Red Connors uncrossed his legs, picked his hat from the floor, and arose. He was grinning reminiscently, as well he might: to Red, any episode concerning the earlier life and activities of his friend Hopalong Cassidy was something set apart in value and sentiment from all other things; and Red knew more about Hopalong’s earlier days than any other man on the ranch. He studied me for an instant, nodded cheerfully, and strode slowly toward the door. Then he stopped and turned. “Well, that’s th’ story,” he said, and the smile grew. He hitched up his belts instinctively, and his blue eyes twinkled in his freckled face. “They grew ‘em tough, down in that country, in that day,” he added and then swung through the doorway. The story he had just told me was one that I do not wish to forget in any of its details, and to that end I shall here write it down. I had heard fragments of it before, and many allusions to it, and I had gathered the idea that whenever action happened it had happened swiftly. Now Red had welded it into its complete form and continuity. The time to do a thing is to do it now, and now it shall be done. Here’s the story.
302 pages, with a reading time of ~4.75 hours (75,614 words), and first published in 1934. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2017.
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They had obtained the cattle from the ranches within a day’s ride of the old Bar 20. Most of them were in their own brand, but to fill a herd of that size and specifications it had been necessary to call on their neighbors. They had Double Arrow, C 80, and O Bar O animals with their own. It was not a large herd as trail herds went, but in the old days of the Longhorn it is doubtful if any thousand animals, the equal of these, had trodden that trail. Buck Peters, who was foreman, had been critical to the point of arousing derisive profanity among his friends; but, being Buck Peters, he had not swerved an inch: and now the trail crew were drifting the finest and most uniform herd of four-year-olds that any of them had ever seen. They had an extra dozen for replacements, they had a good chuck wagon and cook, and they had a choice and hand-picked cavvy: eight horses to a man, and each remuda had trained night horses, a big-bellied animal for river work, and tough, swift mounts for the trail. Their road brand was Circle 4. The herd had passed the inspector, and they were well on their way.
The straw boss, riding on left point, saw a small dust cloud far up the trail. He turned in the saddle, waved his arm, and one of the flankers pushed up to his side. While he waited for his friend to join him, he looked back at the strung-out cattle, grazing as they moved. Perhaps he had let them graze too long; perhaps he should have pushed them until he learned about the next water. His gaze passed on and rested on the inconsequential drag, wreathed by dust. For a thousand-head herd, it was remarkably small. And then the flank rider joined him and stopped at his side.
“Take over th’ point, Lanky,” said Hopalong, a grin trying to displace the slight frown. He was feeling pretty good. His task was half over, for the last creek they had left behind them had been the halfway point. Up to now everything had gone well. “I’m goin’ up to meet th’ Kid.”
Lanky Smith nodded, his eyes on the little dust cloud up the trail.
“I reckon there’ll be plenty of water,” he replied. “You want we should tighten ’em up an’ make ’em step?”
“No,” grunted the straw boss. “Be time enough for that if I signal.”
Lanky watched his boss and friend ride away and nodded mechanically. It always was a good thing to be sure, especially when it had to do with a herd. It was a twenty-mile drive from the last water to the creek, and the weather was not too hot. It was a thirty-mile drive from the creek to the next water. If the creek was wet enough, the thirty-mile drive did not matter very much; but if the creek should be dry, it meant fifty miles without drinking the cattle. These were steers, hardy and full-grown; not cows, with calves. Nevertheless fifty miles without water was a good thing to know about in advance.
Hopalong pushed on at a lope, his eyes on the nearing dust cloud. What wind there was was keeping even with the rider, and the thick dust hid him. It would be a smother of dust when the cattle reached that place.
Johnny Nelson finally appeared in a rift, extended both arms out from his shoulders, and dropped them swiftly. Hopalong turned in the saddle and raised his big hat. Back with the herd, both point riders passed the signal along. The spread-out herd compacted into a line four to six animals wide and moved with faster stride. The dust suddenly doubled, climbing higher near the tail end and making the drag rider swear. Farther back a lazy cook tightened the reins and cracked his whip over the team. The chuck wagon lurched and rumbled, swinging wide on the windward side, and went past the herd at some distance from it. The cavvy, loafing along and grazing beyond the course of the chuck wagon, showed more activity. The day wrangler sent it ahead briskly. If there was any water at all in the creek, the horses must have it. Everything, should the cattle go thirsty, would depend upon horseflesh. They might have to cover several miles to the cattle’s one.
Johnny pulled up. He was hardly out of his teens, but he had worked and was working with good cowmen. He was a good cowman himself.
“Little puddle in th’ crick bed, about eighty rods south, around th’ bend,” he shouted. “It’s dry every place else.”
“Enough for th’ cavvy?” yelled the trail boss.
“Yeah, if they don’t puddle it,” answered Johnny. He glanced at the distant horse herd. “Hadn’t I better ride over an’ tell Skinny?”
“Yes, an’ stay with him. We’ll see you at th’ crick,” answered the boss, his gaze on the chuck wagon. “Pass th’ news on to th’ cook, so he can get there first an’ fill up his barrel. You tell him if he riles that water, I’ll bust his neck!”
“I’ll bust it for you, before you get there,” replied Johnny, with a grin, and he was on his way to help Skinny Thompson with the cavvy.