Infomotions, Inc.The Heart of the Range / White, William Patterson



Author: White, William Patterson
Title: The Heart of the Range
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): racey; racey dawson; luke tweezy; yore; luke; jack harpe; swing tunstall; peaches austin; judge dolan; doc coffin; tom loudon; honey hoke; kansas casey; molly dale; fat jakey; racey nodded; ain't gonna; luke tweezy's; whatsa matter; jake rule; racey looke
Contributor(s): Boutens, P. C. (Pieter Cornelis), 1870-1943 [Translator]
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Title: The Heart of the Range

Author: William Patterson White

Release Date: December 16, 2003 [EBook #10473]

Language: English

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[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

AUTHOR OF

"_The Rider of Golden Bar_," "_Hidden Trails_," "_Lynch Lawyers_,"
"_The Owner of the Lazy D_," "_Paradise Bend_," _etc_.


1921




TO RANGER

A GOOD HORSE AND A BETTER FRIEND




CONTENTS

CHAPTER


I. THE HORSE THIEF

II. THE YELLOW DOG

III. THE TALL STRANGER

IV. THE OLD LADY

V. McFLUKE's

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

XXIV. DIPLOMACY

XXV. STRATEGY

XXVI. THE QUARREL

XXVII. BURGLARY

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




CHAPTER I

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
the way.

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
into slumber.

Mr. Dawson turned a perplexed face on the bartender.

"Now what you gonna do with a feller like that?" Mr. Dawson asked,
plaintively.

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
last month."

"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
suddenly.

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
again.

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
saddle-pocket."

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
cayuse."




CHAPTER II

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
know?"

"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
this hoss?"

"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.

"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
imbibed inspiration.

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
forward.

"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
yesterday."

"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
maid?"

"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)
business.

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
burly youth.

"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
lithe figure.

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
her cheeks.

"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
gullion!"

"He ain't yore dog!" denied the burly youth. "He never was yores! He's
mine, you--!"

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
dirty-mouthed beast!"

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
said, quietly.

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.




CHAPTER III

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
companion.

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
in that."

"'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
more."

"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
whole lot."

"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,
doggedly.

"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
companion.

"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,
Punch."

"'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.

"Plugged."

"Who done it?"

"Feller by the name of Dawson."

"Racey Dawson?" nipped in Lanpher.

"Yeah, him."

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
stretch.

"Well," said the stranger, refraining from comment on Lanpher's
estimate of the Dawson qualities, "we'll have to get somebody in
Nebraska's place."

"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
world.

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
thinly.

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
Farewell.

"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
her reins.

"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
to begin."

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?"

"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
gang."

"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
careful--now."

"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
girl.

"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
'em."

"I know who Lanpher is," she told him, impatiently. "I meant the
other."

"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
face keenly.

She shook her head. "Nebraska knows a lot of folks," she said,
indifferently.

"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.

"Huh?" Perplexedly.

"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
ain't."

"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
Arizona."

"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,
angrily.

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."




CHAPTER IV

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
luck."

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
the background.

"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!
    Turkey in_--"

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
red.

"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
smiles.

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
tale?"

"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
hoss, and--"

"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
time.

"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
him.

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
know him?"

"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
hand.

"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,
Luke?"

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
to-day?"

"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
along."

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
River ford."

"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."

"I can't--now."

"Then you ask Chuck later. I'll tell him all about it. You ask him. So
long."

Racey hurried out and caught up his own horse. He swung into the
saddle and spurred away down stream.




CHAPTER V

McFLUKE'S


"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
Bar S."

"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
ridge.

"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,
though."

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
and saloon.

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
luck.

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
eyes.

"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
kind.

"This is a fine time for you to get here," he growled. "A fi-ine
time."

"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
mount.

"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,
shortly.

"You might have," returned Racey. "I'm mighty careless where I
travel."

"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
laughed.

"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,
stubbornly. "I--"

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
the main thing. I'm telling you if he gets any more I'm gonna make you
hard to find."

"Is that a threat or a promise?" inquired McFluke.

"Don't do that," Racey said, suddenly, as his hand shot out and pinned
fast the right wrist of Peaches Austin. "C'mon outside now, where we
can talk. Right through the door. To yore left. Aw right, now they
can't hear us. Lookit, they ain't any call for a gunplay, none
whatever. This gent is only laying down the law to Mac. And here you
have to get serious right away. See how easy Mac takes it. He ain't
doing a thing, not a thing. Good as gold, Mac is. Can't you see how
a killing thisaway, and a fellah like Morgan, too, would maybe put
a crimp in this place for good? Have some sense, man. We need
McFluke's."

"He hadn't oughta drawed on Mac," said Peaches, his pale eyes, shifty
as a cat's, darting incessantly between Racey and the doorway.

"He didn't shoot him. And he ain't. You lemme attend to this, will
you? I'll get him away quiet and peaceable--if I can. But you keep out
of it. Y'understand?"

Peaches Austin gnawed his lower lip. "I never did like Chuck Morgan,"
he grumbled. "It was a good chance."

"A good chance to get yoreself lynched. Shore. It was all that."

"Say, I'd like to know where you come in, stranger. Jack never said
anything to me about any feller yore size."

"Jack is like me. He ain't tellin' all he knows. And while we're
talking about Jack, I'll tell you something. And that's to keep away
from Farewell for three-four days."

"Why for?"

"So's to give Jack a chance to cool off. He's hotter than a wet wolf
'cause you didn't turn up here on time."

"I ain't afraid of Jack."

"'Course you ain't. But you know how Jack is. Even if it don't come to
a showdown, there'll be words passed. And I don't wanna run any risk
of you quitting the outfit. Every man is needed. You be sensible and
stick here with McFluke three-four days like I say, and after that
c'mon in to Farewell. In the meantime, I'll see Jack and tell him
how it happened you didn't get here on time. And how did it happen,
anyway?"

Peaches Austin looked this way and that before replying.

"I shore don't like to tell how it happened," he said. "Sounds so
babyish like. But my hat blowed off over this side of Injun Ridge a
ways and when I leaned down to pick her up, my hoss started, my hand
slipped, and I went off on my head kerblam. And do you know, I'll bet
I was three hours a-running from hell to breakfast before I caught
that hoss where he was feedin' in a narrow draw. I'm all tired out
yet. They ain't no strength in my legs."

"I'll fix it up with Jack," Racey lied with a wonderfully straight
face. "Don't you worry."

"I ain't worryin'," Peaches denied, irritably. "I ain't afraid of
Jack, I tell you."

"Shore," soothed Racey, who, having formed an estimate of Peaches,
ranked him scarcely higher than McFluke and treated him accordingly.
"Shore, I know you ain't. But alla same you need considerable of a
coolin' off yoreself. Just you stay out here now and watch me get
Morgan away."

Racey nodded blithely to Peaches Austin, and turned to go into the
house. He saw that Chuck Morgan had come outside, that he had brought
McFluke with him, and was observing events with a cold and calculating
eye.

"I tell you I couldn't help his getting the whiskey," McFluke was
whining. "It ain't my fault if somebody gives it to him, is it?"

"Of course not," chimed in Racey, briskly. "Mac means all right.
He didn't know there was any law against providing old Dale with
whiskey."

"They is a law," insisted Chuck Morgan, belligerently, his gun trained
unswervingly on McFluke's broad stomach. "They is a law. I made it.
And it goes. Peaches," he added, raising his voice, "don't you slide
round the house now. If you move so much as a yard from where yo're
standing I ventilate McFluke immediate."

"I wouldn't do that," said Racey, mildly.

"I got my eye on you, too," declared Chuck. "What I said to Peaches
goes for you, and don't you forget it."

"I ain't likely to, not me. All I want you to do is go some'ers else
peaceful. You ain't figuring on living here, are you?"

Chuck uttered a short, hard laugh. McFluke's back was toward Racey.
Peaches Austin was behind him, thirty feet away. Racey's left eyelid
drooped. His head moved almost imperceptibly toward his horse.

"I'm going now," said Chuck.

"I'll go with you just to see you on yore way sort of," said Racey.

"You was going with me anyway sort of," Chuck told him. "Yo're the
only _man_ round here so far's I can see, and I ain't taking any
chances on you, not a chance. Yo're going down the trail a spell with
me. Later you can come back. Keep yore hands where they are."

Quickly Chuck shoved McFluke to one side, rushed forward, and
possessed himself of Racey's gun. "Crawl yore hoss," he commanded.

Racey obeyed without a word. Chuck climbed into his own saddle without
losing the magic of the drop and without losing sight for an instant
of McFluke and Peaches Austin.

"Take the trail south," said Chuck Morgan, and backed his horse in a
wide half-circle.

Racey did as he was ordered. Three minutes later he was joined by his
friend. Until the trail took them down into a draw grown up in spruce
Chuck's gun remained very much in evidence. Any unbiased spectator
without a knowledge of the facts would have said that he was keeping a
close watch on Racey Dawson.

Once out of sight of the house of McFluke, Chuck sheathed his
sixshooter with a jerk and returned Racey's gun.

"You did fine at the last," Racey said, admiringly, as he bolstered
his weapon. "But what did you jump McFluke for thataway at first? That
come almighty near kicking the kettle over, that play did."

"I know," said Chuck, shamefacedly, "and when I rode up to the shack
I hadn't intended anything like that. But when I saw that slickery
juniper McFluke standing there behind the bar so fat and sassy, it
come over me all of a sudden what he'd done to the Dale family by
letting old Dale have whiskey, that I couldn't help myself. Gawd, I
wanted to knock him down and tromp his face flat as a floor. It ain't
as if McFluke ain't been told about old Dale's failing. I warned him
when he first came here last year not to let old Dale have redeye on
any account."

"I know," nodded Racey, soberly, "but you want to remember his giving
old Dale whiskey ain't the particular cow we're after. There's more to
it than that, a whole lot more. We've got to be a li'l careful,
Chuck, and go a li'l slow. If we go having a fraycas now they'll get
suspicious and go fussbudgettin' round like a hound-dog after quail."

"Just as if they won't suspicion something's up soon as Peaches Austin
gets back to Farewell."

"Peaches Austin ain't going back to Farewell right away. I've fixed
Peaches for a few days. And a few days is all I need to find out what
I want to. And even after Peaches does float in will he know me after
I've changed my shirt, dirtied my hat, and got me a clean shave twice
over? He ain't got no idea what I look like under the whiskers. He
wasn't living in Farewell before I went north, so all he knows about
me is my voice and my hoss. It will shore be the worst kind of luck if
I can't keep Peaches from hearing the one and seeing the other until
after I'm ready. You leave it to yore uncle, Chuck. He knows."

"He's a great man, my uncle," assented Chuck, and struck a derisive
tongue in his cheek. "What did you find out from McFluke--anything?"

"Anything? Gimme a match and I'll tell you."




CHAPTER VI

CHANGE OF PLAN


"It's a long way to Arizona," offered Racey Dawson, casually--too
casually.

Swing Tunstall's bristle-haired head jerked round. Swing bent two
suspicious eyes upon his friend. "You just find it out?" he queried.

"No, oh, no," denied Racey. "I've been thinking about it some time."

"Thinking!" sneered Swing. "That's a new one--for you."

"Nemmine," countered Racey. "It ain't catchin'--to _you_."

"_Is_ that so?" yammered Swing, now over his head as far as repartee
was concerned. "Is _that_ so? What you gassing about Arizona for
thisaway? You gonna renig on the trip?"

"I'll bet there's plenty of good jobs we can find right here in
Farewell," dodged Racey. "_And_ vicinity," he amended. "Yep, Swing,
old-timer, I'll bet the Bar S or the Cross-in-a-box would hire us just
too quick. Shore they would. It ain't every day they get a chance at a
jo-darter of a buster like--"

"Like the damndest liar in four states meaning you," cut in Swing.

"You're right," admitted Racey, promptly. "When I was speaking of a
jo-darter I meant you, so I was a liar. I admit it. I might 'a' known
you wouldn't appreciate my kind words. Besides being several other
things, you're an ungrateful cuss. Gimme the makin's."

"Smoke yore own, you hunk of misery. You had four extra sacks in yore
warbags this morning."

"_Had_? So you been skirmishin' round my warbags, have you? How many
of those sacks did you rustle?"

"I left two."

"Two! Two! Say, I bought that tobacco myself for my own personal use,
and not for a lazy, loafing, cow-faced lump of slumgullion to glom and
smoke. Why don't you spend something besides the evening now and then?
Gawda-mighty, you sit on yore coin closer than a hen with one egg!
I'll gamble that Robinson Crusoe spent more money in a week than you
spend in four years. Two sacks of my smoking. You got a gall like a
hoss. There was my extra undershirt under those sacks. It's a wonder
you didn't smouch that, too."

"It didn't fit," replied Swing Tunstall, placidly constructing a
cigarette. "Too big. Besides, all the buttons was off, and if they's
anything I despise it's a undershirt without any buttons. Sort of
wandering off the main trail though, ain't we, Racey? We was talking
about Arizona, wasn't we?"

"We was not," Racey contradicted, quickly. "We was talking about a job
here in Fort Creek County. T'ell with Arizona."

"T'ell with Arizona, huh? You're serious? You mean it?"

"I'm serious as lead in yore inwards. 'Course I mean it. Ain't I been
saying so plain as can be the last half-hour?"

"You're saying so is plain enough. And so is the whyfor."

"The whyfor?"

"Shore, the whyfor. Say, do you take me for a damfool? Here you use up
the best part of two days on a trip I could make in ten hours going
slow and eating regular. Who is she, cowboy, who is she?"

"What you talking about?"

"What am I talking about, huh? I'd ask that, I would. Yeah, I would
so. Is she pretty?"

"Poor feller's got a hangover," Racey murmured in pity. "I kind o'
thought it must be something like that when he began to talk so funny.
Now I'm shore of it. You tie a wet towel round yore head, Swing, and
take a good pull of cold water. You'll feel better in the morning."

"So'll I feel better in the morning if you jiggers will close yore
traps and lemme sleep," growled a peevish voice in the next room--on
the Main Street side.

"As I live," said Racey in a tone of vast surprise, "there's somebody
in the next room."

"Sounds like the owner of the Starlight," hazarded Swing Tunstall.

"It is the owner of the Starlight," corroborated the voice, "and I
wanna sleep, and I wanna sleep _now_."

"We ain't got any objections," Racey told him. "She's a fine, free
country. And every gent is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness, three things no home should be without."

"Shut up, will you?" squalled the goaded proprietor of the Starlight
Saloon. "If you wanna make a speech go out to the corral and don't
bother regular folks."

"Hear that, Swing?" grinned Racey, and twiddled his bare toes
delightedly. "Gentleman says you gotta shut up. Says he's regular
folks, too. You be good boy now and go by-by."

"_Shut up_!"

"Here, here, Swing!" cried Racey, struck by a brilliant idea. "What
you doing with that gun?"

"I--" began the bewildered Swing who had not even thought of his gun
but was peacefully sitting on his cot pulling off his boots.

"Leave it alone!" Racey interrupted in a hearty bawl. "Don't you go
holding it at the wall even in fun. It might go off. You can't tell.
You're so all-fired careless with a sixshooter, Swing. Like enough
you're aiming right where the feller's bed is, too," he added,
craftily.

Ensued then sounds of rapid departure from the bed next door. A door
flew open and slammed. The parting guest padded down the stairs in his
socks, invoking his Maker as he went.

"And that's the last of him," chuckled Racey.

"Oh, you needn't think I'm forgetting," grumbled Swing Tunstall,
sliding out of his trousers and folding them tidily beside his boots.
"You soft-headed yap, have you gotta let a woman spoil everything?"

"Spoil everything?"

"You don't think I'm going alla way to Arizona by myself, nobody to
talk to nor nothing, do you? Well, I ain't. You can stick a pin in
that."

Racey immediately sprang up, seized his friend's limp hand, and pumped
it vigorously. "Bless you for them kind words," he said. "I knew you'd
stick by me. I knew I could depend on old Swing to do the right thing.
To-morrow you and I will traipse out and locate us a couple of jobs."

Swing doubled a leg, flattened one bare foot against Racey's chest,
straightened the leg, and deposited Racey upon his own proper cot with
force and precision.

"Don't you come honey-fuglin' round me," warned Swing. "And I didn't
say anything about sticking by you, neither. And when it comes to the
right thing you and me don't think alike a-tall. I--"

"I wish you'd pull yore kicks a few," interrupted Racey, rubbing his
chest. "You like to busted a rib."

"Not the way you landed," countered the unfeeling Swing. "You're
tryin' to get off the trail again. Here you and me plan her all out to
go to--"

"You bet," burst in Racey, enthusiastically. "We planned to go to
either the Bar S or the Cross-in-a-box and get that job. Shore we did.
You got a memory like all outdoors. Swing. It plumb amazes me how
clear and straight you keep everything in that head of yores. Yep, it
shore does."

Hereupon, in the most unconcerned manner, Racey Dawson began to blow
smoke rings toward the ceiling.

Swing Tunstall sank sulkily down upon an elbow. "Whatsa use?" said
Swing Tunstall. "Whatsa use?"

It was then that someone knocked upon their chamber door.

"Come in," said Racey Dawson.

The door opened and Lanpher's comrade of the attractive smile and the
ruthless profile walked into the room. He closed the door without
noise, spread his legs, and looked upon the two friends silently.

"I heard you talking through the wall," he said in a studiedly low
tone, a tone that, heard through a partition, would have been but an
indistinguishable murmur.

"Hearing us talk through walls seems to be a habit in this hotel,"
commented Racey, tactfully following the other's lead in lowness of
tone.

"I couldn't help hearing," apologized the stranger--he was vestless
and bootless. Evidently he had been on the point of retiring when the
spirit moved him to visit his fellow-guests. "I'd like to talk to
you."

"You're welcome," said Racey, hospitably yanking his trousers from the
only chair the room possessed. "Sit down."

The stranger sat. Racey Dawson, sitting on the bed, his knees on a
level with his chin, clasped his hands round his bare ankles and
accorded the stranger his closest attention. To the casual observer,
however, Racey looked uncommonly dull and sleepy, even stupid. But not
too stupid. Racey possessed too much native finesse to overdo it.

It was apparent that the stranger did not recognize him. Which was not
surprising. For, at the Dale ranch, Racey had been wearing all his
clothes and a beard of weeks. Now he was clean-shaven and attired in
nothing but a flannel shirt. True, the stranger must have heard him
singing to Miss Dale. But a singing voice is far different from a
speaking voice, and Racey had not uttered a single conversational word
in the stranger's presence. Now he had occasion to bless this happy
chance.

Swing Tunstall, slow to take a cue, and still suffering with the
sulks, continued to lie quietly, his head supported on a bent arm, and
smoke. But he watched the stranger narrowly.

The stranger tilted back his chair, and levering with his toes,
teetered to and fro in silence.

"I heard you say you were looking for a job in the morning," the
stranger said suddenly to Racey.

"You heard right," nodded Racey.

"Are you dead set on working for the Bar S or the Cross-in-a-box?"

"I ain't dead set on working for anybody. Work ain't a habit with
either of us, but so long as we got to work the ranches with good
cooks have the call, and the Bar S and Richie's outfit have special
good cooks."

The stranger nodded and began to smooth down, hand over hand,
his tousled hair. It was very thick hair, oily and coarse. When
sufficiently smoothed it presented that shiny, slick appearance so
much admired in the copper-toed, black walnut era.

Not till each and every lock lay in perfect adjustment with its
neighbour did the stranger speak.

"Cooks mean a whole lot," was his opening remark. "A good one can come
mighty nigh holding a outfit together. Money ain't to be sneezed at,
neither. Good wages paid on the nail run the cook a close second. How
would you boys like to work for me?"

The stranger, as he asked the question, fixed Racey with his black
eyes. The puncher felt as if a steel drill were boring into his brain.
But he returned the stare without appreciable effort. Racey Dawson was
not of those that lower their eyes to any man.

"I take it," drawled Racey, "that you're fixing to install all the
comforts of home you were just now talking about--a good cook and
better wages for the honest working-man?"

"Naturally I am." The stranger's eyes shifted to Swing Tunstall's
face.

"Yeah--naturally." Thus Racey Dawson. The stranger's eyes returned
quickly to Racey. There had been a barely perceptible pause between
the two words uttered by Racey Dawson. Pauses signify a great deal at
times. This might be one of those times and it might not. The stranger
couldn't be sure. From that moment the stranger watched Racey Dawson
even as the proverbial cat watches the mouse hole.

Racey knew that the stranger was watching him. And he knew why. So he
smiled with bland stupidity and nodded a foolish head.

"What wages?" he inquired.

"Fifty per," was the reply.

"Where?"

"Southeast of Dogville--the Rafter H ranch."

"The Rafter H, huh? I thought that was Haley's outfit."

"I expect to buy out Haley," explained the stranger, smoothly. "My
name's Harpe, Jack Harpe. What may I call you gents?... Dawson _and_
Tunstall, eh? I--"

"Haley ain't much better than a nester," interrupted Racey. "He don't
own more'n forty cows. What you want with two punchers for a small
bunch like that--and at fifty per?"

"I know she ain't much of a ranch now," admitted Jack Harpe. "But
everything has to have a beginning. I'm figuring on a right smart
growth for the Rafter H within the next year or two."

"Figuring on opposition maybe?" probed Racey Dawson.

"You never can tell."

"You can if you go to cutting any of Baldy Barbee's corners. Haley's
little bunch never bothers Baldy none, but a man-size outfit so close
to the south thataway would shore give him something to think about.
Then there's the Anvil ranch east of the B bar B. They'll begin to
scratch their heads, you bet. Hall, too, maybe, although he is a good
ways to the east."

"She's all free range," said Jack Harpe. "I guess I got as good a
right here as the next gent."

"Providing you can make the next gent see yore side of the case,"
suggested Racey.

"Most folks are willing to listen to reason," stated Jack Harpe.

"I ain't so shore," doubted Racey. "You ain't looked at the whole of
the layout yet. How about the 88 ranch?"

"'The 88?'" repeated Jack Harpe in a tone of surprise. "What'll I have
to do with the 88, I'd like to know?"

"I dunno," said Racey, his eyes more stupid than ever. "I was just
a-wonderin'."

Jack Harpe laughed without a sound. It seemed to be a habit of his to
laugh silently.

"You saw me with Lanpher, didn't you? Well, Lanpher and I are just
friends, thassall. My cattle won't graze far enough south to overlap
on the 88 anywheres."

"Nor the Bar S?" suggested Racey.

"Nor the Bar S."

"That's sensible." Thus Racey, watching closely Jack Harpe from under
lowered lids.

Did his last remark strike a glint from the other man's eyes? He
thought it did. Certainly Jack Harpe's eyes had narrowed suddenly and
slightly.

"Yeah," Jack Harpe said, "I ain't counting on having any fussing with
either the 88 or the Bar S. Of course Baldy Barbee and the Anvil are
different. Dunno how they'll take it. Dunno that I care--much."

"Which is why you're payin' fifty per."

Jack Harpe nodded. "Yep. Gotta be prepared for them fellers--Baldy
Barbee and the Anvil outfit."

"You're right," assented Racey Dawson. "Mustn't let 'em catch you
napping. You would look foolish then, wouldn't you?" He broke off with
a sounding laugh and slapped a silly leg.

"How about it, gents?" inquired Jack Harpe. "Are you riding for me or
not?"

"You wanting to know right now this minute?"

"I don't have to know right now, because I won't be ready for you to
begin for two or three weeks, but knowing would help my plans a few. I
gotta figure things out ahead."

"Shore, shore. Let you know day after to-morrow, or sooner, maybe.
How's that?"

"Good enough. Remember yore wages start the day you say when, even if
you don't begin work for a month yet. All I'd ask is for you to stay
round town where I can get hold of you easy. G'night."

With this the stranger slid from the chair, opened the door part
way, and oozed into the hall. He closed the door without a sound.
He regained his own room in equal silence. Racey did not hear the
shutting of the other's door, but he heard the springs of the cot
squeak under Jack Harpe's weight as he lay down.

Swing Tunstall framed a remark with his lips only. Racey Dawson shook
his head. The partition was too thin and Jack Harpe's ears were too
long and sharp for him to risk even the tiniest of whispers. With his
hand he made the Indian sign for "to-morrow," stretched out his long
legs, yawned--and fell almost instantly asleep.




CHAPTER VII

THE RIDDLE


"We'd oughta closed with Jack Harpe last night," said Swing Tunstall,
easing his muscular body down on a broken packing-case that sat
drunkenly beside the posts of the hotel corral. "What's the sense of
putting things off thataway, Racey? Now we'll lose two days' wages for
nothing."

"I had a reason," declared Racey Dawson, threading a new rawhide
string through one of the silver conchas on his split-ear bridle. "I
wanted to talk it over good with you first."

"Why for? What's there to talk over, I'd like to know? Why--"

"Because," interrupted Racey, "there's something up, if you ask me."

"What for a reason is that?" demanded the irritated Swing. "That ain't
a reason, no good reason, anyway. I'm telling you flat, y' understand,
that so long as we gotta take root here instead of going to Arizona
like we'd planned it out--so long's yo're gonna renig on the play
like I say, the best thing we can do is string our chips with Jack
Harpe's."

"That yore idea of a bright thing to do, huh?" questioned Racey, his
nimble fingers busy with the rawhide.

"I done told you," said Swing with dignity.

"Poor, poor Swing," murmured Racey as though to the bridle's address.
"The Gawd-forsaken young feller. It must be the devil and all to go
through life in such shape as he's in. All right in lots of ways, too.
He eats like a hawg, drinks like a fish, and snores like a ripsaw, so
you can see there's something almost human about him. But he hasn't
any brains, not a brain. He never has anything on his mind but his
hair and a hat. Yep, she's a sad, sad case. Lordy, Swing, old-timer, I
feel sorry for you. You got my sympathy. I'll always stick up for you
though. I won't let--"

"This here," cut in Swing, "has gone far enough. If you got anything
to say, say it."

"I been saying it. Ain't it sunk in yet? Hand me that axe, and I'll
make another try."

"Stop yore fool lallygaggin'," Swing exclaimed, impatiently. "Let's
have the whole sermon. Gawd, yo're worse'n a woman. Gab, gab, gab!
Nothing but. C'mon, tie the string to the latch, and slam the door.
This tooth has been aching a long, long while."

"It's thisaway, Swing," Racey said, soberly. "There ain't any manner
of use going into something we ain't got the whole straight of."

"What you talking about--the straight of?"

"Yep, the straight of. Don't you see anything funny about this
jigger's offer?"

"Looks like a fair proposition to me. Fifty per shore listens well."

"As if that's all of it."

"Well, what's a li'l fussin' round with Baldy Barbee and the Anvil
folks?"

"Nothin a-tall, _that_ ain't. But the li'l green pea ain't under
_that_ shell. Listen here, Swing, old-timer, I got a long and gashly
tale of wickedness to pour into those lily-white mule ears of yores.
Yep, if it wasn't me a-telling it I'll bet you'd think it was a fairy
tale."

"I might even so," said the sceptical Swing. "But I don't mind. I'm
good-natured to-day. I feel just like being lied to. Turn yore wolf
loose."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you feed it on?" inquired solemn-faced Swing when he had
heard Racey to the bitter end.

"Feed which on what?" demanded the unsuspicious Racey.

"Yore imagination."

"Say, lookit here--"

"Yeah, I know. Oh, aw right, aw right, I didn't go for to make you
mad. I believe it. Every word. You're getting so dam touchy nowadays,
Racey, they's no living with you. I swear they ain't. Why, if a feller
so much as doubts one of yore reg'lar fish stories you gotta crawl his
hump. Aw right, I believe you. How big was he again? Ugh-h-h! Uncle!
Uncle! Get off my stummick! I said 'Uncle,' didn't I? Damitall, that
left ear of mine will never be the same again. You rammed it into a
rock with more points than a barb-wire fence. Nemmine no more foolin'
now. Are you shore you got Peaches fixed for three-four days? 'Cause
if you ain't--pop goes the weasel."

"This weasel ain't gonna pop. Not this trip. Peaches will stay put.
Don't you fret. By the time he does drift in we'll know all we need to
know, I guess."

"We," sniffed Swing. "Did I hear you say 'we'? Ain't you taking a
awful lot for granted?"

"Shut up. I couldn't keep you out of this with a ten-foot pole. Yo're
like Tom Kane thataway--always wantin' in where it's warm. Aw right,
that's settled. Lookit, we know there's some crooked work on the
towpath going on, and that Lanpher and Harpe are in it up to their
hocks. We know that Nebraska is one of Harpe's friends, and we know
that _after_ my fuss with Nebraska, Harpe comes to you and me and
offers us jobs--jobs at fifty per, wages to start when we say when,
and no work for a while, yet we're to stay round town till he wants us
to start in. And he talks of maybe a li'l trouble in the future with
Baldy Barbee and the Anvil boys, and he mentions Baldy and the Anvil
several times, and the last time wasn't necessary. And, furthermore,
he don't say anything a-tall about this Chin Whisker gent, who's old
Dale or I'm Dutch. So there y'are, and plain enough," added Racey,
holding up the bridle and turning it about. "From what Harpe said to
Lanpher, we know he's bound to get old Dale's ranch come hell or high
water. But he don't say anything about that to us. No, not him. It's
all Barbee and the Anvil, and he's as friendly as a dog with fleas.
His actions don't fit with the facts, and when a man's actions don't
do that they'll stand watchin', him and them both."

"Fifty per ain't to be sneezed at." Swing, whose heart had been set on
Arizona, was not prepared to give in without an argument. Besides, he
invariably objected on principle to anything Racey might see fit to
propose. Which was humanly natural, but more than maddening--to Racey.

"Shore not--unless it sets us against our friends."

"What you talkin' about?" persisted the wilfully blinded Swing.
"Neither Baldy Barbee nor the Anvil outfit are any friends of mine. I
don't even know 'em to speak to."

"But I tell you it ain't Baldy Barbee and the Anvil, you wooden-headed
floop. If it was them, why would Lanpher be in it? And Nebraska? And
Thompson? And Peaches Austin? I dunno exactly what it all means. But
whatever it is, it's gotta do with the country round Farewell--with
the ranches on the Lazy. Aw right. Besides Dale's and Morgan's there's
three ranches, ain't they, on the Lazy near Farewell?"

Racey Dawson held up three fingers, doubling a thumb and forefinger
behind them.

"Three ranches," he continued, "and the manager of one is in cahoots
with this Harpe of many strings." Here he doubled down his pinky
and waved the remaining two fingers in the face of his friend. "Two
ranches are left, the Cross-in-a-box and the Bar S. Jack Richie is
manager of the Cross-in-a-box. I used to ride for Jack, and he's my
friend. You dunno him, but you can take my word he's the pure quill
forty ways. Then there's the Bar S. Who's foreman of that? Tom Loudon.
You worked with him up at Scotty MacKenzie's Flyin' M ranch on the
Dogsoldier, and I've knowed him ever since I come to this country.
I ain't doing anything to make me bad friends with Tom Loudon. Then
there's Dale, this Chin Whisker party. He's a good feller, and had
a heap of hard luck, too. I ain't working against him, you betcha.
Nawsir. And if I don't miss my guess you don't, either."

"Aw, hell! They ain't no rat in that hole. Yo're seem' a heap o' smoke
where they ain't even a lighted match. I don't wanna do anything
against either Richie's outfit nor the Bar S, nor old Dale, but I
ain't satisfied--"

"You ain't! Good Gawdamighty! Ain't I been tellin' you? Ain't I been
explaining of it all in words of one syllable? Can't you see Harpe's
trying to pull us in with him is just a trick to get us shot by our
friends? Because his jumping old Dale's ranch will shore start a war
and you can gamble it's just as dangerous to be shot by yore friends
as it is by the enemy. Here I'm telling you over and over and you
ain't satisfied yet! I've heard of fellers like you, but I never
believed it was possible. Like the whiffle-tit, they were just a damn
lie. But it's all true. Swing, old settler, if you had a quarter-ounce
more sense you'd be half-witted."

"If I had a quarter-ounce more sense I'd quit you cold like that." So
saying Swing Tunstall rose to his feet and shuffled a guileful step or
two closer to Racey. The movement of his right arm passed unnoticed by
Racey. But the lighted cigarette that, following his movement, slipped
down Racey's back between his shirt collar and his neck did not pass
unnoticed.

Racey hopped up with a sharp exclamation and shucked himself out of
his shirt with the utmost despatch. He did not stop at the shirt, but
tore off his undershirt likewise.

"Better luck than I hoped for," Swing remarked from a safe distance.
"I didn't think it would slide down inside yore undershirt, too. Burn
you much, Racey, dear? You look awful cute standin' there with nothing
on but yore pants. All you need now is a pair of wings and a bow
n'arrer and you'd be a dead ringer for Cupid growed up. And there's
Mis' Lainey and Mis' Galloway looking at you from their kitchen
windows. They can hear what yo're saying, too. Fie, for shame."

But Racey Dawson had gathered up his clothing and fled to the back
of the corral. Muttering to himself he was pulling on his shirt when
Swing joined him--at a safe distance.

"Helluva trick to play on a feller," grumbled Racey.

"Served you right," was the return. "You hadn't oughta called me
half-witted. Do you know you look just like a turtle in his shell with
yore shirt half on half off thataway?"

"Aw, go sit on yoreself!"

At this juncture fat Bill Lainey wheezed round the corner of the
corral.

"What you been doin', Racey?" inquired the hotel-keeper. "Taking a
bath?"

"Naw, I ain't been taking a bath!" Racey denied ungraciously. "I do
this for fun and my health twice a day--once on Sundays."

"Well, it must 'a' been a heap funny whatever it was, or Swing
wouldn't be laughin' so hard. Yeah. Lookit, Racey--I meant to catch
you at breakfast, but you was through before I got back from Mike
Flynn's--lookit, I wish you'd go a li'l slow when yo're roughhousin'
round in my place. Rack Slimson, my most payin' customer, hadda sleep
on the dinin' room table all night because you druv him out of his
room."

"Bill, that was a joke," Racey intoned, solemnly. "I didn't like the
way the feller snored. Likewise he had too much to say. So naturally I
had to make him take it on the run. What else could I do? I ask you,
what else could I do?"

"Don't you believe him, Bill," cut in Swing, fearful that Racey would
get credit for an effort at humour where, in his own estimation, none
was due. "Racey hasn't got the guts to pick a fuss with a pack rat. It
was me that chased Rack Slimson downstairs."

"That's right," Racey assented, smoothly, suddenly mindful both of a
peculiar gleam in Bill Lainey's eye and a chance sentence uttered by
the hasher in his hearing at breakfast. "That's right. It was Swing
Tunstall what made so free and outrageous with Rack Slimson. You
go and crawl Swing's hump, Bill. Lord knows he needs it. He's been
getting awful brash and uppity lately. No living with him. Give him
hell, Bill."

"I don't wanna give nobody hell. Live at peace is my motto. All I
wanna know is who's gonna settle for six cups, eleven sassers, ten
plates, and a middle-size pitcher Rack Slimson busted when he rolled
off the table with 'em durin' the night. I don't think Rack oughta
hafta pay, because he wouldn't 'a' had to sleep there on the table
only bein' druv out thataway he couldn't help it like."

"Huh--how much, Bill?" inquired Swing in a still small voice, and
thrust his hand within his pocket.

"Well, seein' as it's you, Swing," was the prompt reply, "I'll only
say ten dollars and six bits. And that's dirt cheap. Honest, I'll bet
it'll cost me fifteen dollars and a half to replace 'em, what with the
scandalous prices we got now."

"And I hope that'll make you a better boy, Swing," said Racey,
observing with relish the transfer of real money from Swing's hand to
the landlord's palm. "There's such a thing, Swing, old settler, as
being too quick, as whirling too wide a loop as the man said when he
roped the locomotive. And it all costs money. Yep, sometimes as much
as ten dollars and six bits."

"... and one and one and two makes ten and six bits makes
ten-seventy-five," totalled Swing Tunstall, "and that makes all
square."

"Correct," said Bill Lainey, stuffing the money into a wide trousers
pocket. "'Bliged to you, Swing. I wish all the gents paid up as prompt
as you do."

"Oh, you needn't be surprised," chipped in the ready Racey. "Swing's a
fair-minded boy. He'll do what's right every time, once you show him
where he's wrong. Yeah. Say, Bill, has Nebraska Jones many friends in
this town?"

"More than enough," was the enigmatic reply.

"'Enough,' huh? Enough for what?"

"For whatever's necessary, Racey. But I ain't talking about Nebraska
and his friends. Not me. I got a wife and family to support, and
they's enough trouble running a hotel without picking up any more by
letting yore tongue waggle too much."

"Yo're right, Bill. Yore views do you credit. Is it against the law to
tell a feller where Nebraska's friends hang out when they're in town?"

"The dance hall and the Starlight," replied Bill Lainey, promptly.

"Might you happen to know any of their names, Bill?"

"What you wanna do, Racey, is look out for a jigger named Coffin,"
declared Lainey, coming flatly to the point. "Doc Coffin. Yop. Then
they's Punch-the-Breeze Thompson, Honey Hoke, and Peaches Austin.
They's a few more, but they ain't the kind to take the lead in
anything. They always follow. But Coffin, Thompson, Hoke, and Austin
are the gents to keep yore eye peeled for. I ain't talking about 'em,
y' understand. I ain't got a word to say against 'em, not a word. If I
was you, though, and I wanted to live longer and healthier Doc Coffin
is the one you wanna watch special--a heap special."

"Thanks, Bill, I--"

"No thanks needed," fended off the hotel-keeper, hastily. "I ain't
said nothin', and don't you forget it."

"I won't. Is the Starlight's owner, Rack Slimson, any friend of
Nebraska's, too?"

"We-ell, I dunno as he's a boom companion exactly, but Nebraska and
his bunch spend a pile of money in the Starlight, a pile of money. A
feller would be safe in saying that Rack Slimson's sympathy is with
Nebraska."




CHAPTER VIII

THE STARLIGHT


"Where you going?" demanded Swing Tunstall.

"Over the hills and far away to pick the wild violets," chanted Racey.
"You wanna come along? Better not. Them violets are just too awful
wild. Dangerous. Yeah. Catch yore death."

"You idjit! You plumb fool! Can't you let well enough alone? Ain't you
satisfied till yo're ticklin' the mule's hind leg? If yo're crowded,
hop to it. Make 'em hard to find. But why go a-huntin' trouble? Whatsa
sense? What--"

"Always get the jump on trouble, Swing. Always. Then you'll find
trouble don't wear so many guns after all and is a heap slower about
pulling 'em than you thought likely."

"But if they're all four of 'em together now, and you--"

"I ain't said I was going to do anything, have I? Gawda-mighty, Swing,
I only want to go and ask how Nebraska's gettin' along. Only tryin' to
be neighbourly. Yeah. Neighbourly."

Racey Dawson nodded his head as one does when a subject is closed,
hitched up his chaps, and started blithely round the hotel. Swing
Tunstall followed in haste, caught up with his friend and fell into
step at his side.

"This ain't any of yore muss, Swing," Racey said, mildly.

"It's gonna be," was the determined reply. "You shut up."

Racey grinned at nothing and stuck his tongue in his cheek. A warmly
pleasant glow permeated his being. It was good to have a friend like
Swing Tunstall--one who would not interfere but who would be in alert
readiness for any contingency. And Racey was well aware that in his
impending visit to the Starlight the contingencies were apt to be many
and varied.

"It's so early in the day I don't guess none of 'em will be in the
dance hall yet," murmured Swing Tunstall.

"I'm gonna drop in on the Starlight first, anyway," said Racey. "It's
nearer."

Through a side window they inspected the Starlight and the customers
thereof. Only two customers were visible. These, a long man and a
short man, stood at the bar, their backs to the window and their hands
cupped lovingly round glasses of refreshment. The tall man was talking
to the bartender.

"This getting up so early in the mornin' is a fright," they heard
him complain. "But bunking with a invalid shore does keep you on the
jump."

He and his companion drank. Racey Dawson and Swing Tunstall glided
rapidly along the wall to a side entrance. When the tall man and the
short man set down their glasses Racey Dawson was leaning against the
bar at a range of approximately six feet. Swing Tunstall stood at his
back and slightly to the right. Thus that, should necessity warrant a
resort to lethal weapons, Racey might not mask the latter's fire.

"Liquor," said Racey to the bartender.

The latter, an expert at his trade, with a jerk of both wrists slid
two glasses and a bottle down the bar so that a glass stopped in front
of each man and the bottle came to a standstill between them. Racey
spun a dollar on the bar. The bartender nonchalantly swept the dollar
into the cash drawer and resumed his chit-chat with the tall man. At
which Racey's eyes narrowed slightly. But he made no comment.

Pouring out a short drink, he passed the bottle to his comrade. When
Swing had filled Racey took the bottle, drove home the cork with the
heel of his hand, and carefully tucked away the bottle in the inner
pocket of his vest.

"It won't ride any too well," he observed to Swing, "but it ain't
gonna be there a great while, I guess."

"You bet it ain't gonna be there a great while!" horned in the
outraged bartender. "You put that bottle back on the bar!"

"Why, I gave you a dollar," said Racey, nervously, hesitantly, "and
you kept the change. I supposed, of course, you was selling me the
bottle."

"You supposed wrong!" As he spoke the bartender's right hand moved
toward the shelf that Racey knew must be under the top of the bar.
"That dollar was for yore two drinks."

"You mean to say yo're charging four bits apiece for those drinks!"

"Shore I am." As yet the bartender's hand had remained beneath the bar
top.

"But two bits is the regular price," objected Racey, weakly.

"Four bits is the price to you," was the truculent statement, sticking
out his chin. "_Put that bottle back on the bar_!"

As he gave the order his right shoulder hunched upward, and his
face set like iron. He had what is known as a "fighting" face, this
Starlight bartender. It was evident that he banked largely on that
face. It had served him well in the past.

"One dollar is my regular price for a bottle," Racey said gently
as the bartender's hand suddenly nipped into sight clutching a
sixshooter, "but if you want it back, take it."

Racey's fingers gripped the bottle-neck and fetched it forth. But
instead of placing it on the top of the bar as requested, he continued
the motion, as it were, and smote the bartender across the head
with it. Being a quart bottle and reasonably full of liquid, the
bartender's chin came down with a chug on the bar. Then he slumped
quietly to the floor behind the bar. The sixshooter relinquished by
his nerveless fingers remained on top of the bar between the whiskey
glasses.

Racey stared speculatively at the long man and the short man. They in
turn regarded him with something like respect. The long man wore a
drooping, streaky-yellow horseshoe of a moustache dominated by a long
and melancholy nose. Flanking the base of this sorrowful nose was a
pair of eyes hard and bright and the palest of blue.

The short man was a blobby-nosed creature, who sported a three days'
growth of red beard and a quid of chewing in the angle of a heavy jaw.
Now he revolved the tobacco with a furtive tongue and spat thickly
upon the floor.

Without removing his eyes from the two aforementioned gentlemen Racey
reached for the bartender's gun. "Hadn't oughta be trusted with
firearms," he observed, pleasantly, referring to what lay behind the
bar. "Too venturesome. Yeah."

He thoughtfully lowered the hammer of the sixshooter and rammed it
down to the trigger-guard behind the waistband of his trousers.

"Do you gents know anybody named Doc Coffin?" inquired Racey.

"I'm him," nodded the tall man, the pale eyes beginning to glitter.

"Then maybe you can tell me how Nebraska Jones is gettin' along?"

"You worrying about his health?" put in the short man.

"I dunno as I'd say 'worrying' exactly," disclaimed Racey, easily.
"You can take it I'm just askin', that's all."

"Nebraska had oughta be as well as ever he was in about a month,"
supplied Doc Coffin. "And," he added, significantly, "I dunno but what
he'd oughta be able to shoot as well as ever."

"I don't doubt it a mite," said Racey with a smile. "Question is, will
he?"

The short man gave a short, harsh laugh. "He will, you can gamble on
that," he averred, and spat again.

"That's good hearing," Racey said, looking quite pleased. "Of course I
was only judging by past performances."

"His gun caught," Doc Coffin explained, kindly.

"Why don't he try filing off his foresight?" inquired Racey, chattily.
"Or else he could shoot through his holster. Lots of folks do business
that way. I suppose now you'll be seeing Nebraska in a day or two
maybe."

"I might," admitted Doc Coffin.

"Friend of his?" purred Racey.

"I might be." Doc Coffin's spare frame grew somewhat rigid.

"Well," Racey drawled softly, "I heard Nebraska's friends are looking
for me. I'm here to save 'em the trouble of strainin' their eyes."

"So that's it, huh?" Doc Coffin grinned, as he spoke, like a grieving
wolf. "They ain't no hurry, is they?"

"I expect I'll be round Farewell a spell," said Racey.

"Then they ain't no hurry," Doc Coffin told him smoothly.

"None a-tall," contributed the short man.

"That's the way to look at it," laughed Racey. "I shore don't care
anything about bein' pushed. Have a drink on me."

He slid in their direction the bottle with which he had knocked down
the bartender, and, accompanied and imitated by Swing Tunstall,
departed from that place crabwise.

When they were gone Doc Coffin looked at his companion.

"Asking for it, Honey," said Doc Coffin. "Just asking for it."

Then he went behind the bar, seized the senseless bartender by the
ankles and skidded him out on the barroom floor. The man whom Doc
Coffin had addressed as Honey (his other name was Hoke) spread his
legs and whistled when he glimpsed the three-inch cut running fore and
aft along the top of the bartender's skull. Blood from that cut had
dribbled and oozed over the major portion of the bartender's face and
shirt. For it had been the bartender's luck to hook his chin on the
edge of the lowest shelf when he dropped and he had perforce remained
crown upward.

Doc Coffin stood back and stared at the stertorously breathing lump on
the floor with a cold eye.

"Ain't he a mess?" he observed. "Ain't he a mess? I expect he'll be
right down peevish about it when he comes to."

"Think so?" Honey Hoke was not quite sure of the point of Doc's
remark.

"Yeah, I think so. I'm shore he will when I tell him how he was
kicked."

"Kicked?"

"Shore kicked. Kicked after he was down."

"How?"

"Didn't you see that feller Dawson kick Bull when he was down? Where
was yore eyes?"

"That's the way of it, huh? Well, it _might_ save trouble if Bull was
to go on the prod real vicious."

"Yo're whistlin'. They ain't no manner of reason for doin' a job
yoreself if you can get somebody else to do it for you."

When Bull came to he was lying on his cot in his little cubby hole
adjoining the back room of the Starlight. Over across from the bed Doc
Coffin was looking out of the grimy window. Behind the closed door
giving egress to the back room certain folk were busy at faro. "King
win, ten lose," the dealer was saying.

Doc Coffin turned at the rustle of Bull's slight movement. Doc nodded
grimly.

"How's the head?" he inquired.

Bull put up a hand to the bandage encircling his bullet head and swore
feelingly.

"Guess it does hurt some," was Doc's comment. "Doc Alton took
three stitches. Lucky you was still senseless. He had to use a
harness-needle."

Bull heartily damned Doc Alton, his methods, the faro players in the
next room, himself, and wound up with a blistering curse directed
against mankind in general and Racey Dawson in particular.

"Tha's right, Bull," Doc Coffin applauded dryly. "Cuss him out. Give
him hell. Must do you a lot of good."

Bull was understood to consign Doc Coffin to the region of lost souls.

"I'd go a leetle slow," advised Doc Coffin, gently. "Just a leetle
slow if I was you. Yo're on yore back now, but you'll be getting all
right in a li'l while, and it's just possible, Bull, I might take it
into my head to ask you what you meant by all them cuss words yo're
throwin' at me."

There was an icy glint in the pale blue eyes of Doc Coffin. Bull shut
up and subsided.

"What," queried Doc Coffin after a momentary silence, "was the matter
with you?"

"With me?"

"Shore, with you. Who'm I talking to? What was the matter with you,
anyway? Don't you know any better'n to go up against a jigger like
that Dawson man? Yo're too cripplin' slow with a gun, feller."

"Well, I--"

"Y'oughta had him twice while he was swinging that bottle.... Yeah,
twice, I'm tellin' you. You had time enough. But not you. You just
stood there like a bump on a log and let him hit you. Yo're a
fine-lookin' example of a two-legged man, you are. If you ain't
careful, Bull, some two-year-old infant is gonna come along and spit
in yore eye."

"He was so damn quick," alibied Bull. "I wasn't expectin' it."

"A whole lot of folks are underground because they didn't expect to
get what they got. Yo're lucky to be lyin' there with only a headache.
Still, alla same, he needn't 'a' kicked you."

"Huh? Kicked me? You mean to say he kicked me? Dawson kicked me?"

"Shore I mean to say Dawson kicked you. Kicked you when you was lyin'
there down and out and senseless."

A moment Bull lay quietly. Then when the full import of Doc Coffin's
words had percolated through and through his brain he pulled himself
to a sitting posture and swung a leg to the floor. Doc Coffin was
beside him instantly.

"Lie down, you idjit!" commanded Doc Coffin, and with no gentle hand
shoved Bull down upon his pillow. "Whadda you think yo're gonna do?"

"I'm goin' out and fill that ---- full of lead."

"Oh, you are, huh? Yo're gonna do all that? Tha's fine. Do you want a
quiet burial or a regular funeral?"

"Say--"

"Say yoreself, and say something sensible while yo're about it."

"Nobody can kick me and get away with it!" Bull declared,
passionately. "I'll--"

"Maybe you will, but not in a hurry. You start out after him now, and
you wouldn't last as long as a short drink in a roomful of drunkards.
Didn't you hear about Dawson's li'l run-in with Nebraska?"

"Hell, I _seen_ it!"

"You seen it, huh? And you _know_ what he done to you to-day, and
still you wanna paint for war now and immediate? No, Bully, not
a-tall. You listen to me. I got a better plan. A whole lot better
plan. Lookit...."




CHAPTER IX

THROWING SAND


After leaving the Starlight, on their way back to the hotel, Racey
said to Swing Tunstall: "Might as well tell Jack Harpe now we ain't
gonna ride for him, huh?"

"Oh, shore," Swing sighed resignedly. "Have it yore own way! Have it
yore own way! I never seen such a feller as you for gettin' his own
way in all my life."

"Yo're young yet--maybe you will," said Racey, consolingly. "So don't
get discouraged."

They did not find Jack Harpe at the hotel, nor was he at the Happy
Heart. But in the saloon Luke Tweezy was drinking by himself at one
end of the bar. Perhaps the money-lender would know the whereabouts of
Jack Harpe.

"'Lo, Luke," was Racey's greeting. "Seen Jack Harpe around anywheres?"

Luke Tweezy's thin and sandy eyebrows lifted up in what would pass
with almost any one for surprise. "Who?"

"Jack Harpe."

"Dunno him." Indifferently--too indifferently.

"You dunno him--long, slim feller, black hair and eyes, and a hawky
kind of nose? Jack Harpe. Shore you know him. Why, I seen--" Racey
broke off abruptly.

"Yeah," prompted Luke Tweezy after an interval. "You seen--what?"

"I don't see why you dunno him," parried Racey (it was a weak parry,
but the best he could encompass at the moment). "I thought you knowed
him. Somebody told me you did. My mistake. No harm done. Have a drink,
Luke."

"Who told you I knowed this here now Jack Harpe?" probed Luke Tweezy,
when he had smacked his lips over a second drink.

"I don't remember now," evaded Racey Dawson. "What does it matter?"

"It don't matter," was the answer--the miffed answer it seemed to
Racey. "It don't matter a-tall. Have one on me, boys. Don't be afraid
to fill 'em up. They's plenty more on the back shelf when this one's
empty."

They filled and drank, filled and drank. Swing thought that he had
never seen Racey overtaken by liquor so quickly. In no time he was
telling Luke Tweezy the most intimate details of his private life.
Swing knew that these details were a string of lies. But Luke Tweezy
could not know that. He put an affectionate hand on Racey's shoulder
and begged for more. He got it.

When Racey ran down and reverted to the bottle, Luke Tweezy generously
purchased a second and invited him and his friend to a vacant table
in the corner of the room. It was an amazing sight. Luke Tweezy the
money-lender, the man who was supposed to still possess the first
dollar he ever earned, had actually bought three eighths of one bottle
of whiskey and the whole of another.

Racey Dawson greatly desired to laugh. But he didn't dare. He was too
busy being drunk and getting drunker. Swing Tunstall, slow in the
uptake as usual, perceived nothing beyond the fact that Luke Tweezy
had suddenly become a careless spendthrift till halfway down the
second bottle when Luke said:

"Shore is funny how you thought I knowed this Jack Harpe."

"Yuh-yeah," assented Racey, and overset a glass in such a way that
four fingers of raw liquor splashed into Luke Tweezy's lap. "S'funny
all right--an' that's fuf-funnier," he added as Luke and his chair
scraped backward to avoid the drip. "D'I wet yuh all up, Lul-luke?
Mum-my min-mis-take. I'm makin' lul-lots of mistakes to-day."

Luke Tweezy twisted his leathery features into his best smile. "It
don't matter," he told Racey. "Not a-tall. I--uh--who was it told you
I knowed this Jack Harpe?"

"Dud-don't remember," denied Racey.

"Think," urged Luke Tweezy.

"Am thu-thinkin'," Racey said, crossly. "What you wanna know for?"

"I don't like to have folks talkin' so loose and free about me," was
the Tweezy explanation.

"Duh-hic-quite right," hiccuped Racey Dawson. "An' you are, too, y'old
catawampus. You a friend o' mim-mine, Lul-luke?"

"Shore," said Luke, with an eye out for another upset glass.

"Then lend me huh-hundred dollars, Lul-Luke."

"Lend you a hundred dollars! On what security?"

"My wuh-word," Racey strove to say with dignity. "Ain't that enough?"

"Shore, but--but I ain't got a hundred dollars with me to-day."

"Bub-but you can gug-get it," Racey insisted, weaving his head from
side to side in a snake-like manner.

"We-ell, I dunno. You see, Racey--"

"I nun-need the money," interrupted Racey. "I'm broke--bub-broke
bad. Swing's broke, too. That's too bad--I mean that's two bub-boke
brad--whistle twice for the crossing--I mean--Aw, hell, I know
whu-what I mean if-fif you don't. You lul-lend me that mum-money,
Lul-Luke, like a good feller."

Luke Tweezy shook a regretful head. "I'm shore sorry you and Swing are
busted, Racey, I'd do anything for you I could in reason. You know
damwell I would, but money's tight with me just now. I ain't really
got a cent I can lend. Got a mortgage comin' due next month, but that
ain't now, of course."

"Of course not. Huh-how could you think it was now? Huh-how could you,
Lul-Luke? Dud-do you know the child ain't a year old yet?"

"Child? What child?" Luke Tweezy began to look alarmed.

"What child?" frowned Racey Dawson, sitting up very straight and
throwing a chest. "That child over there by the doorway--there in the
streak o' sush-shine. Aw, the cute li'l feller! See him playin' with
Windy Taylor's spurs. Ain't he cunnin'?"

"With most of 'em it's elephants and snakes an' such," proffered Luke
Tweezy.

"Yeah," assented Swing Tunstall. "A kid is something new."

"Thu-then you can't lend me that money?" Racey inquired, querulously.

"No, Racey, I can't. Honest, I'd like to. Nothin' I'd like better.
Only the way I'm fixed just now it's plain flat impossible."

"Then I s'puh-s'puh-s'pose I'll have to touch the Bar S folks or the
Cross-in-a-box. I gotta have money. Gug-gotta. They're my friends.
They'll give it to mum-me. Shore they will gimme all I want. They're
all my _friends_, I tell you!"

As Racey uttered the word "friends" his toe pressed Swing Tunstall's
instep.

"They're Swing's friends, too," continued Racey. "Ain't they,
Sus-Swing?" Again the Dawson toe bore down upon the Tunstall foot.

"Shore they are," chimed in Swing, watching his friend closely--so
closely that he was able to catch the extremely slight nod of
approbation given by Racey.

"Thu-there's Tom Loudon an' Tim Pup-pup-page of the Bub-bar S,"
stuttered Racey, gazing blearily at Luke Tweezy. "Bub-best fuf-friends
I ever had, them tut-two fellers. An' Old Man Sus-Saltoun. There's a
pup-prince for you. Gug-give you the shirt off his bub-back."

Which last was stretching it rather. For Old Man Saltoun, while not
precisely stingy, was certainly not the most generous person in the
territory. Nor did it escape Racey Dawson that Luke Tweezy eyed him
sharply as he made the remark. At once Racey began to roll his head
from side to side and rock his body to and fro, and laugh crazily.

"The Bub-bub-bar S is the bub-best ranch in the worl'." Again Racey
took up the thread of his discourse. "I tell you that outfit is great
friends o' mine. Juh-juh-just tut-to shuh-show yuh, Lul-luke. Ol' Man
Sush-Saltoun let three punchers go lul-last week an' then turned
round an' gives us both jobs. That's huh-how we stand with Ol' Man
Sush-Saltoun."

"That's fine," complimented Luke Tweezy.

"An' that ain't all," Racey galloped on, one toe pressing Swing's
instep. "I'm gonna tell him, Swing. He ain't no friend o' Jack
Harpe's. If I tell you you won't tell nobody, Lul-Luke, wuh-will yuh?"

Luke was understood to state that no clam could be tighter-mouthed.

"I knowed you wouldn't tell, Lul-luke," Racey declared, solemnly,
reaching across the table and affectionately pawing the Tweezy sleeve.
"I mum-maybe dud-drunk, but I know a friend when I see him. Yuh
bub-bet I do. Lul-lookit, Luke, lean over--" Here Racey pressed
heavily on Swing's instep. Then, when Luke leaned forward, Racey did
the same and possessed himself of the money-lender's ear by the simple
method of gripping it tightly between fingers and thumb. "Lul-luke,"
resumed Racey, "Jack Harpe's offered us a job, too, an' we're gonna
take him up instead of the Bar S. Huh-how's that?"

Racey released the Tweezy ear, leaned back in his chair, and breathed
triumphantly through his nose.

Luke Tweezy likewise leaned back as far as his chair would permit,
and fingered tenderly a tingling ear. "Whatcha gonna take Harpe's job
for?" he asked, puzzled. "I thought you liked the Bar S such a lot."

"We do," chirped Racey, laying a long finger beside his nose and
pressing again the Tunstall instep. "That's why we're gonna ride for
Jack Harpe." Grinning at the mystification of Luke Tweezy, he leaned
forward and whispered, "We got a idea we can help the Bar S most by
bein' where we can watch Jack--and his outfit."

Luke Tweezy sat up very suddenly. Swing clapped a hand over Racey's
mouth and shoved him backward.

"Shut up!" commanded Swing. "He dunno what he's talkin' about, the
poor drunk."

Thus did Swing Tunstall come up to the scratch right nobly. Racey
could have hugged him. Instead he bit him. This in order that Swing
should pull his hand away in a natural manner. Having achieved his
purpose, Racey smiled sottishly at Luke Tweezy.

"But what's Jack Harpe done?" Luke Tweezy inquired swiftly.

"It ain't what he's done," Racey replied. "It's what he's gug-gonna
do. He's out to cuc-colddeck the Bub-bar S, an' they nun-know it."

Whereupon Swing began to shake him severely. "Stop yore ravin!" he
commanded, and contrived to bang Racey's head against the wall with a
bump that went a long way toward curing the pain of Racey's bite.

Racey, with real tears in his eyes, looked up at Swing and guggled,
"I'm sho shleepy!" Then he laid his head upon his arms and slept. Luke
Tweezy did not attempt to awaken him. Swing Tunstall advised against
it. Luke Tweezy and he had a parting drink together. Then the
money-lender took what was left of the second bottle of whiskey--the
first was but a memory--to the bar and endeavoured to chivvy a rebate
out of the bartender. But such a procedure was decidedly not the Happy
Heart's method of doing business. Luke Tweezy, much to his disgust,
for he never drank except in the way of trade, was forced to carry his
bottle with him when he went.

Swing, sapient young person, walked casually to the window and watched
Luke Tweezy cross the street to Calloway's store. Then he returned to
Racey's table. Racey turned his tousled head sidewise and whispered
from a corner of his mouth, "Help me out to Tom Kane's stable. He's
out o' town, and there won't anybody bother us."

"C'mon, Racey, come alive," urged Swing Tunstall, making a great
business of shaking awake his drunken friend. "You don't wanna stay
here no longer. I know a fine place where you can sleep it off."

Ten minutes later Racey and Swing were sitting comfortably on a pile
of hay in Tom Kane's new stable. Racey pulled off his boots, flopped
down on the hay, and clasped his hands behind his head. He wiggled his
toes luxuriously and laughed.

"Gawd," said he. "Think o' that old skinflint buying nearly two
bottles of whiskey! Bet that'll lay heavy on his mind for as much as a
month. What you lookin' at me like that for?"

"Yeah, I'd ask if I was you. I shore would. What was yore bright idea
of tellin' Luke Tweezy we were gonna ride for Jack Harpe so's to watch
him?"

"So he'd know it."

"So he'd know it! So he'd know it! The man sits there and says '_so
he'd know it_'! And you call me a thickskull! Which yore head has got
mine snowed under thataway. Can't you see, you droolin' fool, that now
they'll know as much as we do?"

"No, oh, no," Racey denied with a superior smile. "Not never a-tall. I
ain't saying they mightn't know as much as you do by yoreself. But not
while you got the benefit of my brains they won't know as much as we
do. 'Tain't possibil."

"And what did you bite me for?" pursued Swing, disregarding the slur.
"Hell's bells, if you'd bit Luke I wouldn't have a word to say, but
why pick on me?"

"Well, you bumped my head so hard I saw sparks, so we're even. Say,
stop squallin' about yore hand! I didn't bite you half as hard as I
might have. Not half. You can still use the hand all right, can't you?
Yeah. Well, then, you ain't got anything to cry about, not a thing."

"Talk sense, will you? You got us into a fine mess, you have. A fi-ine
mess."

"Guess I fooled him, all right," Racey said with irritating
complacency.

"What was you trying to do, anyway?" Swing snarled, glaring at his
friend. "What was the notion of tearin' off all them confidences about
bein' busted and yore dear friends at the Bar S and how you and me
was gonna play detective? And to think Providence lets a
what-you-may-call-it like you go on living! It ain't reasonable."

"That business of telling Luke we was busted," grinned Racey, "and
asking him for a loan was just so I could work up roundabout and
natural like to how the Bar S bunch was my personal friends and how
we were gonna ride for Jack Harpe and watch him on their account. I
wanted him to know those things, and I couldn't slam out and tell him
dry so, could I? It wouldn't sound natural. It would make him think
the wrong way, you bet. Luke Tweezy ain't a plumb fool, for all he
made the mistake of denying he knowed Jack Harpe. That was a bad one."

"Yeah, but--"

"Lookit, Swing, we know that when Lanpher spoke of a front yard there
in the hotel corral he meant the Bar S range. Aw right. While we're
shore Jack Harpe wants to hire us to do his dirty work--which means
being rubbed out by our own friends likely--would he let us ride for
him if he thought the Bar S was paying us to watch him?"

"Not if he knowed what he was doing," admitted Swing.

"That's why I got so greasy and confidential with Mister Luke Tweezy.
So Jack Harpe will know."

"And Luke will tell him?"

"Will Luke tell him? Luke will run to him a-pantin'. I'll gamble Jack
Harpe knows the awful worst already. So we'll be safe enough to go to
Jack to-morrow morning bright and early and tell him we've decided to
give him the benefit of our services."

"But I thought we figured not to ride for him," said the now
thoroughly bewildered Swing.

"Of course we ain't. In words of one syllable, Swing, I want to find
out if it is the Bar S Jack Harpe's going against. Well, then, we
knowing what we know, and Jack Harpe knowing what we know he knows, if
he turns us down to-morrow after offering us the job yesterday, it'll
not only give us the absolute proof we want, but it'll make him turn
his wolf loose P D Q. And that last will be good medicine, because
if I'm any judge he ain't ready to start anything yet awhile, and I
notice when a gent ain't ready and has to jump anyhow he's a heap
likely to fall down and smear himself all over the landscape."

"The man's right," said Swing. "But it's the oddest number alla same I
ever did see. All kinds of clues to a crime, and no crime yet."

"It'll come," said Racey Dawson, grimly. "Jack Harpe is one bad
actor."

"What you got against him--I mean, anything particular besides yore
natural dislike?" Swing Tunstall at times was blessed with flashes of
penetrating shrewdness.

"I ain't got any use for him, thassall." Much emphasis on the part of
Racey Dawson.

Swing nodded. "See him at Moccasin Spring?" was his drawled question.

"I didn't say so." Stiffly.

"You didn't have to. And you don't--not now. I see it all. And you
yawpin' out real loud how interested you are in seeing how the Bar S
gets a square deal, and letting out only a small peep about old Dale,
and thinking yo're foolin' Swing to a fare-you-well. Oh, yeah. It's
the Dale's li'l ranch that's been worrying you alla time. I know.
Racey's actually got a girl at last. I kind of suspicioned it, but
I didn't think it was so heap big serious. Don't you fret, Racey,
old-timer, I'll keep yore secret. Till death does--Ouch! Leggo me, you
poor hickory! Yo're supposed to be sleeping off a drunk, remember!
G'wan now! Lie down, Fido! Charge, you bad dog!"

"But lookit," resumed Swing Tunstall, when the dust of conflict was
beginning to settle and he was poking about in the hay in search of
three shirt-buttons and his pocket knife, "lookit, Racey, you didn't
say anything to Luke about yore being friendly with this Dale party.
Guess you forgot that, huh?"

"Guess I didn't forget it," returned Racey Dawson, placidly. "It ain't
good euchre to lead all yore trumps before you have to. I'm saving
that about Dale to tell to Jack Harpe after he turns us down. I'm a
heap anxious to see what he says then."

"Maybe he won't say anything."

"Maybe he won't turn us down. But will you bet he won't? Give you
odds. Any money up to a hundred."

"I will not," said Swing Tunstall, shaking a decided head. "Yo're too
lucky. Oh, lookit, lookit!"




CHAPTER X

THE BACK PORCH


Racey's gaze casually and uninterestedly followed Swing's pointing
finger. Immediately his eye brightened and he sat up with a jerk.

"I'll shove the door a li'l farther open," said Swing, making as if to
rise.

"Sit still," hissed Racey, pulling down his friend with one hand and
endeavouring to smooth his own hair with the other. "Yo're all right,
and the door's all right. I'm going over there in a minute and if
yo're good I'll take you with me."

"Over there" was the back porch of the Blue Pigeon Store. Swing's
exclamations and laudable desire to see better were called forth by
the sudden appearance on the back porch of two girls. One was Miss
Blythe. The other was Miss Molly Dale.

There were two barrel chairs on the porch. Miss Blythe picked up a
piece of embroidery on a frame from the seat of one of the chairs and
sat down. Molly Dale seated herself in the other chair, crossed her
knees, and swung a slim, booted leg. From the breast pocket of her
boy's gray flannel shirt she produced a long, narrow strip of white to
which appeared to be fastened a small dark object. She held the strip
of white in her left hand. Her right hand held the dark object and
with it began to make a succession of quick, wavy, hooky dabs at one
end of the strip of white.

"First time I ever seen anybody trying to knit without needles," said
the perplexed Swing.

"That ain't knitting," said the superior Racey. "That's tatting."

"Tatting?"

"Tatting."

"What's it for?"

"Lingery." Racey pronounced the word to rhyme with "clingery."

"Lingery?"

"Lingery."

"What's lingery?"

"Lingery is clo'es."

"Clo'es, huh. Helluva funny name for clo'es. Why don't you say clo'es
then instead of this here now lingery?"

"Because lingery is a certain _kind_ of clo'es, you ignorant Jack.
Petticoats, and the like o' that. Don't you know nothin'?"

"I know yo're lying, that's what I know. Yo're bluffing, you hear me
whistlin'. You dunno no more about it than I do. You can't tell me
petticoats is made out of a strip of white stuff less'n a half-inch
wide. I've seen too many washin's hangin' on the lines, I have. Yeah.
And done too many. When I was a young one my ma would tie an apron
round my neck, slap me down beside a tubful of clo'es, and tell me to
fly to it. Petticoats! Petticoats, feller, is made of yards and yards
and yards like a balloon."

"Who said they wasn't, you witless Jake? They don't _make_ petticoats
of this tatting stuff. They use it for trimming like."

"Trimming on the petticoats?"

"_And_ the lingery."

"But you just now said petticoats and lingery was the same thing."

"Oh, my Gawd! They are! They are the same thing. Don't y' understand?
Petticoats is always lingery, but lingery ain't always petticoats.
See?"

"I don't. I don't see a-tall. I think yo're goin' crazy. That's what I
think. Nemmine. Nemmine. If you say _lingery_ at me again I won't let
you introduce me to yore girl."

"She ain't my girl," denied Racey, reddening.

"But you'd like her to be, huh? Shore. What does she think about it?
Which one of 'em is she?"

"I didn't say neither of 'em was. You always did take too much for
granted, Swing."

"I ain't taking too much for granted with you blushing thataway. Which
one? Tell a feller. C'mon, stingy."

"Shucks," said Racey, "I should think you could tell. The best-looking
one, of course."

"But they's two of 'em, feller, and they both look mighty fine to me.
Take that one with the white shirt and the slick brown hair. She's as
pretty as a li'l red wagon. A reg'lar doll baby, you bet you."

"Doll baby! Ain't you got any eyes? That brown-haired girl--and I want
to say right here I never did like brown hair--is Joy Blythe, Bill
Derr's girl. Of course, Bill's a good feller and all that, and if he
likes that style of beauty it ain't anything against him. But that
other girl now. Swing, you purblind bat, when it comes to looks, she
lays all over Joy Blythe like four aces over a bobtailed flush."

"She does, huh? You got it bad. Here's hoping it ain't catchin'. I've
liked girls now and then my own self, but I never like one so hard
I couldn't see nothing good in another one. Now, humanly speaking,
either of them two on the porch would suit me."

"And neither of 'em ain't gonna suit you, and you can gamble on that,
Swing Tunstall."

"Oh, ain't they? We'll see about that. You act like I never seen a
girl before. Lemme tell you I know how to act all right in company. I
ain't any hilltop Reuben."

"If you ain't, then pin up yore shirt where I tore the buttons off.
You look like the wrath o' Gawd."

"You ain't something to write home about yore own self. I can button
up my vest and look respectable, but they's hayseeds and shuttlin's
all over you, and besides I got a necktie, and _yore_ handkerchief is
so sloshed up you can't tie it round yore neck. Yo're a fine-lookin'
specimen to go a-visitin'. A fi-ine-lookin' specimen. And anyway yo're
drunk. You can't go."

"Hell I can't," snapped Racey, brushing industriously. "They never
seen me."

"But Luke Tweezy did," chuckled Swing.

"What's Luke got to do with it?" Racey inquired without looking up.

"If you'd slant yore eyes out through the door you'd see what Luke
Tweezy's gotta do with it."

Racey Dawson looked up and immediately sat down on the hay and spoke
in a low tone.

Swing nodded with delight. "You'll cuss worse'n that when I go over
and make Luke introduce me," he said. "He's been out there on the
porch with 'em the last five minutes, and you was so busy argufyin'
with me you never looked up to see him. And you talk of going over and
doing the polite. Yah, you make me laugh. This is shore one on you,
Racey. Don't you wish now you hadn't made out to be so drunk? Lookit,
Luke. He's a-offerin' 'em something in a paper poke. They're a-eatin'
it. He musta bought some candy. I'll bet they's all of a dime's worth
in that bag. The spendthrift. How he must like them girls. It's yore
girl he's shining up to special, Racey. Ain't he the lady-killer? Look
out, Racey. You won't have a chance alongside of Luke Tweezy."

"Swing," said Racey, in a voice ominously calm and level, "if you
don't shut yore trap I'll shore wrastle you down and tromp on yore
stummick."

So saying he reached for Swing Tunstall. But the latter, watchful
person that he was, eluded the clutching hands and hurried through the
doorway.

Racey, seething with rage, could only sit and hug his knees while
Swing went up on the porch and was introduced to the two girls. It was
some balm to his tortured soul to see how ill Luke Tweezy took Swing's
advent. Did Luke really like Molly Dale? The old goat! Why, the man
was old enough to be her father.

And did she like him? Lordy man alive, how could she? But Luke Tweezy
had money. Girls liked money, Racey knew that. He had known a girl to
marry a more undesirable human being than Luke Tweezy simply because
the man was rich. Personally, he, Racey Dawson, were he a girl, would
prefer the well-known honest heart to all the wealth in the territory.
But girls were queer, and sometimes did queer things. Molly, was
she queer? He didn't know. She looked sensible, yet why was she so
infernally polite to Luke Tweezy? She didn't have to smile at him when
he spoke to her. It wasn't necessary. Racey's spirit groaned within
him. Finally, the spectacle of the chattering group on the back porch
of the Blue Pigeon proved more than Racey could stand. He retreated
into a dark corner of the barn and lay down on the hay. But he did not
go to sleep. Far from it. Later he removed his boots, stuffed them
full of hay, and hunkered down behind a dismounted wagon-seat over
which a wagon-cover had been flung. With a short length of rope and
several handfuls of hay he propped the boots in such a position that
they stuck out beyond the wagon-box ten or twelve inches and gave
every evidence of human occupation.

Boosting up with a bushel basket the stiff canvas at the end opposite
the boots he made the wagon-cover stretch long enough and high enough
to conceal the important fact that there were no legs or body attached
to the boots.

Which being done Racey took up a strategic position behind an upended
crate near the doorway.

He proceeded to wait. He waited quite a while. The afternoon drained
away. The sun set. In the dusk of the evening Racey heard footsteps.
Swing Tunstall. He'd know his step anywhere. The individual making the
footsteps came to the doorway of the barn, halted an instant, then
walked in. Almost at once he stumbled over the boots. Then Racey
sprang upon his back with a joyous shout and slammed him headforemost
over the wagon-seat into the pile of hay.

The man swore--and the voice was not that of Swing Tunstall. On the
heels of this unwelcome discovery Racey made another. The man had
dragged out a knife from under his armpit, and was squirmingly
endeavouring to make play with it. Racey's intended practical joke on
Swing Tunstall was in a fair way to become a tragedy on himself.

There was no time to make explanations, even had Racey been so
inclined. The man was strong and the knife was long--and presumably
sharp. Racey, pinioning his opponent's knife arm with one hand and his
teeth, flashed out his gun and smartly clipped the man over the head
with the barrel.

Instantly, so far as an active participation in the affair of the
moment, the man ceased to function. He lay limp as a sodden moccasin,
and breathed stertorously. Racey knelt at his side and laid his hand
on the top of the man's head. The palm came away warmly wet. Racey
replaced his gun in its holster and pulled the senseless one out on
the barn floor near the doorway where he could see him better.

The man was Luke Tweezy.

Racey sat down and began to pull on his boots. There was nothing to be
gained by remaining in the barn. Tweezy was not badly hurt. The blow
on the head had resulted, so far as Racey could discover (later he was
to learn that his diagnosis had been correct), in a mere scalp wound.

Racey, when his boots were on, picked up his hat. At least he thought
it was his hat. When he put it on, however, it proved a poor fit. He
had taken Tweezy's hat by mistake. He dropped it on the floor and
turned to pick up his own where it lay behind the wagon-seat.

But, as we wheeled, a flicker of white showed inside the crown of
Tweezy's hat where it lay on the floor. Racey swung back, stooped
down, and turned out the leather sweatband of Tweezy's hat, at the
edge of which had been revealed the bit of white.

The latter proved to be one corner of a folded letter. Without the
least compunction Racey tucked this letter into the breast pocket of
his flannel shirt. Then he set about searching Tweezy's clothing with
thoroughness. But other than the odds and odds usually to be found in
a man's pockets there was nothing to interest the searcher.

Racey carefully turned back the sweatband of the hat, placed the
headpiece on top of the wagon-seat, and departed. He went as far as
the Happy Heart corral. Behind the corral he sat down on his heels,
and took out the letter he had purloined from Luke Tweezy. He opened
the envelope and read the finger-marked enclosure by the light of
matches shielded behind his hat. The letter ran:

DEAR FRIEND LUKE:

I don't think much of your plan. Too dangerous. The Land Office is
getting stricter every day. This thing must be absolutely legal in
every way. You can't bull ahead and trust to luck there aren't any
holes. There mustn't be any holes, not a damn hole. Try my plan, the
one I discussed so thoroughly with you last week. It will take longer,
perhaps, but it is absolutely safe. You must learn to be more careful
with the law from now on, Luke. I know what I'm talking about.

I tell you plainly if you don't accept my scheme and work to it
religiously I'm out of the deal absolutely. I'm not going to risk my
liberty because of other people's foolhardiness.

Show this letter to Jack Harpe, and let me know your decision.

Another thing, impress upon Jack the necessity of you two keeping
publicly apart until after the deal is sprung. When you talk to him go
off somewheres where no one will see you. I heard he spoke to you on
the street. Lampher told me. This must not happen again while we are
partners. Don't tell Doc Coffin's outfit more than they need to know.

Yours truly,

JACOB POOLEY.

Racey blew out the fourth match and folded the letter with care and
replaced it in the envelope. He sat back on his heels and looked up
into the darkening sky. Jacob Pooley. Well, well, _well_. If Fat Jakey
Pooley, the register of the district, was mixed up in the business,
the opposition would have its work cut out in advance. Yes, indeedy.
For no man could walk more convincingly the tight rope of the law than
Fat Jakey. Racey Dawson did not know Fat Jakey, except by sight, but
he had heard most of the tales told of the gentleman. And they were
_tales_. Many of them were accepted by the countryside as gospel
truth. Perhaps half of them were true. A good-natured, cunning,
dishonest, and indefatigable featherer of a lucrative political
nest--that was Fat Jakey.

Racey Dawson sat and thought hard through two cigarettes. Then he
thumbed out the butt, got to his feet, and started to return to the
hotel. For it had suddenly come upon him that he was hungry.

But halfway round the corral an idea impinged upon his consciousness
with the force of a bullet. "Gawdamighty," he muttered, "I am a Jack!"

He turned and retraced his steps to the corner of the corral. Here he
stopped and removed his spurs. He stuffed a spur into each hip pocket,
and moved cautiously and on tiptoe toward Tom Kane's barn.

It was almost full night by now. But in the west still glowed the
faintly red streak of the dying embers of the day. Racey suddenly
bethought him that the red streak was at his back, therefore he
dropped on all fours and proceeded catwise.

He was too late. Before he reached the back of the barn he heard the
feet of two people crunching the hard ground in front of it. The sound
of the footsteps died out on the grass between the barn and the houses
fronting on Main Street.

Racey, hurrying after and still on all fours, suddenly saw the dark
shape of a tall man loom in front of him. He halted perforce. His
own special brand of bull luck was with him. The dark shape, walking
almost without a sound, shaved his body so closely as it passed that
he felt the stir of the air against his face.

When the men had gone on a few yards Racey looked over his shoulder.
Silhouetted against the streak of dying red was the upper half of Jack
Harpe's torso. There was no mistaking the set of that head and those
shoulders. Both it and them were unmistakable. Jack Harpe. Racey swore
behind his teeth. If only he could have reached the barn in time to
hear what the two men had said to each other.

After a decent interval Racey went on. The Happy Heart was the nearest
saloon. He felt reasonably certain that Luke Tweezy would go there to
have his cut head dressed. He had. Racey, his back against the bar,
looked on with interest at the bandaging of Luke Tweezy by the
proprietor.

"Yep," said Luke, sitting sidewise in the chair, "stubbed my toe
against a cordwood stick in front of Tom Kane's barn and hit my head
on a rock. Knocked me silly."

"Sh'd think it might," grunted the proprietor, attending to his job
with difficulty because Luke _would_ squirm. "Hold still, will you,
Luke?"

"Yo're taking twice as many stitches as necessary," grumbled Luke.

"I ain't," denied the proprietor. "And I got two more to take. HOLD
STILL!"

"Don't need to deafen me!" squalled Luke, indignantly.

"Shut up!" ordered the proprietor, who, for that he did not owe any
money to Luke, was not prepared to pay much attention to his fussing.
"If you think I'm enjoying this, you got another guess coming. And if
you don't like the way I'm doing it, you can do it yoreself."

Luke stood up at last, a white bandage encircling his head, said that
he was much obliged, and would like to borrow a lantern for a few
moments.

"Aw, you don't need any lantern," objected the proprietor. "I forgot
to fill mine to-day, anyway. Can't you find yore way to the hotel in
the dark? That crack on the topknot didn't blind you, did it?"

"I lost something," explained Luke Tweezy. "When I fell down most all
my money slipped out of my pocket."

"I'll get you a lantern then," grumbled the proprietor.

Ten minutes later Luke Tweezy, frantically quartering the floor of Tom
Kane's barn, heard a slight sound and looked up to see Racey Dawson
and Swing Tunstall standing in the doorway.

"I didn't know you fell down _inside_ the barn," Racey observed.

"There's lots you dunno," said Luke, ungraciously.

"So there is," assented Racey. "But don't rub it in, Luke. Rubbing it
in hurts my feelings. And my feelings are tender to-day--most awful
tender, Luke. Don't you go for to lacerate 'em. I ain't owing you a
dime, you know."

To this Luke Tweezy made no comment. But he resumed his squattering
about the floor and his poking and delving in the piles of hay. He
raised a dust that flew up in clouds. He coughed and snorted and
snuffed. Racey and Swing Tunstall laughed.

"Makes you think of a hay-tedder, don't he?" grinned Racey. "How much
did you lose, Luke--two bits?"

At this Luke looked up sharply. "Seems to me you got over yore drunk
pretty quick," said he.

"Oh, my liquor never stays by me a great while," Racey told him
easily. "That's the beauty of being young. When you get old and
toothless an' deecrepit like some people, not to mention no names of
course, why then she's a cat with another tail entirely."

"What'ell's goin' on in here?" It was Red Kane speaking. Red was Tom
Kane's brother.

Racey and Swing moved apart to let him through. Red Kane entered,
stared at the spectacle of Luke Tweezy and his bobbing lantern, stared
and stared again.

"What you doing, Luke?" he demanded.

"Luke's lost a nickel, Red." Racey answered for the lawyer. "And a
nickel, you know yoreself, is worth all of five cents."

"I lost some money," grumbled Luke.

"But you _said_ you lost it when you tripped and fell," said Racey.
"And you fell outside."

"I lost it here," Luke said, shortly.

"I don't giveadamn where you lost it or what you lost," declared Red
Kane. "You can't go flirtin' round with any lantern in Tom's barn.
First thing you know you'll set it afire. C'mon, Luke, pull yore
freight."

"But lookit here," protested Luke, "I lost something valuable, Red. I
gotta find it."

"It wasn't money then?" put in Racey.

"Of course it was money," averred Luke.

"You said 'it' this time, Luke."

"It don't matter what I said. I lost some money, and I want to find
it."

"You can want all you like," said Red Kane, "but not in this barn.
C'mon back to-morrow morning, and you can hunt the barn to pieces, but
you can't do any more skirmishing round in here to-night. I'll lock
the barn door so's nobody else will go fussbudgettin' round in here.
C'mon, Luke, get a move on you."

So Luke was driven out much against his will, and Racey and Swing
roamed around to the dance hall. Here at a table in the ell where the
bar stretched its length they could sit and talk--unheard under cover
of the music.

"But how come you had yore boots off?" Swing desired to know when a
table, a bottle and two glasses were between them. "Don't try to tell
me you stuck 'em behind that wagon-seat on purpose to trip him. You
never knowed he was comin'."

"Well, no, I didn't exactly," admitted Racey, with a sly smile. "Those
boots were laid out all special for you."

"For me?"

"For you."

"But why for me?" Perplexedly.

"Because, Swing, old settler, I didn't like you this afternoon. The
more I saw you over there on that porch the less I liked you. So I
took off my boots and hid 'em careful like behind the wagon-seat so
they'd stick out some, and you'd see 'em and think I was there asleep,
and naturally you'd go for to wake me up and wouldn't think of looking
behind the crate where I was laying for you all ready to hop on yore
neck the second you stooped over the wagon-seat and give you the Dutch
rub for glommin' all the fun this afternoon."

"And what didja think I'd be doin' alla time?" grinned Swing Tunstall.

"You wouldn't 'a' tried to knife me, anyway."

"G'on. He didn't."

"Oh, didn't he? You better believe he did. If I hadn't got a holt of
his wrist and whanged him over the head with my Colt for all I was
worth he'd 'a' had me laid out cold. Yep, li'l Mr. Luke Tweezy
himself. The rat that don't care nothing about fighting with anything
but a law book."

"A rat will fight when it's cornered," said Swing.

Racey nodded. "I've seen 'em. It's something to know Luke carries a
knife and where."

"Where?"

"Under his left arm. Fill up, and shove the bottle over."

Swing filled abstractedly and slopped the table. He pushed the bottle
toward Racey. The latter caught it just in time to prevent a smash on
the floor.

"Say, look what yo're doing!" cried Racey. "Y' almost wasted a whole
bottle of redeye. I ain't got money to throw away if you have."

"I was just wonderin' what Fat Jakey's plan is," said Swing,
scratching his head.

"No use wonderin'," Racey told him. "It's their move."




CHAPTER XI

THE LOOKOUT


"Tell you, gents, somethin's come up to change my plans." It was Jack
Harpe speaking. Racey and Swing had met him on the sidewalk in front
of Lainey's hotel shortly after breakfast the following morning, and
Racey had told him of their ultimate decision. As he spoke Mr. Harpe
braced an arm against the side of the building, crossed his feet, and
scratched the back of his head. "I'm shore sorry," he went on, "but
I'd like to call off that proposition about you riding for me. Coupla
men used to ride for me one time are coming back unexpected. You know.
Naturally--you know how it is yoreself--I'd like to have these fellers
riding for me, so if it's alla same to you two gents we'll call it
off. But I wanna be fair. You expected a job on my ranch. I told you
you could have it. I owe you somethin'. What say to a month's wages
apiece?"

Racey shook a slow head, and hooked his thumbs in his belt. "You don't
owe us a nickel," he told Jack Harpe. "Take back yore gold. We're
honest workin'-girls ourselves. Of course we may starve, but what's
that between friends? In words of one syllable what do we care for
poverty or precious stones?"

Jack Harpe followed this flight of fancy with an uncertain smile.
"Alla same," he said, "I wish you'd lemme give you that month's wages.
I'd feel better about it. Like I was paying my bets sort of."

"'Tsall right," nodded Racey Dawson. "We still don't want any money.
We're satisfied if you are. Yep, we're a heap satisfied--now. _But_ I
ain't contented--much."

"That's tough," commiserated Jack Harpe, and dropped at his side the
arm he had braced against the wall of the hotel. Also he straightened
his crossed leg. His air and manner, even to the most casual of eyes,
took on a sudden brisk watchfulness. "That's tough," repeated Jack
Harpe, and added a headshake for good measure.

"Ain't it?" Racey Dawson said, brightly. "But maybe you can help me
out. Lookit, I ain't trying to pry, y' understand. I'm the least
prying feller in four states, but this here ranch of yores which ain't
got anything to do with the 88 and won't cut any corners off the Bar S
might it by any chance overlap on Mr. Dale's li'l ranch?"

"Overlap the Dale ranch! What you talkin' about?"

"I dunno," Racey replied, simply. "I'm trying to find out."

Jack Harpe laughed his soundless laugh. "I dunno what it is to you,"
he said, "but if my ranch don't come near the Bar S how can it hit the
Dale place?"

"Stranger things than that have happened. But still, alla same, I'd
shore not admire to see any hardship come to old Chin Whisker--Dale, I
mean."

If Racey had hoped to gain any effect by mentioning "Chin Whisker" he
was disappointed. Jack Harpe was wearing his poker face at the moment.

"I wouldn't like that any myself," concurred Jack Harpe. "Old Dale
seems like a good feller, sort of shackles along a mite too shiftless
maybe, but his daughter takes the curse off, don't she?"

"We weren't talking about the daughter," Racey pointed out.

Swing Tunstall immediately stepped to one side. There was a something
in Racey's tone.

But Jack Harpe did not press the point. He smiled widely instead.

"We weren't talking about her, for a fact," he assented. "Coming right
down to cases, we'd oughta be about done talking, oughtn't we?"

"Depends," said Racey. "It all depends. I'd just like folks to know
that I'd take it a heap personal if any tough luck came to old Dale
and his ranch."

"Meanin'?"

"What I said. No more. No less."

"What you said can be took more ways than one."

"What do you care?" flashed Racey. "What I said concerns only the gent
or gents who are fixing to colddeck old Dale. Nobody else a-tall. So
what do you care?"

"I don't. Not a care, not a care. Only--only one thing. Mister Man, if
you're aiming to drynurse old Dale you're gonna have yore paws most
awful full of man's size work. Leastaways, that's the way she looks
to a man up a tree. Me, I'm a great hand for mindin' my own business,
but--"

"Yo're like Luke Tweezy thataway," cut in Racey. "That's what he's
always doing."

"Who's Luke Tweezy?"

"So you've learned yore lesson," chuckled Racey. "It was about time.
Guess you must 'a' bothered Luke Tweezy some when you spoke to him
that day in front of the Happy Heart just before you and Lanpher
crawled yore cayuses and rode to Dale's on Soogan Creek.... Don't
remember, huh? I do. You said, 'See you later, Luke,' and he didn't
speak back. Just kept on untying his hoss and keeping his head bent
down like he hadn't heard a word you said. 'S'funny, huh?"

"Damfunny," assented Jack Harpe with an odd smoothness.

"Yeah, you fellers that don't know each other are all of that. Tell me
something, do you meet in the cemetery by a dead nigger's grave in the
dark of the moon at midnight or what? I'm free to admit I'm puzzled.
She's all a heap too mysterious for me."

"Crazy talk," commented Jack Harpe. "You been wallowing in the
nosepaint and letting yore imagination run on the range too much."

"Maybe," Racey said, equably. "Maybe. You can't tell. As a young one I
had a powerful imagination. I might have it yet."

Jack Harpe gazed long and silently at Racey Dawson. The latter
returned the stare with interest. With the sixth sense possessed by
most men who live in a country where the law and the sixshooter are
practically synonymous terms, Racey was conscious that Marie, the
Happy Heart Lookout, had suddenly drifted up to his left flank and now
stood with arms akimbo on the inner edge of the sidewalk. Her body
was turned partly toward him but her head was turned wholly away.
Evidently there was something of interest farther up the street.

Racey moved slightly to the left. He wished to have a little more
light on Jack Harpe's right side. The Harpe right hand--it was in the
shadow. Jack Harpe pivoted to face Racey. The light from the hotel
window fell on the right hand. The member was near the gun butt, but
not suggestively near.

"Listen here," said Jack Harpe, suddenly, in a snarling whisper
designed solely for the ears of Racey Dawson, "I dunno what you been
a-drivin' at, but just for yore better information I'm telling you
that I always get what I go after. Whether it's land, cows, horses,
or--women, I get what I want. Nothing ever has stopped me. Nothing
ever will stop me. Don't forget."

"Thanks," smiled Racey. "I'll try not to."

"And here's somethin' else: What I take I keep--always."

"Always is a long word."

"There's a longer."

"What?"

"Death."

"Meanin'?"

"That folks who ain't for me are against me. Looks like yore friend
there wanted to talk to you. So long."

Abruptly Jack Harpe faced about and went into the hotel. Racey felt a
touch on his arm. He turned to find that Marie had almost bumped into
him. Her head was still turned away. One of her hands was groping for
his arm. Her fingers clutched his wrist, then slid upward to the crook
of his elbow.

"Le's go across the street," she said in a breathless voice, and
pulled him forward.

Her body as she pulled was pressed tightly against him. She seemed to
hang upon him. And all to the discomfort and mental anguish of Racey
Dawson. He was no prude. His moral sense had never oppressed him. But
this calm appropriation of him was too much. But he accompanied her.
For there was Swing Tunstall, a nothing if not interested observer.
Other folk as well were spectators. To shake loose Marie's grip,
to run away from her, would make him ridiculous. He continued to
accompany the young woman quite as if her kidnapping of him was a
matter of course.

In the middle of the street they were halted by the headlong approach
of a rapidly driven buckboard. As it swept past in front of them the
light of the lantern clamped on the dashboard flashed on their faces.

"'Lo, Mr. Dawson," cried the driver, her fresh young voice lifting
to be heard above the drum of the hoofs and the grind of the rolling
wheels. And the voice was the voice of Miss Molly Dale.

Racey did not reply to the greeting. He was too dumb-foundedly aghast
at the mischance that had presented him, while arm in arm with a
person of Marie's stamp, to the eyes of one upon whom he was striving
to make an impression. What would Molly Dale think? The worst, of
course. How could she help it? Appearances were all against him. Then
he recalled that she had been the sole occupant of the buckboard--that
she had called him by name _after_ the light had fallen on the face of
the lookout. It was possible that she might not know who Marie
was. Although it was no more than just possible, he cuddled the
potentiality to him as if it had been a purring kitten.

He allowed Marie to lead him across the sidewalk and into the
pot-black shadow between Tom Kane's house and an empty shack. But here
in the thick darkness he paused and looked back to see whether Swing
Tunstall were following. Swing was not. He was entering the hotel in
company with Windy Taylor.

Marie jerked at his arm. "C'mon," she urged, impatiently. "Gonna take
root, or what?"

Willy-nilly he accompanied his captor to the extremely private and
secluded rear of Tom Kane's new barn. Here were the remains of a
broken wagon, several wheels, and the major portion of a venerable and
useless stove. Marie released his arm and Racey sat down on the stove.
But it was a very useless stove, and it collapsed crashingly under his
weight (later he learned that even when it had been a working member
of Tom Kane's menage the stove had been held together mainly by trust
in the Lord and a good deal of baling wire).

"Clumsy!" Marie hissed as he arose hurriedly. "All thumbs and left
feet! Why don't you make a li'l more noise? I'll bet you could if you
tried."

"Say," Racey snapped, temperishly, for a sharp corner of the stove
door had totally obscured his sense of proportion, "say, I didn't ask
to come over here with you! What do you want, anyway?"

"Want you to shut up and pay attention to me!" she flung back. "I
thought you was gonna leave town. Why ain't you?"

"Changed my mind," was his answer.

"Why can't you do what you said you'd do?" She was quite vehement
about it.

"I got a right to change my mind, ain't I?"

"Go, dammit! Why can't you go? You gave them a chance to even up
when you ran that blazer on Doc Coffin an' Honey Hoke there in the
Starlight. Let it go at that. Whadda you want to hang round here for?
Don't you know that every hour you stay here makes it more dangerous
for you?... Oh, you can laugh! That's all you do when a feller does
her level best to see you don't come to any harm. Gawd! I could shake
you for a fool!"

"Was that what you pulled me alla way over here to tell me?" he
inquired, somewhat miffed at her acerbity.

"I pulled you across the street because if I'd left you where I found
you you wouldn't 'a' lived a minute." The starlight was bright enough
to reveal to him the set and earnest tenseness of her features.

"I wouldn't 'a' lived a minute, huh?" was his comment. "I didn't see
anybody round there fit and able to put in a period."

"It wasn't anybody you could _see_. Don't you remember what I said
about a knife in the night, or a shot in the dark? Man, do you have to
be killed before you're convinced?"

"Well--uh--I--"

"Whadda you guess I was standin' alongside of you for while you was
talkin' to that other feller, huh? Tryin' to listen to what you was
sayin'? Think so, huh?"

"You shore had yore nerve," he said, admiringly--and helplessly.

"Nerve nothin'!" she denied. "He wouldn't shoot through me. I know
that well enough."

"Why wouldn't he? And how do you know?"

"Because, and I do. That's enough."

"Which particular _one_ is he?"

"I ain't sayin'."

"Do you like him as much as that?" Shrewdly.

"Not the way you mean." Dispassionately.

"Then who is he?"

"I ain't sayin', I tell you!"

"You snitched on Nebraska." Persuasively.

"This feller's different."

"How different?"

"None of yore business. Lookit, I'm doin' my best for you, but I won't
have the luck every time that I had to-night--nor you won't, neither.
Gawd! if I hadn't just happened to strike for a night off this evenin'
I dunno where you'd be!"

"Say, I thought you didn't dare let them see you have anythin' to do
with me?"

"I didn't, and I don't. But I had to. I couldn't set by an' let you be
plugged, could I? Hardly."

"But--"

"'Tsall right, 'tsall right. Don't you worry any about me. I got a ace
in the hole if the weather gets wet. But I wanna tell you this: If
yo're bound to go on playin' the fool, keep a-movin' and walk round a
lighted window like it's a swamp."

She dodged past him and was gone. He made no move to follow. He pushed
back his hat and scratched his head.

"Helluva town this is," he muttered. "Can't stand still any more
without having some sport draw a fine sight where you'll feel it
most."

After she left Racey Dawson Marie diagonalled across Main Street,
passed between the dance hall and Dolan's warehouse, and made her way
to the most outlying of the half-dozen two-room shacks scattered
at the back of the dance hall. She entered the shack, felt for the
matches in the tin tobacco-box nailed against the wall, and struck one
to light the lamp. Like the provident miss she was she turned the wick
down after lighting in order that the chimney might heat slowly.

It may have been the dimness of the lighted lamp. It may have been
that she was not as observing as usual. But certainly she had no
inkling of another's presence in the same room with her till she had
slipped out of her waist. Then a man in the corner of the room swore
harshly.

"---- yore soul to ----!" were his remarks in part. "What did you horn
in for to-night?"




CHAPTER XII

THE DISCOVERY


Racey Dawson did not remain long idle after Marie's departure. The
girl had barely entered the narrow passage between the warehouse and
the dance hall before he was crossing the street at a point beyond
the jail, where there were no shafts of light from open windows and
doorways to betray him.

Racey Dawson circled the sheriff's house and tippytoed past the
outermost of the six two-room shacks at the rear of the dance hall.
His objective was the Starlight Saloon, his purpose to discover the
bushwhacker who had tried to shoot him.

As he passed the outermost shack a light flashed up within it. He
saw Marie's head and shoulder silhouetted against the curtain. He
recognized her immediately by the heavy mass of her hair. No other
woman in Farewell possessed such a mop.

Racey resolved to speak with Marie again. His hand was lifted in
readiness to knock when Marie's visitor spoke. Racey's hand promptly
dropped at his side. He had recognized the voice. It was that of Bull,
the Starlight bartender.

The shack door was fairly well constructed. At least there were no
cracks in it. But a log wall has oftentimes an open chink. This wall
had one between the third and fourth tiers of logs not more than a
yard from the door. Racey crouched till his eyes were on a level with
the narrow crack.

He could not see Bull. But he could see Marie. Apparently she was
not according her visitor the slightest attention. She daintily and
unhurriedly hung her waist over the back of a chair. Then she turned
up the lamp, removed the pins from her abundant hair, shook it down,
and began to brush it calmly and carefully.

"---- you!" snarled Bull, advancing to the table where he was within
range of Racey's eyesight. "I spoke to you! What didja do it for?"

She raised her head and looked at him, the brush poised in one hand.
"---- you, Bull," she drawled at him. "I'm tellin' you, because I felt
like it."

Bull shot forth a hand and grabbed her right wrist. Marie, as a whole,
did not move. But her left hand dropped languidly and nestled in the
overhang of her bodice.

"Bull," she said, softly, staring straight into the evil eyes
glowering upon her. "Bull, bad as you are, you ain't never laid a hand
on me yet. You ain't gonna begin now, are you?"

Bull's great fingers began to tighten on her wrist, slowly,
inexorably.

"I'm sorry, Bull," she resumed, when he made no reply, "but I got a
derringer pointin' straight at yore stomach. Now you ain't gonna lemme
make a mess on my clean carpet, are you?"

Bull released her wrist as though it burnt him.

"You devil!" he exclaimed. "I believe you'd do it."

"Shore I would," she affirmed, serenely, dragging a small and ugly
derringer from its place of concealment and balancing it on a pink
palm. "I'll drill you in one blessed minute if you don't keep yore
paws to home. They's some things, Bull, you can't do to me. An' one
of them things is hurting me. I don't believe in corporal punishment,
Bull."

"I wanna know what you horned in for," he demanded, pounding the table
till the lamp danced again.

"If you only knowed what a silly fool you looked," she commented,
"you'd sit down and take it easy.... That's right, tell the
neighbours, do! Squawk out good and loud how yore bushwhackin' li'l
killing turned out a misdeal. Shore, I'd do that, if I was you. Whadda
you guess they pay Jake Rule an' Kansas Casey for, huh?"

"What did you get in front of him for?" Bull persisted in a lower
tone. "I pretty near had him, but you--Gawd, I could wring yore neck!"

"But you won't," she reminded him, sweetly. "Lookit here, Bull, if you
hadn't locked the door leading up the stairs to the Starlight's loft,
I'd 'a' come after you there and done my persuadin' of you right in
the loft. As it was when I heard what you were up to--nemmine how I
heard. I heard, that's enough--I had to go out in the street and
do what I could there. I don't believe the feller liked it much,
neither."

"But what's he to you? You ain't soft on him, are you, account of what
he done for that yellow mutt of yores?"

"I owe him something," she evaded. "That dog--I like that dog. And
then that man treats me like a lady. It ain't every man treats me like
a lady."

"I should hope not," guffawed the amiable Bull.

"Now that's a right funny joke," she assured him. "It almost makes me
laugh. Still, alla same, I got feelin's. I'm a human being. And you'll
notice molasses catches a heap more flies than vinegar does. I like
that Dawson man, and I ain't gonna see him hurt."

"Did you tell him it was me up there with a rifle?" There was a hint
of unease in the blustery tone.

"I didn't tell him nothin'," said Marie. "I ain't no snitch."

"Ah-h, you _are_ soft on him," Bull sneered in disgust.

"What if I am?" she flared. "What business is it of yores?"

"What'll Nebraska say?" he proffered.

"Nebraska hell!" she sneered. "Nebraska and me are through!"

"I know you've split, but that ain't saying Nebraska will let you go
with another gent."

"I'll go with anybody I please, and neither Nebraska nor you nore any
other damn man is gonna stop me. If you think different, _try_ it,
just _try_ it! Thassall I ask. _This_ for you and Nebraska!" With
which she snapped her fingers under his nose once, twice, and again.

"I wish Pap was still alive. He could always handle you. Remember the
time you sassed him there in ..." Here Marie accidentally dropped her
brush into an empty pail, and the clatter drowned out the name of the
town so far as Racey was concerned. But Marie caught the name, for she
straightened with a start and stared at Bull. "Yeah," continued Bull,
"you remember it, huh? I guess you do. That was where Pap slapped yore
chops and throwed you down the stairs. Like to broke yore neck that
time. I wish you had."

"'Pap,'" she repeated. "'Pap,' and that town. What made you think of
them two names together?"

"Because that was the town where he throwed you down the stairs," Bull
told her matter-of-factly.

"It was the town where we met up with Bill Smith."

"What about it?"

"Nothing--only Bill Smith is here in town."

"In Farewell?"

"In Farewell."

"Why ain't I seen him if he's in Farewell?"

"Because he's shaved off all of that beard and part of his
eyebrows--they used to meet plumb in the middle, remember--till a body
would hardly know him. I didn't. I knowed they was somethin' familiar
about him, but I couldn't tell what till you mentioned Pap and the
town together. Then I knowed. Yeah, Bull, this gent's the same Bill
Smith Pap picked up on the trail. He's a respectable member of society
now, I guess. Calls himself Jack Harpe and spends most of his time
runnin' round Lanpher."

"Then he ain't too respectable, the lousy pup. Calls himself Jack
Harpe, huh? Shore, he come in the Starlight with Lanpher and gimme
the eye without a quiver. Didn't know me, he didn't! And I ain't done
nothin' to _my_ looks to change 'em."

"Huh, y' oughta seen the way he looked me up and down when he passed
us on the Marysville trail. You'd 'a' thought he just seen me. Oh,
he's got his nerve."

"Who is _us_?" Suspiciously.

"What it won't do you no good to know. I guess I can go riding with a
friend if I like. You seem to keep forgettin' you ain't got any ropes
on me--nary a rope. Stop botherin' yore fool head about me and my
doings, and think of something worth while--for instance, Jack Harpe."

"Then what?"

"No wonder they call you Bull. That's all you are, beef to the heels
and no more sense than a calf. Listen, Jack Harpe's respectable, ain't
he? Or he aims to be, which is the same thing. Anyway, he's swelling
round here like a poisoned pup and don't know us a-tall. Takin' him
down a couple o' pegs wouldn't hurt him. He always was too tall. I'll
bet if he was come at right he'd pay cash down on the hoof for us, me
and you both, to keep our heads shut about what we know."

"But we was in that, too."

"But we didn't do what he done," pointed out Marie. "And you know
yoreself the company don't drop the case like a ordinary sheriff
does. No, I expect Jack Harpe would be worried some if he knowed we'd
recognized him.... Aw, what are you scared of? Pap's dead, ain't he?
How can Harpe hurt us? He never knowed how intimate we knowed Pap
while he was stayin' at our house. He just thought Pap was a friend.
He never knowed we got our share of the money. Nawsir, he can't hook
us up with that killin' nohow, but we can hook him. Brace up to him,
Bull. Maybe you can work him for a stake. They ain't no danger, I tell
you."

"By Gawd, I'd like to!" declared Bull and swore a string of oaths.

"Then go ahead," urged Marie. "And don't forget I want in on the
stake."

"Ah-h, I do all the work and then have to whack up with you, huh? I
will not. What I get I keep."

"I remember Jack Harpe used to say that. He shore hated himself, the
poor feller. Alla same, I guess maybe you'll go even Steven with me,
Bull. Who is it recognized him first? Who give you the idea? Who did,
huh? Who did? Whatever you get you'll divide with me or I'll know the
reason why. And if you don't think I'm a wildcat get me roused, man,
get me roused."

Bull stood back and scratched a tousled head. "I--well--" he began and
paused. Obviously the prospect did not wholly please him.

"Go to Jack Harpe easy like," suggested the girl. "Don't tell him too
much, just enough to show yo're meanin' what you say. I'd do it myself
only he'd laugh at me. He's one of those gents a woman has to shoot
before they'll believe she's in earnest. He ain't the only one, they's
another just like him in town.... Nemmine who. You go to Jack Harpe.
He'll listen to a man. G'on! They's money in it, if you work it right.
You want money, don't you? You need three hundred to pay what you owe
Piggy Wadsworth, don't you? Yah, you big hunk, you been runnin' to me
for money long enough! Here's a chance to make some of yore own. Fly
at it."

When Bull had picked up a rifle standing in a corner and departed,
slamming the door behind him, Marie sat down on the lid of a mottled
zinc trunk and wiped her hot face on a petticoat that hung on the wall
conveniently to hand. "Warm work, warm work!" she muttered, wearily.
"I dunno when I seen Bull so mad. I shore thought one time there
I wasn't gonna get rid of him without a fight." She rolled her
well-shaped ankles and flipped the gilt tassels on her shoe tops to
and fro (yes, indeed, some women wore tasseled footgear in those
days). "Men," she went on, staring down at the shiny tassels, "men are
shore hell."




CHAPTER XIII

A BOLD BAD MAN


Bull had halted a moment outside the door of the shack to roll a
cigarette. Before he pulled out his tobacco bag he leaned the rifle
against the doorjamb.

His eyes, unaccustomed to the darkness, did not see the crouching
Racey Dawson within arm's-length.

Both of Bull's hands were cupped round the lighted match. He lifted
it to the end of the cigarette. He sucked in his breath and--a voice
whispered: "Drop that match an' grab yore ears."

Bull did not hesitate to obey, for the broad, cold blade of a bowie
rested lightly against the back of his neck. Bull swayed a little
where he stood.

"I got yore rifle," resumed the whisperer. "Walk away now. Yo're
headin' about right. Don't make too much noise."

Bull did not make too much noise. In fact, he made hardly any. It is
safe to say that he never progressed more quietly in his life. The man
with the bowie steered him to a safe haven behind a fat white boulder
half buried in sumac.

"Si'down," requested the captor in a conversational tone. "We can be
right comfortable here."

"Dawson!" breathed the captive.

"Took you a long time to find it out," said Racey Dawson. "Si'down, I
said," he added, sharply.

Bull obeyed, his back against the rock, and was careful not to lower
his hands. Racey hunkered down and sat on a spurless heel. The rifle
was under his knee. He had exchanged the bowie for a sixshooter. The
firearm was trained in the general direction of Bull's stomach.

Racey smiled widely. He felt very chipper and pleased with himself. He
was managing the affair well, he thought.

"You show up right plain against that white rock," he remarked. "If
yo're figuring to gamble with me, think of that."

"Whatcha want?" demanded Bull, sullenly.

"Lots of things," replied Racey, shifting a foot an inch to the left.
"I'm the most wantin' feller you ever saw. Just now this minute I want
you to tell me where it was you met up with Bill Smith and what it was
he did so bad that you and Marie think you've got a hold on him."

"You _was_ listenin' quite a while," muttered Bull.

"Quite a while," admitted Racey Dawson. "Quite a while."

"But you didn't listen quite hard enough," suggested Bull.

"No," assented Racey, "I didn't. I'm expecting you to sort of fill in
the gaps."

Bull shook a decided head. "No," he denied. "No, you got another guess
comin'. I won't do nothin' like that a-tall."

"And why not?"

"Because I won't."

"'Won't' got his neck broke one day just because he wouldn't."

"Yeah, I guess so," sneered Bull.

"You must forget I heard all about how you tried to bushwhack me from
the second floor of the Starlight," Racey put in, gently.

"Aw, that's a damn lie," bluffed Bull. "A damn lie. All a mistake. You
heard wrong."

Racey shook a disapproving head. "When it's after the draw," he said,
"and you ain't got a thing in yore hand, and the other gents have
everything and know they have everything to yore nothing, she's poor
poker to make a bluff. Whatsa use, sport, whatsa use?"

"I dunno what yo're talkin' about," persisted Bull.

"Aw right, let it go at that. Who put you up to bushwhack me?"

"Nun-nobody," hesitated Bull.

"Yore own idea, huh?"

Bull spat disgustedly on the grass. He had seen the trap after it had
been sprung.

"You shore can't play poker," smiled Racey, his eyes shining with
pleasure under the wide brim of his hat. "I--The starlight's pretty
bright remember."

Bull's sudden movement came to naught. He settled back, his eyes
furtively busy.

"Still, alla same," pursued Racey, "I wonder was it all yore own
idea."

"Whatell didja kick me for?" snarled Bull.

"'Kick you for?'" Racey repeated, stupidly.

"Yeah, kick me," said Bull. "No damn man can kick me and me not take
notice."

"Dunno as I blame you. Dunno as I do. If any damn man kicks you, Bull,
you got a right to drill him every time. And you think I kicked you?"

"I know you did."

"You know I did, huh? Did you see me do it?"

"You kicked me after you'd knocked me silly with that bottle. Kicked
me when I was down and couldn't help myself."

"So I did all that to you after you were down, huh? Who told you?"

"Nemmine who told me. You done it, that's enough."

"No, it ain't enough. It ain't enough by a long mile. I want to know
who told you?"

"I ain't sayin'." Sullenly.

"Come to think, she's hardly necessary. Doc Coffin and Honey Hoke were
the only two gents in the Starlight at the time. It was either one
or both of 'em told you. Maybe I'll get a chance to ask 'em about it
later. Now I dunno whether you'll believe it or not but to tell the
truth and be plain with you, Bull, I didn't kick you."

"I don't believe you." But Bull's tone was not confident.

"I wouldn't expect you to--under the circumstances. What I'm tellin'
you is true alla same. Lookit, you fool, is it likely after takin'
the trouble to knock you down, I'd kick you besides? Do I look like a
sport who'd do a thing like that? Think it over."

Bull was silent. But Racey believed that he had planted the seed of
doubt in his mind.

"And another thing," resumed Racey, "do I look like a sport who'd
let another jigger lay for him promiscuous? You go slow, Bull.
I'm good-natured, a heap good-natured. But don't lemme catch you
bushwhacking me again."

"I won't," said Bull with a flash of humour.

"Be dead shore of it," cautioned Racey. "If I ever get to even
thinking that yo're laying for me, Bull, I'm liable to come a-askin'
questions you can't answer. Yo're a bright young man, Bull, but you
want to be careful how you strain yore intellect. You might need it
some day. And if you want to keep on being mother's li'l helper, be
good, thassall, be good."

"Yo're worse'n a helldodger," affirmed Bull.

"You got me sized up right. I'm worse than a helldodger, a whole lot
worse." The words were playful, but the tone was sardonic.

Bull grunted.

"You tell me, will you, just where it was you met this Bill Smith-Jack
Harpe feller, and what it was he did? There's a company in it, too.
What company is it--the Northern Pacific?"

"Ah-h, you got a gall, you have," sneered Bull, savagely. "Think
you'll make something out of Harpe yore own self, huh?"

"That is my idea," admitted Racey.

"Well, you got a gall, thassall I gotta say."

"You forget you've got a gall, too, when you try to bushwhack me,"
Racey reminded him. "I'm trying to play even for that."

"Try away."

"You seem to make it hard for me kind of," grinned Racey.

"Of course I'd enjoy makin' it easy for you all I could," observed
Bull with sarcasm.

"I dunno as I'd go so far as to say _that_," was the Dawson comment.
"But maybe it's possible to persuade you to tell me what you know."

"It ain't."

"Suppose I decided to leave you here."

"You won't." Confidently.

"Why not?"

"Because you ain't shootin' a unarmed man."

"Yet you think I'm the boy to kick one that's down."

"Sometimes I change my mind," said Bull with a harsh laugh.

"You laugh as loud as that again," said Racey, irritably, "and you'll
change somethin' besides yore mind. Don't be too trusting a jake,
Bull, not too trusting. I might surprise you yet. About that
information now--I want it."

"If anybody's gonna make money out of Harpe I am." Thus Bull,
stubbornly.

"I ain't aimin' to make _money_ out of Harpe. What I'm figuring to
make out of him is somethin' else again."

"Whatsa use of lying thataway? Don't--"

"That'll be about all," interrupted Racey. "You've called me a liar
enough for one night. I ain't got _all_ kinds of patience. You going
to tell me what I want to know?"

"No, I ain't."

"Yo're mistaken. You'll tell me, or you'll leave town."

"Leave town!"

"Yep, leave town, go away from here, far, far away. So far away that
you won't be able to blackmail Jack Harpe. See? Yore knowledge won't
be worth a whoop to you then. An' I'll find out what I want to know
from Marie."

"She'll never tell."

"Oh, I guess she will," said Racey, but he knew in his heart that
worming information out of Marie would not be easy. Saving his life
was one thing, but giving up information with a money value would be
quite another. The amiable Marie was certainly not working for her
health.

"Yo're welcome to what you can get out of her," said Bull.

"Then you'll be starting to-night. From here we'll go get yore hoss
and see you safely on yore way."

"What'll you gimme to tell you?" inquired the desperate Bull.

"Nothin'--not a thin dime, feller. C'mon, let's go."

"Nun-no, not yet. I--say, suppose you lemme talk to Jack Harpe first
myself. Just you lemme get my share out of him, and I'll tell you all
you wanna know."

"When you going to him?" Racey demanded, suspiciously.

"To-night if I can find him. It ain't so late. But to-morrow, anyway."

"I'll give you till sundown to-morrow night. If you ain't ready to
tell me then you'll have to drift."

"Maybe, maybe not," sneered Bull.

"I've said it," Racey said, shortly, rising to his feet.

"There's no ropes on you. Skip.... Nemmine yore Winchester. She's all
right where she is. So long, Bull, so long."




CHAPTER XIV

THE SURPRISE


The sun, lifting over the rim of the world, sprayed its rays through
the window and splashed with gold the face of Racey Dawson. He awoke,
and much to the profane disgust of Swing Tunstall, shook that worthy
awake immediately.

"Aw, lemme sleep, will you?" begged Swing, with suspicious meekness,
reaching surreptitiously for a boot. "You lemme alone, that's a good
feller."

"Get up," commanded Racey. "Get up, it's the early worm catches the
most fish. Rise and shine, Swing. Never let the sun catch you snorin'.
Besides, I can't sleep any more myself. I--"

Wham! Swing's flung boot shaved Racey's surprised ear and smashed
against the partition.

"You'll wake up that Starlight proprietor," Racey said, calmly, as he
picked up the boot and dropped it out of the window. "Good dog," he
continued, presumably addressing a canine friend without, "leave
Swing's nice new boot alone, will you? Don't go gnawin' at it
thataway. It ain't a bone."

Swing, pulling on his pants, left the room, hopping physically and
mentally. Racey rested both elbows on the sill and waited happily for
his comrade to appear beneath him.

"Shucks," he said in a tone of great surprise when Swing shot round
the corner of the hotel, "I shore thought there was a dog there
a-teasin' that boot. I could have took my Bible oath there was a
great, big, black, curly-haired feller with lots of teeth down there.
I saw him, Swing. Shore thought I did. Must 'a' been mistaken. And you
went and believed me, and got splinters in yore feet because you were
in such a hurry. Never mind, Swing, here's the other one."

He jerked the boot in question at his friend's head, and sat down on
his cot to complete his own dressing.

Came then the sound of a prodigious yawn from the room next door
occupied by Jack Harpe. A cot creaked. A boot was scraped along the
floor.

"Shore must be a sound sleeper," said Racey Dawson to himself, "if he
really did just wake up."

He buckled on his gunbelt, set his hat a-tilt on one ear, and went
down to wash his face and hands in the common basin on the wash-bench
outside the kitchen door.

But Swing Tunstall was before him, and was disposed to make an issue
of the dropped boots. Only by his superior agility was Racey enabled
to dodge all save a few drops of a full bucket of water.

"Djever get left! Djever get left!" singsonged Racey from the corner
of the building, and set the thumb of one hand to his nose and
twiddled opprobrious fingers at his comrade. "You wanna be a li'l bit
quicker when you go to souse me, Swing. Yo're too slow, a lot too
slow. Yep. Now I wouldn't go for to fling that pail at me, Swing.
You might bust it, and yore carelessness with crockery thataway has
already cost you ten dollars and six bits."

This was too much for the ruffled Swing. Waving the pail he pursued
his tormentor round the hotel and into the front doorway. Racey
fled up the stairs. At the stair foot Swing gave over the chase and
returned to the washbench to resume his face-washing. Racey went on
into their room. There was in it several articles belonging to Swing
that he intended to throw out of the window at once.

But when he had entered the room and the door was closed behind him he
did not touch any of Swing's belongings. Instead he remained standing
in the middle of the room looking thoughtfully at the floor. What had
given him pause was the fact that he had found the door ajar. And
he knew with absolute certainty that he had closed the door tightly
before he went downstairs.

It is the vagrant straw that shows the wind's direction, and since the
attempt to bushwhack him Racey was not overlooking any straws. The
door had been ajar. Why?

There was no closet, and from where he stood he could see under both
cots. No one lay concealed in the room. The bedclothes on Swing's cot
had not been touched. At least they were in precisely the position in
which they had been landed when thrown back by Swing's careless hand.
Racey did not believe that his own had been touched, either. But the
saddlebags and _cantenas_ lying on the floor at the head of his cot
had certainly been moved. He recalled distinctly having, the previous
evening, piled the _cantenas_ on top of the saddlebags. And now the
saddlebags were on top of the _cantenas_.

He glanced at Swing's warbags. They had not been moved. He wondered
if Jack Harpe and the Starlight's owner were still in their rooms. He
listened intently. Hearing no sound he went out into the hall, and
knocked gently on Jack Harpe's door and called him softly by name.
Getting no reply, he lifted the latch and walked in. There were Jack
Harpe's saddlebags, _cantenas_, and rifle in a corner. A coat lay on
the tumbled blankets of the cot. Otherwise the room was empty.

Racey went out, being careful to close the door tightly, and went to
the room of the Starlight's owner. This room, too, was empty. Racey
returned to his own room, tossed his _cantenas_ and saddlebags on the
cot, and began feverishly to paw through their contents.

Nothing had been subtracted from or added to the heterogeneous
collection of articles in the _cantenas_. The contents of the off-side
saddlebag were in their familiar disorder. There was nothing in or
about the off-side saddlebag to arouse suspicion. Not a thing.

He unbuckled the flap of the near-side saddlebag, and flipped it back.
Somebody had been at this saddlebag. He was sure of it. His extra
shirt, instead of being wadded into the fore-end of the saddlebag on
top of a pair of socks, had been stuffed into the hinder end on top of
a pair of underdrawers. Which underdrawers should by rights have been
at the bottom of the leather hold-all.

But there was something else at the bottom of the saddlebag. It was
something long and hard and wrapped in the buttonless undershirt
despised and rejected by Swing.

Racey unrolled the undershirt. His eyes stared in genuine horror at
what the unrolling revealed. It was the commonest of butcher knives
that someone's busy hand had wrapped in the undershirt. But what was
not nearly so common was that the broad, thin blade was stained with
blood. From point to haft the steel was as red as if it had been
dipped in a pail of paint. Indeed, being dry, it looked not unlike
paint. But Racey knew that it was not paint.

"It was dry before it was wrapped in that undershirt," he said to
himself, testing the blood on the blade with a speculative fingernail.
"There ain't a mark on the undershirt. Gawd! Here it is again--the
earmark of a crime, and no crime--yet. This is getting monotonous."

He laid down the knife, settled his hat, and methodically searched
Swing Tunstall's warbags. It turned out a needless precaution. He had
felt that it would be. But he could not afford to take any risks.
Having found nothing in Swing's warbags save his friend's personal
belongings, Racey slid the knife up his sleeve and went downstairs to
breakfast. On the way he stopped a moment at a fortuitous knothole in
the board wall. When he passed on his way the knife was no longer with
him.

Jack Harpe was still eating when Racey eased himself into the chair at
Swing's right hand. Jack Harpe nodded to Racey and went serenely on
with his meal. Racey seized knife and fork, squared his elbows, and
began to saw at his steak. And as he chewed and swallowed and sloshed
the coffee round in his cup in order to get the full benefit of the
sugar he wondered whether it was Jack Harpe or Bull to whom he was
indebted for the butcher knife. It was one of the two, he thought. Who
else could it be?

He believed it would be wise to spend most of his spare time in his
room. At least until he knew the inwardness of the butcher-knife
incident. It was possible that the man who had secreted the knife
would return. Racey might well be in line for other even more delicate
attentions.

Before going up to his room Racey went to the corral. He had left his
saddle-blanket out all night, he mentioned to Swing in the hearing
of Jack Harpe. He was gone five minutes. When he returned, strangely
enough minus the saddle-blanket, he was in time to see Piney Jackson
dart round the corner of the blacksmith shop, cup his hand at his
mouth, and raise a stentorian bellow for Jake Rule.

Piney did not wait to see whether the sheriff replied to his call.
Instead he beckoned violently to the handful of men grouped on the
sidewalk in front of the hotel.

"C'mon over!" he bawled. "Look what I found here this morning."

Jack Harpe and the owner of the Starlight being among those present
and responding to the invitation, Racey Dawson took a chance and went
with the rest.

"Look at that," said Piney Jackson, indicating a humped-up individual
sitting behind the woodpile.

Racey and the other spectators went round the woodpile and viewed the
humped-up individual. The latter was Bull, the Starlight bartender.
And he was dead, very dead. His throat had been cut from ear to ear.
He was a ghastly object.

"Who done it?" inquired one of the fools that infest every group of
men.

"He didn't leave any card," the blacksmith replied with sarcasm.

The fool asked no more questions. Came then Jake Rule and Kansas
Casey. Jake, a rather heavy, well-meaning officer, old at the
business, began to sniff about for clues. Kansas Casey laid the body
down on its back and thoroughly searched the pockets of the clothing.

"One thing," said Kansas Casey, looking up from what he had found--a
handful of silver dollars, a pocket knife, and a silver watch,
"robbery wasn't the motive."

Racey looked sidewise from under his eyebrows at Jack Harpe. The
latter was staring down unmoved at the dead body.

"Somebody must 'a' had a grudge against Bull," offered the fool.

"You think so?" said Piney. "Yo're a real bright feller."

The fool subsided a second time.

"Lookit here, Jake," Piney continued to the sheriff's address, "you
don't have to kick my wood all over the county, do you?"

"I'm lookin' for the knife," explained the sheriff, ceasing not to
stub his toes against the solid chunks. "Feller after doing a thing
like this gets flustrated sometimes and drops the knife. And finding
the knife might be a help in locating the feller."

All of which seemed sufficiently logical to the bystanders.

Racey decided he had seen enough. Besides, he wanted to camp closer to
his warbags. He should have been in his room before this, and he would
have been had he cared to make himself conspicuous by not going along
with the crowd to see what Piney Jackson had found.

Declining Swing's earnest invitation to drink he returned to the
hotel. Swing went grouchily to the Happy Heart, wondering what was the
matter with his friend. It was not like the Racey he knew to play the
hermit.

Once in his room Racey again explored his own and Swing's saddlebags
and _cantenas_, looked under the cots and through the bedclothes. But
he found nothing that did not belong to either himself or Swing.

"They didn't make a second trip," he said to himself. "I'm betting
it's Jack Harpe. Shore it is, the polecat."

Then in order to have a water-tight reason for remaining in the room
he pulled off his boots and trousers, fished a housewife from a
_cantena_, and set about repairing a rip in his trousers. It was a
perfectly good rip. He had had it a long time. What more natural that
on this particular day he should wish to sew it up?

It was an hour later that he heard the tramp of several pairs of boots
on the stairs. He could hear the wheezing, laboured breathing of Bill
Lainey, the hotel proprietor. Climbing the stairs always bothered
Bill. The latter and his followers came along the hall and stopped in
front of Racey's door.

"This is his room," panted Bill Lainey.

Unceremoniously the latch was lifted. A man entered. The man was Jake
Rule, the sheriff of Fort Creek County. He was followed by Kansas
Casey, his deputy.

Jake looked serious. But Kansas was smiling as he closed the door
behind him. Then he opened it quickly and thrust his head into the
hall.

"No need of you, Bill," he said.

"Aw right," said Bill, aggrievedly, and forthwith shuffled away.

Kansas withdrew his head and nodded to Jake Rule. "He's gone," he
said.

Racey Dawson, sitting crosslegged on his cot and plying his needle in
most workmanlike fashion, grinned comfortably at the two officers.
Lord, how glad he was he had found that knife! If he hadn't--

"Sidown, gents," invited Racey. "There's two chairs, or you can have
Swing's cot if you like."

Jake Rule shook his head. "We don't wanna sit down, Racey," he said.
"We got a li'l business with you, maybe."

"Maybe? Then you ain't shore about it?"

"Not unless yo're willing. You see, Dolan's drunk to-day, and of
course we can't get a warrant till he's sober."

"A warrant? For me?"

"Not yet," said Jake Rule. "Only a search warrant--first. But of
course if you ain't willing we can't even touch anything."

"Still, Racey," put in Kansas Casey, smoothly, "if you could see yore
way to letting us go through yore warbags, yores and Swing's, it would
be a great help, and we'd remember it--after."

"Yeah, we shore would," declared the sheriff. "You save us trouble
now, Racey, and I'll guarantee to make you almighty comfortable in the
calaboose. You won't have nothing to complain of. Not a thing."

Racey laughed cheerily. "Got me in jail already, have you?" he
chuckled. "You'll have me hung next."

"Oh, they's quite some formalities to go through before _that_
happens," declared the sheriff, seriously.

"I'm glad," drawled Racey. "I thought maybe you were fixing to take me
right out and string me up before dinner. Want to search our stuff,
huh? Hop to it. Swing ain't here, but I'll give you permission for
him. He won't mind."

Jake and Kansas went at the warbags like terriers digging out a
badger. Racey leaned on his elbow and watched them. What luck that the
door had been ajar and that he had noticed it! If it had not been a
life-and-death matter he would have laughed aloud.

At the end of twenty minutes the officers stood up. They had gone
through everything in the room, including the cots. Kansas Casey wore
a pleased smile. Jake Rule looked disappointed.

"Don't look so glum, Jake," urged Racey. "Is it a fair question to ask
what yo're hunting for?"

"The knife," he said, shortly. "The knife that cut Bull's throat."

"The knife, huh?" remarked Racey as if to himself. "So yo're
suspectin' me of wiping out Bull, are you?"

"I never did," said Kansas, promptly. "I know you. You ain't that
kind."

Jake looked reproachfully at his deputy. "You never can tall, Racey,"
he said, turning to the puncher. "I've got so myself I don't trust
nobody no more."

"Was this here yore own idea," pursued Racey, "or did somebody sic you
onto me?"

Jake made no immediate answer. It was obvious that he was of two minds
whether to speak or not.

"Why not tell him?" suggested Kansas. "What's the odds?"

At this Jake took a piece of paper from his vest pocket and handed it
to Racey.

"I found this lying on the floor of my office when I come back after
attending to Bull," was his explanation.

There were words printed on the slip of paper. They read:

Look in Racey Dawson's room for what killed Bull.

The communication was unsigned.

Racey handed it back to Jake Rule. "Got any idea who put it in yore
office?" he asked.

Jake shook his head. "I dunno," he said. "The window was open. Anybody
passing could 'a' throwed it in."

"You satisfied now, Jake, or--" Racey did not complete the sentence.

"Oh, I'm satisfied you didn't do it," replied the sheriff, "if that's
what you mean. But--the man who wrote this here _joke_!"

As he spoke he tore the note in two, dropped the pieces on the floor,
and stamped out of the room. Kansas Casey looked over his shoulder as
he followed in the wake of his superior.

He saw Racey Dawson picking up the two pieces of the note. Racey's
mouth was a grim, uncompromising line.

"If Racey ever finds out who wrote that," thought Kansas to himself,
pulling the door shut, "hell will shore pop. And I hope it does."

For he liked Racey Dawson, did Kansas Casey, the deputy sheriff.




CHAPTER XV

FIRE! FIRE!


"Why didn't you tell me at breakfast?" demanded Swing Tunstall.

"And give it away to Jack Harpe!" said scornful Racey. "Shore, that
would 'a' been a bright thing to do now, wouldn't it?"

"What didja do with the knife?"

"Dropped it through a knothole in the wall. The only way they'll ever
get hold of it is by tearing the building down."

"Jack Harpe, if he _is_ the feller, will know you found it and try
again."

"Shore. We can't help that. One thing, we'll know before the day is
over whether it is Jack Harpe or not."

"How?"

"Remember me this morning telling you how I'd left my saddle-blanket
out all night and then going out in the corral for the same. I said it
so Jack could hear me. He did hear me, and he watched me go. He saw
me go out round the corral, and he saw me come back without the
saddle-blanket. Now anybody'd know I wouldn't leave my saddle-blanket
out behind the corral, would I?"

"Not likely."

"But a feller who'd just found a knife with blood on it in his warbags
might go out back of the corral to lose the knife, mightn't he?"

"He might."

"Well, that's what I did. Naturally, having already lost the knife
down through the knothole I couldn't lose her again. But I did the
best I could. I dug in the ground with a sharp stick, and I made a
li'l hole like, and I filled her in again, and tramped her all down
flat, and sort of half smoothed down the roughed-up ground like I was
trying to hide my tracks and what I'd been doing. Then I came away.

"Now I'm betting that if Jack Harpe is the lad tucked away that knife
in my warbags he'll go skirmishing out behind the corral to see what I
was really doing."

"Maybe." Doubtfully.

"There ain't any maybe if he's the man turned the trick. And from
where we're a-laying under this wagon we can see the back of the
corral plain as--There he comes now."

The posts of the corral were less than a hundred yards from where
Racey and Swing lay beneath a pole-propped freight wagon. From the
wagon, which was standing beyond the stage company's corral, the
ground sloped gently to the hotel corral. Racey had taken the
precaution to mask their position with a cedar bush.

Hatless he peered through the branches at the man quartering the
ground behind the hotel corral.

"He's getting close to where I made that hole," he told Swing. "Now
he's found it," he resumed as the man dropped on his knees. "Jack
Harpe all along. Ain't he the humoursome codger?"

"He shore couldn't 'a' dug up that hole already," declared Swing when
Jack Harpe jumped to his feet after a sojourn on his knees of possibly
thirty seconds' duration.

"No," assented Racey, puzzled. "He couldn't. There's an odd number,"
he added, as Jack Harpe pelted back at a brisk trot over the way he
had come. "Le's not go just yet, Swing. I have a feeling."

He was glad of this feeling when ten minutes later Jack Harpe returned
with Jake Rule and Kansas Casey. The latter carried a shovel. The
three men clustered round the spot where Racey had dug his hole.
Kansas Casey set his foot on the shovel and drove it into the ground.
Racey chuckled at the pleasant sight. What must inevitably follow
would be even pleasanter.

The deputy sheriff made the dirt fly for six minutes. Then he threw
down the shovel, pushed back his hat, and wiped his face on his
sleeve. He spoke, but his language was unintelligible. Jack Harpe said
something and picked up the shovel. He began to dig. He cast the earth
about for possibly five minutes.

"Ain't he the prairie-dog, huh?" Racey demanded, jabbing his comrade
in the ribs with stiffened thumb. "Just watch him scratch gravel."

Suddenly Jake Rule and Kansas Casey turned their backs on the
frantically labouring Jack Harpe and walked away. Jack Harpe watched
them, threw up a few more half-hearted shovelfuls, and then slammed
the implement to earth with a clatter, hitched up his pants, and
strode hurriedly after the officers.

"That proves it, I guess," said Swing.

"Naturally. She's enough for us, anyhow.---- it to ----!"

"Whatsa matter?" inquired Swing, surprised at his friend's vehemence.

"Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Everythin's the matter. I just happened
to think that now Bull won't be able to tell me what he was going to
to-night."

"That'so. Can't you ask the girl?"

"I can, but I ain't shore it'll do any good. Marie ain't the kind that
blats all she knows just to hear herself talk. If she wants to tell me
she will. If she don't want to, she won't. Bull was my one best bet."

"What's that?" cried Swing, raising himself on an elbow.

"That" was the noise of a tumult in Farewell Main Street. There were
shouts and yells and screams. Above all, screams. Racey and Swing
hurried to the street. When they reached it the shouts and yells had
subsided, but the screams had not. If anything they were louder than
before. They issued from the mouth of Marie, whom Jake Rule, Kansas
Casey, and four other men were taking to the calaboose. They were
doing their duty as gently as possible, and Marie was making it
as difficult for them as possible. She was as mad as a teased
rattlesnake, and not a man of her six captors but bore the marks of
fingernails, or teeth, or heels.

She had, it appeared, attacked without warning and with a derringer,
Jack Harpe as he was walking peacefully along the sidewalk in front
of the Starlight. Only by good luck and a loose board that had turned
under the girl's foot as she fired had Mr. Harpe been preserved from
sudden death.

"That's shore tough," Racey said to their informant. "I'm goin' right
away now and get me a hammer and some nails and fix that loose board."

"You better not let Jack Harpe hear you say that," cautioned the
other.

"If you want something to do, suppose now you tell him," was Racey's
instant suggestion.

Racey's tone was light, but his stare was hard. The other man went
away.

"Fire! Fire!" shrilled young Sam Brown Galloway, bouncing out of his
father's store, and jumping up and down in the middle of Main Street.
"The jail's afire! The jail's afire!"

Men added their shouts to his childish squalls and ran toward the
jail. Racey and Swing trundled along the sidewalk together. "She's
afire, all right," said Racey. "Lookit the smoke siftin' through the
window at the corner."

The smoke was followed by a vicious lash of flame that whipped up the
side of the building and set the eaves alight. The glass of another
window fell through the bars with a tinkle. A billow of smoke rushed
forth. Smoke was seeping through cracks at the back of the building.

"My Gawd!" exclaimed Racey, as a shriek rent the air. "The girl's in
there!"

He had for the moment forgotten that Marie was incarcerated in the
jail. But Kansas Casey had not forgotten. Racey, having picked up a
handy axe, raced round to the back only to find the deputy unlocking
the back door. A burst of smoke as he flung open the door assailed
their lungs. Choking, holding their breath, both men dashed into the
jail. Kansas unlocked the girl's cell.

"You shore took yore time about comin'," drawled Marie. "I didn't know
but what I'd be burned up with the rest of the jail. You big lummox!
You don't have to bust my wrist, do you? Go easy, or I'll claw yore
face off!"

Once outside they were immediately surrounded by the townsfolk. Most
of them were laughing. But Jake Rule was not laughing.

"Good joke on you, Jake," grinned a friend. "Burned herself out on
you, didn't she?"

"You can't keep a good man down," shouted another.

"Never let the baby play with matches," advised a third.

"Get pails, gents!" shouted Rule. "We gotta put it out. Where's a
pail? Who--"

"Aw, let 'er burn," said Galloway. "Hownell you gonna put it out?
She's all blazin' inside. You couldn't put it out with Shoshone
Falls."

"The wind's blowin' away from town," contributed Mike Flynn. "Nothin'
else'll catch. Besides, we been needing a new calaboose for a long
time. You done us a better turn than you think, Marie."

"If you say I set the jail afire, Mike Flynn," cried Marie, "Yo're a
liar by the clock."

"You set it afire," said the sheriff, sternly. "You'll find it a
serious business setting a jail afire."

"Prove I done it, then!" squalled Marie. "Prove it, you slab-sided
hunk! Yah, you can't prove it, and you know it!"

To this the sheriff made no reply.

"We gotta put her somewhere till the Judge gets sober," he said,
hurriedly. "Guess we'll put her in yore back room, Mike."

"Guess you won't," countered Mike. "They ain't any insurance on my
place, and I ain't taking no chances, not a chance."

"There's the hotel," suggested Kansas Casey.

"You don't use my hotel for no calaboose," squawked Bill Lainey.
"Nawsir. Not much. You put her in yore own house, Jake. Then if she
sets you afire, it's your own fault. Yeah."

Jake Rule scratched his head. It was patent that he did not quite know
what to do. Came then Dolan, the local justice of the peace. Dolan's
hair was plastered well over his ears and forehead. Dolan was pale
yellow of countenance and breathed strongly through his nose. He
looked not a little sick. He pawed a way through the crowd and cast a
bilious glance at Marie.

He inquired of Jake Rule as to the trouble and its cause. On being
told he convened court on the spot. Judge Dolan agreed with Mike
Flynn that the burning of the jail was a trivial matter requiring no
official attention. For was not Dolan's brother-in-law a carpenter and
would undoubtedly be given the contract for a new jail. Quite so.

"You can't prove anything about this jail-burning," he told Jake Rule
and the assembled multitude, "but this assault on Jack Harpe is a cat
with another tail. It was a lawless act and hadn't oughta happened.
Marie, yo're a citizen of Farewell, and you'd oughta take an interest
in the community instead of surging out and trying to massacre a
visitor in our midst, a visitor who's figuring on settlin' hereabouts,
I understand. Gawd knows we need all the inhabitants we can get, and
it's just such tricks as yores, Marie, that discourages immigration."

Here Judge Dolan frowned upon Marie and thumped the palm of his hand
with a bony fist. Marie stood first on one leg and then on the other
and hung her head down. Since her raving outburst at the time of her
arrest she had cooled considerably. It was evident that she was now
trying to make the best of a bad business.

"Marie," resumed Judge Dolan, and cleared his throat importantly, "why
did you shoot at Mr. Jack Harpe?"

"He insulted me," Marie replied without a quiver.

"I ain't ever said a word to her," countered Jack Harpe. "I don't even
know the girl."

The judge turned back to Marie. "Have you any witnesses to this
insult?" he queried.

"Nary a witness." Marie shook her brown head.

"Y' oughta have a witness. She's yore word against his. Where did this
insult take place?"

"At my shack. He come there early this mornin'."

"That's a lie!" boomed Jack Harpe.

"Which will be about all from you!" snapped Judge Dolan, vigorously
pounding his palm.

"What did he say to you?" was the judge's next question.

"I'd rather not tell," hedged Marie.

"Well, of course, you don't have to answer," said the judge,
gallantly. "But alla same, Marie, you hadn't oughta used a gun on him.
It--it ain't ladylike. Nawsir. Don't you do it again or I'll send you
to Piegan City. Ten dollars or ten days."

"What?" Thus Jack Harpe, astonished beyond measure.

"Ten dollars or ten days," repeated Judge Dolan. "Taking a shot at you
is worth ten dollars but no more. It don't make any difference whether
you came here to invest money or not, you wanna go slow round the
women."

"But I didn't even say howdy to her," protested Jack Harpe.

"She says different. You leave her alone."

Public opinion, which at first had rather favoured Jack Harpe, now
frowned upon him. He shouldn't have insulted the girl. No, sir, he had
no business doing that. Be a good thing if he was arrested for it,
perhaps. What a virtuous thing is public opinion.

"I ain't got a nickel, Judge," said Marie. "You'll have to trust me
for it till the end of the week."

"I'll pay her fine," nipped in Racey, glad of an opportunity to annoy
Jack Harpe. "Here y' are, Judge. Ten dollars, you said."

It was a few minutes after he had eaten dinner that Racey Dawson
presented himself at the door of Kansas Casey's shack. The door was
open. Racey stood in the doorway and leaned the shovel against the
wall of the room.

"You forgot yore shovel, Kansas," he said, gently, "or Jack Harpe did.
Same thing, and here it is."

Kansas had the grace to look a trifle shamefaced. "Somebody said you'd
buried that knife--" he began, and stopped.

"Yep, I know, Jack Harpe," smiled Racey. "Li'l Bright Eyes is shore a
friend of mine. Only I wouldn't bank too strong on what he says about
me."

"I ain't," denied the deputy.

"Another thing, Kansas," drawled Racey, "did you ever stop to think
how come he knowed so much about that knife? And did you ask him if he
was the gent left that paper in Jake's office? And going on from that
did you ask him why he didn't come out flat footed at first and say
what he thought he knowed instead of waiting till after you'd searched
my room? You don't have to answer, Kansas, only if I was you I'd think
it over, I'd think it over plenty. So long."

From the house of Casey he went to the shack of Marie. He found the
girl cooking her dinner quite as if attempts at murder, dead men,
and jailburning were matters of small moment. But if her manner
was placid, her eyes were not. They were bright and hard, and they
flickered stormily upon him when she lifted her gaze from the pan of
frying potatoes and saw who it was standing in the doorway.

"I'm obliged to you," she said, calmly, "for payin' my fine. You ran
away so quick this mornin' you didn't gimme any chance to thank you.
I'll pay you back soon's I get paid come Saturday."

Racey stared reproachfully. He shifted his weight from one
uncomfortable foot to the other. "I didn't come here about the fine,"
he told her. "I--" He stopped, uncertain whether to continue or not.

"If you didn't come about the fine it must be something else
important," said she, insultingly. "I shore oughta be set up, I
suppose. So far it's always been me that's had to make all the moves."

"'Moves?'" repeated Racey, frankly puzzled.

"Moves," she mimicked. "Didn't you ever play checkers? Oh, nemmine,
nemmine! Don't take it to heart. I don't mean nothin'. Never did.
C'mon in an' set. Take a chair. That one. What do you want? Down
feller, down!"

The command was called forth by the violent entry of the yellow dog
which, remembering Racey as a friend, flung itself upon him with
whines and tail-waggings.

"He's all right," said Racey, rubbing the rough head. "I just thought
I'd ask you what you knew about Jack Harpe."

Marie's narrowed eyes turned dark with suspicion. "Whadda you know
about me an' Jack Harpe?" she demanded.

"Not as much as I'd like to know," was his frank reply.

"I ain't talkin'." Shortly.

"Now, lookit here--" he began, wheedlingly.

She shook her head at him. "S'no use. I don't tell everything I know."

"Then you do know something about Jack Harpe?"

"I didn't say I did."

"You didn't. But--"

"That's what the goat done to the stone wall. Look out you don't bust
yore horns, too."

"Meanin'?"

"Meanin' you'll knock 'em off short before you get anything out o' me
I don't want to tell you. And I tell you flat I ain't talkin' over
Jack Harpe with you."

"Scared to?" he hazarded, boldly.

"You can give it any name you like. Pull up a chair. Dinner's most
ready. They's enough for two."

Despite the fact that he had just dined at the hotel he accepted her
invitation in the hope that she could be persuaded to talk. And after
dinner he smoked several cigarettes with her--still hoping. Finally,
finding that nothing he could say was of any avail to move her, he
took up his hat and departed.

"Don't go away mad," she called after him.

"I ain't," he denied, and went on, her mocking laughter ringing in his
ears.

After Racey was gone out of sight Marie turned back into her little
house. There was no laughter on her lips or in her eyes as she sat
down in a chair beside the table and stared across it at the chair in
which Racey had been sitting.

"He's a nice boy," she whispered under her breath, after a time. "I
wish--I wish--"

But what it was she wished it is impossible to relate, for, instead of
completing the sentence, she hid her face in her hands and began to
cry.

Early next morning Racey Dawson and Swing Tunstall rode out of town by
the Marysville trail. They were bound for the Bar S and a job.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What have you been drinkin', Racey?" demanded Mr. Saltoun, winking at
his son-in-law and foreman, Tom Loudon.

The latter did not return the wink. He kept a sober gaze fastened on
Racey Dawson.

Racey was staring at Mr. Saltoun. His eyes began to narrow. "Meanin'?"
he drawled.

"Now don't go crawlin' round huntin' offense where none's meant,"
advised Mr. Saltoun. "But you know how it is yoreself, Racey. Any gent
who gets so full he can't pick out his own hoss, and goes weaving off
on somebody else's is liable to make mistakes other ways. You gotta
admit it's possible."

The slight tinge of red underlying Racey's heavy coat of tan
acknowledged the corn. "It's possible," he admitted.

Mr. Saltoun saw his advantage and seized it. "S'pose now this is
another mistake?"

"Tell you what I'll do," said Racey. "You said you had jobs for a
couple of handsome young fellers like us. Aw right. We go to work. We
ride for you six months for nothing."

"Huh?" Mr. Saltoun and Tom Loudon stared their astonishment.

"Oh, the cat's got more of a tail than that," said Racey. "You don't
pay us a nickel for those six months _provided_ what I said will
happen, don't happen. If it does happen like I say, you pay each of us
two hundred large round simoleons per each and every month."

"Come again," said Mr. Saltoun, wrinkling his forehead.

Racey came again as requested.

"Six months is a long time" frowned Mr. Saltoun. "If I lose--"

"But I dunno what I'm talkin' about," pointed out Racey. "I make
mistakes, you know that. And you were so shore nothin' was gonna
happen. Are you still shore?"

"Well--" hesitated Mr. Saltoun.

"If you take us up you stand to be in the wages of two punchers for
six months. That's four hundred and eighty dollars. Almost five
hundred dollars. Of course, it's a chance. What ain't, I'd like to
know? But yo're so shore she's gonna keep on come-day-go-day like
always, that I'd oughta have odds."

"Five to one," mused Mr. Saltoun, pulling at the ends of his gray
mustache.

"And fair enough--seeing that nothing is going to happen."

"I wouldn't do it," put in Tom Loudon. "These trick bets are unlucky."

"Oh, I dunno," said Mr. Saltoun, running true to form in that he
rarely took kindly to advice. "Looks like a good chance to get six
months' work out of two men for nothing."

"Looks like a good chance to lose twenty-four hundred dollars,"
exclaimed Tom Loudon, wrathfully.

"My Gawd, Tom," said Mr. Saltoun, cocking a grizzled eyebrow, "you
don't mean to tell me you think they's any chance a-tall of Racey's
winning this bet, do you?"

"They's just about ten times more chance for him to win than to lose."

"Tom, do you ever see any li'l pink lizards with blue tails an' red
feet? I hear that's a sign, too."

"Aw right, have it yore own way," said Tom Loudon with every symptom
of disgust. "Only don't say I didn't warn you."

"Gawd, Tom, y' old wet blanket, yo're always a-warnin' me. I never see
such a feller."

"Aw right, I said. Aw right. But when yo're a-writin' out a check
for twenty-four hundred dollars, just remember how I always told you
somebody was gonna horn in here some day and glom half the range."

"Laugh," said Mr. Saltoun. "Yo're shore the jokin'est feller, Tom
Loudon. Even Racey and his partner are laughing."

"I should think they would," Tom Loudon returned, savagely. "I'd
laugh, too, if I stood to win twenty-four hundred in six months."

Mr. Saltoun shook a whimsical head at Racey Dawson. "Whatsa use?" he
asked, sorrowfully. "Whatsa use?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"You was too easy with him," declared Swing, as he and Racey were
unsaddling at the Bar S corral. "You could 'a' stuck him for three
hundred a month just as easy."

Racey shook a decided head. "No, there's a limit even to Old Salt's
stubbornness. I know him better'n you do ... Aw, what you kicking
about? We've got enough coin in our overalls to last out six months if
you don't drink too much."

"If I don't drink too much, hey! If _I_ don't drink too much! Which I
like that. Who's--"

"Racey," interrupted Tom Loudon, who had approached unperceived, "this
is a fine way to treat yore friends."

"What's bitin' you?"

"You hadn't oughta take advantage of Old Salt thisaway."

"And why not? What's wrong with the bet? Fair bet. Leave it to
anybody."

"Shore, shore, but alla same, Racey, you'd oughta gone a li'l easy.
Twenty-four hundred dollars--"

"What's the dif? You won't have to pay it."

"'Tsall right, but I didn't think it of you, damfi did. You know how
Old Salt is--always certain shore he's right, and you took advantage."

"Shore I took advantage," Racey acquiesced, amiably. "I got sense, I
have. Alla same, he'd never 'a' taken me up if you hadn't slipped in
yore li'l piece of advice for him not to. That was a bad play, Tom.
You might know he'd go dead against you. But I ain't complaining, not
me. Nor Swing ain't, either. We'll thank you for yore helping hand to
our dying day."

"I guess you will," Tom Loudon said, ruefully. "When you get through
here, Racey, you and Swing come on over to the wagon shed. I wanna
sift through this Jack Harpe business once more."




CHAPTER XVI

THE BAR S


  "_Kind friends, you must pity my horrible tale.
  I'm an object of sorrow, I'm looking quite stale.
  I gone up my trade selling Pink's Patent Pills
  To go hunting gold in the dreary Black Hills_."

"I wish to Gawd you'd stayed there," said Jimmie, the Bar S cook,
pausing in his march past to poke his head in at the bunkhouse
doorway. "Honest, Racey, don't you ever get tired of yell-bellerin'
thisaway?"

Racey Dawson, standing in front of the mirror, ceased not to adjust
his necktie. The mirror was small and he was not, and it was only
by dint of much wriggling that he was succeeding in his purpose. To
Jimmie and his question he paid absolutely no attention.

  "_Don't go away, stay at home if you can,
  Stay away from that city, they call it Cheyenne_."

"Seemin'ly he don't get tired," Jimmie answered the question for
himself. "And what's more, he don't ever get tired of dandy-floppin'
himself all up like King Solomon's pet pony. Yup," Jimmie continued
with enthusiasm, addressing the world at large, "I can remember when
Racey used to ride for the 88 and the Cross-in-a-box how he was a
regular two-legged human being. A handkerchief round his neck was good
enough for him _always_. If his pants had a rip in 'em anywheres, or
they was buttons off his vest, or his shirt was tore, did it matter?
No, it didn't matter. It didn't matter a-tall. But now he's gotta buy
new pants if his old ones is tore, and a new shirt besides, and he
sews the buttons on his vest, and he's took to wearin' a necktie. A
_necktie_!"

Jimmie, words failing him for the moment, paused and hooked one foot
comfortably behind the other. He leaned hipshot against the doorjamb,
and spat accurately through a knothole in the bunkhouse floor.

"Yop," he went on, ramming his quid into the angle of his jaw, "and
he's always admiring himself in the mirror, Racey is. He pats his hair
down, after partin' it and usin' enough goose-grease on it to keep
forty guns from rusting for ten years, and he shines his boots with
blacking, _my_ stove-blacking, the rustling scoundrel. Scrouge
southwest a li'l more, Racey, and look at yore chin. They's a li'l
speck of dust on it. Oh, me, oh, my! Li'l sweetheart will have to wash
his face again. Who is she?"

Still Racey did not deign to reply. He placed, removed, and replaced a
garnet stickpin in the necktie a dozen times handrunning. Jimmie beat
the long roll with his knuckles on the bottom of the frying-pan, and
winked at the broad back of Racey Dawson.

"I hear they's a new hasher at Bill Lainey's hotel," pursued the
indefatigable Jimmie. "Tim Page told me she only weighed three hundred
pounds without her shoes. It ain't her! Don't tell me it's her! You
ain't, are you, Racey?"

Racey, pivoting on a spurred heel, faced Jimmie, stuck his arms
akimbo, and spoke:

"Not mentioning any names, of course, but there's some people round
here got an awful lot to say. Which if a gent was to say their tongues
are hung in the middle he'd be only tellin' half the truth. Not that
you ain't popular with me, James. You are. I think the world of you.
How can I help it when you remind me all the time of my aunt's pet
parrot in yore face and language. Except you ain't the right colour.
If yore whiskers had only grown out green."

"We're forgetting what we was talkin' about," tucked in Jimmie the
cook, smiling sweetly. "The lady, Racey. Who is she?"

"James," said Racey, his smile matching that of the cook, "they's
something about you to-day, something I don't like. I dunno the name
for it exactly. But if you'll step inside the bunkhouse a minute, I'll
show you what I mean. I'll show you in two shakes."

Jimmie shook a wise head and backed out into the open. "Not while I
got my health. You come out here and show me."

"Oh, I ain't gonna play any tricks on you," protested Racey Dawson.

"You bet you ain't," Jimmie concurred, warmly. "Not by severial
jugfuls. I--" He broke off, cocking a listening ear.

"Yeah," grinned Racey, "you hear a noise in the cook-shack, huh? I
_thought_ I saw the Kid slide past in the lookin'-glass while you were
standing in the doorway."

"And you never told me!" squalled Jimmie, speeding toward his beloved
place of business.

He reached it rather late. When he entered by the doorway the Kid, a
pie in each hand, was disappearing through a back window.

"Did you ever get left!" tossed back the Kid as the flung frying-pan
buzzed past his ear.--"Now see what you done," he continued, skipping
safely out of range; "dented yore nice new frypan all up. You
oughtn'ta done that, Jimmie. Fry-pans cost money. Some day, if you
ain't careful, you'll break something, you and yore temper."

"Them's the Old Man's pies," declared Jimmie, leaning over the
window-sill and shaking an indignant fist at the Kid. "You bring 'em
back, you hear?"

"They ain't, and I won't, and I do," was the brisk answer. "Yo're
making a big mistake, Jimmie boy, if you think they're _his_ pies.
Don't you s'pose I know he's gone to Piegan City, and he won't be back
for a coupla weeks? And don't you s'pose I know them pies would be too
stale for him to eat by the time he got back? You must take me for a
fool, Jimmie. And you lied to me, Jimmie, you lied. Just for that I'll
keep these pies, I'll keep 'em and eat 'em no matter how big a pain
I get, and let this be a lesson to you. Hey, Racey, Jimmie gimme a
coupla pies! C'mon out and we'll eat 'em where Jimmie can watch us."

"If I catch you--" began the angry Jimmie.

"But you ain't gonna catch me," tantalized the Kid. "C'mon, Racey,
hurry up."

Racey came slowly and with dignity.

The Kid stared. "Well, I bedam! Where are you goin'?"

"Ride, just a li'l ride," was the vague reply.

"Is that all? I thought it was a funeral or a wedding or something,
an' I was wonderin'. Just a li'l ride, huh? And where might you be
a-going to ride to, if I may make so bold as to ask?"

"You can ask, of course," replied Racey, shrugging his wide shoulders
and spreading his hands after the fashion of Telescope Laguerre.

"But that ain't sayin' he'll tell you," put in Jimmie. "Bet you he's
gonna go see that new hasher of Bill Lainey's."

"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
_raisin_ pie!"

"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
worried him.

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
perfect harmony.

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
in them."

"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
well."

"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
better-looking garden?"

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
off, grinning.

"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
satisfied--What's that?"

"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
thimble-berries!"

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
Racey Dawson.

When Lanpher was free of the neat rows he looked up venomously into
the face of Alicran Skeel who had meticulously ridden round the
garden.

"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
face, Lanpher."

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
believe me."

"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
expression.

"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
granted."

"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
Dale.

"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
the bank."

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
peremptory cough.

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
mite sick."

"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?" Indifferently.

"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
matter."

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."

"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
gotta."

"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,
Alicran."

"Shore we do," said Alicran, cheerfully. "And don't you forget it."




CHAPTER XVII

SIGNED PAPER


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
low tone.

"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
heard.

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
horse.

"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
again--heartily.

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
Rockwell.

"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
curry."

"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
mine."

"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
like Kansas?"

"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
feller's face."

"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
office--Lanpher."

"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
venture.

"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
cat-fashion.

"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
life, huh?"

"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
arrested?"

"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
say?"

"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
enough."

"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
room.

"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
arrest."

"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
Lanpher.

"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
perforation.

"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'
to you."

"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?"

"So-so."

"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."




CHAPTER XVIII

THE SHOWDOWN


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
him.

"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
snooter."

"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
but."

"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
question.

"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.

"A year?"

"Maybe longer. I dunno."

"Funny it never got round."

"It was a private wheel. Only for his friends. Nothin' public about
it."

"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."

"Nobody else?"

"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
straight?"

"Aw, it was so straight. Mac wouldn't cheat nobody. Yo're--yo're
mistaken, Racey."

"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--"

"But where did you come out? Do you think you ever got a show for yore
money?"

"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
ever did."

"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,
reluctantly.

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
thousand went."

"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
deal."

"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
mortgage."

"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
paid off."

"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
instanter."

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
barn.




CHAPTER XIX

THE SHOOTING


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."

"Don't you?"

"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?"

"Damfino."

"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?"

"Shore, but--"

"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
reins.

"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."

"Aw, say--"

"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
move."

"But--"

"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
shoulder.

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,"
elaborated Racey.

"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
men.

"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.

"Old Dale."

"Bad?"

"Killed."

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
did."

"And didn't none of you make any try at stopping him a-tall?" demanded
Racey.

"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
or--something."

Thompson faced Racey. "'Or something,'" he repeated, hardily.
"Meaning?"

"What I said," replied Racey, calmly. "I never mean more'n I
say--ever."

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
much."

"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
about, Thompson?"

"Cards," said Thompson, laconically, switching his eyes briefly to Mr.
Saltoun's face.

"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
they?"

"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,
coldly.

"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
yore coroner."

"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
facts."

"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.

They went.

"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
hear theirs.

'"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
men.

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?"




CHAPTER XX

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
understand.

"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
chew."

"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
anybody."

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,
and stared across the pulsing flame straight into the eyes of the
Marysville lawyer. Tweezy's gaze wavered and fell away. Racey inhaled
strongly, then got to his feet and lazed across to the bar where Jake
Rule, with Kansas Casey at his elbow, was perfunctorily questioning
McFluke. The latter's hard, close-coupled blue eyes narrowed at
Racey's approach.

Racey, as he draped himself against the bar, was careful to nudge
Casey's foot with a surreptitious toe.

"Jake," said Racey, "would I be interruptin' the proceedings too much
if I made a motion for us to drink all round?"

"Not a-tall," declared the sheriff, heartily.

Racey turned to McFluke.

When their hands had encircled the glasses for the third time, Racey,
instead of drinking, suddenly looked across the bar at McFluke who was
industriously swabbing the bar top.

"Mac," he said, easily, "when that stranger ran out the door how many
gents fired at him?"

"Punch Thompson," replied McFluke, the sushing cloth stopping
abruptly. "You heard him tell the coroner how he fired and missed,
didn't you?"

"Oh, I heard, I heard," Racey answered. "No harm in asking again, is
there? Can't be too shore about these here--killin's, can you? Mac,
which door did the stranger run through--the one into the back room or
the one leadin' outdoors?"

"Why, the one leadin' outdoors, of course." McFluke's surprise at the
question was evident.

"Jake," said Racey, "s'pose now you ask Punch Thompson what the
stranger was doing when he cut down on him."

The sheriff regarded Racey with his keen gray gaze. Then he faced
about and singled out Thompson from a conversational group across the
room.

"Punch," he called, and then put Racey's question in his own words.

"What was he doin'?" said Thompson, heedless of McFluke's agonized
expression. "Which he was hoppin' through that window there"--here he
indicated the middle one of three in the side of the room--"when I
drawed and missed. I only had time for the one shot."

At this there was a sudden scrabbling behind the bar. It was McFluke
trying to retreat through the doorway into the back room, and being
prevented from accomplishing his purpose by Racey Dawson who, at the
innkeeper's first panic-stricken movement, had vaulted the bar and
grabbed him by the neck.

"None of that now," cautioned Racey Dawson, his right hand flashing
down and up, as McFluke, finding that escape was out of the question,
made a desperate snatch at the knife-handle protruding from his
bootleg.

The saloon-keeper reacted immediately to the cold menace of the
gun-muzzle pressing against the top of his spinal column. He
straightened sullenly. Racey, transferring the gun-muzzle to the small
of McFluke's back, stooped swiftly, drew out McFluke's knife and
tossed it through a window.

"You won't be needing that again," said Racey Dawson. "Help yoreself,
Kansas."

Which the deputy promptly proceeded to do by snapping a pair of
handcuffs round the thick McFluke wrists.

"Whatell you trying to do?" bawled McFluke in a rage. "I ain't done
nothing! You can't prove I done nothing! You--"

"Shut up!" interrupted Kansas Casey, giving the handcuffs an expert
twitch that wrenched a groan out of McFluke. "Proving anything takes
time. We got time. You got time. What more do you want?"

The efficient deputy towed the saloon-keeper round the bar and out
into the barroom. He faced him about in front of Jake Rule. The
sheriff fixed him with a grim stare.

"What did you try to run for, Mac?" he demanded.

"I had business outdoors," grumbled McFluke.

"What kind of business?"

"What's that to you? You ain't got no license to grab a-hold of me and
stop me from transacting my legitimate business whenever and wherever
I feel like it."

"You seem to know more about it than I do. Alla same unless you feel
like telling me exactly what all yore hurry was for, we'll have to
hold you for a while. Yo're shore it didn't have nothing to do with
yore saying the stranger run out the door and Thompson saying he
jumped through the window?"

"Why, shore I am," grunted McFluke.

"Glad to hear that. But how is it you and Thompson seen the same thing
different ways? It's a cinch the stranger, not being twins, didn't use
_both_ the door and the window. Yo're shore he run out the door, Mac?"

"Shore I am. I seen him, I tell you." But McFluke's tone rang flat.

"Punch," said the sheriff to Thompson who, in company with everyone
else in the room had crowded round the sheriff and the prisoner,
"Punch, how did the stranger who shot Dale leave the room?"

"Through the window, like I said," Thompson declared, defiantly. "Ask
anybody. They all seen him. Mac's drunk or crazy."

"Yo're a liar!" snarled McFluke. "I tell you he run out the door."

"Aw, close yore trap!" requested Thompson with contempt. "You ain't
packin' no gun."

"Lanpher," said the sheriff, "how did the murderer get away."

"Through the window," was the prompt reply of the 88 manager.

The sheriff asked Harpe, Coffin, Tweezy, and the others who had been
present at the killing, for their versions. In every case, each had
seen eye-to-eye with Thompson. The evidence was overwhelmingly against
the saloon-keeper. But he, a glint of fear in his hard blue eyes,
stuck to his original statement, swearing that all men were liars and
he alone was telling the truth.

Racey, standing a little back from the crowd, pulled out his
tobacco-bag. But his fingers must have been all thumbs at the moment
for he dropped it on the floor. He stooped to retrieve it. The
movement brought his eyes within a yard of the body of Dale. And now
he saw that which he had not previously taken note of--an abrasion
across the knuckles of Dale's right hand. Not only that, but the hand,
which was lying over the left hand on the body's breast, showed an odd
lumpiness at the knuckles of the first and second fingers.

Racey stuffed his tobacco-bag into his vest pocket and knelt beside
the body. It was cold, of course, but had not yet completely
stiffened. He laid the two hands side by side and compared them.
The left hand was as it should be--no lumpiness, bruises, or any
discolouration other than grime. But now that the two hands were side
by side the difference in the right hand was most apparent.

Certainly it was badly bruised across the knuckles and the skin was
broken, too. Furthermore, there was that odd lumpiness about the
knuckles of the first and second fingers, a lumpiness that gave the
knuckles almost the appearance of being double.

He picked up the dead hand and gingerly fingered the lumpy knuckles.
Then, in a flash of thought, it came to him. The hand was broken.

He raised his head and looked across the room. And as it chanced he
looked across the packed shoulders and between the peering heads of
the crowd straight into the face of McFluke and the black eye adorning
that face.

He rose to his feet and pushed his way through the crowd to the side
of the sheriff.

"Can I ask a question?" said he to the officer.

"Shore," nodded the sheriff. "Many as you like."

"Thompson," Racey said, but watching McFluke the while, "did Dale have
any trouble here with anybody besides the stranger?"

"Not as I know of," came the reply after a moment's hesitation.

"He didn't have any fuss with anybody," spoke up Luke Tweezy.

"I was talking to Thompson," Racey reminded the lawyer. "When I want
to ask you any questions I'll let you know."

"Huh," Luke contented himself with grunting, and subsided.

"No fuss a-tall, Thompson?" resumed Racey.

"Nary a fuss."

"And you was here alla time Dale was here?"

"I was here before Dale come, and I was still here when Dale--went
away."

"In the same room with him?"

"In this room, yeah. In the same room with him alla time. Shore."

"Then if Dale had had a riot with anybody else but the stranger man
you'd 'a' knowed it."

"You betcha. He didn't have no trouble, only with the stranger."

"Did anybody else have any trouble with anybody while you was here?"

At this Thompson frowned. Where were Racey's questions leading him?
Was it a trap? Knowing Racey as he did, he feared the worst. He
would have liked to leave the questioned unanswered. But this was
impossible. As it was, he was delaying his answer longer than good
sense warranted. Both Jake Rule and Kansas Casey were staring at him
fixedly. Racey regarded him steadily, a slight and sinister smile
lurking at the corner of his mouth.

"Well," prompted Racey, "you'd oughta be able to tell us whether there
was any other fights while you was here?"

"They wasn't," plunged Thompson. "Everything was salubrious till Dale
started his battle."

"And when did you get here?" pursued Racey.

"Oh, I'd been here all night."

"And you dunno of any other brush except the one between Dale and the
stranger?"

"I done said so forty times," Thompson declared, peevishly. "How many
times have I gotta repeat it?"

"As many times as yo're asked," put in the sheriff, sharply.

"Didja see anybody get hurt--have a accident or something while you
were here, Thompson?" Racey bored on.

Thompson shook an impatient head. "Nobody got hurt or had a accident."

"Then," said Racey, turning suddenly on McFluke, "how did you get that
black eye?"




CHAPTER XXI

GONE AWAY!


McFluke's eyes flickered at the question. His body appeared to sink
inward. Then he straightened, and flung back his wide shoulders, and
glowered at Racey Dawson.

"I ran into a door this morning," said the saloon-keeper in a tone of
the utmost confidence.

"Oh, you ran into a door, did you," Racey observed, sweetly. "And what
particular door did you run into?"

"The front door."

"That one?" Racey indicated the door of the barroom.

"That one."

"We'll just take a look at that door."

Accompanied by the deeply interested sheriff, who was beginning to
sniff his quarry like the old bloodhound he was, Racey crossed to the
barroom door. He looked at the door. He looked at the sheriff. The
sheriff looked only at the door.

"Door's opened back flat against the wall, Mac," said the sheriff.
"Was she like this when you ran into her?"

"Course not," was the heated reply. "She was swingin' open."

Racey squatted down on the floor. "Lookit here, Sheriff."

The sheriff stooped and regarded the wooden wedge under the door that
jammed it fast. Racey drew a finger across the top of the wedge. He
held up the finger-tip for the sheriff's inspection. The tip was black
with the dust of weeks.

"That door has been wedged back all this hot weather," said Racey,
gently. "Look at the dust under the door on both sides of the wedge,
too. Bet that wedge ain't been out of place for a month."

Softly as he spoke McFluke heard him. "---- you! I tell you that
door was opened this mornin'! I hit my head on it! Ask 'em all! Ask
anybody! Jack, lookit here--"

"I didn't see you hit yore head on the door," interrupted Jack Harpe.
"Maybe you did, I dunno."

Racey raised a quick head as Jack Harpe spoke. Quite plainly he saw
Jack Harpe accompany his words with a slight lowering of his left
eyelid. Racey glanced at McFluke. He saw the defiant expression depart
from the McFluke countenance, and a look of unmistakable relief take
its place.

Racey dropped his head. The sheriff was speaking.

"Mac," he was saying, "yo're lyin'. Yo're lyin' as fast as a hoss can
trot. You never got yore black eye on this door. I dunno why yo're
sayin' you did, but I'm gonna find out. Till--"

"You won't have far to go to find out," struck in Racey Dawson. "I
know how he got his black eye."

"How?" demanded the sheriff, his grizzled eyebrows drawing together.

"Dale gave it to him," was the answer pat and pithy.

"He did not!" The saloon-keeper began to roar instantly, and had to be
quieted by Kansas Casey.

When order was restored Racey explained his deductions. The sheriff
listened in silence. Then he went to the body of the dead man, and
examined the bruised and broken right hand.

"I'm tellin' you," declared Racey with finality, "he hit somebody when
he broke that hand."

"He might 'a' broke it when he fell after being shot," put in Luke
Tweezy.

The sheriff shook his head. "He couldn't fall hard enough to break
them bones as bad as that. It's like Racey says. Question is, who did
he hit? McFluke's eye and McFluke's lies are a good enough answer for
me."

"You'll have to prove it!" snapped Luke Tweezy.

"I expect we'll do that, Luke," the sheriff said, calmly. "Have you
agreed on a verdict, Judge?"

"We had," replied Dolan. "We was about satisfied that a plain 'killin'
by a person unknown,' was as good as any, but I expect now we'll
change it to murder _with_ the recommendation that McFluke be arrested
on suspicion. Whadda you say, boys?"

"Shore," chorussed the "boys," and hiccuped like so many bullfrogs.

"Whu-why not lul-let the shush-shpicion shlide," suggested one bright
spirit, "an' cue-convict him right now an' lul-lynch him after shupper
whu-when it's cool?"

"No," vetoed Dolan, "it can't be done. He's gotta be indicted and
held for the Grand Jury at Piegan City. I ain't allowed to try murder
cases."

"Tut-too bad," mourned the bright spirit, and refused to be comforted.

"Can I take him now, Judge?" inquired Chuck Morgan, referring to the
dead man.

"Any time," nodded Dolan.

Racey Dawson, whose eyes that day were missing nothing, saw that Jack
Harpe was looking steadily at Luke Tweezy. Luke's nod was barely
perceptible.

"Where were you thinking of taking him, Chuck?" was Tweezy's query.

"Moccasin Spring," Chuck replied, laconically.

"I wouldn't if I were you," said Luke Tweezy. "Better save trouble by
taking him to yore house."

It was coming now--the answer to one puzzle at least. Racey was sure
of it. He was not disappointed.

"And why had I better take him to my house?" demanded Chuck.

"Because the ranch at Moccasin Spring don't belong to the Dale family
any more," Tweezy explained, smoothly. "Dale has turned over the place
to Lanpher and me."

"It's a damn lie!" declared Chuck.

Tweezy smiled. He was a lawyer, not a fighter. Names signified nothing
in his greasy life. "It's no lie," he tossed back. "You know Lanpher
and me bought the mortgage on the Dale place from the Marysville bank.
The mortgage is due in a couple of days. Dale didn't have the money to
satisfy the mortgage. We was gonna foreclose. In order to save trouble
all round he made the ranch over to us."

"You mean to tell me Dale did that just to save trouble?" burst out
Racey. "Just because he liked you two fellers and wanted to make it as
easy as possible for you? Aw, hell, Tweezy. Aw, hell again. Yo're as
poor a liar as yore side-kicker McFluke."

Tweezy smiled once more and drew forth a long and shiny pocket-book
from the inner pocket of his vest. From the pocket-book he extracted a
legal-looking document. Which document he handed to Sheriff Rule.

"Read her off, Jake," requested Luke Tweezy.

The sheriff read aloud the lines of writing. Shorn of the impressive
terms so beloved of law and lawyers, the document set forth that in
consideration of being allowed to retain all his live-stock, wagons,
and household goods, instead of merely the fixed number of cattle,
horses, and wagons, and those specified household articles, exempt
from seizure under the law, Dale voluntarily released to the
mortgagers, without the formality of foreclosure proceedings, the
mortgaged property comprising six hundred and forty acres as described
hereinafter, etcetera.

The document was signed by Dale and witnessed by Doc Coffin and Honey
Hoke:

The sheriff held the paper out to Chuck Morgan. "This Dale's
signature, Chuck?"

Chuck Morgan examined the signature closely and long.

"Looks like it," he said, hesitatingly.

"It's his signature, all right," spoke up Honey Hoke. "I saw him sign
it."

"Me, too," said Doc Coffin.

"Paper's dated to-day," said the sheriff. "How long before he was
killed did Dale sign it, Luke?"

"About a hour," replied Tweezy.

"It's made out in yore writin', ain't it?" went on the sheriff.

"Shore," nodded Luke. "All but the signature. So, you see, Chuck,"
he continued, turning to Morgan, "you might as well pack him to yore
house. We intend to take possession immediately."

"You do, huh," said Chuck. "You try it, thassall I gotta say. You try
it."

"I'd admire to see you drive those women out of their home on the
strength of that paper, Tweezy," remarked Racey.

"Sheriff, I'll make out eviction papers immediately and Judge Dolan
will have you serve them on the Dale family." Thus Luke Tweezy,
blustering.

"That's yore privilege," said the sheriff, "and I'll have to serve
'em, I suppose. But only in the regular course of business, Luke.
I'm mighty busy just now. Yore eviction notice will have to take its
turn."

"My punchers will throw 'em out then," averred Lanpher.

"They ain't nary a one of 'em would gorm up their paws on a job like
that for you, Lanpher," Alicran stated in no uncertain tones. "If you
got any dirty work to do you'll do it yoreself."

"Yo're--" began the 88 manager, and stopped suddenly.

"What was you gonna say?" Alicran's voice cut sharply across the
general silence.

Lanpher controlled himself by an effort. Or perhaps it was not such
an effort, after all. It may have been that he remembered the object
lesson of the severed branch of the wild currant bush. At any rate,
he did not pursue further the subject of the 88 cowboys cast as an
eviction gang.

"I'll talk to you later, Alicran," said he in a tone he strove to make
grimly menacing, but which actually imposed upon no one, least of all
the truculent Alicran.

"We won't need yore boys, Lanpher," said Racey. "The sheriff will
attend to it."

"Lookit here, Tweezy," said Judge Dolan, slouching to the front of the
crowd, "are you gonna run them women off thataway after _this_?" Here
the Judge jerked his head backward in the direction of the body.

"Why not?" Tweezy demanded, sulkily. "We got a right to."

"It don't always pay to stand on our rights, Luke," suggested the
Judge. "I'd go a li'l easy if I was you."

"You ain't me," said Tweezy, rudely.

"Which is something I gotta be grateful for," the Judge returned to
the charge. "But alla same, Luke, I'd scratch my head and think how
this here is gonna look. Here Dale gives you this paper, and a hour
later he's cashed. Of course, it looks like his signature, and you
got witnesses who say it's his signature, but--" The Judge paused and
gravely contemplated Luke Tweezy.

"I'll tell you what it looks like to me," announced Racey in a loud,
unsympathetic tone. "The whole deal's too smooth. She's so smooth
she's slick, like a counterfeit dollar. You and Lanpher are a couple
of damn thieves, Tweezy."

But the sheriff's gun was out first. "None of that, Lanpher," he
cautioned. "They ain't gonna be no lockin' horns _here_. That goes for
you, too, Racey."

"I don't need to pull any gun," Racey declared, contemptuously. "All
I'd have to use is my fingers on that feller. He never went after his
gun till he seen you pull yores. He ain't got any nerve, that's all
that's the matter with him."

Lanpher snarled curses at this. He yearned for the daredevil
courage sufficient to risk all on a single throw by pulling his gun
left-handed and sending a bullet smack through the scornful face of
Racey Dawson. But it was precisely as Racey said. He did not have the
nerve. With half-a-dozen drinks under his belt he undoubtedly would
have made an attempt to clear his honour. But he was not carrying the
requisite amount of liquor. Lanpher snarled another string of oaths.
"If I didn't have my right arm in a sling--" he began.

"I guess," interrupted the sheriff, "this will be about all. Lanpher,
yore hoss is outside. Git on and git out."




CHAPTER XXII

A CHECK


"Lookit here, Judge," said Racey, earnestly, "do you mean to say yo're
gonna let the sheriff serve them eviction papers?"

Judge Dolan elevated his feet upon his desk and tilted back his chair
before replying.

"Racey," he said, teetering gently, "I gotta do what the law says in
this thing."

"Then yo're gonna sic the sheriff on, huh?"

"I ain't doin' no sicin', not me. Luke Tweezy's the boy you mean."

"But the law makes you back up Luke."

"In this case it does."

"Then it's a helluva law that lets a feller take away the home of two
women."

"They's lots of times," observed Dolan, judicially, "when I think
she's a helluva law, too. But what you gonna do? Under the law one
man's word is as good as another's till he's proved a liar. And two
men's words are better than one, and so on. And so far nobody ain't
proved Doc Coffin and Honey Hoke and Luke Tweezy are liars."

"Of course we know they are," protested Racey.

"Not legally. You gotta remember that knowing a man is a liar is one
thing, and being able to prove it is another breed of cat."

"Then they ain't nothing to be done short of rubbing out Lanpher and
Tweezy?"

"And what good would wiping out either or both of them do? Beyond
Lanpher and Tweezy are their heirs and assigns, whoever they may be.
You can't go down the line and abolish 'em all."

"I s'pose not," grumbled Racey.

"Of course not. It ain't reasonable. You don't wanna bull along
regardless like a bufflehead in this, Racey. You wanna use yore brains
a few. They'll always go farther than main strength. You got brains,
and you can bet you'll need every single one of 'em if you wanna get
to the bottom of this business."

"Under the circumstances, then, what's yore advice, Judge?"

"I ain't got no particular advice to give," replied Dolan, promptly.
"I'm a judge, not a lawyer, but I'm free to say even if I was a
lawyer, I dunno exactly what I'd do, or where I'd begin."

Racey nodded. He didn't see exactly where to begin, either.

"Lookit, Judge," he said at last, "can't you sort of delay the
proceedin's for a while?"

"I'll do what I can," assented Dolan, "but I can't keep it up forever.
I'm sworn to obey the law and see that it is obeyed. And if Luke
Tweezy's paper can't be proved a forgery certain and soon, they's only
one thing for me to do and one thing for the Dales to do. I'm sorry,
but that's the way it stands under the law."

It was then that the door-latch clicked and one entered without
knocking. It was Luke Tweezy. Beyond the merest flicker of a glance
he did not acknowledge the presence of Racey Dawson. He nodded
perfunctorily to Dolan.

"Mornin', Judge," said he, "are the papers ready for the sheriff yet?"

"Not yet, Luke, not yet," Dolan assured, him blandly. "I ain't had
time to get at 'em."

"When you gonna get at 'em?"

"Soon as I get time."

"But lookit here, Judge. We're bein' delayed. We wanna get the Dales
off their ranch soon as we can."

"Off _their_ ranch is shore the truth," struck in Racey. "You do tell
it sometimes, don't you, Luke?"

But Luke Tweezy was not to be drawn that morning. He focussed his eyes
and attention steadily on Judge Dolan.

"We wanna take possession soon as we can," persisted Luke Tweezy.

"Shore you do," said the Judge, heartily. "No reason why you shouldn't
wanna as I know of."

"If you can't see yore way to getting at this business within a
reasonable time I'll have to sue out a mandatory injunction against
you, Judge, and--"

Dolan smiled wintrily. "What judge are you figuring on to grant this
injunction?"

Luke Tweezy was silent.

"You don't expect me to grant a mandatory injunction against myself,
do you?" pursued Dolan.

"I can go to Judge Allison at Marysville or to Piegan City, and I
guess--"

"I guess not," interrupted the Judge. "Judge Allison, as you know, is
a Federal Judge, and these here eviction proceedin's are territorial
business. And, furthermore, lemme point out that the Piegan City court
ain't got any jurisdiction in this case."

"Why not?"

"Because the case ain't come to a hearing yet. That's why. You oughta
know that, Luke. Yo're a lawyer."

"Alla same--" began Luke.

"Alla same nothing!" declared Judge Dolan. "_After_ eviction
proceedin's have been started, and if you don't have any luck in
getting them women off the place, then you can apply to this court for
redress. I'll set a date for a hearing. _After_ the hearing, if you
got a notion in yore numskull that I ain't doing you right, you can
apply to the Piegan City court for all the ---- mandatory injunctions
you feel like and be ---- to you. Is they any further business you got
with me, Luke, or any more points of law you wanna be instructed on?
'Cause if they ain't, here's you, there's the door, and right yonder
is outside."

Luke Tweezy departed abruptly.

Dolan laughed harshly as the door slammed. "He can't bluff me, the
chucklehead. He knew he couldn't sue out a mandatory injunction yet,
knew it damn well, but he didn't think I knew it, damn his ornery
soul."

"Oh, he's slick, Luke Tweezy is," said Racey Dawson, "but like most
slick gents he thinks everybody else is a fool."

"He makes a mistake once in a while," grunted Dolan.

At which Racey looked up sharply. "A mistake," he repeated. "There's
an idea. I wonder if he has made any mistake."

"Who ain't?" nodded Dolan. "Luke's made plenty, I'll bet."

"I dunno about plenty," doubted Racey. "One would be enough."

Dolan rasped a hand across his stubbly chin. "One would be enough," he
admitted. "If you could find the one."

"It wouldn't have to be a mistake having to do with this particular
case, either, would it?"

"Not necessarily. Of course it would be better to trip him up on this
case, but if you can get hold of something else Luke has done that
can be proved anyways shady it would be four aces and the joker. Luke
would have to pull in his horns about this mortgage. And if I know
Luke, he'd do it. He's got nerve, but it ain't cold enough nor witless
enough to go up against the shore thing."

"If only McFluke would talk. He knows the ins and outs of this
business."

Dolan nodded. "Shore as yo're a foot high Dale gave him that black
eye."

"And shore as _yo're_ a foot high he downed Dale."

"I guess likely. But circumstantial evidence is amazing queer. You
can't ever tell how the jury's gonna take it. But anyway we got
McFluke, and he'll do to start in on."

Entered then Kansas Casey with a serious face. "McFluke has sloped,"
said he without preliminary.

"What!" cried Judge Dolan.

But it was characteristic of Racey Dawson that he did not say "What!"
He asked "How?"

"Because the jail was burned down," said Kansas; "you know we had to
put him in yore warehouse, Judge, as the next strongest place, and
they dug him out."

"'Dug him out?'" Thus Judge Dolan.

"That's what they did."

"'They!' 'They!' Who's 'they?'" Again Judge Dolan.

"If I knowed who they was," Kansas replied, "I'd dump 'em just too
quick. Way I know it's a 'they,' is because the job of diggin' is
bigger than a one-man job."

"We'll go look into this," Dolan exclaimed, wrathfully, and reached
for his hat.

"He'd never 'a' been pulled out of the calaboose so easy," said
Kansas, as he led Dolan and Racey up the street to the rear of the
Dolan warehouse, "but yore foundation logs ain't sunk more'n six
inches, and diggin' under and in was a cinch."

"But why didn't you handcuff this sport to a roof stanchion inside?"
demanded the Judge.

"We did, man, we did. We got a log chain and the biggest pair of
handcuffs in our stock and we ironed McFluke by the ankles to a
stanchion in the middle of the warehouse. Besides that his hands was
handcuffed, and no matter how he stretched he couldn't reach nothing.
We seen to that."

"But, my Gawd, hownell did they have time to file through that log
chain or them cuffs? A log chain ain't made of wire an' them cuffs is
all special steel."

"They didn't file neither the chain nor the cuffs," explained Kansas,
wearily. "They unlocked the cuffs."

"Unlocked 'em, huh? Where'd they get the key? Lose one of yores, did
yuh?"

"Ours is all safe. They must 'a' had a key. Anyway, there's the
handcuffs wide open when I found McFluke gone this mornin'."

Dolan pulled out his watch. "Nine o'clock," said he. "When did you
first find Mac was gone, Kansas?"

"When I took his breakfast in less'n five minutes ago."

"Howcome you went to the warehouse so late?"

"Well," said Kansas, somewhat shamefacedly, "we didn't lock him up
in the warehouse till one o'clock this morning, and I figured a li'l
extra sleep wouldn't do him any harm."

"Or a li'l extra sleep wouldn't do yoreself any harm neither, huh?"

"Maybe I did sleep later than usual," admitted Kansas.

"I guess you did," said Dolan. "I guess you did. And Jake, too. Told
anybody else about this?"

"Only Jake."

They had left the street while they talked, and walked down the long
side wall of the warehouse. Now they turned the corner and saw, heaped
against a foundation log, a pile of freshly dug dirt. Beyond the dirt
pile gaped the mouth of a hole leading beneath the log. The hole was
quite large enough for an over-size man to crawl through without
difficulty.

Judge Dolan got down on his hands and knees and peered into the hole.
Then he eased down into it headfirst and pawed his way through.

"That's what you get for not walking in by the front door in the first
place, Kansas," grinned Racey. "Root hog or die, feller, root hog or
die."

Swearing under his breath Kansas went to ground like a badger. His
broad shoulders did not scrape the sides of the hall. Observing which
Racey knew that it must have been an easy matter for McFluke to crawl
through, for the saloon-keeper's shoulders, wide as they were, were
not as broad as those of Kansas Casey by a good inch and a half.

"That hole is four or five inches wider than necessary," ruminated
Racey, preparing to follow the deputy. "I wonder why. Yep, I shore
wonder why. Here they are in a harris of a hurry and they take time
to make a hole big enough for two men almost. Maybe they robbed the
warehouse, too."

He suggested as much to Dolan when he joined the latter within.

"No," said Dolan, sweeping with a glance the stacks of cases and
crates that half filled the single floor of the warehouse. "No, I
don't think they's anything missing. Who'd steal truck like this here,
anyway? It ain't valuable enough. Where's Jake, Kansas?"

"I left him here when I went after you," replied the deputy. "Guess
this is him," he added, as the front door opened.

It was the sheriff. He shut the door behind him and advanced toward
the little group gathered about the stanchion. "This is a great note,
Jake," said Dolan, eyeing the sheriff severely. "Can't you make out to
hang onto yore prisoners no more?"

"Hang onto hell!" snapped back the sheriff. "Short of sleeping in here
with him, I done all that could be expected. I put Shorty Rumbold on
as guard, and Shorty--"

"Where's Shorty?"

"Went to the Starlight for a drink. He'll be along in a minute."

"Maybe he went to sleep," suggested Dolan.

"Not Shorty," denied the sheriff, with a decisive shake of his head.
"I've used Shorty before. He don't go to sleep on duty, Shorty don't.
Here he is now."

Entered then Shorty Rumbold, a tall, lean-bodied man with a twinkling
eye and a square chin.

"Shorty," said Dolan, "Jake says he put you on guard here last night."

"Not here," said Shorty, always painfully meticulous as to facts.
"Outside."

"Where outside?"

"Just outside. I sat on the doorstep all night."

"And didn't you go round to the back once even?"

"I didn't think they was any use. They's no door in the back, and the
logs are forty inches through, some of 'em. I never thought of 'em
gopherin' under this away."

"I guess the sheriff didn't, either," said Dolan, with a glance of
strong disapproval at the sheriff. "You didn't hear anything, huh?
Yo're shore of that?"

"Shore I am. If I'd heard anything I'd 'a' scouted round to see what
made the noise."

"Maybe you went to sleep."

"Not me." The twinkle in Shorty's eyes was replaced by a frosty stare.
"I don't sleep on duty, Judge."

"That's what the sheriff said, Shorty. But, hownell they could dig
that tunnel and not make _some_ noise I don't see."

"I don't, either," Shorty Rumbold admitted, frankly. "But I didn't
hear a single suspicious sound either inside or outside the jail the
whole night."

"Did you hear any noise a-tall?" asked Racey Dawson.

"Only when some drunk gents had a argument out in front of the dance
hall. You couldn't help hearin' 'em. They made noise enough to hear
'em a mile."

"How long did the argument last?"

"Oh, maybe a hour--a long time for a plain argument without any
shooting."

"Did they call each other any fighting names?" pressed on Racey.

"Plenty."

"And no shooting?"

"Nary a shot."

"Didn't that hit you as kind of odd?"

"It did at the time sort of."

"Recognize any of the voices?"

Shorty Rumbold shook his head. "They was all too hoarse an' loud."

"That's the how of it, Judge," said Racey to Dolan. "That's why Shorty
didn't hear any sounds of diggin'. The drunk gents a rowing together
for a long time like that without any shooting proves they were doing
it on purpose to keep Shorty from hearing anything else."

The sheriff swore. "I heard them fellers, too," he said. "They woke
me up with their bellerin' and I had a job gettin' to sleep again. I
guess Racey's right."

"I guess he is," assented the Judge. "Now we know how they managed
that part of it, where did they get the key to open the cuffs? Kansas
says you ain't lost any keys, Jake."

"We got 'em all, every one. I don't believe they used a key. Them
handcuff locks was picked."

"Picked?"

"Picked. After Kansas went for you I found these here on the
floor." Here he produced from a pocket a bent and twisted piece of
baling-wire, and a steel half-moon horse-collar needle.

"That's a Number Six needle," observed the sheriff, who invariably
scented clues in the most unpromising objects. "And the point's broke
off."

"Number Six is a common size," said Racey. "Most stores carry 'em. And
if the point didn't get broke off wigglin' round inside the lock it
would be a wonder."

"Still it would take a mighty good man to open them locks with only
bale-wire and a harness-needle," said the sheriff, hurriedly. "A
expert, you bet."

"It don't matter whether he was a expert or not," said Dolan. "He
opened them, and the prisoner has skedaddled. That's the main thing.
Jake, how about trailin' him?"

"How? They's tracks, a few of 'em, leadin' from the pile of dirt
straight to the hard ground in front of the stage corrals. Beyond
there they ain't any tracks. Trail 'em! How you gonna trail 'em?"

"I dunno," replied Dolan, promptly passing the buck. "Yo're the
sheriff. She's yore job. You gotta do _something_. C'mon out."

The five men, Dolan and the sheriff arguing steadily, went out into
the street. Racey walked thoughtfully in the rear. He was revolving in
his mind what the sheriff had said about an expert. Of course it had
been an expert. And experts in lock-picking in the cattle country are
few and far between.

Racey decided that it would be a good idea for him to have a little
talk on lock-picking with Peaches Austin. Not that he suspected the
excellent Peaches of having picked those locks. But Peaches knew who
had. Oh, most certainly Peaches knew who had.




CHAPTER XXIII

TAKING FENCES


"'Lo, Peaches."

Peaches Austin, standing at the Starlight bar, was raising a glass to
his lips. But at the greeting he set down the liquor untasted, turned
his head, and looked into the face of Racey Dawson.

"Whatsa matter, Peaches?" inquired Racey. "You don't look glad to see
me."

"I ain't," Peaches said, frankly. "I don't give a damn about seein'
you."

"I'm sorry," grieved Racey, edging closer to the gambler. "Peaches,
yo're breaking my heart with them cruel words."

At this the bartender removed hastily to the other end of the bar. He
sensed he knew not what, and he felt instead of curiosity a lively
fear. Racey Dawson was the most unexpected sport.

Peaches looked nervously at Racey. A desperate resolve began to
formulate itself in the brain of Peaches Austin. His right arm tensed.
Slowly his hand slid toward the edge of the bar.

"Why, no," said Racey, who had never been more wide-awake than at that
moment, "I wouldn't do anything we'd all be sorry for, Peaches. That
is, all of us but you yoreself. You might not be sorry--or anythin'
else."

This was threatening language, plain and simple. But it was no bluff.
Peaches knew that Racey meant every word he said. Peaches' right hand
moved no farther.

"Peaches," said Racey, "le's go where we can have a li'l private
talk."

"All right," Peaches acquiesced, shortly, and left the saloon with
Racey.

On the sidewalk they were joined by Swing Tunstall. The latter fell
into step on the other side of Peaches Austin.

"Is he coming, too?" queried the gambler, with a marked absence of
cordiality in expression and tone.

"He is," answered Racey.

"I thought this talk was gonna be private."

"It is--only the three of us. We wouldn't think of letting anybody
else horn in. You can rest easy, Peaches. We'll take care of you."

The gambler didn't doubt it. His wicked heart sank accordingly. He
knew that he had been a bad, bad boy, and he conceived the notion that
Nemesis was rolling up her sleeves, all to his ultimate prejudice.

He perceived in front of the dance hall Doc Coffin and Honey Hoke, and
plucked up heart at once. But Racey saw the pair at the same time, and
said, twitching Peaches by the sleeve, "We'll turn off here, I guess."

Peaches turned perforce and accompanied Racey and Swing into the
narrow space between the express office and a log house. When they
came out into the open Racey obliqued to the left and piloted his
companion to a large log that lay among empty tin cans, almost
directly in the rear of and about fifty yards away from Dolan's
warehouse.

"Here's a good place," said Racey, indicating the log. "Good seats,
plenty of fresh air, and nobody round to bother us. Sidown, Peaches."

Peaches sat as requested. The two friends seated themselves one on his
either hand. Racey laughed gently.

"Doc Coffin and Honey looked kind of surprised to see you with us," he
remarked with enjoyment, "didn't they, Peaches?"

"I didn't notice," lied Peaches.

"It don't matter," nodded Racey. "See that pile of dirt over against
the back wall of Dolan's warehouse, Peaches?"

"I ain't blind."

"No, then maybe you've heard how and why it come to be dug and all?"

"I ain't deaf, neither."

Racey smiled his approval. "I always said you had all yore senses
except the common variety, Peaches."

"Hop ahead with yore private talk," grunted the badgered gambler.

"Gimme time, gimme time. It don't cost anything. Whadda you think of
that hole, Peaches?"

"Good big hole," replied Peaches, conservatively.

"Too big--that is, too big for just McFluke, or for any other feller
the size of McFluke."

"What of it?"

"Don't be in a hurry, Peaches, and you'll last longer. Did you know
Mac's handcuffs were picked open?"

"How--picked open?"

"Whoever opened 'em didn't use a key," Racey explained. "They were
picked open with a piece of bale-wire and a collar-needle."

"I heard that."

"I thought maybe so. But did you ever think that a feller has got
to have a good and clever pair of hands to pick a lock with only a
collar-needle and bale-wire?"

"All that stands to reason," admitted Peaches.

"There can't be a great many fellers like that. No, not many--not
around here, anyway. You'll find such sports in the big cities
mainly."

"Yeah," chipped in Swing Tunstall, staring hard at Peaches, "I'll bet
you a hundred even they ain't more than one or two such experts in the
whole territory."

"Whadda you think, Peaches?" inquired Racey.

"Swing may be right," said Peaches, preserving a wooden countenance.
"I dunno."

"Shore about that?" Sharply.

"Shore I'm shore. Why not?"

"You looked sort of funny when you said it. Well, then, Peaches, we'll
go back to our hole yonder. It's reasonable to suppose that fellers
hustlin' to dig it and without any too much time wouldn't make it any
bigger than they had to. How about it, huh?"

"Guess so, maybe."

"Aw right, I told you a while ago the hole was too big for McFluke.
Why was it made too big for McFluke?"

"Damfino."

"So as to let in the feller who was to pick open Mac's handcuffs."

"Well, what does that prove?"

"It proves that the expert who set Mac loose was a bigger man across
the shoulders than McFluke. Now who all around here, besides Kansas
Casey, is wider across the shoulders than McFluke?"

Peaches wrinkled his forehead. "I dunno," he said after a space.

"Think again, Peaches, think again. Don't you know anybody who's
bigger sidewise than McFluke?"

"I don't. Mac's the biggest man across the shoulders I ever seen."

"Good enough, Peaches. I've found out what I wanted. I had a fair idea
before, but now I know. I hear you were acting boisterious and noisy
out front of the dance hall last night?"

"What of it?"

"Oh, nothin', nothin' a-tall. Only I'd think it over--I'd think
everythin' over good an careful, and after I'd done that I'd do what
looked like the best thing to do--under the circumstances. That's all,
Peaches. You can go now. I think yore friends are looking for you. I
saw Doc Coffin peekin' round the corner of the dance hall a couple of
times."

Peaches arose and faced Racey Dawson and Swing Tunstall. "I--" he
began, and stopped.

"I--" prompted Swing.

"I what?" smiled Racey. "Speak right out, Peaches. Don't you care if
you do hurt our feelin's. They're tough. They can stand it. Say what's
on yore mind."

But Peaches did not say what was on his mind. He turned about and
walked hurriedly away.

"So it _was_ Jack Harpe who picked the cuffs," murmured Racey.
"Peaches, old timer, I didn't think you'd be so easy."

"Neither did I," said Swing. "And him a gambler. No wonder he ain't
doin' so well."




CHAPTER XXIV

DIPLOMACY


Worried Mrs. Dale raised a work-scarred hand and pushed back a lock of
gray hair that had fallen over one eye. "It's a forgery," she said,
wretchedly. "I know it's a forgery. He--he wouldn't sign such a paper.
I know he wouldn't."

Molly Dale, all unmindful of Racey Dawson sitting in a chair tilted
back against the wall, slipped around the table and slid her arm about
her mother's waist.

"There, there, Ma," she soothed, pulling her mother's head against
her firm young shoulder. "Don't you fret. It will come out all right.
You'll see. You mustn't worry this way. Can't you believe what Racey
says? Try, dear, try."

But unhappy Mrs. Dale was beyond trying. She saw the home which she
had worked to get and slaved to maintain taken from her and herself
and her daughter turned out of doors. There was no help for it. There
was no hope. The future was pot-black. She broke down and wept.

"Oh, oh," she sobbed, "if only I'd watched him closer that day. But I
was washing, and I sort of forgot about him for a spell, and when I'd
got the clothes on the line he wasn't anywhere in sight, and--and it's
all my fuf-fault."

This was too much for Racey Dawson. He got up and went out. Savagely
he pulled his hat over his eyes and strode to where his horse stood in
the shade of a cottonwood. But he did not pick up the trailing reins.
For as he reached the animal he saw approaching across the flat the
figures of a horse and rider. And the man was Luke Tweezy.

With the sight of Mrs. Dale's tears fresh in his memory and the rage
engendered thereby galvanizing his brain he went to meet Mr. Tweezy.

"Howdy, Racey," said the lawyer, pulling up.

"Whadda you want?" demanded Racey, halting a scant yard from Luke
Tweezy's left leg.

"I come to see Mrs. Dale," replied Tweezy, his leathery features
wrinkling in a grimace intended to pass for a propitiating smile.

Racey's stare was venomous. "Tweezy," he drawled, "I done told you
something about admiring to see you put these women off this ranch,
didn't I?"

"Oh, you was just a li'l hasty. I understand. That's all right. I've
done forgot all about it."

"So I see. So I see. I'm reminding you of it. After this, Luke, I'd
hobble my memory if I was you, then it won't go straying off thisaway
and get you into trouble."

"Trouble?"

Racey did not deign to repeat. He nodded simply.

"I ain't got no gun," explained the lawyer.

"Alla more easy for me, then. You can't shoot back."

Luke Tweezy choked. Choked and spat. "---- ----" he began in a violent
tone of voice.

"Careful, careful," cautioned Racey, promptly kicking the lawyer's
horse in the ribs. "There's ladies in the house. You get a-holt of
yore tongue."

Luke Tweezy obeyed the command literally. For, his horse going into
the air with great briskness at the impact of Racey's toe, even as the
puncher had intended it should, he, Luke Tweezy, bit his tongue so
hard that he wept involuntary tears of keenest anguish.

"You stop that cussin'," resumed Racey, seizing the bridle short and
yanking the bouncing horse to a standstill with a swerve and a jerk
that almost unseated its rider. "You be careful how you talk, you--hop
toad!"

"Leggo that bridle!" yammered Tweezy, almost distraught with anger.
His tongue pained him exquisitely and he was otherwise physically
shaken. "Leggo that bridle!"

"I'll let it go!" Racey grated through set teeth, and he let it go
with a backward flip to the lower branches of the severe curb bit that
instantly sent the horse on its hind legs. If Luke Tweezy had not
quickwittedly smacked the animal between the ears with the butt of his
quirt it would have continued the motion to a backfall and rolled its
rider out.

"Tough luck," mourned Racey, sorry to observe that Luke had contrived
to ward off an accident. "I was expecting to see that horn dislocate
yore latest meal. If you ain't quite so set on going to the house you
can flit."

"I wanna see Mrs. Dale," persisted the lawyer in a strangled voice.
"I come to offer her money. I wanna do her a favour, can't you
understand?"

"I can't," was the frank reply. "I can't see you doing anybody a
favour or giving away any money. C'mon, get a-going."

It was then that the lawyer lifted up his voice and shouted aloud for
Mrs. Dale. Undoubtedly Racey would have done Tweezy a mischief had he
been given time. But unfortunately Molly Dale came to the lawyer's
rescue precisely as she had once come to the rescue of his partner in
evil, the bulldozer Lanpher. As it was Racey had contrived to pull
Luke Tweezy partly from the saddle when Molly arrived and forced her
defender to release his victim.

Reluctantly Racey dropped the leg he held and allowed Tweezy to come
to earth on his hands and knees.

"What do you want?" inquired Molly, regarding Tweezy much as she would
have regarded a poisonous reptile.

"I want to see yore mother," snuffled Tweezy, applying his sleeve to
his nose. He had in the mixup smote his swell fork with the organ in
question and it had begun to bleed.

"Why?"

"I want to pay her money to go away quietly," said Tweezy, switching
from his sleeve to his handkerchief. "I--"

"Here she is," interrupted Molly. "Tell her."

"How do, ma'am," said Luke to the wet-eyed widow. "I guess it ain't
necessary for me to go through a lot of explanations with you. You
know what's what, and you know we'll take possession just as soon as
the sheriff serves the eviction papers on you."

At this Racey Dawson made a noise in his throat. Molly laid cool
fingers on his wrist.

"Steady, boy, steady," she whispered under her breath.

Despite the seriousness of the moment Racey's heart skipped a beat and
the pleasantest shiver in the world ran about his body. "Boy!" she had
called him. "Boy." Her hand was actually touching his own. He--

"I don't want to be hard on you, Mis' Dale," resumed Luke, after an
apprehensive glance at Racey Dawson. "I don't like to be hard on
anybody that's sittin' into a run of hard luck, but business is
business, ma'am. You know that. And after all I'm--we're only asking
for what we're by rights entitled to. We got title to this place fair
and square, and--"

"Title, huh?" struck in Racey, unable to keep silent. "Not yet you
ain't."

"S-s-sh," breathed Molly, tightening her grip on his wrist.

"It's like I say, Mis' Dale," Luke Tweezy burred on from behind his
handkerchief, "I ain't got any wish to add to yore troubles, and so I
got my partner to agree for me to give you five hundred dollars cash
money if you'll pack up and clear out quiet and peaceful."

"Don't you do it, Mis' Dale!" urged Racey. "There's a trick in that
offer."

"They ain't any trick!" contradicted Luke Tweezy, vehemently. "I just
wanna save trouble, thassall."

Save trouble! That had been Lanpher's reason for coming the day he
rode through the garden. Save trouble, indeed.

"If yo're so shore the sheriff is going to serve those eviction
papers," said Racey as calmly as he could because of the warning
pressure on his wrist, "if yo're so shore why are you giving away five
hundred?"

"Because I don't like to be hard on Mis' Dale. Then, again, I'll admit
we wanna get in here soon as we can."

"You admit it, huh? That's a good one, that is. Don't you do it, Mis'
Dale. You stand pat."

"I don't want your five hundred dollars," said Mrs. Dale.

"Seven-fifty," climbed up Tweezy.

Mrs. Dale shook her head. "No."

"One thousand," Tweezy raised his ante.

"Lemme throw him out, Mis' Dale?" begged Racey Dawson. "Just lemme
throw him out, and I'll guarantee he'll never bother you again."

Again Mrs. Dale shook her head, and the pressure on Racey's wrist
increased. "You mustn't touch him," said Mrs. Dale. "He'll go."

"Think it over," Tweezy blundered on. "One thousand dollars gratis
cash money in yore hands if you'll leave at once."

"I'll wait awhile," said Mrs. Dale. "Please go."

Luke Tweezy opened his mouth to speak. Racey broke from Molly's
detaining grasp and stepped between him and Mrs. Dale, and Tweezy
closed his mouth without speaking.

"You heard what she said," Racey drawled, softly. "Git."

And Tweezy got.

"Do you think the sheriff will put us out?" asked Mrs. Dale, twisting
a corner of her apron between her hands.

"He'll take all the time to it he can," Racey evaded the direct reply.
"But whatever happens don't think of taking any offer like that of
Tweezy's. It's a trick, thassall. No matter who comes to you nor what
he offers don't you move till--Well, anyway, Judge Dolan and Jake Rule
are with you from soda to hock, and they'll do all they can to hold
things at a stand-still till I can fix it all up. You must remember
that I know what you dunno, and when I say that everything will end
fine and daisy you better believe I know what I'm talking about."

Molly looked at him keenly. "Racey, that's the third or fourth time
you've said that. I wonder if you really have something up your
sleeve."

"Of course I have," Racey insisted. "You wait. You'll see."

"What do you know? Tell us."

"Never mind, and I won't. It might spoil everything if I told you. You
just leave it to me."

He had definitely made his bluff. He would have to make good. And he
no more knew how to make good in the business than the year-old baby
busy with its toes. But ere this men have killed dragons and made
wonders come to pass all for the sake of their ladies' eyes. Men as
prosaic and matter-of-fact as the puncher, Racey Dawson. Quite so.

Half-an-hour after the departure of Luke Tweezy Mr. Saltoun and Tom
Loudon rode in on lathered horses. They were, it seemed, journeying
homeward from the 88 whither they had gone in an endeavour to persuade
Lanpher and Tweezy to sell the Dale mortgage.

"Tweezy, huh?" said Racey. "He's just left here."

"He must 'a' rode like the devil," said Mr. Saltoun. "He was in the
office with Lanpher when we left."

"I thought I noticed a feller off to the south of us as we come
along," observed Loudon. "He was just a-boilin'. I only saw him the
once as he slid by the mouth of a draw. Looked like he was trying to
keep out of sight. Rode a gray hoss."

"Tweezy rode a gray," nodded Racey.

"Him, all right. What did he want here, Racey?"

"Offered Mis' Dale one thousand cold if she'd pull her freight."

"She ain't gonna do it, is she?" demanded the alarmed Mr. Saltoun.

Racey shook his head. "She's gonna stick."

"She must. Hell, yes. Those papers of Luke's are forged. I know they
are."

"So does everybody else," put in Tom Loudon, "but if something don't
turn up damn quick--" He broke off, shaking a dubious head.

"Something will," declared Racey, making his bluff a second time with
an air of supreme confidence.

"You know something, Racey," prodded Mr. Saltoun who prided himself on
his perspicacity. "Whadda you know?"

"I ain't telling it," answered Racey, coolly. "I ain't coming back to
the ranch to-day, neither."

"Oh, you ain't. Listen to the new owner, Tom."

"That's all right," said Racey. "If I'm going to do the world any good
I've got to have a free hand."

"You can have two of 'em," conceded Mr. Saltoun. "The bridle's off."

"Aw right, I'll take Swing Tunstall," Racey hastened to say.

"I meant yore own two hands," demurred Mr. Saltoun.

"I know you did, but I meant the other kind. Listen, do you want
Lanpher and Tweezy to get this ranch?"

"---- it, no!"

"Then gimme Swing Tunstall."

"Take him. Need anybody else? Wouldn't you like all the rest of the
outfit, and me, too?"

"My Gawd, no. This is a job requirin' brains."

"Say, lookit here, Racey--"

"When you get to the ranch tell Swing to come along soon as he can,"
interrupted Racey. "I'll be expecting him."

Tuckety-tuck! Tuckety-tuck! Somewhere beyond the cottonwood grove
surrounding Moccasin Spring a galloping horse was coming in. A moment
later horse and rider shot past the tail of the cottonwood grove, and
bore down on the house.

"Marie!" exclaimed Racey.

"And riding one of my hosses," observed Mr. Saltoun.

At that instant Marie caught sight of the three men and swerved her
mount toward them.

"They said at the Bar S you was here," panted the lookout, pulling up
in front of Racey Dawson. "So I borrowed a fresh hoss and kep' on.
Somethin's happened in Farewell, Racey. Swing Tunstall's shot."

"Downed?" Racey did not usually jump at conclusions, but Swing
Tunstall was his friend.

Marie shook her tousled head. "Nicked--shoulder and leg. But it ain't
their fault he wasn't rubbed out."

"Who's responsible?" demanded Racey.

"Doc Coffin."

"You said 'their'."

"Honey Hoke bumped into Swing just as he went after his gun, so Swing
couldn't get his gun out a-tall. Swing said Honey grabbed his wrist,
but Peaches Austin and Punch-the-breeze Thompson was on the other side
in the way so none of the boys seen what happened to Swing exactly
till after it had."

"Austin, Thompson, Hoke, and Coffin," said Racey. "What began the
fuss?"

"Doc Coffin upset a glass of whiskey over Swing's arm, and then cussed
him for getting his arm in the way."

"And Swing called him a liar, huh?"

"And a ---- one, too," elaborated Marie.

"Put-up job." Gruffly Mr. Saltoun gave his opinion.

"Shore." Tom Loudon nodded gravely.

"Where are those four men now?" Racey asked, quietly, looking at
Marie.

"They were in the Starlight when I left town--and _they weren't
drinkin_'."

"No, they wouldn't be."

"And the sheriff and Kansas went to Dogville this morning, and the
marshal is sick. I thought you ought to know. My Gawd, I thought you'd
hear the news from somebody else before I got here and go bustin' in
regardless, and--"

"I guess I'll go in all right," he told her with a slight smile, "but
it won't be regardless."

With that he turned on a spurred heel and crossed springily to where
his horse stood.

"Aw, the devil!" exclaimed Marie, looking helplessly at Tom Loudon and
Mr. Saltoun. "And he'll do it, too."

Then she "kissed" to her horse and rode into the cottonwood grove for
a drink at the spring.

Racey, sticking foot in stirrup, found Molly Dale at his elbow. She
was looking at him the way women do when they either don't understand
or think they understand only too well.

"Who is that woman?" asked Molly Dale.

"Huh?" Thus Racey, stupidly. He was thinking of his friend lying
wounded in Farewell. "What woman you mean?... Oh, her, that's Marie,
she's--she's lookout in the Happy Heart."

"Oh, yes, Marie. I--I've seen you with her--one evening when you and
she were crossing the street and I drove past. I--I, yes, indeed."

And as she spoke her eyes were very bright, and her figure was stiffer
than the proverbial poker. Which was odd. And at the tail of her words
she gave a stiff nod and hurried into the house. Which was odder. The
species of nod and the hurry--both.

But Racey was in no mood to speculate on the idiosyncrasies of woman.
Even _the_ woman. So he topped his mount and rejoined Tom Loudon and
Mr. Saltoun. They regarded him silently.

"I guess," said Racey, whirling an empty tobacco-bag by it's
draw-string, "I'll borrow some of yore smokin', Tom. I'm plumb afoot
for tobacco at the present writing."

Tom Loudon handed over his pouch without a word. But Mr. Saltoun was
fidgety. Unlike his son-in-law, he felt that he must speak.

"Lookit here, Racey," he said, hurriedly, "you ain't going to Farewell
alone, are you?"

"Why, no, certainly not," Racey replied, solemnly. "I'm going to send
word to Yardly for the troops. Hell's bells, there's only four of
them, man!"

"Yes, well--Who's this? One of our boys?"

But it was not one of "our" boys. It was Rack Slimson, the proprietor
of the Starlight Saloon. But he was riding in from the direction of
the Bar S.

He rode soberly, as one bound on a journey of length. Even as Marie
had done he glimpsed the three men and turned his horse toward them.
Ten feet from the flank of Racey Dawson's mount he pulled in and
nodded. There was spite--spite and something else--in the gaze he
fixed on Racey Dawson.

"Yore friend's hurt," said he. "Got in a fight."

"Hurt bad?" asked Racey.

"Not _too_ bad. I've seen worse."

"Where's he hurt?"

Rack Slimson merely corroborated what Marie had said. So far he seemed
to be telling the truth. And it was natural that there should be spite
in his eyes. He had no cause to feel affection for either man. But
there was the "something else" besides the spite in those eyes. That
was what interested Racey.

"You come here special to tell me this?" said Racey, staring.

"Not me," denied Rack Slimson. "I was just passing by, and I thought
I'd let you know."

"Just bein' neighbourly, huh?"

"I dunno as I'd go so far as to say that."

"Well, I'm obliged to you, Slimson. I'm shore a heap obliged to you.
Is Swing Tunstall being taken care of all right?"

"He's in Mike Flynn's house. Joy Blythe is a-nursin' him."

"Then I ain't needed in Farewell right now." Racey's tone was casual.

Rack Slimson rose to the bait immediately. "He's asking for you alla
time," said he.

"He is, is he? Why didn't you say so at first?"

"I didn't know it was necessary."

"Which is true more ways than one. Lookit here, Slimson, where might
you happen to be going when you run into me so providential here at
Moccasin Spring?"

"I might be going most anywhere," Rack Slimson replied with a flash of
temper.

"No call to get het, Rack, no call to get het. What I'm asking is a
fair question: Where might you be going to-day."

"Marysville."

"Ain't you off the trail some?"

"Shore I am, some. I remembered something I gotta see about at the
88 before I go to Marysville. That's how I'm going west instead of
south."

"When did you first remember this here something of yores?"

"When I stopped at the Bar S for a drink of water."

"And after you'd just happened to remember this something, I s'pose
you just happened to ask where I was and they told you Moccasin
Spring. Is that the how of it?"

"Yo're a good guesser," replied Rack Slimson with sarcasm.

"Sometimes I do make a centre shot," Racey admitted, modestly.

It was then that Marie, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand,
rode forth from the cottonwood grove. At sight of her Rack Slimson's
eyes opened wide, then they narrowed.

"Hell," he muttered, turning a slightly worried look on Racey.

"What you hellin' about?" Racey inquired, pleasantly.

"You knowed about Swing Tunstall alla time," complained Rack Slimson.

"What makes you think so?" Racey sidled his horse closer to Rack.

"She told you." Thus Rack, bluntly.

"'She?' What she you mean?"

"Aw, her." Rack Slimson jerked his head toward the approaching girl.

"He's got 'em again," said Racey to Mr. Saltoun and Tom Loudon. "I
don't see any 'her' anywhere. Do you?"

"Not me," chorussed both men.

"You see how yo're mistaken, Rack," pointed out Racey. "Yore eyes are
deceivin' you. Don't you trust 'em. You don't see any girls round
here, exceptin' maybe Miss Dale over at the house. You might 'a' seen
her according to whether she came to the kitchen door or not. But you
ain't seen any other girl here. And you better be shore you ain't."

"Why had I?" blustered Rack Slimson, without, however, making any
hostile motion with his hands.

"Because I say so."

"Whatell's it to you?"

"All you have to do is say in Farewell that you saw Marie here at
Dale's and you'll find out. I'll even go farther than that. I'm
tellin' you, Rack, that if anybody finds out in Farewell that
Marie was here, or if any accident happens to her--any accident,
y'understand--I'll have to take it as evidence that you had to blat.
Fair enough, huh?"

"But supposing somebody else sees her and tells about it?" protested
Rack Slimson.

"In that case yo're out of luck," was the unfeeling reply.

"But--" began again Rack Slimson.

"You might try prayer," Racey interrupted. "It would maybe help. You
can't tell."

The unhappy Rack Slimson looked toward Mr. Saltoun and Tom Loudon. But
there was no aid for him in that quarter. In fact, both men eyed him
with frank hostility.

"So you see Marie is kept out of it." Racey laid his final injunction
on Rack as the girl in question joined them. "You don't guess this
girl is her, do you?"

"Nun-no," declared Rack, hastily. "I don't. She's somebody else for
all I care."

"That's the way to talk," Racey said, nodding approvingly. "You keep
right on holding to those sentiments and I wouldn't be surprised if
you lived quite a long while."

Marie showed her teeth in a laugh. "I ain't a-scared of any such breed
of chunker as Rack Slimson," said she, calmly. "I can manage him my
own self. You goin' back to Farewell, Racey?"

"Right now."

"Then I'll be going with you."

"You'll do no such a thing. There's no sense in yore running into
trouble thataway. You'll come in to Farewell after me and from another
direction."

"Shore, I was going to. I was only gonna ride along with you part
way."

Racey shook his head. "Wouldn't be sensible, that wouldn't. Somebody
might see you. You come along later like I told you. Me and Rack will
travel together."

"I was goin' to the 88," protested Rack.

"Yo're mistaken," Racey told him, firmly. "Yo're going to
Farewell--with me. Ain't you?"

"I s'pose so," Rack Slimson capitulated.

"Then c'mon. Get a-goin'."

Marie watched the two men ride away together. "Ain't he the hellion?"
she said, admiringly, to Tom and Old Salt. "Bound to have his own way
if it kills him."

At this there was a slight sound from the direction of the garden.
Marie and the two men turned to look. Trowel in hand Molly Dale was
kneeling on one knee between the brook and a row of blue camass. But
she was not doing any weeding. She was staring fixedly at Marie. While
a man could breathe twice Molly stared at Marie, then she dropped her
head and became very busy with the trowel.

Marie's sniff was audible at thirty feet. She picked up her reins and
nodded to Tom Loudon and Mr. Saltoun.

"See you later," said she, and started her horse in the direction of
Farewell. But she whirled him back before he had taken three steps.

"I clean forgot he was yore hoss," she said, apologetically, to Mr.
Saltoun. "I'll have to go back to the Bar S first."

"Thassall right," Mr. Saltoun made haste to assure her. "You take him
right along. One of the boys can ride yore hoss to town on the next
trip an' ride this one back."

"That _will_ save me a lot of trouble," said Marie, turning her
bewildered mount a second time.

"She ain't ridin' straight toward Farewell," said Tom Loudon, rolling
a slow cigarette.

"Aw, she's sensible," yawned Mr. Saltoun. "She'll do like Racey says
all right. She must like him a lot. I--Whatsa matter with _you_?"

For Tom Loudon had contrived to make a long leg and give Mr. Saltoun a
vigorous kick on the ankle.

"I guess we'll be goin'," dodged Tom Loudon, and then took off his hat
to Miss Dale. "So long, miss. If you--uh--You know where the Bar S is
in case--just in case, y' understand."

He touched his horse with the spur and moved off with as much dignity
as a colonel of cavalry. Not so Mr. Saltoun. He had been kicked,
and the kick hurt, and he was very red and ruffled in consequence.
Swearing under his breath he followed his son-in-law.

"Here," he demanded, crowding his horse alongside, "what did yuh kick
me for?"

Tom Loudon looked over his shoulder before replying. The ranch-house
was a hundred yards in the rear and Molly Dale was not in sight. He
deliberately turned his head and looked his father-in-law straight in
the eye. "What did I kick you for?" he repeated. "I kicked you because
you didn't have any sense."

This was too much. "Huh? Because I--Lookit here, you--"

"'Tsall right, 'tsall right. You didn't have any sense. Here's Molly
Dale thinks Racey is the only fellah ever rode a cayuse, and you have
to blat out so she can hear you, 'Marie must shore like him a lot'."

"Well, what of it? I don't see--"

"You don't? Wait till I tell Kate."

"It ain't necessary to tell my daughter," Mr. Saltoun remonstrated,
hurriedly. "I suppose my saying that about Marie might give Molly a
wrong idea maybe about Racey. But how do you know she likes Racey? You
been talking to her? Did she tell you so?"

"I ain't, and she didn't. I been talking to Kate. She told me. Don't
ask me how she knows. She says she knows, and that's enough for me.
You can't fool a woman in things like that."

"You can't fool 'em in anything," Mr. Saltoun corroborated, bitterly.
"I shore oughtn't to said that about Racey and Marie. I'll go right
back and tell Molly it ain't so."

Mr. Saltoun started to wheel his horse, but Tom Loudon halted that
manoeuvre.

"You gotta let it go now," said he. "If you tell her you didn't mean
what you said she shore _will_ think it's true."

"We-ell, if you think I'd better not, I won't," Mr. Saltoun assented,
doubtfully. "But I wouldn't say anything to Kate if I was you."

"Then I won't," said Tom Loudon, his tongue in his cheek.

"Where you think yo're going?" Mr. Saltoun queried presently. "This
ain't the way to the ranch."

"I know it ain't. It's the way to Farewell."

"Whyfor Farewell?"

"It's just possible Racey may need a li'l help before he's through
with this job."

"You're right," Mr. Saltoun said, contritely. "I've been so took up
with this Dale mortgage and the idea of Luke Tweezy and that skunk
Lanpher getting this land that I ain't give much thought to anything
else. Of course Racey will need help, and you and I are the fellers to
give it to him."




CHAPTER XXV

STRATEGY


Racey Dawson and Rack Slimson, rising a hill on the way to Farewell,
simultaneously turned their heads and looked at each other. Rack's
expression was dolefully sullen. Racey's was hard and uncompromising.

"Who was it put you up to this?" asked Racey.

"What?"

"Coming out here after me."

"I didn't come out after you, I tell you!"

"Shore, shore," soothed Racey, "I know all about that. Who put you up
to it?"

"I dunno what yo're talkin' about."

"The ignorance of some people," said Racey, recalling sundry occasions
when other folk had oddly failed to grasp his meaning.

They rode onward silently.

When they reached the southern slope of Indian Ridge, Racey headed to
the east. A spirit of unease lit heavily upon the sagging shoulders of
Rack Slimson.

"You ain't goin' straight for Farewell," he remarked at a venture.

"I ain't--no."

"I thought you was."

"I am--but not straight."

"Huh?" Rack Slimson wrinkled his forehead at this.

"We're goin' in town from the side," explained Racey Dawson.

This, too, was a puzzler. "Why?" queried Rack Slimson.

"So's nobody will know we're coming till we're there." The smile with
which Racey garnished his answer was chilling to the soul of Mr.
Slimson.

"But I don't see--"

"You wouldn't. I'll tell you how it is all in words of one syllable.
You and me are coming into town from the east where that draw is and
those shacks behind the dance hall. We'll leave our hosses in the
draw, and proceed, like they say in the army, on foot. Then you and
me--"

"But why me?" Rack Slimson desired to know. "What are you always
putting 'me' in for?"

"Because yo're a-going with me, Rack, that's why. Yo're a-going with
me while I'm hunting for Coffin and Honey Hoke and Punch-the-breeze
Thompson and Peaches Austin. Those four will likely be together, see,
and I wanna use you for a breastwork sort of."

"A breastwork!" cried the now thoroughly upset Mr. Slimson. "A
breastwork!"

"Shore a breastwork. I'll shove you ahead of me into the saloon and if
they--there's four of 'em, y'understand--cut down on me you'll be in
the way."

"But they'll down me!"

"I'm counting on that."

"But--"

"Aw, shut up, you ---- skunk! You come out to Moccasin Spring on
purpose to get me to come to Farewell and be peaceably shot by Doc
Coffin and his gang. Can't tell me you didn't. I know better."

"I didn't! I didn't! I--"

"Aw right you didn't. In that case you got nothing to scare you. If
Doc and his outfit ain't got any harsh thoughts against me they won't
shoot when we run up on 'em. That'll prove yo're telling the truth,
and I'll beg yore pardon. I'll do more'n beg yore pardon. I'll eat
yore shirt an' my saddle."

Racey's assurance that he would do the right thing if his suspicions
proved unfounded did not appear to cheer Rack Slimson.

"I--lookit here," he began, desperately, "can't we fix this here up
some way? I dunno as--"

"Shore we can fix it up," interposed Racey, heartily. "Go after yore
gun any time you feel like it. I been letting you keep it on purpose."

Rack Slimson did not accept the invitation. He had not the slightest
desire to go after his gun. He was not fast enough, and he knew it.

"It ain't necessary to do that," said he.

"Suit yoreself," Racey told him calmly. "Hop into action any time you
feel like it. Of course before we get to that draw outside Farewell
where we're gonna leave our hosses I'll have to take yore gun away.
Later I might be too busy to do it--and I can't afford to take _every_
chance. Not with four or five men. You can see that yoreself."

Rack Slimson saw. He saw other things too. Oh, there was no warmth in
the sunlight, and the sky was a drabby gray, and he was filled with
bitterness unutterable.

"We'll be at the draw some time soon," suggested Racey ten minutes
later.

But Rack Slimson's hands continued to remain in plain sight, the while
Rack gnawed a thin and bloodless lip.

When at long last the draw opened before them Racey calmly reached
over and removed the saloon-keeper's sixshooter. After satisfying
himself that the weapon was fully loaded he stuffed it down inside the
waistband of his trousers. Then he buttoned the two lower buttons of
his vest and pulled the garment in question over the protruding butt.

For a space of time they rode the bottom of the draw. Where a few
heavy willows grew about a tiny spring Racey pulled in.

"We'll leave the cayuses here," said he. "We're right close in back of
Marie's shack."

They dismounted, tied the horses to separate willows, and climbed the
side of the draw.

"No hurry," cautioned Racey, for Rack Slimson was showing signs of a
nervous haste. "Besides, I want to pat you all over for a hideout."

Behind the blind end of Marie's shack Rack Slimson submitted to
being searched for concealed weapons. Racey found none, not even a
pocket-knife.

"Let's go," said Racey Dawson. "We'll go to yore saloon first. And you
pray hard that nobody sees us from the back window."

They diagonalled down past the stage company's corral to the house
next door to the Starlight.

"They haven't seen us yet," Racey observed, cheerfully, to Rack
Slimson whose wretched knees had been knocking together ever since he
had dismounted. "Slide over this way a li'l more, Rack. Now take off
yore spurs."

Racey stooped and removed his own. And not for an instant did he lose
the magic of the drop. As a matter of fact, he had kept Rack covered
from the moment Rack set his boot-soles to earth. Rack's spurs jingled
on the ground. Racey let them lie. His own spurs he jammed each into a
hip pocket.

"I'll have to be careful how I sit down now," he remarked, jocularly,
to Rack Slimson. "You ready? Aw right. You know the way to the
Starlight's back door."

The back door of the saloon was wide open. They entered on tiptoe, the
proprietor in the lead.

"Remember," whispered Racey, when he discovered the back room to be
empty, "remember, I'm right behind you. Keep on yore toes."

He held Rack Slimson by the belt and pushed him toward the door giving
into the front room. This door was shut. They paused behind it.

"He oughta be along pretty soon," complained a fretful voice that
Racey recognized as belonging to Honey Hoke.

"We don't mind waiting," chimed in Punch-the-breeze Thompson.

"It's the best thing we do." This was big Doc Coffin speaking.

The two behind the door heard a bottle-neck clink against the rim of a
glass.

"You better not take too much," advised Thompson.

"Aw, who's takin' too much?" flung back Honey Hoke.

"Well, you don't see the rest of us touching a single drop, do you?
Speaking personal, I wouldn't drown _my_ insides with liquor when I'm
due to go up against a proposition like Racey Dawson."

Here was praise indeed. Racey thumbed Rack Slimson in the ribs. Rack
turned his head and saw that Racey was grinning. Rack grew even more
spineless.

"You see," pointed out Racey in a sardonic whisper. "Yo're up against
the pure quill, feller."

Which remark at any other time would have been in the worst possible
taste, but license is extended to men in peril of their lives.

"They're at the table in the corner beside the bar, this end, ain't
they?" resumed Racey. "Ain't it lucky the door opens that way?"

Then he was silent for a time while he strove to catch the accents of
Peaches Austin. He wanted to know if they were all four at the one
table. But Peaches was either not talking or elsewhere. A moment later
the question was answered for him by Honey Hoke.

"If he slips by Peaches without Peaches seem' him--" began Honey.

"Aw, hownell can he?" sneered Doc Coffin. "They's Peaches camped down
in front of the blacksmith shop right where he can see the trail alla
way down Injun Ridge. A dog couldn't get past Peaches without being
seen, let alone a two-legged man on a four-legged hoss."

"S'pose he goes round the ridge," offered the doubter, unconsciously
hitting the nail on the head.

"He won't," declared the confident Doc. "He'll come boiling right in
like he owned the place. Don't you lose no sleep over _that_."

"Maybe Rack couldn't find him," pursued Honey Hoke, and an answering
quiver ran through the frame of Rack Slimson.

"Rack will find him all right," said Punch-the-breeze Thompson.

"He might be suspicious of Rack, alla same," Honey Hoke wavered on.

"Not the way Rack will tell him. Didn't we fix it up just what Rack
was to say and all before he went? Shore we did. He won't make no
mistake, Rack won't. You'll see."

"And anyway," broke in Doc Coffin, "they's four of us to take care of
any mistakes."

At which the three laughed loudly.

"I hope," Racey whispered in Rack's rather grimy left ear, "I hope you
heard all those fellers said. Proves I was right, don't it? Nemmine
nodding yore head more'n once. Hold still. Yo're doin' fine. Yep, I'm
shore glad we stood here a-listenin' like we have. Makes me feel a
heap easier in my mind about you. Otherwise I might always have had a
doubt I did right. I'd have been shore, y' understand, but I wouldn't
have been _dead_ shore."

At which the unfortunate Rack came within an eyewink of fainting. As
it was his stomach seemed to roll over and over. He began to feel a
little sick.

"The bartender now," went on Racey after a moment, "is he likely to
mix into this?"

"I dunno," breathed Rack.

"Who is he? I ain't been in yore place for some time."

Rack told him the name of the bartender, and Racey nodded quite as if
Rack were facing him and could see everything he did.

"Then that's all right," whispered Racey. "I know that feller. He's a
friend of Mike Flynn's. He won't do anythin' hostyle. Let's go right
in. Open the door. G'on, damn yore soul, or I'll blow you apart!"

Rack Slimson opened the door and immediately endeavoured to spring to
one side. But he reckoned not on the strength of Racey Dawson. The
latter swung Rack back into place between himself (Racey Dawson) and
the table at which Doc Coffin and his two friends were sitting.

It was a painfully surprised trio that confronted Racey and his
unwilling barricade. The bartender was likewise surprised. He
immediately fell flat on the floor. Not so the three men at the table.
They sat quite still and stared at the man and the gun behind the body
of their friend Rack Slimson. They said nothing. Perhaps there was
nothing to say.

"I hear you were expectin' me, Doc," drawled Racey, his eyes bright
with cold anger. "Whatsa matter?" he added. "Ain't three of you enough
to take care of any mistakes?"

At which Doc Coffin's right hand flashed downward. Racey drove an
accurate bullet through Doc Coffin's mouth. The bullet ranging upward,
and making its exit through the parietal bone, let in the light on
Doc's hitherto darkened intellect in more ways than one.

Doc Coffin's forefinger, tightening convulsively on the trigger of its
wearer's sixshooter, sent an unaimed shot downward. But previous to
embedding itself in a floor board, the bullet passed through Honey
Hoke's foot. This disturbed Honey's aim to such an extent that instead
of shooting Racey through the head he shot Rack through the hat.

Racey, attending strictly to his knitting, bored Honey Hoke with a
bullet that removed the top of the second knuckle of Honey's right
hand, shaved a piece from the wrist bone, and then proceeded to
thoroughly lacerate most of the muscles of the forearm before finally
lodging in the elbow. Thus was Honey Hoke rendered innocuous for the
time being. He was not a two-handed gunfighter.

As yet Punch-the-breeze Thompson had remained strictly neutral. His
hands were on the table top, and had been from the beginning.

"It's yore move, Thompson," Racey said with significance.

"Then I'll be goin'," said Thompson, calmly. "See you later--maybe."

So saying he rose to his feet, turned his back on Racey, and walked
out of the place. Racey had no illusions as to Thompson, but he
obviously could not shoot him in the back. He let him go. Watching
from a window he saw Thompson go to the hitching-rail in front of the
saloon, untie his horse, mount, and ride away northward.

And the blacksmith shop in front of which Peaches Austin was supposed
to be on guard lay at the south end of the street. Where, then, was
Thompson going?

"Where's he goin'?" he demanded of the now wriggling Rack Slimson.

"Huh? Who? Punch? I dunno."

"Where's Jack Harpe?"

"I dunno."

"Yo're a liar. Where is he?"

"I dunno! I dunno! I tell you! Yo're gug-gug-chokin' me!"

"Yo're lying again. If I was choking you you couldn't talk. Yo're
talkin', ain't you? Where's Jack Harpe?"

"I dud-dud-dunno," insisted Rack Slimson, his teeth chattering as
Racey shook him.

"Is he in town?"

"I dud-dunno."

"Is Thompson going after him, do you think?"

"I dud-dunny-dunno!"

"I guess maybe you don't, after all," Racey said, disgustedly,
flinging the unfortunate saloon-keeper from him with such force that
the fellow skittered quite across the floor and sat down in the
washpan into which the bartender was accustomed to throw the broken
glassware.

"Ow-wow!" It was a hearty, full-lunged howl that Rack Slimson uttered
as he bounded erect and clutched at his trousers.

Racey's eyes brightened at the sight. "Y' oughta known better than to
sit down in all that glass. I could 'a' told you you'd get prickles in
you. Why don't you stand still and let yore barkeep pick 'em out for
you? You can get at most of the big pieces with yore fingers," he
added to the bartender, who was gingerly emerging on all fours round
the end of the bar. "And the little ones you can dig out with a
sharp knife. Yep, Rack, old-timer, I'll bet you won't carry any more
messages on horseback for a while."

There was a sudden crashing thud at the back of the room. Honey Hoke
had fallen out of his chair. Now he lay on the floor, his legs drawn
up and the back of his frowsy head resting against a rung of the chair
in which still sat the dead body of Doc Coffin.

Racey went to Honey and spread him out in a more comfortable position.

Calloway and Judge Dolan entered the saloon together.

"We thought we heard shootin'--" began Galloway, staring in
astonishment at the grotesque posture Rack Slimson had assumed the
better to endure the ministrations of the bartender.

"We heard shootin', all right," said Judge Dolan, his glance sweeping
past Slimson and the bartender to the rear of the room.

"What's happened, Racey?" queried Dolan, striding forward. "Both of
'em cashed?"

Racey shook his head. "Doc Coffin passed out," said he in a hard, dry
voice. "But Honey Hoke's heart is beatin' regular enough. Guess he's
only fainted from loss of blood."

The Judge nodded. "They do that sometimes." Here he looked at Doc
Coffin's body lying humped over the table, an arm hanging free, the
head resting on the table-top.

"Were they rowin' together?" was the Judge's next question.

Racey gave him a circumstantial account of the shooting and the
incidents that had led up to it. The Judge heard him through without a
word.

"They asked for it," said he, when Racey made an end. "'Sfunny Punch
didn't pick up a hand. Tell you what you do, Racey: You come to my
office in about a hour. Nothing to do with this business. I got no
fault to find with what you done. Even break and all that. Something
else I wanna see you about. Huh? What's that, Piggy?"

The place was beginning to fill up with inquisitive folk from the
vicinity, and Racey decided to withdraw. He went out the back way.
Closing the door, he set his shoulders against it, and remained
motionless a moment. His eyes were on the distant hills, but they
neither saw the hills nor anything that lay between.

"I had to do it," he muttered, bitterly. "I didn't want to down
him. But I had to. They were gonna down me if they could. And
he--they--they asked for it."




CHAPTER XXVI

THE QUARREL


"Lo, Peaches, ain't you afraid of gettin' sunburnt?" Peaches Austin,
gambler though he was, flickered his eyelashes. He was startled. He
had not had the slightest warning of Racey Dawson's approach.

"Didn't hear me, did you?" Racey continued, conversationally. "I
didn't want you to. That's why I kept my spurs off and sifted round
from the back of the blacksmith shop. And you were expecting me to
come scampering down the trail over Injun Ridge, weren't you? Joke's
on you, Peaches, sort of."

Still Peaches said nothing. He sat and gazed at Racey Dawson.

"Don't be a hawg," resumed Racey. "Move over and lemme sit down, too.
That's the boy. Now we're both comfortable, Peaches, you mean to sit
there and tell me you didn't hear any shooting up at the Starlight a
while back?"

Peaches Austin wetted his lips with the tip of a careful tongue. "I
heard shootin'," he admitted, stiff-lipped.

"And what did you think it was?"

"I didn't know."

"Didn't you see Thompson ride away?"

"Shore."

"And didn't you think anything about that, either?"

"Oh, I thought, but--"

"But you had yore orders to sit here and wait for li'l Willie. And you
always obey orders. That it, Peaches?"

"What are you drivin' at?"

"Yo're always asking me that, Peaches. Try something new for a change.
Look."

Racey extended a long arm past Peaches' nose and pointed up the
street toward the Starlight Saloon. A man was backing out through the
doorway. Another followed, walking forward. Between them they were
carrying a third man. The hat of the third man was over his face. His
arms, which hung down, jerked like the arms of a doll. Even at that
distance Peaches could see that there was no life in the third man.

"That's Doc Coffin," Racey murmured without rancour. "I wonder where
they're taking him? He used to bach with Nebraska Jones, didn't he? I
guess that's where they're taking him to. Yep, they've gone round the
corner of the stage company's corral."

"Where's Honey?" queried Peaches in a still, small voice.

"In the Starlight. He ain't hurt bad. Foot and arm. Lucky, huh?"

Peaches Austin considered these things a moment. "Doc Coffin was
reckoned a fast man," he said in the tone of one who, after adding
up a column of figures, has found the correct total, "and Honey Hoke
wasn't none slow himself. And you got 'em both."

"I didn't get 'em both," corrected Racey. "Honey is only wounded."

"Same thing. You could 'a' got 'him if you wanted to. Yo're lucky,
that's what it is. Yo're lucky. And you been lucky from the beginning.
I ain't superstitious, but--" Here he lied. Like most gamblers Peaches
was sadly superstitious. He looked at Racey, and there was something
much akin to wonder on his countenance. He shook his head and was
silent a long thirty seconds. "Yo're too lucky for me--I quit," he
finished.

"How much?"

"Complete. I tell you, I don't buck no such luck as yores no longer.
I'll never have none myself if I do. I'm goin'."

Peaches Austin got to his feet and walked across the street to the
hotel. Twenty minutes later Racey, sitting on the bench in front of
the blacksmith shop, saw him issue from the hotel, carrying a saddle,
packed saddlebags, and _cantenas_, blanket and bridle, and go to the
hotel corral.

Within three minutes Peaches Austin rode out from behind the hotel. As
he passed the blacksmith shop he said "So long" to Racey.

"See you later," nodded that serene young man.

"I hope not," tossed back Peaches, and rode on down the trail that
leads over Indian Ridge to Marysville and the south.

Racey watched him out of town. Then he went to Mike Flynn's to see
and, if it were possible, to cheer up his wounded friend, Swing
Tunstall. But he was not allowed to see him. Swing, it appeared, had
been given an opiate by Joy Blythe, who was acting as nurse, and she
refused to awaken her patient for anybody. So there.

Racey went to the Happy Heart to while away the remainder of the
hour set by Judge Dolan. The bartender greeted him respectfully and
curiously. So did several other men he knew. For that respect and
that curiosity he understood the reason. It lay on a bunk in Nebraska
Jones's shack.

No one asked him to drink. People are usually a little backward in
social intercourse with a citizen who has just killed his fellowman.
Of course in time the coolness wears off. In this case the time would
be short, Doc Coffin having been one of those that more or less
encumber the face of the earth. But for the moment Racey felt his
ostracism and resented it.

He set down his drink half drunk and walked out of the Happy Heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

"See anything of Luke Tweezy lately?" asked Judge Dolan when Racey was
sitting across the table from him in the Judge's office.

"Saw him to-day."

"Where?"

"Moccasin Spring."

Judge Dolan nodded and rasped a hand across his stubbly chin. "Luke is
in town now," said he.

"I ain't lost any Luke Tweezys," observed Racey, looking up at the
ceiling.

"I wonder how long Luke is figuring on staying in town," went on Judge
Dolan, sticking like a stamp to his original subject.

"Nothing to me."

"It might be. It might be. You never can tell about them things,
Racey."

Racey Dawson's eyes came down from the ceiling. He studied the Judge's
face attentively. What was Dolan driving at? Racey had known the Judge
for several years, and he was aware that the more indirect the Judge
became in his discourse the more important the subject matter was
likely to be.

"No," said Racey, willing to bite, "you never can tell."

"We was talking one day about a feller making mistakes." The tangent
was merely apparent.

"Yep," acquiesced Racey. "We were saying Luke Tweezy made a good
many."

"Something like that, yeah. You run across any of Luke's mistakes yet,
Racey?"

Racey shook his head. "No."

"Did you go to Marysville?"

"Why for Marysville?"

"Luke Tweezy lives in Marysville."

"And you think there's somebody in Marysville would talk?"

Judge Dolan looked pained. "I didn't say so," he was quick to remark.

"I know you didn't, but--"

"I don't guess they's many folks in Marysville _know_ much about
Luke--no, not many. Luke is careful and clever, damn clever.
But they's other things besides folks which might have useful
information."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. A gent, a lawyer anyway, keeps a lot of papers in his safe as
a rule. Sometimes them papers make a heap interesting readin'." The
Judge paused and regarded Racey coolly.

"They might prove interesting reading, that's a fact," drawled Racey.

"Now I ain't suggestin' anything," pursued Judge Dolan. "I couldn't on
account of my oath. But it ain't so Gawd-awful far from Farewell to
Marysville."

"It ain't _too_ far."

"I got a notion Luke Tweezy will find important business to keep him
here in Farewell the next four or five days."

"I wonder what kind of a safe Luke has got," murmured Racey.

"Damfino," said the Judge. "You know anything about dynamite--how it's
handled, huh?"

"Shore, handle it carefully."

"I mean how to prepare a fuse and detonator and stick it in the
cartridge. You know how?"

"I helped a miner man once for a week. Shore I know. You cut the fuse
square-ended. Stick the square end into the cap until it touches the
fulminate, and crimp down the copper shell all round with a dull knife
to hold the fuse. Then you make a hole in the end of the cartridge
and--"

"I guess you know yore business, Racey," interrupted Judge Dolan.
"You'll find a package on that shelf by the door. Handle it carefully.
I'm glad you dropped in, Racey, Nice weather we're having."

"But there are some people about due for a cold wave," capped Racey,
stopping on his way out to take the package from the shelf and wink at
Judge Dolan.

The wink was not returned. But the Judge's tongue may have been in his
cheek. He was a most human person, was Judge Dolan of Farewell.

Racey, handling the package with care, went back to the draw where
he had left the two horses. In the draw he opened the package. It
contained six sticks of dynamite and the necessary detonators and
fuse.

"Good old Judge," said Racey, admiringly, and rewrapped the dynamite,
the detonators, and the fuse with even more care than he had employed
in unwrapping them.

He rolled the package into his slicker and tied down the slicker
behind the cantle of his saddle. Untying the two horses he mounted his
own and, leading the other, rode to the hotel corral.

Bill Lainey was only too glad to lend him a fresh horse and a bran
sack.

It was dusk when he dismounted at the Dale corral. There was a lamp
in the kitchen. Its rays shone out through the open door and made a
rectangle of golden light on the dusty earth. Molly was standing at
the kitchen table. She was stirring something in a bowl. She did not
turn her head when he came to the door.

"Evenin', Molly," said Racey.

"Good evening." Just that.

"Uh. Yore ma around?"

"She's gone to bed." Still the dark head was not raised.

He misunderstood both her brevity and the following silence. He
left his hat on the washbench outside the door and stepped into the
kitchen.

"Don't take it so to heart, Molly," he said, awkwardly.

"It's hard, but--Shucks, lookit, I've got something to tell you."

In very truth he had something to tell her but he had not meant to
tell her so soon.

"Lemme take care of you, Molly--dear. You know I love you, and--"

"Stop!" Molly turned to him an expressionless face. She looked at him
steadily. "You say you love me?" she went on.

"Shore I say it." He was plainly puzzled at her reception of what he
had said. Girls did not act this way in books.

"How about that--that other girl? Marie, I think her name is."

"What about her?"

"A good deal."

"What has she got to do with my loving you, I'd like to know?"

"She loves you."

"Marie? Loves me? Yo're crazy!"

"Oh, am I? If she hadn't loved you do you think for one minute she'd
come riding all the way out here to give you a warning?"

"Marie and I are friends," he admitted. "But there ain't any law
against that."

"None at all." Molly's eyes dropped. Her head turned back. She resumed
her operations with a spoon in the bowl.

"Lookit here, Molly--"

"Don't you call me Molly." Her tone was as lacking in expression as
was her face.

"But you've got to listen to me!" he insisted, desperately. "I tell
you there ain't anything between Marie and me."

"Then there ought to be." Thus Molly. Womanlike she yearned to use her
claws.

"But--"

"Oh, I've heard all about your carryings on with that--creature; how
you talk to her, and people have seen you walking with her on the
street. I saw you myself. Yesterday when Mis' Jackson drove out here
to buy three hens she told me when the girl was arrested and fined for
trying to murder a man you stepped up and paid her fine. Did you?"

"I did. But--"

"There aren't any buts! You've got a nerve, you have, making love to
me after running round with that wretched hussy!"

"She ain't a hussy!" denied the exasperated Racey, who was always
loyal to absent friends. "She's all right. Just because she happens to
be a lookout in the Happy Heart ain't anything against her. It don't
give you nor anybody else license to insult her."

This was too much. Not content with confessing his friendship for the
girl, he was standing up for her. Molly whirled upon him.

"Go!" Tone and business could not have been excelled by Peg Woffington
herself.

Racey went.

"What's the matter?" queried a sleepy voice from the doorway giving
into an inner room, as Racey's spurred heels jingled past the
washbench. "What's goin' on? Who was here? What you yelling about,
anyway?"

"Racey was here, Ma," said Molly.

"Seems to me you made an uncommon racket about it," grumbled her
mother, plodding into the kitchen in her slippers.

Her gray hair was all in strings about her face. Her eyes and cheeks
were puffed with sleep. She had pulled a quilt round her shoulders
over her nightdress. Now she gave the quilt a hitch up and sat down in
a chair.

"Make me a cup o' coffee, will you, Molly?" said Mrs. Dale. "My head
aches sort of. I hope you didn't have a fight with Racey Dawson."

"Well, we didn't quite agree," admitted Molly, snapping shut the cover
of the coffee-mill and clamping the mill between her knees. "I don't
like him any more, Ma."

"And after he's helped us so! I was counting on him to fix up this
mortgage business! Whatever's got into you, Molly?"

"He's been running round with that awful lookout girl at the Happy
Heart."

"Is that all?" yawned Mrs. Dale, greatly relieved. "I thought it might
have been something serious."

"It is serious! What right has he to--"

"Why hasn't he? You ain't engaged to him."

"I know I'm not, but he--I--you--" Molly began to flounder.

"Has he ever told you he loved you?" Mrs. Dale inquired, shrewdly.

"Not in so many words, but--"

"But you know he does. Well, so do I know he does. I knew it soon as
you did--before, most likely. Don't you fret, Molly, he'll come back."

"No, he won't. Not now. I don't want him to."

"Then who's to fix up this mortgage business with Tweezy, I'd like
to know? I declare, I wish I'd taken that lawyer's offer. We'd have
something then, anyhow. Now we'll have to get out without a nickel.
Oh, Molly, what did you quarrel with Racey for?"




CHAPTER XXVII

BURGLARY


Merely because he believed that the well-known all was over between
Molly Dale and himself, Racey did not relinquish his plans for the
future.

He rode to Marysville as he had intended. That is, he rode to the
vicinity of Marysville. For, arriving at a hill five miles outside of
town in the broad of an afternoon, he stopped in a hollow under the
cedars and waited for night. Daylight was decidedly not appropriate
for the act he contemplated.

"I wonder," he muttered, as he lay with his back braced against a tree
and stared at the bulge in his slicker, "I wonder if I ought to use
all them sticks at once. I never heard that miner man say how much of
an argument a safe needed. I s'pose I better use 'em all."

Luke Tweezy was a bachelor. His office was in his four-room house, and
he did not employ a housekeeper. Further than this, Racey Dawson
knew nothing of the lawyer's establishment. But he believed that his
knowledge was sufficient to serve his purpose.

About midnight Racey Dawson removed himself, his horse, and his
dynamite from the hollow on the hill to where a lone pine grew almost
directly in the rear of and two hundred yards from the residence of
Luke Tweezy. He had selected the tall and lonely pine as the best
place to leave his horse because, should he be forced to run for
it, he would have against the stars a plain landmark to run for.
He thoroughly expected to be forced to run. Six sticks of dynamite
letting go together would arouse a cemetery. And Marysville was a
lively village.

Racey, taking no chances on the Lainey horse stampeding at the
explosion, rope-tied the animal to the trunk of the pine. After which
he removed his spurs, carefully unwrapped the dynamite and stuck three
sticks in each hip-pocket. The caps, in their little box, he put in
the breast-pocket of his shirt. With the coil of fuse in one hand and
the bran sack given him by Lainey in the other he walked toward the
house of Tweezy.

The house was of course dark. Nor were there any lights in the
irregular line of houses stretching up and down this side of the
street. The neighbours had apparently all gone to bed. Through an
opening between two houses Racey saw a brightly lighted window in a
house an eighth of a mile away. That would be Judge Allison's house.
The Judge, then, was awake. Two hundred and twenty yards was not a
long distance even for a portly man like Judge Allison to cover at
speed. And Racey had known Judge Allison to move briskly on occasion.

Racey, moving steadily ahead, slid past someone's barn and opened up
a view of the dance hall. It had previously been concealed from his
sight by the high posts and rails of three corrals. The dance hall was
going full blast. At least all the windows were bright with light. He
was too far away to hear the fiddles.

The dance hall! He might have known it would still be operating at
midnight. But it was almost twice as far from the Tweezy house to the
dance hall as it was from the Judge's house to Tweezy's. That was
something. Indeed it was a great deal. But he would have to work
fast. All the neighbours would come bouncing out at the crash of the
explosion.

Racey paused to flatten an ear at the kitchen door. He heard nothing,
and tiptoed along the wall to the window of the room next the kitchen.
The ground plan of the house was almost an exact square. There was a
room in each angle. The office, which Racey knew contained the safe,
was diagonally across from the kitchen.

Racey, halting at the window of the room next the kitchen, was
somewhat surprised to find it open. He stuck in his head and saw a
faint glow beyond the half-closed door of the office. The glow seemed
to be brighter near the floor. Racey listened intently. He heard a
faint grumble and now and then a squeak.

He crouched beneath the window and removed his boots. Then he crawled
over the sill and hunkered down on the uncarpeted floor. The floor
boards did not creak. Still crouching, his arms extended in front of
him, he made his way silently across the room, skirting safely in the
process two chairs and a table, and stood upright behind the crack of
the door.

Looking through the crack he perceived that the glow he had seen from
the window emanated from a tin can pierced with several holes. The
dim, uncertain light revealed the figure of a tall and hatless man
kneeling beside the safe. The man's back was toward the lighted tin
can. One of the tall man's hands was slowly turning the knob of the
combination. The side of the man's head was pressed against the front
of the safe near the combination. Racey could not see the man's face.

Across the window of the room two blankets had been hung. The door
into the other front room was open. Then suddenly the doorway was no
longer a black void. A man stood there--a fat man with a stomach that
hung out over the waistband of his trousers. There was something very
familiar about the figure of that fat man.

The fat man leaned against the doorjamb and pushed back his wide black
hat. The light in the tin can illumined his countenance dimly. But
Racey's eyes were becoming accustomed to the half darkness. He was
able to recognize Jacob Pooley--Fat Jakey Pooley, the register of the
district, whose home was in Piegan City.

"You ain't as fast as you used to be," observed Fat Jakey in a soft
whisper.

"Shut up!" hissed the kneeling man, and turned his face for an instant
toward Fat Jakey, so that the light shone upon his features.

It was Jack Harpe.

"What's biting your ear?" Fat Jakey asked, good-naturedly.

"I've told you more'n once to let what's past alone," grumbled Jack
Harpe.

"Hell, there's nobody around."

"Nemmine whether they is or not. You get out of the habit."

"Rats," sneered Fat Jakey.

"What was that?" Jack Harpe's figure tautened in a flash.

"Rats," repeated Fat Jakey.

"I thought I heard something," persisted Jack Harpe.

"You heard rats," chuckled Fat Jakey. "You're nervous, that's what's
the matter, or else you ain't able to open the safe."

"I can open the safe all right," growled Jack Harpe, bending again to
his work.

"I wonder what he did hear," Racey said to himself. "I thought I heard
something, too."

Whatever it was he did not hear it again.

"There she is," said Jack Harpe, suddenly, and threw open the safe
door.

It was at this precise juncture that a voice from the darkness behind
Fat Jakey said, "Hands up!"

Oh, it was then that events began to move with celerity. Fat Jakey
Pooley ducked and leaped. Jack Harpe kicked the tin can, the candle
fell out and rolled guttering in a quarter circle only to be
extinguished by one of Fat Jakey's flying feet.

There was a slithering sound as the blankets across the window were
ripped down, followed by a scraping and a heaving and a grunting as
two large people endeavoured to make their egress through the same
window at the same time.

"So that window was open alla time," thought Racey as he prudently
waited for the owner of the voice in the other room to discover
himself. But this the voice's owner did not immediately do. Racey
could not understand why he did not shoot while the two men were
struggling through the window. Lord knows he had plenty of time and
opportunity.

Even after Jack Harpe and Fat Jakey had reached the outer air and
presumably gone elsewhere swiftly, there was no sound from the other
room. Racey, his gun ready, waited.

At first his impulse had been incontinently to flee the premises as
Jack and Jake had done. But a saving second thought held him where
he was. It was more than possible that the mysterious fourth man had
designs on the contents of the safe. In which event--

Racey stood pat.

He heard no sound for at least a minute after Jack and Jake had left,
then he heard a soft swish, and a few stars which had been visible
through the upper half of the window were blotted out. The blankets
were being readjusted.

A match was struck and a figure stooped for the candle that had been
dashed out by the foot of Fat Jakey Pooley. A table shielded the
figure from Racey. Then the figure straightened and set the flaring
match to the candle end. And the face that bent above the light was
the face of one he knew.

"Molly!" he whispered, and slipped from his ambush.

At which Molly dropped candle and match and squeaked in affright. But
her scare did not prevent her from drawing a sixshooter. He heard the
click of the hammer, and whispered desperately, "Molly! Molly! It's
me! Racey!"

He struck a match and retrieved the candle and lit it quickly. By its
light he saw her staring at him uncertainly. Her eyes were bright with
conflicting emotions. Her sixshooter still pointed in his general
direction.

"Put yore gun away," he advised her. "We've got no time to lose. Hold
the candle for me! Put it in the can first!"

Automatically she obeyed the several commands.

He knelt before the open safe and, beginning at the top shelf, he
stuffed into his bran sack every piece of paper the safe contained.
Besides papers there were two sixshooters and a bowie. These he did
not take.

When the safe was clean of papers Racey tied the mouth of the bran
sack, took Molly by the hand, and blew out the candle.

"C'mon," he said, shortly. "We'll be leavin' here now."

Towing her behind him he led her to the window of the rear room.
Holding his hat by the brim he shoved it out through the window. No
blow or shot followed the action. He clapped the hat on his head, and
looked out cautiously. He satisfied himself that the coast was clear
and flung a leg over the sill.

When he had helped out Molly he gave her the sack to hold and pulled
on his boots.

"Where's yore hoss?" he whispered.

"I tied him at the corner of the nearest corral," was the answer.

"C'mon," said he and took her again by the hand.

They had not gone ten steps when she stumbled and fell against him.

"Whatsa matter?"

"Nothing," was the almost breathless reply. "I'm--I'm all right. I
just stepped on a sharp stone."

"Yore shoes!" he murmured, contritely. "I never thought. Why didn't
you say something? Here."

So saying he scooped her up in his arms, settled her in place with due
regard for the box of caps in his breast-pocket, and plowed on through
the night. Her arms went round his neck and her head went down on his
shoulder. She sighed a gentle little sigh. For a sigh like that Racey
would cheerfully have shot a sheriff's posse to pieces.

"I left my shoes in my saddle pocket," she said, apologetically. "I--I
thought it would be safer."

There was a sudden yell somewhere on Main Street. It sounded as if it
came from uncomfortably close to the Tweezy house. Then a sixshooter
cracked once, twice, and again. At the third shot Racey was running as
tight as he could set foot to the ground.

Encumbered as he was with a double armful of girl and a fairly heavy
sackful of papers he yet made good time to the corner of the nearest
corral. The increasing riot in Main Street undoubtedly was a most
potent spur.

"Which way's the hoss?" he gasped when the dark rail of the corral
fretted the sky before them.

"You're heading straight," she replied, calmly. "Thirty feet more and
you'll run into him. Better set me down."

He did--literally. He turned his foot on a tin can and went down
ker-flop. Forced to guard his box of caps with one hand he could not
save Molly Dale a smashing fall.

"Ah-ugh!" guggled Molly, squirming on the ground, for she had struck
the pit of her stomach on a round rock the size of a football and the
wind was knocked out of her.

Racey scrambled to his feet, and knowing that if Molly was able to
wriggle and groan she could not be badly hurt, picked up the sack and
scouted up Molly's horse. He found it without difficulty, and tied the
sack with the saddle strings in front of the horn. He loosed the horse
and led it to where Molly still lay on the ground. The poor girl was
sitting up, clutching her stomach and rocking back and forth and
fighting for her breath with gasps and crows.

But there was not time to wait till she should regain the full use of
her lungs--not in the face of the shouts and yells in Main Street.
Lord, the whole town was up. Lights were flashing in every house.
Racey stooped, seized Molly under the armpits, and heaved her bodily
into the saddle.

"Hang onto the horn," he ordered, "and for Gosh sake don't make so
much noise!"

Molly obeyed as best she could. He mounted behind her, and of course
had to fight the horse, which harboured no intention of carrying
double if it could help itself. Racey, however, was a rider, and he
jerked Molly's quirt from where it hung on the horn. Not more than
sixty seconds were wasted before they were travelling toward the lone
pine as tight as the horse could jump.

At the pine Racey slipped to the ground and ran to untie his horse.

"Can you hang on all right at a trot if I lead yore hoss?" he queried,
sharply, his fingers busy with the knot of the rope.

"I cue-can and gug-guide him, too," she stuttered, picking up her
reins and making a successful effort to sit up straight. "Lul-look! At
Tut-Tweezy's huh-house!"

He looked. There were certainly three lanterns bobbing about in the
open behind the house of Luke Tweezy. He knew too well what those
lights meant. The Marysville citizens were hunting for a hot trail.

He swung up with a rush.

"Stick right alongside me," he told her. "We'll trot at first till
we get behind the li'l hill out yonder. After that we can hit the
landscape lively."

She spoke no word till they had rounded the little hill and were
galloping south. Then she said in her normal voice, "This isn't the
way home."

"I know it ain't. We've got to lose whoever follows us before we skip
for home."

"Of course," she told him, humbly. "I might have known. You always
think of the right thing, Racey."

All of which was balm to a hitherto tortured soul.

"That's all right," he said, modestly.

"And how strong you are--carrying me and that heavy sack all that
distance." Both admiration and appreciation were in her tone. Any
man would have been made happy thereby. Racey was overjoyed. And the
daughter of Eve at his side knew that he was overjoyed and was made
glad herself. She did not realize that Eve invariably employed the
same method with our grandfather Adam.

He reached across and patted her arm.

"Yo're all right," he told her. "When we get out of this yo're going
to marry me."

Her free hand turned under his and clasped his fingers. S6 they rode
for a space hand-in-hand. And Racey's heart was full. And so was hers.
If they forgot for the moment what dread possibilities the future held
who can blame them?




CHAPTER XXVIII

THE LETTERS


"But what was yore idea in coming to Marysville a-tall?"

"To get that release Father signed--I thought it might be in his
safe."

"Anybody give you the idea it might be?"

She shook her head. "Nobody."

"You've got more brains than I have, for a fact. But how were you
figuring on getting into the safe?"

"Oh, I brought a bunch of keys along. What are you laughing at? I
thought one might fit."

"Keys for a safe! Say, don't you know you don't open safes with keys?
They've got combinations, safes have."

"I didn't know it. How could I? I never saw a safe in my life till
I saw this one to-night. I thought they had locks like any other
ordinary--Oh, I think you're horrid to laugh!"

"I'm not laughing. Lean over, and I'll show you.... There, I ain't
laughing, am I?"

"Not now, but you were.... Not another one, Racey. Sit back where you
belong, will you? You can hold my hand if you like. But I wasn't such
a fool as you seem to think, Racey. I brought an extra key along in
case the others didn't fit."

"Extra key?"

"Surely--seven sticks of dynamite, caps, and fuse. Chuck had a lot he
was using for blowing stumps, so I borrowed some from his barn. He
didn't know I took it."

"I should hope not," Racey declared, fervently. "You leave dynamite
alone, do you hear? Where is it now?"

"Oh, I left it on the floor in Tweezy's house when I found I didn't
need it any longer."

"Thank God!" breathed Racey, whose hair had begun to rise at the bare
idea of the explosives still being somewhere on her person. "What was
yore motive in hold in' up Jack Harpe and Jakey Pooley?"

"Was that who they were? I couldn't see their faces. Well, when I had
broken the lock and opened the back window and crawled through, I went
into the front room where I thought likely the safe would be, and I
was just going to strike a match when I heard a snap at the front
window as the lock broke. Maybe I wasn't good and scared. I paddled
into the other front room by mistake. Got turned around in the dark, I
suppose. And before I could open a window and get out I heard two men
in the front room I'd just left. I didn't dare open a window then.
They'd have heard me surely, so I just knelt down behind a bed. And
after a while, when one man was busy at the safe, the fat man came
into my room and sat down on a chair inside the door. Lordy, I hardly
dared breathe. It's a wonder my hair didn't turn white. Once I thought
they must have heard me--the time the fat man said 'rats'. Honestly, I
was so scared I was almost sick."

"But you have nerve enough to try and hold them up."

"I had to. When I found out they were going to rob the safe, I had to
do something. Why, they might have taken the very paper I wanted, and
somehow later Tweezy might have gotten it back. I couldn't allow that.
I knew that I must get at what was inside the safe before they did. I
just had to, so when the fat man got up from his chair and stood in
the doorway with his back to me, I just gritted my teeth and stood up
and said 'Hands up.'"

"My Gawd, girl, you might 'a' been shot!"

"I had a sixshooter," she said, tranquilly. "But I wouldn't have shot
first," she added, reflectively.

Willy-nilly then he took her in his arms and held her tightly.

"But I don't see why," he said after an interval, "you had to go off
on a wild-goose chase thisaway. Didn't I tell you I was going to fix
it up for you? Couldn't you 'a' trusted me enough to lemme do it my
own way?"

"We had that--that quarrel in the kitchen, and I thought you didn't
like me any more, and--and wouldn't have any more to do with me and
that it was my job to do something to help out the family.... Please!
Racey! I can't breathe!"

Another interval, and she resolutely pushed his arms down and held him
away from her with both hands on his shoulders.

"Tell me," said she, her blue eyes plumbing the very depths of his
soul, "tell me you don't love anybody else."

He told her.

Later. "There was a time once when I thought you liked Luke Tweezy,"
he observed, lazily.

"How horrible," she murmured with a slight shudder as she snuggled
closer.

And that was that.

"I think, dearest," said Molly, raising her head from his shoulder
some twenty minutes later, "that it's light enough now to see what's
in the sack."

So, in the brightness of a splendid dawn, snugly hidden on the
tree-covered flank of one of the Frying Pan Mountains, they opened the
bran sack and went through every paper it contained.

There were deeds, mortgages, legal documents of every description.
They found the Dale mortgage, but they did not find the release
alleged to have been signed by Dale immediately prior to his death.

"Of course that mortgage is recorded," said Racey, dolefully, staring
at the pile of papers, "so destroyin' that won't help us any. The
release he's carrying with him, and I don't see anything--"

"Here's one we missed," said Molly Dale in a hopeless tone, picking up
a slip of paper from where it had fallen behind a saddle. The slip
of paper was folded several times. She opened it and spread it out
against her knee. "Why, how queer," she muttered.

"Huh?" In an instant Racey was looking over her shoulder.

When both had thoroughly digested the meaning of the writing on that
piece of paper they sat back and regarded each other with wide eyes.

"This ought to fix things," breathed Molly.

"Fix things!" cried Racey. "Cinch! We've got him like that."

He snapped his fingers joyfully.

Molly reached for the bran sack. "You only shook it out," she said.
"I'm going to turn it inside out. Maybe we'll find something else."

They did find something else. They found a document caught in the end
seam. They read it with care and great interest.

"Well," said Racey, when he came to the signatures, "no wonder Jack
Harpe and Jakey Pooley wanted to get into the safe. No wonder. If we
don't get the whole gang now we're no good."

"And to think we never thought of such a thing."

"I was took in. I never thought anything else. And it does lie just
right for a cow ranch."

"Of course it does. You couldn't help being fooled. None of us had any
idea--"

"I'd oughta worked it out," he grumbled. "There ain't any excuse for
my swallowing what Jack Harpe told me. Lordy, I was easy."

"What do you care now? Everything's all right, and you've got me,
haven't you?" And here she leaned across the bran sack to kiss him.

She could not understand why his return kiss lacked warmth.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Sun's been up two hours," he announced. "And the hosses have had a
good rest. We'd better be goin'."

"What are you climbing the tree for, then?" she demanded.

"I want to look over our back trail," he told her, clambering into the
branches of a tall cedar. "I know we covered a whole heap of ground
last night, but you never can tell."

Apparently you never could tell. For, when he arrived near the top of
the cedar and looked out across a sea of treetops to the flat at the
base of the mountain, he saw that which made him catch his breath and
slide earthward in a hurry.

"What is it?" asked Molly in alarm at his expression.

"They picked up our trail somehow," he answered, whipping up a blanket
and saddle and throwing both on her horse. "They're about three miles
back on the flat just a-burnin' the ground."

"Saddle your own horse," she cried, running to his side. "I'll attend
to mine."

"You stuff all the papers back in the sack. That's yore job. Hustle,
now. I'll get you out of this. Don't worry."

"I'm not worrying--not a worry," she said, cheerfully, both hands busy
with Luke Tweezy's papers. "I'd like to know how they picked up the
trail after our riding up that creek for six miles."

"I dunno," said he, his head under an upflung saddle-fender. "I shore
thought we'd lost 'em."

She stopped tying the sack and looked at him. "How silly we are!"
she cried. "All we have to do is show these two letters to the posse
an'--"

"S'pose now the posse is led by Jack Harpe and Jakey Pooley," said he,
not ceasing to pass the cinch strap.

Her face fell. "I never thought of that," she admitted. "But there
must be some honest men in the bunch."

"It takes a whole lot to convince an honest man when he's part of a
posse," Racey declared, reaching for the bran sack. "They don't stop
to reason, a posse don't, and this lot of Marysville gents wouldn't
give us time to explain these two letters, and before they got us back
to town, the two letters would disappear, and then where would we be?
We'd be in jail, and like to stay awhile."

"Let's get out of here," exclaimed Molly, crawling her horse even
quicker than Racey did his.

Racey led the way along the mountain side for three or four miles.
Most of the time they rode at a gallop and all the time they took care
to keep under cover of the trees. This necessitated frequent zigzags,
for the trees grew sparsely in spots.

"There's a slide ahead a ways," Racey shouted to the girl. "She's
nearly a quarter-mile wide, and over two miles long, so we'll have to
take a chance and cross it."

Molly nodded her wind-whipped head and Racey snatched a wistful glance
at the face he loved. Renunciation was in his eyes, for that second
letter found caught in the bran sack's seam had changed things. He
could not marry her. No, not now. And yet he loved her more than ever.
She looked at him and smiled, and he smiled back--crookedly.

"What's the matter?" she cried above the drum of the flying hoofs.

"Nothing," he shouted back.

He hoped she believed him. And bitter almonds were not as bitter as
that hope.

Then the wide expanse of the slide was before them. Now some slides
have trails across their unstable backs, and some have not. Some are
utterly unsafe to cross and others can be crossed with small risk.
There was no trail across this particular slide, and it did not
present a dangerous appearance. Neither does quicksand--till you step
on it.

Racey dismounted at the edge and started across, leading his horse.
Twenty yards in the rear Molly Dale followed in like manner. At every
step the footing gave a little. Once a rounded rock dislodged by the
forefoot of Racey's horse bounded away down the long slope.

The slither of a started rock behind him made him turn his head with a
jerk. Molly's horse was down on its knees.

"Easy, boy, easy," soothed Molly, coaxingly, keeping the bridle reins
taut.

The horse scrambled up and plunged forward, and almost overran Molly.
She seized it short by the rein-chains. The horse pawed nervously and
tried to rear. More rocks skidded downward under the shove of the hind
hoofs. To Racey's imagination the whole slide seemed to tremble.

Molly's face when the horse finally quieted and she turned around was
pale and drawn. Which was not surprising.

"It's all right, it's all right, it's all right," Racey found himself
repeating with stiff lips.

"Of course it is," nodded Molly, bravely. "There's no danger!"

"No," said Racey. "Better not hold him so short. Don't wind that rein
round yore wrist! S'pose he goes down you'd go, too. Here, you lemme
take him. I'll manage him all right."

"I'll manage him all right myself!" snapped Molly, up in arms
immediately at this slur upon her horsemanship. "You go on."

Racey turned and went on. It was not more than a hundred yards to
where the grass grew on firm ground. Racey and his horse reached solid
earth without incident. Then--a scramble, a scraping, and a clattering
followed in a breath by the indescribable sound of a mass of rocks in
motion.

Racey had wasted no time in looking to see what had happened. He knew.
At the first sound of disaster he had snapped his rope strap, freed
his rope and taken two half hitches round the horn. Then he leaped
toward the slide, shaking out his rope as he went.

Twenty feet out and below him Molly Dale and her struggling horse were
sliding downward. If the horse had remained quiet--but the horse was
not remaining quiet and Molly's wrist was tangled in the bridle reins.

In the beginning the movement was slow, but as Racey reached the edge
of the slide an extra strong plunge of the horse drove both girl and
animal downward two yards in a breath. Molly turned a white face
upward.

"So long, Racey," she called, bravely, and waved her free hand.

But Racey was going down to her with his rope in one hand. With the
other hand and his teeth he was opening his pocket-knife. The loose
stones skittered round his ankles and turned under his boot soles. He
took tremendous steps and, with that white face below him, lived an
age between each step.

"Grab the rope above my hand!" he yelled, although by now she was not
a yard from him.

Racey was closer to the end of his rope than he realized. At the
instant that her free hand clutched at the rope it tightened with a
jerk as the cow pony at the other end, feeling the strain and knowing
his business, braced his legs and swayed backward. Molly's fingers
brushed the back of Racey's hand and swept down his arm. Well it was
for him that he had taken two turns round his wrist, for her forearm
went round his neck and almost the whole downward pull of girl and
horse exerted itself against the strength of Racey Dawson's arm and
shoulder muscles.

Molly's face and chin were pressed tightly against Racey's neck. Small
blame to her if her eyes were closed. The arm held fast by the bridle
was cruelly stretched and twisted. And where the rein was tight across
the back of her wrist, for he could reach no lower, Racey set the
blade of his pocket-knife and sawed desperately. It was not a sharp
knife and the leather was tough. The steel did not bite well. Racey
sawed all the harder. His left arm felt as if it were being wrenched
out of its socket. The sweat was pouring down his face. His hat jumped
from his head. He did not even wonder why. He must cut that bridle
rein in two. He must--he must.

Snap! Three parts cut, the leather parted, Molly's left arm and
Racey's right fell limply. Molly's horse went down the slide alone.
Neither of them saw it go. Molly had fainted, and Racey was too spent
to do more than catch her round the waist and hold her to him in time
to prevent her following the horse.

Smack! something small and hot sprinkled Racey's cheek. He looked
to the left. On a rock face close by was a splash of lead. Smack!
Zung-g-g diminuendo, as a bullet struck the side of a rock and buzzed
off at an angle.

Racey turned his head abruptly. At a place where trees grew thinly on
the opposite side of the slide and at a considerably lower altitude
than the spot where he and Molly hung at the end of their rope shreds
of gray smoke were dissolving into the atmosphere. The range was
possibly seven hundred yards. The hidden marksman was a good shot to
drive his bullets as close as he had at that distance.

Straight out from the place of gray smoke four men and four horses
were making their way across the slide. They were halfway across. But
they had stopped. The down rush of Molly's horse had apparently given
them pause. Now two men started ahead, one stood irresolute and
one started to retrace his steps. It is a true saying that he who
hesitates is lost. Straight over the irresolute man and his horse
rolled the dust cloud whose centre was Molly's horse. When the dust
cloud passed on it was much larger, and both the man and his horse had
disappeared.

The man who had started to retreat continued to retreat, and more
rapidly. The two who had held on did not cease to advance, but they
proceeded very slowly.

"If that feller with the Winchester don't get us we're all right for a
spell," Racey muttered.

He knew that on their side of the slide for a distance of several
hundred yards up and down the side of the mountain and for several
miles athwart it the underbrush was impenetrable for horses and wicked
travelling for men. There had been a forest fire four years before,
and everyone knows what happens after that.

In but one place, where a ridge of rock reared through the soil, was
it possible to cross the stretch of burned-over ground. Naturally
Racey had picked this one spot. Whether the posse had not known of
this rock ridge, or whether they had simply miscalculated its position
it is impossible to say.

"Those two will shore be out of luck when they get in among the
stubs," he thought to himself, as he waited for his strength to come
back.

But youth recovers quickly and Racey was young. It may be that
the lead that was being sent at him and Molly Dale was a potent
revivifier.

Certainly within three or four minutes after he had cut the bridle
Racey began to work his way up the rope to where his patient and
well-trained horse stood braced and steady as the proverbial boulder.

Monotonously the man behind the Winchester whipped bullet after bullet
into the rocky face of the slide in the immediate vicinity of Racey
Dawson and the senseless burden in the crook of his left arm.
Nevertheless, Racey took the time to work to the right and recover the
hat that a bullet had flicked from his head.

Then he resumed his slow journey upward.

Ages passed before he felt the good firm ground under his feet and
laid the still unconscious Molly on the grass behind a gray and
barkless windfall that had once been a hundred-foot fir.

Then he removed his horse farther back among the stubs where it could
not be seen, took his Winchester from the scabbard under the left
fender and went back to the edge of the slide to start a return
argument with the individual who had for the last ten minutes been
endeavouring to kill him.




CHAPTER XXIX

HUE AND CRY


"Did you hit him?"

"I don't think so," replied Racey without turning his head. "Keep
down."

"I am down."

"How you feel?"

"Pretty good--considering."

"Close squeak--considerin'."

"Yes," said she in a small voice, "it was a close squeak. You--you
saved my life, Racey."

"Shucks," he said, much embarrassed, "that wasn't anythin'--I
mean--you--you know what I mean."

"Surely, I know what you mean. All the same, you saved my life. Tell
me, was that man shooting at us all the time after I fainted until you
got me under cover?"

"Not all the time, no."

"But most of the time. Oh, you can make small of it, but you were very
brave. It isn't everybody would have stuck the way you did."

Smack! Tchuck! A bullet struck a rock two feet below where Racey lay
on his stomach, his rifle-barrel poked out between two shrubs of
smooth sumac--another bored the hole of a gray stub at his back.

He fired quickly at the first puff of smoke, then sent two bullets a
little to the left of the centre of the second puff.

"Not much chance of hittin' the first feller," he said to Molly. "He's
behind a log, but that second sport is behind a bush same as me....
Huh? Oh, I'm all right. I got the ground in front of me. He
hasn't. Alla same, we ain't stayin' here any longer. I think I saw
half-a-dozen gents cuttin' across the end of the slide. Give 'em time
and they'll cut in behind us, which ain't part of my plans a-tall.
Let's go."

He crawfished backward on his hands and knees. Molly followed his
example. When they were sufficiently far back to be able to stand
upright with safety they scrambled to their feet and hurried to the
horse.

"I'll lead him for a while," said Racey, giving Molly a leg up, for
the horse was a tall one. "He won't have to carry double just yet."

So, with Racey walking ahead, they resumed their retreat.

The ridge of rock cutting across the burned-over area could not
properly be called rimrock. It was a different formation. Set at an
angle it climbed steadily upward to the very top of the mountain.
In places weatherworn to a slippery smoothness; in others jagged,
fragment-strewn; where the rain had washed an earth-covering upon the
rock the cheerful kinnikinick spread its mantle of shining green.

The man and the girl and the horse made good time. Racey's feet began
to hurt before he had gone a mile, but he knew that something besides
a pair of feet would be irreparably damaged if he did not keep going.
If they caught him he would be lynched, that's what he would be. If he
weren't shot first. And the girl--well, she would get at the least ten
years at Piegan City, _if_ they were caught. But "if" is the longest
and tallest word in the dictionary. It is indeed a mighty barrier
before the Lord.

"Did you ever stop to think they may come up through this brush?" said
Molly, on whom the silence and the sad gray stubs on either hand were
beginning to tell.

"No," he answered, "I didn't, because they can't. The farther down you
go the worse it gets. They'd never get through. Not with hosses. We're
all right."

"Are we?" She stood up in her stirrups, and looked down through a
vista between the stubs.

They had reached the top of the mountain. It was a saddle-backed
mountain, and they were at the outer edge of the eastern hump. Far
below was a narrow valley running north and south. It was a valley
without trees or stream and through it a string of dots were slipping
to the north.

"Are we all right?" she persisted. "Look down there."

At this he turned his head and craned his neck.

"I guess," he said, stepping out, "we'd better boil this kettle a li'l
faster."

She made no comment, but always she looked down the mountain side and
watched, when the stubs gave her the opportunity, that ominous string
of dots. She had never been hunted before.

They crossed the top of the mountain, keeping to the ridge of rock,
and started down the northern slope. Here they passed out of the
burned-over area of underbrush and stubs and scuffed through brushless
groves of fir and spruce where no grass grew and not a ray of sunshine
struck the ground and the wind soughed always mournfully.

But here and there were comparatively open spaces, grassy, drenched
with sunshine, and sparsely sprinkled with lovely mountain maples and
solitary yellow pines. In the wider open spaces they could see over
the tops of the trees below them and catch glimpses of the way they
must go.

A deep notch, almost a canon, grown up in spruce divided the mountain
they were descending from the next one to the north. This next one
thrust a rocky shoulder easterly. The valley where the horsemen rode
bent round this shoulder in a curve measured in miles. They could not
see the riders now.

"There's a trail just over the hill," said Racey, nodding toward the
mountain across the notch. "It ain't been regularly used since the
Daisy petered out in '73, but I guess the bridge is all right."

"And suppose it ain't all right?"

"We'll have to grow wings in a hurry," he said, soberly, thinking
of the deep cleft spanned by the bridge. "Does this trail lead to
Farewell?"

"Same thing--it'll take us to the Farewell trail if we wanted to go
there, but we don't. We ain't got time. We'll stick to this trail till
we get out of the Frying-Pans and then we'll head northeast for the
Cross-in-a-box. That's the nearest place where I got friends. And I
don't mind saying we'll be needing friends bad, me and you both."

"Suppose that posse reaches the trail and the bridge before we do?"

"Oh, I guess they won't. They have to go alla way round and we go
straight mostly. Don't you worry. We'll make the riffle yet."

His voice was more confident than his brain. It was touch and go
whether they would reach the trail and the bridge first. The posse in
the valley--that was what would stack the cards against them. And if
they should pass the bridge first, what then? It was at least thirty
miles from the bridge to the Cross-in-a-box ranch-house. And there was
only one horse. Indeed, the close squeak was still squeaking.

"Racey, you're limping!"

"Not me," he lied. "Stubbed my toe, thassall."

"Nothing of the kind. It's those tight boots. Here, you ride, and let
me walk." So saying, she slipped to the ground.

As was natural the horse stopped with a jerk. So did Racey.

"You get into that saddle," he directed, sternly. "We ain't got time
for any foolishness."

Foolishness! And she was only trying to be thoughtful. Foolishness!
She turned and climbed back into the saddle, and sat up straight, her
backbone as stiff as a ramrod, and looked over his head and far away.
For the moment she was so hopping mad she forgot the danger they were
in. They made their way down into the heavy growth of Engelmann spruce
that filled the notch, crossed the floor of the notch, and began again
to climb.

An hour later they crossed the top of the second mountain and saw far
below them a long saddle back split in the middle by a narrow cleft.
At that distance it looked very narrow. In reality, it was forty feet
wide. Racey stopped and swept with squinting eyes the place where he
knew the bridge to be.

"See," he said, suddenly, pointing for Molly's benefit. "There's the
Daisy trail. I can see her plain--to the left of that arrowhead bunch
of trees. And the bridge is behind the trees."

"But I don't see any trail."

"Grown up in grass. That's why. It's behind the trees mostly, anyhow.
But she's there, the trail is. You can bet on it."

"I don't want to bet on it." Shortly. She was still mad at him. He had
saved her life, he had succeeded in saving the family ranch, he had
put her under eternal obligations, but he had called her thought for
him foolishness. It was too much.

Yet all the time she was ashamed of herself. She knew that she was
small and mean and narrow and deserved a spanking if any girl did. She
wanted to cuff Racey, cuff him till his ears turned red and his head
rang. For that is the way a woman feels when she loves a man and he
has hurt her feelings. But she feels almost precisely the same way
when she hates one who has. Truth it is that Love and Hate are close
akin.

Down, down they dropped two thousand feet, and when they came out upon
the fairly level top of the saddle back Racey mounted behind Molly.

"He'll have to carry double now," he explained. "She's two mile to the
bridge, and my wind ain't good enough to run me two mile."

It was not his wind that was weak, it was his feet--his tortured,
blistered feet that were two flaming aches. Later they would become
numb. He wished they were numb now, and cursed silently the man who
first invented cowboy boots. Every jog of the trotting horse whose
back he bestrode was a twitching torture.

"We'll be at the bridge in another mile," he told her.

"Thank Heaven!"

Silent and grass-grown lay the Daisy trail when they came out upon it
winding through a meagre plantation of cedars.

"No one's come along yet," vouchsafed Racey, turning into the trail
after a swift glance at its trackless, undisturbed surface.

He tickled the horse with both spurs and stirred him into a gallop.
There was not much spring in that gallop. Racey weighed fully one
hundred and seventy pounds without his clothes, Molly a hundred and
twenty with all of hers, and the saddle, blanket, sack, rifle, and
cartridges weighed a good sixty. On top of this weight pile many weary
miles the horse had travelled since its last meal and you have what it
was carrying. No wonder the gallop lacked spring.

"Bridge is just beyond those trees," said Racey in Molly's ear.

"The horse is nearly run out," was her comment.

"He ain't dead yet."

They rocked around the arrowhead grove of trees and saw the bridge
before them--one stringer. There had been two stringers and adequate
flooring when Racey had seen it last. The snows of the previous winter
must have been heavy in the Frying-Pan Mountains.

Molly shivered at the sight of that lone stringer.

"The horse is done, and so are we," she muttered.

"Nothing like that," he told her, cheerfully. "There's one stringer
left. Good enough for a squirrel, let alone two white folks."

"I--I couldn't," shuddered Molly.

They had stopped at the bridge head, Racey had dismounted, and she,
was looking down into the dark mouth of the cleft with frightened
eyes.

"It must be five hundred feet to the bottom," she whispered, her chin
wobbling.

"Not more than four hundred," he said, reassuringly. "And that log
is a good strong four-foot log, and she's been shaved off with the
broadaxe for layin' the flooring so we got a nice smooth path almost
two feet wide."

In reality, that smooth path retained not a few of the spikes that had
once held the flooring and it was no more than eighteen inches wide.
Racey gabbled on regardless. If chatter would do it, he'd get her mind
off that four-hundred-foot drop.

"I cue-can't!" breathed Molly. "I cue-can't walk across on that
lul-log! I'd fall off! I know I would!"

"You ain't gonna walk across the log," he told her with a broad grin.
"I'll carry you pickaback. C'mon, Molly, slide off. That's right. Now
when I stoop put yore arms round my neck. I'll stick my arms under
yore legs. See, like this. Now yo're all right. Don't worry. I won't
drop you. Close yore eyes and sit still, and you'll never know what's
happening. Close 'em now while I walk round with you a li'l bit so's
to get the hang of carryin' you."

She closed her eyes, and he began to walk about carrying her. At least
she thought he was walking about. But when he stopped and she opened
her eyes, she discovered that the horse was standing on the other side
of the cleft. At first she did not understand.

"How on earth did the horse get over?" she asked in wonder.

"He didn't," Racey said, quietly, setting her down, "but we did. I
carried you across while you had yore eyes shut. I told you you'd
never know what was happenin'."

She sat down limply on the ground. Racey started back across the
stringer to get the horse. He hurried, too. That posse they had seen
in the valley! There was no telling where it was. It might be four
miles away, or four hundred yards.

"C'mon, feller," said Racey, picking up the reins of the tired horse.
"And for Gawd's sake pick up yore feet! If you don't that dynamite is
gonna make one awful mess at the bottom of the canon."

Dynamite! Mess! There was an idea. Although in order to spare Molly
an extra worry for the time being, he had told her they would push on
together, it had been his intention to hold the bridge with his rifle
while Molly rode alone to the Cross-in-a-box for help. But those
six sticks of dynamite would simplify the complex situation without
difficulty.

He did not hurry the horse. He merely walked in front holding the
bridle slackly. The horse followed him as good as gold--and picked up
his feet at nearly every spike. Once or twice a hind hoof grazed a
spike-head with a rasping sound that sent Racey's heart bouncing up
into his throat. Lord, so much depended on a safe passage!

For the first time in his eventful life Racey Dawson realized that he
possessed a full and working set of nerves.

When they reached firm ground Racey flung the reins to Molly.

"Unpack the dynamite," he cried. "It's in the slicker."

With his bowie he began furiously to dig under the end of the stringer
where it lay embedded in the earth. Within ten minutes he had a hole
large enough and long enough to thrust in the whole of his arm. He
made it a little longer and a little wider, and at the end he drove an
offset. This last that there might be no risk of the charge blowing
out through the hole.

When the hole was to his liking, he sat back on his haunches and
grabbed the dynamite sticks Molly held out to him. With strings cut
from his saddle, he tied the sticks into a bundle. Then he prepared
his fuse and cap. In one of the sticks he made a hole. In this hole he
firmly inserted the copper cap. Above the cap he tied the fuse to the
bundle with several lappings of a saddle-string.

"There!" he exclaimed. "I guess that cap will stay put. You and the
hoss get out of here, Molly. Go along the trail a couple of hundred
yards or so. G'on. Get a move on. I'll be with you in a minute. Better
leave my rifle."

Molly laid the Winchester on the grass beside him, mounted the horse,
and departed reluctantly. She did not like to leave Racey now. She
had burned out her "mad". She rode away chin on shoulder. The cedars
swallowed her up.

Racey with careful caution stuffed the dynamite down the hole and into
the offset. Then he shovelled in the earth with his hands and tamped
it down with a rock.

Was that the clack of a hoof on stone? Faint and far away another
hoof clacked. He reached up to his hatband for a match. There were
no matches in his hatband. Feverishly he searched his pockets. Not a
match--not a match anywhere!

He whipped out his sixshooter, held the muzzle close to the end of the
fuse and fired. He had to fire three times before the fuse began to
sparkle and spit.

Clearly it came to his ears, the unmistakable thudding of galloping
hoofs on turf. The posse was riding for the bridge full tilt. He
picked up his rifle and dodged in among the trees along the trail.
Forty yards from the mined stringer he met Molly riding back with a
scared face.

"What is it?" she cried to him. "I heard shots! Oh, what is it?"

"Go back! Go back!" he bawled. "I only cut that fuse for three
minutes."

Molly wheeled the horse and fled. Racey ran to where a windfall lay
near the edge of the cleft and some forty yards from the stringer.
Behind the windfall he lay down, levered a cartridge into the chamber,
and trained his rifle on the bridge head.

The galloping horsemen were not a hundred paces from the stringer when
the dynamite let go with a soul-satisfying roar. Rocks, earth, chunks
and splinters of wood flew up in advance of a rolling cloud of smoke
that obscured the cleft from rim to rim.

A crash at the bottom of the narrow canon told Racey what had happened
to that part of the stringer the dynamite had not destroyed.

Racey lowered the hammer of his rifle to the safety notch just as
the posse began to approach the spot where the bridge had been. It
approached on foot by ones and twos and from tree to tree. Racey could
not see any one, but he could see the tree branches move here and
there.

"I guess," muttered Racey, as he crawfished away from the windfall, "I
guess that settles the cat-hop."

       *       *       *       *       *

The sun was near its rising the following day when Racey and Molly,
their one horse staggering with fatigue, reached the Cross-in-a-box.
Racey had walked all the distance he was humanly able to walk, but
even so the horse had carried double the better part of twenty miles.
It had earned a rest.

So had Racey's feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My Gawd, what a relief!" Racey muttered, and sat back and gingerly
wiggled his toes.

"Damn shame you had to cut 'em up thataway," said Jack Richie,
glancing at Racey's slit boots. "They look like new boots."

"It is and they are, but I couldn't get 'em off any other way, and
I'll bet I won't be able to get another pair on inside a month. Lordy,
man, did you ever think natural-born feet would swell like that?"

"You better soak them awhile," said Jack Richie. "C'mon out to the
kitchen."

"Shore feels good," said Racey, when his swelled feet were immersed in
a dishpan half full of tepid water. "Lookit, Jack, let Miss Dale have
her sleep out, and to-morrow sometime send a couple of boys with her
over to Moccasin Spring."

"Whatsa matter with you and one of the boys doing it?"

"Because I have to go to Piegan City."

"Huh?"

"Yep--Piegan City. I'm coming back, though, so you needn't worry about
losing the hoss yo're gonna lend me."

"That's good. But--"

"And if any gents on hossback _should_ drop in on you and ask
questions just remember that what they dunno won't hurt 'em."

Jack Richie nodded understandingly. "Trust me," he said. "As I see it,
Miss Dale and you come in from the north, and--"

"Only me--you ain't seen any Miss Dale--and I only stopped long enough
to borrow a fresh hoss and then rode away south."

"I know it all by heart," nodded Jack Richie.

"In about a week or ten days, maybe less," said Racey Dawson, "you'll
know more than that. And so will a good many other folks."




CHAPTER XXX

THE REGISTER


"Mr. Pooley," said Racey Dawson, easing himself into the chair beside
the register's desk, "where is McFluke?"

Mr. Pooley's features remained as wooden as they were fat. His small,
wide-set eyes did not flicker. He placed the tips of his fingers
together, leaned back in his chair, and stared at Racey between the
eyebrows.

"McFluke?" he repeated. "I don't know the name."

"I mean the murderer Jack Harpe sent to you to be taken care of,"
explained Racey.

Mr. Pooley continued to stare. For a long moment he made no comment.
Then he said, "Still, I don't know the name."

"If you will lean back a li'l more," Racey told him, "you can look out
of the window and see two chairs in front of the Kearney House. On the
right we have Bill Riley, a Wells Fargo detective from Omaha, on the
left Tom Seemly from the Pinkerton Agency in San Francisco. They know
something but not everything. Suppose I should spin 'em _all_ my
_li'l_ tale of grief--what then, Mr. Pooley?"

"Still--I wouldn't know the name McFluke," maintained Mr. Pooley.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Pooley," said Racey, rising to his feet. "I shore am."

"Don't strain yoreself," advised Mr. Pooley, making a brave rustle
among the papers on his desk.

"I won't," Racey said, turning at the door to bestow a last! grin upon
Mr. Pooley. "So long. Glad I called."

Mr. Pooley laughed outright. "G'by," he called after Racey as the door
closed.

Mr. Pooley leaned far back in his chair. He saw Racey Dawson stop on
the sidewalk in front of the two detectives. The three conversed a
moment, then Racey entered the Kearney House. The two detectives
remained where they were.

Mr. Pooley arose and left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You gotta get out of here!" It was Mr. Pooley speaking with great
asperity.

"Why for?" countered our old friend McFluke, one-time proprietor of a
saloon on the bank of the Lazy.

"Because they're after you, that's why."

"Who's they?"

"Racey Dawson for one."

McFluke sat upright in the bunk. "Him! That ----!"

"Yes, him," sneered Pooley. "Scares you, don't it? And he's got two
detectives with him, so get a move on. I don't want you anywhere on my
property if they do come sniffin' round."

"I'm right comfortable here," declared McFluke, and lay down upon the
bunk.

"You'd better go," said Mr. Pooley, softly.

"Not unless I get some money first."

"So that's the game, is it? Think I'll pay you to drift, huh? How
much?"

"Oh, about ten thousand."

"Is that all?"

"Well, say fifteen--and not a check, neither."

"No," said Mr. Pooley, "it won't be a check. It won't be anything,
you--worm."

So saying Mr. Pooley laid violent hands on McFluke, yanked him out of
the bunk, and flung him sprawling on the floor.

"Not one cent do you get from me," declared Mr. Pooley. "I never paid
blackmail yet and I ain't beginning now. I always told Harpe you'd
upset the applecart with yo're bullheaded ways. You stinking murderer,
it wasn't necessary to kill Old Man Dale! Suppose he did hit you, what
of it? You could have knocked him out with a bungstarter. But no, you
had to kill him, and get everybody suspicious, didn't you? Why--you,
you make me feel like cutting your throat, to have you upset my plans
this way!"

McFluke raised himself on an arm. "I didn't upset yore plans none," he
denied, sulkily. "Everythin's comin' out all right. Hell, he wouldn't
play that day, anyway! Said he'd never touch a card or look at a
wheel again as long as he lived, and when I laughed at him he hit me.
Whatell else could I do? I hadda shoot him. I--"

"Shut up, you and your 'I's' and 'He wouldn't' and 'I hadda!' If
you've told me that tale once since you came here you've told me forty
times. Get up and get out! Yore horse is tied at the corral gate. I
roped him on my way in. C'mon! Get up! or will I have to crawl yore
hump again?"

But McFluke did not get up. Instead he scrabbled sidewise to the wall
and shrank against it. His eyes were wide, staring. They were fixed on
the doorway behind Mr. Pooley.

"I didn't do it, gents!" cried McFluke, thrusting out his hands before
his face as though to ward off a blow. "I didn't kill him! I didn't!
It's all a lie! I didn't kill him!"

Fat Jacob Pooley whirled to face three guns. His right hand fell away
reluctantly from the butt of his sixshooter. Slowly his arms went
above his head. Racey Dawson and his two companions entered the
room. The eldest of these companions was one of the Piegan City
town marshals. He was a friend of Jacob Pooley's. But there was no
friendliness in his face as he approached the register, removed his
gun, and searched his person for other weapons. Jacob Pooley said
nothing. His face was a dark red. The marshal produced a pair of
handcuffs. The register recoiled.

"Not those!" he protested. "Don't put handcuffs on me!"

"Put yore hands down," ordered the marshal.

"Look here, I'll go quietly. I'll--"

"Put yore hands _down_!" repeated the inexorable marshal.

Jacob Pooley put his hands down.

Racey and the other man were handcuffing McFluke, who was keeping up
an incessant wail of, "I didn't do it! I didn't, gents, I didn't!"

"Oh, shut up!" ordered Racey, jerking the prisoner to his feet. "You
talk too much."

"Where's yore Wells Fargo and Pinkerton detectives?" demanded Mr.
Pooley.

"This gent is the Wells Fargo detective," replied Racey, indicating
the man who had helped him handcuff McFluke. "There ain't any
Pinkerton within five hundred miles so far as I know.... Huh? Them?
Oh, they were just drummers from Chicago I happened to speak to
because I figured you'd be expectin' me to after I'd told you who they
were. The real Wells Fargo, Mr. Johnson here, was a-watchin' yore
corral alla time, so when you got a friend of yores to pull them two
drummers into a poker game and then saddled yore hoss and went bustin'
off in the direction of yore claim we got the marshal and trailed
you."

"You can't prove anything!" bluffed Mr. Pooley.

"We were here beside the door listenin' from the time McFluke said he
was too comfortable to move out of here." Thus the marshal wearily.

Mr. Pooley considered a moment. "Who snitched where Mac was?" he
asked, finally.

"Nobody," replied Racey, promptly.

"Somebody must have. Who was it?"

"Nobody, I tell you. McFluke had to go somewhere, didn't he? He
couldn't hang around Farewell. Too dangerous. But the chances were
he wouldn't leave the country complete till he got his share. And as
nothing had come off it wasn't any likely he'd got his share. So he'd
want to keep in touch with his friends till the deal was put through.
It was only natural he'd drift to you. And when I come here to Piegan
City and heard you had hired a man to live on yore claim and then got
a look at him without him knowing it the rest was easy."

"But what," inquired Mr. Pooley, perplexedly, "has Wells Fargo to do
with this business?"

"Anybody that knows Bill Smith alias Jack Harpe as well as you do,"
spoke up Mr. Johnson, grimly, "is bound to be of interest to Wells
Fargo."




CHAPTER XXXI

THE LAST TRICK


"I'd take it kindly if you gents would stick yore guns on the
mantel-piece," said Judge Dolan.

Jack Harpe and Luke Tweezy looked at each other.

"I ain't wearing a gun," said Luke Tweezy, crossing one skinny knee
over the other.

"But Mr. Harpe is," pointed out Judge Dolan.

Jack Harpe jackknifed his long body out of his chair, which was placed
directly in front of an open doorway giving into an inner room,
crossed the floor, and placed his sixshooter on the mantel-piece.

"What is this," he demanded, returning to his place "a trial?"

"Not a-tall," the Judge made haste to assure him. "Just a li'l
friendly talk, thassall. I'm a-lookin' for information, and I've an
idea you and Luke can give it to me."

"I'd like a li'l information my own self," grumbled Luke Tweezy. "When
are you gonna make the Dales vacate?"

"All in good time," the Judge replied with a wintry smile. "I'll be
getting to that in short order. Here comes Kansas and Jake Rule now."

"What you want with the sheriff?" Luke queried, uneasily.

"He's gonna help us in our li'l talk," explained the Judge, smoothly.

"I think I'll get my gun," observed Jack Harpe.

He made as if to rise but sank back immediately for Racey Dawson had
suddenly appeared in the open doorway behind him and run the chill
muzzle of a sixshooter into the back of his neck.

"Never sit with yore back to a doorway," advised Racey Dawson. "If
you'll clamp yore hands behind yore head, Jack, we'll all be the
happier. Luke, fish out the knife you wear under yore left armpit, lay
it on the floor and kick it into the corner."

Luke Tweezy's knife tinkled against the wall at the moment that the
sheriff, his deputy, and two other men entered from the street. The
third man was Mr. Johnson, the Wells Fargo detective. The fourth man
wore his left arm in a sling and hobbled on a cane. The fourth man was
Swing Tunstall.

"What kind of hell's trick is this?" demanded Jack Harpe, glaring at
the Wells Fargo detective.

"It's the last trick, Bill," said Mr. Johnson.

At the mention of which name Jack Harpe appeared to shrink inwardly.
He looked suddenly very old.

"Take chairs, gents," invited Judge Dolan, looking about him in the
manner of a minstrel show's interlocutor. "If everybody's comfortable,
we'll proceed to business."

"I thought you said this wasn't a trial," objected Luke Tweezy.

"And so it ain't a trial," the Judge rapped out smartly. "The trial
will come later."

Luke Tweezy subsided. His furtive eyes became more furtive than ever.

"Go ahead, Racey," said Judge Dolan.

Racey, still holding his sixshooter, leaned hipshot against the
doorjamb.

"It was this way," he began, and told what had transpired that day in
the hotel corral when he had been bandaging his horse's leg and had
overheard the conversation between Lanpher and Jack Harpe and later,
Punch-the-breeze Thompson.

"They's nothing in that," declared Jack Harpe with contempt, twisting
his neck to glower up at Racey. "Suppose I did wanna get hold of the
Dale ranch. What of it?"

"Shore," put in Luke Tweezy. "What of it? Perfectly legitimate
business proposition. Legal, and all that."

"Not quite," denied Racey. "Not the way you went about it. Nawsir.
Well, gents," he resumed, "what I heard in that corral showed plain
enough there was something up. Dale wouldn't sell, and they were bound
to get his land away from him. So they figured to have Nebraska Jones
turn the trick by playin' poker with the old man. When Nebraska--They
switched from Nebraska to Peaches Austin, plannin' to go through with
the deal at McFluke's from the beginning. And that was where Tweezy
come in. He was to get the old man to McFluke's, and with the help of
Peaches Austin cheat Dale out of the ranch."

"That's a damn lie!" cried Tweezy.

"I suppose you'll deny," said Racey, "that the day I saw you ride in
here to Farewell--I mean the day Jack Harpe spoke to you in front of
the Happy Heart, and you didn't answer him--that day you come in from
Marysville on purpose to tell Jack an' Lanpher about the mortgage
having to be renewed and that now was their chance. I suppose you'll
deny all that, huh?"

"Yo're--yo're lyin'," sputtered Luke Tweezy.

"Am I? We'll see. When playin' cards with old Dale didn't work they
caught the old man at McFluke's one day and after he'd got in a fight
with McFluke and McFluke downed him, they saw their chance to produce
a forged release from Dale."

"Who did the forging?" broke in the Judge.

"I dunno for shore. This here was found in Tweezy's safe." He held out
a letter to the Judge.

Judge Dolan took the letter and read it carefully. Then he looked
across at Luke Tweezy.

"This here," said he, tapping the letter with stiffened forefinger,
"is a signed letter from Dale to you. It seems to be a reply in the
negative to a letter of yores askin' him to sell his ranch."

The Judge paused and glanced round the room. Then his cold eyes
returned to the face of Luke Tweezy who was beginning to look
extremely wretched.

"Underneath the signature of Dale," continued the Judge, "somebody has
copied that signature some fifty or sixty times. I wonder why."

"I dunno anything about it," Luke Tweezy denied, feebly.

"We'll come back to that," the Judge observed, softly. "G'on, Racey."

"I figure," said Racey, "that they'd hatched that forgery some while
before Dale was killed. The killing made it easier to put it on
record."

"Looks that way," nodded the Judge.

"Lookit here," boomed Jack Harpe, "you ain't got any right to judge us
thisaway. We ain't on trial."

"Shore you ain't," asserted the Judge. "I always said you wasn't. This
here is just a talk, a friendly talk. No trial about it."

"Here's another letter, Judge," said Racey Dawson.

The Judge read the other letter, and again fixed Luke Tweezy with his
eye.

"This ain't a letter exactly," said Judge Dolan. "It's a quadruplicate
copy of an agreement between Lanpher of the 88 ranch, Jacob Pooley of
Piegan City, and Luke Tweezy of Marysville, parties of the first part,
and Jack Harpe, party of the second part, to buy or otherwise obtain
possession of the ranch of William Dale, in the northeast corner of
which property is located an abandoned mine tunnel in which Jack
Harpe, the party of the second part, has discovered a gold-bearing
lode."

"A mine!" muttered Swing Tunstall. "A gold mine! And I thought they
wanted it for a ranch."

"So did I," Racey nodded.

"I know that mine," said Jake Rule. "Silvertip Ransom and Long Oscar
drove the tunnel, done the necessary labour, got their patent, and
sold out when they couldn't get day wages to old Dale for one pony
and a jack. But Dale never worked it. A payin' lode! Hell! Who'd 'a'
thought it?"

"Old Salt an' Tom Loudon got a couple o' claims on the other side of
the ridge from Dale's mine," put in Kansas Casey. "They bought 'em off
of Slippery Wilson and his wife. Them claims oughta be right valuable
now."

"They are," nodded Judge Dolan. "The agreement goes on to say that
Jack Harpe found gold-bearing lodes in both of Slippery's old tunnels,
that these claims will be properly relocated and registered--I guess
that's where Jakey Pooley come in--and all three mines will be worked
by a company made up of these four men, each man to receive one
quarter of the profits. This agreement is signed by Jack Harpe, Simon
Lanpher, and Jacob Pooley."

"And after Pooley was arrested," contributed Racey Dawson, "the Piegan
City marshal went through his safe and found the original of this
agreement signed by Tweezy, Lanpher, and Harpe."

Luke Tweezy held up his hand. "One moment," said he. "Where was the
agreement signed by Harpe, Pooley, and Lanpher found?"

"In yore safe," replied Racey Dawson.

"Did you find it there?"

"Yep."

"What were you doing at my safe?"

"Now don't get excited, Luke. I happened to be in the neighbourhood of
yore house in Marysville about a month ago when I noticed one of yore
back windows open. I snooped in and there was Jack Harpe working on
yore combination with Jakey Pooley watchin' him. Jack Harpe was the
boy who opened the safe.... Huh? Shore, I know him and Jakey Pooley
sicked posses on my trail. Why not? They hadda cover their own tracks,
didn't they? But that ain't the point. What I can't help wondering is
why Harpe and Pooley was fussin' with the safe in the first place.
What do you guess, Luke?"

Evidently Tweezy knew the answer. With a yelp of "Tried to cross me,
you--!" he flung himself bodily upon Jack Harpe.

In a moment the two were rolling on the floor. It required four men
and seven minutes to pry them apart.




CHAPTER XXXII

THE END OF THE TRAIL


Molly Dale looked at Racey with adoring eyes. "How on earth did
you guess that the Bill Smith who robbed the Wells Fargo safe at
Keeleyville and killed the agent was Jack Harpe?"

"Oh, that was nothing. You see, I'd heard somebody say--I disremember
exactly who now--that Jack Harpe's real name was Bill Smith, that he'd
shaved off his beard and part of his eyebrows to make himself look
different, and that he'd done something against the law to some
company in some town. I didn't know what company nor what town, but I
had somethin' to start with when McFluke was let loose. I figured out
by this, that, and the other that Jack Harpe had let McFluke loose. Aw
right, that showed Jack Harpe was a expert lock picker. He showed us
at Marysville that he was a expert on safe combinations. Now there
can't be many men like that. So I took what I knew about him to the
detective chiefs of three railroads. He'd done somethin' against
a company, do you see, and of course I went to three different
_railroad_ companies before I woke up and went to the Wells Fargo an'
found out that such a man as Jack Harpe named Bill Smith was wanted
for the Keeleyville job. So you see there wasn't much to it. It was
all there waitin' for somebody to find it."

"But it lacked the somebody till you came along," she told him with
shining eyes.

"Shucks."

"No shucks about it. That we have our ranch to-day with a sure-enough
producing gold mine in one corner of it is all due to you."

"Shucks, suppose now those handwritin' experts Judge Dolan got from
Chicago hadn't been able to prove at the time that the forgery and
the fifty or sixty copies of yore dad's name were written by the same
hand, ink, and pen? Suppose now they hadn't? What then? Where'd you
be, I'd like to know? Nawsir, you give them the credit. They deserve
it. Well, I'm shore glad yo're all gonna be rich, Molly. It's fine.
That's what it is--fine--great. Well, I've got to be driftin' along.
I'm going to meet Swing in town. We're riding south Arizona way
to-morrow."

"Arizona!"

"Yeah, we're going to give the mining game a whirl."

"Why--why not give it a whirl up here in this country?"

"Because there ain't another mine like yores in the territory. No,
we'll go south. Swing wants to go--been wanting to go for some time."

"Bub-but I thought you were going to stay up here," persisted Molly,
her cheeks a little white.

"Not--not now," Racey said, hastily. "So long, take care of yoreself."

He reached for her hand, gave it a quick squeeze, then picked up his
hat and walked out of the house without another word or a backward
look.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What makes me sick is not a cent out of Old Salt," said Racey,
wrathfully, as he and Swing Tunstall walked their horses south along
the Marysville trail.

"What else could you expect?" said the philosopher Swing. "We
specified in the agreement that it was cows them jiggers was gonna run
on the range. We didn't say nothin' about a mine."

"'We?'" repeated Racey. "'We?' You didn't have a thing to do with that
agreement. I made it. It was my fool fault we worked all those months
for nothing."

"What's the dif?" Swing said, comfortably. "We're partners. Deal
yoreself a new hand and forget it. Tough luck we couldn't 'a' made a
clean sweep of that bunch, huh?"

"Oh, I dunno. Suppose Peaches, Nebraska, and Thompson did get away. We
did pretty good, considerin'. You can't expect everything."

"Alla same they'd oughta been a reward--for Jack Harpe, anyway. Wells
Fargo is shore getting mighty close-fisted."

"Jack did better than I thought he would. He never opened his yap
about Marie being in that Keeleyville gang."

"Maybe he didn't know for shore or else knowed better. Bull was in
that gang, too, and Bull got his throat cut. If Jack had done any
blattin' about Marie and Keeleyville he might 'a' had to stand trial
for murder right here in this county instead of going down to New
Mexico to be tried for a murder committed ten years ago with all that
means--evidence gone rusty with age and witnesses dead or in jail
themselves most like. Oh, he'll be convicted, but it won't be first
degree, you can stick a pin in that."

"I wonder if he did kill Bull."

"I wonder, too. Didja know who Bull really was, Swing?... Marie's
brother. Yep, she told me about it yesterday."

"Her own brother, huh? That's a odd number. Alla same I'll bet she
don't miss him much."

"Nor Nebraska, neither. _He'll_ never come back to bother her again,
that's a cinch. Who's that ahead?"

"That" was Molly waiting for them at a turn in the trail. When they
came up to her she nodded to both men, but her smile was all for Racey
Dawson. He felt his pulse begin to beat a trifle faster. How handsome
she was with her dark hair and blue eyes. And at the moment those blue
eyes that were looking into his were deep enough to drown a man.

"Can I see you a minute, Racey?" said she.

Swing immediately turned his horse on a dime and loped along the back
trail. Left alone with Racey she moved her horse closer to his. Their
ankles touched. His hands were clasped on the saddle-horn. She laid
her cool hand on top of them.

"Racey," she said, her wonderful eyes holding him, "why are you going
away?"

This was almost too much for Racey. He could hardly think straight. "I
told you," he said, hoarsely. "We're goin' to Arizona--minin'."

She flung this statement aside with a jerk of her head. "You used to
like me, Racey," she told him.

He nodded miserably.

"Don't you like me any more?" she persisted.

He did not nod. Nor did he speak. He stared down at the back of the
hand lying on top of his.

"Look at me, boy," she directed.

He looked. The fingers of the hand on top of his slid in between his
fingers.

"Look me in the eye," said she, "and tell me you don't love me."

"I cuc-can't," he muttered in a panic.

"Then why are you going away?" Her voice was gentle--gentle and
wistful.

"Because yo're rich now, that's why," he replied, thickly, the words
wrung out in a rush. "You've lots o' money, and I ain't got a thing
but my hoss and what I stand up in. How can I love you, Molly?"

"Lean over here, and I'll show you how," said Molly Dale.

THE END







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