Peace Hath Its Victories
As they neared the central group of buildings they heard a hilarious and assertive song which sprang from the door and windows of the main saloon. It was in jig time, rollicking and boisterous, but the words had evidently been improvised for the occasion, as they clashed immediately with those which sprang to the minds of the outfit, although they could not be clearly distinguished. As they approached nearer and finally dismounted, however, the words became recognizable and the visitors were at once placed in harmony with the air of jovial recklessness by the roaring of the verses and the stamping of the time.
Oh we're red-hot cow-punchers playin on our luck,
An there ain't a proposition that we won't buck:
From sunrise to sunset we've ridden on the range,
But now we're off for a howlin' change.
Laugh a little, sing a little, all th' day;
Play a little, drink a little—we can pay;
Ride a little, dig a little an' rich we'll grow.
Oh, we're that bunch from th' O-Bar-O!
Oh, there was a little tenderfoot an' he had a little gun,
An th' gun an' him went a-trailin up some fun.
They ambles up to Santa Fé to find a quiet game,
An' now they're planted with some more of th' same!
As Hopalong, followed by the others, pushed open the door and entered he took up the chorus with all the power of Texan lungs and even Billy joined in. The sight that met their eyes was typical of the men and the mood and the place. Leaning along the walls, lounging on the table and straddling chairs with their forearms crossed on the backs were nine cowboys, ranging from old twenty to young fifty in years, and all were shouting the song and keeping time with their hands and feet. In the center of the room was a large man dancing a fair buck-and-wing to the time so uproariously set by his companions. Hatless, neck-kerchief loose, holsters flapping, chaps rippling out and close, spurs clinking and perspiration streaming from his tanned face, danced Bigfoot Baker as though his life depended on speed and noise. Bottles shook and the air was fogged with smoke and dust. Suddenly, his belt slipping and letting his chaps fall around his ankles, he tripped and sat down heavily. Gasping for breath, he held out his hand and received a huge plug of tobacco, for Bigfoot had won a contest.
Shouts of greeting were hurled at the newcomers and many questions were fired at them regarding "th' latest from th' Hills." Waffles made a rush for Hopalong, but fell over Bigfoot's feet and all three were piled up in a heap. All were beaming with good nature, for they were as so many school boys playing truant. Prosaic cow-punching was relegated to the rear and they looked eagerly forward to their several missions. Frenchy told of the barb-wire fence war and of the new regulations of "Smith of Buffalo" regarding cow-punchers' guns, and from the caustic remarks explosively given it was plain to be seen what a wire fence could expect, should one be met with, and there were many imaginary Smiths put hors de combat.
Kid Morris, after vainly trying to slip a blue-bottle fly inside of Hopalong's shirt, gave it up and slammed his hand on Hopalong's back instead, crying: "Well, I'll be doggoned if here ain't Hopalong! How's th' missus an' th' deacon an' all th' folks to hum? I hears yu an' Frenchy's reg'lar poker fiends!"
"Oh, we plays onct in a while, but we don't want none of yore dust. Yu'll shore need it all afore th' Hills get through with yu," laughingly replied Hopalong.
"Oh, yore shore kind! But I was a sort of reckonin' that we needs some more. Perfesser P. D. Q. Waffles is our poker man an' he shore can clean out anything I ever saw. Mebbe yu fellers feel reckless-like an' would like to make a pool," he cried, addressing the outfit of the Bar—20, "an' back yore boss of th' full house agin ourn?"
Red turned slowly around and took a full minute in which to size the Kid up. Then he snorted and turned his back again.
The Kid stared at him in outraged dignity. "Well, what t'ell!" he softly murmured. Then he leaped forward and walloped Red on the back. "Hey, yore royal highness!" he shouted. "Yu-yu-yu—oh, hang it—yu! Yu slab-sided, ring-boned, saddle-galled shade of a coyote, do yu think I'm only meanderin' in th' misty vales of—of—"
Suggestions intruded from various sources. "Hades?" offered Hopalong. "Cheyenne?" murmured Johnny. "Misty mistiness of misty?" tentatively supplied Waffles.
Red turned around again. "Better come up an' have somethin'," he sympathetically invited, wiping away an imaginary tear.
"An' he's so young!" sobbed Frenchy.
"An' so fair!" wailed Tex.
"An' so ornery!" howled Lefty, throwing his arms around the discomfited youngster. Other arms went around him, and out of the sobbing mob could be heard earnest and heart-felt cussing, interspersed with imperative commands, which were gradually obeyed.
The Kid straightened up his wearing apparel. "Come on, yu locoed—"
"Angels?" queried Charley Lane, interrupting him. "Sweet things?" breathed Hopalong in hopeful expectancy.
"Oh, d—n it!" yelled the Kid as he ran out into the street to escape the persecution.
"Good Kid, all right," remarked Waffles. "He'll go around an' lick some Greaser an' come back sweet as honey."
"Did somebody say poker?" asked Bigfoot, digressing from the Kid.
"Oh, yu fellows don't want no poker. Of course yu don't. Poker's mighty uncertain," replied Red.
"Yah!" exclaimed Tex Le Blanc, pushing forward. "I'll just bet yu to a standstill that Waffles an' Salvation'll round up all th' festive simoleons yu can get together! An' I'll throw in Frenchy's hat as an inducement."
"Well, if yore shore set on it make her a pool," replied Red, "an' th' winners divide with their outfit. Here's a starter," he added, tossing a buckskin bag on the table. "Come on, pile 'em up."
The crowd divided as the players seated themselves at the table, the O-Bar-O crowd grouping themselves behind their representatives; the Bar—20 behind theirs. A deck of cards was brought and the game was on.
Red, true to his nature, leaned back in a corner, where, hands on hips, he awaited any hostile demonstration on the part of the O-Bar-O; then, suddenly remembering, he looked half ashamed of his warlike position and became a peaceful citizen again. Buck leaned with his broad back against the bar, talking over his shoulder to the bartender, but watching Tenspot Davis, who was assiduously engaged in juggling a handful of Mexican dollars. Up by the door Bigfoot Baker, elated at winning the buck-and-wing contest, was endeavoring to learn a new step, while his late rival was drowning his defeat at Buck's elbow. Lefty Allen was softly singing a Mexican love song, humming when the words would not come. At the table could be heard low-spoken card terms and good-natured banter, interspersed with the clink of gold and silver and the soft pat-pat of the onlookers' feet unconsciously keeping time to Lefty's song. Notwithstanding the grim assertiveness of belts full of .45's and the peeping handles of long-barreled Colts, set off with picturesque chaps, sombreros and tinkling spurs, the scene was one of peaceful content and good-fellowship.
"Ugh!" grunted Johnny, walking over to Red and informing that person that he, Red, was a worm-eaten prune and that for half a wink he, Johnny, would prove it. Red grabbed him by the seat of his corduroys and the collar of his shirt and helped him outside, where they strolled about, taking pot shots at whatever their fancy suggested.
Down the street in a cloud of dust rumbled the Las Cruces-El Paso stage and the two punchers went up to meet it. Raw furrows showed in the woodwork, one mule was missing and the driver and guard wore fresh bandages. A tired tenderfoot leaped out with a sigh of relief and hunted for his baggage, which he found to be generously perforated. Swearing at the God-forsaken land where a man had to fight highwaymen and Indians inside of half a day he grumblingly lugged his valise toward a forbidding-looking shack which was called a hotel.
The driver released his teams and then turned to Red. "Hullo, old hoss, how's th' gang?" he asked genially. "We've had a h—l of a time this yere trip," he went on without waiting for Red to reply. "Five miles out of Las Cruces we stood off a son-of-a-gun that wanted th' dude's wealth. Then just this side of the San Andre foothills we runs into a bunch of young bucks who turned us off this yere way an' gave us a runnin' fight purty near all th' way. I'm a whole lot farther from Paso now than I was when I started, an' seein' as I lost a jack I'll be some time gittin' there. Yu don't happen to sabe a jack I can borrow, do yu?"
"I don't know about no jack, but I'll rope yu a bronch," offered Red, winking at Johnny.
"I'll pull her myself before I'll put dynamite in th' traces," replied the driver. "Yu fellers might amble back a ways with me—them buddin' warriors'll be layin' for me."
"We shore will," responded Johnny eagerly. "There's nine of us now an' there'll be nine more an' a cook to-morrow, mebby."
"Gosh, yu grows some," replied the guard. "Eighteen'll be a plenty for them glory hunters."
"We won't be able to," contradicted Red, "for things are peculiar."
At this moment the conversation was interrupted by the tenderfoot, who sported a new and cheap sombrero and also a belt and holster complete.
"Will you gentlemen join me?" he asked, turning to Red and nodding at the saloon. "I am very dry and much averse to drinking alone."
"Why, shore," responded Red heartily, wishing to put the stranger at ease.
The game was running about even as they entered and Lefty Allen was singing "The Insult," the rich tenor softening the harshness of the surroundings.
I've swum th' Colorado where she runs down clost to hell,
I've braced th' faro layouts in Cheyenne;
I've fought for muddy water with a howlin' bunch of Sioux,
An swallowed hot tamales, an cayenne.
I've rid a pitchin broncho 'till th' sky was underneath,
I've tackled every desert in th' land;
I've sampled XXXX whiskey 'till I couldn't hardly see,
An dallied with th' quicksands of the Grande.
I've argued with th' marshals of a half-a-dozen burgs,
I've been dragged free an fancy by a cow;
I've had three years' campaignin' with th' fightin, bitin' Ninth,
An never lost my temper—'till right now.
I've had the yaller fever an I've been shot full of holes,
I've grabbed an army mule plumb by its tail;
I've never been so snortin , really highfalutin mad
As when y'u up an hands me ginger ale!
Hopalong laughed joyously at a remark made by Waffles and the stranger glanced quickly at him. His merry, boyish face, underlined by a jaw showing great firmness and set off with an expression of aggressive self-reliance, impressed the stranger and he remarked to Red, who lounged lazily near him, that he was surprised to see such a face on so young a man and he asked who the player was.
"Oh, his name's Hopalong Cassidy," answered Red. "He's th' cuss that raised that ruction down in Mexico last spring. Rode his cayuse in a saloon and played with the loungers and had to shoot one before he got out. When he did get out he had to fight a whole bunch of Greasers an' even potted their marshal, who had th' drop on him. Then he returned and visited the marshal about a month later, took his gun away from him an' then cut th' cards to see if he was a prisoner or not. He's a shore funny cuss."
The tenderfoot gasped his amazement. "Are you not fooling with me?" he asked.
"Tell him yu came after that five hundred dollars reward and see," answered Red goodnaturedly.
"Holy smoke!" shouted Waffles as Hopalong won his sixth consecutive pot. "Did yu ever see such luck?" Frenchy grinned and some time later raked in his third. Salvation then staked his last cent against Hopalong's flush and dropped out.
Tenspot flipped to Waffles the money he had been juggling and Lefty searched his clothes for wealth. Buck, still leaning against the bar, grinned and winked at Johnny, who was pouring hair-raising tales into the receptive ears of the stranger. Thereupon Johnny confided to his newly found acquaintance the facts about the game, nearly causing that person to explode with delight.
Waffles pushed back his chair, stood up and stretched. At the finish of a yawn he grinned at his late adversary. "I'm all in, yu old son-of-a-gun. Yu shore can play draw. I'm goin' to try yu again some time. I was beat fair an' square an' I ain't got no kick comin', none whatever," he remarked, as he shook hands with Hopalong.
"'Oh, we're that gang from th' O-Bar-O," hummed the Kid as he sauntered in. One cheek was slightly swollen and his clothes shed dust at every step. "Who wins?" he inquired, not having heard Waffles.
"They did, d—n it!" exploded Bigfoot.
One of the Kid's peculiarities was revealed in the unreasoning and hasty conclusions he arrived at. From no desire to imply unfairness, but rather because of his bitterness against failure of any kind and his loyalty to Waffles, came his next words: "Mebby they skinned yu."
Like a flash Waffles sprang before him, his hand held up, palm out. "He don't mean nothin'—he's only a d—n-fool kid!" he cried.
Buck smiled and wrested the Colt from Johnny's ever-ready hand. "Here's another," he said. Red laughed softly and rolled Johnny on the floor. "Yu jackass," he whispered, "don't yu know better'n to make a gun-play when we needs them all?"
"What are we goin' to do?" asked Tex, glancing at the bulging pockets of Hopalong's chaps.
"We're goin' to punch cows again, that's what we're goin' to do," answered Bigfoot dismally.
"An' whose are we goin' to punch? We can't go back to the old man," grumbled Tex.
Salvation looked askance at Buck and then at the others. "Mebby," he began, "mebby we kin git a job on th' Bar—20." Then turning to Buck again he bluntly asked, "Are yu short of punchers?"
"Well, I might use some," answered the foreman, hesitating. "But I ain't got only one cook, an'—"
"We'll git yu th' cook all O.K.," interrupted Charley Lane vehemently. "Hi, yu cook!" he shouted, "amble in here an' git a rustle on!"
There was no reply, and after waiting for a minute he and Waffles went into the rear room, from which there immediately issued great chunks of profanity and noise. They returned looking pugnacious and disgusted, with a wildly fighting man who was more full of liquor than was the bottle which he belligerently waved.
"This here animated distillery what yu sees is our cook," said Waffles. "We eats his grub, nobody else. If he gits drunk that's our funeral; but he won't get drunk! If yu wants us to punch for yu say so an' we does; if yu don't, we don't."
"Well," replied Buck thoughtfully, "mebby I can use yu." Then with a burst of recklessness he added, "Yes, if I lose my job! But yu might sober that Greaser up if yu let him fall in th' horse trough."
As the procession wended its way on its mission of wet charity, carrying the cook in any manner at all, Frenchy waved his long lost sombrero at Buck, who stood in the door, and shouted, "Yu old son-of-a-gun, I'm proud to know yu!"
Buck smiled and snapped his watch shut "Time to amble," he said.