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The Kid Is Used For A Pawn In The Game








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

Did you ever stop to think of the tremendous moral lesson in the Bible
tale of David and Goliath? And how great, human issues are often decided
one way or the other by little things? Not all crises are passed in the
clashing of swords and the boom of cannon. It was a pebble the size of
your thumbend, remember, that slew the giant.

In the struggle which the Happy Family was making to preserve the
shrunken range of the Flying U, and to hold back the sweeping tide of
immigration, one might logically look for some big, overwhelming element
to turn the tide one way or the other. With the Homeseekers' Syndicate
backing the natural animosity of the settlers, who had filed upon
semiarid land because the Happy Family had taken all of the tract that
was tillable, a big, open clash might be considered inevitable.

And yet the struggle was resolving itself into the question of whether
the contest filings should be approved by the land-office, or the
filings of the Happy Family be allowed to stand as having been made in
good faith. Florence Hallman therefore, having taken upon herself the
leadership in the contest fight, must do one of two things if she would
have victory to salve the hurt to her self-esteem and to vindicate the
firm's policy in the eyes of the settlers.

She must produce evidence of the collusion of the Flying U outfit with
the Happy Family, in the taking of the claims. Or she must connive
to prevent the filing of answers to the contest notices within the
time-limit fixed by law, so that the cases would go by default. That,
of course, was the simplest--since she had not been able to gather any
evidence of collusion that would stand in court.

There was another element in the land struggle--that was the soil and
climate that would fight inexorably against the settlers; but with them
we have little to do, since the Happy Family had nothing to do with them
save in a purely negative way.

A four-wire fence and a systematic patrol along the line was having its
effect upon the stock question. If the settlers drove their cattle south
until they passed the farthest corner of Flying U fence, they came plump
against Bert Rogers' barbed boundary line. West of that was his father's
place--and that stretched to the railroad right-of-way, fenced on either
side with a stock-proof barrier and hugging the Missouri all the way
to the Marias--where were other settlers. If they went north until they
passed the fence of the Happy Family, there were the Meeker holdings to
bar the way to the very foot of Old Centennial, and as far up its sides
as cattle would go.

The Happy Family had planned wisely when they took their claims in a
long chain that stretched across the benchland north of the Flying U.
Florence Grace knew this perfectly well--but what could she prove?
The Happy Family had bought cattle of their own, and were grazing them
lawfully upon their own claims. A lawyer had assured her that there was
no evidence to be gained there. They never went near J. G. Whitmore, nor
did they make use of his wagons, his teams or his tools or his money;
instead they hired what they needed, openly and from Bert Rogers. They
had bought their cattle from the Flying U, and that was the extent of
their business relations--on the surface. And since collusion had been
the ground given for the contests, it will be easily seen what slight
hope Florence Grace and her clients must have of winning any contest
suit. Still, there was that alternative--the Happy Family had been so
eager to build that fence and gather their cattle and put them back on
the claims, and so anxious lest in their absence the settlers should
slip cattle across the dead line and into the breaks, that they had
postponed their trip to Great Falls as long as possible. The Honorable
Blake had tacitly advised them to do so; and the Happy Family never gave
a thought to their being hindered when they did get ready to attend to
it.

But--a pebble killed Goliath.

H. J. Owens, whose eyes were the wrong shade of blue, sat upon a rocky
hilltop which overlooked the trail from Flying U Coulee and a greater
portion of the shack-dotted benchland as well, and swept the far
horizons with his field glasses. Just down the eastern slope, where
the jutting sandstone cast a shadow, his horse stood tied to a dejected
wild-currant bush. He laid the glasses across his knees while he
refilled his pipe, and tilted his hatbrim to shield his pale blue eyes
from the sun that was sliding past midday.

H. J. Owens looked at his watch, nevertheless, as though the position
of the sun meant nothing to him. He scowled a little, stretched a
leg straight out before him to ease it of cramp, and afterwards moved
farther along in the shade. The wind swept past with a faint whistle,
and laid the ripening grasses flat where it passed. A cloud shadow moved
slowly along the slope beneath him, and he watched the darkening of the
earth where it touched, and the sharp contrast of the sun-yellowed sea
of grass all around it. H. J. Owens looked bored and sleepy; yet he did
not leave the hilltop--nor did he go to sleep.

Instead, he lifted the glasses, turned them toward Flying U Coulee a
half mile to the south of him, and stared long at the trail. After a few
minutes he made a gesture to lower the glasses, and then abruptly fixed
them steadily upon one spot, where the trail wound up over the crest
of the bluff. He looked for a minute, and laid the glasses down upon a
rock.

H. J. Owens fumbled in the pocket of his coat, which he had folded and
laid beside him on the yellow gravel of the hill. He found something he
wanted, stood up, and with his back against a boulder he faced to the
southwest. He was careful about the direction. He glanced up at the sun,
squinting his eyes at the glare; he looked at what he held in his hand.

A glitter of sun on glass showed briefly. H. J. Owens laid his palm over
it, waited while he could count ten, and took his palm away. Replaced
it, waited, and revealed the glass again with the sun glare upon it
full. He held it so for a full minute, and slid the glass back into his
pocket.

He glanced down toward Flying U Coulee again--toward where the trail
stretched like a brown ribbon through the grass. He seemed to be in
something of a hurry now--if impatient movement meant anything--yet he
did not leave the place at once. He kept looking off there toward the
southwest--off beyond Antelope Coulee and the sparsely dotted shacks of
the settlers.

A smudge of smoke rose thinly there, behind a hill. Unless one had been
watching the place, one would scarcely have noticed it, but H. J. Owens
saw it at once and smiled his twisted smile and went running down the
hill to where his horse was tied. He mounted and rode down to the level,
skirted the knoll and came out on the trail, down which he rode at an
easy lope until he met the Kid.

The Kid was going to see Rosemary Allen and take a ride with her along
the new fence; but he pulled up with the air of condescension which
was his usual attitude toward "nesters," and in response to the twisted
smile of H. J. Owens he grinned amiably.

"Want to go on a bear-hunt with me, Buck?" began H. J. Owens with just
the right tone of comradeship, to win the undivided attention of the
Kid.

"I was goin' to ride fence with Miss Allen," the Kid declined
regretfully. "There ain't any bears got very close, there ain't. I guess
you musta swallered something Andy told you." He looked at H. J. Owens
tolerantly.

"No sir. I never talked to Andy about this." Had he been perfectly
truthful he would have added that he had not talked with Andy about
anything whatever, but he let it go. "This is a bear den I found myself;
There's two little baby cubs, Buck, and I was wondering if you wouldn't
like to go along and get one for a pet. You could learn it to dance and
play soldier, and all kinds of stunts."

The Kid's eyes shone, but he was wary. This man was a nester, so it
would be just at well to be careful "Where 'bouts is it?" he therefore
demanded in a tone of doubt that would have done credit to Happy Jack.

"Oh, down over there in the hills. It's a secret, though, till we get
them out. Some fellows are after them for themselves, Buck. They want
to--skin 'em."

"The mean devils!" condemned the Kid promptly. "I'd take a fall outa
them if I ketched 'em skinning any baby bear cubs while I was around."

H. J. Owens glanced behind him with an uneasiness not altogether
assumed.

"Let's go down into this next gully to talk it over, Buck," he suggested
with an air of secretiveness that fired the Kid's imagination. "They
started out to follow me, and I don't want 'em to see me talking to you,
you know."

The Kid went with him unsuspectingly. In all the six years of his life,
no man had ever offered him injury. Fear had not yet become associated
with those who spoke him fair. Nesters he did not consider friends
because they were not friends with his bunch. Personally he did not know
anything about enemies. This man was a nester--but he called him Buck,
and he talked very nice and friendly, and he said he knew where there
were some little baby bear cubs. The Kid had never before realized how
much he wanted a bear cub for a pet. So do our wants grow to meet our
opportunities.

H. J. Owens led the way into a shallow draw between two low hills,
glancing often behind him and around him until they were shielded by the
higher ground. He was careful to keep where the grass was thickest and
would hold no hoofprints to betray them, but the Kid never noticed. He
was thinking how nice it would be to have a bear cub for a pet. But it
was funny that the Happy Family had never found him one, if there were
any in the country.

He turned to put the question direct to H. J. Owens, I but that
gentleman forestalled him.

"You wait here a minute, Buck, while I ride back on this hill a little
ways to see if those fellows are on our trail," he said, and rode off
before the Kid could ask him the question.

The Kid waited obediently. He saw H. J. Owens get off his horse and go
sneaking up to the brow of the hill, and take some field glasses out
of his pocket and look all around over the prairie with them. The sight
tingled the Kid's blood so that he almost forgot about the bear cub. It
was almost exactly like fighting Injuns, like Uncle Gee-gee told about
when he wasn't cross.

In a few minutes Owens came back to the Kid, and they went on slowly,
keeping always in the low, grassy places where there would be no tracks
left to tell of their passing that way. Behind them a yellow-brown cloud
drifted sullenly with the wind. Now and then a black flake settled past
them to the ground. A peculiar, tangy smell was in the air--the smell of
burning grass.

H. J. Owens related a long, full-detailed account of how he had been
down in the hills along the river, and had seen the old mother bear
digging ants out of a sand-hill for her cubs.

"I know--that's jes' 'zactly the way they do!" the Kid interrupted
excitedly. "Daddy Chip seen one doing it on the Musselshell one time. He
told me 'bout it."

H. J. Owens glanced sidelong at the Kid's flushed face, smiled his
twisted smile and went on with his story. He had not bothered them,
he said, because he did not have any way of carrying both cubs, and he
hated to kill them. He had thought of Buck, and how he would like a pet
cub, so he had followed the bear to her den and had come away to get a
sack to carry them in, and to tell Buck about it.

The Kid never once doubted that it was so. Whenever any of the Happy
Family found anything in the hills that was nice, they always thought
of Buck, and they always brought it to him. You would be amazed at the
number of rattlesnake rattles, and eagle's claws, and elk teeth, and
things like that, which the Kid possessed and kept carefully stowed away
in a closet kept sacred to his uses.

"'Course you'd 'member I wanted a baby bear cub; for a pet," he assented
gravely and with a certain satisfaction. "Is it a far ways to that
mother bear's home?"

"Why?" H. J. Owens turned from staring at the rolling smoke cloud, and
looked at the Kid curiously. "Ain't you big enough to ride far?"

"'Course I'm big enough" The Kid's pride was touched. "I can ride as far
as a horse can travel I bet I can ride farther and faster 'n you can,
you pilgrims" He eyed the other disdainfully. "Huh! You can't ride. When
you trot you go this way!" The Kid kicked Silver into a trot and went
bouncing along with his elbows flapping loosely in imitation of H. J.
Owens' ungraceful riding.

"I don't want to go a far ways," he explained when the other was again
Riding alongside, "'cause Doctor Dell would cry if I didn't come back
to supper. She cried when I was out huntin' the bunch. Doctor Dell gets
lonesome awful easy." He looked over his shoulder uneasily. "I guess I
better go back and tell her I'm goin' to git a baby bear cub for a pet,"
he said, and reined Silver around to act upon the impulse.

"No--don't do that, Buck." H. J. Owens pulled his horse in front of
Silver. "It isn't far--just a little ways. And it would be fun to
surprise them at the ranch Gee! When they saw you ride up with a pet
bear cub in your arms--" H. J. Owens shook his head as though he could
not find words to express the surprise of the Kid's family.

The Kid smiled his Little Doctor smile. "I'd tell a man!" he assented
enthusiastically. "I bet the Countess would holler when she seen it. She
scares awful easy. She's scared of a mice, even! Huh! My kitty ketched
a mice and she carried it right in her mouth and brought it into the
kitchen and let it set down on the floor a minute, and it started to run
away--the mice did. And it runned right up to the Countess, and she
jes' hollered and yelled And she got right up and stood on a chair and
hollered for Daddy Chip to come and ketch that mice. He didn't do it
though. Adeline ketched it herself. And I took it away from her and put
it in a box for a pet. I wasn't scared."

"She'll be scared when she sees the bear cub," H. J. Owens declared
absent-mindedly. "I know you won't be, though. If we hurry maybe we can
watch how he digs ants for his supper. That's lots of fun, Buck."

"Yes--I 'member it's fun to watch baby bear cubs dig ants," the Kid
assented earnestly, and followed willingly where H. J. Owens led the
way.

That the way was far did not impress itself upon the Kid, beguiled with
wonderful stories of how baby bear cubs might be taught to do tricks. He
listened and believed, and invented some very wonderful tricks that he
meant to teach his baby bear cub. Not until the shadows began to fill
the gullies through which they rode did the Kid awake to the fact that
night was coming close and that they were still traveling away from home
and in a direction which was strange to him. Never in his life had he
been tricked by any one with unfriendly intent. He did not guess that he
was being tricked now. He rode away into the wild places in search of a
baby bear cub for a pet.





Next: Little Black Shack's All Burnt Up

Previous: The Water Question And Some Gossip



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