Homer Webb called to Prince and to Wrayburn. “Billie—Dad, know anything about this big red steer?”
“Know it? We’d ought to,” answered Wrayburn promptly. “It’s the ladino beef that started the stampede on the Brazos—made us more trouble than any ten critters of the bunch.”
“You bought it from the Circle Lazy H,” supplemented Billie.
Peg-Leg Warren laughed harshly. “O’ course they’ll swear to it. You’re givin’ them their job, ain’t you?”
The drover looked at him steadily. “Yes, I’m givin’ the boys a job, but I haven’t bought ’em body an’ soul, Warren.”
The eyes of the nester were a barometer of his temper. “That’s my beef, Webb.”
“It never was yours an’ it never will be.”
“Raw work, Webb. I’ll not stand for it.”
“Don’t overplay yore hand,” cautioned the owner of the trail herd.
Clanton had ridden up and was talking to the cook. A couple of other punchers had dropped up to the chuck wagon, casually as it were.
Warren glared at them savagely, but swallowed his rage. “It’s yore say-so right now, but I’ll collect what’s comin’ to me one of these days. You’re liable to find this trail hotter ’n hell with the lid on.”
“I’m not lookin’ for trouble, but I’m not runnin’ away from it,” returned Webb evenly.
“You’re sure goin’ to find it—a heap more of it than you can ride herd on. That right, Pete?”
The gray-eyed man nodded slightly. Mysterious Pete had the habit of taciturnity. His gaze slid in a searching, sidelong fashion from Webb to Prince, on to Wrayburn, across to Clanton, and back to the drover. No wolf in the encinal could have been warier.
“Cut out the roan,” ordered Webb.
The ladino was separated from the bunch of Circle Diamond cattle. Warren and his satellite drove the rest from the camp.
“War, looks like,” commented Dad Wrayburn.
“Yes,” agreed the drover. “I wish it didn’t have to be. But Peg-Leg called for a showdown. He came here to force my hand. As regards the beef, he might have had it an’ welcome. But that wouldn’t have satisfied him. He’d have taken it for a sign of weakness if I had given way.”
“What will he do?” asked young McGrath.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to keep our eyes open every minute of the day an’ night. Are you with me, boys?”
Tim threw his hat into the air and let out a yell. “Surest thing you know.”
“Damfidon’t sit in an’ take a hand,” said Wrayburn.
One after another agreed to back the boss.
“But don’t think it will be a picnic,” urged Webb. “We’ll know we’ve been in a fight before we get through. With a crowd of gunmen like Mysterious Pete against us we’ll have hard travelin’. I’d side-step this if I could, but I can’t.”