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The Dot Outfit








From: Flying U Ranch

Before he laid him down to sleep, that night, Weary had repeated to
himself many times and fervently that wish for old J. G. Whitmore and
the stout staff upon which he was beginning more and more to lean, his
brother-in-law, Chip Bennett. As matters stood, Weary could not even
bring himself to let then know anything about his trouble--and that the
thing was beginning to assume the form and shape and general malevolent
attributes of Trouble, Weary was forced to admit to himself.

Just at present an unthinking, unobserving person might pass over
this sheep outfit as a mere unsavory incident; but Weary was neither
unobserving nor unthinking--nor, for the matter of that, were the
rest of the Happy Family. It needed no Happy Jack, with his foreboding
nature, to point out the unpleasant possibilities that night when the
committee of two made their informal report at the supper table.

They had ridden to Denson coulee, which was in reality a meandering
branch of Flying U coulee itself. To reach it one rode out of Flying
U coulee and over a wide hill, and down again to Denson's. But the
creek--Flying U creek--followed the devious turnings from Denson coulee
down to the Flying U. A long mile of Flying U coulee J. G. Whitmore
owned outright. Another mile he held under no other title save a fence.
The creek flowed through it all--but that creek had its source somewhere
up near the head of Denson coulee. J. G. Whitmore had, to his regret,
been unable to claim the whole earth--or at least that portion of
it--for his own; so, when he was constrained to make a choice, he
settled himself in the wider, more fertile coulee, which he thereafter
called the Flying U. While it is good policy to locate as near as
possible to the source of those erratic little creeks which water
certain garden spots of the northern range land, it is also well to
choose land that will grow plenty of hay. J. G. Whitmore chose the hay
land, and trusted that providence would insure the water supply. Through
all these years Flying U creek had never once disappointed him. Denson,
who settled in the tributary coulee, had not made any difference in the
water supply, and his stock had consisted of thirty or forty head of
cattle and horses.

When Denson sold, however, things might be different. And, if he had
sold to a sheepman, the change might be unpleasant If he had sold to
Dunk Whittaker--the Flying U boys faced that possibility just as they
would face any other disaster, undaunted, but grim and unsmiling.

It was thus that Pink and Weary rode slowly down into Denson coulee. Two
miles back they had passed the band of Dot sheep, feeding leisurely
just without the Flying U fence, which was the southern boundary. The
bug-killer and the other were there, and they noted that the features
of that other bore witness to the truth of Andy's story of the fight. He
regarded them with one perfectly good eye and one which was considerably
swollen, and grinned a swollen grin.

The two had ridden ten paces past him when Pink pulled up suddenly. "I'm
going to get off and lick that son-of-a-gun myself, just for luck," he
stated dispassionately. "I'm going to lick 'em both," he revised while
he dismounted.

"Oh, come on, Cadwalloper," Weary dissuaded. "You'll likely have all the
excitement you need, without that."

"Here, you hold this fool cayuse. No." He shook his head, cutting short
further protest. "You're the boss, and you don't want to mix in, and
that part is all right. But I ain't responsible--and I sure am going
to take a fall or two out of these geesers. They're a-w-l together too
stuck on themselves to suit me." Pink did not say that he was thinking
of Andy, but nevertheless a vivid recollection of that unfortunate young
man's rope-creased wrists and swollen hands sent him toward the herder
with long, eager strides.

Pink was not tall, and he was slight and boyish of build; also, his
cherubic face, topped by tawny curls and lighted by eyes as deeply blue
and as innocent as a baby's, probably deceived that herder, just as
they had deceived many another. For Pink was a good deal like a stick
of dynamite wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with blue ribbon;
and Weary was not at all uneasy over the outcome, as he watched Pink go
clanking back, though he loved him well.

Pink did not waste any time or words on the preliminaries. With a
delightful frankness of purpose he pulled off his coat and threw it
on the ground, as he came up, sent his hat after it, and arrived fist
first.

The herder had waited grinning, and he had shouted something to Weary
about spanking the kid if Weary didn't make him behave. Speedily he
became a very surprised herder, and a distressed one as well.

"All right," Pink remarked, a little quick-breathed, when the herder
decided for the third time to get up. "A friend of mine worked yuh over
a little, this morning, and I just thought I'd make a better job than he
did. Your eyes didn't match. They will, now."

The herder mumbled maledictions after him, but Pink would not even give
him the satisfaction of resenting it.

"I'd like to have broken a knuckle against his teeth, darn him," he
observed ruefully when he was in the saddle again. "Come on, Weary. It
won't take but a minute to hand a punch or two to that bug-killer,
and then I'll feel better. They've both got it coming--come on!" This
because Weary showed a strong inclination to take the trail and keep it
to his destination. "Well, I'll go alone, then. I've got to kinda square
myself for the way I threw it into Andy; and you know blamed well,
Weary, they played it low-down on him, or they'd never have got that
rope on him. And I'm going to lick that--"

"Mamma! You sure are a rambunctious person when you feel that way,"
Weary made querulous comment; but he rode over with Pink to where the
bug-killer was standing with his long stick held in a somewhat menacing
manner, and once more he held Pink's horse for him.

Pink was gone longer this time, and he came back with a cut lip and a
large lump on his forehead; the bug-killer had thrown a small rock with
the precision which comes of much practice--such as stoning disobedient
dogs, and the like--and, when Pink rushed at him furiously, the herder
caught him very neatly alongside the head with his stick. These little
amenities serving merely to whet Pink's appetite for battle, he stopped
long enough to thrash that particular herder very thoroughly and to his
own complete satisfaction.

"Well, I guess I'm ready to go on now," he observed, dimpling rather
one-sidedly as he got back on his horse.

"I thought maybe you'd want to whip the dogs, too," Weary told him
dryly; which was the nearest he came to expressing any disapproval
of the incident. Weary was a peace-loving soul, whenever peace was
compatible with self-respect; and it would never have occurred to him to
punish strange men as summarily as Pink had done.

"I would, if the dogs were half as ornery as the men," Pink retorted.
"Say, they hang together like bull snakes and rattlers, don't they? If
they was human, they'd have helped each other out--but nothing doing! Do
you reckon a man could ride up to a couple of our bunch, and thrash one
at a time without the other fellow having something to say about it?" He
turned in the saddle and looked back. "So help me, Josephine, I've got a
good mind to go back and lick them again, for not hanging together like
they ought to." But the threat was an idle one, and they went on to
Denson's, Weary still with that anxious look in his eyes, and Pink quite
complacent over his exploit.

In Denson coulee was an unwonted atmosphere of activity; heretofore the
place had been animated chiefly by young Densons engaged in the pursuit
of pleasure, but now a covered buggy, evidently just arrived, bore mute
witness to the new order of things. There were more horses about the
place, a covered wagon or two, three or four men working upon the
corral, and, lastly, there was one whom Weary recognized the moment he
caught sight of him.

"Looks like a sheep outfit, all right," he said somberly. "And, if that
ain't old Dunk himself, it's the devil, and that's next thing to him."

Dunk, they judged, had just arrived with another man whom they did not
know: a tall man with light hair that hung lank to his collar, a thin,
sharp-nosed face and a wide mouth, which stretched easily into a smile,
but which was none the pleasanter for that. When he turned inquiringly
toward them they saw that he was stoop-shouldered; though not from any
deformity, but from sheer, slouching lankness. Dunk gave them a swift,
sour look from under his eyebrows and went on.

Weary rode straight past the lank man, whom he judged to be Oleson, and
overtook Dunk Whittaker himself.

"Hello, Dunk," he said cheerfully, sliding over in the saddle so that a
foot hung free of the stirrup, as men who ride much have learned to do
when they stop for a chat, thereby resting while they may. "Back on the
old stamping ground, are you?"

"Since you see me here, I suppose I am," Dunk made churlish response.

"Do you happen to own those Dot sheep, back there on the hill?" Weary
tilted his head toward home.

"I happen to own half of them." By then they had reached the gate and
Dunk passed through and started on to the house.

"Oh, don't be in a rush--come on back and be sociable," Weary called
out, in the mildest of tones, twisting the reins around his saddle-horn
so that he might roll a cigarette at ease.

Dunk remembered, perhaps, certain things he had learned when he was
J. G. Whitmore's partner, and had more or less to do with the charter
members of the Happy Family. He came back and stood by the gate,
ungraciously enough, to be sure; still, he came back. Weary smiled under
cover of lighting his cigarette. Dunk, by that reluctant compliance,
betrayed something which Weary had been rather anxious to know.

"We've been having a little trouble with those sheep of yours," Weary
remarked between puffs. "You've got some poor excuses for humans herding
them. They drove the bunch across our coulee just exactly three times.
There ain't enough grass left in our lower field to graze a prairie
dog." He glanced back to see where Pink was, saw that he was close
behind, as was the lank man, and spoke in a tone that included them all.

"The Flying U ain't pasturing sheep, this spring," he informed them
pleasantly. "But, seeing the grass is eat up, we'll let yuh pay for it.
Why didn't you bring them in along the trail, anyway?"

"I didn't bring them in. I just came down from Butte to-day. I suppose
the herders brought them out where the feed was best; they did if
they're worth their wages."

"They happened to strike some feed that was pretty expensive. And,"
he smiled down at Whittaker misleadingly, "you ought to keep an eye
on those herders, or they might let you in for another grass bill. The
Flying U has got quite a lot of range, right around here, you recollect.
And we've got plenty of cattle to eat it. We don't need any help to keep
the grass down so we can ride through it."

"Now, look here," began the lank man with that sort of persuasiveness
which can turn instantly into bluster, "all this is pure foolishness,
you know. We're here to stay. We've bought this place, and some other
land to go with it, and we expect to stay right here and make a living.
It happens that we expect to make a living off of sheep. Now, we don't
want to start in by quarreling with our neighbors, and we don't want our
neighbors to start any quarrel with us. All we want--"

"Mamma! You're taking a fine way to make us love yuh," Weary cut in
ironically. "I know what you want. You want the same as every other meek
and lovely sheepman wants. You want it all--core, seeds and peeling.
Dunk," he said with a more impatient disgust than he was in the habit
of showing for his fellowmen, "this man's a stranger; but I should think
you'd know better than to come in here with sheep."

"I don't know why a sheep outfit isn't exactly as good as a cow outfit,
and I don't know why they haven't as much right here. You're welcome to
what land you own, but it always seemed to me that public land is open
to the use of the public. Now, as Oleson says, we expect to raise sheep
here, and we expect your outfit to leave us alone. As far as our sheep
crossing your coulee is concerned--I don't know that they did. But, if
they did, and, if they did any damage, let J. G. do the talking about
that. I deal with the owners--not with the hired men."

Weary, you must understand, was never a bellicose young man. But, for
all that, he leaned over and gave Dunk a slap on the jaw which must have
stung considerably--and the full reason for his violence lay four years
behind the two, when Dunk was part owner of the Flying U, and when his
sneering arrogance had been very hard to endure.

"Are you going to swallow that--from a hired man?" Weary inquired,
after a minute during which nothing whatever occurred beyond the slow
reddening of Dunk's face.

"I'm not going to fight, if that's what you mean," Dunk sneered. "I
decline to bring myself down to your level. One doesn't expect anything
from a jackass but a bray, you know--and one doesn't feel compelled to
bray because the jackass does." He smiled that supercilious smile which
Weary had hated of old, and which, he knew, was well used to covering
much treachery and small meannesses of various sorts.

"As I said, if the Flying U has any claim against us, let the owner
present it in the usual way." Dunk drew down his black brows, lifted a
corner of his lip and turned his back deliberately upon them.

Oleson let himself through the gate, which he closed somewhat hastily
behind him. "I'm sorry you fellows seem to want to make trouble," he
said, without looking up from the latch, which seemed somewhat out of
repair, like the rest of the Denson property. "That's a poor way
to start in with new neighbors." He lifted his hat with what Pink
considered insulting politeness, and followed Dunk into the house.

Weary waited there until they had gone in and closed the door, then
turned and rode back home again, frowning thoughtfully at the trail
ahead of them all the way, and making no reply to Pink's importunings
for war.

"I'd hate to say you've lost your nerve, Weary," Pink cried at last, in
sheer desperation. "But why the devil didn't you get down and thump the
daylights out of that black son-of-a-gun? I came pretty near walking
into him myself, only I hate to butt into another fellow's scrap. But,
if I'd known you were going to set there and let him walk off with that
sneer on his face--"

"I can't fight a man that won't hit back," Weary protested. "You
couldn't either, Cadwalloper. You'd have done just what I did; you'd
have let him go."

"He will hit back, all right enough," Pink retorted passionately. "He'll
do it when you ain't looking, though. He--"

"I know it," Weary sighed. "I'm kinda sorry, now, I slapped him. He'll
hit back--but he won't hit me; he'll aim at the outfit. If the Old Man
was here, or Chip, I'd feel a whole lot easier in my mind."

"They couldn't do anything you can't do," Pink assured him loyally,
forgetting his petulance when he saw the careworn look in Weary's
face. "All they can do is gobble all the range around here--and I guess
there's a few of us that will have a word or two to say about that."

"What makes me sore," Weary confided, "is knowing that Dunk isn't
thinking altogether of the dollar end of it. He's tickled to death to
get a whack at the outfit. And I hate to see him get away with it; but I
guess we'll have to stand for it."

That sentiment did not please Pink; nor, when Weary repeated it later
that evening in the bunk-house, did it please the Happy Family. The less
pleasing it was because it was perfectly true and every man of them knew
it. Beyond keeping the sheep off Flying U land, there was nothing they
could do without stepping over the line into lawlessness--and, while
they were not in any sense a meek Happy Family, they were far more
law-abiding than their conversation that night made them appear.





Next: More Sheep

Previous: Truth Crushed To Earth Etc



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