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- Cowboy Dave - 24/28 -
helped. We did our best!"
"I should say so!" exclaimed Dave. "I regard it as a pretty sure sign of his guilt--that running away; don't you?"
"Well, most people would, I think," said the Chicago man slowly, "and yet, from what you have told me, I guess Len would run from you anyhow, wouldn't he, if he saw you take after him?"
"He might," admitted Dave, with a grin, as he thought of the encounter he had had with the bully. "Yes, I guess he might. But we saw him start one fire; didn't we?"
"Yes, but of course he could claim that he was starting a back-fire, just as we did."
"Huh!" Dave mused. "I didn't think of that. But I'm sure Len did start the big blaze, anyhow. He wanted to either stampede our cattle, or burn some of them, and you can't make me think any differently."
"Oh, I'm not trying to," said Mr. Bellmore. "I'm only giving you an idea of the view a judge and jury might take of it, if you had Len arrested."
"I didn't think of that," Dave said. "I guess it won't come to an arrest, as far as that is concerned. We Western folk generally administer the law ourselves. If we waited for judges and juries we'd get left in a good many cases. But I don't believe Len will come back, in a hurry."
"Perhaps not But what are you going to do with his horse?"
"I don't know. Take it back with us for the time being. It's a good animal I might hold it as a sort of hostage until Len claims it. But I don't believe he will. Whew! That was some chase!"
"It certainly was," agreed Mr. Bellmore.
They rode back slowly. The air was gradually clearing of the smoke from the prairie fire, though far off it could be observed burning yet. But the worst of it was over. Bar U ranch was no longer in danger.
"What's the next thing on the programme?" asked Mr. Bellmore.
"Finish the round-up, get rid of as many cattle as we can, provide for the rest so they'll have plenty of water in the dry spell, and then fight the Molick crowd," said Dave.
"Plenty of room for action there," commented the engineer with a smile.
"I guess so," assented Dave. "But we're depending on your help."
"And I'll give it to the best of my ability. I think it is wise to undertake legal action as a starter to regaining control of your water rights. If they don't help us---"
"Why, then we'll try some of our Western persuasive ways," finished Dave. "I guess dad will be anxious to get busy right away. This fire shows how desperate that other crowd is."
"Yes. And if the Molicks had a hand in starting it, which seems reasonable to believe, they probably did it out of revenge for the breaking of the dam. But we had a perfect moral, if not a legal, right to do that," the Chicago man said.
They rode back slowly, and soon overtook Pocus Pete, who was ambling along on his injured pony.
"How'd he get away?" asked Pete, as he saw Dave leading the riderless horse. "Was there any shootin'?"
"No, nothing like that," Dave replied. "He jumped on the fast freight, and left his animal behind."
"Huh! Well, maybe it's jest as well," the foreman said. "It's one skunk less in a country that's got more than its share. That's a good horse," he went on, sizing up Len's mount.
"Yes," said Dave. "You'd better take it for awhile, and give yours a rest."
"I will,' said Pete, dismounting and leaping to the saddle of the other. It was a great relief for his own mount, whose shoulder was badly wrenched.
"This is forcin' th' enemy to give us aid an' comfort," commented Pocus Pete, as he settled to the saddle, having put on his own in place of the one Len used, which did not fit the foreman.
Back over the burned prairie they rode. It was hot with the heat of the sun, which rose higher and higher in the sky, and the air, though it was morning, still seemed to have in it some of the heat from the big fire.
Dave and his friends found Mr. Carson and the cowboys waiting anxiously for them. The story of the chase and its failure was soon told.
"Well, you did your best, Dave, and I'm much obliged to you," said Mr. Carson. "I agree with you that it looks as though the Molick crowd was getting desperate, and trying to drive us out of the country either by a stampede or by fire. If you hadn't discovered that blaze in time there's no telling what might have happened. Now I've got to plan what to do."
"And let me help--Dad," said Dave in a low voice. "I want to do all I can for you and the Bar U."
Mr. Carson did not reply at once, but he held out his hand and Dave grasped it in a firm clasp. They understood one another.
A conference was held, and it was decided that the round-up should be finished as soon as possible, and the cattle intended for shipment driven to the nearest railroad point. The others would be scattered over the different grazing ranges Mr. Carson owned.
"And then we'll take up this water fight," said Mr. Bellmore. "If I had my papers here I could begin some preliminary work now."
"What you folks most need is a rest," said Mr. Carson. "You've been up the best part of the night, fighting fire, and on this chase. Now get some breakfast and stretch out in the shade of the chuck wagon. There's nothing to be done right away. Hop Loy, get 'em something to eat!"
"Slure I glet bleckflast!" exclaimed the happy-faced Celestial. "Plenty hungly Mlister Dave?" he asked cheerfully.
"Yes, plenty hungry," Dave assented.
While he, Pocus Pete and Mr. Bellmore rested after the meal Mr. Carson and the others finished the round-up work, branding such cattle as had not already felt the iron. Then the herds were separated, the ones for shipment being cut out from the others.
The next few days were busy ones, the work going on from the first peep of daylight until it was impossible to see. And in due time the shipment was successfully made.
"Well, I can breathe more easily now," said Mr. Carson, when the train had departed, some of his cowboys going with it to see that the cattle were fed and watered on the trip. "No matter what Molick does now he can't ruin me completely."
"That's so, and now we'll take up this water matter," said the engineer. "I'm afraid it's going to prove a legal tangle, though."
And so it did. The chief fight was about the ownership of the water rights at the point where Molick had built the dam that the Bar U boys had destroyed.
It had at once been rebuilt, as was expected and all water was shut off from Mr. Carson's land in that vicinity. But as he was not pasturing any cattle there for the present, no damage resulted.
"But you have a right to that water, and I'm going to see that you get your share of it," said Mr. Bellmore. "It was partly my fault that Molick built that dam, for if I had not mentioned it to him he probably would never have thought of it. So it's up to me to make this fight for you, and I'm going to."
Nor was the fighting all on one side. Molick brought suit against Mr. Carson for the destruction of the dam, but it would take some time to settle this, since many questions were involved.
In turn Mr. Carson sued the owner of Centre O ranch for shutting off the water supply. Mr. Carson, Dave and Mr. Bellmore also went before the Grand Jury and gave information about having seen Len starting a prairie fire. That body lost little time in returning an indictment against the missing bully. But of course it was out of their power to go after him and bring him back.
"But if he ever does come back I'll get him," the sheriff assured Dave. "He daren't set foot in this county again. Of course I'm not saying he's guilty, but I'll arrest him and he'll have to prove his innocence."
"That's all we want," said Dave.
Meanwhile the legal tangles increased. A number of suits were started on both sides, and as a result there were several physical clashes between the cowboys of the Bar U and the Centre O ranches.
The horse of Pocus Pete was more seriously hurt than he had at first thought, and he had to give his mount a long rest.
"But I've got Len's critter!" Pete chuckled, "and I'm goin' to ride that."
This he did to his own great satisfaction. Several times when he and his boys got into more than verbal arguments with the Centre O crowd Pete used Len's horse.
"It's like gettin' th' enemy's ammunition an' firin' it at him," said Pete with a laugh." I guess they don't relish it none."
And Molick and his crowd did not. They did not make a claim for the horse, however, since this would have involved admitting that Len rode it to escape from the country, and they did not want to do this. So Pocus Pete kept the contraband horse.
Work was easier on Bar U ranch after the big cattle shipment, but still there was plenty to do. Mr. Bellmore was busy working up his water irrigation project, in addition to helping Mr. Carson fight the Molick crowd. After a number of suits had been started Molick brought an action against the engineer for breach of contract.
"He claims I promised to go into the water matter with him, and then
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