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The Flying U Ranch

B. M. Bower

  Produced by Anthony Matonak


  By B. M. Bower


  CHAPTER I. The Coming of a Native Son II. "When Greek Meets Greek" III. Bad News IV. Some Hopes V. Sheep VI. What Happened to Andy VII. Truth Crushed to Earth, etc. VIII. The Dot Outfit IX. More Sheep X. The Happy Family Herd Sheep XI. Weary Unburdens XII. Two of a Kind XIII. The Happy Family Learn Something XIV. Happy Jack XV. Oleson XVI. The End of the Dots XVII. Good News


  CHAPTER I. The Coming of a Native Son

  The Happy Family, waiting for the Sunday supper call, were groupedaround the open door of the bunk-house, gossiping idly of things purelylocal, when the Old Man returned from the Stock Association at Helena;beside him on the buggy seat sat a stranger. The Old Man pulled up atthe bunk-house, the stranger sprang out over the wheel with the agilitywhich bespoke youthful muscles, and the Old Man introduced him with aquirk of the lips:

  "This is Mr. Mig-u-ell Rapponi, boys--a peeler straight from the GoldenGate. Throw out your war-bag and make yourself to home, Mig-u-ell; someof the boys'll show you where to bed down."

  The Old Man drove on to the house with his own luggage, and Happy Jackfollowed to take charge of the team; but the remainder of the HappyFamily unobtrusively took the measure of the foreign element. From hisblack-and-white horsehair hatband, with tassels that swept to the veryedge of his gray hatbrim, to the crimson silk neckerchief draped overthe pale blue bosom of his shirt; from the beautifully stamped leathercuffs, down to the exaggerated height of his tan boot-heels, theircritical eyes swept in swift, appraising glances; and unanimousdisapproval was the result. The Happy Family had themselves an eye topicturesque garb upon occasion, but this passed even Pink's love ofdisplay.

  "He's some gaudy to look at," Irish murmured under his breath to CalEmmett.

  "All he lacks is a spot-light and a brass band," Cal returned, in muchthe same tone with which a woman remarks upon a last season's hat on thehead of a rival.

  Miguel was not embarrassed by the inspection. He was tall, straight,and swarthily handsome, and he stood with the complacence of a stagefavorite waiting for the applause to cease so that he might speak hisfirst lines; and, while he waited, he sifted tobacco into a cigarettepaper daintily, with his little finger extended. There was a ring uponthat finger; a ring with a moonstone setting as large and round as theeye of a startled cat, and the Happy Family caught the pale gleam of itand drew a long breath. He lighted a match nonchalantly, by the artfullysimple method of pinching the head of it with his fingernails, leanednegligently against the wall of the bunk-house, and regarded the groupincuriously while he smoked.

  "Any pretty girls up this way?" he inquired languidly, after a moment,fanning a thin smoke-cloud from before his face while he spoke.

  The Happy Family went prickly hot. The girls in that neighborhood wereheld in esteem, and there was that in his tone which gave offense.

  "Sure, there's pretty girls here!" Big Medicine bellowed unexpectedly,close beside him. "We're all of us engaged to `em, by cripes!"

  Miguel shot an oblique glance at Big Medicine, examined the end of hiscigarette, and gave a lift of shoulder, which might mean anythingor nothing, and so was irritating to a degree. He did not pursue thesubject further, and so several belated retorts were left ticklingfutilely the tongues of the Happy Family--which does not make foramiability.

  To a man they liked him little, in spite of their easy friendliness withmankind in general. At supper they talked with him perfunctorily, andcovertly sneered because he sprinkled his food liberally with cayenneand his speech with Spanish words pronounced with soft, slurredvowels that made them sound unfamiliar, and against which his Englishcontrasted sharply with its crisp, American enunciation. He met theirinfrequent glances with the cool stare of absolute indifference to theiropinion of him, and their perfunctory civility with introspective calm.

  The next morning, when there was riding to be done, and Miguelappeared at the last moment in his working clothes, even Weary, thesunny-hearted, had an unmistakable curl of his lip after the firstglance.

  Miguel wore the hatband, the crimson kerchief tied loosely with thepoint draped over his chest, the stamped leather cuffs and the tan bootswith the highest heels ever built by the cobbler craft. Also, the lowerhalf of him was incased in chaps the like of which had never before beenbrought into Flying U coulee. Black Angora chaps they were; long-haired,crinkly to the very hide, with three white, diamond-shaped patchesrunning down each leg of them, and with the leather waistband stampedelaborately to match the cuffs. The bands of his spurs were two incheswide and inlaid to the edge with beaten silver, and each concho wasengraved to represent a large, wild rose, with a golden center. A dollarlaid upon the rowels would have left a fringe of prongs all around.

  He bent over his sacked riding outfit, and undid it, revealing awonderful saddle of stamped leather inlaid on skirt and cantle withmore beaten silver. He straightened the skirts, carefully ignoring theglances thrown in his direction, and swore softly to himself when hediscovered where the leather had been scratched through the canvaswrappings and the end of the silver scroll ripped up. He drew out hisbridle and shook it into shape, and the silver mountings and the reinsof braided leather with horsehair tassels made Happy Jack's eyes greedywith desire. His blanket was a scarlet Navajo, and his rope a rawhidelariat.

  Altogether, his splendor when he was mounted so disturbed the finemental poise of the Happy Family that they left him jingling richlyoff by himself, while they rode closely grouped and discussed himacrimoniously.

  "By gosh, a man might do worse than locate that Native Son for a silvermine," Cal began, eyeing the interloper scornfully. "It's plumb wickedto ride around with all that wealth and fussy stuff. He must 'a' robbeda bank and put the money all into a riding outfit."

  "By golly, he looks to me like a pair uh trays when he comes bow-leggin'along with them white diamonds on his legs," Slim stated solemnly.

  "And I'll gamble that's a spot higher than he stacks up in the cowgame," Pink observed with the pessimism which matrimony had given him."You mind him asking about bad horses, last night? That Lizzie-boy neversaw a bad horse; they don't grow 'em where he come from. What they don'tknow about riding they make up for with a swell rig--"

  "And, oh, mamma! It sure is a swell rig!" Weary paid generous tribute."Only I will say old Banjo reminds me of an Irish cook rigged out insilk and diamonds. That outfit on Glory, now--" He sighed enviously.

  "Well, I've gone up against a few real ones in my long and variedcareer," Irish remarked reminiscently, "and I've noticed that a hossnever has any respect or admiration for a swell rig. When he gets realbusy it ain't the silver filigree stuff that's going to help you holdconnections with your saddle, and a silver-mounted bridle-bit ain't adarned bit better than a plain one."

  "Just take a look at him!" cried Pink, with intense disgust. "Amblingoff there, so the sun can strike all that silver and bounce back in oureyes. And that braided lariat--I'd sure love to see the pieces if heever tries to anchor anything bigger than a yearling!"

  "Why, you don't think for a minute he could ever get out and ropeanything, do yuh?" Irish laughed. "That there Native Son throws ona-w-l-together too much dog to really get out and do anything."

  "Aw," fleered Happy Jack, "he ain't any Natiff Son. He's a dago!"

  "He's got the earmarks uh both," Big Medicine stated authoritatively. "Iknow 'em, by cripes, and I know their ways." He jerked his thumb towardthe dazzling Miguel. "I can tell yuh the kinda cow-puncher he is; I'vesaw 'em workin' at it. Haw-haw-haw! They'll start out to move ten or adozen head uh tame old cows from o
ne field to another, and there'll besix or eight fellers, rigged up like this here tray-spot, ridin' along,important as hell, drivin' them few cows down a lane, with peach treeson both sides, by cripes, jingling their big, silver spurs, all wearin'fancy chaps to ride four or five miles down the road. Honest to grandma,they call that punchin' cows! Oh, he's a Native Son, all right. I'vesaw lots of 'em, only I never saw one so far away from the Promised Landbefore. That there looks queer to me. Natiff Sons--the real ones, likehim--are as scarce outside Calyforny as buffalo are right here in thiscoulee."

  "That's the way they do it, all right," Irish agreed. "And then they'llhave a 'rodeo'--"

  "Haw-haw-haw!" Big Medicine interrupted, and took up the tale, whichmight have been entitled "Some Cowpunching I Have Seen."

  "They have them rodeos on a Sunday, mostly, and they invite everybody toit, like it was a picnic. And there'll be two or three fellers toevery calf, all lit up, like Mig-u-ell, over there, in chaps and silverfixin's, fussin' around on horseback in a corral, and every fellertrying to pile his rope on the same calf, by cripes! They stretch 'emout with two ropes--calves, remember! Little, weenty fellers you couldpack under one arm! Yuh can't blame 'em much. They never have more'nthirty or forty head to brand at a time, and they never git more'n ataste uh real work. So they make the most uh what they git, and go inheavy on fancy outfits. And this here silver-mounted fellow thinks he'sa real cowpuncher, by cripes!"

  The Happy Family laughed at the idea; laughed so loud that Miguel lefthis lonely splendor and swung over to them, ostensibly to borrow amatch.

  "What's the joke?" he inquired languidly, his chin thrust out and hiseyes upon the match blazing at the end of his cigarette.

  The Happy Family hesitated and glanced at one another. Then Cal spoketruthfully.

  "You're it," he said bluntly, with a secret desire to test the temper ofthis dark-skinned son of the West.

  Miguel darted one of his swift glances at Cal, blew out his match andthrew it away.

  "Oh, how funny. Ha-ha." His voice was soft and absolutelyexpressionless, his face blank of any emotion whatever. He merely spokethe words as a machine might have done.

  If he had been one of them, the Happy Family would have laughed at thewhimsical humor of it. As it was, they repressed the impulse, thoughWeary warmed toward him slightly.

  "Don't you believe anything this innocent-eyed gazabo tells you, Mr.Rapponi," he warned amiably. "He's known to be a liar."

  "That's funny, too. Ha-ha some more." Miguel permitted a thin ribbon ofsmoke to slide from between his lips, and gazed off to the crinkled lineof hills.

  "Sure, it is--now you mention it," Weary agreed after a perceptiblepause.

  "How fortunate that I brought the humor to your attention," drawledMiguel, in the same expressionless tone, much as if he were reciting atext.

  "Virtue is its own penalty," paraphrased Pink, not stopping to seewhether the statement applied to the subject.

  "Haw-haw-haw!" roared Big Medicine, quite as irrelevantly.

  "He-he-he," supplemented the silver-trimmed one.

  Big Medicine stopped laughing suddenly, reined his horse close to theother, and stared at him challengingly, with his pale, protruding eyes,while the Happy Family glanced meaningly at one another. Big Medicinewas quite as unsafe as he looked, at that moment, and they wondered ifthe offender realized his precarious situation.

  Miguel smoked with the infinite leisure which is a fine art when it isnot born of genuine abstraction, and none could decide whether he wasaware of the unfriendly proximity of Big Medicine. Weary was just on thepoint of saying something to relieve the tension, when Miguel blew theash gently from his cigarette and spoke lazily.

  "Parrots are so common, out on the Coast, that they use them in cheaprestaurants for stew. I've often heard them gabbling together in thekettle."

  The statement was so ambiguous that the Happy Family glanced at himdoubtfully. Big Medicine's stare became more curious than hostile,and he permitted his horse to lag a length. It is difficult to fightabsolute passivity. Then Slim, who ever tramped solidly over the flowersof sarcasm, blurted one of his unexpected retorts.

  "I was just wonderin', by golly, where yuh learnt to talk!"

  Miguel turned his velvet eyes sleepily toward the speaker. "From theboarders who ate those parrots, amigo," he smiled serenely.

  At this, Slim--once justly accused by Irish of being a "single-shot"when it came to repartee--turned purple and dumb. The Happy Family,forswearing loyalty in their enjoyment of his discomfiture, grinned andleft to Miguel the barren triumph of the last word.

  He did not gain in popularity as the days passed. They tilted noses athis beautiful riding gear, and would have died rather than speak of itin his presence. They never gossiped with him of horses or men or thelands he knew. They were ready to snub him at a moment's notice--andit did not lessen their dislike of him that he failed to yield them anopportunity. It is to be hoped that he found his thoughts sufficiententertainment, since he was left to them as much as is humanly possiblewhen half a dozen men eat and sleep and work together. It annoyed themexceedingly that Miguel did not seem to know that they held him at adistance; they objected to his manner of smoking cigarettes and staringoff at the skyline as if he were alone and content with his dreams. Whenhe did talk they listened with an air of weary tolerance. When hedid not talk they ignored his presence, and when he was absent theycriticized him mercilessly.

  They let him ride unwarned into an adobe patch one day--at least, BigMedicine, Pink, Cal Emmett and Irish did, for they were with him--andlaughed surreptitiously together while he wallowed there and came outafoot, his horse floundering behind him, mud to the ears, both of them.

  "Pretty soft going, along there, ain't it?" Pink commiserateddeceitfully.

  "It is, kinda," Miguel responded evenly, scraping the adobe off Banjowith a flat rock. And the subject was closed.

  "Well, it's some relief to the eyes to have the shine taken off him,anyway," Pink observed a little guiltily afterward.

  "I betche he ain't goin' to forget that, though," Happy Jack warned whenhe saw the caked mud on Miguel's Angora chaps and silver spurs, and thecondition of his saddle. "Yuh better watch out and not turn your backson him in the dark, none uh you guys. I betche he packs a knife. Themkind always does."

  "Haw-haw-haw!" bellowed Big Medicine uproariously. "I'd love to see himgit out an' try to use it, by cripes!"

  "I wish Andy was here," Pink sighed. "Andy'd take the starch outa him,all right."

  "Wouldn't he be pickings for old Andy, though? Gee!" Cal looked aroundat them, with his wide, baby-blue eyes, and laughed. "Let's kinda jollyhim along, boys, till Andy gets back. It sure would be great to watch'em. I'll bet he can jar the eternal calm outa that Native Son. That'swhat grinds me worse than his throwin' on so much dog; he's so blamedsatisfied with himself! You snub him, and he looks at yuh as if you washis hired man--and then forgets all about yuh. He come outa that 'dobylike he'd been swimmin' a river on a bet, and had made good and wasa hee-ro right before the ladies. Kinda 'Oh, that's nothing to what Icould do if it was worth while,' way he had with him."

  "It wouldn't matter so much if he wasn't all front," Pink complained."You'll notice that's always the way, though. The fellow all fussedup with silver and braided leather can't get out and do anything.I remember up on Milk river--" Pink trailed off into absorbingreminiscence, which, however, is too lengthy to repeat here.

  "Say, Mig-u-ell's down at the stable, sweatin from every pore trying toget his saddle clean, by golly!" Slim reported cheerfully, just as Pinkwas relighting the cigarette which had gone out during the big scene ofhis story. "He was cussin' in Spanish, when I walked up to him--but heshut up when he seen me and got that peaceful look uh hisn on his face.I wonder, by golly--"

  "Oh, shut up and go awn," Irish commanded bluntly, and looked at Pink."Did he call it off, then? Or did you have to wade in--"

  "Naw; he was like this here Native Son--all front. He could look sudden
death, all right; he had black eyes like Mig-u-ell--but all a fellow hadto do was go after him, and he'd back up so blamed quick--"

  Slim listened that far, saw that he had interrupted a tale evidentlymore interesting than anything he could say, and went off, muttering tohimself.