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Oleson








From: Flying U Ranch

"Say, ain't that Andy and Mig following along behind?" Cal asked after a
minute of watching the approach. "Sure, it is. Now what--"

"They're drivin' 'em, by cripes!" Big Medicine, under the stress of the
moment, returned to his usual bellowing tone. "Who's that tall, lanky
feller in the lead? I don't call to mind ever seem him before. Them four
herders I'd know a mile off."

"That?" Weary shaded his eyes with his hat-brim, against the slant rays
of the westering sun. "That's Oleson, Dunk's partner."

"His mother'd be a-weepin'," Big Medicine observed bodefully, "if she
knowed what was due to happen to her son right away quick. Must be him
that done the shootin'."

They came on steadily, the four herders and Oleson walking reluctantly
ahead, with Andy Green and the Native Son riding relentlessly in the
rear, their guns held unwaveringly in a line with the backs of their
captives. Andy was carrying a rifle, evidently taken from one of the
men--Oleson, they judged for the guilty one. Half the distance was
covered when Andy was seen to turn his head and speak briefly with the
Native Son, after which he lunged past the captives and galloped up to
the waiting group. His quick eye sought first the face of Happy Jack
in anxious questioning; then, miserably, he searched the faces of his
friends.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed mechanically, dismounted and bent over the
figure on the ground. For a long minute he knelt there; he laid his ear
close to Happy Jack's mouth, took off his glove and laid his hand over
Happy's heart; reached up, twitched off his neckerchief, shook out the
creases and spread it reverently over Happy Jack's face. He stood up
then and spoke slowly, his eyes fixed upon the stumbling approach of the
captives.

"Pink told us Happy had been shot, so we rode around and come up behind
'em. It was a cinch. And--say, boys, we've got the Dots in a pocket.
They've got to eat outa our hands, now. So don't think about--our own
feelings, or about--" he stopped abruptly and let a downward glance
finish the sentence. "We've got to keep our own hands clean, and--now
don't let your fingers get the itch, Bud!" This, because of certain
manifestations of a murderous intent on the part of Big Medicine.

"Oh, it's all right to talk, if yuh feel like talking," Big Medicine
retorted savagely. "I don't." He made a catlike spring at the foremost
man, who happened to be Oleson, and got a merciless grip with his
fingers on his throat, snarling like a predatory animal over its kill.
From behind, Andy, with Weary to help, pulled him off.

"I didn't mean to--to kill anybody," gasped Oleson, pasty white. "I
heard a lot of shooting, and so I ran up the hill--and the herders came
running toward me, and I thought I was defending my property and men. I
had a right to defend--"

"Defend hell!" Big Medicine writhed in the restraining grasp of those
who held him. "Look at that there! As good hearted a boy as ever turned
a cow! Never harmed a soul in 'is life. Is all your dirty, stinkin'
sheep, an' all your lousy herders, worth that boy's life? Yuh shot 'im
down like a dog--lemme go, boys." His voice was husky. "Lemme tromp the
life outa him."

"I thought you were killing my men, or I never--I never meant to--to
kill--" Oleson, shaking till he could scarcely stand, broke down and
wept; wept pitiably, hysterically, as men of a certain fiber will weep
when black tragedy confronts them all unawares. He cowered miserably
before the Happy Family, his face hidden behind his two hands.

"Boys, I want to say a word or two. Come over here." Andy's voice, quiet
as ever, contrasted strangely with the man's sobbing. He led them back
a few paces--Weary, Cal, Big Medicine and Slim, and spoke hurriedly. The
Native Son eyed them sidelong from his horse, but he was careful to keep
Oleson covered with his gun--and the herders too, although they were
unarmed. Once or twice he glanced at that long, ungainly figure in the
grass with the handkerchief of Andy Green hiding the face except where
a corner, fluttering in the faint breeze which came creeping out of the
west, lifted now and then and gave a glimpse of sunbrowned throat and a
quiet chin and mouth.

"Quit that blubbering, Oleson, and listen here." Andys voice broke
relentlessly upon the other's woe. "All these boys want to hang yuh
without any red tape; far as I'm concerned, I'm dead willing. But we're
going to give yuh a chance. Your partner, as we told yuh coming over,
we've got the dead immortal cinch on, right now. And--well you can see
what you're up against. But we'll give yuh a chance. Have you got any
family?"

Oleson, trying to pull himself together, shook his head.

"Well, then, you can get rid of them sheep, can't yuh? Sell 'em, ship
'em outa here--we don't give a darn what yuh do, only so yuh get 'em off
the range."

"Y-yes, I'll do that." Oleson's consent was reluctant, but it was fairly
prompt. "I'll get rid of the sheep," he said, as if he was minded to
clinch the promise. "I'll do it at once."

"That's nice." Andy spoke with grim irony. "And you'll get rid of the
ranch, too. You'll sell it to the Flying U--cheap."

"But my partner--Whittaker might object--"

"Look here, old-timer. You'll fix that part up; you'll find a way
of fixing it. Look here--at what you're up against." He waited, with
pointing finger, for one terrible minute. "Will you sell to the Flying
U?"

"Y-yes!" The word was really a gulp. He tried to avoid looking where
Andy pointed; failed, and shuddered at what he saw.

"I thought you would. We'll get that in writing. And we're going to wait
just exactly twenty-four hours before we make a move. It'll take some
fine work, but we'll do it. Our boss, here, will fix up the business end
with you. He'll go with yuh right now, and stay with yuh till you
make good. And the first crooked move you make--" Andy, in unconscious
imitation of the Native Son, shrugged a shoulder expressively and urged
Weary by a glance to take the leadership.

"Irish, you come with me. The rest of you fellows know about what to
do. Andy, I guess you'll have to ride point till I get back." Weary
hesitated, looked from Happy Jack to Oleson and the herders, and back
to the sober faces of his fellows. "Do what you can for him, boys--and I
wish one of you would ride over, after Pink gets back, and--let me know
how things stack up, will you?"

Incredible as was the situation on the face of it, nevertheless it was
extremely matter-of-fact in the handling; which is the way sometimes
with incredible situations; as if, since we know instinctively that we
cannot rise unprepared to the bigness of its possibilities, we keep our
feet planted steadfastly on the ground and refuse to rise at all. And
afterward, perhaps, we look back and wonder how it all came about.

At the last moment Weary turned back and exchanged guns with Andy Green,
because his own was empty and he realized the possible need of one--or
at least the need of having the sheep-men perfectly aware that he had
one ready for use. The Native Son, without a word of comment, handed his
own silver-trimmed weapon over to Irish, and rolled a cigarette deftly
with one hand while he watched them ride away.

"Does this strike anybody else as being pretty raw?" he inquired calmly,
dismounting among them. "I'd do a good deal for the outfit, myself;
but letting that man get off--Say, you fellows up this way don't think
killing a man amounts to much, do you?" He looked from one to the other
with a queer, contemptuous hostility in his eyes.

Andy Green took a forward step and laid a hand familiarly on his rigid
shoulder. "Quit it, Mig. We would do a lot for the outfit; that's the
God's truth. And I played the game right up to the hilt, I admit. But
nobody's killed. I told Happy to play dead. By gracious, I caught him
just in the nick uh time; he'd been setting up, in another minute." To
prove it, he bent and twitched the handkerchief from the face of Happy
Jack, and Happy opened his eyes and made shift to growl.

"Yuh purty near-smothered me t'death, darn yuh."

"Dios!" breathed the Native Son, for once since they knew him jolted out
of his eternal calm. "God, but I'm glad!"

"I guess the rest of us ain't," insinuated Andy softly, and lifted his
hat to wipe the sweat off his forehead. "I will say that--" After
all, he did not. Instead, he knelt beside Happy Jack and painstakingly
adjusted the crumpled hat a hair's breadth differently.

"How do yuh feel, old-timer?" he asked with a very thin disguise of
cheerfulness upon the anxiety of his tone.

"Well, I could feel a lot--better, without hurtin' nothin," Happy Jack
responded somberly. "I hope you fellers--feel better, now. Yuh got
'em--tryin' to murder--the hull outfit; jes' like I--told yuh
they would--" Gunshot wounds, contrary to the tales of certain
sentimentalists, do not appreciably sweeten, or even change, a man's
disposition. Happy Jack with a bullet hole through one side of him was
still Happy Jack.

"Aw, quit your beefin'," Big Medicine advised gruffly. "A feller with
a hole in his lung yuh could throw a calf through sideways ain't got no
business statin' his views on nothin', by cripes!"

"Aw gwan. I thought you said--it didn't amount t' nothin'," Happy
reminded him, anxiety stealing into his face.

"Well, it don't. May lay yuh up a day or two; wouldn't be su'prised if
yuh had to stay on the bed-ground two or three meals. But look at Slim,
here. Shot through the leg--shattered a bone, by cripes!--las' night,
only; and here he's makin' a hand and ridin' and cussin' same as any of
us t'day. We ain't goin' to let yuh grouch around, that's all. We claim
we got a vacation comm' to us; you're shot up, now, and that's fun
enough for one man, without throwin' it into the whole bunch. Why, a
little nick like that ain't nothin'; nothin' a-tall. Why, I've been
shot right through here, by cripes"--Big Medicine laid an impressive
finger-tip on the top button of his trousers--"and it come out back
here"--he whirled and showed his thumb against the small of his
back--"and I never laid off but that day and part uh the next. I was
sore," he admitted, goggling Happy Jack earnestly, "but I kep' a-goin'.
I was right in fall roundup, an' I had to. A man can't lay down an' cry,
by cripes, jes' because he gets pinked a little--"

"Aw, that's jest because--it ain't you. I betche you'd lay 'em
down--jest like other folks, if yuh got shot--through the lungs. That
ain't no--joke, lemme tell yuh!" Happy Jack was beginning to show
considerable spirit for a wounded man. So much spirit that Andy Green,
who had seen men stricken down with various ills, read fever signs in
the countenance and in the voice of Happy, and led Big Medicine somewhat
peremptorily out of ear-shot.

"Ain't you got any sense?" he inquired with fine candor. "What do you
want to throw it into him like that, for? You may not think so, but he's
pretty bad off--if you ask me."

Big Medicine's pale eyes turned commiseratingly toward Happy Jack. "I
know he is; I ain't no fool. I was jest tryin' to cheer 'im up a little.
He was beginnin' to look like he was gittin' scared about it; I reckon
maybe I made a break, sayin' what I did about it, so I jest wanted to
take the cuss off. Honest to gran'ma--"

"If you know anything at all about such things, you must know what fever
means in such a case. And, recollect, it's going to be quite a while
before a doctor can get here."

"Oh, I'll be careful. Maybe I did throw it purty strong; I won't, no
more." Big Medicine s meekness was not the least amazing incident of
the day. He was a big-hearted soul under his bellow and bluff, and his
sympathy for Happy Jack struck deep. He went back walking on his toes,
and he stood so that his sturdy body shaded Happy Jack's face from the
sun, and he did not open his mouth for another word until Irish and Jack
Bates came rattling up with the spring wagon hurriedly transformed with
mattress, pillows and blankets into an ambulance.

They had been thoughtful to a degree. They brought with them a jug of
water and a tin cup, and they gave Happy Jack a long, cooling drink of
it and bathed his face before they lifted him into the wagon. And of all
the hands that ministered to his needs, the hands of Big Medicine were
the eagerest and gentlest, and his voice was the most vibrant with
sympathy; which was saying a good deal.





Next: The End Of The Dots

Previous: Happy Jack



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