The Happy Family Herd Sheep





The boys of the Flying U had many faults in common, aside from certain

individual frailties; one of their chief weaknesses was over-confidence

in their own ability to cope with any situation which might arise,

unexpectedly or otherwise, and a belief that others felt that same

confidence in them, and that enemies were wont to sit a long time

counting the cost before venturing to offer too great an affront. Also

they believed--and made it manifest in their conversation--that they

could even bring the Old Man back to health if they only had him on

the ranch where they could get at him. They maligned the hospitals and

Chicago doctors most unjustly, and were agreed that all he needed was

to be back on the ranch where somebody could look after him right. They

asserted that, if they ever got tired of living and wanted to cash in

without using a gun or anything, they'd go to a hospital and tell the

doctors to turn loose and try to cure them of something.



This by way of illustration; also as an explanation of their sleeping

soundly that night, instead of watching for some hostile demonstration

on the part of the Dot outfit. To a man--one never counted Happy Jack's

prophecies of disaster as being anything more than a personal deformity

of thought--they were positive in their belief that the Dot sheepherders

would be very, very careful not to provoke the Happy Family to further

manifestations of disapproval. They knew what they'd get, if they tried

any more funny business, and they'd be mighty careful where they drove

their sheep after this.



So, with the comfortable glow of victory in their souls, they laid

them down, and, when the animated discussion of that night's adventure

flagged, as their tongues grew sleep-clogged and their eyelids drooped,

they slept in peace; save when Slim, awakened by the soreness of his

leg, grunted a malediction or two before he began snoring again.



They rose and ate their breakfast in a fair humor with the world. One

grows accustomed to the thought of sickness, even when it strikes close

to the affections, and, with the resilience of youth and hope, life

adjusts itself to make room for the specter of fear, so that it does

not crowd unduly, but stands half-forgotten in the background of one's

thoughts. For that reason they no longer spoke soberly because of the

Old Man lying hurt unto death in Chicago. And, when they mentioned the

Dot sheep and men, they spoke as men speak of the vanquished.



With the taste of hot biscuits and maple syrup still lingering

pleasantly against their palates, they went out and were confronted with

sheep, blatting sheep, stinking sheep, devastating sheep, Dot sheep. On

the south side of the coulee, up on the bluff, grazed the band. They fed

upon the brow of the hill opposite the ranch buildings; they squeezed

under the fence and spilled a ragged fringe of running, gray animals

down the slope. Half a mile away though the nearest of them were, the

murmur of them, the smell of them, the whole intolerable presence of

them, filled the Happy Family with an amazed loathing too deep for

words.



Technically, that high, level stretch of land bounding Flying U coulee

on the south was open range. It belonged to the government. The soil was

not fertile enough even for the most optimistic of "dry land" farmers to

locate upon it; and this was before the dry-land farming craze had swept

the country, gathering in all public land as claims. J. G. Whitmore

had contented himself with acquiring title to the whole of the Flying

U coulee, secure in his belief that the old order of things would not

change, in his life-time, at least, and that the unwritten law of the

range land, which leaves the vicinity of a ranch to the use of the ranch

owner, would never be repealed by new customs imposed by a new class of

people.



Legally, there was no trespassing of the Dots, beyond the two or three

hundred which had made their way through the fence. Morally, however,

and by right of custom, their offense would not be much greater if they

came on down the hill and invaded the Old Man's pet meadows, just beyond

the "little pasture."



Ladies may read this story, so I am not going to pretend to repeat the

things they said, once they were released from dumb amazement. I should

be compelled to improvise and substitute--which would remove much of the

flavor. Let bare facts suffice, at present.



They saddled in haste, and in haste they rode to the scene. This, they

were convinced, was the band herded by the bug-killer and the man from

Wyoming; and the nerve of those two almost excited the admiration of the

Happy Family. It did not, however, deter them from their purpose.



Weary, to look at him, was no longer in the mood to preach patience and

a turning of the other cheek. He also made that change of heart manifest

in his speech when Pink, his eyes almost black, rode up close and

gritted at him:



"Well, what's the orders now? Want me to go back and get the wire

nippers so we can let them poor little sheep down into the meadow? Maybe

we better ask the herders down to have some of Patsy's grub, too; I

don't believe they had time to cook much breakfast. And it wouldn't be

a bad idea to haze our own stuff clear off the range. I'm afraid Dunk's

sheep are going to fare kinda slim, if we go on letting our cattle eat

all the good grass!" Pink did not often indulge in such lengthy sarcasm,

especially toward his beloved Weary; but his exasperation toward Weary's

mild tactics had been growing apace.



Weary's reply, I fear, will have to be omitted. It was terribly

unrefined.



"I want you boys to spread out, around the whole bunch," was his first

printable utterance, "and haze these sheep just as far south as they

can get without taking to the river. Don't get all het up chasing 'em

yourself--make the men (Weary did not call them men; he called them

something very naughty) that's paid for it do the driving."



"And, if they don't go," drawled the smooth voice of the Native Son,

"what shall we do, amigo? Slap them on the wrist?"



Weary twisted in the saddle and sent him a baleful glance, which was not

at all like Weary the sunny-hearted.



"If you can't figure that out for yourself," he snapped, "you had better

go back and wipe the dishes for Patsy; and, when that's done, you can

pull the weeds out of his radishes. Maybe he'll give you a nickel to buy

candy with, if you do it good." Before he faced to the front again his

harsh glance swept the faces of his companions.



They were grinning, every man of them, and he knew why. To see him lose

his temper was something of an event with the Happy Family, who used

sometimes to fix the date of an incident by saying, "It was right after

that time Weary got mad, a year ago last fall," or something of the

sort. He grinned himself, shamefacedly, and told them that they were

a bunch of no-account cusses, anyway, and he'd just about as soon herd

sheep himself as to have to run with such an outfit; which swept his

anger from him and left him his usual self, with but the addition of a

purpose from which nothing could stay him. He was going to settle the

sheep question, and he was going to settle it that day.



Only one injunction did he lay upon the Happy Family. "You fellows don't

want to get excited and go to shooting," he warned, while they were

still out of hearing of the herders. "We don't want Dunk to get anything

like that on us; savvy?"



They "savvied," and they told him so, each after his own individual

manner.



"I guess we ought to be able to put the run on a couple of sheepherders,

without wasting any powder," Pink said loftily, remembering his meeting

with them a few days before.



"One thing sure--we'll make a good job of it this time," promised Irish,

and spurred after Weary, who was leading the way around the band.



The herders watched them openly and with the manner of men who are

expecting the worst to happen. Unlike the four whose camp had been laid

low the night before, these two were unarmed, as they had been from the

first; which, in Weary's opinion, was a bit of guile upon the part of

Dunk. If trouble came--trouble which it would take a jury to settle--the

fact that the sheepmen were unarmed would tell heavily in their favor;

for, while the petty meanness of range-stealing and nagging trespass may

be harder to bear than the flourishing of a gun before one's face, it

all sounds harmless enough in the telling.



Weary headed straight for the nearest herder, told him to put his dogs

to work rounding up the sheep, which were scattered over an area half

a mile across while they fed, and, when the herder, who was the

bug-killer, made no move to obey, Weary deliberately pulled his gun and

pointed at his head.



"You move," he directed with grim intent, "and don't take too much time

about it, either."



The bug-killer, an unkempt, ungainly figure, standing with his back to

the morning sun, scowled up at Weary stolidly.



"Yuh dassent shoot," he stated sourly, and did not move.



For answer, Weary pulled back the hammer; also he smiled as malignantly

as it was in his nature to do, and hoped in his heart that he looked

sufficiently terrifying to convince the man. So they faced each other in

a silent clash of wills.



Big Medicine had not been saying much on the way over, which was

unusual. Now he rode forward until he was abreast of Weary, and he

grinned down at the bug-killer in a way to distract his attention from

the gun.



"Nobody don't have to shoot, by cripes!" he bawled. "We hain't goin' to

kill yuh. We'll make yuh wisht, by cripes, we had, though, b'fore we

git through. Git to work, boys, 'n' gether up some dry grass an' sticks.

Over there in them rose-bushes you oughta find enough bresh. We'll give

him a taste uh what we was talkin' about comm' over, by cripes! I guess

he'll be willin' to drive sheep, all right, when we git through with

him. Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" He leaned forward in the saddle and ogled the

bug-killer with horrid significance.



"Git busy with that bresh!" he yelled authoritatively, when a glance

showed him that the Happy Family was hesitating and eyeing him

uncertainly. "Git a fire goin' quick's yuh kin--I'll do the rest. Down

in Coconino county we used to have a way uh fixin' sheepherders--"



"Aw, gwan! We don't want no torture business!" remonstrated Happy Jack

uneasily, edging away.



"Yuh don't, hey?" Big Medicine turned in the saddle wrathfully and

glared. When he had succeeded in catching Andy Green's eye he winked,

and that young man's face kindled understandingly. "Well, now, you

hain't runnin' this here show. Honest to grandma, I've saw the time when

a little foot-warmin' done a sheepherder a whole lot uh good; and, it

looks to me, by cripes, as if this here feller needed a dose to gentle

him down. You git the fire started. That's all I want you t' do, Happy.

Some uh you boys help me rope him--like him and that other jasper over

there done to Andy. C'mon, Andy--it ain't goin' to take long!"



"You bet your sweet life I'll come on!" exclaimed Andy, dismounting

eagerly. "Let me take your rope, Weary. Too bad we haven't got a

branding iron--"



"Aw, we don't need no irons." Big Medicine was also on the ground by

then, and untying his rope. "Lemme git his shoes off once, and I'll show

yuh."



The bug-killer lifted his stick, snarling like a mongrel dog when

a stranger tries to drive it out of the house; hurled the stick

hysterically, as Big Medicine, rope in hand, advanced implacably, and,

with a squawk of horror, turned suddenly and ran. After him, bellowing

terribly, lunged Big Medicine, straight through the band like a

snowplow, leaving behind them a wide, open trail.



"Say, we kinda overplayed that bet, by gracious," Andy commented to

Weary, while he watched the chase. "That gazabo's scared silly; let's

try the other one. That torture talk works fine."



In his enthusiasm Andy remounted and was about to lead the way to

the other herder when Big Medicine returned puffing, the bug-killer

squirming in his grasp. "Tell him what yuh want him to do, Weary," he

panted, with some difficulty holding his limp victim upright by a

greasy coat-collar. "And if he don't fall over himself doin' it, why--by

cripes--we'll take off his shoes!"



Whereupon the bug-killer gave another howl and professed himself eager

to drive the sheep--well, what he said was that he would drive them to

that place which ladies dislike to hear mentioned, if the Happy Family

wanted him to.



"That's all right, then. Start 'em south, and don't quit till somebody

tells you to." Weary carefully let down the hammer of his six-shooter

and shoved it thankfully into his scabbard.



"Now, you don't want to pile it on quite so thick, next time," Irish

admonished Big Medicine, when they turned away from watching the

bug-killer set his dogs to work by gestures and a shouted word or two.

"You like to have sent this one plumb nutty."



"I betche Bud gets us all pinched for that," grumbled Happy Jack.

"Torturing folks is purty darned serious business. You might as well

shoot 'em up decent and be done with it."



"Haw-haw-haw-w-w!" Big Medicine ogled the group mirthfully. "Nobody

can't swear I done a thing, or said a thing. All I said definite was

that I'd take off his shoes. Any jury in the country'd know that

would be hull lot worse fer us than it would fer him, by cripes.

Haw-haw-haw-w-w!"



"Say, that's right; yuh didn't say nothin', ner do nothin'. By golly,

that was purty slick work, all right!" Slim forgot his sore leg until he

clapped his hand enthusiastically down upon the place as comprehension

of Bud's finesse dawned upon him. He yelped, and the Happy Family

laughed unfeelingly.



"You want to be careful and don't try to see through any jokes, Slim,

till that leg uh yours gets well," Irish bantered, and they laughed the

louder.



All this was mere byplay; a momentary swinging of their mood to

pleasantry, because they were a temperamentally cheerful lot, and

laughter came to them easily, as it always does to youth and perfect

mental and physical health. Their brief hilarity over Slim's misfortune

did not swerve them from their purpose, nor soften the mood of them

toward their adversaries. They were unsmiling and unfriendly when they

reached the man from Wyoming; and, if they ever behaved like boys let

out of school, they did not show it then.



The Wyoming man was wiser than his fellow. He had been given several

minutes grace in which to meditate upon the unwisdom of defiance; and he

had seen the bug-killer change abruptly from sullenness to terror, and

afterward to abject obedience. He did not know what they had said to

him, or what they had done; but he knew the bug-killer was a hard man to

stampede. And he was one man, and they were many; also he judged that,

being human, and this being the third offense of the Dot sheep under his

care, it would be extremely unsafe to trust that their indignation would

vent itself in mere words.



Therefore, when Weary told him to get the stragglers back through the

fence and up on the level, he stopped only long enough for a good look

at their faces. After that he called his dogs and crawled through the

fence.



It really did not require the entire Family to force those sheep south

that morning. But Weary's jaw was set, as was his heart, upon a

thorough cleaning of that particular bit of range; and, since he did

not definitely request any man to turn back, and every fellow there

was minded to see the thing to a finish, they straggled out behind the

trailing two thousand--and never had one bunch of sheep so efficient a

convoy.



After the first few miles the way grew rough. Sheep lagged, and the

blatting increased to an uproar. Old ewes and yearlings these were

mostly, and there were few to suffer more than hunger and thirst,

perhaps. So Weary was merciless, and drove them forward without a stop

until the first jumble of hills and deep-worn gullies held them back

from easy traveling.



But the Happy Family had not ridden those breaks for cattle, all these

years, to be hindered by rough going. Weary, when the band stopped and

huddled, blatting incessantly against a sheer wall of sandstone and

gravel, got the herders together and told them what he wanted.



"You take 'em down that slope till you come to the second little coulee.

Don't go up the first one--that's a blind pocket. In the second coulee,

up a mile or so, there's a spring creek. You can hold 'em there on water

for half an hour. That's more than any of yuh deserve. Haze 'em down

there."



The herders did not know it, but that second coulee was the rude gateway

to an intricate system of high ridges and winding waterways that would

later be dry as a bleached bone--the real beginning of the bad lands

which border the Missouri river for long, terrible miles. Down there,

it is possible for two men to reach places where they may converse quite

easily across a chasm, and yet be compelled to ride fifteen or twenty

miles, perhaps, in order to shake hands. Yet, even in that scrap-heap of

Nature there are ways of passing deep into the heart of the upheaval.



The Happy Family knew those ways as they knew the most complicated

figures of the quadrilles they danced so lightfootedly with the girls of

the Bear Paw country. When they forced the sheep and their herders out

of the coulee Weary had indicated he sent Irish and Pink ahead to point

the way, and he told them to head for the Wash Bowl; which they did with

praiseworthy zeal and scant pity for the sheep.



When at last, after a slow, heartbreaking climb up a long, bare ridge,

Pink and Irish paused upon the brow of a slope and let the trail-weary

band spill itself reluctantly down the steep slope beyond, the sun stood

high in the blue above them and their stomachs clamored for food; by

which signs they knew that it must be near noon.



When the last sheep had passed, blatting discordantly, down the bluff,

Weary halted the sweating herders for a parting admonition.



"We don't aim to deal you any more misery, for a while, if you stay

where you're at. You're only working for a living, like the rest of

us--but I must say I don't admire your trade none. Anyway, I'll send

some of your bunch down here with grub and beds. This is good enough

range for sheep. You keep away from the Flying U and nobody'll bother

you. Over there in them trees," he added, pointing a gloved finger

toward a little grove on the far side of the basin, "you'll find a

cabin, and water. And, farther down the river there's pretty good grass,

in the little bottoms. Now, git."



The herders looked as if they would enjoy murdering them all, but they

did not say a word. With their dogs at heel they scrambled down

the bluff in the wake of their sheep, and the Happy Family, rolling

cigarettes while they watched them depart, told one another that this

settled that bunch; they wouldn't bed down in the Flying U door-yard

that night, anyway.





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