Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock, Josephine Paolucci and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: "They picked up our trail somehow ... they're about
three miles back on the flat just a-burnin' the ground"]
THE HEART OF THE RANGE
BY WILLIAM PATTERSON WHITE
"_The Rider of Golden Bar_," "_Hidden Trails_," "_Lynch Lawyers_,"
"_The Owner of the Lazy D_," "_Paradise Bend_," _etc_.
A GOOD HORSE AND A BETTER FRIEND
I. THE HORSE THIEF
II. THE YELLOW DOG
III. THE TALL STRANGER
IV. THE OLD LADY
VI. CHANGE OF PLAN
VII. THE RIDDLE
VIII. THE STARLIGHT
IX. THROWING SAND
X. THE BACK PORCH
XI. THE LOOKOUT
XII. THE DISCOVERY
XIII. A BOLD BAD MAN
XIV. THE SURPRISE
XV. FIRE! FIRE!
XVI. THE BAR S
XVII. SIGNED PAPER
XVIII. THE SHOWDOWN
XIX. THE SHOOTING
XX. DRAWING THE COVER
XXI. GONE AWAY
XXII. A CHECK
XXIII. TAKING FENCES
XXVI. THE QUARREL
XXVIII. THE LETTERS
XXIX. HUE AND CRY
XXX. THE REGISTER
XXXI. THE LAST TRICK
XXXII. THE END OF THE TRAIL
THE HEART OF THE RANGE
THE HORSE THIEF
It was a warm summer morning in the town of Farewell. Save a dozen
horses tied to the hitching-rail in front of various saloons and the
Blue Pigeon Store and Bill Lainey, the fat landlord of the hotel, who
sat snoring in a reinforced telegraph chair on the sidewalk in the
shade of his wooden awning, Main Street was a howling wilderness.
Dust overlay everything. It had not rained in weeks. In the blacksmith
shop, diagonally across the street from the hotel, Piney Jackson was
shoeing a mule. The mule was invisible, but one knew it was a mule
because Piney Jackson has just come out and taken a two-by-four from
the woodpile behind the shop. And it was a well-known fact that Piney
never used a two-by-four on any animal other than a mule. But this by
In the barroom of the Happy Heart Saloon there were only two customers
and the bartender. One of the former, a brown-haired, sunburnt young
man with ingenuous blue eyes, was singing:
"_Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
An' merrily jump the stile O!
Yore cheerful heart goes all the day,
Yore sad tires in a mile O_!"
Mr. Racey Dawson, having successfully sung the first verse, rested
both elbows on the bar and grinned at the bartender. That worthy
grinned back, and, knowing Mr. Dawson, slid the bottle along the bar.
"Have one yoreself, Bill," Mr. Dawson nodded to the bartender.
"Whu--where's Swing? Oh, yeah."
Mr. Dawson, head up, chest out, stepping high, and walking very
stiffly as befitted a gentleman somewhat over-served with liquor,
crossed the barroom to where bristle-haired Swing Tunstall sat on a
chair and slumbered, his head on his arms and his arms on a table.
Mr. Dawson stooped and blew into Mr. Tunstall's right ear. Mr.
Tunstall began to snore gently. Growing irritated by this continued
indifference on the part of Mr. Tunstall, Mr. Dawson seized the chair
by rung and back and incontinently dumped Mr. Tunstall all abroad on
the saloon floor.
Mr. Tunstall promptly hitched himself into a corner and drifted deeper
Mr. Dawson turned a perplexed face on the bartender.
"Now what you gonna do with a feller like that?" Mr. Dawson asked,
Mr. Jack Richie, manager of the Cross-in-a-box ranch, entering at the
moment, temporarily diverted Mr. Dawson's attention. For Mr. Dawson
had once ridden for the Cross-in-a-box outfit. Hence he was moved
literally to fall upon the neck of Mr. Richie.
"Lean on yore own breakfast," urged Mr. Richie, studiously dissembling
his joy at sight of his old friend, and carefully steering Mr. Dawson
against the bar. "Here, I know what you need. Drink hearty, Racey."
"'S'on me," declared Mr. Dawson. "Everythin's on me. I gug-got money,
I have, and I aim to spend it free an' plenty, 'cause there's more
where I'm goin'. An' I ain't gonna earn it punchin' cows, neither."
"Don't do anything rash," Mr. Richie advised, and took advantage of a
friend's privilege to be insulting. "I helped lynch a road-agent only
"Which the huh-holdup business is too easy for a live man," opined Mr.
Dawson. "We want somethin' mum-more diff-diff-diff'cult, me an' Swing
do, so we're goin' to Arizona where the gold grows. No more wrastlin'
cows. No more hard work for us. _We're_ gonna get rich quick, we are.
What you laughin' at?"
"I never laugh," denied Mr. Richie. "When yo're stakin' out claims
don't forget me."
"We won't," averred Mr. Dawson, solemnly. "Le's have another."
They had another--several others.
The upshot was that when Mr. Richie (who was the lucky possessor of
a head that liquor did not easily affect) departed homeward at four
P.M., he left behind him a sadly plastered Mr. Dawson.
Mr. Tunstall, of course, was still sleeping deeply and noisily.
But Mr. Dawson had long since lost interest in Mr. Tunstall. It is
doubtful whether he remembered that Mr. Tunstall existed. The two
had begun their party immediately after breakfast. Mr. Tunstall had
succumbed early, but Mr. Dawson had not once halted his efforts to
make the celebration a huge success. So it is not a subject for
surprise that Mr. Dawson, some thirty minutes after bidding Mr. Richie
an affectionate farewell, should stagger out into the street and ride
away on the horse of someone else.
The ensuing hours of the evening and the night were a merciful blank
to Mr. Dawson. His first conscious thought was when he awoke at dawn
on a side-hill, a sharp rock prodding him in the small of the back and
the bridle-reins of his dozing horse wound round one arm. Only it was
not his horse. His horse was a red roan. This horse was a bay. It
wasn't his saddle, either.
"Where's my hoss?" he demanded of the world at large and sat up
The sharp movement wrung a groan from the depths of his being. The
loss of his horse was drowned in the pains of his aching head. Never
was such all-pervading ache. He knew the top was coming off. He knew
it. He could feel it, and then did--with his fingers. He groaned
His tongue was dry as cotton, and it hurt him to swallow. He stood up,
but as promptly sat down. In a whisper--for speech was torture--he
began to revile himself for a fool.
"I might have known it," was his plaint. "I had a feelin' when I took
that last glass it was one too many. I never did know when to stop.
I'd like to know how I got here, and where my hoss is, and who belongs
to this one?"
He eyed the mount with disfavour. He had never cared for bays.
"An' that ain't much of a saddle, either," he went on with his
soliloquy. "Cheap saddle--looks like a boy's saddle--an' a old
saddle--bet Noah used one just like it--try to rope with that saddle
an' you'd pull the horn to hellen gone. Wonder what's in that
He pulled himself erect slowly and tenderly. His knees were very
shaky. His head throbbed like a squeezed boil, but--he wanted to learn
what was in that saddle-pocket. Possibly he might obtain therein a
clue to the horse's owner.
He slipped the strap of the pocket-flap, flipped it open, inserted his
fingers, and drew forth a small package wrapped in newspaper and tied
with the blue string affected by the Blue Pigeon Store in Farewell.
Mr. Dawson balanced the package on two fingers for a reflective
instant, then he snapped the string and opened the package.
"Socks an' a undershirt," he said, disgustedly, and started to say
more, but paused, for there was something queer about that undershirt.
His head was still spinning, and his eyes were sandy, but he perceived
quite plainly that there were narrow blue ribbons running round the
neck of that undershirt. He unrolled the socks and found them much
longer in the leg than the kind habitually worn by men. Mr. Dawson
agitatedly dived his hand once more into the saddle-pocket. And this
time he pulled out a tortoise-shell shuttle round which was wrapped
several inches of lingerie edging. But Mr. Dawson did not call it
lingerie edging. He called it tatting and swore again.
"That settles it," he said, cheerlessly. "I've stole some woman's
THE YELLOW DOG
It was a chastened Racey Dawson that returned to Farewell. He went
directly to the blacksmith shop.
"'Lo, Hoss Thief," was Piney Jackson's cheerful greeting.
"Whose is it?" demanded Racey Dawson, wiping his hot face. "Whose hoss
have I stole?"
"Oh, you'll catch it," chuckled the humorous Piney. "Yep, you betcha.
You've got a gall, you have. Camly prancing out of a saloon an'
glooming onto a lady's hoss. What kind o' doin's is that, I'd like to
"You blasted idjit!" cried the worried Racey. "Whose hoss is this?"
"I kind o' guessed maybe something disgraceful like this here would
happen when I seen you and yore friend sashay into the Happy Heart.
And the barkeep said you had two snifters and a glass o' milk, too.
Honest, Racey, you'd oughta be more careful how you mix yore drinks."
"Don't try to be a bigger jack than you are," Racey adjured him in
a tone that he strove to make contemptuous. "You think yo're awful
funny--just too awful funny, don't you? I'm askin' you, you fish-faced
ape, whose hoss this is I got here?"
"Don't you know?" grinned Piney, elevating both eyebrows. "Lordy, I
wouldn't be in yore shoes for something. Nawsir. She'll snatch you
baldheaded, she will. The old lady was wild when she come out an'
found her good hoss missing. And she shore said what she thought of
you some more when she seen she had to ride home on that old crow's
dinner of a moth-eaten accordeen you left behind."
Racey Dawson was too reduced in spirit to properly take umbrage at
this insult to his horse. He could only repeat his request that Piney
make not of himself a bigger fool than usual. And when Piney did
nothing but laugh immoderately, Racey grinned foolishly.
"If my head didn't ache so hard," he assured the chortling blacksmith,
"I'd shore talk to you, but--Say, lookit here, Piney, quit yore
foolin', will you? Who owns this hoss, anyway?"
"Here comes Kansas," said Piney. "Betcha five even he arrests you for
a hoss thief."
"Gimme odds an' I'll go you," Racey returned, promptly.
"Even," stuck out Piney.
"Naw, he might do it. You Farewell jiggers hang together too hard for
me to take any chances. 'Lo, Kansas."
"Howdy, Racey," nodded Kansas Casey, the deputy sheriff. "How long you
been rustlin' hosses?"
"A damsight longer'n I like," Racey replied, frankly. "Who _does_ own
"Y' oughta asked that question yesterday," said Kansas, severely, but
with a twinkle in his black eyes that belied his tone. "This here
would be mighty serious business for you if the Sheriff was in town.
Jake's so particular about being legal an' all. Yessir, Racey,
old-timer, I expect you'd spend some time in the calaboose--if you
wasn't lynched previous."
"Don't scare the poor feller," pleaded Piney in a tone of deepest
compassion. "He'll be cryin' in a minute."
"In a minute I'll be doing somethin' besides cry if you fellers don't
stop yore funning. This here is past a joke, this is, and--"
"Shore it's past a joke," Kansas concurred, warmly, "an' I ain't
funning, not for a minute. You go give that hoss back, Racey, or
you'll be sorry."
"Well, for Gawd's sake tell me who to give it back to!" bawled Racey,
and immediately batted his eyes and gingerly patted the back of his
"Head ache?" queried Kansas. "I expect it might after last night. You
go give that hoss back like a good boy."
So saying Kansas Casey turned his back and retreated rapidly in the
direction of the Starlight Saloon.
Racey Dawson glared vindictively after the departing deputy. Then he
switched his angry blue eyes to the blacksmith's smiling countenance.
"You can all," said Racey Dawson, distinctly, "go plumb to hell."
He turned the purloined pony on a dime and loped up the street,
followed by the ribald laughter of Piney Jackson.
"They think they're so terrible funny," Racey muttered, mournfully,
as he dismounted and tied at the hitching rail in front of the Happy
Heart. "Now if I can only find Swing--"
But Swing Tunstall, it appeared on consulting the bartender, had gone
off hunting him (Racey). The latter did not appeal to the bartender to
divulge the name of the horse's owner. He had, he believed, furnished
the local populace sufficient amusement for one day. He had a small
drink, for he felt that he needed a bracer, and with the liquor he
Miss Blythe, Mike Flynn's partner in the Blue Pigeon Store! She would
know whose horse it was, for certainly the horse's owner had bought
the undershirt and the stockings at the Blue Pigeon. Furthermore,
Miss Blythe looked like a right-minded individual. She would take no
pleasure in devilling a man. Not she.
Racey Dawson set down his glass and hurried to the Blue Pigeon Store.
Miss Blythe, at his entrance, ceased checking tomato cans and came
"Ma'am," said Racey, "will you come to the door a minute? No, no,
don't be scared!" he added as the lady drew back a step. "I'm kind
of in trouble, an' I want you to help me out. I'm--my name's Racey
Dawson, an' I used to ride for the Cross-in-a-box before I got a job
up at the Bend. Jack Richie knows me. I ain't crazy--honest."
For Miss Blythe continued to look doubtful. "I--" she began.
"Lookit," he interrupted, "yesterday I got a heap drunk an' I rode off
on somebody's hoss without meaning to--I mean I thought it was my hoss
and it wasn't. An' I thought maybe you'd tell me who the hoss belongs
to so's I can return him and get mine back. She took mine, they tell
me. Not that I blame her a mite," he added, hastily.
Pretty Miss Blythe smiled suddenly. "I did hear something about a
switch in horses yesterday afternoon," she admitted. "But I thought
Mr. Flynn said Tom Dowling was the man's name. Certainly I remember
you now, Mr. Dawson, although at first your--your beard--"
"Yeah, I know," he put in, hurriedly. "I ain't shaved since I left the
Bend, and I slept mostly on my face last night, but it's li'l ol' me
all right behind the whiskers and real estate. Yeah, that's the hoss
yonder--the one next the pinto."
"I know the horse," said Miss Blythe, drawing back from the doorway.
"It belongs to the Dales over at Medicine Spring on Soogan Creek."
"Oh, I know _them_," Racey declared, confidently (he had been at the
Dales' precisely once). "The girl married Chuck Morgan. Shore, Mis'
Dale's hoss, huh? I'll take it right back soon's I get shaved. I
s'pose I'll have a jomightyful time explaining it to the old lady."
"It isn't the mother's horse. It's the daughter's. She was in town
"You mean Chuck's wife, Mis' Morgan?"
"I mean _Miss_ Molly Dale, the _other_ daughter."
"I didn't know they had another daughter," puzzled Racey, thinking of
what Piney Jackson had said anent an "old lady." "They must 'a' kept
her in the background when I was there that time. What is she--a old
"Oh, middle-aged, perhaps," was the straight-faced reply.
"Shucks, I might have known it," grumbled Racey; "middle-aged old
maid! I know what they're like. I had one once for a school-teacher. I
can feel her lickings yet. She was the contrariest female I ever met.
Shucks, I--Well, if I gotta, I gotta. Might's well get it over with
now as later. Thanks, ma'am, for helping me out."
Racey Dawson shambled dejectedly forth to effect the feeding of Miss
Molly Dale's horse at the hotel corral. For his own breakfast he went
to Sing Luey's Canton Restaurant. Because while Bill Lainey offered
no objections to feeding the horse, Mrs. Lainey utterly refused to
provide snacks at odd hours for good-for-nothing, stick-a-bed punchers
who were too lazy to eat at the regular meal-time. So there, now.
"But I ain't gonna shave," he told himself, as he disposed of fried
steak and potatoes sloshed down by several cups of coffee. "If she's a
old maid like they say it don't matter how tough I look."
He was reflectively stirring the grounds in the bottom of his sixth
cup when a small and frightened yellow dog dashed into the restaurant
and fled underneath Racey's table, where he cowered next to Racey's
boots and cuddled a lop-eared head against Racey's knee.
Racey had barely time to glance down and discover that the yellow
nondescript was no more than a pup when a burly youth charged into
the restaurant and demanded in no uncertain tones to know where that
adjective dog had hidden himself.
Racey took an instant dislike to the burly youth, still--it was his
dog. And it is a custom of the country to let every man, as the saying
is, skin his own deer. He that takes exception to this custom and
horns in on what cannot rightfully be termed his particular business,
will find public opinion dead against him and his journey unseasonably
full of incident.
Racey moved a leg. "This him, stranger?"
The burly youth (it was evident that he was not wholly sober) glared
at Racey Dawson. "Shore it's him!" he declared. "Whatell you hidin'
him for? Get outa the way!"
Whereupon the burly youth advanced upon Racey.
This was different. Oh, quite. The burly youth had by his brusque
manner and rude remarks included Racey in his (the burly youth's)
Racey met the burly youth rather more than halfway. He hit him so hard
on the nose that the other flipped backward through the doorway and
landed on his ear on the sidewalk.
Racey followed him out. The burly youth, bleeding copiously from the
nose, sat up and fumbled uncertainly for his gun.
"No," said Racey with decision, aiming his sixshooter at the word.
"You leave that gun alone, and lemme tell you, stranger, while we're
together, that I want to buy that pup of yores. A gent like you ain't
fit company for a self-respecting dog to associate with. Nawsir."
"You got the drop," grumbled the burly youth.
"Which is one on you," Racey observed, good-humouredly.
"Maybe I'll be seein' you again," suggested the other.
"Don't lemme see you first," advised Racey. "Never mind getting up.
Just sit nice and quiet like a good boy, and keep the li'l hands
spread out all so pretty with the thumbs locked over yore head. 'At's
the boy. How much for yore dog, feller?"
"What you done to my dog?" A woman's voice broke on Racey's ears. But
he did not remove his slightly narrowed eyes from the face of the
"What you done to my dog?" The question was repeated, and the speaker
came close to the burly youth and looked down at him. Now that the
woman was within his range of vision Racey perceived that she was the
Happy Heart lookout, a good-looking creature with brown hair and a
The girl's fists were clenched so tightly that her knuckles showed
whitely against the pink. Two red spots flared on the white skin of
"Dam yore soul!" swore the lady. "I want my dog! How many tunes I
gotta ask you, huh? Where is he? Say somethin', you dumb lump of slum
"He ain't yore dog!" denied the burly youth. "He never was yores! He's
Which last was putting it pretty strongly, even for the time, the
place, and the girl. She promptly swung a brisk right toe, kicked the
burly youth under the chin, and flattened him out.
"That'll learn you to call me names!" she snarled. "So long as I act
like a lady, I'm a-gonna be treated like one, and I'll break the neck
of the man who acts different, and you can stick a pin in that, you
Muttering profanely true to form, the aforementioned beast essayed to
rise. But here again Racey and his ready gun held him to the ground in
a sitting position.
"You leave her alone," commanded Racey. "You got what was coming to
yuh. Let it go at that. The lady says it's her dog, anyway."
"It's my dog, I tell yuh! I--"
"Yo're a liar!" averred the girl. "You kicked the dog out when he was
sick, and I took him in and tended him and got him well. If that don't
make him my dog what does?"
"Correct," said Racey. "Call him."
The girl put two fingers in her mouth and whistled shrilly. Forth from
the Canton came the dog on the jump and bounced into the girl's arms
and began to lick her ear with despatch and enthusiasm.
"You see how it is," Racey indicated to the man on the ground. "It's
the lady's dog. You can go now."
The burly youth stared stupidly.
"You heard what I said," Racey told him, impatiently. "G'on. Go
some'ers else. Get outa here."
"Say," remarked the burly youth in what was intended to be a menacing
growl, "this party ain't over yet."
"Ain't you been enough of a fool already to-day?" interrupted Racey.
"You ain't asking for it, are you?"
"You can't run no blazer on me," denied the other, furiously.
Racey promptly holstered his sixshooter. "Now's yore best time," he
When the smoke cleared away there was a rent in the sleeve of Racey's
shirt and the burly youth sat rocking his body to and fro and groaning
through gritted teeth. For there was a red-hot hole in his right
shoulder which hurt him considerably.
Racey Dawson gazed dumbly down at the muzzle of his sixshooter from
which a slim curl of gray smoke spiralled lazily upward. Then his eyes
veered to the man he had shot and to the man's sixshooter lying on the
edge of the sidewalk. It, too, like his own gun, was thinly smoking at
the muzzle. The burly youth put a hand to his shoulder. The fingers
came away red. Racey was glad he had not killed him. He had not
intended to. But accidents will happen.
He stepped forward and kicked the burly youth's discarded sixshooter
into the middle of the street. He looked about him. The girl and her
dog had vanished.
Kansas Casey had taken her place apparently. From windows and doorways
along the street peered interested faces. One knew that they were
interested despite their careful lack of all expression. It is never
well to openly express approval of a shooting. The shooter undoubtedly
has friends, and little breaches of etiquette are always remembered.
Racey Dawson looked at Kansas Casey and shoved his sixshooter down
into its holster.
"It was an even break," announced Racey.
"Shore," Kansas nodded. "I seen it. There'll be no trouble--from us,"
he added, significantly.
The deputy sheriff knelt beside the wounded man. Racey Dawson went
into the Happy Heart. He felt that he needed a drink. When he came out
five minutes later the burly youth had been carried away. Remained a
stain of dark red on the sidewalk where he had been sitting. Piggy
Wadsworth, the plump owner of the dance-hall, legs widespread and arms
akimbo, was inspecting the red stain thoughtfully. He was joined by
the storekeeper, Calloway, and two other men. None of them was aware
of Racey Dawson standing in front of the Happy Heart.
"Was it there?" inquired Calloway.
"Yeah," said Piggy. "Right there. I seen the whole fraycas. Racey
stood here an'--"
At this point Racey Dawson went elsewhere.
THE TALL STRANGER
"You'll have to manage it yoreself." Lanpher, the manager of the 88
ranch, was speaking, and there was finality in his tone.
"You mean you don't wanna appear in the deal a-tall," sneered his
Racey Dawson, who had been kneeling on the ground engaged in bandaging
a cut from a kick on the near foreleg of the Dale pony when the two
men led their horses into the corral, craned his neck past the pony's
chest and glanced at Lanpher's tall companion. For the latter's words
provoked curiosity. What species of deal was toward? Having ridden for
Lanpher in the days preceding his employment by the Cross-in-a-box
and consequently provided with many opportunities for studying the
gentleman at arm's-length, Racey naturally assumed that the deal was a
shady one. Personally, he believed Lanpher capable of anything.
Which of course was unjust to the manager. His courage was not quite
sufficient to hold him abreast of the masters in wickedness. But he
was mean and cruel in a slimy way, and if left alone was prone to make
life miserable for someone. Invariably the someone was incapable of
proper defense. From Farewell to Marysville, throughout the length
and breadth of the great Lazy River country, Lanpher was known
unfavourably and disliked accordingly.
To his companion's sneering remark Lanpher made no intelligible reply.
He merely grunted as he reached for the gate to pull it shut. His
companion half turned (his back had from the first been toward
Racey Dawson), and Racey perceived the cold and Roman profile of a
long-jawed head. Then the man turned full in his direction and behold,
the hard features vanished, and the man displayed a good-looking
countenance of singular charm. The chin was a thought too wide and
heavy, a trait it shared in common with the mouth, but otherwise the
stranger's full face would have found favour in the eyes of almost any
woman, however critical.
Racey Dawson, at first minded to reveal his presence in the corral,
thought better of it almost immediately. While not by habit an
eavesdropper he felt no shame in fortuitously overhearing anything
Lanpher or the stranger might be moved to say. Lanpher merited no
consideration under any circumstances, and the stranger, in appearance
a similar breed of dog as far as morals went, certainly deserved no
better treatment. So Racey remained quietly where he was, and was glad
that besides the pony to whom he was ministering there were several
others between him and the men at the gate.
"Why don't you wanna appear in this business?" persisted the stranger,
pivoting on one heel in order to keep face to face with Lanpher.
"I gotta live here," was the Lanpher reply.
"Well, ain't I gotta live here, too, and I don't see anything round
here to worry me. S'pose old Chin Whisker does go on the prod. What
can he do?"
"'Tsall right," mumbled Lanpher, shutting the gate and shoving home
the bar. "You don't know this country as well as I do. I got trouble
enough running the 88 without borrowing any more."
"Now I told you I was gonna get his li'l ranch peaceable if I could. I
got it all planned out. I don't do anything rough unless I gotto. But
I'm gonna get old Chin Whisker out o' there, and you can stick a pin
"'Tsall right. 'Tsall right. You wanna remember ol' Chin Whisker ain't
the only hoss yo're trying to ride. If you think that other outfit
is gonna watch you pick daisies in their front yard without doing
anything, you got another guess. But I'll do what I said--and no
"I s'pose you think that by sticking away off yonder where the grass
is long nobody will suspicion you. If you do, yo're crazy. Folks ain't
so cross-brained as all that."
"Not so dam loud!" Lanpher cautioned, excitedly.
"Say, whatsa matter with you?" demanded the stranger, leaning back
against the gate and spreading his long arms along the top bar. "Which
yo're the most nervous gent I ever did see. The hotel ain't close
enough for anybody to hear a word, and there's only hosses in the
corral. Get a-hold of yoreself. Don't be so skittish."
"I ain't skittish. I'm sensible. I know--" Lanpher broke off abruptly.
"What do you know?"
"What yo're due to find out."
"Now lookit here, Mr. Lanpher," said the stranger in a low, cold tone,
"you said those last words a leetle too gayful to suit me. If yo're
planning any skulduggery--don't."
"I ain't. Not a bit of it. But I got my duty to my company. I can't
get mixed up in any fraycas on yore account, because if I do my ranch
will lose money. That's the flat of it."
"Oh, it is, huh? Yore ranch will lose money if you back me up, hey?
And you ain't thinkin' nothin' of yore precious skin, are yuh? Oh,
no, not a-tall. I wonder what yore company would say to the li'l deal
between you and me that started this business. I wonder what they'd
think of Mr. Lanpher and his sense of duty. Yeah, I would wonder a
"Well--" began Lanpher, lamely.
"Hell!" snarled the stranger. "You make me sick! Now you listen to me.
Yo're in this as deep as I am. If you think you ain't, try to pull
yore wagon out. Just try it, thassall."
"I ain't doing none of the work, that's flat," Lanpher denied,
"You gotta back me up alla same," declared the stranger.
"That wasn't in the bargain," fenced Lanpher.
"It is now," chuckled the stranger. "If I lose, you lose, too.
Lookit," he added in a more conciliatory tone, "can't you see how it
is? I need you, an' you need me. All I'm asking of you is to back
me up when I want you to. Outside of that you can sit on yore
shoulder-blades and enjoy life."
"We didn't bargain on that," harked back Lanpher.
"But that was then, and this is now. Which may not be logic, but it
_is_ necessity, an' Necessity, Mr. Lanpher, is the mother of all kinds
of funny things. So you and I we got to ride together."
Lanpher pushed back his hat and looked over the hills and far away.
The well-known carking care was written large upon his countenance.
Slowly his eyes slid round to meet for a brief moment the eyes of his
"I can't answer for my men," said Lanpher, shortly.
"Can you answer for yoreself?" inquired the stranger quickly.
"I'll back you up." Grudgingly.
"Then that's all right. You can keep the men from throwing in with the
other side, anyway, can't you?"
"I can do that much."
"Which is quite a lot for a ranch manager to be able to do," was the
stranger's blandly sarcastic observation. "C'mon. We've gassed so much
I'm dry as a covered bridge. I--What does Thompson want now? 'Lo,
"'Lo, Jack. Howdy, Lanpher." Racey could not see the newcomer, but
he recognized the voice. It was that of Punch-the-breeze Thompson,
a gentleman well known to make his living by the ingenious
capitalization of an utter lack of moral virtue. "Say, Jack,"
continued Thompson, "Nebraska has been plugged."
"Plugged?" Great amazement on the part of the stranger.
"Who done it?"
"Feller by the name of Dawson."
"Racey Dawson?" nipped in Lanpher.
Lanpher chuckled slightly.
"Why the laugh?" asked Jack Harpe.
"I'd always thought Nebraska could shoot."
"Nebraska is supposed to be some swift," admitted the stranger. "How'd
it happen, Punch?"
Thompson told him, and on the whole, gave a truthful account.
"What kind of feller is this Dawson?" the stranger inquired after a
moment's silence following the close of the story.
"A skipjack of a no-account cow-wrastler," promptly replied Lanpher.
"He thinks he's hell on the Wabash."
"Allasame he must be old pie to put the kybosh on Nebraska thataway."
"Luck," sneered Lanpher. "Just luck."
"Is he square?" probed the stranger.
"Square as a billiard-ball," said Lanpher. "Why, Jack, he's so crooked
he can't lay in bed straight."
At which Racey Dawson was moved to rise and declare himself. Then the
humour of it struck him. He grinned and hunkered down, his ears on the
"Well," said the stranger, refraining from comment on Lanpher's
estimate of the Dawson qualities, "we'll have to get somebody in
"I'm as good as Nebraska," Punch-the-breeze Thompson stated, modestly.
"No," the stranger said, decidedly. "Yo're all right, Punch. But even
if we can get old Chin Whisker drunk, the hand has gotta be quicker
than the eye. Y' understand?"
Thompson, it appeared, did understand. He grunted sulkily.
"We'll have to give Peaches Austin a show," resumed the stranger.
"Nemmine giving me a argument, Punch. I said I'd use Austin. C'mon,
le's go get a drink."
The three men moved away. Racey Dawson cautiously eased his long body
up from behind the pony. With slightly narrowed eyes he stared at the
gate behind which Jack Harpe and his two friends had been standing.
"Now I wonder," mused Racey Dawson, "I shore am wonderin' what kind of
skulduggery li'l Mr. Lanpher of the 88 is a-trying to crawl out of and
what Mr. Stranger is a-trying to drag him into. Nebraska, too, huh? I
was wondering what that feller's name was."
He knelt down again and swiftly completed the bandaging of the cut on
the pony's near fore.
As he rode round the corner of the hotel to reach Main Street he saw
Luke Tweezy single-footing into town from the south. The powdery dust
of the trail filled in and overlaid the lines and creases of Luke
Tweezy's foxy-nosed and leathery visage. Layers of dust almost
completely concealed the original colour of the caked and matted hide
of Luke Tweezy's well-conditioned horse. It was evident that Luke
Tweezy had come from afar.
In common with most range riders Racey Dawson possessed an automatic
eye to detail. Quite without conscious effort his brain registered
and filed away in the card-index of his subconscious mind the picture
presented by the passing of Luke Tweezy, the impression made
thereby, and the inference drawn therefrom. The inference was almost
trivial--merely that Luke Tweezy had come from Marysville, the town
where he lived and had his being. But triviality is frequently
paradoxical and always relative. If Dundee had not raised an arm to
urge his troopers on at Killiekrankie the world would know a different
England. A single thread it was that solved for Theseus the mystery of
the Cretan labyrinth.
Racey Dawson did not like Luke Tweezy. From the sparse and sandy
strands of the Tweezy hair to the long and varied lines of the Tweezy
business there was nothing about Mr. Tweezy that he did like. For Luke
Tweezy's business was ready money and its possibilities. He drove hard
bargains with his neighbours and harder ones with strangers. He bought
county scrip at a liberal discount and lent his profits to the needy
at the highest rate allowed by law.
Luke Tweezy's knowledge of what was allowed by territorial law was not
limited to money-lending. He had been admitted to the bar, and no case
was too small, too large, or too filthy for him to handle.
In his dislike of Luke Tweezy Racey Dawson was not solitary. Luke
Tweezy was as generally unpopular as Lanpher of the 88. But there
was a difference. Where Lanpher's list of acquaintances, nodding and
otherwise, was necessarily confined to the Lazy River country, Luke
Tweezy knew almost every man, woman, and child in the territory.
It was his business to know everybody, and Luke Tweezy was always
attending to his business.
He had nodded and spoken to Racey Dawson as they two passed, and Racey
had returned the greeting gravely.
"Slimy ol' he-buzzard," Racey Dawson observed to himself and reached
for his tobacco.
But there was no tobacco. The sack that he knew he had put in his vest
pocket after breakfast had vanished. Lack of tobacco is a serious
matter. Racey wheeled his mount and spurred to the Blue Pigeon Store.
Five minutes later, smoking a grateful cigarette, he again started
to ride out of town. As he curved his horse round a freight wagon in
front of the Blue Pigeon he saw three men issue from the doorway of
the Happy Heart Saloon. Two of the men were Lanpher and the stranger.
The third was Luke Tweezy. The latter stopped at the saloon
hitching-rail to untie his horse. "See yuh later, Luke," the stranger
flung over his shoulder to Luke Tweezy as he passed on. He and Lanpher
headed diagonally across the street toward the hotel. It seemed odd to
Racey Dawson that Luke Tweezy by no word or sign made acknowledgment
of the stranger's remark.
Racey tickled his mount with the rowels of one spur and stirred him
into a trot. Have to be moving along if he wanted to get there some
time that day. He wished he didn't have to go alone, so he did. The
old lady would surely lay him out, and he wished for company to share
his misery. Why couldn't Swing Tunstall have stayed reasonably in
Farewell instead of traipsing off over the range like a tomfool. Might
not be back for a week, Swing mightn't. Idiotic caper (with other
adjectives) of Swing's, anyway. Why hadn't he used his head? Oh,
Racey Dawson was an exceedingly irritable young man as he rode out of
Farewell. The aches and pains were still throbbingly alive in his own
particular head. The immediate future was not alluring. It was a hard
When he and his mount were breasting the first slight rise of the
northern slope of Indian Ridge--which ridge marks with its long,
broad-backed bulk the southern boundary of the flats south of Farewell
and forces the Marysville trail to travel five miles to go two--a
rider emerged from a small boulder-strewn draw wherein tamaracks grew
Racey stared--and forgot his irritation and his headache. The draw
was not more than a quarter-mile distant, and he perceived without
difficulty that the rider was a woman. She quirted her mount into
a gallop, and then seesawed her right arm vigorously. Above the
pattering drum of her horse's hoofs a shout came faintly to his ears.
He pulled up and waited.
When the woman was close to him he saw that it was the good-looking,
brown-haired Happy Heart lookout, the girl whose dog he had protected.
She dragged her horse to a halt at his side and smiled. And, oddly
enough, it was an amazingly sweet smile. It had nothing in common with
the hard smile of her profession.
"I'm sorry I had to leave without thanking you for what you done for
me back there," said she, with a jerk of her head toward distant
"Why, that's all right," Racey told her, awkwardly.
"It meant a lot to me," she went on, her smile fading. "You wouldn't
let that feller hurt me or my dog, and I think the world of that dog."
"Yeah." Thus Racey, very much embarrassed by her gratitude and quite
at a loss as to the proper thing to say.
"Yes, and I'm shore grateful, stranger. I--I won't forget it. That dog
he likes me, he does. And I'm teaching him tricks. He's awful cunnin'.
And company! Say, when I'm feeling rotten that there dog _knows_, and
he climbs up in my lap and licks my ear and tries his best to be a
comfort. I tell you that dog likes me, and that means a whole lot--to
me. I--I ain't forgetting it."
Her face was dark red. She dropped her head and began to fumble with
"You needn't 'a' come riding alla way out here just for this," chided
Racey, feeling that he must say something to relieve the situation.
"It wasn't only this," she denied, tiredly. "They was something else.
And I couldn't talk to you in Farewell without him and his friends
finding it out. That's why I borrowed one of Mike Flynn's hosses an'
followed you thisaway--so's we could be private. Le's ride along. I
expect you was going somewhere."
They rode southward side by side a space of time in silence. Racey
had nothing to say. He was too busy speculating as to the true
significance of the girl's presence. What did she want--money? These
saloon floozies always did. He hoped she wouldn't want much. For he
ruefully knew himself to be a soft-hearted fool that was never able to
resist a woman's appeal. He glanced at her covertly. Her little chin
was trembling. Poor kid. That's all she was. Just a kid. Helluva life
for a kid. Shucks.
"Lookit here," said Racey, suddenly, "you in hard luck, huh? Don't you
worry. Yore luck is bound to turn. It always does. How much you want?"
So saying he slid a hand into a side-pocket of his trousers. The girl
shook her head without looking at him.
"It ain't money," she said, dully. "I make enough to keep me going."
Then with a curious flash of temper she continued, "That's always the
way with a man, ain't it? If he thinks yo're in trouble--Give her some
money. If yo're sick--Give her money. If yo're dyin'--Give her money.
Money! Money! Money! I'm so sick of money I--Don't mind me, stranger.
I don't mean nothing. I'm a--a li'l upset to-day. I--it's hard for me
Begin! What was the girl driving at?
"Yes," said she. "It's hard. I ain't no snitch. I never was even when
I hadn't no use for a man--like now. But--but you stuck up for me
and my dog, and I gotta pay you back. I gotta. Listen," she pursued,
swiftly, "do you know who that feller was you shot?"
"No." Racey shook his head. "But you don't owe me anything. Forget it.
I dunno what yo're drivin' at, and I don't wanna know if it bothers
you to tell me. But if I can do anything--anything a-tall--to help
you, why, then tell me."
"I know," she nodded. "You'd always help a feller. Yo're that kind.
But I'm all right. That jigger you plugged is Tom Jones."
The girl looked at Racey Dawson as though the name of Tom Jones should
have been informative of much. But, Fieldings excluded, there are many
Tom Joneses. Racey did not react.
"Dunno him," denied Racey Dawson. "I heard his name was Nebraska."
"Nebraska is what the boys call him," she said. "He used to be foreman
of the Currycomb outfit south of Fort Seymour."
"I've heard of Nebraska Jones and the Currycomb bunch all right," he
admitted, soberly. "And I'd shore like to know _what_ was the matter
with Nebraska to-day."
"So would I. _You_ were lucky."
Racey nodded absently. The Currycomb outfit! That charming aggregation
of gunfighters had borne the hardest reputation extant in a
neighbouring territory. Regarding the Currycomb men had been
accustomed to speak behind their hands and under their breaths. For
the Currycomb politically had been a power. Which perhaps was the
_reason_ why, although the rustling of many and many a cow and the
killing of more than one man were laid at their unfriendly door,
nothing had ever been proved against them.
They had prospered exceedingly, these Currycomb boys, till the
election of an opposition sheriff. Which election had put heart into
the more decent set and a crimp in the Currycomb. It did not matter
that legally the Currycomb possessed a clean bill of health. The
community had decided that the Currycomb must be abolished. It
was--cow, cayuse, and cowboy.
While some had remained on the premises at an approximate depth
beneath the grass of two feet (for the ground was hard), the other
Currycombers had scattered wide and far and their accustomed places
knew them no more.
Now it seemed that at least one of the Currycomb boys, and that one
the most notorious character of the lot, had scattered as far as
Farewell and obtruded his personality upon that of Racey Dawson.
Nebraska Jones! A cold smile stretched the corners of Racey's mouth as
he thought on what he had done. He had beaten to the draw the foreman
of the Currycomb. Which undoubtedly must have been the first time
Nebraska had ever been shaded.
The girl was watching his face. "Don't begin to get the notion you
beat him to it," she advised, divining his thought. "He was stunned
sort of that first time, an' the second time his gun caught a little.
Nebraska is slow lightnin' on the pull. Keep thinkin' you was lucky
like you done at first."
Racey laughed shamefacedly. "Yo're too much of a mind reader for me.
But what you telling all this to me for? I ain't the sheriff with a
warrant for Nebraska Jones."
"I'm telling you so you'll know what to expect. So you'll get out of
town and stay out. Because, shore as yo're a foot high, you won't live
a minute longer than is plumb necessary if you don't."
"I beat Nebraska once, and he won't get well of that lead in the
shoulder so jo-awful soon."
"Can you beat a shot in the dark? Can you dodge a knife in the night?
It ain't a question of Nebraska Jones himself. It's the gang he's
managed to pick up in this town. They are meaner than a nest of cross
rattlesnakes. I know 'em. I know what they'll do. Right this minute
they're fixing up some way to give you yore come-uppance."
"Think so! Say, would I come traipsing out here just for my health--or
yores? Figure it out."
"Seems like you know a lot about Nebraska and his gang," he cast at a
venture, glancing at her sharply.
"I lived with Nebraska--for a while," she said, matter-of-factly,
giving him a calm stare. "Li'l Marie knows all they is to know about
Nebraska Jones--and a little bit more. Which goes double for his
"Shucks," Racey grunted contemptuously. "Does he and his gang run
Farewell? I'd always thought Farewell was a man's size town."
"They're careful," explained the girl. "They got sense enough not
to run any blazers they can't back to the limit. Yeah, they're
"Now, huh? Later, when they've filled their hands and there's more of
'em playin' they might not be so careful, huh, Marie?"
"Unless yo're a heap careful right now you won't have a thing to do
with 'later,'" she parried. "You do like I say, Mister Man. I ain't a
bit anxious to see you wiped out."
"Wiping me out would shore cramp my style," he admitted. "I--"
At this juncture hoofbeats sounded sharply on the trail behind them.
Racey turned in a flesh, his right hand dropping. But it was only
Lanpher and the stranger riding out of a belt of pines whose deep and
lusty soughing had drowned the noise of their approach.
Lanpher and his comrade rode by at a trot. The former mumbled a
greeting to Racey but barely glanced at the girl. Women did not
interest Lanpher. He was too selfishly stingy. The stranger was more
appreciative. He gave the girl a stare of frank admiration before he
looked at Racey Dawson. The latter perceived that the stranger's eyes
were remarkably black and keen, perceived, too, that the man as he
rode past and on half turned in the saddle for a second look at the
"Who's yore friend?" asked Marie, an insolent lift to her upper lip
and a slightly puzzled look in her brown eyes as her gaze followed the
stranger and Lanpher.
"Friend?" said Racey. "Speaking personal, now, I ain't lost either of
"I know who Lanpher is," she told him, impatiently. "I meant the
"I'll never tell yuh. I dunno him."
"I think I've seen him somewhere--sometime. I can't remember where or
how--I see so many men. There! I almost had it. Gone again now. Don't
it make you sick when things get away from you like that? Makes you
think yo're a-losing yore mind almost."
"He looked at you almighty strong," proffered Racey. "Maybe _he'll_
remember. Why don't you ask him?"
"Maybe I will at that," said she.
"Didja know he was a friend of Nebraska's?" he asked, watching her
She shook her head. "Nebraska knows a lot of folks," she said,
"He knows Punch-the-breeze Thompson, too."
"Likely he would, knowing Nebraska. He belongs to Nebraska's bunch."
"What does Nebraska do for a living?"
"Everybody and anything. Mostly he deals a game in the Starlight."
"What does Peaches Austin work at?" he pursued, thinking that it might
be well to learn what he could of the enemy's habits.
"He deals another game in the Happy Heart."
"'The hand is quicker than the eye,'" he quoted, cynically, recalling
what the stranger had said to Punch-the-breeze Thompson.
"Oh, Peaches is slick enough," said she, comprehending instantly. "But
Nebraska is slicker. Don't never sit into no game with Nebraska Jones.
Lookit here," she added, her expression turning suddenly anxious, "did
I take my ride for nothing?"
"Huh?... Oh, that! Shore not. You bet I'm obliged to you, and I hope I
can do as much for you some day. But I wasn't figuring on staying here
any length of time. Swing--he's my friend--and I are going down to try
Arizona a spell. We'll be pulling out to-morrow, I expect."
"Then all you got to look out for is to-night. But I'm telling you you
better drag it to-morrow shore."
Racey smiled slowly. "If it wasn't I got business down south I'd
admire to stay. I ain't leaving a place just because I ain't popular,
not nohow. I'm over twenty-one. I got my growth."
"It don't matter why you go. Yo're a-going. That's enough. It's a good
thing for you you got business, and you can stick a pin in that."
"I'll have to do something about them friends of his alla same, before
I go," Racey said, thoughtfully.
"Yeah. If they're a-honing to bushwhack me for what I did to Nebraska,
it ain't fair for me to go sifting off thisaway and not give 'em
some kind of a run for their alley. Look at it close. You can see it
"I don't see nothing--"
"Shore you do. It would give 'em too much of a chance to talk. They
might even get to saying they ran me out o' town. And the more I think
of it the more I'm shore they'll be saying just that."
"But you said you was going away. You said you had business in
"Shore I have, and shore I'm going. But first I gotta give Nebraska's
friends a chance to draw cards. A chance, y' understand."
"You'll be killed," she told him, white-lipped.
"Why, no," said he. "Not never a-tall. Drawing cards is one thing and
playing the hand out is a cat with another kind of tail. I got hopes
they won't get too rough with me."
"Well, of all the stubborn damn fools I ever saw--" began the girl,
At which Racey Dawson laughed aloud.
"That's all right," she snapped. "You can laugh. Might 'a' knowed you
would. A man is such a plumb idjit. A feller does all she can to show
him the right trail out, and does he take it? He does not. He laughs.
That's what he does. He laughs. He thinks it's funny. You gimme a
pain, you do!"
On the instant she jerked her pony round, whirled her quirt
cross-handed, and tore down the back-trail at full gallop.
"Aw, hell," said Racey, looking after the fleeing damsel regretfully.
"I clean forgot to ask her about the rest of Nebraska's friends."
THE OLD LADY
"Hope Old Man Dale is home," said Racey to himself when he saw ahead of
him the grove of cottonwoods marking the location of Moccasin Spring.
"But he won't be," he added, lugubriously. "I never did have any
He passed the grove of trees and opened up the prospect of house and
stable and corral with cottonwood and willow-bordered Soogan Creek in
"Changed some since I was here last," he muttered in wonder. For
nesters as a rule do not go in for flowers and shrubs. And here,
besides a small truck garden, were both--all giving evidence of much
care and attention.
Racey dismounted at the corral and approached the kitchen door. A
fresh young voice in the kitchen was singing a song to the brave
accompaniment of a twanging banjo:
"_When I was a-goin' down the road
With a tired team an' a heavy load,
I cracked my whip an' the leader sprung,
An' he almost busted the wagon tongue.
Turkey in the straw, ha! ha! ha!
The singing stopped in the middle of a line. The banjo went silent
in the middle of a bar. Racey looked in at the kitchen door and saw,
sitting on a corner of the kitchen table, a very pretty girl. One knee
was crossed over the other, in her lap was the mute banjo, and she was
looking straight at him.
Racey, heartily and internally cursing himself for having neglected to
shave, pulled off his hat and achieved a head-hob.
"Good morning," said the pretty girl, putting up a slim tanned hand
and tucking in behind a well-set ear a strayed lock of black hair.
"Mornin'," said Racey, and decided then and there that he had never
before seen eyes of such a deep, dark blue, or a mouth so alluringly
"What," said the pretty girl, laying the banjo on the table and
sliding down till her feet touched the floor, "what can I do for you?"
"Nun-nothin'," stuttered the rattled Racey, clasping his hat to his
bosom, so that he could button unseen the top button of his shirt,
"except cuc-can you find Miss Dale for me. Is she home?"
"Mother's out. So's Father, I'm the only one home."
"It's yore sister I want, _Miss_ Dale--yore oldest sister."
"You must mean Mrs. Morgan. She lives--"
"No, I don't mean her. Yore _oldest_ sister, Miss. Her whose hoss was
taken by mistake in Farewell yesterday."
"That was my horse."
"Yores! But they said it was an _old_ lady's hoss! Are you shore it--"
"Of course I'm sure. Did you bring him back?... Where?... The corral?"
The girl walked swiftly to the window, took one glance at the bay
horse tied to the corral gate, and returned to the table.
"Certainly that's _my_ horse," she reiterated with the slightest of
Racey Dawson stared at her in horror. Her horse! He had actually run
off with the horse of this beautiful being. He had thereby caused
inconvenience to this angel. If he could only crawl off somewhere and
pass away quietly. At the moment, by his own valuation, any one buying
him for a nickel would have been liberally overcharged. Her horse!
"I--I took yore hoss," he spoke up, desperately. "I'm Racey Dawson."
"So you're the man--" she began, and stopped.
He nodded miserably, his contrite eyes on the toes of her shoes. Small
shoes they were. Cheerfully would he have lain down right there on the
floor and let her wipe those selfsame shoes upon him. It would have
been a positive pleasure. He felt so worm-like he almost wriggled.
Slowly, oh, very slowly, he lifted his eyes to her face.
"I--I was drunk," he confessed, hoping that an honest confession would
restrain her from casting him into outer darkness.
"I heard you were," she admitted.
"I thought it was yore oldest sister's pony," he bumbled on, feeling
it incumbent upon him to say something. "They told me something about
an old lady."
"Jane Morgan's the only other sister I have. Who told you this wild
"Them," was his vague reply. He was not the man to give away the
jokers of Farewell. Old lady, indeed! Miss Blythe to the contrary
notwithstanding this girl was not within sight of middle-age. "Yeah,"
he went on, "they shore fooled me. Told me I'd taken an old maid's
"Oh, as far as that goes," said the girl, her long eyelashes demurely
drooping, "they told you the truth. I'm an old maid."
"You? Shucks!" Hugely contemptuous.
"Oh, but I am," she insisted, raising her eyes and tilting sidewise
her charming head. "I'm not married."
"Thank--" he began, impulsively, but choked on the second word and
gulped hard. "I mean," he resumed, hastily, "I don't understand why I
never saw you before. I was here once, but you weren't around."
"When were you here?... Why, that was two years ago. I was only a kid
then--all legs like a calf. No wonder you didn't notice me."
She laughed at him frankly, with a bewildering flash of white teeth.
"I shore must 'a' been blind," he said, truthfully. "They ain't any
two ways about _that_."
Under his admiring gaze a slow blush overspread her smooth cheeks. She
laughed again--uncertainly, and burst into swift speech. "My manners!
What have I been thinking of? Mr. Dawson, please sit down, do. I know
you must be tired after your long ride. Take that chair under the
mirror. It's the strongest. You can tip it back against the wall if
you like. I'll get you a cup of coffee. I know you're thirsty. I'm
sorry Mother and Father aren't home, but Mother drove over to the Bar
S on business and I don't know where Father went!"
"I ain't fit to stay," hesitated Racey, rasping the back of his hand
across his stubbly chin.
"Nonsense. You sit right down while I grind the coffee. I'll have you
a potful in no time. I make pretty good coffee if I do say it myself."
"I'll bet you do."
"But my sister Jane makes better. You'll get some of hers at dinner."
"Dinner?" He stared blankly.
"Of course, dinner. When Mother and Father are away I always go down
there for my meals. It's only a quarter-mile down stream. Shorter if
you climb that ridge. But it's so stony I generally go along the creek
bank where I can gallop.... What? Why, of course you're going with
me. Jane would never forgive me if I didn't bring you. And what would
Chuck say if you came this far and then didn't go on down to his
house? Don't you suppose he enjoys seeing his old friends? It was only
last week I heard him wonder to Father if you were ever coming back to
this country. How did you like it up at the Bend?"
"Right fine," he told her, settling himself comfortably in the chair
she had indicated. "But a feller gets tired of one place after a
while. I thought maybe I'd come back to the Lazy River and get a job
ridin' the range again."
"Aren't there any ranches round the Bend?" she asked, poking up the
fire and setting on the coffee-pot.
"Plenty, but I--I like the Lazy River country," he told her. "Fort
Creek country for yores truly, now and hereafter."
In this fashion did the proposed journey to Arizona go glimmering. His
eye lingered on the banjo where it lay on the table.
"Can you play it?" she asked, her eye following his.
"Some," said he. "Want to hear a camp-meeting song?"
She nodded. He rose and picked up the banjo. He placed a foot on the
chair seat, slid the banjo to rest on his thigh, swept the strings,
and broke into "Inchin' Along". Which ditty made her laugh. For it is
a funny song, and he sang it well.
"That was fine," she told him when he had sung it through. "Your voice
sounds a lot like that of a man I heard singing in Farewell yesterday.
He was in the Happy Heart when I was going by, and he sang _Jog on,
jog on the footpath way_. If it hadn't been a saloon I'd have gone in.
I just _love_ the old songs."
"You do?" said he, delightedly, with shining eyes. "Well, Miss Dale,
that feller in the saloon was me, and old songs is where I live. I
cut my teeth on 'The Barley Mow' and grew up with 'Barbara Allen'. My
mother she used to sing 'em all. She was a great hand to sing and she
taught me. Know 'The Keel Row?'"
She didn't, so he sang it for her. And others he sang, too--"The Merry
Cuckoo" and "The Bailiff's Daughter". The last she liked so well that
he sang it three times over, and they quite forgot the coffee.
Racey Dawson was starting the second verse of "Sourwood Mountain" when
someone without coughed apologetically. Racey stopped singing and
looked toward the doorway. Standing in the sunken half-round log that
served as a doorstep was the stranger he had seen with Lanpher.
There was more than a hint of amusement in the black eyes with which
the stranger was regarding Racey. The latter felt that the stranger
was enjoying a hearty internal laugh at his expense. As probably he
was. Racey looked at him from beneath level brows. The lid of the
stranger's right eye dropped ever so little. It was the merest of
winks. Yet it was unmistakable. It recalled their morning's meeting.
More, it was the tolerant wink of a superior to an inferior. A wink
that merited a kick? Quite so.
The keen black eyes veered from Racey to the girl. The man removed his
hat and bowed with, it must be said, not a little grace. Miss Dale
nodded coldly. The stranger smiled. It was marvellous how the magic of
that smile augmented the attractive good looks of the stranger's full
face. It was equally singular how that self-same smile rendered more
hawk-like than ever the hard and Roman profile of the fellow. It was
precisely as though he were two different men at one and the same
"Does Mr. Dale live here?" inquired the stranger.
"He does." A breath from the Boreal Pole was in the two words uttered
by Miss Dale.
The stranger's smile widened. The keen black eyes began to twinkle. He
made as if to enter, but went no farther than the placing of one foot
on the doorsill.
"Is he home?"
"He isn't." Clear and colder.
"I'm shore sorry," grieved the stranger, the smile waning a trifle. "I
wanted to see him."
"I supposed as much," sniffed Miss Dale, uncordially.
"Yes, Miss," said the stranger, undisturbed. "When will he be back, if
I might ask?"
"To-night--to-morrow. I'm not sure."
"So I see," nodded the stranger. "Would it be worth while my waitin'?"
"That depends on what you call worth while."
"You're right. It does. Standards ain't always alike, are they."
He laughed silently, and pulled on his hat. "And it's a good thing
standards ain't all alike," he resumed, chattily. "Wouldn't it be a
funny old world if they were?"
The smile of him recognized Racey briefly, but it rested upon and
caressed the girl. She shook her shoulders as if she were ridding
herself of the touch of hands.
The stranger continued to smile--and to look as if he expected a
reply. But he did not get it. Miss Dale stared calmly at him, through
Slowly the stranger slid his foot from the doorsill to the doorstep;
slowly, very slowly, his keenly twinkling black gaze travelled over
the girl from her face to her feet and up again to finally fasten upon
and hold as with a tangible grip her angry blue eyes.
"I'm sorry yore pa ain't here," he resumed in a drawl. "I had some
business. It can wait. I'll be back. So long."
The stranger turned and left them.
From the kitchen window they watched him mount his horse and ford the
creek and ride away westward.
"I don't like that man," declared Miss Dale, and caught her lower lip
between her white teeth. "I wonder what he wanted?"
"You'll find out when he comes back." Dryly.
"I hope he never comes back. I never want to see him again. Do you
"Not me. First time I ever saw him was this morning in Farewell. He
was with Lanpher. When I was coming out here he and Lanpher caught up
with me and passed me."
"He didn't bring Lanpher here with him anyhow."
"He didn't for a fact," assented Racey Dawson, his eyes following the
dwindling figures of the rider and his horse. "I wonder why?"
"I wonder, too." Thus Miss Dale with a gurgling chuckle.
Both laughed. For Racey's sole visit to the Dale place had been made
in company with Lanpher. The cause of said visit had been the rustling
and butchering of an 88 cow, which Lanpher had ill-advisedly essayed
to fasten upon Mr. Dale. But, due to the interference of Chuck Morgan,
a Bar S rider, who later married Jane Dale, Lanpher's attempt had been
unavailing. It may be said in passing that Lanpher had suffered both
physically and mentally because of that visit. Of course he had
neither forgiven Chuck Morgan nor the Bar S for backing up its
puncher, which it had done to the limit.
"I quit the 88 that day," Racey Dawson told the girl.
"I know you did. Chuck told me. Look at the time, will you? Get your
hat. We mustn't keep Jane waiting."
"No," he said, thoughtfully, his brows puckered, "we mustn't keep Jane
waitin'. Lookit, Miss Dale, as I remember yore pa he had a moustache.
Has he still got it?"
Miss Dale puzzled, paused in the doorway. "Why, no," she told him. "He
wears a horrid chin whisker now."
"He does, huh? A chin whisker. Let's be movin' right along. I think
I've got something interesting to tell you and yore sister and Chuck."
But they did not move along. They halted in the doorway. Or, rather,
the girl halted in the doorway, and Racey looked over her shoulder.
What stopped them short in their tracks was a spectacle--the spectacle
of an elderly chin-whiskered man, very drunk and disorderly, riding in
on a paint pony.
"Father!" breathed Miss Dale in a horror-stricken whisper.
And as she spoke Father uttered a string of cheerful whoops and topped
off with a long pull at a bottle he had been brandishing in his right
"Please go," said Miss Dale to Racey Dawson.
He hesitated. He was in a quandary. He did not relish leaving her
with--At that instant Mr. Dale decided Racey's course for him. Mr.
Dale pulled a gun and, still whooping cheerily, shook five shots into
the atmosphere. Then Mr. Dale fumblingly threw out his cylinder and
began to reload.
"I'd better get his gun away from him," Racey said, apologetically,
over his shoulder, as he ran forward.
But the old man would have none of him. He cunningly discerned an
enemy in Racey and tried to shoot him. It was lucky for Racey that the
old fellow was as drunk as a fiddler, or certainly Racey would have
been buried the next day. As it was, the first bullet went wide by a
yard. The second went straight up into the blue, for by then Racey had
the old man's wrist.
"There, there," soothed Racey, "you don't want that gun, Nawsir. Not
you. Le's have it, that's a good feller now."
So speaking he twisted the sixshooter from the old man's grasp and
jammed it into the waistband of his own trousers. The old man burst
into frank tears. Incontinently he slid sidewise from the saddle and
clasped Racey round the neck.
"_I'm wild an' woolly an' full o' fleas
I'm hard to curry below the knees_--"
Thus he carolled loudly two lines of the justly popular song.
"Luke," he bawled, switching from verse to prose, "why didja leave me,
Strangely enough, he did not stutter. Without the slightest difficulty
he leaped that pitfall of the drunken, the letter L.
"Luke," repeated Racey Dawson, struck by a sudden thought. "What's
this about Luke? You mean Luke Tweezy?"
The old man rubbed his shaving-brush adown Racey's neck-muscles. "I
mean Luke Tweezy," he said. "Lots o' folks don't like Luke. They say
he's mean. But they ain't nothin' mean about Luke. He's frien' o'
mine, Luke is."
"Mr. Dawson," said Molly Dale at Racey's elbow, "please go, I can get
him into the house. You can do no good here."
"I can do lots o' good here," declared Racey, who felt sure that he
was on the verge of a discovery. "Somebody is a-trying to jump yore
ranch, and if you'll lemme talk to him I can find out who it is."
"Who--how?" said Miss Dale, stupidly, for, what with the fright
and embarrassment engendered by her father's condition the true
significance of Racey's remark was not immediately apparent.
"Yore ranch," repeated Racey, sharply. "They're a-tryin' to steal it
from you. You lemme talk to him, ma'am. Look out! Grab his bridle!"
Miss Dale seized the bridle of her father's horse in time to prevent
a runaway. She was not aware that the horse's attempt to run away had
been inspired by Racey surreptitiously and severely kicking it on
the fetlock. This he had done that Miss Dale's thoughts might be
temporarily diverted from her father. Anything to keep her from
shooing him away as she so plainly wished to do.
Racey began to assist the now-crumpling Mr. Dale toward the house.
"What's this about Luke Tweezy?" prodded Racey. "Did you see him
"Shore I seen him to-day," burbled the drunken one. "He left me at
McFluke's after buyin' me the bottle and asked me to stay there till
he got back. But I got tired waitin'. So I come along. I--hic--come
Limply the man's whole weight sagged down against Racey's supporting
arm, and he began to snore.
"Shucks," muttered Racey, then stooping he picked up the limp body in
his arms and carried it to the house.
"He's asleep," he called to Miss Dale. "Where'll I put him?"
"I'll show you," she said, with a break in her voice.
She hastily tied the now-quiet pony to a young cottonwood growing at
the corner of the house and preceded Racey into the kitchen.
"Here," she said, her eyes meeting his a fleeting instant as she threw
open a door giving into an inner room. "On the bed."
She turned back the counterpane and Racey laid her snoring parent on
the blanket. Expertly he pulled off the man's boots and stood them
side by side against the wall.
"Had to take 'em off now, or his feet would swell so after you'd never
get 'em off," he said in justification of his conduct.
She held the door open for him to leave the room. She did not look at
him. Nor did she speak.
"I'm going now," he said, standing in the middle of the kitchen. "But
I wish you wouldn't shut that door just yet."
"I--Oh, can't you see you're not wanted here?" Her voice was shaking.
The door was open but a crack. He could not see her.
"I know," he said, gently. "But you don't understand how serious this
business is. I had good reason for believing that somebody is trying
to steal yore ranch. From several things yore dad said I'm shorer than
ever. If I could only talk to you a li'l while."
At this she came forth. Her eyes were downcast. Her cheeks were red
with shamed blood. She leaned against the table. One closed fist
rested on the top of the table. The knuckles showed white. She was
trembling a little.
"Where and what is McFluke's?" he asked.
"Oh, that's where he got it!" she exclaimed, bitterly.
"I guess. If you wouldn't mind telling me where McFluke's is, ma'am--"
"It's a little saloon and store on the Marysville road at the Lazy
"It's new since my time then."
"It's been in operation maybe a year and a half. What makes you think
someone is trying to steal our ranch?"
"Lots o' things," he told her, briskly. "But they ain't gonna do it if
I can help it. Don't you fret. It will all come out right. Shore it
will. Can't help it."
"But tell me how--what you know," she demanded.
"I haven't time now, unless you're coming with me to see Chuck."
"Then you ask Chuck later. I'll tell him all about it. You ask him. So
Racey hurried out and caught up his own horse. He swung into the
saddle and spurred away down stream.
"They been after him to sell a long time," said Chuck Morgan, rolling a
cigarette as he and Racey Dawson jogged along toward McFluke's at the
ford of the Lazy.
"Who?" asked Racey.
"I dunno. Can't find out. Luke Tweezy is the agent and he won't give
the party's name."
"Has Old Salt tried to buy him out?"
"Not as I know of. Why should he? He knows he won't sell to anybody."
"Have they been after you, too?"
"Not yet. Dad Dale's the lad they want special. My ranch would be a
good thing, but it ain't noways necessary like Dale's is to anybody
startin' a big brand. Lookit the way Dale's lays right across the
valley between them two ridges like a cork in a bottle. A mile wide
here, twenty mile away between Funeral Slue and Cabin Hill she's a
good thirty mile wide--one cracking big triangle of the best grass
in the territory. All free range, but without Dale's section and his
water rights to begin with what good is it?"
"Not much," conceded Racey.
"And nobody would dast to start a brand between Funeral Slue and Cabin
Hill," pursued Chuck. "Free range or not, it as good as belongs to the
"Old Salt used to run quite a bunch round Cabin Hill and another north
near the Slue."
"He does yet--one or two thousand head in all, maybe. Oh, these
fellers ain't foolish enough to crowd Old Salt that close. They know
Dale's is their best chance."
Racey's eyes travelled, from one ridge to the other. "How come they
allowed Dale to take up a six-forty?" he inquired.
"They didn't," was the answer. "The section is made up of four claims,
his'n, Jane's, Molly's, an' Mis' Dale's. But they're proved up now,
and made over to him all regular. That's how come."
"Haven't Silvertip Ransom and Long Oscar got a claim some'ers over
yonder on Dale's land?" inquired Racey, looking toward the northerly
"They had, but they got discouraged and sold out to Dale the same time
Slippery Wilson and his wife traded in their claims on the other side
of the ridge to Old Salt and Tom Loudon. None of 'em's worth anything,
Racey nodded. "Dale ever drink much?" was his next question.
"He used to before he come here. But he took the cure and quit.
To-day's the first bust-up he's had since he hit this country."
"That's it, then. Luke gave him the redeye so's he'd be easy meat for
the butcher. Does he ever gamble any?"
"Shore--before he came West. Jane done told me how back East in
McPherson, Kansas, he used to go the limit forty ways--liquor, cards,
the whole layout o' hellraising. But his habits rode him to a frazzle
final and he knuckled under to tooberclosis, and they only saved his
life by fetchin' him West. All of us thought he was cured for good."
"Now Luke Tweezy has started him off so's Nebraska--Peaches Austin, I
mean, can get in his fine work. It's plain enough."
"Shore," assented Chuck Morgan. "Yonder's McFluke's," he added,
nodding toward two gray-brown log and shake shacks and a stockaded
corral roosting on the high ground beyond the belt of cottonwoods
and willows marking the course of the Lazy. "Them's his stables and
corral," went on Chuck. "The house she's down near the river. Can't
see her on account of the cottonwoods."
"And they can't see us count of the cottonwoods. So--"
"Unless he's at the corral."
"I'll take the chance, Chuck. You stay here--down that draw is a good
place. I'll go on alone. McFluke don't know me. Maybe I can find out
something, see. Bimeby you come along--half-hour, maybe. You don't
know me, either. I'll get into conversation with you. You follow my
lead. We'll pull McFluke in if we can. Between the two of us--Well,
anyhow, we'll see what he says."
Chuck Morgan nodded, and turned his horse aside toward the draw.
Ten minutes later the water of the Lazy River was sluicing the dust
from the legs and belly of Racey Dawson's horse. Racey spurred up the
bank and rode toward the long, low building that was McFluke's store
There were no ponies standing at the hitching-rail in front of the
place. For this Racey was devoutly thankful. If he could only catch
McFluke by himself.
As Racey dismounted at the rail a man came to the open doorway of the
house and looked at him. He was a heavy-set man, dewlapped like a
bloodhound, and his hard blue eyes were close-coupled. The reptilian
forehead did not signify a superior mentality, even as the slack,
retreating chin denoted a minimum of courage. It was a most
contradictory face. The features did not balance. Racey Dawson was not
a student of physiognomy, but he recognized a weak chin when he saw
it. If this man were indeed McFluke, then he, Racey Dawson, was in
Without a word the man turned from the doorway. Racey heard him
walking across the floor. And for so heavy a man his step was
amazingly light. Racey went into the house. The room he entered was
a large one. In front of a side wall tiered to the low ceiling with
shelves bearing a sorry assortment of ranch supplies was the store
counter. Across the back of the room ran the long bar. Behind the bar,
flanking the door giving into another room, were two shelves heavily
stocked with rows of bottles.
The man that had come to the door was behind the bar. His hands were
resting on top of it, and he was staring fixedly and fishily at
Racey Dawson. There was no welcome in his face. Nor was there any
unfriendliness. It was simply exceedingly expressionless.
Racey draped himself against the bar. "Liquor," said he.
Having absorbed a short one, he poured himself a second. "Have one
with me," he nodded to the man.
"All right." The man's tone was as expressionless as his face. "Here's
hell." He filled and drank.
Racey looked about the room.
"Where's Old Man Dale?" he asked, casually.
"He got away on me," replied the man. "He--Say!"--with sudden
suspicion--"who are you?"
"Are you McFluke?" shot back Racey.
The man nodded slowly, suspicion continuing to brighten his hard blue
"Then what didja let him get away for?" persisted Racey. "Luke Tweezy
said he left him here, and he said he'd stay here. That was yore
job--to see he _stayed_ here."
"Who are--" began the suspicious McFluke.
"Nemmine who I am," rapped out Racey, who believed he had formed a
correct estimate of McFluke. "I'm somebody who knows more about this
deal than you do, and that's enough for you to know. Why didn't you
hold Old Man Dale?"
"I--He got away on me," knuckled down McFluke. "I was in the kitchen
gettin' me some coffee, and when I come back he had dragged it."
"Luke Tweezy will be tickled to death with you," said Racey Dawson.
"What do you s'pose he went to all that trouble for?"
"I couldn't help it, could I? I ain't got eyes in the back of my head
so's I can see round corners an' through doors. How'd I know Old Man
Dale was gonna slide off? When I left him he was all so happy with
his bottle you'd 'a' thought he'd took root for life. Anyway, Peaches
Austin oughta come before the old man left. He was supposed to come,
and he didn't. If anything slips up account o' this it's gotta be
blamed on Peaches."
"Yeah, I guess so. And Peaches ain't been here yet?"
"Not yet, and I wish to Gawd he was never comin'."
The man's tone was so earnest that Racey looked at him, startled.
"Why not?" he asked, coldly.
"Because I don't wanna get my head blowed off, that's why."
"Aw, maybe it won't come to that. Maybe Luke will win out."
"It ain't only Luke Tweezy who's gotta win out, and you know it. And
they's an 'if' the size of Pike's Peak between us and winning out. I
tell you, I don't like it. It's too damn dangerous."
"Shore, it's dangerous," assented Racey, slowly revolving his glass
between his thumb and fingers, and wondering how far he dared go with
this McFluke person. "But a gent has to live."
"He don't have to get himself killed doin' it," snarled McFluke,
swabbing down the bar. "Who's that a-comin'?"
He went to the doorway to see for himself who it was that rode so
briskly on the Marysville trail. "Peaches Austin!" he sneered. "He's
only about three hours late."
It was now or never. Racey risked all on a single cast.
"What did the boss say when him and Lanpher got here and found old
Dale gone?" he asked, carelessly.
"He raised hell," replied McFluke. "But Lanpher wasn't with him. Yuh
know old Dale hates Lanpher like poison. Well, I told Jack, like I
tell you, that if anything slips up account o' this, Peaches Austin
can take the blame."
Racey nodded indifferently and slouched sidewise so that he could
watch the doorway without dislocating his neck. McFluke, his back
turned, still stood in the doorway. Racey lowered a cautious hand and
loosened his sixshooter in its holster. He wished that he had taken
the precaution to tie it down. It was impossible to foresee what the
next few minutes might bring forth. Certainly the coming of Peaches
Austin was most inopportune.
Peaches Austin galloped up. He dismounted. He tied his horse. He
greeted cheerily the glowering McFluke. The latter did not reply in
"This is a fine time for you to get here," he growled. "A fi-ine
"Shut up, you fool!" cautioned Peaches in a low voice. "Ain't you got
no better sense, with the old man--"
"Don't let the old man worry you," yapped McFluke. "The old man has
done flitted. And Jack's been here and _he's_ done flitted."
"Whose hoss is that?" demanded Peaches, evidently referring to Racey's
"One of the boys," replied McFluke. "One o' Jack's friends. C'mon in."
Entered then Peaches Austin, a lithe, muscular person with pale
eyes and a face the colour of a dead fish's belly. He stared
non-committally at Racey Dawson. It was evident that Peaches Austin
was taking no one on trust. He nodded briefly to Racey, and strode to
the bar. McFluke went behind the bar.
"Ain't I seen you in Farewell, stranger?" Peaches Austin asked,
"You might have," returned Racey. "I'm mighty careless where I
"Known Jack long?" Peaches was becoming nothing if not personal.
"Long enough," smiled Racey.
"Lookit here, who are you?"
"That's what's worryin' McFluke," dodged Racey, wishing that he could
see just what it was McFluke was doing with his hands.
But McFluke was employing his hands in nothing more dangerous than the
fetching of a bottle from some recess under and behind the bar. Now he
"He ain't tellin' all he knows," he said to Peaches Austin. "Don't be
so damn suspiciony, Peaches. He's a friend of Jack's, I tell you. He
knows all about the deal."
"That don't make him no friend of Jack's," declared Peaches,
At which juncture Peaches' flow of language was interrupted by the
sudden entrance of Chuck Morgan. Chuck, after a sweeping glance round
the room, headed straight for the bar.
"McFluke," said Chuck, halting a yard from the bar, "did you sell any
redeye to Old Man Dale to-day?"
"What's that to you?" demanded McFluke, truculently.
"Why, this," replied Chuck, producing a sixshooter so swiftly that
McFluke blinked. "You listen to me," he resumed, harshly. "It don't
matter whether you sold it to him or not. He _got_ it here, and that's