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   Chapter 6 KINDRED SPIRITS

The Trail to Yesterday By Charles Alden Seltzer Characters: 9125

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Looking rather more rugged than when he had arrived at the station at Lazette two weeks before, his face tanned, but still retaining the smooth, sleek manner which he had brought with him from the East, David Dowd Langford sat in a big rocking chair on the lower gallery of the Double R ranchhouse, mentally appraising Duncan, who was seated near by, his profile toward Langford.

"So this Ben Doubler has been a thorn in your side?" questioned Langford softly.

"That's just it," returned Duncan, with an evil smile. "He has been and still is. And now I'm willing him to you. I don't know when I've been more tickled over getting rid of a man."

"Well," said Langford, leaning farther back in his chair and clasping his hands, resting his chin on his thumbs, his lips curving with an ironic smile, "I suppose I ought to feel extremely grateful to you-especially since when I was negotiating the purchase of the ranch you didn't hint of a nester being on the property."

"I didn't sell Doubler to you," said Duncan.

Langford's smile was shallow. "But I get him just the same," he said. "As a usual thing it is pretty hard to get rid of a nester, isn't it?"

"I haven't been able to get rid of this one," returned Duncan. "He don't seem to be influenced by anything I say, or do. Some obstinate."

"Tried everything?"

"Yes."

"The law?"

Duncan made a gesture of disgust. "The law!" he said. "What for? I haven't been such a fool. He's got as much right to the open range as I have-as you will have. I bought a section, and he took up a quarter section. The only difference between us is that I own mine-or did own it until you bought it-and he ain't proved on his. He is on the other side of the river and I'm on this. Or rather," he added with a grin, "he's on the other side and you are on this. He's got the best grass land in the country-and plenty of water."

"His rights, then," remarked Langford slowly, "equal yours-or mine. That is," he added, "he makes free use of the grass and water."

"That's so," agreed Duncan.

"Which reduces the profits of the Double R," pursued Langford.

"I reckon that's right."

"And you knew that when you sold me the Double R," continued Langford, his voice smooth and silky.

Duncan flashed a grin at the imperturbable face of the new owner. "I reckon I wasn't entirely ignorant of it," he said.

"That's bad business," remarked Langford in a detached manner.

"What is?" Duncan's face reddened slightly. "You mean that it was bad business for me to sell when I knowed Doubler owned land near the Double R?" There was a slight sneer in his voice as he looked at Langford. "You've never been stung before, eh? Well, there's always a first time for everything, and I reckon-according to what I've heard-that you ain't been exactly no Sunday school scholar yourself."

Langford's eyes were narrowed to slits. "I meant that it was bad business to allow Doubler's presence on the Two Forks to affect the profits of the Double R. Perhaps I have been stung-as you call it-but if I have been I am not complaining."

Duncan's eyes glinted with satisfaction. He had expected a burst of anger from the new owner when he should discover that the value of his property was impaired by the presence of a nester near it, but the new owner apparently harbored no resentment over this unforeseen obstacle.

"I'm admitting," said Duncan, "that Doubler being there is bad business. But how are you going to prevent him staying there?"

"Have you tried"-Langford looked obliquely at Duncan, drawling significantly-"force?"

"I have tried everything, I told you."

Duncan gazed at Langford with a new interest. It was the first time since the new owner had come to the Double R that he had dropped the mask of sleek smoothness behind which he concealed his passions. Even now the significance was more in his voice than in his words, and Duncan began to comprehend that Langford was deeper than he had thought.

"I'm glad to see that you appreciate the situation," he said, smiling craftily. "Some men are mighty careful not to do anything to hurt anybody else."

Langford favored Duncan with a steady gaze, which the latter returned, and both smiled.

"Business," presently said Langford with a quiet significance which was not lost on Duncan, "good business, demands the application of certain methods which are not always agreeable to the opposition." He took another sly glance at Duncan. "There ought to be a good many ways of making it plain to Doubler that he isn't wanted in thi

s section of the country," he insinuated.

"I've tried to make some of the ways plain," said Duncan with a cold grin. "I got to the end of my string and hadn't any more things to try. That's why I decided to sell. I wanted to get away where I wouldn't be bothered. But I reckon that you'll be able to fix up something for him."

During the two weeks that Langford had been at the Double R Duncan had studied him from many angles and this exchange of talk had convinced him that he had not erred in his estimate of the new owner's character. As he had hinted to Langford, he had tried many plans to rid the country of the nester, and he remembered a time when Doubler had seen through one of his schemes to fasten the crime of rustling on him and had called him to account, and the recollection of what had happened at the interview between them was not pleasant. He had not bothered Doubler since that time, though there had lingered in his heart a desire for revenge. Many times, on some pretext or other, he had tried to induce his men to clash with Doubler, but without success. It had appeared to him that his men suspected his motives and deliberately avoided the nester.

With a secret satisfaction he had watched Langford's face this morning when he had told him that Doubler had long been suspected of rustling; that the men of the Double R had never been able to catch him in the act, but that the number of cattle missing had seemed to indicate the nester's guilt.

Doubler's land was especially desirable, he had told Langford, and this was the truth. It was a quarter section lying adjacent to good water, and provided the best grass in the vicinity. Duncan had had trouble with Doubler over the water rights, too, but had been unsuccessful in ousting him because of the fact that since Doubler controlled the land he also controlled the water rights of the river adjoining it. The Two Forks was the only spot which could be used by thirsty cattle in the vicinity, for the river at other points was bordered with cliffs and hills and was inaccessible. And Doubler would not allow the Double R cattle to water at the Two Forks, though he had issued this edict after his trouble with the Double R owner. Duncan, however, did not explain this to Langford.

The latter looked at him with a smooth smile. "It is plain from what you have been telling me," he said, "that there is no possibility of you succeeding in reaching a satisfactory agreement with Doubler, and therefore I expect that I will have to deal with him personally. I shall ride over some day and have a talk with him."

The prospect of becoming involved with the nester gave Langford a throb of joy. All his life he had been engaged in the task of overcoming business obstacles and he had reached the conclusion that the situation which now confronted him was nothing more or less than business. Of course it was not the business to which he had been accustomed, but it offered the opportunity for cold-blooded, merciless planning for personal gain; there were the elements of profit and loss; it would give him an opportunity to apply his peculiar genius, to grapple, to battle, and finally overthrow the opposing force.

Though he had allowed Duncan to see nothing of the emotions that rioted within him over the discovery that he had been victimized by the latter-at least to the extent of misrepresentation in the matter of the nester-there was in his mind a feeling of deep resentment against the former owner; he felt that he could no longer trust him, but for the sake of learning all the details of the new business he felt that he would have to make the best of a bad bargain. He had already arranged with Duncan to remain at the Double R throughout the season, but he purposed to leave him out of any dealings that he might have with Doubler. He smiled as he looked at Duncan.

"I like this country," he said, leaning back in his chair and drawing a deep breath. "I was rather afraid at first that I would find it dull after the East. But this situation gives promise of action."

Duncan was watching him with a crafty smile. "You reckon on running him off, or--" He leered at Langford significantly.

The latter's face was impassive, his smile dry. "Eh?" he said, abstractedly, as though his thoughts had been wandering from the subject. "Why, I really haven't given a thought to the method by which I ought to deal with Doubler. Perhaps," he added with a genial smile, "I may make a friend of him."

He observed Duncan's scowl and his smile grew.

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