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- Bar-20 Days - 6/39 -
"You come 'round me an' you'll get hurt," he muttered, straining his eyes to peer into the blackness of the shadows. "Come on out, Soft- foot; the moon's yore finish. You an' me will have it out right here an' now--I don't want no cougar trailing me through that ink-black canyon on a two-foot ledge--" he thought he saw a shadow glide across a dim patch of moonlight, but when his smoke rifted he knew he had missed. "Damn it! You've got a mate 'round here somewhere," he complained. "Well, I'll have to chance it, anyhow. Come on, bronc! Yo're shaking like a leaf--get out of this!"
When he began to descend into the canyon he allowed his horse to pick its own way without any guidance from him, and gave all of his attention to the trail behind him. The horse could get along better by itself in the dark, and it was more than possible that one or two lithe cougars might be slinking behind him on velvet paws. The horse scraped along gingerly, feeling its way step by step, and sending stones rattling and clattering down the precipice at his left to tinkle into the stream at the bottom.
"Gee, but I wish I'd not wasted so much time," muttered the rider uneasily. "This here canyon-cougar combination is the worst /I/ ever butted up against. I'll never be late again, not never; not for all the girls in the world. Easy, bronc," he cautioned, as he felt the animal slip and quiver. "Won't this trail ever start going up again?" he growled petulantly, taking his eyes off the black back trail, where no amount of scrutiny showed him anything, and turned in the saddle to peer ahead--and a yell of surprise and fear burst from him, while chills ran up and down his spine. An unearthly, piercing shriek suddenly rang out and filled the canyon with ear-splitting uproar and a glowing, sheeted half-figure of a man floated and danced twenty feet from him and over the chasm. He jerked his gun and fired, but only once, for his mount had its own ideas about some things and this particular one easily headed the list. The startled rider grabbed reins and pommel, his blood congealed with fear of the precipice less than a foot from his side, and he gave all his attention to the horse. But scared as he was he heard, or thought that he heard, a peculiar sound when he fired, and he would have sworn that he hit the mark--the striking of the bullet was not drowned in the uproar and he would never forget the sound of that impact. He rounded Big Bend as if he were coming up to the judge's stand, and when he struck the upslant of the emerging trail he had made a record. Cold sweat beaded his forehead and he was trembling from head to foot when he again rode into the moonlight on the level plain, where he tried to break another record.
Meanwhile Hopalong and Red quarrelled petulantly and damned the erring Johnny with enthusiastic abandon, while Dent smiled at them and joked; but his efforts at levity made little impression on the irate pair. Red, true to his word, had turned up at the time set, in fact, he was half an hour ahead of time, for which miracle he endeavored to take great and disproportionate credit. Dent was secretly glad about the delay, for he found his place lonesome. He thoroughly enjoyed the company of the two gentlemen from the Bar-20, whose actions seemed to be governed by whims and who appeared to lack all regard for consequences; and they squabbled so refreshingly, and spent their money cheerfully. Now, if they would only wind up the day by fighting! Such a finish would be joy indeed. And speaking of fights, Dent was certain that Mr. Cassidy had been in one recently, for his face bore marks that could only be acquired in that way.
After supper the two guests had relapsed into a silence which endured only as long as the pleasing fulness. Then the squabbling began again, growing worse until they fell silent from lack of adequate expression. Finally Red once again spoke of their absent friend.
"We oughtn't get peevish, Hoppy--he's only thirty-six hours late," suggested Red. "An' he might be a week," he added thoughtfully, as his mind ran back over a long list of Johnny's misdeeds.
"Yes, he might. An' won't he have a fine cock-an'-bull tale to explain it," growled Hopalong, reminiscently. "His excuses are the worst part of it generally."
"Eh, does he--make excuses?" asked Dent, mildly surprised.
"He does to /us/," retorted Red savagely. "He's worse than a woman; take him all in all an' you've got the toughest proposition that ever wore pants. But he's a good feller, at that."
"Well, you've got a lot of nerve, you have!" retorted Hopalong. "You don't want to say anything about the Kid--if there's anybody that can beat him in being late an' acting the fool generally, it's you. An' what's more, you know it!"
Red wheeled to reply, but was interrupted by a sudden uproar outside, fluent swearing coming towards the house. The door opened with a bang, admitting a white-faced, big-eyed man with one leg jammed through the box he had landed on in dismounting.
"Gimme a drink, quick!" he shouted wildly, dragging the box over to the bar with a cheerful disregard for chairs and other temporary obstructions. "Gimme a drink!" he reiterated.
"Give you six hops in the neck!" yelled Red, missing and almost sitting down because of the enthusiasm he had put into his effort. Johnny side-stepped and ducked, and as he straightened up to ask for whys and wherefores, Red's eyes opened wide and he paused in his further intentions to stare at the apparition.
"Sick?" queried Hopalong, who was frightened.
"Gimme that drink!" demanded Johnny feverishly, and when he had it he leaned against the bar and mopped his face with a trembling hand.
"What's the matter with you, anyhow?" asked Red, with deep anxiety.
"Yes; for God's sake, what's happened to you?" demanded Hopalong.
Johnny breathed deeply and threw back his shoulders as if to shake off a weight. "Fellers, I had a cougar soft-footing after me in that dark canyon, my cayuse ran away on a two-foot ledge up the wall,/--an'--I-- saw--a--ghost/!"
There was a respectful silence. Johnny, waiting a reasonable length of time for replies and exclamations, flushed a bit and repeated his frank and candid statement, adding a few adjectives to it. "/A real, screeching, flying ghost/! An' I'm going /home/, an' I'm going to /stay/ there. I ain't never coming back no more, not for anything. Damn this border country, /anyhow/!"
The silence continued, whereupon Johnny grew properly indignant. "You act like I told you it was going to rain! Why don't you say something? Didn't you hear what I said, you fools!" he asked pugnaciously. "Are you in the habit of having a thing like that told you? Why don't you show some interest, you dod-blasted, thick-skulled wooden-heads?"
Red looked at Hopalong, Hopalong looked at Red, and then they both looked at Dent, whose eyes were fixed in a stare on Johnny.
"Huh!" snorted Hopalong, warily arising. "Was that all?" he asked, nodding at Red, who also arose and began to move cautiously toward their erring friend. "Didn't you see no more'n one ghost? Anybody that can see one ghost, an' no more, is wrong somewhere. Now, stop, an' think; didn't you see /two/?" He was advancing carefully while he talked, and Red was now behind the man who saw one ghost.
"Why, you--" there was a sudden flurry and Johnny's words were cut short in the melee.
"Good, Red! Ouch!" shouted Hopalong. "Look out! Got any rope, Dent? Well, hurry up: there ain't no telling what he'll do if he's loose. The mescal they sells down in this country ain't liquor--it's poison," he panted. "An' he can't even stand whiskey!"
Finding the rope was easier than finding a place to put it, and the unequal battle raged across the room and into the next, where it sounded as if the house were falling down. Johnny's voice was shrill and full of vexation and his words were extremely impolite and lacked censoring. His feet appeared to be numerous and growing rapidly, judging from the amount of territory they covered and defended, and Red joyfully kicked Hopalong in the melee, which in this instance also stands for stomach; Red always took great pains to do more than his share in a scrimmage. Dent hovered on the flanks, his hands full of rope, and begged with great earnestness to be allowed to apply it to parts of Johnny's thrashing anatomy. But as the flanks continued to change with bewildering swiftness he begged in vain, and began to make suggestions and give advice pleasing to the three combatants. Dent knew just how it should be done, and was generous with the knowledge until Johnny zealously planted five knuckles on his one good eye, when the engagement became general.
The table skidded through the door on one leg and caromed off the bar at a graceful angle, collecting three chairs and one sand-box cuspidor on the way. The box on Johnny's leg had long since departed, as Hopalong's shin could testify. One chair dissolved unity and distributed itself lavishly over the room, while the bed shrunk silently and folded itself on top of Dent, who bucked it up and down with burning zeal and finally had sense enough to crawl from under it. He immediately celebrated his liberation by getting a strangle hold on two legs, one of which happened to be the personal property of Hopalong Cassidy; and the battle raged on a lower plane. Red raised one hand as he carefully traced a neck to its own proper head and then his steel fingers opened and swooped down and shut off the dialect. Hopalong pushed Dent off him and managed to catch Johnny's flaying arm on the third attempt, while Dent made tentative sorties against Johnny's spurred boots.
"Phew! Can he fight like that when he's sober?" reverently asked Dent, seeing how close his fingers could come to his gaudy eye without touching it. "I won't be able to see at all in an hour," he added, gloomily.
Hopalong, seated on Johnny's chest, soberly made reply as he tenderly flirted with a raw shin. "It's the mescal. I'm going to slip some of that stuff into Pete's cayuse some of these days," he promised, happy with a new idea. Pete Wilson had no sense of humor.
"That ghost was plumb lucky," grunted Red, "an' so was the sea- captain," he finished as an afterthought, limping off toward the bar, slowly and painfully followed by his disfigured companions. "One drink; then to bed."
After Red had departed, Hopalong and Dent smoked a while and then, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, Hopalong arose. "An' yet, Dent,
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