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The Happy Family Herd Sheep








From: Flying U Ranch

The boys of the Flying U had many faults in common, aside from certain
individual frailties; one of their chief weaknesses was over-confidence
in their own ability to cope with any situation which might arise,
unexpectedly or otherwise, and a belief that others felt that same
confidence in them, and that enemies were wont to sit a long time
counting the cost before venturing to offer too great an affront. Also
they believed--and made it manifest in their conversation--that they
could even bring the Old Man back to health if they only had him on
the ranch where they could get at him. They maligned the hospitals and
Chicago doctors most unjustly, and were agreed that all he needed was
to be back on the ranch where somebody could look after him right. They
asserted that, if they ever got tired of living and wanted to cash in
without using a gun or anything, they'd go to a hospital and tell the
doctors to turn loose and try to cure them of something.

This by way of illustration; also as an explanation of their sleeping
soundly that night, instead of watching for some hostile demonstration
on the part of the Dot outfit. To a man--one never counted Happy Jack's
prophecies of disaster as being anything more than a personal deformity
of thought--they were positive in their belief that the Dot sheepherders
would be very, very careful not to provoke the Happy Family to further
manifestations of disapproval. They knew what they'd get, if they tried
any more funny business, and they'd be mighty careful where they drove
their sheep after this.

So, with the comfortable glow of victory in their souls, they laid
them down, and, when the animated discussion of that night's adventure
flagged, as their tongues grew sleep-clogged and their eyelids drooped,
they slept in peace; save when Slim, awakened by the soreness of his
leg, grunted a malediction or two before he began snoring again.

They rose and ate their breakfast in a fair humor with the world. One
grows accustomed to the thought of sickness, even when it strikes close
to the affections, and, with the resilience of youth and hope, life
adjusts itself to make room for the specter of fear, so that it does
not crowd unduly, but stands half-forgotten in the background of one's
thoughts. For that reason they no longer spoke soberly because of the
Old Man lying hurt unto death in Chicago. And, when they mentioned the
Dot sheep and men, they spoke as men speak of the vanquished.

With the taste of hot biscuits and maple syrup still lingering
pleasantly against their palates, they went out and were confronted with
sheep, blatting sheep, stinking sheep, devastating sheep, Dot sheep. On
the south side of the coulee, up on the bluff, grazed the band. They fed
upon the brow of the hill opposite the ranch buildings; they squeezed
under the fence and spilled a ragged fringe of running, gray animals
down the slope. Half a mile away though the nearest of them were, the
murmur of them, the smell of them, the whole intolerable presence of
them, filled the Happy Family with an amazed loathing too deep for
words.

Technically, that high, level stretch of land bounding Flying U coulee
on the south was open range. It belonged to the government. The soil was
not fertile enough even for the most optimistic of "dry land" farmers to
locate upon it; and this was before the dry-land farming craze had swept
the country, gathering in all public land as claims. J. G. Whitmore
had contented himself with acquiring title to the whole of the Flying
U coulee, secure in his belief that the old order of things would not
change, in his life-time, at least, and that the unwritten law of the
range land, which leaves the vicinity of a ranch to the use of the ranch
owner, would never be repealed by new customs imposed by a new class of
people.

Legally, there was no trespassing of the Dots, beyond the two or three
hundred which had made their way through the fence. Morally, however,
and by right of custom, their offense would not be much greater if they
came on down the hill and invaded the Old Man's pet meadows, just beyond
the "little pasture."

Ladies may read this story, so I am not going to pretend to repeat the
things they said, once they were released from dumb amazement. I should
be compelled to improvise and substitute--which would remove much of the
flavor. Let bare facts suffice, at present.

They saddled in haste, and in haste they rode to the scene. This, they
were convinced, was the band herded by the bug-killer and the man from
Wyoming; and the nerve of those two almost excited the admiration of the
Happy Family. It did not, however, deter them from their purpose.

Weary, to look at him, was no longer in the mood to preach patience and
a turning of the other cheek. He also made that change of heart manifest
in his speech when Pink, his eyes almost black, rode up close and
gritted at him:

"Well, what's the orders now? Want me to go back and get the wire
nippers so we can let them poor little sheep down into the meadow? Maybe
we better ask the herders down to have some of Patsy's grub, too; I
don't believe they had time to cook much breakfast. And it wouldn't be
a bad idea to haze our own stuff clear off the range. I'm afraid Dunk's
sheep are going to fare kinda slim, if we go on letting our cattle eat
all the good grass!" Pink did not often indulge in such lengthy sarcasm,
especially toward his beloved Weary; but his exasperation toward Weary's
mild tactics had been growing apace.

Weary's reply, I fear, will have to be omitted. It was terribly
unrefined.

"I want you boys to spread out, around the whole bunch," was his first
printable utterance, "and haze these sheep just as far south as they
can get without taking to the river. Don't get all het up chasing 'em
yourself--make the men (Weary did not call them men; he called them
something very naughty) that's paid for it do the driving."

"And, if they don't go," drawled the smooth voice of the Native Son,
"what shall we do, amigo? Slap them on the wrist?"

Weary twisted in the saddle and sent him a baleful glance, which was not
at all like Weary the sunny-hearted.

"If you can't figure that out for yourself," he snapped, "you had better
go back and wipe the dishes for Patsy; and, when that's done, you can
pull the weeds out of his radishes. Maybe he'll give you a nickel to buy
candy with, if you do it good." Before he faced to the front again his
harsh glance swept the faces of his companions.

They were grinning, every man of them, and he knew why. To see him lose
his temper was something of an event with the Happy Family, who used
sometimes to fix the date of an incident by saying, "It was right after
that time Weary got mad, a year ago last fall," or something of the
sort. He grinned himself, shamefacedly, and told them that they were
a bunch of no-account cusses, anyway, and he'd just about as soon herd
sheep himself as to have to run with such an outfit; which swept his
anger from him and left him his usual self, with but the addition of a
purpose from which nothing could stay him. He was going to settle the
sheep question, and he was going to settle it that day.

Only one injunction did he lay upon the Happy Family. "You fellows don't
want to get excited and go to shooting," he warned, while they were
still out of hearing of the herders. "We don't want Dunk to get anything
like that on us; savvy?"

They "savvied," and they told him so, each after his own individual
manner.

"I guess we ought to be able to put the run on a couple of sheepherders,
without wasting any powder," Pink said loftily, remembering his meeting
with them a few days before.

"One thing sure--we'll make a good job of it this time," promised Irish,
and spurred after Weary, who was leading the way around the band.

The herders watched them openly and with the manner of men who are
expecting the worst to happen. Unlike the four whose camp had been laid
low the night before, these two were unarmed, as they had been from the
first; which, in Weary's opinion, was a bit of guile upon the part of
Dunk. If trouble came--trouble which it would take a jury to settle--the
fact that the sheepmen were unarmed would tell heavily in their favor;
for, while the petty meanness of range-stealing and nagging trespass may
be harder to bear than the flourishing of a gun before one's face, it
all sounds harmless enough in the telling.

Weary headed straight for the nearest herder, told him to put his dogs
to work rounding up the sheep, which were scattered over an area half
a mile across while they fed, and, when the herder, who was the
bug-killer, made no move to obey, Weary deliberately pulled his gun and
pointed at his head.

"You move," he directed with grim intent, "and don't take too much time
about it, either."

The bug-killer, an unkempt, ungainly figure, standing with his back to
the morning sun, scowled up at Weary stolidly.

"Yuh dassent shoot," he stated sourly, and did not move.

For answer, Weary pulled back the hammer; also he smiled as malignantly
as it was in his nature to do, and hoped in his heart that he looked
sufficiently terrifying to convince the man. So they faced each other in
a silent clash of wills.

Big Medicine had not been saying much on the way over, which was
unusual. Now he rode forward until he was abreast of Weary, and he
grinned down at the bug-killer in a way to distract his attention from
the gun.

"Nobody don't have to shoot, by cripes!" he bawled. "We hain't goin' to
kill yuh. We'll make yuh wisht, by cripes, we had, though, b'fore we
git through. Git to work, boys, 'n' gether up some dry grass an' sticks.
Over there in them rose-bushes you oughta find enough bresh. We'll give
him a taste uh what we was talkin' about comm' over, by cripes! I guess
he'll be willin' to drive sheep, all right, when we git through with
him. Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" He leaned forward in the saddle and ogled the
bug-killer with horrid significance.

"Git busy with that bresh!" he yelled authoritatively, when a glance
showed him that the Happy Family was hesitating and eyeing him
uncertainly. "Git a fire goin' quick's yuh kin--I'll do the rest. Down
in Coconino county we used to have a way uh fixin' sheepherders--"

"Aw, gwan! We don't want no torture business!" remonstrated Happy Jack
uneasily, edging away.

"Yuh don't, hey?" Big Medicine turned in the saddle wrathfully and
glared. When he had succeeded in catching Andy Green's eye he winked,
and that young man's face kindled understandingly. "Well, now, you
hain't runnin' this here show. Honest to grandma, I've saw the time when
a little foot-warmin' done a sheepherder a whole lot uh good; and, it
looks to me, by cripes, as if this here feller needed a dose to gentle
him down. You git the fire started. That's all I want you t' do, Happy.
Some uh you boys help me rope him--like him and that other jasper over
there done to Andy. C'mon, Andy--it ain't goin' to take long!"

"You bet your sweet life I'll come on!" exclaimed Andy, dismounting
eagerly. "Let me take your rope, Weary. Too bad we haven't got a
branding iron--"

"Aw, we don't need no irons." Big Medicine was also on the ground by
then, and untying his rope. "Lemme git his shoes off once, and I'll show
yuh."

The bug-killer lifted his stick, snarling like a mongrel dog when
a stranger tries to drive it out of the house; hurled the stick
hysterically, as Big Medicine, rope in hand, advanced implacably, and,
with a squawk of horror, turned suddenly and ran. After him, bellowing
terribly, lunged Big Medicine, straight through the band like a
snowplow, leaving behind them a wide, open trail.

"Say, we kinda overplayed that bet, by gracious," Andy commented to
Weary, while he watched the chase. "That gazabo's scared silly; let's
try the other one. That torture talk works fine."

In his enthusiasm Andy remounted and was about to lead the way to
the other herder when Big Medicine returned puffing, the bug-killer
squirming in his grasp. "Tell him what yuh want him to do, Weary," he
panted, with some difficulty holding his limp victim upright by a
greasy coat-collar. "And if he don't fall over himself doin' it, why--by
cripes--we'll take off his shoes!"

Whereupon the bug-killer gave another howl and professed himself eager
to drive the sheep--well, what he said was that he would drive them to
that place which ladies dislike to hear mentioned, if the Happy Family
wanted him to.

"That's all right, then. Start 'em south, and don't quit till somebody
tells you to." Weary carefully let down the hammer of his six-shooter
and shoved it thankfully into his scabbard.

"Now, you don't want to pile it on quite so thick, next time," Irish
admonished Big Medicine, when they turned away from watching the
bug-killer set his dogs to work by gestures and a shouted word or two.
"You like to have sent this one plumb nutty."

"I betche Bud gets us all pinched for that," grumbled Happy Jack.
"Torturing folks is purty darned serious business. You might as well
shoot 'em up decent and be done with it."

"Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" Big Medicine ogled the group mirthfully. "Nobody
can't swear I done a thing, or said a thing. All I said definite was
that I'd take off his shoes. Any jury in the country'd know that
would be hull lot worse fer us than it would fer him, by cripes.
Haw-haw-haw-w-w!"

"Say, that's right; yuh didn't say nothin', ner do nothin'. By golly,
that was purty slick work, all right!" Slim forgot his sore leg until he
clapped his hand enthusiastically down upon the place as comprehension
of Bud's finesse dawned upon him. He yelped, and the Happy Family
laughed unfeelingly.

"You want to be careful and don't try to see through any jokes, Slim,
till that leg uh yours gets well," Irish bantered, and they laughed the
louder.

All this was mere byplay; a momentary swinging of their mood to
pleasantry, because they were a temperamentally cheerful lot, and
laughter came to them easily, as it always does to youth and perfect
mental and physical health. Their brief hilarity over Slim's misfortune
did not swerve them from their purpose, nor soften the mood of them
toward their adversaries. They were unsmiling and unfriendly when they
reached the man from Wyoming; and, if they ever behaved like boys let
out of school, they did not show it then.

The Wyoming man was wiser than his fellow. He had been given several
minutes grace in which to meditate upon the unwisdom of defiance; and he
had seen the bug-killer change abruptly from sullenness to terror, and
afterward to abject obedience. He did not know what they had said to
him, or what they had done; but he knew the bug-killer was a hard man to
stampede. And he was one man, and they were many; also he judged that,
being human, and this being the third offense of the Dot sheep under his
care, it would be extremely unsafe to trust that their indignation would
vent itself in mere words.

Therefore, when Weary told him to get the stragglers back through the
fence and up on the level, he stopped only long enough for a good look
at their faces. After that he called his dogs and crawled through the
fence.

It really did not require the entire Family to force those sheep south
that morning. But Weary's jaw was set, as was his heart, upon a
thorough cleaning of that particular bit of range; and, since he did
not definitely request any man to turn back, and every fellow there
was minded to see the thing to a finish, they straggled out behind the
trailing two thousand--and never had one bunch of sheep so efficient a
convoy.

After the first few miles the way grew rough. Sheep lagged, and the
blatting increased to an uproar. Old ewes and yearlings these were
mostly, and there were few to suffer more than hunger and thirst,
perhaps. So Weary was merciless, and drove them forward without a stop
until the first jumble of hills and deep-worn gullies held them back
from easy traveling.

But the Happy Family had not ridden those breaks for cattle, all these
years, to be hindered by rough going. Weary, when the band stopped and
huddled, blatting incessantly against a sheer wall of sandstone and
gravel, got the herders together and told them what he wanted.

"You take 'em down that slope till you come to the second little coulee.
Don't go up the first one--that's a blind pocket. In the second coulee,
up a mile or so, there's a spring creek. You can hold 'em there on water
for half an hour. That's more than any of yuh deserve. Haze 'em down
there."

The herders did not know it, but that second coulee was the rude gateway
to an intricate system of high ridges and winding waterways that would
later be dry as a bleached bone--the real beginning of the bad lands
which border the Missouri river for long, terrible miles. Down there,
it is possible for two men to reach places where they may converse quite
easily across a chasm, and yet be compelled to ride fifteen or twenty
miles, perhaps, in order to shake hands. Yet, even in that scrap-heap of
Nature there are ways of passing deep into the heart of the upheaval.

The Happy Family knew those ways as they knew the most complicated
figures of the quadrilles they danced so lightfootedly with the girls of
the Bear Paw country. When they forced the sheep and their herders out
of the coulee Weary had indicated he sent Irish and Pink ahead to point
the way, and he told them to head for the Wash Bowl; which they did with
praiseworthy zeal and scant pity for the sheep.

When at last, after a slow, heartbreaking climb up a long, bare ridge,
Pink and Irish paused upon the brow of a slope and let the trail-weary
band spill itself reluctantly down the steep slope beyond, the sun stood
high in the blue above them and their stomachs clamored for food; by
which signs they knew that it must be near noon.

When the last sheep had passed, blatting discordantly, down the bluff,
Weary halted the sweating herders for a parting admonition.

"We don't aim to deal you any more misery, for a while, if you stay
where you're at. You're only working for a living, like the rest of
us--but I must say I don't admire your trade none. Anyway, I'll send
some of your bunch down here with grub and beds. This is good enough
range for sheep. You keep away from the Flying U and nobody'll bother
you. Over there in them trees," he added, pointing a gloved finger
toward a little grove on the far side of the basin, "you'll find a
cabin, and water. And, farther down the river there's pretty good grass,
in the little bottoms. Now, git."

The herders looked as if they would enjoy murdering them all, but they
did not say a word. With their dogs at heel they scrambled down
the bluff in the wake of their sheep, and the Happy Family, rolling
cigarettes while they watched them depart, told one another that this
settled that bunch; they wouldn't bed down in the Flying U door-yard
that night, anyway.





Next: Weary Unburdens

Previous: More Sheep



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