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The Happy Family Buys A Bunch Of Cattle








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

With the Kid riding gleefully upon Weary's shoulder they trooped up the
path their own feet had helped wear deep to the bunk-house. They looked
in at the open door and snorted at the cheerlessness of the place.

"Why don't you come back here and stay?" the Kid demanded. "I was going
to sleep down here with you--and now Doctor Dell won't let me. These
hobees are no good. They're damn' bone-head. Daddy Chip says so. I wish
you'd come back, so I can sleep with you. One man's named Ole and he's
got a funny eye that looks at the other one all the time. I wish you'd
come back."

The Happy Family wished the same thing, but they did not say so. Instead
they told the Kid to ask his mother if he couldn't come and visit them
in their new shacks, and promised indulgences that would have shocked
the Little Doctor had she heard them. So they went on to the house,
where the Old Man sat on the porch looking madder than when they had
left him three weeks before.

"Why don't yuh run them nesters outa the country?" he demanded peevishly
when they were close enough for speech. "Here they come and accuse me
to my face of trying to defraud the gov'ment. Doggone you boys, what
you think you're up to, anyway? What's three or four thousand acres when
they're swarming in here like flies to a butcherin'? They can't make a
living--serve 'em right. What you doggone rowdies want now?"

Not a cordial welcome, that--if they went no deeper than his words. But
there was the old twinkle back of the querulousness in the Old Man's
eyes, and the old pucker of the lips behind his grizzled whiskers.
"You've got that doggone Kid broke to foller yuh so we can't keep him
on the ranch no more," he added fretfully. "Tried to run away twice,
on Silver. Chip had to go round him up. Found him last time pretty near
over to Antelope coulee, hittin' the high places for town. Might as well
take yuh back, I guess, and save time running after the Kid."

"We've got to hold down our claims," Weary minded him regretfully. In
three weeks, he could see a difference the Old Man, and the change hurt
him.

Lines were deeper drawn, and the kind old eyes were a shade more sunken.

"What's that amount to?" grumbled the Old Man, looking from one to the
other under his graying eye brows. "You can't stop them dry-farmers from
taking the country. Yuh might as well try to dip the Missouri dry with a
bucket. They'll flood the country with stock--"

"No, they won't," put in Big Medicine, impatient for the real meat of
their errand. "By cripes, we got a scheme to beat that--you tell 'im,
Weary."

"We want to buy a bunch of cattle from you," Weary said obediently. "We
want to graze our claims, instead of trying to crop the land. We haven't
any fence up, so we'll have to range-herd our stock, of course. I--don't
hardly think any nester stock will get by us, J. G. And seeing our land
runs straight through from Meeker's line fence to yours, we kinda think
we've got the nesters pretty well corralled. They're welcome to the
range between Antelope coulee and Dry Lake, far as we're concerned. Soon
as we can afford it," he added tranquilly, "we'll stretch a fence along
our west line that'll hold all the darn milkcows they've a mind to ship
out here."

"Huh!" The Old Man studied them quizzically, his chin on his chest.

"How many yuh want?" he asked abruptly.

"All you'll sell us. We want to give mortgages, with the stock for
security."

"Oh, yuh do, ay? What if I have to foreclose on yuh?" The pucker of his
lips grew more pronounced. "Where do you git off at, then?"

"Well, we kinda thought we could fix it up to save part of the increase
outa the wreck, anyway."

"Oh. That's it ay?" He studied them another minute. "You'll want all my
best cows, too, I reckon--all that grade stock I shipped in last spring.
Ay?"

"We wouldn't mind," grinned Weary, glancing at the others roosting at
ease along the edge of the porch.

"Think you could handle five-hundred head--the pick uh the bunch?"

"Sure, we could! We'd rather split 'em up amongst us, though--let every
fellow buy so many. We can throw in together on the herding."

"Think you can keep the milk-cows between you and Dry Lake, ay?" The Old
Man chuckled--the first little chuckle since the Happy Family left him
so unceremoniously three weeks before. "How about that, Pink?"

"Why, I think we can," chirped Pink cheerfully.

"Huh! Well, you're the toughest bunch, take yuh up one side and down
the other, I ever seen keep onta jail--I guess maybe you can do it. But
lemme tell you boys something--and I want you to remember it: You don't
want to git the idea in your heads you're going to have any snap; you
ain't. If I know B from a bull's foot, you've got your work cut out for
yuh. I've been keeping cases pretty close on this dry-farm craze, and
this stampede for claims. Folks are land crazy. They've got the idea
that a few acres of land is going to make 'em free and independent--and
it don't matter much what the land is, or where it is. So long as it's
land, and they can git it from the government for next to nothing,
they're satisfied. And yuh want to remember that. Yuh don't want to take
it for granted they're going to take a look at your deadline and back
up. If they ship in stock, they're going to see to it that stock don't
starve. You'll have to hold off men and women that's making their last
stand, some of 'em, for a home of their own. They ain't going to give
up if they can help it. You get a man with his back agin the wall, and
he'll fight till he drops. I don't need to tell yuh that."

The Happy Family listened to him soberly, their eyes staring broodily at
the picture he conjured.

"Well, by golly, we're makin' our last stand, too," Slim blurted with
his customary unexpectedness. "Our back's agin the wall right now. If we
can't hold 'em back from takin' what little range is left, this outfit's
going under. We got to hold 'em, by golly, er there won't be no more
Flying U."

"Well," said Andy Green quietly, "that's all right. We're going to hold
'em."

The Old Man lifted his bent head and looked from one to another. Pride
shone in his eyes, that had lately stared resentment. "Yuh know, don't
yuh, the biggest club they can use?" He leaned forward a little, his
lips working under his beard.

"Sure, we know. We'll look out for that." Weary smiled hearteningly.

"We want a good lawyer to draw up those mortgages," put in the Native
Son lazily. "And we'll pay eight per cent. interest."

"Doggonedest crazy bunch ever I struck," grumbled the Old Man with
grateful insincerity. "What you fellers don't think of, there ain't any
use in mentioning. Oh, Dell! Bring out that jug Blake sent me! Doggoned
thirsty bunch out here--won't stir a foot till they sample that wine!
Got to get rid of 'em somehow--they claim to be full uh business as
a jack rabbit is of fleas! When yuh want to git out and round up them
cows? Wagon's over on Dry creek som'ers--or ought to be. Yuh might take
your soogans and ride ove' there tomorrow or next day and ketch 'em.
I'll write a note to Chip and tell 'im what's to be done. And while
you're pickin' your bunch you can draw wages just the same as ever, and
help them double-dutch blisterin' milk-fed pilgrims with the calf crop."

"We'll sure do that," promised Weary for the bunch. "We can start in the
morning, all right."

"Take a taste uh this wine. None of your tobacco-juice stuff; this comes
straight from Fresno. Senator Blake sent it the other day. Fill up that
glass, Dell! What yuh want to be so doggone stingy fer? Think this bunch
uh freaks are going to stand for that? They can't git the taste outa
less'n a pint. This ain't any doggone liver-tonic like you dope out."

The Little Doctor smiled understandingly and filled their glasses with
the precious wine from sunland. She did not know what had happened, but
she did know that the Old Man had seized another hand-hold on life in
the last hour, and she was grateful. She even permitted the Kid to
take a tiny sip, just because the Happy Family hated to see him refused
anything he wanted.

So Flying U coulee was for the time being filled with the same old
laughter and the same atmosphere of care-free contentment with life. The
Countess stewed uncomplainingly in the kitchen, cooking dinner for the
boys. The Old Man grumbled hypocritically at them from his big chair,
and named their faults in the tone that transmuted them into virtues.
The Little Doctor heard about Miss Allen and her three partners, who
were building a four-room shack on the four corners of four claims, and
how Irish had been caught more than once in the act of staring fixedly
in the direction of that shack. She heard a good many things, and she
guessed a good many more.

By mid afternoon the Old Man was fifty per cent brighter and better than
he had been in the morning, and he laughed and bullied them as of old.
When they left he told them to clear out and stay out, and that if he
caught them hanging around his ranch, and making it look as if he were
backing them and trying to defraud the government, he'd sic the dog onto
them. Which tickled the Kid immensely, because there wasn't any dog to
sic.





Next: Wherein Andy Green Lies To A Lady

Previous: Florence Grace Hallman Speaks Plainly



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