“Shore we have!” came explosively from the tail board of the chuck wagon. “Got to lay it agin my li’l axe an’ swat it with my big ol’ monkey wrench! An’ won’t them posts save me a lot of trouble hunting chips an’ firewood!”
“We’ve shore got to cut it, Red,” Hopalong repeated slowly. “You an’ Johnny an’ me’ll ride ahead after we cross the creek to-morrow an’ do it. I don’t hanker after no fight with all these cows on my han’s, but we’ve got to risk one.”
“Shore!” cried Johnny, hotly. “I can’t get over the gall of them fellers closing up the West Valley drive trail. Why, I never heard tell of such a thing afore!”
“We’re short-handed; we ought to have more’n we have to guard the herd if there’s a fight. If it stampedes—oh, well, that’ll work out to-morrow. The creek’s only about twelve miles away an’ we’ll start at daylight, so tumble in,” Hopalong said as he arose. “Red, I’m going out to take my shift—I’ll send Pete in. Stranger,” he added, turning, “I’m much obliged to you for the warning. They might ‘a’ caught us with our hands tied.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” hastily replied the stranger, who was in hearty accord with the plans, such as they were. “My name’s Hawkins, an’ I don’t like range fences no more’n you do. I used to hunt buffalo all over this part of the country before they was all killed off, an’ I allus rode where I pleased. I’m purty old, but I can still see an’ shoot; an’ I’m going to stick right along with you fellers an’ see it through. Every man counts in this game.”
“Well, that’s blamed white of you,” Hopalong replied, greatly pleased by the other’s offer. “But I can’t let you do it. I don’t want to drag you into no trouble, an’—”
“You ain’t dragging me none; I’m doing it myself. I’m about as mad as you are over it. I ain’t good for much no more, an’ if I shuffles off fighting barb wire I’ll be doing my duty. First it was nesters, then railroads an’ more nesters, then sheep, an’ now it’s wire—won’t it never stop? By the Lord, it’s got to stop, or this country will go to the devil an’ won’t be fit to live in. Besides, I’ve heard of your fellers before—I’ll tie to the Bar-20 any day.”
“Well, I reckon you must if you must; yo’re welcome enough,” laughed Hopalong, and he strode off to his picketed horse, leaving the others to discuss the fence, with the assistance of the cook, until Pete rode in.
When Hopalong rode in at midnight to arouse the others and send them out to relieve Skinny and his two companions, the cattle were quieter than he had expected to leave them, and he could see no change of weather threatening. He was asleep when the others turned in, or he would have been further assured in that direction.