Hopalong Cassidy’s tiger-cub takes a vengeance trail on his own–up against terrible odds in the grandest Western story Mulford ever wrote! Mesquite trails to the hidden reservoir of stolen Lazy S cows, narrowly escaping murder time and again. Expert trailing, some daredevil riding, and two-gun shooting make Mesquite’s story as thrilling as any of those gallant riders, Hopalong Cassidy and Tex Ewalt of the old Bar 20.
322 pages, with a reading time of ~5.0 hours (80,648 words), and first published in 1928. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2018.
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The rider slowed and stopped as he topped the little rise, and looked through close-lidded eyes along the desert track, following it as it meandered over the straighter, more direct openings through sage, cactus, and greasewood, at times wavering and thinning in the quivering iridescence of heat waves streaming up from the hot desert floor.
There was no movement, no life save of himself and his horse, for this was the midday hour, and the desert dwellers sought sanctuary of warrens and the shade of sage and chaparral. The desert was hushed, deserted, concealing a teeming and tumultuous life as vicious as it was swift and short-lived. A distant range of burned brown mountains was indistinct in the heat haze, seemingly close at hand; but he knew better.
This was the trail he had been looking for, the main track between Franklin and Desert Wells. His short cut, taken with the calm assurance of the desert bred, had saved him a full day of riding–nearly forty miles. There was nothing unusual about this scene, one way or another. It was an accustomed environment, revisited after a year or more of absence. The heat, hovering between one hundred twenty and one hundred thirty at this hour of the day, was nothing to become uneasy about; he sensed it without any particular thought, accepted it tacitly. The glare of the sun was stopped by the brim of his big sombrero, but the reflected light, pouring up almost like a material thing from the desert floor, caused his lids partly to close. He rode on, letting his horse pick its way, set its own pace. A man on a holiday, with a year’s wages in his pockets, had no need to hasten when haste was foolish. He had a destination, but also he had all the time he wanted in which to reach it, and the destination was not so important that it could not be changed if he felt like it. For weeks he had been riding south from a far Northern range, angling and pausing, riding slowly and riding rapidly, as his humour and the circumstances directed. He still had many miles to cover, in as many hours, days, or weeks as he chose.
The last year had made a tremendous difference in his life; in fact, the change had begun a year or two earlier, but this had been more of a probationary period, so tactfully imposed and directed that he had hardly been conscious of it. A mere youth, his careless steps had wandered down the easy slope that leads to crime and outlawry; but, through the influence of others, he had climbed the slope again before his digression had become really serious.
He smiled as he let his memory bring back that second year on the Montana range; as he thought, man by man, of that close-woven outfit, where daily precept had taken the place of preaching; of the courage, loyalty, and clean thinking which had taken on a dignity, in his slowly opening eyes, that was very much worth while. He had learned by close personal contact, through days and nights, that honesty, truthfulness, justice, clean thoughts, consideration for others–that these things are not namby-pamby; that they are not signs and measures of weakness, not sickish, not things for which apologies should be made. He had learned that such attributes are coloured by the individuals who practise them; that the great factor is the nature of the man himself. He had known the opposite attributes, had associated with those who practised them almost as a profession; they had been a hard crowd; but he chuckled as he thought of that hardness: hard as they were, they would have broken, crumpled, had they came in contact with that Northern outfit; hard as glass, they were, but soft to a diamond. Why, there was one man in that Northern outfit who would have cut them down as a scythe cuts grass.
A whirling dust devil caught his attention, and he idly watched its mad, erratic course across the desert sands, glad when he saw it break and sift down to earth. He glanced about him carelessly, and then his horse snorted and stopped. It was trembling, its delicate nostrils playing nervously. A movement caught his searching gaze. Something dirty-coloured had moved past an opening in the sage.
Instinctively his knees pressed against the saddle skirts and sent the nervous horse moving from the trail at a tangent. His hand rose and fell, the spurting smoke spreading along the ground, the crashing roar lost in the immensities of flat space. Heavy bodies rose from the sand, winging ponderously aloft, reluctant to leave. He rode past the dead vulture, and then stopped quickly as he caught sight of the vulture’s magnet.
Face down on the sands was the body of a man, its neck showing a single slash where a vulture’s beak had ripped. This meant that the man had only just died, for otherwise he would have been torn to ribbons by now; but how long he had lain there helpless was conjecture, how long he had watched those restless scavengers waiting for him to breathe his last could not be known.