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Golden West Romances, October, 1949

Team Work

by Stephen Payne

TOM MAYBURN, returning home from shipping a carload of beef to market, let his old flivver coast down the south slope of Lone Tree Ridge and braked to a stop to feast his eyes. Here was a view which he loved and of which he never tired; a basinlike area with fountains, big- shouldered and massive, curving from south to west against the blue horizon.

Wooded foothills adjacent to the fountains were summer range for Tom's Flying M herd. Between them and Grizzly Creek, which lay at Tom Mayburn's left, was a choppy, barren area, spotted with red-rock formations. Useless for either ranching or stock grazing, nevertheless this picturesque terrain was strikingly beautiful in the afternoon sunshine of a late July day.

Tom's gaze, however, was upon the wide valley of the Grizzly wherein lay his Flying M ranch. Two years ago he had plunged head over heels into debt to buy this big outfit, and to make good was his all- consuming ambition. His nine hundred-odd cattle were now safely on the summer range and required little attention. The big job confronting the young ranchman was the harvesting of his hay crop. Over a thousand tons of it, a sea of waving green grass, had to be cut and stacked at once.

This would require a twelve or fourteen-man crew, and men were extremely hard to find. But Tom wasn't worrying much yet. He had a good man cook and four steady hands on whom he could depend. Directed by the foreman, wizened and knotty and loyal old Tuck Macleod, those boys would be repairing machinery and harness and breaking additional horses for the task ahead and—

The unexpected sound of an automobile at his right wrenched Tom's gaze from the meadow valley. For the first time he saw a new sign decorating the cross bar above a gate in the wire fence which marked the east boundary of Lone Tree Ranch.

With amazement he read:

LONE TREE DUDE RANCH
GUESTS WELCOME

Sudden and immediate anger stirred in Tom. His setup here would have been ideal had it not been for his cunning and irritating neighbor, Lawson L. Lawrence, who had acquired title to all that picturesque but worthless land adjacent to the Flying M.

NOW in the one week Tom had been absent, Lawrence had stolen a march on him by opening a dude ranch, It was another of Laws Lawrence's many schemes to force Tom Mayburn to buy his Lone Tree ranch—at Laws' own price. Where would his guests—swanky tourists so doggoned rich they didn't have to work—ride and hike and picnic? On Tom's cattle range, of course. They'd be prowling around, shooting at targets and at small game, keeping the cattle so disturbed they'd not put on any flesh. Where would they fish? In Tom's meadow on Grizzly Creek, where they'd tramp down grass and set fires and—

"The devil take Laws," Tom gritted under his breath.

Then he took notice of the car he had heard, a secondhand station wagon. Chugging along the red dirt road from the direction of Laws' buildings, which were not in sight from this point, it stopped at the gate and a girl stepped out. Apparently she was unfamiliar with this type of gate and its barbed wire loop fastener.

But Tom didn't jump to help her. He merely looked. Jiminy, she was young and chic and pretty! The typical dude outfit—white Stetson, gay scarf, mannish blue silk shirt, overalls and boots—looked nice on her. Wonderful. For she had the slender and shapely figure to wear such duds to advantage.

Having noticed him, she gave him a level and searching look from a pair of the bluest eyes he'd ever seen, and said in a friendly voice, a thrillingly pleasant voice, "Hello, there? How do you open this darned thing?"

"I can show you easier than I can tell you, lady."

Tom leaped from his car. After all, a fellow couldn't take out on a girl the wrath boiling inside him. Not a girl like this one, even if she was a dudette, a tourist. Eumn! She had a determined little chin, but a generous mouth and a shapely nose. The curls that showed below the new hat were a shade darker than yellow. Tawny brown, Tom called them, and like her clothes, they just suited her.

"I'm surprised a dude ranch could get going so quick," he remarked. "I know Laws has a huge old house, but it's terribly run down."

The girl sighed. "There's still so much work to be done," she said, and then with a provocative glance at his face, "You're the sort of cowboy I'd like for a dude wrangler. Is there any chance you'd take a job?"

Tom always wore rough and sensible cowboy clothing, and folks often made the mistake of thinking he was merely a cowhand. He felt hot color rush up his wind-bronzed throat. If a man had suggested he wrangle dudes, he'd have blown up. But with sudden impact the strange thought came that he'd enjoy wrangling this particular dudette!

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