“Han’s up!” roared Stevenson, also covering the stranger. “So yo’re another one of ’em, hey? We’re in luck to-day. Watch him, boys, till I get his gun. If he moves, drop him quick.”
“You damned fool!” cried Ferris, white with rage. “He ain’t no thief, an’ neither am I! My name’s Ben Ferris an’ I live in Winchester. Why, that man you’ve got is Hopalong Cassidy—Cassidy, of the Bar-20!”
“Sit still—you can talk later, mebby,” replied Stevenson, warily approaching him. “Watch him, boys!”
“Hold on!” shouted Ferris, murder in his eyes. “Don’t you try that on me! I’ll get one of you before I go; I’ll shore get one! You can listen a minute, an’ I can’t get away.”
“All right; talk quick.”
Ferris pleaded as hard as he knew how and called attention to the condition of the prisoner. “If he did take the wrong cayuse he was too blind drunk to know it! Can’t you see he was!” he cried.
“Yep; through yet?” asked Stevenson, quietly.
“No! I ain’t started yet!” Ferris yelled. “He did me a good turn once, one that I can’t never repay, an’ I’m going to stop this murder or go with him. If I go I’ll take one of you with me, an’ my friends an’ outfit’ll get the rest.”
“Wait till Old John gets here,” suggested Jed to Charley. “He ought to know this feller.”
“For the Lord’s sake!” snorted Charley. “He won’t show up for a week. Did you hear that, fellers?” he laughed, turning to the others.
“Stranger,” began Stevenson, moving slowly ahead again. “You give us yore guns an’ sit quiet till we gets this feller out of the way. We’ll wait till Old John Ferris comes before doing anything with you. He ought to know you.”
“He knows me all right; an’ he’d like to see me hung,” replied the stranger. “I won’t give up my guns, an’ you won’t lynch Hopalong Cassidy while I can pull a trigger. That’s flat!” He began to talk feverishly to gain time and his eyes lighted suddenly. Seeing that Jed White was wavering, Stevenson ordered them to go on with the work they had come to perform, and he watched Ferris as a cat watches a mouse, knowing that he would be the first man hit if the stranger got a chance to shoot. But Ferris stood up very slowly in his stirrups so as not to alarm the five with any quick movement, and shouted at the top of his voice, grabbing off his sombrero and waving it frantically. A faint cheer reached his ears and made the lynchers turn quickly and look behind them. Nine men were tearing towards them at a dead gallop and had already begun to forsake their bunched-up formation in favor of an extended line. They were due to arrive in a very few minutes and caused Mr. Ferris’ heart to overflow with joy.
“Me an’ my outfit,” he said, laughing softly and waving his hand towards the newcomers, “started out this morning to round up a bunch of cows, an’ we got jackasses instead. Now lynch him, damn you!”