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Two Of A Kind








From: Flying U Ranch

Patsy, staunch old partisan that he was, placed before them much food
which he had tried his best to keep hot without burning everything to
a crisp, and while they ate with ravenous haste he told, with German
epithets and a trembling lower jaw, of his troubles that day.

"Dem sheeps, dey coom by der leetle pasture," he lamented while he
poured coffee muddy from long boiling. "Looks like dey know so soon you
ride away, und dey cooms cheeky as you pleece, und eats der grass und
crawls under der fence and leafs der vool sthicking by der vires. I goes
out mit a club, py cosh, und der sheeps chust looks und valks by some
better place alreatty, und I throw rocks and yells till mine neck iss
sore.

"Und' dose herders, dey sets dem by der rock and laugh till I felt like
I could kill der whole punch, by cosh! Und von yells, 'Hey, dutchy,
pring me some pie, alreatty!' Und he laughs some more pecause der sheeps
dey don't go avay; dey chust run around und eat more grass and baa-aa!"
He turned and went heavily back to the greasy range with the depleted
coffee pot, lifted the lid of a kettle and looked in upon the contents
with a purely mechanical glance; gave a perfunctory prod or two with a
long-handled fork, and came back to stand uneasily behind Weary.

"If you poys are goin' to shtand fer dot," he began querulously, "Py
cosh I von't! Py myself I vill go and tell dot Dunk W'ittaker vot
lowdown skunk I t'ink he iss. Sheep's vool shtickin' by der fences
efferwhere on der ranch, py cosh! Dot vould sure kill der Old Man quick
if he see it. Shtinkin' off sheeps py our noses all der time, till I
can't eat no more mit der shmell of dem. Neffer pefore did I see vool on
der Flying U fences, py cosh, und sheeps baa-aain' in der coulee!"

Never had they seen Patsy take so to heart a matter of mere business
importance. They did not say much to him; there was not much that they
could say. They ate their fill and went out disconsolately to discuss
the thing among themselves, away from Patsy's throaty complainings. They
hated it as badly as did he; with Weary's urgent plea for no violence
holding them in leash, they hated it more, if that were possible.

The Native Son tilted his head unobtrusively stableward when he caught
Andy's eye, and as unobtrusively wandered away from the group. Andy
stopped long enough to roll and light a cigarette and then strolled
after him with apparent aimlessness, secretly curious over the summons.
He found Miguel in the stable waiting for him, and Miguel led the way,
rope in hand across the corral and into the little pasture where fed a
horse he meant to ride. He did not say anything until he had turned to
close the gate, and to make sure that they were alone and that their
departure had not carried to the Happy Family any betraying air of
significance.

"You remember when you blew in here, a few weeks or so ago?" the Native
Son asked abruptly, a twinkle in his fathomless eyes. "You put up a good
one on the boys, that time, you remember. Bluffed them into thinking I
was a hero in disguise, and that you'd seen me pull off a big stunt of
bull-fighting and bull-dogging down in Mexico. It was a fine josh. They
believe it yet."

Andy glanced at him perplexedly. "Yes--but when it turned out to be
true," he amended, "the josh was on me, I guess; I thought I was just
lying, when I wasn't. I've wondered a good deal about that. By
gracious, it makes a man feel funny to frame up a yarn out of his own
think-machine, and then find out he's been telling the truth all the
while. It's like a fellow handing out a twenty-four karat gold bar to a
rube by mistake, under the impression it only looks like one. Of course
they believe it! Only they don't know I just merely hit the truth by
accident."

The Native Son smiled his slow, amused smile, that somehow never failed
to be impressive. "That's the funny part of it," he drawled. "You
didn't. I just piled another little josh on top of yours, that's all. I
never throwed a bull in my life, except with my lariat. I'd heard a
good deal about you, and--well, I thought I'd see if I could go you one
better. And you put that Mexico yarn across so smooth and easy, I just
simply couldn't resist the temptation to make you think it was all
straight goods. Sabe?"

Andy Green did not say a word, but he looked exceedingly foolish.

"So I think we can both safely consider ourselves top-hands when it
comes to lying," the Native Son went on shamelessly. "And if you're
willing to go in with me on it and help put Dunk on the run--" He
glanced over his shoulder, saw that Happy Jack, on horseback, was coming
out to haze in the saddle bunch, and turned to stroll back as lazily as
he had come. He continued to speak smoothly and swiftly, in a voice
that would not carry ten paces. While Andy Green, with brown head bent
attentively, listened eagerly and added a sentence or two on his own
account now and then, and smiled--which he had not been in the habit of
doing lately.

"Say, you fellers are gittin' awful energetic, ain't yuh?--wranglin'
horses afoot!" Happy Jack bantered at the top of his voice when he
passed them by. "Better save up your strength while you kin. Weary's
goin' to set us herdin' sheep agin--and I betche there's goin' to be
something more'n herdin' on our hands before we git through."

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there was," sang out Andy, as
cheerfully as if he had been invited to dance "Ladies' choice" with the
prettiest girl in the crowd. "Wonder what hole he's going to dump this
bunch into," he added to the Native Son. "By gracious, he ought to send
'em just as far north as he can drive 'em without paying duty! I'd sure
take 'em over into Canada, if it was me running the show."

"It was a mistake," the Native Son volunteered, "for the whole bunch to
go off like we did to-day. They had those sheep up here on the hill just
for a bait. They knew we'd go straight up in the air and come down on
those two freaks herding 'em, and that gave them the chance to cross the
other bunch. I thought so all along, but I didn't like to butt in."

"Well Weary's mad enough now to do things that will leave a dent,
anyway," Andy commented under his breath when, from the corral gate, he
got a good look at Weary's profile, which showed the set of his mouth
and chin. "See that mouth? It's hunt the top rail, and do it quick, when
old Weary straightens out his lips like that."

Behind them, Happy Jack bellowed for an open gate and no obstructions,
and they drew hastily to one side to let the saddle horses gallop
past with a great upflinging of dust. Pink, with a quite obtrusive
facetiousness, began lustily chanting that it looked to him like a big
night to-night--with occasional, furtive glances at Weary's face; for
he, also, had been quick to read those close-pressed lips, which did not
soften in response to the ditty. Usually he laughed at Pink's drollery.

They rode rather quietly upon the hill again, to where fed the sheep.
During the hour or so that they had been absent the sheep had not moved
appreciably; they still grazed close enough to the boundary to make
their position seem a direct insult to the Flying U, a virtual slap in
the face. And these young men who worked for the Flying U, and who made
its interests right loyally their own, were growing very, very tired
of turning the other cheek. With them, the time for profanity and for
horseplay bluffing and judicious temporizing was past. There were other
lips besides Weary's that were drawn tight and thin when they approached
that particular band of sheep. More than one pair of eyes turned
inquiringly toward him and away again when they met no answering look.

They topped a rise of ground, and in the shallow wrinkle which had
hidden him until now they came full upon Dunk Whittaker, riding a chunky
black which stepped restlessly about while he conferred in low tones
with a couple of the herders. The Happy Family recognized them as two
of the fellows in whose safe keeping they had left their ropes the night
before. Dunk looked around quickly when the group appeared over the
little ridge, scowled, hesitated and then came straight up to them.

"I want you rowdies to bring back those sheep you took the trouble to
drive off this morning," he began, with the even, grating voice and the
sneering lift of lip under his little, black mustache which the older
members of the Happy Family remembered--and hated--so vividly.
"I've stood just all I'm going to stand, of these typically Flying U
performances you've been indulging in so freely during the past week.
It's all very well to terrorize a neighborhood of long-haired rubes who
don't know enough to teach you your places; but interfering with another
man's property is--"

"Interfering with another--what?" Big Medicine, his pale blue eyes
standing out more like a frog's than ever upon his face, gave his horse
a kick and lunged close that he might lean and thrust his red face near
to Dunk's. "Another what? I don't see nothin' in your saddle that looks
t'me like a man, by cripes! All I can see is a smooth-skinned, slippery
vermin I'd hate to name a snake after, that crawls around in the dark
and lets cheap rough-necks do all his dirty work. I've saw dogs sneak
up and grab a man behind, but most always they let out a growl or two
first. And even a rattler is square enough to buzz at yuh and give yuh
a chanc't to side-step him. Honest to grandma, I don't hardly know what
kinda reptyle y'are. I hate to insult any of 'em, by cripes, by namin'
yuh after 'em. But don't, for Lordy's sake, ever call yourself a man
agin!"

Big Medicine turned his head and spat disgustedly into the grass and
looked back slightingly with other annihilating remarks close behind his
wide-apart teeth, but instead of speaking he made an unbelievably quick
motion with his hand. The blow smacked loudly upon Dunk's cheek, and so
nearly sent him out of the saddle that he grabbed for the horn to save
himself.

"Oh, I seert yuh keepin' yer hand next yer six-gun all the while," Big
Medicine bawled. "That's one reason I say yuh ain't no man! Yuh wouldn't
dast talk up to a prairie dog if yuh wasn't all set to make a quick
draw. Yuh got your face slapped oncet before by a Flyin' U man, and yuh
had it comm'. Now you're--gittin'--it--done--right!"

If you have ever seen an irate, proletarian mother cuffing her offspring
over an empty wood-box, you may picture perhaps the present proceeding
of Big Medicine. To many a man the thing would have been unfeasible,
after the first blow, because of the horses. But Big Medicine was very
nearly all that he claimed to be; and one of his pet vanities was his
horsemanship; he managed to keep within a fine slapping distance of
Dunk. He stopped when his hand began to sting through his glove.

"Now you keep your hand away from that gun--that you ain't honest enough
to carry where folks can see it, but 'ye got it cached in your pocket!"
he thundered. "And go on with what you was goin' t'say. Only don't get
swell-headed enough to think you're a man, agin. You ain't."

"I've got this to say!" Mere type cannot reproduce the malevolence of
Dunk's spluttering speech. "I've sent for the county sheriff and a dozen
deputies to arrest you, and you, and you, damn you!" He was pointing
a shaking finger at the older members of the Happy Family, whom he
recognized not gladly, but too well. "I'll have you all in Deer Lodge
before that lying, thieving, cattle-stealing Old Man of yours can lift a
finger. I'll sheep Flying U coulee to the very doors of the white house.
I'll skin the range between here and the river--and I'll have every one
of you hounds put where the dogs won't bite you!" He drew a hand across
his mouth and smiled as they say Satan himself can smile upon occasion.

"You've done enough to send you all over the road; destroying property
and assaulting harmless men--you wait! There are other and better
ways to fight than with the fists, and I haven't forgotten any of you
fellows--there are a few more rounders among you--"

"Hey! You apologize fer that, by cripes, er I'll kill yuh the longest
way I know. And that--" Big Medicine again laid violent hands upon Dunk,
"and that way won't feel good, now I'm tellin' yuh. Apologize, er--"

"Say, all this don't do any good, Bud," Weary expostulated. "Let Dunk
froth at the mouth if he wants to; what we want is to get these sheep
off the range. And," he added recklessly, "so long as the sheriff is
headed for us anyway, we may as well get busy and make it worth his
while. So--" He stopped, silenced by a most amazing interruption.

On the brow of the hill, when first they had sighted Dunk in the hollow,
something had gone wrong with Miguel's saddle so that he had stopped
behind; and, to keep him company, Andy had stopped also and waited for
him. Later, when Dunk was spluttering threats, they had galloped up to
the edge of the group and pulled their horses to a stand. Now, Miguel
rode abruptly close to Dunk as rides one with a purpose.

He leaned and peered intently into Dunk's distorted countenance until
every man there, struck by his manner, was watching him curiously. Then
he sat back in the saddle, straightened his legs in the stirrups and
laughed. And like his smile when he would have it so, or the little
twitch of shoulders by which he could so incense a man, that laugh
brought a deeper flush to Dunk's face, reddened though it was by Big
Medicine's vigorous slapping.

"Say, you've got nerve," drawled the Native Son, "to let a sheriff
travel toward you. I can remember when you were more timid, amigo." He
turned his head until his eyes fell upon Andy. "Say, Andy!" he called.
"Come and take a look at this hombre. You'll have to think back a few
years," he assisted laconically.

In response, Andy rode up eagerly. Like the Native Son, he leaned and
peered into eyes that stared back defiantly, wavered, and turned away.
Andy also sat back in the saddle then, and snorted.

"So this is the Dunk Whittaker that's been raising merry hell around
here! And talks about sending for the sheriff, huh? I've always heard
that a lot uh gall is the best disguise a man can hide under, but, by
gracious, this beats the deuce!" He turned to the astounded Happy Family
with growing excitement in his manner.

"Boys, we don't have to worry much about this gazabo! We'll just
freeze onto him till the sheriff heaves in sight. Gee! There'll sure be
something stirring when we tell him who this Dunk person really is!
And you say he was in with the Old Man, once? Oh, Lord!" He looked
with withering contempt at Dunk; and Dunk's glance flickered again and
dropped, just as his hand dropped to the pocket of his coat.

"No, yuh don't, by cripes!" Big Medicine's hand gripped Dunk's arm on
the instant. With his other he plucked the gun from Dunk's pocket, and
released him as he would let go of something foul which he had been
compelled to touch.

"He'll be good, or he'll lose his dinner quick," drawled the Native
Son, drawing his own silver-mounted six-shooter and resting it upon the
saddle horn so that it pointed straight at Dunk's diaphragm. "You take
Weary off somewhere and tell him something about this deal, Andy. I'll
watch this slippery gentleman." He smiled slowly and got an answering
grin from Andy Green, who immediately rode a few rods away, with Weary
and Pink close behind.

"Say, by golly, what's Dunk wanted fer?" Slim blurted inquisitively
after a short silence.

"Not for riding or driving over a bridge faster than a walk Slim,"
purred the Native Son, shifting his gun a trifle as Dunk moved uneasily
in the saddle. "You know the man. Look at his face--and use your
imagination, if you've got any."





Next: The Happy Family Learn Something

Previous: Weary Unburdens



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