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- Cowboy Dave - 15/28 -


spirit of hostility had cropped out.

"Before I go on to say what I intend to-to give you a warning in other words," said Mr. Carson, "let me ask you, Mr. Bellmore if you know why Molick is putting up new fences along the water course? I'd like to know the reason for that before I give you my warning."

"A warning!" exclaimed the irrigation man, and there was evident surprise manifested in his tone.

"Yes, a warning," repeated the ranch owner. "But please do not mistake my meaning. I'm not warning you of any threatened danger, but only of being careful what business dealings you have with Jason Molick, or any of his men."

"Oh, I thought you meant you were going to warn me to move on," and Dave fancied his friend laughed with an air of relief.

"Nothing like that yet," said Mr. Carson, smiling. "But about the fences, concerning which Pocus Pete spoke to me?"

"Well, I suggested to Mr. Molick that he'd better put them up," said Mr. Bellmore.

"You did!" There was great surprise manifested in the exclamation of Mr. Carson.

"Why, yes, I did"

"What for?" asked Mr. Carson.

"Of course you know that if land is allowed to go unfenced for twenty years--or for a longer or shorter period according to different states-- that the land becomes public property, or at least the public has a right- of-way over it and it can not be closed off. I did not want, in case our irrigation company took up Mr. Molick's land, to have a public right-of- way over it, especially so near the water. It might spoil our legal title. So I told him to fence it in before we did any business."

"Then you haven't done any business yet?"

"Not actually closed it, no. I am about to, and then I hope to do some business with you."

Mr. Bellmore smiled frankly, but Mr. Carson's face was grave as he answered:

"Well, I don't know. I'm afraid you can't do business with both of us, Mr. Bellmore."

"Why not?" asked the Chicago man, somewhat surprised.

"Because Mr. Molick and I--to be frank about it--don't pull together any too well. I'm not saying whose fault it is, but he and I have been on the outs for some time, and his men are continually seeking to pick quarrels with my men. He has taken more than his share of the water that is supposed to be for our joint use, and when I objected he was very ugly about it."

I feel it my duty to warn you that if you have any business dealings with him to look well to your own interests. He will take every legal advantage, and some that, in my opinion, are not legal."

"You surprise me!" exclaimed Mr. Bellmore. "I did not know that he was that kind of man."

"Well, he is," put in Dave. "You mustn't think we cowpunchers are in the habit of giving our neighbors black eyes, Mr. Bellmore," went on the young cowboy, "but it is for your own interests that my father is speaking."

Dave did not hesitate at the word of relationship now. Mr. Bellmore did not know the secret.

"Oh, I think I understand," the water-man said. "I'm sorry I began negotiations with Molick, but I don't very well see how I can get out of them. I need his water rights."

"Perhaps he hasn't as many rights as you think he has," suggested Mr. Carson.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean there's a dispute about the river boundary lines. I claim more water than I'm getting, but I'm not in a position to enforce my claims just at present. That is why I wanted to know about the fences. It may be that Molick is encroaching."

"I'd be sorry to hear that," Mr. Bellmore said. "When I told him to go ahead and fence in certain open tracts, so we would know just where the water boundaries extended, I had no idea I would cause you trouble, Mr. Carson."

"You haven't--yet," was the dry answer.

"And I don't intend to!" went on the Chicago man.

"Oh, if there's any trouble, I'll not lay it at your door," went on the ranch owner, smiling grimly. "It will be Molick who causes it, if anybody does. But I want, for your own good, to warn you against this man. He has done a lot of mean things in this section, and he is capable of doing more. He's as mean as they make 'em, and I truly hate to say that about a neighbor."

"Oh, I accept it in confidence," replied Mr. Bellmore.

"I know you do, and that's why I didn't hesitate. I thought it my duty," resumed the owner of Bar U ranch. "I've come to like you a heap since Dave brought you here. Seems almost as though you were kin to us. That's why I'd hate to see you wronged. And you surely will be outwitted if you don't watch Molick. He'd take the eye teeth out of a stuffed alligator if he wasn't watched, and sell 'em for watch charms. Dave knows him!"

"Oh, yes. He's made a lot of trouble for us," Dave assented.

"Well, I don't know exactly what to do," said Mr. Bellmore, slowly. "I have asked Molick to go ahead, and have practically promised to do business with him. I can hardly back out now. If I did he might begin suit against my company, claiming a breach of contract."

"He'd do that if he had half a chance," answered Mr. Carson. "But perhaps matters are not so bad as they seem. He's just begun to build the fences, so Pocus Pete says. It may not be too late to stop him. We'll take a run out that way to-morrow and see what's going on. Meanwhile, consider yourself warned against Jason Molick, Mr. Bellmore."

"I shall, and I thank you for telling me. I hope to do business with you, also, in this water matter."

"Well, if Molick has his way I won't have any water to negotiate about," said the ranch owner grimly. "However, we'll go and take a look at the fences to-morrow."

CHAPTER XV

RETALIATION

Benjamin Bellmore's injured foot was now so nearly healed that he had no difficulty in getting about on horseback. True, he had to favor the injured member somewhat, but that did not greatly hinder him; accordingly, early on the morning following the conversation of warning, the irrigation man, Dave, Mr. Carson and Pocus Pete set out across Bar U ranch to see what the Molicks were doing.

"Well, they're at it, I see," remarked Dave, as the little party topped a rise and saw, down in the river valley below them, a number of men erecting fence posts and stringing barbed wire.

"Yes, he doesn't lose any time, that's one thing I'll say for Jason Molick," answered the ranch owner.

Indeed Molick's forces were very active. They seemed to be in a hurry to get a certain length of fence up before night, and as Dave looked at the cowboys and others employed, he realized that the owner of Centre O ranch had called in from the distant parts of his holdings most of his employees and set them to work on the fence.

Nor was this all. Farther off another gang of men, with picks and shovels, seemed to be erecting a small dam, partially across a narrow part of Rolling River.

"Hello!" exclaimed Mr. Carson in surprise, as he saw their activities. "What does that mean?"

"It's some irrigation work," explained Mr. Bellmore. "Molick didn't believe me when I said that even a small dam would impound enough water to supply not only a good herd of cattle but would also water the dry land. So I told him to try it himself, and see how it worked. I thought if he had a practical demonstration he would be willing to go into the scheme with me. But that was before I had your warning," he added with a look at the ranchman.

"Hum, yes," said Mr. Carson, musingly. "Well, Molick has a right to do as he pleases on his own land, of course--at least I reckon so. But I don't like that business of putting a dam across part of the river."

"Why not?" asked Dave.

"He might shut off too much water," was the answer.

"That's so!" put in Pocus Pete. "Quite a bunch of our cattle depend for a drink on what they get from Rolling River, and we've got a lot of cattle below there now," and he pointed to a section south of that part of the valley in which the work was going on.

"Oh, well, we'll not cross a bridge until we come to it," said Mr. Carson. "I'll not assume that Molick is going to do anything wrong. But when he does," he added reflectively, "then he'd better look out."

"I hope I sha'n't have started a quarrel," put in Mr. Bellmore.

"Don't worry," laughed Dave. "It doesn't take much to start a quarrel with the Molicks. Maybe it'll not amount to anything, anyhow. Say, but he is putting up some fence all right!"

Indeed the operations were on a large scale, and seemed to indicate that the Molick outfit had made good preparations.


Cowboy Dave - 15/28

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