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- Bar-20 Days - 10/39 -
"Something is coming to somebody purty soon," murmured Hopalong. He began to sidle over towards his neighbor, his near hand doubled up into a huge knot of protuberant knuckles and white-streaked fingers; but as he was about to deliver his hint that he was greatly displeased at the antics of the bench, a sob came to his ears. Turning his head swiftly, he caught sight of the stranger's face, and sorrow was marked so strongly upon it that the sight made Hopalong gape. His hand opened slowly and he cautiously sidled back again, disgruntled, puzzled, and vexed at himself for having strayed into a game where he was so hopelessly at sea. He thought it all over carefully and then gave it up as being too deep for him to solve. But he determined one thing: He was not going to leave before the other man did, anyhow.
"An' if I catch that howling kerchief outside," he muttered, smacking his lips with satisfaction at what was in store for it. His visit to Wallace was not very important, anyway, and it could wait on more important events.
"There sits a sinner!" thundered out the exhorter, and Hopalong looked stealthily around for a sight of a villain. "God only has the right to punish. 'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord, and whosoever takes the law into his own hands, whosoever takes human life, defies the Creator. There sits a man who has killed his fellow-men, his brothers! Are you not a sinner, /Cassidy/?"
Cassidy jumped clear of the bench as he jerked his head around and stared over the suddenly outstretched arm and pointing finger of the speaker and into his accusing eyes.
"Answer me! Are you not a sinner?"
Hopalong stood up, confused, bewildered, and then his suspended thoughts stirred and formed. "Guilty, I reckon, an' in the first degree. But they didn't get no more'n what was coming to 'em, no more'n they earned. An' that's straight!"
"How do you know they didn't? How do you know they earned it? How do you /know/?" demanded the evangelist, who was delighted with the chance to argue with a sinner. He had great faith in "personal contact," and his was the assurance of training, of the man well rehearsed and fully prepared. And he knew that if he should be pinned into a corner by logic and asked for /his/ proofs, that he could squirm out easily and take the offensive again by appealing to faith, the last word in sophistry, and a greater and more powerful weapon than intelligence. /This/ was his game, and it was fixed; he could not lose if he could arouse enough interest in a man to hold him to the end of the argument. He continued to drive, to crowd. "What right have you to think so? What right have you to judge them? Have you divine insight? Are you inspired? 'Judge not lest ye be judged,' saith the Lord, and you /dare/ to fly in the face of that great command!"
"You've got me picking the pea in /this/ game, all right," responded Hopalong, dropping back on the bench. "But lemme tell you one thing; Command or no command, devine or not devine, I know when a man has lived too long, an' when he's going to try to get me. An' all the gospel sharps south of heaven can't stop me from handing a thief what he's earned. Go on with the show, but count me out."
While the evangelist warmed to the attack, vaguely realizing that he had made a mistake in not heeding Dave Wilkes' tip, Hopalong became conscious of a sense of relief stealing over him and he looked around wonderingly for the cause. The man with the kerchief had "folded his tents" and departed; and Hopalong, heaving a sigh of satisfaction, settled himself more comfortably and gave real attention to the discourse, although he did not reply to the warm and eloquent man on the soap box. Suddenly he sat up with a start as he remembered that he had a long and hard ride before him if he wished to see Wallace, and arising, strode towards the exit, his chest up and his chin thrust out. The only reply he made to the excited and personal remarks of the revivalist was to stop at the door and drop his last dollar into the yeast box before passing out.
For a moment he stood still and pondered, his head too full of what he had heard to notice that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Although the evangelist had adopted the wrong method he had gained more than he knew and Hopalong had something to take home with him and wrestle out for himself in spare moments; that is, he would have had but for one thing: As he slowly looked around for his horse he came to himself with a sharp jerk, and hot profanity routed the germ of religion incubating in his soul. His horse was missing! Here was a pretty mess, he thought savagely; and then his expression of anger and perplexity gave way to a flickering grin as the probable solution came to his mind.
"By the Lord, I never saw such a bunch to play jokes," he laughed. "Won't they never grow up? They was watching me when I went inside an' sneaked up and rustled my cayuse. Well, I'll get back again without much trouble, all right. They ought to know me better by this time."
"Hey, stranger!" he called to a man who was riding past, "have you seen anything of a skinny roan cayuse fifteen han's high, white stocking on the near foreleg, an' a bandage on the off fetlock, Bar-20 being the brand?"
The stranger, knowing the grinning inquisitor by sight, suspected that a joke was being played: he also knew Dave Wilkes and that gentleman's friends. He chuckled and determined to help it along a little. "Shore did, pardner; saw a man leading him real cautious. Was he yourn?"
"Oh, no; not at all. He belonged to my great-great-grandfather, who left him to my second cousin. You see, I borrowed it," he grinned, making his way leisurely towards the general store, kept by his friend Dave, the joker. "Funny how everybody likes a joke," he muttered, opening the door of the store. "Hey, Dave," he called.
Mr. Wilkes wheeled suddenly and stared. "Why, I thought you was half- way to Wallace's by now!" he exclaimed. "Did you come back to lose that lone dollar?"
"Oh, I lost that too. But yo're a real smart cuss, now ain't you?" queried Hopalong, his eyes twinkling and his face wreathed with good humor. "An' how innocent you act, too. Thought you could scare me, didn't you? Thought I'd go tearing 'round this fool town like a house afire, hey? Well, I reckon you can guess again. Now, I'm owning up that the joke's on me, so you hand over my cayuse, an' I'll make up for lost time."
Dave Wilkes' face expressed several things, but surprise was dominant. "Why, I ain't even seen yore ol' cayuse, you chump! Last time I saw it you was on him, going like the devil. Did somebody pull you off it an' take it away from you?" he demanded with great sarcasm. "Is somebody abusing you?"
Hopalong bit into a generous handful of dried apricots, chewed complacently for a moment, and replied: "'At's aw right; I want my cayuse." Swallowing hastily, he continued: "I want it, an' I've come to the right place for it, too. Hand it over, David."
"Dod blast it, I tell you I ain't got it!" retorted Dave, beginning to suspect that something was radically wrong. "I ain't seen it, an' I don't know nothing about it."
Hopalong wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Well, then, Tom or Art does, all right."
"No, they don't, neither; I watched 'em leave an' they rode straight out of town, an' went the other way, same as they allus do." Dave was getting irritated. "Look here, you; are you joking or drunk, or both, or is that animule of yourn really missing?"
"Huh!" snorted Hopalong, trying some new prunes. "'Ese prunes er purty good," he mumbled, in grave congratulation. "I don' get prunes like 'ese very of'n."
"I reckon you don't! They ought to be good! Cost me thirty cents a half-pound," Dave retorted with asperity, anxiously shifting his feet. It didn't take much of a loss to wipe out a day's profits with him.
"An' I don't reckon you paid none too much for 'em, at that," Mr. Cassidy responded, nodding his head in comprehension. "Ain't no worms in 'em, is there?"
"Shore there is!" exploded Dave. "Plumb full of 'em!"
"You don't say! Hardly know whether to take a chance with the worms or try the apricots. Ain't no worms in them, anyhow. But when am I going to get my cayuse? I've got a long way to go, an' delay is costly--how much did you say these yaller fellers cost?" he asked significantly, trying another handful of apricots.
"On the dead level, cross my heart an' hope to die, but I ain't seen yore cayuse since you left here," earnestly replied Dave. "If you don't know where it is, then somebody went an' lifted it. It looks like it's up to you to do some hunting, 'stead of cultivating a belly- ache at /my/ expense. /I/ ain't trying to keep you, God knows!"
Hopalong glanced out of the window as he considered, and saw, entering the saloon, the same puncher who had confessed to seeing his horse. "Hey Dave; wait a minute!" and he dashed out of the store and made good time towards the liquid refreshment parlor. Dave promptly nailed the covers on the boxes of prunes and apricots and leaned innocently against the cracker box to await results, thinking hard all the while. It looked like a plain case of horse-stealing to him.
"Stranger," cried Hopalong, bouncing into the bar-room, "where did you see that cayuse of mine?"
"The ancient relic of yore family was aheading towards Hoyt's Corners," the stranger replied, grinning broadly. "It's a long walk. Have something before you starts?"
"Damn the walk! Who was riding him?"
"Nobody at all."
"What do you mean?"
"He wasn't being rid when I saw him."
"Hang it, man; that cayuse was stole from me!"
"Somewhat in the nature of a calamity, now ain't it?" smiled the stranger, enjoying his contributions to the success of the joke.
"You bet yore life it is!" shouted Hopalong, growing red and then pale. "You tell me who was leading him, understand?"
"Well, I couldn't see his face, honest I couldn't," replied the stranger. "Every time I tried it I was shore blinded by the most awful
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