From: Flying U Ranch
On the third day after the Happy Family decided that there should be
some word from Chicago; and, since that day was Sunday, they rode in a
body to Dry Lake after it. They had not discussed the impending tragedy
very much, but they were an exceedingly Unhappy Family, nevertheless;
and, since Flying U coulee was but a place of gloom, they were not
averse to leaving it behind them for a few hours, and riding where every
stick and stone did not remind then of the Old Man.
In Dry Lake was a message, brief but heartening:
"J. G. still alive. Some hopes".
They left the station with lighter spirits after reading that; rode to
the hotel, tied their horses to the long hitching pole there and went
in. And right there the Happy Family unwittingly became cast for the
leading parts in one of those dramas of the West which never is heard
of outside the theater in which grim circumstance stages it for a single
playing--unless, indeed, the curtain rings down on a tragedy that brings
the actors before their district judge for trial. And, as so frequently
is the case, the beginning was casual to the point of triviality.
Sary, Ellen, Marg'reet, Sybilly and Jos'phine Denson (spelled in
accordance with parental pronunciation) were swinging idly upon the
hitching pole, with the self-conscious sang froid of country children
come to town. They backed away from the Happy Family's approach, grinned
foolishly in response to their careless greeting, and tittered openly
at the resplendence of the Native Son, who was wearing his black Angora
chaps with the three white diamonds down each leg, the gay horsehair
hatband, crimson neckerchief and Mexican spurs with their immense
rowels and ornate conchos of hand-beaten silver. Sary, Ellen, Marg'reet,
Jos'phine and Sybilly were also resplendent, in their way. Their carroty
hair was tied with ribbons quite aggressively new, their freckles
shone with maternal scrubbing, and there was a hint of home-made
"crochet-lace" beneath each stiffly starched dress.
"Hello, kids," Weary greeted them amiably, with a secret smile over the
memory of a time when they had purloined the Little Doctor's pills and
had made reluctant acquaintance with a stomach pump. "Where's the circus
going to be at?"
"There ain't goin' to be no circus," Sybilly retorted, because she was
the forward one of the family. "We're going away; on the train. The next
one that comes along. We're going to be on it all night, too; and we'll
have to eat on it, too."
"Well, by golly, you'll want something to eat, then!" Slim was feeling
abstractedly in his pocket for a coin, for these were the nieces of the
Countess, and therefore claimed more than a cursory interest from
Slim. "You take this up to the store and see if yuh can't swop it for
something good to eat." Because Sary was the smallest of the lot he
pressed the dollar into her shrinking, amazed palm.
"Paw's got more money'n that," Sybilly announced proudly. "Paw's got
a million dollars. A man bought our ranch and gave him a lot of money.
We're rich now. Maybe paw'll buy us a phony-graft. He said maybe he
would. And maw's goin' to have a blue silk dress with green onto it.
"Better haze along and buy that grub stake," Slim interrupted the family
gift for profuse speech. He had caught the boys grinning, and fancied
that they were tracing a likeness between the garrulity of Sybilly and
the fluency of her aunt, the Countess. "You don't want that train to go
off and leave yuh, by golly."
"Wonder who bought Denson out?" Cal Emmett asked of no one in
particular, as the children went strutting off to the store to spend the
dollar which little Sary clutched so tightly it seemed as if the goddess
of liberty must surely have been imprinted upon her palm.
When they went inside and found Denson himself pompously "setting 'em up
to the house," Cal repeated the question in a slightly different form to
the man himself.
Denson, while he was ready to impress the beholders with his
unaccustomed affluence, became noticeably embarrassed at the inquiry,
and edged off into vague generalities.
"I jest nacherlly had to sell when I got m' price," he told the Happy
Family in a tone that savored strongly of apology. "I like the country,
and I like m' neighbors fine. Never'd ask for better than the Flyin' U
has been t' me. I ain't got no kick comin' there. Sorry to hear the Old
Man's hurt back East. Mary was real put out at not bein' able to
see Louise 'fore she went away"--Louise being the Countess' and Mary
Denson's sister--"but soon as I sold I got oneasy like. The feller
wanted p'session right away, too, so I told Mary we might as well start
b'fore we git outa the notion. I wouldn't uh cared about sellin', maybe,
but the kids needs to be in school. They're growin' up in ign'rance
out here, and Mary's folks wants us to come back 'n' settle close handy
by--they been at us t' sell out and move fer the last five years, now,
and I told Mary--"
Even Cal forgot, eventually, that he had asked a question which remained
unanswered; what interest he had felt at first was smothered to death
beneath that blanket of words, and he eagerly followed the boys out
and over to Rusty Brown's place, where Denson, because of an old grudge
against Rusty, might be trusted not to follow.
"Mamma!" Weary commented amusedly, when they were crossing the street,
"that Denson bunch can sure talk the fastest and longest, and say the
least, of any outfit I ever saw."
"Wonder who did buy him out?" Jack Bates queried. "Old ginger-whiskers
didn't pass out any facts, yuh notice. He couldn't have got much; his
land's mostly gravel and 'doby patches. He's got a water right on Flying
U creek, you know--first right, at that, seems to me--and a dandy fine
spring in that coulee. Wonder why our outfit didn't buy him out--seeing
he wanted to sell so bad?"
"This wantin' to sell is something I never heard of b'fore," Slim said
slowly. "To hear him tell it, that ranch uh hisn was worth a dollar an
inch, by golly. I don't b'lieve he's been wantin' to sell out. If he
had, Mis' Bixby woulda said something about it. She don't know about
this here sellin' business, or she'd a said--"
"Yeah, you can most generally bank on the Countess telling all she
knows," Cal assented with some sarcasm; at which Slim grunted and turned
Denson and his affairs they speedily forgot for a time, in the diversion
which Rusty Brown's familiar place afforded to young men with unjaded
nerves and a zest for the primitive pleasures. Not until mid-afternoon
did it occur to them that Flying U coulee was deserted by all save old
Patsy, and that there were chores to be done, if all the creatures of
the coulee would sleep in comfort that night. Pink, therefore, withdrew
his challenge to the bunch, and laid his billiard cue down with a sigh
and the remark that all he lacked was time, to have the scalps of every
last one of them hanging from his belt. Pink was figurative in his
speech, you will understand; and also a bit vainglorious over beating
Andy Green and Big Medicine twice in succession.
It occurred to Weary then that a word of cheer to the Old Man and
his anxious watchers might not cone amiss. Therefore the Happy Family
mounted and rode to the depot to send it, and on the way wrangled over
the wording of the message after their usual contentious manner.
"Better tell 'em everything is fine, at this end uh the line," Cal
suggested, and was hooted at for a poet.
"Just say," Weary began, when he was interrupted by the discordant
clamor from a trainload of sheep that had just pulled in and stopped.
"'Maa-aa, Ma-a-aaa,' darn yuh," he shouted derisively, at the peering,
plaintive faces, glimpsed between the close-set bars. "Mamma, how I do
love sheep!" Whereupon he put spurs to his horse and galloped down to
the station to rid his ears of the turbulent wave of protest from the
Naturally it required some time to compose the telegram in a style
satisfactory to all parties. Outside, cars banged together, an engine
snorted stertorously, and suffocating puffs of coal smoke now and
then invaded the waiting-room while the Happy Family were sending that
message of cheer to Chicago. If you are curious, the final version of
their combined sentiments was not at all spectacular. It said merely:
"Everything fine here. Take good care of the Old Man. How's the Kid
It was signed simply "The Bunch."
"Mary's little lambs are here yet, I see," the Native Son remarked
carelessly when they went out. "Enough lambs for all the Marys in the
country. How would you like to be Mary?"
"Not for me," Irish declared, and turned his face away from the stench
Others there were who rode the length of the train with faces averted
and looks of disdain; cowmen, all of them, they shared the range
prejudice, and took no pains to hide it.
The wind blew strong from the east, that day; it whistled through the
open, double-decked cars packed with gray, woolly bodies, whose voices
were ever raised in strident complaint; and the stench of them smote
the unaccustomed nostrils of the Happy Family and put them to disgusted
flight up the track and across it to where the air was clean again.
"Honest to grandma, I'd make the poorest kind of a sheepherder," Big
Medicine bawled earnestly, when they were well away from the noise and
smell of the detested animals. "If I had to herd sheep, by cripes, do
you know what I'd do? I'd haze 'em into a coulee and turn loose with a
good rifle and plenty uh shells, and call in the coyotes to git a square
meal. That's the way I'd herd sheep. It's the only way you can shut 'em
up. They just 'baa-aa, baa-aa, baa-aa' from the time they're dropped
till somebody kills 'em off. Honest, they blat in their sleep. I've
"When you and the dogs were shooting off coyotes?" asked Andy Green
pointedly, and so precipitated dissension which lasted for ten miles.
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