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The Happy Family

B. M. Bower

  Produced by Suzanne Shell, Victoria Woosley and the PG OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team.

  "A man's plumb crazy to go round blatting all heknows"]

  The Happy Family





  "Chip of the Flying U," "The Range Dwellers," "Her Prairie Knight," "The Lure of the Dim Trails," "The Lonesome Trail," "The Long Shadow," Etc.



  _1907, 1909, 1910, by_ STREET & SMITH. _1910, by_ G.W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY.

  _The Happy Family_.

  To B.W.V.

  _"... met the Ananias of the cow camp. I have knocked about cow camps, mining camps, railroad and telegraph camps, and kicked up alkali dust for many a weary mile on the desert. Yet wherever I went I never failed to meet him. He is part and parcel of every outfit.... He is indispensable, irresistible, and incorrigible; and while in but few cases can he be held a thing of beauty, he is certainly a joy forever--at least to those who have known his type with some degree of understanding...."_

  From a letter.



  * * * * *


  * * * * *


  Pink, because he knew well the country and because Irish, who alsoknew it well, refused pointblank to go into it again even as a rep,rode alone except for his horses down into the range of the Rocking R.General roundup was about to start, down that way, and there was stockbought by the Flying U which ranged north of the Bear Paws.

  It so happened that the owner of the Rocking R was entertaining aparty of friends at the ranch; it also happened that the friends werequite new to the West and its ways, and they were intensely interestedin all pertaining thereto. Pink gathered that much from the crew,besides observing much for himself. Hence what follows after.

  Sherwood Branciforte was down in the blacksmith shop at the Rocking R,watching one Andy Green hammer a spur-shank straight. Andy was what hehimself called a tamer of wild ones, and he was hard upon his ridinggear. Sherwood had that morning watched with much admiration thebending of that same spur-shank, and his respect for Andy wasbeautiful to behold.

  "Lord, but this is a big, wild country," he was sayingenthusiastically, "and the people in it are big and--"

  "Wild," supplied Andy. "Yes, you've just about got us sized upcorrect." He went on hammering, and humming under his breath, andthinking that, while admiration is all right in its time and place, itis sometimes a bit wearisome.

  "Oh, but I didn't mean that," the young man protested. "What I meantwas breezy and picturesque. Things can happen, out here. Life and mendon't run in grooves."

  "No, nor horses," assented Andy. "Leastways, not in oiled ones." Hewas remembering how that spur-shank had become bent.

  "You did some magnificent riding, this morning. By Jove! I've neverseen anything like it. Strange that one can come out here into a partof the country absolutely new and raw, and see things--"

  "Oh, it ain't so raw as you might think," Andy defended jealously,"nor yet new."

  "Of course it is new! A commonwealth in the making. You can't," heasserted triumphantly, "point to anything man-made that existed ahundred years ago; scarcely fifty, either. Your civilization is yet inthe cradle--a lusty infant, and a--er--vociferous one, but still aninfant in swaddling clothes." Sherwood Branciforte had given lecturesbefore the Y.M.C.A. of his home town, and young ladies had spoken ofhim as "gifted," and he had come to hear of it, and to believe.

  Andy Green squinted at the shank before he made reply. Andy, also, was"gifted," in his modest Western way.

  "A country that can now and then show the papers for a civilizationold as the Phenixes of Egypt," he said, in a drawling tone that wasabsolutely convincing, "ain't what I'd call raw." He decided that alittle more hammering right next the rowel was necessary, and bentover the anvil solicitously. Even the self-complacency of SherwoodBranciforte could not fail to note his utter indifference to thepresence and opinions of his companion. Branciforte was accustomed todisputation at times--even to enmity; but not to indifference. Heblinked. "My dear fellow, do you realize what it is that statementmight seem to imply?" he queried haughtily.

  Andy, being a cowpuncher of the brand known as a "real," objectedstrongly both to the term and the tone. He stood up and stared down atthe other disapprovingly. "I don't as a general thing find myselfguilty of talking in my sleep," he retorted, "and I'm prepared to letanything I say stand till the next throw. We may be some vociferous,out here twixt the Mississippi and the Rockies, but we ain't noinfant-in-the-cradle, Mister. We had civilization here when thePilgrim Fathers' rock wasn't nothing but a pebble to let fly at thebirds!"

  "Indeed!" fleered Sherwood Branciforte, in a voice which gave muchintangible insult to one's intelligence.

  Andy clicked his teeth together, which was a symptom it were well forthe other to recognize but did not. Then Andy smiled, which wasanother symptom. He fingered the spur absently, laid it down andreached, with the gesture that betrays the act as having become secondnature, for his papers and tobacco sack.

  "Uh course, you mean all right, and you ain't none to blame for whatyou don't know, but you're talking wild and scattering. When you standup and tell me I can't point to nothing man-made that's fifty yearsold, or a hundred, you make me feel sorry for yuh. I can take you tosomething--or I've seen something--that's older than swearing; and Ireckon that art goes back to when men wore their hair long and asheep-pelt was called ample for dress occasions."

  "Are you crazy, man?" Sherwood Branciforte exclaimed incredulously.

  "Not what you can notice. You wait whilst I explain. Once last fall Iwas riding by my high lonesome away down next the river, when my horsewent lame on me from slipping on a shale bank, and I was set afoot. Uhcourse, you being plumb ignorant of our picturesque life, you don'thalf know all that might signify to _imply_." This last in openimitation of Branciforte. "It implies that I was in one hell of a fix,to put it elegant. I was sixty miles from anywhere, and them sixtyhalf the time standing on end and lapping over on themselves. Thatthere is down where old mama Nature gave full swing to a morbidhankering after doing things unconventional. Result is, that it'sabout as ungodly a mixture of nightmare scenery as this old world canshow up; and I've ambled around considerable and am in a position topass judgment.

  "So there I was, and I wasn't in no mood to view the beauties uhnature to speak of; for instance, I didn't admire the clouds sailingaround promiscous in the sky, nor anything like that. I was high anddry and the walking was about as poor as I ever seen; and my boots washigh-heel and rubbed blisters before I'd covered a mile of thatacrobatic territory. I wanted water, and I wanted it bad. Before I gotit I wanted it a heap worse." He stopped, cupped his slim fingersaround a match-blaze, and Branciforte sat closer. He did not know whatwas coming, but the manner of the indifferent narrator was compelling.He almost forgot the point at issue in the adventure.

  "Along abo
ut dark, I camped for the night under a big, bare-facedcliff that was about as homelike and inviting as a charitableinstitution, and made a bluff at sleeping and cussed my bum luck in away that wasn't any bluff. At sun-up I rose and mooched on." Hiscigarette needed another match and he searched his pockets for one.

  "What about the--whatever it was you started to tell me?" urgedBranciforte, grown impatient.

  Andy looked him over calmly. "You've lived in ignorance for aboutthirty years or so--giving a rough guess at your age; I reckon you canstand another five minutes. As I was saying, I wandered around like adogy when it's first turned loose on the range and is trying to findthe old, familiar barn-yard and the skim-milk bucket. And like thedogy, I didn't run across anything that looked natural or inviting.All that day I perambulated over them hills, and I will say I wasn'tenjoying the stroll none. You're right when you say things can happen,out here. There's some things it's just as well they don't happen toofrequent, and getting lost and afoot in the Bad-lands is one.

  "That afternoon I dragged myself up to the edge of a deep coulee andlooked over to see if there was any way of getting down. There was abright green streak down there that couldn't mean nothing but water,at that time of year; this was last fall. And over beyond, I could seethe river that I'd went and lost. I looked and looked, but the wallslooked straight as a Boston's man's pedigree. And then the sun comeout from behind a cloud and lit up a spot that made me forget for aminute that I was thirsty as a dog and near starved besides.

  "I was looking down on the ruins--and yet it was near perfect--of anold castle. Every stone stood out that clear and distinct I could havecounted 'em. There was a tower at one end, partly fell to pieces butyet enough left to easy tell what it was. I could see it had kindaloop-holes in it. There was an open place where I took it the mainentrance had used to be; what I'd call the official entrance. Butthere was other entrances besides, and some of 'em was made by timeand hard weather. There was what looked like awhat-you-may-call-'em--a ditch thing, yuh mind, running around my side of it, and a bridgebusiness. Uh course, it was all needing repairs bad, and part of ityuh needed to use your imagination on. I laid there for quite a spelllooking it over and wondering how the dickens it come to be way downthere. It didn't look to me like it ought to be there at all, but in aschool geography or a history where the chapter is on historic andprehistoric hangouts uh the heathen."

  "The deuce! A castle in the Bad-lands!" ejaculated Branciforte.

  "That's what it was, all right. I found a trail it would make amountain sheep seasick to follow, and I got down into the coulee. Itwas lonesome as sin, and spooky; but there was a spring close by, anda creek running from it; and what is a treat in that part uh thecountry, it was good drinking and didn't have neither alkali norsulphur nor mineral in it. It was just straight water, and you cangamble I filled up on it a-plenty. Then I shot a rabbit or two thatwas hanging out around the ruins, and camped there till next day, whenI found a pass out, and got my bearings by the river and come on intocamp. So when you throw slurs on our plumb newness and shininess, I'vegot the cards to call yuh. That castle wasn't built last summer,Mister. And whoever did build it was some civilized. So there yuhare."

  Andy took a last, lingering pull at the cigarette stub, flung it intothe backened forge, and picked up the spur. He settled his hat on hishead at its accustomed don't-give-a-darn tilt, and started for thedoor and the sunlight.

  "Oh, but say! didn't you find out anything about it afterwards? Theremust have been something--"

  "If it's relics uh the dim and musty past yuh mean, there was; relicsto burn. I kicked up specimens of ancient dishes, and truck like that,while I was prowling around for fire-wood. And inside the castle, inwhat I reckon was used for the main hall, I run acrost a skeleton.That is, part of one. I don't believe it was all there, though."

  "But, man alive, why haven't you made use of a discovery like that?"Branciforte followed him out, lighting his pipe with fingers thattrembled. "Don't you realize what a thing like that means?"

  Andy turned and smiled lazily down at him. "At the time I was there, Iwas all took up with the idea uh getting home. I couldn't eatskeletons, Mister, nor yet the remains uh prehistoric dishes. And Ididn't run acrost no money, nor no plan marked up with crosses whereyou're supposed to do your excavating for treasure. It wasn't nothing,that I could see, for a man to starve to death while he examined itthorough. And so far as I know there ain't any record of it. I neverheard no one mention building it, anyhow." He stooped and adjusted thespur to his heel to see if it were quite right, and went off to thestable humming under his breath.

  Branciforte stood at the door of the blacksmith shop and gazed afterhim, puffing meditatively at his pipe. "Lord! the ignorance of theseWestern folk! To run upon a find like that, and to think it lessimportant than getting home in time for supper. To let a discoverylike that lie forgotten, a mere incident in a day's travel! Thatfellow thinks more, right now, about his horse going lame and himselfraising blisters on his heels, than of--Jove, what ignorance! He--hecouldn't _eat_ the skeleton or the dishes! Jerusalem!" Branciforteknocked his pipe gently against the door-casing, put in into his coatpocket and hurried to the house to hunt up the others and tell themwhat he had heard.

  That night the roundup pulled in to the home ranch.

  The visitors, headed by their host, swooped down upon the roundupwagons just when the boys were gathered together for a cigarette ortwo apiece and a little talk before rolling in. There was nonight-guarding to do, and trouble winged afar. Sherwood Brancifortehunted out Andy Green where he lay at ease with head and shoulderspropped against a wheel of the bed-wagon and gossipped with Pink and afew others.

  "Look here, Green," he said in a voice to arrest the attention of thewhole camp, "I wish you'd tell the others that tale you told me thisafternoon--about that ruined castle down in the hills. Mason, here, isa newspaper man; he scents a story for his paper. And the rest refuseto believe a word I say."

  "I'd hate to have a rep like that, Mr. Branciforte," Andy saidcommiseratingly, and turned his big, honest gray eyes to where stoodthe women--two breezy young persons with sleeves rolled to tannedelbows and cowboy hats of the musical comedy brand. Also they had gaysilk handkerchiefs knotted picturesquely around their throats. Therewas another, a giggly, gurgly lady with gray hair fluffed up into apompadour. You know the sort. She was the kind who refuses to growold, and so merely grows imbecile.

  "Do tell us, Mr. Green," this young old lady urged, displaying muchgold by her smile. "It sounds so romantic."

  "It's funny you never mentioned it to any of us," put in the "old man"suspiciously.

  Andy pulled himself up into a more decorous position, and turned hiseyes towards his boss. "I never knew yuh took any interest inrelic-hunting," he explained mildly.

  "Sherwood says you found a _skeleton!_" said the young old lady,shuddering pleasurably.

  "Yes, I did find one--or part of one," Andy admitted reluctantly.

  "What were the relics of pottery like?" demanded one of thecowboy-hatted girls, as if she meant to test him. "I do somecollecting of that sort of thing."

  Andy threw away his cigarette, and with it all compunction. "Well, Iwasn't so much interested in the dishes as in getting something toeat," he apologized. "I saw several different kinds. One was a big,awkward looking thing and was pretty heavy, and had straight sides.Then I come across one or two more that was ornamented some. One hadwhat looked like a fish on it, and the other I couldn't make out verywell. They didn't look to be worth much, none of 'em."

  "Green," said his employer steadily, "_was_ there such a place?"

  Andy returned his look honestly. "There was, and there is yet, Iguess," he asserted. "I'll tell you how you can find it and what it'slike--if yuh doubt my words." He glanced around and found every man,including the cook, listening intently. He picked a blade of new grassand began splitting it into tiny threads. The host found boxes for thewomen to sit upon, and the men sat down upon the grass.

sp; "Before I come here to work, I was riding for the Circle C. One day Iwas riding away down in the Bad-lands alone and my horse slipped insome shale rock and went lame; strained his shoulder so I couldn'tride him. That put me afoot, and climbing up and down them hills Ilost my bearings and didn't know where I was at for a day or two. Iwandered around aimless, and got into a strip uh country that was newto me and plumb lonesome and wild.

  "That second day is when I happened across this ruin. I was lookingdown into a deep, shut-in coulee, hunting water, when the sun come outand shone straight on to this place. It was right down under me; astone ruin, with a tower on one end and kinda tumbled down so itwasn't so awful high--the tower wasn't. There was a--a--"

  "Moat," Branciforte suggested.

  "That's the word--a moat around it, and a bridge that was just aboutgone to pieces. It had loopholes, like the pictures of castles, anda--"

  "Battlement?" ventured one of the musical-comedy cowgirls.

  Andy had not meant to say battlement; of a truth, his conception ofbattlements was extremely hazy, but he caught up the word and warmedto the subject. "Battlement? well I should guess yes! There was aboutas elegant a battlement as I'd want to see anywhere. It was sure apeach. It was--" he hesitated for a fraction of a second. "It was highas the tower, and it had figures carved all over it; them kind thatlooks like kid-drawing in school, with bows and arrows stuck out infront of 'em, threatening."

  "Not the old Greek!" exclaimed one of the girls in a little,breathless voice.

  "I couldn't say as to that," Andy made guarded reply. "I never made nospecial study of them things. But they was sure old. And--"

  "About how large was the castle?" put in the man who wrote things."How many rooms, say?"

  "I'd hate to give a guess at the size. I didn't step it off, and I'm apunk guesser. The rooms I didn't count. I only explored around in themain hall, like, a little. But it got dark early, down in there, and Ididn't have no matches to waste. And next morning I started right outat sun-up to find the way home. No, I never counted the rooms, and ifI had, the chances are I'd have likely counted the same one more'nonce; to count them rooms would take an expert, which I ain't--not atcounting. I don't reckon, though, that there was so awful many.Anyway, not more than fifteen or twenty. But as I say, I couldn'trightly make a guess, even; or I'd hate to. Ruins don't interest memuch, though I was kinda surprised to run acrost that one, all right,and I'm willing to gamble there was warm and exciting times down therewhen the place was in running order. I'd kinda like to have been downthere then. Last fall, though, there wasn't nothing to get excitedover, except getting out uh there."

  "A castle away out here! Just think, good people, what that means!Romance, adventure and scientific discoveries! We must go right downthere and explore the place. Why can't we start at once--in themorning? This gentleman can guide us to the place, and--"

  "It ain't easy going," Andy remarked, conscientiously. "It's prettyrough; some places, you'd have to walk and lead your horses."

  They swept aside the discouragement.

  "We'd need pick and shovels, and men to dig," cried one enthusiast."Uncle Peter can lend us some of his men. There may be treasure tounearth. There may be _anything_ that is wonderful and mysterious. Getbusy, Uncle Peter, and get your outfit together; you've boasted that aroundup can beat the army in getting under way quickly, now let ushave a practical demonstration. We want to start by six o'clock--allof us, with a cook and four or five men to do the excavating. Bring itto pass!" It was the voice of the girl whom her friends spoke of as"The life of the party;" the voice of the-girl-who-does-things.

  "It's sixty-five miles from here, good and strong--and mostly up anddown," put in Andy.

  "'Quoth the raven,'" mocked the-girl-who-does-things. "We are preparedto face the ups-and-downs. Do we start at six, Uncle Peter?"

  Uncle Peter glanced sideways at the roundup boss. To bring it to pass,he would be obliged to impress the roundup cook and part of the crew.It was breaking an unwritten law of the rangeland, and worse, it wasdoing something unbusiness-like and foolish. But not even the owner ofthe Rocking R may withstand the pleading of a pretty woman. UnclePeter squirmed, but he promised:

  "We start at six; earlier if you say so."

  The roundup boss gave his employer a look of disgust and walked away;the crew took it that he went off to some secluded place to swear.

  Thereafter there was much discussion of ways and means, and muchenthusiasm among the visitors from the East--equalled by thedepression of the crew, for cowboys do not, as a rule, take kindly topick and shovel, and the excavators had not yet been chosen from amongthem. They were uneasy, and they stole frequent, betraying glances atone another. All of which amused Pink much. Pink would like to havegone along, and would certainly have offered his services, but for thefact that his work there was done and he would have to start back tothe Flying U just as soon as one of his best saddle horses, which hadstepped on a broken beer bottle and cut its foot, was able to travel.That would be in a few days, probably. So Pink sighed and watched thepreparations enviously.

  Since he was fairly committed into breaking all precedents, unclePeter plunged recklessly. He ordered the mess-wagon to be restockedand prepared for the trip, and he took the bed-tent and half the crew.The foreman he wisely left behind with the remnant of his outfit. Theywere all to eat at the house while the mess-wagon was away, and theywere to spread their soogans--which is to say beds--where they might,if the bunk-house proved too small or too hot.

  The foreman, outraged beyond words, saddled at daybreak and rode tothe nearest town, and the unchosen half turned out in a body to watchthe departure of the explorers, which speaks eloquently of theirinterest; for cowboys off duty are prone to sleep long.

  Andy, as guide, bolted ahead of the party that he might open the gate.Bolted is a good word, for his horse swerved and kept on running,swerved again, and came down in a heap. Andy did not get up, and thewomen screamed. Then Pink and some others hurried out and bore Andy,groaning, to the bunk-house.

  The visitors from the East gathered, perturbed, around the door,sympathetic and dismayed. It looked very much as if their explorationmust end where it began, and the-girl-who-does-things looked about toweep, until Andy, still groaning, sent Pink out to comfort them.

  "He says you needn't give up the trip on his account," Pink announcedmusically from the doorway. "He's drawing a map and marking the couleewhere the ruin is. He says most any of the boys that know the countryat all can find the place for yuh. And he isn't hurt permanent; hestrained his back so he can't ride, is all." Pink dimpled at the youngold lady who was admiring him frankly, and withdrew.

  Inside, Andy Green was making pencil marks and giving the chosen halfexplicit directions. At last he folded the paper and handed it to onecalled Sandy.

  "That's the best I can do for yuh," he finished. "I don't see how yuhcan miss it if yuh follow that map close. And if them gay females makeany kick on the trail, you just remind 'em that I said all along itwas rough going. So long, and good luck."

  So with high-keyed, feminine laughter and much dust, passed theexploring party from the Rocking R.

  "Say," Pink began two days later to Andy, who was sitting on the shadyside of the bunk-house staring absently at the skyline, "There's aword uh praise I've been aiming to give yuh. I've seen riding, andI've done a trifle in that line myself, and learned some uh thetricks. But I want to say I never did see a man flop his horse anyneater than you done that morning. I'll bet there ain't another man inthe outfit got next your play. I couldn't uh done it better myself.Where did you learn that? Ever ride in Wyoming?"

  Andy turned his eyes, but not his head--which was a way he had--andregarded Pink slantwise for at least ten seconds. "Yes, I've rode inWyoming," he answered quietly. Then: "What's the chance for a job, upyour way? Is the Flying U open for good men and true?"

  "It won't cost yuh a cent to try," Pink told him. "How's your back?Think you'll be able to ride by the time Skeeker is able to

  Andy, grinned. "Say," he confided suddenly, "if that hoss don'timprove some speedy, I'll be riding on ahead. I reckon I'll be able totravel before them explorers get back, my friend."

  "Why?" dimpled Pink boldly.

  "Why? Well, the going is some rough, down that way. If they get themwagons half way to the coulee marked with a cross, they'll sure haveto attach wings onto 'em. I've been some worried about that. I don'tmuch believe uncle Peter is going to enjoy that trip--and he sure doesget irritable by spells. I've got a notion to ride for some otheroutfit, this summer."

  "Was that the reason you throwed your horse down and got hurt, thatmorning?" questioned Pink, and Andy grinned again by way of reply.

  "They'll be gone a week, best they can do," he estimated aloud. "Weought to be able to make our getaway by then, easy."

  Pink assured him that a week would see them headed for the Flying U.

  It was the evening of the sixth day, and the two were packed and readyto leave in the morning, when Andy broke off humming and gave a snortof dismay. "By gracious, there they come. My mother lives in Buffalo,Pink, in a little drab house with white trimmings. Write and tell herhow her son--Oh, beloved! but they're hitting her up lively. If theymade the whole trip in that there frame uh mind, they could uh goneclean to Miles City and back. How pretty the birds sing! Pink, you'llhear words, directly."

  Directly Pink did.

  "You're the biggest liar on earth," Sherwood Branciforte contributedto the recriminating wave that near engulfed Andy Green. "You sent usdown there on a wild-goose chase, you brute. You--"

  "I never sent nobody," Andy defended. "You was all crazy to go."

  "And nothing but an old stone hut some trapper had built!" came anindignant, female tone. "There never was any castle, nor--"

  "A man's home is his castle," argued Andy, standing unabashed beforethem. "Putting it that way, it was a castle, all right."

  There was babel, out of which--

  "And the skeleton! Oh, you--it was a dead _cow!_" This from the youngold lady, who was looking very draggled and not at all young.

  "I don't call to mind ever saying it was human," put in Andy, lookingat her with surprised, gray eyes.

  "And the battlements!" groaned the-girl-who-does-things.

  "You wanted battlements," Andy flung mildly into the uproar. "I alwaysaim to please." With that he edged away from them and made his escapeto where the cook was profanely mixing biscuits for supper. All-daymoves put an edge to his temper. The cook growled an epithet, and Andypassed on. Down near the stable he met one of the chosen half, and thefellow greeted him with a grin. Andy stopped abruptly.

  "Say, they don't seem none too agreeable," he began tentatively,jerking his thumb toward the buzzing group. "How about it, Sandy? Wasthey that petulant all the way?"

  Sandy, the map-bearer, chuckled. "It's lucky you got hurt at the lastminute! And yet it was worth the trip. Uh course we got stalled withthe wagons, the second day out, but them women was sure ambitious, andmade us go on with a packadero layout. I will say that, going down,they stood the hardships remarkable. It was coming back that frazzledthe party.

  "And when we found the place--say, but it was lucky you wasn't along!They sure went hog-wild when they seen the ruins. The old party withthe pompadoor displayed temper, and shed tears uh rage. When shelooked into the cabin and seen the remains uh that cow-critter, therewas language it wasn't polite to overhear. She said a lot uh thingsabout you, Andy. One thing they couldn't seem to get over, and thatwas the smallness uh the blamed shack. Them fourteen or fifteen roomslaid heavy on their minds."

  "I didn't say there was fourteen or fifteen rooms. I said I didn'tcount the rooms; I didn't either. I never heard of anybody countingone room. Did you, Pink?"

  "No," Pink agreed, "I never did!"

  Sandy became suddenly convulsed. "Oh, but the funniest thing was theancient pottery," he gasped, the tears standing in his eyes. "That oldDutch oven was bad enough; but when one uh the girls--that one thatcollects old dishes--happened across an old mackerel can and picked itup and saw the fish on the label, she was the maddest female person Iever saw in my life, barring none. If you'd been in reach about thattime, she'd just about clawed your eyes out, Andy Green. Oh me, ohmy!" Sandy slapped his thigh and had another spasm.

  Sounds indicated that the wave of recrimination was rolling nearer.Andy turned to find himself within arm's length of Uncle Pete.

  "Maybe this is your idea of a practical joke, Green," he said to Andy."But anyway, it will cost you your job. I ought to charge you up withthe time my outfit has spent gallivanting around the country on thestrength of your wild yarn. The quicker you hit the trail, the betterit will suit me. By the way, what's your first name?" He asked,pulling out a check-book.

  "Andy," answered the unrepentant one.

  "Andy," Uncle Peter paused with a fountain pen between his fingers. Helooked Andy up and down, and the frown left his face. He proceeded towrite out the check, and when it was done he handed it over with apleased smile.

  "What did you do it for, Green?" he queried in a friendlier tone.

  "Self-defence," Andy told him laconically, and turned away.

  Half an hour later, Andy and Pink trailed out of the coulee thatsheltered the Rocking R. When they were out and away from the fence,and Pink's horses, knowing instinctively that they were homewardbound, were jogging straight west without need of guidance, Andy feltin his pocket for cigarette material. His fingers came in contact withthe check Uncle Peter had given him, and he drew it forth and lookedit over again.

  "Well, by gracious!" he said to himself. "Uncle Peter thinks we'reeven, I guess."

  He handed the check to Pink and rolled his cigarette; and Pink, afterone comprehending look at the slip of paper, doubled up over hissaddle-horn and shouted with glee--for the check was written: "Pay tothe order of Ananias Green."

  "And I've got to sign myself a liar, or I don't collect no money,"sighed Andy. "That's what I call tough luck, by gracious!"

  * * * * *