Part 2 out of 3
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
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
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 coulee.
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 belonged.
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
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
"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 ragefully.
"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 gentled down--"
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 it.
"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 this bunch."
"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
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
"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 Green.)
"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 say--"
"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 it's--Dunk?"
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
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 Whittaker person?"
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
"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 door-knob.
"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!"
CHAPTER VIII. The Dot Outfit
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
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 he dismounted.
"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,
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
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 first.
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
"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,
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
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
"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
"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 him."
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,
"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 war.
"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
"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.
CHAPTER IX. More Sheep
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 their troubles.
"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
"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
"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 turned out.
"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 time."
"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
"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 wrath.
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 person.
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
"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
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 unyielding.
"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 outright.
"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 the gun--"
"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
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 Dot sheep.
"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 need 'em."
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
CHAPTER X. The Happy Family Herd Sheep
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
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
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 people.
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 "little pasture."
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
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
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
"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 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 his head.
"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 the gun.
"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'
"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 iron--"
"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 yuh."
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
"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 unfeelingly.
"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 louder.
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 fence.
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 convoy.
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 easy traveling.
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
"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 down there."
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 upheaval.
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
"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, anyway.
CHAPTER XI. Weary Unburdens
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,
"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 the corrals."
"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
"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
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.
"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
"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 Flying U.
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
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.
CHAPTER XII. Two of a Kind
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 sore.
"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 accident."
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
"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 in."
"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
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 drollery.
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 look.
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 himself.
"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
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 ain't."
"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 occasion.
"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
"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
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
"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."
CHAPTER XIII. The Happy Family Learn Something
"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
"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 outa here."
"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 secret.
There is in resentment a crisis; when that crisis is reached, and
the dam of repression gives way, the full flood does not always