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Bad News

From: Flying U Ranch

Andy Green, that honest-eyed young man whom everyone loved, but whom
not a man believed save when he was indulging his love for more or less
fantastic flights of the imagination, pulled up on the brow of Flying U
coulee and stared somberly at the picture spread below him. On the porch
of the White House the hammock swung gently under the weight of the
Little Doctor, who pushed her shipper-toe mechanically against a post
support at regular intervals while she read.

On the steps the Kid was crawling laboriously upward, only to descend
again quite as laboriously when he attained the top. One of the boys was
just emerging from the blacksmith shop; from the build of him Andy knew
it must be either Weary or Irish, though it would take a much closer
observation, and some familiarity with the two to identify the man more
exactly. In the corral were a swirl of horses and an overhanging cloud
of dust, with two or three figures discernible in the midst, and away
in the little pasture two other figures were galloping after a fleeing
dozen of horses. While he looked, old Patsy came out of the messhouse,
and went, with flapping flour-sack apron, to the woodpile.

Peaceful it was, and home-like and contentedly prosperous; a little
world tucked away in its hills, with its own little triumphs and
defeats, its own heartaches and rejoicings; a lucky little world,
because its triumphs had been satisfying, its defeats small, its
heartaches brief, and its rejoicings untainted with harassment or guilt.
Yet Andy stared down upon it with a frown; and, when he twitched the
reins and began the descent, he sighed impatiently.

Past the stable he rode with scarcely a glance toward Weary, who shouted
a casual "Hello" at him from the corral; through the big gate and up the
trail to the White House, and straight to the porch, where the Little
Doctor flipped a leaf of her magazine and glanced at him with a smile,
and the Kid turned his plump body upon the middle step and wrinkled his
nose in a smile of recognition, while he threw out an arm in welcome,
and made a wobbling effort to get upon his feet.

Andy smiled at the Kid, but his smile did not reach his eyes, and faded
almost immediately. He glanced at the Little Doctor, sent his horse past
the steps and the Kid, and close to the railing, so that he could lean
and toss the mail into the Little Doctor's lap. There was a yellow
envelope among the letters, and her fingers singled it out curiously.
Andy folded his hands upon the saddle-horn and watched her frankly.

"Must be from J. G.," guessed the Little Doctor, inserting a slim finger
under the badly sealed flap. "I've been wondering if he wasn't going
to send some word--he's been gone a week--Baby! He's right between
your horse's legs, Andy! Oh-h--baby boy, what won't you do next?" She
scattered letters and papers from her lap and flew to the rescue. "Will
he kick, Andy? You little ruffian." She held out her arms coaxingly from
the top of the steps, and her face, Andy saw when he looked at her, had
lost some of its color.

"The horse is quiet enough," he reassured her. "But at the same time I
wouldn't hand him out as a plaything for a kid." He leaned cautiously
and peered backward.

"Oh--did you ever see such a child! Come to mother, Baby!" Her voice was
becoming strained.

The Kid, wrinkling his nose, and jabbering unintelligibly at her, so
that four tiny teeth showed in his pink mouth, moved farther backward,
and sat down violently under the horse's sweat-roughened belly. He
wriggled round so that he faced forward, reached out gleefully, caught
the front fetlocks, and cried "Dup!" while he pulled. The Little Doctor
turned white.

"He's all right," soothed Andy, and, leaning with a twist of his slim
body, caught the Kid firmly by the back of his pink dress, and lifted
him clear of danger. He came up with a red face, tossed the Kid into the
eager arms of the Little Doctor, and soothed his horse with soft words
and a series of little slaps upon the neck. He was breathing unevenly,
because the Kid had really been in rather a ticklish position; but the
Little Doctor had her face hidden on the baby's neck and did not see.

"Where's Chip?" Andy turned to ride back to the stable, glancing toward
the telegram lying on the floor of the porch; and from it his eyes went
to the young woman trying to laugh away her trembling while she scolded
adoringly her adventurous man-child. He was about to speak again, but
thought better of it, and sighed.

"Down at the stables somewhere--I don't know, really; the boys can tell
you. Mother's baby mustn't touch the naughty horses. Naughty horses hurt
mother's baby! Make him cry!"

Andy gave her a long look, which had in it much pity, and rode away.
He knew what was in that telegram, for the agent had told him when he
hunted him up at Rusty Brown's and gave it to him; and the horse of Andy
bore mute testimony to the speed with which he had brought it to the
ranch. Not until he had reached the coulee had he slackened his pace.
He decided, after that glance, that he would not remind her that she
had not read the telegram; instead, he thought he ought to find Chip
immediately and send him to her.

Chip was rummaging after something in the store-house, and, when Andy
saw him there, he dismounted and stood blotting out the light from
the doorway. Chip looked up, said "Hello" carelessly, and flung an old
slicker aside that he might search beneath it. "Back early, aren't you?"
he asked, for sake of saying something.

Andy's attitude was not as casual as he would have had it.

"Say, maybe you better go on up to the house," he began diffidently. "I
guess your wife wants to see yuh, maybe."

"Just as a good wife should," grinned Chip. "What's the matter? Kid fall
off the porch?"

"N-o-o--I brought out a wire from Chicago. It's from a doctor
there--some hospital. The--Old Man got hurt. One of them cussed
automobiles knocked him down. They want you to come."

Chip had straightened up and was hooking at Andy blankly. "If you're

"Honest," Andy asserted, and flushed a little. "I'll go tell some one to
catch up the team--you'll want to make that 11:20, I take it." He added,
as Chip went by him hastily, "I had the agent wire for sleeper berths on
the 11:20 so--"

"Thanks. Yes, you have the team caught up, Andy." Chip was already well
on his way to the house.

Andy waited till he saw the Little Doctor come hurriedly to the end of
the porch overlooking the pathway, with the telegram fluttering in her
fingers, and then led his horse down through the gate and to the stable.
He yanked the saddle off, turned the tired animal into a stall, and went
on to the corral, where he leaned elbows on a warped rail and peered
through at the turmoil within. Close beside him stood Weary, with his
loop dragging behind him, waiting for a chance to throw it over the head
of a buckskin three-year-old with black mane and tail.

"Get in here and make a hand, why don't you?" Weary bantered, his eye
on the buckskin. "Good chance to make a 'rep' for yourself, Andy.
Gawd greased that buckskin--he sure can slide out from under a rope as

He broke off to flip the hoop dexterously forward, had the reward of
seeing the buckskin dodge backward, so that the rope barely flicked him
on the nose, and drew in his rope disgustedly. "Come on, Andy--my hands
are up in the air; I can't land him--that's the fourth throw."

Andy's interest in the buckskin, however, was scant. His face was sober,
his whole attitude one of extreme dejection.

"You got the tummy-ache?" Pink inquired facetiously, moving around so
that he got a fair look at his face.

"Naw--his girl's went back on him!" Happy Jack put in, coiling his rope
as he came up.

"Oh, shut up!" Andy's voice was sharp with trouble. "Boys, the Old
Man's--well, he's most likely dead by this time. I brought out a

"Go on!" Pink's eyes widened incredulously. "Don't you try that kind of
a load, Andy Green, or I'll just about--"

"Oh, you fellows make me sick!" Andy took his elbows off the rail and
stood straight. "Dammit, the telegram's up at the house--go and read it
yourselves, then!"

The three stared after him doubtfully, fear struggling with the caution
born of much experience.

"He don't act, to me, like he was putting up a josh," Weary stated
uneasily, after a minute of silence. "Run up to the house and find out,
Cadwalloper. The Old Man--oh, good Lord!" The tan on Weary's face took a
lighter tinge. "Scoot--it won't take but a minute to find out for sure.
Go on, Pink."

"So help me Josephine, I'll kill that same Andy Green if he's lied about
it," Pink declared, while he climbed the fence.

In three minutes he was back, and before he had said a word, his face
confirmed the bad news. Their eyes besought him for details, and he
gave them jerkily. "Automobile run over him. He ain't dead, but they
think--Chip and the Little Doctor are going to catch the night train.
You go haze in the team, Happy. And give 'em a feed of oats, Chip said."

Irish and Big Medicine, seeing the three standing soberly together
there, and sensing something unusual, came up and heard the news in
stunned silence. Andy, forgetting his pique at their first disbelief,
came forlornly back and stood with them.

The Old Man--the thing could not be true! To every man of them his
presence, conjured by the impending tragedy, was almost a palpable
thing. His stocky figure seemed almost to stand in their midst;
he looked at them with his whimsical eyes, which had the radiating
crows-feet of age, humor and habitual squinting against sun and wind;
the bald spot on his head, the wrinkling shirt-collar that seldom knew
a tie, the carpet slippers which were his favorite footgear because they
were kind to his bunions, his husky voice, good-naturedly complaining,
were poignantly real to them at that moment. Then Irish mentally
pictured him lying maimed, dying, perhaps, in a far-off hospital among
strangers, and swore.

"If he's got to die, it oughta be here, where folks know him and--where
he knows--" Irish was not accustomed to giving voice to his deeper
feelings, and he blundered awkwardly over it.

"I never did go much on them darned hospitals, anyway," Weary observed
gloomily. "He oughta be home, where folks can look after him. Mam-ma! It
sure is a fright."

"I betche Chip and the Little Doctor won't get there in time," Happy
Jack predicted, with his usual pessimism. "The Old Man's gittin' old--"

"He ain't but fifty-two; yuh call that old, consarn yuh? He's younger
right now than you'll be when you're forty."

"Countess is going along, too, so she can ride herd on the Kid," Pink
informed then. "I heard the Little Doctor tell her to pack up, and
'never mind if she did have sponge all set!' Countess seemed to think
her bread was a darned sight more important than the Old Man. That's the
way with women. They'll pass up--"

"Well, by golly, I like to see a woman take some interest in her own
affairs," Slim defended. "What they packin' up for, and where they
goin'?" Slim had just ridden up to the group in time to overhear Pink's

They told him the news, and Slim swallowed twice, said "By golly!" quite
huskily, and then rode slowly away with his head bowed. He had worked
for the Flying U when it was strictly a bachelor outfit, and with the
tenacity of slow minds he held J. G. Whitmore, his beloved "Old Man,"
as but a degree lower than that mysterious power which made the sun to
shine--and, if the truth were known, he had accepted him as being quite
as eternal. His loyalty adjusted everything to the interests of the
Flying U. That the Old Man could die--the possibility stunned him.

They were a sorry company that gathered that night around the long table
with its mottled oil-cloth covering and benches polished to a glass-like
smoothness with their own vigorous bodies. They did not talk much about
the Old Man; indeed, they came no nearer the subject than to ask Weary
if he were going to drive the team in to Dry Lake. They did not talk
much about anything, for that matter; even the knives and forks seemed
to share the general depression of spirits, and failed to give forth the
cheerful clatter which was a daily accompaniment of meals in that room.

Old Patsy, he who had cooked for J. G. Whitmore when the Flying U
coulee was a wilderness and the brand yet unrecorded and the irons
unmade--Patsy lumbered heavily about the room and could not find his
dish-cloth when it was squeezed tight in one great, fat hand, and
unthinkingly started to fill their coffee cups from the tea-kettle.

"Py cosh, I vould keel der fool vot made her first von of der
automo-beels, yet!" he exclaimed unexpectedly, after a long silence, and
cast his pipe vindictively toward his bunk in one corner.

The Happy Family looked around at him, then understandingly at one

"Same here, Patsy," Jack Bates agreed. "What they want of the damned
things when the country's full uh good horses gits me."

"So some Yahoo with just sense enough to put goggles on to cover up
his fool face can run over folks he ain't good enough to speak to, by
cripes!" Big Medicine glared aggressively up and down the table.

Weary got up suddenly and went out, and Slim followed him, though his
supper was half-uneaten.

"This goin' to be hard on the Little Doctor--only brother she's got,"
they heard Happy Jack point out unnecessarily; and Weary, the equable,
was guilty of slamming the door so that the whole building shook, by way
of demonstrating his dislike of speech upon the subject.

They were a sorry company who waved hands at the Little Doctor and
the Kid and the Countess, just when the afterglow of a red sunset
was merging into the vague, purple shadows of coming dusk. They stood
silent, for the most part, and let them go without the usual facetious
advice to "Be good to yourselves," and the hackneyed admonition to Chip
to keep out of jail if he could. There must have been something very
wistful in their faces, for the Little Doctor smiled bravely down upon
then from the buggy seat, and lifted up the Kid for a four-toothed smile
and an ecstatic "Bye!" accompanied by a vigorous flopping of hands,
which included then all.

"We'll telegraph first thing, boys," the Little Doctor called back, as
the rig chucked into the pebbly creek crossing. "We'll keep you posted,
and I'll write all the particulars as soon as I can. Don't think the
worst--unless you have to. I don't." She smiled again, and waved her
hand hastily because of the Kid's contortions; and, though the smile
had tears close behind it, though her voice was tremulous in spite of
herself, the Happy Family took heart from her courage and waved their
hats gravely, and smiled back as best they could.

"There's a lot uh cake you boys might just as well eat up," the Countess
called belatedly. "It'll all dry out, if yuh don't--and there ain't no
use wastin' it--and there's two lemon pies in the brown cupboard, and
what under the shinin' sun--" The wheels bumped violently against a
rock, and the Happy Family heard no more.

Next: Some Hopes

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