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The Kid Has Ideas Of His Own








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

The Old Man sat out in his big chair on the porch, smoking and staring
dully at the trail which led up the bluff by way of the Hog's Back to
the benchland beyond. Facing him in an old, cane rocking chair, the
Honorable Blake smoked with that air of leisurely enjoyment which
belongs to the man who knows and can afford to burn good tobacco and who
has the sense to, burn it consciously, realizing in every whiff its rich
fragrance. The Honorable Blake flicked a generous half-inch of ash from
his cigar upon a porch support and glanced shrewdly at the Old Man's
abstracted face.

"No, it wouldn't do," he observed with the accent of a second
consideration of a subject that coincides exactly with the first. "It
wouldn't do at all. You could save the boys time, I've no doubt--time
and trouble so far as getting the cattle back where they belong
is concerned. I can see how they must be hampered for lack of
saddle-horses, for instance. But--it wouldn't do, Whitmore. If they
come to you and ask for horses don't let them have them. They'll manage
somehow--trust them for that. They'll manage--" "But doggone it, Blake,
it's for--"

"Sh-sh--" Blake held up a warning hand. "None of that, my dear Whitmore!
These young fellows have taken claims in--er--good faith." His bright
blue eyes sparkled with a sudden feeling. "In the best of good faith, if
you ask me. I--admire them intensely for what they have started out to
do. But--they have certain things which they must do, and do alone. If
you would not thwart them in accomplishing what they have set out to do,
you must go carefully; which means that you must not run to their aid
with your camp-wagons and your saddle-horses, so they can gather the
cattle again and drive them back where they belong. You would not be
helping them. They would get the cattle a little easier and a little
quicker--and lose their claims."

"But doggone it, Blake, them boys have lived right here at the Flying
U--why, this has been their home, yuh might say. They ain't like the
general run of punchers that roam around, workin' for this outfit and
for that; they've stuck. Why, doggone it, what they done here when I
got hurt in Chicago and they was left to run themselves, why, that alone
puts me under obligations to help 'em out in this scrape. Anybody could
see that. Ain't I a neighbor? Ain't neighbors got a right to jump in and
help each other? There ain't no law agin--"

"Not against neighbors--no." Blake uncrossed his perfectly trousered
legs and crossed them the other way, after carefully avoiding any
bagging tendency. "But this syndicate--or these contestants--will try to
prove that you are not a neighbor only, but a--backer of the boys in a
land-grabbing scheme. To avoid--"

"Well, doggone your measly hide, Blake, I've told you fifty times
I ain't!" The Old Man sat forward in his chair and shook his fist
unabashed at his guest. "Them boys cooked that all up amongst
themselves, and went and filed on that land before ever I knowed a thing
about it. How can yuh set there and say I backed 'em? And that blonde
Jezebel--riding down here bold as brass and turnin' up her nose at Dell,
and callin' me a conspirator to my face!"

"I sticked a pin in her saddle blanket, Uncle Gee-gee. I'll bet she
wished she'd stayed away from here when her horse bucked her off."
The Kid looked up from trying to tie a piece of paper to the end of a
brindle kitten's switching tail, and smiled his adorable smile--that had
a gap in the middle.

"Hey? You leave that cat alone or he'll scratch yuh. Blake, if you can't
see--"

"He! He's a her and her name's Adeline. Where's the boys, Uncle
Gee-gee?"

"Hey? Oh, away down in the breaks after their cattle that got away. You
keep still and never mind where they've gone." His mind swung back to
the Happy Family, combing the breaks for their stock and the stock of
the nesters, with an average of one saddle-horse apiece and a camp outfit
of the most primitive sort--if they had any at all, which he doubted.
The Old Man had eased too many roundups through that rough country not
to realize keenly the difficulties of the Happy Family.

"They need horses," he groaned to Blake, "and they need help. If you
knowed the country and the work as well as I do you'd know they've got
to have horses and help. And there's their claims--fellers squatting
down on every eighty--four different nesters fer every doggoned one of
the bunch to handle! And you tell me I got to set here and not lift a
hand. You tell me I can't put men to work on that fence they want built.
You tell me I can't lend 'em so much as a horse!"

Blake nodded. "I tell you that, and I emphasize it," he assured the
other, brushing off another half inch of ash from his cigar. "If you
want to help those boys hold their land, you must not move a finger."

"He's wiggling all of 'em!" accused the Kid sternly, and pointed to the
Old Man drumming irritatedly upon his chair arms. "He don't want to help
the boys, but I do. I'll help 'em get their cattle, Mr. Blake. I'm one
of the bunch anyway. I'll lend 'em my string."

"You've been told before not to butt in to grownup talk," his uncle
reproved him irascibly. "Now you cut it out. And take that string
off'n that cat!" he added harshly. "Dell! Come and look after this kid!
Doggone it, a man can't talk five minutes--"

The Kid giggled irrepressibly. "That's one on you, old man. You saw
Doctor Dell go away a long time ago. Think she can hear yuh when she's
away up on the bench?"

"You go on off and play!" commanded the Old Man. "I dunno what yuh want
to pester a feller to death for--and say! Take that string off'n that
cat!"

"Aw gwan! It ain't hurting the cat. She likes it." He lifted the kitten
and squeezed her till she yowled. "See? She said yes, she likes it."

The Old Man returned to the trials of the Happy Family, and the Kid
sat and listened, with the brindle kitten snuggled uncomfortably, head
downward in his arms.

The Kid had heard a good deal, lately, about the trials of his beloved
"bunch." About the "nesters" who brought cattle in to eat up the grass
that belonged to the cattle of the bunch. The Kid understood that
perfectly--since he had been raised in the atmosphere of range talk.
He had heard about the men building shacks on the claims of the Happy
Family--he understood that also; for he had seen the shacks himself,
and he had seen where there had been slid down hill into the bottom of
Antelope Coulee. He knew all about the attack on Patsy's cabin and
how the Happy Family had been fooled, and the cattle driven off and
scattered. The breaks--he was a bit hazy upon the subject of breaks. He
had heard about them all his life. The stock got amongst them and had to
be hunted out. He thought--as nearly as could be put in words--that it
must be a place where all the brakes grow that are used on wagons and
buggies. These were of wood, therefore they must grow somewhere. They
grew where the Happy Family went sometimes, when they were gone for
days and days after stock. They were down there now--it was down in the
breaks, always--and they couldn't round up their cattle because they
hadn't horses enough. They needed help, so they could hurry back and
slide those other shacks off their claims and into Antelope Coulee
where they had slid the others. On the whole, the Kid had a very fair
conception of the state of affairs. Claimants and contestants--those
words went over his head. But he knew perfectly well that the nesters
were the men that didn't like the Happy Family, and lived in shacks on
the way to town, and plowed big patches of prairie and had children that
went barefooted in the furrows and couldn't ride horses to save their
lives. Pilgrim kids, that didn't know what "chaps" were--he had talked
with a few when he went with Doctor Dell and Daddy Chip to see the sick
lady.

After a while, when the Honorable Blake became the chief speaker and
leaned forward and tapped the Old Man frequently on a knee with his
finger, and used long words that carried no meaning, and said contestant
and claimant and evidence so often that he became tiresome, the Kid slid
off the porch and went away, his small face sober with deep meditations.

He would need some grub--maybe the bunch was hungry without any
camp-wagons. The Kid had stood around in the way, many's the time, and
watched certain members of the Happy Family stuff emergency rations into
flour sacks, and afterwards tie the sack to their saddles and ride off.
He knew all about that, too.

He hunted up a flour sack that had not had all the string pulled out of
it so it was no longer a sack but a dish-towel, and held it behind his
back while he went cautiously to the kitchen door. The Countess was
nowhere in sight--but it was just as well to make sure. The Kid went in,
took a basin off the table, held it high and deliberately dropped it
on the floor. It, made a loud bang, but it did not elicit any shrill
protest from the Countess; therefore the Countess was nowhere around.
The Kid went in boldly and filled his four-sack so full it dragged on
the floor when he started off.

At the door he went down the steps ahead of the sack, and bent his small
back from the third step and pulled the sack upon his shoulders. It
wobbled a good deal, and the Kid came near falling sidewise off the last
step before he could balance his burden. But he managed it, being
the child of his parents and having a good deal of persistence in
his makeup; and he went, by a roundabout way, to the stable with the
grub-sack bending him double. Still it was not so very heavy; it was
made bulky by about two dozen fresh-made doughnuts and a loaf of bread
and a jar of honey and a glass of wild-currant jelly and a pound or so
of raw, dried prunes which the Kid called nibblin's because he liked to
nibble at them, like a prairie dog at a grass root.

Getting that sack tied fast to the saddle after the saddle was on
Silver's back was no easy task for a boy who is six, even though he is
large for his age. Still, being Chip's Kid and the Little Doctor's he
did it--with the help of the oats box and Silver's patient disposition.

There were other things which the bunch always tied on their saddles; a
blanket, for instance, and a rope. The Kid made a trip to the bunk-house
and pulled a gray blanket off Ole's bed, and spent a quarter of an hour
rolling it as he had seen the boys roll blankets The oats box, with
Silver standing beside it, came in handy again. He found a discarded
rope and after much labor coiled it crudely and tied it beside the
saddle-fork.

The Kid went to the door, stood beside it and leaned away over so that
he could peek out and not be seen Voices came from the house--the voice
of the Old Man; to be exact, high-pitched and combative. The Kid looked
up the bluff, and the trail lay empty in the afternoon sun. Still, he
did not like to take that trail. Doctor Dell might come riding down
there almost any minute. The Kid did not want to meet Doctor Dell just
right then.

He went back, took Silver by the bridle reins and led him out of the
barn and around the corner where he could not be seen from the White
House. He thought he had better go down the creek, and out through the
wire gate and on down the creek that way. He was sure that the "breaks"
were somewhere beyond the end of the coulee, though he could not have
explained why he was sure of it. Perhaps the boys, in speaking of the
breaks, had unconsciously tilted heads in that direction.

The Kid went quickly down along the creek through the little pasture,
leading Silver by the reins. He was terribly afraid that his mother
might ride over the top of the hill and see him and call him back.
If she did that, he would have to go, of course. Deliberate, open
disobedience had never yet occurred to the Kid as a moral possibility.
If your mother or your Daddy Chip told you to come back, you had to
come; therefore he did not want to be told to come. Doctor Dell had told
him that he could go on roundup some day--the Kid had decided that this
was the day, but that it would be foolish to mention the decision to
anyone. People had a way of disagreeing with one's decisions--especially
Doctor Dell, she always said one was too little. The Kid thought he was
getting pretty big, since he could stand on something and put the saddle
on Silver his own self, and cinch it and everything; plenty big enough
to get out and help the bunch when they needed help.

He did not look so very big as he went trudging down alongside the
creek, stumbling now and then in the coarse grass that hid the scattered
rocks. He could not keep his head twisted around to look under Silver's
neck and watch the hill trail, and at the same time see where he was
putting his feet. And if he got on Silver now he would be seen and
recognized at the first glance which Doctor Dell would give to the
coulee when she rode over the brow of the hill. Walking beside Silver's
shoulder, on the side farthest from the bluff, he might not be seen at
all; Doctor Dell might look and think it was just a horse walking along
the creek his own self.

The Kid was extremely anxious that he should not be seen. The bunch
needed him. Uncle Gee-gee said they needed help. The Kid thought they
would expect him to come and help with his "string", He helped Daddy
Chip drive the horses up from the little pasture, these days; just
yesterday he had brought the whole bunch up, all by his own self, and
had driven them into the big corral alone, and Daddy Chip had stood
by the gate and watched him do it. Daddy Chip had lifted him down from
Silver's back, and had squeezed him hard, and had called him a real, old
cowpuncher. The Kid got warm all inside him when he, thought of it.

When a turn in the narrow creek-bottom hid him completely from the ranch
buildings and the hill trail, the Kid led Silver alongside a low bank,
climbed into the saddle. Then he made Silver lope all the way to the
gate.

He had some trouble with that gate. It was a barbed wire gate, such as
bigger men than the Kid sometimes swear over. It went down all right,
but when he came to put it up again, that was another matter. He simply
had to put it up before he could go on. You always had to shut gates
if you found them shut--that was a law of the range which the Kid had
learned so long ago he could not remember when he had learned And there
was another reason--he did not want em to know he had passed that way,
if they took a notion to call him back. So he worked and he tugged and
he grew so red in the face it looked as if he were choking. But he got
the gate up and the wire loop over the stake--though he had to hunt up
an old piece of a post to stand on, and even then had to stand on his
toes to reach the loop--since he was Chip's Kid and the Little Doctor's.

He even remembered to scrape out the tell-tale prints of his small feet
in the bare earth there, and the prints of Silver's feet where he went
through. Yarns he had heard the Happy Family tell, in the bunk-house on
rainy days, had taught him these tricks. He was extremely thorough in
all that he did--being a good deal like his dad--and when he went the
grass, no one would have suspected that he had passed that way.

After a while he left that winding creek-bottom and climbed a long
ridge. Then he went down hill and pretty soon he climbed another hill
that made old Silver stop and rest before he went on to the top. The
Kid stood on the top for a few minutes and stared wistfully out over
the tumbled mass of hills, and deep hollows, and hills, and hill and
hills--till he could not see where they left off. He could not see any
of the bunch; but then, he could not see any brakes growing anywhere,
either. The bunch was down in the brakes--he had heard that often enough
to get it fixed firmly in his mind. Well, when he came to where the
brakes grew--and he would know them, all right, when he saw them!--he
would find the bunch. He thought they'd be s'prised to see him ride up!
The bunch didn't know that he could drive stock all his own self, and
that he was a real, old cowpuncher now. He was a lot bigger. He didn't
have to hunt such a big rock, or such a high bank, to get on Silver now.
He thought he must be pretty near as big as Pink, any way. They would
certainly be s'prised!

The brakes must be farther over. Maybe he would have to go over on the
other side of that biggest hill before he came to the place where they
grew. He rode unafraid down a steep, rocky slope where Silver picked his
way very, very carefully, and sometimes stopped and smelt of a ledge or
a pile of rocks, and then turned and found some other way down.

The Kid let him choose his path--Daddy Chip had taught him to leave
the reins loose and let Silver cross ditches and rough places where he
wanted to cross. So Silver brought him safely down that hill where
even the Happy Family would have hesitated to ride unless the need was
urgent.

He could not go right up over the next hill--there was a rock ledge that
was higher than his head when he sat on Silver. He went down a narrow
gulch--ah, an awfully narrow gulch! Sometimes he was afraid Silver
was too fat to squeeze through; but Silver always did squeeze through
somehow. And still there were no brakes growing anywhere. Just
choke-cherry trees, and service-berries, and now and then a little flat
filled with cottonwoods and willows--familiar trees and bushes that he
had known all his six years of life.

So the Kid went on and on, over hills or around hills or down along the
side of hill. But he did not find the Happy Family, and he did not find
the brakes. He found cattle that had the Flying U brand--they had a
comfortable, homey look. One bunch he drove down a wide coulee, hazing
them out of the brush and yelling "HY-AH!" at them, just the way the
Happy Family yelled. He thought maybe these were the cattle the Happy
Family were looking for; so he drove them ahead of him and didn't let
one break back on him and he was the happiest Kid in all Montana with
these range cattle, that had the Flying U brand, galloping awkwardly
ahead of him down that big coulee.





Next: A Rell Old Cowpuncher

Previous: Just One Thing After Another



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