it, and the two friends turned to the work of driving back the second band, which, however, had given up all hope of rushing the house in the face of Red's telling fire, and had sought cover instead.

The stranger dragged himself to the canteens and drank what little water remained, and then turned to watch the two men moving from place to place, firing coolly and methodically. He thought he recognized one of them from the descriptions he had heard, but he was not sure.

"My name's Holden," he whispered hoarsely, but the cracking of the rifles drowned his voice. During a lull he tried again. "My name's Holden," he repeated weakly. "I'm from the Cross-O-Cross, an' can't get back there again."

"Mine's Cassidy, an' that's Connors, of the Bar-20. Are you hurt very bad?"

"No; not very bad," lied Holden, trying to smile. "Gee, but I'm glad I fell in with you two fellers," he exclaimed. He was but little more than a boy, and to him Hopalong Cassidy and Red Connors were names with which to conjure. "But I'm plumb sorry I went an' brought you more trouble," he added regretfully.

"Oh, pshaw! We had it before you came--you needn't do no worrying about that, Holden; besides, I reckon you couldn't help it," Hopalong grinned facetiously. "But tell us how you came to mix up with that bunch," he continued.

Holden shuddered and hesitated a moment, his companions alertly shifting from crack to crack, window to window, their rifles cracking at intervals. They appeared to him to act as if they had done nothing else all their lives but fight Indians from that shack, and he braced up a little at their example of coolness.

"It's an awful story, awful!" he began. "I was riding towards Hoyt's Corners an' when I got about half way there I topped a rise an' saw a nester's house about half a mile away. It wasn't there the last time I rode that way, an' it looked so peaceful an' home-like that I stopped an' looked at it a few minutes. I was just going to start again when that war-party rode out of a barranca close to the house an' went straight for it at top speed. It seemed like a dream, 'cause I thought Apaches never got so far east. They don't, do they? I thought not--these must 'a' got turned out of their way an' had to hustle for safety. Well, it was all over purty quick. I saw 'em drag out two women an'--an'--purty soon a man. He was fighting like fury, but he didn't last long. Then they set fire to the house an' threw the man's body up on the roof. I couldn't seem to move till the flames shot up, but then I must 'a' went sort of loco, because I emptied my gun at 'em, which was plumb foolish at that distance, for me. The next thing I knowed was that half of 'em was coming my way as hard as they could ride, an' I lit out instanter; an' here I am. I can't get that sight outen my head nohow--it'll drive me loco!" he screamed, sobbing like a child from the horror of it all.

His auditors still moved around the room, growing more and more vindictive all the while and more zealously endeavoring to create a still greater deficit in one Apache war-party. They knew what he had looked upon, for they themselves had become familiar with the work of Apaches in Arizona. They could picture it vividly in all its devilish horror. Neither of them paid any apparent attention to their companion, for they could not spare the time, and, also, they believed it best to let him fight out his own battles unassisted.

Holden sobbed and muttered as the minutes dragged along, at times acting so strangely as to draw a covert side-glance from one or both of the Bar-20 punchers. Then Mr. Connors saw his boon companion suddenly lean out of a window and immediately become the target for the hard-working enemy. He swore angrily at the criminal recklessness of it. "Hey, you! Come in out of that! Ain't you got no brains at all, you blasted idiot! Don't you know that we need every gun?"

"Yes; that's right. I sort of forgot," grinned the reckless one, obeying with alacrity and looking sheepish. "But you know there's two thundering big tarantulas out there fighting like blazes. You ought to see 'em jump! It's a sort of a leap-frog fight, Red."

"Fool!" snorted Mr. Connors belligerently. "_You'd 'a' jumped if one of them slugs had 'a' got you! Yo're the damnedest fool that ever walked on two laigs, you blasted sage-hen!" Mr. Connors was beginning to lose his temper and talk in his throat.

"Well, they didn't get me, did they? What you yelling about, anyhow?" growled Hopalong, trying to brazen it out.

"An' _you talking about suicide to me!" snapped Mr. Connors, determined to rub it in and have the last word.

Mr. Holden stared, open-mouthed, at the man who could enjoy a miserable spider fight under such distressing circumstances, and his shaken nerves became steadier as he gave thought to the fact that he was a companion of the two men about whose exploits he had heard so much. Evidently the stories had not been exaggerated. What must they think of him for giving way as he had? He rose to his feet in time to see a horse blunder into the open on Red's side of the house, and after it blundered its owner, who immediately lost all need of earthly conveyances. Holden laughed from the joy of being with a man who could shoot like that, and he took up his rifle and turned to a crack in the wall, filled with the determination to let his companions know that he was built of the right kind of timber after all, wounded as he was.

Red's only comment, as he pumped a fresh cartridge into the barrel, was, "He must 'a' thought he saw a spider fight, too."

"Hey, Red," called Hopalong. "The big one is dead."

"What big one?"

"Why, don't you remember? That big tarantula I was watching. One was bigger than the other, but the little feller shore waded into him an'--"

"Go to the devil!" shouted Red, who had to grin, despite his anger.

"Presently, presently," replied Hopalong, laughing.

So the day passed, and when darkness came upon them all of the defenders were wounded, Holden desperately so.

"Red, one of us has got to try to make the ranch," Hopalong suddenly announced, and his friend knew he was right. Since Holden had appeared upon the scene they had known that they could not try a dash; one of them had to stay.

"We'll toss for it; heads, I go," Red suggested, flipping a coin.

"Tails!" cried Hopalong. "It's only thirty miles to Buckskin, an' if I can get away from here I'm good to make it by eleven to-night. I'll stop at Cowan's an' have him send word to Lucas an' Bartlett, so there'll be enough in case any of our boys are out on the range in some line house. We can pick 'em up on the way back, so there won't be no time lost. If I get through you can expect excitement on the outside of this sieve by daylight. You an' Holden can hold her till then, because they never attack at night. It's the only way out of this for us--we ain't got cartridges or water enough to last another day."

Red, knowing that Hopalong was taking a desperate chance in working through the cordon of Indians which surrounded them, and that the house was safe when compared to running such a gantlet, offered to go through the danger line with him. For several minutes a wordy war raged and finally Red accepted a compromise; he was to help, but not to work through the line.

"But what's the use of all this argument?" feebly demanded Holden. "Why don't you both go? I ain't a-going to live nohow, so there ain't no use of anybody staying here with me, to die with me. Put a bullet through me so them devils can't play with me like they do with others, an' then get away while you've got a chance. Two men can get through as easy as one." He sank back, exhausted by the effort.

"No more of that!" cried Red, trying to be stern. "I'm going to stay with you an' see things through. I'd be a fine sort of a coyote to sneak off an' leave you for them fiends. An', besides, I can't get away; my cayuse is hit too hard an' yourn is dead," he lied cheerfully. "An' yo're going to get well, all right. I've seen fellers hit harder than you are pull through."

Hopalong walked over to the prostrate man and shook hands with him. "I'm awful glad I met you, Holden. Yo're pure grit all the way through, an' I like to tie to that kind of a man. Don't you worry about nothing; Red can handle this proposition, an' we'll have you in Buckskin by to-morrow night; you'll be riding again in two weeks. So long."

He turned to Red and shook hands silently, led his horse out of the building and mounted, glad that the moon had not yet come up, for in the darkness he had a chance.

"Good luck, Hoppy!" cried Red, running to the door. "Good luck!"

"You bet--an' lots of it, too," groaned Holden, but he was gone. Then Red wheeled. "Holden, keep yore eyes an' ears open. I'm going out to see that he gets off. He may run into a--" and he, too, was gone.

Holden watched the doors and windows, striving to resist the weak, giddy feeling in his head, and ten minutes later he heard a shot and then several more in quick succession. Shortly afterward Red called out, and almost immediately the Bar-20 puncher crawled in through a window.

"Well?" anxiously cried the man on the floor. "Did he make it?"

"I reckon so. He got away from the first crowd, anyhow. I wasn't very far behind him, an' by the time they woke up to what was going on he was through an' riding like blazes. I heard him call 'em half-breeds a moment later an' it sounded far off. They hit me,--fired at my flash, like I drilled one of them. But it ain't much, anyhow. How are you feeling now?"

"Fine!" lied the other. "That Cassidy is shore a wonder--he's all right, an' so are you. I'll never see him again, but I shore hope he gets through!"

"Don't be foolish. Here, you finish the water in yore canteen--I picked it up outside by yore cayuse. Then go to sleep," ordered Red. "I'll do all the watching that's necessary."

"I will if you'll call me when you get sleepy."

"Why, shore I will. But don't you want the rest of the water? I ain't a bit thirsty--I had all I could hold just before you came," Red remarked as his companion pushed the canteen against him in the dark. He was choking with thirst. "Well, then; all right," and Red pretended to drink. "Now, then, you go to sleep; a good snooze will do you a world of good--it's just what you need."

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