VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


A Moving Chapter In Events








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

Having nothing more than a general warning of trouble ahead to disturb
him, Andy rode blithely back down the coulee and met the herd just after
sunrise. Dreams of Miss Allen had left a pleasant mood behind them,
though the dreams themselves withdrew behind the veil of forgetfulness
when he awoke. He wondered what her first name was. He wondered how far
Irish's acquaintance with her had progressed, but he did not worry much
about Irish. Having represented himself to be an exceedingly dangerous
man, and having permitted himself to be persuaded into promising
reform and a calm demeanor--for her sake--he felt tolerably sure of her
interest in him. He had heard that a woman loves best the taming of a
dangerous man, and he whistled and sang and smiled until the dust of the
coming herd met him full. Since he felt perfectly sure of the result, he
hoped that Florence Grace Hallman would start something, just so that he
might show Miss Allen how potent was her influence over a bad, bad man
who still has virtues worth nurturing carefully.

Weary, riding point on the loitering herd, grinned a wordless greeting.
Andy passed with a casual wave of his hand and took his place on the
left flank. From his face Weary guessed that all was well with the
claims, and the assurance served to lighten his spirits. Soon he heard
Andy singing at the top of his voice, and his own thoughts fell into
accord with the words of the ditty. He began to sing also, whenever
he knew the words. Farther back, Pink took it up, and then the others
joined in, until all unconsciously they had turned the monotonous drive
into a triumphal march.

"They're a little bit rough I must confess, the most of them at least,"
prompted Andy, starting on the second verse alone because the others
didn't know the song as well as he. He waited a second for them to join
him, and went on extolling the valor of all true cowboys:

"But long's you do not cross their trail you can live with
them at peace.

"But if you do they're sure to rule, the day you come to
their land,

"For they'll follow you up and shoot it out, and do it man to
man."

"Say, Weary! They tell me Florence Grace is sure hittin' the warpost!
Ain't yuh scared?"

Weary shook his head and rode forward to ease the leaders into a narrow
gulch that would cut off a mile or so of the journey.

"Taking 'em up One Man?" called Pink, and got a nod for answer. There
was a lull in the singing while they shouted and swore at these stubborn
cows who would have tried to break back on the way to a clover patch,
until the gulch broadened into an arm of One Man Coulee itself. It was
all peaceful and easy and just as they had planned. The morning was cool
and the cattle contented. They were nearing their claims, and all that
would remain for them to do was the holding of their herd upon the
appointed grazing ground. So would the requirements of the law be
fulfilled and the machinations of the Syndicate be thwarted and the land
saved to the Flying U, all in one.

And then the leaders, climbing the hill at a point half a mile below
Andy's cabin, balked, snorted and swung back. Weary spurred up to push
them forward, and so did Andy and Pink. They rode up over the ridge
shouting and urging the reluctant cattle ahead, and came plump into the
very dooryard of a brand new shack. A man was standing in the doorway
watching the disturbance his presence had created; when he saw the three
riders come bulging up over the crest of the bluff, his eyes widened.

The three came to a stop before him, too astonished to do more than
stare. Once past the fancied menace of the new building and the man, the
cattle went trotting awkwardly across the level, their calves galloping
alongside.

"Hello," said Weary at last, "what do you think you're doing here?"

"Me? I'm holding down a claim. What are you doing?" The man did not seem
antagonistic or friendly or even neutral toward them. He seemed to be
waiting. He eyed the cattle that kept coming, urged on by those who
shouted at them in the coulee below. He watched them spread out and go
trotting away after the leaders.

"Say, when did yuh take this claim?" Andy leaned negligently forward and
looked at him curiously.

"Oh, a week or so ago. Why?"

"I just wondered. I took it up myself, four weeks ago. Four forties I've
got, strung out in a line that runs from here to yonder. You've got over
on my land--by mistake, of course. I just thought I'd tell yuh," he added
casually, straightening up, "because I didn't think you knew it before."

"Thanks." The man smiled one-sidedly and began filling a pipe while he
watched them.

"A-course it won't be much trouble to move your shack," Andy continued
with neighborly interest. "A wheelbarrow will take it, easy. Back here
on the bench a mile or so, yuh may find a patch of ground that nobody
claims."

"Thanks." The man picked a match from his pocket and striking it on the
new yellow door-casing lighted his pipe.

Andy moved uneasily. He did not like that man, for all he appeared so
thankful for information. The fellow had a narrow forehead and broad,
high cheek bones and a predatory nose. His eyes were the wrong shade of
blue and the lids drooped too much at the outer corners. Andy studied
him curiously. Did the man know what he was up against, or did he not?
Was he sincere in his ready thanks, or was he sarcastic? The man looked
up at him then. His eyes were clean of any hidden meaning, but they
were the wrong shade of blue--the shade that is opaque and that you feel
hides much that should be revealed to you.

"Seems like there's been quite a crop of shacks grown up since I rode
over this way," Weary announced suddenly, returning from a brief scurry
after the leaders, that inclined too much toward the south in their
travel.

"Yes, the country's settling up pretty fast," conceded the man in the
doorway.

"Well, by golly!" bellowed Slim, popping up from below on a heaving
horse. Slim was getting fatter every year, and his horses always
puffed when they climbed a hill under his weight. His round eyes glared
resentfully at the man and the shack and at the three who were sitting
there so quietly on their horses--just as if they had ridden up for a
friendly call. "Ain't this shack on your land?" he spluttered to Andy.

"Why, yes. It is, just right at present." Andy admitted, following the
man's example in the matter of a smoke, except that Andy rolled and
lighted a cigarette. "He's going to move it, though."

"Oh. Thanks." With the one-sided smile.

"Say, you needn't thank ME," Andy protested in his polite tone. "YOU'RE
going to move it, you know."

"You may know, but I don't," corrected the other.

"Oh, that's all right. You may not know right now, but don't let that
worry yuh. This is sure a great country for pilgrims to wise up in."

Big Medicine came up over the hill a hundred feet or so from them;
goggled a minute at the bold trespass and came loping across the
intervening space. "Say, by cripes, what's this mean?" he bawled.
"Claim-jumper, hey? Say, young feller, do you realize what you're
doing--squattin' down on another man's land. Don't yuh know
claim-jumpers git shot, out here? Or lynched?"

"Oh, cut out all that rough stuff!" advised the man wearily. "I know who
you are, and what your bluff is worth. I know you can't held a foot of
land if anybody is a mind to contest your claims. I've filed a contest
on this eighty, here, and I'm going to hold it. Let that soak into your
minds. I don't want any trouble--I'm even willing to take a good deal
in the way of bluster, rather than have trouble. But I'm going to stay.
See?" He waved his pipe in a gesture of finality and continued to
smoke and to watch them impersonally, leaning against the door in that
lounging negligence which is so irritating to a disputant.

"Oh, all right--if that's the way you feel about it," Andy replied
indifferently, and turned away. "Come on, boys--no use trying to bluff
that gazabo. He's wise."

He rode away with his face turned over his shoulder to see if the others
were going to follow. When he was past the corner and therefore out of
the man's sight, he raised his arm and beckoned to them imperatively,
with a jerk of his head to add insistence. The four of them looked after
him uncertainly. Weary kicked his horse and started, then Pink did
the same. Andy beckoned again, more emphatically than before, and Big
Medicine, who loved a fight as he loved to win a jackpot, turned
and glared at the man in the doorway as he passed. Slim was rumbling
by-golly ultimatums in his fat chest when he came up.

"Pink, you go on back and put the boys next, when they come up with the
drag they won't do anything much but hand out a few remarks and ride
on." Andy said, in the tone of one who knows exactly what he means
to do. "This is my claim-jumper. Chances are I've got three more to
handle--or will have. Nothing like starting off right. Tell the boys
just rag the fellow a little and ride on, like we did. Get the cattle up
here and set Happy and Slim day-herding and the rest of us'll get busy."

"You wouldn't tell for a dollar, would yuh?" Pi asked him with his
dimples showing.

"I've got to think it out first," Andy evaded, "feel all the symptoms of
an idea. You let me alone a while."

"Say, yuh going to tell him he's been found out and yuh know his past,"
began Slim, "like yuh done Dunk? I'll bet, by golly--"

"Go on off and lay down!" Andy retorted pettishly. "I never worked the
same one off on you twice, did I? Think I'm getting feeble-minded? It
ain't hard to put his nibs on the run--that's dead easy. Trouble is I
went and hobbled myself. I promised a lady I'd be mild."

"Mamma!" muttered Weary, his sunny eyes taking in the shack-dotted
horizon. "Mild!--and all these jumpers on our hands!"

"Oh, well--there's more'n one way to kill a cat," Andy reminded them
cheerfully. "You go on back and post the boys, Pink, not to get too
riled."

He galloped off and left them to say and think what they pleased. He was
not uneasy over their following his advice or waiting for his plan. For
Andy Green had risen rapidly to a tacit leadership, since first he
told them of the coming colony. From being the official Ananias of the
outfit, king of all joke-makers, chief irritator of the bunch, whose
lightest word was suspected of hiding some deep meaning and whose
most innocent action was analysed, he had come to the point where
they listened to him and depended upon him to see a way out of
every difficulty. They would depend upon him now; of that he was
sure--therefore they would wait for his plan.

Strange as it may seem, the Happy Family had not seriously considered
the possibility of having their claims "jumped" so long as they kept
valid their legal residence. They had thought that they would be watched
and accused of collusion with the Flying U, and they intended to be
extremely careful. They meant to stay upon their claims at least seven
months in the year, which the law required. They meant to have every
blade of grass eaten by their own cattle, which would be counted as
improving their claims. They meant to give a homelike air of permanency
to their dwellings. They had already talked over a tentative plan
of bringing water to their desert claims, and had ridden over the
bench-land for two days, with the plat at hand for reference, that they
might be sure of choosing their claims wisely. They had prepared for
every contingency save the one that had arisen--which is a common
experience with us all. They had not expected that their claims would
be jumped and contests filed so early in the game, as long as they
maintained their residence.

However, Andy was not dismayed at the turn of events. It was stimulating
to the imagination to be brought face to face with an emergency such as
this, and to feel that one must handle it with strength and diplomacy
and a mildness of procedure that would find favor in the eyes of a girl.

He looked across the waving grass to where the four roomed shack was
built upon the four corners of four "eighties" so that four women might
live together and yet be said to live upon their own claims. That was
drawing the line pretty fine, of course; finer than the Happy Family
would have dared to draw it. But no one would raise any objection, on
account of their being women and timid about living alone. Andy smiled
sympathetically because the four conjunctive corners of the four claims
happened to lie upon a bald pinnacle bare of 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 his breakfast.

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 until daylight.

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.





Next: Shacks Live Stock And Pilgrims Promptly And Painfully Removed

Previous: Wherein Andy Green Lies To A Lady



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 440