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What It Meant To Keith








From: Her Prairie Knight

"Dick, I wish you'd tell me about this leasing business. There are
points which I don't understand." Beatrice leaned over and smoothed
Rex's sleek shoulder with her hand.

"What do you want to understand it for? The thing is done now. We've got
the fence-posts strung, and a crew hired to set them."

"You needn't snap your words like that, Dick. It doesn't matter--only I
was wondering why Mr. Cameron acted so queer yesterday when I told him
about it."

"You told Keith? What did he say?"

"He didn't say anything. He just looked things."

"Where did you see him?" Dick wanted to know.

"Well, dear me! I don't see that it matters where I saw him. You're
getting as inquisitive as mama. If you think it concerns you, why, I met
him accidentally when I was fishing with Dorman. He was coming to see
you, but you were gone, so he stopped and talked for a few minutes. Was
there anything so strange about that? And I told him you were leasing
the Pine Ridge country, and he looked--well, peculiar. But he wouldn't
say anything."

"Well, he had good reason for looking peculiar. But you needn't have
told him I did it, Trix. Lay that at milord's door, where it belongs. I
don't want Keith to blame me."

"But why should he blame anybody? It isn't his land, is it?"

"No, it isn't. But--you see, Trix, it's this way: A man goes somewhere
and buys a ranch--or locates on a claim--and starts into the cattle
business. He may not own more than a few hundred acres of land, but if
he has much stock he needs miles of prairie country, with water, for
them to range on. It's an absolute necessity, you see. He takes care to
locate where there is plenty of public land that is free to anybody's
cattle.

"Take the Pool outfit, for instance. We don't own land enough to feed
one-third of our cattle. We depend on government land for range for
them. The Cross outfit is the same, only Keith's is on a smaller scale.
He's got to have range outside his own land, which is mostly hay land.
This part of the State is getting pretty well settled up with small
ranchers, and then the sheep men keep crowding in wherever they can get
a show--and sheep will starve cattle to death; they leave a range as
bare as a prairie-dog town. So there's only one good bit of range left
around here, and that's the Pine Ridge country, as it's called. That's
our main dependence for winter range; and now when this drought has
struck us, and everything is drying up, we've had to turn all our cattle
down there on account of water.

"Ever since I took charge of the Pool, Keith and I threw in together and
used the same range, worked our crews together, and fought the sheepmen
together. There was a time when they tried to gobble the Pine Ridge
range, but it didn't go. Keith and I made up our minds that we needed it
worse than they did--and we got it. Our punchers had every sheep herder
bluffed out till there wasn't a mutton-chewer could keep a bunch of
sheep on that range over-night.

"Now, this lease law was made by stockmen, for stockmen. They can lease
land from the government, fence it--and they've got a cinch on it as
long as the lease lasts. A cow outfit can corral a heap of range that
way. There's the trick of leasing every other section or so, and then
running a fence around the whole chunk; and that's what the Pool has
done to the Pine Ridge. But you mustn't repeat that, Trix.

"Milord wasn't long getting on to the leasing graft; in fact, it turns
out the company got wind of it over in England, and sent him over here
to see what could be done in that line. He's done it, all right enough!

"And there's the Cross outfit, frozen out completely. The Lord only
knows what Keith will do with his cattle now, for we'll have every drop
of water under fence inside of a month. He's in a hole, for sure. I
expect he feels pretty sore with me, too, but I couldn't help it. I
explained how it was to milord, but--you can't persuade an Englishman,
any more than you can a--"

"I think," put in Beatrice firmly, "Sir Redmond did quite right. It
isn't his fault that Mr. Cameron owns more cattle than he can feed.
If he was sent over here to lease the land, it was his duty to do so.
Still, I really am sorry for Mr. Cameron."

"Keith won't sit down and take his medicine if he can help it," Dick
said moodily. "He could sell out, but I don't believe he will. He's more
apt to fight."

"I can't see how fighting will help him," Beatrice returned spiritedly.

"Well, there's one thing," retorted Dick. "If milord wants that fence to
stand he'd better stay and watch it. I'll bet money he won't more than
strike Liverpool till about forty miles, more or less, of Pool fence
will need repairs mighty bad--which it won't get, so far as I'm
concerned."

"Do you mean that Keith Cameron would destroy our fencing?"

Dick grinned. "He'll be a fool if he don't, Trix. You can tell milord
he'd better send for all his traps, and camp right here till that lease
runs out. My punchers will have something to do beside ride fence."

"I shall certainly tell Sir Redmond," Beatrice threatened. "You and
Mr. Cameron hate him just because he's English. You won't see what a
splendid fellow he is. It's your duty to stand by him in this business,
instead of taking sides with Keith Cameron. Why didn't he lease that
land himself, if he wanted to?"

"Because he plays fair."

"Meaning, I suppose, that Sir Redmond doesn't. I didn't think you would
be so unjust. Sir Redmond is a perfect gentleman."

"Well, you've got a chance to marry your 'perfect gentleman," Dick
retorted, savagely. "It's a wonder you don't take him if you think so
highly of him."

"I probably shall. At any rate, he isn't a male flirt."

"You don't seem to fancy a fellow that can give you as good as you
send," Dick rejoined. "I thought you wouldn't find Keith such easy game,
even if he does live on a cattle ranch. You can't rope him into making a
fool of himself for your amusement, and I'm glad of it."

"Don't do your shouting too soon. If you could overhear some of the
things he says you wouldn't be so sure--"

"I suppose you take them all for their face value," grinned Dick
ironically.

"No, I don't! I'm not a simple country girl, let me remind you. Since
you are so sure of him, I'll have the pleasure of saying, 'No, thank
you, sir,' to your Keith Cameron--just to convince you I can."

"Oh, you will! Well, you just tell me when you do, Trix, and I'll give
you your pick of all the saddle horses on the ranch."

"I'll take Rex, and you may as well consider him mine. Oh, you men!
A few smiles, judiciously dispensed, and--" Beatrice smiled most
exasperatingly at her brother, and Dick went moody and was very poor
company the rest of the way home.





Next: Pine Ridge Range Ablaze

Previous: Dorman Plays Cupid



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