“Hey! Come back here, you chump!” cried Hopalong, running forward. “He’ll get you, shore!”
“That’s a chance I’ve got to take if I get him,” was the reply.
A puff of smoke sailed from behind the boulder on the other bank and Hopalong, kneeling for steadier aim, fired and then followed his friend. Red was downstream casting at a rock across the torrent but the wind toyed with the heavy, water-soaked reata as though it were a string. As Hopalong reached his side a piece of driftwood ducked under the water and an angry humming sound died away downstream. As the report reached their ears a jet of water spurted up into Red’s face and he stepped back involuntarily.
“He’s so shaky,” Hopalong remarked, looking back at the wreath of smoke above the boulder. “I reckon I must have hit him harder than I thought in Harlan’s. Gee! He’s wild as blazes!” he yelled as a bullet hummed high above his head and struck sharply against the rock wall.
“Yes,” Red replied, coiling the rope. “I was trying to rope that rock over there. If I could anchor to that, the current would push us over quick. But it’s too far with this wind blowing.”
“We can’t do nothing here ’cept get plugged. He’ll be getting steadier as he rests from his fight with the water,” Hopalong remarked, and added quickly, “Say, remember that meadow back there a ways? We can make her from there, all right.”
“Yo’re right; that’s what we’ve got to do. He’s sending ’em nearer every shot—Gee! I could ‘most feel the wind of that one. An’ blamed if it ain’t stopped raining. Come on.”
They clambered up the slippery, muddy bank to where they had left their horses, and cantered back over their trail. Minute after minute passed before the cautious skulker among the rocks across the stream could believe in his good fortune. When he at last decided that he was alone again he left his shelter and started away, with slowly weakening stride, over cleanly washed rock where he left no trail.
It was late in the afternoon before the two irate punchers appeared upon the scene, and their comments, as they hunted slowly over the hard ground, were numerous and bitter. Deciding that it was hopeless in that vicinity, they began casting in great circles on the chance of crossing the trail further back from the river. But they had little faith in their success. As Red remarked, snorting like a horse in his disgust, “I’ll bet four dollars an’ a match he’s swum down the river clean to hell just to have the laugh on us.” Red had long since given it up as a bad job, though continuing to search, when a shout from the distant Hopalong sent him forward on a run.
“Hey, Red!” cried Hopalong, pointing ahead of them. “Look there! Ain’t that a house?”
“Naw; course not! It’s a—it’s a ship!” Red snorted sarcastically. “What did you think it might be?”
“G’wan!” retorted his companion. “It’s a mission.”