The Happy Family Learn Something





"Well, I hope this farce is about over," Dunk sneered, with as near an

approach to his old, supercilious manner as he could command, when the

three who had ridden apart returned presently. "Perhaps, Weary, you'll

be good enough to have this fellow put up his gun, and these--" he

hesitated, after a swift glance, to apply any epithet whatever to the

Happy Family. "I have two witnesses here to swear that you have without

any excuse assaulted and maligned and threatened me, and you may

consider yourselves lucky if I do not insist--"



"Ah, cut that out," Andy advised wearily. "I don't know how it strikes

the rest, but it sounds pretty sickening to me. Don't overlook the fact

that two of us happen to know all about you; and we know just where to

send word, to dig up a lot more identification. So bluffing ain't going

to help you out, a darned bit."



"Miguel, you can go with Andy," Weary said with brisk decision. "Take

Dunk down to the ranch till the sheriff gets here--if it's straight

goods about Dunk sending for him. If he didn't, we can take Dunk in

to-morrow, ourselves." He turned and fixed a cold, commanding eye upon

the slack-jawed herders. "Come along, you two, and get these sheep

headed outa here."



"Say, we'll just lock him up in the blacksmith shop, and come on back,"

Andy amended the order after his own free fashion. "He couldn't get out

in a million years; not after I'm through staking him out to the anvil

with a log-chain." He smiled maliciously into Dunk's fear-yellowed

countenance, and waved him a signal to ride ahead, which Dunk did

without a word of protest while the Happy Family looked on dazedly.



"What's it all about, Weary?" Irish asked, when the three were gone.

"What is it they've got on Dunk? Must be something pretty fierce, the

way he wilted down into the saddle."



"You'll have to wait and ask the boys." Weary rode off to hurry the

herders on the far side of the band.



So the Happy Family remained perforce unenlightened upon the subject and

for that they said hard things about Weary, and about Andy and Miguel as

well. They believed that they were entitled to know the truth, and they

called it a smart-aleck trick to keep the thing so almighty secret.



There is in resentment a crisis; when that crisis is reached, and the

dam of repression gives way, the full flood does not always sweep down

upon those who have provoked the disaster. Frequently it happens that

perfectly innocent victims are made to suffer. The Happy Family had

been extremely forbearing, as has been pointed out before. They had

frequently come to the boiling point of rage and had cooled without

committing any real act of violence. But that day had held a long series

of petty annoyances; and here was a really important thing kept from

them as if they were mere outsiders. When Weary was gone, Irish asked

Pink what crime Dunk had committed in the past. And Pink shook his head

and said he didn't know. Irish mentally accused Pink of lying, and

his temper was none the better for the rebuff, as anyone can readily

understand.



When the herders, therefore, rounded up the sheep and started them

moving south, the Happy Family speedily rebelled against that shuffling,

nibbling, desultory pace that had kept them long, weary hours in the

saddle with the other band. But it was Irish who first took measures to

accelerate that pace.



He got down his rope and whacked the loop viciously down across the

nearest gray back. The sheep jumped, scuttled away a few paces and

returned to its nibbling progress. Irish called it names and whacked

another.



After a few minutes he grew tired of swinging his loop and seeing it

have so fleeting an effect, and pulled his gun. He fired close to the

heels of a yearling buck that had more than once stopped to look up at

him foolishly and blat, and the buck charged ahead in a panic at the

noise and the spat of the bullet behind him.



"Hit him agin in the same place!" yelled Big Medicine, and drew his own

gun. The Happy Family, at that high tension where they were ready for

anything, caught the infection and began shooting and yelling like crazy

men.



The effect was not at all what they expected. Instead of adding impetus

to the band, as would have been the case if they had been driving

cattle, the result was exactly the opposite. The sheep ran--but they

ran to a common center. As the shooting went on they bunched tighter and

tighter, until it seemed as though those in the center must surely be

crushed flat. From an ambling, feeding company of animals, they become

a lumpy gray blanket, with here and there a long, vacuous face showing

idiotically upon the surface.



The herders grinned and drew together as against a common enemy--or

as with a new joke to be discussed among themselves. The dogs wandered

helplessly about, yelped half-heartedly at the woolly mass, then sat

down upon their haunches and lolled red tongues far out over their

pointed little teeth, and tilted knowing heads at the Happy Family.



"Look at the darned things!" wailed Pink, riding twice around the

huddle, almost ready to shed tears of pure rage and helplessness.

"Git outa that! Hi! Woopp-ee!" He fired again and again, and gave the

range-old cattle-yell; the yell which had sent many a tired herd over

many a weary mile; the yell before which had fled fat steers into the

stockyards at shipping time, and up the chutes into the cars; the yell

that had hoarsened many a cowpuncher's voice and left him with a mere

croak to curse his fate with; a yell to bring results--but it did not

start those sheep.



The Happy Family, riding furiously round and round, fired every

cartridge they had upon their persons; they said every improper thing

they could remember or invent; they yelled until their eyes were

starting from their sockets; they glued that band of sheep so tight

together that dynamite could scarcely have pried them apart.



And the herders, sitting apart with grimy hands clasped loosely over

hunched-up knees, looked on, and talked together in low tones, and

grinned.



Irish glanced that way and caught them grinning; caught them pointing

derisively, with heaving shoulders. He swore a great oath and made for

them, calling aloud that he would knock those grins so far in that they

would presently find themselves smiling wrong-side-out from the back of

their heads.



Pink, overhearing him, gave a last swat at the waggling tail of a

burrowing buck, and wheeled to overtake Irish and have a hand in

reversing the grins. Big Medicine saw them start, and came bellowing up

from the far side of the huddle like a bull challenging to combat from

across a meadow. Big Medicine did not know what it was all about, but he

scented battle, and that was sufficient. Cal Emmett and Weary, equally

ignorant of the cause, started at a lope toward the trouble center.



It began to look as if the whole Family was about to fall upon those

herders and rend them asunder with teeth and nails; so much so that

the herders jumped up and ran like scared cottontails toward the rim of

Denson coulee, a hundred yards or so to the west.



"Mamma! I wish we could make the sheep hit that gait and keep it,"

exclaimed Weary, with the first laugh they had heard from him that day.



While he was still laughing, there was a shot from the ridge toward

which they were running; the sharp, vicious crack of a rifle. The Happy

Family heard the whistling hum of the bullet, singing low over their

heads; quite low indeed; altogether too low to be funny. And they had

squandered all their ammunition on the prairie sod, to hurry a band of

sheep that flatly refused to hurry anywhere except under one another's

odorous, perspiring bodies.



From the edge of the coulee the rifle spoke again. A tiny geyser of

dust, spurting up from the ground ten feet to one side of Cal Emmett,

showed them all where the bullet struck.



"Get outa range, everybody!" yelled Weary, and set the example by

tilting his rowels against Glory's smooth hide, and heading eastward.

"I like to be accommodating, all right, but I draw the line on standing

around for a target while my neighbors practise shooting."



The Happy Family, having no other recourse, therefore retreated in haste

toward the eastern skyline. Bullets followed them, overtook them as

the shooter raised his sights for the increasing distance, and whined

harmlessly over their heads. All save one.





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