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The Flying U Ranch By B. M. Bower Characters: 12573

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


With the sun shining comfortably upon his back, and with a cigarette between his lips, Andy sat upon his horse and watched in silent glee while the irate Happy Family scurried here and there behind the band, swinging their ropes down upon the woolly backs, and searching their vocabularies for new and terrible epithets. Andy smiled broadly as a colorful phrase now and then boomed across the coulee in that clear, snappy atmosphere, which carries sounds so far. He did not expect to do much smiling upon his own account, that day, and he was therefore grateful for the opportunity to behold the spectacle before him.

There was Slim, for instance, unwillingly careening down hill toward home, because, in his zeal to slap an old ewe smartly with his rope, he drove her unexpectedly under his horse, and so created a momentary panic that came near standing both horse and rider upon their heads. And there was Big Medicine whistling until he was purple, while the herder, with a single gesture, held the dog motionless, though a dozen sheep broke back from the band and climbed a slope so steep that Big Medicine was compelled to go after them afoot, and turn them with stones and profane objurgations.

It was very funny-when one could sit at ease upon the hilltop and smoke a cigarette while others risked apoplexy and their souls' salvation below. By the time they panted up the last rock-strewn slope of the bluff, and sent the vanguard of the invaders under the fence, Andy's mood was complacent in the extreme, and his smile offensively wide.

"Oh, you needn't look so sorry for us," drawled the Native Son, jingling over toward him until only the fence and a few feet of space divided them. "Here's where you get yours, amigo. I wish you a pleasant day-and a long one!" He waved his hand in mocking adieu, touched his horse with his silver spurs, and rode gaily away down the coulee.

"Here, sheepherder's your outfit. Ma-aa-a-a!" jeered Big Medicine. "You'll wisht, by cripes, you was a dozen men just like yuh before you're through with the deal. Haw-haw-haw-w!"

There were others who, seeing Andy's grin, had something to say upon the subject before they left.

Weary rode up, and looked undecidedly from Andy to the sheep, and back again.

"If you don't feel like tackling it single-handed, I'll send-"

"What do yuh think I am, anyway?" Andy interrupted crisply, "a Montgomery Ward two-for-a-quarter cowpuncher? Don't you fellows waste any time worrying over me!"

The herders stared at Andy curiously when he swung in behind the tail-end of the band and kept pace with their slow moving, but they did not speak beyond shouting an occasional command to their dogs. Neither did Andy have anything to say, until he saw that they were swinging steadily to the west, instead of keeping straight north, as they had been told to do. Then he rode over to the nearest herder, who happened to be the bug-killer.

"You don't want to get turned around," he hinted quietly. "That's north, over there."

"I'm workin' fer the man that pays my wages," the fellow retorted glumly, and waved an arm to a collie that was waiting for orders. The dog dropped his head, and ran around the right wing of the band, with sharp yelps and dartings here and there, turning them still more to the west.

Andy hesitated, decided to leave the man alone for the present, and rode around to the other herder.

"You swing these sheep north!" he commanded, disdaining preface or explanation.

"I'm workin' for the man that pays my wages," the herder made answer stolidly, and chewed steadily upon a quid of tobacco that had stained his lips unbecomingly.

So they had talked the thing over-had those two herders-and were following a premeditated plan of defiance! Andy hooked at the man a minute. "You turn them sheep, damn you," he commanded again, and laid a hand upon his saddle-horn suggestively.

"You go to the devil, damn yuh," advised the herder, and cocked a wary eye at him from under his hat-brim. Not all herders, let it be said in passing, take unto themselves the mental attributes of their sheep; there are those who believe that a bold front is better than weak compliance, and who will back that belief by a very bold front indeed.

Andy appraised him mentally, decided that he was an able-bodied man and therefore fightable, and threw his right leg over the cantle with a quite surprising alacrity.

"Are you going to turn them sheep?" Andy was taking off his coat when he made that inquiry.

"Not for your tellin'. You keep back, young feller, or I'll sick the dogs on yuh." He turned and whistled to the nearest one, and Andy hit him on the ear.

They clinched and pummeled when they could and where they could. The dog came up, circled the gyrating forms twice, then sat down upon his haunches at a safe distance, tilted his head sidewise and lifted his ears interestedly. He was a wise little dog; the other dog was also wise, and remained phlegmatically at his post, as did the bug-killer.

"Are you going to turn them sheep?" Andy spoke breathlessly, but with deadly significance.

"N-yes."

Andy took his fingers from the other's Adam's apple, his knee from the other's diaphragm, and went over to where he had thrown down his coat, felt in a pocket for his handkerchief, and, when he had found it, applied it to his nose, which was bleeding profusely.

"Fly at it, then," he advised, eyeing the other sternly over the handkerchief. "I'd hate to ask you a third time."

"I'd hate to have yuh," conceded the herder reluctantly. "I was sure I c'd lick yuh, or I'd 'a' turned 'em before." He sent the dog racing down the south line of the band.

Andy got thoughtfully back upon his horse, and sat looking hard at the herder. "Say, you're grade above the general run uh lamb-hickers," he observed, after a minute. "Who are you working for, and what's your object in throwing sheep on Flying U land? There's plenty of range to the north."

"I'm workin'," said the herder, "for the Dot outfit. I thought you could read brands."

"Don't get sassy-I've got a punch or two I haven't used yet. Who owns these woollies?"

"Well-Whittaker and Oleson, if yuh want to know."

"I do." Andy was keeping pace with him around the band, whic

h edged off from then and the dogs. "And what makes you so crazy about Flying U grass?" he pursued.

"We've got to cross that coulee to git to where we're headed for; we got a right to, and we're going to do it." The herder paused and glanced up at Andy sourly. "We knowed you was a mean outfit; the boss told us so. And he told us you was blank ca'tridges and we needn't back up just 'cause you raised up on your hind legs and howled a little. I've had truck with you cowmen before. I've herded sheep in Wyoming." He walked a few steps with his head down, considering.

"I better go over and talk some sense into the other fellow," he said, looking up at Andy as if all his antagonism had oozed in the fight. "You ride along this edge, so they won't scatter-we ought to be grazin' 'em along, by rights; only you seem to be in such an all-fired rush-"

"You go on and tell that loco son-of-a-gun over there what he's up against," Andy urged. "Blank cartridges-I sure do like that! If you only knew it, high power dum-dums would be a lot closer to our brand. Run along-I am in a kinda hurry, this morning."

Andy, riding slowly upon the outskirts of the grazing, blatting band, watched the two confer earnestly together a hundred yards or so away. They seemed to be having some sort of argument; the bug-killer gesticulated with the long stick he carried, and the sheep, while the herders talked, scattered irresponsibly. Andy wondered what made sheepmen so "ornery," particularly herders. He wondered why the fellow he had thrashed was so insultingly defiant at first, and, after the thrashing, so unresentful and communicative, and so amenable to authority withal. He felt his nose, and decided that it was, all things considered, a cheap victory, and yet one of which he need not be ashamed.

The herder cane back presently and helped drive the sheep over the edge of the bluff which bordered Antelope coulee. The bug-killer, upon his side, also seemed imbued with the spirit of obedience; Andy heard him curse a collie into frenzied zeal, and smiled approvingly.

"Now you're acting a heap more human," he observed; and the man from Wyoming grinned ruefully by way of reply.

Antelope coulee, at that point, was steep; too steep for riding, so that Andy dismounted and dug his boot-heels into the soft soil, to gain a foothold on the descent. When he was halfway down, he chanced to look back, straight into the scowling gaze of the bug-killer, who was sliding down behind him.

"Thought you were hazing down the other side of 'em," Andy called back, but the herder did not choose to answer save with another scowl.

Andy edged his horse around an impracticable slope of shale stuff and went on. The herder followed. When he was within twelve feet or so of the bottom, there was a sound of pebbles knocked loose in haste, a scrambling, and then came the impact of his body. Andy teetered, lost his balance, and went to the bottom in one glorious slide. He landed with the bug-killer on top-and the bug-killer failed to remove his person as speedily as true courtesy exacted.

Andy kicked and wriggled and tried to remember what was that high-colored, vituperative sentence that Irish had invented over a stubborn sheep, that he might repeat it to the bug-killer. The herder from Wyoming ran up, caught Andy's horse, and untied Andy's rope from the saddle.

"Good fer you, Oscar," he praised the bug-killer. "Hang onto him while I take a few turns." He thereupon helped force Andy's arms to his side, and wound the rope several times rather tightly around Andy's outraged, squirming person.

"Oh, it ain't goin' to do yuh no good to buck 'n bawl," admonished the tier. "I learnt this here little trick down in Wyoming. A bunch uh punchers done it to me-and I've been just achin' all over fer a chance to return the favor to some uh you gay boys. And," he added, with malicious satisfaction, while he rolled Andy over and tied a perfectly unslippable knot behind, "it gives me great pleasure to hand the dose out to you, in p'ticular. If I was a mean man, I'd hand yuh the boot a few times fer luck; but I'll save that up till next time."

"You can bet your sweet life there'll be a next time," Andy promised earnestly, with embellishments better suited to the occasion than to a children's party.

"Well, when it arrives I'm sure Johnny-on-the-spot. Them Wyoming punchers beat me up after they'd got me tied. I'm tellin' yuh so you'll see I ain't mean unless I'm drove to it. Turn him feet down hill, Oscar, so he won't git a rush uh brains to the head and die on our hands. Now you're goin' to mind your own business, sonny. Next time yuh set out to herd sheep, better see the boss first and git on the job right."

He rose to his feet, surveyed Andy with his hands on his hips, mentally pronounced the job well done, and took a generous chew of tobacco, after which he grinned down at the trussed one.

"That the language uh flowers you're talkin'?" he inquired banteringly, before he turned his attention to the horse, which he disposed of by tying up the reins and giving it a slap on the rump. When it had trotted fifty yards down the coulee bottom, and showed a disposition to go farther, he whistled to his dogs, and turned again to Andy.

"This here is just a hint to that bunch you trot with, to leave us and our sheep alone," he said. "We don't pick no quarrels, but we're goin' to cross our sheep wherever we dern please, to git where we want to go. Gawd didn't make this range and hand it over to you cowmen to put in yer pockets-I guess there's a chance fer other folks to hang on by their eyebrows, anyway."

Andy, lying there like a very good presentation of a giant cocoon, roped round and round, with his arms pinned to his sides, had the doubtful pleasure of seeing that noisome, foolish-faced band trail down Antelope coulee and back upon the level they had just left, and of knowing to a gloomy certainty that he could do nothing about it, except swear; and even that palls when a man has gone over his entire repertoire three times in rapid succession.

Andy, therefore, when the last sheep had trotted out of sight, hearing and smell, wriggled himself into as comfortable a position as his bonds would permit, and took a nap.

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