At this she came forth. Her eyes were downcast. Her cheeks were red with shamed blood. She leaned against the table. One closed fist rested on the top of the table. The knuckles showed white. She was trembling a little.
“Where and what is McFluke’s?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s where he got it!” she exclaimed, bitterly.
“I guess. If you wouldn’t mind telling me where McFluke’s is, ma’am—”
“It’s a little saloon and store on the Marysville road at the Lazy River ford.”
“It’s new since my time then.”
“It’s been in operation maybe a year and a half. What makes you think someone is trying to steal our ranch?”
“Lots o’ things,” he told her, briskly. “But they ain’t gonna do it if I can help it. Don’t you fret. It will all come out right. Shore it will. Can’t help it.”
“But tell me how—what you know,” she demanded.
“I haven’t time now, unless you’re coming with me to see Chuck.”
“Then you ask Chuck later. I’ll tell him all about it. You ask him. So long.”
Racey hurried out and caught up his own horse. He swung into the saddle and spurred away down stream.
“They been after him to sell a long time,” said Chuck Morgan, rolling a cigarette as he and Racey Dawson jogged along toward McFluke’s at the ford of the Lazy.
“Who?” asked Racey.
“I dunno. Can’t find out. Luke Tweezy is the agent and he won’t give the party’s name.”
“Has Old Salt tried to buy him out?”
“Not as I know of. Why should he? He knows he won’t sell to anybody.”
“Have they been after you, too?”
“Not yet. Dad Dale’s the lad they want special. My ranch would be a good thing, but it ain’t noways necessary like Dale’s is to anybody startin’ a big brand. Lookit the way Dale’s lays right across the valley between them two ridges like a cork in a bottle. A mile wide here, twenty mile away between Funeral Slue and Cabin Hill she’s a good thirty mile wide—one cracking big triangle of the best grass in the territory. All free range, but without Dale’s section and his water rights to begin with what good is it?”
“Not much,” conceded Racey.
“And nobody would dast to start a brand between Funeral Slue and Cabin Hill,” pursued Chuck. “Free range or not, it as good as belongs to the Bar S.”
“Old Salt used to run quite a bunch round Cabin Hill and another north near the Slue.”
“He does yet—one or two thousand head in all, maybe. Oh, these fellers ain’t foolish enough to crowd Old Salt that close. They know Dale’s is their best chance.”
Racey’s eyes travelled, from one ridge to the other. “How come they allowed Dale to take up a six-forty?” he inquired.
“They didn’t,” was the answer. “The section is made up of four claims, his’n, Jane’s, Molly’s, an’ Mis’ Dale’s. But they’re proved up now, and made over to him all regular. That’s how come.”