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Fulton's Fury

A Predatory Excursion - To Ravage …. Fury
To Plant a Seed — Chapter Thirteen
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

On Sunday morning Bat rode by himself to Fort Worth. Lucas and Will stayed with the ladies. Bat needed some time on his own to investigate and carouse with his buddies at the Elephant. Lucas agreed to attend the theater every night he was gone and to stay close to Emma afterwards. Aubrey enjoyed the theater and didn’t mind. Ann loved the time they had with Emma backstage and after the show. Sarah attended a few of the performances but she wanted to stay home with Turley and her family for a change. So much time at the hotel was beginning to fatigue her.

When Bat arrived in town he went straight to Templeton’s office and to his surprise he was there. It was John’s time to work on his own without clients present. They had a lot to discuss about Luke and the shooting. John found out that Bat did not see the actual incident, but he got a firsthand run down on Luke’s night in jail and the inquest. The next issue was what was Luke going to do now.

“I can tell you Bat that as far as I am concerned Luke will always be welcomed to stay on. He is the force behind the success. There may be some initial loss of business, but I expect curiosity will bring patrons back soon. There couldn’t have been many saloon owners that enjoyed Longhair’s bullying ways. Those that liked him prefer the small time saloons and brothels from what I understand. Luke has many friends and the Elephant is the finest place in town. We’ll be alright.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Luke and I go way back and I need to win his money every once in a while. It’s our tradition. Promise me that if he gets into any more trouble you will let me know. I don’t want him to face it alone.”

“You have my word Bat. I’m fond of him too. He’ll always have my attention if he needs anything. I know you can’t be there for him all of the time.”

Great, I’m going to get together with him tonight hopefully. I’ll be around for a while. Now what do you say we look into putting some deeds into protective custody? Is that possible on a Sunday?

“We’ll have to see. I know a clerk that has helped me before at times like this.”

John closed his office and they took a walk. They found the clerk at home near the courthouse and he agreed to take them over for a special visit. He showed them the ledger and there was no evidence of Renfro having been there. John issued a request to place the deeds into protective custody until further notice. Bat showed him the deed with Emily Carlson on it. It was a ranch south out of Fort Worth about forty miles. Next, they inspected a number of deeds that John thought might reveal a clue about Renfro’s dealings in the past over well known ranch wars. Bat noticed that a number of them had a similar handwriting style on the signatures. The names were different, but the letters bore a striking similarity. Bat recognized this style from the Graham signatures he studied previously.

“I’d say that whoever was signing these deeds is the same person that signed for R.J. Graham. We would have to bring the documents together to make a better determination, but I know Renfro mentioned a front man that died in more recent times. Our friend must have done this often to set the boundaries to these ranches in his favor. There may be few actual owners by these names and either Renfro owns them himself or there is someone behind him with big money, maybe a group of investors for that matter. They can bury themselves behind a mountain of paper.”

“From my experience I can tell you that the mountain is steep and wide. He probably has men hired to pose as these owners and I bet almost every damn one of them was a hand someplace else or in some cases they were small owners that went along with Renfro under threat. I was never able to get any of them to talk. This Paul Gusset for instance, he rarely makes himself known around town. Very few of these people are active citizens for that matter. But every time I tried to call him on this he would produce the person as slick as you please. What we need to do is make a positive identification on Gusset ahead of time so we can prove that it’s him when the fraud is committed.”

“I intend on doing some snooping while I’m here. This afternoon I will browse in some of the stores and saloons to see if anyone knows anything. I can ride out to his ranch but I don’t want to be seen there. Do you know anyone that can do something like that?”

“Indeed I do. I have several men who I trust to investigate for me. They know how to pose as salesmen or travelers, whatever it takes. I’ll have one ride out to Gusset’s and see what goes on.”

“Very good, you can do that during the week sometime, I’ll keep in touch by telegraph. On Monday I’m going to look in on the address for Emily Carlson. I won’t trouble her, I just want to see for myself that she exists. It’s beginning to look as though Renfro runs more of an acting guild than a law practice.”

“Funny how with the law and medicine we practice and act rather than simply do. It would be something to hear a rancher say that he is in the cattle practice or in the act of herding.”

“Yes, when it comes to practice, I do that often. It keeps me from having to shoot in the act of apprehension or crime prevention.”

“That is what I like about you Bat, you try to keep the well being of the criminals in mind so guys like me have them to prosecute rather than bury!”

That is my pleasure John, it keeps my conscience clear at the same time. I don’t have to worry about sending them to their maker and you guys can have it on your minds that you sent them to prison. It all works out.”

“My mind only has turmoil over the ones that get away!”

“We both suffer from that torture. It’s too bad that what we are facing now couldn’t have been prevented. Can you imagine what potential William Fulton might have had if he grew up in Dallas a happy man?”

“The thought of that makes what I hope we are about to do to Renfro feel so good!”

“I enjoy righting the wrongs and letting others see what can happen so they’ll think twice about stepping out of line. ‘Tis greed that brings a man temporary comfort and eternal grief. We must remain the shepherds and keep a strong belief.”

“I wish more people thought that way. I’m going to remember that saying. I’m going to do my best to be at your gun show too. Everyone is looking forward to it.”

“I will be very honored by your presence. Please be there, I know it would raise some eyebrows if we are seen together at the time. Would you like to be introduced in the opening ceremonies?”

“I’d like that fine. I’ll be there, the law can wait.”

“Law waits for no man, but it has the patience of a hound dog.”

“Is there anything that you don’t have a saying for?”

“Not that I know of, but give me some time. They come to me like a hole card.”

“I thought as much, always plotting on the next poker game. I know where you’ll be tonight!”

“Well I wouldn’t want them to forget about me, now would I?”

“ We choose the sharks we swim amongst. I’ll take my chances in court.”

“I gamble with cards and money, you gamble with life. All the same really, in the end, life is a gamble no matter how you choose to look at it. The one thing I don’t like to gamble with is my freedom. That is where the criminal makes his mistake.”

“And that is where we are ready to provide them with the misfortune of loss.”

“Well said Mister Templeton. I do enjoy working with you!”

“The honor is all mine. Now let’s get back to my office and I can show you what else I know.”

Bat learned more about Renfro’s early days in New York. His school grades were not that good, but he managed to graduate from the Albany Law School and find work in the field of real estate in New York City. Bat wondered what would make a man like him move to Fort Worth. It was either too competitive or he was in trouble and had to leave. Bat decided that trouble is what he most likely ran into. For whatever reason, he was a long time Texas resident plying his trade after graduating from an early class of a prestigious school. John showed him a map outlining most of the ranches and property Renfro had been involved with. The pattern was obvious. Bat suggested that they do a further study going back on previous deeds to see if some big names would surface, especially Carlson. John agreed to have a secretary prepare the information during the next week. For now it was easy to see that Renfro was instrumental in the formation of many ranches. How was it that such a random grouping of owners fell under the name of one lawyer? John reminded him that Renfro survived many of the attempts to charge him with a crime by finding reasons to extort high officials. Once the paperwork was corrected there was little left to charge him with. On several occasions John had him in court and close to conviction only to have the case thrown out by what he considered a judge on the take. Renfro was good at producing witnesses that could upset a trial.

John let Bat know that this time they would have to be sure he was caught in the act. Bat told him of the plan he and Owen Pollard had to bring Renfro and Graham out to the farm and apprehend them in Dallas County rather than trying to arrest him in Fort Worth. John liked that idea as long as Renfro would agree to leave his home turf. He told Bat that he would probably try to resist that idea. Bat figured as much and was doing his best to think of a good reason to insist on them coming out to the farm.

“It’s going to have to be something very important to get them out of the county. The more of a chance that Graham will have to carry on the ruse the more likely he will slip up, which you have to figure Renfro is wary of. He’ll know that’s what you’re trying for by that time.”

“I was thinking about a number of issues, something wrong with the cotton gins and a drainage problem on the land perhaps. It’s a hard thing to come up with, the place looks great. But we do have the idea of a gathering with the men at the lodge. It’s a very innocent and natural thing to do. I got along well with Arnold Colby the foreman of the farm, it was his idea. If we can get him to invite Renfro and Graham maybe that can be an easier way.”

“That’s not a bad idea. Another angle might be that Sarah is not feeling well or is hurt so you must insist that they come to her. Keep something like that in mind. Maybe mix the two and have her fake an ankle injury while at the farm.”

“Now that is just plain devious!” Bat dawned his derby and told John he would stop back after he took a walk around town. He wanted to see if Renfro would have a friendly chat with him also.

Bat visited some of the shops he knew of from previous times. He was glad to see a few old friends and had a good time looking over the cattle in the pens. He seemed to be able to talk with the poor beasts headed soon to slaughter. He never liked that end of the business, especially after all of the buffalo he had killed and skinned in the past. He finally decided to go by Renfro’s office and maybe have a chat.

When he got there the door was open. He walked inside and tapped his cane on the floor. Quentin came down the stairs and greeted Bat with open arms.

“What brings you back to Fort Worth? I was expecting a telegram.”

“I’m in town for a poker game, my old pal Luke Short runs the White Elephant.”

“Ah, that’s right. I of course heard about the unfortunate incident. I’m sorry for his trouble. I enjoy the place myself on occasion, it has a certain class that other establishments lack, and I manage to win a few hands at poker too. Luke is an interesting man. You must know him from Dodge City.”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. I was a part of an attempt to save the Long Branch Saloon.”

“And Wyatt Earp, Charlie Bass, and a few other famous guns were there as well from what I read.”

“You read correct. You must have seen the photos as well.” Bat took off his derby and sat down.

“That I have. Your reputation gets around. So I hear you were there at the time of the shooting. That must have been quite a shock. Jim Courtright was well known from being a Fort Worth marshal. But he picked a dangerous profession as a bully. This is a raucous town and he did keep things peaceful for some of the wild side. From what I have learned, Luke was only defending himself in the heat of an argument. I am in agreement with the findings of the inquest. I only hope that he will be safe from Courtright’s friends should they want to exact revenge.”

“That’s part of why I’m returning so soon, to keep an eye out for my old buddy. But I also wanted to have this opportunity to speak with you in person. It is so hard to really communicate with telegrams. I can’t wait for the day when the telephone takes over.”

“So true. I send many telegrams in my work and it is not easy to keep all of my correspondence in order. And the paperwork in the mail? Don’t even want to talk about that! So what can I do for you? What did you think of our farm?”

“It is a handsome operation. We had a great time and Arnold Colby did a good job of showing us around. We do have a few questions. First of all, we have an interest in meeting with Mister Graham. Sarah realizes that she has been negligent by not staying in touch with him over so many years. She was very moved by the visit and the way so many Dallas residents and migrant workers depend on it. With the critical nature of the water rights, she wants to know that Graham is happy with the current business.”

“I have exchanged communications with R.J. and he seems agreeable to come home from his current stay in New York after all. We can arrange a meeting sometime after next week. Does that sound good?”

“I am pleased by that. We have the gun show to be concerned with for the coming two weeks. Saturday the 25th is the performance. After that there is nothing but time. Colby suggested we have a gathering at the farm lodge with the men, a big feed. Sarah wants to arrange some of the food and I think it would be great for the moral of the men if they could meet the man they work for.”

“I realize that R.J. hasn’t been at the farm for a very long time. I will have to see what he wants to do first of course. I think it is a marvelous idea myself. Arnold has been my right hand man and I haven’t had time to go out there either. I don’t know what I would do without him. I found him working as foreman on a large ranch nearby. When I saw his handiwork I knew he was the one I wanted for the job. R.J. liked the idea and we hired him right away. They weren’t too happy on that ranch mind you, it’s hard to find reliable hands and a foreman that can be trusted.”

“What made you think that a cattle man could catch on with cotton farming?”

“Well, most cotton people are already occupied with the business, especially in a busy place like Dallas. I didn’t have time to go traveling about looking. I knew the local cattle ranchers much better and Arnold had a good reputation. He knows how to keep a large group of men happy with the work. He told me that he was ready to make a change from the cattle business, that he was getting too old to keep up with the young guns. I wanted his skills with people more than his labor. We have specialists for planting and harvesting, the gins were already in use. Arnold learned fast and has kept me well informed. As you know from the books, I pay him a good salary, he is well worth it.”

“That he is, I’m very impressed with him. And I would love for us all to enjoy each other’s company at the farm for that feed. I know it would go along way towards making the men feel good. You have some dedicated employees out there.”

“I can’t promise you right now, but I think it’s a good idea. Sarah has nothing to worry about, although I do understand how she might feel. We all have busy lives and it’s a great blessing that the farm has performed so well. Did you have any other questions?

“Yes, some things about the land and the machinery. Those cotton gins look to be getting quite old now, I felt the mechanisms turn and it is hard for me to tell the actual condition. I thought perhaps we could have an expert check them for us so we can know there won’t be any problems later on.”

“I see, Arnold hasn’t had any complaints, but we don’t depend on them so much anymore. The mills do most of the ginning now. Part of why R.J. spends so much time in New York is that he deals with the fabric industry and the mills that supply them. It might be a good idea to have the gins inspected though, we do need them for crop seed. It will soon be planting season, now is the time to prepare. What else is on your mind?”

“My previous experience with land has been mostly with the railroad. We had to deal with drainage issues, and sometimes with grade placement. I thought I saw a few areas of concern as we toured the land. Now I know water doesn’t come often, but there have been floods in Dallas before. The Trinity is known for poor drainage. Any competent geologist would tell you it would be wise to protect some of your fields before heavy rains come. There might even be a way to construct a retaining pond to help divert and conserve water when bad weather does hit.”

“That is something to consider, but I cannot comment on it for now. There was some geologic study at the time of the land purchase, but we haven’t had that heavy of a rain year in a long time. The land does lay low in places, I know that much. I understand your concern. You are a very perceptive man Masterson, I congratulate you on your knowledge and thoroughness of inspection. It is my hope that we can arrange that gathering, I expect there are some things I need to see and R.J. does owe it to his men to make an appearance.”

“Why thank you Quentin, and I admire you for your knowledge and ability to coordinate so many concerns from this single office. I hope to see a Winchester hanging on the wall very soon. Our man should be in Dallas with the first shipment on Monday. We have a week to get ready after that. There is a matter of public target practice at the local range to help drum up interest, so I’ll be busy. If we cannot meet at the lodge, I’ll find time soon after the show to bring you the rifle, but I would love to present it to you at the gathering. Please try to make that a possibility.”

“You have my word Bat. I’ll see what I can do to be at the gun show also. I haven’t been to Dallas in quite a while. So close and yet so far away.”

“My backside can attest to that! I plan to be resting it at the Elephant very soon. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

“I think I can get away this evening, I’d like that.”

“Just in time for a true battle in the upper loft, Luke runs a spirited game! Since I have no others to expect me home at a decent hour, the poker game just may see the light of the next day!”

“I’m getting a might old for that kind of behavior, this old man needs his sleep most nights, but it would be my honor to participate in the early going. Let’s have dinner beforehand, the Elephant has wonderful food.”

“I’d like that. I need to make a few more visits this afternoon shall we meet there in say two hours?”

“Very well, thanks for stopping in Bat. I’m glad we had this chance to talk things over and I think we can have a good time doing business as things move along. Sarah is a great lady and if everyone can be patient, I think the farm land will remain in good hands and support everyone for many years to come.”

“Yes, that’s our main concern. We have all been very fortunate in life and have no need to make things hard on those that labor to keep the farm a profitable venture. We owe it to them to make sure it runs proper. Until tonight then.” Bat put on his derby and got up to leave. Quentin reached out and shook hands, being sure to squeeze hard enough to avoid being thought of as a dead fish. Bat felt bad that despite the good nature he enjoyed in talking with Renfro, he was going to wind up making him just that, a dead fish. He knew that Renfro was not going to commit to visiting the ranch, but he was happy with the way the conversation went. The art of dodging commitment was one of the finest points of being a lawyer. The chess game of wits was on with poker as a side bet. Bat whistled as he walked onto the street in the opposite direction of Templeton’s office. He twirled his cane and disappeared into the general store. Quentin kept an eye on him and knew that Bat was not going to give away his hand that easily.

The White Elephant was a raging place on a Sunday night. Luke was shocked to see Bat and Renfro enter together. He joined them for dinner and they progressed to the upper room. Quentin proved to be a very good poker player and won a large pot that Bat had mostly fueled. Bat came back a few hands later but only won about half of what he lost to Quentin. They went back and forth in talk and cards until after midnight. Bat kept waiting for Quentin to leave so he could get away somewhat early. He had a long ride ahead of him in the morning if he was going to visit the Carlson ranch. Quentin had a great time competing with Bat, he didn’t want to quit. It was after two in the morning when Quentin elected to finally go home. Bat played for another four hands and upon losing to a full house faked more disappointment than necessary and took his leave.

On Monday morning Bat was up early and went to the livery to hire a different horse. He left his derby in the hotel room. He bought a regular cowboy hat at the general store. He wore his pistol on his hip rather than in front and left his shirt slightly unbuttoned. He didn’t bother to shave as he hoped he wouldn’t be recognized as he left. It was further to the Carlson ranch than back to Dallas. He hoped that he had enough energy to make the trip in one day but he was prepared to return to Dallas on Tuesday if need be. It was still in the cool of winter but a very dry day. His horse was fresh and ready to romp down the trail. The oak trees gave way to the bunch grass as he progressed south. It was near two that afternoon as he approached the Carlson ranch. It was a large house with several oak trees and juniper to give it shade. There was a bunkhouse, a barn, and a corral in very good shape. Bat gave some thought as to how he might approach the house. His first idea was to simply be a traveler on the way to Austin. He rode up and was greeted by a foreman coming out of the bunkhouse.

“What can I do for you friend?” The Foreman inquired.

“Just a drink of water, maybe a short rest.” Bat tipped his hat.

“Well’s over there. Help yourself. Got a name?”

“Ben Mansfield, traveling to Austin. Bat replied”

“I’m Frank Hawley, foreman of this place. We’re kind of alone out here, but every once in a while somebody stops on the way through. You a lawman by any chance?”

“Oh no, I’m on the way for a business meeting with some cotton merchants.”

“Out of Dallas are ya?” Frank walked up closer to Bat and gave him a closer look.

“Yes sir, originally from Denver. I work for Sarah Cockrell.”

“Name don’t mean nuthin’ to me. You got a long way through Waco before Austin. You plannin’ to stop for the night?”

“I was hoping to make it at least to Waco. But the day is growing short.”

“Over forty miles to Waco, I ride it often. Plenty of places to camp along the way. But your welcome to sleep in the bunkhouse if you like, we eat in a couple hours.”

“That sounds right nice of ya Frank, I just might take you up on that.” Bat got down from his horse and grabbed the long handled tin cup. He drew up the well bucket and took a long drink, then offered it to Frank.

“May as well, just got back in a short while ago myself.”

“What is the name of this ranch may I ask?”

“Double Bar C, we all work for Emily Carlson. She’s out back in her garden. We own most of the land as far as you can see to the east and south of here, close to a hundred thousand head roaming out there.”

“Well that’s a huge spread! I’d wager you have thirty maybe fourty hands working here.” Bat secured the well bucket and reached out to shake hands with Frank. “Pleased to meet ya boss!”

Frank shook his hand with a very firm grip and Bat felt the power of a hard working man. “We have forty hands give or take, dependin’ on the season. It’s a big job to drive a herd to Fort Worth. Used to go all the way to Kansas.”

“Got to give it to you on the grip Frank, you’ve been hard at work.”

“We have our hands full, especially the fence work. We all take our turns digging post holes in this hard ground. Didn’t used to have so much fence, but now that land is more owned than open we have little choice. There’s still some free range though, we can’t fence it all.”

“We have plenty of that on the cotton farm too. I used to roam on the open range quite a bit in my younger days It’s sad to see so much fence. Drove plenty of cattle too, sometimes from far south of Laredo. Some mean hombres down there!”

“You’re tellin’ me! I’ve been shot at a time or two back when. Boss and I used to ride that way often.”

“Who is the boss? Can’t be Emily.”

“Old Vernon and I ran this place for many years. He’s gone now, I run it mostly and Emily keeps the books. She’s a real fine lady if you ask me.”

“I bet she is. Grew up around here did she?”

“All her life. She’s got a grip too!” Frank laughed and motioned for Bat to come with him to the bunkhouse. “So tell me Ben, what ya do for that cotton farm?”

“I’m a botanist. One who knows the scientific nature of the cotton plants. I also attend meetings and represent the farm in business dealings. Sarah is a busy landowner and she trusts me with most of the responsibility.” Bat was trying to get Frank to open up if he knew anything about the cotton farm, but Frank wasn’t aware of Sarah. Long ago when Vernon was away in Dallas, Frank kept the ranch and wasn’t involved.

“I suppose you know just about everything about cotton. What kind of school you need for a job like that?”

“Well, back in Denver I attended college for almost five years. I got tired of busting my backside in the cattle game, my parents didn’t want me doing that hard work don’t you know. I just wanted to see the country when I was young. But Dallas and cotton is where I finally settled.”

“That’s a real story, I don’t know too many that made a change after taking on cattle, gets in your blood. It’s all I know to do and I’m getting’ old. Vernon tried to dabble in cotton way back. Got himself in a world of trouble too. Ever hear of him?”

“No, this here is the first I heard of Carlson. He must be a very rich man.”

“Yes sir, he was. Got involved in a murder and was hung about ten years ago though. Gave all of this to Emily, his sister.”

“That’s very tragic, ten years ago you say?”

“That’s about right, I never did go up there, too busy here. But old Vernon, he had to go and try to do too much. His money didn’t do anything for him just sittin’ out here and watchin’ the cattle go by. He bought many ranches on north of here and stayed in Dallas plenty. Thought he would make himself one of those fancy land barons. I didn’t hardly know him after a spell. If it weren’t for Emily, I’d have been gone from here years ago. She took over and let me run the place. As long as she’s happy in her garden and gets plenty of money to sock away, nuthin’ bothers her.”

“So she inherited this ranch from him?”

“Nah…. He just plain gave it to her once he got to stayin’ in Dallas. We’ve been runnin’ it for about twelve years now.”

“Well, it sounds as if you were very fortunate to have avoided all of that trouble then. I wouldn’t know of it, only been in Dallas for six years and a few months. I’m sorry old Vernon went down an unfortunate path.”

“I miss our old days, Vernon knew how to run a tight ship. I guess I’m too easy on the men anymore. But we still get the job done.”

“Vernon was a tough man was he?” Bat sat down at a table. The inside of the bunkhouse was well furnished with overstuffed chairs and a large mess area.

“Yup, he kept a mean bunch of rowdies most of the time. We were always having some kind of trouble with one ranch or another. I suppose I was one of them in those days, but I settled down. I don’t hire rowdies anymore. Life’s more peaceful now.”

“I’ll say, you don’t hardly hear anything about range war anymore. I guess the lawyers and judges took care of that.”

“Imagine so, say you want a cup of coffee? I was just gettin’ to that before you rode up.” Frank went over to the stove and rattled things around.”

“Don’t mind if I do. You have a right fine place here Frank, you should be proud.”

“Oh I expect so, it’s been all I do for many years now. Didn’t need no lawyers to show me how neither!” Frank chuckled. “I suppose you must get involved with lawyers some in your work Ben?”

“One of the less savory parts of my job, yes. I’ll probably have to deal with some very soon in fact. Austin is full of them!”

“You got that right. I try to stay away from there, Waco is about as far south as I go anymore. Emily does most of the travelin’ if there is any needs bein’ done. The men like to go to Fort Worth though, lots of fun to be had in that town. Emily goes there every so often, she likes to eat in town. Me, I can eat here most all the time. I go to Waco and visit once in a while, that’s about it.” Frank poured the coffee and they continued to chat. Bat was enjoying his time with Frank. It seemed that he had no connection to the Fulton matter and was very easy to get along with. He decided that it would be a good idea to stay the night and head back early. Some of the hands started to show up after a while and a large barbeque pit was lit and meat prepared. Bat was introduced and everyone had a great time. When it got time to eat, Emily came out of the house and Frank brought Bat over to meet her.

“Emily, I want you to meet Ben Mansfield out of Dallas. He’s travelin’ to Austin and stopped in for some water. I invited him to stay the night.”

“Very pleased to meet you Mister Mansfield, thank you Frank.”

Bat reached out and kissed her hand. “Very nice to meet you Emily.”

“What business are you in being from Dallas?”

“I’m in the cotton business ma’am. A botanist by trade.”

“Oh my, I just love gardening, you must know all about plants!”

“I know plenty about cotton and I did study other plants in school of course.”

“I would love for you to come out back and look over my garden after we eat, would you like that?”

“I should be most honored Emily.” Bat had to think fast what did he know about botany? It was a good thing he did learn a great deal about cotton in his recent investigation though.

Frank rang the dinner bell and the hungry crew gathered for the feast. Emily was full of questions about farm crops and cotton production as they talked over the meal.

“What would you say is the most important thing that you are concerned with in the growing of cotton Ben?”

“The length of the fibers is most crucial. We are trying to develop a hybrid plant that can both tolerate less water and give a longer fiber. We get a better yield from the ginning process and a higher grade of cloth.”

“I see, and you can alter that by being more selective in what plants you take seed from?”

“That is exactly right. We grow special crops just to run tests and then propagate further from the best results. I am going to Austin to share some of those results with others of my profession as a matter of fact.”

“I find that fascinating work. I’m always trying to improve my garden. We have to grow most of what we eat here and I try to buy the best seed possible on my trips to Fort Worth and Waco. Isn’t it wonderful how science has improved things. My brother tried to get into the cotton business a long time ago. Vernon was a cattle man and should have stayed with what he knew. It was not a good thing. He thought that money should be able to get him anything he wanted. Well, I guess he wanted death because that is what he wound up with. We do like to use some cotton seed supplement in the cattle feed, so I guess it was good for something.”

Just then it dawned on Bat, the cotton seed! That was the connection! It wasn’t the cotton that Renfro or anyone else was concerned about, it was the seed. Bat found out so much more from these honest folks in one brief comment than anything he rode out there for by expecting foul play. They didn’t even hesitate to talk about Vernon or react over his mention of the name Cockrell. He found Emily a very gracious and free talking spirit. They enjoyed each other’s company after dinner in the garden. Bat used his charm to talk more of generality than of scientific details, he was straining to maintain his character as a botanist. He also was a bit ashamed to be the one who was being dishonest. So many times he wound up enjoying the company of those he was investigating.

Fulton’s Foray — Property Value

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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