The Kid Has Ideas Of His Own





The Old Man sat out in his big chair on the porch, smoking and staring

dully at the trail which led up the bluff by way of the Hog's Back to

the benchland beyond. Facing him in an old, cane rocking chair, the

Honorable Blake smoked with that air of leisurely enjoyment which

belongs to the man who knows and can afford to burn good tobacco and who

has the sense to, burn it consciously, realizing in every whiff its rich

fragrance. The Honorable Blake flicked a generous half-inch of ash from

his cigar upon a porch support and glanced shrewdly at the Old Man's

abstracted face.



"No, it wouldn't do," he observed with the accent of a second

consideration of a subject that coincides exactly with the first. "It

wouldn't do at all. You could save the boys time, I've no doubt--time

and trouble so far as getting the cattle back where they belong

is concerned. I can see how they must be hampered for lack of

saddle-horses, for instance. But--it wouldn't do, Whitmore. If they

come to you and ask for horses don't let them have them. They'll manage

somehow--trust them for that. They'll manage--" "But doggone it, Blake,

it's for--"



"Sh-sh--" Blake held up a warning hand. "None of that, my dear Whitmore!

These young fellows have taken claims in--er--good faith." His bright

blue eyes sparkled with a sudden feeling. "In the best of good faith, if

you ask me. I--admire them intensely for what they have started out to

do. But--they have certain things which they must do, and do alone. If

you would not thwart them in accomplishing what they have set out to do,

you must go carefully; which means that you must not run to their aid

with your camp-wagons and your saddle-horses, so they can gather the

cattle again and drive them back where they belong. You would not be

helping them. They would get the cattle a little easier and a little

quicker--and lose their claims."



"But doggone it, Blake, them boys have lived right here at the Flying

U--why, this has been their home, yuh might say. They ain't like the

general run of punchers that roam around, workin' for this outfit and

for that; they've stuck. Why, doggone it, what they done here when I

got hurt in Chicago and they was left to run themselves, why, that alone

puts me under obligations to help 'em out in this scrape. Anybody could

see that. Ain't I a neighbor? Ain't neighbors got a right to jump in and

help each other? There ain't no law agin--"



"Not against neighbors--no." Blake uncrossed his perfectly trousered

legs and crossed them the other way, after carefully avoiding any

bagging tendency. "But this syndicate--or these contestants--will try to

prove that you are not a neighbor only, but a--backer of the boys in a

land-grabbing scheme. To avoid--"



"Well, doggone your measly hide, Blake, I've told you fifty times

I ain't!" The Old Man sat forward in his chair and shook his fist

unabashed at his guest. "Them boys cooked that all up amongst

themselves, and went and filed on that land before ever I knowed a thing

about it. How can yuh set there and say I backed 'em? And that blonde

Jezebel--riding down here bold as brass and turnin' up her nose at Dell,

and callin' me a conspirator to my face!"



"I sticked a pin in her saddle blanket, Uncle Gee-gee. I'll bet she

wished she'd stayed away from here when her horse bucked her off."

The Kid looked up from trying to tie a piece of paper to the end of a

brindle kitten's switching tail, and smiled his adorable smile--that had

a gap in the middle.



"Hey? You leave that cat alone or he'll scratch yuh. Blake, if you can't

see--"



"He! He's a her and her name's Adeline. Where's the boys, Uncle

Gee-gee?"



"Hey? Oh, away down in the breaks after their cattle that got away. You

keep still and never mind where they've gone." His mind swung back to

the Happy Family, combing the breaks for their stock and the stock of

the nesters, with an average of one saddle-horse apiece and a camp outfit

of the most primitive sort--if they had any at all, which he doubted.

The Old Man had eased too many roundups through that rough country not

to realize keenly the difficulties of the Happy Family.



"They need horses," he groaned to Blake, "and they need help. If you

knowed the country and the work as well as I do you'd know they've got

to have horses and help. And there's their claims--fellers squatting

down on every eighty--four different nesters fer every doggoned one of

the bunch to handle! And you tell me I got to set here and not lift a

hand. You tell me I can't put men to work on that fence they want built.

You tell me I can't lend 'em so much as a horse!"



Blake nodded. "I tell you that, and I emphasize it," he assured the

other, brushing off another half inch of ash from his cigar. "If you

want to help those boys hold their land, you must not move a finger."



"He's wiggling all of 'em!" accused the Kid sternly, and pointed to the

Old Man drumming irritatedly upon his chair arms. "He don't want to help

the boys, but I do. I'll help 'em get their cattle, Mr. Blake. I'm one

of the bunch anyway. I'll lend 'em my string."



"You've been told before not to butt in to grownup talk," his uncle

reproved him irascibly. "Now you cut it out. And take that string

off'n that cat!" he added harshly. "Dell! Come and look after this kid!

Doggone it, a man can't talk five minutes--"



The Kid giggled irrepressibly. "That's one on you, old man. You saw

Doctor Dell go away a long time ago. Think she can hear yuh when she's

away up on the bench?"



"You go on off and play!" commanded the Old Man. "I dunno what yuh want

to pester a feller to death for--and say! Take that string off'n that

cat!"



"Aw gwan! It ain't hurting the cat. She likes it." He lifted the kitten

and squeezed her till she yowled. "See? She said yes, she likes it."



The Old Man returned to the trials of the Happy Family, and the Kid

sat and listened, with the brindle kitten snuggled uncomfortably, head

downward in his arms.



The Kid had heard a good deal, lately, about the trials of his beloved

"bunch." About the "nesters" who brought cattle in to eat up the grass

that belonged to the cattle of the bunch. The Kid understood that

perfectly--since he had been raised in the atmosphere of range talk.

He had heard about the men building shacks on the claims of the Happy

Family--he understood that also; for he had seen the shacks himself,

and he had seen where there had been slid down hill into the bottom of

Antelope Coulee. He knew all about the attack on Patsy's cabin and

how the Happy Family had been fooled, and the cattle driven off and

scattered. The breaks--he was a bit hazy upon the subject of breaks. He

had heard about them all his life. The stock got amongst them and had to

be hunted out. He thought--as nearly as could be put in words--that it

must be a place where all the brakes grow that are used on wagons and

buggies. These were of wood, therefore they must grow somewhere. They

grew where the Happy Family went sometimes, when they were gone for

days and days after stock. They were down there now--it was down in the

breaks, always--and they couldn't round up their cattle because they

hadn't horses enough. They needed help, so they could hurry back and

slide those other shacks off their claims and into Antelope Coulee

where they had slid the others. On the whole, the Kid had a very fair

conception of the state of affairs. Claimants and contestants--those

words went over his head. But he knew perfectly well that the nesters

were the men that didn't like the Happy Family, and lived in shacks on

the way to town, and plowed big patches of prairie and had children that

went barefooted in the furrows and couldn't ride horses to save their

lives. Pilgrim kids, that didn't know what "chaps" were--he had talked

with a few when he went with Doctor Dell and Daddy Chip to see the sick

lady.



After a while, when the Honorable Blake became the chief speaker and

leaned forward and tapped the Old Man frequently on a knee with his

finger, and used long words that carried no meaning, and said contestant

and claimant and evidence so often that he became tiresome, the Kid slid

off the porch and went away, his small face sober with deep meditations.



He would need some grub--maybe the bunch was hungry without any

camp-wagons. The Kid had stood around in the way, many's the time, and

watched certain members of the Happy Family stuff emergency rations into

flour sacks, and afterwards tie the sack to their saddles and ride off.

He knew all about that, too.



He hunted up a flour sack that had not had all the string pulled out of

it so it was no longer a sack but a dish-towel, and held it behind his

back while he went cautiously to the kitchen door. The Countess was

nowhere in sight--but it was just as well to make sure. The Kid went in,

took a basin off the table, held it high and deliberately dropped it

on the floor. It, made a loud bang, but it did not elicit any shrill

protest from the Countess; therefore the Countess was nowhere around.

The Kid went in boldly and filled his four-sack so full it dragged on

the floor when he started off.



At the door he went down the steps ahead of the sack, and bent his small

back from the third step and pulled the sack upon his shoulders. It

wobbled a good deal, and the Kid came near falling sidewise off the last

step before he could balance his burden. But he managed it, being

the child of his parents and having a good deal of persistence in

his makeup; and he went, by a roundabout way, to the stable with the

grub-sack bending him double. Still it was not so very heavy; it was

made bulky by about two dozen fresh-made doughnuts and a loaf of bread

and a jar of honey and a glass of wild-currant jelly and a pound or so

of raw, dried prunes which the Kid called nibblin's because he liked to

nibble at them, like a prairie dog at a grass root.



Getting that sack tied fast to the saddle after the saddle was on

Silver's back was no easy task for a boy who is six, even though he is

large for his age. Still, being Chip's Kid and the Little Doctor's he

did it--with the help of the oats box and Silver's patient disposition.



There were other things which the bunch always tied on their saddles; a

blanket, for instance, and a rope. The Kid made a trip to the bunk-house

and pulled a gray blanket off Ole's bed, and spent a quarter of an hour

rolling it as he had seen the boys roll blankets The oats box, with

Silver standing beside it, came in handy again. He found a discarded

rope and after much labor coiled it crudely and tied it beside the

saddle-fork.



The Kid went to the door, stood beside it and leaned away over so that

he could peek out and not be seen Voices came from the house--the voice

of the Old Man; to be exact, high-pitched and combative. The Kid looked

up the bluff, and the trail lay empty in the afternoon sun. Still, he

did not like to take that trail. Doctor Dell might come riding down

there almost any minute. The Kid did not want to meet Doctor Dell just

right then.



He went back, took Silver by the bridle reins and led him out of the

barn and around the corner where he could not be seen from the White

House. He thought he had better go down the creek, and out through the

wire gate and on down the creek that way. He was sure that the "breaks"

were somewhere beyond the end of the coulee, though he could not have

explained why he was sure of it. Perhaps the boys, in speaking of the

breaks, had unconsciously tilted heads in that direction.



The Kid went quickly down along the creek through the little pasture,

leading Silver by the reins. He was terribly afraid that his mother

might ride over the top of the hill and see him and call him back.

If she did that, he would have to go, of course. Deliberate, open

disobedience had never yet occurred to the Kid as a moral possibility.

If your mother or your Daddy Chip told you to come back, you had to

come; therefore he did not want to be told to come. Doctor Dell had told

him that he could go on roundup some day--the Kid had decided that this

was the day, but that it would be foolish to mention the decision to

anyone. People had a way of disagreeing with one's decisions--especially

Doctor Dell, she always said one was too little. The Kid thought he was

getting pretty big, since he could stand on something and put the saddle

on Silver his own self, and cinch it and everything; plenty big enough

to get out and help the bunch when they needed help.



He did not look so very big as he went trudging down alongside the

creek, stumbling now and then in the coarse grass that hid the scattered

rocks. He could not keep his head twisted around to look under Silver's

neck and watch the hill trail, and at the same time see where he was

putting his feet. And if he got on Silver now he would be seen and

recognized at the first glance which Doctor Dell would give to the

coulee when she rode over the brow of the hill. Walking beside Silver's

shoulder, on the side farthest from the bluff, he might not be seen at

all; Doctor Dell might look and think it was just a horse walking along

the creek his own self.



The Kid was extremely anxious that he should not be seen. The bunch

needed him. Uncle Gee-gee said they needed help. The Kid thought they

would expect him to come and help with his "string", He helped Daddy

Chip drive the horses up from the little pasture, these days; just

yesterday he had brought the whole bunch up, all by his own self, and

had driven them into the big corral alone, and Daddy Chip had stood

by the gate and watched him do it. Daddy Chip had lifted him down from

Silver's back, and had squeezed him hard, and had called him a real, old

cowpuncher. The Kid got warm all inside him when he, thought of it.



When a turn in the narrow creek-bottom hid him completely from the ranch

buildings and the hill trail, the Kid led Silver alongside a low bank,

climbed into the saddle. Then he made Silver lope all the way to the

gate.



He had some trouble with that gate. It was a barbed wire gate, such as

bigger men than the Kid sometimes swear over. It went down all right,

but when he came to put it up again, that was another matter. He simply

had to put it up before he could go on. You always had to shut gates

if you found them shut--that was a law of the range which the Kid had

learned so long ago he could not remember when he had learned And there

was another reason--he did not want em to know he had passed that way,

if they took a notion to call him back. So he worked and he tugged and

he grew so red in the face it looked as if he were choking. But he got

the gate up and the wire loop over the stake--though he had to hunt up

an old piece of a post to stand on, and even then had to stand on his

toes to reach the loop--since he was Chip's Kid and the Little Doctor's.



He even remembered to scrape out the tell-tale prints of his small feet

in the bare earth there, and the prints of Silver's feet where he went

through. Yarns he had heard the Happy Family tell, in the bunk-house on

rainy days, had taught him these tricks. He was extremely thorough in

all that he did--being a good deal like his dad--and when he went the

grass, no one would have suspected that he had passed that way.



After a while he left that winding creek-bottom and climbed a long

ridge. Then he went down hill and pretty soon he climbed another hill

that made old Silver stop and rest before he went on to the top. The

Kid stood on the top for a few minutes and stared wistfully out over

the tumbled mass of hills, and deep hollows, and hills, and hill and

hills--till he could not see where they left off. He could not see any

of the bunch; but then, he could not see any brakes growing anywhere,

either. The bunch was down in the brakes--he had heard that often enough

to get it fixed firmly in his mind. Well, when he came to where the

brakes grew--and he would know them, all right, when he saw them!--he

would find the bunch. He thought they'd be s'prised to see him ride up!

The bunch didn't know that he could drive stock all his own self, and

that he was a real, old cowpuncher now. He was a lot bigger. He didn't

have to hunt such a big rock, or such a high bank, to get on Silver now.

He thought he must be pretty near as big as Pink, any way. They would

certainly be s'prised!



The brakes must be farther over. Maybe he would have to go over on the

other side of that biggest hill before he came to the place where they

grew. He rode unafraid down a steep, rocky slope where Silver picked his

way very, very carefully, and sometimes stopped and smelt of a ledge or

a pile of rocks, and then turned and found some other way down.



The Kid let him choose his path--Daddy Chip had taught him to leave

the reins loose and let Silver cross ditches and rough places where he

wanted to cross. So Silver brought him safely down that hill where

even the Happy Family would have hesitated to ride unless the need was

urgent.



He could not go right up over the next hill--there was a rock ledge that

was higher than his head when he sat on Silver. He went down a narrow

gulch--ah, an awfully narrow gulch! Sometimes he was afraid Silver

was too fat to squeeze through; but Silver always did squeeze through

somehow. And still there were no brakes growing anywhere. Just

choke-cherry trees, and service-berries, and now and then a little flat

filled with cottonwoods and willows--familiar trees and bushes that he

had known all his six years of life.



So the Kid went on and on, over hills or around hills or down along the

side of hill. But he did not find the Happy Family, and he did not find

the brakes. He found cattle that had the Flying U brand--they had a

comfortable, homey look. One bunch he drove down a wide coulee, hazing

them out of the brush and yelling "HY-AH!" at them, just the way the

Happy Family yelled. He thought maybe these were the cattle the Happy

Family were looking for; so he drove them ahead of him and didn't let

one break back on him and he was the happiest Kid in all Montana with

these range cattle, that had the Flying U brand, galloping awkwardly

ahead of him down that big coulee.





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