Some Hopes

On the third day after the Happy Family decided that there should be

some word from Chicago; and, since that day was Sunday, they rode in a

body to Dry Lake after it. They had not discussed the impending tragedy

very much, but they were an exceedingly Unhappy Family, nevertheless;

and, since Flying U coulee was but a place of gloom, they were not

averse to leaving it behind them for a few hours, and riding where every

stick and stone did not remind then of the Old Man.

In Dry Lake was a message, brief but heartening:

"J. G. still alive. Some hopes".

They left the station with lighter spirits after reading that; rode to

the hotel, tied their horses to the long hitching pole there and went

in. And right there the Happy Family unwittingly became cast for the

leading parts in one of those dramas of the West which never is heard

of outside the theater in which grim circumstance stages it for a single

playing--unless, indeed, the curtain rings down on a tragedy that brings

the actors before their district judge for trial. And, as so frequently

is the case, the beginning was casual to the point of triviality.

Sary, Ellen, Marg'reet, Sybilly and Jos'phine Denson (spelled in

accordance with parental pronunciation) were swinging idly upon the

hitching pole, with the self-conscious sang froid of country children

come to town. They backed away from the Happy Family's approach, grinned

foolishly in response to their careless greeting, and tittered openly

at the resplendence of the Native Son, who was wearing his black Angora

chaps with the three white diamonds down each leg, the gay horsehair

hatband, crimson neckerchief and Mexican spurs with their immense

rowels and ornate conchos of hand-beaten silver. Sary, Ellen, Marg'reet,

Jos'phine and Sybilly were also resplendent, in their way. Their carroty

hair was tied with ribbons quite aggressively new, their freckles

shone with maternal scrubbing, and there was a hint of home-made

"crochet-lace" beneath each stiffly starched dress.

"Hello, kids," Weary greeted them amiably, with a secret smile over the

memory of a time when they had purloined the Little Doctor's pills and

had made reluctant acquaintance with a stomach pump. "Where's the circus

going to be at?"

"There ain't goin' to be no circus," Sybilly retorted, because she was

the forward one of the family. "We're going away; on the train. The next

one that comes along. We're going to be on it all night, too; and we'll

have to eat on it, too."

"Well, by golly, you'll want something to eat, then!" Slim was feeling

abstractedly in his pocket for a coin, for these were the nieces of the

Countess, and therefore claimed more than a cursory interest from

Slim. "You take this up to the store and see if yuh can't swop it for

something good to eat." Because Sary was the smallest of the lot he

pressed the dollar into her shrinking, amazed palm.

"Paw's got more money'n that," Sybilly announced proudly. "Paw's got

a million dollars. A man bought our ranch and gave him a lot of money.

We're rich now. Maybe paw'll buy us a phony-graft. He said maybe he

would. And maw's goin' to have a blue silk dress with green onto it.


"Better haze along and buy that grub stake," Slim interrupted the family

gift for profuse speech. He had caught the boys grinning, and fancied

that they were tracing a likeness between the garrulity of Sybilly and

the fluency of her aunt, the Countess. "You don't want that train to go

off and leave yuh, by golly."

"Wonder who bought Denson out?" Cal Emmett asked of no one in

particular, as the children went strutting off to the store to spend the

dollar which little Sary clutched so tightly it seemed as if the goddess

of liberty must surely have been imprinted upon her palm.

When they went inside and found Denson himself pompously "setting 'em up

to the house," Cal repeated the question in a slightly different form to

the man himself.

Denson, while he was ready to impress the beholders with his

unaccustomed affluence, became noticeably embarrassed at the inquiry,

and edged off into vague generalities.

"I jest nacherlly had to sell when I got m' price," he told the Happy

Family in a tone that savored strongly of apology. "I like the country,

and I like m' neighbors fine. Never'd ask for better than the Flyin' U

has been t' me. I ain't got no kick comin' there. Sorry to hear the Old

Man's hurt back East. Mary was real put out at not bein' able to

see Louise 'fore she went away"--Louise being the Countess' and Mary

Denson's sister--"but soon as I sold I got oneasy like. The feller

wanted p'session right away, too, so I told Mary we might as well start

b'fore we git outa the notion. I wouldn't uh cared about sellin', maybe,

but the kids needs to be in school. They're growin' up in ign'rance

out here, and Mary's folks wants us to come back 'n' settle close handy

by--they been at us t' sell out and move fer the last five years, now,

and I told Mary--"

Even Cal forgot, eventually, that he had asked a question which remained

unanswered; what interest he had felt at first was smothered to death

beneath that blanket of words, and he eagerly followed the boys out

and over to Rusty Brown's place, where Denson, because of an old grudge

against Rusty, might be trusted not to follow.

"Mamma!" Weary commented amusedly, when they were crossing the street,

"that Denson bunch can sure talk the fastest and longest, and say the

least, of any outfit I ever saw."

"Wonder who did buy him out?" Jack Bates queried. "Old ginger-whiskers

didn't pass out any facts, yuh notice. He couldn't have got much; his

land's mostly gravel and 'doby patches. He's got a water right on Flying

U creek, you know--first right, at that, seems to me--and a dandy fine

spring in that coulee. Wonder why our outfit didn't buy him out--seeing

he wanted to sell so bad?"

"This wantin' to sell is something I never heard of b'fore," Slim said

slowly. "To hear him tell it, that ranch uh hisn was worth a dollar an

inch, by golly. I don't b'lieve he's been wantin' to sell out. If he

had, Mis' Bixby woulda said something about it. She don't know about

this here sellin' business, or she'd a said--"

"Yeah, you can most generally bank on the Countess telling all she

knows," Cal assented with some sarcasm; at which Slim grunted and turned

sulky afterward.

Denson and his affairs they speedily forgot for a time, in the diversion

which Rusty Brown's familiar place afforded to young men with unjaded

nerves and a zest for the primitive pleasures. Not until mid-afternoon

did it occur to them that Flying U coulee was deserted by all save old

Patsy, and that there were chores to be done, if all the creatures of

the coulee would sleep in comfort that night. Pink, therefore, withdrew

his challenge to the bunch, and laid his billiard cue down with a sigh

and the remark that all he lacked was time, to have the scalps of every

last one of them hanging from his belt. Pink was figurative in his

speech, you will understand; and also a bit vainglorious over beating

Andy Green and Big Medicine twice in succession.

It occurred to Weary then that a word of cheer to the Old Man and

his anxious watchers might not cone amiss. Therefore the Happy Family

mounted and rode to the depot to send it, and on the way wrangled over

the wording of the message after their usual contentious manner.

"Better tell 'em everything is fine, at this end uh the line," Cal

suggested, and was hooted at for a poet.

"Just say," Weary began, when he was interrupted by the discordant

clamor from a trainload of sheep that had just pulled in and stopped.

"'Maa-aa, Ma-a-aaa,' darn yuh," he shouted derisively, at the peering,

plaintive faces, glimpsed between the close-set bars. "Mamma, how I do

love sheep!" Whereupon he put spurs to his horse and galloped down to

the station to rid his ears of the turbulent wave of protest from the


Naturally it required some time to compose the telegram in a style

satisfactory to all parties. Outside, cars banged together, an engine

snorted stertorously, and suffocating puffs of coal smoke now and

then invaded the waiting-room while the Happy Family were sending that

message of cheer to Chicago. If you are curious, the final version of

their combined sentiments was not at all spectacular. It said merely:

"Everything fine here. Take good care of the Old Man. How's the Kid

stacking up?"

It was signed simply "The Bunch."

"Mary's little lambs are here yet, I see," the Native Son remarked

carelessly when they went out. "Enough lambs for all the Marys in the

country. How would you like to be Mary?"

"Not for me," Irish declared, and turned his face away from the stench

of them.

Others there were who rode the length of the train with faces averted

and looks of disdain; cowmen, all of them, they shared the range

prejudice, and took no pains to hide it.

The wind blew strong from the east, that day; it whistled through the

open, double-decked cars packed with gray, woolly bodies, whose voices

were ever raised in strident complaint; and the stench of them smote

the unaccustomed nostrils of the Happy Family and put them to disgusted

flight up the track and across it to where the air was clean again.

"Honest to grandma, I'd make the poorest kind of a sheepherder," Big

Medicine bawled earnestly, when they were well away from the noise and

smell of the detested animals. "If I had to herd sheep, by cripes, do

you know what I'd do? I'd haze 'em into a coulee and turn loose with a

good rifle and plenty uh shells, and call in the coyotes to git a square

meal. That's the way I'd herd sheep. It's the only way you can shut 'em

up. They just 'baa-aa, baa-aa, baa-aa' from the time they're dropped

till somebody kills 'em off. Honest, they blat in their sleep. I've

heard 'em."

"When you and the dogs were shooting off coyotes?" asked Andy Green

pointedly, and so precipitated dissension which lasted for ten miles.

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