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- Cowboy Dave - 10/28 -
relief came from the man.
"That's better-a whole lot better," he murmured.
It was no easy matter to get him astride his horse, but Dave finally managed it, and wrapped the swollen ankle in his own coat to prevent its striking against the side of Kurd as they rode off.
"How did you come to fall?" asked Dave, as he got into his own saddle, ready for the trip to the ranch.
"I'll explain later. I can't talk very well now. But I was prospecting around, looking at the rock formation, when I slipped. I thought it was all up with me, but my foot caught, and I was held suspended over the gully."
"I see," Dave replied. "Well, we'll doctor you up."
Carefully they made their way out of the rocky woodland, and started across the plain, toward Bar U ranch. As Dave took the lead, making as much speed as was possible under the circumstances, he saw, some distance in advance, a solitary horseman.
Again something in the peculiar saddle position of the rider attracted his attention.
"There's Len Molick again!" he exclaimed aloud. "I suppose he's hanging around to see how his trick worked!"
"Len Molick!" exclaimed Mr. Bellmore. "Why I want to see him. I have been looking for him!"
DAVE MEETS LEN
Dave looked curiously at the man he had rescued. From him he glanced toward the figure of the young bullying cowboy whom he suspected of having been instrumental in causing the stampede.
"Do you know Len Molick?" asked Dave slowly, as he guided his horse along the trail.
"No, but I want to know him," was the answer. "I have a letter to him, and I understand that he is one of the influential cattle raisers in this vicinity."
Dave breathed easier. It was evident a mistake had been made.
"I guess it's Len's father, Mr. Jason Molick you want to meet," Dave said.
"That's right. Jason is the name!" admitted Mr. Bellmore. "I heard you mention the name Molick and I didn't pay much attention to the first part. So there are two of them?"
"Yes, Len and his father,"
"Do you know them?"
"Oh, yes, every one around here knows them."
"You don't speak very enthusiastically," said Mr. Bellmore, with a strange look at the boy. "Is it possible that some error has been made on the part of those who gave me letters of introduction? Is not Mr. Molick influential in these parts?"
"Oh, yes, that's all right," assented Dave, and still his voice had no ring to it. "Mr. Molick is influential all right--too much so, at times."
"You don't seem to like him," said Mr. Bellmore. "I wish you would be frank with me. I am a stranger in these parts, and I have to depend on residents here for my information, and, in a large part, for my success. I know nothing about the Molicks."
"Well, since you asked me to be frank," went on Dave, "I will be, and I'll say you haven't missed much by not knowing the Molicks--especially Len. I'm after him now, for I suspect him of having tried to do us a serious injury."
"Is that so! That's too bad. If I had known that--"
"Oh, don't let me prejudice you against them," Dave went on." Mr. Molick may be able to do business with you in the way you want. I am not speaking from the business end of it. Personally I don't like the Molicks," and Dave mentioned the cattle stampede.
"Well, if he did that I should say he wasn't a person to be trusted," said the Chicago man. "But still--"
"Of course. I'm not certain of it," Dave continued. "I'm going to find out about the sawed posts, though. But see Mr. Molick yourself, and make up your own mind about him"
"I will, but I shall be on my guard on account of what you have said. It is well to know the character of the man one is dealing with. I'm afraid though," he added as a spasm of pain crossed his face," that I sha'n't be able to do any active business for a while," and he glanced down at his injured foot.
"We'll soon be at the ranch," Dave remarked. "The rest of the trail is easy."
Dave was thinking of many things as his pony ambled on, followed by Mr. Bellmore's horse. It was strange, the manner in which he had come to help the injured man, and it was stranger still that the latter should be seeking to do business with the Molicks of whom the members of the Bar U ranch had no very high opinion.
"I was on my way to Mr. Molick's place, when I got off the trail to look after that rock formation resumed Mr. Bellmore after a pause." Rocks always interest me, for I am always looking to see what the possibilities are for striking a supply of water."
"Why water?" asked Dave.
"Because I am an irrigation engineer," was the reply. "That is my business. I have been sent out here by a concern, recently formed, called the Rolling Valley Water Company. Our concern has acquired rights in the valley of the Rolling River, and I have been sent out to see what the chances are for getting the ranchmen and other land-owners interested."
"I thought irrigation schemes had only to do with farming," said Dave.
"No, irrigation takes in much more than that. Of course farmers need water, and we hope to develop some big farms out here. But ranchmen also need water for their cattle."
"Yes, that's true," said Dave. "; My--my father was saying only the other day, that he could do a lot more if we had a better water supply."
"Then he's one of the men I need to see!" exclaimed Mr. Bellmore. "Perhaps he already has some rights in the water supply of this valley that we could negotiate for.
"You see our idea is," he continued, "to get the whole water supply under one head in a big company, of course giving those who sell us their rights, a certain control. Then we intend to build a big dam to conserve the water supply. As it is here now I imagine, from what I know of other places, at one time you have too much water, and at another you don't have enough."
"That's just it," Dave admitted. "It isn't even."
"Well, that's what we irrigation engineers are aiming to do--make the water supply even the year around. I certainly must talk with your father. Maybe, after all, it's a good thing I sprained my ankle, though it certainly does hurt!" he exclaimed, with a sharp indrawing of his breath.
"Well, of course I'll be glad to have you see Mr. Carson--my father," and again Dave rather hesitated and stumbled over the word. "But, as a matter of fact, some of the rights he has in Rolling River are subject to some agreement with Mr. Molick. I know my father doesn't like it, for it makes him too dependent on this man, but he could do nothing else. He had to have water for his stock."
"Of course," agreed Mr. Bellmore. "Well, perhaps we can get together and form a company so he can have more water and will not have to worry about it."
"I hope so," Dave said.
A little later they came within sight of the ranch buildings, which were glowing in the rays of the setting sun.
"What a fine place!" exclaimed Mr. Bellmore.
"Yes, I like it," Dave made answer. Then a pang seemed to shoot through him. What if he had to leave the place? He could not count on always staying there, as he might have done had he been Mr. Carson's son. Even though the ranchman might love Dave as one of his own blood, when Mr. Carson died there would be other heirs very likely, who would step in and claim the place. Dave was not legally adopted. He might inherit nothing.
He had always counted on taking up as his life work, the cattle business. But now, since the disclosure had been made, this was, perhaps, impossible. And He sighed again as he looked at the group of buildings set down in a little valley, with Rolling River in the distance glistening in the slanting rays of the setting sun. On all sides stretched the vast prairies on which grazed the hundreds of cattle--not only from the Bar U ranch, but from the Centre O, and others.
"Yes, that's our place," said Dave. For the present, at least, this man need not know his secret, though he might find it out soon enough. "And I guess you'll be glad of a chance to lie down; won't you?"
"Indeed I will," was the answer.
A moment later the two rode up toward the main ranch buildings. The cowboys had come in from their day's labors, and were washing themselves at their bunk houses, in readiness for supper. From the quarters of Hop Loy, the Chinese cook, came a grateful odor.
"That certainly smells good!" exclaimed Mr. Bellmore.
The cowpunchers looked curiously at the drooping figure on the horse that followed Dave. It needed but a glance from their sharp eyes to tell that
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