Oleson





"Say, ain't that Andy and Mig following along behind?" Cal asked after a

minute of watching the approach. "Sure, it is. Now what--"



"They're drivin' 'em, by cripes!" Big Medicine, under the stress of the

moment, returned to his usual bellowing tone. "Who's that tall, lanky

feller in the lead? I don't call to mind ever seem him before. Them four

herders I'd know a mile off."



"That?" Weary shaded his eyes with his hat-brim, against the slant rays

of the westering sun. "That's Oleson, Dunk's partner."



"His mother'd be a-weepin'," Big Medicine observed bodefully, "if she

knowed what was due to happen to her son right away quick. Must be him

that done the shootin'."



They came on steadily, the four herders and Oleson walking reluctantly

ahead, with Andy Green and the Native Son riding relentlessly in the

rear, their guns held unwaveringly in a line with the backs of their

captives. Andy was carrying a rifle, evidently taken from one of the

men--Oleson, they judged for the guilty one. Half the distance was

covered when Andy was seen to turn his head and speak briefly with the

Native Son, after which he lunged past the captives and galloped up to

the waiting group. His quick eye sought first the face of Happy Jack

in anxious questioning; then, miserably, he searched the faces of his

friends.



"Good Lord!" he exclaimed mechanically, dismounted and bent over the

figure on the ground. For a long minute he knelt there; he laid his ear

close to Happy Jack's mouth, took off his glove and laid his hand over

Happy's heart; reached up, twitched off his neckerchief, shook out the

creases and spread it reverently over Happy Jack's face. He stood up

then and spoke slowly, his eyes fixed upon the stumbling approach of the

captives.



"Pink told us Happy had been shot, so we rode around and come up behind

'em. It was a cinch. And--say, boys, we've got the Dots in a pocket.

They've got to eat outa our hands, now. So don't think about--our own

feelings, or about--" he stopped abruptly and let a downward glance

finish the sentence. "We've got to keep our own hands clean, and--now

don't let your fingers get the itch, Bud!" This, because of certain

manifestations of a murderous intent on the part of Big Medicine.



"Oh, it's all right to talk, if yuh feel like talking," Big Medicine

retorted savagely. "I don't." He made a catlike spring at the foremost

man, who happened to be Oleson, and got a merciless grip with his

fingers on his throat, snarling like a predatory animal over its kill.

From behind, Andy, with Weary to help, pulled him off.



"I didn't mean to--to kill anybody," gasped Oleson, pasty white. "I

heard a lot of shooting, and so I ran up the hill--and the herders came

running toward me, and I thought I was defending my property and men. I

had a right to defend--"



"Defend hell!" Big Medicine writhed in the restraining grasp of those

who held him. "Look at that there! As good hearted a boy as ever turned

a cow! Never harmed a soul in 'is life. Is all your dirty, stinkin'

sheep, an' all your lousy herders, worth that boy's life? Yuh shot 'im

down like a dog--lemme go, boys." His voice was husky. "Lemme tromp the

life outa him."



"I thought you were killing my men, or I never--I never meant to--to

kill--" Oleson, shaking till he could scarcely stand, broke down and

wept; wept pitiably, hysterically, as men of a certain fiber will weep

when black tragedy confronts them all unawares. He cowered miserably

before the Happy Family, his face hidden behind his two hands.



"Boys, I want to say a word or two. Come over here." Andy's voice, quiet

as ever, contrasted strangely with the man's sobbing. He led them back

a few paces--Weary, Cal, Big Medicine and Slim, and spoke hurriedly. The

Native Son eyed them sidelong from his horse, but he was careful to keep

Oleson covered with his gun--and the herders too, although they were

unarmed. Once or twice he glanced at that long, ungainly figure in the

grass with the handkerchief of Andy Green hiding the face except where

a corner, fluttering in the faint breeze which came creeping out of the

west, lifted now and then and gave a glimpse of sunbrowned throat and a

quiet chin and mouth.



"Quit that blubbering, Oleson, and listen here." Andys voice broke

relentlessly upon the other's woe. "All these boys want to hang yuh

without any red tape; far as I'm concerned, I'm dead willing. But we're

going to give yuh a chance. Your partner, as we told yuh coming over,

we've got the dead immortal cinch on, right now. And--well you can see

what you're up against. But we'll give yuh a chance. Have you got any

family?"



Oleson, trying to pull himself together, shook his head.



"Well, then, you can get rid of them sheep, can't yuh? Sell 'em, ship

'em outa here--we don't give a darn what yuh do, only so yuh get 'em off

the range."



"Y-yes, I'll do that." Oleson's consent was reluctant, but it was fairly

prompt. "I'll get rid of the sheep," he said, as if he was minded to

clinch the promise. "I'll do it at once."



"That's nice." Andy spoke with grim irony. "And you'll get rid of the

ranch, too. You'll sell it to the Flying U--cheap."



"But my partner--Whittaker might object--"



"Look here, old-timer. You'll fix that part up; you'll find a way

of fixing it. Look here--at what you're up against." He waited, with

pointing finger, for one terrible minute. "Will you sell to the Flying

U?"



"Y-yes!" The word was really a gulp. He tried to avoid looking where

Andy pointed; failed, and shuddered at what he saw.



"I thought you would. We'll get that in writing. And we're going to wait

just exactly twenty-four hours before we make a move. It'll take some

fine work, but we'll do it. Our boss, here, will fix up the business end

with you. He'll go with yuh right now, and stay with yuh till you

make good. And the first crooked move you make--" Andy, in unconscious

imitation of the Native Son, shrugged a shoulder expressively and urged

Weary by a glance to take the leadership.



"Irish, you come with me. The rest of you fellows know about what to

do. Andy, I guess you'll have to ride point till I get back." Weary

hesitated, looked from Happy Jack to Oleson and the herders, and back

to the sober faces of his fellows. "Do what you can for him, boys--and I

wish one of you would ride over, after Pink gets back, and--let me know

how things stack up, will you?"



Incredible as was the situation on the face of it, nevertheless it was

extremely matter-of-fact in the handling; which is the way sometimes

with incredible situations; as if, since we know instinctively that we

cannot rise unprepared to the bigness of its possibilities, we keep our

feet planted steadfastly on the ground and refuse to rise at all. And

afterward, perhaps, we look back and wonder how it all came about.



At the last moment Weary turned back and exchanged guns with Andy Green,

because his own was empty and he realized the possible need of one--or

at least the need of having the sheep-men perfectly aware that he had

one ready for use. The Native Son, without a word of comment, handed his

own silver-trimmed weapon over to Irish, and rolled a cigarette deftly

with one hand while he watched them ride away.



"Does this strike anybody else as being pretty raw?" he inquired calmly,

dismounting among them. "I'd do a good deal for the outfit, myself;

but letting that man get off--Say, you fellows up this way don't think

killing a man amounts to much, do you?" He looked from one to the other

with a queer, contemptuous hostility in his eyes.



Andy Green took a forward step and laid a hand familiarly on his rigid

shoulder. "Quit it, Mig. We would do a lot for the outfit; that's the

God's truth. And I played the game right up to the hilt, I admit. But

nobody's killed. I told Happy to play dead. By gracious, I caught him

just in the nick uh time; he'd been setting up, in another minute." To

prove it, he bent and twitched the handkerchief from the face of Happy

Jack, and Happy opened his eyes and made shift to growl.



"Yuh purty near-smothered me t'death, darn yuh."



"Dios!" breathed the Native Son, for once since they knew him jolted out

of his eternal calm. "God, but I'm glad!"



"I guess the rest of us ain't," insinuated Andy softly, and lifted his

hat to wipe the sweat off his forehead. "I will say that--" After

all, he did not. Instead, he knelt beside Happy Jack and painstakingly

adjusted the crumpled hat a hair's breadth differently.



"How do yuh feel, old-timer?" he asked with a very thin disguise of

cheerfulness upon the anxiety of his tone.



"Well, I could feel a lot--better, without hurtin' nothin," Happy Jack

responded somberly. "I hope you fellers--feel better, now. Yuh got

'em--tryin' to murder--the hull outfit; jes' like I--told yuh

they would--" Gunshot wounds, contrary to the tales of certain

sentimentalists, do not appreciably sweeten, or even change, a man's

disposition. Happy Jack with a bullet hole through one side of him was

still Happy Jack.



"Aw, quit your beefin'," Big Medicine advised gruffly. "A feller with

a hole in his lung yuh could throw a calf through sideways ain't got no

business statin' his views on nothin', by cripes!"



"Aw gwan. I thought you said--it didn't amount t' nothin'," Happy

reminded him, anxiety stealing into his face.



"Well, it don't. May lay yuh up a day or two; wouldn't be su'prised if

yuh had to stay on the bed-ground two or three meals. But look at Slim,

here. Shot through the leg--shattered a bone, by cripes!--las' night,

only; and here he's makin' a hand and ridin' and cussin' same as any of

us t'day. We ain't goin' to let yuh grouch around, that's all. We claim

we got a vacation comm' to us; you're shot up, now, and that's fun

enough for one man, without throwin' it into the whole bunch. Why, a

little nick like that ain't nothin'; nothin' a-tall. Why, I've been

shot right through here, by cripes"--Big Medicine laid an impressive

finger-tip on the top button of his trousers--"and it come out back

here"--he whirled and showed his thumb against the small of his

back--"and I never laid off but that day and part uh the next. I was

sore," he admitted, goggling Happy Jack earnestly, "but I kep' a-goin'.

I was right in fall roundup, an' I had to. A man can't lay down an' cry,

by cripes, jes' because he gets pinked a little--"



"Aw, that's jest because--it ain't you. I betche you'd lay 'em

down--jest like other folks, if yuh got shot--through the lungs. That

ain't no--joke, lemme tell yuh!" Happy Jack was beginning to show

considerable spirit for a wounded man. So much spirit that Andy Green,

who had seen men stricken down with various ills, read fever signs in

the countenance and in the voice of Happy, and led Big Medicine somewhat

peremptorily out of ear-shot.



"Ain't you got any sense?" he inquired with fine candor. "What do you

want to throw it into him like that, for? You may not think so, but he's

pretty bad off--if you ask me."



Big Medicine's pale eyes turned commiseratingly toward Happy Jack. "I

know he is; I ain't no fool. I was jest tryin' to cheer 'im up a little.

He was beginnin' to look like he was gittin' scared about it; I reckon

maybe I made a break, sayin' what I did about it, so I jest wanted to

take the cuss off. Honest to gran'ma--"



"If you know anything at all about such things, you must know what fever

means in such a case. And, recollect, it's going to be quite a while

before a doctor can get here."



"Oh, I'll be careful. Maybe I did throw it purty strong; I won't, no

more." Big Medicine s meekness was not the least amazing incident of

the day. He was a big-hearted soul under his bellow and bluff, and his

sympathy for Happy Jack struck deep. He went back walking on his toes,

and he stood so that his sturdy body shaded Happy Jack's face from the

sun, and he did not open his mouth for another word until Irish and Jack

Bates came rattling up with the spring wagon hurriedly transformed with

mattress, pillows and blankets into an ambulance.



They had been thoughtful to a degree. They brought with them a jug of

water and a tin cup, and they gave Happy Jack a long, cooling drink of

it and bathed his face before they lifted him into the wagon. And of all

the hands that ministered to his needs, the hands of Big Medicine were

the eagerest and gentlest, and his voice was the most vibrant with

sympathy; which was saying a good deal.





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