Part 3 out of 3
sweep down upon those who have provoked the disaster. Frequently
it happens that perfectly innocent victims are made to suffer.
The Happy Family had been extremely forbearing, as has been
pointed out before. They had frequently come to the boiling point
of rage and had cooled without committing any real act of
violence. But that day had held a long series of petty
annoyances; and here was a really important thing kept from them
as if they were mere outsiders. When Weary was gone, Irish asked
Pink what crime Dunk had committed in the past. And Pink shook
his head and said he didn't know. Irish mentally accused Pink of
lying, and his temper was none the better for the rebuff, as
anyone can readily understand.
When the herders, therefore, rounded up the sheep and started
them moving south, the Happy Family speedily rebelled against
that shuffling, nibbling, desultory pace that had kept them long,
weary hours in the saddle with the other band. But it was Irish
who first took measures to accelerate that pace.
He got down his rope and whacked the loop viciously down across
the nearest gray back. The sheep jumped, scuttled away a few
paces and returned to its nibbling progress. Irish called it
names and whacked another.
After a few minutes he grew tired of swinging his loop and seeing
it have so fleeting an effect, and pulled his gun. He fired close
to the heels of a yearling buck that had more than once stopped
to look up at him foolishly and blat, and the buck charged ahead
in a panic at the noise and the spat of the bullet behind him.
"Hit him agin in the same place!" yelled Big Medicine, and drew
his own gun. The Happy Family, at that high tension where they
were ready for anything, caught the infection and began shooting
and yelling like crazy men.
The effect was not at all what they expected. Instead of adding
impetus to the band, as would have been the case if they had been
driving cattle, the result was exactly the opposite. The sheep
ran--but they ran to a common center. As the shooting went on
they bunched tighter and tighter, until it seemed as though those
in the center must surely be crushed flat. From an ambling,
feeding company of animals, they become a lumpy gray blanket,
with here and there a long, vacuous face showing idiotically upon
The herders grinned and drew together as against a common
enemy--or as with a new joke to be discussed among themselves.
The dogs wandered helplessly about, yelped half-heartedly at the
woolly mass, then sat down upon their haunches and lolled red
tongues far out over their pointed little teeth, and tilted
knowing heads at the Happy Family.
"Look at the darned things!" wailed Pink, riding twice around the
huddle, almost ready to shed tears of pure rage and helplessness.
"Git outa that! Hi! Woopp-ee!" He fired again and again, and gave
the range-old cattle-yell; the yell which had sent many a tired
herd over many a weary mile; the yell before which had fled fat
steers into the stockyards at shipping time, and up the chutes
into the cars; the yell that had hoarsened many a cowpuncher's
voice and left him with a mere croak to curse his fate with; a
yell to bring results--but it did not start those sheep.
The Happy Family, riding furiously round and round, fired every
cartridge they had upon their persons; they said every improper
thing they could remember or invent; they yelled until their eyes
were starting from their sockets; they glued that band of sheep
so tight together that dynamite could scarcely have pried them
And the herders, sitting apart with grimy hands clasped loosely
over hunched-up knees, looked on, and talked together in low
tones, and grinned.
Irish glanced that way and caught them grinning; caught them
pointing derisively, with heaving shoulders. He swore a great
oath and made for them, calling aloud that he would knock those
grins so far in that they would presently find themselves smiling
wrong-side-out from the back of their heads.
Pink, overhearing him, gave a last swat at the waggling tail of a
burrowing buck, and wheeled to overtake Irish and have a hand in
reversing the grins. Big Medicine saw them start, and came
bellowing up from the far side of the huddle like a bull
challenging to combat from across a meadow. Big Medicine did not
know what it was all about, but he scented battle, and that was
sufficient. Cal Emmett and Weary, equally ignorant of the cause,
started at a lope toward the trouble center.
It began to look as if the whole Family was about to fall upon
those herders and rend them asunder with teeth and nails; so much
so that the herders jumped up and ran like scared cottontails
toward the rim of Denson coulee, a hundred yards or so to the
"Mamma! I wish we could make the sheep hit that gait and keep
it," exclaimed Weary, with the first laugh they had heard from
him that day.
While he was still laughing, there was a shot from the ridge
toward which they were running; the sharp, vicious crack of a
rifle. The Happy Family heard the whistling hum of the bullet,
singing low over their heads; quite low indeed; altogether too
low to be funny. And they had squandered all their ammunition on
the prairie sod, to hurry a band of sheep that flatly refused to
hurry anywhere except under one another's odorous, perspiring
From the edge of the coulee the rifle spoke again. A tiny geyser
of dust, spurting up from the ground ten feet to one side of Cal
Emmett, showed them all where the bullet struck.
"Get outa range, everybody!" yelled Weary, and set the example by
tilting his rowels against Glory's smooth hide, and heading
eastward. "I like to be accommodating, all right, but I draw the
line on standing around for a target while my neighbors practise
The Happy Family, having no other recourse, therefore retreated
in haste toward the eastern skyline. Bullets followed them,
overtook them as the shooter raised his sights for the increasing
distance, and whined harmlessly over their heads. All save one.
CHAPTER XIV. Happy Jack
Big Medicine, Irish and Pink, racing almost abreast, heard a
scream behind them and pulled up their horses with short,
stiff-legged plunges. A brown horse overtook them; a brown horse,
with Happy Jack clinging to the saddle-horn, his body swaying far
over to one side. Even as he went hurtling past them his hold
grew slack and he slumped, head foremost, to the ground. The
brown horse gave a startled leap away from him and went on with
empty stirrups flapping.
They sprang down and lifted him to a less awkward position, and
Big Medicine pillowed the sweat-dampened, carroty head in the
hollow of his arm. Those who had been in the lead looked back
startled when the brown horse tore past them with that empty
saddle; saw what had happened, wheeled and galloped back. They
dismounted and stood silently grouped about poor, ungainly Happy
Jack, lying there limp and motionless in Big Medicine's arms. Not
one of them remembered then that there was a man with a rifle not
more than two hundred yards away; or, if they did, they quite
forgot that the rifle might be dangerous to themselves. They were
thinking of Happy Jack.
Happy Jack, butt of all their jokes and jibes; Happy the croaker,
the lugubrious forecaster of trouble; Happy Jack, the ugliest,
the stupidest, the softest-hearted man of them all. He had
"betched" there would be someone killed, over these Dot sheep; he
had predicted trouble of every conceivable kind; and they had
laughed at him, swore at him, lied to him, "joshed" him
unmercifully, and kept him in a state of chronic indignation,
never dreaming that the memory of it would choke them and strike
them dumb with that horrible, dull weight in their chests with
which men suffer when a woman would find the relief of weeping.
"Where's he hurt?" asked Weary, in the repressed tone which only
tragedy can bring into a man's voice, and knelt beside Big
"I dunno--through the lungs, I guess; my sleeve's gitting soppy
right under his shoulder." Big Medicine did not bellow; his voice
was as quiet as Weary's.
Weary looked up briefly at the circle of staring faces. "Pink,
you pile onto Glory and go wire for a doctor. Try Havre first;
you may get one up on the nine o' clock train. If you can't, get
one down on the 'leven-twenty, from Great Falls. Or there's
Benton--anyway, git one. If you could catch MacPherson, do it.
Try him first, and never mind a Havre doctor unless you can't get
MacPherson. I'd rather wait a couple of hours longer, for him.
I'll have a rig--no, you better get a team from Jim. They'll be
fresh, and you can put 'em through. If you kill 'em," he added
grimly, "we can pay for 'em." He had his jack-knife out, and was
already slashing carefully the shirt of Happy Jack, that he might
inspect the wound.
Pink gave a last, wistful look at Happy Jack's face, which seemed
unfamiliar with all the color and all the expression wiped out of
it like that, and turned away. "Come and help me change saddles,
Cal," he said shortly. "Weary's stirrups are too darned long."
Even with the delay, he was mounted on Glory and galloping toward
Flying U coulee before Weary was through uncovering the wound;
and that does not mean that Weary was slow.
The rifle cracked again, and a bullet plucked into the sod twenty
feet beyond the circle of men and horses. But no one looked up or
gave any other sign of realization that they were still the
target; they were staring, with that frowning painfully intent
look men have at such moments, at a purplish hole not much bigger
than if punched by a lead pencil, just under the point of Happy
Jack's shoulder blade; and at the blood oozing sluggishly from it
in a tiny stream across the girlishly white flesh and dripping
upon Big Medicine's arm.
"Hadn't we better get a rig to take him home with?" Irish
Weary, exploring farther, had just disclosed a ragged wound under
the arm where the bullet had passed out; he made no immediate
"Well, he ain't got it stuck inside of 'im, anyway," Big Medicine
commented relievedly. "Don't look to me like it's so awful
bad--went through kinda anglin', and maybe missed his lungs. I've
saw men shot up before--"
"Aw--I betche you'd--think it was bad--if you had it--" murmured
Happy Jack peevishly, lifting his eyelids heavily for a resentful
glance when they moved him a little. But even as Big Medicine
grinned joyfully down at him he went off again into mental
darkness, and the grin faded into solicitude.
"You'd kick, by golly, if you was goin' to be hung," Slim
bantered tritely and belatedly, and gulped remorsefully when he
saw that he was "joshing" an unconscious man.
"We better get him home. Irish, you--" Weary looked up and
discovered that Irish and jack Bates were already headed for home
and a conveyance. He gave a sigh of approval and turned his
attention toward wiping the sweat and grime from Happy's face
with his handkerchief.
"Somebody else is goin' to git hit, by golly, if we stay here,"
Slim blurted suddenly, when another bullet dug up the dirt in
"That gol-darned fool'll keep on till he kills somebody. I wisht
I had m' thirty-thirty here--I'd make him wisht his mother was a
man, by golly!"
Big Medicine looked toward the coulee rim. "I ain't got a shell
left," he growled regretfully. "I wisht we'd thought to tell the
boys to bring them rifles. Say, Slim, you crawl onto your hoss
and go git 'em. It won't take more'n a minute. There'll likely be
some shells in the magazines."
"Go on, Slim," urged Weary grimly. "We've got to do something.
They can't do a thing like this--"he glanced down at Happy Jack-
--"and get away with it."
"I got half a box uh shells for my thirty-thirty, I'll bring
that." Slim turned to go, stopped short and stared at the coulee
rim. "By golly, they're comm' over here!" he exclaimed.
Big Medicine glanced up, took off his hat, crumpled it for a
pillow and eased Happy Jack down upon it. He got up stiffly,
wiped his fingers mechanically upon his trouser legs, broke his
gun open just to make sure that it was indeed empty, put it back
and picked up a handful of rocks.
"Let 'em come," he said viciously. "I c'n kill every damn' one
with m' bare hands!"
CHAPTER XV. Oleson
"Say, ain't that Andy and Mig following along behind?" Cal asked
after a minute of watching the approach. "Sure, it is. Now
"They're drivin' 'em, by cripes!" Big Medicine, under the stress
of the moment, returned to his usual bellowing tone. "Who's that
tall, lanky feller in the lead? I don't call to mind ever seem
him before. Them four herders I'd know a mile off."
"That?" Weary shaded his eyes with his hat-brim, against the
slant rays of the westering sun. "That's Oleson, Dunk's partner."
"His mother'd be a-weepin'," Big Medicine observed bodefully, "if
she knowed what was due to happen to her son right away quick.
Must be him that done the shootin'."
They came on steadily, the four herders and Oleson walking
reluctantly ahead, with Andy Green and the Native Son riding
relentlessly in the rear, their guns held unwaveringly in a line
with the backs of their captives. Andy was carrying a rifle,
evidently taken from one of the men--Oleson, they judged for the
guilty one. Half the distance was covered when Andy was seen to
turn his head and speak briefly with the Native Son, after which
he lunged past the captives and galloped up to the waiting group.
His quick eye sought first the face of Happy Jack in anxious
questioning; then, miserably, he searched the faces of his
"Good Lord!" he exclaimed mechanically, dismounted and bent over
the figure on the ground. For a long minute he knelt there; he
laid his ear close to Happy Jack's mouth, took off his glove and
laid his hand over Happy's heart; reached up, twitched off his
neckerchief, shook out the creases and spread it reverently over
Happy Jack's face. He stood up then and spoke slowly, his eyes
fixed upon the stumbling approach of the captives.
"Pink told us Happy had been shot, so we rode around and come up
behind 'em. It was a cinch. And--say, boys, we've got the Dots in
a pocket. They've got to eat outa our hands, now. So don't think
about--our own feelings, or about--" he stopped abruptly and let
a downward glance finish the sentence. "We've got to keep our own
hands clean, and--now don't let your fingers get the itch, Bud!"
This, because of certain manifestations of a murderous intent on
the part of Big Medicine.
"Oh, it's all right to talk, if yuh feel like talking," Big
Medicine retorted savagely. "I don't." He made a catlike spring
at the foremost man, who happened to be Oleson, and got a
merciless grip with his fingers on his throat, snarling like a
predatory animal over its kill. From behind, Andy, with Weary to
help, pulled him off.
"I didn't mean to--to kill anybody," gasped Oleson, pasty white.
"I heard a lot of shooting, and so I ran up the hill--and the
herders came running toward me, and I thought I was defending my
property and men. I had a right to defend--"
"Defend hell!" Big Medicine writhed in the restraining grasp of
those who held him. "Look at that there! As good hearted a boy as
ever turned a cow! Never harmed a soul in 'is life. Is all your
dirty, stinkin' sheep, an' all your lousy herders, worth that
boy's life? Yuh shot 'im down like a dog--lemme go, boys." His
voice was husky. "Lemme tromp the life outa him."
"I thought you were killing my men, or I never--I never meant
to--to kill--" Oleson, shaking till he could scarcely stand,
broke down and wept; wept pitiably, hysterically, as men of a
certain fiber will weep when black tragedy confronts them all
unawares. He cowered miserably before the Happy Family, his face
hidden behind his two hands.
"Boys, I want to say a word or two. Come over here." Andy's
voice, quiet as ever, contrasted strangely with the man's
sobbing. He led them back a few paces--Weary, Cal, Big Medicine
and Slim, and spoke hurriedly. The Native Son eyed them sidelong
from his horse, but he was careful to keep Oleson covered with
his gun--and the herders too, although they were unarmed. Once or
twice he glanced at that long, ungainly figure in the grass with
the handkerchief of Andy Green hiding the face except where a
corner, fluttering in the faint breeze which came creeping out of
the west, lifted now and then and gave a glimpse of sunbrowned
throat and a quiet chin and mouth.
"Quit that blubbering, Oleson, and listen here." Andys voice
broke relentlessly upon the other's woe. "All these boys want to
hang yuh without any red tape; far as I'm concerned, I'm dead
willing. But we're going to give yuh a chance. Your partner, as
we told yuh coming over, we've got the dead immortal cinch on,
right now. And--well you can see what you're up against. But
we'll give yuh a chance. Have you got any family?"
Oleson, trying to pull himself together, shook his head.
"Well, then, you can get rid of them sheep, can't yuh? Sell 'em,
ship 'em outa here--we don't give a darn what yuh do, only so yuh
get 'em off the range."
"Y-yes, I'll do that." Oleson's consent was reluctant, but it was
fairly prompt. "I'll get rid of the sheep," he said, as if he was
minded to clinch the promise. "I'll do it at once."
"That's nice." Andy spoke with grim irony. "And you'll get rid of
the ranch, too. You'll sell it to the Flying U--cheap."
"But my partner--Whittaker might object--"
"Look here, old-timer. You'll fix that part up; you'll find a way
of fixing it. Look here--at what you're up against." He waited,
with pointing finger, for one terrible minute. "Will you sell to
the Flying U?"
"Y-yes!" The word was really a gulp. He tried to avoid looking
where Andy pointed; failed, and shuddered at what he saw.
"I thought you would. We'll get that in writing. And we're going
to wait just exactly twenty-four hours before we make a move.
It'll take some fine work, but we'll do it. Our boss, here, will
fix up the business end with you. He'll go with yuh right now,
and stay with yuh till you make good. And the first crooked move
you make--" Andy, in unconscious imitation of the Native Son,
shrugged a shoulder expressively and urged Weary by a glance to
take the leadership.
"Irish, you come with me. The rest of you fellows know about what
to do. Andy, I guess you'll have to ride point till I get back."
Weary hesitated, looked from Happy Jack to Oleson and the
herders, and back to the sober faces of his fellows. "Do what you
can for him, boys--and I wish one of you would ride over, after
Pink gets back, and--let me know how things stack up, will you?"
Incredible as was the situation on the face of it, nevertheless
it was extremely matter-of-fact in the handling; which is the way
sometimes with incredible situations; as if, since we know
instinctively that we cannot rise unprepared to the bigness of
its possibilities, we keep our feet planted steadfastly on the
ground and refuse to rise at all. And afterward, perhaps, we look
back and wonder how it all came about.
At the last moment Weary turned back and exchanged guns with Andy
Green, because his own was empty and he realized the possible
need of one--or at least the need of having the sheep-men
perfectly aware that he had one ready for use. The Native Son,
without a word of comment, handed his own silver-trimmed weapon
over to Irish, and rolled a cigarette deftly with one hand while
he watched them ride away.
"Does this strike anybody else as being pretty raw?" he inquired
calmly, dismounting among them. "I'd do a good deal for the
outfit, myself; but letting that man get off--Say, you fellows up
this way don't think killing a man amounts to much, do you?" He
looked from one to the other with a queer, contemptuous hostility
in his eyes.
Andy Green took a forward step and laid a hand familiarly on his
rigid shoulder. "Quit it, Mig. We would do a lot for the outfit;
that's the God's truth. And I played the game right up to the
hilt, I admit. But nobody's killed. I told Happy to play dead. By
gracious, I caught him just in the nick uh time; he'd been
setting up, in another minute." To prove it, he bent and twitched
the handkerchief from the face of Happy Jack, and Happy opened
his eyes and made shift to growl.
"Yuh purty near-smothered me t'death, darn yuh."
"Dios!" breathed the Native Son, for once since they knew him
jolted out of his eternal calm. "God, but I'm glad!"
"I guess the rest of us ain't," insinuated Andy softly, and
lifted his hat to wipe the sweat off his forehead. "I will say
that--" After all, he did not. Instead, he knelt beside Happy
Jack and painstakingly adjusted the crumpled hat a hair's breadth
"How do yuh feel, old-timer?" be asked with a very thin disguise
of cheerfulness upon the anxiety of his tone.
"Well, I could feel a lot--better, without hurtin' nothin," Happy
Jack responded somberly. "I hope you fellers--feel better, now.
Yuh got 'em--tryin' to murder--the hull outfit; jes' like I--told
yuh they would--" Gunshot wounds, contrary to the tales of
certain sentimentalists, do not appreciably sweeten, or even
change, a man's disposition. Happy Jack with a bullet hole
through one side of him was still Happy Jack.
"Aw, quit your beefin'," Big Medicine advised gruffly. "A feller
with a hole in his lung yuh could throw a calf through sideways
ain't got no business statin' his views on nothin', by cripes!"
"Aw gwan. I thought you said--it didn't amount t' nothin'," Happy
reminded him, anxiety stealing into his face.
"Well, it don't. May lay yuh up a day or two; wouldn't be
su'prised if yuh had to stay on the bed-ground two or three
meals. But look at Slim, here. Shot through the leg--shattered a
bone, by cripes!--las' night, only; and here he's makin' a hand
and ridin' and cussin' same as any of us t'day. We ain't goin' to
let yuh grouch around, that's all. We claim we got a vacation
comm' to us; you're shot up, now, and that's fun enough for one
man, without throwin' it into the whole bunch. Why, a little nick
like that ain't nothin'; nothin' a-tall. Why, I've been shot
right through here, by cripes"--Big Medicine laid an impressive
finger-tip on the top button of his trousers--"and it come out
back here"--he whirled and showed his thumb against the small of
his back--"and I never laid off but that day and part uh the
next. I was sore," he admitted, goggling Happy Jack earnestly,
"but I kep' a-goin'. I was right in fall roundup, an' I had to. A
man can't lay down an' cry, by cripes, jes' because he gets
pinked a little--"
"Aw, that's jest because--it ain't you. I betche you'd lay 'em
down--jest like other folks, if yuh got shot--through the lungs.
That ain't no--joke, lemme tell yuh!" Happy Jack was beginning to
show considerable spirit for a wounded man. So much spirit that
Andy Green, who had seen men stricken down with various ills,
read fever signs in the countenance and in the voice of Happy,
and led Big Medicine somewhat peremptorily out of ear-shot.
"Ain't you got any sense?" he inquired with fine candor. "What do
you want to throw it into him like that, for? You may not think
so, but he's pretty bad off--if you ask me."
Big Medicine's pale eyes turned commiseratingly toward Happy
Jack. "I know he is; I ain't no fool. I was jest tryin' to cheer
'im up a little. He was beginnin' to look like he was gittin'
scared about it; I reckon maybe I made a break, sayin' what I did
about it, so I jest wanted to take the cuss off. Honest to
"If you know anything at all about such things, you must know
what fever means in such a case. And, recollect, it's going to be
quite a while before a doctor can get here."
"Oh, I'll be careful. Maybe I did throw it purty strong; I won't,
no more." Big Medicine s meekness was not the least amazing
incident of the day. He was a big-hearted soul under his bellow
and bluff, and his sympathy for Happy Jack struck deep. He went
back walking on his toes, and he stood so that his sturdy body
shaded Happy Jack's face from the sun, and he did not open his
mouth for another word until Irish and Jack Bates came rattling
up with the spring wagon hurriedly transformed with mattress,
pillows and blankets into an ambulance.
They had been thoughtful to a degree. They brought with them a
jug of water and a tin cup, and they gave Happy Jack a long,
cooling drink of it and bathed his face before they lifted him
into the wagon. And of all the hands that ministered to his
needs, the hands of Big Medicine were the eagerest and gentlest,
and his voice was the most vibrant with sympathy; which was
saying a good deal.
CHAPTER XVI. The End of the Dots
Slim may not have been more curious than his fellows, but he was
perhaps more single-hearted in his loyalty to the outfit. To him
the shooting of Happy Jack, once he felt assured that the wound
was not necessarily fatal, became of secondary importance. It was
all in behalf of the Flying U; and if the bullet which laid Happy
Jack upon the ground was also the means of driving the hated Dots
from that neighborhood, he felt, in his slow, phlegmatic way,
that it wasn't such a catastrophe as some of the others seemed to
think. Of course, he wouldn't want Happy to die; but he didn't
believe, after all, that Happy was going to do anything like
that. Old Patsy knew a lot about sickness and wounds. (Who can
cook for a cattle outfit, for twenty years and more, and not know
a good deal of hurts?) Old Patsy had looked Happy over carefully,
and had given a grin and a snort.
"Py cosh, dot vos lucky for you, alreatty," he had pronounced.
"So you don't git plood-poisonings, mit fever, you be all right
pretty soon. You go to shleep, yet. If fix you oop till der
dochtor he cooms. I seen fellers shot plumb through der middle
off dem, und git yell. You ain't shot so bad. You go to shleep."
So, his immediate fears relieved, Slim's slow mind had swung back
to the Dots, and to Oleson, whom Weary was even now assisting to
keep his promise (Slim grinned widely to himself when he thought
of the abject fear which Oleson had displayed because of the
murder he thought he had done, while Happy Jack obediently
"played dead"). And of Dunk, whom Slim had hated most abominably
of old; Dunk, a criminal found out; Dunk, a prisoner right there
on the very ranch he had thought to despoil; Dunk, at that very
moment locked in the blacksmith shop. Perhape it was not
curiosity alone which sent him down there; perhaps it was partly
a desire to look upon Dunk humbled--he who had trodden so
arrogantly upon the necks of those below him; so arrogantly that
even Slim, the slow-witted one, had many a time trembled with
anger at his tone.
Slim walked slowly, as was his wont; with deadly directness, as
was his nature. The blacksmith shop was silent, closed--as grimly
noncommittal as a vault. You might guess whatever you pleased
about its inmate; it was like trying to imagine the emotions
pictured upon the face behind a smooth, black mask. Slim stopped
before the closed door and listened. The rusty, iron hasp
attracted his slow gaze, at first puzzling him a little, making
him vaguely aware that something about it did not quite harmonize
with his mental attitude toward it. It took him a full minute to
realize that he had expected to find the door locked, and that
the hasp hung downward uselessly, just as it hung every day in
He remembered then that Andy had spoken of chaining Dunk to the
anvil. That would make it unnecessary to lock the door, of
course. Slim seized the hanging strip of iron, gave it a jerk and
bathed all the dingy interior with a soft, sunset glow. Cobwebs
quivered at the inrush of the breeze, and glistened like threads
of fine gold. The forge remained a dark blot in the corner. A new
chisel, lying upon the earthen floor, became a bar of yellow
Slim's eyes went to the anvil and clung there in a widening
stare. His hands, white and soft when his gloves were off, drew
up convulsively into fighting fists, and as he stood looking, the
cords swelled and stood out upon his thick neck. For years he had
hated Dunk Whittaker--
The Happy Family, with rare good sense, had not hesitated to turn
the white house into an impromptu hospital. They knew that if the
Little Doctor and Chip and the Old Man had been at home Happy
Jack would have been taken unquestioningly into the guest
chamber--which was a square, three-windowed room off the big
livingroom. More than one of them had occupied it upon occasion.
They took Happy Jack up there and put him to bed quite as a
matter-of-course, and when he was asleep they lingered upon the
wide, front porch; the hammock of the Little Doctor squeaked
under the weight of Andy Green, and the wide-armed chairs
received the weary forms of divers young cowpunchers who did not
give a thought to the intrusion, but were thankful for the
comfort. Andy was swinging luxuriously and drawing the last few
puffs from a cigarette when Slim, purple and puffing audibly,
appeared portentously before him.
"I thought you said you was goin' to lock Dunk up in the
blacksmith shop," he launched accusingly at Andy.
"We did," averred that young man, pushing his toe against the
railing to accelerate the voluptuous motion of the hammock.
"He ain't there. He's broke loose. The chain--by golly, yuh went
an' used that chain that was broke an' jest barely hangin'
together! His horse ain't anywheres around, either. You fellers
make me sick. Lollin' around here an' not paying no attention, by
golly--he's liable to be ten mile from here by this time!" When
Slim stopped, his jaw quivered like a dish of disturbed jelly,
and I wish I could give you his tone; choppy, every sentence an
accusation that should have made those fellows wince.
Irish, Big Medicine and Jack Bates had sprung guiltily to their
feet and started down the steps. The drawling voice of the Native
Son stopped them, ten feet from the porch.
"Twelve, or fifteen, I should make it. That horse of his looked
to me like a drifter."
"Well--are yuh goin' t' set there on your haunches an' let him
GO?" Slim, by the look of him, was ripe for murder.
"You want to look out, or you'll get apoplexy sure," Andy
soothed, giving himself another luxurious push and pulling the
last, little whiff from his cigarette before he threw away the
stub. "Fat men can't afford to get as excited as skinny ones
"Aw, say! Where did you put him, Andy?" asked Big Medicine, his
first flurry subsiding before the absolute calm of those two on
"In the blacksmith shop," said Andy, with a slurring accent on
the first word that made the whole sentence perfectly maddening.
"Ah, come on back here and sit down. I guess we better tell 'em
the how of it. Huh, Mig?"
Miguel cast a slow, humorous glance over the four. "Ye-es--
they'll have us treed in about two minutes if we don't," he
assented. "Go ahead."
"Well," Andy lifted his head and shoulders that he might readjust
a pillow to his liking, "we wanted him to make a getaway. Fact
is, if he hadn't, we'd have been--strictly up against it. Right!
If he hadn't--how about it, Mig? I guess we'd have been to the
Little Rockies ourselves."
"You've got a sweet little voice," Irish cut in savagely, "but
we're tired. We'd rather hear yuh say something!"
"Oh--all right. Well, Mig and I just ribbed up a josh on Dunk.
I'd read somewhere about the same kinda deal, so it ain't
original; I don't lay any claim to the idea at all; we just
borrowed it. You see, it's like this: We figured that a man as
mean as this Dunk person most likely had stepped over the line,
somewhere. So we just took a gambling chance, and let him do the
rest. You see, we never saw him before in our lives. All that
identification stunt of ours was just a bluff. But the minute I
shoved my chips to the center, I knew we had him dead to rights.
You were there. You saw him wilt. By gracious--"
"Yuh don't know anything against him?" gasped Irish.
"Not a darned thing--any more than what you all know," testified
It took a minute or two for that to sink in.
"Well, I'll be damned!" breathed Irish.
"We did chain him to the anvil," Andy went on. "On the way down,
we talked about being in a hurry to get back to you fellows, and
I told Mig--so Dunk could hear--that we wouldn't bother with the
horse. We tied him to the corral. And I hunted around for that
bum chain, and then we made out we couldn't find the padlock for
the door; so we decided, right out loud, that he'd be dead safe
for an hour or two, till the bunch of us got back. Not knowing a
darn thing about him, except what you boys have told us, we sure
would have been in bad if he hadn't taken a sneak. Fact is, we
were kinda worried for fear he wouldn't have nerve enough to try
it. We waited, up on the hill, till we saw him sneak down to the
corral and jump on his horse and take off down the coulee like a
scared coyote. It was," quoth the young man, unmistakably pleased
with himself, "pretty smooth work, if you ask me."
"I'd hate to ride as fast and far to-night as that hombre will,"
supplemented Miguel with his brief smile, that was just a flash
of white, even teeth and a momentary lightening of his languorous
Slim stood for five minutes, a stolid, stocky figure in the midst
of a storm of congratulatory comment. They forgot all about Happy
Jack, asleep inside the house, and so their voices were not
hushed. Indeed, Big Medicine's bull-like remarks boomed full-
throated across the coulee and were flung back mockingly by the
barren hills. Slim did not hear a word they were saying; he was
thinking it over, with that complete mental concentration which
is the chief recompense of a slow-working mind. He was
methodically thinking it all out--and, eventually, he saw the
"Well, by golly!" he bawled suddenly, and brought his palm down
with a terrific smack upon his sore leg--whereat his fellows
"We told you not to try to see through any more jokes till your
leg gets well, Slim," Andy reminded condescendingly.
"Say, by golly, that's a good one on Dunk, ain't it? Chasin'
himself clean outa the country, by golly--scared plumb to
death---and you fellers was only jest makin' b'lieve yuh knowed
him! By golly, that sure is a good one, all right!"
"You've got it; give you time enough and you could see through a
barbed-wire fence," patronized Andy, from the hammock. "Yes,
since you mention it, I think myself it ain't so bad."
"Aw-w shut up, out there, an' let a feller sleep!" came a
querulous voice from within. "I'd ruther bed down with a corral
full uh calves at weanin' time, than be anywheres within ten mile
uh you darned, mouthy--" The rest was indistinguishable, but it
did not matter. The Happy Family, save Slim, who stayed to look
after the patient, tiptoed penitently off the porch and took
themselves and their enthusiasm down to the bunk-house.
CHAPTER XVII. Good News
Pink rolled over in his bed so that he might look--however
sleepily--upon his fellows, dressing more or less quietly in the
"Say, I got a letter for you, Weary," he yawned, stretching both
arms above his head. "I opened it and read it; it was from Chip,
"What did he have to say?"
"Old Man any better?"
"How they comm', back here?"
Several voices, speaking at once, necessitated a delayed reply.
"They'll be here, to-day or to-morrow," Pink replied without any
circumlocution whatever, while he fumbled in his coat pocket for
the letter. "He says the Old Man wants to come, and the doctors
think he might as well tackle it as stay there fussing over it.
They're coming in a special car, and we've got to rig up an
outfit to meet him. The Little Doctor tells just how she wants
things fixed. I thought maybe it was important--it come special
delivery," Pink added naively, "so I just played it was mine and
"That's all right, Cadwalloper," Weary assured him while he read
hastily the letter. "Well, we'll fix up the spring wagon and take
it in right away; somebody's got to go back anyway, with
MacPherson. Hello, Cal; how's Happy?"
"All right," answered Cal, who had watched over him during the
night and came in at that moment after someone to take his place
in the sickroom. "Waked up on the fight because I just happened
to be setting with my eyes shut. I wasn't asleep, but he said I
was; claimed I snored so loud I kept him awake all night. Gee
whiz! I'd ruther nurse a she bear with the mumps!"
"Old Man's coming home, Cal." Pink announced with more joy in his
tone and in his face than had appeared in either for many a weary
day. Whereupon Cal gave an exultant whoop. "Go tell that to
Happy," he shouted. "Maybe he'll forget a grouch or two. Say,
luck seems to be kinda casting loving glances our way again--
"By golly, seems to me Pink oughta told us when he come in, las'
night," grumbled Slim, when he could make himself heard.
"You were all dead to the world," Pink defended, "and I wanted to
be. Two o'clock in the morning is a mighty poor time for elegant
conversation, if you want my opinion."
"And the main point is, you knew all about it, and you didn't
give a darn whether we did or not," Irish said bluntly. "And
Weary sneaked in, too, and never let a yip outa him about things
over in Denson coulee."
"Oh, what was the use?" asked Weary blandly. "I got an option out
of Oleson for the ranch and outfit, and all his sheep, at a
mighty good figure--for the Flying U. The Old Man can do what he
likes about it; but ten to one he'll buy him out. That is,
Oleson's share, which was two-thirds. I kinda counted on Dunk
letting go easy. And," he added, reaching for his hat, "once I
got the papers for it, there wasn't anything to hang around for,
was there? Especially," he said with his old, sunny smile, "when
we weren't urged a whole lot to stay."
Remained therefore little, save the actual arrival of the Old
Man--a pitifully weak Old Man, bandaged and odorous with
antiseptics, and quite pathetically glad to be back home--and his
recovery, which was rather slow, and the recovery of Happy Jack,
which was rapid.
For a brief space the Flying U outfit owned the Dots; very brief
it was; not a day longer than it took Chip to find a buyer--at a
figure considerably above that named in the option, by the way.
So, after a season of worry and trouble and impending tragedy
such as no man may face unflinchingly, life dropped back to its
usual level, and the trail of the Flying U outfit once more led
through pleasant places.