Martin smiled as he finished tying the last prisoner. “That’s right, Nelson; you’ve got it on ’em this time. Make ’em chew it.”
HOPALONG LOSES A HORSE
For a month after their return from the San Miguel, Hopalong and his companions worked with renewed zest, and told and retold the other members of the outfit of their unusual experiences near the Mexican border. Word had come up to them that Martin had secured the conviction of the smugglers and was in line for immediate advancement. No one on the range had the heart to meet Johnny Nelson, for Johnny carried with him a piece of the ghost, and became pugnacious if his once-jeering friends and acquaintances refused to nibble on it. Cowan still sold his remarkable drink, but he had yielded to Johnny’s persuasive methods and now called it “Nelson’s Pet.”
One bright day the outfit started rounding up a small herd of three-year-olds, which Buck had sold, and by the end of the week the herd was complete and ready for the drive. This took two weeks and when Hopalong led his drive outfit through Hoyt’s Corners on its homeward journey he felt the pull of the town of Grant, some miles distant, and it was too strong to be resisted. Flinging a word of explanation to the nearest puncher, he turned to lope away, when Red’s voice checked him. Red wanted to delay his home-coming for a day or two and attend to a purely personal matter at a ranch lying to the west. Hopalong, knowing the reason for Red’s wish, grinned and told him to go, and not to propose until he had thought the matter over very carefully. Red’s reply was characteristic, and after arranging a rendezvous and naming the time, the two separated and rode toward their destinations, while the rest of the outfit kept on towards their ranch.
“A man owes something to all his friends,” Hopalong mused. In this case he owed a return game of draw poker to certain of Grant’s leading citizens, and he liked to pay his obligations when opportunity offered.
It was mid-afternoon when he topped a rise and saw below him the handful of shacks making up the town. A look of pleased interest flickered across his face as he noticed a patched and dirty tent pitched close up to the nearest shack. “Show!” he exclaimed. “Now, ain’t that luck! I’ll shore take it in. If it’s a circus, mebby it has a trick mule to ride—I’ll never forget that one up in Kansas City,” he grinned. But almost instantly a doubt arose and tempered the grin. “Huh! Mebby it’s the branding chute of some gospel sharp.” As he drew near he focussed his eyes on the canvas and found that his fears were justified.