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The Heart of the Range
by William Patterson White
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The sheriff swore. "I heard them fellers, too," he said. "They woke me up with their bellerin' and I had a job gettin' to sleep again. I guess Racey's right."

"I guess he is," assented the Judge. "Now we know how they managed that part of it, where did they get the key to open the cuffs? Kansas says you ain't lost any keys, Jake."

"We got 'em all, every one. I don't believe they used a key. Them handcuff locks was picked."

"Picked?"

"Picked. After Kansas went for you I found these here on the floor." Here he produced from a pocket a bent and twisted piece of baling-wire, and a steel half-moon horse-collar needle.

"That's a Number Six needle," observed the sheriff, who invariably scented clues in the most unpromising objects. "And the point's broke off."

"Number Six is a common size," said Racey. "Most stores carry 'em. And if the point didn't get broke off wigglin' round inside the lock it would be a wonder."

"Still it would take a mighty good man to open them locks with only bale-wire and a harness-needle," said the sheriff, hurriedly. "A expert, you bet."

"It don't matter whether he was a expert or not," said Dolan. "He opened them, and the prisoner has skedaddled. That's the main thing. Jake, how about trailin' him?"

"How? They's tracks, a few of 'em, leadin' from the pile of dirt straight to the hard ground in front of the stage corrals. Beyond there they ain't any tracks. Trail 'em! How you gonna trail 'em?"

"I dunno," replied Dolan, promptly passing the buck. "Yo're the sheriff. She's yore job. You gotta do something. C'mon out."

The five men, Dolan and the sheriff arguing steadily, went out into the street. Racey walked thoughtfully in the rear. He was revolving in his mind what the sheriff had said about an expert. Of course it had been an expert. And experts in lock-picking in the cattle country are few and far between.

Racey decided that it would be a good idea for him to have a little talk on lock-picking with Peaches Austin. Not that he suspected the excellent Peaches of having picked those locks. But Peaches knew who had. Oh, most certainly Peaches knew who had.



CHAPTER XXIII

TAKING FENCES

"'Lo, Peaches."

Peaches Austin, standing at the Starlight bar, was raising a glass to his lips. But at the greeting he set down the liquor untasted, turned his head, and looked into the face of Racey Dawson.

"Whatsa matter, Peaches?" inquired Racey. "You don't look glad to see me."

"I ain't," Peaches said, frankly. "I don't give a damn about seein' you."

"I'm sorry," grieved Racey, edging closer to the gambler. "Peaches, yo're breaking my heart with them cruel words."

At this the bartender removed hastily to the other end of the bar. He sensed he knew not what, and he felt instead of curiosity a lively fear. Racey Dawson was the most unexpected sport.

Peaches looked nervously at Racey. A desperate resolve began to formulate itself in the brain of Peaches Austin. His right arm tensed. Slowly his hand slid toward the edge of the bar.

"Why, no," said Racey, who had never been more wide-awake than at that moment, "I wouldn't do anything we'd all be sorry for, Peaches. That is, all of us but you yoreself. You might not be sorry—or anythin' else."

This was threatening language, plain and simple. But it was no bluff. Peaches knew that Racey meant every word he said. Peaches' right hand moved no farther.

"Peaches," said Racey, "le's go where we can have a li'l private talk."

"All right," Peaches acquiesced, shortly, and left the saloon with Racey.

On the sidewalk they were joined by Swing Tunstall. The latter fell into step on the other side of Peaches Austin.

"Is he coming, too?" queried the gambler, with a marked absence of cordiality in expression and tone.

"He is," answered Racey.

"I thought this talk was gonna be private."

"It is—only the three of us. We wouldn't think of letting anybody else horn in. You can rest easy, Peaches. We'll take care of you."

The gambler didn't doubt it. His wicked heart sank accordingly. He knew that he had been a bad, bad boy, and he conceived the notion that Nemesis was rolling up her sleeves, all to his ultimate prejudice.

He perceived in front of the dance hall Doc Coffin and Honey Hoke, and plucked up heart at once. But Racey saw the pair at the same time, and said, twitching Peaches by the sleeve, "We'll turn off here, I guess."

Peaches turned perforce and accompanied Racey and Swing into the narrow space between the express office and a log house. When they came out into the open Racey obliqued to the left and piloted his companion to a large log that lay among empty tin cans, almost directly in the rear of and about fifty yards away from Dolan's warehouse.

"Here's a good place," said Racey, indicating the log. "Good seats, plenty of fresh air, and nobody round to bother us. Sidown, Peaches."

Peaches sat as requested. The two friends seated themselves one on his either hand. Racey laughed gently.

"Doc Coffin and Honey looked kind of surprised to see you with us," he remarked with enjoyment, "didn't they, Peaches?"

"I didn't notice," lied Peaches.

"It don't matter," nodded Racey. "See that pile of dirt over against the back wall of Dolan's warehouse, Peaches?"

"I ain't blind."

"No, then maybe you've heard how and why it come to be dug and all?"

"I ain't deaf, neither."

Racey smiled his approval. "I always said you had all yore senses except the common variety, Peaches."

"Hop ahead with yore private talk," grunted the badgered gambler.

"Gimme time, gimme time. It don't cost anything. Whadda you think of that hole, Peaches?"

"Good big hole," replied Peaches, conservatively.

"Too big—that is, too big for just McFluke, or for any other feller the size of McFluke."

"What of it?"

"Don't be in a hurry, Peaches, and you'll last longer. Did you know Mac's handcuffs were picked open?"

"How—picked open?"

"Whoever opened 'em didn't use a key," Racey explained. "They were picked open with a piece of bale-wire and a collar-needle."

"I heard that."

"I thought maybe so. But did you ever think that a feller has got to have a good and clever pair of hands to pick a lock with only a collar-needle and bale-wire?"

"All that stands to reason," admitted Peaches.

"There can't be a great many fellers like that. No, not many—not around here, anyway. You'll find such sports in the big cities mainly."

"Yeah," chipped in Swing Tunstall, staring hard at Peaches, "I'll bet you a hundred even they ain't more than one or two such experts in the whole territory."

"Whadda you think, Peaches?" inquired Racey.

"Swing may be right," said Peaches, preserving a wooden countenance. "I dunno."

"Shore about that?" Sharply.

"Shore I'm shore. Why not?"

"You looked sort of funny when you said it. Well, then, Peaches, we'll go back to our hole yonder. It's reasonable to suppose that fellers hustlin' to dig it and without any too much time wouldn't make it any bigger than they had to. How about it, huh?"

"Guess so, maybe."

"Aw right, I told you a while ago the hole was too big for McFluke. Why was it made too big for McFluke?"

"Damfino."

"So as to let in the feller who was to pick open Mac's handcuffs."

"Well, what does that prove?"

"It proves that the expert who set Mac loose was a bigger man across the shoulders than McFluke. Now who all around here, besides Kansas Casey, is wider across the shoulders than McFluke?"

Peaches wrinkled his forehead. "I dunno," he said after a space.

"Think again, Peaches, think again. Don't you know anybody who's bigger sidewise than McFluke?"

"I don't. Mac's the biggest man across the shoulders I ever seen."

"Good enough, Peaches. I've found out what I wanted. I had a fair idea before, but now I know. I hear you were acting boisterious and noisy out front of the dance hall last night?"

"What of it?"

"Oh, nothin', nothin' a-tall. Only I'd think it over—I'd think everythin' over good an careful, and after I'd done that I'd do what looked like the best thing to do—under the circumstances. That's all, Peaches. You can go now. I think yore friends are looking for you. I saw Doc Coffin peekin' round the corner of the dance hall a couple of times."

Peaches arose and faced Racey Dawson and Swing Tunstall. "I—" he began, and stopped.

"I—" prompted Swing.

"I what?" smiled Racey. "Speak right out, Peaches. Don't you care if you do hurt our feelin's. They're tough. They can stand it. Say what's on yore mind."

But Peaches did not say what was on his mind. He turned about and walked hurriedly away.

"So it was Jack Harpe who picked the cuffs," murmured Racey. "Peaches, old timer, I didn't think you'd be so easy."

"Neither did I," said Swing. "And him a gambler. No wonder he ain't doin' so well."



CHAPTER XXIV

DIPLOMACY

Worried Mrs. Dale raised a work-scarred hand and pushed back a lock of gray hair that had fallen over one eye. "It's a forgery," she said, wretchedly. "I know it's a forgery. He—he wouldn't sign such a paper. I know he wouldn't."

Molly Dale, all unmindful of Racey Dawson sitting in a chair tilted back against the wall, slipped around the table and slid her arm about her mother's waist.

"There, there, Ma," she soothed, pulling her mother's head against her firm young shoulder. "Don't you fret. It will come out all right. You'll see. You mustn't worry this way. Can't you believe what Racey says? Try, dear, try."

But unhappy Mrs. Dale was beyond trying. She saw the home which she had worked to get and slaved to maintain taken from her and herself and her daughter turned out of doors. There was no help for it. There was no hope. The future was pot-black. She broke down and wept.

"Oh, oh," she sobbed, "if only I'd watched him closer that day. But I was washing, and I sort of forgot about him for a spell, and when I'd got the clothes on the line he wasn't anywhere in sight, and—and it's all my fuf-fault."

This was too much for Racey Dawson. He got up and went out. Savagely he pulled his hat over his eyes and strode to where his horse stood in the shade of a cottonwood. But he did not pick up the trailing reins. For as he reached the animal he saw approaching across the flat the figures of a horse and rider. And the man was Luke Tweezy.

With the sight of Mrs. Dale's tears fresh in his memory and the rage engendered thereby galvanizing his brain he went to meet Mr. Tweezy.

"Howdy, Racey," said the lawyer, pulling up.

"Whadda you want?" demanded Racey, halting a scant yard from Luke Tweezy's left leg.

"I come to see Mrs. Dale," replied Tweezy, his leathery features wrinkling in a grimace intended to pass for a propitiating smile.

Racey's stare was venomous. "Tweezy," he drawled, "I done told you something about admiring to see you put these women off this ranch, didn't I?"

"Oh, you was just a li'l hasty. I understand. That's all right. I've done forgot all about it."

"So I see. So I see. I'm reminding you of it. After this, Luke, I'd hobble my memory if I was you, then it won't go straying off thisaway and get you into trouble."

"Trouble?"

Racey did not deign to repeat. He nodded simply.

"I ain't got no gun," explained the lawyer.

"Alla more easy for me, then. You can't shoot back."

Luke Tweezy choked. Choked and spat. "—— ——" he began in a violent tone of voice.

"Careful, careful," cautioned Racey, promptly kicking the lawyer's horse in the ribs. "There's ladies in the house. You get a-holt of yore tongue."

Luke Tweezy obeyed the command literally. For, his horse going into the air with great briskness at the impact of Racey's toe, even as the puncher had intended it should, he, Luke Tweezy, bit his tongue so hard that he wept involuntary tears of keenest anguish.

"You stop that cussin'," resumed Racey, seizing the bridle short and yanking the bouncing horse to a standstill with a swerve and a jerk that almost unseated its rider. "You be careful how you talk, you—hop toad!"

"Leggo that bridle!" yammered Tweezy, almost distraught with anger. His tongue pained him exquisitely and he was otherwise physically shaken. "Leggo that bridle!"

"I'll let it go!" Racey grated through set teeth, and he let it go with a backward flip to the lower branches of the severe curb bit that instantly sent the horse on its hind legs. If Luke Tweezy had not quickwittedly smacked the animal between the ears with the butt of his quirt it would have continued the motion to a backfall and rolled its rider out.

"Tough luck," mourned Racey, sorry to observe that Luke had contrived to ward off an accident. "I was expecting to see that horn dislocate yore latest meal. If you ain't quite so set on going to the house you can flit."

"I wanna see Mrs. Dale," persisted the lawyer in a strangled voice. "I come to offer her money. I wanna do her a favour, can't you understand?"

"I can't," was the frank reply. "I can't see you doing anybody a favour or giving away any money. C'mon, get a-going."

It was then that the lawyer lifted up his voice and shouted aloud for Mrs. Dale. Undoubtedly Racey would have done Tweezy a mischief had he been given time. But unfortunately Molly Dale came to the lawyer's rescue precisely as she had once come to the rescue of his partner in evil, the bulldozer Lanpher. As it was Racey had contrived to pull Luke Tweezy partly from the saddle when Molly arrived and forced her defender to release his victim.

Reluctantly Racey dropped the leg he held and allowed Tweezy to come to earth on his hands and knees.

"What do you want?" inquired Molly, regarding Tweezy much as she would have regarded a poisonous reptile.

"I want to see yore mother," snuffled Tweezy, applying his sleeve to his nose. He had in the mixup smote his swell fork with the organ in question and it had begun to bleed.

"Why?"

"I want to pay her money to go away quietly," said Tweezy, switching from his sleeve to his handkerchief. "I—"

"Here she is," interrupted Molly. "Tell her."

"How do, ma'am," said Luke to the wet-eyed widow. "I guess it ain't necessary for me to go through a lot of explanations with you. You know what's what, and you know we'll take possession just as soon as the sheriff serves the eviction papers on you."

At this Racey Dawson made a noise in his throat. Molly laid cool fingers on his wrist.

"Steady, boy, steady," she whispered under her breath.

Despite the seriousness of the moment Racey's heart skipped a beat and the pleasantest shiver in the world ran about his body. "Boy!" she had called him. "Boy." Her hand was actually touching his own. He—

"I don't want to be hard on you, Mis' Dale," resumed Luke, after an apprehensive glance at Racey Dawson. "I don't like to be hard on anybody that's sittin' into a run of hard luck, but business is business, ma'am. You know that. And after all I'm—we're only asking for what we're by rights entitled to. We got title to this place fair and square, and—"

"Title, huh?" struck in Racey, unable to keep silent. "Not yet you ain't."

"S-s-sh," breathed Molly, tightening her grip on his wrist.

"It's like I say, Mis' Dale," Luke Tweezy burred on from behind his handkerchief, "I ain't got any wish to add to yore troubles, and so I got my partner to agree for me to give you five hundred dollars cash money if you'll pack up and clear out quiet and peaceful."

"Don't you do it, Mis' Dale!" urged Racey. "There's a trick in that offer."

"They ain't any trick!" contradicted Luke Tweezy, vehemently. "I just wanna save trouble, thassall."

Save trouble! That had been Lanpher's reason for coming the day he rode through the garden. Save trouble, indeed.

"If yo're so shore the sheriff is going to serve those eviction papers," said Racey as calmly as he could because of the warning pressure on his wrist, "if yo're so shore why are you giving away five hundred?"

"Because I don't like to be hard on Mis' Dale. Then, again, I'll admit we wanna get in here soon as we can."

"You admit it, huh? That's a good one, that is. Don't you do it, Mis' Dale. You stand pat."

"I don't want your five hundred dollars," said Mrs. Dale.

"Seven-fifty," climbed up Tweezy.

Mrs. Dale shook her head. "No."

"One thousand," Tweezy raised his ante.

"Lemme throw him out, Mis' Dale?" begged Racey Dawson. "Just lemme throw him out, and I'll guarantee he'll never bother you again."

Again Mrs. Dale shook her head, and the pressure on Racey's wrist increased. "You mustn't touch him," said Mrs. Dale. "He'll go."

"Think it over," Tweezy blundered on. "One thousand dollars gratis cash money in yore hands if you'll leave at once."

"I'll wait awhile," said Mrs. Dale. "Please go."

Luke Tweezy opened his mouth to speak. Racey broke from Molly's detaining grasp and stepped between him and Mrs. Dale, and Tweezy closed his mouth without speaking.

"You heard what she said," Racey drawled, softly. "Git."

And Tweezy got.

"Do you think the sheriff will put us out?" asked Mrs. Dale, twisting a corner of her apron between her hands.

"He'll take all the time to it he can," Racey evaded the direct reply. "But whatever happens don't think of taking any offer like that of Tweezy's. It's a trick, thassall. No matter who comes to you nor what he offers don't you move till—Well, anyway, Judge Dolan and Jake Rule are with you from soda to hock, and they'll do all they can to hold things at a stand-still till I can fix it all up. You must remember that I know what you dunno, and when I say that everything will end fine and daisy you better believe I know what I'm talking about."

Molly looked at him keenly. "Racey, that's the third or fourth time you've said that. I wonder if you really have something up your sleeve."

"Of course I have," Racey insisted. "You wait. You'll see."

"What do you know? Tell us."

"Never mind, and I won't. It might spoil everything if I told you. You just leave it to me."

He had definitely made his bluff. He would have to make good. And he no more knew how to make good in the business than the year-old baby busy with its toes. But ere this men have killed dragons and made wonders come to pass all for the sake of their ladies' eyes. Men as prosaic and matter-of-fact as the puncher, Racey Dawson. Quite so.

Half-an-hour after the departure of Luke Tweezy Mr. Saltoun and Tom Loudon rode in on lathered horses. They were, it seemed, journeying homeward from the 88 whither they had gone in an endeavour to persuade Lanpher and Tweezy to sell the Dale mortgage.

"Tweezy, huh?" said Racey. "He's just left here."

"He must 'a' rode like the devil," said Mr. Saltoun. "He was in the office with Lanpher when we left."

"I thought I noticed a feller off to the south of us as we come along," observed Loudon. "He was just a-boilin'. I only saw him the once as he slid by the mouth of a draw. Looked like he was trying to keep out of sight. Rode a gray hoss."

"Tweezy rode a gray," nodded Racey.

"Him, all right. What did he want here, Racey?"

"Offered Mis' Dale one thousand cold if she'd pull her freight."

"She ain't gonna do it, is she?" demanded the alarmed Mr. Saltoun.

Racey shook his head. "She's gonna stick."

"She must. Hell, yes. Those papers of Luke's are forged. I know they are."

"So does everybody else," put in Tom Loudon, "but if something don't turn up damn quick—" He broke off, shaking a dubious head.

"Something will," declared Racey, making his bluff a second time with an air of supreme confidence.

"You know something, Racey," prodded Mr. Saltoun who prided himself on his perspicacity. "Whadda you know?"

"I ain't telling it," answered Racey, coolly. "I ain't coming back to the ranch to-day, neither."

"Oh, you ain't. Listen to the new owner, Tom."

"That's all right," said Racey. "If I'm going to do the world any good I've got to have a free hand."

"You can have two of 'em," conceded Mr. Saltoun. "The bridle's off."

"Aw right, I'll take Swing Tunstall," Racey hastened to say.

"I meant yore own two hands," demurred Mr. Saltoun.

"I know you did, but I meant the other kind. Listen, do you want Lanpher and Tweezy to get this ranch?"

"—— it, no!"

"Then gimme Swing Tunstall."

"Take him. Need anybody else? Wouldn't you like all the rest of the outfit, and me, too?"

"My Gawd, no. This is a job requirin' brains."

"Say, lookit here, Racey—"

"When you get to the ranch tell Swing to come along soon as he can," interrupted Racey. "I'll be expecting him."

Tuckety-tuck! Tuckety-tuck! Somewhere beyond the cottonwood grove surrounding Moccasin Spring a galloping horse was coming in. A moment later horse and rider shot past the tail of the cottonwood grove, and bore down on the house.

"Marie!" exclaimed Racey.

"And riding one of my hosses," observed Mr. Saltoun.

At that instant Marie caught sight of the three men and swerved her mount toward them.

"They said at the Bar S you was here," panted the lookout, pulling up in front of Racey Dawson. "So I borrowed a fresh hoss and kep' on. Somethin's happened in Farewell, Racey. Swing Tunstall's shot."

"Downed?" Racey did not usually jump at conclusions, but Swing Tunstall was his friend.

Marie shook her tousled head. "Nicked—shoulder and leg. But it ain't their fault he wasn't rubbed out."

"Who's responsible?" demanded Racey.

"Doc Coffin."

"You said 'their'."

"Honey Hoke bumped into Swing just as he went after his gun, so Swing couldn't get his gun out a-tall. Swing said Honey grabbed his wrist, but Peaches Austin and Punch-the-breeze Thompson was on the other side in the way so none of the boys seen what happened to Swing exactly till after it had."

"Austin, Thompson, Hoke, and Coffin," said Racey. "What began the fuss?"

"Doc Coffin upset a glass of whiskey over Swing's arm, and then cussed him for getting his arm in the way."

"And Swing called him a liar, huh?"

"And a —— one, too," elaborated Marie.

"Put-up job." Gruffly Mr. Saltoun gave his opinion.

"Shore." Tom Loudon nodded gravely.

"Where are those four men now?" Racey asked, quietly, looking at Marie.

"They were in the Starlight when I left town—and they weren't drinkin'."

"No, they wouldn't be."

"And the sheriff and Kansas went to Dogville this morning, and the marshal is sick. I thought you ought to know. My Gawd, I thought you'd hear the news from somebody else before I got here and go bustin' in regardless, and—"

"I guess I'll go in all right," he told her with a slight smile, "but it won't be regardless."

With that he turned on a spurred heel and crossed springily to where his horse stood.

"Aw, the devil!" exclaimed Marie, looking helplessly at Tom Loudon and Mr. Saltoun. "And he'll do it, too."

Then she "kissed" to her horse and rode into the cottonwood grove for a drink at the spring.

Racey, sticking foot in stirrup, found Molly Dale at his elbow. She was looking at him the way women do when they either don't understand or think they understand only too well.

"Who is that woman?" asked Molly Dale.

"Huh?" Thus Racey, stupidly. He was thinking of his friend lying wounded in Farewell. "What woman you mean?... Oh, her, that's Marie, she's—she's lookout in the Happy Heart."

"Oh, yes, Marie. I—I've seen you with her—one evening when you and she were crossing the street and I drove past. I—I, yes, indeed."

And as she spoke her eyes were very bright, and her figure was stiffer than the proverbial poker. Which was odd. And at the tail of her words she gave a stiff nod and hurried into the house. Which was odder. The species of nod and the hurry—both.

But Racey was in no mood to speculate on the idiosyncrasies of woman. Even the woman. So he topped his mount and rejoined Tom Loudon and Mr. Saltoun. They regarded him silently.

"I guess," said Racey, whirling an empty tobacco-bag by it's draw-string, "I'll borrow some of yore smokin', Tom. I'm plumb afoot for tobacco at the present writing."

Tom Loudon handed over his pouch without a word. But Mr. Saltoun was fidgety. Unlike his son-in-law, he felt that he must speak.

"Lookit here, Racey," he said, hurriedly, "you ain't going to Farewell alone, are you?"

"Why, no, certainly not," Racey replied, solemnly. "I'm going to send word to Yardly for the troops. Hell's bells, there's only four of them, man!"

"Yes, well—Who's this? One of our boys?"

But it was not one of "our" boys. It was Rack Slimson, the proprietor of the Starlight Saloon. But he was riding in from the direction of the Bar S.

He rode soberly, as one bound on a journey of length. Even as Marie had done he glimpsed the three men and turned his horse toward them. Ten feet from the flank of Racey Dawson's mount he pulled in and nodded. There was spite—spite and something else—in the gaze he fixed on Racey Dawson.

"Yore friend's hurt," said he. "Got in a fight."

"Hurt bad?" asked Racey.

"Not too bad. I've seen worse."

"Where's he hurt?"

Rack Slimson merely corroborated what Marie had said. So far he seemed to be telling the truth. And it was natural that there should be spite in his eyes. He had no cause to feel affection for either man. But there was the "something else" besides the spite in those eyes. That was what interested Racey.

"You come here special to tell me this?" said Racey, staring.

"Not me," denied Rack Slimson. "I was just passing by, and I thought I'd let you know."

"Just bein' neighbourly, huh?"

"I dunno as I'd go so far as to say that."

"Well, I'm obliged to you, Slimson. I'm shore a heap obliged to you. Is Swing Tunstall being taken care of all right?"

"He's in Mike Flynn's house. Joy Blythe is a-nursin' him."

"Then I ain't needed in Farewell right now." Racey's tone was casual.

Rack Slimson rose to the bait immediately. "He's asking for you alla time," said he.

"He is, is he? Why didn't you say so at first?"

"I didn't know it was necessary."

"Which is true more ways than one. Lookit here, Slimson, where might you happen to be going when you run into me so providential here at Moccasin Spring?"

"I might be going most anywhere," Rack Slimson replied with a flash of temper.

"No call to get het, Rack, no call to get het. What I'm asking is a fair question: Where might you be going to-day."

"Marysville."

"Ain't you off the trail some?"

"Shore I am, some. I remembered something I gotta see about at the 88 before I go to Marysville. That's how I'm going west instead of south."

"When did you first remember this here something of yores?"

"When I stopped at the Bar S for a drink of water."

"And after you'd just happened to remember this something, I s'pose you just happened to ask where I was and they told you Moccasin Spring. Is that the how of it?"

"Yo're a good guesser," replied Rack Slimson with sarcasm.

"Sometimes I do make a centre shot," Racey admitted, modestly.

It was then that Marie, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, rode forth from the cottonwood grove. At sight of her Rack Slimson's eyes opened wide, then they narrowed.

"Hell," he muttered, turning a slightly worried look on Racey.

"What you hellin' about?" Racey inquired, pleasantly.

"You knowed about Swing Tunstall alla time," complained Rack Slimson.

"What makes you think so?" Racey sidled his horse closer to Rack.

"She told you." Thus Rack, bluntly.

"'She?' What she you mean?"

"Aw, her." Rack Slimson jerked his head toward the approaching girl.

"He's got 'em again," said Racey to Mr. Saltoun and Tom Loudon. "I don't see any 'her' anywhere. Do you?"

"Not me," chorussed both men.

"You see how yo're mistaken, Rack," pointed out Racey. "Yore eyes are deceivin' you. Don't you trust 'em. You don't see any girls round here, exceptin' maybe Miss Dale over at the house. You might 'a' seen her according to whether she came to the kitchen door or not. But you ain't seen any other girl here. And you better be shore you ain't."

"Why had I?" blustered Rack Slimson, without, however, making any hostile motion with his hands.

"Because I say so."

"Whatell's it to you?"

"All you have to do is say in Farewell that you saw Marie here at Dale's and you'll find out. I'll even go farther than that. I'm tellin' you, Rack, that if anybody finds out in Farewell that Marie was here, or if any accident happens to her—any accident, y'understand—I'll have to take it as evidence that you had to blat. Fair enough, huh?"

"But supposing somebody else sees her and tells about it?" protested Rack Slimson.

"In that case yo're out of luck," was the unfeeling reply.

"But—" began again Rack Slimson.

"You might try prayer," Racey interrupted. "It would maybe help. You can't tell."

The unhappy Rack Slimson looked toward Mr. Saltoun and Tom Loudon. But there was no aid for him in that quarter. In fact, both men eyed him with frank hostility.

"So you see Marie is kept out of it." Racey laid his final injunction on Rack as the girl in question joined them. "You don't guess this girl is her, do you?"

"Nun-no," declared Rack, hastily. "I don't. She's somebody else for all I care."

"That's the way to talk," Racey said, nodding approvingly. "You keep right on holding to those sentiments and I wouldn't be surprised if you lived quite a long while."

Marie showed her teeth in a laugh. "I ain't a-scared of any such breed of chunker as Rack Slimson," said she, calmly. "I can manage him my own self. You goin' back to Farewell, Racey?"

"Right now."

"Then I'll be going with you."

"You'll do no such a thing. There's no sense in yore running into trouble thataway. You'll come in to Farewell after me and from another direction."

"Shore, I was going to. I was only gonna ride along with you part way."

Racey shook his head. "Wouldn't be sensible, that wouldn't. Somebody might see you. You come along later like I told you. Me and Rack will travel together."

"I was goin' to the 88," protested Rack.

"Yo're mistaken," Racey told him, firmly. "Yo're going to Farewell—with me. Ain't you?"

"I s'pose so," Rack Slimson capitulated.

"Then c'mon. Get a-goin'."

Marie watched the two men ride away together. "Ain't he the hellion?" she said, admiringly, to Tom and Old Salt. "Bound to have his own way if it kills him."

At this there was a slight sound from the direction of the garden. Marie and the two men turned to look. Trowel in hand Molly Dale was kneeling on one knee between the brook and a row of blue camass. But she was not doing any weeding. She was staring fixedly at Marie. While a man could breathe twice Molly stared at Marie, then she dropped her head and became very busy with the trowel.

Marie's sniff was audible at thirty feet. She picked up her reins and nodded to Tom Loudon and Mr. Saltoun.

"See you later," said she, and started her horse in the direction of Farewell. But she whirled him back before he had taken three steps.

"I clean forgot he was yore hoss," she said, apologetically, to Mr. Saltoun. "I'll have to go back to the Bar S first."

"Thassall right," Mr. Saltoun made haste to assure her. "You take him right along. One of the boys can ride yore hoss to town on the next trip an' ride this one back."

"That will save me a lot of trouble," said Marie, turning her bewildered mount a second time.

"She ain't ridin' straight toward Farewell," said Tom Loudon, rolling a slow cigarette.

"Aw, she's sensible," yawned Mr. Saltoun. "She'll do like Racey says all right. She must like him a lot. I—Whatsa matter with you?"

For Tom Loudon had contrived to make a long leg and give Mr. Saltoun a vigorous kick on the ankle.

"I guess we'll be goin'," dodged Tom Loudon, and then took off his hat to Miss Dale. "So long, miss. If you—uh—You know where the Bar S is in case—just in case, y' understand."

He touched his horse with the spur and moved off with as much dignity as a colonel of cavalry. Not so Mr. Saltoun. He had been kicked, and the kick hurt, and he was very red and ruffled in consequence. Swearing under his breath he followed his son-in-law.

"Here," he demanded, crowding his horse alongside, "what did yuh kick me for?"

Tom Loudon looked over his shoulder before replying. The ranch-house was a hundred yards in the rear and Molly Dale was not in sight. He deliberately turned his head and looked his father-in-law straight in the eye. "What did I kick you for?" he repeated. "I kicked you because you didn't have any sense."

This was too much. "Huh? Because I—Lookit here, you—"

"'Tsall right, 'tsall right. You didn't have any sense. Here's Molly Dale thinks Racey is the only fellah ever rode a cayuse, and you have to blat out so she can hear you, 'Marie must shore like him a lot'."

"Well, what of it? I don't see—"

"You don't? Wait till I tell Kate."

"It ain't necessary to tell my daughter," Mr. Saltoun remonstrated, hurriedly. "I suppose my saying that about Marie might give Molly a wrong idea maybe about Racey. But how do you know she likes Racey? You been talking to her? Did she tell you so?"

"I ain't, and she didn't. I been talking to Kate. She told me. Don't ask me how she knows. She says she knows, and that's enough for me. You can't fool a woman in things like that."

"You can't fool 'em in anything," Mr. Saltoun corroborated, bitterly. "I shore oughtn't to said that about Racey and Marie. I'll go right back and tell Molly it ain't so."

Mr. Saltoun started to wheel his horse, but Tom Loudon halted that manoeuvre.

"You gotta let it go now," said he. "If you tell her you didn't mean what you said she shore will think it's true."

"We-ell, if you think I'd better not, I won't," Mr. Saltoun assented, doubtfully. "But I wouldn't say anything to Kate if I was you."

"Then I won't," said Tom Loudon, his tongue in his cheek.

"Where you think yo're going?" Mr. Saltoun queried presently. "This ain't the way to the ranch."

"I know it ain't. It's the way to Farewell."

"Whyfor Farewell?"

"It's just possible Racey may need a li'l help before he's through with this job."

"You're right," Mr. Saltoun said, contritely. "I've been so took up with this Dale mortgage and the idea of Luke Tweezy and that skunk Lanpher getting this land that I ain't give much thought to anything else. Of course Racey will need help, and you and I are the fellers to give it to him."



CHAPTER XXV

STRATEGY

Racey Dawson and Rack Slimson, rising a hill on the way to Farewell, simultaneously turned their heads and looked at each other. Rack's expression was dolefully sullen. Racey's was hard and uncompromising.

"Who was it put you up to this?" asked Racey.

"What?"

"Coming out here after me."

"I didn't come out after you, I tell you!"

"Shore, shore," soothed Racey, "I know all about that. Who put you up to it?"

"I dunno what yo're talkin' about."

"The ignorance of some people," said Racey, recalling sundry occasions when other folk had oddly failed to grasp his meaning.

They rode onward silently.

When they reached the southern slope of Indian Ridge, Racey headed to the east. A spirit of unease lit heavily upon the sagging shoulders of Rack Slimson.

"You ain't goin' straight for Farewell," he remarked at a venture.

"I ain't—no."

"I thought you was."

"I am—but not straight."

"Huh?" Rack Slimson wrinkled his forehead at this.

"We're goin' in town from the side," explained Racey Dawson.

This, too, was a puzzler. "Why?" queried Rack Slimson.

"So's nobody will know we're coming till we're there." The smile with which Racey garnished his answer was chilling to the soul of Mr. Slimson.

"But I don't see—"

"You wouldn't. I'll tell you how it is all in words of one syllable. You and me are coming into town from the east where that draw is and those shacks behind the dance hall. We'll leave our hosses in the draw, and proceed, like they say in the army, on foot. Then you and me—"

"But why me?" Rack Slimson desired to know. "What are you always putting 'me' in for?"

"Because yo're a-going with me, Rack, that's why. Yo're a-going with me while I'm hunting for Coffin and Honey Hoke and Punch-the-breeze Thompson and Peaches Austin. Those four will likely be together, see, and I wanna use you for a breastwork sort of."

"A breastwork!" cried the now thoroughly upset Mr. Slimson. "A breastwork!"

"Shore a breastwork. I'll shove you ahead of me into the saloon and if they—there's four of 'em, y'understand—cut down on me you'll be in the way."

"But they'll down me!"

"I'm counting on that."

"But—"

"Aw, shut up, you —— skunk! You come out to Moccasin Spring on purpose to get me to come to Farewell and be peaceably shot by Doc Coffin and his gang. Can't tell me you didn't. I know better."

"I didn't! I didn't! I—"

"Aw right you didn't. In that case you got nothing to scare you. If Doc and his outfit ain't got any harsh thoughts against me they won't shoot when we run up on 'em. That'll prove yo're telling the truth, and I'll beg yore pardon. I'll do more'n beg yore pardon. I'll eat yore shirt an' my saddle."

Racey's assurance that he would do the right thing if his suspicions proved unfounded did not appear to cheer Rack Slimson.

"I—lookit here," he began, desperately, "can't we fix this here up some way? I dunno as—"

"Shore we can fix it up," interposed Racey, heartily. "Go after yore gun any time you feel like it. I been letting you keep it on purpose."

Rack Slimson did not accept the invitation. He had not the slightest desire to go after his gun. He was not fast enough, and he knew it.

"It ain't necessary to do that," said he.

"Suit yoreself," Racey told him calmly. "Hop into action any time you feel like it. Of course before we get to that draw outside Farewell where we're gonna leave our hosses I'll have to take yore gun away. Later I might be too busy to do it—and I can't afford to take every chance. Not with four or five men. You can see that yoreself."

Rack Slimson saw. He saw other things too. Oh, there was no warmth in the sunlight, and the sky was a drabby gray, and he was filled with bitterness unutterable.

"We'll be at the draw some time soon," suggested Racey ten minutes later.

But Rack Slimson's hands continued to remain in plain sight, the while Rack gnawed a thin and bloodless lip.

When at long last the draw opened before them Racey calmly reached over and removed the saloon-keeper's sixshooter. After satisfying himself that the weapon was fully loaded he stuffed it down inside the waistband of his trousers. Then he buttoned the two lower buttons of his vest and pulled the garment in question over the protruding butt.

For a space of time they rode the bottom of the draw. Where a few heavy willows grew about a tiny spring Racey pulled in.

"We'll leave the cayuses here," said he. "We're right close in back of Marie's shack."

They dismounted, tied the horses to separate willows, and climbed the side of the draw.

"No hurry," cautioned Racey, for Rack Slimson was showing signs of a nervous haste. "Besides, I want to pat you all over for a hideout."

Behind the blind end of Marie's shack Rack Slimson submitted to being searched for concealed weapons. Racey found none, not even a pocket-knife.

"Let's go," said Racey Dawson. "We'll go to yore saloon first. And you pray hard that nobody sees us from the back window."

They diagonalled down past the stage company's corral to the house next door to the Starlight.

"They haven't seen us yet," Racey observed, cheerfully, to Rack Slimson whose wretched knees had been knocking together ever since he had dismounted. "Slide over this way a li'l more, Rack. Now take off yore spurs."

Racey stooped and removed his own. And not for an instant did he lose the magic of the drop. As a matter of fact, he had kept Rack covered from the moment Rack set his boot-soles to earth. Rack's spurs jingled on the ground. Racey let them lie. His own spurs he jammed each into a hip pocket.

"I'll have to be careful how I sit down now," he remarked, jocularly, to Rack Slimson. "You ready? Aw right. You know the way to the Starlight's back door."

The back door of the saloon was wide open. They entered on tiptoe, the proprietor in the lead.

"Remember," whispered Racey, when he discovered the back room to be empty, "remember, I'm right behind you. Keep on yore toes."

He held Rack Slimson by the belt and pushed him toward the door giving into the front room. This door was shut. They paused behind it.

"He oughta be along pretty soon," complained a fretful voice that Racey recognized as belonging to Honey Hoke.

"We don't mind waiting," chimed in Punch-the-breeze Thompson.

"It's the best thing we do." This was big Doc Coffin speaking.

The two behind the door heard a bottle-neck clink against the rim of a glass.

"You better not take too much," advised Thompson.

"Aw, who's takin' too much?" flung back Honey Hoke.

"Well, you don't see the rest of us touching a single drop, do you? Speaking personal, I wouldn't drown my insides with liquor when I'm due to go up against a proposition like Racey Dawson."

Here was praise indeed. Racey thumbed Rack Slimson in the ribs. Rack turned his head and saw that Racey was grinning. Rack grew even more spineless.

"You see," pointed out Racey in a sardonic whisper. "Yo're up against the pure quill, feller."

Which remark at any other time would have been in the worst possible taste, but license is extended to men in peril of their lives.

"They're at the table in the corner beside the bar, this end, ain't they?" resumed Racey. "Ain't it lucky the door opens that way?"

Then he was silent for a time while he strove to catch the accents of Peaches Austin. He wanted to know if they were all four at the one table. But Peaches was either not talking or elsewhere. A moment later the question was answered for him by Honey Hoke.

"If he slips by Peaches without Peaches seem' him—" began Honey.

"Aw, hownell can he?" sneered Doc Coffin. "They's Peaches camped down in front of the blacksmith shop right where he can see the trail alla way down Injun Ridge. A dog couldn't get past Peaches without being seen, let alone a two-legged man on a four-legged hoss."

"S'pose he goes round the ridge," offered the doubter, unconsciously hitting the nail on the head.

"He won't," declared the confident Doc. "He'll come boiling right in like he owned the place. Don't you lose no sleep over that."

"Maybe Rack couldn't find him," pursued Honey Hoke, and an answering quiver ran through the frame of Rack Slimson.

"Rack will find him all right," said Punch-the-breeze Thompson.

"He might be suspicious of Rack, alla same," Honey Hoke wavered on.

"Not the way Rack will tell him. Didn't we fix it up just what Rack was to say and all before he went? Shore we did. He won't make no mistake, Rack won't. You'll see."

"And anyway," broke in Doc Coffin, "they's four of us to take care of any mistakes."

At which the three laughed loudly.

"I hope," Racey whispered in Rack's rather grimy left ear, "I hope you heard all those fellers said. Proves I was right, don't it? Nemmine nodding yore head more'n once. Hold still. Yo're doin' fine. Yep, I'm shore glad we stood here a-listenin' like we have. Makes me feel a heap easier in my mind about you. Otherwise I might always have had a doubt I did right. I'd have been shore, y' understand, but I wouldn't have been dead shore."

At which the unfortunate Rack came within an eyewink of fainting. As it was his stomach seemed to roll over and over. He began to feel a little sick.

"The bartender now," went on Racey after a moment, "is he likely to mix into this?"

"I dunno," breathed Rack.

"Who is he? I ain't been in yore place for some time."

Rack told him the name of the bartender, and Racey nodded quite as if Rack were facing him and could see everything he did.

"Then that's all right," whispered Racey. "I know that feller. He's a friend of Mike Flynn's. He won't do anythin' hostyle. Let's go right in. Open the door. G'on, damn yore soul, or I'll blow you apart!"

Rack Slimson opened the door and immediately endeavoured to spring to one side. But he reckoned not on the strength of Racey Dawson. The latter swung Rack back into place between himself (Racey Dawson) and the table at which Doc Coffin and his two friends were sitting.

It was a painfully surprised trio that confronted Racey and his unwilling barricade. The bartender was likewise surprised. He immediately fell flat on the floor. Not so the three men at the table. They sat quite still and stared at the man and the gun behind the body of their friend Rack Slimson. They said nothing. Perhaps there was nothing to say.

"I hear you were expectin' me, Doc," drawled Racey, his eyes bright with cold anger. "Whatsa matter?" he added. "Ain't three of you enough to take care of any mistakes?"

At which Doc Coffin's right hand flashed downward. Racey drove an accurate bullet through Doc Coffin's mouth. The bullet ranging upward, and making its exit through the parietal bone, let in the light on Doc's hitherto darkened intellect in more ways than one.

Doc Coffin's forefinger, tightening convulsively on the trigger of its wearer's sixshooter, sent an unaimed shot downward. But previous to embedding itself in a floor board, the bullet passed through Honey Hoke's foot. This disturbed Honey's aim to such an extent that instead of shooting Racey through the head he shot Rack through the hat.

Racey, attending strictly to his knitting, bored Honey Hoke with a bullet that removed the top of the second knuckle of Honey's right hand, shaved a piece from the wrist bone, and then proceeded to thoroughly lacerate most of the muscles of the forearm before finally lodging in the elbow. Thus was Honey Hoke rendered innocuous for the time being. He was not a two-handed gunfighter.

As yet Punch-the-breeze Thompson had remained strictly neutral. His hands were on the table top, and had been from the beginning.

"It's yore move, Thompson," Racey said with significance.

"Then I'll be goin'," said Thompson, calmly. "See you later—maybe."

So saying he rose to his feet, turned his back on Racey, and walked out of the place. Racey had no illusions as to Thompson, but he obviously could not shoot him in the back. He let him go. Watching from a window he saw Thompson go to the hitching-rail in front of the saloon, untie his horse, mount, and ride away northward.

And the blacksmith shop in front of which Peaches Austin was supposed to be on guard lay at the south end of the street. Where, then, was Thompson going?

"Where's he goin'?" he demanded of the now wriggling Rack Slimson.

"Huh? Who? Punch? I dunno."

"Where's Jack Harpe?"

"I dunno."

"Yo're a liar. Where is he?"

"I dunno! I dunno! I tell you! Yo're gug-gug-chokin' me!"

"Yo're lying again. If I was choking you you couldn't talk. Yo're talkin', ain't you? Where's Jack Harpe?"

"I dud-dud-dunno," insisted Rack Slimson, his teeth chattering as Racey shook him.

"Is he in town?"

"I dud-dunno."

"Is Thompson going after him, do you think?"

"I dud-dunny-dunno!"

"I guess maybe you don't, after all," Racey said, disgustedly, flinging the unfortunate saloon-keeper from him with such force that the fellow skittered quite across the floor and sat down in the washpan into which the bartender was accustomed to throw the broken glassware.

"Ow-wow!" It was a hearty, full-lunged howl that Rack Slimson uttered as he bounded erect and clutched at his trousers.

Racey's eyes brightened at the sight. "Y' oughta known better than to sit down in all that glass. I could 'a' told you you'd get prickles in you. Why don't you stand still and let yore barkeep pick 'em out for you? You can get at most of the big pieces with yore fingers," he added to the bartender, who was gingerly emerging on all fours round the end of the bar. "And the little ones you can dig out with a sharp knife. Yep, Rack, old-timer, I'll bet you won't carry any more messages on horseback for a while."

There was a sudden crashing thud at the back of the room. Honey Hoke had fallen out of his chair. Now he lay on the floor, his legs drawn up and the back of his frowsy head resting against a rung of the chair in which still sat the dead body of Doc Coffin.

Racey went to Honey and spread him out in a more comfortable position.

Calloway and Judge Dolan entered the saloon together.

"We thought we heard shootin'—" began Galloway, staring in astonishment at the grotesque posture Rack Slimson had assumed the better to endure the ministrations of the bartender.

"We heard shootin', all right," said Judge Dolan, his glance sweeping past Slimson and the bartender to the rear of the room.

"What's happened, Racey?" queried Dolan, striding forward. "Both of 'em cashed?"

Racey shook his head. "Doc Coffin passed out," said he in a hard, dry voice. "But Honey Hoke's heart is beatin' regular enough. Guess he's only fainted from loss of blood."

The Judge nodded. "They do that sometimes." Here he looked at Doc Coffin's body lying humped over the table, an arm hanging free, the head resting on the table-top.

"Were they rowin' together?" was the Judge's next question.

Racey gave him a circumstantial account of the shooting and the incidents that had led up to it. The Judge heard him through without a word.

"They asked for it," said he, when Racey made an end. "'Sfunny Punch didn't pick up a hand. Tell you what you do, Racey: You come to my office in about a hour. Nothing to do with this business. I got no fault to find with what you done. Even break and all that. Something else I wanna see you about. Huh? What's that, Piggy?"

The place was beginning to fill up with inquisitive folk from the vicinity, and Racey decided to withdraw. He went out the back way. Closing the door, he set his shoulders against it, and remained motionless a moment. His eyes were on the distant hills, but they neither saw the hills nor anything that lay between.

"I had to do it," he muttered, bitterly. "I didn't want to down him. But I had to. They were gonna down me if they could. And he—they—they asked for it."



CHAPTER XXVI

THE QUARREL

"Lo, Peaches, ain't you afraid of gettin' sunburnt?" Peaches Austin, gambler though he was, flickered his eyelashes. He was startled. He had not had the slightest warning of Racey Dawson's approach.

"Didn't hear me, did you?" Racey continued, conversationally. "I didn't want you to. That's why I kept my spurs off and sifted round from the back of the blacksmith shop. And you were expecting me to come scampering down the trail over Injun Ridge, weren't you? Joke's on you, Peaches, sort of."

Still Peaches said nothing. He sat and gazed at Racey Dawson.

"Don't be a hawg," resumed Racey. "Move over and lemme sit down, too. That's the boy. Now we're both comfortable, Peaches, you mean to sit there and tell me you didn't hear any shooting up at the Starlight a while back?"

Peaches Austin wetted his lips with the tip of a careful tongue. "I heard shootin'," he admitted, stiff-lipped.

"And what did you think it was?"

"I didn't know."

"Didn't you see Thompson ride away?"

"Shore."

"And didn't you think anything about that, either?"

"Oh, I thought, but—"

"But you had yore orders to sit here and wait for li'l Willie. And you always obey orders. That it, Peaches?"

"What are you drivin' at?"

"Yo're always asking me that, Peaches. Try something new for a change. Look."

Racey extended a long arm past Peaches' nose and pointed up the street toward the Starlight Saloon. A man was backing out through the doorway. Another followed, walking forward. Between them they were carrying a third man. The hat of the third man was over his face. His arms, which hung down, jerked like the arms of a doll. Even at that distance Peaches could see that there was no life in the third man.

"That's Doc Coffin," Racey murmured without rancour. "I wonder where they're taking him? He used to bach with Nebraska Jones, didn't he? I guess that's where they're taking him to. Yep, they've gone round the corner of the stage company's corral."

"Where's Honey?" queried Peaches in a still, small voice.

"In the Starlight. He ain't hurt bad. Foot and arm. Lucky, huh?"

Peaches Austin considered these things a moment. "Doc Coffin was reckoned a fast man," he said in the tone of one who, after adding up a column of figures, has found the correct total, "and Honey Hoke wasn't none slow himself. And you got 'em both."

"I didn't get 'em both," corrected Racey. "Honey is only wounded."

"Same thing. You could 'a' got 'him if you wanted to. Yo're lucky, that's what it is. Yo're lucky. And you been lucky from the beginning. I ain't superstitious, but—" Here he lied. Like most gamblers Peaches was sadly superstitious. He looked at Racey, and there was something much akin to wonder on his countenance. He shook his head and was silent a long thirty seconds. "Yo're too lucky for me—I quit," he finished.

"How much?"

"Complete. I tell you, I don't buck no such luck as yores no longer. I'll never have none myself if I do. I'm goin'."

Peaches Austin got to his feet and walked across the street to the hotel. Twenty minutes later Racey, sitting on the bench in front of the blacksmith shop, saw him issue from the hotel, carrying a saddle, packed saddlebags, and cantenas, blanket and bridle, and go to the hotel corral.

Within three minutes Peaches Austin rode out from behind the hotel. As he passed the blacksmith shop he said "So long" to Racey.

"See you later," nodded that serene young man.

"I hope not," tossed back Peaches, and rode on down the trail that leads over Indian Ridge to Marysville and the south.

Racey watched him out of town. Then he went to Mike Flynn's to see and, if it were possible, to cheer up his wounded friend, Swing Tunstall. But he was not allowed to see him. Swing, it appeared, had been given an opiate by Joy Blythe, who was acting as nurse, and she refused to awaken her patient for anybody. So there.

Racey went to the Happy Heart to while away the remainder of the hour set by Judge Dolan. The bartender greeted him respectfully and curiously. So did several other men he knew. For that respect and that curiosity he understood the reason. It lay on a bunk in Nebraska Jones's shack.

No one asked him to drink. People are usually a little backward in social intercourse with a citizen who has just killed his fellowman. Of course in time the coolness wears off. In this case the time would be short, Doc Coffin having been one of those that more or less encumber the face of the earth. But for the moment Racey felt his ostracism and resented it.

He set down his drink half drunk and walked out of the Happy Heart.

* * * * *

"See anything of Luke Tweezy lately?" asked Judge Dolan when Racey was sitting across the table from him in the Judge's office.

"Saw him to-day."

"Where?"

"Moccasin Spring."

Judge Dolan nodded and rasped a hand across his stubbly chin. "Luke is in town now," said he.

"I ain't lost any Luke Tweezys," observed Racey, looking up at the ceiling.

"I wonder how long Luke is figuring on staying in town," went on Judge Dolan, sticking like a stamp to his original subject.

"Nothing to me."

"It might be. It might be. You never can tell about them things, Racey."

Racey Dawson's eyes came down from the ceiling. He studied the Judge's face attentively. What was Dolan driving at? Racey had known the Judge for several years, and he was aware that the more indirect the Judge became in his discourse the more important the subject matter was likely to be.

"No," said Racey, willing to bite, "you never can tell."

"We was talking one day about a feller making mistakes." The tangent was merely apparent.

"Yep," acquiesced Racey. "We were saying Luke Tweezy made a good many."

"Something like that, yeah. You run across any of Luke's mistakes yet, Racey?"

Racey shook his head. "No."

"Did you go to Marysville?"

"Why for Marysville?"

"Luke Tweezy lives in Marysville."

"And you think there's somebody in Marysville would talk?"

Judge Dolan looked pained. "I didn't say so," he was quick to remark.

"I know you didn't, but—"

"I don't guess they's many folks in Marysville know much about Luke—no, not many. Luke is careful and clever, damn clever. But they's other things besides folks which might have useful information."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. A gent, a lawyer anyway, keeps a lot of papers in his safe as a rule. Sometimes them papers make a heap interesting readin'." The Judge paused and regarded Racey coolly.

"They might prove interesting reading, that's a fact," drawled Racey.

"Now I ain't suggestin' anything," pursued Judge Dolan. "I couldn't on account of my oath. But it ain't so Gawd-awful far from Farewell to Marysville."

"It ain't too far."

"I got a notion Luke Tweezy will find important business to keep him here in Farewell the next four or five days."

"I wonder what kind of a safe Luke has got," murmured Racey.

"Damfino," said the Judge. "You know anything about dynamite—how it's handled, huh?"

"Shore, handle it carefully."

"I mean how to prepare a fuse and detonator and stick it in the cartridge. You know how?"

"I helped a miner man once for a week. Shore I know. You cut the fuse square-ended. Stick the square end into the cap until it touches the fulminate, and crimp down the copper shell all round with a dull knife to hold the fuse. Then you make a hole in the end of the cartridge and—"

"I guess you know yore business, Racey," interrupted Judge Dolan. "You'll find a package on that shelf by the door. Handle it carefully. I'm glad you dropped in, Racey, Nice weather we're having."

"But there are some people about due for a cold wave," capped Racey, stopping on his way out to take the package from the shelf and wink at Judge Dolan.

The wink was not returned. But the Judge's tongue may have been in his cheek. He was a most human person, was Judge Dolan of Farewell.

Racey, handling the package with care, went back to the draw where he had left the two horses. In the draw he opened the package. It contained six sticks of dynamite and the necessary detonators and fuse.

"Good old Judge," said Racey, admiringly, and rewrapped the dynamite, the detonators, and the fuse with even more care than he had employed in unwrapping them.

He rolled the package into his slicker and tied down the slicker behind the cantle of his saddle. Untying the two horses he mounted his own and, leading the other, rode to the hotel corral.

Bill Lainey was only too glad to lend him a fresh horse and a bran sack.

It was dusk when he dismounted at the Dale corral. There was a lamp in the kitchen. Its rays shone out through the open door and made a rectangle of golden light on the dusty earth. Molly was standing at the kitchen table. She was stirring something in a bowl. She did not turn her head when he came to the door.

"Evenin', Molly," said Racey.

"Good evening." Just that.

"Uh. Yore ma around?"

"She's gone to bed." Still the dark head was not raised.

He misunderstood both her brevity and the following silence. He left his hat on the washbench outside the door and stepped into the kitchen.

"Don't take it so to heart, Molly," he said, awkwardly.

"It's hard, but—Shucks, lookit, I've got something to tell you."

In very truth he had something to tell her but he had not meant to tell her so soon.

"Lemme take care of you, Molly—dear. You know I love you, and—"

"Stop!" Molly turned to him an expressionless face. She looked at him steadily. "You say you love me?" she went on.

"Shore I say it." He was plainly puzzled at her reception of what he had said. Girls did not act this way in books.

"How about that—that other girl? Marie, I think her name is."

"What about her?"

"A good deal."

"What has she got to do with my loving you, I'd like to know?"

"She loves you."

"Marie? Loves me? Yo're crazy!"

"Oh, am I? If she hadn't loved you do you think for one minute she'd come riding all the way out here to give you a warning?"

"Marie and I are friends," he admitted. "But there ain't any law against that."

"None at all." Molly's eyes dropped. Her head turned back. She resumed her operations with a spoon in the bowl.

"Lookit here, Molly—"

"Don't you call me Molly." Her tone was as lacking in expression as was her face.

"But you've got to listen to me!" he insisted, desperately. "I tell you there ain't anything between Marie and me."

"Then there ought to be." Thus Molly. Womanlike she yearned to use her claws.

"But—"

"Oh, I've heard all about your carryings on with that—creature; how you talk to her, and people have seen you walking with her on the street. I saw you myself. Yesterday when Mis' Jackson drove out here to buy three hens she told me when the girl was arrested and fined for trying to murder a man you stepped up and paid her fine. Did you?"

"I did. But—"

"There aren't any buts! You've got a nerve, you have, making love to me after running round with that wretched hussy!"

"She ain't a hussy!" denied the exasperated Racey, who was always loyal to absent friends. "She's all right. Just because she happens to be a lookout in the Happy Heart ain't anything against her. It don't give you nor anybody else license to insult her."

This was too much. Not content with confessing his friendship for the girl, he was standing up for her. Molly whirled upon him.

"Go!" Tone and business could not have been excelled by Peg Woffington herself.

Racey went.

"What's the matter?" queried a sleepy voice from the doorway giving into an inner room, as Racey's spurred heels jingled past the washbench. "What's goin' on? Who was here? What you yelling about, anyway?"

"Racey was here, Ma," said Molly.

"Seems to me you made an uncommon racket about it," grumbled her mother, plodding into the kitchen in her slippers.

Her gray hair was all in strings about her face. Her eyes and cheeks were puffed with sleep. She had pulled a quilt round her shoulders over her nightdress. Now she gave the quilt a hitch up and sat down in a chair.

"Make me a cup o' coffee, will you, Molly?" said Mrs. Dale. "My head aches sort of. I hope you didn't have a fight with Racey Dawson."

"Well, we didn't quite agree," admitted Molly, snapping shut the cover of the coffee-mill and clamping the mill between her knees. "I don't like him any more, Ma."

"And after he's helped us so! I was counting on him to fix up this mortgage business! Whatever's got into you, Molly?"

"He's been running round with that awful lookout girl at the Happy Heart."

"Is that all?" yawned Mrs. Dale, greatly relieved. "I thought it might have been something serious."

"It is serious! What right has he to—"

"Why hasn't he? You ain't engaged to him."

"I know I'm not, but he—I—you—" Molly began to flounder.

"Has he ever told you he loved you?" Mrs. Dale inquired, shrewdly.

"Not in so many words, but—"

"But you know he does. Well, so do I know he does. I knew it soon as you did—before, most likely. Don't you fret, Molly, he'll come back."

"No, he won't. Not now. I don't want him to."

"Then who's to fix up this mortgage business with Tweezy, I'd like to know? I declare, I wish I'd taken that lawyer's offer. We'd have something then, anyhow. Now we'll have to get out without a nickel. Oh, Molly, what did you quarrel with Racey for?"



CHAPTER XXVII

BURGLARY

Merely because he believed that the well-known all was over between Molly Dale and himself, Racey did not relinquish his plans for the future.

He rode to Marysville as he had intended. That is, he rode to the vicinity of Marysville. For, arriving at a hill five miles outside of town in the broad of an afternoon, he stopped in a hollow under the cedars and waited for night. Daylight was decidedly not appropriate for the act he contemplated.

"I wonder," he muttered, as he lay with his back braced against a tree and stared at the bulge in his slicker, "I wonder if I ought to use all them sticks at once. I never heard that miner man say how much of an argument a safe needed. I s'pose I better use 'em all."

Luke Tweezy was a bachelor. His office was in his four-room house, and he did not employ a housekeeper. Further than this, Racey Dawson knew nothing of the lawyer's establishment. But he believed that his knowledge was sufficient to serve his purpose.

About midnight Racey Dawson removed himself, his horse, and his dynamite from the hollow on the hill to where a lone pine grew almost directly in the rear of and two hundred yards from the residence of Luke Tweezy. He had selected the tall and lonely pine as the best place to leave his horse because, should he be forced to run for it, he would have against the stars a plain landmark to run for. He thoroughly expected to be forced to run. Six sticks of dynamite letting go together would arouse a cemetery. And Marysville was a lively village.

Racey, taking no chances on the Lainey horse stampeding at the explosion, rope-tied the animal to the trunk of the pine. After which he removed his spurs, carefully unwrapped the dynamite and stuck three sticks in each hip-pocket. The caps, in their little box, he put in the breast-pocket of his shirt. With the coil of fuse in one hand and the bran sack given him by Lainey in the other he walked toward the house of Tweezy.

The house was of course dark. Nor were there any lights in the irregular line of houses stretching up and down this side of the street. The neighbours had apparently all gone to bed. Through an opening between two houses Racey saw a brightly lighted window in a house an eighth of a mile away. That would be Judge Allison's house. The Judge, then, was awake. Two hundred and twenty yards was not a long distance even for a portly man like Judge Allison to cover at speed. And Racey had known Judge Allison to move briskly on occasion.

Racey, moving steadily ahead, slid past someone's barn and opened up a view of the dance hall. It had previously been concealed from his sight by the high posts and rails of three corrals. The dance hall was going full blast. At least all the windows were bright with light. He was too far away to hear the fiddles.

The dance hall! He might have known it would still be operating at midnight. But it was almost twice as far from the Tweezy house to the dance hall as it was from the Judge's house to Tweezy's. That was something. Indeed it was a great deal. But he would have to work fast. All the neighbours would come bouncing out at the crash of the explosion.

Racey paused to flatten an ear at the kitchen door. He heard nothing, and tiptoed along the wall to the window of the room next the kitchen. The ground plan of the house was almost an exact square. There was a room in each angle. The office, which Racey knew contained the safe, was diagonally across from the kitchen.

Racey, halting at the window of the room next the kitchen, was somewhat surprised to find it open. He stuck in his head and saw a faint glow beyond the half-closed door of the office. The glow seemed to be brighter near the floor. Racey listened intently. He heard a faint grumble and now and then a squeak.

He crouched beneath the window and removed his boots. Then he crawled over the sill and hunkered down on the uncarpeted floor. The floor boards did not creak. Still crouching, his arms extended in front of him, he made his way silently across the room, skirting safely in the process two chairs and a table, and stood upright behind the crack of the door.

Looking through the crack he perceived that the glow he had seen from the window emanated from a tin can pierced with several holes. The dim, uncertain light revealed the figure of a tall and hatless man kneeling beside the safe. The man's back was toward the lighted tin can. One of the tall man's hands was slowly turning the knob of the combination. The side of the man's head was pressed against the front of the safe near the combination. Racey could not see the man's face.

Across the window of the room two blankets had been hung. The door into the other front room was open. Then suddenly the doorway was no longer a black void. A man stood there—a fat man with a stomach that hung out over the waistband of his trousers. There was something very familiar about the figure of that fat man.

The fat man leaned against the doorjamb and pushed back his wide black hat. The light in the tin can illumined his countenance dimly. But Racey's eyes were becoming accustomed to the half darkness. He was able to recognize Jacob Pooley—Fat Jakey Pooley, the register of the district, whose home was in Piegan City.

"You ain't as fast as you used to be," observed Fat Jakey in a soft whisper.

"Shut up!" hissed the kneeling man, and turned his face for an instant toward Fat Jakey, so that the light shone upon his features.

It was Jack Harpe.

"What's biting your ear?" Fat Jakey asked, good-naturedly.

"I've told you more'n once to let what's past alone," grumbled Jack Harpe.

"Hell, there's nobody around."

"Nemmine whether they is or not. You get out of the habit."

"Rats," sneered Fat Jakey.

"What was that?" Jack Harpe's figure tautened in a flash.

"Rats," repeated Fat Jakey.

"I thought I heard something," persisted Jack Harpe.

"You heard rats," chuckled Fat Jakey. "You're nervous, that's what's the matter, or else you ain't able to open the safe."

"I can open the safe all right," growled Jack Harpe, bending again to his work.

"I wonder what he did hear," Racey said to himself. "I thought I heard something, too."

Whatever it was he did not hear it again.

"There she is," said Jack Harpe, suddenly, and threw open the safe door.

It was at this precise juncture that a voice from the darkness behind Fat Jakey said, "Hands up!"

Oh, it was then that events began to move with celerity. Fat Jakey Pooley ducked and leaped. Jack Harpe kicked the tin can, the candle fell out and rolled guttering in a quarter circle only to be extinguished by one of Fat Jakey's flying feet.

There was a slithering sound as the blankets across the window were ripped down, followed by a scraping and a heaving and a grunting as two large people endeavoured to make their egress through the same window at the same time.

"So that window was open alla time," thought Racey as he prudently waited for the owner of the voice in the other room to discover himself. But this the voice's owner did not immediately do. Racey could not understand why he did not shoot while the two men were struggling through the window. Lord knows he had plenty of time and opportunity.

Even after Jack Harpe and Fat Jakey had reached the outer air and presumably gone elsewhere swiftly, there was no sound from the other room. Racey, his gun ready, waited.

At first his impulse had been incontinently to flee the premises as Jack and Jake had done. But a saving second thought held him where he was. It was more than possible that the mysterious fourth man had designs on the contents of the safe. In which event—

Racey stood pat.

He heard no sound for at least a minute after Jack and Jake had left, then he heard a soft swish, and a few stars which had been visible through the upper half of the window were blotted out. The blankets were being readjusted.

A match was struck and a figure stooped for the candle that had been dashed out by the foot of Fat Jakey Pooley. A table shielded the figure from Racey. Then the figure straightened and set the flaring match to the candle end. And the face that bent above the light was the face of one he knew.

"Molly!" he whispered, and slipped from his ambush.

At which Molly dropped candle and match and squeaked in affright. But her scare did not prevent her from drawing a sixshooter. He heard the click of the hammer, and whispered desperately, "Molly! Molly! It's me! Racey!"

He struck a match and retrieved the candle and lit it quickly. By its light he saw her staring at him uncertainly. Her eyes were bright with conflicting emotions. Her sixshooter still pointed in his general direction.

"Put yore gun away," he advised her. "We've got no time to lose. Hold the candle for me! Put it in the can first!"

Automatically she obeyed the several commands.

He knelt before the open safe and, beginning at the top shelf, he stuffed into his bran sack every piece of paper the safe contained. Besides papers there were two sixshooters and a bowie. These he did not take.

When the safe was clean of papers Racey tied the mouth of the bran sack, took Molly by the hand, and blew out the candle.

"C'mon," he said, shortly. "We'll be leavin' here now."

Towing her behind him he led her to the window of the rear room. Holding his hat by the brim he shoved it out through the window. No blow or shot followed the action. He clapped the hat on his head, and looked out cautiously. He satisfied himself that the coast was clear and flung a leg over the sill.

When he had helped out Molly he gave her the sack to hold and pulled on his boots.

"Where's yore hoss?" he whispered.

"I tied him at the corner of the nearest corral," was the answer.

"C'mon," said he and took her again by the hand.

They had not gone ten steps when she stumbled and fell against him.

"Whatsa matter?"

"Nothing," was the almost breathless reply. "I'm—I'm all right. I just stepped on a sharp stone."

"Yore shoes!" he murmured, contritely. "I never thought. Why didn't you say something? Here."

So saying he scooped her up in his arms, settled her in place with due regard for the box of caps in his breast-pocket, and plowed on through the night. Her arms went round his neck and her head went down on his shoulder. She sighed a gentle little sigh. For a sigh like that Racey would cheerfully have shot a sheriff's posse to pieces.

"I left my shoes in my saddle pocket," she said, apologetically. "I—I thought it would be safer."

There was a sudden yell somewhere on Main Street. It sounded as if it came from uncomfortably close to the Tweezy house. Then a sixshooter cracked once, twice, and again. At the third shot Racey was running as tight as he could set foot to the ground.

Encumbered as he was with a double armful of girl and a fairly heavy sackful of papers he yet made good time to the corner of the nearest corral. The increasing riot in Main Street undoubtedly was a most potent spur.

"Which way's the hoss?" he gasped when the dark rail of the corral fretted the sky before them.

"You're heading straight," she replied, calmly. "Thirty feet more and you'll run into him. Better set me down."

He did—literally. He turned his foot on a tin can and went down ker-flop. Forced to guard his box of caps with one hand he could not save Molly Dale a smashing fall.

"Ah-ugh!" guggled Molly, squirming on the ground, for she had struck the pit of her stomach on a round rock the size of a football and the wind was knocked out of her.

Racey scrambled to his feet, and knowing that if Molly was able to wriggle and groan she could not be badly hurt, picked up the sack and scouted up Molly's horse. He found it without difficulty, and tied the sack with the saddle strings in front of the horn. He loosed the horse and led it to where Molly still lay on the ground. The poor girl was sitting up, clutching her stomach and rocking back and forth and fighting for her breath with gasps and crows.

But there was not time to wait till she should regain the full use of her lungs—not in the face of the shouts and yells in Main Street. Lord, the whole town was up. Lights were flashing in every house. Racey stooped, seized Molly under the armpits, and heaved her bodily into the saddle.

"Hang onto the horn," he ordered, "and for Gosh sake don't make so much noise!"

Molly obeyed as best she could. He mounted behind her, and of course had to fight the horse, which harboured no intention of carrying double if it could help itself. Racey, however, was a rider, and he jerked Molly's quirt from where it hung on the horn. Not more than sixty seconds were wasted before they were travelling toward the lone pine as tight as the horse could jump.

At the pine Racey slipped to the ground and ran to untie his horse.

"Can you hang on all right at a trot if I lead yore hoss?" he queried, sharply, his fingers busy with the knot of the rope.

"I cue-can and gug-guide him, too," she stuttered, picking up her reins and making a successful effort to sit up straight. "Lul-look! At Tut-Tweezy's huh-house!"

He looked. There were certainly three lanterns bobbing about in the open behind the house of Luke Tweezy. He knew too well what those lights meant. The Marysville citizens were hunting for a hot trail.

He swung up with a rush.

"Stick right alongside me," he told her. "We'll trot at first till we get behind the li'l hill out yonder. After that we can hit the landscape lively."

She spoke no word till they had rounded the little hill and were galloping south. Then she said in her normal voice, "This isn't the way home."

"I know it ain't. We've got to lose whoever follows us before we skip for home."

"Of course," she told him, humbly. "I might have known. You always think of the right thing, Racey."

All of which was balm to a hitherto tortured soul.

"That's all right," he said, modestly.

"And how strong you are—carrying me and that heavy sack all that distance." Both admiration and appreciation were in her tone. Any man would have been made happy thereby. Racey was overjoyed. And the daughter of Eve at his side knew that he was overjoyed and was made glad herself. She did not realize that Eve invariably employed the same method with our grandfather Adam.

He reached across and patted her arm.

"Yo're all right," he told her. "When we get out of this yo're going to marry me."

Her free hand turned under his and clasped his fingers. S6 they rode for a space hand-in-hand. And Racey's heart was full. And so was hers. If they forgot for the moment what dread possibilities the future held who can blame them?



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE LETTERS

"But what was yore idea in coming to Marysville a-tall?"

"To get that release Father signed—I thought it might be in his safe."

"Anybody give you the idea it might be?"

She shook her head. "Nobody."

"You've got more brains than I have, for a fact. But how were you figuring on getting into the safe?"

"Oh, I brought a bunch of keys along. What are you laughing at? I thought one might fit."

"Keys for a safe! Say, don't you know you don't open safes with keys? They've got combinations, safes have."

"I didn't know it. How could I? I never saw a safe in my life till I saw this one to-night. I thought they had locks like any other ordinary—Oh, I think you're horrid to laugh!"

"I'm not laughing. Lean over, and I'll show you.... There, I ain't laughing, am I?"

"Not now, but you were.... Not another one, Racey. Sit back where you belong, will you? You can hold my hand if you like. But I wasn't such a fool as you seem to think, Racey. I brought an extra key along in case the others didn't fit."

"Extra key?"

"Surely—seven sticks of dynamite, caps, and fuse. Chuck had a lot he was using for blowing stumps, so I borrowed some from his barn. He didn't know I took it."

"I should hope not," Racey declared, fervently. "You leave dynamite alone, do you hear? Where is it now?"

"Oh, I left it on the floor in Tweezy's house when I found I didn't need it any longer."

"Thank God!" breathed Racey, whose hair had begun to rise at the bare idea of the explosives still being somewhere on her person. "What was yore motive in hold in' up Jack Harpe and Jakey Pooley?"

"Was that who they were? I couldn't see their faces. Well, when I had broken the lock and opened the back window and crawled through, I went into the front room where I thought likely the safe would be, and I was just going to strike a match when I heard a snap at the front window as the lock broke. Maybe I wasn't good and scared. I paddled into the other front room by mistake. Got turned around in the dark, I suppose. And before I could open a window and get out I heard two men in the front room I'd just left. I didn't dare open a window then. They'd have heard me surely, so I just knelt down behind a bed. And after a while, when one man was busy at the safe, the fat man came into my room and sat down on a chair inside the door. Lordy, I hardly dared breathe. It's a wonder my hair didn't turn white. Once I thought they must have heard me—the time the fat man said 'rats'. Honestly, I was so scared I was almost sick."

"But you have nerve enough to try and hold them up."

"I had to. When I found out they were going to rob the safe, I had to do something. Why, they might have taken the very paper I wanted, and somehow later Tweezy might have gotten it back. I couldn't allow that. I knew that I must get at what was inside the safe before they did. I just had to, so when the fat man got up from his chair and stood in the doorway with his back to me, I just gritted my teeth and stood up and said 'Hands up.'"

"My Gawd, girl, you might 'a' been shot!"

"I had a sixshooter," she said, tranquilly. "But I wouldn't have shot first," she added, reflectively.

Willy-nilly then he took her in his arms and held her tightly.

"But I don't see why," he said after an interval, "you had to go off on a wild-goose chase thisaway. Didn't I tell you I was going to fix it up for you? Couldn't you 'a' trusted me enough to lemme do it my own way?"

"We had that—that quarrel in the kitchen, and I thought you didn't like me any more, and—and wouldn't have any more to do with me and that it was my job to do something to help out the family.... Please! Racey! I can't breathe!"

Another interval, and she resolutely pushed his arms down and held him away from her with both hands on his shoulders.

"Tell me," said she, her blue eyes plumbing the very depths of his soul, "tell me you don't love anybody else."

He told her.

Later. "There was a time once when I thought you liked Luke Tweezy," he observed, lazily.

"How horrible," she murmured with a slight shudder as she snuggled closer.

And that was that.

"I think, dearest," said Molly, raising her head from his shoulder some twenty minutes later, "that it's light enough now to see what's in the sack."

So, in the brightness of a splendid dawn, snugly hidden on the tree-covered flank of one of the Frying Pan Mountains, they opened the bran sack and went through every paper it contained.

There were deeds, mortgages, legal documents of every description. They found the Dale mortgage, but they did not find the release alleged to have been signed by Dale immediately prior to his death.

"Of course that mortgage is recorded," said Racey, dolefully, staring at the pile of papers, "so destroyin' that won't help us any. The release he's carrying with him, and I don't see anything—"

"Here's one we missed," said Molly Dale in a hopeless tone, picking up a slip of paper from where it had fallen behind a saddle. The slip of paper was folded several times. She opened it and spread it out against her knee. "Why, how queer," she muttered.

"Huh?" In an instant Racey was looking over her shoulder.

When both had thoroughly digested the meaning of the writing on that piece of paper they sat back and regarded each other with wide eyes.

"This ought to fix things," breathed Molly.

"Fix things!" cried Racey. "Cinch! We've got him like that."

He snapped his fingers joyfully.

Molly reached for the bran sack. "You only shook it out," she said. "I'm going to turn it inside out. Maybe we'll find something else."

They did find something else. They found a document caught in the end seam. They read it with care and great interest.

"Well," said Racey, when he came to the signatures, "no wonder Jack Harpe and Jakey Pooley wanted to get into the safe. No wonder. If we don't get the whole gang now we're no good."

"And to think we never thought of such a thing."

"I was took in. I never thought anything else. And it does lie just right for a cow ranch."

"Of course it does. You couldn't help being fooled. None of us had any idea—"

"I'd oughta worked it out," he grumbled. "There ain't any excuse for my swallowing what Jack Harpe told me. Lordy, I was easy."

"What do you care now? Everything's all right, and you've got me, haven't you?" And here she leaned across the bran sack to kiss him.

She could not understand why his return kiss lacked warmth.

* * * * *

"Sun's been up two hours," he announced. "And the hosses have had a good rest. We'd better be goin'."

"What are you climbing the tree for, then?" she demanded.

"I want to look over our back trail," he told her, clambering into the branches of a tall cedar. "I know we covered a whole heap of ground last night, but you never can tell."

Apparently you never could tell. For, when he arrived near the top of the cedar and looked out across a sea of treetops to the flat at the base of the mountain, he saw that which made him catch his breath and slide earthward in a hurry.

"What is it?" asked Molly in alarm at his expression.

"They picked up our trail somehow," he answered, whipping up a blanket and saddle and throwing both on her horse. "They're about three miles back on the flat just a-burnin' the ground."

"Saddle your own horse," she cried, running to his side. "I'll attend to mine."

"You stuff all the papers back in the sack. That's yore job. Hustle, now. I'll get you out of this. Don't worry."

"I'm not worrying—not a worry," she said, cheerfully, both hands busy with Luke Tweezy's papers. "I'd like to know how they picked up the trail after our riding up that creek for six miles."

"I dunno," said he, his head under an upflung saddle-fender. "I shore thought we'd lost 'em."

She stopped tying the sack and looked at him. "How silly we are!" she cried. "All we have to do is show these two letters to the posse an'—"

"S'pose now the posse is led by Jack Harpe and Jakey Pooley," said he, not ceasing to pass the cinch strap.

Her face fell. "I never thought of that," she admitted. "But there must be some honest men in the bunch."

"It takes a whole lot to convince an honest man when he's part of a posse," Racey declared, reaching for the bran sack. "They don't stop to reason, a posse don't, and this lot of Marysville gents wouldn't give us time to explain these two letters, and before they got us back to town, the two letters would disappear, and then where would we be? We'd be in jail, and like to stay awhile."

"Let's get out of here," exclaimed Molly, crawling her horse even quicker than Racey did his.

Racey led the way along the mountain side for three or four miles. Most of the time they rode at a gallop and all the time they took care to keep under cover of the trees. This necessitated frequent zigzags, for the trees grew sparsely in spots.

"There's a slide ahead a ways," Racey shouted to the girl. "She's nearly a quarter-mile wide, and over two miles long, so we'll have to take a chance and cross it."

Molly nodded her wind-whipped head and Racey snatched a wistful glance at the face he loved. Renunciation was in his eyes, for that second letter found caught in the bran sack's seam had changed things. He could not marry her. No, not now. And yet he loved her more than ever. She looked at him and smiled, and he smiled back—crookedly.

"What's the matter?" she cried above the drum of the flying hoofs.

"Nothing," he shouted back.

He hoped she believed him. And bitter almonds were not as bitter as that hope.

Then the wide expanse of the slide was before them. Now some slides have trails across their unstable backs, and some have not. Some are utterly unsafe to cross and others can be crossed with small risk. There was no trail across this particular slide, and it did not present a dangerous appearance. Neither does quicksand—till you step on it.

Racey dismounted at the edge and started across, leading his horse. Twenty yards in the rear Molly Dale followed in like manner. At every step the footing gave a little. Once a rounded rock dislodged by the forefoot of Racey's horse bounded away down the long slope.

The slither of a started rock behind him made him turn his head with a jerk. Molly's horse was down on its knees.

"Easy, boy, easy," soothed Molly, coaxingly, keeping the bridle reins taut.

The horse scrambled up and plunged forward, and almost overran Molly. She seized it short by the rein-chains. The horse pawed nervously and tried to rear. More rocks skidded downward under the shove of the hind hoofs. To Racey's imagination the whole slide seemed to tremble.

Molly's face when the horse finally quieted and she turned around was pale and drawn. Which was not surprising.

"It's all right, it's all right, it's all right," Racey found himself repeating with stiff lips.

"Of course it is," nodded Molly, bravely. "There's no danger!"

"No," said Racey. "Better not hold him so short. Don't wind that rein round yore wrist! S'pose he goes down you'd go, too. Here, you lemme take him. I'll manage him all right."

"I'll manage him all right myself!" snapped Molly, up in arms immediately at this slur upon her horsemanship. "You go on."

Racey turned and went on. It was not more than a hundred yards to where the grass grew on firm ground. Racey and his horse reached solid earth without incident. Then—a scramble, a scraping, and a clattering followed in a breath by the indescribable sound of a mass of rocks in motion.

Racey had wasted no time in looking to see what had happened. He knew. At the first sound of disaster he had snapped his rope strap, freed his rope and taken two half hitches round the horn. Then he leaped toward the slide, shaking out his rope as he went.

Twenty feet out and below him Molly Dale and her struggling horse were sliding downward. If the horse had remained quiet—but the horse was not remaining quiet and Molly's wrist was tangled in the bridle reins.

In the beginning the movement was slow, but as Racey reached the edge of the slide an extra strong plunge of the horse drove both girl and animal downward two yards in a breath. Molly turned a white face upward.

"So long, Racey," she called, bravely, and waved her free hand.

But Racey was going down to her with his rope in one hand. With the other hand and his teeth he was opening his pocket-knife. The loose stones skittered round his ankles and turned under his boot soles. He took tremendous steps and, with that white face below him, lived an age between each step.

"Grab the rope above my hand!" he yelled, although by now she was not a yard from him.

Racey was closer to the end of his rope than he realized. At the instant that her free hand clutched at the rope it tightened with a jerk as the cow pony at the other end, feeling the strain and knowing his business, braced his legs and swayed backward. Molly's fingers brushed the back of Racey's hand and swept down his arm. Well it was for him that he had taken two turns round his wrist, for her forearm went round his neck and almost the whole downward pull of girl and horse exerted itself against the strength of Racey Dawson's arm and shoulder muscles.

Molly's face and chin were pressed tightly against Racey's neck. Small blame to her if her eyes were closed. The arm held fast by the bridle was cruelly stretched and twisted. And where the rein was tight across the back of her wrist, for he could reach no lower, Racey set the blade of his pocket-knife and sawed desperately. It was not a sharp knife and the leather was tough. The steel did not bite well. Racey sawed all the harder. His left arm felt as if it were being wrenched out of its socket. The sweat was pouring down his face. His hat jumped from his head. He did not even wonder why. He must cut that bridle rein in two. He must—he must.

Snap! Three parts cut, the leather parted, Molly's left arm and Racey's right fell limply. Molly's horse went down the slide alone. Neither of them saw it go. Molly had fainted, and Racey was too spent to do more than catch her round the waist and hold her to him in time to prevent her following the horse.

Smack! something small and hot sprinkled Racey's cheek. He looked to the left. On a rock face close by was a splash of lead. Smack! Zung-g-g diminuendo, as a bullet struck the side of a rock and buzzed off at an angle.

Racey turned his head abruptly. At a place where trees grew thinly on the opposite side of the slide and at a considerably lower altitude than the spot where he and Molly hung at the end of their rope shreds of gray smoke were dissolving into the atmosphere. The range was possibly seven hundred yards. The hidden marksman was a good shot to drive his bullets as close as he had at that distance.

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