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From: Flying U Ranch

The next week was a time of harassment for the Flying U; a week
filled to overflowing with petty irritations, traceable, directly or
indirectly, to their new neighbors, the Dot sheepmen. The band in charge
of the bug-chaser and that other unlovable man from Wyoming fed just as
close to the Flying U boundary as their guardians dared let them feed; a
great deal closer than was good for the tempers of the Happy Family, who
rode fretfully here and there upon their own business and at the same
time tried to keep an eye upon their unsavory neighbors--a proceeding as
nerve-racking as it was futile.

The Native Son, riding home in jingling haste from Dry Lake, whither
he had hurried one afternoon in the hope of cheering news from Chicago,
reported another trainload of Dots on the wide level beyond Antelope
coulee. There were, he said, four men in charge of the band, and he
believed they carried guns, though he was not positive of that. They
were moving slowly, and he thought they would not attempt to cross
Flying U coulee before the next day; though, from the course they were
taking, he was sure they meant to cross.

Coupled with that bit of ill-tidings, the brief note from Chip, saying
very little about the Old Man, but implying a good deal by its very
omissions, would have been enough to send the Happy Family to sleepless
beds that night if they had been the kind to endure with silent
fortitude their troubles.

"If you fellers would back me up," brooded Big Medicine down by the
corral after supper, "I'd see to it them sheep never gits across the
coulee, by cripes! I'd send 'em so far the other way they'd git plumb
turned around and forgit they ever wanted to go south."

"It's all Dunk's devilishness," Jack Bates declared. "He could take them
in the other way, even if the feed ain't so good along the trail. It's
most all prairie-dog towns--but that's good enough for sheep." Jack, in
his intense partisanship, spoke as if sheep were not entitled to decent
grass at any time or under any circumstances.

"Them herders packin' guns looks to me like they're goin' to make
trouble if they kin," gloomed Happy Jack. "I betche they'll kill
somebody before they're through. When sheepmen gits mean--"

Pink picked up his rope and started for the large corral, where a few
saddle horses had been driven in just before supper and had not yet been
turned out.

"You fellows can stand around and chew the rag, if you want to," he said
caustically, "and wait for Weary to make a war-talk. But I'm going to
keep cases on them Dots, if I have to stand an all-night guard on 'em. I
don't blame Weary; he's looking out for the law-and-order business--and
that's all right. But I'm not in charge of the outfit. I'm going to do
as I darn please, and, if they don't like my style, they can give me my
time."

"Good for you, Little One!" Big Medicine hurried to overtake him so
that he might slap him on the shoulder with his favorite, sledge-hammer
method of signifying his approval of a man's sentiments. "Honest to
grandma, I was just b'ginnin' to think this bunch was gitting all
streaked up with yeller. 'Course, we ain't goin' to wait for no official
orders, by cripes! I'd ruther lock Weary up in the blacksmith shop than
let him tell us to go ahead. Go awn and tell him a good, stiff lie,
Andy--just to keep him interested while us fellers make a gitaway. He
ain't in on this; we don't want him in on it."

"What yuh goin' to do?" Happy Jack inquired suspiciously. "Yuh can't
go and monkey with them sheep, er them herders. They ain't on our land.
And, if you don't git killed, old Dunk'll fix yuh like he fixed the
Gordon boys--I know him--to a fare-you-well. It'd tickle him to death to
git something on us fellers. I betche that's what he's aiming t'do. Git
us to fightin' his outfit so's't--"

"Oh, go off and lie down!" Andy implored him contemptuously. "We're
going to hang those herders, and drive the sheep all over a cut-back
somewhere, like Jesus done to the hogs, and then we're going over and
murder old Dunk, if he's at home, and burn the house to hide the guilty
deed. And, if the sheriff comes snooping around, asking disagreeable
questions, we'll all swear you done it. So now you know our plans; shut
your face and go on to bed. And be sure," he added witheringly, "you
pull the soogans over your head, so you won't hear the dying shriek of
our victims. We're liable to get kinda excited and torture 'em a while
before we kill 'em."

"Aw, gwan!" gulped Happy Jack mechanically. "You make me sick! If yuh
think I'm goin' to swaller all that, you're away off! You wouldn't dast
do nothing of the kind; and, if yuh did, you'd sure have a sweet time
layin' it onto me!"

"Oh, I don't know," drawled the Native Son, with a slow, velvet-eyed
glance, "any jury in the country would hang you on your looks, Happy. I
knew a man down in the lower part of California, who was arrested, tried
and hanged for murder. And all the evidence there was against him was
the fact that he was seen within five miles of the place on the same day
the murder was committed; and his face. They had an expert physiognomist
there, and he swore that the fellow had the face of a murderer; the poor
devil looked like a criminal--and, though he had one of the best lawyers
on the Coast, it was adios for him."

"I s'pose you mean I got the face of a criminal!" sputtered Happy Jack.
"It ain't always the purty fellers that wins out--like you 'n' Pink. I
never seen the purty man yit that was worth the powder it'd take to
blow him up! Aw, you fellers make me sick!" He went off, muttering his
opinion of them all, and particularly of the Native Son, who smiled
while he listened. "You go awn and start something--and you'll wisht you
hadn't," they heard him croak from the big gate, and chuckled over his
wrath.

As a matter of fact, the Happy Family, as a whole, or as individuals,
had no intention of committing any great violence that evening. Pink
wanted to see just where this new band of sheep was spending the night,
and to find out, if possible, what were the herders' intentions. Since
the boys were all restless under their worry, and, since there is a
contagious element in seeking a trouble-zone, none save Happy Jack, who
was "sore" at them, and Weary stayed behind in the coulee with old Patsy
while the others rode away up the grade and out toward Antelope coulee
beyond.

They meant only to reconnoiter, and to warn the herders against
attempting to cross Flying U coulee; though they were not exactly
sure that they would be perfectly polite, or that they would confine
themselves rigidly to the language they were wont to employ at dances.
Andy Green, in particular, seemed rather to look forward with pleasure
to the meeting. Andy, by the way, had remained heartbrokenly passive
during that whole week, because Weary had extracted from him a promise
which Andy, mendacious though he had the name of being, felt constrained
to keep intact. Though of a truth it irked him much to think of two
sheepherders walking abroad unpunished for their outrage upon his
person.

Weary, as he had made plain to them all, wanted to avoid trouble if it
were possible to do so. And, though they grinned together in secret
over his own affair with Dunk--which was not, in their opinion, exactly
pacific--they meant to respect his wishes as far as human nature was
able to do so. So that the Happy Family, galloping toward the red sunset
and the great, gray blot on the prairie, just where the glory of
the west tinged the grass blades with red, were not one-half as
blood-thirsty as they had proclaimed themselves to be.

While they were yet afar off they could see two men walking slowly in
the immediate vicinity of the huddled band. A hundred yards away was
a small tent, with a couple of horses picketed near by and feeding
placidly. The men turned, gazed long at their approach, and walked to
the tent, which they entered somewhat hastily.

"Look at 'em dodge outa sight, will you!" cried Cal Emmett, and lifted
up his voice in the yell which sometimes announced the Happy Family's
arrival in Dry Lake after a long, thirsty absence on roundup. Other
voices joined in after that first, shrill "Ow-ow-ow-eee!" of Cal's; so
that presently the whole lot of them were emitting nerve-crimping yells
and spurring their horses into a thunder of hoofbeats, as they bore down
upon the tent. Between howls they laughed, picturing to themselves four
terrified sheepherders cowering within those frail, canvas walls.

"I'm a rambler, and a gambler, and far from my ho-o-me, And if yuh don't
like me, jest leave me alo-o-ne!" chanted Big Medicine most horribly,
and finished with a yell that almost scared himself and set his horse to
plunging wildly.

"Come out of there, you lop-eared mutton-chewers, and let us pick the
wool outa your teeth!" shouted Andy Green, telling himself hastily
that this was not breaking his promise to Weary, and yielding to the
temptation of coming as close to the guilty persons as he might; for,
while these were not the men who had tied him and left him alone on the
prairie, they belonged to the same outfit, and there was some comfort in
giving them a few disagreeable minutes.

Pink, in the lead, was turning to ride around the tent, still yelling,
when someone within the tent fired a rifle--and did not aim as high as
he should. The bullet zipped close over the head of Big Medicine, who
happened to be opposite the crack between the tent-flaps. The hand of
Big Medicine jerked back to his hip; but, quick as he was, the Native
Son plunged between him and the tent before he could take aim.

"Steady, amigo," smiled Miguel. "You aren't a crazy sheepherder."

"No, but I'm goin' to kill off one. Git outa my way!" Big Medicine was
transformed into a cold-eyed, iron-jawed fighting machine. He dug the
spurs in, meaning to ride ahead of Miguel. But Miguel's spurs also
pressed home, so that the two horses plunged as one. Big Medicine,
bellowing one solitary oath, drew his right leg from the stirrup to
dismount. Miguel reached out, caught him by the arm, and held him to the
saddle. And, though Big Medicine was a strong man, the grip held firm
and unyielding.

"You must think of the outfit, you know," said Miguel, smiling still.
"There must be no shooting. Once that begins--" He shrugged his
shoulders with that slight, eloquent movement, which the Happy Family
had come to know so well. He was speaking to them all, as they crowded
up to the scuffle. "The man who feels the trigger-itch had better throw
his gun away," he advised coolly. "I know, boys. I've seen these things
start before. All hell can't stop you, once you begin to shoot. Put it
up, Bud, or give it to me."

"The man don't live that can shoot at me, by cripes, and git away with
it. Not if he misses killin' me!" Big Medicine was shaking with rage;
but the Native Son saw that he hesitated, nevertheless, and laughed
outright.

"Call him out and give him a thumping. That's good enough for a
sheepherder," he suggested as a substitute.

Perhaps because the Native Son so seldom offered advice, and, because of
his cool courage in interfering with Big Medicine at such a time, Bud's
jaw relaxed and his pale eyes became more human in their expression. He
even permitted Miguel to remove the big, wicked Colt from his hand,
and slide it into his own pocket; whereat the Happy Family gasped with
astonishment. Not even Pink would have dreamed of attempting such a
thing.

"Well he's got to come out and take a lickin', anyway," shouted Big
Medicine vengefully, and rode close enough to slap the canvas smartly
with his quirt. By all the gods he knew by name he called upon the
offender to come forth, while the others drew up in a rude half-circle
to await developments. Heavy silence was the reply he got. It was as
though the men within were sitting tense and watchful, like cougars
crouched for a spring, with claws unsheathed and muscles quivering.

"You better come out," called Andy sharply, after they had waited a
decent interval. "We didn't come here hunting trouble; we want to know
where you're headed for with these sheep. The fellow that cut loose with
the gun--"

"Aw, don't talk so purty! I'm gitting almighty tired, just setting here
lettin' m' legs hang down. Git your ropes, boys!" With one sweeping
gesture of his arm Big Medicine made plain his meaning as he rode a few
paces away, his fingers fumbling with the string that held his rope.
"I'm goin' to have a look at 'em, anyway," he grinned. "I sure do hate
to see men act so bashful."

With his rope free and ready for action, Big Medicine shook the loop
out, glanced around, and saw that Andy, Pink and Cal Emmett were also
ready, and, with a dexterous flip, settled the noose neatly over the
iron pin that thrust up through the end of the ridge-pole in front.
Andy's loop sank neatly over it a second later, and the two wheeled and
dashed away together, with Pink and Irish duplicating their performance
at the other end of the tent. The dingy, smoke-stained canvas swayed,
toppled, as the pegs gave way, and finally lay flat upon the prairie
fifty feet from where it had stood, leaving the inmates exposed to the
cruel stare of eight unfriendly cowpunchers. Four cowering figures they
were, with guns in their hands that shook.

"Drop them guns!" thundered Big Medicine, flipping his rope loose and
recoiling it mechanically as he plunged up to the group.

One man obeyed. One gave a squawk of terror and permitted his gun to go
off at random before he fled toward the coulee. The other two crouched
behind their bed-rolls, set their jaws doggedly and glared defiance.

Pink, Andy, Irish, Big Medicine and the Native Son slid off their horses
and made a rush at them. A rifle barked viciously, and Slim, sitting
prudently on his horse well in the rear, gave a yell and started for
home at a rapid pace.

Considering the provocation the Happy Family behaved with quite
praiseworthy self-control and leniency. They did not lynch those two
herders. They did not kill them, either by bullets, knives, or beating
to death. They took away the guns, however, and they told them with
extreme bluntness what sort of men they believed them to be. They
defined accurately their position in society at large, in that
neighborhood, and stated what would be their future fate if they
persisted in acting with so little caution and common sense.

At Andy Green's earnest behest they also wound them round and round with
ropes, before they departed, and gave them some very good advice upon
the matter of range rules and the herding of sheep, particularly of Dot
sheep.

"You're playing big luck, if you only had sense enough to know it," Andy
pointed out to the recumbent three before they rode away. "We didn't
come over here on the warpath, and, if you hadn't got in such a darned
hurry to start something, you'd be a whole lot more comfortable right
now. We rode over to tell yuh not to start them sheep across Flying U
coulee; because, if you do, you're going to have both hands and your
hats plumb full uh trouble. It has taken some little time and fussing
to get yuh gentled down so we can talk to you, and I sure do hope yuh
remember what I'm saying."

"Oh, we'll remember it, all right!" menaced one of the men, lifting his
head turtlewise that he might glare at the group. "And our bosses'll
remember it; you needn't worry about that none. You wait till--"

The next man to him turned his head and muttered a sentence, and the
speaker dropped his head back upon the ground, silenced.

"It was your own outfit started this style of rope trimming, so you
can't kick about that part of the deal," Pink informed them melodiously.
"It's liable to get to be all the rage with us. So, if you don't like
it, don't come around where we are. And say!" His dimples stood deep in
his cheeks. "You send those ropes home to-morrow, will yuh? We're liable
to need 'em."

"By cripes!" Big Medicine bawled. "What say we haze them sheep a few
miles north, boys?"

"Oh, I guess they'll be all right where they are," Andy protested, his
thirst for revenge assuaged at sight of those three trussed as he had
been trussed, and apparently not liking it any better than he had liked
it. "They'll be good and careful not to come around the Flying U--or I
miss my guess a mile."

The others cast comprehensive glances at their immediate surroundings,
and decided that they had at least made their meaning plain; there
was no occasion for emphasizing their disapproval any further. They
confiscated the rifles, and they told the fellows why they did so.
They very kindly pulled a tarpaulin over the three to protect them in a
measure from the chill night that was close upon them, and they wished
them good night and pleasant dreams, and rode away home.

On the way they met Weary and Happy Jack, galloping anxiously to the
battle scene. Slim, it appeared from Weary's rapid explanation, had
arrived at the ranch with his horse in a lather and with a four-inch
furrow in the fleshiest part of his leg, where a bullet had flicked him
in passing. The tale he told had led Weary to believe that Slim was the
sole survivor of that reckless company.

"Mamma! I'm so glad to see you boys able to fork your horses and swear
natural, that I don't believe I can speak my little piece about staying
on your own side the fence and letting trouble do some of the hunting,"
he exclaimed thankfully. "I wish you'd stayed at home and left these
blamed Dots alone. But, seeing yuh didn't, I'm tickled to death to hear
you didn't kill anybody off. I don't want the folks to come home and
find the whole bunch in the pen. It might look as if--"

"You don't want the folks to come home and find the whole ranch sheeped
off, either, and the herders camping up in the white house, do yuh?"
Pink inquired pointedly. "I kinda think," he added dryly, "those same
herders will feel like going away around Flying U fences with their
sheep. I don't believe they'll do any cutting across."

"I betche old Dunk'll make it interestin' fer this outfit, just the
same," Happy Jack predicted. "Tyin' up three men uh hisn, like that, and
ropin' their tent and draggin' it off, ain't things he'll pass up. He'll
have a possy out here--you see if he don't!"

"In that case, I'll be sorry for you, Happy," purred Miguel close beside
him. "You're the only one in the outfit that looks capable of such a
vile deed."

"Oh, Dunk won't do anything," Weary said cheerfully. "You'll have to
take those guns back, though. They might take a notion to call that
stealing!"

"You forget," the Native Son reminded calmly, "that we left them three
good ropes in exchange."

Whereupon the Happy Family laughed and went to offer their unsought
sympathy to Slim.





Next: The Happy Family Herd Sheep

Previous: The Dot Outfit



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