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The Heart of the Range
by William Patterson White
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"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."

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