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- Bar-20 Days - 5/39 -


momentary hesitation of the suspicious fighter he followed the retreat and his hard hand flashed in over the captain's guard a fraction of a second sooner than that surprised gentleman anticipated. The ferocious frown gave way to placid peace and the captain reclined at the feet of the battered victor, who stood waiting for him to get up and fight. The captain lay without a sign of movement and as Hopalong wondered, Hogan was the first to speak.

"Fer the love av hiven, let him be! Ye needn't wait--he's done; I know by the sound av it!" he exclaimed, stepping forward. "'T was a purty blow, an' 't was a gr-rand foight ye put up, sor! A gr-rand foight, but any more av that is murder! 'T is an Irishman's game, sor, an' ye did yersilf proud. But now let him be--no man, least av all a Dootchman, iver tuk more than that an' lived!"

Hopalong looked at him and slowly replied between swollen lips, "Yo're right, Hogan; we're square now, I reckon."

"That's right, sor," Hogan replied, and turned to his companions. "Put him in the boat; an' mind ye handle him gintly--we'll be sailing under him soon. Now, sor, if it's yer pleasure, I'll be after saying good- bye to ye, sor; an' to ye, too," he said, shaking hands with both punches. "Fer a sick la-ad ye're a wonder, ye are that," he smiled at Johnny, "but ye want to kape away from the water fronts. Good-bye to ye both, an' a pleasant journey home. The town is tin miles to me right, over beyant them hills."

"Good-bye, Hogan," mumbled Hopalong gratefully. "Yo're square all the way through; an' if you ever get out of a job or in any kind of trouble that I can help you out of, come up to the Bar-20 an' you won't have to ask twice. Good luck!" And the two sore and aching punchers, wiser in the ways of the world, plodded doggedly towards the town, ten miles away.

The next morning found them in the saddle, bound for Dent's hotel and store near the San Miguel Canyon. When they arrived at their destination and Johnny found there was some hours to wait for Red, his restlessness sent him roaming about the country, not so much "seeking what he might devour" as hoping something might seek to devour him. He was so sore over his recent kidnapping that he longed to find a salve. He faithfully promised Hopalong that he would return at noon.

CHAPTER III

DICK MARTIN STARTS SOMETHING

Dick Martin slowly turned, leaned his back against the bar, and languidly regarded a group of Mexicans at the other end of the room. Singly, or in combinations of two or more, each was imparting all he knew, or thought he knew about the ghost of San Miguel Canyon. Their fellow-countryman, new to the locality, seemed properly impressed. That it was the ghost of Carlos Martinez, murdered nearly one hundred years before at the big bend in the canyon, was conceded by all; but there was a dispute as to why it showed itself only on Friday nights, and why it was never seen by any but a Mexican. Never had a Gringo seen it. The Mexican stranger was appealed to: Did this not prove that the murder had been committed by a Mexican? The stranger affected to consider the question.

Martin surveyed them with outward impassiveness and inward contempt. A realist, a cynic, and an absolute genius with a Colt .45, he was well known along the border for his dare-devil exploits and reckless courage. The brainiest men in the Secret Service, Lewis, Thomas, Sayre, and even old Jim Lane, the local chief, whose fingers at El Paso felt every vibration along the Rio Grande, were not as well known --except to those who had seen the inside of Government penitentiaries --and they were quite satisfied to be so eclipsed. But the Service knew of the ghost, as it knew everything pertaining to the border, and gave it no serious thought; if it took interest in all the ghosts and superstitions peculiar to the Mexican temperament it would have no time for serious work. Martin once, in a spirit of savage denial, had wasted the better part of several successive Friday nights in the San Miguel, but to no avail. When told that the ghost showed itself only to Mexicans he had shrugged his shoulders eloquently and laughed, also eloquently.

"A Greaser," he replied, "is one-half fear and superstition, an' the other half imagination. There ain't no ghosts, but I know the /Greasers/ have seen 'em, all right. A Greaser can see anything scary if he makes up his mind to. If /I/ ever see one an' he keeps on being one after I shoot, I'll either believe in ghosts, or quit drinking." His eyes twinkled as he added: "An' of the two, I think I'd /prefer/ to see ghosts!"

He was flushed and restless with deviltry. His fifth glass always made him so; and to-night there was an added stimulus. He believed the strange Mexican to be Juan Alvarez, who was so clever that the Government had never been able to convict him. Alvarez was fearless to recklessness and Martin, eager to test him, addressed the group with the blunt terseness for which he was famed, and hated.

"Greasers are cowards," he asserted quietly, and with a smile which invited excitement. He took a keen delight in analyzing the expressions on the faces of those hit. It was one of his favorite pastimes when feeling coltish.

The group was shocked into silence, quickly followed by great unrest and hot, muttered words. Martin did not move a muscle, the smile was set, but between the half-closed eyelids crouched Combat, on its toes. The Mexicans knew it was there without looking for it--the tone of his voice, the caressing purr of his words, and his unnatural languor were signs well known to them. Not a criminal sneaking back from voluntary banishment in Mexico who had seen those signs ever forgot them, if he lived. Martin watched the group cat-like, keenly scrutinizing each face, reading the changing emotions in every shifting expression; he had this art down so well that he could tell when a man was debating the pull of a gun, and beat him on the draw by a fraction of a second.

"De senor ees meestak," came the reply, as quiet and caressing as the words which provoked it. The strange Mexican was standing proudly and looking into the squinting eyes with only a grayness of face and a tigerish litheness to tell what he felt.

"None go through the canyon after dark on Fridays," purred Martin.

"/I/ go tro' de canyon nex' Friday night. Eef I do, then you mak apology to me?"

"I'll limit my remark to all but one Greaser."

The Mexican stepped forward. "I tak' thees gloove an' leave eet at de Beeg Ben', for you to fin' in daylight," he said, tapping one of Martin's gauntlets which lay on the bar. "You geev' me eet befo' I go?"

"Yes; at nine o'clock to-morrow night," Martin replied, hiding his elation. He was sure that he knew the man now.

The Mexican, cool and smiling, bowed and left the room, his companions hastening after him.

"Well, I'll bet twenty-five dollars he flunks!" breathed the bartender, straightening up.

Martin turned languidly and smiled at him. "I'll take that, Charley," he replied.

Johnny Nelson was always late, and on this occasion he was later than usual. He was to have joined Hopalong and Red, if Red had arrived, at Dent's at noon the day before, and now it was after nine o'clock at night as he rode through San Felippe without pausing and struck east for the canyon. The dropping trail down the canyon was serious enough in broad daylight, but at night to attempt its passage was foolhardy, unless one knew every turn and slant by heart, which Johnny did not. He was thirty-three hours late now, and he was determined to make up what he could in the next three.

When Johnny left Hopalong at Dent's he had given his word to be back on time and not to keep his companions waiting, for Red might be on time and he would chafe if he were delayed. But, alas for Johnny's good intentions, his course took him through a small Mexican hamlet in which lived a senorita of remarkable beauty and rebellious eyes; and Johnny tarried in the town most of the day, riding up and down the streets, practising the nice things he would say if he met her. She watched him from the heavily draped window, and sighed as she wondered if her dashing Americano would storm the house and carry her off like the knights of old. Finally he had to turn away with heavy and reluctant heart, promising himself that he would return when no petulant and sarcastic companions were waiting for him. Then--ah! what dreams youth knows.

Half an hour ahead of him on another trail rode Juan, smiling with satisfaction. He had come to San Felippe to get a look at the canyon on Friday nights, and Martin had given him an excuse entirely unexpected. For this he was truly grateful, even while he knew that the American had tried to pick a quarrel with him and thus rid the border of a man entirely too clever for the good of customs receipts; and failing in that, had hoped the treacherous canyon trail would gain that end in another manner. Old Jim Lane's fingers touched wires not one whit more sensitive than those which had sent Juan Alvarez to look over the San Miguel--and Lane's wires had been slow this time. When Juan had left the saloon the night before and had seen Manuel slip away from the group and ride off into the north, he had known that the ghost would show itself the following night.

But Juan was to be disappointed. He was still some distance from the canyon when a snarling bulk landed on the haunches of his horse. He jerked loose his gun and fired twice and then knew nothing. When he opened his eyes he lay quietly, trying to figure it out with a head throbbing with pain from his fall. The cougar must have been desperate for food to attack a man. He moved his foot and struck something soft and heavy. His shots had been lucky, but they had not saved him his horse and a sprained arm and leg. There would be no gauntlet found at the Big Bend at daylight.

When Johnny Nelson reached the twin boulders marking the beginning of the sloping run where the trail pitched down, he grinned happily at sight of the moon rising over the low hills and then grabbed at his holster, while every hair in his head stood up curiously. A wild, haunting, feminine scream arose to a quavering soprano and sobbed away into silence. No words can adequately describe the unearthly wail in that cry and it took a full half-minute for Johnny to become himself again and to understand what it was. Once more it arose, nearer, and Johnny peered into the shadows along a rough backbone of rock, his Colt balanced in his half-raised hand.


Bar-20 Days - 5/39

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