Happy Jack





Big Medicine, Irish and Pink, racing almost abreast, heard a scream

behind them and pulled up their horses with short, stiff-legged plunges.

A brown horse overtook them; a brown horse, with Happy Jack clinging to

the saddle-horn, his body swaying far over to one side. Even as he went

hurtling past them his hold grew slack and he slumped, head foremost, to

the ground. The brown horse gave a startled leap away from him and went

on with empty stirrups flapping.



They sprang down and lifted him to a less awkward position, and Big

Medicine pillowed the sweat-dampened, carroty head in the hollow of his

arm. Those who had been in the lead looked back startled when the brown

horse tore past them with that empty saddle; saw what had happened,

wheeled and galloped back. They dismounted and stood silently grouped

about poor, ungainly Happy Jack, lying there limp and motionless in Big

Medicine's arms. Not one of them remembered then that there was a man

with a rifle not more than two hundred yards away; or, if they did, they

quite forgot that the rifle might be dangerous to themselves. They were

thinking of Happy Jack.



Happy Jack, butt of all their jokes and jibes; Happy the croaker,

the lugubrious forecaster of trouble; Happy Jack, the ugliest, the

stupidest, the softest-hearted man of them all. He had "betched" there

would be someone killed, over these Dot sheep; he had predicted trouble

of every conceivable kind; and they had laughed at him, swore at him,

lied to him, "joshed" him unmercifully, and kept him in a state of

chronic indignation, never dreaming that the memory of it would choke

them and strike them dumb with that horrible, dull weight in their

chests with which men suffer when a woman would find the relief of

weeping.



"Where's he hurt?" asked Weary, in the repressed tone which only tragedy

can bring into a man's voice, and knelt beside Big Medicine.



"I dunno--through the lungs, I guess; my sleeve's gitting soppy right

under his shoulder." Big Medicine did not bellow; his voice was as quiet

as Weary's.



Weary looked up briefly at the circle of staring faces. "Pink, you pile

onto Glory and go wire for a doctor. Try Havre first; you may get one

up on the nine o' clock train. If you can't, get one down on the

'leven-twenty, from Great Falls. Or there's Benton--anyway, git one. If

you could catch MacPherson, do it. Try him first, and never mind a Havre

doctor unless you can't get MacPherson. I'd rather wait a couple of

hours longer, for him. I'll have a rig--no, you better get a team from

Jim. They'll be fresh, and you can put 'em through. If you kill 'em," he

added grimly, "we can pay for 'em." He had his jack-knife out, and

was already slashing carefully the shirt of Happy Jack, that he might

inspect the wound.



Pink gave a last, wistful look at Happy Jack's face, which seemed

unfamiliar with all the color and all the expression wiped out of it

like that, and turned away. "Come and help me change saddles, Cal,"

he said shortly. "Weary's stirrups are too darned long." Even with the

delay, he was mounted on Glory and galloping toward Flying U coulee

before Weary was through uncovering the wound; and that does not mean

that Weary was slow.



The rifle cracked again, and a bullet plucked into the sod twenty feet

beyond the circle of men and horses. But no one looked up or gave any

other sign of realization that they were still the target; they were

staring, with that frowning painfully intent look men have at such

moments, at a purplish hole not much bigger than if punched by a lead

pencil, just under the point of Happy Jack's shoulder blade; and at the

blood oozing sluggishly from it in a tiny stream across the girlishly

white flesh and dripping upon Big Medicine's arm.



"Hadn't we better get a rig to take him home with?" Irish suggested.



Weary, exploring farther, had just disclosed a ragged wound under the

arm where the bullet had passed out; he made no immediate reply.



"Well, he ain't got it stuck inside of 'im, anyway," Big Medicine

commented relievedly. "Don't look to me like it's so awful bad--went

through kinda anglin', and maybe missed his lungs. I've saw men shot up

before--"



"Aw--I betche you'd--think it was bad--if you had it--" murmured Happy

Jack peevishly, lifting his eyelids heavily for a resentful glance when

they moved him a little. But even as Big Medicine grinned joyfully down

at him he went off again into mental darkness, and the grin faded into

solicitude.



"You'd kick, by golly, if you was goin' to be hung," Slim bantered

tritely and belatedly, and gulped remorsefully when he saw that he was

"joshing" an unconscious man.



"We better get him home. Irish, you--" Weary looked up and discovered

that Irish and jack Bates were already headed for home and a conveyance.

He gave a sigh of approval and turned his attention toward wiping the

sweat and grime from Happy's face with his handkerchief.



"Somebody else is goin' to git hit, by golly, if we stay here," Slim

blurted suddenly, when another bullet dug up the dirt in that vicinity.



"That gol-darned fool'll keep on till he kills somebody. I wisht I

had m' thirty-thirty here--I'd make him wisht his mother was a man, by

golly!"



Big Medicine looked toward the coulee rim. "I ain't got a shell left,"

he growled regretfully. "I wisht we'd thought to tell the boys to bring

them rifles. Say, Slim, you crawl onto your hoss and go git 'em. It

won't take more'n a minute. There'll likely be some shells in the

magazines."



"Go on, Slim," urged Weary grimly. "We've got to do something. They

can't do a thing like this--" he glanced down at Happy Jack-- "and get

away with it."



"I got half a box uh shells for my thirty-thirty, I'll bring that." Slim

turned to go, stopped short and stared at the coulee rim. "By golly,

they're comm' over here!" he exclaimed.



Big Medicine glanced up, took off his hat, crumpled it for a pillow

and eased Happy Jack down upon it. He got up stiffly, wiped his fingers

mechanically upon his trouser legs, broke his gun open just to make sure

that it was indeed empty, put it back and picked up a handful of rocks.



"Let 'em come," he said viciously. "I c'n kill every damn' one with m'

bare hands!"





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