“Well, I couldn’t see his face, honest I couldn’t,” replied the stranger. “Every time I tried it I was shore blinded by the most awful an’ horrible neck-kerchief I’ve ever had the hard luck to lay my eyes on. Of all the drunks I ever met, them there colors was—Hey! Wait a minute!” he shouted at Hopalong’s back.
“Dave, gimme yore cayuse an’ a rifle—quick!” cried Hopalong from the middle of the street as he ran towards the store. “Hypocrite son-of-a-hoss-thief went an’ run mine off. Might ‘a’ knowed nobody but a thief could wear such a kerchief!”
“I’m with you!” shouted Dave, leading the way on the run towards the corral in the rear of his store.
“No, you ain’t with me, neither!” replied Hopalong, deftly saddling. “This ain’t no plain hoss-thief case—it’s a private grudge. See you later, mebby,” and he was pacing a cloud of dust towards the outskirts of the town.
Dave looked after him. “Well, that feller has shore got a big start on you, but he can’t keep ahead of that Doll of mine for very long. She can out-run anything in these parts. ’Sides, Cassidy’s cayuse looked sort of done up, while mine’s as fresh as a bird. That thief will get what’s coming to him, all right.”
MR. CASSIDY COGITATES
While Hopalong tried to find his horse, Ben Ferris pushed forward, circling steadily to the east and away from the direction of Hoyt’s corners, which was as much a menace to his health and happiness as the town of Grant, twenty miles to his rear. If he could have been certain that no danger was nearer to him than these two towns, he would have felt vastly relieved, even if his horse was not fresh. During the last hour he had not urged it as hard as he had in the beginning of his flight and it had dropped to a walk for minutes at a stretch. This was not because he felt that he had plenty of time, but for the reason that he understood horses and could not afford to exhaust his mount so early in the chase. He glanced back from time to time as if fearing what might be on his trail, and well he might fear. According to all the traditions and customs of the range, both of which he knew well, somewhere between him and Grant was a posse of hard-riding cow-punchers, all anxious and eager for a glance at him over their sights. In his mind’s eye he could see them, silent, grim, tenacious, reeling off the miles on that distance-eating lope. He had stolen a horse, and that meant death if they caught him. He loosened his gaudy kerchief and gulped in fear, not of what pursued, but of what was miles before him. His own saddle, strapped behind the one he sat in, bumped against him with each reach of the horse and had already made his back sore—but he must endure it for a time. Never in all his life had minutes been so precious.