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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Long Shadow - Chapter 9. The "Double-Crank"
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The Long Shadow - Chapter 9. The 'Double-Crank' Post by :ljfrompa Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :July 2011 Read :2779

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The Long Shadow - Chapter 9. The "Double-Crank"

CHAPTER IX. The "Double-Crank"

The weeks that followed immediately after bulged big with the things which Billy must do or have done. For to lie on one's back in the sun with one's hat pulled low, dreaming lazily and with minute detail the perfect supervision of a model cow-outfit from its very inception up through the buying of stock and the building of corrals and the breaking of horses to the final shipping of great trainloads of sleek beef, is one thing; to start out in reality to do all that, with the hundred little annoyances and hindrances which come not to one's dreaming in the sun, is something quite different.

But with all the perplexities born of his changed condition and the responsibility it brought him, Billy rejoiced in the work and airily planned the years to come--years in which he would lead Alexander P. Dill straight into the ranks of the Western millionaires; years when the sun of prosperity would stand always straight overhead, himself a Joshua who would, by his uplifted hands, keep it there with never a cloud to dim the glory of its light.

For the first time in his life he rode over Texas prairies and lost thereby some ideals and learned many things, the while he spent more money than he had ever owned--or ever expected to own--as the preliminary to making his pet dream come true; truth to tell, it mattered little to Billy Boyle whether his dream came true for himself or for another, so long as he himself were the chief magician.

So it was with a light heart that he swung down from the train at Tower, after his homing flight, and saw Dill, conspicuous as a flagstaff, waiting for him on the platform, his face puckered into a smile of welcome and his bony fingers extended ready to grip painfully the hand of Charming Billy.

"I'm very glad to see you back, William," he greeted earnestly. "I hope you are well, and that you met with no misfortune while you were away. I have been very anxious for your return, as I need your advice upon a matter which seems to me of prime importance. I did not wish to make any decisive move until I had consulted with you, and time is pressing. Did you--er--buy as many cattle as you expected to get?" It seemed to Billy that there was an anxious note in his voice. "Your letters were too few and too brief to keep me perfectly informed of your movements."

"Why, everything was lovely at my end uh the trail, Dilly--only I fell down on them four thousand two-year-olds. Parts uh the country was quarantined for scab, and I went way around them places. And I was too late to see the cattlemen in a bunch when they was at the Association--only you ain't likely to savvy that part uh the business--and had to chase 'em all over the country. Uh course it was my luck to have 'em stick their prices up on the end of a pole, where I didn't feel like climbing after 'em. So I only contracted for a couple uh thousand to be laid down in Billings somewhere between the first and the tenth of June, at twenty-one dollars a head. It was the best I could do this year--but next winter I can go down earlier, before the other buyers beat me to it, and do a lot better. Don't yuh worry, Dilly; it ain't serious."

On the contrary, Dill looked relieved, and Billy could not help noticing it. His own face clouded a little. Perhaps Dill had lost his money, or the bulk of it, and they couldn't do all the things they had meant to do, after all; how else, thought Billy uneasily, could he look like that over what should ordinarily be something of a disappointment? He remembered that Dill, after the workings of the cattle business from the very beginning had been painstakingly explained to him just before Billy started south, had been anxious to get at least four thousand head of young stock on the range that spring. Something must have gone wrong. Maybe a bank had gone busted or something like that. Billy stole a glance up at the other, shambling silently along beside him, and decided that something had certainly happened--and on the heels of that he remembered oddly that he had felt almost exactly like this when Miss Bridger had asked him to show her where was the coffee, and there _wasn't any coffee. There was the same heavy feeling in his chest, and the same--

"I wrote you a letter three or four days ago--on the third, to be exact," Dill was saying. "I don't suppose it reached you, however. I was going to have you meet me in Hardup; but then your telegram was forwarded to me there and I came on here at once. I only arrived this morning. I think that after we have something to eat we would better start out immediately, unless you have other plans. I drove over in a rig, and as the horses have rested several hours and are none the worse for the drive, I think we can easily make the return trip this afternoon."

"You're the doctor," assented Billy briefly, more uneasy than before and yet not quite at the point of asking questions. In his acquaintance with Dill he had learned that it was not always wise to question too closely; where Dill wished to give his confidence he gave it freely, but beyond the limit he had fixed for himself was a stone wall, masked by the flowers, so to speak, of his unfailing courtesy. Billy had once or twice inadvertently located that wall.

A great depression seized upon him and made him quite indifferent to the little pleasures of homecoming; of seeing the grass green and velvety and hearing the familiar notes of the meadow-larks and the curlews. The birds had not returned when he went away, and now the air was musical with them. Driving over the prairies seemed fairly certain of being anything but pleasant to-day, with Dill doubled awkwardly in the seat beside him, carrying on an intermittent monologue of trivial stuff to which Billy scarcely listened. He could feel that there was something at the back of it all, and that was enough for him at present. He was not even anxious now to hear just what was the form of the disaster which had overtaken them.

"While you were away," Dill began at last in the tone that braces one instinctively for the worst, "I met accidentally a man of whom I had heard, but whom I had not seen. In the course of our casual conversation he discovered that I was about to launch myself and my capital into the cattle-business, whereupon he himself made me an offer which I felt should not be lightly brushed aside."

"They all did!" Billy could not help flinging out half-resentfully, when he remembered that but for his timely interference Dill would have been gulled more than once.

"I admit that in my ignorance some offers advantageous only to those who made them appealed to me strongly. But I believe you will agree with me that this is different. In this case I am offered a full section of land, with water-rights, buildings, corrals, horses, wagons and all improvements necessary to the running of a good outfit, and ten thousand head of mixed cattle, just as they are now running loose on the range, for three hundred thousand dollars. I need only pay half this amount down, a five-year mortgage at eight per cent. on the property covering the remainder, to be paid in five yearly installments, falling due after shipping time. Now that you did not buy as much young stock as we at first intended, I can readily make the first payment on this place and have left between ten and twelve thousand dollars to carry us along until we begin to get some returns from the investment I am anxious to have you look over the proposition, and tell me what you think of it. If you are in favor of buying, we can have immediate possession; ten days after the deal is closed, I think the man said."

Billy tilted his hat-brim a bit to keep the sun from his eyes, and considered gravely the proposition. It was a great relief to discover that his fears were groundless and that it was only another scheme of Dilly's; another snare which he, perhaps, would be compelled, in Dill's interest, to move aside. He put the reins down between his knees and gripped them tightly while he made a cigarette. It was not until he was pinching the end shut that he spoke.

"If it's as you say"--and he meant no offense--"it looks like a good thing, all right. But yuh can't most always tell. I'd have to see it--say, yuh might tell me where this bonanza is, and what's the name uh the brand. If it's anywheres around here I ought to know the place, all right."

Alexander P. Dill must, after all, have had some sense of humor; his eyes lost their melancholy enough almost to twinkle. "Well, the owner's name is Brown," he said slowly. "I believe they call the brand the Double-Crank. It is located--"

"Located--hell!--do yuh think _I don't know?" The cigarette, ready to light as it was, slipped from Billy's fingers and dropped unheeded over the wheel to the brown trail below. He took the reins carefully from between his knees, straightened one that had become twisted and turned out upon the prairie to avoid a rough spot where a mud-puddle had dried in hard ridges. Beyond, he swung back again, leaned and flicked an early horse-fly from the ribs of the off-horse, touched the other one up a bit with his whip and settled back at ease, tilting his hat at quite another angle.


"Oh, where have yuh been, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Oh, where have yuh been, charming Billy?"


He hummed, in a care-free way that would have been perfectly maddening to any one with nerves.

"I suppose I am to infer from your silence that you do not take kindly to the proposition," observed Mr. Dill, in a colorless tone which betrayed the fact that he did have nerves.

"I can take a josh, all right," Billy stopped singing long enough to say. "For a steady-minded cuss, yuh do have surprising streaks, Dilly, and that's a fact. Yuh sprung it on me mighty smooth, for not having much practice--I'll say that for yuh."

Mr. Dill looked hurt. "I hope you do not seriously think that I would joke upon a matter of business," he protested.

"Well, I know old Brown pretty tolerable well--and I ain't accusing him uh ribbing up a big josh on yuh. He ain't that brand."

"I must confess I fail to get your point of view," said Mr. Dill, with just a hint of irascibility in his voice. "There is no joke unless you are forcing one upon me now. Mr. Brown made me a bona-fide offer, and I have made a small deposit to hold it until you came and I could consult you. We have three days left in which to decide for or against it. It is all perfectly straight, I assure you."

Billy took time to consider this possibility. "Well, in that case, and all jokes aside, I'd a heap rather have the running uh the Double-Crank than be President and have all the newspapers hollering how 'President Billy Boyle got up at eight this morning and had ham-and-eggs for his breakfast, and then walked around the block with the Queen uh England hanging onto his left arm,' or anything like that But what I can't seem to get percolated through me is why, in God's name, the Double-Crank wants to sell."

"That," Mr. Dill remarked, his business instincts uppermost, "it seems to me, need not concern us--seeing that they _will sell, and at a price we can handle."

"I reckon you're right. Would yuh mind saying over the details uh the offer again?"

"Mr. Brown"--Dill cleared his throat--"offered to sell me a full section of land, extending from the line-fence of the home ranch, east--"

"Uh-huh--now what the devil's his idea in that?" Billy cut in earnestly. "The Double-Crank owns about three or four miles uh bottom land, up the creek west uh the home ranch. Wonder why he wants to hold that out?"

"I'm sure I do not know," answered Dill. "He did not mention that to me, but confined himself, naturally, to what he was willing to sell."

"Oh it don't matter. And all the range stuff, yuh said--ten thousand head, and--"

"I believe he is reserving some thoroughbred stock which he has bought in the last year or two. The stock on the range--the regular range grade-stock--all goes, as well as the saddle-horses."

"Must be the widow said yes and wants him to settle down and be a gentle farmer," decided Billy after a moment.

"We will meet him in Hardup to-night or to-morrow," Dill observed, as if he were anxious to decide the matter finally. "Do you think we would better buy?" It was one of his little courteous ways to say "we" in discussing a business transaction, just as though Billy were one of the firm.

"Buy? You bet your life we'll buy! I wisht the papers was all signed up and in your inside pocket right now, Dilly. I'm going to get heart failure the worst kind if there's any hitch. Lord, what luck!"

"Then, we will consider the matter as definitely settled," said Dill, with a sigh of satisfaction. "Brown cannot rescind now--there is my deposit to bind the bargain. I will say I should have been sorely disappointed if you had not shown that you favored the idea. It seems to me to be just what we want."

"Oh--that part. But it seems to _me that old Brown is sure locoed to give us a chance at the outfit. He's gone plumb silly. His friends oughta appoint a guardian over him--only I hope they won't get action till this deal is cinched tight." With that, Billy relapsed into crooning his ditty. But there were odd breaks when he stopped short in the middle of a line and forgot to finish, and there was more than one cigarette wasted by being permitted to go cold and then being chewed abstractedly until it nearly fell to pieces.

Beside him, Alexander P. Dill, folded loosely together in the seat, caressed his knees and stared unseeingly at the trail ahead of them and said never a word for more than an hour.

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