The Bar-20 Three
Blank pages have been eliminated.
Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in theoriginal.
A few typographical errors have been corrected.
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THE BAR-20 THREE
CLARENCE E. MULFORD
"Johnny Nelson," "Hopalong Cassidy," "Bar-20 Days,""Buck Peters, Ranchman," "The Man from Bar-20,""Bar-20," "The Coming of Cassidy," etc.
FRANK E. SCHOONOVER
A. L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with A. C. McClurg & Co.
A. C. McClurg & Co.
Published April, 1921
Copyrighted in Great Britain
|I.||"Put a 'T' in It"||1|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|XXIV.||Squared Up All Around||344|
The Bar-20 Three
"PUT A 'T' IN IT"
Idaho Norton, laughing heartily, backed out ofthe barroom of Quayle's hotel and trod firmly on thefoot of Ward Corwin, sheriff of the county, who wasabout to pass the door. Idaho wheeled, a casual apologytrembling on his lips, to hear a biting, sarcastic flow ofwords, full of profanity, and out of all proportion to thecareless injury. The sheriff's coppery face was a deepercolor than usual and bore an expression not pleasant to see.The puncher stepped back a pace, alert, lithe, balanced, theapology forgotten, and gazed insolently into the peaceofficer's wrathful eyes.
"—an' why don't you look where yo're steppin'? Don'tyou know how to act when you come to town?" snarledthe sheriff, finishing his remarks.
Idaho looked him over coolly. "I know how to act inany company, even yourn. Just now I ain't actin'—I'mwaitin'."
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' outloud that that ain't no good, here an' now; an' I'm waitin'to take it away from you an' use it myself. You beentrustin' too cussed much to that nickel badge."
Bill Trask, deputy, who had a reputation not to be overlooked,now took a hand from the rear, eager to add to hislist of victims from any of that outfit. The puncher wasbetween him and the sheriff, and hardly could watch themboth. Trask gently shook his belt and said three unprintablewords which usually started a fight, and then glaredover his shoulder at a sudden interruption, tense andangry.
"Shut up, you!" said the voice, and he saw a two-gunstranger slouching away from the hotel wall. The deputytook him in with one quick glance and then his eyes returnedto those of the stranger and rested there while aslight prickling sensation ran up his spine. He had lookedinto many angry eyes, and in many kinds of circumstances,but never before had his back given him a warning quiteso plainly. He grew restless and wanted to look away,but dared not; and while he hung in the balance of hesitationthe 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 arethree chumps to get all het up over a little thing like that.Mebby his toes are tender—but what of it? He ain't nobaby, leastawise he don't look like one. An' I'm tellin' you,an' yore badge-totin' friend, that I 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, othersjoined in and pushed between the belligerents; and in aminute the peace officers had turned the corner, Idaho wasslowly walking toward the two-gun stranger and thecrowd was going about its business.
"Have a drink?" asked the puncher, grinning as hepushed back his hat.
"Didn't I just say that I knowed how to act?" chuckledthe stranger, turning on his heel and following his companionthrough the door. "You must 'a' met them twobefore."
"Too cussed often. What'll you have? Make mine acigar, too, Ed. No more liquor for me today—Corwindon't forget."
The bartender closed the box and slid it onto the backbaragain. "No, he don't," he said. "An' Trask is worse,"he added, looking significantly at the stranger, whose cigarwas now going to his satisfaction and who was smilinglyregarding Idaho, and who seemed to be pleased by thefrank return scrutiny.
"You ain't a stranger here no longer," said Idaho,blowing out a cloud of smoke. "You got two good enemies,an' a one-hoss friend. Stayin' long?"
"About half an hour. I got a little bunch of cows onth' drive west of here, an' they ought to be at Twitchell an'Carpenter's corrals about now. Havin' rid in to fix up bedan' board for my little outfit, I'm now on my way to finishdeliverin' th' herd. See you later if yo're in town tonight."
"I don't aim to go back to th' ranch till tomorrow,"replied Idaho, and he hesitated. "I'm sorry you hornedin on that ruckus—there's mebby trouble bloomin' out ofthat for you. Don't you get careless till yo're a day'sride away from this town. Here, before you go, meet EdDoane. He's one of th' few white men in this runt of atown."
The bartender shook hands across the bar. "Pleasedto meet up with you, Mr.—Mr.——?"
"Nelson," prompted the stranger. "How do you do,Mr. Doane?"
"Half an' half," answered the dispenser of liquids, andthen waved a large hand at the smiling youth. "Shakehan's with Idaho Norton, who was never closer to Idahothan Parsons Corners, thirty miles northwest of here.Idaho's a good boy, but shore impulsive. He's spent mostof his life practicin' th' draw, et cetery; an' most of hismoney has went for ca'tridges. Some folks say it ain'tbeen wasted. Will you gents smoke a cigar with me?"
After a little more careless conversation Johnny noddedhis adieus, mounted and rode south. Not long thereafterhe came within sight of the Question-Mark, Twitchell andCarpenter's local ranch.
Its valley sloped eastward, following the stream windingdown its middle between tall cottonwoods, and thehorizon was limited by the tops of the flanking hills, whichdipped and climbed and zigzagged into the gray of theeast, where great sand hills reared their glistening tops andthe hopeful little creek sank out of sight into the dried,salty bed of a one-time lake. Near the trail were twobuildings, a small stockaded corral and a wire-fencedpasture of twenty acres; and the Question-Mark brand,known wherever cattlemen congregated, even beyond theCanadian line, had been splashed with red paint on thewall of the larger building. The glaring, silent interrogation-markchallenged every passing eye and had startedmany curious, grim, and cynical trains of thought in theminds of tired and thirsty wayfarers along the trail. Tothe north of the twenty-acre pasture a herd of SV cattlegrazed, spread out widely, too tired, too content with theirfeeding to need much attention.
Johnny saw the great, red question-mark and instantlydrew rein, staring at it. "Why?" he muttered, and thengrew silent for a moment. Shaking his head savagely heurged the horse on again, and again glanced at the crimsoninterrogation. "D—n you!" he growled. "There ain'tno man livin' can answer."
He passed the herd at a distance and rode up to thelarger building, where a figure suddenly appeared in thedoorway, looked out from under a shielding hand andquickly stepped forward to meet him.
"Hello, Nelson!" came the cheery greeting.
"Hello, Ridley!" replied Johnny. "Glad to see youagain. Thought I'd bring 'em down to you, an' save yougoin' up th' trail after 'em. Why don't you paint out thatglarin' question-mark on th' side of th' house?"
Ridley slapped his hands together and let out a roar oflaughter. "Has it got you, too?" he demanded in unfeigneddelight.
"Not as much as it would before I got married," repliedJohnny. "I'm beginnin' to see a reason for livin'."
"Good!" exclaimed Ridley. "If I ever meet yore wifeI'll tell her somethin' that'll make her dreams sweet." Theexpression of his face changed swiftly. "Do youknow—" he considered, and changed the form of hiswords. "You'd be surprised if you knew th' number ofpeople hit by that painted question-mark. I've had 'emride in here an' start all kinds of conversations with me;th' gospel sharps are th' worst. One man blew his brainsout in Quayle's hotel because of what that sign startedworkin' in his mind. Go look at it: it's full of bulletholes!"
"I don't have to," replied Johnny, and quickly answeredhis companion's unspoken challenge. "An' I can sleepunder it, an' smile, cuss you!" He glanced at the distantcattle. "Have you looked 'em over?"
Ridley nodded. "They're in good shape. Ready tocount 'em now?"
"Be glad to, an' get 'em off my han's."
"Bring 'em up in front of th' pasture, an' I'll wait foryou there," said Ridley.
Johnny wheeled and then checked his horse. "Whatkind of fellers are Corwin an' Trask?" he asked.
Ridley looked up at him, a curious expression on hisface. "Why?"
"Oh, nothin'; I was just wonderin'."
"As long as you ain't aimin' to stop around these partsfor long, th' less you know about 'em th' better. I'll bewaitin' at th' pasture."
Johnny rode off and started the herd again, and when itstopped it was compacted into a long V, with the pointfacing the pasture gate, and it poured its units from thispoint in a steady stream between the two horsemen at theopen gate, who faced each other across the hurrying processionand built up another herd on the other side, onewhich spread out and grazed without restraint, unless itbe that of a wire fence. And with the shrinking of thefirst and the expanding of the second the SV ownershipchanged into that of the Question-Mark.
The shrewd, keen-eyed buyer for Twitchell and Carpenterlooked up as the gate closed after the last steer andsmiled across the gap at the SV foreman as he announcedhis count.
Johnny nodded. "My figgers, to a T," he said. "That2-Star steer don't belong to us. Joined up with us somewhere 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 agood bunch of four-year-olds. You'll have to wait till Iget to town, for I ain't got a blank check left, an' I shoreain't got no one thousand one hundred and forty-threedollars layin' around down here. Want cash or acheck?"
"If I took a check I'd have to send somebody up toSherman with it," replied Johnny. "I might take it atthat, if I was goin' right back. Better make it cash,Ridley."
Ridley grinned. "I've swept up this part of th' countrypurty 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 atQuayle's?"
"You called it," answered Johnny, wheeling. He rodeoff, picked up his small outfit and led the way to Mesquite,where he hoped to spend but one night. The little SVgroup cantered over the thin trail in the wake of their bobbingchuck wagon, several miles ahead of them, andreached the town well ahead of