BUCKSKIN was a town of one hundred inhabitants. The census claimed two hundred, but it was a well- known fact that it was exaggerated. One instance of this is shown at the name of Tom Flynn. Those who once knew Tom Flynn, alias Johnny Redmond, alias Bill Sweeney, alias Chuck Mullen, by all four names, could find them in the census list. Furthermore, he had been shot and killed in the March of the year preceding the census, and now occupied a grave in the young but flourishing cemetery. Perry’s Bend, twenty miles up the river, was cognizant of this and other facts, and, laughing in open derision at the padded list, claimed to be the better town in all ways, including marksmanship.
One year before this tale opens, Buck Peters, an example for the more recent Billy the Kid, had paid Perry’s Bend a short but busy visit. He had ridden in at the north end of Main Street and out at the south. As he came in, he was fired at by a group of ugly cowboys from a ranch known as the C 80. He was hit twice, but he unlimbered his artillery and before his horse had carried him, half dead, out on the prairie, he had killed four of the group. Several citizens had joined the cowboys and added their bullets against Buck. Two of these were dead. One had been the best bartender in the county, and the rage of the suffering citizens can well be imagined. They swore vengeance on Buck, his ranch, and his stamping-ground, Buckskin.
The difference between Buck and Billy the Kid is that the former never shot a man who wasn’t trying to shoot him or who hadn’t been warned by some action against Buck that would call for it. He minded his own business and never picked a quarrel, but a list of the men he had assisted over the Great Divide is too long to appear here. He was quiet and pacific up to a certain point. After that had been passed he became a raging cyclone in a tenement house and storm-cellars were much in demand.
“Fanning” is the name of a certain style of gun-play and was universal among the bad-men of the West. While Buck was not a bad-man he had to rub elbows with them frequently and he believed that the sauce for the goose was the sauce for the gander. So he had removed the trigger of his revolver and worked the hammer with the thumb of the “gun-hand” or the thumb of the unencumbered hand. The speed thus acquired was greater than that of the more modern double-action weapon. Six shots in three seconds was his average speed when that number were required, and when it is thoroughly understood that at least five of them found their intended billets it is not difficult to realize that fanning was an operation of danger when Buck was doing it.
He was a good rider, as all cowboys are, and was not afraid of anything that lived. At one time he and his chums, Red Connors and Hopalong Cassidy, had successfully routed a band of fifteen Apaches who wanted their scalps. Of these, twelve never hunted scalps again nor anything else on this earth, and the other three returned to their tribe with the report that three evil-spirits had chased them with “wheel-guns” (cannons).
So now, since his visit to Perry’s Bend the rivalry of the two towns had turned to hatred and an alert and eager readiness to increase the inhabitants of each other’s graveyard. A state of war existed which for a time resulted in nothing worse than acrimonious suggestions. But the time came when the score was settled to the satisfaction of one side, at least.
Four ranches were also concerned in the trouble. Buckskin was surrounded by two, the Bar 20 and the Three Triangle. Perry’s Bend was the common point for the C 80 and the Double Arrow. Each of the two ranch contingents accepted the feud as a matter of course, and as a matter of course took sides with their respective towns. As no better class of fighters ever lived, the trouble assumed Homeric proportions and insured a danger zone well worth watching.
Bar 20’s northern line was C 80’s southern one, and Skinny Thompson took his turn at out-riding one morning after the season’s round-up. He was to follow the boundary and turn back stray cattle. When he had covered the greater part of his journey he saw Shorty Jones riding toward him on a course parallel to his own and about long revolver range away. Shorty and he had “crossed trails” the year before and the best of feelings did not exist between them.
Shorty stopped and stared at Skinny, who did likewise at Shorty. Shorty turned his mount around and applied the spurs, thereby causing his indignant horse to raise both heels at Skinny. The latter took it all in gravely and, as Shorty faced him again, placed his left thumb to his nose, wiggling his fingers suggestively. Shorty took no apparent notice of this but began to shout:
“Yu wants to keep yore busted-down cows on yore own side. They was all over us day afore yisterday. I’m goin’ to salt any more what comes over, an’ don’t yu fergit it, neither.”
Thompson wig-wagged with his fingers again and shouted in reply: “Yu’ c’n salt all yu wants to, but if I ketch yu adoin’ it yu won’t have to work no more. An’ I kin say right here thet they’s more C 80 cows over here than they’s Bar 20’s over there.”
Shorty reached for his revolver and yelled, “Yore a liar!”
Among the cowboys in particular and the Westerners in general at that time, the three suicidal terms, unless one was an expert in drawing quick and shooting straight with one movement, were the words “liar,” “coward,” and “thief.” Any man who was called one of these in earnest, and he was the judge, was expected to shoot if he could and save his life, for the words were seldom used without a gun coming with them. The movement of Shorty’s hand toward his belt before the appellation reached him was enough for Skinny, who let go at long range—and missed.
The two reports were as one. Both urged their horses nearer and fired again. This time Skinny’s sombrero gave a sharp jerk and a hole appeared in the crown. The third shot of Skinny’s sent the horse of the other to its knees and then over on its side. Shorty very promptly crawled behind it and, as he did so, Skinny began a wide circle, firing at intervals as Shorty’s smoke cleared away.
Shorty had the best position for defense as he was in a shallow coulée, but he knew that he could not leave it until his opponent had either grown tired of the affair or had used up his ammunition. Skinny knew it, too. Skinny also knew that he could get back to the ranch-house and lay in a supply of food and ammunition and return before Shorty could cover the twelve miles he had to go on foot.
Finally Thompson began to head for home. He had carried the matter as far as he could without it being murder. Too much time had elapsed now, and, besides, it was before breakfast and he was hungry. He would go away and settle the score at some time when they would be on equal terms.
He rode along the line for a mile and chanced to look back. Two C 80 punchers were riding after him, and, as they saw him turn and discover them, they fired at him and yelled. He rode on for some distance and cautiously drew his rifle out of its long holster at his right leg. Suddenly he turned around in the saddle and fired twice. One of his pursuers fell forward on the neck of his horse, and his comrade turned to help him. Thompson wigwagged again and rode on. He reached the ranch as the others were finishing their breakfast.
AT the table Red Connors remarked that the tardy one had a hole in his sombrero, and asked its owner how and where he had received it.
“Had a argument with C 80 out’n th’line.”
“Go’way! Ventilate enny?”
“Good boy, sonny! Hey, Hopalong, Skinny perforated C 80 this mawnin’!”
Hopalong Cassidy was struggling with a mouthful of beef. He turned his eyes toward Red without ceasing, and grinning as well as he could under the circumstances managed to grunt out “Gu—,” which was as near to “Good” as the beef would allow.
Lanky Smith now chimed in as he repeatedly stuck his knife into a reluctant boiled potato, “How’d yu do it, Skinny?”
“Bet he sneaked up on him,” joshed Buck Peters; “did yu ask his pardin, Skinny?”
“Ask nothin’,” remarked Red, “he jest nachurly walks up to C 80 an’ sez, ‘Kin 1 have the pleasure of ventilatin’ yu?’ an’ C 80 he sez, ‘If yu do it easy like,’ sez he. Didn’t he, Thompson?”
“They’ll be some ventilatin’ under th’ table if yu fellows don’t lemme alone; I’m hungry,” complained Skinny.
“Say, Hopalong, I bets yu I kin clean up C 80 all by my lonesome,” announced Buck, winking at Red.
“Yah! Yu onct tried to clean up the Bend, Buckie, an’ if Pete an’ Billy hadn’t afound yu when they come by Eagle Pass that night, yu wouldn’t be here eatin’ beef by th’ pound,” glancing at the hard-working Hopalong. “It wuz plum’ lucky fer yu that they wuz acourtin’ that time, wasn’t it, Hopalong?” suddenly asked Red. Hopalong nearly strangled in his efforts to speak. He gave it up and nodded his head.
“Why cayn’t yu git it straight, Connors?
I wasn’t doin’ no courtin’, it was Pete. I runned into him on th’ other side o’ th’ pass. I’d look fine acourtin’, wouldn’t I?” asked the downtrodden Williams.
Pete Wilson skillfully flipped a potato into that worthy’s coffee, spilling the beverage of the questionable name over a large expanse of blue flannel shirt. “Yu’s all right, yu are. Why, when I meets yu, yu was lost in th’ arms of yore lady-love. All I could see was yore feet. Go an’ git tangled up with a two hundred and forty pound half-breed squaw an’ then try to lay it onter me! When I proposed drownin’ yore troubles over at Cowan’s, yu went an’ got mad over what yu called th’ in- sinooation. An’ yu shore didn’t look enny too blamed fine, neither.”
“All th’ same,” volunteered Thompson, who had taken the edge from his appetite, “we better go over an’ pay C 80 a call. I don’t like what Shorty said about saltin’ our cattle. He’ll shore do it, unless I camps on th’ line, which same I ain’t hankerin’ after.”
“Oh, he wouldn’t stop th’ cows that way, Skinny; he wuz only afoolin’,” exclaimed Connors meekly.
“Foolin’ yore gran’mother! That there bunch’ll do ennything if we wasn’t lookin’,” hotly replied Skinny.
“That’s shore nuff gospel, Thomp. They’s sore fer mor’n one thing. They lost two of their most promising members when Buck went on th’ war-path, an’ they’s hankerin’ to git square,” remarked Johnny Nelson, stealing the pie, a rare treat, of his neighbor when that unfortunate individual was not looking. He had it half-way to his mouth when its former owner, Jimmy Price, a boy of eighteen, turned his head and saw it going.
“Hi-yi! Yu clay-bank coyote, drap thet pie! Did yu ever see such a son-of-a-gun fer pie?” he plaintively asked Red Connors as he grabbed a mighty handful of apples and crust. “Pie’ll kill yu some day, yu bob-tailed jack! I had an uncle that died onct. He et too much pie an’ he went an’ turned green, an’ so ’ll yu if yu don’t let it alone.”
“Yu ought’r seed th’ pie Johnny had down in Eagle Flat,” murmured Lanky Smith reminiscently. “She had feet that’d stop a stampede. Johnny wuz shore loco about her. Swore she wuz th’ finest blossom what ever growed.” Here he choked and tears of laughter coursed down his weather-beaten face as he pictured her. “She wuz a dainty Greaser about fifteen han’s high an’ about sixteen han’s around. Johnny used to chalk off when he hugged her, usen’t yu, Johnny? One night when he had got purty well around on th’ second lap he run inter a Greaser jest startin’ out on his fust. They hain’t caught that Mexican yet.”
Nelson was pelted with everything in sight. He slowly wiped off the pie-crust and bread and potatoes. “Enny-body ’d think I wuz a busted grub-wagon,” he grumbled. When he had fished the last piece of beef out of his ear he went out and offered to stand treat. As the round-up was over, they slid into their saddles and raced for Cowan’s saloon at Buckskin.
BUCKSKIN was very hot, in fact, it was never anything else. Few people were on the streets and the town was quiet. Over in the Houston Hotel a crowd of cowboys were lounging in the bar-room. They were very quiet—a condition as rare as it was ominous. Their mounts, twelve in all, were switching flies from their quivering skins in the corral at the rear. Eight of these had a large C 80 branded on their flanks; the other four, a Double Arrow.
In the bar-room a slim, wiry man was looking out of the dirty window up the street at Cowan’s saloon. Shorty was complaining, “They shore oughter be here now. They rounded up last week.” The man nearest assured him that they would come. The man at the window turned and said, “They’s yer now.”
In front of Cowan’s a crowd of nine happy-go-lucky, dare-devil riders were sliding from their saddles. They threw the reins over the heads of their mounts and filed in to the bar. Laughter issued from the open door and the clink of glasses could be heard. They stood in picturesque groups, strong, self-reliant, humorous, virile. Their expensive sombreros were pushed far back on their heads, and their hairy chaps were covered with the alkali dust from their ride.
Cowan, bottle in hand, pushed out several more glasses. He kicked a dog from under his feet and looked at Buck. “Rounded up yet?” he inquired.
“Shore, day afore yisterday,” came the reply. The rest were busy removing the dust from their throats, and gradually drifted into groups of two or three. One of these groups strolled over to the solitary card table, and found Jimmy Price resting in a cheap chair, his legs on the table.
“I wisht yu’d extricate yore delicate feet from off’n this hyar table, James,” humbly requested Lanky Smith, morally backed up by those with him.
“Ya-as, they shore is delicate, Mr. Smith,” responded Jimmy without moving.
“We wants to play draw, Jimmy,” explained Pete.
“Yore shore welcome to play if yu wants to. Didn’t I tell yu when yu growed that mustache that yu didn’t have to ask me enny more?” queried the placid James, paternally.
“Call ’em off, Sonny. Pete sez he kin clean me out. Ennyhow, yu kin have th’ fust deal,” compromised Lanky.
“I’m shore sorry fer Pete if he cayn’t. Yu don’t reckon I has to have fust deal to beat yu fellers, do yu? Go way an’ lemme alone; I never seed such a bunch fer buttin in as yu fellers.”
Billy Williams returned to the bar. Then he walked along it until he was behind the recalcitrant possessor of the table. While his aggrieved friends shuffled their feet uneasily to cover his approach, he tip-toed up behind Jimmy, and, with a nod, grasped that indignant individual firmly by the neck while the others grabbed his feet. They carried him, twisting and bucking, to the middle of the street and deposited him in the dust, returning to the now vacant table.
Jimmy rested quietly for a few seconds and then slowly arose, dusting the alkali from him. “Th’ wall-eyed piruts,” he muttered, and then scratched his head for a way to “play hunk.” As he gazed sorrowfully at the saloon he heard a snicker from behind him. He, thinking it was one of his late tormentors, paid no attention to it. Then a cynical, biting laugh stung him. He wheeled to see Shorty leaning against a tree, a sneering leer on his flushed face. Shorty’s right hand was suspended above his holster, hooked to his belt by the thumb—a favorite position of his when expecting trouble.
‘‘One of yore reg’lar habits?” he drawled.
Jimmy began to dust himself in silence, but his lips were compressed to a thin white line.
“Does they hurt yu?” pursued the onlooker.
Jimmy looked up. “I heard tell that they make glue outen cayuses, sometimes,” he remarked. Shorty’s eyes flashed. The loss of the horse had been rankling in his heart all day.
“Does they git yu frequent?” he asked. His voice sounded hard.
“Oh, ’bout as frequent as yu lose a cayuse, I reckon,” replied Jimmy hotly.
Shorty’s hand streaked to his holster and Jimmy followed his lead. Jimmy’s Colt was caught. He had bucked too much. As he fell Shorty ran for the Houston House.
Pistol shots were common for they were the universal method of expressing emotions. The poker players grinned, thinking their victim was letting off his indignation. Lanky sized up his hand and remarked half audibly, “He’s a shore good kid.”
The bartender, fearing for his new beveled, gilt-framed mirror, gave a hasty glance out the window. He turned around, made change, and remarked to Buck, “Yore kid, Jimmy, is plugged.” Several of the more credulous craned their necks to see, Buck being the first. “H—l!” he shouted, and ran out to where Jimmy lay coughing, his toes twitching. The saloon was deserted and a crowd of angry cowboys surrounded their chum—a boy. Buck had seen Shorty enter the door of the Houston House and he swore. “Chase them — —cayuses behind th’ saloon, Pete, an’ git under cover.”
Jimmy was choking and he coughed up blood. “He’s shore—got me. My—gun stuck,” he added apologetically. He tried to sit up, but was not able and he looked surprised. “It’s purty—damn hot—out here,” he suggested. Johnny and Billy carried him in the saloon and placed him by the table, in the chair he had previously vacated. As they stood up he fell across the table and died.
Billy placed the dead boy’s sombrero on his head and laid the refractory six-shooter on the table. “I wonder who th’ — — was.” He looked at the slim figure and started to go out, followed by Johnny. As he reached the threshold a bullet zipped past him and thudded into the frame of the door. He backed away and looked surprised. “That’s Shorty’s shootin’—he allus misses ’bout that much.” He looked out and saw Buck standing behind the live-oak that Shorty had leaned against, firing at the hotel. Turning around, he made for the rear, remarking to Johnny that “they’s in th’ Houston.” Johnny looked at the quiet figure in the chair and swore softly. He followed Billy. Cowan, closing the door and taking a .70 caliber buffalo gun from under the bar, went out also and slammed the rear door forcibly.
UP the street two hundred yards from the Houston House Skinny and Pete lay hidden behind a bowlder. Three hundred yards on the other side of the hotel Johnny and Billy were stretched out in an arroyo. Buck was lying down now, and Hopalong, from his position in the barn belonging to the Hotel, was methodically dropping the horses of the besieged, a job he hated as much as he hated poison. The corral was their death trap. Red and Lanky were emitting clouds of smoke from behind the store, immediately across the street from the bar-room. A .70 caliber buffalo gun roared down by the plaza, and several Sharps cracked a protest from different points. The town had awakened and the shots were dropping steadily.
Strange noises filled the air. They grew in tone and volume and then dwindled away to nothing. The hum of the buffalo gun and the sobbing pi-in-in-ing of the Winchesters were liberally mixed with the sharp whines of the revolvers.
There were no windows in the hotel now. Raw furrows in the bleached wood showed yellow, and splinters mysteriously sprang from the casings. The panels of the door were producing cracks and the cheap door handle flew many ways at once. An empty whiskey keg on the stoop boomed out mournfully at intervals and finally rolled down the steps with a rumbling protest. Wisps of smoke slowly climbed up the walls and seemed to be waving defiance to the curling wisps in the open.
Fete raised his shoulder to refill the magazine of his smoking rifle and dropped the cartridges all over his lap. He looked sheepishly at Skinny and began to load with his other hand.
“Yore plum’ loco, yu air. Don’t yu reckon they kin hit a blue shirt at two hundred?” Skinny cynically inquired. “Got one that time,” he announced a second later.
“I wonder who’s got th’ buffalo,” grunted Pete. “Mus’ be Cowan,” he replied to his own question and settled himself to use his left hand.
“Don’t yu git Shorty, he’s my meat,” suggested Skinny.
“Yu better tell Buck—he ain’t got no love fer Shorty,” replied Pete, aiming carefully.
The panic in the corral ceased and Hopalong was now sending his regrets against the panels of the rear door. He had cut his last initial in the near panel and was starting a wobbly “H” in its neighbor. He was in a good position. There were no windows in the rear wall and, as the door was a very dangerous place, he was not fired at.
He began to get tired of this one-sided business and crawled up on the window ledge, dangling his feet on the outside. He occasionally sent a bullet at a different part of the door, but amused himself by annoying Buck.
“Plenty hot down there?” he pleasantly inquired, and, as he received no answer, he tried again. “Better save some of them catridges fer some other time, Buck.”
Buck was sending .45 Winchesters into the shattered window with a precision that presaged evil to any of the defenders who were rash enough to try to gain the other end of the room.
Hopalong bit off a chew of tobacco and drowned a green fly that was crawling up the side of the barn. The yellow liquid streaked downward a short distance and was eagerly sucked up by the warped boards.
A spurt of smoke leaped from the battered door and the bored Hopalong promptly tumbled back inside. He felt of his arm, and then, delighted at the notice taken of his artistic efforts, shot several times from a crack on his right. “This yer’s shore gittin’ like home,” he gravely remarked to the splinter that whizzed past his head. He shot again at the door and it sagged outward accompanied by the thud of a falling body. “Pies like mother used to make,” he announced to the empty loft as he slipped the magazine full of .45’s. “An’ pills like popper used to take,” he continued when he had lowered the level of the liquor in his flask.
He rolled a cigarette and tossed the match into the air, extinguishing it by a shot from his “fanner.”
“Got enny cigarettes, Hoppy?” said a voice from below.
“Shore,” replied the joyous puncher, recognizing Pete; “how’d yu git hyar?”
“Like a cow. Busy?”
“None whatever. Comin’ up?”
“Nope. Skinny wants a smoke too.” Hopalong handed tobacco and papers down the hole. “So long.”
“So long,” replied the daring Pete, who risked death twice for a smoke.
The hot afternoon dragged along and about three o’clock Buck held up an empty cartridge belt to the gaze of the curious Hopalong. That observant worthy nodded and threw a double handful of cartridges, one by one, to the patient and unrelenting Buck, who filled his gun and piled the few remaining ones up at his side. “Th’ lives of mice and men gang aft all wrong,” he remarked at random.
“Th’ son-of-a-gun’s talkin’ Shakespeare,” marveled Hopalong.
“Satiate enny, Buck?” he asked as that worthy settled down to await his chance.
“Two,” he replied, “Shorty an’ another. Plenty damn hot down here,” he complained. A spurt of alkali dust stung his face, but the hand that made it never made another. “Three,” he called. “How many, Hoppy?”
“One. That’s four. Wonder if th’ others got enny?”
“Pete said Skinny got one,” replied the intent Buck.
“Th’ son-of-a-gun, he never said nothin’ about it, an’ me a fillin’ his ornery paws with smokin’.” Hopalong was indignant.
“Bet yu ten we don’t git ’em afore dark,” he announced.
“Got yu. Go yu ten more I gits another,’’ promptly responded Buck.
“That’s a shore cinch. Make her twenty.”
“Yu’ll have to square it with Skinny, he shore wanted Shorty plum’ bad,” Hopalong informed the unerring marksman.
“Why didn’t he say suthin’ about it? Anyhow, Jimmy was my bunkie.”
Hopalong’s cigarette disintegrated and the board at his left received a hole. He promptly disappeared and Buck laughed. He sat up in the hay and angrily spat the soaked paper out from between his lips.
“All that trouble fer nothin’, th’ white-eyed coyote,” he muttered. Then he crawled around to one side and fired at the center of his “C.” Another shot hurtled at him and his left arm fell to his side. “That’s funny—wonder where th’ damn pirut is?” He looked out cautiously and saw a cloud of smoke over a knothole which was situated close up under the eaves of the bar-room; and it was being agitated. Some one was blowing at it to make it disappear. He aimed very carefully at the knot and fired. He heard a sound between a curse and a squawk and was not molested any further from that point.
“I knowed he’d git hurt,” he explained to the bandage, torn from the edge of his kerchief, that he bound around his last wound.
Down in the arroyo Johnny was complaining.
“This yer’s a no good bunk,” he plaintively remarked.
“It shore ain’t—but it’s th’ best we kin find,” apologized Billy.
“That’s th’ sixth that feller sent up there. He’s a damn poor shot,” observed Johnny; “must be Shorty.”
“Shorty kin shoot plum’ good—tain’t him,” contradicted Billy.
“Yas—with a six-shooter. He’s off’n his feed with a rifle,” explained Johnny.
“Yu wants to stay down from up there, yu ijit,” warned Billy as the disgusted Johnny crawled up the bank. He slid down again with a welt on his neck.
“That’s somebody else now. He oughter a done better’n that,” he said.
Billy had fired as Johnny started to slide and he smoothed his aggrieved chum. “He could onct, yu means.”
“Did yu git him?” asked the anxious Johnny, rubbing his welt.
“Plum’ center,” responded the businesslike Billy. “Go up agin, mebby I kin git another,” he suggested, tentatively.
“Mebby yu kin go to h—l. I ain’t no gallery,” grinned the now exuberant owner of the welt.
“Who’s got th’ buffalo?” he inquired as the .70 caliber roared.
“Mus’ be Cowan. He’s shore all right. Sounds like a bloomin’ cannon,” replied Billy. “Lemme alone with yore fool questions, I’m busy,” he complained as his talkative partner started to ask another. “Go an’ git me some water—I’m alkalied. An’ git some .45’s, mine’s purty near gone.”
Johnny crawled down the arroyo and reappeared at Hopalong’s barn.
As he entered the door a handful of empty shells fell on his hat and dropped to the floor. He shook his head and remarked, “That mus’ be that fool Hopalong.”
“Yore shore right. How’s business?” inquired the festive Cassidy.
“Purty fair. Billy’s got one. How many’s gone?”
“Buck’s got three, I got two an’ Skinny’s got one. That’s six, an’ Billy’s is seven. They’s five more,” he replied.
“How’d yu know?” queried Johnny as he filled his flask at the horse trough.
“They’s twelve cayuses behind th’ hotel.”
“They might git away on ’em,” suggested the practical Johnny.
“Cayn’t. They’s all cashed in.”
“Yu said that they’s five left,” ejaculated the puzzled water-carrier.
“Yah, yore a smart cuss, ain’t yu?” Johnny grinned and then said, “Got enny smokin’?”
Hopalong looked grieved. “I ain’t no store. Why don’t yu git generous an’ buy some?”
He partially filled Johnny’s hand, and as he put the sadly depleted bag away he inquired, “Got enny papers?”
“Got enny matches?” he asked, cynically.
“Kin yu smoke ’em?” he yelled, indignantly.
“Shore nuff,” placidly replied the unruffled Johnny. “Billy wants some .45’s.”
Hopalong gasped. “Don’t he want my gun, too?”
"Nope. Got a better one. Hurry up, he’ll git mad.”
HOPALONG was a very methodical person. He was the only one of his crowd to carry a second cartridge strap. It hung over his right shoulder and rested on his left hip, holding one hundred cartridges and his second Colt. His waist belt held fifty cartridges and all would fit both the rifle and revolvers. He extracted twenty from that part of the shoulder strap hardest to get at, the back, by simply pulling it over his shoulder and plucking out the bullets as they came into reach.
“That’s all yu kin have. I’m Buck’s ammernition jackass,” he explained. “Bet yu ten we gits ’em afore dark"—he was hedging.
“Enny fool knows that. I’ll take yu if yu bets the other way,” responded Johnny, grinning. He knew Hopalong’s weak spot.
“Yore on,” promptly responded Hopalong, who would bet on anything.
“Well, so long,” said Johnny as he crawled away.
“Hey, yu, Johnny!” called out Hopalong, “don’t yu go an’ tell ennybody I got enny pills left. I ain’t no ars’nal.”
Johnny replied by elevating one foot and waving it. Then he disappeared.
BEHIND the store, the most precarious position among the besiegers, Red Connors and Lanky Smith were ensconced and commanded a view of the entire length of the bar-room. They could see the dark mass they knew to be the rear door and derived a great amount of amusement from the spots of light that were appearing in it. They watched the “C” (reversed to them) appear and be completed. When the wobbly “H” grew to completion they laughed heartily. Then the hardwood bar had been dragged across their field of vision and up to the front windows, and they could only see the indiscriminate holes that appeared in the upper panels at frequent intervals.
Every time they fired they had to expose a part of themselves to a return shot, with the result that Lanky’s ear and cheek showed furrows and blood, while his forearm was seared its entire length. Red had been more fortunate and only had a hole through his ear. The butt of his gun was marred and he had a piece of lead in his jaw.
They laboriously rolled several large rocks out in the open, pushing them beyond the shelter of the store with their rifles. When they had crawled behind them they each had another wound. From their new position they could see Hopalong sitting in his window. He promptly waved his sombrero and grinned.
They were the most experienced fighters of all except Buck, and were saving their shots. When they did shoot they always had some portion of a man’s body to aim at, and the damage they inflicted was considerable. They said nothing, being older than the rest and more taciturn, and they were not reckless. Although Hopalong’s antics made them laugh, they grumbled at his recklessness and were not tempted to emulate him. It was noticeable, too, that they shoved their rifles out simultaneously, and, although both were aiming, only one fired.
Lanky’s gun cracked so close to the enemy’s that the whirl of the bullet over Red’s head was merged in the crack of his partner’s reply. The portion of a face that for one bare second showed above the bar disappeared and they knew that Lanky had got his man.
When Hopalong saw the rocks roll out from behind the store he grew very curious. Then he saw a flash, followed instantly by another from the second rifle. He saw several of these follow shots and could sit in silence no longer. He waved his hat to attract attention and then shouted “How many?” A shot was sent straight up in the air and he notified Buck that there were only four left.
The fire of these four grew less rapid—they were saving their ammunition. A pot shot at Hopalong sent that gentleman’s rifle hurtling to the ground. Another tore through his hat, removing a neat amount of skin and hair and giving him a life-long part. He fell back inside and proceeded to shoot fast and straight with his revolvers, his head burning as though on fire.
When he had vented the dangerous pressure of his anger he went below and tried to fish the rifle in with a long stick. It was obdurate, so he sent three more shots into the door, and, receiving no reply, ran out around the comer of his shelter and grasped the weapon. When half way back he sank to the ground. Before another shot could be fired at him with any judgment, a ripping, spitting rifle was being frantically worked from the barn. The bullets tore the door into seams and gaps; the lowest panel, the one having the “H” in it, fell inward in chunks. Johnny had returned for another smoke.
Hopalong, still grasping the rifle, rolled rapidly around the corner of the barn. He endeavored to stand, but could not. He had been shot in the muscles of his right thigh. Johnny, hearing rapid and fluent swearing, came out.
“Where’d they git yu?” he asked.
“In th’ off leg. Hurts like h—l. Did yu git him?”
“Nope. I jest come fer another cig; got enny left?”
“Up above. Yore gall is shore appallin’. Help me in, yu two-laigged jackass.”
“Shore. We’ll shore pay our ’tentions to that door. She’ll go purty soon—she’s as full of holes as th’ bad lan’s,” replied Johnny. “Git aholt an’ hop along, Hopalong.”
He helped the swearing Hopalong inside, and then the lead they pumped into the wrecked door was scandalous. Another panel fell in and Hopalong’s “C” was destroyed. A wide crack appeared in the one above it and grew rapidly. Its mate began to gape and finally both were driven in. The increase in the light caused by these openings allowed Red and Lanky to secure better aim and soon the fire of the defenders died out.
Johnny dropped his rifle and, drawing his six-shooter, ran out and dashed for the dilapidated door, while Hopalong covered that opening with a fusilade.
As Johnny’s shoulder sent the framework flying inward he narrowly missed sudden death. As it was he staggered to the side, out of range, and dropped full length to the ground, flat on his face. Hopalong’s rifle cracked incessantly, but to no avail. The man who had fired the shot was dead. Buck got him immediately after he had shot Johnny.
Calling to Skinny and Red to cover him, Buck sprinted to where Johnny lay gasping. The bullet had entered his breast, just missed his lungs, and had passed out his back. Buck, Colt in hand, leaped through the door, but met with no resistance. He signaled to Hopalong, who yelled, “They’s none left.”
THE trees and rocks and gulleys and buildings yielded men who soon crowded around the hotel. A young doctor, lately graduated, appeared. It was his first case, but he eased Johnny and saved his life. Then he went over to Hopalong, who was now raving, and attended to him. The others were patched up and the struggling young physician had his pockets crammed full of gold and silver coins.
The scene of the wrecked bar-room was indescribable. Holes, furrows, shattered glass and bottles, the liquor oozing down the walls of the shelves and running over the floor; the ruined furniture, a wrecked bar, seared and shattered and covered with blood; bodies as they had been piled in the comers; ropes, shells, hats; and liquor everywhere, over everything, met the gaze of those who had caused the chaos.
Perry’s Bend had failed to wipe out the score.
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