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The Flying U Ranch By B. M. Bower Characters: 9978

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

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. And-"

"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, e

ventually, 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 cars.

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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