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Its Awful Easy To Get Lost








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

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 grown-ups.

"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 resentfully.

"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 looking for."

"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 his fingers.

"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 was lost.

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 flat.

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 ole cowpuncher.

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 toward him.

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.





Next: As It Turned Out

Previous: Rosemary Allen Does A Small Sum In Addition



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