Flying U Ranch by B. M. Bower
The Coming of a
CHAPTER III. Bad
CHAPTER IV. Some
CHAPTER V. Sheep
CHAPTER VI. What
Happened to Andy
Truth Crushed to
The Dot Outfit
CHAPTER IX. More
CHAPTER X. The
CHAPTER XII. Two
of a Kind
The Happy Family
CHAPTER XVI. The
End of the Dots
CHAPTER I. The Coming of a Native Son
The Happy Family, waiting for the Sunday supper call, were grouped
around the open door of the bunk-house, gossiping idly of things purely
local, when the Old Man returned from the Stock Association at Helena;
beside him on the buggy seat sat a stranger. The Old Man pulled up at the
bunk-house, the stranger sprang out over the wheel with the agility which
bespoke youthful muscles, and the Old Man introduced him with a quirk of
"This is Mr. Mig-u-ell Rapponi, boys--a peeler straight from the
Golden Gate. Throw out your war-bag and make yourself to home, Mig-u-ell;
some of the boys'll show you where to bed down."
The Old Man drove on to the house with his own luggage, and Happy Jack
followed to take charge of the team; but the remainder of the Happy
Family unobtrusively took the measure of the foreign element. From his
black-and-white horsehair hatband, with tassels that swept to the very
edge of his gray hatbrim, to the crimson silk neckerchief draped over the
pale blue bosom of his shirt; from the beautifully stamped leather cuffs,
down to the exaggerated height of his tan boot-heels, their critical eyes
swept in swift, appraising glances; and unanimous disapproval was the
result. The Happy Family had themselves an eye to picturesque garb upon
occasion, but this passed even Pink's love of display.
"He's some gaudy to look at," Irish murmured under his breath to Cal
"All he lacks is a spot-light and a brass band," Cal returned, in much
the same tone with which a woman remarks upon a last season's hat on the
head of a rival.
Miguel was not embarrassed by the inspection. He was tall, straight,
and swarthily handsome, and he stood with the complacence of a stage
favorite waiting for the applause to cease so that he might speak his
first lines; and, while he waited, he sifted tobacco into a cigarette
paper daintily, with his little finger extended. There was a ring upon
that finger; a ring with a moonstone setting as large and round as the
eye of a startled cat, and the Happy Family caught the pale gleam of it
and drew a long breath. He lighted a match nonchalantly, by the artfully
simple method of pinching the head of it with his fingernails, leaned
negligently against the wall of the bunk-house, and regarded the group
incuriously while he smoked.
"Any pretty girls up this way?" he inquired languidly, after a moment,
fanning a thin smoke-cloud from before his face while he spoke.
The Happy Family went prickly hot. The girls in that neighborhood were
held in esteem, and there was that in his tone which gave offense.
"Sure, there's pretty girls here!" Big Medicine bellowed unexpectedly,
close beside him. "We're all of us engaged to `em, by cripes!"
Miguel shot an oblique glance at Big Medicine, examined the end of his
cigarette, and gave a lift of shoulder, which might mean anything or
nothing, and so was irritating to a degree. He did not pursue the subject
further, and so several belated retorts were left tickling futilely the
tongues of the Happy Family-- which does not make for amiability.
To a man they liked him little, in spite of their easy friendliness
with mankind in general. At supper they talked with him perfunctorily,
and covertly sneered because he sprinkled his food liberally with cayenne
and his speech with Spanish words pronounced with soft, slurred vowels
that made them sound unfamiliar, and against which his English contrasted
sharply with its crisp, American enunciation. He met their infrequent
glances with the cool stare of absolute indifference to their opinion of
him, and their perfunctory civility with introspective calm.
The next morning, when there was riding to be done, and Miguel
appeared at the last moment in his working clothes, even Weary, the
sunny-hearted, had an unmistakable curl of his lip after the first
Miguel wore the hatband, the crimson kerchief tied loosely with the
point draped over his chest, the stamped leather cuffs and the tan boots
with the highest heels ever built by the cobbler craft. Also, the lower
half of him was incased in chaps the like of which had never before been
brought into Flying U coulee. Black Angora chaps they were; long-haired,
crinkly to the very hide, with three white, diamond-shaped patches
running down each leg of them, and with the leather waistband stamped
elaborately to match the cuffs. The bands of his spurs were two inches
wide and inlaid to the edge with beaten silver, and each concho was
engraved to represent a large, wild rose, with a golden center. A dollar
laid upon the rowels would have left a fringe of prongs all around.
He bent over his sacked riding outfit, and undid it, revealing a
wonderful saddle of stamped leather inlaid on skirt and cantle with more
beaten silver. He straightened the skirts, carefully ignoring the glances
thrown in his direction, and swore softly to himself when he discovered
where the leather had been scratched through the canvas wrappings and the
end of the silver scroll ripped up. He drew out his bridle and shook it
into shape, and the silver mountings and the reins of braided leather
with horsehair tassels made Happy Jack's eyes greedy with desire. His
blanket was a scarlet Navajo, and his rope a rawhide lariat.
Altogether, his splendor when he was mounted so disturbed the fine
mental poise of the Happy Family that they left him jingling richly off
by himself, while they rode closely grouped and discussed him
"By gosh, a man might do worse than locate that Native Son for a
silver mine," Cal began, eyeing the interloper scornfully. "It's plumb
wicked to ride around with all that wealth and fussy stuff. He must 'a'
robbed a bank and put the money all into a riding outfit."
"By golly, he looks to me like a pair uh trays when he comes
bow-leggin' along with them white diamonds on his legs," Slim stated
"And I'll gamble that's a spot higher than he stacks up in the cow
game," Pink observed with the pessimism which matrimony had given him.
"You mind him asking about bad horses, last night? That Lizzie-boy never
saw a bad horse; they don't grow 'em where he come from. What they don't
know about riding they make up for with a swell rig--"
"And, oh, mamma! It sure is a swell rig!" Weary paid generous tribute.
"Only I will say old Banjo reminds me of an Irish cook rigged out in silk
and diamonds. That outfit on Glory, now--" He sighed enviously.
"Well, I've gone up against a few real ones in my long and varied
career," Irish remarked reminiscently, "and I've noticed that a hoss
never has any respect or admiration for a swell rig. When he gets real
busy it ain't the silver filigree stuff that's going to help you hold
connections with your saddle, and a silver-mounted bridle-bit ain't a
darned bit better than a plain one."
"Just take a look at him!" cried Pink, with intense disgust. "Ambling
off there, so the sun can strike all that silver and bounce back in our
eyes. And that braided lariat--I'd sure love to see the pieces if he ever
tries to anchor anything bigger than a yearling!"
"Why, you don't think for a minute he could ever get out and rope
anything, do yuh ?" Irish laughed. "That there Native Son throws on
a-w-l-together too much dog to really get out and do anything."
"Aw," fleered Happy Jack, "he ain't any Natiff Son. He's a dago!"
"He's got the earmarks uh both," Big Medicine stated authoritatively.
"I know 'em, by cripes, and I know their ways." He jerked his thumb
toward the dazzling Miguel. "I can tell yuh the kinda cow-puncher he is;
I've saw 'em workin' at it. Haw-haw- haw! They'll start out to move ten
or a dozen head uh tame old cows from one field to another, and there'll
be six or eight fellers, rigged up like this here tray-spot, ridin'
along, important as hell, drivin' them few cows down a lane, with peach
trees on both sides, by cripes, jingling their big, silver spurs, all
wearin' fancy chaps to ride four or five miles down the road. Honest to
grandma, they call that punchin' cows! Oh, he's a Native Son, all right.
I've saw lots of 'em, only I never saw one so far away from the Promised
Land before. That there looks queer to me. Natiff Sons--the real ones,
like him--are as scarce outside Calyforny as buffalo are right here in
"That's the way they do it, all right," Irish agreed. "And then
they'll have a 'rodeo'--"
"Haw-haw-haw!" Big Medicine interrupted, and took up the tale, which
might have been entitled "Some Cowpunching I Have Seen."
"They have them rodeos on a Sunday, mostly, and they invite everybody
to it, like it was a picnic. And there'll be two or three fellers to
every calf, all lit up, like Mig-u-ell, over there, in chaps and silver
fixin's, fussin' around on horseback in a corral, and every feller trying
to pile his rope on the same calf, by cripes! They stretch 'em out with
two ropes--calves, remember! Little, weenty fellers you could pack under
one arm! Yuh can't blame 'em much. They never have more'n thirty or forty
head to brand at a time, and they never git more'n a taste uh real work.
So they make the most uh what they git, and go in heavy on fancy outfits.
And this here silver-mounted fellow thinks he's a real cowpuncher, by
The Happy Family laughed at the idea; laughed so loud that Miguel left
his lonely splendor and swung over to them, ostensibly to borrow a
"What's the joke?" he inquired languidly, his chin thrust out and his
eyes upon the match blazing at the end of his cigarette.
The Happy Family hesitated and glanced at one another. Then Cal spoke
"You're it," he said bluntly, with a secret desire to test the temper
of this dark-skinned son of the West.
Miguel darted one of his swift glances at Cal, blew out his match and
threw it away.
"Oh, how funny. Ha-ha." His voice was soft and absolutely
expressionless, his face blank of any emotion whatever. He merely spoke
the words as a machine might have done.
If he had been one of them, the Happy Family would have laughed at the
whimsical humor of it. As it was, they repressed the impulse, though
Weary warmed toward him slightly.
"Don't you believe anything this innocent-eyed gazabo tells you, Mr.
Rapponi," he warned amiably. "He's known to be a liar."
"That's funny, too. Ha-ha some more." Miguel permitted a thin ribbon
of smoke to slide from between his lips, and gazed off to the crinkled
line of hills.
"Sure, it is--now you mention it," Weary agreed after a perceptible
"How fortunate that I brought the humor to your attention," drawled
Miguel, in the same expressionless tone, much as if he were reciting a
"Virtue is its own penalty," paraphrased Pink, not stopping to see
whether the statement applied to the subject.
"Haw-haw-haw!" roared Big Medicine, quite as irrelevantly.
"He-he-he," supplemented the silver-trimmed one.
Big Medicine stopped laughing suddenly, reined his horse close to the
other, and stared at him challengingly, with his pale, protruding eyes,
while the Happy Family glanced meaningly at one another. Big Medicine was
quite as unsafe as he looked, at that moment, and they wondered if the
offender realized his precarious situation.
Miguel smoked with the infinite leisure which is a fine art when it is
not born of genuine abstraction, and none could decide whether he was
aware of the unfriendly proximity of Big Medicine. Weary was just on the
point of saying something to relieve the tension, when Miguel blew the
ash gently from his cigarette and spoke lazily.
"Parrots are so common, out on the Coast, that they use them in cheap
restaurants for stew. I've often heard them gabbling together in the
The statement was so ambiguous that the Happy Family glanced at him
doubtfully. Big Medicine's stare became more curious than hostile, and he
permitted his horse to lag a length. It is difficult to fight absolute
passivity. Then Slim, who ever tramped solidly over the flowers of
sarcasm, blurted one of his unexpected retorts.
"I was just wonderin', by golly, where yuh learnt to talk!"
Miguel turned his velvet eyes sleepily toward the speaker. "From the
boarders who ate those parrots, amigo," he smiled serenely.
At this, Slim--once justly accused by Irish of being a "single-shot"
when it came to repartee--turned purple and dumb. The Happy Family,
forswearing loyalty in their enjoyment of his discomfiture, grinned and
left to Miguel the barren triumph of the last word.
He did not gain in popularity as the days passed. They tilted noses at
his beautiful riding gear, and would have died rather than speak of it in
his presence. They never gossiped with him of horses or men or the lands
he knew. They were ready to snub him at a moment's notice--and it did not
lessen their dislike of him that he failed to yield them an opportunity.
It is to be hoped that he found his thoughts sufficient entertainment,
since he was left to them as much as is humanly possible when half a
dozen men eat and sleep and work together. It annoyed them exceedingly
that Miguel did not seem to know that they held him at a distance; they
objected to his manner of smoking cigarettes and staring off at the
skyline as if he were alone and content with his dreams. When he did talk
they listened with an air of weary tolerance. When he did not talk they
ignored his presence, and when he was absent they criticized him
They let him ride unwarned into an adobe patch one day--at least, Big
Medicine, Pink, Cal Emmett and Irish did, for they were with him--and
laughed surreptitiously together while he wallowed there and came out
afoot, his horse floundering behind him, mud to the ears, both of
"Pretty soft going, along there, ain't it?" Pink commiserated
"It is, kinda," Miguel responded evenly, scraping the adobe off Banjo
with a flat rock. And the subject was closed.
"Well, it's some relief to the eyes to have the shine taken off him,
anyway," Pink observed a little guiltily afterward.
"I betche he ain't goin' to forget that, though," Happy Jack warned
when he saw the caked mud on Miguel's Angora chaps and silver spurs, and
the condition of his saddle. "Yuh better watch out and not turn your
backs on him in the dark, none uh you guys. I betche he packs a knife.
Them kind always does."
"Haw-haw-haw!" bellowed Big Medicine uproariously. "I'd love to see
him git out an' try to use it, by cripes!"
"I wish Andy was here," Pink sighed. "Andy'd take the starch outa him,
"Wouldn't he be pickings for old Andy, though? Gee!" Cal looked around
at them, with his wide, baby-blue eyes, and laughed. "Let's kinda jolly
him along, boys, till Andy gets back. It sure would be great to watch
'em. I'll bet he can jar the eternal calm outa that Native Son. That's
what grinds me worse than his throwin' on so much dog; he's so blamed
satisfied with himself! You snub him, and he looks at yuh as if you was
his hired man-- and then forgets all about yuh. He come outa that 'doby
like he'd been swimmin' a river on a bet, and had made good and was a
hee-ro right before the ladies. Kinda 'Oh, that's nothing to what I could
do if it was worth while,' way he had with him."
"It wouldn't matter so much if he wasn't all front," Pink complained.
"You'll notice that's always the way, though. The fellow all fussed up
with silver and braided leather can't get out and do anything. I remember
up on Milk river--" Pink trailed off into absorbing reminiscence, which,
however, is too lengthy to repeat here.
"Say, Mig-u-ell's down at the stable, sweatin from every pore trying
to get his saddle clean, by golly!" Slim reported cheerfully, just as
Pink was relighting the cigarette which had gone out during the big scene
of his story. "He was cussin' in Spanish, when I walked up to him--but he
shut up when he seen me and got that peaceful look uh hisn on his face. I
wonder, by golly--"
"Oh, shut up and go awn," Irish commanded bluntly, and looked at Pink.
"Did he call it off, then? Or did you have to wade in--"
"Naw; he was like this here Native Son--all front. He could look
sudden death, all right; he had black eyes like Mig-u-ell-- but all a
fellow had to do was go after him, and he'd back up so blamed
Slim listened that far, saw that he had interrupted a tale evidently
more interesting than anything he could say, and went off, muttering to
The next morning, which was Sunday, the machinations of Big Medicine
took Pink down to the creek behind the bunk-house. "What's hurtin' yuh?"
he asked curiously, when he came to where Big Medicine stood in the
fringe of willows, choking between his spasms of mirth.
"Haw-haw-haw!" roared Big Medicine; and, seizing Pink's arm in a
gorilla-like grip, he pointed down the bank.
Miguel, seated upon a convenient rock in a sunny spot, was
painstakingly combing out the tangled hair of his chaps, which he had
washed quite as carefully not long before, as the cake of soap beside him
"Combing--combing--his chaps, by cripes!" Big Medicine gasped, and
waggled his finger at the spectacle. "Haw-haw-haw! C-
Miguel glanced up at them as impersonally as if they were two cackling
hens, rather than derisive humans, then bent his head over a stubborn
knot and whistled La Paloma softly while he coaxed out the tangle.
Pink's eyes widened as he looked, but he did not say anything. He
backed up the path and went thoughtfully to the corrals, leaving Big
Medicine to follow or not, as he chose.
"Combin'--his chaps, by cripes!" came rumbling behind him. Pink
"Say! Don't make so much noise about it," he advised guardedly. "I've
got an idea."
"Yuh want to hog-tie it, then," Big Medicine retorted, resentful
because Pink seemed not to grasp the full humor of the thing. "Idees sure
seems to be skurce in this outfit--or that there lily-uh-the-valley
couldn't set and comb no chaps in broad daylight, by cripes; not and get
off with it."
"He's an ornament to the Flying U," Pink stated dreamily. "Us
boneheads don't appreciate him, is all that ails us. What we ought to do
is--help him be as pretty as he wants to be, and--"
"Looky here, Little One." Big Medicine hurried his steps until he was
close alongside. "I wouldn't give a punched nickel for a four-horse load
uh them idees, and that's the truth." He passed Pink and went on ahead,
disgust in every line of his square- shouldered figure. "Combin' his
chaps, by cripes!" he snorted again, and straightway told the tale
profanely to his fellows, who laughed until they were weak and
watery-eyed as they listened.
Afterward, because Pink implored them and made a mystery of it, they
invited Miguel to take a hand in a long-winded game--rather, a series of
games--of seven-up, while his chaps hung to dry upon a willow by the
creek bank--or so he believed.
The chaps, however, were up in the white-house kitchen, where were
also the reek of scorched hair and the laughing expostulations of the
Little Doctor and the boyish titter of Pink and Irish, who were curling
laboriously the chaps of Miguel with the curling tongs of the Little
Doctor and those of the Countess besides.
"It's a shame, and I just hope Miguel thrashes you both for it," the
Little Doctor told them more than once; but she laughed, nevertheless,
and showed Pink how to give the twist which made of each lock a corkscrew
ringlet. The Countess stopped, with her dishcloth dangling from one red,
bony hand, while she looked. "You boys couldn't sleep nights if you
didn't pester the life outa somebody," she scolded. "Seems to me I'd friz
them diamonds, if I was goin' to be mean enough to do anything."
"You would, eh?" Pink glanced up at her and dimpled. "I'll find you a
rich husband to pay for that." He straightway proceeded to friz the
diamonds of white.
"Why don't you have a strip of ringlets down each leg, with tight
little curls between?" suggested the Little Doctor, not to be outdone by
any other woman.
"Correct you are," praised Irish.
"And, remember, you're not heating branding-irons, mister man," she
added. "You'll burn all the hair off, if you let the tongs get red-hot.
Just so they'll sizzle; I've told you five times already." She picked up
the Kid, kissed many times the finger he held up for sympathy--the finger
with which he had touched the tongs as Pink was putting them back into
the grate of the kitchen stove, and spoke again to ease her conscience.
"I think it's awfully mean of you to do it. Miguel ought to thrash you
"We're dead willing to let him try, Mrs. Chip. We know it's mean.
We're real ashamed of ourselves." Irish tested his tongs as he had been
told to do. "But we'd rather be ashamed than good, any old time."
The Little Doctor giggled behind the Kid's tousled curls, and reached
out a slim hand once more to give Pink's tongs the expert twist he was
trying awkwardly to learn. "I'm sorry for Miguel; he's got lovely eyes,
"Yes, ain't he?" Pink looked up briefly from his task. "How's your
leg, Irish? Mine's done."
"Seems to me I'd make a deep border of them corkscrew curls all around
the bottoms, if I was doin' it," said the Countess peevishly, from the
kitchen sink. "If I was that dago I'd murder the hull outfit; I never did
see a body so hectored in my life-- and him not ever ketchin' on. He must
be plumb simple-minded."
When the curling was done to the hilarious satisfaction of Irish and
Pink, and, while Pink was dancing in them to show them off, another
entered with mail from town. And, because the mail- bearer was Andy Green
himself, back from a winter's journeyings, Cal, Happy Jack and Slim
followed close behind, talking all at once, in their joy at beholding the
man they loved well and hated occasionally also. Andy delivered the mail
into the hands of the Little Doctor, pinched the Kid's cheek, and said
how he had grown good-looking as his mother, almost, spoke a cheerful
howdy to the Countess, and turned to shake hands with Pink. It was then
that the honest, gray eyes of him widened with amazement.
"Well, by golly!" gasped Slim, goggling at the chaps of Miguel.
"That there Natiff Son'll just about kill yuh for that," warned Happy
Jack, as mournfully as he might with laughing. "He'll knife yuh,
Andy, demanding the meaning of it all, learned all about Miguel
Rapponi--from the viewpoint of the Happy Family. At least, he learned as
much as it was politic to tell in the presence of the Little Doctor; and
afterward, while Pink was putting the chaps back upon the willow, where
Miguel had left them, he was told that they looked to him, Andy Green,
"Oh, gosh! You don't want to depend on me, Pink," Andy expostulated
modestly. "I can't think of anything--and, besides, I've reformed. I
don't know as it's any compliment to me, by gracious--being told soon as
I land that I'm expected to lie to a perfect stranger."
"You come on down to the stable and take a look at his saddle and
bridle," urged Cal. "And wait till you see him smoking and looking past
you, as if you was an ornery little peak that didn't do nothing but
obstruct the scenery. I've seen mean cusses--lots of 'em; and I've seen
men that was stuck on themselves. But I never--"
"Come outa that 'doby," Pink interrupted, "mud to his eyebrows, just
about. And he knew darned well we headed him in there deliberate. And
when I remarks it's soft going, he says: 'It is, kinda,'--just like
that." Pink managed to imitate the languid tone of Miguel very well. "Not
another word outa him. Didn't even make him mad! He--"
"Tell him about the parrots, Slim," Cal suggested soberly. But Slim
only turned purple at the memory, and swore.
"Old Patsy sure has got it in for him," Happy Jack observed. "He asked
Patsy if he ever had enchiladas. Patsy won't speak to him no more. He
claims Mig-u-ell insulted him. He told Mig-u-ell--"
"Enchiladas are sure fine eating," said Andy. "I took to 'em like a
she-bear to honey, down in New Mexico this winter. Your Native Son is
solid there, all right."
"Aw, gwan! He ain't solid nowhere but in the head. Maybe you'll love
him to death when yuh see him--chances is you will, if you've took to
eatin' dago grub."
Andy patted Happy Jack reassuringly on the shoulder. "Don't get
excited," he soothed. "I'll put it all over the gentleman, just to show
my heart's in the right place. Just this once, though; I've reformed. And
I've got to have time to size him up. Where do you keep him when he ain't
in the show window?" He swung into step with Pink. "I'll tell you the
truth," he confided engagingly. "Any man that'll wear chaps like he's
got--even leaving out the extra finish you fellows have given 'em--had
ought to be taught a lesson he'll remember. He sure must be a tough
proposition, if the whole bunch of yuh have had to give him up. By
"We haven't tried," Pink defended. "It kinda looked to us as if he was
aiming to make us guy him; so we didn't. We've left him strictly alone.
To-day"--he glanced over his shoulder to where the becurled chaps swung
comically from the willow branch--"to-day's the first time anybody's made
a move. Unless," he added, as an afterthought, "you count yesterday in
the 'doby patch--and even then we didn't tell him to ride into it; we
just let him do it."
"And kinda herded him over towards it," Cal amended slyly.
"Can he ride?" asked Andy, going straight to the main point, in the
mind of a cowpuncher.
"W-e-ell-he hasn't been piled, so far. But then," Pink qualified
hastily, "he hasn't topped anything worse than Crow- hop. He ain't hard
to ride. Happy Jack could--"
"Aw, I'm gittin' good and sick of' hearin' that there tune," Happy
growled indignantly. "Why don't you point out Slim as the limit, once in
"Come on down to the stable, and let's talk it over," Andy suggested,
and led the way. "What's his style, anyway? Mouthy, or what?"
With four willing tongues to enlighten him, it would be strange,
indeed, if one so acute as Andy Green failed at last to have a very fair
mental picture of Miguel. He gazed thoughtfully at his boots, laughed
suddenly, and slapped Irish quite painfully upon the back.
"Come on up and introduce me, boys," he said. "We'll make this Native
Son so hungry for home--you watch me put it on the gentleman. Only it
does seem a shame to do it."
"No, it ain't. If you'd been around him for two weeks, you'd want to
kill him just to make him take notice," Irish assured him.
"What gets me," Andy mused, "is why you fellows come crying to me for
help. I should think the bunch of you ought to be able to handle one lone
"Aw, you're the biggest liar and faker in the bunch, is why," Happy
"Oh, I see." Andy hummed a little tune and pushed his hands deep into
his pockets, and at the corners of his lips there flickered a smile.
The Native Son sat with his hat tilted slightly back upon his head and
a cigarette between his lips, and was reaching lazily for the trick which
made the fourth game his, when the group invaded the bunk-house. He
looked up indifferently, swept Andy's face and figure with a glance too
impersonal to hold even a shade of curiosity, and began rapidly shuffling
his cards to count the points he had made.
Andy stopped short, just inside the door, and stared hard at Miguel,
who gave no sign. He turned his honest, gray eyes upon Pink and Irish
accusingly--whereat they wondered greatly.
"Your deal--if you want to play," drawled Miguel, and shoved his cards
toward Big Medicine. But the boys were already uptilting chairs to grasp
the quicker the outstretched hand of the prodigal, so that Miguel
gathered up the cards, evened their edges mechanically, and deigned
another glance at this stranger who was being welcomed so vociferously.
Also he sighed a bit-- for even a languid-eyed stoic of a Native Son may
feel the twinge of loneliness. Andy shook hands all round, swore amiably
at Weary, and advanced finally upon Miguel.
"You don't know me from Adam's off ox," he began genially, "but I know
you, all right, all right. I hollered my head off with the rest of 'em
when you played merry hell in that bull-ring, last Christmas. Also, I was
part of your bodyguard when them greasers were trying to tickle you in
the ribs with their knives in that dark alley. Shake, old-timer! You done
yourself proud, and I'm glad to know yuh!"
Miguel, for the first time in two weeks, permitted himself the luxury
of an expressive countenance. He gave Andy Green one quick, grateful
look--and a smile, the like of which made the Happy Family quiver
inwardly with instinctive sympathy.
"So you were there, too, eh?" Miguel exclaimed softly, and rose to
greet him. "And that scrap in the alley--we sure had a hell of a time
there for a few minutes, didn't we? Are you that tall fellow who kicked
that squint-eyed greaser in the stomach? Muchos gracios, senor! They were
piling on me three deep, right then, and I always believed they'd have
got me, only for a tall vaquero I couldn't locate afterward." He smiled
again that wonderful smile, which lighted the darkness of his eyes as
with a flame, and murmured a sentence or two in Spanish.
"Did you get the spurs me and my friends sent you afterward?" asked
Andy eagerly. "We heard about the Arizona boys giving you the saddle--and
we raked high and low for them spurs. And, by gracious, they were beauts,
too--did yuh get 'em?"
"I wear them every day I ride," answered Miguel, a peculiar, caressing
note in his voice.
"I didn't know--we heard you had disappeared off the earth. Why--"
Miguel laughed outright. "To fight a bull with bare hands is one
thing, amigo," he said. "To take a chance on getting a knife stuck in
your back is another. Those Mexicans--they don't love the man who crosses
the river and makes of their bull-fights a plaything."
"That's right; only I thought, you being a--"
"Not a Mexican." Miguel's voice sharpened a trifle. "My father was
Spanish, yes. My mother"--his eyes flashed briefly at the faces of the
gaping Happy Family--"my mother was born in Ireland."
"And that sure makes a hard combination to beat," cried Andy heartily.
He looked at the others--at all, that is, save Pink and Irish, who had
disappeared. "Well, boys, I never thought I'd come home and find--"
"Miguel Rapponi," supplied the Native Son quickly. "As well forget
that other name. And," he added with the shrug which the Happy Family had
come to hate, "as well forget the story, also. I am not hungry for the
feel of a knife in my back." He smiled again engagingly at Andy Green. It
was astonishing how readily that smile had sprung to life with the warmth
of a little friendship, and how pleasant it was, withal.
"Just as you say," Andy agreed, not trying to hide his admiration. "I
guess nobody's got a better right to holler for silence. But--say, you
sure delivered the goods, old boy! You musta read about it, you fellows;
about the American puncher that went over the line and rode one of their
crack bulls all round the ring, and then--" He stopped and looked
apologetically at Miguel, in whose dark eyes there flashed a warning
light. "I clean forgot," he confessed impulsively. "This meeting you here
unexpectedly, like this, has kinda got me rattled, I guess. But--I never
saw yuh before in my life," he declared emphatically. "I don't know a
darn thing about--anything that ever happened in an alley in the city
of--oh, come on, old-timer; let's talk about the weather, or something
After that the boys of the Flying U behaved very much as do children
who have quarreled foolishly and are trying shamefacedly to re-establish
friendly relations without the preliminary indignity of open repentance.
They avoided meeting the velvet-eyed glances of Miguel, and at the same
time they were plainly anxious to include him in their talk as if that
had been their habit from the first. A difficult situation to meet, even
with the fine aplomb of the Happy Family to ease the awkwardness.
Later Miguel went unobtrusively down to the creek after his chaps; he
did not get them, just then, but he stood for a long time hidden behind
the willow-fringe, watching Pink and Irish feverishly combing out certain
corkscrew ringlets, and dampening their combs in the creek to facilitate
the process of straightening certain patches of rebellious frizzes.
Miguel did not laugh aloud, as Big Medicine had done. He stood until he
wearied of the sight, then lifted his shoulders in the gesture which may
mean anything, smiled and went his way.
Not until dusk did Andy get a private word with him. When he did find
him alone, he pumped Miguel's hand up and down and afterward clutched at
the manger for support, and came near strangling. Miguel leaned beside
him and smiled to himself.
"Good team work, old boy," Andy gasped at length, in a whisper. "Best
I ever saw in m'life, impromptu on the spot, like that. I saw you had the
makings in you, soon as I caught your eye. And the whole, blame bunch
fell for it--woo-oof!" He laid his face down again upon his folded arms
and shook in all the long length of him.
"They had it coming," said Miguel softly, with a peculiar relish. "Two
whole weeks, and never a friendly word from one of them--oh, hell!"
"I know--I heard it all, soon as I hit the ranch," Andy replied
weakly, standing up and wiping his eyes. "I just thought I'd learn 'em a
lesson--and the way you played up--say, my hat's off to you, all
"One learns to seize opportunities without stuttering," Miguel
observed calmly--and a queer look came into his eyes as they rested upon
the face of Andy. "And, if the chance comes, I'll do as much for you. By
the way, did you see the saddle those Arizona boys sent me? It's over
here. It's a pip-pin--almost as fine as the spurs, which I keep in the
bunk-house when they're not on my heels. And, if I didn't say so before,
I'm sure glad to meet the man that helped me through that alley. That
big, fat devil would have landed me, sure, if you hadn't--"
"Ah--what?" Andy leaned and peered into the face of Miguel, his jaw
hanging slack. "You don't mean to tell me--it's true?"
"True? Why, I thought you were the fellow--" Miguel faced him
steadily. His eyes were frankly puzzled.
"I'll tell you the truth, so help me," Andy said heavily. "I don't
know a darned thing about it, only what I read in the papers. I spent the
whole winter in Colorado and Wyoming. I was just joshing the boys."
"Oh," said Miguel.
They stood there in the dusk and silence for a space, after which Andy
went forth into the night to meditate upon this thing. Miguel stood and
looked after him.
"He's the real goods when it comes to lying--but there are others," he
said aloud, and smiled a peculiar smile. But for all that he felt that he
was going to like Andy very much indeed. And, since the Happy Family had
shown a disposition to make him one of themselves, he knew that he was
going to become quite as foolishly attached to the Flying U as was even
Slim, confessedly the most rabid of partisans.
In this wise did Miguel Rapponi, then, become a member of Jim
Whitmore's Happy Family, and play his part in the events which followed
Andy Green, that honest-eyed young man whom everyone loved, but whom
not a man believed save when he was indulging his love for more or less
fantastic flights of the imagination, pulled up on the brow of Flying U
coulee and stared somberly at the picture spread below him. On the porch
of the White House the hammock swung gently under the weight of the
Little Doctor, who pushed her shipper-toe mechanically against a post
support at regular intervals while she read.
On the steps the Kid was crawling laboriously upward, only to descend
again quite as laboriously when he attained the top. One of the boys was
just emerging from the blacksmith shop; from the build of him Andy knew
it must be either Weary or Irish, though it would take a much closer
observation, and some familiarity with the two to identify the man more
exactly. In the corral were a swirl of horses and an overhanging cloud of
dust, with two or three figures discernible in the midst, and away in the
little pasture two other figures were galloping after a fleeing dozen of
horses. While he looked, old Patsy came out of the messhouse, and went,
with flapping flour-sack apron, to the woodpile.
Peaceful it was, and home-like and contentedly prosperous; a little
world tucked away in its hills, with its own little triumphs and defeats,
its own heartaches and rejoicings; a lucky little world, because its
triumphs had been satisfying, its defeats small, its heartaches brief,
and its rejoicings untainted with harassment or guilt. Yet Andy stared
down upon it with a frown; and, when he twitched the reins and began the
descent, he sighed impatiently.
Past the stable he rode with scarcely a glance toward Weary, who
shouted a casual "Hello" at him from the corral; through the big gate and
up the trail to the White House, and straight to the porch, where the
Little Doctor flipped a leaf of her magazine and glanced at him with a
smile, and the Kid turned his plump body upon the middle step and
wrinkled his nose in a smile of recognition, while he threw out an arm in
welcome, and made a wobbling effort to get upon his feet.
Andy smiled at the Kid, but his smile did not reach his eyes, and
faded almost immediately. He glanced at the Little Doctor, sent his horse
past the steps and the Kid, and close to the railing, so that he could
lean and toss the mail into the Little Doctor's lap. There was a yellow
envelope among the letters, and her fingers singled it out curiously.
Andy folded his hands upon the saddle-horn and watched her frankly.
"Must be from J. G.," guessed the Little Doctor, inserting a slim
finger under the badly sealed flap. "I've been wondering if he wasn't
going to send some word--he's been gone a week--Baby! He's right between
your horse's legs, Andy! Oh-h--baby boy, what won't you do next?" She
scattered letters and papers from her lap and flew to the rescue. "Will
he kick, Andy? You little ruffian." She held out her arms coaxingly from
the top of the steps, and her face, Andy saw when he looked at her, had
lost some of its color.
"The horse is quiet enough," he reassured her. "But at the same time I
wouldn't hand him out as a plaything for a kid." He leaned cautiously and
"Oh--did you ever see such a child! Come to mother, Baby!" Her voice
was becoming strained.
The Kid, wrinkling his nose, and jabbering unintelligibly at her, so
that four tiny teeth showed in his pink mouth, moved farther backward,
and sat down violently under the horse's sweat- roughened belly. He
wriggled round so that he faced forward, reached out gleefully, caught
the front fetlocks, and cried "Dup!" while he pulled. The Little Doctor
"He's all right," soothed Andy, and, leaning with a twist of his slim
body, caught the Kid firmly by the back of his pink dress, and lifted him
clear of danger. He came up with a red face, tossed the Kid into the
eager arms of the Little Doctor, and soothed his horse with soft words
and a series of little slaps upon the neck. He was breathing unevenly,
because the Kid had really been in rather a ticklish position; but the
Little Doctor had her face hidden on the baby's neck and did not see.
"Where's Chip?" Andy turned to ride back to the stable, glancing
toward the telegram lying on the floor of the porch; and from it his eyes
went to the young woman trying to laugh away her trembling while she
scolded adoringly her adventurous man-child. He was about to speak again,
but thought better of it, and sighed.
"Down at the stables somewhere--I don't know, really; the boys can
tell you. Mother's baby mustn't touch the naughty horses. Naughty horses
hurt mother's baby! Make him cry!"
Andy gave her a long look, which had in it much pity, and rode away.
He knew what was in that telegram, for the agent had told him when he
hunted him up at Rusty Brown's and gave it to him; and the horse of Andy
bore mute testimony to the speed with which he had brought it to the
ranch. Not until he had reached the coulee had he slackened his pace. He
decided, after that glance, that he would not remind her that she had not
read the telegram; instead, he thought he ought to find Chip immediately
and send him to her.
Chip was rummaging after something in the store-house, and, when Andy
saw him there, he dismounted and stood blotting out the light from the
doorway. Chip looked up, said "Hello" carelessly, and flung an old
slicker aside that he might search beneath it. "Back early, aren't you?"
he asked, for sake of saying something.
Andy's attitude was not as casual as he would have had it.
"Say, maybe you better go on up to the house," he began diffidently.
"I guess your wife wants to see yuh, maybe."
"Just as a good wife should," grinned Chip. "What's the matter? Kid
fall off the porch?"
"N-o-o--I brought out a wire from Chicago. It's from a doctor
there--some hospital. The--Old Man got hurt. One of them cussed
automobiles knocked him down. They want you to come."
Chip had straightened up and was hooking at Andy blankly. "If you're
"Honest," Andy asserted, and flushed a little. "I'll go tell some one
to catch up the team--you'll want to make that 11:20, I take it." He
added, as Chip went by him hastily, "I had the agent wire for sleeper
berths on the 11:20 so--"
"Thanks. Yes, you have the team caught up, Andy." Chip was already
well on his way to the house.
Andy waited till he saw the Little Doctor come hurriedly to the end of
the porch overlooking the pathway, with the telegram fluttering in her
fingers, and then led his horse down through the gate and to the stable.
He yanked the saddle off, turned the tired animal into a stall, and went
on to the corral, where he leaned elbows on a warped rail and peered
through at the turmoil within. Close beside him stood Weary, with his
loop dragging behind him, waiting for a chance to throw it over the head
of a buckskin three-year-old with black mane and tail.
"Get in here and make a hand, why don't you?" Weary bantered, his eye
on the buckskin. "Good chance to make a 'rep' for yourself, Andy. Gawd
greased that buckskin--he sure can slide out from under a rope as
He broke off to flip the hoop dexterously forward, had the reward of
seeing the buckskin dodge backward, so that the rope barely flicked him
on the nose, and drew in his rope disgustedly. "Come on, Andy--my hands
are up in the air; I can't land him-- that's the fourth throw."
Andy's interest in the buckskin, however, was scant. His face was
sober, his whole attitude one of extreme dejection.
"You got the tummy-ache?" Pink inquired facetiously, moving around so
that he got a fair look at his face.
"Naw--his girl's went back on him!" Happy Jack put in, coiling his
rope as he came up.
"Oh, shut up!" Andy's voice was sharp with trouble. "Boys, the Old
Man's--well, he's most likely dead by this time. I brought out a
"Go on!" Pink's eyes widened incredulously. "Don't you try that kind
of a load, Andy Green, or I'll just about--"
"Oh, you fellows make me sick!" Andy took his elbows off the rail and
stood straight. "Dammit, the telegram's up at the house--go and read it
The three stared after him doubtfully, fear struggling with the
caution born of much experience.
"He don't act, to me, like he was putting up a josh," Weary stated
uneasily, after a minute of silence. "Run up to the house and find out,
Cadwalloper. The Old Man--oh, good Lord!" The tan on Weary's face took a
lighter tinge. "Scoot--it won't take but a minute to find out for sure.
Go on, Pink."
"So help me Josephine, I'll kill that same Andy Green if he's lied
about it," Pink declared, while he climbed the fence.
In three minutes he was back, and before he had said a word, his face
confirmed the bad news. Their eyes besought him for details, and he gave
them jerkily. "Automobile run over him. He ain't dead, but they
think--Chip and the Little Doctor are going to catch the night train. You
go haze in the team, Happy. And give 'em a feed of oats, Chip said."
Irish and Big Medicine, seeing the, three standing soberly together
there, and sensing something unusual, came up and heard the news in
stunned silence. Andy, forgetting his pique at their first disbelief,
came forlornly back and stood with them.
The Old Man--the thing could not be true! To every man of them his
presence, conjured by the impending tragedy, was almost a palpable thing.
His stocky figure seemed almost to stand in their midst; he looked at
them with his whimsical eyes, which had the radiating crows-feet of age,
humor and habitual squinting against sun and wind; the bald spot on his
head, the wrinkling shirt-collar that seldom knew a tie, the carpet
slippers which were his favorite footgear because they were kind to his
bunions, his husky voice, good-naturedly complaining, were poignantly
real to them at that moment. Then Irish mentally pictured him lying
maimed, dying, perhaps, in a far-off hospital among strangers, and
"If he's got to die, it oughta be here, where folks know him
and--where he knows--" Irish was not accustomed to giving voice to his
deeper feelings, and he blundered awkwardly over it.
"I never did go much on them darned hospitals, anyway," Weary observed
gloomily. "He oughta be home, where folks can look after him. Mam-ma! It
sure is a fright."
"I betche Chip and the Little Doctor won't get there in time," Happy
Jack predicted, with his usual pessimism. "The Old Man's gittin'
"He ain't but fifty-two; yuh call that old, consarn yuh? He's younger
right now than you'll be when you're forty."
"Countess is going along, too, so she can ride herd on the Kid," Pink
informed then. "I heard the Little Doctor tell her to pack up, and 'never
mind if she did have sponge all set!' Countess seemed to think her bread
was a darned sight more important than the Old Man. That's the way with
women. They'll pass up--"
"Well, by golly, I like to see a woman take some interest in her own
affairs," Slim defended. "What they packin' up for, and where they
goin'?" Slim had just ridden up to the group in time to overhear Pink's
They told him the news, and Slim swallowed twice, said "By golly!"
quite huskily, and then rode slowly away with his head bowed. He had
worked for the Flying U when it was strictly a bachelor outfit, and with
the tenacity of slow minds he held J. G. Whitmore, his beloved "Old Man,"
as but a degree lower than that mysterious power which made the sun to
shine--and, if the truth were known, he had accepted him as being quite
as eternal. His loyalty adjusted everything to the interests of the
Flying U. That the Old Man could die--the possibility stunned him.
They were a sorry company that gathered that night around the long
table with its mottled oil-cloth covering and benches polished to a
glass-like smoothness with their own vigorous bodies. They did not talk
much about the Old Man; indeed, they came no nearer the subject than to
ask Weary if he were going to drive the team in to Dry Lake. They did not
talk much about anything, for that matter; even the knives and forks
seemed to share the general depression of spirits, and failed to give
forth the cheerful clatter which was a daily accompaniment of meals in
Old Patsy, he who had cooked for J. G. Whitmore when the Flying U
coulee was a wilderness and the brand yet unrecorded and the irons
unmade--Patsy lumbered heavily about the room and could not find his
dish-cloth when it was squeezed tight in one great, fat hand, and
unthinkingly started to fill their coffee cups from the tea-kettle.
"Py cosh, I vould keel der fool vot made her first von of der
automo-beels, yet!" he exclaimed unexpectedly, after a long silence, and
cast his pipe vindictively toward his bunk in one corner.
The Happy Family looked around at him, then understandingly at one
"Same here, Patsy," Jack Bates agreed. "What they want of the damned
things when the country's full uh good horses gits me."
"So some Yahoo with just sense enough to put goggles on to cover up
his fool face can run over folks he ain't good enough to speak to, by
cripes!" Big Medicine glared aggressively up and down the table.
Weary got up suddenly and went out, and Slim followed him, though his
supper was half-uneaten.
"This goin' to be hard on the Little Doctor--only brother she's got,"
they heard Happy Jack point out unnecessarily; and Weary, the equable,
was guilty of slamming the door so that the whole building shook, by way
of demonstrating his dislike of speech upon the subject.
They were a sorry company who waved hands at the Little Doctor and the
Kid and the Countess, just when the afterglow of a red sunset was merging
into the vague, purple shadows of coming dusk. They stood silent, for the
most part, and let them go without the usual facetious advice to "Be good
to yourselves," and the hackneyed admonition to Chip to keep out of jail
if he could. There must have been something very wistful in their faces,
for the Little Doctor smiled bravely down upon then from the buggy seat,
and lifted up the Kid for a four-toothed smile and an ecstatic "Bye!"
accompanied by a vigorous flopping of hands, which included then all.
"We'll telegraph first thing, boys," the Little Doctor called back, as
the rig chucked into the pebbly creek crossing. "We'll keep you posted,
and I'll write all the particulars as soon as I can. Don't think the
worst--unless you have to. I don't." She smiled again, and waved her hand
hastily because of the Kid's contortions; and, though the smile had tears
close behind it, though her voice was tremulous in spite of herself, the
Happy Family took heart from her courage and waved their hats gravely,
and smiled back as best they could.
"There's a lot uh cake you boys might just as well eat up," the
Countess called belatedly. "It'll all dry out, if yuh don't--and there
ain't no use wastin' it--and there's two lemon pies in the brown
cupboard, and what under the shinin' sun--" The wheels bumped violently
against a rock, and the Happy Family heard no more.
On the third day after the Happy Family decided that there should be
some word from Chicago; and, since that day was Sunday, they rode in a
body to Dry Lake after it. They had not discussed the impending tragedy
very much, but they were an exceedingly Unhappy Family, nevertheless;
and, since Flying U coulee was but a place of gloom, they were not averse
to leaving it behind them for a few hours, and riding where every stick
and stone did not remind then of the Old Man.
In Dry Lake was a message, brief but heartening:
"J. G. still alive. Some hopes".
They left the station with lighter spirits after reading that; rode to
the hotel, tied their horses to the long hitching pole there and went in.
And right there the Happy Family unwittingly became cast for the leading
parts in one of those dramas of the West which never is heard of outside
the theater in which grim circumstance stages it for a single
playing--unless, indeed, the curtain rings down on a tragedy that brings
the actors before their district judge for trial. And, as so frequently
is the case, the beginning was casual to the point of triviality.
Sary, Ellen, Marg'reet, Sybilly and Jos'phine Denson (spelled in
accordance with parental pronunciation) were swinging idly upon the
hitching pole, with the self-conscious sang froid of country children
come to town. They backed away from the Happy Family's approach, grinned
foolishly in response to their careless greeting, and tittered openly at
the resplendence of the Native Son, who was wearing his black Angora
chaps with the three white diamonds down each leg, the gay horsehair
hatband, crimson neckerchief and Mexican spurs with their immense rowels
and ornate conchos of hand-beaten silver. Sary, Ellen, Marg'reet,
Jos'phine and Sybilly were also resplendent, in their way. Their carroty
hair was tied with ribbons quite aggressively new, their freckles shone
with maternal scrubbing, and there was a hint of home-made "crochet-lace"
beneath each stiffly starched dress.
"Hello, kids," Weary greeted them amiably, with a secret smile over
the memory of a time when they had purloined the Little Doctor's pills
and had made reluctant acquaintance with a stomach pump. "Where's the
circus going to be at?"
"There ain't goin' to be no circus," Sybilly retorted, because she was
the forward one of the family. "We're going away; on the train. The next
one that comes along. We're going to be on it all night, too; and we'll
have to eat on it, too."
"Well, by golly, you'll want something to eat, then!" Slim was feeling
abstractedly in his pocket for a coin, for these were the nieces of the
Countess, and therefore claimed more than a cursory interest from Slim.
"You take this up to the store and see if yuh can't swop it for something
good to eat." Because Sary was the smallest of the lot he pressed the
dollar into her shrinking, amazed palm.
"Paw's got more money'n that," Sybilly announced proudly. "Paw's got a
million dollars. A man bought our ranch and gave him a lot of money.
We're rich now. Maybe paw'll buy us a phony-graft. He said maybe he
would. And maw's goin' to have a blue silk dress with green onto it.
"Better haze along and buy that grub stake," Slim interrupted the
family gift for profuse speech. He had caught the boys grinning, and
fancied that they were tracing a likeness between the garrulity of
Sybilly and the fluency of her aunt, the Countess. "You don't want that
train to go off and leave yuh, by golly."
"Wonder who bought Denson out?" Cal Emmett asked of no one in
particular, as the children went strutting off to the store to spend the
dollar which little Sary clutched so tightly it seemed as if the goddess
of liberty must surely have been imprinted upon her palm.
When they went inside and found Denson himself pompously "setting 'em
up to the house," Cal repeated the question in a slightly different form
to the man himself.
Denson, while he was ready to impress the beholders with his
unaccustomed affluence, became noticeably embarrassed at the inquiry, and
edged off into vague generalities.
"I jest nacherlly had to sell when I got m' price," he told the Happy
Family in a tone that savored strongly of apology. "I like the country,
and I like m' neighbors fine. Never'd ask for better than the Flyin' U
has been t' me. I ain't got no kick comin' there. Sorry to hear the Old
Man's hurt back East. Mary was real put out at not bein' able to see
Louise 'fore she went away"-- Louise being the Countess' and Mary
Denson's sister--"but soon as I sold I got oneasy like. The feller wanted
p'session right away, too, so I told Mary we might as well start b'fore
we git outa the notion. I wouldn't uh cared about sellin', maybe, but the
kids needs to be in school. They're growin' up in ign'rance out here, and
Mary's folks wants us to come back 'n' settle close handy by--they been
at us t' sell out and move fer the last five years, now, and I told
Even Cal forgot, eventually, that he had asked a question which
remained unanswered; what interest he had felt at first was smothered to
death beneath that blanket of words, and he eagerly followed the boys out
and over to Rusty Brown's place, where Denson, because of an old grudge
against Rusty, might be trusted not to follow.
"Mamma!" Weary commented amusedly, when they were crossing the street,
"that Denson bunch can sure talk the fastest and longest, and say the
least, of any outfit I ever saw."
"Wonder who did buy him out?" Jack Bates queried. "Old ginger-whiskers
didn't pass out any facts, yuh notice. He couldn't have,got much; his
land's mostly gravel and 'doby patches. He's got a water right on Flying
U creek, you know--first right, at that, seems to me--and a dandy fine
spring in that coulee. Wonder why our outfit didn't buy him out--seeing
he wanted to sell so bad?"
"This wantin' to sell is something I never heard of b'fore," Slim said
slowly. "To hear him tell it, that ranch uh hisn was worth a dollar an
inch, by golly. I don't b'lieve he's been wantin' to sell out. If he had,
Mis' Bixby woulda said something about it. She don't know about this here
sellin' business, or she'd a said--"
"Yeah, you can most generally bank on the Countess telling all she
knows," Cal assented with some sarcasm; at which Slim grunted and turned
Denson and his affairs they speedily forgot for a time, in the
diversion which Rusty Brown's familiar place afforded to young men with
unjaded nerves and a zest for the primitive pleasures. Not until
mid-afternoon did it occur to them that Flying U coulee was deserted by
all save old Patsy, and that there were chores to be done, if all the
creatures of the coulee would sleep in comfort that night. Pink,
therefore, withdrew his challenge to the bunch, and laid his billiard cue
down with a sigh and the remark that all he lacked was time, to have the
scalps of every last one of them hanging from his belt. Pink was
figurative in his speech, you will understand; and also a bit
vainglorious over beating Andy Green and Big Medicine twice in
It occurred to Weary then that a word of cheer to the Old Man and his
anxious watchers might not cone amiss. Therefore the Happy Family mounted
and rode to the depot to send it, and on the way wrangled over the
wording of the message after their usual contentious manner.
"Better tell 'em everything is fine, at this end uh the line," Cal
suggested, and was hooted at for a poet.
"Just say," Weary began, when he was interrupted by the discordant
clamor from a trainload of sheep that had just pulled in and stopped.
"'Maa-aa, Ma-a-aaa,' darn yuh," he shouted derisively, at the peering,
plaintive faces, glimpsed between the close-set bars. "Mamma, how I do
love sheep!" Whereupon he put spurs to his horse and galloped down to the
station to rid his ears of the turbulent wave of protest from the
Naturally it required some time to compose the telegram in a style
satisfactory to all parties. Outside, cars banged together, an engine
snorted stertorously, and suffocating puffs of coal smoke now and then
invaded the waiting-room while the Happy Family were sending that message
of cheer to Chicago. If you are curious, the final version of their
combined sentiments was not at all spectacular. It said merely:
"Everything fine here. Take good care of the Old Man. How's the Kid
It was signed simply "The Bunch."
"Mary's little lambs are here yet, I see," the Native Son remarked
carelessly when they went out. "Enough lambs for all the Marys in the
country. How would you like to be Mary?"
"Not for me," Irish declared, and turned his face away from the stench
Others there were who rode the length of the train with faces averted
and looks of disdain; cowmen, all of them, they shared the range
prejudice, and took no pains to hide it.
The wind blew strong from the east, that day; it whistled through the
open, double-decked cars packed with gray, woolly bodies, whose voices
were ever raised in strident complaint; and the stench of them smote the
unaccustomed nostrils of the Happy Family and put them to disgusted
flight up the track and across it to where the air was clean again.
"Honest to grandma, I'd make the poorest kind of a sheepherder," Big
Medicine bawled earnestly, when they were well away from the noise and
smell of the detested animals. "If I had to herd sheep, by cripes, do you
know what I'd do? I'd haze 'em into a coulee and turn loose with a good
rifle and plenty uh shells, and call in the coyotes to git a square meal.
That's the way I'd herd sheep. It's the only way you can shut 'em up.
They just 'baa-aa, baa-aa, baa-aa' from the time they're dropped till
somebody kills 'em off. Honest, they blat in their sleep. I've heard
"When you and the dogs were shooting off coyotes?" asked Andy Green
pointedly, and so precipitated dissension which lasted for ten miles.
Slim rising first from dinner on the next day but one opened the door
of the mess-house, and stood there idly picking his teeth before he went
about his work. After a minute of listening to the boys "joshing" old
Patsy about some gooseberry pies he had baked without sugar, he turned
his face outward, threw up his head like a startled bull, and began to
"Say, I smell sheep, by golly!" he announced in the bellowing tone
which was his conversational voice, and sniffed again.
"Oh, that's just a left-over in your system from the dose yuh got in
town Sunday," Weary explained soothingly. "I've smelled sheep, and tasted
sheep, and dreamed sheep, ever since."
"No, by golly, it's sheep! It ain't no memory. I--I b'hieve I hear
'em, too, by golly." Slim stepped out away from the building and faced
suspiciously down the coulee.
"Slim, I never suspected you of imagination before," the Native Son
drawled, and loitered out to where Slim stood still sniffing. "I wonder
if you're catching it from Andy and me. Don't you think you ought to be
"That ain't imagination," Pink called out from within. "When anybody
claims there's sheep in Flying U coulee, that's straight loco."
"Come on out here and smell 'em yourself, then!" Slim bawled
indignantly. "I never seen such an outfit as this is gittin' to be; you
fellers don't believe nobody, no more. We ain't all Andy Greens."
Upon hearing this Andy pushed back his chair and strolled outside. He
clapped his hand down upon Slim's fat-cushioned shoulder and swayed him
gently. "Never mind, Slim; you can't all be famous," he comforted. "Some
day, maybe, I'll teach yuh the fine art of lying more convincingly than
the ordinary man can tell the truth. It is a fine art; it takes a genius
to put it across. Now, the only time anybody doubts my word is when I'm
sticking to the truth hike a sand burr to a dog's tail."
From away to the west, borne on the wind which swept steadily down the
coulee, came that faint, humming sing-song, which can be made only by a
herd of a thousand or more sheep, all blatting in different keys--or by a
distant band playing monotonously upon the middle octave of their varied
"Slim's right, by gracious! It's sheep, sure as yuh live." Andy did
not wait for more, but started at a fast walk for the stable and his
horse. After him went the Native Son, who had not been with the Flying U
long enough to sense the magnitude of the affront, and Slim, who knew to
a nicety just what "cowmen" considered the unpardonable sin, and the rest
of the Happy Family, who were rather incredulous still.
"Must be some fool herder just crossing the coulee, on the move
somewhere," Weary gave as a solution. "Half of 'em don't know a fence
when they see it."
As they galloped toward the sound and the smell, they expressed freely
their opinion of sheep, the men who owned them, and the lunatics who
watched over the blatting things. They were cattlemen to the marrow in
their bones, and they gloried in their prejudice against the woolly
despoilers of the range.
All these years had the Flying U been immune from the nuisance, save
for an occasional trespasser, who was quickly sent about his business.
The Flying U range had been kept in the main inviolate from the little,
gray vandals, which ate the grass clean to the sod, and trampled with
their sharp-pointed hoofs the very roots into lifelessness; which
polluted the water-holes and creeks until cattle and horses went thirsty
rather than drink; which, in that land of scant rainfall, devastated the
range where they fed so that a long-established prairie-dog town was not
more barren. What wonder if the men who owned cattle, and those who
tended them, hated sheep? So does the farmer dread an invasion of
A mile down the coulee they came upon the band with two herders and
four dogs keeping watch. Across the coulee and up the hillsides they
spread like a noisome gray blanket. "Maa-aa, maa- aa, maa-aa," two
thousand strong they blatted a strident medley while they hurried here
and there after sweeter bunches of grass, very much like a disturbed
The herders loitered upon either slope, their dogs lying close beside
them. There was good grass in that part of the coulee; the Flying U had
saved it for the saddle horses that were to be gathered and held
temporarily at the ranch; for it would save herding, and a week in that
pasture would put a keen edge on their spirits for the hard work of the
calf roundup. A dozen or two that ranged close had already been driven
into the field and were feeding disdainfully in a corner as far away from
the sheep as the fence would permit.
The Happy Family, riding close-grouped, stiffened in their saddles and
stared amazed at the outrage.
"Sheepherders never did have any nerve," Irish observed after a
minute. "They keep their places fine! They'll drive their sheep right
into your dooryard and tell 'en to help themselves to anything that
happens to look good to them. Oh, they're sure modest and retiring!"
Weary, who had charge of the outfit during Chip's absence, was making
straight for the nearest herder. Pink and Andy went with him, as a matter
"You fellows ride up around that side, and put the run on them sheep,"
Weary shouted back to the others. "We'll start the other side moving.
Make 'em travel--back where they came from." He jerked his head toward
the north. He knew, just as they all knew, that there had been no sheep
to the south, unless one counted those that ranged across the Missouri
As the three forced their horses up the steep slope, the herder,
sitting slouched upon a rock, glanced up at them dully. He had a long
stick, with which he was apathetically turning over the smaller stones
within his reach, and as apathetically killing the black bugs that
scuttled out from the moist earth beneath. He desisted from this
unexciting pastime as they drew near, and eyed them with the sullenness
that comes of long isolation when the person's nature forbids that other
extreme of babbling garrulity, for no man can live long months alone and
remain perfectly normal. Nature, that stern mistress, always exacts a
penalty from us foolish mortals who would ignore the instincts she has
wisely implanted within us for our good.
"Maybe," Weary began mildly and without preface, "you don't know this
is private property. Get busy with your dogs, and haze these sheep back
on the bench." He waved his hand to the north. "And, when you get a good
start in that direction," he added, "yuh better keep right on going."
The herder surveyed him morosely, but he said nothing; neither did he
rise from the rock to obey the command. The dogs sat upon their haunches
and perked their ears inquiringly, as if they understood better than did
their master that these men were not to be quite overlooked.
"I meant to-day," Weary hinted, with the manner of one who
deliberately holds his voice quiet.
"I never asked yuh what yuh meant," the herder mumbled, scowling. "We
got to keep 'em on water another hour, yet." He went back to turning over
the small rocks and to pursuing with his stick the bugs, as if the whole
subject were squeezed dry of interest.
For a minute Weary stared unwinkingly down at him, uncertain whether
to resent this as pure insolence, or to condone it as imbecility.
"Mamma!" he breathed eloquently, and grinned at Andy and Pink. "This is a
real talkative cuss, and obliging, too. Come on, boys; he's too busy to
bother with a little thing like sheep."
He led the way around to the far side of the band, the nearest sheep
scuttling away from then as they passed. "I don't suppose we could work
the combination on those dogs--what?" he considered aloud, glancing back
at them where they still sat upon their haunches and watched the strange
riders. "Say, Cadwalloper, you took a few lessons in sheepherding, a
couple of years ago, when you was stuck on that girl--remember? Whistle
'em up here and set 'en to work."
"You go to the devil," Pink's curved hips replied amiably to his boss.
"I've got loss-uh-memory on the sheep business."
Whereat Weary grinned and said no more about it.
On the opposite side of the coulee, the boys seemed to be laboring
quite as fruitlessly with the other herder. They heard Big Medicine's
truculent bellow, as he leaned from the saddle and waved a fist close to
the face of the herder, but, though they rode with their eyes fixed upon
the group, they failed to see any resultant movement of dogs, sheep or
There is, at times, a certain safety in being the hopeless minority.
Though seven indignant cowpunchers surrounded him, that herder was secure
from any personal molestation--and he knew it. They were seven against
one; therefore, after making some caustic remarks, which produced as
little effect as had Weary's command upon the first man, the seven were
constrained to ride here and there along the wavering, gray line, and,
with shouts and swinging ropes, themselves drive the sheep from the
There was much clamor and dust and riding to and fro. There was
language which would have made the mothers of then weep, and there were
faces grown crimson from wrath. Eventually, however, the Happy Family
faced the north fence of the Flying U boundary, and saw the last woolly
back scrape under the lower wire, leaving a toll of greasy wool hanging
from the barbs.
The herders had drawn together, and were looking on from a distance,
and the four dogs were yelping uneasily over their enforced inaction. The
Happy Family went back and rounded up the herders, and by sheer weight of
numbers forced them to the fence without laying so much as a finger upon
then. The one who had been killing black bugs gave then an ugly look as
he crawled through, but even he did not say anything.
"Snap them wires down where they belong," Weary commanded tersely.
The man hesitated a minute, then sullenly unhooked the barbs of the
two lower strands, so that the wires, which had thus been lifted to
permit the passing of the sheep, twanged apart and once more stretched
straight from post to post.
"Now, just keep in mind the fact that fences are built for use. This
is a private ranch, and sheep are just about as welcome as smallpox. Haze
them stinking things as far north as they'll travel before dark, and at
daylight start 'em going again. Where's your camp, anyhow?"
"None of your business," mumbled the bugkiller sourly.
Weary scanned the undulating slope beyond the fence, saw no sign of a
camp, and glanced uncertainly at his fellows. "Well, it don't matter much
where it is; you see to it you don't sleep within five miles of here, or
you're liable to have bad dreams. Hit the trail, now!"
They waited inside the fence until the retreating sheep lost their
individuality as blatting animals, ambling erratically here and there,
while they moved toward the brow of the hill, and merged into a great,
gray blotch against the faint green of the new grass--a blotch from which
rose again that vibrant, sing-song humming of many voices mingled. Then
they rode back down the coulee to their own work, taking it for granted
that the trespassing was an incident which would not be repeated--by
those particular sheep, at any rate.
It was, therefore, with something of a shock that the Happy Family
awoke the next morning to hear Pink's melodious treble shouting in the
bunk-house at sunrise next morning:
"'G'wa-a-y round' 'em, Shep! Seven black ones in the coulee!" Men who
know well the West are familiar with that facetious call.
"Ah, what's the matter with yuh?" Irish raised a rumpled, brown head
from his pillow, and blinked sleepily at him. "I've been dreaming I was a
sheepherder, all night."
"Well, you've got the swellest chance in the world to 'make every
dream cone true, dearie,'" Pink retorted. "The whole blamed coulee's full
uh sheep. I woke up a while ago and thought I just imagined I heard 'en
again; so I went out to take a look--or a smell, it was--and they're sure
Weary swung one long leg out from under his blankets and reached for
his clothes. He did not say anything, but his face portended trouble for
"Say!" cried Big Medicine, coming out of his bunk as if it were afire,
"I tell yuh right now then blattin' human apes wouldn't git gay around
here if I was runnin' this outfit. The way I'd have of puttin' them sheep
on the run wouldn't be slow, by cripes! I'll guarantee--"
By then the bunk-house was buzzing with voices, and there was none to
give heed to Big Medicine s blatant boasting. Others there were who
seemed rather inclined to give Weary good advice while they pulled on
their boots and sought for their gloves and rolled early-morning
cigarettes, and otherwise prepared themselves for what Fate might have
waiting for then outside the door.
"Are you sure they're in the coulee, Cadwalloper?" Weary asked, during
a brief lull. "They could be up on the hill--"
"Hell, yes!" was Pink's forceful answer. "They could be on the hill,
but they ain't. Why, darn it, they're straggling into the little pasture!
I could see 'em from the stable. They--"
"Come and eat your breakfast first, boys, anyway." Weary had his hand
upon the door-knob. "A few minutes more won't make any difference, one
way or the other." He went out and over to the mess-house to see if Patsy
had the coffee ready; for this was a good three-quarters of an hour
earlier than the Flying U outfit usually bestirred themselves on these
days of preparation for roundup and waiting for good grass.
"I'll be darned if I'd be as calm as he is," Cal Emmett muttered while
the door was being closed. "Good thing the Old Man ain't here, now. He'd
go straight up in the air. He wouldn't wait for no breakfast."
"I betche there'll be a killin' yet, before we're through with them
sheep," gloomed Happy Jack. "When sheepherders starts in once to be
ornery, there ain't no way uh stoppin' 'em except by killin' 'em off. And
that'll mean the pen for a lot of us fellers--"
"Well, by golly, it won't be me," Slim declared loudly. "Yuh wouldn't
ketch me goin' t' jail for no doggone sheepherder. They oughta be a
bounty on 'en by rights."
"Seems queer they'd be right back here this morning, after being hazed
out yesterday afternoon," said Andy Green thoughtfully. "Looks like
they're plumb anxious to build a lot of trouble for themselves."
Patsy, thumping energetically the bottom of a tin pan, sent them
trooping to the mess-house. There it was evident that the breakfast had
been unduly hurried; there were no biscuits in sight, for one thing,
though Patsy was lumbering about the stove frying hot-cakes. They were in
too great a hurry to wait for them, however. They swallowed their coffee
hurriedly, bolted a few mouthfuls of meat and fried eggs, and let it go
Weary looked at then with a faint smile. "I'm going to give a few of
you fellows a chance to herd sheep to-day," he announced, cooling his
coffee so that it would not actually scald his palate. "That's why I
wanted you to get some grub into you. Some of you fellows will have to
take the trail up on the hill, and meet us outside the fence, so when we
chase 'em through you can make a good job of it this time. I
"You don't need to call out the troops for that job; one man is enough
to put the fear uh the Lord into then herders," Andy remarked
slightingly. "Once they're on the move--"
"All right, my boy; we'll let you be the man," Weary told him
promptly. "I was going to have a bunch of you take a packadero outfit
down toward Boiler Bottom and comb the breaks along there for horses--and
I sure do hate to spend the whole day chasing sheepherders around over
the country. So we'll haze 'em through the fence again, and, seeing you
feel that way about it, I'll let you go around and keep 'em going. And,
if you locate their camp, kinda impress it on the tender, if you can
round him up, that the Flying U ain't pasturing sheep this spring. No
matter what kinda talk he puts up, you put the run on 'em till you see
'em across One-Man coulee. Better have Patsy put you up a lunch--unless
you're fond of mutton."
Andy twisted his mouth disgustedly. "Say, I'm going to quit handing
out any valuable advice to you, Weary," he expostulated.
"Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" laughed Big Medicine, and slapped Andy on the
shoulder so that his face almost came in contact with his plate. "Yuh
will try to work some innercent man into sheepherdin', will yuh?
Haw-haw-haw-w! You'll come in tonight blattin'--if yuh don't stay out on
the range tryin' t' eat grass, by cripes! Andy had a little lamb that
follered him around--"
"Better let Bud take that herdin' job, Weary," Andy suggested. "It
won't hurt him--he's blattin' already."
"If you think you're liable to need somebody along," Weary began,
soft-heartedly relenting, "why, I guess--"
"If I can't handle two crazy sheepherders without any help, by
gracious, I'll get me a job holdin' yarn in an old ladies' hone," Andy
cut in hastily, and got up from the table. "Being a truthful man, I can't
say I'm stuck on the job; but I'm game for it. And I'll promise you there
won't be no more sheep of that brand lickin' our doorsteps. What darned
outfit is it, anyway? I never bumped into any Dot sheep before, to my
"It's a new one on me," Weary testified, heading the procession down
to the stable. "If they belonged anywhere in this part of the country,
though, they wouldn't be acting the way they are. They'd be wise to the
fact that it ain't healthy."
Even while he spoke his eyes were fixed with cold intensity upon a
fringe of gray across the coulee below the little pasture. To the
nostrils of the outraged Happy Family was borne that indescribable aroma
which betrays the presence of sheep; that aroma which sheepmen love and
which cattlemen hate, and which a favorable wind will carry a long
They slapped saddles on their horses in record time that morning, and
raced down the coulee ironically shouting commiserating sentences to the
unfortunate Andy, who rode slowly up to the mess-house for the lunch
which Patsy had waiting for him in a flour sack, and afterward climbed
the grade and loped along outside the line fence to a point opposite the
sheep and the shouting horsemen, who forced them back by weight of
This morning the herders were not quite so passive. The bug-killer
still scowled, but he spoke without the preliminary sulky silence of the
"We're goin' across the coulee," he growled. "Them's orders. We range
south uh here."
"No, you don't," Weary dissented calmly. "Not by a long shot, you
don't. You're going back where you come from--if you ask me. And you're
With the sun shining comfortably upon his back, and with a cigarette
between his lips, Andy sat upon his horse and watched in silent glee
while the irate Happy Family scurried here and there behind the band,
swinging their ropes down upon the woolly backs, and searching their
vocabularies for new and terrible epithets. Andy smiled broadly as a
colorful phrase now and then boomed across the coulee in that clear,
snappy atmosphere, which carries sounds so far. He did not expect to do
much smiling upon his own account, that day, and he was therefore
grateful for the opportunity to behold the spectacle before him.
There was Slim, for instance, unwillingly careening down hill toward
home, because, in his zeal to slap an old ewe smartly with his rope, he
drove her unexpectedly under his horse, and so created a momentary panic
that came near standing both horse and rider upon their heads. And there
was Big Medicine whistling until he was purple, while the herder, with a
single gesture, held the dog motionless, though a dozen sheep broke back
from the band and climbed a slope so steep that Big Medicine was
compelled to go after them afoot, and turn them with stones and profane
It was very funny--when one could sit at ease upon the hilltop and
smoke a cigarette while others risked apoplexy and their souls' salvation
below. By the time they panted up the last rock-strewn slope of the
bluff, and sent the vanguard of the invaders under the fence, Andy's mood
was complacent in the extreme, and his smile offensively wide.
"Oh, you needn't look so sorry for us," drawled the Native Son,
jingling over toward him until only the fence and a few feet of space
divided them. "Here's where you get yours, amigo. I wish you a pleasant
day--and a long one!" He waved his hand in mocking adieu, touched his
horse with his silver spurs, and rode gaily away down the coulee.
"Here, sheepherder's your outfit. Ma-aa-a-a!" jeered Big Medicine.
"You'll wisht, by cripes, you was a dozen men just like yuh before you're
through with the deal. Haw-haw-haw-w!"
There were others who, seeing Andy's grin, had something to say upon
the subject before they left.
Weary rode up, and looked undecidedly from Andy to the sheep, and back
"If you don't feel like tackling it single-handed, I'll send--"
"What do yuh think I am, anyway ?" Andy interrupted crisply, "a
Montgomery Ward two-for-a-quarter cowpuncher? Don't you fellows waste any
time worrying over me!"
The herders stared at Andy curiously when he swung in behind the
tail-end of the band and kept pace with their slow moving, but they did
not speak beyond shouting an occasional command to their dogs. Neither
did Andy have anything to say, until he saw that they were swinging
steadily to the west, instead of keeping straight north, as they had been
told to do. Then he rode over to the nearest herder, who happened to be
"You don't want to get turned around," he hinted quietly. "That's
north, over there."
"I'm workin' fer the man that pays my wages," the fellow retorted
glumly, and waved an arm to a collie that was waiting for orders. The dog
dropped his head, and ran around the right wing of the band, with sharp
yelps and dartings here and there, turning them still more to the
Andy hesitated, decided to leave the man alone for the present, and
rode around to the other herder.
"You swing these sheep north!" he commanded, disdaining preface or
"I'm workin' for the man that pays my wages," the herder made answer
stolidly, and chewed steadily upon a quid of tobacco that had stained his
So they had talked the thing over--had those two herders--and were
following a premeditated plan of defiance! Andy hooked at the man a
minute. "You turn them sheep, damn you," he commanded again, and laid a
hand upon his saddle-horn suggestively.
"You go to the devil, damn yuh," advised the herder, and cocked a wary
eye at him from under his hat-brim. Not all herders, let it be said in
passing, take unto themselves the mental attributes of their sheep; there
are those who believe that a bold front is better than weak compliance,
and who will back that belief by a very bold front indeed.
Andy appraised him mentally, decided that he was an able-bodied man
and therefore fightable, and threw his right leg over the cantle with a
quite surprising alacrity.
"Are you going to turn them sheep?" Andy was taking off his coat when
he made that inquiry.
"Not for your tellin'. You keep back, young feller, or I'll sick the
dogs on yuh." He turned and whistled to the nearest one, and Andy hit him
on the ear.
They clinched and pummeled when they could and where they could. The
dog came up, circled the gyrating forms twice, then sat down upon his
haunches at a safe distance, tilted his head sidewise and lifted his ears
interestedly. He was a wise little dog; the other dog was also wise, and
remained phlegmatically at his post, as did the bug-killer.
"Are you going to turn them sheep?" Andy spoke breathlessly, but with
Andy took his fingers from the other's Adam's apple, his knee from the
other's diaphragm, and went over to where he had thrown down his coat,
felt in a pocket for his handkerchief, and, when he had found it, applied
it to his nose, which was bleeding profusely.
"Fly at it, then," he advised, eyeing the other sternly over the
handkerchief. "I'd hate to ask you a third time."
"I'd hate to have yuh," conceded the herder reluctantly. "I was sure I
c'd lick yuh, or I'd 'a' turned 'em before." He sent the dog racing down
the south line of the band.
Andy got thoughtfully back upon his horse, and sat looking hard at the
herder. "Say, you're grade above the general run uh lamb- hickers," he
observed, after a minute. "Who are you working for, and what's your
object in throwing sheep on Flying U land? There's plenty of range to the
"I'm workin'," said the herder, "for the Dot outfit. I thought you
could read brands."
"Don't get sassy--I've got a punch or two I haven't used yet. Who owns
"Well--Whittaker and Oleson, if yuh want to know."
"I do." Andy was keeping pace with him around the band, which edged
off from then and the dogs. "And what makes you so crazy about Flying U
grass?" he pursued.
"We've got to cross that coulee to git to where we're headed for; we
got a right to, and we're going to do it." The herder paused and glanced
up at Andy sourly. "We knowed you was a mean outfit; the boss told us so.
And he told us you was blank ca'tridges and we needn't back up just
'cause you raised up on your hind legs and howled a little. I've had
truck with you cowmen before. I've herded sheep in Wyoming." He walked a
few steps with his head down, considering.
"I better go over and talk some sense into the other fellow," he said,
looking up at Andy as if all his antagonism had oozed in the fight. "You
ride along this edge, so they won't scatter--we ought to be grazin' 'em
along, by rights; only you seem to be in such an all-fired rush--"
"You go on and tell that loco son-of-a-gun over there what he's up
against," Andy urged. "Blank cartridges--I sure do like that! If you only
knew it, high power dum-dums would be a lot closer to our brand. Run
along--I am in a kinda hurry, this morning."
Andy, riding slowly upon the outskirts of the grazing, blatting band,
watched the two confer earnestly together a hundred yards or so away.
They seemed to be having some sort of argument; the bug-killer
gesticulated with the long stick he carried, and the sheep, while the
herders talked, scattered irresponsibly. Andy wondered what made sheepmen
so "ornery," particularly herders. He wondered why the fellow he had
thrashed was so insultingly defiant at first, and, after the thrashing,
so unresentful and communicative, and so amenable to authority withal. He
felt his nose, and decided that it was, all things considered, a cheap
victory, and yet one of which he need not be ashamed.
The herder cane back presently and helped drive the sheep over the
edge of the bluff which bordered Antelope coulee. The bug-killer, upon
his side, also seemed imbued with the spirit of obedience; Andy heard him
curse a collie into frenzied zeal, and smiled approvingly.
"Now you're acting a heap more human," he observed; and the man from
Wyoming grinned ruefully by way of reply.
Antelope coulee, at that point, was steep; too steep for riding, so
that Andy dismounted and dug his boot-heels into the soft soil, to gain a
foothold on the descent. When he was halfway down, he chanced to look
back, straight into the scowling gaze of the bug-killer, who was sliding
down behind him.
"Thought you were hazing down the other side of 'em," Andy called
back, but the herder did not choose to answer save with another
Andy edged his horse around an impracticable slope of shale stuff and
went on. The herder followed. When he was within twelve feet or so of the
bottom, there was a sound of pebbles knocked loose in haste, a
scrambling, and then came the impact of his body. Andy teetered, lost his
balance, and went to the bottom in one glorious slide. He landed with the
bug-killer on top--and the bug-killer failed to remove his person as
speedily as true courtesy exacted.
Andy kicked and wriggled and tried to remember what was that
high-colored, vituperative sentence that Irish had invented over a
stubborn sheep, that he might repeat it to the bug-killer. The herder
from Wyoming ran up, caught Andy's horse, and untied Andy's rope from the
"Good fer you, Oscar," he praised the bug-killer. "Hang onto him while
I take a few turns." He thereupon helped force Andy's arms to his side,
and wound the rope several times rather tightly around Andy's outraged,
"Oh, it ain't goin' to do yuh no good to buck 'n bawl," admonished the
tier. "I learnt this here little trick down in Wyoming. A bunch uh
punchers done it to me--and I've been just achin' all over fer a chance
to return the favor to some uh you gay boys. And," he added, with
malicious satisfaction, while he rolled Andy over and tied a perfectly
unslippable knot behind, "it gives me great pleasure to hand the dose out
to you, in p'ticular. If I was a mean man, I'd hand yuh the boot a few
times fer luck; but I'll save that up till next time."
"You can bet your sweet life there'll be a next time," Andy promised
earnestly, with embellishments better suited to the occasion than to a
"Well, when it arrives I'm sure Johnny-on-the-spot. Them Wyoming
punchers beat me up after they'd got me tied. I'm tellin' yuh so you'll
see I ain't mean unless I'm drove to it. Turn him feet down hill, Oscar,
so he won't git a rush uh brains to the head and die on our hands. Now
you're goin' to mind your own business, sonny. Next time yuh set out to
herd sheep, better see the boss first and git on the job right."
He rose to his feet, surveyed Andy with his hands on his hips,
mentally pronounced the job well done, and took a generous chew of
tobacco, after which he grinned down at the trussed one.
"That the language uh flowers you're talkin'?" he inquired
banteringly, before he turned his attention to the horse, which he
disposed of by tying up the reins and giving it a slap on the rump. When
it had trotted fifty yards down the coulee bottom, and showed a
disposition to go farther, he whistled to his dogs, and turned again to
"This here is just a hint to that bunch you trot with, to leave us and
our sheep alone," he said. "We don't pick no quarrels, but we're goin' to
cross our sheep wherever we dern please, to git where we want to go. Gawd
didn't make this range and hand it over to you cowmen to put in yer
pockets--I guess there's a chance fer other folks to hang on by their
Andy, lying there like a very good presentation of a giant cocoon,
roped round and round, with his arms pinned to his sides, had the
doubtful pleasure of seeing that noisome, foolish-faced band trail down
Antelope coulee and back upon the level they had just left, and of
knowing to a gloomy certainty that he could do nothing about it, except
swear; and even that palls when a man has gone over his entire repertoire
three times in rapid succession.
Andy, therefore, when the last sheep had trotted out of sight, hearing
and smell, wriggled himself into as comfortable a position as his bonds
would permit, and took a nap.
Andy, only half awake, tried to obey both instinct and habit and reach
up to pull his hat down over his eyes, so that the sun could not shine
upon his lids so hotly; when he discovered that he could do no more than
wiggle his fingers, he came back with a jolt to reality and tried to sit
up. It is surprising to a man to discover suddenly just how important a
part his arms play in the most simple of body movements; Andy, with his
arms pinioned tightly the whole length of them, rolled over on his face,
kicked a good deal, and rolled back again, but he did not sit up, as he
had confidently expected to do.
He lay absolutely quiet for at least five minutes, staring up at the
brilliant blue arch above him. Then he began to speak rapidly and
earnestly; a man just close enough to hear his voice sweeping up to a
certain rhetorical climax, pausing there and commencing again with a
rhythmic fluency of intonation, might have thought that he was repeating
poetry; indeed, it sounded like some of Milton's majestic blank verse,
but it was not. Andy was engaged in a methodical, scientific,
reprehensibly soul-satisfying period of swearing.
A curlew, soaring low, with long beak outstretched before him, and
long legs outstretched behind cast a beady eye upon him, and shrilled
"Cor-reck! Cor-reck!" in unregenerate approbation of the blasphemy.
Andy stopped suddenly and laughed. "Glad you agree with me, old
sport," he addressed the bird whimsically, with a reaction to his
normally cheerful outlook. "Sheepherders are all those things I named
over, birdie, and some that I can't think of at present."
He tried again, this time with a more careful realization of his
limitations, to assume an upright position; and being a persevering young
man, and one with a ready wit, he managed at length to wriggle himself
back upon the slope from which he had slid in his sleep, and, by digging
in his heels and going carefully, he did at last rise upon his knees, and
from there triumphantly to his feet.
He had at first believed that one of the herders would, in the course
of an hour or so, return and untie him, when he hoped to be able to
retrieve, in a measure, his self-respect, which he had lost when the
first three feet of his own rope had encircled him. To be tied and
trussed by sheepherders! Andy gritted his teeth and started down the
He was hungry, and his lunch was tied to his saddle. He looked eagerly
down the coulee, in the faint hope of seeing his horse grazing somewhere
along its length, until the numbness of his arms and hands reminded him
that forty lunches, tied upon forty saddles at his side, would be of no
use to him in his present position. His hands he could not move from his
thighs; he could wiggle his fingers--which he did, to relieve as much as
possible that unpleasant, prickly sensation which we call a "going to
sleep" of the afflicted members. When it occurred to him that he could
not do anything with his horse if he found it, he gave up looking for it
and started for the ranch, walking awkwardly, because of his bonds, the
sun shining hotly upon his brown head, because his hat had been knocked
off in the scuffle, and he could not pick it up and put it back where it
Taking a straight course across the prairie, he struck Flying U coulee
at the point where the sheep had left it. On the way there he had crossed
their trail where they went through the fence farther along the coulee
than before, and therefore with a better chance of passing undetected;
especially since the Happy Family, believing that he was forcing them
steadily to the north, would not be watching for sheep. The barbed wire
barrier bothered him somewhat. He was compelled to lie down and roll
under the fence, in the most undignified manner, and, when he was
through, there was the problem of getting upon his feet again. But he
managed it somehow, and went on down the coulee, perspiring with the heat
and a bitter realization of his ignominy. What the Happy Family would
have to say when they saw him, even Andy Green's vivid imagination
declined to picture.
He knew by the sun that it was full noon when he came in sight of the
stable and corrals, and his soul sickened at the thought of facing that
derisive bunch of punchers, with their fiendish grins and their barbed
tongues. But he was hungry, and his arms had reached the limit of prickly
sensations and were numb to his shoulders. He shook his hair back from
his beaded forehead, cast a wary glance at the silent stables, set his
jaw, and went on up the hill to the mess-house, wishing tardily that he
had waited until they were off at work again, when he might intimidate
old Patsy into keeping quiet about his predicament.
Within the mess-house was the clatter of knives and forks plied by
hungry men, the sound of desultory talk and a savory odor of good things
to eat. The door was closed. Andy stood before it as a guilty-conscienced
child stands before its teacher; clicked his teeth together, and, since
he could not open the door, lifted his right foot and gave it a kick to
strain the hinges.
Within were exclamations of astonishment, silence and then a heavy
tread. Patsy opened the door, gasped and stood still, his eyes popping
out like a startled rabbit.
"Well, what's eating you?" Andy demanded querulously, and pushed past
him into the room.
Not all of the Happy Family were there. Cal, Jack Bates, Irish and
Happy Jack had gone into the Bad Lands next to the river; but there were
enough left to make the soul of Andy quiver forebodingly, and to send the
flush of extreme humiliation to his cheeks.
The Happy Family looked at him in stunned surprise; then they glanced
at one another in swift, wordless inquiry, grinned wisely and warily, and
went on with their dinner. At least they pretended to go on with their
dinner, while Andy glared at them with amazed reproach in his
misleadingly honest gray eyes.
"When you've got plenty of time," he said at last in a choked tone,
"maybe one of you obliging cusses will untie this damned rope."
"Why, sure!" Pink threw a leg over the bench and got up with cheerful
alacrity. "I'll do it now, if you say so; I didn't know but what that was
some new fad of yours, like--"
"Fad!" Andy repeated the word like an explosion.
"Well, by golly, Andy needn't think I'm goin' to foller that there
style," Slim stated solemnly. "I need m' rope for something else than to
tie n' clothes on with."
"I sure do hate to see a man wear funny things just to make himself
conspicuous," Pink observed, while he fumbled at the knot, which was
intricate. Andy jerked away from him that he might face him
"Maybe this looks funny to you," he cried, husky with wrath. "But I
can't seem to see the joke, myself. I admit I let then herders make a
monkey of me.... They slipped up behind, going down into Antelope coulee,
and slid down the bluff onto me; and, before I could get up, they got me
tied, all right. I licked one of 'en before that, and thought I had 'en
Andy stopped short, silenced by that unexplainable sense which warns
us when our words are received with cold disbelief.
"Mh-hm--I thought maybe you'd run up against a hostile jackrabbit, or
something," Pink purred, and went back to his place on the bench.
"Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" came Big Medicine's tardy bellow. "That's more
reasonable than the sheepherder story, by cripes!"
Andy looked at them much as he had stared up at the sky before he
began to swear--speechlessly, with a trembling of the muscles around his
mouth. He was quite white, considering how tanned he was, and his
forehead was shiny, with beads of perspiration standing thickly upon
"Weary, I wish you'd untie this rope. I can't." He spoke still in that
peculiar, husky tone, and, when the last words were out, his teeth went
together with a snap.
Weary glanced inquiringly across at the Native Son, who was regarding
Andy steadily, as one gazes upon a tangled rope, looking for the end
which will easiest lead to an untangling.
Miguel's brown eyes turned languidly to meet the look. "You'd better
untie him," he advised in his soft drawl. "He may not be in the habit of
doing it--but he's telling the truth."
"Untie me, Miguel," begged Andy, going over to him, "and let me at
"I'll do it," said Weary, and rose pacifically. "I kinda believe you
myself, Andy. But you can't blame the boys none; you've fooled 'em till
they're dead shy of anything they can't see through. And, besides, it
sure does look like a plant. I'd back you single-handed against a dozen
sheepherders like then two we've been chasing around. If I hadn't felt
that way I wouldn't have sent yuh out alone with 'em."
"Well, Andy needn't think he's goin' to stick me on that there story,"
Slim declared with brutal emphasis. "I've swallered too many baits, by
golly. He's figurin' on gettin' us all out on the war-path, runnin'
around in circles, so's't he can give us the laugh. I'll bet, by golly,
he paid then herders to tie him up like that. He can't fool me!"
"Say, Slim, I do believe your brains is commencin' to sprout!" Big
Medicine thumped him painfully upon the back by way of accenting the
compliment. "You got the idee, all right."
Andy stood quiet while Weary unwound the rope; lifted his numbed arms
with some difficulty, and displayed to the doubters his rope-creased
wrists, and purple, swollen hands.
"I couldn't fight a caterpiller right now," he said thickly. "Look at
them hands! Do yuh call that a josh? I've been tied up like a bed-roll
for five hours, you--" Well, never mind, he merely repeated a part of
what he had recited aloud in Antelope coulee, the only difference being
that he applied the vitriolic utterances to the Happy Family instead of
to sheepherders, and that with the second recitation he gained much in
fluency and dramatic delivery.
It is not nice for a man to swear; to swear the way Andy did, at any
rate. But the result perhaps atoned in a measure for the wickedness, in
that the Happy Family were absolutely convinced of his sincerity, and the
feelings of Andy greatly relieved, so that, when he had for the third
time that day completely exhausted his vocabulary, he sat down and began
to eat his dinner with a keen appetite.
"I don't suppose you know where your horse is at, by this tine," Weary
observed, as casually as possible, breaking a somewhat constrained
"I don't--and I don't give a darn," Andy snapped back. He ate a few
mouthfuls, and added less savagely: "He wasn't in sight, as I came along.
I didn't follow the trail; I struck straight across and came down the
coulee. He may be at the gate, and he may be down toward Rogers'."
Pink reached for a toothpick, eyeing Andy side-long; dimpled his
cheeks disarmingly, and cleared his throat. "Please don't kill me off
when you get that pie swallowed," he began pacifically. "Strange as it
may seem, I believe you, Andy. What I want to know is this: Who owns them
Dots? And what are they chasing all over the Flying U range for? It looks
plumb malicious, to me. Did you find out anything about 'en, Andy, while
you--er--while they--" His eyes twinkled and betrayed him for an arrant
pretender. (Pink was not afraid of anything on earth--least of all Andy
"I will kill yuh by inches, if I hear any remarks out of yuh that
ain't respectful," Andy promised, thawing to his normal tone, which was
pleasant to the ear. "I didn't find out much about 'em. The fellow I
licked told me that Whittaker and Oleson owned the sheep. He didn't
"Well--by--golly!" Shin thrust his head forward belligerently.
"Whittaker! Well, what d'yuh think uh that!" He glared from one face to
the other, his gaze at last resting upon Weary. "Say, do yuh reckon
Weary paid no heed to Slim. He leaned forward, his face turned to Andy
with that concentration of attention which means so much more than mere
exclamation. "You're sure he said Whittaker?" he asked.
His tone and his attitude arrested Andy's cup midway to his mouth.
"Sure--Whittaker and Oleson. I never heard of the outfit--who's this
Weary settled back in his place and smiled, but his eyes had quite
lost their habitually sunny expression.
"Up until four years ago," he explained evenly, "he was the Old Man's
partner. We caught him in some mighty dirty work, and--well, he sold out
to the Old Man. The old party with the hoofs and tail can't be everywhere
at once, the way I've got it sized up, so he turns some of his business
over to other folks. Dunk Whittaker's his top hand."
"Why, by golly, he framed up a job on the Gordon boys, and railroaded
'em to the pen, just--"
"Oh, that's the gazabo!" Andy's eyes shone with enlightenment. "I've
heard a lot about Dunk, but I didn't know his last name--"
"Say! I'll bet they're the outfit that bought out Denson. That's why
old Denson acted so queer, maybe. Selling to a sheep outfit would make
the old devil feel kinda uneasy, talking to us--" Pink's eyes were big
and purple with excitement. "And that train-load of sheep we saw Sunday,
I'll bet is the same identical outfit."
"Dunk Whittaker'd better not try to monkey with me, by golly!" Slim's
face was lowering. "And he'd better not monkey with the Flying U either.
I'd pump him so full uh holes he'd look like a colander, by golly!"
Weary got up and started to the door, his face suddenly grown
careworn. "Slim, you and Miguel better go and hunt up Andy's horse," he
said with a hint of abstraction in his tone, as though his mind was busy
with more important things. "Maybe Andy'll feel able to help you set
those posts, Bud--and you'd better go along the upper end of the little
pasture with the wire stretchers and tighten her up; the top wire is
pretty loose, I noticed this morning." His fingers fumbled with the
"Want me to do anything?" Pink asked quizzically just behind him. "I
thought sure we'd go and remonstrate with then gay--"
Weary interrupted him. "The herders can wait--and, anyway, I've kinda
got an idea Andy wants to hand out his own brand of poison to that bunch.
You and I will take a ride over to Denson's and see what's going on over
there. Mamma!" he added fervently, under his breath, "I sure do wish Chip
and the Old Man were here!"
Before he laid him down to sleep, that night, Weary had repeated to
himself many times and fervently that wish for old J. G. Whitmore and the
stout staff upon which he was beginning more and more to lean, his
brother-in-law, Chip Bennett. As matters stood, Weary could not even
bring himself to let then know anything about his trouble--and that the
thing was beginning to assume the form and shape and general malevolent
attributes of Trouble, Weary was forced to admit to himself.
Just at present an unthinking, unobserving person might pass over this
sheep outfit as a mere unsavory incident; but Weary was neither
unobserving nor unthinking--nor, for the matter of that, were the rest of
the Happy Family. It needed no Happy Jack, with his foreboding nature, to
point out the unpleasant possibilities that night when the committee of
two made their informal report at the supper table.
They had ridden to Denson coulee, which was in reality a meandering
branch of Flying U coulee itself. To reach it one rode out of Flying U
coulee and over a wide hill, and down again to Denson's. But the
creek--Flying U creek--followed the devious turnings from Denson coulee
down to the Flying U. A long mile of Flying U coulee J. G. Whitmore owned
outright. Another mile he held under no other title save a fence. The
creek flowed through it all--but that creek had its source somewhere up
near the head of Denson coulee. J. G. Whitmore had, to his regret, been
unable to claim the whole earth--or at least that portion of it--for his
own; so, when he was constrained to make a choice, he settled himself in
the wider, more fertile coulee, which he thereafter called the Flying U.
While it is good policy to locate as near as possible to the source of
those erratic little creeks which water certain garden spots of the
northern range land, it is also well to choose land that will grow plenty
of hay. J. G. Whitmore chose the hay land, and trusted that providence
would insure the water supply. Through all these years Flying U creek had
never once disappointed him. Denson, who settled in the tributary coulee,
had not made any difference in the water supply, and his stock had
consisted of thirty or forty head of cattle and horses.
When Denson sold, however, things might be different. And, if he had
sold to a sheepman, the change might be unpleasant If he had sold to Dunk
Whittaker--the Flying U boys faced that possibility just as they would
face any other disaster, undaunted, but grim and unsmiling.
It was thus that Pink and Weary rode slowly down into Denson coulee.
Two miles back they had passed the band of Dot sheep, feeding leisurely
just without the Flying U fence, which was the southern boundary. The
bug-killer and the other were there, and they noted that the features of
that other bore witness to the truth of Andy's story of the fight. He
regarded them with one perfectly good eye and one which was considerably
swollen, and grinned a swollen grin.
The two had ridden ten paces past him when Pink pulled up suddenly.
"I'm going to get off and lick that son-of-a-gun myself, just for luck,"
he stated dispassionately. "I'm going to lick 'em both," he revised while
"Oh, come on, Cadwalloper," Weary dissuaded. "You'll likely have all
the excitement you need, without that."
"Here, you hold this fool cayuse. No." He shook his head, cutting
short further protest. "You're the boss, and you don't want to mix in,
and that part is all right. But I ain't responsible--and I sure am going
to take a fall or two out of these geesers. They're a-w-l together too
stuck on themselves to suit me." Pink did not say that he was thinking of
Andy, but nevertheless a vivid recollection of that unfortunate young
man's rope-creased wrists and swollen hands sent him toward the herder
with long, eager strides.
Pink was not tall, and he was slight and boyish of build; also, his
cherubic face, topped by tawny curls and lighted by eyes as deeply blue
and as innocent as a baby's, probably deceived that herder, just as they
had deceived many another. For Pink was a good deal like a stick of
dynamite wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with blue ribbon; and
Weary was not at all uneasy over the outcome, as he watched Pink go
clanking back, though he loved him well.
Pink did not waste any time or words on the preliminaries. With a
delightful frankness of purpose he pulled off his coat and threw it on
the ground, as he came up, sent his hat after it, and arrived fist
The herder had waited grinning, and he had shouted something to Weary
about spanking the kid if Weary didn't make him behave. Speedily he
became a very surprised herder, and a distressed one as well.
"All right," Pink remarked, a little quick-breathed, when the herder
decided for the third time to get up. "A friend of mine worked yuh over a
little, this morning, and I just thought I'd make a better job than he
did. Your eyes didn't match. They will, now."
The herder mumbled maledictions after him, but Pink would not even
give him the satisfaction of resenting it.
"I'd like to have broken a knuckle against his teeth, darn him," he
observed ruefully when he was in the saddle again. "Come on, Weary. It
won't take but a minute to hand a punch or two to that bug-killer, and
then I'll feel better. They've both got it coming--come on!" This because
Weary showed a strong inclination to take the trail and keep it to his
destination. "Well, I'll go alone, then. I've got to kinda square myself
for the way I threw it into Andy; and you know blamed well, Weary, they
played it low-down on him, or they'd never have got that rope on him. And
I'm going to lick that--"
"Mamma! You sure are a rambunctious person when you feel that way,"
Weary made querulous comment; but he rode over with Pink to where the
bug-killer was standing with his long stick held in a somewhat menacing
manner, and once more he held Pink's horse for him.
Pink was gone longer this time, and he came back with a cut lip and a
large lump on his forehead; the bug-killer had thrown a small rock with
the precision which comes of much practice--such as stoning disobedient
dogs, and the like--and, when Pink rushed at him furiously, the herder
caught him very neatly alongside the head with his stick. These little
amenities serving merely to whet Pink's appetite for battle, he stopped
long enough to thrash that particular herder very thoroughly and to his
own complete satisfaction.
"Well, I guess I'm ready to go on now," he observed, dimpling rather
one-sidedly as he got back on his horse.
"I thought maybe you'd want to whip the dogs, too," Weary told him
dryly; which was the nearest he came to expressing any disapproval of the
incident. Weary was a peace-loving soul, whenever peace was compatible
with self-respect; and it would never have occurred to him to punish
strange men as summarily as Pink had done.
"I would, if the dogs were half as ornery as the men," Pink retorted.
"Say, they hang together like bull snakes and rattlers, don't they? If
they was human, they'd have helped each other out--but nothing doing! Do
you reckon a man could ride up to a couple of our bunch, and thrash one
at a time without the other fellow having something to say about it?" He
turned in the saddle and looked back. "So help me, Josephine, I've got a
good mind to go back and lick them again, for not hanging together like
they ought to." But the threat was an idle one, and they went on to
Denson's, Weary still with that anxious look in his eyes, and Pink quite
complacent over his exploit.
In Denson coulee was an unwonted atmosphere of activity; heretofore
the place had been animated chiefly by young Densons engaged in the
pursuit of pleasure, but now a covered buggy, evidently just arrived,
bore mute witness to the new order of things. There were more horses
about the place, a covered wagon or two, three or four men working upon
the corral, and, lastly, there was one whom Weary recognized the moment
he caught sight of him.
"Looks like a sheep outfit, all right," he said somberly. "And, if
that ain't old Dunk himself, it's the devil, and that's next thing to
Dunk, they judged, had just arrived with another man whom they did not
know: a tall man with light hair that hung lank to his collar, a thin,
sharp-nosed face and a wide mouth, which stretched easily into a smile,
but which was none the pleasanter for that. When he turned inquiringly
toward them they saw that he was stoop-shouldered; though not from any
deformity, but from sheer, slouching lankness. Dunk gave them a swift,
sour look from under his eyebrows and went on.
Weary rode straight past the lank man, whom he judged to be Oleson,
and overtook Dunk Whittaker himself.
"Hello, Dunk," he said cheerfully, sliding over in the saddle so that
a foot hung free of the stirrup, as men who ride much have learned to do
when they stop for a chat, thereby resting while they may. "Back on the
old stamping ground, are you?"
"Since you see me here, I suppose I am," Dunk made churlish
"Do you happen to own those Dot sheep, back there on the hill?" Weary
tilted his head toward home.
"I happen to own half of them." By then they had reached the gate and
Dunk passed through and started on to the house.
"Oh, don't be in a rush--come on back and be sociable," Weary called
out, in the mildest of tones, twisting the reins around his saddle-horn
so that he might roll a cigarette at ease.
Dunk remembered, perhaps, certain things he had learned when he was J.
G. Whitmore's partner, and had more or less to do with the charter
members of the Happy Family. He came back and stood by the gate,
ungraciously enough, to be sure; still, he came back. Weary smiled under
cover of lighting his cigarette. Dunk, by that reluctant compliance,
betrayed something which Weary had been rather anxious to know.
"We've been having a little trouble with those sheep of yours," Weary
remarked between puffs. "You've got some poor excuses for humans herding
them. They drove the bunch across our coulee just exactly three times.
There ain't enough grass left in our lower field to graze a prairie dog."
He glanced back to see where Pink was, saw that he was close behind, as
was the lank man, and spoke in a tone that included them all.
"The Flying U ain't pasturing sheep, this spring," he informed them
pleasantly. "But, seeing the grass is eat up, we'll let yuh pay for it.
Why didn't you bring them in along the trail, anyway?"
"I didn't bring them in. I just came down from Butte to-day. I suppose
the herders brought them out where the feed was best; they did if they're
worth their wages."
"They happened to strike some feed that was pretty expensive. And," he
smiled down at Whittaker misleadingly, "you ought to keep an eye on those
herders, or they might let you in for another grass bill. The Flying U
has got quite a lot of range, right around here, you recollect. And we've
got plenty of cattle to eat it. We don't need any help to keep the grass
down so we can ride through it."
"Now, look here," began the lank man with that sort of persuasiveness
which can turn instantly into bluster, "all this is pure foolishness, you
know. We're here to stay. We've bought this place, and some other land to
go with it, and we expect to stay right here and make a living. It
happens that we expect to make a living off of sheep. Now, we don't want
to start in by quarreling with our neighbors, and we don't want our
neighbors to start any quarrel with us. All we want--"
"Mamma! You're taking a fine way to make us love yuh," Weary cut in
ironically. "I know what you want. You want the same as every other meek
and lovely sheepman wants. You want it all-- core, seeds and peeling.
Dunk," he said with a more impatient disgust than he was in the habit of
showing for his fellowmen, "this man's a stranger; but I should think
you'd know better than to come in here with sheep."
"I don't know why a sheep outfit isn't exactly as good as a cow
outfit, and I don't know why they haven't as much right here. You're
welcome to what land you own, but it always seemed to me that public land
is open to the use of the public. Now, as Oleson says, we expect to raise
sheep here, and we expect your outfit to leave us alone. As far as our
sheep crossing your coulee is concerned--I don't know that they did. But,
if they did, and, if they did any damage, let J. G. do the talking about
that. I deal with the owners--not with the hired men."
Weary, you must understand, was never a bellicose young man. But, for
all that, he leaned over and gave Dunk a slap on the jaw which must have
stung considerably--and the full reason for his violence lay four years
behind the two, when Dunk was part owner of the Flying U, and when his
sneering arrogance had been very hard to endure.
"Are you going to swallow that--from a hired man?" Weary inquired,
after a minute during which nothing whatever occurred beyond the slow
reddening of Dunk's face.
"I'm not going to fight, if that's what you mean,," Dunk sneered. "I
decline to bring myself down to your level. One doesn't expect anything
from a jackass but a bray, you know--and one doesn't feel compelled to
bray because the jackass does." He smiled that supercilious smile which
Weary had hated of old, and which, he knew, was well used to covering
much treachery and small meannesses of various sorts.
"As I said, if the Flying U has any claim against us, let the owner
present it in the usual way. Dunk drew down his black brows, lifted a
corner of his lip and turned his back deliberately upon them.
Oleson let himself through the gate, which he closed somewhat hastily
behind him. "I'm sorry you fellows seem to want to make trouble," he
said, without looking up from the latch, which seemed somewhat out of
repair, like the rest of the Denson property. "That's a poor way to start
in with new neighbors." He lifted his hat with what Pink considered
insulting politeness, and followed Dunk into the house.
Weary waited there until they had gone in and closed the door, then
turned and rode back home again, frowning thoughtfully at the trail ahead
of them all the way, and making no reply to Pink's importunings for
"I'd hate to say you've lost your nerve, Weary," Pink cried at last,
in sheer desperation. "But why the devil didn't you get down and thump
the daylights out of that black son-of-a-gun? I came pretty near walking
into him myself, only I hate to butt into another fellow's scrap. But, if
I'd known you were going to set there and let him walk off with that
sneer on his face--"
"I can't fight a man that won't hit back," Weary protested. "You
couldn't either, Cadwalloper. You'd have done just what I did; you'd have
let him go."
"He will hit back, all right enough," Pink retorted passionately.
"He'll do it when you ain't looking, though. He--"
"I know it," Weary sighed. "I'm kinda sorry, now, I slapped him. He'll
hit back--but he won't hit me; he'll aim at the outfit. If the Old Man
was here, or Chip, I'd feel a whole lot easier in my mind."
"They couldn't do anything you can't do," Pink assured him loyally,
forgetting his petulance when he saw the careworn look in Weary's face.
"All they can do is gobble all the range around here--and I guess there's
a few of us that will have a word or two to say about that."
"What makes me sore," Weary confided, "is knowing that Dunk isn't
thinking altogether of the dollar end of it. He's tickled to death to get
a whack at the outfit. And I hate to see him get away with it; but I
guess we'll have to stand for it."
That sentiment did not please Pink; nor, when Weary repeated it later
that evening in the bunk-house, did it please the Happy Family. The less
pleasing it was because it was perfectly true and every man of them knew
it. Beyond keeping the sheep off Flying U land, there was nothing they
could do without stepping over the line into lawlessness--and, while they
were not in any sense a meek Happy Family, they were far more law-abiding
than their conversation that night made them appear.
The next week was a time of harassment for the Flying U; a week filled
to overflowing with petty irritations, traceable, directly or indirectly,
to their new neighbors, the Dot sheepmen. The band in charge of the
bug-chaser and that other unlovable man from Wyoming fed just as close to
the Flying U boundary as their guardians dared let them feed; a great
deal closer than was good for the tempers of the Happy Family, who rode
fretfully here and there upon their own business and at the same time
tried to keep an eye upon their unsavory neighbors--a proceeding as
nerve-racking as it was futile.
The Native Son, riding home in jingling haste from Dry Lake, whither
he had hurried one afternoon in the hope of cheering news from Chicago,
reported another trainload of Dots on the wide level beyond Antelope
coulee. There were, he said, four men in charge of the band, and he
believed they carried guns, though he was not positive of that. They were
moving slowly, and he thought they would not attempt to cross Flying U
coulee before the next day; though, from the course they were taking, he
was sure they meant to cross.
Coupled with that bit of ill-tidings, the brief note from Chip, saying
very little about the Old Man, but implying a good deal by its very
omissions, would have been enough to send the Happy Family to sleepless
beds that night if they had been the kind to endure with silent fortitude
"If you fellers would back me up," brooded Big Medicine down by the
corral after supper, "I'd see to it them sheep never gits across the
coulee, by cripes! I'd send 'em so far the other way they'd git plumb
turned around and forgit they ever wanted to go south."
"It's all Dunk's devilishness," Jack Bates declared. "He could take
them in the other way, even if the feed ain't so good along the trail.
It's most all prairie-dog towns--but that's good enough for sheep." Jack,
in his intense partisanship, spoke as if sheep were not entitled to
decent grass at any time or under any circumstances.
"Them herders packin' guns looks to me like they're goin' to make
trouble if they kin," gloomed Happy Jack. "I betche they'll kill somebody
before they're through. When sheepmen gits mean--"
Pink picked up his rope and started for the large corral, where a few
saddle horses had been driven in just before supper and had not yet been
"You fellows can stand around and chew the rag, if you want to," he
said caustically, "and wait for Weary to make a war-talk. But I'm going
to keep cases on them Dots, if I have to stand an all-night guard on 'em.
I don't blame Weary; he's looking out for the law-and-order business--and
that's all right. But I'm not in charge of the outfit. I'm going to do as
I darn please, and, if they don't like my style, they can give me my
"Good for you, Little One!" Big Medicine hurried to overtake him so
that he might slap him on the shoulder with his favorite, sledge-hammer
method of signifying his approval of a man's sentiments. "Honest to
grandma, I was just b'ginnin' to think this bunch was gitting all
streaked up with yeller. 'Course, we ain't goin' to wait for no official
orders, by cripes! I'd ruther lock Weary up in the blacksmith shop than
let him tell us to go ahead. Go awn and tell him a good, stiff lie,
Andy--just to keep him interested while us fellers make a gitaway. He
ain't in on this; we don't want him in on it."
"What yuh goin' to do?" Happy Jack inquired suspiciously. "Yuh can't
go and monkey with them sheep, er them herders. They ain't on our land.
And, if you don't git killed, old Dunk'll fix yuh like he fixed the
Gordon boys--I know him--to a fare-you-well. It'd tickle him to death to
git something on us fellers. I betche that's what he's aiming t'do. Git
us to fightin' his outfit so's't--"
"Oh, go off and lie down!" Andy implored him contemptuously. "We're
going to hang those herders, and drive the sheep all over a cut-back
somewhere, like Jesus done to the hogs, and then we're going over and
murder old Dunk, if he's at home, and burn the house to hide the guilty
deed. And, if the sheriff comes snooping around, asking disagreeable
questions, we'll all swear you done it. So now you know our plans; shut
your face and go on to bed. And be sure," he added witheringly, "you pull
the soogans over your head, so you won't hear the dying shriek of our
victims. We're liable to get kinda excited and torture 'em a while before
we kill 'em."
"Aw, gwan!" gulped Happy Jack mechanically. "You make me sick! If yuh
think I'm goin' to swaller all that, you're away off! You wouldn't dast
do nothing of the kind; and, if yuh did, you'd sure have a sweet time
layin' it onto me!"
"Oh, I don't know," drawled the Native Son, with a slow, velvet-eyed
glance, "any jury in the country would hang you on your looks, Happy. I
knew a man down in the lower part of California, who was arrested, tried
and hanged for murder. And all the evidence there was against him was the
fact that he was seen within five miles of the place on the same day the
murder was committed; and his face. They had an expert physiognomist
there, and he swore that the fellow had the face of a murderer; the poor
devil looked like a criminal--and, though he had one of the best lawyers
on the Coast, it was adios for him."
"I s'pose you mean I got the face of a criminal!" sputtered Happy
Jack. "It ain't always the purty fellers that wins out-- like you 'n'
Pink. I never seen the purty man yit that was worth the powder it'd take
to blow him up! Aw, you fellers make me sick!" He went off, muttering his
opinion of them all, and particularly of the Native Son, who smiled while
he listened. "You go awn and start something--and you'll wisht you
hadn't," they heard him croak from the big gate, and chuckled over his
As a matter of fact, the Happy Family, as a whole, or as individuals,
had no intention of committing any great violence that evening. Pink
wanted to see just where this new band of sheep was spending the night,
and to find out, if possible, what were the herders' intentions. Since
the boys were all restless under their worry, and, since there is a
contagious element in seeking a trouble-zone, none save Happy Jack, who
was "sore" at them, and Weary stayed behind in the coulee with old Patsy
while the others rode away up the grade and out toward Antelope coulee
They meant only to reconnoiter, and to warn the herders against
attempting to cross Flying U coulee; though they were not exactly sure
that they would be perfectly polite, or that they would confine
themselves rigidly to the language they were wont to employ at dances.
Andy Green, in particular, seemed rather to look forward with pleasure to
the meeting. Andy, by the way, had remained heartbrokenly passive during
that whole week, because Weary had extracted from him a promise which
Andy, mendacious though he had the name of being, felt constrained to
keep intact. Though of a truth it irked him much to think of two
sheepherders walking abroad unpunished for their outrage upon his
Weary, as he had made plain to them all, wanted to avoid trouble if it
were possible to do so. And, though they grinned together in secret over
his own affair with Dunk--which was not, in their opinion, exactly
pacific--they meant to respect his wishes as far as human nature was able
to do so. So that the Happy Family, galloping toward the red sunset and
the great, gray blot on the prairie, just where the glory of the west
tinged the grass blades with red, were not one-half as blood-thirsty as
they had proclaimed themselves to be.
While they were yet afar off they could see two men walking slowly in
the immediate vicinity of the huddled band. A hundred yards away was a
small tent, with a couple of horses picketed near by and feeding
placidly. The men turned, gazed long at their approach, and walked to the
tent, which they entered somewhat hastily.
"Look at 'em dodge outa sight, will you!" cried Cal Emmett, and lifted
up his voice in the yell which sometimes announced the Happy Family's
arrival in Dry Lake after a long, thirsty absence on roundup. Other
voices joined in after that first, shrill "Ow-ow-ow-eee!" of Cal's; so
that presently the whole lot of them were emitting nerve-crimping yells
and spurring their horses into a thunder of hoofbeats, as they bore down
upon the tent. Between howls they laughed, picturing to themselves four
terrified sheepherders cowering within those frail, canvas walls.
"I'm a rambler, and a gambler, and far from my ho-o-me, And if yuh
don't like me, jest leave me alo-o-ne!" chanted Big Medicine most
horribly, and finished with a yell that almost scared himself and set his
horse to plunging wildly.
"Come out of there, you lop-eared mutton-chewers, and let us pick the
wool outa your teeth!" shouted Andy Green, telling himself hastily that
this was not breaking his promise to Weary, and yielding to the
temptation of coming as close to the guilty persons as he might; for,
while these were not the men who had tied him and left him alone on the
prairie, they belonged to the same outfit, and there was some comfort in
giving them a few disagreeable minutes.
Pink, in the lead, was turning to ride around the tent, still yelling,
when someone within the tent fired a rifle--and did not aim as high as he
should. The bullet zipped close over the head of Big Medicine, who
happened to be opposite the crack between the tent-flaps. The hand of Big
Medicine jerked back to his hip; but, quick as he was, the Native Son
plunged between him and the tent before he could take aim.
"Steady, amigo," smiled Miguel. "You aren't a crazy sheepherder."
"No, but I'm goin' to kill off one. Git outa my way!" Big Medicine was
transformed into a cold-eyed, iron-jawed fighting machine. He dug the
spurs in, meaning to ride ahead of Miguel. But Miguel's spurs also
pressed home, so that the two horses plunged as one. Big Medicine,
bellowing one solitary oath, drew his right leg from the stirrup to
dismount. Miguel reached out, caught him by the arm, and held him to the
saddle. And, though Big Medicine was a strong man, the grip held firm and
"You must think of the outfit, you know," said Miguel, smiling still.
"There must be no shooting. Once that begins--" He shrugged his shoulders
with that slight, eloquent movement, which the Happy Family had come to
know so well. He was speaking to them all, as they crowded up to the
scuffle. "The man who feels the trigger-itch had better throw his gun
away," he advised coolly. "I know, boys. I've seen these things start
before. All hell can't stop you, once you begin to shoot. Put it up, Bud,
or give it to me."
"The man don't live that can shoot at me, by cripes, and git away with
it. Not if he misses killin' me!" Big Medicine was shaking with rage; but
the Native Son saw that he hesitated, nevertheless, and laughed
"Call him out and give him a thumping. That's good enough for a
sheepherder," he suggested as a substitute.
Perhaps because the Native Son so seldom offered advice, and, because
of his cool courage in interfering with Big Medicine at such a time,
Bud's jaw relaxed and his pale eyes became more human in their
expression. He even permitted Miguel to remove the big, wicked Colt from
his hand, and slide it into his own pocket; whereat the Happy Family
gasped with astonishment. Not even Pink would have dreamed of attempting
such a thing.
"Well he's got to come out and take a lickin', anyway," shouted Big
Medicine vengefully, and rode close enough to slap the canvas smartly
with his quirt. By all the gods he knew by name he called upon the
offender to come forth, while the others drew up in a rude half-circle to
await developments. Heavy silence was the reply he got. It was as though
the men within were sitting tense and watchful, like cougars crouched for
a spring, with claws unsheathed and muscles quivering.
"You better come out," called Andy sharply, after they had waited a
decent interval. "We didn't come here hunting trouble; we want to know
where you're headed for with these sheep. The fellow that cut loose with
"Aw, don't talk so purty! I'm gitting almighty tired, just setting
here lettin' m' legs hang down. Git your ropes, boys!" With one sweeping
gesture of his arm Big Medicine made plain his meaning as he rode a few
paces away, his fingers fumbling with the string that held his rope. "I'm
goin' to have a look at 'em, anyway," he grinned. "I sure do hate to see
men act so bashful."
With his rope free and ready for action, Big Medicine shook the loop
out, glanced around, and saw that Andy, Pink and Cal Emmett were also
ready, and, with a dexterous flip, settled the noose neatly over the iron
pin that thrust up through the end of the ridge-pole in front. Andy's
loop sank neatly over it a second later, and the two wheeled and dashed
away together, with Pink and Irish duplicating their performance at the
other end of the tent. The dingy, smoke-stained canvas swayed, toppled,
as the pegs gave way, and finally lay flat upon the prairie fifty feet
from where it had stood, leaving the inmates exposed to the cruel stare
of eight unfriendly cowpunchers. Four cowering figures they were, with
guns in their hands that shook.
"Drop them guns!" thundered Big Medicine, flipping his rope loose and
recoiling it mechanically as he plunged up to the group.
One man obeyed. One gave a squawk of terror and permitted his gun to
go off at random before he fled toward the coulee. The other two crouched
behind their bed-rolls, set their jaws doggedly and glared defiance.
Pink, Andy, Irish, Big Medicine and the Native Son slid off their
horses and made a rush at them. A rifle barked viciously, and Slim,
sitting prudently on his horse well in the rear, gave a yell and started
for home at a rapid pace.
Considering the provocation the Happy Family behaved with quite
praiseworthy self-control and leniency. They did not lynch those two
herders. They did not kill them, either by bullets, knives, or beating to
death. They took away the guns, however, and they told them with extreme
bluntness what sort of men they believed them to be. They defined
accurately their position in society at large, in that neighborhood, and
stated what would be their future fate if they persisted in acting with
so little caution and common sense.
At Andy Green's earnest behest they also wound them round and round
with ropes, before they departed, and gave them some very good advice
upon the matter of range rules and the herding of sheep, particularly of
"You're playing big luck, if you only had sense enough to know it,"
Andy pointed out to the recumbent three before they rode away. "We didn't
come over here on the warpath, and, if you hadn't got in such a darned
hurry to start something, you'd be a whole lot more comfortable right
now. We rode over to tell yuh not to start them sheep across Flying U
coulee; because, if you do, you're going to have both hands and your hats
plumb full uh trouble. It has taken some little time and fussing to get
yuh gentled down so we can talk to you, and I sure do hope yuh remember
what I'm saying."
"Oh, we'll remember it, all right!" menaced one of the men, lifting
his head turtlewise that he might glare at the group. "And our bosses'll
remember it; you needn't worry about that none. You wait till--"
The next man to him turned his head and muttered a sentence, and the
speaker dropped his head back upon the ground, silenced.
"It was your own outfit started this style of rope trimming, so you
can't kick about that part of the deal," Pink informed them melodiously.
"It's liable to get to be all the rage with us. So, if you don't like it,
don't come around where we are. And say!" His dimples stood deep in his
cheeks. "You send those ropes home to-morrow, will yuh? We're liable to
"by cripes!" Big Medicine bawled. "What say we haze them sheep a few
miles north, boys?"
"Oh, I guess they'll be all right where they are," Andy protested, his
thirst for revenge assuaged at sight of those three trussed as he had
been trussed, and apparently not liking it any better than he had liked
it. "They'll be good and careful not to come around the Flying U--or I
miss my guess a mile."
The others cast comprehensive glances at their immediate surroundings,
and decided that they had at least made their meaning plain; there was no
occasion for emphasizing their disapproval any further. They confiscated
the rifles, and they told the fellows why they did so. They very kindly
pulled a tarpaulin over the three to protect them in a measure from the
chill night that was close upon them, and they wished them good night and
pleasant dreams, and rode away home.
On the way they met Weary and Happy Jack, galloping anxiously to the
battle scene. Slim, it appeared from Weary's rapid explanation, had
arrived at the ranch with his horse in a lather and with a four-inch
furrow in the fleshiest part of his leg, where a bullet had flicked him
in passing. The tale he told had led Weary to believe that Slim was the
sole survivor of that reckless company.
"Mamma! I'm so glad to see you boys able to fork your horses and swear
natural, that I don't believe I can speak my little piece about staying
on your own side the fence and letting trouble do some of the hunting,"
he exclaimed thankfully. "I wish you'd stayed at home and left these
blamed Dots alone. But, seeing yuh didn't, I'm tickled to death to hear
you didn't kill anybody off. I don't want the folks to come home and find
the whole bunch in the pen. It might look as if--"
"You don't want the folks to come home and find the whole ranch
sheeped off, either, and the herders camping up in the white house, do
yuh?" Pink inquired pointedly. "I kinda think," he added dryly, "those
same herders will feel like going away around Flying U fences with their
sheep. I don't believe they'll do any cutting across."
"I betche old Dunk'll make it interestin' fer this outfit, just the
same," Happy Jack predicted. "Tyin' up three men uh hisn, like that, and
ropin' their tent and draggin' it off, ain't things he'll pass up. He'll
have a possy out here--you see if he don't!"
"In that case, I'll be sorry for you, Happy," purred Miguel close
beside him. "You're the only one in the outfit that looks capable of such
a vile deed."
"Oh, Dunk won't do anything," Weary said cheerfully. "You'll have to
take those guns back, though. They might take a notion to call that
"You forget," the Native Son reminded calmly, "that we left them three
good ropes in exchange."
Whereupon the Happy Family laughed and went to offer their unsought
sympathy to Slim.
The boys of the Flying U had many faults in common, aside from certain
individual frailties; one of their chief weaknesses was over-confidence
in their own ability to cope with any situation which might arise,
unexpectedly or otherwise, and a belief that others felt that same
confidence in them, and that enemies were wont to sit a long time
counting the cost before venturing to offer too great an affront. Also
they believed--and made it manifest in their conversation--that they
could even bring the Old Man back to health if they only had him on the
ranch where they could get at him. They maligned the hospitals and
Chicago doctors most unjustly, and were agreed that all he needed was to
be back on the ranch where somebody could look after him right. They
asserted that, if they ever got tired of living and wanted to cash in
without using a gun or anything, they'd go to a hospital and tell the
doctors to turn loose and try to cure them of something.
This by way of illustration; also as an explanation of their sleeping
soundly that night, instead of watching for some hostile demonstration on
the part of the Dot outfit. To a man--one never counted Happy Jack's
prophecies of disaster as being anything more than a personal deformity
of thought--they were positive in their belief that the Dot sheepherders
would be very, very careful not to provoke the Happy Family to further
manifestations of disapproval. They knew what they'd get, if they tried
any more funny business, and they'd be mighty careful where they drove
their sheep after this.
So, with the comfortable glow of victory in their souls, they laid
them down, and, when the animated discussion of that night's adventure
flagged, as their tongues grew sleep-clogged and their eyelids drooped,
they slept in peace; save when Slim, awakened by the soreness of his leg,
grunted a malediction or two before he began snoring again.
They rose and ate their breakfast in a fair humor with the world. One
grows accustomed to the thought of sickness, even when it strikes close
to the affections, and, with the resilience of youth and hope, life
adjusts itself to make room for the specter of fear, so that it does not
crowd unduly, but stands half-forgotten in the background of one's
thoughts. For that reason they no longer spoke soberly because of the Old
Man lying hurt unto death in Chicago. And, when they mentioned the Dot
sheep and men, they spoke as men speak of the vanquished.
With the taste of hot biscuits and maple syrup still lingering
pleasantly against their palates, they went out and were confronted with
sheep, blatting sheep, stinking sheep, devastating sheep, Dot sheep. On
the south side of the coulee, up on the bluff, grazed the band. They fed
upon the brow of the hill opposite the ranch buildings; they squeezed
under the fence and spilled a ragged fringe of running, gray animals down
the slope. Half a mile away though the nearest of them were, the murmur
of them, the smell of them, the whole intolerable presence of them,
filled the Happy Family with an amazed loathing too deep for words.
Technically, that high, level stretch of land bounding Flying U coulee
on the south was open range. It belonged to the government. The soil was
not fertile enough even for the most optimistic of "dry land" farmers to
locate upon it; and this was before the dry-land farming craze had swept
the country, gathering in all public land as claims. J. G. Whitmore had
contented himself with acquiring title to the whole of the Flying U
coulee, secure in his belief that the old order of things would not
change, in his life-time, at least, and that the unwritten law of the
range land, which leaves the vicinity of a ranch to the use of the ranch
owner, would never be repealed by new customs imposed by a new class of
Legally, there was no trespassing of the Dots, beyond the two or three
hundred which had made their way through the fence. Morally, however, and
by right of custom, their offense would not be much greater if they came
on down the hill and invaded the Old Man's pet meadows, just beyond the
Ladies may read this story, so I am not going to pretend to repeat the
things they said, once they were released from dumb amazement. I should
be compelled to improvise and substitute-- which would remove much of the
flavor. Let bare facts suffice, at present.
They saddled in haste, and in haste they rode to the scene. This, they
were convinced, was the band herded by the bug-killer and the man from
Wyoming; and the nerve of those two almost excited the admiration of the
Happy Family. It did not, however, deter them from their purpose.
Weary, to look at him, was no longer in the mood to preach patience
and a turning of the other cheek. He also made that change of heart
manifest in his speech when Pink, his eyes almost black, rode up close
and gritted at him:
"Well, what's the orders now? Want me to go back and get the wire
nippers so we can let them poor little sheep down into the meadow? Maybe
we better ask the herders down to have some of Patsy's grub, too; I don't
believe they had time to cook much breakfast. And it wouldn't be a bad
idea to haze our own stuff clear off the range. I'm afraid Dunk's sheep
are going to fare kinda slim, if we go on letting our cattle eat all the
good grass!" Pink did not often indulge in such lengthy sarcasm,
especially toward his beloved Weary; but his exasperation toward Weary's
mild tactics had been growing apace.
Weary's reply, I fear, will have to be omitted. It was terribly
"I want you boys to spread out, around the whole bunch," was his first
printable utterance, "and haze these sheep just as far south as they can
get without taking to the river. Don't get all het up chasing 'em
yourself--make the men (Weary did not call them men; he called them
something very naughty) that's paid for it do the driving."
"And, if they don't go," drawled the smooth voice of the Native Son,
"what shall we do, amigo? Slap them on the wrist?"
Weary twisted in the saddle and sent him a baleful glance, which was
not at all like Weary the sunny-hearted.
"If you can't figure that out for yourself," he snapped, "you had
better go back and wipe the dishes for Patsy; and, when that's done, you
can pull the weeds out of his radishes. Maybe he'll give you a nickel to
buy candy with, if you do it good." Before he faced to the front again
his harsh glance swept the faces of his companions.
They were grinning, every man of them, and he knew why. To see him
lose his temper was something of an event with the Happy Family, who used
sometimes to fix the date of an incident by saying, "It was right after
that time Weary got mad, a year ago last fall," or something of the sort.
He grinned himself, shamefacedly, and told them that they were a bunch of
no-account cusses, anyway, and he'd just about as soon herd sheep himself
as to have to run with such an outfit; which swept his anger from him and
left him his usual self, with but the addition of a purpose from which
nothing could stay him. He was going to settle the sheep question, and he
was going to settle it that day.
Only one injunction did he lay upon the Happy Family. "You fellows
don't want to get excited and go to shooting," he warned, while they were
still out of hearing of the herders. "We don't want Dunk to get anything
like that on us; savvy?"
They "savvied," and they told him so, each after his own individual
"I guess we ought to be able to put the run on a couple of
sheepherders, without wasting any powder," Pink said loftily, remembering
his meeting with them a few days before.
"One thing sure--we'll make a good job of it this time," promised
Irish, and spurred after Weary, who was leading the way around the
The herders watched them openly and with the manner of men who are
expecting the worst to happen. Unlike the four whose camp had been laid
low the night before, these two were unarmed, as they had been from the
first; which, in Weary's opinion, was a bit of guile upon the part of
Dunk. If trouble came--trouble which it would take a jury to settle--the
fact that the sheepmen were unarmed would tell heavily in their favor;
for, while the petty meanness of range-stealing and nagging trespass may
be harder to bear than the flourishing of a gun before one's face, it all
sounds harmless enough in the telling.
Weary headed straight for the nearest herder, told him to put his dogs
to work rounding up the sheep, which were scattered over an area half a
mile across while they fed, and, when the herder, who was the bug-killer,
made no move to obey, Weary deliberately pulled his gun and pointed at
"You move," he directed with grim intent, "and don't take too much
time about it, either."
The bug-killer, an unkempt, ungainly figure, standing with his back to
the morning sun, scowled up at Weary stolidly.
"Yuh dassent shoot," he stated sourly, and did not move.
For answer, Weary pulled back the hammer; also he smiled as
malignantly as it was in his nature to do, and hoped in his heart that he
looked sufficiently terrifying to convince the man. So they faced each
other in a silent clash of wills.
Big Medicine had not been saying much on the way over, which was
unusual. Now he rode forward until he was abreast of Weary, and he
grinned down at the bug-killer in a way to distract his attention from
"Nobody don't have to shoot, by cripes!" he bawled. "We hain't goin'
to kill yuh. We'll make yuh wisht, by cripes, we had, though, b'fore we
git through. Git to work, boys, 'n' gether up some dry grass an' sticks.
Over there in them rose-bushes you oughta find enough bresh. We'll give
him a taste uh what we was talkin' about comm' over, by cripes! I guess
he'll be willin' to drive sheep, all right, when we git through with him.
Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" He leaned forward in the saddle and ogled the
bug-killer with horrid significance.
"Git busy with that bresh!" he yelled authoritatively, when a glance
showed him that the Happy Family was hesitating and eyeing him
uncertainly. "Git a fire goin' quick's yuh kin--I'll do the rest. Down in
Coconino county we used to have a way uh fixin' sheepherders--"
"Aw, gwan! We don't want no torture business!" remonstrated Happy Jack
uneasily, edging away.
"Yuh don't, hey?" Big Medicine turned in the saddle wrathfully and
glared. When he had succeeded in catching Andy Green's eye he winked, and
that young man's face kindled understandingly. "Well, now, you hain't
runnin' this here show. Honest to grandma, I've saw the time when a
little foot-warmin' done a sheepherder a whole lot uh good; and, it looks
to me, by cripes, as if this here feller needed a dose to gentle him
down. You git the fire started. That's all I want you t' do, Happy. Some
uh you boys help me rope him--like him and that other jasper over there
done to Andy. C'me on, Andy--it ain't goin' to take long!"
"You bet your sweet life I'll come on!" exclaimed Andy, dismounting
eagerly. "Let me take your rope, Weary. Too bad we haven't got a branding
"Aw, we don't need no irons." Big Medicine was also on the ground by
then, and untying his rope. "Lemme git his shoes off once, and I'll show
The bug-killer lifted his stick, snarling like a mongrel dog when a
stranger tries to drive it out of the house; hurled the stick
hysterically, as Big Medicine, rope in hand, advanced implacably, and,
with a squawk of horror, turned suddenly and ran. After him, bellowing
terribly, lunged Big Medicine, straight through the band like a snowplow,
leaving behind them a wide, open trail.
"Say, we kinda overplayed that bet, by gracious," Andy commented to
Weary, while he watched the chase. "That gazabo's scared silly; let's try
the other one. That torture talk works fine."
In his enthusiasm Andy remounted and was about to lead the way to the
other herder when Big Medicine returned puffing, the bug-killer squirming
in his grasp. "Tell him what yuh want him to do, Weary," he panted, with
some difficulty holding his limp victim upright by a greasy coat-collar.
"And if he don't fall over himself doin' it, why--by cripes--we'll take
off his shoes!"
Whereupon the bug-killer gave another howl and professed himself eager
to drive the sheep--well, what he said was that he would drive them to
that place which ladies dislike to hear mentioned, if the Happy Family
wanted him to.
"That's all right, then. Start 'em south, and don't quit till somebody
tells you to." Weary carefully let down the hammer of his six-shooter and
shoved it thankfully into his scabbard.
"Now, you don't want to pile it on quite so thick, next time," Irish
admonished Big Medicine, when they turned away from watching the
bug-killer set his dogs to work by gestures and a shouted word or two.
"You like to have sent this one plumb nutty."
"I betche Bud gets us all pinched for that," grumbled Happy Jack.
"Torturing folks is purty darned serious business. You might as well
shoot 'em up decent and be done with it."
"Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" Big Medicine ogled the group mirthfully. "Nobody
can't swear I done a thing, or said a thing. All I said definite was that
I'd take off his shoes. Any jury in the country'd know that would be hull
lot worse fer us than it would fer him, by cripes. Haw-haw-haw-w-w!"
"Say, that's right; yuh didn't say nothin', ner do nothin'. By golly,
that was purty slick work, all right!" Slim forgot his sore leg until he
clapped his hand enthusiastically down upon the place as comprehension of
Bud's finesse dawned upon him. He yelped, and the Happy Family laughed
"You want to be careful and don't try to see through any jokes, Slim,
till that leg uh yours gets well," Irish bantered, and they laughed the
All this was mere byplay; a momentary swinging of their mood to
pleasantry, because they were a temperamentally cheerful lot, and
laughter came to them easily, as it always does to youth and perfect
mental and physical health. Their brief hilarity over Slim's misfortune
did not swerve them from their purpose, nor soften the mood of them
toward their adversaries. They were unsmiling and unfriendly when they
reached the man from Wyoming; and, if they ever behaved like boys let out
of school, they did not show it then.
The Wyoming man was wiser than his fellow. He had been given several
minutes grace in which to meditate upon the unwisdom of defiance; and he
had seen the bug-killer change abruptly from sullenness to terror, and
afterward to abject obedience. He did not know what they had said to him,
or what they had done; but he knew the bug-killer was a hard man to
stampede. And he was one man, and they were many; also he judged that,
being human, and this being the third offense of the Dot sheep under his
care, it would be extremely unsafe to trust that their indignation would
vent itself in mere words.
Therefore, when Weary told him to get the stragglers back through the
fence and up on the level, he stopped only long enough for a good look at
their faces. After that he called his dogs and crawled through the
It really did not require the entire Family to force those sheep south
that morning. But Weary's jaw was set, as was his heart, upon a thorough
cleaning of that particular bit of range; and, since he did not
definitely request any man to turn back, and every fellow there was
minded to see the thing to a finish, they straggled out behind the
trailing two thousand--and never had one bunch of sheep so efficient a
After the first few miles the way grew rough. Sheep lagged, and the
blatting increased to an uproar. Old ewes and yearlings these were
mostly, and there were few to suffer more than hunger and thirst,
perhaps. So Weary was merciless, and drove them forward without a stop
until the first jumble of hills and deep-worn gullies held them back from
But the Happy Family had not ridden those breaks for cattle, all these
years, to be hindered by rough going. Weary, when the band stopped and
huddled, blatting incessantly against a sheer wall of sandstone and
gravel, got the herders together and told them what he wanted.
"You take 'em down that slope till you come to the second little
coulee. Don't go up the first one--that's a blind pocket. In the second
coulee, up a mile or so, there's a spring creek. You can hold 'em there
on water for half an hour. That's more than any of yuh deserve. Haze 'em
The herders did not know it, but that second coulee was the rude
gateway to an intricate system of high ridges and winding waterways that
would later be dry as a bleached bone--the real beginning of the bad
lands which border the Missouri river for long, terrible miles. Down
there, it is possible for two men to reach places where they may converse
quite easily across a chasm, and yet be compelled to ride fifteen or
twenty miles, perhaps, in order to shake hands. Yet, even in that
scrap-heap of Nature there are ways of passing deep into the heart of the
The Happy Family knew those ways as they knew the most complicated
figures of the quadrilles they danced so lightfootedly with the girls of
the Bear Paw country. When they forced the sheep and their herders out of
the coulee Weary had indicated he sent Irish and Pink ahead to point the
way, and he told them to head for the Wash Bowl; which they did with
praiseworthy zeal and scant pity for the sheep.
When at last, after a slow, heartbreaking climb up a long, bare ridge,
Pink and Irish paused upon the brow of a slope and let the trail-weary
band spill itself reluctantly down the steep slope beyond, the sun stood
high in the blue above them and their stomachs clamored for food; by
which signs they knew that it must be near noon.
When the last sheep had passed, blatting discordantly, down the bluff,
Weary halted the sweating herders for a parting admonition.
"We don't aim to deal you any more misery, for a while, if you stay
where you're at. You're only working for a living, like the rest of
us--but I must say I don't admire your trade none. Anyway, I'll send some
of your bunch down here with grub and beds. This is good enough range for
sheep. You keep away from the Flying U and nobody'll bother you. Over
there in them trees," he added, pointing a gloved finger toward a little
grove on the far side of the basin, "you'll find a cabin, and water. And,
farther down the river there's pretty good grass, in the little bottoms.
The herders looked as if they would enjoy murdering them all, but they
did not say a word. With their dogs at heel they scrambled down the bluff
in the wake of their sheep, and the Happy Family, rolling cigarettes
while they watched them depart, told one another that this settled that
bunch; they wouldn't bed down in the Flying U door-yard that night,
Hungry with the sharp, gnawing hunger of healthy stomachs accustomed
to regular and generous feeding; tired with the weariness of healthy
muscles pushed past their accustomed limit of action; and hot with the
unaccustomed heat of a blazing day shunted unaccountably into the midst
of soft spring weather, the Happy Family rode out of the embrace of the
last barren coulee and up on the wide level where the breeze swept
gratefully up from the west, and where every day brought with it a deeper
tinge of green into its grassy carpet.
Only for this harassment of the Dot sheep, the roundup wagons would be
loaded and ready to rattle abroad over the land. Meadow larks and curlews
and little, pert-eyed ground sparrows called out to them that roundup
time was come. They passed a bunch of feeding Flying U cattle, and
flat-ribbed, bandy-legged calves galloped in brief panic to their mothers
and from the sanctuary of grass-filled paunches watched the riders with
wide, inquisitive eyes.
"We ought to be starting out, by now," Weary observed a bit gloomily
to Andy and Pink, who rode upon either side of him. "The calf crop is
going to be good, if this weather holds on another two weeks or so.
But--" he waved his cigarette disgustedly "--that darned Dot outfit would
be all over the place, if we pulled out on roundup and left 'em the run
of things." He smoked moodily for a minute. "My religion has changed a
lot in the last few days," he observed whimsically. "My idea of hell is a
place where there ain't anything but sheep and sheepherders; and
cowpunchers have got to spend thousands uh years right in the middle of
"If that's the case, I'm going to quit cussing, and say my prayers
every night," Andy Green asserted emphatically.
"What worries me," Weary confided, obeying the impulse to talk over
his troubles with those who sympathized, "is how I'm going to keep the
work going along like it ought to, and at the same time keep them Dot
sheep outa the house. Dunk's wise, all right. He knows enough about the
cow business to know we ye got to get out on the range pretty quick, now.
And he's so mean that every day or every half day he can feed his sheep
on Flying U grass, he calls that much to the good. And he knows we won't
go to opening up any real gun-fights if we can get out of it; he counts
on our faunching around and kicking up a lot of dust, maybe--but we won't
do anything like what he'd do, in our places. He knows the Old Man and
Chip are gone, and he knows we've just naturally got to sit back and
swallow our tongues because we haven't any authority. Mamma! It comes
pretty tough, when a low-down skunk like that just banks on your doing
the square thing. He wouldn't do it, but he knows we will; and so he
takes advantage of white men and gets the best of 'em. And if we should
happen to break out and do something, he knows the herders would be the
ones to get it in the neck; and he'd wait till the dust settled, and bob
up with the sheriff--" He waved his hand again with a hopeless gesture.
"It may not look that way on the face of it," he added gloomily, "but
Dunk has got us right where he wants us. From the way they've been
letting sheep on our land, time and time again, I'd gamble he's just
trying to make us so mad we'll break out. He's got it in for the whole
outfit, from the Old Man and the Little Doctor down to Slim. If any of us
boys got into trouble, the Old Man would spend his last cent to clear us;
and Dunk knows that just as well as he knows the way from the house to
the stable. He'd see to it that it would just about take the Old Man's
last cent, too. And he's using these Dot sheep like you'd use a red flag
on a bull, to make us so crazy mad we'll kill off somebody.
"That's why," he said to them all when he saw that they had ridden up
close that they might hear what he was saying, "I've been hollering so
loud for the meek-and-mild stunt. When I slapped him on the jaw, and he
stood there and took it, I saw his game. He had a witness to swear I hit
him and he didn't hit back. And when I saw them Dots in our field again,
I knew, just as well as if Dunk had told me, that he was kinda hoping
we'd kill a herder or two so he could cinch us good and plenty. I don't
say," he qualified with a rueful grin, "that Dunk went into the sheep
business just to get r-re-venge, as they say in shows. But if he can make
money running sheep--and he can, all right, because there's more money in
them right now than there is in cattle--and at the same time get a good
whack at the Flying U, he's the lad that will sure make a running jump at
the chance." He spat upon the burnt end of his cigarette stub from force
of the habit that fear of range fires had built, and cast it petulantly
from him; as if he would like to have been able to throw Dunk and his
sheep problem as easily out of his path.
"So I wish you boys would hang onto yourselves when you hear a sheep
blatting under your window," he summed up his unburdening whimsically.
"As Bud said this morning, you can't hang a man for telling a sheepherder
you'll take off his shoes. And they can't send us over the road for
moving that band of sheep onto new range to-day. Last night you all were
kinda disorderly, maybe, but you didn't hurt anybody, or destroy any
property. You see what I mean. Our only show is to stop with our toes on
the right side of the dead line."
"If Andy, here, would jest git his think-wheels greased and going
good," Big Medicine suggested loudly, "he ought to frame up something
that would put them Dots on the run permanent. I d'no, by cripes, why it
is a feller can always think uh lies and joshes by the dozens, and put
'em over O. K. when there ain't nothing to be made out of it except hard
feelin's; and then when a deal like this here sheep deal comes up, he's
got about as many idees, by cripes, as that there line-back calf over
there. Honest to grandma, Andy makes me feel kinda faint. Only time he
did have a chanc't, he let them--" It occurred to Big Medicine at that
point that perhaps his remarks might be construed by the object of them
as being offensively personal. He turned his head and grinned
good-naturedly in Andy's direction, and refrained from finishing what he
was going to say. "I sure do like them wind- flowers scattered all over
the ground," he observed with such deliberate and ostentatious
irrelevance that the Happy Family laughed, even to Andy Green, who had at
first been inclined toward anger.
"Everything," declared Andy in the tone of a paid instructor, "has its
proper time and place, boys; I've told you that before. For instance, I
wouldn't try to kill a skunk by talking it to death; and I wouldn't be
hopeful of putting the run on this Dunk person by telling him ghost
stories. As to ideas--I'm plumb full of them. But they're all about grub,
just right at present."
That started Slim and Happy Jack to complaining because no one had had
sense enough to go back after some lunch before taking that long trail
south; the longer because it was a slow one, with sheep to set the pace.
And by the time they had presented their arguments against the Happy
Family's having enough brains to last them overnight, and the Happy
Family had indignantly pointed out just where the mental deficiency was
most noticeable, they were upon that last, broad stretch of "bench" land
beyond which lay Flying U coulee and Patsy and dinner; a belated dinner,
to be sure, but for that the more welcome.
And when they reached the point where they could look away to the very
rim of the coulee, they saw sheep--sheep to the skyline, feeding
scattered and at ease, making the prairie look, in the distance, as if it
were covered with a thin growth of gray sage-brush. Four herders moved
slowly upon the outskirts, and the dogs were little, scurrying, black
dots which stopped occasionally to wait thankfully until the master-minds
again urged them to endeavor.
The Happy Family drew up and stared in silence.
"Do I see sheep?" Pink inquired plaintively at last. "Tell me,
"It's that bunch you fellows tackled last night," said Weary
miserably. "I ought to have had sense enough to leave somebody on the
ranch to look out for this."
"They've got their nerve," stated Irish, "after the deal they got last
night. I'd have bet good money that you couldn't drag them herders across
Flying U coulee with a log chain."
"Say, by golly, do we have to drive this here bunch anywheres before
we git anything to eat?" Slim wanted to know distressfully.
Weary considered briefly. "No, I guess we'll pass 'em up for the
present. An hour or so won't make much difference in the long run, and
our horses are about all in, right now--"
"So'm I, by cripes!" Big Medicine attested, grinning mirthlessly.
"This here sheep business is plumb wearin' on a man. 'Specially," he
added with a fretful note, "when you've got to handle 'em gentle. The
things I'd like to do to them Dots is all ruled outa the game, seems
like. Honest to grandma, a little gore would look better to me right now
than a Dutch picnic before the foam's all blowed off the refreshments.
Lemme kill off jest one herder, Weary?" he pleaded. "The one that took a
shot at me las' night. Purty, please!"
"If you killed one," Weary told him glumly. "you might as well make a
clean sweep and take in the whole bunch."
"Well, I won't charge nothin' extra fer that, either," Bud assured him
generously. "I'm willin' to throw in the other three --and the dawgs,
too, by cripes!" He goggled the Happy Family quizzically. "Nobody can't
say there's anything small about me. Why, down in the Coconino country
they used to set half a dozen greasers diggin' graves, by cripes, soon as
I started in to argy with a man. It was a safe bet they'd need three or
four, anyways, if old Bud cut loose oncet. Sheepherders? Why, they jest
natcherly couldn't keep enough on hand, securely, to run their sheep.
They used to order sheepherders like they did woolsacks, by cripes! You
could always tell when I was in the country, by the number uh extra
herders them sheep outfits always kep' in reserve. Honest to grandma,
I've knowed two or three outfits to club together and ship in a carload
at a time, when they heard I was headed their way. And so when it comes
to killin' off four, why that ain't skurcely enough to make it worth
m'while to dirty up m'gun!"
"Aw, I betche yuh never killed a man in your life!" Happy Jack
grumbled in his characteristic tone of disparagement; but such was his
respect for Big Medicine's prowess that he took care not to speak loud
enough to be overheard by that modest gentleman, who continued with
certain fearsome details of alleged murderous exploits of his own, down
in Coconino County, Arizona.
But as they passed the detested animals, thankful that the trail
permitted them to ride by at a distance sufficient to blur the most
unsavory details, even Big Medicine gave over his deliberate boastings
and relapsed into silence.
He had begun his fantastic vauntings from an instinctive impulse to
leaven with humor a situation which, at the moment, could not be
bettered. Just as they had, when came the news of the Old Man's dire
plight, sought to push the tragedy of it into the background and cling to
their creed of optimism, they had avoided openly facing the sheep
complication squarely with mutual admissions of all it might mean to the
Until Weary had unburdened his heart of worry on the ride home that
day, they had not said much about it, beyond a general vilification of
the sheep industry as a whole, of Dunk as the chief of the encroaching
Dots, and of the herders personally.
But there were times when they could not well avoid thinking rather
deeply upon the subject, even if they did refuse to put their forebodings
into speech. They were not children; neither were they to any degree
lacking in intelligence. Swearing, about herders and at them, was all
very well; bluffing, threatening, pummeling even with willing fists,
tearing down tents and binding men with ropes might serve to relieve the
emotions upon occasion. But there was the grim economic problem which
faced squarely the Flying U as a "cow outfit"--the problem of range and
water; the Happy Family did not call it by name, but they realized to the
full what it meant to the Old Man to have sheep just over his boundary
line always. They realized, too, what it meant to have the Old Man absent
at this time--worse, to have him lying in a hospital, likely to die at
any moment; what it meant to have the whole responsibility shifted to
their shoulders, willing though they might be to bear the burden; what it
meant to have the general of an army gone when the enemy was approaching
in overwhelming numbers.
Pink, when they were descending the first slope of the bluff which was
the southern rim of Flying U coulee, turned and glared vindictively back
at the wavering, gray blanket out there to the west. When he faced to the
front his face had the look it wore when he was fighting.
"So help me, Josephine!" he gritted desperately, "we've got to clean
the range of them Dots before the Old Man comes back, or--" He snapped
his jaws shut viciously.
Weary turned haggard eyes toward him.
"How?" he asked simply. And Pink had no answer for him.
Patsy, staunch old partisan that he was, placed before them much food
which he had tried his best to keep hot without burning everything to a
crisp, and while they ate with ravenous haste he told, with German
epithets and a trembling lower jaw, of his troubles that day.
"Dem sheeps, dey coom by der leetle pasture," he lamented while he
poured coffee muddy from long boiling. "Looks like dey know so soon you
ride away, und dey cooms cheeky as you pleece, und eats der grass und
crawls under der fence and leafs der vool sthicking by der vires. I goes
out mit a club, py cosh, und der sheeps chust looks und valks by some
better place alreatty, und I throw rocks and yells till mine neck iss
"Und' dose herders, dey sets dem by der rock and laugh till I felt
like I could kill der whole punch, by cosh! Und von yells, 'Hey, dutchy,
pring me some pie, alreatty!' Und he laughs some more pecause der sheeps
dey don't go avay; dey chust run around und eat more grass and baa-aa!"
He turned and went heavily back to the greasy range with the depleted
coffee pot, lifted the lid of a kettle and looked in upon the contents
with a purely mechanical glance; gave a perfunctory prod or two with a
long- handled fork, and came back to stand uneasily behind Weary.
"If you poys are goin' to shtand fer dot," he began querulously, "Py
cosh I von't! Py myself I vill go and tell dot Dunk W'ittaker vot lowdown
skunk I t'ink he iss. Sheep's vool shtickin' by der fences efferwhere on
der ranch, py cosh! Dot vould sure kill der Old Man quick if he see it.
Shtinkin' off sheeps py our noses all der time, till I can't eat no more
mit der shmell of dem. Neffer pefore did I see vool on der Flying U
fences, py cosh, und sheeps baa-aain' in der coulee!"
Never had they seen Patsy take so to heart a matter of mere business
importance. They did not say much to him; there was not much that they
could say. They ate their fill and went out disconsolately to discuss the
thing among themselves, away from Patsy's throaty complainings. They
hated it as badly as did he; with Weary's urgent plea for no violence
holding them in leash, they hated it more, if that were possible.
The Native Son tilted his head unobtrusively stableward when he caught
Andy's eye, and as unobtrusively wandered away from the group. Andy
stopped long enough to roll and light a cigarette and then strolled after
him with apparent aimlessness, secretly curious over the summons. He
found Miguel in the stable waiting for him, and Miguel led the way, rope
in hand across the corral and into the little pasture where fed a horse
he meant to ride. He did not say anything until he had turned to close
the gate, and to make sure that they were alone and that their departure
had not carried to the Happy Family any betraying air of
"You remember when you blew in here, a few weeks or so ago?" the
Native Son asked abruptly, a twinkle in his fathomless eyes. "You put up
a good one on the boys, that time, you remember. Bluffed them into
thinking I was a hero in disguise, and that you'd seen me pull off a big
stunt of bull-fighting and bull- dogging down in Mexico. It was a fine
josh. They believe it yet."
Andy glanced at him perplexedly. "Yes--but when it turned out to be
true," he amended, "the josh was on me, I guess; I thought I was just
lying, when I wasn't. I've wondered a good deal about that. By gracious,
it makes a man feel funny to frame up a yarn out of his own
think-machine, and then find out he's been telling the truth all the
while. It's like a fellow handing out a twenty-four karat gold bar to a
rube by mistake, under the impression it only looks like one. Of course
they believe it! Only they don't know I just merely hit the truth by
The Native Son smiled his slow, amused smile, that somehow never
failed to be impressive. "That's the funny part of it," he drawled. "You
didn't. I just piled another little josh on top of yours, that's all. I
never throwed a bull in my life, except with my lariat. I'd heard a good
deal about you, and--well, I thought I'd see if I could go you one
better. And you put that Mexico yarn across so smooth and easy, I just
simply couldn't resist the temptation to make you think it was all
straight goods. Sabe?"
Andy Green did not say a word, but he looked exceedingly foolish.
"So I think we can both safely consider ourselves top-hands when it
comes to lying," the Native Son went on shamelessly. "And if you're
willing to go in with me on it and help put Dunk on the run--" He glanced
over his shoulder, saw that Happy Jack, on horseback, was coming out to
haze in the saddle bunch, and turned to stroll back as lazily as he had
come. He continued to speak smoothly and swiftly, in a voice that would
not carry ten paces. While Andy Green, with brown head bent attentively,
listened eagerly and added a sentence or two on his own account now and
then, and smiled--which he had not been in the habit of doing lately.
"Say, you fellers are gittin' awful energetic, ain't yuh?--wranglin'
horses afoot!" Happy Jack bantered at the top of his voice when he passed
them by. "Better save up your strength while you kin. Weary's goin' to
set us herdin' sheep agin--and I betche there's goin' to be something
more'n herdin' on our hands before we git through."
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there was," sang out Andy, as
cheerfully as if he had been invited to dance "Ladies' choice" with the
prettiest girl in the crowd. "Wonder what hole he's going to dump this
bunch into," he added to the Native Son. "By gracious, he ought to send
'em just as far north as he can drive 'em without paying duty! I'd sure
take 'em over into Canada, if it was me running the show."
"It was a mistake," the Native Son volunteered, "for the whole bunch
to go off like we did to-day. They had those sheep up here on the hill
just for a bait. They knew we'd go straight up in the air and come down
on those two freaks herding 'em, and that gave them the chance to cross
the other bunch. I thought so all along, but I didn't like to butt
"Well Weary's mad enough now to do things that will leave a dent,
anyway," Andy commented under his breath when, from the corral gate, he
got a good look at Weary's profile, which showed the set of his mouth and
chin. "See that mouth? It's hunt the top rail, and do it quick, when old
Weary straightens out his lips like that."
Behind them, Happy Jack bellowed for an open gate and no obstructions,
and they drew hastily to one side to let the saddle horses gallop past
with a great upflinging of dust. Pink, with a quite obtrusive
facetiousness, began lustily chanting that it looked to him like a big
night to-night--with occasional, furtive glances at Weary's face; for he,
also, had been quick to read those close-pressed lips, which did not
soften in response to the ditty. Usually he laughed at Pink's
They rode rather quietly upon the hill again, to where fed the sheep.
During the hour or so that they had been absent the sheep had not moved
appreciably; they still grazed close enough to the boundary to make their
position seem a direct insult to the Flying U, a virtual slap in the
face. And these young men who worked for the Flying U, and who made its
interests right loyally their own, were growing very, very tired of
turning the other cheek. With them, the time for profanity and for
horseplay bluffing and judicious temporizing was past. There were other
lips besides Weary's that were drawn tight and thin when they approached
that particular band of sheep. More than one pair of eyes turned
inquiringly toward him and away again when they met no answering
They topped a rise of ground, and in the shallow wrinkle which had
hidden him until now they came full upon Dunk Whittaker, riding a chunky
black which stepped restlessly about while he conferred in low tones with
a couple of the herders. The Happy Family recognized them as two of the
fellows in whose safe keeping they had left their ropes the night before.
Dunk looked around quickly when the group appeared over the little ridge,
scowled, hesitated and then came straight up to them.
"I want you rowdies to bring back those sheep you took the trouble to
drive off this morning," he began, with the even, grating voice and the
sneering lift of lip under his little, black mustache which the older
members of the Happy Family remembered--and hated--so vividly. "I've
stood just all I'm going to stand, of these typically Flying U
performances you've been indulging in so freely during the past week.
It's all very well to terrorize a neighborhood of long-haired rubes who
don't know enough to teach you your places; but interfering with another
man's property is--"
"Interfering with another--what?" Big Medicine, his pale blue eyes
standing out more like a frog's than ever upon his face, gave his horse a
kick and lunged close that he might lean and thrust his red face near to
Dunk's. "Another what? I don't see nothin' in your saddle that looks t'me
like a man, by cripes! All I can see is a smooth-skinned, slippery vermin
I'd hate to name a snake after, that crawls around in the dark and lets
cheap rough- necks do all his dirty work. I've saw dogs sneak up and grab
a man behind, but most always they let out a growl or two first. And even
a rattler is square enough to buzz at yuh and give yuh a chanc't to
side-step him. Honest to grandma, I don't hardly know what kinda reptyle
y'are. I hate to insult any of 'em, by cripes, by namin' yuh after 'em.
But don't, for Lordy's sake, ever call yourself a man agin!"
Big Medicine turned his head and spat disgustedly into the grass and
looked back slightingly with other annihilating remarks close behind his
wide-apart teeth, but instead of speaking he made an unbelievably quick
motion with his hand. The blow smacked loudly upon Dunk's cheek, and so
nearly sent him out of the saddle that he grabbed for the horn to save
"Oh, I seert yuh keepin' yer hand next yer six-gun all the while," Big
Medicine bawled. "That's one reason I say yuh ain't no man! Yuh wouldn't
dast talk up to a prairie dog if yuh wasn't all set to make a quick draw.
Yuh got your face slapped oncet before by a Flyin' U man, and yuh had it
comm'. Now you're--gittin'--it--done--right!"
If you have ever seen an irate, proletarian mother cuffing her
offspring over an empty wood-box, you may picture perhaps the present
proceeding of Big Medicine. To many a man the thing would have been
unfeasible, after the first blow, because of the horses. But Big Medicine
was very nearly all that he claimed to be; and one of his pet vanities
was his horsemanship; he managed to keep within a fine slapping distance
of Dunk. He stopped when his hand began to sting through his glove.
"Now you keep your hand away from that gun--that you ain't honest
enough to carry where folks can see it, but 'ye got it cached in your
pocket!" he thundered. "And go on with what you was goin' t'say. Only
don't get swell-headed enough to think you're a man, agin. You
"I've got this to say!" Mere type cannot reproduce the malevolence of
Dunk's spluttering speech. "I've sent for the county sheriff and a dozen
deputies to arrest you, and you, and you, damn you!" He was pointing a
shaking finger at the older members of the Happy Family, whom he
recognized not gladly, but too well. "I'll have you all in Deer Lodge
before that lying, thieving, cattle-stealing Old Man of yours can lift a
finger. I'll sheep Flying U coulee to the very doors of the white house.
I'll skin the range between here and the river--and I'll have every one
of you hounds put where the dogs won't bite you!" He drew a hand across
his mouth and smiled as they say Satan himself can smile upon
"You've done enough to send you all over the road; destroying property
and assaulting harmless men--you wait! There are other and better ways to
fight than with the fists, and I haven't forgotten any of you
fellows--there are a few more rounders among you--"
"Hey! You apologize fer that, by cripes, er I'll kill yuh the longest
way I know. And that--" Big Medicine again laid violent hands upon Dunk,
"and that way won't feel good, now I'm tellin' yuh. Apologize, er--"
"Say, all this don't do any good, Bud," Weary expostulated. "Let Dunk
froth at the mouth if he wants to; what we want is to get these sheep off
the range. And," he added recklessly, "so long as the sheriff is headed
for us anyway, we may as well get busy and make it worth his while. So--"
He stopped, silenced by a most amazing interruption.
On the brow of the hill, when first they had sighted Dunk in the
hollow, something had gone wrong with Miguel's saddle so that he had
stopped behind; and, to keep him company, Andy had stopped also and
waited for him. Later, when Dunk was spluttering threats, they had
galloped up to the edge of the group and pulled their horses to a stand.
Now, Miguel rode abruptly close to Dunk as rides one with a purpose.
He leaned and peered intently into Dunk's distorted countenance until
every man there, struck by his manner, was watching him curiously. Then
he sat back in the saddle, straightened his legs in the stirrups and
laughed. And like his smile when he would have it so, or the little
twitch of shoulders by which he could so incense a man, that laugh
brought a deeper flush to Dunk's face, reddened though it was by Big
Medicine's vigorous slapping.
"Say, you've got nerve," drawled the Native Son, "to let a sheriff
travel toward you. I can remember when you were more timid, amigo." He
turned his head until his eyes fell upon Andy. "Say, Andy!" he called.
"Come and take a look at this hombre. You'll have to think back a few
years," he assisted laconically.
In response, Andy rode up eagerly. Like the Native Son, he leaned and
peered into eyes that stared back defiantly, wavered, and turned away.
Andy also sat back in the saddle then, and snorted.
"So this is the Dunk Whittaker that's been raising merry hell around
here! And talks about sending for the sheriff, huh? I've always heard
that a lot uh gall is the best disguise a man can hide under, but, by
gracious, this beats the deuce!" He turned to the astounded Happy Family
with growing excitement in his manner.
"Boys, we don't have to worry much about this gazabo! We'll just
freeze onto him till the sheriff heaves in sight. Gee! There'll sure be
something stirring when we tell him who this Dunk person really is! And
you say he was in with the Old Man, once? Oh, Lord!" He looked with
withering contempt at Dunk; and Dunk's glance flickered again and
dropped, just as his hand dropped to the pocket of his coat.
"No, yuh don't, by cripes!" Big Medicine's hand gripped Dunk's arm on
the instant. With his other he plucked the gun from Dunk's pocket, and
released him as he would let go of something foul which he had been
compelled to touch.
"He'll be good, or he'll lose his dinner quick," drawled the Native
Son, drawing his own silver-mounted six-shooter and resting it upon the
saddle horn so that it pointed straight at Dunk's diaphragm. "You take
Weary off somewhere and tell him something about this deal, Andy. I'll
watch this slippery gentleman." He smiled slowly and got an answering
grin from Andy Green, who immediately rode a few rods away, with Weary
and Pink close behind.
"Say, by golly, what's Dunk wanted fer?" Slim blurted inquisitively
after a short silence.
"Not for riding or driving over a bridge faster than a walk Slim,"
purred the Native Son, shifting his gun a trifle as Dunk moved uneasily
in the saddle. "You know the man. Look at his face--and use your
imagination, if you've got any."
"Well, I hope this farce is about over," Dunk sneered, with as near an
approach to his old, supercilious manner as he could command, when the
three who had ridden apart returned presently. "Perhaps, Weary, you'll be
good enough to have this fellow put up his gun, and these--" he
hesitated, after a swift glance, to apply any epithet whatever to the
Happy Family. "I have two witnesses here to swear that you have without
any excuse assaulted and maligned and threatened me, and you may consider
yourselves lucky if I do not insist--"
"Ah, cut that out," Andy advised wearily. "I don't know how it strikes
the rest, but it sounds pretty sickening to me. Don't overlook the fact
that two of us happen to know all about you; and we know just where to
send word, to dig up a lot more identification. So bluffing ain't going
to help you out, a darned bit."
"Miguel, you can go with Andy," Weary said with brisk decision. "Take
Dunk down to the ranch till the sheriff gets here--if it's straight goods
about Dunk sending for him. If he didn't, we can take Dunk in to-morrow,
ourselves." He turned and fixed a cold, commanding eye upon the
slack-jawed herders. "Come along, you two, and get these sheep headed
"Say, we'll just lock him up in the blacksmith shop, and come on
back," Andy amended the order after his own free fashion. "He couldn't
get out in a million years; not after I'm through staking him out to the
anvil with a log-chain." He smiled maliciously into Dunk's fear-yellowed
countenance, and waved him a signal to ride ahead, which Dunk did without
a word of protest while the Happy Family looked on dazedly.
"What's it all about, Weary?" Irish asked, when the three were gone.
"What is it they've got on Dunk? Must be something pretty fierce, the way
he wilted down into the saddle."
"You'll have to wait and ask the boys." Weary rode off to hurry the
herders on the far side of the band.
So the Happy Family remained perforce unenlightened upon the subject
and for that they said hard things about Weary, and about Andy and Miguel
as well. They believed that they were entitled to know the truth, and
they called it a smart-aleck trick to keep the thing so almighty
There is in resentment a crisis; when that crisis is reached, and the
dam of repression gives way, the full flood does not always sweep down
upon those who have provoked the disaster. Frequently it happens that
perfectly innocent victims are made to suffer. The Happy Family had been
extremely forbearing, as has been pointed out before. They had frequently
come to the boiling point of rage and had cooled without committing any
real act of violence. But that day had held a long series of petty
annoyances; and here was a really important thing kept from them as if
they were mere outsiders. When Weary was gone, Irish asked Pink what
crime Dunk had committed in the past. And Pink shook his head and said he
didn't know. Irish mentally accused Pink of lying, and his temper was
none the better for the rebuff, as anyone can readily understand.
When the herders, therefore, rounded up the sheep and started them
moving south, the Happy Family speedily rebelled against that shuffling,
nibbling, desultory pace that had kept them long, weary hours in the
saddle with the other band. But it was Irish who first took measures to
accelerate that pace.
He got down his rope and whacked the loop viciously down across the
nearest gray back. The sheep jumped, scuttled away a few paces and
returned to its nibbling progress. Irish called it names and whacked
After a few minutes he grew tired of swinging his loop and seeing it
have so fleeting an effect, and pulled his gun. He fired close to the
heels of a yearling buck that had more than once stopped to look up at
him foolishly and blat, and the buck charged ahead in a panic at the
noise and the spat of the bullet behind him.
"Hit him agin in the same place!" yelled Big Medicine, and drew his
own gun. The Happy Family, at that high tension where they were ready for
anything, caught the infection and began shooting and yelling like crazy
The effect was not at all what they expected. Instead of adding
impetus to the band, as would have been the case if they had been driving
cattle, the result was exactly the opposite. The sheep ran--but they ran
to a common center. As the shooting went on they bunched tighter and
tighter, until it seemed as though those in the center must surely be
crushed flat. From an ambling, feeding company of animals, they become a
lumpy gray blanket, with here and there a long, vacuous face showing
idiotically upon the surface.
The herders grinned and drew together as against a common enemy--or as
with a new joke to be discussed among themselves. The dogs wandered
helplessly about, yelped half-heartedly at the woolly mass, then sat down
upon their haunches and lolled red tongues far out over their pointed
little teeth, and tilted knowing heads at the Happy Family.
"Look at the darned things!" wailed Pink, riding twice around the
huddle, almost ready to shed tears of pure rage and helplessness. "Git
outa that! Hi! Woopp-ee!" He fired again and again, and gave the
range-old cattle-yell; the yell which had sent many a tired herd over
many a weary mile; the yell before which had fled fat steers into the
stockyards at shipping time, and up the chutes into the cars; the yell
that had hoarsened many a cowpuncher's voice and left him with a mere
croak to curse his fate with; a yell to bring results--but it did not
start those sheep.
The Happy Family, riding furiously round and round, fired every
cartridge they had upon their persons; they said every improper thing
they could remember or invent; they yelled until their eyes were starting
from their sockets; they glued that band of sheep so tight together that
dynamite could scarcely have pried them apart.
And the herders, sitting apart with grimy hands clasped loosely over
hunched-up knees, looked on, and talked together in low tones, and
Irish glanced that way and caught them grinning; caught them pointing
derisively, with heaving shoulders. He swore a great oath and made for
them, calling aloud that he would knock those grins so far in that they
would presently find themselves smiling wrong-side-out from the back of
Pink, overhearing him, gave a last swat at the waggling tail of a
burrowing buck, and wheeled to overtake Irish and have a hand in
reversing the grins. Big Medicine saw them start, and came bellowing up
from the far side of the huddle like a bull challenging to combat from
across a meadow. Big Medicine did not know what it was all about, but he
scented battle, and that was sufficient. Cal Emmett and Weary, equally
ignorant of the cause, started at a lope toward the trouble center.
It began to look as if the whole Family was about to fall upon those
herders and rend them asunder with teeth and nails; so much so that the
herders jumped up and ran like scared cottontails toward the rim of
Denson coulee, a hundred yards or so to the west.
"Mamma! I wish we could make the sheep hit that gait and keep it,"
exclaimed Weary, with the first laugh they had heard from him that
While he was still laughing, there was a shot from the ridge toward
which they were running; the sharp, vicious crack of a rifle. The Happy
Family heard the whistling hum of the bullet, singing low over their
heads; quite low indeed; altogether too low to be funny. And they had
squandered all their ammunition on the prairie sod, to hurry a band of
sheep that flatly refused to hurry anywhere except under one another's
odorous, perspiring bodies.
From the edge of the coulee the rifle spoke again. A tiny geyser of
dust, spurting up from the ground ten feet to one side of Cal Emmett,
showed them all where the bullet struck.
"Get outa range, everybody!" yelled Weary, and set the example by
tilting his rowels against Glory's smooth hide, and heading eastward. "I
like to be accommodating, all right, but I draw the line on standing
around for a target while my neighbors practise shooting."
The Happy Family, having no other recourse, therefore retreated in
haste toward the eastern skyline. Bullets followed them, overtook them as
the shooter raised his sights for the increasing distance, and whined
harmlessly over their heads. All save one.
Big Medicine, Irish and Pink, racing almost abreast, heard a scream
behind them and pulled up their horses with short, stiff-legged plunges.
A brown horse overtook them; a brown horse, with Happy Jack clinging to
the saddle-horn, his body swaying far over to one side. Even as he went
hurtling past them his hold grew slack and he slumped, head foremost, to
the ground. The brown horse gave a startled leap away from him and went
on with empty stirrups flapping.
They sprang down and lifted him to a less awkward position, and Big
Medicine pillowed the sweat-dampened, carroty head in the hollow of his
arm. Those who had been in the lead looked back startled when the brown
horse tore past them with that empty saddle; saw what had happened,
wheeled and galloped back. They dismounted and stood silently grouped
about poor, ungainly Happy Jack, lying there limp and motionless in Big
Medicine's arms. Not one of them remembered then that there was a man
with a rifle not more than two hundred yards away; or, if they did, they
quite forgot that the rifle might be dangerous to themselves. They were
thinking of Happy Jack.
Happy Jack, butt of all their jokes and jibes; Happy the croaker, the
lugubrious forecaster of trouble; Happy Jack, the ugliest, the stupidest,
the softest-hearted man of them all. He had "betched" there would be
someone killed, over these Dot sheep; he had predicted trouble of every
conceivable kind; and they had laughed at him, swore at him, lied to him,
"joshed" him unmercifully, and kept him in a state of chronic
indignation, never dreaming that the memory of it would choke them and
strike them dumb with that horrible, dull weight in their chests with
which men suffer when a woman would find the relief of weeping.
"Where's he hurt?" asked Weary, in the repressed tone which only
tragedy can bring into a man's voice, and knelt beside Big Medicine.
"I dunno--through the lungs, I guess; my sleeve's gitting soppy right
under his shoulder." Big Medicine did not bellow; his voice was as quiet
Weary looked up briefly at the circle of staring faces. "Pink, you
pile onto Glory and go wire for a doctor. Try Havre first; you may get
one up on the nine o' clock train. If you can't, get one down on the
'leven-twenty, from Great Falls. Or there's Benton--anyway, git one. If
you could catch MacPherson, do it. Try him first, and never mind a Havre
doctor unless you can't get MacPherson. I'd rather wait a couple of hours
longer, for him. I'll have a rig--no, you better get a team from Jim.
They'll be fresh, and you can put 'em through. If you kill 'em," he added
grimly, "we can pay for 'em." He had his jack-knife out, and was already
slashing carefully the shirt of Happy Jack, that he might inspect the
Pink gave a last, wistful look at Happy Jack's face, which seemed
unfamiliar with all the color and all the expression wiped out of it like
that, and turned away. "Come and help me change saddles, Cal," he said
shortly. "Weary's stirrups are too darned long." Even with the delay, he
was mounted on Glory and galloping toward Flying U coulee before Weary
was through uncovering the wound; and that does not mean that Weary was
The rifle cracked again, and a bullet plucked into the sod twenty feet
beyond the circle of men and horses. But no one looked up or gave any
other sign of realization that they were still the target; they were
staring, with that frowning painfully intent look men have at such
moments, at a purplish hole not much bigger than if punched by a lead
pencil, just under the point of Happy Jack's shoulder blade; and at the
blood oozing sluggishly from it in a tiny stream across the girlishly
white flesh and dripping upon Big Medicine's arm.
"Hadn't we better get a rig to take him home with?" Irish
Weary, exploring farther, had just disclosed a ragged wound under the
arm where the bullet had passed out; he made no immediate reply.
"Well, he ain't got it stuck inside of 'im, anyway," Big Medicine
commented relievedly. "Don't look to me like it's so awful bad--went
through kinda anglin', and maybe missed his lungs. I've saw men shot up
"Aw--I betche you'd--think it was bad--if you had it--" murmured Happy
Jack peevishly, lifting his eyelids heavily for a resentful glance when
they moved him a little. But even as Big Medicine grinned joyfully down
at him he went off again into mental darkness, and the grin faded into
"You'd kick, by golly, if you was goin' to be hung," Slim bantered
tritely and belatedly, and gulped remorsefully when he saw that he was
"joshing" an unconscious man.
"We better get him home. Irish, you--" Weary looked up and discovered
that Irish and jack Bates were already headed for home and a conveyance.
He gave a sigh of approval and turned his attention toward wiping the
sweat and grime from Happy's face with his handkerchief.
"Somebody else is goin' to git hit, by golly, if we stay here," Slim
blurted suddenly, when another bullet dug up the dirt in that
"That gol-darned fool'll keep on till he kills somebody. I wisht I had
m' thirty-thirty here--I'd make him wisht his mother was a man, by
Big Medicine looked toward the coulee rim. "I ain't got a shell left,"
he growled regretfully. "I wisht we'd thought to tell the boys to bring
them rifles. Say, Slim, you crawl onto your hoss and go git 'em. It won't
take more'n a minute. There'll likely be some shells in the
"Go on, Slim," urged Weary grimly. "We've got to do something. They
can't do a thing like this--"he glanced down at Happy Jack- --"and get
away with it."
"I got half a box uh shells for my thirty-thirty, I'll bring that."
Slim turned to go, stopped short and stared at the coulee rim. "By golly,
they're comm' over here!" he exclaimed.
Big Medicine glanced up, took off his hat, crumpled it for a pillow
and eased Happy Jack down upon it. He got up stiffly, wiped his fingers
mechanically upon his trouser legs, broke his gun open just to make sure
that it was indeed empty, put it back and picked up a handful of
"Let 'em come," he said viciously. "I c'n kill every damn' one with m'
"Say, ain't that Andy and Mig following along behind?" Cal asked after
a minute of watching the approach. "Sure, it is. Now what--"
"They're drivin' 'em, by cripes!" Big Medicine, under the stress of
the moment, returned to his usual bellowing tone. "Who's that tall, lanky
feller in the lead? I don't call to mind ever seem him before. Them four
herders I'd know a mile off."
"That?" Weary shaded his eyes with his hat-brim, against the slant
rays of the westering sun. "That's Oleson, Dunk's partner."
"His mother'd be a-weepin'," Big Medicine observed bodefully, "if she
knowed what was due to happen to her son right away quick. Must be him
that done the shootin'."
They came on steadily, the four herders and Oleson walking reluctantly
ahead, with Andy Green and the Native Son riding relentlessly in the
rear, their guns held unwaveringly in a line with the backs of their
captives. Andy was carrying a rifle, evidently taken from one of the
men--Oleson, they judged for the guilty one. Half the distance was
covered when Andy was seen to turn his head and speak briefly with the
Native Son, after which he lunged past the captives and galloped up to
the waiting group. His quick eye sought first the face of Happy Jack in
anxious questioning; then, miserably, he searched the faces of his
"Good Lord!" he exclaimed mechanically, dismounted and bent over the
figure on the ground. For a long minute he knelt there; he laid his ear
close to Happy Jack's mouth, took off his glove and laid his hand over
Happy's heart; reached up, twitched off his neckerchief, shook out the
creases and spread it reverently over Happy Jack's face. He stood up then
and spoke slowly, his eyes fixed upon the stumbling approach of the
"Pink told us Happy had been shot, so we rode around and come up
behind 'em. It was a cinch. And--say, boys, we've got the Dots in a
pocket. They've got to eat outa our hands, now. So don't think about--our
own feelings, or about--" he stopped abruptly and let a downward glance
finish the sentence. "We've got to keep our own hands clean, and--now
don't let your fingers get the itch, Bud!" This, because of certain
manifestations of a murderous intent on the part of Big Medicine.
"Oh, it's all right to talk, if yuh feel like talking," Big Medicine
retorted savagely. "I don't." He made a catlike spring at the foremost
man, who happened to be Oleson, and got a merciless grip with his fingers
on his throat, snarling like a predatory animal over its kill. From
behind, Andy, with Weary to help, pulled him off.
"I didn't mean to--to kill anybody," gasped Oleson, pasty white. "I
heard a lot of shooting, and so I ran up the hill--and the herders came
running toward me, and I thought I was defending my property and men. I
had a right to defend--"
"Defend hell!" Big Medicine writhed in the restraining grasp of those
who held him. "Look at that there! As good hearted a boy as ever turned a
cow! Never harmed a soul in 'is life. Is all your dirty, stinkin' sheep,
an' all your lousy herders, worth that boy's life? Yuh shot 'im down like
a dog--lemme go, boys." His voice was husky. "Lemme tromp the life outa
"I thought you were killing my men, or I never--I never meant to--to
kill--" Oleson, shaking till he could scarcely stand, broke down and
wept; wept pitiably, hysterically, as men of a certain fiber will weep
when black tragedy confronts them all unawares. He cowered miserably
before the Happy Family, his face hidden behind his two hands.
"Boys, I want to say a word or two. Come over here." Andy's voice,
quiet as ever, contrasted strangely with the man's sobbing. He led them
back a few paces--Weary, Cal, Big Medicine and Slim, and spoke hurriedly.
The Native Son eyed them sidelong from his horse, but he was careful to
keep Oleson covered with his gun--and the herders too, although they were
unarmed. Once or twice he glanced at that long, ungainly figure in the
grass with the handkerchief of Andy Green hiding the face except where a
corner, fluttering in the faint breeze which came creeping out of the
west, lifted now and then and gave a glimpse of sunbrowned throat and a
quiet chin and mouth.
"Quit that blubbering, Oleson, and listen here." Andys voice broke
relentlessly upon the other's woe. "All these boys want to hang yuh
without any red tape; far as I'm concerned, I'm dead willing. But we're
going to give yuh a chance. Your partner, as we told yuh coming over,
we've got the dead immortal cinch on, right now. And--well you can see
what you're up against. But we'll give yuh a chance. Have you got any
Oleson, trying to pull himself together, shook his head.
"Well, then, you can get rid of them sheep, can't yuh? Sell 'em, ship
'em outa here--we don't give a darn what yuh do, only so yuh get 'em off
"Y-yes, I'll do that." Oleson's consent was reluctant, but it was
fairly prompt. "I'll get rid of the sheep," he said, as if he was minded
to clinch the promise. "I'll do it at once."
"That's nice." Andy spoke with grim irony. "And you'll get rid of the
ranch, too. You'll sell it to the Flying U--cheap."
"But my partner--Whittaker might object--"
"Look here, old-timer. You'll fix that part up; you'll find a way of
fixing it. Look here--at what you're up against." He waited, with
pointing finger, for one terrible minute. "Will you sell to the Flying
"Y-yes!" The word was really a gulp. He tried to avoid looking where
Andy pointed; failed, and shuddered at what he saw.
"I thought you would. We'll get that in writing. And we're going to
wait just exactly twenty-four hours before we make a move. It'll take
some fine work, but we'll do it. Our boss, here, will fix up the business
end with you. He'll go with yuh right now, and stay with yuh till you
make good. And the first crooked move you make--" Andy, in unconscious
imitation of the Native Son, shrugged a shoulder expressively and urged
Weary by a glance to take the leadership.
"Irish, you come with me. The rest of you fellows know about what to
do. Andy, I guess you'll have to ride point till I get back." Weary
hesitated, looked from Happy Jack to Oleson and the herders, and back to
the sober faces of his fellows. "Do what you can for him, boys--and I
wish one of you would ride over, after Pink gets back, and--let me know
how things stack up, will you?"
Incredible as was the situation on the face of it, nevertheless it was
extremely matter-of-fact in the handling; which is the way sometimes with
incredible situations; as if, since we know instinctively that we cannot
rise unprepared to the bigness of its possibilities, we keep our feet
planted steadfastly on the ground and refuse to rise at all. And
afterward, perhaps, we look back and wonder how it all came about.
At the last moment Weary turned back and exchanged guns with Andy
Green, because his own was empty and he realized the possible need of
one--or at least the need of having the sheep-men perfectly aware that he
had one ready for use. The Native Son, without a word of comment, handed
his own silver-trimmed weapon over to Irish, and rolled a cigarette
deftly with one hand while he watched them ride away.
"Does this strike anybody else as being pretty raw?" he inquired
calmly, dismounting among them. "I'd do a good deal for the outfit,
myself; but letting that man get off--Say, you fellows up this way don't
think killing a man amounts to much, do you?" He looked from one to the
other with a queer, contemptuous hostility in his eyes.
Andy Green took a forward step and laid a hand familiarly on his rigid
shoulder. "Quit it, Mig. We would do a lot for the outfit; that's the
God's truth. And I played the game right up to the hilt, I admit. But
nobody's killed. I told Happy to play dead. By gracious, I caught him
just in the nick uh time; he'd been setting up, in another minute." To
prove it, he bent and twitched the handkerchief from the face of Happy
Jack, and Happy opened his eyes and made shift to growl.
"Yuh purty near-smothered me t'death, darn yuh."
"Dios!" breathed the Native Son, for once since they knew him jolted
out of his eternal calm. "God, but I'm glad!"
"I guess the rest of us ain't," insinuated Andy softly, and lifted his
hat to wipe the sweat off his forehead. "I will say that--" After all, he
did not. Instead, he knelt beside Happy Jack and painstakingly adjusted
the crumpled hat a hair's breadth differently.
"How do yuh feel, old-timer?" be asked with a very thin disguise of
cheerfulness upon the anxiety of his tone.
"Well, I could feel a lot--better, without hurtin' nothin," Happy Jack
responded somberly. "I hope you fellers--feel better, now. Yuh got
'em--tryin' to murder--the hull outfit; jes' like I--told yuh they
would--" Gunshot wounds, contrary to the tales of certain
sentimentalists, do not appreciably sweeten, or even change, a man's
disposition. Happy Jack with a bullet hole through one side of him was
still Happy Jack.
"Aw, quit your beefin'," Big Medicine advised gruffly. "A feller with
a hole in his lung yuh could throw a calf through sideways ain't got no
business statin' his views on nothin', by cripes!"
"Aw gwan. I thought you said--it didn't amount t' nothin'," Happy
reminded him, anxiety stealing into his face.
"Well, it don't. May lay yuh up a day or two; wouldn't be su'prised if
yuh had to stay on the bed-ground two or three meals. But look at Slim,
here. Shot through the leg--shattered a bone, by cripes!--las' night,
only; and here he's makin' a hand and ridin' and cussin' same as any of
us t'day. We ain't goin' to let yuh grouch around, that's all. We claim
we got a vacation comm' to us; you're shot up, now, and that's fun enough
for one man, without throwin' it into the whole bunch. Why, a little nick
like that ain't nothin'; nothin' a-tall. Why, I've been shot right
through here, by cripes"--Big Medicine laid an impressive finger-tip on
the top button of his trousers--"and it come out back here"--he whirled
and showed his thumb against the small of his back--"and I never laid off
but that day and part uh the next. I was sore," he admitted, goggling
Happy Jack earnestly, "but I kep' a-goin'. I was right in fall roundup,
an' I had to. A man can't lay down an' cry, by cripes, jes' because he
gets pinked a little--"
"Aw, that's jest because--it ain't you. I betche you'd lay 'em
down--jest like other folks, if yuh got shot--through the lungs. That
ain't no--joke, lemme tell yuh!" Happy Jack was beginning to show
considerable spirit for a wounded man. So much spirit that Andy Green,
who had seen men stricken down with various ills, read fever signs in the
countenance and in the voice of Happy, and led Big Medicine somewhat
peremptorily out of ear-shot.
"Ain't you got any sense?" he inquired with fine candor. "What do you
want to throw it into him like that, for? You may not think so, but he's
pretty bad off--if you ask me."
Big Medicine's pale eyes turned commiseratingly toward Happy Jack. "I
know he is; I ain't no fool. I was jest tryin' to cheer 'im up a little.
He was beginnin' to look like he was gittin' scared about it; I reckon
maybe I made a break, sayin' what I did about it, so I jest wanted to
take the cuss off. Honest to gran'ma--"
"If you know anything at all about such things, you must know what
fever means in such a case. And, recollect, it's going to be quite a
while before a doctor can get here."
"Oh, I'll be careful. Maybe I did throw it purty strong; I won't, no
more." Big Medicine s meekness was not the least amazing incident of the
day. He was a big-hearted soul under his bellow and bluff, and his
sympathy for Happy Jack struck deep. He went back walking on his toes,
and he stood so that his sturdy body shaded Happy Jack's face from the
sun, and he did not open his mouth for another word until Irish and Jack
Bates came rattling up with the spring wagon hurriedly transformed with
mattress, pillows and blankets into an ambulance.
They had been thoughtful to a degree. They brought with them a jug of
water and a tin cup, and they gave Happy Jack a long, cooling drink of it
and bathed his face before they lifted him into the wagon. And of all the
hands that ministered to his needs, the hands of Big Medicine were the
eagerest and gentlest, and his voice was the most vibrant with sympathy;
which was saying a good deal.
Slim may not have been more curious than his fellows, but he was
perhaps more single-hearted in his loyalty to the outfit. To him the
shooting of Happy Jack, once he felt assured that the wound was not
necessarily fatal, became of secondary importance. It was all in behalf
of the Flying U; and if the bullet which laid Happy Jack upon the ground
was also the means of driving the hated Dots from that neighborhood, he
felt, in his slow, phlegmatic way, that it wasn't such a catastrophe as
some of the others seemed to think. Of course, he wouldn't want Happy to
die; but he didn't believe, after all, that Happy was going to do
anything like that. Old Patsy knew a lot about sickness and wounds. (Who
can cook for a cattle outfit, for twenty years and more, and not know a
good deal of hurts?) Old Patsy had looked Happy over carefully, and had
given a grin and a snort.
"Py cosh, dot vos lucky for you, alreatty," he had pronounced. "So you
don't git plood-poisonings, mit fever, you be all right pretty soon. You
go to shleep, yet. If fix you oop till der dochtor he cooms. I seen
fellers shot plumb through der middle off dem, und git yell. You ain't
shot so bad. You go to shleep."
So, his immediate fears relieved, Slim's slow mind had swung back to
the Dots, and to Oleson, whom Weary was even now assisting to keep his
promise (Slim grinned widely to himself when he thought of the abject
fear which Oleson had displayed because of the murder he thought he had
done, while Happy Jack obediently "played dead"). And of Dunk, whom Slim
had hated most abominably of old; Dunk, a criminal found out; Dunk, a
prisoner right there on the very ranch he had thought to despoil; Dunk,
at that very moment locked in the blacksmith shop. Perhape it was not
curiosity alone which sent him down there; perhaps it was partly a desire
to look upon Dunk humbled--he who had trodden so arrogantly upon the
necks of those below him; so arrogantly that even Slim, the slow-witted
one, had many a time trembled with anger at his tone.
Slim walked slowly, as was his wont; with deadly directness, as was
his nature. The blacksmith shop was silent, closed--as grimly
noncommittal as a vault. You might guess whatever you pleased about its
inmate; it was like trying to imagine the emotions pictured upon the face
behind a smooth, black mask. Slim stopped before the closed door and
listened. The rusty, iron hasp attracted his slow gaze, at first puzzling
him a little, making him vaguely aware that something about it did not
quite harmonize with his mental attitude toward it. It took him a full
minute to realize that he had expected to find the door locked, and that
the hasp hung downward uselessly, just as it hung every day in the
He remembered then that Andy had spoken of chaining Dunk to the anvil.
That would make it unnecessary to lock the door, of course. Slim seized
the hanging strip of iron, gave it a jerk and bathed all the dingy
interior with a soft, sunset glow. Cobwebs quivered at the inrush of the
breeze, and glistened like threads of fine gold. The forge remained a
dark blot in the corner. A new chisel, lying upon the earthen floor,
became a bar of yellow light.
Slim's eyes went to the anvil and clung there in a widening stare. His
hands, white and soft when his gloves were off, drew up convulsively into
fighting fists, and as he stood looking, the cords swelled and stood out
upon his thick neck. For years he had hated Dunk Whittaker--
The Happy Family, with rare good sense, had not hesitated to turn the
white house into an impromptu hospital. They knew that if the Little
Doctor and Chip and the Old Man had been at home Happy Jack would have
been taken unquestioningly into the guest chamber--which was a square,
three-windowed room off the big livingroom. More than one of them had
occupied it upon occasion. They took Happy Jack up there and put him to
bed quite as a matter-of-course, and when he was asleep they lingered
upon the wide, front porch; the hammock of the Little Doctor squeaked
under the weight of Andy Green, and the wide-armed chairs received the
weary forms of divers young cowpunchers who did not give a thought to the
intrusion, but were thankful for the comfort. Andy was swinging
luxuriously and drawing the last few puffs from a cigarette when Slim,
purple and puffing audibly, appeared portentously before him.
"I thought you said you was goin' to lock Dunk up in the blacksmith
shop," he launched accusingly at Andy.
"We did," averred that young man, pushing his toe against the railing
to accelerate the voluptuous motion of the hammock.
"He ain't there. He's broke loose. The chain--by golly, yuh went an'
used that chain that was broke an' jest barely hangin' together! His
horse ain't anywheres around, either. You fellers make me sick. Lollin'
around here an' not paying no attention, by golly--he's liable to be ten
mile from here by this time!" When Slim stopped, his jaw quivered like a
dish of disturbed jelly, and I wish I could give you his tone; choppy,
every sentence an accusation that should have made those fellows
Irish, Big Medicine and Jack Bates had sprung guiltily to their feet
and started down the steps. The drawling voice of the Native Son stopped
them, ten feet from the porch.
"Twelve, or fifteen, I should make it. That horse of his looked to me
like a drifter."
"Well--are yuh goin' t' set there on your haunches an' let him GO?"
Slim, by the look of him, was ripe for murder.
"You want to look out, or you'll get apoplexy sure," Andy soothed,
giving himself another luxurious push and pulling the last, little whiff
from his cigarette before he threw away the stub. "Fat men can't afford
to get as excited as skinny ones can."
"Aw, say! Where did you put him, Andy?" asked Big Medicine, his first
flurry subsiding before the absolute calm of those two on the porch.
"In the blacksmith shop," said Andy, with a slurring accent on the
first word that made the whole sentence perfectly maddening. "Ah, come on
back here and sit down. I guess we better tell 'em the how of it. Huh,
Miguel cast a slow, humorous glance over the four. "Ye-es-- they'll
have us treed in about two minutes if we don't," he assented. "Go
"Well," Andy lifted his head and shoulders that he might readjust a
pillow to his liking, "we wanted him to make a getaway. Fact is, if he
hadn't, we'd have been--strictly up against it. Right! If he hadn't--how
about it, Mig? I guess we'd have been to the Little Rockies
"You've got a sweet little voice," Irish cut in savagely, "but we're
tired. We'd rather hear yuh say something!"
"Oh--all right. Well, Mig and I just ribbed up a josh on Dunk. I'd
read somewhere about the same kinda deal, so it ain't original; I don't
lay any claim to the idea at all; we just borrowed it. You see, it's like
this: We figured that a man as mean as this Dunk person most likely had
stepped over the line, somewhere. So we just took a gambling chance, and
let him do the rest. You see, we never saw him before in our lives. All
that identification stunt of ours was just a bluff. But the minute I
shoved my chips to the center, I knew we had him dead to rights. You were
there. You saw him wilt. By gracious--"
"Yuh don't know anything against him?" gasped Irish.
"Not a darned thing--any more than what you all know," testified Andy
It took a minute or two for that to sink in.
"Well, I'll be damned!" breathed Irish.
"We did chain him to the anvil," Andy went on. "On the way down, we
talked about being in a hurry to get back to you fellows, and I told
Mig--so Dunk could hear--that we wouldn't bother with the horse. We tied
him to the corral. And I hunted around for that bum chain, and then we
made out we couldn't find the padlock for the door; so we decided, right
out loud, that he'd be dead safe for an hour or two, till the bunch of us
got back. Not knowing a darn thing about him, except what you boys have
told us, we sure would have been in bad if he hadn't taken a sneak. Fact
is, we were kinda worried for fear he wouldn't have nerve enough to try
it. We waited, up on the hill, till we saw him sneak down to the corral
and jump on his horse and take off down the coulee like a scared coyote.
It was," quoth the young man, unmistakably pleased with himself, "pretty
smooth work, if you ask me."
"I'd hate to ride as fast and far to-night as that hombre will,"
supplemented Miguel with his brief smile, that was just a flash of white,
even teeth and a momentary lightening of his languorous eyes.
Slim stood for five minutes, a stolid, stocky figure in the midst of a
storm of congratulatory comment. They forgot all about Happy Jack, asleep
inside the house, and so their voices were not hushed. Indeed, Big
Medicine's bull-like remarks boomed full- throated across the coulee and
were flung back mockingly by the barren hills. Slim did not hear a word
they were saying; he was thinking it over, with that complete mental
concentration which is the chief recompense of a slow-working mind. He
was methodically thinking it all out--and, eventually, he saw the
"Well, by golly!" he bawled suddenly, and brought his palm down with a
terrific smack upon his sore leg--whereat his fellows laughed
"We told you not to try to see through any more jokes till your leg
gets well, Slim," Andy reminded condescendingly.
"Say, by golly, that's a good one on Dunk, ain't it? Chasin' himself
clean outa the country, by golly--scared plumb to death---and you fellers
was only jest makin' b'lieve yuh knowed him! By golly, that sure is a
good one, all right!"
"You've got it; give you time enough and you could see through a
barbed-wire fence," patronized Andy, from the hammock. "Yes, since you
mention it, I think myself it ain't so bad."
"Aw-w shut up, out there, an' let a feller sleep!" came a querulous
voice from within. "I'd ruther bed down with a corral full uh calves at
weanin' time, than be anywheres within ten mile uh you darned, mouthy--"
The rest was indistinguishable, but it did not matter. The Happy Family,
save Slim, who stayed to look after the patient, tiptoed penitently off
the porch and took themselves and their enthusiasm down to the
Pink rolled over in his bed so that he might look--however
sleepily--upon his fellows, dressing more or less quietly in the cool
"Say, I got a letter for you, Weary," he yawned, stretching both arms
above his head. "I opened it and read it; it was from Chip, so--"
"What did he have to say?"
"Old Man any better?"
"How they comm', back here?"
Several voices, speaking at once, necessitated a delayed reply.
"They'll be here, to-day or to-morrow," Pink replied without any
circumlocution whatever, while he fumbled in his coat pocket for the
letter. "He says the Old Man wants to come, and the doctors think he
might as well tackle it as stay there fussing over it. They're coming in
a special car, and we've got to rig up an outfit to meet him. The Little
Doctor tells just how she wants things fixed. I thought maybe it was
important--it come special delivery," Pink added naively, "so I just
played it was mine and read it."
"That's all right, Cadwalloper," Weary assured him while he read
hastily the letter. "Well, we'll fix up the spring wagon and take it in
right away; somebody's got to go back anyway, with MacPherson. Hello,
Cal; how's Happy?"
"All right," answered Cal, who had watched over him during the night
and came in at that moment after someone to take his place in the
sickroom. "Waked up on the fight because I just happened to be setting
with my eyes shut. I wasn't asleep, but he said I was; claimed I snored
so loud I kept him awake all night. Gee whiz! I'd ruther nurse a she bear
with the mumps!"
"Old Man's coming home, Cal." Pink announced with more joy in his tone
and in his face than had appeared in either for many a weary day.
Whereupon Cal gave an exultant whoop. "Go tell that to Happy," he
shouted. "Maybe he'll forget a grouch or two. Say, luck seems to be kinda
casting loving glances our way again-- what?"
"By golly, seems to me Pink oughta told us when he come in, las'
night," grumbled Slim, when he could make himself heard.
"You were all dead to the world," Pink defended, "and I wanted to be.
Two o'clock in the morning is a mighty poor time for elegant
conversation, if you want my opinion."
"And the main point is, you knew all about it, and you didn't give a
darn whether we did or not," Irish said bluntly. "And Weary sneaked in,
too, and never let a yip outa him about things over in Denson
"Oh, what was the use?" asked Weary blandly. "I got an option out of
Oleson for the ranch and outfit, and all his sheep, at a mighty good
figure--for the Flying U. The Old Man can do what he likes about it; but
ten to one he'll buy him out. That is, Oleson's share, which was
two-thirds. I kinda counted on Dunk letting go easy. And," he added,
reaching for his hat, "once I got the papers for it, there wasn't
anything to hang around for, was there? Especially," he said with his
old, sunny smile, "when we weren't urged a whole lot to stay."
Remained therefore little, save the actual arrival of the Old Man--a
pitifully weak Old Man, bandaged and odorous with antiseptics, and quite
pathetically glad to be back home--and his recovery, which was rather
slow, and the recovery of Happy Jack, which was rapid.
For a brief space the Flying U outfit owned the Dots; very brief it
was; not a day longer than it took Chip to find a buyer--at a figure
considerably above that named in the option, by the way.
So, after a season of worry and trouble and impending tragedy such as
no man may face unflinchingly, life dropped back to its usual level, and
the trail of the Flying U outfit once more led through pleasant