In this first of four classic frontier novels, Louis L'Amour adds his own special brand to the life and adventures of one of America's favorite fictional cowboys, Hopalong Cassidy. In The Rustlers of West Fork, the quick-thinking, fast-shooting cowpuncher heads west to deliver a fortune in bank notes to his old friend, Dick Jordan. When he arrives at the Circle J, he discovers that the rancher and his daughter, Pam, are being held prisoner by a desperate band of outlaws led by the ruthless Avery Sparr and his partner Arnold Soper. Even if Hopalong Cassidy can free Jordan and Pam, he will have to lead them across rough and untamed Apache country, stalked by the outlaws who have vowed to gun him down. But Hopalong is no stranger to trouble, and before his guns or his temper cool, he's determines to round up Sparr and his gang and bring the outlaws to justice ... dead or alive! This classic tale of pursuit and survival is vintage L'Amour and adds new life and luster to the legend of Hopalong Cassidy.
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March 31, 1992
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Excerpt from Rustlers of West Fork by Louis L'Amour
HOPALONG CASSIDY WATCHED the old banker count the money with careful fingers. Fifteen thousand dollars was an amount to be handled with reverence and respect. As he watched the mounting stack of bills, Hopalong saw them less as the long green bills they were than as the cattle they represented ' the cattle and the work. Into that stack of bills was going money that had grown from days of cold wind and rain, nights of thunder and lightning, of restless herds poised for stampede, of rivers and washes running brim full with roaring flood waters, of dust, blistering sun, and the roar of rustlers' guns.
Into that pile so flat and green went more than money. Into that pile went months of brutal labor, the brindle steer that had killed a horse under him down in Lonetree Canyon, and the old mossyhorn who had fouled Lanky's rope on a juniper, putting him three weeks in bed with a broken leg. And into that pile went the kid from Toyah, who had ridden up to join them so full of vitality and exuberance, only to have his horse step into a prairie-dog hole while running ahead of a stampede. They had buried what was left of the kid and sent his hat and gun to a brother in El Paso.
"There she is, Hoppy," the banker said at last. "Buck will be mighty glad to get shut of that debt, I know. He's a man who takes bein' in debt harder'n any man I can think of, an' he's sure scrimped an' cut corners to have that much in three years!"
"Yeah," Cassidy agreed, "Buck's right conscientious about most things. He don't like to get into debt in the first place, but you know how it was with Dick Jordan. When he fell heir to that ranch out West he sold his cattle an' remuda to Buck, knowin' if there was one man around he could trust to pay ever' last red cent it was Buck.
"Came at a good time too. Buck had been talkin' about more cattle, an' with the additional range he could use, it would be a positive shame not to have 'em. Otherwise, he never would have gone into debt."
"You takin' this money West yourself " The banker's shrewd old eyes studied the silver head. "I know Buck can't afford to be away right now."
"Yeah, I'm takin' it West, an' glad of the chance. Old Dick was a friend of mine, too, an' I've heard a sight about that ranch o' his. Rightly, it belonged to his wife. It was part of an old Spanish grant, you know."
"Uh-huh. Helped draw up some o' the papers. Got a daughter now, I hear."
"Had her a long time. Shucks, she was fourteen or fifteen before they left here."
"Say" ' the banker turned around in his chair ' "who's goin' out there with you "
I'm goin' alone. Mesquite's off somewheres, as usual, an' Buck can't spare two men. Anyway, it ain't a two-man job."
"Maybe. Things out thataway are pretty lively. Had a letter from a friend of mine out to McClellan. Had his bank held up about three weeks ago, killed his cashier, wounded a deputy sheriff, then lost the durned posse."
"Lost 'em "
"Uh-huh, just plain lost 'em."
Hopalong slid off the desk and gathered up the money. "Well, Buck will be waitin' for me, so I'd better get into the leather an' ride to the ranch. But don't you worry about this money. I'll see it gets to Dick, as promised."
Tucking the packages of bills into his black shirt and drawing his belt tighter, he hitched his guns into an easier position on his dark-trousered hips and started for the door.