The Flying U's Last Stand by B.M. Bower
Chapter 12. Shacks, Live Stock and Pilgrims Promptly and Painfully Removed
"I'm looking rather seedy now, while holding down my claim, And my grub it isn't always served the best, And the mice play shyly round me as I lay me down to rest In my little old sod shanty on my claim. Oh, the hinges are of leather and the windows have no glass, And the roof it lets the howling blizzards in, And I hear the hungry kiote as he sneaks up through grass--
"Say! have they got down the hill yet, Pink;" Pink took his cigarette from his fingers, leaned and peered cautiously through the grimy window. "Unh-huh. They're coming up the flat."
Whereupon Andy Green, ostentatiously washing his breakfast dishes, skipped two or three verses and lifted his voice in song to fit the occasion.
"How I wish that some kind-hearted girl would pity on me take, And relieve me of the mess that I am in! Oh, the angel, how I'd bless her if her home with me she'd make, In my little old sod shanty--
"Got her yet?" And he craned his neck to look. "Aw, they've pulled up, out there, listening!"
"My clothes are plastered o'er with dough, I'm looking like a fright, And everything is scattered round the room--"
"Why don't yuh stop that caterwauling?" Pink demanded fretfully. "You'll queer the whole play if you keep it up. They'll swear you're drunk!"
There was sense in that. Andy finished the line about remaining two happy lovers in his little old sod shanty, and went to the door with the dishpan. He threw out the water, squeezed the dishrag in one hand and gave the inside of the pan a swipe before he appeared to discover that Miss Allen and Florence Grace Hallman were riding up to his door. As a matter of fact, he had seen them come over the top of the bluff and had long ago guessed who they were.
He met them with a smile of surprised innocence, and invited them inside. They refused to come, and even Miss Allen showed a certain reproachful coolness toward him. Andy felt hurt at that, but he did not manifest the fact. Instead he informed them that it was a fine morning. And were they out taking a look around?
They were. They were looking up the men who had perpetrated the outrage last night upon four settlers.
"Outrage?" Andy tilted the dishpan against the cabin wall, draped the dishrag over the handle and went forward, pulling down his sleeves. "What outrage is that, Miss Hallman? Anybody killed?"
Miss Hallman watched him with her narrowed glance. She saw the quick glance he gave Miss Allen, and her lids narrowed still more. So that was it! But she did not swerve from her purpose, for all this unexpected thrust straight to the heart of her self-love.
"You know that no one was killed. But you damaged enough property to place you on the wrong side of the law, Mr. Green. Not one of those shacks can be gotten out of the gulch except in pieces!"
Andy smiled inside his soul, but his face was bewildered; his eyes fixed themselves blankly upon her face. "Me? Damaging property? Miss Hallman, you don't know me yet! "Which was perfectly true. "What shacks are you talking about? In what gulch? All the shacks I've seen so far have been stuck up on bald pinnacles where the blizzards will hit 'em coming and going next winter." He glanced again at Miss Allen with a certain sympathetic foretaste of what she would suffer next winter if she stayed in her shack.
"Don't try to play innocent, Mr. Green." Florence Grace Hallman drew her brows together. "We all know perfectly well who dragged those shacks off the claims last night."
"Don't you mean that you think you know? I'm afraid you've kinda taken it for granted I'd be mixed up in any deviltry you happened to hear about. I've got in bad with you--I know that--but just the same, I hate to be accused of everything that takes place in the country. All this is sure interesting news to me. Whereabouts was they taken from? And when, and where to? Miss Allen, you'll tell me the straight of this, won't you? And I'll get my hoss and you'll show me what gulch she's talking about, won't you?"
Miss Allen puckered her lips into a pout which meant indecision, and glanced at Florence Grace Hallman. And Miss Hallman frowned at being shunted into the background and referred to as she, and set her teeth into her lower lip.
"Miss Allen prefers to choose her own company," she said with distinct rudeness. "Don't try to wheedle her--you can't do it. And you needn't get your horse to ride anywhere with us, Mr. Green. It's useless. I just wanted to warn you that nothing like what happened last night will be tolerated. We know all about you Flying U men--you Happy Family." She said it as if she were calling them something perfectly disgraceful. "You may be just as tough and bad a you please-- you can't frighten anyone into leaving the country or into giving up one iota of their rights. I came to you because you are undoubtedly the ring-leader of the gang." She accented gang. "You ought to be shot for what you did last night. And if you keep on--" She left the contingency to his imagination.
"Well, if settling up the country means that men are going to be shot for going to bed at dark and asleeping till sun-up, all I've got to say is that things ain't like they used to be. We were all plumb peaceful here till your colony came, Miss Hallman. Why, the sheriff never got out this way often enough to know the trails! He always had to ask his way around. If your bunch of town mutts can't behave themselves and leave each other alone, I don't know what's to be done about it. We ain't hired to keep the peace."
"No, you've been hired to steal all the land you can and make all the trouble you can. We understand that perfectly."
Andy shook his head in meek denial, and with a sudden impulse turned toward the cabin. "Oh, Pink!" he called, and brought that boyish-faced young man to the door, his eyes as wide and as pure as the eyes of a child.
Pink lifted his hat with just the proper degree of confusion to impress the girls with his bashfulness and his awe of their presence. His eyes were the same pansy-purple as when the Flying U first made tumultuous acquaintance with him. His apparent innocence had completely fooled the Happy Family, you will remember. They had called him Mamma's Little Lamb and had composed poetry and horrific personal history for his benefit. The few years had not changed him. His hair was still yellow and curly. The dimples still dodged into his cheeks unexpectedly; he was still much like a stick of dynamite wrapped in white tissue and tied with a ribbon. He looked an angel of innocence, and in reality he was a little devil.
Andy introduced him, and Pink bowed and had all the appearance of blushing--though you will have to ask Pink how he managed to create that optical illusion. "What did you want?" he asked in his soft, girlish voice, turning to Andy bashfully. But from the corner of his eye Pink saw that a little smile of remembrance had come to soften Miss Hallman's angry features, and that the other girl was smiling also. Pink hated that attitude of pleasant patronage which women were so apt to take toward him, but for the present it suited his purpose to encourage it.
"Pink, what time was it when we went to bed last night?" Andy asked him in the tone of one who wished to eliminate all doubt of his virtue.
"Why--it was pretty early. We didn't light the lamp at all, you remember. You went to bed before I did--we couldn't see the cards--" He stopped confusedly, and again he gave the two women the impression that he blushed. "We weren't playing for money," he hurriedly explained. "Just for pastime. It's-- pretty lonesome--sometimes."
"Somebody did something to somebody last night," Andy informed Pink with a resentful impatience. "Miss Hallman thinks we're the guilty parties--me in particular, because she don't like me. It's something about some shacks--damaging property, she called it. Just what was it you said was done, Miss Hallman?" He turned his honest, gray eyes toward her and met her suspicious look steadily.
Miss Hallman bit her lip. She had been perfectly sure of the guilt of Andy Green, and of the others who were his friends. Now, in spite of all reason she was not so sure. And there had been nothing more tangible than two pairs of innocent- looking eyes and the irreproachable manners of two men to change her conviction.
"Well, I naturally took it for granted that you did it," she weakened. "The shacks were moved off eighties that you have filed upon, Mr. Green. Mr. Owens told me this morning that you men came by his place and threatened him yesterday, and ordered him to move. No one else would have any object in molesting him or the others." Her voice hardened again as her mind dwelt upon the circumstances. "It must have been you!" she finished sharply.
Whereupon Pink gave her a distressed look that made Miss Hallman flush unmistakably. "I'm just about distracted, this morning," she apologized. "I took it upon myself to see these settlers through--and everybody makes it just as hard as possible for me. Why should all you fellows treat us the way you do? We--"
"Why, we aren't doing a thing!" Pink protested diffidently. "We thought we'd take up some claims and go to ranching for ourselves, when we got discharged from the Flying U. We didn't mean any harm--everybody's taking up claims. We've bought some cattle and we're going to try and get ahead, like other folks. We--I wanted to cut out all this wildness--"
"Are those your cattle up on the hill? Some men shipped in four carloads of young stock, yesterday, to Dry Lake. They drove them out here intending to turn them on the range, and a couple of men--"
"Four men," Miss Allen corrected with a furtive twinkle in her eyes.
"Some men refused to let them cross that big coulee back there. They drove the cattle back toward Dry Lake, and told Mr. Simmons and Mr. Chase and some others that they shouldn't come on this bench back here at all. That was another thing I wanted to see you men about."
"Maybe they were going to mix their stock up with ours," Pink ventured mildly.
"Your men shot, and shot, and shot--the atmosphere up there is shot so full of holes that the wind just whistles through!" Miss Allen informed then gravely, with her eyebrows all puckered together and the furtive little twinkle in her eyes. "And they yelled so that we could hear them from the house! They made those poor cows and those poor, weenty calves just go trotting back across the coulee. My new book on farming says you positively must not hurry cattle. It--oh, it does something to the butter-fat--joggles it all up or something--I'll lend you the book. I found the chapter on Proper Treatment of Dairy Stock, and I watched those men with the book in my hands. Why, it was terribly unscientific, the way they drove those cow-critters!"
"I'll come over and get the book," Andy promised her, with a look in his eyes that displeased Miss Hallman very much. "We're ashamed of our ignorance. We'd like to have you learn us what's in the book."
"I will. And every week--just think of that! I'm to get a real farm paper."
"I'd like to borrow the paper too," Andy declared instantly.
"Oh, and--what's going to be done about all those bullet- holes? They--they might create a draught--"
"We'll ride around that way and plug 'em up," Andy assured her solemnly. "Whenever you've got time to show me about where they're at."
"It will be a pleasure. I can tell where they are, but they're too high for me to reach. Wherever the wind whistles there's a hole in the atmosphere. And there are places where the air just quivers, so you can see it. That is the shock those bold, bad men gave it with the words they used. They-- used--words, Mr. Green! If we could scheme some way to pull out all those wrinkles--I do love a nice, clean, smooth atmosphere where I live. It's so wrinkly--"
"I'll attend to all that, right away."
Miss Hallman decided that she had nothing further to say to Mr. Green. She wheeled her horse rather abruptly and rode off with a curt goodbye. Miss Allen, being new at the business of handling a horse, took more time in pulling her mount around. While her back was turned to Florence Grace and her face was turned toward Pink and Andy, she gave them a twinkling glance that had one lowered eyelid to it, twisted her lips, and spoke sharply to her horse. They might make of it what they would. Florence Grace looked back impatiently--perhaps suspiciously also--and saw Miss Allen coming on with docile haste.
So that ended the interview which Miss Hallman had meant to be so impressive. A lot of nonsense that left a laugh behind and the idea that Miss Allen at least did not disapprove of harassing claim-jumpers. Andy Green was two hundred per cent. more cheerful after that, and his brain was more active and his determination more fixed. For all that he stared after them thoughtfully.
"She winked at us--if I've got eyes in my head. What do you reckon she meant, Pink?" he asked when the two riders had climbed over the ridge. "And what she said about the bold, bad men shooting holes that have to be plugged up--and about liking a nice, smooth atmosphere? Do you suppose she meant that it's liable to take bold, bad men to clean the atmosphere, or--"
"What difference does it make what she meant? There's jumpers left--two on Bud's place--and he's oary-eyed over it, and was going to read 'em the riot act proper, when I left to come over here. And a couple of men drove onto that south eighty of Mig's with a load of lumber, just as I come by. Looks to me like we've got our hands full, Andy. There'll be holes to plug up somewhere besides in the atmosphere, if you ask me."
"Long as they don't get anything on us I ain't in the state of mind where I give a darn. That little brown-eyed Susan'll keep us posted if they start anything new--what did she mean by that wink, do you reckon?"
"Ah, don't get softening of the emotions," Pink advised impatiently. "That's the worst thing we've got to steer clear of, Andy! All them women in the game is going to make it four times as hard to stand 'em off. Irish is foolish over this one you're gettin' stuck on--you'll be fighting each other, if you don't look out. That Florence Grace lady ain't so slow--she's going to use the women to keep us fellows guessing.
Andy sighed. "We can block that play, of course," he said. "Come on, Pink. let's go round up the boys and see what's been taking place with them cattle. Shipped in four carloads already, have they?" He began pulling on his chaps rather hurriedly. "Worst of it is, you can't stampede a bunch of darned tame cows, either," he complained.
They found Irish and the Native Son on day-herd, with the cattle scattered well along the western line of the claims. Big Medicine, Weary, Cal Emmett and Jack Bates were just returning from driving the settlers' stock well across Antelope Coulee which had been decided upon as a hypothetical boundary line until such time as a fence could be built.
They talked with the day-herders, and they talked with the other four. Chip came up from the ranch with the Kid riding proudly beside him on Silver, and told them that the Honorable Mr. Blake was at the Flying U and had sent word that he would be pleased to take the legal end of the fight, if the Happy Family so desired. Which was in itself a vast encouragement. The Honorable Blake had said that they were well within their rights thus far, and advised them to permit service of the contest notices, and to go calmly on fulfilling the law. Which was all very well as far as it went, providing they were permitted to go on calmly.
"What about them cattle they're trying to git across our land?" Slim wanted to know. "We got a right to keep 'em off, ain't we?"
Chip said that he thought they had, but to make sure, he would ask the Honorable Blake. Trespassing, he said, might be avoided--
Right there Andy was seized with an idea. He took Chip-- because of his artistic talents which, he said, had been plumb wasted lately--to one side. After wards they departed in haste, with Pink and Weary galloping close at their heels. In a couple of hours they returned to the boundary where the cattle still fed all scattered out in a long line, and behind them drove Pink and Weary in the one wagon which the Family possessed.
"It oughta help some," grinned Andy, when the Native Son came curiously over to see what it was they were erecting there on the prairie. "It's a fair warning, and shows 'em where to head in at."
The Native Son read the sign, which was three feet long and stood nailed to two posts ready for planting solidly in the earth. He showed his even, white teeth in a smile of approval. "Back it up, and it ought to do some good," he said.
They dug holes and set the posts, and drove on to where they meant to plant another sign exactly like the first. That day they planted twelve sign-boards along their west line. They might not do any good, but they were a fair warning and as such were worth the trouble.
That afternoon Andy was riding back along the line when he saw a rider pull up at the first sign and read it carefully. He galloped in haste to the spot and found that his suspicions were correct; it was Miss Allen.
"Well," she said when he came near, "I suppose that means me. Does it?" She pointed to the sign, which read like this:
WARNING ! ! N0 TRESPASSING EAST OF HERE All Shacks, Live-Stock and Pilgrims Promptly AND Painfully Removed From These Premises
"I'm over the line," she notified him, pulling her horse backward a few feet. "You're getting awfully particular, seems to me. Oh, did you know that a lot of men are going to play it's New Year's Eve and hold watch meetings tonight?"
"Never heard a word about it," he declared truthfully, and waited for more.
"That's not strange--seeing it's a surprise party. Still--I'm sure you are expected to--attend."
"And where is all this to take place?" Andy looked at her intently, smiling a little.
"Oh, over there--and there--and there." She pointed to three new shacks--the official dwellings of certain contestants." Stag parties, they are, I believe. But I doubt if they'll have any very exciting time; most of these new settlers are too busy getting the ground ready for crops, to go to parties. Some people are pretty disgusted, I can tell you, Mr. Green. Some people talk about ingratitude and wonder why the colony doesn't hang together better. Some people even wonder why it is that folks are interested mainly in their own affairs, and decline to attend watch meetings and-- receptions. So I'm afraid very few, except your nearest neighbors, will be present, after all might I ask when you expect to--to move again, Mr. Green?"
Smiling still, Andy shook his head. "I expect to be pretty busy this spring," he told her evasively. "Aren't any of you ladies invited to those parties, Miss Allen?"
Not a one. But let me tell you something, Mr. Green. Some folks think that perhaps we lady-settlers ought to organize a club for the well being of our intellects. Some folks are trying to get up parties just for women--see the point? They think it would be better for the--atmosphere."
"Oh." Andy studied the possibilities of such a move. If Florence Grace should set the women after them, he could see how the Happy Family would be hampered at every turn. "Well, I must be going. Say, did you know this country is full of wild animals, Miss Allen? They prowl around nights. And there's a gang of wild men that hang out up there in those mountains--they prowl around nights, too. They're outlaws. They kill off every sheriff's party that tries to round them up, and they kidnap children and ladies. If you should hear any disturbance, any time, don't be scared. Just stay inside after dark and keep your door locked. And if you should organize that ladies' club, you better hold your meetings in the afternoon, don't you think?"
When he had ridden on and left her, Andy was somewhat ashamed of such puerile falsehoods. But then, she had started the allegorical method of imparting advice, he remembered. So presently went whistling to round up the boys and tell them what he had learned.