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- Cowboy Dave - 6/28 -
taunts. After all, it is no disgrace not to know who I am under the circumstances. Perhaps, some day, I may find out."
"Perhaps," said Mr. Carson, softly, but he did not really believe that such an event would happen.
"Is that all you can tell about me--Dad?" asked Dave.
"That's right! Don't forget to call me dad!" exclaimed the ranchman, and his tone showed more delight than at any time since the talk. "For I am just the same as your father. But, Dave, I'm afraid I can't give you any clews. You were only a baby at the time, and I don't even remember just now, much as to how you were dressed. You came down the flood in part of a wrecked house. You were in a cradle in the exposed upper story when I got you out. I was going around in a boat doing what rescue work I could. I turned you over to some women, temporarily, and claimed you later. That's about all there is to it. I came out West with you and--here we are now. And now, since the secret is out, I'm going to make it known to all who care to listen. There is no use trying to keep it under cover any more."
"What do you mean, Dad?"
"I mean I'll tell every one connected with Bar U ranch. We'll take the wind out of the sails of Molick, Wasson and their like. We won't have them sneering at us. I'll tell the men here."
"I fancy Pocus Pete knows something about it," Dave said. "He must have heard what Whitey and Len said to me."
"Well, we'll tell him the whole story. It's no disgrace."
And this was done. Soon all the cowboys on Bar U ranch knew the story, and talk buzzed around concerning it. But no one thought the less of Dave. In fact his friends and those of Mr. Carson were warmer than before. Then the matter was tacitly dropped, and was never mentioned among the cowboys of Bar U ranch.
For a time the knowledge hurt Dave cruelly. Then he grew more accustomed to it. But though he called Mr. Carson "Dad" there was more or less of reserve. And Dave found himself many times, wondering who his real parents could be.
"Some day I may find out," he said.
There was much to do at the ranch, from rounding up cattle, looking after strays and branding, to making shipments. Dave found his time fully occupied, and he saw little of Len and his crony. But one day Len and Dave had a "run-in." Dave, who was riding range, came upon Len in the act of beating his horse. It seems the animal had stepped into a hole and thrown the bully, who, in retaliation, mistreated the animal shamefully.
"Here! You quit that!" ordered Dave, riding up.
"What for?" sneered Len.
"Because I say so!"
"He isn't your horse."
"That may be, but I'm not going to see you abuse him that way. You quit, or I'll give you the worst licking you ever had."
"You will; eh? Mr. Nobody!" sneered Len. "You will?"
"Yes, I will!" and Dave strode forward with such a fierce look on his face that Len hastily left off beating his poor steed and fled.
"Oh5 I'll fix you yet!" Len cried, when, at a safe distance, he paused to turn and shake his fist at Dave.
"The mean hound!" muttered Dave.
It was about a week after this that Dave rode over to a small corral where some choice cattle were quartered. These had been cut out and herded by themselves, to get ready for a special shipment. Dave wanted to see if the fence and gate were sufficiently strong.
He rode around the corral, and was soon satisfied that all was right. He was riding away over the plain, glad to be able to report to Mr. Carson that the cattle were in fine shape for shipment, when a sudden noise caused him to turn around.
To Dave's surprise he saw the cattle, in a small stampede, rushing from the corral, straight toward him in an overwhelming mass.
Dave hesitated but a moment, and then clapping spurs to his horse he wheeled and rode straight at the oncoming steers, shouting and waving his hat in one hand, while with the other he fired shot after shot from his big revolver.
"Don't fall now, Crow! Don't you dare to stumble!" breathed Dave, leaning over to speak into the very ear of his coal-black steed. "Don't step in any holes and throw me. For if you do, it's all up with both of us!"
Yet, knowing that danger as he did, Dave never for an instant faltered. He was going to stop that stampede and drive back the valuable cattle before they could stray and get far out on the range or among the wild hills where they would lose much of their prime condition that would insure a good price. Dave was going to stop that stampede though he took his life in his hands to do it.
And for what? he might have reflected. To save the property of a man who was no relation to him.
Yet never for an instant did Dave ask this question of himself. It never entered his mind. For the time being he had forgotten that Mr. Carson was not his father.
"I'm going to save those cattle!" Dave murmured over and over again, as he neared the frightened, tumultous mass of steers. "But don't you stumble with me, Crow!"
For to stumble meant, very likely, the death of horse and rider. Cattle on the range are used to seeing mounted men--in fact they seldom see them otherwise, and for a mounted cowpuncher it is perfectly safe to ride in front of even a wildly running mass of steers.
But once let a man be on foot, while the cattle do not actually attack him, they seem to lose all fear of him, and may trample ruthlessly over him. Then is when a cowpuncher's life depends on his steed. The cattle seem to regard horse and man as one and as a superior being to whom they must give place. That is why Dave did not want his horse to stumble and throw him. For his life, and that of his fine steed, Crow, would not have lasted a minute under the pounding rush of those sharp hoofs.
While thus riding wildly at the rushing steers Dave had many thoughts in his mind.
"How did they get out?" he mused. "The gate and fastenings were all right five minutes ago. And I wonder if I can turn them and drive them back alone? I've got to, that's all, for I don't see any help coming."
Dave rose in his stirrups and gave a quick frightened, tumultuous mass of steers. "But don't glance ahead of him and over the backs of the steers. He saw no one in sight, and settling in the saddle again, prepared for the work ahead of him.
"Got to have some more shots, anyhow," Dave reasoned. His revolver was empty.
Fortunately Dave had trained Crow so that he could ride him without the use of the reins--merely by the pressure of the knees on either side of his neck. Dropping the leather, Dave broke his gun, scattered the empty shells out on the ground, and filled the chamber with fresh cartridges.
He depended upon the thundering reports of his forty-five, as much as on his voice and his fearless riding straight at the oncoming steers, to drive them back. Now again he was ready for his task, and it was high time, for he was almost at the front line of advancing cattle.
Shouting, waving his big hat with one hand, and with the other working the trigger of his gun, Dave sought to drive back the maddened animals. He put into his action all the energy of which he was capable, rising in his stirrups as though he would hurl himself over the head of his horse at the beasts.
"Steady now, Crow!" he called into the ear of his faithful pony, leaning over far on its neck. The front line of cattle began to divide to let Dave through, or, rather, to pass around him. But he did not want that. He wanted to turn the animals back.
"Oh, if I only had some one to help me!" he cried aloud.
Once more his gaze swept over the backs of the cattle. Yes, there was a figure on horseback, but it was riding away, straight toward the foot- hills.
"Here!" cried Dave. "Come back! Give me a hand here, whoever you are! Come back!"
But the figure did not turn, and then Dave, with anger and disgust showing in his face, thought he recognized in the peculiar style of the rider something familiar.
"Len Molick!" he exclaimed, as he wheeled his horse to ride out of the press of cattle and once more to get ahead of them.
"If that wasn't Len Molick I'll eat my hat!" he soliloquized. "But what is he doing here, and why is he riding away instead of helping me out? I'd help him out if he was in this pickle!"
It was queer to see Len riding away at top speed, providing that it was Len, and Dave felt pretty sure it was. Scarcely a cowpuncher but would render even his enemy help in an emergency of this kind. He might be on just as unfriendly terms as before, after the work was done, but he would give help.
"But that isn't Len's way, evidently," mused Dave, bitterly.
However he had his own work marked out for him, and no time for idle speculation. Somehow or other he must get ahead of the freed cattle and drive them back.
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