Bar-20 Days

      by William MacLeod Raine / Western

Bar-20 Days
Produced by Dagny; John Bickers

BAR-20 DAYS

By Clarence E. Mulford

AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED TO ”M. D.”

BAR-20 DAYS

CHAPTER I

ON A STRANGE RANGE

Two tired but happy punchers rode into the coast town and dismounted infront of the best hotel. Putting up their horses as quickly as possiblethey made arrangements for sleeping quarters and then hastened out toattend to business. Buck had been kind to delegate this mission to themand they would feel free to enjoy what pleasures the town might afford.While at that time the city was not what it is now, nevertheless it wascapable of satisfying what demands might be made upon it by two veryactive and zealous cow-punchers. Their first experience began as theyleft the hotel.

”Hey, you cow-wrastlers!” said a not unpleasant voice, and they turnedsuspiciously as it continued: ”You've shore got to hang up them gunswith the hotel clerk while you cavorts around on this range. This is_fence_ country.”

They regarded the speaker's smiling face and twinkling eyes and laughed.”Well, yo're the foreman if you owns that badge,” grinned Hopalong,cheerfully. ”We don't need no guns, nohow, in this town, we don't.Plumb forgot we was toting them. But mebby you can tell us where lawyerJeremiah T. Jones grazes in daylight?”

”Right over yonder, second floor,” replied the marshal. ”An' cometo think of it, mebby you better leave most of yore cash with theguns--somebody'll take it away from you if you don't. It'd be an awfultemptation, an' flesh is weak.”

”Huh!” laughed Johnny, moving back into the hotel to leave his gun,closely followed by Hopalong. ”Anybody that can turn that little trickon me an' Hoppy will shore earn every red cent; why, we've been toKansas City!”

As they emerged again Johnny slapped his pocket, from which sounded amusical jingling. ”If them weak people try anything on us, we may comebetween them and _their_ money!” he boasted.

”From the bottom of my heart I pity you,” called the marshal, watchingthem depart, a broad smile illuminating his face. ”In about twenty-fourhours they'll put up a holler for me to go git it back for 'em,” hemuttered. ”An' I almost believe I'll do it, too. I ain't never seen noneof that breed what ever left a town without empty pockets an' achingheads--an' the smarter they think they are the easier they fall.” Afleeting expression of discontent clouded the smile, for the lure of theopen range is hard to resist when once a man has ridden free underits sky and watched its stars. ”An' I wish I was one of 'em again,” hemuttered, sauntering on.

Jeremiah T. Jones, Esq., was busy when his door opened, but he leanedback in his chair and smiled pleasantly at their bow-legged entry,waving them towards two chairs. Hopalong hung his sombrero on a letterpress and tipped his chair back against the wall; Johnny hung grimly tohis hat, sat stiffly upright until he noticed his companion's pose,and then, deciding that everything was all right, and that Hopalong wasbetter up in etiquette than himself, pitched his sombrero dexterouslyover the water pitcher and also leaned against the wall. Nobody couldlose him when it came to doing the right thing.

”Well, gentlemen, you look tired and thirsty. This is considered goodfor all human ailments of whatsoever nature, degree, or wheresoeverlocated, in part or entirety, _ab initio_,” Mr. Jones remarked, fillingglasses. There was no argument and when the glasses were empty, hecontinued: ”Now what can I do for you? From the Bar-20? Ah, yes; I wasexpecting you. We'll get right at it,” and they did. Half an hour laterthey emerged on the street, free to take in the town, or to have thetown take them in,--which was usually the case.

”What was that he said for us to keep away from?” asked Johnny with keeninterest.

”Sh! Not so loud,” chuckled Hopalong, winking prodigiously.

Johnny pulled tentatively at his upper lip but before he could reply hiscompanion had accosted a stranger.

”Friend, we're pilgrims in a strange land, an' we don't know the trails.Can you tell us where the docks are?”

”Certainly; glad to. You'll find them at the end of this street,” and hesmilingly waved them towards the section of the town which Jeremiah T.Jones had specifically and earnestly warned them to avoid.

”Wonder if you're as thirsty as me?” solicitously inquired Hopalong ofhis companion.

”I was just wondering the same,” replied Johnny. ”Say,” he confided ina lower voice, ”blamed if I don't feel sort of lost without that Colt.Every time I lifts my right laig she goes too high--don't feel natural,nohow.”

”Same here; I'm allus feeling to see if I lost it,” Hopalong responded.”There ain't no rubbing, no weight, nor nothing.”

”Wish I had something to put in its place, blamed if I don't.”

”Why, now yo're talking--mebby we can buy something,” grinned Hopalong,happily. ”Here's a hardware store--come on in.”

The clerk looked up and laid aside his novel. ”Good-morning, gentlemen;what can I do for you? We've just got in some fine new rifles,” hesuggested.

The customers exchanged looks and it was Hopalong who first found hisvoice. ”Nope, don't want no rifles,” he replied, glancing around.”To tell the truth, I don't know just what we do want, but we wantsomething, all right--got to have it. It's a funny thing, come to thinkof it; I can't never pass a hardware store without going in an' buyingsomething. I've been told my father was the same way, so I must inheritit. It's the same with my pardner, here, only he gets his weakness fromhis whole family, and it's different from mine. He can't pass a saloonwithout going in an' buying something.”

”Yo're a cheerful liar, an' you know it,” retorted Johnny. ”You know thereason why I goes in saloons so much--you'd never leave 'em if I didn'tdrag you out. He inherits that weakness from his grandfather, twiceremoved,” he confided to the astonished clerk, whose expression didn'tknow what to express.

”Let's see: a saw?” soliloquized Hopalong. ”Nope; got lots of 'em, an'they're all genuine Colts,” he mused thoughtfully. ”Axe? Nails? Augurs?Corkscrews? Can we use a corkscrew, Johnny? Ah, thought I'd wake you up.Now, what was it Cookie said for us to bring him? Bacon? Got any bacon?Too bad--oh, don't apologize; it's all right. Cold chisels--that's thething if you ain't got no bacon. Let me see a three-pound cold chiselabout as big as that,”--extending a huge and crooked forefinger,--”an'with a big bulge at one end. Straight in the middle, circling off intoa three-cornered wavy edge on the other side. What? Look here! You can'ttell us nothing about saloons that we don't know. I want a three-poundcold chisel, any kind, so it's cold.”

Johnny nudged him. ”How about them wedges?”

”Twenty-five cents a pound,” explained the clerk, groping for hisbearings.

”They might do,” Hopalong muttered, forcing the article mentioned intohis holster. ”Why, they're quite hocus-pocus. You take the brother tomine, Johnny.”

”Feels good, but I dunno,” his companion muttered. ”Little wide at thesharp end. Hey, got any loose shot?” he suddenly asked, whereat Hopalongbeamed and the clerk gasped. It didn't seem to matter whether theybought bacon, cold chisels, wedges, or shot; yet they looked sober.

”Yes, sir; what size?”

”Three pounds of shot, I said!” Johnny rumbled in his throat. ”Nevermind what size.”

”We never care about size when we buy shot,” Hopalong smiled. ”But,Johnny, wouldn't them little screws be better?” he asked, pointingeagerly.

”Mebby; reckon we better get 'em mixed--half of each,” Johnny gravelyreplied. ”Anyhow, there ain't much difference.”

The clerk had been behind that counter for four years, and executingand filling orders had become a habit with him; else he would have giventhem six pounds of cold chisels and corkscrews, mixed. His mouth wasstill open when he weighed out the screws.

”Mix 'em! Mix 'em!” roared Hopalong, and the stunned clerk complied, andcharged them for the whole purchase at the rate set down for screws.

Hopalong started to pour his purchase into the holster which, being openat the bottom, gayly passed the first instalment through to the floor.He stopped and looked appealingly at Johnny, and Johnny, in pain fromholding back screams of laughter, looked at him indignantly. Then aguileless smile crept over Hopalong's face and he stopped the openingwith a wad of wrapping paper and disposed of the shot and screws, Johnnyfollowing his laudable example. After haggling a moment over the billthey paid it and walked out, to the apparent joy of the clerk.

”Don't laugh, Kid; you'll spoil it all,” warned Hopalong, as he notedsigns of distress on his companion's face. ”Now, then; what was it wesaid about thirst? Come on; I see one already.”

Having entered the saloon and ordered, Hopalong beamed upon thebartender and shoved his glass back again. ”One more, kind stranger;it's good stuff.”

”Yes, feels like a shore-enough gun,” remarked Johnny, combining twothoughts in one expression, which is brevity.

The bartender looked at him quickly and then stood quite still andlistened, a puzzled expression on his face.

_Tic--tickety-tick--tic-tic_, came strange sounds from the other side ofthe bar. Hopalong was intently studying a chromo on the wall and Johnnygazed vacantly out of the window.

”What's that? What in the deuce is that?” quickly demanded the man withthe apron, swiftly reaching for his bung-starter.

_Tickety-tic-tic-tic-tic-tic_, the noise went on, and Hopalong, slowlyrolling his eyes, looked at the floor. A screw rebounded and struck hisfoot, while shot were rolling recklessly.

”Them's making the noise,” Johnny explained after critical survey.

”Hang it! I knowed we ought to 'a' got them wedges!” Hopalong exclaimed,petulantly, closing the bottom of the sheath. ”Why, I won't have no gunleft soon 'less I holds it in.” The complaint was plaintive.

”Must be filtering through the stopper,” Johnny remarked. ”But don't itsound nice, especially when it hits that brass cuspidor!”

The bartender, grasping the mallet even more firmly, arose on his toesand peered over the bar, not quite sure of what he might discover. Hehad read of infernal machines although he had never seen one. ”What theblazes!” he exclaimed in almost a whisper; and then his face went hard.”You get out of here, quick! You've had too much already! I've seendrunks, but--G'wan! Get out!”

”But we ain't begun yet,” Hopalong interposed hastily. ”You see--”

”Never mind what I see! I'd hate to see what you'll be seeing beforelong. God help you when you finish!” rather impolitely interrupted thebartender. He waved the mallet and made for the end of the counter withno hesitancy and lots of purpose in his stride. ”G'wan, now! Get out!”

”Come on, Johnny; I'd shoot him only we didn't put no powder with theshot,” Hopalong remarked sadly, leading the way out of the saloon andtowards the hardware store.

”You better get out!” shouted the man with the mallet, waving the weapondefiantly. ”An' don't you never come back again, neither,” he warned.

”Hey, it leaked,” Hopalong said pleasantly as he closed the door of thehardware store behind him, whereupon the clerk jumped and reached forthe sawed-off shotgun behind the counter. Sawed-off shotguns are greatinstitutions for arguing at short range, almost as effective as dynamitein clearing away obstacles.

”Don't you come no nearer!” he cried, white of face. ”You git out, orI'll let _this_ leak, an' give you _all_ shot, an' more than you cancarry!”

”Easy! Easy there, pardner; we want them wedges,” Hopalong replied,somewhat hurriedly. ”The others ain't no good; I choked on the veryfirst screw. Why, I wouldn't hurt you for the world,” Hopalong assuredhim, gazing interestedly down the twin tunnels.

Johnny leaned over a nail keg and loosed the shot and screws into it,smiling with childlike simplicity as he listened to the tintinnabulationof the metal shower among the nails. ”It _does_ drop when you let go ofit,” he observed.

”Didn't I tell you it would? I allus said so,” replied Hopalong, lookingback to the clerk and the shotgun. ”Didn't I, stranger?”

The clerk's reply was a guttural rumbling, ninety per cent profanity,and Hopalong, nodding wisely, picked up two wedges. ”Johnny, here's yoregun. If this man will stop talking to hisself and drop that lead-sprayerlong enough to take our good money, we'll wear em.”

He tossed a gold coin on the table, and the clerk, still holding tightlyto the shotgun, tossed the coin into the cash box and cautiouslyslid the change across the counter. Hopalong picked up the money and,emptying his holster into the nail keg, followed his companion tothe street, in turn followed slowly by the suspicious clerk. The doorslammed shut behind them, the bolt shot home, and the clerk sat down ona box and cogitated.

Hopalong hooked his arm through Johnny's and started down the street. ”Iwonder what that feller thinks about us, anyhow. I'm glad Buck sent Redover to El Paso instead of us. Won't he be mad when we tell him all thefun we've had?” he asked, grinning broadly.

They were to meet Red at Dent's store on the way back and ride hometogether.


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