* * * * *
The Happy Family was gathered in Rusty Brown’s place, watching Irish do things to a sheep-man from Lonesome Prairie, in a game of pool. They were just giving vent to a prolonged whoop of derision at the sheep-man’s play, when a rig flashed by the window. Weary stopped with his mouth wide open and stared; leaned to the window and craned to see more clearly.
“Mama mine!” he ejaculated incredulously. “I could swear I saw Miss Verbena in that rig, with her trunk, and headed towards the depot. Feel my pulse, Cadwolloper, and see if I’m normal.”
But Pink was on his way to the back door, and from there climbed like a cat to the roof of the coal-house, where, as he knew from experience, one could see the trail to the depot, and the depot itself.
“It’s sure her,” he announced. “Chip’s driving like hell, and the smoke uh the train’s just coming around the bend from the big field. Wonder what struck her so sudden?” He turned and looked down into the grinning face of Andy Green.
“She was real insulted because you fellows played hookey,” Andy explained. “I tried to explain, but it didn’t help none. I don’t believe her heart went out to us like she claimed, anyhow.”
* * * * *
Happy Jack, over on the Shonkin range, saw how far it was to the river and mopped the heat-crimsoned face of him with a handkerchief not quite as clean as it might have been. He hoped that the Flying U wagons would be where he had estimated that they would be; for he was aweary of riding with a strange outfit, where his little personal peculiarities failed to meet with that large tolerance accorded by the Happy Family. He didn’t think much of the Shonkin crew; grangers and pilgrims, he called them disgustedly in his mind. He hoped the Old Man would not send him on that long trip with them south of the Highwoods—which is what he was on his way to find out about. What Happy Jack was hoping for, was to have the Old Man—as represented by Chip—send one of the boys back with him to bring over what Flying U cattle had been gathered, together with Happy’s bed and string of horses. Then he would ride with the Happy Family on the familiar range that was better, in his eyes, than any other range that ever lay outdoors—and the Shonkin outfit could go to granny. (Happy did not, however, say “granny").
He turned down the head of a coulee which promised to lead him, by the most direct route—if any route in the Badlands can be called direct—to the river, across which, and a few miles up on Suction Creek, he confidently expected to find the Flying U wagons. The coulee wound aimlessly, with precipitous sides that he could not climb, even by leading his horse. Happy Jack, under the sweltering heat of mid-June sunlight, once more mopped his face, now more crimson than ever, and relapsed into his habitual gloom. Just when he was telling himself pessimistically that the chances were he would run slap out on a cut bank where he couldn’t get down to the river at all, the coulee turned again and showed the gray-blue water slithering coolly past, with the far bank green and sloping invitingly.