Part 4 out of 7
"No," denied the Kid, judicially, "not that lady. Even Racey's arms
ain't long enough to reach round her. I--_Say_, one of these pies is a
"You can gimme that one," suggested Racey Dawson, glad of an
opportunity to change the subject.
The Kid, his teeth sunk in the raisin pie, shook a decisive head and
mumbled unintelligibly. He thrust the other pie toward his friend.
Racey Dawson rode away westward munching pie. And it was a very good
pie, and would have brought credit to any cook. He regretfully ate the
last crumb, and rolled a cigarette. He felt fairly full and at utter
peace with the world. Why not? Wasn't it a good old world, and a
mighty friendly world despite the Harpes and Tweezys and Joneses that
infested it? I should say so.
Racey Dawson inhaled luxuriously, pushed back his wide hat, and let
the breeze ruffle his brown hair. He rubbed the back of one hand
across his straight eyebrows, and stared across the range toward
the distant hills that marked his goal. Which goal was the old C Y
ranch-house at Moccasin Spring on Soogan Creek, where lived the Dales
and their daughter Molly.
And as he looked at the hill and bethought him of what lay beyond it,
he drew a Winchester from the scabbard under his left leg and made
sure that he had not forgotten to load it. For Racey laboured under no
delusion as to the danger that menaced not only his own existence but
that of his friend Swing. He knew that their lives hung by a thread,
and a thin thread at that. They were but two against many, and
their position had not been aided by the string of uneventful days
succeeding their advent at the Bar S. For their enemies were taking
their time in the launching of their enterprise. And Racey had not
expected this. It threw him off his balance somewhat. Certainly it
It was not humanly possible that Jack Harpe could be aware that Old
Man Saltoun did not believe what Racey had told him. But he was acting
as if he knew. Perhaps he was waiting till Nebraska Jones should be
entirely well of his wound. That was possible, but not probable. Jack
Harpe had not impressed Racey as a man who would allow his plans to
be indefinitely held up for such a cause. There was no telling
when Nebraska would be up and about. His recovery, thanks to past
dissipations, had been exceedingly slow.
Again, perhaps the delay might be merely a detail of the plan Fat
Jakey Pooley mentioned in his letter to Luke Tweezy, or it might be
due to the more-than-watchful care the Dales and Morgans were taking
of old Mr. Dale. Wherever the old gentleman went, some one of his
relations went with him. Certainly no ill-wisher had been able to
approach Mr. Dale (since his spree at McFluke's) at any time. Mr.
Dale, to all intents and purposes, was impossible to isolate.
At any rate, whatever the reason, the fact remained that Harpe had not
moved and showed no signs of moving. Mr. Saltoun, every time he met
Racey, took special pains to ask his puncher how much twice six times
two hundred was. Then Mr. Saltoun, without waiting for an answer,
would walk off slapping his leg and cackling with laughter. Even Tom
London was beginning to take the view that perhaps his father-in-law
was in the right, after all.
"You been here near two months now, Racey," he had said that very
morning, "and they ain't anything happened yet."
"I've got four months to go," Racey had replied with a placidity he
did not feel.
Now as he rode, his eyes closely scanning the various places in the
landscape providing good cover for possible bushwhackers, he recalled
what Loudon had said.
"I'll show him all the happenstances he wants to see before I'm
through," he said, aloud. "Something's gonna happen. Something's got
to happen. Jack Harpe won't let this slide. Not by a jugful."
The words were confident enough, but they were words that he had been
in the habit of repeating to himself nearly every day for some time.
Perhaps they had lost some of their force. Perhaps--
"Twelve hundred dollars," mused Racey. "And the same for Swing. Six
months' work for--Hell, it can't turn out different! I know it can't.
We'll show 'em all yet, won't we, Cuter old settler?"
Cuter old settler waggled his ears. He was a companionable horse,
never kicked human beings, and bucked but seldom.
"Yep," continued Racey, sitting back against the cantle, "she's a long
creek that don't bend some'ers or other."
And then the creek that was his flow of thought shot round a bend into
the broad and sparkling reaches of a much pleasanter subject than the
one that had to do with Harpes and Tweezys and Joneses. After a time
he came to where the pleasanter subject, on her knees, was
weeding among the flowers that grew tidily round Moccasin Spring.
Baby-blue-eyes, low and lovely, cuddled down between tall columbines
and orange wall-flowers. Side by side with the pink geranium of
old-fashioned gardens the wild geranium nodded its lavender blooms in
The subject, black-haired Molly Dale, rested the point of her
hand-fork between two rows of ragged sailors and Johnny-jump-ups and
lifted a pair of the clearest, softest blue eyes in the world in
greeting to Racey Dawson.
"This is a fine time for you to be traipsing in," she told him, with
a smile that revealed a deep dimple in each cheek. "I thought you
promised to help me weed my garden to-day."
"I did," he returned, humbly, dismounting and sliding the reins over
Cuter's neck and head, "but you know how it is Sunday mornin's, Molly.
There's a lot to do round the ranch sometimes. Now, this mornin'--"
"I'll bet," she interrupted, smoothing out the smile and frowning as
severely as she was able. "I'd just tell a man that, I would. I would,
indeed. I'm sure it must have taken you at least half-an-hour to shine
those boots. Half-an-hour! More likely an hour. Why, I can see my face
"And a very pretty face, too," said Racey, rising to the occasion. "If
I owned that face I'd never stop looking at it myself. I mean--" He
floundered, aghast at his own temerity.
But the lady smiled. "That'll do," she cautioned him. "Don't try to
flirt with me. I won't have it."
"I ain't--" he began, and stopped.
Molly Dale continued to look at him inquiringly. But as he gave no
evidence of completing the sentence, she lowered her gaze and resumed
her weeding. Racey thought to have glimpsed a disappointed look in her
eyes as she dropped her chin, but he could not be certain. Probably he
had been mistaken. Why should she be disappointed? Why, indeed?
"Start in on that bed, Racey," she directed, nodding her head toward
the columbines and wall-flowers. "There's some of that miserable
pusley inching in on the baby-blue-eyes and they're such tiny things
it doesn't take much to kill them. And Lord knows I had a hard enough
job persuading 'em to grow in the first place."
"Wild things never cotton to living inside a fence," he told her.
"They're like Injuns thataway--put 'em in a house and they don't do so
"Shucks, look at the Rainbow."
"Half-breed. There's the difference, and besides the Rainbow ain't
lived in a house since she left the convent. She lives in a tepee same
as her uncle and aunties."
"I don't care," defended Molly, straightening on her knees to survey
her garden. "Every single plant in my garden except the pink geraniums
is wild. Look at those thimble-berry bushes round the spring, and the
blue camass along the brook, and the squaw bushes round the house,
and the squaw grass and pussy paws back of the clothes-lines. Some I
transplanted, the rest I grew from seeds. And where will you find a
Racey sagged back on his heels and stared critically about him.
"Yeah," he drawled, nodding a slow head, "they do look pretty good.
Got to give you lots of credit. But those squaw bushes now--" He broke
"Oh, of course, you provoking thing!" cried she, irately. "Might know
you'd pick on those squaw bushes. It is a mite too shady for 'em
where they are, but still they're doing pretty well, considering. I'm
"That" was a horseman appearing suddenly among the cottonwoods that
belted with a scattering grove the garden and the spring. The horseman
was Lanpher, manager of the 88 ranch. He was followed by another
rider, a lean, swarthy individual with a smooth-shaven, saturnine
face. Racey knew the latter by sight and reputation. The man was one
Skeel and rejoiced in the nick-name of "Alicran." The furtive scorpion
whose sting is death is not indigenous to the territory, but Mr.
Skeel had gained the appellation in New Mexico, a region where the
tail-bearing insect may be found, and when the man left the Border for
the Border's good the name left with him.
"Oh, lookout! The bushes! The bushes! Don't trample my
But Lanpher, heeding not at all Molly's cries of warning, spurred his
sweating horse through the thimble-berry growth, breaking down three
shrubs, and splashed cat-a-corneredly across the spring, the brook,
and several rows of flowers.
The garden looked as if a miniature cyclone had passed that way.
Midway across the garden Lanpher's horse halted--halted because a
flying figure in chaps had appeared from nowhere and seized it by the
rein. But the horse did more than halt. In obedience to a powerful
jerk administered by the man in chaps the horse pivoted on its
forelegs and slid its rider out of the saddle and deposited him
a-sprawl and face downward among the flowers.
Lanpher arose, snarling, to face a levelled sixshooter. It did not
signify that Racey had not drawn the weapon. He was perfectly capable
of shooting through the bottom of his holster and Lanpher knew it. And
Racey knew that he knew it.
"Get out of this garden!" ordered Racey. "Take yore friend with you,"
he added, tossing the horse's bridle to Lanpher. "And if I were you
I'd walk a heap careful between the rows. I just wouldn't go a-busting
any more of these posies."
Lanpher went. He went carefully. He was followed quite as carefully by
When Lanpher was free of the neat rows he looked up venomously into
the face of Alicran Skeel who had meticulously ridden round the
"I was wondering where you was," Lanpher remarked with deep meaning.
"I ain't rooting up nobody's gyarden," Alicran returned, cheerfully.
"And don't wonder too hard. Might strain yore intellect or something.
I'll always be where I aim to be--always. You done scratched yore
Lanpher turned from Alicran Skeel and spat upon the ground.
"Alicran," said Racey, holding his alert attitude, "the first false
move you make Lanpher gets it."
"I ain't makin' a move," said Alicran, thumbs hooked in the armholes
of his vest. "I got plenty to do minding my own business."
"Huh?" Thus the sceptical Racey, who did not trust Mr. Skeel as far as
he could throw a horse by the tail.
"Shucks," said Alicran, out of deference to the lady, "you don't
"Shore I do," asserted Racey, "Shore, you bet you. I--_Careful,
Lanpher_! I can talk to somebody else and watch you at the same time!"
"If Alicran was worth a--" began Lanpher, furiously, and stopped.
"You was gonna say--what?" queried Alicran, softly.
"Nothing," said Lanpher, sulkily. "Put yore gun away," he continued to
Racey. "I ain't gonna hurt you."
"Now that's what I call downright generous of you, Lanpher," Racey
declared, warmly. "I'd shore hate to be hurt. I shore would. But if
it's alla same to you, I'll keep my gun right where she is--if it's
alla same to you."
"That'll do, Racey. Stop this rowing. I won't have it." It was Molly
Dale pushing past Racey and standing with arms akimbo directly
in front of his gun-muzzle. Racey let his gun and holster fall
up-and-down, but he did not remove his hand from the gunbutt.
"Who do you want here?" Molly inquired of Lanpher.
Lanpher's rat-like features cracked into an ugly smile. "Is yore paw
home?" he asked.
"Father's gone to Marysville."
"When'll he be back?"
"Day after to-morrow, I guess."
"Yeah, I kind of guess he'd want to spend the night so's he could do
business in the morning, huh?" The Lanpher smile grew even uglier.
"He has some business to attend to in the morning, yes."
"I kind of thought he would. Yeah. You don't happen to know the nature
of his business, do you?"
"His business is none of yours, and I'll thank you to pick up your
feet and clear out, the pair of you."
"Not so fast." Lanpher spread deprecatory hands, and his smile became
suddenly crooked. "I just come down to do yore paw a favour."
"A favour? You?" Blank unbelief was patent in Molly's tone and
"A favour. Me. You see, yore paw's got a mortgage coming due on the
tenth, and the reason yore paw went to Marysville was so he could be
there bright and early to-morrow morning at the bank to renew the
mortgage. Ain't I right?"
"You might be." Molly's face was now a mask of indifference, but there
was no indifference in her heart. There was cold fear.
Racey's expression was likewise indifferent. But there was no fear in
his heart. There was anger, cold anger. For he had sensed what was
coming. He knew that the previous winter had been a hard one on the
Dale fortunes. They had lost most of their little bunch of cattle in a
blizzard, and the roof of their stable had collapsed, killing two team
horses and a riding pony. Racey had conjectured that Mr. Dale would
have been forced to borrow on mortgage to make a fresh start in the
spring. And at that time in the territory the legal rate was 12 per
cent. Stiff? To be sure. But the security in those days was never
gilt-edged--cattle were prone to die at inconvenient moments, and land
was not worth what it was east of the Mississippi.
"We'll take it I'm right," pursued Lanpher, lapping his tongue round
the words as though they possessed taste and that taste pleasant. "And
being that I'm right I'll say yore paw could 'a' saved himself the
ride to Marysville by stayin' to home."
Oh, Lanpher was the sort of man who, as a boy, was accustomed to
thoroughly enjoy the pastime of pulling wings from living flies and
drowning a helpless kitten by inches.
Now he nodded his head and grinned anew, and put up a satisfied
hand and rubbed his stubbly chin. Racey yearned to kick him. It was
shameful that Molly should be compelled to bandy words with this
reptile. Racey stepped forward determinedly, and slid past Molly.
Promptly she caught him by the sleeve. "Don't mix in, Racey," she
commanded with set face. "It's all right. It's all right, I tell you."
"'Course it's all right," Lanpher hastened to say, more than a hint of
worriment in his little black eyes. One could never be sure of these
Bar S boys. They were uncertain propositions, every measly one of
them. "Shore it's all right," went on the 88 manager. "I ain't meaning
no harm. Yo're taking a lot for granted, Racey, a whole lot for
"Nemmine what I'm taking for granted," flung back Racey. "I get along
with taking only what's mine, anyway."
Which was equivalent to saying that Lanpher was a thief. But Lanpher
overlooked the poorly veiled insult, and switched his gaze to Molly
"I just rid over to say," he told her, "that if yore paw is still set
on renewing the mortgage when he comes back from Marysville he'll have
to see me and Luke Tweezy at the 88. We done bought that mortgage from
Molly Dale said nothing. Racey felt that if he held his tongue another
second he would incontinently burst. He sidestepped past the girl.
"You've said yore li'l piece," he told Lanpher, "and for a feller who
was bellyaching so loud about keeping out of this deal it strikes me
yo're a-getting in good and deep--buying up mortgages and all. Dunno
what I mean, huh? Yep, you do. Shore you do. Think back. Think way
back, and it'll come to you. Jack Harpe. You know him. Bossy-looking
jigger, seemed like. Has he been a-bearing down on you lately,
Lanpher? Mustn't let him run you thataway. Bad business. Might be
expensive. You can't tell. You be careful, Lanpher. You go slow--a
mite slow. Yep. Well, don't lemme keep you. This way out."
He flicked a thumb westward, and stared at Lanpher with bright eyes.
Lanpher's eyes dropped, lifted, then veered toward Alicran Skeel, that
appreciative observer, who continued to sit his horse as good as gold
and silent as a clam.
Lanpher turned to his horse without another word, slid the reins over
the animal's neck and crossed them slackly. He stuck toe in stirrup
and swung up. He looked down at Molly where she stood dumbly, her
troubled eyes gazing at nothing and the fingers of one hand slowly
plaiting and unplaiting a corner of her apron. Lanpher opened his
mouth as if to speak, but no words issued. For Racey had coughed a
Lanpher turned his horse's head toward the creek.
"Lookit here, Alicran," the peevish Lanpher burst forth when he and
his henchman had forded the creek and were riding westward, "whatsa
matter with you, anyway?"
"With me?" Alicran tilted a questioning bead. "I dunno. I don't feel a
"What do you think I hired you for?" Heatedly.
"Gawd he knows." Business of rolling a cigarette.
"Yo're supposed to be a two-legged man with a gun."
"Yeah, but I got my doubts--now. Hell's bells! Wasn't you off to one
side there when Racey pulled? Wasn't you?"
"Wasn't you listenin' to what Racey said at the time? Wasn't you?"
"After! I mean after! His gun was back hugging his leg after the girl
slid in between. What more of a chance didja want?"
"So that's it, huh?"
"That's--it." Between the two words was a perceptible pause.
"I ain't shootin' nobody in the back. I never have yet, and I ain't
beginnin' now, not for you or any other damn man."
"Say--" began Lanpher, threateningly.
Alicran Skeel turned a grim face on his employer so suddenly and
sharply that Lanpher almost dodged.
"Lookit here, Lanpher," said he, quietly, "don't you try to start
nothin' that I'll have to finish. I know you from way back, you
lizard, and outside of my regular work I ain't taking no orders from
you. Don't gimme any more of yore lip."
"Aw, I didn't mean nothing, Alicran. You ain't got any call to get
het. I need you in the business."
"Shore you do," Alicran declared, contemptuously. "You need me to do
anything you ain't got the nerve to do."
"I got my duty to my company," Lanpher bluffed lamely.
"Duty bedam. You ain't got the guts for a tough job, that's whatsa
This was rubbing it in. Lanpher plucked at the loose strings of his
courage, and managed to draw out a faintly responsive twang. "I'll
show you whether I got guts--" he began.
"Oh, look," said Alicran. "See that wild currant bush."
To Lanpher it seemed that the sixshooter was barely out of the holster
before it was back again. But there was a swirl of smoke adrift in the
windless air and the topmost branch of a wild currant bush thirty feet
distant had been that instant cut in two.
"What was that you was gonna say?" Alicran prompted, softly.
"I forget," evaded Lanpher. "But they's one thing you wanna remember,
Alicran. It don't pay to be squeamish. It comes high in the end
usually. You'll find, if you keep on being mushy thisaway, that you'll
have more'n you can swing at the finish."
"Is that so? You leave me do things my own way, you hear? Lemme tell
you if I'd 'a' knowed all what you was up to by coming to Dale's this
mornin' I'd never have allowed it."
"Yes, allowed it, I said. Want me to spell it for you? You
thumb-handed idjit, if you had any more sense you'd be a damfool.
Don't you know that in anything you do, no matter what, they's no
profit in unnecessary trimmings? Most always it's the extra frills on
a feller's work that pushes the bridge over and lands him underneath
with everything on top of him and the job to do again, if he's lucky
enough to be livin' at the finish. And yore swashing through that
girl's gyarden was a heap unnecessary. It was a close squeak you
wasn't drilled by Racey Dawson. I wouldn't have blamed him if he had
let a little light in on yore darkened soul. Done it myself in his
place. And yore rubbing in that mortgage deal was another unnecessary
piece o' damfoolishness. It only made Racey have it in for you more'n
ever. And after acting like more kinds of a fool thataway in less time
than anybody I ever see before, you sit up on yore hunkers and tell
_me_ I'll have more'n I can swing at the finish. Say, you make me
laugh! Listen, Lanpher, for a feller that's come out second best with
the Bar S outfit as many times as you have it looks to me like you was
crowdin' Providence a heap close."
"That's all right," sulked Lanpher, then added, with a sudden flare of
spite: "When I hired you as foreman I shore never expected to draw a
skypilot full o' sermons into the bargain."
"No?" drawled Alicran, looking hard at Lanpher. "I often wonder just
what you did hire me for."
On which Lanpher made no comment.
"Yeah," resumed Alicran, the fish having failed to bite, "I often
wonder about that. Was it a foreman you wanted or a--gunman? And what
did Racey mean about Jack Harpe a-bearing down on you so hard, huh?"
"Nothing, nothing, nothing a-tall," Lanpher replied, irritably.
"If Racey didn't mean nothing by it, what did yore eyes flip for and
why didja shuffle yore feet?"
"Whatell business is it of yores?" burst out the goaded manager.
"None," Alicran replied, calmly. "I was just wondering. I got a
curiosity to know why, thassall."
"Then hogtie yore curiosity--or you'll be gettin' yore time. I'm free
to admit I need you, like I said before, but I can do without you if I
"That's just where yo're dead wrong," Alicran promptly contradicted.
"You can't do without me. Lanpher, I like the job of bein' yore
foreman. I like it so well that if you was to fire me I dunno what I
wouldn't do. You know, Lanpher, a man is a whole lot bigger target
than the branch of a wild currant bush."
Frankly speculative, the eyes of Alicran travelled up and down the
spare frame of the 88 manager. Which gave Lanpher furiously to think,
as it were.
"Why," said he, forcing a smile, "I guess we understand each other,
"Shore we do," said Alicran, cheerfully. "And don't you forget it."
When the two 88 men had departed Molly Dale continued to stand where
she was for a space and stare dumbly at nothing. Racey, realizing well
enough that her world had crashed to pieces about her, wished that she
would burst into tears. A sobbing woman is easily comforted. It is
simply necessary to pet her and keep on petting her till her grief
is assuaged. But this hard stillness of Molly Dale's gave Racey no
opening. He could but gaze at her uncomfortably and shift his weight
from one foot to the other.
"That was a dirty trick of the Marysville bank." Thus tentatively.
It is doubtful whether Molly heard him. "Poor Father," she said in a
"Lookit here, Molly," said Racey, struck by a bright idea, "I've got a
li'l money I been saving. I--I want you should take it."
Molly continued to stare into the distance.
"I've got some money--" he began again, thinking that Molly had not
But she turned her face toward him at that, and he saw that her eyes
were shining with unshed tears.
"Racey," she said, with a slight catch in her voice, and laid her hand
lightly on his arm. "Racey, you're a dear, good boy. We--we'll manage
somehow. I mum-must tell Mother."
Abruptly she swung away and left him. He watched her cross the garden
and enter the kitchen of the ranch-house. Then slowly, thoughtfully,
he set to work repairing as best he could the ravages left in the
garden by the hoofs of Lanpher's horse.
Came then Swing Tunstall on a paint pony and was moved to mirth at
sight of Racey Dawson engaged in earthy labour.
"See the pret-ty flowers," mouthed Swing Tunstall, after the fashion
of a child wrestling with the First Reader. "Does Racey like pret-ty
flow-ers? Yeth, he'th crathy ab-out them. Ain't he cute squattin'
there all same hoptoad and a-workin' away two-handed? Only he ain't
a-workin' now. He's stopped workin'. He's gettin' all red in the face.
He's mad at Swing who never done him no harm nohow. Whatsa matter,
Racey?" he added in his natural voice. "What bit you on the ear this
fine an' summer day?"
Racey looked over his shoulder toward the house. Then he got to his
feet and strode across the garden to where Swing Tunstall sat his
"Swing," said he, quietly, "are you busy just now?"
Swing, suspecting a catch somewhere, stared in swift suspicion.
"Why--uh--no," was his cautious reply.
"Then go off some'ers and die."
Without waiting for Swing's possible comment Racey turned his back on
his friend and walked unhurriedly to his horse Cuter. Swing slouched
sidewise in the saddle and watched him go.
He rolled a cigarette, lit it, and inhaled luxuriously. And all
without removing his gaze from Racey's back. He watched while Racey
flung the reins crosswise over Cuter's neck, mounted, and rode down
into the creek. When he saw that Racey, after allowing Cuter to drink
nearly all he wanted, rode on across the creek and up the farther
bank, Swing's brow became corrugated with a puzzled frown.
"He means business," muttered Swing. "I ain't seen that look on his
face for some time. I wonder what did happen this morning."
His eyes still fixed on the dwindling westward moving object that was
Racey Dawson and his horse, he smoked his cigarette to a butt. Then he
picked up his reins, found his stirrups, and rode away.
Racey Dawson, bound for the 88 ranch-house, did not smoke. He did not
feel like it. He did not feel like doing anything but facing Lanpher.
What he would be moved to do while facing Lanpher he was not sure.
Time enough to cross that bridge when the crucial moment should
arrive. He knew what he wanted to do, but he knew, too, that he could
not do it unless Lanpher made the first break. Otherwise it would be
murder, and Racey was no murderer.
"He'll back down if he can, the snake," Racey said aloud. "And he'll
be shore to slick and slime round till all's blue. Damn him, riding
over those flowers of hers!"
Racey did not hurry. He had no desire to come up with Lanpher on
the open range. It would be better to meet the man at his own
ranch-house--where there were apt to be plenty of witnesses. Racey
realized perfectly that he might need a witness, several witnesses,
before the sunset. He hoped that all the boys of the 88 outfit would
be at the ranch. He hoped that Luke Tweezy would be there, too.
Lanpher and Tweezy together, the pups.
"Fat Jakey Pooley's li'l playmates," he muttered and swore
He understood now the true reason for Jack Harpe's lack of activity.
This purchasing by Lanpher and Tweezy of the Dale mortgage was the
eminently safe and lawful plan of Jakey Pooley. In his letter Fat
Jakey had written that it would take longer. And wasn't it taking
longer? It was. Racey thought he saw the plan in its entirety, and was
in a boil accordingly. He would have been in considerably more of a
boil had he been blessed with the ability to read the future.
When he rode in among the buildings of the 88 ranch his eyes were
gratified by the sight of freckle-faced Bill Allen straddling a
cracker-box in front of the bunkhouse and having his hair cut by Rod
"That's right," Bill Allen was complaining, "whynell don't you cut off
the whole ear while yo're about it?"
"Aw, shut up," said Rod Rockwell, "it was only the tip, and I didn't
go to cut it, anyway."
"I don't giveadamn whether you went to cut it or not, you cut it! I
can feel the blood running down the back of my neck."
"That's only sweat, you bellerin' calf! Hold still, can't you? Djuh
want me to hurt you?"
"You done have already," snarled Bill Allen, fidgeting on his
cracker-box. "You wait till I cut yore hair after. I'll fix you. I'll
scalp you, you pot-walloper."
"That's right, Bill," said Racey, checking his horse beside the
quarrelling pair. "Talk to him. Givem hell."
"'Lo, Racey," grinned the two youngsters in unison.
"Where did you rustle _this_ hoss?" asked Bill Allen.
"Nemmine where," smiled Racey, for both Bill and Rod had been his
friends in his 88 days and could therefore insult him with impunity.
"I wouldn't wanna put li'l boys in the way of temptation. Does the
cook still spank him regular, Rod?"
"Stab his hoss with the scissors, Rod," begged Bill Allen. "Let's see
what for a rider Mr. Dawson is."
Racey pressed his off rein against his horse's neck. The animal
whirled on a nickel, and reared, hard held, after the first plunge.
The flying pebbles plentifully showered the two punchers. Bill Allen
swore heartily, for one of the pebbles had clipped his damaged ear.
"You see what a good rider I am," Racey said, sweetly. "Can't feaze
me, nohow. Sit still, Bill, and lemme try can I jump the li'l hoss
over you. Rod, do you mind movin' back a yard?"
"No," said Bill Allen, decidedly, and picked up his cracker-box and
retreated backward to the bunkhouse door. "No, you don't play any such
tricks as that on me. He'd just as soon try it as not, the idjit," he
added over his shoulder to Tile Stanton who was peering out to see
what all the racket was about.
"Let him try it," Tile Stanton advised promptly. "If the cayuse does
happen to hit yore head, it won't hurt yore thick skull. G'on, Bill,
be a sport."
"Be a sport yoreself," returned Bill Allen, skipping into the
bunkhouse. "Where's the other scissors? I'll finish this job myself."
Racey, left alone with Rod Rockwell, smiled slightly. "Bill ain't got
a sense of humour this mornin'," he observed, softly. "He must 'a'
thought I meant it."
There was no answering smile on Rod's features as he looked up at
Racey Dawson. "Racey," said he, laying a hand on the horse's mane,
"have you been to McFluke's lately?"
"I ain't," replied Racey, his smile fading out.
"Then keep on stayin' away."
"As bad as that?"
"As bad as that."
"McFluke been talking?" was Racey's next question.
"If McFluke was the only one it would be a mighty short hoss to
"Then there are others?"
"Plenty." Rod Rockwell gave a short, hard laugh.
"All of Nebraska's bunch, huh?"
"All but Nebraska."
"How long has this been going on--this talking, I mean?"
"Doc Coffin started it about a week ago. He told Windy Taylor of the
Double Diamond A he was gonna ventilate yore good health some fine
day. He wasn't drunk, neither."
"Then he must have serious intentions."
"Somethin' like that. Five of us heard him say it. Lookit, while I was
at McFluke's alone day before yesterday Doc and Peaches Austin and
Honey Hoke was all three bellying the bar, and while I was tucking
away my nosepaint they was mumbling to themselves how you was all
kinds of a pup and would stand shootin' any day."
"Mumblin' loud enough for you to hear, huh?"
"Naturally, or I wouldn't 'a' heard it."
"Then they wanted you to hear. Guess they know yo're a friend of
"Guess they do now," Rod Rockwell said, grimly.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothin'. I just talked to 'em a li'l bit."
"And you wasn't shot? Didn't they do anything?"
"Hell, no," Rod denied, disgustedly. "Kansas Casey come in just at the
wrong time, and throwed down on the four of us and said he'd do all
the shooting they was to be done. And when he went he took me with
him. Said he'd arrest me if I didn't go peaceable. Ain't that just
"Wearing the star shore means a lot to him."
"Aw, since he's been deputy he's gotten too big for his boots. And
Jake the same way. The country's played out, that's whatsa matter.
Law and order, law and order, till a feller can't turn round no more
without fallin' into jail."
"She's one lucky thing for you, cowboy," said Racey, seriously, "that
Kansas did come. Three of 'em! You had yore gall. Lookit here, next
time you let 'em talk. Names don't hurt less they're said to a
"They knowed you was my friend," said Rod, simply. "Anyway, you keep
away from McFluke's."
"Maybe I will take yore advice. It has its points of interest, as
the feller said when he sat down on the porkumpine. And speakin' of
porkumpines, have you seen Lanpher?"
"Shore. Him and Alicran pulled in a hour ago. Guess he's in the
"See anything of Tweezy lately?"
"Luke seems to be living with us _lately_."
"I never knowed him and Lanpher was good friends?" Racey cast at a
"I didn't either--till lately."
"Jack Harpe ever come out here?"
"Long-geared feller--supposed to have capital? Hangs out in Farewell?
The one that Marie girl tried to down? Bo, he ain't been here as I
know of, but then he could easy drift in and out and me not know it."
Racey nodded. "Marie jump Jack again, do you know?" he asked.
"Damfino. Don't guess so, though. I seen her pass him on Main Street,
and she didn't even look at him."
"I'll bet he looked at her."
"You can gamble he did. He ain't trustin' her, not him. I wonder what
was at the bottom of the fuss between him an' her?" A sharp glance at
Racey accompanied this remark.
"I dunno," yawned Racey. "They say Mr. Harpe has had a career both
high, wide, and handsome."
"That's what I'd call one too many," grinned Rod Rockwell.
"You can put down a bet the career has been one too many, too."
"Yeah?" said Rod, wondering what was coming next.
"Yeah," said Racey, nodding mysteriously, but disappointing his friend
by immediately changing the subject. "Say, Rod, I'd take it as a
favour if you and Tile and Bill would sort of freeze round the
bunkhouse till after I'm through with Lanpher."
"Shore," said Rod. "Tweezy's in the office, too, I guess."
Racey nodded, and started his horse toward the office.
He understood well enough that Rod and the other two punchers would
not interfere in any way with him and whatever acts he might be called
upon to perform during his conversation with Lanpher. Loyal to the
last cartridge and after whenever it was ranch business, none of the
88 punchers ever felt it incumbent upon him to go out of his way so
far as Lanpher personally was concerned. The manager was not the man
either to engender or to foster personal loyalty.
At the open doorway of the office Racey dismounted. He dropped the
reins over his horse's head and walked to the doorway. There he
stopped and looked in. He saw Lanpher sitting behind his big homemade
desk. Lanpher was watching him. At one side of the desk, on a chair
tilted back against the wall, sat Luke Tweezy. Luke was chewing a
straw. His eyes were half closed, but Racey detected their glitter.
Luke Tweezy was not overlooking any bets at that moment.
Racey stepped across the doorsill and halted just within the room. The
thumb of his left hand was hooked in his belt. His right hand hung at
his side. He was ready for action.
"Lanpher," said Racey without preliminary, "I want to serve notice
on you here and now that if I catch you within one mile of Moccasin
Spring you come a-shooting because I will."
Lanpher's hand remained motionless on the desktop. Then the man picked
up a pencil and began to tap it on the wood. He licked his lips
"Is that a threat or a promise?" he asked.
"You can take it she's both," Racey told him.
"You hear that, Luke?" Lanpher turned to Luke Tweezy. "Threatenin' my
"Shore," nodded Luke Tweezy. "Actionable, that is. Mustn't threaten a
man's life, Racey. Against the law, you know."
Racey moved to one side and leaned his back comfortably against the
wall. "Against the law, huh, Luke?" he said nervously. "Then I can be
"You can," Luke Tweezy declared with evident relish. "That is, you can
if Lanpher wants to make a complaint."
"You hear, Lanpher?" asked Racey, still more nervously. "You wanna
make a complaint, huh?"
Lanpher had not failed to note the nervousness of Racey's tone. Now he
licked his lips again. He felt quite cheerful of a sudden. It gave
him a warm and pleasant feeling to think that Racey Dawson was to a
certain degree in his power. Having licked his lips several times he
rubbed his chin judicially and coughed, likewise judicially.
"Well, I dunno as I wanna make a complaint exactly," he said, slowly.
"But you wanna walk a chalkline round here, Racey. You got too much to
say for a fact."
"What do you think, Luke?" queried Racey. "Have I got too much to
"You heard what Lanpher said," replied the cautious Luke.
"Yep, I heard all right. I just wanted to get yore opinion, because I
ain't through yet--through talking, I mean. What I was going to say is
that I wouldn't be particular about catching Lanpher round Moccasin
Spring. If I only _heard_ he'd been hanging round there it would be
"Meaning you'll drill him on suspicion?"
"Meaning I'll do just that."
"Now yo're threatenin' me again." Thus Lanpher.
"Takes you a long time to wake up, don't it?" The nervousness had
vanished from Racey's voice. "Lanpher, you lousy skunk! Why don't you
pull? There's a gun in that open drawer not six inches from your hand.
Go after it, you hound-dog!"
Lanpher was not inordinately brave. He would go out of his way to
avoid an appeal to lethal weapons. But Racey's words were more than he
could stand. His hand jerked sidewise and down toward the sixshooter
in the open drawer.
Bang! Shooting from the hip Racey drove an accurate bullet through the
manager's right forearm. Lanpher grunted and gurgled with pain. But he
made no attempt to seize his weapon with his left hand.
Luke Tweezy picked himself up from the floor where he had thrown
himself a split second before the shot. Luke Tweezy's leathery face
was mottled yellow with rage.
"I'll get you ten years for this!" he squalled, pointing a long arm at
Racey. "You started this fight! You tried to murder him!"
"Oh, say not so," said Racey. "If I'd wanted to kill him I wouldn't
'a' plugged him in the arm, would I? That wouldn't 'a' been sensible."
"You provoked this fraycas!" snarled Luke, disregarding Racey's point
in a true lawyer-like way. "You--"
"Why, no, Luke, yo're wrong, all wrong," interrupted Swing Tunstall,
leaning over the windowsill at Tweezy's back. "I seen the whole thing,
I did, and I didn't see Racey do anything he shouldn't. I could swear
to it on the stand if I had to," he added, thoughtfully.
Come then Rod Rockwell, Bill Allen, and Tile Stanton from the
bunkhouse. None made any comment on the state of affairs. But while
Rod fetched water in a basin, Bill Allen cut away the sleeve of his
groaning employer, and made all ready.
A few minutes later Alicran Skeel entered the office. "I thought I
heard a gun," he drawled, his calm eyes embracing everyone in the
"That man!" bubbled Luke Tweezy, shaking his fist at Racey. "That
man tried to kill Lanpher! I call upon you not to let him leave the
premises until I can go to Farewell and swear out a warrant for his
"That man," said Swing Tunstall, pointing a derisive finger at Luke
Tweezy, "is a liar by the clock. I saw the whole thing. And all I
gotta say is that Lanpher went after his gun first."
"I ain't doubting yore word, Swing," Alicran said, tactfully, "but
they seems to be a difference of opinion sort of, and--"
"I say that Luke Tweezy is a damn liar," reasserted Swing, "and they
ain't no difference of opinion about that."
"Well, of course, if Luke--" Alicran did not complete the sentence.
"I am a lawyer," Luke Tweezy explained, hurriedly. "I ain't paying any
attention to what his man says--now."
"Or any other time," jibed Swing.
"Any of you boys see this?" Alicran asked of his three punchers.
"He tried to kill me, I tell you!" Lanpher gritted through his teeth.
"He didn't gimme a chance!"
"Any of you boys see it?" repeated Alicran, paying no attention to
"How could we?" asked Rod Rockwell, glancing up from the bandaging of
Lanpher's arm. "We was all in the bunkhouse."
"Then for the benefit of the gents who wasn't here," said Racey,
smoothly, "I don't mind saying that I told Lanpher to go after his
gun, and he did, and I did."
"He's a liar," gibbered Lanpher. "Alicran, ain't you man enough to
take care of Racey Dawson?"
Alicran nodded composedly. "I guess him and me would come to some kind
of an agreement provided I was shore he needed taking care of. But I
ain't none shore he does. Looks like it was a even break to me--the
word of you and Luke against his and Swing's. And what's fairer than
that I'd like to know?"
"Alicran!" squalled Lanpher. "I'm telling you to--"
"Yo're all worked up, that's whatsa matter," Alicran assured him.
"You don't mean more'n half you say. You lie down now after Rod gets
through with you and cool off--cool off considerable, I would. Do you
a heap o' good. Yeah."
"And when you get all well, Lanpher," put in Racey, "will I still be a
liar like you say?"
Lanpher looked at Racey and looked away. His heated blood was cooling
fast. His arm--Lord, how it hurt! He perceived that discretion was
necessary to preserve the rest of his precious skin from future
"I--I guess I was a li'l hasty," he mumbled, his eyelids lowered.
"Now that's what I call right down handsome--for you," drawled Racey.
"Gawd knows I ain't a hawg. I'm satisfied. Luke, s'pose you and me
walk out to the corral together. I got a secret for yore pearly ear."
It was obvious that Luke Tweezy was of two minds. Racey grinned to see
the other's hesitation.
"What you scared of, Luke?" he inquired. "It ain't far to the corral,
and you can ask Alicran to come outside and watch me while I'm talkin'
"I ain't got any business with you," denied Luke Tweezy.
"Oh, yo're mistaken, a heap mistaken. Yes, indeedy, you got business
with me. But it ain't my fault, Luke. I can't help it. Of course, if
you don't wanna talk to me private like, I can reel her off in here.
My thoughts were all of you and yore feelin's, Luke, when I said the
corral. I was shore you'd be happier there."
"I ain't got a thing to hide, not a thing," declared Luke Tweezy. "But
if you want to we'll go out to the corral."
They went out to the corral and Racey found a seat on an empty
nailkeg. Luke Tweezy sat perforce on the hardbaked ground. He hunched
up his legs, clasped his hands round his shins, and rested his sharp
chin on his bony knees. His eyes were fixed on Racey. The latter
seemed in no hurry to begin. He rolled a cigarette with irritating
slowness. To force one's opponent to wait is always good strategy.
"Well," said Luke Tweezy.
"Is it?" smiled Racey. "Have it yore own way, if you like. Lookit,
Luke, you buy a lot of scrip now and then, don't you?"
"Shore," nodded Luke.
"Good big discount, I'll bet."
"Why not? I ain't in business for my health. They's no law--"
"Of course there ain't. And yore mortgages, Luke. Do a good business
in mortgages, don't you?"
"This mortgage of Old Man Dale's now--you figurin' on foreclosin' if
he can't pay?"
"Whadda you know about Dale's mortgage?"
"I heard Lanpher yawpin' about it. He talks too loud sometimes, don't
he? You gonna foreclose on him, I suppose?"
"Like that!" Luke Tweezy snapped his teeth together with a click.
"But foreclosing takes time. You can't sell a man up the minute his
mortgage is due. There's got to be notices in the papers and the like
of that. Suppose now he gets to borrow the money some'ers before the
sale? He'll have plenty of time to look round."
"Who'd lend him money?"
"Old Salt would. He's tight, but he'd rather have Dale at Moccasin
Spring than someone else, and he'd lend Dale money rather than have
him drove out."
"Shucks, he wouldn't lend him a dime. I know Old Salt. Don't fret,
we'll foreclose when we get ready."
"I ain't fretting," said Racey. "You'll foreclose, huh? Aw right. I
just wanted to be shore. You can go now, Luke."
Thus dismissed Tweezy rose to his feet and glared down at Racey
Dawson. His little eyes shone with spite.
"Say it," urged Racey. "You'll bust if you don't."
But Luke Tweezy did not say it. He knew better. Without a word he
returned to the house.
"They ain't going to foreclose, that's a cinch," said Racey when the
ponies were fox-trotting toward Soogan Creek and the Bar S range five
minutes later. "Luke's telling me they were proves they ain't."
"Shore," acquiesced Swing, "but what are they gonna do?"
"I ain't figured that out yet."
"You mean you dunno. That's the size of it,"
"How'd you happen to be at that window so providential this mornin'?"
Racey queried, hurriedly.
"How'd you s'pose? Don't you guess I'd know they was something up from
the nice, kind way you said so-long to me back there at the Dales'?
Huh? 'Course I did--I ain't no fool. You'd oughta had sense enough to
take me along in the first place instead of makin' me trail you miles
an' miles. And where would you 'a' been if I hadn't come siftin'
along, I'd like to know? Might know you'd need a witness. Them two
jiggers put together could easy make you lots of trouble. What was you
thinking of, anyhow, Racey?"
"How could I tell they were _both_ gonna be together? Besides, three
of the 88 boys were over in the bunkhouse. I was counting on them."
"Over in the bunkhouse, huh? A lot of good they'd done you there. A
lot of good. Oh, yo're bright, Racey. I'd tell a man that, I would."
Racey, walking suddenly round the corner of the Dale stable, came upon
Mr. Dale tilting a bottle toward the sky. The business end of the
bottle was inserted between Mr. Dale's lips. His Adam's apple slid
gravely up and down. He did not see Racey Dawson.
"Howdy," said the puncher.
Mr. Dale removed the bottle, whirled, and thrust the bottle behind
"Oh, it's you," he said, blinking, and slowly producing the bottle.
"Huh-have one on me."
"Not to-day," refused Racey, shaking his head. "I got a misery in my
stummick. Doctor won't lemme drink any."
"Yeah?" Thus Mr. Dale with interest. Then, again proffering the
liquor, he said: "This here's fine for the misery. Better have a
"No, I guess not."
"Well, I will," averred Mr. Dale and downed three swallows rapidly.
"Yeah," he continued, driving in the cork with the heel of his hand,
"a feller needs a drink now and then."
"Helps him stand off trouble, don't it?" Racey hazarded,
sympathetically, perceiving an opening.
"Shore does," answered Mr. Dale. "I should say so. Dunno who'd oughta
know that better'n I do. Trouble, Racey--well, say, I'm just made of
trouble I am."
"Aw, it ain't as bad as that," encouraged Racey.
"Yes, it is, too," contradicted the other. "I got more trouble on my
hands than a rat-tailed hoss tied short in fly-time. Trouble--nothing
"Nothing is as bad as it looks."
"Heaps of times she's worse."
"I'm yore friend. You know me. If I can help you--"
"Nobody can help me. I dunno what to do, Racey."
"Well, you know best, I expect, but I've always found if I talk over
with somebody else anythin' that bothers me it don't seem to stick up
half so big."
Mr. Dale sank down upon one run-over heel and stared blearily off
across the flats. The bottle in his hip-pocket made a pronounced bulge
under the cloth.
"I dunno what to do, Racey," he said, looking up sidewise at Racey
where he stood in front of him, his hands in his pockets and his hat
on the back of his head. "I owe a lot of money. I dunno how I'm gonna
pay it, and I'm worried."
"Let the other feller do the worrying," suggested Racey.
"I wish I could," said Mr. Dale, drearily. "I wish I could."
"Why don't you, then?"
"He'll foreclose--they'll foreclose, I mean."
"Aw, maybe not."
"Yeah, they will. I know 'em! ---- 'em! They'd have the shirt off my
back if they could. You see, Racey, she's thisaway: I borrowed five
thousand dollars from the Marysville bank, on a mortgage, and there
they went and sold the mortgage to Lanpher of the 88 and Luke Tweezy.
And there's the rub, Racey. The bank would 'a' renewed all right, but
you can put down a bet and go the limit that Lanpher and Tweezy won't.
I done asked 'em."
"Five thousand dollars is a lot of money," said Racey, soberly. He had
been thinking that the mortgage would not have been above two thousand
at the outside. But five thousand! What in Sam Hill had old Dale
done with the money? In the next breath Dale answered the unspoken
"I needed the money," he said in a low voice, his eyes lowered,
"and--and I had bad luck with it."
"Yeah, I know, the cattle dying and all."
"Cattle! What cattle?" Mr. Dale stared blankly at Racey. "Oh, them!
Hell, they didn't have nothin' to do with it, them cattle didn't. I'd
worked out a system, Racey--a system to beat roulette, and I was shore
it was all right. By Gawd, it was all right! They was nothin' wrong
with that system. But I had bad luck. I had most awful bad luck."
"And the system, I take it, didn't work?"
"It didn't--against my bad luck."
Mr. Dale again dropped his eyes, and Racey stared down at the
hump-shouldered old figure with something akin to pity in his gaze.
Certainly he was sorry for him. He was not in the least scornful
despite the fact that it did not seem possible that any sensible man
could be such a fool. A system--a system to beat roulette! And bad
luck! The drably ancient and moth-eaten story with which every
unsuccessful gambler seeks to establish an alibi.
"Whose wheel was it?" said Racey.
"Lacey's at Marysville."
"In the back room of the Sweet Dreams, huh? An' there's nothing
crooked about Lacey's wheel, either. It's as square as Lacey himself."
"Lacey's wasn't the only wheel. They was McFluke's, too."
So McFluke had a wheel, had he? This was news to Racey Dawson.
"How long has McFluke been runnin' a wheel?" inquired Racey.
"Quite a while," was the vague reply.
"Maybe longer. I dunno."
"Funny it never got round."
"It was a private wheel. Only for his friends. Nothin' public about
"Who used to play it besides you?" persisted Racey, hanging to his
subject like a bull-pup to a tramp's trousers.
Mr. Dale wrinkled his forehead. "Besides me? Lessee now. They were Doc
Coffin, Nebraska Jones, Honey Hoke, and Punch-the-breeze Thompson."
"Aw, Galloway and Norton and that bunch," Mr. Dale said, shamefacedly.
Racey nodded his head slowly. A crooked wheel. Of course it was
crooked. Why not? That Dale, Galloway, Norton, and a few other
gentlemen of the neighbourhood were under their wives' thumbs to such
a degree that they did not dare to gamble openly was a matter of
common knowledge. What more natural than that someone should provide
them with a private gambling place? With such cappers as Nebraska and
his gang, losers would not feel equal to making much of an outcry. It
must be a paying occupation for McFluke, Nebraska, or whoever was at
the bottom of the business.
Racey nodded again and squatted down on his heels. He picked up a
stick and squinted along its length.
"None of my business, of course," he said, casually, "but would you
mind telling me how much you lost to McFluke?"
"About seven thousand."
Racey looked up at the sky. Seven thousand dollars. The full amount of
the mortgage and two thousand more. And McFluke had it all.
"You see," said Mr. Dale, dolefully. "I began to make money after
I'd been here awhile and my health come back. Yeah, I made money all
right, all right." He pushed back his hat and scratched a grizzled
head. "I had luck," he added. "But you wasn't round here then. You'd
gone to the Bend."
"Yep, I'd gone to the Bend, damitall, and it shore seems like I'd
stayed there too long. Didn't you ever guess McFluke's wheel wasn't
"Aw, it was so straight. Mac wouldn't cheat nobody. Yo're--yo're
"I am, huh? Likell I'm mistaken. I know what I'm talking about. I tell
you flat, McFluke is so crooked he could swallow a nail and spit out a
corkscrew. And he's got that wheel trained. You just bet he has. Look
under the table and see what he's doing with his feet or his knees.
My Gawd, Dale, didn't you know they make roulette wheels with a brake
like a wagon?"
"I--I've heard of 'em," Mr. Dale nodded, hesitatingly. "But I'm shore
Mac's is on the level."
"And you bet seven thousand dollars it was on the level, didn't you?"
"But where did you come out? Do you think you ever got a show for yore
"Oh, I won a bet now and then," defended Mr. Dale.
"Small ones, shore. Naturally he has to let you win now and then to
sort of toll you along and keep you good-natured. You won now and
then, yep. But did you ever win when you had a sizable stake up?"
Mr. Dale shook his head. "No, come to think of it, I don't believe I
"I knowed you didn't," exclaimed Racey, triumphantly. "I tell you that
wheel is crooked."
"Not so loud," cautioned Mr. Dale. "They'll hear you in the house."
"Don't they know nothing about it a-tall?" probed Racey.
"They know about the five-thousand-dollar mortgage," admitted Dale,
Racey rubbed his chin. "I was here when Molly found it out."
Mr. Dale nodded miserably. He was too utterly wretched to resent
Racey's interference with his affairs. "She--she told me," he said.
"Don't they know about the other two thousand you lost to McFluke, or
what you dropped at Lacey's?"
Mr. Dale shook his head. "I never told 'em. I--I only lost fifteen or
sixteen hundred at Lacey's, anyway."
"Fifteen or sixteen hundred is a whole lot when you ain't got it,"
said the direct and brutal Racey. "Instead of seven thousand then, you
done lost eighty-five or eighty-six hundred. I swear I don't see how
you managed to lose all that and yore family not find it out."
"I kept quiet."
"I guess you did keep quiet. Gawd, yes! Lookit, Dale, I'm going to
help you out of this. But you'll have to start fresh. You've got to
go in and make a clean breast to the family about where the other
thirty-six hundred over and above the five thousand went."
Mr. Dale's jaw dropped. "I--I never even told 'em where the five
"Huh? I thought you said they knew about the mortgage--after Molly
found it out."
"They knew about the mortgage all right enough, but they dunno where
the money went. Yuh see, Racey, I--I done told 'em I lost it in a land
"You did! Aw right, you go right in and tell 'em the truth, all of it,
every last smidgen."
"I cuc-can't!" protested Mr. Dale. "I ain't got the heart!"
"You ain't got the nerve, you mean. You go on and tell 'em, Dale, an'
I'll fix it up for you, but I won't fix up anything for you if you
ain't gonna play square with those women from now on. And you can't
play square with 'em without you begin by telling 'em the truth."
"How you gonna help me out?" temporized Mr. Dale.
"I'm goin' to Old Salt, that's what I'm going to do. I'll fix it up
with him to lend you the money."
Mr. Dale shook his head. "He won't do it."
"Shore he'll do it. You don't think he's gonna have somebody else come
in here in yore place, do you? Not much he ain't. He'll lend you the
money and glad to."
"I done already asked him, an' he wouldn't."
"'You asked him, and he wouldn't?'" repeated Racey, stupidly. "When
did you ask him?"
"About two months ago--soon as ever I found out I wouldn't be able to
pay off the mortgage."
"And he wouldn't lend it to you? I don't understand it, damfi do. It
ain't reasonable. Lookit here, did you tell him what you wanted it
for? Did you tell him about the mortgage?"
"Non-no," said Mr. Dale in a still, small voice. "I didn't."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because I was afraid he'd take advantage of me. I was afraid he'd fix
it so as to take my ranch away from me if he knowed how bad and what
for I needed it."
"But ain't that exactly what the Marysville bank could 'a' done if it
wanted?" demanded Racey, aghast at the Dale obtuseness.
"Yeah, but I had hopes of standing off the bank, and--"
"But you ain't got any hope of standing off Lanpher and Tweezy. Nary a
hope. Now lookit, Old Salt is yore only chance round here. Of course,
he'd fix it to take away yore ranch if he could. That's his business.
And it's yore business to see he don't. An' it's my business to help
you see he don't. Suppose now I go to Old Salt and get him to lend you
the money on a mortgage, say a ten-year mortgage?"
"But I got one mortgage on the place now. He'd never take a second
"Naw, naw, that ain't gonna be the way of it a-tall. It will be fixed
so's Old Salt's mortgage won't go into effect till the first one's
"But then till the first one is paid off--maybe it will be three-four
days--Old Salt's five thousand will be unsecured."
"It won't be unsecured. It won't go out of Saltoun's hands. He'll pay
off the mortgage himself."
"Do you think you can get a easy rate from Old Salt?" asked Dale, the
light of a new hope dawning in his faded old eyes. "It's a awful tax
on a feller paying the full legal rate."
"We'll have to take what we can get, but I'll do my best to tone it
down. Sometimes a man will take less if he has another object in view
besides the interest. And you bet Old Salt will have a plenty big
object in view in keeping out Lanpher and Tweezy. Money ain't tight
now, anyway. I'll do the best I can for you. Don't you fret. You go on
in now and square up with the women and I'll slide out to the Bar S
Mr. Dale, the poor old man, laid a hand on Racey's strong young
forearm. "I'll tell 'em," he said. "I'll tell 'em. You--you fix it up
with Old Salt."
Abruptly he turned away and hobbled hurriedly around the corner of the
Racey Dawson, riding back to Moccasin Spring, was in a warm and
pleasant frame of mind. With him rode Old Salt, and with Old Salt rode
Old Salt's check book. Racey had, after much argument and persuasion,
made excellent arrangements with Mr. Saltoun. The latter, anxious
though he was to own the Dale place himself, had agreed to pay off the
mortgage bought by Lanpher and Tweezy and take in return a 6 per cent.
mortgage for ten years. No wonder Racey was pleased with himself. He
had a right to be.
As they crossed the Marysville and Farewell trail Racey's horse picked
up a fortuitous stone. Racey dismounted. Mr. Saltoun, slouching
comfortably back against his cantle, looked doubtfully down at Racey
where he stood humped over, the horse's hoof between his knees,
tapping with a knife handle at the lodged stone.
"A ten-year mortgage is a long one, kind of," he said, slowly.
"I thought we'd settled all that." Racey lifted a quick head.
"Shore we've done settled it," Mr. Saltoun acquiesced, promptly.
"That's all right. I'm going through with my part of it. Gotta do it.
Nothing else to do. I was just a-thinking, that's all."
Racey merely grunted. He resumed his tapping.
"Alla same," Mr. Saltoun said, suddenly, "I don't believe this Jack
Harpe feller had anything to do with this mortgage deal, Racey."
"No, I don't. You can't make me believe they's any coon in _that_
tree. If they was why ain't Jack Harpe done something before this?
Tell me that. Why ain't he?"
"Shore you don't. You was mistaken, Racey. Badly mistaken. Yore
judgment was out by a mile. She's all just Luke Tweezy and that lousy
skunk of a Lanpher trying to act spotty. No more than that."
"Well, ain't that enough?"
"But nothing. Where'd you be if I hadn't found out about it, huh?
Wouldn't you look nice feedin' other folks' cows on yore grass?"
"Alla same, they wouldn't 'a' been Jack Harpe's cows."
"Which is all you know about it. You never would take warning, and you
know it. How about the time when Blakely was the 88 manager, and they
were rustling yore cattle so fast it made a quarter-hoss racing full
split look slow?"
"Well, but--" interrupted Mr. Saltoun, beginning to fidget with his
"And the time Cutnose Canter tried to run off a whole herd of hosses
on you?" Racey breezed on, warming to his subject. "You wouldn't let
Chuck warn you. Oh, no, not you. He didn't know what he was talking
about. No, he didn't. And how did it turn out, huh? What did that li'l
party cost you? Yeah, I would begin frizzling round if I was you.
You'll generally notice the feller who's the last to laugh enjoys it
the most. I'm that feller--me and Swing both."
"Yeah, me and Swing will be thanking you for a healthy big check
apiece when our time-limit is up. Yes, indeedy, that's us."
"Is _that_ so? _Is_ that so? You got another guess, Racey, and it's me
that will get the most out of that laugh. If it's like I say, even if
Lanpher and Tweezy are trying a game you don't get paid a nickel if
Jack Harpe and his cattle ain't in on the deal. You done put in the
Jack Harpe end of it yoreself. I heard you. So did Tom Loudon, and
Swing, too. Jack Harpe. Yeah. He is the tune you was playing alla
time. And up to now I can't see that Jack Harpe has made a move, not a
"Lanpher and Tweezy wasn't in the bet," insisted Mr. Saltoun. "It was
Jack Harpe, and you know it. 'If Jack Harpe don't start trying to get
Dale's ranch away from him and run cattle in on you inside of six
months you don't have to pay us.' Them was yore very words, Racey. I
got 'em wrote down all so careful. I know 'em by heart."
"I'll bet you do," Racey told him, heartily. "I'll gamble you been
studying those words in all yore spare time."
"It pays to be careful," smiled Mr. Saltoun. "Always bear that in
mind. I ain't wanting to rub anything in, Racey, but if you'd been a
mite more careful, just a mite more careful, you wouldn't be out so
much at the finish. Drinks are on you, cowboy. And when you stop to
think that I'd 'a' made the bet just the same if you'd wanted Lanpher
and Tweezy in on it. Only you didn't."
"Guess I must 'a' overlooked 'em, huh?" grinned Racey. "Feller can't
think of everything, can he?"
"I'm glad to see yo're taking it thisaway," approved Mr. Saltoun.
"Working for six months for nothing don't seem to bother you a-tall."
"I ain't worked six months for nothing--yet," pointed out Racey. "The
six months ain't up--yet. You wanna remember, Salt, that a race ain't
over till the horses cross the line."
"You gotta prove Jack Harpe's connection," began Mr. Saltoun.
Racey topped his mount, but as the horse started he held him up.
"Lessee who's coming," he suggested, jerking his thumb over his
He and Mr. Saltoun both turned their heads. Someone was riding toward
them along the trail from the direction of the Lazy River ford--Racey
had caught the clatter of the horse's hoofs on the rocks of a wash
wherein the trail lay concealed.
"Siftin' right along," said Mr. Saltoun.
Racey nodded. Horse and rider slid into sight above the side of the
wash and trotted toward them.
"Looks like Punch-the-breeze Thompson," said Mr. Saltoun.
"It is Thompson," confirmed Racey. "Didn't it strike you he sort of
hesitated a li'l bit when he first seen us--like a man would whose
breakfast didn't rest easy on his stomach, as you might say."
Mr. Saltoun nodded. "He did sway back on them lines at the top."
"And he ain't boiling along quite as fast now as he was in the wash,"
"I noticed that, too," admitted Mr. Saltoun.
They waited, barring the trail. Punch-the-breeze Thompson did not
attempt to ride around them. He pulled up and nodded easily to the two
"They's been a fraycas down at McFluke's," Thompson said.
"Fraycas?" Racey cocked an eyebrow.
"Yeah--old Dale and a stranger."
Racey nodded. He knew with a great certainty what was coming next.
"Anybody hurt?" he asked.
Racey nodded again. "Even break?"
"We don't think so," Thompson stated, frankly.
"Who's we?" queried Racey.
"Oh, Austin, Honey Hoke, Doc Coffin, McFluke, Jack Harpe, Lanpher, and
Luke Tweezy. We all just didn't like the way the stranger went at it,
so I'm going to Farewell after the sheriff."
"Yo're holdin' the stranger then, I take it?" put in Mr. Saltoun.
"Well, no, not exactly," replied Thompson. "He got away, that stranger
"And didn't none of you make any try at stopping him a-tall?" demanded
"Plenty," Thompson replied with a stony face. "I took a shot at him
myself just as he was hopping through the window. I missed."
"Yet they say yo're a good snap shot, Thompson," threw in Racey.
"I am--most usual," admitted Thompson. "But this time my hand must 'a'
shook or something."
"Yep," concurred Racey, "I shore guess it must 'a' shook
Thompson faced Racey. "'Or something,'" he repeated, hardily.
"What I said," replied Racey, calmly. "I never mean more'n I
Thompson continued to regard Racey fixedly. Mr. Saltoun was glad that
he himself was two yards to the right, and he would not have objected
to double the distance.
Racey's hands were folded on the horn of his saddle. Thompson's right
hand hung at his side. Racey had told the truth when he spoke of
Thompson as a good snap shot. He was all of that. And he was
fairly quick on the draw as well. It would seem that, taking into
consideration the position of Thompson's right hand, that Thompson
had a shade the better of it. Racey thought so. But he hoped,
nevertheless, by shooting through the bottom of his holster, to plant
at least one bullet in Thompson before the latter killed him.
The decision lay with Thompson. Would he elect to fight? Racey could
almost see the thoughts at conflict behind Thompson's frontal bone.
Mr. Saltoun, hoping against hope, sat tensely silent. Racey's eyes
held Thompson's steadily.
Slowly, inch by inch, Thompson's right hand moved upward--and away
from the gun butt. He gathered his reins in his left hand and with his
hitherto menacing right he tilted his hat forward and began to scratch
the back of his head.
"If you don't mean more'n you say," offered Thompson, "you don't mean
"Which is all the way you look at it," said Racey.
"And a damn good way, too," nipped in Mr. Saltoun, hurriedly, inwardly
cursing Racey for not letting well enough alone. "What was the fight
"Cards," said Thompson, laconically, switching his eyes briefly to Mr.
"And the stranger cold-decked him?" inquired Racey.
"Something like that, but I can't say for shore. I wasn't playing with
him. Doc Coffin was, and so was Honey Hoke and Peaches Austin. Peaches
said he kind of had an idea the stranger dealt himself a card from the
bottom just before old Dale started to crawl his hump. But Peaches
ain't shore about it. Seemin'ly old Dale is the only one was shore,
and he's dead."
"And yo're going for the coroner, huh?" asked Racey.
"I said so."
"But you didn't say if anybody was chasing the stranger now. Are
"Shore," was the prompt reply. "They all took out after him--all
except McFluke, that is."
Racey nodded. "I expect McFluke would want to stay with Dale," he
said, gently, "just as you'd want to go to Farewell after the coroner.
Yo're shore it is the coroner, Thompson?"
"Say, how many times do you want me to tell you?" demanded the
badgered Thompson. "Of course it's the coroner. In a case like this
the coroner's gotta be notified."
"I expect," assented Racey. "I expect. But if yo're really goin' for
the coroner, Thompson, what made you tell us when you first met us you
were going for the sheriff?"
"Why," said Thompson without a quiver, "I'm a-goin' for him, too. I
must 'a' forgot to say so at first."
"Yeah, I guess you did." Thus Racey, annoyed that Thompson had
contrived to crawl through the fence. He had hoped that Thompson might
be tempted to a demonstration, for which potentiality he, Racey, had
prepared by removing his right hand from the saddle horn.
"It don't always pay to forget, Thompson," suggested Mr. Saltoun,
"It don't," Thompson assented readily. "And I don't--most always."
"Don't stay here any longer on our account, Thompson," said Racey.
"You've told us about enough."
"Try and remember it," Thompson bade him, and lifted his reins.
"We will, and, on the other hand, don't you forget yore sheriff and
"I won't," grinned Thompson and rode past and away.
"He ain't goin' for the sheriff and the coroner any more'n I am,"
declared Mr. Saltoun, disgustedly, turning in the saddle to gaze after
the vanishing horseman.
"Of course he ain't!" almost barked Racey. "In this country fellers
like Thompson don't ride hellbent just to tell the sheriff and the
coroner a feller has been killed. Murder ain't any such e-vent as all
that. Unless," he added, thoughtfully, "Thompson is the stranger."
"You mean Thompson might 'a' killed him?"
"I don't think it would spoil his appetite any. You remember how fast
he was pelting along down in the wash, and how he slowed up after
seeing us? A murderer would act just thataway."
Mr. Saltoun nodded. "A gent can't do anything on guesswork," he said,
bromidically. "Facts are what count."
"You'll find before we get to the bottom of this business," observed
Racey, sagely, "that guesswork is gonna lead us to a whole heap of
"I hope so," Mr. Saltoun said, uncomfortably conscious that the death
of Dale might seriously complicate the lifting of the mortgage.
Racey was no less uncomfortable, and for the same reason. He felt sure
that the killing of Dale had been inspired in order to settle once for
all the future of the Dale ranch. No wonder Luke Tweezy had been so
positive in his assertion that Old Man Saltoun would not lend any
money to Dale. The latter had been marked for death at the time.
Despite the fact that Tweezy and Harpe were at last being seen
together in public, thus indicating that the "deal," to quote Pooley's
letter to Tweezy, had been "sprung," Racey doubted that the murder
formed part of Jacob Pooley's "absolutely safe" plan for forcing out
Dale. While in some ways the murder might be considered sufficiently
safe, the method of it and the act itself did not smack of Pooley's
handiwork. It was much more probable that the killing was the climax
of Luke Tweezy's original plan adhered to by the attorney and his
friends against the advice and wishes of Jacob Pooley.
"Guess we'd better go on to McFluke's," was Racey's suggestion.
"Looks like they got back mighty soon from chasing the stranger,"
said Racey, when they came in sight of the place, eying the number of
horses tied to the hitching-rail.
"Maybe they got him quick," Mr. Saltoun offered, sardonically.
They rode on and added their horses to the tail-switching string in
front of the saloon. Racey did not fail to note that none of the other
horses gave any evidence of having been ridden either hard or lately.
Which, in the face of Thompson's assertion that the men he left behind
had ridden in pursuit of the murderer, seemed rather odd. Or perhaps
it was not so odd, looking upon it from another angle.
The saloon, when they had ridden up, had been quiet as the well-known
grave. It remained equally silent when they entered.
McFluke, behind the bar, wearing a black eye and a puffed nose, nodded
to them civilly. In chairs ranged round the walls sat an assortment of
men--Peaches Austin, Luke Tweezy, Jack Harpe, Doc Coffin, Honey Hoke,
and Lanpher. The latter was nursing a slung right arm. They were all
there, the men mentioned by name by Thompson as having been in the
place when Dale was killed.
"What is this, a graveyard meetin'?" asked Racey of McFluke, glancing
from the assembled multitude to McFluke and smiling slightly. It
was no part of wisdom, thought Racey, to let these men know of his
encounter with Thompson. He had Thompson's story. He was anxious to
'"A graveyard meeting,'" repeated the saloon-keeper. "Well, and that's
what it is in a manner of speaking."
Racey stared. "I bite. What's the answer?"
The saloon-keeper cleared his throat. "Old Dale's been killed."
"Has, huh? Who killed him?" Racey allowed his eyes casually to skim
the expressionless faces of the men backed against the walls.
"A stranger killed him," replied McFluke, heavily.
Racey removed his eyes from the slack-chinned countenance of the
saloon-keeper to thin-faced, foxy-nosed Luke Tweezy. Luke's little
eyes met his.
"You saw this stranger, Luke?" he asked.
Luke Tweezy nodded. "We all saw him."
"He was playing draw with Honey Hoke and Peaches Austin and me," Doc
Coffin offered, oilily.
"And the stranger?" amended Racey.
"And the stranger," Doc Coffin accepted the amendment.
"What was the trouble?" pursued Racey.
"Well, we kind of thought"--Doc Coffin's eyes slid round to cross an
instant the shifty gaze of Peaches Austin--"we thought maybe this
stranger dealt a card from the bottom. We ain't none shore."
"Dale said he did, anyhow," said Peaches Austin.
"He said so twice," put in Lanpher.
Racey turned deliberately. "You here," said he, softly. "I didn't see
you at first. I must be getting nearsighted. You saw the whole thing,
did you, Lanpher?"
"Yeah," replied Lanpher.
"Who pulled first?"
"The stranger." The answer came patly from at least five different
Racey looked grimly upon those present. "Most everybody seems shore
the stranger's to blame," he observed. "Besides saying the stranger
was dealing from the bottom did Dale use any other fighting words?"
"He called him a--tinhorn," burst simultaneously from the lips of
McFluke and Peaches Austin.
"Only two this time," said Racey, shooting a swift glance at Jack
Harpe and overjoyed to find the latter dividing a glare of disgust
between McFluke and Austin. "But you'll have to do better than that."
Mr. Saltoun shivered inwardly. He was a man of courage, but not
of foolhardy courage, the species of courage that dares death
unnecessarily. He was getting on in years, and hoped, when it came his
time to die, to pass out peacefully in his nightshirt. And here was
that fool of a Racey practically telling Harpe and the other rascals
that he was on to their game. No wonder Mr. Saltoun shivered. He
expected matters to come to push of pike in a split second. So, being
what he was, a fairly brave man in a tight corner, he put on a hard,
confident expression and hooked his thumbs in his belt.
Racey Dawson spread his legs wide and laughed a reckless laugh. He
felt reckless. He likewise felt for these men ranged before him the
most venomous hate of which he was capable. These men had killed the
father of Molly Dale. It did not matter whether any one or all of
them had or had not committed the actual murder, they were wholly
responsible for it. They had brought it about. He knew it. He knew it
just as sure as he was a foot high. And as he looked upon them sitting
there in flinty silence he purposed to make them pay, and pay to the
uttermost. That the old man had been a gambler and a drunkard, and the
world was undoubtedly a better world for his leaving it, were facts of
no moment in Racey's mind. He, Racey, was not one to condone either
murder or injustice. And this murder and the injustice of it would
cruelly hurt three women.
He laughed again, without mirth. His blue eyes, glittering through
the slits of the drawn-down eyelids, were pin-points of wrath. His
hard-bitten stare challenged his enemies. Damn them! let them shoot
if they wanted to. He was ready. He, Racey Dawson, would show them
a fight that would stack up as well as any of which a hard-fighting
territory could boast. So, feeling as he did, Racey stared upon his
enemies with a frosty, slit-eyed stare and mentally dared them to come
to the scratch.
But in moments like these there is always one to say "Let's go," or
give its equivalent, a sign. And that one is invariably the leader of
one side or the other. Racey Dawson saw Luke Tweezy turn a slow head
and look toward Jack Harpe. He saw Doc Coffin, Honey, and Austin, one
after the other, do the same. But Jack Harpe sat immobile. He neither
spoke nor gave a sign. Perhaps he did not consider the present a
sufficiently propitious moment. No one knew what he thought. Had he
known what the future held in store he might have gone after his gun.
Tense, nerves wire-drawn, Racey and Mr. Saltoun awaited the decision.
It came, and like many decisions, its form was totally unexpected.
Jack Harpe looked at Racey and said smilelessly:
"Wanna view the remains?"
DRAWING THE COVER
"You don't understand it, do you, Peaches?" Racey inquired genially
of Peaches Austin when he found himself neighbours with that slippery
gentleman at the inquest.
Peaches shied away from Racey on general principles. He feared
a catch. There were so many things about Racey that he did not
"Whatcha talking about?" Peaches grunted, surlily.
"You--me--Chuck--everybody, more or less. You don't, do you?"
"Don't what?" A trifle more surlily.
"You don't see how and why Chuck Morgan is so all-fired friendly with
me, and how I'm a-riding for a good outfit like the Bar S, when the
last you seen of me, Chuck was a-hazing me up the trail with my hands
over my head. You don't understand it none. I can see it in your light
green eyes, Peaches."
Peaches modestly veiled his pale green eyes beneath dropped lids
and turned his head away. He would have given a great deal to go
elsewhere. But to do that would be to make himself conspicuous, and
there were many reasons, all more or less cogent, why he did not wish
to make himself conspicuous. Peaches sat still on his chair and broke
into a gentle perspiration.
Racey perceived the other's discomfort and ached to increase it. "Did
you stay here three-four days like I told you to that time a few weeks
ago? And was Jack Harpe most Gawd-awful hot under the collar when you
did see him final? And if so, what happened?"
Racey gaped at Peaches like an expectant terrier watching a rat-hole.
It may be that Peaches felt like a holed rat in a hole too small for
comfort. He turned on Racey with a flash of defiance.
"There was a feller once," said Peaches, "who bit off more'n he could
"I've heard of him," Racey admitted, gravely. "He was first cousin to
the other feller that grabbed the bear by the tail."
"I dunno whose first cousin he was," frowned Peaches. "All I know is
he didn't show good sense."
"Now that," said Racey, "is where you and I don't think alike. I may
be wrong in what I think. I may have made a mistake, but I gotta be
showed why and wherefore. Anybody is welcome to show me, Peaches, just
Racey accompanied his remarks with a chilling look. The perspiration
of Peaches turned clammy.
"Meaning?" Peaches queried.
"Meaning? Why, meaning that you can show me if you like, Peaches."
This was too much for Peaches. He was out of his depth and unable to
swim. He sank with a gurgle of, "I dunno what yo're drivin' at."
Racey shook a sorrowful head. "I'm shore sorry to hear it. I was
guessin' you did. I had hopes of you, Peaches. You've done gimme a
disappointment. Yep, she's a cruel world when all's said and done."
This was too much for Peaches. He resolved to shift his seat whether
it made him conspicuous or not. The gambler removed to a vacant
windowsill, upon which he sat and looked anywhere but at Racey Dawson.
That young man leaned back in his chair and surveyed the multitude.
Besides the citizens found in the saloon on his and Mr. Saltoun's
arrival there were now present Dolan, who combined with his office of
justice of the peace that of coroner, and twelve good men and true,
the coroner's jury and most intimate friends, ready and willing at
any and all times to serve the territory for ten dollars a day and
expenses. In addition to this representative group Alicran Skeel had
dropped in from nowhere, Chuck Morgan had driven over with a wagon
from Soogan Creek (mercifully the family at Moccasin Spring had not
yet been informed of their bereavement), and Sheriff Jake Rule and his
deputy Kansas Casey had ridden out from Farewell. Punch-the-breeze
Thompson had returned with the sheriff. Which circumstance either
disposed of the theory that Thompson was the murderer, or else
Thompson had more nerve than he was supposed to have. Racey began to
nurse a distinct grievance against Thompson.
The main room of the saloon, into which the body had been brought from
the back room, was a fog of smoke and a blabber of voices. McFluke
had not been idle at the bar, and the coroner's jury was three parts
drunk. The members had not yet agreed on a verdict. But the delay was
a mere matter of form. They always liked to stretch the time, and give
the territory a good run for her money.
Racey Dawson, conscious that both Jack Harpe and Luke Tweezy were
watching him covertly, rolled a meticulous cigarette. He scratched
a match on the chair seat, held it to the end of the cigarette,