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Old Ways And New








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

Progress is like the insidious change from youth to old age, except that
progress does not mean decay. The change that is almost imperceptible
and yet inexorable is much the same, however. You will see a community
apparently changeless as the years pass by; and yet, when the years have
gone and you look back, there has been a change. It is not the same.
It never will be the same. It can pass through further change, but it
cannot go back. Men look back sick sometimes with longing for the things
that were and that can be no more; they live the old days in memory--but
try as they will they may not go back. With intelligent, persistent
effort they may retard further change considerably, but that is the most
that they can hope to do. Civilization and Time will continue the march
in spite of all that man may do.

That is the way it was with the Flying U. Old J. G. Whitmore fought
doggedly against the changing conditions--and he fought intelligently
and well. When he saw the range dwindling and the way to the watering
places barred against his cattle with long stretches of barbed wire, he
sent his herds deeper into the Badlands to seek what grazing was in the
hidden, little valleys and the deep, sequestered canyons. He cut more
hay for winter feeding, and he sowed his meadows to alfalfa that he
might increase the crops. He shipped old cows and dry cows with his fat
steers in the fall, and he bettered the blood of his herds and raised
bigger cattle. Therefore, if his cattle grew fewer in number, they
improved in quality and prices went higher, so that the result was much
the same.

It began to look, then, as though J. G. Whitmore was cunningly besting
the situation, and was going to hold out indefinitely against the
encroachments of civilization upon the old order of things on the range.
And it had begun to look as though he was going to best Time at his own
game, and refuse also to grow old; as though he would go on being the
same pudgy, grizzled, humorously querulous Old Man beloved of his men,
the Happy Family of the Flying U.

Sometimes, however, Time will fill a four-flush with the joker, and then
laugh while he rakes in the chips. J. G. Whitmore had been going his way
and refusing to grow old for a long time--and then an accident, which
is Time's joker, turned the game against him. He stood for just a second
too long on a crowded crossing in Chicago, hesitating between going
forward or back. And that second gave Time a chance to play an accident.
A big seven-passenger touring car mowed him down and left him in a heap
for the ambulance from the nearest hospital to gather on its stretcher.

The Old Man did not die; he had lived long on the open range and he was
pretty tough and hard to kill. He went back to his beloved Flying U,
with a crutch to help him shuffle from bed to easy chair and back again.

The Little Doctor, who was his youngest sister, nursed him tirelessly;
but it was long before there came a day when the Old Man gave his crutch
to the Kid to use for a stick-horse, and walked through the living room
and out upon the porch with the help of a cane and the solicitous arm
of the Little Doctor, and with the Kid galloping gleefully before him on
the crutch.

Later he discarded the help of somebody's arm, and hobbled down to the
corral with the cane, and with the Kid still galloping before him on
"Uncle Gee Gee's" crutch. He stood for some time leaning against the
corral watching some of the boys halter-breaking a horse that was later
to be sold--when he was "broke gentle"--and then he hobbled back again,
thankful for the soft comfort of his big chair.

That was well enough, as far as it went. The Flying U took it for
granted that the Old Man was slowly returning to the old order of life,
when rheumatism was his only foe and he could run things with his old
energy and easy good management. But there never came a day when the Old
Man gave his cane to the kid to play with. There never came a day when
he was not thankful for the soft comfort of his chair. There never came
a day when he was the same Old Man who joshed the boys and scolded them
and threatened them. The day was always coming--of course!--when his
back would quit aching if he walked to the stable and back without a
long rest between, but it never actually arrived.

So, imperceptibly but surely, the Old Man began to grow old. The thin
spot on top of his head grew shiny, so that the Kid noticed it and made
blunt comments upon the subject. His rheumatism was not his worst foe,
now. He had to pet his digestive apparatus and cut out strong coffee
with three heaping teaspoons of sugar in each cup, because the Little
Doctor told him his liver was torpid. He had to stop giving the Kid
jolty rides on his knees,--but that was because the Kid was getting too
big for baby play, the Old Man declared. The Kid was big enough to ride
real horses, now, and he ought to be ashamed to ride knee-horses any
more.

To two things the Old Man clung almost fiercely; the old regime of
ranging his cattle at large and starting out the wagons in the spring
just the same as if twenty-five men instead of twelve went with them;
and the retention of the Happy Family on his payroll, just as if they
were actually needed. If one of the boys left to try other things and
other fields, the Old Man considered him gone on a vacation and expected
him back when spring roundup approached.

True, he was seldom disappointed in that. For the Happy Family looked
upon the Flying U as home, and six months was about the limit for
straying afar. Cowpunchers to the bone though they were, they bent backs
over irrigating ditches and sweated in the hay fields just for the
sake of staying together on the ranch. I cannot say that they did it
uncomplainingly--for the bunk-house was saturated to the ridge-pole with
their maledictions while they compared blistered hands and pitchfork
callouses, and mourned the days that were gone; the days when they
rode far and free and scorned any work that could not be done from the
saddle. But they stayed, and they did the ranch work as well as the
range work, which is the main point.

They became engaged to certain girls who filled their dreams and
all their waking thoughts--but they never quite came to the point of
marrying and going their way. Except Pink, who did marry impulsively and
unwisely, and who suffered himself to be bullied and called Percy for
seven months or so, and who balked at leaving the Flying U for the city
and a vicarious existence in theaterdom, and so found himself free quite
as suddenly as he had been tied.

They intended to marry and settle down--sometime. But there was always
something in the way of carrying those intentions to fulfillment, so
that eventually the majority of the Happy Family found themselves not
even engaged, but drifting along toward permanent bachelorhood. Being of
the optimistic type, however, they did not worry; Pink having set before
them a fine example of the failure of marriage and having returned with
manifest relief to the freedom of the bunk-house.





Next: Andy Green's New Acquaintance

Previous: Good News



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