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Happy Jack








From: Flying U Ranch

Big Medicine, Irish and Pink, racing almost abreast, heard a scream
behind them and pulled up their horses with short, stiff-legged plunges.
A brown horse overtook them; a brown horse, with Happy Jack clinging to
the saddle-horn, his body swaying far over to one side. Even as he went
hurtling past them his hold grew slack and he slumped, head foremost, to
the ground. The brown horse gave a startled leap away from him and went
on with empty stirrups flapping.

They sprang down and lifted him to a less awkward position, and Big
Medicine pillowed the sweat-dampened, carroty head in the hollow of his
arm. Those who had been in the lead looked back startled when the brown
horse tore past them with that empty saddle; saw what had happened,
wheeled and galloped back. They dismounted and stood silently grouped
about poor, ungainly Happy Jack, lying there limp and motionless in Big
Medicine's arms. Not one of them remembered then that there was a man
with a rifle not more than two hundred yards away; or, if they did, they
quite forgot that the rifle might be dangerous to themselves. They were
thinking of Happy Jack.

Happy Jack, butt of all their jokes and jibes; Happy the croaker,
the lugubrious forecaster of trouble; Happy Jack, the ugliest, the
stupidest, the softest-hearted man of them all. He had "betched" there
would be someone killed, over these Dot sheep; he had predicted trouble
of every conceivable kind; and they had laughed at him, swore at him,
lied to him, "joshed" him unmercifully, and kept him in a state of
chronic indignation, never dreaming that the memory of it would choke
them and strike them dumb with that horrible, dull weight in their
chests with which men suffer when a woman would find the relief of
weeping.

"Where's he hurt?" asked Weary, in the repressed tone which only tragedy
can bring into a man's voice, and knelt beside Big Medicine.

"I dunno--through the lungs, I guess; my sleeve's gitting soppy right
under his shoulder." Big Medicine did not bellow; his voice was as quiet
as Weary's.

Weary looked up briefly at the circle of staring faces. "Pink, you pile
onto Glory and go wire for a doctor. Try Havre first; you may get one
up on the nine o' clock train. If you can't, get one down on the
'leven-twenty, from Great Falls. Or there's Benton--anyway, git one. If
you could catch MacPherson, do it. Try him first, and never mind a Havre
doctor unless you can't get MacPherson. I'd rather wait a couple of
hours longer, for him. I'll have a rig--no, you better get a team from
Jim. They'll be fresh, and you can put 'em through. If you kill 'em," he
added grimly, "we can pay for 'em." He had his jack-knife out, and
was already slashing carefully the shirt of Happy Jack, that he might
inspect the wound.

Pink gave a last, wistful look at Happy Jack's face, which seemed
unfamiliar with all the color and all the expression wiped out of it
like that, and turned away. "Come and help me change saddles, Cal,"
he said shortly. "Weary's stirrups are too darned long." Even with the
delay, he was mounted on Glory and galloping toward Flying U coulee
before Weary was through uncovering the wound; and that does not mean
that Weary was slow.

The rifle cracked again, and a bullet plucked into the sod twenty feet
beyond the circle of men and horses. But no one looked up or gave any
other sign of realization that they were still the target; they were
staring, with that frowning painfully intent look men have at such
moments, at a purplish hole not much bigger than if punched by a lead
pencil, just under the point of Happy Jack's shoulder blade; and at the
blood oozing sluggishly from it in a tiny stream across the girlishly
white flesh and dripping upon Big Medicine's arm.

"Hadn't we better get a rig to take him home with?" Irish suggested.

Weary, exploring farther, had just disclosed a ragged wound under the
arm where the bullet had passed out; he made no immediate reply.

"Well, he ain't got it stuck inside of 'im, anyway," Big Medicine
commented relievedly. "Don't look to me like it's so awful bad--went
through kinda anglin', and maybe missed his lungs. I've saw men shot up
before--"

"Aw--I betche you'd--think it was bad--if you had it--" murmured Happy
Jack peevishly, lifting his eyelids heavily for a resentful glance when
they moved him a little. But even as Big Medicine grinned joyfully down
at him he went off again into mental darkness, and the grin faded into
solicitude.

"You'd kick, by golly, if you was goin' to be hung," Slim bantered
tritely and belatedly, and gulped remorsefully when he saw that he was
"joshing" an unconscious man.

"We better get him home. Irish, you--" Weary looked up and discovered
that Irish and jack Bates were already headed for home and a conveyance.
He gave a sigh of approval and turned his attention toward wiping the
sweat and grime from Happy's face with his handkerchief.

"Somebody else is goin' to git hit, by golly, if we stay here," Slim
blurted suddenly, when another bullet dug up the dirt in that vicinity.

"That gol-darned fool'll keep on till he kills somebody. I wisht I
had m' thirty-thirty here--I'd make him wisht his mother was a man, by
golly!"

Big Medicine looked toward the coulee rim. "I ain't got a shell left,"
he growled regretfully. "I wisht we'd thought to tell the boys to bring
them rifles. Say, Slim, you crawl onto your hoss and go git 'em. It
won't take more'n a minute. There'll likely be some shells in the
magazines."

"Go on, Slim," urged Weary grimly. "We've got to do something. They
can't do a thing like this--" he glanced down at Happy Jack-- "and get
away with it."

"I got half a box uh shells for my thirty-thirty, I'll bring that." Slim
turned to go, stopped short and stared at the coulee rim. "By golly,
they're comm' over here!" he exclaimed.

Big Medicine glanced up, took off his hat, crumpled it for a pillow
and eased Happy Jack down upon it. He got up stiffly, wiped his fingers
mechanically upon his trouser legs, broke his gun open just to make sure
that it was indeed empty, put it back and picked up a handful of rocks.

"Let 'em come," he said viciously. "I c'n kill every damn' one with m'
bare hands!"





Next: Oleson

Previous: The Happy Family Learn Something



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