When he rode into the corral at the ranch he saw that another sign had been put on the corral wall. He had destroyed the first, speaking his mind in full at the time. He swept his gloved hand upward with a rush, tore the flimsy board from its fastenings, broke it to pieces across his saddle, and tossed the fragments from him. He was angry, for he had warned the outfit that they were carrying the joke too far, that Johnny was giving way to hysterical rage more frequently, and might easily do something that they all would regret. And he felt sorry for the Kid; he knew what Johnny’s feelings were and he made up his mind to start a few fights himself if the persecution did not cease. When he stepped into the bunk house and faced his friends they listened to a three-minute speech that made them squirm, and as he finished talking the deep voice of the foreman endorsed the promises he had just heard made, for Buck had entered the gallery without being noticed. The joke had come to an end.
When Johnny rode in that evening he was surprised to find Hopalong waiting for him a short distance from the corral and he replied to his friend’s gesture by riding over to him. “What’s up now?” he asked.
“Come along with me. I want to talk to you for a few minutes,” and Hopalong led the way toward the open, followed by Johnny, who was more or less suspicious. Finally Hopalong stopped, turned, and looked his companion squarely in the eyes. “Kid, I’m in dead earnest. This ain’t no fool joke—now you tell me what that ghost looked like, how he acted, an’ all about it. I mean what I say, because now I know that you saw something. If it wasn’t a ghost it was made to look like one, anyhow. Now go ahead.”
“I’ve told you a dozen times already,” retorted Johnny, his face flushing. “I’ve begged you to believe me an’ told you that I wasn’t fooling. How do I know you ain’t now? I’m not going to tell—”
“Hold on; yes, you are. Yo’re going to tell it slow, an’ just like you saw it,” Hopalong interrupted hastily. “I know I’ve doubted it, but who wouldn’t! Wait a minute—I’ve done a heap of thinking in the past few days an’ I know that you saw a ghost. Now, everybody knows that there ain’t no such thing as ghosts; then what was it you saw? There’s a game on, Kid, an’ it’s a dandy; an’ you an’ me are going to bust it up an’ get the laugh on the whole blasted crowd, from Buck to Cowan.”
Johnny’s suspicions left him with a rush, for his old Hoppy was one man in a thousand, and when he spoke like that, with such sharp decision, Johnny knew what it meant. Hopalong listened intently and when the short account was finished he put out his hand and smiled.
“We’re the fools, Kid; not you. There’s something crooked going on in that canyon, an’ I know it! But keep mum about what we think.”