The Flying U's Last Stand
B. M. Bower
Part 5 out of 5
A four-wire fence and a systematic patrol along the line was
having its effect upon the stock question. If the settlers
drove their cattle south until they passed the farthest
corner of Flying U fence, they came plump against Bert
Rogers' barbed boundary line. West of that was his father's
place--and that stretched to the railroad right-of-way,
fenced on either side with a stock-proof barrier and hugging
the Missouri all the way to the Marias--where were other
settlers. If they went north until they passed the fence of
the Happy Family, there were the Meeker holdings to bar the
way to the very foot of Old Centennial, and as far up its
sides as cattle would go.
The Happy Family had planned wisely when they took their
claims in a long chain that stretched across the benchland
north of the Flying U. Florence Grace knew this perfectly
well--but what could she prove? The Happy Family had bought
cattle of their own, and were grazing them lawfully upon
their own claims. A lawyer had assured her that there was no
evidence to be gained there. They never went near J. G.
Whitmore, nor did they make use of his wagons, his teams or
his tools or his money; instead they hired what they needed,
openly and from Bert Rogers. They had bought their cattle
from the Flying U, and that was the extent of their business
relations--on the surface. And since collusion had been the
ground given for the contests, it will be easily seen what
slight hope Florence Grace and her clients must have of
winning any contest suit. Still, there was that alternative--
the Happy Family had been so eager to build that fence and
gather their cattle and put them back on the claims,
and so anxious lest in their absence the settlers should slip
cattle across the dead line and into the breaks, that they
had postponed their trip to Great Falls as long as possible.
The Honorable Blake had tacitly advised them to do so; and
the Happy Family never gave a thought to their being hindered
when they did get ready to attend to it.
But--a pebble killed Goliath.
H. J. Owens, whose eyes were the wrong shade of blue, sat
upon a rocky hilltop which overlooked the trail from Flying U
Coulee and a greater portion of the shack-dotted benchland as
well, and swept the far horizons with his field glasses. Just
down the eastern slope, where the jutting sandstone cast a
shadow, his horse stood tied to a dejected wild-currant bush.
He laid the glasses across his knees while he refilled his
pipe, and tilted his hatbrim to shield his pale blue eyes
from the sun that was sliding past midday.
H. J. Owens looked at his watch, nevertheless, as though the
position of the sun meant nothing to him. He scowled a
little, stretched a leg straight out before him to ease it of
cramp, and afterwards moved farther along in the shade. The
wind swept past with a faint whistle, and laid the ripening
grasses flat where it passed. A cloud shadow moved slowly
along the slope beneath him, and he watched the darkening of
the earth where it touched, and the sharp contrast of the
sun-yellowed sea of grass all around it. H. J. Owens looked
bored and sleepy; yet he did not leave the hilltop--nor did
he go to sleep.
Instead, he lifted the glasses, turned them toward Flying U
Coulee a half mile to the south of him, and stared long at
the trail. After a few minutes he made a gesture to lower the
glasses, and then abruptly fixed them steadily upon one spot,
where the trail wound up over the crest of the bluff. He
looked for a minute, and laid the glasses down upon a rock.
H. J. Owens fumbled in the pocket of his coat, which he had
folded and laid beside him on the yellow gravel of the hill.
He found something he wanted, stood up, and with his back
against a boulder he faced to the southwest. He was careful
about the direction. He glanced up at the sun, squinting his
eyes at the glare; he looked at what he held in his hand.
A glitter of sun on glass showed briefly. H. J. Owens laid
his palm over it, waited while he could count ten, and took
his palm away. Replaced it, waited, and revealed the glass
again with the sun glare upon it full. He held it so for a
full minute, and slid the glass back into his pocket.
He glanced down toward Flying U Coulee again--toward where
the trail stretched like a brown ribbon through the grass. He
seemed to be in something of a hurry now--if impatient
movement meant anything--yet he did not leave the place at
once. He kept looking off there toward the southwest--off
beyond Antelope Coulee and the sparsely dotted shacks of the
A smudge of smoke rose thinly there, behind a hill. Unless
one had been watching the place, one would scarcely have
noticed it, but H. J. Owens saw it at once and smiled his
twisted smile and went running down the hill to where his
horse was tied. He mounted and rode down to the level,
skirted the knoll and came out on the trail, down which he
rode at an easy lope until he met the Kid.
The Kid was going to see Rosemary Allen and take a ride with
her along the new fence; but he pulled up with the air of
condescension which was his usual attitude toward "nesters,"
and in response to the twisted smile of H. J. Owens he
"Want to go on a bear-hunt with me, Buck?" began H. J. Owens
with just the right tone of comradeship, to win the undivided
attention of the Kid.
"I was goin' to ride fence with Miss Allen," the Kid declined
regretfully. "There ain't any bears got very close, there
ain't. I guess you musta swallered something Andy told you."
He looked at H. J. Owens tolerantly.
"No sir. I never talked to Andy about this." Had he been
perfectly truthful he would have added that he had not talked
with Andy about anything whatever, but he let it go. "This is
a bear den I found myself; There's two little baby cubs,
Buck, and I was wondering if you wouldn't like to go along
and get one for a pet. You could learn it to dance and play
soldier, and all kinds of stunts."
The Kid's eyes shone, but he was wary. This man was a nester,
so it would be just at well to be careful "Where 'bouts is
it?" he therefore demanded in a tone of doubt that would have
done credit to Happy Jack.
"Oh, down over there in the hills. It's a secret, though,
till we get them out. Some fellows are after them for
themselves, Buck. They want to--skin 'em."
"The mean devils!" condemned the Kid promptly. "I'd take a
fall outa them if I ketched 'em skinning any baby bear cubs
while I was around."
H. J. Owens glanced behind him with an uneasiness not
"Let's go down into this next gully to talk it over, Buck,"
he suggested with an air of secretiveness that fired the
Kid's imagination. "They started out to follow me, and I
don't want 'em to see me talking to you, you know."
The Kid went with him unsuspectingly. In all the six years of
his life, no man had ever offered him injury. Fear had not
yet become associated with those who spoke him fair. Nesters
he did not consider friends because they were not friends
with his bunch. Personally he did not know anything about
enemies. This man was a nester--but he called him Buck, and
he talked very nice and friendly, and he said he knew where
there were some little baby bear cubs. The Kid had never
before realized how much he wanted a bear cub for a pet. So
do our wants grow to meet our opportunities.
H. J. Owens led the way into a shallow draw between two low
hills, glancing often behind him and around him until they
were shielded by the higher ground. He was careful to keep
where the grass was thickest and would hold no hoofprints to
betray them, but the Kid never noticed. He was thinking how
nice it would be to have a bear cub for a pet. But it was
funny that the Happy Family had never found him one, if there
were any in the country.
He turned to put the question direct to H. J. Owens, I but
that gentleman forestalled him.
"You wait here a minute, Buck, while I ride back on this hill
a little ways to see if those fellows are on our trail," he
said, and rode off before the Kid could ask him the question.
The Kid waited obediently. He saw H. J. Owens get off his
horse and go sneaking up to the brow of the hill, and take
some field glasses out of his pocket and look all around over
the prairie with them. The sight tingled the Kid's blood so
that he almost forgot about the bear cub. It was almost
exactly like fighting Injuns, like Uncle Gee-gee told about
when he wasn't cross.
In a few minutes Owens came back to the Kid, and they went on
slowly, keeping always in the low, grassy places where there
would be no tracks left to tell of their passing that way.
Behind them a yellow-brown cloud drifted sullenly with the
wind. Now and then a black flake settled past them to the
ground. A peculiar, tangy smell was in the air--the smell of
H. J. Owens related a long, full-detailed account of how he
had been down in the hills along the river, and had seen the
old mother bear digging ants out of a sand-hill for her cubs.
"I know--that's jes' 'zactly the way they do!" the Kid
interrupted excitedly. "Daddy Chip seen one doing it on the
Musselshell one time. He told me 'bout it."
H. J. Owens glanced sidelong at the Kid's flushed face,
smiled his twisted smile and went on with his story. He had
not bothered them, he said, because he did not have any way
of carrying both cubs, and he hated to kill them. He had
thought of Buck, and how he would like a pet cub, so he had
followed the bear to her den and had come away to get a sack
to carry them in, and to tell Buck about it.
The Kid never once doubted that it was so. Whenever any of
the Happy Family found anything in the hills that was nice,
they always thought of Buck, and they always brought it to
him. You would be amazed at the number of rattlesnake
rattles, and eagle's claws, and elk teeth, and things like
that, which the Kid possessed and kept carefully stowed away
in a closet kept sacred to his uses.
"'Course you'd 'member I wanted a baby bear cub; for a pet,"
he assented gravely and with a certain satisfaction. "Is it a
far ways to that mother bear's home?"
"Why?" H. J. Owens turned from staring at the rolling smoke
cloud, and looked at the Kid curiously. "Ain't you big enough
to ride far?"
"'Course I'm big enough" The Kid's pride was touched. "I can
ride as far as a horse can travel I bet I can ride farther
and faster 'n you can, you pilgrims" He eyed the other
disdainfully. "Huh! You can't ride. When you trot you go this
way!" The Kid kicked Silver into a trot and went bouncing
along with his elbows flapping loosely in imitation of H. J.
Owens' ungraceful riding.
"I don't want to go a far ways," he explained when the other
was again Riding alongside, "'cause Doctor Dell would cry if
I didn't come back to supper. She cried when I was out
huntin' the bunch. Doctor Dell gets lonesome awful easy." He
looked over his shoulder uneasily. "I guess I better go back
and tell her I'm goin' to git a baby bear cub for a pet," he
said, and reined Silver around to act upon the impulse.
"No--don't do that, Buck." H. J. Owens pulled his horse in
front of Silver. "It isn't far--just a little ways. And it
would be fun to surprise them at the ranch Gee! When they saw
you ride up with a pet bear cub in your arms--" H. J. Owens
shook his head as though he could not find words to express
the surprise of the Kid's family
The Kid smiled his Little Doctor smile. "I'd tell a man!" he
assented enthusiastically. "I bet the Countess would holler
when she seen it. She scares awful easy. She's scared of a
mice, even! Huh! My kitty ketched a mice and she carried it
right in her mouth and brought it into the kitchen and let it
set down on the floor a minute, and it started to run away--
the mice did. And it runned right up to the Countess, and she
jes' hollered and yelled And she got right up and stood on a
chair and hollered for Daddy Chip to come and ketch that
mice. He didn't do it though. Adeline ketched it herself. And
I took it away from her and put it in a box for a pet. I
"She'll be scared when she sees the bear cub," H. J. Owens
declared absent-mindedly. "I know you won't be, though. If we
hurry maybe we can watch how he digs ants for his supper.
That's lots of fun, Buck"
"Yes--I 'member it's fun to watch baby bear cubs dig ants,"
the Kid assented earnestly, and followed willingly where
H. J. Owens led the way.
That the way was far did not impress itself upon the Kid,
beguiled with wonderful stories of how baby bear cubs might
be taught to do tricks. He listened and believed, and
invented some very wonderful tricks that he meant to teach
his baby bear cub. Not until the shadows began to fill the
gullies through which they rode did the Kid awake to the fact
that night was coming close and that they were still
traveling away from home and in a direction which was strange
to him. Never in his life had he been tricked by any one with
unfriendly intent. He did not guess that he was being tricked
now. Ho rode away into the wild places in search of a baby
bear cub for a pet.
CHAPTER 25. "LITTLE BLACK SHACK'S ALL BURNT UP"
It is a penitentiary offense for anyone to set fire to
prairie grass or timber; and if you know the havoc which one
blazing match may work upon dry grassland when the wind is
blowing free, you will not wonder at the penalty for lighting
that match with deliberate intent to set the prairie afire.
Within five minutes after H. J. Owens slipped the bit of
mirror back into his pocket after flashing a signal that the
Kid was riding alone upon the trail, a line of fire several
rods long was creeping up out of a grassy hollow to the
hilltop beyond, whence it would go racing away to the east
and the north, growing bigger and harder to fight with every
grass tuft it fed on.
The Happy Family were working hard that day upon the system
of irrigation by which they meant to reclaim and make really
valuable their desert claims. They happened to be, at the
time when the fire was started, six or seven miles away,
wrangling over the best means of getting their main ditch
around a certain coulee without building a lot of expensive
flume. A surveyor would have been a blessing, at this point
in the undertaking; but a surveyor charged good money for his
services, and the Happy Family were trying to be very
economical with money; with time, and effort, and with words
they were not so frugal.
The fire had been burning for an hour and had spread so
alarmingly before the gusty breeze that it threatened several
claim-shacks before they noticed the telltale, brownish tint
to the sunlight and smelled other smoke than the smoke of the
word-battle then waging fiercely among them. They dropped
stakes, flags and ditch-level and ran to where their horses
waited sleepily the pleasure of their masters.
They reached the level of the benchland to see disaster
swooping down upon them like a race-horse. They did not stop
then to wonder how the fire had started, or why it had gained
such headway. They raced their horses after sacks, and after
the wagon and team and water barrels with which to fight the
flames. For it was not the claim-shacks in its path which
alone were threatened. The grass that was burning meant a
great deal to the stock, and therefore to the general welfare
of every settler upon that bench, be he native or newcomer.
Florence Grace Hallman had, upon one of her periodical visits
among her "clients," warned them of the danger of prairie
fires and urged them to plow and burn guards around all their
buildings. A few of the settlers had done so and were
comparatively safe in the face of that leaping, red line. But
there were some who had delayed--and these must fight now if
they would escape.
The Happy Family, to a man, had delayed; rather they had not
considered that there was any immediate danger from fire; it
was too early in the season for the grass to be tinder dry,
as it would become a month or six weeks later. They were
wholly unprepared for the catastrophe, so far as any
expectation of it went. But for all that they knew exactly
what to do and how to go about doing it, and they did not
waste a single minute in meeting the emergency.
While the Kid was riding with H. J. Owens into the hills, his
friends, the bunch, were riding furiously in the opposite
direction. And that was exactly what had been planned
beforehand. There was an absolute certainty in the minds of
those who planned that it would be so, Florence Grace
Hallman, for instance, knew just what would furnish complete
occupation for the minds and the hands of the Happy Family
and of every other man in that neighborhood, that afternoon.
Perhaps a claim-shack or two would go up in smoke and some
grass would burn. But when one has a stubborn disposition and
is fighting for prestige and revenge and the success of ones
business, a shack or two and a few acres of prairie grass do
not count for very much.
For the rest of that afternoon the boys of the Flying U
fought side by side with hated nesters and told the
inexperienced how best to fight. For the rest of that
afternoon no one remembered the Kid, or wondered why H. J.
Owens was not there in the grimy line of fire-fighters who
slapped doggedly at the leaping flames with sacks kept wet
from the barrels of water hauled here and there as they were
needed. No one had time to call the roll and see who was
missing among the settlers. No one dreamed that this
mysterious fire that had crept up out of a coulee and spread
a black, smoking blanket over the hills where it passed, was
nothing more nor lees than a diversion while a greater crime
was being committed behind their backs.
In spite of them the fire, beaten out of existence at one
point, gained unexpected fury elsewhere and raced on. In
spite of them women and children were in actual danger of
being burned to death, and rushed weeping from flimsy shelter
to find safety in the nearest barren coulee. The sick lady
whom the Little Doctor had been tending was carried out on
her bed and laid upon the blackened prairie, hysterical from
the fright she had received. The shack she had lately
occupied smoked while the tarred paper on the roof crisped
and curled; and then the whole structure burst into flames
and sent blazing bits of paper and boards to spread the fire
Fire guards which the inexperienced settlers thought safe
were jumped without any perceptible check upon the flames.
The wind was just right for the fanning of the fire. It
shifted now and then erratically and sent the yellow line
leaping in new directions. Florence Grace Hallman was in Dry
Lake that day, and she did not hear until after dark how
completely her little diversion had been a success; how more
than half of her colony had been left homeless and hungry
upon the charred prairie. Florence Grace Hallman would not
have relished her supper, I fear, had the news reached her
earlier in the evening.
At Antelope Coulee the Happy Family and such of the settlers
as they could muster hastily for the fight, made a desperate
stand against the common enemy. Flying U Coulee was safe,
thanks to the permanent fire-guards which the Old Man
maintained year after year as a matter of course. But there
were the claims of the Happy Family and all the grassland
east of there which must be saved.
Men drove their work horses at a gallop after plows, and when
they had brought them they lashed the horses into a trot
while they plowed crooked furrows in the sun-baked prairie
sod, just over the eastern rim of Antelope Coulee. The Happy
Family knelt here and there along the fresh-turned sod, and
started a line of fire that must beat up against the wind
until it met the flames, rushing before it. Backfiring is
always a more or less, ticklish proceeding, and they would
not trust the work to stranger.
Every man of them took a certain stretch of furrow to watch,
and ran backward and forward with blackened, frayed sacks to
beat out the wayward flames that licked treacherously through
the smallest break in the line of fresh soil. They knew too
well the danger of those little, licking flame tongues; not
one was left to live and grow and race leaping away through
They worked--heavens, how they worked!--and they stopped the
fire there on the rim of Antelope Coulee. Florence Grace
Hallman would have been sick with fury, had she seen that
dogged line of fighters, and the ragged hem of charred black
ashes against the yellow-brown, which showed how well those
men whom she hated had fought.
So the fire was stopped well outside the fence which marked
the boundary of the Happy Family's claims. All west of there
and far to the north the hills and the coulees lay black as
far as one could see--which was to the rim of the hills which
bordered Dry Lake valley on the east. Here and there a claim-
shack stood forlorn amid the blackness. Here and there a heap
of embers still smoked and sent forth an occasional spitting
of sparks when a gust fanned the heap. Men, women and
children stood about blankly or wandered disconsolately here
and there, coughing in the acrid clouds of warm grass cinders
kicked up by their own lagging feet.
No one missed the Kid. No one dreamed that he was lost again.
Chip was with the Happy Family and did not know that the Kid
had left the ranch that afternoon. The Little Doctor had
taken it for granted that he had gone with his daddy, as he
so frequently did; and with his daddy and the whole Happy
Family to look after him, she never once doubted that he was
perfectly safe, even among the fire-fighters. She supposed he
would be up on the seat beside Patsy, probably, proudly
riding on the wagon that hauled the water barrels.
The Little Doctor had troubles of her own to occupy her mind
She had ridden hurriedly up the hill and straight to the
shack of the sick woman, when first she discovered that the
prairie was afire. And she had found the sick woman lying on
a makeshift bed on the smoking, black area that was
pathetically safe now from fire because there was nothing
more to burn.
"Little black shack's all burnt up! Everything's black now.
Black hills, black hollows, black future, black world, black
hearts--everything matches--everything's black. Sky's black,
I'm black--you're black--little black shack won't have to
stand all alone any more--little black shack's just black
ashes--little black shack's all burnt up!" And then the woman
laughed shrilly, with that terrible, meaningless laughter of
She was a pretty woman, and young. Her hair was that bright
shade of red that goes with a skin like thin, rose-tinted
ivory. Her eyes were big and so dark a blue that they
sometimes looked black, and her mouth was sweet and had a
tired droop to match the mute pathos of her eyes. Her husband
was a coarse lout of a man who seldom spoke to her when they
were together. The Little Doctor had felt that all the
tragedy of womanhood and poverty and loneliness was
synthesized in this woman with the unusual hair and skin and
eyes and expression. She had been coming every day to see
her; the woman was rather seriously ill, and needed better
care than she could get out there on the bald prairie, even
with the Little Doctor to watch over her. If she died her
face would haunt the Little Doctor always. Even if she did
not die she would remain a vivid memory. Just now even the
Little Doctor's mother instinct was submerged under her
professional instincts and her woman sympathy. She did not
stop to wonder whether she was perfectly sure that the Kid
was with Chip. She took it for granted and dismissed the Kid
from her mind, and worked to save the woman.
Yes, the little diversion of a prairie fire that would call
all hands to the westward so that the Kid might be lured away
in another direction without the mishap of being seen, proved
a startling success. As a diversion it could scarcely be
improved upon--unless Florence Grace Hallman had ordered a
wholesale massacre or something like that.
CHAPTER 26. ROSEMARY ALLEN DOES A SMALL SUM IN ADDITION
Miss Rosemary Allen, having wielded a wet gunny sack until
her eyes were red and smarting and her lungs choked with
cinders and her arms so tired she could scarcely lift them,
was permitted by fate to be almost the first person who
discovered that her quarter of the four-room shack built upon
the four contiguous corners of four claims, was afire in the
very middle of its roof. Miss Rosemary Allen stood still and
watched it burn, and was a trifle surprised because she felt
so little regret.
Other shacks had caught fire and burned hotly, and she had
wept with sympathy for the owners. But she did not weep when
her own shack began to crackle and show yellow, licking
tongues of flame. Those three old cats--I am using her own
term, which was spiteful--would probably give up now, and go
back where they belonged. She hoped so. And for herself--
"By gracious, I'm glad to see that one go, anyhow!" Andy
Green paused long enough in his headlong gallop to shout to
her. "I was going to sneak up and touch it off myself, if it
wouldn't start any other way. Now you and me'll get down to
cases, girl, and have a settlement. And say!" He had started
on, but he pulled up again. "The Little Doctor's back here,
somewhere. You go home with her when she goes, and stay till
I come and get you."
"I like your nerve!" Rosemary retorted ambiguously.
"Sure--folks generally do. I'll tell her to stop for you. You
know she'll be glad enough to have you--and so will the Kid."
"Where is Buck?" Rosemary was the first person who asked that
question. "I saw him ride up on the bench just before the
fire started. I was watching for him, through the glasses--"
"Dunno--haven't seen him. With his mother, I guess." Andy
rode on to find Patsy and send him back down the line with
the water wagon. He did not think anything more about the
Kid, though he thought a good deal about Miss Allen.
Now that her shack was burned, she would be easier to
persuade into giving up that practically worthless eighty.
That was what filled the mind of Andy Green to the exclusion
of everything else except the fire. He was in a hurry to
deliver his message to Patsy, so that he could hunt up the
Little Doctor and speak her hospitality for the girl he meant
to marry just as soon as he could persuade her to stand with
him before a preacher.
He found the Little Doctor still fighting a dogged battle
with death for the life of the woman who laughed wildly
because her home was a heap of smoking embers. The Little
Doctor told him to send Rosemary Allen on down to the ranch,
or take her himself, and to tell the Countess to send up her
biggest medicine case immediately. She could not leave, she
said, for some time yet. She might have to stay all night--or
she would if there was any place to stay. She was half
decided, she said, to have someone take the woman in to Dry
Lake right away, and up to the hospital in Great Falls. She
supposed she would have to go along. Would Andy tell J. G. to
send up some money? Clothes didn't matter--she would go the
way she was; there were plenty of clothes in the stores, she
declared. And would Andy rustle a team, right away, so they
could start? If they went at all they ought to catch the
evening train. The Little Doctor was making her decisions and
her plans while she talked, as is the way with those strong
natures who can act promptly and surely in the face of an
By the time she had thought of having a team come right away,
she had decided that she would not wait for her medicine-case
or for money. She could get all the money she needed in Dry
Lake; and she had her little emergency case with her. Since
she was going to take the woman to a hospital, she said,
there was no great need of more than she had with her. She
was a thoughtful Little Doctor. At the last minute she
detained Andy long enough to urge him to see that Miss Allen
helped herself to clothes or anything she needed; and to send
a goodbye message to Chip--in case he did not show up before
she left--and a kiss to her manchild.
Andy was lucky. He met a man driving a good team and spring
wagon, with a barrel of water in the back. He promptly
dismounted and helped the man unload the water-barrel where
it was, and sent him bumping swiftly over the burned sod to
where the Little Doctor waited. So Fate was kinder to the
Little Doctor than were those who would wring anew the mother
heart of her that their own petty schemes might succeed. She
went away with the sick woman laughing crazily because all
the little black shacks were burned and now everything was
black so everything matched nicely--nicely, thank you. She
was terribly worried over the woman's condition, and she gave
herself wholly to her professional zeal and never dreamed
that her manchild was at that moment riding deeper and deeper
into the Badlands with a tricky devil of a man, looking for a
baby bear cub for a pet.
Neither did Chip dream it, nor any of the Happy Family, nor
even Miss Rosemary Allen, until they rode down into Flying U
Coulee at supper-time and were met squarely by the fact that
the Kid was not there. The Old Man threw the bomb that
exploded tragedy in the midst of the little group. He heard
that "Dell" had gone to take a sick woman to the hospital in
Great Falls, and would not be back for a day or so, probably.
"What'd she do with the Kid?" he demanded. Take him with
Chip stared blankly at him, and turned his eyes finally to
Andy's face. Andy had not mentioned the Kid to him.
"He wasn't with her," Andy replied to the look. "She sent him
a kiss and word that he was to take care of Miss Allen. He
must be somewhere around here."
"Well, he ain't. I was looking fer him myself," put in the
Countess sharply. "Somebody shut the cat up in the flour
chest and I didn't study much on what it was done it! If I'd
a got my hands on 'im--"
"I saw him ride up on the hill trail just before the fire
started," volunteered Rosemary Allen. "I had my opera glasses
and was looking for him, because I like to meet him and hear
him talk. He said yesterday that he was coming to see me
today. And he rode up on the hill in sight of my claim. I saw
him." She stopped and looked from one to the other with her
eyebrows pinched together and her lips pursed.
"Listen," she went on hastily. "Maybe it has nothing to do
with Buck--but I saw something else that was very puzzling. I
was going to investigate, but the fire broke out immediately
and put everything else out of my mind. A man was up on that
sharp-pointed knoll off east of the trail where it leaves
this coulee, and he had field glasses and was looking for
something over this way. I thought he was watching the trail.
I just caught him with the glasses by accident as I swung
them over the edge of the benchland to get the trail focused.
He was watching something--because I kept turning the glasses
on him to see what he was doing.
"Then Buck came into sight, and I started to ride out and
meet him. I hate to leave the little mite riding alone
anywhere--I'm always afraid something may happen. But before
I got on my horse I took another look at this man on the
hill. He had a mirror or something bright in his hands. I saw
it flash, just exactly as though he was signaling to
someone--over that way." She pointed to the west. "He kept
looking that way, and then back this way; and he covered up
the, piece of mirror with his hand and then took it off and
let it shine a minute, and put it in his pocket. I know he
was making signals.
"I got my horse and started to meet little Buck. He was
coming along the trail and rode into a little hollow out of
sight. I kept looking and looking toward Dry Lake--because
the man looked that way, I guess. And in a few minutes I saw
the smoke of the fire--"
"Who was that man?" Andy took a step toward her, his eyes
hard and bright in their inflamed lids.
"The man? That Mr. Owens who jumped your south eighty."
"Good Lord, what fools!" He brushed past her without a look
or another word, so intent was he upon this fresh disaster.
"I'm going after the boys, Chip. You better come along and
see if you can pick up the Kid's trail where he left the
road. It's too bad Florence Grace Hallman ain't a man! I'd
know better what to do if she was."
"Oh, do you think--?" Miss Rosemary looked at him wide-eyed.
"Doggone it, if she's tried any of her schemes with fire
and--why, doggone it, being a woman ain't going to help her
none!" The Old Man, also, seemed to grasp the meaning of it
almost as quickly as had Andy. "Chip, you have Ole hitch up
the team. I'm going to town myself, by thunder, and see if
she's going to play any of her tricks on this outfit and git
away with it! Burnt out half her doggoned colony tryin' to
git a whack at you boys! Where's my shoes? Doggone it, what
yuh all standin' round with your jaws hangin' down for? We'll
see about this fire-settin' and this--where's them shoes?"
The Countess found his shoes, and his hat, and his second-
best coat and his driving gloves which he had not worn for
more months than anyone cared to reckon. Miss Rosemary Allen
did what she could to help, and wondered at the dominant note
struck by this bald old man from the moment when he rose
stiffly from his big chair and took the initiative so long
left to others.
While the team was being made ready the Old Man limped here
and there, collecting things he did not need and trying to
remember what he must have, and keeping the Countess moving
at a flurried trot. Chip and Andy were not yet up the bluff
when the Old Man climbed painfully into the covered buggy,
took the lines and the whip and cut a circle with the wheels
on the hard-packed earth as clean and as small as Chip
himself could have done, and went whirling through the big
gate and across the creek and up the long slope beyond. He
shouted to the boys and they rode slowly until he overtook
them--though their nerves were all on edge and haste seemed
to them the most important thing in the world. But habit is
strong--it was their Old Man who called to them to wait.
"You boys wait to git out after that Owens," he shouted when
he passed them. "If they've got the Kid, killing's too good
for 'em!" The brown team went trotting up the grade with back
straightened to the pull of the lurching buggy, and nostrils
flaring wide with excitement. The Old Man leaned sidewise and
called back to the two loping after him in the obscuring
dust-cloud he left behind.
"I'll have that woman arrested on suspicion uh setting
prairie fires!" he called. "I'll git Blake after her. You
git that Owens if you have-to haze him to hell and back! Yuh
don't want to worry about the Kid, Chip--they ain't goin' to
hurt him. All they want is to keep you boys huntin' high and
low and combin' the breaks to find 'im. I see their scheme,
CHAPTER 27. "ITS AWFUL EASY TO GET LOST"
The Kid wriggled uncomfortably in the saddle and glanced at
the narrow-browed face of H. J. Owens, who was looking this
way and that at the enfolding hills and scowling
abstractedly. The Kid was only six, but he was fairly good at
reading moods and glances, having lived all his life amongst
"It's a pretty far ways to them baby bear cubs," he remarked.
"I bet you're lost, old-timer. It's awful easy to get lost. I
bet you don't know where that mother-bear lives."
"You shut up!" snarled H. J. Owens. The Kid had hit
uncomfortably close to the truth.
"You shut up your own self, you darned pilgrim." the Kid
flung back instantly. That was the way he learned to say rude
things; they were said to him and he remembered and gave them
back in full measure.
"Say, I'll slap you if you call me that again." H. J. Owens,
because he did not relish the task he had undertaken, and
because he had lost his bearing here in the confusion of
hills and hollows and deep gullies, was in a very bad humor.
"You darn pilgrim, you dassent slap me. If you do the
bunch'll fix you, all right. I guess they'd just about kill
you. Daddy Chip would just knock the stuffin' outa you." He
considered something very briefly, and then tilted his small
chin so that he looked more than ever like the Little Doctor.
"I bet you was just lying all the time," he accused. "I bet
there ain't any baby bear cubs."
H. J. Owens laughed disagreeably, but he did not say whether
or not the Kid was right in his conjecture. The Kid pinched
his lips together and winked very fast for a minute. Never,
never in all the six years of his life had anyone played him
so shabby a trick. He knew what the laugh meant; it meant
that this man had lied to him and led him away down here in
the hills where he had promised his Doctor Dell, cross-his-
heart, that he would never go again. He eyed the man
"What made you lie about them baby bear cubs?" he demanded.
"I didn't want to come such a far ways."
"You keep quiet. I've heard about enough from you, young man.
A little more of that and you'll get something you ain't
"I'm a going home!" The Kid pulled Silver half around in the
grassy gulch they were following. "And I'm going to tell the
bunch what you said. I bet the bunch'll make you hard to
ketch, you--you son-agun!"
"Here! You come back here, young man!" H. J. Owens reached
over and caught Silver's bridle. "You don't go home till I let
you go; see. You're going right along with me, if anybody
should ask you. And you ain't going to talk like that either.
now mind!" He turned his pale blue eyes threateningly upon
the Kid. "Not another word out of you if you don't want a
good thrashing. You come along and behave yourself or I'll
cut your ears off."
The Kid's eyes blazed with anger. He did not flinch while he
glared back at the man, and he did not seem to care, just at
that moment, whether he lost his ears or kept them. "You let
go my horse!" he gritted. "You wait. The bunch'll fix YOU,
and fix you right. You wait!"
H. J. Owens hesitated, tempted to lay violent hands upon the
small rebel. But he did not. He led Silver a rod or two,
found it awkward, since the way was rough and he was not much
of a horseman, and in a few minutes let the rein drop from
"You come on, Buck, and be a good boy--and maybe we'll find
them cubs yet," he conciliated. "You'd die a-laughing at the
way they set up and scratch their ears when a big, black ant
bites 'em, Buck. I'll show you in a little while. And there's
a funny camp down here, too, where we can get some supper."
The Kid made no reply, but he rode along docilely beside H.
J. Owens and listened to the new story he told of the bears.
That is, he appeared to be listening; in reality he was
struggling to solve the biggest problem he had ever known--
the problem of danger and of treachery. Poor little tad, he
did not even know the names of his troubles. He only knew
that this man had told him a lie about those baby bear cubs,
and had brought him away down here where he had been lost,
and that it was getting dark and he wanted to go home and the
man was mean and would not let him go. He did not understand
why the man should be so mean--but the man was mean to him,
and he did not intend to "stand for it." He wanted to go
home. And when the Kid really wanted to do a certain thing,
he nearly always did it, as you may have observed.
H. J. Owens would not let him go home; therefore the Kid
meant to go anyway. Only he would have to sneak off, or run
off, or something, and hide where the man could not find him,
and then go home to his Doctor Dell and Daddy Chip, and tell
them how mean this pilgrim had been to him. And he would tell
the bunch The bunch would fix him all right! The thought
cheered the Kid so that he smiled and made the man think he
was listening to his darned old bear story that was just a
big lie. Think he would listen to any story that pilgrim
could tell? Huh!
The gulches wore growing dusky now The Kid was tired, and he
was hungry and could hardly keep from crying, he was so
miserable. But he was the son of his father--he was Chip's
kid; it would take a great deal more misery and unkindness to
make him cry before this pilgrim who had been so mean to him.
He rode along without saying a word. H. J. Owens did not say
anything, either. He kept scanning each jagged peak and each
gloomy canyon as they passed, and he seemed uneasy about
something. The Kid knew what it was, all right; H. J. Owens
They came to a wide, flat-bottomed coulee with high ragged
bluffs shutting it in upon every side. The Kid dimly
remembered that coulee, because that was where Andy got down
to tighten the cinch on Miss Allen's horse, and looked up at
her the way Daddy Chip looked at Doctor Dell sometimes, and
made a kiss with his lips--and got called down for it, too.
The Kid remembered.
He looked at the man, shut his mouth tight and wheeled Silver
suddenly to the left. He leaned forward as he had always seen
the Happy Family do when they started a race, and struck
Silver smartly down the rump with the braided romal on his
bridle-reins. H. J. Owens was taken off his guard and did
nothing but stare open-mouthed until the Kid was well under
way; then he shouted and galloped after him, up the little
He might as well have saved his horse's wind and his own
energy. He was no match for little Buck Bennett, who had the
whole Flying U outfit to teach him how to ride, and the
spirit of his Daddy Chip and the little Doctor combined to
give him grit and initiative. H. J. Owens pounded along to
the head of the coulee, where he had seen the Kid galloping
dimly in the dusk. He turned up into the canyon that sloped
invitingly up from the level, and went on at the top speed of
his horse--which was not fast enough to boast about.
When he had left the coulee well behind him, the Kid rode out
from behind a clump of bushes that was a mere black shadow
against the coulee wall, and turned back whence he had come.
The Kid giggled a little over the way he had fooled the
pilgrim, and wished that the bunch had been there to see him
do it. He kept Silver galloping until he had reached the
other end of the level, and then he pulled him down to a walk
and let the reins drop loosely upon Silver's neck. That was
what Daddy Chip and the boys had told him he must do, next
time he got lost and did not know the way home. He must just
let Silver go wherever he wanted to go, and not try to guide
him at all. Silver would go straight home; he had the word of
the whole bunch for that, and he believed it implicitly.
Silver looked back inquiringly at his small rider, hesitated
and then swung back up the coulee. The Kid was afraid that H.
J. Owens would come back and see him and cut off his ears if
he went that way--but he did not pull Silver back and make
him go some other way, for all that. If he left him alone,
Silver would take him right straight home. Daddy Chip and the
boys said so. And he would tell them how mean that man was.
They would fix him, all right!
Halfway up the coulee Silver turned into a narrow gulch that
seemed to lead nowhere at all except into the side of a big,
black-shadowed bluff. Up on the hillside a coyote began to
yap with a shrill staccato of sounds that trailed off into a
disconsolate whimper. The Kid looked that way interestedly.
He was not afraid of coyotes. They would not hurt anyone;
they were more scared than you were--the bunch had told him
so. He wished he could get a sight of him, though. He liked
to see their ears stick up and their noses stick out in a
sharp point, and see them drop their tails and go sliding
away out of sight. When he was ten and Daddy Chip gave him a
gun, he would shoot coyotes and skin them his own self.
The coyote yapped shrilly again, and the Kid wondered what
his Doctor Dell would say when he got home. He was terribly
hungry, and he was tired and wanted to go to bed. He wished
the bunch would happen along and fix that man. His heart
swelled in his chest with rage and disappointment when he
thought of those baby bear cubs that were not anywhere at
all--because the man was just lying all the time. In spite of
himself the Kid cried whimperingly to himself while he rode
slowly up the gorge which Silver had chosen to follow because
the reins were drooping low alongside his neck and he might
go where he pleased.
By and by the moon rose and lightened the hills so that they
glowed softly; and the Kid, looking sleepily around him, saw
a coyote slinking along a barren slope. He was going to shout
at it and see it run, but he thought of the man who was
looking for him and glanced fearfully over his shoulder. The
moon shone full in his face and showed the tear-streaks and
the tired droop to his lips.
The Kid thought he must be going wrong, because at the ranch
the moon came up in another place altogether. He knew about
the moon. Doctor Dell had explained to him how it just kept
going round and round the world and you saw it when it came
up over the edge. That was how Santa Claus found out if kids
were good; he lived in the moon, and it went round and round
so he could look down and see if you were bad. The Kid rubbed
the tears off his cheeks with his palm, so that Santa Claus
could not see that he had been crying. After that he rode
bravely, with a consciously straight spine, because Santa
Claus was looking at him all the time and he must be a rell
After a long while the way grew less rough, and Silver
trotted down the easier slopes. The Kid was pretty tired now.
He held on by the horn of his saddle so Silver would not jolt
him so much. He was terribly hungry, too, and his eyes kept
going shut. But Santa Claus kept looking at him to see if he
were a dead game sport, so he did not cry any more. He wished
he had some grub in a sack, but he thought he must be nearly
home now. He had come a terribly far ways since he ran away
from that pilgrim who was going to cut off his ears.
The Kid was so sleepy, and so tired that he almost fell out
of the saddle once when Silver, who had been loping easily
across a fairly level stretch of ground, slowed abruptly to
negotiate a washout crossing. He had been thinking about
those baby bear cubs digging ants and eating them. He had
almost seen them doing it; but he remembered now that he was
going home to tell the bunch how the man had lied to him and
tried to make him stay down here. The bunch would sure fix
him when they heard about that.
He was still thinking vengefully of the punishment which the
Happy Family would surely mete out to H. J. Owens when Silver
lifted his head, looked off to the right and gave a shrill
whinny. Somebody shouted, and immediately a couple of
horsemen emerged from the shadow of a hill and galloped
The Kid gave a cry and then laughed. It was his Daddy Chip
and somebody. He thought the other was Andy Green. He was too
tired to kick Silver in the ribs and race toward them. He
waited until they came up, their horses pounding over the
uneven sod urged by the jubilance of their riders.
Chip rode up and lifted the Kid bodily from the saddle and
held him so tight in his arms that the Kid kicked half-
heartedly with both feet, to free himself. But he had a
message for his Daddy Chip, and as soon as he could get his
breath he delivered it.
"Daddy Chip, I just want you to kill that damn' pilgrim!" he
commanded. "There wasn't any baby bear cubs at all. He was
just a-stringin' me. And he was going to cut off my ears. He
said it wasn't a far ways to where the baby bear cubs lived
with the old mother bear, and it was. I wish you'd lick the
stuffin' outa him. I'm awful hungry, Daddy Chip."
"We'll be home pretty quick," Chip said in a queer, choked
voice. "Who was the man, Buck? Where is he now?"
The Kid lifted his head sleepily from his Daddy Chip's
shoulder and pointed vaguely toward the moon. "He's the man
that jumped Andy's ranch right on the edge of One Man," he
explained. "He's back there ridin' the rim-rocks a lookin'
for me. I'd a come home before, only he wouldn't let me come.
He said he'd cut my ears off. I runned away from him, Daddy
Chip. And I cussed him a plenty for lying to me--but you
needn't tell Doctor Dell."
"I won't, Buck." Chip lifted him into a more comfortable
position and held him so. While the Kid slept he talked with
Andy about getting the Happy Family on the trail of H. J.
Owens. Then he rode thankfully home with the Kid in his arms
and Silver following docilely after.
CHAPTER 28. AS IT TURNED OUT
They found H. J. Owens the next forenoon wandering hopelessly
lost in the hills. Since killing him was barred, they tied
his arms behind him and turned him toward the Flying U. He
was sullen, like an animal that is trapped and will do
nothing but lie flattened to the ground and glare red-eyed at
its captors. For that matter, the Happy Family themselves
were pretty sullen. They had fought fire for hours--and that
is killing work; and they had been in the saddle ever since,
looking for the Kid and for this man who rode bound in their
Weary and Irish and Pink, who had run across him in a narrow
canyon, fired pistol-shot signals to bring the others to the
spot. But when the others emerged from various points upon
the scene, there was very little said about the capture.
In town, the Old man had been quite as eager to come close to
Florence Grace Hallman--but he was not so lucky. Florence
Grace had heard the news of the fire a good half hour before
the train left for Great Falls.
She would have preferred a train going the other way, but she
decided not to wait. She watched the sick woman put aboard
the one Pullman coach, and then she herself went into the
stuffy day-coach. Florence Grace Hallman was not in the habit
of riding in day-coaches in the night-time when there was a
Pullman sleeper attached to the train. She did not stop at
Great Falls; she went on to Butte--and from there I do not
know where she went. Certainly she never came back.
That, of course, simplified matters considerably for Florence
Grace--and for the Happy Family as well. For at the
preliminary hearing of H. J. Owens for the high crime of
kidnapping, that gentleman proceeded to unburden his soul in
a way that would have horrified Florence Grace, had she been
there to hear. Remember, I told you that his eyes were the
wrong shade of blue.
A man of whom you have never heard tried to slip out of the
court room during the unburdening process, and was stopped by
Andy Green, who had been keeping an eye on him for the simple
reason that the fellow had been much in the company of H. J.
Owens during the week preceding the fire and the luring away
of the Kid. The sheriff led him off somewhere--and so they
had the man who had set the prairie afire.
As is the habit of those who confess easily the crimes of
others, H. J. Owens professed himself as innocent as he
consistently could in the face of the Happy Family and of the
Kid's loud-whispered remarks when he saw him there. He knew
absolutely nothing about the fire, he said, and had nothing
to do with the setting of it. He was two miles away at the
time it started.
And then Miss Rosemary Allen took the witness stand and told
about the man on the hilltop and the bit of mirror that had
flashed sun-signals toward the west.
H.J. Owens crimpled down visibly in his chair. Imagine for
yourself the trouble he would have in convincing men of his
innocence after that.
Just to satisfy your curiosity, at the trial a month later he
failed absolutely to convince the jury that he was anything
but what he was--a criminal without the strength to stand by
his own friends. He was sentenced to ten years in Deer Lodge,
and the judge informed him that he had been dealt with
leniently at that, because after all he was only a tool in
the hands of the real instigator of the crime. That real
instigator, by the way, was never apprehended.
The other man--he who had set fire to the prairie--got six
years, and cursed the judge and threatened the whole Happy
Family with death when the sentence was passed upon him--as
so many guilty men do.
To go back to that preliminary, trial: The Happy Family, when
H. J. Owens was committed safely to the county jail, along
with the fire-bug, took the next train to Great Falls with
witnesses and the Honorable Blake. They filed their answers
to the contests two days before the time-limit had expired.
You may call that shaving too close the margin of safety. But
the Happy family did not worry over that--seeing there was a
margin of safety. Nor did they worry over the outcome of the
matter. With the Homeseekers' Syndicate in extremely bad
repute, and with fully half of the colonists homeless and
disgusted, why should they worry over their own ultimate
They planned great things with their irrigation scheme.... I
am not going to tell any more about them just now. Some of
you will complain, and want to know a good many things that
have not been told in detail. But if I should try to satisfy
you, there would be no more meetings between you and the
Happy Family--since there would be no more to tell.
So I am not even going to tell you whether Andy succeeded in
persuading Miss Rosemary Allen to go with him to the parson.
Nor whether the Happy Family really did settle down to raise
families and alfalfa and beards. Not another thing shall you
know about them now.
You may take a look at them as they go trailing contentedly
away from the land-office, with their hats tilted at various
characteristic angles and their well-known voices mingled in
more or less joyful converse, and their toes pointed toward
Central Avenue and certain liquid refreshments. You need not
worry over that bunch, surely. You may safely leave them to
meet future problems and emergencies as they have always met
them in the past--on their feet, with eyes that do not wave
or flinch, shoulder to shoulder, ready alike far grin fate or
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