The Flying U Strikes - B.M. Bower - ebook

The Flying U Strikes ebook

B.M. Bower

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More trouble at the Flying U Ranch! Another installment in the Flying U series brings with it more trouble for the gang! After a suspected cattle-rustling incident turns into attempted murder, Chip soon realizes that his old nemesis, Big Butch Lewis, has bigger and more sinister plans. Chip soon discovers that he is rounding up gunmen from all over Montana in a sweeping plan to make the range a stronghold for outlaws! An action-packed adventure romp in the American Old West, „The Flying U Strikes” is not to be missed by those with a love of Western fiction and the works of B. M. Bower. One of many recommended Westerns by this prolific author.

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Liczba stron: 323

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Contents

I. TROUBLE BEGINS

II. CHIP TAKES THE HINT

III. A MAN-SIZE JOB

IV. HORSES FOR SALE

V. A CLUE IN HAND

VI. FIRST AID FROM POLLY

VII. WHY WAIT FOR PROOF?

VIII. BIG BUTCH

IX. POLLY BUYS IN

X. MILT MAKES HIS TALK

XI. THE FIRST REAL CLUE

XII. BEEF HAULIN'S OVER

XIII. SEVENTY BELOW ZERO

XIV. PRISONER'S LOOSE

XV. THE FLYING U TO THE RESCUE

XVI. CHIP STILL WANTS PROOF

XVII. FIGHT THE DEVIL WITH FIRE

XVIII. THE WIND'S IN THE NORTH

XIX. "IT'S LIFE AND DEATH, POLLY"

XX. A FINE SCHEME COOKED UP

XXI. ONE SPY THE LESS

XXII. MAKE READY FOR WAR

XXIII. CHIP RIDES AGAIN

XXIV. POLLY PLAYS LADY

XXV. AT BUTCH'S WINDOW

XXVI. POLLY PUTS IT OVER

XXVII. A CHINOOK STRIKES CHIP

I. TROUBLE BEGINS

A RAW March wind such as only the high prairies ever know poured like ice water over the bald benchland that forms a part of the Flying U range. It roughened the hair on the two saddle horses; it tossed their manes and it whipped their tails around their hocks as they loped down to the bluff edge where the rough country began.

Chip Bennett, younger of the two riders, broke a silence of half an hour. “Those horses will be hugging the brush on a day like this,” he said, and drew a hand across his smarting eyes.

“That’s right,” Weary Davidson agreed. “No use combing the benches to-day. Mamma! That wind sure does go through a fellow! What say we swing over to the left here, Chip, and kinda bear off more towards the river? They’re in the breaks, that’s a cinch. We’ve had this wind for four days. I look for ‘em to be watering along Rabbit Creek where there’s lots of shelter.”

“That’s what I was thinking.” Chip hunched his shoulders within his sour-dough coat. “We can make it down off that point over there easiest.”

With one accord their rein hands twitched to the left and the horses obeyed that slight pressure against the right side of their necks. Instant relief was felt from that biting wind, now pushing hard against their backs instead of flat against their right sides. The tear lines dried upon their cheeks. They let their horses down to a walk, pulled off their gloves and sat on them while they rolled and lighted cigarettes. Neither spoke again. Neither was conscious of their long silences which held a satisfying companionship not to be broken by idle chatter. They were content and that was enough.

Overhead the sky was blue and the sun shone with a spring brightness. After awhile, when they turned off the sloping point of the bench and picked their way down a rocky gulch, a pleasant warmth surrounded them. Here the cold wind could not search them out. Riding ahead, Chip leaned suddenly from the saddle and plucked a crocus from the bank. Straightening again, he took off his hat and tucked the downy stem beneath the hatband in front, and set the hat atilt on his brown head. With his overcoat unbuttoned, Weary rode slack in the saddle, whistling an aimless little tune under his breath.

Down in the sheltered coulee it was spring. A few fat prairie dogs were already bestirring themselves, hunting grass roots or running from mound to mound to gossip with their neighbors. As the two cowboys approached, a shrewish chittering met them, the village inhabitants all standing up on the mounds with their front paws folded like hands. Abruptly they lost courage however and ducked down into their holes, the flirt of their stubby tails as insolent as a thumbed nose.

Out of that coulee and up over another small bench went the riders, the chill wind hounding them over the high ground only to give up the chase when they dipped down into the next hollow. In spite of their seeming casualness, their questing glances went here and there, scanning each wrinkle and hollow that lay exposed to their gaze. The bunch of horses they were hunting might be almost anywhere in this kind of weather.

Weary suddenly pointed a gloved finger. “Ain’t that a dead critter down there by that brush patch? Looks like the wolves have been at work down in here.”

“Not one but six carcasses down there,” Chip answered him. “We better go take a look. If it’s wolves, they sure have been holding high carnival down there.” He reined his horse straight down the slope toward the spot, Weary after him.

It was so steep that when they struck a shale patch both horses slid on their rumps for some distance. But they made the bottom without mishap and rode down to the thicket. A deep bowl of a place it was, the center a jungle of wild berry bushes growing in such luxuriance as would indicate a spring close by. On the sunny side of the thicket lay a group of carcasses, evidently some time dead.

The two rode up and stopped, staring about them. “Mamma!” gasped Weary. “Looks like here’s where the wolves have held an old-timer’s reunion. Six beef critters pulled down all in one bunch! Now what d’you know about that?”

“Not half as much as I’m going to know before I’m through,” Chip retorted. He stepped off his horse and walked over to the first carcass. With his hands on his hips he stared down at the unlovely heap for a minute, then walked on to the next and the next. He turned back and looked at Weary, standing just behind him.

“Shot in the head. The whole damn bunch,” Weary answered the look. “You saw that, didn’t yuh?”

“I’d tell a man I saw it. Take hold, here. Let’s see the brand–if they left one.”

They caught hold of the mauled and shriveled hide where the hind quarters should have been and flipped it over. The brand was the Flying U, and as they went from one to the other, they verified the brand on each. Six Flying U beeves, still showing the bullet holes in their heads where they had been shot down. And while the fore quarters had been half devoured by wolves, the hind quarters had been skinned out of the hides and carried off.

“Beef rustlers,” said Weary, as they returned to their horses. “I sure would like to know who pulled that stunt. Looks to me like they either want to advertise the fact they’re after the Flying U or else they don’t give a darn. Never even took the trouble to cut out the brands, you notice.” He looked at young Bennett. “That mean anything to you, Chip?”

“It certainly does. After that trouble last summer with Big Butch’s outfit, it means they’re making war medicine again. I was wondering what made ‘em so damn peaceable; after losing four men in that fight we had, it looked to me like they’d take another whack at the Flying U, just to break even.” Young Bennett frowned down at the nearest heap of bones and hide. He did not add what loomed blackest in his thoughts: that he himself, with a personal quarrel to settle with one of Big Butch’s men, had really brought the Flying U into the trouble with Butch Lewis’ outfit.

He hated to admit it, even to himself, but it was true. He had been looking for his brother, up in this country along the Missouri, and had run into mystery and trouble in his search. Brother Wane was dead–murdered, he believed, in spite of assurances that Wane’s death was an accident. And one day he had seen one of Butch Lewis’ men riding Wane’s horse and saddle, the EB brand botchily changed. Well, he had gone after Cash Farley and got the horse away from him, but in the long run the Flying U had paid high for that reckless adventure. Paid with a hundred head of saddle horses stolen out of the pasture in Flying U coulee; paid with a bullet in Jim Whitmore’s leg, beside. And now, good old “J.G.” was paying again, with good beef slaughtered on the range, his brand left insolently as a challenge and a defiance to the outfit.

It was plain enough to Chip Bennett. Last summer the trouble had culminated in a hair-raising afternoon when he had been hunted from rock to rock by Cash Farley and his cronies with rifles. Well, his own rifle had taken up the argument pretty decisively. Fighting for his life, he had held them off until the Flying U boys had come to the rescue–Weary, here, was one of the first to arrive. He knew just what these carcasses meant. Big Butch Lewis was taking up the fight where it had been dropped last summer.

Then Weary dissented from that conclusion. “Big Butch might be makin’ war medicine, like you say, but not this way. It’s somebody else rustling beef off us.”

“I’ll bet it’s Butch, building up another scrap with this outfit,” Chip said glumly. “Come on. I’ll bet we’ll find more.”

They mounted and rode up out of the little basin and over into the next gully. Sure enough, here were several more, all showing the Flying U brand. In another deep coulee they counted twelve carcasses, and with a stubborn thoroughness young Bennett insisted upon examining each one. Flying U. Not one Hobble-O, though plenty of Shep Taylor’s stock ranged in here, as did the Lazy Ladder and a few nester brands. Whoever had butchered these cattle certainly picked his brand with care.

All that afternoon they rode through the sequestered places where Flying U cattle had wintered for sake of the shelter. Hundreds of them were grazing there now, looking fat and strong after the long months of cold. Once Weary remarked that the calf crop ought to be a banner one that spring, but Chip only nodded agreement. Banner calf crops could not alter the fact that his own personal enemies were taking their grudge out on the Flying U and that there didn’t seem to be anything much that he could do about it.

They found the bunch of horses they were after and hazed them up on the bench and headed them toward the ranch, then continued their scrutiny of the coulees and gulches that webbed the strip lying between the level benches and the Badlands along the river. Again and again they came upon the mutilated remains of Flying U stock, and judging from what was left, they guessed them all to be young beef steers just under shipping age.

“Good beef,” commented Weary, “but damned expensive eating, just the same. J.G’s going to be shy a couple of carloads of beef next fall. And believe me, that sure runs into money!”

“I know it,” growled Chip. “You don’t have to rub it in.” In a little memorandum book he was keeping a methodical tally and the mounting figures stunned him into silence. Just as sure as the sun was shining, the Flying U was being baited into a fight. No use talking about it–words wouldn’t change the facts, no more than they could ease his heartsick feeling of responsibility in the matter. No, there wasn’t much to be said about it. Jim Whitmore was being stolen blind. It had been going on all winter, almost under their noses. It was still going on. Some of these last butcherings they had found looked fresh. A couple of days old at the most.

“Whoever it is, they’re sure doing a land-office business in beef,” Weary remarked, as he lifted himself into the saddle after inspecting the last and freshest one. “I can’t think it’s the Butch Lewis bunch, though. They’re supposed to be in the horse business. I never heard of them peddling beef.”

On his horse, Chip concentrated upon the little book open in his hand, adding a column of figures twice; once from the bottom up, then, with an incredulous oath, starting at the top and going on down.

Weary watched him over the cigarette he was making. “How many, Chip?” he queried, glancing down at the match and turning it head down, to draw it along the fork of his saddle. “I started to keep count in my head–but hell, I give it up ten mile back.”

“Eighty-three,” young Bennett told him without looking up. “It doesn’t seem possible–”

“Eighty-three? That’s damn near three carloads of beef the sons uh Satan have got away with. Yuh realize that? And half of it plumb wasted and fed to the wolves!” Weary blew smoke from his nostrils with the snort he gave. “Say, J.G.’ll go straight in the air when he hears about this. . . . Well, we might as well be getting back.”

He reined toward the steep slope of the gully, Chip following behind. The horses climbed nosing out their footing as they heaved themselves over the worst places in rabbit hops. On the long hogback ridge that sloped gently up to a thicket-crowned swale just under the bench top, Weary looked back down into the gully.

“Mamma! That’s a lot of meat, Chip,” he observed in a shocked tone. “J.G’s a lot poorer than he thought he was.”

“It’ll be paid for,” Chip said shortly, though he could have had no clear idea of just how it would be paid. Uneasily he was adding the little column of figures again, as his horse walked steadily up the slope. He was hoping that he had made a mistake, but there it was. Eighty-three which they had found and inspected; how many more there might be hidden away in this broken country he had not the courage to guess. They hadn’t found them all; he knew that.

He had put away the book again and was fumbling for the button to close his flapping overcoat, when the heavy canvas gave a vicious twitch in his fingers. It wasn’t the wind. He glanced down at his coat, gasped with astonishment and spurred ahead into the shelter of a brush patch. And as he did so, the faint pow-w of a rifle shot came to his ears, the sound dimmed by distance and almost whipped away entirely by the gusty howl of the wind.

II. CHIP TAKES THE HINT

WEARY turned with a twinkle in his eyes at the sudden haste Chip displayed. “What’s the matter? Got a snake bite?” he inquired mildly, knowing full well that the hardiest snake would scarcely be abroad in March.

“No. A flea,” Chip came back at him instantly, while he pulled up to search the gully with his eyes.

Big Butch without a doubt, he was thinking; Big Butch or one of his men, trying to get even for Cash Farley. Not even a wisp of smoke across the gulch gave a clue to his whereabouts, and to go back and search for him was worse than useless. He might be anywhere amongst the rocks and brush on the farther wall, and to reach him except with a bullet was practically impossible. No use saying anything to Weary about it, either. Might stir him up to want to go hunting the shooter–and while they were getting into the gully and across to the other side, they would be easy targets. Chip had enough experience with that sort of thing to feel no desire whatever to make the attempt.

It was plain Weary had not heard the shot. “No more carcass hunting to-day,” he declared, misinterpreting Chip’s pause. “You couldn’t get me down into another coulee on a bet. I’ve got enough on my mind with them eighty-three we already counted. Come on. We’ll pick up them horses and hit for home. That’s work enough for to-day, if you ask me.”

“I’d like to get one crack at whoever’s doing it,” Chip said, reining reluctantly alongside. “I’ll sure do it too.”

“Not here and now you won’t. Gosh, that wind’s a corker, ain’t it? I feel like my bones are packed in ice. For the lordsake, Chip, come on!”

They overtook the horses just as they were swinging off toward another coulee to get out of the wind, and hazed them along at a hard gallop across the bench and down a gravelly ridge. Heads bowed to the bitter wind, they rode doggedly, eyes red and smarting. On this bare slope the gale gouged loose patches of gravel and flung it in clouds high into the air. Small pebbles flew like hailstones, pelting horses and riders alike. The short grass, its curly blades showing green at the roots, whipped flat to the ground.

Hating to face the cruel blast, the loose horses spread out where they could and tried to dodge back to more sheltered places they knew; but two shrill-voiced demons seemed always just where escape was most easily blocked, and outguessed them, outran them, turned them back into the teeth of the wind. Manes and tails whipping, ears laid back, they tore down the hill, blinding their captors in the dust their unshod hoofs flung up for the whooping gale to seize and sweep along; a wild and picturesque flight which a Russell would have loved to paint.

The brushy bottomland of Flying U creek received them at last. A hundred yards from the new pasture fence below the camp Chip spurred ahead to open the gate. The half-broken horses shied, snorted in pretended panic and streamed through the opening, and Weary swung off to drag the wire-and-pole gate into place again and fasten it with the chain loop.

“What’ll we do, Chip–tell J.G. right away about them butchered steers, or wait maybe till morning?” he wanted to know, as he galloped up alongside again.

“Why wait? It’s got to be told.”

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