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- Cowboy Dave - 18/28 -
They'll have to die here."
"No they won't!" exclaimed the engineer.
"How are you goin' t' stop 'em?" asked another of the cowboys. "They can't get any water here, they won't leave, an' everybody knows that without water cattle can't live long."
"If we can't drive 'em to water we'll have to do the next best thing."
"And that is--" began Dave.
"Bring the water to them!"
"But how can we? The supply is cut off somewhere above. Dad went to see about it, but he hasn't come back yet."
"Then we'll go up there too. Something's got to be done. It may take desperate measures, but if the Molicks have built a dam, to divert your water from here, we'll have to open it; that's all."
"Will they let you?" asked Skinny, settling wearily in his saddle.
"We'll do it whether they let us or not!" exclaimed the engineer. "It's my fault, in a way, that they did this, for I pointed out the advantage it would be to them to have a dam, and I'll do my best to make good the trouble caused. Come on, Dave. Well ride up above and see what we can do. Meanwhile, you boys do your best to keep the cattle from stampeding. They won't let themselves be driven away, that's sure, so we've got to bring water to them."
"If we only can," murmured Cowboy Dave. He felt it to be a hopeless task.
Now that the cowboys had given over their efforts to drive the cattle away from the water-hole the beasts were quieter. Left to themselves, they scattered somewhat and sought for places where little pools might have formed, and where they could slake their thirst. It was not much water that remained, and the bellowings of the cattle, and their panting appearance as their parched tongues fairly hung from their mouths, filled the hearts of Dave and his friend with pity for the poor beasts.
"We haven't any time to lose," said Mr. Bell-more, as he urged his horse, Kurd, toward the bend of the stream. Dave, on Crow, followed, wondering what would be the outcome. Dave glanced back from time to time at the thirst-maddened cattle. Some of them forced their way into the muddy sloughs in spite of the desperate efforts of the cowboys to drive them back. Then it was necessary to try to pull them out by lariats attached to them, and extending to the horns of the saddles.
"Poor beasts!" murmured the young cow-puncher.
He and Mr. Bellmore had ridden for perhaps a mile when they saw a figure galloping toward them.
"Who's that?" asked the engineer, pulling up suddenly.
"Dad," answered Dave. "He rode up to investigate. He'll be able to tell us what happened."
"It's easy enough to guess," said Mr. Bellmore. "The Molicks have built an intercepting dam, to get even with you and me."
And this was exactly what Mr. Carson reported as he rode up.
"They've cut off our water supply," he called to Dave and the engineer. "They've made a board and mud dam right across the river, and turned the water onto their own land. They're making irrigating ditches now as fast as they can work."
"I suspected as much," Mr. Bellmore said, "Is the dam a very big or strong one?"
"Not especially so. But the water is low at this season of the year, and it doesn't take much of a dam to block it off from me. This dam is made of boards, banked up with clay and stones."
"Would it be easy to break away?" asked the engineer.
"Yes, I suppose so. But Molick will take precious good care that it doesn't break away, They're strengthening it all the while."
"Oh, I didn't suppose it would break away of its own accord," the engineer said. "I meant would we have much trouble in making a breach in it?"
"We?" cried Dave." Do you mean--"
"I mean that we've got to break that dam to save your cattle!" the engineer said. "It's the only way!"
"Break the dam!" murmured Dave. Yet his eyes sparkled at the thought.
"Yes," assented the irrigation engineer.
"But we can't do that," objected Mr. Carson. "It's on Molick's land, and if we go there, and start something, he'll fight us. He is a desperate man."
"And so ought you to be with your cattle dying of thirst," said Mr. Bellmore.
"I am, but--"
"There aren't any buts about it," declared the other." This is a desperate situation, and we'll have to meet it desperately. Morally, right is on your side, and I think it is legally, too. I've been looking into the records and titles of lands along this Rolling River and I find that you have not received all the water rights that belong to you, Mr. Carson. On the other hand Molick has taken more than his share.
"And there is no doubt that he had no right to build the dam in the way he has. He should have let some water come down to you. Now the only way to accomplish this is to make a breach in the dam. This will let your cattle drink."
"But if we do that--break the dam--he'll either fight us to prevent it, or he'll build it up again," Dave said.
"He may fight, but I doubt it. He was warned once before that he was exceeding his property rights, and he can't claim ignorance now. And while it is true that he may build the dam over again, after we cut through it, I don't so much care for that."
"A change will have to be made anyhow, but if you can get a little water, temporarily, to your cattle it will save them, and you can drive them to other ranges."
"Yes, I could do that," admitted the ranch-man.
"Then on to the dam!" cried the engineer, turning his horse as he spoke.
"Hurrah!" exclaimed Dave. "That's the way to talk!"
Urged on by the thought of the suffering cattle, the three made good speed to the place where the river turned. There, as Mr. Carson had seen a short time before, was the newly-built dam. A number of cowboys were about it, and Dave saw Len, his enemy.
"Are you game?" asked the engineer.
"I am!" exclaimed the ^ranchman.
Dave said nothing, but there was a flash in his eyes as he nodded his head that told more than mere words.
"You and I will go up and have a talk with them," suggested Mr. Bellmore. "Meanwhile Dave can ride and get some of your men, Mr. Carson. We'll need help if it comes to a fight, though I hope it won't. We'll make a formal protest first. Hurry, Dave, every minute may mean a steer's life."
Dave whirled his steed about and rode hard and straight for the nearest range where some of the Bar U men were guarding the cattle. Meanwhile Mr. Carson and the engineer crossed the stream below the dam, and rode toward the Centre O boys.
"Well, what do you want?" surlily demanded the young heir of the house of Molick. "This is private land, and no trespassers are wanted. Get off!" he snarled.
"We came on business," said Mr. Carson. "Where's your father?"
"I don't know. But he told me if you came on this land to order you off, and that's what I do!"
"Ordering and going are two different things," said the ranchman, with a grim laugh. "You've cut off my water down below, with this dam, and I order you to open it up. My cattle are dying from thirst. Open this dam!"
"Not much!" sneered Whitey Wasson, Len's crony.
"But I tell you my cattle are dying, man!" exclaimed Mr. Carson. "You know what it means to steers to be without water this kind of weather."
"You ought to have thought of that before you pastured them down there," sneered the cowboy.
"Then you refuse to open the dam?" asked Mr. Bellmore.
"We certainly do!" returned Len.
"Then you must take the consequences," said Mr. Bellmore, speaking solemnly. "You will be sued for the value of every animal that dies of thirst, as well as being obliged to pay heavy damages for the trouble you have caused. I know the situation of water rights in this valley, and I tell you that you are acting illegally. Now do you still refuse to open that dam?"
Len looked a bit frightened at this warning, but Whitey whispered to him, and the son of Jason Molick answered:
"Go on! We're not afraid. This dam is on our land and you can't touch it!"
At that moment a distant whoop sounded. Mr. Carson and the engineer looked around and saw a cloud of dust approaching. It soon resolved itself into Dave, leading a number of cowboys who bore picks and shovels--rather unusual implements for cowpunchers. On they came, hard-riding, singing and shouting, eager for the fray. They outnumbered the Centre O outfit.
"Well, since you won't open the dam, we'll have to do it for you," went on Mr. Bellmore. "Lively, boys!" he called, as Dave and his friends rode up. "Tear out the dam and let the water down where it ought to run. Lively
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