THE OLD LADY
“Hope Old Man Dale is home,”
said Racey to himself when he saw ahead of him the
grove of cottonwoods marking the location of Moccasin
Spring. “But he won’t be,”
he added, lugubriously. “I never did have
He passed the grove of trees and opened
up the prospect of house and stable and corral with
cottonwood and willow-bordered Soogan Creek in the
“Changed some since I was here
last,” he muttered in wonder. For nesters
as a rule do not go in for flowers and shrubs.
And here, besides a small truck garden, were both all
giving evidence of much care and attention.
Racey dismounted at the corral and
approached the kitchen door. A fresh young voice
in the kitchen was singing a song to the brave accompaniment
of a twanging banjo:
“When I was a-goin’ down
With a tired team an’
a heavy load,
I cracked my whip an’ the leader
An’ he almost busted
the wagon tongue.
Turkey in the straw, ha! ha!
Turkey in ”
The singing stopped in the middle
of a line. The banjo went silent in the middle
of a bar. Racey looked in at the kitchen door
and saw, sitting on a corner of the kitchen table,
a very pretty girl. One knee was crossed over
the other, in her lap was the mute banjo, and she was
looking straight at him.
Racey, heartily and internally cursing
himself for having neglected to shave, pulled off
his hat and achieved a head-hob.
“Good morning,” said the
pretty girl, putting up a slim tanned hand and tucking
in behind a well-set ear a strayed lock of black hair.
Racey, and decided then and there that he had never
before seen eyes of such a deep, dark blue, or a mouth
so alluringly red.
“What,” said the pretty
girl, laying the banjo on the table and sliding down
till her feet touched the floor, “what can I
do for you?”
the rattled Racey, clasping his hat to his bosom,
so that he could button unseen the top button of his
shirt, “except cuc-can you find Miss Dale for
me. Is she home?”
“Mother’s out. So’s Father,
I’m the only one home.”
“It’s yore sister I want, Miss
Dale yore oldest sister.”
“You must mean Mrs. Morgan. She lives ”
“No, I don’t mean her.
Yore oldest sister, Miss. Her whose hoss
was taken by mistake in Farewell yesterday.”
“That was my horse.”
“Yores! But they said it was an old
lady’s hoss! Are you shore it ”
“Of course I’m sure. Did you bring
him back?... Where?... The corral?”
The girl walked swiftly to the window,
took one glance at the bay horse tied to the corral
gate, and returned to the table.
“Certainly that’s my
horse,” she reiterated with the slightest of
Racey Dawson stared at her in horror.
Her horse! He had actually run off with the horse
of this beautiful being. He had thereby caused
inconvenience to this angel. If he could only
crawl off somewhere and pass away quietly. At
the moment, by his own valuation, any one buying him
for a nickel would have been liberally overcharged.
Her horse! “I I took yore hoss,”
he spoke up, desperately. “I’m Racey
“So you’re the man ”
she began, and stopped.
He nodded miserably, his contrite
eyes on the toes of her shoes. Small shoes they
were. Cheerfully would he have lain down right
there on the floor and let her wipe those selfsame
shoes upon him. It would have been a positive
pleasure. He felt so worm-like he almost wriggled.
Slowly, oh, very slowly, he lifted his eyes to her
“I I was drunk,”
he confessed, hoping that an honest confession would
restrain her from casting him into outer darkness.
“I heard you were,” she admitted.
“I thought it was yore oldest
sister’s pony,” he bumbled on, feeling
it incumbent upon him to say something. “They
told me something about an old lady.”
“Jane Morgan’s the only
other sister I have. Who told you this wild tale?”
“Them,” was his vague
reply. He was not the man to give away the jokers
of Farewell. Old lady, indeed! Miss Blythe
to the contrary notwithstanding this girl was not
within sight of middle-age. “Yeah,”
he went on, “they shore fooled me. Told
me I’d taken an old maid’s hoss, and ”
“Oh, as far as that goes,”
said the girl, her long eyelashes demurely drooping,
“they told you the truth. I’m an old
“You? Shucks!” Hugely contemptuous.
“Oh, but I am,” she insisted,
raising her eyes and tilting sidewise her charming
head. “I’m not married.”
“Thank ” he
began, impulsively, but choked on the second word and
gulped hard. “I mean,” he resumed,
hastily, “I don’t understand why I never
saw you before. I was here once, but you weren’t
“When were you here?...
Why, that was two years ago. I was only a kid
then all legs like a calf. No wonder
you didn’t notice me.”
She laughed at him frankly, with a
bewildering flash of white teeth.
“I shore must ‘a’
been blind,” he said, truthfully. “They
ain’t any two ways about that.”
Under his admiring gaze a slow blush
overspread her smooth cheeks. She laughed again uncertainly,
and burst into swift speech. “My manners!
What have I been thinking of? Mr. Dawson, please
sit down, do. I know you must be tired after
your long ride. Take that chair under the mirror.
It’s the strongest. You can tip it back
against the wall if you like. I’ll get
you a cup of coffee. I know you’re thirsty.
I’m sorry Mother and Father aren’t home,
but Mother drove over to the Bar S on business and
I don’t know where Father went!”
“I ain’t fit to stay,”
hesitated Racey, rasping the back of his hand across
his stubbly chin.
“Nonsense. You sit right
down while I grind the coffee. I’ll have
you a potful in no time. I make pretty good coffee
if I do say it myself.”
“I’ll bet you do.”
“But my sister Jane makes better. You’ll
get some of hers at dinner.”
“Dinner?” He stared blankly.
“Of course, dinner. When
Mother and Father are away I always go down there
for my meals. It’s only a quarter-mile down
stream. Shorter if you climb that ridge.
But it’s so stony I generally go along the creek
bank where I can gallop.... What? Why, of
course you’re going with me. Jane would
never forgive me if I didn’t bring you.
And what would Chuck say if you came this far and
then didn’t go on down to his house? Don’t
you suppose he enjoys seeing his old friends?
It was only last week I heard him wonder to Father
if you were ever coming back to this country.
How did you like it up at the Bend?”
“Right fine,” he told
her, settling himself comfortably in the chair she
had indicated. “But a feller gets tired
of one place after a while. I thought maybe I’d
come back to the Lazy River and get a job ridin’
the range again.”
“Aren’t there any ranches
round the Bend?” she asked, poking up the fire
and setting on the coffee-pot.
“Plenty, but I I
like the Lazy River country,” he told her.
“Fort Creek country for yores truly, now and
In this fashion did the proposed journey
to Arizona go glimmering. His eye lingered on
the banjo where it lay on the table.
“Can you play it?” she asked, her eye
“Some,” said he. “Want to hear
a camp-meeting song?”
She nodded. He rose and picked
up the banjo. He placed a foot on the chair seat,
slid the banjo to rest on his thigh, swept the strings,
and broke into “Inchin’ Along”.
Which ditty made her laugh. For it is a funny
song, and he sang it well.
“That was fine,” she told
him when he had sung it through. “Your voice
sounds a lot like that of a man I heard singing in
Farewell yesterday. He was in the Happy Heart
when I was going by, and he sang Jog on, jog on
the footpath way. If it hadn’t been
a saloon I’d have gone in. I just love
the old songs.”
“You do?” said he, delightedly,
with shining eyes. “Well, Miss Dale, that
feller in the saloon was me, and old songs is where
I live. I cut my teeth on ‘The Barley Mow’
and grew up with ‘Barbara Allen’.
My mother she used to sing ’em all. She
was a great hand to sing and she taught me. Know
‘The Keel Row?’”
She didn’t, so he sang it for
her. And others he sang, too “The
Merry Cuckoo” and “The Bailiff’s
Daughter”. The last she liked so well that
he sang it three times over, and they quite forgot
Racey Dawson was starting the second
verse of “Sourwood Mountain” when someone
without coughed apologetically. Racey stopped
singing and looked toward the doorway. Standing
in the sunken half-round log that served as a doorstep
was the stranger he had seen with Lanpher.
There was more than a hint of amusement
in the black eyes with which the stranger was regarding
Racey. The latter felt that the stranger was
enjoying a hearty internal laugh at his expense.
As probably he was. Racey looked at him from
beneath level brows. The lid of the stranger’s
right eye dropped ever so little. It was the merest
of winks. Yet it was unmistakable. It recalled
their morning’s meeting. More, it was the
tolerant wink of a superior to an inferior. A
wink that merited a kick? Quite so.
The keen black eyes veered from Racey
to the girl. The man removed his hat and bowed
with, it must be said, not a little grace. Miss
Dale nodded coldly. The stranger smiled.
It was marvellous how the magic of that smile augmented
the attractive good looks of the stranger’s full
face. It was equally singular how that self-same
smile rendered more hawk-like than ever the hard and
Roman profile of the fellow. It was precisely
as though he were two different men at one and the
“Does Mr. Dale live here?” inquired the
“He does.” A breath
from the Boreal Pole was in the two words uttered
by Miss Dale.
The stranger’s smile widened.
The keen black eyes began to twinkle. He made
as if to enter, but went no farther than the placing
of one foot on the doorsill.
“Is he home?”
“He isn’t.” Clear and colder.
“I’m shore sorry,”
grieved the stranger, the smile waning a trifle.
“I wanted to see him.”
“I supposed as much,” sniffed Miss Dale,
“Yes, Miss,” said the
stranger, undisturbed. “When will he be
back, if I might ask?”
“To-night to-morrow. I’m
“So I see,” nodded the stranger.
“Would it be worth while my waitin’?”
“That depends on what you call worth while.”
“You’re right. It
does. Standards ain’t always alike, are
they.” He laughed silently, and pulled
on his hat. “And it’s a good thing
standards ain’t all alike,” he resumed,
chattily. “Wouldn’t it be a funny
old world if they were?”
The smile of him recognized Racey
briefly, but it rested upon and caressed the girl.
She shook her shoulders as if she were ridding herself
of the touch of hands.
The stranger continued to smile and
to look as if he expected a reply. But he did
not get it. Miss Dale stared calmly at him, through
Slowly the stranger slid his foot
from the doorsill to the doorstep; slowly, very slowly,
his keenly twinkling black gaze travelled over the
girl from her face to her feet and up again to finally
fasten upon and hold as with a tangible grip her angry
“I’m sorry yore pa ain’t
here,” he resumed in a drawl. “I had
some business. It can wait. I’ll be
back. So long.”
The stranger turned and left them.
From the kitchen window they watched
him mount his horse and ford the creek and ride away
“I don’t like that man,”
declared Miss Dale, and caught her lower lip between
her white teeth. “I wonder what he wanted?”
“You’ll find out when he comes back.”
“I hope he never comes back.
I never want to see him again. Do you know him?”
“Not me. First time I ever
saw him was this morning in Farewell. He was
with Lanpher. When I was coming out here he and
Lanpher caught up with me and passed me.”
“He didn’t bring Lanpher here with him
“He didn’t for a fact,”
assented Racey Dawson, his eyes following the dwindling
figures of the rider and his horse. “I wonder
“I wonder, too.”
Thus Miss Dale with a gurgling chuckle.
Both laughed. For Racey’s
sole visit to the Dale place had been made in company
with Lanpher. The cause of said visit had been
the rustling and butchering of an 88 cow, which Lanpher
had ill-advisedly essayed to fasten upon Mr. Dale.
But, due to the interference of Chuck Morgan, a Bar
S rider, who later married Jane Dale, Lanpher’s
attempt had been unavailing. It may be said in
passing that Lanpher had suffered both physically
and mentally because of that visit. Of course
he had neither forgiven Chuck Morgan nor the Bar S
for backing up its puncher, which it had done to the
“I quit the 88 that day,” Racey Dawson
told the girl.
“I know you did. Chuck
told me. Look at the time, will you? Get
your hat. We mustn’t keep Jane waiting.”
“No,” he said, thoughtfully,
his brows puckered, “we mustn’t keep Jane
waitin’. Lookit, Miss Dale, as I remember
yore pa he had a moustache. Has he still got
Miss Dale puzzled, paused in the doorway.
“Why, no,” she told him. “He
wears a horrid chin whisker now.”
“He does, huh? A chin whisker.
Let’s be movin’ right along. I think
I’ve got something interesting to tell you and
yore sister and Chuck.”
But they did not move along.
They halted in the doorway. Or, rather, the girl
halted in the doorway, and Racey looked over her shoulder.
What stopped them short in their tracks was a spectacle the
spectacle of an elderly chin-whiskered man, very drunk
and disorderly, riding in on a paint pony.
“Father!” breathed Miss
Dale in a horror-stricken whisper.
And as she spoke Father uttered a
string of cheerful whoops and topped off with a long
pull at a bottle he had been brandishing in his right
“Please go,” said Miss Dale to Racey Dawson.
He hesitated. He was in a quandary.
He did not relish leaving her with At that
instant Mr. Dale decided Racey’s course for him.
Mr. Dale pulled a gun and, still whooping cheerily,
shook five shots into the atmosphere. Then Mr.
Dale fumblingly threw out his cylinder and began to
“I’d better get his gun
away from him,” Racey said, apologetically,
over his shoulder, as he ran forward.
But the old man would have none of
him. He cunningly discerned an enemy in Racey
and tried to shoot him. It was lucky for Racey
that the old fellow was as drunk as a fiddler, or
certainly Racey would have been buried the next day.
As it was, the first bullet went wide by a yard.
The second went straight up into the blue, for by then
Racey had the old man’s wrist.
“There, there,” soothed
Racey, “you don’t want that gun, Nawsir.
Not you. Le’s have it, that’s a good
So speaking he twisted the sixshooter
from the old man’s grasp and jammed it into
the waistband of his own trousers. The old man
burst into frank tears. Incontinently he slid
sidewise from the saddle and clasped Racey round the
“I’m wild an’ woolly
an’ full o’ fleas
I’m hard to curry below the knees ”
Thus he carolled loudly two lines
of the justly popular song.
“Luke,” he bawled, switching
from verse to prose, “why didja leave me, Luke?”
Strangely enough, he did not stutter.
Without the slightest difficulty he leaped that pitfall
of the drunken, the letter L.
“Luke,” repeated Racey
Dawson, struck by a sudden thought. “What’s
this about Luke? You mean Luke Tweezy?”
The old man rubbed his shaving-brush
adown Racey’s neck-muscles. “I mean
Luke Tweezy,” he said. “Lots o’
folks don’t like Luke. They say he’s
mean. But they ain’t nothin’ mean
about Luke. He’s frien’ o’
mine, Luke is.”
“Mr. Dawson,” said Molly
Dale at Racey’s elbow, “please go, I can
get him into the house. You can do no good here.”
“I can do lots o’ good
here,” declared Racey, who felt sure that he
was on the verge of a discovery. “Somebody
is a-trying to jump yore ranch, and if you’ll
lemme talk to him I can find out who it is.”
said Miss Dale, stupidly, for, what with the fright
and embarrassment engendered by her father’s
condition the true significance of Racey’s remark
was not immediately apparent.
“Yore ranch,” repeated
Racey, sharply. “They’re a-tryin’
to steal it from you. You lemme talk to
him, ma’am. Look out! Grab his bridle!”
Miss Dale seized the bridle of her
father’s horse in time to prevent a runaway.
She was not aware that the horse’s attempt to
run away had been inspired by Racey surreptitiously
and severely kicking it on the fetlock. This
he had done that Miss Dale’s thoughts might be
temporarily diverted from her father. Anything
to keep her from shooing him away as she so plainly
wished to do.
Racey began to assist the now-crumpling
Mr. Dale toward the house. “What’s
this about Luke Tweezy?” prodded Racey.
“Did you see him to-day?”
“Shore I seen him to-day,”
burbled the drunken one. “He left me at
McFluke’s after buyin’ me the bottle and
asked me to stay there till he got back. But
I got tired waitin’. So I come along.
I hic come along.”
Limply the man’s whole weight
sagged down against Racey’s supporting arm,
and he began to snore.
“Shucks,” muttered Racey,
then stooping he picked up the limp body in his arms
and carried it to the house.
“He’s asleep,” he
called to Miss Dale. “Where’ll I put
“I’ll show you,” she said, with
a break in her voice.
She hastily tied the now-quiet pony
to a young cottonwood growing at the corner of the
house and preceded Racey into the kitchen.
“Here,” she said, her
eyes meeting his a fleeting instant as she threw open
a door giving into an inner room. “On the
She turned back the counterpane and
Racey laid her snoring parent on the blanket.
Expertly he pulled off the man’s boots and stood
them side by side against the wall.
“Had to take ’em off now,
or his feet would swell so after you’d never
get ’em off,” he said in justification
of his conduct.
She held the door open for him to
leave the room. She did not look at him.
Nor did she speak.
“I’m going now,”
he said, standing in the middle of the kitchen.
“But I wish you wouldn’t shut that door
“I Oh, can’t
you see you’re not wanted here?” Her voice
was shaking. The door was open but a crack.
He could not see her.
“I know,” he said, gently.
“But you don’t understand how serious this
business is. I had good reason for believing that
somebody is trying to steal yore ranch. From
several things yore dad said I’m shorer than
ever. If I could only talk to you a li’l
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
“Oh, that’s where he got it!” she
“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
“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,”
“I haven’t time now, unless you’re
coming with me to see Chuck.”
“I can’t now.”
“Then you ask Chuck later.
I’ll tell him all about it. You ask him.
Racey hurried out and caught up his
own horse. He swung into the saddle and spurred
away down stream.