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The Flying U Ranch By B. M. Bower Characters: 10297

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Slim may not have been more curious than his fellows, but he was perhaps more single-hearted in his loyalty to the outfit. To him the shooting of Happy Jack, once he felt assured that the wound was not necessarily fatal, became of secondary importance. It was all in behalf of the Flying U; and if the bullet which laid Happy Jack upon the ground was also the means of driving the hated Dots from that neighborhood, he felt, in his slow, phlegmatic way, that it wasn't such a catastrophe as some of the others seemed to think. Of course, he wouldn't want Happy to die; but he didn't believe, after all, that Happy was going to do anything like that. Old Patsy knew a lot about sickness and wounds. (Who can cook for a cattle outfit, for twenty years and more, and not know a good deal of hurts?) Old Patsy had looked Happy over carefully, and had given a grin and a snort.

"Py cosh, dot vos lucky for you, alreatty," he had pronounced. "So you don't git plood-poisonings, mit fever, you be all right pretty soon. You go to shleep, yet. If fix you oop till der dochtor he cooms. I seen fellers shot plumb through der middle off dem, und git yell. You ain't shot so bad. You go to shleep."

So, his immediate fears relieved, Slim's slow mind had swung back to the Dots, and to Oleson, whom Weary was even now assisting to keep his promise (Slim grinned widely to himself when he thought of the abject fear which Oleson had displayed because of the murder he thought he had done, while Happy Jack obediently "played dead"). And of Dunk, whom Slim had hated most abominably of old; Dunk, a criminal found out; Dunk, a prisoner right there on the very ranch he had thought to despoil; Dunk, at that very moment locked in the blacksmith shop. Perhaps it was not curiosity alone which sent him down there; perhaps it was partly a desire to look upon Dunk humbled-he who had trodden so arrogantly upon the necks of those below him; so arrogantly that even Slim, the slow-witted one, had many a time trembled with anger at his tone.

Slim walked slowly, as was his wont; with deadly directness, as was his nature. The blacksmith shop was silent, closed-as grimly noncommittal as a vault. You might guess whatever you pleased about its inmate; it was like trying to imagine the emotions pictured upon the face behind a smooth, black mask. Slim stopped before the closed door and listened. The rusty, iron hasp attracted his slow gaze, at first puzzling him a little, making him vaguely aware that something about it did not quite harmonize with his mental attitude toward it. It took him a full minute to realize that he had expected to find the door locked, and that the hasp hung downward uselessly, just as it hung every day in the year.

He remembered then that Andy had spoken of chaining Dunk to the anvil. That would make it unnecessary to lock the door, of course. Slim seized the hanging strip of iron, gave it a jerk and bathed all the dingy interior with a soft, sunset glow. Cobwebs quivered at the inrush of the breeze, and glistened like threads of fine gold. The forge remained a dark blot in the corner. A new chisel, lying upon the earthen floor, became a bar of yellow light.

Slim's eyes went to the anvil and clung there in a widening stare. His hands, white and soft when his gloves were off, drew up convulsively into fighting fists, and as he stood looking, the cords swelled and stood out upon his thick neck. For years he had hated Dunk Whittaker-

The Happy Family, with rare good sense, had not hesitated to turn the white house into an impromptu hospital. They knew that if the Little Doctor and Chip and the Old Man had been at home Happy Jack would have been taken unquestioningly into the guest chamber-which was a square, three-windowed room off the big livingroom. More than one of them had occupied it upon occasion. They took Happy Jack up there and put him to bed quite as a matter-of-course, and when he was asleep they lingered upon the wide, front porch; the hammock of the Little Doctor squeaked under the weight of Andy Green, and the wide-armed chairs received the weary forms of divers young cowpunchers who did not give a thought to the intrusion, but were thankful for the comfort. Andy was swinging luxuriously and drawing the last few puffs from a cigarette when Slim, purple and puffing audibly, appeared portentously before him.

"I thought you said you was goin' to lock Dunk up in the blacksmith shop," he launched accusingly at Andy.

"We did," averred that young man, pushing his toe against the railing to accelerate the voluptuous motion of the hammock.

"He ain't there. He's broke loose. The chain-by golly, yuh went an' used that chain that was broke an' jest barely hangin' together! His horse ain't anywheres around, either. You fellers make me sick. Lollin' around here an' not paying no attention, by golly-he's liable to be ten mile from here by this time!" When Slim stopped, his jaw quivered like a dish of disturbed jelly, and I wish I could give you his tone; choppy, every sentence an accusation that should have made those fellows wince.

Irish, Big Medicine and Jack

Bates had sprung guiltily to their feet and started down the steps. The drawling voice of the Native Son stopped them, ten feet from the porch.

"Twelve, or fifteen, I should make it. That horse of his looked to me like a drifter."

"Well-are yuh goin' t' set there on your haunches an' let him GO?" Slim, by the look of him, was ripe for murder.

"You want to look out, or you'll get apoplexy sure," Andy soothed, giving himself another luxurious push and pulling the last, little whiff from his cigarette before he threw away the stub. "Fat men can't afford to get as excited as skinny ones can."

"Aw, say! Where did you put him, Andy?" asked Big Medicine, his first flurry subsiding before the absolute calm of those two on the porch.

"In the blacksmith shop," said Andy, with a slurring accent on the first word that made the whole sentence perfectly maddening. "Ah, come on back here and sit down. I guess we better tell 'em the how of it. Huh, Mig?"

Miguel cast a slow, humorous glance over the four. "Ye-es-they'll have us treed in about two minutes if we don't," he assented. "Go ahead."

"Well," Andy lifted his head and shoulders that he might readjust a pillow to his liking, "we wanted him to make a getaway. Fact is, if he hadn't, we'd have been-strictly up against it. Right! If he hadn't-how about it, Mig? I guess we'd have been to the Little Rockies ourselves."

"You've got a sweet little voice," Irish cut in savagely, "but we're tired. We'd rather hear yuh say something!"

"Oh-all right. Well, Mig and I just ribbed up a josh on Dunk. I'd read somewhere about the same kinda deal, so it ain't original; I don't lay any claim to the idea at all; we just borrowed it. You see, it's like this: We figured that a man as mean as this Dunk person most likely had stepped over the line, somewhere. So we just took a gambling chance, and let him do the rest. You see, we never saw him before in our lives. All that identification stunt of ours was just a bluff. But the minute I shoved my chips to the center, I knew we had him dead to rights. You were there. You saw him wilt. By gracious-"

"Yuh don't know anything against him?" gasped Irish.

"Not a darned thing-any more than what you all know," testified Andy complacently.

It took a minute or two for that to sink in.

"Well, I'll be damned!" breathed Irish.

"We did chain him to the anvil," Andy went on. "On the way down, we talked about being in a hurry to get back to you fellows, and I told Mig-so Dunk could hear-that we wouldn't bother with the horse. We tied him to the corral. And I hunted around for that bum chain, and then we made out we couldn't find the padlock for the door; so we decided, right out loud, that he'd be dead safe for an hour or two, till the bunch of us got back. Not knowing a darn thing about him, except what you boys have told us, we sure would have been in bad if he hadn't taken a sneak. Fact is, we were kinda worried for fear he wouldn't have nerve enough to try it. We waited, up on the hill, till we saw him sneak down to the corral and jump on his horse and take off down the coulee like a scared coyote. It was," quoth the young man, unmistakably pleased with himself, "pretty smooth work, if you ask me."

"I'd hate to ride as fast and far to-night as that hombre will," supplemented Miguel with his brief smile, that was just a flash of white, even teeth and a momentary lightening of his languorous eyes.

Slim stood for five minutes, a stolid, stocky figure in the midst of a storm of congratulatory comment. They forgot all about Happy Jack, asleep inside the house, and so their voices were not hushed. Indeed, Big Medicine's bull-like remarks boomed full-throated across the coulee and were flung back mockingly by the barren hills. Slim did not hear a word they were saying; he was thinking it over, with that complete mental concentration which is the chief recompense of a slow-working mind. He was methodically thinking it all out-and, eventually, he saw the joke.

"Well, by golly!" he bawled suddenly, and brought his palm down with a terrific smack upon his sore leg-whereat his fellows laughed uproariously.

"We told you not to try to see through any more jokes till your leg gets well, Slim," Andy reminded condescendingly.

"Say, by golly, that's a good one on Dunk, ain't it? Chasin' himself clean outa the country, by golly-scared plumb to death--and you fellers was only jest makin' b'lieve yuh knowed him! By golly, that sure is a good one, all right!"

"You've got it; give you time enough and you could see through a barbed-wire fence," patronized Andy, from the hammock. "Yes, since you mention it, I think myself it ain't so bad."

"Aw-w shut up, out there, an' let a feller sleep!" came a querulous voice from within. "I'd ruther bed down with a corral full uh calves at weanin' time, than be anywheres within ten mile uh you darned, mouthy-" The rest was indistinguishable, but it did not matter. The Happy Family, save Slim, who stayed to look after the patient, tiptoed penitently off the porch and took themselves and their enthusiasm down to the bunk-house.

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