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- Cowboy Dave - 4/28 -


A CONFESSION

Something seemed to strike Dave Carson a blow in the face. It was as though he had suddenly plunged into cold water, and, for the moment, he could not get his breath. The sneering words of Len Molick rang in his ears:

"You're a nameless, picked-up nobody!"

Having uttered those cruel words, Len was riding on, driving before him some of his father's stray cattle, as well as some belonging to the Bar U ranch. The last act angered Dave, and anger, at that moment, was just what was needed to arouse him from the lethargy in which he found himself. It also served, in a measure, to clear away some of the unpleasant feeling caused by the taunt.

"Hold on there a minute, Len Molick!" called Dave, sharply.

Len never turned his head, and gave no sign of hearing.

A dull red spot glowed in each of Dave's tanned cheeks. With a quick intaking of his breath he lightly touched the spurs to his horse--lightly, for that was all the intelligent beast needed. Dave passed his taunting enemy on the rush, and planting himself directly in front of him on the trail, drew rein so sharply that his steed reared. The cows, scattered by the sudden rush, ambled awkwardly on a little distance, and then stopped to graze.

"What do you mean by getting in my way?" growled Len.

"I mean to have you stop and answer a few questions," was the calm retort.

"If it's about these cattle I tell you I'm not trying to drive off any of yours," said Len, in whining tones. He knew the severe penalty attached to this in a cow country, and Dave was sufficiently formidable, as he sat easily on his horse facing the bully, to make Len a little more respectful.

"I'm not going to ask you about these cattle--at least not right away," Dave went on. "This is about another matter. You said something just now that needs explaining."

"I say a good many things," Len admitted, and again there sounded in his voice a sneer. "I don't have to explain to you everything I say; do I?"

"You do when it concerns me," and Dave put his horse directly across the trail, which, at this point narrowed and ran between two low ranges of hills. "You said something about me just now--you called me a nameless, picked-up nobody!"

Dave could not help wincing as he repeated the slur.

"Well, what if I did?" demanded the bully.

"I want to know what you mean. You insinuated that Mr. Carson was not my father."

"He isn't!"

"Why do you say that, and how do you know?" Dave asked. In spite of his dislike of Len, and the knowledge that the bully was not noted for truth- telling, Dave could not repress a cold chill of fear that seemed to clutch his heart.

"I say that because it's so, and how I know it is none of your affair," retorted Len.

"Oh yes, it is my affair, too!" Dave exclaimed. He was fast regaining control of himself. "It is very much my affair. I demand an explanation. How do you know Mr. Carson isn't my father?"

"Well, I know all right. He picked you up somewhere. He doesn't know what your name is himself. He just let you use his, and he called you Dave. You're a nobody I tell you!"

Dave spurred his horse until it was close beside that of Len's. Then leaning over in the saddle, until his face was very near to that of the bully's, and with blazing eyes looking directly into the shrinking ones of the other rancher's son, Dave said slowly, but with great emphasis:

"Who--told--you?"

There was menace in his tone and attitude, and Len shrank back.

"Oh, don't be afraid!" Dave laughed mirthlessly. "I'm not going to strike you--not now."

"You--you'd better not," Len muttered.

"I want you first to answer my questions," Dave went on. "After that I'll see what happens. It's according to how much truth there is in what you have said."

"Oh, it's true all right," sneered the bully.

"Then I demand to know who told you!"

Dave's hand shot out and grasped the bridle of the other's horse, and Len's plan of flight was frustrated.

"Let me go!" he whiningly demanded.

"Not until you tell me who said I am a nobody--that Mr. Carson is not my father," Dave said, firmly.

"I--I----" began the shrinking Len, when the sound of another horseman approaching caused both lads to turn slightly in their saddles. Dave half expected to see Pocus Pete, but he beheld the not very edifying countenance of Whitey Wasson, a tow-headed cowpuncher belonging to the Centre O outfit. Whitey and Len were reported to be cronies, and companions in more than one not altogether pleasant incident.

"Oh, here you are; eh; Len?" began Whitey. "And I see you've got the strays."

"Yes, I've got 'em," said Len, shortly.

"Any trouble?" went on Whitey, with a quick glance at Dave. The position of the two lads--Dave with his hand grasping Len's bridle--was too significant to be overlooked.

"Trouble?" began Len. "Well, he--he--"

"He made a certain statement concerning me," Dave said, quietly, looking from Len to Whitey, "and I asked him the source of his information. That is all."

"What did he say?"

"He said I was a nameless, picked-up nobody, and that Mr. Carson was not my father. I asked him how he knew, and he said some one told him that."

"So he did!" exclaimed Len.

"Then I demand to know who it was!" cried Dave.

For a moment there was silence, and then Whitey Wasson, with a chuckle said:

"I told Len myself!"

"You did?" cried Dave.

"Yes, he did! Now maybe you won't be so smart!" sneered Len. "Let go my horse!" he cried, roughly, as he swung the animal to one side. But no force was needed; as Dave's nerveless hand fell away from the bridle. He seemed shocked--stunned again.

"You--you--how do you know?" he demanded fiercely, raising his sinking head, and looking straight at Whitey.

"Oh, I know well enough. Lots of the cowboys do. It isn't so much of a secret as you think. If you don't believe me ask your father--no, he ain't your father--but ask the Old Man himself. Just ask him what your name is, and where you came from, and see what he says."

Whitey was sneering now, and he chuckled as he looked at Len. Dave's face paled beneath his tan, and he did not answer.

A nameless, picked-up nobody! How the words stung! And he had considered himself, proudly considered himself, the son of one of the best-liked, best-known and most upright cattle raisers of the Rolling River country. Now who was he?

"Come on, Len," said Whitey. "If you've got the strays we'll drive them back. Been out long enough as 'tis."

He wheeled his horse, Len doing the same, and they started after the straying cattle.

"Hold on there, if you please," came in a drawling voice. "Jest cut out them Bar U steers before you mosey off any farther, Whitey," and riding around a little hillock came Pocus Pete.

"Um!" grunted Whitey.

"Guess you'll be needin' a pair of specks, won't you, Whitey?" went on the Bar U foreman, without a glance at Len or Dave. "A Centre O brand an' a Bar U looks mighty alike to a feller with poor eyes I reckon," and he smiled meaningly.

"Oh, we can't help it, if some of the Randolph cattle get mixed up with our strays," said Len.

"Who's talkin' to you?" demanded Pocus Pete, with such fierceness that the bully shrank back.

"Now you cut out what strays belong to you, an' let ours alone, Mr. Wasson," went on Pocus Pete with exaggerated politeness. "Dave an' I can take care of our own I reckon. An' move quick, too!" he added menacingly.

Whitey did not answer, but he and Len busied themselves in getting together their own strays. Pocus Pete and Dave, with a little effort, managed to collect their own bunch, and soon the two parties were moving off in opposite directions. Dave sat silent on his horse. Pete glanced at him from time to time, but said nothing. Finally, however, as they dismounted to eat their lunch, Pete could not help asking:


Cowboy Dave - 4/28

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