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fine an' summer day?"

Racey looked over his shoulder toward the house. Then he got to his
feet and strode across the garden to where Swing Tunstall sat his
horse.

"Swing," said he, quietly, "are you busy just now?"

Swing, suspecting a catch somewhere, stared in swift suspicion.
"Why - uh - no," was his cautious reply.

"Then go off some'ers and die."

Without waiting for Swing's possible comment Racey turned his back on
his friend and walked unhurriedly to his horse Cuter. Swing slouched
sidewise in the saddle and watched him go.

He rolled a cigarette, lit it, and inhaled luxuriously. And all
without removing his gaze from Racey's back. He watched while Racey
flung the reins crosswise over Cuter's neck, mounted, and rode down
into the creek. When he saw that Racey, after allowing Cuter to drink
nearly all he wanted, rode on across the creek and up the farther
bank, Swing's brow became corrugated with a puzzled frown.

"He means business," muttered Swing. "I ain't seen that look on his
face for some time. I wonder what did happen this morning."

His eyes still fixed on the dwindling westward moving object that was
Racey Dawson and his horse, he smoked his cigarette to a butt. Then he
picked up his reins, found his stirrups, and rode away.

Racey Dawson, bound for the 88 ranch-house, did not smoke. He did not
feel like it. He did not feel like doing anything but facing Lanpher.
What he would be moved to do while facing Lanpher he was not sure.
Time enough to cross that bridge when the crucial moment should
arrive. He knew what he wanted to do, but he knew, too, that he could
not do it unless Lanpher made the first break. Otherwise it would be
murder, and Racey was no murderer.

"He'll back down if he can, the snake," Racey said aloud. "And he'll
be shore to slick and slime round till all's blue. Damn him, riding
over those flowers of hers!"

Racey did not hurry. He had no desire to come up with Lanpher on
the open range. It would be better to meet the man at his own
ranch-house - where there were apt to be plenty of witnesses. Racey
realized perfectly that he might need a witness, several witnesses,
before the sunset. He hoped that all the boys of the 88 outfit would
be at the ranch. He hoped that Luke Tweezy would be there, too.
Lanpher and Tweezy together, the pups.

"Fat Jakey Pooley's li'l playmates," he muttered and swore
again - heartily.

He understood now the true reason for Jack Harpe's lack of activity.
This purchasing by Lanpher and Tweezy of the Dale mortgage was the
eminently safe and lawful plan of Jakey Pooley. In his letter Fat
Jakey had written that it would take longer. And wasn't it taking
longer? It was. Racey thought he saw the plan in its entirety, and was
in a boil accordingly. He would have been in considerably more of a
boil had he been blessed with the ability to read the future.

When he rode in among the buildings of the 88 ranch his eyes were
gratified by the sight of freckle-faced Bill Allen straddling a
cracker-box in front of the bunkhouse and having his hair cut by Rod
Rockwell.

"That's right," Bill Allen was complaining, "whynell don't you cut off
the whole ear while yo're about it?"

"Aw, shut up," said Rod Rockwell, "it was only the tip, and I didn't
go to cut it, anyway."

"I don't giveadamn whether you went to cut it or not, you cut it! I
can feel the blood running down the back of my neck."

"That's only sweat, you bellerin' calf! Hold still, can't you? Djuh
want me to hurt you?"

"You done have already," snarled Bill Allen, fidgeting on his
cracker-box. "You wait till I cut yore hair after. I'll fix you. I'll
scalp you, you pot-walloper."

"That's right, Bill," said Racey, checking his horse beside the
quarrelling pair. "Talk to him. Givem hell."

"'Lo, Racey," grinned the two youngsters in unison.

"Where did you rustle _this_ hoss?" asked Bill Allen.

"Nemmine where," smiled Racey, for both Bill and Rod had been his
friends in his 88 days and could therefore insult him with impunity.
"I wouldn't wanna put li'l boys in the way of temptation. Does the
cook still spank him regular, Rod?"

"Stab his hoss with the scissors, Rod," begged Bill Allen. "Let's see
what for a rider Mr. Dawson is."

Racey pressed his off rein against his horse's neck. The animal
whirled on a nickel, and reared, hard held, after the first plunge.
The flying pebbles plentifully showered the two punchers. Bill Allen
swore heartily, for one of the pebbles had clipped his damaged ear.

"You see what a good rider I am," Racey said, sweetly. "Can't feaze
me, nohow. Sit still, Bill, and lemme try can I jump the li'l hoss
over you. Rod, do you mind movin' back a yard?"

"No," said Bill Allen, decidedly, and picked up his cracker-box and
retreated backward to the bunkhouse door. "No, you don't play any such
tricks as that on me. He'd just as soon try it as not, the idjit," he
added over his shoulder to Tile Stanton who was peering out to see
what all the racket was about.

"Let him try it," Tile Stanton advised promptly. "If the cayuse does
happen to hit yore head, it won't hurt yore thick skull. G'on, Bill,
be a sport."

"Be a sport yoreself," returned Bill Allen, skipping into the
bunkhouse. "Where's the other scissors? I'll finish this job myself."

Racey, left alone with Rod Rockwell, smiled slightly. "Bill ain't got
a sense of humour this mornin'," he observed, softly. "He must 'a'
thought I meant it."

There was no answering smile on Rod's features as he looked up at
Racey Dawson. "Racey," said he, laying a hand on the horse's mane,
"have you been to McFluke's lately?"

"I ain't," replied Racey, his smile fading out.

"Then keep on stayin' away."

"As bad as that?"

"As bad as that."

"McFluke been talking?" was Racey's next question.

"If McFluke was the only one it would be a mighty short hoss to
curry."

"Then there are others?"

"Plenty." Rod Rockwell gave a short, hard laugh.

"All of Nebraska's bunch, huh?"

"All but Nebraska."

"How long has this been going on - this talking, I mean?"

"Doc Coffin started it about a week ago. He told Windy Taylor of the
Double Diamond A he was gonna ventilate yore good health some fine
day. He wasn't drunk, neither."

"Then he must have serious intentions."

"Somethin' like that. Five of us heard him say it. Lookit, while I was
at McFluke's alone day before yesterday Doc and Peaches Austin and
Honey Hoke was all three bellying the bar, and while I was tucking
away my nosepaint they was mumbling to themselves how you was all
kinds of a pup and would stand shootin' any day."

"Mumblin' loud enough for you to hear, huh?"

"Naturally, or I wouldn't 'a' heard it."

"Then they wanted you to hear. Guess they know yo're a friend of
mine."

"Guess they do now," Rod Rockwell said, grimly.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothin'. I just talked to 'em a li'l bit."

"And you wasn't shot? Didn't they do anything?"

"Hell, no," Rod denied, disgustedly. "Kansas Casey come in just at the
wrong time, and throwed down on the four of us and said he'd do all
the shooting they was to be done. And when he went he took me with
him. Said he'd arrest me if I didn't go peaceable. Ain't that just
like Kansas?"

"Wearing the star shore means a lot to him."

"Aw, since he's been deputy he's gotten too big for his boots. And
Jake the same way. The country's played out, that's whatsa matter.
Law and order, law and order, till a feller can't turn round no more
without fallin' into jail."

"She's one lucky thing for you, cowboy," said Racey, seriously, "that
Kansas did come. Three of 'em! You had yore gall. Lookit here, next
time you let 'em talk. Names don't hurt less they're said to a
feller's face."

"They knowed you was my friend," said Rod, simply. "Anyway, you keep
away from McFluke's."

"Maybe I will take yore advice. It has its points of interest, as
the feller said when he sat down on the porkumpine. And speakin' of
porkumpines, have you seen Lanpher?"

"Shore. Him and Alicran pulled in a hour ago. Guess he's in the
office - Lanpher."

"See anything of Tweezy lately?"

"Luke seems to be living with us _lately_."

"I never knowed him and Lanpher was good friends?" Racey cast at a
venture.

"I didn't either - till lately."

"Jack Harpe ever come out here?"

"Long-geared feller - supposed to have capital? Hangs out in Farewell?
The one that Marie girl tried to down? Bo, he ain't been here as I
know of, but then he could easy drift in and out and me not know it."

Racey nodded. "Marie jump Jack again, do you know?" he asked.

"Damfino. Don't guess so, though. I seen her pass him on Main Street,
and she didn't even look at him."

"I'll bet he looked at her."

"You can gamble he did. He ain't trustin' her, not him. I wonder what
was at the bottom of the fuss between him an' her?" A sharp glance at
Racey accompanied this remark.

"I dunno," yawned Racey. "They say Mr. Harpe has had a career both
high, wide, and handsome."

"That's what I'd call one too many," grinned Rod Rockwell.

"You can put down a bet the career has been one too many, too."

"Yeah?" said Rod, wondering what was coming next.

"Yeah," said Racey, nodding mysteriously, but disappointing his friend
by immediately changing the subject. "Say, Rod, I'd take it as a
favour if you and Tile and Bill would sort of freeze round the
bunkhouse till after I'm through with Lanpher."

"Shore," said Rod. "Tweezy's in the office, too, I guess."

Racey nodded, and started his horse toward the office.

He understood well enough that Rod and the other two punchers would
not interfere in any way with him and whatever acts he might be called
upon to perform during his conversation with Lanpher. Loyal to the
last cartridge and after whenever it was ranch business, none of the
88 punchers ever felt it incumbent upon him to go out of his way so
far as Lanpher personally was concerned. The manager was not the man
either to engender or to foster personal loyalty.

At the open doorway of the office Racey dismounted. He dropped the
reins over his horse's head and walked to the doorway. There he
stopped and looked in. He saw Lanpher sitting behind his big homemade
desk. Lanpher was watching him. At one side of the desk, on a chair
tilted back against the wall, sat Luke Tweezy. Luke was chewing a
straw. His eyes were half closed, but Racey detected their glitter.
Luke Tweezy was not overlooking any bets at that moment.

Racey stepped across the doorsill and halted just within the room. The
thumb of his left hand was hooked in his belt. His right hand hung at
his side. He was ready for action.

"Lanpher," said Racey without preliminary, "I want to serve notice
on you here and now that if I catch you within one mile of Moccasin
Spring you come a-shooting because I will."

Lanpher's hand remained motionless on the desktop. Then the man picked
up a pencil and began to tap it on the wood. He licked his lips
cat-fashion.

"Is that a threat or a promise?" he asked.

"You can take it she's both," Racey told him.

"You hear that, Luke?" Lanpher turned to Luke Tweezy. "Threatenin' my
life, huh?"

"Shore," nodded Luke Tweezy. "Actionable, that is. Mustn't threaten a
man's life, Racey. Against the law, you know."

Racey moved to one side and leaned his back comfortably against the
wall. "Against the law, huh, Luke?" he said nervously. "Then I can be
arrested?"

"You can," Luke Tweezy declared with evident relish. "That is, you can
if Lanpher wants to make a complaint."

"You hear, Lanpher?" asked Racey, still more nervously. "You wanna
make a complaint, huh?"

Lanpher had not failed to note the nervousness of Racey's tone. Now he
licked his lips again. He felt quite cheerful of a sudden. It gave
him a warm and pleasant feeling to think that Racey Dawson was to a
certain degree in his power. Having licked his lips several times he
rubbed his chin judicially and coughed, likewise judicially.

"Well, I dunno as I wanna make a complaint exactly," he said, slowly.
"But you wanna walk a chalkline round here, Racey. You got too much to
say for a fact."

"What do you think, Luke?" queried Racey. "Have I got too much to
say?"

"You heard what Lanpher said," replied the cautious Luke.

"Yep, I heard all right. I just wanted to get yore opinion, because I
ain't through yet - through talking, I mean. What I was going to say is
that I wouldn't be particular about catching Lanpher round Moccasin
Spring. If I only _heard_ he'd been hanging round there it would be
enough."

"Meaning you'll drill him on suspicion?"

"Meaning I'll do just that."

"Now yo're threatenin' me again." Thus Lanpher.

"Takes you a long time to wake up, don't it?" The nervousness had
vanished from Racey's voice. "Lanpher, you lousy skunk! Why don't you
pull? There's a gun in that open drawer not six inches from your hand.
Go after it, you hound-dog!"

Lanpher was not inordinately brave. He would go out of his way to
avoid an appeal to lethal weapons. But Racey's words were more than he
could stand. His hand jerked sidewise and down toward the sixshooter
in the open drawer.

Bang! Shooting from the hip Racey drove an accurate bullet through the
manager's right forearm. Lanpher grunted and gurgled with pain. But he
made no attempt to seize his weapon with his left hand.

Luke Tweezy picked himself up from the floor where he had thrown
himself a split second before the shot. Luke Tweezy's leathery face
was mottled yellow with rage.

"I'll get you ten years for this!" he squalled, pointing a long arm at
Racey. "You started this fight! You tried to murder him!"

"Oh, say not so," said Racey. "If I'd wanted to kill him I wouldn't
'a' plugged him in the arm, would I? That wouldn't 'a' been sensible."

"You provoked this fraycas!" snarled Luke, disregarding Racey's point
in a true lawyer-like way. "You - "

"Why, no, Luke, yo're wrong, all wrong," interrupted Swing Tunstall,
leaning over the windowsill at Tweezy's back. "I seen the whole thing,
I did, and I didn't see Racey do anything he shouldn't. I could swear
to it on the stand if I had to," he added, thoughtfully.

Come then Rod Rockwell, Bill Allen, and Tile Stanton from the
bunkhouse. None made any comment on the state of affairs. But while
Rod fetched water in a basin, Bill Allen cut away the sleeve of his
groaning employer, and made all ready.

A few minutes later Alicran Skeel entered the office. "I thought I
heard a gun," he drawled, his calm eyes embracing everyone in the
room.

"That man!" bubbled Luke Tweezy, shaking his fist at Racey. "That
man tried to kill Lanpher! I call upon you not to let him leave the
premises until I can go to Farewell and swear out a warrant for his
arrest."

"That man," said Swing Tunstall, pointing a derisive finger at Luke
Tweezy, "is a liar by the clock. I saw the whole thing. And all I
gotta say is that Lanpher went after his gun first."

"I ain't doubting yore word, Swing," Alicran said, tactfully, "but
they seems to be a difference of opinion sort of, and - "

"I say that Luke Tweezy is a damn liar," reasserted Swing, "and they
ain't no difference of opinion about that."

"Well, of course, if Luke - " Alicran did not complete the sentence.

"I am a lawyer," Luke Tweezy explained, hurriedly. "I ain't paying any
attention to what his man says - now."

"Or any other time," jibed Swing.

"Any of you boys see this?" Alicran asked of his three punchers.

"He tried to kill me, I tell you!" Lanpher gritted through his teeth.
"He didn't gimme a chance!"

"Any of you boys see it?" repeated Alicran, paying no attention to
Lanpher.

"How could we?" asked Rod Rockwell, glancing up from the bandaging of
Lanpher's arm. "We was all in the bunkhouse."

"Then for the benefit of the gents who wasn't here," said Racey,
smoothly, "I don't mind saying that I told Lanpher to go after his
gun, and he did, and I did."

"He's a liar," gibbered Lanpher. "Alicran, ain't you man enough to
take care of Racey Dawson?"

Alicran nodded composedly. "I guess him and me would come to some kind
of an agreement provided I was shore he needed taking care of. But I
ain't none shore he does. Looks like it was a even break to me - the
word of you and Luke against his and Swing's. And what's fairer than
that I'd like to know?"

"Alicran!" squalled Lanpher. "I'm telling you to - "

"Yo're all worked up, that's whatsa matter," Alicran assured him.
"You don't mean more'n half you say. You lie down now after Rod gets
through with you and cool off - cool off considerable, I would. Do you
a heap o' good. Yeah."

"And when you get all well, Lanpher," put in Racey, "will I still be a
liar like you say?"

Lanpher looked at Racey and looked away. His heated blood was cooling
fast. His arm - Lord, how it hurt! He perceived that discretion was
necessary to preserve the rest of his precious skin from future
perforation.

"I - I guess I was a li'l hasty," he mumbled, his eyelids lowered.

"Now that's what I call right down handsome - for you," drawled Racey.
"Gawd knows I ain't a hawg. I'm satisfied. Luke, s'pose you and me
walk out to the corral together. I got a secret for yore pearly ear."

It was obvious that Luke Tweezy was of two minds. Racey grinned to see
the other's hesitation.

"What you scared of, Luke?" he inquired. "It ain't far to the corral,
and you can ask Alicran to come outside and watch me while I'm talkin'
to you."

"I ain't got any business with you," denied Luke Tweezy.

"Oh, yo're mistaken, a heap mistaken. Yes, indeedy, you got business
with me. But it ain't my fault, Luke. I can't help it. Of course, if
you don't wanna talk to me private like, I can reel her off in here.
My thoughts were all of you and yore feelin's, Luke, when I said the
corral. I was shore you'd be happier there."

"I ain't got a thing to hide, not a thing," declared Luke Tweezy. "But
if you want to we'll go out to the corral."

They went out to the corral and Racey found a seat on an empty
nailkeg. Luke Tweezy sat perforce on the hardbaked ground. He hunched
up his legs, clasped his hands round his shins, and rested his sharp
chin on his bony knees. His eyes were fixed on Racey. The latter
seemed in no hurry to begin. He rolled a cigarette with irritating
slowness. To force one's opponent to wait is always good strategy.

"Well," said Luke Tweezy.

"Is it?" smiled Racey. "Have it yore own way, if you like. Lookit,
Luke, you buy a lot of scrip now and then, don't you?"

"Shore," nodded Luke.

"Good big discount, I'll bet."

"Why not? I ain't in business for my health. They's no law - "

"Of course there ain't. And yore mortgages, Luke. Do a good business
in mortgages, don't you?"

"So-so."

"This mortgage of Old Man Dale's now - you figurin' on foreclosin' if
he can't pay?"

"Whadda you know about Dale's mortgage?"

"I heard Lanpher yawpin' about it. He talks too loud sometimes, don't
he? You gonna foreclose on him, I suppose?"

"Like that!" Luke Tweezy snapped his teeth together with a click.

"But foreclosing takes time. You can't sell a man up the minute his
mortgage is due. There's got to be notices in the papers and the like
of that. Suppose now he gets to borrow the money some'ers before the
sale? He'll have plenty of time to look round."

"Who'd lend him money?"

"Old Salt would. He's tight, but he'd rather have Dale at Moccasin
Spring than someone else, and he'd lend Dale money rather than have
him drove out."

"Shucks, he wouldn't lend him a dime. I know Old Salt. Don't fret,
we'll foreclose when we get ready."

"I ain't fretting," said Racey. "You'll foreclose, huh? Aw right. I
just wanted to be shore. You can go now, Luke."

Thus dismissed Tweezy rose to his feet and glared down at Racey
Dawson. His little eyes shone with spite.

"Say it," urged Racey. "You'll bust if you don't."

But Luke Tweezy did not say it. He knew better. Without a word he
returned to the house.

"They ain't going to foreclose, that's a cinch," said Racey when the
ponies were fox-trotting toward Soogan Creek and the Bar S range five
minutes later. "Luke's telling me they were proves they ain't."

"Shore," acquiesced Swing, "but what are they gonna do?"

"I ain't figured that out yet."

"You mean you dunno. That's the size of it,"

"How'd you happen to be at that window so providential this mornin'?"
Racey queried, hurriedly.

"How'd you s'pose? Don't you guess I'd know they was something up from
the nice, kind way you said so-long to me back there at the Dales'?
Huh? 'Course I did - I ain't no fool. You'd oughta had sense enough to
take me along in the first place instead of makin' me trail you miles
an' miles. And where would you 'a' been if I hadn't come siftin'
along, I'd like to know? Might know you'd need a witness. Them two
jiggers put together could easy make you lots of trouble. What was you
thinking of, anyhow, Racey?"

"How could I tell they were _both_ gonna be together? Besides, three
of the 88 boys were over in the bunkhouse. I was counting on them."

"Over in the bunkhouse, huh? A lot of good they'd done you there. A
lot of good. Oh, yo're bright, Racey. I'd tell a man that, I would."




CHAPTER XVIII

THE SHOWDOWN


Racey, walking suddenly round the corner of the Dale stable, came upon
Mr. Dale tilting a bottle toward the sky. The business end of the
bottle was inserted between Mr. Dale's lips. His Adam's apple slid
gravely up and down. He did not see Racey Dawson.

"Howdy," said the puncher.

Mr. Dale removed the bottle, whirled, and thrust the bottle behind
him.

"Oh, it's you," he said, blinking, and slowly producing the bottle.
"Huh-have one on me."

"Not to-day," refused Racey, shaking his head. "I got a misery in my
stummick. Doctor won't lemme drink any."

"Yeah?" Thus Mr. Dale with interest. Then, again proffering the
liquor, he said: "This here's fine for the misery. Better have a
snooter."

"No, I guess not."

"Well, I will," averred Mr. Dale and downed three swallows rapidly.
"Yeah," he continued, driving in the cork with the heel of his hand,
"a feller needs a drink now and then."

"Helps him stand off trouble, don't it?" Racey hazarded,
sympathetically, perceiving an opening.

"Shore does," answered Mr. Dale. "I should say so. Dunno who'd oughta
know that better'n I do. Trouble, Racey - well, say, I'm just made of
trouble I am."

"Aw, it ain't as bad as that," encouraged Racey.

"Yes, it is, too," contradicted the other. "I got more trouble on my
hands than a rat-tailed hoss tied short in fly-time. Trouble - nothing
but."

"Nothing is as bad as it looks."

"Heaps of times she's worse."

"I'm yore friend. You know me. If I can help you - "

"Nobody can help me. I dunno what to do, Racey."

"Well, you know best, I expect, but I've always found if I talk over
with somebody else anythin' that bothers me it don't seem to stick up
half so big."

Mr. Dale sank down upon one run-over heel and stared blearily off
across the flats. The bottle in his hip-pocket made a pronounced bulge
under the cloth.

"I dunno what to do, Racey," he said, looking up sidewise at Racey
where he stood in front of him, his hands in his pockets and his hat
on the back of his head. "I owe a lot of money. I dunno how I'm gonna
pay it, and I'm worried."

"Let the other feller do the worrying," suggested Racey.

"I wish I could," said Mr. Dale, drearily. "I wish I could."

"Why don't you, then?"

"He'll foreclose - they'll foreclose, I mean."

"Aw, maybe not."

"Yeah, they will. I know 'em! - - 'em! They'd have the shirt off my
back if they could. You see, Racey, she's thisaway: I borrowed five
thousand dollars from the Marysville bank, on a mortgage, and there
they went and sold the mortgage to Lanpher of the 88 and Luke Tweezy.
And there's the rub, Racey. The bank would 'a' renewed all right, but
you can put down a bet and go the limit that Lanpher and Tweezy won't.
I done asked 'em."

"Five thousand dollars is a lot of money," said Racey, soberly. He had
been thinking that the mortgage would not have been above two thousand
at the outside. But five thousand! What in Sam Hill had old Dale
done with the money? In the next breath Dale answered the unspoken
question.

"I needed the money," he said in a low voice, his eyes lowered,
"and - and I had bad luck with it."

"Yeah, I know, the cattle dying and all."

"Cattle! What cattle?" Mr. Dale stared blankly at Racey. "Oh, them!
Hell, they didn't have nothin' to do with it, them cattle didn't. I'd
worked out a system, Racey - a system to beat roulette, and I was shore


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