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- Cowboy Dave - 16/28 -
Mr. Bellmore seemed very thoughtful. He sat on his horse, looking at the work, for the starting of which he was, in a measure, responsible. Then he remarked:
"I think I'll get out of this while I can. I'm sorry I made any tentative proposition to Molick but there's time enough yet to withdraw. I'll tell him our irrigation company can't go into that water deal with him. Can I depend on you to make some arrangements with me, regarding your water rights?" he asked of Mr. Carson.
"Well, if you give me all the particulars, and I find them to be as you say, I wouldn't have any objections to going in," replied the ranchman slowly. "I surely do need more water for my cattle and land, and if irrigation, conservation, or whatever you call it, is going to bring it about, I'll be only too glad to go into it with you. Isn't that what you say, Dave?"
The youth hesitated a moment. He felt a warm glow in his heart that the man he had so long regarded as his father reposed this much faith and confidence in him, when the secret had been disclosed.
"Yes, Dad," said Dave, slowly, "I should think it would be a good thing to go in with Mr. Bellmore's company."
"I thought you'd say so. And now let's hear from Pocus Pete. I always like to let my foreman have a word to say," he added to the Chicago man.
"And I think you do right," was the comment.
"What's your idea, Pete?" asked Mr. Carson.
"Why, I say go into it! That is, if we can get away from Molick. I never did like the idea of him controllin' so much of Rollin' River. Now if we can have all the water of our own we want, so much the better. Go into it, I says!"
"Then it's decided," announced Mr. Carson. "We'll go in with you, provided you are not so tied up with Molick that you can't unfetter yourself"
"I think there's no danger of that," said Mr. Bellmore. "I only made a tentative arrangement with him." I'll go over at once and tell him I've reconsidered my plans."
"There he is now," said Dave, pointing to two figures on horses, riding down toward the Centre O workers.
"Yes, and that bully, Len, is with him," added Pocus Pete. "Do you want to turn back, Dave?" he asked with a mischievous glance.
"Indeed I don't!" was the quick reply, and the eyes of the young cowboy flashed.
Mr. Carson's land, at this point, extended down to the edge of Rolling River, where the stream made a sharp turn. On the opposite shore were the Molick workmen. And as Dave, the ranchman and the others rode forward, Jason Molick and his son also approached the stream from their side of it.
Len glanced up and looked at Dave, but gave no other sign. Probably he had not told of the drubbing he had received.
"Can I ride across here?" asked Mr. Bellmore of Mr. Carson, after a few minutes conversation, during which Jason Molick was inspecting the progress of his workmen.
"Yes, the river, is very shallow here. Go ahead! We'll wait for you. I don't want to go on his land."
The irrigation man left his friends and, crossing the stream on his horse's back, was soon approaching Mr. Molick.
"Well, how do you think we're coming on?" asked Len's father. "I took your advice, you see--I'm going in with you on this deal. I think it's a good one, I'm ready to sign the papers whenever you say so."
"Well--er--I don't want to disappoint you, after what has taken place, Mr. Molick," began the Chicago man in rather an embarrassed fashion, "but the truth of the matter is that I guess there won't be any papers to sign."
"No papers to sign! What do you mean?"
"I mean that the deal is off!"
"The deal off? You mean the irrigation scheme you agreed to go into with me?" and Mr. Molick's voice rose.
"Yes, that deal is off," went on the engineer. "You remember I only broached it to you. I did not clinch it. I pointed out its advantages to you, and you were eager to go in. I said I would talk to you later about it."
"And now you come and say you don't want to go into it with me?" asked Molick in sneering tones.
"Yes, that is a right I reserved, you remember."
"Huh! I know what has made him back out!" exclaimed Len.
"What?" asked his father.
"He's been talking to them!" and Len pointed to Dave and the others from Bar U ranch across the stream.
"Ha! So that's the game!" exclaimed Mr. Molick. "Well, I'll show you that two can play at it, Mr. Bellmore!" he sneered. "If you don't want to go into this scheme with me, after promising--"
"I never promised!" interrupted the other.
"Well, it was the same thing. But if you don't want to go in I can get along without you. I guess you'll find you're not the only one around here who knows about dams and irrigation ditches. I and my son have some brains. We'll show you a thing or two!"
"That's what we will!" boasted Len.
"I'm sure I don't wish to curtail your activities in any way," replied the Chicago man. "I hope you have all sorts of success. But I do not feel like going on with the scheme I outlined."
"Because, I suppose, you're going in with the Bar U folks?" suggested Len.
"I haven't said so," was the quiet retort.
"No, but I can read signs. Well, there's one thing I want to tell you!" Len went on in threatening tones. "I warn you off our land--you and the Carson bunch. And as for that Dave, if I catch him I'll give him the worst licking he ever had."
"Seems to me it was the other way around," retorted Mr. Bellmore, with a grim smile. "At least it was the last time you met."
"Huh!" snorted Len. "Well, tell him to look out, that's all!"
"I don't think there is any need of that," said Mr. Bellmore. "I think Dave can look after himself. But now I'll bid you good day."
"And don't you trespass on Centre O ranch again!" was Mr. Molick's warning. "I've seen enough of you."
Mr. Bellmore felt the same way about it, but did not think it necessary to say so.
He rode slowly back across the stream and rejoined his friends.
"Well?" asked Dave.
"It's all off," the Chicago man said. "I've ended negotiations with them, and I'm sorry I ever tried to do business. But it will be all right. They can do business in their own way, and we'll do ours as we please. I'll look into the irrigation possibilities on your property now, Mr. Carson. We'll not hear anything more from the Molick outfit."
But Mr. Bellmore failed to reckon on the mean characters of the Molick father and son. It was only a few days after this that one of the cowboys came riding post-haste to the ranch house. He dismounted in a cloud of dust, and seeing Dave and Mr. Carson standing together hurried toward them, calling out:
"Th' bottom must have dropped out of Rolling River. It's almost dry down below there, where I've got that bunch of fine cattle, and they can't get anything to drink. What are we going to do? Something must have happened to th' river."
"What can it be?" cried Dave. "Has an earthquake occurred, or has the river unexpectedly taken an underground course?"
"Neither one, I imagine," said Mr. Carson, slowly. "This is retaliation, I fancy. I'll go back with you Skinny, and see what has happened. But I'm sure it's retaliation."
Dave, who had heard this talk, leaped on the back of Crow, and followed Mr. Carson and the cowboy who rejoiced in the euphonious title of "Skinny."
"What do you mean by retaliation, Dad?" he asked. "Has it anything to do with the Molicks?"
"A whole lot to do with them, Dave, I'm afraid," was the reply.
"You mean they have diverted some of your water?"
"Some of it! Better say all of it!" exclaimed the disgusted Skinny. "There ain't enough comin' down Rollin' River, over where I come from, t' make a cup of coffee."
"As bad as that?" asked Mr. Carson in alarm.
"Well, almost. I got skeered and made up my mind I'd come and tell you about it."
"You did just right, Skinny. We may be able to get ahead of these chaps
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