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

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

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



CHAPTER XII

THE DISCOVERY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bull released her wrist as though it burnt him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What'll Nebraska say?" he proffered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What about it?"

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

"In Farewell?"

"In Farewell."

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

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

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

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

"Who is us?" Suspiciously.

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

"Then what?"

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

"But we was in that, too."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIII

A BOLD BAD MAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Dawson!" breathed the captive.

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

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

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

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

"Whatcha want?" demanded Bull, sullenly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And why not?"

"Because I won't."

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

"Yeah, I guess so," sneered Bull.

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

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

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

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

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

"Nun-nobody," hesitated Bull.

"Yore own idea, huh?"

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

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

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

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

"Whatell didja kick me for?" snarled Bull.

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

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

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

"I know you did."

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

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

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

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

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

"I ain't sayin'." Sullenly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bull grunted.

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

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

"That is my idea," admitted Racey.

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

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

"Try away."

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

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

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

"It ain't."

"Suppose I decided to leave you here."

"You won't." Confidently.

"Why not?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, I ain't."

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

"Leave town!"

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

"She'll never tell."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Maybe, maybe not," sneered Bull.

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

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



CHAPTER XIV

THE SURPRISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fool subsided a second time.

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

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

All of which seemed sufficiently logical to the bystanders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"This is his room," panted Bill Lainey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A warrant? For me?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The communication was unsigned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XV

FIRE! FIRE!

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

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

"What didja do with the knife?"

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

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

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

"How?"

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

"Not likely."

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

"He might."

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

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

"Maybe." Doubtfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To this the sheriff made no reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You can't prove anything about this jail-burning," he told Jake Rule and the assembled multitude, "but this assault on Jack Harpe is a cat with another tail. It was a lawless act and hadn't oughta happened. Marie, yo're a citizen of Farewell, and you'd oughta take an interest in the community instead of surging out and trying to massacre a visitor in our midst, a visitor who's figuring on settlin' hereabouts, I understand. Gawd knows we need all the inhabitants we can get, and it's just such tricks as yores, Marie, that discourages immigration."

Here Judge Dolan frowned upon Marie and thumped the palm of his hand with a bony fist. Marie stood first on one leg and then on the other and hung her head down. Since her raving outburst at the time of her arrest she had cooled considerably. It was evident that she was now trying to make the best of a bad business.

"Marie," resumed Judge Dolan, and cleared his throat importantly, "why did you shoot at Mr. Jack Harpe?"

"He insulted me," Marie replied without a quiver.

"I ain't ever said a word to her," countered Jack Harpe. "I don't even know the girl."

The judge turned back to Marie. "Have you any witnesses to this insult?" he queried.

"Nary a witness." Marie shook her brown head.

"Y' oughta have a witness. She's yore word against his. Where did this insult take place?"

"At my shack. He come there early this mornin'."

"That's a lie!" boomed Jack Harpe.

"Which will be about all from you!" snapped Judge Dolan, vigorously pounding his palm.

"What did he say to you?" was the judge's next question.

"I'd rather not tell," hedged Marie.

"Well, of course, you don't have to answer," said the judge, gallantly. "But alla same, Marie, you hadn't oughta used a gun on him. It—it ain't ladylike. Nawsir. Don't you do it again or I'll send you to Piegan City. Ten dollars or ten days."

"What?" Thus Jack Harpe, astonished beyond measure.

"Ten dollars or ten days," repeated Judge Dolan. "Taking a shot at you is worth ten dollars but no more. It don't make any difference whether you came here to invest money or not, you wanna go slow round the women."

"But I didn't even say howdy to her," protested Jack Harpe.

"She says different. You leave her alone."

Public opinion, which at first had rather favoured Jack Harpe, now frowned upon him. He shouldn't have insulted the girl. No, sir, he had no business doing that. Be a good thing if he was arrested for it, perhaps. What a virtuous thing is public opinion.

"I ain't got a nickel, Judge," said Marie. "You'll have to trust me for it till the end of the week."

"I'll pay her fine," nipped in Racey, glad of an opportunity to annoy Jack Harpe. "Here y' are, Judge. Ten dollars, you said."

It was a few minutes after he had eaten dinner that Racey Dawson presented himself at the door of Kansas Casey's shack. The door was open. Racey stood in the doorway and leaned the shovel against the wall of the room.

"You forgot yore shovel, Kansas," he said, gently, "or Jack Harpe did. Same thing, and here it is."

Kansas had the grace to look a trifle shamefaced. "Somebody said you'd buried that knife—" he began, and stopped.

"Yep, I know, Jack Harpe," smiled Racey. "Li'l Bright Eyes is shore a friend of mine. Only I wouldn't bank too strong on what he says about me."

"I ain't," denied the deputy.

"Another thing, Kansas," drawled Racey, "did you ever stop to think how come he knowed so much about that knife? And did you ask him if he was the gent left that paper in Jake's office? And going on from that did you ask him why he didn't come out flat footed at first and say what he thought he knowed instead of waiting till after you'd searched my room? You don't have to answer, Kansas, only if I was you I'd think it over, I'd think it over plenty. So long."

From the house of Casey he went to the shack of Marie. He found the girl cooking her dinner quite as if attempts at murder, dead men, and jailburning were matters of small moment. But if her manner was placid, her eyes were not. They were bright and hard, and they flickered stormily upon him when she lifted her gaze from the pan of frying potatoes and saw who it was standing in the doorway.

"I'm obliged to you," she said, calmly, "for payin' my fine. You ran away so quick this mornin' you didn't gimme any chance to thank you. I'll pay you back soon's I get paid come Saturday."

Racey stared reproachfully. He shifted his weight from one uncomfortable foot to the other. "I didn't come here about the fine," he told her. "I—" He stopped, uncertain whether to continue or not.

"If you didn't come about the fine it must be something else important," said she, insultingly. "I shore oughta be set up, I suppose. So far it's always been me that's had to make all the moves."

"'Moves?'" repeated Racey, frankly puzzled.

"Moves," she mimicked. "Didn't you ever play checkers? Oh, nemmine, nemmine! Don't take it to heart. I don't mean nothin'. Never did. C'mon in an' set. Take a chair. That one. What do you want? Down feller, down!"

The command was called forth by the violent entry of the yellow dog which, remembering Racey as a friend, flung itself upon him with whines and tail-waggings.

"He's all right," said Racey, rubbing the rough head. "I just thought I'd ask you what you knew about Jack Harpe."

Marie's narrowed eyes turned dark with suspicion. "Whadda you know about me an' Jack Harpe?" she demanded.

"Not as much as I'd like to know," was his frank reply.

"I ain't talkin'." Shortly.

"Now, lookit here—" he began, wheedlingly.

She shook her head at him. "S'no use. I don't tell everything I know."

"Then you do know something about Jack Harpe?"

"I didn't say I did."

"You didn't. But—"

"That's what the goat done to the stone wall. Look out you don't bust yore horns, too."

"Meanin'?"

"Meanin' you'll knock 'em off short before you get anything out o' me I don't want to tell you. And I tell you flat I ain't talkin' over Jack Harpe with you."

"Scared to?" he hazarded, boldly.

"You can give it any name you like. Pull up a chair. Dinner's most ready. They's enough for two."

Despite the fact that he had just dined at the hotel he accepted her invitation in the hope that she could be persuaded to talk. And after dinner he smoked several cigarettes with her—still hoping. Finally, finding that nothing he could say was of any avail to move her, he took up his hat and departed.

"Don't go away mad," she called after him.

"I ain't," he denied, and went on, her mocking laughter ringing in his ears.

After Racey was gone out of sight Marie turned back into her little house. There was no laughter on her lips or in her eyes as she sat down in a chair beside the table and stared across it at the chair in which Racey had been sitting.

"He's a nice boy," she whispered under her breath, after a time. "I wish—I wish—"

But what it was she wished it is impossible to relate, for, instead of completing the sentence, she hid her face in her hands and began to cry.

Early next morning Racey Dawson and Swing Tunstall rode out of town by the Marysville trail. They were bound for the Bar S and a job.

* * * * *

"What have you been drinkin', Racey?" demanded Mr. Saltoun, winking at his son-in-law and foreman, Tom Loudon.

The latter did not return the wink. He kept a sober gaze fastened on Racey Dawson.

Racey was staring at Mr. Saltoun. His eyes began to narrow. "Meanin'?" he drawled.

"Now don't go crawlin' round huntin' offense where none's meant," advised Mr. Saltoun. "But you know how it is yoreself, Racey. Any gent who gets so full he can't pick out his own hoss, and goes weaving off on somebody else's is liable to make mistakes other ways. You gotta admit it's possible."

The slight tinge of red underlying Racey's heavy coat of tan acknowledged the corn. "It's possible," he admitted.

Mr. Saltoun saw his advantage and seized it. "S'pose now this is another mistake?"

"Tell you what I'll do," said Racey. "You said you had jobs for a couple of handsome young fellers like us. Aw right. We go to work. We ride for you six months for nothing."

"Huh?" Mr. Saltoun and Tom Loudon stared their astonishment.

"Oh, the cat's got more of a tail than that," said Racey. "You don't pay us a nickel for those six months provided what I said will happen, don't happen. If it does happen like I say, you pay each of us two hundred large round simoleons per each and every month."

"Come again," said Mr. Saltoun, wrinkling his forehead.

Racey came again as requested.

"Six months is a long time" frowned Mr. Saltoun. "If I lose—"

"But I dunno what I'm talkin' about," pointed out Racey. "I make mistakes, you know that. And you were so shore nothin' was gonna happen. Are you still shore?"

"Well—" hesitated Mr. Saltoun.

"If you take us up you stand to be in the wages of two punchers for six months. That's four hundred and eighty dollars. Almost five hundred dollars. Of course, it's a chance. What ain't, I'd like to know? But yo're so shore she's gonna keep on come-day-go-day like always, that I'd oughta have odds."

"Five to one," mused Mr. Saltoun, pulling at the ends of his gray mustache.

"And fair enough—seeing that nothing is going to happen."

"I wouldn't do it," put in Tom Loudon. "These trick bets are unlucky."

"Oh, I dunno," said Mr. Saltoun, running true to form in that he rarely took kindly to advice. "Looks like a good chance to get six months' work out of two men for nothing."

"Looks like a good chance to lose twenty-four hundred dollars," exclaimed Tom Loudon, wrathfully.

"My Gawd, Tom," said Mr. Saltoun, cocking a grizzled eyebrow, "you don't mean to tell me you think they's any chance a-tall of Racey's winning this bet, do you?"

"They's just about ten times more chance for him to win than to lose."

"Tom, do you ever see any li'l pink lizards with blue tails an' red feet? I hear that's a sign, too."

"Aw right, have it yore own way," said Tom Loudon with every symptom of disgust. "Only don't say I didn't warn you."

"Gawd, Tom, y' old wet blanket, yo're always a-warnin' me. I never see such a feller."

"Aw right, I said. Aw right. But when yo're a-writin' out a check for twenty-four hundred dollars, just remember how I always told you somebody was gonna horn in here some day and glom half the range."

"Laugh," said Mr. Saltoun. "Yo're shore the jokin'est feller, Tom Loudon. Even Racey and his partner are laughing."

"I should think they would," Tom Loudon returned, savagely. "I'd laugh, too, if I stood to win twenty-four hundred in six months."

Mr. Saltoun shook a whimsical head at Racey Dawson. "Whatsa use?" he asked, sorrowfully. "Whatsa use?"

* * * * *

"You was too easy with him," declared Swing, as he and Racey were unsaddling at the Bar S corral. "You could 'a' stuck him for three hundred a month just as easy."

Racey shook a decided head. "No, there's a limit even to Old Salt's stubbornness. I know him better'n you do ... Aw, what you kicking about? We've got enough coin in our overalls to last out six months if you don't drink too much."

"If I don't drink too much, hey! If I don't drink too much! Which I like that. Who's—"

"Racey," interrupted Tom Loudon, who had approached unperceived, "this is a fine way to treat yore friends."

"What's bitin' you?"

"You hadn't oughta take advantage of Old Salt thisaway."

"And why not? What's wrong with the bet? Fair bet. Leave it to anybody."

"Shore, shore, but alla same, Racey, you'd oughta gone a li'l easy. Twenty-four hundred dollars—"

"What's the dif? You won't have to pay it."

"'Tsall right, but I didn't think it of you, damfi did. You know how Old Salt is—always certain shore he's right, and you took advantage."

"Shore I took advantage," Racey acquiesced, amiably. "I got sense, I have. Alla same, he'd never 'a' taken me up if you hadn't slipped in yore li'l piece of advice for him not to. That was a bad play, Tom. You might know he'd go dead against you. But I ain't complaining, not me. Nor Swing ain't, either. We'll thank you for yore helping hand to our dying day."

"I guess you will," Tom Loudon said, ruefully. "When you get through here, Racey, you and Swing come on over to the wagon shed. I wanna sift through this Jack Harpe business once more."



CHAPTER XVI

THE BAR S

"Kind friends, you must pity my horrible tale. I'm an object of sorrow, I'm looking quite stale. I gone up my trade selling Pink's Patent Pills To go hunting gold in the dreary Black Hills."

"I wish to Gawd you'd stayed there," said Jimmie, the Bar S cook, pausing in his march past to poke his head in at the bunkhouse doorway. "Honest, Racey, don't you ever get tired of yell-bellerin' thisaway?"

Racey Dawson, standing in front of the mirror, ceased not to adjust his necktie. The mirror was small and he was not, and it was only by dint of much wriggling that he was succeeding in his purpose. To Jimmie and his question he paid absolutely no attention.

"Don't go away, stay at home if you can, Stay away from that city, they call it Cheyenne."

"Seemin'ly he don't get tired," Jimmie answered the question for himself. "And what's more, he don't ever get tired of dandy-floppin' himself all up like King Solomon's pet pony. Yup," Jimmie continued with enthusiasm, addressing the world at large, "I can remember when Racey used to ride for the 88 and the Cross-in-a-box how he was a regular two-legged human being. A handkerchief round his neck was good enough for him always. If his pants had a rip in 'em anywheres, or they was buttons off his vest, or his shirt was tore, did it matter? No, it didn't matter. It didn't matter a-tall. But now he's gotta buy new pants if his old ones is tore, and a new shirt besides, and he sews the buttons on his vest, and he's took to wearin' a necktie. A necktie!"

Jimmie, words failing him for the moment, paused and hooked one foot comfortably behind the other. He leaned hipshot against the doorjamb, and spat accurately through a knothole in the bunkhouse floor.

"Yop," he went on, ramming his quid into the angle of his jaw, "and he's always admiring himself in the mirror, Racey is. He pats his hair down, after partin' it and usin' enough goose-grease on it to keep forty guns from rusting for ten years, and he shines his boots with blacking, my stove-blacking, the rustling scoundrel. Scrouge southwest a li'l more, Racey, and look at yore chin. They's a li'l speck of dust on it. Oh, me, oh, my! Li'l sweetheart will have to wash his face again. Who is she?"

Still Racey did not deign to reply. He placed, removed, and replaced a garnet stickpin in the necktie a dozen times handrunning. Jimmie beat the long roll with his knuckles on the bottom of the frying-pan, and winked at the broad back of Racey Dawson.

"I hear they's a new hasher at Bill Lainey's hotel," pursued the indefatigable Jimmie. "Tim Page told me she only weighed three hundred pounds without her shoes. It ain't her! Don't tell me it's her! You ain't, are you, Racey?"

Racey, pivoting on a spurred heel, faced Jimmie, stuck his arms akimbo, and spoke:

"Not mentioning any names, of course, but there's some people round here got an awful lot to say. Which if a gent was to say their tongues are hung in the middle he'd be only tellin' half the truth. Not that you ain't popular with me, James. You are. I think the world of you. How can I help it when you remind me all the time of my aunt's pet parrot in yore face and language. Except you ain't the right colour. If yore whiskers had only grown out green."

"We're forgetting what we was talkin' about," tucked in Jimmie the cook, smiling sweetly. "The lady, Racey. Who is she?"

"James," said Racey, his smile matching that of the cook, "they's something about you to-day, something I don't like. I dunno the name for it exactly. But if you'll step inside the bunkhouse a minute, I'll show you what I mean. I'll show you in two shakes."

Jimmie shook a wise head and backed out into the open. "Not while I got my health. You come out here and show me."

"Oh, I ain't gonna play any tricks on you," protested Racey Dawson.

"You bet you ain't," Jimmie concurred, warmly. "Not by severial jugfuls. I—" He broke off, cocking a listening ear.

"Yeah," grinned Racey, "you hear a noise in the cook-shack, huh? I thought I saw the Kid slide past in the lookin'-glass while you were standing in the doorway."

"And you never told me!" squalled Jimmie, speeding toward his beloved place of business.

He reached it rather late. When he entered by the doorway the Kid, a pie in each hand, was disappearing through a back window.

"Did you ever get left!" tossed back the Kid as the flung frying-pan buzzed past his ear.—"Now see what you done," he continued, skipping safely out of range; "dented yore nice new frypan all up. You oughtn'ta done that, Jimmie. Fry-pans cost money. Some day, if you ain't careful, you'll break something, you and yore temper."

"Them's the Old Man's pies," declared Jimmie, leaning over the window-sill and shaking an indignant fist at the Kid. "You bring 'em back, you hear?"

"They ain't, and I won't, and I do," was the brisk answer. "Yo're making a big mistake, Jimmie boy, if you think they're his pies. Don't you s'pose I know he's gone to Piegan City, and he won't be back for a coupla weeks? And don't you s'pose I know them pies would be too stale for him to eat by the time he got back? You must take me for a fool, Jimmie. And you lied to me, Jimmie, you lied. Just for that I'll keep these pies, I'll keep 'em and eat 'em no matter how big a pain I get, and let this be a lesson to you. Hey, Racey, Jimmie gimme a coupla pies! C'mon out and we'll eat 'em where Jimmie can watch us."

"If I catch you—" began the angry Jimmie.

"But you ain't gonna catch me," tantalized the Kid. "C'mon, Racey, hurry up."

Racey came slowly and with dignity.

The Kid stared. "Well, I bedam! Where are you goin'?"

"Ride, just a li'l ride," was the vague reply.

"Is that all? I thought it was a funeral or a wedding or something, an' I was wonderin'. Just a li'l ride, huh? And where might you be a-going to ride to, if I may make so bold as to ask?"

"You can ask, of course," replied Racey, shrugging his wide shoulders and spreading his hands after the fashion of Telescope Laguerre.

"But that ain't sayin' he'll tell you," put in Jimmie. "Bet you he's gonna go see that new hasher of Bill Lainey's."

"No," denied the Kid, judicially, "not that lady. Even Racey's arms ain't long enough to reach round her. I—Say, one of these pies is a raisin pie!"

"You can gimme that one," suggested Racey Dawson, glad of an opportunity to change the subject.

The Kid, his teeth sunk in the raisin pie, shook a decisive head and mumbled unintelligibly. He thrust the other pie toward his friend.

Racey Dawson rode away westward munching pie. And it was a very good pie, and would have brought credit to any cook. He regretfully ate the last crumb, and rolled a cigarette. He felt fairly full and at utter peace with the world. Why not? Wasn't it a good old world, and a mighty friendly world despite the Harpes and Tweezys and Joneses that infested it? I should say so.

Racey Dawson inhaled luxuriously, pushed back his wide hat, and let the breeze ruffle his brown hair. He rubbed the back of one hand across his straight eyebrows, and stared across the range toward the distant hills that marked his goal. Which goal was the old C Y ranch-house at Moccasin Spring on Soogan Creek, where lived the Dales and their daughter Molly.

And as he looked at the hill and bethought him of what lay beyond it, he drew a Winchester from the scabbard under his left leg and made sure that he had not forgotten to load it. For Racey laboured under no delusion as to the danger that menaced not only his own existence but that of his friend Swing. He knew that their lives hung by a thread, and a thin thread at that. They were but two against many, and their position had not been aided by the string of uneventful days succeeding their advent at the Bar S. For their enemies were taking their time in the launching of their enterprise. And Racey had not expected this. It threw him off his balance somewhat. Certainly it worried him.

It was not humanly possible that Jack Harpe could be aware that Old Man Saltoun did not believe what Racey had told him. But he was acting as if he knew. Perhaps he was waiting till Nebraska Jones should be entirely well of his wound. That was possible, but not probable. Jack Harpe had not impressed Racey as a man who would allow his plans to be indefinitely held up for such a cause. There was no telling when Nebraska would be up and about. His recovery, thanks to past dissipations, had been exceedingly slow.

Again, perhaps the delay might be merely a detail of the plan Fat Jakey Pooley mentioned in his letter to Luke Tweezy, or it might be due to the more-than-watchful care the Dales and Morgans were taking of old Mr. Dale. Wherever the old gentleman went, some one of his relations went with him. Certainly no ill-wisher had been able to approach Mr. Dale (since his spree at McFluke's) at any time. Mr. Dale, to all intents and purposes, was impossible to isolate.

At any rate, whatever the reason, the fact remained that Harpe had not moved and showed no signs of moving. Mr. Saltoun, every time he met Racey, took special pains to ask his puncher how much twice six times two hundred was. Then Mr. Saltoun, without waiting for an answer, would walk off slapping his leg and cackling with laughter. Even Tom London was beginning to take the view that perhaps his father-in-law was in the right, after all.

"You been here near two months now, Racey," he had said that very morning, "and they ain't anything happened yet."

"I've got four months to go," Racey had replied with a placidity he did not feel.

Now as he rode, his eyes closely scanning the various places in the landscape providing good cover for possible bushwhackers, he recalled what Loudon had said.

"I'll show him all the happenstances he wants to see before I'm through," he said, aloud. "Something's gonna happen. Something's got to happen. Jack Harpe won't let this slide. Not by a jugful."

The words were confident enough, but they were words that he had been in the habit of repeating to himself nearly every day for some time. Perhaps they had lost some of their force. Perhaps—

"Twelve hundred dollars," mused Racey. "And the same for Swing. Six months' work for—Hell, it can't turn out different! I know it can't. We'll show 'em all yet, won't we, Cuter old settler?"

Cuter old settler waggled his ears. He was a companionable horse, never kicked human beings, and bucked but seldom.

"Yep," continued Racey, sitting back against the cantle, "she's a long creek that don't bend some'ers or other."

And then the creek that was his flow of thought shot round a bend into the broad and sparkling reaches of a much pleasanter subject than the one that had to do with Harpes and Tweezys and Joneses. After a time he came to where the pleasanter subject, on her knees, was weeding among the flowers that grew tidily round Moccasin Spring. Baby-blue-eyes, low and lovely, cuddled down between tall columbines and orange wall-flowers. Side by side with the pink geranium of old-fashioned gardens the wild geranium nodded its lavender blooms in perfect harmony.

The subject, black-haired Molly Dale, rested the point of her hand-fork between two rows of ragged sailors and Johnny-jump-ups and lifted a pair of the clearest, softest blue eyes in the world in greeting to Racey Dawson.

"This is a fine time for you to be traipsing in," she told him, with a smile that revealed a deep dimple in each cheek. "I thought you promised to help me weed my garden to-day."

"I did," he returned, humbly, dismounting and sliding the reins over Cuter's neck and head, "but you know how it is Sunday mornin's, Molly. There's a lot to do round the ranch sometimes. Now, this mornin'—"

"I'll bet," she interrupted, smoothing out the smile and frowning as severely as she was able. "I'd just tell a man that, I would. I would, indeed. I'm sure it must have taken you at least half-an-hour to shine those boots. Half-an-hour! More likely an hour. Why, I can see my face in them."

"And a very pretty face, too," said Racey, rising to the occasion. "If I owned that face I'd never stop looking at it myself. I mean—" He floundered, aghast at his own temerity.

But the lady smiled. "That'll do," she cautioned him. "Don't try to flirt with me. I won't have it."

"I ain't—" he began, and stopped.

Molly Dale continued to look at him inquiringly. But as he gave no evidence of completing the sentence, she lowered her gaze and resumed her weeding. Racey thought to have glimpsed a disappointed look in her eyes as she dropped her chin, but he could not be certain. Probably he had been mistaken. Why should she be disappointed? Why, indeed?

"Start in on that bed, Racey," she directed, nodding her head toward the columbines and wall-flowers. "There's some of that miserable pusley inching in on the baby-blue-eyes and they're such tiny things it doesn't take much to kill them. And Lord knows I had a hard enough job persuading 'em to grow in the first place."

"Wild things never cotton to living inside a fence," he told her. "They're like Injuns thataway—put 'em in a house and they don't do so well."

"Shucks, look at the Rainbow."

"Half-breed. There's the difference, and besides the Rainbow ain't lived in a house since she left the convent. She lives in a tepee same as her uncle and aunties."

"I don't care," defended Molly, straightening on her knees to survey her garden. "Every single plant in my garden except the pink geraniums is wild. Look at those thimble-berry bushes round the spring, and the blue camass along the brook, and the squaw bushes round the house, and the squaw grass and pussy paws back of the clothes-lines. Some I transplanted, the rest I grew from seeds. And where will you find a better-looking garden?"

Racey sagged back on his heels and stared critically about him.

"Yeah," he drawled, nodding a slow head, "they do look pretty good. Got to give you lots of credit. But those squaw bushes now—" He broke off, grinning.

"Oh, of course, you provoking thing!" cried she, irately. "Might know you'd pick on those squaw bushes. It is a mite too shady for 'em where they are, but still they're doing pretty well, considering. I'm satisfied—What's that?"

"That" was a horseman appearing suddenly among the cottonwoods that belted with a scattering grove the garden and the spring. The horseman was Lanpher, manager of the 88 ranch. He was followed by another rider, a lean, swarthy individual with a smooth-shaven, saturnine face. Racey knew the latter by sight and reputation. The man was one Skeel and rejoiced in the nick-name of "Alicran." The furtive scorpion whose sting is death is not indigenous to the territory, but Mr. Skeel had gained the appellation in New Mexico, a region where the tail-bearing insect may be found, and when the man left the Border for the Border's good the name left with him.

"Oh, lookout! The bushes! The bushes! Don't trample my thimble-berries!"

But Lanpher, heeding not at all Molly's cries of warning, spurred his sweating horse through the thimble-berry growth, breaking down three shrubs, and splashed cat-a-corneredly across the spring, the brook, and several rows of flowers.

The garden looked as if a miniature cyclone had passed that way.

Midway across the garden Lanpher's horse halted—halted because a flying figure in chaps had appeared from nowhere and seized it by the rein. But the horse did more than halt. In obedience to a powerful jerk administered by the man in chaps the horse pivoted on its forelegs and slid its rider out of the saddle and deposited him a-sprawl and face downward among the flowers.

Lanpher arose, snarling, to face a levelled sixshooter. It did not signify that Racey had not drawn the weapon. He was perfectly capable of shooting through the bottom of his holster and Lanpher knew it. And Racey knew that he knew it.

"Get out of this garden!" ordered Racey. "Take yore friend with you," he added, tossing the horse's bridle to Lanpher. "And if I were you I'd walk a heap careful between the rows. I just wouldn't go a-busting any more of these posies."

Lanpher went. He went carefully. He was followed quite as carefully by Racey Dawson.

When Lanpher was free of the neat rows he looked up venomously into the face of Alicran Skeel who had meticulously ridden round the garden.

"I was wondering where you was," Lanpher remarked with deep meaning.

"I ain't rooting up nobody's gyarden," Alicran returned, cheerfully. "And don't wonder too hard. Might strain yore intellect or something. I'll always be where I aim to be—always. You done scratched yore face, Lanpher."

Lanpher turned from Alicran Skeel and spat upon the ground.

"Alicran," said Racey, holding his alert attitude, "the first false move you make Lanpher gets it."

"I ain't makin' a move," said Alicran, thumbs hooked in the armholes of his vest. "I got plenty to do minding my own business."

"Huh?" Thus the sceptical Racey, who did not trust Mr. Skeel as far as he could throw a horse by the tail.

"Shucks," said Alicran, out of deference to the lady, "you don't believe me."

"Shore I do," asserted Racey, "Shore, you bet you. I—Careful, Lanpher! I can talk to somebody else and watch you at the same time!"

"If Alicran was worth a—" began Lanpher, furiously, and stopped.

"You was gonna say—what?" queried Alicran, softly.

"Nothing," said Lanpher, sulkily. "Put yore gun away," he continued to Racey. "I ain't gonna hurt you."

"Now that's what I call downright generous of you, Lanpher," Racey declared, warmly. "I'd shore hate to be hurt. I shore would. But if it's alla same to you, I'll keep my gun right where she is—if it's alla same to you."

"That'll do, Racey. Stop this rowing. I won't have it." It was Molly Dale pushing past Racey and standing with arms akimbo directly in front of his gun-muzzle. Racey let his gun and holster fall up-and-down, but he did not remove his hand from the gunbutt.

"Who do you want here?" Molly inquired of Lanpher.

Lanpher's rat-like features cracked into an ugly smile. "Is yore paw home?" he asked.

"Father's gone to Marysville."

"When'll he be back?"

"Day after to-morrow, I guess."

"Yeah, I kind of guess he'd want to spend the night so's he could do business in the morning, huh?" The Lanpher smile grew even uglier.

"He has some business to attend to in the morning, yes."

"I kind of thought he would. Yeah. You don't happen to know the nature of his business, do you?"

"His business is none of yours, and I'll thank you to pick up your feet and clear out, the pair of you."

"Not so fast." Lanpher spread deprecatory hands, and his smile became suddenly crooked. "I just come down to do yore paw a favour."

"A favour? You?" Blank unbelief was patent in Molly's tone and expression.

"A favour. Me. You see, yore paw's got a mortgage coming due on the tenth, and the reason yore paw went to Marysville was so he could be there bright and early to-morrow morning at the bank to renew the mortgage. Ain't I right?"

"You might be." Molly's face was now a mask of indifference, but there was no indifference in her heart. There was cold fear.

Racey's expression was likewise indifferent. But there was no fear in his heart. There was anger, cold anger. For he had sensed what was coming. He knew that the previous winter had been a hard one on the Dale fortunes. They had lost most of their little bunch of cattle in a blizzard, and the roof of their stable had collapsed, killing two team horses and a riding pony. Racey had conjectured that Mr. Dale would have been forced to borrow on mortgage to make a fresh start in the spring. And at that time in the territory the legal rate was 12 per cent. Stiff? To be sure. But the security in those days was never gilt-edged—cattle were prone to die at inconvenient moments, and land was not worth what it was east of the Mississippi.

"We'll take it I'm right," pursued Lanpher, lapping his tongue round the words as though they possessed taste and that taste pleasant. "And being that I'm right I'll say yore paw could 'a' saved himself the ride to Marysville by stayin' to home."

Oh, Lanpher was the sort of man who, as a boy, was accustomed to thoroughly enjoy the pastime of pulling wings from living flies and drowning a helpless kitten by inches.

Now he nodded his head and grinned anew, and put up a satisfied hand and rubbed his stubbly chin. Racey yearned to kick him. It was shameful that Molly should be compelled to bandy words with this reptile. Racey stepped forward determinedly, and slid past Molly.

Promptly she caught him by the sleeve. "Don't mix in, Racey," she commanded with set face. "It's all right. It's all right, I tell you."

"'Course it's all right," Lanpher hastened to say, more than a hint of worriment in his little black eyes. One could never be sure of these Bar S boys. They were uncertain propositions, every measly one of them. "Shore it's all right," went on the 88 manager. "I ain't meaning no harm. Yo're taking a lot for granted, Racey, a whole lot for granted."

"Nemmine what I'm taking for granted," flung back Racey. "I get along with taking only what's mine, anyway."

Which was equivalent to saying that Lanpher was a thief. But Lanpher overlooked the poorly veiled insult, and switched his gaze to Molly Dale.

"I just rid over to say," he told her, "that if yore paw is still set on renewing the mortgage when he comes back from Marysville he'll have to see me and Luke Tweezy at the 88. We done bought that mortgage from the bank."

Molly Dale said nothing. Racey felt that if he held his tongue another second he would incontinently burst. He sidestepped past the girl.

"You've said yore li'l piece," he told Lanpher, "and for a feller who was bellyaching so loud about keeping out of this deal it strikes me yo're a-getting in good and deep—buying up mortgages and all. Dunno what I mean, huh? Yep, you do. Shore you do. Think back. Think way back, and it'll come to you. Jack Harpe. You know him. Bossy-looking jigger, seemed like. Has he been a-bearing down on you lately, Lanpher? Mustn't let him run you thataway. Bad business. Might be expensive. You can't tell. You be careful, Lanpher. You go slow—a mite slow. Yep. Well, don't lemme keep you. This way out."

He flicked a thumb westward, and stared at Lanpher with bright eyes. Lanpher's eyes dropped, lifted, then veered toward Alicran Skeel, that appreciative observer, who continued to sit his horse as good as gold and silent as a clam.

Lanpher turned to his horse without another word, slid the reins over the animal's neck and crossed them slackly. He stuck toe in stirrup and swung up. He looked down at Molly where she stood dumbly, her troubled eyes gazing at nothing and the fingers of one hand slowly plaiting and unplaiting a corner of her apron. Lanpher opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words issued. For Racey had coughed a peremptory cough.

Lanpher turned his horse's head toward the creek.

"Lookit here, Alicran," the peevish Lanpher burst forth when he and his henchman had forded the creek and were riding westward, "whatsa matter with you, anyway?"

"With me?" Alicran tilted a questioning bead. "I dunno. I don't feel a mite sick."

"What do you think I hired you for?" Heatedly.

"Gawd he knows." Business of rolling a cigarette.

"Yo're supposed to be a two-legged man with a gun."

"Yeah?" Indifferently.

"Yeah, but I got my doubts—now. Hell's bells! Wasn't you off to one side there when Racey pulled? Wasn't you?"

"Wasn't you listenin' to what Racey said at the time? Wasn't you?"

"After! I mean after! His gun was back hugging his leg after the girl slid in between. What more of a chance didja want?"

"So that's it, huh?"

"That's—it." Between the two words was a perceptible pause.

"I ain't shootin' nobody in the back. I never have yet, and I ain't beginnin' now, not for you or any other damn man."

"Say—" began Lanpher, threateningly.

Alicran Skeel turned a grim face on his employer so suddenly and sharply that Lanpher almost dodged.

"Lookit here, Lanpher," said he, quietly, "don't you try to start nothin' that I'll have to finish. I know you from way back, you lizard, and outside of my regular work I ain't taking no orders from you. Don't gimme any more of yore lip."

"Aw, I didn't mean nothing, Alicran. You ain't got any call to get het. I need you in the business."

"Shore you do," Alicran declared, contemptuously. "You need me to do anything you ain't got the nerve to do."

"I got my duty to my company," Lanpher bluffed lamely.

"Duty bedam. You ain't got the guts for a tough job, that's whatsa matter."

This was rubbing it in. Lanpher plucked at the loose strings of his courage, and managed to draw out a faintly responsive twang. "I'll show you whether I got guts—" he began.

"Oh, look," said Alicran. "See that wild currant bush."

To Lanpher it seemed that the sixshooter was barely out of the holster before it was back again. But there was a swirl of smoke adrift in the windless air and the topmost branch of a wild currant bush thirty feet distant had been that instant cut in two.

"What was that you was gonna say?" Alicran prompted, softly.

"I forget," evaded Lanpher. "But they's one thing you wanna remember, Alicran. It don't pay to be squeamish. It comes high in the end usually. You'll find, if you keep on being mushy thisaway, that you'll have more'n you can swing at the finish."

"Is that so? You leave me do things my own way, you hear? Lemme tell you if I'd 'a' knowed all what you was up to by coming to Dale's this mornin' I'd never have allowed it."

"Allowed it!"

"Yes, allowed it, I said. Want me to spell it for you? You thumb-handed idjit, if you had any more sense you'd be a damfool. Don't you know that in anything you do, no matter what, they's no profit in unnecessary trimmings? Most always it's the extra frills on a feller's work that pushes the bridge over and lands him underneath with everything on top of him and the job to do again, if he's lucky enough to be livin' at the finish. And yore swashing through that girl's gyarden was a heap unnecessary. It was a close squeak you wasn't drilled by Racey Dawson. I wouldn't have blamed him if he had let a little light in on yore darkened soul. Done it myself in his place. And yore rubbing in that mortgage deal was another unnecessary piece o' damfoolishness. It only made Racey have it in for you more'n ever. And after acting like more kinds of a fool thataway in less time than anybody I ever see before, you sit up on yore hunkers and tell me I'll have more'n I can swing at the finish. Say, you make me laugh! Listen, Lanpher, for a feller that's come out second best with the Bar S outfit as many times as you have it looks to me like you was crowdin' Providence a heap close."

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