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- Bar-20 Days - 30/39 -
"Hey, why can't you do the same thing if he makes it?" Johnny suddenly asked. "I can hold her alone, all right."
"Yo're a cheerful liar, you are," laughed Barr. "But can /you/ ride?"
"Reckon so, but I ain't a-going to."
"Why, we /both/ can go--it's a cinch!" Barr cried. "Come on!"
"Lord!--an' I never even thought of that! Reckon I was too mad," Johnny replied. "But I sort of hates to leave Jackson an' Edwards," he added, sullenly.
"But they're gone! You can't do them no good by staying."
"Yes; I know. An' how about Lacey chipping in on our fight?" demanded Johnny. "I ain't a-going to leave him to take it all. You go, Barr; it wasn't yore fight, nohow. You didn't even know what you was fighting for!"
"Huh! When anybody shoots at me it's my fight, all right," replied Barr, seating himself on the floor behind the breastwork. "I forgot all about Lacey," he apologized. At that instant a tomato can went /spang!/ and fell off the shelf. "An' it's too late, anyhow; they ain't a-going to let nobody else get away on that side."
"An' they're tuning up again, too," Johnny replied, preparing for trouble. "Look out for a rush, Barr."
THE BAR-20 RETURNS.
Hopalong Cassidy stopped swearing at the weather and looked up and along the trail in front of him, seeing a hard-riding man approach. He turned his head and spoke to Buck Peters, who rode close behind him. "Somebody's shore in a hurry--why, it's Fred Neal."
It was. Mr. Neal was making his arms move and was also shouting something at the top of his voice. The noise of the rain and of the horses' hoofs splashing in the mud and water at first made his words unintelligible, but it was not long before Hopalong heard something which made him sit up even straighter. In a moment Neal was near enough to be heard distinctly and the outfit shook itself out of its weariness and physical misery and followed its leader at reckless speed. As they rode, bunched close together, Neal briefly and graphically outlined the relative positions of the combatants, and while Buck's more cautious mind was debating the best way to proceed against the enemy, Hopalong cried out the plan to be followed. There would be no strategy--Johnny, wounded and desperate, was fighting for his life. The simplest way was the best--a dash regardless of consequences to those making it, for time was a big factor to the two men in Jackson's store.
"Ride right at 'em!" Hopalong cried. "I know that bunch. They'll be too scared to shoot straight. Paralyze 'em! Three or four are gone now --an' the whole crowd wasn't worth one of the men they went out to get. The quicker it's over the better."
"Right you are," came from the rear.
"Ride up the arroyo as close as we can get, an' then over the edge an' straight at 'em," Buck ordered. "Their shooting an' the rain will cover what noise we make on the soft ground. An' boys, /no quarter/!"
"Reckon /not/!" gritted Red, savagely. "Not with Edwards an' Jackson dead, an' the Kid fighting for his life!"
"They're still at it!" cried Lanky Smith, as the faint and intermittent sound of firing was heard; the driving wind was blowing from the town, and this, also, would deaden the noise of their approach.
"Thank the Lord! That means that there's somebody left to fight 'em," exclaimed Red. "Hope it's the Kid," he muttered.
"They can't rush the store till they get Lacey, an' they can't rush him till they get the store," shouted Neal over his shoulder. "They'd be in a cross fire if they tried either--an' that's what licks 'em."
"They'll be in a cross fire purty soon," promised Pete, grimly.
Hopalong and Red reached the edge of the arroyo first and plunged over the bank into the yellow storm-water swirling along the bottom like a miniature flood. After them came Buck, Neal, and the others, the water shooting up in sheets as each successive horse plunged in. Out again on the farther side they strung out into single file along the narrow foot-hold between water and bank and raced towards the sharp bend some hundreds of yards ahead, the point in the arroyo's course nearest the town. The dripping horses scrambled up the slippery incline and then, under the goading of spurs and quirts, leaped forward as fast as they could go across the level, soggy plain.
A quarter of a mile ahead of them lay the scattered shacks of the town, and as they drew nearer to it the riders could see the flashes of guns and the smoke-fog lying close to the ground. Fire spat from Jackson's store and a cloud of smoke still lingered around a window in Lacey's saloon. Then a yell reached their ears, a yell of rage, consternation and warning. Figures scurried to seek cover and the firing from Jackson's and Lacey's grew more rapid.
A mounted man emerged from a corral and tore away, others following his example, and the outfit separated to take up the chase individually. Harlan, wounded hard, was trying to run to where he had left his horse, and after him fled Slivers Lowe. Hopalong was gaining on them when he saw Slivers raise his arm and fire deliberately into the back of the proprietor of the Oasis, leap over the falling body, vault into the saddle of Harlan's horse and gallop for safety. Hopalong's shots went wide and the last view any one had of Slivers in that part of the country was when he dropped into an arroyo to follow it for safety. Laramie Joe fled before Red Connors and Red's rage was so great that it spoiled his accuracy, and he had the sorrow of seeing the pursued grow faint in the mist and fog. Pursuit was tried until the pursuers realized that their mounts were too worn out to stand a show against the fresh animals ridden by the survivors of the Oasis crowd.
Red circled and joined Hopalong. "Blasted coyotes," he growled. "Killed Jackson an' Edwards, an' wanted the Kid! He's shore showed 'em what fighting is, all right. But I wonder what got into 'em all at once to give 'em nerve enough to start things?"
"Edwards paid his way, all right," replied Hopalong. "If I do as well when my time comes I won't do no kicking."
"Yore time ain't coming that way," responded Red, grinning. "You'll die a natural death in bed, unless you gets to cussing me."
"Shore there ain't no more, Buck?" Hopalong called.
"Yes. There was only five, I reckon, an' they was purty well shot up when we took a hand. You know, Johnny was in it all the time," replied the foreman, smiling. "This town's had the cleaning up it's needed for some time," he added.
They were at Jackson's store now, and hurriedly dismounted and ran in to see Johnny. They found him lying across some boxes, which brought him almost to the level of a window sill. He was too weak to stand, while near him in similar condition lay Barr, too weak from loss of blood to do more than look his welcome.
"How are you, Kid?" cried Buck anxiously, bending over him, while others looked to Barr's injuries.
"Tired, Buck, awful tired; an' all shot up," Johnny slowly replied. "When I saw you fellers--streak past this windy--I sort of went flat-- something seemed to break inside me," he said, faintly and with an effort, and the foreman ordered him not to talk. Deft fingers, schooled by practice in rough and ready surgery, were busy over him and in half an hour he lay on Jackson's cot, covered with bandages.
"Why, hullo, Lacey!" exclaimed Hopalong, leaping forward to shake hands with the man Red and Billy had gone to help. "Purty well scratched up, but lively yet, hey?"
"I'm able to hobble over here an' shake han's with these scrappers-- they're shore wonders," Lacey replied. "Fought like a whole regiment! Hullo, Johnny!" and his hand-clasp told much.
"Yore cross fire did it, Lacey; that was the whole thing," Johnny smiled. "Yo're all right!"
Red turned and looked out of the window toward the Oasis and then glanced at Buck. "Reckon we better burn Harlan's place--it's all that's left of that gang now," he suggested.
"Why, yes; I reckon so," replied the foreman. "That's as--"
"No, we won't!" Hopalong interposed quickly. "That stands till Johnny sets it off. It's the Kid's celebration--he was shot in it."
After the flurry at Perry's Bend the Bar-20 settled down to the calm routine work and sent several drive herds to their destination without any unusual incidents. Buck thought that the last herd had been driven when, late in the summer, he received an order that he made haste to fill. The outfit was told to get busy and soon rounded up the necessary number of three-year-olds. Then came the road branding, the final step except inspection, and this was done not far from the ranch house, where the facilities were best for speedy work.
Entirely recovered from all ill effects of his afternoon in Jackson's store up in Perry's bend, Johnny Nelson waited with Red Connors on the platform of the branding chute and growled petulantly at the sun, the dust, but most of all at the choking, smarting odor of burned hair which filled their throats and caused them to rub the backs of grimy hands across their eyes. Chute-branding robbed them of the excitement, the leaven of fun and frolic, which they always took from open or corral branding--and the work of a day in the corral or open was condensed into an hour or two by the chute. This was one cow wide, narrow at the bottom and flared out as it went up, so the animal could
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