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The Coming Of The Sheep








From: Hidden Gold

From his seat on the top of a high ridge, Gordon Wade looked into the
bowl-shaped valley beneath him, with an expression of amazement on his
sun-burned face. Pouring through a narrow opening in the environing
hills, and immediately spreading fan-like over the grass of the valley,
were sheep; hundreds, thousands of them. Even where he sat, a good
quarter mile above them, the air was rank with the peculiar smell of the
animals he detested, and their ceaseless "Ba-a-a, ba-a-a, ba-a-a,"
sounded like the roar of surf on a distant coast. Driven frantic by the
appetizing smell of the sweet bunch-grass, the like of which they had
not seen in months, the sheep poured through the gap like a torrent of
dirty, yellow water; urged on from the rear and sides by barking dogs
and shouting herders.

Straightening his six feet of bone and muscle, the cattleman stood up
and stepped to the extreme edge of the rim-rock, with hardened
countenance and gleaming eyes. A herder saw him standing there, in open
silhouette against the sky line, and with many wild gesticulations
pointed him out to his companions. With a quick motion, Wade half
raised his rifle from the crook of his arm toward his shoulder, and then
snorted grimly as the herders scrambled for shelter. "Coyotes!" he
muttered, reflecting that constant association with the beasts that such
men tended, seemed to make cowards of them all.

With an ominous shake of his head, he went back on the ridge to his
waiting horse, eager to bear word of the invasion to Santry, his ranch
foreman and closest friend. Thrusting the short-barreled rifle into its
scabbard beneath the stirrup leather, he mounted and rode rapidly away.

Dusk was gathering as he pushed his way through the willows which
fringed Piah Creek and came out into the clearing which held his ranch
buildings. Nestling against the foot of a high bluff with the clear
waters of the creek sparkling a scant fifty yards from the door, the log
ranch house remained hidden until one was almost upon it. To the left,
at the foot of a long slope, the corrals and out-buildings were
situated, while beyond them a range of snow-capped mountains rose in
majestic grandeur. Back of the house, at the top of the bluff, a broad
tableland extended for miles; this, with Crawling Water Valley,
comprising the fine range land, on which fattened three thousand head of
cattle, carrying the Wade brand, the Double Arrow. Barely an hour
before, the owner had surveyed the scene with more than satisfaction,
exulting in the promise of prosperity it seemed to convey. Now all his
business future was threatened by the coming of the sheep.

After putting his horse in the corral, the ranch owner turned toward the
house. As he walked slowly up the hill, he made a fine figure of a man;
tall, straight, and bronzed like an Indian. His countenance in repose
was frank and cheerful, and he walked with the free, swinging stride of
an out-door man in full enjoyment of bodily health and vigor. Entering
the cabin by the open door, he passed through to the rear where a
rattling of pots and pans and an appetizing smell of frying bacon told
that supper was in progress.

Bill Santry was standing by the stove, turning the bacon in its sizzling
grease, with a knack which told of much experience in camp cookery. The
face which the lean and grizzled plainsman turned toward his friend was
seamed by a thousand tiny wrinkles in the leathery skin, the result of
years of exposure to all kinds of weather.

"Hello, Gordon!" he exclaimed. His pale blue eyes showed like pin points
under the shaggy, gray brows. "You're back early, just in time for me to
remark that if we don't get a pot-wrastler for this here outfit pretty
durn quick, the boys'll be cookin' their own chuck. I'm blamed if I'll
herd this stove much longer."

Wade smiled as he passed into the adjoining room to remove his spurs and
chaps. "There's a Chinese coming up from town to-morrow," he said.

Santry peered across the stove to watch him as he moved about his room.
The week before, a large picture of an extremely beautiful girl, which
she had sent to Wade and which at first he had seemed to consider his
most precious ornament, had fallen face downward on the table. Santry
was curious to see how long it would be before Wade would set it up
again, and he chuckled to himself when he saw that no move was made to
do so. Wade had presented Santry to the girl some months before, when
the two men were on a cattle-selling trip to Chicago, and the old
plainsman had not cared for her, although he had recognized her beauty
and knew that she was wealthy in her own right, and moreover was the
only child of a famous United States Senator.

"There's thunder to pay over in the valley, Bill." Wade had produced
"makings," and rolled himself a cigarette as he watched the foreman
cooking. "Sheep--thousands of them--are coming in."

"What?" Santry straightened up with a jerk which nearly capsized the
frying pan. "Sheep? On our range? You ain't kiddin' me?"

"Nope. Wish I was, but it's a fact. The sheep are feeding on the grass
that we hoped to save against the winter. It's the Jensen outfit, I
could make that out from where I stood."

"Hell!" Stamping angrily across the floor, Santry gazed out into the
twilight. "That dirty, low-lived Swede? But we'll fix him, boy. I know
his breed, the skunk! I'll...." The veins in the old plainsman's throat
stood out and the pupils of his eyes contracted. "I'll run his blamed
outfit out of the valley before noon termorrer. I'll make Jensen
wish...."

"Steady, Bill!" Wade interposed, before the other could voice the
threat. "Violence may come later on perhaps; but right now we must try
to avoid a fight."

"But by the great horned toad...!"

Santry stretched out his powerful hands and slowly clenched his fingers.
He was thinking of the pleasure it would give him to fasten them on
Jensen.

"The thing puzzles me," Wade went on, flecking his cigarette through the
window. "Jensen would never dare to come in here on his own initiative.
He knows that we cowmen have controlled this valley for years, and he's
no fighter. There's lots of good grass on the other side of the
mountains, and he knows that as well as we do. Why does he take chances,
then, on losing his stock, and maybe some of his herders by butting in
here?"

"That's what I want to know," Santry immediately agreed, as though the
thought were his own. "Answer me that! By the great horned toad! If I
had my way...."

"This country isn't what it was ten years ago, Bill. We're supposed to
have courts here now, you know." Santry sighed heavily. "To-morrow,"
Wade continued, "I'll ride over and have a talk with whoever's in charge
of the outfit. Maybe I can learn something. You stay here and keep Kelly
and the rest quiet if they get wind of what's going on and seem inclined
to show fight. I've been, in a way, looking for trouble ever since we
refused to let that fellow, Moran, get a foothold in the valley. If he's
back of this, we've got a clever man to fight."

"There's another hombre I'd like awful well to get my hands on to,"
declared Santry belligerently. "Damned oily, greedy land shark! All
right, all right! Needn't say nothin', Don. You're the brains of this
here outfit, an' 'thout you say the word, I'll behave. But when the time
comes and you want a fightin' man, just let me at him! When you want to
run some of these here crooks outer the country, you whisper quiet like
to old Bill Santry. Until then, I'll wait. That is--" He waved a warning
finger at Wade.--"That is, up to a certain point! We don't want war,
that is to say, to want it, you understand me! But by the great horned
toad, I ain't a-goin' to let no lousy, empty headed, stinkin',
sheepherdin' Swede wipe his feet on me. No, siree, not by no means!"

Wade made no reply to this, and with a further admonitory shake of his
grizzled head, the old man resumed his cooking.

"You're sure that Chink'll be over in the mornin'?" he asked anxiously,
after a little; and Wade nodded abstractedly. "Cookin' ain't no job for
a white man in this weather. Breakin' rock in Hell would be plumb cool
alongside of it." He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of
his hand. "Say, do you remember them biscuits you made over in the
Painted Rock country? The batch I et ain't digisted yet.

"Every time I cook a meal," he went on, chuckling, "I think about the
time Flour Sack Jim hired out to wrastle grub for that Englishman. Flour
Sack was one of your real old timers, rough and ready, with a heart as
big as a bucket, but he wouldn't bend his knee to no man livin'. The
English jasper was all kinds of a swell, with money enough to burn a wet
dog. For family reasons, he'd bought him a ranch and started to raise
hosses. He wore one of these here two-peaked hats, with a bow on top,
and he always had an eyeglass screwed into one eye.

"The first night after Flour Sack come on his job, he got up a mess of
jack-rabbit stew, and stickin' his head out the door, yelled in real
round-up style--'Come and git it!' Then he piled up his own plate and
started in ter eat. In about ten minutes, in walks the English dude, and
when he seen the cook eatin' away, he rares back and says,
haughty-like--'Bless me soul, I cawn't eat with me servants, doncher
know.' Flour Sack never bats an eye, but says, with his mouth full 'Take
a cheer,' he says, 'an' wait until I git through.'"

Although Wade had heard the story before, he laughed pleasantly as
Santry began to dish up the food; then the latter summoned the hired
men.

"Mind, now, Bill," Wade admonished. "Not a word about the sheep."

The next morning, after a restless night, the young rancher set out
alone for the sheep camp. He was more than ever concerned over the
outlook, because sleep had brought to his pillow visions of cattle
starving on a denuded range, and of Santry and Race Moran engaged in a
death struggle. Particularly because of the danger of this, he had
insisted upon Santry staying at home. The old plainsman, scarred
veteran of many a frontier brawl, was too quick tempered and too
proficient with his six-shooter to take back-talk from the despised
sheep herders or to bandy words with a man he feared and hated. Wade was
becoming convinced that Moran was responsible for the invasion of the
range, although still at a loss for his reasons. The whole affair was
marked with Moran's handiwork and the silent swiftness of his methods.

This Race Moran was a stranger who had come to Crawling Water some
months before, and for reasons best known to himself, had been trying to
ingratiate himself in the neighborhood, but, although he seemed to have
plenty of funds, the ranch and stock men did not take kindly to his
advances. He posed as the agent of some Eastern capitalists, and he had
opened an office which for sumptuous appointments had never been equaled
in that part of the country; but he had not been able to buy or lease
land at the prices he offered and his business apparently had not
prospered. Then sheep had begun to appear in great flocks in various
parts of the surrounding country and some of these flocks to overflow
into Crawling Water Valley. Moran denied, at first, that they had come
at his instance, but later on, he tacitly admitted to the protesting
cattlemen that he had a certain amount of interest in sheep raising.

More far-sighted than some of his neighbors, Wade had leased a large
strip of land in the valley for use as winter range. Moran had seemed to
want this land badly, and had offered a really fair price for it, but
Wade had not cared to sell. Relying upon his privilege as lessee, Wade
had not feared the approach of the sheep, and he had no reason to wish
to dispose of his holdings. Now, it began to look as if the purpose was
to "sheep" him out of his own territory, so that the agent might buy up
the lease and homestead rights on practically his own terms. The thing
had been done before in various parts of the cattle country.

Cattle and sheep cannot live on the same range, and when sheep take
possession of a country, cattle must move out of it, or starve. No
wonder, then, that the cattlemen of Crawling Water Valley were aroused.
Their livelihood was slipping away from them, day by day, for unless
prompt steps were taken the grass would be ruined by the woolly plague.

Thus far, Gordon Wade, a leader in the cattle faction, had been firm for
peaceful measures though some of the ranchers had threatened an open war
on the herders. "Avoid bloodshed at almost any cost," had been his
advice, and he had done his best to restrain the more hot-headed members
of his party, who were for shooting the sheep and driving out the
herders at the rifle point. But there was a limit, even to Wade's
patience, and his jaws squared grimly as he considered the probable
result, should Moran and his followers, the sheep owners, persist in
their present course of action.

It was still very early in the morning when Wade arrived at the herder's
camp. Oscar Jensen, a short, thick-set man, with an unwholesome, heavy
face, stepped out of the little tent as the rancher rode up.

"Mornin'."

"Good-morning!" The cattleman affected a cheerfulness which he did not
feel. "Are these your sheep, Mr. Jensen?" He waved in the direction of
the grazing band, a dirty white patch on the green of the valley.

"Yes."

"Perhaps you don't know that you are on Double Arrow land? I've ridden
over to ask you to move your sheep. They're spoiling our grass."

Jensen grinned sardonically, for he had been expecting Wade's visit and
was prepared for it.

"I got a right here," he said. "There's plenty good grass here and I
take my sheep where they get fat. This is government land."

"It is government land," Wade quietly acknowledged, "but you have no
right on it. I control this range, I've paid for it, and unless you move
within the next twelve hours you'll be arrested for trespass."

The sheepman's sullen face darkened with anger.

"Who'll do it? The sheriff won't, and I'm not afeerd of you cattlemen.
My sheep must eat as well as your cattle, and I got a good right here. I
won't move."

"Then remember that I warned you if you get into trouble, Jensen.
There's plenty of open range and good water on the other side of the
hills. I advise you to trail your sheep there before it is too late.
Don't think that Race Moran can save you from the law. Moran is not
running this valley, and don't you forget it."

"How do you know Moran's backin' me?" The Swede could not conceal his
surprise. "You can't bluff me, Wade. I know my rights, and I'm goin' to
stick to 'em."

"The devil you say!" Now that he was sure of Moran's complicity in the
matter, Wade felt himself becoming angry, in spite of his resolve to
keep cool. "You'd best listen to reason and pull out while you're able
to travel. There are men in this valley who won't waste time in talk
when they know you're here."

"Bah!" Jensen snorted contemptuously. "I can take care of myself. I know
what I'm doin', I tell you."

"You may, but you don't act like it," was Wade's parting remark, as he
turned his horse and rode off.

"Go to hell!" the Swede shouted after him.

Heading toward Crawling Water, the ranch owner rode rapidly over the
sun-baked ground, too full of rage to take notice of anything except his
own helplessness. The sting of Jensen's impudence lay in Wade's
realization that to enlist the aid of the sheriff against the sheep man
would be very difficult, if not altogether impossible. There was very
little law in that region, and what little there was seemed, somehow, to
have been taken under the direction of Race Moran.

It was now broad day and the prairie warmed to the blazing sun. Long,
rolling stretches of grass, topped with rocks and alkaline sand, gave
back a blinding glare like the reflection of a summer sea, from which
arose a haze of gray dust like ocean mists over distant reaches. Far to
the South, a lone butte lifted its corrugated front in forbidding
majesty.

Beyond the summit of the butte was a greenish-brown plateau of sagebrush
and bunch-grass. Behind this mesa, a range of snow-topped mountains cut
the horizon with their white peaks, and in their deep and gloomy canyons
lurked great shadows of cool, rich green. As far as the eye could see,
there was no sign of life save Wade and his mount.

The horse's feet kicked up a cloud of yellow dust that hung in the air
like smoke from a battery of cannon. It enveloped the ranchman, who rode
with the loose seat and straight back of his kind; it came to lie deeply
on his shoulders and on his broad-brimmed Stetson hat, and in the
wrinkles of the leather chaps that encased his legs. He looked steadily
ahead, from under reddened eyelids, over the trackless plain that
encompassed him. At a pace which would speedily cover the twenty odd
miles to Crawling Water, he rode on his way to see Race Moran.

Two hours later Oscar Jensen was shot from behind as he was walking
alone, a little distance from his camp. He fell dead and his assassin
disappeared without being seen.





Next: A Meeting And A Parting

Previous: Two Trails Converge



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