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The Water Question And Some Gossip








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

Miss Rosemary Allen rode down into One Man Coulee and boldly up to the
cabin of Andy Green, and shouted musically for him to come forth. Andy
made a hasty pass at his hair with a brush, jerked his tie straight
and came out eagerly. There was no hesitation in his manner. He went
straight up to her and reached up to pull her from the saddle, that he
might hold her in his arms and kiss her--after the manner of bold young
men who are very much in love. But Miss Rosemary Allen stopped him with
a push that was not altogether playful, and scowled at him viciously.

"I am in a most furious mood today," she said. "I want to scratch
somebody's eyes out! I want to say WORDS. Don't come close, or I might
pull your hair or something, James." She called him James because that
was not his name, and because she had learned a good deal about his
past misdeeds and liked to take a sly whack at his notorious tendency to
forget the truth, by calling him Truthful James.

"All right; that suits me fine. It's worth a lot to have you close
enough to pull hair. Where have you been all this long while?" Being
a bold young man and very much in love, he kissed her in spite of her
professed viciousness.

"Oh, I've been to town--it hasn't been more than three days since we
met and had that terrible quarrel James. What was it about?" She frowned
down at him thoughtfully. "I'm still furious about it--whatever it is.
Do you know, Mr. Man, that I am an outlaw amongst my neighbors, and that
our happy little household, up there on the hill, is a house divided
against itself? I've put up a green burlap curtain on my southwest
corner, and bought me a smelly oil stove and I pos-i-tively refuse to
look at my neighbors or speak to them. I'm going to get some lumber and
board up that side of my house.

"Those three cats--they get together on the other side of my curtain and
say the meanest things!"

Andy Green had the temerity to laugh. "That sounds good to me," he told
her unsympathetically. "Now maybe you'll come down and keep house for me
and let that pinnacle go to thunder. It's no good anyway, and I told you
so long ago. That whole eighty acres of yours wouldn't support a family
of jackrabbits month. What--"

"And let those old hens say they drove me off? That Kate Price is
the limit. The things she said to me you wouldn't believe. And it all
started over my going with little Buck a few times to ride along your
fence when you boys were busy. I consider that I had a perfect right to
ride where I pleased. Of course they're furious anyway, because I don't
side against you boys and--and all that. When--when they found out
about--you and me, James, they said some pretty sarcastic things, but I
didn't pay any attention to that. Poor old freaks, I expected them to be
jealous, because nobody ever pays any attention to THEM. Kate Price is
the worst--she's an old maid. The others have had husbands and can act
superior.

"Well, I didn't mind the things they said then; I took that for granted.
But a week or so ago Florence Hallman came, and she did stir things up
in great style! Since then the girls have hardly spoken to me except to
say something insulting. And Florence Grace came right out and called me
a traitor; that was before little Buck and I took to 'riding fence' as
you call it, for you boys. You imagine what they've been saying since
then!"

"Well, what do you care? You don't have to stay with them, and you know
it. I'm just waiting--"

"Well, but I'm no quitter, James. I'm going to hold down that claim
now if I have to wear a sixshooter!" Her eyes twinkled at that idea.
"Besides, I can stir them up now and then and get them to say things
that are useful. For instance, Florence Hallman told Kate Price about
that last trainload of cattle coming, and that they were going to cut
your fence and drive them through in the night--and I stirred dear
little Katie up so she couldn't keep still about that. And therefore--"
She reached out and gave Andy Green's ear a small tweek--"somebody found
out about it, and a lot of somebodys happened around that way and just
quietly managed to give folks a hint that there was fine grass somewhere
else. That saved a lot of horseflesh and words and work, didn't it?"

"It sure did." Andy smiled up at her worshipfully. "Just the same--"

"But listen here, nice, level-headed Katiegirl has lost her temper since
then, and let out a little more that is useful knowledge to somebody.
There's one great weak point in the character of Florence Hallman; maybe
you have noticed it. She's just simply GOT to have somebody to tell
things to, and she doesn't always show the best judgment in her choice
of a confessional--"

"I've noticed that before," Andy Green admitted, and smiled
reminiscently. "She sure does talk too much--for a lady that has so much
up her sleeve."

"Yes--and she's been making a chum of Katie Price since she discovered
what an untrustworthy creature I am. I did a little favor for Irish
Mallory, James. I overheard Florence Grace talking to Kate about that
man who is supposed to be at death's door. So I made a trip to
Great Falls, if you please, and I scouted around and located the
gentleman--well, anyway, I gave that nice, sleek little lawyer of yours
a few facts that will let Irish come back to his claim."

"Irish has been coming back to his claim pretty regular as it is," Andy
informed her quietly. "Did you think he was hiding out, all this time?
Why"--he laughed at her--"you talked to him yourself, one day, and
thought it was Weary. Remember when you came over with the mail? That
was Irish helping me string wire. He's been wearing Weary's hat and
clothes and cultivating a twinkle to his eyes--that's all."

"Why, I--well, anyway, that man they've been making a fuss over is just
as well as you are, James. They only wanted to get Irish in jail and
make a little trouble--pretty cheap warfare at that, if you want my
opinion."

"Oh, well--what's the odds? While they're wasting time and energy that
way, we're going right along doing what we've laid out to do. Say, do
you know I'm kinda getting stuck on this ranch proposition. If I just
had a housekeeper--"

Miss Rosemary Allen seldom let him get beyond that point, and she
interrupted him now by wrinkling her nose at him in a manner that made
Andy Green forget altogether that he had begun a sentence upon a subject
forbidden. Later she went back to her worries; she was a very persistent
young woman.

"I hope you boys are going to attend to that contest business right
away," she said, with a pucker between her eyes and not much twinkle in
them. "There's something about that which I don't quite understand.
I heard Florence Hallman and Kate talking yesterday about it going by
default. Are you sure it's wise to put off filing your answers so long?
When are you supposed to appear, James?"

"Me? On or before the twenty-oneth day of July, my dear girl. They
lumped us up and served us all on the same day--I reckon to save
shoe-leather; therefore, inasmuch as said adverse parties have got over
a week left--"

"You'd better not take a chance, waiting till the last day in the
afternoon," she warned him vaguely. "Maybe they think you've forgotten
the date or something--but whatever they think, I believe they're
counting on your not answering in time. I think Florence Hallman knows
they haven't any real proof against you. I know she knows it. She's
perfectly wild over the way you boys have stuck here and worked. And
from what I can gather, she hasn't been able to scrape up the weentiest
bit of evidence that the Flying U is backing you--and of course that
is the only ground they could contest your claims on. So if it comes to
trial, you'll all win; you're bound to. I told Kate Price so--and those
other old hens, yesterday, and that's what we had the row over."

"My money's on you, girl," Andy told her, grinning. "How are the
wounded?"

"The wounded? Oh, they've clubbed together this morning and are washing
hankies and collars and things, and talking about me. And they have
snouged every speck of water from the barrel--I paid my share for the
hauling, too--and the man won't come again till day after tomorrow with
more. Fifty cents a barrel, straight, he's charging now, James. And you,
boys with a great, big, long creekful of it that you can get right
in and swim in! I've come over to borrow two water-bags of it, if you
please, James I never dreamed water was so precious. Florence Hallman
ought to be made to lie on one of these dry claims she's fooled us into
taking. I really don't know, James, what's going to become of some of
these poor farmers. You knew, didn't you, that Mr. Murphy spent nearly
two hundred dollars boring a well--and now it's so strong of alkali they
daren't use a drop of it? Mr. Murphy is living right up to his name and
nationality, since then. He's away back there beyond the Sands place,
you know. He has to haul water about six miles. Believe me, James,
Florence Hallman had better keep away from Murphy! I met him as I was
coming out from town, and he called her a Jezebel!"

"That's mild!" Andy commented dryly. "Get down, why don't you? I want
you to take a look at the inside of my shack and see how bad I need a
housekeeper--since you won't take my word for it. I hope every drop of
water leaks outa these bags before you get home. I hope old Mister falls
down and spills it. I've a good mind not to let you have any, anyway.
Maybe you could be starved and tortured into coming down here where you
belong."

"Maybe I couldn't. I'll get me a barrel of my own, and hire Simpson
to fill it four times a week, if you please! And I'll put a lid with a
padlock on it, so Katie dear can't rob me in the night--and I'll use a
whole quart at a time to wash dishes, and two quarts when I take a bath!
I shall," she asserted with much emphasis, "lie in luxury, James!"

Andy laughed and waved his hand toward One Man Creek. "That's all
right--but how would you like to have that running past your house, so
you could wake up in the night and hear it go gurgle-gurgle? Wouldn't
that be all right?"

Rosemary Allen clasped her two gloved hands together and drew a long
breath. "I should want to run out and stop it," she declared. "To think
of water actually running around loose in this world!! And think of us
up on that dry prairie, paying fifty cents a barrel for it--and a lot
slopped out of the barrel on the road!" She glanced down into Andy's
love-lighted eyes, and her own softened. She placed her hand on his
shoulder and shook her head at him with a tender remonstrance.

"I know, boy--but it isn't in me to give up anything I set out to do,
any more than it is in you. You wouldn't like me half so well if I could
just drop that claim and think no more about it. I've got enough money
to commute, when the time comes, and I'll feel a lot better if I
go through with it now I've started. And--James!" She smiled at him
wistfully. "Even if it is only eighty acres, it will make good pasture,
and--it will help some, won't it?"

After that you could not expect Andy Green to do any more badgering or
to discourage the girl. He did like her better for having grit and a
mental backbone--and he found a way of telling her so and of making the
assurance convincing enough.

He filled her canvas water-bags and went with her to carry them, and he
cheered her much with his air-castles. Afterwards he took the team and
rustled a water-barrel and hauled her a barrel of water and gave
Kate Price a stony-eyed stare when she was caught watching him
superciliously; and in divers ways managed to make Miss Rosemary Allen
feel that she was fighting a good fight and that the odds were all in
her favor and in the favor of the Happy Family--and of Andy Green in
particular. She felt that the spite of her three very near neighbors
was really a matter to laugh over, and the spleen of Florence Hallman a
joke.

But for all that she gave Andy Green one last warning when he climbed
up to the spring seat of the wagon and unwound the lines from the
brake-handle, ready to drive back to his own work. She went close to the
front wheel, so that eavesdroppers could not hear, and held her front
hair from blowing across her earnest, wind-tanned face while she looked
up at him.

"Now remember, boy, do go and file your answer to those contests--all
of you!" she urged. "I don't know why--but I've a feeling some kind of
a scheme is being hatched to make you trouble on that one point. And if
you see Buck, tell him I'll ride fence with him tomorrow again. If you
realized how much I like that old cowpuncher, you'd be horribly jealous,
James."

"I'm jealous right now, without realizing a thing except that I've got
to go off and leave you here with a bunch of lemons," he retorted--and
he spoke loud enough so that any eavesdroppers might hear.





Next: The Kid Is Used For A Pawn In The Game

Previous: Lawful Improvements



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