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"Johnny Nelson," "Hopalong Cassidy" "Bar-2o Days" 

"Buck Peters, Ranchman" "The Man from Bar-20 t " 

"Bar-20" "The Coming of Cassidy" etc. 


Publishers New York 

Published by arangement with A. C McClurg & Co. 

PS 3S2.S~ 


A. C. McClurg & Co. 

Published April, 1921 

Copyrighted in Great Britain 



I "Puta'T'inlt". . . . I 

II Weil-Known Strangers 17 

III A Question of Identity 28 

IV A Journey Continued 49 

V What the Storm Hid 66 

VI The Writing on the Wall 82 

VII The Third Man 89 

VIII Notes Compared 103 

IX Ways of Serving Notice 114 

X Twice in the Same Place 126 

XI A Job Well Done 133 

XII Friends on the Outside 140 

XIII Out and Away 160 

XIV The Staked Plain 178 

XV Discoveries ............ 198 

XVI A Vigil Rewarded .......... 223 

XVII A Well-Planned Raid 242 

XVIII The Trail-Boss Tries His Way 254 

XIX A Desert Secret 260 

XX The Redoubt Falls 277 



XXI All Wrapped Up 287 

XXII The Bonfire 310 

XXIII Surprise Valley 324 

XXIV Squared Up All Around ........ 344 

The Bar-20 Three 


IDAHO NORTON, laughing heartily, backed out of 
the barroom of Quayle's hotel and trod firmly on the 
foot of Ward Corwin, sheriff of the county, who was 
about to pass the door. Idaho wheeled, a casual apology 
trembling on his lips, to hear a biting, sarcastic flow of 
words, full of profanity, and out of all proportion to the 
careless injury. The sheriff's coppery face was a deeper 
color than usual and bore an expression not pleasant to see. 
The puncher stepped back a pace, alert, lithe, balanced, the 
apology forgotten, and gazed insolently into the peace 
officer's wrathful eyes. 

" an' why don't you look where yo're steppin' ? Don't 
you know how to act when you come to town ? " snarled 
the sheriff, finishing his remarks. 

Idaho looked him over coolly. " I know how to act in 
any company, even yourn. Just now I ain't actin' I'm 

The sheriff's eyes glinted. " I got a good mind " 

:< You ain't got nothin' of th' sort," cut in the puncher, 
contemptuously. " You ain't got nothin' good, except, 


mebby, yore reg'lar plea of self-defense. I'm sayin' out 
loud that that ain't no good, here an' now ; an' I'm waitin' 
to take it away from you an' use it myself. You been 
trustin' too cussed much to that nickel badge." 

Bill Trask, deputy, who had a reputation not to be over 
looked, now took a hand from the rear, eager to add to his 
list of victims from any of that outfit. The puncher was 
between him and the sheriff, and hardly could watch them 
both. Trask gently shook his belt and said three unprinta 
ble words which usually started a fight, and then glared 
over his shoulder at a sudden interruption, tense and 

" Shut up, you ! " said the voice, and he saw a two-gun 
stranger slouching away from the hotel wall. The deputy 
took him in with one quick glance and then his eyes re 
turned to those of the stranger and rested there while a 
slight prickling sensation ran up his spine. He had looked 
into many angry eyes, and in many kinds of circumstances, 
but never before had his back given him a warning quite 
so plainly. He grew restless and wanted to look away, 
but dared not; and while he hung in the balance of hesita 
tion the stranger spoke again. " Two to one ain't fair, 
'specially with the lone man in th' middle ; but I'll make th' 
odds even, for I'm honin' to claim self-defense, myself. 
It's right popular. I saw it all an' I'm sayin' you are 
three chumps to get all het up over a little thing like that. 
Mebby his toes are tender but what of it ? He ain't no 
baby, leastawise he don't look like one. An' I'm tellin' you, 
an' yore badge-totin' friend, that 7 know how to act, too." 
A twinkle came into the hard, blue eyes. " But what's th' 
use of actin' like four strange dogs ? " 


Somewhere in the little crowd a man laughed, others 
joined in and pushed between the belligerents ; and in a 
minute the peace officers had turned the corner, Idaho was 
slowly walking toward the two-gun stranger and the 
crowd was going about its business. 

"Have a drink?" asked the puncher, grinning as he 
pushed back his hat. 

" Didn't I just say that I knowed how to act ? " chuckled 
the stranger, turning on his heel and following his com 
panion through the door. " You must 'a' met them two 

" Too cussed often. What'll you have? Make mine a 
cigar, too, Ed. No more liquor for me today Corwin 
don't forget." 

The bartender closed the box and slid it onto the back- 
bar again. " No, he don't," he said. "An 5 Trask is worse," 
he added, looking significantly at the stranger, whose cigar 
was now going to his satisfaction and who was smilingly 
regarding Idaho, and who seemed to be pleased by the 
frank return scrutiny. 

" You ain't a stranger here no longer," said Idaho, 
blowing out a cloud of smoke. " You got two good ene 
mies, an' a one-hoss friend. Stayin' long?" 

"About half an hour. I got a little bunch of cows on 
th' drive west of here, an' they ought to be at Twitchell an' 
Carpenter's corrals about now. Havin' rid in to fix up bed 
an' board for my little outfit, I'm now on my way to finish 
deliverin' th' herd. See you later if yo're in town to 

" I don't aim to go back to th' ranch till tomorrow,'* 
replied Idaho, and he hesitated. " I'm sorry you horned 


in on that ruckus there's mebby trouble bloomin' out of 
that for you. Don't you get careless till yo're a day's 
ride away from this town. Here, before you go, meet Ed 
Doane. He's one of th' few white men in this runt of a 

The bartender shook hands across the bar. " Pleased 
to meet up with you, Mr. Mr. ? " 

" Nelson," prompted the stranger. " How do you do, 
Mr. Doane?" 

" Half an' half," answered the dispenser of liquids, and 
then waved a large hand at the smiling youth. " Shake 
han's with Idaho Norton, who was never closer to Idaho 
than Parsons Corners, thirty miles northwest of here. 
Idaho's a good boy, but shore impulsive. He's spent most 
of his life practicin' th' draw, et cetery; an' most of his 
money has went for ca'tridges. Some folks say it ain't 
been wasted. Will you gents smoke a cigar with me ? " 

After a little more careless conversation Johnny nodded 
his adieus, mounted and rode south. Not long thereafter 
he came within sight of the Question-Mark, Twitchell and 
Carpenter's local ranch. 

Its valley sloped eastward, following the stream wind 
ing down its middle between tall cottonwoods, and the 
horizon was limited by the tops of the flanking hills, which 
dipped and climbed and zigzagged into the gray of the 
east, where great sand hills reared their glistening tops and 
the hopeful little creek sank out of sight into the dried, 
salty bed of a one-time lake. Near the trail were two 
buildings, a small stockaded corral and a wire-fenced 
pasture of twenty acres; and the Question-Mark brand, 
known wherever cattlemen congregated, even beyond the 

"PUT 'A 'T> IN IT" 

Canadian line, had been splashed with red paint on the 
wall of the larger building. The glaring, silent interroga 
tion-mark challenged every passing eye and had started 
many curious, grim, and cynical trains of thought in the 
minds of tired and thirsty wayfarers along the trail. To 
the north of the twenty-acre pasture a herd of SV cattle 
grazed, spread out widely, too tired, too content with their 
feeding to need much attention. 

Johnny saw the great, red question-mark and instantly 
drew rein, staring at it. " Why ? " he muttered, and then 
grew silent for a moment. Shaking his head savagely he 
urged the horse on again, and again glanced at the crimson 
interrogation. " D n you ! " he growled. " There ain't 
no man livin' can answer." 

He passed the herd at a distance and rode up to the 
larger building, where a figure suddenly appeared in the 
doorway, looked out from under a shielding hand and 
quickly stepped forward to meet him. 

" Hello, Nelson ! " came the cheery greeting. 

" Hello, Ridley ! " replied Johnny. " Glad to see you 
again. Thought I'd bring 'em down to you, an' save you 
goin' up th' trail after 'em. Why don't you paint out that 
glarin' question-mark on th' side of th' house? " 

Ridley slapped his hands together and let out a roar of 
laughter. " Has it got you, too ? " he demanded in un 
feigned delight. 

" Not as much as it would before I got married," replied 
Johnny. " I'm beginnin' to see a reason for livin'." 

" Good ! " exclaimed Ridley. " If I ever meet yore wife 
I'll tell her somethin' that'll make her dreams sweet." The 
expression of his face changed swiftly. " Do you 


know " he considered, and changed the form of his 
words. " You'd be surprised if you knew th' number of 
people hit by that painted question-mark. I've had 'em 
ride in here an' start all kinds of conservations with me; 
th' gospel sharps are th' worst. One man blew his brains 
out in Quayle's hotel because of what that sign started 
workin' in his mind. Go look at it: it's full of bullet 

" I don't have to," replied Johnny, and quickly answered 
his companion's unspoken challenge. "An 1 I can sleep 
under it, an' smile, cuss you ! " He glanced at the distant 
cattle. " Have you looked 'em over ? " 

Ridley nodded. " They're in good shape. Ready to 
count 'em now ? " 

" Be glad to, an' get 'em off my han's." 

" Bring 'em up in front of th' pasture, an' I'll wait for 
you there," said Ridley. 

Johnny wheeled and then checked his horse. " What 
kind of fellers are Corwin an' Trask? " he asked. 

Ridley looked up at him, a curious expression on his 
face. "Why?" 

" Oh, nothin' ; I was just wonderin'." 

"As long as you ain't aimin' to stop around these parts 
for long, th' less you know about 'em th' better. I'll be 
waitin' at th' pasture." 

Johnny rode off and started the herd again, and when it 
stopped it was compacted into a long V, with the point 
facing the pasture gate, and it poured its units from this 
point in a steady stream between the two horsemen at the 
open gate, who faced each other across the hurrying pro 
cession and built up another herd on the other side, one 


which spread out and grazed without restraint, unless it 
be that of a wire fence. And with the shrinking of the 
first and the expanding of the second the SV ownership 
changed into that of the Question-Mark. 

The shrewd, keen-eyed buyer for Twitchell and Car 
penter looked up as the gate closed after the last steer and 
smiled across the gap at the SV foreman as he announced 
his count. 

Johnny nodded. " My figgers, to a T," he said. " That 
2-Star steer don't belong to us. Joined up with us some 
where along th' trail. You know 'em ? " 

" Belongs to Dawson, up on th' north fork of th' Bear. 
I'll drop him a check in a couple of days. This feller must 
'a' wandered some to get in with yourn. Well, yourn is a 
good bunch of four-year-olds. You'll have to wait till I 
get to town, for I ain't got a blank check left, an' I shore 
ain't got no one thousand one hundred and forty-three 
dollars layin' around down here. Want cash or a 

" If I took a check I'd have to send somebody up to 
Sherman with it," replied Johnny. " I might take it at 
that, if I was goin' right back. Better make it cash, 

Ridley grinned. " I've swept up this part of th' country 
purty good." 

Johnny shook his head. " I'm lookin' for weaners 
an' not in this part of th' country. I'll see you in town," 

"Before supper," said Ridley. "You puttin' up at 

" You called it," answered Johnny, wheeling. He rode 
off, picked up his small outfit and led the way to Mesquite, 


where he hoped to spend but one night. The little SV 
group cantered over the thin trail in the wake of their bob 
bing chuck wagon, several miles ahead of them, and 
reached the town well ahead of it, much to the cook's vexa 
tion. As they neared Quayle's hotel Johnny pulled up. 

"This is our stable," he said. "Go easy, boys. We 
leave at daylight. See you at supper." 

They answered him laughingly and swept on to Kane's 
place, which they seemed to sense, each for his favorite, 
drink and game. 

The afternoon shadows were long when Ridley, just 
from the bank, left his rangy bay in front of the hotel 
and entered the office, nodding to several men he knew. 
He went on through and stopped at the bar. 

"Howd'y, Ed," he grunted. "That SV foreman 
around ? Nelson's his name." 

Ed Doane mopped up the bar mechanically and bobbed 
his head toward the door. " Here he comes now. Make 
a deal?" 

Ridley nodded as he turned. " Hello, Nelson ! Read 
this over. If it's all right, sign it, an' we'll let Ed disfigure 
it as a witness. I allus like a witness." 

Johnny signed it with the pen the bartender provided 
and then the bartender labored with it and blew on it to 
dry the ink. 

" Disfigure it, hey ? " chuckled Ed, pointing to his sig 
nature, which was beautifully written but very much over 
done. " That bill of sale's worth somethin' now." 

Johnny admired it frankly and openly. "I allus did 
like shadin', an' them flourishes are plumb fetchin'. Me, 
now ; I write like a cow." 

PUT A ( T' IN IT" 

"I'm worse," admitted Ridley, chuckling and giving 
Johnny a roll of bills. " Count 'em, Nelson. Folks usually 
turn my writin' upside down for th' first try. Speakin' 
of witnesses, there's another little thing I like. I allus 
seal documents, Ed. Take 'em out of that bottle you hide 
under th' bar. Three of 'em. Somehow, Ed, I allus like 
to see you stoop like that. Well, Nelson; does it count 
up right? Then, business bein' over, here's to th' end of 
th' drought." 

It went the rounds, Ed accumulating three cigars as his 
favorite beverage, and as the glasses clicked down on the 
bar Ridley felt for the makings. " Sorry th' bank's closed, 
Nelson. It might be safer there over night." 

" Mebby but it's safe enough, anyhow," smiled John 
ny, shrugging his shoulders. "Anyhow th' bank wouldn't 
be open early enough in th' mornin' for us. Which re 
minds me that I better go out an' look around. My four- 
man outfit's got to leave at daylight." 

" I'll go with you as far as th' street," said Ridley. As 
they neared the door Johnny hung back to let his com 
panion pass through first and as he did so he heard a soft 
call from the bartender, and half turned. 

" Come here a minute," said Doane, leaning over the 
bar. " It ain't none of my business, Nelson, but I'm say in' 
/ wouldn't go into Kane's with th' wad of money you got 
on you ; an' if I did I shore wouldn't show it nor get in no 
game. You don't have to remember that I said anythin' 
about this." 

" I never gamble with money that don't belong to me," 
replied Johnny, " nor not even while I've got it on me ; an' 
already I've forgot you said anythin'. That place must be 


a sort of ' sink of iniquity,' as that sanctified parson called 

" Huh ! " grunted Doane. " You can put a * T ' in that 
' sink/ an' there's only one place where a * T ' will fit. Th' 
money would be enough, but in yore case there's more. 
Idaho said it." 

" He's only a kid," deprecated Johnny. 

" 'Out of th' mouths of babes ' " replied Doane. " I'm 
tellin' you that's all." 

Ridley stuck his head in at the door. " So-long, fellers," 
he said. 

" Hey, Ridley ! " called the bartender hurriedly. 
" Would you go into Kane's if you had Nelson's roll on 

" Not knowin' what I might do under th' infloonce of 
likker, I can't say," answered Ridley; "but if I did I 
wouldn't drink in there. So-long, an' I mean it, this 
time," and he did. 

Johnny left soon afterward and wandered along the 
street toward the building on the northern outskirts of the 
town where Pecos Kane ran a gambling-house and hotel. 
Johnny ignored the hotel half and lolled against the door 
as he sized up the interior of the gambling-hall, and in 
stantly became the center of well-disguised interest. 
While he paused inside the threshold a lean, tall man 
arose from a chair against the wall and sauntered care 
lessly out of sight through a narrow doorway leading to 
a passage in the rear. Kit Thorpe was not a man to loaf 
on his job when a two-gun stranger entered the place, 
especially when the stranger appeared to be looking for 
someone. Otherwise there was no change in the room, 

"PUT A 'T' IN IT" ii 

the bartender polishing his glasses without pause, the card 
players silently intent on their games and the man at the 
deserted roulette table who held a cloth against the ornate 
spinning wheel kept on polishing it. They seemed to 
draw reassurance from Thorpe's disappearance. 

One slow look was enough to satisfy Johnny's curiosity. 
The room was about sixty feet long by half as wide and 
on his left-hand side lay the bar, built solidly from the 
floor by close-fitting planks running vertically, which ap 
peared to be of hardwood and quite thick, and the top was 
of the same material. Several sand-box cuspidors lay 
before it. The backbar was a shelf backed by a narrow 
mirror running well past the middle half, and no higher 
than necessary to give the bartender a view of the room 
when he turned around, which he did but seldom. Round 
card-tables, heavy and crude, were scattered about the 
room and a row of chairs ran the full length along the 
other side wall. Several loungers sat at the tables, one of 
them an eastern tough, judging from his clothes, his 
peaked cap pulled well down over his eyes. At the farther 
end was a solid partition painted like a checkerboard and 
the few black squares which cunningly hid several peep 
holes were not to be singled out by casual observation. 
Those who knew said that they were closed on their inner 
side by black steel plates which hung on oiled pivots and 
were locked shut by a pin. At a table in front of the 
checkerboard were four men, one flung forward on it, his 
head resting on his crossed arms; another had slumped 
down on the edge of his chair, his chin on his chest, while 
the other two carried on a grunted, pessimistic conversa 
tion across their empty glasses. 


Johnny's face flickered with a faint smile and he walked 
toward them, nodding carelessly at the man behind the 

Arch Wiggins looked up, a sickly grin on his flushed 
face. " Hullo," he grunted, foolishly. 

" Not havin' nothin' else to do I reckoned I'd look you 
up," said Johnny. " Fed yet ? " 

Arch shrugged his shoulders and Sam Gardner sighed 
expressively, and then prodded the slumped individual into 
semblance of intelligence and erectness. This done he 
kicked the shins of the prostrate cook until that unfortu 
nate raised an owlish, agonized, and protesting counte 
nance to stare at his foreman. 

" Nelson wants to know if yo're hungry," prompted 
Sam, grinning. 

" Take it away ! " mumbled the indignant cook. " I 
won't eat ! Who's goin' to make me ? " he demanded with 
a show of pugnacity. " I won't ! " 

Joe Reilly, painfully erect in his chair, blinked and 
focussed his eyes on the speaker. " Then don't ! " he said. 
" Shut yore face others kin eat ! " He turned his whole 
body, stiff as a ramrod, and looked at each of the others 
in turn. " Don't pay no 'tendon to him. I kin eat th' 
d d harness," he asserted, thereby proving that his 
stomach preserved family traditions. 

Johnny laughed at them. " Yo're ah 1 of an outfit," 
he said without conviction. "What do you say about 
goin' up to th' hotel an' gettin' somethin' to eat? It's 
past grubtime, but let's see if they'll have th' nerve to try 
to tell us to get out. Broke ? " he inquired, and as they 
silently arose to their feet, which seemed to take a great 

"PUT A ( T' IN IT" 13 

deal of concentration, he chuckled. Then his face hard 
ened. "Where's yore guns?" he demanded. 

Arch waved elaborately at the disinterested bartender. 
"That gent loaned us ten apiece on 'em," he said. 
" 'Bligin' feller. Thank you, friend." 

" Yo're a'right," said the cook, nodding at the dispenser 
of fluids. 

"An* yo're a fine, locoed bunch, partin' with yore guns 
in a strange town," snapped Johnny. " You head for th' 
hotel, pronto! G'wan!" 

The cook turned and waved a hand at the solemn bar 
tender. " Goo'-bye ! " he called. " I won't eat ! Goo'- 

Seeing them started in the right direction, Johnny went 
in and up to the bar. " Them infants don't need guns," 
he asserted, digging into a pocket, " but as long as they 
ain't shot themselves, yet, I'm takin' a chance. How 

The bartender, typical of his kind, looked wise when it 
was not necessary, finished polishing the glass in his hand 
and then slowly faced his inquisitor, bored and aloof. He 
had the condescending air of one who held himself to be 
mentally and physically superior to any man in town, and 
his air of preoccupation was so heavy that it was ludicrous. 
" Ten apiece," he answered nonchalantly, as behove the 
referee of drunken disputes, the adviser of sodden men, 
the student of humanity's dregs, whose philosophy of life 
was rotten to the core because it was based purely on the 
vicious and the weak, and whose knowledge, adjudged 
abysmal and cyclopedic by an admiring riffraff of stupe 
fied mentality, was as shallow, warped, and perverted as 


the human derelicts upon which his observations were 
based. As Johnny's hand came up with the roll of bills 
the man of liquor kept his face passive by an act of will, 
but there crept into the ratlike eyes a strange gleam, 
which swiftly faded. " Put it way," he said heartily, a 
jovial, free-handed good fellow on the instant. " We got 
it back, an' more. It was worth th' money to have these 
where they wouldn't be too handy. We allus stake a good 
loser it's th' policy of th' house. Take these instead of 
th' stake." He slid the heavy weapons across the bar. 
"What'll you have?" 

" Same as you," replied Johnny, and he slowly put the 
cigar into a pocket. " Purty quiet in here," he observed, 
laying two twenty-dollar bills on the bar. 

" Yeah," said the bartender, pushing the money back 
again ; " but it's a cheerful ol' beehive at night. Better put 
that in yore pocket an' drop in after dark, when things are 
movin'. I know a blonde that'll tickle you 'most to death. 
Come in an' meet her." 

" Tell you what," said Johnny, grinning to conceal his 
feelings. "You keep them bills. If I keep 'em I'll have 
to let them fools have their guns back for nothin'. I'm 
aimin' to take ten apiece out of their pay. If you don't 
want it, give it to th' blonde, with Mr. Nelson's compli 
ments. It won't be so hard for me to get acquainted with 
her, then." 

The bartender chuckled and put the bills in the drawer. 
"Yo're no child, I'm admittin'. Reckon you been usin' 
yore head quite some since you was weaned." 

One of the card players at the nearest table said some' 
thing to his two companions and one of them leaned back 

"PUT A 'T } IN IT" 15 

stretched and arose. " I'm tired. Get somebody to take 
my place." 

The sagacious observer of the roll of bills started to 
object to the game being broken up, glanced at Johnny 
and smiled. "All right; mebby this gent will sit in an' 
kill a little time. How 'bout it, stranger ? " 

Johnny smiled at him. "My four-man outfit ain't 
leavin' me no time to kill," he answered. " I got to trail 
along behind 'em an' pick up th' strays." 

The gambler grinned sympathetically. " Turn 'em loose 
tonight. What's th' use of herdin' with yearlin's, any 
how? If you get tired of their company an' feel like 
tryin' yore luck, come in an' join us." 

"If I find that I got any heavy time on my han's I'll 
spend a couple of hours with you," replied Johnny. As he 
turned toward the door he glanced at the bartender. 
"Don't forget th' name when you give her th' forty," 
he laughed. 

The bartender chuckled. " I got th' best mem'ry of any 
man in this section. See you later, mebby." 

Johnny nodded and departed, his hands full of guns, 
and as he vanished through the front door Kit Thorpe 
reappeared from behind the partition, grinned cynically 
at the bartender and received a wise, very wise look in 

Reaching the hotel Johnny entered it by the nearest 
door, that of the barroom, walked swiftly through with 
the redeemed guns dangling from his swinging hands and 
without pausing in his stride, flung a brief remark over 
his shoulder to the man behind the bar, who was the only 
person, besides himself, in the room: "You was shore 


right. It should ought to have a * T ' in it," and passed 
through the other door, across the office and into the 
dining-room, where his four men were having an argu 
ment with a sullen waiter and a wrathy cook. 

Ed Doane straightened up, his ears preserving the 
words, his eyes retaining the picture of an angry, hurry 
ing two-gun man from whose hands swung four more 
guns. He cogitated, and then the possible significance of 
the numerous weapons sprang into his mind. Ed did not 
go around the bar. He vaulted it and leaped to the door, 
out of which he hopefully gazed at the tranquil place of 
business of Pecos Kane. Slowly the look of hope faded 
and he returned to his place behind the bar, scratching his 
frowsy head in frank energy, his imagination busy with 
many things. 



THE desert and a paling eastern sky. The penetrat 
ing cold of the dark hours was soon to die and give 
place to a punishing heat well above the hundred mark. 
Spectral agaves, flinging their tent-shaped crowns heaven 
ward, seemed to spring bodily from the radiating circlet 
of spiny swords at their bases, their slender stems still 
lost in the weakening darkness. Pale spots near the ground 
showed where flower-massed yuccas thrust up, lancelike, 
from their slender, prickly leaves. Giant cacti, ghostly, 
bulky, indistinct, grotesque in their erect, parallel columns 
reached upward to a height seven times that of a tall man. 
They are the only growing things unmoved by winds. 
The sage, lost in the ground-hugging darkness, formed a 
dark carpet, mottled by lighter patches of sand. There 
were quick rustlings over the earth as swift lizards scur 
ried hither and yon and a faint whirring told of some 
" side-winder " vibrating its rattles in emphatic warning 
against some encroachment. Tragedies were occurring 
in the sage, and the sudden squeak of a desert rat was its 
swan song. 

In the east a silvery glow trembled above the horizon 
and to the magic of its touch silhouettes sprang suddenly 
from vague, blurred masses. The agave, known to most 



as the century plant, showed the delicate slenderness of its 
arrowy stem and marked its conical head with feathery 
detail. The flower-covered spikes of the Spanish bayonets 
became studies in ivory, with the black shadows on their 
thorny spikes deep as charcoal. The giant cacti, boldly 
thrown against the silver curtain, sprang from their join 
ing bases like huge, thick telegraph poles of ebony, their 
thorns not yet clearly revealed. The squat sage, now re 
solved into tufted masses, might have been the purplish- 
leaden hollows of a great sea. The swift rustlings became 
swift movements and the "side-winder" uncoiled his 
graceful length to round a nearby sage bush. The quak 
ing of a small lump of sand grew violent and a long, round 
snoot pushed up inquiringly, the cold, beady eyes peering 
forth as the veined lids parted, and a Gila monster slug 
gishly emerged, eager for the promised warmth. To the 
northeast a rugged spur of mountains flashed suddenly 
white along its saw-toothed edge, where persistent snows 
crowned each thrusting peak. A moment more, and daz 
zling heliographic signals flashed from the snowy caps, 
the first of all earthly things to catch the rays of the rising 
sun, as yet below the far horizon. On all sides as far as 
eye could pierce through the morning twilight not a leaf 
stirred, not a stem moved, but everywhere was rigidity, 
unreal, uncanny, even terrifying to an imaginative mind. 
But wait ! Was there movement in the fogging dark of 
the north ? Rhythmic, swaying movement, rising and fall 
ing, vague and mystical? And the ghostly silence of this 
griddle-void was broken by strange, alien sounds, mag 
nified by contrast with the terror-inspiring silence. A soft 
creaking, as of gently protesting saddle leather, inter- 


spersed with the frequent and not unmusical tinkle of 
metal, sounded timidly, almost hesitatingly out of the 
dark along the ground. 

Silver turned into pink, pink into gold, and gold into 
crimson in almost a breath, and long crimson ribbons be 
came lavender high in the upper air, surely too beautiful 
to be a portent of evil and death. Yet the desert hush 
tightened, constricted, tensed as if waiting in rigid sus 
pense for a lethal stroke. Almost without further warn 
ing a flaming, molten arc pushed up over the far horizon 
and grew with amazing bulk and swiftness, dispelling the 
chill of the night, destroying the beauty of the silhouettes, 
revealing the purple sage as a mangy, leaden coverlet, 
riddled and thin, squatting tightly against the tawny sand, 
across which had sprung with instant speed long, vague 
shadows from the base of every object which raised above 
the plain. The still air shuddered into a slow dance, wav 
ing and quivering, faster and faster like some mad dance 
of death, the rising heat waves distorting with their 
evil magic giant cacti until their fluted, thorny columns 
weaved like strange, slowly undulating snakes standing 
erect on curving tails. And in the distance but a few 
leagues off blazed the white mockery of the crystal snow, 
serene and secure on its lofty heights, a taunt far-flung to 
madden the heat-crazed brain of some swollen, clawing 
thing in distorted human form slowly dying on the baking 

The movement was there, for the sudden flare of light 
magically whisked it out of the void like a rabbit out of a 
conjurer's hat. Two men, browned, leather-skinned, 
erect, silent, and every line of them bespeaking reliance 


with a certainty not to be denied, were slowly riding south 
ward. Their horses, typical of their cow-herding type, 
were loaded down with large canteens, and suggested 
itinerant water peddlers. Two gallons each they held, and 
there were four to the horse. One could imagine these 
men counted on taking daily baths but they were only 
double-riveting a security against the hell-fires of thirst, 
which each of them had known intimately and too well. 
The first rider, as erect in his saddle as if he had just 
swung into it, had a face scored with a sorrow which only 
an iron will held back; his squinting eyes were cold and 
hard, and his hair, where it showed beneath the soiled, 
gray sombrero, was a sandy color, all of what was left of 
the flaming crimson of its youth. He rode doggedly with 
out a glance to right or left, silent, sullen, inscrutable. 
When the glorious happiness of a man's life has gone out 
there is but little left, often even to a man of strength. 
Behind him rode his companion, five paces to the rear and 
exactly in his trail, but his wandering glances flashed far 
afield, searching, appraising, never still. Younger in 
years than his friend, and so very much younger in spirit, 
there was an air of nonchalant recklessness about him, 
occasionally swiftly mellowed by pity as his eyes rested 
on the man ahead. Now, glancing at the sun-cowed east, 
his desert cunning prompted him and he pushed forward, 
silently took the lead and rode to a thicket of mesquite, 
whose sensitive leaves, hung on delicate stems, gave the 
most cooling shade of any desert plant. Dismounting, 
he picketed his horse and then added a side-line hobble as 
double security against being left on foot on the scorching 
sands. Not satisfied with that, he unfastened the three 


full canteens, swiftly examined them for leaks and placed 
them under the bush. Six gallons of water, but if need 
should arise he would fight to the death for it. Out of the 
corner of his eye he watched his companion, who mechan 
ically was doing the same thing. Red Connors yawned, 
drank sparingly and then, hesitating, grinned foolishly 
and fastened one end of his lariat to his wrist. 

"That dessicated hunk of meanness don't leave this 
hombre afoot, not nohow," said Red, looking at his friend ; 
but Hopalong only stared into the bush and made no 

Nothing abashed at his companion's silence, Red 
stretched out at full length under the scant shade, his Colt 
at his hand in case some Gila monster should be curious as 
to what flavor these men would reveal to an inquisitive 
bite. Red's ideas of Gilas were romantic and had no 
scientific warrant whatever. And it was possible that a 
"side-winder" might blunder his way. 

" It's better than a lava desert, anyhow," he remarked 
as he settled down, having in mind the softness of the 
loose sand. " One whole day of hell-to-leather fryin', an' 
one more shiverin' night, an' this stretch of misery will be 
behind, but it shore saves a lot of ridin', it does. I'll bet 
I'm honin' for a swim in th' Rio Placer an' I ain't carin' 
how much mud there is, neither. Ah, th' devil;" he 
growled in great disgust, slowly arising. " I done forgot 
to sprinkle them cayuses' insides. One apiece, they get, 
which is only insultin' 'em." 

Hopalong tried to smile, arose and filled his hat, which 
his thirsty horse frantically emptied. When the canteen 
was also empty he went back to the sandy couch, to lay 


awake in the scorching heat, fighting back memories 
which tortured him near to madness, his mental torments 
making him apathetic to physical ones. And so dragged 
the weary, trying day until the cooling night let them go 
on again. 

Three days later they rode into Gunsight, made care 
less inquiries and soon thereafter drew rein before the 
open door of the SV, unconscious of the excited conjec 
tures rioting in the curious town. 

Margaret Nelson went to the door, her brother trying 
to push past her, and looked wonderingly up at the two 
smiling strangers. 

Red bowed and removed his hat with a flourish. " Mrs. 
Johnny?" he asked, and at the nodded assent smiled 
broadly. " My name's Red Connors, an' my friend is 
Hopalong Cassidy. He is th' very best friend yore fool 
husband ever had. We came down to make Johnny's life 
miserable for a little while, an' to give you a hand with 
his trainin', if you need it." 

Margaret's breath came with a rush and she held out 
both hands with impulsive friendliness. " Oh ! " she cried. 
" Come in. You must be tired and hungry let Charley 
turn your horses into the corral." 

Charley wriggled past the barrier and jumped for 
Hopalong, his shrill whoop of delighted welcome bring 
ing a smile to the stern face of the mounted man. A 
swoop of the rider's arm, a writhing twist of the boy's 
body, coming a little too late to avoid the grip of that 
iron hand, and Charley shot up and landed in front of 
the pommel, where he exchanged grins at close range 
with his captor. 


" I knowed you first look," asserted the boy as the grip 
was released. "My, but I've heard a lot about you! 
Yo're goin' to stay here, ain't you? I know where there's 
some black bear, up on th' hills want to go huntin' 
with me ? " 

Hopalong's tense, wistful look broke into a smile, the 
first sincere, honest smile his face had known for a month. 
Gulping, he nodded, and turned to face his friend's wife. 
" Looks like I'm adopted," he said. "If you don't mind, 
Mrs. Johnny, Charley an' me will take care of th' cayuses 
while Red helps you fix up th' table." He reached out, 
grasped the bridle of Red's horse as its rider dismounted, 
and rode to the corral, Charley's excited chatter bringing 
an anxious smile to his sister, but a heartfelt, prayerful 
smile to Red Connors. He had great hopes. 

Red paused just inside the door. " Mrs. Johnny," he 
said quietly, quickly, "I got to talk fast before Hoppy 
comes back. He lost his wife an' boy a month ago 
fever in four days. He's all broke up. Went loco a 
little, an' even came near shootin' me because I wouldn't 
let him go off by hisself. I've had one gosh-awful time 
with him, but finally managed to get him headed this way 
by talkin' about Johnny a-plenty. That got him, for th' 
kid allus was a sort of son to him. I'm figgerin' he'll be 
a lot better off down here on this south range for awhile. 
Even crossin' that blasted desert seemed to help he 
loosened up his talk considerable since then. An' from 
th' way he grabbed that kid, I'm say in' I'm right. Where 
is Johnny ? " 

" Oh ! " Margaret's breathed exclamation did not need 
the sudden moisture in her eyes to interpret it, and in 


that instant Red Connors became her firm, unswerving 
friend. "We'll do our best and I think he should 
stay here, always. And Johnny will be delighted to have 
him with us, and you, too Red." 

" Here he comes," warned her companion. " Where 
is Johnny? When will he get here?" 

" Why, he took a herd down to Mesquite," she replied, 
smiling at Hopalong, who limped slowly into the room 
with Charley slung under his arm like a sack of flour. 
" He should be back any day now. And won't he be wild 
with delight when he finds you two boys here ! You have 
no idea how he talks about you, even in his sleep oh, 
if I were inclined to jealousy you might not be so 
welcome ! " 

"Ma'am," grinned Red, tickled as a boy with a new 
gun, "you don't never want to go an' get jealous of a 
couple of old horned toads like us well, like Hoppy, 
anyhow. We'll sort of ride herd on him, too, every time 
he goes to town. Talk about revenge! Oh, you wait! 
So he went off an' left you all alone? Didn't he write 
about some trouble that was loose down here ? " 

"It was but it's cleaned up. He didn't leave me 
in any danger every man down here is our friend," 
Margaret replied, quick to sense the carefully hidden 
thought which had prompted his words, and to defend 
her husband. 

"Well, two more won't hurt, nohow," grunted Red. 
" t You say he ought to get here any day?" 

" I'm spending more time at the south windows every 
day," she smiled. " I don't know what will happen to 
the housework if it lasts much longer!" 


" South windows ? " queried Hopalong, standing Char 
ley on his head before letting loose of him. " Th' trail is 
west, ain't it ? " he demanded, which caused Red to 
chuckle inwardly at how his friend was becoming observ 
ant again. 

" The idea ! " retorted Margaret. " Do you think my 
boy will care anything about any trail that leads round 
about? He'll leave the trail at the Triangle and come 
straight for this house ! What are hills and brush and a 
miserable little creek to him, when he's coming home ? I 
thought you knew my boy." 

" We did, an' we do," laughed Red. " I'm bettin' yore 
way I hope he's got a good horse it'll be a dead one 
if it ain't." 

"He's saving Pepper for the homestretch if you 
know what that means ! " 

" Hey, Red," said Charley, slyly. " Yore gun works, 
don't it?" 

" Shore thing. Why?" 

"Well, mine don't," sighed the boy. "Wonder if 
yourn is too heavy, an' strong, for a boy like me to shoot ? 
Bet it ain't." 

Margaret's low reproof was lost in Red's burst of laugh 
ter, and again a smile crept to Hopalong's face, a smile 
full of heartache. This eager boy made his memories 
painfully alive. 

(< You an' me an' Hoppy will shore go out an' see," 
promised Red. " Mrs. Johnny will trust you with us, I 
bet. Hello! Here's somebody comin'," he announced, 
looking out of the door. 

" That's my dad ! " cried Charley, bolting from the 


house so as to be the first one to give his father the good 

Arnold rode up laughing, dismounted and entered the 
house with an agility rare to him. And he was vastly 
relieved. "Well! Well! Well!" he shouted, shaking 
hands like a pump handle. " I saw you ride over the 
hill an' got here as fast as Lazy would bring me. Red 
an' Hopalong ! Our household gods with us in the flesh ! 
And that scalawag off seeing the sights of strange towns 
when his old friends come to visit him. I'm glad to see 
you boys ! The place is yours. Red and Hopalong ! I'm 
not a drinkin' man, but there are times when follow me 
while Peggy gets supper ! " 

" Can I go with you, Dad ? " demanded Charley. 

" You help Peggy set the table." 

"Huh! / don't care! Me an' Hoppy an' Red are 
goin' after bear, an' I'm goin' to use Red's gun." 

" Seems to me, Charley," reproved Arnold, " that you 
are pretty familiar, for a boy; and especially on such short 
acquaintance. You might begin practicing the use of the 
word 'Mister.'" 

" Or say ' Uncle Red ' and ' Uncle Hopalong/ " sug 
gested Margaret. 

"Red' is my name, an' I'm shore 'Red* to him," 
defended that person. 

" Which goes for me," spoke up his companion. " I'm 
Hopalong, or Hoppy to anybody in this family though 
'Uncle' suits me fine." 

" Then we'll have a fair exchange," retorted Margaret, 
smiling. "The family circle calls me 'Margaret' or 
' Peggy.' " 


" If you want to rile her, call her Maggie," said Char 
ley. " She goes right on th' prod ! " 

" I'm plumb peaceful," laughed Red, turning to follow 
his host. " You help Mrs. Margaret, an' when I come 
back you an' me'll figger on goin' after bear as soon as 
we can." 


JOHNNY sauntered into Quayle's barroom and leaned 
against the bar, talking to Ed Doane. An hour or two 
before he had finished his dinner, warned his outfit again 
about the early start on the morrow, advanced them some 
money, and watched them leave the hotel for one more 
look at the town, and now he was killing time. 

" What do you think about Kane's ? " asked Ed care 
lessly, and then looked up as a customer entered. When 
the man went out he repeated the question. 

Johnny cogitated and shrugged his shoulders. " Same 
as you. Reg'lar cow-town gamblin'-hall, with th' same 
fixin's, wimmin', crooked games, an' wise bums hangin' 
'round. Am I right ? " 

A group entered, and when they had been served they 
went into the hotel office, the bartender's eyes on them 
as long as they were in sight. He turned and frowned. 
" Purty near. You left a couple of things out. I'm not 
sayin' what they are, but I am sayin' this : Don't you ever 
pull no gun in there if you should have any trouble. Wait 
till you get yore man outside. Funny thing about that 
sort of a spell, I reckon but no stranger ever got a gun 
out an' workin' in Kane's place. They died too quick, 
or was put out of workin' order." 



Johnny raised his eyebrows: "Mebby no good man- 
ever tried to get one out, an' workin'." 

" You lose," retorted Ed emphatically. " Some of 'em- 
was shore to be good. It's a cold deck with a sharp 
shooter. There I go again ! " he snorted. " I'm certainly 
shootin' off my mouth today. I must be loco ! " 

" Then don't let that worry you. I ain't shootin' mine 
off," Johnny reassured him. " I'm tryin' to figger ' : 

A voice from the street interrupted him. "Hey, 
stranger ! Yore outfit's in trouble down in Red Frank's ! " 

Johnny swung from the bar. "Where's his place?" 
he asked. 

"One street back," nodded the bartender, indicating 
the rear of the room. " Turn to yore right third door. 
It's a Greaser dive look sharp!" 

Johnny grunted and turned to obey the call. Walking 
out of the door, he went to the corner, turned it, and soon 
turned the second corner. As he rounded it he saw stars, 
reached for his guns by instinct, and dropped senseless. 
Two shadowy figures pounced upon him, rolled him over, 
and deftly searched him. 

Back in the hotel Idaho stuck his head into the barroom. 
"Seen Nelson?" he asked. 

"Just went to Red Frank's this minute his gang's 
in trouble there ! " quickly replied Ed. 

" I'll go 'round an' be handy, anyhow," said Idaho, 
loosening his gun as he went through, the door. Round 
ing the first corner, he saw a figure flit into the darkness 
across the street and disappear, and as he turned the sec 
ond corner he tripped and fell over a prostrate man. One 
glance and his match went out. Jumping around the cor- 


ner, he saw a second man run across an open space between 
two clumps of brush, and his quick hand chopped down, 
a finger of flame spitting into the night. A curse of pain 
answered it and he leaped forward, hot and vengeful ; but 
liis search was in vain, and he soon gave it up and hastened 
back to his prostrate friend, whom he found sitting up 
against the wall with an open jackknife in his hand. 

"What happened?" demanded Idaho, stopping and 
bending down. "Where'd he get you?" 

" Somethin' fell on my head an' my guns are gone," 
mumbled Johnny. "I bet I've been robbed!" His 
slow, fumbling search revealed the bitter truth, and he 
grunted. "Clean! Clean!" 

"I shoved a hunk of lead under th' skin of somebody 
runnin' heard him yelp," Idaho said. "Lost him in 
th' dark. Here, grab holt of me. I'll take you to my 
room in th' hotel. Able to toddle?" 

"Able to kill th' skunk with my bare han's," growled 
the unfortunate, staggering to his feet. " I'm goin' to 
Kane's ! " he asserted, and Idaho's arguments were ex 
hausted before he was able to have his own way. 

" You come along with me I want to look at yore 
head. An', besides, you ought to have a gun before you 
go huntin'. Come, on. We'll go in through th' kitchen 
that's th' nearest way. It's empty now, but th' door's 
never locked." 

" You gimme a gun, an' I'll know where to go ! " 
blazed Johnny, trembling with weakness. " I showed my 
roll in there, like a fool. Eleven hundred h 1 of a 
foreman / am ! " 

" You can't just walk into a place an' start shootin' ! " 


retorted Idaho, angrily. " Will you listen to sense ? Come 
on, now. After you get sensible you can do what you 
want, an' I'll go along an' help you do it. That's fair, 
ain't it ? How do you know that feller belongs to Kane's 
crowd ? May be a Greaser, an' a mile away by now. Come 
on be sensible! " 

"Th' SV can't afford to lose that money oh, well," 
sighed Johnny, "yo're right. Go ahead. I'll wash off 
th' blood, anyhow. I must be a holy show." 

They got to Idaho's room without arousing any un- 
tisual interest and Idaho examined the throbbing bump 
>vith clumsy fingers, receiving frank statements for his 

" Shucks," he grinned, straightening up. " It's as big 
as an egg, but besides th' skin bein' broke an' a lot of 
blood, there ain't nothin' th' matter. I'll wash it off an' 
if you keep yore hat on, nobody '11 know it. I reckon 
that hat just about saved that thick skull of yourn." 

"What did you see when you found me?" asked 
Johnny when his friend had finished the job. 

Idaho told him and added : " Hoped I could tell him 
by th' yelp, but I can't, unless, mebby, I go around an' 
make everybody in this part of th' country yelp for me. 
But I don't reckon that's hardly reasonable." 

"Yo're right," grinned Johnny. "Well," he said, 
after a moment's thought, " I don't go back home without 
eleven hundred dollars, U. S., an' my guns; but I got to 
send th' boys back. They can't help me none, bein' known 
as my friends. Besides, we're all broke, an' they're needed 
on th' ranch. If I knowed that Kane had a hand in this, 
I'd cussed soon get that money back ! " 


"Yo're shore plumb set on that Kane idear." 

" I showed that wad of bills in just two places : Ed's 
bar, an' Kane's joint." 

"Ed's bar is out of it if nobody else was in there at 
th' time." 

" Only Ridley, Ed, an' myself." 

" Somebody could V looked in th' window," sug 
gested Idaho. 

" Nobody did, because I was lookin' around." 

" If you go in Kane's an' make a gunplay, you'll never 
know how it happened or who done it; an' if you go in, 
without a gunplay, an' let 'em know what you think, some 
Greaser '11 hide a knife in you. Then you'll never get it 

"Just th' same, that's th' place to start from," per 
sisted Johnny doggedly. "An' from th' inside, too." 

Idaho frowned. " That may be so, but startin' it from 
there means to end it there an' then. You can't buck 
Kane in his own place. It's been tried more'n once. I 
ain't shore you can buck him in this town, or part of th' 
country. Bigger people than you are suspected of payin' 
him money to let 'em alone. You'd be surprised if I 
named names. Look here: I better speak a little piece 
about this part of th' country. This county is unorgan 
ized an' ain't got no courts, nor nothin' else except a peace 
officer which we calls sheriff. It's big, but it ain't got 
many votes, an' what it has is one-third Greaser. Most 
Greasers don't amount to much in a stand-up fight, but 
their votes count. They are all for Kane. We've only 
had one election for sheriff, an' although Corwin is purty 
well known, he won easy. Kane did it, an' when any- 


body says ' Corwin,' they might as well say ' Kane.' He 
is boss of this section. His gamblin'-joint is his head 
quarters, an' it's guarded forty ways from th' jack. His 
gang is made up of all kinds, from th' near decent down 
to th' night killer. When Kane wants a man killed, that 
man don't live long. Corwin takes his orders before an' 
after a play like this one. Yo're expected to report it to 
him. Comin' down to cases, th' pack has got to be fed, 
an' they have got to make a killin' once in a while. Even 
if Kane ain't in on it direct, he'll get most of that money 
across his bar or tables. To wind up a long speech, you 
better go home with yore men, for that ain't enough money 
to get killed over." 

"Mebby not if it was mine!" snapped Johnny. "An* 
I ain't shore about that, neither. An' there's more'n 
money in this, an' more than th' way I was handled. 
Somebody in this wart of a town has got Johnny Nelson's 
two guns an' nobody steals them an' keeps 'em ! I got 
friends, lots of 'em, in Montanny, that would lend me 
th' money quick ; but there ain't nobody can give me them 
six-guns but th' thief that's got 'em. I'm rooted solid."" 

"All right," said Idaho. "Yo're talkin' foolish, but 
cussed if I don't like to hear it. So me an' you are goin' 
to hog-tie that gang. If I get Corwin in th' ruckus, I'll 
be satisfied." 

" Yo're th' one that's talkin' foolish," retorted Johnny, 
fighting back his grin. "An I'm cussed if 7 don't like 
to hear it. But there's this correction : Me an' you ain't 
goin' to bulldog that gang at all. 7 am. Yo're goin' to 
sprawl on yore saddle an' light out for wherever you 
belong, an' stay there. Yo're a marked man an' wouldn't 


last th' swish of a longhorn's tail. Yore brand is regis 
tered they got you in their brand books; but they ain't 
got mine. I'm not wearin' no brand. I ain't even ear- 
notched, 'though I must 'a' been a 'sleeper' when I let 
'em put this walnut on my head. I'm a plain, ornery 
maverick. Think I'm comin' out in th' open? I don't 
want no brass band playin' when I go to war. I'm a 

"Yo're a little striped animal in this town one of 
them kind that's onpleasant up-wind from a feller," 
snorted Idaho. "How can you play Injun when they 
know yo're hangin' 'round here lookin' for yore money? 
Answer me that, maverick ! " 

"I'm comin' to that Can you get me an old hat? 
One that's plumb wore out?" 

" Reckon so," grunted Idaho, in surprise. " Th' clerk 
might be able to dig one up." 

" No, not th' clerk ; but Ed Doane," corrected Johnny. 
" Now you think hard before you answer this one : Could 
you see my face plain when you found me ? Could they 
have seen it plain enough to be shore it was me? " 

Idaho stared at him and a cheerful expression drifted 
across his face. " I'm gettin' th' drift of this Injun busi 
ness," he muttered. "Mebby mebby cuss it, it will 
work ! I couldn't see nothin' but a bump on th' ground 
along that wall till I lit a match. I'll get you a hat an' 
I'll plant it, too." 

Johnny nodded. " Plant anythin' else you want that 
don't look like anythin' I own. Be shore that hat ain't 
like mine." 

Idaho raised his hand as a sudden tramping sounded 


on the stairs. "That yore outfit?" he asked as a loud, 
querulous voice was heard. 

Johnny went to the door and called, whereupon Arch 
waved his companions toward their quarters and answered 
the summons, following his foreman into the room. 
Johnny was about to close the door when Idaho arose 
and pushed past him. 

"We been talkin' too loud," whispered the departing 
puncher. " You never can tell. I'm goin' out to sit on 
th' top step where there's more air," and he went on 
again, the door closing after him. 

Johnny turned and smiled at Arch's expression. " You 
boys leave at daylight on th' jump. I got to stay here. 
You can say I'm waitin' for th' chance to pick up some 
money buyin' a herd of yearlin's cheap, or anythin* 
you can think of. Any thin' that'll stick. You'll have 
plenty of time to smooth it out before you get back home. 
I want you boys to scratch up every cent you've got an' 
turn it over to me. Any left of that I gave you after 
supper ? " 

"Shore quite some," grinned Arch. "We had bet 
ter luck, down th' street. You must be aimin' to get 
a-plenty yearlin's, with that roll you got. What are 
we goin' to do, busted?" 

" I want a couple of Colts, too," continued Johnny. 
" You won't need any money. Th' waggin is well stocked 
an' when you get back you can draw on Arnold." 

" We was goin' to stop at Highbank for a good time," 
protested Arch. 

" Have it in yore old man's hotel an' owe it to him," 
suggested Johnny. 


" Have a good time in my old man's place ! " exclaimed 
Arch. "Oh, h l!" He burst out laughing. "That'll 
tickle th' boys, that will ! " The puncher looked search- 
ingly at his foreman. "Hey, what's all th' trouble?" 

Johnny thought it would be wiser to post his companion 
and crisply told what had happened. 

Arch cleared his throat, hitched up his belt, and looked 
foolish but determined. " It's been comin' rapid, but I 
got it all. Yo're talkin' to th' wrong man. You want to 
fix up that story for th' ranch with some soft-belly that's 
ridin' that way. Better send a letter. We're all stayin' 
here. Fine bunch of - " 

"You can help me more by goin' back like nothin's 
happened," interrupted Johnny. " Th' ranch won't be 
worry in' me then, an' if you stayed here it might give 
th' game away. Besides, one man can live longer on th' 
money we got than four can, only have a quarter of th' 
chance to drink too much, an' only talk a fourth as much. 
That's th' natural play, an' every thin' has got to be 

" That's th' worst of havin' a smooth face," grumbled 
Arch, ruefully rubbing his chin. " If I only had whiskers, 
I could shave 'em off an' be a total stranger; but I don't 
reckon I could grow a good enough bunch to get back 
here in time." 

Johnny laughed, his heart warming to the puncher. 
"Take you a year or two; an' there's more'n whiskers 
needed to hide from a good man. There's little motions, 
gait, voice oh, lots of things. You can help me more 
if you go north. See Dave Green, tell him on th' quiet, 
an' ask him to send me down a couple hundred dollars. 


He can buy a check from th' Doc, payable to George 
Norton. There's a bank in this town. He's to send it to 
George Norton, general delivery." 

"Dave will spread it far an' wide," objected Arch. 
"He tells all he knows." 

"If he did," smiled Johnny, "it shore would be an 
eddication for th' man that heard it. He talks a lot 
an' says nothin'. If he told all he knew, h 1 would 'a' 
popped long ago on them ranges. I'm only wishin' he 
could get a job in Kane's!" 

" Gosh ! " exclaimed Arch. " Mebby he can. He's a 
bang-up bartender." 

Johnny shook his head and laughed. 

" Well, I reckon you know best," said Arch. " If you 
say so, we'll go home but it hurts bad as a toothache. 
An' as long as we're goin', we can start tonight this 

"You'll start at daylight, like honest folks," chuckled 
Johnny. " Think I want Kane to sit down an' figger why 
a lazy outfit got ambitious all at once ? An' th' two boys 
that lend me their guns want to be ridin' close to th' 
waggin, on its left side, until they get out of town. I don't 
want anybody noticin' they ain't got their guns. Mebby 
their coats'll hide 'em, anyhow. But before you do any- 
thin' else, get me a copy of that weekly newspaper down 
stairs. There's some layin' around th' office. Shore 
you got it all ? " 

Arch nodded, and his foreman opened the door. Idaho 
glanced around and then went down the stairs and through 
the office, stopping at the bar, where he held a low-voiced 
conversation with the man behind it. Ed looked a little 


surprised at the unusual request, but Idaho's earnestness 
and anxiety told him enough and he asked no questions. 
A few minutes later, after Idaho had disappeared into 
the kitchen, Ed told the clerk to watch the bar, and went 
up to his room, and dropped several articles out of the 
window before he left it again. 

When Idaho had finished scouting and planting the 
sombrero, a broken spur, and a piece torn from a red 
kerchief, he went into the barroom and grinned at his 
friend Nelson, who leaned carelessly back against the 
wall; and then his eyes opened wide as he saw the size 
of the roll of bills from which Johnny was peeling the 
outer layer. For two hours they sat and played Califor 
nia Jack in plain sight of the street as though nothing 
unusual had occurred, Johnny's sombrero pushed back 
on his head, the walnut handle of one of his guns in plain 
sight, his boots not only guiltless of spurs, but showing 
that they never had borne them, and his faded, soiled, 
blue neckerchief was as it had been all day. His mood 
was cheerful and his laughter rang out from time to time 
as his friend's witticisms gave excuse. To test his roll, 
he pulled it out again under his friend's eyes and thumbed 
off a bill, changed his mind, rolled it back again, and care 
lessly shoved the handful into his pocket. 

Idaho leaned forward. " Who th' devil did you slug? " 
he softly asked. 

" Tell you later deal 'em up," grunted Johnny, a sigh 
of satisfaction slipping from him. It had been one of 
Tex E wait's maxims never to be broke, even if carefully 
trimmed newspapers had to serve as padding, and in this 
instance, at least, Johnny believed his old friend to be 


right. The world finds bluff very useful, and opulence 
seldom receives a cold shoulder. 

At daylight three horsemen and a wagon went slowly 
up the little street, two men sticking close to each other 
and the vehicle, and soon became lost to sight. Two or 
three nighthawks paused and watched the outfit, and one 
of them went swiftly into Kane's side door. Idaho drew 
back from the corner of the hotel where he had been 
watching, nodded wisely to himself, and went into the 
stable to look after his horse. 

The little outfit of the SV stopped when a dozen miles 
had been put behind and prepared and ate a hurried break 
fast. As he gulped the last swallow of coffee, Arch arose 
and went to his horse. 

" Thirty miles a day with a waggin takes too long," he 
said. "One of you boys ride in th' waggin an' gimme 
a lead hoss. Nelson's a good man, an' it's our job to 
help him all we can. I can do it that way between sleeps, 
if I can keep my eyes open to th' end of it. By gettin' a 
fresh cayuse from my old man at Highbank, I'll set a 
record for these parts." 

Gardner nodded. " Take my cayuse, Arch. I'm cruci 
fy in' myself on th' cross of friendship. Cook, give him 
some grub." 

Ten minutes later Arch left them in a cloud of dust, 
glad to get away from the wagon and keen to make a 
ride that would go down in local history. 

After breakfast Johnny sauntered into the barroom, 
nodded carelessly to the few men there, and seated him 
self in his favorite chair. 

"Thought mebby you might be among th' dear de- 


parted this mornin'," remarked Ed carelessly. " Heard 
a shot soon after you left last night, but they're so com 
mon 'round here that I didn't get none excited. Have any 
trouble in Red Frank's?" 

" You better pinch yoreself ," retorted Johnny. " You 
saw me an' Idaho settin' right in this room, playin' cards 
long after that shot. I was upstairs when I heard it. 
Didn't go to Red Frank's. Changed my mind when I got 
around at th' side of th' hotel, an' went through th' 
kitchen, upstairs lookin' for Idaho. What business I got 
playin' nurse to four growed-up men ? A lot they'd thank 
me for cuttin' in on their play." 

" Did they have any trouble ? " 

"No; they wasn't in Red Frank's at all anyhow, 
that's what they said. Somebody playin' a joke, or seein' 
things, I reckon. Seen Idaho this mornin'?" 

" No, I ain't," answered Ed sleepily. " Reckon he's still 
abed. Say, was that yore outfit under my winder before 
dawn? I come cussed near shootin' th' loud-mouthed 
fool that couldn't talk without shoutin'." 

Johnny laughed. "I reckon it was. They was sore 
about havin' to go home. Know of any good yearlin's 
I can buy cheap ? " 

Ed yawned, rubbed his eyes, and slowly shook his head. 
" Too close to Ridley. Folks down here mostly let 'em 
grow up an' sell 'em to him. Prices would be too high, 
anyhow, I reckon. Better hunt for 'em nearer home." 

" That's what I been doin'," growled Johnny. " Well, 
mebby yo're right about local prices an' conditions; but 
I'm goin' to poke around an' ask questions, anyhow. To 
tell you th' truth, a town looks good to me for a change, 


'though I'm admittin' this ain't much of a town, at that. 
Sorta dead nothin' happens, at all." 

"That's th' fault of th' visitor, then," retorted Ed, 
another yawn nearly disrupting his face. "Ho-hum! 
Some day I'm goin' out an' find me a cave, crawl in it, 
close it up behind me, an' sleep for a whole week. An' 
from th' looks of you, it wouldn't do you no harm to do 
th' same thing." He nodded heavily to the other cus 
tomers as they went out. 

" I'll have plenty of time for sleep when I get home," 
grinned Johnny. " I got to get some easy money out of 
this town before I think of sleepin'. Kane's don't get 
lively till dark, does it ? " 

Ed snorted. "Was you sayin' easy money?" he de 
manded with heavy sarcasm. 

" I was." 

"Oh, well; if you must, I reckon you must," grunted 
the bartender, shrugging his shoulders. 

"A new man, playin' careful, allus wins in a place 
like Kane's, if he's got a wad of money as big as mine," 
chuckled Johnny, voicing another maxim of his friend 
Tex, and patting the bulging roll in his pocket. 

Ed looked at the pocket, and frowned. " Huh ! Lord 
help that wad ! " he mourned. 

" It's got all th' help it needs," countered Johnny. " I'm 
its guardian. I might change it for bigger bills, for it's 
purty prominent now. However, that can wait till it 
grows some more." He burst out laughing. " Big as it is, 
there's room for more." 

" Better keep some real little ones on th' outside," sug 
gested Ed wisely. " You show it too cussed much." 


" Do you know there's allus a right an' a wrong way 
of doin' everythin'?" asked his companion. "A man 
that's got a lot of money will play safe an' stick a few 
little ones on th' outside; but a man that's got only little 
bills will try to get a big one for th' cover. One is tryin' 
to hide his money ; th' other to run a bluff. Wise gamblers 
know that. I got little bills on th' outside of mine. You 
watch 'em welcome me." 

Despite his boasts, he did not spend much time in 
Kane's, but slept late and hung around the hotel for a day 
or two, and then, one morning, he got a nibble on his bait. 
He was loafing on the hotel steps when he caught sight 
of the sheriff coming up the street. Corwin had been out 
of town and had returned only the night before. Seeing 
the lone man on the steps, the peace officer lengthened his 
rolling stride and headed straight for the hotel, his eyes 
fixed on the hat, guns, kerchief, and boots. 

" Mornin'," he said, nodding and stopping. 

"Mornin'," replied Johnny cheerily. "Bright an' 
cool, but a little mite too windy for this hour of th' day," 
he observed, watching a vicious little whirlwind of dust 
racing up the middle of the street. It suddenly swerved 
in its course, struck the sheriff, and broke, covering them 
with bits of paper and hurling dust and sand in their 
faces and mouths. Other furious little gusts sent the light 
debris of the street high in the air to be tossed about 
wildly before settling back to earth again. 

" Yo're shore shoutin'," growled Corwin, spitting vio 
lently and rubbing his lips. " Don't like th' looks of it. 
Ain't got no love for a sand storm." He let his blinking 
eyes rest for a moment on his companion's boots, noted 


an entire absence of any signs of spur straps, glanced at 
the guns and at the opulent bump in one of the trouser 
pockets, noted the blue neckerchief, and gazed into the 
light blue eyes, which were twinkling at his expression of 
disgust. "D n th' sand," he grunted, spitting again. 
" How do you like this town of ourn, outside of th' dust, 
now that you've seen more of it?" 

Johnny smiled broadly. "Leavin' out a few things 
besides th' dust such as bein' too quiet, dead, an' lackin' 
'most everythin' a town should have I'd say it is a purty 
fair town for its kind. But, bad as it is, it ain't near as 
bad as that bed I've been sleepin' in. It reminds me of 
some of th' country I've rid over. It's full of mesas, 
ridges, canyons, an' valleys, an' all of 'em run th' wrong 
way. Cuss such a bed. I gave it up after awhile, th' 
first night, an' played Idaho cards till I was so sleepy 
I could 'a' slept on a cactus. After that, though, it ain't 
been so bad. It's all in gettin' used to it, I reckon." 

The sheriff laughed politely. "Well, I reckon there 
ain't no bed like a feller's own. Speakin' of th' town 
bein' dead, that is yore fault; you shouldn't stay so close 
to th' hotel. Wander around a little an' you'll find it 
plumb lively. There's Red Frank's an' Kane's they 
are high-strung enough for 'most anybody." The mo 
mentary gleam in his eyes was not lost on his companion. 

" Red Frank's," cogitated Johnny. Then he laughed. 
" I come near goin' in there, at that. Anyhow, I shore 

" Why didn't you go on ? " inquired the sheriff, speak 
ing' as if from polite, idle curiosity. "You might 'a* 
seen some excitement in there." 


" Somebody tried to play a joke on me," grinned 
Johnny, \" but I fooled 'em. My boys are shore growed 

" How'd yore boys make out ? " 

" They said they wasn't in there at all. Reckon some 
body got excited or drunk if they wasn't try in' to make a 
fool out of me. But, come to think of it, I did hear a 

" They're not as rare as they're goin' to be," growled 
the sheriff. "But it's hard to stop th' shootin'. Takes 

Johnny nodded. " Reckon so. You got a bad crowd 
of Greasers here, too, which makes it harder though 
they're generally strong on knifeplay. Mexicans, monte, 
an' mescal are a bad combination." 

" Better tell yore boys to look sharp in Red Frank's. 
It's a bad place, 'specially if a man's got likker in him. 
An' they'll steal him blind." 

" Don't have to tell 'em, for I sent 'em home," replied 
Johnny, and then he grinned. "An' there ain't no man 
livin' can rob 'em, neither, for I wouldn't let 'em draw 
any of their pay. Bein' broke, they didn't kick up as much 
of a fuss as they might have. I know how to handle my 
outfit. Say!" he exclaimed. "Yo're th' very man I 
been lookin' for, an' I didn't know it till just this minute. 
Do you know where I can pick up a herd of a couple or 
three hundred yearlin's at a fair figger ? " 

Corwin shook his head. " You might get a few here 
an' there, but they ain't worth botherin' about. Anyhow, 
prices are too high. Better look around on yore way 
back, up on some of them God- forsaken ranges north of 


here. But how'll you handle a herd with yore outfit 
gone ? " 

His companion grinned and winked knowingly. " I'll 
handle it by buy in' subject to delivery. Let somebody 
else have th' fun of drivin' a lot of crazy-headed yearlin's 
all that distance. Growed-up steers are bad enough, an' 
I've had all I want of them for awhile. Well," he 
chuckled, "not havin' no yearlin's to buy, I reckon I've 
got time to wander around nights. Six months in a ranch- 
house is shore confinin'. I need a change. What do you 
say to a little drink ? " 

Corwin wiped more sand from his lips. " It's a little 
early in th' day for me, but I'm with you. This blasted 
wind looks like it's gettin' worse," he growled, scowling 
as he glanced about. 

" It's only addin' to th' liveliness of yore little town," 
chuckled Johnny, leading the way. 

" We ain't had a sand storm in three years," boasted 
the sheriff, hard on his companion's heels. "I see you 
know th' way," he commented. 

Johnny set down his empty glass and brought up the 
roll of bills, peeled the outer from its companions, and 
tossed it on the bar. " You got to take somethin' with 
us, Ed," he reproved. 

Ed shrugged his shoulders, slid the change across the 
counter, and became thoughtfully busy with the arrange 
ment of the various articles on the backbar. 

Corwin treated, talked a few moments, and then de 
parted, his busy brain asking many questions and becom 
ing steadily more puzzled. 

Ed mopped the bar without knowing he was doing it. 


and looked at his new friend. " Where'd you pick that 
up?" he asked. 

" Meanin' ? " queried Johnny, glancing at the windows, 
where sand was beating at the glass and pushing in 
through every crack in the woodwork. 

" Corwin." 

"Oh, he rambled up an' got talkin'. Reckon I'll go 
out, sand or no sand, an' see if I can get track of any 
yearlin's, just to prove that you don't know any thin' 
about th' cow business." 

"Nobody but a fool would go out into that unless 
they shore had to," retorted Ed. " It's goin' to get worse, 
shore as shootin'. I know 'em. Lord help anybody that 
has to go very far through it ! " 

Johnny opened the door, stuck his head out and ducked 
back in again. Tying his neckerchief over his mouth and 
nose, he went to the rear door, closed his eyes, and 
plunged out into the storm, heading for the stable to look 
to the comfort of his horse. Pepper rubbed her nozzle 
against him, accepted the sugar with dignity, and followed 
his every move with her great, black eyes. He hung a 
sack over the window and, finding nails on a shelf, secured 
it against the assaults of the wind. 

"There, Pepper Girl reckon you'll be right snug; 
but don't you go an' butt it out to see what's goin' on 
outside. I'm glad this ain't no common shed. Four walls 
are a heap better than three today." 

"That you, Nelson?" came a voice from the door. 
Idaho slid in, closed the door behind him with a bang, 
and dropped his gun into the holster. " This is shore a 
reg'lar storm; an' that's shore a reg'lar hoss!" he ex- 


claimed, spitting and blowing. He stepped toward the 
object of his admiration. 

" Look out ! " warned Johnny. " She's likely to brain 
a stranger. Trained her that way. She'll mebby kill any 
body that comes in here ; but not hardly while I'm around, 
I reckon. Teeth an' hoofs she's a bad one if she don't 
know you. That's why I try to get her a stable of her 
own. What was you doin' with th' six-gun ? " 

"Keepin' th' sand out of it," lied Idaho. "Thief- 
proof, huh ? " he chuckled. " I'm sayin' it's a good thing. 
Ever been tried?" 

" Twice," answered Johnny. " She killed th' first 
one." He lowered his voice. "I'm figgerin' Corwin 
knows about that little fracas of th' other night. Did 
you tell anybody?" 

" Not a word. What about yore outfit ? " 

"Tight as fresh-water clams, an', besides, they didn't 
have no chance to. They even left without their break 
fast. But I'm dead shore he knows. How did he find 
it out?" 

" Looks like you might be right, after all," admitted 
Idaho. " I kept a lookout that mornin', like I told you, 
an' th' news of yore outfit leavin' was shore carried, 
which means that somebody in Kane's gang was plumb 
interested. How much do you think Corwin knows 
about it?" 

"Don't know; but not as much now as he did before 
he saw me this mornin'," answered Johnny. " When he 
sized me up, his eyes gave him away just a little 
flash. But now he may be wonderin 5 who th' devil it was 
that got clubbed that night. An' he showed more signs 


when he saw my money. Say: How much does Ed 

"Not a thing," answered Idaho: "He's one of my 
best friends, an' none of my best friends ask me ques 
tions when I tell 'em not to. An' now I'm glad I told 
him not to, because, of course, you don't know any thin' 
about him. No, sir," he emphatically declared; "any- 
thin' that Corwin knows come from th' other side. What 
you goin' to do ? " 

" I don't know," admitted Johnny. " I got to wrastle 
that out; but I do know that I ain't goin' out of th' hotel 
today. It looks like Calif orny Jack for us till this blows 
over. Yore cayuse fixed all right?" 

" Shore; good as I can. Come on, if yo're ready." 

"Hadn't you better carry yore gun in yore hand, so 
th' sand won't get in it ? " asked Johnny gravely. 

Idaho looked at him and laughed. "Come on I'm 
startin'," he said, and he dashed out of the building, 
Johnny close at his heels. 



POUNDING into Highbank from the south, Arch 
turned the two fagged-out horses into his father's 
little corral, roped the better of the two he found there, 
saddled it, and rode around to the front of the hotel, 
where he called loudly. 

Pete Wiggins went to the door and scowled at his son. 
" What you doin' with that hoss ? " he demanded in no 
friendly tone. 

"Breakin' records," impudently answered his young 
hopeful. "Left Big Creek, north of Mesquite, at six- 
twenty this mornin', an' I'm due in Gunsight before dark. 
Left you two cayuses for this one but don't ride 'em 
too hard. So-long ! " and he was off in a cloud of dust. 

Pete Wiggins stepped forward galvanically and called, 
shaking his first. " Come back here ! Don't you kill that 

His beloved son's reply was anything but filial, but as 
long as his wrathful father did not hear it, perhaps it 
may better be left out of the record. 

The shadows were long when Arch drew up in front 
of the " Palace " in Gunsight, and dismounted almost in 
the door. He looked at his watch and proudly shouted 
the miles and the time of the ride before looking to see 



who was there to hear it. As he raised his head and saw 
Dave Green, Arnold, and two strangers staring at him, 
he called himself a fool, walked stiffly to a chair, and 
lowered himself gently into it. 

" That's shore some ridin'," remarked Dave, surprised. 
" What's wrong ? What's th' reason for killin' cayuses ? " 

"Wanted to paste somethin' up for others to shoot 
at," grinned Arch, making the best of the situation. 

"How'd you come to leave ahead of Nelson?" de 
manded Arnold, his easy-going boss. "Where is he? 
An' where's th' rest of th' boys?" The SV owner was 
fast falling into the vernacular, which made him fit bet 
ter into the country. 

"Oh, he's tryin' to make a fortune buyin' up a herd 
of fine yearlin's," answered the record-maker with con 
fident assurance. " It ain't nothin' to him that th' owner 
don't want to sell 'em. I near busted laughin' at 'em 
wranglin'. They was near fightin' when I left. You 
should 'a' heard 'em ! Anybody'd think that man didn't 
own his own cattle. But I'm bettin' on Nelson, just th' 
same, for when I left they had got to wranglin' about th' 
price, an' that's allus a hopeful sign. He shore will tire 
that man out. I used a lead hoss as far as Highbank, 
changin' frequent', an' got a fresh off th' old man. Nelson 
told us all to go home, where we're needed but he'll be 
surprised when he knows how quick 7 got there. Sam 
an' th' others are with th' waggin, comin' slower." 

"I should hope so!" snorted Arnold. "An' you ain't 
home yet. What's th' real reason for all this speed, an' 
for headin' here instead of goin' to th' ranch? A man 
that's born truthful makes a poor liar; but I'll say this for 


you, Arch with a little practice you'll be near as good 
as Dave, here. Come on; tell it! " 

Arch looked wonderingly at his employer, grinned at 
Dave, and then considered the two strangers. " I've done 
told it already," he affirmed, stiffly. 

" Shake hands with Red Connors an' Hopalong Cas- 
sidy," said Arnold. " L You've heard of them, haven't 

"Holy cats! I have!" exclaimed Arch, gripping the 
hands of the two in turn. " I certainly have. Have you 
two ever been in Mesquite ? " he demanded, eagerly. 
"Good! Now, wait a minute; I want to think," and he 
went into silent consultation with himself. 

" Mebby he's aimin' to improve on me," said Dave. 
"Judgin' from th' studyin', I figger he's trying to bust 
in yore class, Arnold." 

Arch grinned from one to the other. " Seein' as how 
we're all friends of Nelson, an' his wife ought to be kept 
calm, I reckon I ought to spit it out straight. Here, you 
listen," and he told the truth as fully and completely as 
he knew it. 

Arnold shook his head at the end of the recital. The 
loss of the herd money was a hard blow, but he was too 
much of a man to make it his chief concern. "Arch," he 
said slowly, " yo're so fond of breakin' records that yo're 
goin' to sleep in town, get another horse at daylight, an' 
break yore own record gettin' back to Mesquite. Tell 
that son-in-law of mine to come home right away, before 
Peggy is left a widow. It's no fault of his that he lost 
it it's to his credit, goin' to the aid of his men. I 
wouldn't 'a' had it to lose if it wasn't for what he's done 


for th' SV. He earned it for me; an' if he's lost it, all 

"Most generally th' East sends us purty poor speci 
mens," observed Dave. " Once in awhile we get a thor 
oughbred. Gunsight's proud of th' one it got." 

"Arnold," said Arch eagerly, "I'll get to Mesquite 
tomorrow if it's moved to th' other side of h 1! " 

Hopalong took the cigar from his mouth. "Wait a 
minute," he said. He slowly knocked the ashes from it 
and looked around. "While I'm appreciatin' what you 
just said, Arnold, I don't agree with it." He thought for 
a moment and then continued. "You don't know that 
son-in-law of yourn like I do. Somebody knocked him 
on th' head, stole his money an' his guns. Don't forget 
th' guns. Bein' an easterner, that mebby don't mean any- 
thin' to you; but bein' an old Bar-2o man, it means a 
heap to me. He won't leave till he's squared up, all 
around. I know it. Seein' how it is, we got to accept it ; 
an' figger out some way to make his wife take it easy, an' 
not do no worryin'. Here ! " he exclaimed, leaning for 
ward. "Arnold, you sit down an' write him a letter. 
Write it now. Tell him to stay down there until he gets 
a good herd of yearlin's. Then Arch has got to start back 
in th' mornin' an' join th' waggin, an' come home like he 
ought to. He stays here tonight, an' nobody has seen 
him, at all." 

"An' Dave don't need to bother with any check," said 
Red. " Hoppy an' me has plenty of money. We'll start 
for Mesquite at daylight, Arch, here, ridin' with us till 
we meet th' waggin. Of course, Hoppy don't mean that 
yo're really goin' to write a letter, Arnold," he explained. 


" That's just what I do mean," said Hopalong. " He's 
goin' to write th' letter, but he ain't goin' to send it. He'll 
give it to Arch, an' then it can be torn up. What's th' 
use of lyin' when it's so easy to tell th' truth? 'Though 
I'm admittin' I wasn't thinkin' of that so much as I was 
that a man can allus tell th' truth better'n he can lie. 
When he tells about th' letter, he's goin' to be talkin' 
about a real letter, what won't get to changin' around in a 
day or two, or when he gets rattled. Mrs. Johnny is 
mebby goin' to ask a lot of questions." 

" I'll give odds that she does," chuckled Dave, looking 
under the backbar. " Here's pen an' ink," he said, push 
ing the articles across the counter. "There's paper an' 
envelopes around here some here it is. Go ahead, now : 

' Dear Johnny : I take my ' " 

" Shut up ! " barked Arnold, glaring at him. " I guess 
I know how to write a letter! Besides, I don't take my 
pen in hand. It's your pen, you grinnin' chump! As 
long as we're ridin' on th' tail of Truth, let's stick to 
it, all th' way. Shut up, now, an' gimme a chance ! " He 
glared around at the grinning faces, jabbed the pen in 
the ink, and went to work. When he had finished, he read 
it aloud, and handed it to Arch, who tore it up and threw 
the pieces on the floor. 

Hopalong reached down, picked up the pieces, and 
gravely, silently put them on the bar. Dave raked them 
into his hand, dropped them into a tin dish, and put a 
match to them. Arnold looked around the little group 
and snorted. 

" Huh ! You an' Dave must 'a' gone to th' same 



Dave nodded. " We have, I reckon. Experience is a 
good school, too." 

"Th 5 lessons stick," said Hopalong, looking at Dave 
with a new interest. 

Arch chuckled. "Cuss it! I'll shore hate to stop at 
that waggin. I'm sayin' Mesquite is goin' to be terrible 
upset some day soon. Why ain't I got whiskers? I'd 
like to see his face when he sets eyes on you fellers. Bet 
he'll jump up an' down an' yell ! " 

" Mebby," said Hopalong, " for if there's any yellin', 
he'll shore have to start it. He sent you fellers away 
because you was known to be friends of his, didn't he? " 

Dave slapped the bar and laughed outright. "If I 
wasn't so fat, I'd go with you! I'm beginnin' to see why 
he thought so much of you fellers. Here it's time for 
a drink." 

" What are we goin' to tell Margaret? " asked Arnold. 
" She may get suspicious if you leave so suddenly." 

"You just keep repeatin' that letter to yoreself," 
laughed Red, " an' leave th' rest to better liars. Yo're 
as bad a liar as Arch, here. Me an' Hoppy may 'a' been 
born truthful, but we was plumb spoiled in our bringin' 
up. Reckon we better be leavin' now. Arch, where'll we 
meet you about two hours after daylight tomorrow? " 

Arch groaned. " Shucks ! About daylight it'll take 
Fanning that long to get me out of bed oh, well," he 
sighed, resignedly. " I'll be at th' ford, waitin' for you 
to come along. Come easy, in case I'm asleep." 

" South of here, on this trail ? " asked Red. " Thought 
so. All right. So-long," and he followed his slightly 
limping friend out to the horses. 


Dave hurried to the door. " Hey ! " he shouted. 
" Hadn't I better send him that check, anyhow ? He may 
need it before you get there." 

A roar of laughter from behind answered him, and he 
wheeled to face Arch. "When does th' mail leave?" 
asked the puncher. 

" Day after tomorrow," answered Dave, and swung 
around as a voice from the street rubbed it in. 

" You must 'a' played hookey from that school, Dave," 
jeered Arnold. 

" He's fat clean to th' bald spot," shouted Arch. " Come 
on in, Dave. We ain't got time to hold back for no mail to 
get there first." He stuck his head out of the window. 
" So-long, fellers ! See you at th' ford." 

Dave watched the three until they were well along the 
trail and then he turned slowly. " I never did really doubt 
th' stories Nelson told about that old outfit, but if I had 
any doubts I ain't got them no more. Did you see th' 
looks in their eyes when you was tellin' about Nelson ? " 

"I did!" snapped Arch. "Why in h 1 ain't I got 
whiskers ? " 

Reaching the SV, Arnold and his companions put up 
the horses and walked slowly toward the house, seeing a 
flurry of white through the kitchen door. 

"Think it'll reach him in time?" asked Red, waiting 
outside the door for Arnold to enter first. 

" Ought to. Slim said he would mail it at Highbank as 
soon as he got there," answered Arnold. 

" I shore hope so," said Red. " I'd hate to have that 
ride for nothin' an' it would just be our luck to pass 
him somewhere on th' way, an' get there after he left." 


" He'd likely f oiler th' reg'lar trail up, anyhow," said 
Hopalong. " It ain't likely we'll miss him." 

Margaret put down the dish and looked at them accus 
ingly. "What are you boys talking about?" she de 

" Only wonderin' if yore father's letter will get to John 
ny in time to catch him before he leaves," said Hopalong. 
" Dave says it will as long as that Slim feller is takin' it 
to Highbank with him. Slim live down there ? " he asked 
his host. 

" No ; goin' down for th' Double X, I suppose," replied 
Arnold. "Supper ready, Peggy?" 

" Not until I learn more about this," retorted Margaret, 
determinedly. " What letter are you talking about ? " 

" Oh, I told Johnny to look around and see if he could 
pick up a good herd of yearlings cheap," answered her 
father, going into the next room. 

Margaret compressed her lips, but said nothing about it, 
whereupon Red silently swore a stronger oath of alle 
giance. " The table is waiting for you. I've had to keep 
the supper warm," she said. 

Red nodded under standingly. " Men- folks are shore a 
trial an' tribulation," he said, passing through the door. 

"Hadn't ought to take him very long, I suppose?" 
queried Arnold, passing the meat one way and the potatoes 
the other. 

Red laughed. " You don't know him very well, yet," 
he replied. " Give him a chance to dicker over a herd an' 
he's happy for a week or more. He shore does like to 

" I never saw anything in his nature which would indi- 


* - 

cate anything like that," said Margaret, tartly. "He 
always has impressed me with being quite direct Perhaps 
I did not understand you correctly ? " 

" Peggy ! Peggy ! " reproved her father. " It means 
bread and butter for us." 

" I can eat my bread without butter," she retorted. 
"As a matter of fact I've seen very little butter out in this 

Red screwed his face up a little and wriggled his foot. 
"I don't reckon you've ever seen him buyin' a herd, 
ma'am ? " 

" You are quite right, Mr. Connors. I never have." 

Red did not take the trouble to inform her that he never 
had seen her husband buy a herd. " I reckon it's his love 
for gamblin'," he said, carelessly, and instantly regretted it. 

"Gambling?" snapped Margaret, her eyes sparking. 
" Did you say gambling ? " 

Hopalong flashed one eloquent look at his friend, whose 
hair now was not the only red thing about him, and re 
moved the last of the peel from the potato. " Red is 
referrin', I reckon, to th' love of gamblin' that was born 
in yore husband, Margaret. It allus has been one of his, 
an' our, fears that it would get th' best of him. But," he 
said, proudly and firmly, " it never did. Johnny is gettin' 
past th' age, now, when a deck of cards acts strong on him. 
An' it's all due to Red. He used to whale him good every 
time he caught th' Kid playin'." 

Red's sanctimonious expression made Hopalong itch to 
smear the hot potato over it, and the heel of his boot on 
Red's shin put a look of sorrow on that person's face which 
was not in the least simulated. 


" We all had a hand in that, Margaret," generously re 
marked the man with the shuddering shin. " Tex Ewalt 
watched him closest. But, as I was sayin', out at th' cor 
ral, I don't believe he's got men enough to handle no herd 
of yearlin's. Them youngsters are plumb skittish, an' hard 
to keep on th' trail. Me an' Hoppy are aimin' to go down 
an' help him an' see him all th' sooner, to tell you th' 

" That will please him," smiled Margaret. She looked 
at her father, whose appetite seemed to be ravenous, judg 
ing by the attention he was giving to the meal. " What 
did you write, Dad ? " 

Arnold washed down a refractory mouthful of potato, 
which suffered from insufficient salivation, and looked up. 
He repeated the letter carelessly and reached for another 
swallow of coffee, silently thanking Hopalong for insist 
ing that the letter actually be written. 

The meal over they sat and chatted until after dark, 
Margaret doing up a bundle of things which she thought 
her husband might need. When morning came she had 
breakfast on the table at daylight for her departing friends, 
and she also had a fat letter for her husband, which she 
entrusted to Red, the sterling molder of her husband's 
manly character. 

When they had ridden well beyond sight of the house 
Hopalong thoughtfully dropped the bundle to the ground, 
turned in the saddle and looked with scorn at his friend. 
"You shore are a hard-boiled jackass! For two bits I'd 
V choked you last night. How'd you like to have some 
body shoot off his mouth to yore wife about your 


" I've reformed, an' she knows it ! " 

" Yes, you've reformed ! You've reformed a lot, you 

" You ain't got no business pickin' on th' man that 
taught th' Kid most all he knows about poker!" tartly 
retorted Red. 

"Cussed little you ever taught him," rejoined Hopa- 
long. " It was me an' Tex that eddicated his brain, an' 
fingers. He only used you to practice on." 

And so they rode, both secretly pleased by this auspicious 
beginning of a new day, for the day that started without 
a squabble usually ended wrong, somehow. Picking up 
Arch, who yawningly met them at the ford, they pushed 
southward at a hard pace, relying on the relay which their 
guide promised to get at Highbank. Reaching this town 
Arch led them to his father's little corral, and exulted over 
the four fresh horses which he found there. Saddles were 
changed with celerity and they rolled on southward again. 

Peter Wiggins in the hotel office held the jack of hearts 
over the ten of the same suit and cocked an ear to listen. 
Slowly making the play he drew another card from the 
deck in his hand, and listened again. Reluctant to bestir 
himself, but a little suspicious, he debated the matter while 
he played several cards mechanically. Then he arose and 
walked through the building, emerging from the kitchen 
door. Three swiftly moving riders, his son in the middle, 
were taking the long, gentle slope just south of town. 
Pete's laziness disappeared and he made good time to the 
corral. One look was enough and he shook a vengeful 
fist at his heir and pride. 


" Twice ! " he roared, kicking an inoffensive tomato can 
over the corral wall. " Twice ! Mebby you'll try it again ! 
All right; 7'm willin'. I never heard of anybody around 
here thraskin' a twenty-three-year-old son, but as long as 
yo're bustin' records an' makin' th' Wigginses famous, I 
ought to do my share. Yo're bustin' ridin' records I'm 
aimin' to bust th' hidin' records, if you don't smash th' 
sprintin' records, you grinnin' monkey!" 

Pete went into the hotel, soon returning with the cards 
and a box ; and for the rest of the morning played solitaire 
with the steadily rising sun beating on his back, and 
swarms of flies exploring his perspiring person. 

The three riders were going on, hour after hour, their 
speed entirely controlled by what they knew of horse 
flesh, and when they espied the wagon Arch suggested 
another change of mounts, which was instantly overruled 
by Hopalong. 

" Some of them Mesquite hombres will be rememberin' 
them cayuses," he said. " We're doin' good enough as 
we are." 

When they reached the wagon and drew rein to breathe 
their mounts, Joe Reilly grinned a welcome. "Thought 
you was goin' to Gunsight! " he jeered. 

Arch laughed triumphantly. "I've done been there, 
but got afraid you fellers might get lost. Meet Hopalong 
assidy an' Red Conners, friends of th' foreman." 

" Why'n h 1 didn't you bring my hoss with you, you 
locoed cow?" blazed Sam Gardner from the wagon seat. 
" You never got to Gunsight. You must 'a' hit a cushion 
.an' bounced back." 

" Forgot all about yore piebald," retorted Arch. " But 


if you must have a cay use you can ask my old man for one 
when you get to Highbank. I'd do it for you, only me an' 
him ain't on th' best of terms right now." He turned to 
his two new friends. "All you got to do now is foller th' 
wagon tracks to town.*' 

" So-long," said the two, and whirled away. 

They spent the night not many miles north of Big 
Creek and were riding again at dawn. As they drew 
nearer to their objective the frisking wind sent clouds of 
dust whirling around them to their discomfort. 

"That must be th' town," grunted Red through his 
kerchief as his eyes, squinting between nearly closed lids, 
caught sight of Mesquite through a momentary opening 
in the dust-filled air to the southeast. 

" Hope so," growled his companion. " Cussed glad of 
it. This is goin' to be a whizzer. Look at th' tops of 
them sand hills yonder streamin' into th' air like smoke 
from a roarin' prairie fire. Here's where we separate. 
I'm takin' to th' first shack I find. Don't forget our names, 
an' that we're strangers, for awhile, anyhow." 

Red nodded. " Bill Long an' Red Thompson," he 
muttered as they parted. 

Not long thereafter Hopalong dismounted in the rear 
of Kane's and put his horse in the nearer of the two 
stables, doing what he could for the animal's comfort, and 
then stepped to the door. He paused, glanced back at 
the " P. W." brand on the horse and smiled. " Red's is a 
Horseshoe cayuse. That's what I call luck ! " and plunged 
into the sand blasts. Bumping into the wall of Kane's big 
building he followed it, turned the corner, and groped his 
way through the front door. 


At the sudden gust the bartender looked around and 
growled. "Close that door! Pronto!" 

The newcomer slammed it shut and leaned against the 
wall, rubbing at his eyelids and face, and shed sand at 
every movement. 

The bartender slid a glass of water across the bar. 
" Here ; wash it out. You'll only make 'em worse, rub- 
bin'," he said as the other began rubbing his lips and spit 
ting energetically. 

Bill Long obeyed, nodded his thanks and glanced fur 
tively at the door, and became less alert. " Much obliged. 
I didn't get all there was flyin', but I got a-plenty." 

The dispenser of drinks smiled. " Lucky gettin' in out 
of it when you did." 

"Yes," replied Bill, nervously. "Yes; plumb lucky. 
This will raise th' devil with th' scenery." 

" Won't be a trail left," suggested the bartender, watch 
ing closely. 

Bill glanced up quickly, sighed with satisfaction and 
then glanced hurriedly around the room. " Whose place 
is this ? " he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. 

" Pecos Kane's," grunted the bartender, greatly pleased 
about something. His pleasure was increased by the 
quick look of relief which flashed across the other's face, 
and he chuckled. " Yo're all right in here." 

" Yes," said Bill, and motioned toward a bottle. Gulp 
ing the drink he paid for it and then leaned over the coun 
ter. " Say, friend," he whispered anxiously, " if any 
body conies around askin' for Bill Long, you ain't seen 
him, savvy ? " 

"Never even heard of th' gent," smiled the other. 


" Here's where you should ought to lose yo're name," he 

Bill winked at him and slouched away to become mixed 
up in the crowd. The checkerboard rear wall obtruded 
itself upon his vision and he went back and found a seat 
not far from it and from Kit Thorpe, bodyguard of the 
invisible proprietor, who sat against the door leading 
through the partition. Thorpe coldly acknowledged the 
stranger's nod and continued to keep keen watch over the 
crowd and the distant front door. 

The day was very dull, the sun's rays baffled by the 
swirling sand, and the hanging kerosene lamps were lit, 
and as an occasional thundering gust struck the building 
and created air disturbances inside of it the lamps moved 
slightly to and fro and added a little more soot to the coat 
ing on their chimneys. Bill's natural glance at the unusual 
design of the rear wall caught something not usual about it 
and caused an unusual activity to arise in his mind. He 
knew that his eyes were sore and inflamed, but that did 
not entirely account for the persistent illusion which they 
saw when his roving glance, occasionally returning to the 
wall, swept quickly over it. There were several places 
where the black was a little blacker, and these spots moved 
on their edges, contracting and lengthening as the lamps 
swung gently. Pulling the brim of his hat over his 
eyes, he faced away from the wall and closed his burning 
eyelids, but his racing thoughts were keen to solve any 
riddle which would help to pass the monotonous time. 
Another veiled glance as he shifted to a more comfortable 
position gave him the explanation he sought. Those few 
black squares had been cut out, and the moving strips of 


black which had puzzled him were the shadows of the 
edges, moving across a black board which, set back the 
thickness of the partition, closed them. 

" Peekholes," he thought, and then wondered anew. 
Why the lower row, then, so low that a man would have 
to kneel to look through the openings ? " Peekholes," per 
sisted hide-bound Experience, grabbing at the obvious. 
" Perhaps," doubted Suspicion ; " but then, why that lower 
row?" Suddenly his gunman's mind exulted. "Peek- 
holes above, an' loopholes below." A good gunman would 
not try to look through such small openings, nearly closed 
by the barrel of a rifle. But why a rifle, for a good gun 
man? "He'd need all of a hole to look through, an' a 
good gunman likes a hip shot. That's it: Eyes to th' 
upper, six-gun at th' lower, for a range too short to allow a 

He stirred, blinked at the gambling crowd and closed 
his eyes again. The sudden, gusty opening of the front 
door sent jets of soot spouting from the lamp chimneys 
and bits of rubbish skittering across the floor ; and it also 
sent his hand to a gun-butt. He grunted as Red Thomp 
son entered, folded his arms anew and dozed again, as a 
cynical smile flickered to Thorpe's face and quickly died. 
Bill shifted slightly. "Any place as careful in thinkin' out 
things as this place is will stand a lot of lookin' over," he 
thought. " Th' Lord help anybody that pulls a gun in this 
room. An' I'll bet a man like Kane has got more'n loop 
holes. I'm shore goin' to like his place." 

Kit Thorpe had not missed the stranger's alert interest 
and motion at the opening of the door, but for awhile he 
did not move. Finally, however, he yawned, stretched, 


moved restlessly on his chair and then noisily arose and 
disappeared behind the partition, closing the checkered 
door after him. It was not his intention to sit so close to 
anyone who gave signs which indicated that he might be 
engaged in a shooting match at any moment. It would be 
better to keep watch from the side, well out of the line of 

Bill Long did not make the mistake of looking at the 
holes again, but dozed fitfully, starting at each gust which 
was strong enough to suggest the opening of the door. 
" I got to find th' way, an' that's all there is to it," he mut 
tered. " How am I goin' to be welcome around here ? " 



THE squeaking of the door wakened Johnny and his 
gun swung toward the sound as a familiar face 
emerged from the dusk of the hall and smiled a little. 

" Reckon it ain't no shootin' matter," said the sheriff, 
slowly entering. He walked over to a chair and sat down. 
" Just a little call in th' line of duty," he explained. 

" Sorry there wasn't a bell hangin' on th' door, or a 
club, or something 5 ' replied Johnny ironically. " Then you 
could 'a' waited till I asked you to come in." 

" That wouldn't 'a' been in th' line of duty," chuckled 
Corwin, his eyes darting from one piece of wearing ap 
parel to another. " I'm lookin' around for th' fellers that 
robbed th' bank last night. Yore clothes don't hardly look 
dusty enough, though. Where was you last night, up to 
about one o'clock ? " 

" Down in th' barroom, playin' cards. Why ? " 

"That's what Ed says, too. That accounts for you 
durin' an' after th' robbery. I've got to look around, any 
how, for them coyotes." 

" You'd show more sense if you was lookin' around for 
hoss tracks instead of wastin' time in here," retorted John 
ny, keeping his head turned so the peace officer could not 
see what was left of the bump. 


" There ain't none/' growled Corwin, arising. " She's 
still blowin' sand a-plenty a couple of shacks are buried 
to their chimneys. I'm tellin' you this is th' worst sand 
storm that ever hit this town, but it looks like it's easin' 
up now. There won't be a trail left, an' th' scenery has 
shifted enough by this time to look like some place else. 
Idaho turn in when you did ? " 

" He did. Here he is now," replied Johnny, for the first 
time really conscious of the sand blasts which rasped 
against the windows. 

Idaho peered around the door, nodded at Corwin and 
looked curious, and suspicious. " If I ain't wanted, throw 
me out," he said, holding up his trousers with one hand, 
the other held behind his back. " Hearin' voices, I thought 
mebby somebody was openin' a private flask an', bein' 
thirsty, I come over to help. My throat is shore dusty. 
'An' would you listen to that wind ? It shore rocked this 
old hotel last night. Th' floor of my room is near ankle 
deep in places." 

"Th' bank was robbed last night," blurted Corwin, 
watching keenly from under his hat brim. "Whoever 
done it is still in town, unless he was ad d fool ! " 

Idaho grunted his surprise. " That so ? Gee, they shore 
couldn't 'a' picked a better time," he declared. "Gosh, 
there's sand in my hair, even ! " 

Johnny rubbed his scalp, looked mildly surprised and 
slammed his sombrero on his head. " It ain't polite," he 
grinned, " but I got enough of it now." He sat up, crossed 
his legs under the sand-covered blankets and faced his 
visitors. "Tell us about it, Sheriff," he suggested. 

" Wait till I get a belt," said Idaho, backing out of the 


door. When he returned he carried the rest of his clothes 
and started getting into them as the sheriff began his 

" John Reddy, th' bank watchman, says he was a little 
careless last night, which nobody can hardly blame him 
for. He sat in his chair agin' the rear wall, th' whole 
place under his eyes, an' listened to th' storm. To kill time 
he got to makin' bets with hisself about how soon th' second 
crack in th' floor would be covered over, an' then th' third, 
an' so on. 'Long about a little after twelve he says he hears 
a moan at th' back door. He pulls his gun an' listens close, 
down at th' crack just above th' sand drift. Then he hears 
it again, an' a scratchin' an clawin'. There's only one 
thing he's thinkin' about then how he'd feel if he was 
th' poor devil out there, lost an' near dead. I allus said 
a watchman should ought to have no feelin's, an' a cussed 
strong imagination. John ain't fillin' th' bill either way. 
He cleared away th' drift on his side of th' door an' opens 
it an' beyond rememberin' somethin' sandy jumpin' for 
him, that's all he knows till he come to later on an' found 
hisself tied up, with a welt on th' head that felt big as a 

If the sheriff expected to detect any interchange of 
glances between his auditors at his reference to the watch 
man's bump on the head he was disappointed. Johnny 
was looking at him with a frank interest seconded by that 
of Idaho, and neither did anything else during the short 

" John got his senses back enough to know what had 
happened, an' one glance around told him that he was 
right," continued Corwin. "Finally he managed to get 


his legs loose enough to hobble, an* he butted out into th' 
flyin' sand with his eyes shut an' his nose buried agin' his 
shoulder so he could breathe ; an' somehow he managed to 
hit a buildin' in his blind driftin'. It was McNeil's, an' by 
throwin' his weight agin' th' door an' buttin' it with his 
shoulders an' elbows, he woke up Sam, who let him in, 
untied his arms an' th' rest of him, fixed him up as well as 
he could in a hurry an' then left him there. Sam got Pete 
Jennings, next door, sent Pete an' a scatter-gun to watch 
over what was left in th' bank, an' then started out to find 
me. He had to give it up till it got light, so he waited in 
th' bank with Pete. Th' bank fellers are there now, 
checkin' up. Th' big, burglar-proof safe was blowed open 
neat as a whistle but they plumb ruined th' little one. 
They overlooked th' biggest of all, down in th' cellar. 
Well," he sighed, arising, " I got to go on with my callin' 
an' it's one fine day to be wanderin' all over town." 

"If I was sheriff I wouldn't have to do much wan 
derin'," said Idaho. "But, anyhow, it can't last," he 

Johnny nodded endorsement. " Th' harder, th' shorter. 
It's gettin' less all th' time," he said, pivoting and sitting 
on the edge of the bed. "But, just th' same," he yawned, 
stretching ecstatically, "I'm shore-e-e g-l-a-d / can stay 
indoors till she peters out. Yo're plumb right, Corwin; 
them fellers never left town last night. An' if I was you 
I'd be cussed suspicious of anybody that seemed anxious 
to leave any time today." 

" They never did leave town last night," said Idaho, a 
strange glint showing in his eyes. 

"An' nobody can leave today, neither." said Corwin. 


"If they try it they will be stopped," he added, pointedly. 
"I've got a deputy coverin' every way out, sand or no 
sand. So-long," and he tramped down the bare stairs, 
grumbling at every step. 

Johnny removed his hat to put on his shirt, and then 
replaced it. " You speakin' about sand in yore hair gave 
me what I needed," he grinned. 

"That's why I said it," laughed his companion. "I 
saw that yore neck was stiff an' felt sorry for you. Now 
what th' devil do you think about that bank ? " 

" Kane," grunted Johnny, pouring sand from a boot. 

" That name must 'a' been cut on th' butt of th' gun that 
hit you," chuckled Idaho. " It's been drove in solid. Get 
a rustle on; I'm hungry, an* my teeth are full of sand. 
I'm anxious to hear what Ed knows." 

An unpleasant and gritty breakfast out of the way, they 
went in to visit with the bartender and to while away a 
few hours at California Jaclc. 

" Hello," grunted Ed. " Sheriff come pokin' his face in 
yore room? " he asked. 

"He did," answered Johnny; "an* he'll never know 
how close he come to pokin' it into h< 1." 

" My boot just missed him," regretted Ed. " He sung 
out right prompt when he felt th' wind of it. D d four- 

" I'm among friends an' sympathizers," chuckled Idaho. 
" He says as how he's goin' wanderin' around in th' sand 
blasts doin' his duty. Duty nothin'! I'm bettin' he's 
settin' in Kane's, right now, takin' it easy." 

"Then he can't get much closer to 'em," snorted Ed 
" He can near touch th' men that did it." He paused as 

Johnny laughed in Idaho's face and, shrugging his shoul 
ders, turned and rearranged the glasses on the backbar: 
"All right; laugh an' be d d!" he snorted; "but would 
you look at that shelf an' them glasses ? Cuss any country 
that moves around like that. I bet I got some of them 
Dry Arroyo sand hills in them glasses ! " 

"There was plenty in th' hash this mornin'," said 
Idaho ; " but it didn't taste like that Dry Arroyo sand. It 
wasn't salty enough. Gimme a taste of that." 

" Just because you'll make a han'some corpse ain't no 
reason why you should be in any hurry," retorted Ed. 
" Here! " he snorted, tossing a pack of cards on the bar. 
" Go over an' begin th' wranglin' agin 'though th' Lord 
knows I ain't got no thin' agin' Nelson." He glanced out 
of the window. " Purty near bio wed out. It'll be ca'm 
in another half-hour; an' then you get to blazes out of 
here, an' stay out till dark ! " 

"I wish I had yore happy disposition," said Idaho. 
" I'd shore blow my brains out." 

"There wouldn't be anythin' to clean up, anyhow!" 
retorted Ed. " Lord help us, here comes Silent Lewis ! " 

" Hello, fellers ! " cried the newcomer. " Gee but it's 
been some storm. Sand's all over everythin'. Hear about 
th' bank robbery?" 

"Bank robbery?" queried Ed, innocently. "What 
bank robbery ? Sand bank ? " he asked, sarcastically. 

"Sand bank! Sand bank nothin'!" blurted Silent. 
"Ain't you heard it yet? Why, I live ten miles out of 
town, an' I know all about it." 

" I believe every word you say," said Ed. " Tell us 
about it." 


"Gee, where have you-all been?" demanded Silent 
" Why, John Reddy, settin' on his chair, watchin' th' safe, 
hears a moanin', so he opened th' door " 

" Of th' safe ? " asked Idaho, curiously. 

" No, no ; of th' bank. Th' bank door, th' rear one. He 
hears a moan " 

"Which moan; first, or second?" queried Ed, 

" Th' first th' second didn't come till hey, I thought 
you didn't hear about it ? " he accused. 

" I didn't ; but you mentions two moans, separate an' 
distinct," defended Ed. 

" You shore did," said Idaho, firmly. 

Johnny nodded emphatically. " Yessir; you shore did. 
Two moans, one at each end." 

" But I didn't get to th' second moan at all ! " 

"Now, what's th' use of tellin' us that?" flared the 
bartender. " Don't you think we got ears ? " 

" If you can't tell it right, shut up," said Idaho. 

" I can tell it right if you'll shut up ! " retorted Silent. 
"As I said, he hears a moan, so he leaves th' safe an' goes 
to th' door. Then he hears a second moan, scratching 
an' " 

" Hey I " growled Ed indignantly. " What you talkin* 
about? Who in h 1 ever heard of a second moan 
scratchin' " 

" It was th' first that scratched," corrected Idaho. " He 
said it plain. You must be listenin' with yore feet." 

"If you'd gimme a chance to tell it " began Silent, 

" Never mind my hearin' you," snapped Ed at Idaho. 


" I know what I heard. An' lemme tell you, Silent, you 
can't cram nothin' like that down my throat. Before you 
go any further, just explain to me how a moan can scratch ! 
I'm allus willin' to learn, but I want things explained care 
ful an' fufl." 

" He ain't quick-witted, like you an' me," said Johnny. 
" We understand how a scratch moans, but he's too dumb. 
Go on an' tell th' ignoramus." 

"If yo're so cussed quick-witted, will you please tell 
me what'n blazes you are talkin' about ? " demanded Silent, 
truculently. " What do you mean by a scratch moans ? " 

" That's what I want to know," growled Idaho. " You 
can't scratch moans. Cuss it, I reckon I ought to know, 
for I've tried to do it, more'n once, too." 

"Yo're dumber than Nelson," jeered Ed. "It's all 
plain to me." 

" What is ? " snapped Idaho. 

" Moanin' scratches, that's what ! " 

" Of a safe ? " asked Johnny. " Then why didn't you 
say so? How'd / know that you meant that. Go on, 

",You was at th' second moan," prompted Ed. 

" He scratched that," said Idaho. " He got as far as 
leavin' th' safe, 'though what he was doin' in there with 
it, I'd like to know. Reddy let you in ? " 

" Look here, Idaho," scowled Silent. " I wasn't in there 
at all. You'll get me inter trouble, sayin' things like that. 
I was ten miles away when it happened." 

"Then why didn't you say so, at th' beginnin'?" 
asked Ed. 

"Ah ! " triumphantly exclaimed Johnny. " Then you 


tell us how you could hear th' scratchin' an' moanin' ; tell 
us that!" 

"That's all right, Nelson," said Idaho, soothingly. 
" He can hear more things when he's ten miles away than 
any man you ever knowed. Go ahead, Silent." 

" You go to h 1 ! " roared Silent, glaring. " You 
think yo're smart, don't you, all of you ? I was goin' to 
tell you about th' robbery, but now you can cussed well find 
it out for yoreselves ! An' don't let me hear about any of 
you sayin' I was in that bank last night, neither! D d 
fools!" and he stamped out, slamming the door behind 
him. " Blow an' be d d ! " he growled at the storm. 
" I'd ruther eat sand than waste time with them ijuts. 
' Scratch moans ! ' Scratch h // " 

Silent's departure left a more cheerful atmosphere in 
the barroom. The three men he had forsaken were grin 
ning at each other, the petty annoyances of the storm for 
gotten, and the next hour passed quickly. At its expira 
tion the wind had died down and the storm-bound town 
was free again. Ed finished cleaning the bar and the 
glassware about the time that his two friends had swept 
the last of the sand into the street and cleared away a 
drift which blocked the rear door. They were taking a 
congratulatory drink when Ridley, coming to town for the 
mail himself because he would not ask any of his men to 
face the discomforts of that ride, stamped in, and his face 
was like a thunder cloud. 

" Gimme a drink ! " he demanded, and when he had had 
it he swung around and glared at Idaho. " Lukins have 
any money in that bank ? Yes ? You better be off to let 
him know about it. H 1 of a note: Thirty thousand 


stole ! An' Jud Hill holdin' a gun on me when I rode into 
town, askin' fool questions ! An' let me tell you somethin' 
judgin' from th' tools they forgot to take with 'em, 
it wasn't no amatachures that did that job. Diamond 
drills an' cow-country crooks don't know each other. An' 
that Jud Hill, a-stoppin' me!" 

" Mebby he won't let you leave town," suggested Idaho. 
" Corwin's given orders like that." 

Ridley crashed his fist on the bar, and then to better 
express his feelings he leaned over and stuck out his jaw. 
" Y-a-a-s ? Then I'm invitin' you-all to Hill's funeral, an' 
Corwin's, too, if he cuts in ! Thirty thousand! Great land 
of cows ! " 

" Corwin's out now, huntin' for 'em," said Ed. 

" Is he ? " sneered Ridley. " Then he wants to find 'em ! 
Th' firm of Twitchell an' Carpenter owns near half of that 
bank every dollar th' Question-Mark has was in it. 
There's a change comin' to this part of th' country! " and 
he stamped out, mounted his horse and whirled down the 
trail. When he reached the sentry he rode so close to him 
that their legs rubbed and Hill's horse began to give 

" Do I go on ? " snapped Ridley. 

Jud Hill nodded pleasantly. " Shore. Seein' as how 
you come in this mornin' I reckon you do." 

Ridley urged his horse forward without replying, 
reached the ranchhouse, wrote a letter which was a mas 
terpiece of its kind and gave it to one of his men to post 
in Larkinville, twenty miles to the south. That done, all 
he could do was impatiently to await the reply. 

After Ridley had left, Johnny went out to look after 


Pepper, found her all right, cleaned the sand out of the 
feed box and then went down to look at the bank. Four 
men with rifles were posted around it and waved him 
away. He could see several other men busy in the build 
ing, but beyond that there was nothing to claim his atten 
tion. Joining the small crowd of idlers across the street 
he listened to their conjectures, which were entirely vague 
and colorless, and then wandered back to look for Idaho 
in Quayle's. His friend was not to be seen and after 
exchanging a few words with the jovial proprietor he 
went in to talk with the bartender. 

" No wind now, but my throat's dry. Gimme a drink, 
half water," and holding it untasted for the moment he 
jerked his head backward in the direction of the bank. 
"Nothin' to see, except some fellers inside lookin' for 
'most anything an' four men with Winchesters on th' 

While he was speaking a man had entered and seated 
himself in the rear of the room. Johnny glanced care 
lessly at him, and the glass cracked sharply in his con 
vulsive grip, the liquor squirting through his fingers and 
gathering a deeper color as it passed. A thin trickle of 
blood ran down his hand and wrist. 

Ed had started at the sound and his head was bent 
forward, his unbelieving eyes staring at the dripping hand. 

Johnny opened it slowly, shook the fragments from it 
and let it fall to his side, mechanically shaking off blood 
and liquor. " Cuss it, Ed," he gently reproved, looking 
calmly into the bartender's questioning face, "you should 
ought to pick out th' bad ones an' throw 'em away yes, 
an' bust 'em first." 


Ed picked up the bottom of the glass and critically ex 
amined it, noting a discolored strip along one of the sharp 
edges, where dirt had accumulated from numberless wash 
ings. The largest fragment showed the greasy line to the 
rounded brim. " I usually do," he growled. " Thought I 
had this one, too. Must V got back somehow. Hurt 

" Nothin' fatal, I reckon," answered Johnny, drawing 
the injured member up his trousers leg. " But I'm sayin' 
you owe me another drink; an' leave th' water out, this 
time. Water in whisky never does bring good luck, 

Ed smiled, pushing out bottle and glass. " We might 
say that one was on th' house all that didn't get on you." 
He instinctively reached for and used the bar cloth as he 
looked over at the stranger. " I can promise you one that 
ain't cracked," he smiled. 

"I'll take mine straight," said Bill Long. "I don't 
want no more hard luck." 

" Wonder where Idaho is?" asked Johnny. "Well, if 
he comes in, tell him I'm exercisin' my cayuse. Reckon 
I'll go down an' chin with Ridley this afternoon. Th' 
south trail is less sandy than th' north one." 

"An' give Corwin a chance to say things about you?" 
asked Ed, significantly. " He'll be lookin' for a peg to 
hang things on." 

" Then mebby he won't never look for any more." 

" That may be true ; but what's th' use ? " 

" Reckon yo're right," reluctantly admitted Johnny. 
" Guess I'll go up to Kane's an' see what's happenin'. If 
Idaho comes in, or any more of my numerous friends," 


he grinned, "send 'em up there if they're askin' for me. 
I'll mebby be glad to see 'em," and he sauntered out. 

Ed smiled pleasantly at the other customer. "Bad 
thing, a glass breakin' like that," he remarked. 

Bill Long looked at him without interest. " Serves him 
right," he grunted, " for holdin' it so tight. Nobody was 
aimin' to take it away from him, was they ? " 

Johnny entered Kane's too busy thinking to give much 
notice to the room and the suppressed excitement occa 
sioned by the robbery, and sat down at a table. As he 
leaned back in the chair he caught sight of a red-headed 
puncher talking to one of Kane's card-sharps and he got 
another shock. "Holy maverick!" he muttered, and 
looked carelessly around to see if any more of his Montana 
friends had dropped into town. Then he smiled as the 
card-sharp looking up, beckoned to him. As he passed 
down the room he noticed the quiet easterner hunched up 
in a corner, his cap well down over his eyes, and Johnny 
wondered if the man ever wore it any other way. He was 
out of place in his cow-town surroundings perhaps that 
was why he had not been seen outside of Kane's building. 
Ridley's remark about the tools came to him and he hesi 
tated, considered, and then went on again. He had no 
reason to do Corwin's work for him. Dropping into a 
vacant chair at the gambler's table he grunted the cus 
tomary greeting. 

" Howd'y," replied the card-sharp, nodding pleasantly. 

" No use bein' lonesome. Meet Red Thompson," he said, 

" Glad to meet you," said Johnny, truthfully, but hiding 
as well as he could the pleasure it gave him. " I once 


knowed a Thompson short, fat feller. Worked up on 
a mountain range in Colorado. Know him? " 

Red shook his head. "Th' world's full of Thomp 
sons," he explained. " You punchin' ? " 

" Got a job on th' SV, couple of days' ride north of 
here. Just come down with a little beef herd for Twitchell 
an' Carpenter. Ain't seen no good bunch of yearlin's that 
can be got cheap, have you ? " 

Red shook his head : " No, I ain't." 

The gambler laughed and poked a lean thumb at the 
SV puncher. " Modest feller, he is," he said. " He's 
foreman, up there." 

Red's mild interest grew a little. " That so ? I passed 
yore ranch comin' down. Need another man ? " 

The SV foreman shook his head. " I could do with one 
less. Them bank fellers picked a good time for it, didn't 

" They shore did," agreed the gambler. " Couldn't V 
picked a better. Kane loses a lot by that, I reckon. Well, 
what do you gents say to a little game ? Small enough not 
to cause no calamities; large enough to be interesting 
Nothin' else to do that I can see." 

Red nodded and, the limit soon agreed upon, the game 
began. As the second hand was being dealt Bill Long 
wandered in, talked for a few moments with the bar 
tender and then went over to a chair. Tipping it back 
against the wall he pulled down his hat brim, let his chin 
sink on his chest and prepared to enjoy a nap. Naturally 
a man wishing to doze would choose the darkest corner, 
and if he was not successful who could tell that the narrow 
slit between his lids let his keen eyes watch everything 


worth seeing? His attention was centered mostly on the 
tenderfoot stranger with the low-pulled cap and the cut 
out squares in the great checkerboard partition at the rear 
of the room. 

The poker game was largely a skirmish, a preliminary 
feeling out for a game which was among the strong proba 
bilities of the future. Johnny and the gambler were about 
even with each other at the breaking up of the play, but 
Red Thompson had lost four really worth-while jack pots 
to the pleasant SV foreman. As they roughly pushed 
back their chairs Bill Long stirred, opened his eyes, blinked 
around, frowned slightly at being disturbed and settled 
back again. " Red couldn't 'a' got that money to him in 
no better way," he thought, contentedly. 

The three players separated, Johnny going to the hotel, 
Red seeking a chair by the wall and the gambler loafing 
at the bar. 

"An' how'd you find 'em?" softly asked the wise bar 
tender. " Coin' after that foreman's roll ? " 

The gambler grunted and shifted his weight to the other 
leg. " Thompson ain't very much ; but I dunno about th' 
other feller. Sometimes I think one thing; sometimes, 
another. Either he's cussed innocent, or too slick for me 
to figger. Reckon mebby Fisher ought to go agin' him, 
an' find out, for shore." 

" How'd you make out, last night, with Long?" 

"There's a man th' boss ought to grab," replied the 
gambler. "He didn't win much from me but it's his 
first, an' last, chance with me. I don't play him no more. 
I'd like to see him an' Fisher go at it, with no limit. Fisher 
would have th' best of it on th' money end, havin' th' house 


behind him in case he had to weather a run of hard luck ; 
but mebby he'd need it." 

As the gambler walked away the easterner arose, 
slouched to the bar and held a short whispered conversa 
tion with the man behind it. 

The bartender frowned. " You can't get away before 
night. Sandy Woods will take care of you before mornin', 
I reckon. Go upstairs an' quit fussin'. Yo're safe as 
h 1!" 

The bartender's prophecy came true after dark, when 
Sandy Woods and the anxious stranger quietly left town 
together ; but the stranger had good reason to be anxious, 
for at dawn he was careless for a moment and found him 
self looking into his escort's gun. He had more courage 
than good sense and refused to be robbed, and he died for 
it. Sandy dragged the body into a clump of bushes away 
from the trail and then rode on to kill the necessary time, 
leading the other's horse. He was five thousand dollars 
richer, and had proved wrong the old adage about honor 
among thieves. 



WHEN the senior member of the firm of Twitchell 
and Carpenter read Ridley's letter things began to 
happen. It was the last straw, for besides being 
half -owners in the bank the firm had for several years 
been annoyed by depredations committed by Mesquite citi 
zens on its herds. The depredations had ceased upon pay 
ment of " campaign funds " to the Mesquite political ring, 
but the blackmail levy had galled the senior member, who 
was not as prone as Carpenter was to buy peace. Orders 
flew from the firm's office and the little printing-plant at 
Sandy Bend broke all its hazy precedents, with the result 
that a hard-riding courier, relaying twice, carried the work 
of the job-print toward Mesquite. Reaching Ridley's 
domain he turned the package over to the local superin 
tendent, who joyously mounted and carried it to town. 

Tim Quayle welcomed his old friend, listened intently 
to what Ridley had to say and handed over an assortment 
of tacks and nails, and a chipped hammer. " 'Tis time, 
Tom," he said, simply. 

Ridley went out and selected a spot on the hotel wall, 
and the sound of the hammer and the sight of his unusual 
occupation caused a small crowd of curious idlers to 
gather around him. When the poster was unrolled there 



were sibilant whispers, soft curses, frank prophesies, and 
some commendations, which was entirely a matter of the 
personal viewpoint. Half an hour later, the last poster 
placed, Ridley took a short cut, entered the hotel through 
the kitchen and went into the barroom. What he had 
published for the enlightenment, edification, or disappro 
bation of his fellow-citizens was pointed and business-like, 
and read as follows : 

$2,500.00 REWARD! 

For Information Leading to the Capture 
and Conviction of the Men Who Robbed 

the Mesquite Bank. 



Sandy Bend TOM RIDLEY, Local Supt. 

Quayle turned and smiled at the T & C man. " Ye've 
slapped their faces, Tom. Mind yore eye ! " 

"They've prodded th' old mosshead once too often," 
growled Ridley, looking around at Johnny, Idaho, and the 
others. " I reckon this stops th' blackmail to th' gang. 
When I wrote my letter I expected somethin' would hap 
pen, an' th' letter I got in return near curled my hair. 
Twitchell's fightin' mad." 

" Th' reward's too big," criticized Idaho. 

" I'm f earin' it ain't big enough," said Ed Doane, shak 
ing his head. 

Ridley laughed contentedly. " It's more than enough. 


There's men in this town, an' that gang, who would knife 
anybody for half of that. When they can get twenty-five 
hundred by simply openin' their mouths, without bein' 
known, they'll do it. Loyalty is fine to listen about, but 
there's few men in th' gang we're after that have any 
twenty-five hundred dollars' worth. This is th' beginnin' 
of th' end. Mark my words." 

"A lot depends on how many were in on it," suggested 
Johnny, "an' how many of th' others know about it." 

"He's throwin' money away," doggedly persisted 
Idaho. "A thousand would buy any of 'em, that an' 

"He ain't throwm* it away," retorted Ridley, "con- 
siderin' his letter. He's after results, amazin' results, an' 
he shore knows how to get 'em. It'll be sort of more 
pleasant if th' gang is sold out. He figgers a reward like 
that will save time an' be self-actin', for my orders are 
to stay in th' ranchhouse an' wait. That's what I'm goin' 
to do, too; an' I'll be settin' there with all guns loaded. 
No tellin' what'll happen now an', not bein' able to say 
how soon it will happen, I'm leavin' you boys. So-long." 

He walked out to his horse and mounted. As he settled 
into the saddle there was a flat report, his hat flew from his 
head and he toppled from the horse, dead before he struck 
the ground. 

Quayle swiftly reached over the desk and took a Win 
chester from its pegs, Irish tears in his eyes ; and waited 
hopefully, Irish rage in his heart, watching the dirty win 
dows and the open door. "It's to a finish, byes," he 
grated in a brogue thickened by his emotions, the veins of 
his forehead and neck swelling into serpentine ridges. 


" They read th' writin' on th' wall, an' they read ut plain. 
D'ye mind what some of thim divils would be after doin' 
for all that money ? They'd cut their own mither's throat 
an' Kane knows ut! An' I'm thinkin' they'll be care 
ful now Kane has served his notice." 

The idlers in the street stood as if frozen, gaping, not 
one of them daring to approach the body, nor even to stop 
the horse as it kicked up its heels and trotted down the 
street. Ed Doane was the third man through the door 
and he brought in the dead man's hat as Johnny and Idaho 
placed the warm body on the floor of the office. They 
hardly had stepped back when hurried footsteps neared the 
door and the sheriff, with two of his deputies, entered the 
office, paused instinctively at sight of the rifle in Quayle's 
hands, and then slowly, carefully bent over to examine 
the body. The sheriff reached forth a hand to turn it 
over, but stopped instantly and froze in his stooped posi 
tion, his arm outstretched. 

"Kape ut off him!" roared Quayle, his eyes blazing. 
" What more d'ye want to see ? " 

"From behind?" asked Corwin, slowly straightening 
up, but his eyes fixed on the proprietor. 

"An' where'd ye be thinkin' 'twas from?" snarled 
Quayle, the veins standing out anew. " No dirty pup of 
that pack would dare try ut from th' front, an' ye know 
ut! An' need ye look twice to see where th' slug av a 
buffalo-gun came out? Don't touch him, anny av ye! 
Kape yore paws off Tom Ridley ! An' I'm buryin' him, 

"But, as sheriff " began Corwin. 

"Aye, but!" snapped Quayle. " We'll be after callin' 


things be their right names. Ye are no sheriff. Ye was 
choosed by th' majority av votes cast by th' citizens av an 
unorganized county, like byes choose a captain av their 
gangs. There's no laws to back ye up, an' ye took no 
oath. As long as th' majority will it, yore th' keeper av 
th' peace an' no longer. Sheriff ?" he sneered. "An' 
'tis a fine sheriff ye'll be makin', runnin' in circles like a 
locoed cow since th' robbery, questionin' every innocent 
man in town, an' hopin' 'twould blow over, an' die a nat 
ural death. But it's got th' breath av life in it now! What 
do ye think old Twitchell will be say in' to thisf" he thun 
dered, his rigid arm pointing to the body on the floor. 
" Clear out, th' pack av ye ! Ye've seen all ye need to ! " 

Corwin glanced at the body again, from it around the 
ring of set and angry faces, shrugged his shoulders and 
motioned to his deputies to leave. " We'll hold th' inquest 
here," he said, turning away. 

" Ye'll hold no inquest ! " roared Quayle. " Show me 
yore coroner! Inquest, is ut? I've held yore inquest 
already. There's plenty av us here an' we say, so help 
us God, Tom Ridley was murdered, an' by persons un 
known. There's yer inquest, an' yer findin's. W r hat do ye 
say, byes ? " he demanded. A low growl replied to him 
and he sneered again. " There ! There's yer inquest ! As 
long as yer playin' sheriff, go out an' do yer duty ; but look 
out ye don't put yer han's on a friend ! Clear out, an' run 
yer bluff!" 

Corwin's eyes glinted as he looked at the fearless 
speaker, but with Idaho straining at a moral leash, John 
ny's intent eagerness and the sight of the rifle in the pro 
prietor's hands, he let discretion mold his course and 


slouched out to the street, where another quiet crowd 
opened silently to let him through. 

Johnny passed close to Idaho. " Go to your ranch for 
a few days, or they'll couple you to me ! " he whispered. 

Bill Long, feeding his borrowed Highbank horse in 
the northernmost of the two stables at the rear of Kane's, 
heard the jarring crash of a heavy rifle so loud and near 
that he dropped instantly to hands and knees and crawled 
to a crack in the south wall. As he peered out he got a 
good, clear view of a pock-marked Mexican with a cres 
cent-shaped scar over one eye and who, Sharp's in hand, 
wriggled out of the north window of the adjoining stable, 
dropped sprawling within five feet of the watcher's eyes, 
scrambled to his feet and fled close along the rear of Bill's 
stable. The watcher sprang erect, sped silently back to 
his horse and stirred the grain in the feed box with one 
hand, while the other rested on a six-gun in case the 
Mexican should be of an inquisitive and belligerent frame 
of mind. His view of the street had been shut off by the 
corner of the southern stable and he had not seen the result 
of the shot. Wishing to show no undue curiosity he did 
not go down the street, but returned to the gambling-hall. 
He had not been seated more than a few minutes when 
one of Kane's retainers ran in from the street with the 
news of Ridley's death. There was a flurry of excite 
ment, which quickly died down, but under the rippling 
surface Bill sensed the deeper, more powerful currents. 

"This man Kane, whoever an' wherever he is," he 
thought, "has shore trained this bunch of scourin's. I'm 
gettin' plumb curious for a look at him. Huh ! " he mut- 


tered, as the window-wriggling, pock-marked Mexican 
emerged from behind the partition, bent swiftly over Kit 
Thorpe and betook his tense and nervous self to the 
roulette table. " I've got yore ugly face carved deep in 
my mem'ry, you Greaser snake ! " he growled under his 
breath. "If it wasn't for loosin' bigger game I'd turn 
you over to Ridley's friends before night. You can wait." 

Not long after the appearance of the Mexican, the 
sheriff came in by the front door, pushed through the 
crowd near the bar and walked swiftly toward the rear of 
the room. Speaking shortly to Kit Thorpe in a low voice 
he passed through the door of the checkerboard partition. 

"I'm learnin'," muttered Bill. "I don't know who 
Kane is, but I'm dead shore I know where he is. An' I'm 
gettin' a better line on this killin'. I'll shore have to get a 
look behind that door, somehow." 

Suddenly the doorkeeper arose and stuck his head 
around behind the partition and then, straightening up, 
closed the door, went up to the bar, spoke to several men 
there and led them to the rear. Opening the door again he 
let them through and resumed his vigil ; and none of them 
reappeared before Bill went into the north building to eat 
his supper. 



KANE'S gambling-hall was in full blast, reeking with 
the composite odor of liquor, kerosene lamps, rank 
tobacco, and human bodies, the tables well filled, the faro 
and roulette layouts crowded by eager devotees. The 
tenseness of the afternoon was forgotten and curses and 
laughter arose in all parts of the big room. The two-man 
Mexican orchestra strumming its guitars and the extra 
bartenders were earning their pay. Punchers, gamblers, 
storekeepers, two traveling men, a squad of cavalrymen on 
leave from the nearest post, Mexicans, and bums of several 
races made up the noisy crowd as Johnny Nelson pushed 
into the room and nodded to the head bartender. 

" Well, well," smiled the busy barman without stopping 
his work. " Here's our SV foreman, out at night. 
Thought mebby you'd heard of some yearlin's an' hit th' 
trail after 'em." 

" I don't reckon there was ever a yearlin' in this sec 
tion," grinned Johnny. 

"That so? There's several down at th' other end of 
th' bar," chuckled the man of liquor. " That blonde you 
left th' forty dollars for has shore been strainin' her eyes 
lookin' for you. Says she knows she's goin' to like you. 
Go back an' sooth her. Gin is her favorite." 



11 1 ain't lookin' for her yet," replied Johnny. " That's 
somethin' you never want to do. It's th' wrong system. 
Don't pay no attention to 'em if you want 'em to pay atten 
tion to you. Let her wait a little longer. Where's that 
Thompson feller ? I like th' way he plays draw, seein' as 
how I won some of his money. Seen him tonight ? " 

"Shore; he's around somewhere. Saw him a little 
while ago." 

Johnny noticed a quiet, interested crowd in a far corner 
and joined it, working through until he saw two men play 
ing poker in the middle. One was Bill Long and the other 
was Kane's best card-sharp, Mr. Fisher, and they were 
playing so intently as to be nearly oblivious of the crowd. 
On the other side of the ring, sitting on a table, was Red 
Thompson, his mouth partly open and his eyes riveted on 
the game. 

The play was getting stiff and Fisher's eyes had a look 
in them that Johnny did not like. The gambler reached 
for the cards and began shuffling them with a speed and 
dexterity which bespoke weary hours of earnest practice. 
As he pushed them out for the cut his opponent leaned 
back, relaxed and smiled pleasantly. 

" I allus like to play th' other fellow's game," Bill ob 
served. "If he plays fast 7 like to play fast; if he plays 
'em close, / like to play 'em close; if he plays reckless, / 
like to play reckless; if he plays 'em with flourishes, / like 
to play 'em with flourishes. I'm not what you might call 
original. I'm a imitator." He slowly reached out his 
hand, held it poised over the deck, changed his mind and 
withdrew it. " Reckon I'll not cut this time. They're good 
as they are. I like yore dealin'." 


Fisher yanked the deck to him and dealt swiftly. " I'm 
not very bright," he remarked as he glanced at his hand, 
"so I'm gropin' about yore meanin'. Or didn't it have 

" Nothin', only to show that I'm so polite I allus let th' 
other feller set th' pace," smiled Bill. "As he plays, I 
play." He picked up the cards, squared them into exact 
alignment and slid them from the table and close against 
his vest, where a deft touch spread them for a quick 
glance at the pips. " They look good ; but, I wonder ? " he 
muttered. " Reckon that's best, after all. Gimme two 
cards when you get time." 

Fisher gave him two and took the same number. 

" I find I'm gettin' tired," growled Bill, " an' it shore 
is hot an' stiflin' in here. As it stands I'm a little ahead 
not more'n fifty dollars. That bein' so, I quit after this 
hand and two more. There ain't much action, anyhow." 

"If yo're lookin' for action mebby you feel like takin' 
off th' hobbles," suggested Fisher, carelessly. 

" Hobbles, saddles an' anythin' else you can think of," 
nodded Bill. " Do we start now ? " 

Fisher nodded, saw the modest bet and doubled it. 

Bill tossed his four queens and the ace of hearts face 
down in the discard and smiled. " Didn't get what I was 
lookin' for," he grinned into the set face across from him. 
" Got to have 'em before I can play 'em." 

Fisher hid his surprise and carelessly 'tossed his four 
kings and the six of diamonds, also face down, into the 
discard, fumbled the deck as he went to pass it over and 
spilled it on top of the cards on the table. Cursing at his 
clumsiness, he scrambled the cards together and pushed 


them toward his opponent. " My fingers must be gettin' 
all thumbs/' he growled as he raked in the money. What 
had happened ? Had he bungled the deal, or wasn't four 
queens big enough for the talkative fool across from him ? 

Bill smilingly agreed. "They do get that way at 
times," he remarked, shuffling with a swift flourish which 
made Johnny hide a smile. He pushed the pack out, Fisher 
cut it, and the flying cards dropped swiftly into two neat 
piles almost flush on their edges, which seemed to merit a 
murmur of appreciation from the crowd. Johnny shifted 
his weight to the other leg and prepared to enjoy the game. 

Fisher glanced at his hand and became instant prey to a 
turmoil of thoughts. Four queens, with an eight of clubs ! 
He looked across at the calm, reflective dealer who was 
rubbing the disgraceful stubble on his chin while he drew 
two cards partly from his hand and considered them 
seriously. He seemed to be perplexed. 

" I been playin' this game for more years than I feel like 
tellin'," Bill grumbled, whimsically; "but I ain't never 
been able really to decide one little thing." Becoming con 
scious that he might be delaying the game he looked up 
suddenly. "Have patience, friend. Oh, then it's all 
right ! You ain't discarded yet," he finished cheerfully. 
Throwing away the two cards he waited. 

"Gimme one," grunted Fisher, discarding, "an' I'm 
sayin' fifty dollars," he continued, shoving the money out 
without glancing at the card on the table. " How many 
you takin' ? " he asked. 

"Two," answered Bill, looking at him keenly. He 

glanced down at the single back showing on the table 

.before him and grinned. "Th' other's under it," he 


explained needlessly. "Well, I'm still an imitator," he 
chuckled. " Here's yore fifty, and fifty more. I'm sorry 
I ain't playin' in my own town, so I could borrow when 
it all gets up." 

Whatever Fisher's thoughts were he hid them well, 
and he was not to be the first one to weaken and look at 
the draw. He had a reputation to maintain, and he saw 
the raise and returned it Bill pushed out a hundred dol 
lars and Fisher came back, but his tenseness was growing. 

Bill considered, looked down at his unknown draw, 
shook his head and picked up one card. " I'm feelin' the 
strain," he growled, seeing the raise and repeating it. He 
glanced up at the crowd, which had grown considerably, 
and smiled grimly. 

Fisher evened up and raised again, watching his wor 
ried opponent, who scowled, sucked his lips, shook his 
head and then, with swift decision, picked up the other 
card. " I can't afford to quit now," he muttered. " Here 
goes for another boost ! " 

His opponent having wilted first and saved the 
gambler's face, Fisher picked up his own draw and when 
he saw it he stiffened, his thoughts racing again. It was 
no coincidence, he decided. In all of his experience he 
had known but two men who could do that, and here was 
a third! But still there was a hope that there was no 
third, that it was a coincidence. And there was quite a 
sum of money on the table. The doubt must be removed 
and the truth known, and another fifty, sent after its 
brothers was not too big a price to pay for such knowl 
edge. He pushed the money out onto the table. "I 
calls," he grunted. 


Bill dropped his little block of cards and spread them 
with a sweep of one hand, while the other was ready to 
make the baffling draw which had made him famous in 
other parts of the country. Fisher glanced at the four 
kings and nodded, all doubts laid to rest the third man 
sat across from him. 

He slowly pushed back as the crowd, not knowing just 
what to expect, scattered. "I'm tired. Shall we call 
it off for tonight? " he asked. 

Without relaxing Bill nodded. " Suits me. I'm tired, 
too ; an' near suffocated. See you tomorrow ? " 

Fisher grunted something as he arose and, turning 
abruptly, pushed through the thinning crowd to get a 
bracer at the bar, while the winner slowly hauled in the 
money. Gulping down the fiery liquor the gambler 
wheeled to go into the dark and deserted dining-room 
where he could sit in quiet and go over the problem again, 
and looked up to see the other gambler in his way. 

"What did you find out?" asked the other in a low 

" I found th' devil has come up out of h 1 ! " growled 
Fisher. " Come along an' I'll tell you about it. He's th' 
third man! Old Parson Davies was th' first, but he's 
dead ; Tex Ewalt was th' second, an' I ain't seen him in 
years cuss it ! I wondered why this man's play seemed 
familiar! He's got some of Tex's tricks of handlin' th' 

"Shore he ain't Tex?" 

"As shore as I am that you ain't," retorted Fisher; 
"but I'm willin' to bet he knows Tex. Come on let's 
get out of this hullabaloo. He's got a nerve, pickin' my 


cards, an' dealin' 'em alternate off th' top an' bottom, 
with me watchin' him ! " 

"We got to figger how to get it back," thoughtfully 
muttered the other, following closely. "Everythin's 
goin' wrong. They went after Nelson an' got somebody 
else; they stirred up th' T & C by robbin' th' bank, an* 
then had to go an' make it worse by gettin' Ridley ! I'm 
admittin' I'm walkin' soft, an' ready to jump th' country 
right quick." 

Fisher sank into a chair in the dining-room. "An* if 
Long hangs around here much longer Kane'll ditch me 
like a wore-out boot. A couple more losses like tonight 
an' he'll plumb forget my winnin's for th' past two years. 
An' me gettin' all cocked to strike him for a bigger per 
centage ! " 

Out in the reeking gambling-hall Bill put his empty 
glass on the bar and slid a gold piece at the smiling head 
man behind the counter. " Spend th' change on th' ladies 
in th' corner," he said. "It allus gives me luck; an' I 
had such luck tonight that I ain't aimin' to take no chances 
losin' it. Reckon I'll horn in on th' faro layout," and he 
did, where he managed to lose a part of his poker win 
nings before he turned in for the night. 

Up late the next morning he hastened into the dining- 
room to beat the closing of the doors and saw the head 
bartender eating a lonely breakfast. The dispenser of 
liquors beckoned and pushed back a chair at his table. 

Bill accepted the invitation and gave his order. 
"Well," he remarked, "yo're lookin' purty bright this 

"I'm gettin' so I don't need much sleep, I reckon," 


replied the bartender. " Did yore folks use a poker deck 
to cut yore teeth on ? " 

Bill laughed heartily. "My luck turned, an' Fisher 
happened to be th' one that got in th' way." 

" He says you play a lot like a feller he used to know." 

"That so? Who was he?" 


" Well, I ought to, for me an' Tex played a lot together, 
some years back. Wonder what ever happened to Tex? 
He ain't been down this way lately, has he ? " 

" No. I never saw him. Fisher knew him. He says 
Tex was th' greatest poker player that ever lived." 

"I reckon he's right/' replied Bill. "I'm plumb 
grateful to Tex. It ain't his fault that I don't play a 
better game. But I got an idea playin' like his has got 
to be born in a man." He ate silently for a moment. 
" Now that I'm spotted I reckon my poker playin' is over 
in here. Oh, well, I ain't complainin'. I can eat an' sleep 
here, an' find enough around town to keep me goin' for 
a little while, anyhow. Then I'll drift." 

" Unless, mebby, you play for th' house," suggested the 
bartender. " What kind of a game does that SV foreman 

"I never like to size a man up till I play with him," 
answered Bill. " I was sort of savin' him for myself, for 
he's got a fat roll. Now I reckon I'll have to let somebody 
else do th' brandin'." He sighed and went on with his 

" Get him into a little game an' see how good he is," 
suggested the other, arising. " Goin' to leave you now." 
He turned away and then stopped suddenly, facing around 


again. "Huh! I near forgot. Th' boss wants to see 

"Who? Kane? What about?" 

"He'll tell you that, I reckon." 

"All right. Tell him I'm in here." 

The other grinned. " I said th' boss wants to see you" 

" Shore ; I heard you." 

" People he wants to see go to him." 

" Oh, all right; why didn't you say so first off? Where 
is he?" 

"Thorpe will show you th' way. Whatever th' boss 
says, don't you go on th' prod. If yore feelin's get 
hurt, don't relieve 'em till you get out of his sight." 

"I've played poker too long to act sudden," grinned 
Bill, easily. 

His breakfast over, he sauntered into the gambling- 
room and stopped in front of Kit Thorpe, whose wel 
coming grin was quite a change from his attitude of the 
day before. "I've been told Kane wants to see me. 
Here I am." 

Thorpe opened the door, followed his companion 
through it and paused to close and bolt it, after which 
he kept close to the other's heels and gave terse, grunted 
directions. "Straight ahead to th' left to th' right 
straight ahead. Don't make no false moves after you 
open that door. Go ahead push it open." 

Bill obeyed and found himself in an oblong room which 
ran up to the opaque glass of a skylight fifteen feet above 
the floor, and five feet below the second skylight on the 
roof, in both of which the small panes were set in heavy 
metal bars. The room was cool and well ventilated. 


Before him, seated at the far side of a flat-topped, walnut 
desk of ancient vintage sat a tall, lean, white-haired man 
of indeterminate age, who leaned slightly forward and 
whose hands were not in sight. 

" Sit down," said Kane, in a voice of singular sweetness 
and penetrating timbre. For several minutes he looked 
at his visitor as a buyer might look at a horse, silent, 
thoughtful, his deeply-lined face devoid of any change 
in its austere expression. 

"Why did you come here?" he suddenly snapped. 

" To get out of th' storm," answered Bill. 

"Why else?" 

Bill looked around, up at the graven Thorpe and back 
again at his inquisitor, and shrugged his shoulders. 
" Mebby you can tell me," he answered before he remem 
bered to be less independent. 

"I think I can. Anyone who plays poker as well as 
you do has a very good reason for visiting strange towns. 
What is your name ? " 

" Bill Long." 

"I know that. I asked, what is your name?" 

Bill looked around again and then sat up stiffly. " That 
ain't interestin' us." 

" Where are you from ? " 

Bill shrugged his shoulders and remained silent. 

" You are not very talkative today. How did you get 
that Highbank horse?" 

Bill acted a little surprised and anxious. "L I don't 
know," he answered foolishly. 

" Very well. When you make up your mind to answer 
my questions I have a proposition to offer you which you 


may find to be mutually advantageous. In the mean 
while, do not play poker in this house. That's all." 

Thorpe coughed and opened the door, and swiftly 
placed a hand on the shoulder of the visitor. "Time 
to go," he said. 

Bill hesitated and then slowly turned and led the way, 
saying nothing until he was back in the gambling-hall 
and Thorpe again kept his faithful vigil over the check 
ered door. 

"Cuss it," snorted Bill, remembering that in the part 
he was playing he had determined to be loquacious. "If 
I told him all he wanted to know I'd be puttin' a rope 
around my neck an' givin' him th' loose end! So he's 
got a proposition to make, has he? Th' devil with him 
an' his propositions. I don't have to play poker in his 
place there's plenty of it bein' played outside this 
buildin', I reckon. For two-bits I'd 'a' busted his neck 
then an' there ! " 

"You'd 'a' been spattered all over th' room if you'd 
made a play," replied Thorpe, a little contempt in his 
voice for such boasting words from a man who had acted 
far from them when in the presence of Kane. He had 
this stranger's measure. "An' you mind what he said 
about play in' in here, or I'll make you climb up th' wall, 
you'll be that eager to get out. You think over what he 
said, an' drift along. I'm busy." 

Bill, his frown hiding inner smiles, slowly turned and 
walked defiantly away, his swagger increasing with the 
distance covered ; and when he reached the street he was 
exhaling dignity, and chuckled with satisfaction he 
had seen behind the partition and met Kane. He passed 


the bank, once more normal, except for the armed guards, 
and bumped into Fisher, who frowned at him and kept 
on going. 

"Hey!" called Bill. "I want to ask you somethin'." 

Fisher stopped and turned. "Well?" he growled, 

Bill went up close to him. "Just saw Kane. He says 
he has got somethin' to offer me. What is it?" 

" My job, I reckon ! " snapped the gambler. 

" Yore job ? " exclaimed his companion. " I don't want 
yore job. If I'd 'a' knowed that was it I'd 'a' told him 
so, flat. I'm playin' for myself. An' say : He orders me 
not to play no more poker in his place. Wouldn't that 
gall you ? " 

" Then I wouldn't do it," said the gambler, taking his 
arm. " Come in an' have a drink. What else did he 

Bill told him and wound up with a curse. "An' that 
Thorpe said he'd make me climb up th' wall! Wonder 
who he thinks he is Bill Hickok? " 

Fisher laughed. " Oh, he don't mean nothin'. He's a 
lookin'-glass. When Kane laughs, he laughs ; when Kane 
has a sore toe, he's plumb crippled. But, just th' same 
I'm tellin' you Thorpe's a bad man with a gun. Don't 
rile him too much. Say, was you ever paired up with 

Bill put down his glass with deliberate slowness. 
" Look here ! " he growled. " I'm plumb tired of answerin' 
personal questions. Not meanin' to hurt yore feelin's 
none, I'm sayin' it's my own cussed business what my 
name is, where I come from, who my aunt was, an' how 


old I was when I was born. I never saw such an' old- 
woman's town ! " 

Fisher laughed and slapped his shoulder. "Keep all 
four feet on th' ground, Long ; but it is funny, now ain't 

Bill grinned sheepishly. "Mebby but for a little 
while I couldn't see it that way. Have one with me, after 
which I'm goin' up an' skin that SV man before you can 
get a crack at him. He's fair lopsided with money. If 
I can't play poker in Kane's, I shore can send a lot of 
folks to his place with nothin' left but their pants an' 
socks ! " 

"Don't overdo it," warned Fisher. "Come on I'm 
headin' back an' I'll leave you at Quayle's." 

" How'd you ever come to let that yearlin'-mad fore 
man keep away from yore game?" asked Bill as they 
started up the street. " Strikes me you shore overlooked 

" Does look like it, from a distance," admitted Fisher, 
grinning. " Reckon we was goin' too easy with him ; but 
we didn't know you was goin' to turn up an' horn in. We 
never like to stampede a good prospect by bein' hasty. 
We felt him out a little an' I was figgerin' on amusin' him 
right soon. There's somethin' cussed queer about him. 
We're all guessin', an' guessin' different" 

"Yes?" inquired Bill carelessly. "I didn't notice 
nothin' queer about him. He acts a little too shore of 
hisself, which is how I like 'em. You ain't got a chance 
to get him now, for I'm goin' to set on his fool head an* 
burn a nice, big BL on his flank. So any little thing that 
you know shore will come in handy. I'd do th' same for 


you. I'm through spoilin' yore game in Kane's, an' I 
didn't take yore job. What's so queer about him? " 

Fisher glanced at his companion and shook his head. 
" It ain't nothin' about cards. He figgered in a mistake 
that was made, an' don't know how lucky he was. Th' 
boss don't often slip up an' there's a white man an' 
some Greasers in this town that are cussed lucky too. 
They blundered, but they got what they went after. An' 
nobody's heard a word about th' gent that was wwlucky, 
which makes me suspicious. I got a headache tryin' to 
figger it." He shook his head again and then exclaimed 
in sudden anger: "An' I've quit tryin'! Kane was all 
set to throw me into th' discard as soon as you come along. 
He can think what he wants to, for all I care. But let 
me tell you this : If you win a big roll in this town, an' th' 
one you got now is plenty big enough, be careful how you 
wander around after dark. I reckon I owe you that much, 

Bill stopped in front of the hotel. " I don't know what 
yo're talkin' about, but that don't make no difference. 
Th' last part was plain. Come in an' have somethin'." 

Fisher looked at him and smiled. " Friend, I'd just as 
soon be seen goin' in there now as I would be seen rustlin' 
a herd ; an' it might even be worse for me. Let it go till 
you come up to our place. Adios." 



ENTERING the barroom of the hotel Bill bought a 
cigar, talked aimlessly for a few minutes with Ed 
Doane and then wandered into the office, where Johnny 
was seated in a chair tipped back against the wall and 
talking to the proprietor. Bill nodded, took a seat and 
let himself into the conversation by easy stages, until 
Quayle was talking to him as much as he was to Johnny, 
and the burden of his words was Ridley's death. 

Bill spat in disgust. " That ain't th' way to get a man ! " 
he exclaimed. "Looks like some Greaser had a grudge 
agin' him somebody he's mebby fired off his payroll, 
or suspected of cattle-liftin'." 

"You're a stranger here," replied the proprietor. "I 
can tell ut aisy." 

"I am, an' glad of it," replied Bill, smiling; "but I'm 
learnin' th' ways of yore town rapid. I already know 
Fisher's poker game, Thorpe's nature, an' Pecos Kane's 
looks an' disposition. I cleaned Fisher at poker, Thorpe 
has threatened to make me climb up a wall, an' Kane told 
me, cold an' personal, to quit playin' poker in his place. 
I also learned that a white man an' some Greasers made 
a big mistake, but got what they went after ; that Fisher 
riggers different from Kane an' th' others ; an' that Kane 



won't slip up th' next time, after dark, 'specially if he 
don't use th' same fellers. All that I heard ; but what it's 
about I don't know, or care." 

Johnny was laughing at the humor of the newcomer, 
and waved from Bill to Quayle. " Tim, this is Bill Long, 
that we heard about, for I saw him clean out Fisher. 
Long, this is Quayle, an' my name's Nelson. Cuss it, 
man ! I'd say you was gettin' acquainted fast. What was 
that you was sayin' about th' white man an' th' Greasers, 
an' some mistake? It was sort of riled up." 

" It riled up," chuckled Bill, crossing his legs. " I 
gave it out just like I got it. As I says to Fisher last 
night, I'm a imitator. Any news about th' robbery?" 

Quayle snorted. " Fine chance ! An' d'ye think they'd 
be after tellin' on thimselves? That's th' only way for 
any news to be heard." 

"I may be a stranger," replied Bill; "but I'm no 
stranger to human nature, which is about th' same in one 
place as it is in another. If that reward don't pan out 
some news, then I'm loco." 

Quayle listened to a call from the kitchen. "It's th' 
only chance, then," he flung over his shoulder as he left 
them. "It's that d d Mick. I'll be back soon." 

Johnny, with a glance at the barroom door, leaned 
slightly forward and whispered one word, his eyes moist : 

Bill Long squirmed and grinned. " You flat-headed 
sage-hen!" he breathed. "/ want to see you in secret." 

Johnny nodded. "I reckon th' reward might start 
somethin' out in th' open, but I wouldn't want to be th' 
man that tried for it." His voice dropped to a whisper. 


" We'll take a ride this afternoon from Kane's, plain an' 
open." In his natural voice he continued. " But, Twitchell 
an' Carpenter are shore powerful. An' they've got th' 
men an' th' money." 

"Do you reckon anybody had a personal grudge?" 
asked Bill. "I'll fix it." 

" I'm near as much a stranger here as you are," answered 
Johnny, "though I sold Ridley some cattle. I met him 
before, on th' range around Gunsight. Nice feller, he was. 
What time? 

" He must 'a' been a good man, to work for th' T & C," 
replied Bill. "After dinner." 

"He was." 

" Oh, well ; it ain't my funeral. Feel like a little game ? " 

" I used to think I could play poker," chuckled Johnny; 
" but I woke up last night. Seein' as how I still got them 
yearlin's to buy, I don't feel like playin'." 

Quayle's voice boomed out suddenly from the kitchen. 
" If yer fingers was feet ye'd be as good! Hould it, now 

if ut slips this time I'll be after bustin' yer head. I've 
showed ye a dozen times how to put it back, an' still ye 
yell fer me. There, now hould it! Hand me th' wire 

annybody'd think blast th' blasted man that made ut ! 
Some Dootchman, I'll wager." 

" Shure an' we ought to get a new wan it's warped 
crooked, an' cracked " 

" We should, should we ? " roared the proprietor. "An' 
who are 'we' ? Only tin years old, an' it's a new wan we'd 
be gettin', is ut? What we ought to be gettin' is a new 
cook, an' wan that's not cracked. Now, th' nixt time ye 
poke ut, poke gintly ye ain't makin' post holes with that 


poker. An' now look at me " A door slammed and a 
washbasin sounded like tin. 

Ed Doane's laugh sounded from the barroom and he 
appeared in the doorway, where he grinned. " I hear it 
frequent, but it's allus funny. Sometimes they near come 
to blows." 

"Stove?" queried Bill. 

"Shore th' grate's buckled out of shape, an' it's a 
little short. Murphy gets mad at th' fire an' prods it good 
an' then th' show starts all over again. It's funnier than 
th' devil when th' old man gets a blister from it, for he 
talks so that nobody but Murphy can understand one word 
in ten. Easy ! Here he comes." 

" Buy a new wan, is ut ? " muttered the proprietor, his 
red face bearing a diagonal streak of soot. "Shure 
for him to spile, like he spiled this wan. Ah, byes, I'm 
tellin' ye th' hotel business ain't what it used to be." 

" Yore face looks funny," said Ed. 

Quayle turned on him. " Oh, it does, does ut ? Well, 
if my face don't suit ye now would ye look at that?" 
he demanded as he caught sight of his reflection in the 
dingy mirror over the desk. "But it ain't so bad, at 
that; th' black's above th' red!" 

" Hey, Tim ! " came from the kitchen. " Thought ye 
said ye fixed ut ? Ut's down agin ! " 

"I I I ! " sputtered Quayle wildly. He spread the 
soot over his face with a despairing sweep of his sleeve, 
leaped into the air and started on a lumbering run for the 
kitchen. "You I d n it!" he yelled, and the 
kitchen resounded to his bellowing demands for the cook. 

Ed Doane wiped his eyes, looked around and shouted, 


his out-thrust hand pointing to a window, where a red 
face peered into the room. 

" Shure," said the cook, apologetically, " he's the divvil 
himself. If I stay here wan more day me name ain't 
Murphy. Will wan av yez, that ain't go no interest in th' 
dommed stove, tell that Mick to buy a new grate? An* 
would ye listen to him, now? " 

When he was able to Bill arose. "Well, I reckon I'll 
go up an' look in at Kane's. If I run this way, don't 
stop me." 

Sauntering up the street he came to the south side of 
the gambling-hall and went along it, and when a certain 
number of paces beyond the fifth high window, the sill 
of which was above his head, he stumbled and fell. Swear 
ing under his breath he picked up a Colt which had slipped 
from its holster and, arising to hands and knees, looked 
around and then stood up. He could see under the entire 
building except at the point where he had fallen, and 
there he saw that under Kane's private room the walls 
went down into the earth. When he reached the stables he 
entered the one which sheltered his horse, closed the door 
behind him and made a hasty examination of the building, 
but found nothing which made him suspect a secret exit. 
He came to the opinion that the boards went down to the 
earth below Kane's quarters for the purpose of not allow 
ing anyone to crawl under his rooms. In a few minutes he 
led his horse outside, mounted and rode around to the 
front of the gambling-hall, where he dismounted and went 
in for a drink, scowling slightly at the vigilant and mili 
tant Mr. Thorpe, who returned the look with interest. 

" Got a cayuse ? " he asked the bartender. 


The other shook his head. " No, why ? " 

"Thought mebby you'd like to ride along with me. 
That one of mine will be better for a little exercise. What's 
east of here?" 

" Sand hills, dried lakes, an' th' desert." 

" Then I'll go west," grinned Bill. " But mebby it's th' 
same ? " 

"It ain't bad over that way; but why don't you ride 
south ? There's real good country down in them valleys." 

"Ain't that where th' T & C is? " 

The bartender nodded. 

" iWest is good enough for me. Better get a cayuse an* 
come along." 

" Can't do it, an' I ain't set a saddle in two years. I'd 
be a cripple if I stuck to you. Why don't you hunt up that 
Nelson feller? He ain't got nothin' to do." 

" Just left him. Don't reckon he'd care to go. Huh ! " 
he muttered, looking at the clock. " I reckon I'll eat first, 
an' ride after." 

Shortly after dinner Johnny strolled in and nodded to 
the bartender, who immediately called to Bill Long. 

" Here's Nelson now ; mebby he'll go with you," he said. 

"Go where?" asked Johnny, pausing. 


"What for?" 

" Exercise. He wants to take th' devilishness out of his 
horse. You got one, too, ain't you ? " 

" Shore have," answered Johnny. "An' she's gettin' 
mean, too. It ain't a bad idea. Where are you goin', 

"Anywhere, everywhere, or nowhere," answered Bill 


carelessly. " I'm aiming to ride him to a frazzle, an' I 
got to cut down his feed more." 

"All right, if you says so," agreed Johnny, joining the 

Red Thompson rode up to the door and came in. " Hey, 
anybody that's goin' down th' trail wants to ride easy. 
That T & C gang are so suspicious that they're insultin'. 
Got four men ridin' along their wire, with rifles across 
their pommels. Looks like they was goin' on th' prod." 

Thorpe silently withdrew, to reappear in a few minutes 
and resume his watch. 

Bill arose and nodded to Johnny as he went out. 
"Ready, Nelson?" he asked. 

In a few minutes they met in front of the gambling-hall, 
and the SV foreman's black caused admiring and covetous 
looks to show on the faces of the idle group. 

" Foller th' trail leadin' to Lukins' ranch, over west," 
suggested Fisher. " It's better than cross-country. You'll 
strike it half a mile above." 

Long nodded and led the way, both animals prancing 
and bucking mildly to work off some of their accumulated 
energy. Reaching the cross trail they swung along it at 
a distance-eating lope. 

" Tell me about everything" suggested Johnny. " How'd 
you come to ride south ? " 

" Kid," said Hopalong, " you got th' best cayuse ever 
raised in Montanny. That Englishman was shore right : 
it pays to cross 'em with thoroughbreds." Moodily silent 
for a moment, he slowly continued. " Kid, I've lost Mary, 
an' William, Junior. Fever took 'em in four days, an' 
never even touched me! I'm all alone. Either you move 


up north, or I stay with you till I die. An' if I do that 
I'll miss Red an' th' others like th' devil. I'm goin' to 
have a good look at that Bar-H, that you chased them 
thieves off of. Montanny is too far north, an' I'm feelin' 
th' winters too hard. An' it's gettin' settled too fast, an' 
bein' ploughed up more every year. But all of this can 
wait : what's goin' on down here that I don't know ? " 

Johnny told him and when he had finished and listened 
to what his friend knew they spent the rest of the time 
discussing the situation from every angle and arranged a 
few simple signals, resurrected from the past, to serve 
in the press of any sudden need. They met two punchers 
riding in from Lukins' ranch, exchanged nods and then 
turned south into the cattle trail, crossed a crescent arroyo 
and turned again, when below the town, under the sus 
picious eyes of a Question-Mark sentry hidden in a thicket. 
Following the main trail north they entered the town and 
parted at Quayle's. 

The evening passed uneventfully in Kane's and when 
the group began to break up Bill Long went up to his 
room. Gradually man after man deserted the gambling- 
hall, until only Johnny and the head bartender were left, 
and after half an hour's dragging conversation the dis 
penser of liquids yawned and nodded decisively. 

"Nelson, I'm goin' to lock up after you. See you 

"Most sensible words said tonight," replied Johnny, 
and he stepped out, the door closing behind him. The 
lights went out, one by one, with a tardiness due to their 
height from the floor, and he stood quietly for a moment, 
scrutinizing the sky and enjoying the refreshing coolness. 


Moving out into the middle of the street he sauntered 
toward the dark hotel, every sense alert as a previous 
experience came back to him. Suddenly a barely audible 
sound, like the cracking of a toe joint, caused him to leap 
aside. An indistinct figure plunged past him, so close 
that he felt the wind of it. His gun roared while he was 
in the air and when he alighted he was crouched, facing 
the rear, where another figure blundered into the second 
shot and dropped. Swiftly padding feet came nearer and 
he slipped further to the side, letting the sound pass with 
out hindrance. Moving softly forward he turned and 
crept along the wall of a building, smiling grimly at the 
low Spanish curses behind him on the street Again the 
kitchen door served him well and the deeper blackness 
of the interior silently engulfed him. 

Up at Kane's, Red Thompson, who was awake and 
waiting until the building should be wrapped in sleep, 
heard the shots and crept to the window. He could see 
nothing, but he heard whispers and heavy, slow and 
shuffling steps, which drew steadily nearer. The Mexican 
tongue was no puzzle to Red, whose years largely had 
been spent in a country where it was constantly used and 
his fears, instantly aroused, were soon followed by a 
savage grin. 

" That Nelson, he is a devil," floated up to him, the 
words a low growl. 

"Again he got away. I will not face the Big Boss. 
It is the second failure, and with Anton dead, an' Juan's 
arm broken, I shall leave this town. Put him here, at the 
door. May God forgive his sins! Adios!" 

" Wait, Sanchez ! " called a companion. " We will all 


go, even Juan, for he'd better ride than remain. There 
will be trouble." 

" What's all th' hellabaloo ? " came Thorpe's truculent 
voice in English from the corner of the building, where 
he stood, clad only in boots and underwear, a six-shooter 
in his upraised hand. At the sudden soft scurrying of 
feet he started forward, and then checked himself. 

"If them Greasers bungled it this time, may th' Lord 
help 'em. They'll shore get a-plenty. I wouldn't be " 
he stopped and stared at the door, and then moved closer 
to it. " By G d, they got him ! " he whispered, and bent 
down, his hand passing over the indistinct figure. " Huh ! 
I take it all back," he muttered in disgust. "That's a 
Greaser, by feel an' smell. They made more of a mess of 
it this time than they did before. Well, you ain't no fit 
ornament for th' front door. Might as well move you 
myself," and, grumbling, he grabbed hold of the collar 
and dragged the unresisting bulk around to the rear, where 
he carelessly dropped it and went back into the building. 
Soon two Mexicans, rubbing sleepy eyes, emerged with 
shovel and spade, that the dawn should find nothing more 
than a carefully hidden grave. 

Red waited a little longer and then, knowing better 
than to go on his feet along the old floor of the hall, inched 
slowly over it on his stomach, careful to let each board 
take his weight gradually. Reaching the second door on 
his left he slowly pushed it open, chuckling with pride at 
his friend's forethought in oiling the one squeaking hinge. 
Closing it gently he scratched on the floor twice and then 
went on again toward the answering scratch. An hour 
passed in the softest of whispering and when he at last 


entered his own room again and carefully stood up, the 
darkness hid a rare smile on his tanned and leathery 
face, which an exultant thought had lighted. 

"Th' Old Days: They're comin' back again!" he 
gloated. "Me, an' Hoppy, an' the Kid! Glory be!" 
and the smile persisted until he awakened at dawn, when 
it moved from the wrinkled face to the secrecy of his 



IF SANDY BEND had been seized with a local spasm 
when the senior member of the T & C had learned of 
the robbery of the Mesquite bank, it now was having a 
very creditable fit. The little printing-shop was the scene 
of bustling activities and soon a small bundle of handbills 
was on its way to the office of the cattle king. McCul- 
lough, drive-boss par excellence and one of the surviving 
frontiersmen who not only had made history in several 
localities, but had helped to wear the ruts in the old Santa 
Fe Trail until the creeping roadbed of the railroad had put 
the trail with other interesting relics of the past, was 
rudely torn from his seven-up game with his cronies by 
one of the several couriers who lathered horses at the 
snapping behest of the senior partner. He hastened to 
the office, rumbled across the outer room and pushed open 
the door of the holy of holies without even the semblance 
of a knock. He was blunt, direct, and no respecter of 

" Hello, Charley ! " he grunted. " What's loose now ? " 

" H 1's loose ! " snapped Twitchell. " Ridley's been 

murdered by one of Kane's gang. Shot in th' back 

head near blowed off. There's only four men up there 

now, an' they may be dead by this time. Take as many 



men as you need an' go up there we just bought a herd 
of SV cows, if there's any left. But I want th' man that 
killed Ridley. That's first. I want th' man who robbed 
th' bank that's second. An' I want Pecos Kane 
that's first, second, an' third. D n it! I growed up 
with Tom Ridley ! " 

"I'll take twenty men an' bring you th' whole gang 
but some of 'em will shore spoil before we can get 'em 
here, this kind of weather. Do I burn that end of th' 

"You'll burn nothin'," retorted Twitchell. "You'll 
not risk a man until you have to. You'll stay on th' ranch 
an' watch th' cattle. I've lost one good man now, an* 
I'm spendin' money before I risk losin' any more. There's 
a bundle of handbills. When they've been digested by 
that bunch of assassins you can sit in th' bunkhouse an' 
have yore game delivered to you, all tied up, an' tagged." 

"Orders is orders," growled McCullough; "but some 
are d d fool orders. If you want somebody to set on th' 
front porch an' whittle, why'n h 1 are you cuttin' me 
out of th' herd for th' job ? " 

" I'm cuttin' you out because I want my best man out 
there ! " retorted the senior member heatedly. " You may 
find it lively settin',-an' have to do yore whittlin' with 
rifles an' six-guns. Look out that somebody don't whittle 
you at eight hundred while yo're settin' on th' front porch ! 
You talk like you think yo're goin' to a prayer meetin' ! " 

"I'm hopin' they come that close," said McCullough, 
picking up the package of bills. " So Tom's gone, huh ? 
Charley, there ain't many of us left no more. Remember 
how you an' Ridley an' me used to go off trappin' them 


winters, hundreds of miles into th' mountains, with only 
what we could easy carry on our backs ? That was livin'." 

" You get out of here, you old fraud ! " roared Twitchell. 
"Ain't I got enough to bother me now? Take care of 
yoreself, Mac; an' my way's worth tryin', an' tryin' good. 
If it don't work, then we'll have to try yore way." 

"All right; I'll give it a fair ride, Charley; but it will 
be time wasted," replied the trail-boss. " In that case I'm 
takin' a dozen men. We relay at th' Squaw Creek corrals, 
an' again at Sweetwater Bottoms. Send a wagon after 
us you'll know what we'll need. You send a new boss 
to th' Sweetwater, for I'm pickin' up Waffles. He's one 
of th' best men you got, an' he's been picketed at that two- 
bits station long enough." 

"Good luck, Mac. Take who you want. Yo're th* 
boss. Any play you make will be backed to th' limit by 

When McCullough got outside he found a crowd of 
men which the hard-riding couriers had sent in from all 
parts of the town. They shouted questions and got terse 
answers as he picked his dozen, the twelve best out of a 
crowd of good men, all known to him in person and by 
deeds. The lucky dozen smiled exultantly at the scowling 
unfortunates and dashed up the street in a bunch after 
their grizzled pacemaker. One of the last, glancing be 
hind him, saw a stern- faced, sorrowful man in a black 
store suit standing in the office door looking wistfully 
after them; and the rider, gifted with understanding, 
raised his hand to his hat brim and faced around. 

"Th' old man's sorry he's boss," he confided to his 
nearest companion. 


"An' there's plenty up in Mesquite that will be th' 
same," came the reply. 

Despite his years McCullough held his lead without 
crowding from the rear, for he was of the hard-riding 
breed and toughened to the work. When the first relay 
was obtained at Squaw Creek that evening there were 
several who felt the strain more than the leader. A hasty 
supper and they were gone again, pounding into the gath 
ering dusk of the northwest. All night they rode along 
a fair trail, strung out behind a man who kept to it with 
uncanny certainty. Dawn found them changing mounts 
in Sweetwater Bottoms, but without the snap displayed 
at the Squaw. Waffles, one-time foreman of the O-Bar-O, 
needed all his habitual repression to keep from favoring 
them with a war dance when he heard his luck. Impa 
tiently waiting for the surprised but enthusiastic cook to 
prepare their breakfasts, they made short work of the 
meal when it appeared and rolled on again, silent, grim, 
heavy-lidded, but cheerful. They gladly would do more 
than that for McCullough, Twitchell and Tom Ridley. 
The second evening found them riding up to the buildings 
of the Question-Mark, guns across their pommels, and 
they were thankfully received. 

Mesquite awakened the next morning to a surprise, for 
handbills were scattered on its few streets and had been 
pushed under doors, one of them under the front door 
of Kane's gambling-hall. When Johnny came down to 
breakfast the proprietor handed him the sheet, pointing 
to its flaming headline. 

" Read that, me bye ! " cried Quayle. 

Johnny obeyed : 


$2,500.00 REWARD! 

For Information Leading to the Capture and 
Conviction of the Murderer of Tom Ridley 


JOHN McCULLOUGH, Gen'l. Supt., Mesquite 

He thoughtlessly shoved it into his pocket and shrug 
ged his shoulders. " That man Twitchell thinks a lot of 
his money," he said. " But, if it's his way, it's his way. 
I'm glad to say it ain't mine." 

Quayle looked at him from under heavy brows and 
smiled faintly. " Mac's here, hisself," he said. "They've 
raised th' ante, an' if I was as young as you I'd have a 
try at th' game. An', me bye, it isn't only th' money; 
'tis a duty, an' a pleasure. Go in an' eat, now, before that 
wild Mick av a cook scalps ye." 

Hoofbeats pounded up the street from the south and a 
Mexican galloped past towards Kane's, followed on foot 
by several idlers. 

" There ye go ! " savagely growled the proprietor; " an' 
I hope ye saw a-plenty, ye Greaser dog!" 

After a hurried breakfast Johnny went up to Kane's 
and found an air of tension and suspicion. Men were 
going in and out of the door through the partition and the 
half-friendly smiles which he had received the night before 
were everywhere missing. Feeling the chill of his recep 
tion did not blunt his powers of observation, for he saw 
that both Red Thompson and Bill Long, being unac- 


credited strangers, drew an occasional suspicious glance. 
The former was seated in a chair at the lower end of the 
bar, his back to the wall and only a step from the dining- 
room door. Bill Long was leaning against the upper end 
of the counter, where it turned at right angles to meet the 
wall behind it. At Bill's back and only two steps away was 
the front door. His chin was in his hand and his elbow 
rested on the bar, where he appeared to be moodily study 
ing the floor behind the counter, but in reality his keen, 
narrowed eyes were watching Thorpe and the loopholes in 
the checkerboard. From his position he caught the light 
on them at just the right angle to see the backing plates. 
He let Johnny go past him without more than a casual 
glance and nod. 

Thorpe moved forward, cleaving a straight path 
through the restless crowd and stopped in front of the 
newcomer. "Nelson," he said, tartly; "th' boss wants 
to see you, pronto!" As he spoke he let his swinging hand 
rest against the butt of his gun. 

Johnny took plenty of time for his answer, his mind 
working at top speed. If Kane had caused inquiries to 
be made around Gunsight concerning him he knew that 
the report hardly would please any man who was against 
law and order; and he knew that Kane had had plenty 
of time to make the inquiries. The thinly veiled hostility 
and suspicions on the faces around him settled that ques 
tion in his mind. He slouched sidewise until he had 
Thorpe in a better position between him and the partition. 

" You shore made a mistake," he drawled. " Th' boss 
never even heard of me." 

"I said pronto!" snapped Thorpe. 


"Well, as long as yo're so pressin'," came the slow, 
acquiescent reply, "you can go to h / 1" 

Thorpe's gun got halfway out, and stopped as a heavy 
Colt jabbed into his stomach with a force which knocked 
the breath out of him and doubled him up. Johnny's 
other gun, deftly balanced between his palm and the thumb 
on its hammer, freezing the expressions as it had found 
them on the faces of the crowd. " Stick up yore han's ! 
All of you! You, in the chair! " he roared. " Stick 'em 
up ! " and Red lost no time in making up for his delin 
quency. Bill Long, being out of the angry man's sight, 
raised his only halfway. 

"I was welcome enough last night," snapped Johnny; 
" but somethin's wrong today. If Kane wants to see me, 
he can send somebody that can talk without insultin' me. 
An' as for this sick cow, I'm warnin' him fair that I shoot 
at th' first move, his move or anybody else's. Stand up, 
you!" he shouted; "an' f oiler me outside. Keep close, 
an' plumb in front of me. I'll turn you loose when I get 
to cover. Come on!" 

As he backed toward the door, Thorpe following, Bill 
Long, seeing that Johnny was master of the situation, got 
his hands all the way up, but the motion was observed and 
Johnny's gun left Thorpe long enough to swing aside and 
cover the tardy one. " You keep 'em there ! " he gritted. 
"You can rest 'em later!" and he cautiously backed 
against the door, moved along it the few inches necessary 
to gain the opening, and felt his way to the street. " Don't 
you gamble, Thorpe ! " he warned. " Stick closer ! " 

Being furthest from the front door and soonest out of 
Johnny's sight, Red Thompson let his hands fall to his 


hips and cautiously peered over the top of the bar, ready 
to cover the crowd until Bill Long could drop his upraised 

Bill was unfortunate, since he would have to be the 
last man to assume a more natural position; but he was 
growing tired and suddenly flung himself sidewise beyond 
the door opening. As he left the bar there came a heavy 
report from the street and the bullet, striking the edge of 
the counter where he had stood, glanced upward and 
entered the ceiling, a generous cloud of dust moving 
slowly downward. 

" He's a mad dog," muttered Bill, shrinking against the 
wall. "An' he can shoot like h 1 ! I reckon he's itchin' 
to get me on sight, now. Somebody look out an' see where 
he is. But what'n blazes is it all about, anyhow ? " 

The chief bartender's head reappeared further down, 
the counter. " You fool ! " he yelled. " Why didn't you 
let me know what you was goin' to do ? Don't you never 
think of nobody but yourself ? That parted my hair ! " 

Fisher swore disgustedly. "Look out, yourself, Long, 
if yo're curious! But why didn't you get him?" he de 
manded. " You was behind him ! " 

" I wasn't neither behind him ; I was on th' side ! " re 
torted Bill. " He was watchin' me out of th' corner of his 
eye, like th' d d rattler he is ! I could see it plain, I tell 

"You can see lots of things when yo're scared stiff, 
can't you ? " sneered a voice in the crowd. 

" I wasn't scared," defended Bill. " But I wasn't takin' 
no chances for th' glory of it. He never done nothin' to 
me, an' I ain't on Kane's payroll yet." 


"An' you ain't goin' to be, I reckon," laughed another. 

Fisher's face proclaimed that he had solved whatever 
problem there might be in Bill's lack of action. "Ain't 
had a chance to get it from him yet, huh?" he asked. 
Sneering, he gave a warning as he turned away. "An' 
don't you try for it, neither. If he won't come back here 
no more, I can get him playin' somewhere else." 

Red arose fully and stretched, hearing a slight grating 
hoise at a loophole in the partition behind him, where the 
slide dropped into place. "I'm dry; bone dry," he an 
nounced. " I never was so dry before. All in favor of a 
drink, step up. I'm payin' for this round." 

All were in favor of it, and the bartender moved slowly 
behind the counter toward the front door, his head bent 
over far to the right. " Don't see him ; but we better wait 
till Thorpe comes back. Great guns ! Did you see it ! " 
he marveled. 

" I can see it better now than I could then," said Red, 
leaning against the bar. " Come on, boys ; he's done gone. 
This means you, too, Long; 'though I ain't sayin' you 
hardly earned it. If he saw you before he backed up, I 
says he's got eyes in his ears. Why, cuss it, he was lookin' 
plumb at me all th' time. You got too hefty an imagina 
tion, Long." 

Out in the street Johnny, backing swiftly from the 
building, saw Bill Long's sudden leap and fired, for moral 
effect, at the place vacated. Yanking his captive's gun 
from its holster, he was about to toss it aside when his 
fingers gripped the telltale butt and a colder look gleamed 
in his eyes. Slipping his right-hand gun into its holster 
he gripped the captured weapon affectionately, and then 


hazarded a quick glance around him. Someone was riding 
rapidly down the trail from the north, and a second side- 
wise glance told him that it was Idaho. 

" Faster, you ! " he growled to the doorkeeper. " Keep 
a-comin' keep a-comin'. One false move an' Kane'll 
need another sentry. You may be able to make Bill Long 
climb up a wall, but I ain't in his class." 

Idaho, who was riding in to appease his burning curi 
osity, felt its flames lick instantly higher as he saw his 
friend back swiftly from Kane's front door, with Thorpe 
apparently hooked on the sight of the six-gun. Drawing 
rein instantly in his astonishment, he at once loosened 
them and whirled into the scanty and scrawny vegetation 
on the far side of the trail. Going at a dead run he sent 
the wiry little pony over piles of cans, around cacti and 
other larger obstructions until he reached the rear of Red 
Frank's, facing on the next street. Here he pulled up and 
drew the Winchester from its scabbard, feeling that 
Johnny was capable of taking care of Kane's if not inter 
fered with from behind. 

Johnny, reaching the rear of the building which he had 
sought the night before, leaped back and to one side as 
he came to the end of the wall, glanced along the rear end 
and then curtly ordered Thorpe back to his friends. 

" There'll be more to this," snarled Thorpe, white from 
anger, his face working. His courage was not of the 
fineness necessary to let him yield to the mad impulse 
which surged over him and urged him to throw himself, 
hands, feet and teeth, in a blind and hopeless attack upon 
the certain death which balanced itself in the gun in 
Johnny's hand. His blazing eyes fixed full on his enemy's, 


he let discretion be his tutor and slowly, grudgingly 
stepped back, his dragging feet moving only inches at each 
shuffle, while their owner, poised and tense and ready to 
take advantage of any slip on Johnny's part, backed 
toward the sandy street and the scene of his discomfiture. 
At last reaching the front of the building he paused, 
stood slowly erect and then wheeled about and strode 
toward Kane's. At the door he glanced once more at his 
waiting adversary and then plunged into the room, 
striding straight for the partition door without a single 
sidewise glance. 

Idaho's voice broke the spell. " I thought he was goin' 
to risk it," he muttered, a deep sigh of relief following 
the words. "He was near loco, but he just about had 
enough sense left to save his worthless life. You would 
'a' bio wed him apart at that distance." 

" I'd 'a' smashed his pointed jaw ! " growled Johnny. 
" I ain't shootin' nobody that don't reach for a gun. An' 
if I'd had any sense I'd 'a' chucked th' guns to you an' 
let him have his beatin'. Next time, I will. Fine sort of 
a dog he is, tellin' me what I'm goin' to do, an' when I'm 
goin' to do it ! " 

"Wait till pay day, when I'll have more money," 
chuckled Idaho. "I can easy get three to two around 
here. He's th' champeen rough-an'-tumble fighter for 
near a hundred miles, but I'm sayin' any man with th' 
everlastin' nerve to pull Kit Thorpe out from his own 
kennel an' pack ain't got sense enough to know when 
he's licked. An' that bein' so, I'm bettin' on yore condi 
tion to win. He's gettin' fat an' shortwinded from doin' 
nothin'. Besides, I'm one of them fools that allus bets 


on a friend." He laughed as certain memories passed 
before him. "I've done had a treat come on, an' let 
me treat you. How many was in there when you pulled 
him out ? An' why didn't th' partition work like it allus 
did before?" 

"Because th' man that worked it was out in front," 
answered Johnny. "Things went too fast for anybody 
else to get behind it." A sudden grin slipped to his face. 
"Hey, I got one of my pet guns back! He was wearin' 
it. I knowed it as soon as my fingers closed around th' 
butt, for I shaped it to fit my hand several years ago. 
Did you see th' handbills? Twitchell's put up another 
reward, this one for Ridley ; an' McCullough is down on 
th' Question-Mark. Things ought to step fast, now." 



THORPE reappeared through the partition door 
armed anew with the mate to the gun he had lost, 
too enraged to notice that it was better suited to a left 
than to a right hand. An ordinary man hardly would 
have noticed it, but a gunman of his years and experience 
should have sensed the ill-fitting grip at once. He glared 
over the room, suspiciously eager to catch some unfor 
tunate indulging in a grin, for he had been so shamed 
and humiliated that it was almost necessary to his future 
safety that he redeem himself and put his shattered 
reputation back on its pedestal of fear. There were no 
grins, for however much any of his acquaintances might 
have enjoyed his discomfiture they had no lessened 
respect for his ability with either six-guns or fists; and 
there was a restlessness in the crowd, for no man knew 
what was coming. 

Fisher conveyed the collective opinion and broke the 
tension. "Any man would 'a* been fooled," he said to 
the head bartender, but loud enough for all to hear it. 
His voice indicated vexation at the success of so shabby 
a trick. "When he answered Thorpe I shore thought 
he was goin' prompt an' peaceful why, he even started! 
Nobody reckoned he was aimin' to make a gunplay. How 



could they ? An' I'm sayin' that it's cussed lucky for him 
that Thorpe didn't!" 

"Anybody can be fooled th' first time," replied the man 
of liquor. He looked over at the partition door and 
nodded. " Come over an' have a drink, Thorpe, an' forget 
it. I got money that says there ain't no man alive can 
beat you on th' draw. He tricked you, actin' that way." 

"He's th' first man on earth ever shoved a gun into 
me like that," growled Thorpe, slowly moving forward. 
"An' he's th' last! Seein' as there's some here that 
mebby ain't shore about it, I'll show 'em that I was 
tricked ! " He stopped in front of Bill Long and regarded 
that surprised individual with a look as malevolent as it 
was sincere. "Any squaw dog can tote two guns," he 
said, his still raging anger putting a keener edge to the 
words. "When he does he tells everybody that he's 
shore bad. If he ain't, that's his fault. I tote one an' 
yo're not goin' to swagger around these parts with any 
more than I got. Which one are you goin' to throw 

Bill blinked at him with owlish stupidity. " What you 
say ? " he asked, as though doubting the reliability of his 

" Oh," sneered Thorpe, his rage climbing anew ; " you 
didn't hear me th' first time, huh? Well, you want to 
be listenin' this time ! I asked, which gun are you goin' 
to throw away, you card-skinnin' four-flush?" 

" Why," faltered Bill, doing his very best to play the 
part he had chosen. "I I dunno I ain't goin' to 
to throw any of 'em away. What you mean?" 

" Throw one away ! " snapped Thorpe, his animal cun 


ning telling him that the obeyance of the order might 
possibly be accepted by the crowd as grounds for 
justification, if any should be needed. 

Bill changed subtly as he reflected that the crowd had 
excused Thorpe's humiliation because he had been tricked, 
and determined that no such excuse should be used again. 
He looked the enraged man in the eyes and a con 
temptuous smile crept around his thin lips. "Thorpe," 
he drawled, " if yo're lookin' for props to hold up yore 
reputation, you got th' wrong timber. Better look for a 
sick cow, or " 

The crowd gasped as it realized that its friend's fingers 
were again relaxing from the butt of his half-drawn gun 
and that three pounds of steel, concentrated on the small 
circumference of the barrel of a six-gun had been jabbed 
into the pit of his stomach with such speed that they had 
not seen it, and with such force that the victim of the 
blow was sick, racked with pain and scarcely able to 
stand, momentarily paralyzed by the second assault on 
the abused stomach, which caved, quivered, and retched 
from the impact. Again he had failed, this time after 
cold, calm warning; again the astonished crowd froze in 
ridiculous postures, with ludicrous expressions graven 
on their faces, their automatic arms leaping skyward as 
they gaped stupidly, unbelievingly at the second gun. 
Before they could collect their numbed senses the master 
of the situation had backed swiftly against the wall near 
the front door, thereby blasting the budding hopes of 
the bartender, whose wits and power of movement, re 
turning at equal pace, were well ahead of those of his 
friends. It also saved the man of liquor from being 


dropped behind his own bar by the gun of the alert Mr. 
Thompson, who felt relieved when the crisis had passed 
without calling forth any effort on his part which would 
couple him with the capable Mr. Long. 

" Climb that wall ! " said Bill Long, his voice vibrating 
with the sudden outpouring of accumulated repression. 
"I'm lookin' for a chance to kill you, so I ain't askin' 
you to throw away no gun. This is between you an' me 
anybody takin' cards will drop cold. You got it 
comin', an' comin' fair. Climb that wall ! " 

Thorpe, gasping and agonized, fought off the sickness 
which had held him rigid and stared open-eyed, open- 
mouthed at glinting ferocity in the narrowed eyes of the 
two-gun man. 

" Climb that wall ! " came the order, this time almost a 
whisper, but sharp and cutting as the edge of a knife, 
and there was a certainty in the voice and eyes which 
was not to be disregarded. Thorpe straightened up a 
little, turned slowly and slowly made his way through the 
opening crowd to the wall, and leaned against it. He had 
no thought of using the gun at his hip, no idea of resist 
ance, for the spirit of the bully within him had been 
utterly crushed. He was a broken man, groping for 
bearings in the fog of the shifting readjustments going 
on in his soul. 

"Climb!" said Bill Long's voice like the cracking of 
a bull- whacker's whip, and Thorpe mechanically obeyed, 
his finger-nails and boot toes scraping over the smooth 
boards in senseless effort. He had not yet had time to 
realize what he had lost, to feel the worthlessness which 
would be his to the end of his days. 


The two-gun man nodded. " I told you boys I was a 
imitator," he said, smiling; "an' I am. I imitated him 
in his play to kill me. I imitated that SV foreman, an' 
now I'm imitatin' Thorpe again. It's his own idea, 
climbin' walls." 

Fisher, watching the still-climbing Thorpe, was using 
his nimble wits for a way out of a situation which easily 
might turn into anything, from a joke to a sudden 
shambles. He now had no doubts about the real quality 
of Bill Long, and he secretly congratulated himself that 
he had not yielded to certain temptations he had felt. 
Besides, his arms were growing heavy and numb. There 
came to his mind the further thought that this two-gun, 
card-playing wizard would be a very good partner for 
a tour of the country, a tour which should be lucrative 
and safe enough to satisfy anyone. 

" Huh," he laughed. " We're imitatin', too ; only we're 
imitatin' ourselves, an' we're gettin' tired of holdin' 'em 
up. I'm sayin', fair an' square, that I ain't aimin' to 
draw no cards in any game that is two-handed. I reckon 
th' rest of th' boys feel th' same as I do. How 'bout it, 

Affirmation came slowly or explosively, according to 
the individual natures, and the two-gun man was con 
fident enough in his ability to judge character to accept 
the words. He slowly dropped his guns back in the 
holsters and smiled broadly. Even the lower class of 
men is capable of feeling a real liking, when it is based 
on audacious courage, for anyone who deserves it; and 
he knew that the now shifting crowd had been caught in 
the momentum of such a feeling. There was also another 


consideration to which more than one man present gave 
grave heed: They scarcely had quit marveling at the 
wizardy of one two-gun man when the second had 
appeared and made them marvel anew. 

"All right, boys," he said. "Thorpe, you can quit 
climbin', seein' that you ain't gettin' nowhere. Come 
over here an' gimme that gun. I'm still imitatin'. This 
ain't been no lucky day for you, an' just to show you that 
you can make it onluckier," he said as he took the Colt, 
"I'm goin' to impress somethin' on yore mind." He 
threw the barrel up and carelessly emptied the weapon 
into the checkerboard partition with a rapidity which left 
nothing to be desired. The distance was nearly sixty feet. 
"Reckon you can cover 'em all with th' palm of one 
hand," he remarked as he shifted the empty gun to his 
left hand, where he thought it would fit better. He looked 
at it and turned it over. Three small dots, driven into 
the side of the frame, made him repress a smile. His 
own guns had two, while Red Thompson's lone Colt had 
four. He opened the flange and shoved the gun down 
behind the backstrap of his trousers, where a left-handed 
man often finds it convenient to carry a weapon, since 
the butt points that way. Letting his coat fall back into 
place he walked slowly to the door and out onto the 
street, the conversation in the room buzzing high after he 

He next appeared in Quayle's, where he grinned at 
Idaho, Quayle, Johnny, and Ed Doane. 

"I just made Thorpe climb th' wall," he said. "He 
looked like a pinned toad. Do you ever like to split up 
a pair of aces, Nelson?" 

1 3 2 THE BAR-%0 THREE 

Johnny considered a moment and then slowly shook his 

" Neither do I," replied the newcomer. His left hand 
went slowly around under his coat and brought out the 
captured Colt. "An* I ain't goin' to begin doin' it now. 
Here," and he handed the weapon to Johnny. 

Johnny took it mechanically and then quickly turned 
it over and glanced at the frame. Weighing it judicially 
he looked up. "Th' feel an' balance of this Colt just 
suits me," he said. "Want to sell it? " 

"I don't hardly own it enough to sell it," answered 
Bill; "but I reckon I can give it away, seein' that Thorpe 
set th' fashion. I'm warnin' you that he might want it 
back. But you should 'a' seen him a-climbin' that wall ! " 
and he burst into laughter. 

"I'll gamble," grinned Johnny. "I'll get you a new 
one for it." 

" No, you won't," replied Bill, still laughing. " I got 
more'n th' value of a wore-out six-gun watchin' yore 
show up there. Besides, if it was better'n mine I would 
'a' kept it myself. I ain't expectin' you'll be there, 
tonight," he finished. 

"Suits me right here," replied Johnny. "Much 
obliged for th' gun." He looked at Idaho and grinned. 
"I aim to clean out this sage-hen at Californy Jack, 

" Which same you might do," admitted Idaho, slowly 
looking at the Colt in his friend's hand ; " for you shore 
are a fool for luck." 



PECOS KANE looked up at the sound of shooting 
and signaled for the doorkeeper. Getting no 
response he pulled another cord and waited impatiently 
for the man who answered it. 

" What was that shooting, and who did it? " demanded 
the boss. He cut the wordy recital short. "Tell Bill 
Trask to assume Thorpe's duties and send Thorpe to 

Thorpe soon appeared, slowly closed the door behind 
him and faced the boss, who studied him for a silent 
interval, the object of the keen scrutiny squirming at the 
close of it. 

"You are no longer suited for my doortender," said 
Kane's hard voice. "Report to the dining-room, or 
kitchen, or leave the hotel entirely. But first find Corwin 
and send him to me. That is all." 

Thorpe gulped and shuffled out and in a few minutes 
the sheriff appeared. 

" Sit down, Corwin," said Kane, pleasantly. " Trask 
has Thorpe's job now. Wait a moment until I think 
something out," and he sat back in his chair, his eyes 
closing. In a few moments he opened them and leaned 
forward. "I have come to a decision regarding some 



strangers in this town. I have reason to believe that 
Long and Thompson know each other a great deal better 
than they pretend. I want to know more about Nelson, 
so you will send a good man up to his country to get 
me a report on him. Do it as soon as you leave me, and 
tell him to waste no time. That clear ? " 

Corwin nodded. 

"Very well," continued the boss. "I want you to 
arrest both Long and Thompson before tomorrow, and 
throw them into jail. Since Long's exhibition today it 
will be well to go about it in a manner calculated to 
avoid bloodshed. There is no use of throwing men 
away by sending them against such gunplay. You are 
to arrest them without a shot being fired on either side. 
It is only a matter of figuring it out, and I will give you 
this much to start on: Whatever suspicions may have 
been aroused in their minds about their welcome here not 
being cordial must be removed. Because of that there 
should be no ill-advised speed in carrying out the arrests. 
They could be shot down from behind, but I want them 
alive; and it suits my purpose better if they are taken 
right here in this building. They are worth money, and 
a great deal more than money to me, to you, and to all 
of us. Twitchell and Carpenter are very powerful and 
they must be placated if it can be done in such a way as 
not to jeopardize us. I think it may be done in a way 
which will strengthen us. You follow me closely ? " 

The sheriff nodded again. 

"All right," said Kane. "Now then, tell me where 
each of the three men, Nelson, Long, and Thompson, 
were on the occasions of the robbery of the bank and the 


death of Ridley. Think carefully." 

Corwin gazed at the floor thoughtfully. "When th' 
bank was robbed Nelson was playin' cards with Idaho 
Norton in Quayle's saloon. Quayle an' Doane were in 
there with 'em. Long an' Thompson were here, upstairs, 

" Very good, so far," commented Kane ; " go on." 

" When Ridley was shot Nelson was with Idaho Norton 
in Quayle's hotel, for both of them rustled into th' street 
an' carried him indoors. Thompson was in th' front 
room, here, an' Long come in soon after the shot was 

" Excellent. Which way did he come? " 

"Through th' front door." 

" Before that ? " demanded the boss impatiently. 

"I don't know." 

" Why don't you ? " blazed Kane. " Have I got to do 
all th' thinking for this crowd of dumbheads? " 

"Why, why should I know?" Corwin asked in sur 

"If you don't know the answer to your own question 
it is only wasting my time to tell it to you. Now, listen : 
You are to send four men in to me but not Mexicans, 
for the testimony of Mexicans in this country is not taken 
any too seriously by juries. The four are not all to come 
the same way nor at the same time. The dumbheads I 
have around me necessitate that each be instructed sepa 
rate and apart from the others, else they wouldn't know, 
or keep separate their own part. Is this plain ? " 

" Yes," answered the arm of the law. 

"Very well. Now you will go out and arrange to 


arrest and jail those two men. And after you have 
arranged it you will do it. Not a shot is to be fired. 
When they are in jail report to me. That is all." 

Corwin departed and did not scratch his head until 
the door closed after him, and then he showed great signs 
of perplexity. As he went up the next corridor he caught 
sight of a friend leaning against the back of the partition, 
and just beyond was Bill Trask at his new post. He 
beckoned to them both. 

"Sandy, you are to report to th' boss, right away," 
ordered the sheriff. "He wants four white men, an' 
yo're near white. Trask, send in three more white men, 
one at a time, after Woods comes out. An' let me 
impress this on yore mind: It is strict orders that you 
ain't to fire a shot tonight, when somethin' happens that's 
goin' to happen ; you, nor nobody else. Got that good ? " 

" What do you mean ? " asked the sentry, grinning. 

"Good G d!" snorted the sheriff. "Do I have to 
do all th' thinkin' for this crowd of dumbheads?" 

"Yo're a parrot," retorted Trask. "I know that by 
heart. You don't have to. You don't even do yore own. 
You may go! " 

Corwin grunted and joined the crowd in the big room 
and when Bill Long wandered in and settled down to 
watch a game the sheriff in due time found a seat at his 
side. His conversation was natural, not too steady and 
not too friendly and neither did he tarry too long, for 
when he thought that he had remained long enough he 
wandered up to the bar, joked with the chief dispenser, 
and mixed with the crowd. After awhile he went out 
and strolled over to the jail, where a dozen men were 


waiting for him. His lecture to them was painfully 
simple, in the simplest words of his simple vocabulary, 
and when he at last returned to the gambling-hall he was 
certain that his pupils were letter-perfect. 

Meanwhile Kane had been busy and when the first of 
the four appeared the clear-thinking boss drove straight 
to his point. He looked intently at the caller and asked : 
" Where were you on the night of the storm, at the time 
the bank was robbed ? " 

" Upstairs playin' cards with Harry." 

"Do you know where Long and Thompson were at 
that time?" 

" Shore ; they was upstairs." 

" I am going to surprise you," said Kane, smiling, and 
he did, for he told his listener where he had been on that 
night, what he had seen, and what he had found in the 
morning in front of the door of Bill Long's door. He 
did it so well that the listener began to believe that it 
was so, and said as much. 

" That's just what you must believe," exclaimed Kane. 
"Go over it again and again. Picture it, with natural 
details, over and over again. Live every minute, every 
step of it. If you forget anything about it come to me 
and I'll refresh your memory. I'll do so anyway, when 
the time comes. You may go." 

The second and third man came, learned their lessons 
and departed. The fourth, a grade higher in intelligence, 
was given a more difficult task and before he was dis 
missed Kane went to a safe, took out a bundle of large 
bills and handed two of them to his visitor, who nodded, 
pocketed them and departed. He was to plant them, 


find them again and return them so that the latter part of 
the operation would be clear in his memory. 

Supper was over and the big room crowded. Jokes 
and laughter sounded over the quiet curses of the losers. 
Bill Long, straddling a chair, with his arms crossed on 
its back, watched a game and exchanged banter with the 
players during the deals. Red Thompson, playing in an 
other game not far away, was winning slowly but con 
sistently. Somebody started a night-herding song and 
others joined in, making the ceiling ring. Busy bartend 
ers were endeavoring to supply the demand. The song 
roared through the first verse and the second, and in the 
middle of the following chorus, at the first word of the 
second line there was a sudden, concerted movement, and 
chaos reigned. 

Unexpectedly attacked by half a dozen men each Bill 
and Red fought valiantly but vainly. In Bill's group two 
men had been told off to go for his guns, one to each 
weapon, and they had dived head-first at the signal. Red's 
single gun had been obtained in the same way. Stamp 
ing feet, curses, grunts, groans, the soft sound of fist on 
flesh, the scraping of squirming masses of men going this 
way and that, the heavy breathing and other sounds of 
conflict filled the dusty, smoky air. Chairs crashed, tables 
toppled and were wrecked by the surging groups and 
then, suddenly, the turmoil ceased and the two bound, 
battered, and exhausted men swayed dizzily in the hands 
of their captors, their chests rising and falling convul 
sively beneath their ragged shirts as they gulped the foul 

Two men rocked on the floor, slobbering over cracked 


shins, another lay face down across the wreck of a chair, 
his gory face torn from mouth to cheekbone; another 
held a limp and dangling arm, cursing with monotonous 
regularity ; a fifth, blood pouring from his torn scalp and 
blinding him, groped aimlessly around the room. 

Corwin glanced around, shook his head and looked at 
his two prisoners in frank admiration. "You fellers 
shore can lick h 1 out of th' man that invented fightin' ! " 

Bill Long glared at him. "I didn't see you no 
where near!" he panted. "Turn us loose an' we'll 
dean out th' place. We was two-thirds licked 
before we -knew it was comin'." 

"Don't waste yore breath on th' d d " 

snarled Red. "There's a few I'm aimin' to kill when 
I getth' chance!" 

"What's th' meanin' of this surprise party?" asked 
Bill Long. 

" It means that you an' Thompson are under arrest for 
robbin' th' bank; an' you for th' murder of Ridley," 
answered the peace officer, frowning at the ripple of 
laughter which arose. A pock-marked Mexican, whose 
forehead bore a crescent-shaped scar, seemed to be unduly 
hilarious and vastly relieved about something. 

Thorpe came swiftly across the room toward Bill Long, 
snarled a curse, and struck with vicious energy at the 
bruised face. Bill rolled his head and the blow missed. 
Before the assailant could recover his balance and strike 
again a brawny, red-haired giant, whose one good eye 
glared over a battered nose, lunged swiftly forward and 
knocked Thorpe backwards over a smashed chair and 
overturned table. The prostrate man groped and half 


arose, to look dazedly into the giant's gun and hear the 
holder of it give angry warning. 

"Any more of that an' I'll blow you apart!" roared 
the giant. "An' that goes for any other skunk in th' 
room. Bear-baitin' is barred." He looked at Corwin. 
"You've got 'em now get 'em out of here an' into jail, 
before I has to kill somebody!" 

Corwin called to his men and with the prisoners in the 
middle the little procession started for the old adobe jail 
on the next street, the pleased sheriff bringing up the rear, 
his Colt swinging in his hand. When the prisoners had 
been locked up behind its thick walls he sighed with relief, 
posted two guards, front and rear, and went back to report 
to Kane that a good job had been well done. 

The boss nodded and bestowed one of his rare compli 
ments. "That was well handled, Sheriff," he said. "I 
am sorry your work is not yet finished. A zealous peace 
officer like you should be proud enough of such a capture 
as to be anxious to inform those most interested. Also," 
he smiled, "you naturally would be anxious to put in a 
claim for the reward. Therefore you should go right 
down to McCullough and lay the entire matter before 
him, as I shall now instruct you," and the instructions 
were as brief as thoroughness would allow. "Is that 
clear ? " asked the boss at the end of the lesson. 

" It ain't only clear," enthused Corwin ; " but it's gilt- 
edged; I'm on my way, now ! " 

"_Report to me before morning," said Kane. 

Hurrying from the room and the building the sheriff 
saddled his horse and rode briskly down the trail. Not 
far from town he began to whistle and he kept it up pur- 


posely as a notification of peaceful and honorable inten 
tions, until the sharp challenge of a hidden sentry checked 
both it and his horse. 

" Sheriff Corwin," he answered. " What you holdin' 
me up for ? " 

A man stepped out of the cover at the edge of the trail. 
"Got a match?" he pleasantly asked, the rifle hanging 
from the crook of his arm, both himself and the weapon 
hidden from the sheriff by the darkness. "Where you 
goin' so late ? Thought everybody was asleep but me." 

Corwin handed him the match. "Just ridin' down to 
see McCullough. Got important business with him, an* 
reckoned it shouldn't wait 'til mornin'." 

The sentry rolled a cigarette and lit it with the bor 
rowed match in such a way that the sheriff's face was well 
lighted for the moment, but he did not look up. " That's 
good," he said. " Reckon I'll go along with you. No use 
hangin' 'round up here, an' I'm shore sleepy. Wait till I 
get my cayuse," and he disappeared, soon returning in the 
saddle. His quiet friend in the brush settled back to re 
sume the watch and to speculate on how long it would 
take his companion to return. 

McCullough, half undressed, balanced himself as he 
heard approaching voices, growled profanely and put the 
freed leg in the trousers. He was ready for company 
when one of the night shift stuck his head in at the door. 

" Sheriff Corwin wants to see you," said the puncher. 
" His business is so delicate it might die before mornin'." 

"All right," grumbled the trail-boss. "If you get out 
of his way mebby he can come in." 

Corwin stood in the vacated door, smiling, but too wise 


to offer his hand to the blunt, grim host. "Got good 
news," he said, " for you, me, an' th' T & C." 

"Ya-as?" drawled McCullough, peering out beneath 
his bushy, gray eyebrows. " Pecos Kane shoot hisself ?" 

" We got th' fellers that robbed th' bank an' shot Rid 
ley," said the sheriff. 

" The h 1 you say ! " exclaimed McCullough. " Come 
in an' set down. Who are they ? How'd you get 'em ? " 

" That reward stick ? " asked Corwin anxiously. 

" Tighter'n a tick to a cow ! " emphatically replied the 
trail-boss. " Who are they ?" 

" I got a piece of paper here," said the sheriff, proving 
his words. He stepped inside and placed it on the table. 
" Read it over an' sign it. Then I'll fill in th' blanks with 
th' names of th' men. If they're guilty, I'm protected; if 
I've made a mistake, then there's no harm done." 

McCullough slowly read it aloud : 

" ' Sheriff Corwin was the first man to tell me 

that and robbed the Mesqtiite 

bank, and that killed Tom Ridley. He 

will produce the prisoners, with the witnesses 
and other proof in Sandy Bend upon demand. 
If they are found guilty of the crime named the 
rewards belong to him.' " 

The trail-boss considered it thoughtfully. " It looks fair; 
but there's one thing I don't like, Sheriff," he said, putting 
his finger on the objectionable words and looking up. " I 
don't like * Sandy Bend.' I'm takin' no chances with them 
fellers. I'll just scratch that out, an' write in, 'to me* 
How 'bout it?" 


"They've got to have a fair trial," replied Corwin. 
" I'm standin' for no lynchin'. I can't do it." 

" Yo're shore right they're goin' to have a fair trial ! " 
retorted the trail-boss. " Twitchell ain't just lookin' for 
two men he wants th' ones that robbed th' bank an' 
killed Ridley. You don't suppose he's payin' five thousan' 
out of his pocket for somebody that ain't guilty, do you ? 
Why, they're goin' to have such a fair trial that you'll 
need all th' evidence you can get to convict 'em. Lynch 
'em ? " He laughed sarcastically. " They won't even be 
jailed in Sandy Bend, where they shore would be lynched. 
You take 'em to Sandy Bend an' you'll be lynched out of 
yore reward. You know how it reads." 

Corwin scratched his head and a slow grin spread over 
his face. " Cuss it, I never saw it that way," he admitted. 
" I guess yo're shoutin' gospel, Mac ; but, cuss it, it ain't 
reg'lar." " 

" You know me ; an' I know you," replied the trail-boss, 
smiling. "There's lots of little things done that ain't 
exactly reg'lar; but they're plumb sensible. Suppose I 
change this here paper like I said, an' sign it. Then you 
write in th' names an' let me read 'em. Then you let me 
know what proof you got, an' bring down th' prisoners, 
an' I'll sign a receipt for 'em." 

" Yes ! " exclaimed Corwin. " I'll deputize you, an' give 
'em into yore custody, with orders to take 'em to Sandy 
Bend, or any other jail which you think best. That makes 
it more reg'lar, don't it?" he smiled. 

McCullough laughed heartily and slapped his thigh. 
" That's shore more reg'lar. I'm beginnin' to learn why, 
they elected you sheriff. All right, then; I'm signin' my 


name." He took pen and ink from a shelf, made the 
change in the paper, sprawled his heavy-handed signature 
across the bottom and handed the pen to Corwin. " Now, 
d n it : Who are they ? " 

The sheriff carefully filled in the three blanks, McCul- 
lough peering over his shoulder and noticing that the 
form had been made out by another hand. 

"There," said Corwin. "I'm spendin' that five thou 
sand right now." 

" ' Bill Long ' ' Red Thompson ' ' Bill Long ' again," 
growled the trail-boss. " Never heard of 'em. Live 
around here?" 

Corwin shook his head. " No." 

"All right," grunted McCullough. "Now, then; what 
proof you got? You'll never spend a cent of it if you 
ain't got 'em cold." 

Corwin sat on the edge of the table, handed a cigar to 
his host and lit his own. " I got a man who was in th' 
north stable, behind Kane's, when th' shot that killed Rid 
ley was fired from th' other stable. He was feedin' his 
hoss an' looked out through a crack, seem' Long sneak 
out of th' other buildin', Sharp's in hand, an' rustle for 
cover around to th' gamblin'-hall. Another man was 
standin' in th' kitchen, gazin' out of th' winder, an' saw 
Long turn th' corner of th' north stable an' dash for th' 
hotel buildin'. He says he laughed because Long's slight 
limp made him sort of bob sideways. An' we know why 
Long done it, but we're holdin' that back. That's for th' 

" Now for th' robbery : I got th' man that saw Long an' 
Thompson sneak out of th' front door of th' dinin'-room 


hall into that roarin' sand storm between eleven an' twelve 
o'clock on th' night of th' robbery. He says he remembers 
it plain because he was plumb surprised to see sane men 
do a fool thing like that. He didn't say nothin' to 'em 
because if they wanted to commit suicide it was their own 
business. Besides, they was strangers to him. After 
awhile he went up to bed, but couldn't sleep because of th' 
storm makin' such a racket. Kane's upstairs rocked a lit 
tle that night. I know, because I was up there, tryin' to 

" Go on," said the trail-boss, eagerly and impatiently, 
his squinting eyes not leaving the sheriff's face. 

" Well, quite some time later he heard th' door next to 
his'n open cautious, but a draft caught it an' slammed it 
shut. Then Bill Long's voice said, angry an' sharp : 
'What th' h 1 you doin', Red? Tellin' creation about 
it ? ' In th' mornin', th' cook, who gets up ahead of every 
body else, of course, was goin' along th' hall toward th' 
stairs an' he kicks somethin' close to Long's door. It 
rustles an' he gropes for it, curious-like, an' took it down 
stairs with him for a look at it, where it wasn't so dark. It 
was a strip of paper that th' bank puts around packages of 
bills, an' there was some figgers on it. He chucks it in a 
corner, where it fell down behind some stuff that had been 
there a long time, an' don't think no more about it till 
he hears about th' bank bein' robbed. Then he fishes it 
out an' brings it to me. I knowed what it was, first 

"Any more?" urged McCullough. "It's good; but, 
you got any more ? " 

" I shore have. What you think I'm sheriff for ? I got 


two of th' bills, an' their numbers tally with th' bank's 
numbers of th' missin' money. You can compare 'em with 
yore own list later. I sent a deputy to their rooms as 
soon as I had 'em in jail, an' he found th' bills sewed up 
in their saddle pads. Reckon they was keepin' one apiece 
in case they needed money quick. An' when th' sand was 
swept off th' step in front of that hall door, a gold piece 
was picked up out of it." 

" When were you told about all this by these fellers ? " 
demanded the trail-boss. 

"As soon as th' robbery was known, an' as soon as th' 
shootin' of Ridley was known ! " 

" When did you arrest them ? " 

"Last night; an' it was shore one big job. They can 
fight like a passel of cougars. Don't take no chances with 
'em, Mac." 

" Why did you wait till last night ? " demanded McCul- 
lough. "Wasn't you scared they'd get away?" 

" No. I had 'em trailed every place they went. They 
wasn't either of 'em out of our sight for a minute; an' 
when they slept there was men watchin' th' stairs an' 
their winders. You see, Kane lost a lot of money in that 
robbery, bein' a director; an' I was hopin' they'd try to 
sneak off to where they cached it an' give us a chance 
to locate it. They was too wise. I got more witnesses, 
too; but they're Greasers, an' I ain't puttin' no stock in 
'em. A Greaser'd lie his own mother into her grave for 
ten dollars; anyhow, most juries down here think so, so 
it's all th' same." 

"Yes; lyin' for pay is shore a Greaser trick," said 
McCullough, nodding. " Well, I reckon it's only a case of 


waitin' for th' reward, Sheriff. Tell you what I wish 
you'd do : Gimme everythin' they own when you send 'em 
down to me, or when I come up for 'em, whichever suits 
you best. Everythin' has got to be collected now before 
it gets lost, an' it's got to be ready for court in case it's 

"All right; I'll get back what I can use, after th' trial," 
replied Corwin. " I'll throw their saddles on their cayuses, 
an' let 'em ride 'em down. How soon do you want 'em ? 
Right away ? " 

"First thing in th' mornin'!" snapped McCullough. 
" Th' sooner th' better. I'll send up some of th' boys to 
give you a hand with 'em, or I'll take 'em off yore hands 
entirely at th' jail. Which suits you?" 

" Send up a couple of yore men, if you want to. It'll 
look better in town if I deliver 'em to you here. Why, 
you ain't smoked yore cigar ! " 

McCullough looked at him and then at his own hand, 
staring at the crushed mass of tobacco in it. " Shucks ! " 
he grunted, apologetically, and forthwith lied a little him 
self. "Funny how a man forgets when he's excited. I 
bet that cigar thought it was in a vise my hand's tired 
from squeezin'." 

"Sorry I ain't got another, Mac," said Corwin, grin 
ning, as he paused in the door. " I'll be lookin' for yore 
boys early. Adios." 

"Adios," replied McCullough from the door, listen 
ing to the dying hoof beats going rapidly toward town. 
Then he shut the door, hurled the remains of the cigar on 
the floor and stepped on them. " He's got 'em, huh ? An' 
strangers, too! He's got 'em too d d pat for me. It 


takes a good man to plaster a lie on me an' make it stick 
an' he ain't no good, at all. He was sweatin' before he 
got through ! " Again the trousers came off, all the way 
this time, and the lamp was turned down. As he settled 
into his bunk he growled again. " Well, I'll have a look 
at 'em, anyhow, an' send 'em down for Twitchell to look 
at," and in another moment he was asleep. 



WHILE events were working out smoothly for the 
arrest of the two men in Kane's gambling-hall, 
four friends were passing a quiet evening in Quayle's 
barroom, but the quiet was not to endure. 

With lagging interest in the game Idaho picked up his 
cards, ruffled them and listened. " Reckon that's singin'," 
he said in response to the noise floating down from the 
gambling-hall. " Sounds more like a bunch of cows 
bawlin' for their calves. Kane's comin' to life later'n 
usual. Wonder if Thorpe's joinin' in?" he asked, and 
burst out laughing. "Next to our hard-workin' sheriff 
there ain't nobody in town that I'd rather see eat dirt 
than him. Wish I could 'a' seen him a-climbin' that 

"Annybody that works for Kane eats dirt," commented 
Quayle. " They has to. He'll learn how to eat it, too, 
th' blackguard." 

" There goes somethin'" said Ed Doane as the distant 
roaring ceased abruptly. "Reckon Thorpe's makin' an 
other try at th' wall." He laughed softly. "They're 
startin' a fandango, by th' sound of it." 

" 'Tis nothin' to th' noise av a good Irish reel," depre 
cated the proprietor. 



" I'm claimin' low this hand," grunted Idaho. " Look 
out for yore jack." 

Johnny smiled, played and soon a new deal was begun. 

"Th' dance is over, too," said Doane, mopping off 
the bar for the third time in ten minutes. " Must 'a' been 
a short one." 

" Some of them hombres will dance shorter than that, 
an' harder," grunted Idaho, "th' next time they pay its 
a visit. They didn't get many head th' last time, an' 
I'm sayin' they'll get none at all th' next time. Where 
they take 'em to is more'n we can guess : th' tracks just 
die. Not bein' able to track 'em, we're aimin' to stop it 
at th' beginnin'. You fellers wait, an' you'll see." 

Quayle grunted expressively. " I been waitin' too long 
now. Wonder why nobody ever set fire to Kane's. 
'Twould be a fine sight." 

"You'll mebby see that, too, one of these nights," 
growled the puncher. 

"Then pick out wan when th' wind is blowin' up th' 
street," chuckled Quayle. "This buildin' is so dry it 
itches to burn. I'm surprised it ain't happened long ago, 
with that Mick in th' kitchen raisin' th' divvil with th' 
stove. If I didn't have a place av me own I'd be tempted 
to do it meself." 

The bartender laughed shortly. "If McCullough hap 
pens to think of it I reckon it'll be done." He shook out 
the bar cloth and bunched it again. " Funny he ain't cut 
loose yet. That ain't like him, at all." 

"Waitin' for th' rewards to start workin', I reckon," 
said Johnny. 

Idaho scraped up the cards, shaped them into a sheer- 


sided deck and pushed it aside. " I'm tired of this game ; 
it's too even. Reckon I'll go up an' take a look at Kane's." 
He arose and sauntered out, paused, and looked up the 
street. " Cussed if they ain't havin' a pe-rade," he called. 
" This ain't th' Fourth of July, is it? I'm goin' up an' 
sidle around for a closer look. Be back soon." 

Johnny was vaguely perturbed. The sudden cessation 
of the song bothered him, and the uproar which instantly 
followed it only served to increase his uneasiness. Ordi 
narily he would not have been affected, but the day's 
events might have led to almost anything. Had a shot 
been fired he swiftly would have investigated, but the 
lack of all shooting quieted his unfounded suspicions. 
Idaho's remark about the parade renewed them and after 
a short, silent argument with himself he arose, went to 
the door and looked up the street, seeing the faint, yellow 
patch on the sand where Kane's lamps shown through 
the open door and struggled against the surrounding dark 
ness, and hearing the faint rumble of voices above which 
rang out frequent laughter. He grimly told himself that 
there would be no laughter in Kane's if his two friends 
had come to any harm, and there would have been plenty 
of shooting. 

"Annythin' to see?" asked Quayle, poking his head 
out of the door. 

" No," answered Johnny, turning to reenter the build 
ing. "Just feelin' their oats, I reckon." 

" 'Tis feelin' their ropes they should be doin '," replied 
Quayle, stepping back to let his guest pass through. "An' 
'twould be fine humor to swing 'em from their own. 
Hist ! " he warned, listening to the immoderate laughter 


which came rapidly nearer. " Here's Idaho ; he'll know 
it all." 

Idaho popped in and in joyous abandon threw his som 
brero against the ceiling. "Funniest thing you ever 
heard!" he panted. "Corwin's arrested that Bill Long 
an' Red Thompson. Took a full dozen to do it, an' half 
of 'em are cripples now. Th' pe-rade I saw was Corwin 
an' a bunch escortin' 'em over to th' jail. Ain't we got 
a rip-snortin' fool for a sheriff ? " His levity died swiftly, 
to give way to slowly rising anger. " With this country 
fair crowded with crooks he can't find nobody to throw 
in jail except two friendless strangers! D n his hide, 
I got a notion to pry 'em out and turn 'em loose before 
mornin', just to make things right, an' take some of th' 
swellin' out of his flat head. It's a cussed shame." 

The low-pulled brim of Johnny's sombrero hid the 
glint in his eyes and the narrowed lids. He relaxed and 
sat carelessly on the edge of a table, one leg swinging 
easily to and fro as conjecture after conjecture rioted 
through his mind. 

" They must 'a' stepped on Kane's toes," said Ed, vig 
orously wiping off the backbar. 

Idaho scooped up his hat and flung it on the table at 
Johnny's side. "You'd never guess it, Ed. Even th' 
rest of th' gang was laughin' about it, all but th' cripples. 
I been waitin' for them rewards to start workin,' but I 
never reckoned they'd work out like this. Long an' 
Thompson are holdin' th' sack. They're scapegoats for 
th' whole cussed gang. Corwin took 'em in for robbin' 
th' bank, an' gettin' Ridley!" 

Ed Doane dropped the bar cloth and stared at the 


speaker and a red tide crept slowly up his throat and 
spread across his face. Johnny slid from the table and 
disappeared in the direction of his room. He came down 
again with the two extra Colts in his hands, slipped 
through the kitchen and ran toward the jail. Quayle's 
mouth slowly closed and then let out an explosive curse. 
The bartender brought his fist down on the bar with a 

"Scapegoats? Yo're right! It's a cold deck an' 
you bet Kane never would 'a' dealt from it if he wasn't 
dead shore he could make th' play stick. Every man in 
th' pack will swear accordin' to orders, an' who can swear 
th' other way? It'll be a strange jury, down in Sandy 
Bend, every man jack of it a friend of Ridley an' th' 
T & C. Well, I'm a peaceable man, but this is too much. 
I never saw them fellers before in my life ; but on th' day 
when Corwin starts south with 'em I'll be peaceable no 
longer an' I've got friends! There's no tellin' who'll 
be next if he makes this stick. Who's with me?" 

"/ am," said Quayle; "an' / got friends." 

"Me, too," cried Idaho. "There's a dozen hickory 
knots out on th' ranch that hate Corwin near as much as 
I do. They'll be with us, mebby even Lukins, hisself. 
Hey! Where'd Nelson go?" he excitedly demanded. 
" Mebby he's out playin' a lone hand ! " and he darted for 
the kitchen. 

Johnny, hidden in the darkness not far from the jail, 
was waiting. The escort, judging from the talk and the 
glowing ends of cigarettes, was bunched near the front 
of the building, little dreaming how close they stood to 
a man who held four Colts and was fighting down a rage 


which urged their use. At last, thoroughly master of 
itself, Johnny's mind turned to craftiness rather than to 
blind action and formulated a sketchy plan. But while 
the plan was being carried through he would not allow 
his two old friends to be entirely helpless. Slipping off 
his boots he crept up behind the jail and with his kerchief 
lowered the two extra guns through the window, softly 
calling attention to them, which redoubled the prisoners' 
efforts to untie each other. Satisfied now that they were 
in no immediate danger he slipped back to his boots, put 
them on and waited to see what would happen, and to 
listen further. 

"There ain't no use watchin' th' jail," said a voice, 
louder than the rest. " They're tied up proper, an' nobody 
ever got out of it before." 

"Just th' same, you an' Harry will watch it," said Cor- 
win. " Winder an' door. I ain't takin' no chances with 
this pair." 

A thickening on the dark ground moved forward slowly 
and a low voice called Johnny's name. He replied cau 
tiously and soon Idaho crawled to his side, whispering 

"Go back where there ain't no chance of anybody 
hearin' us, or stumblin' over us," said Johnny. " When 
that gang leaves there won't be so much noise, an' then 
they may hear us." 

At last reaching an old wagon they stood up and leaned 
against it, and Johnny unburdened his heart to a man 
he knew he could trust. 

"Idaho," he said, quietly, "them fellers are th' best 
friends I ever had. They cussed near raised me, an' they 


risked their lives more'n once to save mine. 'Most every- 
thin' I know I got from them, an' they ain't goin' to stay 
in that mud hut till mornin', not if I die for it. They 
come down here to help me, an' I'm goin' to get 'em out. 
Did you ever hear of th' old Bar-2O, over in th' Pecos 

"I shore did," answered Idaho. "Why?" 

" I was near raised on it Bill Long is Hopalong Cas- 
sidy, an' Red Thompson is Red Connors, th' whitest men 
that ever set a saddle. Rob a bank, an' shoot a man from 
behind! Did Bill Long act like a man that had to shoot 
in th' back when he made Thorpe climb his own wall, 
with his own crowd lookin' on? Most of their lives has 
been spent fightin' Kane's kind; an' no breed of pups can 
hold 'em while I'm drawin' my breath. It's only how to 
do it th' best way that's botherin' me. I've slipped 'em 
a pair of guns, so I got a little time to think. Why, cuss 
it: Hoppy knows th' skunk that got Ridley! An' before 
we're through we'll know who robbed th' bank, an' hand 
'em over to Mac. That's what's keepin' th' three of us 

"Bless my gran'mother's old gray cat!" breathed 
Idaho. " No wonder they pulled th' string ! I'm sayin' 
Kane's got hard ridin' ahead. Say, can I tell th' boys at 
th' ranch?" 

" Tell 'em nothin' that you wouldn't know except for 
me tellin' you," replied Johnny. "I know they're good 
boys ; but they might let it slip. Me an' Hoppy an' Red 
are aimin' for them rewards an' we're goin' to get 'em 

" It's a plumb lovely night," muttered Idaho. " Nicest 


night I think I ever saw. I don't want no rewards, but I 
just got to get my itchin' paws into what's goin' on around 
this town. An' it's a lovely town. Nicest town I think 
I ever was in. That 'dobe shack ain't what it once was. 
I know, because, not bein' friendly with th' sheriff, an' 
not bein' able to look all directions at once, I figgered I 
might be in it, myself, some day. So I've looked it over 
good, inside an' out. Th' walls are crumbly, an' th' bars 
in th' window are old. There's a waggin tongue in Pete 
Jarvis' freight waggin that's near twelve foot long, an' 
a-plenty thick. Ash, I think it is ; that or oak. Either's 
good enough. If it was shoved between th' bars an' then 
pushed sideways that jail wouldn't be a jail no more. If 
Pete ain't taken th' waggin to bed with him, bein' so proud 
of it, we can crack that little hazelnut. I'm goin' back 
an' see how many are still hangin' around." 

" I'm goin' back to th' hotel, so I'll be seen there," said 

"I'll do th' same, later," replied his friend as they 

Quayle was getting rid of some of his accumulated 
anger, which reflection had caused to soar up near the 
danger point. "Tom Ridley wasn't killed by no stran 
gers ! " he growled, banging the table with his fist. " I 
can name th' man that done it by callin' th' roll av Kane's 
litter; an' I'll be namin' th' bank robbers in th' same 
breath." He looked around as Johnny entered the room. 
"An' what did ye find, lad?" 

" Idaho was right. They've got 'em in th' jail." 

"An' if I was as young a man as you," said the pro 
prietor, "they wouldn't kape 'em there. As ut is I'm 


timpted to go up an' bust in th' dommed door, before th* 
sheriff comes back from his ride. Tom Ridley's mur 
derer? Bah!" 

" Back from his ride ? " questioned Johnny, quickly 
and eagerly. 

" Shure. He just wint down th' trail. Tellin' Mac, I 
don't doubt that he's got th' men Twitchell wants. I was 
lookin' around when he wint past. This is th' time, lad. 
I'll help ye by settin' fire to Red Frank's corral if th' jail's 
watched. It'll take their attention. Or I'll lug me rifle 
up an' cover ye while ye work." He arose and went into 
the office for the weapon, Johnny following him. " There 
she is full to th' ind. An' I know her purty ways." 

"Tim," said Johnny's low voice over his shoulder. 
"Yo're white, clean through. I don't need yore help, 
anyhow, not right now. An' because you are white I'm 
goin' to tell you somethin' that'll please you, an' give 
me one more good friend in this rotten town. Bill Long 
an' Red Thompson are friends of mine. They did not 
rob th' bank, nor shoot Ridley; but Bill knows who did 
shoot Ridley. He saw him climbin' out of Kane's south 
stable while th' smoke was still comin' from th' gun that 
shot yore friend. I can put my hand on th' coyote in five 
minutes. Th' three of us are stayin' here to get that man, 
th' man who robbed th' bank, an' Pecos Kane. I'm 
tellin' you this because I may need a good friend in Mes- 
quite before we're through." 

Quayle had wheeled and gripped his shoulder with 
convulsive force. "Ah ! " he breathed. " Come on, lad ; 
point him out! Point him out for Tim Quayle, like th* 
good lad ye are ! " 


" Do you want him so bad that yo're willin' to let th' 
real killer get away ? " asked Johnny. " You only have 
to wait an' we'll get both." 

"What d'ye mean?" 

"You don't believe he shot Ridley without bein' told 
to do it, do you ? " 

"Kane told him; I know it as plain as I know my 

" Knowin' ain't provin' it, an' provin' it is what we got 
to do." 

"Tis th' curse av th' Irish, jumpin' first an' thinkin' 
after," growled Quayle. " Go wan ! " 

" Yo're friends with McCullough," said Johnny. " Mac 
knows a little ; an' I'm near certain he's heard of Hopa- 
long Cassidy an' Red Connors, of th' Bar-2O. Don't 
forget th' names: Hopalong Cassidy an' Red Connors, 
of th' old Bar-2O in th' Pecos Valley. Buck Peters was 
foreman. I want you to go down an' pay him a friendly 
visit, and tell him this," and Quayle listened intently to 
the message. 

" Bye," chuckled the proprietor, " ye leave Mac to me. 
We been friends for years, an' Tom Ridley was th' friend 
of us both. But, lad, ye may die ; an' Bill Long may die 
life is uncertain anny where, an' more so in Mesquite, 
these days. If yer a friend av Tim Quayle, slip me th' 
name av th' man that murdered Ridley. I promise ye 
to kape han's off an' I want no reward. But it fair 
sickens me to think his name may be lost. Tom was like 
a brother." 

"If you knew th' man you couldn't hold back," replied 
Johnny. "Here: I'll tell Idaho, an' Ed Doane. If Bill 


an' I go under they'll give you his description. I don't 
know his name." 

"Th' offer is a good wan; but Tim Quayle never 
broke his word to anny man an' there's nothin' on earth 
or in hiven I want so much as to know who murdered 
Tom Ridley. I pass ye my word with th' sign av th' cross, 
on th' witness of th' Holy Virgin, an' on th' mem'ry av 
Tom Ridley I'll stay me hand accordin' to me promise." 

Johnny looked deeply into the faded blue eyes through 
the tears which filmed them. He gripped the proprietor's 
hand and leaned closer. "A Greaser with a pock-marked 
face, an' a crescent-shaped scar over his right eye. He 
is about my height an' drags one foot slightly when he 

"Aye, from th' ball an' chain ! " muttered Quayle. " I 
know th' scut ! Thank ye, lad : I can sleep better nights. 
An' I can wait as no Irishman ever waited before. Anny- 
thin' Tim Quayle has is yourn; yourn an' yore friends. 
I'll see Mac tomorrow. Good night." He cuddled the 
rifle and went toward the stairs, but as he put his foot on 
the first step he stopped, turned, and went to a chair in 
a corner. "I'm forgettm'," he said, simply. "Ye may 
need me," and he leaned back against the wall, closing 
his eyes, an expression of peace on his wrinkled face. 



IDAHO slipped out of the darkness of the kitchen and 
appeared in the door. "All right, Nelson," he called. 
" There's two on guard an' th' rest have left. They ain't 
takin' their job any too serious, neither. Just one apiece," 
"he chuckled. 

Johnny looked at the proprietor. "Got any rope, 
Tim ? " he asked. 

"Plenty," answered Quayle, arising hastily and lead 
ing the way toward the kitchen. Supplying their need 
he stood in the door and peered into the darkness after 
them. "Good luck, byes," he muttered. 

Pete Jarvis was proud of his new sixteen-foot freighter 
and he must have turned in his sleep when two figures, 
masked to the eyes by handkerchiefs, stole into his yard 
and went off with the heavy wagon tongue. They car 
ried it up to the old wagon near the jail, where they put 
it down, removed their boots, and went on without it, 
reaching the rear wall of the jail without incident, where 
they crouched, one at each corner, and smiled at the con 
versation going on. 

" I'm hopin' for a look at yore faces," said Red's voice, 
"to see what they looked like before I get through with 
'em, if I ever get my chance. Come in, an' be sociable." 



"Yo're doin' a lot of talkin' now, you red-headed 
coyote," came the jeering reply. " But how are you goin' 
to talk to th' judge?" 

"Bring some clean straw in th' mornin'," said Bill 
Long, " or we'll bust yore necks. Manure's all right for 
Greasers, an' you, but we're white men. Hear me chirp, 
you mangy pups ? " 

"It's good enough for you!" snapped a guard. "I 
was goin' to get you some, but now you can rot, for all 
I care!" 

Johnny backed under the window, raised up and pressed 
his face against the rusty bars. " It's th' Kid," he whis 
pered. "Are you untied yet?" 

The soft answer pleased him and he went back to his 
corner of the wall, where he grudged every passing min 
ute. He had decided to wait no longer, but to risk the 
noise of a shot if the unsuspecting guards could get a gun 
out quickly enough, and he was about to tell Idaho of 
the change in the plans when the words of a guard checked 

"Guess I'll walk around again," said one of them, 
arising slowly. "Gettin' cramped, an' sleepy, settin' 

"You spit in that window again an* I'll bust yore 
neck ! " said Red's angry voice, whereupon Johnny found 
a new pleasure in doing his duty. 

"You ain't bustin' nobody, or nothin'," jeered the 
guard, " 'less it's th' rope yo're goin' to drop on." He 
yawned and stretched and sauntered along the side of 
the building, turned the corner and then raised his hands 
with a jerk as a Colt pushed into his stomach and a hard 

1 62 THE BAR-90 THREE 

voice whispered terse instructions, which he instantly 
obeyed. " You fellers ain't so bad, at that," he said, with 
only a slight change in his voice ; " but yo're shore playin' 
in hard luck." 

" Keep yore sympathy to yoreself ! " angrily retorted 
Bill Long. 

Idaho, having unbuckled the gun-belt and laid it gently 
on the ground, swiftly pulled the victim's arms down be 
hind his back and tied the crossed wrists. Johnny now got 
busy with ropes for his feet, and a gag, and they soon laid 
him close to the base of the wall, and crept toward the 
front of the building, one to each wall. Johnny tensed 
himself as Idaho sauntered around the other corner. 

"Makin' up with 'em?" asked the guard, ironically. 
" You don't want to let 'em throw a scare into you. They'll 
never harm nobody no more." He lazily arose to stretch 
his legs on a turn around the building. " You listen to 
what I'm goin' to tell 'em," he said. Then he squawked 
and went down with Johnny on his back, Idaho's dive 
coming a second later. A blow on his head caused him to 
lose any impertinent interest which he might have had in 
subsequent events and soon he, too, lay along the base of 
the rear wall, bound, gagged, and helpless. 

" I near could feel th' jar of that in here," said Red's 
cheerful voice. "I'm hopin' it was th' coyote that spit 
through th' window. What's next ? " he asked, on his feet 
and pulling at bars. He received no answer and com 
mented upon that fact frankly and profusely. 

" Shut yore face," growled Bill, working at his side. 
" He's hatchin' somethin' under his hat." 

" Somethin' hatchin' all over me," grunted Red, stir- 


ring restlessly. " I'm a heap surprised this old mud hut 
ain't walkin' off some'ers." 

Bill squirmed. ",You ain't got no call to put on no 
airs," he retorted. " Mine's been hatched a long time. I 
wouldn't let a dog lay on straw as rotten as that stuff. 
Oh ! " he gloated. " Somebody's shore goin' to pay for 
this little party ! " 

"Wish th' sheriff would open that outside door about 
now," chuckled Red, balancing his six-chambered gift 
" I'd make him pop-eyed." 

Hurrying feet, booted now, came rapidly nearer and 
soon the square-cornered end of a seasoned wagon tongue 
scraped on the adobe window ledge. Bill Long grabbed it 
and drew it between two of the bars. 

"Go toward th' south," he said. "That's th' boy! 
Listen to 'em scrape!" he exulted. "Go ahead she's 
startin'. I can feel th' 'dobe crackin' between th' bars. 
Come back an' take th' next you'll have a little better 
swing because it's further from th' edge of th' window. 
Go ahead ! It's bendin' an' pullin' out at both ends. Go 
on! Whoop! There goes th' 'dobe. Come back to th' 
middle an' use that pry as a batterin'-ram on this bar. 
Steady; we'll do th' guidin'. All ready? Then let her 
go! Fine! Try again. That's th' stuff she's gone! 
Take th' next Ready? Let her go! There goes more 
'dobe, on this side. Once more: Ready? Let her go! 
Good enough : Here we come." 

" Wait," said Johnny. " We'll pass one of these fellers 
in to you. If we leave 'em both together they'll mebby roll 
together an' untie each other." 

"Like we did," chuckled Red. 

1 64 THE BAR-20 THREE 

" Give us th' first one you got," said Bill. " He's th' 
one that spit through th' window. I want him to lay on 
this straw, too. He's tied, an' can't scratch." 

The guard was raised to the window, pushed and pulled 
through it and carelessly dumped on Red's bed, after 
which it did not take long for the two prisoners to gain 
their freedom. 

"Good Kid!" said Bill, gripping his friend's hand. 
"An' you, too, whoever you are ! " 

"Don't mention no names," whispered Idaho. "We 
couldn't find no ear plugs," he chuckled, shaking hands 
with Red. " I'm too well known in this town. What'll 
we do with this coyote ? Let him lay here ? " 

" No," answered Johnny. " He might roll over to Red 
Frank's an' get help. Picket him to a bush or cactus. 
Here, gimme a hand with him. I reckon he's come to, by 
th' way he's bracin' hisself. Little faster time's flyin'. 
All right, put him down." Johnny busied himself with 
the last piece of rope and stood up. " Come on Kane's 
stables, next." 

As they crossed the street above the gambling-house, 
where in reality it was a trail, Bill Long took a hand in 
the evening's plans. 

" Red," he said, " you go an' get our cayuses. Bring 
'em right here, where we are now, an' wait for us. Idaho, 
you an' Johnny come with me an' stand under th' window 
of my room to take th' things I let down, an' free th' rope 
from 'em. I'm cussed shore we ain't goin' to leave all of 
our traps behind, not unless they been stole." 

" I like yore cussed nerve ! " chuckled Idaho. " Don't 
blame you, though. I'm ready." 


"His nerve's just plain gall!" snapped Red, turning 
to Hopalong. " Think yo're sendin' me off to get a couple 
of cayuses, while yo're runnin' that risk in there ? Get th' 
cayuses yoreself ; I'll get th' fixin's ! " 

" Don't waste time like this ! " growled Johnny. " Do 
as yo're told, you red-headed wart! Corwin will shore 
go to th' jail before he turns in. Come on, Hoppy." 

" That name sounds good again," chuckled Hopalong, 
giving Red a shove toward the stables. "Get them 
cayuses, Carrot-Top ! " 

Red obeyed, but took it out in talking to himself as he 
went along, and as he entered the north stable he stepped 
on something large and soft, which instantly went into 
action. Red dropped to his knees and clinched, getting 
both wrists in his hands. Being in a hurry, and afraid 
of any outcry, he could not indulge in niceties, so he 
brought one knee up and planted it forcefully in his 
enemy's stomach, threw his weight on it and jumped up 
and down. Sliding his hands down the wrists, one at a 
time, he found the knife and took it from the relaxing 
fingers. Then he felt for the victim's jaw with one hand 
and hit it with the other. Arising, he hummed a tune and 
soon led out the two horses. 

" Don't like to leave th' others for them fellers to use," 
he growled, and forthwith decided not to leave them. 
He drove them out of both stables, mounted his own, led 
Hopalong's, and slowly herded the other dozen ahead of 
him over the soft sand and away. When he finally reached 
the agreed-upon meeting place he reflected with pleasure 
that anyone wishing to use those horses for the purpose 
of pursuit, or any other purpose, would first have to find, 


and then catch them. They were going strong when he 
had last heard them. 

Idaho had stopped under the window pointed out to 
him, and his two companions, leaving their boots in his 
tender care, were swallowed up in the darkness. They 
opened the squeaking front door, cautiously climbed the 
squeaking stairs and fairly oozed over the floor of the 
upper hall, which wanted to squeak, and did so a very 
little. Hopalong slowly opened the door of his room, 
thankful that he had oiled its one musical hinge, and felt 
cautiously over the bed. It was empty, and his sigh of 
relief was audible. And he was further relieved when his 
groping hand found his possessions where he had left 
them. He was stooping to loosen the coil of rope at the 
pommel of his saddle when he heard a sleepy, inquiring 
voice and a soft thud, and anxiously slipped to the door. 

" Kid ! " he whispered. " Kid! " 

" Shut yore fool face," replied the object of his solici 
tude, striking a match for one quick glance around. The 
room was strange to him, since he never had been in it be 
fore, and he had to get his bearings. The inert man on 
the bed did not get a second glance, for the sound and 
weight of the blow had reassured Johnny. There were 
two saddles, two rifles, two of everything, which was dis 
tressing under the circumstances. 

Hopalong had just lowered his own saddle to the wait 
ing Idaho when the catlike Johnny entered the room with 
a saddle and a rifle. He placed them on the bed, where 
they would make no noise, and departed, catlike. Soon 
returning he placed another saddle and rifle on the bed 
and departed once more. 


Hopalong, having sent down both of Johnny's first 
offerings, felt over the bed for the rest of Red's belong 
ings, if there were any more, and became profanely indig 
nant as his hand caressed another rifle and then bumped 
against another saddle. 

"What'n h 1 is he doin'?" he demanded. "My 
G d! There's more'n a dozen rooms on this floor, an* 
men in all of 'em ! Hey, Kid ! " he whispered as breathing 
sounded suddenly close to him. 

"What?" asked Johnny, holding two slicker rolls, a 
sombrero, a pair of boots, and a suit of clothes. Two 
belts with their six-guns were slung around his neck, but 
the darkness mercifully hid the sight from his friend. 

" D n it ! We ain't moviri this hotel," said Hopalong 
with biting sarcasm. " It don't belong to us, you know. 
!An' what was that whack I heard when you first went in ? " 

"Somebody jumped Red's bed, an' wanted to know 
some fool thing, or somethin', an' I had to quiet him. An* 
what'n blazes are you kickin' about ? I've moved twice as 
much as you have, more'n twice as far. Grab holt of 
some of this stuff an' send it down to Idaho. He'll think 
you've went to sleep." 

" You locoed tumble-bug ! " said Hopalong. "Aimin' to 
send down th' bed, with th' feller in it, too ? " 

A door creaked suddenly and they froze. 

"Quit yore d d noise an' go to sleep!" growled a 
sleepy, truculent voice, and the door creaked shut again. 

After a short wait in silence Hopalong put out an in 
quiring hand. " Come on," he whispered. " What you 
got there ? " 

Johnny told him, and Hopalong dropped the articles out 

1 68 THE BAR-20 THREE 

of the window, all but the hat, boots, and clothes. " Don't 
you know Red's wearin' his clothes, boots an' hat, you 
chump?" he said, gratis. "Leave them things here an' 
f oiler me," and he started for the head of the stairs. 

They were halfway down when they heard a horse gal 
loping toward the hotel. It was coming from the direc 
tion of the jail and they nudged each other. 

Sheriff Corwin, feeling like he was master of all he 
surveyed, had ridden to the jail before going to report to 
Kane for the purpose of cautioning the guards not to 
relax their vigil. Not being able to see them in the dark 
ness meant nothing to him, for they should have chal 
lenged him, and had not. He swept up to the door, angrily 
calling them by name and, receiving no reply, dismounted 
in hot haste, shook the door and then went hurriedly 
around the building to feel of the bars. One sweep of his 
hand was enough and as he wheeled he tripped over the 
wagon tongue and fell sprawling, his gun flying out of 
his hand. Groping around he found it, jammed it back 
into the holster, darted back to his horse and dashed off 
at top speed for Kane's to spread the alarm and collect 
a posse. 

There never had been any need for caution in opening 
the hotel door and his present frame of mind would not 
have heeded it if there had been. Flinging it back he 
dashed through and opened his mouth to emit a bellow 
calculated almost to raise the dead. The intended shout 
turned to a choking gasp as two lean, strong hands gripped 
his throat, and then his mental sky was filled with light 
ning as a gun-butt fell on his head. His limp body was 
carried out and dropped at the feet of the cheerful Idaho, 


who helped tear up portions of the sheriff's clothing for his 
friends to use on the officer's hands, feet, and mouth. 

" Every time I hit a head I shore gloat," growled John 
ny, his thoughts flashing back to his first night in town. 

"Couldn't you send him down, too?" Idaho asked of 
Hopalong. "An 5 how many saddles do you an' Red use 
generally ? " 

" He wasn't up there," answered Hopalong. " We run 
into him as we was comin' out." 

Johnny's match flashed up and out in one swift move 
ment. " Corwin ! " he exulted. "An' I'm glad it was me 
that hit him ! " 

Idaho rolled over on the ground and made strange 
noises. Sitting up he gasped: "Didn't I say it was a 
lovely night ? Holy mavericks ! " 

" You fellers aim to claim squatter sovereignty ? " whis 
pered Red from the darkness. " If I'd 'a' knowed it I'd 'a' 
tied up somethin' I left layin' loose." 

" We got to get a rustle on," said Hopalong. " Some 
cusses come to right quick. That gent in Red's bed is due 
to ask a lot of questions at th' top of his voice. Come on 
grab this stuff, pronto!" 

" I left another in th' stable that's goin' to do some yellin' 
purty soon," said Red. " Reckon he's a Greaser." 

They picked up the things and went off to find the 
horses and as they dropped the equipment Red felt for his 
saddle. "Hey! Where's mine?" he demanded. 

" Here, at my feet," said Johnny. 

Red passed his hand over it and swore heartily. " This 
ain't it, you blunderin' jackass! Why didn't you get 
mine?" he growled. 


" Feel of this one," grunted Johnny, kicking the other 

Red did so. " That's it. Who's th' other belong to ? " 

"/ don't know," answered Johnny, growing peeved. 
" Yo're cussed particular, you are ! Here's two rifles, two 
six-guns, an' two belts. Take 'em with you an' pick out 
yore own when it gets light. / don't want 'em." 

Red finished cinching up and slipped a hand over the 
rifles. He dropped one of them into its scabbard. " Got 
mine. Chuck th' other away." 

" Take it along an' chuck it in th' crick," said Idaho. 
" Now you fellers listen : If you ride up th' middle of Big 
Crick till you come to that rocky ground west of our place 
you can leave th' water there, an' yore trail will be lost. 
It runs southwest an' northeast for miles, an' is plenty 
wide an' wild. If you need any thin' ride in to our place 
any night after dark. I'll post th' boys." 

" We ain't got a bit of grub," growled Red. " Well, it 
ain't th' first time," he added, cheerfully. 

"We're not goin' up Big Crick," said Hopalong, de 
cisively. " We're ridin' like we wanted to get plumb out 
of this country, which is just what Bill Long an' Red 
Thompson would do. When fur enough away we're cir- 
clin' back east of town, on th' edge of th' desert, where 
nobody will hardly think we'd go. They'll suspect that 
hard ground over yore way before they will th' desert. 
Where'll we meet you, Kid, if there's any thin' to be told; 
an' when?" 

Johnny considered and appealed to Idaho, whose knowl 
edge of the country qualified him to speak. In a few 
moments the place had been chosen and well described, and 


the two horsemen pulled their mounts around and faced 

"Get a-goin'," growled Johnny. "Anybody'd reckon 
you thought a night was a week long." 

" Don't like to leave you two boys alone in this town, 
after tonight's plays," said Hopalong, uneasily. " Nobody 
is dumb enough to figger that we didn't have outside help. 
Keep yore eyes open ! " 

"Pull out!" snapped Johnny. "It'll be light in two 
hours more ! " 

" So-long, you piruts," softly called Idaho. " Yessir," 
he muttered, joyously ; " it's been one plumb lovely night ! " 

Not long after the noise of galloping had died in the 
north a Mexican staggered from the stable, groping in the 
darkness as he made his erratic way toward the front of the 
gambling-hall, his dazed wits returning slowly. Leaning 
against the wall of the building for a short rest, he went 
on again, both hands gripping his jaw. Too dazed to be 
aware of the disappearance of the horses and attentive 
only to his own woes, he blundered against the bound and 
gagged sheriff, went down, crawled a few yards and then, 
arising again to his feet, groped around the corner of the 
building and sat down against it to collect his bewilder 
ing thoughts. 

Upstairs in the room Red had used, the restless figure 
on the bed moved more and more, finally sitting up, moan 
ing softly. Then, stiffening as memory brought some 
thing back to him, he groped about for matches, blunder 
ing against the walls and the scanty furniture, and called 
forth profane language from the room adjoining, whose 
occupant, again disturbed, arose and yanked open his door. 


"What you think yo're doin', raisin' all this racket?" 
he demanded. 

" Somebody near busted my head," moaned the other. 
"I been robbed!" he shouted as the lack of impedimenta 
at last sank into his mind. 

" Say ! " exclaimed his visitor, remembering an earlier 
nocturnal disturbance. " Wait here till I get some 
matches ! " 

He returned with a lighted lamp, instead, which re 
vealed the truth, and its bearer swiftly led the way into the 
second room down the hall. A pair of boots which should 
not have been there and the absence of the equipment which 
should have been there confirmed their fears. The man 
with the lamp held it out of the window and swore under 
his breath as a bound figure below him gurgled and 

" Looks like Corwin ! " he muttered, and hastened down 
to make sure, taking no time to dress. The swearing 
Mexican received no attention until the sheriff staggered 
back with the investigator, and then the vague tale was 
listened to. 

A bellowing voice awakened the sleepers in the big 
building and an impromptu conference of irate men, most 
ly undressed, was held in the hall. Sandy Woods returned 
from the stables, reporting them bare of horses; the in 
vestigator from the jail came back with the angry guards, 
one of whom was too shaky to walk with directness. 
Others came from a visit to Red Frank's corral, leading 
half a dozen borrowed horses, and, a hasty, cold breakfast 
eaten, the posse, led by a sick, vindictive sheriff, pounded 
northward along a plain trail. 


Those who were not able to go along stood and peered 
through the paling darkness and two deputies left to take 
up positions in the front and rear of Quayle's hotel where 
they could see without being seen, while a third man crept 
into the stable to look for a Tincup horse. Had he been 
content with looking he would have been more fortunate, 
but thinking that the master would have no further use for 
the animal, he decided to take it for himself, trusting 
that possession would give him a better claim when the 
new ownership was finally decided by Kane. Reassured 
by the earliness of the hour and by the presence of the 
hidden deputy, he went ahead with his plans. 

Pepper's flattened ears meant nothing to the exultant 
thief, for it had been his experience that all horses flat 
tened their ears whenever he approached them, especially 
if they had reason to know him; so, with a wary eye on 
the trim, black hoofs, he slipped along the stable wall to 
gain her head. He had just untied the rope and started 
back with the end of it in his hand when there was a sud 
den, sidewise, curving swerve of the silky black body, a 
grunt of surprise and pain from the thief, pinned against 
the wall by the impact, and then, curving back again and 
wheeling almost as though on a pivot, Pepper's teeth 
crunched flesh and bone and the sickened thief, by a mira 
cle escaping the outflung front hoofs, staggered outside 
the stable and fell as the whizzing hind feet took the half- 
open door from its flimsy hinges. Rolling around the 
corner, the thief crawled under a wagon and sank down 
unconscious, his crushed shoulder staining darkly through 
his torn shirt. 

The watching deputy arose to go to his friend's assist- 


ance, but looked up and stopped as a growled question came 
from Ed Doane's window. 

" Jim's hurt," he explained to the face behind the rifle. 
" Went in to see if his cayuse had wandered in there, an' 
th' black near killed him. Gimme a hand with him, will 

Quayle had nearly fallen off the chair he had spent the 
night on when the crash and the scream of the enraged 
horse awakened him. He ran to the kitchen door, rifle in 
hand, and looked out, hearing the deputy's words. 

"I'll give ye a hand," he said; "but more cheerful if 
it's to dig a grave. Mother av G d!" he breathed as 
he reached the wagon. " I'm thinkin' it's a priest ye want, 
an' there's none within twinty miles." He looked around 
at the forming crowd. " Get a plank," he ordered, " an' 
get Doc Sharpe." 

Ed Doane, followed by Johnny and Idaho, ran from the 
kitchen and joined the group. One glance and Johnny 
went into the stable, calling as he entered. Patting the 
quivering nozzle of the black he looked at the rope and 
came out again. 

" That man-killer has got to be shot," said the deputy 
to Ed Doane. 

" I'll kill th' man that tries it," came a quiet reply, and 
"the deputy wheeled to look into a pair of frosty blue eyes. 
" Th' knot I tie in halter ropes don't come loose, for Pep 
per will untie any common knot an' go off huntin' for me. 
It was untied. If you want to back up a hoss thief, an' 
mebby prove yore part in it, say that again." 

"Yo're plumb mistaken, Nelson," said the deputy. 
"Jim was huntin' his own cayuse, which Long an' Thomp- 


son stampeded out of th' stable last night. He was goin' 
over th' town first before he went out to look for it on th' 

"That's good!" sneered Johnny. "Long an' Thomp 
son are in jail. I'm standin' to what th' knot showed. Do 
you still reckon Pepper's got to be shot ? " 

"They broke out an' got away," retorted the deputy; 
"an' they shore as h 1 had outside help." He looked 
knowingly into Johnny's eyes. "Nobody that belongs 
to this town would 'a' done it." 

" That's a lie," said Quayle, his rifle swinging up care 
lessly. " I belong to this town, an' I'd 'a' done it, mesilf, 
if I'd thought av it. Seein' that I didn't, I'm cussed 
glad that somewan had better wits than me own." 

" I was aimin' to do it," said Idaho, smiling. " I was 
goin' out to get th' boys, an' bust th' jail tonight. I was 
holdin' back a little, though, because I was scared th' 
boys might get a little rough an' lynch a few deputies. 
They're on set triggers these days." 

The cook started to roll up his sleeves. " I'll lick th' 
daylight out av anny man that goes to harm that horse, 
or me name's not Murphy," he declared, spitting. "I 
feed her near every mornin', an' she's gintle as a baby 
lamb. But she's got a keen nose for blackguards ! " 

Dr. Sharpe arrived, gave his orders and followed the 
bearers of the improvised stretcher toward his house. As 
the crowd started to break up Johnny looked coldly at 
the deputy. " You heard me," he said. " Pass th' word 
along. An' if she don't kill th' next one, / will! " 

North of town the posse reached Big Creek and exulted 


as it saw the plain prints going on from the further bank. 
Corwin, sitting his saddle with a false ease, stifled a moan 
at every rise and fall, his head seeming about to split under 
the pulsing hammer blows. When he caught sight of the 
trail leading from the creek he nodded dully and spoke 
to his nearest companion. 

"Leavin' th' country by th' straightest way," he 
growled. " It'll mebby be a long chase, d n 'em !" 

"They ain't got much of a start," came the hopeful 
reply. "We ought to catch sight of 'em from th' top of 
th' divide beyond Sand Creek. It's fair level plain for 
miles north of that. Their cayuses ain't no better than 
ourn, an' some of ourn will run theirs off their feet." 

Sand Creek came into sight before noon and when it 
was reached there were no tracks on the further side. 
The posse was prepared for this and split without hesi 
tation, Corwin leading half of it west along the bank and 
the other half going east. Five minutes later an exclama 
tion caused the sheriff to pull up and look where one of 
his men was pointing. A rifle barrel projected a scant 
two inches from the water and the man who rode over 
to it laughed as he leaned down from the saddle. 

" It lit on a ridge of gravel an' didn't slide down quite 
fur enough," he called. "An' it shore is busted proper." 

"Bring it here," ordered Corwin. He took it, exam 
ined it and handed it to the next man, whose head ached 
as much as his own and who would not have been along 
except that his wish for revenge over-rode his good sense. 

" That yourn ? " asked the sheriff. 

The owner of the broken weapon growled. " They've 
plumb ruined it. It's one more score they'll pay. Come 


on ! " and he whirled westward. Corwin drew his Colt 
and fired into the air three times at counted intervals, and 
galloped after his companions when faint, answering 
shots sounded from the east. 

" They're makin' for that rocky stretch," he muttered ; 
"an' if they get there in time they're purty safe." 

Not long after he had rejoined his friends the second 
part of the posse whirled along the bank, following the 
trail of the first, eager to overtake it and learn what had 
been discovered. 

Well to the east Hopalong and Red rode at the best 
pace possible in the water of the creek, now and then turn 
ing in the saddle to look searchingly behind them. Fol 
lowing the great bend of the stream they went more and 
more to the south and when the shadows were long they 
rode around a ridge and drew rein. Red dismounted and 
climbed it, peering over its rocky backbone for minutes. 
Returning to his companion he grinned cheerfully. 

" No coyotes in sight," he said. " Some went west, I 
reckon, an' found that busted rifle where we planted it. 
No coyotes, at all ; but there's a black bear down in that 
little strip of timber." 

" I can eat near all of it, myself," chuckled Hopalong. 
" Let's camp where we drop it. A dry wood fire won't 
show up strong till dark. Come on ! " 


PECOS KANE sat behind his old desk in the inner 
room and listened to the reports of the night's activ 
ities, his anger steadily mounting until ghostly flames 
seemed to be licking their thin tongues back in his eyes. 
,The jail guards had come and departed, speaking simply 
and truthfully, suggesting various reasons to excuse the 
laxity of their watch. The Mexican told with painful 
effort about the loss of the horses, growing steadily more 
incoherent from the condition of his jaw and from his 
own rising rage. Men came, and went out again on vari 
ous duties, one of them closely interrogating the owner 
of the freight wagon, whose anger had died swiftly by 
the recovery of the great tongue, which was none the 
worse for its usage except for certain indentations of 
no moment. A friend of Quayle and hostile to Kane and 
for what Kane stood for, the wagon owner allowed his 
replies to be short, and yet express a proper indignation, 
which did not exist, about the whole affair. When again 
alone in the sanctity of his home he allowed himself the 
luxury of low-voiced laughter and determined to put his 
crowbar where any needy individual of the future could 
readily find it 

Bill Trask, because of his short-gun expertness tem- 



porarily relieved of guarding the partition door, led three 
companions toward Quayle's hotel, his face and the faces 
of the others tense and determined. Two went around 
to the stable, via Red Frank's and the rear street and one 
of them stopped near it while the other slipped along the 
kitchen wall and crouched at the edge of the kitchen door. 
The third man went silently into the hotel office as Trask 
sauntered carelessly into the barroom and nodded at its 

"Them fellers shore raised h 1," he announced to 
Ed Doane as he motioned for a drink. 

" They did," replied Doane, spinning a glass after the 
sliding bottle, after which he flung the coin into the old 
cigar box and assiduously polished the bar, wondering 
why Trask patronized him instead of Kane's. 

" They shore had nerve," persisted the newcomer, look 
ing at Johnny. 

" They shore did," acquiesced the man at the table, who 
then returned to his idle occupation of trying to decipher 
the pattern of the faded-out wall paper. Wall paper was 
a rarity in the town and deserved some attention. 

" Them guards was plumb careless," said Kane's hired 
man. Not knowing to whom he was speaking there was 
no reply, and he tried again, addressing the bartender. 

" They was careless," replied Doane, without interest. 

Johnny was alert now, the persistent remarks awaken 
ing suspicion in his mind, and a slight sound from the 
wall at his back caused him to push his chair from the 
table and assume a more relaxed posture. His glance at 
the lower and nearer corner of the window let him memo 
rize its exact position and he waited, expectant, for what- 


ever might happen. The surprise and capture of his two 
friends had worked, but that had been the first time ; there 
would be no second, he told himself, especially as far as 
he was concerned. 

" Is th' boss in ? " asked the visitor. 

"Th 5 boss ain't in," answered Ed Doane as Johnny 
glanced at the front door, the front window and the door 
of the office, which the bartender noticed. " Too dusty," 
said Doane, going around the bar to the front wall and 
closing the window. 

"When will he be in?" 

" Dunno," grunted the bartender, once more in his ac 
customed place. 

" I got to see him." 

"I handle things when he ain't here," said Doane. 
" See me," he suggested, looking through the door lead 
ing to the office, where he fancied he had heard a creak. 

" Got to see him, an' pronto," replied the visitor. " He 
made some remarks this mornin' about gettin' them fel 
lers out. We know it was done by somebody on th' 
outside, an' we got a purty good idea of who it was since 
Quayle shot off his mouth. He's been gettin' too swelled 
up lately. If he don't come in purty quick I'm aimin' to 
'dig him out, myself." 

Johnny was waiting for him to utter the cue word and 
knew that there would be a slight change in facial expres 
sion, enunciation, or body posture just before it came. 
He was not swallowing the suggestions that it was Quayle 
who was wanted. 

" You shore picked out a real job to handle all alone," 
said Doane, not letting his attention wander from the 


hotel office. "Any dog can dig out a badger, but that's 
only th' beginnin'," he said pleasantly, his hand on the 
gun which always lay under the bar. He expected a retort 
to his insult, and when none came it put a keener edge to 
his growing suspicions. 

"I'm diggin' him out, just th' same," said Trask. 
" There's law in this town, an' everybody's on one side or 
th' other. Bein' a deputy it's my job to see about them 
that's on th' other side. Gettin' arrested men out of jail 
is serious an' I got to ask questions about it. Of course, 
Quayle don't allus say what he means we none of us 
do. We all like to have our jokes; but I got to do my 
duty, even if it's only askin' questions. Is he out, or layin 5 " 

"He's out," grunted Doane, "but he'll be back any; 
minute, I reckon." 

"All right; I'll wait," said Trask, carelessly, but he 
tensed himself. "How's business?" and at the words 
he flashed into action. 

A chair crashed and a figure leaped back from it, two 
guns belching at its hips. The face and hand which 
popped up into the rear window disappeared again as the 
smoking Colt swung past the opening and across Johnny's 
body to send its second through the office doorway, and 
curses answered both shots. Trask, bent over, held his 
right arm with his left hand, his gun against the wall 
near the front door. The first shot of Johnny's right- 
hand Colt had torn it from Trask's hand as it left the 
holster and the second had rendered the arm useless for 
the moment. A shot from the corner of the stable sang 
through the window and barely missed its mark as Johnny 


leaned forward, but his instant reply ended all danger 
from that point. 

"Trask," he said, "I'm leavin' town. I ain't got a 
chance among buildin's again' pot-shooters. I'm leavin' * 
but th' Lord help Kane an' his gang when I come back. 
lYou can tell him I'm comin' a-shootin'. An' you can tell 
him this: I'm goin' to get him, Pecos Kane, if I has 
to pull him out of his hell-hole like I pulled Thorpe. Go 
ahead of me to th' stable I'll blow you apart if any 
pot-shooter tries at me. G'wan! " 

Trask obeyed, the gun against his spine too eloquent a 
persuader to be ignored. He knew that there were no 
pot-shooters yet, and he was glad of it, for if there had 
been one, and his captor was killed, the relaxation of the 
tense thumb holding back the hammer of a gun whose 
trigger was tied back would fire the weapon. The man 
who held it would fire one shot after his own death, how 
ever instantaneous it might be. 

Passing through the kitchen Johnny picked up his sad 
dle and ordered his captive to carry the rifle and slicker 
roll. They disappeared into the stable and when they 
came out again Johnny ordered Trask into the saddle, 
mounted behind him and rode for the arroyo which lay 
not far from the hotel. At last away from the buildings 
he made Trask dismount, climbed over the cantle and 
settled himself in the vacated saddle. 

"I'm goin' down to offer myself to McCullough," he 
said. " You can tell Kane that, too. They'll need men 
down there, an' I'll be th' maddest man they got. An' 
th' next time me an' you have any gun talk, I'm shootin' 
to kill. Adios!" 


He left the cursing deputy and went straight for the 
trail, where the rising wind played with the dust, and 
along it until stopped by a voice in a barranca. 

" Im puttin' 'em up," he called. " My name's Nelson 
an' I'm mad clean through. Get a rustle on; I want to 
see Mac." 

"Go ahead, Bar-2O," drawled the voice. "I wasn't 
dead shore. There's a good friend of yourn down there." 

" Quayle ? " asked Johnny. 

"There's another: Waffles, of th' O-Bar-O," came the 
reply, and a verse of a nearly forgotten song arose on 
the breeze. 

I've swum th' Colorado where she runs down dost to hell, 
I've braced th' faro layouts in Cheyenne; 

I've fought for muddy water with a howlin' bunch of 

An* swallered hot tamales, an' cayenne. 

" There's more, but I've done forgot most of it," apolo 
gized the singer. 

Johnny laughed with delight. "Why, that's Lefty 
Allen's old song. Here's th' second verse :" 

I've rid a pitchin' broncho till th' sky was underneath, 

I've tackled every desert in th' land; 
I've sampled Four-X whisky till I couldn't hardly see, 

An' dallied with th' quicksands of th' Grande. 

"That's shore O-Bar-O. Lefty made it up hisself, an* 
that boy could sing it. It all comes back to me now * 


he called it 'Th' Insult.' Why here, you!" he chuck 
led. " I said I was mad an' in a hurry. I ain't mad no 
more, but I am in a hurry. See you tonight, mebby. 

Riding on again he soon reached the Question-Mark 
bunkhouse and dismounted as a puncher turned the corner 
of the house. They grinned at each other, these good, 
pld-time friends. 

"You son-of-a-gun!" chuckled Johnny, holding out 
his hand. 

" You son-of-a-gun ! " echoed Waffles, gripping it, and 
so they stood, silent, exchanging grins. It had been a 
long time since they last had seen each other. 

McCullough loomed up in the doorway and grinned at 
them both. 

"Hear yo're married," said Waffles. 

" Shore ! " bragged Johnny. 

"It ain't spoiled you, yet. How's Hoppy an' Red?" 

" Fine, now they're out of jail." 

Waffles threw his head back and laughed heartily. " I 
near laughed till I busted when Quayle told us who they 
was. Hoppy an' Red in jail! It was funny! 

"Hello, Nelson," said McCullough. "What are you 
doin' down here ? " 

" Had to leave town ; too many corners, an' too much 
cover. I'm lookin' for a job, if it don't cut me out of th' 

" She's yourn." 

" Wait a minute," said Johnny. " I can't take it. I got 
to be free to do what I want; but I'll hang out here for 


" You've got th' job instanter," said the appreciative 
trail-boss smiling broadly. " It's steady work of bossin' 
yoreself. I've heard of yore work, up Gunsight way. 
Feed yet? Then come on." 

" Shore will. Where's Quayle ? " 

"Rode back, roundabout; him not courtin' bein' seen; 
but I reckon everybody in town knows he's been here. He 
swears by you." 

Despite Idaho's boasts to the contrary his ranch again 
had nocturnal visitors, and there was no lead-flying wel 
come accorded them. Having spied out the distribution of 
Lukins' riders the visitors chose a locality free from 
guards and with the coming of night drifted a sizable herd 
of Diamond L cattle across an outlying section of the 
range and with practiced art and uncanny instinct drove 
the compacted herd onto and over the rocky plateau, where 
the chief of the raiders obtained a speed with the cattle 
which always bordered upon a panicky flight, but never 
quite reached it. All that night they rumbled over the 
rocky stretch and as dawn brightened the eastern sky the 
running herd passed down a gentle slope, picked up the 
waiting caviya and not long thereafter moved over the 
hard bottom of a steep- walled ravine which could have 
been called a canyon without unduly stretching the mean 
ing of the word. 

The chief of the raiding party cared nothing for the 
fatness of the animals, or other conditions which might 
operate against the possibilities of a lucrative sale. There 
later would be time for improving their condition, plenty 
of time in a valley rich with grass. All he cared for now 


was to put miles speedily behind him, and this he was ac 
complishing like the master cattleman he was. After a 
mid-day breathing space they went on again, alternately 
walking and running, and well into the second night, stop 
ping at a water-hole known only to a few men other than 
these. Some miles north of this water-hole was another, 
and very much smaller one, being only a few feet across, 
and there also was a difference between the waters of the 
two. The larger was of a nature to be expected in such 
a locality, but much better than most such holes, for the 
water was only slightly alkaline and the cattle drank it 
eagerly. The other was sweet and pure and cold, but 
rather than to cover the distance to it and back again, it 
was ignored by all but one man, for the other stayed with 
the herd. There was grass around both; not enough to 
feed a herd thoroughly, but enough to keep it busy hunting 
over the scanty growth. With more than characteristic 
thought these holes had been named in a manner to couple 
and yet to keep them separate, and to Kane's drive crew 
they were known as " Sweet " and " Bitter." 

Again on the trail before the sun had risen above the 
horizon, the herd was sent forth on another day's hard 
drive, which carried it, with the constantly growing tail 
herd of stragglers, far into the following night, despite all 
dumb remonstrances. No mercy was shown to it, but only 
a canny urging, and if no mercy was shown the cattle none 
was accepted by the drivers, who rode and worked, swore 
and panted on wiry ponies which, despite frequent chang 
ing, began to show the marks of their efforts under the 
pitiless sun and through the yielding sands. Both cattle 
and horses had about reached their limits when the late 


afternoon of the next day brought them to a rocky ledge 
sticking up out of the desert's floor, which now was hard 
and stony; and upon turning the south end of the ridge an 
emerald valley suddenly lay before their eyes, from 
whence the scent of water had put a new spirit into cattle 
and horses for the last few miles ; and now it nearly caused 
a fatal stampede at the entrance to the narrow ledge which 
slanted down the steep, rock walls. 

To a stranger such a sight would have awakened amazed 
incredulity, and strong suspicion that his sanity had been 
undermined by the heat-cursed, horror-laden desert miles ; 
or he might have sneered wisely at so palpable a mirage, 
scorned to be tricked by it in any attempt to prove it other 
wise and staggered on with contemptuous curses. But 
Miguel and the men he so autocratically bossed knew it 
to be no vision, no trick of air or mind, and sighed with 
relief when it finally lay before them. While they all knew 
it was there and had visited it before, none of them, except 
Miguel, had ever learned the way, try as they might, for 
until the high ledge of rock, hidden on the west by a great, 
upslanting billow of sand, came into sight there were no 
landmarks to show them the way. Each new journey 
across the simmering, shimmering plateau found fears in 
every heart but the guide's that he would lose his way. 
That their fears may be justified and to show them blame 
less in everything but their lack of confidence in him, it 
may be well to have a better understanding of this desert 
and what it meant ; and to show why men should hold as 
preposterous any claim that a cattle herd could safely 
cross it. Some went even further and said no man, 
mounted or not, could make that journey, and confessed 


to themselves a superstitious fear and horror for it and 
everything pertaining to it. 

Before the deep ruts had been cut in the old Santa Fe 
Trail in that year of excessive rains ; before the first wheel 
had rolled over the prairie soil to prove that wagons could 
safely make the long and tiresome trip; before even the 
first pack trains of heavily laden mules plodded to or 
from the Missouri frontier, and even before the pelt- 
loaded mules of the great fur companies crossed Kansas 
soil to the trading posts of the East, Mexican hunters rode 
from the valley of Taos and Santa Fe to procure their win 
ter meat from the vast brown herds of buffalo migrating 
over their curious, crescent-shaped course to and from 
the regions of the Arkansas, Canadian, and Cimarron. 
They dried the strips of succulent meat in the sun or over 
fires, the fuel for the latter having been supplied by the 
buffalo themselves on previous migrations ; they stripped 
the hides from the prostrate bodies and cured them, and 
trafficked with the bands of Indians which followed the 
herds as persistently as did the great, gray wolves. Of 
these ciboleros, swarthy-skinned hunters of Mexico, some 
more hardy and courageous than their fellows, or by 
avarice turned trader, ventured further afield and were not 
balked by the high, beetling cliffs which bordered a 
great, forbidding plateau lying along and below the capri 
cious Cimarron, in places a river of hide-and-seek in the 
sands, wet one day and dry the next. 

From the mesa-like northern edge, along the warning 
arroyos of the Cimarron, where erosion, Nature's patient 
sculptor, carved miracles of artistry in the towering clays, 
shales, and sandstones, to the great sand hills billowing 


along its far-flung other edges, this barren waste of dreary 
sand and grisly alkali was a vast, simmering playground 
for dancing heat waves and fantastic mirage, and its 
treacherous pools of nauseous, alkaline waters shrunk 
daily from their encrusted edges and gleamed malignantly 
under a glowering, molten sun. Arroyos, level plain, 
shifting sand, and imponderable dust, with a scrawny, 
scanty, hopeless vegetation which the whimsical winds 
buried and then dug up again, this high desert plateau lay 
like a thing of death, cursing and accursed. It sloped im 
perceptibly southward, its dusty soil gradually breaking 
into billowy ridges constantly more marked and with 
deeper troughs, by insensible gradations becoming low 
sand hills, ever growing more separate and higher until at 
last they were beaten down and strewn broadcast by more 
persistent winds, and limited by the firmer soils which 
were blessed with more frequent rains to coax forth a 
thin cover of protecting, anchoring vegetation. To the 
west they intruded nearly to the Rio Pecos, a stream which 
in almost any other part of the country would have been 
regarded as insignificant, but here was given greatness 
because its liquid treasure was beyond price and because it 
was permanent, though timid. 

Of the first of the Mexicans to push out over this great 
desolation perhaps none returned, except by happy chance, 
to tell of its tortures and of the few serviceable water- 
holes leagues apart, the permanency of which none could 
foretell. But return some eventually did, and perhaps 
deprecated the miseries suffered, in view of the saving in 
miles; but their experience had been such as to impel 
them to drive a line of stakes along the happily chosen 


course to mark in this manner the way from each more 
trustworthy water-hole to the next, be they reservoirs or 
furtive streams which bubbled up and crept along to die 
not far from their hopeful springs, sucked up by palpitant 
air and swallowed by greedy sands, their burial places 
marked by a shroud of encrusted salts. In the winter 
and spring an occasional rain filled hollows, ofttimes com 
ing as a cloudburst and making a brave showing as it 
tumultuously deepened some arroyo and roared valiantly 
down it toward swift effacement The trail was staked, if 
not by the swarthy traders, then by their red-skinned 
brothers, and from this line of stakes the tableland derived 
its name, and became known to men as the Lano Estacada, 
or Staked Plain. 

Of this accursed desert no one man had full knowledge, 
nor thirsted for it if it were to be had only through his 
own efforts. There were great stretches unknown to any 
man, and there were other regions known to men who 
had not brought their knowledge out again; and what 
knowledge there was of its south-central portions was 
not to be found in men with white skins, but in certain 
marauding redmen fitted by survival to cope with problems 
such as it presented, and to live despite them. One other 
class knew something of its mysteries, for among the 
Mexicans there were some who had learned by bitter pil 
grimages, but mostly from the mouths of men long dead 
who had passed the knowledge down successive genera 
tions, each increment a little larger when it left than when 
it came, who had a more comprehensive, embracing knowl 
edge of the baking tableland ; and these few, because what 
they knew could best be used in furtive, secretive pursuits 


bearing a swift penalty for those caught in them, hugged 
that knowledge closely and kept it to themselves. A man 
\vho has that which another badly needs can drive shrewd 
bargains. 'And of the few Mexicans who were enriched 
by the possession of this knowledge, those who knew 
most about it had mixed blood flowing through their 
veins, for the vast grisly plateau had been a short cut and 
place of refuge for marauding bands of Apaches, Utes, 
and Comanches while civilization crawled wonderingly 
in swaddling clothes. 

Of the knowing few Pecos Kane owned two, owned 
them body and soul, and to make his title firmer than even 
proof of murder could assure, he threw golden sops to 
the wise ones' avarice and allowed them seats in the sun 
and privileges denied to their fellows. One of them, by 
name Miguel, a small part Spaniard and the rest Mescalero 
Apache, was a privileged man, for he knew not only the 
main trails across the plain but certain devious ways twist 
ing in from the edges, one of which wandered for accursed 
miles, first across rock, then over sand and again over 
rock and unexpectedly turned a high, sharp ridge to look 
upon his Valle de Sorprendido, deep and green, whose 
crystal spring wandered musically along its gravelly bed 
from the graying western end of the canyon-like ravine to 
sink silently into the thirsty sands to the east and be seen 
no more. Manuel, also, knew this way. 

Surprise Valley was no terminal, but a place for tongue- 
lolling, wild-eyed cattle to pause and rest, drink and eat 
before the fearful journey called anew. No need for cor 
ral, fence, or herders here to keep them from straying, but 
an urgent need for pressing riders to throw the herd back 


on the trail again, to start the dumbly protesting animals 
on the thirty-six-hour drive to the next unfailing water, 
against the instinct which bade them stay. A valley of 
delight it was, a jewel, verdant and peaceful, forced by 
man to serve a vicious purpose; but as if in punishment 
for its perversion the glistening sand hills crept slowly 
nearer, each receding tide of their slow advance encroach 
ing more and more each year until now the valley had 
shrunk by half and a stealthy grayness crept insiduously 
into its velvety freshness like the mark of sin across a 
harlot's cheek. 

Near the fenced-in spring was an adobe building, de 
serted except when a drive crew sought its shelter, and it 
served principally as a storehouse should a place of refuge 
suddenly be needed. It lay not far from the sloping banks 
of detritus which now ran halfway up the sheer, smooth 
stone walls enclosing the valley. Across from it on the 
southern side of the depressed pasture a broad trail slanted 
up the rock cliffs to the desert above. The cabin, the trail, 
and the valley itself long ago would have been obliterated 
by sand but for the miles of rocks, large and small, which 
lay around it like a great, flat collar. Should some terrific 
sand storm sweep over it with a momentum great enough 
to bridge the rocky floor the valley would cease to be ; and 
smaller storms raging far out on the encircling desert car 
ried their sands farther and farther across the stubborn 
rock, until now its outer edge was closer by miles. Already 
each rushing wind retained sand enough to drop it into the 
valley and powder everything. 

The pock-marked guide, disdaining the precarious 
labors of getting the herd down the ledge with no fatali- 


ties among the maddened beasts, lolled in his saddle on the 
brink of the precipice and watched the struggle on the 
plain behind him, where hard-riding, loudly yelling herd 
ers were dashing across the front of the weaving, shifting, 
stubborn mass of tortured animals, letting them through 
the frantic restraining barrier in small groups, which con 
stantly grew larger. Here and there a more determined 
animal slipped through and galloped to the descending 
ledge, head down and tail up. The cracking of revolvers 
fired across the noses of the front rank grew steadily and 
Miguel deemed it safer to leave the brim of the cliff. It 
was possible that the maddened herd might break through 
the desperate riders and plunge to its destruction. Had 
the trail been a few hours longer nothing could have held 

" Give a hand here ! " shouted the trail-boss as the guide 
rode complacently out of danger. "Ride in there an' 
help split 'em ! " 

" I weel be needed w'en we leeve again," replied Miguel. 
" To run a reesk eet ees foolish. I tol' you to stop 'em 
a mile away an' spleet 'em there. Eet ees no beesness of 
Miguel's, theese. You deed not wan' to tak' the time? 
Then tak' w'at you call the consequence." 

Eventually the last of the herd which mercifully was 
composed of stragglers whose lack of strength made them 
more tractable, were successfully led to the ledge and 
stumbled down it to join their brothers standing or lying 
in the little brook as if to appease their thirst by absorp 
tion before drinking deeply. The frantic, angry bawling 
of an hour ago was heard no more, for now a contented 
lowing sounded along the stream, where the quiet animals 


often waited half an hour before attempting to drink. 
They stood thus for hours, reluctant to leave even to graze 
and after leaving, left the grass and returned time after 
time to drink. There were a few half -blinded animals 
among the weaklings, but water, grass, and rest would 
restore their sight. Here they would stay until fit for the 
second and lesser ordeal, and the others in turn. 

The weary riders, turning their mounts loose to join the 
rest of the horse herd, piled their saddles against the wall 
of the hut and waited for the cook to call them to fill their 
tin plates and cups. One of them, more energetic and per 
haps hungrier than the rest, unpacked the load of firewood 
from a spiritless horse and carried it to the hut 

The perspiring Thorpe looked his thanks and went on 
with his labors and in due time a well-fed, lazy group 
sprawled near the hut, swapping tales or smoking in satis 
fied silence. At the other side of the building Miguel sat 
with those of his own kind, boasting of his desert achieve 
ments and in reply to a sneering remark from the other 
group he showed his teeth in a mocking smile, raised his 
eyebrows until the crescent scar reached his sombrero and 
shrugged his shoulders. 

" Eet ees not good to say sooch theengs to Miguel," he 
complacently observed. "Eef he should get ver' angree 
an' leeve een the night eet would be ver' onluckie for 
Greengos. Quien sabe?" 

" He got you there, Jud," growled a low voice. " He 
shore hurts me worse'n a blister, but I'm totin' my grudge 

"Huh," muttered another thoughtfully. "A man can 
travel fast without no cattle to set th' pace. He shore can 


' leeve ' an' be d d, for all 7 care. An' I'm sayin' that 
if he does there'll be a d d dead Greaser in Mesquite 
right soon after I get back. Th' place for him to ' leeve ' 
us is at Three Ponds for then we shore would be in one 
bad fix." 

" I ain't shore I'd try to get away," said Sandy Woods 
slowly. " There's good grass an' water here, no herdin', 
no strayin', nobody to bother a feller. A man can live a 
long time on one steer out here, jerkin' th' meat. Th' 
herd would grow, an' when it came time to turn 'em into 
money he'd only have to drive plumb west. It wouldn't 
be like tryin' to find a little place like this. Just aim at th' 
sunset an' keep goin'." 

" How long would this valley feed a herd like th' one 
here now?" ironically demanded the trail-boss. "You 
can tell th' difference in th' grass plain at th' end of a 
week. Yo're full of loco weed." 

" Eef you say sooch things to me I may leeve in the 
night," chuckled the other. " Wish they'd stampeded an' 
knocked him over th' eege! One of these days 
some of us may be quittin' Kane, an' then there'll 
be one struttin' half-breed less in Mesquite. Tell 
you one thing : I won't make this drive many more times 
before I know th' way as well as he does ; an' from here on 
we could stake it out." 

Soft, derisive laughter replied to him and the trail-boss 
thoughtfully repacked his pipe. " It ain't in you," he said. 
" You got to be born with it." 

" You holdin' that a white man ain't got as much brains 
as a mongrel with nobody knows how many different kinds 
of blood in him?" indignantly demanded Sandy. 


"'He's got generations behind him, like a setter or a 
pointer, an' it ain't a question of brains. It's instinct, 
an' th' lower down yore stock runs th' better it'll be. 
There ain't no human brains can equal an animal's in 
things like that. I doubt if you could leave here an' get 
off this desert, plumb west or not. You got a big target, 
for it's all around you behind th' horizon ; but I don't think 
you'd live till you hit it at th' right place. Don't forget 
that th' horizon moves with you. If there wasn't no 
tracks showin' you th' way you'd die out on this fryin' 

"An' th' wind'll wipe them out before mornin'," said 
one of the others. 

The doubter laughed outright. "Wait till we come 
back. I'll give you a chance to back up yore convictions. 
Don't forget that I ain't sayin' that I'd try it afoot I'd 
ride an' give th' horse it's head. There ain't nothin' to 
be gained arguin' about it now. An' I'm free to admit 
that I'm cussed glad to be settin' here lookin' out instead 
of out there some'ers try in' to get here to look in. Gimme 
a match, Jud." 

The trail-boss snorted. "Now yo're takin' my end," 
he asserted. "If you ride a cayuse an' give it its head it 
ain't a white man's brains that yo're dependin' on. That 
ain't yore argument, a-tall. I'll bet you, cayuse or no 
cayuse, you can't leave Three Ponds an' make it. A 
cayuse has to drink once in awhile or he'll drop under 
you an' you'll lose yore instinct-compass." 

"I'll take that when we start back," retorted Sandy, 
" if you'll give me a fair number of canteens. I'm fig- 
gerin' on outfittin' right." 


"Take all you want at Cimarron corrals," rejoined 
the trail-boss. "After we leave there I'm bettin' no 
body will part with any of theirs." He looked keenly 
at the boaster and took no further part in the conversa 
tion, his mind busy with a new problem; the grudge he 
already had 



HOPALONG and Red liked their camp and were 
pleased that they could stay in it another day and 
night. They jerked the bear meat in the sun and smoke 
and took a much-needed bath in the creek, where the gen 
tle application of sand freed them from the unwelcome 
guests which the jail had given them. Clothing washed 
and inspected quickly dried in the sun and wind. Neither 
of them had anything on but a sombrero and the effect 
was somewhat startling. Red picked up his saddle pad 
to fling it over a rock for a sun bath and was about to let 
go of it when he looked closer. 

" Hey, did you rip open this pad? " he asked, eying his 
friend speculatively. 

Hopalong added his armful of fuel to the pile near the 
fire and eyed his friend. " For a growed man you shore 
do ask some childish questions," he retorted. "Of course 
I did. I allus rip open saddle pads. All my life I been 
rippin' open every saddle pad I saw. Many a time I got 
mad when I found a folded blanket instead of a pad. I've 
got up nights an' gone wanderin' around looking for pads 
to rip open. You look like you had sense, but looks shore 
is deceivin'. Why'n blazes would I rip open yore saddle 
pad? I reckon it's plumb wore out an' just nat'rally come 



apart. You've had it since Adam made th' sun stand 

"You must V listened to some sky pilot with yore 
feet ! " retorted Red. "Adam didn't make th' sun stand 
still. That was Moses, so they'd have longer light for 
to hunt for him in. An' you needn't get steamed up, 
neither. Somebody ripped this pad, with a knife, too. 
Seein' that it was in th' same camp all night with you, 
I nat'rally asked. I'm shore / didn't do it. Then who 
did?" He swaggered off to get his friend's pad and 
picked it up. "Of course you wouldn't rip yore own. 
That " he held it closer to his eyes and stared at it. 
" Cussed if you didn't, though ! It's ripped just like mine. 
I reckon you'll be startin' on th' saddles, next ! " 

Hopalong's amusement at the ripping of his com 
panion's pad faded out as he grabbed his own and looked 
at it. " Well, I'm cussed ! " he muttered. " It shore was 
ripped, all right. It never come apart by itself. Both of 
'em, huh ? " He pondered as he turned the pad over and 

" They didn't play no favorites, anyhow," growled Red. 
" Wonder what they thought they'd find ? Jewels ? " 

Hopalong pushed back his hat and gently scratched a 
scalp somewhat tender from the sand treatment. " Things 
like that don't just happen," he said, reflectively. 
" There's allus a reason for things." He grew thoughtful 
again and studied the pad. " Mebby they wasn't lookin' 
for anythin'," he muttered, suspiciously. 

Red snorted. "Just doin' it for practice, mebby?" he 
asked, sarcastically. "Not havin' nothin' else to do, 
somebody went up to our rooms an' amused themselves 


by rippin' open our pads. You got a head like a calf, 
only it's a hull lot smaller." 

"We was accused of robbin' th' bank, Reddie," said 
Hopalong in patient explanation. "They knowed we 
didn't do it so they must 'a' wanted us to be blamed for 
it. Th' best proof they could have, not seejn' us do it, 
was to plant somethin' to be found on us. This is past 
yore ABC eddication, but I'll try to hammer it into you. 
If it makes you dizzy, hold up yore hand. What does a 
bank have that everybody wants ? Money ! Why do peo 
ple rob banks? To get money, you sage-hen! What 
would bank robbers have after they robbed a bank? 
Money, you locoed cow ! Now, Reddie, there's two kinds 
of money. One is hard, an' th' other is soft like yore 
head. Th' soft has pretty pictures on it an' smells power 
ful. It also has numbers. Th' numbers are different, 
Reddie, on each bill. Some banks keep a list of th' num 
bers of the biggest bills. Reckon I better wait an' let 
you rest up." 

"Too bad they got us out of jail both of us," said 
Red. " I should 'a' stayed behind. It wouldn't 'a' been 
half as bad as hangin' 'round with you." 

" Now," continued his companion, looking into the 
pad, "if some of them numbered bills was found on us 
they'd have us, wouldn't they? We wasn't supposed to 
have no friends. An' where would a couple of robbers 
be likely to carry dangerous money ? On their hats ? No, 
Reddie ; not on their hats. In their pockets, where they 
might get dragged out at th' wrong time? Mebby; but 
not hardly. Saddle pads, says th' little boy in th' rear of 
the room. Right you are, sonny. Saddle pads, Reddie, 


is a real good place. While you go all over it again so 
you can get th' drift of it I'll put on some clothes. I'm 
near baked." 

" It started some time ago," said Red innocently. 

"What did?" 

" Th' bakin'. You didn't get that hat on quick enough," 
his friend jeered. "I've heard of people eatin' cooked 
calves' brains, but they'd get little nourishment an' only 
a moldy flavor out of yourn. An' you'd shore look better 
with all yore clothes on. I can see th' places where you've 
stopped washin' yore hands, feet, an' neck all these years." 

Hopalong mumbled something and slid into his under 
wear. " Gee ! " he exulted. " These clean clothes shore 
do feel good ! " 

"You'd nat'rally notice it a whole lot more than I 
would," said Red, following suit. As his head came into 
sight again he let his eyes wander along the eastern and 
southeastern horizon. " You know, them bluffs off yon 
der remind me a hull lot of parts of th' Staked Plain," 
he observed. "We hadn't ought to be very far away 
from it, down here." 

"They're its edge," grunted Hopalong, rearranging 
the strips of meat over the fire. Both became silent, go 
ing back in their memories to the events of years before, 
when the Staked Plain had been very real and threatening 
to them. 

At daylight the following morning they arose and not 
much later were riding slowly southward and as near the 
creek as the nature of its banks would allow. When the 
noon sun blazed down on them they found the creek 
dwindling rapidly and, glancing ahead down the sandy 


valley they could make out the dark, moist place where 
the last of it disappeared in the sands. They watered 
their horses, drank their fill and went on again toward 
the place where they were to meet Johnny, riding on a 
curving course which led them closer and closer to the 
forbidding hills. In mid-afternoon they came to a salt 
pond and instead of arguing about the matter with their 
thirsty mounts, let them go up to it and smell it. The 
animals turned away and went on again without protest. 
A little later Red squinted eastward and nodded in answer 
to his own unspoken question. 

" Shore it is," he muttered. 

Hopalong followed his gaze and grunted. " Shore." 
He regarded the distant bulk thoughtfully. " Strikes me 
no sane cow ever would go out there, unless it was drove. 
It's our business to look into everythin'. Comin' ? " 

" I shore am. Nobody can buffalo me an' chuck me into 
jail without a comeback. I'm lookin' for things to fatten 

"It can't get too fat for me," replied his friend. 
" Helpin' th' Kid get his money back was enough to set 
me after some of that reward money ; but when I sized up 
Kane an' his gang it promised to be a pleasure ; now, after 
that jailin', it's a yelpin' joy. If there's no other way 
I'm aimin' to ride into Mesquite an' smoke up with both 

As they neared the carcass Red glanced at his cheerful 
friend. " Head's swelled up like a keg," he said. " Struck 
by a rattler." 

"Reckon so; but cows dead from snakebite ain't 


They pulled up and looked at it at close range. 

"Shot," grunted Hopalong. 

" Then somebody was out here with it," said Red swing 
ing down. " He was tender-hearted, he was. Gimme a 
hand. We'll turn it over an' look at th' brand." 

Hopalong complied, and then they looked at each other 
and back to the carcass, where a large piece of hide had 
been neatly trimmed around and skinned off. 

" Didn't dare let it wander, an' they plugged it after 
it got struck," said Red. 

"Careful, they was," commented his companion. 
" They was too careful. If they'd let it wander it wouldn't 
'a' told nothin', 'specially if it wandered toward home. 
But shootin' it, an' then doin' this I reckon our come 
back is takin' on weight" 

" It shore is," emphatically said Red. " Cuss this hard 
ground ! It don't tell nothin'. They went north or south 
an' not long ago, neither. Which way are you ridin' ? " 

Hopalong considered. "If they went either way they'd 
be seen. I got a feelin' they went right across. Greasers 
an' Injuns know that desert, an' there's both kinds workin* 1 
for Kane. It allus has been a shore-thing way for 'em. 
Remember what Idaho said ? " 

" It can't be done," said Red. 

" Slippery Trendly an' Deacon Rankin did it." 

" But they only crossed one corner," argued Red. 

" McLeod's Texans did it ! " 

"They didn't cross much more'n a corner," retorted 
Red. "An' look what it did to 'em ! " 

" It's a straight drive for them valleys along th' Cim- 
arron," mused Hopalong. " Nobody to see 'em come or 


go, good grass to fatten 'em up after they got there, an' 
plenty of time for blottin' th' brands. I'll bet Kane's got 
men that knows how to get 'em over. There's water- 
holes if you only know where to look, an' how to head 
for 'em; an' some of these half-breeds down here know 
all of that. If they went north or south on a course far 
enough east to keep many folks from seein' 'ehi they'd 
find it near as dry. Well, we better go down an' meet th' 
Kid before we do anythin' else. We got our bearin's 
an' can find th' way back again. What you say?" 

Red mounted and led the way. "If I'm goin' to ride 
around out here I'm goin' to have plenty of water, an' 
that means canteens. I'm near chokin' for a drink; an' 
this cayuse is gettin' mean. Come on." 

" We might pick up some tracks if we hunt right now,'* 
said Hopalong. "If we wait longer this wind'll blot 
'em out. I ain't thirsty," he lied. "You go down an' 
meet th' Kid an' I'll look around east of here. We can't 
gamble with this : if I find tracks they'll save us a lot of 
ridin' an' guessin'. Go ahead." 

"If you stay I stay," growled Red. 

"Listen, you chump," retorted Hopalong. "It's only 
a few hours more if I stay out here than if I go with you. 
Get canteens an' supplies. Th' Kid can bring us more 
tomorrow. I'm backin' my guess: get a-goin'." 

Red saw the wisdom of the suggestion and wheeled, rid 
ing at good speed to the southwest while his friend went 
eastward, his eyes searching the desert plain. It was night 
when Red returned, picking his way with a plainsman's 
instinct to the carcass of the cow, and he softly replied 
to a low call which came from behind a billow of sand. 


Hopalong arose. " You made good time," he said. 

" Reckon so," replied Red, riding toward him. " I only 
got two canteens an' not much grub. Th' Kid'll be ready; 
for us tomorrow. What about yore cayuse? " 

" Don't worry," chuckled Hopalong. " It's th' cayuses 
that's been botherin' me most. They're all right now. I 
found a little hole with cold, sweeet water, an' there's 
grass around it for th' cayuses. There ain't much, but 
enough for these two goats. Th' water-hole ain't more'n 
three feet across an' a foot deep, but it fills up good an* 
has wet quite a spot around it. An' Red, I found some- 
thin' else!" 

"Good; what is it?" 

" There's clay around it an' a thin layer of sand over th' 
clay," replied Hopalong. " I found th' prints of a cayuse 
an' a man, an' they was fresh not more'n twenty- four 
hours old if I'm any judge. I cast around on widenin' 
circles, but couldn't pick up th' trail any distance from th' 
hole. Th' wind that's been blowin' all day wiped 'em out ; 
but it didn't wipe out much at th' edge of th' water. I 
could even make it out where he knelt to drink. There 
you are : a dead cow, with th' brand skinned off ; tracks 
of a man an' a cayuse at that water-hole; no herd tracks, 
no other cayuse tracks just them two, an' our suspicions. 
What you think?" 

Red chuckled. "I think we're gettin' somewhere, 
cussed slow an' I don't know where; but I'm playin' up 
that skinned cow. If it was all skinned I'd say a hide 
hunter might 'a' done it, an' that he made th' tracks you 
saw ; but it wasn't. You should 'a' looked better near th' 
carcass instead of huntin' up th' water-hole. You might 


'a' seen th' tracks of a herd, or what th' wind left of 'em, 
'though I reckon they drove that cow off quite a ways 
before they dropped it." 

"Did you cross any herd tracks after you left me?" 
asked Hopalong. 

"No; why?" 

"An* we didn't cross any before you left," said Hop- 
along. "If there's been any to see runnin' east an' west 
\ve'd 'a' found 'em. That was all hard ground ; an' there 
was th' wind. There wasn't none to find." 

"Huh!" snorted Red, and after a moment's thought 
he looked up. "Mebby that feller found th' cow all 
swelled up with snakebite, away off from water as he 
thought, an' just put an end to its misery ? " 

" Then why did he cut out th' brand ? " snapped Hop- 

" What are you askin' me for ? " demanded Red, trucu 
lently. " How'd I know ? You shore can ask some 
!d n fool questions!" 

"Yo're half-baked," growled his companion. "I will 
be, too, before I get any answer to what I'm askin' myself. 
I'm aimin' to squat behind a rise north of that water-hole 
an' wait for my answer if it takes a month. I can get a 
good view from up there." 

Red, whose hatred for deserts was whole-hearted, 
looked through the darkness in disgust at his friend. 
" You've picked out a fine job for us ! " he retorted. "If 
yo're right an' they did drive a herd across to th' other 
side it'll shore be a wait. Be more'n a week, an' mebby 

"They've got to drive hard between waters," replied 


Hopalong. " They'll waste no time ; an' they won't waste 
time comin' back again, when they won't have th' cows to 
hold 'em down. There's one thing shore : They won't be 
back tomorrow or th' next day, an' we both can ride down 
an' see th' Kid, an' mebby McCullough. It's too good a 
lead to throw away. But before we meet Johnny we're 
goin' to have a better look around, 'specially south an' 

"All right," agreed Red. " How'd you come to find th' 

"Rode up on a ridge an' saw somethin' green, an* 
knowin' it wasn't you I went for it," answered his friend. 
"If it had been made for us it couldn't be better. With 
water, an' grass enough for night grazin', an a good ridge 
to look from, it's a fine place for us. IWe'll take turns at 
it, for it won't feed two cayuses steady. Th' off man can 
ride west to grass, mebby back to our camp, an' by takin' 
shifts at it we can mebby save most of th' grass at th' 

"An* mebby get spotted while we're ridin* back an' 

" Th' ridge will take care of that, an' I reckon when it 
peters out there'll be others to hide us. I'm dead set on 
this : I'm so set that I'll stick it out all alone rather than 
pass it by. I tell you I got a feelin'" 

"I ain't quittin'," growled Red; "I ain't got sense 
enough to quit. Desert or no desert I'm aimin' to do my 
little gilt-edged damndest ; but I'm admittin' I'll be plumb 
happy when it's my time off. We'll get supplies an' more 
canteens from th' Kid tomorrow, an' be fixed so we can 
foller any other lead that sticks up its head. I shore can 


stand more than ridin' over a desert if it'll give us any thin* 
on them fellers." 

" Here we are," grunted his companion, swinging from 
the saddle. " Finest, coldest water you ever drunk. I'm 
puttin' double hobbles on my cayuse tonight, just to make 

" Me, too," said Red, dismounting. 

In the morning they rode up for a look along the ledge, 
found that it would answer their requirements and then 
went southeast, curving further into the desert, and it was 
not long before Red's roving glance caught something 
which aroused his interest and he silently rode off to in 
vestigate, his companion going slowly ahead. When he 
returned it was by another way and he rode with his eager 
eyes searching the desert beneath and ahead of him. 
Reaching his friend, who had stopped and also was scan 
ning the desert floor with great intentness, he nodded in 
quiet satisfaction. 

"Think you see 'em, too?" he smilingly inquired. 
" They're so faint they can't hardly be seen, not till you 
look ahead, an' then it's only th' difference between this 
strip of sand that we're on an' th' rest of th' desert. It's 
a cattle trail, Hoppy; I just found another water-hole, 
a big one. Th' bank was crowded with hoof marks, cat 
tle an' cayuses. Looks like they come from th' west, 
bearin' a little north. Th' only reason we didn't see 'em 
when we rode down was because they was on hard ground. 
That shore explains th' dead cow." 

"An' in a few hours more," said his companion, "this 
powdery dust will blot 'em out. If they was clearer I'd 
risk follerin' them, even if we only had a canteen apiece. 


We can ride as far between waters as they can drive a 
herd, an' a whole lot farther. It's only fearin' that th' 
trail will disappear that holds me back." 

"We don't have to risk it yet," said Red, grimly. 
"We've found out where they cut in an' how they start 
across; an' all we got to do is to lay low up there an' 
wait for 'em to come back, or start another herd across, 
to learn who they are." 

"If we wait for their next drive we can f oiler 'em on 
a fresh, plain trail, an' be a lot better prepared," supple 
mented Hopalong. " I reckon we're shore goin' to fatten 
our comeback ! " 

" It's pickin' up fast," gloated his friend. "All we got 
to do is watch that big water-hole' an' we got 'em. There 
ain't so many water-holes out on this skillet that they can 
drive any way they like. We'll camp at th' little one, of 
course, but we can lay closer to th' big one nights." 

"An' from th' ridge up yonder th' man on day watch 
can see for miles." 

" Yes ; an' fry, an' broil, an' sizzle, an' melt ! " muttered 
Red. "D n'em!" 

Hopalong had wheeled and was leading the way into the 
southwest as straight as he could go for the meeting with 
Johnny, and Red pushed up past him and bore a little more 
to the west. They had seen all they needed to see for the 
day, and they had made up their minds. 

At last after a long, hot ride they reached the bluffs 
marking the side of the plateau and soon were winding 
down a steep-walled arroyo which led to the plain below, 
and the country began to change with such insensible 
gradations that they hardly noticed it. Sage and grease- 


wood became more plentiful and after an hour had passed 
an occasional low bush was to be seen and the ground 
sloped more and more in front of them. A low fringe 
of greenery lay along the distant bottom, where Sand 
Creek or some other hidden stream came close to the top 
of the soil, later to issue forth and become the stream into 
which the Question-Mark's creek later emptied. They 
crossed this and breasted an opposing slope, followed 
around the base of a low ridge of hills and at last stopped 
under a clump of live-oak and cotton woods in the extreme 
east end of the Question-Mark valley. 

While the two friends were riding toward the little 
clump of trees west of the Question-Mark ranch visitors 
rode slowly up to the door of the ranchhouse and one of 
them dismounted. The shield he wore on his open vest 
shone in the sun with nickel brightness, but his face was 
anything but bright. The job which had been cut out for 
him was not to his liking and had destroyed his peace of 
mind, and the peace of mind of the two deputies, who 
needed no reflection upon their subordinate positions to 
keep them in the sheriff's rear. What little assurance they 
might have started with received a jolt soon after they had 
left town, when a gruff and unmistakably unfriendly voice 
had asked, with inconsiderate harshness and profanity, 
their intended destination and their business. At last 
allowed to pass on after quite some humiliation from the 
hidden sentries, they now were entering upon the danger 
ous part of their mission. 

Corwin stepped up to the door and knocked, a formality 
which he never dispensed with on the Question-Mark. 
Other visitors usually walked right in and found a chair 


or sat on the table, but it never should be said to Corwin's 
discredit that an officer of the law was rude and ignorant 
in such a well-known and long-established form of eti 
quette. So Sheriff Corwin knocked. 

" Come in ! " impatiently bawled a loud and rude voice. 

The sheriff obeyed and looked around the door casing. 
"Ah, hello, Mac," he said in cheery greeting. 

"Mac who?" roared the man at the table. 

" McCullough," said the man at the door, correcting 
himself. " How are you ? " 

"Yo're one full-blooded d n fool of a sheriff," 
sneered the trail-boss. "Where's them two prisoners I 
been waitin' for?" 

" They got away. Somebody helped 'em bust th' jail. 
I sent word back to you by yore own men." 

" Shore, I got, it ; I know that. That's no excuse 
a-tall ! " retorted the trail-boss. " I went an' sent word 
down to Twitchell on th' jump that his fool way worked 
an' that I was goin' to send him th' men he wanted. Then 
you let 'em bust out of jail ! Fine sort of a fool you made 
of me ! Where's yore reward now, that you was spendin' 
so fast? An' what'll Twitchell say, an' do? He wants 
th' bank robbers, not excuses ; an' more'n all he wanted th' 
man that shot Ridley. It ain't only a question of per- 
tectin' th' men workin' for him, but it's personal, too. 
Ridley was an old friend of his'n an' he'll raise h 1 
till he gets th' man that killed him. What about it ? What 
have you done since they got away ? " 

"We trailed 'em, but they lost us," growled Corwin. 
" Reckon they got up on that hard ground an' then lit out, 
jumpin' th' country as fast as they could. Kane had it on 


'em, cold an' proper but I had my doubts, somehow. I 
ain't quittin' ; I'm watchin' an' layin' back, an' I'm figgerin' 
on deliverin' th' man that got Ridley." 

" ( You mean Long an' Thompson are innocent?" de 
manded McCullough with a throaty growl. " Yo're sayin' 
it yoreself ! What was you tryin' to run on me, then?" 

"They must 'a' robbed th' bank," replied the sheriff; 
"but I got my own ideas about who killed yore friend. 
This is between us. I'm waitin' till I get th' proof; an' 
after I get it, an' th' man, I'll mebby have to leave th' 
country between sunset an' dawn. I ain't no dog, an' I'm 
gettin' riled." 

" Then it was Kane who cold-decked them two fellers ? " 
demanded McCullough. 

" I ain't sayin' a word, now," replied the sheriff. " Not 
yet, I ain't, but I'm aimin' to get th' killer. Where's that 

"What you want with him?" asked the trail-boss. 
"Reckon he done it?" 

"No; he didn't," answered Corwin. "He only helped 
them fellers out of jail, an' I'm goin' to take him in." 

"What?" shouted McCullough, and then burst out 
laughing. "I'm repeatin' what I said about you bein' 
full-blooded! Say, if you can turn that trick I won't 
raise a hand not till he's in jail; an' then I'll get him 
out cussed quick. He's workin' for me, an' he didn't do 
no crime, gettin' a couple of innocent men out of that 
mud hut; an', besides, I don't know that he did get 'em 
out. Go after him, Corwin; go right out after him." 
He glanced out of the window again and chuckled. " I 
see you brought some of yore official fam'bly along. 


Shucks ! That ain't no way to do, three agin' one. An' 
I heard you was a bad hombre with a short gun ! " 

" It ain't no question of how bad I am ! " retorted the 
sheriff. "We want him alive." 

" Oh, I see ; aim to scare him, bein' three to one. All 
right; go ahead but there ain't goin' to be no pot- 
shootin'. Tell yore fam'bly that. I mean it, an' I cut in 
sudden th' minute any of it starts." 

" There won't be no pot-shootin'," growled the sheriff, 
and to make sure that there wouldn't be any he stepped 
out and gave explicit instructions to his companions before 
going toward the smaller corral. When part way there 
he heard whistling, wheeled in his tracks and went back 
to the bunkhouse, hugging the wall as he slipped along it, 
his gun raised and ready for action. 

Johnny turned the corner, caught sight of the two depu 
ties, who held his suspicious attention, and had gone too 
far to leap back when he saw Corwin flattened against 
the wall and the sheriff's gun covering him. Presumably 
safe on a friendly ranch, he had given no thought to any 
imminent danger, and now he stood and stared at the 
unexpected menace, the whistling almost dying on his 
pursed lips. 

" Nelson ! " snapped the sheriff, " yo're under arrest for 
helpin' in that jail delivery. I'll shoot at th' first hostile 
move ! Put up yore hands an' turn 'round ! " 

Johnny glanced from him to the deputies and thought 
swiftly. Three to one, and he was covered. He leaned 
against the wall and laughed until he was limp. When 
he regained control of himself he blinked at the sheriff 
and drew a long breath, which nearly caused Corwin to 


pull the trigger; but the sheriff found it to be a false alarm. 

"What th' devil makes you think / was mixed up in 
that ? " he asked, laughing again. He drew another long 
breath with unexpected suddenness, and again the nervous 
sheriff and the two deputies nearly pulled trigger; and 
again it was a false alarm. 

" I've done my thinkin' ! " snapped Corwin. " Watch 
him, boys ! " he said out of the corner of his mouth. "An* 
if you wasn't mixed up in it you won't come to no harm." 

"No; not in a decent town," rejoined Johnny, leaning 
against the wall again, where Corwin's body somewhat 
sheltered him from the deputies. The sheriff tensed again 
at the movement. " But Mesquite's plumb full of liars," 
drawled Johnny, "trained by Kane. How do I know 
I'll get a square deal? " 

" You'll get it ! Put 'em up ! " snapped Corwin, raising 
his gun to give the command emphasis, and it now pointed 
at the other's head. 

"Long an' Thompson " began Johnny, and like a 
flash he twisted sidewise and jerked his head out of the 
line of fire, the bullet passing his ear and the powder 
scorching his hair. As he twisted he slipped in close, his 
left hand flashing to Corwin's gun-wrist and the right, 
across his body, tore the weapon from its owner's hand. 
The movement had been done so quickly that the sheriff 
did not realize what had occurred until he found himself 
disarmed and pressing against his own weapon, which was 
jammed into his groin. Johnny's left-hand gun had leaped 
into the surprised deputies' sight at the sheriff's hip and 
they lost no time in letting their own guns drop to the 
ground in instant answer to the snapped command. Cor- 


win's momentary surprise died out nearly as quickly as 
it was born and, scorning the menace of the muzzle of his 
own gun, he grabbed Johnny. As he shifted his foot 
Johnny's leg slipped behind it and a sudden heave turned 
the sheriff over it, almost end over end, and he struck the 
ground with a resounding thump. Johnny sprang back, 
one gun on the sheriff, the other on the deputies. 

" Get off them cayuses," he ordered and the two men 
slowly complied. "Go over near th' corral, an' stay 
there." In a moment he gave all his attention to the 
slowly arising officer. 

"All this was unnecessary," he said. " You put us all 
in danger of bein' killed. Don't you never again try to 
take me in till you know why yo're doin' it! My head 
might 'a' been blowed off, an' all for nothin' ! You don't 
know who busted that jail, judgin' by yore fool actions, 
an' you cussed well know it. You got plenty of gall, 
comin' down here an' throwin' a gun on me, for that! 
I'm sayin', frank, that whoever done that trick did th' 
right thing; but that ain't sayin' that / did it. Hope I 
didn't hurt you, Corwin; but I had to act sudden when you 
grabbed me." 

" Don't you do no worryin' on my account ! " snapped 
the sheriff. 

" I ain't blamin' you for doin' yore duty, if you was 
doin' it honest," said Johnny ; " but you ain't got no busi 
ness jumpin' before yo're shore. I ain't holdin' th' sack 
for nobody, Corwin; Kane or nobody else. Now then: 
you can tell what proof you got that it was me that busted 
th' jail." 

Corwin was watching the smiling face and the accusing 


eyes and he saw no enmity in either. " Then who did ? " 
he demanded. 

Johnny shrugged his shoulders. "Quien sdbef" he 
asked. "There's a lot of people down here that would 
have more reason to do a thing like that, even for strang 
ers, than / would. You ain't loved very much, from what 
I've heard. I don't want any more enemies than I got; 
but I'm tellin' you, flat, that I ain't goin' back with you ; 
an' neither would you, if you was in my place, in a strange 
town. Here," he said, letting the hammer down and toss 
ing the gun at the sheriff's feet, "take your gun. I'm 
glad you ain't hurt; an' I'm cussed glad / ain't. But 
somebody's shore goin' to be th' next time you pull a 
gun on me on a guess. You want to be dead shore, Cor- 
win. We've had enough of this. Did you get any trace 
of them two ? " 

The sheriff watched his opponent's gun go back into its 
holster and slowly picked up his own. "No; I ain't," 
he admitted, and considered a moment as he sheathed 
the weapon with great care. "I ain't got nothin' flat 
agin' you," he said ; " but I still think you had a hand in it. 
That's a good trick you worked, Nelson ; I'm rememberin' 
it. All right; th' next time I come for you I'll have it 
cold ; an' I'm shore expectin' to come for you, an' Idaho, 

"That's fair enough," replied Johnny, smiling; "but 
I don't see why you want to drag Idaho in it for. He 
didn't have no more to do with it than / did." 

" I'm believin' that, too," retorted the sheriff ; " since 
you put it just that way. I haven't heard you say that 
you didn't do it. Before I go I want to ask you a ques- 


tion : Where was you th' night th' Diamond L lost them 
cows ? " 

" Right here with Mac an' th' boys." 

"He was," said McCullough. "Yo're ridin' wide of 
th' trail, Cor win." 

"Mebby," grunted the sheriff. "There's two trails. 
I mebby am plumb off of one of 'em, as long as you know 
he was down here that night; but I'm ridin' right down 
th' middle of th' other. When did you meet Long an' 
Thompson first ? " he asked, wheeling suddenly and facing 

"Thinkin' what you do about me," replied Johnny, 
" I'd be a fool to tell you anythin', no matter what. So, 
as long as yo're ridin' down th' middle you'll have to read 
th' signs yoreself. Some of 'em must be plumb faint, th' 
way yo're guessin', an' castin' 'round. Get any news 
about them rustlers?" 

"What's th' use of makin' trouble for yoreself by 
bein' stubborn ? " asked McCullough. He looked at Cor- 
win. " Sheriff, I know for shore that he never knowed 
any Bill Long or Red Thompson until after he come to 
Mesquite. What news did you get about th' rustlers?" 

"Huh!" muttered Corwin, searching the face of the 
trail-boss, whose reputation for veracity was unquestioned. 
" I ain't got any news about 'em. Once they got on th' 
hard stretch they could go for miles an' not leave no trail. 
I'm figgerin' on spendin' quite some time north of where 
Lukins' boys quit an' turned back. There's three cows 
missin' that are marked so different from any I've ever 
seen that I'll know 'em in a herd of ten thousan' head; 
an' when they're cut out for me to look at there's some 


marks on horns an* hoofs that'll prove whose cows they 
are. I'm takin' a couple of his boys with me when I go, 
to make shore. Of course, I don't know that we'll ever 
see 'em, at all. Well," he said, turning toward his horse, 
"reckon I'll be goin'." He waved to the deputies, who 
approached, picked up their guns under Johnny's alert 
and suspicious scrutiny, and mounted. "As for you, 
Nelson, next time I'll be dead shore ; an' I'll mebby shoot 
first, on a gamble, an' talk afterward. So-long." 

Watching the three arms of the law ride away and out 
of sight, Johnny swung around and faced the grinning 
trail-boss. "You told th' truth, Mac; but I wonder if 
Corwin heard it like I did?" 

McCullough shrugged his shoulders. "Who cares? 
I'm thankin' you for an interestin' lesson in how to beat 
th' drop; but I reckon I'm gettin' too old to be quick 
enough to use it. I reckon Waffles has been tellin' th' 
truth about yore Bar-2O outfit. Where you goin' now?" 

"Off to see a couple of better men from that same 
outfit," grinned Johnny. 

He went on with his preparations and soon rode Pepper 
toward a gap in the southern chain of hills, leading a 
loaded pack horse behind him. Emerging on the other 
side of the pass he followed the chain westward and in 
due time rounded the last hill and headed for the little 
clump of trees where he saw his two friends waiting. 
They waved to him and he replied, chuckling with pleasure. 

Red looked critically at the pack animal. " Huh ! From 
th' looks of that cayuse I reckon he figgers we're goin' to 
be gone some months, like a prospector holin' up for th' 


" He never underplays a hand," grunted Hopalong, a 
warm light coming into his eyes. " Desert or no desert, 
it's shore good to be with him again. He never should 'a' 
left Montanny," 

Johnny soon joined them, dismounted, picketed the 
pack horse, pushed back his sombrero and rolled a cigar 
ette, grinning cheerfully. "If you want any more can 
teens you can have th' pair on my cayuse," he said. " Find 

They told him and he nodded in quiet satisfaction. 
"You shore ain't been asleep," he chuckled. "You've 
just about found out somethin' that's been puzzlin' a lot 
of folks down here for some years. I wonder how close 
they ever come to them water-holes when they was scoutin' 
around? But mebby they never scouted over that way 
much everybody was bankin' on 'em stayin' on th' hard 
stretch over Lukins' way, instead of crossin' it so close to 
town. You'd never thought of lookin' for 'em over east 
if you hadn't remembered Slippery Trendly, now would 

" We wasn't lookin' for nothin' nor nobody except you," 
admitted Hopalong. "But when Red saw a dead cow 
is far out on th' desert as it was, we just had to take a 
iOok at it. An' when we saw it had been shot we couldn't 
do nothin' else but look for th' brand. That bein' cut out 
made us plumb suspicious. One thing just nat'rally led 
to th' next, as th' mule said when its tail was pulled." 

"What you bet that missin' brand wasn't a Diamond 
"w?" Johnny asked. 

"Ain't that th' ranch Idaho works for ? " queried Red. 

Johnny nodded. "They raided Lukins th' night of th' 


day you an' Hoppy left town. That outfit put in two 
days ridin' along th' hard ground, half of 'em up an' 
half of 'em down. They lost over a hundred head." 

His friends exchanged looks, each trying to visualize 
the all but obliterated trail, and both nodded. 

" Mebby it was a Diamond L," said Hopalong, and he 
explained their plans to some length. 

"That's goin' to win if you can stick it out," said 
Johnny. " McCullough's steamin' a little, but he's still 
carryin' out Twitchell's wishes; an' I been arguin' with 
him, too, to give you fellers a chance. Hey ! " he ex 
claimed, grinning. " I allus knowed I'd get a bad name 
for hangin' out with you two coyotes ; an' I done got it. 
I'm suspected strong of bein' a criminal, like you fellers, 
an' I'll mebby be an outlaw, too. Sheriff Corwin just 
said so, an' he ought to know if anybody does. He 
arrested me for helpin' to get you fellers out of jail, but 
he didn't say how he aimed to keep me in it, busted like 
it is." 

" How'd you get away ? " asked Red. " Wouldn't you 
go with him?" 

"Mebby he didn't have th' rest of th' dozen," sug 
gested Hopalong. 

"Oh, he wasn't real shore about it really bein' me he 
wanted, so he turned me loose," replied Johnny. "Any 
how, I couldn't 'a' gone with him : I had to get this stuff 
out to you fellers. An' besides, I knowed if I got in that 
'dobe hut you wouldn't have th' nerve to bust me out 

"I'm honin' to bust Corwin's 'dobe head," growled 


" There's four canteens an' plenty of grub, with Mac's 
compliments," said Johnny, waving at the pack horse. 
" When am I to meet you again ? " 

Hopalong considered a moment. "There's too much 
ridin', comin' down here unless we has to," he said. " Tell 
you what : We'll find a hill, or a ridge up on th' plateau 
where a fire can be lit that won't show to nobody north 
of them hills you just come around. Take that white 
patch up yonder : we can see it plain for miles. You ride 
up to it every day about two hours after sun-up ; an' every 
night just after dark. If you see smoke puffs in daylight, 
or a winkin' fire at night, ride toward that split bluff be 
hind us. We'll meet you there. If you get news for us, 
do th' same thing on th' other slope, so it can't be seen 
from across this valley. As long as it can be seen on a 
line with th' split bluff we won't miss it." 

Johnny scratched his head. " Strings of six puffs or 
six winks means trouble : come a-latherin'," he suggested. 
" Strings of three means news, an' take yore time. Better 
have a signal for grub an' supplies : it'll mebby save ridin'. 
Say groups of two an' five, alternate? " 

Hopalong nodded and repeated the signals to make 
certain that he had them right. " Two an' five, alternate, 
for supplies; strings of six, come a-runnin'; strings of 
three, news, an' take our time. Couple of hours after 
sun-up an' just after dark. All right, Kid." 

" Mac's got an old spyglass. Want it, if I can get it ? " 
asked Johnny. 

" Shore ! " grunted Red. 

"Bring it next time you come," said Hopalong. 

"All right. Where you goin' now ? " 


" Up on Sand Creek, where we're camped," answered 
Red. " We got a couple of days before we move out on 
th' fryin' pan, an' we're aimin' to make th' most of it" 

" Wait till I get th' glass, an' I'll go along," suggested 
Johnny, eagerly. 

" Get a rustle on an' take this pack animal back with 
you," smiled Hopalong as Johnny started without it. 
"We'll empty out th' canteens, an' we can tote th' sup 
plies without it." 



THE days passed quietly for the two watchers after 
Johnny had gone back to the Question-Mark, the 
hours dragging in monotonous succession. In the Sand 
Creek camp time passed pleasantly enough, but out on the 
great, up-slanting billow of sand north of Sweet Spring, 
devoid of shelter from the blazing sun and from the 
reflected glare of the gray- white desert around it, was 
another matter. Prone on his stomach lay Hopalong 
on the northward slope, his face barely level with the 
crest of the ridge. Down in the hollow behind him was 
his horse, picketed and hobbled as well, and at his side 
on his blanket to keep the cutting sand and clogging dust 
from barrels and actions lay his rifle and his six-guns, so 
hot that their metal parts could not be touched without a 
grimace of discomfort coming to his face. The telescope 
at intervals swung around the shimmering horizon, magni 
fying the dancing heat waves until the distortion of their 
wavering, streaming currents at times rendered the view 
chaotic and baffling. Strange sights were to be seen in 
the air and knowing what they were he watched them as 
his only source of amusement. A tree-bordered lake 
appeared, its waters sparkling, arose into the air, became 
vague and slowly dissolved from view, calling from him 



caustic comment. Inverted mountains reached down from 
the heavens, standing on snow-covered tops, writhed more 
and more from their outer edges and melted down from 
the up-flung bases, slowly fading from view. They were 
followed by a silvery, winding river, certain features 
which caused him to think that he recognized it and while 
he studied it a herd of cattle upside down, and greatly 
magnified, pushed through into sight as the river scene 
faded away. Another hour passed and then a steep- 
walled, green valley inverted itself before his gaze. He 
could make out a hut and a few trees and then as mounted 
men began to ride up its slanting bluff trail his attention 
became riveted on it and he reached for the hot telescope. 
One look through the instrument made him grunt with 
disgust, for the figures danced and shrunk and expanded, 
weaved and became like shadows, through which he 
looked as though through a rare, discolored vapor. He 
was mildly excited and tried in vain to search his visual 
image of the sight for the faces of the men; but it was in 
vain, and he opened his eyes as the image faded and then 
closed them again to better search the memory picture. 
This, too, availed him nothing and he realized that he had 
not really seen the faces. He was perplexed and vexed, 
for there was something familiar about some of those 
riders. About to move for a look around through the 
telescope, he yielded to a humorous warning and lay quiet 
for awhile. Was it possible that the mirage had been 
double-acting, and had revealed each to the other? 

"Mebby they won't put as much stock in theirs as I 
did in mine," he said, and slowly picked up the telescope 
for a final look all around the horizon before Red should 


relieve him. East, south, west he looked and saw nothing, 
Swinging it toward the Sand Creek camp he grunted in 
satisfaction as a figure very much like Red wavered and 
danced as it emerged over a ridge of sand. Further north 
he swung it and slowly swept the northern horizon. 
Swearing suddenly he stopped its slow progress and 
brought it back searchingly over ground it had just cov 
ered. Rigid he held it and looked with unbelieving eyes. 

" Mirage ? " he growled, questioningly. " It's too solid 
for that I'm goin' up to see." 

Getting his horse he gingerly slipped the hot rifle 
into its scabbard, hastily dropped the six-guns into 
their holsters and, mounting, rode to meet his nearing 

" Cooked ? " queried Red, grinning. " You shore didn't 
lose no time gettin' started after you saw me! Ain't it 
h lout here ?" 

" H 1 is right," answered Hopalong, handing over the 
telescope. " But we got cayuses, full canteens, an' know 
where we are. Swing that blisterin' tube over yonder," 
pointing, "an' tell me what you see?" 

Red obeyed and the moving glass suddenly stopped and 
swung back a little. After long scrutiny he raised his 
head and gazed steadily over the rigid tube as though 
along a rifle barrel. " I see him, now, without it," he said. 
"A-foot, he is, staggerin' every-which way. Comin'?" 

His companion replied by pushing into the lead and 
setting a stiff pace through the soft sand and alkali dust. 
As they drew near they both shivered at the sight which 
steadily was being better revealed. 

The figure of a man. and scarcely more than figure, 


stumbled crazily across the sand, hatless, his bare feet 
covered with dust which had become pasty with the blood 
exuding through the deepening clefts in the skin and flesh. 
Progress on such feet would have made him mad from 
pain if he had not already become so from other causes. 
His trousers were ripped and frayed to the swollen, dust- 
plastered knees, the crimson fissures running up and down 
his swollen legs. Shirt he had none, save the strip which 
hung stiff and crimson from his belt. His upper body 
was a thing of horror, swollen, matted with crusts of dried 
blood, from beneath which more oozed out to in turn 
coagulate. His burning eyes peered through slits in the 
puffed face and his tongue, blackened and purplish, stuck 
out of his mouth. 

"G d !" muttered Red, glancing awesomely at the 
tense face of his companion. 

"He's gone," said Hopalong, softly. "Nothing can 
save him. It would be a mercy " but he checked 
the words, searching Red's acquiescent eyes. 

" Can't do it," said Red. " Can you ? " 

Hopalong drew in a deep breath and shook his head. 
"We got to try th' other first," he said. "It's wrong 
but there's nothin' else. We ain't doctors, an' there may 
be a fightin' chance. Hobble th' cayuses. We'll both 
tackle him one alone might have to be too rough, for 
he'll mebby fight." 

" He's down," said Red as he swung from his saddle. 
" Lookin' right at us, too, an' don't see us." 

The figure groveled in the sand, digging with blunder 
ing fingers worn to the bone by previous digging, and 
choked sounds came from the swollen throat. Red talked 


to himself as he hobbled his horse and pushed down the 
picket pin. 

" Lost his cayuse, somehow, or went crazy an' chased 
it away. Used up his last water an' then threw away 
everythin' he had. Tore off his shirt because th' neck 
band got too tight, an' th' cloth stuck to th' blood clots an' 
pulled at 'em. I've seen others, but they warn't none of 
'em as bad as him," growled Red more to himself than 
to his companion. 

Hopalong pushed home his own picket pin and stood 
up. " Comin' ? " he asked, starting slowly for the grovel 
ing, digging thing on the sand. 

They stepped up to him and lifted the unfortunate from 
the ground. Dazed and without understanding, the pitiful 
object of their assistance suddenly snarled and reached 
its bleeding fingers for Red's throat, and for the next few 
minutes two rational, strong men had as hard a fight on 
their hands as they ever had experienced ; and when it was 
over and the enraged unfortunate became docile from 
exhaustion they were covered with blood. Letting a few 
drops of water trickle down the side of the protruding 
tongue, which they forced to one side when the drops were 
stopped by it, they worked over the dying man as long 
as they dared in the sun and then, carrying him to Hop- 
along's horse they put him across the saddle, lashing him 
securely, and covered him with a doubled blanket to cheat 
the leering sun. 

" Go ahead to th' water-hole," said Hopalong, straight 
ening up from tying the last knot. " I'll take him to camp 
an' do what I can. There won't be no trouble handlin' 
him, tied like he is. Got to try to save him 'though I 


hope somebody puts a bullet through my head if I ever 
get like him." 

" Bein' crazy, he mebby ain't feelin' it as much as he 
might," replied Red. "Seems to me he's the one they 
called Sandy Woods; but he's so plumb changed I ain't 

Hopalong thought of the last mirage he had seen, was 
about to speak of it, but abruptly changed his mind. He 
conveyed his warning in another way. " Keep a-lookin' 
sharp, Red," he said. " Th' poor devil shore was one of 
them rustlers ; an' they mebby ain't far behind him. It's 
gettin' nearer an' nearer th' time they ought to come back. 
I'll stay with him in camp an' let th' Kid's signal go, if 
he makes one. This feller ain't got long to live, I'm 

" It's a wonder he lived this long," said Red, riding off 
to take up the vigil. 

Hopalong swung his belts and guns over the pommel 
of the saddle to lighten him, drank sparingly from a 
canteen and started on foot for the camp, .leading his 
dispirited horse. After a walk through the hot, yielding 
sand which became a punishment during the last mile he 
sighed with relief as he stopped the horse on the bank of 
Sand Creek and tenderly placed its burden on the ground 
in the shade of a tree. More water, in judicious quanti 
ties, and at increasingly frequent intervals brought no 
apparent relief to the sufferer, and in mid-afternoon 
Sandy Woods lost all need of earthly care. Kane's thiev 
ing trail-boss had won his bet. 

Hopalong looked down at the body freed of its suffer 
ing and slowly shook his head. " Th' other way would 


V been th' best," he said. "I knowed it; Red knowed it 
yet, both plumb shore, an' knowin' it was better, we 
just couldn't do it. A man's trainin' is a funny thing." 

He looked around the little depression and walked 
toward a patch of sand lying near a mass of stones which 
had rolled down the slope ; and before the evening shadows 
had reached across the little creek, a heaped-up pile of 
rocks marked the place of rest of one more weary traveler. 
At the head, lying on the ground, was a cross made of 
stones. Why he had placed it there Hopalong could 
hardly have told, but something within him had stirred 
through the sleep of busy and heedless years, and he had 
unthinkingly obeyed it. 

He looked up at the sun and found it was time to go 
on watch again. He had been given no opportunity to 
sleep, but did not complain, carelessly accepting it as one 
of the breaks in the game. When he reached his friend, 
ready to go on duty again, Red looked up at him and 
scrutinized his face. 

" Lots of sleep you must 'a' got," said Red. " How's 
our patient ? " 

" Gettin' all th' sleep there is," came the reply. " We 
was right both ways." 

" Spread yore blanket here," said Red. " I'm stickin' 
to th' job till you have a snooze. Anyhow, somethin' 
tells me that two won't be more'n we need out here at 
night, from now on." 

" It's my trick," replied Hopalong, decisively. " Spread 
yore own blanket." 

" Him turnin' up like he did was an accident," retorted 
Red, "an 5 accidents are shared between us both. Any- 


how, I ain't sleepy an' th' next few hours are pleasant. 
Get some sleep, you chump ! " 

" Well, as long as we're both handy, it don't make much 
difference," replied Hopalong, spreading the blanket. 
" We can spell each other any time we need to. Hope th' 
Kid ain't tryin' to signal nothin'." 

"We got more to signal than he has," growled Red. 
" Shut up, now ; an' go to sleep," and his companion, 
blessed by one of the prized acquirements of the plains 
man, promptly obeyed; but it seemed to him that he 
scarcely had dozed off when he felt his friend's thrusting 
hand, and he opened his eyes in the darkness, staring up 
at the blazing stars, in surprise. 

" Yes ? " whispered Hopalong, without moving or mak 
ing any other sound, again true to his training. 

His companion's whisper, a whisper by force of habit 
rather than for any good reason, reached him: "Turn 
over, an' look over th' ridge." 

Hopalong obeyed, threw off the blanket which Red 
had spread over him when the chill of the desert night 
descended, and became all eyes as he saw the faint glow 
of a distant fire, which rapidly grew and became brighter. 
" It's them, down at th' other water-hole," he said, arising 
and feeling to see if his Colts had slid out of their holsters 
while he slept. " I'm goin' down for a better look," and 
he glanced at the northern sky just above the horizon, 
memorized a group of stars and disappeared noiselessly 
into the night. 

Nearing the larger water-hole he went more slowly and 
finished by wriggling up to the crest of a sand billow, his 
head behind a lone sage bush, and his eyelids closed to 


a thin crack, lest the light of the fire should reflect from 
his eyes and reveal him to some keen, roving glance. 

The grease wood fire blazed under a pair of skillets, 
while a coffeepot imitated the Tower of Pisa on the glow 
ing coals at one edge. Around it, reclining on the powdery 
clay, or squatting in the more characteristic attitude of 
men of the saddle, were a half-dozen of Kane's pets, 
Miguel and his cronies well to one side. The hidden 
watcher knew them all by sight and saw several men who 
had helped the sheriff trick him and Red. In the dark 
ness behind the group he heard their horses moving about 
as they grazed. 

" Do you reckon he made it, Miguel ? " asked the trail- 
boss, apropos of the conversation around the fire. 

Miguel turned his face to the light, the scar over his 
eye glistening against the duller skin around it. " I say 
no," he drawled. " He change hees horrse at the corrals, 
no? The-e horrse he took was born at the-e Cimarron 
corral an' foaled eet's firrst colt there. I would not lak' 
sooch a horrse eef I did not know my way. But, quien 
sabef' ' 

The trail-boss looked at him searchingly, wondering 
how much the half-breed knew about Sandy's reasons for 
making the change. Kane would not allow fighting in 
the ranks, and grudges live long in some men. Besides, 
to lose the bet was to lose his share of the drive profits 
to a man he secretly hated, and this did not suit the trail- 

Miguel smiled grimly into the cold, searching eyes and 
shrugged his shoulders, his soft laugh turning the cold 
stare into something warmer. "Eef he deed, then eet 


ees ver' good," he said; "eef he deed not, then eet hees 
own fault. But he should not change hees horrse." 

"We'll know tomorrow night, anyhow," said a voice 
well back from the fire. " Get a rustle on you, Thorpe," 
it growled. " You move around like an old woman." 

"Ain't no walls to climb," said another, laughing. 

The red- faced cook did not raise his head or retort, 
but in his memory another name was deeply carved, to 
replace the one he was certain would be erased when they 
reached Mesquite. Sandy Woods' dislike for the horse 
given to him at the corrals had been overcome by the 
smooth words of the unforgiving cook, who also had a 
score to pay. 

"When do we rustle next?" asked a squatting figure. 
" We been layin' low too long, an' my pile has done faded ; 
I wasn't lucky, like you, Trask, an' the sheriff," he said, 
looking at the trail-boss. " Next time a bank is busted 
/ aim to be in on it. You fellers can't hog all th' good 

" Don't do no good to talk about it," snapped the trail- 
boss. " Kane names them he wants. Trask an' me was 
robbed of half of our share I ain't forgettin' it, neither. 
An' as for th' next raid, that's settled. As long as all of 
us are in it, you might as well know. We're cleanin' up 
on McCullough's west range, an' there won't be much 
of a wait." Neither the speaker, his companions, nor the 
man behind the sage brush knew that Kane already had 
changed his mind, and because of Lukins' activity had 
decided to raid McCullough's east range. 

"How soon?" demanded the questioner. 

" Some night this week, I reckon," came the answer. 


"If we get a good bunch we'll sit back an' take things 
easy for awhile. Too many drives may cut a trail that'll 
show, an' we can't risk that" 

" Too bad we have to drive west an' north before we hit 
for the plain," said Jud Hill. "Takes two days more, 
that way." 

The trail-boss smiled. " I know a way that would suit 
you, Jud," he said. "So does Miguel but we've been 
savin' it till th' old route gets too risky. It joins th' 
regular trail right here. Well, at last th* cook has really 
cooked pass it this way, Thorpe. I'm eatin' fast an' 
I'm turnin' in faster. Th' more we beat th' sun gettin' 
away from here, th' less it'll beat on us. We're leavin' 
an hour ahead of it." 

Not waiting until the camp should become silent, when 
any noise he might make would be more likely to be heard, 
Hopalong crept away while the rustlers ate and returned 
to his friend, who waited under a certain group of stars. 

Red cocked his head at the soft sound, his Colt swinging 
to cover it, when he heard his name called in his friend's 
voice, and he replied. 

Hopalong sat down on the blanket and related what he 
had seen and heard without comment from his listener 
until the end of the narrative. 

" Huh ! " said Red. " You learned a-plenty. An' I'm 
glad they reached that water-hole after dark, an' are goin' 
to go on again before it gets light. They missed our 
tracks. I call that luck," he said in great satisfaction. 
" We wasn't doin' much guessin'. That's shore their drive 
trail, an' th' best thing about it is that it's th' bottom of th' 
Y. They've got two ways of leavin' th' ranges without 


showin' tracks, but they both come together down yonder. 
I reckon mebby we'll have a piece to speak when they come 
this way again. Coin' to tell McCullough what's bein' 

"We ought to," answered his companion, slowly. 
"We'll tell th' Kid an' leave it to him. They must be 
purty shore of themselves to rustle Question-Mark cattle 
at this time. If th' Kid tells Mac, an' they try it, Mesquite 
shore is goin' to be a busy little town. I think I know his 

"They ain't takin' much of a chance, at that, if they 
try it," said Red. " They don't know that we know any- 
thin' about it an' that McCullough will know it, if th' Kid 
tells him. Mebby they rigger that by springin' it right now 
when th' feelin' is so strong agin' 'em, that it would make 
folks think they didn't do it, because they oughten't to 
oh, pshaw ! You know what I'm gettin' at ! " 

" Shore," grunted Hopalong. He was silent a moment 
and then stirred. " We ain't got no reason to stay out here 
for a day or two. Let's pull out an' go down where we 
can signal th' Kid after sun-up. We'll ride well to th' east 
past their camp. What wind is stirrin' is comin' from 
th' other way, an' there's no use makin' any fresh tracks 
in front of 'em." 

An hour or so after daylight a small fire sent a column 
of smoke straight up, the explanation of its smoking quali 
ties suggested by the canteen lying near it. Hopalong and 
Red slid a blanket over the fire and drew it suddenly aside, 
performing this operation three times in succession before 
letting the column mount unmolested for brief intervals. 
In the west, above and behind a bare spot on a ridge of 


hills an answering column climbed upward, and then a 
series of triple puffs took its place. Scattering the fire 
over the ground the two friends absent-mindedly kicked 
sand over the embers, and suddenly grinned at each other 
at the foolishness of their precautions. 

When they reached the little grove they found Johnny 
waiting for them, his horse well loaded with more pro 
visions. As they transferred the supplies to their own 
mounts they told him what had occurred and he decided 
that McCullough should be informed of the forthcoming 
raid, whether or not it would in any way jeopardize the 
winning of the rewards. 

" It's a toss-up whether Mac will wait for them to run it 
off," he said, "when I tell him. He's gettin' more riled 
every minute, but he seemed to calm down a little after 
Corwin visited him. Somethin' sort of pulls him back 
when he gets to climbin' onto his hind legs, an' he ends up 
by leanin' agin' th' wall an' swearin'. I'm not tellin' him 
nothin' about anythin' but th' raid. You aimin' to go back 
to that water-hole?" 

Hopalong shook his head. "No, sir," he answered. 
"There ain't no reason to till th' raid happens. We're 
campin' on Sand Creek till you signal that it's been run 
off. Time enough then for us to watch on that cussed 

" Have special signal for that? " suggested Red. " Say 
two, two an' three, repeated. Mebby won't have time to 
hear what th' news is. When you get our answer don't 
bother ridin' down here to tell us anythin' we'll be 
makin' tracks pronto." 

Johnny nodded. " Two, two an' three is O. K. I'll be 


ridin' back to tell Mac there's goin' to be a party on his 
west range some night soon. I'm bettin' it'll be a bloody 
party, too. Say," he exclaimed, pulling up, " Lukins an 5 
Idaho was down last night. They're mad as h 1, an' 
they're throwin' a cordon of riders plumb across th' hard 
stretch every night. Lukins an' Mac are joinin' forces, 
an' from now on th' two ranches are workin' together as 
one. With us scoutin' around east of town somethin' 
shore ought to drop." He pressed Pepper's sleek sides 
and started back to the sheltering hills. 

" Somethin's goin' to drop," growled Red, the memory 
of the jailing burning strongly within him. " Don't for 
get, Kid two, two an' three." 

Johnny turned in his saddle, waved a hand and kept 
on going. Rounding the westernmost hill he rode stead 
ily until opposite the white patch of sand on the northern 
slope and then, dismounting, collected firewood, and built 
it up on the dead ashes of his signal fire, ready for the 
match. Going on again he rode steadily until he reached 
the place in the arroyo which lay directly behind the ranch- 

McCullough returned from a ride over the range to 
find his cheerful friend smoking some of his tobacco. 

"Want a job, Nelson?" asked the trail-boss, swinging 
from the saddle with an easy agility belying his age and 

Johnny smiled at him. "A'nythin', that don't take me 
away from th' ranch too far or too long. Call it." 

" One of th' boys, ridin' south of th' hills on a fool's 
errand, this mornin', thought he saw smoke signals back 
of White Face," said McCullough. " He says he reckons 


he's loco. I ain't goin' that far. Think you could find out 
any thin' about 'em?" 

Johnny considered, and chuckled. " Huh ! " he snorted. 
" He's plumb late. / saw them before he did, an' know 
all about 'em. You stuck a couple of jabs into me about 
bein' lazy, an' likin' to set around all day doin' nothin'. 
Any chump can wear out cayuses ridin' around discoverin' 
things, but th' wise man is th' feller that can set around all 
day, lazy an' no-account, an' figger things out. I don't 
have to go prowlin' around to find out things. I just set 
in th' shade of th' house, roll cigarettes an' hold pow 
wows with my medicine bag. [You'd be surprised if you 
knowed what I got in that bag, an' what I can get out of 
it. You shore would." 

McCullough looked at him with an expression which 
tried to express so many uncomplimentary things at once 
that the composite was almost neutral; at least, it was 
somewhat blank. 

" Ye-ah ? " he drawled, his inflection in no way suggest 
ing anything to Johnny's credit. 

"Ye-ah," repeated the medicine man somewhat bel 

" Oh," said the trail-boss, eyeing his victim speculative- 
ly. " You know all about 'em, huh ? " 

" Everythin'," placidly replied Johnny, rolling another 

" I wish to heaven you'd quit smokin' them cussed things 
around here," said McCullough plaintively. "Yo're 
growed up now, purty near; an' you ain't no Greaser. 
I'll buy you a pipe if you'll promise to smoke it." 

" Pipes, judgin' from yourn," sweetly replied Johnny, 


calmly lighting the cigarette, "are dangerous, unless a 
man hangs around th' house all th' time. When I used to 
go off scoutin', I allus wished th' other fellers smoked 
pipes, corncob pipes, like Mister McCullough carries 
around. Why, cuss it, I could smell 'em out, up-vf'md, if 
they did. It would 'a' saved me a lot of crawlin' an' wor- 
ryin'. I knowed you was comin' back ten minutes before 
I saw you. Now, you can't blame a skunk he was born 
that way, an' he's got good reasons for keepin' on th' way 
he was born. But a human, goin' out of his way, to smell 
like some I knows of," he broke off, shrugging his shoul 
ders expressively. 

McCullough slowly produced the corncob, blew through 
the stem with unnecessary violence, gravely filled and lit 
it, his eyes twinkling. "Takes a man, I reckon, to enjoy 
it's aromer," he observed. " Goin' back to yore medicine 
bag, let's see what you can get out of it," he challenged. 

Johnny drew out his buckskin tobacco pouch, placed it 
on the floor, covered it with his sombrero and chanted 
softly, his eyes fixed on the hat. " I smell a trail-boss an' 
his pipe. They went to th' bend of th' crick, an' they says 
to Pete Holbrook, who rides that section, that he ought to 
ride on th' other side of th' crick after dark." He was 
repeating information which he had chanced to overhear 
near the small corral the night before; when he had passed 
unobserved in the darkness. 

McCullough favored the hat with a glance of surprise 
and. Johnny with a keen, prolonged stare. 

K Pete, he said that wouldn't do no good unless he went 
far enough north to leave his section unprotected. He 
borrowed a chew of tobacco before th' man an' th' pipe 


went away an' let th' air get pure again." The medicine 
man knew Pete's thrifty nature by experience. 

"Yo're shore a good guesser," grunted McCullough. 
"What about them smoke signals, that you know all 

Johnny readjusted the hat a hair's breadth, passed his 
hands over it and closed his eyes. " I see smoke signals," 
he chanted. " There's palefaces in 'em, ridin' cautious at 
night over a hard plain. They're driftin' cows into a herd. 
Th' herd is growin' fast, an' it drifts toward th' hard 
ground. Now it's goin' faster. Th' brands are Diamond 
L. I see more smoke signals an' more ridin' in th' dark. 
Another herd, bigger this time, is runnin' hard over that 
same plain. Th' brands are SV, vented ; an' plain Ques 
tion-Mark. It seems near within a week an' it's on 
yore west range." He opened his eyes, kicked the hat 
across the room and pocketed the tobacco pouch. 

"Mac," he said, gravely. "That's a shore-enough 
prophecy. Leavin' out all jokin', it's true. Hoppy an' 
Red told me, a little while ago, that they overheard some 
of Kane's gang talkin'. They're goin' to raid you like I 
said. Th' smoke signals was me answerin' theirs. They 
say Sandy Woods is dead. They ought to know because 
they buried him. They know three of th' men that robbed 
th' bank an' they've knowed ever since Ridley was shot, 
who killed him. They've seen Kane's drive trail crew an' 
they know a whole lot that I ain't goin' to tell you now ; 
mebby I'll not tell you till we get th' rewards ; but if it'll 
make you feel any better, I'm saying' that we're goin' to 
get them rewards right soon. When Kane raids you he 
springs th' trap that'll clear a lot of vermin off this range." 


"How much of all that do you mean? " demanded the 
trail-boss, his odorous pipe out and reeking more than 
ever. He was looking into his companion's eyes with a 
searching, appraising directness which many men would 
have found uncomfortable. 

"All of it," complacently answered the medicine man, 
rolling a new cigarette. "There's only one thing I'm 
doubtful about, 'though it was what Hoppy overheard, 
so I gave it to you that way. They said yore west range. 
If Kane learns how th' Diamond L riders are spread out, 
an' I'm bettin' he knew it near as soon as Lukins did, 
he'll be a fool to drive that way. If it was me, I'd split my 
outfit an' put half of 'em on th' east end! but I'm a 

McCullough considered the matter. "They'll leave a 
plain trail if they raid th' east section," he muttered ; " an' 
th' desert'll hold 'em to a narrow strip north or south. 
There's water up th' north way, but there's people scat 
tered all around, an' they're nat'rally near th' water. 
South, there's less water, an' more people th' further they 
go. They might tackle th' desert, but Lukins an' me figger 
they go west from th' hard ground. I ain't agin' gamblin', 
but I don't gamble with anythin' / don't own. If yore 
friends heard them coyotes say 'west,' I'm playin' my 
cards accordin' to their case-rack. I may call it wrong, 
I may get a split, or I may win but I'm backin' the' 
case-keepers, 'specially when they're keepin' th' rack for 
me. West it is an' west is where h 1 will pop when 
they pay their visit. An' lemme tell you this, Nelson: 
Win, lose, or split on th' raid, if it comes off within a 
week, I'll be dead shore who's behind it, an' there's a 


cyclone due in Mesquite right soon after. Twitchell had 
his chance. His game's no good I'm playin' th' cards 
I've drawn in my own way when they show their hand in 
this raid. I'm bein' cold-decked by Corwin but I'll 
warm it a-plenty. You hang around an' see th' fire 
works ! " 

Johnny stretched, relaxed, and grinned. "I'm aimin' 
to touch some off, myself," he replied, "an' I reckon 
Hoppy an' Red will send up a couple of rockets on their 
own account. Rockets ? " He grinned. " No ; not rock 
ets there's allus burned sticks comin' down from rock 
ets. Besides, they're too smooth an' easy. Reckon they'll 
touch off some pinwheels. Whizzin', tail-chasin' pin- 
wheels ; or mebby nigger-chasers. Most likely they'll be 
nigger-chasers, th' way some folks'll be steppin' lively to 
get out of th' way. Don't you bank on this bein' yore, 
celebration you'll only own th' lot an' make th' noise. 
Th' grand display, th' glorious finish is Bar-2O. Just 
plain, old-fashioned Bar-2O. Gee, Mac, it makes me a 
kid again ! " 

" It's got an easy job, then ! " snorted the trail-boss. 



ON NIGHT shift again Pete Holbrook reached the 
end of his beat, waited until his fellow-watcher on 
the east bulked suddenly out of the darkness, exchanged 
a few words with him and turned back under the star- 
filled sky, his horse having no difficulty in avoiding ob 
structions, but picking its way with ease around scattered 
thickets, grass-tufted hummocks, and across shallow 
ravines and hollows. Objects close at hand were dis 
cernible to eyes accustomed to the darkness and Pete's 
range of vision attained the enviable limits enjoyed by 
those who live out-of-doors and look over long distances. 
An occasional patch of sand moved slowly into his cir 
cumscribed horizon as he rode on ; vague, squatting bulks 
gradually revealed their vegetative nature and an occa 
sional more regular bulk told him where a cow was lying. 
These latter more often were catalogued by his ears before 
his eyes defined them and from the contentment in the 
sounds he nodded in satisfaction. Soon he felt the gentle 
rise which swept up to the breeze-caressed ridge which 
projected northward and forced the little creek to follow 
it for nearly a mile before the rocky obstruction could be 

There had been a time when the ridge had forced the 



creek again as far out of its course, but on quiet nights a 
fanciful listener could hear the petulant grumblings of 
the stream and its constant boast. Placid and slow above 
the ridge, the waters narrowed and deepened when they 
reached the insolent bulk as in concentrating for the 
never-ending assault. They had cut through softer re 
sistance along the edges and now gnawed noisily at the 
stone itself. Narrower grew the stream and deeper, the 
pools clear and with clean rock bottoms and sides where 
the hurrying water, now free from the last vestige of 
color imposed by the banks further up, became crystal in 
the light of day. Hurrying from pool to pool, singing 
around bowlders it ran faster and faster as if eager for the 
final attempt against its bulky enemy, and hissed and 
growled as it sped along the abrupt rock face. Loath to 
leave the fight, it followed tenaciously along the other 
side ojf the ridge and at last gave up the struggle to turn 
sharply south again and flow placidly down the valley 
on a continuation of the line it had followed above. 

This forced detour made the U-Bend, so called by 
Question-Mark riders, and the sloping ground of the 
ridge was as much a favorite with the cattle as were its 
bordering pools with the men. Here could be felt every 
vagrant breeze, and while the grass was scantier than 
that found on the more level pastures round about, and 
cropped closer, the cattle turned toward it when darkness 
came. It was the best bed-ground on the ranch. 

The grunting, cud-chewing, or blowing blots grew 
more numerous as Holbrook went on and when he had 
reached the crest of the ridge his horse began to pick its 
way more and more to avoid them, the rider chanting a 


mournful lay and then followed it with a song which, 
had it been rightfully expurged, would have had little 
left to sing about. Like another serenade it had been 
composed in a barroom, but the barroom atmosphere was 
strongly in evidence. It suddenly ceased. 

Holbrook stopped the song and his horse at the same 
instant and his roving glances roved no more, but settled 
into a fixed stare which drew upon itself his earnest con 
centration, as if the darkness could better be pierced by 
an act of will. 

" Did I, or didn't I ? " he growled, and looked around 
to see if his eyes would show him other lights. Deciding 
that they were normal he focussed them again in the 
direction of the sight which had stopped the song. 
" Bronch, I shore saw it," he muttered. " It was plain as 
it was short." He glanced down at the horse, saw its ears 
thrust rigidly forward and nodded his head emphatically. 
"An' so did you, or I'm a liar ! " 

He was no liar, for a second flash appeared, and it 
acted on him like a spur. The horse obeyed the sudden 
order and leaped forward, careening on its erratic course 
as it avoided swiftly appearing obstacles. 

" Seems to me like it was further west th' last time," 
muttered Holbrook. " What th' devil it is, I don't know ; 
but I'm goin' to show th' fambly curiosity. Can't be Kane's 
coyotes folks don't usually show lights when they're 
stealin' cows. An' it's on Charley's section, but we'll 
have a look anyhow. Cuss th' wind." 

The light proved to be of will-o'-the-wisp nature, but 
he pursued doggedly and after a time he heard sounds 
which suggested that he was not alone on the range. He 


drew his six-gun in case his welcome should take that 
course and swung a little to the left to investigate the 

"Must be Charley," he soliloquized, but raised the 
Colt to a better position. One would have thought Char 
ley to be no friend of his. The Colt went up a little higher, 
the horse stopped suddenly and its rider gave the night's 
hailing signal, so well imitated that it might easily have 
fooled the little animal to whom Nature had given it. 
It came back like a double echo and soon Charley bulked 
out of the dark. 

" You f ollerin' that, too ? " he asked, entirely reassured 
now that his eyes were all right, for he had had the same 
doubts as his friend. 

" Yes ; what you reckon it is ? " 

" Dunno," growled Charley. " Thought mebby it was 
some fool puncher lightin' a cigarette. It wasn't very 
bright, an' it didn't last long." 

" Reckon you called it," replied Holbrook. " Well, th' 
only animal that lights them is humans; an* no human 
workin' for this ranch is lightin' cigarettes at night, these 
nights. Bein' a strange human where strange humans 
shouldn't ought to be, I'm plumb curious. All of which 
means I'm goin' to have a closer look." 

" I'm with you," said Charley. " We better stick to 
gether or we'll mebby get to shootin' each other ; an' I'm 
frank in sayin' I'm shootin' quick tonight, an' by ear. 
There ain't no honest human ridin' around out here, day 
or night, that don't belong here ; an' them that does be 
long ain't over there, lightin' cigarettes nor nothin' else. 
That lightnin' bug don't belong, but he may stay here. 


Look! There she is again this side of where I saw it 

" Same place," contradicted Holbrook, pushing on. 

" Same place yore hat ! " 

" Bet you five it is." 

" Yo're on ; make it ten? " 

"It is. Shut yore face an* Keep goin'. Somethin's 
happenin' over there." 

Minute after minute passed and then they swore in the 
same breath. 

"It's south!" exulted Charley. "You lose." 

" He crossed in front of us, cuss him," said Holbrook. 

As he spoke an answering light flashed where the first 
ones had been seen and Holbrook grunted with satisfac 
tion. " You lose; there's two of 'em. We was bettin' on 
th' other." 

"They're signalin', an' there's mebby more'n two. 
What's th' difference? Come on, Pete! We'll bust up 
this little party before it starts. But what are they lightin' 
lights for if they're rustlin'? An' if they ain't rustlin' 
what'n blazes are they doin' ? " 

" Head over a little," said his companion, forcing his 
horse against his friend's. " We'll ride between th' flashes 
first, an' if there's a herd bein' collected we'll mebby hit 
it. Don't ask no questions; just shoot an' jump yore 
cay use sideways." 

South of them another puncher was riding at reckless 
speed along the chord of a great arc and although his sec 
tion lay beyond Holbrook's, he was now even with them. 
When they changed their course they drew closer to him 
and some minutes later, stopping for a moment's silence 


so they could listen for sounds of the enemy, they heard 
his faint, far-off signal and answered it. He announced 
his arrival with a curse and a question and the answer did 
not answer much. They went on together, eager and 

"Heard you drummin' down th' ridge you know 
that rocky ground rolls 'em out," the newcomer explained. 
" Knowed somethin' was wrong th' way you was poundin', 
an' follered on a gamble till I saw th' lights. Reckon 
Walt ain't far behind me. I'm tellin' you so you'll signal 
before you shoot. He's loose out here somewhere." 

When the light came again it was much further west 
and the answering flash was north. The three pulled up 
and looked at each other. 

"There ain't no cayuse livin' can cover ground like 
that second feller," growled Holbrook. " He was plumb 
south only a few minutes ago, an' now will you look 
where he is ! " 

" Mebby they're ghostes, Bob," suggested Charley, who 
harbored a tingling belief in things supernatural. 

"'Ghostes'!" chuckled Holbrook. "Ghosts, you 
means ! Th' same as ' posts ! ' Th' ' es ' is silent, like in 
'cows.' I never believed in 'em; but I shore don't claim 
to know it all. There's plenty of things / don't under 
stand an' this is shore one of 'em. My hair's gettin* 

" Yo're a couple of old wimmin ! " snorted Bob. 
" There's only one kind of a ghost that'll slow me up . 
that's th' kind that packs hardware. Seein' as they ain't 
supposed to tote guns, I'm goin' for that coyote west of 
here. He don't swap ends so fast. Mebby I can turn 


him into a real ghost. Look out where you shoot. So- 

" We'll assay his jumpin' friend," called Charley. 

Again the flashes showed, one to the south, the other 
to the north, and while the punchers marveled, the third 
appeared in the southwest. 

" One apiece ! " shouted Holbrook. " I'll take th' last. 
Go to 'em ! " and drumming hoofbeats rolled into silence 
in three directions. 

Soon spitting flashes in the north were answered iiv 
kind, the reports announcing six-guns in action; in the 
west a thinner tongue of flame and a different kind of 
report was answered by rapid bursts of fire and the jarring 
crashes of a Colt. Far to the south three stabbing flashes 
went upward, Walt's signal that he was coming. From 
beyond the U-Bend, far to the east, the triple signal came 
twice, flat and low. Beyond them a yellow glow sprang 
from the black void and marked the ranchhouse, where 
six sleeping men piled from their bunks and, finishing 
their dressing as they ran, chased the cursing trail-boss 
to the saddled, waiting horses, their tingling blood in an 
instant sweeping the cobwebs of sleep from their conjec 
turing brains. There was a creaking of leather, a soft, 
musical jingling of metal and a sudden thunderous rolling 
of hoofbeats as seven bunched horses leaped at breakneck 
speed into the darkness, the tight-lipped riders eager, 
grim, and tense. 

Through a bushy arroyo leading to Mesquite three 
Mexicans rode as rapidly as they dared, laughing and 
carrying on a jerky, exultant conversation. A mile be 
hind them came a fourth, his horse running like a fright- 


ened jack rabbit as it avoided the obstructions which 
seemed to leap at them. A bandage around the rider's 
head perhaps accounted for his sullenness. The four 
were racing to get to Red Frank's, and safety. Out on 
the plain the fifth, and as Fate willed it, the only one of 
the group openly allied to Kane, lay under his dead horse, 
his career of thieving and murder at an end. Close to 
him was a dead Question-Mark horse, and the wounded 
rider, wounded again by his sudden pitch from the saddle 
as the horse dropped under him, lay huddled on the 
ground. Slowly recovering his senses he stirred, groped 
and sat up, his strained, good arm throbbing as he shakily 
drew his Colt, reloaded it and fired into the air twice, 
and then twice more. A burst of firing answered him and 
he smiled grimly and settled back as the low rumbling 
grew rapidly louder. It threatened to pass by him, but 
his single shot caused a quick turn and soon his friends 
drew up and stopped. 

"Who is it?" demanded McCullough, dismounting at 
his side. 

" Holbrook," came the answer, shaky and faint. " They 
got me twice, an' my cayuse, too. Reckon I busted my 
leg when he went down I shore sailed a-plenty afore 
I lit." 

"You got one!" called an exultant voice. A match 
flared and in a moment the cheerful discoverer called 
again. " Sanchez, that Greaser monte dealer of Kane's. 
Plumb through th' mouth an' neck, Pete! I call that 

shootin', with th' dark an' all " his voice trailed off 

in profane envy of the accomplishment. 

But Pete, hardy soul that he was, had fainted, a frac- 


tured leg, the impact from his flying fall and three bullet 
holes excuse enough for any man. 

The flaring of the match brought a distant report and 
a bullet whined above the discoverer's head. Someone 
hurriedly fired into the air and a little later the group 
heard hoofbeats, which stopped abruptly when still some 
distance away. A signal reassured the cautious rider 
and soon Walt joined the group, Bob and Charley com 
ing up later. Two of the men started back to the ranch- 
house with Holbrook, the rest of the group riding off 
to search the plain for the two riders who had not put 
in an appearance, and to see what devilment they might 
discover. Both of the missing men were found on the 
remote part of the western range, one plodding stolidly 
toward the ranchhouse, his saddle and equipment on his 
shoulders ; the other lay pinned under his dead horse, not 
much the worse, as it luckily happened, for his experience. 

While the outfit concentrated on the western part of 
the ranch, events of another concentration were working 
smoothly and swiftly east of the ranchhouse, where 
mounted men, now free from interference, thanks to 
their Mexican friends, rode unerringly in the darkness, 
and drifted cattle into a herd with a certainty and dispatch 
born of long experience. Steadily the restless nucleus 
grew in size and numbers, the few riders who held it to 
gether chanting in low tones to keep the nervous cattle 
within bounds. The efficiency of these night raiders mer 
ited praise, nefarious as their occupation was, and the 
director of the harmonious efforts showed an uncanny 
understanding of the cattle, the men, and the whole affair 
which belongs to genius. Not a step was taken in unce r - 


tainty, not an effort wasted. Speed was obtained which 
in less experienced hands would have resulted in panic 
and a stampede. Steadily the circle of riders grew shorter 
and shorter; steadily, surprisingly, the shadowy herd 
grew, and as it grew, became more and more compact. 
Further down the creek a second and smaller herd was 
built up at the same time and with nearly the same smooth 
ness, and waited for the larger aggregate to drift down 
upon it and swallow it up. The augmented trail herd 
kept going faster and faster, the guarding and directing 
riders in their alloted places and, crossing the creek, it 
swung northeast at a steadily increasing pace. The cattle 
had fed heavily and drunk their fill and to this could be 
ascribed the evenness of their tempers. Almost without 
realizing it they passed from the Question-Mark range 
and streamed across the guarding hills, flowing rapidly 
along the northern side. Gradually their speed was in 
creased and they accepted it obediently, and with a docility 
which in itself was a compliment to the brains of the trail- 
boss. Compacted within the close cordon of the alert 
riders it maintained a speed on the very edge of panic, 
but went no further. Shortly before dawn two hard- 
riding rustlers pounded up from the rear, reported all 
clear, and fell back again, to renew their watch far back 
on the trail. For three hours the herd had crossed hard 
ground and as it passed over a high, dividing ridge and 
down the eastern slope the trail-boss sighed with relief, 
for now dawn held no terrors for him. He had passed 
the eastern horizon of any keen-eyed watchers of the pil 
laged range. On went cattle and riders, and the paling 
dawn saw them following the hard bottom of a valley 


which led to others ahead, and kept them from dangerous 
sky lines. When the last hard-floored valley lay behind 
and sloping hollows of sand lay ahead, the trail-boss 
dropped back, uncorked his canteen of black coffee tem 
pered with brandy, and drank long and deep. It was 
interpreted by his men to mean that the danger zone had 
been left in the rear, and they smilingly followed his 
example, and then leisurely t and more critically looked 
over the herd to see what they had gained. The entire 
SV trail herd was there, a large number of Question- 
Mark cattle and a score or more miscellaneous brands, 
which Ridley from time to time had purchased at bargain 
prices from needy owners. The trail-boss grinned broadly 
and waved his hand. It was a raid which would go down 
the annals of rustler history and challenge strongly for 
first honors. At noon the waiting caviya was picked up, 
and Miguel and his three friends added four more riders 
to the ranks. He took his place well ahead of the hurry 
ing cattle, and remained there until the first, and seldom 
visited, water-hole was reached, where a short rest was 
taken. Then he led the way again, abruptly changing the 
direction of the herd's course and, following depressions 
in the desert floor, struck for Bitter Spring, which would 
be reached in the early morning hours. By now the raid 
was a successful, accomplished fact, according to all expe 
rience, and the matter of speed was now decided purely 
upon the questions of water and food, which, however, 
did not let it diminish much. 

The trail-boss dropped back to his segundo and smiled. 
" Old Twitchell's got somethin' to put up a holler over 


The other grinned expansively. " He'll mebby ante up 
another reward he shore is fond of 'em." 

Back on the Question-Mark a sleepy rider jogged along 
the creek, idly looking here and there. Suddenly he stif 
fened in the saddle, looked searchingly along the banks 
of the little stream, glanced over a strangely deserted 
range and ripped out an oath as he wheeled to race back 
to the ranchhouse. His vociferous arrival caused a flurry, 
out of which emerged Johnny Nelson, who ran to the 
corral, caught and saddled his restive black, and scorning 
such a thing as a signal fire, especially when he feared 
that he could not start it within the limits of the time 
specified, raced across the valley, climbed the hills at a 
more sedate pace, dropped down the further slopes like a 
stone, and raced on again for the little camp on Sand 



M c CULLOUGH watched the racing horseman for 
a moment, a gleam of envious appreciation in 
his eyes at the beautiful action of the black horse, nodded 
in understanding of the rider's journey and wheeled 
abruptly to give terse orders. 

Charley swung into the saddle and started in a cloud 
of dust for the Diamond L, to carry important news to 
Lukins and his outfit; two men sullenly received their 
orders to stay behind for the protection of the ranch and 
the care of Pete Holbrook, their feelings in no way re 
lieved by the remark of the trail-boss, prophesying that 
Kane and his gang would be too busy in town to disturb 
the serenity of the Question-Mark. The rest of the outfit, 
procuring certain necessaries for the visit to Kane's head 
quarters, climbed into their saddles and followed their 
grim and taciturn leader over the shortest way to town. 

Far back on the west end of the northern chain of hills 
a Mexican collapsed his telescope, hazarded a long-range 
shot at the hard-riding Charley and, mounting in haste, 
sped to carry disturbing news to his employer. The 
courier looked around as the singing lead raised a puff of 
dust in front of him, snarled in the direction from whence 
he thought it had cpme and, having no time for personal 



grievances, leaned forward and quirted the horse to 
greater speed. Whirring across the Diamond L range 
Charley caused another Mexican, watching from a ridge 
overlooking the ranch buildings, to run to the waiting 
horse and mount it, after which he delayed his departure 
until he saw the Diamond L outfit string out into a race 
for town, whereupon he set a pace which promised to hold 
him his generous lead. 

In Mesquite a Mexican quirted a lathered horse for a 
final burst of speed up the quiet street, flung himself 
through Kane's front door, shouted a warning as he 
scrambled to his feet and dashed through the partition 
door to make his report direct to his boss. As he bolted 
out of sight behind the partition, other men popped from 
the building like weasel-pursued rabbits from a warren 
and scurried over the town to spread the alarm to those 
who were most vitally concerned by it. Two streams 
forthwith flowed over their trails, the first and larger 
heading for Kane's; the other, composed entirely of 
Mexicans, flowed toward Red Frank's, which had been 
allotted the role of outlying redoubt, to help keep harmless 
the broken ground between it and Kane's front wall, and 
was now being put in shape to withstand a siege. 

Around Kane's was the noisy activity of a beehive. 
Hurrying men pulled thick planks from the piles under the 
floor and hauled them, on the jump, to windows and 
doors, feeding them into eager hands inside the building. 
Numbers of empty sacks grew amazingly bulky from the 
efforts of sand shovelers and were carried, shoulder high, 
in an unending line into the building. Great shutters 
were unfastened and swung away from the outer walls, 


their cobwebbed loopholes soon to play their ordained 
parts. A feverish squad emptied the stables of horses and 
food, taking both into the dining-room, and returned, 
posthaste, to remove doors and certain planks which 
turned the stables into sieves of small use to an attacking 
force, even if they were won. That the need for haste 
was pressing was proved by the sound of a handbell on the 
roof, where a selected group of riflemen lay behind the 
double-planked parapet to give warning, and exhibitions 
of long-range shooting. The shovelers hurled their tools 
through open windows, the plank carriers shoved the last 
board into the building and leaped to the shutters, slam 
ming them shut as they hastened along the side of the 
building, and poured hastily through the front door, which 
now was protected by a great, outer door of planks, mor 
tised, bolted, and braced in workman-like manner. From 
the roof sounded two heavy reports, and grim iron tubes 
slid into loopholes along the walls. The bartenders 
carried boxes of ammunition and spare weapons, leaving 
their offerings below every oblong hole. To threaten 
Kane was one thing; to carry it to a successful end, 

Puffs of gray-white smoke broke unexpectedly from 
points around the building, to thin out as they spread and 
drifted into oblivion. The cracking of rifles and the echo- 
awakening, jarring reports of heavy six-guns, were 
punctuated at intervals by the booming roar of old-time 
buffalo guns, of caliber prodigious. Punchers, guns in 
their hands, made the rounds of the town, going from 
building to building to pick up any of Kane's men who 
might have loitered, or who planned to hide out and open 


fire from the rear. Their efforts were not entirely wasted, 
for although Kane's brood had flocked to its nest, there 
were certain of the town's inhabitants who were neither 
flesh nor fish and might become one or the other as ex 
pediency urged. These doubtful ones were weeded out, 
disarmed, and escorted to their horses with stern injunc 
tions as to the speed of their departure and their continued 
absence. Some of the neutrals, seeing that the mastery 
of the town at present lay with the ranchmen, trimmed 
their sails for this wind and numbered themselves with 
the offense in spirit if not in deeds. Of these human 
pendulums Quayle had a fair mental list and the owners 
of certain names were well watched. 

The first day passed in perfecting plans, assigning men 
to strategic stations, several of these vantage-points 
remaining tenantless during the daylight hours because 
of the alertness and straight shooting of the squad on 
Kane's roof, who speedily made themselves obnoxious to 
the attackers. The owner of the freight wagon, remem 
bering a smooth-bore iron cannon of more than an inch 
caliber, a relic of the prairie caravans which had followed 
the old Santa Fe and other trails a generation past, exulted 
as he dragged it from its obscurity and spent a busy hour 
scaling the rust from bore and touch-hole. Here was the 
key to the situation, he boasted, and rammed home a 
generous charge of rifle powder. To find a suitable missile 
was another question, but he solved it by falling upon 
bar-lead with ax and hammer. Wheeled into position, its 
rusty length protruding beyond the corner of an adobe 
building, it was sighted by spasmodic glances, an occupa 
tion not without danger, for which blame could be given 


to the argus-eyed riflemen on the roof of the target. 
Consternation seized the defenders, who had not allowed 
for artillery, and they awaited its thundering debut with 
palpitant interest. 

The discoverer and groom of the relic was unanimously 
elected gunner, not a dissenting voice denying his right to 
the honor, a right which he failed either to mention or 
press. The powder heaped over the touch-hole was jarred 
off by the impact of a Sharp's bullet and to replace it 
required a kitchen spoon fastened to a stick, which was 
an alluring if small target to the anxious aerial riflemen. 
At last heaped up again, the gunner declined methods in 
vogue for the firing of such ancient muzzle-loaders and 
used a bundle of kerosene-soaked paper swinging by a 
wire from the end of the spoon. A few practice swings 
were held to be fitting preliminaries to an event of such 
importance, and then the nervous cannoneer, screwing his 
courage to the sticking-point, swept the blazing mass 
across the scaly breach and shrunk behind the sheltering 
corner. He escaped thunderous destruction by an eyelash, 
for what he afterward found was a third of the doughty 
weapon whizzed past his corner, taking a large chunk of 
sun-dried brick with it. From the besiegers arose guffaws ; 
from the defenders, howls of derision; and from the 
owner of the adobe hut, imprecation and denouncement 
in fluent Spanish. The wall of his habitation closest to 
the fieldpiece justified all he said and even all he thought. 

" You should ought 'a run it under Kane's before you 
touched her off," bawled a hilarious voice from cover. 
"Got another?" he demanded. "Tie it together an' try 


The cannoneer without a job affected gaiety, drew 
inspiration from the taunts and hastened home to fashion 
bombs out of anything he could which would answer his 
purpose, finally deciding upon a tomato can and baling 
wire, and soon had a task to occupy the flaming fires of 
his genius. 

Red Frank's, being the weaker of the two defenses and 
only point-blank range from the old adobe jail whose 
walls, poor as they were, could be relied upon to stop 
bullets, formed the favorite point of attack while the 
offense settled down into better-ordered channels. Idaho 
and others of his exuberent youth decided that it was their 
" pudding " and favored it with attentions which were as 
barren of results as they were full of enthusiasm. Dis 
covering that their bullets passed entirely through the 
frame second-story and whirred, slobbered, and screamed 
into the air, they wasted ammunition lavishly, ignorant 
that for three feet above the second-story floor the walls 
were reinforced with double planking of hard wood, each 
layer two inches thick. They might turn the upper two- 
thirds of walls into a bird cage and do no one any material 
damage. And so passed the first day, McCullough's 
efforts unavailing in face of the careless enthusiasm of 
his men, caused by the novelty of the situation ; and not 
until one man had died and several others received serious 
wounds did the larking punchers come fully to realize 
that the game was deadly, and due to become more so. 



WHILE McCullough argued and swore and waited 
for sanity to return to his frisking men, three 
punchers lay on the desert sands north of Sweet Spring, 
and baked. The telescope occasionally swept the southern 
horizon and went back between the folds of the blanket, 
which also hid the guns from the rays of the molten sun. 
The situation and most of the possible variations had been 
gone over from every angle and a course of action yet 
had to be agreed upon. Knowing that a fight in town was 
imminent, each feared he would miss it and that the 
reward would be lost to them. From their knowledge of 
deserts in general they did not wish to assume the labors 
of driving a herd back across it, even if they were able 
to capture it ; but neither did they wish to let it get entirely 
away and be lost to McCullough. And so they continued 
to discuss the problem, jerkily and without enthusiasm, 
writhing under the sun like frogs on a gridiron. The 
afternoon dragged into evening and with the coming of 
twilight came quick relief from the heat, soon to be fol 
lowed by a cold undreamed of by the inexperienced. The 
stars appeared swiftly and blazed with glittering brilliance 
through the chill air and the three watchers sought their 
blanket rolls for relief. 



Hopalong unrolled from his covering and arose. 
" Dark enough, now," he said. " I'm goin' down to th' 
other water-hole to wait for 'em. May learn somethin' 
worth while." He rolled his rifle in the blanket to protect 
it from sand and stretched gratefully. 

"I'm goin' with you," said Johnny, covering his own 

" I reckon I'll have to lay up here an' hold th' sack, like 
a fool," growled Red, who longed for action, even if it 
were no more than a tramp through the sand. 

"You shore called it, Reddie," chuckled Johnny. 
" Somebody has got to stay with th' cayuses ; an' I don't 
know anybody as reliable as you. Don't forget, an' build 
a camp fire while we're gone," and with this parting insult 
Johnny melted into the darkness after his leader and 
plodded silently behind him until Hopalong stopped and 
muttered a command. 

"We're not far away now," he said. "Reckon we 
oughtn't get too close till they come to th' hole an' get 
settled down. Some of 'em may have to ride far an' wide 
if th' herd's ornery, an' run onto us. We've got th' 
trumps, an' they're worth twice as much if they don't 
know we got 'em. They shoot off their mouths regardless 
out here." 

Johnny grunted his acquiescence and squatted comfort 
ably on his haunches, the tips of the fingers of one hand 
in the sand. " Never felt more like smokin' than I do 
now," he chuckled. " Got any chewin' ? " 

His friend passed over the desired article and Johnny 
worried off a generous mouthful. " It's got too many 
stems in it; but bein' th' first chew I've had since I got 


married I ain't kickin'," he complacently remarked. 
" Margaret says it sticks to me for hours." 

Hopalong grunted. " Gettin' to be real lady-like, ain't 
you? " he jeered. " Put perfumery on yore shirt bosom? " 

" I would if she wanted me to," retorted his companion. 
" I don't just know what I wouldn't do if she wanted me 

Hopalong snorted. "That so?" he demanded, pug 
naciously. "Reckon she might like to know what yo're 
doin' down here, how much longer you aim to stay, an' if 
yo're still alive an' other little foolish things like that. 
Let me tell you, Kid, you don't know how big a woman 
fills up yore life till you've lost her." 

"I can imagine what it would be without her," said 
Johnny, slowly and reverently, his heart aching for his 
friend's loss. " She knows all about it ; nearly all, anyhow. 
I've writ to her every third day, when I could, an' some 
times oftener. She may be worryin', but I'm bettin' every 
cent I'll ever have that she ain't doin' no cryin' ! There 
ain't many wimmen like her, even in this kind of country." 

"Then she's shore got Red an' me figgered for a fine 
pair of liars," murmured Hopalong; "but just th' same 
I'm feelin' warmer toward you than I have for a week," 
he announced. "When did you tell her all about this 
scrambled mess ? " 

" When I found that I couldn't tell how much longer 
I'd have to stay here," confessed Johnny. "I couldn't 
write letters an' lie good enough to fool her ; an' I had to 
write letters, didn't I ? " 

"I'll take everythin' back, Kid," said his companion, 
grinning in the dark. 


Johnny grunted and the silence began again, a silence 
which endured for several hours, such a silence that can 
exist between two real friends and be full of under 
standing. It endured between them and was not even 
broken by the distant, dim flare of a match, nor when low 
sounds floated up to them and gradually grew into the 
clicking and rattle of horns against horns, and the low 
rumble of many hurrying hoofs hoofs hurrying toward 
the water which bovine nostrils had long since scented. 
The rumble grew rapidly as the thirst-tortured herd 
stampeded for Bitter Spring. A revolver flashed here 
and there on the edges of the animated avalanche and 
then a sweet silence came to the desert, soon to be tune 
fully and pleasantly broken by the soft lowing of cattle 
leg deep in the saving water. 

Let th' air blow in up-on m-e-e, 
Let me see th' mid-night s-k-y; 

Stand back, Sisters, from a-round m-e-e: 
God, it i-s s-o-o h-a-r-d to d-i-e, 

wailed a cracked voice, the owner relieving his feelings. 
"Thorpe, if you don't wrastle a hot snack d d quick, 
I'll eat yore ears ! " 

"Give him anythin' to stop that yowlin'," bellowed 
another. " Can't he learn nothin' but ' Th' Dyin' Nun ' ? 
Thank heaven he never learned no more of it. A sick 
calf ain't no cheerfuller than him." 

" You'll have to eat lively, boys," sang out the trail-boss. 
" Everythin' is on th' move in an hour. If yo're in such 
a cussed hurry, Jud, get some wood for him. Take it 


from that lame pack horse. Reckon we'll have to shoot 
him if he don't get better in a hurry." 

Up to my knees in mud I go 

An' water to my middle; 
Whenever firewood's to be got 

I'm Cookie's sec-ond fid-die, 

chanted Jud, splashing out to where the lame pack horse 
conducted an experiment in saturation. "Hot, cussed 
hot," he enlightened the cheerful, but tired group on 
the bank. "Hot an' oozy. Hello, hoss," he greeted, 
slapping the shrinking shoulder. "You heard what th' 
boss said about you? Pick up, Ol' Timer; pick up or 
you'll get shot. What? Don't blame you a bit, not a 
cussed bit. I'd ruther be shot, too, than tote wood over 
this part of h 1. Oh, well; life's plumb funny. You'll 
fry if you do, an' you'll die if you don't. What's th' 
difference, anyhow, Ol' Timer ? " 

" Hey, Jud," called a voice. " Got a new bunkie ? " 

" I could have worse than a cayuse," replied Jud. "A 
cussed sight worse." 

"There's mocassins, rattlers, copperheads, tarantulas, 
an' scorpions in that pond! " warned another. 

"You done forgot Gila monsters, tigers an' an' 
Injuns," retorted Jud. "Now comes a job. With both 
arms full of slippin', criss-crossin' firewood, th' rest slidin' 
from th' pack, I got to hang on to what I got, put th' 
rest back like it ought to go an' make every thin' tight. 
Come out here, some d d fool, an' gimme a hand. 
Better move lively only got four arms an' six hands. 


There ! " he exploded. " There goes th' shootin'-match 
off th' hoss. Th' wind'll blow 'em ashore an' we can pick 
up th' whole caboodle." 

" Wind ? " jeered the snake-enumerator. " Where's th' 
wind? Yo're a fool!" 

"On th' bank, where yo're settin', you thick-headed 
ass ! " yelled Jud. " You got so cussed much to say, 
suppose you muddy yore lily-white pants an' do somethin' 
besides bray ! " 

"Did you spill any of 'em, Jud?" anxiously asked a 
voice. " I heard a splash." 

Jud's reply was such that the trail-boss snapped a warn 
ing which checked some of the conversation, and promised 
his help. " Wait for me, Jud ; I'm comin'," he said. 

"Why don't you send that white-washed idol?" asked 
Jud. "I'll show him who's th' fool; an' what a splash 
sounds like ! " 

Hopalong nudged his companion and they crept for 
ward, feeling before them for anything which might 
make a sound if stepped on. A vibrant whirl made them 
spring back and go around the warning snake, and soon 
they reached the little, sandy ridge which had sheltered 
Hopalong on his other visit. 

" I'm glad you hung on to what you had, Jud," came 
Thorpe's thankful voice as his match caught the sun 
baked wood and sent a tiny flame licking upward among 
the shavings whittled by his knife. "What you do you 
allus do right. It's dry as a bone." 

"An' so am I," grunted the horse wrangler. " Who's 
got their canteen?" 

"He's askin' for a canteen, with th' whole pond in 


front of him ! " laughed a squatting rustler. " Here ; take 

The fire grew quickly and a coffeepot, staunch friend of 
weary travelers, was placed in the flame, no one caring 
what it looked like or how hot the handle got. Time 
passed swiftly in talking of the raid and in consuming 
the light, hurried meal and soon the wrangler argued to 
his charges from the bank, and then waded in for his own 
horse, after which the matter was much simplified. He 
had them bunched, the next change of horses had been 
cut out by the men and they were ready to resume the 
drive when a distant voice hailed them. Soon a lathered 
horse glistened in the outer circle of light, and the hard- 
riding courier dashed up to the fire. 

"They've hit th' town, boys!" he shouted. "Th f 
Question-Mark an' th' Diamond L have joined hands 
agin' us. Their friends in town are backin' 'em. Kane 
says to drive this herd hell-to-leather to th' valley, leave 
it there an' burn th' trail back. Where's Hugh Roberts ? " 

"Here," answered the trail-boss, stepping forward. 
"Hello, Vic." 

"Got strict orders from th' boss," said Vic, leaning 
over and whispering in the ear of the trail-boss. 

Roberts stiffened and swore angrily. "Is that all he 
says for us to do ? " he sneered. " I got a notion to tell 
him to go to h 1 ! " 

Eager questions assailed him from the pressing group 
and he pushed himself free. "He says we are to take 
Quayle's hotel, their headquarters, from th' rear at dawn 
of th' day we get back an' hold it ! That's all ! " 

An angry chorus greeted the announcement and the 


shouting courier had a hard time to make himself heard, 
" That's wins for us ! " he yelled. " You get their leaders, 
you split 'em in two an' Kane'll turn his boys loose to 
hit 'em during th' confusion. He's got a wise head, I'm 
shoutin'. Red Frank's gang smashes from th' west end, 
an' they'll never know what happened. We'll have 'em 
split three ways, leaderless, not knowin' what's happened. 
It'll be a stampede an' a slaughter. Cuss it, I'll be with 
you ! That shows what I think of it ! " 

" Throw th' herd back on th' trail," ordered the boss. 
" We'll drive hard, an' turn th' rest of it over in our minds 
as we go. So we can have yore valuable assistance yo're 
goin' with us. Get a fresh cayuse from th' caviya. I say, 
yo're goin' with us, savvy? " 

Covered by the noise of the renewed drive Hopalong 
and Johnny wriggled back until they could with safety 
arise to their feet, when they hastened back to Red and 
tersely reported what they had learned. Red's reply was 

"One of us has got to learn where that herd is kept; 
th' others light out for McCullough. Th' herd trailer can 
go to town when he gets it located. We can't lose them 
cattle, now." 

" Right ! " said Hopalong. " I'm puttin' cartridges in 
my hand. Th' worst guesser goes after th' herd. Odd 
or even. Red, you first," and he placed his clenched fist 
in Red's hand. 

" Even," said Red, and then he opened the fist, felt of 
the cylinders and chuckled. There were two. 

Hopalong fumbled at his belt and placed his fist in 
Johnny's hand. " Call it, Kid," he said. 


"Even," said Johnny, carelessly. He felt the closed 
hand slowly open and cast his fingers over its palm, rinding 
two cartridges, and he grunted. "Better take th' extra 
canteens, Hoppy; an' that spyglass. It'll mebby come in 
handy. Want Pepper ? " 

" Just 'cause she's a good cayuse for you don't say that 
she is for me," chuckled the loser. " She knows you ; I'm 
a stranger," and he led the way to the picketed and hobbled 
horses. In a few minutes he swung into the saddle, the 
telescope under his arm, cheerily said his good-byes and 
melted into the darkness, bound further into the desert, 
where or how far he did not know. Passing the southern 
water-hole he drew two cartridges from his belt, placed 
one in the palm of his right hand and held the other 
between his fingers. Slowly opening the clenched fist he 
relaxed the fingers and the second cartridge dropped onto 
its mate with a little click. There was no need to cough 
now and hide that slight, metallic noise, so he grinned 
instead and slowly pushed them back into the vacant 

"Fine job, lettin' th' Kid go out on this skillet," he 
snorted, indignant at the thought. "Me, now it don't 
matter a whole lot what happens to me these days; but 
th' Kid's got a wife, an' a darned fine one, too. Go on, 
you lazy cow yo're work's just startin'." 

It was not long before he caught the noise of the hard- 
driven herd well off to his right and he followed by 
sound until dawn threatened. Then, slowing his horse, 
he rode off at an angle and hunted for low places in the 
desert floor, where he went along a course parallel to that 
followed by the herd. Persistently keeping from sky lines, 


although added miles of twisting detours was the price, 
and keeping so far from his quarry that he barely could 
pick out the small, dark mass with the aid of the glass, 
he feared no discovery. So he rode hour after weary 
hour under the pitiless sun, stopping only once to turn 
his sombrero into a bucket, from which his horse eagerly 
drank the contents of one huge canteen, its two gallons 
of water filling the hat several times. 

" Got to go easy with it for awhile, bronch," he told it. 
"Water can't be so terrible far ahead, judgin' from that 
herd pushin' boldlike across this strip of h 1 but 
cows can go a long time without it when they has to ; an' 
out here they shore has to. I'm not cheatin' you there's 
four for you an' one for me, an' we won't change it." 

Mile upon burning mile passed in endless procession as 
they plodded through hard sand, soft sand, powdery dust, 
and over stretches of rocky floor blasted smooth and 
slippery by the cutting sands driven against it by every 
wind for centuries. An occasional polished bowlder 
loomed up, its coat of " desert-varnish " glistening brown 
under the pale, molten sun. He knew what the varnish 
was, how it had been drawn from the rock and the min 
eral contents left behind on the surface as its moisture 
evaporated into the air. An occasional "side-winder," 
diminutive when compared to the rattlesnakes of other 
localities, slid curiously across the sand, its beady, glitter 
ing eyes cold and vicious as it watched this strange invader 
of its desert fastness. 

Warned at last by the fading light after what had 
seemed an eternity of glare, he gave the dejected horse 
another canteen of water and then urged it into brisker 


pace, to be within earshot of the fleeing herd when dark 
ness should make safe a nearer approach. 

With the coming of twilight came a falling of tempera 
ture and when the afterglow bathed the desert with magic 
light and then faded as swiftly as though a great curtain 
had been dropped the creeping chill took bold, sudden 
possession of the desert air to a degree unbelievable. So 
passed the night, weary hour after cold, weary hour ; but 
the change was priceless to man and beast. The magic 
metamorphosis emphasized the many-sided nature of the 
desert, at one time a blazing, glaring thing of sinister 
aspect and death-dealing heat; at another cold, almost 
freezing, its considerable altitude being good reason for 
the night's penetrating chill. The expanse of dim gray 
carpet, broken by occasional dark blots where the scrawny, 
scattered vegetation arose from the sands, stretched away 
into the veiling dark, allowing keen eyes to distinguish 
objects at surprising distances. Overhead blazed the 
brilliant stars, blazed as only stars in desert heavens can, 
seeming magnified and brought nearer by the dry, clear 
air. His eyes at last free from the blinding glare of 
quivering air and glittering crystals of salts in the sand; 
his dry, parched, burning skin free from the baking heat, 
which sucked moisture from the pores before perspiration 
could form on the surface; he sucked in great gulps of 
the vitalizing, cold air and found the night so refreshing, 
so restful as to almost compensate for the loss of sleep. 

The increased pace of his mount at last brought 
reward, for there now came from ahead and from the 
right the low, confused noise of hurrying cattle, as con 
tinuous, unobtrusive, and restful as the soft roar of 



distant surf. So passed the dark hours, and then a warn 
ing, silver glow on the eastern horizon caused him to pull 
up and find a sandy depression, there to wait until the 
proper distance was put behind it by the thirsty herd, still 
reeling off the miles as though it were immune to fatigue. 
The silver band widened swiftly, changed to warmer tints, 
became suffused with crimson and cast long, thin, vague, 
warning shadows from sage bush and greasewood and 
then a molten, quivering orb pushed up over the prostrate 
horizon and bathed the shrinking sands with its light. 

The cold, heavy-lidded rider glowered at it and removed 
the blanket which had been wrapped around him, rolling 
it tightly with stiff fingers and fumblingly made it secure 
in the straps behind the cantle of his saddle. 

" There it is again, bronch," he growled. " We'll soon 
wonder if th' cold was all a dream." 

He stood up in the stirrups and peered cautiously over 
the bank of the depression, making out the herd with 
unaided eyes. 

" They can't go on another day," he muttered. " This 
ain't just dry trail it's a chunk out of h 1. They 
can't stand much more of it without goin' blind, an' that's 
th' beginnin' of th' end on a place like this. I'm bettin' 
they get to water by noon an' then we got to wait till 
th' coast is clear." He shook the canteen he had allotted 
himself and growled again. "About a quart, an' I could 
drink a gallon! All right, bronch; get a-goin'," and on 
they plodded, keeping to the hollows and again avoiding 
all elevations, to face the torments of another murderous 
day. Again the accursed hours dragged, again the horse 
had a canteen of water, a sop which hardly dulled the edge 


of its raging thirst. Earth, air, and sky quivered, writhed 
and danced under the jelly-like sun and the few, soft night 
noises of the desert were heard no more. The leveled 
telescope kept the herd in sight as mile followed mile 
across the scorched and scorching sand. 

The sun had passed the meridian only half an hour 
when the sweeping spyglass revealed no herd, but only a 
distant ridge of rock, like a tiny island on a stilled sea. 

"It shore is time," muttered the rider, dismounting. 
" Seein' as how we're nearly there, I reckon you can have 
th' last canteen. You shore deserve it, you game old 
plodder. An' I'm shore glad them rustlin' snakes have 
their orders to get back pronto; but it would just be our 
l-uck if that bull-headed trail-boss held a powpow in that 
valley of theirs. His name's Roberts, bronch; Hugh 
Roberts, it is. We'll remember his name an' face if he 
makes us stay out here till night. You an' me have got 
to get to that water before another sunrise if all th' 
thieves in th' country are campin' on it we got to, that's 

An hour passed and then the busy telescope showed a 
diminutive something moving out past the far end of the 
distant ridge. Despite the dancing of the heat-distorted 
image on the object-glass the grim watcher knew it for 
what it was. Another and another followed it and soon 
the moving spots strung out against the horizon like a 
crawling line of grotesque, fantastic insects, silhouetted 
against the sky. 

" There they go back to Mesquite to capture Quayle's 
hotel an' win th' fight," sneered Hopalong. " I could tell 
'em somethin' that would send them th' other way but 


we'll let 'em ride with Fate ; an' get to that water as quick 
as yore weary legs can take us. Th' herd is there, bronch ; 
all alone, waitin' for us. It's our herd now, if we want 
it, which we don't. Huh! Mebby they left a guard! 
All right, then; he's got a big job on his hands. Come 
on ; get a-goin' ! " 

Swinging more and more to the south he soon forsook 
the windings of the hollows and struck boldly for the 
eastern end of the valley, and when he reached it he 
hobbled and picketed the horse, frantic with the heavy 
scent of water in its crimson, flaring nostrils, and went 
ahead on foot, the hot Sharp's in his hands full cocked 
and poised for instant action. Crawling to the edge of 
the valley he inched forward on his stomach and peered 
over the rim. An exclamation of surprise and incredulity 
died in his throat as the valley lay under his eyes, for 
it was the valley he had seen in the mirage only a few 
days before. 

The stolen herd filled the small creek, standing like 
statues, soaking in the life-giving fluid and nosing it 
gently. One or two, moving restlessly, blundered against 
those nearest them and the watcher knew that they had 
gone blind. The sharpest scrutiny failed to discover any 
guard, and he knew that his uncertain count of the kalei 
doscopic riders had been correct. Hastening back to the 
restless horse he soon found that it had in reserve a 
strength which sent it flashing to the trail's edge and 
down the dangerous ledge at reckless speed. At last in 
the creek it, too, stood as though dazed and nosed the 
water a little before drinking. 

Hopalong swung into the stream, removed saddle and 


bridle and then splashed across to the hut, dumping his 
load, canteens, and all against the front wall. To make 
assurance doubly sure he scouted hurriedly down one side 
of the little valley, crossed the creek and went back along 
the other wall. 

Thorpe's carefully stacked firewood provided fuel for a 
cunningly built-up fire; one of Thorpe's discarded tomato 
cans, washed and filled in the spring near the hut's walls 
sizzled and sputtered in the blazing fire and soon boiled 
madly. Picking it out of the blaze with the aid of two 
longer sticks the hungry cook set it to one side, threw in 
a double handful of Thorpe's coffee, covered it with 
another washed can and then placed Thorpe's extra frying 
pan on the coals, filling it with some of Thorpe's bacon. 
A large can of Thorpe's beans landed close to the fire and 
rolled a few feet, and the cheerful explorer emerged from 
the hut with a sack of sour-dough biscuits which the 
careless Thorpe had forgotten. 

" Bless Thorpe," chuckled Hopalong. " I'll never make 
him climb no more walls. I wouldn't 'a' made him climb 
that one, mebby, if I'd knowed about this." 

Looking around as a matter of caution, his glance 
embracing the stolid herd and his own horse grazing with 
the jaded animals left behind by the rustlers, he fell to 
work turning the bacon and soon feasted until he could 
eat no more. Rolling a cigarette he inhaled a few puffs 
and then, picking up telescope and rifle, he grunted his 
lazy way up the steep trail and mounted the ridge, sweep 
ing the western horizon first with the glass and then 
completed the circle. Satisfied and drowsy he returned 
to the valley, spread his folded blanket behind the hut, 


placed the saddle on one end of it for a pillow and lay 
down to fall asleep in an instant. 

When he awakened he stretched out the kinks and 
looked around in the dim light. He felt unaccountably 
cold and he looked at the blanket which he had pulled over 
him some time during his sleep, wondering why he had 
felt the need for it during the daylight hours in such a 
place as this. 

"Well, I'll cook me some more bacon before it gets 
dark, an' then set up with a nice little fire, with a 'dobe 
wall at my back. It'll be a treat just to set an' smoke an' 
plan, th' night chill licked by th' fire an' my happy stomach 
full of bacon, beans, an' biscuits an' coffee, cans an' 
cans of coffee." 

It suddenly came to him that the light was growing 
stronger instead of weaker, that it was not the afterglow, 
and that the chill was dying instead of increasing. 
Shocked by a sudden suspicion he glanced into the eastern 
sky and stared stupidly, surprised that he had not noticed 
it before. 

" I was so dumb with sleep that I didn't savvy east from 
west," he muttered. "It's daylight, 'stead of evenin' 
I've slept all afternoon an' night ! Well, I don't see how 
that changes th' eatin' part, anyhow. No wonder I pulled 
th' blanket over me, an' no wonder I was stiff." 

With the coming of the sun a disagreeable journey 
loomed nearer and nearer but, as he told the horse when 
cinching the saddle on its back, the return trip would not 
be one of uncertainty; nor would they be held down to 
such a slow pace by any clumsy herd. A further thought 
hastened his movements : there was a big fight going on 


in Mesquite, and his two friends were in it without him. 
Looking around he saw that he had cleaned up and effaced 
all signs of his visit and, filling the canteens and fastening 
them into place, he mounted and rode up the steep slope, 
turned his back to the threatening sun and loped westward 
along a plain and straight trail, a grim smile on his face. 



AFTER Hopalong had ridden off on his desert trail 
ing, Johnny and Red rode to the Question-Mark, 
reaching it a little after daylight and were promptly 
challenged when near the smaller corral. The sharp voice 
changed to a friendly tone when the sentry had a better 
look at the pair. 

"Thought you'd be up with th' circus," said the 
Question-Mark puncher. 

"On our way now," replied Johnny. "Come down 
here to learn what was happenin'. Meet Red Connors, 
an old friend of Waffles." 

" Howd'y," grunted the puncher, looking at Red with 
a keener interest. "You fellers are lucky we got to 
stay here an' miss it all. Walt come down last night an' 
said Kane's goin' to be a hard nut to crack. He's fixed 
up like a fort." 

" Reckon we'll take a look at it," said Johnny, wheeling. 

"Hey! If you want to find Mac, he's hangin' out at 

Johnny waved his thanks and rode on with his cheerful 
companion. In due time they heard the distant firing 
and not much later rode up to Quayle's back door and 
went in. McCullough was raging at the effectiveness of 



the sharpshooters on Kane's roof who had succeeded in 
keeping the fight at long range and who dominated certain 
strategic positions which the trail-boss earnestly desired 
to make use of; all of which made him irritable and 
unusually gruff. 

" Where you been ? " he demanded as Johnny entered. 

"Locatin' a missin' herd of yore cattle," retorted 
Johnny, nettled by the tone. "They're waitin' for you 
when you get time to go after 'em. Now we'll locate them 
sharpshooters. Anythin' else you can't do, let us know. 
Come on, Red," and he went out again, his grinning friend 
at his heels. At the door Red checked him. 

"Looks like a long-range job, Kid. My gun's all right 
for closer work, but I ought to have a Sharp's for this 

Johnny wheeled and went back. " Gimme a Sharp's," 
he demanded. 

"Take Wilson's they got him yesterday," growled 
the trail-boss, pointing. 

Johnny took the gun and the cartridge belt hanging on 
it, joined Red and led the way to a place he had in mind. 
Reaching the selected spot, an adobe hut on the remote 
outskirts of the sprawled town, he stopped. "This is 
good enough for me," he grunted, " except th' range is too 
cussed long. Well, we'll try it from here, anyhow." 

" I'm goin' to th' next shack," replied Red, moving on. 
"We'll use our old follow-shootin' an' make 'em sick. 
Ready? I'm goin' to cross th' open." At his friend's 
affirmative grunt Red leaned over and dashed for the 
other adobe. A bullet whined in front of him, barely 
heard above the roar of Johnny's rifle. He settled down, 


adjusted the sights and proceeded to prove title to his 
widely known reputation on other ranges of being the 
best rifle-shot of many square miles. " Make a hit, Kid ? " 
he called. " It's mebby further than you figger." 

"It is," answered Johnny. "Like old times, huh? 
Lord help 'em when you get started! Are you all set? 
I'm ready to draw 'em." 

" Wind gentle, from th' east," mumbled Red. " Dirty 
gun got to shoot higher. All right," he called, nestling 
the heavy stock. 

Johnny pushed his rifle around the corner of the 
building, aimed quickly and fired. A hatted head arose 
above Kane's roof and a puff of smoke spurted into the 
air above it as Red's Sharp's roared. The hat flew back 
ward and the head ducked down again, its owner surprised 
by the luck of the shot. 

Johnny laughed outright. "For a trial shot I'm 
admittin' that was a whizzer. I ain't no slouch with a 
Sharp's but how th' devil you can make one behave 
like you do is a puzzle to me." 

"I'm still starin'," said a humorous, envious voice 
behind them and they looked around to see Waffles 
hugging the end of the building. " If I can get over on 
Red's right I'll help make targets for him." 

" Walk right over to that other shack," called Johnny. 
"Yo're safe as if you was home in yore bunk. Cover 
him, Red." 

Waffles' mind flashed back into the past and what it 
presented to him greatly reassured him, but to walk was 
tempting Providence; he ran across the open and again 
Red's rifle roared. 


" Got him ! " yelled Johnny, staring at the body lying 
over the distant parapet. It was swiftly pulled back out 
of sight. The rest of Johnny's words were profanely 

" Shut yore face," growled Red. " It was plumb luck." 

"Shore it was," laughed his friend in joyous irony; 
" but yo're allus makin' 'em. That's what counts." 

Waffles, having gained the shelter he coveted, looked 
around. " Heads was plentiful up there yesterday. There 
was allus one or two bobbin' up. I'm bettin' they'll be 
scarcer today." 

"They'll be scarcer tomorrow, when we are behind 
them other shacks," replied Red. "They're easy three 
hundred paces nearer, an' that's a lot sometimes." 

"An' twice as much to them," rejoined Johnny. " Th' 
nearer you get th' more you make it even terms. You stay 
where you are me an' Waffles'll go out there tonight." 

When the afternoon dragged to an end Red had another 
sharpshooter to his credit, and the dominating group on 
the roof were much less dominant. They cursed the long- 
range genius who shot hats off of heads, clipped ears, and 
had killed two men. The shooting, with a rest and plenty 
of time to aim, would have been creditable enough; but 
to hit a bobbing head meant quick handling. They were 
properly indignant, for it was a toss-up with Death to 
show enough of their heads to sight a slanting rifle. One 
of their number, whose mangled ear was bound up with 
a generous amount of bandage, savagely hammered the 
chisel with which he was cutting a loophole through four 
inches of seasoned wood, vowing vengeance on the man 
who had ruined his looks. 


The light failing for close shooting, the three friends 
left their positions and went to the hotel for a late supper, 
Red receiving envious, grinning looks as he entered the 
dining-room. Idaho promptly forsook his bosom friends 
and went over to finish his meal at the table of the new 

"We got Red Frank's place plumb full of holes you 
can see daylight through th' second floor," he announced ; 
"but it don't seem to do no good. If I could get close 
enough to use a bomb I got, we might clean 'em up." 

" Crawl up in th' dark," suggested Waffles. 

" Can't ; they spread flour all around th' place, an' th' 
minute a man crosses it he shows up plain. Two of us 
found out all about that!" 

" Go through or over th' buildin's this side of th' place," 
said Johnny, visualizing the street. " They lead up close 
to Red Frank's." 

Idaho stared, and slapped his thigh in enthusiastic 
endorsement. " I reckon you called it ! " he gloated. 
" Wait till I tell th' boys," and he hastened back to his 
friends. Judging from the sudden noise coming from 
the table, his friends were of the same opinion and, bolting 
the rest of the meal, they hastened away to forthwith try 
the plan. 

McCullough entered the dining-room and strode 
straight to Johnny. " Did I hear you say you know where 
my cattle are? " he asked, sitting down. 

Johnny nodded, chewed hurriedly and replied. "I 
didn't finish it. / don't know where they are, but Hop- 
along is trailin' 'em, an' he'll know when he comes back. 
Pay us them rewards now, instead of later, an' I'll do 


some high an' mighty guessin' about yore head an' bet 
you th' rewards that I guess right." 

The trail-boss laughed. " You've shore got plenty o 
nerve," he retorted. " When this fight is over there won't 
be no rewards paid. We got th' whole gang in them two 
buildin's, an' we got 'em good. You've had yore trouble 
for nothin', Nelson." 

"How 'bout th' gang that are with th' herd?" asked 
Johnny, a note of anger edging his words. 

McCullough shrugged his shoulders. " I ain't worryin' 
about them they'll never come back to Mesquite." 

"That so?" queried Johnny, sarcastically. "I ought 
to keep my mouth shut, th' way yo're talkin', but I hate 
to see good men killed. I'll bet you they'll come back just 
at dawn, some time in th' next five days. An' I'll bet you 
they'll sneak up on this hotel an' raise th' devil, while 
Kane starts a bunch from his place and Red Frank's, to 
help 'em. Th' minute they start shootin' in here their 
friends '11 sortie out an' carry th' fight to you. Want to 
bet on it ? " 

McCullough regarded the speaker through narrowed 
lids. "How do you figger that?" he demanded sus 
piciously. "You gettin' that out of yore medicine bag, 
too?" and then he eagerly drank in every word of the 
explanation. After a moment's thought he loolWd around 
the room and then back to the smiling Johnny. " Much 
obliged, Nelson. I'm beginnin' to see that I owe you 
fellers somethin', after all. If them fellers we want were 
loose an' you got 'em, then of course th' reward would 
stand ; but you can't win it very well when we've got 'em 
corraled. Who-all is in that bunch with th' herd ? " 


Johnny smiled but shook his head. 

"Didn't you say you knowed who killed Ridley?" per 
sisted the trail-boss. 

" I know him, an' how he did it. Hopalong saw him 
while his gun was smokin', but didn't know what he had 
shot at till later." 

"Why didn't you tell me, an' earn that reward right 
away ? " 

"That's only half of th' rewards," replied Johnny. 
" There's money up for th' fellers that robbed th' bank. 
If we got Ridley's murderer th' others might 'a' smelled 
out what we was after. You see, I was robbed of more 
than eleven hundred dollars th' first night I was in town. 
Th' money belonged to th' ranch. Th' only chance I had 
of gettin' it back was to make th' rewards big enough to 
stand three splits that would be large enough to cover it. 
An' I'm still goin' to do that, Mac. Pay it now an' we'll 
stick with you till you get th' men an' yore herd. Of 
course, yo're going to get th' herd, anyhow, as far as we 
are concerned. I ain't holdin' that over yore head; I'm 
only tryin' to show you why I can't be open an' free with 

" I couldn't pay th' rewards now even if I wanted to," 
said the trail-boss. 

"I know that, an' I didn't think you would. I was 
only showin' you how things are with us." 

McCullough nodded, placed a hand on the speaker's 
shoulder and arose, turning to Red. " Connors," he said, 
"yo're a howlin' wonder with a Sharp's. Much obliged 
for holdin' down that roof. If you can clean 'em up there 
this fight'll go on a cussed sight faster. Th' cover on th' 


north side of Kane's is so poor that we can't do much 
out there, but we can do a little better when them sharp 
shooters are driven down. From what I know of you 
two, yore friend Cassidy is shore able to trail that herd. 
I've quit worryin' about everythin' but th' fight here in 
town. An' lemme make a long speech a little longer: If 
you fellers can earn them rewards I won't waste no time 
in payin' up; but there ain't a chance for you. We got 
'em under our guns." 

"Who was right about where that raid on you was 
goin' to take place?" asked Johnny. "You was purty 
shore about that, too, wasn't you ? " 

The trail-boss smiled and shook his head. "Yo're a 
good guesser," he admitted, and went out to consult with 

The next day found the line a little tighter around the 
stronghold, thanks to Red's shooting, which increased in 
accuracy after he had decided to use closer cover and cut 
three hundred paces out of the range. Better positions 
had been gained by the attackers during the night, some 
of the more daring men now being not far from point- 
blank range, which enabled them to make the use of 
Kane's loopholes hazardous. To the north another rifle 
man lay in a hollow of the sandy plain, but too far away 
to do much damage. The north parapet of the building 
was hidden from Red by the one on the south and the 
aerial marksmen made free use of it. 

Red Frank's place was in jeopardy, for Idaho and his 
enthusiastic companions were in the building next on the 
south, separated from the Mexican's house by less than 
twenty feet. There was an open window facing the gam- 


bling-house and Idaho, chancing quick glances through it, 
noticed that one of the heavy, board shutters of a window 
of the upper floor sagged out a little from the top. Sig 
naling the men behind the jail to increase their fire, he 
coiled his rope and cast it through the window. It struck 
the upper edge of the shutter, dropped behind it and grew 
swiftly taut Two of his companions added their strength 
to his, while the other two covered them by pouring a 
heavy revolver fire at the two threatening loopholes. The 
shutter creaked, twisted, and then slowly gave way, finally 
breaking the lower hinge and sailing over against the 
other house to a cheer from the jail. Heavy firing came 
through the uncovered window, the bullets passing 
through the opposing wall and driving the Diamond L 
men to other shelter. Here they waited until it died down 
and then, picking up the bomb made by the owner of the 
new freight wagon, Idaho lit the jumpy, uncertain fuse, 
waited as long as he dared and hurled it across the inter 
vening space and through the shutterless window as the 
opening was being boarded up. There was a roar, jets 
of smoke spurt from windows and holes and the wild 
cursing of injured men rang out loudly. A tongue of 
flame leaped through a trapdoor on the roof and grew 
rapidly brighter. At intervals the smoke pouring up be 
came suddenly heavy and thick, but cleared quickly be 
tween the onslaughts of the water buckets. Fire now 
crept through the side of the frame structure and mounted 
rapidly, and such a hail of lead poured through the smoke- 
spurting, upper loopholes that it became impossible for 
the buckets to be properly used. It was only a matter of 
time before the blazing roof and floor would fall on the 


defenders in the adobe- walled structure below, and 
through a loophole Red Frank suddenly shoved out a 
soiled towel fastened on the end of a rifle barrel. 

" Come ahead, with yore hands up! " shouted a stento 
rian voice from the jail. " Quit firin', boys ; they're sur- 
renderin'." Almost on the tail of his words a hurrying 
line of choking Mexicans, bearing their wounded, 
streamed from the front door. They were promptly and 
proudly escorted by the hilarious attackers to safe quarters 
on the southern outskirts of the town. 



MCCULLOUGH and Lukins drew men from the 
cordon around the gambling-hall until the line was 
thinned and stretched as much as prudence allowed, cover 
ing only the more strategic positions, while the men taken 
from it were placed in an ambuscade at the rear of 
Quayle's hotel. Both leaders would have preferred to 
have placed their reception committee nearer the outskirts 
of the rambling town but, not knowing from which direc 
tion the attack would come and not being able to spare 
men enough for outposts around the town, they were 
forced to concentrate at the object of the attack. When 
night fell and darkness hid the movement they set the 
trap, gave strict orders for no one to approach the rear 
of the hotel during the dark hours, and waited expec 

The first night passed in quiet and the following day 
found the cordon reen forced until it contained its original 
numbers. By nightfall of the second day Red, Johnny, 
and Waffles had cleared the parapet and made it useless 
during daylight, and as the moon increased in size and 
brightness the parapet steadily became a more perilous 
position at night for the defenders. All three marksmen, 
now ensconced within three hundred yards of the gam- 



bling-house and out of the line of sight of every lower 
loophole, had the range worked out to a foot. Red and 
Waffles had discarded their borrowed Sharp's and were 
now using their own familiar Winchesters, and it was 
certain death to any man who tried to shoot from Kane's 
roof on any side but the north one. 

Evening came and with it came a hair-brained attempt 
by Idaho and his irrepressibles to capture and use the 
stables. Despite McCullough's orders to the contrary the 
group of youngsters, elated by their success against Red 
Frank's, made the attempt as soon as darkness fell ; and 
learned with cost that the stables were stacked decks. 
One man was killed and all the others wounded, most of 
them so badly as to remove them from the role of com 
batants; but one dogged, persistent, and vindictive unit of 
the foolish attack managed to set fire to the sun-dried 
structures before crawling away. 

The baked wood burned like tinder and became a mass 
of flames almost in an instant, and for a few minutes it 
looked as though they would take the gambling-hall with 
them. It was a narrow squeak and missed only because 
of a slight shift of the wind. The scattered line of punch 
ers to the north of the building, not expecting the sudden 
conflagration, had crawled nearer to the gambling-hall 
in the encroaching darkness, only to find themselves sud 
denly revealed to their enemies by the towering sheets of 
flame. They got off with minor injuries only because the 
north side of the building was not well manned and be 
cause the stables were holding the attention of most of the 
besieged. When the flames died down almost as swiftly 
as they had grown, the smouldering ashes gave a longer 


and less obstructed view to the guards of Kane's east 
wall and rendered useless certain positions cherished by 

The trail-boss, seething with anger, stamped up to 
Lukins and roared his demands, with the result that Idaho 
and the less injured of his companions were sent to take 
the places of cooler heads in the ambush party and were 
ordered to stay in Quayle's stable until after the expected 

In Quayle's kitchen four men waited through the drag 
ging hours, breaking the silence by occasional whispers as 
they watched the faintly lighted open spaces and the walls 
of certain buildings newly powdered with flour so as to 
serve as backgrounds and to silhouette any man passing in 
front of them. Only the north walls had been dusted and 
there was nothing to reveal their freshly acquired white 
ness to unsuspecting strangers coming up from the south. 
In the stable Idaho and his restless friends grumbled in 
low tones and cursed their inactivity. Three men at the 
darkened ofHce windows, and two more on the floor above 
watched silently. Outside an occasional shot called forth 
distant comment, and laughter arose here and there along 
the alert line. 

On the east end of the line a Diamond L puncher, 
stretched out on his stomach in a little depression he had 
scooped in the sand during the darker hours of the second 
night, stuck the end of his little finger in a bullet hole in 
his canteen and rimmed the hole abstractedly, the water 
soaking his clothes making him squirm. 

"Cuss his hide," he growled. "Now I got to stay 
thirsty." He slid a hand down his body and lifted the 


dinging clothing from the small of his back. " If it was 
only as cold as that when I drink it, I wouldn't grumble. 
An' I wasn't thirsty till he spilled it," he added in petulant 

To his right two friends crouched behind the aged ruins 
of an adobe house, paired off because one of them shot 
left-handed, which fitted each to his own corner. " Got 
any chewin' ? " asked Righthand. " Chuck it over. Seems 
to me that they " he set his teeth into the tobacco, tore 
off a generous quantity and tossed the plug back to its 
owner " ain't answerin' as strong as they was this after 

" No ? " grunted Lefthand, brushing sand from the plug. 
He shoved it back into a pocket and reflected a moment. 
" It was good shootin' while th' stable burned." Another 
pause, and then: "Did you hear Billy yell when them 
fools started th' fire?" 

Righthand laughed, stiffened, fired, and pumped the 
lever of the gun. "I'm gettin' so I can put every one 
through that loophole. Hear him squawk ? " He dropped 
to his knees to rest his back, and chuckled. " Shore did. 
Billy, he was boastin' how near he could crawl to them 
stables. I reckon he done crawled too close. Lukins 
ought to send them kids home." 

In a sloping, shallow arroyo to their right Walt and 
Bob of the Question-Mark lay side by side. Behind them 
two shots roared in quick succession. Walt lazily turned 
his head from the direction of the sounds and peeped over 
the edge of the bank. 

" I reckon some coyote took a look over th' edge of th' 
roof," he remarked. 


"Uh-huh," replied Bob without interest and without 
relaxing his vigil. 

"I don't lay out here one little minute after Connors 
leaves that 'dobe," said Walt. He spat noisily and turned 
the cud. " I'm savin' shootin' like his is a gift. I'm some 
shot, myself, but h 1 " 

" You'd shore a thought so," replied Bob, grinning as 
he reviewed something, " if you'd seen that sharpshooter 
flop over th' edge of th' roof th' other day. I'd guess it 
was close to fifteen hundred." He changed his position, 
grunted in complacent satisfaction and continued. " Some 
folks can't see a man's forehead at that distance, let alone 
hit it. Of course, th' sky was behind it." 

"Which made it plainer, but harder to figger right," 
observed Walt. " Waffles says Connors can drive a dime 
into a plank with th' first, an' push it through with th' sec 
ond, as far away as he can see th' dime. When it's too 
far away to be seen, he puts it in th' middle of a black cir 
cle, an' aims for th' middle of th' circle. But I put plenty 
of salt on th' tails of his stories." 

" Which holds 'em down," grunted Bob. " Who's that 
over there, movin' around that shack ? " 

Walt looked and cogitated. " Charley was there when 
I came out," he answered. " Cussed fool showin' his- 
self like that." He swore at a thin pencil of flame which 
stabbed out from a loophole, and fired. " Told you so ! " 
he growled. " Charley is down ! " 

Both fired at the loophole and hazarded a quick look at 
the foolish unfortunate, who had dragged himself behind 
a hummock of sand. Rapid firing broke out behind them 
and, sensing what it meant, they joined in. A crouched 


figure darted from a building, sprinted to the hummock, 
swung the wounded man on its back, and staggered and 
-zigzagged to cover. 

" That was Waffles," said Walt, reloading the magazine 
of his rifle. "It's a cussed shame to make a man take 
chances like that by bein' a fool." 

Behind the building Waffles lowered his burden to the 
ground, ripped off the wet shirt and became busy. He 
fastened the end of the bandage and stood up. "Fools 
are lucky sometimes," he growled; "an' I says you are 
lucky to only have a smashed collar bone. You try a fool 
trick like that again an' I'll bust yore head. Ain't you 
got no sense?" 

"Don't you go to put on no airs, Waffles," said Red 
Connors. " I can tell a few things on you. I know you." 

Johnny chuckled. "Tread easy," he warned. "We 
both know you." 

" Go to h 1 ! " grunted the ex- foreman of the O-Bar-O, 
grinning. " Fine pair of sage-hens you are to tell tales on 
me! I got you thro wed and hog-tied before you even 
start." He wheeled at a noise behind him, and glared at 
the wounded man. "Where'n h 1 are you goin'?" he 
demanded, truculently. 

" Without admittin' yore right to ask fool questions," 
groaned Charley, still moving, " I'll say I'm goin' to join 
th' ambush party at Quayle's, an' relieve somebody else." 
He gritted his teeth and stood erect. " I can use a Colt, 
can't I ? " he demanded. 

" Yo're so shaky you can't hit a house," retorted Waf 

" Which I ain't aimin' to do," rejoined the white- faced 


man. " You'll show more sense if you'll tie my left arm 
like it ought to be, instead of standin' with yore mouth 
open. You'll shore catch a cold if you don't shut it purty 

" You stubborn fool ! " growled Waffles, but he fixed the 
arm to its owner's satisfaction. 

"If he gets smart, Charley," suggested Johnny, "pull 
his nose. He allus was an old woman, anyhow." 

With the coming of midnight the cordon became 
doubled in numbers as growling men rubbed the sleep 
from their eyes and took up positions for the meeting of 
Kane's sortie in case the hotel was attacked by his ex 
pected drive outfit. 

The hours dragged on, the silence of the night infre 
quently broken by bits of querulous cursing by some 
wounded puncher, an occasional taunt from besieger or 
besieged and sporadic bursts of firing which served more 
for notifications of defiance and watchfulness than for any 
grimmer purpose. Patches of clouds now and then drifted 
before the moon and sailed slowly on. Nature's denizens 
of the dark were in active swing and filled the night with 
their soft orchestration. The besiegers, paired for night 
work, which let one man doze while his companion 
watched, hummed, grumbled, or snored ; in the gambling- 
hall fortress weary men slept beside the loopholes, the dis 
heartened for a few hours relieved of their fears or carry 
ing them across the borderland of sleep to make their 
slumbers restless and broken, while scowling, disheart 
ened sentries kept a keener watch, alert for the rush 
hourly expected. 

South of town a group of horsemen pulled up, dis- 


mounted, tied their mounts to convenient brush and slipped 
like shadows toward the nearest house, approaching it 
round-about and with animal wariness. From house to 
house, corral to corral, cover to cover they crept, spread 
out in a fan-shaped line, silent, grim, vindictive and des 
perate. Not a shadow passed unsearched and unused, not 
a bowlder or thicket was above suspicion nor below being 
utilized. Nearer and nearer they worked their way, eyes 
straining, ears tuned for every sound, high-strung with 
nerves quivering, keyed to swift reflex and instant de 
cision. The scattered, infrequent firing grew steadily 
nearer, every flat report was searched for secret meanings 
and the sharp squeak of a gyrating bat overhead sent every 
man flat to the earth. The last in the group became can- 
nily slower as opportunity offered and soon managed to 
be so far behind that his quick, furtive desertion was un 
noticed in the tenseness of conjecture as to what lay im 
mediately ahead. 

Kane's trail-boss slanted his watch under the moon's 
rays and gave a low, natural signal, whereupon to right 
and left a man detached himself and left the waiting group. 
Minutes passed, their passing marked on nervous fore 
heads by the thin trickle of cold sweat. Any instant might 
a challenge, a shot, a volley ring out on any side ; hostile 
eyes might be watching every movement, hostile guns 
waiting for the right moment, like ravenous hounds in 
leash. The scouts returned as silently as they had de 
parted and breathed their reassuring words in Roberts' 
ear. The town lay unsuspecting, every waking eye bent 
on the bulking gambling-hall. Not a hidden outpost, not 
a pacing sentry to watch the harmless rear. To the right 


showed the roof of a two-story building, bulking above the 
low, thick roofs of scattered, helter-skelter adobes, in 
any one of which Death might be poised. 

Again the slow advance, and breathed maledictions on 
the head of any unfortunate who trod carelessly or let his 
swinging six-gun click against buckle or button. Roberts, 
peering around the end of an adobe wall, held his elbows 
from his sides, and progress ceased while a softly whistling 
figure strode across the street and became lost to sight. 
This was the jumping-off place, the edge of a black 
precipice of fate, unknown as to depth or what lay below. 
The savage, thankful elation which had possessed every 
man at his success in making this border line of life and 
death faded swiftly as his mind projected itself into the 
unknown on the other side of the house. Roberts knew 
what might follow if hesitation were allowed here, and 
that the conjecturing minds might have scant time to 
waver he nerved himself and snapped his fingers, leaping 
around the corner for Quayle's kitchen door, his men 
piling after him, still silent and much more tense, yet 
tortured to shout and to shoot. Ten steps more and the 
goal would have been reached, but even as the leaping 
group exulted there came a shredded sheet of flame and 
the deafening crash of spurting six-guns worked at top 
3peed at point-blank range. The charging line crumpled 
in mid-stride, plunged headlong to the silvered sands and 
rolled or flopped or lay instantly still. At the head of his 
men the rustler trail-boss offered a target beyond the wait 
ing punchers' fondest hopes, yet he bounded on unscathed, 
flashed around the hotel corner, turned again, doubling 
back behind the smoke-filled stable and scurried like a 



panic-stricken rabbit for the brush-filled arroyo, while hot 
and savage hunters searched the street for him until a 
hail of lead from Kane's drove them to any shelter which 
might serve. 

When the sheltering arroyo led him from his chosen 
course Roberts forsook it and ran with undiminished 
speed toward where the horses waited. At last he reached 
them and as he stretched out his arm his last measure of 
energy left him and he plunged forward, rolling across 
the sand. But a will like his was not to be baffled and in a 
few moments he stirred, crawled forward, clawed him 
self into a saddle, jerked loose the restraining rope and 
rode for safety, hunched over and but half conscious. 
Gradually his pounding heart caught up with the demand, 
his burning lungs and spasmodic breathing became more 
normal, his head steadied and became a little clearer and 
he looked around to find out just where he was. When 
sure of his location he turned the horse's head toward, 
Bitter Spring, and beyond it, to follow the tracks he knew 
were still there to the only safe place left for him in all 
the country. 

He seemed to have been riding for days when he caught 
sight of something moving over a ridge far ahead of him 
and he closed his eyes in hope that the momentary rest 
would clear his vision. After awhile he saw it push up 
over another low ridge and he knew it to be a horseman 
riding in the same direction as himself. Again he closed 
his eyes and unmercifully quirted the tired and unwilling 
horse into a pace it could not hold for long. Another look 
ahead showed him that the horseman was a Mexican, 
which meant that he was hardly a foe even if not a friend. 


And he sneered as he thought how little it mattered 
whether the Mexican was an enemy or not, for one enemy 
ahead and a Greaser at that was greatly to be preferred to 
those who might be following him. Soon he frowned in 
slowly dawning recognition. It was Miguel and he had 
obtained quite a start. Conjecturing about how he had 
managed to be so far in the lead stirred up again the vague 
suspicions which had been intruding themselves upon him 
while he had been unable to think clearly; but he was 
thinking clearly now, he told himself, and his eyes glinted 
the sudden anger. 

He thought he now knew why the town had been en 
tered so easily, why they had been allowed to penetrate 
unopposed to its center. It was plain enough why they 
had been permitted to get within a few feet of Quayle's 
back door, and then be stopped with a volley at a mur 
derously short range. As he reviewed it he almost was 
stunned by the thought of his own escape and he tried to 
puzzle it out. It might be that every waiting puncher 
thought that others were covering him and in this he 
was right. The compact group behind him had drawn 
every eye. It had been one of those freakish tricks of 
fate which might not occur again in a hundred fights ; and 
it turned cold, practical Hugh Roberts into a slave of 

On the way to town he had sneered when Miguel had 
pointed out a chaparral cock which raced with them for 
several miles and claimed that it was an omen of good 
luck ; but from this time on no " roadrunner " ever would 
hear the angry whine of his bullets. Thinking of Miguel 
brought him back to his suspicions and he looked at the 


distant rider with an expression on his face which would 
have caused chills to race up and down the Mexican's 
back, could he have seen them. Miguel, unhurt, riding 
leisurely back to the herd, with a head-start great enough 
to be in itself incriminating. And then the Mexican 
turned in his saddle and looked back, and Roberts let 
his horse fall into a saner pace. 

The effect upon Miguel was galvanic. He reined in, 
flung himself off on the far side of his horse and cau 
tiously slid the rifle from its scabbard while he pretended 
to be tightening the cinch. His swarthy face became a 
pasty yellow and then resumed its natural color, a little 
darker, perhaps, by the sudden inrush of blood. After 
what he had done in town Hugh Roberts would be on 
his trail for only one thing. Miguel's racing imagination 
and his sudden feeling of guilt for his deliberate, planned 
desertion found a sufficient reason for the pursuing horse 
man. Sliding the rifle under his arm he waited until the 
man came nearer, where a hit would be less of a gamble. 
The Mexican knew what had happened, for he had de 
layed until he heard that crashing volley, and knew it to 
be a volley. Knowing this he knew what it meant and 
had fled for Surprise Valley and the big herd waiting 
there. That Roberts should have escaped was a puzzle 
and he wrestled with it while the range was steadily short 
ened, and the more he wrestled the more undecided he be 
came. Finally he slipped the gun back, mounted, and 
waited for the other to come up. He had a plausible 
answer for every question. 

Roberts slowed to a walk and searched the Mexican's 
eyes as he pulled up at his side. "How'd you get out 


here so far ahead of me? " he demanded, his eyes cold 
and threatening. 

Miguel shrugged his shoulders, but did not take his 
hand from his belt. "Ah, eet ees a miracle," he breathed. 
" The good Virgin, she watch over Miguel. An' paisano, 
the roadrunner deed I not tell you eet was good luck ? 
An' you, too, was saved ! How deed eet happen, that you 
are save?" 

" They none of them looked at me, I reckon," replied 
Roberts. " They got everybody but me an' you. How 
is it that yo're out here, so far ahead of me? " 

"Jus' before the firs' shootin' the what you call vol 
ley I stoomble as I try not to step on Thorpe. I go 
down the volley, eet come I roll away they do 
not see me an' here I am, like you, save." 

" Is that so ? " snapped Roberts. 

" Eet ees jus' so, so much as eet ees that somewan tell 
we are comin' to Quayle's," answered Miguel. "For 
why they do not see us, in the town, when we come in? 
For why that volley, lak one shot ? Sometheeng there ees 
that Miguel he don' understan'. An' theese, please : Why 
ees there no sortie wen we come in ? We was on the ver* 
minute eet ees so?" 

"Right on th' dot!" snarled Roberts, his thoughts 
racing along other trails. "Huh!" he growled. "Our 
shares of th' herd money comes to quite a sizable pile > 
mebby that's it. Take th' shares of all of us, an' it's 
more'n half. Well, I don't know, an' I ain't carin' a 
whole lot now. Think we can swing that herd, Miguel, 
an' split all th' money, even shares ? " 

The Mexican showed his teeth in a sudden, expansive 


smile. "For why not? Theese hor-rses are ver* tired; 
but the others they are res' now. We can wait at Bitter 
Spring tonight, an' go on tomorrow. There ees no hurry 

"We don't hang out at Bitter Spring all night," con 
tradicted Roberts flatly. " We'll water 'em an' breath 'em 
a spell, an' push right on. Th' further I get away from 
Mesquite th' better I'm goin' to like it. Come on, let's 
get goin'." 

"There ees no hurry from Bitter Spring," murmured 
the Mexican. "They ees only one who know beyond; 
an' Manuel, he ees weeth Kane." 

"I don't care a d n ! " growled his companion, stub 
bornly. " I'm not layin' around Bitter Spring any longer 
than I has to." 

Neither believed the other's story, but neither cared, 
only each determined to be alert when the drive across 
the desert was completed. Before that there was hardly 
need to let their mutual suspicions have full play. Each 
was necessary to the success of the drive but after? 
That would be another matter. Fate was again kind to 
them both, for as they hurried east Hopalong Cassidy 
hastened west along his favorite trail, the rolling sand 
between hiding them from him. 

Back in the town the elated ambushers buried the 
bodies, marveled at the escape of Roberts and drifted 
away to take places on the firing line, which soon showed 
increased activity. Here and there a more daring puncher 
took chances, some regretting it and others gaining better 
positions. Red, Johnny, and Waffles attended strictly to 


the roof, which now had been abandoned on all sides but 
the north, where lack of cover prohibited McCullough's 
men from getting close enough to do any considerable 
damage. The few punchers lying far off on the north 
were there principally to stop a sortie or an attempt at 
escape. As the day passed the defenders' fire grew a 
little less and the Question-Mark foreman was content 
to wait it out rather than risk unnecessary casualties in 
pushing the fighting any more briskly. 

Evening came, and with it came Hopalong, tired, hun 
gry, thirsty, and hot, which did not add sweetness to his 
disposition. Eager to get the men he wanted and to return 
for the herd, he listened impatiently to his friends' account 
of the fight, his mind busy on his own account. When the 
tale had been told and McCullough's changing attitude 
touched upon he shoved his hat back on his head, spread 
his feet and ripped out an oath. 

" ! " he growled. "All these men, all this time, 

to clean up a shack like that ? " 

" Mac's playin' safe it's only a matter of time, now," 
apologized Waffles, glaring at his two companions, who 
already had worn his nerves ragged by the same kind of 

H 1 ! " snorted Hopalong impatiently. " We'll all 
grow whiskers at this rate, before it's over ! " He turned 
to Johnny and regarded him speculatively. " Kid, let Red 
an' Waffles handle that roof an' come along with me. 
I'm goin' to start things movin'." 

"You'll find Mac plumb set on goin' easy," warned 

"Th' h 1 with Mac, an' Lukins, an' you, an' every- 


body else," retorted Hopalong. "We're not workin' for 
nobody but ourselves. All I got to do is keep my mouth 
shut an' Mac loses a plumb fine herd. Let me hear him 
talk to me ! Come on, Kid." 

Johnny deserted his companions as though they were 
lepers and showed his delight in every swaggering move 
ment. A whining bullet over his head sent his fingers to 
his nose in contemptuous reply, but nevertheless he went 
on more carefully thereafter. As they reached the rear 
of a deserted adobe Hopalong pulled him to a stop. 

" I'm tired of this blasted cpuntry, an' you ought to be, 
for you've got a wife that's havin' dull days an' sleepless 
nights. I'm goin' to touch somethin' off that'll put an end 
to this fool quiltin' party, an' let us get our money an' 
go home. By that I'm meanin' th' SV, for it's goin' to 
be home for me. Besides, it's our best chance of gettin' 
them rewards. So he's aimin' on cuttin' us out of 'em, 
huh? All right; I'm goin' to Quayle's, an' while I'm 
holdin' their interest you fill a canteen with kerosene an' 
smuggle it into th' stable." 

"What you goin' to do?" demanded his companion 
with poorly repressed eagerness. 

"I'm goin' to set fire to that gamblin'- joint an' drive 
'em out, that's what ! " 

" Th' moon won't let you," objected Johnny, but as he 
looked up at the drifting clouds he hesitated and qualified 
his remark. "You'll have times when it won't be so 
light, but it'll be too light for that." 

"When I start for th' hotel gamblin'-joint I go agin' 
th' northeast corner, where there ain't but one loophole 
that covers that angle. I got it figgered out. When I 


start, you an' Red won't be loafin' back there where I 
found you, target-practicin' at th' roof." 

Reaching the hotel they found a self-satisfied group 
complacently discussing the fight. Quayle looked up at 
their entry, sprang to his feet and heartily shook hands 
with both. 

"Welcome to Mesquite, Cassidy," he beamed. "Tis 
different now than whin ye left, an* it won't be long be 
fore honest men have their say-so in this town," 

"Couple of weeks, I reckon, th' way things are 
driftm'," replied Hopalong, smiling as Johnny left the 
office to invade the kitchen, where Murphy gave a grin 
ning welcome and looked curiously at the huge canteen 
held out to him. 

"Couple of days," corrected Quayle. 

McCullough arose and shook hands with the new 
comer. " Hear you been trailin' my herd," he said. " Lo 
cate 'em?" 

" They're hobbled, and' waitin' for yore boys to drive 
'em home. Wish you'd tell yore outfit an' th' others not 
to shoot at th' feller that heads for Kane's northeast 
corner tonight, but to cut loose at th' loopholes instead. 
I'm honin' to get back home, an' so I'm aimin' to bust 
up this little party tonight. To do that I got to get close." 

" That's plumb reckless," replied the trail-boss. " We 
got this all wrapped up now, an' it'll tie its own knots in 
a day or two. What's th' use of takin' a chance like 

"To show that bunch just who they throwed in jail! 
Somebody else might feel like tryin' it some day, an' I'm 
aimin' to make that * some day ' a long way off." 


"Can't say I'm blamin' you for that. Whereabouts 
did you leave th' herd ? " 

"Where nobody but me an' my friends, on this side 
of th' fence, knows about," answered Hopalong. "I'll 
tell you when I see you! again ain't got time now." He 
nodded to the others, went out the way he had come in 
and walked off with Johnny, who carried the innocent 
canteen instead of putting it into the stable. 

As they started for the place where Hopalong had left 
his horse, not daring to ride it into town, they chose a 
short-cut and after a few minutes' brisk walking Hopa 
long pointed to a bunch of horses tied to some bushes. 

" Th' fellers that owned them played safer than I did," 
he said, " leavin' 'em out here. I reckon they're all Ques 
tion-Mark. " 

Johnny put a hand on his friend's arm and stopped 
him. " I got a better guess," he said. " I know where all 
their cayuses are. Hoppy, that rustlin' drive crew must 
'a' come in this way. What you bet ? " 

"I ain't bettin'," grunted his companion, starting 
toward the little herd, "I'm lookin'. I don't hanker to 
lose that cayuse of mine, an' they'll mebby get th' hoss 
I ride after I start for their buildin' tonight. He's so 
mean I sort of cotton to him. An' he's got some thor 
oughbred blood in his carcass, judgin' from what Arch 
said. In a case like this it's only fair to use theirs. Be 
sides, they're fresh; mine ain't." 

Johnny pushed ahead, stopped at the tethered group and 
laughed. " Good thing you didn't bet," he called over his 

Hopalong untied a wicked-looking animal. " He looks 


like he'd buffi 1 th' ground over a short distance, an' that's 
what I'm interested in. I'm goin' down an' turn mine 
loose. If things break like I figger they will there's no 
tellin' when I'll see him again, an' I don't want him to 
starve tied up to a tree. He's so thirsty about now that 
he'll head for McCullough's crick on a bee line." 

Johnny nodded, considered a moment and went toward 
the tie ropes. " Shore, an' not stray far from that grass, 
neither." He released the horses except the one he 
mounted and then rode up so close to his friend that their 
knees rubbed. " No tellin' when anybody will be comin' 
this way or when they'll get a drink. You look like you 
been hit by an idea. That's so rare, suppose you uncork 

"It's one I've been turnin' over," replied his friend, 
" an' it looks th' same on both sides, too." 

" Turn it over for me an' lemme look." 

" Kid, I'm lookin' for somethin' to happen that shore 
will bother Mr. McCullough a whole lot if he happens to 
think of it. When that buildin' starts burnin' it's shore 
goin' to burn fast They can't fight th' fire like they 
should with them punchers pourin' lead into them lighted 
loopholes. Once it starts nothin' can stop it ; an' I'm tellin' 
you it's shore goin' to start right. Th' south side is goin' 
first. They know there's only a few men watchin' th' 
north side, an' them few are layin' too far back. It won't 
take a man like Kane very long to learn that he's got to 
jump, an' jump quick; an' when he does he'll jump right. 
Right for him an' right for us. He can't do nothin' else. 
You said they got their cayuses in there with 'em? " 

Johnny nodded. " So I was told. I'm seem' yore drift, 


Hoppy; an' when Kane an' his friends jump me an' Red 
shore will have jammed guns an' not be able to shoot at 

" Marriage ain't spoiled yore head," chuckled his com 
panion. "Kane havin' us jailed that way riled me; an' 
McCullough tryin' to slip out of payin' them rewards has 
riled me some more. I'm washin' one hand with th' other. 
Do you think you an' Red could get yore cayuses an' an 
extra one for me, in case they get this one, around west 
somewhere back of where yo're goin'?" 

"How'll this one do for you?" asked his companion, 
slapping the horse he was on. 

"Plenty good enough." 

"Then he'll be there, ready to foller th' jumpers," 
laughed Johnny. 

"Good for you, Kid. You shore have got th' drift. 
Now, seem' that I may get into trouble an' be too late to 
go after 'em when they jump, you listen close while I tell 
you where to ride, an' all about it," and the description of 
the desert trail and the valley was as meaty as it was terse. 
He told his friend where to take the horses and where to 
look for him before the night's work began, and then went 
back to Kane and his men. " They're bound to head for 
that valley. There ain't no place else for 'em to go. I'll 
bet they've had that figgered for a refuge ever since they 
learned about it." 

Johnny laughed contentedly. "An' Mac tellin' me that 
he's got 'em all tied up an' ain't aimin' to pay no rewards ! 
But," he said, becoming instantly grave, " there's one thin' 
I don't like. I'm admittin' it's yore scheme, but we ought 
to draw lots to see who's goin' to use that kerosene. After 


all, yo're down here to help me out of a hole. Dig up some 
more cartridges, you maverick! " 

"Don't you reckon I got brains enough to run it off? " 
demanded his friend. 

"An' some to spare," replied Johnny; "but I ain't no 
idjut, myself. Here ; call yore choice," and he reached for 
his belt. 

" Yo're slow, Kid," chuckled Hopalong, holding out his 
hand. "Call it yourself." 

Johnny hesitated, pushed back the cartridges and placed 
his hand on those of his friend. " You went at that like 
you was pullin' a gun : an' I can't say nothin' that means 
anythin' faster. Why th' hurry ? " 

" Habit, I reckon," gravely replied his friend. " Savin' 
time, mebby ; I dunno why, you chump ! " 

" It's a good habit ; an' I'm shore you saved considerable 
time, which same I'm aimin' to waste," replied Johnny. 
He thought swiftly. Last time he had called " even," and 
lost. He was certain that Hopalong wanted the task. 
How would his friend figure? The natural impulse of a 
slow-witted man would be to change the number. Hop- 
along was not slow-witted; on the contrary so far from 
slow-witted that he very likely would be suspicious of the 
next step in reasoning and go a step further, which would 
take him back to the act of the slow-witted, for he knew 
that the cogitating man in front of him was no simpleton. 
Odd or even : a simple choice ; but in this instance it was 
a battle of keen wits. Johnny raised his own hand and 
looked down at his friend's, the upper one clasping and 
covering the lower; and then into the night-hidden eyes, 
which were squinting between narrowed lids to make their 


reading hopeless. Being something of a gambler Johnny 
had the gambler's way of figuring, and this endorsed the 
other line of reasoning: he believed the chances were not 
in favor of a repetition. 

" Cuss yore grinnin' face," he growled. " I said ' even ' 
last time, an' was wrong. Now I'm say in' * odd.' Open 

Hopalong opened the closed hands and his squinting 
eyes at the same instant and laughed heartily. " Kid, I 
cussed near raised you, an' I know yore ways. Mebby it 
ain't fair, but you was tryin' hard to outguess me. There 
they are pair of aces. Count 'em, sonny; count 'em." 

"Count 'em yourself," growled Johnny; "if you can 
count that far ! " He peered into the laughing eyes and 
thrust out his jaw. " You know my ways, do you ? Well, 
when we get back to th' SV, me an' you are goin' in to 
Dave's, get a big stack of two-bit pieces an' go at it. I'll 
cussed soon show you how much you know my ways! 
G'wan ! Get out of here before I get rough ! " 

" He's too old to spank," mused Hopalong, kneeing the 
horse, "an* too young to fight with reckon I'll have to 
pull my stakes an' move along." Chuckling, he looked 
around. "Ain't forgot nothin' about tonight, have you, 

"No!" thundered Johnny. "But for two-bits I 
would!'' Hopalong's laugh came back to him and sent a 
smile over his face. " There ain't many like you, you old 
son-of-a-gun ! " he muttered, and wheeled to return to 
the town and to Red. 

His departing friend grinned at the horse. " Bronch." 
he said, confidently, " he shore had me again. I'm gettin' 


so cheatin's second nature ; an' worse'n that, I'm cheatin' 
my best friends, an' likin' it. Yessir, likin' it ! Ain't you 
ashamed of me? You nod that ugly head of yourn again 
an' I'll knock it off you ! G'wan : This ain't no funeral 



JOHNNY rode up to the hotel, got a Winchester and 
ammunition for it from the stack of guns in the 
kitchen and then went to the stable for Red's horse and 
Pepper. As he led them out he stopped to answer a perti 
nent question from the upper window of the hotel and 
rode off again, leading the extra mounts. 

Ed Doane lowered the rifle and scratched his head. 
" Coin' for a moonlight ride," he repeated in disgust as 
he drew back from the window. " Cussed if punchers ain't 
gettin' more locoed every day. Moonlight ride ! Shore 
go out an' look at th' scenery. Looks different in th' 
moonlight bah ! To me a pancake looks like a pancake 
by kerosene, daylight, wood fire or or moonlight. I 
suppose th' moonlight'll get into 'em an' they'll be singin' 
love-songs an' harmonizin' ; but thank th' Lord I don't have 
to go along ! " He glanced around at a sudden thap! grinned 
in the darkness at the double planking on that side wall and 
sat down again. " Shoot ! " he growled. " Shoot twice ! 
Shoot an' be d d ! Waste 'em ! Reckon th' moonlight's 
got into you, you cow-stealin', murderin' pup." Filling 
his pipe he packed and lit it, blew several clouds through 
nose and mouth and scratched his head again. " Coin' for 
a moonlight ride, huh? Well, mebby you are, Johnny, 



my lad ; but Ed Doane's bettin' there's more'n a ride in it. 
You didn't go for no moonlight rides before that missin' 
friend of yourn turned up; an' then, right away, you ride 
up on one hoss, collect two more an' go gallivantin' off 
under th' moon. I'm guessin' close. Eddie Doane, I'll bet 
you a tenspot them three grizzlies are out for to put their 
ropes on them rewards. An' I hope they collect, cussed if 
I don't. That Scotch trail-boss is puttin' on too many airs 
for me an' he's rilin' Nelson slow but shore. Go get it, 
Bar-2o : I'm bettin' on you." 

There came steps to his door. "Ar-re ye there, Ed? " 
called a voice. 

" Shore; come in, Murphy." 

The door opened and closed as the cook entered. " Have 
ye a pipeful ? Mine's all gone." 

" Help yourself," answered Doane, tossing the sack. 
" There it is, by yore County Cork feet." 

" I have ut," grunted Murphy. "An' who was th' lad 
ye was talkin' to from th' windy just now? " 

" Nelson. He's goin' ridin' in th' moonlight. Must aim 
to go far, for he's got three horses." 

" Has he, now? " Murphy puffed in quiet satisfaction 
for a moment. " He's a good la-ad, Ed. Goin' ridin', is he ? 
Well, ridin' is fine for them as likes it. But I'm wonderin' 
what he's doin' with th' kerosene I gave him ? " 

"Kerosene? When?" 

" Whin he come in with his friend Cassidy an' a fine 
bye that man is, too. Shure : a hull canteen av it. Two 
gallons. He says for me to kape it quiet: as if I'd be 
tellin'! Quayle would have me scalp if he knowed it 
givin' away his ile like that. Now where ye goin' so fast ? " 


" For a walk, under th' moonlight ! " answered Doane. 
"^o're goin', too an' we're goin' with our mouths shut. 
Not a word about th' hosses or th' kerosene. You remem 
ber what Cassidy said about goin' agin' Kane's northeast 
corner ? Come on an' see th' bonfire ! " 

" Shure, an' who's fool enough to have anny bonfires 
now ? " 

" Murphy, I said with our mouths shut. Come on, up 
near th' jail ! " 

The cook scratched his head and favored his companion 
with a sidewise glance, which revealed nothing because 
of the darkness of the room. "Th' jail?" he muttered. 
"He's crazy, he is. Th' jail won't make no bonfire. It's 
mud. But as long as he has th' 'baccy, I'll go wid him. 
Whist!" he exclaimed as another thap! sounded on the 
wall. "An' what's that?" 

" This room's haunted," explained Ed. 

"Lead th' way, thin; or let me," said Murphy in great 
haste. " I'll watch yore mud bonfire." 

After leaving the hotel Johnny kept it between himself 
and Kane's building, rode to the arroyo which Roberts 
had found so useful and followed it until out of sight of 
anyone in town. When he left it he turned east, crossed 
the main trail and dismounted east of the place where he 
and Red had kept watch on the gambling-house roof. 
Working his way on foot to his sharpshooting friends he 
lay down at Red's side and commented casually on several 
subjects, finally nudging the Bar-2O rifleman. 

" I'm growin' tired of this spot an' this game," he grum 
bled. "They know where we are now, an' that roof's 
plumb tame." 


Red stirred restlessly. " You must 'a' read my mind," 
he observed. " You've had a spell off stay here while I 
take a rest." 

"Stay nothin'!" retorted Johnny. "This ain't our 
fight, anyhow." 

" Somebody's got to stay," objected Red. 

"Let Waffles, then," rejoined Johnny. "You don't 
care if we look around?" 

" I'd just as soon stay here as go any place else," said 
the ex- foreman of the O-Bar-O. "Where you fellers 
aimin' to go ? " 

" Over west to cover Hoppy," answered Johnny, re 
membering that this much was generally known. "He 
aims to make a dash for th' hotel, an' he's so stubborn 
nobody can stop him. He says th' fight's been goin' on 
too long ; an' you know how he can use six-guns. To use 
'em right he'll have to get plumb close." 

" Cussed fool ! " snorted Red, arising to his knees. 
" How can he end it by makin' a dash, an' usin' his short 
guns ? Mebby he's aimin' to put his rope on it an' pull it 
over, shootin' as they pop out from under ! " he sarcastical 
ly suggested. 

"Mebby; better ask him," replied Johnny. "I did. 
Mebby you can get it out of him. When he wants to keep 
his mouth shut, he shore can keep it shut tight. There's 
no use wastin' our breath on it. He's got some fool 
scheme in his head an' he's set solid. All we can do is to 
try to save his fool skin. Waffles can hold down this place 
till we come back. Come on, Red." 

Red grumbled and stretched. "All right. See you later 
mebby, Waffles." 


Johnny turned. " Don't forget an' shoot at th' feller 
runnin' for th' east end of th' buildin'," he warned. 

" Mac sent th' word along a couple of hours ago," re 
plied Waffles, settling down in the place vacated by Red 
to resume the watch on the hotel roof, which was fairly 
well revealed at times by the moon. He seemed to be 
turning something over in his mind, but finally shrugged 
his shoulders and gave his attention to the roof. " They've 
got somethin' better'n six-guns at close range," he mut 
tered. " Well, a man owes his friends somethin', so I'm 
holdin' my tongue." 

Reaching the horses Johnny and his companion mounted 
and rode northward, leading the spare mount. 

" What's he up to ? " demanded Red. 

" Coin' to set fire to th' shack," answered Johnny, and 
he forthwith explained the whole affair. 

" Huh ! " grunted Red. " There ain't no doubt in my 
mind that it'll work if he can get there an' get th' fire 
started." He was silent for a moment and then pulled 
his hat more firmly down on his head. "If he don't get 
there, I'll give it a whirl. Anyhow, I'd have to leave cover 
to get to him if he went down so it ain't much worse 
goin' th' rest of th' way. An' I'm tellin' you this : That 
lone loophole is shore goin' to be bad medicine for any 
body try in' to use it after he starts. I'll put 'em through 
it so fast they'll be crowdin' each other." 

"An* while yo're reloadin' I'll keep 'em goin'," said 
Johnny, patting his borrowed Winchester. " They'll shore 
think somebody's squirtin' 'em out of a hose." 

Some time later he stopped his horse and peered around 
in the faint light. 


Red stopped, also. "This th' place?" 

"Looks like it we ought to get some sign of Hoppy 
purty soon. Anyhow, we'll wait awhile. Glad that moon 
ain't very bright." 

"An' cussed glad for th' clouds," added Red. " Clouds 
like them ain't th' rule in this part of the country." He 
leaned over and looked down at the sand. " Tracks, Kid," 
he said. "Follow 'em?" 

" No," answered his companion slowly. " I'm bettin' 
they're Hoppy's. Stay with th' cayuses I'm goin' to 
look around," and as he dismounted they heard a hail. 
Red swung to the ground as their friend appeared. 

"You made good time," said Hopalong, advancing. 
" I been off lookin' things over. We can leave th' cayuses 
in a little hollow about long rifle-shot from th' buildin'. 
From there you two can get real close by travelin' on yore 
bellies from bush to bush. Th' cover's no good in day 
light, but on a night like this, by waitin' for th' clouds, 
it'll be plenty good enough." 

" How close did you get ? " asked Johnny. 

"Close enough to send every shot through that loop 
hole, if I wanted to." 

" Did they see you? Did you draw a shot? " 

" No. They ain't watchin' that loophole very close. 
Ain't had no reason to since th' stables burned. There 
ain't nobody been layin' off in this direction. Th' cover 
wasn't good enough to risk it, with only a blank wall to 
watch, an' with them fellers on th' roof to shoot down. 
Red couldn't cover th' north part of it from where he was. 
I been wonderin' if I ought to use a cay use at all." 

" There's argument agin' usin' one," mused Johnny. 


" Th' noise, an' a bigger object to catch attention," re 
marked Red. "If you walked th' cayuse to soften its 
steps, it still looms up purty big ; an' if you cut loose an* 
dash in, th' noise shore will bring a shot. Me an' th' Kid 
would have to start shootin' early an' keep it up a long 
while an' we're near certain to leave gaps in th' string." 

"What moonlight there is shines on this end of th* 
buildin'," observed Johnny. "That loophole show up 
plain ? " he asked. 

" You can't see nothin' else," chuckled Hopalong. " It's 
so black it fair hollers." 

Red drew the Winchester from its sheath and turned 
the front sight on its pivot, which then showed a thin 
white line. He never had regretted having it made, for 
since it had been put on he had not suffered the annoy 
ance of losing sight of it against a dark target in poor 
light. "Bein' bull-headed," he remarked, "you chumps 
has to guess; but little Reddie ain't doin' none of it. I 
told you long ago to have one put on." 

" Shut up ! " growled Johnny, turning his own Win 
chester over in his hands. 

" I reckon I'm travelin' flat on my stomach," said Hop- 
along, slinging the big canteen over his head. " I'll go 
with you till we has to stop, let you get set an' then make 
a run for it. Seein' that th' Kid has got a repeater, too, 
you'll be able to keep lead flyin' most of th' time I'm in 
th' open if you don't pull too fast; an' when you run out 
of cartridges I'll start with my Colts. I'll be close enough, 
then, to use 'em right. When you see that I'm under th' 
buildin' go back quite a ways so th' fire won't show you 
xip too plain, an' watch th' roof. I'll start a fire under 


that loophole before I leave, an' that'll spoil their view 
through it; an' I ain't leavin' before I've fixed things so 
them fellers will have so much to do they won't have 
much time for sharpshootin'. That buildin' will burn like 
a pine knot" 

" Then yo're comin' back th' way you go in ? " asked 

"Shore," answered Hopalong. "Everythin' plain?" 

" Watch me," ordered Red, his hand rising and falling. 
J 'If we space our shots like this we ought to be able to 
reload while th' other is emptyin' his gun. Is it too 

" No," said Johnny, considering. 

" No," said the man with the canteen, watching closely. 
" It'll take that long to throw a gun into th' loophole an' 
line it up, in this light." 

"Not bein' used to a repeater like Red is," suggested 
Johnny, "I'd better shoot th' second string that'll give 
us three of 'em before it's my time to reload. Red can 
slide 'em in as fast as I can shoot 'ern out, timin' 'em like 

" You can put 'em through that hole as good as I can," 
said Red. "It's near point-blank shootin'. You do th' 
shootin' an' I'll take care of loadin' both guns. We can't 
make no blunders, with Hoppy out there runnin' for his 

"That's why I ought to do th' runnin'," growled 
Johnny. " I can make three feet to his two." 

" It's all settled," said Hopalong, decisively. " I got th' 
kerosene, an' I'm keepin' it. Come on. No more talkin'." 

They followed him over the course he had picked out 


and with a caution which steadily increased as they ad 
vanced until at length they went ahead only when the 
crescent moon was obscured by drifting clouds. Ahead 
loomed the two-story gambling-hall, its windowless rear 
wall of bleached lumber leaden in the faint light. An 
occasional finger of fire stabbed from its south wall to be 
answered by fainter stabs from the open, the reports flat 
and echoless. A distant voice sang a fragment of song 
and a softened laugh replied to a ribald jest. A horse 
neighed and out of the north came quaveringly the faint 
howl of a moon-worshiping coyote. 

The three friends, face down on the sand, now each 
behind a squat bush, wriggled forward silently but swiftly, 
and gained new and nearer cover. Again a cloud passed 
before the moon and again they wriggled forward, their 
eyes fixed on the top of the roof ahead, two of them 
heading for the same bush and the other for a shallow 
gully. The pair met and settled themselves to their satis 
faction, heads close together as they consulted about the 
proper setting of the rear sights. One of them knelt, the 
rifle at his shoulder reaching out over the top of the bush, 
his companion sitting cross-legged at his side, a pile of 
dull brass cartridges in the sombrero on the ground be 
tween his knees to keep the grease on the bullets free 
from sand. 

The kneeling man bent his head and let his cheek press 
against the stock of the heavy weapon, whispered a single 
word and waited. Twice there came the squeak of a 
frightened rat from his companion and instantly from 
the right came an answering squeak as the figure of a man 
leaped up from the gully and sprinted for the lead-colored 


wall, the heavy, jarring crash of a Winchester roaring 
from the bush, to be repeated at close intervals which 
were as regular as the swing of a pendulum. A round, 
dark object popped up over the flat roof line and the 
cross-legged man on the ground threw a gun to his shoul 
der and fired, almost in one motion. The head dropped 
from sight as the marksman slid another cartridge into 
the magazine and waited, ready to shoot again or to ex 
change weapons with his kneeling friend. 

The runner leaped on at top speed, but he automatically 
counted the reports behind him and a smile flashed over 
his face when the count told him that the second rifle was 
being used. He would have known it in no other way, 
for the spacing of the shots had not varied. Again the 
count told of the second change and a moment later an 
other extra report confirmed his belief that the roof was 
being closely watched by his friends. A muffled shout 
came from the building and a spurt of fire flashed from 
the loophole, but toward the sky and he fancied he heard 
the sound of a falling body. Far to his left jets of flame 
winked along a straggling line, the reports at times 
bunched until they sounded like a short tattoo, while be 
hind him the regular crashing of an unceasing Winchester 
grew steadily more distant and flatter. 

His breath was coming in gulps now for he had set 
himself a pace out of keeping with the habits of years 
and the treacherous sand made running a punishment. 
During the last hundred feet it was indeed well for him 
that Johnny shot fast and true, that the five-hundred 
grain bullets which now sang over his aching head were 
going straight to the mark. He suddenly, vaguely real- 


ized that he heard wrangling voices and then he threw 
himself down onto the sand and rolled and clawed under 
the building, safe for the time. 

Gradually the jumble of footsteps over his head im 
pressed themselves upon him and he mechanically drew 
a Colt as he raised his head from the earth. Suddenly 
the roaring steps all went one way, which instantly 
aroused his suspicions, and he crawled hurriedly to the 
black darkness of a pile of sand near the bottom of the 
south wall, which he reached as the steps ceased. No 
longer silhouetted against the faint light of the open 
ground around the building, a light which was bright by 
contrast with the darkness under the floor, he placed the 
canteen on the ground and felt for chips and odds and 
ends of wood with one hand while the other held a ready 

There came the sharp, plaintive squeaking of seldom- 
used hinges, which continued for nearly a minute and 
then a few unclassified noises. They were followed by 
the head of a brave man, plainly silhouetted against the 
open sand. It turned slowly this way and that and then 
became still. 

" See anythin' ? " came a hoarse whisper through the 
open trap. 

There was no reply from the hanging head, but if 
thoughts could have killed, the curious whisperer would 
have astonished St. Peter by his jack-in-the-box appear 
ance before the Gates. 

"If he did, we'd know by now, you fool," whispered 
another, who instantly would have furnished St. Peter 
with another shock. 


" He'd more likely feel somethin', rather than see it," 
snickered a third, who thereupon had a thrashing coming 
his way, but did not know it as yet. 

The head popped back into the darkness above it, the 
trapdoor fell with a bang, and sudden stamping was 
followed by the fall of a heavy body. Furious, high- 
pitched cursing roared in the room above until lost in a 
bedlam of stamping feet and shouting voices. 

" He ought to kill them three fools," growled Hopalong, 
indignant for the moment ; and then he shook with silent 
laughter. Wiping his eyes, he fell to gathering more wood 
for his fire, careless as to noise in view of the free-for-all 
going on over his head. Removing the plug from the 
canteen he poured part of the oil over the piled-up wood, 
on posts, along beams and then, saturating his neckerchief, 
he rubbed it over the floor boards. Wriggling around the 
pile of sand he wet the outer wall as far up as his arm 
would reach, soaked two more posts and another pile of 
shavings and chips and then, corking the nearly empty 
vessel, he felt for a match with his left hand, which was 
comparatively free from the kerosene, struck it on his heel 
and touched it here and there, and a rattling volley from 
the besiegers answered the flaming signal. Backing under 
the floor he touched the other pile and wriggled to the 
wall directly under the loophole. Again and again the 
canteen soaked the kerchief and the kerchief spread the 
oil, again a pile of shavings leaned against a wetted post, 
and another match leaped from a mere spot of fire into a 
climbing sheet of flame, which swept up over the loop 
hole and made it useless. As he turned to watch the now 
well-lighted trapdoor, there came from the east, barely 


audible above the sudden roaring of the flame, the reports 
of the rifles of his two friends, the irregular timing of the 
shots leading him to think that they were shooting at ani 
mated targets, perhaps on the roof. 

The trapdoor went up swiftly and he fired at the head 
of a man who looked through it. The toppling body was 
grabbed and pulled back and the door fell with a slam 
which shook the building. Hopalong's position was now 
too hot for comfort and getting more dangerous every 
second and with a final glance at the closed trapdoor he 
scrambled from under the building, slapped sparks from 
his neck and shoulders and sprinted toward his waiting, 
anxious friends, where a rifle automatically began the 
timed firing again, although there now was no need for it. 
Slowing as he left the building further and further behind 
he soon dropped into a walk and the rifle grew silent. 

"Here we are," called Johnny's cheery voice. "I'm 
admittin' you did a good job ! " 

"An' 7'm sayin' you did a good one," replied Hopalong. 
" Them shots came as reg'Iar as th' tickin' of a clock." 

"Quite some slower," said Red. "That gang can't 
stay in there much longer. Notice how Mac's firin' has 
died down?" 

" They're waitin' for 'em to come out an' surrender," 
chuckled Hopalong. " Keep a sharp watch an' you'll see 
'em come out an' make a run for it." 

" Better get back to th' cayuses, an* be ready to foller," 
suggested Red. 

"No," said Johnny. "Let 'em get a good start If 
we stop 'em here Mac may get a chance to cut in." 

"An' we'll mebby have to kill some of th' men we want 


alive," said Hopalong. "Let 'em get to that valley an' 
think they're safe. We can catch 'em asleep th' first 

The gambling-hall was a towering mass of flames on 
the south and east walls and they were eating rapidly 
along the other two sides. Suddenly a hurrying line of 
men emerged from the north door of the doomed struc 
ture, carrying wounded companions to places of safety 
from the flames. Dumping these unfortunates on the 
ground, the line charged back into the building again and 
soon appeared leading blind-folded horses, which bit and 
kicked and struggled, and turned the line into a fighting 
turmoil. The few shots coming from the front of the 
building increased suddenly as McCullough led a running 
group of his men to cover the north wall. A few horses 
and a man or two dropped under the leaden hail, the ac 
curacy of which suffered severely from the shortness of 
breath of the marksmen. The group expanded, grew close 
at one place and with quirts rising and falling, dashed 
from the building, pressing closely upon the four leaders, 
and became rapidly smaller before the steadying rifles of 
its enemies took much heavier toll. Before it had passed 
beyond the space lighted by the great fire nly four men 
remained mounted, and these were swiftly swallowed up 
by the dim light on the outer plain. 

McCullough and most of his constantly growing force 
left cover and charged toward the building to make cer 
tain that no more of their enemies escaped, while the rest 
of his men hurried back to get horses and form a pursuing 



HOPALONG turned and crawled away from the 
lurid scene, his friends following him closely. As 
soon as they dared they arose to their feet and jogged 
toward where their horses waited, and soon rode slowly 
northeastward, heading on a roundabout course for Sweet 

" Take it easy," cautioned Hopalong. " We don't want 
to get ahead of 'em yet. If my eyes are any good th' four 
that got away are Kane, Corwin, Trask, an' a Greaser. 
What you say ? " 

Reaching the arid valley through which Sand Creek 
would have flowed had it not been swallowed up by the 
sands, they drew on their knowledge of it and crossed on 
hard ground, riding at a walk and cutting northeastward 
so as to be well above the course of the fleeing four, after 
which they turned to the southeast and approached the 
spring from the north. Reaching the place of their former 
vigil they dismounted, picketed the horses in the sandy 
hollow and lay down behind the crest of the ridge. Half 
an hour passed and then Johnny's roving eyes caught sight 
of a small group of horsemen as it popped up over a rise 
in the desert floor. A moment later and the group strung 
out in single file to round a cactus chaparral and revealed 



four horsemen, riding hard. The fugitives raced up to 
Bitter Spring, tarried a few moments, and went on again, 
slowly growing smaller and smaller, and then a great slope 
of sand hid them from sight. 

Hopalong grunted and arose, scanning their back trail. 
"They've been so long gettin' out here that I'm bettin' 
they did a god job hidin' their trail. I can see Mac an' his 
gang ridin' circles an' gettin' madder every minute. Well, 
we can go on, now. By goin' th' way I went before we 
won't be seen." 

" How long will it take us ? " asked Red, brushing sand 
from his clothes as he stood up. 

" Followin' th' pace they're settin' we ought to be there 
tonight," answered Hopalong. " Give th' cayuses all they 
can drink. If them fellers hold us off out there we'll have 
to run big risks gettin' our water from that crick. Well, 
let's get started." 

The hot, monotonous ride over the desert need not be 
detailed. They simply followed the tracks made by Hop- 
along on his previous visit and paid scanty attention to 
the main trail south of them, contenting themselves by 
keeping to the lowest levels mile after burning mile. It 
was evening when they stopped where their guide had 
stopped before and after waiting for nightfall they went 
on again in the moonlight, circling as Hopalong had cir 
cled and when they stopped again it was to dismount where 
he had dismounted behind a ridge. They picketed and 
hobbled the weary, thirsty horses and went ahead on foot. 
Following instructions Red left them and circled to the 
south to scout around the great ridge of rock before taking 
up his position at the head of the slanting trail from the 


valley. His companions kept on and soon crawled to the 
rim of the valley, removed their sombreros and peered 
cautiously over the edge. The faint glow of the fire behind 
the adobe hut in the west end of the sink shone in the 
shadows of the great rock walls and reflected its light from 
bowlders and brush. Below them cattle and the horses of 
the caviya grazed over the well-cropped pasture and a strip 
of silver told where the little creek wandered toward its 
effacement. Moving back from the rim they went on 
again, looking over from time to time and eventually 
reached the point nearly over the fire, where they could 
hear part of the conversation going on around it, when 
the voices raised above the ordinary tones. 

" You haven't a word to say ! " declared Kane, his out 
stretched hand leveled at Trask, the once- favored deputy- 
sheriff. "If it wasn't for your personal spite, and your 
d d avarice, we wouldn't be in this mess tonight ! You 
had no orders to do that." 

Trask's reply was inaudible, but Corwin's voice reached 

" I told him to let Nelson alone," said the sheriff. " He 
was dead set to get square for him cuttin' into th' argu 
ment with Idaho. But as far as avarice is concerned, you 
got yore part of th' eleven hundred." 

" Might as well, seeing that the hand had been played ! " 
retorted Kane. " What's more, I'm going to keep it. Any 
body here think he's big enough to get any part of it?" 

" Nobody here wants it," said Roberts. " Th' boys I 
had with me, an' Miguel, an' myself have reasons to turn 
this camp fire into a slaughter, but we're sinkin' our griev 
ances because this ain't no time to air 'em. I'm votin' for 


less squabblin'. We ain't out of this yet, an' we got four 
hundred head to get across th' desert. Time enough, later, 
to start fightin'. I'm goin' off to turn in where there ain't 
so much fool noise. I've near slept on my feet an' in th' 
saddle. Fight an' be d d ! " and he strode from the fire, 
keen eyes above watching his progress and where it ended. 

The hum around the fire suffered no diminution by his 
departure, but the words were not audible to the listeners 
above. Soon Corwin angrily arose and left the circle, his 
blankets under his arm. His course also was marked. 
Then the two Mexicans went off, and the eager watchers 
chuckled softly as they saw the precious pair take lariats 
from the saddles of two picketed horses and slip noise 
lessly toward the feeding caviya. Roping fresh mounts, 
and the pick of the lot, they made the ropes fast and went 
back to the other horses. Soon they returned with their 
riding equipment and blankets, saddled the fresh mounts 
and, spreading the blankets a few feet beyond the radius 
of the picket ropes, they rolled up and soon were asleep. 

" Sensitive to danger as hounds," muttered Johnny. 

"Cunnin' as coyotes," growled Hopalong, glancing at 
the clear-cut, rocky rim across the valley, where Red by 
this time lay ensconced. " I hope he remembers to drop 
their cayuses first Miguel's worth more to us alive." 

"An' easier to take back," whispered Johnny. "We 
want 'em all alive an' we'd never get 'em that way if 
they wasn't so played out. They'll sleep like they are dead 
luck is with us." 

Down at the dying camp fire Kane, his back to the hut, 
talked with Trask in tones which seemed more friendly, 
but the deputy was in no way lulled by the change. He 


sensed a flaming animosity in the fallen boss, who blamed 
him for the wreck of his plans and the organization. 
Muttering a careless good night, Trask picked up his 
blankets and went off, leaving the bitter man alone with 
his bitterness. 

Tired to the marrow of his bones, so sleepy that to 
remain awake was a torture, the boss dared not sleep. In 
the company of five men who were no longer loyal, whose 
greed exceeded his own, and each of whom nursed a real 
or fancied grudge against him and who searched into the 
past, into the days of his contemptuous treatment of 
them for fuel and yet more fuel to feed the fires of their 
resentment, he dared not close his eyes. On his person 
was a modest fortune compacted by the size of the bills 
and so well distributed that unknowing eyes would not 
suspect its presence; but these men knew that he would 
not leave his wealth behind him, to be perhaps salvaged 
from a hot and warped safe in the smoking ruins of his 

He stirred and gazed at the glowing embers and an 
up-shooting tongue of flame lighted up the small space so 
vividly that its portent shocked through to his dulled brain 
and sent him to his feet with the speed and silence of a 
frightened cat. He was too plain a target and too de 
fenseless in the lighted open, and like a ghost he crept 
away into the darker shadows under the great stone cliff, 
to pace to and fro in an agonizing struggle against sleep. 
Back and forth he strode, his course at times erratic as 
his enemy gained a momentary victory; but his indomi 
table will shook him free again and again ; and such a will 
it was that when sleep finally mastered him it did not 


master his legs, for he kept walking in a circular course 
like a blind horse at a ginny. 

When he had leaped to his feet and left the hut the 
watchers above kept him in sight and after the first few 
moments of his pacing they worked back from the valley's 
rim and slipped eastward. 

" Here's th' best place," said Hopalong, turning toward 
the rim again. They looked over and down a furrow in 
the rock wall. "We'll need two ropes. It'll take one, 
nearly, to reach from here to that knob of rock an' go 
around it. Red's got a new hemp rope bring that, too. 
If he squawks about us cuttin' it, I'll buy him a new one. 
Got to have tie ropes." 

Johnny hastened away and when he returned he threw 
Red's lariat on the ground, and joined the other two. 
Fastening one end around the knob of rock he dropped 
the other over the wall and shook it until he could see 
that it reached the steep pile of detritus. Picking up the 
hemp rope he was about to drop it, too, when caution told 
him it would make less noise if carried down. Slinging 
it over his shoulder he crept to the edge, slid over, grasped 
the rope and let himself down. Seeing he was down his 
companion was about to follow when Johnny's whisper 
checked him. 

"Canteens better fill 'em while it's easy." 

Hopalong drew his head back and disappeared and it 
was not much of a wait before the rope was jerking up 
the wall and returned with a canteen. To send down 
more than one at a time would be to risk them banging 
together. When they all were down Johnny took them 
and slipped among the bowlders, Hopalong watching his 


progress. For caution's sake the water carrier took two 
trips from the creek and sent them up again one at a time. 
Soon his friend slid down, glanced around, took the 
hemp rope and cut it into suitable lengths, giving half of 
the pieces to Johnny and then without a word started 
for the west end of the valley, treading carefully, Johnny 
at his heels. 

Roberts, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted, awoke in 
a panic, a great weight on his legs, arms, and body, and a 
pair of sinewy thumbs pressing into his throat. His 
struggles were as brief as they were violent and when 
they ceased Hopalong arose from the quiet legs and re 
leased the limp arms while his companion released the 
throat hold and took his knees from the prostrate chest. 
In a few minutes a quiet figure lay under the side of a 
rock, its mouth gagged with a soiled neckerchief and the 
new hemp rope gleaming from ankles, knees, and wrists. 

Corwin, his open mouth sonorously announcing the 
quality of his fatigue, lay peacefully on his back, tightly 
rolled up in his blankets. Two faint shadows fell across 
him and then as Johnny landed on his chest and sunk the 
capable thumbs deep into the bronzed throat on each side 
of the windpipe, Hopalong dropped onto the blanket- 
swathed legs and gripped the encumbered arms. This 
task was easy and in a few minutes the sheriff, wrapped 
in his own blankets like a mummy, also wore a gag and 
several pieces of new hemp rope, two strands of which 
passed around his body to keep the blanket rolled. 

The two punchers carried him between two bowlders, 
chuckled as they put him down and stood up to grin at 
each other. The blanket-rolled figure amused them and 


Johnny could not help but wish Idaho was there to enjoy 
the sight He moved over against his companion and 

"Shore," answered Hopalong, smiling. "Go ahead. 
It's only fair. He knocked you on th' head. I'll go up 
an' spot Kane. Did it strike you that he must have a lot 
of money on him to be so h 1-bent to stay awake ? I 
don't like him pacin' back an' forth like that. It may 
mean a lot of trouble for us ; an' them Greasers are too 
nervous to suit me. When yo're through with Trask slip 
off an' watch them Mexicans. Don't pay no attention 
to me no matter what happens. Stick close to them two. 
I'll give you a hand with 'em as soon as I can get back. 
If you have to shoot, don't kill 'em," and the speaker went 
cautiously toward the hut. 

Johnny removed his boots and, carrying them, went 
toward the place where he had seen the deputy bed down ; 
but when he reached the spot Trask was not there. 
Thanking his ever-working bump of caution for his silent 
and slow approach he drew back from the little opening 
among the rocks and tackled the problem in savage haste. 
There was no time to be lost, for Hopalong was not aware 
that any of the gang was roaming around and might not 
be as cautious as he knew how to be. Why had Trask 
forsaken his bed-ground, and when ? Where had he gone 
and what was he doing? Cursing under his breath Johnny 
wriggled toward the creek where he could get a good view 
of the horses. Besides the two picketed near the sleeping 
Mexicans none were saddled nor appeared to be doing 
anything but grazing. Going back again Johnny searched 
among the bowlders in frantic haste and then decided 


that there was only one thing to do, and that was to head 
for the hut and get within sight of his friend. Furious 
because of the time he had lost he started for the new 
point and finally reached the hut. If Trask was inside 
he had to know it and he crept along the wall, pausing only 
to put his ear against it, turned the corner and leaped 
silently through the door, his arms going out like those 
of a swimmer. The hut was empty. Relieved for the 
moment he slipped out again and started to go toward 

"I'll bet a month's pay " he muttered and then 
stopped, his mind racing along the trail pointed out by the 
word. Pay ! That was money. Money ? As Hopalong 
had said, Kane must have plenty of it on him money? 
Like a flash a possible solution sprang into his mind. 
Kane's money! Trask was a thief, and what would a 
thief do if he suspected that the life savings of a man 
like Kane might easily be stolen ? And especially when he 
had been so angered by the possessor of the wealth? 

"I got to move pronto!" he growled. "I'm no friend 
of Kane's but I ain't goin' to have him killed not by a 
coyote like Trask, anyhow. We got to have him alive, 
too. An' Hoppy?" His reflections were such that by 
the time he came in sight of Kane his feelings were a 
cross between a mad mountain lion and an active volcano. 
He stopped again and looked, his mind slowly forsaking 
rage in favor of suspicion. Kane was walking around 
in a circle, his eyes closed ; his feet were rising and falling 
mechanically and with an exaggerated motion. 

"War dancin'?" thought Johnny. "What would he 
do that for? He ain't no Injun. I'm sayin' he's loco. 


Kane loco ? Like h 1 ! Fellers like him don't get loco. 
Makin' medicine ? I just said he ain't no Injun. Prancin' 
around in th' moonlight, liftin' his feet like they had ropes 
to 'em to jerk 'em. An' with his eyes close shut! I'm 
gtttin' a headache an' I'm settin' tight till I get th' hang 
of this walkin' Willy. Mebby he thinks he's workin' a 
charm ; but if he is he ain't goin' to run it on me ! " 

He pressed closer against the bowler which sheltered 
him and searched the surroundings again, slowly, painstak 
ingly. Then there came a low rustling sound, as though a 
body were being dragged across dried grass. It was to his 
left and not far away. If it is possible to endow one sense 
with the total strength of all the others, then his ears were 
so endowed. Whether or not they were strengthened to 
an unusual degree they nevertheless heard the rubbing of 
soft leather on the bowlder he lay against, and he held 
his breath as he reversed his grip on the Colt. 

" Hoppy, or Trask ? " he wondered, glad that his head 
did not project beyond the rock. A quick glance at the 
milling Kane showed no change in that person's antics 
and he felt certain that he had not been detected by the 
boss. He froze tighter if it is possible to improve on per 
fection, for his ears caught a renewal of the sounds. Then 
his eyes detected a slow movement and focussed on a 
shadowy hand which fairly seemed to ooze out beyond 
the rock. When he discerned a ring on one of the fingers 
he knew it was not Hopalong, for his friend wore no 
ring. That being so, it only could be Trask who was 
creeping along the other side of the rock. Johnny glanced 
again at the peripatetic gang leader and back to the creep 
ing hand, and wondered how high in the air its owner 


would jump if it were suddenly grabbed. Then he men 
tally cursed himself, for his independent imagination 
threatened to make him laugh. He could feel the tickle 
of mirth slyly pervading him and he bit his lip with an 
earnestness which cut short the mirth. The hand stopped 
and the heel of it went down tightly against the earth as 
though bearing a gradual strain. Johnny was reassured 
again, for Trask never would be stalking Kane if he had 
the slightest suspicion that enemies, or strangers, were in 
the valley, and he hazarded another glance at Kane. 

The mechanical walker was drawing near the rock again 
and in a few steps more would turn his back to it and 
start away. By this time Johnny had solved the riddle, 
for although such a thing was beyond any experience of 
his, his wild guess began to be accepted by him: Kane 
was walking in his sleep. Where was Hopalong? He 
hoped his friend would not try to capture the boss until 
he, himself, had taken care of Trask. This must be his 
first duty, and knowing what Trask would do very shortly 
he prepared to do it. 

He got into position to act, moving only when the slight 
sound of Kane's footfalls would cover the barely audible 
noise of his own movements. Kane's rounding course 
brought him nearer and then several things happened at 
once. The owner of the hand leaped from behind the rock 
and as his head popped out into sight a Colt struck it, 
and then Johnny started for Kane ; but as he reached his 
feet something hurtled out of the shadows to his right 
and bore the boss to the ground. Then came the sound 
of another gun-butt meeting another head and the swiftly 
moving figure seemed to rebound from the boss and sail 


toward Johnny, who had started to meet it. He swerved 
suddenly and muttered one word, just as Hopalong 
swerved from his own course. They both had turned in 
the same direction and came together with a force which 
nearly knocked them out. Holding to each other to keep 
their feet, they recovered their breath and without a word 
separated at a run, Hopalong going to Kane and Johnny 
to Trask. Less dazed by the collision than his friend was, 
Johnny finished his work first and then helped Hopalong 
carry Kane to the shelter of the rock. 

"Good thing you forgot what I said about watchin' 
them Greasers," grunted Hopalong. "It's them next, if 
" his words were cut short by two quick shots, which 
reverberated throughout the valley, and without another 
word he followed his running companion, and scorned 
cover for the first few hundred yards. 

When they got close to the trail they saw two bulks on 
it, which the moonlight showed to be prostrate horses. 

" Where are they, Red ? " shouted Johnny. " They're 
th' only ones free ! " 

"Down near you somewhere," answered the man 
above, and his words were proved true by a bullet which 
hummed past Johnny's ear. He dropped to his stomach 
and began to wriggle toward the flash of the gun, Hopa 
long already on the way. 

Cut off from escape up the trail the two Mexicans tried 
to work toward the hut, from which they could put up 
a good fight ; but their enemies had guessed their purpose 
and strove to drive them off at a tangent. 

Red, watching from the top of the cliff, noticed that 
the occasional gun flashes were moving steadily north- 


westward and believed it safe to leave his position and 
take an active hand in the events below. After their expe 
rience on the up-slanting trail the Mexicans would hardly 
attempt it again, even though they managed to get back 
to the foot of it, which seemed very improbable. The 
thought became action and the trail guard started to 
wriggle down the declivity, keeping close to the bottom of 
the wall, where the shadows were darkest. Because of the 
necessity for not being seen his progress was slow and 
quite some time elapsed before he reached the bottom and 
obtained cover among the scattered rocks. The infre 
quent reports were further away now, and they seemed 
to be getting further eastward. This meant that they were 
nearer to the hut, and his decision was made in a flash. 
The hut must not be won by the fugitives, and he arose 
and ran for it, bent over and risking safety for speed. 
After what seemed to be a long time he reached the 
little cleared space among the rocks, bounded across it, 
and leaped into the black interior of the hut. Wheeling, 
he leaned against the rear wall to recover his breath, 
watching the open door, a grim smile on his face. While 
keeping his weary watch up on the rim he had craved 
action, and congratulated himself that he now was a great 
deal nearer to it than he was before. 

Meanwhile the two fugitives, not stomaching a real 
stand against the men whom they had seen exhibit their 
abilities in Kane's gambling-hall, had managed to work 
on a circular course until they were northwest of the hut 
and not far from it. This they were enabled to do because 
they were not held to a slow and cautious advance by 
enemies ahead of them, as were the old Bar-2o pair. They 


were moving toward the hut, not far from the north wall 
of the valley, when they blundered upon Trask. In a 
moment he was released and began a frantic search for 
his gun, which he found among the rocks not far away. 
Losing no time he hurried off to release the man he would 
have robbed, glad to have his assistance. Kane went into 
action like a spring released and began a hot search for his 
Colt. When he found it, the cylinder was missing and 
suspicious noises not far away from him forced him to 
abandon the search and seek better cover, armed only with 
a deadly and efficient steel club. 

Hopalong and Johnny, guided entirely by hearing, fol 
lowed the infrequent low sounds in front of them, think 
ing that they were made by the Mexicans, and drew stead 
ily away from the hut. The Mexicans, motionless in their 
cover, exulted as their scheme worked out and finally went 
on again with no one to oppose them. Reaching the last 
of the rocky cover they arose and ran across the open, 
leaped into the hut and turned, chuckling, to close the 
door, leaving Trask to his fate. 

Warned by instinct they faced about as Red leaped. 
Miguel dropped under a clubbed gun, but Manuel, writh 
ing sidewise, raised his Colt only to have it wrenched 
from his hand by his shifty opponent. Clinching, he drew 
a knife and strove desperately to use it as he wrestled with 
his sinewy enemy. At last he managed to force the tip of 
it against Red's side, barely cutting the flesh ; and turned 
Red into a raging fury. With one hand around Manuel's 
neck and the other gripping the wrist of the knife-hand, 
Red smashed his head again and again into the Mexican's 
face, his knee pressing against the knifeman's stomach. 


Suddenly releasing his neck hold Red twisted, got the 
knife-arm under his armpit, gripped the elbow with his 
other hand and exerted his strength in a twisting heave. 
The Mexican screamed with pain, sobbed as Red's knee 
smashed into his stomach and dropped senseless, his arm 
broken and useless. Red dropped with him and hastily 
bound him as well as possible in the poor light from the 
partly opened door. 

He had just finished the knot in the neckerchief when a 
soft, swift rustling appraised him of danger and he moved 
just in time. Miguel's knife passed through his vest and 
shirt and pinned him to the hard-packed floor. Before 
either could make another move the door crashed back 
against the wall and Kane hurtled into the hut, landing 
feet first on the wriggling Mexican. He put the knife 
user out of the fight and pitched sprawling. His exclama 
tion of surprise told Red that he was no friend and now, 
free from the pinning knife, Red pounced on the scram 
bling boss. 

The other struggles of the crowded night paled into in 
significance when compared to this one. Red's superior 
strength and weight was offset by the fatigue of previous 
efforts, and Kane's catlike speed. They rolled from one 
wall to another, pounding and strangling, Kane as inno 
cent of the ethics of civilized combat as a maddened bob 
cat, and he began to fight in much the same way, using his 
finger-nails and teeth as fast as he could find a place for 
them. Red wanted excitement and was getting it. Torn 
and bleeding from nails and teeth, his blows lacking power 
because of the closeness of the target and his own fatigue, 
Red shed his veneer of civilization and fought like a gorilla. 


Planting his useful and well-trained knee in the pit of his 
adversary's stomach, he gripped the lean throat with both 
hands and hammered Kane's head ceaselessly against the 
hard earth floor, while his thumbs sank deeply on each 
side of the gang leader's windpipe. Too enraged to sense 
the weakening opposition, he choked and hammered until 
Kane was limp and, writhing from his victim's body, he 
knelt, grabbed Kane in his brawny arms, staggered to his 
feet and with one last surge of energy, hurled him across 
the hut. Kane struck the wall and dropped like a bag of 
meal, his fighting over for the rest of the night. 

Red stumbled over the Mexicans, fell, picked himself 
up, and reeled outside, fighting for breath, his vision 
blurred and kaleidoscopic, staring directly at two men 
among the rocks but seeing nothing. " Come one, come 
all d d you ! " he gasped. 

Trask, thrice wounded, hunted, desperate, fleeing from 
a man who seemed to be the devil himself with a six-gun, 
froze instantly as Red appeared. Enraged by this unex 
pected enemy and sudden opposition where he fondly ex 
pected to find none, Trask threw caution to the winds and 
raised the muzzle of the Colt. As he pulled the trigger a 
soaring bulk landed on his shoulders, knocking the explod 
ing weapon from his hand and sending him sprawling. 
Snarling like an animal he twisted around, wriggled from 
under and grabbed Johnny's other Colt from its holster. 
Before he could use it Johnny's knee pinned it and the 
hand holding it to the ground. A clubbed six-gun did the 
rest and Johnny, calling to Red to watch Trask, hurried 
away to see if Roberts and Corwin were loose. The latter 
was helpless in the blanket, but Roberts had freed his feet 


and was doing well with the knots on his wrists when 
Johnny's appearance and growled command put an end 
to his efforts. He put the rope back on the kicking feet 
and arose as Hopalong limped up. 

" Phew ! " exclaimed Johnny. " This has been a reg'lar 
night ! Here, you stay with Corwin while I tote this coyote 
to th' hut." He got Roberts onto his back and staggered 
away, soon returning for the sheriff. 

Dawn found six bound men in varying physical condi 
tion sitting with their backs to the hut, their wounds crude 
ly dressed and their bounds readjusted and calculated to 
stay fixed. Kane was vindictive, his eyes snapping, and he 
seethed with futile energy, notwithstanding the mauling 
he had received. His lean face, puffed, discolored and 
wolfishly cruel, worked with a steadily mounting rage, 
which found vent at intervals in scathing vituperative 
comments about Trask, whom he still blamed for the pre 
dicament in which he found himself. Corwin, sullen and 
fearful, kept silent, his fingers picking nervously at the 
buckle and strap on the back of his vest. Roberts was 
angry and defiant and sneered at his erstwhile boss, send 
ing occasional verbal shafts into him in justification of 
Trask. The two Mexicans had sunk into the black depths 
of despair and acted as though they were stunned. Trask, 
a bitter sneer on his face, glared unflinchingly at the 
storming boss and showed his teeth in grim, ironical 

"Th' crossbreed shows th' cur dog when th' wolf is 
licked," he sneered in reply to a particularly vicious attack 
of Kane's. "What you blamin' me for? You took yore 
share of Nelson's money, an' took it eager. You heard 


me ! " he snarled. " I don't care who knows it I got it, 
an' you took yore part of it. It was all right then, wasn't 
it ? An' you didn't know it was his you let him make a 
fool of you an' wouldn't listen to me. But as long as you 
got yourn you didn't care a whole lot who lost it. Serves 
you right." 

" Shut up ! " muttered Roberts. 

" Shut up nothin'," jeered Trask. " Think I'm goin' to 
swing to save a mad dog like him ? Look at him ! Look 
at th' dog breakin' through th' wolf! Wolff Huh! 
Coyote would be more like it. Don't talk to me!" He 
looked at the camp fire and at the man busy over it. "I 
can eat some of that, Nelson," he said. 

Johnny nodded and went on with the cooking. 

Sounds of horses clattering down the steep trail sud 
denly were heard and not much later Red rode up on a 
horse he had captured from the rustlers' caviya and dis 
mounted near the fire. His face was a sight, but the grin 
which tried to struggle through the bruises was sincere. 
He dropped two saddles to the ground, the saddles belong 
ing to the Mexicans, which he had stopped to strip from 
the dead horses on the trail up the wall. 

" Our cayuses went loco near th' crick," he said. " I left 
Hoppy to take off th' saddles an' let 'em soak themselves," 
referring to the three animals they had left up on the desert 
the evening before. " I'm all ready to eat, Kid. How's it 
shapin' up ? " 

" Grab yore holt," grunted Johnny. He stood up to rest 
his back. "Mebby it would be more polite to feed our 
guests first," he grinned. 

Red looked at the line-up. " We'll have to feed 'em, I 


reckon. I ain't aimin' to untie no hands. Who's first ? " 

" Don't play no favorites," answered Johnny. " Go up 
an' down th' line an' give 'em all a chance." He faced the 
prisoners. " ,You fellers like yore coffee smokin' ? " Only 
two men answered, Roberts and Trask, and they did not 
like it smoking hot. "Let it cool a little, Red; no use 
scaldin' anybody." 

The prisoners had all been fed when Hopalong appeared 
on another horse from the rustlers' caviya and swung 
down. " Smells good, Kid ! an' looks good," he said. " I 
got all th' saddles on fresh cayuses, waitin' all but these 
here. We'll lead our own cayuses. That Pepper-hoss of 
yourn acts lonesome. She ain't lookin' at th' grass, at all." 
He sat down, arose part way and felt in his hip pocket, 
bringing out the cylinder of a six-gun. Glancing at Kane, 
to whom it belonged, he tossed it into the brush and re 
sumed his seat. 

Johnny's face broke into a smile and he whistled shrilly. 
Quick hoof beats replied and Pepper, her neck arched, 
stepped daintily across the little level patch of ground and 
nosed her master. 

"Ha!" grunted Trask. "That's a hoss!" A malig 
nant grin spread over his face and he turned his head to 
look at Kane. " Kane, how much money, that money you 
got on you now, would you give to be on that black back, 
up on th' edge of th' valley ? All of it, I bet ! " 

" Shut up ! " snapped Roberts, angrily. 

"Go to h 1," sneered Trask, and he laughed nastily. 
"You wait till I speak my little piece before you tell me 
to shut up ! No dog is goin' to ride me to a frazzle, blamin' 
me for this wind-up, without me havin' somethin' to say 


about it ! " He looked at Red. " What was them two 
shots I heard, up there on top ? They was th' first fired 
last night." 

"That was me droppin' th' Greasers' cayuses from 
under 'em on th' ledge," Red answered. " They was pullin' 
stakes for th' desert." 

"Leavin 5 us to do th' dancin', huh?" snapped Trask. 
"All right ; I know another little piece to speak. Where 
you fellers takin' us ? " 

Red shrugged his shoulders and went off to get horses 
for the crowd. 

A straggling line of mounted men climbed the cliff trail, 
the horses of the inner six fastened by lariats to each other, 
and three saddleless animals brought up the rear. They 
pushed up against the sky line in successive bumps and 
started westward across the desert. 



MESQUITE, still humming from the tension of the 
past week felt its excitement grow as Bill Trask, 
bound securely and guarded by Hopalong, rode down the 
street and stopped in front of Quayle's, where the noise 
made by the gathering crowd brought Idaho to the door. 

" Hey ! " he shouted over his shoulder. " Look at this ! " 
Then he ran out and helped Hopalong with the prisoner. 

Quayle, Lukins, Waffles, McCullough, and Ed Doane 
fell back from the door and let the newcomers enter, Idaho 
slamming it shut in the face of the crowd. Then Ed 
Doane had his hands full as the crowd surged into the bar 

" Upstairs ! " said Hopalong, steering the prisoner ahead 
of him. In a few minutes they all were in Johnny's old 
room, where Trask, his ropes eased, began a talk which 
held the interest of his auditors. At its conclusion McCul 
lough nodded and turned to Hopalong. 

"All this may be true," he said ; " but what does it all 
amount to without th' fellers he names ? If you'd kept out 
of th' fight an' hadn't set fire to that buildin' we would 'a' 
got every one of them he names. Gimme Kane an' th' 
others an' better proof than his story an' you got a claim 
to that reward that's double sewed." 



Hopalong seemed contrite and downcast. He looked 
around the group and let his eyes return to those of the 
trail-boss. " I reckon so," he growled. " But have you 
got th' numbers of th' missin' bills ? " he asked, skeptically. 

"Yes, I have; an' a lot of good it'll do me, now!" 
snapped McCullough. " We was countin' on them for th' 
real proof, but that fool play of yourn threw 'em into th' 
discard! What'n h 1 made you set that place afire?" 

Hopalong shrugged his shoulders. " I dunno," he mut 
tered. " Waz you aimin' to find th' missin' bills on them 
fellers ? " he asked. " Would that 'a' satisfied you ? " 

"Of course ! : ' snorted the trail-boss. "An' with Trask, 
here, turnin' agii:' 'em like he has it would be more than 
enough. Any fool knows that ! " 

Hopalong arose. "I'm glad to hear you come right 
out an' say that, for that's what I wanted to know. I've 
been bothei/ed a heap about what you might ask in th' line 
of proof. You shore relieve my mind, Mac. If you 
fellors will straddle leather we'll ride out where Kane an' 
th' others Trask named are waitin' for visitors. I don't 
reckon they none of them got away from Johnny an' Red." 
f " What are you talkin' about ? " demanded McCullough, 
his mouth open from surprise. 

" I mean we've got Kane, Roberts, Corwin, Miguel, an' 
another Greaser all tied up, waitin' to turn 'em over to you 
an' collect them rewards. As long as we know just what 
you want, an' can give it to you, I don't see no use of 
waitin'. I'm invitin' Lukins an' th' rest along to see th' 
finish. What you goin' to do with Trask ? " 

McCullough was looking at him through squinting eyes, 
his face a more ruddy color. Glancing around the group 


he let his eyes rest on Trask. Shrugging his shoulders he 
faced Hopalong. "Take him south, I reckon, virith th' 
others. If he talks before a jury like he's talked up here 
I reckon he won't be sorry for it." He walked to a window 
and looked down into the street. "Hey!" He called. 
"Walt, get a couple of th' boys an' come up jiere right 
away. We got somebody for you to stay with," and in a 
few minutes he and the others left Walt and his compan 
ions to guard and protect the prisoner. 

The sun was at the meridian when Hopalong led his 
companions into the Sand Creek camp an 1 dismounted in 
front of Red, who was watching the \ 

"Where's th' Kid?" he asked curi< 

" Don't jrcw do ijw wwrrym' "answi fcd. He low 
ered ms voice and put his mouth close to his friend's ear. 
''' Th' Greaser on th' end is goin* to pieces. Pound him 
hard an' he'll show his cards." 

The information was conveyed to McCuHough, who 
stood looking at the downcast group. He strode over to 
Miguel, grabbed his shoulders and jerked him to his i'eet. 
Running his hands into the Mexican's pockets he brouf ht 
out a roll of bills. Swiftly running through them he drev-' 
out a bill, compared it with a slip which he produced from 
his own pocket, whirled the bound man around and glared 
into the frightened eyes. 

" Where'd you get this ? " he shouted, shaking his cap 

" Kane geeve eet to me he owe me money," answered 
the Mexican. 

"What for?" demanded McCullough, ohaking him 


"I lend heem eet." 

"You loaned him money?" roared the trail-boss. 
" That's likely ! Why did he give it to you ? " 

Miguel shrugged his shoulders and did not answer. 
McCullough jerked him half around and pointed to 
Hopalong. "This man here saw you sneakin' from 
Kane's south stable with a smokin' Sharp's in yore hand 
after you shot Ridley. Trask says you did it. Is this all 
Kane gave you for that killin' ? " 

f " I could no help," protested Miguel, squirming in the 

trail-boss' grip. "Wen Kane he say do theese or that 

rtheeng, I mus' do eet. I no want to but I mus'." 

, I McCullough whirled around and faced Corwin. " That 

: story you told me down in th' bunkhouse that night about 

how Bill Long shot Ridley is near word for word what 

Bill says about th' Greaser, an' Trask's story backs him 

) up. How did you come to know so much about it ? Come 

on, you coyote ; spit it out ! Who told you what to say ? " 

'-, Corwin's silence angered him and he showed his teeth. 

"There's a lynchin' waitin' for you in town, Corwin, 

f if you don't s+op it by speakin' up. Who told you 


Corwin looked away. " Miguel," he muttered. " I told 
you I was hopin' to get th' real one." 

" He lie ! I never say to heem one word ! " shouted the 
Mexican. "He lie! Kane, he was the only one who 
know like that beside me! " 

"Stand up, Sheriff!" snapped McCullough. He 
searched the sullen prisoner and found two rolls of bills. 
Going quickly over them he removed and grouped certain 
of them, and then compared them with his list. " There's 

.-348 THE BAR-20 THREE 

five here that tally with th' bank's numbers." he said, 
looking up. " Where'd you get 'em ? " 

"Won 'em at faro-bank." 

"Won five five-hundred-dollar bills at faro, when 
everybody knows yo're a two-bit gambler ? " shouted the 
.trail-boss. "I'm no d d fool! Don't you forget 
what I said about th' lynchin', Corwin. I'm all that 
stands between you an' it. Where'd you get 'em? Like 

Corwin's hunted look flashed despairingly around the 
.group. "No," he said. "Kane gave 'em to me, to gpet 
changed into smaller bills ! " 

" Reckon Kane must 'a' robbed that bank all by hisself ,' ' 
sneered McCullough. "I never knowed he had diamond 
drills an' could bust safes. Didn't you go along to protect 
an' keep an eye on that eastern safe-blower that Kane had 1 
come to do th' job? Pronto! Didn't you? " 

" I had to," growled Corwin, in a voice so low that 
the answer was lost to all but the man to whom he was 
talking. . 

McCullough gave him a contemptuous shove and 
wheeled to question Roberts. " Get up," he ordered, and 
searched the rustler trail-boss. "By G d!" he ex 
claimed when he saw the size of the roll. "You coyotes 
was makin' money fast! There's near three thousand 
here! Let's see how they compare with my list." In a 
few moments he nodded. "How'd you get these five- 
hundred-dollar bills ? Kane give 'em to you, too ? " 

" No, Kane didn't give 'em to me ! " snapped Roberts 
in angry contempt. "I earned 'em as my share of th' 
-bank robbery, along with Corwin, th' white-livered snake ! 


Kane didn't give -in to either of us." He glared at the 
one-time sheriff. "I'm sayin' plain that if I ever get a 
chance I'm aimh' to shoot this skunk, along with Trask. 
You hear me ? " 

" If you a.ii't got a gun, hunt me up an' I'll lend you 
one," offered Idaho. 

"Shut up!" snapped McCullough, glaring at the 
puncher. Whirling he pushed Roberts away. " It'll be 
a long time before you shoot anybody or anythin'. Now, 
then," he said, stepping up in front of Kane: "Get up!" 

Kane arose slowly, his eyes burning with rage. He sub 
mitted to the exploring fingers of the trail-boss and main- 
tavned a contemptuous silence as his shirt was whipped 
r ip out of his trousers and the two money belts removed 
from around his waist. 

McCullough opened the belts and his eyes at the same 
time. Neatly folded bunches of greenbacks followed each 
other in swift succession from the pockets of the belts 
and, scattering as they were tossed into a pile, made quite 
an imposing sight. Staring eyes regarded them and more 
than one observer's mouth gaped widely. 

" Seven thousand," announced McCullough, reaching 
for another handful. "I'm sayin' you wasn't leavin' 
nothin' behind." He looked up again after a moment. 
" Eighteen thousand five hundred," he growled and picked 
up another handful. " Holy mavericks! " he breathed as 
the last bill was counted and placed on the new pile. 
"Forty-nine thousand eight hundred and seventy! You 
was takin' chances, totin' all that with this gang of thieves ! 
Fifty thousand dollars, U. S. ! " 

Handing his written list to Quayle, he selected the 


five-hundred-dollar bills and callel off the numbers 
laboriously, Quayle as laboriously hmting through the 
list. It took considerable time before tley were checked 
off and put to one side, and then he lookeo up. 

"There's still a-plenty of them bills m/ssin'," he an 
nounced. " Where did they get to ? " 

Hopalong stepped forward and drew a roll from his 
pocket. " Here's what I found on Sandy Woods when he 
died in this camp," he said, offering it to the astonished 

McCullough took it, opened and counted it and called 
the numbers off to the excited holder of the list. 

"They're all on th' list th' Lord be praised!" s^id 

"Where'd Sandy Woods come in this?" demanded* 
McCullough, looking around from face to face. 

Roberts sneered. "Huh! He was th' man that took 
th' safe-blower out of th' country. He didn't have no 
hand in th' bank job. I'm glad th' skunk died, an' I'm 
glad it was me that planned his finish. He shore must 
'a' held up that feller. How much is there, in th' bank's 

" Five thousand," answered the trail-boss. 

" He got it all, cuss him ! " snorted Roberts. 

McCullough looked at Kane. " I never hoped to meet 
you like this," he said. "I ain't goin' to ask you no 
questions -you can talk in court, an' explain how you 
came to have so many of th' registered bills ; an' there's 
other little things you can tell about, if somebody don't 
tell it all first." He turned to Hopalong. "We'll be 
takin' these fellers to th' ranch now." 


" Better take th' reward money out of that bundle," 
replied Hopalong, nodding at the money in the hands of 
the trail-boss. " We've dealt 'em like you asked, an' gave 
you th' cards you want. Our part is finished." 

McCullough looked from him to the prisoners and then 
at his friends. "How can I hand it to you?" he asked. 
" Where's Nelson ? He's settin' in this." 

" He'll show up after th' money's paid," said Red in 
nocently as he arose. 

McCullough hesitated and looked around again. As he 
did so Idaho carelessly walked over to Red, smoothing out 
a cigarette paper, and took hold of a paper tag hanging 
out of Red's pocket and pulled it. Carelessly rolling a 
cigarette he shoved the tobacco sack back where he 
had found it, but he did not leave Red's side. Blow 
ing a lungful of smoke into the air he smiled at 

" Shucks, Mac," he said. " You shouldn't ought to have 
no trouble findin' them rewards in that unholy wad. An' 
mebby you could find Nelson's missin' eleven hundred on 
Trask, if you looked real hard. I like a man that goes 
through with his play." 

" I'm not lookin' for no eleven hundred at all ! " snapped 
McCullough. "An' I ain't shore that they've earned th* 
reward, burnin' that buildin' like they did ! They let these 
fellers get away, first!" 

"I just handed you th' money I found on Sandy 
Woods," said Hopalong. " That's like givin' it to you to 
pay us with. H 1 ! You act like you hated to make 
good Twitchell's bargain. Well, of course, you don't 
have to take this bunch, nor th' money, neither; but I'm 


sayin' they don't go separate. Suits us, Mac we'll keep 
th' whole show money an' all, if you say so." 

"Fine chance you got!" retorted the trail-boss, bri 
dling. "They're here an' I'm takin' 'em, with th' 

" There ain't nobody takin' nothin'," rejoined Hopalong 
calmly, "until th' bargain's finished. Don't rile Johnny, 
off there in th' brush ; he's plumb touchy." His drawling 
voice changed swiftly. "Come on a bargain's a bar 
gain. Five thousand, now! " 

" Mac ! " said Quayle's accusing voice. 

The trail-boss looked at the money in his hand and 
slowly counted out the reward amount, careful not to 
include any of the registered bills. "Here," he said, 
handing them to Hopalong. " You give us a hand gettin' 
'em to th' ranch?" 

"If three of us could catch 'em, an' bring 'em here," 
said Hopalong, coldly, " I reckon you got enough help to 
take 'em th' rest of th' way if you steer clear of town." 

"Don't worry, Mac," said Idaho, cheerfully. " Til go 
along with you." 

The trail-boss growled in his throat and began, with 
Lukins, Waffles, and Quayle, to get the prisoners on the 
horses. This soon was accomplished and he headed them 
south, Lukins on the other side, Quayle and Waffles and 
Idaho bringing up the rear. 

" Better come to town for a celebration," called the pro 
prietor, disappointment in his voice. "Ye can leave at 

Johnny shook his head. " There's a celebration waitin' 
at th' ranch," he shouted, and turned to find his two com- 


panions mounted and his black horse waiting impatiently 
for him. Mounting, he wheeled to face northward, but 
checked the horse and turned to look back in answer to a 
faint hail from Idaho, and grinned at the insulting gesture 
of the distant puncher. 

He replied in kind, chuckled, and dashed forward to 
overtake his moving friends. 

" Home ! " he exulted. " Home an' Peggy ! " 

Popular Copyright Novels 


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Adventures of Jimmie Dale, The. By Frank L. Packard. 

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. By A. Conan Doyle. 

Affinities^ and Other Stories. By Mary Roberts Rinehart, 

After House, The. By Mary Roberts Rinehart. 

Against the Winds. By Kate Jordan. 

Ailsa Paige. By Robert W. Chambers. 

Also Ran. By Mrs. Baillie Reynolds. 

Amateur Gentleman, The. By Jeffery Farnol. 

Anderson Crow, Detective. By George Barr McCutcheon. 

Anna, the Adventuress. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Anne's House of Dreams. By L. M. Montgomery. 

Anybody But Anne. By Carolyn Wells. 

Are All Men Alike, and The Lost Titian. By Arthur Stringer, 

Around Old Chester. By Margaret Deland. 

Ashton-Kirk, Criminologist. By John T. Mclntyre. 

Ashton-Kirk, Investigator. By John T. Mclntyre. 

Ashton-Kirk, Secret Agent. By John T. Mclntyre. 

Ashton-Kirk, Special Detective. By John T. Mclntyre. 

Athalie. By Robert W. Chambers. 

At the Mercy of Tiberius. By Augusta Evans Wilson. 

Auction Block, The. By Rex Beach. 

Aunt Jane of Kentucky. By Eliza C. Hall. 

Awakening of Helena Richie. By Margaret Deland. 

Bab: a Sub-Deb. By Mary Roberts Rinehart. 

Bambi. By Marjorie Benton Cooke. 

Barbarians. By Robert W. Chambers. 

Bar 20. By Clarence E. Mulford. 

Bar 20 Days. By Clarence E. Mulford. 

Barrier, The. By Rex Beach. 

Bars of Iron, The. By Ethel M. Dell. 

Beasts of Tarzan, The. By Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

Beckoning Roads. By Jeanne Judson. 

Belonging. By Olive Wadsley. 

Beloved Traitor, The. By Frank L. Packard. 

Beloved Vagabond, The. By Wm. J. Locke. 

Beltane the Smith. By Jeffery Farnol. 

Betrayal, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Beulah, (111. Ed.) By Augusta J. Evans. 

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Beyond the Frontier. By Randall Parrish. 
'Big Timber. By Bertrand W. Sinclair. 
Black Bartlemy's Treasure. By Jeffery Farnol. 
Black Is White. By George Barr MdCutcheon. 
Blacksheep! Blacksheepl. By Meredith Nicholson. 
Blind Man's Eyes, The. By Wm. Mac Harg and Edwin 


Boardwalk, The. By Margaret Widdemer. 
Bob Hampton of Placer. By Randall Parrish. 
Bob, Son of Battle. By Alfred Olivant. 
Box With Broken Seals, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 
Boy With Wings, The. By Berta Ruck. 
Brandon of the Engineers. By Harold Bindloss. 
Bridge of Kisses, The. By Berta Ruck. 
Broad Highway, The. By Jeffery Farnol. 
Broadway Bab. By Johnston McCulley. 
Brown Study, The. By Grace S. Richmond. 
Bruce of the Circle A. By Harold Titus. 
JBuccaneer Fanner, The. By Harold Bindloss. 
Buck Peters, Ranchman*. By Clarence E. Mulford. 
Builders, The. By Ellen Glasgow. 
Business of Life, The. By Robert W. Chambers. 

Cab of the Sleeping Horse, The. By John Reed Scott 

Cabbage and Kings. By O. Henry. 

Cabin Fever. By B. M. Bower. 

Calling of Dan Matthews, The. By Harold Bell Wright, 

Cape Cod Stories. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 

Cap'n Abe, Storekeeper. By James A". Cooper. 

Cap'n Dan's Daughter. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 

Cap'n ErL By Joseph C. Lincoln. 

Cap'n Jonah's Fortune. By James A. Cooper. 

Cap'n Warren's Wards. By Joseph 'C. Lincoln. 

Chinese Label, The. By J. Frank Davis. 

Christine of the Young Heart. By Louise Breintenbacfi Clancy. 

Cinderella Jane. By Marjorie B. Cooke. 

Cinema Murder, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

City of MaSks, The. By George Barr McCutcheon. 

Cleek of Scotland Yard. By T. W. Hanshew. 

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Cleek, The Man of Forty Faces. By Thomas W. Hanshew. 

deck's Government Cases. By Thomas W. Hanshew. 

Clipped Wings. By Rupert Hughes. 

Clutch of Circumstance, The. By Marjorie Benton Cooke. 

Coast of Adventure, The. By Harold Bindloss. 

Come-Back, The. By Carolyn Wells. 

Coming of Cassidy, The. By Clarence E. Mulford. 

Coming of the Law, The. By Charles A. Seltzer. 

Comrades of Peril. By Randall Parrish. 

Conquest of Canaan, The. By Booth Tarkington. 

Conspirators, The. By Robert W. Chambers. 

Contraband. By Randall Parrish. 

Cottage of Delight, The. By Will N. Harben. 

Court of Inquiry, A. By Grace S. Richmond. 

Cricket, The. By Marjorie Benton Cooke. 

Crimson Gardenia, The, and Other Tales of Adventure. By 

Rex Beach. 

Crimson Tide, The. By Robert W. Chambers. 
Cross Currents. By Author of "Pollyanna." 
Cross Pull, The. By Hal. G. Evarts. 
Cry in the Wilderness, A. By Mary E. Waller. 
Cry of Youth, A. By Cynthia Lombardi. 
Cup of Fury, The. By Rupeit Hughes. 
Curious Quest, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Danger and Other Stories'. By A. Conan Doyle. 
Dark Hollow, The. By Anna Katharine Green. 
Dark Star, The. By Robert W. Chambers. 
Daughter Pays, The. By Mrs. Baillie Reynolds. 
Day of Days, The. By Louis Joseph Vance. 
Depot Master, The. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 
Destroying Angel, The. By Louis Joseph Vance. 
Devil's Own, The. By Randall Parrish. 
Devil's Paw, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 
Disturbing Charm, The. By Berta Ruck. 
Door of Dread, The. By Arthur Stringer. 
Dope. By Sax Rohmer. 

Double Traitor, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 
Duds. By Henry C. Rowland. 

Popular Copyriglit Novels 


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A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 

Empty Pockets. By Rupert Hughes. 
Erskine Dale Pioneer. By John Fox, Jr. 
Everyman's Land. By C. N. & A. M. Williamson. 
Extricating Obadiah. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 
Eyes of the Blind, The. By Arthur Somers Roche. 
Eyes of the World, The. By Harold Bell Wright. 

Fairfax and His Pride. By Marie Van Vorst. 

Felix O'Day. By F. Hopkinson Smith. 

54-40 or Fight. By Emerson Hough. 

Fighting Chance, The. By Ro'bert W. Chambers. 

Fighting Fool, The. By Dane Coolidge. 

Fighting Shepherdess, The. By Caroline Lockhart. 

Financier, The. By Theodore Dreiser. 

Find the Woman, By Arthur Somers Roche. 

First Sir Percy, The. By The Baroness Orczy. 

Flame, The. By Olive Wadsley. 

For Better, for Worse. By W. B. Maxwell. 

Forbidden Trail, The. By Honore Willsie. 

Forfeit, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

Fortieth Door, The. By Mary Hastings Bradley, 

Four Million, The. By O. Henry. 

From Now On. By Frank L. Packard. 

Fur Bringers, The. By Hulbert Footner. 

Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale. By Frank L. Packard. 

Gef Your Man. By Ethel and James Dorrance. 

Girl in the Mirror, The. By Elizabeth Jordau. 

Girl of O. K. Valley, The. By Robert Watson. 

Girl of the Blue Ridge, A. By Payne Erskine. 

Girl from Keller's, The. By Harold Bmdlosi- 

Girl Philippa, The. By Robert W. Chambers 

Girls at His Billet, The. By Berta Ruck. 

Glory Rides the Range. By Ethel and James Dorrance. 

Gloved Hand, The. By Burton E. Stevenson. 

God's Country and the Woman. By James Oliver Curwood. 

God's Good Man. By Marie Corelli. 

Going Some. By Rex Beach. 

Gold Girl, The. By James B. Hendryx. 

Golden Scorpion, The. By Sax Rohmer. 

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A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 

Golden Slipper, The. By Anna Katharine Green. 

Golden Woman, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

Good References. By E. J. Rath. 

Gorgeous Girl, The. By Nalbro Bartley. 

Gray Angels, The. By Nalbro Bartley. 

Great Impersonation, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Greater Love Hath No Man. By Frank L. Packard. 

Green Eyes of Bast, The. By Sax Rohmer. 

Greyfriars Bobby. By Eleanor Atkinson. 

Gun Brand, The. By James B. Hendryx. 

Hand of Fu-Manchu, The. By Sax Rohmer. 

Happy House. By Baroness Von Hutten. 

Harbor Road, The. By Sara Ware Bassett. 

Havoc. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Heart of the Desert, The; By Honore Willsie. 

Heart of the Hills, The. By John Fox, Jr. 

Heart of the Sunset By Rex Beach. 

Heart of Thunder Mountain, The. By Edfrid A. Bingham. 

Heart of Unaga, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

Hidden Children, The. By Robert W. Chambers. 

Hidden Trails. By William Patterson White. 

Highflyers, The. By Clarence B. Kelland. 

Hillman, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Hills of Refuge, The. By Will N. Harben. 

His Last Bow. By A. Conan Doyle. 

His Official Fiancee. By Berta Ruck. 

Honor of the Big Snows. By James Oliver Curwood. 

Hopalong Cassidy. By Clarence E. Mulford. 

Hound from the North, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

House of the Whispering Pines, The. By Anna Katharine 


Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker. By S. Weir Mitchell, M.D. 
Humoresque. By Fannie Hurst. 

I Conquered. By Harold Titus. 
Illustrious Prince, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 
In Another Girl's Shoes. By Berta Ruck. 
Indifference of Juliet, The. By Grace S. Richmond. 
Inez. (111. Ed.) By Augusta J. Evans. 

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A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 

Infelice. By Augusta Evans Wilson. 

Initials Only. By Anna Katharine Green. 

Inner Law, The. By Will N. Harben. 

Innocent. By Marie Corelli. 

In Red and Gold. By Samuel Merwin. 

Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, The. By Sax Rohmer. 

In the Brooding Wild. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

Intriguers, The. By William Le Queux. 

Iron Furrow, The. By George C. Shedd. 

Iron Trail, The. By Rex Beach. 

Iron Woman, The. By Margaret Ddand. 

Ishmael (111.) By Mrs. Southworth. 

Island of Surprise. By Cyrus Townsend Brady. 

I Spy. By Natalie Sumner Linclon. 

It Pays tp Smile. By Nina Wilcox Putnam. 

I've Married Marjorie. By Margaret Widdemer. 

Jean of the Lazy A. By B. M. Bower. 

"eanne of the Marshes. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

ennie Gerhardt. By Theodore Dreiser. 

ohnny Nelson. By Clarence E. Mulford. 
Judgment House, The. By Gilbert Parker. 

Keeper of the Door, The. By Ethel M. Dell. 

Keith of the Border. By Randall Parrish. 

Kent Knowles: Quahaug. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 

Kingdom of the Blind, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

King Spruce. By Holman Day. 

Knave of Diamonds, The. By Ethel M. Dell. 

LS Chance Mine Mystery, The. By S. Carleton. 
Lady Doc, The. By Caroline tockhart. 
Land-Girl's Love Story, A. By Berta Ruck. 
Land of Strong Men, The. By A. M. Chisholm. 
Last Straw, The. By Harold Titus. 
Last Trail, The. By Zane Grey. 
Laughing Bill Hyde. By Rex Beach. 
Laughing Girl, The. By Robert W. Chambers. 
Law Breakers, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 
Law of the Gun, The. By Ridgwell 'Cullura. 

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A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction 

League of the Scarlet Pimpernel By Baroness Orczy 

Lifted Veil, The. By Basil King. ' 

Lighted Way, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Lin McLean. By Owen Wister. 

Little Moment of Happiness, The. By Clarence Budington 


Lion's Mouse, The. By C. N. & A. M. Williamson. 
Lonesome Land. By B. M. Bower. 
Lone Wolf, The. By Louis Joseph Vance. 
Lonely Stronghold, The. By Mrs. Baillie Reynolds. 
Long Live the King. By Mary Roberts Rinehart. 
Lost Ambassador. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 
Lost Prince, The. By Frances Hodgson Burnett. 
Lydia of the Pines. By Honore Willsie. 
Lynch Lawyers. By William Patterson White. 

Macaria. (111. Ed.) By Augusta J. Evans. 

Maid of the Forest, The. By Randall Parrish. 

Maid of Mirabelle, The. By Eliot H. Robinson. 

Maid of the Whispering Hills, The. By Vingie E Roe 

Major, The. By Ralph Connor. 

Maker of History, A. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Malefactor, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Man from Bar 20, The. By Clarence E. Mulford 

Man from Bitter Roots, The. By Caroline Lockhart. 

Man from Tall Timber, The. By Thomas K. Holmes. 

Man an the Jury Box, The. By Robert Orr Chipperfield. 

Man-Killers, The. By Dane Coolidge. 

Man Proposes. By Eliot H. Robinson, author of "Smiles* 

Man Trail, The. By Henry Oyen. 

Man Who Couldn't Sleep, The. By Arthur Stringer. 

Marqueray's Duel. By Anthony Pryde. 

Mary 'Gusta. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 

Mary Wollaston. By Henry Kitchell Webster. 

Mason of Bar X Ranch, By E. Bennett. 

Master Christian, The. By Marie Corelli. 

Master Mummer, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. By A. Conan Doyle. 

Men Who Wrought, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

Midnight of the Ranges. By George Gilbert. 

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Mischief Maker, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Missioner, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Miss Million's Maid. By Berta Ruck. 

Money Master, The. By Gilbert Parker. 

Money Moon, The. By Jeffery Farnol. 

Moonlit Way, The. By Robert W. Chambers. 

More Tish. By Mary Roberts Rinehart. 

Mountain Girl, The. By Payne Erskine. 

Mr. Bingle. By George Barr McCutcheon. 

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. 

Mr. Pratt. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 

Mr. Pratt's Patients. By Joseph C. Lincoln. 

Mr. Wu. By Louise. Jordan Miln. 

Mrs. Balfame. By Gertrude Atherton. 

Mrs. Red Pepper. By Grace S. Richmond. 

My Lady of the North. By Randall Parrish. 

My Lady of the South. By Randall Parrish. 

Mystery of the Hasty Arrow, The. By Anna K. Green. 

Mystery of the Silver Dagger, The. By Randall Parrish. 

Mystery of the 13th Floor, The. By Lee Thayer. 

Nameless Man, The. By Natalie Stunner Lincoln. 

Ne'er-Do-Well, The. By Rex Beach. 

Net, The. By Rex Beach. 

New Clarion. By Will N. Harben. 

Night Horseman, The. By Max Brand. 

Night Operator, The. By Frank L. Packard. 

Night Riders, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

North of the Law. By Samuel Alexander White. 

One Way Trail, The. By Ridgwell Cullum. 

Outlaw, The. By Jackson, Gregory. 

Owner of the Lazy D. By William Patterson White. 

Painted Meadows. By Sophie Kerr. 

Palmetto. By Stella G. S. Perry. 

Paradise Bend. By William Patterson White. 

Pardners. By Rex Beach. 

Parrot & Co. By Harold MacGrath. 

Partners of the Night. By Leroy Scott. 



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