Part 1 out of 3
This etext was prepared by Anthony Matonak.
FLYING U RANCH BY B. M. BOWER
I. The Coming of a Native Son
II. "When Greek Meets Greek"
III. Bad News
IV. Some Hopes
VI. What Happened to Andy
VII. Truth Crushed to Earth, etc.
VIII. The Dot Outfit
IX. More Sheep
X. The Happy Family Herd Sheep
XI. Weary Unburdens
XII. Two of a Kind
XIII. The Happy Family Learn Something
XIV. Happy Jack
XVI. The End of the Dots
XVII. Good News
FLYING U RANCH
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 the lips:
"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
"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
The Happy Family went prickly hot. The girls in that neighborhood
were held in esteem, and there was that in his tone which gave
"Sure, there's pretty girls here!" Big Medicine bellowed
unexpectedly, close beside him. "We're all of us engaged to `em,
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
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
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 acrimoniously.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 this coulee."
"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 cripes!"
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 match.
"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
"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
"How fortunate that I brought the humor to your attention,"
drawled Miguel, in the same expressionless tone, much as if he
were reciting a text.
"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
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
"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 kettle."
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
"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 mercilessly.
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 them.
"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, all right."
"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
"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
Slim listened that far, saw that he had interrupted a tale
evidently more interesting than anything he could say, and went
off, muttering to himself.
CHAPTER II. "When Greek Meets Greek"
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 testified.
"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
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
"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 both."
"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
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, anyway."
"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
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, for assistance.
"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
"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
"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 gracious--"
"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 a while?"
"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
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
"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 Native Son."
"Aw, you're the biggest liar and faker in the bunch, is why,"
Happy Jack blurted.
"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
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.
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
"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
"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 safe!"
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
"They had it coming," said Miguel softly, with a peculiar relish.
"Two whole weeks, and never a friendly word from one of them--oh,
"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 right!"
"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 his adoption.
CHAPTER III. Bad News
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
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 peered backward.
"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 turned white.
"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
"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
"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 easy--"
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 telegram--"
"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 yourselves, then!"
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,
"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
"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 criticism.
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
"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
The Happy Family looked around at him, then understandingly at
"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
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
CHAPTER IV. Some Hopes
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,
"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. And--"
"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
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 Mary--"
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
"Yeah, you can most generally bank on the Countess telling all
she knows," Cal assented with some sarcasm; at which Slim grunted
and turned sulky afterward.
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 succession.
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
"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 cars.
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 stacking up?"
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 of them.
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 'em."
"When you and the dogs were shooting off coyotes?" asked Andy
Green pointedly, and so precipitated dissension which lasted for
CHAPTER V. Sheep
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 sniff.
"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 vaccinated?"
"That ain't imagination," Pink called out from within. "When
anybody claims there's sheep in Flying U coulee, that's straight
"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
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 instruments.
"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 ant-hill.
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 of course.
"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 river.
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
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 man.
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 coulee.
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
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 enough there!"
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 the invaders.
"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
"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
"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
"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
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 at that.
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 wonder--"
"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 knowledge."
"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 way.
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 numbers.
This morning the herders were not quite so passive. The
bug-killer still scowled, but he spoke without the preliminary
sulky silence of the day before,
"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 going quick!"
CHAPTER VI. What Happened to Andy
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
"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 the bug-killer.
"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 west.
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
"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 lips unbecomingly.
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 deadly significance.
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
"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 north."
"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 these woollies?"
"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
"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
"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
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 saddle.
"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, squirming person.
"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 children's party.
"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 Andy.
"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 eyebrows, anyway."
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
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.
CHAPTER VII. Truth Crushed to Earth, etc.