The Flying U's Last Stand
B. M. Bower
Part 3 out of 5
grass or shelter or water, even. The shack stood bleakly
revealed to the four winds--but also it over looked the
benchland and the rolling, half-barren land to the west,
which comprised Antelope Coulee and Dry Coulee and several
other good-for-nothing coulees capable of supporting nothing
but coyotes and prairie dogs and gophers.
A mile that way Andy rode, and stopped upon the steep side of
a gulch which was an arm of Antelope Coulee. He looked down
into the gulch, searched with his eyes for the stake that
marked the southeast corner of the eighty lying off in this
direction from the shack, and finally saw it fifty yards away
on a bald patch of adobe.
He resisted the temptation to ride over and call upon Miss
Allen--the resistance made easier by the hour, which was
eight o'clock or thereabouts--and rode back to the others
very well satisfied with himself and his plan.
He found the whole Happy Family gathered upon the level land
just over his west line, extolling resentment while they
waited his coming. Grinning, he told them his plan, and set
them grinning also. He gave them certain work to be done, and
watched them scatter to do his bidding. Then he turned and
rode away upon business of his own.
The claim-jumper, watching the bench land through a pair of
field glasses, saw a herd of cows and calves scattered and
feeding contentedly upon the young grass a mile or so away.
Two men on horseback loitered upon the outer fringe of the
herd. From a distance hilltop came the staccato sound of
hammers where an other shack was going up. Cloud shadows slid
silently over the land, with bright sunlight chasing after.
Of the other horsemen who had come up the bluff with the
cattle, he saw not a sign. So the man yawned and went in to
Many times that day he stood at the corner of his shack with
the glasses sweeping the bench-land. Toward noon the cattle
drifted into a coulee where there was water. In a couple of
hours they drifted leisurely back upon high ground and
scattered to their feeding, still watched and tended by the
two horsemen who looked the most harmless of individuals. One
was fat and red-faced and spent at least half of his time
lying prone upon some slope in the shade of his horse. The
other was thin and awkward, and slouched in the saddle or sat
upon the ground with his knees drawn up and his arms clasped
loosely around them, a cigarette dangling upon his lower lip,
himself the picture of boredom.
There was nothing whatever to indicate that events were
breeding in that peaceful scene, and that adventure was
creeping close upon the watcher. He went in from his fourth
or fifth inspection, and took a nap.
That night he was awakened by a pounding on the side of the
shack where was his window. By the time he had reached the
middle of the floor--and you could count the time in seconds-
-a similar pounding was at the door. He tried to open the
door and couldn't. He went to the window and could see
nothing, although the night had not been dark when he went to
bed. He shouted, and there was no reply; nor could he hear
any talking without. His name, by the way, was H. J. Owens,
though his name does not matter except for convenience in
mentioning him. Owens, then, lighted a lamp, and almost
instantly was forced to reach out quickly and save it from
toppling, because one corner of the shack was lifting,
lifting . . .
Outside, the Happy Family worked in silence. Before they had
left One Man Coulee they had known exactly what they were to
do, and how to do it. They knew who was to nail the hastily
constructed shutter over the window. They knew who was to
fasten the door so that it could not be opened from within.
They knew also who were to use the crow-bars, who were to
roll the skids under the shack.
There were twelve of them--because Bert Rogers had insisted
upon helping. In not many more minutes than there were men,
they were in their saddles, ready to start. The shack lurched
forward after the straining horses. Once it was fairly
started it moved more easily than you might think it could
do, upon crude runners made of cottonwood logs eight inches
or so in diameter and long enough for cross pieces bolted in
front and rear. The horses pulled it easily with the ropes
tied to the saddle-horns, just as they had many times pulled
the roundup wagons across mirey creeks or up steep slopes;
just as they had many times pulled stubborn cattle or dead
cattle--just as they had been trained to pull anything and
everything their masters chose to attach to their ropes.
Within, Owens called to them and cursed them. When they had
just gained an even pace, he emptied his revolver through the
four sides of the shack. But he did not know where they were,
exactly, so that he was compelled to shoot at random. And
since the five shots seemed to have no effect whatever upon
the steady progress of the shack, he decided to wait until he
could see where to aim. There was no use, he reflected, in
wasting good ammunition when there was a strong probability
that he would need it later.
After a half hour or more of continuous travel, the shack
tilted on a steep descent. H. J. Owens blew out his lamp and
swore when a box came sliding against his shins in the dark.
The descent continued until it was stopped with a jolt that
made him bite his tongue painfully, so that tears came into
the eyes that were the wrong shade of blue to please Andy
Green. He heard a laugh cut short and a muttered command, and
that was all. The shack heaved, toppled, righted itself and
went on down, and down, and down; jerked sidewise to the
left, went forward and then swung joltingly the other way.
When finally it came to a permanent stand it was sitting with
an almost level floor.
Then the four corners heaved upward, two at a time, and
settled with a final squeal of twisted boards and nails.
There was a sound of confused trampling, and after that the
lessening sounds of departure. Mr. Owens tried the door
again, and found it still fast. He relighted the lamp,
carried it to the window and looked upon rough boards outside
the glass. He meditated anxiously and decided to remain quiet
The Happy Family worked hard, that night. Before daylight
they were in their beds and snoring except the two who
guarded the cattle. Each was in his own cabin. His horse was
in his corral, smooth-coated and dry. There was nothing to
tell of the night's happenings,--nothing except the satisfied
grins on their faces when they woke and remembered.
CHAPTER 12. SHACKS, LIVE STOCK AND PILGRIMS PROMPTLY AND
"I'm looking rather seedy now, while holding down my
And my grub it isn't always served the best,
And the mice play shyly round me as I lay me down to rest In
my little old sod shanty on my claim.
Oh, the hinges are of leather and the windows have no glass,
And the roof it lets the howling blizzards in,
And I hear the hungry kiote as he sneaks up through
"Say! have they got down the hill yet, Pink;"
Pink took his cigarette from his fingers, leaned
and peered cautiously through the grimy window. "Unh-huh.
They're coming up the flat."
Whereupon Andy Green, ostentatiously washing his
breakfast dishes, skipped two or three verses and lifted
his voice in song to fit the occasion.
"How I wish that some kind-hearted girl would pity on me
And relieve me of the mess that I am in!
Oh, the angel, how I'd bless her if her home with me she'd
In my little old sod shanty--
"Got her yet?" And he craned his neck to look. "Aw, they've
pulled up, out there, listening!"
"My clothes are plastered o'er with dough, I'm looking like a
And everything is scattered round the room--"
"Why don't yuh stop that caterwauling?" Pink demanded
fretfully. "You'll queer the whole play if you keep it up.
They'll swear you're drunk!"
There was sense in that. Andy finished the line about
remaining two happy lovers in his little old sod shanty, and
went to the door with the dishpan. He threw out the water,
squeezed the dishrag in one hand and gave the inside of the
pan a swipe before he appeared to discover that Miss Allen
and Florence Grace Hallman were riding up to his door. As a
matter of fact, he had seen them come over the top of the
bluff and had long ago guessed who they were.
He met them with a smile of surprised innocence, and invited
them inside. They refused to come, and even Miss Allen showed
a certain reproachful coolness toward him. Andy felt hurt at
that, but he did not manifest the fact. Instead he informed
them that it was a fine morning. And were they out taking a
They were. They were looking up the men who had perpetrated
the outrage last night upon four settlers.
"Outrage?" Andy tilted the dishpan against the cabin wall,
draped the dishrag over the handle and went forward, pulling
down his sleeves. "What outrage is that, Miss Hallman?
Miss Hallman watched him with her narrowed glance. She saw
the quick glance he gave Miss Allen, and her lids narrowed
still more. So that was it! But she did not swerve from her
purpose, for all this unexpected thrust straight to the heart
of her self-love.
"You know that no one was killed. But you damaged enough
property to place you on the wrong side of the law, Mr.
Green. Not one of those shacks can be gotten out of the gulch
except in pieces!"
Andy smiled inside his soul, but his face was bewildered; his
eyes fixed themselves blankly upon her face. "Me? Damaging
property? Miss Hallman, you don't know me yet! "Which was
perfectly true. "What shacks are you talking about? In what
gulch? All the shacks I've seen so far have been stuck up on
bald pinnacles where the blizzards will hit 'em coming and
going next winter." He glanced again at Miss Allen with a
certain sympathetic foretaste of what she would suffer next
winter if she stayed in her shack.
"Don't try to play innocent, Mr. Green." Florence Grace
Hallman drew her brows together. "We all know perfectly well
who dragged those shacks off the claims last night."
"Don't you mean that you think you know? I'm afraid you've
kinda taken it for granted I'd be mixed up in any deviltry
you happened to hear about. I've got in bad with you--I know
that--but just the same, I hate to be accused of everything
that takes place in the country. All this is sure interesting
news to me. Whereabouts was they taken from? And when, and
where to? Miss Allen, you'll tell me the straight of this,
won't you? And I'll get my hoss and you'll show me what gulch
she's talking about, won't you?"
Miss Allen puckered her lips into a pout which meant
indecision, and glanced at Florence Grace Hallman. And Miss
Hallman frowned at being shunted into the background and
referred to as she, and set her teeth into her lower lip.
"Miss Allen prefers to choose her own company," she said with
distinct rudeness. "Don't try to wheedle her--you can't do
it. And you needn't get your horse to ride anywhere with us,
Mr. Green. It's useless. I just wanted to warn you that
nothing like what happened last night will be tolerated. We
know all about you Flying U men--you Happy Family." She said
it as if she were calling them something perfectly
disgraceful. "You may be just as tough and bad a you please--
you can't frighten anyone into leaving the country or into
giving up one iota of their rights. I came to you because you
are undoubtedly the ring-leader of the gang." She accented
gang. "You ought to be shot for what you did last night. And
if you keep on--" She left the contingency to his
"Well, if settling up the country means that men are going to
be shot for going to bed at dark and asleeping till sun-up,
all I've got to say is that things ain't like they used to
be. We were all plumb peaceful here till your colony came,
Miss Hallman. Why, the sheriff never got out this way often
enough to know the trails! He always had to ask his way
around. If your bunch of town mutts can't behave themselves
and leave each other alone, I don't know what's to be done
about it. We ain't hired to keep the peace."
"No, you've been hired to steal all the land you can and make
all the trouble you can. We understand that perfectly."
Andy shook his head in meek denial, and with a sudden impulse
turned toward the cabin. "Oh, Pink!" he called, and brought
that boyish-faced young man to the door, his eyes as wide and
as pure as the eyes of a child.
Pink lifted his hat with just the proper degree of confusion
to impress the girls with his bashfulness and his awe of
their presence. His eyes were the same pansy-purple as when
the Flying U first made tumultuous acquaintance with him.
His apparent innocence had completely fooled the Happy
Family, you will remember. They had called him Mamma's Little
Lamb and had composed poetry and horrific personal history
for his benefit. The few years had not changed him. His hair
was still yellow and curly. The dimples still dodged into his
cheeks unexpectedly; he was still much like a stick of
dynamite wrapped in white tissue and tied with a ribbon. He
looked an angel of innocence, and in reality he was a little
Andy introduced him, and Pink bowed and had all the
appearance of blushing--though you will have to ask Pink how
he managed to create that optical illusion. "What did you
want?" he asked in his soft, girlish voice, turning to Andy
bashfully. But from the corner of his eye Pink saw that a
little smile of remembrance had come to soften Miss
Hallman's angry features, and that the other girl was smiling
also. Pink hated that attitude of pleasant patronage which
women were so apt to take toward him, but for the present it
suited his purpose to encourage it.
"Pink, what time was it when we went to bed last night?"
Andy asked him in the tone of one who wished to eliminate all
doubt of his virtue.
"Why--it was pretty early. We didn't light the lamp at all,
you remember. You went to bed before I did--we couldn't see
the cards--" He stopped confusedly, and again he gave the two
women the impression that he blushed. "We weren't playing for
money," he hurriedly explained. "Just for pastime. It's--
"Somebody did something to somebody last night," Andy
informed Pink with a resentful impatience. "Miss Hallman
thinks we're the guilty parties--me in particular, because
she don't like me. It's something about some shacks--damaging
property, she called it. Just what was it you said was done,
Miss Hallman?" He turned his honest, gray eyes toward her and
met her suspicious look steadily.
Miss Hallman bit her lip. She had been perfectly sure of the
guilt of Andy Green, and of the others who were his friends.
Now, in spite of all reason she was not so sure. And there
had been nothing more tangible than two pairs of innocent-
looking eyes and the irreproachable manners of two men to
change her conviction.
"Well, I naturally took it for granted that you did it," she
weakened. "The shacks were moved off
eighties that you have filed upon, Mr. Green. Mr. Owens told
me this morning that you men came by his place and threatened
him yesterday, and ordered him to move. No one else would
have any object in molesting him or the others." Her voice
hardened again as her mind dwelt upon the circumstances. "It
must have been you!" she finished sharply.
Whereupon Pink gave her a distressed look that made Miss
Hallman flush unmistakably. "I'm just about distracted, this
morning," she apologized. "I took it upon myself to see these
settlers through--and everybody makes it just as hard as
possible for me. Why should all you fellows treat us the way
you do? We--"
"Why, we aren't doing a thing!" Pink protested diffidently.
"We thought we'd take up some claims and go to ranching for
ourselves, when we got discharged from the Flying U. We
didn't mean any harm--everybody's taking up claims. We've
bought some cattle and we're going to try and get ahead, like
other folks. We--I wanted to cut out all this wildness--"
"Are those your cattle up on the hill? Some men shipped in
four carloads of young stock, yesterday, to Dry Lake. They
drove them out here intending to turn them on the range, and
a couple of men--"
"Four men," Miss Allen corrected with a furtive twinkle in
"Some men refused to let them cross that big coulee back
there. They drove the cattle back toward Dry Lake, and told
Mr. Simmons and Mr. Chase and some others that they shouldn't
come on this bench back here at all. That was another thing I
wanted to see you men about."
"Maybe they were going to mix their stock up with ours," Pink
"Your men shot, and shot, and shot--the atmosphere up there
is shot so full of holes that the wind just whistles
through!" Miss Allen informed then gravely, with her eyebrows
all puckered together and the furtive little twinkle in her
eyes. "And they yelled so that we could hear them from the
house! They made those poor cows and those poor, weenty
calves just go trotting back across the coulee. My new book
on farming says you positively must not hurry cattle. It--oh,
it does something to the butter-fat--joggles it all up or
something--I'll lend you the book. I found the chapter on
Proper Treatment of Dairy Stock, and I watched those men with
the book in my hands. Why, it was terribly unscientific, the
way they drove those cow-critters!"
"I'll come over and get the book," Andy promised her, with a
look in his eyes that displeased Miss Hallman very much.
"We're ashamed of our ignorance. We'd like to have you learn
us what's in the book."
"I will. And every week--just think of that! I'm to get a
real farm paper."
"I'd like to borrow the paper too," Andy declared instantly.
"Oh, and--what's going to be done about all those bullet-
holes? They--they might create a draught--"
"We'll ride around that way and plug 'em up," Andy assured
her solemnly. "Whenever you've got time to show me about
where they're at."
"It will be a pleasure. I can tell where they are, but
they're too high for me to reach. Wherever the wind whistles
there's a hole in the atmosphere. And there are places where
the air just quivers, so you can see it. That is the shock
those bold, bad men gave it with the words they used. They--
used--words, Mr. Green! If we could scheme some way to pull
out all those wrinkles--I do love a nice, clean, smooth
atmosphere where I live. It's so wrinkly--"
"I'll attend to all that, right away."
Miss Hallman decided that she had nothing further to say to
Mr. Green. She wheeled her horse rather abruptly and rode off
with a curt goodbye. Miss Allen, being new at the business of
handling a horse, took more time in pulling her mount around.
While her back was turned to Florence Grace and her face was
turned toward Pink and Andy, she gave them a twinkling glance
that had one lowered eyelid to it, twisted her lips, and
spoke sharply to her horse. They might make of it what they
would. Florence Grace looked back impatiently--perhaps
suspiciously also--and saw Miss Allen coming on with docile
So that ended the interview which Miss Hallman had meant to
be so impressive. A lot of nonsense that left a laugh behind
and the idea that Miss Allen at least did not disapprove of
harassing claim-jumpers. Andy Green was two hundred per cent.
more cheerful after that, and his brain was more active and
his determination more fixed. For all that he stared after
"She winked at us--if I've got eyes in my head. What do you
reckon she meant, Pink?" he asked when the two riders had
climbed over the ridge. "And what she said about the bold,
bad men shooting holes that have to be plugged up--and about
liking a nice, smooth atmosphere? Do you suppose she meant
that it's liable to take bold, bad men to clean the
"What difference does it make what she meant? There's jumpers
left--two on Bud's place--and he's oary-eyed over it, and was
going to read 'em the riot act proper, when I left to come
over here. And a couple of men drove onto that south eighty
of Mig's with a load of lumber, just as I come by. Looks to
me like we've got our hands full, Andy. There'll be holes to
plug up somewhere besides in the atmosphere, if you ask me."
"Long as they don't get anything on us I ain't in the state
of mind where I give a darn. That little brown-eyed Susan'll
keep us posted if they start anything new--what did she mean
by that wink, do you reckon?"
"Ah, don't get softening of the emotions," Pink advised
impatiently. "That's the worst thing we've got to steer clear
of, Andy! All them women in the game is going to make it four
times as hard to stand 'em off. Irish is foolish over this
one you're gettin' stuck on--you'll be fighting each other,
if you don't look out. That Florence Grace lady ain't so
slow--she's going to use the women to keep us fellows
Andy sighed. "We can block that play, of course," he said.
"Come on, Pink. let's go round up the boys and see what's
been taking place with them cattle. Shipped in four carloads
already, have they?" He began pulling on his chaps rather
hurriedly. "Worst of it is, you can't stampede a bunch of
darned tame cows, either," he complained.
They found Irish and the Native Son on day-herd, with the
cattle scattered well along the western line of the claims.
Big Medicine, Weary, Cal Emmett and Jack Bates were just
returning from driving the settlers' stock well across
Antelope Coulee which had been decided upon as a hypothetical
boundary line until such time as a fence could be built.
They talked with the day-herders, and they talked with the
other four. Chip came up from the ranch with the Kid riding
proudly beside him on Silver, and told them that the
Honorable Mr. Blake was at the Flying U and had sent word
that he would be pleased to take the legal end of the fight,
if the Happy Family so desired. Which was in itself a vast
encouragement. The Honorable Blake had said that they were
well within their rights thus far, and advised them to permit
service of the contest notices, and to go calmly on
fulfilling the law. Which was all very well as far as it
went, providing they were permitted to go on calmly.
"What about them cattle they're trying to git across our
land?" Slim wanted to know. "We got a right to keep 'em off,
Chip said that he thought they had, but to make sure, he
would ask the Honorable Blake. Trespassing, he said, might be
Right there Andy was seized with an idea. He took Chip--
because of his artistic talents which, he said, had been
plumb wasted lately--to one side. After wards they departed
in haste, with Pink and Weary galloping close at their heels.
In a couple of hours they returned to the boundary where the
cattle still fed all scattered out in a long line, and behind
them drove Pink and Weary in the one wagon which the Family
"It oughta help some," grinned Andy, when the Native Son came
curiously over to see what it was they were erecting there on
the prairie. "It's a fair warning, and shows 'em where to
head in at."
The Native Son read the sign, which was three feet long and
stood nailed to two posts ready for planting solidly in the
earth. He showed his even, white teeth in a smile of
approval. "Back it up, and it ought to do some good," he
They dug holes and set the posts, and drove on to where they
meant to plant another sign exactly like the first. That day
they planted twelve sign-boards along their west line. They
might not do any good, but they were a fair warning and as
such were worth the trouble.
That afternoon Andy was riding back along the line when he
saw a rider pull up at the first sign and read it carefully.
He galloped in haste to the spot and found that his
suspicions were correct; it was Miss Allen.
"Well," she said when he came near, "I suppose that means me.
Does it?" She pointed to the sign, which read like this:
WARNING ! !
N0 TRESPASSING EAST OF HERE
All Shacks, Live-Stock and Pilgrims Promptly
Painfully Removed From These Premises
"I'm over the line," she notified him, pulling her horse
backward a few feet. "You're getting awfully particular,
seems to me. Oh, did you know that a lot of men are going to
play it's New Year's Eve and hold watch meetings tonight?"
"Never heard a word about it," he declared truthfully, and
waited for more.
"That's not strange--seeing it's a surprise party. Still--I'm
sure you are expected to--attend."
"And where is all this to take place?" Andy looked at her
intently, smiling a little.
"Oh, over there--and there--and there." She pointed to three
new shacks--the official dwellings of certain contestants."
Stag parties, they are, I believe. But I doubt if they'll
have any very exciting time; most of these new settlers are
too busy getting the ground ready for crops, to go to
parties. Some people are pretty disgusted, I can tell you,
Mr. Green. Some people talk about ingratitude and wonder why
the colony doesn't hang together better. Some people even
wonder why it is that folks are interested mainly in their
own affairs, and decline to attend watch meetings and--
receptions. So I'm afraid very few, except your nearest
neighbors, will be present, after all might I ask when you
expect to--to MOVE again, Mr. Green?"
Smiling still, Andy shook his head. "I expect to be pretty
busy this spring," he told her evasively. "Aren't any of you
ladies invited to those parties, Miss Allen?"
Not a one. But let me tell you something, Mr. Green. Some
folks think that perhaps we lady-settlers ought to organize a
club for the well being of our intellects. Some folks are
trying to get up parties just for women--see the point? They
think it would be better for the--atmosphere."
"Oh." Andy studied the possibilities of such a move. If
Florence Grace should set the women after them, he could see
how the Happy Family would be hampered at every turn. "Well,
I must be going. Say, did you know this country is full of
wild animals, Miss Allen? They prowl around nights. And
there's a gang of wild men that hang out up there in those
mountains--they prowl around nights, too. They're outlaws.
They kill off every sheriff's party that tries to round them
up, and they kidnap children and ladies. If you should hear
any disturbance, any time, don't be scared. Just stay inside
after dark and keep your door locked. And if you should
organize that ladies' club, you better hold your meetings in
the afternoon, don't you think?"
When he had ridden on and left her, Andy was somewhat ashamed
of such puerile falsehoods. But then, she had started the
allegorical method of imparting advice, he remembered. So
presently went whistling to round up the boys and tell them
what he had learned.
CHAPTER 13. IRISH WORKS FOR THE CAUSE
Big Medicine with Weary and Chip to bear him company, rode up
to the shack nearest his own, which had been hastily built by
a raw-boned Dane who might be called truly Americanized. Big
Medicine did not waste time in superfluities or in making
threats of what he meant to do. He called the Dane to the
door--claim-jumpers were keeping close to their cabins, these
days--and told him that he was on another man's land, and
asked him if he meant to move.
"Sure I don't intend to move!" retorted the Dane with
praiseworthy promptness. "I'm going to hold 'er down solid."
"Yuh hear what says, boys." Big Medicine turned to his
companions "He ain't going to git off'n my land, he says.
Weary, yuh better go tell the bunch I need'em."
Weary immediately departed. He was not gone so very long, and
when he returned the Happy Family was with him, even to Patsy
who drove the wagon with all the ease of a veteran of many
roundups. The Dane tried bluster, but that did not seem to
work. Nothing seemed to work, except the Happy Family.
There in broad daylight, with no more words than were
needful, they moved the Dane, and his shack. When they began
to raise the building he was so unwise as to flourish a gun,
and thereby made it perfectly right and lawful that Big
Medicine should take the gun away from him and march him
ahead of his own forty-five.
They took the shack directly past one of the trespassing
signs, and Big Medicine stopped accommodatingly while the
Dane was permitted to read the sign three times aloud. That
the Dane did not seem truly appreciative of the privilege was
no fault of Big Medicine's, surely. They went on, skidding
the little building sledlike over the uneven prairie. They
took it down into Antelope Coulee and left it there, right
side up and with not even a pane of glass broken in the
"There, darn yuh, live there awhile!" Andy gritted to when
the timbers were withdrawn from beneath the cabin and they
were ready to leave. "You can't say we damaged your
property--this time. Come back, and there's no telling what
we're liable to do."
Since Big Medicine kept his gun, the Dane could do nothing
but swear while he watched them ride up the hill and out of
They made straight for the next interloper, remarking
frequently that it was much simpler and easier to do their
moving in daylight. There they had an audience, for Florence
Grace rode furiously up just as they were getting under way.
The Happy Family spoke very nicely to Florence Grace, and
when she spoke very sharply to them they were discreetly hard
of hearing and became absorbed in their work.
Several settlers came before that shack was moved, but they
only stood around and talked among themselves, and were
careful not to get in the way or to hinder, and to lower
their voices so that the Happy Family need not hear unless
they chose to listen.
So they slid that shack into the coulee, righted it carefully
and left it there--where it would be exceedingly difficult to
get it out, by the way; since it is much easier to drag a
building down hill than up, and the steeper the hill and the
higher, the greater the difference.
They loaded the timbers into the wagon and methodically on to
the next shack, their audience increased to a couple of dozen
perturbed settlers. The owner of this particular shack,
feeling the strength of numbers behind him, was disposed to
argue the point.
"Oh, you'll sweat for this!" he shouted impotently when the
Happy Family was placing the timbers.
"Ah, git outa the way!" said Andy, coming toward him with a
crowbar. "We're sweating now, if that makes yuh feel any
The man got out of the way, and went and stood with the group
of onlookers, and talked vaguely of having the law on them--
whatever he meant by that.
By the time they had placed the third shack in the bottom of
the coulee, the sun was setting. They dragged the timbers up
the steep bluff with their ropes and their saddle-horses,
loaded them on to the wagon and threw the crowbars and
rolling timbers in, and turned to look curiously and
unashamed at their audience. Andy, still tacitly their
leader, rode a few steps forward.
"That'll be all today," he announced politely. "Except that
load of lumber back here on the bench where it don't belong--
we aim to haul that over the line. Seeing your considerable
interest in our affairs, I'll just say that we filed on our
claims according to law, and we're living on 'em according to
law. Till somebody proves in court that we're not, there
don't any shack, or any stock, stay on our side the line any
longer than it takes to get them off. There's the signs,
folks--read 'em and take 'em to heart. You can go home now.
The show's over."
He lifted his hat to the women--and there were several now--
and went away to join his fellows, who had ridden on slowly
till he might overtake them. He found Happy Jack grumbling
and predicting evil, as it was his nature to do, but he
merely straightened his aching back and laughed at the
"As I told you before, there's more than one way to kill a
cat," he asserted tritely but never the less impressively.
"Nobody can say we wasn't mild; and nobody can say we hadn't
a right to get those chickencoops off our land. If you ask
me, Florence Grace will have to go some now if she gets the
best of the deal. She overlooked a bet. We haven't been
served with any contest notices yet, and so we ain't obliged
to take their say-so. Who's going to stand guard tonight?
We've got to stand our regular shifts, if we want to keep
ahead of the game. I'm willing to be It. I'd like to make
sure they don't slip any stock across before daylight."
"Say, it's lucky we've got a bunch of boneheads like them to
handle," Pink observed thankfully. Would a bunch of natives
have stood around like that with their hands in their pockets
and let us get away with the moving job? Not so you could
"What we'd better do," cut in the Native Son without any
misleading drawl, "is try and rustle enough money to build
"That's right," assented Cal. "Maybe the Old Man--"
"We don't go to the Old Man for so much as a bacon rind!"
cried the Native Son impatiently. "Get it into your systems,
boys, that we've got to ride away around the Flying U. We
ought to be able to build that fence, all right, without help
from anybody. Till we do we've got to hang and rattle, and
keep that nester stock from getting past us. I'll stand guard
A little more talk, and some bickering with Slim and Happy
Jack, the two chronic kickers, served to knock together a
fair working organization. Weary and Andy Green were
informally chosen joint leaders, because Weary could be
depended upon to furnish the mental ballast for Andy's
imagination. Patsy was told that he would have to cook for
the outfit, since he was too fat to ride. They suggested that
he begin at, once, by knocking together some sort of supper.
Moving houses, they declared, was work. They frankly hoped
that they would not have to move many more--and they were
very positive that they would not be compelled to move the
same shack twice, at any rate.
"Say, we'll have quite a collection of shacks down in
Antelope Coulee if we keep on," Jack Bates reminded them.
"Wonder where they'll get water?"
"Where's the rest of them going to get water?" Cal Emmett
challenged the crowd. "There's that spring the four women up
here pack water from--but that goes dry in August. And
there's the creek--that goes dry too. On the dead, I feel
sorry for the women--and so does Irish," he added dryly.
Irish made an uncivil retort and swung suddenly away from the
group. "I'm going to ride into town, boys," he announced
curtly. "I'll be back in the morning and go on day-herd."
"Maybe you will and maybe you won't," Weary amended somewhat
impatiently. "This is certainly a poor time for Irish to
break out," he added, watching his double go galloping toward
the town road.
"I betche he comes back full and tries to clean out all them
nesters," Happy Jack predicted. For once no one tried to
combat his pessimism--for that was exactly what every one of
them believed would happen.
"He's stayed sober a long while--for him," sighed Weary, who
never could quite shake off a sense of responsibility for the
moral defections of his kinsman. "Maybe I better go along and
ride herd on him." Still, he did not go, and Irish presently
merged into the dusky distance.
As is often the case with a family's black sheep, his
intentions were the best, even though they might have been
considered unorthodox. While the Happy Family took it for
granted that he was gone because an old thirst awoke within
him, Irish was thinking only of the welfare of the outfit. He
did not tell them, because he was the sort who does not
prattle of his intentions, one way or the other. If he did
what he meant to do there would be time enough to explain; if
he failed there was nothing to be said.
Irish had thought a good deal about the building of that
fence, and about the problem of paying for enough wire and
posts to run the fence straight through from Meeker's south
line to the north line of the Flying U. He had figured the
price of posts and the price of wire and had come somewhere
near the approximate cost of the undertaking. He was not at
all sure that the Happy Family had faced the actual figures
on that proposition. They had remarked vaguely that it was
going to cost some money. They had made casual remarks about
being broke personally and, so far as they knew, permanently.
Irish was hot-headed and impulsive to a degree. He was given
to occasional tumultuous sprees, during which he was to be
handled with extreme care--or, better still, left entirely
alone until the spell was over. He looked almost exactly like
Weary, and yet he was almost his opposite in disposition.
Weary was optimistic, peace-loving, steady as the sun above
him except for a little surface-bubbling of fun that kept him
sunny through storm and calm. You could walk all over Weary--
figuratively speaking--before he would show resentment. You
could not step very close to Irish without running the risk
of consequences. That he should, under all that, have a
streak of calculating, hard-headed business sense, did not
occur to them.
They rode on, discussing the present situation and how best
to meet it; the contingencies of the future, and how best to
circumvent the active antagonism of Florence Grace Hallman
and the colony for which she stood sponsor. They did not
dream that Irish was giving his whole mind to solving the
problem of raising money to build that fence, but that is
exactly what he was doing.
Some of you at least are going to object to his method. Some
of you--those of you who live west of the big river--are
going to understand his point of view, and you will recognize
his method as being perfectly logical, simple, and altogether
natural to a man of his temperament and manner of life. It is
for you that I am going to relate his experiences. Sheltered
readers, readers who have never faced life in the raw,
readers who sit down on Sunday mornings with a mind purged of
worldly thoughts and commit to memory a "golden text" which
they forget before another Sunday morning, should skip the
rest of this chapter for the good of their morals. The rest
is for you men who have kicked up alkali dust and afterwards
washed out the memory in town; who have gone broke between
starlight and sun; who know the ways of punchers the West
over, and can at least sympathize with Irish in what he meant
to do that night.
Irish had been easing down a corner of the last shack, with
his back turned toward three men who stood looking on with
the detached interest which proved they did not own this
particular shack. One was H. J. Owens--I don't think you have
met the others. Irish had not. He had overheard this scrap of
conversation while he worked:
"Going to town tonight?"
"Guess so--I sure ain't going to hang out on this prairie any
more than I have to. You going?"
"Ye-es--~I think I will. I hear there's been some pretty
swift games going, the last night or two. A fellow in that
last bunch Florence rounded up made quite a clean up last
"That so. let's go on in. This claim-holding gets my goat
anyway. I don't see where--"
That was all Irish heard, but that was enough.
Had he turned in time to catch the wink that one speaker gave
to the other, and the sardonic grin that answered the lowered
eyelid, he would have had the scrap of conversation properly
focused in his mind, and would not have swallowed the bait as
greedily as he did. But we all make mistakes. Irish made the
mistake of underestimating the cunning of his enemies.
So here he was, kicking up the dust on the town trail just as
those three intended that he should do. But that he rode
alone instead of in the midst of his fellows was not what the
three had intended; and that he rode with the interest of his
friends foremost in his mind was also an unforeseen element
in the scheme.
Irish did not see H. J. Owens anywhere in town--nor did he
see either of the two men who had stood behind him. But there
was a poker game running in Rusty Brown's back room, and
Irish immediately sat in without further investigation. Bert
Rogers was standing behind one of the players, and gave Irish
a nod and a wink which may have had many meanings. Irish
interpreted it as encouragement to sail in and clean up the
There was money enough in sight to build that fence when he
sat down. Irish pulled his hat farther over his eyebrows,
rolled and lighted a cigarette while he waited for that
particular jackpot to be taken, and covertly sized up the
Every one of them was strange to him. But then, the town was
full of strangers since Florence Grace and her Syndicate
began to reap a harvest off the open country, so Irish merely
studied the faces casually, as a matter of habit They were
nesters, of course--real or prospective. They seemed to have
plenty of money--and it was eminently fitting that the Happy
Family's fence should be built with nester money.
Irish had in his pockets exactly eighteen dollars and fifty-
cents. He bought eighteen dollars' worth of chips and began
to play. Privately he preferred stud poker to draw, but he
was not going to propose a change; he felt perfectly
qualified to beat any three pilgrims that ever came West.
Four hands he played and lost four dollars. He drank a glass
of beer then, made himself another cigarette and settled down
to business, feeling that he had but just begun. After the
fifth hand he looked up and caught again the eye of Bert
Rogers. Bert pulled his eyebrows together in a warning look,
and Irish thought better of staying that hand. He did not
look at Bert after that, but he did watch the other players
After awhile Bert wandered away, his interest dulling when he
saw that Irish was holding his own and a little better. Irish
played on, conservative to such a degree that in two hours he
had not won more than fifteen dollars. The Happy Family would
have been surprised to see him lay down kings and refuse to
draw to them which he did once, with a gesture of disgust
that flipped them face up so that all could see. He turned
them over immediately, but the three had seen that this tall
stranger, who had all the earmarks of a cowpuncher, would not
draw to kings but must have something better before he would
So they played until the crowd thinned; until Irish, by
betting safely and sticking to a caution that must have cost
him a good deal in the way of self-restraint, had sixty
dollars' worth of chips piled in front of him.
Some men, playing for a definite purpose, would have quit at
that. Irish did not quit, however. He wanted a certain sum
from these nesters. He had come to town expecting to win a
certain sum from them. He intended to play until he got it or
went broke. He was not using any trickery--and he had stopped
one man in the middle of a deal, with a certain look in his
eye remarking that he'd rather have the top card than the
bottom one, so that he was satisfied they were not trying to
There came a deal when Irish looked at his cards, sent a
slanting look at the others and laid down his five cards with
a long breath. He raised the ante four blue ones and rolled
and lit a cigarette while the three had drawn what cards they
thought they needed. The man at Irish's left had drawn only
one card. Now he hesitated and then bet with some assurance.
Irish smoked imperturbably while the other two came in, and
then he raised the bet three stacks of blues. His neighbor
raised him one stack, and the next man hesitated and then
laid down his cards. The third man meditated for a minute and
raised the bet ten dollars. Irish blew forth a leisurely
smoke wreath and with a sweep of his hand sent in all his
There was a silent minute, wherein Irish smoked and drummed
absently upon the table with his fingers that were free. His
neighbor frowned, grunted and threw down his hand. The third
man did the same. Irish made another sweep of his hand and
raked the table clean of chips.
"That'll do for tonight," he remarked dryly. "I don't like to
be a hog."
Had that ended the incident, sensitive readers might still
read and think well of Irish. But one of the players was not
quite sober, and he was a poor loser and a pugnacious
individual anyway, with a square face and a thick neck that
went straight up to the top of his head. His underlip pushed
out, and when Irish turned away, to cash in his chips, this
pugnacious one reached over and took a look at the cards
Irish had held.
It certainly was as rotten a hand as a man could hold. Suits
all mixed, and not a face card or a pair in the lot. The
pugnacious player had held a king high straight, and he had
stayed until Irish sent in all his chips. He gave a bellow
and jumped up and hit Irish a glancing blow back of the ear.
Let us not go into details. You know Irish--or you should
know him by this time. A man who will get away with a bluff
like that should be left alone or brained in the beginning of
the fight--especially when he can look down on the hair of a
six-foot man, and has muscles hardened by outdoor living.
When the dust settled, two chairs were broken and some
glasses swept off the bar by heaving bodies, and two of the
three players had forgotten their troubles. The third was
trying to find the knob on the back door, and could not
because of the buzzing in his head and the blood in his eyes.
Irish had welts and two broken knuckles and a clear
conscience, and he was so mad he almost wound up by thrashing
Rusty, who had stayed behind the bar and taken no hand in the
fight. Rusty complained because of the damage to his
property, and Irish, being the only one present in a
condition to listen, took the complaint as a personal insult.
He counted his money to make sure he had it all, evened the
edges of the package of bank notes and thrust the package
into his pocket. If Rusty had kept his face closed about
those few glasses and those chairs, he would have left a
"bill" on the bar to pay for them, even though he did need
every cent of that money. He told Rusty this, and he accused
him of standing in with the nesters and turning down the men
who had helped him make money' all these years.
"Why, darn your soul, I've spent money enough over this bar
to buy out the whole damn joint, and you know it!" he cried
indignantly. "If you think you've got to collect damages,
take it outa these blinkety-blink pilgrims you think so much
of. Speak to 'em pleasant, though, or you're liable to lose
the price of a beer, maybe! They'll never bring you the money
we've brought you, you--"
"They won't because you've likely killed 'em both," Rusty
retorted angrily. "You want to remember you can't come into
town and rip things up the back the way you used to, and
nobody say a word. You better drift, before that feller that
went out comes back with an officer. You can't--"
"Officer be damned!" retorted Irish, unawed.
He went out while Rusty was deciding to order him out, and
started for the stable. Halfway there he ducked into the
shadow of the blacksmith shop and watched two men go up the
street to Rusty's place, walking quickly. He went on then,
got his horse hurriedly without waiting to cinch the saddle,
led him behind the blacksmith shop where he would not be
likely to be found, and tied him there to the wreck of a
Then he went across lots to where Fred Wilson, manager of the
general store, slept in a two-room shack belonging to the
hotel. The door was locked--Fred being a small man with
little trust in Providence or in his overt physical prowess--
and so he rapped cautiously upon the window until Fred awoke
and wanted to know who in thunder was there.
Irish told his name, and presently went inside. "I'm pulling
outa town, Fred," he explained, "and I don't know when I'll
be in again. So I want you to take an order for some posts
and bob wire and steeples. I--"
"Why didn't you come to the store?" Fred very naturally
demanded, peevish at being wakened at three o'clock in the
morning. "I saw you in town when I closed up."
"I was busy. Crawl back into bed and cover up, while I give
you the order. I'll want a receipt for the money, too--I'm
paying in advance, so you won't have any excuse for holding
up the order. Got any thing to write on?"
Fred found part of an order pad and a pencil, and crept
shivering into his bed. The offer to pay in advance had
silenced his grumbling, as Irish expected it would. So Irish
gave the order--thirteen hundred cedar posts, I remember--I
don't know just how much wire, but all he would need.
"Holy Macintosh! Is this for YOU?" Fred wanted to know as he
wrote it down.
"Some of it. We're fencing our claims. If I don't come after
the stuff myself, let any of the boys have it that shows up.
And get it here as quick as you can--what you ain't got on
Fred was scratching his jaw meditatively with the pencil, and
staring at the order. "I can just about fill that order outa
stock on hand," he told Irish. "When all this land rush
started I laid in a big supply of posts and wire. First thing
they'd want, after they got their shacks up. How you making
it, out there?"
"Fine," said Irish cheerfully, feeling his broken knuckles.
"How much is all that going to cost? You oughta make us a
rate on it, seeing it's a cash sale, and big."
"I will." Fred tore out a sheet and did some mysterious
figuring, afterwards crumpling the paper into a little wad
and hipping it behind the bed. "This has got to be on the
quiet, Irish. I can't sell wire and posts to those eastern
marks at this rate, you know. This is just for you boys--and
the profit for us is trimmed right down to a whisper." He
named the sum total with the air of one who confers a great
Irish grinned and reached into his pocket. "You musta
knocked your profit down to fifty percent.," he fleered. "But
it's a go with me." He peeled off the whole roll, just about.
He had two twenties left in his hand when he stopped. He was
very methodical that night. He took a receipt for the money
before he left and he looked at it with glistening eyes
before he folded it with the money. "Don't sell any posts and
wire till our order's filled, Fred," he warned. "We'll begin
hauling right away, and we'll want it all."
He let himself out into the cool starlight, walked in the
shadows to where he had left his horse, mounted and rode
whistling away down the lane which ended where the hills
CHAPTER 14. JUST ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER
A gray clarity of the air told that daylight was near. The
skyline retreated, the hills came out of the duskiness like a
photograph in the developer tray. Irish dipped down the steep
slope into Antelope Coulee, cursing the sprinkle of new
shacks that stood stark in the dawn on every ridge and every
hilltop, look where one might. He loped along the winding
trail through the coulee's bottom and climbed the hill
beyond. At the top he glanced across the more level upland to
the east and his eyes lightened. Far away stood a shack--
Patsy's, that was. Beyond that another, and yet another. Most
of the boys had built in the coulees where was water. They
did not care so much about the view--over which Miss Allen
had grown enthusiastic.
He pulled up in a certain place near the brow of the hill,
and looked down into the narrower gulch where huddled the
shacks they had moved. He grinned at the sight. His hand went
involuntarily to his pocket and the grin widened. He hurried
on that he might the sooner tell the boys of their good luck;
all the material for that line fence bought and paid for--
there would certainly laugh when they heard where the money
had come from!
First he thought that he would locate the cattle and tell his
news to the boys on guard. He therefore left the trail and
rode up on a ridge from which he could overlook the whole
benchland, with the exception of certain gulches that cut
through. The sky was reddening now, save where banked clouds
turned purple. A breeze crept over the grass and carried the
fresh odor of rain. Close beside him a little brown bird
chittered briskly and flew away into the dawn.
He looked away to where the Bear Paws humped, blue-black
against the sky, the top of Old Baldy blushing faintly under
the first sun rays. He looked past Wolf Butte, where the land
was blackened with outcroppings of rock. His eyes came back
leisurely to the claim country. A faint surprise widened his
lids, and he turned and sent a glance sweeping to the right,
toward Flying U Coulee. He frowned, and studied the bench
This was daybreak, when the cattle should be getting out for
their breakfast-feed. They should be scattered along the
level just before him. And there were no cattle anywhere in
sight. Neither were there any riders in sight. Irish gave a
puzzled grunt and turned in his saddle, looking back toward
Dry Lake. That way, the land was more broken, and he could
not see so far. But as far as he could see there were no
cattle that way either. Last night when he rode to town the
cattle of the colonists had been feeding on the long slope
three or four miles from where he stood, across Antelope
Coulee where he had helped the boys drive them.
He did not waste many minutes studying the empty prairie from
the vantage point of that ridge, however. The keynote of
Irish's nature was action. He sent his horse down the
southern slope to the level, and began looking for tracks,
which is the range man's guide-book. He was not long in
finding a broad trail, in the grass where cattle had lately
crossed the coulee from the west. He knew what that meant,
and he swore when he saw how the trail pointed straight to
the east--to the broken, open country beyond One Man Coulee.
What had the boys been thinking of, to let that nester stock
get past them in the night? What had the line-riders
been doing? They were supposed to guard against just
such a move as this.
Irish was sore from his fight in town, and he had not
had much sleep during the past forty-eight hours, and
he was ravenously hungry. He followed the trail of
the cattle until he saw that they certainly had gotten across
the Happy Family claims and into the rough country beyond;
then he turned and rode over to Patsy's shack, where a blue
smoke column wobbled up to the fitful air-current that seized
it and sent it flying toward the mountains.
There he learned that Dry Lake had not hugged to itself all
the events of the night. Patsy, smoking a pipefull of Durham
while he waited for the teakettle to boil, was wild with
resentment. In the night, while he slept, something had
heaved his cabin up at one corner. In a minute another corner
heaved upward a foot or more. Patsy had yelled while he felt
around in the darkness for his clothes, and had got no
answer, save other heavings from below.
Patsy was not the man to submit tamely to such indignities.
He had groped and found his old 45-70 riffle, that made a
noise like a young cannon and kicked like a broncho cow.
While the shack lurched this way and that, Patsy pointed the
gun toward the greatest disturbance and fired. He did not
think: he hit anybody, but he apologized to Irish for missing
and blamed the darkness for the misfortune. Py cosh, he sure
tried--witness the bullet holes which he had bored through
the four sides of the shack; he besought Irish to count them;
which Irish did gravely. And what happened then?
Then? Why, then the Happy Family had come; or at least all
those who had been awake and riding the prairie had come
pounding up out of the dark, their horses running like
rabbits, their blood singing the song of battle. They had
grappled with certain of the enemy--Patsy broke open the door
and saw tangles of struggling forms in the faint starlight.
The Happy Family were not the type of men who must settle
every argument with a gun, remember. Not while their hands
might be used to fight with. Patsy thought that they licked
the nesters without much trouble. He knew that the settlers
ran, and that the Happy Family chased them clear across the
line and then came back and let the shack down where it
belonged upon the rock underpining.
"Und py cosh! Dey vould move my shack off'n my land!" he
grunted ragefully as he lived over the memory.
Irish went to the door and looked out. The wind had risen in
the last half hour, so that his hat went sailing against the
rear wall, but he did not notice that. He was wondering why
the settlers had made this night move against Patsy. Was it
an attempt to irritate the boys to some real act of violence-
-something that would put them in fear of the law? Or was it
simply a stratagem to call off the night-guard so that they
might slip their cattle across into the breaks? They must
have counted on some disturbance which would reach the ears
of the boys on guard. If Patsy had not begun the bombardment
with his old rifle, they would very likely have fired a few
shots themselves--enough to attract attention. With that end
in view, he could see why Patsy's shack had been chosen for
the attack. Patsy's shack was the closest to where they had
been holding the cattle. It was absurdly simple, and
evidently the ruse had worked to perfection.
"Where are the boys at now?" he asked abruptly, turning to
Patsy who had risen and knocked the ashes from his pipe and
was slicing bacon.
"Gone after the cattle. Dey stampede alreatty mit all der
noise," Patsy growled, with his back to Irish.
So it was just as Irish had suspected. He faced the west and
the gathering bank of "thunder heads" that rode swift on the
wind and muttered sullenly as they rode, and he hesitated.
Should he go after the boys and help them round up the stock
and drive it back, or should he stay where he was and watch
the claims? There was that fence--he must see to that, too.
He turned and asked Patsy if all the boys were gone. But
Patsy did not know.
Irish stood in the doorway until breakfast was ready
whereupon he sat down and ate hurriedly--as much from habit
as from any present need of haste. A gust of wind made the
flimsy cabin shake, and Patsy went to close the door against
its sudden fury.
"Some riders iss coming now," he said, and held the door half
closed against the wind. "It ain't none off der boys," he
added, with the certainty which came of his having watched,
times without number, while the various members of the Happy
Family rode in from the far horizons to camp. "Pilgrims, I
guess--from der ridin'."
Irish grunted and reached for the coffee pot, giving scarce a
thought to Patsy's announcement. While he poured his third
cup of coffee he made a sudden decision. He would get that
fence off his mind, anyway.
"Say, Patsy, I've rustled wire and posts--all we'll need. I
guess I'll just turn this receipt over to you and let you get
busy. You take the team and drive in today and get the stuff
headed out here pronto. The nesters are shipping in more
stock--I heard in town that they're bringing in all they can
rustle, thinkin' the stock will pay big money while the
claims are getting ready to produce. I heard a couple of
marks telling each other just how it was going to work out so
as to put 'em all on Easy Street--the darned chumps! Free
grass--that's what they harped on; feed don't cost anything.
All yuh do is turn 'em loose and wait till shippin' season,
and then collect. That's what they were talking.
"The sooner that fence is up the better. We can't put in the
whole summer hazing their cattle around. I've bought the
stuff and paid for it. And here's forty dollars you can use
to hire it hauled out here. Us fellows have got to keep cases
on the cattle, so you 'tend to this fence." He laid the money
and Fred's receipt upon the table and set Patsy's plate over
them to hold them safe against the wind that rattled the
shack. He had forgotten all about the three approaching
riders, until Patsy turned upon him sharply.
"Vot schrapes you been into now?" he demanded querulously.
"Py cosh you done somet'ings. It's der conshtable comin'
alreatty. I bet you be pinched."
"I bet I don't," Irish retorted, and made for the one window,
which looked toward the hills. "Feed 'em some breakfast,
Patsy. And you drive in and tend to that fencing right away,
like I told you."
He threw one long leg over the window sill, bent his lean
body to pass through the square opening, and drew the other
leg outside. He startled his horse, which had walked around
there out of the wind, but he caught the bridle-reins and led
him a few steps farther where he would be out of the direct
view from the window. Then he stopped and listened.
He heard the three ride up to the other side of the shack and
shout to Patsy. He heard Patsy moving about inside, and after
a brief delay open the door. He heard the constable ask Patsy
if he knew anything about Irish, and where he could be found;
and he heard Patsy declare that he had enough to do without
keeping track of that boneheaded cowpuncher who was good for
nothing but to fight and get into schrapes.
After that he heard Patsy ask the constable if they had had
any breakfast before leaving town. He heard certain saddle-
sounds which told of their dismounting in response to the
tacit invitation. And then, pulling his hat firmly down upon
his head, Irish led his horse quietly down into a hollow
behind the shack, and so out of sight and hearing of those
three who sought him.
He did not believe that he was wanted for anything very
serious; they meant to arrest him, probably, for laying out
those two gamblers with a chair and a bottle of whisky
respectively. A trumped-up charge, very likely, chiefly
calculated to make him some trouble and to eliminate him from
the struggle for a time. Irish did not worry at all over
their reason for wanting him, but he did not intend to let
them come close enough to state their errand, because he did
not want to become guilty of resisting an officer--which
would be much worse than fighting nesters with fists and
chairs and bottles and things.
In the hollow he mounted and rode down the depression and
debouched upon the wide, grassy coulee where lay a part of
his own claim. He was not sure of the intentions of that
constable, but he took it for granted that he would presently
ride on to Irish's cabin in search of him; also that he would
look for him further, and possibly with a good deal of
persistence; which would be a nuisance and would in a measure
hamper the movements and therefore the usefulness of Irish.
For that reason he was resolved to take no chance that could
The sun slid behind the scurrying forerunners of the storm
and struggled unavailingly to shine through upon the prairie
land. From where he was Irish could not see the full extent
of the storm-clouds, and while he had been on high land he
had been too absorbed in other matters to pay much attention.
Even now he did no more than glance up casually at the inky
mass above him, and decided that he would do well to ride on
to his cabin and get his slicker.
By the time he reached his shack the storm was beating up
against the wind which had turned unexpectedly to the
northeast. Mutterings of thunder grew to sharper booming. It
was the first real thunderstorm of the season, but it was
going to be a hard one, if looks meant anything. Irish went
in and got his slicker and put it on, and then hesitated over
riding on in search of the cattle and the men in pursuit of
Still, the constable might take a notion to ride over this
way in spite of the storm. And if he came there would be
delay, even if there were nothing worse. So Irish, being one
to fight but never to stand idle, mounted again and turned
his long-suffering horse down the coulee as the storm swept
First a few large drops of rain pattered upon the earth and
left blobs of wet where they fell. His horse shook its head
impatiently and went sidling forward untill an admonitory
kick from Irish sent him straight down the dim trail. Then
the clouds opened recklessly the headgates and let the rain
down in one solid rush of water that sluiced the hillsides
and drove muddy torrents down channels that had been dry
since the snow left.
Irish bent his head so that his hat shielded somewhat his
face, and rode doggedly on. It was not the first time that he
had been out in a smashing, driving thunderstorm, and it
would not be his last if his life went on logically as he had
planned it. But it was not the more comfortable because it
was an oft-repeated experience. And when the first fury had
passed and still it rained steadily and with no promise of a
let-up, his optimism suffered appreciably.
His luck in town no longer cheered him. He began to feel the
loss of sleep and the bone-weariness of his fight and the
long ride afterwards. His breakfast was the one bright spot,
and saved him from the gnawing discomfort of an empty
He went into One Man Coulee and followed it to the arm that
would lead to the rolling, ridgy open land beyond, where the
"breaks" of the Badlands reached out to meet the prairie. He
came across the track of the herd, and followed it to the
plain. Once out in the open, however, the herd had seemed to
split into several small bunches, each going in a different
direction. Which puzzled Irish a little at first. Later, he
thought he understood.
The cattle, it would seem, had been driven purposefully into
the edge of the breaks and there made to scatter out through
the winding gulches and canyons that led deeper into the
Badlands. It was the trick of range-men--he could not believe
that the strange settlers, ignorant of the country and the
conditions, would know enough to do this. He hesitated before
several possible routes, the rain pouring down upon him, a
chill breeze driving it into his face. If there had been
hoofprints to show which way the boys had gone, the rain had
washed them so that they looked dim and old and gave him
He chose what seemed to him the gorge which the boys would be
most likely to follow--especially at night and if they were
in open pursuit of those who had driven the cattle off the
benchland; and that the cattle had been driven beyond this
point was plain enough, for otherwise he would have overtaken
stragglers long before this.
It was nearing noon when he came out finally upon a little,
open flat and found there Big Medicine and Pink holding a
bunch of perhaps a hundred cattle which they had gleaned from
the surrounding gulches and little "draws" which led into the
hills. The two were wet to the skin, and they were chilled
and hungry and as miserable as a she-bear sent up a tree by
yelping, yapping dogs.
Big Medicine it was who spied him first through the haze of
falling water, and galloped heavily toward him, his horse
flinging off great pads of mud from his feet as he came.
"Say!" he bellowed when he was yet a hundred yards away. "Got
any grub with yuh?"
"No!" Irish called back.
"Y'AIN'T" Big Medicine's voice was charged with incredulous
reproach. "What'n hell yuh doin' here without GRUB? Is Patsy
comin' with the wagon?"
"No. I sent Patsy on in to town after--"
"Town? And us out here--" Big Medicine choked over his
Irish waited until he could get in a word and then started to
explain. But Pink rode up with his hatbrim flapping soggily
against one dripping cheek when the wind caught it, and his
coat buttoned wherever there were buttons, and his collar
turned up, and looking pinched and draggled and wholly
"Say! Got anything to eat?" he shouted when he came near,
his voice eager and hopeful.
"No!" snapped Irish with the sting of Big Medicine's
vituperations rankling fresh in his soul.
"Well why ain't yuh? Where's Patsy?" Pink came closer and
eyed the newcomer truculently.
"How'n hell do I know?" Irish was getting a temper to match
"Well, why don't yuh know? What do yuh think you're out here
for? To tell us you think it's going to rain? If we was all
of us like you, there'd be nothing to it for the nester-
bunch. It's a wonder you come alive enough to ride out this
way at all! I don't reckon you've even got anything to drink!
"Pink paused a second, saw no move toward producing anything
wet and cheering, and swore disgustedly. "Of course not! You
needed it all yourself! So help me Josephine, if I
was as low-down ornery as some I could name I'd tie myself to
a mule's tail and let him kick me to death! Ain't got any
grub! Ain't got--"
Irish interrupted him then with a sentence that stung. Irish,
remember, distinctly approved of himself and his actions.
True, he had forgotten to bring anything to eat with him, but
there was excuse for that in the haste with which he had left
his own breakfast. Besides how could he be expected to know
that the cattle had been driven away down here, and
scattered, and that the Happy Family would not have overtaken
them long before? Did they think he was a mind-reader?
Pink, with biting sarcasm, retorted that they did not. That
it took a mind to read a mind. He added that, from the looks
of Irish, he must have started home drunk, anyway, and his
horse had wandered this far of his own accord. Then three or
four cows started up a gulch to the right of them and Pink,
hurling insults over his shoulder, rode off to turn them
back. So they did not actually come to blows, those two,
though they were near it.
Big Medicine lingered to bawl unforgivable things at; Irish,
and Irish shouted back recklessly that they had all acted
like a bunch of sheepherders, or the cattle would never have
been driven off the bench at all. He declared that anybody
with the brains of a sick sage hen would have stopped the
thing right in the start. He said other things also.
Big Medicine said things in reply, and Pink, returning to the
scene with his anger grown considerably hotter from feeding
upon his discomfort, made a few comments pertinent to the
subject of Irish's shortcomings.
You may scarcely believe it, unless you have really lived,
and have learned how easily small irritations grow to the
proportions of real trouble, and how swiftly--but this is a
fact: Irish and Big Medicine became so enraged that they
dismounted simultaneously and Irish jerked off his slicker
while Big Medicine was running up to smash him for some
They fought, there in the rain and the mud and the chill wind
that whipped their wet cheeks. They fought just as
relentlessly as though they had long been enemies, and just
as senselessly as though they were not grown men but
schoolboys. They clinched and pounded and smashed until Pink
sickened at the sight and tore them apart and swore at them
for crazy men and implored them to have some sense. They let
the cattle that had been gathered with so much trouble drift
away into the gulches and draws where they must be routed out
of the brush again, or perhaps lost for days in that rough
When the first violence of their rage had like the storm
settled to a cold steadiness of animosity, the two remounted
painfully and turned back upon each other.
Big Medicine and Pink drew close together as against a common
foe, and Irish cursed them both and rode away--whither he did
not know nor care.
CHAPTER 15. THE KID HAS IDEAS OF HIS OWN
The Old Man sat out in his big chair on the porch, smoking
and staring dully at the trail which led up the bluff by way
of the Hog's Back to the benchland beyond. Facing him in an
old, cane rocking chair, the Honorable Blake smoked with that
air of leisurely enjoyment which belongs to the man who knows
and can afford to burn good tobacco and who has the sense to,
burn it consciously, realizing in every whiff its rich
fragrance. The Honorable Blake flicked a generous half-inch
of ash from his cigar upon a porch support and glanced
shrewdly at the Old Man's abstracted face.
"No, it wouldn't do," he observed with the accent of a second
consideration of a subject that coincides exactly with the
first. "It wouldn't do at all. You could save the boys time,
I've no doubt--time and trouble so far as getting the cattle
back where they belong is concerned. I can see how they must
be hampered for lack of saddle-horses, for instance. But--it
wouldn't do, Whitmore. If they come to you and ask for horses
don't let them have them. They'll manage somehow--trust them
for that. They'll manage--"
"But doggone it, Blake, it's for--"
"Sh-sh--" Blake held up a warning hand. "None of that, my
dear Whitmore! These young fellows have taken claims in--er--
good faith." His bright blue eyes sparkled with a sudden
feeling. "In the best of good faith, if you ask me. I--admire
them intensely for what they have started out to do. But--
they have certain things which they must do, and do alone. If
you would not thwart them in accomplishing what they have set
out to do, you must go carefully; which means that you must
not run to their aid with your camp-wagons and your saddle-
horses, so they can gather the cattle again and drive them
back where they belong. You would not be helping them. They
would get the cattle a little easier and a little quicker--
and lose their claims."
"But doggone it, Blake, them boys have lived right here at
the Flying U--why, this has been their home, yuh might say.
They ain't like the general run of punchers that roam around,
workin' for this outfit and for that; they've stuck. Why,
doggone it, what they done here when I got hurt in Chicago
and they was left to run themselves, why, that alone puts me
under obligations to help 'em out in this scrape. Anybody
could see that. Ain't I a neighbor? Ain't neighbors got a
right to jump in and help each other? There ain't no law
"Not against neighbors--no." Blake uncrossed his perfectly
trousered legs and crossed them the other way, after
carefully avoiding any bagging tendency. "But this syndicate-
-or these contestants--will try to prove that you are not a
neighbor only, but a--backer of the boys in a land-grabbing
scheme. To avoid--"
"Well, doggone your measly hide, Blake, I've told you fifty
times I ain't! "The Old Man sat forward in his chair and
shook his fist unabashed at his guest. "Them boys cooked that
all up amongst themselves, and went and filed on that land
before ever I knowed a thing about it. How can yuh set there
and say I backed 'em? And that blonde Jezebel--riding down
here bold as brass and turnin' up her nose at Dell, and
callin' me a conspirator to my face!"
"I sticked a pin in her saddle blanket, Uncle Gee-gee. I'll
bet she wished she'd stayed away from here when her horse
bucked her off." The Kid looked up from trying to tie a piece
of paper to the end of a brindle kitten's switching tail, and
smiled his adorable smile--that had a gap in the middle.
"Hey? You leave that cat alone or he'll scratch yuh. Blake,
if you can't see--"
"He! He's a her and her name's Adeline. Where's the boys,
"Hey? Oh, away down in the breaks after their cattle that got
away. You keep still and never mind where they've gone." His
mind swung back to the Happy Family, combing the breaks for
their stock and the stock of the nesters, with an average of
one saddlehorse apiece and a camp outfit of the most
primitive sort--if they had any at all, which he doubted. The
Old Man had eased too many roundups through that rough
country not to realize keenly the difficulties of the Happy
"They need horses," he groaned to Blake, "and they need help.
If you knowed the country and the work as well as I do you'd
know they've got to have horses and help. And there's their
claims--fellers squatting down on every eighty--four
different nesters fer every doggoned one of the bunch to
handle! And you tell me I got to set here and not lift a
hand. You tell me I can't put men to work on that fence they
want built. You tell me I can't lend 'em so much as a horse!"
Blake nodded. "I tell you that, and I emphasize it," he
assured the other, brushing off another half inch of ash from
his cigar. "If you want to help those boys hold their land,
you must not move a finger."
"He's wiggling all of 'em!" accused the Kid sternly, and
pointed to the Old Man drumming irritatedly upon his chair
arms. "He don't want to help the boys, but I do. I'll help
'em get their cattle, Mr. Blake. I'm one of the bunch anyway.
I'll lend 'em my string."
"You've been told before not to butt in to grownup talk," his
uncle reproved him irascibly. "Now you cut it out. And take
that string off'n that cat!" he added harshly. "Dell! Come
and look after this kid! Doggone it, a man can't talk five
The Kid giggled irrepressibly. "That's one on you, old man.
You saw Doctor Dell go away a long time ago. Think she can
hear yuh when she's away up on the bench?"
"You go on off and play!" commanded the Old Man. "I dunno
what yuh want to pester a feller to death for--and say! Take
that string off'n that cat!"
"Aw gwan! It ain't hurting the cat. She likes it." He lifted
the kitten and squeezed her till she yowled. "See? She said
yes, she likes it."
The Old Man returned to the trials of the Happy Family, and
the Kid sat and listened, with the brindle kitten snuggled
uncomfortably, head downward in his arms.
The Kid had heard a good deal, lately, about the trials
of his beloved "bunch." About the "nesters" who brought
cattle in to eat up the grass that belonged to the cattle of
the bunch. The Kid understood that perfectly--since he had
been raised in the atmosphere of range talk. He had heard
about the men building shacks on the claims of the Happy
Family--he understood that also; for he had seen the shacks
himself, and he had seen where there had been slid down hill
into the bottom of Antelope Coulee. He knew all about the
attack on Patsy's cabin and how the Happy Family had been
fooled, and the cattle driven off and scattered. The breaks--
he was a bit hazy upon the subject of breaks. He had heard
about them all his life. The stock got amongst them and had
to be hunted out. He thought--as nearly as could be put in
words--that it must be a place where all the brakes grow that
are used on wagons and buggies. These were of wood, therefore
they must grow somewhere. They grew where the Happy Family
went sometimes, when they were gone for days and days after
stock. They were down there now--it was down in the breaks,
always--and they couldn't round up their cattle because they
hadn't horses enough. They needed help, so they could hurry
back and slide those other shacks off their claims and into
Antelope Coulee where they had slid the others. On the whole,
the Kid had a very fair conception of the state of affairs.
Claimants and contestants--those words went over his head.
But he knew perfectly well that the nesters were the men that
didn't like the Happy Family, and lived in shacks on the way
to town, and plowed big patches of prairie and had children
that went barefooted in the furrows and couldn't ride horses
to save their lives. Pilgrim kids, that didn't know what
"chaps" were--he had talked with a few when he went with
Doctor Dell and Daddy Chip to see the sick lady.
After a while, when the Honorable Blake became the chief
speaker and leaned forward and tapped the Old Man frequently
on a knee with his finger, and used long words that carried
no meaning, and said contestant and claimant and evidence so
often that he became tiresome, the Kid slid off the porch and
went away, his small face sober with deep meditations.
He would need some grub--maybe the bunch was hungry without
any camp-wagons. The Kid had stood around in the way, many's
the time, and watched certain members of the Happy Family
stuff emergency rations into flour sacks, and afterwards tie
the sack to their saddles and ride off. He knew all about
He hunted up a flour sack that had not had all the string
pulled out of it so it was no longer a sack but a dish-towel,
and held it behind his back while he went cautiously to the
kitchen door. The Countess was nowhere in sight--but it was
just as well to make sure. The Kid went in, took a basin off
the table, held it high and deliberately dropped it on the
floor. It, made a loud bang, but it did not elicit any shrill
protest from the Countess; therefore the Countess was nowhere
around. The Kid went in boldly and filled his four-sack so
full it dragged on the floor when he started off.
At the door he went down the steps ahead of the sack, and
bent his small back from the third step and pulled the sack
upon his shoulders. It wobbled a good deal, and the Kid came
near falling sidewise off the last step before he could
balance his burden. But he managed it, being the child of his
parents and having a good deal of persistence in his makeup;
and he went, by a roundabout way, to the stable with the
grub-sack bending him double. Still it was not so very heavy;
it was made bulky by about two dozen fresh-made doughnuts and
a loaf of bread and a jar of honey and a glass of wild-
currant jelly and a pound or so of raw, dried prunes which
the Kid called nibblin's because he liked to nibble at them,
like a prairie dog at a grass root.
Getting that sack tied fast to the saddle after the saddle
was on Silver's back was no easy task for a boy who is six,
even though he is large for his age. Still, being Chip's Kid
and the Little Doctor's he did it--with the help of the oats
box and Silver's patient disposition.
There were other things which the bunch always tied on their
saddles; a blanket, for instance, and a rope. The Kid made a
trip to the bunk-house and pulled a gray blanket off Ole's
bed, and spent a quarter of an hour rolling it as he had seen
the boys roll blankets The oats box, with Silver standing
beside it, came in handy again. He found a discarded rope and
after much labor coiled it crudely and tied it beside the
The Kid went to the door, stood beside it and leaned away
over so that he could peek out and not be seen Voices came
from the house--the voice of the Old Man; to be exact, high-
pitched and combative. The Kid looked up the bluff, and the
trail lay empty in the afternoon sun. Still, he did not like
to take that trail. Doctor Dell might come riding down there
almost any minute. The Kid did not want to meet Doctor Dell
just right then.
He went back, took Silver by the bridle reins and led him out
of the barn and around the corner where he could not be seen
from the White House. He thought he had better go down the
creek, and out through the wire gate and on down the creek
that way. He was sure that the "breaks" were somewhere beyond
the end of the coulee, though he could not have explained why
he was sure of it. Perhaps the boys, in speaking of the
breaks, had unconsciously tilted heads in that direction.
The Kid went quickly down along the creek through the little
pasture, leading Silver by the reins. He was terribly afraid
that his mother might ride over the top of the hill and see
him and call him back. If she did that, he would have to go,
of course. Deliberate, open disobedience had never yet
occurred to the Kid as a moral possibility. If your mother or
your Daddy Chip told you to come back, you had to come;
therefore he did not want to be told to come. Doctor Dell had
told him that he could go on roundup some day--the Kid had
decided that this was the day, but that it would be foolish
to mention the decision to anyone. People had a way of
disagreeing with one's decisions--especially Doctor Dell, she
always said one was too little. The Kid thought he was
getting pretty big, since he could stand on something and put
the saddle on Silver his own self, and cinch it and
everything; plenty big enough to get out and help the bunch
when they needed help.
He did not look so very big as he went trudging down
alongside the creek, stumbling now and then in the coarse
grass that hid the scattered rocks. He could not keep his
head twisted around to look under Silver's neck and watch the
hill trail, and at the same time see where he was putting his
feet. And if he got on Silver now he would be seen and
recognized at the first glance which Doctor Dell would give
to the coulee when she rode over the brow of the hill.
Walking beside Silver's shoulder , on the side farthest from
the bluff, he might not be seen at all; Doctor Dell might
look and think it was just a horse walking along the creek
his own self.
The Kid was extremely anxious that he should not be seen. The
bunch needed him. Uncle Gee-gee said they needed help. The
Kid thought they would expect him to come and help with his
"string", He helped Daddy Chip drive the horses up from the
little pasture, these days; just yesterday he had brought the
whole bunch up, all by his own self, and had driven them into
the big corral alone, and Daddy Chip had stood by the gate
and watched him do it. Daddy Chip had lifted him down from
Silver's back, and had squeezed him hard, and had called him
a real, old cowpuncher. The Kid got warm all inside him when
he, thought of it.
When a turn in the narrow creek-bottom hid him completely
from the ranch buildings and the hill trail, the Kid led
Silver alongside a low bank, climbed into the saddle. Then he
made Silver lope all the way to the gate.
He had some trouble with that gate. It was a barbed wire
gate, such as bigger men than the Kid sometimes swear over.
It went down all right, but when he came to put it up again,
that was another matter. He simply had to put it up before he
could go on. You always had to shut gates if you found them
shut--that was a law of the range which the Kid had learned
so long ago he could not remember when he had learned And
there was another reason--he did not want em to know he had
passed that way, if they took a notion to call him back. So
he worked and he tugged and he grew so red in the face it
looked as if he were choking. But he got the gate up and the
wire loop over the stake--though he had to hunt up an old
piece of a post to stand on, and even then had to stand on
his toes to reach the loop--since he was Chip's Kid and the
He even remembered to scrape out the tell-tale prints of his
small feet in the bare earth there, and the prints of
Silver's feet where he went through. Yarns he had heard the
Happy Family tell, in the bunk-house on rainy days, had
taught him these tricks. He was extremely thorough in all
that he did--being a good deal like his dad--and when he went
the grass, no one would have suspected that he had passed
After a while he left that winding creek-bottom and climbed a
long ridge. Then he went down hill and pretty soon he climbed
another hill that made old Silver stop and rest before he
went on to the top. The Kid stood on the top for a few
minutes and stared wistfully out over the tumbled mass of
hills, and deep hollows, and hills, and hill and hills--till
he could not see where they left off. He could not see any of
the bunch; but then, he could not see any brakes growing
anywhere, either. The bunch was down in the brakes--he had
heard that often enough to get it fixed firmly in his mind.
Well, when he came to where the brakes grew--and he would
know them, all right, when he saw them!--he would find the
bunch. He thought they'd be s'prised to see him ride up! The
bunch didn't know that he could drive stock all his own self,
and that he was a real, old cowpuncher now. He was a lot
bigger. He didn't have to hunt such a big rock, or such a
high bank, to get on Silver now. He thought he must be pretty
near as big as Pink, any way. They would certainly be
The brakes must be farther over. Maybe he would have to go
over on the other side of that biggest hill before he came to
the place where they grew. He rode unafraid down a steep,
rocky slope where Silver picked his way very, very carefully,
and sometimes stopped and smelt of a ledge or a pile of
rocks, and then turned and found some other way down.
The Kid let him choose his path--Daddy Chip had taught him to
leave the reins loose and let Silver cross ditches and rough
places where he wanted to cross. So Silver brought him safely
down that hill where even the Happy Family would have
hesitated to ride unless the need was urgent.
He could not go right up over the next hill--there was a rock
ledge that was higher than his head when he sat on Silver. He
went down a narrow gulch--ah, an awfully narrow gulch!
Sometimes he was afraid Silver was too fat to squeeze
through; but Silver always did squeeze through somehow. And
still there were no brakes growing anywhere. Just choke-
cherry trees, and service-berries, and now and then a little
flat filled with cottonwoods and willows--familiar trees and
bushes that he had known all his six years of life.
So the Kid went on and on, over hills or around hills or down
along the side of hill. But he did not find the Happy Family,
and he did not find the brakes. He found cattle that had the
Flying U brand--they had a comfortable, homey look. One bunch
he drove down a wide coulee, hazing them out of the brush and
yelling "HY-AH!" at them, just the way the Happy Family
yelled. He thought maybe these were the cattle the Happy
Family were looking for; so he drove them ahead of him and
didn't let one break back on him and he was the happiest Kid
in all Montana with these range cattle, that had the Flying U
brand, galloping awkwardly ahead of him down that big coulee.
CHAPTER 26. "A RELL OLD COWPUNCHER"
The hills began to look bigger, and kind of chilly and blue
in the deep places. The Kid wished that he could find some of
the boys. He was beginning to get hungry, and he had long ago
begun to get tired. But he was undismayed, even when he heard
a coyote yap-yap-yapping up a brushy canyon. It might be that
he would have to camp out all night. The Kid had loved those
cowboy yarns where the teller--who was always the hero--had
been caught out somewhere and had been compelled to make a
"dry camp." His favorite story of that type was the story of
how Happy Jack had lost his clothes and had to go naked
through the breaks. It was not often that he could make Happy
Jack tell him that story--never when the other boys were
around. And there were other times; when Pink had got lost,
down in the breaks, and had found a cabin just--in--TIME,
with Irish sick inside and a blizzard just blowing outside,
and they were mad at each other and wouldn't talk, and all
they had to eat was one weenty, teenty snow-bird, till the
yearling heifer came and Pink killed it and they had
beefsteak and got good friends again. And there were other
times, that others of the boys could tell about, and that the
Kid thought about now with pounding pulse. It was not all
childish fear of the deepening shadows that made his eyes big
and round while he rode slowly on, farther and farther into
He still drove the cattle before him; rather, he followed
where the cattle led. He felt very big and very proud--but he
did wish he could find the Happy Family! Somebody ought to
stand guard, and he was getting sleepy already.
Silver stopped to drink at a little creek of clear, cold
water. There was grass, and over there was a little hollow
under a rock ledge. The sky was all purple and red, like
Doctor Dell painted in pictures, and up the, coulee, where he
had been a little while ago, it was looking kind of dark. The
Kid thought maybe he had better camp here till morning. He
reined Silver against a bank and slid off, and stood looking
around him at the strange hills with the huge, black boulders
that looked like houses unless you knew, and the white cliffs
that looked--queer--unless you knew they were just cliffs.
For the first time since he started, the Kid wished
guiltily that his dad was here or--he did wish the bunch
would happen along! He wondered if they weren't camped,
maybe, around that point. Maybe they would hear him if he
hollered as loud as he could. which he did, two or three
times; and quit because the hills hollered back at him and
they wouldn't stop for the longest time--it was just like
people yelling at him from behind these rocks.
The Kid knew, of course, who they were; they were Echo-boys,
and they wouldn't hurt, and they wouldn't let you see them.
They just ran away and hollered from some other place. There
was an Echo-boy lived up on the bluff somewhere above the
house. You could go down in the little pasture and holler,
and the Echo-boy would holler back The Kid was not afraid--
but there seemed to be an awful lot of Echo-boys down in
these hills. They were quiet after a minute or so, and he did
not call again.
The Kid was six, and he was big for his age; but he looked
very little, there alone in that deep coulee that was really
more like a canyon--very little and lonesome and as if he
needed his Doctor Dell to take him on her lap and rock him.
It was just about the time of day when Doctor Dell always
rocked him and told him stories--about the Happy Family,
maybe. The Kid hated to be suspected of baby ways, but he
loved these tunes, when his legs were tired and his eyes
wanted to go shut, and Doctor Dell laid her cheek on his hair
and called him her baby man. Nobody knew about these times--
that was most always in the bed room and the boys couldn't
The Kid's lips quivered a little. Doctor Dell would be
surprised when he didn't show up for supper, he guessed. He
turned to Silver and to his man ways, because he did not like
to think about Doctor Dell just right now.
"Well, old feller, I guess you want your saddle off, huh?" he
quavered, and slapped the horse upon the shoulder . He lifted
the stirrup--it was a little stock saddle, with everything
just like a big saddle except the size; Daddy Chip had had it
made for the Kid in Cheyenne, last Christmas--and began to
undo the latigo, whistling self-consciously and finding that
his lips kept trying to come unpuckered all the time, and
trying to tremble just the way they did when he cried. He had
no intention of crying.
"Gee! I always wanted to camp out and watch the stars," he
told Silver stoutly. "Honest to gran'ma, I think this is
just--simply--GREAT! I bet them nester kids would be scared.
That helped a lot. The Kid could whistle better after that.
He pulled of the saddle, laid it down on its side so that the
skirts would not bend out of shape--oh, he had been well-
taught, with the whole Happy Family for his worshipful
tutors!--and untied the rope from beside the fork. "I'll have
to anchor you to a tree, old-timer," he told the horse
briskly. "I'd sure hate to be set afoot in this man's
country!" And a minute later--"Oh, funder! I never brought
you any sugar!"
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