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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up - Chapter 18. The Search Begins
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Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up - Chapter 18. The Search Begins Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :Clarence E. Mulford Date :May 2012 Read :2586

Click below to download : Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up - Chapter 18. The Search Begins (Format : PDF)

Hopalong Cassidy's Rustler Round-up - Chapter 18. The Search Begins

CHAPTER XVIII. The Search Begins

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 belonging 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 minute.

"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 squabbled.

"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 Sharp's-"

"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.

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CHAPTER XIX. Hopalong's DecisionShortly after noon, Hopalong, who had ridden with his head bowed low in meditation, looked up and slapped his thigh. Then he looked at Red and grinned."Look ahere, Red," he began, "there ain't no rustlers with their headquarters on this God-forsaken sand heap, an' there never was. They have to have water an' lots of it, too, an' th' nearest of any account is th' Pecos, or some of them streams over in th' Panhandle. Th' Panhandle is th' best place. There are lots of streams an' lakes over there an' they're right in a good grass country.
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CHAPTER XVII. Mr. Trendley Assumes Added ImportanceThat the rustlers were working under a well organized system was evident. That they were directed by a master of the game was ceaselessly beaten into the consciousness of the Association by the diversity, dash and success of their raids. No one, save the three men whom they had destroyed, had ever seen them. But, like Tamale Jose, they had raided once too often.Mr. Trendley, more familiarly known to men as "Slippery," was the possessor of a biased conscience, if any at all. Tall, gaunt and weather-beaten and with coal-black eyes set deep beneath hairless
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