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The Range Dwellers

B. M. Bower




  Author of _Chip of the Flying U_, _The Lonesome Trail_, _Her PrairieKnight_, _The Lure of the Dim Trails_, _The Happy Family_, _The LongShadow_, etc.

  Illustrated By Charles M. Russell

  New York; Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers


  "She turned her back on me, and went imperturbably on withher sketching." (Frontispiece)]



  I. The Reward of Folly

  II. The White Divide

  III. The Quarrel Renewed

  IV. Through King's Highway

  V. Into the Lion's Mouth

  VI. I ask Beryl King to Dance

  VII. One Day Too Late

  VIII. A Fight and a Race for Life

  IX. The Old Life--and the New

  X. I Shake Hands with Old Man King

  XI. A Cable Snaps

  XII. I Begin to Realize

  XIII. We Meet Once More

  XIV. Frosty Disappears

  XV. The Broken Motor-car

  XVI. One More Race

  XVII. The Final Reckoning


  The Reward of Folly.

  I'm something like the old maid you read about--the one who always knowsall about babies and just how to bring them up to righteous maturity; I'vegot a mighty strong conviction that I know heaps that my dad never thoughtof about the proper training for a healthy male human. I don't supposeI'll ever have a chance to demonstrate my wisdom, but, if I do, there area few things that won't happen to my boy.

  If I've got a comfortable wad of my own, the boy shall have his funwithout any nagging, so long as he keeps clean and honest. He shall go toany college he may choose--and right here is where my wisdom will sit upand get busy. If I'm fool enough to let that kid have more money than ishealthy for him, and if I go to sleep while he's wising up to the art ofmaking it fade away without leaving anything behind to tell the tale, andlearning a lot of habits that aren't doing him any good, I won't come downon him with both feet and tell him all the different brands of fool he'sbeen, and mourn because the Lord in His mercy laid upon me this burden ofan unregenerate son. I shall try and remember that he's the son of hisfather, and not expect too much of him. It's long odds I shall find pointsof resemblance a-plenty between us--and the more cussedness he develops,the more I shall see myself in him reflected.

  I don't mean to be hard on dad. He was always good to me, in his way. He'sgot more things than a son to look after, and as that son is supposed tohave a normal allowance of gray matter and is no physical weakling, heprobably took it for granted that the son could look after himself--whichthe mines and railroads and ranches that represent his millions can't.

  But it wasn't giving me a square deal. He gave me an allowance and paidmy debts besides, and let me amble through school at my own gait--whichwasn't exactly slow--and afterward let me go. If I do say it, I had liveda fairly decent sort of life. I belonged to some good clubs--athletic,mostly--and trained regularly, and was called a fair boxer among theamateurs. I could tell to a glass--after a lot of practise--just how muchof 'steen different brands I could take without getting foolish, and Icould play poker and win once in awhile. I had a steam-yacht and a motorof my own, and it was generally stripped to racing trim. And I wasn'ttangled up with any women; actress-worship had never appealed to me. Mytastes all went to the sporting side of life and left women to the fellowswith less nerve and more sentiment.

  So I had lived for twenty-five years--just having the best time a fellowwith an unlimited resource can have, if he is healthy.

  It was then, on my twenty-fifth birthday, that I walked into dad's privatelibrary with a sonly smile, ready for the good wishes and the check thatI was in the habit of getting--I'd been unlucky, and Lord knows I neededit!--and what does the dear man do?

  Instead of one check, he handed me a sheaf of them, each stamped in diversplaces by divers banks. I flipped the ends and looked them over a bit,because I saw that was what he expected of me; but the truth is, checksdon't interest me much after they've been messed up with red and greenstamps. They're about as enticing as a last year's popular song.

  Dad crossed his legs, matched his finger-tips together, and looked at meover his glasses. Many a man knows that attitude and that look, and somany a man has been as uncomfortable as I began to be, and has felt askeen a sense of impending trouble. I began immediately searching my memoryfor some especial brand of devilment that I'd been sampling, but there wasnothing doing. I had been losing some at poker lately, and I'd been awayto the bad out at Ingleside; still, I looked him innocently in the eyeand wondered what was coming.

  "That last check is worthy of particular attention," he said dryly. "Theothers are remarkable only for their size and continuity of numbers; butthat last one should be framed and hung upon the wall at the foot of yourbed, though you would not see it often. I consider it a diploma of yourqualification as Master Jackanapes." (Dad's vocabulary, when he is angry,contains some rather strengthy words of the old-fashioned type.)

  I looked at the check and began to see light. I _had_ been a bit rollickythat time. It wasn't drawn for very much, that check; I've lost more onone jack-pot, many a time, and thought nothing of it. And, though theevents leading up to it were a bit rapid and undignified, perhaps, Icouldn't see anything to get excited over, as I could see dad plainly was.

  "For a young man twenty-five years old and with brainsenough--supposedly--to keep out of the feeble-minded class, it strikes meyou indulge in some damned poor pastimes," went on dad disagreeably."Cracking champagne-bottles in front of the Cliff House--on a Sunday atthat--may be diverting to the bystanders, but it can hardly be calleddignified, and I fail to see how it is going to fit a man for any usefulbusiness."

  Business? Lord! dad never had mentioned a useful business to me before.I felt my eyelids fly up; this was springing birthday surprises with avengeance.

  "Driving an automobile on forbidden roads, being arrested and fined--onSunday, at that--"

  "Now, look here, dad," I cut in, getting a bit hot under the collarmyself, "by all the laws of nature, there must have been a time when _you_were twenty-five years old and cut a little swath of your own. And, seeingyou're as big as your offspring--six-foot-one, and you can't deny it--andfairly husky for a man of your age, I'll bet all you dare that said swathwas not of the narrow-gage variety. I've never heard of your teaching aclass in any Sunday-school, and if you never drove your machine beyondthe dead-line and cracked champagne-bottles on the wheels in front of theCliff House, it's because automobiles weren't invented and Cliff Housewasn't built. Begging your pardon, dad--I'll bet you were a prettyrollicky young blade, yourself."

  Now dad is very old-fashioned in some of his notions; one of them is thata parent may hand out a roast that will frizzle the foliage for blocksaround, and, guilty or innocent, the son must take it, as he'd takecod-liver oil--it's-nasty-but-good-for-what-ails-you. He snapped his mouthshut, and, being his son and having that habit myself, I recognized thesymptoms and judged that things would presently grow interesting.

  I was betting on a full-house. The atmosphere grew tense. I heard a lot ofthings in the next five minutes that no one but my dad could say withoutme trying mighty hard to make him swallow them. And I just sat there andlooked at him and took it.

  I couldn't agree with him that I'd committed a grievous crime. It wasn'tmuch of a lark, as larks go: just an incident at the close of a ratherfull afternoon. Coming around up the beach front Ingleside House a fewdays before, in the _Yellow Peril_--my machine--we got to badgering eachother about do
ing things not orthodox. At last Barney MacTague dared me todrive the _Yellow Peril_ past the dead-line--down by the Pavilion--and onup the hill to Sutro Baths. Naturally, I couldn't take a dare like that,and went him one better; I told him I'd not only drive to the very top ofthe hill, but I'd stop at the Gift House and crack a bottle of champagneon each wheel of the _Yellow Peril,_ in honor of the occasion; that wouldmake a bottle apiece, for there were four of us along.

  It was done, to the delight of the usual Sunday crowd of brides, grooms,tourists, and kids. A mounted policeman interviewed us, to the furtherdelight of the crowd, and invited us to call upon a certain judge whomnone of us knew. We did so, and dad was good enough to pay the fine,which, as I said before, was not much. I've had less fun for more money,often.

  Dad didn't say anything at the time, so I was not looking for the roastI was getting. It appeared, from his view-point, that I was about asuseless, imbecile, and utterly no-account a son as a man ever had, and ifthere was anything good in me it was not visible except under a strongmagnifying-glass.

  He said, among other things too painful to mention, that he was gettingold--dad is about fifty-six--and that if I didn't buck up and amount tosomething soon, he didn't know what was to become of the business.

  Then he delivered the knockout blow that he'd been working up to. He wasgoing to see what there was in me, he said. He would pay my bills, and, asa birthday gift, he would present me with a through ticket to Osage, inMontana--where he owned a ranch called the Bay State--and a stock-saddle,spurs, chaps, and a hundred dollars. After that I must work out my ownsalvation--or the other thing. If I wanted more money inside a year ortwo, I would have to work for it just as if I were an orphan without a dadwho writes checks on demand. He said that there was always something todo on the Bay State Ranch--which is one of dad's places. I could do as Ipleased, he said, but he'd advise me to buckle down and learn somethingabout cattle. It was plain I never would amount to anything in an office.He laid a yard or two of ticket on the table at my elbow, and on top ofthat a check for one hundred dollars, payable to one Ellis Carleton.

  I took up the check and read every word on it twice--not because I neededto; I was playing for time to think. Then I twisted it up in a taper,held it to the blaze in the fireplace, and lighted a cigarette with it.Dad kept his finger-tips together and watched me without any expressionwhatsoever in his face. I took three deliberate puffs, picked up theticket, and glanced along down its dirty green length. Dad never moved amuscle, and I remember the clock got to ticking louder than I'd ever heardit in my life before. I may as well be perfectly honest! That ticket didnot appeal to me a little bit. I think he expected to see that go up insmoke, also. But, though I'm pretty much of a fool at times, I believethere are lucid intervals when I recognize certain objects--such asjustice. I knew that, in the main, dad was right. I _had_ been leadinga rather reckless existence, and I was getting pretty old for such kidfoolishness. He had measured out the dose, and I meant to swallow itwithout whining--but it was exceeding bitter to the palate!

  "I see the ticket is dated twenty-four hours ahead," I said as calmly asI knew how, "which gives me time to have Rankin pack a few duds. I hopethe outfit you furnish includes a red silk handkerchief and a Colt's .44revolver, and a key to the proper method of slaying acquaintances in theWest. I hate to start in with all white chips."

  "You probably mean a Colt's .45," said dad, with a more convincingcalmness than I could show. "It shall be provided. As to the key, you willno doubt find that on the ground when you arrive."

  "Very well," I replied, getting up and stretching my arms up as high asI could reach--which was beastly manners, of course, but a safe vent formy feelings, which cried out for something or somebody to punch. "You'vecalled the turn, and I'll go. It may be many moons ere we two meetagain--and when we do, the crime of cracking my own champagne--for I paidfor it, you know--on my own automobile wheels may not seem the heinousthing it looks now. See you later, dad."

  I walked out with my head high in the air and my spirits rather low, ifthe truth must be told. Dad was generally kind and wise and generous, buthe certainly did break out in unexpected places sometimes. Going to theBay State Ranch, just at that time, was not a cheerful prospect. SanFrancisco and Seattle were just starting a series of ballgames thatpromised to be rather swift, and I'd got a lot up on the result. I hatedto go just then. And Montana has the reputation of being rather beastly inearly March--I knew that much.

  I caught a car down to the Olympic, hunted up Barney MacTague, and playedpoker with him till two o'clock that night, and never once mentioned thetrip I was contemplating. Then I went home, routed up my man, and told himwhat to pack, and went to bed for a few hours; if there was anythingpleasant in my surroundings that I failed to think of as I lay there, itmust be very trivial indeed. I even went so far as to regret leaving EthelMapleton, whom I cared nothing for.

  And above all and beneath all, hanging in the background of my mind anddodging forward insistently in spite of myself, was a deep resentment--asoreness against dad for the way he had served me. Granted I was wild anda useless cumberer of civilization; I was only what my environments hadmade me. Dad had let me run, and he had never kicked on the price of myfolly, or tried to pull me up at the start. He had given his time to hismines and his cattle-ranches and railroads, and had left his only son togo to the devil if he chose and at his own pace. Then, because the son hadcome near making a thorough job of it, he had done--_this_. I felt hardlyused and at odds with life, during those last few hours in the little oldburgh.

  All the next day I went the pace as usual with the gang, and at seven,after an early dinner, caught a down-town car and set off alone to theferry. I had not seen dad since I left him in the library, and I did notparticularly wish to see him, either. Possibly I had some unfilial notionof making him ashamed and sorry. It is even possible that I half-expectedhim to come and apologize, and offer to let things go on in the old way.In that event I was prepared to be chesty. I would look at him coldly andsay: "You have seen fit to buy me a ticket to Osage, Montana. So be it; toOsage, Montana, am I bound." Oh, I had it all fixed!

  Dad came into the ferry waiting-room just as the passengers were pouringoff the boat, and sat down beside me as if nothing had happened. He didnot look sad, or contrite, or ashamed--not, at least, enough to notice.He glanced at his watch, and then handed me a letter.

  "There," he began briskly, "that is to Perry Potter, the Bay Stateforeman. I have wired him that you are on the way."

  The gate went up at that moment, and he stood up and held out his hand."Sorry I can't go over with you," he said. "I've an important meeting toattend. Take care of yourself, Ellie boy."

  I gripped his hand warmly, though I had intended to give him a dead-fishsort of shake. After all, he was my dad, and there were just us two. Ipicked up my suit-case and started for the gate. I looked back once, andsaw dad standing there gazing after me--and he did not look particularlybrisk. Perhaps, after all, dad cared more than he let on. It's a way theCarletons have, I have heard.